I can't quite believe that This Itch of Writing has being going for 500 posts - and five and a half years, come to that - but it's true. To celebrate, I thought it would be fun to have a competition, and some of my favourite writerly places have kindly offered prizes.
TO ENTER: Please write a blog post, 500 words at most, which is helpful, interesting or illuminating for other writers. Of course yours will stem from your own experience of writing, but the focus of This Itch of Writing is outwards, towards other writers, not inwards towards yourself. If you're new to This Itch of Writing, have a look here, to get an idea of the range of topics across the whole blog. If you want to include links or images that add real value to your post
then please do, bearing in mind that This Itch is all about the words on
the page. And you're welcome to enter more than once though, to be fair, I won't give the same person more than one prize!
THE PRIZES: In the spirit of This Itch that every writer is different and so wants and needs different things, the first prize is to be able to choose whichever of these three will be most useful and pleasurable for you:
A two-night Writers Retreat at Retreats for You in Sheepwash, North Devon, where full board and friendly writerly company come as standard, and total silence and lunch-on-a-tray are offered with equal generosity.
One year's Full Membership of WriteWords, which apart from anything else in the way of Groups, Jobs&Opps, Directory and so on, is the place that about 50% of all my posts here started out, as thinking-aloud-in-the-forum.
A free Quick Review of your covering letter, synopsis and up to 5,000 words, by the expert folk at Writer's Workshop, onlie begetters of the York Festival of Writing and other energetic boosts up the ladder towards publication.
The second prize is to choose from the remaining two prizes; the third prize is - well - you do the math.
All winning and any highly commended posts will be posted on This Itch of Writing at suitable intervals, and at that point I'll ask you for a couple of lines of biography, and, if you like, a link back to your own
blog, website, Facebook page or any other web presence.
THE CLOSING DATE is the end of Friday 31st May (BST, if we're being precise), and I'll post the result as soon as I can after that, although, the writing life being the unpredictable thing that it is, I make no promises about when.
To enter, email your post to me at thisitchofwriting [insert the usual email symbol here] gmail dot com. Please make sure you give your full name as well as the text of your post, and put "competition" in the subject so I can keep things tidy!
By entering, you confirm that the post is your original work, and not published anywhere else.
You keep the copyright in your post, but copyright on This Itch of Writing operates under a Creative Commons Licence, (see the left-hand sidebar for the details) so you must be happy with those principles. The winning posts will stay in the archive of This Itch of Writing while it exists: all other posts will be deleted, so do make sure you've got a copy of the file.
My decision about the winners is final, and I don't promise to enter into discussions of the whys and wherefores of my decision.
There's no cash alternative to the prizes, but they are transferable to someone else, or postponable if (for example) you're already a member of WriteWords, by arrangement between you and the donor of the prize.
The Retreats for You prize includes full board for two nights, but transport there is your responsibility. Retreats for You can arrange transfers to and from Exeter St Davids station for an extra fee.
It must be spring in the air: I'm fantastically busy on various fronts, but some of them might be relevant to all you lovely blog-readers, so here goes.
Since October I've been absolutely loving my RLF Fellowship at Goldsmiths;
it's been some of the most rewarding and enjoyable teaching I've ever
done, so I'm delighted that playwright Annie
Caulfield and I will again be there next year. Our job is to help with
academic writing across the full spectrum of the College, from first
years to PhDs and staff, from Fine Art to Social Work and Anthropology.
I am planning an occasional series on academic writing, since I know
quite a few blog-readers would be interested. And the RLF's website has excellent resources on academic writing, although you do need to do a bit of digging to find it all.
The York Festival of Writing 2013 is on the 13-15th September.
I'll be there as usual - as will Debi, several hundred writers, and a hundred or so authors,
agents and publishers - and I'll be teaching a half-day mini-course and
several workshops, although exactly what hasn't yet been settled (did I
say I've been a bit busy?). It's always a fantastic weekend, and if you
want to get the flavour, there's a great video here, which was made last year.
I've been playing around with Pinterest, assembling a "board" each for The Mathematics of Love, and A Secret Alchemy. The idea is partly to have somewhere for readers who are tickled by the real life correspondences in the novels, and partly perhaps to pick up the occasional interest from someone browsing Pinterest who didn't know that my novels existed. The boards are very much work-in-progress, and I've sometimes raged against the assumption that novels simply represent Real Stuff. But I shall gently add more images, since it's a lot of fun, perfect procrastination, and I do feel they're adding something that hasn't quite been get-attable before.
