1235996_24005539_smHow To Write A Query Letter

To get published, the most important thing is to WRITE A GOOD BOOK.

Obviously. That comes before anything.

But what happens once you’ve written something you deem worthy of publication?  Firstly, you need a literary agent. You could go straight to the publishing houses, but your novel will most likely languish in a slush pile somewhere. And even if your magical masterpiece finds its way out of the slush pile, the publishers will probably offer you a shitty deal because they assume you don’t know any better. A literary agent helps to cut through all the bullshit. Not only that, but they’re in this to make money, which means they’ll try their hardest to get you as much as possible — after all, they only get a ten percent cut.

And in order to get an agent, you need to construct a query package.

But how do you do that?


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The other night I attended a Guardian Masterclass called How to Find a Literary Agent. It was fronted by Juliet Mushens, and during the class, Juliet broached the subject of query letters and explained a few of the DOs and DON’Ts of writing the perfect query (the pictures throughout this post were taken from her list). I’ll go through some of them below, but the most important piece of information to me was: Your query letter should be ninety percent about the story, ten percent about you.

Plenty of writers waffle on in their query letter, saying shit like: “I’m a new writer but my family all think I’m great, and my best friend Bob — who hates most books — thinks my novel is amazing, and you just have to read it. I studied English in college and I have pink hair and one time I cut my toenails and sprinkled the pieces all over my dog and the look he gave me was hilarious, which shows I’ve got a great sense of humour and blah blah blah —” No one gives a shit about your life story. Shut up and tell them about the book. Before anything, they want to know what the novel is about, what genre it slots into, where it might fit in the current market, and if they’re interested in reading it.

They’ll worry about whether or not they like you later on.


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You should start your cover letter with an introduction about your book.

Dear [insert agent name], I would love for you to represent my novel [insert title]. It’s an action-thriller set in Germany during the Second World War . . .

And then, once you’ve briefly explained the story (two paragraphs should be enough), you can tell the agent a little about yourself. If you have no writing background or previous experience, that’s okay. They won’t reject you just because you haven’t got your foot in the door yet. But if you do have any relevant experience or magazine sales, it’s helpful to mention it. Or if your story was inspired by something in your life, then add that in. For instance: “I was a general in the Second World War, which I think gives the novel a sense of authenticity.” Or even: “I’ve been teaching for the past twenty years, which has helped to shape my novel about the problems of inner-city children.” Or whatever. If you can link your career or passions with your book, then do it.

If you can’t, then write something simple: “I’m an unpublished author with a passion for words. I’ve been writing for five years and hope to pursue it full-time one day.”

It doesn’t have to be amazing. You’re not auditioning for The X Factor. You don’t need a sob story to win.

And once you’ve done that, you’re almost ready to send it to an agent.

But you need to do some research first. 


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It’s imperative to follow the correct procedures when sending off your material. Make sure you check out what each particular agent requires: this is usually a cover letter, a synopsis, and three chapters — or fifty pages, whichever comes first. Don’t send three chapters if they’re only a page long, but also don’t send three chapters if they’re two-hundred pages each. You want to aim for around the 50 mark.

But all agents are different.

So comb through their website for their submission guidelines and follow them to the letter. If you can’t find the information on their site, or in The Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook, and you’re sure you’ve looked thoroughly, then email or call to find out what they need from you. If you follow their instructions, you’ll at least have your query letter/submission read (in most cases) and that’s all you can ask for: a chance to impress.

Also, try to tailor your letter to each specific agent. Writing Dear Whomever It May Concern probably won’t get you very far. Throw in a personal touch, something like: My work is similar to some of the authors you already represent, such as [insert author’s name] or I’ve read interviews of yours and you seem like someone I’d get along well with. Just don’t go overboard with compliments. And no matter what you do, DON’T try to subvert the norm to stand out.

It’s not cute, it’s not funny, and it won’t work. 


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For some reason, lots of writers think the way to an agent’s heart is through a variety of abnormal methods: flattery, arrogance, stalking, death threats, love letters, anthrax, dick pics — they don’t work. 

Some will write in their query letter that the agent Better sign me up because I’m hot shit and you’ll be missing out if you don’t. Or they may write If you sell my book, I’ll make you rich. Or they’ll slip in a picture of them at a barbecue with their query letter. Or a poem. Or they’ll send it in a pink envelope which has been spritzed with perfume. Or they’ll send a fluffy soft toy as if they’re trying to impress a potential Valentine’s date. Or they’ll ‘accidentally’ bump into the agent in the street (after hunting down their schedule and cyber stalking them) and try and convince the agent to sign them up. These people all suffer from the same thing: idiocy. But not just that — a lack of faith in their work.

