All Zoomed Out

Does anyone else have a recurring nightmare? (Apart from being stuck in an everlasting Zoom meeting?)

Here’s mine: I’m packing to go somewhere (that has to be a dream, at the moment, right?) and I’m late and in a mad rush and I’m throwing things into the suitcase but it’s still not fast enough.

I’m going to miss the plane or the train or the bus and someone’s waiting for me (sometimes the mysterious ‘someone’ is tapping their foot, looking at their watch, saying, “Come on, come on!”)

Eek, my chest’s going tight just thinking about it.

You don’t have to be a genius to work out that’s a stress dream. Even when I don’t feel stressed, I sometimes have the same dream.

Now, I’m lucky: I really don’t have much to get stressed about but ‘time management’ has always been a thing for me and just lately, Zoom has taken over my life. Last week, for example, I had 10 Zoom meetings/events/classes. Yep, two a day. Something of a record, even for me.

Out of interest, I consulted Aunty Flo’s Dream Dictionary (‘What does it mean when you don’t have time to pack?’) and it said, “This is an anxiety dream. Dreams of not having enough time to pack can illustrate the stress you feel. Often these types of dreams occur [when] we simply do not have time and we have so much to do.’

Ha, yes, Aunty Flo is right on the money! (I’ll warn you, the dream dictionary is something of a rabbit hole. Once you start looking, you won’t be able to stop. Don’t say I didn’t warn you).

Novel Progress

One of my Zoom meetings was an hour long chat with my agent on Tuesday about the draft that I sent him a few weeks ago.

There are more changes to make to the manuscript. For example, all the action and resolution is still too bunched up, at the end. I’ve got to spread it out more and move things around.

There are also some significant things to ponder, such as, should I kill off character X or let him/her live? (Killing him/her off is ‘the nuclear option’).

But it’s nearly there. And once I’ve worked on it (from now until the end of April), it will be DONE, all being well.

Someone (well meaning!) in one of my classes asked me, in all seriousness, whether she could buy my book yet and I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry.

No. No is the answer.

I will let you know if that situation ever changes. Believe me, I will let you know.

Opportunities/Competitions

The annual Women’s Prize/Grazia First Chapter competition is now open for entries (from UK residents and women only) and the closing date is 6pm on April 20th 2021. Read the rules carefully if you’re going to enter.

Novelist Dorothy Koomson has written an opening scene and you have to continue the story in 800 – 1000 words.

There’s no cash prize but there’s enough to make it worthwhile winning, I would say – not least, mentoring from Dorothy Koomson herself (who’s just published her 16th novel and who, for some reason, I thought was American but she’s not, she’s British).

There’s also an invite to receive your prize at the Women’s Prize award ceremony in London in July (fingers crossed and all that) too, including hotel and travel. That would be quite an experience and who knows who you might meet? (Famous writers, other writers, an agent or two…?).

The application form asks for your date of birth and, I know what you’re thinking: why, why, why? Do they want to choose a winner that fits the Grazia magazine demographic of ’25-45 year-old women’ (just looked that up)? You would hope that is NOT the case and they will choose the best writing but there’s no way of telling.

They ask for your ‘occupation’ too and that makes me wonder whether they’re looking to reward a ‘key worker’?! (Oh, I’m cynical). BUT, there are so many ‘unknowables’ when you enter a competition, I’d say, just go for it and once you’ve sent in your entry, forget it and move onto something else!

Coventry: UK City of Culture 2021

If you live or work in Coventry and are interested in play writing you may be interested in this opportunity.

The Belgrade Theatre in Coventry has teamed up with Paines Plough, as part of Coventry City of Culture 2021 and is inviting applications for a free ‘10-week programme of workshops aimed at supporting storytellers and aspiring writers to write and perform their own 10 minute play.’

It starts in May and applications close on 19th April.

Details are here.

Don’t forget to put your clocks forward 1 hour!

Posted in Competitions, Novels | Tagged , | 6 Comments

Taking a Knife to Short Story Endings

Almost exactly a year ago (in my 18th March ‘Keeping Perky’ post), I wrote: everything’s gone a bit weird, hasn’t it?

