Creative writing course and unconference

Via Pulp Net, the "online home of new fiction":
Debate: Creative Writing courses – pain or gain? At the Guardian Newsroom (London) on Wed 21 May, 6.45 p.m. More details here. "How useful are writing courses to writers as they start out in the profession? The last decade or so has seen an explosion of courses in creative writing, and lots of aspiring writers seem to think it is the surest route to publication. But how many people does this really work for? And can creativity ever be 'taught'? Julia Bell and Marion Urch, both novelists as well as respectively a teacher and a writing mentor, are joined by author and University of East Anglia alumnus Toby Litt, and Drew Gummerson who has never done an MA but whose second novel is coming out with Cape." Debate chaired by Aoi Matsushima.
The new issue of Pulp Net also features new short fiction from Mark Piggott, Sarah Butler and Joseph Ridgwell; author Sarah Salway's top ten literary bests; reviews; and news of LitCamp, a writers' "unconference" (a currently very trendy format) to be held in London on 12-13 September: "a place for writers to meet, talk, and share ideas and experience. Over the course of two days you’ll meet publishers, agents and other writers in an informal setting. The focus is on participation. Sessions will be full of practical information and advice that will help you move your writing forward."

Hall and Keynes join Arbor in the citation indexes

I was taken by a Correspondence in Nature the other week, in which Daniel C. Postellon of the Helen DeVos Children's Hospital, Michigan, write (Nature 452, 282; 2008):
The career of the non-existent author Ann Arbor is well-known to connoisseurs of computerized databases and citation indexes. Usually listed as the last author, she is sometimes credited with the academic degree "MI". Ann is not actually a person, but the city of Ann Arbor, Michigan, home of the University of Michigan. Her 'degree' is a misinterpretation of the abbreviation for Michigan: MI. She pre-dates online computerized databases, and was often listed in the paper edition of Index Medicus.
Ms Arbor now has a UK rival in the team of Walton Hall and Milton Keynes. Like her, they are usually listed as last authors. The online database Google Scholar lists them as co-authors of 46 publications, in addition to their solo work. Walton Hall is actually a building on the campus of the Open University in Milton Keynes. These 'authors' have a useful role to play: they can be used to check the accuracy of the databases and indexes.

I sent this letter to Dave Lull, who replied that the story reminded him of the dictionary trap,when the editors of the New Oxford American Dictionary deliberately inserted a false entry in their dictionary. "The New Oxford American's entry for "esquivalience" defines it as "the willful avoidance of one's official responsibilities; the shirking of duties," as in, "After three subordinates attested to his esquivalience, Lieutenant Claiborne was dismissed." The word's etymology is traced to the late 19th Century, "perhaps from French esquiver, `dodge, slink away.'" But while "esquiver" is a real French word, "esquivalience" is an invention." Lots more nice detail at the link provided. 

Don’t bet on a new Harry Potter novel

This is the surest way I have seen for some time of throwing away good money:

"Ladbrokes has reopened its "will there be an eighth Harry Potter book" market, following a number of requests from fans. The betting firm is offering odds of 2/1 on JK Rowling releasing another installment of the phenomenon by the end of 2012. It is offering 1/3 on there not being another Potter novel." (From the Bookseller blog.) 

Apparently, there was quite a flurry of bets immediately after publication of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (book 7), then all went quiet. Now, people are wanting to bet again. Well, a fool and his (or her) money are easily parted.  It is possible, I suppose, that this recent activity has been stimulated by the current New York court case, in which J. K. Rowling is trying to stop someone from plagiarising chunks of her books into a self-styled "lexicon". Be that as it may, there will be no eighth Harry Potter novel. The author has long said that she might write an encyclopaedia-style book, in part to add some details. Such a volume might be based in part on the huge "style bible" that the Bloomsbury sub (copy) editors have gradually accumulated. J. K. Rowling has also occasionally mused on revising the existing novels. But there won't be a new one.

