Monday, 28 November 2016

The Second Person

I’m not talking about my mysterious alter ego here (I’ll save that for another day) – I’m talking about Point of View. I want to talk about something I’ve been experimenting with recently which is using different voices and perspectives. My Yeovil Prizewinning story, A Legend of Flight, was the result of this sort of experimentation and one of the other things I’ve been experimenting with recently is writing using the Second Person POV.

I’m sure most of my blog readers know what I’m talking about, even if they haven’t tried the second person themselves, but just in case you are scratching your head and wondering what on earth I’m blethering on about – a brief recap.

The main types of POV:

First Person (I). Becoming increasingly popular, particularly in YA. Generally lends itself to a single POV work. Multiple First Person POVs can work but you need to keep the character voices distinct.

Second Person (You). Occasionally seen in short stories or as a minor POV character in a novel.

Third Person (He/She). The most commonly used particularly for multi-character POVs.

Omniscient. The God like viewpoint. The narrator describes a scene as if looking down on it from above.

So, back to writing in the second person. It tends not to be used very much and that is for a very good reason – it’s tricky to get right, very intense, and difficult to sustain for a long time. Hard on the reader as well as the writer. As a result if you come across it at all it will be in the form of a short story or as short sections of a longer novel. For example in Complicity Ian Banks uses it very effectively to give us the murderer’s POV.

But what do you gain from using the second person? Here are a few of the benefits.

Intensity – the second person is very powerful, the reader is immediately immersed – they effectively become the character in your book.

Ambiguity – there’s a certain ambiguity to a character written in the second person. They could be male or female, young or old. They take on some of the characteristics of the reader. This makes second person an effective tool for certain types of story. For example it works well in crime when writing a scene from the killer’s POV.

Accusatory – the use of the word ‘you’ can feel very accusatory for the reader and this can, again, be utilised for good effect.

Uneasy – one of the effects of writing in second person it that it is uncomfortable for the reader. They are being forced into the head of a character they may not like or feel at ease with. Add to this the intensity, ambiguity and accusatory nature of this POV and the reader’s sense of unease is only heightened.

Not all stories lend themselves to the second person, but I do think it’s worth giving it a try, if only to expand your writing armoury. It’s not at all easy to do well. My first efforts came across as clunky and difficult to read. For a while I wrestled with it. People who read it didn’t like it. But after a while I started to get the hang of it. It no longer seems to jar. So I’ll share with you my top tip for writing in the second person:

Try to avoid the use of the word YOU as much as possible.

This applies particularly to the start of sentences. A succession starting with ‘You’ quickly becomes grating. Try turning your sentences around so that the word ‘You’ comes in the middle. The flow will be greatly improved. You words will cease to jar.

What are you waiting for? Give it a go

Friday, 21 October 2016

Getting Literary in Yeovil

The Yeovil Literary Festival is in full swing, packed with all sorts of exciting authors and events. I was up there yesterday and today and I’ve come away buzzing – inspired to get on with some new writing. There are still two more days to go but I thought I would share with your some of the highlights so far.

Yesterday the festival kicked off with the Yeovil Prizewinners event. I was there in my capacity of short story winner 2016 but all the rest of this year’s winners were there as well – something of a first – I don’t think everyone has been able to make it before! The standard was excellent and diverse. The winning novel was superb and I can’t wait for it to be published and I can read the whole thing – and I’m pretty sure it will be – it was really good!

Some of the past winners were there as well, now published and with books to sell, and it was a lovely feeling to be amongst them with my own. Sue Yockney and Chip Tolson were launching their latest books. Sue’s new novel, Outside the Box, is a satirical romp, and Chip Tolson has just released a collection of his short stories, many of which are Yeovil Prize winners in their own right. 

Jackie Gingell, myself, Sue Yockney and Chip Tolson 

Chip and Sue on the bookstall - selling like hot cakes

Chip and Sue

And their books! This is my haul from the event! 

Today I headed back up for a crime writing workshop run by local crime writers Clare Donoghue and Chris Ewan – yes I’m thinking of dabbling in a bit of murder and mayhem – which was excellent but I do wish it had been longer. In fact they’ll be running a course in Taunton soon. Unfortunately a bit too far for me to get to.

But one of the best things was bumping into other authors. It was particularly nice to meet fellow Allsort Emma Carroll as well as Kiran Millwood Hargrave who I met at the Yeovil Prizewinners event a couple of years ago and has now had her first book published.

I only wish I could have stayed longer and spent more time talking all things writing. I hope to see you all again soon!

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Meet me in Yeovil

The 2016 Yeovil Literary Festival runs from Friday 21st to Sunday 23rd October with a fantastic selection of authors and events to wet your appetite.

But the festival actually kicks off on the Thursday afternoon at 3pm in the Johnson Studio of the Octagon Theatre with the Yeovil Literary Prize event. Here you will have the chance to meet past and present winners of the Yeovil Prize and hear how winning has benefited their writing careers.