And 12 months later, it’s still weird.

Although, hopefully, with vaccines being dished out (here at least), quicker than you can say ‘global pandemic’, there is a glimmer of light at the end of what’s been a very dark tunnel.

In the writing classes I teach (via Zoom these days, of course), we are tentatively starting to talk about ‘when we can meet again properly’. *Fingers crossed.*

I had my jab on Tuesday and my arm is still sore, which I’m hoping means, despite having done hardly any exercise for a year, that I still have a vestige of muscle in there and it hasn’t all turned to flab.

But enough of this and onto writing stuff.

Telling Tales Short Story Competition

Chipping Norton Theatre is running a short story competition, open to children and unpublished adult writers, which closes on 30th April.

There are three age categories for entry: 7 – 11 years, 12 – 15 years and Adult.

The theme for the 7 – 11 years is The Visitor but ages 12 – 15 and adult can write on any subject that gets the creative juices flowing and it’s free to enter.

The short stories will be read by an impressive panel of readers and judges, including:

 Peter Buckman, writer and literary agent
 Jo Cotterill, award-winning children’s author
 Guy Jones, playwright and novelist
Clare Mackintosh, multi-award-winning author

The winner in each category will have their story published in the Oxford Mail and a printed anthology.

I teach 2 creative writing classes which are based at the Theatre in Chipping Norton but I have nothing to do with setting up or judging this competition! So, I can’t help or hinder you but good luck if you decide to enter.

Short Story Endings

I’ve just finished reading over 140 entries for the Evesham Festival Short Story competition and my mind, unsurprisingly, is focussed on short stories. Or at least, as much as it can focus on anything at the moment. (Anyone else feel like they’re wading through treacle? I don’t seem to be able to concentrate for longer than about ten minutes at a time, which is why it’s taken me all week to put this post together).

If you write stories for the (now almost-non-existent) woman’s magazine market, you’ll be ‘programmed’ – like me – to strive for happy endings. Womag stories, although they can and do deal with dark and difficult subjects, must have a hopeful or an upbeat ending because on the whole, people read magazine fiction for escapism and enjoyment and they don’t want to be depressed. I can understand that, particularly at the moment (in my book club we have a new ‘rule’: we don’t want to read anything depressing!)

But stories aimed at writing competitions don’t have to follow those ‘rules’. I think it’s fair to say that a good proportion of the stories I read for the competition, did not have happy endings. And that’s fine. I don’t mind a sad ending, or a happy ending (as long as it’s not too twee). When I read a short story – particularly if I’m judging it for a competition – I want a GOOD ending. And good endings are tricky, aren’t they?

Award-winning writer Gaynor Jones who knows a thing or two about writing short stories and flash fiction (one of her lovely stories, Butterfly Kisses, is here), says she doesn’t think she’s written a happy ending in her life.

I recently read some advice from her (in the Retreat West newsletter, to be precise. You can sign up for it here, if you’re interested), in which she said ‘short fiction should leave the reader with more questions than answers’ and when she’s asked to critique short fiction, almost always, her advice is to cut the last line or even the last paragraph of a story.

It’s very tempting to try to tie everything up in those last few lines, isn’t it, to make sure the reader ‘Gets It’? But you have to trust that the reader will. Leave some gaps for him to fill in, or allow him to imagine what might have happened before, or after, or during the time in which your story takes place. If you read Gaynor Jones’ ‘Butterfly Kisses’ (the link’s above) you’ll notice that there’s a big gap before the final section of the story. A gap that the reader has to fill in. It works fine, doesn’t it? Better than fine, I think it’s great.

I can’t say too much, obviously, about the stories I read for the Evesham Festival competition, because it’s still being judged, but there were certainly some otherwise excellent stories that fell at the final hurdle. They had endings that either fizzled out, or didn’t make sense or, more often, were over-written and were like a summary or an explanation of what had just gone before.

It was such a shame.

Posted in Competitions, Magazines, Short Stories | Tagged | 6 Comments

Groundhog Day

A jaunty little post box spotted on a walk

So here we are again, another week over.

