It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like.. you-know-what

bonnie-calendar So, the countdown to Christmas has begun. My blog header’s changed to the good old snowman, the SNOW has magically appeared, as it does every year from 1st December and the Bonnie calendars have just arrived from Vistaprint…

Yes, it’s sad but true, that every year we have a dozen or so calendars made, featuring a different photo of our dog for every month (chosen with so much care you’d think we were putting the Pirelli calendar together!) and they are distributed to ‘lucky’ friends, family and neighbours. They probably hate them (actually we know our neighbours don’t because they were the ones who urged us to do it again, after the inaugural one, which we did for a bit of a joke…) but never mind, it’s a tradition now and we can’t stop!

I’ve also got a couple of stories out – in the Christmas issue of Woman’s Weekly (double issue dated 29th Nov) and Take a Break’s Fiction Feast.

The Take a Break story, which I called ‘Donkey Work’ but they’ve changed to ‘Stage Fright’ is about a school nativity play. Not the most original of settings, you might think and certainly it’s taken a few years to find this story a home.

Shh, don’t tell anyone but I actually wrote it back in 2008! It was one of the first stories I sent to my (then new) writing buddy Sally Jenkins, when we used to swap our work fortnightly.

It was turned down by Take a Break in 2013 (and probably by other magazines before that but I’ve lost track) but accepted this year, after I jazzed it up a bit. Which just goes to show, never give up on a story that you like!

magazinesThe WW story, on the other hand, was only written this year and was snapped up by WW (if that doesn’t sound too boasty boasty) just over a week after I sent it to them. The inspiration came from a headline I saw somewhere last Christmas – ‘Gold, Frankincense and Fur’. I loved that. And it gave me the idea for a story featuring a wedding ring, a character called Frank and a reluctant mum who’s landed with the school pets over the Christmas holiday.

Of course, it’s too late to submit Christmas stories to the magazines now but there’s nothing to stop you gathering ideas and inspiration for next year, with a view to submitting them from the summer onwards.

Linda Lewis (who’s had 51 womag stories accepted this year – so far! Amazing achievement), recommends watching lots of Christmas films (Channel 5 has a couple on every day at the moment) and – little tip from me – I have a file on my computer ‘Christmas Story Ideas’ into which I bung anything that I spot – half-formed ideas, puns and headlines, anecdotes, things that happen to me and friends.

Talking of which (not that this is necessarily a Christmas story idea but it is something that happened to me), on Thursday I went out for a few hours to the new writing group that I’m involved with (more about that soon) and forgot my mobile phones. (I have a work one and a personal one and they were both left on the side in the kitchen, where I’d been charging them).

Never mind, I thought, it’ll be fine… and guess what? Sod’s law and all that, I got a puncture! Those lovely men at KwikFit in Stratford helped me out again, by fitting a new tyre. This time there were no deer parts involved (only, ahem ‘dear parts’ because this time, of course, I paid them!).

Hope your Christmas is starting to rev up gently..…

Posted in Bonnie, Magazines, Short Stories, Successes, Woman's Weekly | Tagged | 4 Comments

Guest Post: Della Galton & ‘The Reading Group’

dellaI’m delighted to welcome the lovely Della Galton to my blog today.

Writer, editor, creative writing tutor, dog-lover, she’s the agony aunt in Writers Forum magazine and a self-confessed workaholic (I hope I haven’t missed anything off…).

Della’s now involved in an exciting new venture: a series of novellas called ‘The Reading Group’ which launches on 1st December (and the first one’s free to download!).
They sound like perfect ‘curling-up-in front-of the-fire’ reading to me and I think the covers are lovely. You could almost EAT them!


So now it’s over to Della to tell you a little more and to answer my (very nosy) questions…

What’s It All About?

The Reading Group is a series of novellas about five women, who live in the seaside village of Little Sanderton and come together every month to share their love of reading. No topic is off-limits: books, family, love and loss . . . and don’t forget the glass of red!

There are five novellas. January, February, March, April, Summer Holiday. They are published by Quercus which is part of the Hachette Group and are 99p apiece.


Anne-Marie has always considered herself a bit of a matchmaker – never mind that she’s only got one real success under her belt. And this year she’s determined to up her game: Little Sanderton’s singles could certainly benefit from her expertise!

