Artist’s Date #1 – ‘Smelling The Roses’

rosesRight. As I’m writing an article about ‘Artists’ Dates’ I thought I’d better start going on some.

So, today I went all on my tod to Todenham to the Alain Rouveure Galleries. It’s about 5 miles down the road from me. Or 8 if you go down all the country lanes and get lost. Thank you, Janice. (Janice is my trusty SAT-NAV).

I’ve written about Julia Cameron’s ‘Artist’s Dates’ here so I won’t repeat myself. Instead, I will tell you how it felt to be on an artist’s date.

Firstly, it felt odd to be going somewhere on my own (or, at least, with just my ‘creative self’ for company!). I don’t often – if ever – go on a ‘solo expedition’ or ‘adventure’ which is what an artist’s date is and, once I got over my resistance (‘I don’t have time!’ ‘This is frivolous!’) it was quite exciting! No one else to accommodate, or please, or talk to – it was liberating and relaxing.

And because there was no-one to talk to, I really noticed things. Not just the artefacts in the Nepalese exhibition, or the paintings, or the lovely jewellery, rugs and scarves for sale but, as I sat in the Himalayan Coffee House, (well, a girl needs refreshments!) facing the view of rolling hills, I really listened to the music that was playing, I really tasted the Nepalese coffee and I absolutely resisted the urge to check my mobile or even write anything. I just sat and took it all in. (And breathe…).

Then I wandered through the beautiful gardens and .. cliché alert, but this is true..I stopped and smelled the roses!

Everywhere I went, by the way, there was this little black and ginger cat. Ah, sweet, I thought, it’s following me. I asked the girl behind the counter in the cafe, what the cat was called. “That one’s Myrtle,” she said. “There are ten.”

Ah, so it wasn’t following me. It was just a different cat in each room!

Soo, that’s the artist’s date done and it did feel good. Time seemed to slow down though, so I did find it quite difficult to make myself stay there for the full hour (which is the guideline. Any less and you won’t really take things in). I’m sure, with a bit of practice, it will get easier. And I should have taken my camera – I will on the next artist’s date.

Did I ‘top up my well of creativity’? I think I probably did. Whether or not I’ll ever write about Nepal, or Shamans or a place that has ten cats, I don’t know but I certainly came back from my artist’s date feeling that I’d experienced something new and that’s got to be good!

And on a different note, the Della Galton Book Giveaway. The winner is Tracey Booklover. Well done, Tracey, your book will be with you in the next few days.

Posted in Artist's Dates, Books, Cotswolds | 6 Comments

Giveaway: Della Galton’s ‘How To Write & Sell Short Stories’

I've got two, so one's up for grabs!

I’ve got two, so one’s up for grabs!

After putting you through all that ‘A to Z’-ing (phew, I was glad when I got to Z), I thought it was about time for something different.

So, I’ve got a giveaway, courtesy of Kishboo the e-fiction magazine for fiction lovers! (not ‘fictional lovers’! That’s a different thing altogether).

Kishboo ran a competition a little while ago and I was the winner of a novel and Della Galton’s excellent ‘How To Write And Sell Short Stories‘. Turns out, I’d already got that book on my shelves (albeit a slightly older version!), so rather than let it go to waste I asked Sharon at Kishboo if she’d mind me giving the book away and luckily for us all, she said yes (it’s the one on the left).

You can buy Kishboo as an e-magazine for your Kindle for just 99p or you can read all the issues (4 so far) on the website free.

The next deadline for Kishboo’s short story competition (£3 entry fee, prizes of £50, £25 and £15, plus all 15 shortlisted stories appear in the next issue), is 20th October 2015, so there’s plenty of time if you want to have a go.

If you want to win a copy of Della‘s book – an invaluable tool if you’re trying to ‘crack’ the women’s short story market, or enter competitions (ahem, like Kishboo’s) or even if you just want to remind yourself of the essentials of short story writing – then this is what I want you to do:

In the comments section, tell me (briefly – it only needs to be a line or two!) about a short story that you’ve read recently, that you’ve enjoyed. I’ll start us off with this one:

In the latest (September’s) Take A Break Fiction Feast, I really enjoyed Gail Richards’ story ‘How I Met Rory’. I’ve already emailed Gail to tell her this (she was the winner of the subscription that I gave away to TABFF a little while ago).

