Thursday, 20 December 2012

Does it count?

One of my goals is to be published in Mslexia, so I was thrilled to see my name in the current issue. Unfortunately they hadn’t chosen one of my short stories for their New Writing feature, they had only printed a comment I made on their blog. Oh well, it’s a start!

P.S. Mslexia are running a free prize draw for some very useful books for writers. Closing date 31st December. Find it by scrolling down to the bottom of their home page.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

NaNoWriMo – the end, or a beginning?

I gave up all hope of reaching the target 50,000 words of NaNoWriMo about halfway through November, but I kept writing right up until the evening of the 30th.

My final total was 23,791, not including some handwritten notes and all the words still churning about in my head! I confess that I couldn’t resist slowing down and doing a bit of editing as I began to see connections between random scenes and plot threads, but it was still a lot more words than I usually produce in a month of ‘normal’ writing.

Was it worth it?


By the end of NaNoWriMo I had the very rough outline of a new novel. 
I can’t call it a first draft because it’s so muddled, and padded out with a lot of waffle, but I’m confident there’s enough material there to shape into a respectable first draft. It has a definite beginning and ending, plot points to lead me through the middle and, most importantly, a cast of characters who are all very real to me.

I’ve saved the whole thing but I probably won’t look at it again for many months. I first need to get back to real life and catch up with everything I put on hold at the end of October. (I haven't even done my Christmas shopping yet!)

Saturday, 1 December 2012

Word of the week (7)


If only she’d had the gumption to use that word before!

(Wondering what my Word of the Week is about? Click here for an explanation.)

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Farewell, Friend

I was engulfed by a wave of nostalgia when I heard that the last British typewriter
has been made in the Brother factory in North Wales.

I remember, as a teenager, attending an evening class in typewriting because my mother was convinced a typing qualification would guarantee me a good job when I left school.

I remember the teacher playing a record of marching music on a gramophone (another piece of ancient technology), and slapping her hand on the desk as she called out the letters while we trainee typists tried to – press – the – right – keys – to – the – rhythm – of – a – brass – band

I remember struggling through a timed typing test as part of a job interview, and the relief I felt when I was told it was only a formality as the job mostly involved writing by hand.

I remember the sinking feeling I had when I read in the Writers & Artists Yearbook that magazine editors and publishers would no longer consider handwritten manuscripts. I had given up paid work on the birth of my first baby and even a second-hand typewriter seemed an unaffordable luxury.   

I remember the thrill, after months of scrimping and saving, when I became the proud owner of the cheapest portable typewriter I could find.

I remember the frustration of spending hours carefully typing out a short story only to discover I’d made a mistake! 

I remember how modern I felt when I swapped the manual typewriter for an electric word processor, and then how nonchalantly I gave them both away when I progressed to a personal computer!

I wouldn’t want to go back to the old days of carbon paper, stuck keys, and the messy business of changing ribbons, but discovering that the last British typewriter has been donated to London's Science Museum has made me wish I’d kept my little bit of history. 

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Word of the week (6)

What shall I call this strange, old woman who has wandered into my novel? An eccentric vagabond? An aging hippy? A tatterdemalion!

Sunday, 11 November 2012

NaNoWriMo progress (of sorts!)

Bad news: I’ve only managed an average of 701 words per day so far (I should be aiming for 1,666).

Good news: I think there might actually be the beginnings of a novel in here!

In accordance with the rules of NaNo, I began writing on November 1st with no plot, no title, no list of characters, and not even a particular genre in mind. Some kind of mystery perhaps? With a bit of romance? And some humour? Plus hints of the supernatural?

My starting point – eventually – was a vague idea about how two very different characters might meet each other for the first time. So I spent the first couple of days letting them introduce themselves to each other (and to me). Then I had a look around the place where they live, dropped in a ‘strange happening’, introduced another couple of characters, and worked out what they all think/ feel about each other – and why.