But while Anne Marie thinks she knows what’s best for everyone else, her own life couldn’t be less of a fairytale romance. Between looking after her cranky father and running her own business, she doesn’t have time for a relationship. Her friends in the Reading Group know better though: after all, love can be found in the most unexpected of places . . .

This January the Reading Group is tackling Jane Austen’s Emma . . . which has some uncanny parallels with Anne-Marie’s life, but who’s got time for fiction when romance is in the air….

How did the idea for The Reading Group novellas come about? I think I read somewhere that you were approached/commissioned to write them?

I was approached, you are correct. It wasn’t the first time I’ve been approached by agents to write things. Just before anyone gets too envious! Usually I write a sample, get very excited, then get turned down. But this time I wrote a sample and the agent said those incredibly exciting words, ‘They love it. Write the rest. Contract’s on it’s way.’ OMG doesn’t cover it.

Have you ever been in a reading or book group yourself and if so, did you draw on your experiences of that? Or did you research reading groups? Or did you just make the whole thing up?!

I have never been in a Reading Group, no. Although I’ve been in plenty of writing groups. But I do have a group of amazing female friends. It was kind of based on them.

Who’s your favourite character in the novellas?

I’ve been waiting for someone to ask me this and it keeps changing. It started off with Anne Marie who’s the MC in January. Then it changed to Kate who’s the MC in February. Then It was definitely Jojo who is the MC in March. But I’ve just written April and guess what? I’ve fallen in love with Serena, who is the MC in that! Sorry, that’s not much help is it.

Any plans for more Reading Group novellas after these initial 5? Or is it a case of ‘watch this space’?

There’s a summer holiday one – and it’s possible there might be others. Definitely watch this space.

You’ve changed your name to Della Parker for these books. I’m curious – can I ask the thinking behind that please? (don’t tell me it was a typo!)

Actually, it’s nearly as unexciting as being a typo. I was asked to change so that these novellas would be a ‘debut’. you know, one of those overnight successes that come after 30 years!

The short story that launches the Reading Group is called December. And it’s FREE. Please download it here.

Thank you so much for having me🙂

It was a pleasure, Della! And good luck with The Reading Group. I’m sure it’s going to be a great success!


Posted in Books, E publishing, Guest Post | Tagged , | 6 Comments

I’m a Writer, Get Me Out of Here…!

starsAs one of my favourite TV programmes is on at the moment (IACGMOOH) I just couldn’t resist that title! ‘But, get me out of where?’ I hear you cry.

Well, dear reader, out of a writing rut.

Believe me, I’m writing this for myself as much as you (if indeed, you’ve also had the ‘wading through treacle’ feeling for the past few weeks or have ever suffered from tired brain, writer’s block, or a bad case of procrastination).

I don’t seem to be able to finish anything! And NaNoWriMo didn’t happen for me, of course (although I do still have the trusty notebook and will hopefully use it one day).

If you can relate to this quote from the American writer, William Goldman: ‘The easiest thing to do on earth is not write’ or you’re feeling uninspired and bored with your writing, then you might find something here for you.

I have scoured books and the trusty interweb for handy tips. I’ve even dredged my half-empty brain and managed to find a couple of ideas in there, so here goes:

1. Forgive Yourself

OK, I admit, this is a bit new-age-y (stop sniggering at the back) BUT if you haven’t written as much as you’d like recently, in the words of that song from Frozen: Let It Go. That time’s gone (eek, I’m depressing myself now) .. and there’s nothing you can do about it (it’s getting worse), so don’t brood. Look at yourself in the mirror, say something nice (‘I forgive you!’) and then, move on.

2. No Social Media Until 4pm

This works for me, on the days when I manage to stick to the rule: do not look at emails, Twitter, Facebook, blogs or the like until 4pm. The theory being, that at 4pm you still have an hour of the ‘working day’ left, if there’s anything that needs your attention that day (eg: sometimes – oh, happy days – the editor of Take a Break accepts a story from me by email and asks for the email version to be sent ‘as soon as possible’).

Not browsing the internet during the day means – as well as saving lots of time – I seem to have a much clearer head.

3. Plan

Maybe you’ve simply run out of steam because you didn’t plan enough before you started writing your novel? Many people swear by the ‘Snowflake Method’ – have a look, it might work for you!

