An interview with Linda Parkinson-Hardman from the Hysteria Writing Competition

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If you’re a female writer and keen competition entrant, you’re probably aware of the Hysteria Writing Competition (indeed, if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll be well aware of it as I’ve posted about it several times). The annual event has taken place since 2012, run by Linda Parkinson-Hardman who founded the Hysterectomy Association in 1997.

Unfortunately, this year the competition is taking a break as there are changes afoot at the Hysterectomy Association which will demand too much of Linda’s time, but it will be back in 2019, revamped and reenergised. Before Linda gets too embroiled in all this work, I asked if she’d mind giving a short interview so we could find out more about the competition, and Linda’s own writing.

Q: What was the driving force behind setting up the Hysteria UK Writing Competition?

Gosh, that’s a really interesting question and not easily answered. I’m a writer myself and I know how hard it can be to get your writing in front of an audience. I also run the Hysterectomy Association, a social enterprise website and it’s a publisher. It seemed like a good way to marry my two interests, and help raise some money for the association at the same time.

Q: What’s the best thing about running the competition?

The variety of people who get involved. Each year, I ask if anyone is interested in judging and every year I’m inundated with offers of help – lots of the women who have been involved for a while came to it because they’d had a hysterectomy themselves and valued the support the association had given them; this was one way they felt they could give a little something back.

Q: How did you decide on the judging format?

The judging format came about because we tried at first to have a readers panel and then two overall judges. But that seemed rather unfair to me as it was the readers who put in all the work. I wanted them to have the final say. The easiest way to get a group of people who may be inexperienced at judging seemed to me to be to give them a form to fill in. And surprisingly, it works. In fact, I’m always surprised by how consistent the judging marks are – it appears that the old adage about cream rising to the top really is true.

Q: Have you ever judged on any of the Hysteria UK category panels?

Goodness no, I try not to get involved with that side at all as there were a few comments in the very beginning about me being the final arbiter and that I might be biased towards people I knew. Now I stay well away and focus on the administrative, marketing and publishing side instead.

Q: You’ve written both fiction and non-fiction: which have you found more challenging?

Definitely fiction. That burrows deep into your soul. I find non-fiction really easy to write, probably because I’m writing remote, research or observational things every day. I work in IT in adoption and engagement around new technologies, therefore I think I’m pretty good at writing easy to understand and learning focused materials.

Q: What’s the single best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?

“Don’t expect to make a living from your books”.

Q: What’s your favourite short story of all time? 

‘For sale, wedding dress, never worn’ – it has it all in just six short words.

Q: You’ve self-published several books: how has self-publishing changed since you started out?

Pretty much all the books I’ve written and edited have been self-published. I fell into it because of a conversation with a publisher back in the mid 1990’s when the Hysterectomy Association was just starting. I’d written a couple of books for women about the topic and I remember asking if it was something they might be interested in, his reply was that they would never publish something about hysterectomy as there was no market for it. To some extent it’s true, if you go into any bookshop you’d be hard pressed to find a book on hysterectomy on the shelves. But the Internet changed all that and with the Hysterectomy Association I now have the perfect platform. So for me, self-publishing hasn’t changed really, it’s just become easier.

Q: Apart from writing, what do you love doing most?

Spending time with my partner, the lovely Stevie and our dog Belle (also known as The Beeble) – one day I’ll put some of the short stories I’ve made up in my head about her onto my personal blog. Reading features heavily of course, and I always have a book or two on the go somewhere about the house. I swim before going to the office in the mornings and love to walk – especially if a coffee shop is involved somewhere on the route.

Though the Hysteria competition isn’t running this year, Linda will be maintaining the blog about all things writing, competition and judging related. You can keep up with the latest posts here.

If you’re interested in my experience of judging in the competition, you can read my post about it here. I’d highly recommend the experience.

And if you’re more interested in entering a writing competition rather than judging one, please take a look at my eBook, Short Story Competitions: A Writer’s Guide to Success. If you’ve never tried writing for a competition before, it should give you a good start.

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Reviewing Goals One Month into 2018

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If you’re anything like me, you’re probably wondering where January went. One minute we were cheering in the new year, the next, here we are in February. I’m trying not to take this as a sign of advancing years, and instead try to focus on the first month’s accomplishments.

