Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Sour Grapes

I was really proud of the story that didn't even get shortlisted this month! And I find myself so tempted to point at the winner and pick holes - what a nasty person I must be. It knocked me a bit, to be honest, that I didn't get shortlisted, as it was probably my favourite of the stories I have written - certainly better in my opinion than one of the ones which has been shortlisted. But I suppose that's all down to personal preference - or maybe when I look back, I'll see myself why it wasn't good enough.

Either way, I'm not dwelling on it. This is me drawing a line under it, and getting on with baking 7th birthday cake while my final story of the year - which has been written! - bakes on the computer.

I'm also wondering whether there's enough time to try to make a silk purse out of my pig's ear of a novel to enter it in the Richard and Judy competition that closes on the 1st of January...nothing ventured, nothing gained...? Or going off half-cocked? At least I've filled my cliche quota for the day!

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Endangered pets

The glamorous neighbour has jetted off to Northern Ireland to visit family and doesn't seem to have learnt from the sea monkey incident, when the then-three-year old gave the tank a shake to liven them up. They didn't seem any worse for it, but it took me a while to recover.

So when the glamorous neighbour knocked on the door late one night and asked if I'd mind looking after the stick insects for a week, I really ought to have said no. Perhaps I didn't learn much, either.

It's going well so far - they're low maintenance and the kids love helping. We spray inside the tank every day and put a few sprigs of foliage in every other day for the beasties to chomp on. I haven't yet spotted any of the insects, nor the eggs that the glamorous neighbour says are in there...low maintenance, but boring!

They're not eating the foliage very quickly. The glamorous neighbour didn't say anything about clearing out the older foliage, so the tank is beginning to resemble a jungle. The four year old and I were peering in there today and I made the mistake of mentioning it.

"Easy," he said, reaching for the lid. "I'll throw some in the bin, Mummy."

With reactions that Superman would be proud of, I grabbed his hand just before he began plundering. Maybe I have learnt something after all - to guard against the four year old. But perhaps next time I'll just say No to pet-sitting...

Falling before the hurdles...

One of the first tips when entering competitions is to read the rules properly. I'm a  bit obsessive about that - I find myself scrutinising what font size to use, and how to format my work. But I made a massive mistake when I entered a children's story competition, and I'm not quite sure how it happened.

Perhaps I only read the theme in the overview of competitions that arrived in January, though I think I read it a few times in the magazine when the competition was open, too, as I remember rewriting some of it to fit the brief. So perhaps I just misunderstood.

The details mentioned an untraditional family, and being a bit of a plank that day, I didn't interpret that as a stepfamily. I wrote a story I was proud of, as it's not a genre I'm keen on, nor drawn to, but I worked hard on it, and it made my eight year old laugh. It probably wasn't very original; it was about a little boy, Jack, whose stay-at-home mum returned to work with glee, leaving Dad in charge - just before Jack's birthday. Not impressed that Dad was in charge of the party, he and his little sister started a campaign to sack Dad and reinstate Mum. 

As soon as I saw the winning entry in the magazine, I could have kicked myself - my story was never on the right lines. I'm so disappointed in myself, but it's a reminder to read carefully before you write. I've just completed the October and November's stories, (leaving me with only one to go!) but before I send them, I'm going study the details one more time.

 I never thought I'd say it, but there is something worse than failing because you're not good enough:  failing because you weren't careful enough. Grr!

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Back of Beyond

I don't really live in the back of beyond; it's a small town on the edge of the Peak District with distracting views (if you don't look too closely at Sainsburys in the valley). It has some quirky, individual shops that are tempting when you're trying to keep hold of your cash, and a dilapidated library that rumour has it will be improved at some point. But is there a writing group here? No. Within a five mile radius...? Err, no.

In my grand quest to improve my writing, the thing I really need is some feedback; proper, unbiased feedback, preferably from people who know a little bit about writing. I am going to pay for a critique of one of my novels (one day - perhaps when the library is renovated), or perhaps even embark on a writing course, if I find time between washing uniforms and cooking uninspiring meals. (The uninspiring meals are often what causes the need to wash the uniforms.)

So joining a writing group seems like the obvious thing to do next to improve my writing. There's no way I can commit to the nearest group, however, which meets weekly in a market town twenty minutes' drive away. As I pondered this problem, (ignoring the little voice that suggested I set up my own writing group and let the children wander around in sweaters stained with spaghetti bolognese), I realised that the internet could be the answer. There must be online groups, surely?

And I was right. There are groups. And more groups. And more....and now I'm paralysed by indecisiveness. How am I meant to choose? And, since using one is not as defined as 'Monday night at 8', what if I end up spending so much time playing around in an online writing group that I use up all the time I'd tagged for writing in...? Or am I just afraid of stretching myself?

Would love to hear other people's experiences and recommendations!

Monday, 14 October 2013

Three to go!

