Ditching The Kindle (& another free-to-enter novel competition)

The Daily Mail Penguin Random House First Novel competition

Whatever your feelings about the Daily Wail Mail, there’s no denying that, every so often, they run a nice competition for us writers.

For this, the latest one, they’ve joined forces with Penguin/Random House and you’ve got until 13th July 2018 to submit your 3,000-word novel opening and a 600-word synopsis of the remainder of the book. You should also include a short three-paragraph cover letter stating who you are and the main idea behind your book (which, incidentally, doesn’t have to be about horses!)

Entry is free but you must not have had a book* published before, whether that is in print, e-book or self-published.

*in the rules ‘book’ changes to ‘novel’ so if, like me, you’ve self-published some short stories, I reckon you’d still be eligible to enter. What do you think?

There are also some other rules – like you can’t already have an agent – so make sure you read them all carefully and don’t (potentially) waste your time.

All the details are here and good luck if you decide to go for it! (And bear in mind that you have to POST your entry – no email submissions, as far as I can see – so allow a couple of days for it to arrive!)

Holibobs Reading

Now… a favourite subject of mine (and probably many of you, too): BOOKS.

I’ve just read ‘My Name is Leon’ by Kit de Waal.

I’d heard of the book but I was only prompted to buy and read it by my recent visit to ChipLitFest, when I heard the author talk at an event. Ah, it’s so good. Have you read it? I won’t say too much because a) if you have read it, then you know and b) if you haven’t, then you might want to discover it all for yourself. But when I thought about why I’d enjoyed it so much, two things (apart from the wonderful writing), came to mind:

1. I was rooting for Leon from the very first page. I cared about him and wanted to know what was going to happen to him.
2 I didn’t have a clue how the book was going to end. And there was tension because there was a definite chance that it could all be going to end very badly….

I’m going on holiday soon and I’ve just ordered my ‘holiday reading’. Wheee. That’s fun, isn’t it?

But, shock news: they are all actual books, not e-books because I have decided that I don’t actually like reading on a Kindle. I tend to ‘skim read’ in a way that I never do with a book.

I like the feel of a book in my hands, I like to stroke the cover and see – actually see – how many pages I’ve got left. It’s just not the same on a Kindle (plus – and this is something that I really hate – when you’re reading on a ‘device’ you have to turn it off before the plane takes off and as it’s coming in to land. All that wasted time, when you’re just sitting there, gazing out at the clouds, when you could be reading!)

So, yah boo sucks to that this time. I’m taking books. And namely….

1. How To Stop Time – Matt Haig
2. Tin Man – Sarah Winman
3. Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng

(btw, if you have read any of these and thought it was terrible, please refrain from telling me! I will find out for myself. And besides, I might like it! Books are funny like that, aren’t they?).

Right, must dash. B&Q, the garden and the sunshine are calling me. But if you want more stuff about writing, then take a look at Emma Darwin’s latest blog post (today’s in fact), in which she links to lots of her previous posts, on subjects such as ‘Committing to Writing’ ‘Getting Published’ and ‘Writing Courses, the Pros and Cons’ and ‘Should I do a Writing MA?’ Loads of great reading there (as always).

(And in case you’re wondering about the horsey photo… there’s a stud farm near me and at this time of year, the fields are full of mares and foals. Every time I drive past them it lifts my little heart).

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Posted in Books, Competitions, Cotswolds, Newspapers, Novels | 4 Comments

Festival Frenzy! (and some free competitions)

I have piles. Of books to read.

Right, I have quite a lot to say (and as we’ve just re-named Wednesday, ‘Winesday’, I’m doing it with a glass of the pink stuff by my side), so are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…

That title is something of an exaggeration but over the past week I’ve been to two literary festivals and had a jolly time listening to five very different writers.

First, was poet Wendy Cope at the Stratford Literary Festival.

The best moment was when a woman in the audience kicked off a question by announcing (via the ‘roving mic’): “I really love your poem ‘Mrs Icarus…” Cue groans and gasps from the audience because that was, of course, not written by Wendy Cope but by the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy.