I blogged here about my feeble attempts at goal-setting in 2017 – the main mistake I made was thinking that writing them down on a piece of paper and sticking it on my noticeboard would be enough. Problem was, I just forgot all about them, never bothered to revisit them, check if they were still feasible (or indeed, if I still wanted to achieve them), let alone check to see if I was making any progress. This year I’ve vowed will be different. So what has worked so far?

  • Setting a weekly word count target for the current WIP: my 5,000 word target was designed to stretch me, but not be impossible to achieve in the event of life experiencing the odd hiccup (as it tends to do). I was slightly under one week, but more than made it up, so stayed on target for the whole of the month, which I’m really pleased with. (If you’re the kind of writer who regularly writes 30,000 words a week or similar, you’re probably guffawing at this, but for me it’s a good total, and still allows some time for other smaller projects.)
  • Keeping a diary which serves the dual purposes of forward planning and noting daily achievements: the diary layout (which has a week-to-view on the left and a notes page on the right) has proved excellent to keep notes of appointments, thoughts and ideas, but I’ve also noted down word count totals, and all the bits and pieces of social media marketing etc. I need this to keep me on track (brain like a sieve!) – without regularly noting down what I’ve done and where, it would all go to pot very quickly.
  • Allowing time for other aspects of life: one of the problems with my goals for 2017 was that they were designed in isolation (when I was wearing my “writer” hat) without taking into account the other non-writing related things I might want to do. This year I’ve been careful to include all the other things when setting my goals – and the focus on each is likely to change over the next few months according to the weather, work-life balance etc.
  •  Frequently referring back to my initial goals: at the start of the year, I wrote down all the things I wanted to work towards at the front of my diary. I flick back to it every few days to check in with those goals – and yes, there are a couple towards which I’ve made zero progress. (And no doubt there will be additional things which crop up in the year which I’d not expected, so I might have to adjust accordingly.) But overall I can see I’m heading in the right direction. And that’s good for the ego and for ongoing motivation.

I’ve also had a bit of a boost this week with two reviews for my first non-fiction eBook Short Story Competitions: A Writer’s Guide to Success . I have to admit, while I really enjoyed writing it, I was pretty anxious about how people might react to it (much more so than I am about my fiction), so it’s good to have such positive comments from the first two reviewers. If you’re relatively new to writing or short story competition submissions, please take a look – and I hope you find it useful.

7 Ways to Form the Writing Habit

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We’re almost at the end of January, so it’s probably a good time to take a look at those writing goals you set at the beginning of the year and see how things are going. If you planned to write more regularly, or up your productivity, this probably means you’ve attempted to form new writing habits and, as we all know, whilst forming bad habits seems incredibly easy, forming good ones can be a little trickier.

I started a new writing project at the beginning of the year and in order to make it possible to achieve, I’ve had to think realistically about my year, and schedule the first-draft writing time appropriately. I know there will be times later in the year when I’ll be so busy at work that by the time I get home, my brain will be mush. I also know that, come the longer spring days and lighter evenings, I’ll be devoting more time to all things equine. I need to establish a habit now that has a chance of withstanding these conflicting demands. They say it takes 3-4 weeks to develop a habit, so here are my tips from my first four weeks:

  1. Have a specific goal that gives you something to work towards – and make it something tangible and measureable so that you can see yourself making progress. A goal of say “writing more short stories” is too woolly. How many short stories would you be satisfied with? How many might you expect to write over a given period? Break it down so that you know exactly what you have to achieve each week to be on track to complete the overall goal. Then you know the minimum you need to achieve daily. This is also why I’ve chosen to have a goal of a specific weekly word count rather than, say, a finite number of writing hours a night – I know I could easily fritter away the time without really having achieved anything.
  2. Be sure you really want to achieve this goal or develop this habit. At New Year, it’s easy to get carried away and plan some really aspirational stuff. But you need to be realistic and absolutely sure that this particular writing goal is for you, otherwise as soon as you hit a problem, it’ll be too tempting to give up. It may help to write down your reasons for wanting to achieve it – and how it contributes to your long term game plan. Later, if things do get tough, you can go back and remind yourself why you are putting yourself through this!
  3. Keep it simple. I’m working on one specific project, writing about one thing. So far this is working for me. It might not work for you – you might be the sort of writer who needs to have several projects on the go at once so you can flip from one to the other as inspiration takes you. That’s fine, just as long as you know what you’re doing each time you sit down to write.
  4. Habits are easier to form as part of a routine, because then they arise from some kind of trigger. (This of course applies to bad habits too – my mum always used to say that when she gave up smoking all those years ago, the cigarette she missed most was the one straight after her evening meal.) I’m writing in the weekday evenings: after we’ve eaten and washed up, I take a cup of tea up to my room and crack on. This has become the norm very quickly.
  5. Build in small rewards. Obviously the achievement of completing your targets will give you a bit of a boost, but you don’t want your writing to turn into this horrible chore which will make you feel miserable (remember, it’s supposed to be something wonderful and creative, otherwise why are you doing it?). Assuming you made your goals reasonable and achievable in the first place, you should be able to reward yourself with time off to go and do something else! (I try to write more at the beginning of the week so that Friday is either an easy stint, or completely free.)
  6. It helps to have support from your nearest and dearest. Indeed, your habit may become built into their routine too. (So now my OH plans his own things to do “while you go and do your word count” and then we both know that we can build all the other stuff of life around this protected bit of time.)
  7. Be flexible. Other things in life will crop up and prevent you sticking to your plans.  (I didn’t write much towards the end of last week because we had to have our cat put down, which obviously made for a very sad household.) Don’t beat yourself up and abandon the whole thing just because it’s been derailed for a few days by outside pressures. Pick yourself up when you’re ready and carry on. And you may find that the habit helps you deal with the other stuff which is going on in your life.

My first month on the new WIP has been very positive. Of course there have been rubbish evenings where I’ve really struggled to write anything, but I’ve definitely found that the routine of going up to sit at my writing desk every night is really helping. Now “not writing” is the exception rather than the norm. And writing in the weekday evenings gives me time at the weekends to do other things – like write this blog, for instance! 🙂

Space and Time: the right writing environment

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If you’ve clicked onto this expecting a sci-fi related post, apologies. I don’t mean that kind of space and time. This post is all finding the right place in which to right.

The ‘right’ place is clearly not universal for all writers. Daphne du Maurier famously did lots of her writing in a hut at the bottom of the garden, and Roald Dahl also had a writing hut which has now been reconstructed at The Roald Dahl museum in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire. Huts look really cute when you peer inside, and all it sounds very romantic, but unless they’re well insulated, they’re blooming cold in the winter, roasting hot in the summer, and full of insects and damp. Granted, there are huts and huts (a well built chalet-style construction is probably fab to work in, but your average garden shed, not so much), and a hut is better than nothing – especially if it’s the only place you can get peace and privacy.

Which brings me to the next sort of writer – the sort which likes to work in a café. I know this is pretty popular – possibly because this was the method so famously (and successfully) employed by J K Rowling in her early days. Since there is long history of creative-types scribbling away in coffee shops, I’m not disputing that it must work for many writers, but it wouldn’t do for me. Supporters of this method maintain that the hum of background noise helps them concentrate, or that they need to physically go somewhere in order to write, because sitting at home they’ll just get distracted. For me, nothing could be further from the truth. The thought of sitting, exposed, at a table in a busy café, with people all around me, squeezing by with their shopping bags, babies crying, clattering crockery and all that whooshing and wheezing from the barista coffee machines… Ugh, just the thought makes me shudder! Don’t get me wrong, I like the odd trip to a coffee shop while I’m out shopping, but it definitely wouldn’t work for me in a creative way. Or at least, not unless I was in one of those (infrequent) mad frenzies when you just can’t stop writing – and if that was the case, the location wouldn’t make any difference. (I’ve written standing up in a packed train carriage when I’ve absolutely had to get something down on paper.)

I’ve already written about my writing room here (am amused to note how tidy it was back then for the photographs – suffice to say it is rather less so as I write this). From this you’ll know how much I value having the luxury of a proper space in which to write. And having a comfortable working environment does help with productivity. (Father Christmas even brought me a new writing chair so I’m properly comfortable when I write – I can tell this is the case as I no longer fidget when writing for several hours!)

