Pulp Idol 2017: I’m Through To The Final!

This is my first post in many months, as life has been distracting me to no end, but I come bearing excellent news! I recently entered Pulp Idol – a local writing competition in Liverpool – and got through to the final! Can you believe it?

This was the third consecutive year that I’ve entered and I almost didn’t bother, but something compelled me to submit my novel hours before the deadline – I’m so glad now that I did!

In the competition, each of us had to read out three minutes from our opening chapter, followed by a series of questions from the panel of judges. I brought great passion and energy to my reading and enthusiastically answered the judges’ questions, sensing that my piece had been well-received, yet hardly daring to hope that I would get through to the final. As we waited for the results, I had such a strong gut feeling that I would be successful, but of course my inner critic simply dismissed this as wishful thinking.

When the judges called out my name, I cannot tell you how overjoyed I was! After all the rejection emails I’ve received from publishing houses, as well as my run-in with a vanity publisher, it was so special to hear such positive feedback about my writing. The judges said my opening chapter was well-structured, eloquently written and wasn’t drowning in too much description, with interesting characters that showed great potential – this was so affirming for me and it has restored confidence in my writing.

I’ve barely written anything these last four months, so this victory has given me a much needed confidence boost. Going forward to the final next month, there is a chance I could actually end up with a publishing contract, which is so unbelievably exciting! I dare to dream that it is possible and intend to carry forth my passionate energy to the final, letting my inner light shine as I present my work to the judges once more.

Wish me luck, my friends!

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The Magic Lives On! My reflections on the latest Harry Potter book.

At first, I wasn’t that excited about The Cursed Child. Maybe that’s because I thought it was a random spin-off (much like Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them), but when I picked it up in the bookstore, I was instantly transported back in time and felt the same feverish excitement that I felt as a kid!

There was no mistake about it: this was the latest Harry Potter book! Yes, it might well be a screenplay, but it is still a continuation of the original saga. When I held it in my hands and saw “The Eighth Story. Nineteen Years Later” written on the back cover, it gave me goosebumps! I don’t even  care if this was a marketing ploy because it bloody well worked! Shut up and take my money =P

Something reawakened within me on that day. I have not felt such frenzied excitement about a franchise for a long time and The Cursed Child seemed to open up that portal to my younger self. Where did the magic go, I wonder? Why do I no longer spend hours trawling fan sites or daydreaming about Hogwarts and hobbits? 

Granted, I am in the middle of writing a fantasy novel, so I do still use my imagination quite a lot. But I cannot help but notice that my soul lacks nourishment from other sources. And it is important, I think, for a writer to fuel themselves with inspiration, otherwise they go stale and lose their mojo. 

So what’s changed? Why is it that Pokemon Go only excited me for a week? Why is it that I didn’t get excited whatsoever with the build-up to The Cursed Child‘s release? Could it be that I no longer remember the way to Platform 9 3/4?

The sad truth is that life has got in the way, as it does with so many people. I also put too much pressure on myself to be productive, forgetting to play and nourish my soul with magic. Alas, for may people let their creative flame go out entirely, but I do everything in my power to keep it burning brightly. 

Every time I return to the likes of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, my soul is instantly nourished. Too often I have been distracted by mundane trifles, but I still believe in magic. My soul still soars when I hear the LOTR soundtrack or re-read Harry Potter, so revisiting the wizarding world and seeing what the characters were doing nineteen years later was absolutely marvellous! 

Some have said The Cursed Child feels a bit fan-fictiony, but the original magic was undeniably present  (and JK put her official stamp on it, which is good enough for me). I was surprised by the intense emotion it evoked, particularly in the scene where Harry has a heart-to-heart with Dumbledore’s painting. And that scene with the trolley lady.. kudos to the writers!

From now on, I will make a conscious effort to do more of what I love. The magic lives on within me and I refuse to let it lie dormant. Whether creating my own material or soaking up the goodness of others, I give myself to that which excites me.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go and meet Minerva McGonagall in Hogsmeade. There was a dispute between our owls and she wants to patch things up. Fingers crossed we can because I’m applying to be the new Professor of Astronomy, so hopefully my silly owl hasn’t messed things up!

