New writing competition (free!) & Short Story Collection

FINALTheSunshineBoardHere’s a surprise for you. To celebrate the publication of my new short story collection (TA-DERR!), I’m running another of my random word writing competitions. It’s FREE to enter and open to everyone, wherever you live.

But more of that in a minute. First, ‘a word from our sponsors’…

The Sunshine Board contains 12 short stories, most of which have been previously published in magazines and a couple that are competition winners.

There’s a touch of humour, some romance and ‘The Normal Course of Events’ (which won the Chudleigh Phoenix competition in 2014), is written in a series of emails and was definitely the most fun I’ve ever had with a story.

I deliberately chose the word ‘sunshine’ and the bright sunny cover (more about that dragon in a minute!) as this little collection is intended as a light summer read, whether you’re sitting on the beach in Marbella or at home staring out at the rain. There’s nothing sad or depressing in it, I promise: just pure escapism and hopefully, a lump in the throat and a smile or two.

Now, you might be wondering about the dragon on the front cover. Hmm, I was wondering about that too, when the illustration came back from the graphic designer. I used Shar on and she was very good but – as you probably know – you don’t pay a huge amount on fiverr (although I did pay more than $5!) so there’s not much scope for to-ing and fro-ing and tweaking designs.

It was actually my fault for choosing something that was difficult to illustrate (I mean, what is a ‘sunshine board’? You’ll have to read the story to find out!). Luckily I had a story called ‘Dragon’s Den’ that would fit into the collection quite well and phew, suddenly the random dragon on the front cover made sense!

Those of you who’ve also self-published on Amazon will know that it’s quite a fiddly and time-consuming business (I’m sure it gets easier, the more you do it) but I couldn’t have managed it (even though this is my second book!) without my writing buddy Sally Jenkins’ book ‘Kindle Direct Publishing For Absolute Beginners’ to hand. I can highly recommend it if you’re thinking of having a go yourself.

Anyway, all that remains to say is that should you wish to buy this little splash of sunshine for your holiday Kindle reading, then you can do so here. Thank you!

Random Word Competition – closing date 12th July 2016
I promised you another of these when I reached 700 followers. Well, I’m not quite there yet but I thought we could have another one anyway. You need to write a (max) 100 word story or poem, which includes 5 specific words.

The words this time are:
• toy
• frost
• vote
• skyscraper
• sunshine*

*I used the random word generator for the first four and then added ‘sunshine’ as it seemed appropriate

The words can be used more than once and can be used in the title as well as, (or instead of), in the body of the story. And you can use ‘extensions’ of the words – eg: ‘frosty’, ‘toying’ or ‘voted’.

Check if you’ve used them correctly by doing a search on your finished document for the 5 words. As long as they come up, then you’re OK.

I’m giving away a £25 Amazon e-voucher as first prize and a £10 Amazon e-voucher as second prize. And then, of course, there’s the glory and honour of being the winner, which is priceless.

1. One entry per person.
2. Open to anyone, anywhere and it’s free to enter
3. You don’t have to buy my e-book in order to enter!
4. Maximum 100 words (you can submit less), plus title.
5. Please don’t copy or plagiarise. You will be found out! (and it will be embarrassing and shameful)
6. Your story/poem’s title is in addition to the 100 words
7. Any theme or genre is acceptable (but anything too graphic or ‘sweary’ is unlikely to be shortlisted, as I won’t want to publish it here, so do consider that!)
8. Your entry must not have won or been placed in another competition.
9. Judge’s / judges’ decisions are final.
10. Email your entry in the body of the email, NOT as an attachment, to: by midnight on Tuesday 12th July 2016 (3 weeks today), along with your name.
11. By entering, you agree that your entry, or an extract, can be posted on this blog if it’s one of the shortlisted stories.
12. I will shortlist 5 entries and someone else will choose the winner, anonymously. I am being vague about the ‘someone else’ because I don’t know who it will be yet, but someone other than me and someone who will take their task seriously.
If you have any questions, feel free to post them as a comment, so that everyone can see the response!
Thanks – and good luck!

