Thursday, 28 October 2010

A Writing 101 Production - Part 12: Twitter Wisdom

Here's the thing.  I've been promising you Lovely Blog Readers a useful 101 post about Twitter since sometime before the fish crawled out of the sea and grew little stumpy legs.  Only now I find that all the nice technical authory bits I was going to say have already been said much better than I ever could.  I have, in fact, been gazumped and beaten to the wire by none other than the Crabbit Old Bat herself (that's @nicolamorgan for those of you who haven't yet had the pleasure...). So it is with much gnashing of teeth and tearing of hair that I point you in her direction.  Her Help! I Need A Publisher blog is pretty much the best advice a writer can get, and her Twitter for Authors Parts 1-6 (look in the posts for August and September 2010) is a model of excellence which is impossible to better.  Damn but she's good!
No two authory experiences of anything are ever exactly the same, so I'm going to give you my own slightly more eccentric brand of Twitter wisdom anyway. Variety is the spice of life and all that, Lovely Readers.
So here's me answering 8 of your Really Important Random Questions about Twitter
(Yes. I know I'm interviewing myself.  It's fun.  You should try it sometime. No.  I am not delusional. Whatever made you think that?)
  • Why did you start tweeting? I'll be honest.  It was an idle moment.  I was bored.  This Twitter thing was starting to be talked about a lot (though far less than it is now--I joined up 18 months ago), so I thought I'd give it a go. I shut my eyes, held my breath and plunged in with both left feet. There was no Grand Authory Plan to Take Over the World via Tweets then. I'd like to make that clear at the start. (There is now, of course. And no. I'm still not delusional. Mwahahaha!) 
  • How did that work out, then?  Confusing at first, but I soon got the hang of it by just doing it. Thing is, loads of writers are not very techy and are quite scared of the big bad internet infecting them with Something Nasty, or crashing their computers and eating the manuscript which has taken them 10 years to write. I'm not very techy either, but I am quite willing to experiment and give things a go. I've talked about the importance of firewalls and backing up in Writing 101 Production Part 4 and I know that if things do go pear-shaped, I have done all I can to cover my (fairly ample) behind. I have to say I found things a lot easier once I'd discovered TweetDeck, and could organise TwitStuff how I wanted it.
  •  Hunh? TwitStuff? What are you on about?  Well, I found it hard to keep up with all the tweets for a start, once I'd started following people, not to mention the @ mentions and my own new followers.  Don't be under any illusions.  Twitter is a continuous cascade of information.  Something every second.  So getting organised was pretty important, otherwise I would have drowned.  TweetDeck allows you to make nifty little columns which you can name as public (everyone can see) or private (only you know they exist) lists and 'drag' people into (kicking and screaming if necessary).  I have, forinstance, a private 'bookies' column where I can skim through all the book tweets, another for 'friends'--and others for 'vampires' and 'mad tweeters'.  The latter are a source of much amusement to me, and include a lewd nun and several very eccentric wordsmiths. I can also keep track of hashtags in their own columns too (#SpeakLoudly let me watch all the tweets around this fantastic campaign without having to follow everyone who joined in).  
  • Talking of #hashtags and all that...explain--and what about those double asterisky things?  Now look, I told you.  Nicola Morgan explains all this techy Twitstuff in a fine and brisk manner.  There's a whole post from her on hashtags and other fascinating Twittery bits, so go and look. All I will add on the hashtag subject is that I like making up silly ones to enhance my tweets.  Such as #notwritingbecauseampissingaboutontwitter. As for the asterisky things, well, I might tweet something like "I don't understand this whole Twitter business *confused*"  It's a way of indicating mood or state of mind--like an emoticon (please tell me you know what an emoticon is?  PLEEEASE?).
  • So--what have you got out of it?  It's a strange creature, Twitter. I like it more and more.  I have fast and frantic conversations on it with actual-friends-I've-met and also with tweeters who I've never met, but who are soon bona-fide Twitter friends.  I jump into other people's conversations without a qualm (even quite famous people's conversations)--something I would never do in real life because I would consider it rude (and anyway, it would be hard for me to butt into a conversation that was taking place in America.  I'm versatile--but not that versatile!). I learn crucial bookish news via links and tweets from others.  I share my own book and blog news (but never as a hard sell--that's fatal, see below) and stuff I find interesting (might be a blog, or a book I've loved, or a fascinating piece of useless information, or a review). I've done some successful #bookgiveaways and competitions. I chat to booksellers, librarians, parents, industry pros, agents, publishers and lots more, including a load of delightfully bloodthirsty vampires and one extremely baaad faery boy, @sethmacgregor if you're interested--but hands off, he's MINE! I find it's a fantastically rich community which gives me more important information, quicker, than any of the other social media.
  • Does it sell books, though? Well, do blogging or Facebook fan pages or author websites sell books?   It's all a bit unquantifiable.  I have indubitably (one of my favourite words btw) sold some of my books via Twitter, because people have told me they've bought them--all the way from Australia in one case.  But Twitter is NOT about hard sell--if there's one thing you take away from this piece it should be that.  If you are trumpet-blowingly shouty and me me me, wonderful me buy my fabulous book all the time, it will put people off in droves.  I'm even doubtful about the value of tweeting your own blogpost links more than a couple of times, to be honest. I think that if you can get people to like you by being interesting/funny/interested in others, then by definition if you mention that you have a new book out, then some are likely to be more prone to buying it.  But for me the value of Twitter is more about building up relationships with nice people who like children's books than in hard selling. 
  • Do you follow everyone who follows you? And if not, then why? I don't follow absolutely everyone who follows me, no.  But if someone bothers to have a conversation with me, or RT's one of my posts, or engages with me, then I am much more likely to follow them back.  I also thank people for RTing and mentioning me in #FF (Follow Friday) or #WW (Writer Wednesday).  I'm all about the good Twitter manners, me.  I do delete and block obvious spammers and pornofollowers and 'bots.  Except the Custard Cream bot, obviously.   
  • Finally and most importantly, do you spend too much time on Twitter?  That's debatable.  If you believe that author platforms are important, as I do, then no (I tweet in short 2-15 minute bursts through the day, if I have time or during a coffee break).  According to my family, yes.  I leave you therefore with the graffiti Lovely Daughter affixed to my computer yesterday.  Chip off the old block, eh? (So proud!)  Now back to the 'super keyboard of might' for some more attack tweeting. Bye for now, Lovely Blog Readers--and if you pluck up the courage to join Twitter, do come and say hello to @lucycoats!

