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New Competition: ShortbreadStories Personified

What would ShortbreadStories look like, act like, smell like if he/she were a person? 

Using the writing prompt ‘ShortbreadStories Personified’, create a 100-500 word character sketch and upload it to the competition by 25 April.

However, this time, the winner will not be chosen by public vote, but – instead – our new(ish) Trustees will pick their favourites to feature in a Friday Story.

But wait. There’s more. If you are both a writer and an illustrator (or just like to have fun with a pen and pencil set) send drawings of your imagined ‘ShortbreadStories Personified’ to rachel@shortbreadstories.com, and the Elf will post them on our Pinterest board. Oh, and the images are separate from the competition, so feel free to send an image but not upload a story, or upload a story to the competition but not send an image. Or send us an image and upload a story.

If you do send us a drawing, please save it as a jpg and mark the image with your name and the © symbol.

To enter visit: ShortbreadStories Personified | Shortbread

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Teaching Creative Writing With Eyes Closed

/by Rachel Marsh/
 
I’m instructing on a creative writing class at the Braemar Arts Festival, and I’m really quite excited about it. I’m looking forward to all the things that come with festival writing classes: discussion, camaraderie, creativity and productivity. However, the course is in two weeks, and due to a very busy schedule I’ll most likely put-off preparing for the class until the last minute.
 
In fact, the other day when a friend asked me about preparing for this class, I nonchalantly stated, ‘Oh, I’m not worried about Braemar. I can teach creative writing with my eyes closed.’
 
Yes. I said that and I’m ashamed.
 
I would like to talk about why I said this, and how I shall rectify it.
 
Yes, teaching comes easy to me, which has much less to do with any sort of superior knowledge, but is due to the fact I can talk with (or talk at) anyone. I do not get nervous speaking to groups, and I’m fairly confident leading discussions. This is the biggest hurdle many new teachers need to overcome. (Incidentally, this is not always a good thing. Due to my inability to realise that I’m yammering, I often make a right pratt of myself. I have most certainly gotten in trouble for saying ‘the wrong’ thing in a particularly sensitive classroom situation. So, word to the wise. A fear of public speaking is sometimes beneficial.)
 
Now, onto the second part of teaching: preparation, preparation, preparation. As I’ve been teaching for over ten years, I have lesson plans and teaching materials on my laptop, in notebooks, sketched out on napkins, written on sticky notes pinned to cork boards, Xeroxed and crumpled in shoe boxes, and – unbelievably – in filing cabinets. While my organisational skills have much to be desired, I have the information necessary to teach just about any creative writing class that comes to mind. Plus, when the Braemar Arts Festival first asked me to instruct on the course, I prepared an outline of each day’s activities at that point. So, the general lesson plan is done and dusted. All I need to do now is find some of my old notes and papers, print out the syllabus, and turn up.
 
Yet, one can argue against this sort of laissez-faire attitude.  Shouldn’t each class be a new experience for both the students and the instructor?
 
Yes and no.
 
Let’s start with the ‘no’.
 
For example, years ago I taught a five-week writing course. I used to include a lesson on the history of the English language which started pre-Roman and continued on through the Vikings, old English, Middle English, colonial English and ended with our current contemporary language. I did this in one lesson and my aim was to illustrate that English is a changing language with no real base, and therefore a wonderfully evolving tool for those who choose to write in said language.
 
It didn’t take long for me to discover that no one cared. I was the only person who ever found this interesting, and the only outcome of that lesson was it put everyone to sleep. I quickly cut that entire lesson down to one sentence: ‘English is evolving, and includes hundreds of thousands of words, choose the best that works for your story. Now let’s move on to “setting the scene”.’
 
I have learned what works for an hour-long class, four day course and a year’s worth of tuition. I know exactly how much material can be covered, I know the pace that we should be aiming for, and I can usually guess in advance the type of questions my students will be asking. And this is a good thing. The students haven’t paid for a teacher who is ‘trying’ to get things right. (My past students paid for that privilege.) They are paying to learn.
 
So, ‘no’, certain aspects of the class should not be a new experience for me. However, if every class was the exactly the same, I’d be bored, and then so would the student. Which means that I do need to spice things up and take an active interest in each new course that I teach.
 
And this is why I am quite horrified by my statement, ‘I can teach creative writing with my eyes closed.’ No teacher should become blasé about their subject. There’s always more to learn, new ways to teach, and – more often than not – your students will have fresh insight into some old problems.
 
I have set some time aside today to rework my lesson plans for the Braemar Arts Festival. I’ve gotten some new stories for us to look at, I’ve down loaded some interesting new articles, and I’ve thought of questions to ask my future students that I may not be able to answer.
 
