Monthly Archives: April 2011

Relentless

No one has any money. At least that’s what they’re telling me. “We’d love you to write for us” they say “but we’re struggling.” “We have not been immune from the country’s financial meltdown” they say “and are not in a position to hire you at present, entertaining though that would clearly be.” And they go on: “What a brilliant email – I like your style, and you are certainly the first tramp to pitch me ideas. Which is definitely good.”

Or perhaps I’m just, you know, a bit shit. Am I actually, you know, a bit shit? Or a lot shit? Actually don’t tell me, I just don’t think I could take that kind of rejection. At the moment though, I just don’t feel as though I’m getting anywhere with my pitching. I think this is due, in part, because I’m not getting anywhere with my pitching. Of course I’ll keep plugging away. God loves a trier, they say. If you’re gonna be dumb you gotta be tough, they say.

Besides, who needs money when you’re sponsored by Relentless? Me, obviously, and probably you too, but who else? Who cares, I’m being sponsored by Relentless. How many writers writing about pitching/not pitching 642 magazines are sponsored by Relentless, a drink for those with serious energy needs that gives you the stamina, focus and drive you need, when you need it? Not many is my guess.

For the time being I’d rather not go into the ins and outs of my sponsorship. This is mainly because I don’t really know about the ins and outs of my sponsorship. I think for the time being it might be an idea just to mention Relentless a lot. But does it go against my principles to mention Relentless a lot? Relentless, that gives you the stamina, focus and drive you need, when you need it? Surely my readers would have serious energy needs if they had to wade through loads of talk of Relentless. And how could those serious energy needs be fulfilled? I’ll leave that one up to you.

Anyway, enough of this nonsense. For those of you who are interested, there’s only another day or so to vote for which story you’d like me to write this week. See Witness the Fiction for more (thrilling) detail. At the moment it looks as if I’m going to be writing College Dog, a short story about a dog going to college. A massive 41.46% of the country want this. And I do mean the country, not just the award-winning readers of Pitching the World.

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The People’s Friend

A dear friend, A, recently sent me a copy of the People’s Friend. She has written a short story for it. The People’s Friend is “a fictional magazine for women of all ages” and it accepts “serials (60,000-70,000 words) and complete stories (1500-3000 words) of strong romantic and emotional appeal.” College Dog or Dining Room Nutjob would be perfect for them, once written.

I say that my dear friend A (who refuses to tell me her full name*) has written for them, but that’s only partly true. She had sent off a short story, and they liked it, but the editor said that “a bit more dialogue” was needed to really make it sing. I say that the editor “said” that, but she probably didn’t. She probably “demanded” it, or “tersely stated it” or “sighed” it. You see, in the short stories (and serials) that they publish, no-one just says things: they whisper or shriek or muse them. I don’t know if I can bring myself to write like that. Along with “knitting and cookery”, they love an adverb over at the PF. Also, I’m not sure I can write convincing dialogue.

“Yes you can,” murmured my brother, when I mentioned this the other day.

“Really? Because I’m really not sure I can.” I replied, convincingly.

“I’ve seen some of it – some of the stuff you’ve done. It’s good.” He thundered, heroically.

“Have you?” I cried, massively.

“Yeah, all the time.” He contested, wonderfully, whilst putting on his coat.

“When? What on earth are you talking about?” I countered, brilliantly.

“Well, this, for example.” He parped.

This?” I parped back harder.

“Isn’t this dialogue?” He parped and honked back.

“No, this is just me messing around.” I half-parped/half-honked back seamlessly.

Of course none of this happened. Not like that, anyway. But it seems that I can indeed write suitable dialogue for the People’s Friend. And although it may seem that I’m gently mocking – actually, I’m in the mood. This reminds me of a conversation I was having with my best friend Gary Sams the other day. The other blustery day.

“Are you gently mocking the People’s Friend?” Asked Gary, menacingly, whilst flicking the hair out of and then back into his eyes.

“Yeah. No. I don’t know. I’d like to write for them. It’s nice and gentle – I could do with more nice and gentle in my life right now. And if I did write for them my Nan would be happy. And if my Nan is happy, then I’m happy. Plus I’d get paid for it. Ooh, let’s get one of those. Have you got a light too? Ta. I’d get paid for it, plus it would be one more off the list.” I hollered, enigmatically.

“The list?” Gary ventured, looking like a forlorn dog that has just gone back to college.

“Pitching the World. My blog. I’ve been doing it twenty months. I go on about it all the time. It’s won awards, you know.” I threatened, scarily.

