Inspired by Autumn

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyone know what this baby is?!

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

Writing Weekend

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

Posted in Bonnie, Cotswolds, Novels | 15 Comments

Results of the Whale/Kidney Random Word Competition

Here are the results of the random word/flash fiction competition – at last – and I can reveal that the ‘secret judge’ was Patsy Collins.

Patsy, is, I’m sure, known to many of you. She runs the womagwriter blog, which focuses on writing for the (sadly, rapidly shrinking) women’s magazine short story markets, as well as her own blog which has regular links to free-to-enter writing competitions.

Patsy is also co-author of From Story Idea to Reader – an accessible guide to writing fiction, which is available in paperback and on Kindle (and PS – she’s too modest to tell you this herself, but as she’s a novelist and had over 500 stories published, I reckon she probably knows what she’s talking about!).

Thank you very much to Patsy for agreeing to judge the shortlist, well done to the winners (I’ll be in touch about your prizes) and thank you to everyone who took part (if you want to read the winning stories, they’re in the post before this one. If you wanted to enter but couldn’t think of a way of using the words, the 5 shortlisted entries might fill you with inspiration for the next time…!)

When I get up to 800 followers, in a couple of months or so, hopefully (on 733 at the moment!), I’ll be running another one of these random word competitions. And I can give you a heads up now – I promise there will be no fish or offal/innards and one of the words will be EIGHT!

So, without further ado, here is Patsy’s report:

“Well done to the 41 people who successfully entered this competition. Getting the random words and a complete story or poem into such a tight word count isn’t at all easy. I was very impressed with the shortlisted stories and feel slightly mean not awarding five first prizes as they’re all very good. Unfortunately Helen’s prize fund won’t stretch to that, so I’ve had to make a decision.

1st place – Full House by Christine Cherry

This is an entirely believable, bittersweet story, which involves the reader. I could easily imagine the emotions of the characters – and how they’ll feel afterwards. The author has made great use of the word count. There’s no unnecessary description* as there are enough clues for us to build our own picture of the characters and location. This could probably be extended into a longer piece, which would have even greater emotional impact, yet doesn’t feel crammed into the tight word count required for the competition.

The gentle twist works well. Like Rita, I was initially misled about the nature of their relationship, yet when I learned the truth it seemed obvious that it was one-sided. She was the one making an effort with her appearance, saving a seat and sharing sweets. Peter is just naturally friendly and flirty – the wink and kiss the first time they meet show that and his jokey manner thereafter suggest that for him that’s all there is to it. Although I feel sympathy for her, I’m also pleased he at least has a happy ending.

Good, unforced use of the random words.

2nd Place – Don’t Say I Never Treat You by Maryanne Pike

This is an example of a story perfectly fitting the format used. The heavy use of slang and dialect would be hard going in a longer piece, but work very well here. It’s not too difficult to follow the meaning, yet the reader feels a certain satisfaction in having done so. It’s also a clever way to unobtrusively work in the random words.

In common with the winning story (and all those shortlisted) this one also provokes an emotional response in the reader. In this case I want to kick him and tell her to file for divorce!

In a longer piece the unlikeable and manipulative nature of the narrator would, I think, be unappealing but this is short enough that we can almost admire his deviousness and the success of his plan before we’ve lost all sympathy for him. Use of first person helps with that as we naturally feel closer to him.

Again there’s no description*, as again it’s not needed.

*I don’t want to suggest description is always unnecessary, just that it needs a purpose beyond simply adding to the word count. In the remaining shortlisted stories description is used to good effect.”

Posted in Blogging, Competitions, random word competition, Successes | Tagged | 5 Comments

‘Whale/Kidney’ Random Word Competition – Shortlist

Here is the shortlist of 5 stories, in alphabetical order by title and well done to all those who’ve reached this stage – and the longlist stage. It was very hard to whittle the entries down from 10 to 5, believe me!

