Back from Fishguard, Back to ‘Work’

SunshineHi, I am back from Fishguard and I had a great time.

As this was an ‘extra’ holiday that I hadn’t expected to have (long story) and because I’m off to Swanwick for the first time in less than 2 weeks, I didn’t actually attend any of the workshops at Fishguard. I reckon I’m going to get my fill of those at Swanwick.

At Fishguard, I ran 4 workshops and my friend and I organised the literary quiz on the first night but other than that, I chilled out, walked along the sea front, enjoyed the sun and did some writing (not least, my Morning Pages every day), so I didn’t come back feeling worn out, but actually refreshed, which is how you should feel after a holiday, right?

One of the ‘workshops’ I ran was actually an attempt at re-creating the ‘Write Invite’ flash fiction competition.

So, at 5.30pm, I revealed the 3 themes to my contestants and they had half an hour to write a story and hand it in for judging. It was fun – I think! (Although there was a lot of sighing and huffing and puffing and ‘this is rubbish!’ from one of the ladies taking part, so I think perhaps it was more stressful for some).

Kate Hogan very kindly left a comment recently about my story ‘Starfish’ which is in the current issue of ‘Woman’s Weekly Fiction Special’. This story started out as a ‘Write Invite’ prompt in 2012 – and that’s not the first time that’s happened to me. Even if you don’t win ‘Write Invite’ (and I’m not on commission here!), you might end up with a fully-formed idea for a longer short story, that you can then submit to a competition or to one of the magazines.

And talking of competitions (smooth link or what?), The Writers & Artists’ Yearbook have launched their latest short story competition (closing 15th February 2015) and it’s free to enter.

First prize is fabulous: £500 cash, a place on an Arvon residential writing course of your choice and publication of your story on the website.

All you have to do is enter a short story (for adults) of no more than 2,000 words, on the theme of ‘Joy’ and email it to competition@bloomsbury.com with “WAYB15 competition” as the subject line. More details here.

There’s no entry fee but you do have to be registered on the website and it’s open to ‘all ages, professions and nationalities’.

I’ve read the winning entries for this competition for the past two years and they’ve been.. how can I put it? ‘Different’. Think experimental, outrageous, striking, memorable! (easier said than done, I know but trust me on this one! When the results come out, you will see what I mean…). Good luck!

Posted in Competitions, Magazines | Tagged | 11 Comments

I Am On A Writing Holiday!

Fishguard Bay HotelI am at Writers Holiday in Fishguard!

I know, I slipped away when you weren’t looking.

And this place, I have to say, is the perfect de-stresser. The sun is blazing down (after yesterday’s …er.. fog! That’s Wales for you!) and everyone is very chilled and on ‘Pembrokeshire Time’.

I’m doing a few workshops: ‘Get Creative!’ was yesterday’s and today it’s ‘Mining Your Memory’, followed by ‘Writing Letters for Magazines’ tomorrow and on Friday, a BIG experiment – I’m going to be running a writing competition in the mode of ‘Write Invite’ – ie: on the dot of 5.30pm, I’ll be handing out 3 themes in an envelope and the ‘contestants’ (hopefully I will have some) will have 30 minutes to write a story, using a pen name and then hand it in to me for judging. The prizes are significant!

There are lots of lovely people here that you might know – poet Alison Chisholm, who writes for Writing magazine and judges their poetry competitions and freelance writer Simon Whaley; Della Galton, the Queen of Short Stories (she’s just had her 1500th published! eek!) is coming later in the week to lead a course on.. you’ve guessed it.. writing short stories.

But although there are lots of lovely courses and workshops to go to, I’m not dashing around. I am relaxing and doing some writing of my own (and eating rather a lot, which is what you do when you come to a place like this) and it’s all very lovely.

Winners of The Good Housekeeping Competition

And on a different note (‘Change of Subject!’ as I have to say to him indoors, quite often, because he cannot keep up with my blatherings), if, like me, you entered the Good Housekeeping novel writing competition last year and wondered who the shortlisted and winning writers were, the results are now on the GH website here.

And here’s the winner, Eva Holland…

That’s another one I didn’t win, but at least I entered it! I have awarded myself a brownie point, just for that.

Right, better go. The sun, the bay, the (soon-to-be-served) lunch await me…

Posted in Competitions, Successes | Tagged | 15 Comments

Tips on ‘Womag’ Writing & Anti-Stress Measure no. 2

A hair cut in the Cotswolds

A hair cut in the Cotswolds

I whizzed down (across?) to Buckinghamshire last week to lead a workshop on ‘Writing Short Stories for The Women’s Magazines’ (phew, a mouthful!) to the lovely crowd at Chiltern Writers and I really enjoyed myself.

