I Am Back from Swanwick

Go Away I'm writing 002I was sooo tired when I got back, yesterday, that ‘Him Indoors’ (who should actually be renamed ‘Him Outdoors’, as he spends so much time on the golf course), took one look at me and said, “Hmm, you’re pale.” (not pale and interesting, just kn*ckered!)

I didn’t even trip the light fantastic or have lots of late nights (my writing buddy Sally can confirm – she was there!) but Swanwick is a ‘full on’ experience – from all the workshops, to the chatter over meals and coffee and drinks in the bar (and there were 240 people there, so there’s always someone to talk to!) and then of course, there’s all that EATING – that’s hard work, believe me! (3 cooked meals a day and cake with tea in the afternoons too).

I did enjoy it but whether I will return and whether the infamous ‘Swanwick magic’ has worked its spell on me, remains to be seen…!

A definite highlight of the holiday was listening to Shirley Blair, fiction editor of People’s Friend, who gave an after-dinner talk and then lead two workshops the following day. I even managed to introduce myself to her (not in a creepy stalker way, honestly! I happened to be coming back from my car and she’d been walking around the lake and our ‘paths met’ so it seemed a bit rude – and silly – not to say hello). Here are her ‘impressions from Swanwick.’

Why the (blurry) photo of the bag? Well, I took it to Swanwick to carry my swag around in (ie: notebook and pen!) and soooo many people commented on it and asked where I’d got it and were generally envious, that I wished I’d bought 10 to sell at Swanwick – I could have made a bit of money. But actually, if you want to buy one then you can get them here! And they’re only £4 (plus postage)! Bargain!

I met a lovely lady and writing tutor – Bead Roberts – at Swanwick (another highlight!) and I thought I would tell you about the weekend course she’s running in Leeds next month (26th – 28th September).

Unfortunately, time and money has run out for me to attend any more writing courses this year, otherwise I would be there, definitely as I’m sure it will be very good. Although the title is ‘Writing for Pleasure & Profit’ it is a short story course, with the emphasis on writing commercial women’s fiction.

In the flyer that I have it states that “[Bead's] workshops are fun with an emphasis on hard work and a willingness to learn. Her course includes the offer of a free critique of any short story begun on the course and submitted to her within 3 months.”

There are more details on the ‘Relax & Write’ website (which is also the ‘Malaga Workshops’ website. You might end up booking yourself a holiday in Spain!) here.

And now I have to get on with my cooking and preparing for arrival of guests tomorrow…eeek!

Posted in Short Stories | Tagged | 8 Comments

A Puzzle & A ‘Swanwick’ Update..

questionmark-y6zdzhRight, here’s a puzzle for you:

In the past few days TWO separate individuals have told me about an article they read recently in The Times about a young, first-time novelist, who’s written a book about a doll’s house, or something? (Have Googled but came up with zilch) and in the article, she was full of praise for writing courses and classes (hurrah!).

Has anyone else read that article and/or can tell me what the novel is and the name of the author? I thank you! (in advance).

I am going to Swanwick on Saturday and all I have done so far is get together the 6 bottles of wine I’m taking (to SHARE!), the corkscrew, plastic glasses and a multi-pack of crisps. Have I got my priorities right, or what?! May have to think about actually packing some clothes and writing equipment, tomorrow.

Two days after I get back from Swanwick we have relatives descending for the first time (I mean, these particular relatives) and we want it all to be lovely because we’ve stayed with them numerous times and they’ve always look after us really well and cook delicious meals.

Anyway, they are coming for ‘2-3 days’ (they haven’t even TOLD us how long for!!) and so, as soon as I get back from Swanwick I will be in complete ‘Hoovering-with-one-hand-making-a-quiche-with-the-other’ mode. My holiday will soon be a distant memory BUT I intend to enjoy it while I’m there!

Saga Travel Writing Competition – closing 15 August

Now, there isn’t much time for this one but if you’re 50 or over (Ha! as if any of us would admit to that) you might be interested in the Saga/Telegraph Travel writing competition, which is free to enter and has some lovely-jubbly holidays as prizes. Have a look here. Even if you don’t want to enter the competition (or are too young!) there are some useful tips on travel writing! Good luck!

Posted in Competitions | Tagged | 10 Comments

In Which I Make A ‘Spectacle’ of Myself…

poppy fieldArgh, it’s raining! My washing is on the line, getting soaked; we can’t take the dog for a walk (well, we could but it would be a miserable experience and Princess Bonnie does NOT like getting wet) and I’m feeling all unsettled!

I wished desperately for some rain a few days ago so I didn’t have to water the pots and the hanging baskets. Someone ‘upstairs’ has clearly listened to me and thought “She wants rain? I’ll give her rain!” and so, here it is. Sorry. All My Fault.

Yesterday I went to Stratford for a routine eye test and came out, an hour later, £170 poorer. Turns out, I needed an upgrade on the old reading glasses and, for the first time, glasses for driving. (And no, I didn’t mention the deer incident back in June. I did SEE it, please remember – I just didn’t react in an appropriate manner!)

Anyway, on Friday I am picking up FOUR pairs of glasses (because SpecSavers do that ‘buy one get one free’ thing), so I will be juggling specs for the rest of the summer. Fun.

Despite the title of this post, I didn’t really make a spectacle of myself. Unless you count the part when the young, male optician was gazing into all parts of my eyes with his torch and when he told me to look down I closed my eyes! And he had to say, ‘Er..and open your eyes please and look down (Stupid)…’

Then I went to see a man about my car-that-used-to-be-red. NEVER buy a red car, is my advice. My car-that-used-to-be-pillar-box-red is now fading to a lovely Barbie pink. And as much as I like pink, I don’t really want to drive around in something that looks like an over-sized lipstick. So, a man in a garage in Stratford is going to put it right for me, soon and at a cost of about £170. I have come to the conclusion that everything costs £170 these days.

Except THIS! (smooth link, yet again). This only costs £10 to enter, if you are in a position to pay it, so read on, if you fancy winning a lovely Arvon writing course, worth over £600.

SASH Short Story Competition: 10th October 2014.

“The aim is to raise awareness of youth homelessness within the UK and Yorkshire and to raise funds for SASH. The theme of the competition is ‘homeless’ and can be written in any genre with a maximum of 3000 words. Those in a position to do so are encouraged to make a donation of £10 to accompany their entry. We encourage entries from those who are experiencing or who have previously experienced homelessness themselves.”

You have to be resident in the UK and over 16, you can write in any genre and the closing date is 5pm, Friday 10 October 2014. Good luck!

Lights Out

Did you all turn off your lights last night, between 10pm and 11pm? We did although I wasn’t prepared and so didn’t have a lovely poppy candle all ready to be lit. I wish I’d known about this ‘national vigil’ a few months ago. It would have made a perfect setting for a WW1-themed short story… ! I’m sure someone, somewhere knew about it and wrote about it (Wendy! Was it you?!) but sadly, it wasn’t me. :(

Posted in Bonnie, Competitions, Good Causes, Short Stories | Tagged | 7 Comments

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 | 13 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