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

In Which I Resort To Gin (& attempt The 2nd Draft…)

Bonnie is guarding the advent calendar. “Do Not Open until 6pm “

You may remember, last week I reported that my laptop was poorly.

It’s still not right, so today it was collected and taken away to the ‘laptop hospital’ (otherwise known as Curry’s), to be Seen To.

And now I am using another one, which is taking me an age to get used to. Aagh.

It’s all adding to the ‘I-can’t-seem-to-motivate-myself-to-do-anything’ mood that I am in. I can’t focus for more than about ten minutes at a time, so even though I should be working on the novel (more about that in a minute), I’m finding it tough going. Does anyone else feel like this?

At least I have my G&T advent calendar to keep me going. (That’s not quite a bad as it looks, by the way. Yes, there are 24 ‘windows’ but only half of them contain gin; there are cans of tonic in the other twelve).

First Draft Feedback

So, last Friday I had my feedback on the novel’s first draft from my agent.

He had lots of nice things to say (phew) and we agreed on some stuff that can come out and where it all needs a bit more ‘fleshing out’ (mostly in the second half of the novel, which was a bit rushed).

At the moment ‘everything is resolved in Chapter 49′! He pointed out gently that some plotlines can be resolved before the absolute end! (You see, I’m still in short story mode, in which everything does get resolved right at the end).

One of my POV (point of view) characters has to have the POV wrestled from her. She isn’t important enough. (I knew this really but now I have to work out how to weave her thoughts and opinions, or at least, those that I want to keep, into the story, without taking the reader into her head).

Also, he pointed out, that one of my characters has an ‘invisible friend’ (i.e.: I mention someone, quite a few times but she never appears ‘on the page’!) which made me laugh. So, that needs sorting.

My heroine is also not going to have a limp any more (long story but that’s a relief. For her too, I imagine), the current ending doesn’t quite work, plus one of my (important!) male characters needs work. He’s not convincing, or that likeable. Deep down, I knew that. And I also know the reason that he’s not convincing: I Don’t Know Him Well Enough.

For my other two main characters, I filled out pages of a character sheet before I started writing, so I know them pretty well but for some reason, I didn’t do it for him. But I’m doing it now.

I think, in short story writing, you can get away with not knowing your characters intimately. They’re only going to be making a short appearance, so you can take a broad-brush approach (and that doesn’t mean I think writing short stories is easier, by the way – it’s just different) but (I’ve realised), woe betide you if you don’t know your main characters inside out when you write a novel. They just won’t be believable.

There are 100 questions in my character sheet but I think the 5 of the most important are:

1. What is your character passionate about?
2. What does your character want more than anything else?
3. Does he/she have any regrets?
4. As a child, what did your character want to be when they grew up?
5. When – and why – did your character last cry?

It was Kurt Vonnegut who famously said, “Every character must want something, even if it is only a glass of water.” (And if you want to read more of Vonnegut’s pearls of wisdom, there’s a list here).

And that ‘want’ is what drives the whole plot. If your character doesn’t want anything, if they’re quite happy with their life and they’re just tootling along, then there is no story. (One way round this is to make a list of the 10 worst things that could happen to your character and then throw a few of them at him!).

I’m reading a novel at the moment that is pretty dull (I won’t tell you what it is because I don’t like dissing other people’s writing but just to say, it’s by an author that I usually love).

Why is this story not engaging me, I wondered? And then I realised why: because none of the characters (so far) actually want anything, other than to maintain the status quo. Hopefully, it will perk up soon but if not, it will be relegated to the DNF* pile.

Right, here endeth the lesson.

I am hoping that I might have inspired myself now, to go away and do some writing: cut that POV, change the ending, remove that limp (ouch), take a metaphorical knife to the invisible friend and reinvent my hero. Easy, right?

*Did Not Finish

Posted in Kate Nash Agency | Tagged | 9 Comments

Feeling Tier-ful

Actually, I’m not (‘feeling tier-ful’), I just liked the pun-tastic title. And for your information, we will be going into Tier 2 on 2nd December, thank you very much. How about you?

The Good

Last night, I took part in one of the writing ‘masterclasses’ that the Kate Nash Literary Agency is putting on for us Bookcamp Mentees. This one was about character and very good it was too (courtesy of Kate Nash author Jane Lovering).

