Dream A Little Dream

sickAh, dear readers, I am poorly bad. Nothing terrible, just a humble cold but I feel yuck. So bad, in fact, that the thought of lying on the sofa letting the sound of the England-Italy rugby game float over me, is actually quite appealing…

So, I will have to keep this brief and, as it seemed to go down well last week, I will be publishing another of my articles (new to the blog but which once appeared in Writing magazine), this time on the subject of DREAMS. (Have you ever got an idea for writing from a dream? Or solved a writing problem, while you were asleep?)

But first, I have to tell you, I had a mad splurge on entering writing competitions last week. (None of which are actually on my ‘goals and targets for 2017’ but I think that was part of the appeal: I am rebelling!).

I sent 2 entries to the Readers Digest 100 word story competition, a short story to the Chipping Norton Literary Festival competition and another short story to the Stratford Literary Festival competition. All were sent on the last day possible (and, in the case of the Stratford one, five minutes before the competition closed at midnight! Ah, who says I don’t live dangerously).

dreamDreaming for Writers

Paul McCartney famously dreamed the tune for the Beatles classic, Yesterday; Coleridge’s poem Kubla Khan originated in a dream and author Robert Louis Stevenson claimed to have dreamed the entire plot of his novel Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

How many potentially great ideas for fiction or poetry are you wasting because you don’t remember or record your dreams? Don’t just dismiss them as too weird or boring: last night’s dream might hold the key to some really original writing.

Everyone dreams but even if you can remember your dreams on waking, they’ll fade very quickly (they are slippery fish!). You need to transfer them from your short term to your long term memory by recording them in some way, as soon as you wake up. Why not start a dream diary (or if you already do, tell us about it!) and see what writing inspiration it produces?

Tips for Keeping a Dream Diary:

1. Before you go to sleep, tell yourself that you’ll remember your dreams. The more you do this, the more effective it is.

2. Remind yourself of your ‘task’ in the morning, by writing a note (“What did you dream?”) and put it on the first thing you’ll see when you wake up. (But perhaps not on your OH, who may not appreciate having a post-it stuck to his/her head).

3. On waking, try not to do anything before you jot down your dream. Have your notepad open and your pen ready at the side of the bed.

4. Date your dreams and give them a title. This will make them easier to refer back to and it also forces you to think of a theme for the dream.

5. Write in the present tense. This helps recall your dream by putting you back in the moment.

6. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation or grammar. Just get it down, quickly. As long as you can still read it back, that’s fine.

7. Record any colours you saw in your dream or emotions that you felt, as well as the ‘action’ and the people in the dream.

8. If you prefer, you could use record your memory of the dream, into a Dictaphone or similar and write it up later.

9. This exercise is not about interpreting your dreams, which is something quite different, so don’t worry too much about analysing your dreams.

10. As you become more adept at remembering and recording your dreams, you could try ‘lucid dreaming’ – the art of learning to dream consciously, to the point of being able to direct your dreams.

Of course, most dreams are fairly dull and unusable (try telling anyone else your dream and watch their eyes glaze over) and dreams aren’t logical, as you’ll realise when you transcribe them, so be prepared to change them or just use parts of them.

If you’re very lucky, though, a single dream could lead to a whole series of best-selling novels, as it did for Twilight author Stephenie Meyer.

Before her dream about a vampire and a girl standing in a meadow, discussing their troubled romance, Meyer had written nothing for six years. But her dream was so vivid and inspiring, that she was compelled to start writing about the characters she’d ‘seen’ and within six months, “Twilight was dreamed, written, and accepted for publication.”

If keeping a record of your dreams doesn’t appeal, there’s another way of tapping into your subconscious while you’re asleep. Many writers swear that by thinking about a problem they’re struggling with, just before they go to sleep, their subconscious will come up with a solution the next day – and sometimes in the form of a dream.

There’s no promise of fame and fortune from dreams but they’re certainly another potential source of ideas, so don’t dismiss your nightly imaginings. They’re gifts from your subconscious, after all – and they could be pure gold!

(Longer version first published in Writing magazine, Sept 2012)

Posted in Competitions | Tagged | 12 Comments

“Hey! That Was My Idea!”

angryDid you hear the story of the newcomer to a writers’ group who refused to share his work in a meeting, in case someone ‘stole’ his ideas?

