Dear Candy Gourlay, how do I become a writer?

Before I continue with this blog post ... here's a word from our sponsor:

Today's the day my second novel SHINE is officially available in UK shops in hardback! If you can, please get it from a bookshop near you or order it from your nearest loveable public library!

Last June, I visited a school right on the edge of the Luzon electricity grid in the Philippines - Laurel Elementary School. I was taken there by the Sambat Trust.

I came bearing gifts - my book distributor for schools Anvil Publishing had given me a big bag of picture books (thanks Gwenn!) that I handed out as prizes for even the most trivial of questions.

So the children rapidly went from orderly bemusement:

To this:

Photo: Zarah Gagatiga

SUCCESS! I believe in making books exciting - even if I'm just bribing the children to answer questions.

I talked about how I became a writer and then signed books. In the queue I met this teenage girl from a nearby high school.

Photo: Zarah Gagatiga
She said writing was her passion. But how, she asked me, could she become a writer?

Y'know, it's funny how this is one question that I am asked over and over again by young people. I wonder if other authors get this question in their inboxes as often as I do.

Dear Candy Gourlay, How do I become a writer?

Luckily for today's young writers, they don't just have to aspire quietly in their bedrooms. With the internet, they can contact authors like me directly and ask this burning question. HOW?

The answer of course is a moving feast. Here's what I say to them:

To become a writer you must write and you must read. Lots. You must learn everything you can about the craft. You must decide who you want to write for and create work accordingly. It's a tough business, full of rejection, so you must keep an eye out for others who share your passion. They will support you through the tough times and you must support them. 

I try to answer what I can. But because of my busy schedule, I have to regretfully turn away pieces of writing that these aspiring writers attach to their emails - and I'm very sorry indeed that I don't have the time to help. If we all had the time to mentor young writers like these, what a fantastic literary world this would become!

So when Archway with Words, a new literary festival to be held in my neighbourhood here in North London invited me to create an event, I thought, how about something for young writers?

I came up with this:

23 September 2013, 5pm to 6pm, Archway Library - it's FREE.
It's a chance for young writers to show their work to authors - only 300 words ... 300 words is enough to get a flavour of the writer. I've rustled up a roomful of famous, cool and incredibly good looking authors (my very kind author buddies who are taking alcohol as their reward for showing up) to respond to the pieces.

This is not about criticism, this is about taking your writing to the next level.

Here's how it will work:

1. Submissions will be sent in advance to participating authors - they're attending my book launch which is why I was able to rustle up a roomful of them! Sadly places are limited because time is limited, so do submit sooner rather than later.

2.  On the day, a reader (I'm trying to get an actor) will read each text aloud. The authors will not be identified, though they can identify themselves if they want to later. After reading each text, the authors will respond to the work.

3. We only have 45 minutes to an hour to talk about the work. We will read as many as we can but the aspiring writer will not know if his or her contribution will get read. I attend events like these at writer's conferences and even if your work is not read, it's very, very educational.

4. Aspiring writers ages 12 to 18 submit 300 words (or thereabouts - no need to break off abruptly!) of a piece of writing - it may be fiction or an essay (for lack of time, no poems please). You can write something specially or maybe you've already written a novel or a longer piece - then you can show us a delicious excerpt! Send as an attached word document to me - contact me first via the contact form on the right for the email address.

5. Deadline: 18th of September 2013, Wednesday.

6. Format: Double spaced on one sheet. No fancy fonts please.

7. You can only send something in if you can guarantee that you can attend of course. Afterwards, there will be plenty of time to chat and hobnob with authors at the book launch. And the critiquing session will be a great ice breaker! You won't feel shy about chatting to the authors after the session!

Did I remember to mention that it's FREE?

If you are young and an aspiring writer, we all hope to see you there.

Here are the famous, cool and incredibly good looking authors 
who will be listening to your work

(Click on the images to visit our websites)

From left to right:

Fiona Dunbar's Truth Cookie series was made into the BBC show Jinx.

Tim Collins could be a character out of his hilarious Wimpy Vampire books.

Addy Farmer writes moving picture books like Grandfather's Bench and Siddharth and Rinki

Candy Gourlay wrote Tall Story about an eight foot tall boy.

Steve Hartley writes the Danny Baker Record Baker series and always travels with a giant bogey.

Jackie Marchant ghost writes the rib-tickling and highly suspicious books of Dougal 'It's not my fault' Trump.

Jane Mcloughlin wrote the Carnegie-nominated At Yellow Lake.

Cliff McNish is a lot nicer than his creepy Doomspell Trilogy and horror books.

Sarah Mussi's pacey Angel Dust is transcendent YA.

Sam Osman aka Sam Hepburn wrote the heart-pumping thriller Chasing the Dark.

Teri Terry's explosive Slated trilogy is winning prizes all over the place.

I leave you with this video of my hero Ray Bradbury talking (sometimes grumpily) about how to become a writer ...

