Wednesday, 27 December 2006

Merry Christmas & A Happy New Year!

How was it for you? We had a great time if a bit cramped at the old homestead. Looking forward to the new year now...and no, no resolutions as I never keep them.

I hope you're all writing summer holiday stories and even back to school ones (September I mean). Remember the mags work at least six months in advance. If you're thinking of submitting an Easter story it may be worth your while dropping the editor a quick line to ask if they're in need first as they tend to be overstocked with seasonal stuff.

Wednesday, 13 December 2006

The Old Ones are the Best

Things you learn from watching movies:

  • During all police investigations, it will be necessary to visit a strip club at least once.
  • All beds have special L-shaped cover sheets which reach up to the armpit level on a woman but only to waist level on the man lying beside her.
  • The ventilation system of any building is the perfect hiding place. No one will ever think of looking for you in there and you can travel to any other part of the building you want without difficulty.
  • When paying for a taxi, don't look at your wallet as you take out a bill - just grab one at random and hand it over. It will always be the exact fare.
  • Kitchens don't have light switches. When entering a kitchen at night, you should open the fridge door and use that light instead.
  • Television news bulletins usually contain a story that affects you personally at that precise moment.
  • A single match will be sufficient to light up a room the size of Wembley Stadium.
  • It is always possible to park directly outside the building you are visiting.
  • A detective can only solve a case once he has been suspended from duty.
  • It does not matter if you are heavily outnumbered in a fight involving martial arts - your enemies will wait patiently to attack you one by one by dancing around in a threatening manner until you have knocked out their predecessors.
  • Police Departments give their officers personality tests to make sure they are deliberately assigned a partner who is their total opposite.
  • An electric fence powerful enough to kill a dinosaur will cause no lasting damage to an eight-year-old child.
  • If staying in a haunted house, women should investigate any strange noises in their most revealing underwear.
  • It is not necessary to say hello or goodbye when beginning or ending phone conversations.
  • Should you wish to pass yourself off as a German officer, it will not be necessary to speak the language. A German accent will do.
  • Even when driving down a perfectly straight road it is necessary to turn the steering wheel vigorously from left to right every few moments.
  • The Eiffel Tower can be seen from any window in Paris.
  • You're very likely to survive any battle in any war - unless you make the mistake of showing someone a picture of your sweetheart back home.
  • A man will show no pain while taking the most ferocious beating but will wince when a woman tries to clean his wounds.
  • If being chased through town, you can usually take cover in a passing St. Patrick's Day parade -- at any time of the year.

Monday, 11 December 2006

Twinkle, twinkle

Himself and I spent several hours walking round our local garden centre which for the month of December is akin to walking through the wardrobe of The Lion The Witch and The...well, you get it. A Christmas wonderland of all things kitsch. Sparkly, in yer face and fabulous!

My only gripe is (of course there has to be one) what is it with these places that they almost always have a section exclusively selling pickles and preserves? I mean where's the connection? You go in for daffodil bulbs/grass seed and come out with preserves? And the biggest secret is how do they get folk to hand over a month's salary for them?

"Oh, look, Mother, a jar of horseradish and it's only six pounds fifty. What a bargain!"

Sunday, 10 December 2006

Am I Bovered?

He comes into the room and looks at me. "What are you watching?"
I glance up at the TV which I'm not even aware is switched on, so engrossed am I in the latest Stephen King novel. "Dunno?" I shrug and concentrate for a while on the choristers belting out 'Silent Night'. "Christmas carols by the look of it."
He sighs heavily. "I suppose that'll be your next fad."
"Well, not being funny, nor nuffin but you arty farty types tend to be either God botherers or veggies. It's only a matter of time, I guess."

Amen...and pass the collection plate!

On the writing front -
  • 2 rejections for short stories
  • 1 published in Woman's Weekly - Santa's Little Helper.
  • Sent novel to 2 more agents.

Thursday, 7 December 2006

Taking the pith!

Every year I make those clove-studded oranges to hang on the tree and every year I end up with sore thumbs, so I decided to use a cocktail stick to make the hole in the peel first...what happens? I stab my finger with the stick and end up with a splinter.

And yes, I know I said I wasn't putting up a tree this year but the kids won and I gave in. Himself not pleased as his favourite chair is now at the wrong angle for viewing the TV but we all have to make sacrifices...

Tuesday, 5 December 2006

And it continues...