It’s only natural to be protective of our ideas – after all, they’re the lifeblood of writers – but was that an over-reaction or was he right to be worried? And if our ideas are used by someone else, is there anything we can do about it, or even learn from the experience?

Firstly, remember, there’s no copyright on ideas, so even if yours is ‘stolen’ and you may consider it a moral theft, there’s no legal redress. Copying an idea is not the same as plagiarism – which means to directly copy someone’s written work and pass it off as your own.

An idea, until it’s expressed in some tangible form, doesn’t actually exist. The only way to protect an idea is to produce something concrete. Every country has its own copyright laws but in the UK it’s generally accepted that any work is automatically copyrighted as soon as it leaves the writer’s mind (ie: ceases to be just an idea) and is placed on paper, computer, or other medium.

Of course, if you’re certain that someone has ‘stolen’ your idea, then you may not be able to do anything about it but you can at least make your feelings known (and hopefully shame them into never doing it again!)

However, although it’s happened to me – once – I’d say that consciously ‘stealing’ ideas from another writer is rare. Most writers have more than enough trouble keeping up with their own ideas.

In fact, ideas are rather like children. We all think our own are amazing – but actually, to other people – who are much more interested in their own – they’re usually not that fascinating.

And there may be another, perfectly innocent reason for your idea apparently being ‘copied’ by another writer. It could, for instance, simply be coincidence. Most of us are exposed to the same outside influences and the same potential sources of inspiration. It’s hardly surprising then, if similar upbringings and the same news, weather and TV channels, sometimes produce identical ideas. And even though two writers can easily have the same initial idea, the resulting pieces of work will almost certainly be very different.

This even happens to well-established authors. In 2004, fictionalised biographies of Henry James by the writers David Lodge and Colm Toibin were published within months of each other. Unbeknown to them, Lodge and Toibin had been simultaneously writing about the same subject: they’d had the same idea. I’m sure neither of them thought the other had ‘stolen’ anything and their books were, in any case, very different.

But if you’ve got a fantastic, original idea for a novel and you’re afraid that, by the time you finish the book, someone else may have got there first, then writer Sophie King advocates breaking the normal rules. She suggests you send your synopsis and the first three chapters of the novel out to agents before you’ve completed the book (but she adds that some agents and publishers may not like this and you need to be prepared to hastily finish the book if they want to see more!)

Another plausible reason for apparent ‘copying’ could be that someone has simply absorbed your idea unconsciously. Let’s face it, we can’t always pinpoint exactly where our ideas come from. It’s worth adding a line or two in your writer’s notebook about the source of any idea you have, so that when you come to use it, you’ll be confident that you haven’t unconsciously ‘copied’ it from another writer.

A friend of mine used a very specific incident in an (unpublished) short story which she read out at a writers’ critique session. That exact incident later turned up in the award-winning novel of one of the other writers who’d been present that day. Was that a deliberate ‘steal’ or did the novelist simply absorb that idea and regurgitate it some months later, while he was writing his book?

We’ll never know for sure but don’t be too quick to judge. If, for example, your friend takes a funny story you’ve told her and gets it published on the letters page of a magazine, she may have completely forgotten that you told her the story and thought it was ‘hers’ to use.

And on the subject of ‘ownership’, writer Lynne Hackles has a useful technique. If a writing friend tells her an anecdote that she thinks she can use in a story, she tells them they have six months to use it and if they don’t – she will! This is not only fair warning but a nice bit of friendly encouragement to ‘get writing!’

As far as pitching articles is concerned, if an article appears in a magazine a few months after you – unsuccessfully – pitched the same idea, don’t automatically assume your idea was ‘stolen’. The pitch may have been unsuccessful because the editor had already commissioned a similar piece which was still in the pipeline.

Don’t take the hump – and certainly don’t contact the magazine and complain. Instead, look at your idea again. Is there any way you could adapt the article for a different market? If your idea was good enough to be published in one magazine, there’s a good chance that another publication will want it – if you can give it a different slant.

Looking on the positive side, if ‘your’ idea does appeared in published form somewhere – either ‘stolen’ or not, it’s a good sign.
When I expressed my displeasure to the tutor who took my idea (developed during her workshop) and turning it into a published story, she said she thought I’d be ‘pleased’ that it had appeared in print.

