I’ve got a few bits and pieces that might be of interest:
- Lois Maddox has dropped me a line about two weekend creative writing courses that she is organising. They are both aimed at all levels of writing ability and take place at Swanwick in Derbyshire. The first is ‘From Memories to Memoirs’ . It is led by Alison Chisholm, who will deal with creating a scheme for a life file and selecting a theme or time period to write about. The second is ‘Write Crime’. It is led by retired policeman Nick Oldham and as well as dealing with plot and characters, it will look at setting the scene with up-to-date procedures. Further details are available at www.malagaworkshops.co.uk.
- My Weekly Pocket Novels have upped their required wordage from 30,000 to 50,000. Payment has also gone up from £200 to £300. As some of you may know, I’m having a go at writing one of these as a stepping stone to a ‘proper’ novel. I did have my ten 3,000 word chapters mapped out. So now it’s back to the drawing board to find a subplot or something else to extend (without padding!) the story. Further details here.
- www.writing.ie is a new website, billing itself as ‘the home of Irish writing, online’. The events and courses listed on the site will mainly be of interest to those living in Ireland but there is also loads of free writing advice to be found on writing.ie. under the Writers’ Toolbox tab.
- The Telegraph has launched a short story competition for young writers aged between 16 and 18. It will be judged by John le Carre and the closing date is April 14th 2011. Full details here.
- I have to mention two small personal successes that I found out about last week. Firstly I have short piece about the Festival of Britain in the Cornucopia section of the current (Spring) edition of This England magazine. Secondly I have won the Writers’ Forum subscription that is up for grabs each month to the person sending in the best bit of news for the magazine’s NewsFront page.
- Finally, look out for an extra post on Wednesday – I am taking part in my first ever blogfest.
The writers’ events I’ve been to recently seem to be dominated by the fairer sex. At the Martin Davies Novel Writing Day there were around a dozen participants but only one of them was male. At the writers group I attend, women outnumber men by nearly 3 to 1 and in the Birmingham Chapter of the Romantic Novelists Association we have just one man (but maybe that is to be expected!).
And judging by the email addresses of the subscribers to this blog, 95 % of them are women and most of the comments left are from ladies too.
I pointed out this imbalance in the sexes to my husband and he suggested that maybe all the male writers are actually writing and producing best-sellers, rather than sitting around talking about writing or surfing the blogosphere.
He could have a point. We women get caught up in the social aspects of writing whereas our male counterparts actually knuckle down and get on with it.
So as we seem to be all girls together, here are some suggestions for women only competitions to get you inspired and writing:
- The Glass Woman is a fiction competition for stories of between 50 and 5,000 words. The theme is open but the subject must be of significance to women. No entry fee and the closing date is March 21st. First prize is $500 plus there are runners-up prizes. Previous winning entries plus full details are here.
- The Baptist Times are running a women’s writing competition for non-fiction. There are 3 categories each with a prize of £100; Spirituality, Cultural Comment and Faith & Life. The judges are looking for writing that’s stylish, insightful and powerful. No entry fee, word limit is 1,000 and closing date is 4th April. Full details here.
- The Grey Hen Poetry competition is open only to women over 60. Closing date is 30th April 2011, £3 entry fee and £100 first prize. Full details here.
If you’re already a published novelist then there’s always the Orange Prize for Fiction.
Oh, and if you’re a man reading this - please leave a comment and make yourself known (or use the box on the right to sign-up to receive my blog posts by email – that way you’ll never miss one!)
Last week I went to an adult (no, not that sort of adult!) storytelling event at the Kitchen Garden Cafe in Birmingham. The place was bursting at the seams with people of all ages keen to enjoy an evening of live entertainment. It was all very informal with the tellers (if that’s the right word) taking it in turns to stand up and spin their yarns. Every story was unique and every teller extremely polished, whilst still retaining a freshness and friendliness within their performance. We heard stories of stealing from corpses, mind-reading and chopping the feet off a dead body. Without microphones, props or costumes we were transported to other worlds by the power of the teller’s language and a few dramatic gestures.
