Once More Unto The Beach, dear Friends!

Life’s a beach!

Hello there! Whoops, two whole weeks since my last post but I hope you can forgive me because I’ve been on my holibobs/honeymoon in beautiful, sunny, North Norfolk. And beach bum Bonnie came too!

As you can probably see from the photos, even though it was the height of summer, there were still miles and miles of empty beaches. Bliss!

B.E.A.C.H Best Escape Anyone Can Have

Since my return, though, terrible things have happened: I’ve heard the weather referred to as ‘Warm November’; I’ve seen Christmas cards.. shelves and shelves of them.. in the Card Factory (*shudders*), there are ‘Back to School’ adverts everywhere and apparently, in Scotland (poor Scotland), today is The Last Day of The Summer Holidays.

Noooo! This can’t be true! There are still weeks and weeks of the summer left, surely!? Or am I just in denial? Anyway, I know there are some of you out there who still have to take your summer hols, or are on them now (Chris, in Devon?!) so enjoy and I hope the sun shines for you!

Anyway, not much writing’s been done while I’ve been away (in fact, none) but I did manage to read a few books, namely: Big Sky by Kate Atkinson. It’s the latest in her detective Jackson Brodie series and was good (although it’s made me want to read all the earlier ‘Jackson Brodies’ now and I can’t let myself because I don’t have time).

I also read Rachel’s Holiday by Marian Keyes, which I’ve tried to read in the past and couldn’t get into but this time it grabbed me from the first page and I loved it.

If you haven’t read any of her books, don’t dismiss MK as ‘chick lit’ (eek, horrible expression). Amongst the silliness and the fun, she always deals with serious issues too and in Rachel’s Holiday it’s drug addiction and rehab and it gets quite dark at times (and is, I suspect, partly-autobiographical as MK spent time in rehab herself, many moons ago).

And finally … not quite on holiday but within 24 hours of returning, I read Joanna Cannon’s medical memoir ‘Breaking and Mending’, which was waiting for me on my return. It doesn’t actually come out until next month but.. ahem..*stands a little taller*… my ‘friend’ Jo (OK, I interviewed her in June, so maybe we’re not quite besties…yet) sent me a proof and signed it, which was lovely jubbly.

And it was brilliant, I should add (the book). My only complaint… I’d have liked it to be about ten times longer!

There was a ‘thing’ on Twitter yesterday, which was fun (and yes, wasted an hour or so). Writer Adam Sharp who likes to makes lists, came up with a list of 10 words that he was ‘petitioning’ to have banned. These included:

1.‘Hols/holibobs’ (guilty as charged! See above)
2. ‘Hubby/wifey’ (we have resisted that so far…)
3. ‘Fur babies’ (hmm, I don’t say that but as someone who calls their dog ‘Baby Ange’, I’m not far off! And yes, as my friend said, it does sound like a character from East Enders!)
4. ‘Literally’ (because lots of people use that literally all the time).
5. ‘Feels’ (as in ‘all the feels’. That’s a young person’s thing. Must admit I’ve only just come across it and I don’t use it. Hurrah!)

Are there any words you’d like to ban or put into a virtual Room 101?

Letting her hair (fur) down!

Take nothing but memories, leave nothing but pawprints

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Posted in Bonnie, Books | Tagged | 12 Comments

‘Read Aloud’ Button on Word + a Monologue-Writing Competition (free!)

Boasty-Boasty Corner

I’ve had a little success since I last wrote: my entry in the TamLitFest short story competition came second! Hurrah.

It’s only a £50 prize (still very welcome!) and the story will probably be going into an anthology and might also be recorded for local radio. It’s encouraging and motivating to have one’s work ‘recognised’, albeit in a very small way (and one of the main reasons I occasionally get organised enough to enter writing competitions!).

Also, this week, an article of mine has appeared in the September (September!?) issue of Writing Magazine. I called it ‘It’s All Been Done Before’, they changed it to ‘Lacks Originality?’ (hmm) but anyway, it’s there, on page 54.

I’d completely forgotten what I’d written, as I submitted it to them back in February (once I’d got the ‘OK’ from the editor to actually write it. Never send a whole article ‘on spec’, always send a pitch first. I’m sure you know that!).

It had been so long since I’d written it, that I was able to read the article as though it was by someone else. My conclusion? Not bad!

