Welcome to the Cornerstones Blog, keeping you up to date with the latest information on literary workshops, advice on how to write, a general look at the publishing industry today and, perhaps most importantly, ways to finally crack it!

For more information on how we help aspiring authors, visit our website http://www.cornerstones.co.uk/

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Christmas and the Like

It’s that time of year where everyone is winding down and preparing for days of basically, non-stop eating, watching very bad Christmas films, (mine, last year included Herbie Reloaded – or something like that – with Lindsay Lohan, annual re-watching of Mary Poppins, The Wizard of Oz, and of course, It’s a Wonderful Life). When you put your feet up, curled up in front of an open fire (if you’re lucky enough to have one) or just huddled by the central heating, soaking in the deliciousness of resting after a meal which has rendered your body useless, spare a thought for all that hard work you’ve done this year and know that you deserve this rest!

Having sent out our Cornerstones’ author portfolio to agents we’re very excited about what the future might hold. Cornerstones will certainly be thinking about all the wonderful progress so many of our authors have made this year, and all the new talent which we’re looking forward to receiving next year. Having our own works of literature to complete it can be disheartening to not have progressed as far as one might have liked, but a new year brings new hope; it’s all about recharging the creative process and, one way or another, getting it done!

Happy Christmas to everyone, and a wonderful New Year.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

You HAVE to read...

A friend of mine suggested I read The End of the Affair. She in fact stopped to take a breath, put both her hands on her chest, or thereabouts, closed her eyes (in the characteristically dramatic way that she does when passionate about something)  and said, ‘Oh my God, you HAVE to read The End of the Affair', I mean, it’s just, like, oh my God’. I’m sure she rambled a little more than that, but that was the gist anyway. And every so often when we’d meet she’d put her hand on my arm, close her eyes again and ask, ‘Have you read it yet?’ and I would, in my characteristically non passionate way reply, ‘No’.

‘But you have to – it’s just, right, well, okay, it’s just about this one moment in time which changes the entire course of this love affair – and I know you’ll love it, because in that moment the woman…(and she rolled her eyes here) ‘…wait for it’ (shaked her head) ’…finds God’. I thought she was about to start sobbing at this point but she managed to contain herself and continue, ‘You’ll love it’.

Of course, it was the mention of God changing said woman’s life that intrigued me, though I intended on reading it anyway. Being, for better or for worse, partial to religion I decided to pick it up and open the first page. I perhaps shouldn’t have done this at the bus stop, because suffice to say from the opening two paragraphs, I was hooked:

A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead. I say 'one chooses' with the inaccurate pride of a professional writer who—when he has been seriously noted at all—has been praised for his technical ability, but do I in fact of my own will choose that black wet January night on the Common, in 1946, the sight of Henry Miles slanting across the wide river of rain, or did these images choose me? It is convenient, it is correct according to the rules of my craft to begin just there, but if I had believed then in a God, I could also have believed in a hand, plucking at my elbow, a suggestion, 'Speak to him: he hasn’t seen you yet.'
For why should I have spoken to him? If hate is not too large a term to use in relation to any human being, I hated Henry—I hated his wife Sarah too. And he, I suppose, came soon after the events of that evening to hate me: as he surely at times must have hated his wife and that other, in whom in those days we were lucky enough not to believe. So this is a record of hate far more than of love, and if I come to say anything in favour of Henry and Sarah I can be trusted: I am writing against the bias because it is my professional pride to prefer the near-truth, even to the expression of my near-hate
Hooked, so that I refused to put it away when I was walking home from the bus stop, on a wet and dark evening (the irony of sharing a similar atmospheric setting with the narrator leant itself to a little more enjoyment on my behalf). And when the following day I put it down after having finished it, I refused to pick up another book for days. It stayed with me in the way brilliant books do. I’m a sucker for a crisis, doomed love, moral agonising, especially when it’s written without being sentimental. Tragedy is key for me, and this had all the great elements of it; the torture of wanting one thing but being completely unable to reconcile with that want because of one’s duty made me want to tell everyone I met to read it. Of course, the subject matter might not be to everyone’s tastes, the tragedy might even be slightly too dramatic for one’s liking, but the narrative! Oh the narrative! I stop to put both hands on my chest, close my eyes, and say, ‘Oh my God, you HAVE to read The End of the Affair.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Master of Characterisation

The other night I went to the West End to see Mike Leigh's new film, Another Year, and where we had an audience with him afterwards. I'm a huge fan of Mike Leigh - Abigail's Party and Nuts in May... His films start off with a skeleton script and they develop, shoot and direct all at the same time. This is a bold process but I think that is why his characters feel so organic and real with edges of untidiness. When you see this film there isn't much of a plot - it is, surprise surprise, about another year that rolls by, and how if at all, the characters change (some of them don't and there's a poignancy in that). It is intensely gripping, beautifully shot, and with the characters at the core.

As writers we can learn from this film: how to unearth a character and make even the most unattractive ones sympathetic, how to bring heart and warmth into a story to balance out the dark. With a story, without character - even with the best plot in the world - unless we care about what happens why bother reading it?