Some of my friends do boards for works-in-progress, but I don't talk detail about what I'm working on. That's partly because once I start I'm not very good at stopping and I'm fond of my friends, and partly so as not to "talk it out". But most of all it's because other people's reactions at this thinking-dreaming stage often not helpful, however well-intentioned or merely interested.
But when I got onto Pinterest I discovered that you can have "secret" boards, which only you can see. And compared to files on the PC and folders on my desk, it's a really easy way to collect together images, complete with links to their origins, and see them all at once. So I've made a secret board for the WIP and, when the W is no longer in P, I shall simply turn the board to "public".
At the Historical Novel Society Conference 2012, I took part in a panel discussion called The Lying Art: Tensions and Issues at the Fact/Fiction Interface, and it was recorded. The authors on the panel were Elizabeth Chadwick, Ian Mortimer (when he's being a historian, James Forrester when he's being a novelist), Barbara Ewing, Daisy Godwin, Harry Sidebottom and yours truly, and it was a really lively discussion with lots of disagreeing!
Obviously it might interest anyone writing historical fiction, but it's also very relevant to anyone who's grappling with the perennial questions that come up when you're using real factual material in your fiction - what you must be faithful to, what you can change, what you can ignore.
You may know that I co-teach an online course on Self-Editing Your Novel with Debi Alper. It's a six-week course based on a private bit of the Writers' Workshop Word Cloud. We developed it together, over a hundred writers have "graduated" from it, and this week we're in the thick of the seventh course. As ever, it's being huge fun, and then on a thread which a Word Clouder started about writing courses in general, our course was mentioned. And such was the reaction from graduates that I can't resist posting a link to what they said here. And one of the participants last time has even drawn a comic strip to show (and tell) what she got from it.
We're coming up to the 500th Postiversary on This Itch of Writing - at least, we are if you don't count the various posts that were just administrative. Once I'd recovered from the shock of realising that this has actually happened - can it really be? - I decided to have a competition to celebrate, and some kind colleagues have come up with some fantastic prizes. But did I mention that I'm horribly busy? At least until the end of term for my RLF Fellowship at Goldsmiths, and the end of the Open University Creative Writing Course A215, that is. So, since the whole point of blogging is that I can fit it round the rest of my life, it'll be a few weeks until I actually post the competition. Watch this space...
If you're a writer, then you're never really happy just to experience something in its moment: there's always a restlessness, a frustration-in-waiting, until you can get it out of your self and onto paper. And you know the phenomenon I was talking about in Opening the Doors, where you've been reading or listening to something and it seems to skin you - or tenderise you, as Alan Bennet's Queen has it? For a while you're extra-alive to the world round you: all six senses, words, images, things strangers say, ideas for stories, and bits of your own memory, and it's wonderful, in a strange sort of way. I'm not one for illegal substances, but when I read The Doors of Perception I recognised something of that intensity of experience.
But when those two, simple, writer-readerly experiences come together, it can be almost overwhelming. The other day I went for my routine walk. I'd just been reading - of all things - Juliet Gardiner's Wartime, which tells so many stories, so well, that it's as good for my writerly self as several novels. And the weather was beautiful in a bright, frosty-misty way. The combination was almost overwhelming: from the frost-fringed leaves and muted gold and red of the trees, to the ordinary words of strangers hanging in the air waiting to become poetry or song, my ears and eyes and mind was filled with things clamouring to be written. I could have stopped to know one thing fully, but the thought of missing anything - the sense that these hyper-alive things were slipping through my mind's fingers and getting away forever - was unbearable. I found myself walking faster and faster, although looking back I'm not sure if I wanted to capture more of them, or escape it all from despair that I'd never be able to catch even a tithe of it.
After all, if we were content to live in the moment and not scoop it up, take it in, re-envision and re-create it, we wouldn't need to write, would we? And given all the excellent reasons for not shutting oneself up for hours at a time, for years of one's life, that must be quite some need. I only got my balance back courtesy of a bar of chocolate and the realisation that I was going to have to forgive myself for failing to catch so much.
But I also see this need in us - a need which can become quite desperate - operating inside the writing of a story or a novel. I'm not the only writer who usually gets things wrong by trying to put more in than even our beloved baggy monster of a form can hold: more ideas, more characters, more research, more dilemmas and more resolutions. And maybe that's also at the bottom of our desire to cross genres: a need not to be "just" one thing, when there's another which we also love and want to grab at and catch and pack into our pages. But, as I was discussing in Over-done, over-written and over here, the chances are that by packing too many things in none of them will get the chance to flower into their full glory. In order to make something which is really whole and coherent, you have to forgive yourself for what you can't put in there.
