Category Archives: The writer’s world

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!   🙂

 

 

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/

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?

 

 

 

Writing Blue Monday

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While there may not be any real scientific basis behind the Blue Monday phenomenon (I am of course referring to the “most depressing day of the year” rather than the excellent 1980s New Order song), there’s probably more than a grain of truth in Dr Cliff Arnall’s supposed calculations. After all the hype and excitement of Christmas, January always seems a bit flat, and yes, on a drizzly Monday, when your credit card statement has arrived, and you head off to the day job in full-on, term-time traffic, you can be forgiven for feeling just a wee bit low.

It’s an equally gloomy time for writers. You may have promised yourself you’d get loads written in the glorious Christmas holidays (in between festive movies, and eating half your own body weight in Celebrations just because the box is there in front of you) – but you probably didn’t manage quite as much as you’d planned. You may have started a new writing diary, or given yourself some at-the-time motivational goals, which, by week three of January already seem ridiculously onerous. You may have reviewed your previous submissions, and realised you’ve heard nothing about at least half the pieces you’ve sent out – some many, many months ago – and of course, with the Christmas holidays, there’s likely to be a further delay before you hear anything. You may have foolishly declared (during the safety cushion of the festive break) that this will be the year you’ll give up the day job and write full-time…and now the horrible realisation is dawning that you need to tax the car, pay the mortgage, feed the cat – and you won’t be able to do any of these things on your current annual writing proceeds of ninety-five actual English pounds, a magazine subscription, and a gift voucher.

Indeed, when your Amazon sales chart has flatlined, your inbox remains stubbornly devoid of jolly acceptance emails, and all inspiration has deserted you, you may wonder why you bother at all. You may question all those hours spent on promotional activities on social media which appear to have absolutely zero impact on your follower numbers, blog hits, or sales. You may wonder if it’s worth bothering to submit yet another story to yet another competition only to hear nothing. You may not want to “get out there” and network, but simply curl up on the sofa with a blanket over your head, reading other people’s stories instead.

It’s tempting. Just give up. Just go to work and spend the rest of your time like a normal human being doing normal “recreational activities”.

Except you’re not a normal human being, are you? You’re a writer. And, without asking, stories pop into your head and demand to be written. And when you look at all those books on your shelves, you want yours to be there too. And you keep looking at that motivational quote on your noticeboard:

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And you know it’s time to stop griping and get back to work. 😉

PS: If you have any tips for picking yourself up when things aren’t going quite so well, please pop them in the comments box. I’d love to hear them.

 

 

 

 

 

Christmas Gifts for Writers

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So it’s Christmas time again
Black Friday deals are rife
And you’re wondering what to buy
For the writer in your life

In the past you’ve tried all sorts
‘How-to’ books, diaries, pens,
Fancy paper, post-it notes
A writer’s mug (again!)

But the best gift is often simple
You might not even have to buy it
Arrange to give them space and time
To write in peace and quiet

Nag them when they’re lazy
Cheer them up when they’re dejected
Give them wine and cuddles
When their stories get rejected

And when their book is published
Spread the word of their debut,
Buy a copy for yourself
Leave an honest, fair review

Tell all your friends who care to hear
And then tell all the rest
And I guarantee your writer
Will think you are the best!

 

 

PS: Socks are also good! :0) xx

Terry Pratchett’s advice for aspiring writers

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The English Department at my secondary school did a lot of things to inspire my literary ambitions – one of which was to invite the late Terry Pratchett to come and give a talk about his writing experiences. Imbued with a heady idealism about writers and writing, I hoped Mr Pratchett (he wasn’t a Sir back then) would regale us with tales of the creative process, and somehow pass on some magic pearls of wisdom which would instantly enable us to plunge into our own rich world of creativity and become best-selling authors too. When I bravely stuck up my hand and asked him for his top piece of advice for aspiring authors, he said, “Get a word processor.” To say I was disappointed would be an understatement.

Now, of course, I realise that this was jolly good advice. Even if my 17 year old ears did not wish to hear about the mundane mechanics of the writing process (I’m not quite sure what I had expected his answer to be – other than magic – but it was presumably something to do with inspiration not perspiration), now I’m….ahem….somewhat more mature, I have come to appreciate the importance of “creative hardware”. In order to write at the simplest level you need a pen and paper, but in order to write with even a semblance of professionalism, you need much more.

One of the many things which I probably took for granted in my teenage days was the space and time to write. A desk is great, a room better, but even a corner of the dining table (or if you prefer more comfort, a sofa with lots of cushions!) is perfectly fine as long as you have a period of uninterrupted time. Writers can be very inventive when it comes to finding time – after all, we all have the same number of hours in the day and we all, to some degree, choose how to use those precious hours – if it’s important to you, you’ll find the time (even if it means cutting corners elsewhere).

Next comes something to write with – and if you intend to submit work for publication, nowadays that inevitably means a laptop or computer. Honing your typing, spelling, punctuation and grammar, editing, and typesetting skills is also a must. Added to which, these days a working knowledge of email and the internet, including the use of software such as “Submittable” is a necessary part of modern writing. And that’s before you begin to engage with social media to communicate with other writers, and promote your work. Talking of which – another thing which is impossible to do without nowadays is a reliable internet connection (try running a virtual book promo when it takes 20 minutes to pick up each new message).

I did subsequently take Mr Pratchett’s advice, and got an Amstrad 8256 (oh, what a joy after my old typewriter!), which made me feel like a real writer, even though I most definitely wasn’t. It didn’t, of course, make me write. No gadget or gismo can help with that in the long term but, as they say, a workman is only as good as his tools. If you are going to write, you need the right basic equipment.

Sir Terry, you were right all along. And for that, a belated thank you.

amstrad-8256

 

 

The Brown Envelope of Doom

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The postman’s come too early
Before I’m quite prepared
I hear the clunk
My heart has sunk
Can’t look – I’m just too scared

There was me starting to think
This story had a chance
Success, good news
And rave reviews
And a six figure advance!

The envelope’s now battered
It lies there on the mat
The fold I made
Clearly displayed –
The boomerang is back

I sigh and read the letter
It’s short and oh so clear:
Not right for us
Don’t make a fuss
Good luck in your ‘career’

Update submission tracker
Compose a witty tweet
I’ll count to ten
And start again
And I won’t admit defeat!

 

 

 

 

Authors for Nepal 2015

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Following today’s shocking news of a second earthquake in Nepal, there’s an even greater need for fundraising for the relief effort.  What better way to donate to this cause than by bidding on one of the many great items on offer at http://www.ebay.co.uk/usr/authorsfornepal2015  – you could win a signed book, or even a character named after you in someone’s next novel!

Thanks to the generosity of so many writers who’ve donated their books or services, so far Authors for Nepal has already raised over £10,000, and there’s still lots left to bid on over the next few days. If you’re looking for inspiration – either in the form of a host of good books, or some expert assistance from an editor or agent, take a look at what’s on offer.

I’ve been lucky enough to win a critique and mentoring from Claire Dyer, author of The Perfect Affair http://www.clairedyer.com/  Am absolutely delighted – and not a little scared too, since this of course means I’ve got to finish the novel… Watch this space! ;0)