Now I’ve got to the stage where they all have problems to solve and I’ve lined up several more characters in the wings who will either help or hinder them. Best of all, I now know what the theme of the novel is and, very roughly, what needs to happen at the end. How I’m going to get to that end is something I have yet to discover.

Back in the real world …

At the same time, I’m also trying to follow the Guardian’s How To Write a Book in 30 Days series and that’s not going so well. Day 1 was supposed to be spent doing character sketches: detailed descriptions of each character including their histories, likes, dislikes, strengths, weaknesses etc. This seems a perfectly sensible idea for conventional novel-writing but in my NaNo novel I still have a lot of unanswered questions about my characters. For example, I haven’t even decided on all their names yet! But I have started a worksheet for each character and, as instructed, other worksheets for various settings and story threads, although they mostly consist of blank spaces and lots of question marks!

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Word of the week (5)

‘Of course I don’t begrudge EL James her fame and fortune,’ said the impoverished writer. ‘But I wish I’d thought of that!’

(Wondering what my Word of the Week is about? Click here for an explanation.)

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Just a note …

Although I would class my computer as an essential writer’s tool, I still do a lot of writing the old-fashioned way with paper and pen. I use:
  •  A4 pads of lined paper for very rough first drafts, research notes, character sketches and working out story plans
  •  A5 hardback books for jotting down story/ article ideas, fragments of dreams, funny signs, unusual words, surprising facts or anything else I find and want to keep because it might be useful or inspirational one day
  • Small notebooks with flexible covers that fit into my camera bag when I’m travelling light
 When I need to buy another notepad or book I only look for one thing – the price. The cheaper the better! I don’t care what colour the cover is, or if it has a brand name. I just want something I can fill with scribbles without having to worry about spelling mistakes and crossing-outs and doodles in the margin. Nobody else is going to see it.

But look what my sister gave me 

I love these little books with their embroidered covers – they’re just under 4 x 3 inches – but I have no idea what to do with them. They’re much too beautiful for ordinary writing.

They’re certainly books I want to keep, so perhaps I could fill them with some of my favourite poems or quotations. I’d have to use my best handwriting, of course.

The pages are made of smooth, unlined paper that would be perfect for drawings – or even miniature watercolours – although I don’t think my artistic skills would do them justice.  

An address book? Woe betide anyone who moved or changed their phone number because I wouldn’t want to make any alterations!

A mini travel journal? It would have to be to somewhere very special …

Until I decide, I’ve put them on display on a shelf. They’re too lovely to be shut away in a drawer.

Do you use notebooks? What kind? Do beautiful designer books inspire or inhibit your creativity? 

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Word of the week (4)

A phrase flittered through her head. She’d found a title for her NaNoWriMo novel!
(Wondering what my Word of the Week is about? Click here for an explanation.)


Thursday, 25 October 2012

Word of the week (3)

The flamboyant signature on the publishing contract was unmistakable.

(Wondering what my Word of the Week is about? Click here for an explanation.)

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

It’s that time of year again

To NaNoWriMo or not to NaNoWriMo? What a difficult question!

I’ve enjoyed tackling NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in the past but I had serious doubts about signing up for it this year. Will it be a creative opportunity I can’t afford to miss, or a waste of valuable writing time? Instead of trying to frantically churn out 50,000 words (most of which will be rubbish) wouldn’t it make more sense to spend November methodically finishing some of my current writing projects?

Last Friday, I was 99.9% decided not to do it …

… but on Saturday I saw The Guardian was launching a new series: How To Write a Book in 30 Days. How could I resist? Unlike NaNoWriMo, the Guardian plan isn’t about simply writing whatever comes into your head as fast as you can. It should be re-titled: How To Write a Detailed Outline for a Novel in 30 Days, and as I flicked through it I found myself thinking it had some good ideas in it, which led me to another idea ...

