Trouble with Laptops & A Writing Retreat Opportunity!

I am feeling all discombobulated because my laptop died today (RIP Bluey).

It has been on the cards for a while but the final blow was when it got rained on last night, when water leaked through an open window onto the keyboard.

Fortunately, before it died completely, all my files were saved on a memory stick and have now been transferred to The New Laptop but it’s all a bit funny. None of my passwords were saved on Facebook, Twitter, Ebay or Paypal and eeeek, I’ve had to start again and (sssh, don’t tell my OH, who bought the new laptop) but it’s a bit SMALL. I’m still getting used to the screen and the keyboard. First World problems, I know. I am sure I will survive.

A couple of things to alert you to – the first one is URGENT, as it expires on Sunday evening (i.e: tomorrow). Apologies for the short notice but I only spotted it myself this afternoon, on the Twitters, when I finally managed to get in.

Free Writing Retreat

This was the tweet I spotted, from novelist Amanda Reynolds:

“Need time & space to write but don’t have funds for a paid retreat? @nickiwomble is offering 1 lucky (& talented) winner a FREE stay in her beautiful #Cotswolds @Airbnb & I’ll be on hand with a free #mentoring session so #pitchme your novel’s first line using #CotswoldsRetreat”

So, you need to be on Twitter and follow Amanda Reynolds and tweet her the first line of your novel by midnight on Sunday 9th June, if you want to do this.

She’ll then shortlist some entries, who will need to send their synopsis and first chapter of the novel by 16th June. I wasn’t going to enter this because I have other stuff to do and this will be a distraction but then I thought – oh, what the heck! So, maybe you should go for it too? What have you got to lose? (Although I would add that, if you can actually afford a retreat without too much trouble – I can’t, I honestly have no job and no money – then perhaps don’t enter and leave it for someone who really needs it).

It’s definitely worth following Amanda Reynolds by the way (she writes psychological thrillers and she’s lovely. I met her recently when I won a place on a workshop that she was offering on Twitter).

She often has freebies and stuff to support writers on her Twitter feed and blog, so if not this time, maybe the next….

Arvon Poetry Challenge

Here’s another FREE opportunity: those lovely people at Arvon (who run fabulous writing courses), are offering a 5 day poetry challenge, to celebrate National Writing Day on 26th June. Just sign up on their website here and every day between 24th and 28th June you’ll be emailed a poetry prompt. There will also be a competition run in conjunction with the challenge. Even if you’re not that ‘into’ poetry – or don’t think you are – it might be a good way of finding inspiration and writing something different to your usual.

Joanna Cannon

And in other news, I’ve just started to re-read the 2 Joanna Cannon novels – ‘The Trouble with Goats and Sheep’ and ‘Three Things About Elsie’ (it’s no hardship, believe me), in preparation for 30th June, when I will be interviewing her at the Evesham Festival of Words. There are still some tickets left, at just £6 each if you can come along!

There will be Battenberg. (Battenburg?)

And now I must dash because the new series of Killing Eve is just about to start…!

Posted in Competitions, Cotswolds, Television | Tagged | 10 Comments

Pink Trams and Picture Dice

In my class yesterday, I used my Rory’s Story Cubes® for a 4-minute writing exercise and it occurred to me that I’ve never told you about them!

They’re a set of 9 dice, with pictures on each face, so that’s 54 different images in total (I had to ask my OH to help me with that one. Come on – who can remember their 9 times table?!)

The idea is, that you take 4 or 5 of them out at random and roll them. Whatever pictures are uppermost, you have to include in a story. Have you ever used them?

I think they’re really intended for adults to use with children, to inspire bedtime stories but they’re handy as writing prompts too, especially if your imagination responds to visual prompts rather than words.

I’ve just rolled them to give you an idea of what might come up and we’ve got:

An apple, a crescent moon, a clock pointing to 4 o’clock and a sheep.

Or at least, that’s how I interpret them. If you see something different (like a toenail clipping – ugh, sorry – instead of a crescent moon, or a peach instead of an apple, that’s fine too).

