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(ahem, because that’s what it still says on their website) but apparently they actually mean that the story must be unpublished, so it’s actually open to everyone.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 Competitions, Short Stories, Books, Magazines, Television, E publishing | 7 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

Hurrah – it’s over!

earringsWe’ve made it to the other side and I for one am very grateful to be hanging up my Christmas pudding earrings for another year. I could quite happily go into a convent (where they don’t speak, or pray too much) for a couple of days.

Stress! (if you don’t get stressed by Christmas then either you’re not doing it right, or someone else is taking all the stress for you).

It’s all down to trying to make the whole thing perfect, don’t you think? Buying the perfect just-what-they-wanted presents, cooking the perfect dinner, choosing the perfect TV (we had Paul O’Grady’s ‘For The Love of Dogs’ – always makes me cry – The Queen’s Speech, of course and the Morecambe & Wise Show) – and, if you’ve got guests – having the house at the perfect temperature (as we had my parents with us, that was Hell-Fire Hot).

I have even woken up this morning with a BLACK EYE! A Christmas-induced-no-idea-how-it-got-there, black eye. And I don’t mean dark circles because they’re a given, I mean a proper bruise, as though someone tried to poke me in the eye and missed. Hmmmm…

The piece de resistance was yesterday, as we were leaving my brother’s, my mum went to give my nephew a hug and managed to topple backwards, pulling him with her and they both ended up flat on their backs on the floor.

I am hoping she is OK (he is 12 so he just bounced). She seemed OK, she said she was OK but it will be in a couple of weeks, when she’ll say, ‘I still can’t sleep for the pain in that shoulder, when I fell over on Boxing Day….’

Anyway, on a cheerier note, you might like to see some of my presents:

From my man, a very practical (because I always moan when I have to scrape the ice of my car and it makes me even later than usual), ‘windscreen frost guard’! Who said romance was dead, eh? But bring on the ice now because I am prepared!

windscreen

But also a trip on a 1920s style steam train with DINNER! To be taken at some point next year.

And, some lovely books, for me to begin my 2017 ‘I will read more’ challenge, as discussed in the last post.

books

Hope you’ve had a good Christmas and are now enjoying a lovely, relaxing day. I’m just about to take the dog for a walk and I will try to avoid speaking to a soul….

Posted in Books, Television | Tagged | 10 Comments

On My Need… To Read!

christmas-presentHello! I bet you thought someone had wrapped me up by mistake and shoved me under a Christmas tree, I’ve been away for so long! But no, I am here. I’ve just been busy ‘Christmass-ing’, to coin a phrase. I’m sure it’s the same for you.

(*book plug alert!*) Amongst all the ‘partying’, frenzied shopping, card-writing and Strictly-gorging, I’ve been pootling away at the e-book that I’ve been writing.. well, for months, to be honest. (My writing buddy Sally will confirm this. When we met up on 5th October, I distinctly remember saying to her, ‘Oh yes, it’s nearly finished!’ and.. ahem, it still isn’t).

BUT it’s nearly there, so if 2017 is the year in which you’d like to start a new career (or brush up your existing skills!), you might be interested in my ‘Start a Creative Writing Class’ e-book – a handy guide for writers, tutors and would-be teachers – which I’ll be launching on Amazon any day now.

More about that anon. Now onto books in general….

I’m doing an exercise at the moment in which I track how much time I spend on various activities: watching TV, exercise, eating (!), sleeping, ‘creative work’ and stuff like that. It’s all very illuminating but one of the things that has shocked me most, is how little time I spend reading.

I know, I know, you’re all shaking your heads. It’s shameful. I usually manage a few minutes before my head sinks into the pillow (and that might just be a couple of short stories) but that’s about it.

So, that’s going to change in 2017. My plan is to ‘do a David Nicholls’ and read every day (he reads for half an hour the moment he wakes up. I’m not sure I can manage that but I might try).

Of course, we all know, as writers, that it’s vital to read. Because it’s inspiring and relaxing and it teaches us the possibilities of language and fiction – and not just because Stephen King said,’If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.’

I have 66 books waiting to be bought and read on my (ahem, public) Amazon wish list! So, the desire and motivation is there – I just need to prioritise it a bit more. AND, as I do a lot of driving, I need to get some audio books, so I can listen to novels while I’m on the move. Good thinking, eh?

I am actually reading something at the moment: it’s Jilly Cooper’s ‘Mount’ – yes, I know, not exactly a classic (‘Daft, boozy joy!’ as the Guardian reviewer described it) but you know when you just want something light and funny?

horse
It’s set in the world of racing and ooh, there are an awful lot of stallions and sires and well, mounting. In fact, a scene I read last night, gave me palpitations (but not in a good way) and.. yuck, I keep getting flashbacks!

So, hmm, not everyone’s cup of tea, perhaps! What are you reading, folks? Any recommendations?!

PS: Happy Christmas!

Posted in Books, E publishing | Tagged | 20 Comments

It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like.. you-know-what

bonnie-calendar So, the countdown to Christmas has begun. My blog header’s changed to the good old snowman, the SNOW has magically appeared, as it does every year from 1st December and the Bonnie calendars have just arrived from Vistaprint…

Yes, it’s sad but true, that every year we have a dozen or so calendars made, featuring a different photo of our dog for every month (chosen with so much care you’d think we were putting the Pirelli calendar together!) and they are distributed to ‘lucky’ friends, family and neighbours. They probably hate them (actually we know our neighbours don’t because they were the ones who urged us to do it again, after the inaugural one, which we did for a bit of a joke…) but never mind, it’s a tradition now and we can’t stop!

I’ve also got a couple of stories out – in the Christmas issue of Woman’s Weekly (double issue dated 29th Nov) and Take a Break’s Fiction Feast.

