10 Writerly Things I’ve Done This Week

Imagining myself as Carrie Bradshaw...

Imagining myself as Carrie Bradshaw…

1. I had a rejection from Take A Break in the post. Bum! I immediately polished it up a bit (and hopefully improved it), changed the title (I always change the title if I send a story out again. It’s become a bit of a superstition. It also makes it feel like more like a ‘new’ story!). Then I zapped it off to another magazine. Fingers crossed…!

2. I had a story called ‘Lookalike’ published in The Weekly News. Shh, don’t tell anyone but I originally wrote this story in 2009 and it’s taken this long to get it published. Moral of the story: never give up!

3. I bought The People’s Friend to continue my ‘market study’ – particularly of Wendy Clarke’s serial – as I’m intending to enter The People’s Friend serial writing competition next month. This now means though that I have about 4 issues of the magazine to read…eek!

4. I sent a new ghost-crime story to Take A Break, which was my 38th story since 1st January. That means I’m just about on target to reach my goal of 52 stories submitted by the end of the year.

5. I tweeted about the Curtis Brown Creative bursary: they’re offering this 3 month novel writing course, worth £1800, to a writer who’s in ‘financial hardship’ (surely that’s all writers?!). More details on how to apply here.

6. I tweeted about the Guardian Masterclasses’ free competition – you might want to have a go over the weekend, perhaps? It closes on Monday 28th September. Prize = a £450 writing course of your choice.

7. I listened to Hilary Mantel’s The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher on BBC I-player. It’s one of the 5 stories shortlisted in the BBC’s National Short Story Award (interestingly, a story that Mantel says took her ’30 years to write’).

It takes about 20 minutes to listen to (and I think it’s actually abridged) but you can always do something else while you’re listening! (I made my lunch and ate it, so I missed bits as the microwave pinged. Oh, and I burnt the toast! But otherwise, it was a really good idea).

8. I ordered some postcards to promote my e-book of short stories (and ahem, *blushes*, myself) BUT had to cancel the order because I’d done it wrong (DOH!). The company was very good and immediately refunded me. I will be trying again very soon….

9.I tweeted about the giveaway on my writing buddy Sally’s blog. There’s a year’s subscription to Writers’ Forum up for grabs so why not pop over and have a look (closes at midnight on Tues 29th September).

10. I’ve been in touch with a fellow tutor and writing friend about the possibility of taking one or two sessions of her class for her over the autumn, as for various reasons, she’s not able to do it herself. If that comes off, it’ll be fun. I’ll keep you posted!

Hmm, now that I look back, I’ve actually done a fair bit and there are lots of other bits and pieces that I haven’t told you about. What about you? How was your writing week?

Posted in Books, Competitions, Magazines, Short Stories | Tagged | 11 Comments

Season of X-Factor, ‘Strictly’ And All That…

strictlyglitterbal_3027786bNow that autumn’s here (it is, honest. There was MIST around here over the weekend! And you know what John Keats said about that), the TV has perked up! Hurrah.

We have weaned ourselves off X-Factor this year which has, truly, been hard. I feel like an ex-smoker, who just wants to go back for one more drag look and I’m going to try to get into Strictly for the first time (can you believe, it’s the thirteenth series?!) when it starts next week just because it’s the ‘in’ thing and if I don’t, I’ll miss out on sooo many girlie chats!

But there are some programmes that I just can’t bear: Downton is one (sorry, to all its legions of fans) and that Doctor Foster (again, I know I’m in a minority!) is just stupid. Why doesn’t she just TELL him she knows he’s having an affair and save us all another 3 episodes?

But what it all boils down to is, of course, that we all like different things. What floats someone’s boat, is .. erm, to attempt to continue the ‘watery’ metaphor, just a damp squib to someone else. It’s the same as books: something you love, another person might hate (what’s WRONG with them?!). There’s no point taking it personally. In fact, as writers, it’s a GOOD thing. We can never write something that will please everyone, so we might just as well write to please ourselves and hope that in doing so, we will also please some other people.

Remember this: even if one person (like an agent, or an editor) tells you they don’t like your story or novel, another one might LOVE it!

