Baby, It’s Cold Outside!

Too early for the snowman header? Hmm.. maybe but it’s really gone cold here over the last few days (apparently we are heading for a ‘three week winter snap and polar winds’. Eek!). Autumn definitely feels like it’s over, so a wintery scene was required!

Today I had two little writing firsts: the Swedish women’s magazine Allas popped through my letter box, containing the first story I’ve ever had published by them, which is also the first of my stories ever to be translated into another language (not by me, I hasten to add! My Swedish vocab is strictly limited to Volvo, Ikea and the names of the members of Abba).

Anyway, my story ‘Marathon Man’, which was published a year ago in Take a Break magazine as ‘Long Distance Love’ is in Allas as ‘Maraton-Mannen’. You don’t have to be a linguistic genius to work out that the Swedes have kept my original title – yah!

They also kept the Swedish-i-fied names that I gave my characters. Originally, they were called ‘Kate’ and ‘Greg’ but when I sent the story to Sweden, I rechristened them ‘Karin’ and ‘Stefan’. I don’t think it’s strictly necessary to do that but I think it’s a nice touch (and it’s a good excuse to have fun – and waste time – googling Swedish names).

If you want to know how to submit to Allas magazine (and the good news is that they will take stories that have already been published elsewhere), then check out the guidelines on the womagwriter website – and good luck!

I went to Sweden once – for an evening! I was in Copenhagen, with work (those were the days when I jet-setted around a bit) and my boss discovered that you could take a boat (ferry? I honestly can’t remember) across to Sweden. So, we went over, had dinner and came back again. And we were able to say ‘we’ve been to Sweden!’

And talking of jetting off, I’m flying up to Scotland this weekend for a wedding in a CASTLE. How freezing is that going to be?! Because it’s not ‘lower Scotland’, it’s right up near Inverness. I am planning to invest in some thermals.

Wrap up warm, everyone!

Achnagairn Castle

Posted in Magazines, Short Stories, Successes | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Little Things…

Guess what exciting thing has happened out here in the sticks since I last wrote? No, it’s not fireworks (although I can hear them outside as I write).

Give up?

Right. Well, one of those German supermarkets (Aldi, to be precise), has opened in the nearest town to me: Moreton-in-Marsh! Whee! I know it’s a bit pathetic to be so happy (little things please little minds and all that) but shops are in short supply around here and a supermarket with new and different things is a delight.

We were there on the first day, queuing to get into the car park with all the other saddos keen shoppers. And yesterday, on my second foray, I bought (serious bakers look away now) a Betty Crocker cake mix and I’ve just made this cake! Amazing, even if I do say so myself.

It’s actually inspired me to write a short story aimed at Woman’s Weekly (the supermarket opening, I mean, not the cake!), which is an added bonus.

And on the subject of writing, just in case you were wondering if I ever do any, I currently have 25 submissions ‘out there’ (how many do you have?), including 14 short stories and 6 competition entries. I know this isn’t many, compared to some people – and it’s a long way from my never-yet-achieved goal of 50 things ‘out there’ at any one time (!) – but filling in my multi-coloured spreadsheet is a source of much pleasure. I wrote about it here – and there’s even a photo, if you want to see it in all its technicoloured glory. Little things, again..

Words & Women Competition (closing 15th November 2017)

I’m really sorry that I’m so late with this competition. There are only 10 days left to get your entry in and I did mean to blog about it sooner than this but, if you’re a female writer over 40 years old (living in the UK or Ireland) and/or a female writer over 16 living in the East of England and you’re prepared to spend £10 on your entry, it may be of interest.

It’s run by Words and Women, is for prose writing (of any kind – so fiction, memoir, life-writing, creative non-fiction and essays all count) and the national prize (for us ‘oldies’!) is £1,000 & up to a month’s writing residency, provided by Hosking Houses Trust, a charity which offers free use of a cottage, as a retreat, to ‘women over the age of 40 who need time in which to start, continue or complete interesting or innovative work in English dealing with any subject whatsoever’.

