Three ‘Wise’ Men!

Three Wise Men ClipartI know it’s a tad early but I’m embracing Christmas with a change of header and an unashamedly cheesy title for this post.

It just so happens that I’m featuring three chaps on the blog today, so I couldn’t resist it. (For ‘wise’ – which makes them all sound about 102 – you might want to substitute ‘informative’, ‘helpful’ and ‘inspiring’!)

I like to think they’re each carrying their favourite tipple (and the one at the end is actually licking his lips in anticipation..)

Wise Man#1 First off, it’s the maestro of horror and lots of other genres, Mr Stephen King – Free Short Story Competition c/d 18th Dec 2015

The Guardian‘s running a competition, in conjunction with Hodder & Stoughton (Stephen King’s UK publisher). The man himself will be choosing the winner, from a shortlist of six and the prize includes publication on The Guardian website and a ‘chance to improve your skills at a Guardian Masterclass’.

Your story (maximum 4000 words) must be inspired by and reflect some aspect of the brief King has provided:

There’s something to be said for a shorter, more intense experience. It can be invigorating, sometimes even shocking, like a waltz with a stranger you will never see again, or a kiss in the dark, or a beautiful curio for sale at a street bazaar..

There are more details here on how to enter the competition (and sorry guys in foreign parts, but you have to be a UK resident to enter).

Even if you’re not intending to enter the competition, you might find this post useful. It’s by novelist James Smythe: ’10 things I learned about Writing from Stephen King’.

I’ve said it before (yawn!) but if you’ve never read Stephen King’s ‘On Writing‘, get it on your Christmas pressie list NOW!

Wise Man#2 50 MistakesSecond wise chappie is Mr Alex Gazzola.. (take a bow).. who has just launched a new e-book – 50 Mistakes Beginner Writers Make

(I wanted to be the first person to write a review but I see that Mr Simon Whaley – who is also wise, by the way – has beaten me to it! :()

One of the things I always tell my students is that they’ve got much more chance of having non-fiction published, than fiction. Not necessarily because it’s ‘easier’ (because I don’t think any kind of writing is easy) but because there are more markets and a little less competition.

Think of all those thousands and thousands of publications (not just the ones in WH Smiths!) – and all the websites – that need articles to fill them. Yes, many of them have in-house writers but a large percentage of them will accept – and pay for – work by freelancers.

If you’re interested in writing non-fiction, then have a look at Alex Gazzola’s excellent blog, Mistakes Writers Make .

Interestingly, on the very day that I was thinking of asking him ‘When are you going to turn your blog into a BOOK?’ – he emailed me to say he’d done exactly that! (Spooky, I know, but it’s the truth).

This is the first in a series but don’t be put off by that little word ‘beginner’. As Alex says himself (ahem, 55% of the way through the book – just to prove I’ve put my money where my mouth is and not only bought his new book but read it..) “this ebook is aimed at those just starting out in non-fiction and aiming to write for magazines, newspapers and online markets. But I hope fiction writers and established journalists, for instance, might find something useful here too…”

And I think you will. Whether it’s advice on how to long to leave it before you chase up your query, or whether you should worry about your idea being ‘stolen’ or what you need to consider when you actually write an article, there’s lots of good stuff in this e-book and it’s all written in a friendly, relaxed style.

Wise Man#3 Finally, someone I’ve never mentioned on this blog before: Mr Christopher Fielden.

Christopher’s website includes a huge and well-maintained list of writing competitions and also some useful advice. For example, whether cash prizes from writing competitions are taxable (er, yes, I’m sorry but they are!).

He also runs a wild and wacky humorous writing competition (the current one closes 31st July 2016, £7 entry fee), which involves the winner being taken ‘to Hull and Back’!

Have a look at the website here for more info.

The competition has a fabulous first prize of £1000 (in addition to going to Hull and back..! And appearing in the competition anthology), is open to anyone, anywhere and any style or genre of story will be considered, including children’s, as long as it is humorous or funny in some way.