I made the ghost story deadline with only 24 hours to spare. This is my idea of living on the edge...I've had a look at what next (concentrating my thoughts on the next project does make rejection easier) and was slightly shocked to see that the end of my year of stories is approaching fast.

 There's an adult fairy story to submit, which is already at second draft stage (thank goodness. I look ancient enough with the strain of four children, without going grey over deadlines) ; a flash fiction story which will, at least, be fewer words to conjure, although it will need a lot of skill; and then a final story for December which has a given first line. 

I think that final one will be the hardest as I have no ideas what I will write yet, and I know that the deadline will rattle towards me amongst all the Christmas chaos that comes at the back end of a year. But I'm starting to believe I might make it - that I might actually write and submit a short story for every month of the year. 

It will be time then to plan a writing goal for 2014... How are you doing with your writing goals this year? I'd love to hear what goals other people have set, and maybe I can steal one for next year!

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Sod's law

If anything that can go wrong eventually will, I might as well embrace pessimism now. I'm certainly working my way through a variety of disasters from the mild and faintly humorous to major and life-changing.

The four-year old, finally mature enough to remember house rules like: "Only draw on paper", drew on the wallpaper at the top of the stairs. A row with my husband cast a cloud over a day. The baby has a strange growth on her inner lip. (The doctor says it's fine and will go away.) A friend had bad news at a hospital appointment. Steam from the dishwasher has made the veneer peel away from the cupboard door, and I really need to fix that before the four-year old spots it and makes it irreparable.

But, "Sometimes things don't go, after all, from bad to worse..." (Sheenagh Pugh). Writing Magazine thumped through the letter-box this morning, and I turned straight to the short story competition, and saw my name in the short-listed column. Wow. Then I looked at the letters page and my name was there, too. Little successes are enough to sweeten a day, even if they can't erase worries about people I love.

Maybe there's a reverse Sod's law  - anything that can go right, eventually WILL. (I might as well be unrealistically optimistic as pessimistic - it's more fun!) What better reason to persevere, than believing that things will eventually go the way you imagine?

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

The landscape of life

The landscape of our family life has changed enormously in the past two months.

 I'm handling the daily turmoil that comes with a separation, jerking from one emotion to another. My thoughts are an endless stream of non-sequiturs, and the children don't respect my need to lick my wounds in peace. I'm glad; their irreverent happiness and endless demands for attention don't leave room for wallowing, though there are days when I feel like I'm not waving, but drowning.

It's crippled my creativity, but I've kept writing - to friends, my sister, my husband. Maybe one day I can use this bleak time for something. For now, I'm waiting for it to pass.

And September is here; season of the spiders, pressed uniforms, stuffy central heating and turning leaves. The tribe are back at school...and this year, that means three of them. The house feels empty; the baby is a delight and our time together feels like a something to be treasured. She sleeps for a couple of hours a day - hours I could fill with distracting American sit-coms, and which I should fill with domesticity.

I really want to spend those hours writing, and on at least three days I've guiltily indulged myself, dragging myself back to reality for a school run that I'm not fully present at.

 Perhaps I'm recovering - or perhaps next week I'll be sluggish again.

I just hope the baby doesn't grow out of her daytime naps too quickly.

Wednesday, 11 September 2013


My latest story has been the product of perspiration rather than inspiration. I'm slogging on with my self-set challenge to enter a competition a month and my latest was August's Love Story (with a deadline in September - best not ask, I think).

I'm not feeling loved up at the moment, so it was a feat to think up a love story at all. This was, however, the whole point of my challenge - to write things I didn't FEEL like writing; to force myself to produce in a way I don't usually. I had to cheat slightly and took Rapunzel, one of my favourite (and quite dark) fairy stories as inspiration. It didn't flow; it hiccuped along and I must have written eight drafts, as the deadline raced towards me. There were several times I felt like giving up, and times when plot jams looked impossible to sort out. But I plodded on, and in the end I was quite proud of what I'd achieved.

I'm not sure the story is great - I'm fairly sure when I next look it over it will horrify me. But I was pleased this morning, and when I hit 'send', with only two days to spare, the sense of achievement was more than I have felt for any other story this year. I suppose it has been such an effort, the achievement is proportionally impressive.

I'm especially proud of myself for keeping a promise to myself, to write this story, despite all the excuses (many of which are quite plausible) I could have made. I'm proud of my determination to write...and I'll look back to this high moment next time I'm cringing over a rejection.

Thursday, 5 September 2013


It's been a hard summer, with many stresses and stressors, and a strained private life. Each time I find out that one of my stories hasn't achieved anything, it feels like a rejection, which is another word for failure. It makes me question whether I have any potential, and also wonder what it is that I am getting wrong. I'd even like to know if I'm missing by an inch or a mile...but I think I really feel too low to investigate at the moment.
I'll pick myself up tomorrow - or the day after - and remember that the only difference between a published and unpublished writer is perseverance.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

Harsh critic

I've read so many pieces of advice that say the same thing in various ways, which is, don't ask your family and friends to read your work. As far as I can tell, this is because a/ they probably don't really know enough about stories to be discerning b/they're hugely biased because they love you c/they'd lie if it was useless because they wouldn't want to hurt your feelings.

