Coffee, Comps and (Hair) Cuts

Right, I’ve had my hair all cut off ..oh, and I’ve been in the pub all day. Hic.

Only joking!! I haven’t been near any hostelries or salons and don’t intend to for a little while.

How about you? Have you ventured out into the big wide world?

When I do get a hair appointment, which hopefully won’t be too far off, I’m going to get dressed up! Yes, I am. As though I’m GOING OUT – which of course, I will be. Going Out for the first time in 3.. or 4 months! What a treat.

Amazingly – because I have a habit of missing deadlines – I managed to get my submission off to the Kate Nash Literary Agency #BookCamp mentoring scheme in time (i.e.: with 3 minutes to spare). Results won’t be out until September. If you submitted too, good luck!

I have also signed up for ‘Audible’ – the audiobook ‘branch’ of Amazon. Now that I’m in two book clubs I’m running out of time to read all the books coming my way, so I’m hoping that listening to audiobooks will help me keep up!

I’ve downloaded ‘Normal People’ by Sally Rooney as my first book and I’m looking forward to that, as I enjoyed the TV series.

I have lots of writing ‘snippets’ (good word) to impart and hopefully there’s something that you’ll find interesting, so here goes:

Costa Short Story Award c/d 3rd August 2020

The Costa Short Story Award is now open for entries. The Award is for a single, previously unpublished short story of up to 4,000 words written in English.

The competition is open to any writer, published or unpublished, aged 18 years or over and resident in the UK or Ireland. This is a pretty prestigious award BUT it’s free to enter and if you’re not in it, you can’t win it, so if you think you’d like to have a go (prizes for the top 3 stories are £3,500, £1000 and £500), read all the terms and conditions here.

You can also read last years’ top 3 stories, if you want to get a flavour of what they might be looking for. (I read last year’s winner ‘The Dedicated Dancers of The Greater Oaks Retirement Community’ – which I enjoyed, although, be warned, there are a few ‘strong’ words – but one thing I did notice: THREE mentions of coffee! Not specifically Costa coffee, but coffee nonetheless. May I suggest you might want to slip some mentions of coffee-drinking into any story you send in…? Just an idea!).

Evesham Festival of Words ‘Lockdown Limerick Competition’
Tomorrow (Sunday 5th July) the Festival is launching a free Limerick competition. You read it here first! Have a look on the website tomorrow if you’d like to know more.

Australia

OK, confession time: I am watching ‘Love Island: Australia’.

It’s quite difficult to understand what they’re saying at times (but there are helpful subtitles) but otherwise, I LOVE it. And I know you are probably rolling your eyes at me but I don’t care. It makes me laugh and it’s a complete (welcome) distraction from everything going on in the world. AND it was filmed in 2018, so there’s none of this social distancing stuff going on.

But still on the subject of Australia, I have just discovered a great writing website, from Down Under, namely, Australian Writers Centre.

And, on the first weekend of every month (i.e.: THIS one!) they run a free 500 word short story competition (‘Furious Fiction’) which is open to anyone, anywhere.

For July’s challenge, the criteria are:

• Your story must take place at either WEDDING or a FUNERAL.
• Your story must include something being cut.
• Your story must include the words “UNDER”, “OVER” and “BETWEEN”

The winner will receive $500 Australian dollars, which is about £278. All the details are here but remember, if you want to enter July’s competition, you’ve only got until the end of the weekend Aussie time… the countdown is on the website.

Even if you don’t enter the competition, you could use it as a writing prompt.

The Val Wood Prize for Creative Writing 2020: The Next Chapter is open now and it’s free to enter.

There are actually 2 short story competitions with a word count of 2000 words. The first ‘Open International’ competition (with a first prize of £100) is for ‘feel good’ and ‘optimistic’ stories.

There’s also a separate competition for Yorkshire residents only (£100 first prize for that one too) and the theme is ‘The Yorkshire Coast’.

Closing date 31st August 2020. All the details on the website.

Pandemic Diaries

I’m trying to keep off the subject of You-Know-What as much as possible on here but just a little something to tell you about… if you’re keeping a diary in these strange times – or are interested in reading other people’s (from all over the world), you might be interested in this website.

Yes, most of the published diary entries are from the USA (although not all – I scrolled through quickly and found one from Australia and one from Wrexham) but perhaps you could redress the balance, by sending in something from your part of the world?

Bonnie finds the sunshine

Posted in Bonnie, Books, Competitions | Tagged | 10 Comments

Hitting a Brick Wall

Actually, I’m not hitting a brick wall at all but, given the photos below, it seemed like a good enough title! I hope you are well in this strange coming-out-of-lockdown world and enjoying the nice weather. This was the sky here today:

Do you remember a while back we had squirrels in the loft? I realised I hadn’t told you the end of that story. Blasting them day and night with bright lights and Radio One did the trick!

