Thursday 26 August 2021

The Yellow Room Magazine is Back and Taking Submissions!!!


Sometimes it takes something like the unexpected death of a very good friend and fellow writer to give you the impetus to do something you used to love doing, but had forgotten just how much. We sadly lost the wonderful Jane Wenham-Jones on Sunday. I published some of Jane's first short stories back in the early 1990s in Quality Women's Fiction Magazine (QWF). She was a one-off. She helped me so much with the magazine by introducing it to friends and making suggestions as to how to improve and market it. Jane came to the very first QWF Convention at a country hotel in Sudbury, Derbyshire and was an instant hit with the other writers who attended. I will never forget her reading aloud her rather saucy story, Carla's Gift featuring orgasms and vibrators. It certainly had us all laughing out loud and sent the young waiters scurrying away to take cover. Jane continued to support all my literary endeavours both as a writer and as an editor/publisher. She went on to publish seven novels and three other books, including two handbooks for writers. She became a sought after public speaker, the MC for the RNA Awards and had a regular column in The Isle of Thanet News. Jane will be much missed by so many people. Condolences to her family. 

The punishing schedule of QWF's bi-monthly output just about finished me off once my youngest child arrived in 2002. Sally Zigmond, another talented writer and great friend, helped me enormously, but it all got on top of me and I passed the magazine on to Kathie Giorgio in the USA. 

In 2008 when Megan was seven-years-old, I realised how much I missed publishing and editing a literary magazine for women writers, so I founded The Yellow Room Magazine. The Yellow Room had very much the same ethos as QWF and proved instantly popular. However, by 2013 and nine issues later, life took another turn and the effort of keeping a print magazine afloat defeated me once more. 

And here we are in 2021 and I'm about to relaunch The Yellow Room Magazine with Issue 10. I think a global pandemic gave us all pause for thought about what was important in our lives. Jane's death prompted me to revisit all those magazines I had published and made me realise how much they meant to me. 

Do raise a glass to Jane and to the relaunch of The Yellow Room!

Here are the submission guidelines: 

The Yellow Room is a place where women writers can gather together for support, encouragement, inspiration and friendship. Editor Jo Derrick is always on the look out for new talent as well as short fiction by more established writers. Female writers are invited to send in short stories of between 800 and 3000 words in length. Please only submit one story at a time and the story should not have been previously published elsewhere. Jo will consider stories in any genre, but is particularly looking for those which highlight the female experience and psyche. Please send stories as an attachment (preferably Word or docx) with a title page stating the word count and that First British Serial Rights are offered. Double spacing on the manuscript, please. Send to:
We hope to make a small payment to writers whose stories are included in the magazine. This will depend on subscription take up.

Tuesday 17 December 2013

The Yellow Room 500 Word Flash Competition Winners

Flash Fiction Helps You Write Better says the caption on the image I've selected for this post. I certainly believe that's true. I think the essence of a great piece of fiction is what you don't say. Allow your reader to work it out for themselves and that way your reader will gain much more satisfaction from the story. Nowhere demonstrates this more completely than the Flash Fiction piece. There are so few words, there isn't room for background detail, lots of dialogue, character development or plot. The writer is aiming for a snapshot of a moment in time. The reader is left wondering, What's really going on here? It's what isn't said that's the most important thing.

Nothing demonstrates this more perfectly than the first three prizewinning stories, Brain Freeze by Freya Morris, Missing by Carol Warham and About Life by Amanda Huggins.

It took me a long time to judge this competition. You'd have thought it would have taken me less time, as the stories were less than 500 words each. However, I had to allow them to stew a while. Brain Freeze didn't grab me as much as some of the other entries on the first reading. Then I couldn't get the images out of my head and I wondered why. On re-reading, I noticed so much more was going on than I first realised. I then began to dwell more on the central character and what his life was like. At first glance it is a story about a man sitting on a bench eating an ice cream. Then we learn that he should be at work. He is a schoolmaster and should have been taking assembly that morning. So what has happened to make this usually responsible and upstanding man neglect his duties in this way? I'll let you read the story so that you can make up your own mind. Each time I read this story I gained more insight. A superb piece of writing. So simple, yet so effective.

