Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Birthday celebrations

If I don't comment on your Word Pool Wednesday posts until later today, apologies. I'm out for most of the day, because it's my birthday! Thirty-eight today. I know it's a cliché, but where does the time go?

And on that note, I'll leave you with this quote:

"Don't let ageing get you down. It's too hard to get back up." John Wagner

Tuesday, 29 June 2010


This morning I sat down at my writing desk - a compact writers bureau that does a stellar job of keeping dust out - and stared at the dust on the windowsills, bedside tables and chest of drawers. I tried not to, but dust has the power to hypnotise me. It taunts me. Are you going to leave me here? What would visitors say? You’re useless. Pathetic. So I stopped writing, grabbed a cloth, and tried to wipe it out of existence.

Dust annihilated, I sat back down at my writing desk and started the writing task I’d originally intended to do. Then I noticed some of the dust had returned. What? When? How? Why? (Aren’t those questions I should have been asking my fictional characters?)

I decided that a more powerful tool was needed for the job – the Dyson. Several minutes later, I was confident that every particle of dust within a mile radius of my bedroom had been sucked out of existence. After all, the proof lay at the bottom of the Dyson.

I returned once again to my writing desk, only I’d lost all motivation to carry on with the story, which was set in hotel. There wouldn’t be any dust in a hotel; they’d have professional cleaners!

I decided to google dust – not the most exciting search, I know. But did you know that dust can be repelled with an electrical charge or drowned in water? Which gave me a couple of ideas. No. I’m not intending to wire the entire house for an electrical discharge or call out the fire brigade to soak the place down once that’s happened; a couple of murder-mystery plots have just emerged from my dust-filled imagination. (Might be a great way for a character to get several beefy firemen to call at her house, though. Another idea, perhaps?)

There may be too much dust in the world, but sometimes a little procrastination pays.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Somewhere Towards The Middle

As I'm reading Diana Athill's 2008 Costa Biography Awarded memoir, Somewhere Towards The End, I've begun to think more about the fact that as I turn 38 next Wednesday, I'm somewhere towards the middle of my life.

When I was in my teens and twenties, I often heard women in their thirties talk about how much more confident they were about whom they were and what they wanted. Everything they said is true - I've never been surer in my relationships and in the knowledge that I am a writer.

Like Athill, I do not have children of my own. But I do have an extended family: nieces and nephews; stepchildren and step-grandchildren. Aunty Ellie or Nanny Ellie. Though I've chosen not to have children, I am grateful for those relationships. Too often I meet again friends from school or college, who themselves have chosen not to have children, and they say, "Thank goodness. You hate children too." Well, no. I don't. Why do people assume that?

Another thing I've been thinking about is that I've never lived on my own. It's not that I want to be, or that I am terrified of my own company even, it's just never happened to be that way. When I was a young child, I lived in a children’s home, in between spells with different foster families. Eventually, at the age of 11, I went to live with the people who are now my parents, my family. But before that I spent great periods of time on my own, immersed in my own imagination - creating fantasies about who I really was. I know it's a cliché, but children in care do imagine they are the daughter of a Hollywood superstar or a lost princess! I often think that is where my love of stories started, and perhaps a need not to not live by myself.

Having said that, as an adult I need time alone, like most people I assume, or I get frustrated and sometimes mean. When I didn't write (I was too afraid to see if I really could), I would spend those quiet times on crafts or attempting some academic field of study. I craved the freedom time alone gave me, but had to fill it all up or feel a failure. Now, I realise what I should having been doing all along - writing.

A friend told me recently that her mother, who is in her early seventies, has made a list of the things she wants to do before it's too late. Admirable, I must say. But why leave it so late? Do you remember as a young child telling your relatives, or peers, all those exciting things you would do when you grew up? How many of them have you actually done? I realised that I haven't done a great deal, maybe through a lack of confidence, maybe through circumstance, but most of all, through laziness. Some things seemed like too much effort.

