Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Guest Blog by Sarah England

It's very exciting to have a guest blogging for me on here this week, especially as I don't seem to be able to come up with anything remotely interesting to blog about!

I got to know Sarah England via The Seriously Serious Scribes page on Facebook. Sarah is a great source of inspiration, as are the other Serious Scribes. Their output makes me want to go and have a lie down!

Anyway... over to Sarah......

When I turned 40 I changed. Not physically - although nothing improved you understand - but something inside. Suddenly there was urgency and I realised how unwell I was. I had headaches and neck pains and overwhelming tiredness. I couldn’t sit through another meeting or be bored by another manager. All my life I had wanted to write books - to be a paperback writer. I’d read copiously as a child and got my English O’Level at 14. Was it too late?
As fate would have it my husband was offered a job in the South West and I had the ideal opportunity to jack in my sales and marketing job with a major pharmaceutical company. Alas I also had to jack in the hefty salary and the Beamer but - God it was wonderful! I came home on the train with no luggage - free!
The joy, however, was short lived. Convinced I was going to hit the world literary stage with a blockbuster I spent 2 years submitting dire tomes of utter tosh to long-suffering agents. It was then the realisation hit me - this wasn’t easy! So I did a brief correspondence course in creative writing and I started studying short stories in magazines in an effort to learn my craft. I even went to a writing conference with one of my sad tomes and had a 1:1 with an agent. She read the first few lines and said, “My God this is boring.” Crushed? I went home in tears.
There is a happy ending - bear with - about a year after a started writing and submitting short stories I finally got a yes! From a chap called Dan McDaid at My Weekly. I have since had over 100 short stories bought and published in magazines, newspapers and anthologies. Bridge House Publishing were the first publishing company to take my short stories into an anthology and the latest one, Mosaic, is now not only in paperback but has just gone onto Amazon Kindle at a fraction of the price. It’s a pretty classy collection with not only well known authors but also some award winning ones too. Here’s the link:   http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0069BF92S  My 2 stories are ‘Adele’ - a glamour puss who has settled for life in a back terrace in Rotherham with a some what ordinary and quite bemused bloke. And ‘Different Colours’ - a bit of a steamy piece - my first and only sex scene!
Then came a bit of a leap - after years of trying I finally made it into Woman’s Weekly Fiction. My story ‘Another Man’ caused a bit of family friction but it was that story, published earlier this year, that was the first to make it. They have since bought 7 and the latest are now out in the current Christmas Special Issue and the Fiction Special (Issue 10) also out now. This is hugely exciting for me and I’ve really felt that I can push the boat out for them - in terms of humour and difficult subjects ie that there is no agenda except an entertaining read. I’m hoping to write a serial for them as my next major project.
But the other leap this year was ‘Expected’. Now this has been a mixed bag. On the one hand I decided, after being told by agent after agent that they really liked it but the women’s commercial fiction market was too difficult at the moment - to market it myself on Amazon Kindle ebooks. Good and bad. I had to do all the editing, presentation and promotion myself  - and I knew nothing about fb, twitter, blogs and websites, so I had to learn the ropes and fast. It took weeks and weeks and I’m still not doing well in terms of being known or selling the book. However, my learning curve has been extremely steep and I’m now pretty savvy when it comes to negotiating my way round the internet. I’ve also discovered ether books, which I wouldn’t have otherwise done - and loaded up 4 short stories. One is horror - ‘3am and Wide Awake’ which I have on good authority will scare the pants off you. The other 3 were published in the small press but didn’t see much daylight and so ether has offered a wider audience for ‘Cold Melon Tart,’ ‘Islands,’ and ‘Rough Love.’ As far as I can see they seem to be doing quite well and through ether books I also have an author interview w/c 5th Dec. and a link to the book ’Expected’.
Now before you go I would hate to chat and not tell you just a little about my girl, Sam Sweet, in ‘Expected’. You see - she’s expected to do what other people want her to do - that is to get married to a man she doesn’t love and to have his children. Sam is from a rough working class background and all she’s dreamed about is a career. But now she’s stuck. And said career is sliding away with jealous colleagues and a hateful boss. Miserable, she comfort eats and she shops - don’t we all - thus making her situation even worse. She has to find some power - a voice! If she doesn’t then she will not be free to make her own choices in life. I hope I’ve created a gutsy, funny heroine who finds her way out of the paper bag, and I hope it’s a fast and furious read that the reader will enjoy. Here’s the link : http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B005OMBA1C   And outside the UK: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005OMBA1C

Next project - well the serial for Woman’s Weekly and also a psychological thriller that’s been spinning around in my head for a while. With a background in nursing and pharmaceuticals a lot of my stories inevitably revolve around illness or mental problems. If you aren’t well then the world is a whole different ball game and that fascinates me. I want to write always - for ordinary people - for everyone. I just need to get my books out there as well as my stories and hopefully that will eventually happen. One day………….

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Fired up? Enthused? Er.... no!

Remember yesterday I was all fired up about my crime novel again and made great progress?

Do I feel like that today? No!


I'm not sure. This is very typical of me. I'm not sure what to do about this or how to address the problem.

I have worked on the novel today. I've done a bit more research, which felt more like skiving off to read, to be honest.

I've been in a short story frame of mind and the novel feels cumbersome and unwieldy. I feel too bogged down in the detail and 'getting it right'. I rarely feel this way about short stories, because, well... they're too short for this to happen.

I have done some editing work on a story and if I get my skates on before the school run, then I can get it submitted today. That will feel like a job well done. Something complete.

And maybe this is where the problem lies with the novel. I'm being too much of a perfectionist. I can't stop fiddling with the structure. I felt supremely confident yesterday that I had the structure nailed. This is the answer, I thought. This will keep readers on the edge of their seats, burning the midnight oil, dying to know what happens next!

Then a new day dawns and I think, no. By adding those new scenes today, I've bored everyone again. That wasn't a very exciting section, was it? Yes, there was a fair amount of background detail in that section and that's necessary, right? Have I kept that particular section short enough, though? And there isn't really very much in way of vivid imagery or beautiful use of language, is there?

