Saturday, 28 February 2015

Guest Blog: Tracy Fells Talks About the Transition from Writing Short Stories To Writing A Novel

Today I’d like to welcome the talented short story writer and novelist, Tracy Fells to my blog. We enter many of the same literary competitions, and I’ve followed Tracy’s writing career with great interest. I’m always fascinated by the transition from writing short stories to writing a full-length novel, so when I heard that Tracy had written her first novel, I wanted to ask her how she found it.

After writing so successfully for the short story market, what made you want to write a novel?
Well, I have to admit sometimes I don't feel all that successful! Before starting to write seriously, I did write a novel - one of those bottom drawer efforts that should stay in the bottom drawer. It was dreadful and I decided I needed to learn the 'craft' of writing before attempting anything longer. So I started writing short stories and flash fiction ... and got hooked. An idea for a longer piece was always niggling away in the back of my head and I guess I wanted to prove I really could write something decent that was longer than 4,000 words. But sadly, I also think there is terrific pressure on a short story writer to write a novel. Every one kept asking: 'Are you writing a novel?'. It's the same with Literary Agents - they're not interested in a short story collection and just want to know if you're writing 'something longer'. As if short stories don't count. I find this quite depressing, but it is the reality of the publishing world right now.

I know just how you feel about that pressure, Tracy! It's such a shame that short stories don't carry the same weight as the novel. Short stories are becoming increasingly popular genre with readers. So, did your novel spring from a short story you'd written or did you have a totally separate idea bubbling away in the background?

That's a good question. It was always an idea for a novel because it is a complex story with many characters. At first I found it hard to pick up the momentum (or energy) to work on something that was going to be >80,000 words (which seemed both terrifying and impossible). To make the task easier, or more achievable, I started to write a series of short stories based on characters from the novel. Not the main characters, but lesser ones who had interesting back stories to tell. This really helped to make progress with the main narrative, as I was able to weave aspects of the short stories into the novel. This also worked wonders with achieving a weekly word count - insert a short story and YAY target done for the week! Can I just add here that one of these short stories went on to be shortlisted for the 2014 Commonwealth Writers Short Story Prize (which is my biggest success to date).

Wow, well done on being shortlisted for such a prestigious literary competition! I like the idea of writing a series of short stories based on characters from your novel. It’s an interesting way of working. Can you tell us what genre the novel is and what sparked the idea?
The genre is a tough one to define, but I think it falls into 'accessible literary fiction', or I'd like to think of it as 'quirky contemporary literary fiction' (trying saying that quickly!). It's a contemporary fairytale populated with misfit characters. The original idea was sparked absolutely years ago and I do mean years. I remember watching a news item, could have been on Countryfile, about how you need a special licence to handle dormice. The wonder on the faces of the conservationists, as they crowded round to see the tiny dormouse dragged from its nest, set off a chain reaction in my head. The memory sat there for many more years until it started to evolve into something that resembled a storyline. To be honest this is how most of my fiction begins. Something I've read or seen on TV or film catches my attention, then festers away in the dark corners of the subconscious before it turns into a genuine story.

It sounds wonderfully quirky! And thank you for giving us an insight into how you're inspired. What aspects of novel writing did you find most difficult? Was it the structure? Plotting? Setting? Viewpoint?

I'm now in the editing stage, so thankfully the bulk of the writing is done. Thinking honestly about this question I'd have to say the plotting has been the most challenging aspect of the writing. From early on I knew the structure and viewpoints that I wanted to work with. But the story has numerous plot strands that had to be woven together and I was terrified of leaving something dangling. I use index cards to help with this. Using different coloured cards for each PoV, I sketched out chapters and then played around with order. However, once I seriously got underway with the writing I completely forgot about the cards! A large whiteboard is also essential for working through character arcs - but so far I've not found one large enough to do the job!

It all sounds like a complicated system, but it's great to get an insight into your working methods. I often think writing a novel is like spinning plates. Did you manage to continue writing short stories while you wrote the novel or did you have a complete break from writing them?

Funny that you mention spinning plates, as one of my beta readers commented on how many plates I had spinning in the novel. I wish I could say I was able to balance all my writing projects, but the short stories and drama all suffered. At first I tried writing one chapter a month and continued to work on short fiction, but the novel was progressing so slowly and the writing felt disjointed. Other writing friends kept nagging that the only way to make progress was to complete absorb myself in the novel. They were right. As I'm also working on a part-time MA in Creative Writing (at Chichester Uni), I decided to devote the summer recess of June-September to writing the novel. I was able to write >60K words and get the bulk of it done. The sacrifice was giving up the short stories for that time. And I went a bit cold turkey ... when the MA term started up again I was gagging to get back to writing short stories. I wish I could find the perfect balance, but so far the two writing forms have to be kept apart. For me, anyway.

