Wednesday, 9 December 2009

The Six Perils of Writing Workshops

I was going to write a few lines about choosing a writing workshop but as I'm feeling rather lazy this morning I'll point you in this direction instead - with apologies to James Burt for stealing his title.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Festive Fiction

Got my copy of Take a Break's Christmas Fiction Feast yesterday. My story, spread over 4 pages, begins on page 8 and has some lovely illustrations to accompany it so not too worried Norah's changed my title from 'Ice Angels' to 'An Angel in Bovver Boots'!

I'm in good company this month with my writing chums Teresa Ashby, Della Galton, Pam Weaver, Sandra Beswetherick, Sally Quilford and Geraldine Ryan. Just thinking off the top of my head here so if I've missed anyone out, apologies ;0)

And still in festive mood, I put up the Christmas tree this morning. Not a bauble in sight this year. I've gone for the rustic look with pine cones, gingerbread men, candy canes and ribbon. I like it. Not sure what Himself will think. He's more the glitter and tinsel type. Who said 'chav'?




Might dry out some orange slices tomorrow to string with ribbon and hang on the tree. I do them fresh every year because they don't seem to save very well. I found two mouldy ones at the bottom of the deco box. Think the trick is to dry them out more slowly. Or buy them ready made as I've done with the cinnamon sticks. Tescos are selling them in packs of 2 for £2 so much cheaper than doing them myself. Though on closer inspection, I think they're twigs and not cinnamon.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

We Are Not A Camera

I'm a bit of a fiddler when faced with anything technical. Let me begin by saying 'I know nothing'. Like I said, I just like to fiddle! Where's this going? Well, I managed to put together a new website as you probably know, but then wondered about doing one for Himself.
I haven't a clue how he's run a successful business for almost 30 years with such a distinct lack of advertising, save for a few runs in the local newspaper.

( "I have a good reputation, stoopid" - Himself)

Sorry about that, he's looking over my shoulder! So, two days of arguing over what should go on it I ended up with Jeff Houghton's Website

I'm sure it could be better. This is only my third bash at web building but I think it does the job for now. The problem comes with getting Google and all the other search engines to recognise it. The biggest and most annoying problem is every time anyone Googles 'Houghton's Butchers' they're directed to various websites (including eBay) glorifying the HOUGHTON BUTCHERS REFLEX CARBINE CAMERA - a rather ugly box camera thing circa 1925.



Can you tell the difference?

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Woman's Weekly

Have you heard the very good news that Woman's Weekly will be putting out 10 fiction specials per year from January 2010? Here are the expected publication dates:

4th Jan
5th Feb
12th Mar
16th Apr
21st May
2nd July
13th Aug
24th Sept
29th Oct
30th Nov

I'm waiting to hear what the newest guidelines are. Meanwhile I'll be dusting off some stories in my 'Started but not finished' file...and there're an awful lot languishing in there!

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Never say Die

Wish it was my own book launch I was plugging but for now I have to ride on another's coattails..sighs!

My writing chum, Lynne Barrett-Lee has her book out today. Think Amazon has it on offer for under a fiver at the moment so it'd make a great Christmas present. Here's a taster:

Never Say Die

by Melanie Davies and Lynne Barrett-Lee


'I don’t know how long it was before I fully woke up, but when I did, everything felt different. My eyes opened and for a moment it seemed that I must have been hit on the head. There was no pain at all, but a new face above me. A manly face. Rugged. Unfamiliar. Concerned. I wanted him to save me, but straight away I noticed that there was worry in his expression and sadness in his eyes. He asked me a question, but I didn’t really hear it. I felt terrified. Why was he looking at me that way? Then he asked me again, and this time I did hear. “Can you,” he asked, “move your feet for me, sweetheart?” I had no choice but to answer with a question of my own, because I didn’t understand what was happening. Where were they? Where were my feet and my legs? Where was the rest of my body?’


Sounds intriguing, doesn't it, but what makes it all the more extraordinary is Never Say Die isn't fiction. There'll be lots of publicity surrounding the launch, including an interview with Melanie in the Daily Mail on the 27th Nov. and further interviews on TV.

I know Lynne, along with Melanie, has worked hard on this book so hoping they get lots of sales.

Lynne is also the author of romantic comedies: Virtual Strangers, Straight On Till Morning, Out on a Limb, Barefoot in the Dark and Julie Gets A Life.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

Chickle!

I know folk get tired of being sent jokes via the Interweb, especially ones that have been doing the rounds for yonks, but this one made me splutter coffee over the keyboard. So thank you Ginny, for this little gem:

Yesterday I was at my local Co-op buying a large bag of Purina dog food for my loyal pet and was in the checkout queue when a woman behind me asked if I had a dog.
What did she think I had, an elephant?

So, since I'm retired and have little to do, on impulse I told her that no, I didn't have a dog, I was starting the Purina Diet again. I added that I probably shouldn't, because I ended up in hospital last time, but that I'd lost 2 stones before I woke up in intensive care with tubes coming out of most of my orifices and IVs in both arms.

I told her that it was essentially a perfect diet and that the way that it works is to load your pockets with Purina nuggets and simply eat one or two every time you feel hungry. The food is nutritionally complete so it works well and I was going to try it again. (I have to mention here that practically everyone in queue was now enthralled with my story.) Horrified, she asked me if I ended up in intensive care because the dog food poisoned me. I told her no, I stepped off a curb to sniff an Irish Setter's arse and a car hit us both.

I thought the guy behind her was going to have a heart attack he was laughing so hard.

I'm now banned from the Co-op.

Better watch what you ask retired people. They have all the time in the world to think of daft things to say.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Website makeover

Been fiddling about with the website, yet again. Not this one, the other one.

I'd been using Trellix site builder for some years but then tried to migrate to their new web builder with disastrous results. I lost half the content - my fault, I'm sure. But anyway, then one of my writer friends, Jill Steeples, told me about Moonfruit and how easy it was. I agree. Much easier! And I don't have to pay to get adverts removed either!

So, if you click here or on the link at the top of this page it should take you to my nice new site. Similar content to the old one, just a bit smarter..but that's only my opinion ;0)

I think I've done everything necessary to divert traffic from my old site to the new one but apparently it can take a while for it all to kick in...or whatever the techie term is. And then there's the wait for Google and other search engines to crawl all over it and gather up keywords and other important techie stuff.

Have you created a Mary-Sue or a Gary-Stu?

If you're wondering what the heck I'm talking about, don't worry, I'd never heard of it either, but apparently, in literary criticism, a'Mary-Sue'is a fictional character the writer has created who...you know what, I really can't be bothered to explain so here's what Wikipedia has to say about it:

A Mary Sue (or Gary Stu), is a character with overly idealized and hackneyed mannerisms, lacking noteworthy flaws, and primarily functioning as wish-fulfillment fantasies for their authors or readers. Perhaps the single underlying feature of all characters described as 'Mary Sues' is that they are too ostentatious for the audience's taste, or that the author seems to favor the character too highly. The author may seem to push how exceptional and wonderful the 'Mary Sue' character is on his or her audience, sometimes leading the audience to dislike or even resent the character fairly quickly; such a character could be described as an 'author's pet'.


Someone has even devised what is known as The Mary-Sue Litmus Test. Be warned, it's awfully long.