I liked it because it was a bit ‘different’ – I really didn’t have a clue how it was going to pan out, which kept me reading. I’m a sucker for a bit of romance – and an animal – and they were both in there and Gail really managed to pack a lot into just one page. Oh and I learned something too – that ‘zenzero’ is Italian for ginger!

So, that’s it. The only other rules are: 1 entry per person, deadline is 20th August, when I’ll choose a winner at random AND you can write about any story apart from one of your own…! Good luck!

Posted in Competitions, Magazines, Short Stories | Tagged | 9 Comments

My Writing A – Z … Y is for YA Fiction

Finding AudreyY is for YOUNG ADULT FICTION

My OH recently brought something ‘extra’ back from the supermarket.

“I’ve got you the new Sophie Kinsella book!” he cried, holding Finding Audrey aloft, with great pride.

I didn’t like to burst his bubble – or seem ungrateful – by pointing out that it was actually a Young Adult novel (her first) and therefore, probably, in truth, not top of my reading list.

So, I read it anyway. It made me laugh, it made me cry, I really enjoyed it! (And the great thing about YA novels is, they’re usually not as long as ‘adult’ novels, so you can zip through them! Bonus!)

It made me realise that I’ve read quite a few YA novels and enjoyed them (Harry Potter, of course – and John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, the Twilight series and The Hunger Games).

If you’ve written – or are writing – a YA novel, you might be interested in the Fish YA Novel competition here – closing date 30th October 2015.


When I taught some ‘writing for young adults’ last term, these were some of the tips I gave the class:

• You must be in the HEAD of a teenager to write YA fiction. Don’t write as an adult looking back.

• Make sure your character’s age suits your audience. Teenagers and children will read ‘up’ (about children older than themselves) but not down.

• Go steady with teenage ‘jargon/slang’. (Throw in too many ‘sicks’ and ‘feels’ and your novel will not only soon date – you might get it wrong!)

• There are no limits. You can and should deal with dark topics. YA novels have been written about sex, pregnancy, suicide, abuse, school shootings, cancer, death, drunk driving, incest, bullying, rape, murder (BUT offer a kernel of hope at the end).

• Nobody wants to be taught lessons when they are reading fiction – especially young adults – so avoid preaching. Teenagers have radar for lecturing/moralising and it will turn them off your book.

• In YA fiction you can lie about anything except emotions. The defining characteristic of YA literature is emotional truth.

• Write hopeful endings. In writing for young adults there still seems to be a sense of responsibility not to moralise or ‘warn’ but to allow for possibility. Let your readers believe that, in the end, the choice is theirs.

Y is also for YES. I have a tendency to say ‘yes’ to too many things (I’m just a girl who can’t say no and all that), which means I race around like a headless chicken and don’t leave myself enough time or space for writing.

I am trying to rectify that. For example, I’ve just told my class that I’m taking a break and won’t be taking the class again in September.

Z is for ZZZs.

I need my 8 hours sleep. My friend Chris will confirm this. She’s always quoting the time we were at Arvon – sharing a room – and we’d gone to bed on the first night, not too late, while others on the course were still up and chattering in a room below us.

“Isn’t it fabulous?” she said (I’m paraphrasing), “being here, with all these other writers, in this exciting location, the whole week ahead of us…?”


Then, from the bed across the room (ie: me), “Snnnnnrrrr…”

If I don’t get enough sleep, I can’t write. I sit at my desk and I just want to snooze. I wish I wasn’t like this. I wish I was one of those people who can survive on four hours sleep a night. Imagine how much more I’d get done!

Z is also for ZADIE SMITH, another British, female writer that I admire.

One of her tips is “Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.” (Unless – I would add – they are bringing you tea).


Posted in Books, Competitions, Finding Time To Write | Tagged | 5 Comments

My Writing A – Z … V is for VACATION

Rhossili Beach, The Gower © Alan Stevenson

Rhossili Beach, The Gower © Alan Stevenson


Whoops, I’ve been away for a little while! Apologies for the lack of blog posts but I’ve been on my VACATION! I know that’s American but it fits the bill nicely for ‘V’.