Ms Cope took it all in good humour. Apparently, the one she gets most often is, “I really love your poem, ‘When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple’, which, of course, is another one that she didn’t write.*

The same evening, I also saw Ruth Jones, of Gavin & Stacey fame, whose first novel ‘Never Greener’ has just been published. I haven’t started reading it yet but it’s chunky and will, I’m sure, be funny, so I’m looking forward to that.

Newsflash: No, there won’t be a new series of Gavin & Stacey. Or even a Christmas special. I think, judging from her polite-but-slightly-gritted-teeth response to that question in Stratford, Ruth Jones is probably asked that question every day of her life.

I had a few days’ rest from literary festivals before zooming over the border into Oxfordshire and to Chipping Norton for their ChipLitFest last weekend.

I had booked tickets for two events, only because they featured novelist Joanna Cannon (and I have a bit of a girl-crush on her, I think).

However – disaster – she was ill and not able to attend and I contemplated not going at all – but I was glad I did because I saw the hilarious (and irreverent) ‘shock doc’, Adam Kay, author of ‘This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor’ in a sold-out event in the Town Hall (you feel very smug when you have a ticket for a sold-out event, believe me).

For reasons that are, apparently, revealed in the book (I haven’t finished it yet), Kay’s no longer a doctor but is a stand-up comedian and script writer now (Eek! I have just Googled him and discovered that one of his writing credits is ‘Mrs Brown’s Boys’! Ah well, we all have our off days). But, anyway, he was hilarious and very entertaining and I’m enjoying the book (although it’s definitely not for the faint-hearted!).

Then, finally, I went to see/listen to novelists Kit de Waal and Joseph Knox talking about their first and (recently published) second novels. Must admit, I hadn’t heard of thriller writer Joseph Knox but he said two very reassuring things:

1. His real name is ‘Knobbs’
2. It took him 8 years to write his first novel.

And something lovely and reassuring about Kit de Waal – she didn’t publish her first novel, My Name is Leon, until she was in her mid-fifties. Hurrah for that.

Ahem, while we’re still on the subjects of festivals, let me just give a little mention to Evesham Festival of Words, where yours truly will be involved in a couple of events in the summer and if you fancy a free trip to the Hay-on-Wye Festival later this month – then, look no further than here.

Those lovely people at Waterstones are running a competition to win A GOLDEN TICKET and a 3-night stay at Hay Festival over the Bank Holiday weekend (Friday 25, Saturday 26 and Sunday 27 May 2018) in a Bedouin Tent. All you have to do to enter, is fill in the on-line form by 18th May and keep your fingers crossed!

Writing Competitions (closing May & June)

The Women’s Prize for Fiction First Chapter Competition 2018 (closing 22nd May 2018)
For the 8th year, Grazia magazine is running a ‘first chapter’ competition, this time in conjunction with ‘Women’s Prize for Fiction’.

They’re looking for ‘new female writing talent’ (sorry, guys). Novelist Paula Hawkins (‘Girl on a Train’) has written the start of a chapter and you need to finish it in 800 – 1000 words.

It’s free to enter and the winner will get a meeting with a senior Penguin Random House editor, a goodie bag and have their chapter published in Grazia. They will also be invited to the awards ceremony on 6 June at Bedford Square Garden, London, to pick up their £1000 prize. All the details are here.

Richard & Judy’s Search for a Bestseller 2018 (closing 14th June 2018)
TV power couple, Judy Finnegan and Richard Madeley (as in, ‘The Richard and Judy Book Club’) have launched their third ‘Search for a Bestseller’ competition in conjunction with WH Smith.

First prize – for an original novel of at least 80,000 words, aimed at adults – is a £30,000 publishing deal with Bonnier Zaffre and advice from literary agency Furniss Lawton.

Previously unpublished and currently un-agented UK writers are invited to submit their entries (10,000-word extract plus a synopsis and short author biography) for consideration.by 14th June 2018 via the entry form on the Richard and Judy Book club website, where full terms and conditions can also be seen.

Good luck if you enter any of the competitions and let me know if you win!

*it’s Warning by Jenny Joseph. But you knew that, of course. (Can you tell I run book quizzes? That won’t be a question in the Evesham Festival Bookworms Quiz Night on 27th June, by the way!).

