January 2018 Update

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Scoop Magazine Issue 14

Back from Australia, fully recharged (I’m solar powered) and bravely facing down the remains of a bleak Vienna winter, I thought I’d share a few updates:

Story Publication

My latest short story, Shadow Town has just been released in Scoop Magazine (issue 14) in the UK. A copy should arrive in the mail any day now. Here’s the link to Scoop Magazine.

Australian stories

Two books on my recent holiday reading list:

  • The Blue Cat by Ursula Dubosarsky
  • Nevermoor by debut Australian novelist Jessica Townsend

Both wonderful middle-grade novels.

Discovering Treasure

In a second-hand bookshop in Victor Harbor, South Australia, I discovered a hardcover of an Australian classic, The Nimbin by Jenny Wagner. Now out of print, an entire Australian generation still remembers it. At every book shop I asked after The Nimbin (it was hard to find), people browsing near the counter looked over and said, “Oh, I remember that book. I loved it!”

Why was The Nimbin so loved? What makes it so special? And why the heck is it out of print?! I’ll reread The Nimbin this February and unlock its secrets from a writer’s perspective.

 “How to Write a Short Story” Workshop

I ran this fun workshop last week at The Vienna Workshop Gallery. A vibrant mix of participants, many with an international background. Together we read and discussed, “Cat Person” by Kristen Roupenian as found in The New Yorker December 11, 2017. You can read it here.

We then went on to look at what makes a good story, and applied this understanding to collectively lay the canvas for a story with a title drawn by our fun word lottery:

Pride Tears Lavender Left

Here’s our story logline:

A narcissistic inventor of make-up colour names must face the harsh reality he is not his deceased friend’s only best friend.

The story opens at the funeral. Lavender (the narcissist) is the protagonist. Every participant in the group went on to write their own story openings.

At the end of the workshop, each person then set out to write their own stories. I wish them all every success. At least one or two participants may go on to do the 6-Week Short Story Program.

YA Novel Writing Workshop with Keith Gray

Good friends at Write Now offered this wonderful writing workshop run by award-winning YA novelist, Keith Gray. I came away with some fantastic insights and the inspiration to finally start writing my novel. Keith has another workshop coming up in February. Check out the Write Now website for more details.

Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) Austria Meet Up

One coming up! If you’re interested in writing or illustrating for children or young adults, perhaps you’d like to attend. Where to register: Meet Up

My own writing projects for 2018

  • A middle-grade novel. Writing has begun (Many thanks, Keith!)
  • A few short stories, including a couple to connect with the themes sought by The School Magazine. More about what they need here: The School Magazine writers guidelines
  • Another writing project…top secret at this stage
  • A few more story publications are on the horizon!

Open Mic

The next open mic at Cafe Korb in Vienna is only a few weeks away (Thurs, Feb 15). If you’d like to attend, here’s where to register.

Creative Writing on the Go Workshops

They’re up on the website. The creative writing and short story programs are starting in the next few weeks. As always, I am very excited to be running these. I hope to see you there!

Vienna Creative writing Workshop

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The November 4-week creative writing workshop began on Friday at The Vienna Workshop Gallery. I was delighted to meet creative people from such diverse nations , this time as far afield as New Zealand and Eritrea to European neighbours such as Italy, the UK and Bulgaria. And of course, gallery owner, Valeria MacKnight was there flying the Brazilian flag.

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Paul and Valeria at The Vienna Workshop Gallery

Over the course of the evening participants got to know one another and share their writing in the gallery setting, with a wonderful exhibition by Brazilian artist As Marias von Leca Araujo. The exhibition runs until the 20th of November. I highly recommend you check it out!

 

Why creative writing is sunshine for the imagination II

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Why is creative writing sunshine for the imagination? This is the question I asked myself the other morning on the way to coach a 5-week short story workshop. The writers in the workshop are in the middle of writing their short stories, and as expected, have confronted many exciting and sometimes frustrating challenges along the way. Although group spirits are high and their writing is exceptionally good, I wanted everyone to step back for a moment and think about the bigger picture—what is the personal significance of writing a short story? Is creative writing really sunshine for the imagination?

Here’s what I suggested to the group. See if you agree:

Through writing stories we open doorways into our imaginations. We shine a light with our inquisitive minds and our hearts, writing all that we discover down on the page. In our search for our perfect story, we uncover the meaning in our own lives. This search is rarely, if ever, straight forward; much is hidden. There are riddles, enigmas; one has to be patient and trust oneself. But each time we write our story to its very end, we discover a little more about ourselves.

