Monday, 31 December 2018

Just in time

Just in time...
It is the last day of December: time to reflect on 2018 before the midnight chimes sound the death knell of the old year and a new year begins. 
Writing:
I’ve not written as much as I had planned this time last year. But I have written. And I have started to submit my work again. I count that as a good thing. 

Successes:
I have seen stories published in Woman’s Weekly Fiction Special and the Yours 2019 Annual.
Several of my letters have been printed in various magazines.
I have had a couple of shoutouts in the Mslexia subscribers’ newsletter, littlems.
I was a runner-up in a competition run by Writers’ Forum which resulted in a sale.

Writing friends:
In June I visited Helen and Mike Walters at their glorious Solus Or Writing Retreat.
In August I went to the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School where I met several writing buddies, both old and new.

My desk at Solus Or with its incredible view
New Year plans:
I hesitate to state in a public forum exactly what I hope to achieve in 2019. Real life too often intervenes to knock us off our chartered course. I have though privately committed some intentions to paper to give me a focus.

I definitely want to write more, submit more, enter more competitions, and be published more often. 

I intend to return to Solus Or.

I hope also to return to Swanwick.



Happy New Year to all and may all your writing dreams come true in 2019.

Saturday, 22 December 2018

I’m Hired!

As a writer we become accustomed to rejections. They still bite, but over time the feeling is more of an annoying nip rather than feeling as though your lovingly crafted work has been chewed up and spat out.

Applying for jobs also brings its share of rejections. Over the last nine years I’ve been turned down more than a hundred times. As time has gone by I’ve become more sanguine at accepting the ‘nos’ and apart from a couple of temporary positions got on with enjoying my life in less structured ways.

Yesterday I received three emails that all began “I write with reference to your application for the above post and regret to inform you that your application has been unsuccessful on this occasion”.

But then I received a fourth email that read “(Redacted) has advised me that she would like to offer you a position at the (redacted) Library”. 

So there you have it. I have been offered a part-time job on a permanent contract. It’s perfect for me - just two days a week, working in a library, and being paid for the privilege.


But how will this affect my writing? I hope it will impact in a good way. I certainly wrote more often during the time I worked full-time in Boots four Christmases ago. Having only a limited time in which to write can concentrate the mind.

And as an extra encouragement I can report that two stories ‘wot I wrote’ are in the Yours 2019 Annual currently on sale. It’s good to be in print again.

Monday, 10 December 2018

Hi Ho, Silver Linings

Nine years ago my life changed overnight. The firm I was working for closed suddenly. My daily routine and purpose for getting up in the morning was taken away.
But there was a plus side. Forced redundancy meant I had more time to spend with my husband who had already retired. 

I applied for many jobs but, apart from the occasional temping opportunity and Christmas season retail positions, nobody wanted to employ me. 
But I signed up to a creative writing course and found that I loved it.

I missed daily camaraderie with my office colleagues.
But I discovered the welcoming world of the writing community.

The very first story I wrote during that course was published last year. It is in ‘Paws for Thought’, an ebook anthology which includes many excellent stories from some of my new friends in the writing community, many of whom are well-known and much respected authors. I am humbled to be in such good company.


And what is even better, all proceeds from the sale of the book are in support of the RSPCA, Halifax and Huddersfield branch. It costs only £2.99. You can buy a copy here. Please do. You will help our furry friends going through hard times find their silver lining.

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Grammar Grump

Look away now if you are of a sensitive disposition. You may find these photographs disturbing.

A gift for that special someone you really want to annoy?
Like many of my writerly friends, using correct spelling and grammar is important to me.

The office joke was to warn folks not to leave their shopping lists lying about as I would amend them. I’m sure I wasn’t really that bad (was I?) but I admit to rubbing errant apostrophes off chalk boards in cafés.

M&Co making sure your stationery
never leaves the desk.
I try very hard not to make mistakes in my own writing although sometimes I fail. Inevitably I spot one 10 minutes after hitting ‘send’ on a submission.

But when I come across glaring errors on commercial products and posters it does upset me. Words are the tools with which we communicate. Surely those involved in the signwriting, graphics and advertising businesses should get it right?

