Writers Worth Listening To

by James Batchelor

Sharing ideas at Writebulb meetings is all well and good, but sometimes you just want to hear things from the professionals. Or at least those closer to professionalism than us.

For this, I subscribe to writer’s podcasts. These shows are free, easily accessible via iTunes or their respective websites, and make for great listening when you’re journeying to work, waiting for a train/bus, working out at the gym or just taking a walk (guess which of the four I’ve long since given up on).

I have tried several over the years, but there’s two that remain essential pillars of my weekly listening regime. Check them out for yourselves…

Writing Excuses

www.writingexcuses.com

Hosted by several published authors – including Brandon Sanderson, author of the most recent Wheel of Time novels and the Mistborn series – this show is fantastic for giving you an insight into both the writing process and the business of publishing your work. Given that episodes are only fifteen(ish) minutes long, it’s incredible how much the team crams into each weekly discussion as they cover everything from how to write certain genres, common grammatical mistakes and whether or not you need an editor or traditional publisher. More often than not, they have expert guests on to help them discuss the topic at hand. They even give you a writing prompt at the end of each episode if you’re stuck for ideas, and their Book of the Week promotion with Audible gives you some good recommendations for future reads.

Dead Robots’ Society

www.deadrobotssociety.com

While this show is considerably longer than Writing Excuses, clocking in at between one and two hours, it’s possibly been the most helpful to me. Hosted by three self-published authors (although the trio has changed over time), this show discusses topics in-depth each week, really getting into the nitty gritty of whatever aspect of the writing process they’re focusing on – it’s very rare to come away from an episode of DRS and feel like the conversation is unfinished. Occasionally the discussion goes on unexpected but no less useful tangents, and the friendly rivalry between the three hosts makes it all the more welcoming. Perhaps my favourite aspect of this show is the opening icebreaker: “how’s your writing been this week?” While listening to the trio grill and motivate each other, I find myself feeling smug if I’ve accomplished something since the previous episode or guilty if I haven’t.

Both shows have their full archives available at their websites, so you can go back and listen to the lot or pick and choose episodes that would be most relevant to you. Let me know if you find any more – there’s always room in my routine for more writing podcasts.

 

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The Muse Has Returned

by Carol Thomas

I have been struggling with writing fiction since I found out I was pregnant last August. I was so distracted with getting to the next milestone in the pregnancy that my mind was unable to concentrate on anything else.

As New Year 2014 neared I started to panic that I would find myself years down the line, once the child was at pre-school, one of those people who tells people they ‘used to write.’

100k100days started on January 1st and I resolved to take that on again. I found it hard to create fiction so threw myself into writing non-fiction for my Life Story that I am dabbling with. I found this easier because I didn’t have to make anything up, the material was already there.

I found it frustrating though not being able to write what I really wanted to. My imaginary friends wouldn’t talk to me. January brought with it the plans for the Writebulb anthologies, not one but two! Then there was the little matter of my unfinished thriller that I had promised myself I would have finished last year.

I forced myself to work on my own novel; luckily I had made notes of what I needed to do. I wrote blog posts in longhand and read more to try to get my brain moving.

Then something amazing happened! I had a couple of opening chapters tucked away that I had started but found I didn’t like. I re-read them and realised what was wrong with one of them and why it hadn’t worked. I liked the plot idea so wiped it, only keeping character names and basic plot, then started writing. The words flowed.

Then something crazy happened. I realised what was wrong with the other story. I was so excited by it that I had to get that opening re-written.

So now only a few days after struggling to write any fiction I have three to work on. I am dividing my writing time between them all.

I also have the first anthology piece well under way, so hopefully this will be a good writing year for me.

 

THE GIFT OF RAIN by TAN TWAN ENG

by Margo Fuke

 

Sixteen year old Philip has an English father and a (deceased) Chinese mother and feels isolated from both cultures. (our ethnic minorities?). He meets Hayato Endo, a Japanese Martial Arts Master. Philip carries the immense trust essential to their master/student relationship over into the rest of his life, finding stability in intensive daily training and sharing his love and knowledge of the island with Endo San.

 

But this is Penang, 1939, trembling and waiting as the Japanese invade China with appalling brutality (I’ll leave you to read about the Rape of Nanking). The Allies can spare only two ancient ships for defence of Malaya and Singapore and, worse still, all the guns on Singapore are pointing the wrong way! The invaders make monkeys of the British by invading via Malaya, not with tanks, but on the humble bicyles that enable them to surge down paths invisible to non-locals. Philip recognises the info he has given Endo San. He is torn. Many welcomed the Japanese initially, seeing only freedom from Imperial rule. Then his newly-enlisted naval half-brother drowns.

 

I couldn’t help comparing this with the dilemma experienced by many in other parts of the world today. Should he flee; fight, like his half-siblings; copy his trader father’s ‘business as usual for now’ attitude; or collaborate in the hope of saving lives. He chooses the last but the insane viciousness of the invaders gradually makes this impossible and he must throw caution to the winds and hope the Allies return.

 

Philip tells his story after a lifetime running his father’s trading empire and we see the hatred of those who called him collaborator and the gratitude of those he saved.

 

I was reluctant to read this book. I spent several months, years ago, in Singapore and Indonesia and they hadn’t forgotten Japanese brutality and still feared a new invasion as inevitable. But it was a Book Group choice. As a Tai Chi beginner I was fascinated initially by his martial arts training and, by the time the story moved on, I was completely hooked by this lonely boy. This is a gripping story of colonial family life, friendship, betrayal, and simply coping with the horrors of seeing his world devastated around him. It is brilliantly coloured, action-packed, evocative and moving.

 

Reading Memories

by Natacha Dudley

‘There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate’s loot on Treasure Island.’ Walt Disney.

I have always enjoyed books and I was fortunate to grow up with parents who loved reading and passed on that joy to me. Every week they would take me to the local library to choose new books. I can still remember the excitement of walking through the great entrance doors and then sprinting to the children’s section.

I briefly returned to that world when I heard about a recent survey of the most popular children’s books. The YouGov poll was carried out in association with the children’s charity Barnardo’s as part of a campaign to promote reading for vulnerable children in the UK. In the poll of more than 2,000 adults I was delighted to see Winnie the Pooh in first place, but the Top Ten also included other personal favourites such as Black Beauty, Treasure Island, and the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

As adults, reading gives us time to pause in our stressful lives and enjoy a moment of privacy and relaxation. When we read a story, we experience all of our favourite character’s emotions, and we escape into their world. Reading with young children not only stimulates their imagination but also gives them access to a wide vocabulary.  Literacy isn’t just a life skill it’s a passport to happiness. I wish the Barnardo’s Story Time initiative every success for the future.