Tuesday, 7 December 2010

The Yellow Room Competition Winners and Website

Congratulations to Joanna Campbell, winner of the first prize in The Yellow Room Autumn Competition. I love Joanna's writing. She explores emotions so well and her use of language is sublime. Joanna really gets into her characters' heads and creates a believable, realistic, yet fascinating world.

Second prize went to Allie Rogers for her wicked fantasy story, Like A Great Black Chess Piece. This was probably the most unusual of all the entries and intrigued me from the first line. I love Allie's use of humour.

Third prize was awarded to Poppy Peacock for her story, Frontline, which focused on the 1984 Miners' Strike. Political, hard hitting and wonderfully atmospheric. I felt as though I was there on the picket line with the central character, a teenage girl who has chosen to depict the conflict for her school art project.

On a more prosaic note, I am currently experiencing problems updating The Yellow Room Magazine website. Apologies to those who have been inconvenienced by this. It is incredibly frustrating for me, as I don't have the technical knowledge to sort it out quickly and efficiently! It's all down to ftp server problems. I may have to change my web hosting service.

For most of today I've been looking out upon a magical winter wonderland scene with temperatures of -7 degrees. I haven't done any work on the novel for over a week (apart from some research into Bloody Sunday), because I've been caught up in Christmas preparations and Yellow Room admin. However, one of the most pleasant jobs of the last few days has been choosing the top three stories in this autumn's competition.

And next year, please can someone remind me to buy advent calendars for the children on 1st November, before they sell out of the ones they really want?

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

The Yellow Room Autumn Short Story Competition Shortlist 2010

 There was a total of 81 entries. 16 entries were shortlisted.

Carol Wolrich - The Golden Arch
Frances Gow - Shaking up With Al
Nicola Warwick - The Wounds That Words Make
Nina Milton - The Ultramarine Dress
Joanna Campbell - Half-Price Mondays with Helene
Stephen McQuiggan - Vinny Grasps The Nettle
Jackie Richardson - Frontline
Rebecca Lawrence - The History Of The Skies
Tracy Fells - Keep Turning Right
Allie Rogers - Like  A Great Black Chess Piece
Harriet Simpson - The Battle of Hatpin Folly
Sharon Birch - Blueprint for Murder
Ann Amari - Communication Skills
Eithne Nightingale - Google
Eithne Nightingale - Foucault Over The Garden Fence
Ruby McCann - Recognition

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

National Short Story Week

As this week is National Short Story week, I thought I'd ask you all to list your favourite short stories. Tom Vowler has listed what are considered to be the best short stories of all time. You can find the list here:


This week I'm busy reading the rest of The Yellow Room Short Story Competition entries. I hope to draw up the shortlist next week.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Displacement activities

Today has been one of those days when I've flitted around the house doing anything but writing. Well, I have done a little bit of writing, but it was like pulling teeth. I will go back and do more once I've written this blog. I promise. Yes, I will. Honestly.

These are just some of the things I do to avoid writing the novel:

1. Aimlessly surf the Internet, pretending it's for research.
2. Look for 'the perfect diet'.
3. Surf the Internet for recipes for 'the perfect diet'.
4. Read posts on The Beyond Chocolate Forum, because we all know diets don't work.
5. Eat cake and drink tea.
6. Watch Escape To The Country.
7. Wash floors downstairs.
8. Look at the guinea pigs.
9. Write in my diary.
10. Hoover the lounge and load dishwasher.
11. Eat lunch and watch a bit of Loose Women.
12. Read something vaguely writing-related.
13. Quick look at Facebook (repeat before and between stages 1-12).
14. Update blog.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

A Bad First Draft

I once attended a workshop, which was run by the wonderful children's writer, Linda Kempton (http://tracearchive.ntu.ac.uk/em/directory/k.htm) where she told us to: 'Allow yourself a bad first draft.'
It was one of those Eureka moments for many of us and it's advice that has stayed with me.

How bad should a 'bad first draft' be? I struggle with the concept, I have to say. I guess it's the perfectionist in me. I have shaped and honed my prose in the first few chapters of my novel. I continue to go back to those chapters to fiddle and fine tune. But, just how useful is this when I haven't even finished the first draft of this blessed novel?

It's all getting a bit messy. Messy is good, I guess, because it's a 'bad first draft'. The further I go with this project, the messier it gets. I'm in danger of getting myself in a right royal muddle, as I can now see that some characters could be dispensed with altogether or that two characters could be moulded into one. I've killed two people off early on and now wonder if they should still be alive. Perhaps that would make things more interesting? Is this really a crime novel at all? Is it more of a mystery/thriller? Yes, probably. Can I write the police procedure stuff? No. Do I want to? No. Is my detective that important? Probably not, but I do love the character I've created. He is so flawed, it's untrue. Can I have an incompetent detective who doesn't really solve anything at all? I guess I could. Can the mystery be solved, but not the crime? At the moment, this novel raises more questions than it answers. Perhaps all will become clear at the end.