Yes, I know what you mean. I find it difficult to write short stories alongside the novel, but the novel always seems to lose out! You wrote 60K in a very short space of time. Well done! So, you say you're now editing your first draft? Have you already started approaching agents or will you wait?

I found the trick was to break down the word count to a weekly target and then a monthly target. I found I could write 20K words a month. Yes, I'm now on third draft. I've actually been approached by a couple of agents asking to see extracts. At present I'm trying to come up with a list of agents who I'd love to work with. When I have a polished, gleaming mss then I will begin to send it out. That's the horrible bit and I'm planning to postpone it for as long as possible. Having invested so much time and effort into the novel any rejection will be painful. Bit like someone telling you what you they think of your beloved offspring ...

I know! That awful fear of failure. So, how did you manage to get agents approaching you? Was it a result of your Commonwealth shortlisting?
The Commonwealth shortlisting helped. Well, tweeting about it on Twitter helped. Top tip: shout about any successes, as you never know who's listening. Also making it onto writing competition shortlists will get your name and writing noticed. One agent contacted me after reading a shortlisted story on a website. They then read other work of mine online and liked my voice. I never believed this actually happens, but it does. Agents do look for new talent via competitions so use this to your advantage.

That's very useful to know! What about the dreaded synopsis? I take it you’ve written one? How did you find that experience? Any tips?

Well, there’s no magic formula, unfortunately! Like most other writers I hate this part. My beef is that there's plenty of examples to be found of 'good/successful query letters', but rarely does anyone share a successful synopsis. I'm beginning to suspect that's because they don't exist! The jury's still out on whether agents actually read / or take any notice of them either. But my top tips are: Have a selection prepared i.e. the full blown Mslexia version (the template & guidelines are on their website and are excellent), a two-page version and the one page version. Write it early, even before you've finished the novel as this helps you to focus on plot and themes (you can change it later - and you will ... many many times). And remember to get it proofread by someone you trust! As well as Mslexia, I can recommend 'Book Proposals' by Stella Whitelaw, which incorporates a very easy to follow section on writing a synopsis. My writing chum, Wendy Clarke, recommended 'Write A Great Synopsis' by Nicola Morgan. I have this on Kindle but not yet read.

Finally, are we allowed to know what your  novel is called? 

The Dormouse Disciples. Can you guess what it's about. Ha-ha!

Erm.... Elephants? I think that wraps it up, Tracy. Thank you so much for being a guest on my blog today and for sharing your thoughts/experiences on novel writing. I’ve found it most inspiring. I wish you the very best of luck with The Dormouse Disciples and can't wait to see it on the shelves! 

If you’d like to find out more about Tracy and would like to follow her progress with the novel, she blogs at:

You can also follow Tracy on Twitter: @theliterarypig

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Band Themed Short Story Project Week 7

I admit that I haven't done very well writing-wise this week. I started a potentially good story around The Smiths on Monday, set in a Manchester school. However, it's one of those longer stories that I need to go back to. This was for Keith Boothroyd of Kishboo E-Magazine. A university friend got me into The Smiths in the early 80s. I used to drive my parents mad when back at home in the holidays I blasted out the Meat Is Murder album. My husband hates The Smiths, so I don't play their music much these days. I recently read Morrissey's autobiography and once I'd adjusted to his ponderous writing style, I did enjoy it.

The Smiths
Tuesday's band was Harsh Reality nominated by local writer and former actress, Madalyn  Morgan. Madalyn has written two wonderful books set in World War Two. I've read the first, Foxden Acres and I whole-heartedly recommend it. Harsh Reality is a great starting point for a story and I raced off the starting blocks with this one. I wrote 878 words, but sadly, didn't finish it. I will. It's partly autobiographical, too.