You see all these doubts creeping in? It's all very well people saying (including myself), 'Just get the bloody thing written, woman!', but there seem so many hurdles to jump over. And what do I do when the doubts creep in? Amend my Sainsbury's online order; write in my diary; make a cup of tea; load the dishwasher or washing machine; feed the guinea pigs; read; write this blog. Before I know it, it's three-twenty and it's time to collect my youngest from school.

Constructive advice, please!

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Back To The Crime Novel....

.... and it feels like coming home!

Today is the first day for a long time that I've felt in my comfort zone writing-wise. I've been too focused on 'chasing the money' instead of on my creativity. I guess I went into panic mode, because we're so broke and I feel guilty for not pulling my weight as far as the family finances are concerned. I still haven't resolved that particular dilemma yet, but I'm hopeful I can pull in some cash from article writing at some point. However, doing market research for the latter takes my attention away from my first love, the crime novel.

I now feel that entering The Mslexia Novel Competition was a mistake. It made me rush to finish the novel before I was ready. I like my scenes to develop and evolve slowly; going where my characters take me, rather than forcing the plot. Now the pressure is off, I find I am able to follow a structure that suits the novel better and allow the stronger characters to push their way to the forefront. Doing a little more research into 1972 and the Glam Rock era has also helped flesh out the novel and create, what I hope, is a more authentic setting.

I have The Crime Writers Association Debut Dagger Competition in my sights, but unless I'm pretty near as damn it finished with this rewrite, I'm not going to enter. The great news is that today I was able to write a synopsis for the novel. I managed this quickly and easily with the help of the wonderful Jane Rusbridge.

So, in conclusion, it was great to be back in 1972. Great to be working on the novel again. Now, here are some images from that wonderful year for you to enjoy. All the artists pictured (apart from Mott The Hoople) had Number One hits in 1972. Which one is your favourite, I wonder?

Oh, and if you have any memories of 1972 you'd like to share via the Comments section I'd be most grateful!

Now I have to think of a title for my novel.....

Friday, 18 November 2011

Is NaNoWriMo Really My Cup of Tea?

It is now Day 18 of NaNoWriMo and I'm struggling. In fact, I've been struggling all week. I have lost all enthusiasm for the novel I started writing. I can manage a few hundred words per day, but can't seem to push much above 800 words. I need to be writing just over double that amount to meet my NaNo target. 

I'm not beating myself up about it. I have had other writing projects on the go this week and have finished another short story. I have also written a detailed critique for a Yellow Room Short Story Clinic client, proofread a few Yellow Room stories ready for the typesetter and read several Yellow Room submissions. I've also made time to do some reading (short stories, magazines and a novel). 

I admit I get much more excited about writing short stories than I do about writing a novel. I also think I'm better at writing short stories, but I have had years of practice. The craft of novel writing seems to elude me. I'm not sure why. I read dozens of novels per year. Maybe I haven't found the subject matter or the characters I really care about? Maybe I just don't have enough to say?

My crime novel is still on the back burner. I need to write a synopsis. Other writers have put the fear of God into me over that particular task. I hope to enter this novel in the D├ębut Dagger Competition run by The Crime Writers Association.

One piece of good news, though. I was in the Top Three of the Write-Invite competition again this week. I think this is the fifth time now. I've managed 2nd place twice and 3rd place twice. That first prize of £50 (and the only prize in the competition :-( ) continues to elude me. One day......

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

And the Winner Is.....

I am pleased to announce the prize winners in The Yellow Room Autumn Short Story Competition 2011!

1st Prize (£80): Anouska Huggins - La Fille Du Jongleur
2nd Prize (£45): Tracy Fells - Fish of the Sea
3rd Prize (£20): Rosemary Dun - Cry Baby Bunting

Highly Commended:

Liz Ringrose - Ma's Trip To Europe
Jo Carroll - Mother Ganga
Jo Waterworth - Accidentals, Guitar Mick-Style
Angela Buckley - The Pick Up Point
Pam Eaves - He Was Beautiful

I chose the winner, La Fille Du Jongleur, because it was fresh, quirky and vibrant. It stayed in my mind long after I'd read it. A really memorable story. There was an explosion of colour in the story (yellow eyeshadow and a spinach-green plait), which perfectly matched the story's theme. It appealed to the senses. Also some wonderful imagery: a tutu of bright shopping bags; chattering like the seagulls outside our old Brighton bedsit; my torso twisting and turning like a rose bush in the wind. This story had a definite beginning, middle and end, unlike many in the competition. A daughter finally breaks away from her overbearing mother and achieves her independence. The story wasn't as technically sound as the story placed second, for example, but it had more appeal. My one criticism is that too many characters were introduced too soon.

The story placed second, Fish of the Sea, was more subtle. A mother and her daughter mourn a premature baby who succumbs to pneumonia. Parallels are drawn when a pod of whales are stranded on a local beach. Mother and daughter are striking out on their own and a potentially new relationship is on the horizon. Again, great use of imagery, and a superbly constructed story.

The third prize winner, Cry Baby Bunting, was another moving story about the end of a relationship and a pregnancy. Milly unpicks the jumper she's knitting for her boyfriend's birthday when he tells her he's leaving to travel the world and uses the wool to knit a blanket for her unborn child. Again, this writer shows excellent short story technique and the writing was flawless with memorable imagery: The sky was soft and plumply dark; Brighton Pier, all-a-dazzle with its garish signs, candy-striped helter-skelter and funfair rides charging the air with an electricity she fancied she could whiff through her window.

The next Yellow Room Short Story Competition closes on 31st March 2012. Email entries only this time.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The Autumn Yellow Room Competition Shortlist

With the help of Sarah Green, I have now judged the 71 entries in this autumn's Yellow Room Competition and drawn up a shortlist of 12. I am disappointed in most of the titles! Where is the originality? There are only 4 titles here that really grab me. Remember, this is the first thing a judge sees and it should be catchy enough to make a judge sit up and take notice. Your title has to have resonance as well as the story as a whole.