I'll just plough on regardless. After all, it's only a first draft and a bad one at that.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Thinking In Threes

This morning I've been re-reading Ansen Dibell's 'Patterns, Mirrors and Echoes' section in How To Write A Million. The emphasis on the pattern of three in traditional storytelling methods like fairy tales comes back to haunt any writer who has read 'how to' books and attended workshops.

I went back to my novel and started brainstorming my  plot. Something must have sunk in after many years of reading novels and stories, as I've sub-consciously incorporated 'the law of three' into my crime novel.

There are three victims and three important connections between those victims; three significant relationships; three tearaways; three siblings; three false alarms; three major events; three locations; three baby connections/lost children.

This led me to think about the themes in my novel, which are basically a) the lost child b) involvement/lack of involvement c) commitment/lack of commitment d) running away.

This then led to thinking about the imagery in my novel: fire and water (heat and rain/yellow and purple).

My head feels much clearer after all that.

Does anyone else notice that they subconsciously apply the 'law of three' when writing fiction?

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

The Long and Winding Road

Skrivener. Is it the answer to my prayers?

Those of you who read yesterday's posts will know that I've been looking for a way of organising my novel into manageable chunks so that I can see where I'm at without trawling through pages and pages of manuscript.

Debutnovelist gave me an idea when she told me about her methods with Word documents. Then I realised I hadn't got Word, as I use a Mac. I then did a search on 'tips for novel writers using Macs' or some-such in Google and came across Skrivener, a package for Macs, which helps you to manage and organise your novel all in one place. I suggest you have a go at the free trial to get a taster. (I think it's also available for PC users, but I'm not sure).

Well, I've spent a whole morning going through the step-by-step tutorial and, although I found it a challenge, I believe this could well be the way forward for me.

I still like the visual idea..... my novel in pictures, as that is very much how my brain works. The storyboards are very useful to me and help to work out both plot and character development. As Captain Black said yesterday, they are just as helpful as a source of inspiration.

I'm now experiencing tension in my shoulders, which is a sign I've spent far too long sitting at the computer in one session, so I'm off to do some reading before the dreaded school run!

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Chapter One - Novel - Storyboard

You know I mentioned creating an overview of each chapter of my novel in pictures? It can be done. Here it is!

Novel HQ

Novel HQ aka The Kitchen Table. Yes, I have an office, but I can't spread my notes and paraphernalia out, because there simply isn't room on the desk. I also prefer writing new scenes in longhand.

Natalie Goldberg talks about 'exercising the writing muscle' and I'm sure that there is a much more creative connection between brain, hand and pen than there is between brain, fingers and computer keyboard. The screen acts as a barrier and automatically imposes the need for order, kicking into the internal editor before the piece is ready for those kinds of restrictions. Does that make sense?

I love the whole process of novel writing, but hate the unwieldiness of it. Compared to a short story, a novel is like holding a three-year-old toddler in your arms as opposed to a six-week-old baby. There is so much more to contain and hold in your head. I realise I need a physical way of visualising the whole. I'm trying to work out the best way of doing this for me. Some novelists use index cards, spread out all over the carpet (or the bed, in one case). Some use Post It notes on a huge board pinned to the wall. I feel as if I need pictures. Quite how that would work, I don't know!

Writing a first novel is a huge learning curve. I now realise that dividing my work into chapters, each chapter having a separate file on the computer, was probably a mistake. I'm now copying and pasting it all into one document. A chore, but a necessary one. You see how easily distracted I am from actually writing?

I may just log off and go and pick up that pen.....

Monday, 1 November 2010

Self Doubt

I've just returned from a very relaxing holiday in North Norfolk, but I appear to have lost the motivation and positive attitude towards my writing I had before I went away. Any ideas on how to get them back will be appreciated!

While I was away, I read the latest Persephone Bi-Annually (No 8 Autumn/Winter 2010). Persephone (www.persephonebooks.co.uk) reprints neglected classics by twentieth century writers (mainly women), and I love them. This edition of the Bi-Annually featured extracts from the journals and notebooks of Dorothy Whipple.

In 1933 she wrote of her novel, They Knew Mr Knight: 'I have only to start writing a novel to become flat and stale. A short story invigorates me, a novel depresses me during all the weary months I'm writing it.' And another entry in the same year: 'I began the second draft of my book. The first is very scrappy. I don't see my way with the book yet...I don't like having to concoct plots, I like doing people.'