Sunday, 21 October 2018

Fairy Tales

Fairytale toadstool
(Amanita Muscaria,
Fly Agaric - highly toxic)
I have a story published in the November edition of Woman’s Weekly Fiction Special. It’s the tale of Ashley, a lowly gardener who finally wins the heart of the college girl who he had thought was too good for him.

It is based on the classic Cinderella tale. With a change of gender Cinders became Ash, a change of occupation kitchen skivvy became gardener, the good fairy became his best mate who thinks of a way for Ash to gatecrash the masked ball, the midnight chimes became a call on Ashley’s mobile and the glass slipper became a scrap of card dropped from his pocket as he ran away. 

(Photograph by Readly)
Last Wednesday on the Twitter #writingchat discussion (8pm every week, all writers welcome) we talked about rewriting stories. Tweaking our own stories is something that many short story writers do, adapting a rejected story to meet the guidelines of a different publication. 

Rewriting someone else’s story is another matter entirely. There is of course no copyright to a storyline and on the basis that there are only a limited number of plots some similarities are inevitable. But how much has to be changed before it becomes a different story - names, gender, setting, era? 

I would hesitate to rewrite someone else’s story. But fairy tales are fair game. 

Friday, 19 October 2018

Emojis

Can a 🖼 🎨 a 1000 words? (Musical question asked by David🚪🚪of 🍞 in 1971.)

In the interests of linguistic development:

The stunning new desk
(Photograph by Jesmond Library)
Tomorrow at 🕘 I shall be on duty👩🏼‍💼in the 📚🏫. My duties include 🖨 🖥 🗂🗄📖🗞📆 and making ☕️.

It is the perfect job for a 📚🐛

I may do a lot of 🤷🏼‍♀️ but will try not to do much of 🤫.

Emojis? Sorry, they’re not for me. Words are better. Books are cool. Libraries rock!



Sunday, 30 September 2018

Date with a Date Stamp

Reading maketh a full man
Conference a ready man
And writing an exact man
- Bacon
Breaking news - I’m a librarian! 

To be exact, I’m a volunteer in training at the wonderful Jesmond Library. I’ve been considering getting involved for some time and yesterday was my first attempt at wielding the date stamp.

Happy 5th Birthday!
Like many local authorities, Newcastle City Council decided to close down several branch libraries. 

However a group of volunteers set up a charity to manage Jesmond Library as an independent venture. 

October 2018 marks the fifth anniversary of Jesmond Library and celebrations are planned.

Not only is it a functioning library three days a week, it also acts as a community hub with many activities and groups. I’m glad to say it is well supported. 


I’m delighted to be part of this fabulous library and look forward to many happy hours of volunteering. 

Now, hand me that date stamp, please.

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Characterisation

All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts.

My local library has a Play Reading Group. It’s similar to a Book Club in the sense that we all read the same text, except we read the plays together, each picking up the various parts as the evening progresses. 

Last night we read ‘The Chain’ by Jack Rosenthal, a comedy involving the joys and disasters of moving house as viewed by several different households in the same chain. 

I read several parts: an upper class gent who before he moved out of his old home removed all the light bulbs and unscrewed the door handles; a young woman who was hoping that the adage ‘new house, new baby’ would apply to her; a removal man who had nothing to say apart from a few grunts and expletives.

It made me think about the value of effective characterisation. For the audience, the actors add actions and facial expressions, accents and variations in speed and volume of delivery, all of which give an individuality to the dramatis personae. As play readers we had the benefit of the playwright’s stage directions. But in prose the ability for the reader to distinguish one character from another is down to the skill of the writer.

Yesterday’s Play Reading Group was a useful reminder for me to consider speech patterns and ‘voice’ when writing my short stories. 

And as I had a good time and enjoyed meeting new people, I shall continue to attend just for the fun of it

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Benedick and Beatrice

Much Ado About Nothing
I ended my trip in style tonight watching ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ at Jimmy’s Farm in Suffolk. The play was performed in a forest clearing by just six actors from the Red Rose Chain Theatre Company. Open air theatre has a magic of its own but when produced, directed and acted with such skill as was the case tonight, it rises beyond magic to something truly majestic.