The judge has had these 5 to choose from over the weekend (without knowing who wrote them) and he/she has chosen his/her winner and runner-up, so feel free to comment below and choose your favourite, if you so wish! (And if you’re late to the party – or you’ve forgotten – the 5 words that had to be used – in a max 100 word piece – were: whale, kidney, race, honey and seven).

Final results will be up in a day or so but in the meantime, if you want more ‘flash fiction’ competitions have a look here on Christopher Fielden’s website. (His very comprehensive list was only updated on 15th September).

As Pretty As – Stacey Taylor
Seven stone. You’re getting there in your quest for thinness. You can still feel the honey on your tongue, all heavy and sticky, coating your throat with calories. You had to have something so they’d leave you alone for a bit. No matter, only a small sidetrack, and at least you don’t look like a beached whale anymore.
The doctor comes back into the room.
‘Kidney damage.’
You hear the words, but they don’t sink in.
Then there’s another voice. ‘If you lose a bit of weight you’ll be as pretty as your sister.’
You smile. You’re winning the race.

Don’t Say I Never Treat You – Maryanne Pike
Trouble and strife’s on at me ‘bout taking ‘er out, says I don’t care. So I says, ‘Paint a smile on yer boat race, we’re going down the rub-a-dub for kidney-punch.
She eyes the roast but I’m short of the old bread ‘n honey and it’s only seven nicker for a pie and pint.
Me chinas were there for laughs. I told her beer washes out and ‘ad took air freshener for the jam tarts. I wouldn’t leave ‘til the match on the jelly finished, it were a whale of a time.
I’ll not have to take ‘er out again.

Full House – Christine Cherry
She spotted him, first day, at lunch club.
“Peter,” he said.
“Rita,” she said.
They laughed. The Bingo began.
‘What a honey,’ she thought. He winked, over steak and kidney pie.
“Had a whale of a time,” he kissed her.
Every week, hair set, saving his seat; sharing her sweets, and his jokes.
Then today-
“Got to tell you,” he sighed. “It’s love.”
Her heart raced, as she marked off her card.
“Getting married,” he whispered. ” You’ll love her, my Joan, can’t believe it.”
“Seven!” the call.
“Bingo!” His nudge, and that wink. “Well…aren’t you the lucky one, Rita?”

Mary, Mary Quite Contrary – Aly Rhodes
‘Blubber whale!’ The children’s taunts pursue Mary, waddling her way home.
Her heart races as she climbs the stairs to the seventh floor. One bulb stutters. On its death bed.
The tins of cat food clink against her thigh, leaving indentations. Mary thinks fondly of her beloved Honey. Her soul companion.
‘I’m home.’ The flat is sullen in its silence.
Where is she? Her beautiful Siamese?
On the lino lies gnawed at steak and kidney pie. Their tea.
‘PAY US RAN SUM’ is scribbled across the wall. Again.
Mary extracts a carving knife from the oven.
‘Lesson time.’ She purrs.

Whale Watching – Ciarán Parkes
Evenings, they’d lie in the kidney shaped pool, looking out for whales.
Their hillside folly had finally paid off. When the ocean flooded the town they didn’t have to join the race for higher ground.
‘Look!’, said Honey, ‘there’s a Minke’. Or maybe it was a Sperm Whale. Google Image Search was down. Permanently.
It was high tide. The spires of drowned churches stuck out of the heavy waves like switched off lighthouses. Seven of them. The whales floating above like unexpected miracles.

Posted in Competitions, random word competition, Short Stories | 6 Comments

Random Word Competition – Longlist

Thank you to everyone – all 41 of you (writers of 2 poems and 39 prose pieces) who entered my little competition.

I have to admit, I think it was hard this time. Some of you clearly struggled with ‘whale’ and ‘kidney’ (I would have struggled too!).