Chocolate by Gill James
He Was Beautiful by Pam Eaves
Mother Ganga by Jo Carroll
Fish of the Sea by Tracy Fells
Captive Audience by Andrew Campbell-Kearsey
One Good Man by Jacki Hale
La Fille Du Jongleur by Anouska Huggins
Accidentals, Guitar Mick-Style by Jo Waterworth
A Family Portrait by Diane Simmons
Grubs and Leaves by Lucy Brown
The Pick Up Point by Angela Buckley
Ma's Trip To Europe by Liz Ringrose

Thursday, 3 November 2011

The Yellow Room Issue 7

This afternoon I've devoted a couple of hours to The Yellow Room, something I'm doing far too infrequently lately. I'm still enthusiastic about the magazine, but my own writing has taken precedence.

I've had fun scrolling through old blog posts here to find previous competition winners. I still have several prize winning stories to publish. I'm in the process of choosing the shortlist for The Yellow Room Autumn Competition 2011. I'm a little disappointed in the standard this time, although I haven't yet finished reading all the entries. The writing is competent, but the same themes crop up over and over again. Illness, death, funerals, marriage breakdown, affairs, infidelity, a childhood anecdote. I don't reject these themes out of hand, but they need to be treated in a fresh way. It is difficult to explain what I'm looking for in a short story, because there are so many different elements that make up a great one.

I read a promising entry this morning. Wonderful imagery and descriptions of a child's bedroom in the 1970s. The writer had perfectly captured that era, and I was right there with her in the room. However, there was no story. It was a description of a time and a place, but nothing happened. The characters remained stuck; freeze-framed in their little world. There was no sense of progression or movement. All the time I was reading, I was thinking 'What happens? What happens? Yes, so, what next?' 'What is the author's message?' 'What is the point of the story?'

There has to be a beginning, a middle and an end for a story to work.

In future blog entries I'm going to take a favourite short story and explain why I like it so much. The story may have been published in The Yellow Room or it may have been published elsewhere. The writers may be well known or they may be only starting out as a short story writer. It would also be great to hear via the comments section on this blog which are your own personal favourite short stories.

Finally, a note on Issue 7. I'm afraid publication has been delayed, because we are in dispute with Biddles over the print quality of the last issue. They still haven't got back to me. I hope to send Issue 7 to the typesetter next week, but I'm unsure how long it will be before it goes to print. Thank you for your patience!

Wednesday, 2 November 2011


I'm kicking myself for not updating this blog on a more regular basis, because now I have so much to write about!

I decided to participate in NaNoWriMo for the first time this year. Previously I'd always found it a daunting prospect. Now I see it as a kick up the backside to get as many words down as possible in a one month period. As you know from my previous posts, I can plan, make notes, brainstorm to my heart's content without getting very much written. I hope this will change this month.

I'm on Day 2 and have done just over half of the recommended daily word count, which is about 1,700 words. I'm flying by the seat of my pants. I haven't planned a thing. I started with a setting and a character and off I went. The aim is to have the bulk of a novel written by the end of November. For those who don't know, the NaNoWriMo target is 50,000 words. Gulp!

A week or so ago I was planning to write the second in my crime novel series. Then I got so heartily sick of my crime novel while trying to proofread it on holiday in Wales that I decided to write something completely different. For NaNoWriMo I'm writing a contemporary mainstream novel set on Kintyre with a central female character. This gives me much more freedom than the crime novel, and it's fun. I have no idea where the whole thing is going, but it doesn't matter. I'm just immersing myself in the words.

I am writing other things, too. I'm trying to keep on top of my short story writing and plan to look at my crime novel again in a week or so, when I can face it. Maybe I should also aim for a blog post a day?

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Busy, busy, busy!

This week I've been frantically trying to get the final draft of my novel finished. There have been several moments of panic, which totally block me. There have been times when I've had to walk away from the computer and do something else. Those times are much more productive, as a solution to a structural problem will suddenly present itself. Getting the structure right is crucial, if you're going to write a successful crime novel, I feel, which is why I've been fiddling around with scene order for what seems like weeks. I've written scenes in, taken old scenes out and juggled around with the order so many times. Thank goodness for Scrivener, which makes the task so much easier.

I am working to a strict deadline now. We go on a family holiday to Llandysul in Ceredigion, Wales on Saturday. I don't have a laptop and there won't be any Internet access. I'm going to download my novel onto my Kindle before we leave and read it through as if it were a published book. I'll also be making notes. It should then be ready to submit when I get back.

I wanted to get The Yellow Room Issue 7 off to the typesetter before I went away, but the novel has had to take priority. I'm still in dispute with Biddles over the print quality of the last issue, so Issue 7 could be delayed for some time. We're still in the process of judging The Yellow Room Competition. We've read just over half now. My friend, Sarah Green, kindly read half of the entries.

I'm also in the process of collating some of my short stories to enter in The Scott Prize. Some of the published stories are quite old, and it's interesting to see how much my style has changed over the past ten years or so. I tend to go for very different themes now, too.

I do have one success to report this week. I came 2nd in the Write-Invite competition for the second time. Sadly, there isn't a prize, but it gives my confidence a big boost, and I love entering the competition. It makes me write something new every week and it has taught me how to finish a piece to a deadline. I used to be rubbish at endings.

Which reminds me, I still haven't written the very last line of my novel. I wonder what it will be?

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

2,000 words a day

There's no doubt about it, having a daily word count target is motivating. About the only thing that does motivate me. However, there are days like yesterday when it's just not possible for any number of reasons.

I was on a roll on Sunday and managed my 2,000 words, then my son got ill. This involved a trip to A&E on Sunday night and a visit to his GP early yesterday morning. Then Matt decided he felt well enough to go back to school yesterday lunchtime, so another trip into town, as I didn't feel he was up to cycling in. And then, of course, I had to pick him up again, as well as my daughter. Then he had a singing lesson and I had to take him there. After cooking tea for everyone, I then had a hygienist's appointment at the dentist twelve miles away. Oh, and I forgot to mention my run and a few domestic chores thrown in. I did manage a few hundred words, however, which is better than none at all.

Today I have hours stretching ahead of me with no plans or duties until school pick-up time. And what am I doing? Bashing out those 2,000 words? No.... I'm mindlessly browsing the Internet (blogs, Forums etc) and writing this blog. I also have to proofread the next batch of stories for The Yellow Room Issue 7 and read a few competition entries.

