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?