There’s lots of information about them – there are different sets – on the website.

Daily Mail Novel Competition c/d 14th June 2019

If you’ve written a novel – or even part of a novel – then you might be interesting in the Daily Wail’s (4th!) Novel Writing competition.

It’s free to enter and you ‘only’ have to send them the first 3000 words, plus a 600 word synopsis (but if you win, you have to be prepared and able to submit the complete novel by January 2020).

I’m going to have a go. Not because I think I’ll win but because I read this and it encouraged me: “Even if you don’t win the competition, you might be signed up to write your novel anyway, as several previous runners-up have been. So, there’s absolutely no excuse not to have a go.”

It’s often about getting your work out there. If someone (ie: a literary agent – I don’t mean just a random person like a window cleaner) sees it and likes the idea or likes your style, well, who knows what might happen?

Have a go! Here are the details. And bear in mind, that I have ‘form’! What I mean by that is, the last person who entered a competition that I mentioned on the blog, only went and WON! It was the Retreats For You 4-night retreat in Devon, which my friend Gill – who likes writing and competitions (but I didn’t realise read my blog!) saw on here and decided to enter. Good for her. If you’re not in it (which I wasn’t), you can’t win it.

In other news, we went to Birmingham today and went on a pink tram!

I used to live and work in Birmingham but there were never any trams. It was very exciting (as well as being clean, quick and not too expensive). There was even a ticket collector/conductor on board, just like the old days on buses!

PS: Have you watched ‘Fleabag’? I’m a bit late to the party but since I last blogged, I’ve watched every episode. Wow! I thought it was brilliant. Written, of course, by ‘Fleabag’ herself, Phoebe Waller-Bridge. Clever, isn’t she?

Posted in Books, Competitions, Successes, West Midlands | Tagged , , | 18 Comments

Result of the Sunburn/Carrot/Mustard Random Word Competition

Right, finally I’m announcing the winner and runner-up of the sunburn/carrot random word competition.

There were 39 entries in total and I think the two most difficult words to slot into your story or poem were, unsurprisingly ‘carrot’ (oh, we had a lot of carroty-haired people!) and ‘mustard’.

Thanks to everyone who had a go and I’m sorry you couldn’t all be winners but the story that’s come out on top – as chosen by Sue Johnson – is Linda Mallinson’s ‘Ere Ear’ (look back at the last post if you want to read this and the other shortlisted stories).

Linda is a regular in these competitions and has been shortlisted twice before and has been a runner-up but this is the first time she’s won (with what I think is an excellent and spine-chilling story). Well done to her.

And runner-up is a story that a couple of you marked out as your favourite and which, I agree, is a great story and has also used the 5 words very well – ‘Seeing Red’ by Margaret Garrod.

I’ll be in touch with both entrants asap to sort out their prizes and there’ll be another one of these competitions in a few months’ time (when I get to 1000 followers. Eek).

Here are the comments from the judge, Sue:

It was very hard to pick a winner. I loved all the short-listed stories. It was a real privilege to read these stories and I hope the writers recycle and reuse the ideas and don’t just stuff them in a drawer.

Winner: ‘Ere Ear’ by Linda Mallinson

Judge’s comment: “I like the way the writer built the tension and emotion in very few words. I could see the teddy perfectly and feel the distress of the little girl who’d been parted from him. The writer should do some more work on this story and develop it into a longer story or serial..”

Runner-Up: ‘Seeing Red’ by Margaret Garrod

Judge’s comment: I was cheering for the little girl who stood up for herself! I could see this scene and hear the voice of the bully. The writer should consider doing some more work on this story. Why was Tara a bully? What if they meet again in later life? What if they become friends?

More Places to Submit:

Sue recommends the website Paragraph Planet as a place to submit pieces of work. There’s no payment – or fee – and you can submit your work via the website. It can be a (very!) short story, an extract from a novel or ‘capturing of a moment’ but it has to be exactly 75 words, including the title.