Don't get me wrong, I love being busy, but I find adding to the word count a real slog. Is it just me?

I've signed up for this year's NaNoWriMo to practise getting the words down as quickly as possible. I struggle with the concept of quantity over quality. I know the quality comes in the rewriting and editing process (the part I love best) and without the words on the page, editing and rewriting is impossible. However, I still struggle like mad to get a first draft finished. Please tell me I'm not the only one!

Monday, 3 October 2011

Sophie Hannah - The Lichfield Festival

It's funny how things turn out. Yesterday, instead of running a half marathon in Coventry as planned, I was sitting in a rather elegant room in The George Hotel in Lichfield listening to Sophie Hannah talk about her new novel, Lasting Damage. I hope there won't be any lasting damage to my foot, after the marathon training in the summer. The injury meant that I had to defer my entry for The Coventry Half Marathon until next year.

This was Sophie's third visit to the Lichfield Festival and we were told she'd driven from Cambridge that morning. Sophie told us she was going to give us 'the gossip behind the book', her sixth psychological novel. Her first, Little Face, was published in 2006.

The idea for Lasting Damage came to Sophie in early 2009 when she was in the process of trying to move house from West Yorkshire to Cambridge. She'd been Fellow Commoner In Creative Arts at Cambridge University some time before and had fallen in love with the city. The reason for her move to West Yorkshire was her husband's job, which he was all too happy to give up, now that Sophie's writing career had taken off.

In the process of looking at houses for sale in the Cambridge area, Sophie became hooked on the Right Move website and knew the floor plans for every house for sale in Cambridgeshire. She even got dinner party guests to challenge her to match any floor plan with the property in question. It was because of her addiction to property websites that the idea for Lasting Damage came about.

Lying in bed at 1.30am, waiting for her husband to fall asleep, Sophie had the uneasy feeling that something was wrong. She realised she hadn't looked at the Right Move website in the last 24 hours and a new property might have been listed. There was no time to lose! She might miss the house of her dreams. Careful not to wake her husband, she crept down to the office in the dark and opened up the laptop. Her heart was racing. It was like sneaking off to chat to a secret lover on a social network site. Sophie was well aware that her slightly mad compulsion would make an excellent beginning for a novel. Obviously, her character would need a better reason for behaving this way.

Connie, as her character became known, has been stalking a particular house for some time. The reader doesn't know why. In the middle of looking through the virtual tour of 11 Bentley Grove, Connie sees a dead woman lying in a pool of blood in the lounge. She rushes to wake her husband, Kit, but when he looks at the virtual tour, which has been playing in a loop, there is no dead body. Kit doesn't believe Connie saw it. There is no evidence to suggest there was a dead woman on the website and when Connie contacts the police, they don't believe her either.

Sophie said it took her six months from the initial idea to work out exactly what was going on and how the photo of the dead woman got to be on the website for the few seconds that Connie was looking at it. She said she was determined to make the plot work and one day the whole story came to her. I must admit I was intrigued, so downloaded the novel onto my Kindle. In the meantime, I decided I'd try and work it out for myself and then go back to read the novel to see if I was right!

Of all the novels she's written, Sophie said she enjoyed writing this one the most, as she loves houses. Sophie found a house in Cambridge eventually and now lives there, but she still looks at the Right Move website most days. She justifies her addiction by saying that it's research. She even had to put an estate agent's floor plan at the beginning of Lasting Damage. It is the floor plan of a real house that was for sale, and she says she's waiting for the owner to read her book and recognise it and for them to email her. She promised that if this happened, she'd give the owner of the house signed copies of all her books.

I found it interesting when Sophie spoke about the theme of this book and of all her books - that the biggest threat to someone's sanity and/or safety comes from someone close to them. According to psychiatrists, 99% of the extremely disturbed people they see, are like that as a result of the behaviour of someone close to them. Connie's lasting damage is a result of her psychologically nightmarish parents.

Sophie told us that her publishers deliberately didn't market her first novel as crime. There wasn't a black cover; the title wasn't typical of a crime novel title. Sophie likes to think of her books as more literary than traditional crime, yet believes she is the same type of writer as Agatha Christie, because she has the ability to tell a good story. She admires Christie for her 'brilliant plots' and says, like Christie, that she is 'desperate to find out' what happens in an 'apparently impossible scenario'. Sophie derided the traditional formulaic crime novel. However, her novels follow a set structure. She has a female viewpoint character who is 'having a terrible time' and uses first person present for her heroine. She uses third person viewpoint for her 'police procedural' scenes.

One of Sophie's detectives, bullying Inspector Proust, is based entirely on a real person whom she doesn't like very much. She quotes this person's dialogue directly onto the page, but isn't afraid that he will read her books, as he doesn't like crime.

I asked Sophie whether she started writing while mulling over her plot. No, she said, once she had the plot worked out, she wrote a plan and stuck to it. She has to be in control of her characters and that writing for her isn't necessarily an organic process. I think this shows in her rather clipped and spare writing style. From what I've read so far, I feel her novels lack depth and atmosphere. However, that is personal preference and I know some readers enjoy racing ahead to find out what happens, rather than luxuriating in wonderful writing and characters you fall in love with.

It was interesting to hear how a fellow crime writer works. I've now learned that it's a case of 'each to their own' and that there isn't a right way or a wrong way of approaching the novel. We each have to work out what is the best way for us; mostly by trial and error. I no longer try to copy another writer's methods and finally have faith that my way will get me there in the end.

I had a wonderfully enjoyable hour after the talk, walking around Lichfield, which I used to visit regularly when I lived in the area nearly fifteen years ago. It brought back some lovely memories and it was interesting to see how much the city had changed in that time. It's well worth a visit.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

I Got A Kindle For My Birthday!

I received a Kindle for my birthday yesterday. I love it! Much more than I thought I would. So far the biggest advantage over a book is that you can lie it flat, so that you can read while eating, typing at the computer or peeling the veg! I also like the fact that some books are a lot cheaper to buy and all your fiction is in one place. Like Rosemary, it's great to read a Kindle in bed (I recommend getting a case with a light fitted). So good on holiday, when you may not take the 'real' books you're in the mood for. With the Kindle you can browse and buy while you're away. Of course, the Kindle takes up much less space in a bag or suitcase than several books would. I also like the fact you can transfer your own work-in-progress on to it. 