Time to clear out the kitchen cupboards in a pre-Christmas, pre-Spring clean. So far I've filled numerous bin liners with:
  • 4 Tupperware containers sans lids
  • Assortment of rusty metal cookware tins - why do I have 3 muffin tins?
  • 3 horrid flan dishes caked with...well, let's say, greasy.
  • 1 water purifier - cracked but saved in case it miraculously repairs itself
  • The plastic baskets to an old veg steamer - I bought a new one last year and hoped I could fit the old baskets on it so I could steam 10lb of sprouts in one go. They didn't fit but were saved anyhow. Why? I have no idea.
  • 1 plastic colander slightly melted on one side where it came into contact with a hot roasting pan
  • Various odd soup bowls circa 1980
  • Ditto mugs
  • Ditto side plates
  • Ditto egg cups (in the shape of golf balls??)
  • 2 packets of broad bean seeds, 1 packet of thyme seeds and a packet of radish seeds (plant by 1998 for best results)
  • Numerous plug-in air fresheners - because they might be a fire hazard, or so one national newspaper informs us. As I can't recall which make, I've thrown them all out in case they catch fire and burn my house down whilst I'm out buying mince pies in Sainsbury's.

Okay, off to the local tip with my sacks full of domestic waste. And I swore this Christmas would be stress free...Jingle-bliddy-bells, my a**e!

Saturday, 2 December 2006

On the 2nd day of Christmas...

...I trimmed the fireplace hoping I can convince the kids it's enough decoration chez Houghton and we really don't need a tree. Why don't I want a tree? Cos I have 14 coming for Christmas dinner which means moving around the furniture which won't fit anywhere except where it is...if you know what I mean.

A tree would take up valuable space, I insist, but realise the moment I leave the house, the tree will be rescued from the cupboard under the stairs and given pride of place, where it will gather dust and dog hairs until it looks like it has its own coat as in this pic from last year.

Bah, Humbug!

Tuesday, 28 November 2006

I'm not a lazy blogger...

For some bizarre reason I've been locked out of my own blog and when I do manage to sign in and NO I do NOT have more than one account and yes I have tried every which way to get in thank you very much Mr Blogger FAQ NO Help At All!
The bar at the top which I need to click to get onto Dashboard has disappeared and when I do manage to get it back and click Dashboard - oh, I really can't be bothered. So, if I disappear again, you'll know it's not deliberate!

As it's been so long since my last post there ought to be loads to tell..there isn't...much.

On writerly matters:

  1. I sent out 8 short stories (re-edited old ones) to the womags
  2. I finished reading James Herbert's The Secret of Crickley Hall - super book!
  3. Started reading Stephen King's Lisey's Story
  4. I sent my novel to 2 more agents - still haven't heard back from one who's had it 4 mths.
  5. Wrote a few more paras of the newest novel
  6. Wrote 2 new short stories - not sent out as in first draft
  7. Banked a cheque from Take a Break
  8. Received my contributer's copy of Woman's Weekly with a story of mine in.
  9. Finished crits from my writing course
  10. Received grateful feedback for my crits - so nice to get feedback whether grateful or not!

Other stuff going on in my life:

  1. Started a crash diet in an effort to get into same party dress as last year - is it possible to lose 2 stone just drinking Actimel??
  2. Finished Christmas shopping
  3. Stocked freezer with party food
  4. Bought more plates/dishes as I've extra people coming this year
  5. Bought a few new decorations despite having far too many already
  6. Dropped hints as to what I want for Christmas (boooks, books, and books!)
  7. Got a haircut

Thursday, 16 November 2006


I've been doing some critiques this week - short women's fiction, um, I mean short fiction for women. See how my brain's seized up? No, actually, I have to say it's been very rewarding and I've discovered an awful lot about my own writing from doing it.

I've also discovered if I sit at my desk for 6 hours at a time and drink too much coffee I hallucinate and start imagining all sorts of frightening things. For instance, I thought I heard someone say Woman magazine has stopped running short fiction. I was tripping, obviously. What? Huh? It's true!!!!

Got 2 sales last week, and a fat cheque from Take A Break has paid off my Christmas presents overdraft.

The new novel is stuck at 14,000 words and I'm seriously wondering if I haven't plagurised James Herbert's latest...his written far better, obviously - I kneel at your feet and kiss your hairy toes, oh Scary One.

Here's a photo of me editing out all the similarities.

Monday, 13 November 2006

Virus Alert

There is a dangerous virus being passed electronically, orally and by hand.

This virus is called Worm-Overload- Recreational- Killer (WORK). If you receive WORK from any of your colleagues, your boss or anyone else via any means DO NOT TOUCH IT. This virus will wipe out your private life completely.

If you should come into contact with WORK put your jacket on and take2 good friends to the nearest pub. Purchase the antidote known asWork-Isolator- Neutralizer- Extractor (WINE).
The quickest acting WINE type is called Swift-Hitting- Infiltrator- Remover-All- Zones(SHIRAZ) but this is only available for those who can afford it.

The next best equivalent is Cheapest-Available- System-Killer (CASK).Take the antidote repeatedly until WORK has been completely eliminatedfrom your system.