The pest control man confirmed that they’d left (the droppings were old, in case you’re interested…!) and so we filled in the gaps in the roof and hopefully that’s IT.

But he also told us that he’d spotted a beautiful bat in there: a brown long-eared bat, to be precise and he said not to worry, it could find its way out of the tiniest hole, so all was well.

The mess in the garden

The latest ‘disturbance’ is that we’re having a stone wall built between us and one of our neighbours. It’s being built by one man (and his dog) so it’s taking weeks (and gallons of tea).

Do you find it’s easy to forget about social distancing when you’re outside and/or faced with someone new? When our wall builder first arrived, about three weeks ago, my OH went straight up to him and SHOOK HIS HAND! And then – with a gasp – realised what he’d done.

It’s getting there

Right, a couple of writing things for you, that may be of interest:

Weald and Downland Living Museum (which is in Chichester and is re-opening on 6th July!) is running a historical fiction short story competition.

Entry is free (although you can donate the usual £7 entry fee if you so wish). ‘Historical’ in this instance, covers 900AD to 1930AD (So, no Second World War stories!)

Prizes are modest (publication and annual membership of the museum) and there are lots of rules, so read them carefully, if you’re intending to enter. It closes on 4th September 2020.

The Worried Writer
Someone recommended this website to me which claims to help you ‘overcome fear, self-doubt and procrastination, to get the work done.’ I must admit I haven’t had time to dip in and out of it very much yet but there are lots of podcasts and interviews with authors, advice and tips (and no adverts!) and Sarah Painter, who runs it, has a lovely voice! Might be worth a look.

Boot Camp Mentorships

The Kate Nash Literary Agency is offering ‘Boot Camp Mentorships’ to 6 aspiring un-agented authors (writing adult fiction or narrative non-fiction). Sorry there’s not a lot of time for this one – applications close on 1st July 2020.

What they’re looking for:

The first 15-20,000 words of your work-in-progress, along with a 1-2 page synopsis and introductory letter, in one Word document, by the end of 1st July 2020. In your letter, tell us about yourself, where your book would sit in a bookshop and what you hope to get out of our programme.

What they’re offering:

Over six months, from September 2020 through to the following March, our mentees will receive:

• Representation at the Kate Nash Literary Agency
• Feedback and editorial support to help you bring your manuscript to completion
• A programme of workshops and round tables sharing industry knowledge and writing craft tips
• Regular one-to-one meetings with a literary agent, to discuss progress and help shape your work
• An evaluation of your outline for film and TV potential

Sounds good, doesn’t it? Hmm, I think I might have a go myself…

Bonnie Takes a Break

Posted in Bonnie, Competitions | 8 Comments

Poppies, Paperbacks & Pilates

Bonnie, strutting her stuff.

Hello!

I have been quiet for a little while because there’s not been much to tell you! Except: POPPIES! Loads of them in one of the fields on our daily walk. It’s amazing how cheerful they make you feel.

Books
Now, as you probably know, bookshops are preparing to re-open in England from Monday 15th June (they’re not re-opening in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland just yet).

How do you feel about that? Will you be making a dash for Waterstones on Monday?

I won’t, for two reasons… I still feel a little uneasy about making all but the most essential visits to shops and secondly, I have about a zillion books in my TBR pile.

I have over-committed myself by joining another book club (this one is JUST while we’re in lockdown) and it meets on Zoom every two weeks, so a lot of frantic reading is being done.

Our first book was ‘The Accidental Tourist’ by Anne Tyler, which is brilliant (but, oh my goodness, the film is terrible!).

Book number 2, which I have to read by next Wednesday, is ‘Slumdog Millionnaire’ (originally published as ‘Q&A’) by Vikas Swarup (who, according to his Twitter feed is an “Occasional Author and full time diplomat”. Wow!).

I loved the film, so I have high hopes for ‘Slumdog Millionnaire’.

In between all of that, my Evesham Festival book club met this week (on Zoom, of course) and our book was ‘The Bean Trees’, Barbara Kingsolver’s first novel, which I had to rush-read in a day or so (luckily it’s short!).

We voted for our next book (someone suggests 2 books and the rest of us vote for our favourite), which is going to be Joanna Cannon’s ‘The Trouble with Goats and Sheep‘ (which I’ve already read twice! But it’s good, so that’s OK).