Posted in Books, Competitions, Cotswolds, Events, Magazines, Novels, Poetry | Tagged | 7 Comments

Give it up for ‘Up Lit’!

The last few books I’ve read have all been quite ‘dark’ and serious, dealing with nasty things like blackmail, abduction and murder.

In fact, one of them – Lisa Jewell’s psychological thriller ‘Then She Was Gone’ – made me cry and feel rather low when I’d finished it. I know, diddums. 😦

Apparently, (if you’re planning on reading it, don’t click on this link or it will all be spoiled for you) the ending
was going to be quite different but when Lisa submitted the manuscript to her editor, she (the editor) wasn’t sure about it and brainstormed with another editor and then told Lisa what they felt she needed to do to ‘save’ the book. (This is just one of the things that a good editor will do, if you’re lucky enough to have one!).

I like Lisa Jewell. I’ve read most of her (more cheery!) novels, since her award-winning debut, Ralph’s Party, I think she writes well and I usually enjoy her books so, it’s not her – it’s me. I don’t think psychological thrillers – or ‘dark’ books of any kind – are really ‘me’. There’s enough misery in the world without reading about more, made-up misery, in my humble opinion. (Although crime and thrillers are now the best-selling genres, so what do I know?).

Anyway, the antidote to ‘dark’ books is ‘Up Lit’ – a new feel-good genre, apparently, focussing on kindness and with a requisite happy ending (so if I cry, at least they’re ‘happy tears’!).

I’ve read – and enjoyed – Joanna Cannon’s ‘Three Things About Elsie’ and Gail Honeyman’s ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ which are good examples of the genre and now, there’s a new ‘Up Lit’ book on the block: the first novel from … brace yourself… twenty-five year old Libby Page, called The Lido, which is about a group of residents who come together to try to save their local outdoor swimming pool from closure.

There’s more information about it here – and scroll down that page too, for Libby’s ‘Tips on Writing a Page-turner’.

Swimming and niceness! What’s not to like? I’m definitely adding this cheery-sounding little number to my ‘to read’ list. 🙂

Posted in Books | 14 Comments

How to Kickstart Your Writing (After a Break)

Spot the daffodil

We’ve had the best day of the year so far today. You too?

Sunshine! Temperatures over 20 degrees! I wore (long) shorts for the first time and swapped my woolly hat for a jaunty cap. Finally, finally, it feels like spring.

So, I thought I’d better do a bit of gardening.

Our garden is compact and bijou and in the words of my dear mother, ‘it probably used to be a lovely garden’ (before we got our hands on it – or not – because sadly, gardening tends to fall to the bottom of our ‘to do’ list).

As I set out to do some weeding and general ‘tidying up’ today, for the first time since last autumn, it occurred to me that starting to garden again, after a long cold winter, is a bit like starting to write again, after a break.

We’ve all done it. You go on holiday, or move house or life just gets busy and suddenly, you’re not writing any more. And then you can start to lose confidence (‘Can I still do it?’) and it gets harder and harder to make that first step.

So, if your writing zone is, like my garden, a bit of a (temporary!) wasteland, here are some ideas that might help:

1. Get the right equipment. As I knew I was going to be dealing with nettles, brambles and spiky thistles (yes, it’s a jungle out there), I armed myself with two pairs of thick gardening gloves, so there was no excuse for wimping out. For writing, you need different tools, obviously: a shiny new notebook and pen(s), at the very least.

2. Set a timer. If you’re feeling ‘resistance’, as I certainly was today (I actually had a ‘gremlin’ in my head, telling me perhaps I should leave the nettles alone because butterflies might be laying their eggs in them…), telling yourself you’re only going to garden – or write – for x number of minutes, makes the whole thing less daunting. I set the timer for an hour but if you’ve had a long break from writing, that’s probably too much. Try ten or fifteen minutes instead.

3.Have an incentive. I promised myself a ginger biscuit and a cup of tea, sitting in the sunshine, once the timer beeped and my hour was up. If food and drink doesn’t incentivise you in the same way, then you could reward yourself with ten minutes on Facebook or an episode of Corrie. Whatever floats your boat.