Posted in Books, Competitions, Men, Short Stories | Tagged , | 16 Comments

A Farewell To Facebook?

sad faceApart from my People’s Friend serial competition entry and, of course, this blog, I’ve not written much for a few weeks now. Which makes me feel sad :(

Oh – and just to add to that, I got FOUR short story rejections today…
Yeeehaar. (this is the antithesis of a Facebook post, isn’t it? More about that in a minute..)

Anyway, I think my lack of productivity and inspiration is due to:

1. Neglecting my Morning Pages and my Artist’s Dates
2. Going out/away too much (I know, I know. Your heart bleeds for me).
3. Not spending enough time on my own (ditto?)
4. Not finishing anything (probably because of 1 – 3)
5. Spending too much time on social media, reading about everyone else’s successes, which seems to paralyse me when it comes to my own writing.

Now, number 5 may sound a bit melodramatic but I’ve been growing increasingly dissatisfied with Facebook, in particular, for a while now.

In fact, last week, when Alex Gazzola posted ‘Volte Facebook‘ on his website, I left a comment saying how Facebook sometimes (often!) makes me feel glum.

Apart from being a complete time-waster (which makes me feel guilty. It’s like gorging on a huge piece of chocolate gateau: great when you’re in the middle of it but afterwards you think why, why, why?!), I find that Facebook is full of people either moaning or showing-off and it makes me panic that I’m not writing as much – or achieving as much – as everyone else is (apparently!).

The night after I’d posted my comment on Alex’s blog, there was a piece on Newsnight about some research into Facebook, by the Happiness Research Institute in Denmark (Denmark, by the way, often comes out top in surveys of ‘the world’s happiest country’).

It’s not the first research of this kind, of course but it was serendipitous that I saw it (I never normally watch Newsnight) just as I’d come to the same conclusion as the research: that Facebook can make you unhappy.

“Facebook is a constant bombardment of everyone else’s great news, but many of us look out of the window and see grey skies and rain,” said Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen. “This makes the Facebook world, where everyone’s showing their best side, seem even more distortedly bright by contrast..”

Now, the guinea pigs were only asked to abstain from Facebook for a week, which you might think isn’t that long (although for those people who are on it constantly, it probably felt like forever), but the results showed that in that time, the abstainers ‘felt calmer’, ‘actually spoke to people on the phone’ and ‘spend time more productively’. The researchers also found that giving up Facebook ‘boosts happiness and reduces anger and loneliness.’

So, I’m seriously thinking about deleting my Facebook presence and going cold turkey, just in time for Christmas…

danish flag

Posted in Artist's Dates, Finding Time To Write, Magazines, Short Stories | Tagged | 52 Comments

Bringing Out The Animal In Me…?!

snarlI read a short story last week in which the main character snarled – not just once, but twice – and no, she wasn’t a werewolf or a dog: it was a person doing the snarling (an annoyed person, admittedly).

The very next day, I spotted a ‘snarled’ in the book I’m reading (Career of Evil, by Robert Galbraith) and last week, when I was flicking through a Jilly Cooper novel, Harriet (oh-so-1970s, but oh-so-good!) – all in the name of research – another ‘snarled’ jumped out at me!

There’s a name for that, by the way – ‘frequency illusion’ (‘the illusion in which a word, a name or other thing that has recently come to one’s attention suddenly seems to appear with improbable frequency shortly afterwards’).

The main reason I noticed ‘snarled’ in the first place though, is that I don’t LIKE it!

Although the definition of ‘snarled’ is ‘to say something in an angry, bad-tempered voice’, so it’s not actually wrong to attribute it to someone’s speech in writing, it just sounds wrong to me, like something an animal would do.

‘Snarled’, I would go as far as to say, is a ‘said bookism’.

You know, the words that some (dare I say it… novice) writers employ to avoid using the word ‘said’ too much. ‘He expostulated’, ‘She expounded’ ‘He rejoindered’ ‘She shrieked’ and so on.