As someone wise (it was Marian Keyes, actually) said on Twitter today, ‘The weeks whizz by but nothing changes’ (probably a bit wittier than that, but you get the idea).

It’s all a bit ‘Groundhog Day’, isn’t it? But hopefully things will start to ease up a bit at the end of the month. (Not that I’m looking forward to golf courses re-opening, or anything..)

Still haven’t watched The Serpent or It’s A Sin (but thank you for all your comments, mostly recommending them). I will get to them at some point!

I did watch the Lucy Worsley ‘Blitz Spirit‘ programme (strictly research, of course) and I thought it was excellent but NOT for the faint-hearted (there’s quite a lot of gruesome stuff and it made me cry a bit at the end). But if you are made of sterner stuff than me, you might enjoy it!

Competition Judging

I am right in the middle of reading squillions of entries for the Evesham Festival Short Story Competition.

As always happens, in the final week the stories start to pour in.

The competition closes on 12th March – next Friday. If you’re thinking of entering, please note that the closing time is 5pm, not, as you might expect, midnight.

The competition always used to close at midnight and the administrator had to stay up until then, to confirm receipt of the final few entries (ahem, in the past, when I was allowed to enter because I wasn’t on the Steering Group, I’m afraid I was guilty of pressing ‘send’ at about 2 minutes to midnight). Then she realised, that if the time was changed to something more sensible, she wouldn’t have to stay up late. But it could catch a few people out, I reckon, so I’m telling everyone, Just. In. Case.

The Novel

You might be wondering what’s happening with my novel-in-progress (or should that be novel-ground-to-a-halt)? I am wondering, too.

I sent it over to my agent over a month ago and had heard nothing.. so sent a polite email asking whether I’d missed an email from him? (He’s usually very quick, so I genuinely thought that might have happened).

Anyway, I hadn’t but we now have a date, for a couple of weeks’ time, to discuss The Novel and I sense another lot of structural changes coming up… which was a bit of a depressing thought, until I read an interview with an agent (Lucy Morris at Curtis Brown) on the Women’s Prize For Fiction website today, in which she said, ‘I don’t think I’ve ever submitted a book to a publisher without having done three drafts of the manuscript with the author beforehand. Sometimes it can be more, because books do change as they’re edited.’

Hurrah! So, it’s not just me.

She also said that the editorial process might be as long as 18 months. And the more you edit it, the more you need to spend time away from it, ‘so it doesn’t feel like a slog, and you can feel that thrill of it coming together on the page.’

That ‘time away from it’ bit is sooo true.

I deliberately didn’t look at my novel again, after sending the last draft off, until a few days ago, when I sat down and read the whole thing in one go. It took me over 3 hours, which was a shock (ie: like a proper book!).

Some of it made me cringe. The ending’s still not right. And I know there are other areas that need work. If someone took the book from me and offered to publish it now I would wrestle it from their hands and scream, “NOOOO!” because it is simply not good enough. But, hopefully, one day it will be.

And on that pathetic note, I will love you and leave you! Hope your writing, reading and whatever else you are up to, is going well. Let me know!

Posted in Competitions, Kate Nash Agency, Novels | 10 Comments

Walking in the Middle of The Road

Does anyone else find themselves leaping off the pavement as people approach TWO ABREAST?

As someone pointed out to these joined-at-the-hip types on Twitter yesterday, “when passing someone on a narrow path or pavement, please walk in single file. It won’t kill you.”

I find myself trilling, “It’s fine. We don’t mind getting run over!” as we trudge ungraciously down the white line (and the people we’re trying to avoid don’t even notice!). Grr.

I think #lockdown is getting to us all a bit, isn’t it?

Television

Now, before we discuss important writing topics, I need to talk about TELEVISION. The idiot’s lantern, as my friend’s dad used to call it.

I haven’t seen ‘The Serpent’ (should I? Is it good?) and I’m too scared to watch ‘It’s a Sin’ in case it’s harrowing. I can’t cope with harrowing. (In fact, all I can cope with is Channel 5’s endless programmes about the Royal Family. It was Princess Anne’s ‘7 Loves of Her Life’ last night. Very relaxing).