“Oh, actually, yeah. Yeah!”

“You don’t know what it is, do you?”

“Is it the thing you do where you write to newspapers or something?”

“Fuck this, I’m off.” I said, and then fucked off.

The End

Of course none of this happened either. Not like that, anyway. But there are lessons. Regular readers will know that there are always lessons. I’m stumped if I know what they are though. Perhaps you can hunt for them and tell me. I think one lesson might be: If you’re going to write a short story about a dog going to college, be prepared to get a little heady.

* Joke courtesy of Woody Allen. 

Witness the Fiction

Wasn’t it Thoreau who said a writer is someone who, having nothing to do, finds something to do?

And wasn’t it Pitching the World’s mum who told him at the weekend about how Barry Manilow is really into making music, that he gets up early everyday and is just totally immersed in it and consumed by it?

And does the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook have the contact details of 66 publications that accept fiction?

Yes to all three questions (And yes to a fourth too: isn’t this a terrible – and terribly pretentious – way to start a post?) but those three colourful strands came together this morning and I realised it’s high time I started writing fiction. I just want to get into something, you know, get immersed. Like Barry Manilow. I desperately want to become Barry Manilow. For one, it’ll make a pleasant break from drawing chronically unpublishable cartoons and sending begging letters to Red Bull. For two, it might make me some money. For three, the sooner I pitch all these magazines the sooner we can all get out of here.

So, short stories. I’ve got ideas. Oh, I’ve got ideas; if anything I’ve got too many ideas. The following three are among the best and written up from my notebook:

1. “Perhaps write something about a dog that goes back to college” – Or so I’ve said in my notebook. I don’t know why I’ve chosen for this dog to go back to college, rather than simply to college, but there seemed to something more poetic about a dog returning to college. I don’t really know what happens once the dog is actually at the college, but it doesn’t really matter. Look! It’s a fucking dog! Going to college! Or back to college. If I knew what an allegory was, I have a feeling this could well be one. (note: could work equally well with a bear or horse).

2. A first-person piece about a character, reminiscing about the time he first met a peculiar fellow called Stan Rummage. “Write it punchy, like dialogue in a play” I’ve written “Like: I don’t remember the first time I met Stan Rummage. Who remembers this stuff? ‘The first time I met Brenda she wore these shoes and this dress and the light did this to her hair’ – bullshit. All of it. People can’t remember that. I can’t remember what I had for breakfast, let alone…”  That’s how I’m planning on writing it. I know: not bad. Anyway it turns out that Stan Rummage is HIM, the actual narrator, it’s like he met HIMSELF. And guess what: turns out he’s murdered someone. I know: brilliant.

3. My final idea was about a 35-year-old man who used to write speeches for politicians but now lives in his Nan’s dining room in Boscombe. This one will be surreal, more surreal than the dog (or possibly bear or horse) going to college (or back to college). The hero of this short story, Steven, writes a blog – even though he hates blogs – and has sex with women in big bins around the back of supermarkets because he’s reluctant to bring them back to his Nan’s dining room. Steven dreams of moving to an island in the Mediterranean (he doesn’t know which one), where he’ll catch his own fish (he doesn’t know how), grow his own vegetables (he doesn’t know how), and work on his novel about a dog who goes to college. The centrepiece of this short story will be the assembly and varnishing of a bird table.

What do you think? Seriously. Because I don’t have time to write all three up I thought I’d like to hand it over to my award-winning readers to decide. Whichever one you think has legs (and it’s tough, I know) I’ll write up and send off this week. And I’ll probably post it up here later in the week too. Unless it’s terrible. Which, clearly, it won’t be.

Over to you:

Going Commando

The above probably requires some explanation. Today, I’ve been trying to write something for Commando, which, according to the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook accepts “Fictional stories set in time of war told in pictures. Scripts: about 135 pictures. New writers encouraged. Payment: on acceptance.”

Well, this was the first of my 135 pictures. I didn’t want to peak too early, and it seems that I haven’t. That said, I’m relatively happy with it, as an opener. My story is set in the Pacific by the way, probably in 1944. I know, heavy. The only slight problem I have with the picture is that one of my palm trees looks a bit like a carrot and is suspended in mid-air. But it was the Pacific, in (probably) 1944, a heady time. Oh, and one of my birds is blue which was sort of accidental but I’m hoping that the editor of Commando will think it’s a parrot.

Anyway, onward.