Did I learn anything from it? Well, not really. It's a basic principle when creating characters. Make them likeable, well-drawn and not cliched...end of. Simples!

Saturday, 7 November 2009

My Roots Needed Doing

I've been rootling around on Ancestry.co.uk for a couple of years on and off mainly because it interests me and it appeals to the nosey side of my personality but also to find out if the family legend is true and we really are related to Sir Isaac Newton and G. K. Chesterton...yes, I know it sounds unlikely but one never knows!

Well, after struggling to get the ancestry website to work properly - it isn't compliant with IE8 Vista apparently you need Firefox 3 - I've discovered that we do indeed have a long line of Chestertons in the family but sadly they're the 'wrong sort'. They're the Leicester Chestertons not the London lot. It makes a difference!

We do have an Isaac Newton, but again, not the Sir Isaac and born a hundred or more years too late. Ah well!

Still, I did get some joy on the genealogy front...today I marked up my 400th ancestor link and have now been able to trace back to the 1600's on both maternal and paternal side of the Cooling family (Cooling is my maiden name, by the way).



I rather like the look of this old girl. She's called Esther Chesterton (nee Hardwick 1823-1873) and the mother to nine children. Bit weird putting faces to deceased rellies and even weirder if you think how far we've come from sepia photos to sharing them around the world on the Internet.

The tombstone belongs to another Chesterton rellie - Richard Chesterton and his son Richard Jnr. Lovely inscription and so clear considering its age. It's in Hungerton churchyard, Leicester, so one day I'll go take a look at it. Oh and I hear there's a Chesterton House somewhere in Leicester...maybe it's the stately pile I've been looking for!

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Ancestry

A few years back I traced my dad's side of the family (the Coolings) back to 1696. It wasn't difficult. They lived, worked and died (but for one brief migration down to Peterborough) in Southwell, Nottinghamshire. Most had unremarkable lives but I was re-reading all this stuff this morning and with Christmas approaching, thought the following, dated Boxing Day 1839, rather poignant. Just imagine what this family would've been going through.

The letter concerns my gt.gt.gt-grandfather, George Cooling, father of 6, who on being made redundant from a local hosiery mill in 1839, threw himself on the mercy of the Guardians of the Southwell Union Poor Law Commission. The board ordered he should be granted 3 stone of bread, value 8 shillings, whilst he sought work. I have a copy of a letter dated 29th December 1839, written by Edward Senior, which states:

'The relief given may be sanctioned, it might be well to state to the Guardians that the Commissioners believe much evil is occasioned by granting out door relief in a District where labour is usually well rewarded and where no want of Employment is general, by keeping up the feeling, that the Parish is bound to make up for lost time, and state that the real motive for granting such relief is the Commissioners apprehend the pecuniary interest of the Parish and advise that in similar instances in future the Workhouse only be offered'.

On the reverse of this letter is a draft letter back from the Poor Law Commission to the effect that they will not withhold such sanction from the outdoor relief given to George Cooling as his becoming unemployed was no fault of his as the mill where he'd worked had fallen into bankruptcy.

I assume George did find employment soon after as I can find no mention of his family having gone into Southwell Workhouse.




I've been promising myself that one day I'll take the guided tour. It's only a few miles away and we did go to Southwell recently so I could take some photos and get a 'feel' as to where I'm from, so to speak. However we didn't get to see the workhouse from the inside as it was closed season. Maybe next year. And I'll take along my notebook in case any story plots present themselves. Probably ghostly ones!

I did have a spooky experience whilst looking around the village. We'd just come out of the minster and I was standing by a row of terraced houses imagining them on a book cover of my first historical saga (no, don't laugh)and when I got home and checked the address, where I'd been standing was next door to the actual house one of my rellies had lived! Okay, maybe coincidence, after all the village isn't that big, but nevertheless..

Saturday, 31 October 2009

The Lovely Blog Award


Ah, you meet some lovely people in this writing game. My friend Janice Horton has made my day by giving me The Lovely Blog Award which I’m so ridiculously pleased to accept, you'd think I'd won tonight's lottery!.

And now the rules say:
1) Accept the award, and don’t forget to post a link back to the awarding person.
2) Pass the award on.
3) Notify the award winners.

So I'd like to pass the award on to (trumpets and drum roll, please) Teresa Ashby because I've long admired her work and her blog is always entertaining and interesting.

Pumpkin pie

Here's Amy carving a spider!

With 4 pumpkins turned into spooky lanterns there was an awful lot of flesh to work with! We bought ready-made pastry bases and then followed the recipe below:



For the filling:

1lb pureed pumpkin
1 large tin of condensed milk
2 eggs
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 tspoon ground ginger
1/2 tspoon ground nutmeg
pinch salt

Method:
Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees
To the pureed pumpkin add everything else and mix well
Bake for 15 mins at 200 degrees then turn heat down to 170 for another 35 mins.
You'll know it's done when it's set like an egg custard.

Happy Halloween




Isn't my daughter, Amy, clever? She took about half an hour to carve this last night and I think it's brilliant. Beats the usual scary face doesn't it?

Friday, 30 October 2009

Going a Bit Lynne Truss

My local corner shop/newsagent went bust a few years back and my next nearest looks to be suffering the same fate (thanks to supermarkets but don't get me started on that one). For months there has been gossip of it going into liquidation and when they stopped selling magazines and newspapers it seemed as if the rumours were true.

Today there's a big sign outside declaring 'THERE BACK - MAGAZINES/NEWSPAPERS NOW IN STOCK'.

I went in hoping to get Women's Weekly (Paula William's final serial chapter of Burying Bad News) but the shelves were bare. Feeling cheated, I couldn't resist pointing out someone had used the wrong spelling on the board outside.

'Oh yes,' said the assistant. 'Should be T-H-E-I-R shouldn't it?'

'No, it should be T-H-E-Y'R-E.' She looked at me as if I was a nutter, and admittedly I did feel a bit Lynne Truss as I vigorously signed an air apostrophe.

I suppose if folk go in just to point out it's wrong it might increase 'THERE' sales huh?

PS. I am now paranoid you're searching this blog for grammatical/spelling errors. Be assured, you'll find plenty! Just don't write to tell me!

Short Story Radio Competition

Short Story Radio is proud to announce the Short Story Radio Romance Award 2010. This exciting and innovative new writing competition offers romantic fiction writers the chance to have their work recorded and broadcast, as well as to receive a cash prize.
We are looking for an engaging and entertaining romance story (previously unpublished) , told in two parts of no more than 5,000 words in total, similar to the type of romance story you will find in a women's magazine.

Word length: synopsis (no more than one page of A4) and first part of story (2,000 minimum to 2,500 maximum words). This first part must end with a “hook” or “cliffhanger” to entice the listener to listen to the second part of the story. Only short-listed entrants will be asked to send the second part of the story.

The winning story will be recorded and broadcast, in two episodes, on the Short Story Radio website and podcast. The winner will also receive a cash prize of £150 and the title of winner of the Short Story Radio Romance Award 2010.

The short-list judge for this competition is Pat Richardson, founder of Perfectly Worded Writing and Editing Consultancy and former Fiction Editor at Best magazine (UK).