The novel is set in the heatwave of 1976, which prompted a chorus of ‘I was conceived in that year!’ from some of the younger members of the group, followed by anguished wails (from me) of, “You’re making us feel old!” (Someone also added – not me – “I think I got divorced in 1976!”). As ‘chair’, I had to reassure everyone who still had to cast their vote, that they did NOT, as part of their deliberations, have to reveal in which year they were conceived. Peace was restored.

Pilates
I did a strange thing the other evening: Pilates in my next-door neighbours’ garden!

We’ve been going to Pilates classes together for a little while but then of course, all classes were cancelled. But now we’ve got that 6-people-not-from-the-same-household-outdoors-socially-distanced rule, the Pilates teacher is organising classes for 5 people.

So, we got a small group together and she came to my neighbours’ big lawn, to take the session. It was, I have to admit a bit chilly! But it was lovely to be able to lie on my mat, looking up at the sky and to finally have a proper stretch.

Picnics
Oh it’s handy that the latest Spectator competition fits my alliterative post. Here it is, if you want to have a go!

No. 3155: al fresco
You are invited to supply a poem entitled ‘The Picnic’. Please email up to 16 lines to lucy@spectator.co.uk by midday on 24 June.

Posted in Bonnie, Books, Competitions, Novels | Tagged | 3 Comments

Happy to be Home Alone

My story i strålkastarljuset which means ‘In the Spotlight’ in Swedish. (but you knew that, right?)

Ah… peace! But it nearly didn’t happen…

My OH was due to play golf today at a faraway club (he’s allowed now!) which would mean he’d be out from midday until about 8pm tonight. And it would be ‘safe’ because it wouldn’t involve stopping anywhere on the way or the way back (you know how men can manage without loo breaks!) or having anyone else in his car and he’d be ‘social distancing’ on the course.

But last night, disaster struck: he read on-line that the place he was due to visit was a ‘virus hotspot’ and so it looked as though the intended trip was off. Noooo. I must admit, I was a bit disappointed. (I’ve written about the joys of being a golf widow before, you may remember).

But, it’s turned out this place isn’t a hotspot at all – and actually has fewer cases than we have here – but it’s gone from ‘none’ to ‘some’ in the past few days, so that’s skewed the figures.

So, in short – he’s gone! And I have the whole day to myself*. 🙂

Zoom Book Launch

Yesterday I attended the digital book launch of Jane Corry’s new thriller ‘I Made a Mistake’. (If you’re wondering, I just spotted it advertised on Twitter, asked if I could join in and was sent the Zoom link). The e-book, by the way, is currently (3rd June) on special offer for 99p on Amazon).

Jane has written in various genres and under quite a few different names (I don’t think that’s a secret or that she’ll mind me saying) and I remember her teaching a course at the Writers’ Holiday in Caerleon, which I attended, several years ago, when she was writing as Sophie King and it was excellent.

And now, she seems to have my perfect life! She’s a successful novelist, she plays tennis, lives on the coast with her dog and family and SWIMS in the sea most days. Ah, that’s one thing I really do miss at the moment – swimming (in the local public pool, I hasten to add, sadly I don’t live anywhere near the sea). The closest I am getting to a ‘watery space’ is my daily exposure to the bright blue rectangle of the table tennis table…

Anyway, an exciting thing happened in the digital book launch because we could ask questions (by typing them into the ‘comments’ bar. There were over 70 attendees so it would have been chaos if we’d all tried to speak!) and it was announced at the start, that Jane Corry would choose her favourite question and the person who’d asked it would win a copy of the brand new book….

And she picked mine! (I asked how she researched the court room scenes in the novel and she liked that because it gave her the chance to tell us how she went to the Old Bailey – which anyone can do, apparently – and sat in the public gallery. It was fascinating).

Scandinavian Scandal..?

This morning the postman brought a copy of a Swedish magazine that contains one of my stories. And look how it ends! Bit harsh!

So, those are the highlights of my week. How about you?

PS: The latest Spectator competitions, if you want to have a go, are as follows (it’s not entirely clear but I take the second one to mean they want you to write a piece in the style of a well-known children’s author and it’s probably worth saying which one):

No. 3152: domestic bliss?
You are invited to submit a poem about the pleasure — or pain — of a staycation. Please email up to 16 lines to lucy@spectator.co.uk by midday on 3 June.

No 3153: sneezles and wheezles
It can be tricky explaining Covid-19 to little ones, so you are invited to enlist the help of a well-known children’s author. Please email up to 16 lines/150 words to lucy@spectator.co.uk
by midday on 10 June.

*I will of course be delighted to see him when he returns but it’s just nice to have some solitude, after 8, 9, 10 (how long has it been?) weeks of ‘enforced togetherness’!