Same here, I thought. I like inventing characters and writing about them. Plots are a boring necessity. Something has to happen. People are so much more interesting!

Writing about They Were Sisters in 1942, Dorothy says: 'I am terrified of the badness of this book. I am off my natural bent. Sadness, ugliness throughout is not my line. I wish I didn't start on themes without proper thoughts.... But I worked well and fast. It seems as if I have to ponder on a situation for several days, seeing no daylight, then suddenly it comes clear and I can write again.'

Yes, I can identify with this too, except that I 'ponder on a situation' for several weeks! When my head is clear and I can see where I'm going with my novel, then I write very fast. Trouble is, I can rarely see clearly where it's going. I guess as writers, we have to go up several blind allies before finding our way. Ever the perfectionist, I feel I have to get it right first time and berate myself when a scene doesn't work.

However, I keep telling myself that words written are never wasted in that we learn from every sentence we write.

Thursday, 21 October 2010


One of the exciting things about writing a crime novel, for me, is discovering 'whodunit'. I'm three-quarters of the way through and I'm still not sure. There have been several possibilities along the way, but I've more or less narrowed it down to two suspects.

The downside of this, of course, is having to go back right to the beginning and tracking the character, ensuring that they were in the right place at the right time and that their character traits are in keeping with a psychopath or whatever!!

I am eager to finish my novel now, as I'd like to send it off to a Gold Dust mentor. I'm not sure about the merits of working closely with a well-known published writer on my novel, but I feel more comfortable doing this than sending it off into the ether. I'd love to hear from anyone who has experience of working with a writing mentor.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

A new direction or not?

I have been mulling things over this summer. Do I need to do something completely different? Is it time to get more serious and work towards a 'proper job'? My inner gremlin has been bullying me and telling me that I'm not really a writer at all. It has been telling me that I'm wasting my time trying to write a novel when there's little chance of getting published and that I should be working towards something more useful and lucrative in the long term.

After a lot of brain storming I decided that studying for a degree in psychology would be a good idea. After all, the human mind is fascinating, and I fancied doing something 'sciency'. A new departure. At least it would silence those who thought I was idling my time away at home. I could become a qualified psychotherapist. I quite liked the idea of going out to work, meeting people, listening to them and trying to help with their mental problems and emotional issues. Or did I?

I applied for a distance learning BSc (Hons) degree in Applied Psychology with Anglia Ruskin University and got accepted. My admissions tutor also sent my application to Derby University's Psychology BSc (Hons) degree course where you automatically get accredited by The British Psychological Society (however this course is £1000 a year more expensive). I got an unconditional acceptance from Derby as well. Great. Or was it?

I'm now having serious doubts about all this. The courses are expensive, and I can only just about afford it. Do I pursue a career in writing and work harder at it? Or do I learn a completely new set of skills? This is my current dilemma. Time for some serious decision making!

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

I'm back!

I decided today that I’ve been silent for far too long. 
The long and short of it is I needed a break from writing and the magazine while I concentrated on getting things in order on the domestic front and getting my head in the right place to move onwards and upwards.
I find I often need space in which to chill out, relax, rest and think, think, think. I often get to a bad place and need to pull myself out of it in my own sweet way. The result is often a re-energised self. I now feel ready to tackle Issue 5 of The Yellow Room and to prepare it for print. I’m also back to the novel, which, I feel, always benefits from the time away. I’ve been catching up on reading submissions the past couple of days and sending out those dreaded rejection letters. I’ve accepted very few this time. I do have a few more to read.
I was also feeling overwhelmed on the book front. I had a huge declutter recently and sent a lot of books to the charity shop (some unread!). I still have hundreds left, but have decided to adopt a new ‘100 page’ rule. If I’m not enjoying a book by the time I get to Page 100, I will close it and then off to the charity shop it goes.
I’m currently reading Joanne Harris’s The Lollipop Shoes. It very nearly didn’t make it and just redeemed itself in time.

Monday, 17 May 2010

The Yellow Room Spring Short Story Competition Winners

I'm pleased to announce the winners of The 2010 Yellow Room Spring Short Story Competition!

