Post-Holiday Blues & Some Serial News

Have you missed me? I’ve been away for ages, I know. Soz.

Last week I was on a tennis holiday on the Turquoise Coast in Turkey.

“You’re brave,” people said to us when we announced our destination. And they were right: half way through the week, disaster struck. I’m still not sure how I managed it but, during a game of doubles I managed to STAND on the ball that I was chasing, my foot rolled over it and WHAM! Woman down and the result was: sprained ankle, ice, strapping, no more tennis or swimming or wearing nice shoes in the evening.

The moment I did it, I could have cried – not from the pain – but because all those lovely new tennis clothes (bright orange!) that I’d brought and evening wear, complete with strappy sandals, would have to stay in the suitcase.

And then I got a really bad cough – which I still have – and which is now turning into a cold. So I am feeling sorry for myself!😦

turkey3But it was a beautiful resort and we will probably go back (I will be wearing a cotton-wool Michelin Man suit over my entire body), so here are a few snaps that you might like to see.

Turkey1

But enough of all that. Let me tell you what else I’ve been doing.

Yesterday I went to Birmingham to teach a 2 hour workshop on ‘Writing Historical Fiction’ for a former teacher of mine – Chris Morgan. Here we are, at the end of the session, looking rather pleased with ourselves! (And I managed not to cough once, which was a miracle).

me and chris1

Chris used to run an evening class in Creative Writing in Acocks Green (yes, there is such a place) and over twenty years ago (!) I attended that class for about 7 years and learned lots. He is a great teacher and very encouraging!

I always know a workshop has been OK if I manage to inspire myself, while doing it (*she says, modestly*) and I must admit, having read Emma Darwin’s excellent ‘Get Started In Writing Historical Fiction‘ in advance – which gave me some great ideas (and she’s giving away a free copy on her blog, closing 12th June), I’m feeling ready to tackle another story (or maybe even a serial….!) set in the past now.

Talking of which, my 3-part Edwardian serial is going to be published in The People’s Friend next month, starting 18th June.

The editor, Shirley Blair, emailed me the layout of the first page of episode one this week and it looks very good but there were a couple of surprises… firstly, they’ve changed the title from ‘Allen’s Angels’ (mine and not very good), to ‘Where the Air Is Sweet’ (because of course, as it’s set in a chocolate factory, you can smell the chocolate for miles around). Then, my three main characters’ names have been changed! Edie has become Annie, George has become Edward and Richard has become Justin.

Hmm.. what d’you think?

Posted in Events, Magazines | Tagged , | 10 Comments

Fancy Winning a (free) Writers’ Retreat?

Writers_Retreats_ClockhouseWriting Magazine Competition

Those lovely people at Writing Magazine are running a competition to win a place on a writers’ retreat (worth £600) at Arvon’s new centre in Shropshire, The Clockhouse.

The prize is specifically for the week 6 – 12 September 2016, so don’t enter if you can’t go on those dates!

You’ve got until 4th July to submit your entry (max 500 words) which can be poetry, fiction or non-fiction but must be on the theme ‘retreat’ and the competition is ‘open to any writer’.

I always wonder how they manage to judge non-fiction against fiction against poetry. Tricky, isn’t it? Will you be at a disadvantage if you write a short poem when someone else has used up their full quota of 500 words on a story, say? But as we don’t even know who’s judging the competition, there’s no way of even second-guessing what they might prefer. So, just go for it, if you decide to enter. Do your best! (I sound like Brown Owl now). You’ve got nothing to lose.

do your best

Oh and there are lots of other competitions on the Writing magazine website – like this one – so have a browse. They aren’t all free and some are ‘subscriber only’ but I’m sure you’ll find something to inspire you to write!

Mark Haddon on Radio 4 Talking Short Stories

I was driving to a tennis match on Saturday morning, listening to Saturday Live on Radio 4 and had to stop listening to a really enjoyable interview with novelist (amongst other things), Mark Haddon – probably best known for his novel The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Nighttime.