I think this is also, perhaps, one of the reasons that most writers - at least, most good writers - never feel fully satisfied with something they've written, even if they know - as most good writers do - when, essentially, it's good and it's finished. Round the story that is on the page hover all the ghosts of what it might have been: the after-image of all the roads you didn't go down. If you're ever to be able to be at least well-satisfied, if not fully-satisified, with your work, you have to forgive yourself for not having kept those other possibilities alive.
I also think you have to forgive yourself for not being the writer you'll never be. That's not just about none of us being Tolstoy or Austen or Coetzee or Mantel, because most of us have got to grips with that one, nor about how once you've learnt to be bad, you're so much more aware of what you can't do, than what you can. Rather, it's to do with what I found when I was judging the Frome competition: one test of really good writing is that you can't help but read it immersively, and when you do try to tease apart the strands of story and technique to analyse what's working, the piece has a way of curling itself tightly back together again into a single rope.
When you read immersively, you're giving yourself up to any magic that the writer's capable of working on you. Indeed, I've pretty much given up reading anything which doesn't cast that spell over me : if I don't stop hearing the engine beneath me within the first few pages, I give up. But my own writing can never quite have that magic for me: I can't do for myself this marvellous writing/dreaming/skinning/coming-alive thing for readers (including myself) that
this writer can. The magic can only come from somewhere else.
So, almost by definition, any book that's good enough for me to bother reading makes me feel a writerly failure: I can't do what it does. The only way I cope with this is to know that that writer is them and this writer is me. Yes, I can't marvel at stuff I've done myself - it can't come
from outside and be magical to me - but the opposite is also true: I can't know what
things (if anything) I do for readers which are marvellous, for them. I have to forgive myself for only being me.
But finally - and seasonally - don't forget that, in Latin, satis doesn't mean perfect, or complete, it means enough. When, at the end of The Journey of the Magi, (as well as the text, that link has a clip of Eliot himself reading it) the narrator says, "it was (you may say) satisfactory" he means satisfaction in the original, and theological sense: to atone or make restitution. What the Magi found was enough to do that - and that enough (in Eliot's theology) was everything.
Sheepwash, Devon, Christmas 2010
I can't quite sort this thought out - maybe someone else can in the
comments - but I'm sure that these two things are connected. Somehow, in
forgiving ourselves for what we can't be and never will be, we can come
into a better relationship with enough. Not to say something's
good enough when we know there's more we could do to it, or to be smug
about our general wonderfulness, or to stop trying to learn. But just to
know, really properly, if only some of the time, that, as a writer,
you'll do. And to know that I'm saying a big
(or your Festival of Light of choice)
to everyone reading
this, with lots of good wishes for everything good and writerly, now, and in the new year to come.
PS - hope you like the new look for the New Year. The content is pretty much the same, except that there's a new link up at the top, to some of the books which I'm reading at the moment, and a new section in the RH sidebar, "Emma elsewhere" with links to other places where I've been hanging around nattering on about stuff.
One of the writers in the Taming Your Novel workshop I gave at York has - to my delight - picked up in her blog on something that I've recently come to believe: that the division that we often talk about, between Planners and Pantsers, is not necessarily a helpful distinction. And yet it comes up time and again, in everything from writers' forums to festival panel sessions: are you a planner or a pantser? As I described it here, which you are is driven by your fears as much as your understanding. "Pantser" describes
... "flying by the seat of your pants": the kind of writer who
dives straight into the first draft, and sees what happens. And the
opposite seem to be the planners: the ones who don't start until they
know a good deal about where they're going. The planners are afraid of
getting lost or stalling or going wrong if they don't have at least some
kind of map in their hand; the pansters are afraid of being shackled or
bored or going wrong if they do. And yes, both can go wrong, and I've
seen the results: the planned novel where everything fits together as
neatly as a jigsaw, and is just about as interesting and believable an
evocation of real life; the pantsed novel whose open-ended exploration
of characters' lives and experience seems... well, endless.
But since I wrote that, it's become clearer to me that this distinction is unhelpfully rigid and binary. As I first realised in Dreaming the Map, you may be putting down a zero draft, or a radically different third draft, or a mind-map of how your characters feel about each other, or a family tree, or a sketch-map of the farm; you may even draw your characters' faces, if you're a much better draughtswoman than me ... but all you're ever really doing is imagining on paper.
