Thank you so much to everyone who contacted me with a suggestion for the title of my forthcoming equestrian themed story collection. I spent lots of time collating them and considering each one. Some I had to discount because they were more appropriate to a different kind of story (e.g. dressage or racing – neither of which feature in the collection). Others (including one or two I really liked) I had to rule out as when I checked, I found something similar had been used before. Whilst there’s no copyright on titles specifically, it would be more difficult to market a book which could be easily confused with another book, TV programme, website, etc.
I’ve narrowed it down to four possibles at the moment, and have set up a poll via PollJunkie.com to gauge which you like best. Here are the choices and the reasons behind them:
“A Friend at the Paddock Gate” – this collection is meant to be about the relationship between horses and the people who own them, ride them, or look after them. Yes, human relationships are also explored, but the horses are essential to the stories. So this title is attempting to reinforce the idea of the horse as partner and friend in the person’s life. Does it sound a bit twee though? Other variations could include simply “At the Paddock Gate”.
“Trotting On” – I liked this suggestion because it’s short and simple so will look good on a cover. It would also be great if I wanted to write a second collection, which could then become “Cantering On” etc.
“Haven’t you Grown out of Horses by Now?” – I’m a fan of Jon McGreggor, especially his short story collection “This isn’t the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You”, so I was channeling his use of long quirky titles when I came up with this one. It’s also something that has been said to me in the past! The plus side is having “horses” in the title, the down side is the difficulty with the cover design!
“Still Horse Mad, Huh?” – in a similar vein to the above, but not quite so wordy. If I wrote another collection, it could possbily be “Still Horse Mad too?” (geddit!)
Whichever title I go with, there will be a sub-title explaining this is a short story collection for grown-ups.
If you’d like to vote, please do so via “Poll Junkie” (which means I can collate the responses across numerous platforms!) – the link is here. You have until next Sunday (9th August 2020) to vote. The poll also allows you to make an optional comment if you have another brilliant suggestion.
If you’re reading this blog, it’s either because you’re a short story fan (writer, reader or both), and/or you quite like seeing the occasional photo of a horse! So, my dear readers, I need the benefit of your advice and opinions.
The current work-in-progress is a collection of short stories aimed at horse mad grown-ups who were avid readers of pony books as a kid, and would now like to read something which still addresses the horse-mad bit, but which better reflects the concerns of an adult rather than a child or teenager. Don’t get me wrong – I still re-read Ruby Ferguson’s Jill books, Patricia Leitch’s Jinny series, and Monica Dickens’ Follyfoot and others, and they are still marvellous – but it’s great to be able to read realistic adult horse stories. I wish there were more available – particularly set in the UK.
Anyway, there are two things I need your advice on. One is the cover, but that’s only at the ‘vague thoughts’ stage, so we’ll put that to one side for the moment. My current issue is…the title.
I admit, I’m fairly rubbish at titles. Occasionally something brilliant will occur to me, but in the vast majority of cases, I struggle. (A couple of the stories in this WIP don’t yet have titles, let alone the collection as a whole.) With my three previous collections, I’ve simply chosen one of the story titles to be the book title. In each case, the collections were specifically themed, which is why I think this was a sensible approach. With the horse-stories collection, the theme is obviously the horses, but within that, they are quite varied, and I’m not sure that any of the individual story titles will adequately reflect the book as a whole.
So, I’ve pondered equestrian themed titles which might be suitable – and the main problem is they’ve all been done to death. I quite liked “Back in the Saddle” to reflect the idea of someone older getting back into horses and riding again – but a quick search on Amazon shows there are already hundreds of books with this title (notwithstanding that some of them are indeed ‘adult themed’ in a way I don’t mean!). “Riding Lessons” was another possible, but of course that would have exactly the same problem (there are double entendres aplenty in the horse world which doesn’t help!) and to be honest, it sounds a bit dull. All the exciting sounding things like “Flying Changes” have been done to death. There are loads of interesting racing-related terms, but I haven’t written any racing-related stories, so they wouldn’t be applicable. “Faded Rosettes” makes it sound like all the stories are going to be sad and reflective, which isn’t the case.
So, I’m stuck.