I will continue to read and buy 'real' books, because I love the way they look, smell and feel. I have hundreds of books on my shelves, many unread, and I'm not going to abandon them.

And the first thing I downloaded on to my Kindle? A novel by Penny Feeny, who is a regular contributor to The Yellow Room and who also wrote many stories for QWF. It's a good read so far!

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this wonderful little gadget!

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Clifton Hall and The Novel!

Clifton Hall After Restoration
Clifton Hall Before Restoration
Interior of Clifton Hall Before Restoration
Interior of Clifton Hall After Restoration

Clifton Hall (see photos above) has always fascinated me. As a child, I could see it from my bedroom window at the top of Chestnut Lane in Clifton Campville. It had been a ruin for many years, so it was wonderful to see it restored to its former glory at the beginning of this century! Richard Blunt has done an amazing job. He very kindly emailed me a stack of photos of Clifton Hall before and after the renovation work. 

The Hall features in my novel, under a slightly different name. I had no idea what it looked like inside, having never even got close to the building. I simply used my imagination. So, it was rather spooky to see the photos of the interior yesterday and realising that the rooms were just how I imagined them to be! 

I'm now working on the final draft of the novel and want to try and secure an agent for it by Christmas (ever the optimist!). 

The new Short Story Clinic is going well and I have lots of paid editing work to do. I’m just about to start proofreading stories for Issue 7 of The Yellow Room.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Lacking Focus

Do you ever get those days when you can't settle to anything for very long and you can't decide what it is you need to do first? I can't stand those sort of days and I get them often.

My mind is jabbering away in the background, nagging me and reminding me of all those jobs that need to be done. I just want to put my hands over my ears and yell, Stop!

I made sure I did some writing first thing, however. Once the children had got off to school, I printed off a list of flash prompts and wrote straight onto screen for about half an hour, using most of the prompts on the page. It felt very much like joining the dots. I enjoyed it, though, and produced just over 1,000 words of reasonable prose. Quite what its use will be, who knows?

I did a little bit of Yellow Room admin (the competition entries are gradually trickling in), but was niggled by the thought of having to go to town and do some grocery shopping (boo, hiss!). I thought I'd get this over and done with, and really wish I'd sat at my computer for longer.

I have several writing projects on the go, as well as some paid editing work to do (four short stories), competition entries to read, the next Yellow Room to prepare for typesetting and some reading for research (we won't mention the massive ironing pile and the general state of the house and garden!). The writing projects are bothering me, as I feel I really should be focusing on one thing at a time instead of hopping about between the novel, the pocket novel, stories for competitions, preparing stories for The Scott Prize anthology competition and writing stories for the women's magazines. I flit between each project like a demented butterfly and don't feel as if I'm giving any of them my best shot.

And breathe.......

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Back to School!

It felt good waving my children off to school this morning. Both of them seemed rather excited at the prospect of a new school year. Megan starts Year 5 at primary and Matt starts Sixth Form.

It was bliss to walk back into an empty house! I love solitude, I have to confess. I went straight to the Mac and began thrashing out a new short story aimed at the women's magazine market. I've recently been encouraged by the Fiction Editor at People's Friend, after she wanted to see a rewrite of a story of mine she was very keen on. I've also been plugging away at my pocket novel set during The Blitz in London. Thank goodness I've almost finished it!

I tend to write in short sharp bursts. I can manage about 1,000 words in half an hour before I stall and need a break. I envy those writers who can keep ploughing on regardless and who can sit at their computers for a 12 hour stretch. I get restless after about an hour.

I've noticed that I get stuck in a scene very easily. With the pocket novel, I've learned that I have to make a character walk out or switch to a new scene when this happens. I somehow feel I have to resolve each scene before moving on, but of course fiction doesn't work like that. I can leave two characters in a room without any resolution being reached. I think I'm finally learning how to leave a scene 'hanging' or 'suspended in the ether'.

On the running front, things aren't too dire. I managed to do just over 4 miles today. My foot hurt at the beginning and I felt I was hobbling a bit towards the end, but the middle bit was fine! I've been doing my plantar fascia exercises and they do seem to help.

Oh look, it's nearly school pick-up time. Where did the hours go? Oh well, I can do it all again tomorrow and the day after that, and the day after that. Phew!

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Running Injury and Writing Competition Success

This isn't a photo of me running (I wish!). In fact, I won't be running for a few days due to plantar fasciitis , which I appear to have developed over the past couple of weeks. I've been getting pain in my heel after a run, and it's always much worse first thing in the morning getting out of bed. Just lately it's been getting worse and today I haven't been able to put weight on my left foot. I've been limping my way around all day and my foot is swollen. 

This condition is a big blow, as it will spoil my training for the Coventry Half Marathon, which takes place the first weekend in October. I was due to do a 10 mile run tomorrow morning, but have had to cancel that and rest. I guess I have been doing too much, too soon. Until the middle of July I was running 3-4 miles about 3-4 times a week. Then I did a 6 mile on 22nd July and the following week 7 miles, then 8 miles, then 9 last week. In between I was doing two 5-6 mile runs. Clearly I overdid it. 

My writing has been going slightly better, thank goodness. I entered the Write-Invite Competition for the first time last week. It was nerve-wracking, as the competition is live. You wait until the clock on the site shows 5.30pm (every Saturday evening), then pay your entry fee via Paypal, choose one of three themes, then write your piece in the space provided on the website. You have until 6pm that same evening to complete your story, add a title, edit and proofread. I was sweating profusely by 5.55pm! Once your entry has been sent, you wait until the following Wednesday at 5.30pm when the shortlist is posted. The participants then have to vote on the top three stories. I'm delighted to announce that my story was in the top three! I was over the moon, as it's the first short story competition I've entered in about two years. The overall winner receives £50, so I'm keeping my fingers crossed! 

The beauty of this competition and the main reason I entered is that you are under pressure to write a complete short story in a short space of time. This really focuses the mind. It works for me, because I have great difficulty in starting writing each day. I knew that by 6pm on Saturday I'd have a more or less complete short story that I could then go on to expand and edit, if I wished to do so. 

