Making Time To Write

November 27, 2013

Charlotte Betts blogs about making time to write (no matter what).

Because one of Charlotte’s tips is learning to delegate, this link is brought to you by WordWatchers member, JohnH…

To read the blog in full, click here: Writer’s Tips 1: Making Time.

Charlotte Betts


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Dead Ends and Secret Doorways

November 15, 2013


Julian Dobbins

Julian Dobbins

It’s been a tough few weeks for my novel and me. We hit a bit of a rough patch, to be honest, grinding our way through a mid-point crisis. It’s not been helped by some back story elements that needed adding, causing me to go routing through existing (and no doubt perfectly balanced and happy in their own skin) chapters. And as exciting as they might be (and I actually think they are – which helps) it’s not made for good momentum.

So, I’ve been languishing around the 50,000 word mark and losing faith.

Last night, though, I felt we’d turned a corner. I was feeling better about the whole thing. The back story pieces were in and making friends with the rest of the gang. It felt like we were getting along again.

And then it went and did this.

I say ‘it’, because it certainly wasn’t me. I admit, I was there, I might even have been holding the smoking gun… but I would never have written…

‘To Billy, should he outlive me, I leave my <insert something interesting here – collection of books or magazines maybe?>. He’ll understand why.’

Clearly, it’s someone, my main character, reading a will. And clearly he’s just read that one of the other characters has been left something of significance – something personal from their mutual past that will not be immediately obvious to the protagonist, the reader… or, indeed, the writer.

I sat there looking at it, wondering what on earth this was telling me. And then I sent an email out to the group, explaining enough of the context and asking for suggestions (silly or sane) as to what this item might be. And they were great. I got suggestions that immediately helped me understand what the novel had meant by it, what the item might actually be, and where it fitted into the various plot threads.

So, it seems we’re still okay, the novel and me, and I wasn’t being shown down some dark, dead-end alleyway to be bumped off so it could run off to the city to be a high concept thriller beneath someone else’s pen, but instead was showing me a secluded doorway to a private garden I’d not seen before.

The moral of the tale – trust in your instincts, and trust in the group, no matter how much you feel the answer can only come from you. A little sharing goes a long, long way.





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A Blagger’s Guide to Schmoozing

November 15, 2013


Abbie Todd

Abbie Todd

I am organising the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators’ Conference Party. It’s a great opportunity for unpublished and published authors and illustrators to mingle with editors, agents, publicists and art directors.

I recently stumbled across this blog, which I wrote after attending last year’s SCBWI Undiscovered Voices party, but I never did anything with it. Good timing, I thought. So here it is!

When I attended a glitzy publishing party in London, I was faced with a room full of agents and editors – all masters in the art of schmoozing. Oh God, thought I, how am I going to get through this? They’ll sense my fear! Pounce on it faster than the next Harry Potter.

If you’re an aspiring writer, you’ll probably find it beneficial, at some point, to venture out of your writing cave and try to engage with the real world. I’m talking mingling, networking, chatting, business carding, and other scary words that end in ‘ing’. Yes, I too loathe to be dragged from my writing cave. I struggle to interact with real people rather than characters. I have to remember that talking to myself is only acceptable in the inner sanctum of the cave. But needs must.

Here are my top tips for how to blag your way through such an ordeal:

  1. Don’t booze and schmooze. By all means, have one (or two … or possibly three) to calm your nerves, but don’t get carried away. I’m thinking that vomiting on the shoes of an editorial director, or bursting into tears in front of an agent who’s rejected you isn’t the best way forward.
  2. You will enjoy yourself. It’s mandatory. Smile, and make eye contact with people, even if they walk right past you.
  3. Find some kind of tenuous link to your schmoozee (the person you wish to schmooze). If you sent them a manuscript when you were fifteen (as I did) and received a personal response, go and thank them! If you read and enjoyed something they edited/agented(?!)/wrote, tell them. If your second cousin’s wife’s brother-in-law lives in the same village, mention it. But don’t take this too far – we don’t want to stray into stalker territory.
  4. Have a good exit strategy if you end up talking to someone for too long, or if your eyes are straying to other people you want to talk to. Try ‘I need some more water’, or ‘I’m just going to find the loo’, or ‘I must go and catch up with such-and-such’.
  5. Most folks who work in publishing are absolutely lovely, but there will always be exceptions. I was once quite coldly rejected to my face by an agent. Don’t be discouraged if someone is rude to you. You are worth talking to, damnit. Just find someone who will listen.
  6. Have a pitch ready. Fairly obvious, you might say. But it needs to be succinct. A sentence or two. The longer it is, the more likely you are to mess it up/stumble over bits/forget key plot points.
  7. Find someone who knows everyone, and strike up a conversation. Often, people will gravitate towards them, and if you stand there like a lemon for a few seconds, you’re sure to be introduced.
  8. Don’t regret who you didn’t talk to. Focus on the small victories and feel proud of who you did talk to. (I should definitely practice what I preach with this one!)
  9. Don’t be tempted to cluster in the corner with your friends like nervous sheep. Move around the room. If you’re not looking for someone specific, pretend you are, until you notice someone you want to talk to.
  10. If a couple of people are deep in conversation and you want to butt in, do it! Just go in with ‘Sorry to interrupt’ and no-one will think you’re rude.