Gods, I need an editor!

​As with any trade, the more you work at it, the better you become – and it’s the same with writing. 

Looking back now, I can see how clumsy and amateur some of the prose from my earlier work actually was. A part of me wishes I could go back and tighten up some of this – especially my first book, Pearl’s Hereafter – but I have neither the time nor the patience and want to focus on what I’m writing at the moment.  

It’s not so much that I’m embarrassed by my earlier work, as I think that it’s great story-wise, but it’s just the idea that people might have formed judgements about my writing based on its early shoddiness. I’m reassured, however, by the fact that Stephen King dismisses his first two novels as utter crap. All writers – even great ones – began from somewhere. 

It takes a while to find your writer’s voice and hone your craft. Like Stephen King, I also feel apprehensive towards my first two books (one of them hasn’t even seen the light of day yet). With my third book though – The Essence of Sunshine – the quality of my prose dramatically improved and I was very pleased with the finished piece. In fact, it is the first project that I haven’t felt the need to go back and fix. 

At the moment, I am writing a fantasy, which has yielded my best writing to date. I am excited to share this latest work and want to focus on bringing it into fruition. However, I do think that my earlier books need some TLC, so I am now considering hiring an editor for this purpose. If I can get someone on board to tighten up my earlier works, then I can carry on doing what I truly love and invest all my creative energy into my writing. 

Salvaging An Old Project

It has been two years since I wrote my second book. When it was first finished, I sent it off to literary agents, but it’s kind of been forgotten about since then. Other projects have taken priority and I’ve also been rather preoccupied with life, so my second book has been left sitting on a dusty shelf in cyber space.

This week, however, I felt the urge to revisit this story. Before I knew it, I was re-drafting the first chapter and realised that it is a story worth salvaging. The prose is a little clumsy, as I was still learning my craft when I wrote it, but I am a better writer now and know how I can fix it. With a thorough polish, I know it can sparkle!

Revisiting the book, I no longer feel such a personal attachment to the story and feel as though I can edit it more objectively. My second book draws upon a lot of personal experiences, so I think I was concerned that people might think it was autobiographical; certainly, there were quite a few parallels between my personal circumstances and those of the characters, but a lot has changed over the last few years. I can now look upon this book with completely fresh eyes.

So far, I have really enjoyed polishing the prose and seeing how better it looks afterwards! Now that I have stopped drawing comparisons between what was real and what was fictional, I can see that the story pays homage to the trials and tribulations that many young people face when graduating from university. I know that many young people will be able to relate to this and so I wish to share this story with the world. I do not know how long it will take to edit , but I have committed myself to this restoration and plan to see it through!

Ideas That Refuse To Go Away

This week, when sorting through my writing notes, I made a very interesting discovery. In one of my journals, I found the initial seed of the idea for my first book, written two years before my supposed eureka moment!

Amazingly, this piece of paper had been completely forgotten about, yet the idea stayed in my subconscious and resurfaced two years later, as if for the first time! While the initial seed differed slightly from what I thought was the initial seed, it was the same idea in essence.

What I’ve learned from this is that some ideas are very persistent and will stay with you throughout your life, begging to be brought into the world. They may lie dormant for a time, but they always find a way to return to you. This is reassuring for a writer like myself who clings on to his notes for fear of losing his ideas – clearly such written prompts are not needed, nor are they re-visited much once written. Of course, I’m not saying you shouldn’t keep notes, as you just don’t know what notes might spark your imagination, but I’m merely pointing out how persistent our ideas can be.

Throughout your life, you may have many ideas, some great and some not so great. What I recommend is focusing on the ideas that really sing to your heart. Don’t give a hoot what others might think. If you’re going to express yourself, then it should be something that appeals to you.

You are the judge. You are the gatekeeper of your ideas, who gets to decide which ones are worthy and which are not. But how do you choose what should take priority? Oh, that’s easy! I think you already know deep down which ideas are special. They are the ideas that refuse to go away.

 

 

Finding Your Creative Voice

In recent months, my thinking has been very scattered and I’ve been allowing myself to get wrapped up in all kinds of things that aren’t really that important. This has worn me down, spread me thin, left no space for my creativity to emerge. Indeed, my creative voice has been submerged beneath an ocean of miscellaneous crap, completely drowned out and distorted.

