‘500 Followers’ Writing Competition!

PantherAs promised and to celebrate reaching 500 followers on this blog, I’m running another of my little writing competitions, which is free to enter and open to everyone.

I have used this handy ‘random word generator’ to come up with 4 words and I’ve added ‘500’ (which is either one or two words, depending on how you use it) and, well, it’s the usual: I’d like you come up with a flash fiction story OR poem, max 100 words, (plus a title), that includes all 5 of the words.

The words are:
• panther
• stampede
• wood
• courage
• 500 (or ‘five hundred’ or even £500/$500, if you wish)

The words can be used more than once and can be used in the title. And you can use ‘extensions’ of the words – eg: ‘wooden’ or ‘courageous’.

Check if you’ve used them correctly by doing a ‘search’ on your finished document for the 5 words. As long as they come up, then you’re OK (‘stampeding’ wouldn’t work, for example).

Prizes:

The prizes are significant! I’m giving away a £25 Amazon e-voucher as first prize and a £10 Amazon e-voucher as second prize. Yoo hooo! And then, of course, there’s The Glory of being the winner, which is priceless.

RULES:

• One entry per person.
• Open to anyone, anywhere and it’s free to enter
• Maximum 100 words (you can submit less), plus title.
• Please don’t copy or plagiarise – you will be found out! (and it will be embarrassing and shameful)
• Your story/poem’s title is in addition to the 100 words
• Any theme or genre is acceptable
• Your entry must not have won or been placed in another competition.
• Judge’s / judges’ decisions are final.
• Email your entry in the body of the email, NOT as an attachment, to baw2014@yahoo.co.uk by midnight on Tuesday 11th November 2014 (3 weeks today), along with your name.
• By entering, you agree that your entry, or an extract, can be posted on this blog when the shortlist of 5 is announced.
• I will shortlist 5 entries and someone else will choose the winner, anonymously. I am being vague about the ‘someone else’ because I don’t know who it will be yet, but someone other than me and someone who will take their task seriously.
If you have any questions, feel free to post them as a comment, so that everyone can see the response! Thanks – and good luck!

PS: My tips are: don’t go for the obvious use of the words. Your first idea will be lots of other people’s. Take your time! It’s tempting to dash something off, before you forget and miss the deadline BUT the last time I ran one of these competitions, entries started zapping in within a day or two and, on the whole, they weren’t great.

The best entries are those that allow time for the ideas and language to develop (if you watched ‘The Great British Bake-Off‘ think of it as putting your entry in the proving drawer for a while). The winning entries, I can promise you, will not have been dashed off.

Posted in Blogging, Competitions | Tagged | 8 Comments

Things I Do When I Should Be Writing

A wardrobe like a rainbow! (But spot the 'interloper'!)

A wardrobe like a rainbow! (But spot the ‘interloper’!)

The Stress is starting to creep back in (aaaagh!) and since I came back from holiday (errm, a few weeks ago now), I haven’t been in the writing zone AT ALL.

So, in an attempt to work out what I do with my time (and I know, I have the same 24 hours as everyone else), I have started an Excel spreadsheet, on which I log hours/minutes spent on my 4 areas of ‘work’:

1. My writing class
2. Marking Writers Bureau assignments
3. My work for the children’s charity, The Friendship Project
4. My own writing

And the results are, as predicted: I’m spending more time than I should on 1-3 and not enough on 4! Hmm, so that’s something I’ve got to work on.

But I have to admit, that I’m also pretty good at procrastinating.

Last week, for example, I colour-co-ordinated the clothes in my wardrobe. An essential task, I’m sure you’ll agree and one that gave me a great deal of pleasure (although the first time I tried to find something, it didn’t work. A silver/grey top was with the blacks and whites and I was looking in the purples. *Rolls eyes*).

When I uploaded this photo tonight I noticed an interloper: Someone*’s BLUE jacket has sneaked in and is ruining the pinks. If he’d put it in with the corresponding colours, then I wouldn’t even have noticed! (This could, of course, be his subtle way of telling me that the wardrobe is not all mine).

It’s nearly November – and therefore NaNoWriMo will be happening and I’m going to try to pull up my socks and do that again this year.

If you’re thinking about doing the same and you’d like to write about your experience on the Writers & Artists’ Yearbook website, have a look here .

You’ve got until the deadline of Monday 20th October to get your entry in.

The rewards are not huge (“At the end of the month, the four chosen writers will receive a copy of the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook 2015 to help them take that next step – editing, and then getting the manuscript published!”) BUT it would be good for your profile (you have to write 6 posts of 600 words and you can link to your own blog and/or Twitter feed) and I think it would be a good motivator – you can’t give up when you’ve got to write about your experiences, can you?! (Hey, I might even apply!)