I am now even more excited about teaching this class. I’m looking forward to meeting the new students and finding out about their writing process. I’m glad I’ve atoned for my teaching sins through preparation and thought, because I’ve found a renewed interest in an old career.

Books, Reviews, and Sock Puppets

/by Fiona Smith/

Back in the dark ages when you had to buy a book from an actual bookstore, it was relatively easy to decide what to buy. You could read newspaper book reviews and top ten charts, or seek out those little handwritten staff recommendations in Waterstones. Or even judge a book by its, eh, cover. Back then it was easy to know who to trust. The newspaper reviewer had credentials and therefore could be considered an expert; the same could probably have been said for bookshop staff, and although we are told not to judge a book by its cover – we generally do, after all we’re just trusting our own instincts.

Nowadays with fewer bookstores and lots of ways to buy ebooks, things have gotten more complex.  Now when selecting a book, we have the added weight of reader reviews. In fact, buying a book online has become a bit like buying a washing machine. We go to Amazon, we are greeted with an image of the product, a blurb from the manufacturer, and a host of user reviews. However there’s a problem, because buying a book isn’t like buying a washing machine. A book is subjective. Reviewing a book is not as simple as giving a technical rundown of its faults. Enjoying a book often depends on the reader. And let’s face it when we take on board a review from a newspaper, or from a friend we are privy to their details. We are swayed by the literary background of the person giving us the review – in short we judge them by their cover.  For example, if my friend suggests I should read Fifty Shades of Gray, I’ll remember she thinks Twilight is the greatest literary triumph of our time, and I’ll most likely decide against this recommendation. However, if I see a Philip K Dick book review on ShortbreadStories from someone who has read a lot of Sci-fi books, I’ll most likely purchase it.

Reviews of books depend on the reviewer, and how much do we really know about the person leaving an online comment. A Quiet Belief in Angels by RJ Ellory is, according to an Amazon reviewer, Jelly Bean, “one of the most moving books I’ve ever read”…”[Ellory is] one of the most talented authors of today” and “his ability to craft the English language is breathtaking”. High praise indeed. Another reviewer Nicodemus Jones agrees, and states the book is a “modern masterpiece”, and “whatever else it might do, it will touch your soul”. Could these reviewers be genuine fans of the book? Perhaps. Could they be friends or relatives of the author? Maybe. Or could it be the author himself? Unfortunately, yes. “Jelly Bean” and “Nicodemus Jones” are both the pseudonyms of RJ  Ellory.

RJ Ellory is the latest in a number of authors who succumbed to the pressure of online reviews, and in doing so wrote his own glowing recommendations – now being called “sock puppetting”. However is there really any harm in using pseudonyms in order to self-promote?

Let’s be honest, the publishing world is hard. For every fairytale story of a blog being miraculously discovered and turned into a book, there’s another 10,000 writers out there who are scribbling away with little hope of ever being found. And even if you happen to be lucky enough to get your book in to print, it’s not happily-ever-after. Instead, it’s years of self-promotion, book tours, blogs, going into bookstores and pulling every copy of your novel an inch out from the shelf (true story – I know an author who does this regularly just to stand out from the crowd). In short, it’s hard work. So perhaps we can forgive RJ Ellory and the other authors like him for fabricating a few glowing reviews.

However  RJ Ellory didn’t stop there. He also used the pseudonyms to slate other books by his peers online.

Writing is a funny old business. The process of writing is a solitary act. It begins with just one person sitting in a room and dreaming. Then after that dream is realised, there’s a great deal of rejection. Rejection from magazines, from publishers, from online writing sites, and if you’re lucky this rejection is followed by criticism, lots and lots of it. This process should make us supportive of our peers, not competitive. ShortbreadStories is a brilliant example of a community of writers who come together in the spirit of writing and who leave their professional jealousy at the log-in. If only RJ Ellory had spent a few years learning from some of our Shortbreaders.

So to recap:

  • Judging a book by its cover may be more helpful than reading online recommendations.
  • If you are an author considering writing fraudulent reviews why not visit ShortbreadStories instead.
  • If you’d like to know the mysterious identity of the author who visits bookstores to ‘inch his way in front of the competition’ visit the Argyle Branch of Waterstones in Glasgow. 

ShortbreadStories Tall Tales: The Hatchet Job

Stories are everywhere. From gossiping at work about what the downstairs receptionist gets up to on her lunch break, to family history involving your long lost Uncle Reginald. These are the stories that fill our minds and make up our lives, and, more often than not, the stories aren’t completely true.
 