His collection of short stories The Pier Falls, has just been published and he had some really interesting things to say about that and about writing in general. eg: that you can take more risks with short stories. He’d never think of setting a novel on Mars, for example but he could do with a short story (and that’s one of the stories in the collection). He also admits that he throws away about 80% of what he writes and that he doesn’t think he’s a good writer but a ‘pretty good editor’!

The great thing about radio these days (I’m doing it with The Archers!) is that you can just listen to anything you’ve missed on the internet. So here’s the interview here and if you want to skip all the introductory stuff, start listening at 05.40 minutes. Hope you enjoy it. (I just can’t bring myself to write ‘Enjoy!’)

Posted in Competitions, Magazines, Short Stories | Tagged | 6 Comments

I Finally Go On Another ‘Artist’s Date’ (to Aldi)

Evesham library gets my seal of approval.

Evesham library gets my seal of approval.

One of my writing resolutions for this year was to go on an Artist’s Date every month but until last week I had failed completely.

Then I had cause to go to Evesham (nothing glamorous – car to the garage), so I thought I’d make that outing an Artist’s Date. Did it qualify? Well, I was going on my own, I’d never done it before and actually, yes, the thought of spending a few hours alone, in a new town, trying out the cafes, was quite liberating. I was looking forward to it.

My first port of call was the library! To make sure they had lots of flyers about the forthcoming Evesham Festival of Words (they did) and to tell them all about the QUIZ which my friend and I are running on the evening of Thursday 30th June.

It’s billed as a ‘festival warmer’ but I’m starting to get a little worried that it will be a damp squib, if no-one turns up, so I am in full promotion-and-marketing-mode! If there are only 10 people there on the night, no-one can say I didn’t try. It goes without saying that if any of you are in or around Evesham and fancy a fun bookish/literary quiz (not too hard!), then you would be most welcome to join in.

The library was lovely. I wish it was walking distance from my house, I’m sure I’d be there all the time, especially in the winter because it was warm and upstairs were some lovely quiet tables for writing (I had that whole big one to myself, where I sat for half an hour and did my morning pages).

I also went to Aldi (honestly, when you never get the chance to go to Aldi, it’s exciting!) and guess what I discovered? The People’s Friend (latest edition) was only 60p! A special Aldi price, apparently. I don’t know whether it’s only 60p (instead of £1.10) every week or whether that was just a ‘one off’ but it’s worth knowing about. I bought a copy of course, as I can’t resist a bargain and on the letters page was a letter from a reader in Australia who had read the interview with me (from way back in January) and is looking forward to reading my serial – which is handy because it’s now all finished and approved and will be published in The People’s Friend in June. Watch this space!

My PF bargain!

My PF bargain!

Apart from tea and cake in two cafes (where I nearly fell off my seat trying to eavesdrop on people’s conversations), I also treated myself to a CARTRIDGE PEN!

ink penRemember those, from school days? Just fixing the little blue cartridge of ink into the pen brought back memories. I read somewhere recently that writing with a ballpoint pen isn’t good because it relies on friction and therefore, there’s more strain on your hand. If you write with a proper pen, with a nib and ink, it’s much more ‘free flowing’ and so, in theory, you can write for much longer.

Rather than splash out too much (just in case I didn’t like it!) I just bought a fairly standard one from WH Smiths which cost £4.99 (plus a few pounds for some cartridges) and I must admit, I’m enjoying using it. By sheer coincidence it was also ‘National Stationery Week’ last week so it seemed especially fitting.

PS: I have an article about Artist’s Dates in the latest (June 2016) issue of Writing magazine. Has anyone else been on an Artist’s Date recently and how did you get on?

Posted in Artist's Dates, Events, Magazines, West Midlands | Tagged | 10 Comments

Shakespeare And Me

Shakespeare image3Just look at that title! Don’t worry, I’m not going to start quoting sonnets at you.