I'm sure that I'm not the only one who allows family to read her stories sometimes, even though I take the lying, biased ignoramuses' comments with a pinch of salt. Sometimes it's just good to discuss issues with someone, or to desensitise yourself to exposing your work...

However. I think my husband missed the memo. My latest competition entry for The Year of Stories (a story with a twist) was running perilously close to deadline, and I wasn't happy with it. It seemed a little slow and needed at least 300 words cutting and I wasn't entirely sure how to end it. So I handed it to my husband, who promised to read it "in the advert break". (Perhaps this should have been a warning).

I watched him skim reading (I couldn't keep up, and I'm the faster reader), saw him smother two or three sighs unsuccessfully, then give an audible one. He muttered something about the essay he has to write being shorter than this, then carried on skim reading. He scrolled faster and faster down the page, before turning to me with a "Yeah, it's OK."

I narrowed my eyes. "You didn't read that."

His eyes flicked to the muted TV where his programme was back on. "I did."

"So, what did you think of the twist, then?"

He looked back in undisguised surprise. "There was a twist?!"

Clearly he needs to work on being biased and flattering, and I need to work on making my stories more interesting...Or I could just say that a/ applies, and he doesn't know what he's talking about.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Creative calm

I don't have writer's block. But it's been nearly two months since I blogged, or felt like doing much. If I wasn't so far ahead with my 'year of stories', so that all I had to do was edit the latest, I'd have failed my challenge of entering a comp a month. As it is, the latest one is not yet complete and the deadline is in six days, but I think I'll make it.

So what's going on?

Life. Not busyness, but more like a mild depression. It's sucked out much of my joy, most of my energy and all my equilibrium. Getting out of bed is effortful; being a sunny mum is hit-and-miss. There've been a lot of upheavals and they've knocked me down flat on my back. Some days I make up a story as I walk, or shower, but most days the thought of doing so is exhausting. My confidence in myself is low, and even lower in my writing (justifiably, you may be thinking).

I know it will pass. Things will get better, even if they get worse first (this is why I can say this is mild. I still have a sense of hope and perspective, despite the odd real black day). When things get better, I can be prolific and aim again for my dreams. Fingers crossed it won't be least I've blogged again, even if it wasn't very inspiring!

Sunday, 9 June 2013

The year of stories

So, here we are in June. Six months into my year of stories - entering at least one short story competition every month. The first one I entered, way back in January, was in Writing Magazine this month, so from here on in I will be desperately searching for my name in the wasn't there this month.

I've almost forgotten that what I REALLY want is an email to congratulate me on winning one!

Although I will be glad to go back to focussing on writing longer fiction, I am sure it is doing me good, this writing a range of genres, with a tight word-count. I really wasn't keen on writing a children's story and it was more fun than I thought. Next I've got to write an adult fairy story, and I was dreading that. After a two-hour plotting session at the local soft-play centre at half term, while my children zipped around like demented moths, I've actually got so many ideas burning to squiggle out of my fingers that I'm afraid of starting. I've got that fizzy feeling you get when something is going well, and you know it could be good (as long as you don't cock it up between concept and keyboard).

I'm still struggling to know if I'm being original enough - clearly originality is not my strength - but I'm loving the creating, the writing and even (dare I admit it?) the editing. It doesn't feel too scary, editing 2000 words or so.

I'm afraid now, though. Until now, I was able to send these stories off into the great blue yonder with little thought of what they might meet, but now that the first has been judged, and deemed unworthy of anything, I can't avoid knowing that, slowly but relentlessly, month after month, they are being judged. And unless I get that email, it will be rejection after rejection.

I said to a friend, "What if I get to the end of the year, and haven't been placed let alone won?"
He said, "Would you stop writing?"
I didn't even have to think about that one. So I suppose I'll have to weather any rejection, implied or worse, and accept that I'm having a blast writing....and that makes it worthwhile.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

Bite-sized chunks

I'm reading a biography of Lucy Maud Montgomery, creator of Anne of Green Gables and many other novels. It's a scholarly and interesting read, but I've been fascinated by how many plates she was spinning, all the while being prone to blue patches like my own.

Apparently, one of her secrets was that she 'only' wrote for two hours a day. Two hours doesn't sound a lot, does it? For a full-time writer. Who had to write everything without the benefit of computers. (Imagine how long correcting a draft would take).  But it was enough for her. She was prolific. If you spend the minutes and hours, the days and months take care of themselves,  I suppose.

Which all goes to show, cultivating a writing habit is definitely the way to go.