At the moment, the book consists of eight or nine stories, of varying lengths (including two relatively meaty ones). All but one has a female protagonist, and they have a reasonable range of settings – horse owners, non-horse-owners, characters who have a horse at livery, characters who complete, etc. There’s an element of love interest in one or two but lots of other themes too. Some are light-hearted, but one in particular….well, it made me cry when I wrote it.
If you are a whizz with titles, or simply mad about horses, and can think of something which sounds intriguing, appropriate, and not smutty, I’d be really grateful for any suggestions. Because right now this is proving to be harder than writing the actual stories!
Writers often talk about imposter syndrome – the gnawing self-doubt that continues to make even successful, published authors still question their ability. And since many of us oscillate between loving and hating everything we write, it’s all too easy in the low points to feel like a complete fraud. There are plenty of times when I’ve been writing something for this blog without having actually written any fiction for months. And I find myself looking at the blank page and thinking “What right do I have to write about writing if I’m not actually writing?”
Over lockdown I’ve found myself being a whole different kind of imposter. Words have been flowing from my pen (ok, ok, poetic license – from my keyboard) and the equestrian-themed story collection for grown-ups (not a catchy title….need to come up with one of those too!) is growing apace. So what’s the problem?
During lockdown I’ve not so much as thrown a leg over my horse. I’ve taken him for a few walks. Spent a bit of quality time with him, but haven’t actually ridden. All the while lots of my horsey friends are sharing photos on Facebook of all the stuff they’re getting up to. And there’s me writing about fictional characters riding, but not daring to do it myself.
I chose not to ride given it seemed an unnecessary risk during a pandemic. I made the choice for a good reason, but it still felt cowardly. And thus I was safe, I did not put any additional stress on the NHS, but for a long time I felt like a chunk of me was missing.
I’ve ridden since I was about 10, I’ve had a horse of my own since I was 28. I have British Horse Society qualifications and have even worked at a couple of riding schools. But, much like with writing, if I’ve not done it for a bit, I always end up feeling like all this experience is erased.
This weekend I decided enough was enough. I’d had his shoes put back on, it was time to get back on the horse! Yesterday I worked him on the lunge and sat on him for a few minutes, today I did a few minutes schooling in the paddock. It might have only been a few minutes, but I feel like I’m me again.
I often wish I was the kind of fearless, live-in-the-moment type, who didn’t constantly over-think everything. But then, maybe if I was like that, I wouldn’t be a writer? So, just in case, I’ll hang on to my neuroses!
I’ll probably ache tomorrow. But hopefully if I work on my stories, I’ll now feel like a genuine horsey person while I’m doing it! 😁
Yesterday, I spent a very happy day re-writing one of the children’s stories I originally wrote over 20 years ago. I had expected to type up the story (which I only had in hard copy) and as I typed, to make the necessary alterations to bring it up to date, and perhaps to go back and revisit an earlier paragraph or two as I changed something material. In the end, the further into the story I progressed, the less I looked at the original – or rather, I looked at it for the storyline, and then whole chunks I re-wrote from scratch. And the thing I found most incredible? How much I bloody enjoyed doing it!
I mention this because sometimes it can seem that writing becomes a bit of a chore. Much like a rather rubbish relationship which you continue to cling to more in desperation than hope, about 80% of the writing life is feeling guilty about not writing, or doubting one’s ability, or hating what you’ve written, or making yourself write when you don’t really feel like it. When you have the unusual combination of both the time and the desire to write, it truly is the best feeling. And that was how I felt yesterday. As I already had the storyline and characters worked out, all I had to do was write the story. And as I wrote, lots of additional ideas popped into my head. So the whole process was a joy. (I’ve not re-read it yet though, so of course, I could be unpleasantly mistaken about the quality of yesterday’s output!)
Anyway, having gone through this re-writing process, I thought I’d share with you some observations about the types of changes I needed to make:
1) Technology: This was one of the things I was aware I’d need to amend before I started. Things have moved on in the last 20-odd years. It’s largely impossible to write a story (especially one with a 13 year old heroine) which doesn’t make some reference to mobile phones, or the internet. The whole way society works now owes an awful lot to the way we can share information quickly and easily via computers and phones. (One of the stories in the original version of the collection has a girl using a phone box. A phone box? What’s one of those?!) There are a whole host of plot devices that have been rendered useless by the ubiquitous mobile phone – and a whole host of (often unconvincing) methods writers have employed to get around the problem. Clearly, there are plenty of storylines where they are not relevant, but to ignore them completely risks your story seeming unconvincing.