The magic of open air theatre
Somewhat fittingly, considering last week’s #Swanwick70 also had a 1940s theme, tonight’s play was given a wartime setting. 

‘Much Ado’ was my set text for A level English. I remember being taught that in Shakespearean times ‘nothing’ was pronounced as ‘noting’, which double meaning is appropriate for a play where much of the mischief, for good and for bad, is caused by people overhearing conversations and spying on others.


Benedick and Beatrice, so in love (well, maybe)
Listening to strangers frequently provides a good prompt for a fiction story. As I return home I must pay attention to the conversation of those around me in hopes that I will find inspiration to get back into my writing. And in the imaginary world I can create as much mischief as I like, as long as no one recognises themselves in the story.

Monday, 20 August 2018

Awesome People

Ziggy the Dragon-Slayer
I have had a super time staying with my fabulous family. We have played amazing card games, walked Ziggy the wonderful dog, eaten incredible food and drunk marvellous wine. 

And together we have watched three superhero films: Iron Man 2, The Incredibles 2 and Spider-Man: HomecomingThey are all classic tales of good versus evil, of the fight for what is right. 

But for all their heroism and special powers, the superheroes are portrayed as ordinary people with human failings. Iron Man is depressed, reckless and a drunkard; Mr Incredible struggles to cope with fatherhood; Spider-Man is naive and conceited.

The villains meanwhile have their good points. Vanko acts out of misguided loyalty to his late father; The Screenslayer was traumatised by her father’s murder; The Vulture is a man who took his responsibilities to provide for and to protect his family too far.

By coincidence, ‘Heroes and Villains’ is the theme for the current 1500 word short story competition being run by Jesmond Library, closing date 29 November 2018.

Time spent relaxing with family is an excellent thing - it needs no excuse and is never wasted. But with this coming competition in mind, I can also claim that a weekend immersed in superhero films is vital research.

Saturday, 18 August 2018

Zzzz - time to reflect

Reflections, the lake at The Hayes, Swanwick
Swanwick 2018 is over. Goodbyes have been said, addresses exchanged and social media details shared. Brigadoon-like, the Writers’ Summer School has disappeared into the mist. It’s magic will not be seen again until it emerges twelve months later into the bright sunshine of August 2019.

Waking up the first morning after Swanwick was a little disconcerting. I reached for my programme to find out what exciting courses are happening today and where I should be and when, only to realise I’m no longer at The Hayes. Instead I started reading through my notebook to remind myself of just some of the many things I have done, seen and learned this last week. 

One particular phrase that stuck out was one used by Bradford novelist Amit Dhand, the guest speaker on Sunday evening. When events weren’t going well, or seemed stuck in a negative pattern, his father would “change the narrative”. He would do something unexpected. Amit told of the time his father shared a beer with local youths who, up to that moment in time, had been regularly throwing stones at the windows of the Dhand’s corner shop. His actions ‘changed the narrative’. 

I shall continue to dwell on that lesson. I can’t rewrite my history. But I can do something to alter my future. So when I get bogged down, whether in my writing or in actuality, I will do something to ‘change the narrative’. 


Friday, 17 August 2018

Yes, I can

#Swanwick70 - Day 6

“You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just the first step.”
Martin Luther King
The final course I attended today was not strictly a writing course. It was titled “Succeed on Purpose” and was a light-hearted look at how the mind works. We explored techniques to change the way we think and by so doing change the outcome of our actions, allowing us to succeed on purpose.

The tutor encouraged us to write down a goal, to commit to it, to visualise how that success will feel, then to plan and act as necessary in order to achieve that end. And so I shall take that first step and record my goal here.

My goal is to have my children’s A-Z published by December 2019.


There, I’ve said it. Now all I need to do is to make it happen.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

X-Rated

#Swanwick70 - Day 5

I attended a short course on writing Erotic Fiction earlier this week. Some very ‘interesting’ pieces of writing were shared during the workshop. But I will not be repeating them here in this blogpost.