One of the questions Jane was asked (not by me, I hasten to add: I was lurking. Wet hair from the shower and no make-up. Nope, I wasn’t going to put that head above the parapet!).. where was I? Oh yes, one of the questions Jane was asked, was about getting the voices of your characters right, when you’re writing historical fiction.

Jane’s advice was to go to original source material for inspiration. Specifically: letters!

Well, a little warm glow and a feeling of smugness swept over me (or perhaps that was the rosé wine kicking in) BECAUSE, through a recent serendipitous meeting – and socially-distanced chat – with a woman in the village that I know through dog-walking, I have a stack of letters, written by her mother, to her father, during WW2, when they were courting (and he was in the RAF). Full of lovely dialogue from the time that I’m writing about. Perfect!

The Bad

My (new! NEW!) laptop died again this morning and my OH has spent half the day trying to fix it which put him in a VERY bad mood (and he’s never in a bad mood). Finally, it’s kind-of-fixed but I now have no sound or microphone. First World problems, I know but still very annoying.

The Ugly

Serves me right for gloating about my wonderful soup-maker: today I made a DISGUSTING soup.

I couldn’t access t’internet, due to computer failure, so I kind of made it up… it was supposed to be ‘Carrot & Apple’ but I think I added too many apples (one would have been enough) and.. this is the terrible bit… the only onion we had was a red onion, which I thought would be fine but of course, as you know (I can see you, shaking your head), red onions are quite sweet.. so, what with the extra apple and the sweet onion, I felt like I was eating a bowlful of apricot jam. I kid you not. Horrible. Thrown away. The only disaster (so far) in the soup maker but a shock to the system, I can tell you.

Tomorrow I have my on-line meeting with my agent to discuss The First Draft. I am feeling horribly nervous…! I will report back, anon.

Posted in Kate Nash Agency | 14 Comments

Time for a Sit Down

I have a new armchair! This is to be my ‘reading and relaxing’ (and, very occasionally, drinking wine) chair and I think I deserve it, having finally sent off the first draft of my novel to my agent, all 86,700 words of it.

It could have been longer but there were scenes that I just didn’t have time to squeeze in! My ‘new’ deadline was last Friday and I could not ask for another extension (the shame would have been too much).

So, for example, one of my characters invites another to a recital in the village hall, like this: “Get all your gang to come, won’t you? It’ll be fun. Sixpence a ticket and all in a good cause. We’re raising money for the ‘Land Army Benevolent Fund’.” (Did I mention, it’s set in WW2?)

This is an important scene! It’s going to bring a lot of my characters together, to interact and get ‘friendly’. Hurrah!

But I didn’t actually think about putting the recital scene in until just before the deadline. So although I have one character inviting another, the recital never happens! (Let’s see if anyone notices, eh?).

So, it’s fair to say that the draft’s a bit ‘holey’ and there might be parts that don’t make complete sense but hopefully, my agent will be able to see ‘the shape’ of the novel and advise what I need to do to make that shape better. (Preferably not, ‘chuck it in the bin and start again’).

I have a little free time until Judgement Day, in which to catch up on things like housework and cooking (got the soup-maker out today and made mushroom soup) and to start thinking about Christmas. (Aagh!).

What have you been up to? I know lots of you are doing NaNoWriMo. Good luck, if you are!

This is only a short post because my brain is running on empty! But I’ll be back soon with more (hopefully, interesting) stuff!

Short Story Competition: Louise Beech

Here’s a free-to-enter short story competition with a £50 prize, which author Louise Beech is running to celebrate turning 50. It closes on 1st December, so don’t delay!

Posted in Uncategorized | 18 Comments

How To Plan a Novel

Look at that title! As though I’m an expert or something.

Of course, I am not. But this question was raised on Twitter this week and the answers were interesting, so I thought I’d bring it to the blog (the blog which is now TEN YEARS OLD, by the way! A bit like a proud mother I am asking myself, where have the years gone? It’ll be going to secondary school soon and wearing a fancy uniform).

The question ‘How do you plan a novel?’ was posed by a self-confessed ‘pantser’ – i.e.: someone who doesn’t plan at all but writes by the seat of his/her pants and just hopes for the best.