You can find all my other eccentric and useful Writing 101 Productions right HERE

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Over at An Awfully Big Blog Adventure Today!

I'm writing about Hubris and the Art of Good Behaviour over at An Awfully Big Blog Adventure today.  If you'd like to discover why I think some author behaviour is beyond the pale, hop on over and have a read. If you disagree (or indeed agree) please leave a comment at AABBA. 

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Cheltenham Literary Festival or As I Walked Out One Autumn Afternoon

I've decided I love literary festivals.  Not that I have that much experience--but three pretty big ones in three months must count for something.  I've written here about my Edinburgh experiences in August, and my September day at Bath Festival doing two school events was huge fun.  But this week was Cheltenham Festival, and it started off well with a slight diversion to have lunch (with excellent cider) at Laurie Lee's local, the Woolpack Inn in Slad, Gloucestershire. Cider With Rosie was always one of my favourite books, and I can tell you the Woolpack hasn't changed much (at least in decor) since Rosie's day.  It's a really proper pub, with plenty of local colour, good food--and best of all it's owned by a local artist now and not some faceless brewery, so the link to creativity is maintained.  But now, on to Cheltenham....

The efficiency and friendliness of Cheltenham Literary Festival is legendary.  A few weeks ago I went to the launch party in London, met lovely organisers Nicola Tuxworth and Jane Churchill--and was given a goodie bag containing, among other useful things such as a memory stick and throat pastilles, a whole big box of chocolate biscuits.  What author wouldn't be well-disposed to a festival which provides much-needed chocolatey sustenance plus endless champagne before you even arrive?  I got to the Writers' Room in good time--rather too good, as it was empty and echoey and much scarier than the Edinburgh yurt.  But soon enough I was whisked away to be fitted with the sort of microphone worn by famous popstars--you know the kind--has a little flesh-coloured thingy beside your mouth (and, I now know, backwards NHS metal glasses fixtures to go over the ears).  Then, to not-nearly but almost popstar applause, I was on.  Once I'd worked out the vagaries of the clicky thing (always good for a bit of laughter when this goes wrong, which it invariably does) the hour passed in a flash, and then I was into a signing frenzy, with even a queue.  I don't generally expect queues. 

But the nicest thing of all happened at the end.  I knew some kids had had a problem with their bus, and would be late (they crept in so quietly I hardly noticed).  So after the signing I sat and talked to them for a bit (they all asked mega-intelligent questions).  There was one boy at the back who was anxious to know whether I'd got the Fates and the Furies in my books--and whether I'd got in 'the bit about the copper tower.'  I recognised a child who knew his stuff on Greek myths--and I can't tell you what a thrill it gave me to know that the tales of long ago which I love so much can still light an answering passionate flame in a twenty-first century child. 