And what that means is that it's not a given that "planning" has to come before "drafting". I do plan - sorry, imagine on paper - before I start actually setting down my first try at the text itself. But I always plan in pencil, and I often revise my plans in the light of the first draft. And I often stop and grab pencil and paper to sketch notes on a bit of past or future plot, or to clarify some geography, or map the tensions between several characters in a scene.That's planning - but it's really just another way of using words to pin down my sense of this story. And especially towards the end, a scene may come out far too bony, just dialogue and basic gestures, because I know exactly where it needs to get to, and I'm not "seeing" the rest of the picture: the dialogue isn't much more than a skeleton - a plan, if you like - for the fully-realised scene.
That blogpost by Mrs T describes how she's realised it's not a sign of failure to find you need go back to a bit of planning when you're halfway through the draft. And someone else, considering herself a hard-wired panster, and having just downloaded my planning grid and applied it to her "draft F", found all sorts of things clarified, straightened, and come into order.
In fact, on the macro scale of things I suspect that lots of writers do their planning retrospectively; splurge the
first draft, using dreaming on paper, following it wherever it will. Only then do they have a clear enough idea of what this project is to go back to the beginning and make sense of the big architecture,
and how it all fits together. Indeed, some write whichever scene they're moved to write, and trust to the future that it'll all stitch together.
The risk with this approach is a) either you get too wedded to
lovely characters/scenes/plot-strands which don't actually work, and have
trouble getting yourself to murder them when they turn out not to be wanted; or b) that, try as you will to believe that you've "written" the novel but nothing's set in stone, once the boundaries of the project seem to be established, it's really
difficult to move imaginatively beyond them: you never stand back and question the underlying assumptions about what this project is.
There's one writer (I've a feeling it's A L Kennedy but I could easily be wrong) whose novel process is basically writing a first draft, throwing it away, writing a new first draft... Not all of us could face doing that, but it does take that same willingness to murder not just your darlings but everything else, to work this way successfully. But if you can trust yourself to be both ruthlessly organised AND
wildly open-minded about how the project needs to change, becoming what you might call a retrospective planner might just be the way for you.
back from the Festival of
York, and if you don't know what I'm talking about, my post from the same point
last year is here, and from 2010 is here. Apart from the usual frustration at having been too
busy running my own workshops and doing 1-to-1 book doctoring to sit in on any
workshops for myself, it was as much frantic, rewarding,
alcohol-and-caffeine-fuelled fun as ever. The ducks were a bit quieter - maybe
because it's September, not March - but other than that I'm going to need just
as long to recover this time. And if you were at York too, you might like this
post of mine, Bewitched, Boggled and... now what?, about coping with the
fallout/inspiration of such a weekend.
thing I did realise is how large a part of my teaching, talking, thinking about
my own writing, thinking about others' writing, networking and general
writerliness This Itch of Writing has
become. So first I want to say
everyone reading this blog, whether or not you were at York, and whether or not
you're a beginner writer, a hardened author, an industry pro or just a
thoughtful reader - and thoughtful readers, of course, are the most important
of the lot; without you no author or agent or publisher or bookseller
would have anything to do or bread on the table. It's y'all, the readers of
This Itch, who help to make the blog what it is, by going on reading and
commenting and saying things that make me think, so that I want to go on
that spirit (and knowing how damn big the archive has got) here are links to as
many of the posts that I mentioned in York as I can think of. And if you're reading
this and can't see the one you really want to read, mention it in the comments
and I'll try to dig it up.
...and - well - what shall we call the good kind of not-writing? (as opposed to the bad kind). Because that's what I've been doing the last few days. Not least thanks to - of all places - the National Trust Carriage Museum at Arlington Court, in North Devon, which is heaven for a historical novelist. And heavenly for just about anyone is the kind of evening we spent walking a tiny bit of the North Devon Coast. I'm staying for the third time at Deborah Dooley's Retreats for You, (I blogged about the first time here, and the second, here). I'm working in the mornings, and exploring in the afternoons; I'll be sorry to go home.
But, assuming your Inner Critic has been gagged and bound, you're brimming over with ideas and energy for the next piece of writing work, you've cleared the house and the diary of humans... so many of us still find that we still can't get going. Suddenly we need another cup of coffee and some desk-tidying and email-answering; or we can only manage ten minutes or so, before we're reaching for the forums for writers or mums or steam train enthusiasts, for Facebook and its kin, for Scrabble, for a bit of very trivial research, for the blogs, and if all else fails, there's always Solitaire. And then you've finished your coffee, so you'd better go and make another, to drink while you start writing. And then when you get back you'd better just check FB and a couple of other places before you start...