2) Attitudes and legislation: Society’s attitudes to class, race, political correctness, health and safety, etc. continue to evolve almost without you noticing, so that it comes as a surprise when you re-read something from 20 or 30 years ago and find yourself thinking “Ooh, that wouldn’t happen nowadays.” In the horse world for instance, gone are the days when kids habitually hung about at stable yards and worked in exchange for rides (as I did when I was a kid) – the requirement for, and conditions of, public liability insurance has done for that! Horses need to have passports now – and whilst it’s far from a foolproof system, it’s more complicated to buy a pony from an auction and save it from the meat man (again, as I’ve done back in the day!). There have also been changes to the way equestrian competitions are run, and the safety measures put in place.
3) Speech: Partly this is linked to No 2 above in that what is acceptable to say changes over time. But language itself is constantly evolving, again, often without you noticing. More specifically, these are children’s stories. I’m acutely aware that as someone who is 40-something-mumble, I’m not going to be up to date with children’s speech patterns. And even if I wrote authentic speech for 2020, in a year or two it will already feel out of date. So I find myself writing fairly anodyne dialogue, which is a bit depressing for someone who generally loves this aspect of writing.
4) Decimalisation: OK, OK, you may laugh. Decimalisation was introduced in the UK before I was born, so how could it cause a problem in stories I wrote 20 years ago? Because I’m writing about the horse world, which was very slow to adopt decimal measurement. Despite the fact I’m the product of the decimal age, and would use metres and centimetres for other measurements, in all things equine-related, I’m feet and inches all the way. I know what a 2 foot 6 jump looks like. I know what a 14.2hh pony looks like. I can’t instinctively picture a pony measuring 148cms, or a show jump at 80cms. Decimalisation has definitely reached the top level of equestrian sport – show jump heights are listed in centimetres, except for things like the Puissance at Olympia (the equivalent of a horsy high jump!) where they have to tell you the imperial measurement too, else you can’t ooh and ahh at how close to the record they are! But the everyday rider has been slow to abandon imperial measurement. I worked at a riding school a few years back, and even then the kids were OK with feet and inches for jumps, and hands for measuring ponies, but I’m aware that this is likely to change over time.
5) Names: in fairness, the original names I’ve used in these stories don’t seem terribly inspired to me, but I’ll be careful to amend them to something more appropriate. Much like the speech patterns, the idea is to use something which rings true now but won’t seem too dated in another 20 years.
Of course, there’s one thing that hasn’t really changed: the love that pony-mad kids have for their ponies. I feel pretty confident that I’ll be able to write about that authentically forever. 😉
I’ve posted before about the importance of writers’ groups. They bring together people from a range of backgrounds and levels of experience who would otherwise probably have little in common, and they are great for motivation – particularly in lockdown when each day feels inevitably rather similar!
I’ve been a member of several groups over the years, but my current one is the most long-standing (we’re just coming up to eight years now). Other than usually having a break in August (to accommodate holidays), and another over Christmas, we meet regularly throughout the year – ‘regularly’ having come to mean once a month on a Wednesday.
The March meeting had fortunately taken place just prior to lockdown. Soon after, it became evident that the April meeting would not be able to continue in its usual form. We were not actually going to ‘meet’. We quickly discussed other options, and settled on Skype as an alternative medium.
Our usual format is for each member to circulate a piece of writing in advance via email, giving everyone time to read and prepare comments on the work ready for the meeting – so no change was required in this respect.
On the appointed night, it took a couple of goes to get everyone on the call together, but now we’ve managed to achieve this, I assume future meetings will be easier to set up. As at a normal meeting, there was a fair bit of non-writing-related chitchat at the beginning as everyone settled in, and we established everyone was healthy and (reasonably) sane in these strange times. This allowed us to get used to the slightly different rhythm of a Skype meeting as opposed to a physical one.
We are lucky in that, as a group of only five members, we fit perfectly onto the Skype screen – the other four members of the group being displayed in a quarter of the screen each. Apparently Skype can accommodate up to 50 people at a time, but I imagine that lends itself better to business meetings with one people disseminating info at a time and the others listening, rather than a discussion involving everyone. Skype lets you manage the way you view the images for the group – so for example you could just focus on the person speaking. But, for our group, the standard layout worked perfectly.
