Category Archives: Uncategorized

Ode on an Impending Deadline

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I have to write a story
The deadline’s put me on the spot
But I haven’t got a title
And I haven’t got a plot

My characters are shadows
Their motivations weak
The dialogue is stilted –
That’s not how people speak!

The word-count’s looking healthy
But all I’ve done is set the scene
It’s backstory and padding –
I’m the exposition queen!

The tale needs some drama
We need to feel the MC’s yearning
So the empathetic reader
Will keep those pages turning

It also needs some pace
Scene changes! Witty repartee!
‘Cos frankly at the moment
It’s boring even me

My writing tutor’s voice
In my head shouts “Show don’t tell”
Perhaps I’ll draw a picture
It would probably work as well

I’d wait for inspiration
But it never comes on time
So perhaps I’ll ditch the story
And just write a little rhyme!

 

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3 Stand-out Short Stories

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I love the short story. Don’t get me wrong – I love reading novels, sinking into a good book, immersing myself in another world, in another character’s head. But these days we live in such a rush, the day carved up into tiny slivers of time, that getting the opportunity to immerse oneself in a good book is often pretty tricky. A short story or two over a lunch break, or during the commute, can be more rewarding than a few pages of a novel.

There’s a great article here: http://electricliterature.com/let-us-now-praise-famous-short-story-writers-and-demand-they-write-a-novel/ about the relative unpopularity of short stories. And it’s true that even in discussion at my local writing groups, the novel tends to be preferred over the short story. But I would argue that there are some powerful short stories out there which will haunt you long after you’ve read them, and which prove the genre is just as worthy as the novel. Here are three examples of such stories:

1) ‘We Wave and Call’ by Jon McGregor. (from the collection This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You  https://www.amazon.co.uk/This-Isnt-Thing-Happens-Someone/dp/1408830388

Disturbing and beautifully written. A young man is snorkelling in the sea whilst holidaying with friends. The rest of his party leave the beach to head back to the hotel, but he elects to stay a little longer and swims out a little further. He can see his friends as they wend their way back up the hillside along the coast, and he reflects on various moments from the last few days as he swims. And then he realises he’s out further than he thought, and he’s getting tired. He imagines telling the story of his narrow escape that evening when he’s back sharing a cold beer with the others. And all the while, he’s trying to swim back to shore and getting a little more tired, muscles aching. The image of this lad alone in the sea, watching his friends walking further and further away, but not able to get their attention, has stuck with me ever since I read this story – especially when I’m swimming! The story captures the moment perfectly, sickeningly perfectly.

2) ‘Playing Sandwiches’ by Alan Bennett (from the Talking Heads series)

I’m a huge Alan Bennett fan. His characters are rich and varied and wholly realistic. The mix of humour and pathos in his writing means that as a reader (or listener, or member of an audience – depending on the medium) you come away both deeply moved and fabulously entertained…and sometimes wincing inwardly. Within the Talking Heads series there are several stories which stand out for me. I love the painful missed opportunity in ‘The Hand of God’ and the building tension in ‘The Outside Dog’, but arguably the most disturbing of the series is ‘Playing Sandwiches’, in which the protagonist is a paedophile. If anyone is in any doubt about whether a short story can achieve anything like the power of a novel, I would suggest this is all the proof you need. Even in the short form, we are drawn completely inside Wilfred’s world as he battles to live a normal life under an assumed name, working as a maintenance man at the local park. We watch with horror, yet we watch all the same.

3) ‘The Octopus Nest’ by Sophie Hannah (from The Fantastic Book of Everybody’s Secrets)

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Fantastic-Book-Everybodys-Secrets/dp/0954899547 but also available as a stand-alone download: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Octopus-Nest-Sophie-Hannah-chiller-ebook/dp/B00PPH5KSA

In her novels, Sophie Hannah proves she is a master of ramping up the tension and keeping the reader turning those pages. This particular story shows that she is also a master of the twist in the tale. As a general rule, I’m not a huge fan of this style of story – it’s all too easy to end up feeling somehow cheated. Either the twist is too obvious and can already be guessed, or it’s too obscure and therefore not quite credible. This story strikes the perfect balance. With its domestic setting, it still manages to be a disturbing tale of stalking (the heroine becomes aware that a strange woman appears in the background of all the family’s holiday snaps). The ending is both a revelation and completely satisfying – what more could you ask for in a short story?

