Spring Clean Your Life!

sunny-daffodils23-1000x1000In her excellent book ‘A Novel In A Year‘, author Louise Doughty asks “Think what you are prepared to sacrifice. Writing a novel takes many, many hours .. What, in your life, is going to disappear , to allow you the time to write a book?”

Ooh, I’ve scared myself a bit there. Because this doesn’t just apply to novels, does it? Writing of any kind takes time. Time when you could be doing other, really nice and not-so-difficult things.

My writing buddy Sally and I, when we’re feeling a bit ‘moany’ (which isn’t often, I hasten to add, we are normally as cheerful as a couple of spring daffodils), we say things like, “I wish I didn’t have this urge to write. Life would be much easier!”

But, going back to the ‘time’ thing, I have had a bit of a ‘Spring Clean’ this year and I’m feeling better already.

For starters, I’m cutting back on my tutoring work for the Writers Bureau. I’m not taking on any new students, just seeing those I already had, through to the end of their course. So, by the end of this year – maybe sooner – I’ll have stopped completely.

Secondly, I’ve resigned from a Writers Group I belonged to which, admittedly, only met once a quarter but which was very time-consuming, when that quarterly meeting came round and wasn’t really my thing. I was writing things especially for that meeting, in order to try to please the other participants (who didn’t want to read, ahem ‘commercial fiction’) and it was stressing me out.

And finally, the Book Club, bless it, has pretty much gone by the wayside. I haven’t attended a meeting this year and, apart from the May gathering, which we are hosting, I’m not intending to go to many (any?) more. For reasons which I’ve explained before. The people are lovely but I don’t have time to sit round for two hours, chatting. (Get me, sooo busy and important).

There are other things too, that I’ve cut out or cut down on this year, which aren’t writing-related, so I won’t bore you with them.

What about you? Are there obligations in your life that you could avoid or cancel, to give yourself more time to write? I’m not suggesting you stop visiting the in-laws (!) – or that little old lady down the road, who relies on you for her shopping – but perhaps there are things you do, more out of habit than real enjoyment, that you could stop…? Come on, be ruthless, Spring Clean your life – and tell us all about it!

Posted in Finding Time To Write | 21 Comments

Setting Stories In The Past

In WWFS now!

In WWFS now!

‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there…’*

I have a story called ‘Blood Sisters’ in this month’s Woman’s Weekly Fiction Special.

It’s significant (for me, at least!) because, at 4,000 words it’s the longest story I’ve ever had published and also because it’s set in wartime Britain and I hardly ever write historical stories.

It took a long time to write as I had to do a lot of research (much of which, I didn’t use in the end). ‘Blood Sisters’ is about the ‘Lumberjills’, the women who worked in the forests during and after the Second World War, providing much-needed timber at a time when most of the men were serving their country in other ways.

I remember seeing an interview with one of my favourite authors, Sarah Waters, in which she explained that she gets most of her plot ideas from research. She decides on the period of history in which she wants to set her novel and then researches that time for about 6 months (ooh, what luxury!) and from the research, she gets ideas for characters and story lines. She talks about research giving rise to plot ideas on her website here.

And in a much more modest way, that worked for me too with ‘Blood Sisters’. Researching the lives of the Lumberjills threw up lots of interesting facts. For instance, that many of the women who volunteered were from the cities and had never worked on the land before; that the work was hard and dangerous, involving horses, pullies, trucks and, obviously, falling timber and many Lumberjills were injured or even killed and then, there were the prisoners-of-war, who often worked alongside them…

Obviously I can’t give too much of the story away, but I’m sure you’re already beginning to see the ideas and themes that I might have weaved into the story, thanks to the research.

Of course, getting your facts right is important for other reasons too. Put an anachronism into your writing and you can be sure that an eagle-eyed reader will spot it and the story will be spoiled for them. (Which reminds me, did anyone see the burglar alarm on the house in the publicity shot for BBC’s ‘Poldark’ series? It’s set in eighteenth century Cornwall, when, let’s face it, the only burglar alarm was likely to have been a barking dog!).