And that’s all the agent cares about. Well, maybe not all: I’m sure they want to work with reasonably sane and gentle people, too. But for the most part, in the initial stages, all they want to know is if you can write, and if your novel will make money.

And your work does all the talking on that front. Anything else is overkill and will irritate them, so if you’re that guy (or girl) who does stuff like this, just stop. Don’t even consider doing it again. Just quit while you’re ahead. You’re only hurting yourself.


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Like with most things, there are exceptions to the rules. Every now and then someone sends their manuscript in a cute pink box slathered in Chanel No. 5 and it delights the agent. Maybe that day, for whatever reason, had been pretty terrible and the manuscript showed up at just the right time to put a smile on her face.

It doesn’t matter: the work still only sold on the basis of its merit, not because of the cute pink box it came in.

And that’s the most important part to remember: your work won’t jump to the top of the pile; the agent won’t give your novel more thought or effort (she might very well do the opposite, assuming it to be the work of an amateur); the agent won’t shove her current reading duties to the side out of eagerness to read the pink box lady’s writing. She’ll either find it funny (rarely), or it’ll give her a negative starting point for reading. Is this risk worth it? There’s hardly any gain, but everything to lose.

If you follow the correct procedure for sending your work in, you’ll immediately be in the top fifteen percent of people anyway — plenty of authors fail to follow simple guidelines, which is ironic considering they’re writers and therefore should be great readers, too. 

Follow the rules and you’ll instantly gain credibility. Deviate and you risk losing that.

Only a braindead idiot would bet their career on being an exception.

Just make sure your novel is the best it can be, and you’ll do fine.


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This week’s guest blog is about aspiring author Shelley Hobbs’s experiences with rejection. If you enjoy it, let her know in the comments and also share the post/like it, etc. If you want to write a guest blog (on a subject of your choice), you can email me here


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Apathetic Rejection

by Shelley Hobbs

What is it like to be rejected endlessly for a manuscript that I put my heart, soul, blood, sweat and tears into?

It sucks. Honestly, it does.

I’d like to say that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, but actually I’m not sure in this case this is true. It just makes you want to give up. In fact, even the author of Anne of Green Gables, L.M Montgomery, gave up submitting her manuscript after only five rejections and kept it in a hat box before trying again two years later and going on to make history. It happens to us all.

This is the thing with the possibility of rejection: you start strong in the face of it, sending out your first flurry of queries, confident in the knowledge you have a bestseller parked on your hard drive — I won’t give up, I’ll never give up, I just need one agent to realise my novel is as good as I know it is. Finally the day comes when you receive your first rejection letter — and you know it’s going to be a rejection, because everyone (even J.K Rowling) got rejected the first time. It’s expected, so you read it knowing it will be a no, and it is. But at least there’s acknowledgement, and it’s a milestone.

Your first rejection. And it wasn’t so bad.

Scooch forward three months. You’ve now had the responses from your second wave of query letters, or in many cases no response at all. Some have been nice — encouraging even — but most have been bland. Nothing like the rejections you’ve heard about from authors of old.

Herman Melville’s Moby Dick was rejected with: “Our united opinion is entirely against the book. It is very long and rather old-fashioned.” William Golding received a rejection stating that Lord of the Flies was “An absurd and uninteresting fantasy which was rubbish and dull.” This is Lord of the Flies, arguably one of the greatest works of literature of the 20th Century. What hope have we got?

But to be fair I think I’d prefer that kind of response; something to goad me into fighting back rather than the continuous stream of apathy. And that’s the thing with indifferent rejection: you keep plodding on, but little by little the light behind your eyes goes out. And it’s not because it hurts; it’s not because you feel gutted by every letter that says no (because they all do and you kind of get used to it). It’s because it doesn’t hurt. It’s because the lack of reaction fails to stoke the fire of determination. It’s because as many rejections as you receive, there are equally as many people who don’t even bother to reply. Sometimes I just wish I’d get a response that would rev up my indignation; something that would reignite the passion that made me want to be a writer in the first place — something inflammatory, insulting, and even downright offensive would make my day.

But the best I can hope for is a thanks but no thanks (assuming, of course, I don’t get imminently discovered as The Next Big Thing), and rely on my own relentless enthusiasm to send out the third wave of query letters. Which I’ll get round to. Next week. Or next month. But definitely before Christmas.