I shan’t reveal the bawdy words to the parody version of an old music hall song which, and at their request, I was tricked into reading out loud to a table of old ladies.

Nor shall I record the conversation tonight in the bar which caused such raucous laughter.

None of these things can ever be spoken of. 

It’s all censored. 

Because, of course, what happens in Swanwick must stay in Swanwick.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Write Your Life

#Swanwick70 - Day 4

Secrets lie beneath the surface
One of the advantages of Swanwick is the huge variety of courses and workshops on offer. None have to be booked in advance and you can switch from one to another. Or do none at all.

So far I have learned about Writing for Competitions, Publishing, Niche Publishing and Erotica.

For my specialist course I chose “Write Your Life” to find more about Memoirs. According to Laurie Lee, the purpose of autobiography is “the laying to rest of ghosts, an ordering of the mind, a celebration of living and an attempt to hoard its memories”.

Despite this, I have no intention to write about my life. Nevertheless there are techniques used in writing memoir which are transferable to fiction writing and I hope these will give depth and substance to my future short story writing.


This all makes Swanwick sound very serious but it certainly isn’t. Everywhere people are smiling and there is much jollity. 

And although we have passed the halfway point there are still two very full days of laughter and good humour to come.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

“Verbosity leads to unclear, inarticulate things”

Prosecco and chats in the bar
#Swanwick70 - Day 3

With Dan Quayle’s comment in mind, I shall keep this blog post concise.

Events at #Swanwick70 continue to race along in a blur. I have lost track of what day of the week it is. I rely on the programme to ensure I make it to the right room for my chosen courses, to remind me of meal times, and for details of the evening’s entertainment. Tonight there was a chat show panel, followed by the Prose Open Mic and then a 1940’s themed fancy dress disco.

Above all there are so many people happy to chat over dinner, with a coffee and at the bar.

Perhaps the Prosecco is to blame for our verbosity and any subsequent unclear, inarticulate things?

Monday, 13 August 2018

Uniform yet Unique

Follow the rules 
but stand out
#Swanwick70 - Day 2

It’s the time of year when shops are trumpeting their ‘back to school’ offers. Children are bought new shoes, shirts and socks, trousers and pinafores, ready for the new academic year. Fully kitted out in their uniforms, they will be indistinguishable from their classmates as they respond to that first school bell.

In this morning’s short course on Writing for Competitions we were told to ‘put on the uniform’. That is, to read the rules so our entries follow the requirements as to word length, font type, etc. Then comes the tricky part. Having made the format of our entry uniform, we need to make the content of our submission unique.

Later this afternoon I listened to the prize winning entries from the ‘Write your way to Swanwick’ competition. I didn’t win. 

The Open Mic Poetry this evening was excellent with some very talented poets performing their work. I wasn’t one of them. 

Tomorrow evening I will watch the Prose Open Mic. I shan’t be reading.

The reason why is that, in all three cases, I failed to enter. 

To continue the analogy, I had the uniform but didn’t walk through the school gates. So now no one will know how uniquely wonderful my writing is. 

I know what should be written on my Swanwick School Report: “Must try harder next year”.


Sunday, 12 August 2018

Time

So much to do, so little time
#Swanwick70 - Day 1

Hurray! I’ve arrived at Swanwick Writers’ School. This is the platinum anniversary, 70 years since the first event in 1948. There are 297 delegates of whom I know only a few but that doesn’t matter. There is a wonderful camaraderie because of our shared interest in writing.

One of the initial steps is to decide what specialist courses, workshops and short courses to attend. There is so much choice and not enough time.

If I could turn back time...
Then there are the social events. When I was here two years ago the Poetry Open Mic and Buskers’ Night were both fabulous with so many talented performers. As from last year a Prose Open Mic has been added. All three are expected to be oversubscribed so it may be a case of drawing names from a box.

There are two discos, a tea dance, parties on the lawn, plays to be performed, the list goes on and on. I have heard more than one person wish for one of JK Rowling’s Time Turners so they can fit more in.

I should be sensible and pace myself. I know I should. But it’s hard to resist all the wonderful opportunities laid out in the timetable.

Oh well. #Swanwick70, here I come!