Another On-Line Column from My Personal Website


A quick NaNoWriMo update: I am still on target but as we’re not even half way through November yet, there’s plenty of time for it all to go terribly wrong!

Yesterday, I didn’t know what to write. Yes, I was stuck. So, I set out to write 1677 (the daily target) words on the weather (the weather in my novel, I hasten to add, not just what it was doing outside).

But after a couple of lines about the rain and cold (hmm, which actually was what it was doing outside. Funny, that), I got an idea, so I was off, into a whole scene that had nothing to do with the weather at all.

If you’re doing NaNo, how’s it going? If you’re feel like you’re flagging – like I did yesterday – there are lots of ‘pep talks’ on the website to gee you up!


Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook (x 2)

Do you write for children or young adults? The lovely people at the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook are running a free competition on their website for unpublished writers of children’s MG and YA fiction. (Apparently, MG – Middle-grade fiction = books written for readers between the ages of 8 and 12, while YA – young adult – = books written for readers roughly between the ages of 12 and 18).

NB: They’re NOT looking for picture books (but there may be something coming soon, so keep an eye on the website).

All the details are here and you’ve got until midnight on 9th December to submit your entry. Good luck!

If writing for children’s not your thing, don’t despair: the Writers’ & Artists’ annual (free) short story competition is still open to entries until 13th February 2020. Scroll down a bit on this page and you’ll see all the information about it.

Evesham Festival of Words

And talking of competitions, once again I am a ‘reader’ for the Evesham Festival of Words Short Story competition, which has just been launched for 2020 and has a closing date of 20th March.

It’s not free – entry is £5 – but sometimes (turning a negative into a positive, now), when your hard-earned cash is involved, I think it makes you work harder on your entry. First prize is £150 plus trophy and there are cash prizes for 2nd and 3rd place too.

Three particularly fabulous things about the Evesham competition (yes, I am biased):

1. The writers of all 10 shortlisted entries are invited to the awards night in June and will have the opportunity to meet the special writer guest (we haven’t announced who that’ll be yet but in the past we’ve had Katie Fforde, Prue Leith and Mike Gayle).

2. We also run a junior short story competition which is FREE to enter.

3. If you win or are placed, you have the option of having your story published on the website, or not. In other words, unlike many other competitions that publish not only the winners but often the shortlisted stories too, you are free to do something else with that story, if you so wish.

All the details are here.

Go on an ‘Artist’s Date’ (for free!)

You know how I witter on sometimes about ‘Artists’ Dates’?

Well, if you buy a lottery ticket or scratch card (so it’s not completely free, obviously), between 23 and 30 November, there are lots of lovely places you can visit for free – or at a reduced rate – thanks to the National Lottery.

Some National Trust properties are taking part, for example, so you could save yourself quite a bit (some NT properties cost over £20 to get in!).

Have a look at what’s on offer by putting in your postcode and let me know if you head off anywhere on an Artist’s Date (don’t forget your lottery ticket!)

Knobbly Monsters

And finally, do you know what a ‘knobbly monster’ is? (Sounds a bit rude but honestly, it’s not). And yes, it IS to do with writing! In fact, the title of this blog post is an attempt at one. Clumsy and a bit stupid-sounding? Yep, that’s right!

I didn’t know what a Knobbly Monster was and neither did fellow on-line columnist of a personal website, Alex Gazzola, until recently. Read what he’s got to say about it here and all will be revealed!

Posted in Artist's Dates, Competitions, Short Stories, West Midlands | Tagged , | 1 Comment

NaNo on my mind.. (and anti-stress reading!)

Beautiful tree (beech??) from a Worcestershire walk this week.

Just a quick one from me today because I am ‘NaNoWriMo’-ing and it is taking up all my writing headspace and time.

So far (I know, it’s only been 6 days!) I am on target but anything could happen over the next three weeks.

I think it has helped that I’ve a) done it twice before (when I wrote a load of twaddle, to be honest) and b) I had a rough plot/idea and some characters already in mind, so I wasn’t starting completely from scratch. In other words, I’ve learned from my mistakes of the last two NaNo occasions, which is something to celebrate!