Definitely.


KmqUX5WGShelley Hobbs is the author of two as yet unpublished novels — Thumbing it and Far From the Tree, neither of which have yet been recognised as bestsellers, works of literary greatness, or even trashy bathroom reads. She lives in Spain with her two cats, and would like to thank her employer for giving her such an undemanding dayjob that she has penned both novels in company time. She will credit them in her acknowledgements when she one day graces the shelves of W.H Smith.

For inspiration on staying strong in the face of apathetic literary rejection, follow her on Twitter: @Theshlobs


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Mastery by Robert Greene

imgres“This is the real secret: the brain we possess is the work of six million years of development, and more than anything else, this evolution of the brain was designed to lead us to mastery . . .” 

In Mastery, Robert Greene (bestselling author of 48 Laws of Power) tackles an interesting subject: the principles of success and intelligence.

There are many people who believe success is down to good fortune, or nepotism, or it’s accidental — a by-product of dumb luck. They also believe geniuses are born that way, as if their intelligence and ingenuity is hardwired into their DNA. But the truth is, although some people start off in life on a higher rung, with greater opportunities, and others have to struggle through their childhood, we’re all designed to succeed; we can all reach a level of mastery. It doesn’t just take talent — not entirely — but instead, success and mastery requires tenacity and determination; and above all, a thirst for knowledge: a deep-rooted desire to chase your dream and acquire all the skills (and more) in your chosen field.

And Robert Greene, with this in mind, delves deep into this theory, drawing from an exhaustive well of past-and-present high-achievers and geniuses, flitting seamlessly between stories of Mozart to Einstein to Edison and Darwin. Writing with depth and conviction, and fusing his own beliefs with examples of success, along with the occasional neuroscience and psychology facts, Greene not only delivers on his premise, but also paints a wonderful picture of historical (and present day) figures, making this both a self-help manual and an entertaining history book.

The continual insights into mastery, gleaned from hundreds of years of past successes, add weight to the words — and the sense of authenticity bolsters Greene’s opinions, giving them an authority and power that another author might have failed to serve. The book is engaging throughout and manages to teach without boring or preaching. And, ultimately, the stories work to inspire the reader with a deep and inarticulate yearning to succeed, whether it be in everyday life or your chosen career.

If you want to excel in a particular vocation, this book will push you on the right path. And if you don’t want to succeed, read it anyway. It’s worth the journey.


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UntitledSupport Is Essential To Success
(Or So Wonderbra Keeps Telling Me) 

“My success was due to good luck, hard work, and support and advice from friends and mentors. But most importantly, it depended on me to keep trying after I had failed.”

Mark Warner

Support from friends and family is imperative to success; there’s nothing worse than trying to create magic when you have negative people around you poking holes in your dreams. If you find yourself surrounded by doubters, you should re-evaluate your friendships and cut people out. Bad friends and unsupportive family members can be tumorous: their concerns will play on your mind and their disapproval can put a damper on your accomplishments, making you feel small about what you’re doing. Don’t make the mistake of allowing their words to affect you.

In an interview, actress Mena Suvari once said: “A year or so ago I went through all the people in my life and asked myself: does this person inspire me, genuinely love me and support me unconditionally? I wanted nothing but positive influences in my life.”

And that’s how you should live, too. Look at those around you and ask yourself if they care about what you’re doing. Do they believe in you? Or do they try to shut you down? If it’s the latter, that’s not healthy — it’ll chip away at you over time. You want people who encourage you to do more, who push you beyond the limits and bring out the best in your work. You want the kind of friends or parents who ask to read your stuff and then give you detailed feedback on how you can improve it.

That’s not to say they should be your personal editor who you send every scrap and piece of shit writing for them to check — if you stop appreciating their efforts and begin to expect them to analyse and fix your every word, you’ll be undermining your friendship and doing them a disservice. Appreciate the support, but don’t abuse it. Send them your latest story or poem or novel — but only once you’ve worked hard on it and need a valuable second opinion.

Remember: support and encouragement goes both ways.

Don’t just take it selfishly. Give it too. Be their brick.

Either that, or you’ll soon find yourself all alone.