There’s just time before the Master of The House returns from his travels (he’s at the airport) and the week’s ‘Writing Retreat’ is over (hurrah!), to write a few lines about Shakespeare.

You’ve probably seen it on the news: today is the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death and, if records are to be believed, 23rd April was also his birthday! Let’s hope he got to eat some cake and blow out the candles before he pegged it.

I live near to Stratford-on-Avon but I’ve avoided it today, even though there are lots of celebrations and events (and fireworks tonight over the River!) because it would just have been too MANIC! but I thought I’d offer my own humble little tribute to The Bard.

Please feel free to comment with your own experiences – good or bad – of Mr W Shakespeare.

1. It was my mum that first made me realise Shakespeare was A Good Thing. When she was about the same age I am now, she did a day class in which she studied lots of his plays and they went to see some of them at Stratford. She always came back raving about what a great evening she’d had – how, for example, ‘real’ snow had fallen on the stage. She made it sound magical.

2. My ‘O’ level (yes, I’m that old) Shakespearean play was Henry V and I still love it. In fact I saw this production at the RSC last October and it was one of the best plays I’ve ever seen. They made it funny and Alex Hassell (yum), made a brilliant King.

Alex Hassell as Henry V

Alex Hassell as Henry V

3. Our teacher for English ‘O’ level was Mr Lorden. He was scary. He made us learn the first chorus of Henry V off by heart, for homework. ‘Oh for a muse of fire that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention…’ (is how it starts). I can still remember it now.

When we got to the class the following week, he asked a few people to recite it and no-one could. He was not impressed, shouted at us all and we moved on to something else. I was burning up inside because I HAD learned it – I knew it! But I was too embarrassed to put my hand up. The thought of saying it in front of the whole class (I’d have gone scarlet) was too much. I can still feel that disappointment… !

4. Our teacher for ‘A’ level English (eek, I’m ashamed to say I can’t remember his name), took us to Stratford a few times in a mini bus to see some RSC plays. We only had the cheapest seats – way up in the Gods! But it was still a great experience and I’ll always remember seeing Titus Andronicus. That’s one heck of a gory play, in case you haven’t seen it. Hands and tongues get cut off and people have to eat their own children… ! Members of the audience got up and went out. I can only assume because they felt sick! Or maybe they wanted a choc ice.

4. In my first term at University my new friend Wendy and I got tickets to see Coriolanus at Leeds Town Hall because we’d both done it for ‘A’ level (what a couple of keenies, eh? Everyone else was probably on a pub crawl and there we were, going to see Shakespeare!).

There was snow on the ground and a bus strike and half the cast hadn’t been able to get there so various people stood in, reading their parts from scripts in broad Yorkshire accents, bless ’em. It was one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen. Thirty – ahem – years on, we still talk about it.

5. And of course, as you know, Shakespeare spoke loik a Brummie. And as a Brummie myself, that’s something to be proud of.

Posted in Plays | Tagged | 8 Comments

My Mini ‘Writer’s Retreat’

Broadway Tower

Broadway Tower

I’ve got some ‘me time’ at the moment as my other half is away playing golf, so I’m trying to turn this week into a bit of a ‘writer’s retreat’. (Stop laughing at the back).

And no, it’s not taking place at Broadway Tower – more of that later – but in My House!

The plan is, to go to bed early and get up early (check – was in bed at 10pm last night and got up when the alarm went off this morning at 6.30am. Ouch!).

Actually ‘got up’ is not quite true. I went downstairs, (*puzzled looks from dog*), made a cup of tea and took it back to bed, where I sat for 25 minutes, doing my Morning Pages. Oh yes, going back to bed is allowed on this writer’s retreat of mine. (I also spent 30 minutes reading ‘The Goldfinch’ which was probably a bit naughty but I couldn’t resist it. It’s so good).