Novels That ‘Shaped Our World’

As you may have seen, BBC Arts have come up with a list of 100 ‘novels that shaped our world’ (chosen by a panel of ‘leading writers, curators and critics’) and of course, I had to look at it and see how many I’ve read.

Actually, I think they’ve cheated a bit, because quite a few of the ‘novels’ are actually whole series (eg: the Narnia Chronicles, the Twilight Series, the Harry Potter books and The Lord of The Rings Trilogy) but, totting them up, I’ve read a rather shameful 33. Exactly a third. How about you? Here’s the list and be honest, now!

Oh, and a note to a friend of mine who occasionally reads this blog and who has been reading ‘A Suitable Boy’ for about a hundred years (since it was published, in fact).. yes, ‘A Suitable Boy’ is on the list! Hurrah!

Today is ‘National Stress Awareness Day’ and it’s a well-known fact that reading reduces stress, so I will definitely be trying to get through a few more books on that list. Ahem, once November is over…

Best pub fire I’ve sat beside in a long time! (The Star Inn, Ashton Under Hill)

Posted in Books, Novels | Tagged | 9 Comments

Birthdays & An Introduction to My Birthday ‘Twins’

My birthday’s been and gone, NaNoWriMo is looming (more of that anon), I’ve changed the bed to a higher-tog duvet and the new ‘leaf-y’ header is on the blog.

So, I declare it officially autumn/Autumn! (never sure whether seasons should have a capital or not, are you?)

It was my birthday last week and I managed to have a whole 7 days’ worth of treats and celebrations (and it wasn’t even a Big One), starting last Monday when we went to Cirencester for a mini-break.

Our hotel room was a ‘library’ full of book shelves and even a real typewriter! (No, it didn’t end up in my case but it was rather tempting…I mean, look at it!)

Last weekend I was at my friend’s in Costa del MK (that’s Milton Keynes to the uninitiated) and yesterday I was whisked off to sunny Stratford-on-Avon by my friend Chris, for lunch at the Four Teas, which is a lovely 40s-themed café (‘all the fun of the forties, without the rationing’), which I can highly recommend if you ever visit (but probably best to book).

In Stratford centre, the river Avon had burst its banks, as it does every now and again but the swans were happy.

Bandstand in Stratford, semi-submerged!

Birthday ‘Twins’

Over the past few years, I’ve identified 3 birthday ‘twins’: other writers who share my birthday and all of whom I’ve met in real life, on writing holidays and courses and one – in the case of Alice – that I actually met ‘virtually’, through our respective blogs, before I met her in real life.

We always send birthday congratulations to each other on Twitter and generally get very excited about the fact that we all share a birthday (October 23rd in case you’re interested).

They are of course, all very lovely and talented people (who share my angst regarding star signs. Are we Scorpio or Libra? We’re ‘on the cusp’ you see!), so I thought I’d given them a little mention. I hope I haven’t got anything wrong or missed out anything very important. If so, they will need to let me know and I will make the necessary tweaks!

Here they are, in no particular order (as they say on Strictly):

Ninette Hartley
Ninette used to live in Italy (lucky her!) which is where I first met her and now she lives in Dorset but she still zooms around all over the place. Last time I saw her – in March this year – she was writing a novel set in WW2. Ninette blogs here and she’s just started an MA in Creative Writing, which has made me very envious!

Celia Anderson
I also met Celia in Italy, back in 2013, on the same writing course/retreat as Ninette. Celia’s writing career began with the competition win of a contract from Piatkus Entice and continued with more ebooks. Following early retirement, she signed with an agent in 2017, which resulted in a two-book deal. The first of these, 59 Memory Lane, was inspired by the find of a cache of old family letters dating back to 1945 and you can read all about it here.

Umbria in Italy, where I met Celia and Ninette

Alice Elliott
Alice has written lots of short stories for women’s magazines and I’m very impressed that she’s now branched out into pocket novels (if you want to know more about writing pocket novels, see here for the My Weekly guidelines and here for the People’s Friend pocket novel guidelines.