Here’s what you have to do – but there’s more info on the website, so have a look. “To enter, all you have to do is send us an email at writersandartists@bloomsbury.com, with a short paragraph on your novel idea and why you’d like to be one of the four writers taking part. The deadline is on Monday 20th October at midnight.”

The 500

And finally… I have reached 500 followers! Hurrah! And thank you, if you are one of them. It’s only taken 4 years. shocked faceAnd so, to celebrate and as promised, there will be a free-to-enter writing competition on here soon, so keep coming back!

*Someone is denying all knowledge, by the way.

Posted in Blogging, Competitions | Tagged | 12 Comments

Tips On Writing For ‘Take A Break Fiction Feast’ (TABFF)

Winner 002Lots of you out there wanted to win the year’s subscription to Take A Break Fiction Feast.

In fact, I had 55 names to write on the list, so thank you for entering and for the lovely comments and congratulations on my ‘triple whammy’. You didn’t actually have to praise me to the skies in order to be a contender but I enjoyed it, nonetheless!

The winner of the draw was GAIL RICHARDS, who was number 20 on my list and that’s the number that the random number generator produced! I’ve already been in touch with Gail and her subscription is being ordered today.

A couple of you mentioned it might be nice if I followed up my giveaway with a few tips on writing for Fiction Feast. I’m not an expert, by any means, but I’ve got a few suggestions which might help.

But firstly, have a look at the tips and submission requirements for the magazine, on the Womagwriter blog. Although some are a couple of years old now, I think much of what is stated there, still stands, so there’s no point in me repeating it all.

The only change I have noticed, is that TABFF don’t have the headers above stories that they used to have (eg: ‘Spine Tingler’, ‘Heart Breaker’, ‘Tale with a Twist’, ‘Crime Time’) and I think that reflects the fact that their stories are so varied.

It’s quite tricky to say what they want, in terms of subject matter but your story must appeal to women and your writing must be ‘upbeat’.

So, even if you’re dealing with a sad subject – death, illness or betrayal, say – the reader mustn’t be left feeling depressed at the end! Remember, you are in the entertainment business if you’re writing for the women’s magazines – so make sure your stories are entertaining!

I will add just a few pointers of my own. Apologies if some of these are very obvious but sometimes it’s easy to overlook the obvious!

1. Read every issue of the magazine. Otherwise, how can you possibly know what kind of stories they publish? It’s no good guessing. (And..er.. shouldn’t you be supporting the magazine that you want to write for? It’s monthly, it costs £1.80, which is less than a coffee these days, so it’s not going to break the bank. If you’re not prepared to do that, are you really serious about wanting to write for the magazine?).

Sometimes it’s not that easy to track down TABFF, by the way (my village shop stocks it but the bigger shops in the nearest town don’t!), so you could save yourself a lot of hassle by subscribing to it (and no, I’m not on commission!).

2. Keep it contemporary. TABFF like modern stories about modern issues. I’ve never known them to publish a story set in the past (unless it’s a ghost story).

3. Use lots of dialogue. Try starting your story with someone speaking. That way, you can’t fail to get straight into the action.

4. Try to be original. TABFF take stories that other magazines won’t touch (I know from personal experience. A couple of mine that other magazines have described as ‘weird’ and ‘downright dangerous’, were later accepted by TAB). You can be a little more controversial, sexy, cheeky..whatever you want to call it. (but only a ‘little’, mind! No erotica, no gruesome murder scenes..).

5. It’s all about the IDEA. Someone once told me that you don’t have to be a great writer to write for the womags, but you have to have lots of ideas and I think that’s true. Of course, you need to write well (don’t think that anything but your best writing will do) BUT don’t worry too much about flowery language or perfect descriptions.

If you’ve got a natty, quirky, clever and ORIGINAL idea for a story, (which obviously must still be suitable for the magazine, in terms of subject matter), then you’re more than half way there. So keep your eyes and ears open, scour the papers for human interest stories that you could use and/or think about something funny or strange that’s happened to you.

Could you fictionalise it and turn it into a story for TABFF?

Good luck!

Posted in Magazines, Short Stories, Successes | Tagged | 10 Comments

Fab ‘Fiction Feast’ News – And A Giveaway!

November 2014 issue

November 2014 issue

Last time I wrote, I was feeling a little glum, as you may remember.

Well, I’ve perked up because the latest (November’s) issue of Take A Break Fiction Feast has three (yes, three!) of my stories in it. This is a first for me. I’ve never had more than one story in the same magazine at the same time (and it may never happen again) and not that long ago, I was on the verge of giving up trying with TABFF because I just kept getting rejections.