I've been reading William Trevor's collection of short stories for the past couple of weeks. I read one, maybe two each day. I recommend every writer of short stories to read his work, if they haven't already done so. I have learned so much. Not every story is to my taste, but I love his attention to detail. His characters are so well drawn and we discover things about them they didn't know themselves. 

Tomorrow I'm off to Lincolnshire for the weekend with my nine-year-old daughter. Wish me luck!

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Sally Quilford's 48 Birthday Bash

Today is Sally Quilford's 48th birthday. She is a writer I admire, if only for the thousands of words she manages to bash out day-in, day-out. I wish I were half as prolific. So, today I felt I had to take part in her Birthday Bash, by bashing out a story on the theme of 48, as have many of her blogging friends.

Please excuse the poor quality, but I wrote it in about half an hour while the kids were occupied!

My mum thinks you’re hot!
I wish Ria wouldn’t put her whole life on Facebook. I can’t make an innocent comment these days without the whole world knowing about it. Frankly, it’s more than embarrassing; it’s humiliating.
And yes, for the record I do think he’s hot. 
Adam. A few years over the age of consent, but young enough to be my son, which is why I’m beating myself up about even thinking such a thing.
He’s got the hands of a man and the face of a little boy blue.
No, that’s not another of Ria’s status updates. It’s the line of a song that’s stormed into my middle-aged brain like a lightning flash. 
48 Crash come like a lightning flash.
I’m going to be plagued by Suzi Quatro’s lyrics all day, I can tell. Perhaps going for a run will help. It might be my 48th birthday tomorrow, but I can still run 6 miles three times a week and not be out of breath. Mind you, I’m worried about my knees. And my ankles, come to that. They’re not going to put up with pounding the pavements for much longer.
And, as I run those damn lyrics are tearing their way through my head in time with my feet. 
And the 48 Crash is a silk sash bash.
That’s the other problem with running any sort of reasonable distance at my age - your bladder objects to the constant bouncing up and down and you get the urge to go about three miles in. Fortunately, I’ve found the perfect spot behind a bank of topsoil and shaded by trees. That doesn’t stop me thinking there’s someone out there who can see me. Someone who knows my routine. Still, at my age I don’t care. Comfort is the most important thing.
And then just as I’m pulling up my running shorts, I see the car. It’s one of those little foreign hatchbacks. A boy racer car. Bright yellow. 
It’s him.
I feel my face turning puce. Yes, I know it was pretty red to start with.
He can’t see me from the road, obviously, but just the thought of what I’ve been doing when he’s just a few hundred yards away is enough to make the humiliation creep in once again.
And you’re so blind you could find that your motor ain’t ready to go.
Damn lyrics again! And my motor is more than ready to go, thank you very much. I speed up for the last three miles just to prove it and it’s possible he’ll drive past me again. I want him to be impressed that Ria’s mum still has it in her, even though she’s edging towards fifty.
I shudder. I can’t face that yet. Not fifty.
In my head I’m still dancing as sexily as I can manage, emulating ‘Cherry’ off Pans People, while T-Rex’s Hot Love grooves out from the record deck at the youth club disco.
Russell had a bright yellow Ford Capri. A Mark One Capri with a 3 litre engine. Goodness knows how he could afford to insure it, even in those days. 
He had black hair, cornflower blue eyes and wore denim button-fly flares which fitted very tightly across his slim hips. Fab!
You’re so young, you’re a hot shot sun of a gun.
Those are the lyrics repeating in my head as I run the last few hundred yards towards home. 
Adam. Russell. Russell. Adam. 
They merge into one. Similar colouring, similar car. 
Russell was the older guy, buying me an illegal half pint of cider and bringing it to me in the beer garden of The Robin Hood. It tasted potent, yet refreshing; the bubbles fizzing up my nose.
“Fancy a spin?” he’d said afterwards.
I don’t remember the crash. I just remember the thrill of being driven too fast; the car stereo blasting Jeepster and the gorgeous dark-haired hunk beside me. It happened just after he turned to look at me; his deep blue eyes promising things that sent a shiver through me, even though I was too young to know what those things really were.
I was lucky, they said. A good job I was wearing a seat belt. And what was I doing in that young tearaway’s car anyway? We always knew he’d come to a bad end, they said.
Adam. You could hardly call him a tearaway. Geeky Freak, Ria calls him. He’s clever; a talented musician with an angelic voice. And he’s a bit odd, I admit. Mad about Doctor Who and Lord of the Rings
“And he even has a life-size cardboard tardis in his bedroom, Mum.”
How sweet; how endearing. And I remember who I really am. 
You’re so young, but like a hang up I’ll be sad when you’re old and you’re gone.
Suzi’s lyrics remind me that I’m a responsible middle-aged mum. And I like being a mum, feeding my teenage daughter’s crazy friends with homemade cake and pizza.
I head off for the shower. Washing away the years and the memories for now. 
Crash, Crash, 48 Crash.
© Jo Derrick, 2011

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Up and Down, Up and Down

The title of this post says it all. Mood swings are affecting every area of my life, it seems.

My attitude towards my writing and life in general seems to change from day to day lately. Today, for example, I feel positive. Yesterday I felt the polar opposite. However, after a glass of wine the positivity returned last night and I hammered out 900 words of the Pocket Novel in half an hour. Sometimes it seems almost too easy.

If I think about my writing too much ie. what I should be writing or that I should be making it pay, then my creativity disappears and rebelliousness sneaks in. Rebelliousness takes the form of 'skiving off' by surfing the Internet or reading a favourite book (I felt compelled to re-read The Boy I Love by Marion Husband yesterday. One of my all-time favourite reads set in a favourite period of history - the aftermath of World War 1). I rarely allow myself to re-read favourite books or stories, because I feel guilty for abandoning the brand new, never-read-before books sitting on my shelves. It's a real indulgence to read an old favourite, but as a writer I think we can learn so much more the second or third time around. We're focusing less on the story and more on the way the writer works.