One of the many benefits of becoming a pocket novelist is that you can join the RNA (Romantic Novelists’ Association) as a ‘full member’. Alice’s RNA page is here.

NaNoWriwMo 2019
So, are you gearing up for NaNoWriMo this year? I’m going to give it a go, as I need to try to up the wordcount on my WIP. Good luck if you’re entering the fray on 1st November (yes, that’s this Friday!) and if you haven’t got a clue what I’m talking about, all the info’s on here.

Posted in Cotswolds, Magazines | Tagged | 13 Comments

How to Mute Words on Twitter! (and other stuff)

Right. I am not going to mention the ‘B’ word (UK readers will understand) or the ‘C’ word (clue: 25th Dec) at all. This is going to be a happy post!

I have actually muted those words* on my Twitter feed and it makes for a much more enjoyable read.

You’re going to ask me how to do that now, aren’t you? (Because every time I say I’ve muted words, someone asks me how to do it). If you are a fan-of-Twitter and want to know how to mute words, scroll to the end of this post and I’ll put it on there.

‘Blockley Rocks’

When I was out and about with the Bonnie-dog this week, I found that lovely painted stone sitting on a wall! And on the back, was a polite instruction: I could either keep the stone, or re-hide it but if I could please post about my ‘find’ on the Facebook page (‘Blockley Rocks’), they would be delighted. So, I did.

And the next day, after I’d posted on Facebook and re-hidden the stone, I found another one. Also very sweet (they are painted by children in the village).

So now, it’s a thing! If I don’t find a stone every time I take the dog out, I’m going to be very disappointed! It’s amazing how little things can cheer you up!

Writing Weekend

Last weekend I was away, on a novel writing retreat/course, led by Alison May and Janet Gover.

I’ve been on a few of their courses now and they are always fun and inspiring.

Over the past few months, what with one thing and another, I’ve hardly made any progress on ‘The Novel’ (don’t mention the RNA NWS fiasco…) and Alison suggested tasking myself to write 100 words a day on it.

I know, it’s a pathetic little amount, isn’t it? No more than about 3 or 4 sentences. But the thing is, it’s achievable. Even if I’ve done no writing for the whole day, I can manage that before I go to bed. And of course, I usually write more than 100 words. It’s much better than the alternative, which is probably to write nothing. So, I’m giving it a go. And I’ve got a lovely spreadsheet to fill in because that gives me a satisfying buzz.

But I’ve also decided, that I’m not allowed to go on any more courses until I’ve actually WRITTEN more. A lot more.

On that note, I found this post by novelist Anna Ellory very interesting, on finding time to write every day. I particularly like the ‘short-chapters-which-you-can-fill-out-later’ idea.

Hands Up!

My OH was supposed to be on a golf trip this week but two days before the proposed outing, he was due to have a fairly routine operation on his finger. Local anaesthetic and all that.

“It’ll be fine,” he assured me.

It was his right index finger and (if you know anything about golf, apparently this will make sense), that finger doesn’t really do anything. Just sort of rests on the golf club, you know.

So, then he had the operation and I went to pick him up (he needed a ‘responsible adult’ to collect him but I was the only person available) and he came out of the hospital looking like this:

And yes, dear Reader, the golf trip was cancelled.

How To Mute Words On Twitter

Click the button with 3 dots on the left hand side of the screen (see pic)

Click ‘Settings and Privacy’

Click ‘Privacy and Safety’.

Scroll down and under ‘Safety’ (on the right hand side), there’s a button for ‘Muted’.

Press that and a little message pops up telling you what that means, then there’s a + sign to add words, phrases and names (or anything) that you want to mute, so they don’t come up on your feed at all. Simples! Let me know if it works for you or if I need to tweak my instruction manual!

*‘C’ is muted on my Twitter feed until 1st December, when I will reinstate it (if I remember).

Posted in Cotswolds, Finding Time To Write, Novels | Leave a comment

In Which I Try To ‘Get a Grip!’

