Fan Fiction and Other Guff

My daughter reads a lot, and I mean a lot, of ‘fan fiction’. That it doesn’t always sit well with her idea of the characters’ (boy band members mostly, but there are other themes) personality and ‘story arc’ is obvious from the expostulations that emerge from her as she slams her phone or ipod down in disgust at the latest bizarre twist. Mainly I suspect when some manchild she likes swoops another female (usually the ‘author’) into his stringy arms.

I can’t be too snotty. I used to write ‘fan fiction’ myself once upon a time. It was a very long time ago and I didn’t call it ‘fan fiction’, the term not yet having been coined. I also didn’t inflict it upon the general public, although had the internet been around in 1965 no doubt I would have tried. As it was, there were about 100 computers in the world, mostly owned by governments and taken up with plotting the destruction of someone or other with thermonuclear blast. Even if a ten year old from the North of England had persuaded them to use a bit of spare capacity to store his latest Man From UNCLE masterpiece on one of them no-one had any means of reading it online. There was no online. A blessing to us all no doubt.

As it was, Mr Worthington had to put up with my weekly instalments from the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement’s annals. He was my junior school teacher and he was almost the sole beneficiary of my efforts to relate the work of Ilya Kuryakin, Napoleon Solo, Guy Farrish and whichever of my friends was sufficiently in favour to accompany us into the realms of fighting international crime.

He, Mr W that is, put up with this for a remarkable length of time until one week the composition (which is what ‘creative’ writing was called at Christ Church) returned with its mark (very good still) and a note, in red pen, never a good sign. ‘Very entertaining but can we have another topic next time.’ No please.

I think I essayed one more such story after a brief change of tack for a couple of weeks but the lack of further such stories suggests that the request turned into an order,  in very short order indeed.

I sympathise with his reaction now. Fan fiction is written for the writer not the reader. Maybe all fiction ultimately is written for the writer not the reader but the subterfuge is not even wafer thin in the case of fan fiction. It’s all about ‘me’. How ‘I’ want the story to go. And if the author or the boy band puppet master hasn’t got it right for my selfish needs I’ll jolly well write it myself. The trouble is how many times are my selfish plot twists going to satisfy a wider audience? Not many if my daughter’s harrumphing and Mr Worthington’s red pen are anything to go by. And they are. Some ‘fan fiction’ is just about readable but the vast majority is like 99% of juvenile (all?) poetry, best left in a sealed box in the author’s bedroom. Of course that was where most of it stayed, as a weird dead end in most people’s cases, or an early practise for those who became authors ‘proper’. No comment about my own efforts.

Now anything and everything has a platform for dissemination of course and this democratisation of publishing, of ‘getting it out there’, is hailed as a renaissance of the creative soul. It isn’t. I am sure there are pearls of genius out there. But how do you find them amongst the millions and millions of words seemingly strung randomly together? You don’t. It’s not just ‘fan fiction’ of course. The irony is that this drivel is contributing to the morass of stuff people have to sift through to find what they want in this democracy of the mediocre. Is this mediocre? Very probably. I’d be happy to read it in a literary magazine or the Guardian but then I would wouldn’t I? Would anyone else? Well we’ll probably never know.

The world is so swamped with people who ‘have a book in them’ (they don’t – honestly) that publishers have run from even trying to find good stuff in the tidal wave of material washing over them. Why spend hours, months, years wading through ‘stuff’ that may be the next Ulysses or da Vinci Code (we’re talking money here not necessarily literary merit) when you can hook a ‘celeb’ name on some old tat and make enough money at Christmas in Tesco’s to keep the hedge fund managers at bay for another year?  I don’t blame them. At one end they are beset by digital publishing undercutting them, supermarket discounts slashing margins and big companies who bought them up in better times looking for a profit or the exit. At the other they have millions of people trying to peddle ‘the book wot I wrote’ to them because their mother ran off with a one legged matador who beat them whilst singing Bee Gees hits incessantly at them all night long (actually that would probably sell quite well).

So everyone is a writer now. Maybe the boot should really be on the other foot. After all if readers are the commodity everyone is seeking, perhaps all we writers should be paying publishers to produce books and they should be paying the few readers out there to read the books. It sometimes feels as if we are almost there already.

Ups and Downs

The Tall and the Short
Yesterday’s launch for ‘The Tall and the Short’ went really well. The readers, Terry Victor and Eryl Sheers, were, as one would expect of professionals, excellent, the material took on a new roseate glow with such accomplished performers reading it, and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.

I confess to being surprised at the turnout, we had to send out for more seats which was a surprise for us all I think, especially as it was a teetotal bash (sober book launches, whatever next!)

Books were sold and autographed in addition to the usual distribution of complementary copies, in fact at one stage there was a concern we may run out of the copies we had brought along for sale, but it turned out not to be quite that good a day!

So that was the ‘Up’ side of things and a very nice up too.

The down side was a very polite and gentle email saying thanks but no thanks on a short story I had been trying to sell. It is about a child on the autistic spectrum, high functioning but bemused, and his coming to terms with the strange world of adults and neurotypicals. Maybe this theme has been overexposed of late, but I haven’t come across too much of it and as it has a personal resonance I am disinclined to shrug my shoulders and walk away from it. More hawking of the wares required I feel. I confess that it feels like the best short story I have written, but I probably feel like that about everything I have just written. This isn’t brand new however and reading it again some months after finishing it I am still happy with it. So, anyone want to buy a short story, only 3,977 words?