Forward this warning to 5 friends. If you do not have 5 friends, youhave already been infected and WORK is controlling your life. This virusis DEADLY(Destroys- Every-Available- Decent-Living- Youngster) .

Update 25-05-06:
After extensive testing it has been concluded that Best-Equivalent- Extractor- Remedy (BEER) may be substituted for WINE but may require a more generous application.

Sunday, 12 November 2006

Smoke Gets in your Eyes

Today, I discovered my grandfather's, brother's wife (sis-in-law then, yes, I think that's right...) was one of the glam models who appeared on advertising posters for Craven 'A' cigarettes in the thirties. Why I find this so exciting, I have no idea, but wouldn't you be just a little bit chuffed, too?

Okay, smoking is very un-PC these days but back then cigarettes were almost considered medicinal. Craven's advertising slogan was their brand was 'Good for sore throats'!

I wonder what product my grandchildren will balk at in 50 years?

"Gran! You actually drank water? And from the tap?"

Could spin the other way, I suppose. Maybe alcohol will be good for the liver...

Sunday, 5 November 2006

Guy Fawkes

Especially for those who aren't going to a bonfire tonight - the safe way to watch fireworks!

Mags I have been pubbed in

Saddam gets the death penalty and I get a sale to The Weekly News.

I'm often asked which magazines I've been published in so here's the list:

# Woman
#Woman Fiction Specials
#Woman's Weekly
#Woman's Weekly Specials
#The People's Friend
#My Weekly
#My Weekly Specials
#The Lady
#Chat It's Fate
#That's Life
#Take A Break
#Take A Break Fiction Feast & Specials
#The Weekly News
#Ireland's Own
#Woman's Way, Ireland
#Woman's Era - Delhi Press, India
#Woman This Month - Bahrain
#Woman's Day - Australia
#That's Life - Australia
#Fast Fiction - Australia
#Take 5 - Australia
#Allas - Sweden
#Hjemmet - Norway/Denmark
#You - South Africa
#Love Letters - Germany, Switzerland, France & Austria

Friday, 3 November 2006

Time flies and inflatable beds

Almost a week since a post as I've been too busy with other things like...
  • Helping hubby out in his business while staff are off sick/on holiday
  • Teaching aged parent to use a computer
  • Getting stuff together for a workshop on creative writing
  • Clearing out spare room ready for rellies turning up at weekend
  • Putting together a gas BBQ ready for Bonfire night party

With Christmas looming my thoughts turned to where I'm going to put the 4 extra people staying overnight. Usually they end up in sleeping bags on the floor but this year I've bought an inflatable bed. And not just one of those camping mattress types, oh no, this one is a queen size, raised model with an electric pump.

Thing is, I ordered it before looking up the reviews and guess what? Yep, this particular model scores 1 out of 10! Apparently it's main problem is it tends to deflate during use, which could be bothersome not to mention uncomfortable and possibly noisy. Of course, there're probably thousands of people who've bought from this manufacturer and are quite happy with their purchase (only the disgruntled tend to write reviews) but if you're passing my house on Christmas morning and you hear a rather long, rasping's not me, okay!

Saturday, 28 October 2006

Seeking Famous footballer.

If it's fame and fortune you're looking for, don't bother writing a book. You'd be better off going into business, or sleeping with a says Jenny Diski

Wednesday, 25 October 2006

Pitching your novel

I was going to write up something here about how to pitch your novel if you happen to be in the presence of an agent who'll allow you ten minutes of her time...but I can't beat this advice so go read here

Longest Word?

Had to edit a short story down by 300 words for an Oz mag today, which got me to thinking...what is the longest word in the world?
  1. pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis - a lung disease apparently.
  2. antidisestablishmentarianism -opposition to the disestablishment of the Church of England
  3. Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch - Welsh town
  4. floccinaucinihilipilification - dunno!
  5. honorificabilitudinitatibus - blame Shakespeare for this one (Love's Labours Lost)

And not sure if this is true but the chemical name for the Tryptophan Synthetase protein is...deep breath....