If you have other short stories that stand out for you, please share them in the comments below. In the meantime, I humbly offer my own collection of short stories Beyond Words (available as an eBook in the Amazon Kindle store: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Beyond-Words-short-stories-deception-ebook/dp/B01JWLPKW0/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8 ) which features 12 stories which have achieved success in a variety of competitions. I hope you enjoy them, and continue to be inspired by the short story form.

How to Get a Short Story Collection Published (a variation on the traditional method)

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Most short story writers are all too well aware that it’s hard to get a collection of short stories published via a traditional route. Publishers (and therefore agents too) want full length novels which give them an outside chance of making some money in today’s competitive market. If you’re an established writer, with a string of novels behind you, the situation might be different. But what if you want to support the very small presses which supported you when you started out on your writing journey?

David Belbin, one of the lecturers on my Creative Writing MA at Nottingham Trent, is best known for his young-adult novels (including Love Lessons, which I picked as one of the books for a reading group I attended years ago, long before even considering doing an MA), but he is also a short story writer, and his new and collected stories (18 in all) were published this summer by Shoestring Press. The book was available to pre-order at a discounted price prior to publication – and subscribers are listed in the back of the book. Subscribers obviously benefit from the discount (and a sort of ego-massaging pleasure from seeing their name appear at the back of the book!), and the Press benefits by gaining a number of guaranteed sales and being able to make an informed decision on the print run. Clearly the success of the venture is dependent on getting the word out – and David, as an established writer, is best placed to achieve this. But it’s an interesting strategy – and if it means a greater number of short story collections make it into print, let’s hope it’s used again in the future. David says, “It’s important to support small presses and the work they do. I’d like to thank Shoestring and the editors of every small magazine and anthology that has published my work since the very beginning of my writing career, now in its 27th year. These days, when big publishers tend to concentrate on potential best-sellers, we need them more than ever.”

Provenance is available from the Shoestring Press: http://www.shoestring-press.com/2016/04/provenance/   Unlike David’s other books, I don’t think you’ll find it on Amazon – and though there may be an eBook version in the future, this probably won’t be through Shoestring, who seem very traditional by nature.

 

Beyond Words – Official Launch Saturday 13th August

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My new short story collection, Beyond Words, is now available as an eBook from the Amazon Kindle store here. When I say ‘new’ in fact this collection has taken some time to put together and is composed of some of my favourite stories from the last four or five years. Each story has had some kind of competition success, having been either short-listed, long-listed, highly commended or placed – and at the back of the book is a list of the corresponding competition details.

If you’re itching to get your hands on the collection now (can you technically get your hands on an ebook?), there’s nothing to stop you heading over to the Amazon eBook store right now, but I hope you’ll visit this blog, or my Facebook author page, on Saturday morning between 10am – 1pm for the official e-launch. (And I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the rather temperamental internet connection in our new home will hold up for the duration – otherwise there may be an embarrassing lack of host in evidence!)

See you on Saturday! 🙂

New Home, New County, New Collection!

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Forgive my long e-absence! I can explain! You see, it’s been all change here, with a house move and indeed a county move (well, more accurately, a return to a previous county). As you can imagine, the upheaval left little time for all things writing-related, but now we are settled in our new home, I hope to be back on track.

I have though been working on my next short story collection which will be published on Kindle – this time, it’s a longer collection of 12 short stories, each of which has had some success (long-listed, short-listed, highly commended or placed) in a range of writing competitions. The collection includes a variety of narrative voices, genres and styles, but the stories have been selected to fit loosely around the themes of love, death and deception. As you might guess, some are on the dark side, whilst others have a more humorous slant.