4. Be gentle with yourself. I ‘allowed’ myself to roam around the garden, doing whatever bits I liked best (pulling swathes of ivy off the wall was very satisfying, as was digging out thistles by the root). Forcing myself to clear a whole border (backbreaking! boring!) would just have put me off the whole gardening lark. I will of course, have to do that eventually, but not yet.

In the same way, if your first foray into writing for a while means you ‘just’ write stream-of-consciousness (Morning Pages or a diary/journal entry) for ten minutes, then so be it. Don’t beat yourself up because you haven’t fleshed out a whole short story or thought of the plot for a novel. Give it time. Just write something. Anything. Use a prompt from Judy Reeves’ book or Paula Williams’ blog. Don’t stress. You’re just warming up.

5. As soon as the timer rings, you can stop, of course but you may find you’ve got into the groove and you want to continue to write. When my hour of gardening was up, I carried on pulling up a few more nettles because – get this – I was enjoying myself and that’s the border I’m going to return to tomorrow, or the next time I garden. Have an idea of what you’re going to do ‘next time’, so that you don’t start your next writing session with a blank page and a blank mind.

6. Make it a habit. Obviously, one hour of gardening is not going to do an awful lot, on its own. I need to be doing an hour a few times a week.

Whatever time you’ve decided you can manage to devote to writing, needs to become part of your routine. Think about your average day – or week. When do you have the most time and energy for writing?

I had some writing coaching at the start of last year and as part of that, I committed to write for 15 minutes, every morning, before I did anything else. I had the pad and pen by the side of the bed and I did the writing sitting up in bed. It became a habit, it wasn’t particularly arduous but those 15 minutes all added up and became the basis of the 71k novel draft that I finished in March.

Small and often can and does grow into something bigger. It’s easy to think if you don’t have lots of time available, then it’s not worth starting but you don’t have to write for hours every day. You just need to get into the habit of writing often, for as long as you are able. 10 or 15 minutes (often!) is fine.

7. Deadlines. Thinking more long term, deadlines are good. Your deadline might be a writing competition that you want to enter, or a critique that you’ve got to submit by a certain date, or class ‘homework’ that you need to finish in order to get some feedback.

My gardening deadline is 16th May, when I’m hosting the meeting of the poetry group I belong to. Most of the other members are keen gardeners and although I don’t expect we’ll be sitting outside, they will see the garden and I want it to look, well, presentable, at least and not full of weeds. So that’s my gardening deadline and my incentive.

Of course, gardening is a great way to relax your mind and get ideas for writing. While I was gardening today, I thought of this blog post. I’m afraid it doesn’t work the other way around though. While you’re writing, your lawn won’t magically mow itself…!

Nettle soup, anyone?

Posted in Finding Time To Write, Ideas | Tagged | 8 Comments

Mud, Glorious Mud: Worcestershire, Walking & Writers

courtesy of clipartmag.com

This morning we finally decided to go and walk Bonnie somewhere that was recommended to us about …erm.. 3 years ago: Elmley Castle. Isn’t that a cool name for a place?

It’s just over the border in Worcestershire, about 20 minutes’ drive away. It’s a beautiful village, sadly without a castle these days but – even better – there’s a dog-friendly pub with a roaring log fire: the Queen Elizabeth Inn (named after Bess herself, who stayed in the village in 1575).

The walk (3 miles) would, I’m sure, have been lovely (apparently there are fabulous views of the Cotswold Hills) but it was not only misty (OK then, foggy. Is it autumn already?), so we couldn’t see more than about twenty feet ahead but then it started to rain and, worst of all: there was MUD everywhere! Really thick, gooey, pull-your-wellies-off mud.

We managed not to fall over in it but we were completely covered and splattered and the dog had to be dunked in the stream before we dared venture in a ‘pub-wise’ direction.

Yuck. So much for that great idea. We will go back one day and do the walk again but only once the whole place has dried out!

Tomorrow I am off to Worcestershire again – to Evesham this time – to a free event at Evesham library (11am, if you’re interested) when four writers – Juliet Bell, Ali Bacon and Debbie Young – will be talking about their books and the writing life.

