Saturday, 11 March 2017

Knowledge


It helps if you know what you're doing. That statement can be applied to many things in life, whether it be using a petrol mower for the first time, changing a fuse, fitting a new wiper blade on the car. Nowadays it's easier than ever to find out how to perform a new task - search online, watch a YouTube video, read a DIY book. Perhaps even ask a friendly expert happy to pass on their knowledge.


What about writing? Surely you just apply pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, and let the words flow. Certainly that is how most of us start and indeed continue. Very few get it right first time and go on to sell their first oeuvre.

Here is just some of the helpful advice I've been given:
  • There are many self-help books which can help with the basics. Fortunately a degree in Creative Writing isn't a prerequisite for writing the next best seller.
  • Read extensively. Examine books written by successful authors writing in the same genre as you.
  • Research - study the market where you wish to be published.
  • Ask someone you know will be honest to read and comment on your writing. (Probably not your Gran. Grandmothers are wonderful, they always believe in you, but 'That's lovely, dear' isn't the most helpful critique you will receive.)
  • Join a writing group - online or in real life.
  • Critique the work of fellow writers - it's a good way of learning to look at your own work more objectively.
  • Enter competitions. Even if you don't win, read those that have and where available the judges' comments which reveal why the winner was chosen.
  • Ask for advice - I've been humbled by the generosity of fellow writers who share their expertise so willingly.

But the only way to know if you have got it right is to get your work out there, to submit it and risk rejection. Learn to let your work go. It's sad that many talented writers I've met have never submitted their work anywhere.

What advice would you give to writers seeking to improve their skills?

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Junk

It's amazing how much clutter I have squirrelled away over the years, stored in the loft 'just in case'. Now I am determined to be rid. Broken scales, obsolete cables, old electrical appliances which are no longer safe to use, books I shall never read again, the list goes on.

But as one person's junk can be another person's treasure, some of my rejected goods have now been sold, others have been donated to charity shops and yet more have been given away through freecycle.org.

One of the magazines I follow has a regular feature in which readers can send photographs of various items to ask Bob the expert for a free valuation. Occasionally a rare and valuable artefact will be discovered. Most however are of little or no value, such as this old button tin - £5 at the most, said Bob. On the bright side £25 was the writer's reward for having her letter published - that's a good return on a £5 piece of junk!

Ideas can be reused too. My husband's uncle once commented that, short of money for an exotic honeymoon, he had romanced his new wife in a tent. I have since used the phrase as the inspiration for my poem - 'Think Again, Dear' - which is published in the current edition of Yours magazine.

My next task is to 'declutter' my folder of rejected stories. Some I now acknowledge were no good - the editors were right to turn them down. (If only, like Bob, they had paid me £25 to soften the blow!) But not all are so bad. There are several plots that I believe can be recycled into something worth resubmitting. Here's hoping the editors agree.
                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Inspiration

It's all around us, apparently. So why can't I find any when I need it? A blank page can be exciting, it can also be challenging. But without inspiration its emptiness is damning. Which is where I'm at just now.

So I thought I would look back to see what inspired me to write past stories which have sold successfully.

My first to be published with The People's Friend was called 'Take a Break' - yes, I did sell a story with the title of a rival magazine. That was inspired by an 80 year old plate in my mother's china cabinet which is the sole survivor of an incident when as a child she accidentally pulled the kitchen cupboard over and smashed all the crockery, except for this one plate.

My husband's determination to complete Killer Sudoku puzzles was the trigger for 'The Numbers Game', bought by Woman's Weekly.

A family joke describing laundry as the 'joy of socks' led to a story which sold to Yours.

Another laundry inspired task came to me while ironing with an ear worm of 'Dashing away with a smoothing iron' repeating in my head. That was published by The Weekly News under the title 'Dashing Away'.

So, apparently I need to focus on destructive children, puzzle obsessives and housework.

Maybe I'll just have another cup of coffee and a biscuit while I think about this. Anybody have any ideas to spare?