Once again, I have a super cover designed by Shar at Landofawes (find her on Fiverr.com) – which I feel I can now reveal! After rejecting my original idea (too complicated, too difficult to translate concept into reality), between us we came up with the image below. The medal image was chosen for three reasons:

  1. to reflect the idea of each of the stories having been successful in a competitive way – even if not all of them have actually been placed in competitions;
  2. the heroine in one of the stories is a runner, and the image of her medal collection occurs in the story; and of course
  3. the launch of the collection coinciding with the 2016 Olympics!

So here it is:

FINALBeyondWords

I’d love to know what you think.

 

 

 

 

Kindle Instant eBook Previewer

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Most of us are familiar with the ‘Look Inside’ feature on Amazon, where you can preview the first few pages of an eBook before buying. It’s a great idea – after all, in a bookshop you’d look at the cover, read the blurb, and then the next thing you’re likely to do is flick to the first page and read a paragraph or two to get a feel for the author’s style, and judge whether or not the story might appeal to you.

Now you can add this feature to your own webpage – you simply go to the Amazon page of the book you want to share, and scroll to the bottom right hand corner, and you’ll find a feature (see below, circled in red).

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If you click on this, it takes you to a new page where you can copy the URL for use on your own web pages.  I’ve tried it out on this blog on my “The Camel in the Garden” page.

If you’re interested, it can also be a way of earning advertising revenue on your page, but for most authors, it’s simply a useful extra feature to help showcase their work.

 

Pens of Erdington Competition Results – Sneak Preview!

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As you may have gathered, this year I’ve been concentrating on writing competitions rather than subbing to the magazine market (though I’ve done a little of the latter too).  After a dismal start with little to show for my efforts, I had begun to doubt the wisdom of this strategy – but as we all know, writing teaches you nothing if not patience, and the second half of the year has proved to be much more rewarding.

The results of the Pens of Erdington 2015 creative writing competition will be officially announced at an event at Erdington Library on Saturday 12th December, but I happen to know one of the winners – yes, me!

To say that I’m chuffed would be an understatement (I did do a little dance around the kitchen when I found out!).  Jan Watts, former Poet Laureate of Birmingham and the Judge of the shortlisted entries, has said some very encouraging things about my story, and I’m looking forward to meeting her on Saturday.

Competitions such as this one are great for giving focus to your writing, and they allow you to explore some writing styles which wouldn’t generally fit the magazine market.  (And I won’t deny, a win is a huge confidence boost.) I highly recommend trying your hand at a few. Writers’ Forum magazine has a competitions listing page, and there are several online lists such as www.writersreign.co.uk/short-story-competitions

If you’d like to find out more about Pens of Erdington, including their future competitions, visit them at  www.pensoferdington.wordpress.com

 

Success Beyond the Comfort Zone!

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Back in the day after leaving University, I remember a horrible few months of fruitless job searching, laboriously completing complicated multi-page application forms for various graduate training schemes for which I didn’t really have a hope of being chosen, and failing even to get a job on the check-outs at our local supermarket (an all time career low, it has to be said). Then late one evening, I discovered a form I’d forgotten about, lost in the detritus of my cluttered desk. It was for a lowly role in a large, prestigious organisation. If I was going to apply for the job, the application would have to go in the post the following day to have any chance of making the deadline. I almost didn’t bother, but in the end I just completed the form as quickly as possible, without any of the pen-chewing consideration I’d given to any of the other applications. Not only did I end up getting the job but, subsequently, it led to several promotions and me working for the umbrella organisation through a number of re-shuffles and mergers for the best part of 14 years. How glad am I that I didn’t simply chuck the form in the bin!

So what has this got to do with writing? Well, umpteen years later and here I am entering as many story competitions as I can in the hope of furthering my writing career. As a subscriber to Writing magazine last year, I was eligible for their new subscribers’ competitions – there was no doubt I’d enter the short story comp (indeed, I spent some time reviewing and selecting a suitable entry), but there’s also an annual poetry competition. Now, those of you who know me well will be familiar with the sort of poetry I write – it’s the kind which is appropriate to scribble in a birthday card to raise a smile.  A poet, I’m not.  Still, I’d written a poem as an exercise for one of my local writing groups. Feedback from the group had been positive so I decided to send it off.