In retrospect, I see what she meant: I’d had a good – publishable – idea. And if I could have one, I could have another. I can also see now that I could still take that story plan, tweak it slightly and try it on a different magazine.
Because, let’s face it, how many really original ideas are out there?

There are, famously, only supposed to be seven basic plots. And even the best-selling Harry Potter books are not entirely original. There have been books set in boarding schools for decades and writing about witches and wizards goes back to ‘Lord of The Rings’ and ‘Macbeth’. The success of J K Rowling’s books is down to characterisation, style and plot as much as her initial idea for a school boy wizard. There’s more to writing than just having an idea: it’s what you do with it.

We all know people who boast about how many ideas they get. But do they ever do anything with them? Getting the idea is only half the battle: structuring that idea into something entertaining, readable and publishable, is the really hard part.

As writers, we need to be adaptable and determined. If our proposed article turns up, written by someone else or if someone uses a story idea of ours, before we’ve had chance to write it ourselves, we need to be able to shrug it off, shout ‘Next!’ and move on.

That’s the lesson I learned when my short story idea was ‘appropriated’. It actually taught me a useful lesson: I realised that there’s more to being a writer than having just one good idea. Since then, I’m very pleased to say, I’ve had lots more.

happy

How To Protect Your Ideas:

1. If you’re really worried about someone using your idea, keep stumm until you’ve turned it into a story, novel or article.

2. Be wary of posting work-in-progress on ‘open forum’ websites. You don’t know who’s involved with those and unscrupulous types could be looking for ideas to ‘borrow’. A closed-forum is much better – where you know who’s taking part and can have a code of practice.

3. Be clear at workshops – or when talking to writing friends – if any idea you’ve expressed is one that you’re planning to use in your writing. There’s still nothing you can do if they decide to ‘use’ your idea but at least they can’t claim ignorance and most people would recognise that to do so would be morally wrong.

4. Don’t just sit on it or talk about it! The longer you wait before turning your idea into something tangible, the higher the chance of someone else having the same thought – or of someone hearing your idea and using it themselves. If you’ve got a great idea, the best form of defence is to get writing!

First published in Writing magazine, January 2012 as ‘Stolen Intellectual Property’

Posted in Ideas, Magazines | 13 Comments

Feeling Peaky – and a confession!

Sheepwash Bridge, The Peak District

Sheepwash Bridge, The Peak District

No, I’m not ill! I was in the Peak District last weekend (sun! No rain!) and just couldn’t resist the cheesy pun as my header.

And talking of food, I had to have one of these while I was there. Delish!

bakewell-tartWe stayed at Ashford-in-the-Water (with the lovely Sheepwash Bridge on the River Wye), near to Bakewell and did a couple of long walks over the weekend and it was great. Must admit, I’m glad I’m not there this weekend though – snow is forecast and it’s freezing!

Today I was in Evesham on ‘writerly business’. It’s only 20 minutes down the road from me but it’s like another world. There are SHOPS! (Very exciting) and loads of cafes and of course, there’s going to be another Evesham Festival of Words this summer, with even more lovely events – and booking’s now open! (As is the short story competition – closing date 24th March).

This morning I was at the library for ‘Second Friday Stories’ which is an hour-long event, on the second Friday of each month. It’s a chance to listen to local authors (yes, I was there today as one of those!), enjoy a cuppa, meet like-minded people and it’s free.

If you’re interested, on 10th March the writers will be the regency writer Elizabeth Beacon, Ann Evans and Karen King.

I was talking about writing short stories and giving a plug to the workshop and quiz that I’m running (the quiz with my friend Chris) at this summer’s Festival.

As a writer these days you’re expected to be something of a public speaker too. It’s not compulsory, obviously, but if you want to get your name known or your books sold, then it helps if you don’t mind putting yourself ‘out there’ a bit.

On the whole, I don’t mind it.