There were lots of steak-and-kidney pies and kidney-shaped pools and beached whales and people having a ‘whale of a time’ (12 entries used ‘whale of a time’, in fact). I was surprised more people didn’t use ‘whale’ as a surname. When I was a student I had a tutor called John Whale. Amongst the entries there was just one’Professor Whale’). There was only one ‘honeymoon’ (remember, you could add to a word) and a few ‘whalebones’, which I liked – oh, and a couple of ‘kidney beans’ amongst the entries.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised at the number of kidney transplant/medical stories. They couldn’t all make the longlist. When there are a few entries with a similar theme – no matter how well written – they tend to blur into one another and aren’t as memorable as they should be (there were also a few stories about people being poisoned). I’m not sure what the answer to that is, except, perhaps, don’t go with your first thought. Clearly, quite a few people saw ‘kidney’ and immediately thought of transplant or organ-selling.

Most people used the 5 required words (kidney, whale, honey, seven, race) correctly but I had to disqualify two entries (one of which had been on the longlist) because the writer had used ‘racing’ instead of ‘race’ or ‘raced’ (a third used ‘racing’ but also had ‘race’ in the story, so that was fine). You were allowed to add letters to the word but the original word had still be there.

If you’re not in the longlist, don’t be disheartened. You wrote something, you entered a competition – that’s all good. Read the shortlisted entries when they’re published here in a few days – and the judge’s report – and see what wins and why. That way, your hard work won’t have been wasted; you’ll have learned from the experience. Your story wasn’t chosen this time but next time… who knows?

Here, in alphabetical order, by title, are the 10 longlisted entries. If you’re on here – hurrah – but remember you need to remain anonymous until the ‘final judge’ has made his/her decision, so don’t reveal which is your story, for a few more days, if you don’t mind!


As Pretty As
Don’t Say I Never Treat You
Full House
Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary
Nasty Business
Post-Honeymoon Blues
Sea Fret
The Alien
Whale Watching
You Can Run

Posted in Competitions, random word competition | 9 Comments

In Which I Have a Little Bit of Success…

The Lygon Arms Bar & Grill, reviewed by yours truly

Just time to remind you, that if you still want to enter my flash fiction/random word competition, the closing date is tomorrow (12th September) at midnight, so get scribbling..! I’ve had 30 entries so far but I’m expecting a rush of last-minute entries!

Today I had a nice surprise. Writers Forum magazine popped through the letter box and I turned to the ‘flash competition’ which I’d entered, to see the results: and I was the winner! In case you didn’t see it last month, you had to write a restaurant review of no more than 400 words and the editor admitted that, instead of the 100 – 200 entries he usually receives for the flash competition, this time he only had.. wait for it, TEN entries!

I reckon quite a few people were put off by the requirements:

1. You had to go to a restaurant or café, in order to review it.
2. It had to be ‘newsworthy’ – ie: somewhere that had recently re-opened or refurbished. By chance, we were taking my parents out over the Bank Holiday weekend to a restaurant that had just had a 2-year, multi-million pound refurbishment, so that was perfect.
3. And finally, you also had to send the review to a local newspaper! (I sent mine to the Stratford Herald but they haven’t printed it – so far!).

So, there you go. A success. And the £100 I’ve won will go some way towards paying for the meal we had. It’s fun, writing restaurant reviews. I picked up some useful tips on writing mine from this site, if you’re interested.

Writers Forum runs a monthly ‘flash comp’ (so named because you only have a short time to get your entry in. The results are published in the next issue of the magazine). For this month (closing midday on 2nd October), the assignment is: “You wake up in a white room with no visible exit and no idea why you’re there. You have 500 words to escape and reveal what’s going on. Use first person (‘I’), present tense – and be inventive. No mundane twists!”

You could have a lot of fun with that, I think! If you want to enter, get hold of a copy of the magazine. It’s free to enter if you’re a subscriber, otherwise it’s £5.

Mind The Gap!

And finally, on a completely different note, my friends Wendy and Ken are setting off on a 9-month tour of the world (a ‘silver gap year’), THIS FRIDAY, starting in South Africa and including 3 months in a motorhome in Australia. Wow, what an adventure!

They’ve set up a blog and asked me for a few tips, one of which was, of course, tell everyone about your blog and another was, reply to all comments! So, if you want to see what they’re up to – or pass on any pearls of wisdom, if you’ve done anything similar – I’m sure they’d be delighted to hear from you.