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Confessions of a Suspense Author: Guest Post – Wendy Clarke

Today I’m delighted to welcome my virtual friend Wendy Clarke to the blog!

Although we’ve never actually met ‘in the flesh’ (!), I feel that I know Wendy, having followed her excellent blog and her writing journey over the past few years.

She’s also been a follower of this blog for a while, often comments on posts (thank you!) and, as some of you will remember, she judged the last ‘Random Word Flash Fiction’ competition I ran. (Her dog is also called Bonnie, as is mine. See, we’re kindred spirits!).

I don’t think she’ll mind me saying that she started writing relatively recently (compared to the tortoises amongst us – ie: me – she’s definitely a hare!) and she’s moved from short stories to serials to novels in an astonishingly short space of time.

Wendy’s third novel ‘The Bride’ has just been published as an e-book and paperback by Bookoutre.

I find her success an inspiration and I hope you will too. I’m sure, if you post a question for her in the comments, she’ll be only too happy to answer.

So, it’s over to Wendy to answer my fiendish questions….

Can you sum up your new novel, ‘The Bride’ in one sentence?

When her best friend goes missing after a whirlwind romance, Alice is forced to confront her own fears in order to find out the truth.

I’m sure my readers would love to hear about your road to publication. Was it long and winding or did you take a short cut?

My journey started in 2011 when the school I was teaching in closed. After doing an online writing course, I started writing short stories for magazines followed by serials. After having over three hundred stories published, my thoughts turned to longer fiction. My first novel won me an agent who later decided she wanted me to write a psychological thriller instead. After I’d written it, the agent had to let some of her clients go and I was one of them. The novel I’d written, ‘What She Saw’, went on to win the Flash500 novel competition, and not being able to face going down the torturous agent route again, I submitted it directly to Bookouture. Imagine my delight when within days I had a phone call to say they’d love to offer me a two-book deal. This was followed a year later by a second deal and I have now published three books with them. My third novel, The Bride, came out on May 20th and the next will be published in December.

You’ve written 3 psychological thrillers to date. Have you always written in this genre?

No, I haven’t. When I was writing fiction for the magazines, I wrote mostly women’s fiction and romance. There were certainly no deaths or missing brides!

Are you a plotter or a pantster and how long does it take you to write your thrillers?

I am absolutely a pantster at heart although having a contract makes this hard as I have to submit a synopsis for each new book. Let’s just say the synopsis is brief and I invariable go off-piste! I do have several ‘how to plan/structure your novel’ manuals which I love reading but that’s as far as it goes. I basically just sit down and write. It takes around six months to write a first draft and then another few weeks to go over it before submitting to my editor. After that, it’s five months of structural, line and copy edits before the book is in any way ready for publication.

Could you describe your typical writing day?

I don’t think I have one. When I’m writing a novel, I set a target of 5000 words a week which usually means 1000 a day with the weekend off. I find that if I’m strict I stick to this, I can meet my deadline easily. I don’t have a set time of day when I write – if could be morning, afternoon or both. I never write in the evenings though. I like to spend that time with my husband.

Tell us something that might surprise us about your writing process or your journey to becoming a published novelist.

When I was competition judge for the SWWJ, I was invited to the award ceremony and afternoon tea in London. Sir Tim Rice was the other guest and I shared a table with him. When he turned to me and said, “I really admire what you’ve achieved,” I nearly fell off my chair! Needless to say, I’ve dined out on that story for years!

Who are your favourite authors?

I love Rose Tremaine and Ann Weisgarber and, in my genre, I think Lisa Jewell is the queen.

What does your family think of your writing?

I am lucky in that my family are incredibly supportive. My husband is an engineer so is great at working through plot problems with me without getting bogged down with the details. He also always reads my novels through before I submit to my editor and tells me what is and isn’t working. My mum and all my children and stepchildren read my books and genuinely love them which really warms my heart.

Do you remember where you were and what you were doing when the idea for your latest novel came to you?

Actually, I can. I was sitting in a café with a group of writers in Brighton and my eye was caught by a black and white photograph on the wall. It was of an old dockland warehouse building which I guessed was in London. I loved the small-paned windows with their arched brickwork, the heavy wooden doors that opened onto iron railings, the rope and pulley system used to haul goods to the upper floors still bolted to the wall. I knew this could be the perfect setting for a thriller and from that moment my mind started whirring. What if the building was the only one converted into luxury apartments in a derelict wasteland? What if someone went missing? The idea for The Bride was born.

What next for Wendy Clarke?

A rest? No, that’s never going to happen. I’m just coming to the end of the first draft of my fourth psychological thriller and when that’s submitted, I shall be working through some ideas for the next one, ready to pitch it to my publisher. If anyone has any ideas to spare… please feel free to share!

