GOLF: My favourite four-letter word

??????????????????????Oh, I do like a weekend at home.

Especially as, the dog and I are fed, walked and watered and Himself has toddled off for the day to play in a golf tournament.

Which also involves dinner.

And when he comes back, he’ll be glued to The Masters on the tele’ (and the same tomorrow night) which means that yours truly has the whole day and evening to myself to WRITE and POOTLE around on the internet. Ah, it’s bliss.

I know a lot of (mainly) women moan about golf – and Mark Twain famously described it as a ‘good walk, spoiled’ – but I am a ‘merry golf widow’ and think it should definitely be encouraged!

As I pack my man off to the ‘course, I remind myself a little of Charlotte Lucas in Pride & Prejudice (she’s the plain one, who has to marry Mr Collins for ‘status’ and for economic reasons, rather than love. Bless her).

If you’re a fan of the book, you may remember, when Lizzie goes to stay with the newly-weds, Charlotte points out the garden and says, “Mr. Collins tends the gardens himself and spends a good part of every day in them.”

Lizzie: “The exercise must be beneficial.”

Charlotte: “Indeed it is. I encourage him to be in his garden as often as possible.”

And that’s a bit like me and golf. ‘I encourage him to be on the course as often as possible.’

So, if you find your partner/OH/lodger hanging around the house when you want a bit of peace and quiet and freedom, my top tip is: suggest they take up golf!

It takes hours to go round. It takes years of practice to get even remotely good. And, even better, it seems to be amazingly addictive!

What’s not to like?

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Posted in Cotswolds, Events | Tagged , | 6 Comments

‘Anyone For Swanwick?’ Win A Place!

SwanwickI started this post a few days ago and it went like this:

I am writing this deep in the heart of rural Shropshire, where we have rented a (gorgeous!) cottage for a few nights. Just time for a quick post before we crack open the bubbly, light the wood burner and stick the lasagne in the oven. We’ve brought the dog and she’s in heaven: this is pheasant central!

But that’s as far as I got. (Shhh.. between you and me, I was in a potentially perfect writer’s retreat but as I was there ‘en famille’, it would have been a bit antisocial of me. You know how it is. Shame, though…)

And now we are back! Ah well, we had a good time and I can highly recommend both these cottages and this fantastic (dog-friendly!) pub, where the food was so good, we went back 3 times!

Swanwick Writers’ Summer School 2014

Right, now that ‘mini break’ is over, I’m starting to think about my next holiday.

Is anyone going to Swanwick (9th – 15th August) in Derbyshire this year?

I’m hoping to, although I haven’t actually booked my place yet. To be honest, I’m hoping that I might WIN it!

The organisers of Swanwick (reportedly the oldest residential writers’ school in the world), hold annual writing competitions and the first prize in each is a fully-inclusive place at the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School, worth over £400. Not bad, eh?

This year there’s a short story, a children’s story and a poetry competition – all on the theme of ‘Unsung Hero’ – and there’s also a special competition category – the Deric Longden Memorial Prize – for writers who are also carers. They are looking for humorous entries on any topic and of no more than 500 words.

The closing date for all competitions is 30th April 2014.

It costs £5 to enter each of the competitions and I assume, if you want to and prepared to pay the fee, you can enter as many as you like – or that you qualify for (you need to be a carer, obviously, for the Deric Longden competition). All the details are here.

(And if you don’t live too far from Swanwick but can’t manage the whole week, they do ‘day rates’ and ‘part-time’ rates too).

Maybe see you there?!

Posted in Blogging, Short Stories, West Midlands | Tagged | 6 Comments

No April Tom Foolery!

april FoolFirst of all, let me say, none of this post, I can assure you, is an ‘April Fool’.

Apart from the fact that it’s past midday and therefore, traditionally, too late for April foolery (‘April Fool’s is dead and gone. You’re the fool for carrying on!’ and all that), I can’t be bothered – can you?!

If, like me, you entered the Writers & Artists’ short story competition (theme: ‘The Visit’), or even if you didn’t, then you might like to read the winning story and the two runners-up which are now up on the website, here.

They are.. interesting. The winner is beautifully written but it’s very sparse. It’s a bit ‘Hemingway-esque’ and I thought it was a surprising winner but it probably stood out from the crowd because it’s different (as, indeed, are the two runners-up).

I thought it was interesting that although judge Roshi Fernando could find no fault with her winner (rightly so), she was clearly not overly-impressed by the endings of the stories by the two runners-up. But endings are hard, aren’t they?