“I got a lot of support from my parents. That’s the one thing I always appreciated. They didn’t tell me I was being stupid; they told me I was being funny.” Jim Carrey


Whatever your stance, whether you’re a strong individual or you’re weak and insecure, having a solid network of friends to support you can be a monumental benefit to your career — not having it can have the opposite effect. It can leave you feeling lost during those deflated moments, like when your prose is flat and you feel like you’re wasting your time. Without anybody to slap those thoughts from your head, you may end up believing the lies your brain feeds you. It’s important to have somebody, or a few people, who will push you back up on the horse when you inevitably fall from it and break both your legs.

There are those who can do without encouragement. They can sit in a shed in the middle of a desert somewhere and chase their dreams without anyone believing in them. In fact, some of those people thrive on the doubt. Striving to prove people wrong can be a powerful aphrodisiac: you smash down those hurdles to show you can fucking do it. However, for the most part, people always feel more secure with a support system.

And there are many famous cases that can back this up . . .


“My upbringing involves individuals who helped me along the way. I don’t think I would be here today without that support.” Dwyane Wade


Dean Koontz, one of the most successful authors on the planet, attributes much of his success to his wife. Although Koontz himself is the one who spent years cultivating his craft and working towards his goals, the support and encouragement of his wife fostered an environment that helped him to progress and follow his dreams.

She could easily have cut him down (as his parents did). She could have told him writing would never pay the bills, and force him to get a proper job. Instead she gave him a deadline: he had five years to make it. She went to work and brought home the bacon, and meanwhile Koontz was at his desk tapping away at the computer.

Imagine that: she believed in him so much she gave him five years — not a couple months, or a year, but five, in which she promised to support him no matter what. And if he failed, he agreed to push it to the side and go back to work. (Although I suspect he probably still would have written in the mornings and evenings; if writing’s in your blood, it doesn’t disappear overnight.) Either way, his wife’s sacrifice was amazing. And she eventually, I assume, enjoyed the fruits of her support. If I was Koontz, I would have showered her with the moon and sun.

But Koontz isn’t the only one with a wife of gold.


“Life is not a solo act. It’s a huge collaboration, and we all need to assemble around us the people who care about us and support us in times of strife.” Tim Gunn


Stephen King — Koontz’s closest rival in the horror field, another monster bestseller and possibly the biggest author in the world — can also credit much of his success to his supportive wife.

The story is one most of you already know: King, unhappy with his attempted short story (Carrie) — about a girl who has her first period in the showers and thinks she’s bleeding to death — crumpled up the paper and threw it in the bin. He didn’t think anything else of it and moved on to another writing project. Later that night, his wife fished the story out of the trash and read it. She liked it and saw potential for something more. She told him to finish it. He went on to turn it into an epistolary horror novel, one of his most famous, and the book that turned him down the path of bestsellerdom. It was his first sale, and the money he received for the paperback rights (reportedly almost half a million dollars) was enough to transform his entire life. And without his wife’s encouragement, he might still be at his typewriter, clanging out words and throwing first drafts in the bin for no reason.

Maybe King would have broken through eventually, but even still, his wife was his rock. She looked after their children while he worked, and she offered an ear when he felt down. She stuck with him through drug and alcohol addiction and pushed him back on track. Her support is at least half of the man he became. Without it, he might have crumbled beyond repair: crawled into a dark hole with no one to illuminate the way out.

And the stories of supportive wives (and husbands, too) goes on.


“You can do anything as long as you have the passion, the drive, the focus, and the support.” Sabrina Bryan 


A writer friend of mine, Emmy Ellis, has a husband who happily took on the burden of the bills while she pursued her writing dreams from home. He supported and encouraged her career, much like Koontz’s wife did, which gave her the opportunity to give it everything. And with that extra time, she forged a successful career in the field of erotica under multiple pen names.

Then there’s the wife of Lolita writer Vladimir Nabokov. According to legend, he set fire to his famous book Lolita and threw it in the trash. Much like the King story, his wife saved it from annihilation and encouraged him to carry on with it. She was also reported to be a direct influence to his work: she not only typed his novels for him, but edited them, too. On top of that they worked multiple jobs to support his writing, and she believed her husband to be “the greatest writer of his generation”. That’s dedication. That’s the kind of support you want.

I could go on all day with similar stories of encouragement. But here’s one final story of spousal support . . .


“I’m thankful to my family, friends, and fans for all of their support.” 

Serena Williams


A few decades ago, David Morrell, author of First Blood (Rambo), returned home one day from university and said to his wife he wanted to pursue his writing dream by studying under Philip Young at Penn State. This was on a whim after reading a book in a library. Pursuing this dream would entail his then pregnant wife to quit her job as a history professor, pack up all their stuff, and leave Canada to head for America — with no guarantee of any success.