If you’d seen me sitting in my car 20 minutes before my talk, jotting down some notes on a few cards, you’d have thought I was an old hand at it all. And, indeed, if you’d asked me how it went five minutes after I’d done my spiel today, I’d have said ‘great!’ but – and here’s the confession – a strange thing happens to me after any class, workshop or talk that I deliver. I ruminate (yes, like a cow) on it, for hours, if not days afterwards and I think negative thoughts, like ‘Oh God, did I sound a bit too full of myself?’ and ‘Was I boasty-boasty when I said how many stories I’d sold?’

Today I went over my allotted time by about 10 minutes and everyone seemed very relaxed about it but then I realised that the two ladies coming after me, had 10 minutes less than they should have had! So, then I worried about that. ‘Did they hate me?’ ‘Were they sitting there, wondering when the heck I was ever going to shut up?’ ‘Was the organiser getting twitchy?’

There must be a name for it. Something like ‘post-event-traumatic-stress’ (PETS) because I get the jitters and doubts afterwards, not before.

Is that weird?

Posted in Competitions, Events, Short Stories, West Midlands | Tagged | 8 Comments

Burns Baby, Burns

robbieThe last few days have been a bit discombobulating.

Our annual booze-up Burns Night celebration was shifted at the last minute, from Friday to Sunday night, to allow two guests, who were poorly-bad, to recover. We suddenly had another two days to ‘prepare’ but of course, we were still running round like loonies at the last minute!

Anyway, a fun time was had by all, much whisky was consumed (even by me and I don’t like it) and some people didn’t go to bed until 4.20am… so yesterday was something of a write-off.

By the time we’d all got up, had breakfast, walked the dog and our 4 guests had headed home, we were feeling a bit weary… so we went to sleep for three hours, got up at 6pm (the dog was very confused) and today I’m all jet-lagged and unsure what day it is. (Monday?).

Prima/Mills & Boon Competition

Prima magazine is running a writing competition in conjunction with Mills & Boon.

You’ve got until 31st March 2017 to email a romance story outline (500 – 1000 words) and the first chapter (3000 – 5000 words) and the winner will receive £500 and have 6 months to work with a M&B editor, to finish the 50,000 word novel.

I’m probably not supposed to say this, but even if becoming a M&B author is not your main aim in life (the 2015 competition winner, Rachel Dove, writes all kinds of things, including horror!), it would be a real feather in your cap and really good experience, if you won and you’d be virtually guaranteed a finished novel at the end of it.

Read all about it here.

Another competition – I’m judging the Nottingham Writers’ Club’s National Short Story competition this year and I’m really looking forward to reading the entries (especially as the theme is ‘food and/or drink’ – some of my favourite subjects!)

You can submit your precious stories from tomorrow, 1st Feb 2017 but please note, (from the website) ‘this isn’t a competition for professionals, please don’t enter if you’ve earned £300 or more from short story writing up to and including 2016’.

Books I’ve Read This Month

As it’s the last day of January – and as one of my new year’s resolutions was to read more – I am now going to indulge myself and tell you what I read this month:

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
This is a young adult novel, which won the overall Costa Book of the Year prize in 2015 (impressive!) and which was recommended to me by a writer friend. I did like it – it’s original and although set in Victorian times it has a very positive ‘girl power’ message but I couldn’t get away from the feeling that I was reading a book for children. Good but not fantastic, would be my verdict.

The Girls – and still on the subject of ‘girls’ (have you noticed how many books have ‘girl’ in the title these days?) I read this Sunday Times best-seller by Emma Cline. It’s based on the Californian Manson murders of 1969 so, as you might expect, it’s not exactly laugh-a-minute. But it is very well-written and I did keep turning the page to find out what was going to happen to the heroine. I enjoyed it but again, it’s not one that I can rave about.

And finally, I read 2 of Della Parker’s Reading Group novellas – January and February – and enjoyed them (in fact, I’ve just ordered March).

I’m sure Della won’t mind me saying they’re a light, fun read (let’s face it, ‘light and fun’ isn’t an easy combination to achieve!) and just right for a bedtime read.

Any recommendations for my February reading, folks?

Posted in Books, Competitions, Magazines, Short Stories | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Just Monkey-ing Around

I am one of the little figures up there! Eek!

I am one of the little figures up there! Eek!

Here I am, back from a trip to Center Parcs and just about in one piece.