And on the subject of writing and submitting, one of the (many) things that Sue does, is to run a page on writing for a local magazine called Grapevine. Every month she runs a writing competition and encourages people to email her their entries.

She’s suggested that readers of this blog (that’s you!) might like to enter and she kindly sent me the details for this month (closing date is 1st July 2019), so here it is:

“Following the theme of this issue’s article, the writing competition for this month has a perfumed theme.

As a starting point, try jotting down some notes about smells you like and those you don’t. For instance, your lists might include –

LIKE: lilac, roses and bluebells.
DON’T LIKE: burnt toast, petrol and hairspray.

Even if you’ve not written anything since you were at school, be brave and pick up your pen. You really have got nothing to lose – and you may be one our winners.

See what you can do with one of these ideas:

• Write about the first perfume or after-shave you ever bought.
• Write about a scent you love and a scent you dislike.
• Write about your favourite time of year. Use the senses as much as you can. Colours, sounds, smells and textures all help to bring a story to life for the reader.

The good news is that you only need to write a maximum of 250 words (3 short paragraphs). Don’t worry about getting it in the right order to start with. Just get the ideas onto the paper and tidy it up later. Reward yourself for trying – and do send me the story. I love reading the stories I receive and wish we could publish them all.

Send your entries to me at by Monday 1st July. I will award a small prize to the winning entry.”

Posted in Competitions | 5 Comments

Sunburn/Carrot Random Word Competition – Shortlist

You could have used ‘Ninepins’ as one of your words…

Sue Johnson kindly agreed to act as ‘Head Judge’ and choose a shortlist of 5 stories from the longlist of 10 and then, a winner and runner-up.

Sue’s a short story writer and novelist, poet and tutor and she’s a member of the Evesham Festival of Words Steering Group, along with yours truly.

There’s more about Sue further down the page but now, without further ado, here’s the shortlist of 5 stories (listed in alphabetical order by title).

If you need a reminder, each story had to contain the words NINE, SUNBURN, CARROT, MUSTARD and SIGH.


• ‘Ere Ear
• More Than One Way to Skin a Carrot
• Seeing Red
• The Fourth Week
• The Spy Who Came in From the Heat

The stories are printed in full below and here’s a word – and a useful tip or two – from the judge, Sue Johnson:

“I’m a great believer in using an idea as many times as you can. Don’t just use something once and think ‘I’ve done that.’ Is there another direction you can take a story – or could you develop something totally different from the setting or a minor character?

I’m currently in the process of looking at producing ‘The Girl With Amber Eyes‘ as an Audiobook. (This was originally published as a My Weekly Pocket Novel). I’m also mining some of the bits I didn’t use for possible magazine stories.

My latest poetry collection ‘Threads‘ was published in March. I am currently developing a play and a novel from some of the poems.

I am doing a workshop at Worcester Cathedral on Saturday 10th August from 10.30 – 1.30. The cost is £20. (This is part of Worcester Festival).

Further details of my work can be found at

1. ‘Ere Ear – Linda Mallinson

Mum opened her eyes when the sun disappeared. “Where’s your sister?”
“Don’t let her out of your sight, I said. When did you last see her?”
“When we went to feed her carrot sticks to the donkeys.”
As our eyes raked rows of sunburned bodies, the rain started. The wind got up and soon the beach was almost empty.
The police response time was nine minutes. Her teddy bear was found floating in the sea.
At a nearby private airfield a little girl refused an expensive new doll. She cried for a one eared bear wearing mustard coloured dungarees.

2. More Than One Way to Skin a Carrot – Lynda McMahon

“We gotta eliminate The Carrot! He’s taking over our patch,” growled Don Chorizo licking mustard from nine fingers. “This healthy eating ain’t good for us. Who’s gonna grab him and roast him?” “I’d be first to offer,” Bread Roll, pasty white and doughy. “But…,” The sigh said it all. “I get sunburn under the grill.” The Don thought hard, “Bring him in!” The Carrot was bundled into the dark cellar. Blindfold removed, a gun fired and something warm and sticky dripped down his slender body. “Gotcha! 100% butter. Welcome to the family!” The Don laughed long and hard. Sorted.