Tonight I’ll be tuning in to BBC’s ‘The Go Between‘, one of my favourite all-time novels. Ah, but so sad. Tissues at the ready….

Posted in Television | Tagged | 6 Comments

The Rain In Spain…

Some of my holiday reading

Some of my holiday reading

I was on holiday in Spain last week, hence the lack of posts.

I would like to say we had wall-to-wall sunshine BUT for the first time ever (it’s a tennis holiday and I’ve been 10 – or maybe even 11 – times), we had torrential rain for 24 hours and the whole first day of the programme was wiped out!

I wouldn’t have minded quite so much if it had been in the middle of the week (the rest would have actually been quite welcome!) but it was frustrating at the start.

However, it did give me chance to do some holiday reading! I took 3 magazines (see photo) and two books. One of the books was disappointing – and I don’t like to be negative about other writers (*pauses while she polishes her halo*) so I won’t tell you about that one but the novel I did enjoy was Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty.

Funnily enough, it had been on my ‘to read’ list for ages and then Della Galton wrote about it on social media, just before my holiday (she thought it was great), so that reminded me to read it, finally. And I wasn’t disappointed. The title’s a bit misleading, imo. It sounds like a sweet romance set in the countryside but actually it’s a court room thriller, with lots of twists and turns and well, it was pretty unputdownable.

Free Writing Competitions

It all seems very autumnal out there now, don’t you think? But, looking on the bright side, it’s easier to write when the sun’s not shining! So, here are a few FREE writing competitions that you might like to try your hand at:

1. Flash Fiction – 100 Words on theme ‘White’ Closing date: 30th September
Morgen Bailey has started a free monthly 100 word (‘drabble’) flash fiction competition. You can win her on-line writing courses. The deadline for this month is 30th September and the theme is ‘white’. If you scroll down the page, the themes for the next 12 months are also listed.

2. Writers Bureau: Flash Fiction: 500 Word Romantic Fiction Story aimed at MEN
Closing date: 14th October
Prize: On-line WB Fiction Writing course.

3. Commonwealth Writers Short Story Competition
For short stories of 2000 – 5000 words. Entrants must be citizens of a Commonwealth country
Closing date: 1st November 2015 (12 noon)

Tracy Fells whose story was shortlisted for the award last year has just put up an interesting post about it on her blog here.

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

10 Ways To Write More

clockI am not, I admit, the most productive of writers.

If procrastination were an Olympic sport, I’d be up there on the rostrum and I can only shake my head in wonder at other writers who seem to be ‘super productive’ (you know the types: they tweet things like ‘another chapter written!’ or ‘got an idea for my next novel!’).

How do they do it?

Well, they probably do some, or all, of the following:

1. Consider The ‘Pareto Effect’

You may know it as the ’80-20 Rule’. The ‘Pareto Effect’ states that, for many phenomena, 20% of input is responsible for 80% of the results obtained. For example, in business, 80% of sales usually come from 20% of clients, the richest 20% of the world’s population control 80% of the world’s income and so on.

Have a look at the time you spend writing and the success you have in each area (your idea of success might be monetary reward, another writer’s could be the number of words he’s clocking up). You may well find that 80% of your success comes from 20% of your input and with that knowledge, you can decide how best to allocate your time.

The ‘Pareto Effect’ certainly applied to me until recently. Running a writing class and tutoring for the Writers Bureau ate into the time I had free for ‘writing’ but my short stories – on which I was only spending 20% of my writing time – were bringing in 80% of my writing income (income = success for me!). So that’s the area I want to concentrate on – and I’ve phased out the others (at least for the time being!).

2. Find A Good Way to Say ‘No’

Most of us say ‘yes’ to things we don’t really want to do out of politeness or a sense of obligation. I’m not saying ditch all your friends (or become a hermit) but it’s worth practising how to say ‘no’ to invitations or you could really do without – thus freeing your time up for something you do want to do: write!

It might be as simple as saying, “I’m sorry but I just don’t have the time.”