So, tell me whether you think I can cope with ‘It’s a Sin’. The ’80s was ‘my’ era, so I am very tempted but knowing the subject matter, I am also nervous.

Please don’t advise that I watch ‘The Dig’ or ‘Bridgerton’ because we don’t have Netflix. I know, I know.

There is a good programme starting tonight – ‘Bloodlands’ – which I am definitely going to tune into.

Writing Stuff

Comic Sans

Apparently, changing your font to Comic Sans will cure writers’ block!

Comic Sans is a ‘fun, informal, childish’ font (aw, sweet. It’s got a personality!) that you should never use for serious writing, like a letter to the doctor or a competition entry but something to do with the different shapes and spaces between the letters, lets your mind relax enough to write. Or so it says here.

Might be worth a try if you’re struggling to get the words down?

And if you are struggling to write (and I know that’s not everyone. For every person that can’t concentrate or has children to home-school, there’s at least one other who’s ‘never written as much!’ during this pandemic), then this article might be of interest.

Top 10 Tips for Writers

Megan Kerr who runs ‘The Writers Greenhouse’ (and lots of writing courses/classes for adults, which are usually based in Oxford but are of course now on-line), is celebrating her 10 year anniversary by publishing her top 10 (very practical!) tips for writers. I’m with her on the ‘writing by hand’ (and I did have a fountain pen but I seem to have lost it so I will treat myself to another one very soon).

Definitely worth a read.

Right, it’s finally stopped raining, the sun has come out and so… I am heading for a walk in the mud with the dog (at least, if we go over the fields, we avoid people!). Have a good week!

Posted in Television | 21 Comments

A Hotchpotch of a Post

I treated myself to a new writer’s notebook this week (‘Night Swimmer’)

Hello! I’ve been meaning to write long before this (it’s been a fortnight!) but somehow, the days got away from me.

I don’t even have the excuse that I’ve been snowed in or stuck in the snow (again) because we don’t have any of the white stuff here. Have you?

So, prepare for a hotchpotch of a post, full of all the things I’ve been saving up.

Firstly, I need to tell you about a few competitions.

Evesham Festival of Words, to which, as you know, I have an ‘allegiance’ (I am on the Steering Group and run the Twitter feed, amongst other things), is running their annual Short Story Competition and you’ve got until 12th March (5pm) if you’d like to enter.

Go on! It’s only £5, there’s no theme and you can send up to 2,500 words.

I am judging the first cut of stories (i.e.: producing a longlist of 15, in conjunction with another judge).

Every time we get a batch of 10 or so stories, we read them and then discuss them on Zoom, which is fun! And of course, it’s all done anonymously, so I won’t know it’s your story.

Simon Whaley will be judging 1st, 2nd and 3rd places from the longlist of 15.

Anyway, all the details are here, if you want to have a go. It’s open worldwide and there are CASH prizes!

Mini Saga Competition (Free!)

But if flash fiction is more your thing, the Festival is also running a FREE Mini Saga competition, which closes on 28th February. There are book token prizes.

I have nothing to do with the judging for that but it was my suggestion and I drew up the rules, so I’d love to see lots of entries flood in!

You can only send in one entry and it must be exactly 50 words (plus title). All the details are here.

Harpers Bazaar Short Story Competition (closing 15th March and the theme is ‘threads’).

The competition is open to UK residents only, aged 18 and over, published or unpublished. To enter, send an original, unpublished short story, written in English on the subject of Threads and of up to 2,200 words, to shortstory@harpersbazaar.co.uk.

Avon x Mushens Entertainment Prize

And last but not least, this competition is open writers from Black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds who are writing a commercial novel – whether in the crime, thriller, women’s fiction or historical genre.

They want the first three chapters and a full synopsis by 28th February and the prize is a two-book publishing contract with Avon with an advance against royalties of £10,000 (£5,000 per book), an additional £3,000 grant to support their writing, and representation from Mushens Entertainment (literary agency). All the details are here.


Reading

I’m currently re-reading ‘I Capture the Castle’ by Dodie Smith. Ah, isn’t it a lovely book?