PS: We’ve done this lots of times before and I’m sure most people know the drill but if you’re a new-comer (welcome!) then have a look here and here to see past winners and shortlisted entries.


Posted in Competitions, E publishing, Short Stories | 11 Comments

My People’s Friend Serial Is About To Hit The Shelves

July's Writers Forum magazine

July’s Writers Forum magazine

If you get Writers Forum magazine, you’ll notice that (*puffs up*) I am featured in the July issue, which is already out to subscribers and probably about to appear in the shops.

When I won the People’s Friend serial competition, Douglas McPherson contacted the editor Shirley Blair asking if she’d be interested in a “fly-on-the-wall type of feature on Helen and her winning entry, following the whole process from her original idea to the writing of the concluding episodes and any input you have into the story along the way.”

Obviously I was asked if I’d like to take part and although Douglas’s original idea was that it would run over a couple of issues, it’s actually going to be running over 3 – or even 4 – issues of Writers Forum now (maybe I talked too much?).

My friends think this is hilarious and that Douglas will be padding his articles with all kinds of random facts about me but I can assure you, that we’ve spoken on the phone three times, for about an hour each time and there is LOADS to say about the serial- writing process and I really don’t think he’ll have to include details such as how I take my tea (but if you’re reading this Douglas and kicking yourself that you didn’t ask me, it’s quite strong, not too milky and no sugar, thank you).

Part one is out now to coincide with the first part of the PF serial – now called ‘Where The Air Is Sweet’ – which is out THIS WEEK (tomorrow, in fact)! So, if you’re in or around WH Smiths, you might want to have a flick through the magazines (or even.. dare I suggest it.. buy them?!)

First instalment of my serial in this week's People's Friend

First instalment of my serial in this week’s People’s Friend

Posted in Competitions, Successes, The People's Friend | 22 Comments

On The Trail of Maggie O’Farrell

bhuna1On Friday night my OH decided to make a curry. I ‘live tweeted’ (!) this experience, as from starting to chop the carrots to his weary call of “Dinner’s ready” took 3.5 hours. I kid you not.

It’s my own fault, probably. For Christmas I bought him a subscription to The Spicery.

Every month he gets packs of spices (from the ‘Indian Restaurant Favourites’ selection) and a recipe for a curry. They have all, I have to say, been delicious but as they include all the ‘extras’ too (not the hot towels and After Eights, but things like pakoras and naan breads), they do take quite a long time to make…

We had Chicken Bhuna, vegetable rice, pakora, pooris, raita & tamarind chutney. Delicious!


This weekend I also had one of those heart-stopping moments (not connected to the curry, I hasten to add).

I was reading an interview with award-winning novelist Maggie O’Farrell in the latest issue of Writing magazine and she said that a turning point in her career was the encouragement she received, while writing her first novel, from novelist-tutors Barbara Trapido and Elspeth Barker on an Arvon course at Lumb Bank.

Wait a minute…! I went on an Arvon course at Lumb Bank, in the ‘90s (O’Farrell’s After You’d Gone was published in 2000, so the timing was about right) AND my tutors were also Barbara Trapido and Elspeth Barker!

Could it be that Maggie O’Farrell had been on the same week-long residential course as me, all those years ago?! Why could I not remember her?

I wracked my brains.

All I could remember about the course was sharing a ‘dorm’ with 3 other women (something I would never do now!*), and that one of the other attendees was a posh woman who boasted she could fly a plane and had been to school with Princess Anne. We were all rather mystified as to how she got a bursary to go on the course, as she was clearly loaded! She was also very rude to the guest speaker (“Don’t you think there are enough books about the Brontes?” she said to the man who’d just published a book about.. you’ve guessed it) and then she just up and left early one morning, without so much as a goodbye (and, significantly, before we could hear her read any of her work out that evening..).