With the thoughts of being somewhere towards the middle, I've drawn up a list of ten more adventurous things I want to do:

1. Write a novel (no surprise there, so I’ve got this one out of the way first).
2. Own a telescope and go stargazing.
3. Go on a volcano holiday (you trek overnight to the summit, or as far as you are allowed, and watch the sun come up).
4. Sail again, if only once (I used to sail Cadets in my teens).
5. Attend a weeklong writing holiday or retreat.
6. Trace my biological family tree, in order to answer this question: Am I the first or one of a long line of writers in my family?
7. Attend an airshow.
8. Go to a Star Trek convention.
9. Play Poker in a Las Vegas casino.
10. Volunteer for a dog-walking service.

If you are feeling reflective, why not draw up your own list?

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Brit Writers' Award and Nice Surprises

I think my phone is secretly torturing me. Not only did I not receive a phone call to say I was a finalist for the short story category of the Brit Writers' Award Unpublished, it didn't ring at all. What was that about? Or was it actually trying to save me from the torturous pain of answering every withheld number with the expectation that this might be the call?

Confession time, I spent the last hour pressing the re-fresh button on the Brit Writers' Award homepage. After all the delays, were they ever going to announce the finalists? Note: I'm not the most patient of people. My fragile temperament can't take too much procrastination.

Eventually, at about 7.15pm, they announced the seven finalists. I wasn't one of them, which I knew. But that's okay; I've already found another competition for my story.

It hasn’t been a bad day, though. I had a wonderful surprise waiting for me when I returned home earlier this afternoon. Here it is:

I wasn't expecting the Haunted Anthology to arrive yet, so I was thrilled to find a box on my doorstep containing the five copies I purchased (authors can purchase Pill Hill Press books at a 40% discount. If you live in the UK, they have a UK distributor. So, no excessive postage either).

I was blown away by how professional the book looks. When I submitted my first story to Pill Hill Press, I did feel like I was taking a risk. You see, it isn't always about whether your story will be accepted; it's also about whether the publisher produces a worthy final product. Will the book be professionally edited, typesetted, illustrated and printed? In this case I'm thankful to say a resounding yes.

Sunday, 20 June 2010


I've just spent a lovely afternoon with my parents, as today is Father's Day. We watched an old videotape of a family holiday to Lanzarote, in 1991, and cringed at the footage of how we looked and sounded. What were we thinking when we wore those huge Deirdrie Barlow glasses? Isn't it wonderful to have such old memories brought back to life?

As I often do on such occasions, I also thought of my late father-in-law, Tom. It seems like only yesterday since we lived with him during the last few weeks of his life. In fact it's been five years. His house was the highest point in Exmouth, and his garden had unspoiled views of both Exmouth and the Exe estuary. Watching Tom's garden come to life over that summer is a pleasure I will never forget, and I have not seen anything since that has equalled its splendour.

He grew the best onions. I remember every morning I would take his dog, Sam, for a long walk. Then, before leaving for work, I would pick some spring onions from the garden, and make cheese and onion sandwiches. Bliss.

This is for Tom.

And for Sam, who I never thought I'd enjoy walking, but did.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Lesson of the week

Don't tell all your friends, family, and work colleagues that you failed to make a competition final until you know for sure you haven't.

A few months back I entered the Brit Writers' Award Unpublished 2010. After progressing through the first two rounds, an email was sent informing us finalists would be contacted and announced on Monday 14th June. After nervously waiting all day Monday, an email was sent out late afternoon informing us the organisers were staggering the announcements over a few days. The category I entered, short stories, would be announced on Thursday 17th June.

As I never received a phone call yesterday, or the two days prior, I told my friends, family, and work colleagues (I was working until 8pm) that obviously I had not made the final. However when I got in from work and went online to see who the seven finalists were, I found they have postponed contacting and announcing the finalists until Tuesday 22nd June!