1st Place: The Adventure Park by Jenny Knight
2nd Place: Before Last Wednesday by Joanna Campbell
3rd Place: Only Connect by Jenny Knight

Highly Commended: The Elgin Villas Venus by Julie Ann Lee
Bone Structure by Rachel Crowther

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

The Yellow Room Spring Short Story Competition Shortlist

Here is the shortlist for the competition which closed on 31st March 2010:

(Listed alphabetically by author)
And the Housemartins Leave The Sky by D. Bruton
Ten O’Clock to Balham by Joanna Campbell
Before Last Wednesday by Joanna Campbell
The Way of It by Sara Crowley
Watercress Makes A Meal by Rachel Crowther
Bone Structure by Rachel Crowther
Cala Di Volpe by Rachel Crowther
Miss Lacey Takes Her Tights Off by Bea Davenport
Painting Pebbles by Joanne Fox
Drunk On A Feeling by Lisa Fox
The Auction by T Greenwood
The Red Candle by Christine Howe
Only Connect by Jenny Knight
The Adventure Park by Jenny Knight
A Language of Trees by Julie Ann Lee
The Elgin Villas Venus by Julie Ann Lee
Silver In The 21st Century by Carol Rogers

The winning entry in the Short Circuit Prize for the best story under 800 words went to 'The Taste of Love' by Joanna Campbell.

My next job is to read through the huge pile of submissions sent in. Apologies to those who have been waiting a long time for a response.

I have been working hard on my crime novel, but there's still a long way to go! Keeping the faith is the hardest bit, at the moment!

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Hope Against Hope-The Launch

I was thrilled to receive my invitation to the launch of Sally Zigmond’s first novel, Hope Against Hope. The launch took place on a Friday evening almost two weeks ago at The Pump Rooms in Harrogate. I’ve now just finished reading Hope Against Hope (review to follow) and its Harrogate setting brought back fond memories of that afternoon as well as other wonderful times spent with Sally in her former home town.
I have known Sally since 1994 when I was pregnant with my first child, Matthew. She sent me one of the first short stories she’d written, apologising for not having read the guidelines. “You don’t need guidelines,” I told her, “You write just the sort of story I want to publish.” Sally went on to write many more short stories for QWF (the women’s literary magazine I published for 12 years) and eventually became my assistant editor. As well as enjoying a literary partnership, Sally and I have become great friends, so much so that she was my witness at my second wedding in 2006. 
It was therefore an honour to be asked to the launch of Hope Against Hope. I know how hard Sally has worked to bring this novel to fruition and how many times her hopes have been dashed, when, after initial enthusiasm, agents and publishers backed down. If any writer deserves published success, then it’s Sally. She’s one of the most talented and unassuming writers I have the pleasure to know. She is also ever willing to pass on her experience to others and help them on their writing journey.
My trip to Harrogate didn’t bode well, however, when I received a phone call from The Crown Hotel (featured many times in Hope Against Hope) the day before my departure, saying that they’d overbooked and despite me having booked a room there three weeks in advance, they’d had to move me to another hotel, Grant’s. I wasn’t best pleased, as you can imagine. Staying at The Crown was going to be part and parcel of the whole experience for me. To add insult to injury when I arrived at Grant’s my room wasn’t ready, despite me having left instructions saying I wanted to book in early, so I was shown to a rather dingy, pokey little room on the second floor. The plus side was that I was given a hefty discount, subsidised by The Crown, for the inconvenience and room service at Grant’s was second-to-none. (It was the best fillet steak I’ve ever eaten and the Chocolate Marquise was to die for!)
Anyway, the sun shone on the righteous the day of Sally’s launch. Sally was doing her first book signing at Waterstone’s in James Street in the early afternoon, so I went along to support her, as had the lovely Jane Smith and a few other writer friends of Sally’s. We were like a bunch of over-excited schoolgirls, as Sally sat in pride of place at the front of the shop, surrounded by piles of copies of her novel and a huge placard featuring the alluring cover design. 

It was fun to watch who was buying Hope Against Hope and getting their copies signed. There was also some eye candy in the form of Craig, Sally’s husband’s personal trainer! Sally said it felt like her wedding day, but without the groom. I guess that made Jane and I her matrons of honour! At the end of the signing, the three of us sneaked off to The Slug and Lettuce to share a bottle of wine and lots of writerly gossip.  It was great fun, and I think I had more than my fair share of the wine (as usual!), my excuse being that Sally had to stay reasonably sober to host her launch party and do her speech/reading later.

We arrived at The Pump Rooms in plenty of time, but the doors were locked. Trust Sally to be the first author to be locked out of her own launch party! We must have walked round and round that building several times being overwhelmed by the smell of rotten eggs as we did so. (It was the sulphur from the well, for those who don’t know Harrogate too well.)
Sally’s delightful publicists had done her proud with copious amounts of wine and a delicious buffet. It was great to meet and chat to members of her family and friends I’d not met before, as well as other writers, some of whom I’d happily chatted to on Facebook but not met in person. I even met a writer whose story I’d shortlisted in a recent Yellow Room competition (Linda Priestley). We had a fascinating discussion about crime writing and the police forum she belongs to.
Despite her shyness, Sally did a wonderful job of reading from Hope Against Hope,  which made us all eager to rush off and start reading it for ourselves. 