I also remembered the rather eccentric but really lovely tutors.. but I couldn’t remember Maggie O’Farrell. What a missed opportunity, I thought! We could have become besties! (Not that I want to hang on the coat tails of successful writers, or anything..)

And then, in almost the same moment, I thought.. WAIT! She’s published 7 novels and won the Costa Novel Prize since that Arvon Course. WHAT HAVE I DONE?! (Tell me I’m not the only one who thinks like this).

So I started some research (because I’ve got nothing better to do). And in two interviews I read on-line, Maggie O’Farrell clearly stated that the Arvon course she was referring to took place in the winter. In one, it said it was in December, in another, it was in January. She remembered because she was so overcome by the encouraging comments from the tutors that she ran outside, ‘into the middle of nowhere and fell into a ditch at the side of the road. I was up to my armpits in frozen water. For a moment I thought, I am going to die here. I did manage to stagger out.’

I breathed a sigh of relief. It wasn’t the same course. Because mine was definitely in the summer. August, I think. Phew! I’m not quite sure why but just phew!

*don’t let me put you off Arvon! I think, now, the rooms are mostly singles.


Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged | 8 Comments

Post-Holiday Blues & Some Serial News

Have you missed me? I’ve been away for ages, I know. Soz.

Last week I was on a tennis holiday on the Turquoise Coast in Turkey.

“You’re brave,” people said to us when we announced our destination. And they were right: half way through the week, disaster struck. I’m still not sure how I managed it but, during a game of doubles I managed to STAND on the ball that I was chasing, my foot rolled over it and WHAM! Woman down and the result was: sprained ankle, ice, strapping, no more tennis or swimming or wearing nice shoes in the evening.

The moment I did it, I could have cried – not from the pain – but because all those lovely new tennis clothes (bright orange!) that I’d brought and evening wear, complete with strappy sandals, would have to stay in the suitcase.

And then I got a really bad cough – which I still have – and which is now turning into a cold. So I am feeling sorry for myself!😦

turkey3But it was a beautiful resort and we will probably go back (I will be wearing a cotton-wool Michelin Man suit over my entire body), so here are a few snaps that you might like to see.


But enough of all that. Let me tell you what else I’ve been doing.

Yesterday I went to Birmingham to teach a 2 hour workshop on ‘Writing Historical Fiction’ for a former teacher of mine – Chris Morgan. Here we are, at the end of the session, looking rather pleased with ourselves! (And I managed not to cough once, which was a miracle).

me and chris1

Chris used to run an evening class in Creative Writing in Acocks Green (yes, there is such a place) and over twenty years ago (!) I attended that class for about 7 years and learned lots. He is a great teacher and very encouraging!

I always know a workshop has been OK if I manage to inspire myself, while doing it (*she says, modestly*) and I must admit, having read Emma Darwin’s excellent ‘Get Started In Writing Historical Fiction‘ in advance – which gave me some great ideas (and she’s giving away a free copy on her blog, closing 12th June), I’m feeling ready to tackle another story (or maybe even a serial….!) set in the past now.

Talking of which, my 3-part Edwardian serial is going to be published in The People’s Friend next month, starting 18th June.

The editor, Shirley Blair, emailed me the layout of the first page of episode one this week and it looks very good but there were a couple of surprises… firstly, they’ve changed the title from ‘Allen’s Angels’ (mine and not very good), to ‘Where the Air Is Sweet’ (because of course, as it’s set in a chocolate factory, you can smell the chocolate for miles around). Then, my three main characters’ names have been changed! Edie has become Annie, George has become Edward and Richard has become Justin.

Hmm.. what d’you think?

Posted in Events, Magazines | Tagged , | 15 Comments

Fancy Winning a (free) Writers’ Retreat?

Writers_Retreats_ClockhouseWriting Magazine Competition

Those lovely people at Writing Magazine are running a competition to win a place on a writers’ retreat (worth £600) at Arvon’s new centre in Shropshire, The Clockhouse.