From our experience I would note the following pros and cons:
You don’t need a venue! When the group was first set up and was much larger, we used to meet in a village hall. Over time, most of the original group stopped attending, and the few of us who remained kept it running by taking it in turns to host in our own homes. This works absolutely fine as we all live relatively close together – but if you want to run a meeting with people from a wider geographical location, Skype is definitely worth considering.
It’s free! We initially considered “Zoom” but discounted it because Zoom only allows 40 minutes’ worth of meeting time before you have to start paying a fee. (Back in the day when we used to meet at the village hall, there was, of course, a small hiring fee.)
We were able to schedule the meeting at a more convenient time because there were no travel arrangements to consider.
Between us, we were using a range of devices – phones, tablets and laptops. As I was using my phone for the Skype call, I was able to have my laptop on the desk in front of me during the call. This meant that when my piece came up for discussion, I could have the document on screen and make corrections and amendments as they were suggested by the group members – rather than having to make notes on paper and correct them electronically afterwards (when I inevitably miss something that was said).
There were occasional breaks in signal and one moment where we appeared to lose half of the group (visually anyway), and on occasions there was a little bit of audio feedback which was distracting. But this was a minor inconvenience, and didn’t really cause too many problems.
Given the slight time lag, some social cues get lost, which occasionally ends up with two or more members of the group talking over one another – or conversely, a gap where no-one dares speak! We got better at this over the course of the meeting.
You lose some of the nuances of conversation – perhaps there are things that are not said, gestures and jokes that are not picked up on – the small asides, and one-to-one comments are lost. It’s just not the same as sitting around a table together.
I’d half expected the meeting to be much shorter than usual given it wouldn’t feel so natural and comfortable as a physical meeting and might be more tiring. In fact, in wasn’t wildly dissimilar, and we’d been enjoying the discussion so much, I’d not been aware of the time.
Overall, I think we kept more to the point (we often get side-tracked into non-writing related topics in our face-to-face meetings) and it was interesting that one normally quite quiet member of the group was much more vociferous on screen! Overall, I think we are all so socially starved at the moment that we appreciated the meeting that little bit more than we usually would. Even for writers, as the old BT ad used to say, “It’s good to talk!”
Amongst other things, lockdown has encouraged us to spring clean, soul search, and re-order our lives – and for me this has included all things writing-related. Whilst I’ve been disappointingly unproductive in terms of new fiction, I have been looking through some of my old files, and am quite startled about how much I’ve written over the last 30 years. I think of myself as a fairly slow, sporadic writer. There are plenty of authors who can create a book a year, every six months, some even (gasp!) every month! Me, well, as you can see, in terms of actual quantifiable output, there’s a handful of published stories, some competition successes, three short story collections, and a how-to book. I’m not exactly taking the world by storm.
But there’s lots more tucked away in computer files, or on curly-edged A4 left over from the MA or various writing group projects over the years. And after much searching I found a fat, battered old envelope from over 20 years ago: my first attempt at a short story collection.
These are pony stories aimed at aimed at children aged around 9-12 (middlegrade in the US). They include a couple of stories published back in the day by PONY magazine, and six others which are longer and more developed. They’re pretty old-fashioned – no mobile phones or other modern tech obviously (and in some cases this would probably make the storyline incomprehensible or unbelievable to an average 10 year old in today’s world). A couple make me cringe a bit – some need a good edit, some need re-writing, some probably aren’t salvageable. But while I’m in lockdown, I figure I may as well have a look at them. In the 1980s, I was happily reading stories written in the 50s and 60s – times change, but horses and horse-mad kids remain fundamentally the same – so I’d like to see if there’s something worth saving.
Just for the record though, this does not mean I’ve given up on my current horse-stories-for-grown-ups project! That’s still in the pipeline: watch this space! 😉
If you’ve spent any time on social media lately, it’s likely you’ve found examples of blossoming creativity. The people you know – even those who hitherto seemed not to possess the slightest inclination – are suddenly proudly showing examples of their home baking, DIY, crochet, drawing, painting, etc. etc.