methionylglutaminylarginyltyrosylglutamylserylleucylphenylalany lalanylglutaminylleucyllysylglutamylarginyllysylglutamylglycylalany lphenylalanylvalylprolylphenylalanylvalylthreonylleucylglycylaspa rtylprolylglycylisoleucylglutamylglutaminylserylleucyllysylisoleu cylaspartylthreonylleucylisoleucylglutamylalanylglycylalanylaspar tylalanylleucylglutamylleucylglycylisoleucylprolylphenylalanylser ylaspartylprolylleucylalanylaspartylglycylprolylthreonyliso leucylglutaminylaspfraginylalanylthreonylleucylarginylalanylpheny lalanylalanylalanylglycylvalylthreonylprolylalanylglutaminylcyste inylphenylalanylglutamylmethionylleucylalanylleucylisoleucylargin ylglutaminyllysylhistidylprolylthreonylisoleucylprolylisoleucylgl ycylleucylleucylmethionyltyrosylalanylasparaginylleucylvalylpheny lalanylasparaginyllysylglycylisoleucylaspartylglutamylphenylalany ltyrosylalanylglutaminylcysteinylglutamyllysylvalylglycylva lylaspartylserylvalylleucylvalylalanylaspartylvalylprolylvalylglu taminylglutamylserylalanylprolylphenylalanylarginylglutaminylalan ylalanylleucylarginylhistidylasparaginylvalylalanylprolylisoleucy lphenylalanylisoleucylcysteinylprolylprolylaspartylalanylaspartyl aspartylaspartylleucylleucylarginylglutaminylisoleucylalanylseryl tyrosylglycylarginylglycyltyrosylthreonyltyrosylleucylleucylseryl arginylalanylglycylvalylthreonylglycylalanylglutamylasparag inylarginylalanylalanylleucylprolylleucylasparaginylhistidylleucy lvalylalanyllysylleucyllysylglutamyltyrosylasparaginylalanylalany lprolylprolylleucylglutaminylglycylphenylalanylglycylisoleucylser ylalanylprolylaspartylglutaminylvalyllysylalanylalanylisoleucylas partylalanylglycylalanylalanylglycylalanylisoleucylserylglycylser ylalanylisoleucylvalyllysylisoleucylisoleucylglutamylglutaminylhi stidylasparaginylisoleucylglutamylprolylglutamyllysylmethio nylleucylalanylalanylleucyllysylvalylphenylalanylvalylglutaminylp rolylmethionyllysylalanylalanylthreonylarginylserine.

1,193 letters. Unless you know better?

Tuesday, 24 October 2006

The Importance of Proofreading

A young monk arrives at the monastery. He is assigned to helping the other monks in copying the old canons and laws of the church by hand.

He notices, however, that all of the monks are copying from copies, not from the original manuscript. So, the new monk goes to the head abbot to question this, pointing out that if someone made even a small error in the first copy, it would never be picked up. In fact, that error would be continued in all of the subsequent copies.

The head monk, says, "We have been copying from the copies for centuries, but you make a good point, my son."

He goes down into the dark caves beneath the monastery where the original manuscripts are held as archives in a locked vault that hasn't been opened for hundreds of years.

Hours go by and nobody sees the old abbot. So, the young monk gets worried and goes down to look for him.

He sees him banging his head against the wall and wailing, "We missed the 'R' , we missed the ' R' !"
His forehead is all bloody and bruised and he is crying uncontrollably.

The young monk asks the old abbot, "What's wrong, father?"

With a choking voice, the old abbot replies, "The word was...CELEB RATE !!! "

Thursday, 19 October 2006

Down Under

Woke up to an email this morning from an editor of an Oz mag wanting to buy the 2nd Rights to a short story I sent her in May. As I'd forgotten she still had it, it came as a nice surprise. My Christmas fund is stacking up nicely.

Wednesday, 18 October 2006

A Series of Unfortunate Events

Whether or not it's a publicity stunt remains to be seen, but thousands (nay, millions) of readers will be sad to hear the last Lemony Snicket book, the thirteenth in the series, has been published.

For those not familiar with LS, the books follow the adventures of the three wealthy Baudelaire children who are sent to live with a distant relative, Count Olaf, after their parents are killed in a fire. Cousin Olaf isn't the kindly guardian they'd hoped for as he plans to kill them and seize their fortune.

Jim Carrey played Count Olaf in the movie - a brilliant role for him, I thought.

Book Blurb Quote :

You are presumably looking at the back of this book, or the end of the end. The end of the end is the best place to begin the end, because if you read the end from the beginning of the beginning of the end to the end of the end of the end, you will arrive at the end of the end of your rope. - Lemony Snicket

Tuesday, 17 October 2006

Foggy Thoughts

Is it really Tuesday? Where did the weekend go? I know I spent most of it fiddling with the new PC and getting it just so...

One short story sale to report to Allas, Sweden. Been a while since I got a sale with them so especially pleased. As a writing mate remarked, 'It's like an old friend appearing out of a dense fog'. Sums it up perfectly.

NaNoWriMo's upon us again. I admire anyone who signs up for masochistic task. The thought of completing a novel, however dire, in 30 days... sends me queasy just thinking about it.

Friday, 13 October 2006

History Matters

Taken from the History Matters website:

History Matters - pass it on is all about raising awareness of the importance of history in our everyday lives and encouraging involvement in heritage in England and Wales. Our goal is to build public support and interest in looking after our history and heritage - today and in the future.
We know that history is something many people feel strongly about. But in the rush of our daily lives it's all too easy to take it for granted. And when it comes to the order of public priorities history is often sidelined. We urge you to join the campaign and show your support. Collectively the events taking place and opinions expressed will demonstrate the importance of history and heritage to the nation and become a unique record of our time.