We embellish and add little flourishes to make the story a grander than it should be. We say that Uncle Reginald ran away and joined the circus, when in reality he works as a bartender at Circus, Circus, Circus in Vegas. A good story in itself, but a little embellishment makes Uncle Reginald’s life all that much better.
 
However, this fibbing is okay, because making a story slightly more interesting through our creative instincts is nothing less than human nature. In fact, without these embellishments, fabrications and creative touches, we would not have writers.
 
Starting today, ShortbreadStories is going to honour the big fish story with ‘ShortbreadStories’ Tall Tales’. We will present to you a very real, albeit strange, piece of information, and it is up to you to turn it into a short story. Pick up the story where we leave off. Write a prologue. Tell the tale from a different point of view. Whatever strikes your imagination.
 
Also, I should add, this is NOT a competition. This is merely a writing prompt. So if you take up the challenge, please post the story to your writing desk as you would normally, but use this formula for the title: ‘ShortbreadStories Tall Tales: [NAME OF YOUR STORY]’. It should be interesting to see what we all come up with.
 
The following excerpt comes from London’s The Weekly Register, or, Universal Journal, edited by Tim Birch, dated May 3, 1735. It recounts part of a murder confession.
 
On Monday night last, knowing she would return in the evening, I waited in the passage leading from the street-door to her own apartment, the house then being free from all persons but myself. About ten o’clock Mrs Robinson came home, and as she entered the street-door I struck her with a hatchet on the skull; the blow was not too fatal but she screamed out, upon which, I took some small cords out of my pocket, twisted them about her neck, and stopped her breath; then repeating my blows many times, and perceiving I had effectually done her bufinels, put her under the bed, and wiped up the blood with one of her old quilted petticoats, which she had given a little girl of ten years of age now here in custody.

Meet Our Newest Team Member

It was flattering to be invited on to the Shortbread Stories Board of Trustees.  Shortbread Stories is one of the most dynamic and progressive literary platforms, accessible to everyone from casual readers, critics and observers, to aspiring and established writers.

I have loved short stories since my teens when I studied the masters like Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and Scott Fitzgerald. They taught how the art of short story writing is unforgiving. It requires conciseness, leanness and relevance.  You might get away with tangential rambling in a novel, but never in a short story. Every sentence must run with the grain and point to an eventual punch line.

I have written four books of short stories known as the Geordie Kinloch Quartet (Tales of a Free Spirit, The Novice, Side Trips and The Accidental Shepherd). Publishers and promoters often tell me there is no market for short stories. This makes me smile, because the market keeps telling me it can’t get enough short stories.

Your reward from ShortbreadStories depends on your investment. You may be an occasional dabbler reading the weekly short story, or you may have written multiple stories that are on view permanently on the website. You can comment on other people’s stories and have your own commented upon. Shortbread celebrates all forms of involvement.

Shortbread is in the process of becoming a charity. Robin Pilcher conceived, grew and has financed the website for the first years of its life. His intention is that it will flourish under charitable status and continue to evolve as a leading literary website. As a charity we all hope that it will attract support from its users, so that we can look forward to a sound and sustainable future for the website.

Best regards,
Gavin Dobson

Bragger Wall Special

/by Fiona Smith/

When we set up shop all those years ago we hoped that ShortbreadStories would attract new and emerging talent, and that one day we could sit back and utter those infamous words ‘We knew them when…’ Well it would appear we have attracted a whole host of talented writers, all of whom have achieved lots of exciting things.

So in this Bragger Wall Special we’re going to highlight some of the remarkable things our Shortbreaders have been up to.

Bryan Islip has published a number of novels including Going with Gabriel and a collection of short stories entitled Twenty Bites. He is currently embarking on a new project. Sign up to his newsletter to receive a new chapter from his book every month sent directly to your inbox. (I wonder where he got such an idea from…) We wish Bryan lots of luck with his new book!

Shortbreader Blogger Lee Crompton had his screenplay, ‘Digging Deeper’ (adapted from his novel), short listed as a quarter finalist in the Slamdance Screenwriting Competition in Utah. Find out more about Lee and his novels at  http://leecrompton.com/.

Gordon Parker has just published his fifth novel A Waking of Rooks on Kindle. The book has received excellent reviews and has even been likened to The Catcher in the Rye! Gordon hopes our Shortbreaders will give it a try.

Shortbreader of the Year Diane Dickson has also published two books on Kindle. L’Aigrette and Who Follows are paranormal suspense novels with a hint of romance. Anyone who is a big fan of Diane’s stories on Shortbread would be wise to snap up her Kindle novels.

Meg Malpass aka Fran Strachan has published her first collection of short stories. And Shortbreaders can now get Loose Ends on kindle for the bargain price of £1.53.