Writing a story is a journey of self-awareness. It’s not just an inner journey: Through writing our stories we gradually change our lives.

In a couple of weeks I will have the pleasure of listening to the group’s final stories. I will ask them if they agree with the above and share the news with you!

Painters have it easy

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I made the above assertion today at the closing session of the short story boot camp in Vienna. Being in the company of some very motivated writers (and not painters), no one took fierce objection to the observation or supportive argument:

A painter can immediately see their entire composition on their canvas. The writer’s canvas is the imagination, which can only be gleaned piecewise through their text.

Little wonder that many writers find it challenging to see the bigger picture, to observe their entire composition objectively. In the short story boot camp though, writers developed their compositions—from a few sketches (first drafts), to their final “masterpiece”. They neither got lost in the words nor forgot their grand design.

As the boot camp writing coach I had the pleasure of listening to the final stories. The reading session lasted over 2 hours and yet it felt like a few fleeting minutes. Every writer put in not only a great deal of time and effort, but also put their heart into their story.  Everyone, I am certain, gained confidence with their writing.

The closing boot camp session closely follows the last creative writing session (last weekend) for spring. The creative writing session was just plain fun! We wrote a group song (and sang it), explored poetry, speculative fiction, and some flash fiction. All of this in the space of a couple of hours! I think everyone was positively “buzzing” with creative energy at the end.

Over the summer break I’ll be preparing new material for creative writing and short story programs for the fall. The information should be up around the end of July. If you’re in Vienna then, I hope to see you there.

Until then, enjoy your summer!

Tennis players have it easy

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Tennis players have it easy: there’s no mistaking when they’re on the court, racket in hand, slamming the ball over the net. It’s not as though they’d say “I’m right in the middle of a match, here!” when in fact, they’ve dropped the ball and the racket, slipped off their shoes and wandered off the court to go smell the hydrangeas. Writers do this all the time!

I’ve been most fortunate to have met many writers over the years. Of those I met early on, a few are still writing; others are off doing other things. Such is the way of writing as with tennis–it’s not necessarily a lifetime affair. But writers have a far tougher job of sticking to their game, and many, I believe, have not so much as intentionally put down their pen, as simply lost their way. Consider the following comparison:

Tennis Writing
Regular tennis practice Regular writing practice
The tennis court The page
The racket The pen or keyboard
The tennis match The writing project
Winning a match Getting published
The umpire The editor
The tennis opponent Other writers’ stories
The coach Self-discipline, continual learning
The cheering crowd The ardent readers
The winnings Payment for publication
The playing season The writer’s strategy
The tennis club The community of writers

While a tennis player has, to some extent, it all set out for them (they join a club, play in a division, turn up for training and matches, win or lose, etc.), the poor writer is left to their own devices. No one will tell them when to practice, what to focus on, when their next match is, or who their opponent is. And as for a writing strategy—well, that’s just for the pros. Writing, it would seem, is a mug’s game. No wonder many writers fall by the wayside and become disheartened.

But what to do about it?

Joining a community of writers is a good idea. Having focused on stories for children and young adults in recent years, I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). They’re a wonderful international organization, and I intend to make good use of membership in the future. But if you’re not into writing for children, you are bound to find a local writer’s organization for support.

How I can help you

If you live in Vienna (Austria) or nearby, you might like to attend one of my creative writing workshops. They’re an ideal way for you to enrich your regular writing practice. And if you’re up for the challenge of an actual game, you might like to join one of my short story boot camps. The aim of the boot camp is for you to write a short story and get it published!

Whether you join me or not, I wish you every success with your writing. May you go out there and win!

A Story Seed (how to write a powerful story)

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A Story Seed

A story seed,

contains everything needed,

to reach like a mighty redwood,

for the sun.

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With space to breathe,

on the fertile soil of the page,

flowing like a mountain stream from the pen,

in the sunshine of the imagination,

a story comes to life.

 

Where do you get such story seeds? Certainly not at the local nursery. And, despite what people might have heard, a story seed is not merely an idea.

One great place to discover a story seed is in your memory

A story seed can be yielded from the fruits of rich experience. They can arise through potent memories. They might not be imbued with vivid detail, but they are underlain with strong feeling. Out of curiosity, a strong desire to understand this feeling, the writer sets their pen to the page. And so the story begins.