The first couple of times I did NaNoWriMo (which starts on Sunday, btw), I did it in a ‘pantser’ style which Did. Not. Work.

I haven’t read either of the ‘novels’ back since then (and perhaps I should because they might not be *all* bad) but my general feeling, when I reached 30th November and therefore the end of NaNoWriMo, was that I’d written mostly rubbish.

So, my advice – and something I followed last year when I did NaNoWriMo and wrote big chunks of the novel that I’m now trying to finish – is to do some planning, even if it’s rough and you fully expect it to change as you write.

Of course, some very successful novelists claim they don’t plan: they just write the book. Marian Keyes (who writes huge novels. Her latest, Grown-Ups, has so many characters that it needed a family tree printed at the front) and Richard Osman, whose Thursday Murder Club is the fastest selling debut crime novel EVER – have both said they don’t plan. They don’t have spreadsheets or character biographies or Post-It notes. I find that amazing but perhaps that’s just the kind of brain they have: they can hold it all in there.

I am in awe of crime writers who don’t know who committed the murder until they get near the end of the book (they work on the basis that if they don’t know, it’s almost impossible for the reader to know either). But how can they do that?!

Anyway, I digress.

If you are a pantser trying to be a plotter, there is a book called (I love this), “Take Off Your Pants” that might help. I haven’t read it myself so I can’t recommend it but it might be worth a look.

I have compiled some of the answers that were given to the ‘how do you plot a novel?’ question:

Some people swear by the ‘Snowflake’ method of planning. This starts with a one-sentence description of your novel and expands outwards from there. A bit like… you’ve got it. There’s lots of information on line if you want to find out more, for example, here.

Then there’s the ‘3 Act Structure (In very simple terms, that’s: Set-Up, Confrontation, Resolution).

Some people swear by ‘beat sheets

Or if that all sounds a bit too technical/formulaic/screenplay-ish for you, there are of course, trusty Post-It notes (move them around, have different colours for different viewpoints or characters or timelines). I have tried Post-It notes by the way – as you may remember from this post – but I find the whole process a bit too fiddly.

Some writers write a complete novel synopsis before they put pen to paper. Yup, they know the whole novel (or at least, all the important bits and the ending). The synopsis (1 or 2 pages max) by the way, is great for reminding you what the book is supposed to be about, if/when you go off course.

Other writers plan their novels using:

* A pile of scrappy notebooks.
* Index cards.
* Scraps of paper

A nice simple piece of advice was: List the scenes that are going in the novel. Write them. Put them in order later.

Some people swear by the software Scrivener and are evangelical about it (much in the way that I RAVE about my soup maker and lots of people think I’m weird and what’s wrong with a saucepan and a sieve, anyway?)

Scrivener seems to be one of those tools for novel writing that you either swear by or about which you say, “I couldn’t get on with it.”

I suspect, if I delved into it, it would just be another form of procrastination for me. Plus, I hate learning new things, especially new, techie things so I don’t think I have the patience to even start. But if you want to know more, apparently you can get a free 30-day trial.

What have I found works best for me?

After a lot (a lot!) of trial and error, my preferred method seems to be a simple Excel spreadsheet with each scene on a new line, the name of the point of view (POV) character and date in two other columns.

That way I can instantly see if I’ve forgotten a POV character for a while, or if I’ve got my days mixed up. It’s easy to change the order of the scenes and as I write each scene, I ‘colour in’ the cells, which is very motivating.

But that’s what works for me (at the moment, at least) and that’s the most important point to take away from this: everyone’s different.

You have to work out what works best for you (what does work best for you? Tell me if I’ve missed anything out!).

Maybe you’re one of those lucky people that can just keep it all in their head…!

Posted in Novels | 6 Comments

R.I.P WWFS

Nothing Fancy was the first story I had accepted by Woman’s Weekly.

Look at that title. Yet more abbreviations! It’s like I’m writing in code these days.

OK, if you haven’t worked it out, it stands for ‘Rest in Peace, Woman’s Weekly Fiction Special’, for it has just been announced that the monthly fiction magazine (but not the weekly Woman’s Weekly mag) is folding.