3. Seeing Red – Margaret Garrod

‘Why if it isn’t a skipping Ginger Nut!’ I sigh inwardly as Tara Cassidy, the class bully sidles up.
Mum says if you ignore bullies they go away.
Head down, I concentrate on my skipping: salt, mustard, vinegar, pepper.
Tara shows no sign of budging.
‘Careful Carrot Top, you don’t want sunburn; you’re ugly enough without more freckles.’
Mum says I’m lucky to have red hair and pale skin.
Tara makes a play for my rope.
Mum says redheads can be hot-headed and unpredictable. Seems she’s right for a change.
Word from the hospital is that Tara needs nine stitches.

4. The Fourth Week – Miranda M

When he picked Millie up from school he noticed her sunburned nose, wishing he’d remembered to rub sunscreen over those freckles. The next morning he tried harder. His clumsy fingers fumbled through her carrot coloured hair nine minutes before school, producing lopsided pigtails. He dressed Jake in a mustard jumper and took him to play group, enduring conversations with mothers who sighed their condolences and said how well he was doing. Part of him wanted to say sorry back, to tell them that he wasn’t coping, but he held it down and smiled a silent thank you.

5. The Spy Who Came in from the Heat – Linda Tyler

After a week hill walking in the Highlands, Mark was suffering from sunburn on his bald patch. When he boarded the sleeper at Rannoch Moor, the steward offered a pre-packed meal of haggis, carrots and mustard sauce. With a sigh from the locomotive’s air brakes, they were off, rolling through the Scottish dusk. Mark checked his Rolex; almost time for his covert liaison with the Russian in the next berth. He knew that during the night he would experience a burning pate, indigestion and not a little guilt – but he would be at his desk in Westminster by nine.

Well done if your story’s on there! It clearly helped if your name was Linda/Lynda!

And commiserations if you didn’t make it to the final 5 but remember Sue’s advice and ask yourself what else you could so with that story now?

The final results (winner + runner-up) will be on here in the next few days. The winner and runner-up have already been chosen, so your comments won’t affect the final result. Feel free to give a ‘shout out’ to your favourite!

And in other news… I got a blasted fine from the lovely people at Cheltenham County Council yesterday, for inadvertently driving down a bus lane. They even sent me a photo! I was lost and late for an appointment and looking for a car park.

I realised I had suddenly entered a bus lane (no buses were harmed by my action. In fact, there wasn’t a single bus to be seen) BUT once I was in there, there was nothing I could do. Except swear. And keep driving. And swear a bit more.

Posted in Competitions, Cotswolds, random word competition, West Midlands | 4 Comments

‘Carrot/Sunburn’ Random Word Competition – Longlist

Hello and I hope you’ve had a good Bank Holiday. We didn’t have much sunshine, did we (not much chance of sunburn) BUT we did have a Royal baby and that’s exciting.

Remember I told you that I usually get about 40 entries for my Random Word competitions? Well, I was almost spot on, once again: 39 entries this time.

There was one entry with a couple of spelling mistakes (ouch!) and two entrants that sent their pieces as email attachments, when one of the rules was, clearly, ‘Email your entry in the body of the email, NOT as an attachment’ so strictly speaking, I could have disqualified them (there was also one that was 500 words but the writer withdrew it when I pointed out that it was 400 words too long!) BUT this competition is for fun and I am feeling kind, so I let them stay this time.

Just bear in mind though, that other competition judges won’t be that lenient. If you break the rules (and you might have paid good money to enter!) then you’ll be disqualified and you probably won’t even know. So read the rules carefully! (And definitely more than once).

Thank you all for entering and I’m sorry that you couldn’t all make the longlist. If you’re on it – hurrah, well done, give yourself a pat on the back! If you’re not, don’t be too disheartened. There were other entries that were also good and that almost made it but I have to say, I think I gave you some difficult words this time (soz) and some of the themes were very similar (eg: we had three entries that featured ‘Colonel Mustard’ from Cluedo). Obviously, only one story in each ‘theme’ could go through and that might be the only reason that yours is not on the longlist.