Other aspects of my Writer’s Retreat = no alcohol or tele’. I think I will find that quite easy, to be honest. But we’ll see….
I suppose I should really have also banned T’Internet but that’s not possible! Plus, go swimming and, of course, try to write. Lots.

When well-meaning friends and family found out that I was going to be ‘toute seule’, (some of them) wanted to come and see me, they offered to stay over, or come out with me. It’s been difficult to fend them off. Politely. I worry that they’ll think I’m weird or rude if I say,“Erm, actually, I’m fine. And I’d like to use the time to get some writing done…?”

It’s a fine balance, I think, between being alone and enjoying your own company and being lonely, which is horrible. And actually, I’m alright, on my own. I wouldn’t want to do it for ever but for a few days, it’s OK, isn’t it?

Apparently, according to this article, if you’re comfortable being alone and don’t always hanker after company then you’re ‘smarter’ and ‘more evolved’ than many other people. So there.

Of course, I can’t just stay in, doing nothing but writing over the next few days. I have stuff to do – eg: a work meeting tomorrow – and I have Bonnie the dog to look after.

This morning we did a LONG walk up a big hill, from Broadway, which is a small town (village?) near to me, up to the tower at the top of the hill, which is the ‘second highest point in the Cotswolds’! (I told that interesting fact to someone once, in good faith and he found it hilarious…!)

The view from the top (second highest point in the Cotswolds!)

The view from the top (second highest point in the Cotswolds!)

I have friends coming to do this walk with me later in the week (I know, that’s a break from the ‘retreat’!) so I wanted to do a bit of a ‘recce’, so I knew where the car park was and roughly how long it will take to get from Broadway town up to the top of the hill (it’s only about an hour – if you don’t stop – but it is a pretty steep hill!). I also wanted to check how many of the 8 or so fields had sheep and lambs in them, as this obviously restricts how much the dogs can run around off the lead.

Lots of these on the hills today

Lots of these on the hills today

I would like to claim this 2 hour walk as an ‘Artist’s Date’ but I really can’t because, even though I wasn’t with another human, I was with the dog and I don’t think it counts! Also, I’ve been there before although I’ve never done the walk on my own. It was really busy, because it was a lovely day (after yesterday’s SNOW and HAIL!) and we met lots of other people and dogs (Minnie the Cockapoo, for example and Watson the working cocker spaniel who fell in love with Bonnie – sadly, she didn’t reciprocate his enthusiasm. She can be very cool like that with ‘boys’). People definitely talk to you more if you’re on your own.

And now we are back. The washing’s done and on the line. I’ve had lunch. I’ve done this blog post.

There is no other excuse. I have to put my bum on the seat. And start writing…

Posted in Artist's Dates, Blogging, Bonnie, Cotswolds, Finding Time To Write | 6 Comments

Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction – ‘First Chapter Writing Competition’

Baileys PrizeWhoops, where’s the time gone? Easter has passed in a blur of chocolate and as I write, there are small signs of spring out there (washing on the line and some weedy streaks of what might actually be sunshine).

Here’s a quick update of what I’m doing (feel free to tell me yours too – and then we’re up-to-date!):

* I’m reading: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
* I’m listening to: The Archers (who isn’t…?)
* I’m watching: The Durrells (ITV, Sundays, 8pm).
* I’m writing: A short story based on a cashpoint disaster last week
* I’m eating: Sunday roast dinner – hopefully – once I’ve cooked it
* I’m drinking: G&T! (not now but last night. I got a sudden urge for one after I lost £10 on the Grand National. I know, drinking and gambling. It’s the slippery slope..)

Grazia/Baileys ‘First Chapter’ Writing Competition

Here’s a free-to-enter writing competition with a fabulous prize (£1000 plus a trip to the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction awards ceremony in London on 8th June. Ooh, I would LOVE to go that!).

Marian Keyes (who’s also the competition judge) has written the first part of a chapter and you have to complete it in 800 – 1000 words. Easy, right?