Free Short Story Competition
And, don’t say I neglect you chaps and you lucky people who live outside the UK: here’s a FREE short story competition (for stories between 3,000 – 10,000 words), with cash prizes, open to all and run by Ouen Press. The closing date is 31st December and the theme is TASTE. Have a go! What have you got to lose?

Hmm, and on the subject of taste, where’s that cake slice….?

Posted in Competitions, Cotswolds, Short Stories | 7 Comments

‘Topping Up My Well of Creativity’ (honest..!)

Last week I was invited to take part in a poetry workshop in Stratford’s Guildhall (and Shakespeare’s schoolroom).

It’s an amazing place. If you’re ever in Stratford, don’t miss it. Historian Michael Wood called it, “one of the most atmospheric, magical and important buildings in the whole of Britain.” Wow!

The workshop was led by poet and academic, John Wedgwood Clarke (you have to have a middle name like that if you’re going to be a poet, right?) and he was great. All the old school desks in the building are riddled with signatures and initials, engraved (no doubt with compasses and pen knives) by former pupils.

So, after a little warm-up exercise in which we roamed the building and wrote down everything we saw, the workshop was about ‘signatures’. We started by choosing one of the signatures in the desk in front of us and writing a short description of it and then we went on to think about our own signatures and the occasions on which we’ve used them.

Everyone in the group ended up with a beautiful poem (I know because they were all read out). A really inspiring way to spend an afternoon!

Today, by the way, it is my birthday (thank you, thank you!) and I’ve had a very relaxing day.

We don’t have Netflix and actually use DVDs (apparently, that’s hilarious. Tell me I’m not the only one?) and my OH bought me the first series of ‘The Crown’ which I’ve been dying to see. Oh-my-God it is brilliant! (if you like the Royals, which I do). We’ve already watched 3 episodes today (yes, they are an hour long! But I have also walked the dog – twice!) and I reckon we’ll probably squeeze in a fourth this evening.

I’m also reading a really good book – Robert Harris’s ‘Munich’, set just at the start of WW2. Writing has gone a bit ‘by the by’ just lately but I will get back into it. All this reading and viewing is topping up my well of creativity! (That’s my excuse, anyway and I’m sticking to it!).

Posted in Books, Poetry, Television | Tagged | 10 Comments

Whether the weather be fine*…

The weather’s been weird today. This morning we had a strange red sun, sand from the Sahara on our cars and an end-of-the-world sepia light. It felt like an eclipse (the woman in the post office told me all her hens had ‘gone back to bed’!).

And now it’s very windy of course because former Hurricane – and now Storm, Ophelia – is passing through. How was it with you? (As an aside, did you know that hurricanes with female names are deadlier than those with male names because they’re not taken so seriously? True fact!)

It’s also the 30 year anniversary of the ‘Great Storm’ of 1987, so I thought it might be pertinent to talk about the weather and writing.

‘Remember to get weather in your damn book. Weather is very important’ – so said Ernest Hemingway, who knew a thing or two about writing, after all.

I write mostly short stories so I don’t dwell too much on the weather (especially if the story’s set indoors!) but if you’re writing something longer, it can’t be ignored. It’s easy to take it for granted but weather affects everything: mood, health, what we wear, how we drive or walk, even, if it’s ‘big’ weather like storms, hurricanes or floods – our survival.

As well as adding conflict, tension or atmosphere, weather can also give you plot ideas. For example…

Rain & Wind
When I was putting together my serial for the People’s Friend I thought about all the different kinds of ‘conflict’ that I might use (‘man versus man’, ‘man versus nature’, ‘man versus himself’, ‘man versus God’.. and so on).

I considered the weather (that comes under ‘man versus nature’, of course) and how it might give my characters problems. I decided there should be a leaking roof in the main characters’ house and when one of the servants is sent up onto the roof – in the rain and wind – to fix it – he falls off and is badly injured.