So, without further ado, here are the 10 stories:

A Change of Colour
Colours of Life
Death Under the Sun
‘Ere Ear
More Than One Way to Skin a Carrot
Mother Love
Seeing Red
The Bridle Wife
The Fourth Week
The Spy Who Came in From the Heat

Please remember that these are being judged anonymously by the Head Judge (whose identity I will reveal soon), so it’s fine to say you have a story on the longlist but please don’t reveal which is your story, at this stage!

Have a good week!

Posted in random word competition | 9 Comments

Getting Inspired & Motivated

Greetings. It’s May! I can’t quite believe it, can you? (*panics quietly*)

Random Word Competition

Don’t forget, if you’re intent on entering my little ‘random word’ competition, it closes at midnight this Sunday, 5th May.

Don’t leave it to the last minute! Remember, on Sunday evening there’s also the ‘feature-length’ final episode of Line of Duty!

So far I’ve had 20 entries but I usually get about 40, so I’m expecting a flood of entries between now and the closing date.


And if you are keen on writing ‘drabbles’ (that’s a piece of fiction of exactly 100 words. The stories for my competition don’t have to be 100, by the way – that’s the maximum wordcount), then you might like to take a look at the Writing Writers’ website.

Every month they run a free-to-enter drabble competition, with a prize of £35. BUT (there’s always a but), the results are decided by a public vote. In other words, it’s a bit of a popularity contest.

Voting for competition#4 has just opened and, should you feel inclined to have a look, my story, about a wayward postman, is #51. If you want to vote (and you only have until 10th May), you just have to send a blank email to: with the story# you’re voting for in the subject line of the email. Next month, you might like to have a go yourself! (In fact, drabble#5 is open for entries now!).

ChipLitFest 2019: What I learned

Last weekend I went to a couple of events at ChipLitFest (that’s Chipping Norton Literary Festival), which is one of the many festivals local to me.

It’s always interesting and inspiring to go to a literary festival, in my humble opinion. You can always learn something and it’s great to be around other people who love books and words and writing.

Firstly, I saw crime writer Mark Billingham interviewing Nicci French and Ambrose Parry and there were 5 people on the stage!

As you probably know, ‘Nicci French‘ is actually two people: married couple Nicci Gerrard and Sean French and ‘Ambrose Parry’ (you might not know this one because they’re new), is the pseudonym of another married couple, Chris Brookmyre and Marisa Haetzman. Both couples write ‘as one’.

Mark Billingham was clearly in awe of how they manage that. He said he and his wife argue enough about who’s going to take out the bins! It was a joke but I can see his point.

One of the rules that Nicci French have – which might help them preserve both their writing partnership and their marriage – is that they each edit the other’s work (they email it to each other) and there is NO discussion or arguing about what the other partner does. Ever. It’s not even mentioned over breakfast.

I bought Ambrose Parry’s first novel (‘The Way of All Flesh’), which is set in Victorian Edinburgh and ooh, I am enjoying it. So, there you go. A new author discovered and I’m reading a book I would otherwise not even have heard of.

I also went to a workshop on novel-writing by Amanda Reynolds, which was great fun and although it was aimed at writers of all levels (eg: some people hadn’t – yet – written a word!), I still managed to come away with 3 ‘action points’ – things that I’m going to try with novel #2 (in the hope of making it a less painful and protracted process!).

Something that’s struck me this week (but I’m taking it as a positive, rather than a negative!) is, firstly, that Amanda Reynolds was a local creative writing tutor in Gloucestershire at the same time as I was setting up my own class in Moreton in Marsh.

We were in touch a few times by email and she was always very helpful and encouraging. I’m assuming that she doesn’t teach those classes any more and.. ahem, she now has 3 published psychological thrillers to her name.