Just like the best weddings I’ve been to, it was all over far too quickly and before 8pm I was trudging back up the hill to my hotel, Sally having been whisked off by her husband, Jon, not to their honeymoon suite, but to The York Festival of Writing. 
I spent most of the rest of the night reading Hope Against Hope, unable to sleep due to noisy revellers in the street outside and inside the hotel itself! Still, I wasn’t complaining. If, like me, you loved reading the likes of Penmarric and A Woman of Substance when you were a teenager, then Hope Against Hope is for you. Pure escapism and a historical setting. As you would expect from Sally, her novel is beautifully written and meticulously researched. Perfect. I haven’t enjoyed a book as much as this in ages! Well done, Sally. The girl did good.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Bullets For Bill

Most of you know that my son, Matt (14) is in a rock band called Bullets For Bill. They are a five piece band, Beffy Reeder on vocals (not pictured), Ell'e Chambers on bass, Brady Deeprose (guitar.. wearing red trousers here), Matt Good (guitar) and Louis Walford on drums. Now I know I'm biased, but they're all very talented kids and lovely with it. They're building up a huge following in the local area and have played many gigs over the last twelve months. They smashed into the Top Ten in the Rugby's Got Talent competition (everyone at the radio station loved their entry, My Cure, written by Matt) and today their song was played twice on Rugby FM radio. I was shaking with excitement when I heard it. I'm so proud of them all. You can listen to their entry on the Rugby FM website: http://www.rugbyfm.co.uk/rugbys-got-talent-180799 Their entry is No.3 (Bullets For Bill - My Cure). Listeners vote for their favourite entry from Friday 16th April at 10am. It would be great if you could vote for Matt's band! The top five will then play on a stage in Whitehall Recreation Ground on Monday 3rd May to, hopefully, a large crowd, who'll be gathered there for a charity fun day.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

The Yellow Room Production Line

I always forget what a mammoth task it is sending out each issue of The Yellow Room. It's not simply a case of putting magazines in envelopes. I have to check who needs to renew, then cross check that against various files. I need to sort out contributors' copies and cheques. Then there are all the records to update.

My timing is dreadful. The magazines arrived yesterday, and I so wanted to get them all out by Easter. However, the children are on holiday from school and there have been optician's appointments, shopping, gym, logging competition entries and all sorts of other things to fit in as well. I'm not complaining, honestly. I do like being busy, but today has been frantic.

I've managed to post out about half the magazines so far. Incredibly, even though I posted a quarter of them Second Class yesterday, a few have already arrived. Royal Mail have excelled themselves for once. I still have about half the total number of magazines to send out. I'm reluctant to post them tomorrow, as they won't be delivered on Friday, and they'll be languishing in a sorting office somewhere until goodness knows when. I find that magazines tend to go missing over the holiday period. I've taken the decision to mail out the rest of the magazines on Tuesday next week. It's not ideal, but I'm sure subscribers can be patient a little bit longer.

I have a busy weekend ahead. Matt's band, Bullets For Bill, are gigging on Saturday night and again on Sunday night supporting my husband's band, Visitation. I'm really looking forward to it.

Don't forget to let me know what you thought of Issue 4 of The Yellow Room once you've received your copy!

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Issue 4 Coming Soon!

Issue 4 of The Yellow Room is now at the printer's and should be delivered to me next week (fingers crossed). I hope to get the issue out to subscribers before Easter. It features another great collection of short stories including the first and second prize winning stories in The Yellow Room Autumn Competition.

I still have heaps of copies of Quality Women's Fiction Magazine (the magazine I published and edited before The Yellow Room), mainly Issues 47-49. If you send a C5 envelope (half A4 size) with your address on it and a 'Large' stamp (value 90p, I think, but postage rates are about to increase), then I can send you one copy. If you'd like all three copies, then you'll need a bigger envelope and more postage (£2.50 usually covers it).

I've been fiddling around with some of my old short stories the past week or so, as I felt like a break from the novel. I submitted a 'womag' story to The People's Friend by First Class post one day last week only to receive a rejection by email the following evening! The speed of the rejection was even more painful than having to wait a few weeks to receive one by post.

On a more personal note, I'm still visiting the dentist for treatment on a regular basis and my car needs yet more repairs! I won't bore you with the details, but it's all very frustrating and expensive. Yesterday I managed to get out for my first long walk with my walking friends, Fiona and Sarah, since October. It was lovely being out in the countryside once more, enjoying the fresh air and sunshine.