Yes, four writers – you read that correctly. ‘Juliet Bell’ is actually the pseudonym of Alison May and Janet Gover, who write collaboratively under that name. Here’s an interview with them on the RNA website.

Their first joint novel – The Heights – (a modern retelling of Wuthering Heights, set in the 1980s) was published earlier this year and is definitely on my ‘to read’ list and they’re currently beavering away on their second ‘retelling of a classic’ (not sure if I’m allowed to tell you what that is but there was a clue on Twitter today…’someone’s in the attic…’).

I am fascinated by the process of writing with another person. I’ve blogged about it before – here – I’m dying to find out how they work together (and I will report back after tomorrow!)

But it’s not all about Juliet Bell! The other writers sound fascinating too. In addition to writing the Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series, Debbie Young set up the Hawksbury Upton Literature Festival in the Cotswolds (it’s on 21st April 2018 this year and it’s free to attend!).

And Ali Bacon’s not only written two very well-received novels: another of her claims to fame is that she won last year’s Evesham Festival of Words short story competition – here she is, receiving her prize from Prue Leith, no less (Prue is the one in banana yellow).

Hmm, I think I’m going to have to raid my piggy bank before I go to Evesham tomorrow. So many books, so little time…..

PS: If this is all sounding a bit ‘Midlands-centric’ and you live further South (Kent?) then you might be interested in the Kent Festival of Writing, which is THIS SATURDAY, 14th April! Have a look here.

Posted in Bonnie, Books, Cotswolds, Events, Novels, West Midlands | Tagged | 6 Comments

The First Signs of Spring…

It’s got warmer all of a sudden, don’t you think?

And, in my garden, for the last two days, we’ve heard the first sounds of spring: the POP, POP, ARRRGGH! of this season’s first games of table tennis.

OH has got golfer’s elbow (I’m saying nothing), so has got to play left-handed and I’m thrashing him in every game. Am enjoying it while it lasts!

Flash Fiction Competition

If flash fiction (in this case, up to 300 words) is your thing, then take a look at the Worcestershire Litfest’s Flash Fiction Competition. You’ve got until 27th April to get your entries in and it’s £10 for 3 entries or £4 each if you want to send one or two (maximum of 3 entries per person).

Why Blog?

This blog and little old me got a mention in an article by Simon Whaley in this month’s Writing magazine, as a result of which, I’ve got a new follower, Georgie, who lives on a yacht, sailing around the Greek islands (it’s a tough job, and all that…) and blogs here.

She’s asked me about blogging (‘Is it a legitimate form of writing?’) and admits to spending a lot of time either reading other people’s blogs or writing her own, to the extent that blogging is ‘taking over’ her day (and, I suspect, stopping her writing more travel articles, with which she seems to be having some success!).

I’ve come over all ‘agony aunt’ and here is my advice to Georgie and to anyone else finding themselves in the same boat… (if you’ll excuse the pun)

1. It’s all too easy to spend hours writing blog posts. When I first started my blog, I would sometimes write 3 blog posts a week! Eek! How did I manage that? Now I try to blog once a week (but sometimes even that slips). Most blog followers don’t expect a post every few days but if you leave it much longer than a fortnight between posts, they might start to lose interest.

2. Reading other people’s blogs and commenting also takes time. I’d say, limit yourself to, say 10 blogs that you really want to follow and allow yourself to read them once a week – and write a comment – spending no more than an hour or two and then, that’s it – no more dipping in! Most people don’t blog more than once a week, so you won’t be missing anything.

But it’s good to comment! Not least, because it’s encouraging for the bloggger, to have some response to his/her posts. If no-one interacts, there’s actually not much point in blogging. I know lots of people read blogs and never comment, even if they’ve enjoyed what they’ve read and that’s a bit like having a great meal and not leaving a tip. (Just saying…)

3. At the end of the day, unless you’re one of those lucky/talented people whose blogs get turned into books, like Judith O’Reilly (Wife in the North) or Julie Powell, whose blog about trying to cook every recipe in Julia Child’s cookbook, became the book ‘Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen’ and then a blockbuster film (‘Julie & Julia’), then your blog is mostly for your own edification and pleasure, so you need to monitor how much time you give it.