The Tall and the Short is available from Carys Books HERE

Book Launch: The Tall and The Short

If anyone is in the Caldicot area next Thursday 20 November 2014, you are very welcome at the Caldicot Library. From 1400hrs Caldicot Writers Group is launching its new book ‘The Tall and The Short’.  It comprises examples of the work of members: poems, short stories, extracts from novels and family/local history.

There will be readings by actor Terry Victor and Drama teacher Eryl Sheers (mother of Owen). There will be refreshments available and a chance to meet the authors and buy the book at the special event price of £5.99.

Although the main event will last until about 1500hrs, members of the group will be present in the library until closing at 1900hrs to talk to anyone interested in joining, buying the book or just knowing a bit more about writing.

Looking forward to seeing you.


Tal and Short cover

If you miss us you can still buy the book direct through Carys Books:

Oh yes – I have two short stories and three poems in it – worth the price alone!

Plans and Prospects

So where are we?

I am well over half way through Cinderella, my next cruel manipulation of a childhood favourite, in fact it is finished in my head and just needs the last bits putting on paper, putting away in a drawer for a couple weeks and then reading through. Then it will need a few bits I know about, and a few bits I don’t, rewriting slightly. Then I’ll think about what to do next. I have a couple of other fairy tale/pantomime pieces in my head – Hansel and Gretel and The Three Bears at least, that are bubbling away in the background – so I suspect I will wait for at least one of those to be finished so I can try putting together an anthology package for a hard copy publication rather than Kindle first.

In the meantime I have a commitment of sorts to write around 4,000 words for a group publication. I like my writers group but I am not certain that the things I write are necessarily appropriate or of the right length. The first deadline for this is the end of February so I am going to have to get myself sorted here.

I also have a commitment to speak at a military dining club event in March and I haven’t done anything about that yet.

Then there are a couple of short story and flash fiction competitions – Bristol and Bridport which have caught my eye. I think I have a couple of things written which would suit them very well. The closing dates are not until the end of April and May respectively so I have time to let the stories mull before I have a last read through and rewrite if necessary before submission.

I have a possible collaboration beginning on a historical novel which is an interesting idea for a project. It is a departure for me both in terms of the collaboration and because I have fought shy of historical fiction. Being a historian I have to work hard not to nitpick when I read it and it has made me somewhat shy of attempting it myself. We’ll see.

I have several other novels on the go but I am beginning to fret that they are somewhat formulaic at least in general subject matter if not in style. So although I have more than enough to keep me busy, I am looking around for some material for inspiration, if only to make notes and/or a skeleton idea for future work. I suppose part of the problem (if it is a problem) is that I do tend to write what I know (although I am not now nor have I ever been a Wolf of indeterminate legal status). This means that there is a lot of legal/intelligence/police based writing. All good stuff but I fancy a slightly different take on writing, as well as, not instead of, my existing themes.

So my main plan for the next few months is to finish Cinderella, fulfil my outstanding commitments, push on with the two or three novels I am already into and remain open to new ideas.

I’ll probably get hopelessly sidetracked but as long as I remain sufficiently on track to keep the existing projects moving along I’ll be content. Finishing a couple would make me very happy. Getting one or two published will make me ecstatic.

Writers’ Groups

Off and on over the years I read some horror stories about writers’ groups. Holly Lisle deals with some of the pitfalls I was concerned about: and to be fair she also lists some of the good points which I missed when I was worrying about the idea of finding one.

If I was concerned why did I go ahead and join one? And I did join one. I was at that point where I had written quite a lot, had had some discussions with agents and publishers and most of those had ended up with a ‘thanks but no thanks’ variation on a theme. (The big mistake here was trying to sell something first up that, although I remain convinced it is of interest to a very large audience, had the terrible sales pitch – all mine unfortunately – of ‘memoir’. I now know that unless you are already massively famous or riding a wave like ‘mis lit’ the very hint of the word memoir is the kiss of death to a story. I am stunned I got as far as I did in some negotiations given this knowledge.)

So I wanted to see what other people who didn’t know me thought of my writing in other genres, what feedback I could get and also just that feeling of belonging to a group of like minded people.

I was really lucky. Caldicot Writers Group was, and remains, very welcoming to new members. There is no master slave relationship present and if there is a ‘Shark/Dinner’ vibe going on I have missed the bloom of fresh blood in the water. There are people who have won prizes and published, and people who don’t have any great urge to enter the publishing world but love writing for its own sake. The feedback and critique I have received has been helpful and well voiced and if I haven’t always agreed with it I have taken the opportunity to go away and think about it and play around with alternatives. Sometimes I have returned to my original and at others I have seen exactly what they meant and changed it to something better. There is a wide variety of work on offer at each meeting, light fiction, quite dark psychological stories, historical fiction, poetry, family history and sharp observational journalism. There are workshops and challenges and directed writing and a couple of months back we almost organised an inspirational outing together but couldn’t quite agree on what and where. Next year maybe.

What have I given them? Probably a lot of earache and argument about their feedback to me. I hope my comments are positive and helpful, but you’d have to ask them what they think. I hope I’ve brought something new with my background if nothing else.

It has been a very positive experience for me. I have met a lot of very interesting and enjoyable people and I have learned a lot. So, have a read of Holly Lisle’s notes and dip a toe in the water if you feel like sharing. If you recognise any of her warning signs – run. If you find a group like Caldicot: enjoy the experience, soak up the knowledge and put back what you can. It may be that it is not forever, but a good writers’ group is definitely worth experiencing.