Ode on the Blessed Printer! #writersrhymes

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Ode on the blessed printer
(or “I wish I could make all submissions by email”)

I’ve just finished my story
It’s ready to submit
I’ve tweaked the dodgy plot line
Proof checked and re-checked it

So I fire up my printer
Plug in the USB
But my laptop does not recognise
The software that it sees

I wiggle all the cables
Until it finally connects
Then wait for several seconds
For the command to take effect

The printer starts to rumble
But the text’s a right schemozzle
Onscreen a warning light appears
I need to check my nozzles

I press the “OK” button
And watch the screen with dread
The problem clearly isn’t fixed:
Now I have to clean my heads

Then another warning light
A cartridge out of ink
And though I’m only printing black
I somehow still need pink

Next I fix the paper jam
Has the printer given up the ghost?
No, the pages finally tumble out –
But by now I’ve missed the post!

Resolving NOT to Write

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Yes, you read this correctly. I’m NOT writing. Deliberately. I’m itching to make a start. I have the first line in my head and I’d love to get going and see where it takes me, but I’m not allowing myself to do so.

Why?

Because although I can write a short story with just the glimmer of an idea, allow it to take hold and just go with it, when it comes to writing something longer, the whole “pantser” thing has failed me. I have about five half-written novels languishing in my hard drive. They have each suffered the same fate. They started with an idea, they grew and developed, their characters became well-rounded and compelling, plot devices sprang up which promised to keep those pages turning…. And then about two-thirds in, everything went horribly wrong. The plot fell apart. The path to “the end” faded and then disappeared altogether. And I couldn’t get myself out of it.

I thought I was a pantser, but it turns out I’m not. I need to plan. So this time, I’ve promised myself, things will be different. The initial idea for my current project actually came to me in a dream….  No, really!  I woke up, and the characters were there in my head.  Of course in the dream, it all made total sense and was already planned out – and then when I woke up, there was just the impression of the story which needed all the details filling in. So that’s where I am at the moment. Filling in the details.

I’m currently researching the setting, pulling together all the backstory for each of the main characters, drawing up a chapter plan (horribly sketchy at the moment), and working out the plot. I’m determined that this time I will have it all planned in advance – before I so much as begin to write the first page. Of course, I’m prepared for the story to develop in ways I’d not expected, so it’s possible the plan will need some revision on the way, but the plan needs to exist at the outset.

I know this isn’t the way that all writers begin a new piece of work – I know of many who say they just have an outline, start writing and see where it takes them. I wish I was like that, and who knows, maybe one day I will be. But right now, it’s me, a notebook, a pad of post-its, some highlighters – and a lot of time on Google!

If you have any great planning strategies and tips, I’d love to hear them! In the meantime, I’m attempting to develop my own method. Wish me luck – I’ll let you know how it goes. 🙂

Time Travel for Writers

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Readers know all about time travel – you sit down with a good book, and before you know it, a whole afternoon has passed in the blink of an eye! And through the medium of fiction, you are magically transported to another time, another place, perhaps another world. (Who needs a TARDIS?)

It’s the same for writers, of course. “I’ll just spend a few minutes editing this paragraph,” you say to yourself, and when you next look up, you realise you’ve missed a meal/an important appointment/a whole day. We all know there’s nothing quite like the feeling, when the writing is going really well, of leaving the everyday behind and being totally immersed in your fictional world. [NB: Social media is also an extremely effective way for writers to hurtle through a few hours at great speed!]

There is a flip side for writers: whilst time flies when there’s an approaching deadline, it positively crawls when you’re awaiting a response to a submission, or the outcome of a story competition, or – joy of joys! – publication day. [NB: Or indeed payment…but I hesitate to add that, for fear of sounding mercenary, and not having the right attitude to the true rewards of the creative process!]  Writers also experience a distortion in time as often the fruits of their labours are not evident until long after the labour itself. (Sometimes long, long, long after the labour itself.) Recently I’ve had two short stories appear in print, and had another placed in a competition – so to the outside world, all seems busy, busy, busy in my writing world. But in each case, the writing process itself took place many moons ago. Writing is created from not just inspiration but anticipation – thinking ahead to future competitions, and planning in advance for seasonal submissions.