Do you know the difference between a bark and a vicious snarl? Yes, me too.

This morning, on our walk across the fields, placid little Bonnie and I encountered a dog that looked friendly enough but after a cursory ‘hello’ sniff, decided to launch itself at my fur-baby with a teeth-bared snappy-snarl, until my (involuntary) scream stopped it in its tracks.

This has worked a few times now. It just comes out and every single time, the aggressive dog stops and looks round in a ‘What The Hell Was That?’ way. Quite handy.

“Don’t touch my dog!” I also added (to the dog), for good effect (this was because I was embarrassed about the hysterical scream) but it did rather provoke the two women who were with the dog.

“Oh, she was only giving a little bark!” one said, dismissively and when I disagreed with this, the other one added, “Oh, get a grip!”

And so it went on. It was, quite honestly, dog-walk rage and left me feeling pretty horrible (and annoyed with myself for getting so het up).

But I am stressed – aren’t we all? – and tired – aren’t we all? – and sometimes it just takes one little thing, as was demonstrated this morning – to send me over the edge! Eek. I need a ‘Don’t Mess With Me’ sign around my neck.

Anyway… breathes deeply.. let’s talk about something nicer.

Like the fact that the new village magazine ‘The Voice’ has now featured 2 of my short stories and are ‘begging for more’!

Of course, I’m not getting paid for these; they’re all stories that have already been published (some time ago) but, as I didn’t sell all rights, the copyright still belongs to me and I can do what the heck I like with them. Including, giving them to the local magazine for free.

Full Fart story. The world needs more of these.

And (*childish alert*), I was sent a copy of the Swedish magazine Allas yesterday, as I had a story in it.

I flicked through, as you do, wishing I could read Swedish (they have some fabulous recipes, for example) and then I spotted another story – not one of mine, I hasten to add – and here it is, in all its glory!

Made me laugh, anyway.

I looked up the title using Google translate, which may or may not be very reliable and apparently it means, ‘Full Speed in Peace and Quiet’ which may become my new mantra – rather than ‘get a grip!’

Christmas Flash Fiction

Loathe as I am to start using the ‘C’ word – I have muted it from my Twitter feed, I kid you not – I have discovered a nice little (free!) Christmas competition that might be of interest to you and here are the details:

Weird Christmas Flash Fiction Competition

You have until 2nd November to email your weird flash fiction Christmas story (max 350 words). There are (cash) prizes and you can enter as many times as you like. It’s fun! It’s an American site but anyone can enter (in fact, last year’s winner was from the UK).

Have a look here for all the details – and a link to last year’s winning stories (they are seriously weird! But … mostly … in a good way!). Good luck if you decide to enter!

Posted in Bonnie, Competitions | Tagged | 6 Comments

Free Mentoring Opportunity – c/d 31st October 2019

Hello! It’s the first day of autumn (and, typically, it’s been raining here for most of the day, so it really does feel like the end of summer). It’s also Bruce Springsteen’s 70th birthday! And if that doesn’t make you feel old, nothing will.

Novel Mentoring:

Here’s a great opportunity for some free mentoring from novelist, tutor and RNA Chairwoman, Alison May – if you fit the criteria! Read carefully and, if you do, apply here by 31st October! Good luck.


My article writing course has arrived from the Writers Bureau! Exciting! (And yet another excuse to neglect The Novel, while I tinker about with non-fiction and attempt my first assignment).

I also have a story in the current issue of People’s Friend. I called it ‘Girls’ Holiday’, they’ve called it ‘A Hasty Departure’ and it has a very nice illustration:

I was also the winner of this month’s Writers Forum’s ‘Flash Comp’.

Every month, the WF editor sets a competition with a tight deadline (usually just a couple of weeks). It’s different every time but last month you had to write a 500 (max) word story about the last day of a holiday fling, written in close third person.

I am a firm believer that, when it comes to competitions, if you stick to the rules, you’re always in with a shout because so many people flout them! (Or at least, just fail to read the rules properly). For this competition, the editor admitted he had to ‘reject many entries for breaking the rules’. Over a third of the entries were written in the first person (‘I/me’) rather than third person. So, it was probably the case that my story wasn’t the best submitted BUT I followed the rules.