So, what will happen if I spend November alternating between the crazy, no-rules writing of NaNoWriMo and the logical step-by-step approach recommended by the Guardian?

I’m going to find out!        
Is anyone else planning to do NaNoWriMo this year? Or are you following the Guardian series?

(If you missed Saturday’s print Guardian, the 30 day writing series – including downloadable worksheets – is available on their website.) 

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Word of the week (2)

Her hopes of publication dwindled with each rejection.

(Wondering what my Word of the Week is about? Click here for an explanation.)

Saturday, 13 October 2012


I had to struggle to concentrate on the rest of my shopping list after overhearing this snippet of conversation in the supermarket:

         Woman:  D’you fancy salad tonight?
         Man:         Don’t mind.
         Woman:   I could put it on a plate for you.

My imagination had a wonderful time throwing up all sorts of questions and convoluted storylines …

Does she usually make him eat straight off the table to save washing-up?

Is he a health freak who likes to nibble his lettuce while it’s still growing in the garden?

Perhaps he’s a messy eater so she normally serves his food in a big bowl, but her snooty sister is coming round tonight and she desperately wants to make a good impression.

Did something traumatic happen the last time he had salad on a plate? Is he afraid of repeating the experience?

Maybe he works at night and takes sandwiches to eat at 2am, but she longs to send him off with a ‘proper’ meal, carefully arranged on a china plate. If he agrees, what will his workmates think? How will he carry it to work? Suppose he cycles there?        

So many stories from so few words, but I mustn’t start another one until I’ve finished some of my current ‘works in progress’. If you’re looking for an idea for a story or poem, please help yourself to this prompt. I'd love to know what you can make from it!

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Word of the week (1)

She felt like a fish out of water as she floundered about searching for the right word.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

A casual mistake?

Some people love it, some people hate it, but it’s no surprise that all the reviews I’ve seen of J.K. Rowling’s  The Casual Vacancy, the author's first novel for adults, compare it with her Harry Potter books. (Apparently the new book has no magic, unlikeable characters, lots of bad language, explicit sex and violence.)

It would have to be a very remarkable book indeed to match the success of the Harry Potter series but, because of the name on the cover, The Casual Vacancy  is destined to become a bestseller no matter what its literary merits. But I wonder how many people will buy a copy and be disappointed only because it is so different from HP.

I understand why J.K. Rowling wanted to write an adult novel. The excitement and challenge of creative writing is – or should be – all about experimenting with new subjects, different forms and styles. But as she is never going to be able to escape the ‘Creator of Harry Potter’ label, do you think she should have:

a)      stuck to what she knows is a winning formula
b)      published The Casual Vacancy under a pseudonym
c)      written an adult novel featuring a grown-up Harry Potter
d)      announced her retirement from writing

Saturday, 29 September 2012


A very welcome distraction this morning – back to the Realitas Art Group after the summer break. I had a lovely time catching up with everyone’s news, meeting a new member, enjoying the coffee and cake, having a look at some of the many new arts and crafts on show …

 … and I also managed to produce this very scrappy, unfinished watercolour of some conkers and oak leaves. Must try harder next time. 

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Who said what?

When it comes to quotation marks, I automatically use double marks (“ ”) to indicate direct speech because that’s what I was taught to do many years ago, but I know some writers and publishers prefer single marks. It’s one of the style points I check before submitting work to a particular magazine.

But it has never occurred to me to leave out quotation marks altogether.

So when I started reading The First Person and Other Stories by Ali Smith, and saw that she doesn’t use any type of quotation marks, I thought it was going to be hard going. But I quickly got used to her style – she uses the other conventional punctuation marks – and I only had to re-read a couple of sentences in the whole book because I briefly lost track of who was saying what.

I enjoyed Ali Smith’s stories, but this lack of quotation marks has left me with a dilemma. When I send off my next story should I delete the quotation marks?