Of course, that’s TV and we’re talking fiction but it’s similar – even if you have your characters using words that wouldn’t have been around at that time, it can grate!

But although it can be hard work, there is a definite benefit of setting a story in the past: it immediately gives your writing a spark of originality. I bet most competition entries are set in the present day, so if your story is set in Roman Britain or the Swinging Sixties (or even the 1990s!), the judge may well remember it because it’s different.

Do you write or read ‘historical stuff’? Or are you like my mum who claims not to like historical fiction because ‘it’s already happened’. (That’s what she said about Wolf Hall. #MumLogic).

* is of course, the first line of The Go-Between by L P Hartley (One of my favourite books).

Posted in Competitions, Research, Short Stories, Successes, Woman's Weekly | Tagged | 8 Comments

Writing Competitions, Results & Stuff

We've had sunshine today - you too?

We’ve had sunshine today – you too?

There are lots of writing competitions out there.

You know this.

You don’t really need me to list them (though Gayle Beveridge has a great list on her blog here) BUT sometimes I like to ‘highlight’ a couple that are coming up soon and that you might like to know about – or to be reminded of.

23rd March (Deadline just been extended by a week!): Mslexia Short Story Competition

Sorry guys, but this one’s for the LAY-DEEZ only, so you have to be female to enter but you don’t have to subscribe to the magazine and you can live anywhere in the world – oh, and of course, be prepared to cough up the entry fee which is a little on the hefty side at £10.

BUT the prizes are good so I think it’s worth a shot, if you’ve got a story you’re pleased with (up to 2,200 words and on any theme). More details on the site and there are some interesting short story workshop exercises on the site too if you’re looking for inspiration – and regardless of whether you want to enter the competition.

28th March: AsparaWritingFestival Short Story Competition

The closing date for this one has just been extended to 28th March (sshh, between you and me that probably means they haven’t had enough entries) but at £10 for a £100 first prize, I can sort of understand why.. Anyway, if you fancy a go at this one and you’ve got (wait for it) “an unpublished short story of no more than 6,000 words, written in English, a mystery set in the Heart of England, with a hint of Simon de Montfort” (and let’s face it, we’ve all got one of those tucked away in a drawer somewhere, right?) then it might be worth a punt!

31st March: Prima/Mills & Boon Competition
Great opportunity if you have a story idea that would suit Mills & Boon! See the website for more details.

30 April: Momaya Press Short Story Competition

Stories from anywhere, no more than 3000 words long and the entry fee is £8.

You may submit stories that have been published before, as long as you still hold the copyright. Any subject or style is welcome but the theme for this year’s competition is ‘treasure‘ so make sure that features in your story in some way.

Helen M Walters, who writes the ‘Comp Calendar’ in Writers’ Forum is a big fan of this competition because it ‘was instrumental in giving me a start in my writing career’. The organisers hold an awards ceremony for the winners and produce an anthology. I happen to have a half-written story on the theme of Treasure, so I’m definitely going to have a go at this one!

Results

A while ago I told you about the Ann Summers erotica short story competition. I wimped out and didn’t enter but one of my blog followers took the plunge (!) and was one of the runners-up! Well done to Catelyn Cash! (Hmm, not sure if that’s his/her real name but it’s a good one!)

If you want to read the winner and two runners-up (I suggest you have the cold shower at the ready), then here they are!

Even longer ago, I told you about the RAC’s short story competition, which had to be set on a ‘road trip’ in Europe. They’ve announced their winners and the winning stories are here, if you want to have a look.

Womag News

If you’re interested in writing for the Womag (women’s magazine) market and you follow the ‘womagwriter‘ blog, there’s news: Kath McGurl, founder of the very successful website, has handed over the reins to Patsy Collins, while she concentrates on her novels.

Patsy, who also has her own blog here, has hit the ground running with her first post which points out that Best magazine are now accepting submissions… have a look at the blog for more details and I’m sure you’ll join me in wishing Patsy all the best (excuse the pun) in her new venture!