4. Change Things

Try writing in a different location, at a different time of day or in a different genre (just for fun – you might like it). Change the sex of your protagonist or the point of view from which your story’s written (from first to third, say or from single to multiple point of view). Write in present tense instead of past, by hand instead of straight onto the PC.

5. Write First Thing in The Morning

There are fewer distractions, you can do it in bed, your will-power will probably be at its highest level and – added bonus – if you get your writing done first thing, you’ll feel super-duper for the rest of the day.

Linked to this, you could try doing Morning Pages. I do these about 50% of the time and once you get into the habit, they become as routine and necessary as cleaning your teeth. Morning Pages are a kind of writerly meditation and they do help create ‘mind-space’, in my humble opinion.

6. If You Can’t Write, Read.

Read inspiring novels or books that will re-ignite your love of the written word. My personal recommendations: A Writer’s Book of Days by Judy Reeves; On Writing: a Memoir of The Craft by Stephen King, Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg and The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.

7. Challenge Yourself … write for 30 minutes (or an hour, or whatever you choose), every day for the next 2 weeks. Then set yourself ONE goal for those 2 weeks and break it down into chunks of 30 minutes (or an hour or whatever you’ve chosen). Focus on one project at a time (Oh, I am soooo guilty of not doing this).

8. Use a Timer

Use a timer for scenes that you find difficult to write. No editing (‘til later). Just do it!

9. Give Yourself Permission to Write Rubbish

I really like this quote from author Anna Hope, who (in the latest Woman’s Weekly Fiction Special), when asked ‘Do you ever get writer’s block?’ said, “Rarely, because I have a technique of just writing rubbish until the good stuff comes. It’s like a rusty tap – you keep on until the water runs clear again.”

10. Create a Playlist

Crime writer Ian Rankin does this for every new novel he writes. He creates a playlist of songs and every time he listens to it, it puts him back in the world of the book.

Time-slip novelist Kath McGurl creates a Pinterest board of inspiring images when she starts to craft her next novel (but it doesn’t have to be on Pinterest, you could create a physical ‘mood board’ instead). I’ve never tried these techniques (but then, I’ve never written a novel). They might work for you!

11. Discover What You Really Want to Write About

Perhaps you’re ‘stuck’ because you’re not really writing what excites or interests you.

There’s a great exercise in The Writer’s Book of Days which goes like this: number a page from 1 – 100 and then, as quickly as you can and without really thinking about it, make a list of 100 things you want to write about. Use single words or short phrases, no long descriptions. It doesn’t matter if you repeat yourself (that means it’s really important). Just get it down. Write down 100 themes, memories, mysteries, intriguing situations or questions you want answers to.

So there you go – 11 ideas for getting out of your own writerly ‘bushtucker trial’. Let me know if you’ve got any other tips!


Posted in Finding Time To Write | Tagged | 20 Comments

A Supermoon and a Super Writing Competition

moonThere’s going to be a Supermoon tonight! I’m sure you’ve heard.

It’ll be the largest moon for 69 years and should appear 14% bigger and 30% brighter than usual.

Here in the UK, we’ll see the supermoon in all its glory (cloud cover permitting) about an hour after it rises (moon rise is at 16.44), she says, typing frantically and hoping this blog post is published by then!

As well as being closer and brighter, the moon will apparently look orange and red when it first rises. Ooh, exciting. [*reaches for binoculars and camera*]

Tell me if you see it!

And just to get you in the mood, here’s a literary quiz, courtesy of The Guardian, all about the moon. It contains that perfect ‘show don’t tell’ quote by Anton Chekov (whoops, given away an answer there): “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

It’s hard, actually and I only got 5 out of 12. See if you can do better!

National Short Story Week

It’s National Short story week starting today and I’d like to tell you about lots of events happening around the country to celebrate and promote short story reading and writing. But sadly – apart from this writing competition for children – there doesn’t seem to be much happening.😦

‘Twas The Night Before Christmas Competition c/d 27th November

night-before-christmas-writing-competitionOn a different subject, if you’re feeling in the mood for a FREE writing competition with a Christmas theme, then this might be of interest.

Amazon (yes, them. I know that might put some of you off…) have launched a search for ‘a modern day version of Twas The Night Before Christmas, as a gift to families for bedtime reading this Christmas Eve.’