Last week I was at the Writers Holiday in Pembrokeshire. The weather was lovely, I ate too much and relaxed lots too (which is another way of saying I didn’t actually do any writing). I’m back now, feeling very refreshed and raring to go! Simon Whaley was there too and he writes about the workshops he attended here which, I must admit, made me wish I’d done a bit more work too but you know, sometimes, you just need to STOP?

V is for VOICE

What do we mean by ‘voice’ and ‘finding your voice’ as a writer? (answers on a postcard please…)

I remember someone telling me that you just have to write, write, write and your voice will come through naturally. Meg Rosoff, who’s a writer I admire, since reading her best-selling YA novel, How I Live Now, has written a very erudite and thought-provoking article here about voice, what it is and how, possibly to ‘find’ it.

Her conclusion is, “Stop thinking about your voice. Think about your life instead. Live. Take risks. Seek wisdom. Confront the unconfrontable. Find out who you are. Let your voice gain power as you go.” Sounds easy if you put it like that…

W is for WALES, where (I think I’ve said!) I’ve been for the last week. On our way home yesterday, I managed to get to a place I’ve always wanted to visit, since discovering, from more than one source, that it’s ‘one of the best beaches in the country’ (or even, depending on whose opinion you’re reading, The World!)

It’s Rhossili beach on the Gower and just around the corner is Worm’s Head, which you can walk across to, when the tide’s out.

Worms Head Rhossili © Alan Stevenson

Worms Head Rhossili
© Alan Stevenson

W is also for WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, who was born just down the road from me, near Stratford-upon-Avon.

Do you know what the following books have in common?

• Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
• The Sound And The Fury (William Faulkner)
• Under The Greenwood Tree (Thomas Hardy)
• Band of Brothers (Stephen E Ambrose)
• The Fault In Our Stars (John Green)

Bet you got it. Their titles are all taken from lines by Shakespeare. So, if you’re looking for an inspiring title for your novel or poem, flicking through ‘The Complete Works’ of Mr S might not be a bad place to start…

X is for eXtra

Let’s face it, writing is hard work and I’ve come to the conclusion that, unless you’re eX-tremely talented and eX-tremely lucky, half measures won’t do. In fact, you have to give it everything – that eXtra something – if you want to do well (your ‘doing well’ might be different to mine, which is why I haven’t been specific).

For example, on the odd occasion when I’ve submitted a story with a kind of ‘hmm-not-sure-about-that-one-but-it-will-have-to-do’ attitude, guess what? It’s come winging back to me with a big fat rejection note shortly after.

Only our best will do: we have to go that eXtra mile!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 4 Comments

My Writing A-Z… S is for SAND

S is for SAND

OK, that’s just an excuse to use this photo of gorgeous Old Hunstanton beach in Norfolk, which looked like this ‘on the ground’:

Old Hunstanton Beach, Norfolk.

Old Hunstanton Beach, Norfolk.

and like this:

Old Hunstanton Beach from the cliffs

Old Hunstanton Beach from the cliffs

from the top of the cliffs.

We were there for 4 days last week and it was really perfect: sunny and sooo dog-friendly.

S is also for SUMMER

Some of my blogging buddies – for example, Wendy – have been writing about how difficult it is to knuckle down and write in the summer! There’s so much to do outside and less of an urge to hibernate! Winter is much more condusive to writing, I suppose. But bear in mind that if you’re sending work to the women’s magazines, they probably have fewer submissions during the summer months..! Just saying!

T is for TARGETS

Some of my writing students are very ‘anti’ targets. They had targets when they were at work, they tell me and they don’t want any more now! Or, they say, writing is ‘just a hobby’ and they don’t want to force themselves to write. They write, they say when they’re ‘in the mood’.

And that’s all fine. I understand. But if you do have an aspiration or a goal – whether it’s to enter a short story competition or complete a novel – then targets, I think, are important, even if they’re ‘loose’ ones – and sometimes ‘the mood’ has to be encouraged, coerced, even.

I often have to force myself to sit down to write, really not feeling like it but then, after a few minutes, when I’ve warmed up, it’s fine and I’m glad I made the effort to start. Time has a nasty habit of slipping away and unless you try to pin your goals down (with time slots, appointments to write and deadlines to meet) they just won’t happen.

T is also for TWITTER

I like Twitter but lots of people tell me they don’t ‘get’ it.