The Take a Break story, which I called ‘Donkey Work’ but they’ve changed to ‘Stage Fright’ is about a school nativity play. Not the most original of settings, you might think and certainly it’s taken a few years to find this story a home.

Shh, don’t tell anyone but I actually wrote it back in 2008! It was one of the first stories I sent to my (then new) writing buddy Sally Jenkins, when we used to swap our work fortnightly.

It was turned down by Take a Break in 2013 (and probably by other magazines before that but I’ve lost track) but accepted this year, after I jazzed it up a bit. Which just goes to show, never give up on a story that you like!

magazinesThe WW story, on the other hand, was only written this year and was snapped up by WW (if that doesn’t sound too boasty boasty) just over a week after I sent it to them. The inspiration came from a headline I saw somewhere last Christmas – ‘Gold, Frankincense and Fur’. I loved that. And it gave me the idea for a story featuring a wedding ring, a character called Frank and a reluctant mum who’s landed with the school pets over the Christmas holiday.

Of course, it’s too late to submit Christmas stories to the magazines now but there’s nothing to stop you gathering ideas and inspiration for next year, with a view to submitting them from the summer onwards.

Linda Lewis (who’s had 51 womag stories accepted this year – so far! Amazing achievement), recommends watching lots of Christmas films (Channel 5 has a couple on every day at the moment) and – little tip from me – I have a file on my computer ‘Christmas Story Ideas’ into which I bung anything that I spot – half-formed ideas, puns and headlines, anecdotes, things that happen to me and friends.

Talking of which (not that this is necessarily a Christmas story idea but it is something that happened to me), on Thursday I went out for a few hours to the new writing group that I’m involved with (more about that soon) and forgot my mobile phones. (I have a work one and a personal one and they were both left on the side in the kitchen, where I’d been charging them).

Never mind, I thought, it’ll be fine… and guess what? Sod’s law and all that, I got a puncture! Those lovely men at KwikFit in Stratford helped me out again, by fitting a new tyre. This time there were no deer parts involved (only, ahem ‘dear parts’ because this time, of course, I paid them!).

Hope your Christmas is starting to rev up gently..…

Posted in Bonnie, Magazines, Short Stories, Successes, Woman's Weekly | Tagged | 5 Comments

Guest Post: Della Galton & ‘The Reading Group’

dellaI’m delighted to welcome the lovely Della Galton to my blog today.

Writer, editor, creative writing tutor, dog-lover, she’s the agony aunt in Writers Forum magazine and a self-confessed workaholic (I hope I haven’t missed anything off…).

Della’s now involved in an exciting new venture: a series of novellas called ‘The Reading Group’ which launches on 1st December (and the first one’s free to download!).
,
They sound like perfect ‘curling-up-in front-of the-fire’ reading to me and I think the covers are lovely. You could almost EAT them!

december

So now it’s over to Della to tell you a little more and to answer my (very nosy) questions…

What’s It All About?

The Reading Group is a series of novellas about five women, who live in the seaside village of Little Sanderton and come together every month to share their love of reading. No topic is off-limits: books, family, love and loss . . . and don’t forget the glass of red!

There are five novellas. January, February, March, April, Summer Holiday. They are published by Quercus which is part of the Hachette Group and are 99p apiece.

January

Anne-Marie has always considered herself a bit of a matchmaker – never mind that she’s only got one real success under her belt. And this year she’s determined to up her game: Little Sanderton’s singles could certainly benefit from her expertise!

But while Anne Marie thinks she knows what’s best for everyone else, her own life couldn’t be less of a fairytale romance. Between looking after her cranky father and running her own business, she doesn’t have time for a relationship. Her friends in the Reading Group know better though: after all, love can be found in the most unexpected of places . . .

This January the Reading Group is tackling Jane Austen’s Emma . . . which has some uncanny parallels with Anne-Marie’s life, but who’s got time for fiction when romance is in the air….

How did the idea for The Reading Group novellas come about? I think I read somewhere that you were approached/commissioned to write them?

I was approached, you are correct. It wasn’t the first time I’ve been approached by agents to write things. Just before anyone gets too envious! Usually I write a sample, get very excited, then get turned down. But this time I wrote a sample and the agent said those incredibly exciting words, ‘They love it. Write the rest. Contract’s on it’s way.’ OMG doesn’t cover it.

Have you ever been in a reading or book group yourself and if so, did you draw on your experiences of that? Or did you research reading groups? Or did you just make the whole thing up?!

I have never been in a Reading Group, no. Although I’ve been in plenty of writing groups. But I do have a group of amazing female friends. It was kind of based on them.

Who’s your favourite character in the novellas?

I’ve been waiting for someone to ask me this and it keeps changing. It started off with Anne Marie who’s the MC in January. Then it changed to Kate who’s the MC in February. Then It was definitely Jojo who is the MC in March. But I’ve just written April and guess what? I’ve fallen in love with Serena, who is the MC in that! Sorry, that’s not much help is it.

Any plans for more Reading Group novellas after these initial 5? Or is it a case of ‘watch this space’?

There’s a summer holiday one – and it’s possible there might be others. Definitely watch this space.

You’ve changed your name to Della Parker for these books. I’m curious – can I ask the thinking behind that please? (don’t tell me it was a typo!)

Actually, it’s nearly as unexciting as being a typo. I was asked to change so that these novellas would be a ‘debut’. you know, one of those overnight successes that come after 30 years!

The short story that launches the Reading Group is called December. And it’s FREE. Please download it here.

Thank you so much for having me 🙂

It was a pleasure, Della! And good luck with The Reading Group. I’m sure it’s going to be a great success!

reading-group-bookends-2

Posted in Books, E publishing, Guest Post | Tagged , | 6 Comments