That Extra Wedding Guest

There was an extra guest at our wedding earlier this month. Someone who didn’t need a seat, or their own room or even any food or drink. My husband’s great-niece (as it turned out! No-one knew if his niece was expecting a boy or a girl), was born yesterday and is called Penelope!

Unusual/’old fashioned’ names are making a comeback, aren’t they? (And, just as an aside, growing up in Ireland, my mum had never come across the name, so when she read about a character called Penelope in a book, she assumed it was pronounced ‘Penny-lope’). Anyway, we were very grateful that little Penelope – all 8lb 8oz of her – didn’t decide to make an early entrance and steal our thunder on the day!

‘Read Aloud’

I’ve just discovered the ‘Read Aloud’ button on the review screen of Word (or at least, on my version. They might not all have it, I suppose).

You can write a story and then press the button, sit back and let the computer read it to you (in a robotic male voice that gets the intonation wrong quite a lot of the time!). It’s not perfect but it’s not bad.

A story that I wrote without a lump in the throat, actually brought tears to my eye when I listened to it (and no, not because the reading out was so awful). Anyway, have a go yourself, if you can find the tab/button (and if you want to stop it, you just press the tab again).

Lancaster One Minute Monologue Competition – Free to Enter c/d 31st August

And finally, if you like writing monologues – or think you might like to – there’s a competition here asking for monologues of 1 minute, which is free to enter.

You can submit up to 4 monologues and some of the entries will be performed at Lancaster library on 23rd November. There are some examples on the website (recordings of monologues performed last year). ‘Families’ is a really interesting one. Just one word! Repeated in different ways and with different facial expressions and stresses. (So that’s all about the performance, rather than the words) and I thought ‘Thirty Five Years Ago’ was good too (and is performed with no script! Eek!)

The best written monologue will win a £50 prize. The top 30 monologues will be read at the live event (you don’t have to be there – they will nominate someone to read your monologue if necessary) and the one judged by the audience to be the best will also win a £50 prize.

If you live in the Lancaster area, you might also like to go along to the (free) workshop they’re holding on August 16th at the Toll House Hotel 2pm – 4pm. Book your place at Eventbrite.

Good luck! I might have a go at this myself – it looks like fun!

The most famous Penelope of them all? Ms Pitstop herself.

Posted in Competitions, Magazines, Successes | Tagged | 8 Comments

Morning Pages v. 750 words … and lots of other stuff!

Do you remember, back in March, I told you about ‘750 words’?

The plan was, I was going to try it for a month (because it’s free for a month!) and I think I promised to report back.

Well, the truth is, I gave up after a couple of weeks. It’s just not the same as doing Morning Pages by hand, in my humble opinion. It was too fast and too ‘computer-ish’ and it felt like cheating.

Morning Pages takes me between 25 and 30 minutes (depending on whether the dog’s jumping on me) and it’s much more ‘mentally soothing’ and methodical – it’s much more of a process. I have at least 6 (probably more like 10) A4-sized notepads filled with Morning Pages which I’m going to read through this week.

When I do my MPS, if I come up with a story or article idea, I mark the spot in the margin with a big asterix, so when I go back to my jottings, months, or even years later, they’re easy to pick out. It’s going to be interesting to see what (if any!) ‘treasure’ is in those books!

Wedding Pics
We’ve had our wedding pictures back from the photographer. Over 400 of them! Don’t panic, I won’t bore you with any more! (It’s tempting though. The one of my new brother-in-law, strolling across the lawn in his dressing gown, coming from the spa, is a bit of a classic but I don’t suppose he’d thank me for sharing it).

BUT, I’m sure you’ll approve when I tell you that the guests had to WRITE when they sat down for the wedding breakfast! Before they got any food, in fact (Just little cards, in which they gave us their ‘advice’!). And I do feel at liberty to post a couple of those pics.

Cathy’s Comps & Calls
If you’re interested in submitting your work and entering competitions, have a look at Cathy’s Comps and Calls.

Everything that Cathy Bryant posts is free to enter and can be entered on-line, so it’s a great resource. She’s also written a book about entering writing competitions and making money.

You can subscribe to Comps and Calls to get a notification email whenever a new monthly listing appears.