In a mad moment, a few weeks ago, full of the joys of ‘IACGMOOH’, I declared that I wanted to do something ‘adventurous’ and ‘out of my comfort zone’. Fast forward a month and I found myself fifty feet in the air at Center Parcs, on an ‘aerial adventure’ which included two ‘mini’ zip wires and ended with a huge one, all the way over the lake!

I had worked on the theory that children do the ‘high wire’ activity, therefore it must be OK but I had forgotten two important things:

1. Kids are fearless!
2. They do things like climbing all the time. Which, er, I don’t.

So, be careful what you wish for! (This was a Christmas present!). Actually, apart from a few wobbles, it was great but I am still aching!

And I have a cold, which is what happens when you go to CP with four babies/toddlers!

zip-wire

Short Fiction

The womag (women’s magazine) market for fiction has recently shrunk still further, as Take a Break Fiction Feast announced the ‘departure’ of their Fiction Editor and a ‘reshuffle’ which means they will no longer take unsolicited manuscripts but will only consider stories from their ‘preferred list of suppliers’.

I am lucky enough to be on this list (but for how long?!) but it’s a pile of poo for those who aren’t and I sympathise (if it’s any consolation, I’m not on the preferred list for My Weekly, so that’s a market I can’t submit to).

Anyway, when one door closes another one opens, as the saying goes and perhaps it’s time for those of us who depend on the women’s magazines for our publishing successes (and a little bit of income) to look elsewhere?

There are still plenty of fiction competitions out there, some of which are free to enter and most of which don’t have the same restrictions (in terms of genre and subject matter), as the womags. Perhaps it’s time to try something different! If you don’t already know about them, here are some competitions that might appeal:

Closing 31st Jan 2017 – Tamworth Writing Competition (linked to Tamworth Literary Festival)

UPDATE: This short story competition appeared to be only open to those who are ‘not yet published’ (ahem, because that’s what it still says on their website) but apparently they actually mean that the story must be unpublished, so it’s actually open to everyone. Sorry if I raised any hopes that this was a competition for ‘newbies only’ but that was how it was (is?) presented. Actually, it’s open to everyone and the theme is open in as much as you can write any kind of story but it must feature a real Tamworth building or address (eg: the Castle – but I suspect many people will choose that. There’s also a Snowdome! And a McDonald’s. I know that because I worked there once, when I was a student).

Closing 13th Feb 2017 – Writers & Artists’ Yearbook Short Story Competition

This is FREE to enter, you don’t have to be a UK resident, there’s no theme and all you have to do is submit a short story (for adults) of no more than 2,000 words.’

Don’t forget to register with the website too. You must do that in order to be eligible to enter.

Bear in mind that winners from the last few years have all been literary and ‘different’, so, my advice would be, you can really let your imagination run wild with this one! Anything goes and I would say, the wackier, the better.

Closing 20th Feb 2017 – Readers Digest 100 Word Flash Fiction Competition

Back for the seventh year, this ‘drabble’ competition (ie: 100 words exactly) has a £2000 first prize and 2 x £200 runners-up prizes, is free to enter and you can enter as many times as you like. But you must be a resident of the UK, Channel Islands, Isle of Man or Republic of Ireland.

In Other News…

I make a special ‘guest’ appearance on Tracy Baines’ blog this week, promoting my e-book ‘Start a Creative Writing Class’ – which now has 2 reviews, both 5 star (and not written by my mum!).

One of my favourite reads of recent times, Appletree Yard by Louise Doughty, has been turned into a 4-part TV series and it starts on Sunday on BBC1. I will be watching!

(Warning: Episode 1 apparently has ‘5 minutes of explicit sex’, so perhaps don’t tune in if you’ve got your mother-in-law round for dinner…)

Posted in Books, Competitions, E publishing, Magazines, Short Stories, Television | 11 Comments

‘My Funny Old Week’

funnyoldweekI sometimes buy Woman’s Weekly magazine (because I don’t have enough to read, oh no) and they have a nice little feature in every issue, ‘My Funny Old Week’, in which a celebrity (this week it’s Chris Tarrant) tells the readers, in just a sentence or two, what they’ve been up to.

Of course, the celebs’ answers are all very glamorous (eg, from Mr Tarrant – ‘Where I’ve been’ – The Turks and Caicos Islands.. ‘Who I’ve met’ – Paul McKenna) but I thought it might be fun to do it myself (the unglamorous version, if you like) and I’ve inviting you to join in!