I’m assuming the ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’ they’re referring to is the famous Clement Clarke Moore (or was it Henry Livingston?) poem, also known as ‘A Visit from St Nicholas’ – more about that here.

There are full details here and lots of rules here but in short, you must be a UK resident, closing date is 27th November and they’re looking for a ‘family-friendly’ and ‘Christmas-themed’ story of between 350 and 700 words.

The prize package is not to be sniffed at: professional illustrations of the story, a £2,000 Amazon gift card and a tablet.

What are you waiting for…!?

Posted in Competitions, Short Stories | Tagged , | 7 Comments

Taking Tea with Jane Austen

Jane Austen's House in Chawton

Jane Austen’s House in Chawton

OK, that title’s not entirely accurate but bear with me. It was my birthday a couple of weeks ago and for a little treat, my very own Mr Darcy whisked me off to Hampshire to the house where Jane Austen lived for the last 8 years of her (short) life and where she wrote or revised all of her novels.

We were in Chawton, somewhere I’ve always wanted to go (bucket list, tick), at the house in which Austen’s rich brother allowed Jane, her sister Cassandra, their mother and a family friend to live, rent-free. (And just as well as they really had nowhere else to go).

There’s a lovely little tea room across the road from the house, where we enjoyed a cuppa after our visit (and we could still see Austen’s house through the window), so that was as close as I’m ever going to get to taking tea with Jane.

And here I am, channelling my inner Jane Austen, quill in hand. Do you like the 19th/21st century combo of bonnet and jeans?


I hadn’t actually thought about the mechanics of writing 200 years ago but of course, Ms Austen would have used quill and ink. She didn’t even have a pencil to write with, a desk to write on or a writing room of her own. She sat downstairs, near the front door, which was hardly used and a creaking swing door warned her if anyone was coming, so she could put away her small sheets of paper or cover them with a piece of blotting paper.


That’s the tiny table at which she wrote:

2017 is the 200th anniversary of Austen’s death and Hampshire Cultural Trust will be co-ordinating a year-long series of events across the county to celebrate their most famous daughter.

There’s a short story competition, for example, with a closing date of 28th Feb 2017 and a first prize of £1000. There’s a fee of £5 and you need to write a story of 2017 words or fewer, based on this quote from Mansfield Park: “Selfishness must always be forgiven you know, because there is no hope of a cure.”

When we got to our hotel, after visiting Chawton, I was delighted to see a Jane Austen ‘book bench’ in the lobby, part of Basingstoke’s ‘Sitting With Jane‘public art trail. Well, I had to try it out, didn’t I?


Posted in Books, Competitions | Tagged | 11 Comments

A Tale of Two Books (and some cake)

bookIt’s nearly that time of year again. No, not the Great British Bake Off Final, although that IS on tonight and I WILL be watching!

My man has been out to the village shop and bought a cake ‘specially because we always get an urge-for-cake while it’s on. Unfortunately, and sssh, don’t tell him.. he bought ‘almond & cherry’ which is NOT my favourite.😦 But I will force it down.

No, the ‘time of the year’ I’m talking about is NaNoWriMo. I won’t go through it all again. You probably know what it is and if you don’t, I wrote it about it in more detail (SIX YEARS AGO!) here.

If you’re intending on taking part in National Novel Writing Month (apparently 200,000 people around the world do), the 1st November’s only a few days away, so it’s time to start thinking and maybe doing some planning, unless you want to do it in a completely seat-of-the-pants way and just start writing but I honestly don’t recommend that. In my experience, you end up with (mostly) rubbish!

I still haven’t decided if I’m going to attempt it or not. It partly depends on whether I get my non-fiction book finished and published on Amazon by then and also if any of my pals are going to do it too (it’s much easier if someone you know is also in the throes of NaNo because you can sympathise, empathise and generally cheer each other on).


But I have to tell you about the book I’ve bought, which arrived today in the post ‘Ready, Set, Novel!’ (‘Plan and Plot your upcoming masterpiece) which is written by the folks that set up NaNoWriMo (well, you can’t really blame them for cashing in).