NAWGFest 2019
And on a completely different note, is anyone going to NAWGFest at Warwick University, at the end of August? (NAWG stands for the ‘National Association of Writers’ Groups’ if you wondered).

Many moons ago, I was signed up as one of the tutors and I can’t believe the time has almost come! I’ll be teaching 4 workshops on short stories and serials, so if you’re going to be there, do come and say hello (even if you choose other courses instead of mine. I won’t take offence!).

Members of NAWG get a discounted rate at the conference but it’s open to anyone and you can attend for the whole weekend or just a day, if that suits.

It’s the first time I’ve been to this event and I’m really looking forward to it!

And if you’re looking for a writing group to join, there’s a very handy directory on the NAWG website here.

Posted in Competitions, Events, West Midlands | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

Judging Short Stories (and Happy Endings….)

Now that Evesham Festival is over and the names of the winners of the short story competition have been announced, I can give you some feedback on my experience as a judge.

Another reader and I read all 126 stories and whittled them down (anonymously) to a longlist of 15, which were then sent to Vanessa Gebbie, the main judge.

It’s quite an eye-opener, reading that many competition entries and I learned a lot about what makes a good short story (and what doesn’t!), so it’s time to share my findings:

THE TITLE
A good title really lifts your story and can entice the reader to read it. Many entrants clearly hadn’t given much thought to their titles (there were several one word titles and clichés, even amongst the longlisted 15). Not important? But the title is the first impression a judge has of your story and your writing. Plus, if a judge can’t decide between two stories, the title could be a deciding factor.

The stories that took first and second place in the Evesham competition this year both had good titles (‘Heavy Traffick Trilogy’ by Alwyn Bathan and ‘Trudy North. Righteous Soul’ by Marcia Mackey).

IS IT A SHORT STORY?
If you’re entering a short story competition, ask yourself whether what you’re submitting fits the bill. It doesn’t matter how good it is: if it isn’t a short story, it won’t win.

We had monologues, a short play, character studies, autobiographical pieces and entries that were very well-written but that were clearly extracts from a novel.

In a short story, something has to happen (several entries fell down here). Even if the ‘something happening’ is only that the main character changes his/her mind. The hero must be changed in some way and shouldn’t be the same at the end of the story as at the beginning.

THE ‘HOOK’ AND THE TWIST
Lots of entrants clearly knew that your first line or two should act as a ‘hook’ and grab the reader but think ‘intriguing’ rather than ‘shocking’. There were quite a few shocking first lines, which then proved to be a hard act to follow (and which seemed too gimmicky and contrived).

Ditto twist-in-the-tale endings. I know there’s a school a thought that short stories should end with a twist (they really don’t have to) but twist stories are hard to pull off. If they don’t work, then the whole story just reads like a long joke, leading to a punchline.

SPELLING/GRAMMAR
Watch for typos and grammatical mistakes. Proof read your story carefully before you submit it; ask someone else to read it; read it aloud. Most entrants didn’t have any problems with this but a spelling mistake on the second line of a story (this happened) is off-putting and made me wonder how much care had gone into crafting and polishing that story.

CHARACTER
Short stories are essentially about character and it was no coincidence that most of the 15 stories that we long-listed had a strong central character, undergoing some kind of conflict or problem.

A short story is not a saga; there simply isn’t room for lot of characters (it’s confusing for the reader and we don’t know who we’re rooting for). Ask yourself, ‘Whose story is this?’ and focus on that character.

EMOTIONAL RESPONSE
Only a handful of stories brought a tear to my eye, or made me laugh or feel shocked and those were the stories that rose to the top of the pile. Your story needs to stand out from the crowd; it needs to be memorable.

Many were perfectly nice, well-written stories but they were also rather bland (and I know I’m guilty of this myself, when I’ve entered competitions in the past. This is what I mean when I say I’ve learned from this process!).

I got to the end of many stories and thought ‘So what?’ That’s what you want to avoid: the ‘So what?’ response from the judge. And by ‘emotional response’ I don’t mean by murdering someone in the first paragraph because I won’t care about any of the characters at that stage. That emotional response will only come by creating a convincing scenario and compelling characters and yes, I know, that’s not easy in 2000 or so words.

When she ran a short story workshop for us last October, the judge Vanessa Gebbie urged everyone to be brave and to take risks with their writing and that’s certainly what you need to do, to make your story stand out. A particular judge may not like it, of course but I think it’s true to say that no judge will choose a bland (or ‘safe’) story as a winner.

