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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Rod Rage

The No. 53 bus shunted along as a young boy crouched on all fours, sifting through a pile of crumpled tickets, with tears leaking from his eyes. Rod the bus driver watched him with a rush of satisfaction.

‘Have you found it yet?’ he called out. ‘Can’t stay on without your ticket – shouldn’t have thrown it in the bin, should you?’

‘But you saw me buy one!’ the young boy piped up.

‘Doesn’t matter. Could lose my job if an inspector comes on,’ Rod retorted. ‘Now find your bloody ticket or get off my bus.’ 

Making the young boy search for his discarded ticket gave Rod an untold amount of enjoyment. He drove along and whistled to himself, ignoring the general sense of hostility that radiated from some of his passengers. New people coming on to the bus were baffled at the sight of the young boy sniffling beside the ticket bin.

Eventually, the young lad presented him with a crumpled ticket, confident that he had found the right one. Rod snatched it from his hand and examined it at great length. ‘That’s not it – you got on three minutes after this –’

‘Oh, for God’s sake – you cruel man!’ someone exclaimed. An elderly woman shuffled up to Rod’s cabin and glowered at him as she reached into her purse. ‘I’ll get him a new one – you should be absolutely ashamed of yourself.’

Rod took the money from her, annoyed that she had brought an end to his fun. As she went to sit down, followed by the young boy, Rod sped up the bus so that they both stumbled. To his delight, the old woman lost her footing and fell over. 

A few minutes later, a spotty teenager stepped onto the bus with an out-of-date bus pass. Rod swiped it from the boy’s unsuspecting hands. ‘Aha! This is two days out of date!’

‘I was on my way to renew it –’

‘Yeah – likely story,’ said Rod, as he pocketed the confiscated pass. ‘You know, it’s folk like you that are the scourge of our society. These bus passes put food on my family’s table, you know.’  

The spotty teenager was horrified. ‘Honestly, I was going to –’

‘Clear off!’ Rod yelled. ‘You’re a criminal and nothing less!’

The teenager cursed and slunk away. Rod shook his head and put his foot down on the accelerator, grumbling to himself as he drove off.

Later on that day, Rod’s bus was caught in terrible traffic and his mood blackened considerably. He ended up beeping his horn at every red light, as if each one was deliberately trying to ruin his day.

‘Bloody traffic,’ he grumbled. ‘Shouldn’t be allowed – shouldn’t be legal!’

He then encountered a very unwelcome sight in Harris Street’s bus bay. To his utmost horror, he saw that a taxi was parked there.

‘I don’t believe this,’ he muttered, slowing down the bus as he approached the bay. He hammered his horn, but the taxi did not move.

‘Get out the way!’

The taxi driver was busy helping someone take their shopping out of his boot. He completely ignored Rod’s demands. 

Rod gritted his teeth and snarled. His hands gripped the steering wheel and red hot anger rose within him. He hated it when people got in his way.

‘Right,’ he growled. ‘I’ve had it!’

Leaping out of his cockpit, he marched over to the taxi driver and gestured at the troublesome vehicle with animated exasperation.

‘Can’t park here, you idiot! What the hell are you playing at?’

The taxi driver chuckled. ‘All right, baldie. Calm down.’

‘I beg your pardon?’ Rod fumed. He took a step closer to the taxi driver and puffed up his chest, but the taxi driver was at least a foot taller than him. ‘You’d better move, or else I’ll – I’ll smash your bloody face in!’

To Rod’s bemusement, half of his passengers were clearly laughing at him. The taxi driver shared in their humour.

‘Get out my hair, baldie. No need to cause a kerfuffle – I’ll get moving now.’

‘Yeah, you better had do!’

The taxi driver threw back his head and guffawed, not in the least bit threatened by Rod. He cooly climbed into his taxi and cruised out of the bus bay, leaving Rod as red as a lobster. 

After that, every little thing irritated Rod and he drove like an absolute lunatic. His passengers held on for dear life as the bus thundered along, fuelled by his uncontrollable rage.

‘Sorry about this,’ he called out to his passengers. ‘I’m doing this for your safety – there’s some right idiots on the road!’

A large car cut in front of him and he beeped his horn. He caught up with the vehicle at some traffic lights and wound down his window, shouting down to a mother and her two startled children.

‘You silly cow! Are you crazy? Do you realise you’ve just endangered the lives of my passengers?’

‘And do you realise that you’re upsetting my children?’ the woman retorted.

Rod was so outraged that he slammed down on the accelerator and drove straight through a red light, going well beyond the speed limit. Some of his passengers began to scream.

‘Oy – can you slow down a bit, mate?’

‘Excuse me, driver – you’re going too fast!’

Rod slammed on the brakes and brought the bus to an abrupt halt. ‘Everyone get off! I’ve had enough!’

The shocked passengers took a moment to register. Slowly, they began to stand up and exit the bus. Most of them were a delicate shade of green. 

‘I’m suing for whiplash,’ a frail old woman complained.

