Hello everyone. My name is Steve Gladwin and I’ve been running courses in writing for Credu for over a year now and we’ve just started a new evening book club. I’ve been writing seriously since 2012 and my book for Young Adults, ‘The Seven’- based in and around Meifod, where I live - was short listed for the Tir na nOg Prize in 2014. I’ve never had an agent, but I get a great deal of support from being a member of the Scattered Authors Society of children’s writers, (the alternative SAS!) I have attended three of their yearly retreats and have written a monthly blog for them since 2015. From lockdown onwards I have been working on a very different book called ‘Land in Mind’, which is currently being pledged by the excellent ‘Unbound Publishing’, something which is explained elsewhere in this magazine.
So, without any more ado, here is Part One of my Writer’s Fun Kit. Do read on!
The Questions Writers Get Asked Most
Well, there are at least four, (probably more), but as the answer to ‘how much do writers get paid’, would be for me to burst out in laughter or tears, let’s just leave that one, shall we?
Question One There’s a book I want to write. How do I go about doing it.
Question Two I have this great book idea, so how do I get someone to publish it.
Question Three Where do you get your plots from?
OK, then. The most popular questions for writers, the answers, one at a time.
Question One Answer
The best answer I’ve heard to this question is by the excellent American fantasy writer Robin Hobb, whose simple advice is. ‘Write the story out exactly as you want it, including everything, and then set about making it as good as possible.’
There are two important things to remember here. Firstly, if you’re anything like me, you can’t leave the flipping thing alone, even when you’re supposed to be just writing, rather than editing it. I agree with Robin, but I don’t think the amount of editing you will have to do with even an 20,000-word novel, is going to make you feel much like continuing. Far better to write a chunk or chapter at a time, and then do a rough edit on that. If you don’t want to forget your ideas, write down what follows. I honestly think that editing anything over 25 pages can become a drag, especially if you’re not used to it. Fifty may just be pushing your patience a little!
The second is implied by the first, and that means that you must realise that it’s the often-tedious process of making it good which will possibly make you want to bang your head against the nearest wall! In short, the actual getting the story down is the fun, glamour bit. The real work, which comes after, takes far longer, and usually sorts out those who really want to write, from those who fall by the way side.
Question Two Answer
Sorry, folks, but it’s very unlikely that anyone is going to love your idea for a novel unless it’s either really, (and I do mean really) good, or if it just happens to be the something an agent or publisher is looking for. JK Rowling tried loads of agents before she found Christopher Little, (who she chose because she liked his name!), and we all know people who are still trying! And yes, that includes me. It’s a tougher world than it’s ever been, and publishing is no exception.
You must write the damn thing first, anyway, in which case I refer you to question one. I do believe that sub-consciously saying to people or even agents something like ‘Boy, is this the one you’ve been waiting for’, is a neophyte writer’s defence against the disappointment which they believe in their heart of hearts is bound to follow. Likewise comments like ‘My teacher/wife/dog thinks it’s really good.’ Sorry, all of you, it’s back to question one for you!
Question Three – Answer
So where do I get all my plots and ideas from? The answer everyone gives is ‘write about what you know.’ It’s good advice which in my first book I seem to have followed to the letter. ‘The Seven’ was written a couple of years after I lost my wife Celia. It’s set in Meifod, where we live, in and around a grove of seven trees, which do exist, and the Morgans’ farm below them which also does. Tony’s house is based on one in Meifod which has one long upstairs room like an artist’s studio. Chris Lord’s family live on a nearby caravan site, and the story it is mainly based on is Branwen, the second ‘branch’ of the collection of often confusing and impenetrable medieval Welsh tales called Y Mabinogi, or The Mabinogion. Anyone who knows me at all well also knows that this stuff, along with King Arthur and the great bard Taliesin, who also appear, is in my DNA.
So yes, write about what you know if you can. Write about your job, or your home, or the weird people you meet in your job. Write about a family a bit like yours or a situation you’ve encountered. But more important than any of this just write. And let’s just repeat that as one of the two best pieces of advice you can give any writer. ‘Just write.’ And if we’re not writing from experience, then where does the rest of that clever stuff come from? That’s easy. We pinch it from other people.
Let’s face facts. People have been writing, painting, composing music, making films, etc. forever and there are simply no new ideas and plots that haven’t been tried in all their variants. Philip Pullman is quite unashamed of his career as a serial magpie and has basically stolen from everyone. And if you’re going to steal, steal from the best. The two authors who influenced The Seven in two totally different ways are Welsh writer Catherine Fisher and David Almond.
I think few people write about Welsh Myth as well or as intriguingly as Catherine Fisher, and no-one writes better about friendship and youth, (mixed up with just a bit of magic) than David Almond. Both also write moving stories with great heart, which is even better.
Shakespeare stole all his plots but one (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) from Holinshed’s Chronicles, or somewhere else, and everyone that followed has stolen back from him. And so on it goes, and don’t be ashamed to do it because there ARE NO ORIGINAL IDEAS ANYMORE. Your skill as a writer nowadays is inevitably about the way you find new and different ways to work with everyone else’s ideas. I suppose we just must accept that. After all writing is a chance to learn from the best, and as I’m forever saying to students, the best advice to give an aspiring writer is ‘Read, read, read!’
Books and Writers mentioned
Catherine Fisher Books recommended ‘Corbenic’, ‘Dark Henge’, ‘The Lammas Fair’, Incarceron’ and many more. Catherine is Wales’ leading fantasy writer, with many more exciting titles to her name. Corbenic is a retelling of the Arthurian story of Perceval, and Dark Henge concerns an archaeological dig, the great Bard Taliesin, and a whole lot more. Lammas Fair is about the faeries. ‘Nuff said!
David Almond Books recommended ‘Skellig’, ‘Kit’s Wilderness’, A Song for Ella Gray’, and ‘My name is Mina’, among others. David Almond is a writer for both Young Adults and middle grade. The above books are some of the best writing you’ll ever read.
Robin Hobb Books recommended ‘The Liveship Traders’. The Farseer Trilogy etc. She also writes fantasy as Megan Lindholm. Robin Hobb’s books and the above series are fantasy writing of high quality, with vibrant and unforgettable characters and moving concepts and situations. They are quite long however. And talking of long!
Scott Telek Scott is writing an ongoing 25 volume version of King Arthur, using only the original sources and his own wonderful imagination. The books, the latest two of which are ‘Flower of Chivalry’ and ‘Wonderly Wroth’, are deeply character driven and full of psychological insight, with a highly sympathetic understanding of the women in the tales.
The Seven This Tir na nOg shortlisted novel for middle grade and young adults is by some bloke called Steve Gladwin, who has a new batch of them in his garage. If you’d like to read about Tony, Lucy, Chris and the mysterious Eleri, and if you love Welsh myth, magic groves, and creepy paintings, you’ve come to the right place. And the cost. Only seven pounds inclusive. So easy to remember – Seven for a ‘Seven’. Please just email me on firstname.lastname@example.org to obtain your signed copy.