More About Wendy:

Wendy Clarke started her career writing short fiction and serials for national women’s magazines, quickly becoming one of The People’s Friend’s top writers. She has also had stories long and shortlisted in competitions including the BBC Radio 4 Opening Lines competition. She has published three collections of short stories and has been a short story judge for the Chiltern Writers Group, Nottingham Writers Group, The Society of Women Writers and journalists, the NAWG and Flash500. She has also written articles for Writing Magazine.

Moving away from short stories, Wendy has had two psychological thrillers published by Bookouture – What She Saw, which won the Flash500 Novel Competition, and We Were Sisters. Her third thriller, The Bride, will be published in May this year.

Wendy lives with her husband and step-dog in Sussex and when not writing is usually dancing, singing or watching any programme that involves food!

Wendy can be found on:

Twitter
Facebook
Instagram

Her website is here.

You can buy Wendy’s novels here.

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The Pomodoro Technique & Other Good Things

Have you heard of the ‘Pomodoro Technique’?

I’m sure many of you have. It’s a very simple time management technique, to help reduce procrastination, which basically involves working in bursts of 25 minutes and then having a short break (and once you’ve done 4 pomodoroes… pomodori? … you earn a longer break).

It’s called the ‘pomodoro’ because that’s Italian for tomato and the original idea was based on a timer shaped like… yep, you’ve guessed it. Given my predilection for timers and things-to-make-me-more-productive, I’m amazed that I haven’t talked about the pomodoro technique before.

Anyway, I’ve set the virtual pomodoro timer for 25 minutes to write this post, so let’s see how I get on.

If you want to know more about it, all the details are here.

A Good Thing happened today (and in these ‘unprecedented times’, it’s important to stay positive, right?). So, the Good Thing (and if I had a Gratitude Journal I would definitely write it in) was that, after 8 weeks our Green Bin was finally emptied!

Hurrah! It’s produced a burst of gardening from me. I had no incentive before today because the bin was full and there was nowhere to put the weeds. It does make you grateful for all the things you previously took for granted when, suddenly, they don’t happen.

One positive development to come out of the current situation, is that there are lots of freebies on-line. Both Stratford and Hay Literary Festivals, for example, have gone virtual and you can register for the events free of charge and/or watch them after the event.

I’ve taken part in two Zoom author events recently: an interview with two debut novelists and a ‘Writing Masterclass’ run by Adele Parks (which had 162 participants, all on Zoom at the same time!), both of which were FREE and were really interesting (when I say ‘taken part’ I mean, I watched them – live – and sent in questions. I didn’t actually interact with anyone, heaven forbid!).

One of the challenges Adele set us (and she’s just published her 20th novel, so I reckon she knows what she’s talking about), was to try to distil the concept of our novel down to a 10 word pitch. (And she said we could send them to her if we liked. I bet she made that offer because hardly anyone ever does…! It’s not easy).

She did this for her first novel, ‘Playing Away’, which is a light-hearted romp about infidelity and she described it as “Anna Karenina Meets Bridget Jones but the heroine gets to live.” (She also added that you don’t have to compare your novel to other, published novels but it does act as a useful bit of shorthand.. provided, I supposed, that people ‘get’ the reference).

Right, my pomodoro has beeped, so I have to go or I will turn into a pumpkin! (mixing my fruit and veg nicely there).

Come back on Thursday when I will have a GUEST POST by the fabulous Wendy Clarke, who’s made the move very successfully from short story writer to novelist and has just published her third psychological thriller. See you then!

Not a pomodoro but a poppy from today’s walk

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Lucky Me – A Story Published


I have a story in this week’s People’s Friend magazine, ‘A Lucky Man’. I tell you this just to reassure you that I do sometimes actually put pen to paper and write!

My hero Nick is a biker and a surfer and I rather like the illustration they’ve used (by André Leonard) because that’s just about how I’d pictured him.

The idea for the story actually came from People’s Friend themselves, when, a while ago, Shirley Blair (who used to be the Fiction Editor) mentioned on her blog that some lifeboat communities celebrate the birth of a baby by tying a pink or blue ribbon on the lifeboat station’s flag pole.

In my story, Nick sees the blue ribbon and realises that Jules, the woman he loves, has had a baby boy but it’s not his baby and Jules is not his wife – she’s actually married to his best friend…(da, da, derrrrr!)

The People’s Friend website is a great source of inspiration and guidance, by the way, regardless of whether you want to write for them or not. Every week they have a ‘story starter’ prompt, for example.

Richard and Judy: Keep Reading and Carry On

Did you see the Richard and Judy ‘lockdown book club’ which was on Channel 4 every afternoon last week? It was good – and if you missed it, you can catch the 5 episodes here.

