Senior Travel Expert Writing Competition

November 18, 2014 9 comments

The Senior Travel Expert Writing Competition will open for entries on November 20th 2014. It’s free to enter and the prize is £100.

Don’t panic if you’ve been nowhere exotic. The theme is ‘City, Town or Village’ and the brief is:

“Submit up to 600 words, non-fiction or fiction, which will persuade the readers of this site to go and visit the city, town or village you have chosen.”

We’ve all been somewhere that we could write 600 words about – even if it’s only our home town. So pick up that pen and have a go!

Visit the Senior Travel Expert website for full details, which should be available once the competition opens for entries on Thursday 20th November 2014.  At the moment you can just see a brief paragraph if you scroll down the page.

Good Luck!

 

The Art of Receiving Criticism

November 11, 2014 21 comments

A couple of weeks ago my writing buddy, Helen Yendall, wrote a blog post about The Art of Giving Feedback. Today, I’m going to come at it from the other side and talk about the The Art of Receiving Criticism.

I am working on a novel, in fact I thought I’d done a reasonable job on it. But I know how hard it can be to look at one’s own writing objectively so I decided to seek the opinion of an expert. I chose published romantic novelist Patricia Fawcett. I have met her a couple of times at writing events and she is also a reader for the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers’ Scheme. Also, Patricia’s critiques are great value for money.

I received a comprehensive report on my novel suggesting several ways that it could be improved, starting with the first chapter where the pace is a ‘domestic crawl’. On the positive side, Patricia said that she liked my female main character who is ‘vulnerable and interesting’ but, on the negative side, my male main character comes across badly and I need to put in more of his back story so the reader gets to know him. Patricia also pointed out that part of the plot depends on a couple of unlikely coincidences that would ‘get up an editor’s nose’ – so they need taking out and/or re-working. She also suggested a different ending to the novel, which I think will probably be more plausible than the one I had in mind. There was much more in the report but I won’t bore you with it all.

So I’ve still got a lot more work ahead of me.

If I’d received this report a few years ago I would probably have stuffed it in a drawer and given up all hope of ever being able to write anything longer than a 1200 word short story. But as the years go by (and I get older and wiser) I realise that very few people get it right first time and there’s no reason why I should be any different. So it’s time to submerge myself in the plot again and learn from everything that Patricia has highlighted.

Patricia ended her report positively, she said, “If I have gauged you right, you will dust yourself down, shake this one up, and carry on to prove to me and to yourself that you can do it.”

Fingers crossed that I can!

Write an Epitaph for your Character

November 4, 2014 20 comments
Pets' Graveyardat Brodsworth Hall

Pets’ Graveyard at Brodsworth Hall

On Sunday, Andrew Marr was asking Scottish politician Alex Salmond what he would like on his epitaph.

Epitaphs were discussed again on the Today program yesterday and it got me thinking.

An epitaph is a couple of sentences epitomising the dead person i.e. summing up how they lived their life.

It struck me that writing an epitaph might be a good way to get to the heart of a character’s psyche.

I’m sure we’ve all come across those character-creation questionnaires which demand that you fill in everything about your protagonists such as date of birth, hair colour, favourite food, best subject at school and secret fear. I’ve tried doing this but find that I get distracted by stuff that isn’t relevant such as my heroine’s shoe size and what she carries in her handbag.

I feel that what I should be doing is getting to the heart of what my character wants from life, what is stopping him or her from getting it and how they are going to overcome this hurdle by their own efforts. It should be possible to do this in two or three short sentences to fit on a gravestone and then, from these few words, it should be possible to work out what else I need to know about the character’s background.

So I’ve had a quick go at doing this for the hero in my current WIP:

‘A devoted father removed from his son by divorce. He endured unemployment and poverty in order to fulfill his paternal drive.’

Alright, it probably needs polishing and editing before the stone mason gets out his chisel but it helps to focus my mind on what this character wants. Knowing this desire will help to shape his actions through the story and keep him on target to get what he wants.

What about you? Does the twenty (or one hundred) questions method suit your way of working or do you do something completely different to create believable characters?

For those of you who do like the questionnaires as a starting point, there’s a whole array of them here.

Three E-Books (not mine!) and a Workshop

October 28, 2014 13 comments

I’ve three lots of e-reading to tell you about today (plus a novel-writing workshop) so get your Kindles, tablets, smartphones and other gadgets at the ready …

Firstly, Wendy Clarke has launched her first collection of short stories. Room in Your Heart by Wendy Clarke
Wendy is a prolific and successful women’s magazine fiction writer. She’s had around 90 stories published over the last three years – phenomenal!
Her collection, Room in Your Heart, comprises twelve romantic short stories that have previously appeared in People’s Friend. It’s worth taking a look if you’d like to write for People’s Friend or if you just love a good dose of romance!
The book is available on Amazon and I’m sure Wendy won’t mind you gate-crashing the launch party over on her blog – pop in and say hello (and see what she has to say about Kindle Direct Publishing for Absolute Beginners).

 

Secondly, the e-magazine for fiction lovers, Kishboo has now formally launched. Kishboo Edition 1
It is available free online or as an Android app and very cheaply for Kindle.
The magazine is running a short story competition and is also looking for articles and readers’ letters. Have a look at the first edition online and see if you can spot any familiar names among the contributors.

 

 

 

Thirdly, you may remember me talking about Judith Cutler’s new crime novel Death in Elysium a few monthsDeath in Elysium ago.
At the time it was only available in a rather expensive hardback edition but now it’s out as a not-quite-so-expensive e-book. It’s the first in a new series of crime novels featuring city girl/vicar’s wife/sleuth, Jodie Welsh. Take a look at it on Amazon.