Yesterday was National Writing Day – I’m ashamed to say I didn’t honour the day with any writing-related activities of my own.  I…erm….didn’t have the time. Presumably in some parallel universe, it’s National Writing Day right now.  Hmmm, if I could just find my TARDIS…

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“Reading” Audio Books

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As an avid fan of audio books – particularly to listen to whilst driving – I’m a regular at my local library, where, for a small fee, I can borrow from a wide range of titles available. Having someone reading to you while driving can help to make the heaviest of traffic stress-free. In fact, the only problem I usually have is arriving at my destination when the story has reached an especially gripping moment, and not wanting to get out of the car!

Of course, it’s always disappointing when a book doesn’t live up to its promise. I recently borrowed an audio book but only managed to listen to about 20 minutes worth before I found myself wanting to rip it out of the car stereo and hurl it though the window. I won’t mention the title, but to say the characters lacked depth would be an understatement, the scenario was pretty unlikely, and the author’s knowledge of the world her characters were inhabiting seemed sketchy to say the least. I felt a bit robbed (not of the library fee – I figure it all goes to a good cause if it’s ploughed back into the library service – and I hope this is the case), but by the way the book had been presented.

It’s not the first time I’ve been disappointed by an audio book, but I would say I’m far less often disappointed by a physical hard copy book. This got me thinking about the way in which we choose books to read. You may not be able to judge a book by its cover, but you can’t help but be influenced by cover design (after all, if you weren’t, publishers and indie authors wouldn’t spend so much time, money and effort in designing covers in the first place). You are likely to read the  “blurb”, and then, if it’s a hard copy book, you might read a few lines of the first page, just to see if you like the style and tone of the writing. With an audio book, you don’t get this last opportunity, which I think is where I come unstuck. Sometimes the blurb doesn’t seem to be a true reflection of the story at all, or neglects to mention some aspect of the book which, had you known in advance, would have warned you that this wasn’t the book for you.

The other element which can affect your enjoyment, or otherwise, of an audio book is the person it is being read by. The reader’s voice will have a huge impact on the tone of the story. A good reader can handle different character voices, deal with changes of pace within the narrative, make scene changes clear, etc. – and they will do all of this unobtrusively, so that the listener is not distracted from the story itself. I’m fairly sure that I’ve enjoyed some books more as audio books simply because of the excellent reading (as I know I sometimes read too fast and miss important details). On the other hand, if I’m not enjoying an audio book, I do sometimes find myself wondering how the same book might appear to me if I was reading it myself. As a reader, you cannot help but bring yourself, your past experiences, your preconceptions to the story – and this must influence your interpretation of the words written on the page. A few times while I’ve been listening to an audio book, the reader has read a piece of dialogue in a way I suspect I wouldn’t have interpreted in my own head had I been reading it to myself. While literary theorists might argue there isn’t a “right” interpretation, if it jars with you the listener, it can’t help but bring you out of the story and taint your enjoyment a little.

To help inform my choice while I’m at the library, I sometimes take a look at reviews online while I’m trying to decide, but even this is problematic.  Lots of books seem to end up scoring around the 3.8 mark on Goodreads (for example), and for every reviewer who loved it, there’s always another who seemed to absolutely loathe it. You have to read between the lines to work out which set of reviewers you are likely to side with!

So at the moment, I am without an audio book for the car, and therefore will soon be on the hunt for my next “fix”.  If you have any recommendations – either for individual titles, or for the best way to choose an audio book – please let me know!   🙂

 

 

3 Writing Competitions for Your Diary

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For those of you who might benefit from a writing goal to help with motivation, or new writers who are thinking about sending some work out into the big wide world, here are three writing competitions which might appeal:

  • The Fiction Desk – Newcomer Prize 2017 for short stories (1,000 – 7,000 words) – deadline 31st May, £500 to the winner (entry fee £8)

http://www.thefictiondesk.com/submissions/newcomer-short-story-prize.php

  • Reflex Fiction: flash fiction (180-360 words) – deadline 31st May, £1,000 to the winner (entry fee £7)

http://www.reflexfiction.com/flash-fiction-submissions-entry-form/

  • Hysteria Writing Competition – deadline 31st August – 3 categories:
    • Poetry – max 20 lines, £75 to the winner (entry fee £3)
    • Short Story – max 2,000 words, £150 to the winner (entry fee £5)
    • Flash fiction – max 250 words, £75 to the winner (entry fee £3)

https://www.hysteriauk.co.uk/

And if you’re thinking of entering any of these, and are looking for some tips, I’ve blogged about my experience previously here:

https://jennyroman.wordpress.com/2016/09/10/short-story-competitions-5-tips-for-success/

Best of luck!