And on that note, back to the story-writing  I go.

Thursday, 2 May 2013


I'm trying not to feel discouraged at the moment. So far all my efforts this year have resulted in no success in competitions. Was it arrogant to think they might?

I have enough on to keep myself positive; the next project(s) are alluring enough to soften the perceived rejection. This month's Writing Magazine contained some real encouragement from well-published author Judith Cutler. She says, "Writing is a craft you have to learn: you wouldn't expect an apprentice bricklayer to build a mansion at the end of his first week, would you?"

This is why writing magazines are so valuable while you're trudging through these learning experiences...little nuggets of encouragement. I'll be digesting the rest of the magazine over the next couple of days, and hoping for more inspiration!

Friday, 26 April 2013

Feedback Blues

This week I had some feedback on a story I was really happy with. I'm feeling discouraged generally at the moment, with stresses at home and at work, which are leaving me stretched a bit thin. So I only gave the feedback two cursory reads - one to get the gist and one to try to glean some information.

All it really did was make me feel sick with disappointment - there were positives, but there was plenty of advice, too, and in my current frame of mind, my attention skidded across the praise and only snagged on the bits that said, "You really are never going to be any better than mediocre, you waste of space, and have no talent worth mentioning."

Oh dear. Some weeks I really ought to just stay in bed. I was genuinely surprised by how negative I felt about receiving feedback, and how 'rejected' I felt ...but I know that this is fleeting. And next week I'll know how I've done in the Cornerstones competition...though I think I already know.

Monday, 22 April 2013

Warning: Flashback included!

Last year I had the opportunity to write a column for the local newspaper. There were no financial rewards, only the chance to build a 'platform' and get in some precious practice. However, the governors at the school I teach at were wary of me doing this, so I had to turn it down.

You might think, as I did, that I was shutting a door on my ambition to write, but the process has given me some confidence. Now I know of a local parenting magazine which is about to launch, and I gritted my teeth and made contact, offering to write an article or two. The remuneration will be the same as the local rag, but I think I can stay anonymous and I'm already working on article one. Fingers crossed it will be acceptable. Would love to see my pseudonym in print.....if I can think of one!

Schoolgirl error

I sent the castle story today. At the last moment, I recognised one of its problems, but had no time to fix it. (A sign of a lazy writer, undeserving of any success!)

The story is about things that happen to my main character. Although her character develops, and she learns from her experience (as much as is possible in 1600 words) she doesn't fix the problem herself. I think I've set that up well enough...but I'm not sure.

Monday, 15 April 2013

Where's my sparkle?

I'm having a crisis of confidence in my writing. I'm wondering if I'm as deluded as those people who audition for the X-factor when they have voices like a gearbox crunching. Perhaps I have nothing to offer; no basic skills that can be honed to perfection; no originality.

It's the originality that's bothering me most. It doesn't help that I've read some superb novels lately, which have either been told with a striking voice or had plots that have hooked and amazed me. I have neither a distinctive voice, nor do I have any surprises up my sleeve.

I've nearly completed my fourth story for my year of stories. I've entered a competition a month so far (and a few extra) and am beginning to doubt that any will find success. This fourth story is set in a castle, and I've thoroughly enjoyed writing it. (Some of the other stories have been hard work. Some genres or lengths are outside my comfort zone).

As I read through it tonight, though, I couldn't help swooping outside myself and looking at it in a moment of objectivity (not entirely welcome objectivity). And it seemed predictable. I imagined the judge(s) with their sheafs of wonderful stories - some that were poorly presented, or badly written, some that were predictable as mine, and some that made them gasp, or laugh. And I can see that my work isn't standing out from the crowd. Maybe I am just too dull, personally, with my madding whirl of children and domesticity and career to produce anything with the sparkle and charge that I want to.

Perhaps you can buy sparkle on eBay. Will have to look into it. Meanwhile...I'l keep plodding on.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

Writing Fodder

The life of a writer can, apparently, be one of solitude, if not loneliness. Add motherhood into the mix, and solitude is a distant memory, but life can become something of a trudge up a mountain.

 I remember Steve dragging me up Cadair Idris - my first ever mountain climb - before we were married, when we were still worried about offending one another. At first it was pleasant, then it became hard work, and by half way I was obsessed with wondering how much further the tantalising summit was. Then Steve nudged me and told me to stop looking at my feet. The view was so awesome I daren't describe it in case I fall into cliches. And the funny thing is, when you're looking at a view like that, you stop noticing what your feet are up to, or thinking about the summit. We sat and ate sandwiches just below the trig point. I've climbed it a couple of times since then, and it's one of my favourite mountains (and each time I climb it, it's easier).

I try to remember this sometimes, when part of me is ready to cry with frustration that I can't write as often as I'd like because of my family (or the laundry mountain they produce); or when reaching bedtime unscathed seems like a task Hercules might've baulked at. Then it's time to stop and look at the view. I'm writing such a lot more these days, and my focus is better. My family are beautiful, healthy and delightful. It simply isn't worth stressing over the little things.