 

The importance of title

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A title,

like the moon,

casts its subtle light,

gently swaying the story’s tide.

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Without title is writing in the dark.

With wrong title is writing in the fog.

With right title is writing in the clear moonlight.


So I told a couple of participants in the January short story in Vienna. What do you think?

Would  F. Scott Fitzgerald have written a different story with a title such as “Good Ole Gatsby”?

How about “My Travel Tales” by Jack Kerouac? Or “Black Horse” by Anna Sewell?

Did these authors write their stories and arrive at the title later?  I wonder.

Outer world / Inner world–an original approach to writing immersive scenes

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No doubt you’ve been drilled on the writer’s axiom: Show, don’t tell. And I’m sure you’re well-versed on how to write richly immersive scenes using the palette of senses. But I bet you’ve never heard of the “Outer world / Inner world” approach to writing scenes. Or if you have, then it’s because you discussed it with me—the originator!

The outer world / inner world approach to writing a scene is included in the creative writing exercises I hand out in the writing boot camps. I thought it’s time to share the secret with you:

The Outer World / Inner World Approach

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POV focus

In the above “Outer World / Inner World” diagram, a shift in focus within the same point of view (POV) is shown. On the left hand side of the diagram the narrative is focused on the outer world (the inner world is peripheral). As the narrative progresses the focus makes a transition to the inner world (the outer world becomes peripheral).

The outer world (sensory)

The outer world is sensory—felt through the senses relating to sight, sound, hearing, touch, and taste. With an outer world focus, the narrative unfolds in the form of a scene from the chosen POV. The scene is immersive (using the varied senses).

 Inner world (mental)

The inner world contains perceptions, mental feelings, dispositions, thoughts, memories, intentions, states of mind, consciousness. In this inner world the POV character seeks to make sense of their situation. In a story (and in life in a far less coherent way), the POV character seeks happiness / a release from suffering through the pursuit of any one or all of three desires: to have, to become, to be freed from. In short, the POV character is motivated to overcome something.

Transition

Transitions are triggered by feelings arising from a “significant” event in the POV character’s outer- or inner world. The POV perceives something significant in either world, drawing them in. These transitions might also be considered the story’s silver thread weaving these worlds together.

A transition that is not triggered by feeling will have an incidental feel about it—the author groping about in the dark or attempting to adhere to a preconceived plot.

Story magic

A story may unfold in a sequence of these “outer world / inner world” events. The reader becomes immersed in both worlds, enjoying each transition because it is underlain by feeling, and because the reader attains a pleasing sense that there is no real boundary between the outer and inner world—both are dependent on the other. In this way too, the boundary between the reader the story on the page disappears—this is the magic of a story.

Example

(Outer): Manu steered the stolen motorbike through the rain and silty puddles along the road’s narrow shoulder. He passed gridlocked vehicles idling, trucks belching out fumes. The motorbike’s rumbling motor was warm comfort against the insides of his legs while the rest of him shivered. (Transition): He caught glimpses of impatient motorists, stuck, angry, cursing him it seemed, in their steel cocoons as he motored past. (Inner) To hell with them! His lips tightened as he thought about the wad of stolen money and gun in his backpack. He thought of Rita—how she would be waiting for him at the hotel. (Transition) Tonight, he decided, opening up the motorbike’s throttle, couldn’t come fast enough.

 Now it’s your turn!

Now you have the outer world / inner world approach and an example, why not give it a try for yourself. I wish every success!

Writing on the bus

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Writing on the bus can be bumpy affair. Especially in the city swerving in and out of stops, the big bus wheels bouncing over every pot hole or dished drain. There’s barely leg room to set a notebook upon one crossed knee. The sun glares through the window, and by the aisle people brush past. Writing on the bus is a challenge. But if you commute by bus every day, it provides a unique writing opportunity. Consider the math:

1 bus trip every working day for 20 minutes = 100 minutes or 1 hour and 40 minutes

 If a person writes both in the morning and the afternoon, they’ve written for over 3 hours!

If they are extremely diligent (not advocating, mind you) they will amass over 157 writing hours over the working year! That amounts to around 4 weeks of full-time work. They can cover some serious mileage on the page in that time.

As a corollary: driving to work doesn’t allow any writing time.

My advice: Even if you own a Lamborghini, leave the car at home and get writing on the bus.