Nicci French’s online story this week

Despite the fact that I followed K. O. Dahl's posts on Moments in Crime with interest, I missed the fact that one of my favourite authors, "Nicci French" (Nicci Gerrard and Sean French) was/were guest-blogging there all last week. Oh well, never mind. However, now that I've caught up with the fact, I see that their last post (yesterday) on Moments in Crime revealed that this week, they are writing a story live, online, at the Penguin website, called Your Place and Mine. The story starts today Monday 6 April, between 6.30pm and 7.30pm (British Summer time – GMT minus one hour) and continues at the same time every day until the authors finish it on Friday – "if we don’t collapse first", they write.
Moments in Crime is the blog of St Martin's Minotaur press. If you want to read the Nicci French posts from last week, the introduction is here: you can just scroll ahead from there until you get to Barbara Fiser (and carry on reading, actually, her first post today,  A blogging librarian who kills people in her spare time, is engaging).
I have recently reviewed Nicci French's most recent books at Euro Crime: Losing You and Until It's Over. As you can see from my reviews, I highly recommend both.

Lifestyle of a successful author

Author Brian McGilloway has won all kinds of awards and plaudits for his debut novel, Borderlands — among others, it was the (tied) consensus favourite read for 2007 among Euro Crime's reviewers. His second novel, Gallows Lane (no apostrophe), is published this week and looks set to equal the success of his first (take it from me, I've read it). But can he afford to rest on his laurels? Not according to an interview on the Macmillan new writers' blog:

"What is your typical writing day?
My typical writing day starts usually around 8.30 pm. I work full time in Derry which means I leave the house at eight in the morning and get home after five most days. Having a young family, little is done about the house until after the children go to bed around eight. Then, a mug of tea, a quick check of e-mails and I get started. I write for an hour or two per day for the months during which I’m actually writing. I aim to write 1000 words per day, though frequently I manage 2500, and sometimes I struggle to make 250. I tend to write most during the summer holidays, generally late at night."

Makes you think, doesn't it?

Alan Bennett on “History” and more

Via National Theatre email, I read a characteristic article (in the Daily Telegraph) by Alan Bennett. The article is a version of a speech he gave, so it is a series of observations rather than a seamlessly connected argument. It is therefore hard to summarise it in a pithy sentence or two, but it contains plenty of wryly amusing Bennetisms on the topic of why he doesn’t accept invitations to school speech days, teaching styles (as epitomised in The History Boys), the writing process (characters are the most important thing), achievement, potential and a comparison of state and public education systems. This being Bennett, there are also some good anecdotes, particularly at the end. Here’s a quote from the piece:

"It’s nice to think there is some pattern in what one writes but I’m not always sure there is. You write one thing and then you write another with no more purpose than a hen scratching about in a yard. Still I can see there is a tenuous connection between History Boys and The Uncommon Reader if only because Hector believes books are companions, which is what a woman rather late in life discovers for herself and which liberates her in a transformation of which Hector would surely have approved."

The talk on which this article is based, given at the Wyndham’s Theatre where The History Boys is still running, is available here; and you can watch a video of the cast at the National Theatre website.

Writers who blog

Guardian Unlimited: Arts blog – books: My top blogging writers.

Maxim Jakubowski identifies (link above) the writers’ blogs he follows "religiously": Neil Gaiman, Belle de Jour (two obvious choices, not my cup of tea), Marie Phillips, Meg Gardiner (must try, didn’t know she blogs), John Connelly (also highly recommended by Crime Always Pays, so worth a look– though I loved his first two or three, have not enjoyed his last few books) and a couple of others (links at the post above).

So, which writers’ blogs do I follow? Not many, truth be told. I’ve looked at quite a few writers’ blogs but they don’t sustain my interest because they tend to be too self-regarding where their own books are concerned. Most of my favourites are readers’ blogs, because they aren’t trying to "push" anything. But one or two writers have blogs that I really like — I’ve already mentioned Crime Always Pays (Declan Burke), to which I add Michael Walters, Susan Hill, Clare Dudman, Prairie Mary, Brian Sibley, Debi Alper, Henry Gee, Bill Liversidge. These are all blogs that I very much look forward to reading every night  or every other night. Why is this? Well, they are not primarily to promote their books, or if they are, they do so in such an amusing and individual style that you don’t mind or feel pressured. I like them because they are written by such sparkling, interesting people who have stimulating things to say and can put those things well. The fact that they are authors of books is, or can be, incidental.  Have I missed any? (No self-nominations, please ;-) .)