Of course, there’s no point having the space, if you don’t also have the time. In order to achieve any of my 2018 goals, I’ve been concentrating on making the time. This has meant religiously ‘going to my room’ every weekday evening, and getting on with writing for an hour or two (from Mon-Thurs – I’ve been giving myself Friday night off!), and trying to get a bit more in at the weekend if I’m not up to my planned word count, or if I have another project I want to work on. So far, using routine and discipline to create this habit is working well (rather like a less intensive Nanowrimo approach). I’ll let you know if I keep it up long enough to complete the current project.

Actually, going back to the sci-fi thing, a writing room is a little like the TARDIS. It’s clearly only the size of a room, but once inside, as you write, it expands in limitless directions and you can travel anywhere in space and time – to the far reaches of your imagination. If I was a Doctor Who fan, this is what the door to my writing room would look like:

If you have an amazing writing space, or have a great tip for manufacturing that precious commodity, time, then please tell us about it in the comments below. 😉

Character Names – sources of inspiration

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I’m at that delicious beginning part of the writing process – when ideas are coming thick and fast, and the characters are lining up ready to take their turn in the next scene. So far it’s been deceptively easy, and while I know from experience that this is unlikely to last, I’m enjoying it while it does.

One of the exciting parts of starting a new project is naming the characters. This is such an important aspect of fiction and it’s so easy to cause yourself problems if you get it wrong. Similar sounding names, names that don’t fit the era or social status of your characters, or names that just don’t quite feel right to you can cause confusion and spoil the feel of your story.

So where do you get inspiration for names? Well, with first names, I have a couple of books designed for helping parents choose names for their offspring. These are quite good because they give a little background about the origins and meanings of each name which can be useful in choosing something appropriate.

Another incredibly useful source is the interactive graph compiled by The Office of National Statistics. This uses census data to track the popularity of first names over the last 110 years. It tracks the top 100 names from each year, so if you type a name into the box above the graph, it will display a line showing that name’s popularity over the whole period. The graph is also excellent for exploring ideas for a specific era. Say you happen to have a character who was born in 1920, but you’re not quite sure what kind of names were around at this time. You can hover over the imaginary line for 1920 and suggested names will appear. So if you want a very obviously popular name for the era, you hover near the top of the graph, for a less obvious name, hover near the bottom. Every time you move your mouse, you’ll find some more names, and can build up a feel for what is appropriate for that era.

When it comes to inspiration for surnames, back in the day I used the phone book, but I haven’t seen one of those for a while (and now I think about it, using the phone book might create a slight regional bias depending on where you live – which could be useful or not, depending on the nature of your fiction). Now, I use a Dictionary of Surnames which I found in a cut price book shop several years ago. Again it gives origins and meanings which is interesting, but mostly prevents me falling back on lame-sounding surnames from my own imagination (which is poor in this respect!) which make the characters feel obviously like characters, not real people.

If I’m really stuck for a name in the middle of a story and I don’t want to interrupt the flow, sometimes I just pop in “XXX” and use the find-and-replace-all function later when I’ve chosen something appropriate. On occasions this has worked better for me than picking a not-quite-appropriate name and attempting to replace that later as by then I am thinking of the character as this original name, and it may even have affected how I feel about them or how they develop in the story.

If you have any brilliant suggestions for the way you go about naming characters, or suggestions for other good “name” websites, please pop them in the comments below – but I’d definitely recommend having a look at the ONS graph when you’re deciding on names for your next project.

Writing Resolutions for 2018 (and a bit of self-congratulation for 2017!)

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So this is it! The last post of 2017! The final day of the year to look back on the most important aspects of 2017, and look forward to 2018.