‘Yeah, you do that, love.’

Once all the passengers had disembarked, Rod continued on his way, driving aimlessly around the streets of his dull town. He caught the eye of several people who were clearly confused as to why the No. 53 had gone rogue.

Before long, Rod realised that he was being pursued by two police cars. They indicated for him to pull over the vehicle, but Rod was too afraid to do so.

‘What do they want?’ he cried. ‘I haven’t done owt wrong, have I?’

As he sped up the bus, he pondered bitterly over the day’s events. It seemed that everyone had been out to get him.

Loud sirens pierced his thoughts. ‘Christ, I can’t have any peace!’

Rod was driving so fast that he did not have time to slow down at the upcoming roundabout and hurtled straight across the grassy island. He heard cars screech and collide in his wake, yet the police cars still pursued him. Up above, a helicopter joined the hunt.

‘What the devil will Shirley think of me?’ Rod wondered, giving some thought to his wife. A grim smile crept across his face. ‘She won’t be best pleased, the silly old –’

Something splattered across the windscreen. Rod yelped, fumbling with the steering wheel as he tried to see through the explosion of white feathers. He slammed on the brakes and attempted to regain control of his vehicle, but it crashed through a hedgerow and capsized, skidding through a ploughed field and spewing up great clods of earth, finally coming to a jerky halt.

When Rod came to his senses, he realised that he was in the middle of a potato field. His body ached all over and he tried to climb out of his overturned cockpit, but he could not find the strength to lift himself out. His concentration was shattered by the shrill sound of approaching police sirens.

Several patrol cars raced onto the field and circled around the capsized bus. The police officers sprang forth from their vehicles and approached with great caution, but they soon realised that Rod posed no threat. To Rod’s embarrassment, they tried and failed to extricate him from the bus, and eventually had to summon the fire brigade. Once he had been hoisted out, he was handcuffed by a stony-faced policeman.

‘It’s been a terrible day, officers – you’ve got to believe me –’

‘Save it for the station, sir. You’ve got a lot to answer for.’

And so Rod ended up in prison for dangerous driving and also had his license revoked. He often grumbled to the other inmates about how his passengers and fellow motorists had pushed him to one moment of madness, but never – not for one second – did he think that he was to blame for any of it.

Utilise Every Spare Minute!

Do you have a long commute to work? An hour of peace once the kids have gone to bed? A lunch break perhaps? No matter how busy you are, you can always find time for what you love.

As J.K. Rowling said, you’ve got to fiercely defend your writing time and that’s exactly what I’ve been doing lately. Even if you just snatch a minute here and there, making notes on your phone or scribbling in a notepad, you will make progress before you know it! Every word adds up and if you stick at it, you will reach the finish line eventually! This way of thinking applies to any hobby or passion.

Many people despair about not having enough time to do what they love. Until recently, I have been skimping dramatically on my writing time. In fact, I wasn’t even showing up at the keyboard, so how on earth could I expect anything to happen? You’ve got to open up the space for your creativity to flourish.

Keep on creating, folks! Even if you’re going at a snail’s pace, each little bit of progress is better than none. This week, I’ve been taking my phone into work with me, typing away on my commute and whenever I have a spare moment, my imagination bubbling in the background, living and breathing once more.

Keep on pushing forward, enjoy the journey and have good fun with it. And don’t forget to have well-earned pit-stops along the way! If you whip your horse too hard, it will collapse with exhaustion, so go at a pace that is comfortable for you. “Without haste, but without rest,” Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe said.

Good luck, fellow creators!

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.

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.

 

 

Do You Hate Self-Promotion? Read This Amazing Book To Change That!

Before I read Show Your Work!, I used to think of self-promotion as something that was dirty and unwholesome. I was afraid of annoying people with too many updates and thought that I might come across as indulgent or arrogant if I posted too much about what I did.

But this guidebook was written for “people who hate the very idea of self-promotion”. Reading it has dramatically changed my perception and I now view self-promotion as simply sharing what you do – thinking of it in this way makes it seem less unsavoury somehow! In fact, sharing what you do – with regards to your work, thoughts and ideas – is really just being transparent about who you are as a person.

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While reading Show Your Work!, I made key notes that I will definitely refer back to in the future. If you are someone who struggles to self-promote or have trouble speaking about what you do, then I highly advise you to check out this book. It is packed full of practical advice and really does help to shift your perception. The main lessons I learned from it are as follows:

  1. Share something small every day, whether it be something that inspired you or an idea that you had. Anything from your creative process that might be insightful or interesting to others.
  2. Document everything that you do. Take photos, keep a work journal etc, so that you have a wellspring of material to draw upon when blogging or posting updates.
  3. Focus on your work and get good at what you do. Don’t waste your time and energy trying to gain followers or network. People will come to you if you are good at your craft.
  4. Don’t hoard your ideas. Post about what you’ve learned and help your fellow creatives, encouraging support and collaboration.
  5. How to deal with the dreaded question: “So what do you do?”
  6. Appreciate your guilty pleasures (i.e. that TV show that everyone else thinks is lame) because maybe it will lead to something that inspires/influences your work.
  7. The vampire test. If something drains your energy, cast it out of your life. Keep the things that boost your energy.