Not that I need any more book recommendations! I’ve got dozens of books to read and at the moment I’m trying to finish ‘Before She Knew Him’ by Peter Swanson, which is our book club choice for this month (and the meeting – on Zoom – is tomorrow night. Eek! But in my defence, I try to read the book as closely as possible to the meeting, so that it’s still fresh in my mind! But erm…sometimes I cut it a bit fine!).

Squirrels

In case you are wondering, we have been blasting the unwanted squirrel squatters with Radio One at full volume, day and night PLUS bright lights and it seems to have worked – at least for the time being.

We have also, in the meantime (in a kind of biblical-plague-of-locusts kind of way), been visited by a huge swarm of masonry bees who were clearly ‘viewing’ our walls, with a view to also taking up residence but we blasted them with water from a hose and again, (are you impressed with our ‘green’ methods of pest control?) they seem to have taken the hint and gone elsewhere.

Mirror’s Crime Short Story Competition c/d 30th May

The Mirror have announced a crime short story competition, free to enter and judged by Val McDermid, with a closing date of 30th May. There’s very little (OK, nothing!) in the way of rules and regs – they don’t even state whether the story must be unpublished or whether published authors are acceptable – but if you want to have a go, then here are all the details and good luck!

Normal People

And in other news, we’ve finished watching the TV adaptation of Sally Rooney’s novel ‘Normal People’ and enjoyed it (although apparently the ending’s different from the book! Hope that’s not a spoiler). Have you seen it? Apparently, it’s the raunchiest ever BBC show. Obviously, they made it ‘pre-lockdown’. They couldn’t have made it now, what with all our social distancing palaver, now could they?

Our village cafe has been ‘rainbow’ed’

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We Have Visitors….

As I write, Him Indoors is actually outdoors… sitting in his car on the drive.

I know! WHAT is he doing? Have I finally driven him to distraction with my non-stop singing of ‘The Baked Potato’ song? Has he locked himself away so he can’t be forced to play table tennis “One More Time”?

He’s been there for nearly 2 hours. (Shhh, I quite like it. Solitude! For the first time in 6 weeks!).

It has nothing to do with the ‘Stay Safe’ stone by the way, which I found on a walk yesterday. Nice, isn’t it? I took a picture and then re-hid it for the children in the village to find.

So, anyway, actually he’s on Squirrel Watch.

We have squirrels living (nesting?!) in our annexe roof! We are playing Radio One in there, very loudly, day and night (with the lights on, too), which is supposed to help them to decide to ‘relocate’.

We’ve blocked up some (but not all) of the possible exits and entrances, so he’s sitting out there, on the advice of the ‘pest controller’ (eek, sounds like the Child Catcher, doesn’t it?) to observe and try to see which ways they’re coming and going. (Because that’s another strange thing – we never see them – we can just hear them skipping around up there).

Hopefully they will go without us needing to move to ‘phase 2’ which is: catch them with a humane trap and take them Elsewhere.

Still on the subject of Nature, I discovered this week that the pretty white flowers in my garden, which I honestly thought were some kind of lily, are actually wild garlic!

Ooh, get me with my posh weeds! I know you can make pesto and all sorts with it but honestly, I don’t even have time/inclination to do any gardening at the moment, so I don’t think I’m going to manage to do anything exotic with wild garlic. (It smells lovely though), so I shall just leave it where it is.

But enough of all of that. I hope you are well and coping with all the weirdy-ness. I have a few things to tell you about which might be of interest:

‘Struggling to Read or Write?’: How to be Creative in the Lockdown
I enjoyed this article, with its gentle advice on being kind to yourself by people I like and trust – eg: Marian Keyes and Richard Osman.

Retreat West Micro Fiction Competition

Every month, Retreat West runs a flash fiction competition.

You’re given a prompt to respond to (usually a photograph) and the piece must be exactly 100 words. I know, from running my random word competitions, that many of you are good at this kind of thing – and enjoy the challenge – so if you want to try your luck in May’s competition, all the details are here and you’ve got until 10th May to enter (£4 entry fee).

Results of the ChipLitFest short story competition are on the website. They’re… different!

I entered this competition but didn’t come anywhere.

I was due to go to an event at which the winners were going to be announced and read by actors, which I was really looking forward to. Like everything else, of course, it got cancelled.

Anyway, it was good to be able to read the winning stories. I liked the story placed first, the one that came second made me feel very uncomfortable (but it made me feel something, so I guess that’s a good thing) and third was.. well.. yes, funny but also odd.