He essentially asked her to overhaul her entire existence to aid his dreams, and she did. And now look at his career . . .


“There’s a fine line between support and stalking and let’s all stay on the right side of that.” — Joss Whedon


Wives, husbands, sisters, brothers, children, mothers, fathers — the list goes on forever. If you check the acknowledgments pages of most novels, you’ll see the many platitudes about the support systems in their lives. People who pushed them to the edge of their success, but never over the side. Without them, these writers might have taken longer to reach their goal. They might even have given up and never struggled to the top of the mountain.

The point is, even if you feel you don’t need anyone — and you might not — having someone like that in your life can only add to your process and fuel your passion. 

Someone who’ll be there when you’re down; someone who’ll hold your hand through the darkness; someone who’ll push you further.

How do you know if something you’ve written is terrible? Having a go-to network of readers can be one of your most useful writing tools.


“I always knew there wasn’t going to be anybody to help me and emotionally support me, that whatever I did I’d have to do on my own.”

Jack Nicholson


I have a few regular readers.

Firstly, my dad, a man who’s been reading and writing for almost fifty years and can pinpoint a dodgy sentence or a nebulous premise, and always gives me solid and honest feedback.

Secondly, my author friend, Rob Boffard (buy his novel Tracer here), who always offers great insight into plot issues or characterisation or even just sections of flat prose. It’s particularly helpful to get advice from Rob because I know he understands my struggle.

Third on the list is my screenwriter friend who reads my work from a different perspective than anyone else. He doesn’t care about prose issues, but is great with noticing structural faults or repetitive scenes and needless constructions. He reads my work with a scriptwriter’s eye.

And finally, my fiancée, a woman who doesn’t read books and doesn’t care for novels all that much, which makes her opinion even more valuable: she doesn’t notice structural flaws or problems with the prose, but she picks out so much more — she reads the story for the story. If it bores her, she tells me. If she feels no desire to read on, she tells me that too. If it’s unbelievable, or if a character is acting in a way that doesn’t make sense to her, she flags it immediately. Everything is about the reality of the story with her.

All four of my regular readers offer different levels of support and encouragement. Individually, they’re worthwhile, but as a team they’re irreplaceable.

And you can have that too. Search for your own team and get feedback.

Seek it out. Negative feedback is a hundred percent better than positive feedback. You don’t learn anything from smiles and friendly words. You want someone to take a shit all over your manuscript.

And when you find those people who are real with you, you keep hold of them.

And never let go. Not even when they’re screaming . . .  


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Today we have a guest post about the fear of foreign cinema by upcoming writer Chris Aguiar. This is the first in a new series of guest blogs, which I’ll be showcasing every other week.

I’ll still be posting new writing advice/inspiration every Monday, but these guest slots will cover a variety of subjects from writing to cinema to serial killing elephants and one-legged parrots. If you’d like to write one and end up on the site, email me here to discuss it further. And if you’d like to see more (or less) posts like these, just let me know in the comments (or email me).  


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The Fear

Of Subtitles

by Chris Aguiar

Foreign cinema has long been an inspiration for its Western counterpart so it’s disappointing to see how the average viewer reacts to a subtitled film — there’s a complete disengagement from the opening scene until the final frame (if they last that long), and then they ignorantly lambast the picture and label it “boring”. But what many fail to realise is the impact foreign cinema has had on what they now regularly consume via Westernised film.

For example, some are quick to label The Departed as their favourite Martin Scorsese film, but how many of these same people know it’s a Western remake of Hong Kong classic Mou Gaan Dou (also known as Infernal Affairs)? Many will argue that the original is better, as it showed more realistic grit without suffering from the slight goofiness that The Departed exhibited. However, assuming a person has not watched either and is made aware of the US remake, they’re likelier to gravitate toward the Western incarnation. This is understandable due to the star-studded cast and visionary director, but is watching an inferior Western film worth it if you know that the original foreign film is also available? Quite simply, there would be no Departed if not for Mou Gaan Dou.

A phobia of subtitles seems to be the tipping point for many mainstream audiences. “I’m watching a film, not reading a book,” is something often spouted, but how many of these people will gladly watch a Western film that’s feeding them piles of manure just because it’s presented in their own language? That’s like throwing away a croissant because you can’t quite understand its origins and replacing it with a pot of boiling urine instead. Shunning foreign films means they rarely take in the revenue deserved, and are thus restricted to their own country. Meanwhile, generic action films like Transformers are breaking box office records.

