All Rise…

stepper

Hysteria Writing Competition 2015

The prize money in the Hysteria short story competition has just gone up to a very tasty £400 for the first prize and £200 for the flash fiction and poetry winners (all thanks to a new sponsor), so if you haven’t already thought of entering, that might tempt you.

The competition is open to female writers of any nationality writing in English (sorry guys!). Details are here and the closing date’s 31st August 2015.

RIP Laminator

I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before (members of my writing class know!) but I have a bit of a ‘thing’ for laminating. Well, this morning, disaster struck! My laminator died – by eating 2 of my published short stories, that I’d just fed into its mouth.

Warning: do not leave your laminator unattended!

I left mine for all of 30 seconds, while I went into another room to get more laminating sheets and when I came back, there was no sign of the sheet that I’d left chugging its way through the machine. I thought I was going mad. I looked everywhere. I even accused the dog of doing something terrible to the sheet, perhaps, as it floated to the floor. Then smoke started to come out of the laminator and when I peered into the slot, I could see the crunched up remains of my two stories in there. I expected the laminator to burp. Aagh.

Protect Your Back – And Get Fit!

And finally, you must read this post by Belinda Pollard (which my writing buddy Sally first alerted me to, via Twitter) – it’s all about protecting your health and specifically your back when you write (and let’s face it, we’re probably all guilty of slouching or not having our desk/chair at the right height). When you spend hours (and hours, as we all do, of course!) sitting, it’s really important to think about posture.

I dare you to read the section on ‘back care’ and not sit up straighter/put your feet on the floor and sttrrettchhh…

I don’t like to scare-monger – after all you don’t read this blog to be worried or stressed, do you – but it’s been in the news lately about how too much sitting is bad for you. Maybe we should all write standing up (like Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf and Ernest Hemingway, amongst others)? Or lying down in bed (like Truman Capote and Edith Wharton)?

These are the tips on the NHS website, for adults aged 19 to 64:

Adults aged 19 to 64 are advised to try to sit down less throughout the day, including at work, when travelling and at home.

Tips to reduce sitting time:

* stand on the train or bus
* take the stairs and walk up escalators
* set a reminder to get up every 30 minutes
* alternate working while seated with standing
* place a laptop on a box or similar to work standing
* stand or walk around while on the phone
* take a walk break every time you take a coffee or tea break
* walk to a co-worker’s desk instead of emailing or calling
* swap some TV time for more active tasks or hobbies

I must admit, when I first read that novelists Kath McGurl and Cally Taylor were getting a ‘stepper’ and a treadmill-with-laptop-tray, respectively, so they could stand and exercise while they wrote, I thought they were .. well, a bit mad! (Struck me as being like that patting your head and rubbing your tummy exercise. Too much to think about!) but now, well, Ladies, I salute you. It’s the right thing to do!

Maybe, instead of a new laminator, I need to get a different kind of exercise machine! What d’you think? Exercise bike with laptop tray, anyone…?

Posted in Competitions | Tagged | 9 Comments

I Need A Hero… ! (+ here comes a giveaway!)

PoldarkI admit it. I am a laggard.

I’m talking about those classifications to help explain how new ideas and technology spread through cultures. You know the ones: there are the ‘innovators’ (those annoying people who have to have the latest gadget before it’s come off the production line) and then there are the slightly more circumspect but still very up-to-the-minute, ‘early adopters’.. and so it goes on, until you get to the last group of people. Those who are the very last to catch on to anything. Well, they’re the laggards.

You see, the BBC Sunday night Poldark TV series is nearly at an end and I’ve just realised how good it is.

I’m one of those saddos who can remember the first Poldark series, back.. ahem, in the ’70s (I watched it from my cot) and there was a little part of me that thought ‘Nah, it can’t be as good as that’ but I’m writing something that needs a HERO and I wasn’t feeling very inspired and everyone seems to be swooning over Aidan Turner, who plays Ross Poldark, so purely for research purposes you understand, I watched Part I yesterday and Part II tonight and yes… I am hooked.

If you are intrigued – or if, like most of the (female) population, you’ve been watching it since episode one – then you might be interested in Kim Fleet’s fascinating post on what Poldark can teach us writers!

And there’s a great interview with Poldark screenwriter Debbie Horsfield, on the BBC Writers Room website here.

One of my favourite authors, Marian Keyes, has even come up with a Poldark bingo card, which you can use for the last two episodes!

Book Giveaway

And finally, to celebrate my coming into the fold-that-is-Poldark, I’m giving away a brand new copy of the first book in the 12-book series: the appropriately-named ‘Ross Poldark‘ by Winston Graham.

Just leave a Poldark or hero-related comment under this post by 9pm on Sunday 19th April 2015 and you’ll be entered into the random draw. Are you watching it? Do you hate it?! (gasp!) or why do you think Ross Poldark is such a good hero?! (Or who’s written a better one?)

Posted in Books, Men, Research, Television | Tagged | 12 Comments

Results of Writers’ & Artists’ Short Story Competition

sun-with-sunglasses-clipart-ecMdEKnMiDid you have a good Easter?