Wednesday, 11 October 2006

Want to know why you can't sell your stories to the women's magazines?

First off, it probably has nothing to do with how well you write. That doesn't mean you can send out a sloppy ms. Note: See FAQ on guidelines in the archives.
It means, no amount of literary prose will impress a magazine editor unless it's what she/he is looking for. It must 'fit' his/her magazine (look I'm sick of being PC and writing 'his/her' so in future it's 'her' okay?).

I've seen some beautiful writing by folk with far greater experience/literary talent than I have, yet they can't sell to the womags. So, what are the eds looking for?

'I'll know it when I see it', is their usual response. I think they go as much with gut instinct as anything. But, they are experts at it and let's not forget their jobs rely on them getting it right.

So how do we please them?

  • Your story has to be a satisfying read - a hook at the beginning, no saggy middle and you must tie up all the loose ends at the finish. A reader should go 'Ahhh' at the close, not 'What the f***?'

  • The characters must be well-drawn, the sort their readership would recognise and identify with. You don't find many tattooed, bikers living with unmarried mums in The People's Friend, or wool shop owners wearing Tweed (the cloth or the perfume take yer pick) in Take A Break...see what I mean?

  • Your character must come up against a problem which she resolves in a satisfying and believable way. The solution must be something she works through, not a sudden 'cavalry coming over the hill' type of closure. Remember Bobby Ewing waking up in the shower in Dallas?

  • And this is the hardest criteria to must be something an ed hasn't seen before. Something original. Or at least a different 'take' on an old plot.

Sorry? You've made sure your story meets all the above requirements and still you can't get an acceptance? Then there's always the other reasons for non acceptance...

  • It was the right story at the wrong time. Magazines plan about 4 mths ahead. Don't send a summer holiday story out in August. Likewise don't send a Christmas one out in November.

  • The ed loves your story but she needed a 1000 word story and you sent in 2000 and there isn't time to ask you to cut it, so she chooses the next in the slushpile.

  • The story was well-written with great characters and a smashing ending BUT the editor regrets she took something similar last week.

  • The editor has bought far too many recently - enough for another six months. Make a note of this and re-send when the six months are up.

I'm sure there're a dozen other reasons if I had time to think of them (I have to feed the family sometime)

Conclusion: If you know you can write, don't take a rejection to mean your story is unsaleable. Try a different mag. One with similar guidelines, obviously, unless you're prepared to edit to fit...which a writer with a professional approach will almost certainly do.


Two sales to report today after a rather bleak couple of weeks - hurrah! One to UK mag the other to an Australian publication. The Oz one is going in over three pages, so more dosh than usual, yay! Maybe I should've plumped for the more expensive laptop?

Tuesday, 10 October 2006

Laptop update

I've ordered a Fujitsu Seimens Amilo L7320G after a really nice guy from Comet talked me out of different model I 'thought' I wanted. He pointed out that I get more memory, the same processor speed PLUS Microsoft Works for the same price...I only hope he wasn't on commission for the Fujitsu..oh, he was?

Is It Me?

I'm thinking of updating my laptop - got a buyer for the present one and I have a bit of cash put by from a recent sale to Woman's Weekly so I trotted off to a well-known store full of expectations. I've come home sans laptop. Why?

Because the model I wanted comes with extras such as an infra red mouse, carry case, and Norton Security - none of which I need or want, BUT I DO need Microsoft Works/Office which the model doesn't have installed.

Why, I asked, couldn't I swap the free goodies for Works?
Because that's not the deal, said the assistant.

No amount of begging would sway her so I left without making a purchase...which would have been around £600. Seems ridiculous to me when Office cost around £119 and the 'free' goodies were the same price.

Oh well, I shall search the Internet instead and when 'well-known' store moans they're having to cut staff in-store, I'll know why!

Saturday, 7 October 2006

Writer's block

"To be honest, I've always felt that block is something afflicting only those who don't depend on their writing income to pay the mortgage/school fees/grocery bills etc." - Anne Weale, novelist.

There's a lot of truth in that! There's also lots of advice out there on how to beat The Block. Here's my tip:

Imagine, instead of a writer, you're an athlete...a long distance runner perhaps. You've strained a calf muscle, you want to run but you're incapable, or at least when you try to take a few paces, it hurts like hell. What do you do? Rest it a while? Give up running?

The professional athlete knows the best way to heal is to keep it active, get a good physio on the job and slowly he'll achieve peak fitness once more.