I have to admit, I’m not surprised. Perhaps the biggest surprise is that it hasn’t happened sooner. But I am sad, not only for the loss of another womag market (and for my writing friends and colleagues who still write for WW) but also because I loved being published in WWFS, back in the day, before they insisted on taking all rights (at which point I ‘made a stand’ and stopped submitting to them).

Before they accepted my first story, I bought the magazine religiously every month, read and analysed the stories in depth (I even had a spreadsheet at one point! I kid you not), muttering things like, “I can write stories like this!”

And, in the end, it turned out I could.

It took a long time (and exhortations from my mum, who couldn’t bear the pain of every rejection, to ‘Give up, give up!’) but finally, in 2009, to be exact, they accepted the first story from me, ‘Nothing Fancy’.

But even then, it was a close call. They couldn’t get in touch with me to tell me my story was accepted because both the email address and the phone number on my cover sheet were wrong! (I know, I know. Rookie mistake! Still not quite sure how that happened, but one was because I’d changed my mobile or moved house or something, so not completely my fault).

Anyway, they could have just given up trying to get in touch but the lovely assistant fiction editor, Clare Cooper, wrote me a letter and asked me to call, which I did and we sorted it out. (But phew!)

I got the idea for the story when I walked past an ‘A board’ outside a gym, which listed all the beauty treatments they offered inside. The ‘I’ was missing from ‘manicures’ so it actually read ‘Man cures’ … ah ha! That was my starting point and I made my main character a woman who likes to point out mistakes to greengrocers (with their signs that read ‘potato’es’ and tomatos’.. you know the kind of thing).

When the story was finally published, I was slightly disappointed that it hadn’t got a lovely illustration with it (because the illustration was half the reason I wanted to get a story accepted!) but it was still very pleasing and now I think about it, as it had a little twist at the end, it might have been a difficult story to illustrate, without giving the game away.

The second story had a picture with it.

The next one they accepted, a couple of months later, ‘Love ‘em and Leave ‘em’ did have a bright illustration with it, so that was it: my ambition, for WWFS at least, had been achieved.

People, as we know, can be very ‘sniffy’ about magazine short stories (probably because they’re mostly written by women, for women) but writing for WWFS was an excellent discipline and grounding for what I’m doing now. You needed to have good, original ideas and achieve the right tone, pace and characterization, often in just 1000 – 1200 words (for a one pager). Anything less, just wouldn’t get past the fiction team or the magazine editor, who had the final say.

And funnily enough, I have even more reason to be grateful to WWFS because, now that I’m thinking about novel no 2 (I know, don’t laugh, I haven’t even finished this one yet), a historical short story that I wrote for WWFS is certainly in the running for my next idea….

Apples outside our local allotment. Nothing to do with WWFS. Just a nice picture!

Posted in Magazines, Short Stories, Woman's Weekly | 7 Comments

Getting My NWS Report

NWS Report

Today I got an email to say my report was ready from the RNA’s New Writers’ Scheme. (Has anyone else had theirs? How was it for you?)

Eek. My stomach gave a lurch.

It honestly felt like getting exam results (maybe not quite so critical – it’s only one person’s opinion, after all, as I kept telling myself) but I knew that whatever was in that report had the power to make me feel great, or to completely ruin my day/week AND I’m in the middle of working on the novel, so it was a difficult task, to actually take the plunge and read it.

Would it be too much of a distraction? Would it plant doubts in my mind about what I’d written or what I was still planning to write? I was in a quandary. So, before I read it, I made myself spend a bit of time on the novel and then I logged in to the RNA’s website and downloaded the report.

And it was fine! Panic over. All good and positive and encouraging. There were just a few comments about one of my heroes (oh yes, I have more than one), needing to be a bit ‘nicer’ (I agree) and things like: I use too many dashes (I know!) and I use them incorrectly.

There are different kinds of dashes, it turns out. To indicate that a speaking character has been interrupted, I should be using an em dash (a long one), like this: — (it’s just taken me ages to find out where that is on the keyboard! I had to press [Ctrl]+[Alt]+- It has to be the minus sign on the numeric keypad). Am I the only person not to know this?! How come it’s taken me all these years to know this?