David Appleby’s books Moon Alley and Love Sketches are now available from Apple iTunes Store for download on to iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch with iBooks, and on to the computer with iTunes.

Shortbreaders Sheila Barclay and Marilyn Baker have teamed up to write Sky Lights under the moniker Barclay Baker. The book has certainly been very popular with twelve 5 star reviews on Amazon! Well done ladies!  

Thomas MacKay King has a number of novels available on Amazon including his novel The Singapore Werewolf.

And that’s all for now folks, however if you’re a ShortbreadStories member, and you get published, win an award, or do something that will make us all smile, please let us know by emailing editor@shortbreadstories.com and we’ll put you on the ShortbreadBragger Wall.

A Creative Writing Education: Can Creative Writing be Taught?

/Intro by Rachel Marsh/

I started teaching creative writing in 1999, where I instructed at an educational institution called Colorado Free University. For five years, I taught a reoccurring course called ‘Finding Your Voice as a Writer’, which ran for five weeks, took a break for three weeks, then started again.

In those five years, I met such wonderful people. Many of whom I now consider to be my closest friends. But teaching that course did more than just introduce me to new and future authors, it taught me to teach.

Prior to this experience, I had no background in teaching, and this wonderful institution allowed me learn in the classroom. I honed my skills as an instructor, and now I know which writing exercises get the most out of shy new students, what novice writers are looking for, and how to guide the student so they produce their best work. Since leaving Colorado Free University, I’ve taught at a number of institutions, plus I teach privately. I also lead the ShortbreadStories courses.

However, despite thirteen years of experience as an instructor, there is much still to learn about the art of teaching creative writing. Debates on the best pedagogy for teaching creative writing are frequent in teaching circles, such as arguments about using lectures and exercises, or if the students should be allowed to find their own path. Many in the field are asking questions like ‘Is creative writing an academic subject?’, or even ‘Can creative writing be taught?’

Yet, these questions are not hindering the number of writing programmes which are springing-up all over the world. You can take a residential course or a weekend writing workshop; you can sign-up for one-on-one tutorials or become part of a writing group. You can get a degree, a Master’s, or even a PhD in creative writing these days. Yet, despite the multitude of options for learning to write creatively, rarely is there one best practice for learning. That is…if creative writing can even be taught.

With this in mind, ShortbreadStories is introducing a series of articles entitled ‘A Creative Writing Education’. Each week we will post a set of articles about teaching creative writing, each presenting various opposing view points.

This week, we’re kicking off the series with the big question, ‘Can creative writing be taught?

Below you will find links to three different answers to this question. Rosamunde Pilcher says ‘No, creative writing cannot be taught’, while Kirsty Gunn argues that the answer to the question lies in the definition of ‘creative writing’. And our own Shortbreader, Deanna Westwood, emphatically says, ‘Yes, creative writing can be taught.’ In fact, she states that she’s experienced the phenomenon first hand.

Click on the following links to read our expert opinions on, ‘Can creative writing be taught?’ Then, go to our Forum ‘A Creative Writing Education’, to give us your opinion.

Rosamunde Pilcher: Can Creative Writing Be Taught?
Kirsty Gunn: Can One Teach Creative Writing?
Deanna Westwood: Creativity – By the Book

Fancy taking a creative writing course? Check out the ShortbreadStories courses.

The City that Never Spoke in Audio

Listen to the new audio story ‘The City That Never Spoke’ by David Sharp.

Creative Environment

Robin Pilcher is not only a noted author and founder of ShortbreadStories, but he’s also founder of the Pilcher Foundation for Writing. So, as you can imagine, he’s seen his fair share of writing workshops. Below he gives us his thoughts the effect atmosphere can have on writing.

What makes a ‘creative environment?’ I had thought it was up to an individual feeling, that one man’s castle was another man’s hovel, but then we hosted a number of courses, both in Aracena in Spain and Dornoch in Scotland, and the comments in the visitors’ books constantly endorse ‘the creative ambience of the place.’

I consider myself extremely fortunate to have a choice of either place to head to when I’m in need of a bit of solitude for writing. Dornoch is brilliant for that ‘quick fix.’ For me, it’s three hours up the A9 and I’m straight into an atmosphere of tranquillity and calm, where I can forget about all those nagging problems that drain creativity and just get on with what I’m there to do. And the place wills you to do just that.

Don’t just take my word for it. Rachel is running courses both in Dornoch and Aracena this year, so why not come see for yourself?

ShortbreadStories in Scotland is just around the corner, and ShortbreadStories in Spain is coming up in October.

See what others have said about our writing course.

The Burgundy Boy Speaks: Audio Story

Check out the new audio story ‘The Burgundy Boy Speaks’ by Steve Douglas.

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