More Rain
I had a story published in Woman’s Weekly recently called ‘Fifty Words For Rain’, which was set in Scotland, needless to say. The story was based around different Scottish words for rain (had a bit of help with that one from my OH who is Scottish and uses words like ‘dreich’ and ‘smirr’ with gay abandon).

One of my favourite books, the coming-of-age novel The Go Between by LP Hartley is set during the heatwave of 1900. The main character Leo is staying with an aristrocratic school friend and has brought the wrong clothes (a wool suit that’s too warm), which adds to his discomfort and feeling of alienation. It also gives another character an excuse to take him into town to buy him some more suitable clothing – and to get him ‘on side’, in order for him to become her ‘go between’.

It’s very tempting to resort to clichés when we’re describing the weather. eg: cloudless blue skies at the beach, rain at a funeral, so don’t go for the obvious – try turning weather clichés on their head. A character dies? Make the sun shine! A romantic picnic at the beach? Put in a hailstorm and see how your characters react. Instead of a ghost story set on a cold foggy night, try a hot sunny day as the setting. You might have to work a bit harder to conjure up the spooky atmosphere but it will certainly be original!

Cli-Fi, I have discovered recently, is actually ‘a thing’. It stands for ‘Climate Fiction’ – literature that deals with climate change and global warming (ie:‘ecological peril’). I asked my OH what he thought Cli-Fi stood for. His first answer was ‘cliffhanger fiction’? (not bad). His other suggestion was too rude to print.

If you’re interested, the Guardian has a list of the ‘5 best climate change novels’ here and there’s a call for submissions here (closing date 30th November) for a charity anthology which is looking for original, unpublished short stories and flash fiction (250 to 3,000 words) in the cli-fi genre. All submissions should be aimed at adult readers. Selected submissions will be published in the anthology.

* Here’s the whole rhyme, in case you’d forgotten it…

Whether the weather be fine,
Or whether the weather be not,
Whether the weather be cold,
Or whether the weather be hot,
We’ll weather the weather
Whatever the weather,
Whether we like it or not!

Posted in Competitions | Tagged | 8 Comments

Learning Curves & Cotswold Gin

A couple of weeks ago I went to see a play (which shall be nameless but it was at the RSC) and afterwards I read an interview with the lead actor in which he boasted that he hadn’t attended drama school (and he didn’t regret it).

Hmm, I thought to myself, hmm. Because his performance was good.. OK, you know, but not brilliant, not entirely convincing. And perhaps, if he had gone to drama school, it would have been better.

Because there’s nothing wrong with learning from those who are more talented or more experienced than you, right? That’s why I still have tennis coaching and why, despite being a some-time tutor and occasionally-published writer, I still like to go to workshops and glean (ooh, good word) what I can from others.

So, last weekend, courtesy of my OH, I was at a writing workshop/retreat run by Alison May and Janet Gover, award-winning, published novelists and good teachers to boot (because, let’s face it, the two don’t automatically go together).

I wanted to find out more about writing a novel. I’ve tried a few times – NaNoWriMo and Mills and Boon and stuff like that – but I’ve never actually managed to make it to the end. And a novel without an ending is a bit like Strictly without the glitter, or the celebrity dancers: a half-thing in which no-one – especially anyone likely to publish or read it – is interested.

We had to submit the first 5000 words of our ‘novel’, a synopsis and a covering letter (to a potential agent), so all of that had spurred me on and in advance of the workshop I actually managed to write an 80,000 word first draft. Not quite cause for celebration because it’s all a bit of a mess (and apparently you write the first draft for yourself – one of the things I learned – because it always has tons of backstory, which you, as the writer, need to know, but that you don’t put in the novel!).