The prize is specifically for the week 6 – 12 September 2016, so don’t enter if you can’t go on those dates!

You’ve got until 4th July to submit your entry (max 500 words) which can be poetry, fiction or non-fiction but must be on the theme ‘retreat’ and the competition is ‘open to any writer’.

I always wonder how they manage to judge non-fiction against fiction against poetry. Tricky, isn’t it? Will you be at a disadvantage if you write a short poem when someone else has used up their full quota of 500 words on a story, say? But as we don’t even know who’s judging the competition, there’s no way of even second-guessing what they might prefer. So, just go for it, if you decide to enter. Do your best! (I sound like Brown Owl now). You’ve got nothing to lose.

do your best

Oh and there are lots of other competitions on the Writing magazine website – like this one – so have a browse. They aren’t all free and some are ‘subscriber only’ but I’m sure you’ll find something to inspire you to write!

Mark Haddon on Radio 4 Talking Short Stories

I was driving to a tennis match on Saturday morning, listening to Saturday Live on Radio 4 and had to stop listening to a really enjoyable interview with novelist (amongst other things), Mark Haddon – probably best known for his novel The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Nighttime.

His collection of short stories The Pier Falls, has just been published and he had some really interesting things to say about that and about writing in general. eg: that you can take more risks with short stories. He’d never think of setting a novel on Mars, for example but he could do with a short story (and that’s one of the stories in the collection). He also admits that he throws away about 80% of what he writes and that he doesn’t think he’s a good writer but a ‘pretty good editor’!

The great thing about radio these days (I’m doing it with The Archers!) is that you can just listen to anything you’ve missed on the internet. So here’s the interview here and if you want to skip all the introductory stuff, start listening at 05.40 minutes. Hope you enjoy it. (I just can’t bring myself to write ‘Enjoy!’)

Posted in Competitions, Magazines, Short Stories | Tagged | 6 Comments

I Finally Go On Another ‘Artist’s Date’ (to Aldi)

Evesham library gets my seal of approval.

Evesham library gets my seal of approval.

One of my writing resolutions for this year was to go on an Artist’s Date every month but until last week I had failed completely.

Then I had cause to go to Evesham (nothing glamorous – car to the garage), so I thought I’d make that outing an Artist’s Date. Did it qualify? Well, I was going on my own, I’d never done it before and actually, yes, the thought of spending a few hours alone, in a new town, trying out the cafes, was quite liberating. I was looking forward to it.

My first port of call was the library! To make sure they had lots of flyers about the forthcoming Evesham Festival of Words (they did) and to tell them all about the QUIZ which my friend and I are running on the evening of Thursday 30th June.

It’s billed as a ‘festival warmer’ but I’m starting to get a little worried that it will be a damp squib, if no-one turns up, so I am in full promotion-and-marketing-mode! If there are only 10 people there on the night, no-one can say I didn’t try. It goes without saying that if any of you are in or around Evesham and fancy a fun bookish/literary quiz (not too hard!), then you would be most welcome to join in.

The library was lovely. I wish it was walking distance from my house, I’m sure I’d be there all the time, especially in the winter because it was warm and upstairs were some lovely quiet tables for writing (I had that whole big one to myself, where I sat for half an hour and did my morning pages).

I also went to Aldi (honestly, when you never get the chance to go to Aldi, it’s exciting!) and guess what I discovered? The People’s Friend (latest edition) was only 60p! A special Aldi price, apparently. I don’t know whether it’s only 60p (instead of £1.10) every week or whether that was just a ‘one off’ but it’s worth knowing about. I bought a copy of course, as I can’t resist a bargain and on the letters page was a letter from a reader in Australia who had read the interview with me (from way back in January) and is looking forward to reading my serial – which is handy because it’s now all finished and approved and will be published in The People’s Friend in June. Watch this space!

My PF bargain!

My PF bargain!