More information at http://www.shortstoryradio.com/short_story_competitions.htm

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Gather ye cheggies



Everyone's been saying what a rotten year it is for chestnuts but not up here in Notts. My kids went out gathering just a mile away and came back with this lot after only an hour's work. I didn't go with them. Getting spiny thorns out of finger ends for a week afterwards is to be avoided at all cost especially if you're a writer!

My daughter washed and dried the haul and prepared to roast them. I favoured banging them in the microwave for a few seconds but I was over-ruled. They wanted them done in the chiminea outside for that authentic taste. They had a point. As a child, I remember going shopping with my gran shortly before Christmas and on the way to the bus station stopping off at a street vendor to buy sixpence worth of chestnuts from a glowing brazier - yes, dear readers, I really am that old - then hugging the brown paper bag in my mitten-clad paws until we were on the bus home. I know hot chestnuts can still be found but I bet the open brazier's been replaced with an 'authentic barrow'.

But back from the Dickensian fantasy - we were out of coals and logs for the chiminea so several pounds of cheggies went in my electric fan oven instead. Someone should've set the timer because when they were dished up the anticipated smokey-soft kernel had shrivelled and dried (along with the obligatory maggots contained therein) making them inedible. They'd have been more succulent if they'd been put through the Hadron Collider.

Oh and here's a little blast from the past...remember Johnny Morris of Animal Magic fame? He had a regular slot on BBC Children’s TV in the 1950s as The Hot Chestnut Man, telling stories over a brazier.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Fun


First son and his girlfriend are up from London, visiting for a week. They won't be around for our yuletide get together as they'll be off to Denmark.
I was toying with the idea of doing the whole tinsel lunch shebang but it was decided we'd go for a meal at a local Asian restaurant instead. Phew!
Jhinook came up to expectation as usual, though our request to ignore the set starter menu and 'Just bring us out a mix' cost us dearly and I don't mean cash-wise! The house still smells like a Bombay back street!

On Sunday we went off to Meadowhall (Sheffield) which is only 30 mins away and had a meal in a tapas bar followed by an hour and a half chuckle watching Pixar's newest creation, UP, in 3D.

We were handed free (at £9.70 a seat I should think so too!) viewing goggles - black-framed plastic things with polarised lenses - which are quite trendy in a Thunderbirds kind of way and a vast improvement on the paper efforts with the red and green lenses.

The 3D effects weren't the 'in yer face throw things out at the audience' sort I expected, but subtle and very realistic. I wasn't sure I'd enjoy a film about some old codger who transports his home by lifting it from its foundations using balloons, but I loved it. Especially the character Russell - very lovable and funny.

It wasn't until afterwards I realised it'd addressed infertility, death (weepy scene I thought kids might not grasp but I overheard a youngster seated in front sniffle!), single parenting, loss of childhood illusions, and the necessities of respecting nature. Not bad for a PG rated film eh?

Saturday, 24 October 2009

House for Sale



Penrhiw House, ABERCYCH, Boncath, Pembrokeshire, SA37 0HB

Reduced to £199,950

Anyone out there looking for property in a fabulous setting? If so, this house might fit the bill. Apart from a lovely sitting room and dream country kitchen look at the garden! If you know of any reflexologists then this house comes with the option of continuing the owner's business. He has a list of almost 200 clients and he has never advertised so there is huge potential to expand.



All this and a beach only 7 miles away.

For lots more info go here

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

The People's Friend Subs Update

Have just heard PF will only now accept hard copy plus sae, or with a request to recycle and have a reply via email - the latter best all round, I think. But no denying it's yet another blow to the writer. I suppose they're trying to save the expense of printing out our emailed stories and passing the expense of postage on to us.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Who Rules the Fiction Roost?

I sent the novel out again last Wednesday to a small independent publisher in the UK. It came back just short of 12 hours with a 'Though you write fluidly with well-drawn characters and an unusual and intriguing plot...we have to decline at this time.' Blah, blah!

I no longer want to kick small furry pets or throw things at the wall when I hear this. I kind of expect it and I would give up were it not for a half dozen full ms reads by agents who were full of praise for it but subsequently turned it down with varying excuses basically blaming today's marketing climate. In other words, the industry is at the mercy of the big book chains.

Robert McCrum in his article in The Observer writes:
How can good new writers be published when the industry is ruled by people who aren't interested in originality?

How indeed? And, okay, maybe I am deluded and like many an X Factor contestant I should give up the dream...but I can't.

PS No furry pets were harmed in the making of my novel - only offspring and Himself.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Today I am mostly eating...

...Sunshine soup with home-made bread for starters - caramelised onion and goat's cheese tart for main.

I fancied a break from writing today (writers' block) so dug through the cupboards and fridge for something to turn into delicious grub.


I call it sunshine soup because it's made from yellow/orange veg...simples! Butternut squash, yellow sweet pepper,garlic and potato and parsnip, okay not all strictly yellow, but near enough. I would've thrown in a couple of carrots but the ones I had in my fridge had gone all limp.


Has to be the simplest soup to make.
Chop veg into small pieces, add chicken stock (or veggie stock if you're of that persuasion) and a good pinch of harissa and rose spice, then simmer till soft.
Blend, add more seasoning if needed. Maybe a swirl of cream and garnish to taste, as they say. I've done this recipe using coconut milk and Thai green curry paste to rings the changes a bit.


Himself mopped the dish clean with the bread (yes, I did make it...from a packet) so I assume he liked it.


Now for the main:

1 packet of flaky pastry (with only one day's life left in it, phew!).
It was the ready-rolled sort so all I had to do was un-roll it and score a half inch round the edges so it could rise and fluff up nicely.
I put that aside and to a hot frying pan added a knob of butter, 3 tablespoons each of olive oil and balsamic vinegar and when bubbling, added 500 gms onion (should be red but I only had the ordinary sort and it worked just as well) and a tablespoon of sugar.

I left that to simmer while I checked for emails from editors...none. Had time to enter a couple of comps on GMTV until all the liquid in the onions had reduced and they were nice and brown.
Note: If you make this, the kitchen will smell fab at this point and your stomach will be groaning for food!
While the onions cooled, I spread a bit of tomato and garlic puree on the pastry base but you could add fresh toms...I didnt have any. I told you I was using stuff from the cupboard!
I added the caramelised onions and veg (oh forgot to say - good tip here: those packets of frozen mediterranean veg cooked with the onions at the last minute make a nice addition.)
Lastly, I topped the lot with with slices of goat's cheese.
Bunged it in the oven for about 25 mins. making sure the bottom was cooked through. I find placing it on a slotted tray works best...or a pizza tray. Anything so the heat can get to the base. And voila!



Served with salad and/or chips. I was pleased with the results looks and taste-wise though Himself moaned he found a dog hair on his plate. Like that was my fault. Honestly!

Monday, 12 October 2009

I HAVE NEVER BEEN UP THE EIFFEL TOWER


Sorry to shout but I needed to say it VERY LOUDLY and this seemed the best place, there being no echo. Plus Himself can't mutter a childish, 'Yes you have and no come backs' under his breath.

The disagreement began like this:
I took a phone call from Second Son to say he and girlfriend had arrived safely in Paris and they were 'Up the Eiffel Tower'.
I'm gooey-eyed on hearing this as Himself and I spent our honeymoon in Paris - 35 years ago last month if you've been paying attention.

'How romantic', I said. 'Dad and I did all the other touristy stuff, but never made it up the tower.'