Storytelling is a traditional art that is making comeback. I first heard about it through a friend of mine, Sophie Snell, who is a professional storyteller. She tells her tales at a whole range of events and venues as well as going into schools to work with children. Sophie gave up her career as a management consultant when her children came along and, after attending a storytelling event, decided that storytelling was what she wanted to do. She started attending training sessions and workshops and the rest, as they say, is history.
If you fancy going along to an event in the Midlands have a look at the Traditional Arts Team website.
What struck me about the storytellers was their precise use of language which enabled the listeners to immediately conjure up a wonderful accurate image. Words like nice, quite and sort of were conspicuous by their absence. Storytellers have to grab the attention of an audience and hold it for 10 or 15 minutes. If a listener’s mind drifts for just a few seconds he loses his place in the story and can’t re-read the page as he might in a book.
As a writer I already read aloud my finished pieces and this enables me to spot any clumsy language or word repetition. I wonder if standing in front of the mirror and telling my story to a pretend audience might help me conjure up more colourful imagery as well as pick up on any dull bits in the narrative where the reader is likely to get bored and switch off.
I think I might try it – when the house is empty!
Joanna Barnden is running a one-day course on writing serials for the women’s magazine market on April 7th in Derby. Joanna has had many stories and serials published and is a member of the Romantic Novelists Association.
I have attended 2 of her previous courses and as well as being extremely informative, they are stimulating and enjoyable. Joanna provides a friendly atmosphere and high quality refreshments throughout the day plus a home-cooked lunch (with pudding!).
Here is the course content (in Joanna’s own words):
Derby – Thursday April 7th 2011, 9.30 am – 4.30 pm
Editors love a good serial – one rich with interesting characters, bursting with tensions, rustling with mystery, and written with pace and flair. One, in short, that will keep their readers coming back for more. They are always on the lookout for new writers and, indeed, Women’s Weekly say that their serial slot receives the fewest submissions, so your odds of getting published are higher – if you get it right!
Now here is a one-day workshop that can help you do just that, covering:
What makes a good serial – To start off, we will look at the core attributes of all serials, at popular genres and at what the market is looking for right now.
Creating a cast list – This is a vital and much overlooked element of a successful serial. It’s your characters that give your story colour, detail, life and, very importantly in a longer work – variety. We’ll look at how to create a believable and exciting set of people for your serial.
Plotting – The strength and depth of your plot will determine the success of your serial. It’s the single biggest shift from short pieces and a serious challenge over stories of up to 60,000 words. We’ll look at how to create plots and subplots and how to intertwine them effectively.
Viewpoint – Longer serials are usually told from more than one viewpoint but this can be tricky to balance. We’ll look at how to successfully get into the heads of multiple characters.
Writing the submission – Your first episode and plot summary are your tools for selling your serial to an editor. We’ll look at how to get them right and get you into print week after week…
Cost: £90 including full home-cooked lunch (about half what you’ll make on just one episode).
Joanna points out on her website that much of the teaching will also be applicable to the sister craft of writing a novel.
For those who don’t live within reach of Derby, Joanna hopes to roll the course out across the country later in the year.
To request more information or to reserve a place – go to Joanna’s website www.joannabarnden.co.uk.
I’ve booked my place (as a birthday present from my husband) and am looking forward to picking up some useful tips. Hope to see some of you there!
That must be the question most often asked of writers and the most difficult to answer. We all know that story and character ideas are all around in us our daily life – overheard conversations, a couple arguing in the street or 2 teenagers in hoodies following an old lady.
But ideas tend to be like buses – 3 come along in a row or, no matter how long you wait, not one puts in an appearance.
If you’re suffering an ideas drought here are a few ’ideas factories’ to kick-start your imagination:
- Sally & Cally’s Short Story Ideas Generator - this will give you a random character, setting and conflict/situation
- The Brainstormer - this is a little bit like an on-line roulette wheel. Click on the ‘Random’ button to spin the wheel and generate a conflict, adjective and person/place/thing.