Don't forget to send in your entry for The Yellow Room Short Story Competition, which closes on 31st March. I'm busy reading the entries I've received so far and the standard is pretty good! I'm also receiving many orders for copies of The Yellow Room, as well as many new subscriptions, which is great news.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Emerging From The Cold

I can't believe how long it's been since I last blogged. I'd like to say that I've been incredibly busy writing, but I haven't!

The good news is that Issue 4 of The Yellow Room is now with the typesetter, so hopefully it will be ready to send out to subscribers by the end of the month. I chose the stories pretty much on a first-come, first-served basis this time, as I felt guilty at how long I'd kept some writers waiting to see their work in print.

I still have days (far too many) when I find it incredibly difficult to motivate myself and feel crushingly tired. I keep putting it down to 'my time of life'. I hope it passes soon, as it's so disruptive in terms of getting anything creative done, not to mention the usual domestic chores, the gym and even reading. I just want to sleep! And no, I haven't been to see a doctor, because you usually have to drag me there kicking and screaming.

My dental treatment continues. I'm back there on Monday morning to have my crown fitted. My dentist still doesn't know that the temporary one he fitted came out the very next day. I couldn't bear to go back and get it fixed, having spent over an hour in the dentist's chair the day before.

Entries for the Yellow Room Competition (closing at the end of March) are coming in at a steady rate. I'm trying to read them as they come in, but I'm falling behind slightly. I hope to do some catching up today. I'm confined to the house waiting in for a parcel (story of my life!).

I have done half an hour's writing on the novel this morning, which is more than I've done in a while. I have to keep pushing aside those thoughts of 'Why am I even bothering?'.

I'm off to Harrogate at the beginning of April for the launch party for Sally Zigmond's first novel, Hope Against Hope. I'm so looking forward to it, as I haven't seen Sally in ages. She's worked so hard on her writing generally and on this novel specifically, that I hope it's a huge success.

And in case you're interested, I'm currently reading A Cotswold Ordeal by Rebecca Tope (a cosy crime novel set in the Cotswolds) and We Danced All Night by Martin Pugh (a heavy tome all about life between the wars).

Photo by David Derrick... taken at Longleat, I think!

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Last Call For Readers' Letters!

I'm in the process of preparing Issue 4 of The Yellow Room and so, if you'd like to see your letter printed in the magazine, now is the time to email me a line or two. Your letter doesn't have to be about Issue3 in particular. It can be about any aspect of short story writing or writing/reading in general. In other words, anything you think may be of interest to The Yellow Room readers. My email is yellowjo AT me dot com.

I've had great difficulty in focusing on my novel lately. I have been thinking about it a lot, but I just haven't got round to writing anything. I've even started thinking about a new idea for a novel, making notes and doing some research!

I currently have seventeen stories waiting to be published in The Yellow Room. It's difficult choosing which ones to include in Issue 4. I'm publishing the top two prizewinning stories in the Autumn Short Story Competition, so that means that two of the stories on file get pushed aside to make room. I always feel uneasy about this. I'm loathe to publish a separate competition anthology, as it's more work and more expense and small competition anthologies don't usually sell that well, in my experience.

Sally Quilford recently asked me, in my capacity as a competition judge, what I thought about entrants challenging the results. Do you think it's acceptable for someone to query the results, because they think their story should have been in the top twenty? I'd be interested to hear your opinions!

Don't forget those readers' letters!

I should also say that this is a good time to submit stories for publication, as I haven't any left in my 'to read' pile.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Things Can Only Get Better!

For those who follow me on Facebook and Twitter, you'll already know about my dental traumas and car repairs. Bear with me!

For those of you who don't, then I've had a troublesome two or three months on the dental and vehicle front. I now have a streaming cold into the bargain. By the end of today I'll have spent approximately £900 on my car since December and that doesn't include road tax, MOT and insurance! Just when I get one thing repaired, something else goes wrong. I guess that's the problem with having a car, which is over 8-years-old.

I'm having similar problems with my teeth! It all began with a broken tooth on the left side, back in November. It wasn't troubling me until the dentist gave me a temporary filling. I then experienced horribly toothache a few days later. However, it went away before I went for my emergency appointment, which I duly cancelled. I then went for my pre-booked appointment two weeks ago and had the tooth X-rayed and was told I'd need it refilled and a crown, so booked two more appointments in March to have that done. Then last week, for no apparent reason (well, maybe it was that packet of pork scratchings), a tooth on the right hand side began to hurt... and hurt... and really hurt! On Monday night the roof of my mouth and gums swelled alarmingly and were very sore. I managed to get a 'sit and wait' emergency appointment at the dentist on Tuesday afternoon. He was very concerned about the swelling and X-rayed the tooth. I had a dental abscess and a nasty infection in the tooth and it needed urgent root canal work. The dentist injected me with anaesthetic to which I had a bad reaction and spent the next hour or so, shivering and shaking uncontrollably (something to do with adrenaline, apparently), which worried my dentist further. He went ahead with draining the abscess and the root canal work and removing the nerve. I then left (after sitting in the waiting room with a cup of water for 15 minutes) armed with a prescription for two lots of super strength antibiotics. I can't drink alcohol for 5 days, for which my liver is very grateful. It needs a rest. I'm pleased to report that things have settled down. My next dental appointment to finish off the root canal work is a week on Saturday.