And one more ...

It is the Sambat Trust's third year of building libraries in the Philippines. To celebrate, every new supporter who "likes" our Facebook page this September will be matched with a £1 donation- up to £500. Please ... go like!

Like books? Like children? Like libraries?
Click on the logo and 'like' us!

You might be interested in my recent postings. Click on the thumbnails to view:

How to Become a WriterMy Video ReadingUnboxing First Copies 

Q&A at Tamarind Books
Riffing on Rain in Shine
Chasing happiness

I read an excerpt from Shine and wonder what to do about my accent

Shine is officially released on 5 September 2013. It is already available for download on Kindle!

I made this over the weekend and then vacillated about whether I would actually post it.

It's just me reading an excerpt from SHINE from the screen of my computer, but after I made it, I realized that I'd read it in the mainly British accent that I use here in London and not the mainly American accent that I use elsewhere.

I did try a Filipino accent to start with but I abandoned that idea because it's hard to remember what my normal Filipino accent is when I'm not surrounded by Filipinos. I appear to be one of those weirdos who acquire the accents of the people they are talking to.

But this ... I worried that my Filipino peeps would consider it some kind of betrayal.

From TV Newsroom
I am all too aware of the experience of London-grown news anchor Veronica Pedrosa who suffered the suspicious criticism of Filipinos who thought the British accent was a put on.

Veronica anchored for Al-Jazeera and CNN before that and was subject to cruel speculation about an accent that was perceived as fake. Ironically, an American accent would have been seen as more acceptable.

When I was growing up in the Philippines many many years ago, the ability to speak English was so highly prized that at one point, I had a teacher who fined us a few centavos for every Tagalog word that slipped into our answers.

Tagalog, of Malay extraction, is the most widely spoken language in the Philippines and the basis for Pilipino (called 'Filipino' since the 1980s), which is one of our two national languages. Pilipino/Filipino was created out of the Tagalog language, to much opprobium from speakers of the other languages.

There are 120 to 175 languages in the Philippines you only have to drive a few miles out of Manila to find people speaking another language. If you've got the energy, you can read about the evolution of Filipino here - a reminder to Filipinos of how recently our country developed its national identity.

The other national language is English.

Tribal boys learning English at the turn of the other century.

Funnily enough, since we became an American colony in the 1898, it's become the lingua franca across our seven thousand one hundred and seven islands because education, law and politics has been largely conducted in English, though that is changing.

Which is why, when my family migrated to Manila from the Visayan-speaking South when I was three years old, English became the language we chose to speak at home. As a result, I was terrible at all my Pilipino subjects in school. I remember my Pilipino essays in primary school: all the Visayan words encircled with red ball point pen and the teacher's scribble 'This is not a Pilipino word")

'How can you call yourself a Filipino?' one exasperated teacher in Pilipino literature once asked me when I yet again resorted to an English word for lack of vocabulary.

I really did wonder if I could call myself a Filipino. Looking back now, I realize my problem was not because I was not Filipino enough. I just came from another island where we spoke a different language.

Sadly all this (and ubiquitous American TV) led to the erasure of Visayan from my vocabulary.

Though I can still understand a bit of Visayan, it has faded from my linguistic memory.

Good morning! (From DepEd)
The Philippines has just introduced a new educational system called the K to12 which subscribes to the idea that children learn best in their mother tongue - so early years education will now be delivered in local languages, with Filipino and English taught as separate subjects.

I am no educator, so I can't really offer any words of wisdom, praise or criticism about the new venture - except to say I'm glad no child will ever again be accused of not being Filipino enough because of the language they speak.

On one of my visits to a provincial school, a group of teachers eyed my approach with visible apprehension. When I opened my mouth to say hello in Tagalog, they all sighed with relief.

'Ma'am, when we heard you were an author from England, we thought you would speak to us in English!' one teacher explained. 'We were all suffering from nosebleeds!' (Note to teachers: please don't call me Ma'am!)

Nosebleed is Filipino comedy slang for linguistic low self esteem ... as in: 'Your English was so high falutin I got a nosebleed' (we conjugate the word nosebleed as if it was Tagalog).

Growing up with this constant linguistic tension - those who are fluent sneering, those who aren't, feeling insecure - I wanted to show that people are not just their accents.

In my first novel TALL STORY (Spoiler - if you want to read it please highlight and the words will become visible), English is not my character Bernardo's strongest point. And though I write his thoughts in complex English, whenever he opens his mouth the English comes out hilarious and mixed up. It was hard work to capture that kind of speech because I was not physically in the Philippines to get that Pinoy vibe ... but  I got a lot of help from a hilarious Filipino book called The More the Manyer.

Anyway, I decided to post this video and hope for the best.

You might be interested in my recent postings. Click on the thumbnails to view:

How to Become a WriterMy Video ReadingUnboxing First Copies 

Q&A at Tamarind Books
Riffing on Rain in Shine
Chasing happiness