Puzzled look from Himself followed by lots of huffing and puffing about how could I have forgotten? The most romantic city in the world on the most romantic day of our lives and I'd forgotten.

No, I hadn't. It never happened. I'll say it again. Up the Eiffel Tower we did not go!
Could it be Blackpool Tower he's thinking of? If so, he did that alone, because I know I've never been up there, either. I do recall climbing a working windmill in Norfolk - an exercise I'll not repeat in a hurry. Watching the sails whizz past as I clung to a wonky wooden rail was enough to put me off heights and Weetabix for life. Not to mention the ensuing asthma attack.

I digress - La Tour Eiffel...I tried to end the argument by getting out the honeymoon snaps. There we are at Sacre Coeur, Montmartre, the Seine, Champs-Elysées, Notre-Dame, L'Arc de Triomph even the bliddy bus terminal but not one pic taken from the top of the Eiffel Tower. Plenty from the bottom looking up. Hah! Proof or what?

Um, no. He said we were probably still giddy with the excitement of our wedding, and so stunned by the breathless beauty of the city spread below us that we must've forgotten to use the camera.

Sigh!

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Christmas Chiller Comp


If you fancy writing a spooky tale with a Christmas flavour or maybe have one already completed and languishing on your pooter, how about entering it in WriteLink’s latest short story competition, Christmas Chiller?

Briefly:

First Prize £50 and publication on Writelink
Two runners up prizes of £25.
Word count 1500 maximum
Entry fee: £4.50 per story
Entries close 8th November, 2009

Oh and your story must begin with ...
“The good fairy stared through the sifting curtain of snow and wondered … ”

I know some of you don't like paying entry fees and the prize isn't mind-boggling but it's sometimes good to get out of your usual writing style and let rip. And who knows, with a bit of editing, you might still be able to sell it on to a mag afterwards.

For more competitions visit Sally Quilford's Competition Calendar Sally regularly updates this page so there's always something interesting to be found.

Eating sweets causes violence?

Not related to writing but this made me splutter in disbelief. Some barmpot has come up with the notion that eating too many sweets as a youngster causes aggression in later life. Quote from the study:

Analysis confirms that 10-year-olds who ate confectionery daily were significantly more likely to have been convicted for violence between the ages of 29 and 34.

"Our favoured explanation is that giving children sweets and chocolate regularly may stop them learning how to wait to obtain something they want.
"Not being able to defer gratification may push them towards more impulsive behaviour, which is strongly associated with delinquency."


Isn't that contradictory? It isn't the sweets per se...it's the replacing of love and guidance with sweets? So that's bad parenting then, isn't it? Exactly what anyone with sense already knows.

Maybe these scientists would do better looking into how many pints of alcohol these same kids are necking between the ages of 10 and 29/34.
Ooh, hark at me getting all political!

Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Sale to report

On the very last day of the month comes a sale to Take A Break's Fiction Feast. They're buying a 2800 word Christmas story.

I don't write many seasonal stories as they normally only get one stab at a market per year if the editors are slow to read. This one I sent in August so a pretty good turnaround as it goes. If it's published in the December issue which hits the newsagents the month before, then I just might get my fee before Christmas. Here's hoping because my bank account could do with an injection of cash!

Norah McGrath (TAB editor if you don't know) also sent me a copy of their new contract to sign. I should say, new to me - apparently it came out around this time last year and I must've been missed off the list of contributors. First time I've had to sign anything for TAB, but Norah assures me:

'it has proved not at all controversial as people can still still sell on stories.'

I think I still have 2 other stories sitting in her slushpile so fingers crossed for them too, though even mentioning them has probably jinxed that possibility!

E mail AWOL


Ever sent an email to the wrong person?

A survey (there’s always a survey) of 4000 people revealed that a third had sent something of a personal nature to the wrong recipient. I read of a man who replied to an invite to a school reunion but his e-mail didn't only contain friendly chat or reminiscences, but a lewd photo of a partly unclothed young man.

Apparently, it was a new computer and this guy had been figuring out how to add attachments to an e-mail. As an experiment, he clicked on a random image from his desktop and tried to send it to himself (who hasn't tried that?) but the e-mail program he was using being the clever thing it was, automatically filled in an entire group from his contacts book. He didn't realize, of course, until after he hit the ‘send’ button. He apologised for his mistake in a follow-up email. How he explained away having lewd images of young men on his desktop I have no idea.

I've made similar mistakes - none involving semi-clothed young men, sadly. Like the time I joined ‘The Rather Nice Association’ and was invited onto their members forum to introduce myself and my work etc. Being used to the informality of my usual on-line writing group I jumped in with a ‘Hey, how’s it hanging, dudes’ type post. Actually, no I didn’t. I’d never say that and I’m not American for a start, but you get my drift.

Anyway, only one person came back with a ‘Welcome’ (thank you, you know who you are) but, unperturbed, I lurked a bit longer and tried again...and again. Just chatty posts about recent sales to a magazine and what I'd been up to that weekend. I got a cyber slap back for ‘using the forum for self promotion’. I think my grammar came under scrutiny, too.

Feeling a bit deflated I emailed my own lovely writing group and told them what a stuffy old lot The Rather Nice Association were, that I felt completely out of my depth and wouldn’t be going back there again. Harrumph!

Do I need to spell it out? That’s right. I sent it to The Rather Nice people by mistake. Oh the shame! The toe-curling embarrassment!
Thankfully, it seemed to break the ice. Caused a bit of a giggle and I was forgiven. And if any Rather Nice Association members are reading this – I came to realise I was being overly-sensitive and you are all very, very nice.

So, are there any sure-fire ways to avoid this dilemma? Well, there are programmes out there you can use and I believe there’s something in Outlook that gives a few seconds delay between you clicking the ‘send’ button and actually whizzing it off, but my experience is that you won’t realise your email has gone AWOL until you’re sitting there wondering why your friend didn’t reply to your important opinion on your b*****d excuse of a boss.

So, my tips are:
1. I know it’s a bore but if you get into the habit of always typing the full name it’ll lesson the chances of mistakes. Don’t just type just the first few letters and let your e-mail program fill out the rest because based on your contacts book, it could easily misroute your message without your realizing it.

2. When you grammar and spell check your email (you do do that, right?) also double-check the address of your intended recipient before you hit 'send'.

You’re only going to lose a few seconds out of your day and believe me it's worth it!

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Latest My Weekly Guidelines

These have been out a week or two now and I can't recall who emailed asking if I knew what they were, so in the hope that whoever it was reads my blog, I'm posting here.

Remember, you can only sub one story per month now and they're no longer returning unsuccessful stories, so if you haven't heard back after 6 mths, presume it's a 'No thanks.' The upside means if you send via snail mail, you don't need to include a sae. I'd imagine most of us send by email anyway.

Have to say, I don't particularly like this new system but then I'm not the one drowning under submissions, am I? Let's just hope if we get a 'yes' we ARE informed within that 6 mths or the story might've been sent elsewhere and that could involve a messy email to withdraw it from some other editor's pile.

Don't forget that anything you send now should be aimed at the January/February issues and they're specifically looking for:

1400-1600 words Twist in the Tail - Light hearted or very moving themes.
700 word Coffee Break - Again, light hearted or moving.
1200 or 2000 word Romance stories - Light hearted themes.
2500-3000 Long Reads - I'm guessing this can be any theme as they don't specify.