Meet John, my main character. Now, I’m not at all happy with John. For a start he’s very small and despite my best efforts, I’ve been unable to make him bigger. John was supposed to be a grizzled marine who had been stuck out in the goddamn Pacific for too many goddamn years. This was going to be his last tour and I was going to have John get up to all kinds of business. Oh, the plans I had for John. But look at him. I know, it’s dreadful. John doesn’t look at all like a grizzled marine. At best, he looks like a kind of drag queen ghost thing. He does have piercing blue eyes, granted, but otherwise John hasn’t got a lot going for him; certainly not enough to sustain him over another 133 pictures.

So fuck John. Besides, as I was midway through drawing John I realized that the people behind Commando would probably be more interested in the British side of the war and they wouldn’t readily accept stories with the likes of John in them. Plus, I had painstakingly drawn John in oils, not my preferred medium.

So:

This was supposed to represent the D-Day landings. I don’t really know what happened. This was using Airbrush.

Still, I persevered:

Meet Terence. Terence is a courageous, debonair flying ace. Those red bits on his cheeks are supposed to signify vitality and good health; he hasn’t been shot in the face. But to be frank, I’m not that happy with Terence either. In fact, I’m not that happy with this whole business. Just what the hell am I playing at? The above has taken me hours. Hours. And looking back over my artwork, I realize that perhaps I’m not cut out to write a 135 picture series for Commando. Which is a shame.

A shame, but bearable. What is less bearable, perhaps, is that I spent the morning writing a 1500 word feature about Pitching the World and having revisited some of my efforts over the last year and a half – as I have had to do – it appears that I’m not really cut out to complete this project either.

Perhaps.

The weekend is going to be a thinker.

Thanks for all the love.

A Cheap Shot From A Cheap Man

 Look at me. Or rather, look at the letter below. Pathetic. Look at what I’ve been reduced to: I’m practically begging. And doing said begging in a fairly rushed and half-hearted fashion. Damn you Boscombe library.

But, fuck it. You know, in another way: fuck it. Why shouldn’t writers get sponsored in the same way that people who ride around on bicycles do? There are clever answers to this, I know.

Anyway, it was worth a shot. Exchanging my last scrap of dignity in return for a little bit of money. Definitely worth a shot.

Dear Red Bull People,

I’ve noticed you sponsor a lot of people. How would you feel about sponsoring a writer? Not brilliantly, I imagine, but please hear me out.

In September 2009 I decided to pitch all 642 magazines listed in the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook. I’d quit my job as a political speechwriter, gone on holiday and was just kind of floating around Darwin, Australia, with my wife. I say “floating around” but in fact was doing no such thing. I was panicking. I understand that Red Bull probably don’t want to be associated with people who panic, but don’t worry, I don’t panic anymore.

But back then I did. Panic, that is. God I wish I was better at writing letters. I was panicking because my wife was a hotshot neuroscientist and I was a nothing. A former journalist and political speechwriter, but a current nothing.

From nowhere though, I had an idea – and it changed my life more than I possibly could have imagined. Why not, I thought to myself, why not try and become the most published journalist of all time? I mean, and this is me thinking still – but back then, why not get published in more and more diverse magazines than anyone else ever? That would be a challenge. I decided that when I came back to the UK I was going to buy the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook and pitch all the magazines listed in there. The panic subsided. I floated around Darwin for a week.

Well, Red Bull, when I got back to the UK and bought that book I was both thrilled and crushed to discover that I would have to pitch 642 magazines. And the bulk of them were seemingly impenetrable. Have you tried writing for Poultry World or Coin News or Model Boats? No, you probably haven’t. But I have. Or at least I will do. It’s taken me about a year and a half and I’ve probably pitched (at best) a quarter of the magazines listed. I thought I could have done the whole thing in about a month or two. I know, ridiculous.

There has been success. I’ve written for a lot of fine publications, I run a multi-award winning blog about the whole thing, I had a trial for Colchester United (at, I’ll have you know, 34) and I’ve got an agent. But it’s not all good news. Oh no, Red Bull, it never is. My marriage has collapsed, my hair’s fallen out, my body has atrophied. I’m also homeless. Cool, isn’t it?

Homeless I may be, but hopeless I’m not. I’m determined to pitch the remaining 500 or so magazines in the next few months and will write a book about it. This is where you come in. I’ve got a feeling that you’d be into this kind of crazy business and you’re going to give me cash and crates of Red Bull to finish this thing; to swan around Europe as I please and spit in the face of anyone who tries to insult me. Sorry, I’m quoting DH Lawrence and trying to show off now. I’m also rushing: I’m writing this in the library and my time is about to run out. Not in a grand my-time-on-this-earth way, more of a I-need-to-get-off-this-computer way.