The thing about TABFF is that you never know when your stories are going to appear. If the editor says she wants your story, it’s then a waiting game, until it appears in the magazine (and you see how many pages it’s on!), so it was a lovely surprise when the magazine arrived this week and I spotted my name …er, you-know-how-many times.

The first of the stories, ‘The Cake Baby’, is about a woman who ‘pretends’ (kind of) to be pregnant. It’s based on someone I met on a writing course. I wasn’t sure if she was pregnant. She had a bit of a belly (don’t we all) but it was accentuated by what she wore – smock tops – and it wasn’t only me that wondered if she was ‘in the family way’ because apparently, someone else had asked her.

I’d have been mortified (because she wasn’t!) but she cheerfully told me the story and then patted her stomach and said, ‘Nah, it’s just a cake baby!’ And that was the inspiration behind that story.

The second one ‘Surprise!’ was also based on something that happened once, while I was staying at a B&B in Devon but I can’t say any more about it, because it will spoil it…

And the first 4 paragraphs of the third story ‘Write Him Out Of Your Life’ (which I called ‘Heroes & Villains’), are absolutely true and really happened to me. It’s a story about someone who teaches a Creative Writing class. The rest is imagined but that shaky start when I first started to teach, gave me the inspiration.

To celebrate my mini-success, I’m giving away a year’s subscription to Take A Break Fiction Feast!

So, if you want to write for them – or already do – you know you should be buying a copy every month and reading the stories and if you win my prize, the magazine will pop through your letter box every month for a year and you can put your feet up with a cup of coffee and relax… Ahh, doesn’t that sound good?

So, if you want to be in the draw, just leave a comment under this post by 9pm on Sunday 5th October, when I’ll be doing the draw and you’ll be included. Readers with UK addresses only though, please, as the subscription won’t cover overseas postage.(Sorry!).

All names will be put into the proverbial hat and someone will be picked at random. The winner will need to provide me with their name and address so that I can order the magazine on their behalf.

Posted in Competitions, Magazines, Short Stories, Successes | Tagged | 76 Comments

There’s Good News And Bad News

Remember typewriters!?

Remember typewriters!?

Oh, isn’t the life of a writer full of ups and downs?

Today was the start of a new term for my writing class and I was thrilled to have 11 students there (the most I’ve ever had), including 3 ‘newbies’ who I’m hoping will become regulars.

It’s my own class: I book and pay for the room, decide on the syllabus and am responsible for getting ‘bums on seats’ and I spend a lot of time and effort trying to promote it (I’ve even got posters up in the back windows of my car this time!), so it’s really satisfying to see some results from that and to feel that the class is, at least for the time being, ‘full’.

Everyone was full of beans this morning. In fact, at times, I could hardly get a word in edgeways but that’s great – and how it should be!

One of the topics we discussed was the importance of that ‘good first line’ but I also told them about the Bulwer-Lytton contest which ‘challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels’ and takes its inspiration – and name – from the author of this opening line to a novel published in 1830: “It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.”

If you want a laugh, have a look at the site (‘where ‘www’ means wretched writers welcome’) and read some of the winners. I particularly like this one from a few years ago.

And who knows, you might feel inspired to enter the competition (entries for next year’s competition close on April 15th, 2015).

Here are the entry form and the rules.

One of the main things to remember is that, no matter how funny you think your opener is, it still has to sound like the first line of novel!

So, after all that fun in the class today, I got home and logged onto my emails and there was a dreaded rejection from People’s Friend. (ie: The Bad News).

Of course, I’m always getting rejections but this was a story for which I had high hopes and I’d spent hours and hours on it. It was also a longer story than I normally write, at 4000 words (just as fiction editor Shirley Blair had requested during her talk at Swanwick).

Apparently it was all a bit predictable and didn’t have enough twists and surprises to keep the reader interested. So, it’s back to the drawing board for me. (Someone needs to lock me in The Cave for a few days and only let me out when I have produced something better!)

How’s your week going? What significant ‘ups’ and ‘downs’ have you had? Come on, you know you want to share…

Posted in Competitions, Short Stories, Successes | Tagged | 15 Comments

Where I (Should) Write*

The Cave

The Cave

Those of you who read Writers’ Forum are probably familiar with Phil Barrington’s ‘Where I Write’ slot, which is always the last item in the magazine.

This month it’s the turn of actress-turned-author Carol Drinkwater ‘on her olive farm in the South of France’. Complete with swimming pool! BUT, I have to say, with some relief, that her desk is even messier than mine. In fact, there’s not an inch of space on it. (How?! What?!)

I don’t suppose I’ll ever make an appearance on those illustrious pages of Writers’ Forum – especially now that I’ve just ‘dissed’ Carol – but within the realms of Blogland, I can do what I like, so here it is:

Where I Write

‘The Cave’ is the annexe above our garage, which contains a bedroom, bathroom and ..ahem, ‘my office’. It’s separate from the rest of the house, accessed by a path across the (little) garden and up a flight of stone steps.