Some might argue that it’s a ‘showcase’ for your writing and that if you eventually publish a book, then you already have something of a writer’s platform but really..? Really, most blogs are just a bit of fun.

You can write and publish anything on a blog, which is part of the enjoyment, of course but there’s no selection process, no editor to impress, no money (mostly) to be earned. Which is probably why most blogs don’t last very long…!

So, blog away, by all means and enjoy the process. But think carefully about whether you want to spend most of your valuable time on the blog, or whether it should really take second place to other writing projects….

Posted in Blogging, Competitions, Finding Time To Write | 27 Comments

Caravans & Cubicles: In Which I Shamelessly ‘Ear-wig’

I read something the other day that I’d never really thought about before: we all spend most of the time trying to hide how we’re really feeling.

It’s so true!

Think about it. Even when you’re with your nearest and dearest, you do it. (Otherwise, we’d all be saying things like, “Do we have to? Your mother/sister/auntie Doreen bores me to death!” or “Oh, are you back already?”).

When we’re writing dialogue, it’s worth remembering that most people don’t say what they’re really thinking, most of the time.

Let me give you an example:

I was at the swimming pool earlier this week and I deliberately chose a changing cubicle next to a chatty woman (whom I shall call ‘Linda’*) because I thought I might overhear something interesting.

She was talking to another woman – her friend, presumably, whom I shall call ‘Daphne’* – in the next cubicle along and the conversation went like this:

Daphne: Linda? Er… just out of interest, do you rent out your caravan?

Linda: (coldly) Yes, we do.

Daphne: Oh, right. (Pause) Erm… and do you still go to it yourself?

Linda: Well, we didn’t go much last year because Mike was ill and we haven’t been this year yet because there’s so much else to do. We’re renovating the cottage in Cornwall and we’re going on a cruise in April.

Daphne: Oh, really? Lovely! Where are you going?

There then ensued a long and complicated tale of where Linda and Mike were going on their cruise (the Med, incase you’re interested), the terrible problems they’d had getting insurance cover, because Mike had been ill.. and so on.

Never again (or at least, not in the time it took me to get dressed and pack my stuff away), was The Caravan mentioned but it was perfectly clear to me that a) Daphne was interested in going to the caravan and b) Linda had no intention of letting her.

Why didn’t Linda just say ‘No, we don’t rent it out’? Or ‘We do rent it out but only to family.’? Because, if she’d been happy to rent the caravan to Daphne, surely she’d have said,”Yes, we do! Are you interested?” So, she just pretended not to get the hint. And, clearly, Daphne had got the message that this wasn’t something to be pursued, so had happily engaged in the change of subject (when what she really wanted to say was probably, “Would you rent your caravan to me?” or – more confrontationally – “Is my money not good enough for you?!”).

When we’re writing dialogue, what’s NOT said is as important as what is said.

I am still worrying about Daphne. Maybe she’s a single mum and a trip to a caravan – particularly if she thought she’d be getting ‘mates’ rates’ – is all she can afford.

LINDA – (who’s not actually called Linda) – if you’re reading this and you recognise yourself, don’t be a meanie! (After all, you’ve got your cruise and your cottage in Cornwall! How many holidays does one person need?). LET DAPHNE GO TO THE CARAVAN!

(But, on the other hand, perhaps someone else rented their caravan to Daphne one year and she trashed the place? There are, as they say, two sides to every story).

*Names have been changed to protect the ‘innocent’.

Talking of stories, the Writers & Artists’ short story competition results are now up on the website.

I really love the winning story, ‘The Colour Forty’ by Lucy Grace.

It does all the things that, I think, a ‘literary’ short story (ie: the kind that win short story competitions), should do:

1. Has an intriguing title
2. Sets up a mystery/question right at the start, which isn’t answered until the end of the story.
3. Beautiful writing
4. A main character that you’re rooting for
5. Lots of ‘space’ for the reader to fill in the gaps: it doesn’t tell us what or how to feel.
6. It left me thinking about it, long after I’d finished it

Read it yourself here and see what you think. The runners-up are on there too although I haven’t had time to read those yet.

Posted in Competitions, Short Stories | Tagged | 12 Comments