Harsh Reality
It's been half-term week this week, so I've been out and about with Megan. I took her for a photo shoot/make-over on Wednesday. She won this prize on a scratch card from New Look. I won't go into details here, but it was an interesting experience, but sadly, not one she enjoyed. It was way out of her comfort zone. However, from a writer's point of view, it was gold dust. Particularly as the main character of my novel is a photographer. Anyway, back to the band stories.... Wednesday's band was Within Temptation nominated by my online friend, Amy Rowan-Buckley, who recently appeared on national television in a programme about age-gap relationships. Amy and her husband, Lee, also appeared on Lorraine. I'm sure Amy won't mind me saying that she's a bit of a Goth and she became the inspiration behind the story. I managed to complete this one, although it was only a Flash piece. Amy was kind enough to give me feedback and said it was 'a lovely, lush piece of writing and very dark at the end'.

Within Temptation

A guy I met at a friend's party in Glastonbury, Ben D'Busse, nominated The Dead Kennedys. Not an easy subject for a story! I can't stand writing about politics etc, so I had to work around it. I gave the story a punk feel and it's so far at 634 words and unfinished. 

I didn't write at all on Friday and, to be honest, it was great to have a break! I did a bit of work on my Status Quo story this week. It currently stands at 2,076 words and is one of my favourite band stories. Quo have so many songs to choose from and I incorporated a lot of their song titles for this story set in South Wales in the 1960s.

Sisters Of Mercy

I spent most of yesterday afternoon in the company of a lovely Hungarian family who fed me and my daughter and told us wonderful stories about Hungary and their view of Britain! We talked non-stop for three hours, so I was late home and just about made Write Invite. I wasn't prepared, but dashed off a story on the theme of 'Exile', shoe-horning in Sisters of Mercy. A complete story, but I'm not sure Aneilka Briggs will be too impressed! Then it was another mad dash to get ready for my husband's band, Visitation's gig at The Seven Stars in Redditch. Lots more fodder for band stories and great fun with dancing, nice people and plenty of wine!

Anything But The Girl

Today's band, Anything But The Girl was nominated by my writing buddy, Alison. Extra pressure! I didn't tell her that this was the band I was going to write about in our writing session today. I was most inspired by how the band got their name and the story began writing itself. This story has a bit of a psychopath/stalker theme... one of my specialities! Alison said she loved it, even though it wasn't finished. I managed 715 words.

You'll notice that I'm a band behind. My son, Matt Good, nominated NWA. I must try and write two band stories tomorrow to catch up. 

Only 4, 697 words written this week, which includes another 620 words on the Quo story. I'm sure I must have written more.. somewhere. 

Last week's band story I wrote for Write Invite came in the Top Ten, so that's a total of five band stories, which have been in the Top Ten for that particular competition. Not bad.

I'm looking forward to having more writing time this week and attending Lutterworth Writers' on Tuesday when I have to write a poem by candlelight! That should be interesting...

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Band Themed Short Story Project Week 6

It's been a good week for the band themed project this week, as I've finished five out of the seven stories. They are nearly all Flash Fiction pieces this week, because I was fed up of trying to write longer stories then not finishing them. I've decided that after Week 9, when I'll have run out of nominated bands, I'll spend a week finishing off stories.

The story I wrote around The McCoys called 'Queen Of The Quip' came 2nd in February 7th's Write Invite, so I was very pleased about that.

I wasn't on the Storgy Competition longlist, which was a bit disappointing, but I imagine they got a lot of entries and the longlist, frankly, wasn't very long!

The first story of the week was inspired by And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of The Dead, nominated by the lovely Ninette Hartley. I wrote a Flash piece of about 500 words about a gothy teenager and his mother. Ninette liked it and said it had a good twist. I may well enter it in the Flash 500 comp at the end of March.

Tuesday's band was Bellowhead. I'd never heard of them. My writer friend, Susannah Rickards nominated this English contemporary folk band. I didn't finish the story, but it's one I like, so will be happy to work on it a bit more at some point. I'm a little nervous, as Susannah is such a brilliant writer, that my effort will be pretty darn poor when compared to her short stories.

I thought The Grateful Dead would be a fairly easy band to write about or around. They were 'The Godfathers of the Jam Band', so I used that as a title. I also managed to finish the story, but haven't yet sent it to Carolyn Hartwell who used to hang out with my late husband back in the day.