I say, it’s worth a go if only for the writing practice and because it’s free to enter, even if (read on!) you don’t think you’ve got much chance of winning….

Two things about this competition that are slightly concerning:

1. It says ‘read the terms and conditions’ – and I can’t see them anywhere. Or am I being stupid?
2. You have to send a PHOTO and tell them your date of birth. Which makes me suspect that anyone outside Grazia’s ‘target market’ may not make the shortlist.

And what is Grazia’s ‘target market’ or ‘average reader’, I hear you say? Well, from their media pack, aimed at advertisers, I found this:

Grazia has a highly targeted demographic of 25-45 year-old women and more AB profile readers than Vogue and Elle. She’s a savvy, affluent, confident, busy and modern woman who actively participates in the world around her. She comes to Grazia for edited choice – on everything from the news she needs an opinion on that week to issues she wants to be moved by to simply discovering which heels will instantly make her wardrobe rock. She happily admits she’s “addicted” to Grazia’s unique mix of news, views and shoes.”

So, I strongly suspect that the winner – and the two runners-up – will be women aged between 25 – 45 (who’ve mentioned shoes in their entry..?). BUT, every time I write or say anything like this, people disagree with me. So, let me be proved wrong! Perhaps a 60 year old man will be the winner…!

Win The Longlist!

And still on the subject of ‘The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction’, here’s the longlist* of 20 books (I’m ashamed to say I haven’t read any of them! I tried to read the Kate Atkinson – normally I love her – but I just couldn’t get into ‘A God In Ruins’).

Anyone read any of the others?

Good Housekeeping magazine is running a competition to win all 20 books on the longlist but you need to be quick, as it ends at midnight tomorrow, 11th April.

Email your name and address to GHcompetitions@hearst.com with Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist 2016 in the subject box. The competition closes at midnight on 11 April. This promotion is only open to residents of the United Kingdom aged 18 or above at the time of entry.

*UPDATE: The shortlist has now been announced (and shock, horror – Kate Atkinson is NOT on it!)

Posted in Competitions, Novels, Television | Tagged , , | 23 Comments

Twitter: Useful Tool or (yet another) Waste of Time?

Twitter was 10 last week!

Twitter was 10 last week!

“I don’t get Twitter.”

I’ve heard that so many times, from writers and non-writers alike. I’ve even heard it from people who are on Twitter!

In fact, my younger brother – who’s an IT bod and runs his own business and who, you’d think, would be into all things ‘social-meedja’ – said it to me only yesterday.

I have an added interest in Twitter now as, as well as running my own Twitter account (the imaginatively-named @helenyendall, if you’re interested!), I’ve taken over the running of the Twitter account for the children’s charity that I work for, which had been stagnant (the Twitter, not the company!) for some time.

There’s a definite difference between tweeting ‘personally’ when, (as long as you don’t libel or troll anyone), almost anything goes and tweeting for a business and I’ll come to that in a minute.

So, for those who say they don’t ‘get’ Twitter, here’s what I like about it and how it might be useful for you, if you’re a writer:

1. Interacting with other writers. It’s a lonely old world out there when you’re a writer and a few minutes (ahem, of course that’s all I do..) on Twitter is the equivalent of a chat around the coffee machine or the water cooler at work. It makes you feel connected, it’s a break, there’s a bit of gossip sometimes or news. It’s – dare I say it – fun?

2. You can learn things! I follow everything that I’m interested in, so that ranges from tennis to local restaurants to Writing and Writers Forum magazines and authors that I like. For example, I found out that Louise Doughty’s book ‘Apple Tree Yard’ is being made into a BBC series through Twitter.

3. It’s creative! Much more so, I think, than Facebook because you’ve only got 140 characters so you have to be pithy when you Tweet!

4. Apparently, publishers and agents ‘expect’ it! You might disagree, but, depending on the kind of writing you’re involved with then yes, I think it’s true. It’s not just publishers and agents that expect you to be on Twitter: readers do, too. We want our authors to be accessible, living breathing people, not mysterious figures locked away in ivory towers.