Then there are en dashes (a bit shorter) and hyphens but let’s leave those for now and move onto something a bit more interesting!

By the way, you never know who’s carried out the critique when you get your report back from the NWS (it will be a published author but it’s done anonymously) but it’s possible to send a thank you (which I did), via the organiser.

Reading someone’s manuscript (even if, in my case, it was ‘only’ 52,000 words), is still a lot to wade through and writing such a detailed report is a lot of work, so he/she definitely deserved a thank you.

Between The Covers

Are you watching the new BBC 2 Book Club programme, which started last Friday ‘Between The Covers’? I thought it was good.

You can catch up with it here.

Talking of books, I had a Zoom meeting tonight for Book Club #1 and tomorrow afternoon I have a Zoom meeting for Book Club #2 (they don’t usually coincide like that) and I’m only half way through the book! Which is Rose Tremain’s ‘The Road Home’, in case you’re interested.

I’ve read it before but too long ago to remember all the details. I love it but right now I’m wishing it was about 100 pages shorter.

‘Love Reading Very Short Story Award’ c/d 31st October

The Love Reading website people are running a ‘very short story’ (600 – 1000 words) competition, which is open to everyone, regardless of where they live or whether they’re published or unpublished (but the story has to be unpublished). You can send a story of any genre.

As far as I can see, it’s free to enter and there are some tasty cash prizes (£200 and £300) for the winners.

All the details are here and if you decide to have a go, good luck!

My neighbour’s tree (view from over the new wall!) Pretty, isn’t it?

Posted in Books, Competitions, Novels | 11 Comments

Going Up? Elevator Pitches and More Opportunities

LWB Page 100 Competition

If you’re super-quick (because this ends on Sunday 4th October), there’s still time to enter the LWB (Louise Walters Books) ‘Page 100’ competition, (£6 entry fee) which asks you to submit page 100 – and only that page – of your unpublished novel or novella.

The closing date’s been extended (it was originally September 27th) which might, just might, mean they haven’t had as many entries as they’d hoped for. All the details are here but in short:

1. They’ll publish a longlist on the website on 26th October.
2. A short list of 6 or thereabouts will be announced on Monday 9th November 2020. All short-listed writers will be invited to submit their first three chapters or first 30 pages (whichever is the shorter).
3. The winner will receive an editorial report of their first three chapters/30 pages of their novel or novella. This will consist of a 2000 word report and a marked up manuscript. The winner will also receive four LWB books of their choice
4. Two runners up will each receive four LWB books of their choice.
5. All long-listed authors will also get a paragraph or two of feedback on their entry.

It’s a good opportunity to possibly get some feedback (and a confidence-boost!) on your writing, it’s quite a fun and quirky comp’ and let’s face it, £6 isn’t a fortune. Think of all those take-out coffees you’ve missed out on since lockdown! It’s just a couple of those. Good luck if you decide to enter.

Amanda Reynolds

Psychological Thriller Writer, Amanda Reynolds (whose debut best-selling novel is currently being filmed as a mini series starring Christopher Eccleston, no less!!) is offering a free first chapter critique, over on Twitter.

Again, you’ve got to be quick for this one because I asked her and she’ll be choosing her winner after the weekend. You need to follow Amanda on Twitter and pitch your completed novel in one tweet (ah yes, this is when you need to have that elevator pitch nailed!)

Elevator Pitch

Talking of which… I was asked for the first time (aagh, bites nails) last week, “What’s your novel about?” and I burbled on about ‘Second World War’ and ‘saga’ and luckily, I was literally saved by the bell because someone knocked on the door (it was a Zoom meeting, of course) and my questioner had to dash off.

BUT it made me realise that I really do need to get that sorted, so that when someone asks me – as they invariably will – ‘What’s your novel about?’ I can give a slick (memorized!) answer and not sound like a complete berk. It’s not easy though, is it, to strike the balance between ‘enticing-without-giving-too-much-away’ and ‘not-sounding-too-pretentious’.

I’m sure you know what an elevator pitch is but, just in case, you can read more about it here.

Kate Nash #BookCamp

In case you’re wondering what’s been happening since I told you my news about the Book Camp mentoring programme… well, I’ve agreed a deadline with my agent, of later this month (eek!) to get the first draft of my WIP novel finished, so I’ve been trying to work on that as much as possible.