Posted in Blogging, Competitions, Magazines, Successes | 8 Comments

Back to School?

I love this time of year: still sunny(ish) and warm(ish) but the hot months (when I struggle to sleep and can never decide what to wear) are over, the dreaded ‘C-mas’ is not yet looming and there are lots of things to enjoy and look forward to:

1. Woodland walks, pumpkin lattes and cosy nights in (tbh, I’ve never had a pumpkin latte, but it sounds nice..)
2. Blackberry and apple crumble (I have made so many the kitchen’s been like a production line.).
3. Strictly & Great British Bake Off on TV. Actually, tele’ per se. I always feel guilty watching TV in the summer but when it’s cold and dark outside, it’s the perfect occupation!
4. Marian Keyes’ new novel The Break coming out later this month (and I have pre-ordered it!).
5. I can get my boots, cords and cosy jumpers out of the garage (and because it’s been months since I’ve seen them, it will feel like I’ve got a whole new wardrobe).

I also like early September because it’s the start of a new school year and I like fresh starts and new beginnings (yes, even Mondays). Now is a great time to review, invigorate or even ‘restart’ your WRITING – after all there’s still a THIRD of the year to go – and here are my top 10 tips for doing so:

1. Treat yourself to some new stationery! Ooh, what writer doesn’t love gel pens and project notebooks and organising type things (in-trays, notice boards, flipcharts.. OK, I’m getting carried away now). You don’t have to spend a fortune. Poundland and Asda (other shops are available) have great ranges at low cost, for example. As writers, we NEED this stuff, don’t we?

2. Set yourself some writing goals. Imagine yourself on New Year’s Eve, looking back on your writing in 2017. What would you like to have achieved? (Realistically!). A few competition entries, submissions to magazines? That first draft of a novel finished, a blog started? If you need a bit of help in setting goals and getting organised, I can recommend Simon Whaley’s book The Positively Productive Writer, by the way.

3. Find your tribe. (Sorry, couldn’t resist that cheesy line).

What I mean is, find a group of people who share your love of writing and/or can help you, with feedback or inspiration. Check out your local college or library to find out if there are any classes or groups running in your area (if not, you could always start your own!). Ahem, my little book on starting a creative writing class might come in handy with that.

If you’re beavering away and sending stuff out but you don’t seem to be getting very far, you might just need a few pointers. Perhaps you’re making just one basic error that you can’t see but that will be obvious to other people? Why not join an on-line critique group, get a writing buddy or some mentoring? (this is free – for women only, though – sorry, guys).

The Open University has free on-line courses (FutureLearn). Here’s one on starting to write fiction, another on screenwriting and there’s even ‘how to read a novel‘, which I’m sure would help with writing one.

4. Commit to doing Morning Pages every day – or write a poem a day – or go on an Artist’s Date each week and see what difference it makes to your creativity and output. I know I’ve talked about these before but I’m not the only one! Maria Smith has recently written about both MPs and ADs on her blog here.

You might call Morning Pages ‘journalling’ – it’s the same thing, really. And here is a great list of writing prompts to get you started if you’re not sure what to write about.

5. It’s NaNoWriMo in November. You knew that, of course. Start planning that novel now, so you can hit the ground running on 1st November and complete 50,000 words by the end of the month!

6. If you don’t currently have one, get yourself a place to write. Whether it’s a corner of the library, a café or the spare room that’s currently full of rubbish (declutter! You know it makes sense).

7. What are you going to give up? If you really want to write, something will have to go. It might be Coronation Street, it might be that extra hour in bed in the mornings. Kath McGurl’s book ‘Give Up Ironing’ is full of good ideas on time management.

8. Prioritise. There isn’t time to enter every competition (I am one of those people who wants to enter every competition she sees…), or to do poetry, fiction and non-fiction. Are you a butterfly writer, flitting from project to project, never finishing anything, never committing? Make a commitment from now until the end of the year. Focus on just one project, or one type of writing and see what you can achieve.