There are so many other things that I learned too. There was also a lot that I already knew deep down, but I just needed some reassurance and encouragement. It is precisely the book that I needed to read and I am enjoying incorporating its methods and techniques into my life. Thank you, Austin Kleon, for a fantastic guidebook!

If you wish to check it out further, then click here: http://austinkleon.com/show-your-work/

 

Writing as a linear process

For me, writing is a linear process. I cannot jump ahead and write future scenes if I’m stuck because the unfolding of a story is so organic that unexpected things happen along the way. New characters can come into the fold, the plot may take a different direction or some scenes may no longer feel necessary. None of this may happen if you begin to time-travel.

Of course, writers are the creators of their own worlds and ultimately can time-travel if they want to (indeed, it may be part of the plot). But from experience, I have found that I never fully stick to my plan as my story comes to life on the page.

I tend to stay true to the main essence of the plot, but often the best parts of my prose come from nowhere. So travelling from A to B, from beginning to end, is the way that I operate. No chopping or changing, no jumping ahead to future scenes, just staying there with my characters from the first page to the very last.

Don’t Lose Your Magic!

I recently watched Joy, the film about the inventor of the miracle mop, which was very inspiring indeed. All such success stories serve to demonstrate that you should always persevere and never give up, for the realisation of your goals cannot happen without constant drive.

What really grabbed me about Joy’s story is that her creativity was suppressed for seventeen years, crushed and stifled by all the commitments and other things going on in her life. I can relate to this creative hibernation because I did not write for many years, but my creativity kept finding other ways to express itself, until I eventually plucked up the courage to write my first proper book.

At the beginning of the film, you get to see how bright and creative Joy was as a child. Indeed, most children are born with such fearless wonder and playfulness, but a lot of us lose this magic as we enter adulthood. It is tragic when someone’s spirit is crushed by the real world, as this person cannot shine as brightly as they would like, nor be who they want to be.

But it is never too late to change things! Joy tapped back into her creative reserves after seventeen years and overcame great odds to achieve her dreams.

Watching this film made me think… if Joy could overcome such adversity, then so can I – and so can you!

For as long as you breathe, you have the opportunity to turn things around. Don’t let your spirit get crushed by life. Don’t lose the magic!

The Fragility of Life

The other day, a car drove past me and one of its tires unexpectedly blew out. The disgruntled driver slowly pulled over and sat there in astonishment.

This incident reminded me of the fragility of life. You can be cruising along quite happily until something unexpected comes along and knocks the wind out of your sails. Indeed, the opposite can happen where you’re just muddling along and a great gust of wind lifts your spirits and elevates you to new heights.

Nothing in life is certain and things are forever in a state of flux. Nothing remains static, so we must embrace change and dance with the flow of life, otherwise we will suffer.

Many people suffer because they resist change or cannot let go of the thing that punctured their tire. But every time that something knocks us off the road, we must make repairs and get back into motion, otherwise we will rust and decay and end up on the scrapheap.

Life is fragile and unpredictable, but this should not discourage us. Each of us are on a special journey, with pitfalls and delights that lie ahead, obscured by the landscape of time, but that is what’s truly exciting in my opinion.

Wherever your road leads, no matter what obstacles you face, keep on chugging along and don’t forget to appreciate the view.

Writing Fever

Once again, I have been bitten by the writing bug!

When you are in this state, you are constantly daydreaming about your story and itching to write the next part, and then the part after that, unable to rest until it is finished. It is a fever that can only be cured by spilling words onto the page. And even when I complete a book, it is never long before I yearn to write another!

Some people call it the writer’s curse, but I think that it’s a blessing. A lot of people struggle for their art (i.e. some writers need to be drunk or heartbroken or swinging upside-down), yet I can usually sit and write with minimal effort. Of course, insatiable writing fever makes it so much easier to get into the zone, but there are times when this fever dwindles, especially if you are writing for many months.

With my first book, which took eight months to write, the fever came in peaks and troughs. There were times when I was very productive and other times when I barely made any progress at all. But I was patient and I kept on going, one word at a time, putting one foot in front of the other until I reached the finish line. Whenever the fever came, I took full advantage and went along with it, allowing it to spur me onward like wind blowing into a ship’s sails.

Some days, I only have to sit down at my desk before I get lost in a trance and sucked into the story. But even when I’m not being productive, the story is always at the back of my mind, urging me to carry on. The main blocks for me come in the form of self-doubt and fears that my work isn’t good enough, but these concerns are usually bypassed by writing fever, which makes writing a matter of utmost urgency!

Blessed are the days where writing is as easy as breathing. Not so blessed are the days where writing is like chopping through a dense jungle with a bread knife! But we must make do with what we’ve got in any particular moment and we cannot always wait for the wind.