All three stories had two things in common: the shock factor (in a good way) and the use of the F word! Clearly, this is where I’m going wrong. I’d be interested to see what you think, if you get chance to read them (here).

Cathy’s Comps and Calls for May has lots of competitions if you’re itching to write and submit your work. All the details are here.

Posted in Competitions, Finding Time To Write, Short Stories | Tagged | 11 Comments

Sheep/Welcome Random Word Competition – Results!

I can now reveal that the judge of the latest Random Word competition was my fellow blogger (she’s a blogger amongst many other things!), Wendy Clarke.

Wendy has an impressive list of writing achievements under her belt – see below – but I’m especially impressed that she’s on Instagram because that has, so far, eluded me! (what IS it?!).

Wendy started her career writing short fiction and serials for national women’s magazines, quickly becoming one of The People’s Friend’s top writers. She has also had stories long and shortlisted in competitions including the BBC Radio 4 Opening Lines competition.

She has published three collections of short stories and has been a short story judge for the Chiltern Writers Group, Nottingham Writers Group, The Society of Women Writers and journalists, the NAWG and Flash500. She has also written articles for Writing Magazine.

Moving away from short stories, Wendy has had two psychological thrillers published by Bookouture – What She Saw, which won the Flash500 Novel Competition, and We Were Sisters. Her third thriller, The Bride, will be published in May this year. (And I will be inviting Wendy back to the blog for a guest post to find out more!)

Wendy lives with her husband and step-dog in Sussex and when not writing is usually dancing, singing or watching any programme that involves food!

Wendy can be found on:
Twitter.
Facebook
Instagram
Her website is here.

You can buy Wendy’s novels here.

Results & Judging The Competition

So, without further ado, here is Wendy’s report and the results:

Judge’s Report
“I loved reading through the flash longlist and every entry had its merit. Usually, I judge short stories rather than flash, but what I’m looking for in a shorter piece is exactly the same as for something longer: it needs to be a complete story, rather than a cameo; it should have characters that are brought to life in some way; have a satisfying ending and, most importantly, it should make me feel something… relief, sorrow, amusement. I don’t care what, just let me feel it! My top choices did all these things. Well done to both the winners.

First Place:
I Hate the Way You Stir Your Tea (by Marianne Pike)
As soon as I read this moving piece of flash fiction, I knew it was a winner. The protagonist’s loved one is no longer with them, but we see them clearly in the worn, sheepskin slippers and the clinking of the spoon as the tea is endlessly stirred. The reader feels the protagonist’s irritation (I’m sure we’ve all known someone who’s done something that’s made us want to scream?) and yet, only a few sentences later, we feel their love and their loss just as strongly. An emotive, heart-breaking read.

Second Place:
For Old Times’ Sake (by Christine Cherry)

I chose this piece of flash as my second place as I thought it was clever. I love written pieces where the reader only hears one side of a telephone conversations and are left to imagine what’s being said on the other end. It’s a technique I’ve used my myself and, handled carefully, can be a very strong way to ‘show not tell’. I can just picture the poor guy as realisation dawns that the person he’s so desperate to impress is actually the same person he bullied at school. What clinched it for me though, was how (right until the end) he retained his eternal, hopeless optimism, imagining it wouldn’t matter! It made me smile.”

Well done to Marianne and Chris, who win a £25 and £10 Amazon voucher respectively. If you want to remind yourself of the stories, you can look back at the shortlist of five here.

Thanks again to everyone who took part and thanks to Wendy for judging!

Posted in random word competition | Tagged | 8 Comments

Sheep/Welcome Random Word Competition: Shortlist

We alternate our daily walks.

One day, we go left out of the drive and head up towards the village and the next, we turn right (Bonnie’s favourite!) and tramp across fields and a railway track.

We talk about how ‘At Some Point’ (oh, happy day), we’ll be able to extend our walk to include the pub we can see in the distance. We will sit at a table outside, regardless of the weather and drink large glasses of something very alcoholic, regardless of the hour.

Today was a village walk day and we combined it with:

1.donating to the food bank (there’s a collection box outside the vicarage)
2.looking for rocks, which are still being painted and hidden by children in the village. It’s exciting if you find one (and yes, we do wash our hands when we get home). There’s a Boris Johnson one out there somewhere and it’s my goal to find it
3. and playing the game ‘Animal, Vegetable or Mineral?’

When you’ve been with someone for many years, you assume there’s nothing new to find out but honestly, we’ve never played ‘Animal, Vegetable or Mineral?’ before today and it was a revelation.

Firstly, in case you don’t know, it’s that simple (?) guessing game, when one person chooses a thing (I chose ‘tangerine’ which counts as ‘vegetable’ even though – I know – it’s a fruit) and the other person asks 20 questions (to which the answer can only be ‘yes’ or ‘no’), in an attempt to guess what it is.