I have a lot of work to do. Most of my first 5000 words has got to be jettisoned! (or at least, put in later, not at the start) and my synopsis? Don’t get me started on that. It was 3 pages of waffle (I now realise), when it should have been 1 page of the main plot points only.

So, I’ve given myself a couple of days off and then I will make a start. I really couldn’t have done any writing today anyway because at 11am this morning we went on a tour of the Cotswolds Distillery and I was tipsy by 11.30am!


Tasting the gin and the whisky and the cream liqueur and the absinthe and so on…

Posted in Cotswolds, Finding Time To Write, Novels | 8 Comments

Mind Your Back!

I’ve never had any problems with my back – lucky me, I know – but a week ago I got up from the PC and must have twisted in a funny way. In just a couple of seconds I ‘did’ something to my back. Ouch! I had quite a pain for a while (although I still managed to play tennis, so it wasn’t that bad…) and then a dull ache for a few days afterwards.

So, I started doing some back exercises, found in the trusty Woman’s Weekly (taken from Lexie Williamson’s The Stretching Bible)

This is for ‘niggling lower backache’ which, apparently, just sometimes needs a few simple movements to ‘unlock muscular tension’. And the best thing about this exercise, is that you can do it in bed!

NB: if you’re experiencing lower back pain rather than a muscular ache, consult a medical professional before attempting any stretching. (I have to put that, so you don’t all end up in traction and try to sue me).

This is a double leg hug. You lie on your back and hug both legs into your stomach and rock a little from side to side across the lower back. Hold for 20 seconds.

Ah, it has really helped! My back is almost back to normal but it has made me think about protecting my back. Especially having read this nightmare from Belinda Pollard (scroll down to the bit about her back – although the rest is good reading too). All because she had bad posture and sat for too long…. and another writer, Elizabeth Spann Craig had a similar problem, which she writes about here.

She reports that, if you want to protect your back, “The best practice seems to be to sit with your feet on the floor and your laptop on a desk or a table of some kind. Sit with your back straight. And take frequent breaks.”

ANOTHER TIP: Apparently, when you sneeze, you can jar your back, so you should always bend your knees! (that sounds like the start of a poem..)

Anyone else got any back stories (good or bad?)). Or tips for keeping healthy as a writer?

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Inspired by Autumn

I am feeling rather pleased with some autumnal photos that I took on Saturday (bearing in mind I have a very basic little camera!), so here they are.

I was going to try to come up with a very creative writerly ‘acrostic’ using the letters of the word ‘autumn’ to go with them but …aah, sod it, I can’t do it (apart from ‘N’ for NaNoWriMo – time to start planning that if you’re thinking of doing it this year!).

Around here, in deepest Cotswold country, all the blasted pheasants have ‘sprung up’ (I suppose the word is actually ‘hatched’) ‘as one’ and are driving my dog Bonnie crazy, as she likes to sniff them out and chase them (don’t tell the gamekeeper).

On Saturday – just after these lovely shots were taken – she disappeared while ‘hunting’ (she doesn’t catch them, by the way – they fly off) and I couldn’t find her for a heart-stopping fifteen minutes.

She eventually returned, running, exhausted, up the field towards me, through a herd of very unconcerned cows and calves (eek, don’t tell the farmer, either) and it was all very stressful.

She’ll have to be on the lead for that part of the walk from now on!

Anyone know what this baby is?!

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and all that, but I doubt whether we’d have moved to this area if we’d known it was the middle of pheasant-shooting land. No, we don’t do it and we don’t like it but it’s big business for the landowners round here, who breed the pheasants especially for the ‘sport’. Boo, hiss and all that.

Writing Weekend

On a more cheery (and writing-related!) note, my OH has bought me a place on a novel writing weekend next month, for my birthday. It’s this one (the sold-out ‘Autumn Retreat’) to be exact, run by the lovely Alison May and Janet Gover. I’m really looking forward to it and I will be reporting back!

Posted in Bonnie, Cotswolds, Novels | 15 Comments