- The Writers’ Idea Store in Writers’ Forum magazine – this monthly feature by Paula Williams discusses where to find ideas and also incorporates a Fiction Square. The square includes 6 each of characters, conflicts, weather, setting and objects. Roll a dice once for each of these categories in order to determine which should be in your next story.
- The Writer’s Block - this is a block-shaped book that contains ideas and story prompts on every page. It’s well worth dipping into if you’re scratching your head for something to write about.
- Sign up for the free e-newsletter produced by www.ideasforwriters.co.uk - you will receive story prompts and ideas for historical anniversaries to write about.
- Creative Writing Prompts has 346 prompts to get your pen moving.
There is no copyright on ideas. This means that it’s acceptable to re-write a well-known story such as a fairy-tale or legend. Try writing The Frog Prince from the point of view of the frog rather than the princess or modernise Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs by giving the heroine a job as a housekeeper to a group of brothers living in a large house inherited from their parents.
So now you’ve no excuse for not writing. Don’t wait for inspiration to strike – use the suggestions above to create your own!
Remember – Writers Write! (they don’t just sit around and think about it).
Helen lives in Dorset and writes part-time, mainly articles and reviews. Social history is a particular favourite topic. However, she has had success with short stories, having won two competitions. She is currently working on several projects, all at different stages, from early research to about to submit. Further information can be found on Helen’s website www.helenbaggott.co.uk.
Congratulations to Helen and thanks to every one who took part by signing up for an email subscription to this blog.
Here are a couple more ‘win a book’ competitions to have a go at if you’re feeling lucky:
As you may have gathered from reading this blog, short stories and articles are my ‘thing’. I find the prospect of writing anything longer than about 3,000 words terrifying! I succeeded in NaNoWriMo 2009 but my 50,000 words were rambling and certainly nowhere near a coherent story.
Hence my decision to sign-up for Martin Davies’ Novel Writing Starter Kit.
Last Saturday was the big day and I came away thinking that writing a novel might actually be possible. Martin was very generous with his advice and here are the most important bits :
- Writing is a habit that gets easier the more you write. Decide when and where you are going to write. Don’t be too ambitious because that makes failure more likely. Sticking to 10 minutes, twice a week before bed is easier to maintain than trying to write for the whole of every Saturday afternoon. Remember that little bits, done regularly, will add up.
- Set a time limit for each writing session and don’t use that time to re-read or revise what has gone before. Don’t worry about the standard of your writing – just keep going.
- Write what you enjoy reading. You will have to live with this novel and its characters for months, maybe years, so it’s no good trying commercial chick-lit if you hate reading that genre.
- Don’t wait for a fantastic, original idea to drop into your lap. Most plots have been done many times over and it’s perfectly acceptable to re-tell an old tale or legend. Maybe set it in a different time period or tell it from a different point of view.
- People + Events = Change. This is the formula for a novel. Drop an event on your characters and watch as they react to the ripples and changes around them.
- Create a structure for your story. Include the main events plus the milestones that must happen to lead up to these events. This is your map for the journey ahead but remember, you can change this as you write and get to know your characters better.
- Only include subplots if they have a reason within the overall plot. For example they may give an insight into the character of your main protagonist or give necessary information to the reader.
- Know your setting but don’t go into reams of descriptions about the landscape. Feed small details to the reader and they will build their own images.
- Similarly with character descriptions, less can be more. Show your hero’s characteristics through action where possible.
- Don’t get bogged down by research. If you’re unsure of something when writing don’t stop the flow to find out, put a question mark and look it up later.
- Keep your first novel simple. You will gain confidence from finishing it, whether or not it is published, then you can move on to a more complex story/structure.
Sounds simple doesn’t it? Just stick to Martin’s mantra of ’Writers Write!’ and you can’t go far wrong in turning yourself from ‘someone who likes the idea of writing a novel’ into ‘someone who has a completed novel under their belt’.
So, fired up with enthusiasm, I am now publicly setting myself the goal of writing a 30,000 word My Weekly pocket novel and I’m going to start by brainstorming some ideas…
My writing buddy, Helen Yendall, also attended Martin’s workshop – you can read her take on the day here.
P.S. Only one day left to enter my free prize draw!