 

Reflex Fiction – Flash Fiction Contest

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If flash fiction is your thing, and you fancy having a go at a competition with some decent prize money, you could do much worse than trying Reflex Fiction.

Reflex Fiction is a quarterly on-line competition for stories between 180 and 360 words.  The closing date for the current contest is 31st May, and there’s £1,000 up for grabs for the winner (though the entry fee is fairly steep for a flash comp at £7). You can find the details here:

http://www.reflexfiction.com/flash-fiction-contest-schedule/

While the prize money might be one of the attractions, another great thing about the contest is that, after they have announced the long list for the current competition, they publish one story a day on the site working their way towards the final winner. So even if your story doesn’t make the final cut, there’s a chance it will be selected as one of the “almost made it” judges favourites.

Currently, the site is publishing stories from the Spring contest (which, incidentally was free to enter, though with a correspondingly smaller prize pot), and my piece Battered is today’s published story – you can read it here:

http://www.reflexfiction.com/battered-by-jenny-roman/

 

 

The Judging Panel – Hysteria 2017

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Regular readers of this blog will know I love short story competitions. The demands of sticking to a specific theme or word count, the inclusion of a special word or phrase, or even just having the focus of a deadline can all help with motivation. In fact, sometimes the more restrictions that seem to be imposed, the harder your story-telling brain seems to work to come up with a idea which will fit the bill.

I’ve tried my hand at entering lots of short story competitions in recent years – sometimes I’ve been successful, sometimes less so. But I’ve usually found that the discipline involved in editing a story to suit the demands of a specific competition has helped me to improve on the original idea or draft.

It seemed an obvious next step to try my hand at judging. I’ve previously assisted with short-listing for a competition, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and so when the opportunity came to become part of the short story panel on the Hysteria UK 2017 writing competition, I jumped at the chance. Being one of a panel of five seems less daunting for a first timer too!

Of course, short story judging is subjective, so even though we have a clear set of criteria to use while we’re judging, I’m sure there will be pieces which impress me but do nothing for another member of the panel, and vice versa. Overall though, I’m confident we’ll be able to make a good decision. And during this process, we’ll have had the opportunity to read a huge variety of stories – from which I’m sure we’ll learn a great deal.

If you’re a female writer, writing in the flash fiction, poetry or short story genres, you have until 31st August 2017 to submit your piece – head over to the website for details:

https://www.hysteriauk.co.uk/

If you’ve never entered a writing competition before, why not have a go at this one which supports the work of the Hysterectomy Association, helping women worldwide. There are cash prizes, and winners and runners-up will be published in the annual anthology.

And if you aren’t successful, it doesn’t necessarily mean your story wasn’t well-written or enjoyed by the judges. There’s still a story which sticks in my mind from my short-listing experience – the story in question didn’t make the final selection and, as it was judged anonymously, I have no idea who the author was, but years later I can still remember the quirky writing which I enjoyed tremendously. So keep writing, keep sending out your work, because there is an audience out there who will appreciate it.

If you’re interested in entering the competition, and want to find out more about the judges, they will each be interviewed in the coming weeks. You can read my interview on the Hysteria website here:

https://www.hysteriauk.co.uk/2017/04/17/meet-jenny-roman-hysteria-2017-short-story-category-judge/

#Hysteria2017 Now Open for Entries

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The Hysteria Writing Competition 2017 is now open for entries.

If you’re a female writer in any of the following genres:

  • short stories (up to 2,000 words)
  • flash fiction (up to 250 words)
  • poetry (up to 20 lines)

then this could be the competition for you.