Movies are increasingly similar and devoid of any creativity, and that’s because many people refuse to immerse themselves in another country’s rich, qualitative cinema. Foreign films are bolder than Hollywood’s platter, take bigger risks, and introduce beautifully intriguing plot lines that have yet to wash onto Western shores. Cult horror classic The Ring is a fine example of an abstract and fresh idea reaching mainstream cinema screens, but not everyone knows it’s a remake of the Japanese movie Ringu, which is a far superior and creepier movie. In part, this is because it eschews the typical Hollywood horror tropes and isn’t constrained by Western clichés.

Even Pixar paid tribute to Japan’s Studio Ghibli by including a toy Totoro (from revered animated film My Neighbour Totoro) in the third Toy Story film. Studio Ghibli produce animated films that teach children life lessons through dark, emotional and beautiful tales, never once treating them as though they lack intelligence. There is Grave of the Fireflies — a tale of two orphaned siblings who lost their parents to World War II bombings. There’s Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, which is about a princess who discovers a toxic forest and strives to keep the peace between two warring factions (and released ten years before the very similar FernGully: The Last Rainforest).

The females in Japanese animated films are not like the typical Western incarnations; they do not require a prince or king/father to aid them — a strong message worth sending out to any young girl that Western animation rarely strives to match. John Lasseter — principal creative advisor at Disney (as well as director and writer) — said, “Whenever we get stuck at Pixar or Disney, I put on a Ghibli film sequence or two, just to get us inspired again.” Without Ghibli, would Pixar films be half as good as they are now?

Of the three facets of foreign cinema discussed, all of them have pertained to the Oriental/Asian scene — gory horror, intense cop-action, and beautifully emotional animation. That’s just a mere fragment of one culture’s style of cinema. Latin American countries succeed in delivering dark and morbid comedies as well as gritty, no-holds-barred gang dramas. The Scandinavian scene focuses heavily on human, day-to-day drama, and the issues that can inhibit the average person’s life. Additionally, the Middle-East (Iran in particular) mixes an amateur, yet masterful, style of filmmaking to depict conflict induced by war and family. Lastly, everybody knows the South Asian ‘Bollywood’ where powerful dramas are embroiled within a musical to create lengthy family films accessible for all ages.

Every single nation, continent and culture adds something refreshing to cinema that is portrayed in a more truthful and believable manner than your typical Hollywood cash-grab movie or Oscar bait.

The argument, though, is not about which is better. It is about enlightening oblivious audiences to the cinematic world around them that exists beyond English-speaking moving pictures. There is a particular style of film associated with every nation that anyone in the world can identify with. It’s just about finding what suits you most and taking a leap of faith into whichever foreign section appeals to you.

If, upon reading this, you realise that you have completely alienated foreign cinema from your watchlist, then here are a list of ten films that could help you discover a new sector of cinema:

1.) The Hunt: A Danish drama about a man who works at a nursery and is falsely accused of paedophilia.

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2.) The Raid 1 & 2: An Indonesian soon to be action-trilogy about a cop gone rogue that displays incredible hand-to-hand martial arts choreography.

The-Raid-Redemption-movie-posterThe-Raid-2-Berandal3.) Oldboy: A Korean action/drama/romance about a man who is mysteriously kidnapped and locked in prison for 15 years and then released with a task of finding his captor within five days.

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4.) Wild Tales: An amalgamation of five Argentinian short stories that contain dark tales riddled with humour.

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5.) The Devil’s Backbone: A Guillermo Del Toro ghost story set to the backdrop of the Spanish civil war — a true, chilling, yet emotional tale about friendship and unity.

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6.) A Separation: An Iranian drama about a man who is accused of causing a woman’s miscarriage and how those accusations tear his family apart.

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7.) Spirited Away: Arguably Ghibli’s best film, this animation is about how far a little girl will go to bring her parents back to life. Touching, hilarious and adorable.

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8.) The Girl Who Leapt Through Time: A Japanese sci-fi animation about a girl who discovers she can time travel, but rather than getting lost in the science of it all, this film delivers a poignant message about attempting to correct the past.

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9.) Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham: A Bollywood family drama that centres around a son’s prohibited love, and his subsequent expulsion from his family. A moving tale that follows the lengths a family will go to in order to repair estranged relationships.

