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 | 12 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.

The 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

We’ve Been To The Seaside!

Bonnie hits the beach at Lepe

Bonnie hits the beach at Lepe

I have been away.

Not anywhere as exciting as Wendy’s Troglodyte cave in the Dordogne but neither was it as wet as Sally’s weekend in Gloucestershire (sorry, Sally! I take full responsibility, as I live here*).

We went to Minstead in the New Forest and stayed in what can only be described as a shed in someone’s garden! (We needed a self-catering cottage for less than a week, that allowed dogs. Not many ticked those boxes!)

But a delightful little shed it was and, best of all, there was a fabulous pub just 50 yards away in one direction and a village shop/tea room 50 yards away in the other. So, we were well catered for.

I also rather liked the touches of ‘mad’ in the New Forest. eg: as we drove round a bend, fortunately not too fast, there were EIGHT cows and calves running down the road towards us, with about 10 cars stacked up behind them. I am convinced they were having an evening jog.

A short walk up the path, from our ‘shed’ to the churchyard, took us to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s grave, creator of Sherlock Holmes.

Here it is – if you look very closely, you’ll see that someone’s placed a pipe on it, bless.

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I need to tell you something about Conan Doyle’s mother (which I have just read on Wikipedia, so it must be true).

But first, this: when I was trying to get my first story accepted by Woman’s Weekly and, more recently, by Take A Break, my mum used to say, ‘Oh, I’d give up with them! Don’t send them any more!’ every time I got a rejection (she couldn’t take the pain).

In contrast, Conan Doyle’s mother was very encouraging and this is what we writers need, is it not?!

When, in November 1891, Conan Doyle wrote to his mother, “I think of slaying Holmes … and winding him up for good and all. He takes my mind from better things.” His mother responded, “You won’t! You can’t! You mustn’t!”

He listened to her (good man) but, ‘in an attempt to deflect publishers’ demands for more Holmes stories, he raised his price to a level intended to discourage them, but found they were willing to pay even the large sums he asked. As a result, he became one of the best-paid authors of his time.’

And all because of his mother! Clever lady.

Gloucestershire Short Story Event* – 26th October

And on a different note, if you live in Gloucestershire too, then you might be interested in the ‘Stroud Short Story’ event – details are here. You have until 28th September to submit your story for consideration and the event itself will be held on Sunday 26th October.

But please note, this is only open to those who were born, or live, or work, or study, or are a member of a writers’ group in Gloucestershire or South Gloucestershire – and I realise that’s probably not many of you!)

Posted in Bonnie, Competitions, Magazines, Short Stories | Tagged | 4 Comments

10* Ways For A Writer To ‘De-Stress’

The Only PersonYou may remember, a little while ago, I felt seriously stressed because life was busy and I never seemed to have time for my WRITING.

If I can’t write, I feel grumpy and lazy and ‘wrong’.

It seemed to strike a chord with many of you because I’ve never had so many comments on a post and you said some helpful and kind things (er…although I was also told that I was ‘menopausal’ – thanks – and that I should go to the doctor immediately!), so I’m guessing that I’m not alone in feeling frustrated at not having the time or ‘headspace’ to write.

Well, since June (eek!) I have tried to do something about it and I promised to tell you the ‘results’ of my measures (ooh, that sounds very scientific).

I can’t guarantee they will work for you – after all, everyone’s different – and the test as to whether they’re really working for me will be from September, when everything starts up again, but see what you think anyway. (And help me out, please, with ‘number 10’).

1. Try ‘Morning Pages’. (Write 3 pages of stream-of-consciousness writing every day)

I’ve already talked about these here so I’m not going to say any more about them, except: I’m still doing them and they work for me!

2. Meditate

Yes, I was the lazy so-and-so that never made it to ‘Meditation By The Lake’, every morning at Swanwick earlier this month, so I’m not really in a position to advocate this (I did try, honestly but it was all just too much of a rush and I’m not really a ‘morning person’).

However, I have occasionally used this.

There’s a bit of chit-chat at the beginning but don’t let that put you off. After a while, the video talks you through a minute of meditation and it does make you feel lovely at the end of it.

3. Read!

When I’m reading, I feel like I should be writing, so I feel guilty. But I know I don’t read enough, so I’m trying to have a book ‘on the go’ all the time.

Stephen King says, in his inspirational book ‘On Writing’, that if you want to be a writer you have to do two things: ‘Read a Lot and Write a Lot’. After all, if you don’t read published novels and stories, how can you know what’s currently being published, or what makes a good story or what kind of writing you like to read?

But what’s that got to do with ‘de-stressing as a writer’? Well, reading is RELAXING. It’s been scientifically proven that losing yourself in a book is the most relaxing thing you can do. Yes, more relaxing than a cup of tea (with cake!), more relaxing than chatting to friends.