Months went by and, unsurprisingly, I heard nothing. On my submission tracker, I marked the story submission as unplaced but I hadn’t even entered the poem on the tracker.  And then I had a call from Jonathan Telfor, editor of Writing magazine, telling me my poem had won the competition! Me? Win a poetry
competition? Surely there’s been some mistake?

I’ve waited until it’s appeared in print, just to be sure – but honestly, the October Issue of Writing, which is out now, includes the 2016 competition special along with Jackie Tritt’s winning short story, and my winning poem ‘The Midnight Demons’.   I couldn’t be more chuffed – particularly as Jonathan has written lots of lovely things about it in the judging comments.

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It seems as though all those years of attempting to pare back my prose and remove redundant words has paid off – albeit in a different genre. Thank you Writing magazine for encouraging me to widen my horizons!

‘Write-On!’ in Shropshire

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Annemarie Riggs from ‘Write-On!’, a writing group in Bayston Hill, kindly invited me to attend their Reading Evening which took place last night. The idea of the evening was to bring together Shropshire writers to share their work and meet fellow writers and readers. The event was well attended, and there were lots of great readings, both by members of the Write-On! group and other local writers.

The latter included children’s author, Catherine Cooper, whose fantasy adventure books are set firmly in the Shropshire landscape (for more info, visit her website: http://www.pengridion.co.uk/). Catherine has previously given a talk at one of our local writers’ group meetings, giving us the benefit of her experience writing and marketing the hugely successful Jack Brenin series. (Believe me, this is a writer who lives and breathes her work!)

Also reading a “PG” extract (!) from one of her paranormal romance novels, was Diane Saxon (http://dianesaxon.com/) who coincidentally will be coming to talk to our writers’ group in a couple of weeks.

Malcolm Castle entertained us with an extract from one of his humorous books based on his lengthy experience as a Shropshire fireman – beautifully read with some cracking accents! (See http://www.malcolm-castle.co.uk/ for more about the series.)

And then it was my turn. Gulp!  After all these slick professionals, it was me and a short story. I chose to read “Cheque Mate”, developed from an original POV exercise (which also spawned “Piece of Cake”, published a while back by The Weekly News). And thankfully, the audience seemed to enjoy it – at least, they laughed in all the right places, and clapped at the end, which I think I can safely regard as positive feedback!

So, I’d like to thank Annemarie and everyone who attended for an interesting and entertaining evening.  Looking forward to the next one in October. 🙂

NB: In addition to the reading evenings, “Write-On!” meets at 7.15pm on the 4th Monday of every month in the lounge of the Beeches pub in Bayston Hill.

Inspiration and Perspiration!

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Have just returned from the Lake District, where we were lucky enough to have enjoyed a week of sunshine – almost impossible to believe, I know, but the weather gods were smiling on us!

The area is, of course, well-connected in literary terms.  We saw Wordsworth’s birthplace in Cockermouth, his school in Hawkshead, and drove past dear old Dove Cottage many times on our various jaunts.  We also visited Hill Top Farm – Beatrix Potter’s first property purchase in the Lakes. (Have to say, I feel more empathy with a writer who later turned to farming and sheep breeding – she sounds like a woman after my own heart!)

So, was treading (or possibly, wandering) in the footsteps of these literary greats hugely inspirational? Probably not (though very enjoyable – and I did like Beatrix’s veg garden!).  Nor can I say I found soaking up the glorious scenery particularly inspirational either.  (In fact, I suspect I wouldn’t write much if I lived there, because I’d just be gazing at the view instead.)  But what was inspirational was the walking.  We climbed Latterbarrow from Hawkshead, Silver Howe from Grasmere, and later challenged ourselves with Great Gable and Skiddaw.  Walking (especially the sort which leaves you gasping for breath and feeling pain from muscles you didn’t know you had) is excellent for clearing the mind – and then in this fresh new space, ideas grow.

So I’ve come home with a few aches and pains, but also a huge feeling of accomplishment – as well as a short story drafted. All in all, a tremendous week.

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