And today, Wendy Clarke, who was blogging and submitting short stories to women’s magazines, the same as me, a few years ago, is still blogging but is also celebrating the launch of her first novel today. Well done, Wendy!

Hmm. Now, I could say that I’m feeling a bit left behind. But instead, I’ll say, that’s encouraging and motivating. If they can do it, so can I! (maybe. hopefully. let’s see).

Posted in Books, Competitions, Cotswolds, Novels, random word competition | 5 Comments

Public Speaking for Writers (Guest Post: Sally Jenkins)

Love it or loathe it (and it’s often listed as people’s ‘worst fear’), public speaking is part and parcel of a career as a writer these days.

Whether it’s reading your work aloud at a writers’ group or literary festival, teaching creative writing to a class or getting paid as an after-dinner speaker (say for the WI, which I’ve done a few times), standing up in front of an audience and speaking is what we’re expected to do.

If you have to ‘present’ as part of your day job (or if you’re an actor!), then it might be second-nature to you but for those who’ve had no training in or experience of public speaking, the mere thought of it can be terrifying.

If I’m making you nervous, do not fret: help is at hand. My writing buddy, Sally, very wisely realised a few years ago that she was going to be expected to promote the novels that she was working so hard to write. She also recognised that, like many of us, public speaking wasn’t something that would come naturally to her, so she took the brave step of joining a speakers’ club to improve her skills and confidence (it’s worked, I’ve seen her in action!)

She’s put all she’s learned into a handy new book: Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners. And I’m welcoming her to the blog today to give us some handy tips on public speaking. (And if you’re on Twitter – and are quick – she’s got a giveaway of the book. You just have to follow her on Twitter and RT the tweet! Ends 4/5/2019). Over to you, Sally!

Learn to Speak in Public! – Sally Jenkins

* Ever felt tongue-tied when asked what your book is about?
* Hate reading your work aloud in front of a group?
* Scared to death of a one-to-one agent pitching session?
* Longing to give an author talk at the local library but jangling nerves are holding you back?

If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to any of the above, learning to speak in public is for you. The ability to talk in front of a group improves confidence across all aspects of life. Workshops, agents and writing groups may still generate butterflies but they will no longer be bogeymen! Plus, complaining in shops, talking to strangers and speaking up in meetings will all become easier.

A few tips to get you started on your public speaking journey:

• Organise the points you want to make in groups of three. Trios make it easier for the speaker to remember what he wants to say and, also, for the audience to remember what has been said.
• Focus on the needs of the audience not on how self-conscious, nervous or shaky you feel. What can you tell your listeners that will capture their interest and inform or entertain them?
• Don’t learn your speech off by heart. If you do, and lose your place, you’ll be completely flummoxed. Instead have a few bullet-pointed notes and be able to talk freely around each point.
• Step into ‘performer mode’ when you stand to speak. This is like an actor stepping into another persona. Pretend to be a brighter, shinier version of you.
• Make lots of eye contact. This means glancing around at everyone in the room to make sure the whole audience feels included in what you are saying.
• Join a Speakers or Toastmasters Club. These organisations offer a safe environment in which to practise speaking and receive constructive feedback.

Five years ago, I joined a speakers’ club and took every opportunity to learn and speak. In 2018 I represented the Midlands in the Association of Speakers Clubs‘ national speech competition.

The cumulative effect of what I’ve learned and practised over the past few years means that I now face the whole of my life more confidently. I would still quake at the knees if asked to pitch to an agent or face an unknown group, but I have the tools to minimise my own fear and focus on delivering what the agent or group needs to know.

In Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners I have pulled together everything I’ve learned.

It includes chapters on speech construction, special occasion speaking, preparing the voice, reading aloud and managing speaking engagements. I hope the book will inspire you to make your point in meetings, introduce yourself confidently at writing workshops and, maybe, even to talk about your work to a group of readers.

‘Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners’ is available on Kindle and in paperback format.

Sally Jenkins is an author and speaker. Follow her on Twitter @sallyjenkinsuk or on Facebook.

Posted in Books, Guest Post | Tagged | 3 Comments