And funnily enough, yesterday, lurking on my book shelf I found an old book diary and it contained an entry for ‘I Capture the Castle’ which I first read in 2002!

I’d written ‘It would make a good film!’ and of course (call me psychic), in 2003 it was made into a film (which I haven’t seen but hey presto, at the touch of a button I have just ordered the DVD from eBay).

Virtual Backgrounds

As we’re all Zoom-ing away, you might be interested in these virtual backgrounds from the National Trust, which make it look as though you’re sitting in a lovely writing room, a la Virginia Woolf, for example.

Mantras

And finally, here are a few mantras that I try to bear in mind (I don’t actually chant them but maybe I should?), when the writing is tough (sssh, but still no word from my agent about the second draft of my novel. Ah, I am enjoying the ‘rest’!!)

* Progress over perfection
* Don’t get it right, get it written
* Just tell the story
* If not now, when?
* Someone else is writing your story. Beat them to it!

Let me know if you’ve got any to add!

Posted in Books, Competitions | Tagged | 7 Comments

How Long Does It Take to Write a Novel?

Since my last post, 2 things have happened which have taken my mind off the global pandemic, at least for a little while, namely:

1. On Sunday, I went out in my car (essential shopping, not a jolly!), for what should have been a 25-minute round trip and got stuck in the snow!

It’s hilly around here, so on the way home (in what had suddenly changed from ‘light snow’ to a huge snowstorm), as I tried to navigate a very sharp bend, on a steep hill, the car stopped and I couldn’t get going again!

I did manage it in the end, by clearing the snow around the wheels and inching up the hill but it was scary, driving in those conditions. Hmm, I won’t be doing that again in a hurry.

2. This morning we had a wasp (!) in the bedroom, on the Velux window (see above) and I called my OH in to let it out (he is the insect remover in this house) which he did by swinging the Velux window up and hitting me so hard on the head with the other end of it that I fell over! Ouch.

Novel Writing

The second draft of my novel has finally left the building – phew – and I have a little rest until I get the verdict.

It’s taking me a long time to write this novel so I have been investigating how long it takes other people:

Marian Keyes (who writes HUGE tomes) admits that ‘she’s a slow writer at the best of times, taking around two years per novel’

But that’s nothing compared to Donna Tartt, who publishes one of her brilliant novels once a decade.

One of my favourite wartime novels, ‘Their Finest Hour and A Half’, by Lissa Evans, took her 7 years to write. She says in this interview, “I write incredibly slowly and I re-write ruthlessly as I go along – honing, polishing, moving, cutting, changing – stripping back the sentiment, trying to nail the humour and crisp up the dialogue, aiming above all for clarity.”

Hurrah! Not that I’m comparing myself to the brilliant Lissa Evans but that’s sort of how I write too. And it’s exactly what all the textbooks and experts tell you not to do.

She also admits that she has a short attention span. “If I glance at the clock and five minutes have gone by, I count that as a record-breaking feat of concentration.”

Frances Quinn, author of the recently-published ‘The Smallest Man’, her debut novel set in the time of the English Civil war (and which is definitely on my ‘TBR’ list) told me on Twitter when I asked her, that it had taken her four years to write.

And in this article, she says she wrote 7 drafts and from the first to the last, only about a third of the words are the same, which I found very comforting in one way (but. erm, does that mean I have to do another 5 drafts?!)

But not everyone is slow! I’m sure it’s pure chance that all the ‘slowies’ I’ve quoted, including myself, are women and the speed-demon I’m about to talk about is a man, but bestselling author Robert Harris wrote the bulk of his latest novel ‘V2’ in the first lockdown, spending ‘four hours every morning, seven days a week for fourteen weeks’.

His editor read his manuscript in weekly instalments and made comments, so in a way there were two of them writing it (That’s what I’m telling myself anyway). I know all this, by the way, not because I asked him on Twitter but because my OH had the book for Christmas and it’s in the acknowledgements at the back.

Between you and me and the gatepost, OH’s verdict (and he is a BIG fan of RH), is that it’s good but it’s..shhh.. ‘not his best’.