If I do, will the editor say, Great! Here’s an exciting, modern writer, or, “This person obviously doesn’t know the basics of writing. I’m not going to waste my time reading beyond the first paragraph.”

Saturday, 22 September 2012

Naming names

I recently entered a writing competition in which stories had to be submitted under pseudonyms. Although I think anonymous judging is a good idea, choosing a pen name was surprisingly difficult. I tried anagrams of my real name, a nickname added to names of places where I’ve lived and occupations I’ve had, mixes of pets and children’s names – but I didn’t like any of them.

Brainwave! I could simply use some initials: A.B.C. That would be a truly anonymous name with no clues about my sex, age, nationality or anything else that might colour the judge’s view of my story.

Except …

If I was that judge I’d be wondering if A.B.C. stood for:

Amber Bella Chrystal
Arthur Basil Carruthers
Annie Beryl Chuddington
Antonio Baldassare Conti
Abigail Barton-Chorley
Archie Bob Cornstalk
Amy Bo Chan

Aaargh! Botheration! Claptrap!
I know exactly who all those A.B.C’s are. I can see and hear them quite clearly. I know their likes, dislikes and secrets. And now they’ll be pestering me to write their stories!

Note to writing competition judges
No, I didn’t use A.B.C. for my entry so if you come across those initials, it’s not me!
After much thought I chose what I hoped would be a very plain, ordinary, and forgettable name.

Do you use a pen name? How did you choose it?

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Working holiday

I’ve just enjoyed a wonderful week in Yorkshire. I promised myself a complete break from writing, so I left the laptop at home, but I did take my camera, sketchbook and a small notebook (for small, essential notes only).

I came back with:

  • 260 photos, some of which I’m hoping will be good enough to use for illustrating travel articles.
  •  a collection of guide books/ information leaflets to help me check the facts for those articles.
  •  a sketch map of the fictional village that is the setting for the adult novel I’m currently working on – it’s important I know exactly where the main characters live in relation to each other, what they can see from their windows, which routes they’ll take to the pub/ newsagents/ bus stop etc.
  •  floor plans of the main characters’ houses – is Graham’s study at the front or back?
  •  3 sketchbook pages filled with an outline, notes and the beginning of the first chapter of the third book in a series for children. (Okay, I know I haven’t finished the first book yet but this idea was too good to risk forgetting!)
  •  small notebook filled with: 
              dates, place names and brief descriptions of those places to help me label photos
              random thoughts and observations.
              article ideas prompted by quirky, puzzling, funny, inspiring things encountered.
              snatches of overheard conversations/ glimpses of other people’s lives that I might
              be able to weave into a story one day …
              a rhyming couplet that popped into my head one morning. (I don’t do poetry so
              have no idea where this came from or what I’m going to do with it!?)    

For most people a holiday means an escape from work, but for me it’s been a great source of fresh inspiration. If you are a writer, do you ever manage to ‘switch off’? 

Sunday, 2 September 2012

The best laid schemes

Why is it that just when you get your timetable organised and everything’s running smoothly to plan – the washing machine blows up?

Oh well, back to the scrubbing board!

Sunday, 19 August 2012

How to begin a blog?

How do you let the world know when your new blog is ready to take its place in the vast blogosphere?

               Should you  unveil it,

     announce it,

or create a global advertising campaign?



          Would it be best to launch it,   


      put the flags out,

or have a grand opening ceremony?

I think I’ll just quietly set sail and let my little blog drift where it wants ...

If you’re a blogger, how did you get started? 

Monday, 6 August 2012


You took me by surprise. I wasn’t expecting any visitors yet.  But you’re very welcome to come in and have a look round my little blog.

As you can see, I’m still putting the finishing touches to it: writing the first few posts, deciding what’s going to go where, trying out different colours and fonts …

Would you like to sit down and have a cup of tea while you wait for the official opening? Or, if you’re too busy, why not bookmark this site and look in again in a few days time?

I’ll look forward to seeing you again soon!