 

 

And now the workshop:
Romantic novelist, Alison May, is running a ‘Developing Your Novel’ workshop on Sunday 15th November at The Hive in Worcester. It costs a reasonable £40 which includes lunch and refreshments. It is aimed at people who already have a novel-in-progress (at any stage). It will include intensive sessions on plot structure and characterisation, and will also look at skills such as writing a synopsis and editing and revising your novel. Full details on Alison’s website.

Phew, I’m exhausted after telling you all that lot. Time to curl up with a good book …

The Letters Page

October 21, 2014 17 comments

If you want a break from the keyboard and computer screen, dig out your fountain pen (or a biro would probably do) and have a go at this competition:

The Letters Page is asking for handwritten letters for their Protest Issue. The website requests:

Letters of complaint, letters of objection, letters of furious indignation; eyewitness reports from street protests around the world; recollections of recent and not-so-recent protests and sit-ins and camps and campaigns; reflections on the meaning or purpose of protests, and on the use of the letter as a political tool; letters to and from and between protesters and protest sites. These are the letters we’re looking forward to reading in our next issue. We’re looking for letters with a sense of urgency. We’re looking for some news from now.

Somehow, I think me complaining about all the waiting around on last week’s coach trip might not fit the bill. But if you’ve got something meatier to protest about, pick up your pen! Each letter used will earn the writer £100. But be quick, it’s postal submission only and entries must be received by October 29th 2014.

The Letters Page is a literary journal published by Nottingham University’s School of English.

Full details of the competition are here.

People Watching

October 14, 2014 22 comments

Have you ever been on a coach holiday? They’re great for people watching and character invention.

Cardiff Castle Wartime Shelter

Cardiff Castle Wartime Shelter

I was a coach holiday virgin until last weekend when I went on a two-day break to Cardiff and Bath. It was planned as a getaway for me, my sister and my mum so that we could spend some time together without the hassle of driving, flying or lots of organisation.

However, we didn’t anticipate the amount of time we would spend hanging about at service stations waiting for ‘feeder’ coaches to arrive. Four coaches had to meet part way to Cardiff on the outward journey and again part way home from Bath on the return journey.  So there was a lot of waiting around.

But this gave us time to watch our fellow passengers and the drivers.

We discussed the man sitting across the coach aisle from us. He appeared to be travelling alone but then we saw him with a woman and then alone again. Had he been chatting her up? Is a coach holiday a good place to meet someone of the opposite sex? Yes, but only if you’re male – there were a lot more women than men travelling with us.

The drivers’ lifestyles came under our scrutiny. Cooked breakfasts and burgers seemed the popular choice at the table ‘Reserved for Coach Drivers Only’ in the service station cafe. None of the men seemed to know what route they’d be driving from one day to the next or what time they’d be getting home. And the final leg of our journey was driven with urgency because if the driver didn’t get home at a certain time he wouldn’t be allowed to drive the next day due to insufficient hours between the two trips.

There was a Murder Mystery dinner in the hotel. In tables of ten we worked out who’d killed the Earl. Group dynamics came into play and it was interesting to see who took charge, who just listened and who was keen to interrogate the actors. Then there was the table of riotous women on a birthday outing who made it difficult to hear the scene where the body was discovered.

Finally, my imagination went into overdrive in Cardiff Castle’s wartime shelter. Think of the drama, heartache, deaths (and possibly births) that must have happened as the sirens wailed in the 1940s.

I haven’t come back with any complete story ideas but I have got various characters buzzing around in my head. Perhaps eventually one of them will come to the fore and tell me their tale.

Do you have a favourite place for people watching? Or a favourite technique for dreaming up characters?

 

What’s the Copyright in Recipes?

October 6, 2014 30 comments

We all know not to copy chunks of other people’s stories or articles. Similarly, we all know that there’s no copyright on ideas, so we can write a story or an article about the same subject as someone else, as long as we don’t use the same words. In fact people do this all the time (I believe there are only seven basic plots?) but the finished manuscripts are usually all quite different.

By the way, although there’s no law against it, it’s not a good thing to ‘steal’ an idea, especially if it’s unusual and the originator is likely to recognise it after publication.

But what’s the ruling on recipes?

I’ve just sent a couple of recipes to Take a Break’s My Favourite Recipes magazine. However, I’m not the world’s best cook. When I was 14 my cookery teacher wrote on my report, ‘Sally’s written work is much better than her practical work‘ – I think it was her way of politely saying that I was useless in the kitchen!
So, I don’t invent recipes from scratch. I start with something from a cook book or magazine and make slight adjustments. At the very least, I always omit the garlic because my husband doesn’t like it, I often replace celery with carrots and I never have the right herbs so just throw in what I have.
Therefore the recipes I submit are not exact copies of those I started with it. But I was still a bit dubious about whether I might be breaking a law or ‘stealing’.

I did a quick internet search and found this useful article on the Paleo Living Magazine website. basically it says that copying a list of ingredients and basic directions for cooking the dish is OK. However, what may be protected by copyright is any ‘creative narrative’ with the recipe, such as how the dish was invented or suggestions for wine to go with the meal.

So it seems that I can continue sending off my slightly amended recipes in the hope of winning £25 if they’re chosen for publication.

Now I just need to practise my food photography so that my accompanying photos look at least a little bit mouth-watering!

 

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