I will be there reading 'A Legend of Flight', my winning short story and I will have copies of my short story collection, The Scribbling Sea Serpent for sale at a reduced price.

But above all I love to meet other authors so do come along and say 'Hi'.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Winning the Yeovil Prize

Today, at last, I am able to tell you some very exciting news. My short story, “A Legend of Flight” has come first – yes FIRST – in the short story category of the Yeovil Literary Prize 2016!

To say I’m delighted would be an understatement. You can see the full list of results here.

This story was a bit of an experiment as I was trying out a different voice and I think I can safely say that it was a success. That’s the great thing about short stories. They’re the perfect form for trying out something new. It may not always work, but when it does – ah – then amazing things can happen. Like this.

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Tales of the Damned

I have just received my contributor’s copy of the latest book to hit the shelves from CFZ Publishing’s Fortean Fiction imprint – Tales of the Damned: An anthology of Fortean ** Horror.

The collection contains 25 stories from 21 different authors, some of whom are well known names in the field of Fortean and Paranormal research. This adds a really interesting dimension to some of the stories included.

To quote the editor, Richard Freeman: “Who better to pen a collection of weird tales than those who hunt monsters, search for ghosts and study anomalous phenomena?”

I myself may not be a monster hunter and I incline towards the sceptical, but you cannot deny that there are things in this world that might at first appear inexplicable. Often the explanation for something seemingly anomalous turns out to be quite mundane, but this itself is intriguing. The whole subject is a fascinating one. Imaginations are set alight and stories like those in this collection are the result.

If you want to know a bit more about Forteana then do check out fellow contributor Andrew May’s fascinating blog on the subject. In the meantime I have a few stories to read!

Tales of the Damned is available in paperback from Amazon UK and Amazon US and the kindle version will be issued in a few weeks.

** The term ‘Fortean” refers to the works of Charles Hoy Fort (August 6, 1874 - May 3, 1932). Fort was an American writer and researcher into strange phenomena. You can find out more about him here.

Monday, 6 June 2016


Everything changes. The world is in a state of flux. Just like the cliffs around where I live. Last time I walked along this section of the coast path the ground had opened up, a giant fissure, the seaward side slipping downwards.

Every time I come here the landscape is different, has slipped a little further, the crack wider, the drop greater, sections of path that I once walked now empty air and precipitous falls.

This section of coastline is on the move, never standing still, constantly reinventing itself. The cliffs crumble and reveal treasure. I picked up these fossils on the beach below, pristine and new, un-battered by the waves and tides.

Next time I go there it will have changed again.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Making Time to Write

How many times have we heard, or maybe even uttered, those words “I’d love to write a book, I just don’t have the time”.

Well I’ll let you into a secret – I don’t have the time either. I have a day job, I have a family. This year I have two teenagers sitting important exams, I’ve joined a running club and I’ve been helping my mother move house. Some days when everyone else is using the computer and I have a million and one other things to do it feels as if the whole world is conspiring to stop me writing.

Yet, somehow, the novel I started back in September has managed to creep up to 71K words out of a target length of 80K. It’s the longest thing I’ve ever written and the end is in sight, the finale looming.

Since I know I’m not the only person compelled to write who is also pushed for time I thought I would share a few tips with you that have helped me get this novel written.

  1. Get a smart phone and use it for all you social networking and procrastinating. That way when you do get the chance to sit down and write you write.
  2. Have a plan – I find an outline helps a lot. Mine is organic and changes as I go along, but it means that when I do get a chance to write I know exactly what happens next.
  3. Don’t edit – get that first draft down, editing can come later. I know some people prefer to make each section perfect before moving on to the next bit but chances are that section will never be perfect. Finish that first draft and then you will have something to work with.
  4. Don’t worry if the words feel stilted or don’t flow, keep pressing on, you can come back and fix it later.
  5. Try to find writing slots of about an hour. I can generally manage a thousand words in an hour but if you can only manage to find half hour slots that’s fine. Then make sure you spend that time slot writing.
  6. Don’t worry about finding a regular slot, although if you can so much the better, but if you have to fit it in here and there between everything else then so be it.
  7. Keep a tally of your word count. It’s satisfying watching it creep up and seeing how 500 words added here or there can start to make a difference.
  8. Thinking time is just as important as writing time, so take any opportunity, to give yourself space to think and play over your next scene in your head. That way when you get the chance to sit down and write the scene is all ready to go.
  9. Stay focussed on one project. It’s so easy to get seduced by that shiny new idea but if you keep hopping from project to project you’ll never get anything finished. 
  10. Finally enjoy it. Writing should be fun, a creative release.

So remember. “I don’t have the time,” is NOT an excuse – and this applies to all things in life – not just writing!