Missing was another slow-burner. The first time I read this story, I wasn't sure what was going on. I almost completely missed the point. It was that last line: 'In the middle of the playground lies a small shiny, red buckle shoe, forgotten, lost.' that grabbed my attention. I couldn't get the image out of my head. On re-reading this story, I noticed more and more detail. In fact, it was the attention to detail that had me hooked. This is a highly atmospheric piece and there are several powerful images. The way the writer personifies the elements such as the breeze made this particular reader sit up and take note. Stylistically, this is a difficult one to pull off, but Carol did so, effortlessly. This story has great resonance and tugs strongly on the reader's emotions.

About Life drew me in the first time I read it. That first line: 'The fields are crouched low in the winter sunlight' is wonderful. I knew from the outset that this writer has a wonderful feel for language; something I always look for in a winning story. Her characters leap off the page and we immediately empathise with both of them. Again, this writer pays great attention to detail. Every gesture; every word; every action has significance. Amanda Huggins doesn't have to tell us how these characters feel about the tragedy in their lives or how they'll cope in the future, she shows us with unflinching honesty. The ending could have been clichéd, but Amanda shies away from the easy option and creates a more believable character as a result.

Tantric Twister by Tracy Fells deserves a special mention, because it has an excellent twist.  Again, both the characters and the situation are real and true. The story also raises a smile and brings hope. Recklessness, fun and sex aren't just for the young, but also for the young at heart. I also love the title!

Judging this competition has taught me so much about Flash Fiction and has made me eager to write more Flash pieces myself. Thank you to all who took part.

Monday 9 December 2013

The Yellow Room Flash Competition Shortlist

I've now drawn up a shortlist from the twenty-eight longlisted Flash pieces entered in The Yellow Room 500 Word Flash Competition:

About Life
Black Soles
Brain Freeze
Carrying a Torch
He Brought Me Orchids
Identity Crisis
Talking About Horses
Tantric Twister
Underneath Her Clothes
Where There's Life

I have also been a guest on two blogs this past week. Susan Howe kindly asked me to write an article about the WriteOnSite Competition, which you can read here. I was also delighted to be interviewed by Vanessa Gebbie for her blog. Both helped to give sales of my short story collection, Twisted Sheets, a bit of a boost over the weekend.

I hope to be able to announce the Flash Competition winners by the end of this week.

Wednesday 4 December 2013

The Yellow Room Flash Competition Longlist

Better late than never... Here are the 28 longlisted stories in The Yellow Room Autumn Flash Competition:
Underneath Her Clothes
The Box
Where There's Life
Black Soles
Brain Freeze 
After The Event 
The Bridge
About Life
Closing The Door
Carrying A Torch
The Tooth
Sugar and Spice
Lost and Found
He Brought Me Orchids
Granny Smith
Talking About Horses
Penny For The Guy
Identity Crisis
Tantric Twister

I hope to have the shortlist drawn up by tomorrow.

In other news.... I've just received my first 5 star review on Amazon for my short story collection, Twisted Sheets.

Friday 29 November 2013

Twisted Sheets on Kindle!

I'm thrilled to announce that I've bitten the bullet and published my short story collection, Twisted Sheets on Kindle. I decided to have a go at publishing it yesterday evening and couldn't believe how easy it was to upload and create a cover via Amazon Kindle Publishing Direct.

I had the collection all ready to go, as I'd entered it in The Scott Prize last year, then submitted it to Cinnamon Press. The latter gave me great feedback and I came close to being taken on by them. This gave me confidence in the collection as a whole. Most of the short stories in the collection have either previously been published or have done well in short story competitions. Several of them are prizewinning stories.

Today has been great fun, as I organised a last minute launch party on Facebook. There was lots of virtual champagne, canapés and laughter! Thanks to those of you who came along to wish me well!

The e-book went on sale at around 8pm yesterday and already it's Number 34 in the Kindle Bestselling Short Stories Chart alongside the likes of Terry Pratchett and Victoria Hislop. It's also Number 68 in the Kindle Bestselling Literary Fiction Chart just above Maeve Binchy! I can't believe how many people have purchased it already. I'm now hoping I get some positive reviews.