That's what writers should do. Don't stare at a blank screen/page and groan in despair, massage that brain! Write email, update your blog (cough!) WRITE ABOUT YOUR BLOCK IF YOU WANT, BUT WRITE, DAMN IT!

Friday, 6 October 2006

News flash - Pope sees sense.

I see the Pope's decreed that from now on unbaptised children will not automatically go to Limbo on their death. Limbo, in case you were unaware, is a place where the unbaptised "do not have the joy of God but neither do they suffer . . . they do not deserve Paradise, but neither do they deserve Hell or Purgatory".

I had my first 2 children baptised, not because I was religious, but because my family expected it of me.
By the time my twins came along, I'd decided we could have the party without the religious blessing, so they remained unbaptised. Something I have no regrets over. They have grown to become beautiful, well-mannered, honest, hard-working adults of whom I'm extremely proud. If God had no place for them in Heaven under his old rules, it would be His loss. I'm glad He's thought it through! I like the idea of a reasonable God...not sure I believe he exists but...

Note: What's with the funereal theme today?

Hearse-jacking - a new craze?

This is true, I swear - happened in my town.
While mourners were at the graveside of their dear departed, some lout (this isn't the word I originally used) sped off in one of the funeral cars. What were they intending to do with it? Give it a respray and go banger racing?



Wednesday, 4 October 2006


Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armour and attacked a hot fudge sunday.~ Kurt Vonnegut

So, what makes a good critique? Two words- 'constructive' and 'respectful'

Some people will tell you not to ask for a crit from friends or family because they'll be afraid of hurting your feelings if they don't like it. This is most likely true, but you'll come to know who you can trust to be truthful...I'm thinking of my on-line group here ;0) Here are a few pointers on what to expect from a crit...and also how to give one.

  • 'I don't like it' isn't helpful unless it's backed up with why.
  • It isn't enough to make a statement like 'I didn't get it' unless you can say exactly where you thinks a piece fails.
  • Take comments on board but don't act on them until more than one person has made the same point. When I had my novel critiqued by two professionals (at different times) they both made a similar comment about the humour in one particular paragraph...I happened to like it, but I cut it because I felt their comments had been so similar, they must be right.
  • A critique shouldn't only point out the negative. It's a time to praise what does work, too. The reader should highlight what they think is successful about the writing.
  • Criticism is subjective. One person's opinion. Plus the reader may be having a bad day/be an Irvine Welsh fan and you've sent him your tender romance to read.
  • Don't be afraid to challenge a crit. I don't mean go round to their house with a baseball bat...I mean discuss why they made a particular comment if you can't see the reason for it. Don't get defensive or the reader will back off. Open discussion is what you want, not a threat to kneecap him/her.

Here's what you should consider:

  1. CHARACTERISATION: Are the characters well-drawn? Do they seem real and believable or are they stereotypes? Is the hero/heroine likeable and the bad guy bad?
    In other words, are they believable? Not all grandfathers suck toffee and wear a flat cap. Think about your character's name too. Consider the year a novel is set. You wouldn't have a Beyonce in a historical would you? And the name Harold isn't a tiny tot's name either...unless it's come back in fashion.
  2. CONFLICT: without conflict there will be no story. It would be a boring read if the characters all went about their business with no obstacles in their way, no problems and no goals to strive for. There are 2 types of conflict - internal and external. External conflicts are the things which prevent your character from reaching their goal/making them unhappy. Such situations could be moving house, getting divirced/married, losing a job, bereavement. All of these cause internal conflict ie guilt, jealousy, longing and every other emotion.
  3. DIALOGUE: Does the dialogue fit the character? Is the interaction between the characters real? Will a reader know who's speaking? Does the posh bird speak how a posh bird should...but not stereotyped, remember.
  4. EMOTION: Wake up feelings in the reader they don't expect ie love, hate, faith, duty, jealousy. Don't 'tell' the reader your character is unhappy, let her actions and dialogue paint the picture. A reader should be able to pick up the mood without direct mention of the emotion.
  5. SETTING: Can a reader picture the setting? Is there enough description? Can the reader imagine the location around the characters clearly? They should almost be able to smell it.
  6. POINT OF VIEW: This is often a stumbling block for beginners. Make up your mind whether your POV is first (I did...etc) or third (She did..) and stick with it. Be consistent. You can jump around and break the rules when you're famous.
  7. DEVELOPMENT: Let your story develop logically so a reader can follow it. Flashbacks are fine but avoid flashbacks within flashbacks unless you can handle them well. It can lead to confusion.
  8. PACING: This is how you keep your reader enthralled. Too slow a pace and they'll lose interest. Too quickly can be as bad - it'll seem rushed. Take time to set the story up but not so long a reader gets bored. if it's a novel you're writing, leave a hook at the end of each chapter.
  9. MECHANICS: We're talking grammar, sentence structure and all the basics here. A beginner's mistake is most often verb agreement.