I always cover this subject in my general Creative Writing courses but I must admit, it gets a mixed reception.

Some people just aren’t that interested, others are disparaging about the genre and the perceived quality of the writing and the stories and – well, you know what I mean. There’s a certain amount of snobbery about ‘commercial women’s fiction’. Let’s leave it at that.

So, it was heartening and rewarding to be in the company of almost 30 keen writers who were all there because they were interested in learning more about the SKILLS and TECHNIQUES required, if you want to write for the women’s magazines.

These are a few of the tips I gave them:

1. It’s not a ‘closed shop’ – the magazines want new writers and always need lively, original stories – but it is a highly-competitive market. You need to be persistent and determined if you want to be published by the womags.

2. Don’t think it’s easy or that anything less than your best writing and your best ideas will do. You can’t ‘churn out’ stories for the womags. (Or at least, if you can, I take your hat off to you). It takes me ages to write a womag story and even then, I often don’t get it right.

3. You need to read the magazine that you are targeting regularly (I would suggest every issue) and analyse the stories that they’re buying and publishing.

If you’re not prepared to do this – your basic research – then don’t be surprised if your stories come back, rejected.

4. It’s not about the quality of your writing (although it still has to be good), it’s about your ideas, your themes and how you express them; it’s about giving the editor- and ultimately her readers – the kind of story they want to read.

Phew, there we go. End of lecture.

Anti-Stress Measure No. 2

A little while ago I told you about The Stress and I promised to report back on what I was doing to try to counteract it.

The first thing is Morning Pages, which I talked about last time and which I can highly recommend.

My second anti-stress measure is: MASSAGE.

I have been having a back and facial massage from a qualified therapist once a month for the past 4 or 5 months and I don’t feel guilty at all. In fact, it’s my one real ‘extravagance’ and it’s not as expensive as you might think. It costs me less than I’d pay for a cut and blow dry, so that might give you an idea. (And no, I don’t go to a Nicky Clarke salon, or anywhere really expensive like that! Actually, Nicky Clarke? Out here in the sticks?! I’d have more chance of getting a local farmer to shear me).

The reason I can afford to have a regular massage is because don’t go to a spa anywhere ‘posh’. I go to a lady practitioner who works from home in the next village to me. She used to give me (and lots of other people) free massages when she was in training and needed to build up her hours of ‘hands on’ practice.

Massage can do wonderful things, including, apparently, the following (I’ve said ‘apparently’ because I don’t want anyone to blame me if they try it and it doesn’t do it for them!):

• Reduce or eliminate pain.
• Improve joint mobility.
• Improve circulation.
• Improve immune system functioning.
• Increase lymphatic drainage.
• Reduce depression and anxiety (Yes, please!)
• Reduce tension within muscles.
• Increase body awareness (not sure about this one?!).

I must admit, I always feel wonderful when I’ve had a massage. Luckily, I’ve got one booked in for tomorrow. Bring it on!

Bonnie Update

Thanks for all your enquiries about Bonnie, my dog, who had an operation last Thursday. She is on the road to recovery but it’s all pretty .. no, I’m not going to use that ‘S’ word (even though it is!)…. I am going to say.. er.. ‘interesting’. There. And if you want to read more, it’s here.

Posted in Bonnie, Magazines, Short Stories | Tagged | 11 Comments

I Am Officially A Wuss + A Book Giveaway!

The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron - it could be yours!

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron – it could be yours!

Today is one of those days when I’m trying to keep busy.

We took Bonnie the dog to the vet’s this morning to have that operation and I blubbed my eyes out (probably because the nurse was so nice and Bonnie looked so trusting and ‘Isn’t this fun?!’ and didn’t have a clue what lay ahead..).

When I got outside, still crying, a woman coming into the vet’s said “OH! Can I give you a hug?” and I felt a bit of a fraud because she clearly thought my pet had died and as I sobbed on her shoulder, I had to tell her no, my dog was ‘only’ being spayed, so then, we did manage to have a laugh.

And it’s probably the only time in my life that I’ve been embraced by a total stranger. People are kind, aren’t they, on the whole?

I managed to pull myself together and then, a few hours later, the lovely vet phoned us to say it had all gone well and Bonnie was coming round nicely and I cried again (this time, I think, from relief).

We’re picking her up at 4pm and when I see that collar round her neck and all the gory stitches, I will probably cry AGAIN.

I’m leading a workshop on ‘Writing Short Stories For Women’s Magazines’ tonight at Chiltern Writers’ Group so I hope the crying has ended by then –and the piggy eyes have healed – or it will be embarrassing.