Posted in Competitions, Magazines, Short Stories, Uncategorized | Tagged | 14 Comments

Time For A Sex Change

Hector's HouseHa, yes, it’s a cheap trick but now that I’ve got your attention..

On Friday night I had a most enjoyable time, listening to writer S J Watson ‘in conversation’ as part of Warwick Words Xtra events.

‘SJ’, as you may know, is the author of best-selling thriller Before I Go To Sleep which was made into a film last year (we all wanted to know what Colin Firth was like!!) and his second novel, Second Life zoomed in at number five on the Sunday Times bestseller list within 3 days of being published last month! (jealous? moi?)

What you might not know, is that ‘SJ’ is a man – Steve, to be precise. Because the protagonist of Before I Go To Sleep is a woman (and, indeed, so is the lead character in his second novel), most people think ‘SJ’ must be female. He gets asked all the time about his choice of female protagonist(s). Apparently, one of the many foreign publishers who bought Before I Go To Sleep insisted on seeing a photo of ‘SJ’ – they were so convinced that the book must have been written by a woman.

Which made me think about women who write from the point of view (POV) of men. JK Rowling does a pretty good job with her detective Cormoran Strike and no-one ever questions Kate Atkinson’s ability to get into the head of her male lead character (also, coincidentally, a detective), Jackson Brodie. So, what is it about men writing from the POV of a woman? It seems rather sexist to be surprised that they can do it!

There’s an interesting article here, from The Guardian, asking the question ‘Can Men Write Good Heroines?’

I must admit, I hardly ever write from the POV of a man, just because it doesn’t occur to me to do it. I am more in-tune with women’s issues and potential problems. But perhaps I’m limiting myself! That’s it, I’m having a sex change. The next story I write, will be from the point of view of a man! And..er.. he’s going to be called Hector! Oh no, that’s too Greek-mythology/Hector’s House-ish (remember Hector’s House?).

Do any of you prefer to write as a member of the opposite sex? And, secondly, any ideas for a good hero’s name?

Posted in Events, Men, Novels, West Midlands | Tagged | 12 Comments

How Much Do You Earn From Writing?

Money, money, money, must be funny, in a rich man's world

Money, money, money, must be funny, in a rich man’s world

OK, I’m not really expecting you to answer that, but now that I have your attention…

The reason I’m asking is that a person I know, new to writing, has told me today that very soon, their intention is that writing is to become their ‘main source of income’ and it’s definitely ‘not a hobby’.

Now, while I applaud the ‘not just a hobby’ part and I’m the first to encourage anyone to try to earn hard cash from their writing, I had to voice my concerns to this person and say that it’s very, (VERY!) hard to make even a half-decent income from writing. Even established novelists have to supplement their income by teaching and the like – and if you’re a beginner, it’s even harder to earn anything.

See this SHOCKING article from the Guardian (January 2014), which claims that a writer’s average yearly earnings is £600! Gulp. Gasp. Now, that includes all kinds of writers, including ‘aspiring’ and those who self-publish and hardly make a bean (but are still writers, of course) but it’s still surprising.

Take yours truly. I am not a beginner by any means but could I live on what I make from my weekly writing class, my Writers Bureau tutoring, my ALCS income, my short stories, my (occasional) articles, my (very occasional) competition wins and my e-book of short stories?

*Pause while she laughs hysterically*.

Er.. no. Not even with my part-time job at the charity, which brings in a little bit each month. I can only do what I do because I have the support of a lovely partner, who is happy to pay the bills (and er.. just in case he is reading this and not on the golf course, “I am ETERNALLY grateful! Would you like a cup of tea?”)

What’s really annoying though, is that everyone thinks writers are rolling in it – right? But the reason that there’s such as song-and-dance about novelists who secure a 6-figure deal for their first novel is because it’s so unusual!

My dad, bless him, is convinced that if I can only get a short story accepted for Radio 4 and/or a novel published, I will be made, financially. But everyone knows that the BBC doesn’t pay very well and I read somewhere that the average amount made from a debut novel is £5000.

So, the answer to my friend who wants to make writing their ‘main source of income’?