The Cave 001

When we first moved in, The Cave had its own kitchenette too because the previous owners intended to let it out to holiday-makers, but a decision was quickly made to rip that out (by Himself, who, I suspected, was concerned that my parents might come to stay and never leave!).

From the top of the steps there’s a lovely view across next door’s garden to the fields and rolling Cotswolds hills but, unlike the dog, who happily and unashamedly sits there for hours, gazing down at the neighbours (‘Hello, Bonnie!’ they call, in weary voices), I don’t like to appear to be ‘prying’ so I dash in and out and don’t linger on the top step (especially when I’m in my dressing gown, which has been known).

All my 'how to' writing books. I need 'em!

All my ‘how to’ writing books. I need ‘em!

(Shhh… the neighbours, by the way, have got a hot tub! But it’s hidden behind the bushes. Very wise).

*It is actually something of a lie to say this is ‘Where I Write’ because I don’t spend enough time in The Cave, so I am hoping this piece might shame me into ‘upping sticks’ from the kitchen (which is toasty warm in the winter, courtesy of the Aga) and lock myself away, to write, write, write.

It even has tea-and-coffee-making-facilities, so there’s no excuse really, is there?

PS: In case you wondered, after my last post, we made it back safely from Spain at the weekend and ‘McPartner’.. which is a handy way of saying he’s Scottish and he’s my man.. was allowed back in to the still-united UK. Phew!

Here's the desk. And chair. Handy.

Here’s the desk. And chair. Handy.

And there is the printer, waiting to churn out a masterpiece..

And there is the printer, waiting to churn out a masterpiece..

Posted in Bonnie, Cotswolds | Tagged | 8 Comments

Writers Do It On Their Own. Or Do They?

ScotlandHave you ever thought of writing ‘collaboratively’? Or, to put it another way – with someone else?

One of the members of my class had an idea just before the summer term ended: how about writing a family saga ‘as a group’?

He devised an amazing, Downton-Abbey-esque family tree and everyone chose the character they wanted to write. He even came up with a plot, so all we had to do was go away and write our chapter, in the voice of our character.

Job done. Or so we thought.

However, like Topsy, the thing has ‘grow’d and grow’d’. There are only 9 of us involved but people are still writing, new characters are popping out of the woodwork (I managed to inadvertently ‘resurrect’ a character who should have been dead by the time my piece was set) and the ‘story’, which became a ‘novella’ is now going to have to be classed as a ‘novel’ – we’re now at over 80,000 words! Eeek! We have created a monster.

It’s been fun though, a great learning experience and, for some members of my class who hadn’t written very much until now, it seems to have released their ‘Inner Author’! Hurrah.

So, when we all reassemble on 25th September (ahem, still some places available if anyone lives around here!), it will be with rather more experience and confidence, I think, than we all had at the beginning of July. (But it’s also, partly, the reason that this blog post is so late. I seem to have been appointed co-editor, which has taken up some time!).

So, back to my question: have you ever thought of writing collaboratively? Certainly, it’s what the most successful comedy writers seem to do.

Hancock’s Half Hour (and Steptoe & Son) were written by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson, who met, incidentally, when they were both being treated in the same hospital for TB! Every cloud, as they say…

And Jimmy Perry and David Croft collaborated on both Dad’s Army and It Ain’t Half Hot Mum. And, for my younger readers… well, if you think of Friends and many other US sitcoms, they’re written by a team of writers, who bounce ideas off each other.

And there are quite a few novelists who do it too. You’ve probably heard of Nicci French – the husband and wife duo, who write psychological thrillers together (he’s Sean French and she’s Nicci Gerard).

Here’s quite an interesting BBC interview with them, part of the ‘Meet The Author’ series.

They never, ever sit down and write together. One writes the first chapter and emails it to the other one – who then changes it and then writes the next chapter. They swap work and edit it as they go along and then NEVER tell anyone who’s written which bit!

But there are other writers here, that you might not have heard of, who also write as a pair.

I don’t think I could do it. Could you? I’d find it too stressful, unless I was writing with a genius, whose every sentence was perfect. Hmm and if I tried to write a novel with my OH, it would DEFINITELY have to involve golf, so that’s a no-no, for a start.

Talking of ‘Himself’, we’re off to Spain to play tennis at the weekend, which means we’ll be away when the Scottish Independence Referendum takes place – on 18th September. As my man is Scottish, I’m wondering if he’ll be allowed back into the country if the vote goes to ‘yes’.

I will keep you posted…

Posted in Blogging, Novels | Tagged | 6 Comments