Anyway, on to more cheery things…

Morning Pages – ‘The Artist’s Way’ Giveaway

I’ve been doing ‘Morning Pages’ religiously (yes, even today!) for over two weeks now and I have to say, it’s great.

It’s an idea expressed by Julia Cameron in her book The Artist’s Way and the idea behind it is that you write 3 pages of anything (stream-of-consciousness, or lists of what you’ve got to do, or just a general ‘moan’) when you wake up in the morning.

It has to be written by hand and it has to be in the morning. No one else reads it – in fact, you shouldn’t re-read it either, once it’s written, for at least 8 weeks.

The theory is, that all the stuff you’re stressing about, stands between you and your creativity. Get it down on the page as a kind of ‘brain-dump’ and you can get on with your day – and your writing.

And I’m finding that it works. I feel much less stressed about my writing and more ‘in control’. Somehow, the Morning Pages ‘grounds’ me for the day. I write down things I’ve got to do and it helps me to remember but also, they don’t seem quite so overwhelming.

I’ve also, sometimes, been writing snippets of stories, scenes or just ideas. And if you do it first thing, no matter what else happens in the day (and you know how it can just ‘overtake’ you sometimes?), well, at least you’ve done 3 pages of writing.

So, to celebrate this, my first ‘de-stresser’ (I will be telling you about the others over the next few posts), I’m giving away a copy of Julia Cameron’s book ‘The Artist’s Way’, which isn’t specifically for writers but it’s about ‘unlocking your latent creativity’.

I’ve only dipped into my copy so far but I intend to read it from cover to cover soon.

To enter my random draw, all you need to do is to leave a comment about Morning Pages. Do you already do them? Have you tried them – and if so, with what result? Or perhaps you’re feeling inspired now to give them a go?

I’ll draw a name out of the hat on 17th July, a week today. Good luck! (and yes, it’s open to anyone).

Superbreak Travel Writing Competition

If you fancy yourself as a bit of a travel writer, then you’ve got until 20th July to enter Superbreak’s competition, which has a fabulous first prize of a £1000 break in London – and some runners-up prizes too. All you have to do is write at least 400 words about a short break you’ve been on ‘in the past year or so’, which must fit one of these themes:

Theatre Guru
City Sightseer
Country Roamer
European Explorer
Family Adventurers

Have a look here for more details.

Posted in Bonnie, Competitions, Short Stories | Tagged | 24 Comments

‘Morning Pages’ And A Morning Visit

Look at all that writing! By hand, early in the morning..!

Look at all that writing! By hand, early in the morning..!

In an attempt to get some ‘control’ over my writing (lack of it being a main source of ‘The Stress’), I have been religiously writing my Morning Pages for the last 8 days.

If you’re wondering what the heck Morning Pages are, I can do no better than direct you to Simon Whaley’s blog here and I’ll be writing more about it soon – when I’ve been doing it for a bit longer!

I had a visit this morning from the lovely Ninette – writer and fellow blogger – who came for breakfast (!) and managed to find my house without getting lost, which is a major achievement (but she was helped by a strategically-placed pink balloon!).

One of the things we talked about, was writing competitions and how they can, sometimes, be rather ‘unfair’.

I had a recent experience of this, when I entered a poetry competition, which closed at the end of May. See what you think:

A few days after the closing date, I was surprised to receive 31 anonymous poems, written by fellow entrants, which the organisers emailed to me and invited me to choose my ‘first’, ‘second’ and ‘third’ placed poem.

When I queried this, the organiser pointed me to the rules on the site (which I must admit, I hadn’t read properly!) which stated that Round 1 of the judging process would involve ‘entries being judged anonymously by competition entrants’ to produce a shortlist which would be judged by the official judges.

I’d never heard of this kind of judging and it raised all kinds of questions in my mind! Who decides which entrants receives which poems? (I was sent 31 but presumably there were more entries than that – all entrants didn’t receive all poems); what if no-one votes for my poem because the entrants who’ve received mine, don’t bother to vote – or only get as far as reading half the poems they’re sent, before they vote? what if some of the entrants know each other (they could be from the same writing group?), recognise the poems and vote for each other? It just seems really unfair! (and not transparent!)

I wrote back and said sorry but I didn’t have time to read, judge and vote for 31 poems and that I was also worried about the process. Needless to say, I think it very unlikely that I will win anything in that competition – but I won’t be entering anything run by that organisation again!

Swanwick Competition

On a different note, a competition that I also entered – and that was, I’m sure, impeccably judged – was the Swanwick competition and the results are now out, here.

I didn’t come anywhere but I do recognise a few names amongst those placed and shortlisted, so well done to you all.