It was fun researching The Modernaires. They were a quintet who sang with The Glenn Miller Band back in the 1940s. I love Glenn Miller's music and the whole big band scene. I found some wonderful images, too. I was fascinated by the only female member of The Modernaires, Paula Kelly who went on to marry fellow bandmate, Hal Dickinson. I wrote a quirky little Flash piece, which I hope captured the era. The Modernaires were nominated by writer, Ferne Arfin who is currently trying to raise funds for crowd-funding her novel, Tunnel of Mirrors with Unbound.
I was dreading The Rolling Stones, as from past experience with this project, I've found that the better documented the band's history, the harder it is to write a story around them.
My late father was a huge Stones fan and I grew up listening to their debut album (I still have the original my dad listened to) and High Tide and Green Grass. My dad invariably would do his Mick Jagger impressions while dancing to The Stones at parties (and there were a lot of parties when I was growing up in the 60s and 70s). Fellow writer, Shirley Wright nominated this band. I didn't manage to finish my story. The main character, based on Mick Jagger, isn't particularly likeable either, but I do have this knack of writing from an unsympathetic character's viewpoint, which doesn't go down terribly well with readers or editors!

INXS was easier to write about simply because I chose 'in excess' as the theme for my story. I wrote just over 1,400 words on this in the space of about 35 minutes. The story wrote itself and I based it on a true family story, which my second cousin told me about yesterday morning. It's a very sad tale and shocking that it's actually true. Thank you to Australian Jo Skehan for nominating this Sydney based band.

I wrote two band stories yesterday. The second was The Mamas and Papas, nominated by Lisbeth Foye. I wrote this story as part of the Write Invite competition and avoided using a band or a singer as the main character/s. Instead I wrote a quirky piece about a retired couple with a bit of a Valentine's theme. I used a lot of Mamas and Papas lyrics for this one and I was very pleased with the result. However, I doubt very much whether Rob, the Write Invite judge will like it. I think that with some tweaking that it might make a good womag story. We'll see.

So, that's Week 6 completed. It's half term week this week, so my routine will be a little different. Megan is having her first ever make-over on Wednesday, which we're both rather nervous about. Megan isn't really 'into' pampering (like her mother) and is a bit of a tomboy (put it this way, she's a huge Dr Who fan). She won the make-over on a scratch card from New Look. Hopefully, we'll get some nice photos out of it. 

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Band Themed Short Story Project Week 5

It's been a very bitty week writing-wise, as I've done a fair bit of socialising. On Monday I met the lovely Katie Carr in Leamington for lunch. I've admired Katie's fiction for some time now and she's a regular Write Invite contender/winner. We seemed to be very much on the same wavelength writing-wise and both have a tendency to procrastinate rather than getting our bums on the seat to start writing. We had a lovely chat and I'm sure we'll be meeting up again soon. Katie certainly inspired me to press on with my novel, which I'd put on the back burner yet again.

Monday's band was The Cure. I have a few of their albums, so you'd have thought this a relatively easy one for me. However, my story didn't take off as I'd have liked it to and I stopped at 526 words, struggling for inspiration. This is one I need to go back to.

On Tuesday I met up with an old university friend, Gary. We talked mostly about music and I think I've recruited yet another Visitation fan. It's wonderful when you haven't met someone for thirty years and you simply pick up where you left off. It was as if I'd only spoken to him yesterday. Gary is a bit of a high flyer, to say the least, and it did unsettle me somewhat that he's achieved so much and I've achieved so little in comparison. Another kick up the backside to pursue my ambition of being a bestselling writer!

Tuesday's band was Queen, nominated by two people, Natalie Timbs, a friend from home-educating days and Viv Brown, who is a very talented short story writer and appears regularly in the womags under her pen name, Vivien Hampshire. I cheated slightly with this story, because I wanted to work on my novel, so I took one of my chapters, which features the character, Queenie and used that, adding in some Queen song references as I went. It certainly got me back into my novel and made me realise that, actually, that particular scene would make a good opening chapter.

I cheated again on Wednesday by using a different novel chapter and shoe-horning in some Jefferson Starship references. What I should have done was write a story based on the life of Grace Slick, because she appears to be a very interesting character. Maybe I'll go back to it.

Revisiting my novel has made me question viewpoint yet again. Just how many viewpoint characters can I get away with? I'm currently reading Belinda Bauer's Darkside and she has several. And I need to play around with the structure again. I realise my first few chapters are far too pacy and I need a longer, more leisurely chapter to break things up a little.

Anyway, I didn't really address Thursday's band, Faith No More, because I thought I could work that in to my story based on Faithless, which, you may remember, is destined for The People's Friend. I haven't got as far with this as I'd hoped. My butterfly mind has been in overdrive this week!