‘Said bookims’ detract from the dialogue, they can be unintentionally funny – and I will always remember the writing tutor who told me that it’s impossible to ‘smile’ words, so you should never write something like, ‘I promise,’ he smiled.

There’s nothing wrong with using the word ‘said’ time and time again. The reader will barely notice it: instead, they’ll be concentrating on the dialogue, which is what you want them to do!

I don’t think one of my characters has ever ‘snarled’ or ‘barked’, or ‘growled’ or ‘whimpered’ and never will, unless he is a dog of course, hmm, or maybe a vampire…

Posted in Novels | Tagged , | 19 Comments

I ❤ Deadlines!

clockJust look at that fancy header! (It took me ages to work out how to add that heart).

Last Friday, 30th October, was a date I’d had firmly fixed in my head and in my diary for several weeks. It was the DEADLINE for entries to The People’s Friend serial-writing competition and I was determined to enter it.

I’ve been thinking about trying to write something longer than short stories for ages. The jump to a novel seems huge, so, although I realise that, stylistically, it’s very different to writing a novel, a serial is longer than a short story and needs more planning, characters, different points of view and all that, so it seemed the next logical step to attempt one.

But without a deadline, I was still just thinking about it.

In the run up to 30th October, I did some very silly things. As you know, I went to Spain for 4 days, to get eaten by mosquitoes (took my notebook and brought it back again, pages still blank); then last Tuesday I went to Champneys for the day with my mum! (Had to use up the gift voucher I had or it was going to expire…!).. and so on and so on.

I was thinking a lot about the serial but not writing much, so it looked like I was going to miss the deadline. Then I worked out that if I posted my entry on 29th October, by first class, special delivery (which would cost me £7.25 but would be worth every penny!), I could buy myself another couple of days and my entry would be guaranteed to get there on time! So all I had to do was finish it…

Those of you who also entered will remember that you had to write the first part (6000 words), plus you needed to submit a synopsis (max 1500 words) of the rest of the serial. To my amazement – and by the skin of my teeth – I did it. But if I hadn’t had that deadline of last Friday? I don’t suppose I’d even have finished the first part. I am one of those writers that NEEDS deadlines. And self-imposed ones just aren’t the same, are they? It’s just too easy to cheat.

Other writers, I have discovered, have also thrived on deadlines.

Take Charles Dickens, for example. Every one of his novels was first published as a serial – either weekly or monthly – so he always had a deadline when he wrote.

And when he wrote Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh gave himself a deadline. He asked for 3 months leave from the army in order to write it and took himself off to a hotel in Devon to do so. He averaged 2000 words a day and had to keep asking for extra time but he got there in the end (it took him nearer to five months than three).

But my favourite deadline story is Kazuo Ishiguro’s. He wrote The Remains of The Day in just 4 mad, frenzied weeks, which he called ‘The Crash’. You can read more about it here.

He and his (very supportive!) wife agreed on a deadline. For four weeks he would work solidly from 9am to 10.30pm (very civilised hours!). He wouldn’t read any post, or answer the phone, no-one would come to his house: he would only stop to eat.

It’s a bit like doing NaNoWriMo, I suppose, but the end result, rather than a load of waffle (which is what mine have been!), was a rather fabulous novel which, if you haven’t read it, I can highly recommend.

Deadlines stop you from procrastinating!

I reckon the reason so many former journalists become successful novelists (eg: Jojo Moyes, Sophie King, Ken Follett, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway… ) is because they’re used to working to deadlines. They’ve never had the luxury of procrastinating: they’ve been trained just to sit down and get the words out.

So, I need to get better at setting deadlines for myself. Any tips, anyone?

And if, ahem, you’re doing NaNo this year – like I’m supposed to be (!) – Emma Darwin has some great tips and advice over on her blog here (in fact, even if you’re not doing NaNo you might want to have a look..)