THE ENDING
I’ve come to the conclusion (ha! Pun intended), that when it comes to a competition entry, your ending is actually more important than your beginning.

This is because most judges worth their salt will plough on through the story, even if the start is not that gripping. A good ending can lift an otherwise ‘OK’ story but a poor ending – as I witnessed several times (and oh, it was so frustrating) – can ruin an otherwise fabulous story. So many stories just fizzled out at the end, as though the writer had run out of steam, or word count, or ideas. So many endings were a cop-out, or confusing or just plain dull. There were 5 or 6 stories that were in contention for the longlist but their disappointing endings let them down.

You don’t have to tie everything up, there doesn’t (as I said earlier), have to be a twist – or even a happy ending. But the ending does have to be ‘satisfying’ for the reader (and that’s part of your challenge, as a writer, to work out what ‘satisfying’ might be!).

And in other news…

I got married last Saturday! Wheee! Kept that all a bit quiet, didn’t I? That’s only because I didn’t want to jinx things. Turns out I’m really superstitious!

Here are a few little pics of the day, if you’d like to see them:

Posted in Competitions, Cotswolds, Short Stories | Tagged | 41 Comments

Three Things About Evesham Festival 2019

1. It was HOT! (Saturday was the hottest day of the year. 32 degrees!)

2. I met author Mike Gayle on the Friday night, when he was the guest author at our launch event and he also announced the winners of our short story competition.

3. I did my interview with Sunday Times best-selling author, Joanna Cannon. More of that anon but first:

I went for a quick walk with Bonnie tonight and this is what the sky – and the light – looked like at 9.15pm.

Why don’t I do this more often? (Answer: because I am usually tucked up on the sofa with a glass of wine, watching the tele’). There were no cars on the road and I didn’t see another soul. It was lovely.

I think I have been influenced by Joanna Cannon. If you follow her on Twitter you’ll know this, but she gets up every day at 3am (!) to walk her dog and she posts some amazing photos of the animals she sees and the sky (much more impressive than my measly effort!).

She talked about – and read from – her new non-fiction book, ‘Breaking and Mending‘, which is coming out in September (but which you can pre-order now), about her time as a junior doctor.

And in that strange way that the world is often small, it turned out that the hospital car park in which she started to write her first novel – The Trouble with Goats and Sheep – (she would grab precious minutes during a break and write leaning on her steering wheel) – is the same hospital in which my dad has just spent 12 days after a fall.

Anyway, she was lovely, as I thought she would be – and she works sooo hard. She has just finished novel number 4, which will be coming out next April. Can’t wait!

Three Things About Joanna Cannon:

1. She’s seen and eaten enough Battenberg to last a lifetime (and I’d bought EIGHT whole Battenberg cakes for the event!)
2. Her favourite book is Rebecca.
2. She would love to meet her hero, Alan Bennett.

(Do you like the way, in this photo, I am reaching towards the books, as though you might possibly think that I’d written them? In my dreams, eh?!)

Joanna Cannon and me!

Posted in Books, West Midlands | Tagged | 2 Comments

Spotted on Twitter in the Last Couple of Days

It may have passed you by but yesterday was National Writing Day (today is, apparently #National Sunglasses Day. Who knew?).

I only found out about that – and, in fact, everything in this post, because I’ve been on Twitter for hours this week, frantically tweeting for Evesham Festival, as it’s the main weekend this weekend.

These ‘official days’ are sometimes a bit silly but National Writing Day is a good one, I reckon.

There are some writing resources and ideas on the website and there were lots of giveaways on-line. Authors were asked for ‘writing advice’ on social media. I particularly liked Milly Johnson’s wise tips, which included, ‘You don’t find time to write a book, you make time’, and (I’m paraphrasing), ‘Don’t wait to write until you’re retired because you’ll be gardening and playing bridge instead’. And – the best one – that you don’t have to plot and plan a novel (hurrah! Because I can’t do that). ‘Dive in and swim in the words’ she says.

THIS, exactly this, is why authors tweet. I have never looked at Milly Johnson’s website before and there are some good writing tips on there, for starters. But I like her wise words on the Twitters – I’m getting a warm feeling about her. And … here we go.. I’m starting to think I might like to read one of her books. That’s how Twitter works. NOT by tweeting ‘buy my book, buy my book, buy my book’! (Which always results in me ‘unfollowing’ people).