And if you fancy being a competition judge yourself (no payment but a chance to promote yourself and your writing and, let’s face it, it’s quite good fun ‘judging’ other people’s writing!), then scroll down for details of the Hysteria Writing competition, which is still in need of a couple of judges.

Here are a couple of FREE writing competitions, that you might be interested in entering:

1) Historic House Short Story competition (c/d: September 26th 2014)

Max 2,500 word story inspired by or set in a historic house (real or imagined). Run by Corazon Books in partnership with the Historic Houses Association (HHA). Free entry. First prize: £150, private tour and afternoon tea with owners of Levens Hall, Cumbria. Double Friends Membership to the HHA. Two runners-up prizes of Double Friends Membership to the HHA. Deadline: September 26th 2014. Full details and entry here.

2) The Write Time novel competition 20,000 – 100,00 word novel by writer aged 50+ (in the UK) who has not previously had a publishing contract. Run by Corazon Books in partnership with Mature Times. Free entry. First prize: Digital publishing contract with full editorial and marketing support, and royalties. First round: send synopsis and first three chapters Deadline: first round deadline is June 16th 2014. Full details and entry here.

3) And finally, this one’s not free and it’s only open to women (sorry, guys) – it’s the Hysterectomy Association’s poetry, flash fiction and short story competition (c/d: 31st August 2014)

Call For Judges

In an email I had today from the organisers, they stated that “we are still looking for another couple of judges for this year’s competition. If you would like to put yourself forward then please reply to this email directly and let me know. All our judges are given the chance to participate in an online interview designed to help promote them and their writing.”

And… Call for Writer-in-Residence

“We thought it might be nice to have a Writer-in-Residence for this year’s competition. The role is voluntary and will involve writing a blog post each month, between now and August (5 blog posts in all), about writing short stories, flash fiction and poetry. Their purpose should be to help our entrants understand what makes a good submission.

Our writer in residence will be able to promote themselves and their work through their blog posts and we’ll include a summary of their advice in this year’s anthology too.

If you’d like to put yourself forward please get in touch with your writing details and the url of a blog you currently contribute to.”

If you’re interested, then get in touch with Linda Parkinson-Hardman at the Association, email: linda@hysterectomy-association.org.uk

I quite fancy those roles myself but I think I’d rather enter the competition! (and presumably, you can’t do both!)

Let me know if you enter any of these competitions – and good luck!

Posted in Blogging, Competitions, Short Stories | Tagged | 5 Comments

Dun Rome-in’

ROME 008I am back from The Eternal City. It seems to have taken me all week to a) recover! (erm, there was a lot of walking and a lot of Negronis and b) to get into the swing of writing again.

Does anyone else find that? When you stop, it’s hard to get going again?

Now of course, it’s only right that I ‘decorate’ this blog post with a little bit of culture, so here is a photo of the Colosseum in all its glory. We had a guided tour and it was well worth it.

And, ahem, I also should mention that we visited the Keats-Shelley House at the foot of the Spanish Steps, in support of the English Romantics (hmm, it was a bit depressing, to be honest. There we were, in the actual room where poor Keats breathed his last, at the tender age of 25…)

But if you scroll down to the end, there’s also a bit of ‘tat’. Otherwise known as ‘fraternising with the locals’. Well, it had to be done! (I can only put a small version of this photo on here because my friends, unlike me, are serious career women – I know, shame – and will kill me if they spot this!)

TAX!

Now, there comes a time when the writing has to stop (which makes it sound like I do nothing else – sadly, that’s not the case) and ADMIN must be attended to!

I had a bit of a shock the other day when HMRC (otherwise known as ‘the tax man’) sent me a stern letter, informing me that my self-assessment tax return for the year 2010-2011 was INCORRECT!

To cut a very long story short, it turned out that a previous employer of mine (who shall remain nameless – suffice to say it was the one that I wanted to SKIP away from when I finally left, but my sprained ankle prevented me), got my P60 wrong and failed to send me a P45 when they should have and, consequently, I didn’t declare some earnings that I should have declared and I owed the tax man £450 plus, possibly, penalties for getting it wrong. Aaagh.

As a person of ‘low means’, this was rather a frightening prospect but they clearly took pity on me and when the bill arrived, I hadn’t been charged penalties but, fair enough, I’ve had to pay the outstanding tax.

So, those of you who also complete a ‘self assessment’ every year (and if you’re earning anything from your writing, then you really should be), beware! And don’t be afraid to query things like P60s if you don’t think they’re right, because it’s YOU that will get it in the neck if you fill your form out incorrectly!


The Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society

Which brings me nicely onto The ALCS.

The Authors’ Licensing and Collecting Society is something else that you need to consider, if and when you’re earning any money from your writing. (Writer and tutor Elaine Everest gets all her students to register with ALCS the moment they have their first piece of work accepted for publication!)

I have now registered – it’s easy, you can apply on-line here and then it just costs a one-off fee of £25. The idea is, you list everything (books, magazine articles or stories) you’ve had published in the last 3 years (since January 2011) and the ALCS will search for – and advise you of – any royalties you’re owed. So you can just sit back and wait for the money to roll in…! (I’m sure it’s a bit more complicated than that but hey, it’s worth a go, isn’t it?)

Gladiators 1

Posted in Events, Men | Tagged , , | 14 Comments

Writers & Artists’ New Competition

italian flagJust a quickie because I am off, in a minute to you-know-where…(don’t want to jinx it by mentioning The Place but see post below for full explanation!).

But I couldn’t leave you without a mention of the new free-to-enter historical fiction competition that’s just been announced on the Writers & Artists website.

You’ve got until 11th May (midnight!) to submit your up-to 1000 words, which, unusually, “can be standalone story or part of a larger piece you’re working on.”

First prize: £150 and a copy of Writing Historical Fiction: a Writers & Artists Companion and Runners up: £25 each and a copy of Writing Historical Fiction: a Writers & Artists Companion.

Might have a go at this one myself. I rather like these ‘midnight’ deadlines. As I was telling my class today in a ‘do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do’ kind of way, I entered the Mslexia short story competition last Monday and pressed ‘send’ at about 10 minutes to midnight, which was the deadline. (Ooh, I do like to live dangerously!)

And on a slightly different note, if you entered the Writers & Artists’ short story competition (as I did), they’re announcing the shortlist tomorrow, Friday 21st! I won’t have internet access where I’m going (I did ‘um and ah’ about taking my tablet but in the end decided not to. I will probably have withdrawal symptoms…), so I won’t find out who’s on it until Sunday.

But I am taking a notebook and pen, so who knows, I might actually write something!

Posted in Competitions, Short Stories | Tagged , , | 6 Comments

For Sale: Holiday Pumps. Never Worn*

White Stuff ShoesI was supposed to be in Rome now.

Yes, now. Possibly sipping a Negroni, somewhere near The Spanish Steps.

The plan was, to go to Birmingham airport last night, meet my friends there and stay overnight (because we had a 5am check-in -AAAAGH – the next day) and fly out this morning.

My case was packed on Wednesday and I’d rushed round town like a loony, buying Euros and zooming into ‘White Stuff’ (which I can never normally afford) for an impulse buy.

“Can I help you?” the woman on the door asked, as I dashed in. I expect she normally gets, ‘I’m just looking, thanks’, so looked a bit taken aback when I yelled and gesticulated, “YES! Those shoes in the window!!?!” (which I bought, within 2 minutes).

£35! Ouch! for a pair of pumps. But they are very nice.. in fact, I have taken a photo them for you. There it is, up above..

You and I would call them ‘grey’ but White Stuff call them ‘stone’ (and they’re also available in ‘rhubarb pink’, which was very tempting but I had to go ‘neutral’ for once).

Good for walking around sunny Rome, with a bit of a chinos/t-shirt ensemble, don’t you agree?

ANYWAY, why have I not gone to Rome?

No, it’s nothing to do with the terrible fog (although it did delay flights this morning) and, fortunately, nothing terrible has happened to anyone.

No, quite simply, dear readers, I got the date wrong.

I thought it was a bit strange that I hadn’t heard from either of my two friends, so I texted them both on Wednesday: *What time are you both getting to the hotel tomorrow?*

Within seconds, the first one was on the ‘phone and we had hysterics. We literally couldn’t speak for laughing. Firstly, because we thought she’d got it wrong and then.. as realisation dawned, that actually, I’d got it wrong (even down to booking my airport parking for the wrong weekend. Money down drain or what?).

In fact, every time I think about it, I laugh again (I’m doing it now).

In short, the trip was NOT this weekend but next weekend. So, looking on the bright side, I’ve still got it all to look forward to! (*And the shoes aren’t really for sale. I just couldn’t resist a little play with Hemingway’s fabulous 6-word story, which I’m sure you all know: ‘For Sale: Baby’s Shoes. Never Worn.’)

I’ve never done anything quite that stupid before. (Anyone else prepared to admit they have?!)