Today we went to Bolsover Castle, partly to celebrate my approaching birthday. It's the setting for a short story I'm writing, too, so I took many, many photos and scribbled in my notepad. Being away from the keyboard was worthwhile. I will try to post another day on stereotypes and cliches, but there is nothing to replace standing in a place and trying to unpick the smells, sounds and feel of the place.

While I was busy admiring the view, and ignoring my feet, I saw several people who inspired me to write notes on characters. I had a few ideas for articles (although I doubt I'll ever get round to them...).  I even had  an idea for another story.

Getting away from the keyboard is such an inspirational thing to do. Going out and enjoying friends or family - guilt-free! - can provide valuable writing fodder. It turns out that in writing as well as mountain-climbing, taking time to enjoy the view can make the journey easier. Now to get back to the keyboard while I'm fired up...

Teachers' Favourite Books

Here is a list of teachers' top 100 books.  I'm not quite sure what I make of it - it does seem quite predictable in parts, and not necessarily reflective of much of the fabulous writing around now.  Sometimes children need to read some real page-turners - even if they're a bit trashy - to infect them with the love of reading so that they can come to access the classics in their own time.

Maybe I'm just touchy because a few of those listed in the top twenty were ones I didn't particularly like...and it makes me wonder what I'm missing! Like the Emperor admiring his latest outfit, it's tempting to join in with the general adoration of works like The Great Gatsby, but it did nothing for me. Wuthering Heights left me cold. I'm very (very) fond of Jane Eyre in its place, but I don't revisit it as often as Gone With the Wind, nor do I wallow in it with pleasure as I do Birdsong. Perhaps it's just all a matter of taste...what do you think? (And, am I missing something with The Great Gatsby??)

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Publishing on

Like this blog post, I've not been entirely focused on writing lately. The week off that I promised myself has happened, although my happy little image of myself laughing with the children, decorating the front room and generally cavorting through meadows full of flowers wasn't a hundred percent accurate. To be fair, hindsight is usually much more precise than prediction, though, isn't it?

I have sanded some skirting boards. I have taken the children on a particularly horrific bike ride to the park. (Horrific not because of any accident, but because of the world-class whinging that accompanied it - the children's whinging, that is, not mine). I have braved IKEA on a bank holiday Monday. I have nibbled at an Easter egg, and wolfed a Creme Egg or two (and refused to look in the mirror).

There is a joy in taking a deliberate week off writing. I have been reading, and flicking through writing magazines, and my fingers are itching to be back on the keyboard. My mind will, I am sure, be more fertile for the break, and I feel like a better mother than I would have if I had tried to squeeze writing time into the hectic fortnight off.

We still have my birthday to celebrate (we're going to Bolsover Castle, the setting for the short story which is due next month, so I will be making the most of that!) and a sponsored walk, swimming lessons and visiting friends, relatives and babies, so I can't see myself getting much more writing done next week, beyond  planning and watching the world.

But tonight I have done something impressive: finally, I have published my Grandad's autobiography. He wrote it for me, and it took me ages to type it up. Since then I have added footnotes, scanned photos to include, and scoured the internet for extra information to go in the footnotes. It was meant to be a Christmas gift for my sisters and parents three years ago, then two years ago, then last year....and tonight I went onto and published it. Copies will soon be diving through my letter box. (Will I be able to hang onto them till next Christmas, or will I give them away now?) I'm so excited about crossing this off my to-do list. I'm so glad that I've finally done what I wanted for Grandad. It's not perfectly formatted, and the cover option were quite limited, I found - though adequate for this project - but it was surprisingly simple to do. I'm  technologically challenged at the best of times, and I didn't get frustrated or fed up once (although I got a little confused by the adding of ftp to the mix, which in the end I didn't use). (I don't know what ftp is. Something to help files upload quicker, apparently. Fairly Tricky Programme, maybe?)

If self-publishing is your thing, Lulu is definitely worth looking at, though if you want the finished product to look the part, I'm sure it's worth getting some professional formatting and designing help, too. Well, that's one thing achieved this week, anyway! Now for those IKEA cupboards...

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Breathing Space

I met my deadline and am having a fallow rest of the week - but I'm not going to ban myself from thinking! Already today I've tidied and feel more on top of the housework.

What has struck me today - now I've got breathing space to notice it! -  is how helpful the advice is that says to move on to your next project. I have never submitted as much as I have already this year, but my plan to submit at least one thing a month is really spurring me on. The fact I'm focusing on the next project as soon as I submit the last is definitely taking the edge off my curiosity about what is happening to my submissions, and I know it will make me more pragmatic about the stories that don't achieve anything.