So there you go, I rest my case. He should have taken much, much, much longer to write it.

Posted in Novels | 24 Comments

Eyes Front!

Now, like me, you probably spend a lot of time in front of a computer screen (over 4 hours yesterday teaching on Zoom, anyone…?) and it turns out, probably not surprisingly, that this is Not Good For Our Eyes.

Every 20 minutes, we should stare at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

It’s the 20-20-20 rule and it makes sense to me, so I’m going to try to do it! I might set a timer to remind me. (It’s the perfect excuse for staring gormlessly out of the window, right?)

Actually, as it turns out, 20 minutes is the length of time that the brain can concentrate fully on one thing anyway, so it makes sense to have a mini-break after 20 minutes, for the eyes as well as the brain.

Here endeth the lesson. But if you want to know more, here is the article.

Writing Chat

The lovely Marian Keyes, who not only writes great novels but who is also very generous to other writers and would-be writers, has started some FREE on-line writing classes on Instagram (NOOO, I’m not on Insta’, so my heart fell) BUT she’s also putting them on YouTube, so if you want to see the first one (it’s quite chatty, in that Marian Keyes way!), which went out on 11th January (50 minutes long) it’s here.

(And when you watch it, ask yourself, how can this woman be the age she is? She looks about 25! I am in awe).

Publishing Opportunity

And finally, if you’ve written – or think you could write – a psychological thriller, here’s an opportunity from Boldwood Books. Quick, quick – you’ve only got until 7th Feb.

You can be a debut author or an experienced writer and the prize is: a minimum 1 book contract for a full-length psychological thriller (full length is defined as 70,000 words or more) with Boldwood Books Ltd.

Obviously, check out Boldwood Books – and what’s on offer – before you submit, to make sure you’d be happy to be published by them but they look pretty legit’ to me. They publish Della Galton and Jane Lovering (who’s with the same literary agency as me – Kate Nash).
Good luck if you decide to have a go!

Sometimes winning a competition like this is all it takes to launch a writing career! A recent example, is Jane Bettany, who won the HQ and Gransnet Prize for ‘women writers over 40 whose book has a protagonist in the same age group’.

Jane’s novel In Cold Blood (currently only 99p on Kindle and no, I’m not on commission!) features DI Isabel Blood, a detective in her mid-fifties.

Nothing to do with this post but who doesn’t like a bit of cake? Christmas cake made by my lovely step-daughter (now demolished, obvs.)

Posted in Competitions | 8 Comments

Happy New Year!

Let’s hope 2021 is a good one!

Happy New Year to you all!

I meant to post before the end of the year but time got away with me, so here I am on a cold and rainy January 1st, feeling glad – as I’m sure you are too – that 2020 is over.

I haven’t made any resolutions, have you? But a friend of mine took a photo every day last year (her theme was ‘a thing of beauty’) which I think is rather a nice idea.

I probably won’t keep it up but I started today with this!

Mr & Mrs Gingerbread

Our village had a ‘Gingerbread Trail’ over Christmas, (lots of gingerbread men in windows) and this jolly life-sized pair are stationed outside the church. Made me smile, anyway.

Books
On a positive note, one of the (small!) targets that I set myself for last year – and that I achieved – was to read 35 books (I actually managed 36. Yay!).

Interestingly, as many as TWENTY of these books were read for the two book clubs to which I now belong. My top two books of the year were:

Small Island by Andrea Levy. I’ve read it before, years ago but this was a book club choice, so I ‘had’ to re-read it and I honestly think it’s one of the best books I’ve ever read.

Queenie – by Candice Carty-Williams, which I’ve spoken about already, here.

36 books read in 2021

My new target, for 2021 (I set it on the Goodreads site) is 40.

Giveaway (NOW CLOSED!)

I issued strict instructions that no-one was to buy me a book for Christmas as I was feeling stressed by the size of my TBR pile.

However, my OH got round that by buying me two quiz books. Sneaky! And (shh, don’t tell him), I’ve got one of them already – ‘The Penguin Book Quiz’ so I’m offering it on here as a little giveaway.