My Weekly Pocket Novels
I think I'm right in saying you can send in your ideas for these at any time. NOT the whole thing, mind. Send only a synopsis and the first three chapters in manuscript form or via email...I'd go with email seeing as the post here in the UK is a bit 'iffy' at the moment!
If the editor likes your proposal and wishes to proceed, she'll ask you to send in the full novel electronically - use Rich Text or Word document(I'd go for compatibility mode if you're using the latest version of Word to avoid sending them pages of gobbledy-gook!)

Word count: around 30,000 words, no more than 32,000. Love, passion, romance and adventure being the key words. Female viewpoint. Contemporary or historical, they can be set anywhere in the world.

'We look for stories with a strong, developing romance between two identifiable characters. Within the time it takes to read one of the novels, we would like the reader to share and experience the breathless/breath-taking excitement of a growing relationship.'

Word of warning: Before you embark on a pocket novel, you should know the fee isn't huge! It's approx £200 and there aren't any Royalties. Plus you can wait up to a year before you know whether or not they're going to publish, and that's AFTER you've submitted the whole thing. Okay, you could maybe condense it to suit other mags but it's a lot of work. When you consider what Take A Break will pay for a 1000 worder...well, don't know about you but I don't write for fun. Having said this, I'd still like to crack the market. Can't resist a challenge!

So if you're up for it, it's the usual address: myweekly@dcthomson.co.uk
and mark it for the attention of Maggie Seed.

Good luck!

Important Update on The Lady Fiction

Thanks to writer Paula Williams for sending me this heads up:

In the editorial in this week's Lady, Rachel Johnson, the editor, says:

"It's all my fault and last week's announcement from our Literary Editor that funeral rites are being read over The Lady short story was somewhat premature. crossed wires, I'm afraid. The short story is a much loved feature of the magazine, as is fashion and you will be finding them within our pages over the next few weeks -we are just finding the right short story and the right fashion for you."

So keep sending out those shorts!

Friday, 18 September 2009

Dan Brown's 20 worst Sentences


The Lost Symbol, the latest novel by The Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown, has gone on sale and Tom Chivers has a funny article in the Telegraph pointing out Dan Brown's 20 worst sentences taken from his 5 books.

There's been a long-running argument on DB's ability to write. He's certainly come in for some harsh criticism. 5 best sellers and 2 blockbuster movies do not a writer make...er, yes they do. Bet DB's crying all the way to the bank.

I've only read Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons and I enjoyed them, taking them as the fun/mystery/thriller they were meant to be. Does that make me a bad reader, then? According to some comments my brain must be mush and I'd be better off reading Dostoevsky or Samuel Beckett. Why presume I haven't already?

Discuss ;0)

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

The Lady Stops Fiction

Is it true? They've polled their readers and they're not interested in keeping the fiction?

I heard it on the writer grapevine just a few minutes ago. Not that I sold them shed loads, in fact, just the one, way back when. It was a story I'd enjoyed writing and unusually for me, of a People's Friend flavour. Come to think of it, maybe it wasn't, as PF declined it first, but it certainly wasn't suitable for Take A Break and The Lady sprang to mind so that's where I placed it. And would you believe I sent them 3 shorts only last week? No doubt they'll come flying back.

I don't feel as shocked as when Woman stopped their fiction. That was a blow. My first ever sale was to them, Summer Special 2002.

Thought: My gran first introduced me to Woman when I grew out of Jackie magazine, so I've always had a soft spot for it

My biggest thrill was when I had a 6 week run in the weekly. Sue Thomas was fiction editor back then. Happy days.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

The Wasp Killer


So this is what an aubergine wasp killer looks like then. Not, as I'd imagined, a mutant vegetable running amok with a fly swatter, but a ceramic contraption to be filled with sugary water, then hung in the garden to keep your barbecuing sting free.

It's probably about as useful as those citronella candles that seem to attract flies rather than make them turn their noses up and go bother someone else. Mind you, I think the next thing we'll be cooking in the garden may well be chestnuts. Feels really autumnal this morning. The leaves have already started to turn and I realised yesterday evening, I'd closed the curtains by the time the signature tune to Corrie came on. Time to switch the candles and plug-ins from 'Freesia' to 'Spicy Apple & Cinnamon' me thinks!

Monday, 14 September 2009

Comp news - but not literary.


Yippee, I got an email today from GMTV advising me I'd won a prize. In a few days I'll be the proud owner of a bistro dining set, a mixed case of Caves Saint-Pierre wines, culinary herbs for wine lovers seed kit including Greek Oregano, Basil Bouquet, English Thyme, Italian Parsley and Summer Savoury seeds, an Aubergine Wasp Catcher and Alistair Sawday's B & B for Garden Lovers guide.

I enter 100's of on-line comps a month not to mention those in puzzle books and the women's mags and the only thing I've ever won is a tube of ceramic hob cleaner (I don't own a ceramic hob) and a DVD of some old TV series (probably still showing on GOLD channel) which I never watched and took straight to the charity shop! So, I'm quite thrilled despite the fact I already have outdoor furniture and summer's all but over anyway. The wine I'll stash away for Christmas - no, really, I will!

If anyone knows what an Aubergine Wasp Killer is don't tell me. I want it to be a surprise ;0)

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Quick catch up

Crikey is it really over a week since I blogged? I'm telling myself that's a good sign. It means I've been doing some serious scribbling - not that blogging isn't but you know what I mean. I mean 'serious' as in 'writing wot can earn me cash'. My bank balance is rather low at the moment. I'm still awaiting payment from a Swedish magazine which should arrive shortly but I could do with some more sales in time for Christmas!

That mini-mystery I tried my hand at...it ain't happening. At least not in 700 words, it isn't. It'll most probably end up around 3000 words at the rate I'm going. Which is great if I can sell it to Take A Break and then possibly Fast Fiction, Aus. Maybe further afield than that...um, can you get further afield than Aus? No, s'pose not.

Anyway, apart from playing around with the mystery, I've managed to edit and adapt a batch of oldies to fit new markets.

Around 5 have come whooshing back by email within days, bearing the usual, 'Thanks, but not this time' reply. 2 have got a 'short-listed' and 1 a 'You'll hear from us soon'. Oh and I had 1 'out of the office for a month' automated reply. So that's one editor who's going to be seriously behind with her reading unless she has someone else on the case.

I also got a rejection from Take A Break this morning. My heart sank when I spotted the large white envelope bearing the tell-tale address label - I ordered the wrong size for my printer and they're a tad on the small size, so that's how I recognised it.

Norah still has another sent around a fortnight after this one but to be honest I thought the rejected one was the better of the two. I wish they'd let us sub via email, but Norah did tell me that their computers were so out of date the whole system would crash and burn if they did.

What else have I been up to? I took Theo to the vet this morning for a check-up. He's got the cone thingy off his head now and he's gradually re-growing his fur but still looks a bit on the lean side though I think his appetite is returning. Another check-up in 2 weeks time and he should be discharged, thank heavens.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Mini mystery

I've come to the conclusion that writing a mini mystery is incredibly difficult. First there's the crime, a minimum of 3 suspects and then the resolution all in 800 words or under. Then a 6 mth wait to see if it passes muster with a US editor. Why am I bothering?