My writing buddy, Sally, says it feels like ‘lots of people shouting’ and I think that’s a pretty good description. It can be like that but I think it depends who you follow. If I follow anyone – individual or organisation – that just keeps telling me about their latest book or offer that I might like to BUY, BUY, BUY . then I’m afraid I just ‘unfollow’ them (ah, the power of that ‘unfollow’ button!).

T is also for TEACHING.

If anyone’s interested in setting up their own class or teaching creative writing in any context (eg: for the U3A, perhaps), then look out for a NEW non-fiction e-book that I’m launching this summer! (erm, she says optimistically! No, it’s mostly written, but still got to ‘fine tune’ it!).

My class has finished for the summer and I am still in two minds about whether to start it up again in September, for lots of reasons. I do enjoy teaching but it’s very time consuming. Last term I was spending the equivalent of one working day on each class (including preparation, delivery, homework marking and various emails…), which is crazy.

I know some people would say – don’t spend so much time preparing, don’t take in homework, don’t answer emails – but I can’t do that. If I’m going to do something, then I like to do it properly, or not at all. (*gets off soap box*)

U is for UMBRAGE as in ‘taking umbrage’

I was ‘umming’ (ooh, there’s one) and ahhing about what to choose for ‘U’ but then an email popped into my inbox and eureka, I had it!


It flashed through my mind that perhaps I’d WON the latest Scribble magazine short story competition that, as a subscriber, I have free access to! First time I’d entered, too…

I clicked on the email and read, “… I regret to advise you that this item has not been accepted for publication. I am sorry you have not been successful this time, however, I am always pleased to receive good quality short fiction and I would be very interested in seeing any further material you think may be suitable….”

Ah, so my story wasn’t ‘good quality short fiction’!

I must admit, for a few moments I ‘took umbrage’! How dare they! Who are they and what do they know anyway?! I wanted to email back and ask ‘what was wrong with it?’ But then I calmed down and that thick skin, in which a little chink had just appeared, sealed over again (urgh, I sound like a lizard).

You can’t afford to ‘take umbrage’ when you’re a writer, right? You just have to shake yourself off, remember it’s only one person’s opinion and get on with it.

Posted in E publishing, Finding Time To Write, Short Stories, Tweeting | Tagged , | 7 Comments

Guest Blog: Catherine Horlick – editor of Pennyshorts

penny_shorts_full_logo_final (1)Catherine Horlick is the editor of a new short story website Pennyshorts
which is for readers and (hurrah!) for writers, of short stories.

I’ve got two stories on there already (!) and I asked Cathy to tell us a little more about herself and how she got the idea for Pennyshorts – and, importantly, how it works! (If you have any further questions, post them as a comment and Cathy will answer you!)

WHAT IS PENNYSHORTS? is a website which makes short stories of all genres available for sale, directly to a reading device or email address.

Short stories are a very neglected art form and the site connects readers to talented writers of short fiction. Writers have an opportunity to showcase their work and readers can enjoy bite-sized fiction whenever they want it.

The stories are all carefully vetted, edited and proofread, so are free of the typos and other errors which plague so much e-published content. A pennyshorts app will soon be available.


Currently there are just over 100 stories of all genres on the site (July 2015), and more are being added all the time.


All genres, except writing for children. Funny stories are always welcome, as are snappy crime, thrillers, sci-fi and unconventional romances. I enjoy good ghost, fantasy and horror stories too, but tend to steer clear of anything nauseating. A good Coming of Age story is always a pleasure to read and I’ve also included Life Writing and Memoir.

There’s a lot of variety, but the stories are all engagingly written, self-contained pieces with great characters able to transport you to a different world over your morning coffee, and can liven up a bus ride or train journey.


Browsers can pick a genre, and can also see a story sample, either the first paragraph or first half page.They can also see the author’s picture and biography, which often includes links to other work.They can choose a story by word-count, how recently it has been added to the site and can also check a story’s reviews.

A reader can either download an individual story for 50p, or can choose one of three pre-payment packages, e.g. 3 stories for £1. For each story chosen, the reader is emailed 3 files:a PDF, a MOBI or an EPUB file, depending on whether they wish to read the story on screen or on their reading device. Pre-paid stories can be downloaded anytime within a year, and each reader can maintain a library, which is visible on ‘My Pennyshorts’. Readers’ ratings and reviews are very welcome but are monitored for spoilers.


