Word Count 68: Fern Academy essay prize, C4 New Writers’ Scheme, writing tip from David Milch

by Suw on February 13, 2024

Plus a serial plagiarist, developing agency, generating husbands, final chapter of Argleton now online, and Grace.

Hi there,

Lots to share with you this week, including a couple of great opportunities and some even better writing advice, so let’s get on with it!

Opportunity: The Fern Academy Prize

Penguin imprint Fern Press has joined forces with How To Academy and Tortoise Media to launch the Fern Academy Prize, “a new annual non-fiction essay prize for those working at the frontier of creativity and thought”.

The prize is designed to find and nurture emerging non-fiction talent and will be awarded to an essay of literary merit with an international and multicultural interest. The prize encourages essays that shine a light on the universal human experience – on a micro or macro scale – and which speak clearly to the times we live in. The prize is open to unagented and unpublished writers from around the world, writing in the English language.

Submissions open on 2 April and the winner will receive a cash prize of £3,000, be published by Tortoise Media, receive representation by RCW literary agent Laurence Laluyaux, and much more.

Opportunity: Channel 4 New Writers Scheme

Channel 4’s New Writers Scheme is looking for unagented screenwriters interested in writing TV drama to take part in a six month training program. The scheme is being organised around 3 regional hubs – Bristol, Glasgow and Leeds – although I can’t find any info as to catchment areas.

Applications will close on Friday 1 March, and if you’re selected you have to be able to travel to your regional hub for in-person training.

C4 is “particularly keen to hear from Deaf and/or disabled people, ethnically diverse people and people from lower socioeconomic groups”. They are looking for dramas that fit into the following categories:

  • The Way We Live Now
  • Young-Skewing
  • Lower Tariff

I think the latter one means ‘commercial’ and ‘cheap to make’!

Tip-top tip: 20 mins of dialogue a day

Mason Currey has a great blog post about David Milch, writer on NYPD Blue and Deadwood, and his creative processes. It’s well worth reading the whole post, if only for the description of how Milch would dictate his scripts whilst lying on the floor!

However, that bit isn’t my tip-top tip, as fun as I think writing with a room full of people would be. No, the bit I’ve taken to heart is this quote from Milch’s memoir:

For the next five days, find a time each day, preferably the same time, and sit down and write not less than twenty minutes and not more than fifty minutes. Five-zero. Don’t think about it, don’t set it up on the computer, don’t think about what you’re going to write before you do it. No exceptions. This means you. Two voices, one and two. No names. No description. No description. That means no description. Voice one and voice two. The setting—don’t say what the setting is. No description. Write for not less than twenty minutes with those two voices. Just follow, just hear what they say. Not more than fifty minutes. Put it in an envelope, seal the envelope, and shut up. Don’t talk about it. Don’t think about what it means. Don’t think about who they are.

The next day, preferably at the same time, sit down and do it again. They may be the same voices, they may be different voices, don’t worry about it. Whatever comes out is fine. Don’t think about it. Just do it.

I did that four times last week, and it was glorious. Seriously.

I did slightly do it ‘wrong’, in that I had two characters and a scenario for Fieldwork that I wanted to play with, but still, I ended up with over 20 pages of dialogue.

I can’t wait to do it again!

Read this: The Serial Lit Mag Plagiarist

Literary magazines are being plagued by a serial copy-and-paste plagiarist who uses the name John Kucera. Yet most don’t seem to have the tools (or perhaps the interest) in taking basic steps to detect this kind of blatant plagiarism. And despite having been found out and confronted, Kucera doesn’t care:

While it is unlikely that we will ever know the full extent of Kucera’s plagiarism, what makes this case bizarre is that it doesn’t appear to have stopped.

One journal reporter that they received another submission AFTER they had already confronted him about his earlier plagiarisms.

Stop, look, listen: Scriptnotes, E627 – Unbelievably Agentic

I enjoyed this conversation between John August and Aline Brosh McKenna about characters’ agency, in which they discuss, “What are the traps and pitfalls of going after what you want? How do you get people to engage with your protagonist, especially when the protagonist is yourself?”

Character agency has been one of the key challenges in the rewrite of Tag that I’ve been tackling. I hadn’t realised how event driven the plot was – stuff happens, then more stuff happens, then yet more stuff happens. But in order for it to be satisfying there has to be a chain of cause and effect, and the cause has to be a character’s decision to do something. That’s agency.

If your characters aren’t ‘agentic’, if they aren’t driving the story through their decisions and mistakes, give this a listen!

Read this, two: Generating husbands

I loved this post from Holly Gramazio about how she created a webtoy to generate husbands for her new book The Husbands which is, you guessed it, about husbands. You can play with The Husband Generator yourself, but I thought that Holly’s comments about how to generate appealing husbands was fascinating:

the hardest thing about the Husband Generator was coming up with characteristics that felt concrete and fun but also appealing. Adding pets was a godsend, because you can be specific about, say, the breed of dog, or add a cute randomly-generated name, and all of a sudden there’s an idea of who this guy might be. I went through and added a bunch of adjectives about appearance, too, which I didn’t originally have much on; tastes differ, of course, and “symmetrical and willowy” or “dimply and bearded”, say, will work for some, not for others. But at least they’re a potential thing to go “hmmm, maybe?” to.

Lots of jobs, especially concrete jobs where you can imagine what it might be like for someone to do that work; fewer jobs that are “he works in an office doing office stuff” or “he works in a shop doing shop stuff” because they’re so general and widespread that there’s nothing to latch onto.

That’s a quite masterclass in the need for specificity when drawing up a character. It’s no good to have them just working in a shop, you have to have details.

But it’s also a masterclass in marketing. Because now I want to read The Husbands, which I probably wouldn’t even have known existed before.

Argleton: Final chapter up online

Last week saw the last chapter of Argleton go out to everyone who’s subscribe to receive my fiction sub-newsletter. If you like magic realism or urban fantasy and you missed the emails, you can start at the beginning online or download the ebook directly.

I’ll prepare Queen of the May for publication in a few weeks, so if you’re enjoying my fiction, there’s more to come!

Obligatory cat picture

This week we are featuring the marvellous Grace, whose is owned by my friend Louise, who told me this about Grace:

Grace Murray-Hopper started out life in another home, but was poorly and was surrendered to Holly’s Merry Moggies. We adopted her along with another gorgeous girl, Ada Lovelace. Grace is a one year old British Short Hair. She is statuesque in both physical size and personality. Her favourite things are food & treats. She loves face rubs & whilst she isn’t a lap cat she snuggles up to legs most nights. Grace is also very amenable and will happily be walked outside on a cat lead. She is very happy in her new home and we adore her!

Holly Brockwell, who runs Holly’s Merry Moggies, specialises in nurturing ill cats back to health and taking on disabled cats who might otherwise be put to sleep. One of her more famous cats is Smol Paul, who features on her Patreon page. If you have a pound or two spare, please consider helping to save the cats no one else wants.

That’s it for now. See you again in a fortnight!

All the best,


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