Apart from tea and cake in two cafes (where I nearly fell off my seat trying to eavesdrop on people’s conversations), I also treated myself to a CARTRIDGE PEN!

ink penRemember those, from school days? Just fixing the little blue cartridge of ink into the pen brought back memories. I read somewhere recently that writing with a ballpoint pen isn’t good because it relies on friction and therefore, there’s more strain on your hand. If you write with a proper pen, with a nib and ink, it’s much more ‘free flowing’ and so, in theory, you can write for much longer.

Rather than splash out too much (just in case I didn’t like it!) I just bought a fairly standard one from WH Smiths which cost £4.99 (plus a few pounds for some cartridges) and I must admit, I’m enjoying using it. By sheer coincidence it was also ‘National Stationery Week’ last week so it seemed especially fitting.

PS: I have an article about Artist’s Dates in the latest (June 2016) issue of Writing magazine. Has anyone else been on an Artist’s Date recently and how did you get on?

Posted in Artist's Dates, Events, Magazines, West Midlands | Tagged | 10 Comments

Shakespeare And Me

Shakespeare image3Just look at that title! Don’t worry, I’m not going to start quoting sonnets at you.

There’s just time before the Master of The House returns from his travels (he’s at the airport) and the week’s ‘Writing Retreat’ is over (hurrah!), to write a few lines about Shakespeare.

You’ve probably seen it on the news: today is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and, if records are to be believed, 23rd April was also his birthday! Let’s hope he got to eat some cake and blow out the candles before he pegged it.

I live near to Stratford-on-Avon but I’ve avoided it today, even though there are lots of celebrations and events (and fireworks tonight over the River!) because it would just have been too MANIC! but I thought I’d offer my own humble little tribute to The Bard.

Please feel free to comment with your own experiences – good or bad – of Mr W Shakespeare.

1. It was my mum that first made me realise Shakespeare was A Good Thing. When she was about the same age I am now, she did a day class in which she studied lots of his plays and they went to see some of them at Stratford. She always came back raving about what a great evening she’d had – how, for example, ‘real’ snow had fallen on the stage. She made it sound magical.

2. My ‘O’ level (yes, I’m that old) Shakespearean play was Henry V and I still love it. In fact I saw this production at the RSC last October and it was one of the best plays I’ve ever seen. They made it funny and Alex Hassell (yum), made a brilliant King.

Alex Hassell as Henry V

Alex Hassell as Henry V

3. Our teacher for English ‘O’ level was Mr Lorden. He was scary. He made us learn the first chorus of Henry V off by heart, for homework. ‘Oh for a muse of fire that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention…’ (is how it starts). I can still remember it now.

When we got to the class the following week, he asked a few people to recite it and no-one could. He was not impressed, shouted at us all and we moved on to something else. I was burning up inside because I HAD learned it – I knew it! But I was too embarrassed to put my hand up. The thought of saying it in front of the whole class (I’d have gone scarlet) was too much. I can still feel that disappointment… !

4. Our teacher for ‘A’ level English (eek, I’m ashamed to say I can’t remember his name), took us to Stratford a few times in a mini bus to see some RSC plays. We only had the cheapest seats – way up in the Gods! But it was still a great experience and I’ll always remember seeing Titus Andronicus. That’s one heck of a gory play, in case you haven’t seen it. Hands and tongues get cut off and people have to eat their own children… ! Members of the audience got up and went out. I can only assume because they felt sick! Or maybe they wanted a choc ice.

4. In my first term at University my new friend Wendy and I got tickets to see Coriolanus at Leeds Town Hall because we’d both done it for ‘A’ level (what a couple of keenies, eh? Everyone else was probably on a pub crawl and there we were, going to see Shakespeare!).

There was snow on the ground and a bus strike and half the cast hadn’t been able to get there so various people stood in, reading their parts from scripts in broad Yorkshire accents, bless ’em. It was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. Thirty – ahem – years on, we still talk about it.

5. And of course, as you know, Shakespeare spoke loik a Brummie. And as a Brummie myself, that’s something to be proud of.

Posted in Plays | Tagged | 8 Comments