Just write a little message (‘Happy New Year’ will do!) in the comments by Monday 4th January at 5pm and I’ll put all the names in a hat and pick someone out. Please note, this giveaway is now closed and I’ll be choosing a winner later this evening – 4th Jan – so please don’t enter if you’re reading this after 5pm on 4th Jan!

People’s Friend

I have a short story in the current People’s Friend Special and I’m feeling a little poignant about it because I reckon it will be one of the last short stories I have published.

This year my aspirations to write a novel have had a boost, as you’ll know if you’ve been following the blog. I’ve got an agent – someone (amazingly) who seems to believe in the story I’m trying to get down – and in my writing. I’m very lucky and grateful for that but there’s lots of hard work ahead and I just don’t have the time – or space in my little head – to write short stories as well as something longer (hats off to those who can), so something’s got to give.

Christmas Love Story Competition: c/d 14th Feb 2021

Here’s a great opportunity from Penguin Michael Joseph for unpublished would-be novelists, living in the UK or the Republic of Ireland. They want to publish a festive love story, which will be published in paperback and e-book in time for Christmas 2022.

In the first instance you just have to send your Christmas Love Story pitch, which should be no longer than 200 words, plus 1,000 words of your manuscript and entries should be emailed to: christmaslovestorysubmissions@penguinrandomhouse.co.uk
by midnight on 14 February 2021.

Make sure you read all the rules carefully if you’re going to enter and good luck!

Posted in Books, Competitions, Short Stories, The People's Friend | 87 Comments

Merry Christmas to You!

Hello! Well, it’s that time of year again and although things are weird out there, I’m NOT going to mention them. Let’s just all stay in a little blogging bubble and pretend all is well with the world, agreed?

Have you bought all your Christmas presents? Yesterday, the company that I’d ordered walking boots from (for my OH), kindly informed me – three weeks after I ordered them – that they didn’t have any in stock. So, not sure what he’s going to be opening on Christmas Day now (apart from his stack of books!) Whoops!

I’ve just looked back at my Christmas post last year (for inspiration!). I wrote it on Christmas Eve and I described 2019 as ‘a bit of a bumpy year’! Ha! If only we knew what was coming… NO, stop! I said I wouldn’t talk about bad stuff. “Let other pens dwell on guilt and misery”, as the very wise Ms Jane Austen once said.

Competitions

If you fancy working on a little (free) flash fiction competition over Christmas, the Scottish Book Trust is running one – 50 words max – which has to feature a candle.

The prize for the adult category is one of these ‘Go Away, I’m Writing’ mugs which is rather nice. If you are a clever person who can write in Gaelic, then so much the better – you can win a stack of books.

Anyway, all the details are here and the closing date is 26th January 2021.

And, just to give you a little ‘heads up’, Evesham Festival of Words will be running a free-to-enter mini saga competition (exactly 50 words + title) in February next year.

I know because I’ve just drawn up the rules for it (but I won’t be judging it), so if candles are not your thing and you want to write something completely candle-free, then have a think about a different kind of flash fiction piece (but bear in mind that the competition won’t open until 1st Feb). I will remind you again, once it’s up and running.

And in the meantime, the Evesham Festival short story competition (£5 entry fee) is open for entries. I am one of two people who’ll be shortlisting the stories in that competition, as I’ve done for the past couple of years and the final judging will be done by Simon Whaley (all anonymously, of course. It’s only the competition administrator who sees the names of the authors). Closing date for that one is March 2021 and you’ve got 2500 words to play with (and the theme is open), if you so wish, so get writing!

One last thing – the Festival is running a little Christmas quiz, which is free to enter, with a £10 book token up for grabs, so if you’ve got a few minutes to spare, you might want to have a look.

Tele’! (or ‘the idiot’s lantern’ as I’ve heard it called).

There are 2 lovely TV programmes on the tele’ tonight (well, I think they’re lovely. You might not). They are both on at 9pm! CLASH!

