Thursday, 26 November 2009

Borders bowing out?

First the good news: I checked out the website of the Bridport Prize yesterday and yes, my name is indeed on the shortlist; it wasn't all a dream. Very uplifting - I just wish they'd managed to spell my name correctly ...

Today all sorts of rumours have abounded but it does seem to be true: Borders has gone into administration. The signs have been there for quite a while: I was amazed to see more and more floorspace open up in the Oxford store. I kept thinking - if you pay a fortune to rent space by the square metre why wouldn't you want to fill it with goods to sell? The children's department suffered horribly. In the world of books they have a ghastly term: destocking. It strikes a chill into the heart of every reader, every writer.

Then the destocking changed to the stocking of well, what Sir Alan Sugar might call 'a load of old tut'. Shelf after shelf of feather-edged, sequin-bedecked jewellery boxes and stands. Stuff like that. In a bookshop? I have no problem with coffee concessions and stationery and cards being sold in a bookshop - but fluffy boudoir gifties? NO!

The writing was on the wall - increasingly desperate offers, limited range and staff who looked like they'd lost the will to live. Now administration. Echoes of Zavvi and Woolies last year.

Locally, I liked the Borders store. I liked its long opening hours, the author events they put on, the Paperchase franchise, and, when it opened a few years back, the range they had. I also like Waterstone's and Blackwells, both of which are very close to Borders in the heart of Oxford. I like bookshops, full stop, and have been upset at the loss of the range of browsable, eccentric second-hand stores in the city. Chain bookshops have had their faults and still do: the endless 3 for 2s, the lack of daring with range, the frustration with central buying, the treating of books like ...

but wait! Who really treats books like baked beans? Enter the supermarkets, who have squeezed the chains as the chains once squeezed the independents. Supermarkets who with their enormous spending power have made publishers turn craven, granting terms that benefit nobody - not the publisher, not the chains and independents (who often source their books from supermarkets as they can get them cheaper than from the publisher), not the poor bleedin' author - and in the long run, not the reader, who is patronised and swindled, denied choice and range.

So, if Borders cannot be salvaged, this is a sad day, just as it was a sad day when Ottakars went, when Waterfields and Thornton's in Oxford went.

As writers, my dears, not only will we have to write the books, we'll need to self-publish them, market them, and find premises from which to sell them!

OK, now finally - there's still just time for you to sign up for my course on plot on Saturday! You'd be very welcome. See my post below for details or mosey on over to fictionfire!

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Lost the Plot? fictionfire Course 2 is booking!

There's still time to book for this Saturday's fictionfire course on plotting. I had several bookings today alone, which was gratifying! Plot is an area that writers, whether they're newbies or more experienced, often feel uneasy about, so the course is designed to take a bit of the fear away and help you to feel you're in charge of the structure of your novel. I do hope you'll want to come along - just go to my website for further details.

Last Saturday's course on getting started as a novelist went well - and I was delighted that the Sutro Room at Trinity College was a lovely teaching room and the staff at the College were helpful and friendly. My aim is to run more courses next year, probably in the spring - and I'd be very happy to use Trinity as the venue again. I want to offer courses that  people will find relevant, useful and enjoyable, so if there are any particular topics you would like to see covered, please let me know either by commenting here on my blog or by emailing me at .

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Last call for this Saturday's fictionfire course!

If anybody out there has considered joining me on Saturday 21st for my first fictionfire creative writing course, Get that Novel Up and Running, you need to let me know today, or first thing Friday 20th at the absolute latest. Pop over to the fictionfire website if you need to know more. It'll be a day of fun and interaction - it'll be 'a blast' as one of my previous students described it. The great thing if you attend courses or workshops or conferences, as I'm sure many of you know, is that you're in a group. Writing can be so isolating - you can think you're the only one who's experienced troubles with technique, doubts about your ability, exhaustion of the imagination, frustration with the publishing system - but you're not. In a group, you share the burdens, you exchange ideas and information, you share a laugh - and quite often you come away with ideas that were born during group exercises or a fresh will to pursue the story you're working on. So, if you can, I'd love if you can join the party!

If you can't, my second course, on plot, is on Saturday 28th. Looking beyond that, I hope to run more courses in the spring. It would be really useful if you could comment, either here on the blog or by going over to fictionfire, where you can use the Contact Form or email me at to let me know what course-subjects would most interest you.

Saturday, 14 November 2009

It's never too late!

I know many of us worry because  the publishing industry is full of Young Things and we live in a youth-obsessed age. Still, there are examples of writers who gain success in their autumnal years and even later. A  novel hit the stands recently by a new novelist: it's called 'Clisson and Eugenie' and tells a tale of a passionate doomed romance. The author? A certain N. Bonaparte. Oui, c'est lui! Vive l'Empereur! So, there's always time to gain literary success, even when you're conquering a few nations along the way. Of course, if there are favourable reviews, you have to hope they'll filter through to the afterlife, where old Napoleon will not be the only one awaiting dilatory recognition of his storytelling skills.

And, I hate to be a nag, now - but only 6 days till my first fictionfire course, Get that Novel Up and Running! If you're interested, pop over to my website now!

Sunday, 8 November 2009

First fictionfire course imminent!

I've been adding more material to the fictionfire website, so this poor old blog isn't getting much of a look in just now! There's less than two weeks now to my first fictionfire course, on the 21st - it's called Get that Novel Up and Running: a pretty self-explanatory title. The week after that I'll be running a day course on plot. So, if you're interested, get over to and book! If you're not going to attend yourself but you know anybody who might be interested, do please spread the word!