Obviously this is good news, as I'm still in with a chance. But now I have to text friends and family, and tell work colleagues that I got it wrong. It will give them something to laugh about, I'm sure.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Re-submitting Stories

How many times do you submit a story before giving up on it? Do you have a set number, or do you never give up? These are questions I've read elsewhere, and asked myself many times.

Some writers have a limit - if a story is rejected five times they ditch it. Other writers never give up on a story. And of course each time a story is re-submitted, the author has probably re-written parts of it to fit the new chosen market, and thus they may never truly be re-submitting the same story.

I agree with the latter; I never give up on a story. Last year I wrote Death By Numbers for the Crystal Magazine 'Crossword' Short Story Competition. When it didn't win that, I submitted it to Scribble. When it was rejected by the editor, I decided to look elsewhere. There were two possible homes for it: Halloween Whodunnit anthology and Someone Has To Die (Volume Three). Initially I re-wrote parts to make it suitable for the Halloween anthology, but then changed my mind. Eventually it was re-written, again, re-titled Carving Pumpkins, and submitted to Someone Has To Die. Today I learnt that it didn't make it into the anthology. Am I giving up on it? No.

You might now be wondering why, after being rejected three times already. After all, if three editors didn't like it, why would another? I think the following questions need to be considered before I, or any writer, throws a story away:

  • How much time and energy have you put into writing and then re-writing the story?
  • Did you target the right markets?
  • Can you find any other markets to submit it to?
  • How do you know the previous editors hadn't already accepted another similar story, and that is why they rejected it?
  • Is it worth sending the story for a critique to see if there are any improvements you can make to increase your chances of getting it published?

With my last submission there was an option for a critique, which I decided to take. It will be interesting to see what the editor advises. I'll let you know if I do finally manage to find a home for it.

Friday, 4 June 2010

When should you stop reading?

What happens when you start reading a book and find out you're not really enjoying it? Should you stop? That might work if you have only read a few pages, but what if you've read a few chapters and are more than half way through? This is a dilemma that I am facing at the moment.

You can always tell when I love a book, because even if it's long, I finish it quickly. I find every spare moment to read. I will go to bed early, cup of coffee and book in hand. Not at the moment. It's been ten days since I started my current book, and I've read only 294 pages of a 487-page book. That might be fast reading to some readers, but that's very slow for me. I read on average 40 to 50 books a year.

As I've been mulling this over in my head, determined not to give up on something that I have invested time in, I keep coming back to what Stephen King advises in his book On Writing. Like all great writers, he believes that if you want to be a writer, you must read a lot, and widely. That we need to get lost in the stories we read. That by reading we learn what works and what doesn't. I agree with what he says. I've had moments where I've envied a brilliant idea or scratched my head at how awful another seemed. It's not that the book I'm reading is badly written - it isn't - it's just not captured my imagination.

In On Writing, Stephen King tells readers how on average he reads 80 - 100 books a year, which makes my figure of 40, and especially the average UK figure of eight, seem small. So do I give up and move on, or do I finish it and learn something through the process?

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

Womag Writer?

I've been following a blog called womagwriter for some time now. Womagwriter (or woman magazine writer) is as the description states 'the blog of a UK writer of women's magazine short stories' and is packed full of the latest guidelines, tips, and links to other sites of interest. If you are interested in selling short stories, serials, or pocket novels, and want to find out the latest guidelines for paying markets, then this is a blog you should visit regularly.

As I said earlier, I've being following it for a while, but in all that time I've never posted any comments or made my presence known. The reason for this has been that I had not considered myself to be a 'womagwriter'. However, today that changed. Just before work I received a phone call from the editor of Yours to say they'd like to use a story I submitted to them back in March. If there had been a secret camera in my house, you would have seen me jumping up and down for joy, because I've just made my first sale to a paying market.

Can I call myself a womagwriter? Hopefully.