When we talk about internal conflict versus external conflict or emotional versus plot arcs we're discussing how the external plot impacts on the emotional arc and forces the character to change. This is vital for your protagonist and essential in most genres such as children's and women's commercial (not so necessary for thrillers but there still should be a character we're gunning for). So, while I adore a page-turning edge-of-your-seat plot, even in my own writing (cowgirl romance) I must not get carried away with the thrills of herding cattle and knife throwing (and yes, I can do both) and forget about my character and the emotions she is forced to go through, and how the plot should constantly test her core problem or goal. This is established at the beginning of the story and could be a fear of being loved or a need to find a sense of home - that even the character may not be aware of - but where by the end she has overcome her fear or achieved her goal.

In Another Year the characters shift but not in the way that you would expect (I can't give the story away now, can I?!) where you can practically see the feelings gnaw away under their skin and where there is more said in what is not said that is often contradictory to the dialogue. It's a masterpiece and I highly recommend it to all you writers out there. As an editor, though, there were a few incongruities, some stray characters that didn't really serve a purpose and one or two scenes that were overlong but, hey! who am I to judge...

[By the way, I've been trying to get a DVD copy of Nuts in May and there are none available. If anyone knows how I might get hold of one please let me know - it's an all time favourite].

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Waste Not, Want Not.

As an aspiring writer, I know how it feels to spend hours, days and even weeks writing a chapter, finishing it then reading it over and thinking what a waste of time it was. How bland the words that string uninspired sentences together read. The same words which, when you wrote them, made you think you’d constructed something brilliant, profound even, are the ones that make you think that no matter how hard you try, you’ll never be as good as you want to be – so good that one day, someone somewhere will want to actually publish your book.  

Lee Weatherly, co-author with our very own Helen Corner of, WRITE A BLOCKBUSTER AND GET IT PUBLISHED, Hodder, has certainly succeeded in doing so by securing a six figure US deal for her ANGEL series, Candlewick Press. Lee’s story should be an inspiration for any author who’s been told several times over that their manuscript wasn’t ready for publication. Lee, years ago, wrote a book which despite securing a publisher, even 16 drafts later, didn’t go on to get published. Seven years later she took two of the characters from this book and used them for the ANGEL series, which is creating something of a storm in the children’s publishing world has also be published by Usborne this month, http://www.angelfever.com/.

Of course it goes to show that whilst talent is important when writing, so is the passion that drives you forward so that you don’t give up. I’m not sure how many of us write to become rich, (surely there are easier ways?) but of all the writers I’ve met one thing seems to be certain; they don’t just write because they love it, they write because they have to. It’s a compulsion. And it’s this compulsion that has brought Lee, thirty published books later, a success she has earned and very much deserves.
And so that first book you’ve hidden away in a drawer, in some obscure place in the house, may very well one day, in some way, turn out to be something quite brilliant. It just goes to show, nothing is ever wasted.

Considering Self-Publishing?

Here's a link to an interview with one of Cornerstones's author's, Maria Savva. Read about her experience of self-publishing.


Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Extraordinary Authors

Last night spent in raucous literary abandon at The League of Extraordinary Poets, http://leagueofextraordinarypoets.tumblr.com/ a night of leftfield poetry, music and comedy from Tim Clare, Byron Vincent and Ben Mellor, supported on the Ukelele by Uke Attack!! Uke Attack!!. My sides are still sore from laughing at poems and songs touching on subjects as diverse as love, fighting, vicks vaporub, lethal £1 cocktails, Macdonalds and the X-Factor. These funny, furious and often downright filthy poets know what they want to say and aren’t afraid of offending Simon Cowell in the process. Coming from the mainstream side of books and publishing it’s refreshing to see people doing things their own way and sticking two fingers up at The Man. Tim’s book, We Can’t all be Astronauts, charts his chaotic journey into the echelons of publishing in search of a book deal, and is a reassuring and funny read for anyone who’s ever wondered whether it’s worth it. It is! Ben Mellor’s collective Pen-ultimate will be touring London in November with A Night on the Tiles http://www.thepublicreviews.com/a-night-on-the-tiles-contact-theatre-manchester/  a poetic foray into the murky world of Gangster Scrabble. I will definitely be checking this out. And if you need cheering up then I can recommend no better remedy than three men cheerfully strumming the Pet Shop Boys on their ukeleles. Not so much West End Girls as West End … what? http://www.myspace.com/ukeattackukeattack

Friday, 1 October 2010

The Uses of Writer Workshops

For all aspiring authors, please have a look at a review posted by one of our attendees at a Cornerstones workshop. http://lisabodenhammason.wordpress.com/

For more information on this, feel free to contact Helen on helen@cornerstones.co.uk.

Dogs and Blogs

There are certain things one can't live without; oxygen, food, caffeine, that sort of thing - all imperative when it comes to survival. Of course there are also those things which don't seem neccessary, but actually, are. I'm recently learning that an office without dogs would be one such thing. Coda, Cornerstones's very own pet dog, will, now and again, sneak up on you and tug at your cardi while you're in the middle of a meeting, or lick your boots as you're composing an email to an aspiring author - this is something I'm learning to rather love. So much so that I'm wondering what an office pre-dog used to be like.
In the same way, I'm anticipating that keeping this blog, so as to inform the literary masses of writerly goings-on, will become to book/writing fiends, what Coda has become to me; loved and needed.
Signed off,

Part of the Cornerstones team, actually