I even noticed this week that a short story I submitted in October to a women's magazine hasn't yet been returned. I'm not sure if I can take that as a positive, but it feels like one! So that one is out there; four are out as magazine competition entries; one has gone to a local writing competition and now the first few pages of my novel and synopsis are 'out there' too. It might not sound like a lot to you if you're prolific, but it is for me! Surely this has got to be good for my confidence?

Saturday, 23 March 2013

Prosaic muttering

I've not had time to update my blog because I'm working really really really hard this week on my writing (and only putting about 50% effort into procrastinating!). I am loving Scrivener, which is helping me to tackle my novel in bite-sized chunks. The thought of rewriting the whole thing is so daunting, but just looking at one scene - well, anyone can find time to do that, can't they?
I want to finish this rewriting by Monday, and then I can get some life back, and be a better Mum, and maybe change the beds or locate the's just so enjoyable though. I don't think my husband can quite understand why I growl at him when he drags me back from my creative escape with a prosaic muttering about what to pack for a weekend away.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013


Wow. This Wowfactor Competition is taxing me! My own promise to myself, to face things I fear and to enter competitions is really driving me this year, and I haven't yet missed a deadline.
 However, this one is looming and I haven't even yet decided for sure if I'm going to make it. There is so much wrong with my book - I can see evidence of my own lazy writing throughout it, and I could just keep it and work on it on and off for another five years....but I'm spending as much time as I can on it, and I'm going to slash about 40, 000 words (I hope) and send it out anyway. It is getting easier to put myself out there, the more I do it.
Having these deadlines gives me permission to set aside all else and focus on writing (when I can stop procrastinating). The house is in a real state, and every so often I want to hyperventilate because it's so bad, then I remember that I can sort it AFTER the deadline.
The one thing I can't put on hold is the children. I see them growing (it happens in fits and starts, as soon as your back is turned) and want to hold onto this precious time in their lives. Looking at old photos, I'm unable any longer to duck the fact that they are only this age for such a brief time. Obvious, I know. But it's no use thinking to myself that the four year old is only four, and we can go the farm another day, or to the play centre next month, when he will be at school soon, and then he'll grow out of things, and one day, quite soon, he won't want to be with me, but with his own friends.
I'm having a real conflict right now about it. The writing will wait. But I don't want it to. The children won't wait, and I want to be with them. But can I really keep juggling everything, or am I going to collapse in a sleep-deprived heap? Oh well, I'll sleep when the deadline has passed...

Friday, 1 March 2013

Writing a synopsis

I'm struggling with my first synopsis. Advice suggested that about 700 words would be best, and no more than 2 sides of A4.  I sat down to begin, and it seemed easier than I'd easy that I managed to rabbit on about my novel for 1200 words. It's a start, though; I'll be onto the cutting when I next have chance.
I've been unable to leave this story in peace. Every time my mind wanders, it makes its way to the plot and worries away at this point and that. To some extent, I had lost faith in my story, and was considering going back for a hefty rewrite. I was anxious about starting the synopsis in case I realised that the rewrite couldn't be put off any longer, and that the story was so flawed in its chassis that it would never go anywhere.
I was delighted to find that the opposite happened. In writing the synopsis, I saw that the plot hung together better than I had thought - not well, perhaps - but it works. It's so hard to judge with your own work, though, isn't it? You're so close up everything goes a bit blurry and misty.
I can see that writing the synopsis gives you a good sense of perspective, and brings the plot into clear focus.  I think I might write one sooner in the creative process next time, and perhaps keeping to 700 words will become easier.

Here are some general tips I'm following:

Underline the names of a main character (and write their name in full) the first time you use them.

1.5 line spacing is fine.

Try to work in a word or two on your setting.

Write in the present tense.

Refer to your theme.

For instance:  "Noemi Larch is a woman on the edge. Trapped in a loveless marriage,and living in a rural village that makes her feel as if goldfish have privacy, she is keen to break out of her small life, without realising the consequences. When she takes up belly-dancing night classes, she is intrigued by the mysterious caretaker Bernard Noodle and invites him on a bike ride. Unfortuately, a swarm of bees intercepts them and when Bernard is stung, he admits that he has anaphylactic reactions to bee-stings....As Noemi comes to terms with the results of her choices, the theme of atonement is explored...."

Obviously, this invented example makes a synopsis look a little blurb-like, whereas a full synopsis requires the story in full - the purpose being for an agent or publisher to see just where the first few pages of your novel are going, or if a novel about farm animals will suddenly side-track into a novel about alien abduction. This invented example also makes it clear just how poor my synopsis-writing skills are and how much work I've got to do to improve my writing! I'd better go and get on with it instead of writing about doing it...Any tips or hints on writing a synopsis are very welcome, especially from anyone who has actually written one successfully before!

Monday, 25 February 2013

Cornerstones Competition

Yay - I managed to get my entry in to Belper Short Story competition in time (I hope. I'm trusting the Post Office on that one!) so my next project, which has come out of the blue, is to enter the Cornerstones Wow competition.