Easton Court, Devon, where Waugh wrote Brideshead Revisited

Easton Court, Devon, where Waugh wrote Brideshead Revisited

Posted in Competitions, Novels | Tagged , , | 15 Comments

Writing Is Like Golf! (Honest)

Golf: 'A good walk spoiled' (Mark Twain)

Golf: ‘A good walk spoiled’ (Mark Twain)

Last week we were in Spain and my man had a couple of rounds of golf. In a moment of madness, I decided to walk round the first course with him (something I’ve never done before…).

Here I am, on the eighteenth hole (that’s The End, in case you’re not au fait with golfing terms).

Do not be fooled by that cheery grin. I was exhausted! It had taken us over FIVE HOURS to reach that point (he told me it would be about three and a half but it was busy and all the players were stacked up on the tees).

But worse than that, we were up in the hills and there were mosquitoes everywhere. I spent the next three days plagued by itchy, sore legs (and neck), because mosquitoes love me and about twenty of the little blighters had bitten me.

It made me think, as I watched the golfers drive, chip and putt their way around the course: there are some similarities between golf and writing! It can be frustrating (oh, those bunkers!) – and addictive – and if you want to improve, you have to practice. A lot.

Thriller writer Tom Clancy said about writing, “A lot of people think [when you write] something mystical happens to you, that maybe the muse kisses you on the ear. But writing isn’t divinely inspired—it’s hard work.” He advised writers to “learn to write the same way you learn to play golf. You do it and keep doing it until you get it right.”

Trade Secrets’ Writing Workshop.

On a completely different subject, I’ve been asked to give this workshop a plug. It’s being run in conjunction with the Chipping Norton Literary Festival and sponsored by Penny Shorts and is taking place on 17th November, just outside Chippy.

Not only do you get valuable ‘insider tips’ from published novelists and a literary agent but – and this is surely worth the £85 fee in itself – the hot lunch is provided by the local WI! Bound to be delicious! If you live anywhere near Chipping Norton, might be worth a look.

Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook 2016 Short Story Competition

You’ve got until 7th February 2016 (or 15th February, as they’ve printed further up the page*!) to get your entry in for the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook competition. It’s free to enter, regardless of where you live (although you must be registered on the website) and there are some great prizes.

The theme is: AGEING.

Good luck!

*to be on the safe side, I’d aim to get your entry in by the earlier date.

Posted in Competitions, Cotswolds, Short Stories | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Jojo Moyes, The Shard.. and I spot a STAR!

Bonnie in the leaves

Bonnie in the leaves

I whizzed back to Cheltenham for the last day of the festival last Sunday (but not alone this time, so I can’t count it as an ‘artist’s date’!), to see an interview with novelist Jojo Moyes.

If you don’t ‘know’ Jojo (where have you been?) let me say firstly that, despite her name, she’s female (I overheard one of the staff in the Town Hall – an elderly man, who, to be fair, probably doesn’t read the kind of books she writes – discussing the fact that she was a woman, with a colleague. He was astonished! To him, I suppose, ‘Jo’ = male).

Anyway, if you haven’t heard of Jojo, she wrote the bestseller ‘Me Before You‘ – which has sold over 5 million copies and which I enjoyed and ooh – I’m so excited – has been made into a film*, due out next year!

Jojo has just published the sequel, ‘After You‘ which is on my birthday list for later this month…!

It was a really interesting interview and this is (some of) what I learned…

1. As part of her novel-writing process, Jojo spends about 3 months (THREE MONTHS!) working on her characters, so that she absolutely knows them inside out before she starts writing.

She applies the ‘kicking the dog’ test. If your character was walking down a street and they spotted someone kicking a dog, do you know what they would do? Would they cross the road, join in, stop the person… ? That’s how well you should know your characters. It made me think that, whenever I’ve tried to write something ‘longer’ and it’s fizzled out, it’s probably because I don’t know my characters well enough.

2. She wrote about 30,000 words of the new novel, with Louisa, the main character, as a paramedic before she realised it just wasn’t working (it was too dark!) and had to SCRAP it all! Aagh – although, she does have another character in the novel who’s a paramedic so I suppose all that work -and research – wasn’t completely wasted. But ouch!