My maximum is 4 hours in one day and my minimum is… nothing, zilch, nada, nichts (apart from scrolling through Twitter and worrying).

And yes, I know, why am I not working on my novel NOW, instead of writing this? But the thing is, I can’t sit and write for hours on end. (Or even minutes, sometimes..). I need thinking/mulling it over time, time for the subconscious to come up with ideas and solve problems in the plot. I am slow. I am definitely not a fast writer, although I am trying to resist editing as I go along and focus on just getting the words down!

In addition to the writing, the programme of Zoom workshops that we’ve been promised, as ‘mentees’, is starting next week, with one on ‘Plotting and Planning’, which I’m really looking forward to. It will be nice, as well as hopefully learning something, to virtually ‘meet’ some of the other Book Camp participants.

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DISCOVERIES 2020-21 (& Making the Most of Opportunities!)

Four years ago, almost exactly to the day – on 19th September 2016, to be precise – I blogged about how author Jojo Moyes was offering her cottage in Suffolk for a week to an aspiring writer in need of time and space, in order to ‘kickstart or even finish’ their novel.

Do you remember?

I do because I thought it was really generous and a great opportunity for someone.

And funnily enough, in that way that life has of coming ‘full circle’, today I sat out in the garden (after 4 fairly kn*ckering hours of Zoom teaching) and finished reading the brilliant, award-winning novel ‘Queenie’.

And? Well, it turns out that the author – Candice Carty-Williams – was the winner of that very week in Suffolk and her novel was partly the result of that retreat.

And it made me think about opportunities and making the most of them.

When Candice read about Jojo’s offer of a week in Suffolk (not on my blog, I hasten to add! She probably saw it, as I did, on social media), she was living in a cold, grotty, flat-share, sitting in bed (and probably feeling rather sorry for herself) and she thought ‘Why not? What have I got to lose?’

So, she applied and won (beating 600 other applicants in the process) and a month later, having borrowed a friend’s car, she was heading for Suffolk.

She hadn’t driven a car since passing her test the year before, she’d never driven on a motorway or outside London and it took her 6 hours to do what should have been a 2-hour journey. (Something, as Jojo Moyes said in her review of the book on Goodreads, that the character Queenie would probably do!).

Brave? Or foolhardy? Whichever way you look at it (I’d have been Googling train timetables!), she was THAT DETERMINED.

“I’m of the mind,” Candice says, “that if you have to do something, you just get it done. So, I did it.”

When she arrived at the cottage, according to Jojo, Candice ‘declined a cup of tea and went straight to work’. By bedtime on the first day, she’d written 8000 words and by the end of the week, 40,000.

“It felt a bit like an outpouring,” she says. “I think Queenie had been brewing for a very long time.”

Sometimes, as writers, opportunities come up – to win a writing retreat, or the chance to be mentored, or for a critique on your writing – and if it’s something that you’d like to do and you think it would help, all I can say is: Go For It!

Let’s face it, it’s hard, beavering away on your own. A bit of help, encouragement, advice or ego-stroking, all helps! (And if it’s free to enter, really, what have you got to lose? Just send it off, forget about it and move on to the next thing!).

A few people have said to me that they wish, now, that they’d applied for the Kate Nash #BookCamp. I wonder why they didn’t? Lack of time, perhaps or that underlying feeling that ‘I can’t do that, they’d never pick me?’ But why not you? If you don’t try, you’ll never know.

DISCOVERIES 2020-21

And on that note, here’s another mentoring/agenting opportunity, free to enter, for un-agented FEMALE novelists and this time with Curtis Brown.

You don’t have to have finished your novel – only started one – but you do have to live in the UK and be over 18. Check other rules and regs carefully. You’ve got until 17th January 2021 but don’t do what I usually do and leave it all to the last minute.

Good luck! And keep your eye on the blog, as I always post this kind of thing, when I spot it!

And here’s an interesting interview with novelist Kate Mosse, who is chairing the judging panel (I particularly like her writing tip, that ‘5 minutes a day are better than no minutes’).

Happy face!

Posted in Competitions, Events, Novels | Tagged | 16 Comments