New editor of Tolkien journal

From The End of the Pier Show, my friend and colleague Henry Gee’s blog: "Well, here I am in Oxford, at Oxonmoot, the annual meeting of the Tolkien Society. This note is merely to tell you that everyone here looks quite normal. Nobody is dressed up as a hobbit or an elf (which will mean the event will get zero publicity, as the dressing-up is only aspect of Tolkien fandom in which the press is interested). I have just volunteered myself as the next editor of Mallorn, the Society’s annual journal. What have I done?"

My congratulations to Henry. And, as editor of the journal, he is calling for submissions. If you are interested, please go to the Mallorn‘s website for further information.

Ansible, an infamous SF newsletter

From my friend Henry Gee (whose highly recommended blog is The End of the Pier Show, the show in question being Henry’s many lives as science editor, fiction and non-fiction book author, palaenotologist, SF supremo, polymath, father and Person Who Lives in Norfolk These Days): Ansible 240 (July 2007)

Here is a sample:

On Serious Literature

"Ursula Le Guin sends a cry from the heart:

`Michael Chabon has spent considerable energy trying to drag the decaying corpse of genre fiction out of the shallow grave where writers of serious literature abandoned it.’ Ruth Franklin (Slate, 8 May 2007)

Something woke her in the night. Was it steps she heard, coming up the stairs — somebody in wet training shoes, climbing the stairs very slowly … but who? And why wet shoes? It hadn’t rained. There, again, the heavy, soggy sound. But it hadn’t rained for weeks, it was only sultry, the air close, with a cloying hint of mildew or rot, sweet rot, like very old finiocchiona, or perhaps liverwurst gone green. There, again — the slow, squelching, sucking steps, and the foul smell was stronger. Something was climbing her stairs, coming closer to her door. As she heard the click of heel bones that had broken through rotting flesh, she knew what it was. But it was dead, dead! God damn that Chabon, dragging it out of the grave where she and the other serious writers had buried it to save serious literature from its polluting touch, the horror of its blank, pustular face, the lifeless, meaningless glare of its decaying eyes! What did the fool think he was doing? Had he paid no attention at all to the endless rituals of the serious writers and their serious critics — the formal expulsion ceremonies, the repeated anathemata, the stakes driven over and over through the heart, the vitriolic sneers, the endless, solemn dances on the grave?"

Read on at Ansible, David Langford’s infamous British SF/fan newsletter, published since 1979. Dave writes: "The current series (from 1991) was hosted for many years at Glasgow University, but the primary site is now here [includes archive]. The UK print edition is normally produced on the Ansible HQ laser printer or by Kall Kwik, St Mary’s Butts, Reading. But if I’m visiting London I go to The Print Centre in Store Street, off the Tottenham Court Road."

Short short stories at normblog

Do you remember last year’s normblog short short story competition, where the maximum number of words per story was 250 ? Well, now Norm (Norman Geras) is doing it again: see normblog: Short short story – second series. He writes:

"I must do what I can to encourage you all in the path of Jane Austen, George Eliot, Fyodor Dostoevsky, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Saul Bellow, Cormac McCarthy and… er, Salman Rushdie. It’s the same deal as last time. Your story must be…

… no more than 250 words, excluding your title – for which, however, you may not use more than 10 words. I will post a selection of the stories sent (and sending one will be taken as giving your permission to post it); and if there’s enough of an entry, I’ll put them before a panel of judges, not including myself and to be announced in due course, for selection of the best three. There will be prizes.

All I need add is that, whatever its quality, your story will be received at normblog as a vote in favour of the glory of literature."

So, do give it a go! Here is where to go to enter, and here are last year’s winners, with judges’ report and links to the stories. From there, you can also find all of last year’s entries. I can’t find the deadline, but the normblog’s email address is here for entries and competition-related enquiries.