It’s a book and ‘stationery’ all at the same time! Double-whammy! It’s a ‘novelling journal’, a handy workbook, meant to be used to prepare you for NaNoWriMo but as I’m fast running out of time to do that, I may just use it alongside the (possible) ‘novel writing’ in November and see how I get on.


And talking of book recommendations, on a completely different note, I went to the Cheltenham Literature Festival a couple of weeks ago and amongst others, saw Carys Bray being interviewed and subsequently bought her first novel, A Song for Issy Bradley.

I am so, so wary of buying books by people I’ve never heard of (sorry, Carys) just because I’ve been disappointed so many times but I’m happy to say, that this was a lovely read (it gave me ‘book bereavement’. When I’d finished reading it, I felt bereft and lost and wished I still had that world to go back to), so I have no hesitation in recommending it.

I learned something from it and I love it when I learn something from a novel, as long as I don’t feel like I’ve been lectured at. The story centres around a British Mormon family, in present day Northern England. Carys Bray comes from exactly that kind of family (interesting article here published before the novel came out) so I’m sure there’s a lot in the book that’s autobiographical. I found it fascinating.

They always say, write the book that only you could write. With Carys’ background and life experiences, not many other people could have written anything like A Song for Issy Bradley and that’s part of the attraction, I think. It’s original and intriguing, as well as beautifully-written, sad and funny.

If you read it, let me know what you think.

Wish I had this cake for tonight...

Wish I had this cake for tonight…

Posted in Books, Novels | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Guest Post: Writer Linda Lewis (Exclusive!)

linda-picI’m delighted to welcome to my blog a special guest – Linda Lewis – who, amongst other things, is a very successful short story writer.

Linda’s never been interviewed in any of the writing magazines, so this is an exclusive look at the way in which she works!

She recently had 10 stories accepted for publication in just one week. WOW! Given how small the market for women’s magazine fiction is now, that’s pretty amazing.

If there’s a Linda Lewis story in a magazine I’ve bought (and there usually is!), it’s always one of the first I turn to and I was keen to find out the secrets of her success. She’s been very generous with her tips and advice but firstly, I asked her about the 2 new Kindle books for writers that she’s just launched on Amazon:

How to Write Short Stories with Twist Endings

twist-endings About 90% of what Linda writes contains a ‘twist’ of some kind. Some of her stories are ‘pure twist’ where the whole point of the story is that the reader is deceived (and the twist is revealed at the end) but many have twists somewhere other than the end. These are what gives the story a ‘surprise’ (so beloved of Woman’s Weekly magazine, who often reject a story if it has ‘no surprises’) and stops it from being boring.

‘Twists,’ Linda says, ‘are my forte.’

How fitting then, that she’s written a writer’s ‘how-to’ book focussed purely on twists. I’ve just bought this one myself and I’m looking forward to reading it and doing the exercises.

100 Great First Lines and How to Use Them
One thing that Linda’s never short of, is ideas. She has an ‘ideas book’ but freely admits that she has more ideas than she can possibly use.

This book is a perfect example of a good, original idea. Linda’s published the first lines of 100 of her stories in the first section of the book and invites the reader to use them as a prompt for a story. If you get stuck – or when you’ve written your own piece – flick to the back for Linda’s ideas on how you could develop the idea from that first line and for the ‘reveal’ of what Linda did with it herself.

How it All Began : Sadly, Linda’s childhood wasn’t the happiest and she certainly wasn’t encouraged to write but she was an avid reader. From the age of 7 she would take herself off to the nearby library and, as she got older, English was her favourite subject (partly, she suspects, because she had a crush on the English teacher!)

Interestingly, for someone who writes so much fiction now (her target is 5 stories a month but it used to be 8), Linda started out as a non-fiction writer. She had several tanks of tropical fish and wrote about the subject for magazines all over the world.

Everything changed, unsurprisingly, when her husband Gareth died suddenly. Up until then she’d been dabbling with fiction but with widowhood came a lack of confidence. She found it difficult to work and so writing fiction became both a source of income and an escape from the real word.

Can she remember her first acceptance?

‘Of course. It was from Take a Break and I earned £400. Those were the days when they had a one-page coffee break story in the weekly magazine. The acceptance came on January 9th 1998.’

It was her late husband Gareth’s birthday.