Tuesday 20 August 2013

Time... and Time Again....

Most days I ask myself the question, what would I do more of if I had the time? The answer is always the same. I'd read more and I'd write more. So what do I spend most days doing? Reading? Writing? No! My days disappear in vague swathes of nothingness, it seems.

I admit I spend more time on Facebook than I should. I also watch far too many TV dramas. I have thought about banning both from my daily life, but then I would feel strangely cut off from the world.

My only appointment to write (when I turn up at the computer at a set time) occurs most Saturdays at 5.30pm. I am addicted to the Write-Invite competitions, as most of you know. That way I know I will write something new at least once a week.

This is all very well for short stories, but for someone who dreams of getting a novel published, this isn't too helpful. Most weeks I ask myself whether I am cut out to be a novelist. I am an impatient person. I like to complete a task in the shortest time possible and, in the case of writing a piece of fiction, get it out there to earn its keep as soon as possible.

Novels don't work like that. They rarely come fully formed. I struggle with writing longer pieces of fiction. I tend to lose my way. I fall in love with my characters, but they're soon hanging around not knowing what to do with themselves. A bit like me, really. Do I get that admin finished or shall I nip out to Sainsbury's for a few bits? Shall I read for an hour or put some washing in and hoover up? Oh, and I really should get that critique finished and promote The Yellow Room a bit more. You see how it goes?

This is why I can't keep up-to-date with my blog. I usually end up moaning about where the times goes or about not being able to finish anything!

Goal setting and list making has never really been my thing. I go through phases of being disciplined like this, then it all falls apart. I hate anything regimented or set in stone. I guess I'm a bit of a drifter and a dreamer. Oh well... time to get the tea on.....