Gransnet Writing Competition

I also spotted this on Twitter: Those nice people on the Gransnet website have decided to launch a writing competition. This is GOOD NEWS. Because you have to be a woman over 40 in order to enter (phew, just scraped in!) and they would like it very much if your main character was also a woman over 40 and my WIP (will it ever actually be finished?!) has an MC of 39 who could, with the tiniest of tweaks, become 40. So, I will be having a go and if you’d like to do the same, here are the details but in short: “Applicants are invited to submit 20,000 words to HQ by 30 September 2019. Five shortlisted writers will receive editorial feedback, with the overall winner being offered a publishing contract with HQ.”

Make sure you read all the terms and conditions before you enter!

Good Luck!

Posted in Books, Competitions, Tweeting, West Midlands | Tagged | 4 Comments

This, too, will pass….

It’s all a bit ‘hectic-ly-hectic’ here, as a former colleague of mine used to say. If you follow me on Twitter you’ll see my recent tweets are along the lines of, ‘If I had a swear box, it would be full’ but anyway, let’s try to be cheery because you don’t come on here to listen to moans, do you?

Page 100 Competition
Just as a bit of an aside, Louise Walters (reader, writer, editor and publisher), is running her first ever novel/novella competition and it’s quite a quirky one. She only requires that you send 1 page of your book in order to enter and it has to be page 100.

Hmm, I’ve just had a look at my page 100 and it is, quite frankly, a pile of poo. It wouldn’t win any prizes, I’m sure (it’s part of a saggy middle that I need to tighten up!) But if you have a sparkling, stunning page 100 and you don’t mind parting with the entry fee of £6, then take a look here – and good luck!

Kate Atkinson
I love her writing, so I’m really pleased that Kate Atkinson has a new novel out (‘Big Sky’). Jackson Brodie is back! Actually, it’s so long since I read the last 4 Jackson Brodie books that I can’t really remember the character but I know I liked him and I’m sure it’s going to be another good read. It’s going on my ‘TBR’ list.

And here’s an interview with Kate Atkinson and Jason Isaacs, who’s the voice of the audiobooks and also plays Jackson Brodie in the TV series. It’s interesting how he talks about the difference between ‘acting’ and ‘reading books aloud’ for the audio versions.

Joanna Cannon
On Sunday 30th June, lucky old me will be chatting to novelist Joanna Cannon for an Evesham Festival of Words event (tickets still available if you want to come along!). It’s making me nervous just typing those words down BUT, once I’d been offered the chance (because it was my idea to invite her to the Festival) I couldn’t say no.

If you can think of any stunning questions that you’d like me to ask her, put them in the comments and I’ll see what I can do! I have been sent a list of possible questions by her publicist but she’s probably been asked them a million times. It would be fun to think of something a bit different. I know, for a start, that she’s got a new, non-fiction book coming out later this year, about her time as a doctor in the NHS, so I’ll definitely be asking her more about that. And I think she’s also working on a new novel. (She works hard. Unlike me).

In preparation (because I’m revising her, a bit like an A level in Joanna Cannon), I am re-reading her two novels, which is of course, more of a pleasure than a chore.

I’ve just finished ‘The Trouble with Goats and Sheep’ (which I think, in the interview, I will shorten – if I’m allowed – to ‘Goats and Sheep’) and I’m moving onto ‘Three Things about Elsie’ now.

It’s been scientifically proven, you know, that if you re-read books and re-watch films that you enjoyed the first time, you actually enjoy them more the second time. (Not quite sure how they measure that but I’m prepared to believe it).

Dogs
Today was ‘Bring Your Dog To Work’ day and I didn’t have my dog! (not that I was working anyway, I hasten to add). She’s been with our dog sitter since Wednesday morning, because we’re all over the place and she’d be left for too long on her own, which isn’t fair. Anyway, she’ll be back in the morning and I’m looking forward to a cuddle.

Right, I will get back to my stressey life, trying to bear in mind those wise words (from someone Roman, I think): “This, too, will pass.”

Posted in Bonnie, Books, Competitions, Events, Novels, West Midlands | Tagged , | 5 Comments