My novel has suffered as a result of my dental health, I'm afraid, but I have now caught up with all The Yellow Room admin. I'm about to press on with proofreading stories for Issue 4, as I've sold out of Issue 3 and have lots of new subscribers who haven't yet received a copy. Entries for The Yellow Room Short Story Competition, closing in March, have now started trickling in. Do get yours in early! There's a special prize for the best story under 800 words. Details are on the website (www.theyellowroom-magazine.co.uk).

Finally, I'm often asked to appraise, critique or simply read other writers' work. I'm happy to do this, as long as I'm not too busy, but usually charge a fee, as it does take up a lot of time. I like to think I'm very thorough and very honest. Probably too honest for my own good. I can't be anything other than totally honest, and I know the truth sometimes hurts. My opinion is subjective, even though I try to be as objective as possible, if that makes sense. One person's response to a piece of writing is always going to differ from someone else's. However, I do have a number of years of experience as a prolific reader of many types of fiction, and as an editor. I'm also a published writer. I guess what I want to say is, please don't send your work to me to critique, if you don't value my opinion, or if you don't want me to be totally honest.

The photo was taken by my husband, David Derrick. Campbeltown on a rainy Wednesday evening.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

In the Zone!

I'm going great guns on the novel at the moment and I'm about halfway through. The hardest thing is writing those first few words each day. Once I've written a few sentences, then I'm off and it's all fine. Then I don't want to stop and get frustrated when domestic duties beckon or when the family needs me. I don't write very well first thing. My optimum time for writing is mid-afternoon from about 3 o'clock onwards, which is a nuisance, as I have to collect Megan from school and give her some love and attention once she's home. I then find I'm writing up a storm while the tea is cooking! Another good time for me to write is between 7pm and 8pm. Again, I have to stop to deal with Megan's bath and bedtime. However, I think knowing that I have a limited time spurs me on to write as much as I can and to write faster.

I have now sold out of Issue 3. I didn't get enough printed, obviously. The orders have been coming in thick and fast. I'll have to get another fifty of the next issue printed. Talking of the next issue, I'm about to start choosing stories and proofreading them ready for typesetting, so do send in those readers' letters, as I have only one at the moment!

The next Yellow Room competition closes on 31st March. Entries have started to trickle in already. Vanessa Gebbie has kindly donated a signed copy of Short Circuit, an invaluable guide for short story writers. This prize will go to the best story under 800 words. Details will appear on the website very soon.

I'm off to write some more crime!

Saturday, 16 January 2010

The Short Story Gland

I’ve recently been reading one of the best books on short story writing I’ve ever read. It’s called Short Circuit, published by Salt and edited by Vanessa Gebbie. If you write short stories, then you really should add this gem of a book to your collection. It has certainly inspired me to write more short fiction and has persuaded me that flash fiction is a worthwhile genre in its own right. I had previously been quite dismissive of the flash fiction genre, but I think I finally ‘get it’, mainly thanks to Tania Hershman’s wonderful article Art Breathes From Containment: The Delights of the Shortest Fiction or The Very Short Story That Could.
I’m often asked in my capacity as editor of The Yellow Room Magazine what makes a good short story or what I’m looking for. This is incredibly hard to pin down. Adam Marek sums it up beautifully, however, in his piece What My Gland Wants - Originality In The Short Story. Adam has very kindly given me permission to quote from his article. “When I read or write fiction, what I’m really doing is hunting for a very particular sensation. It’s a feeling a bit like delight, a bit like surprise, a bit like weightlessness. It’s the excitement  we get when we discover something new, something which in childhood we can’t take a step without tripping over, but which in adulthood is woefully infrequent. 
I get this sensation most intensely when I’m reading or writing short fiction.
Something about this form lends itself to revelation. I can think of so many moments when I have just finished reading a short story, and am sitting on my knackered sofa holding the book in my hands, too caught up in it, too exhausted by the ideas it has put into my head, to even think about reading another one.
This sensation is particular to short stories, for me anyway.”
Yes, I’m with Adam on that. A few days ago I read A Small, Good Thing by Raymond Carver. I can’t stop thinking about that story. It blew me away. It also says so much about grief; something I revisit every January without fail.
Adam goes on to say that he thinks “people who enjoy short stories have a special gland, one that responds to the unexpected with little bursts of pleasure chemicals.” He says that he is “always suspicious of people who love to read, but who don’t like short stories. These people, I think, if they have the gland, have a shrivelled thing, an atrophied little apple core. I pity these people. They are missing out on these inky little orgasms.”
Don’t you just love that phrase, ‘Inky little orgasms’? I think I’ll have to quote that in relation to the short story at every opportunity! 
Adam then says that the stories that get his “gland salivating” are the ones that present him with something he’s never seen before, “something absurd and then draw around it some internal logic - which justifies its existence, which makes it not just crazy surrealism, but grounds it in reality”. Adam admits that “it’s the stuff at the weird end” that he most likes to write and to read. And his stories are pretty weird, but addictive. I’m currently working my way through his collection, Instruction Manual For Swallowing.
In conclusion, Adam says that short stories “are like bubbles. Their existence is brief and miraculous, but the stuff that makes them can only attain a certain size.......Seamlessness is only possible within the short story. Perfection is only possible within the short story. And it is the pursuit of perfection, the balanced equation where everything that is included supports everything else and nothing could possibly be removed or added, that keeps us reading them.”
I’ll be discussing the short story form further in subsequent blogs this month, as I’m on a short story collection reading binge. I’m finding it more and more difficult to read novels when I’m working on my own. I need to immerse myself in the fictional world I have created rather than in someone else’s. Short stories are ideal, because I can ‘nip in and out’ of another world and move on. 