I've seriously considered buying a Cornerstone critique anyway (and, no doubt, I will one day) so I'd love the prize - which is a critique of your novel. I've unearthed my second novel, which I haven't found a great title for yet, and begun to transfer it to Scrivener, in the hope that will make it easier to edit (again) and perhaps to improve the plot. I'm not sure what I hope to improve in the next three weeks - the deadline is the end of March.

Part of me wonders how much that matters - surely anyone whose novel is perfect, or very nearly so, has no need of a critique service..? If flaws are an advantage, then I'm really in with a chance on this one!  But perhaps they're not. I'm entering because I can't win if I don't, and because it shows some faith in me; I suppose my promise to myself to enter a competition every month is lowering some of my inhibitions about entering - it's so easy to be fearful of making yourself ridiculous, or of failing - else I might not have considered it at all.

Good luck to everyone who enters this one!

As a post-script, on Scrivener the length of chapters is very clear. I've been shocked to discover that Chapter 2 has seven scenes, while Chapter 2 has only two. (Chapter 3 has ten). How have I not noticed this in all the read-throughs and edits I've done? It's true that a change of view can bring a whole new perspective!

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Staying awake long enough to write...

The children have resorted to guerrilla tactics to distract me from my writing goals this week. I've shaken off the 'flu, and reluctantly emerged from my blanket-cave on the sofa. When I was recuperating, I wasn't well enough to go to work (and my voice had deserted me), but I was well enough to put in some serious reading and writing time  - more than I've had since I became a mother, probably.

The children, perhaps sensing on some level that I was cavorting with another love in my life, stuck a stick through my spokes and have enthusiastically embraced my illness, spread it around amongst one another (such good sharing!) and are making it linger for as long as possible. Last night, at bedtime, three of them sat in a line, mouths agape for their dose of Calpol, and not one had a temperature below 39...then two of them spent the night needing Mummy (so precious to be needed, and to know that just your arms can make a little germ-grenade of a child calmer and happier). My other half gracefully decamped to the sofa, muttering about no sleep for five nights, and something about my snoring, so the children had extra space to twist and turn into their own sheet-cocoons. They elbowed me, deadened my arm lying on it, sneeze-blitzed my chest, and generally kept me awake most of the night.

And two of my self-imposed deadlines are looming on the horizon - thank goodness I got ahead of myself with my year of short stories, but I'd really like to enter these two other comps.Time to  buy more medication, I think, and then try some caffeine therapy for myself...

Wednesday, 13 February 2013


I am currently on day five of the free Scrivener trial, and I love it! It's great that it's set up exactly for my needs, even to the point that I don't have to make my own front-sheet for each writing project (how lazy must I be that this is a selling point?!) So far I've imported all my character sheets and some of my plottings and plannings into it, which was easy. I've added a few photographs, and am excited about the idea of writing in 'scenes' which can be manoeuvred, so that I don't necessarily have to write in the order I would usually. I don't know yet if that will work well for me in practice, but I love the idea!
So excited. Wasn't sure anything could make me enjoy writing more, but Scrivener might just have done it!

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Here's February!

There are two comps I'd like to enter this month, so I'm going to be doubly busy...what a shame I'm also extra busy at work, as a colleague is off sick for a few weeks, and I'm gathering up the slack. Home is quite busy, too - my lovely husband has a friend coming to stay next week, and this has triggered a chain of slightly obsessive tendencies.

The house must be clean (and not just the 'communal' rooms). If I'm cleaning, I might as well do it properly, and shift everything, and clean under, behind and on top of everything. But before that, I really need to tackle the mould that is threatening to take over the bedrooms (we've spent so much trying to eliminate the damp, and the problems don't go away).

If only I could persuade the lovely husband to take as much interest in this as I am, perhaps there'd be time and energy for more writing....but if I can get my two comps entered, I'll be content. I hope the writing work I'm doing has some merit though, and isn't just for the sake of saying I've achieved my 'comp a month' aspiration.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Making time is hard

Just a swift muse on the difficulties of writing routines today...Have you ever noticed how hard it is to be efficient in every area of your life at once? Something is always escaping me...the housework, most often, because I dislike the thought of it, but then, until it's done, it hampers everything else too, dampening my creativity and enthusiasm.

Sometimes, being in control of something unrelated to writing will give me such a confidence boost, I find my fingers can't fly fast enough over the keyboard.

I'm suffering from a bit of both at the moment, and feeling generally out of control of everything! I remember the productivity when I sat down and planned my day carefully the evening before, prioritising my writing, and I'm going to try it again, else I'll never find time for me. But I also need to prioritise the children, my husband, losing baby weight (nearly a year later)...and I need to do five extra hours of paid work this week, too.

Sometimes it seems that anything as reassuring and productive as a routine is beyond my grasp. I wonder how other writers force themselves to focus?