I've been dabbling in short stories again. I do enjoy the form; both reading shorts and writing them. I have no trouble with inspiration for stories and have no trouble getting ideas. I can write 1500 words straight off without pausing for breath, but then I dry up. I struggle to finish stories. The perfect ending always seems to elude me. I've had some terrific advice from Joanna Campbell here. She also advises starting with the ending, which I want to try. Any more tips on writing endings would be gratefully received!

School holidays are the perfect excuse not to write. Shopping for food takes up more time, as the children spend most of the day searching the cupboards and the fridge for food. That's when they're not asking me for lifts to places or begging me to let their friends come round.

The running is going very well. I'm now running with other like-minded ladies at least once a week and it's much more fun. I did a 6 mile run last Friday, which I didn't think I could achieve. We're aiming for 7 miles this Friday. I did a 4 mile run on Monday and hope to do another this evening. I've fallen into half-marathon training with a friend, even though she'll be doing the race and I won't! I really need to buy new running shoes, however, as mine are making my feet hurt. I hope to make a trip to The Sweat Shop in Milton Keynes tomorrow, where they can assess my running style and recommend the correct running shoes.

Now, back to the Pocket Novel......

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Be Persistent!

I read a wonderful blog post today and it reminded me once more that, as a writer, it pays to be persistent. We have to be a like a terrier with a rat. 

Here's the link: http://htmlgiant.com/behind-the-scenes/22-things-i-learned-from-submitting-writing/

I love hearing from subscribers and today I received a lovely letter in the post from a long-term subscriber in response to me asking how her writing was going. A proper letter is so much nicer than an email somehow. 

I am genuinely interested in how other writers are getting on; it doesn't matter whether they're a complete beginner or have been published in twenty different countries many times over. As writers we all share something in common. We scribble away on our own with no-one to read our work, thinking no-one cares about it either. It takes a lot of faith in our ability to screw up the courage to submit work to busy editors. That's why, as an editor, I like to give a few lines of feedback to writers who submit to The Yellow Room. I hate getting a story back from an editor with a bland statement to the effect that 'it isn't quite suitable for our requirements'.

Be persistent with editors. Personally, once I've rejected a story from a writer, I'd like them to send something else by return of post. I like to see the same names cropping up again and again. This way I can build a relationship with a writer and get to know their work better. I am much more likely to publish something from someone who has submitted many times, even though I may have rejected several of their stories.

My writing endeavours are very bitty at the moment (sounds like a sketch from Little Britain!). I switch from the novel, to the pocket novel, to short stories to articles. A real butterfly! 

I think the answer with any sort of writing is to write something every day, leave it to rest, edit, then submit. Then to repeat this process over and over.

I must remember to follow my own advice!

By the way, the photo is another old one of my father, his two younger brothers and a friend. The dog in the photo was a terrier and a very good rat catcher, I believe. I think his name was Monty, but I could be mistaken!

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Short Story Writing

I've been itching to get back to short story writing for some time after a long stretch focusing on my novel. I've missed several short story competition deadlines, which I'm rather miffed about, simply because I didn't feel I had anything new enough or good enough to send out.

I've just read this marvellous blog post by Alison McLeod about writing short stories. Superb tips! I would urge everyone who wishes to write good short stories and everyone who submits to The Yellow Room Magazine to read this! http://blogs.chi.ac.uk/shortstoryforum/?p=5250

I've just finished sending the last of The Yellow Room Issue 6 out to all those who requested a copy or subscribe. We have a bit of a cash flow problem at the moment, so I would urge you to buy a copy of the magazine, if you haven't already or recommend it to your friends. http://www.theyellowroom-magazine.co.uk/www.theyellowroom-magazine.co.uk/Latest_Issue.html

I hope you like the photograph! It was taken in the 1930s (my father as a baby, his mother - far left, his uncle and aunt).

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

The Stylish Blogger Award

Thank you so much to Pat Newcombe for honouring me with The Stylish Blogger award.

I'm very new to all this blog networking, so please forgive me if I get it all horribly wrong!

The Rules:

1. Thank and link back to the person giving you the award. (Many thanks Pat!)
2. Share 7 Things About Yourself.
3. Award 10-15 Blogs Who You Think Deserve This Award.
4. Contact these bloggers and let them know about the award.

7 Things About Me

1. I used to ice skate competitively from the age of 4 until the age of 9.
2. I love wine (Pinot Grigio, Rose or Red, I'm not fussed).
3. My favourite season is Autumn and I was born around the time of the Autumnal Equinox.
4. I like running, but not very fast!
5. I love baking cakes, but don't always fancy eating them.
6. I have a book buying obsession.
7. I tend to talk in song lyrics when I'm drunk.

My Stylish Blogs I Pass The Award On To:
1. http://theelephantinthewritingroom.blogspot.com/
2. http://titaniawrites.blogspot.com/
3. http://suemoorcroft.wordpress.com/
4. http://www.helpineedapublisher.blogspot.com/
5. http://howpublishingreallyworks.com/
6. http://sarahduncansblog.blogspot.com/
7. http://oldenoughnovel.blogspot.com/
8. Brightwriter60
9. I should be writing
10. Nik's Blog
11. http://womagwriter.blogspot.com/
12. http://sallyquilfordblog.co.uk/
13. http://mousenotebook.blogspot.com/
14. http://jan-jones.blogspot.com/
15. This Itch of Writing

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

The New Office!