Well, probably because it's a challenge. I've got most of it down today but keep going over the word count and my solution is as long as the actual story - not sure that should happen. And I have a feeling there's more than one story going on. What I mean is, I think it's over-complicated. I could maybe lose one of the elements and it'd still work...maybe.

Not much other news. I've had a bit of a brainstorming session and managed to get a total of 8 stories back out there. Still awaiting on the novel but will probably not hear anything till after Christmas.

Argh! The dreaded 'C' word! Shudders! Well you'd be shuddering too if your other half was in the butchery trade. himself is already looking out the turkey posters and I've been instructed to print out the leaflets advertising our 'Bumper Yuletide Hampers'.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. After all I'm working 5 mths ahead myself on New Year ideas and even Valentine's Day stuff. Where does the year go? Huh?

Friday, 28 August 2009

Clear As Mud

We write the posts, and when we enable post titles, we choose the post titles. When we enable post pages and post titles, the URLs of the posts are a function of the dates, and the titles, of the posts.

I'm sure the paragraph above, lifted from The Real Blogger Status , makes perfect sense to the more technical-minded among us, but to me it's about as clear as mud!

About as clear as the 3,000 word crime story I've been struggling to edit. The plot has posed no problem and neither have the clues or the resolution. But I've got myself in a right (write!) tizz over my characters.

'on set' are:
2 policemen - 1 a Detective Constable and the other a Detective Inspector
1 Medical examiner
1 dead guy
1 dead guy's wife

Then there're others 'off set' that play a big part in the crime but don't need to be present. Well, one of them, Dickie The Diamond, can't because he's doing a long stretch for armed robbery.


The Medical Examiner has a minor role, the dead guy well he just lies there with a knife sticking out of his throat. His wife is there purely to bounce the clues off.
No, it all got complicated when I realised my DI had taken on the lead role when I wanted his DC to be the main man. I'm all for the under-dog coming good, aren't you?

So I did a mass edit, giving my DC all the best lines and turning my DI into a bit of a misogynistic swine - he lacks a drink problem and an aged sports car as I thought that too stereotyped.

By the way, I typed 'sports scar' just then. Was it a typo? Or is my character taking over as I believe him to be doing? Maybe he went to a private school and sustained it playing rugby? Or did he have a cow-bag of a House Mistress who beat him on a regular basis with a copy of DeBretts, hence his hatred of women? See what I mean? He wont stay in the background.

So, this is what I've decided. I'll write the story giving my DC the lead role...I like him, he's blond, kind of scruffy (but def not whiffy!)with a penchant for Smarties and then I'll give my DI a whole new story to himself.

Clear as mud?

PS I just re-read this post and realise what a complete nutter I must seem. hey-ho!

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Slam-dunkin' the Too Many Chasing Too Few Theory

My sales to the womags are definitely down this year. I used to sell 2 a month, now it's about 1 a month. I'm forever being asked how many stories I've sold recently (mainly by Himself who would like me to get a 'proper job'). My staple, and rather defensive, reply has been,

"Oh, well, there are just too many writers chasing too few slots."

But is that true?

Would it be more honest to say, "There're better writers than me out there and that's why my sales are down" or "I haven't written as many."?

I was talking with a writing tutor the other day and she came back with some interesting thoughts on the matter. And I have to say, after giving it some thought, I agree.

The 'Too Many Newbies Writing' theory:

Yes, creative writing classes are everywhere now and available for anyone to join. People are clamoring for places. Are they turning out great mag stories the editors are lapping up in favour of us old hacks? Is this fresh blood full of exciting new plot lines and imaginative twists?

Er no. In her experience (and mine from the little tutoring I've done)some students are there only because they bought into the idea that womag publication is easy. They've read Take A Break - Pah! Should be a doddle to scribble something like that! They've seen that advert on the telly/in the writing mags about the writer who joined a class and now has a turnover rivaling JKR. Great! A quick way to make a few quid.

I can guarantee that these students, who make up most of any class, will drop out after a few months. Of course, a few will trudge on relentless, but they'll never quite make it. Well, good on them for sticking with it.
The rest of the class will be the ambitious, truly creative sort who'll improve and go on to publication.

The 1000 or so submissions made per month to Woman's Weekly will be made up of a mixture of these three groups. My point? The percentage of publishable material being sent to mag editors is only marginally greater than it was a few years back. I'll wait for an editor to contradict me on this!

As for the 'Too few slots' theory:
Let's knock this one on the head, shall we? Okay, some mags have closed their doors to fiction. Bella, Woman, Chat to name 3, but how many did they publish a week? One? Maybe 2? And did you ever sell to them?

The good news is, the remaining mags have actually increased their slots. Take Woman's Weekly, as an example. There's the weekly, the bi-monthly and the seasonal specials.

And think how many foreign markets have opened up. When I started writing for publication back in 2000, I only submitted to the UK market, mainly because I was unaware I could sell overseas. Now there's Australia, Sweden, South Africa, Norway, Denmark, India, Ireland etc.

Only the other day I found a fresh market...or rather the market found me as the editor saw one of my stories in another mag and wanted it for her own - yes, I know that comes across as a bit of trumpet blowing there but I have an ego to sustain ;0) Anyway, I struck while the iron was hot and sent her more. She's rejected 2 as being too short for her current needs but is considering the others.

So my conclusion is, yes, there are better writers than me out there and always will be. But my recent failings have been entirely my own. I'm not selling as many stories because I'm not writing as many. I KNOW it's true. Think on!

There endeth today's lesson x

Monday, 24 August 2009

Sale surprise

Just when I thought August would pass without a sale I get home to a lovely message from a magazine editor who's read one of my stories in another magazine (different country) and wants to buy it. A good fee too and all for no extra work on my part. I'm thrilled to bits!

Pussycat update


Theo's been able to come home for the night (after a day of Xrays) but is going back to the vets tomorrow when he'll undergo a Temporal Mandibular Condylectomy - in layman's terms, removal of a fused piece of bone in his lower jaw. He will stay at the vets for a few days and will be fed by tube to ensure he keeps up his fluids. They are also going to update his boosters as it's best to do this at the time to keep his immune system at its best.

Thanks to all my lovely, lovely friends for offers of support. Whether it be in the form of a donation or prayers, it's all equally appreciated! I can't thank you enough!xxx

Donations to go directly to the vets at:

Wildbore Veterinary Group
5 Newcastle St
Worksop
Nottinghamshire
S80 2AS
Tel:01909 472059

If you could please include a little note to say it's towards treatment for Theo Houghton, belonging to Amy Houghton.

Many, many thanks again. xxx

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Appeal



There's been one uplifting event this weekend - the support of some lovely friends regarding my daughter Amy's cat.

Originally a rescue cat, Theo was knocked down by a car about 6 weeks ago and needed his tail amputated and other treatment which cost Amy £500. The family rallied round to help her settle the bill (she's in a decent job but, like most young people, mortgaged to the hilt)and we all thought he was on the mend but it now seems he must've sustained a broken jaw.

Amy noticed he was making a mess when he ate and on investigation, it seems his lower jaw has fused, so you can imagine that's not a good thing. He's due at the vets for an X-ray tomorrow and then they'll decide what's to be done.

