Thursday, 30 June 2011

The fear of 'copycat' books

Sometimes I can’t get to sleep because I have an idea loudly buzzing around in my mind. Sometimes I have to run to work because I’ve lost track of time, plotting stories during the morning.
And often, after having spent ages churning the thoughts around, I lose all confidence and never put pen to paper.

Why? Because I think that it’s all been done before.

This is one of the two biggest reasons I procrastinate (the other being that I find something ‘more important’ to do…like the cleaning. Ugh.)  I have an idea about teens on the run in a dystopian future, then stop abruptly and think ‘that’s just like Meg Rosoff’s ‘How I Live Now.’’ I have an idea about a girl solving mysteries with her friends, then remember The Famous Five.

And once I’m in that rut I lose all momentum and excitement, and those passionate flames of creativity are nothing more than ashes and a few glowing embers niggling at the back of my mind – the remainder of something that I won’t allow into existence.

But the other day when I visited W H Smiths, I stopped in the children/YA section and had a good look around. I was drawn to the shelves by a sea of black covers. I picked up several and read the blurbs, and they all sold themselves with the same formula, involving teenage girls and vampire boys. Ring any bells? (It will probably ring several judging by the quantity on offer!)

These ‘copycat’ books follow a formula that sells, because people are demanding more books like ones they already love. There are only a certain number of stories in the world, and they have all been told thousands of times over with certain elements slightly changed to make them unique.

For example: the hero goes on a quest, conquers evil, wins the girl.
The reluctant hero goes on a quest, conquers evil, wins the girl.
The hero goes on a quest, conquers evil, doesn’t win the girl…

That might be quite a simplistic way of looking at it, but that’s just how it is. Would we have had Meyer’s Twilight without Stoker’s Dracula? Would we have had Dracula without Le Fanu’s Carmilla?

It is said that imitation is the highest form of flattery, so if we are inspired, and so long as there is no plagiarism, is it wrong to write a story similar to one we already know or love? History tells us no!

And if we don’t get our ideas on paper and bring our brain-children into existence it just might be that someone more daring goes and does it first. There’s no copyright laws for ideas after all!

I think I’m going to take a deep breath and take the plunge, and fight the urges that tell me ‘there’s no point’, because I don’t want to regret anything, especially something I haven’t done. And hopefully, if I show willing, a cleaning fairy will make my home all shiny and clean and remove all my other procrastination-inducing distractions…

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

More King Arthur TV

Did anyone watch 'Camelot' on Saturday night? What did you think?

picture from here
I'm in love with old folk tales and fairy stories from all over the world; I think there's something really special about the way they have enchanted so many generations, and continue to do so. There's no denying that modern media has helped spread the magic to new audiences in an 'age of images' rather than words, but although they can do them justice...sometimes they just let you down. And sure, they're targeting different audiences, but with stories that have so much history and are so popular there's definitely high expectations that they ought to live up to.

And something really just bugged me about Camelot...

I'm not entirely sure whether I liked it. I suppose I was automatically comparing it with BBC's 'Merlin', which I dismissed pretty much straight away because in my view it was trying to fill the gap left by 'Robin Hood' (which I loved) and for me, at the time, it couldn't. So I thought 'hey, Camelot has to be better than that!'

The ads made me think it was going to be more gritty and realistic (kudos, they had people going at it in the hall with the King there) but then Jamie Whatshisface popped up as kind of went downhill from there for me. He seemed very preppy and pampered and it was a bit surreal next to Merlin and Morgan's intensity. And it felt weird trying to laugh about it because the show seemed to take itself too seriously.

Which got me thinking about Merlin again, and I wondered if I would dismiss it so easily now. I watched the first episode again and what eluded me a few years ago when it first came out suddenly clicked: its just a bit of lighthearted entertainment, no pretensions. It made me smile and laugh and feel enchanted (which is the point of these stories!) Yes, it had a 6:30pm time slot rather than 9:00pm like Camelot, so they are aimed at different age groups, but based on first episodes I found myself enjoying Merlin more...I just spent an hour and a half feeling a bit uncomfortable and confused on Saturday night, which...isn't really my idea of fun.

But these re-tellings and re-workings will never be able to please everybody, will they? 

Funnily enough the only modern Arthur TV programme that I really loved was the storyline that ran through the BBC series 'Bonekickers' which was about a group of archaeologists, one of which was obsessed with Excalibur. If you haven't seen it I highly recommend you seek it out!

And if anyone can recommend some good programmes/films based on folk/fairy tales - I'm a sucker for them, so let me know!

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Writing Newsletters

For me, this past year has been all about writing. Since September I have decided to try and make a real go of it – and it dawned on me yesterday that the year is very nearly over. I have no doubts that the next three months will fly by…all the rest have :(

When I first started writing, the advice I found all over the place online, in books and on my course, was to subscribe to writing newsletters. They were promised to provide great insider tips, lead me to new markets and feature interesting and relevant articles.

So, in my excitement I subscribed to pretty much every (free!) newsletter I could find, and then waited eagerly for one to pop up in my inbox. After only a day the first arrived, and it contained an inspiring, thrilling, totally mind-blowing article on…word processors.


That was when I decided to be a bit more discerning. I already knew about word processors and was (still am) perfectly content with the one I have. I was so keen to start something new and really do it right, that I thought I would try and get all the information, without considering whether it would be relevant to me so that I would actually benefit. That wasn't the best way to go about it!

So I seriously reduced the number I subscribe to, and so far I have found the most useful newsletters to be:

Funds For Writers: The editor, Hope Clark, always includes a thought provoking introduction, and the newsletter itself contains an article, success stories of its readers, and lists of competitions, grants, freelance markets, jobs and publishers/agents. There is also a ‘small markets’ edition, which contains markets that seem more likely to accept new and emerging writers.

Worldwide Freelance Writer: One of the things I really like about Gary McLaren’s newsletter is that it features current news stories related to the world of writing. That’s normally how I find out which awards are going on! (There are just so many…) The featured article links to other articles you might enjoy, and the market lists are often pretty cross-continental. The layout is also by far the cleanest.

Writing World: Dawn Copeman and Moira Allen’s newsletter is as full of great information as their website. Articles, Q&As, news stories, job opportunities, good websites, and competitions fill the newsletter to the brim! Moira Allen has another newsletter – Writers Weekly – but although the content is good the high level of advertising it contains is a little off-putting. 

But, hey, these might not appeal to anyone else! Do check out the websites though because they have some great info :)

I am still looking for a decent newsletter that is based in the UK and features more UK markets – if you know of any and would recommend them then please, please let me know!