3. When she wrote ‘Me Before You‘ she wasn’t under contract to write another book (which is a nice way of saying, her publishers had made no promises to publish anything else she wrote, although they’d agreed to ‘have a look at it’). No matter how successful you’ve been (and Jojo had had a few novels published by then), there’s always the danger of being ‘dropped’ by your publisher). But being in that position gave her a certain freedom. She could just write what she wanted to write.

4. Jojo is a former journalist and another point she made was that you can find ‘fifteen’ ideas for novels just from flicking through a newspaper (that’s how she got the idea for ‘Me Before You‘). I think that’s probably true – if you look hard enough. But getting the idea’s just the start, isn’t it? You’ve then got to DO something with it – plot, plan and WRITE!

Guess Who I Saw…?

In The Shard - 4th Highest Building in Europe!

In The Shard – 4th Highest Building in Europe!

And on the subject of *films (bit of a tenuous link there, I know), I was in London last Monday to visit The Shard (I bought it for my man as a birthday present in the summer – with lunch included – and we had to use it before the voucher ran out!)

Before we whizzed up in the two lifts that take you to the 78th floor (for some amazing views of London – you can see for 40 miles!), we went for lunch in a lovely Italian restaurant in Borough Market which, if you’ve never been (and I hadn’t) is amazing – a proper market, under the railway arches, full of foodie delights – and we came across a crowd, some paparazzi and barriers.. and the policeman standing nearby helpfully pointed out the actress, being filmed walking down the street was RENEE ZELLWEGER! (as in Bridget Jones!).

“Oooh, I love Renee Zellweger!” I said and the policeman replied, “She speaks very highly of you too!”

Yes, they were filming the third Bridget Jones film (also due out next year. I’m going to need a season ticket to the Odeon at this rate).

We got a bit closer and actually walked straight past her then -and we saw her later in a dressing gown. No sign of Colin Firth, unfortunately…! It was the highlight of my day, even better than being 72 floors up in Europe’s ‘fourth tallest building’ (hmm, has a certain ring to it, doesn’t it…)

Reader’s Digest 100 Word Short Story Competition
And finally… Reader’s Digest have launched their annual 100 word story competition. Free to enter and a top prize of £2000 this time BUT they’ve also introduced ‘voting’ for the top 3 stories..! Have a look and see what you think.

Posted in Bonnie, Cotswolds, Novels | 9 Comments

Notes On A Spreadsheet

I’ve got a story in November’s Woman’s Weekly Fiction Special, called ‘Notes from Miss Norris’. It’s only my fifth WW acceptance this year, which isn’t many, so please excuse my boasty-boasty trumpet-blowing for a moment.

Ooh I do like an alliterative title!

Ooh I do like an alliterative title!

A quick glance at my spreadsheet (below) shows me that I’ve sent Woman’s Weekly 12 stories this year, so far. They’ve accepted 5, turned down 4 and I’m waiting to hear about 3.

I have different colours for womag stories (yellow), competition entries (mauve), poetry (orange), successes (blue) and stuff that hasn’t yet found a home and can be sent out again (red). I LOVE my spreadsheet! In fact, when I get a rejection, the one consolation is, that it’s an excuse to fiddle around on Excel for ten minutes or so (OK, half an hour).

The Spreadsheet

The Spreadsheet

The inspiration for the story came when I was surfing the internet one day (as I do, quite often) and I came across a newsletter from a headmistress to parents, asking them to a) collect conkers and b) write out – and illustrate – their family’s favourite poem, in order to decorate the school’s new library.

It gave me the idea for a teacher who constantly sends notes to parents, via the children. What if, I thought, one of the mothers couldn’t read and didn’t have a ‘favourite poem’? How would she cope? And the story grew from there. So you see, it’s proof that surfing the internet is NOT a waste of time: it is valuable research for stories.

Notes From Miss Norris

Notes From Miss Norris

Posted in Magazines, Short Stories, Successes, Woman's Weekly | Tagged | 20 Comments