The Writing Process

Linda works part-time and finds mornings are the best time to write, as she’s more creative then. She doesn’t start too early – anything from 8.30am to 10am – and while she’s happy to write non-fiction straight onto the computer, she can’t do that with fiction. She always writes the first draft of a story in longhand. She finds it ‘freer’.

‘I can draw arrows and jot notes in the margin that way. If I write straight onto the computer, I’m too concerned with layout and how it looks.’

When she types up the story, she gives it a ‘good second edit’. She likes to leave a finished story overnight (or longer) before sending it off. Often that’s how the best ideas for improving it will come to her.

I ask about the ‘lure of social media’ and Linda admits, ‘I like Twitter. The in/out ease and quickness suit me.’ But she’s not so keen on Facebook, which she would happily avoid completely if she could.

‘I feel as if I have little choice but I only use it sparingly. There are so many happy stories which is great but sad ones too and I find those too distracting. I have avoided bad news since Gareth died. I don’t read news sections of any papers nor do I watch TV news programmes. So if you’re on Facebook and I don’t make a comment, it’s not because I don’t care, it’s because I DO care. Too much.’

And that brings us on to another topic. Just in case we’re making writing for the women’s magazines sound all too easy, Linda wants people to know that she suffers from depression and that obviously affects her writing. ‘There are times,’ she says, ‘when my stories simply don’t work. I have to wait until I feel better in myself.’

Once she’s reached her quote of 5 stories for the month (October’s has already been reached!) then Linda stops and does something else. She wants to write longer fiction. There’s a novel partly-written, an idea for a teenage fantasy trilogy and she’s has plans for a serial, something she’s never tried before.

Writing for The People’s Friend

It hasn’t all been plain sailing. Linda admits it took her 10 years to get a story accepted by The People’s Friend.

Why so long?

‘I didn’t see myself as a People’s Friend writer. Perhaps I had a mental block. But I felt a fraud, teaching workshops but never having had a story in People’s Friend. So I decided it was time to do something about it.’

Linda set aside a weekend and did nothing but read a stack of People’s Friend magazines (weeklies and the Specials) and analyse them. ‘I read them as a reader and then again as a writer. I looked at the language, the themes, the subject matter. The very next story I sent them, was accepted.’

What sort of stories does she like writing best?

She likes writing from a man’s point of view because it’s easier to be someone so far removed from herself. And although Linda ‘loathes Christmas’ (and February because of Valentine’s Day) she loves writing Christmas stories because she can ‘write about a fantasy Christmas’ – the sort that she’d love to have herself. She’s already sold 3 Christmas stories and 2 Valentine’s stories this year.

Tips for Womag Success?

In addition to using twists and writing from a man’s point of view, Linda suggests, ‘Give someone an unusual occupation or set the story somewhere unusual. I’ve written recently about a man who works in a joke shop and my story in a recent TAB Fiction Feast is about a grandmother on Tinder!’


‘Avoid the obvious settings: charity shops, offices, the home,’ she adds. ‘And think of an unusual structure for the story too, if you can.’

We talk about how sometimes, reading our own stories aloud can make us cry! And how that might be a bit embarrassing but it’s not bad. It means the story’s written from the heart. And that reminds Linda of something else. ‘Put some emotion in your writing. If you can make the writer cry, that’s great.’

Her final tip: ‘Don’t give up! It’s a numbers game. Don’t send one off and then wait for a reply. Start writing the next’. Wise words from someone who’s currently waiting to hear about 20 stories from submissions to Woman’s Weekly alone…!

Other Stuff & The Future

When she’s not writing, Linda loves gardening and singing, animals and painting. She’s hoping to move soon, from Leeds, where she’s lived for the past 7 years, back down to Devon. Her house is already sold, so if anyone knows of rental accommodation in the Exeter area, give Linda a shout, as she needs somewhere to move to – fast!

And please check out her Amazon author page (there are more books on writing, including one specifically for ideas ) and her Facebook page, which aims to ‘help and advise other writers’. She’s more than happy to be contacted via Twitter, Facebook or by email.

Thank you Linda for chatting to me today and for being so generous with your advice. It was fun! All the best with those exciting plans you have for your writing and good luck with your move to Devon!



Twitter: @Writingiseasy



Posted in Guest Post, Ideas, Magazines, Short Stories, Woman's Weekly | 16 Comments