I was hoping to win my course fees back but hey, never mind – I’m still going to Swanwick next month!

And finally, The British Red Cross have a free-to-enter writing competition and are asking for stories or poems on the theme of ‘searching’ to help mark Day of the Disappeared. Closing date is 18th July and the maximum word count is 500.

Ninette, me and Bonnie the dog

Ninette, me and Bonnie the dog

Posted in Bonnie, Competitions, Poetry, Short Stories | Tagged | 8 Comments

Out of This World!

The Round The Island Race (at The Needles). The sea was like a millpond!

The Round The Island Race (at The Needles). The sea was like a millpond!

I’m back.

Given my last, rather painful post, just prior to zipping off to the Isle of Wight, you might have been wondering if I’d thrown myself onto The Needles.

But no. (Actually they were a lot smaller than I was expecting. Maybe they’ve shrunk. Or eroded?).

It was a lovely trip (I can recommend the Isle of Wight! Especially in the sun) and I came back feeling very refreshed (er..for about 24 hours).

And there is a literary connection. Apparently, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, spent many happy years on the Isle of Wight and there’s even a monument to him (didn’t manage to get to that this time, but we’re planning to go back, so I’ll see it then).

Thank you all for your sympathy and kind suggestions on how to beat ‘The Stress’. I am implementing some measures (ooh, get me), to hopefully improve things but I’ll wait a while before I tell you how I’m getting on, as I’m only a couple of days into my new ‘regime’ and it could all go pear-shaped by the weekend.

As I write this, it’s just started to rain and I’m GLAD! Saves me watering the garden. Let’s face it, we can’t cope with too much sun, can we? You know where you are with a bit of rain. (wet)

HG Wells Short Story Competition

I was amazed this week to read about Will Jarrett,who won the first-ever HG Wells Short Story competition, in 2009 at the tender age of 13! No surprise to read that (grades permitting!) he’s off to Oxford University in the Autumn, to read English…

And if you’re interested in entering this year (even though it’s an HG Wells competition, you don’t have to write science fiction. Neither do you have to be a teenager AND you can enter from outside the UK! Philippa and Ninette, please note!), the deadline is 14th July, so there’s still plenty of time.

The theme is ‘FORTUNE’ which you can interpret any way you like but it’s worth trying to write something new, I think. I have a couple of short stories languishing on my PC, which could be tweaked slightly, to fit the theme, but I always think it’s better to try to write something specifically for a particular competition. Don’t ask me how, but I’m sure the judges can tell if you’ve used an old story!

Posted in Competitions, Events, Short Stories | Tagged | 10 Comments

Something’s Gotta Give!

Steps up to The Cave, where I should be writing

Steps up to The Cave, where I should be writing

I am stressed.

My whole life, at the moment, feels like a ‘to-do list’ and I don’t have young children to look after, or even a 9-to-5 job and perhaps that’s the problem. My ‘job(s)’ never seem to end!

I am sure you are nodding your head sagely ‘I know, I know’ (or maybe you’re gritting your teeth and muttering, ‘Stressed?! HER? I could tell her what stress is!’).

Perhaps I’m not using the right word. Maybe I’m just ‘busy’ but anyway, ‘Doctor, doctor, here are my symptoms’:

1. I am always rushing. There’s never enough time. I am always writing lists. I am irritable.

2. I never have lunch until after 3pm (when I worked in an office, I was so bored, I’d usually eaten my sandwiches by 11am).

3. I don’t get chance to do any gardening (which I really want to do! The summer will be over before I can get out there!)

4. A month ago, I finally bought a steam cleaner (yes, I’m sad, but I really wanted one!) and IT IS STILL IN ITS BOX. UNTOUCHED.

5. We’re going away tomorrow, straight after my class, to the Isle of Wight and it’s making me stressed because I’ve got too much to do to go away (and I was away last weekend and I just want to stay at home and potter!). Oh and I haven’t packed yet. Of course.

6. And finally – and worst of all – I don’t have enough time for my own writing. I have a deadline (self-imposed but there is a reason for it) to produce an e-book of short stories by 10th July and, apart from tinkering around with a title and making a list of the stories I want to include, I’ve done nothing!

On Monday I sold a story to Woman’s Weekly and in the lovely acceptance email, the editor said, ‘More, please!’ which is great – and I would love to give her ‘more’ but I don’t have time.

So, something has got to change, something has got to go.

Anyone got any tips or advice on a) de-stressing and b) making sure that one’s own writing doesn’t fall to the bottom of the ‘to-do list’?!

PS: Sorry to whinge! Please don’t unsubscribe. Normal service will be resumed next time, promise!

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