Amy simply doesn't have the cash to fund another expensive op - her insurance won't cover it as it's part of his original condition and she's not on any benefits therefore doesn't qualify for charity help - so she's made an appeal on Facebook for help. So far there's been a steady flow of pledges - all money to be sent direct to the vets that way people know its kosher. If you'd like to help please don't send any cash yet until the out-come of tomorrow's meeting with the vet when she'll post again. She's hoping they'll provide some payment plan...I was going to say 'to take the sting out of the tail'.

Apologies if this seems an awful cheek but we want our little man home and well again.

Home Alone

Himself and son No. 2 took off for a weekend's fishing in Norfolk on Friday afternoon leaving me to the luxury of a quiet few days writing...not to mention slobbing around, catching up on daytime TV and staying in bed until 9am! For someone who's up at around 6.30 five days a week, that was a real treat.

Mind you, son no. 3 did wake me this morning to let me know a Man of War had been spotted on the beach. In case I was in any doubt, he stressed he meant the jellyfish-like creatures that can deliver a potentially deadly sting and not a terrorist stalking the sands with an AK 49. Yes, thanks, Adam but that didn't make it any easier to go back to sleep. Bad enough I worry about my kids every time they get in the car/go for a night out/indulge in extreme sports etc., I now have the added worry of jelly fish attacks!

But back to the writing - I'd posted off 2 re-hashed stories to Take A Break on the Friday morning thinking I'd get at least one complete story done by today but all I've managed are 3 weak beginnings that fizzled out when I realised they were becoming predictable. Never mind, I'll put them aside with the other 100 or so 'started' stories and look at them afresh some other time.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

For no other reason...

...than they're pretty! Isn't this modern arrangement gorgeous? They were a birthday gift from my daughter. The roses were from Himself, the lily bouquet from my parents and the spiky plant was from my brother.

Thing with flowers is, the moment they come into my possession, they start to wilt. No, seriously, I mean within hours they start to droop even though I do all the right things like, you know, cut the stems on the slant, add flower food...someone suggested a dash of lemonade helps to keep them perky but the only place lemonade works for me is in a vodka.

I should probably stick to artificial or dried flowers, but they're dust-gatherers...well they would be in my house. And aren't they supposed to be bad feng shui? Apparently not if you keep 'their energy fresh'. If they accumulate dust (or dog hairs) then they'd emanate dried and lifeless energy and there's enough dried lifeless energy around here thank you!

I love the way the bright orange spike on this plant matches the pot. Apparently they come in reds and purples too. The label says to water it from the top so that the moisture settles in the leaves not on the soil. This might ensure its survival because the soil in all my potted plants tends to go mouldy and smelly - victims of my over-enthusiastic watering technique!

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

It's my birthday today!


Yes, today, the 18th August I'm...not telling! I had my birthday celebration on Sunday - the family took me out for a Chinese meal at The Flaming Dragon in Sheffield, just opposite the Arena. It's buffet-style with everything you can imagine...and some things you couldn't. The photo on the left is of me and mine though I've just realised my son Adam and his girlfriend Joanne are missing - I think they'd gone up to the buffet for dessert. Pity my eldest son Russ and his partner Maria weren't there but getting the whole clan together when they live in different parts of the country is difficult. Still, they sent me a lovely gift and Russ called to wish me a Happy Birthday. Oh and he bought me a mini voice recorder key fob that'll come in handy for when I'm out and about. Quicker than getting out the jotter.

At the end of our meal, about a dozen waiters sang to me and gave me a joke birthday cake which even had a candle on the top! Nice touch isn't it? Bit difficult dividing it between 10 though!

Today I'm having a quiet day writing. Mum's called with flowers and a pot plant from my brother. If only the sun would come out, my day would be complete. Still, you can't have everything.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

My name is Sue and I'm an addict

I need help. I'm a hoarder and compulsive buyer of books and it has to stop. NOW! It'd take me a year to get through my 'to read pile' yet I've asked for more books for my birthday. Why? When I can't keep up with what I already have.

I have 2 bookcases in my house; 1 is to the ceiling around 3ft wide and has 6 shelves crammed full, the other one is slightly smaller with 3 shelves, again busting at the seams. Then upstairs I have shelves in 2 bedrooms again overflowing. Plus there're books stuffed behind the sofa, in wardrobes and under beds.
Yesterday I decided enough is enough. I need to thin them out. It isn't that I don't know where to send them - there're dozens of people would be grateful for them - it's the act of giving them up I can't face. I find it sooo painful to let them go! I feel like an addict doing cold turkey.

My collection falls into several categories.

There're those I've read and enjoyed so much I'm loathe to chuck because, well, um, I might find them useful as reference for my own work.

Obviously, any reference books on writing I cant possibly ditch even though I can quote them word for word.

Ditto dictionaries and 'Year' books even though this info can be mostly accessed on-line.

Some fiction I haven't even read but cant possibly get rid off them because I'll eventually get around to doing so...when exactly? 2012???

There're those I've tried to read and didn't finish for various reasons - usually because they weren't to my taste BUT I cant ditch because I may come back to them later...but probably won't. But you never know, do you? Take The Time Traveller's Wife - couldn't get into it but now the film's out I feel compelled to try once again.

Then there're the signed editions from my fave authors I'd NEVER EVER give up because I love them and their work.

Then there're those signed editions of books I'd never normally buy (Know Your Newt??)but did so because the author looked lonely there behind her/his table in the bookshop and we had a nice chat about the writing game etc.

Recognise my dilemma? I bet you do. Anyway, yesterday, I began the task of getting rid. I took 2 large carrier bags of books to the charity shop but had to park right outside, run in, dump them and run out again before I bought more to replace them.

Today I've filled two more large bags. I don't think I can face another trip to Barnardo's in case I fall off the wagon.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Blog Takeover Day

Hello, I’m Maggie Dearly and Sue’s asked me to take over her blog for today. I’m thrilled, if a little bemused, because I’ve always thought of myself as a secondary character in her novel. Surely she’d want one of the main protagonists to scribble something - the MPs being Alex and Roisin* not forgetting Sandra. Alex is my son, by the way, the lovely Roisin is his employee (at least in the beginning)and Sandra is...well, maybe I’ll keep that to myself for now. Don’t want any spoilers do we?

Where was I? Oh yes, Sue assures me I’m important because my role is pivotal to the plot - without me there’d be no conflict.

‘And we all know why a story needs conflict, don’t we, Maggie?’

And there was me thinking she’d only invented my character because every good family saga**needs a clichéd, menopausal widow to bounce clever dialogue off.

So now I’m here, being pivotal, what am I expected to talk about?

My only claim to fame is I was once sacked from a charity shop, for calling Cherie Blair a ‘F*****g greedy cow’. As I told her security at the time how was I to know she’d come to officially open the premises? She looked nothing like the grinning Cheshire cat we see on the telly. I thought she was one of the girls from the pie shop next door come to get her hands on the best stuff before we opened. And for the record, you can’t sack someone from voluntary work.

Alex was a bit put out at the time. He didn’t say as much but I think he was worried my actions would reflect on his business. As if the whole of Throcking Pava would boycott his cafe because the owner’s mother had denied the then PM’s wife a 50p bud vase. Honestly! He worries too much. He takes after his father...