Okay, lecture over...time for a Hob Nob. Coffee anyone?


A writer died and was given the option of going to heaven or hell.
She decided to check out each place first.
As the writer descended into the fiery pits, she saw row upon row of writers chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop.

As they worked, they were repeatedly whipped with thorny lashes. "Oh my," said the writer. "Let me see heaven now."

A few moments later, as she ascended into heaven, she saw rows of writers, chained to their desks in a steaming sweatshop. As they worked, they, too, were whipped with thorny lashes.

"Wait a minute," said the writer. "This is just as bad as hell!"

"Oh no, it's not," replied an unseen voice. "Here, your work gets published."

Punctuation & Spelling

SPELLING - don't be afraid.

I'm the last person to bang on about spelling...I'm terrible. Often as not (honest!) I do know how to spell a word correctly, once it's pointed out I've made a mistake, and sometimes it is just a typo, but I hold up my hands and confess, I'm a copywriter's (just been back to edit this word!) nightmare.

Yes, give me the dunce's cap and I'll stand in the naughty corner if you like, but my argument is I'm a story teller, a weaver of fantasies, not an English language graduate. In fact, other than basic English literature and language 'O' levels (oops, that dates me) I have no other formal qualifications in writing. Unless you count a course on creative writing with The Writers Bureau, but they don't hand out pretty certificates to hang on your wall that confirms 'Hey, this gal can write'.

I liken it to the musician who can't read music but can play by ear. Or the artist who can paint beautifully but doesn't know his Rembrandt from his Picasso.

What I'm saying is, if you read avidly, love the rhythm of words, if you have any sort of imagination, don't be scared to have a go at writing. Obviously you need to know the basics, but don't obsess over it. Use a spellchecker (*see below). Use a good dictionary and thesaurus. You can buy them cheaply enough or use an online one - I use Merriam Webster.

Join a writing group or if you're a shy wallflower (like me!) look for an on-line group that offers critiques. Posting anonymously will build up your confidence, believe me!

*Spellcheckers are useful tools but not infallible as can be seen in this little ditty.

Eye have a spelling checker,
It came with my PC.
It plane lee marks four my revue
Miss steaks aye can knot sea.

Eye ran this poem threw it,
Your sure reel glad two no.
Its vary polished in it's weigh.
My checker tolled me sew.



Eats Shoots & Leaves - The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation

by Lynne Truss ISBN 1-86197-612-7

A book for people who love punctuation (or are scared of it). It pokes fun yet it's informative. A must read, IMO.

Look it up on Amazon where you can have a peek inside to get an idea what she's about.

It's out in paperback now so you should be able to pick it up cheaply.

A Punctuation Parable

Dear John,
I want a man who knows what love is all about. You are generous, kind, thoughtful. People who are not like you admit to being useless and inferior.You have ruined me for other men. I yearn for you. I have no feelings whatsoever when we're apart. I can be forever happy - will you let me be yours?

Dear John,
I want a man who knows what love is. All about you are generous, kind, thoughtful people, who are not like you. Admit to being useless and inferior.You have ruined me. For other men, I yearn. For you, I have no feelings whatsoever. When we're apart, I can be forever happy. Will you let me be?


The Victorians had a simple yet effective way of remembering the basic rules of punctuation:

Sentences start with a capital letter, so as to make your writing better.
Use a full stop to mark the end. It closes every sentence penned.
Insert a comma for short pauses and breaks,
And also for lists the writer makes.
Dashes - like these - are for thoughts.
They provide additional information (so do brackets, of course).
These two dots are colons: they pause to compare.
They also do this: list, explain and prepare.
The semicolon makes a break; followed by a clause.
It does the job of words that link; it's also a short pause.
An apostrophe shows the owner of anyone's things,
It's quite useful for shortenings.I'm glad! He's mad! Don't walk on the grass!
To show strong feelings use an exclamation mark!
A question mark follows Where? When? Why? What? and How?Can I? Do you? Shall We? Tell us now!
"Quotation marks" enclose what is said.
Which is why they are often called "speech marks" instead.