We've all been tempted and most of us succumb, and there's no denying that the Internet has made it a hundred times worse, because the tools we need to write are also the tools we can use to avoid writing. A well known agent, joining Twitter, was startled to see just how many of her authors were tweeting away, in the hours when she'd foolishly assumed they were beavering away on their overdue manuscript. The trouble is, it's just too easy to kid yourself that you're only diverting for a moment: you're not really Not Writing. Not really. Oh dear me, no.
I've been known to go downstairs and unplug the router. You can get programmes to shut down your internet access for a set amount of time. I find even just disconnecting the internet does mean that when I'm tempted re-connect I'm more conscious that I'm Not Writing. But that doesn't always stop me re-connecting, and sometimes I genuinely do need to be online, for some stages of revisions, in particular.
So what's going on? I think the answer actually simple, but something that many of us don't, at bottom, believe: writing is hard work. It takes full concentration, full thinking, full creative/editorial effort, cutting off mentally from what's going on around us. It's not too fanciful, I think, to see it as a necessary immersion. Using your brain is hard work in biological, not just metaphorical, terms: you can measure the blood-sugar used up when you're sitting perfectly still with your brain running at full tilt, and it's a lot more than running it for normal life. It's hard work. And avoiding hard work (like desiring fat and sugar) is a clever bit of evolution, because energy - blood sugar - is a precious commodity, whether it comes from pounding yams or running down deer. It's hardly surprising that our reptile brains are programmed to avoid work and foods that have no obvious, immediate reward. It's only our more developed brains that know that sometimes we need to write, and eat salad, for the sake of the rewards they'll bring later.
If you've ever tried free-writing (Dorothea Brande-style, or Julia Cameron's morning pages) you'll know that it takes a bit of self-persuading to keep going with this apparent rubbish or blank-minded repetition. And then - in my experience at about the ten-minute mark - you seem to get through the wall. I've even found that around that point my pen often writes a door, or a window... and it's beyond that, that things really get mad and properly interesting.
But to get to that point, whether with free-writing or your actual project, takes a bit of courage: courage to stick with the dull rubbish, courage to fend off all the reasons for Not Writing that you thought you'd got rid of half an hour ago, courage to immerse completely in the imaginative world of the writing. It can feel like drowning, and as a water-phobic I don't say that lightly. So we approach the work (because we genuinely want to do it), do a little, shy away as we approach the jump into total immersion but do enough to call it work, poddle off to Facebook for a bit, curse ourselves, go back to the work, push hard to reach the approach again, work a little, shy away, poddle off...
Only of course what that means is that you never do get through that door in the wall. Instead, you're trapped in the cycle of pushing yourself to approach and shying away. It feels like you're working but you never actually jump into total immersion, and so the writing really is hard work: the imagination never flowers, the words never flow, the characters never just start saying things... Some words get on the page, but they're horribly hard work and often they're not as good as they could be. Every tiny click of the brain-cogs has to be made to happen by sheer force of will, like using a starting handle on an old car, and not just to get the enging goine, but to get the car all the way to its destination. You look as if you're writing, and it uses huge amounts of energy, but to no very good result because you're not really writing, any more than someone sitting shivering on the side of the pool with their legs in the water is swimming.
The only way I've found to conquer this problem - and, yes, it's harder when I'm below-par for some other mental or physical reason - is first, to tell myself that the water is cold and that I will flinch from the total immersion, and the first ten minutes of swimming will be hard work: it's not lazy and stupid and unprofessional, it's human. But that first ten minutes is only ten minutes, and I can't reach the warmer, fluent freedom of real swimming without it. And, besides there are few duller and chillier things for a human to do for hours than stand on the edge of the pool, Not Swimming. Writing is much more fun that Not Writing, after all. You just have to put up with the cold for a few minutes.
It's been a bit quiet here lately, for which I apologise. I tried to get Jerusha Cowless to stand in for me, first while I was going full-steam-ahead with re-building the first 100,000 words of the novel, and teaching an OU tutorial and a six-week Writers Workshop online course in Self-Editing Your Novel. And I tried to get in touch with Jerusha again just before I headed off to France to research the novel (6 days, 2 planes, 1 dead & 1 live (hire) cars, 10 novel-settings, 270 photos, 1100km, ∞ bad French/good food/great ideas...). Eventually I got a message carved on a coconut shell saying that Jerusha's been slightly wounded while in hand-to-hand combat with a wombat she was trying to interview for her next job ghosting Dr Seuss books.