Nurturing your creative voice is so important for an artist. Without it, you feel as though your wings have been clipped. No matter how hard you try, you just cannot take flight for long. This can be very frustrating, especially when you have a story to tell or something to express, but the only thing you can do is work through this challenging period.

My biggest problem is that I don’t devote enough time to my writing. Instead, my energies are channeled into mundane things and not being spent on my one true passion. At the moment, though, I am going through a massive de-cluttering – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually – and I am finding that as I peel away the layers of dead-weight, I am rediscovering what my priorities are.

As all the crap is being banished from my life, I have been able to devote more time and energy to the things that I love. Already, I have noticed that my mind is clearer and more focused, less concerned with silly trivial things (such as what my work colleagues think about me). I still have some way to go, but hopefully once I am fully unburdened, my creative energies will be able to spring forth unhindered.

Losing Your Creative Ability

Recently, I watched Kiki’s Delivery Service, an animated film about a witch-in-training. Aside from being a charming and highly original story (as most Studio Ghibli films tend to be), there was some very useful advice for creative people, imparted by Ursula, a really cool artist who lived in a log cabin in the woods. Here is what she says to Kiki, the young witch who has recently lost her ability to fly:

Ursula: Painting and magical powers seem very much the same. Sometimes I’m unable to paint a thing.

Kiki: You mean it? Then what? What happens?

Ursula: Kiki, please don’t move. It’s hard to draw a moving target.

Kiki: Without even thinking about it, I used to be able to fly. Now I’m trying to look inside myself to find out how I did it. But I just can’t figure it out.

Ursula: You know, could be you’re working at it too hard. Maybe you should just take a break.

Kiki: Yeah, but still if I can’t fly …

Ursula: Then stop trying. Take long walks. Look at the scenery. Doze off at noon. Don’t even think about flying. And then, pretty soon you’ll be flying again.

Kiki: You think my problems will …

Ursula: Go away? That’s right. It’s going to be fine. I promise.

[A few hours pass by]

Ursula: When I was your age, I’d already decided to become an artist. I loved to paint so much. I’d paint all day until I fell asleep right at my easel. And then one day, for some reason, I just couldn’t paint anymore. I tried and tried, but nothing I did seemed any good. They were copies of paintings I’d seen somewhere before … and not very good copies either. I just felt like I’d lost my ability.

Kiki: That sounds like me.

Ursula: It’s exactly the same, but then I found the answer. You see, I hadn’t figured out what or why I wanted to paint. I had to discover my own style. When you fly, you rely on what’s inside of you, don’t you?

Kiki: Uh-huh. We fly with our spirit.

Ursula: Trusting your spirit! Yes, yes! That’s exactly what I’m talking about. That same spirit is what makes me paint and makes your friend bake. But we each need to find our own inspiration, Kiki. Sometimes it’s not easy.

Kiki: I guess I never gave much thought to why I wanted to do this. I got so caught up in all the training and stuff. Maybe I have to find my own inspiration.

This scene in the film spoke absolute volumes to me. Until a few days ago, I too had lost my creative spark and it is so frustrating to lose that natural flow, but there are usually reasons as to why it has happened, such as pushing yourself too hard or losing belief in yourself. It feels as though your connection to the cosmic radio station has gone faulty and you can no longer tune in properly, having to put in so much effort to produce something that once came so naturally to you.

But the advice in Kiki’s Delivery Service reminded me that we all get creative blockages and the best way to combat them is to take a break, switch off and relax. Such creative droughts are not the end of the world and I have certainly bounced back from such situations before, though it can feel like you’ve lost your creative talent forever. Indeed, you could not be blamed for fearing this, but take it from me: once your spirit has been lifted and the blockage removed, you will soar once again.

Trust me, I’m a writer.

Crystal Dragon Jesus

Recently, I discovered something called TV Tropes, which is an amazing tool for writers. It is essentially a wiki database for all the different elements you find in books, TV, film and other media, covering everything from narrative devices, character archetypes and genre components. All of these concepts are collectively known as “tropes”.