The competition is run annually by the Hysterectomy Association, which provides information and support to women all over the world. They are looking for entries which appeal to their website visitors who are mostly women between 25-65. Stories should not be about hysterectomy itself, but can be in any genre except erotica or horror.

Entry fees are £3 per flash fiction or poem, and £5 per short story.

An anthology of winners and runners-up is published each year, so if you’re interested in entering, you can see what has been successful in the past.

For more information, visit the website: https://www.hysteriauk.co.uk/

One Year On…

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A year ago, I posted here about having lost my beautiful mare, Cracker, how hard I was finding adjusting to life without her – and how difficult it was to focus on anything, even writing.

Since then, a lot has happened (including a house move), and while I’ve been horse-less, I’ve definitely had more time for writing-related activities. On the non-fiction front, I’ve had my first full-length article published in a national magazine (equine-related, of course).  And on the fiction front, most excitingly, I achieved my aim to release an eBook short story collection on Amazon. (Two, in fact!)

I’m quietly proud of “Beyond Words” (the second of the two collections) as it brings together some of my favourite short stories, all of which have achieved competition success.  There’s so much to be gained from entering competitions – the discipline of meeting deadlines, word counts and themes can only help improve your writing, especially when it takes you away from your comfort-zone, and being short-listed, placed or commended can only increase your writing confidence. If you’ve never entered a writing competition before but would be interested in having a go, there’s a reference list at the back of “Beyond Words” which gives each of the competitions in which the stories were entered.

And a year on…  Well, I finally decided it was time to take on a new equine partner. This is Deemon Whirlwind, my new part-Arab gelding:

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After 15 educational years with Cracker, I’m looking forward to an equally long and inspirational partnership with this handsome chap. And of course, I’ll keep you posted!

As seen in Writers’ Forum: Where I Write

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Regular readers of “Writers’ Forum” will know that traditionally the last article in the magazine is “Where I Write”. Each month, Phil Barrington talks to an author about their writing space – be that in their house, a café, or even a camper van. It’s always one of my favourite bits of the magazine – nosey as I am about other people’s houses, lifestyles, and writing preferences.

After last month’s article (Patsy Collins and the aforementioned camper van!), I wrote in about my writing room, and the letter has appeared in Writers’ Circle in the current issue. I’ve always been pretty flexible about where I write (happy to scribble by hand on notebooks in bed, or tap away on the laptop sitting on the sofa or up at the kitchen table), but having a dedicated space was always something of a dream.

I now have the luxury (and it really is a luxury) of my own writing room. It’s not even (as in our last house) really-the-spare-bedroom-but-with-my-desk-in-it. This is actually a proper space for me to write in (though it does have a sofa bed for putting up writer friends!). The best thing about this room is that it’s warm enough to work in for hours (should those hours be available of course) – even in the depths of winter, it stays cosy long after the heating has gone off. I’m sure you’ll agree that comfort is a very important part of writing. (I’ve never understood people like Daphne Du Maurier who could sit in a hut in the garden with her fingerless gloves on, tapping away in the chill – it definitely wouldn’t do for me.)

The other great thing is that because the room doesn’t have a dual purpose, and therefore doesn’t really have to appeal to anyone else, I’ve been able to decorate it in the way I want. I’ve chosen a loosely African theme – using a palette of rich Moroccan style colours, and lots of African and Middle Eastern inspired decoration. Most of the wall-hangings, rugs and pictures come from my own travels, so are full of precious memories in themselves, as well as being (I think) lovely to look at. The brass Indian table came from my Dad’s house, and the chairs originally belonged to my husband’s grandparents.

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The huge bookcase was rescued from an old shed many moons ago, and is big enough to house a good chunk of my book collection (even if there are two rows on each shelf!). The desk was a past eBay purchase, and has done sterling service, being both practical and a thing of beauty.

There is a huge window, but fortunately for me (as I’m easily distracted) it’s quite high up so I can’t look out without standing on the chair or the desk! I’ve had to use two sets of curtains – one gold, one red. The red ones were another eBay purchase – and amusingly turned out to be from a fellow writer, Suzanne Baker (https://suzannebakerauthor.com/ ) – I only realised this when she enclosed a flyer about her books with my purchase! Small world, isn’t it, writing?