My husband interrogated me as though we were in a court of law. “Would it be reasonable to say…” (for example) “that someone might eat this fruit on a daily basis?” was one of his questions. And “Would it be fair to assume, that this is not a fruit grown in this country?”

Flipping heck! I was expecting, “Is it orange?” or “Is it round?”

He didn’t guess correctly and then I had a go and I didn’t guess his ‘mineral’ either (which was a lamp post?!!! I ask you!). So, I think that might be the last time we play that game. The excitement is too much.

So, that’s my day so far. How’s yours been?

Shortlist

Oh, and I almost forgot. Here, in alphabetical order by title, is the shortlist for the Random Word Competition (the stories are printed in full further down).

They have been selected anonymously from the 10 on the longlist by our esteemed Head Judge, who will be revealed – along with the winners and the judge’s report – on the next post, in a few days’ time.

* For Old Times’ Sake
* I Hate the Way you Stir Your Tea
* Jiggle-it Josie
* Through Gran’s Eyes
* Usually, it’s Good to See You…

The judging process is actually complete, so feel free to congratulate the shortlistees and/or tell us which is your favourite entry, as it won’t affect the final outcome!

Well done to all those listed below. If anyone’s ‘tuning in’ late and is wondering what the heck this is all about, the 5 words that had to be used in a 100 (max) word story or poem were: THOUSAND, SHEEP, PUZZLE, WELCOME, TEDIOUS.

FOR OLD TIMES’ SAKE – Christine Cherry
Hi, me again! Thanks for making me welcome yesterday, Edward…No idea E1 Holdings was good old Ted…
What? Did I start that? Tedious Ted…what a memory!
Schoolkids, eh? Follow like sheep, don’t they? Cruel beggars…Mine certainly are…when I see them…
Look, this opportunity for me would…
What? Did I say that? Well, maybe not thousands of other offers but…
What still puzzles you, Ted?
Not school again!
Exam papers where?
You’ve lost me…Maybe I just peaked early- ask my ex!
Wait! Honestly, I don’t want you to miss out, Ted…
For old times’ sake…?
Ted?

I HATE THE WAY YOU STIR YOUR TEA – Marianne Pike
Standing there in your aged, sheepskin slippers the spoon clinks, clinks in your mug. How long does it take to dissolve one sweetener?
You wear your vague, puzzled look; perhaps still wondering why you can’t have sugar, or biscuits, or why life has become so tedious.
I suggest new slippers, ‘But these are so warm and cosy,’ you laugh.
That was then, this is now. I stand here in the slippers you no longer need, appreciating the warmth and cosiness (you were right), and recognise how much I would welcome that clinking now, even if you stirred a thousand times.

JIGGLE-IT JOSIE – Jo Derrick
Bit of a puzzle why Josie keeps her curtains closed all day. I ring her doorbell, ready to spring back to keep the appropriate distance. I’m not expecting a warm welcome. She’s dressed in a 1950s circle dress in a print featuring pink flamingos with a frothy powder blue petticoat. Full make-up. Red lipstick. Vintage hair-do.
She wafts a gloved hand at me.
“Sorry. Doing a webcam. Changing into the sheep dress in a mo. Tedious! Got a thousand followers now.”
She slams the door. Mesmerised by her ample cleavage, I reel home to google.

THROUGH GRAN’S EYES – Alice Elliott
Who doesn’t love a family party?
“Sit Gran by the window,” I hear as voices whirl by. They’re all too fast for me.
Instead I watch as sheep graze on garden pansies and thousands of ladybirds climb the Monkey Puzzle Tree.
“Her legs are quite bad now. Her eyes are going too. She sees things, you know, that aren’t really there. So tedious but we’ve got her some tablets to help.”
I give a wave of welcome as a tiny soldier salutes me from the buttercups. Those tablets are under some bills back home and that’s exactly where they’ll stay.

USUALLY, IT’S GOOD TO SEE YOU… – David Simmonds
We eventually get to our cottage in Wales, rather naughtily because strictly we’re not supposed to travel. And that night in the pub some tedious old farmer is going on about how selfish people like us are. So I told him, it’s our house, isn’t it? Next morning, very early, strange noises wake me; puzzled, I look out of the window. There must be a thousand sheep packed into our garden, so tight we couldn’t get down the path. And the farmer is at the gate with two dogs and a big grin. Welcome in the hillsides? Not just now.

The food bank collection point (Father Brown’s church in the background, if anyone watches the TV programme…?)

Posted in Cotswolds, random word competition | 12 Comments