It’s always worth checking the rules another two or three times before you press send on your entry for a competition. It could be the difference between winning or disqualification.


Today, I’ve been teaching. I was asked to take 2 x 2 hour creative writing classes in Chipping Norton, as their usual tutor was unable to be there. It was fun – they were two great groups and I’m seeing them again in a fortnight’s time – but phew, I’m whacked!

One of the topics we talked about today was titles (eek… a humungous spider has just run across the kitchen floor!). It’s not easy to choose a title, is it? (I’m often stuck for a blog post title!) Too obvious and it gives the game away; too dull and you might as well not bother.

Starting with a title can help. Sometimes titles of songs can act as a trigger for a story or a poem (there’s no copyright on titles, either!). Here‘s a list of Bruce Springsteen’s songs. Maybe one of these will give you an idea for a piece of writing? (‘Queen of the Supermarket’, anyone?!)


I haven’t got around to reading The Handmaid’s Tale or The Testaments yet because I’ve been reading Liane Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers. It’s had mixed reviews (so many people seem to hate it!) but I loved it. I’d been looking forward to reading it all summer and it didn’t disappoint. Anyone else read it? What did you think?

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A Word (or two) Can Change Your Life!

You never know what a throwaway remark or comment can do to a person. It can change their life…

I was pretty good at German at school (I realised later) but I wasn’t planning to study it at university: I’d applied to study English.

But when I did my ‘A’ level German oral exam, the external examiner asked me whether I was planning to study German at uni and when I answered, Nein he pulled out his bottom lip and said, Schade. That means ‘what a shame, too bad’.

It made an impression on me; I didn’t forget. I changed my course, after the first year (they wouldn’t let me do it before) and did a joint honours degree in German and English instead of single honours. I spent a year in Germany, met different people and had different jobs than I’d have had if that man – whose name I didn’t even know – hadn’t uttered that one word, that schade.

Along the same lines, I was reading about author Craig Thomas (amongst other novels, he wrote Firefox, later made into a Clint Eastwood film and was credited with inventing the ‘techno-thriller’).

He used to live around the corner from me, when I was at school. Every day when I walked home for my lunch – and back again – I’d pass his house and hear the ‘tap tap tap’ of his typewriter (because this was the early ‘80s and people used typewriters then! Or maybe it was a word processor? Anyway, I could hear the tapping!)

Thomas was a teacher who had been trying to write radio scripts for the BBC, for years, without success. Eventually, one of the editors who read his outlines, gave him a piece of advice. He told him he could write but that rather than radio drama, he should try his hand at writing novels instead. As Thomas said, “he provided what was the single most important piece of practical advice I have ever received. It changed my life.”

The success of Firefox meant that Craig Thomas could become a full-time writer.

It’s fascinating, don’t you think? Has anyone ever given you an unprompted piece of advice – or just said a word or two – that changed your life?


Here are a couple of FREE-to-enter writing competitions, that might be of interest:

The Love Reading VERY Short Story Award 2020 – closing date: 31st October 2019

They are looking for stories of between 600-1000 words, in any genre and from writers (published or unpublished) anywhere in the world. Only one entry per person and your story must be previously unpublished. From a short list of 10, the judges will pick one winner (£300 prize) and there will also be a ‘People’s Choice’ prize of £200.

Well done to ‘Love Reading’ because when they ran this competition last year, there were no prizes (just ‘exposure’ – I wrote about it here). It’s good to see that this time there are some nice cash prizes to be won!

Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook Short Story Competition closing date: 13th Feb 2020

There’s no theme and no entry free. They are looking for a short story aimed at adults, of no longer than 2000 words. There is one prize of an Arvon course (worth £1000 apparently. Wow, they’ve got very expensive!). The terms and conditions seem to be those from last year’s competition but assuming that they’re the same, you can enter the competition from outside the UK, if you so wish. Good luck!

Posted in Competitions | 1 Comment