Thursday, 7 October 2010

5 Favourite Poems for National Poetry Day

#NationalPoetryDay is even trending on Twitter today.  That's how important poetry is.  So, to celebrate,  here are five of the first verses from my favourite poems of all time (and a link in case you want to read on).

1.  The Heart's Desire is Full of Sleep - Ruth Pitter

The heart's desire is full of sleep,
For men who have their will
Have gained a good they cannot keep,
And must go down the hill

Where I found it: I first read this one in Ruth Pitter's Daily Telegraph obituary notice, and at once I got that kick in the stomach which good poetry gives. 
What I like: that you have to work for the meaning of it, and that it doesn't say what you think it does at first reading.  This is the one I keep in my wallet and will have read at my funeral. I am with her "true emperors of desire, true heirs to all regret..."

2. The Passionate Man's Pilgrimage - Sir Walter Raleigh

GIVE me my scallop-shell of quiet,
My staff of faith to walk upon,
My scrip of joy, immortal diet,
My bottle of salvation,
My gown of glory, hope's true gage ;
And thus I'll take my pilgrimage.

Where I found it: I first read this as a teenager in Elizabeth Goudge's Towers in the Mist (one of my all time favourite books). Raleigh appears in it as a student at Oxford University.
What I like: Raleigh the courtier, the bringer of tobacco, the adventurer--these are the usual pictures we have of him.  But Raleigh the yearning, passionate man of faith? Poetry reveals things about the poet and this showed me a man who felt the beauty of the soul at the deepest level and was prepared to sacrifice himself for his beliefs. 
3. The Lake Isle of Innisfree - William Butler Yeats
I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree,
And a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made;
Nine bean rows will I have there, a hive for the honey bee,
And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

Where I found it: surprisingly, I first came across this as a song, performing it with the school choir, so that's how I hear it in my head.
What I like: As a writer, I often want to get away from it all, live alone, concentrate on nothing but words and lapping waters and the song of bees.  This poem sums up that unattainable desire perfectly.

4. Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night - Dylan Thomas

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Where I found it: I was in a dusty classroom, at the front, on the left when I read this for the first time--it was part of my 'O' level English literature syllabus.  I cried then.  I do now.

What I like: My own father was a man who fought against many things--his family, the expectations of society, illness and disability.  So it reminds me of him.  But this was the first of Thomas's poems I read.  The way he used language made poetry real and relevant for the first time in my life.  I felt as if I wanted to lick his poems, to gobble them up, to rub myself against them.  I still do.

5. To Be Called a Bear - Robert Graves

Bears gash the forest trees
To mark the bounds
Of their own hunting grounds;
They follow the wild bees
Point by point home
For love of honeycomb;
They browse on blueberries.

Where I found it: in a shiatsu practitioner's treatment room. 

What I like: in my shamanic life, my totem animal is bear.  This poem sums up that part of my character beautifully--sometimes I am 'unkept and surly with a sweet tooth'.  Graves is one of my favourite writers anyway--I refer to him on an almost daily basis for mythological knowledge. 

That's just five of my poetry loves--I have many more.  I hope you enjoy these. Happy reading! Happy National Poetry Day!

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

A #SpeakLoudly Poem for National Poetry Day 2010

Tomorrow is National Poetry Day in the UK.

For me, poetry is an important form of creative expression.  My 'adult' poetry is usually written at moments of strong emotion, and I find the act of refining my feelings down and down into their essence to be a cathartic process which helps me to make sense of my life. 

Last week was definitely a week of strong emotion, as I got involved with #SpeakLoudly, and came to terms with my own past.  I wrote the poem below for all the women who contacted me in so many ways after that first post, and trusted me not to betray their confidences.  Please feel free to share it or use it as you wish.  Poetry is something which shouldn't be locked in a box and only let out on special occasions--it's for everyone, every day. And if this one's not for you, then there'll be another somewhere that is--you might even find it hidden inside yourself. Why not have a look?

They arrived.
One by one.
Falling snowflake-soft into my inbox.
They had been silent so long.
(So had I.)
Their voices
overwhelmed me.
They called me braveheart, lionwoman.
(I only wrote the pain out.
It’s what I do.)
For them,
my ancient anguish
becomes catalyst, comforter.
My rusty voice an emblem
for endurance, survival,
the semantics of hope.
“I want to tell you”
they said. “This happened” (and this and this and this and this).
Among raw words like “guilt” and “shame”,
their broken whispers
fell into my listening silence;
my tears; my healing rage.
In my head
their stories spin and shimmer—
butterfly battalions
seeking the way to sky.
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