A minimum of 1,000 words, sent as a word document to I’m fine with simultaneous submissions and also accept reprints, as long as the story isn’t available elsewhere online for free.


I’m not keen on gross-out stories, so it was a definite ‘No’ to the man-eating spiders. I rejected an incredibly well-written story about a dog being beaten to death as it was deeply traumatic and haunted me for days. I reject anything tired, predictable and clichéd: the standard must be high, to justify charging.I’ve had no shortage of submissions, so far the acceptance rate is c. 15-20%.


Yes! Authors accrue 50% of each pay per click download, and a pro-rata share of the prepayment packages each time their story is chosen by a reader. Payment isn’t the only author benefit:reputable agents and publishers can access the site for free. Authors are also welcome to include links in their biographies, either to other work or to their websites. Many of my authors are highly successful and published already, but it would be fantastic if a previously unpublished author were to be discovered thanks to pennyshorts.

About Catherine:

Catherine Horlick comes from a family of bookworms and she’s been writing prose and poetry since she was at school. Her first novel, ‘The Wrong’un’ will be published later this year and one of her short stories, ‘By George’ appears on the site.

She has an MA in Creative Writing, and over the past 10 years has been a member of various creative groups. Over that time she’s come across so many wonderful short stories with no outlet which, as she says, “are mouldering away on hard drives”… and that’s what gave her the idea for Pennyshorts.

Follow Pennyshorts on Facebook here and on Twitter: @pennyshorts

And if you’re interested in short stories, do think about supporting Catherine in her new venture – not just by submitting stories but maybe even by buying a few too…! (*lecture over*)

Posted in E publishing, Short Stories | Tagged | 4 Comments

My Writing A-Z … P is for (not) PULLING PUNCHES

Reading is good for you!

Reading is good for you!

P is for PAPERCHASE & OTHER STORIES (what else?), the e-book of 12 of my short stories that I self-published a few months ago.

Morgen Bailey has just reviewed it over on her website here.

If you haven’t heard of Morgen (where have you been?!), have a look at her blog.

She posts writing prompts and reviews, competition details and loads more and as well as teaching lots of writing courses in Northamptonshire, she offers a critique and editing service. Phew! There must be more than one of her, surely!?

Anyway, I think she knows her stuff, which is why I asked her to review my short stories and I think she’s done a thorough – and fair – job BUT she hasn’t PULLED any PUNCHES (there are two more ‘P’s for you), as she points out a few flaws in her review, such as too many ‘lip bitings’ (!). Now, I didn’t know I did that (write it so much, I mean, not do it. Isn’t that what the heroine does in ’50 Shades’? Eek! I’ll be writing ‘Oh my…’ on every page before you know it).

P is also for PEMBROKESHIRE. I’m off to Writers Holiday in Fishguard later this month and looking forward to it. Last year the weather was fab-u-lous, so I’m hoping for a repeat of that and for some lovely, relaxing ‘Pembrokeshire time’!

P is also for POOR. Why does everything come at once? My car failed its MOT today and cost hundreds to get fixed; my annual car insurance and breakdown cover are also both due this month as is my annual fee for the swimming pool. I need to sell loads of short stories to pay for that lot. Aaagh.

Q is for the BOOK QUIZ that my friend and I will be running at Writers Holiday! The quiz is half written. Despite ‘P is for POOR’ I’m afraid I’m not open to bribes, if you’re planning to be there!

Q is also for QUOTES about writing, which I love and find inspiring. A couple of my favourites are:

Kurt Vonnegut: Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
Stephen King: If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.

R is for R&R and READING .

I was delighted to discover that research has shown that reading is ‘the ultimate relaxation’ because sometimes I feel guilty when I read a book (because I should be writing, I should be … doing a million other things..)

It feels like an indulgence when time is short, don’t you think? But Stephen King himself has said I must do it, so read I will. I’ve just finished reading Ruth Downie’s ‘Medicus‘, the first in a series of novels set in Roman Britain, featuring a Roman doctor, which I thoroughly enjoyed and -hurrah – there are another 5 in the series…!

Posted in Books | 2 Comments