We can continue this later. Do please let me know when you’ll be sending the cheque and crates of Red Bull. I can muster up a temporary address.

With best wishes,

Pitching the World

PS You may see this as a cheap shot from a cheap man. I don’t. I see it as balls, chutzpah and a little desperation. One of us is right. Hope it’s me.

Pitch Pitch Pitch Pitch Pitch Pitch

Everything is determined, the beginning as well as the end, by forces over which we have no control. It is determined for the insect, as well as for the star. Human beings, vegetables, or cosmic dust, we all dance to a mysterious tune, intoned in the distance by an invisible piper.

Albert Einstein said that. Good, isn’t he? Well I think he’s good. And, get this, the invisible piper has piped. Oh, he’s piped all right. Earlier, when I was opening the fridge in my associate’s house where I’ve been staying from time to time, I noticed something. I must have opened that fridge 40-50 times over the last week or so and not noticed the something that I have since noticed. Writers, apparently, are supposed to be observant. I’m not especially. If anything, I’m chronically under-observant. Good, isn’t it?

The point. The point is as I was opening the fridge earlier I noticed something. And I took a photo of it as some sort of ‘proof’ that I haven’t gone completely mad. I also took a photo of it to finally put to bed any thoughts I’ve had of becoming a professional photographer.

Anyway, here’s what I noticed. But be careful, it’s likely to blow your mind completely the hell apart:

Nuts, isn’t it? And spooky. What do you mean you can barely make it out? It says ‘Pitch’ six times. On flags, representing different parts of the world. And it’s on the fridge. That last bit may not matter.  But the piper is telling me to pitch – to pitch the world. And if the piper pipes – and he has, he definitely has – then I follow. First stop for today? Poultry World. To be honest, my pitch so far isn’t looking in great shape:

“Dear Poultry World Editor,

I’ll be honest: I don’t know a great deal about chickens. That’s not a good start, is it? And look, it gets worse: I know even less about poultry. (In fact, I just had to look up what poultry encompassed. Did you know that poultry includes not only chickens, turkeys, quails and the like, but also waterfowl and even pigeons and doves? Of course you do, you’re the editor of Poultry World.) However, although I may not know a huge amount about poultry, I am capable of…”

 What follows better be good. Wish me luck.

How to Pitch En Masse

The letter below is the one I’ve been sending out when pitching recently. The replies from Eds so far have been favourable – gushing, even – and no one’s told me to go fuck myself yet. Hopefully they will at some point. I always like it when someone tells me to go fuck myself. Always. News on commissions etc. to follow. Oh, and please don’t steal this letter and pass it off as your own work. Unless you REALLY want to. Then it’s okay.

Dear Editorial,
I’m a former political speechwriter, former award-winning journalist and current tramp. I say tramp, though use the term loosely and my tramp-like qualities are minimal: I drink too much sometimes and don’t really have anywhere to live (I’m officially homeless – how awesome is that? Not very, it turns out) but I work, and work hard. The week before last I was writing about architecture for £3 a word. One doesn’t get offered £3 a word without working hard. How many tramps get £3 a word? Not many, is my guess.
Okay, the point. The point is that I would like to write for you – on a freelance basis. I have ideas. One idea would be…[and here I go into the pitch specific to the publication – usually it’s only a line or two.] Don’t worry, I have other ideas. Possibly some that are even better than that.
I have clippings. Oh, I have clippings. From the Guardian, Independent and Daily Mail mostly, but also from Square Mile, Front, Maxim, The British Journalism Review and a heap more. In the main they’re not from last year. In the spring and early summer of last year I was the North London Section Editor for Square Meal and had to review 115 bars and restaurants – that took some time. Then I separated from my wife and was the researcher on a documentary about risk taking for a month, before spending six weeks writing chapters of a book on Bosnia and Kosovo for an ex-military General. Then I went to Dubai for a month to start writing a book for a couple of people. After that, I spent a few months writing reports for a company in Mayfair. You’re right: it was a heady time.
Do please let me know if you’d like a non-tramp-like tramp to work for you. I am, somewhat unbelievably, incredibly reliable.
With very best wishes,

Pitching the World
 
What do you think? About the letter/pitch, that is? This isn’t part of the letter/pitch by the way, it’s me asking you what you think. What do you think?

How to Interview

 Yesterday. Gloucester Road, London.

“Ah, William, hello. It’s Steve. I’ve made a real mess of finding the place.”

This is me. And it’s true: I had made a real mess of finding William and his place.