Let me give you an example. A novelist that I know (a little), has just published her seventh book. I have a vested interest in reading it because I am mentioned in the acknowledgements at the front! (I was part of a group that gave her feedback when the novel was a work-in-progress).

But when I looked up some of the reviews (and they were favourable, on the whole) – some of which were linked to on Twitter – I realised that she doesn’t have a Twitter handle and she’s not on Facebook either and I felt rather disappointed and let down. I wanted some interaction, some feedback and perhaps even a photo of the launch party. The fact that she was ‘incommunicado’ gave me the impression, rightly or wrongly, that she’s not interested in her readers, or in those who’ve been reviewing the book. I didn’t get a warm fuzzy feeling. And that’s made me hesitate about buying her novel.

OK, but I don’t have a novel, you say, so why should I be on Twitter if I don’t have any readers to engage with? Well, you may have readers in the future and there’s nothing wrong with building your social media ‘platform’ in anticipation of that happy day!

5. You can promote yourself and your work. But do this with a very light touch, would be my advice. It’s a big turn off when a writer continually Tweets the equivalent of ‘buy my book, buy my book, buy my book!’ (Several times a day). In fact, that’s when I press the ‘unfollow’ button.

There are more subtle – and interesting – ways of getting someone to buy your book. Tweet about the inspiration for it, or Tweet a link to a favourable review or to a blog tour that you’ve done, run a giveaway or a competition.. GIVE something to the reader, rather than asking (demanding!) something from him.

I follow Marian Keyes on Twitter and she’s a writer who has, I think, got tweeting down to a fine art. Now, as a best-selling author, she doesn’t have to do as much self-promotion as many writers further down the ladder, I admit – she has a big team behind her and a host of adoring readers ready to snap up anything she writes – but she uses Twitter to Tweet about her life, what she’s up to, where she’s going, things that she’s seen. She uses lots of photos (Twitter likes photos! they lend colour and interest to your Tweet and they tend to be read more than Tweets without them), she is witty and self-depreciating and she is the only person who has actually made me cry with laughter through Twitter (it was a series of Tweets, not just one, I hasten to add. Now, that would be genius!). Oh, and if you reply to her Tweets, she will often ‘like’ your Tweet (which just shows that she’s read it but it’s a nice touch). Once she did actually reply to me, though! Wheeee!

I’m making this sound as though I’m on Twitter all the time. I go on it every day but only for a few minutes. That’s all it needs.

As for the business Twitter feed that I’m now running, it’s made me look at Twitter in a new way. Essentially, I want to get across two messages:

1. We need more volunteers
2. Would you like to fund (or continue to fund) us?

But if I continually tweet that, it’s going to be pretty boring! So I’m dressing it up a bit. Which is what I suggest you do, if you actually want to use Twitter to increase your book sales say, or drive people to your blog.

So, I am Tweeting about things that might be of interest to our followers, I’m re-tweeting items about charities, volunteering and issues that children have, such as bullying. Whenever possible (without using photos of the children that we help), I’m attaching a photo and I’m trying to portray The Friendship Project as a great charity to fund and volunteer for – caring, friendly, relevant and worthwhile.

It’s not that dissimilar to what you might want to do if you’re an author, hoping to attract new readers and followers. Tweet about things that will be of interest to your followers; re-tweet Tweets about writing or the issues that you write about; whenever possible, attach a photo of something or someone and build an image of yourself (a true one, I’m sure!) as a friendly, fun, likeable writer – or a serious, knowledgeable journalist (or whatever image you want your readers to have of you).

What d’you think? Do you ‘get’ Twitter? Does it work for you?

PS: If you live in or around Warwickshire and you’re on Twitter, please follow us – @FriendshipProj – thank you!)

Posted in Good Causes, Tweeting | Tagged , | 13 Comments