1) Write for love, not money.
2) Don’t give up the day job!

Posted in E publishing | Tagged | 25 Comments

Going On An ‘Artist’s Date’

Bonnie's birthday bowl

Bonnie’s birthday bowl

Recently I went to Center Parcs and ‘made’ Bonnie this bowl for her second birthday. I know, unbelievable, isn’t it? (Not the bowl – the fact that my pupster is TWO!).

Before you start imagining that Demi Moore/Patrick Swayze potter’s wheel scene from Ghost, I must admit I didn’t actually ‘make’ the bowl but I ..ahem.. ‘designed’ it (it looks better in real life – the white paint is all sparkly! Honest!) and I painted it in the Center Parcs ‘Pottery Painting’ studio.

It was sooo relaxing and so much fun, that although we were allocated a 1.5 hour slot to create our masterpieces, my friend and I ended up staying in there for THREE hours and I found myself thinking, this would make a perfect Artist’s Date.

What is an ‘Artist’s Date’?

This is another of writer-and-teacher Julia Cameron’s ideas. She reckons that if you do Morning Pages every day (I do, I do! I’ve written about it here) and undertake an ‘Artist’s Date’ once a week, you’ll see a ‘sea-change’ in your creativity.

Julia talks about Artist’s Dates here.

An Artist’s Date is, in a nutshell, ‘a festive, solo, weekly expedition’. The only rules are, that it has to be your idea of FUN, has to push your comfort level a little and you have to do it on your own (so my pottery painting didn’t count because I was there with a friend).

What you are trying to do is ‘enchant yourself’, to woo your subconscious and to help feed your creativity. If you keep drawing on your creativity but never top it up, it’ll run dry.

Cameron describes this date as a way to spend quality time with your inner creative self or child. As with any parent/child relationship, she insists that quality time together is important, ‘Your inner artist needs to be taken out, pampered, and listened to.’

Resistance To ‘Artist’s Dates’

Julia Cameron says that most people are highly resistant to the idea of making – and keeping – a date with themselves (and I must admit, it’s something I’ve been meaning to do for ages and keep putting off!).

She says often we’re happy to ‘work’ at our creativity but we don’t want to ‘play’.

The usual excuses – for me and probably for everyone else who doesn’t manage it – are:

1. I don’t have time!
2. What would I do?
3. It all sounds a bit self-indulgent and frivolous
4. On my own? Bor-ing!
5. People will think I’m weird!

What Constitutes An ‘Artist’s Date’?

I’ve seen someone, on another blog, refer to an ‘Artist’s Date’, as ‘getting out of the house’! But I think it’s a little more than that (and actually you don’t have to get out of the house. You could light scented candles, play some Mozart and wallow in a bubble bath for an hour and I’m sure that would count!)

It doesn’t have to be ‘arty’ or ‘high art’ – or expensive, for that matter. (But I don’t think clothes shopping counts as one. Or drinking a bottle of wine, in front of Eastenders – sorry). But you could go to a museum or art gallery, if you think that will be fun and if that idea excites you.

Here are some other suggestions:

• Visit a garden centre or a park (maybe take your camera?)
• Try out a new restaurant
• Take a bus or train to a new town for the day
• Wander through a flea market – or any kind of market
• Go for a bike ride
• Buy yourself a colouring pad and crayons – and crayon for an hour
• Take yourself on a picnic
• Browse the fabrics in a department store
• Visit a National Trust or English Heritage property
• Go to a pound shop and give yourself an allowance of £5 to buy stationery
• Go for a walk near water – on a beach, along a river, around a reservoir (don’t fall in! Remember, you are on your own!)
• Go to a play, to see a film, to a concert
• Visit the children’s section of a book shop and see what books attract you

Are you getting the idea? What do you think? Could you do it? Do you want to do it? I think, if it’s going to work, then you need to put that Artist’s Date in your diary each week – and stick to it.

Let me know if you try it – or if you already go on Artist’s Dates. I’m still intending to try this out so I will report back when I do!