All of the above can be applied to any number of writing events – author signings, writers’ conferences or parties. Remember, you’re not the only writer who feels nervous about putting themselves out there. And even if it doesn’t lead to anything, it’s intensely rewarding to conquer that inner hermit who’s adamant that you’re better off staying in your cave.

Good luck – happy schmoozing!

Follow Abbie on Twitter: @abbietheauthor

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The Writing Elite

November 8, 2013

This weekend I was in Manchester. To be precise, I was in a Premier Inn, just the other side of the Airport Perimeter Fence. Why was I there? Well, to meet up with a bunch of people I had mostly never met before…

Premier Inn, Manchester, setting for EliteMeet

Premier Inn, Manchester, setting for EliteMeet

That might sound a bit odd, but we were united by a single cause – the computer game Elite. Yes, a computer game released in the 1980s brought a bunch of guys (mainly) in their 40s (mainly) from all over the country to a very wet and windy Manchester.

The Dark Wheel by Robert Holdstock

The Dark Wheel by Robert Holdstock

Most of our stories were the same, that we had, by whatever means, discovered an amazing computer game called Elite. We had read the novella, The Dark Wheel, written by the late, great Robert Holdstock, we read the Flight Manual, also, in part, written by Robert Holdstock… and, as we flew around this 3D procedurally generated universe, trading and fighting, we took what Robert had written and filled in the gaps that those early 8-bit computers just couldn’t supply visually.

Me and my friends, who also had the game, started to swap stories, of great battles against impossible odds, or lucky trades that netted a large profit, of harrowing escapes from Witchspace and fruitless searches for the legendary (and it turns out mythical) Generation Ships.



In a time before the Internet these stories were swapped in the playground, either as complex narratives using our hands to describe how we outmanoeuvred the police vipers, or as pencilled notes with key details about which planets to fly from and to and what to trade.

The only diary I have ever kept was my Elite Pilot Diary. Here, in a modified exercise book, I kept notes of my trades and my battles. Later, for my own amusement, but occasionally to share with my friends, I wrote them up as stories. Eventually, this storytelling grew to monstrous proportions and, for a GCSE English Assignment, I handed in 39 sides of narrow feint A4, hand-written story. Indeed, nothing less than a sequel to The Dark Wheel.

The Cobra Mk3

The original Elite  Cobra Mk3

Due to an annoying quirk of the exam system, no copy could be made and I never saw that assignment, and therefore story, ever again. Twenty-six years later that still pisses me off.

After Elite came Frontier and more powerful computers to run on it and as much as I tried, I didn’t like Frontier, it was more Simulation than game and considerably less fun and I stopped writing about the Elite Universe for a long time.

A "Griff" Cobra Mk3 from Oolite

A “Griff” Cobra Mk3 from Oolite

Then, back in 2006 I discovered Oolite and, as I have said elsewhere, I got my writing mojo back and found a game that captured the magic of the original game (but with amazing new graphics) and my desire to write about it came back. I wrote two novellas set in the Oolite universe which eventually ended up in the Anthology Alien Items, edit by my friend and fellow writer/contributor Drew Wagar. Of course has gone on to great things and is currently writing Elite: Reclamation, an official novel for the forthcoming Elite: Dangerous computer game… (which will be published, along with three other books, by Fantastic Books Publishing)



Elite: Dangerous was the reason we were in Manchester, Elite: Dangerous, the Kickstarter campaign kicked off a year ago this week, Elite: Dangerous the common hope, dream and aspirations of a group of 40-somethings. That’s what got us into a conference room in a hotel in Manchester.

At the meeting, a regular event known as the Lave Radio Conclave took place. I took part in that event. During the hour long discussion I could hear how passionate I was about writing, about how much I loved writing about Elite (and basically for myself) and how much I still do. It was a good feeling.

I’ve written a few Elite themed drabbles and submitted them into the weekly drabble competition on the Elite Frontier Forums. I’ve got an idea for another short story set in the Elite Universe and I feel the need to start writing in-game content again. This time however, I’m trying to do this while also finishing my other projects. This is not, this time, a distraction technique, or the next new shiny thing. It’s a desire to do more. I like having that feeling again!

For those in the know… “Write on Commander!”

John Hoggard

John Hoggard




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