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10.) City of God: A Brazilian film about an aspiring photographer who finds success in taking pictures of gangsters in his favela. As he rises into mainstream media, those he grew up with turn to a life of crime.

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BDSpYunDChris Aguiar is an amateur screenwriter (still learning the ropes) and incredibly passionate about film and TV. He identifies with Latin-American cinema and ranks The Matrix as his all-time favourite film (he is prepared to fight anybody — dead or alive — that questions this).

Find more of his work here: RCDAguiar and follow him on Twitter here: RCD.


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Non-Writers Can Be So Annoying
(When They Find Out You Write)

“It took me fifteen years to discover I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up because by that time I was too famous.”

— Robert Benchley

Telling people you’re a writer can be a dangerous thing. Not physically dangerous, unless you somehow bump into a serial killer who has a particular grievance against authors (Annie Wilkes, perhaps?), but it can be mentally dangerous. People who aren’t writers have a skewed vision of what it’s like to be one. They think we’re a bunch of lazy wordsmiths who sit around all day punching letters into a laptop — which, in a sense, is what we do. But they don’t understand how difficult our task is; it seems so easy from their side. They’ve written essays before and emails and Facebook statuses, so how hard can it possibly be? And for that reason, they treat our job like it’s merely an overblown hobby.

Which disregards the thousands of hours we spend crafting our words. As if we’re no better than a man who sits at his XBOX for 10,000 days playing Call of Duty.


“There is nothing to writing.

All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Ernest Hemingway


If only non-writers could understand the torment of an author’s life. But even if I slotted them in my place for a week, it still wouldn’t seem that hard to an amateur. As Thomas Mann said: “A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”

An amateur can tap away at the keyboard, worry free. They have no professionalism or pride in their work. A true writer, however, will agonise over every sentence, each paragraph, or the correct construction of a scene. Should he start it from the end and work backwards? Should he begin in the middle of the action, or would this particular scene go well with a brief build-up? Has he waffled on for too long? Not filled in enough background information? Is the motive too spare or unrefined? Endless questions rattle around a writer’s brain during every scene.

It’s hard work. But when writers say this, the amateur looks at him with suspicion. Hard work? You’re tapping away at a keyboard. I do that every day. It’s easy. They think only from a physical point of view. We don’t lift bricks for a living, yet most will feel just as tired as a man who does — not physically but mentally. Our bodies will be fine, but we’ll be drained. We’ll want to sleep even though our legs could still run a marathon. Our mind will be shut down; every centre used and abused and lightless.

That’s probably why so many writers end up as alcoholics and drug addicts. They need something to take the edge off, to bring them back to reality. Just a shot or two.

And then eventually that becomes their crutch; their oil to start the engine.


“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”

Jack Kerouac


Another annoyance is when the non-writer asks you to partake in writerly duties — free of charge — as if you’re some kind of writing Lemming who specialises in any and all forms of the written word and will follow them off the cliff of whatever project they’re starting.

If they need a business plan, you’re the guy to come to; not the guy with the degree in business, or the man who owns a business, but a writer. They think your expertise with words will somehow add gravitas to their proposal. Maybe they think you’re able to turn water into wine, or a bad business into an amazing one.

Or they’ll ask if you can write the words in the birthday card for their mum, or the love letter to their girlfriend, or a sorry note to their sister, or a Facebook status to their clothing line, or a text message to their friend cancelling on dinner. And the list goes on. 

The worst, and most frequent one, is people asking if I can write their CV (“resumé” to you Americans) for them. You’re a writer, they’ll say. It should be easy, which is where the fallacy kicks in — this is why the non-writer attempts to procure our services for free: It should be easy. Not only are they assuming that I have nothing better to do and my time has no value, but they also think writing is nothing more than finger-to-keys and thus their CV will be produced — wonderfully and with vivid prose — in the space of minutes.

What they don’t understand is that they could type up a CV in minutes. But to a writer, a CV will be just as hard as any piece of fiction he writes. He’ll spend a day or more doing the work; overanalysing every line, chopping and changing, plucking sentences out and tossing them back in, making sure the words are the best they can possibly be.

If I write them a cover letter, it’ll be re-read five thousand times, even if it’s only two paragraphs long. I’ll panic it’s not good enough. I’ll be insecure about it. I’ll rewrite it over and over. In the back of my mind I’ll know it’s fine, but as I’ve been specifically asked to write it, there’s an added weight of expectation. They know I’m a writer. They think I can pull a rabbit out of a hat — but this is merely a generic paragraph about his workmanship. I think they’re going to see through it and call me a fraud.