And by the way, if you want a laugh, have a look at fellow writer and generally lovely person Ninette ( I met her on my Italian writing course last year)’s recent post – she’s in Italy too – in which she tries to involve her dog in a ‘selfie’. It certainly made me giggle.

My mix-up/madness came in a strange week, in which the tax office have detected an (unintentional!) mistake on my tax return from a couple of years ago. (Not mentioning any names but it’s the fault of a former employer of mine who didn’t send me a P45 when I changed jobs within the University – whoops, there’s a clue – and as a result I didn’t declare the right income. Aagh. Will they let me blog from prison? I will keep you posted on that one).

But the good news is, now I’m not going to Rome until next week, I’ve got time to register with the ALCS, finally and get some money that I’m owed (if you’ve ever had even one story or article published in the UK, you need to look at their website!) and to enter the Mslexia Short Story competition (on-line entries close at midnight on Monday 17th March – so you’ve still got time too! What are you waiting for? Stop reading this and get on with it…!)

Or, if you’d rather write a feature, you might be interested in Thresholds features competition which, importantly, is FREE to enter and has a first prize of £500 and a second prize of £100. You’ve got until 2nd April to submit your entry which has to be either:

1. An essay on Author Profile: exploring the life, writings and influence of a single short story writer.

or: 2. ‘We Recommend’: personal recommendations of a collection, anthology, group of short stories or a single short story.

I’d love to have a go at this one but I suspect quite a lot of research and reading is involved and I doubt whether I’m going to have the time. (Is it just me, or does anyone else want to enter every single writing competition they see?!)

Have a good weekend, everyone!

The Spanish Steps, Rome

The Spanish Steps, Rome

Posted in Blogging, Competitions | Tagged , | 19 Comments

Competition Results + ‘Words For The Wounded’

Trophy cupRight, I’ve kept you all in suspense for long enough: it’s time to reveal the winners of the ‘Seagull Flash Fiction/Poetry Competition’.

I had 61 entries (a record!) and 20 of those were poems, which was really good to see.

There were lots of well-written and perfectly ‘good’ entries. The main reasons that those didn’t get to the long list stage was that they were either too rushed (even though I gave you 3 weeks to get your entries in, some were submitted within hours of the competition appearing!), or in the case of one story that I wanted to longlist, it hadn’t used one of the words (‘fever’, if you want to check your entry!!) or they lacked originality.

The obvious link between ‘seagull’ and ‘t-shirt’ (two of the words you had to use), was to have a seagull ‘pooping’ on someone’s T-shirt. And boy, did I get a lot of those! Probably a third of the entries used that idea. So, always remember: your first thought is probably going to be someone else’s too and try to come up with something else.

Actually, Philippa, who was ‘longlisted’ with her story ‘Mombasa Market’ also used that idea but her story still stood out because it was set overseas (probably the only entry with an ‘exotic’ location) and she had some great characters.

The problem with sending in an idea that lots of other people have used, is that, however good your piece is, it’s very difficult to make it memorable for the judge – and that’s what you need to do with a competition entry: hit the judge between the eyes with your idea and/or your writing, so that he/she can’t forget it.

Anyway, back to the shortlist.

I asked my class in Moreton to judge the shortlist last Thursday (anonymously) and they took their task very seriously. Each piece was read in silence, then read aloud and then we discussed their relative merits.

Were the 5 words used in a natural way? Were there any cliches in the piece?

We loved the humour and originality of ‘Got It Wrong Again’ and both ‘Rose’s Tragedy’ and ‘The Good Daughter’ had their fans but it came down to a choice between the two poems and it was VERY close, but in the end, ‘Sea Pottery’ was chosen as the winner.

Why? Because it’s so beautifully written that you don’t even notice the 5 words that had to appear. They are an intrinsic part of the poem. It is also, I think, one of those poems that, the more you read it, the more it reveals. So, well done Rachel McNeish!

Which means that our runner-up is ‘High Flyer’. Another – very different –but beautifully-written poem, which sounds particularly wonderful when read aloud, as all the rhymes work so well (and again, the 5 words don’t seem ‘forced’). Well done, Richard Barker!

I’ll be contacting the winners about their prizes today and I will be running another competition (she says, rashly) when I reach 500 followers, so watch this space over the next few months…!

But if you can’t wait that long, Words For The Wounded have a writing competition (‘400 words of fiction, or a real life tale, or a poem on the theme of ‘The Journey’. Entry fee £4.50), which ends on 11th March (2 days’ time but you can enter on-line!).

It’s all in a good cause too. See here for more details.

Posted in Blogging, Competitions, Poetry | Tagged , | 6 Comments