Tuesday, 3 October 2006

FAQ on guidelines

I've been putting some stuff together for a writer's workshop I'm doing next month on writing for the women's magazines and the question most raised in my last workshop was about magazine guidelines. Presuming you've studied the market and know what a particular editor wants ie twists, romance, ghost stories, you'll find some basic tips below:

  1. Clean A4 paper of reasonable quality - don't shell out for embossed top notch stuff. No scented, pink, hand-made paper, pur-lease!
  2. Use a clear typeface like Times Roman or Arial. Now is not the time to use Webdings. Yes I know they're pretty but you'll give the editor a headache and he/she'll most likely be hungover anyway, so do yourself a favour, eh?
  3. Font size 12 and double spaced unless the guidelines state otherwise. Don't obsess about how many spaces to leave after a full stop. You don't? You'd be surprised how many writers do!
  4. Include a fly sheet (cover sheet with your name and address, email address, word count and title of story)
  5. Number your pages clearly and use a header with title of story and your name on each sometimes end up on the office floor.
  6. Um, maybe this should have been number 2 - hard copies should be printed, preferably from a PC, but typewritten might just pass muster with some eds. Hand-written is guaranteed to hit the trash can.
  7. If a magazine takes email submissions pasted in the body of an email, save as a Rich Text File first. Word documents can become corrupted. And unless an ed asks, don't send as an attachment - it may get bounced.
  8. Keep to the word count. Don't send a 4000 word story for 1000 word slot. The ed won't ask you to cut it she'll reject it. And round up the count ie if it's 983 words, call it 1000 - stating the exact words says you're an amateur (apparently!)
  9. Include a SAE with your submissions. Now the postage has changed I send out in a C4 envelope but use a smaller one (C5) for returns...or you could ask the ed if she minds shredding any rejection instead of returning. Maybe best to wait until you're on first name terms first.
  10. Keep a copy and back it up. I send an email to myself with the story in the body just in case.
  11. DON'T ring the editor to say your work is on it's way.
  12. DON'T ring an editor until at least 10 weeks after you dropped it in the letterbox to her/him. Sometimes ms get lost but often as not, the ed is just plain busy.
  13. DON'T ring up after she/he's rejected your ms and ask if they're sure they read it. They did.
  14. And while we're on the subject, get the fiction editor's name right. If it's Jimmy, don't presume it to be male. It may be short for Jemima - I know, I made that faux pas.

In A Flap

Yay...Biker Chicks, dude!

On a serious note, people are easily confused - Turkey the country or turkey the ugly bird we eat with stuffing.

Sky News report - As the migratory season begins, the risk of a deadly bird flu pandemic hitting Britain this winter is even higher than last year. Birds from Turkey - that's the country d'ya hear? - are most at risk.

Meanwhile another health source tells us to eat more turkey meat as it's is easier on the heart... as are other mainstays of the traditional Christmas feast.
In comparison to other meats, turkey -- white meat in particular -- is a better source of protein, is lower in total fat and saturated fat and has fewer calories. A three-ounce serving, for example, contains 133 calories, 25 grams of protein, 2.7 grams of total fat and slightly less than one gram of saturated fat.

So what's it to be? British farmed turkey for your Chrissie lunch or that strange looking bird sitting atop your Sky aerial who has just flown in from Turkey - the one with the heavy cold, huh?

PS. Please don't mail me to let me know you're a vegetarian and I should be damned to hell for all eternity for even mentioning I enjoy a turkey lunch (or for portraying chickens in leather - they enjoyed it okay!) - I don't give a hoot and I'm probably going to hell anyway, so save your breath. Kappish?

I'll Say Zis only Vonce

This is where I should be today. Himself and I had booked a holiday on the Rhine but due to unforeseen circumstances we had to cancel.
Doubt we'll get another break until next year, but considering some of the horrible things happening around the world, it's no biggie.
My heart goes out to the parents of the Amish schoolgirls murdered by a milk truck driver allegedly 'unhappy with God' according to his suicide note. Well, that's a heck of a way of letting Him know..moron!

The Postman Rings Twice

He had a large padded envelope for ms come back from an agent, with a 'Not for us' rejection.

I'm awaiting on one more agent reply and then that is it. It's going on the bonfire next month!
No sales this morning for the short stories I sent off to various magazines...but no rejections either.

And before you post a comment, I know the photo above is of Jack Nicholson in The Shining and not in The Postman Always Rings Twice, but my postman is a dead ringer for JN as Jack Torrance.

Living The life of Riley

Things I've done this morning:

  • Made the beds
  • General tidy around upstairs including unblocking the loo
  • Stacked the dishwasher
  • Made breakfast for three
  • Taken Himself to work
  • Done several chores for Himself's business including driving the ten miles to the cash and carry during the school run.
  • Done the supermarket shop (Note to Tesco - over 1 billion pounds profit for half a year is heartbreaking) Girl at checkout who knows I'm a writer says, 'I wish I had time to swan around all morning. Must be great'. Resisted urge to cave in her head with the Woman's Weekly...award myself 2 Jammy Dodgers for that later!
  • Return home to vacuum downstairs and polish
  • 10 am sit down to write this in the hope it'll lift the depression!

10.15...thinking clearer now, so I'll email that invoice for the sale to a Bahrain magazine, chase up a pitch I made to Woman's Weekly and then settle down to dash off a few thousand words of my second novel. time...