Bangkok Literary Festival

Last weekend was the first ever Bangkok Literary festival. Organised by the Neilson Hays library, the day provided a chance to mingle with fellow writers, hear a range of informative talks about all aspects of writing and participate in writing workshops.

I was very fortunate to be asked to speak at the festival. My talk covered two key topics. Firstly, as a new writer, I spoke about the challenges and the opportunities presented by the new publishing landscape. Secondly, I discussed short stories and my view that the short story is very much the medium for fiction in the 21st century. This then gave me the opportunity to tell people about Five Stop Story and its latest short story competition. (This will be the subject of my next blog post, but in the meantime, you can find out more here.)

Before my talk I was pretty nervous – especially when I read through the festival programme and saw the high calibre of the other speakers – including Ken Hom, Stephen Leather and Christopher G Moore. How could I compete with Ken Hom? Before I went into my talk I was wondering if I’d bitten off more than I could chew.

But luckily the audience were very receptive and welcoming. My talk went smoothly and people asked well-informed and challenging questions. And I received a bottle of wine for my efforts, which was certainly appreciated!

After my talk, I decided it would be bad form to crack open the wine immediately so I treated myself to a burger and a beer and then went to see Christopher G Moore and Stephen Leather’s talks. Christopher’s talk took the audience through each of his books, providing us with an insight into how life in Bangkok had changed since he started writing. Stephen shared his first-hand experience creating a best-selling e-book – a real bonus for new writers.

All in all, it was a great day out, extremely well organised by Annemarie Hellemans and her team at the Neilson Hays. I’m already looking forward to the next festival!

Is a good book always memorable?

Since starting my time off work, I’ve relished the prospect of having more time to read. A couple of weeks ago, I studied my bookshelf, savouring the possibilities. The shelves were creaking under the weight of books I hadn’t read – books I bought from Amazon when I got distracted browsing the internet, gifts from friends, slightly tattered books from charity shops and a whole collection of books with the sticker “3 for 2” on their front covers.
I spent half an hour happily browsing through the shelves, envisaging myself by the swimming pool with book in hand. Eventually I selected one. The blurb sounded enticing and I wanted to start it straight away.
But by the time I go to around the fifth chapter I was starting to get a bit of déjà vu. The plot seemed a bit….familiar. But I decided that maybe I’d just watched a programme with a similar plot on TV. I put the feeling aside and read on.
By the time I was about a third in and more familiar with the characters I knew I had read it before. I was confused. The book was well-written and interesting – I was enjoying it. So why didn’t I remember it?
I racked my brains to remember the ending but couldn’t. I felt frustrated. Now I knew I’d read it before it all seemed a bit pointless. What was the point of reading it again, only to forget it again? I started to think of all the other books I wanted to read and found I couldn’t concentrate on the book any more. It was using up time, and my time was valuable.
So I put it to one side and started a new book – Dead Game, by Claire Kinton, one of the books selected for the Brit Writers publishing programme.
The old book is sitting on my bedside table and it looks at me reproachfully whenever I pick up Dead Game. I feel guilty. I enjoyed the old book, but just not enough. It wasn’t memorable.
It got me thinking. Should books be stay with you long after you read them? What makes a book memorable?

An Olympic Opportunity

The time has come to pay up for our Olympic tickets. Across the UK, between now and the middle of June, money will start disappearing from accounts and people will start speculating about which tickets they might have been awarded.

For us, this will be a complete guessing game as we applied for the cheapest tickets in all the events we chose, so if £40 has gone from my account I could find myself at anything from football to water polo. That’s not to say I don’t want to go to water polo. I do. I just want to go to the football more.

The only thing to do is wait.

But while you’re waiting to find out what tickets you’ve got, you may be interested to learn of an opportunity for writers, bloggers and artists to get involved in telling the story of the games themselves. You can find out more about the BT Storytellers campaign and apply here. 

Good luck!

The books that nurture young minds….

What books influenced when you were young? Catcher in the Rye?  Lord of the Flies? Intelligent and provocative fiction that made you think and question the very nature of society?

I’m not ashamed to admit that for me it was nothing as thought-provoking as all that. It was Sweet Valley High. Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield, with their silky blonde hair, aqua blue eyes and perfect size six figures were loved by pre-teen females across the globe and by the time the series ended over 300 books had been written about the twins, tracing their journey from kids to university students. It must have been one of the most profitable “brands” in pre-teen fiction.

So imagine my delight when, meandering aimlessly around the internet, I found the website of my childhood dreams:

http://shannonsweetvalley.com/

Yes – it’s a whole site dedicated to sweet valley. And it’s brilliant. For each book, Shannon has identified a tongue in cheek moral of the story and written a detailed synopsis. I admired her dedication and spent a blissful hour (or two) browsing the site before cursing her for distracting me.

But there was even better news to come. Francine Pascal, the creator of the twins, had decided to bring them back – 10 years on. And they’re 27 – my own age! It seems like things are meant to be. When I read the book it will be like welcoming back old friends.

Or will it?

I was so excited that I decided to read the reviews before going back to work.

They weren’t good.

Apparently Francine Pascal didn’t appear to have read the original books (most of which had been written by ghostwriters). Characters’ entire personalities and even their names (in some cases) had changed. Key plot points in previous books had been forgotten – including a character’s death.

For a new writer these kind of errors would be unacceptable.

Can I forgive her and read the book?

The thing is I think I will. I can’t resist the power of the brand.

Ponderings, paranoia and publishing – the start of a journey

For a writer, blogging should be easy. You just put down what’s happening to you day to day, your thoughts and feelings, whatever you’re thinking. Simple!

But it’s not that easy. Unlike fiction, it requires you to reflect on your own life. It needs facts and demands honesty. Guides to blogging inform you that your posts should be entertaining and witty. You should keep your reader engaged. Whoever that mystical reader may be.

In short, it’s difficult.

The fictional world is full of drama, choices, difficult decisions – all condensed into handy novels that will fit comfortably into your backpack or briefcase. The real world is full of got up, toast for breakfast, sat at my computer a bit, tried to write, watched TV, had lunch kind of days. The kind of days that Facebook was made for. The kind of days where you don’t really do anything of note.

So why blog at all? This year of my life will be different from previous years – I’ll be splitting my time between London and Bangkok, “working” as an aspiring writer and running short story competitions through Five Stop Story. As one of the first participants in the innovative Brit Writers Awards Publishing Programme, I’m hoping that with hard work I will one day be a published novelist.

Throughout the year I’ll share with you my thoughts on writing, any useful tips and information I find, and stories of my life in Bangkok, the city of smiles.