Why on earth didn’t I think of this before? There’s a beautiful building five minutes up the road with desk space. It’s full of books, warm and free to use. The wonderful Rugby library!
I’ve been struggling with some symptoms of depression recently. Nothing serious, by any means, but enough to make me feel unhappy and lacking in motivation. It’s taken me a long time to work out what the problem is. And it’s quite straightforward. I spend far too much time in the house. I needed to get out more and see people. I’d become far too wrapped up in a virtual world where I did have contact with people (via Facebook and Twitter), but it wasn’t enough. 
Going to the library each day to write is the perfect solution for me. It gets me out of the house. It feels like going out to work. I feel like I’m taking my work more seriously. I feel like a student again. I feel as if I’m doing something important. I’m also surrounded by people who are quiet and don’t want to talk to me. 
Yesterday and today I sat still for over two hours at a time, writing, making notes and being immersed in my novel. At home I can’t sit for more than fifteen minutes. There’s always something else to do, be it making a cup of tea, hanging out the washing or Hoovering the lounge carpet. 
I can’t tell you how this has improved my mood. I feel a real sense of achievement when I get a scene written or resolve a major plot complication. The only downside is that I can’t use my computer in the library (I knew I should have bought a laptop!). I don’t mind writing longhand, but it’s a bit of a chore having to type it up afterwards.
It’s also quite useful to observe what library users are borrowing. My ‘desk’ is situated facing the Mills and Boon paperback rack and the Crime paperback rack. Today, the Mills and Boon rack was definitely busier. A lovely little old lady took nearly an hour to choose two Mills and Boon books. She brought them over to the table I was hogging (rather a large one with four chairs... I like to spread my work out!) and spent some time reading the first few pages of each, before making her selection.
I plan to spend every weekday in the new office (although how I’ll manage this in the school summer holidays, I don’t know!) and by the end of the summer I should have finished at least the first draft of the novel. Who knows I might just enter the Mslexia Novel Competition, which closes in September?

Thursday, 16 June 2011

A Sight for Sore Eyes!

I haven't done any writing today! I can't tell you how frustrating this feels.

I feel very much like the old barn on the right. A bit of a wreck. I'll explain why...

Today I went to the opticians for the first eye-test I've had in nearly 25 years. I've noticed I've become more and more short-sighted in recent years to the extent that I'm squinting at the TV and road signs. I struggle to recognise even family members at a distance. The other day I was peering at the TV text, trying to work out what the time was, when my son handed me his prescription glasses. I put them on and Bingo! The world suddenly became much clearer. I could see properly! I didn't realise I'd been going around looking at everything as if through a thin film. The trouble is, my son is severely short-sighted. So bad, in fact, that a few years ago, he could only see the large letter A at the top of the optician's sight-test board ('And even that's blurry,' he said).

It turns out that my eye sight isn't quite as bad as my son's, but not far off. I need glasses to be legal to drive, it seems. However, the worst piece of news was that I have a cataract in my right eye. The optician said I was one of the youngest people he'd seen with this condition. I am worried, I must admit! However, I have been reassured by several people now that should this get any worse and I do need an operation, it's all straightforward and those who've had it done can see perfectly well afterwards without wearing glasses.

Apparently, because I do so much reading, my close up vision is fine and my eyes have compensated. However, I have purchased some reading glasses to give my eyes a little bit of help. I will shortly be in possession of three pairs of prescription glasses: a pair to wear all the time (yikes!); a pair for reading; and a pair of prescription sunglasses to protect that right eye from UV rays to prevent the cataract getting any worse.

The only time I won't need to wear glasses is when I'm using the computer i.e. most of the time!!

I spent a long time choosing frames, particularly for the glasses I'll be wearing most of the time and, me being me, had to choose the most expensive pair in the shop! I chose a classy pair of rimless frames. Very delicate and pretty. The prescription tinted glasses are another matter! I will feel a little like Roy Orbison when I go out on sunny days! Although he didn't have a little sparkly bits on the arms of his, did he?

I felt a little wobbly when I got home. I didn't think I'd have to wear glasses all the time. The phrase: Boys don't make passes at girls who wear glasses! kept coming into my head, which is silly, because I'm a married woman and shouldn't have to worry about such things! The other strong feeling is of getting old! Body parts are obviously deteriorating (remember all the trouble I had with my teeth?). I just keep imagining myself as a little toothless old lady who's virtually blind and can't read books anymore. Remember those games we used to play when we were younger: Which faculty would you rather lose? Your sight or your hearing? Aargh!!! Neither!

I'll get over it! It's just another life change. A fairly small one in the scheme of things, but a bit of a landmark day.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

The Same Old Story!

I'm having an energy slump at the moment! I'm not sure whether it's because my body is fighting off some sort of cold or what it is. My exercise regime has gone out of the window this week, but I am trying to compensate by 'eating clean', drinking lots of water, no alcohol and resting as much as possible.

I got a rejection from one of the women's magazines yesterday, which hasn't helped this gloomy feeling that has suddenly descended. It was a 1,000 word short story, and I was told there were no surprises. Does there have to be a surprise? Clearly. I'm not very good at surprises, however. Perhaps an area to work on?

Now I'm doubting my abilities in every area again. This sense of failure permeates everything I do and has done from an early age. I wish I could get over it! These feelings become so overwhelming that I tend to freeze and do very little for a while. I know I have to keep plugging away in the face of rejection, but it's one of the hardest things about being a writer. We're constantly looking for recognition that our work is worthwhile.

And just how many writing projects should I have on the go at any one time? I have many literary short stories I'd like to collate and send off to The Scott Prize. I'd like to research more online journals and see if I can write something suitable. I'd like to finish my novel. I'd like to finish the pocket novel for My Weekly. Can I do all that and more? Or am I biting off more than I can chew?

My gremlin is peering over my shoulder as I write this, whispering, 'What's the point? You're wasting your time. Admit it, you're never going to get published ever again. Face it, it's been too long since you last got anything published! Did you really expect to make any money out of this writing lark?' and so on.... Perhaps I could either shout really loudly at my gremlin or shoot him?

Issue 6 of The Yellow Room Magazine is still with the typesetter.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Announcing the winners of The Yellow Room Spring Short Story Competition 2011

Announcing the winning entries...
1st Prize: A Night Out by Sharon Birch
2nd Prize: A Few Vital Minutes by Sarah Barr
3rd Prize: Enduring the Sun by Shirley Golden
Highly Commended: Free Running by Jenny Roman
The Girl In Red Shoes by Jo Carroll
Commended: The Billet-Doux by Gill Blow
This Beautiful Day by Elizabeth Xifaras
Tear Analysis by Joanne Fox

I found it so difficult to decide between the top five stories. All were worthy winners and very well written. It just came down to personal choice in the end. I picked A Night Out as the winning story, because it moved me emotionally and my heart was in my mouth as I read, racing to see what the denouement would be. I felt total empathy for the characters in the top five stories and willed them to be allowed a happy ending. I will be publishing the top three stories in future issues of The Yellow Room Magazine.