You could be forgiven for thinking I’ve been a bit negative in my previous posts – no, I didn’t achieve much on my 2017 aims list – but it always important to celebrate the positives. So often you can forget where you started out, or the things you have achieved because you are busy feeling disappointed about the stuff you didn’t do. In this spirit of celebration, here are the things I’m chuffed about for 2017 (both writing-related and not):

  1. Finally took the plunge and, in March, bought a beautiful new horse. After a year without an equine companion (and after losing my old horse after 15 years together), it’s been fab to start building a relationship with this gorgeous boy.
  2. Had some quality time with my Dad – to celebrate his 90th birthday, we spent the best part of a whole week together, and talked about some really good stuff. Funny how you can suddenly feel you know someone properly for the first time, even though you’ve known them forever!
  3. Was on the short story judging panel for the Hysteria UK writing competition. I learned so much during this process, and highly recommend it if you want to understand more about short story submissions. You can read my judge’s interview here.
  4. Wrote and published my first non-fiction eBook Short Story Competitions: A Writer’s Guide to Success. Writing non-fiction was really interesting – I’ve written fiction for years but, apart from a few articles, this was a new discipline for me. It’s pretty nerve-wracking sending a non-fiction book out into the world (lots of “What do I know?” self-doubt!) but I wanted to share what I’d learned as both an entrant and as a judge. Hope if you have ‘story competitions’ on your New Year’s Resolution list (particularly if you’ve not tried entering any before) you’ll be able to learn from some of my mistakes!
  5. After concentrating more on my social media presence over the year, I’ve experienced a 20% increase in Blog followers, a 30% increase in Twitter followers, and a 40% increase in Facebook followers – which is really rewarding. Thank you to all of you!
  6. Finally set up my mailing list! This has been on my “Things to do” list for years, but was one of those things I kept putting off (but was really straightforward!). It’s really in its infancy, but I have plans to explore content and free giveaways in the new year. If you haven’t joined already, please do.
  7. And lastly, for the first time ever, I had fan mail! Readers (who I didn’t know personally) took the time and trouble to contact me to tell me they had enjoyed my stories. I can’t tell you how much I appreciated this – it gave me a real buzz.

Right, so that’s me done with feeling smug about this year. Onto 2018! When it came to setting this years goals, I had an epiphany. I’d intended to buy two diaries – one for writing related goals, and one for my horse-riding related plans. Standing in the shop, I couldn’t find anything appropriate – and then I found this great diary which has a corresponding page of notes for each week. And then I thought, of course! I need everything together, because that’s where I’ve been going wrong. One day I’ve got my writing head on, and the next I’ve got my horsey head on, and I can’t maintain both separately. So, my new diary (and thus my new goals) are for the whole of life, not separate chunks. (And the cover is cool too!)

The notes pages mean I can always keep all my ideas for that week in view, so I don’t overlook stuff (which has been a problem this year). And there’s a little zipped pouch at the back for bits and pieces which you night need.

You’ll be pleased to hear I’m not going to list all my goals (there’s 25 in all!) but suffice to say they revolve around quality of life – building a sustainable (reading, writing & horse-related!) lifestyle, and devoting time to loved ones.

To all those who’ve read and followed my blog this year, I’d like to say a big thank you – and may you all have a successful, happy and healthy 2018. x

Rubbish Writing Goals and How to Set Them: 10 things I learned from 2017!

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Cast your mind back to this time last year. Did you have a long list of writing aims and goals for 2017? Mine, written in a frenzy of optimism and energy, is pinned up on my noticeboard above my desk. The idea was that it would inspire me every time I sat down to write; that I would always have my goals in sight, and therefore in the forefront of my mind. What actually happened was that they became another thing to beat myself up about when I hadn’t achieved them. And now they are partially hidden by a postcard and a post-it note. I’d not looked at them for ages until today.

So, why didn’t these aims work as motivators? Here are some of the reasons:

  1. Aims you want to have achieved, not to achieve: some of the things on the list were those I knew I would feel good about once they were completed, but I didn’t have the drive to start off the process – they just seemed too daunting.
  2. Other People’s Aims: things I felt I ought to want to do (e.g. ‘complete a full length novel’ is on the list – but I’m primarily a short story writer, with several partially written rough draft of novels stuffed in my files. I didn’t actually want to write a novel in 2017, and really didn’t have the headspace for such a big project).
  3. Aims which don’t take into account the way you work: e.g. I write lots of short stories, but few of are suitable for the UK women’s magazine market. If I tried to sit down and write something specifically for say, The People’s Friend, the writing would feel contrived, and Shirley would reject it. The stories which get accepted are those you write from the heart because they need to be written. Yes, you need to have an awareness of market if you want to sell anything, but (for me, at least) the writing needs to come first.
  4. Aims which don’t take into account outside influences: achievement can be taken out of your hands by external issues. For instance, this year has seen some major editorial upheavals at Woman’s Weekly which has changed the relationship between writers and staff, caused uncertainty, and (in the short term at least) prevented submissions from anyone who hasn’t previously been published by them. No-one can predict the kinds of outside pressures which will affect your writing, but you need to be able to build in a sort of “assuming everything remains equal” clause into your aims if you aren’t going to get disheartened.
  5. A list which doesn’t allow for new aims: your aims list can become a negative if you stay focused on the original aims at the expense of new opportunities and new ideas. You need to be prepared to re-evaluate, and to allow some goals to fall by the wayside (without beating yourself up about it) because something new is of importance instead (e.g. this year I became involved in judging for the Hysteria UK writing competition, which was extremely rewarding – but this was a focus I’d not anticipated at the outset of the year).
  6. Leftover aims from previous years: you may recognise many of your aims as recurring ones! You didn’t complete them last year, so you’re going to stick them down on this year’s list too. That’s great, but you need to understand why you didn’t achieve them last year, and why things are going to be different this year. If nothing has changed, be prepared to put the same item on your 2019 list too!
  7. Aims which are too ambitious: it’s great to have aims which test you, and push you just a little out of your comfort zone, but if they are too difficult, they become demotivating. If writing is your one and only passion and you throw yourself into it 100% at the expense of all else in your life, that’s great. Your achievements will be commensurate with that level of dedication. On the other hand, if you have more than one interest, if you want to have meaningful and rewarding relationships with family and friends, then you need to be self-aware enough to know that this is the case and stop expecting yourself to have that ‘Olympic athlete’ level of dedication. It’s ok to be ‘not bad ‘at more than one thing!
  8. Aims which depend on completion of another aim: e.g. you can’t publish something you haven’t written. So now you’ve failed to complete two things!
  9. Aims which are outside of your control: we’ve all heard about making our goals “SMART” (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant and timely – or some other similar definition – let’s not argue!). You need to set yourself a goal over which you can have some control (e.g. “Win a short story competition” might not be a great goal since you can’t control the other entries, but “Enter at least 10 short story competitions in 2018, ensuring I follow all the great advice in Jenny’s Short Story Competitions: A Writer’s Guide” might be a better one!).
  10. Aims which show no self-awareness: if you’ve decided you’re going to write 1,000 words a day in 2018, but you haven’t written more than a few hundred in the whole of 2017, then maybe you need to be more realistic in what you can expect from yourself, otherwise you’re just setting yourself up for disappointment. If you know your demanding job/family commitments/love of soaps will leave you little time or energy for writing, then start small and build the writing habit.

I’ve not finalised my list for 2018 yet, but I’ve written lots of notes, and I know I’ll be putting considerably more thought into this year’s goals. I’ll let you know how this goes in my final blog for this year on New Year’s Eve. Until then, happy writing and happy goal-setting!

Cover Reveal – Short Story Competitions: A Writer’s Guide to Success

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I’m always over-optimistic about the amount of writing I’ll get done over the Christmas holidays. It seems glorious at the outset – a luxurious festive week stretching out before you. Granted, there’ll be visits to family and friends, and you know there’ll be a bit of over-indulgence, some time devoted to lounging in front of the telly, but surely there’ll be loads of time left over for writing, right?

So often, the answer is no, but this year, I’ve been making a concerted effort to use the time effectively getting my latest project finished – my first non-fiction eBook, Short Story Competitions: A Writer’s Guide to Success.

And of course, you guys have helped me by voting on your favourite cover design. Each of the three sample covers got plenty of votes (so a big thank you to Shar at Landofawes for creating all three). In the end though, one was ahead by a sizeable margin. I decided to make a few tweaks to this design, but you’ll recognise it as being not too dissimilar to the original. So this is the final cover design:

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The book has been released in time for New Year – so if perhaps you’ve been frustrated with your recent writing progress, or you’re just starting out and want 2018 to be the year you see success as a short story competition entrant, you might find the book a good place to start.