It is so fun just to browse this website, even if you’re not a writer, and enjoy these tropes in all their glory. It seems that every conceivable literary element and device has been given a name. So far, my favourite one is “Crystal Dragon Jesus”, which is when a fictional religion features in the story. Another great one is “Magnificent Bastard”, which refers to super-intelligent and cunning villains (a chess-playing mastermind who always seem three moves ahead).

There is a button at the top of the page that allows you to view these tropes at random, but many entries cross-reference each other and you’ll probably find that your curiosity will get the better of you, especially when the likes of Crystal Dragon Jesus are mentioned so casually in passing! Somewhere on the website, you can also access the periodic table of storytelling, which features some of the most widely-used tropes.

Each entry also includes examples of where these tropes are featured, which is handy for research or if you happen to be searching for a “Weirdness Magnet” or a good example of the “Hand Wave”. Curious, aren’t you?

Whether you’re a writer or just appreciate how stories are put together, then I definitely recommend checking out http://www.tvtropes.org. I, for one, have definitely been converted into a troper! As a writer, it is reassuring to see that you are using tropes that people know and love.. it may daunt some people to know that nothing is original, but everyone uses these tropes in their own unique way. Tropes are the fabric with which stories are woven, forming a common language between writers and their audiences.

Slow Down And Enjoy Right Now

Many of us get caught up in the race of life, trying to get ahead, forever striving to reach our goals and feeling guilty when we’re not pushing forward. But there is nothing wrong with slowing down and enjoying life’s simple pleasures.

Why do we kill ourselves in the pursuit of success? Why do we insist on flogging our horse when it needs to rest? Why do we buy into the insane expectations that society thrusts upon us?

By all means, reach for the stars, but don’t lose yourself in the process. “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live,” Albus Dumbledore wisely said. And quite right he is, for there is much joy to be found in the everyday. Yes, you may wish to travel the world or set up a business or learn how to play the guitar, but you may find joy in the little things, such as eating a tasty sandwich or meeting up with an old friend.

This week, I have made the conscious effort to take some time out and recharge my batteries, as I am definitely guilty for pushing myself too hard. But I know I’m not alone with this and so I wanted to remind others to relax and laugh and play.

Don’t spread yourself too thin! Focus your energies on things that really sing to your heart. Do you really need that new iPhone or fast car or a perfect body? Do you really need to do everything on your bucket list? At the end of the day, we are only human and there’s only so much that we can do in one lifetime, so you can’t expect to do it all and see it all. I shall leave you all with a poem I wrote, called A Race Against The Clock, which I think sums up the madness of our go-getter society:

I need to go somewhere,
Do something,
Be someone.
Stay young,
Party hard,
Have fun.

I want to learn a language,
Climb a mountain,
Play the guitar.
See the world,
Get rich,
Drive a fast car.

I want to fit in,
Yet stand out.
Have a relationship,
Yet sleep around.
I want a career,
But I’d like to be free.
I try so hard to be
Cool and trendy.

I want to live abroad,
Start a business,
Keep fit.
Volunteer,
Skydive,
Watch the sun set.

There’s so many things I want to do,
Keeping up with what’s new.
I’d like to have a family one day,
But first I’d just like to play.
A race against the clock,
Tick tock – tick tock…

 

 

Like A Lamb To The Slaughter

Today, I mortally wounded one of my characters, which was difficult for me to do because I have grown quite attached to him. But unfortunately, he was always meant to die… in fact, the whole reason I invented him was so that his death could illustrate an important plot point.

Like a lamb to the slaughter, I nurtured his character precisely because I knew he would be sacrificed. But as the story unfolded, I grew to love his character and found him difficult to let go. He came to life on the page much more vibrantly than I had expected.

I even considered keeping him alive and sacrificing someone else, as it would have been interesting to explore his potential further. But surely the fact that he will sorely be missed is testament to the character I have created? After all, don’t we all have unexplored potential when we die? If he leaves behind a noticeable hole and his absence causes heartache for the reader, then surely that is a job well done writing-wise!

During the writing process, a story can change direction and alter. Characters who were doomed to die can be spared, while others might be bumped off instead. In this particular case, I followed through with my original plan.