“Steven! Come in. How are you?”

“Dreadful.” This is true too, I am. “I’ve got a bit of a cold. Well, a lot of a cold. God I hate colds. And I’ve got a bad back. I hate bad backs too. It happened when I was moving a chest of drawers at the weekend. I know, my weekends are nothing but glamour. My stomach’s wrong. I’ve got this bad eye, too. Look.”

“Ah, yes. Looks nasty. Would you like something? Wine?”

I’m here to interview William. William has agreed to speak to me about the economy in Afghanistan for a report I’m writing. He spends a lot of time there. In Afghanistan, not in my report.

I like William immediately, and not just because he offers me wine. And I can tell that he’s going to be an easy interviewee. Often, before interviewing someone, I’ll complain to them about something. It makes people more sympathetic and more likely to open up. All that I told William however, was true: yesterday I did have a cold and a bad back and my stomach was wrong. My eye was in bits too. I didn’t tell William everything though. I didn’t tell William that I had a hole in the bottom of my shoe and suspected mental health problems. Sometimes you have to keep something back.

As a sometime journalist, I’ve interviewed hundreds of people over the years. Cool, aren’t I? At first, I wasn’t very good. The bulk of the interviews I conducted in the early part of my career were with property specialists and as I wasn’t at all interested in property, the interviews were often a bit flat. I’d almost exclusively be hungover and ill-prepared and ask long, rambling, hard-to-follow questions that I hoped would cover up the fact that I was hungover and ill-prepared. They did no such thing. They just made my interviewees clam up and hate me.

But I gradually improved. In fact, two years ago I gave a talk to the Singaporean Ministry of Defence about interview techniques and how to put people at ease when talking to them. I talked for nearly three hours. And I thought I’d share with you what I’ve learnt over –

– Actually this is all bollocks. I mean, it’s not all bollocks: I did interview William yesterday and I did tell him about my fucked up eye and back and immune system and I did give a talk to the Singaporean MOD about interviewing and putting people at ease, but I don’t really feel compelled to give my banana-sharp insight into Interviewing for Journalists. What I really want to do is tell you about the replies I received after sending out my 50-odd pitches last week. And I have had lots of replies. Tons of them.

And what do they say? God knows. They sit in my inbox, unopened. I’m a bit apprehensive. Although apprehensive isn’t perhaps the right word because I’m not apprehensive. I’m scared. I’m scared that every one of those replies is going to be negative. Don’t worry, I can deal with that. What I can’t deal with though, is that a ton of negative replies is going to make me consider giving up on Pitching the World and if I consider giving up Pitching the World then I probably will give it up and if I give it up, then where does that leave me? Fucked, that’s where. At best, it leaves me interviewing property idiots. At worst, it leaves me – well, I can’t even begin to think where.

That’s all for today. I think I’ll open those replies later and get back to you with an update. Apologies for the drama.

 

Turning Down Work

Inspired title, no? It’s okay, I know it’s not, but it’s  late on Friday and I’m heady and distracted. As regular readers will know, as soon as Friday evening starts rearing it’s lovely head I like to get drunk and stay drunk until late Sunday evening. It’s a lifestyle choice.

So, yes, today I turned down a commission. I don’t often turn down commissions. In fact, I don’t often turn down anything. If you offered me a drink, I’d take it. If you offered me a cigarette, I’d smoke it. If you asked me to come around and do some work on your garden or perform an erotic striptease, then I probably would. Incidentally, you’d like the way I strip. If I wasn’t so focussed on the award-winning there’s-no-way-this-is-going-to-fuck-up Pitching the World then I’d become a stripper.

The point is, I like to do favours for people. The other point is, I often don’t think about things, just do them. Normally, as happened today, if an editor contacts me out of the blue and offers me £200 for 350 words to write something that would probably take less time to write than this post then I’d jump at them. Do a little striptease first, then jump at them.

But not today. I was asked to write about my marriage and as my wife and I are discussing our divorce arrangements, it just felt wrong. And a bit cheap. So I said no. Yet shortly after saying no, I walked past a hinky pawnshop in Boscombe. “Loans” said the sign. “From £1-10,000”, it carried on saying. Now, I remember seeing that sign when I was a £3 a word man. Remember that? I’m not sure if I mentioned it. I remember seeing that sign when I was a £3 a word man and thinking “Ha! What sort of idiot would go in there to borrow a pound?”

Well, if things don’t improve over the next couple of weeks then this sort of idiot will be going in there to borrow a pound. Perhaps I should stop turning down commissions.