I enjoyed researching Soft Machine on Friday and listened to a few of their songs on You Tube. Very reminiscent of early Pink Floyd. I wrote a novel scene, as my novel is set in 1972 and it seemed fitting.
I really enjoyed researching the McCoys yesterday and wrote a story based on their song 'Hang On Sloopy, which was inspired by Dorothy Sloop, known as Sloopy, who was a jazz singer and performed with Yvonne Dixie Fasnacht in New Orleans. I really enjoyed writing that story.
Last band of the week was The 1910 Fruit Gum Company. I'd never heard of them. They had a hit with 'Simon Says' back in the mid-Sixties. I decided to write a story set in New Jersey, featuring a teenage pool party and a boy who gets electrocuted. I need to go back and polish it, but I hope fellow-writer, Elizabeth Ann Roy will like it.

So, that's another week done. I have a lot of work ahead of me, finishing some of these stories off and hopefully, working on my novel. I want to say a big thank you to my online writing buddy, Alison Wassell, who has helped motivate me to write every single day.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Band Themed Short Story Project Week 4

I haven't managed too many words on the band themed stories this week. Only 5508 so far. I've only finished a couple of the stories, too, so the Get Cape, Wear Cape, Fly story is the only one I've managed to send out to the person who nominated it (Annette Thomson).

I had a fabulous time on Tuesday evening when I plucked up the courage to attend The Lutterworth Writers' meeting for the first time. I craftily squeezed in their January theme 'breaking the ice' into my Get Cape, Wear Cape, Fly story and read it out to the group. I think they were rather underwhelmed, although my writing buddy thinks it's one of the best ones I've done so far.

I got home from the writers' group to find an email from Bridgwater Writers letting me know I'd won 2nd prize in their 40th Anniversary Short Story Competition on the theme of bridges. I was delighted. I'd written the story especially for the competition, so it was its first outing. It will be published in a special anthology. I won a Silver Membership to Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff and a signed box set of 10 books (Mabinogion stories from Seren publishers) worth £100. It's such a boost to have a story in the top three of a competition.

Another of my band stories based on Siouxsie and The Banshees won 5th place in last week's Write Invite Competition. (That story was the really bonkers one I mentioned in last week's blog!)

I'd never heard of the band, Faithless, nominated by Dr Suzanne Conboy-Hill, but I was determined to write a People's Friend story this week, otherwise editor, Alison Cook, will have forgotten about me! I chose 'Oh Ye Of Little Faith' as a loose theme, but only got 267 words down. This one may have to go on the back-burner!

Our friend, Allan Wenman, chose Half Man-Half Biscuit. I enjoyed writing this story and have almost finished it. I can't get the ending quite right, so I haven't yet sent it to Allan. This was a fun story to write, as you can imagine! My character is called Rich T. He should be a rapper with a name like that, but instead he's an ex-footballer.
Mike Ross chose Blood, Sweat and Tears for me. Again, I wanted to write a People's Friend story. I really want to crack that particular market, so although I used the band's name, the story isn't really about the band at all. Another cheat, I guess. I hope Mike won't be disappointed, as my story isn't at all rock n' roll!

I'm not surprised my Facebook friend, Claire Quobabe Davis chose her favourite band of all-time, Status Quo. I haven't finished this story, but I'm enjoying writing it. It's called Picture of Matchstick Men and is about a schoolboy in Wales. My writing buddy really likes it. Let's hope I can finish it this week!

My friend Jam Wellies, whom I met at a party in a field in Glastonbury back in 2010, suggested Flogging Molly. I'd never heard of the band before. Apparently, they're an American Irish punk band. I googled them and looked at titles of their albums and songs to come up with a weird little story. I wrote it during the half hour Write Invite Competition yesterday. The theme was 'Excuse Me While I Kiss the Sky' - a Hendrix lyric. It was a bit of a gift. What I love about Write Invite is that you can get a story finished in a very short space of time. Ideal for my band themed project!

Last band of the week was Duran Duran chosen by writer, Sophie Duffy. This is another unfinished story, but I've based it around the life of John Taylor, the bass guitarist. I've done 500 words or so.

I must just mention I saw the DTs for the first time at The Musician in Leicester on Friday night. They're a great rock blues band, who were gigging a lot in the 1980s and 90s. They were amazing. It was great to spend an evening dancing and enjoying a live band for the first time this year.

So, that's Week 4 of the band themed stories project over. I'm so glad to see the back of January. Already the days are drawing out a little and there's a whiff of spring in the air. I'm looking forward to meeting up with fellow writer, Katie Carr, tomorrow in Leamington Spa. Katie is another Write Invite devotee. I'm sure we'll have lots to talk about.