3. Make An Appointment With Yourself To Write

Someone told me once about a creative writing class they attended, run by a very scary lady who, at the end of each session, made everyone say when – exactly – they were going to write during the coming week. She wouldn’t accept a vague, “A couple of evenings, after work”, you had to be precise. eg: “I’m going to write on Monday from 6pm to 8pm in Starbucks and on Saturday afternoon, in my study from 3pm – 5pm.”

She made them write those ‘appointments’ in their diaries and the following week, they had to report back. Sounds a bit extreme? Well, the person who told me that story – Martin Davies – has subsequently written 6 novels, one of which was a Richard & Judy Book Club Read in 2006. Go figure, as they say across the pond!

4. Get Up Early

Now, if you’re absolutely NOT a morning person, this might not work for you (not even by going to bed earlier and starting the day with a jug of coffee?) but there are several advantages to getting up early to write, not least the fact that you’re supposedly more in touch with your subconscious when you’ve just woken up! But also it’s quieter, the world hasn’t ‘got going’ so there are less interruptions or temptations to check emails or social media.
If you manage to write before you start your ‘day job’ – whatever that may be – you’ll feel rather smug: if you do no other writing for the rest of the day, you’ve managed some, first thing. You’ve done the most important thing: you’ve written.

5. Don’t Multi-Task

I am guilty of this, I’ll admit it. But research has shown that you don’t actually achieve more by multi-tasking, it just feels like you are! (Remember that expression ‘a busy fool’?)

Received wisdom is: do one thing at a time and finish it before you move on to the next. Don’t start a new project until you’ve finished the one you’re working on. Starting is easy: finishing is trickier. Don’t be one of those people that never finishes anything.

6. Reward Yourself

Make yourself a lovely cocoa to drink when you start, or bribe yourself with a bar of Galaxy once you’ve written 1000 words. Whatever floats your boat (10 mins on Facebook, perhaps) – whatever’s going to give you that gentle kick up the backside that we all need from time to time.

If you like cats – and I’m not a great fan but this is fun – try typing directly into the Written Kitten website. For every 100 words you type in, a new picture of a cat pops up! Cute!

7. Set Goals & Targets

Groan. I know, this sounds serious and a bit too much like WORK but remember Parkinson’s Law: work expands to fill the time available for its completion.

The theory is, if you don’t set yourself a time limit, you can take forever to complete what you’re doing. Deadlines, targets, mini goals and bigger goals all help you control and monitor your progress and should help you to write more.

See Simon Whaley’s excellent book The Positively Productive Writer if you want to know more about setting goals.

Another tip is to break down your task into smaller components (so if you’re writing a novel of 100,000 words and you want to finish the first draft in a year, you’ll need to write 8333 words a month, which is 1923 a week, which is 274 a day (approximately!) Doesn’t sound too bad if you break it down like that, does it?

8. Report In

It’s all very well setting goals and targets but you’re more likely to stick to them if you’re accountable for them in some way. So try to ‘report in’ to someone – whether that’s swapping your totals (or your work) with a writing buddy or setting out your goals in a blog post and then keeping readers updated on your progress.

9. Watch How Much You Watch

The average Briton now spends 24 hours a week in front of the TV. Aagh! That’s a whole DAY! Now, dear reader, I’m not suggesting that you are one of these couch potatoes but it’s worth totting up how much you do spend – and whether you could be doing something else a little more constructive (eg: writing!) instead.

James Herriott, who wrote those lovely vet books back in the ’70s, apparently used to write sitting in front of the TV, with his family around him. Great if you can do that – he had the best of both worlds – but I suspect most of us would find that too distracting! (but might be worth a try…?!)

I am not too much of a gogglebox but I must admit to watching the current Great British Bake Off, which inspired this rather tasty banana cake the other day…

Banana cake 003

10. Don’t Strive for Perfection.

Don’t write what you think you ‘should’ be writing, write what you enjoy and what excites you. Don’t worry about the first draft – it’s supposed to be rubbish. In fact, give yourself permission to write rubbish. You can always improve it by editing and redrafting. Many of us procrastinate because we’re frightened of being disappointed by what we write but if you lose that fear – and worry about improving it later – you can and will, write more.