Only 6 minutes of reading can reduce stress by two thirds, according to this article.

4. Watch TV

When I was at Swanwick, I got talking to a lovely lady who was excited about getting home on Friday night because it was the final of Channel 5’s ‘Big Brother’.

She was, shall we say, a ‘lady of a certain age’ and probably not the kind of person you might expect to be a fan of reality TV but I had to agree with her when she said that Big Brother should be required viewing for all writers: it does give you a great insight into the human psyche and there are always some real ‘characters’ on the programme.

And certainly, whenever I’ve got into a series and watched it all the way through, I’ve found it very relaxing. You can just slob in front of the TV and switch your brain off.

So, with that in mind, I’ve started watching ‘The Great British Bake-Off’ – for the first time. For no other reason than to chill out and relax (and look at cake).

5. Be ‘Time Aware’

I can happily while away hours on social media and the internet in general. Time just seems to disappear when you’re in front of Google or Facebook, doesn’t it? (I call t’internet ‘The Thief of Time’).

I’m also useless at estimating how long something will take. I always underestimate (I told ‘Him Indoors’ I’d have finished this post by 11am and we could take the dog out then, for example. It’s now 11.20am and I still haven’t finished).

I don’t do this all the time but there is a handy little ‘tool’ you can use if you want to monitor what you actually DO with your time and how much of it you actually spend writing: Have a notebook to hand and a kitchen timer and every 15 minutes, jot down what you’ve done in that time.

It may sound crazy but it only takes a few seconds and it keeps you on track!

I reward myself with 15 minutes on the internet, once I’ve done two or three ‘blocks’ of 15 minutes of writing. You have to be pretty disciplined and most of you out there probably don’t need it but I find it useful, if I want to really get down to some writing and avoid distractions.

6. Finish What You Start

Again, I am guilty of this: not finishing stuff. I have two NaNoWriMo ‘novels’ on my PC (50,000 words each), the start of a novel (10,000 words) and probably 10 or so unfinished short stories languishing on my laptop.

I read some advice to writers once, that went something like, ‘whatever you do, finish what you start’ and I think it’s worth remembering. It’s something to do with self esteem, as much as being organised and having that ‘stickability’ that you need as a writer.

We all go through phases of thinking ‘this is rubbish’ but you have to write on through that and come out the other side. You can always edit it later! (see, I’m soooo good at the theory, aren’t I?)

7. Learn to Say ‘No’!

I’m not very good at saying no. Delivering workshops in faraway places, commenting on other people’s work, attending events, meeting up with friends.. whatever it is, I tend to say ‘yes!’ and then regret it later, when I’m dashing around like a loony and getting stressed.

So, I have started to say ‘no’ to things. (My massage lady advises saying ‘let me check my diary and get back to you’) and freeing up some time. I have realised – especially as I live in the middle of nowhere and it takes ages to get anywhere – that I can’t do everything.

8. Don’t Compare Yourself To Others

Right, this is an important one (and a tricky one).

Remember ‘Friends Reunited’? I used to go on that and read about former school mates who were (apparently) ‘living the dream’ in exotic places, with high-flying jobs and deliriously-happy marriages and perfect children and it used to make me feel depressed and ‘unworthy’.

So, I banned myself from going on it (most of it was probably lies, anyway).

And, sometimes, Facebook, Twitter and other people’s blogs, can make you feel a little like that too. Everyone else has got a book deal, just sold another story or doing really, really well! And while I don’t begrudge others their success (of course not!) or their desire to share their good news, it can make you feel a little despondent if you’re not careful. Don’t compare yourself to others. Their writing, their ‘success’ is nothing to do with you: concentrate on your own. As the picture says, the only person you should be comparing yourself with – is yourself!

9. Remember Why You’re Doing It

Remember the good old days, when you started out and you were thrilled just to finish a story or write a poem? Before you got all cynical and world-weary? Shirley Blair, the fiction editor of People’s Friend, gave an example of this in her talk at Swanwick. She had to turn down someone’s story recently and the writer sent an email back in which they said they were ‘sorry not to have got the sale.’ And that, she said, was probably the reason their story wasn’t successful: they had written it with one eye on the money, rather than for the love and pleasure of writing. Yes, it’s nice to make money from our writing – and for some people it’s essential – but it can be stressful too, trying to second guess what the market wants or what will ‘sell’.

Write from the heart, write what excites you and pleases you. Remember why you’re doing it.

10. Number 10 is MISSING. *yes, it would be better if it were ’10 Ways’ but I couldn’t think of another one and I wasn’t going to stress about it! So, number 10 is over to you! Any other top tips for ‘de-stressing’ as a writer?

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 33 Comments

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 | 14 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