The book is available at Amazon here – and I’ll be posting about the book, and about New Year’s Resolutions, here on the blog, and also on my Facebook page over the remainder of the festive season. I hope you can join me for a celebratory glass of virtual bubbly over the next few days, to find out more about the book and get inspired for 2018! 😉

 

Support Networks for Writers

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For those of us in the Midlands, it’s been a week of proper winter weather – snow and freezing temperatures has made those everyday journeys suddenly ridiculously difficult. One evening in particular, we had a sudden heavy snowfall and, in the space of a few minutes, the roads went from perfectly passable to treacherous.

We happened to be out in the weather at the time, driving back home through the neighbouring village. Our old Volvo (with almost a quarter of a million miles on the clock!) is four wheel drive and did us proud, but we came across several stranded cars and others wheel-spinning on the ice. We ended up pulling over and helping push several vehicles to get them on their way. There was a real feeling of camaraderie as we, and other passers-by, joined in. It seemed particularly appropriate given the time of year – it being almost the season of goodwill!

It also made me think about support networks and goodwill in general. Us writers can be a little insular at times, but that’s not to say we don’t need (and value) the network of people around us who help us do what we do. Our families, who accept that often we will be busy scribbling alone, and who take an interest in what we do without perhaps really understanding why we bother doing it! Our friends, who take the time to read those dodgy first drafts and make useful comments, or who are quick to provide a hug when things are not going so well. And the wider writing community who are so ready to offer support and encouragement.

Put a post on Facebook about a problem you’re having with your writing and in no time there’ll be a string of comments from other writers telling you they’ve experienced something similar, or offering advice. If you post about a rejection, you’ll get commiserations. If you post about a writing success (however modest) you’ll soon be inundated with generous and humbling congratulatory messages.

So if you find yourself wheel-spinning on your writing journey, don’t worry – just shout, and someone will soon be along to give you a push. And if your writing road is looking pretty clear, don’t forget to pay it forward – in lots of little ways:

  1. tell someone if you like their novel/story/blog (it might be just the lift they need)
  2. tell lots of other people too!
  3. remember to leave a review (for all those people you can’t tell personally)
  4. retweet their tweets
  5. comment on or share their posts
  6. follow their blog or their author page

And most importantly, say thank you to all those who’ve done the same for you:

So, thank you, folks! I appreciate every little push! 🙂

Attracting the Reader’s Attention: Choosing the best eBook Cover Design

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For us British, anything related to self-promotion tends not to come naturally. We’re brought up in a culture where mentioning your achievements is only a step away from boasting – and we don’t approve of boasting, ho no! If you’re a writer, the chances are you’re at the quiet and shy end of the social spectrum, possibly a little insular, with perhaps a tendency towards self-doubt too. I’d put myself firmly in this category.

This means I’m mostly doing the social media equivalent of standing at the back of a busy room, raising my hand and giving a polite cough to get everyone’s attention. Sometimes no-one notices. Sometimes I don’t even have the courage to do it at all. Everyone carries on talking, and I just stand there thinking I probably should mention what I’m doing, but maybe it’s not the best time.

But now I really ought to tell you formally about my latest project. I’m writing a book. Just a little one you understand (so that you know I’m not boasting!). It’s my first non-fiction book: “Short Story Competitions: A Writer’s Guide”. I’ve aimed to incorporate all that I’ve learned from my own experiences as both entrant and judge – the idea being the reader will be able to learn from my mistakes rather than having to make so many of their own!

Alongside drafting the text for the book, I pondered the cover design for a long time. There’s no way I’d attempt to create my own eBook cover, but I sent a couple of ideas to Shar, my cover designer, and she mocked up three designs for me.

 

As I’m pretty rubbish at making decisions, I decided to consult family and friends, Facebook and the Twittersphere. The results were really interesting – each cover got lots of support, and there were also some good comments, discussions of the relative merits of each, and suggestions for improvements. Of course, with an eBook cover, you have to think about how the design will work both large scale and in thumb nail form when the reader is quickly scanning through the available options.

If you’ve not chosen a favourite yet, or you’d like to make a further suggestion about one or more of the designs, I’ve love to hear your comments. If you’d like to see the final cover design before the book is out, please click the link on the right hand side of the blog to join my new mailing list. (Oh, did I mention…. *whispers* I’ve got a new mailing list!) 😉