And on that note, I’m going to reward myself for this blog post with a cup of tea and a piece of that cake. Do write and tell me your tips for Writing More!

Posted in Finding Time To Write | 14 Comments

Artist’s Date #1 – ‘Smelling The Roses’

rosesRight. As I’m writing an article about ‘Artists’ Dates’ I thought I’d better start going on some.

So, today I went all on my tod to Todenham to the Alain Rouveure Galleries. It’s about 5 miles down the road from me. Or 8 if you go down all the country lanes and get lost. Thank you, Janice. (Janice is my trusty SAT-NAV).

I’ve written about Julia Cameron’s ‘Artist’s Dates’ here so I won’t repeat myself. Instead, I will tell you how it felt to be on an artist’s date.

Firstly, it felt odd to be going somewhere on my own (or, at least, with just my ‘creative self’ for company!). I don’t often – if ever – go on a ‘solo expedition’ or ‘adventure’ which is what an artist’s date is and, once I got over my resistance (‘I don’t have time!’ ‘This is frivolous!’) it was quite exciting! No one else to accommodate, or please, or talk to – it was liberating and relaxing.

And because there was no-one to talk to, I really noticed things. Not just the artefacts in the Nepalese exhibition, or the paintings, or the lovely jewellery, rugs and scarves for sale but, as I sat in the Himalayan Coffee House, (well, a girl needs refreshments!) facing the view of rolling hills, I really listened to the music that was playing, I really tasted the Nepalese coffee and I absolutely resisted the urge to check my mobile or even write anything. I just sat and took it all in. (And breathe…).

Then I wandered through the beautiful gardens and .. cliché alert, but this is true..I stopped and smelled the roses!

Everywhere I went, by the way, there was this little black and ginger cat. Ah, sweet, I thought, it’s following me. I asked the girl behind the counter in the cafe, what the cat was called. “That one’s Myrtle,” she said. “There are ten.”

Ah, so it wasn’t following me. It was just a different cat in each room!

Soo, that’s the artist’s date done and it did feel good. Time seemed to slow down though, so I did find it quite difficult to make myself stay there for the full hour (which is the guideline. Any less and you won’t really take things in). I’m sure, with a bit of practice, it will get easier. And I should have taken my camera – I will on the next artist’s date.

Did I ‘top up my well of creativity’? I think I probably did. Whether or not I’ll ever write about Nepal, or Shamans or a place that has ten cats, I don’t know but I certainly came back from my artist’s date feeling that I’d experienced something new and that’s got to be good!

And on a different note, the Della Galton Book Giveaway. The winner is Tracey Booklover. Well done, Tracey, your book will be with you in the next few days.

Posted in Artist's Dates, Books, Cotswolds | 8 Comments

Giveaway: Della Galton’s ‘How To Write & Sell Short Stories’

I've got two, so one's up for grabs!

I’ve got two, so one’s up for grabs!

After putting you through all that ‘A to Z’-ing (phew, I was glad when I got to Z), I thought it was about time for something different.

So, I’ve got a giveaway, courtesy of Kishboo the e-fiction magazine for fiction lovers! (not ‘fictional lovers’! That’s a different thing altogether).

Kishboo ran a competition a little while ago and I was the winner of a novel and Della Galton’s excellent ‘How To Write And Sell Short Stories‘. Turns out, I’d already got that book on my shelves (albeit a slightly older version!), so rather than let it go to waste I asked Sharon at Kishboo if she’d mind me giving the book away and luckily for us all, she said yes (it’s the one on the left).

You can buy Kishboo as an e-magazine for your Kindle for just 99p or you can read all the issues (4 so far) on the website free.

The next deadline for Kishboo’s short story competition (£3 entry fee, prizes of £50, £25 and £15, plus all 15 shortlisted stories appear in the next issue), is 20th October 2015, so there’s plenty of time if you want to have a go.