Finally, I’ve been asked by Hazel Cushion, owner of Accent Press, to plug their new Xcite eBook writers’ guidelines http://www.xcitebooks.com/ebookguidelines.html 

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Autumn Short Story Competition Results!

I've now done the final judging for The Yellow Room Short Story Competition, which closed on 30th September 2009. The results are as follows:

1st Prize: A Mean Undertow by Freda Love Smith
2nd Prize: Tiger In The Guest Room by Joanna Campbell
3rd Prize: Get Fit, Get Thin, Get Laid by Clare Reddaway
Highly Commended: Decisions Made Over Madeleine's Toast by Joanna Campbell
Rachel's Birthday by Sue Johnson
Commended: The New Heart by Nancy Le Nezet
Mapped Out by Rachel Crowther

The winning story will be published in Issue 4 of The Yellow Room in the spring.

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Happy New Year Everyone!

I've been neglecting this blog yet again and it's very remiss of me. No excuses, really, unless you count Christmas! It was an incredibly quiet one for us this year, as my mother-in-law went into hospital the Wednesday before Christmas to have a hip replacement operation. She came out the day after Boxing Day. However, she's still very infirm and we're doing meals-on-wheelsy/caring-type duties. I did my usual hermit-thing at Christmas and hardly went out of the house.

I've finally drawn up a longlist for the Yellow Room Short Story Competition which closed on 30th September 09. I really must read the entries as they come in, not leave them to read all at once. Therein lies madness! Having read over eighty stories in more or less one hit, I realise just how crucial that first paragraph is. A competition judge becomes rather jaded after reading half a dozen stories that begin in a rather a banal way. I want that first paragraph to hit me between the eyes. If I'd discarded stories on the strength of that opening paragraph, then I'd have been left with less than half a dozen!

The Yellow Room Magazine has now joined Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Yellow-Room-Magazine/244913764208
Do take a look and become a fan! You can join in lively discussions about writing and reading fiction. There is a discussion at the moment about short story openings, if you'd like to join in!

Here's the competition longlist (in no particular order):

The Old Barn - Carol Rogers
The Chosen One - Clare Reddaway
Get Fit, Get Thin, Get Laid - Clare Reddaway
Tiger In The Guest Room - Joanna Campbell
Rachel's Birthday - Sue Johnson
Decisions Made Over Madeleine's Toast - Joanna Campbell
A&E - Elizabeth Lister
Mozart and Maiden-Form by Julie Ann Lee
Shotgun Bill - Sarah England
Getting Shot - Pam Eaves
Gene Krupa - Lynne Voyce
Ruined Sanctuary - Geraldine Franzen
Finale - Deanna Allan
Time Out - Lesley Mace
The New Heart - Nancy Le Nezet
A Mean Undertow - Freda Love Smith
Mapped Out - Rachel Crowther
Still Waiting - Katherine Clements
Emerik's Ices - Ruth Collett-Fenson
Freedom to Fish - Sarah Barr
Clear As Glass - Pat Jourdan
Zac In A Box - Alison Wagstaff
Daddy's Girl - Teresa Husher
The Nicest Girl in the Pub - Pat Jourdan