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Hardware

I haven't written much in the last few months. But on January 1st I vowed to change all that. New Year, new start, etc. My plan was to ease myself back in with a fresh blog post every week, to try a few bits of flash, reader's letters, etc. Then to move on up to writing short stories again on a regular basis.
Then my computer died and all my good intentions fell apart. In high dudgeon I took what couldn't be saved to the tip and Freecycled the best of it. I've not written anything since (unless Facebook and Twitter count?). 

But truthfully I never had a valid excuse not to return to my desk. What did writers use before computers were invented? Good old fashioned pen and paper of course. I still have plenty of those.


Then typewriters - not that I'd dare use this antiquity which belongs to my brother. It's purely decorative but it acts as a reminder of why I like my modern keyboard so much.

So I've bought a new computer which was installed yesterday. Now I have no excuse. The hardware is all set up. Here I go. Ready, steady... write!

Sunday, 1 January 2017

Gate of the Year

The new year can be exciting, full of possibilities - successes, new discoveries, plans to be made. But it can be scary too. Who knows what problems lie before us? A poem I learned as a child comes to my mind each January.


I love the imagery of a guiding hand being "better than light and safer than a known way". The poem was written by Minnie Louise Haskins who died in 1957. I wrote about her in my recent article which is published in The People's Friend Special 133. Minnie unwittingly became an overnight celebrity when King George VI quoted from her poem in his address to the Commonwealth in December 1939.

The words of the poem would have provided comfort to many in the early days of the Second World War. As you stand at the gate of 2017, I hope that, whatever your faith, you will find strength and courage to embrace everything that the new year has in store.

I wish you all a very Happy New Year.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Fillers

img_0494No, I haven't gone down the route of cosmetic correctives, Botox or the like.
img_0497'Fillers' in the context of writing are the shorter articles that magazine editors slot into gaps between longer pieces of copy and adverts. Because of this they are usually chosen at the last moment, once the major components of an anticipated edition are agreed upon and a judgment is made as to what space needs to be infilled.
img_0496My first published piece of writing was a filler in The People's Friend over 2 years ago. Since then they have published several more of mine, the most recent in the Christmas Special now on sale. The current article is about Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean which I first discovered as a child when looking through my father's stamp collection. 
img_0495Stamps give an overview of a country featuring as they do pictures featuring geographical, historical, anthropological, mythical and natural interest. It is from these stamps that I learned of the spectacle of the island's red crab migration. If you've never seen photographs then do take a look online.
img_0498My favourites from my late father's collection though have to be a set of 5 stamps issued 30 years ago in which an artist imagined Santa Claus holidaying on the island which bears his name. After the busy-ness of Christmas Eve, who would deny him a restful holiday in the sun?

Monday, 7 November 2016

Espresso

While I'm writing this, there is in the background a gentle buzz of noise. People are chattering, there is an occasional burst of laughter from the table in the corner, the explosion of a grind and hiss from the machine being used by the baristas as they complete the next order for a skinny latte with a caramel shot, or whatever it may be. All the normal sounds and comforting hubbub that comes from sitting in a cafe whilst tapping away at my keypad.

You may think that I am writing in a cafe, as many other writers choose to do. Except I'm not. I'm in the warmth of my own home listening to 'university undertones' from the cafe menu on Coffitivity. As it's pouring with rain outside I really didn't want to leave the comfort of my desk this morning!

Cafe bars are a great place to people watch and many an unsuspecting customer has found his or her way into a short story of my composition. Just why has the otherwise elegantly dressed and perfectly maquillaged old lady sitting by herself have dirt incongruously entrapped under her fingernails? What happened to the brusque workman this morning to put him into such a foul mood that he snapped rudely at the young barista serving his tea? And the smartly suited businessman in the corner working at his laptop in the corner keeps glancing furtively around the room, leaning forward to cover the screen whenever anyone walks by - what is he hiding?

Here is a piece of flash fiction of mine that was published last month on Paragraph Planet. Enjoy!



Do you find writing in cafes a distraction or a source of inspiration?