If you want to win a copy of Della‘s book – an invaluable tool if you’re trying to ‘crack’ the women’s short story market, or enter competitions (ahem, like Kishboo’s) or even if you just want to remind yourself of the essentials of short story writing – then this is what I want you to do:

In the comments section, tell me (briefly – it only needs to be a line or two!) about a short story that you’ve read recently, that you’ve enjoyed. I’ll start us off with this one:

In the latest (September’s) Take A Break Fiction Feast, I really enjoyed Gail Richards’ story ‘How I Met Rory’. I’ve already emailed Gail to tell her this (she was the winner of the subscription that I gave away to TABFF a little while ago).

I liked it because it was a bit ‘different’ – I really didn’t have a clue how it was going to pan out, which kept me reading. I’m a sucker for a bit of romance – and an animal – and they were both in there and Gail really managed to pack a lot into just one page. Oh and I learned something too – that ‘zenzero’ is Italian for ginger!

So, that’s it. The only other rules are: 1 entry per person, deadline is 20th August, when I’ll choose a winner at random AND you can write about any story apart from one of your own…! Good luck!

Posted in Competitions, Magazines, Short Stories | Tagged | 9 Comments

My Writing A – Z … Y is for YA Fiction

Finding AudreyY is for YOUNG ADULT FICTION

My OH recently brought something ‘extra’ back from the supermarket.

“I’ve got you the new Sophie Kinsella book!” he cried, holding Finding Audrey aloft, with great pride.

I didn’t like to burst his bubble – or seem ungrateful – by pointing out that it was actually a Young Adult novel (her first) and therefore, probably, in truth, not top of my reading list.

So, I read it anyway. It made me laugh, it made me cry, I really enjoyed it! (And the great thing about YA novels is, they’re usually not as long as ‘adult’ novels, so you can zip through them! Bonus!)

It made me realise that I’ve read quite a few YA novels and enjoyed them (Harry Potter, of course – and John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, the Twilight series and The Hunger Games).

If you’ve written – or are writing – a YA novel, you might be interested in the Fish YA Novel competition here – closing date 30th October 2015.


When I taught some ‘writing for young adults’ last term, these were some of the tips I gave the class:

• You must be in the HEAD of a teenager to write YA fiction. Don’t write as an adult looking back.

• Make sure your character’s age suits your audience. Teenagers and children will read ‘up’ (about children older than themselves) but not down.

• Go steady with teenage ‘jargon/slang’. (Throw in too many ‘sicks’ and ‘feels’ and your novel will not only soon date – you might get it wrong!)

• There are no limits. You can and should deal with dark topics. YA novels have been written about sex, pregnancy, suicide, abuse, school shootings, cancer, death, drunk driving, incest, bullying, rape, murder (BUT offer a kernel of hope at the end).

• Nobody wants to be taught lessons when they are reading fiction – especially young adults – so avoid preaching. Teenagers have radar for lecturing/moralising and it will turn them off your book.

• In YA fiction you can lie about anything except emotions. The defining characteristic of YA literature is emotional truth.

• Write hopeful endings. In writing for young adults there still seems to be a sense of responsibility not to moralise or ‘warn’ but to allow for possibility. Let your readers believe that, in the end, the choice is theirs.

Y is also for YES. I have a tendency to say ‘yes’ to too many things (I’m just a girl who can’t say no and all that), which means I race around like a headless chicken and don’t leave myself enough time or space for writing.

I am trying to rectify that. For example, I’ve just told my class that I’m taking a break and won’t be taking the class again in September.

Z is for ZZZs.

I need my 8 hours sleep. My friend Chris will confirm this. She’s always quoting the time we were at Arvon – sharing a room – and we’d gone to bed on the first night, not too late, while others on the course were still up and chattering in a room below us.

“Isn’t it fabulous?” she said (I’m paraphrasing), “being here, with all these other writers, in this exciting location, the whole week ahead of us…?”


Then, from the bed across the room (ie: me), “Snnnnnrrrr…”

If I don’t get enough sleep, I can’t write. I sit at my desk and I just want to snooze. I wish I wasn’t like this. I wish I was one of those people who can survive on four hours sleep a night. Imagine how much more I’d get done!

Z is also for ZADIE SMITH, another British, female writer that I admire.

One of her tips is “Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.” (Unless – I would add – they are bringing you tea).


Posted in Books, Competitions, Finding Time To Write | Tagged | 5 Comments