I’ve decided I much prefer Easter to Christmas! No pressure to buy presents/have a marvellous time and there’s no 2 month ‘build-up’! What’s not to like?

I still felt guilty though.

Not enough of this:

writing

And too many of these:

eggs

Anyway, onwards and upwards!

The results of the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook short story competition are now on line.

There’s a judge’s report, along with the complete stories by the winner and two runners-up, which is very pleasing. (Don’t you hate it when competition organisers don’t publish the results but make you fork out for an ‘anthology’ for the pleasure of reading the winners?).

Interestingly, all 3 stories are called ‘Joy’ and all 3 are by men. Hmm, so that’s where I went wrong. (Also, I didn’t have any swearing in my story. Big Mistake).

Anyway, when I first told you about the competition here I wrote “I’ve read the winning entries for this competition for the past two years and they’ve been.. how can I put it? ‘Different’. Think experimental, outrageous, striking, memorable! (easier said than done, I know but trust me on this one! When the results come out, you will see what I mean…)” and, well, I hate to say I told you so.. but I told you so!

Read them and see what you think. And then come back and tell me. (One of them, by the way, does have some humour in it! Praise be! See previous post, Make ‘Em Laugh).

Win Your Way To Swanwick (8 – 14 August 2015)

If you want to win a writing holiday in Derbyshire, at Swanwick (worth over £500), then you’ve got until the end of this month to get your entry in! They’re looking for poems, short stories and children’s stories on the theme of ‘at the heart of it’. It’s £5 per entry. Details here.

Posted in Competitions, Short Stories | Tagged | 5 Comments

Make ‘Em Laugh..

laurel-and-hardy-cartoon-827250Or at least, don’t make ’em cry or feel depressed, is my cheery message to you today.

Last week I went to see Death of a Salesman at the Royal Shakespeare Company theatre in Stratford. Yes, I know, I’m a big fat show-off but some of you live in exotic climes, some of you live by the sea and lots of you live near SHOPS, so I’m entitled to a little boasty-boastiness, about the fact that I live down the road from Stratford-upon-Avon.

Right.

Anyway, Death of A Salesman is considered by many to be the ‘greatest American play’ and because of that – and also because 2015 is the centenary of the playwright Arthur Miller’s birth – the RSC have chosen to produce it this year. I know all this from watching director Greg Doran’s little video, here.

There are some amazing actors starring in it – Harriet Walter and Anthony Sher and the rather gorgeous Alex Hassell (who is usually Prince Hal/Henry V, so it was nice to see him doing something in jeans) – and even though it was the first night, there was, as far as I could tell, only one small ‘blooper’ when, at the end of the first half, Ms Walter called someone by the wrong name.

But. And it’s a big ‘but': Death of a Salesman is very depressing. I mean, I’ve seen it before but it really struck me this time, just how unremittingly sad it is. At least, in Shakespeare, there are some funny bits in the tragedies.

So, as much as I admired the acting, the staging, the production and the music, I’m not sure that I’ll be going to see Death of a Salesman again. Life’s grim enough, isn’t it? If you want sad, tragic and pointless, just switch on the news.

Which made me think about writing short stories. If you keep them ‘upbeat’, not only are they more fun to write but you’ve got a better chance of success with them – especially (definitely) if you’re writing for the women’s magazines but even when you’re writing competition entries, too.

I’ve often read judge’s reports in which they moan about the general misery, death and destruction in most of the stories they’ve had to sift through. And Writers Forum magazine, in the details for their monthly short story competition, actually specify what they don’t want (ie: misery): “All types of story are welcome, be it crime, comedy, history, romance, horror, sci-fi.. but THEY MUST BE ENTERTAINING/RIVETING, NOT UNREMITTINGLY BLEAK. Don’t rely on subjects like death, abuse etc to add cheap emotion. Stories must work harder to engage readers.”

Which makes you think, they must get an awful lot of ‘unremittingly bleak’ stories, mustn’t they?

If you’re trying to write for the women’s magazine market, you must offer hope and an uplifting ending, even if the subject of your story is serious.

Teresa Ashby wrote this a while ago (2009!) but I can still remember it and it still resonates with me. Definitely worth a read if you’re wondering why you keep hitting a blank wall with your submissions to People’s Friend.

It’s not easy to be funny when you write. That’s why those who can do it, often do so well. I love reading Marian Keyes and Sophie Kinsella novels, not because they’re ‘great literature’, or even, at times, terribly original. But they make me laugh. Out loud. And that’s good enough for me.

Posted in Competitions, Plays, Short Stories | Tagged | 19 Comments

Spring Clean Your Life!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted in Finding Time To Write | 27 Comments

Setting Stories In The Past

In WWFS now!

In WWFS now!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writing Competitions, Results & Stuff

We've had sunshine today - you too?

We’ve had sunshine today – you too?

There are lots of writing competitions out there.

You know this.

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

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

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

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

28th March: AsparaWritingFestival Short Story Competition

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

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

30 April: Momaya Press Short Story Competition

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

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

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

Results

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

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

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

Womag News

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

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

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