PS: On a completely different note, I have a ‘guest post‘ on Della Galton’s blog today! If you were still thinking about buying my new short story collection (and, er.. by my latest calculation, that’s 97% of you, dear readers.. then that might be all the encouragement you need!). I’ll shut up now. Promise.

Bonnie Bowl 2

Posted in Blogging, E publishing | Tagged | 11 Comments

Guest Post: Kim Fleet – Writing Coach

Kim Fleet author photoKim Fleet is a writer, teacher and writing coach. She’s the author of two novels (so far!) and her short stories and articles regularly appear in women’s magazines, family history and writing magazines.

She’s worked with hundreds of writers, getting them writing from scratch, rebuilding their writing after a break and helping them to reconnect with their writing after a long period when it just hasn’t been fun.

I’ve invited Kim to my blog today – Welcome, Kim! – to talk about how, as writers, we often let the critical, pessimistic part of our minds take control without even realising it and how to combat it using a few simple tricks.

So, it’s over to Kim…..

What messages are you telling yourself, every day, without even realising it? Are you reminding yourself how wonderful, talented and all round fabulous you are? Or are you telling yourself that life is tough, work’s a nightmare and you’re a drudge?

You might be subliminally sending yourself messages that are affecting your mood and shaping your perception of life. Subliminal messages are those messages that you take in without being aware of them. A hidden word in an advertising campaign. A few frames of violence embedded in an otherwise innocuous film. Yet subliminal messages aren’t the preserve of evil advertisers or nasty filmmakers. We could be regularly feeding ourselves with messages that we don’t even notice.

A few years ago, my colleagues gave me a big, chunky mug as a present. The slogan was ‘Overworked’, and underneath the mug it read ‘Underpaid’. That was how we all felt. Eventually, I left the job, taking the mug with me, and for years it’s been my ‘morning coffee’ mug. A couple of weeks ago, I suddenly saw the mug with new eyes, and wondered, ‘What message am I giving myself each day? That I’m overworked and underpaid? Do I want to see my life that way?’ (Answer – No.)

Mug shot

It’s often said that you get what you focus on. You attract into your life what you think about. Think that you’re unlucky and you’ll be unlucky. You just won’t see opportunities that are there for you. Your brain filters out all signals that contradict your beliefs – it searches for evidence that what you think is correct.

I didn’t want to attract overwork and low pay into my life. I didn’t want to believe that I was a drudge, and I didn’t want to reinforce this belief subconsciously every day of my life, so I demoted the mug and it’s now awaiting reincarnation as a flower pot. Instead, I have a jolly mug decorated with beach huts that makes me smile and reminds me how much I love being by the sea.

I started to wonder what other messages we send ourselves. Hands up who’s ever had ‘Ihatework’ as a password? I changed all my passwords to motivational slogans – Iamlucky, Iamworthit, Happydays. It’s a small thing, but I probably type in those passwords ten times a day, and get ten little bursts of optimism because of it.

Then I looked at my workspace – cluttered, a teetering in-tray, a pile of receipts to write up, and a huge to-do list. The clutter was stressing me out – a constant reminder that there was lots and lots and lots to do.

I set aside an afternoon and cleared it all, then put a posy of scented flowers on my desk. For me, this created a calm, clean space in which to work. As for that to-do list – I now limit it to three things a day. It forces me to focus on the key priorities in my life. Each morning I ask myself, ‘How will completing this task get me closer to achieving my goals?’ If it won’t, it doesn’t go on the list. I tick off each item once I finish it, and there’s always a great sense of satisfaction at the end of the day when the list is struck through.

What messages are you sending yourself? Are they building you up or knocking you down? What can you change so you’re reminded how fabulous you are and that life is good?

Thanks, Kim! Lots of food for thought there. As it’s Valentine’s Day (aagh, I nearly managed to avoid mentioning it), perhaps the message to us writers really is ‘Love Yourself’!

Kim’s offering a free guide to the causes and cures of writer’s block on her website, banishwritersblock.com. Her latest novel, Paternoster, will be published in June by the Mystery Press.

heart20-240x220

Posted in Guest Post, Ideas | Tagged , | 16 Comments