Writing Groups

I’ve never really been very sociable.  It’s one of the things that attracted me to writing, the thought of sitting alone at a desk all day, chewing a pencil.  In reality much writing is collaborative, particularly in drama, and a lot of writers have to do other things to make ends meet.  I’m not at that stage, but I recognise the need to do something beyond writing things and sending them off.

I tried to join a writers’ group in Wolverhampton a few years ago.  I heard they can be useful for getting support and feedback; and I thought it might be a good way to network – something else I’m not keen on (what with not being very sociable and everything).  I have to say, it wasn’t worth it.  The group met monthly on a Saturday, for three hours.  The journey took half-an-hour each way.  I only went twice, but I was told the format was the same very month: a writing prompt, for a ten minute warm-up, followed by another prompt with forty-five minutes of writing.  So that’s four hours away from my own writing projects in exchange for fifty five minutes of writing something else.  But at least there was feedback.

The feedback was well-meaning, but not particularly constructive.  And here’s the rub: it wasn’t feedback on the projects I was actually interested in.  Really, it was just a social club for people who want to write, and as I think I’ve already mentioned I’m not really that sociable.

I’m not knocking writers’ groups or the people who organise them.  I’d be very interested in a group that allows serious writers to give each other thought-out critiques of work in progress.  Ultimately, I think that the group I joined is part of the creative-writing-as-a-hobby phenomenon.  Again, I don’t want to knock it, but it’s  a bit too much like bowls for my taste.


The Drug of Choice

I wrote several reviews for Neon magazine’s website a few years ago.  The site no longer features reviews, which is a shame, and most seem to have disappeared, but this one is still in the archives.  Read it while you can.

Writing-cues, missed deadlines and publication opportunities

I came across a writing website a few years ago: I’d provide a link, but I haven’t a clue which site it was.  They ran a themed writing competition each month; this particular month it was ‘revolutions’.  I whipped off a quick story of about 1 000 words and didn’t hear back.  This was a shame, as I thought it was the best thing I’d written.  Checking back on the site (which as I say, I’ve long since forgotten), I found that I’d got the deadlines mixed up and written a story for the wrong month.  Doh, as they say.

Some time after this, I came across the website for Aesthetica magazine.  Pretty much everything I’ve ever read on the subject suggests researching a magazine thoroughly before submitting anything for publication – so commonplace is this advice, I can’t be bothered finding a link.  I didn’t bother in this case: the title and the design of the website told me everything: not what the magazine was, but what it wanted to be.  I dug out my revolutions short story, found a new title, ‘Revellers, High-Rollers and Revolutionaries’, and sent it in.  A few months later it was accepted.

This may, or may not, be the secret of successful pitching.  If you study the magazine’s contents, you’ll give them what they already have; study the title, design and editorial statements and you can give them material that puts them where they want to be.  My publication record proves how successful this can be … well, perhaps not.

The opening paragraphs of the story are below:

Revellers, High-rollers and Revolutionaries


Contrary to earlier predictions, when it finally came, it was televised.  Or, at least, caught on the CCTV camera outside the electrical store in the High Street. 

He saw it because he was on night shift in the control room above the shop.  Thousands poured across his screen on their way to storming the palace.  He longed to join them, but couldn’t because of his position: he wouldn’t be welcome; his colleagues wouldn’t understand; the comrades wouldn’t understand.  And he couldn’t join them because he wasn’t allowed to leave his post until he was officially relieved at eight.

He saw little of the real action.  After the workers had swarmed past in their thousands, there was something of a lull.  Then he saw the instruments of state – the secret police, the apparatchiks and the panoply of corrupt officialdom – limping in the opposite direction.  His position was unique, not just his vantage point, but also his role.  There he was, manning a surveillance installation; he was the classic agent of state hegemony – an agent of state hegemony, but a low waged one.  He was a worker too, but a diligent one, not one to upset the pudding bowl. 

It wasn’t the sort of happening he was meant to monitor – the company were more concerned with ram raiders and the like – but he made a note of it anyway, in case it proved to be useful.  His full log for the shift read: ‘12:30 – drunk urinates in doorway; 1:05 – police car drives past slowly; 1:35 – unwashed hoard pass shop en-route to palace; 1:45 – two blokes mucking about shove each other into metal shutters; 2:25 – minions of cruel and oppressive state pass shop en-route to exile; 3:15 – police car passes in opposite direction.’  Apart from the two incidents, it was a pretty quiet night.  

Not another fragment

This is a fully-formed piece.  It was published in Commas and Colons in October 2012.  Sadly, the magazine is no longer available online.  As it comes in at 155 words (including the title) I thought I might as well reproduce it in full:

Time’s Up


It began because he had too much time on his hands.  ‘Get a job’ his friends told him.  He didn’t want a job: he needed money; he needed to do something with the time on his hands; but he didn’t want to work.  The solution was obvious.  He combined his interests and became a Time Shark.  He lent out the time on his Imagehands at 876%, compounded annually.  Seconds begat minutes; minutes begat hours; and hours begat days.  He was incredibly successful: so successful that he was able to retire on his fortieth birthday.  He woke up on the first day of his retirement with great plans.  There were things to do, people to meet, mountains to climb.  It wasn’t to be.  At precisely 09:25, Theodore Urquhart was killed by the grandfather clock in his hall, which fell on him at the precise moment he had stopped beneath it to tie his shoelaces.

The Waiting Room/Rising Blue

I wrote a short play some years ago.  I imagined Margaret Thatcher (who was alive at the time) dying and finding herself in a waiting room, where she is greeted by football manager and lifelong socialist Brian Clough.  The play is, so far, unperformed.  Anyone looking for a short play with two actors, this is your chance to get the first performance.

The play was initially called The Waiting Room, but Lazy Bee, the script’s publisher, already have a script with that title.  Rising Blue seems just as apt, but considerably less obvious.