9. Plan a writing retreat. There are day-long retreats here, in various UK towns (cost £35 or £30 each if you book three). It may seem expensive but if you get several hours writing out of them, it’s probably worth it, to leave everything behind and just be a writer for a day. Or perhaps you could swap homes with a fellow writer one weekend? That way, the washing and ironing won’t be calling to you. Or someone who’s out at work might be happy for you to ‘dog sit’ in their home and write at the same time?

10. Look back through your notebooks, old files and memory sticks. There may be something there worth salvaging or rewriting. The other day I found a story I wrote about 20 years ago and it’s not too bad. I’m going to polish it up a bit and send it in for a competition.

Let me know if you try any of these or if you have any other ideas! Last week someone who’d been on my Evesham Festival of Words workshop contacted me to say she’d had her first story accepted by People’s Friend! That was very pleasing!

Posted in Artist's Dates, Blogging, Books, E publishing, Finding Time To Write, Novels, Television | Tagged , | 10 Comments

700 followers – Free Writing Competition!

As promised, as I’ve now reached 700 followers on this blog, I’m running another of my flash fiction random word competitions, which is free to enter and open to everyone. Exciting biting!

Sorry if you were expecting something different this time. In an ideal world, I would do something else but the flash-random-combo seems to work and doesn’t take up too much time (yours or mine!), so why invent the wheel!?

The trusty random word generator came up with KIDNEY, WHALE, RACE and HONEY and I’m adding SEVEN for good measure and for obvious reasons, so those are your 5 words.

I’d like you come up with a flash fiction story OR poem, max 100 words, (plus a title), that includes all 5 of the words.

Just to be clear, the words are:

• kidney
• whale
• race
• honey
• seven

The words can be used more than once and can be used in the title as well as, (or instead of), in the body of the story. And you can add letters to the end of the words – eg: ‘raced’, ‘seventy’ or ‘whales’.

Check if you’ve used them correctly by doing a search on your finished document for the 5 words. As long as they come up (ie: they’re in the document in their entirety), then you’re OK.


The prizes are significant! I’m giving away a £25 Amazon e-voucher as first prize and a £10 Amazon e-voucher as second prize. Yoo hooo! And then, of course, there’s THE GLORY of being the winner, which is priceless.


1. One entry per person & no alterations can be made once it’s submitted.
2. Open to anyone, anywhere and it’s free to enter.
3. Maximum 100 words (you can submit less), plus title.
4. Please don’t copy or plagiarise. You will be found out! (and it will be embarrassing and shameful)
5. Your story/poem’s title is in addition to the 100 words
6. Any theme or genre is acceptable (but anything too graphic or ‘sweary’ is unlikely to be shortlisted, as I won’t want to publish it here – this is a ‘family blog’ – so do consider that!)
7. Your entry must not have won or been placed in another competition.
8. Judge’s/judges’ decisions are final.
9. Email your entry in the body of the email, NOT as an attachment, to: by midnight on Tuesday 12th September 2017 (3 weeks today), along with your name.
10. By entering, you agree that your entry, or an extract, can be posted on this blog if it’s one of the shortlisted stories. Copyright remains with the author and any entries that are not shortlisted will be deleted/destroyed once the judging is complete.
11. I will shortlist 5 entries and someone else will choose the winner, anonymously. I am being vague about the ‘someone else’ because I don’t know who it will be yet, but someone other than me and someone who will take their task seriously.

If you have any questions, feel free to post them as a comment on here so that everyone can see the response! Thanks – and good luck!

PS: My tips are: make good use of all 100 words you’re allowed to use. Don’t go for the obvious use of the words. Your first idea will be lots of other people’s. Take your time! It’s tempting to dash something off, before you forget and miss the deadline but the entries that start zapping in within a day or two tend to be weaker than those that have clearly been ‘worked on’.

PPS: If you want to see some of the winners and shortlisted entries from previous competitions, just click on the (new!) ‘random word competition’ category (right hand column) and it will bring up the relevant posts.

Have fun and good luck! 🙂

Posted in Competitions, random word competition | 3 Comments