Tuesday 23 July 2013

The Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival Part Two

I think Saturday was my favourite day of the whole festival. Once more the sun shone and the temperatures soared. I made the mistake of wearing my ‘too long’ hippy-look maxi and spent much of the day turning to the person behind me (usually male) to politely inform them that they were standing on my dress. 
After a hearty breakfast at The Cairn, Sally and I ventured forth once more to The Old Swan. I was particularly excited about seeing Ian Rankin and couldn’t help thinking of my friend, Sharon (aka Effie Merryl), who would have given her right arm to be there. I wish she had been, for several reasons, but mainly because she could have done the introductions. I now wish I’d been brave enough to speak to Ian when he sat on the next table talking to my ‘new friend’ Lauren Sarno. Oh well! 
Ian Rankin was in conversation with William McIlvanney, who, I gathered, was a bit of a legend in the crime writing world. William is from Glasgow, and I did have trouble understanding his broad accent. Apparently, he is the Godfather of Tartan Noir. Ian Rankin’s Rebus novels were inspired by McIlvanney, who treated us to an extract from one of his own gritty books. I was surprised at the literary style, although the violent scene wasn’t to my taste. I don’t really ‘do’ gangsters, preferring my crime to be a little less hard-boiled. 
Sally and I then had the good fortune to bump into Carole Blake and her handsome assistant, Tom Witcomb. I was delighted that Carole recognised me from Twitter and Facebook. Sally had met Carole before and had had lunch with her, so they nattered away like old friends. I got so carried away that I totally forgot about which talk we were going to next, so surreptitiously had a glance at my programme to realise I was in danger of missing Val McDermid in conversation with forensic anthropologist, Professor Sue Black. Fortunately, Carole also remembered she had to be somewhere else, so we said our goodbyes. There were no seats remaining in the main part of the ballroom, but lots to spare in the garden room at the back. I was relieved to see two large flat screens right in front of us, so that we could get a good view of the two friends in conversation. I could have listened to their easy banter all day. Sue Black had some fascinating stories to tell, including one in which she was responsible for bringing back two prostitutes’ decapitated heads from Verona to Dundee, where they had the specialist equipment and expertise to help identify them. She had put the buckets containing the decomposing heads into two Gucci bags and had two letters, one in English, one in Italian, explaining why they were in her possession and stating that she could not be physically separated from the heads in case of contaminating the evidence. Her experiences at border controls and customs were hilarious. I think my favourite was when the stewardess on the flight from Verona to Heathrow asked Sue to put the Gucci bags in the overhead luggage rack. Sue refused and showed the stewardess the letter. The stewardess then promptly moved her to Business Class where Sue had a seat as far away from anyone else as possible and was then ignored by the stewardesses for the rest of the flight. She didn’t even receive so much as a glass of water.
Val McDermid asked Sue how she came to be interested in bones. Sue explained her fear of rodents and how she’d do anything to avoid having to dissect them. She veered towards a study of anatomy, as a result. I found it amusing that she hadn’t heard of some well known crime authors and books! Sue said there was only one occasion when her work encroached on her personal life and that was when a middle-aged man was dancing with her daughter at her prom. Sue said she watched his hands very closely (having spent a lot of time at work studying images on paedophiles’ hard-drives for identification purposes). It transpired that the man dancing with her daughter was the father of her boyfriend and all was well. Val asked whether Sue had found this out after she’d decked him!
I was fascinated to learn that someone’s ethnicity can be determined by examining hair, nails and bone, which tells the history of that person’s diet. For example, in the case of the 7/7 bombers, Sue and her team could prove that the bombers had never been to Pakistan to an Al Queda training camp and could pinpoint their home and background to Leeds. 
There was also a good dollop of ‘pubic scalps’ in this talk, which almost put me off my lunch. I was relieved to see fresh tuna steak wasn’t on the menu!
On the subject of lunch, I was surprised to learn that lunch on Friday and Saturday were included in the price of our Rover Ticket. On both days we were offered a roast dinner as well as a vegetarian option followed by either cheesecake, chocolate mousse or fruit salad. It wasn’t gourmet cuisine, but I enjoyed mine very much! 
I was sorry to miss out on the New Blood panel chaired by Val McDermid, but there is a limit to how much you can squeeze in at these festivals. We had a post-lunch glass of wine in the bar, then headed off for ‘Vera’. Ann Cleeves hosted this session and was in conversation with the executive producer of the popular TV crime drama, Elaine Collins, screenwriter Paul Rutman and none other than Oscar nominee, Brenda Blethyn. As soon as we took our seats fairly near the front, I decided I needed the Ladies. Who should I meet coming down the stairs from the Green Room, but Brenda Blethyn herself! She smiled at me, said hello then followed me into the Ladies. I was noticeably star-struck, I’m sure. 