It’s fantastic that one of the (perhaps unexpected) positives to come out of lockdown is our heightened desire to make stuff. Perhaps this is down to people finding they have a little more time on their hands. (There’s only a finite number of hours you can binge-watch Netflix after all.) Perhaps it’s because so many normal pastimes are suddenly out of bounds. Whatever, I am in awe of the creative things people have done, and the diverse ways they’ve managed to achieve something meaningful despite the current restrictions imposed upon us.
But what if you’re normally a creative person and you suddenly find yourself struggling? I’m definitely falling into this category. Yes, I have more time on my hands. Yes, this would be the perfect time to be writing lots! Am I writing lots? Erm….I’m getting loads of gardening done…. but writing? No.
Ok, so I dashed off a few silly rhymes (they are currently housed on the “Virus Verses” page of this blog). And I’m reading quite a bit (which is in itself a joy) but the short story writing is not going well. I’ve tried to just MAKE MYSELF WRITE – and yes, I managed 3,000 words recently. But they are such dull words, even I’m bored writing them – so I definitely couldn’t inflict them on a reader!
Previous experience tells me this won’t last. If you’re stuck, it’s a matter of generating some momentum somehow. Sometimes you need an external goal to aim for. If you write short stories, flash fiction or poetry, the Hysteria Writing Competition 2020 is now open. You have until 31st August to submit your entry – and this year (owing to the Coronavirus) entry is free – so you have nothing to lose! You can find out more about the different categories, prizes, and all the rules here.
If you’d like to find out a bit more about the founder of the competition, Linda Parkinson-Hardman, you can read my interview with her from a couple of years ago here. After taking a turn as one of the short story judges for Hysteria, I wrote Short Story Competitions: A Writer’s Guide to Success which is based on my experiences as both a judge, and as a competition entrant (failed and successful!). If you’re a novice at short story comps, and feel you could do with some guidance, the book is available this week for just 99p.
If you too are struggling with writing during lockdown, please share your experience in the comments below. Conversely, if you’ve been brilliantly productive and would like to share what you’re achieved, please feel free – so that I can be green with envy! And whichever camp you fall into, please stay safe in these troubling times.
My current writing project is a collection of equine-themed short stories for grown-ups. I know there are hundreds of (now middle aged!) people like me who were horse-mad and avid pony book fans when they were kids. Were you one of them? Did you live for your weekend riding lessons, and hang about at the yard as often as you could, helping out in return for the odd free ride? (Those were the joyful days when such a thing was possible – before legislation changed, and yards couldn’t risk unaccompanied minors being on their premises.) Were you lucky enough to have a pony of your own, or perhaps one on loan, or maybe you exercised a pony for someone else? Did you hack to the odd show? (No-one had a trailer then!) Did you enter a few jumping classes? (Jumping was all the rage when I was a kid – no-one did dressage – how times change.) Or did you have one of those super-quick ponies who was brilliant at gymkhana games? Maybe you just rode out for miles without an adult keeping watch over you – remember that?
Or did you do none of this – did you just read about other kids doing all these things in the hundreds of pony books you could get your hands on? Did you dream of horses all the time? Did you keep an imaginary pony in the back garden? When you were in the backseat of the car and you passed a horse and rider, did you gaze wistfully out of the window and wish that was you?
Well, if any of the above applies to you, I need your help!
I want to know about your horsy dreams as a grown-up. Do you still ride? Did you achieve the dream and have a horse of your own? Did you go one step further and end up working with horses or riding professionally? Do you still love it like you did when you were a kid? Is the magic still there? Do you still feel that absolute passion and longing to be with horses like you did when you were a kid?
Or did you end up never riding? Or only as a child and you gave up as an adult? Do you keep promising yourself that you’ll give riding another go someday, but you never seem to have the time? Do you still drive past horses and riders and gaze at them wistfully? Or have you “grown out of it” as I suspect my parents expected me to do?
I’m part way through writing my collection of stories – but I’m worried I’m writing only for me. I’ve been horse-mad since I was about eight years old. I’ve been a wistful ponyless kid, I’ve loaned and borrowed ponies in the past. I had to wait until I was 28 before I got my first pony! I’ve done a bit of competing, but not much. I’ve even worked at a riding school for a couple of years. But I know there’s loads more horsy tales to be told. I’d love to know the kind of horsy stories you’d like to read – what resonates with you as a horse-mad adult?