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Writing Fashions

As a child, a huge amount of the reading I did was of 'classics'  - Jane Eyre, Lorna Doone, Dickens...these were the books my parents had received as prizes as children. It surprises me now, to think how few books there were in our home, and how little my parents read. But my mother encouraged us academically, and bought us children's books, and scolded me when she found me reading by torchlight, and praised me the rest of the time and by the time I was a teenager, she helped me to buy a pair of six-foot tall bookshelves out of the classifieds, which I was able to almost fill with books I had collected from charity shops, or bought with book vouchers. I still think it's a poor Christmas or birthday if there is no book-shaped gift.
We now own a huge bank of IKEA bookcases, with the books crammed in, two deep, and my Kindle, nearly a year old now, has its own growing collection of books.
What you read influences your writing enormously, and I see now that the disproportionate number of classics I used to read made some of my teenaged attempts at story writing very old-fashioned. I'm far more widely read now, but have plenty to learn.
I'm currently reading'Vanity Fair', and finally know who Becky Sharp is. The intrusive authorial voice is there in its fullness. Reading this novel, at this age, I can see how jarring and irritating it is, and why the fashion has swung away from this type of writing. It's a thoroughly enjoyable read, though!

Monday, 14 January 2013

Judging covers

In the effort to make your book stand out from the crowd, the front cover is a priority. I don't know yet if I will be self-publishing at some point, but at least I know my design skills aren't much better than my seven year old's, and that I'd need to enlist help with it. Lousybookcovers rounds up some of the worst cover designs - a real caveat against DIY covers - and it's very funny...unless it's too close to home. There's always a lesson to be learnt from someone else's mistakes though - so go and look, and call it education!

Saturday, 12 January 2013


Apparently, a good night's sleep and a less pressured day is enough to make my writing future rosier. Thank goodness for that. I daren't waste my energies blogging; I'm hoping to get on with some writing tomorrow.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Tight horizons

I'm afraid I may have to give up writing for a while. I'm back at work - paid work, that is - and it feels as though my life has imploded. At the moment my horizons are so tight upon me that I know something has got to be jettisoned.
 I'm afraid it will be my writing - my main passion, the thing I love and am absorbed by, the only thing in my life that is just for me. There isn't time to be a good teacher, just an adequate one; the extra preparation time for teaching makes me a worse mother....though still just about adequate. What does that leave? What part of me is left to devote to writing?
Hopefully, something. Once we're settled in routine, surely I can prioritise those goals.
I'm glad that I began writing the short stories for The Year of Stories early. Without that pre-commitment and nest-egg of work, I think it would be easy to take a break now, which would not do me any good.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Prioritising Writing Time

I wanted to fit a lot of writing in this week, despite the end of my maternity leave. I'm only in work for two days, but I knew I'd have to be productive today to make the most of my truncated week.

I read a fantastic article in Writing Magazine at the weekend. Joanne Borrill shared several tips for focussing and making the most of your time. You'd wonder what new things could be said about such a topic, but apparently, quite a lot!

Something that inspired me greatly was a jam-jar illustration she'd borrowed from Nina Grunfeld. Go and read the article in Writing Magazine and see what you think! Anyway, I was so encouraged, I planned out my day by starting with the goal (to write) and then working everything else around it. Too often I leave writing till last, and it becomes my 'rollover activity' that eternally appears on tomorrow's to-do list.

I'm blaming my mother for that. She taught me to do the unpleasant things first and keep the fun and play till last.  As reluctant as I sometimes am to put fingers to keyboard, I can't count my writing as anything other than pure pleasure.

The related danger for me, when planning my writing, is that I can't stop. Writing makes me a Bad Mother. If  I try to write while the kids are around, I neglect them, and say, SSSSHHHH in a hissy-fit voice if they tiptoe past. If I try to squeeze in a half hour's writing before I pick up children from school or nursery, I keep going too long, and then end up having to jog the whole way, and am still late. So putting the writing in first is probably a wise idea. I don't find it so hard to drag myself away from the laundry or the dishwasher.

And the extra bonus? When a rejection letter landed on the doormat at nine-forty today, I hadn't time to be discouraged because I had A Plan to Write. So I told myself that a rejection is a positive thing because it shows I'm taking risks and putting my work out there....and went and wrote instead.

I polished my January story, then had a half hour to plan some characters for my novel....and even managed to pick the three year old up on time. And that was all before I got on with some housework....

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Happy New Year

A belated Happy New Year to all! My year of stories has begun, and I have until the middle of February for the January deadline. (I know; time works differently in magazine world...)

I haven't made any resolutions this year (unless aspiring to publication counts) but the last thing I did in 2012 before settling down with my husband to see the New Year in was submit an entry online to the 100 word story competition in the Reader's Digest, which also has a closing date looming.

Whatever you do with your New Year, I hope you do as much writing as you want to!