But most times they’ll read it quickly, say, “Cool, seems good,” and that’s it. Something I’ve spent almost twelve hours on is dismissed as if no more than a footnote.

Then I’ll have follow-up questions. Did your employer like it? What did he say about it? Did he notice line three? Oh, he didn’t mention it? Well go fuck yourself then.

And then I crawl back to my cave and tend to my wounds.


“There are three rules for writing a novel.
Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.” 

W. Somerset Maugham


The point is: a writer’s time is valuable and not everyone understands or respects that. Everything from this blog post to a novel I’m working on to a simple Facebook post has some meticulous care and thought behind it. I’ve most likely written it three or four times, or at least tweaked it in a hundred different places. I’ve taken time and effort behind it. To the untrained eye, the words seem simplistic and therefore their creation must have been so.

As Nathaniel Hawthorne said: “Easy reading is damn hard writing.” And it’s true — if it looks easy to write, it probably wasn’t.

It’s not solely their fault, though. It’s up to you as a writer to demand respect for your craft. If you accept these menial tasks from your friends as if no more than writing out a shopping list, you’re not only diminishing your work, you’re allowing them to as well. In the future you’ll be their go-to guy (or girl) for tedious work: reports, essays, emails. Sometimes they think they’re doing you the favour. They know you write and they want to make you feel important by giving you a job you never asked for. Like Here ya go, buddy. Don’t say I never do anything for ya. Some of them even expect a thank you.

Be up front and honest. Writing is hard and you should be paid for it. Nowadays, when someone asks me to write something for them, I refer them to my fee. Friend or otherwise, I don’t have time to type up a three-page report as a favour. They won’t cut my lawn or pave my driveway to “help me out”, so I won’t put in my hard labour either.

Friends will understand. Acquaintances may take offence, but who cares?

If they’re not paying your bills, don’t sweat their opinions.


“Being a writer is a very peculiar sort of job: it’s always you versus a blank sheet of paper (or a blank screen) and quite often the blank piece of paper wins.” 

Neil Gaiman


When you consider all the potential hassle you can end up with, sometimes it’s best not to mention it at all. If someone asks what you do, just say: I’m a jobless nobody. People rarely ask any follow-up questions. And they definitely don’t request your help with any simple paperwork they can quite easily do themselves.

And that’s the goal: to be ignored by all . . . and adored by many.

At the same time.

I’ve named it The Author’s Paradox.


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Columbine by Dave Cullen

imgres“A terrifying affliction had infested America’s small towns and suburbs: the school shooter . . .”

Columbine is the in-depth account of the infamous Columbine High School shooting, committed in April 1999 by Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris. A decade in the making, Dave Cullen spent an inordinate amount of time researching all the available evidence and poring over thousands of pages of witness testimony, police reports, newspaper articles, diary entries, psychiatric opinions and theories, and any other related literature on the subject of Columbine. He also interviewed a slew of people, including many of the survivors and survivors’ families, along with police officers, FBI agents, teachers, and local pastors. He immersed himself in the tragedy.

And although many people are aware of the obvious details (two armed students killed twelve people and injured many more in a horrific school shooting), they’re unlikely to know the full story; the ins and outs of the case. And what they do know has been gleaned from multiple sources of both reliable and unreliable media. Which is where Dave Cullen comes in.

Referencing multiple sources, Cullen works to debunk many of the rumours, myths, lies, and half-truths that circulate around the tragedy. On top of that, he offers every small and relevant detail about the case; sifting through the minutiae of the killers’ lives, dragging us into their reality. He further draws the reader into the action by painting the victims and survivors as if characters in a novel, taking the reader on a journey, making us care about how it all ends. And even though the main bulk of information could be found in an hour-long documentary on YouTube, it doesn’t make Columbine any less gripping.

It’s a testament to Dave Cullen’s skills as a journalist that we join this story at the beginning and follow it through a fractured past-and-present structure, a seamless puzzle between the murders, the pre-murder, and the aftermath, locked in the entire way, wanting to know how it all ends, even though we already do know. And along this path of destruction, we learn every single detail — important and otherwise; the inside, outside, left side, all side of Columbine and what really happened that day.

The painstaking research lends credence and credulity to the book, and the writing and structure gives it the air and feel of a thriller.

Having said that, it is long, and at times laborious or depressing reading, but it’s worth every second of it. If you didn’t want to know about Columbine before, you soon will.


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