News and advice for writers: story updates and dealing with subjective critiques

crumpled paper

Happy Thursday! So I’m starting a monthly update to share where I am with my short stories, my novel Million Eyes, and to offer any words of wisdom I can to fellow writers – based on my experiences. (A new conspiracy article will follow next week.)

Who is Rudolph Fentz? – forthcoming publication

I announced back in July that my story Who is Rudolph Fentz? is scheduled to be published in Scribble. Scribble is a short story magazine that’s been running since 1999 and was named the “Best UK Short Fiction Magazine” at the Writers Grand Circle Awards in 2007.

The publication of this story, inspired by a real-life urban legend, is still forthcoming. They weren’t able to fit it into the autumn issue so I’m hoping it will be published in the winter issue, released during December (though they haven’t confirmed this). As soon as I know more, so will you!

Paul – Aeon Award Contest closing soon

It feels like an age that I’ve been waiting for more news about Paul, my short story that was shortlisted in the first round of the Aeon Award Contest 2015. This has a top prize of €1,000 and guaranteed publication in leading Irish science fiction magazine Albedo One. It’s an annual competition with four rounds of shortlists, and the final one closes on November 30th, so I’m hoping for news as to whether I’ve made it into the top 6 shortly after that!

Even if I don’t, I might consider submitting through the normal channels to Albedo One, since the editor of the magazine called it a fine story! He also told me it won out against 70+ entries in the first round of the competition, which was nice to hear. I expect it’s now up against a hell of a lot more (as the Aeon Award is considered quite a prestigious contest). So – while I’m keeping literally everything crossed – I’m also trying to be realistic!

News on my other stories

Paul and Who is Rudolph Fentz? are both part of the Million Eyes Short Stories series. I’m in the process of submitting a number of other stories in the series to short story magazines and competitions, too. My story Operation Loch Ness got some very positive feedback from the readers at Andromeda Spaceways magazine, but was ultimately rejected, mostly because they thought the ending needed some work. I took that advice on board and have rewritten the ending. I’m hoping now that another publication will pick it up.

My story Rachel Can See, which was longlisted in the annual Inktears short story competition, recently got through to the second round of reading at Andromeda Spaceways. That’s quite a feat in itself, but it was rejected after that. This story has been submitted a fair bit now and most of the criticism I get tends to be levelled towards the ending. I did rework the ending late last year after getting some initial criticism. The revised version garnered the approval of my ‘muses,’ who agreed with the initial critiques (my muses are two of my friends whose ears I bend regularly with my stories and story ideas). However, one reader at Andromeda Spaceways said s/he thought this revised ending was a let-down too…

It’s under consideration in a few other places, but if it’s rejected further I’m going to take stock and consider whether it needs a completely new ending (though I’m stumped as to what that could be right now!).

News on Million Eyes

As you know, I’m reading my novel Million Eyes to my writers’ group and getting their feedback. This has been thoroughly worthwhile so far and I’m editing the novel a chapter at a time with the help of their feedback. As I work on this alongside the Million Eyes Short Stories, I can genuinely see my writing improving, particularly when I compare my latest rewrite with earlier versions of the novel. This is a good feeling!

At the rate I’m going at the moment, I’m hoping by this time next year I will have finished reading the novel to my group. Not going to rush it, though. I want it to be as good as it can be before I submit it to agents and publishers.

I have released a new children’s book

Children's book, ChristmasIf you read my blog last week, you will have seen that I’ve just released The First Christmas, the fifth and final book in The East Pudding Chronicles. This is a Christmas-themed series of books about the alternative origins of Christmas traditions, and features beautiful illustrations from Emily Harper. It’s aimed at kids aged 7 and above.

You can buy The First Christmas and the other books in the series for £4.99 each from Lulu.com. The other books are also available on Amazon and The First Christmas should be available on Amazon soon. I’m also planning to
create Kindle versions of all 5 books.

Some advice for writers: what to do with a critique

What I’ve been learning over the last few months is that while getting a critique of your writing can be enormously helpful, you need to be careful what you do with it.

Ultimately getting your writing critiqued is the best way of improving your writing. I’m not going to deny that. Otherwise I wouldn’t be asking for critiques from the magazines I submit to, and I wouldn’t be reading out Million Eyes to my writers’ group.

However, it’s important for writers to remember that critiques are subjective. What one person thinks is a steaming pile of cow dung, another person might think is Shakespeare.

I’ve struggled with the subjectivity of critiquing recently, which is why I wanted to bring it up. I submitted a story to a magazine and the critiquer said that the characters weren’t believable, there wasn’t enough plot and I hadn’t thought the story through. This story was The Emancipation of Google, which won the Founders Cup 2015 in my writers’ group and got glowing feedback from the judges and other members of the group.

So when I read the critique, I was bemused as to what to do with it. I sat there with 3 options:

  1. I start from scratch and write the story again.
  2. I scrap it and forget about it forever.
  3. I acknowledge that this is one person’s opinion and continue to believe it has worth, and continue submitting it regardless.

I decided to go with the third option. The danger is that, had The Emancipation of Google not won a competition and got good feedback from a load of other people, I might well have scrapped it after getting this critique. Then no one would ever read it.

What we writers need to remember is that getting a critique is getting an opinion, an opinion that might be reflective of that person’s tastes as much as anything else. So where possible try and get as many opinions as you can. Don’t rely on one person’s critique, because if that person says your story is crap and you scrap it, you’ve potentially scrapped a story that someone else might consider a masterpiece.

That’s why being part of a writers’ group is so invaluable to me – because I get lots of opinions. If I get a lot of opinions criticising the same thing, it’s something I’m more likely to change. If an aspect of the story is praised by one person and criticised by another, it’s a judgment call I have to make.

So get as much feedback as you can, then sit down and work out which comments you want to take on board and which comments you don’t. That part is entirely up to you. Don’t ignore criticism that several people have pointed out. Equally, don’t start slicing up your manuscript on the basis of what just one person thinks.

In other news

Breverton Phantasmagoria CoverI just had my 30th birthday. Fortunately I still get IDed for alcohol everywhere I go so I’m not too bummed about it. One of the presents I got was an intriguing book by Terry Breverton called Breverton’s Phantasmagoria. It’s a compendium of monsters, myths and legends and packed with inspiration for new Behind The Curtain blogs, so a big shout out to my friends Sally and Simon for such a useful gift!

In case you missed it, last week’s blog was about the mysterious death of Dr David Kelly. Next week’s is all about
what some people say is the biggest conspiracy in our history:
the Black Death.

Image: Sharon Drummond

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