The first is ‘Being Bridget Jones’ on BBC 2, a documentary about Helen Fielding’s phenomenal creation! (First so-called ‘chick lit’ novel – yes, she invented a genre – albeit one that these days is called ‘Romantic Comedy’). And as well as Helen Fielding, there are guest appearances from the stars of the films: Renée Zellweger, Colin Firth and Hugh Grant. Ooh, can’t wait.

And the other one is also a series that started as a book (ah, James Herriot – my favourite books back in the day), namely, All Creatures Great and Small – the Christmas Special. Features ‘a dog in labour’ and of course, my namesake, Helen, with whom young James is in love!

Right, I have presents to wrap and shopping lists to write! (And, ahem, tele’ to watch later!) So, I will love you and leave you. Thanks for being along for the ride during this (odd!) year, have the best Christmas you can (and if that’s staying in your pyjamas all day and having beans on toast for dinner, then why not?) xx

Posted in Competitions, Television | Tagged , | 13 Comments

In Search of an Ending

My mum (who is in our bubble) has been staying with us for a few days and this is what I’ve been doing: watching Tipping Point, Pointless, Only Connect and University Challenge, playing Scrabble and Rummikub, sweating/sweltering (because we have to have the heat on ‘hellfire hot’) and making endless cups of tea.

It’s been quite nice – like a little holiday – but now, it’s back to work, at least until Christmas, when everything will stop again.

I saw this quote today and it made me feel a little calmer about my lack of writing: “Every first draft is perfect because all a first draft has to do is exist.” Jane Smiley.

Endings

As we approach the end of 2020 (thank God, we all say), I’ve been thinking about ‘endings’ – novel endings – because, at the moment, the ending of my novel-in-progress is no good. In fact, I have more than one ending that’s no good (sub-plots and all that).

The ending is perhaps the most important part of a novel. The ending IS the story, as a clever person told me once. It’s what gives meaning to everything that comes before and it’s the final impression you’ll leave on your reader. (Eeek, no pressure then).

Endings are difficult, aren’t they? (Hemingway rewrote the ending to A Farewell to Arms “39 times, before I was satisfied.”)

Think of all those stories and novels you’ve read that have been let down by a poor ending. I can’t give any examples because it will spoil any books you haven’t already read but I can think of quite a few.

Although it’s annoyed/upset me at the time, I do actually now have sympathy for authors who kill off characters (sometimes even main characters!) because it’s one of the options for ending your book and it can make the ending both emotional and memorable.

Of course, the ending of your novel will, to a certain extent, be dictated by the genre in which you’re writing: if it’s a crime, mystery or thriller, the reader will be expecting a resolution, revelations and for the baddies to be ‘brought to book’; if you’re writing romance, the reader usually expects the lovers to get together and declare their feelings (although sometimes, they don’t. I can think of a few bittersweet endings of recent films and novels in which one of the pair dies, or they don’t end up together, after all).

The ending must leave the reader feeling satisfied with what’s happened to the characters but it mustn’t be too predictable. There still needs to be an element of surprise.

A film director – can’t remember who – once said, “Give your audience the ending they want but not in the way they expect” and that, I think, applies to novels too.

And there needs to be tension. Will the villain be defeated? Will the lovers get together? That ‘black moment’, near the end, when it looks as though all the problems facing your heroes are insurmountable, makes the happy ending, when it finally arrives, all the sweeter and more satisfying for the reader.

Hmm, simples, as they say. Now I just have to do it. (And if anyone has any tips on writing a good ending, please share!)

New Word:
I learned a new word this week. Do you practice librocubicularism? I do, I’m a very keen librocubicularist. (It’s a fancy word for someone who reads in bed!). Mind you, I never seem to manage to read more than about two pages before I fall asleep….


Competition:
The Spectator has an interesting little writing competition running until 6th January 2021, if you fancy a challenge. Here it is (and shhh, don’t tell him, but I’ve bought my OH Shuggie Bain for Christmas).

No. 3181: nay sayers
This year’s Booker Prize winner Shuggie Bain was turned down by 32 publishers. You are invited to submit a publisher’s rejection letter of a well-known literary classic. Please email entries of up to 150 words to lucy@spectator.co.uk by midday on 6 January.

Posted in Books, Competitions, Novels | Tagged | 6 Comments