But now I'm back, and just as I was psyching myself up to tackle the Open University marking which descended while I was being sunburnt and then snowed on in the Pyrenees, I heard a friend, whose book is being published by a very small press, saying how hard she's finding it to do the promotion which is basically up to her. She finds it excruciating to stand up (or write/phone/email/blog/Tweet) and talk about herself and her work. 'Twas ever thus, to some degree, but although I don't think the barbarians are at the literary gates in the least, it's undeniably true that because publicity budgets are contracting, and the possibilities for promoting your own work are expanding, authors feel they must do it themselves more than ever. And lots of them find it extremely daunting.
This isn't quite the same problem as Jenn Ashworth's, which I answered when Jerusha was out of contact this time last year. But it is still about the stress of a very private activity - writing - which tends to be done by private people, having to go/be public, and here, you are the person claiming public attention for yourself. Maybe it taps into your fears of scorn or bullying from family or peers for anyone who does something different and claims attention for it. Maybe it just feels too like stripping yourself naked, without the buffer of time and space on the page clothing your private self. Either way, it's very hard to do. Talking to Jenn, I mentioned the possibility of finding a kind of performing persona, who is a slightly different person from your writing self. But today I found myself suggesting that it might help to think of the book as a child, or some other separate being who you want to help achieve their potential.
Plenty of parents and mentors who have no show-off or performing instincts in themselves can be doughty and determined about going public on behalf of their protégés. With many, I suspect, it's because the Don't-Show-Off wiring that society fits us with (in Britain, at least) is bypassed: you're making noise on behalf of someone/something else, after all, which is much more socially respectable. With others it's perhaps the mother bear instinct that overcomes a quiet and introverted nature or the terror of being judged a failure. (And, after all, a public failure is a kind of little death). A bear doesn't think she's being self-centred - no one accuses her of being all me-me-me in being the first to try the slightly dubious river or the unknown fruit, or to charge out of the cave to go for the wolf's throat... nor for deciding that on this occasion discretion is the better part of valour, and withdrawing.
The thing is, a book doesn't quite come alive until people read it. You know that; so can you know that it needs your help to come alive in that way? Imagine your lovely nephew. He's pale and clever and quiet, and overshadowed by his bouncy sister who doesn't know what shyness is... until he's on a stage with a character to play, when that character fills him and he comes twice as alive as she ever will be, because he's lit from inside. But he could no more march up to the local Great Actor and ask for help, advice or even a recommendation, than he could fly; he genuinely, as himself, has no capacity to do that. If he's young and awkward enough - and Local GA is hungover enough - it might go horribly wrong and close off that avenue forever. But you know local Great Actor quite well, and a couple of directors too. Might they be, or might they not be, willing to audition your nephew? Your job is to explain why he could be just what they'd like, and just what they're looking for, even if (you imply but don't say) they don't know it yet. You're doing it for your book, not for yourself.
I've been busy in various places lately, so just in case anyone's interested, here's some of it:
On 25th February Debi Alper and I are running another six week online course in Self-Editing Your Novel. Debi and I have taught together for years, and it works brilliantly. Feedback from these courses has been terrific, so if you're at that stage, do drop by and see if you think it's what you need. For a taster, I did a "Prose Microscope" dissection on the Word Cloud, where the course is hosted, which will give you an idea of how it works, and thanks to Steve, the brave Word Clouder who allowed Debi and me to wield the scalpel.
I'm one of several judges including Kate Mosse, of a new competition for historical short fiction, the Jerwood Prize, run by the Weald and Downland Museum in West Sussex. Deadline 22nd June 2012. There aren't enough competitions specifically for historical fiction, so I think this is a great opportunity and I'm delighted to be involved with it.
The prizes will be presented at an Historical Fiction Day at the Museum on 5th August 2012, where among lots of other things I'll be running a workshop. More details when I have them.
Over at multi-story.co.uk I've been talking about writing short fiction and what I think makes a good short story. You might make the connection between the Jerwood Prize and this, but I couldn't possibly comment.
You may not have spotted, tucked away in the side-bar, that I also run a one-to-one course in writing historical fiction. This is very flexible, as we can adjust it to what we jointly feel would be most helpful to you, although that also means I can't take on all that many students at once. But it is great fun.
The York Festival of Writing will be on 7-9th September this year - note that it's moved from its traditional place of just before Easter. Details will be announced in the middle of March, but I know a few - the Debi 'n Emma Show will be in town, and it's all looking good.