If you’d like to tell me what being a horse-mad grown-up means to you, either pop something in the comments below or, if you prefer, drop me an email at email@example.com. I can’t wait to hear from you.
I’m not bad at sitting quietly in my “writing office”, on my lonesome, transferring the content of the world-in-my-head onto my laptop. When I’m in the right mood, I’m not bad at typesetting what I’ve written into a format that will successfully upload to Amazon KDP. I’ve even been enough of a grown up to find a professional to do my cover designs so my short story collections have a fighting chance of looking the part when they’re shoulder to shoulder with all the other eBooks out there. But I’m willing to concede that I’m pretty rubbish at the marketing and promotion side.
From articles I’ve read, and podcasts I listen to, I know I’m not alone. The kind of person who likes spending lots of time alone creating stuff quietly in their own space is not predisposed to then shout about it from the rooftops. Plus I’m British. We don’t like to blow our own trumpets. It’s hard to tell the world about something you’ve created without sounding like you’re bragging. To be honest, I’ve probably got friends and colleagues who don’t even know I write, so Blackadder was onto something when he said, “You might at least have told us you had a trumpet!”
So, consider this a polite cough to get your attention. I’ve got a new short story collection coming out soon. If you’d like to know when it’s available, and if you’d like a sneak preview of the cover, please sign up for my mailing list (and I promise you won’t be inundated with emails – I’ll only contact you when I want to let you know about something, or if I’d like to ask your opinion – and I won’t share your data with anyone else). And if you’re not sure if my stories are for you, then please download my mini collection The Camel in the Garden which is FREE this weekend.
One of the great conundrums of the modern age is that despite all the technology which has been developed, and despite all the labour-saving devices we have in our homes, we appear to have less and less time. How can this be?
Well of course, we still have exactly the same amount of time as we’ve always had. Those 24 hours won’t grow or shrink. It’s what you do with them that counts. So, yes you can get up at ridiculous-o’clock to squeeze in a few more useful hours. You can multi-task up to a point. You can choose to stop doing certain tasks to devote the time to something more important (see Kath McGurl’s Give Up Ironing book for more ideas on this approach!). And you can stop getting distracted.
I’m not a big TV fan – and you’ll absolutely never hear the words “box set” pass my lips in the context of losing a whole weekend watching 400 episodes of some show or other. (I am the person who can’t take part in office discussions about Game of Thrones etc.) But I am totally addicted to the internet, particularly because of my smart phone. I love YouTube videos which help me improve the way I ride my horse. I can lose hours googling random facts, or watching amusing or tear-jerking videos on Facebook. I’m also plagued by a kazillion emails (many from all the great writing-related websites I’ve signed up to). And I think this is the route of the time problem we all face. Whether smart-phone-related or not, there is simply too much information out there for our brains to process. So, I’ve decided I need to be more selective.
Before I had a smart phone, I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. People had managed perfectly well for centuries without such a gadget. It was just a silly fad. Now? It’s an integral part of pretty well every aspect of my life. Its alarm gets me up in the morning, and the sleep app tells me how long and how well I’ve slept the night before (last night was amazing – 8h 4mins – almost a record!). My running podcast takes me through my morning’s run, and the health app monitors my steps/distance travelled. On my way to and from work, I listen to a writing (or sometimes horse riding) related podcast – at the moment, I’m checking out the backlist of The Creative Penn which is amazingly informative about the indie author world – and also very entertaining.
This week is National Short Story week, and my smart phone has been invaluable in helping me advertise my two short story ebooks The Camel in the Garden and Beyond Words, which have been on special offer. Using my phone has enabled me to access Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, post photos and links, join in discussions, to post and comment on this blog and, of course, keep track of downloads – at any time, not just when I’m at home at my writing desk.
But I need to get better at sifting online information, saving the important bits (such as story competition info) and managing it in a way which means I won’t overlook it later.
If you have any top tips on the way you manage this process, please share them in the comments below. I will be eternally grateful!
And if you’re the sort of really organised person who has arranged their life so efficiently that you have an afternoon free for a spot of reading, Beyond Words is still half-price for the remainder of this weekend. 🙂