Just put your ‘funny old week’ in the comments below, under the headings, as follows. (I have added the ‘What I’ve read’ and ‘What I’ve written’, by the way).

Where I’ve been – Birmingham, to the Symphony Hall to hear the CBSO play ‘The Magic of Vienna’ – lots of lovely waltzes, including the Blue Danube – for a much-needed injection of culture.
magicofvienna

What I’ve seen – The Fall (too much of). We were given series 1 and 2 for Christmas and I’ve ‘watched’ most of it from behind a cushion (and occasionally yelled,“Why are we watching this?!”). We saw the last episode last night and it’s still not over!

Who I’ve met – Out walking the dog, I met a lady in a field with a very bouncy labrador called Hugo who charged at me like a knight in a joust, just swerving to avoid me at the last minute! He did this about four times. It was slightly unnerving but he was friendly enough!

What I’ve bought – a bargain pair of boots in the Tesco sale for £10! OK, so they’re not leather and I have to hold on to bannisters and/or my man when I wear them out, but they look great under jeans!

These boots ain't made for walking!

These boots ain’t made for walking!

What I’ve read – Della Galton’s novella The Reading Group (January), which was a nice fun read and real escapism. Now, in complete contrast, I’m half way through The Girls by Emma Cline, which is a very dark! (and very good – and written by someone born in 1989, which shouldn’t be allowed…!)

What I’ve written – part of a short story about an emu. Still a ‘work in process’!

Posted in Books, Magazines, Novels, Short Stories, Television | Tagged | 11 Comments

First Post of 2017

memory-jarSo, here we are in 2017. Happy New Year to you all! I realised that my last post was a bit miserable when someone called me ‘Scrooge’ in a text, so this is going to be more upbeat, I promise!

Yesterday, I reflected on the year by opening my ‘memory jar’ (more about that anon) and by taking stock of my writing ups and downs by perusing my spreadsheet for 2016.

For the past couple of years, I’ve set myself a target of submitting 52 stories (ie: one a week) to the women’s magazines. They don’t have to be new stories. If one’s turned down for one magazine, I’m ‘allowed’ to polish it up a bit (or change it drastically, if necessary) and send it out to another market and that counts as another story towards my 52.

In total, I sent out 31 different stories (which isn’t that many, I know, compared to some of my fellow writers!) but I was pleased to have hit my target again.

In addition to the 52 submissions, highlights of my writing year were:

* Seeing my first serial published in The People’s Friend magazine in the spring (ahem, on the downside, I still haven’t started another one..).

* Acting as ‘guest writer’ at a People’s Friend workshop in Bristol in September.

* A poem that I wrote for a local Valentine’s competition won me dinner for two and an overnight stay at Hotel Indigo in Birmingham. Very swanky!

* I spent another week in Fishguard, at Writers’ Holiday with MY FRIEND CHRIS (she says I never mention her, so there you go, Miss Cherry). The Writers Holiday weeks are always good fun and Della Galton’s course on ‘Writing with Emotion’ was excellent.

* Running a book quiz (with above-mentioned friend) for the brand new Evesham Festival of Words in June – and being asked to do it again this year! Result! (And this year I’m running a short story workshop at the Festival too).

* Helping to set up a writing group for ‘seniors’ in Stratford-on-Avon – part of the Sunny Side Up group.

* And finally, I’ve written – and self-published – the longest piece of writing I’ve ever managed (so far) – at 33,400 words, my new e-book ‘Start a Creative Writing Class’ may be of interest if you’d like to teach the craft of writing in any shape or form!

finalstartacreativewritingclass

If you do buy and read it (thank you, thank you!), I’d be so grateful for a review on Amazon.

I hope it’s been a good writing year for you!

So, to the Memory Jar!

This year, for the first time, I wrote down on a scrap of paper, every time I did something nice – a night out with friends, or a weekend away or just something funny that someone said – folded it up and popped it in the jar.

They stacked up over the year and last night, as it was New Year’s Eve, voila, it was time to open them and read each one and smile…. !

Posted in Competitions, E publishing, Events, Magazines, Successes, The People's Friend, West Midlands | Tagged | 11 Comments