This was one of my favourite events of the weekend. My husband and I love ‘Vera’, and mimic Vera Stanhope’s accent and diction at every opportunity, often second-guessing what she’s going to say next. I was surprised to learn that Brenda Blethyn spends five months of the year filming Vera in and around Alnmouth and Newcastle. The indoor scenes are filmed at the former Swan Hunter shipyard. Ann Cleeves, who wrote the books the series are based on, went from obscurity to fame by pure chance. Elaine Collins told us that ITV were looking for a new detective series to replace A Touch Of Frost and they wanted a female detective. Elaine read dozens of crime books, but discarded them, as she couldn’t find what she was looking for. Then, by chance, she came across Ann Cleeves’ The Crow Trap in a charity shop, read it and knew instantly that she’d found ITV’s new detective. Ann then explained how the character, Vera Stanhope came to be. Ann was writing about three females sitting round a table talking and got stuck. She remembered Raymond Chandler’s advice that if you get stuck, have a man burst into a room with a gun. She said she didn’t like guns, so had a scruffy female walk into the room instead. Vera Stanhope was born, complete with old overcoat and padded waistcoat.
Saturday afternoon was wonderful! Sally and I joined Susannah Rickards, Phil Jones, Lauren Sarno and others on a table laden with wine. We met some lovely people and Lauren invited us to join her in a bottle of Prosecco. We laughed, swapped stories about our writing, talked about fashion, mobile phones and dodgy signals only to be interrupted by James Bond, complete with tuxedo and black tie. No, not the man himself, of course, but our Lee Child ticket blagger who was dressed for the License To Thrill Dinner. Susannah saved the day and took on the role of his minder, as he used my Rover Ticket to gain entry to see one of his favourite authors. I never did get so much as a glass of wine for my trouble!
Sally and I then staggered off towards town where we were due to meet my friend,  Mandy Huggins at L’Albero Delle Noci, a fantastic little Mediterranean restaurant with a cosy ambience in Cheltenham Crescent. Even though Mandy was sitting outside, we still managed to walk past her without seeing her and I had to phone her for instructions of how to get there! The food and service were excellent. Somehow we managed to consume two bottles of Pinot Grigio between us, talking non-stop about Bruce Springsteen, writing, books, travel and goodness knows what else! Little did we know that we needn’t have rushed, as Kate Atkinson wasn’t due to speak until 8.30pm. My programme stated it was 8pm. Still, at least it gave Susannah and Mandy time to finish the complimentary lollipops!
I have to confess I was a little disappointed in Kate. I’m sure I was the only one, however. I don’t think Mark Lawson got the best out of her. Or maybe I’d just read too many interviews with her in the press and therefore there were no surprises. Or maybe I’d had too much wine and couldn’t take it all in. Anyway, I loved her latest novel, Life After Life and relished every snippet of information she gave us about writing it. Apparently, there is a bibliography on Kate Atkinson’s website of all the books she used in her research, so that was something new I learned!
Afterwards we joined the long queue at the bar and I bought a very mediocre bottle of warm Sauvignon Blanc to share. Sally managed another hour with us, before surrendering and going back to The Cairn, not before Mandy had treated us to an hilarious impression of her B&B landlady. The wine magically seemed to improve as Mandy and I gossiped well into the night, although I was rather disappointed not to be surrounded by well-known crime writers, but they were all embroiled in the late night quiz. I watched Mandy stagger off back towards the town and I wended my way back up the hill to The Cairn in the company of Catriona MacPherson who was lovely. I’d already marked her out as an author whose books were right up my street (crime fiction set in the 30s and 40s). Her witty asides and sharp wit had kept me entertained when she sat next to me during the Victorian Crime panel the day before.
Despite waking at 4.45am fretting about my son going off Inter-Railing and worrying that someone had hiked up my bar bill (I’d left my room number passcard thingy lying about The Cairn), I woke again at 8.15am ready for breakfast and eager to attend the Slaughtering the Sacred Cows panel at 10am. Mandy Huggins texted me to say she was running late (hangover, more like!), so would meet me after the talk. 
The Sunday morning panel introduced me to crime writers I hadn’t read: Stuart McBride (who was hilarious), Catriona MacPherson (very witty and dry), Manda Scott (who sat in the lotus position throughout) and Cathi Unsworth. I’d been admiring a lady wearing vintage hairdo and clothes over the weekend, not realising it was Cathi. What a great look! No surprise that she lived in Camden! Mandy told me that Cathi is also a reader/editor for Take A Break’s Fiction Feast. Interesting! I loved the sound of Cathi’s books, particularly when she told us a fan had written in saying she’d made Great Yarmouth sound interesting. I gathered her books are edgy and drenched in popular culture. In other words, just my cup of tea. There followed a fascinating discussion about pushing the boundaries of crime fiction and this reassured me that maybe, just maybe, I, too, might get away with my novel not being in the conventional crime novel mould.
And that was it! I hadn’t the stamina for Charlaine Harris, although I was assured that she was an excellent writer and an entertaining speaker. I met up with Mandy again, who was now in panic mode about getting a number for a Bruce Springsteen concert in Leeds on Wednesday (Mandy is a huge Bruce fan). We had a freebie coffee, briefly reconnected with Cath Bore and Katie, before heading off to the town in search of lunch. We decided that, as the queue wasn’t very long, we’d treat ourselves to lunch in Betty’s. The tinkly piano music was perfect for a Sunday afternoon.
Now it’s Tuesday and I’m suffering withdrawal symptoms. I haven’t enjoyed a weekend as much in a very long time. I’d forgotten how thrilling it is to be in the company of other writers and to be immersed in the world of books.
Roll on next year!