Talking of which, I do miss my husband, William, despite what Roisin thinks she saw. Okay, I admit, Mr Chen*** was in my house naked but everything else is entirely down to her imagination. Except for the wacky baccy. That I do regret. That and a certain course of action taken almost three decades ago.

Still, we came through it all in the end. Well, we had to or the novel would have an unsatisfactory conclusion and we can’t have that in a best-seller can we?

TTFN!

* ‘Roisin’ (pronounced Roe-sheen) has one of those funny accents above the ‘o’ but I don’t know how to find the symbol on here and everyone calls her Raz in the book so I don’t know why Sue’s so insistent I point it out but she's the writer so I have to indulge her.

**Saga isn’t how Sue would describe it. More a romantic comedy...about family loyalties and bonds...and other family stuff. So a saga, really.

***Zsui Chen, holistic practitioner – responsible for flushing my colon once a month.


HAPPY BIRTHDAY SALLY QUILFORD AND THANKS FOR THE IDEA BEHIND THIS BLOG ENTRY!

Please vote!


There're hundreds of 'How To' books on writing out there and I think I've read most, if not all, of them. Obviously, when a writer friend pens one I'm going to buy it - I'm nice like that ;0)But seriously, Wannabe A Writer? by Jane Wenham-Jones is definitely one for the bookshelf whether you're a newbie writer or an experienced one.
To get to my point and yes, this is unashamed begging but I don't care because Jane deserves it - Wannabe a Writer? has been nominated in a little award thingy to do with independent publishers.
Please go to The People's Book Prize website and look in the non-fiction section and vote for it. Pretty please!

And even if you don't want to vote (shame on you!) you can still get more info on Jane's book here.

And there's lots more on her website here

Friday, 7 August 2009

Today I am mostly...

...clearing up as I spent most of yesterday away from the pooter doing a spot of decorating in the sitting room. We're having a new fireplace fitted soon and I needed to freshen up the paintwork where the old one's been ripped out. Except once I started touching up I realised just how many shades of magnolia there are and ended up doing the whole room.

We'd had an idea the old gas fire was faulty. The pilot light would spark but wouldn't stay lit - a safety feature I think. The man who came to disconnect it said it was leaking but strangely our carbon monoxide detector hadn't gone off. Maybe not leaking enough? Dunno.

Anyway, we decided we'd replace it with an ultra-modern electric one. It's high gloss black, with coals and 3D Enviraflame technology (I'm copyng from the brochure here). Course, being modern, it didnt suit the old pine surround so we're changing that too, to a Sandstone one, blocky-looking, no mantle. I think we got a bargain but as with all DIY jobs, it's the little 'add-ons' you don't expect that hike up the cost.

First there's the emulsion, new paint rollers and tray.

'We don't need new, there's a stack of 'em in the shed' - Himself.
'But there're spiders in the shed' - Me.


The new hearth has rounded corners whereas the last one was square so it'll leave an unsightly gap in the flooring hence we'll need someone to come out and give us a quote for patching in and I'm guessing our particular wood veneer is now discontinued etc etc.

Himself has always hated the mirror (I it bought second-hand about 15 years ago)which hung above the fireplace so he's suggested now would be a good time to replace it, 'With some art'. Well, we've argued about this 'art' for some time now and I'm no nearer to agreeing that a 4x4 canvas of stampeding horses would look tasteful.

Thing is, I can't come up with an alternative. I've trawled eBay and nothing jumps out at me. I'd like a watercolour, pastel colours, maybe something to remind me of a past holiday. Nothing floral, or abstract and definitely no nudes please! Having said that, on the opposite wall I have a sepia artwork of a Roman lady in a diaphanous frock, boobies on show and her arms flung with abandon above her head! Maybe it's time for that to go too.

Top Tip: Don't decorate with doors and windows flung wide when fields are being harvested close by. A swarm of those tiny bugs descended and unable to swat them away I'm afraid I had no choice but to paint over them. Brings a whole new meaning to textured walls.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Community mags - a possible outlet for the writer.

Every home-owner complains about the amount of junk mail they receive each week. I know we do Chez Houghton. Himself is threatening to buy one of those paper briquette makers (seen in the Lakeland catalogue - itself unwanted mail) to turn it into cheap fuel...except we have an electric fire so maybe not such a good idea after all.

It's only Wednesday and already Postie has delivered: 1 shoe catalogue, 4 offers to update my fascias, 2 offers on Pizzas, 2 charity leaflets and a holiday brochure for luxury cruises. Annoying.

Why did I start this post?...Oh yes, community magazines. Before you confine them to the bin as junk mail, think again. Not only are they useful for 'what's On' ask yourself if they're a possible outlet for your articles/short stories?

I've seen a few community mags come and go in my area. Most carried info on church fetes, school football league tables and a plethora of adverts for double glazing and plumbing services. Not much chance of placing my work, albeit for free.

Then a copy of Worksop Life dropped through my door. Of course it carries adverts and lots of them - it wouldn't be viable without them - but it seemed a bit more 'grown up'. The August issue (A5 and glossy colour by the way) has book reviews, an article on E-Readers, computer advice, puzzles, a fashion page, even a recipe for BBQ bananas and...a short story by me!


All it took was a brief email to the editors to ask if they were interested and hey presto...a couple of weeks later I get a double spread of 800 words plus pic and bio. Before you writers out there hold up your hands in horror at the 'write for free' ethic, this was a story that had come Highly Commended in a recent on-line writing competition but didn't seem to 'fit' anywhere else and I hate to see a story languish on the hard-drive. IMO, better to showcase it for free than not at all. Plus, I enjoyed taking part in something close to home and if it raises my profile locally, then that's all to the good.

In case you were wondering - I submitted A Bit Of A Do to My Weekly and though they liked the humour the editor didn't want the mother dead at the end...um, that was the whole point of the twist so I declined to change it - something I wouldn't normally do.

Worksop Life - Community magazine and business directory is delivered free in Bassetlaw every month. Edited by Leanne Lodge and Julian Broadhead. Email: worksoplife@tesco.net or Tel: 01472881104

Monday, 3 August 2009

You Have Reached Your Destination...or have you?

Did you hear the story about the Swedish couple who fancied a road trip to the Isle of Capri but set their sat nav co-ordinates wrong and ended up in Carpi, an industrial town in Italy some 400 miles off destination?

Maybe the analogy is stretching it somewhat, but as with that couple, I was so keen to get a recently written short story to its destination asap I made mistakes. I grant you, unlike Capri, Norah McGrath's desk at Take A Break is hardly a place of natural beauty and busy glitz (well, it might be, who knows?) but had I let my manuscript get to her in its present form I'd have regretted it.

Why? Because it wasn't right - it needed 'something'. The resolution came too easily, for one thing, I could see that immediately on re-read. The plot was a good one and hopefully it's as original as it can be considering every idea seems to have been done to death, but just by letting it drop out of my thoughts and coming to it fresh a day later, I could see how I could make it better. Hopefully, that's what I've done and it's now on its way to Norah who still may reject it for any number of reasons but hopefully not because it's poorly written.

I'll let you know in about 3 month's time!

PS. I make no excuses for my blog posts being poorly written but I'm not getting paid for them, so I don't care.

PPS.I've never seen a photo of Norah. Seen pics of most eds but never one of her.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Submission services anyone?

At the risk of being accused of lifting snippets from other blogs I do think any wannabe novelist should read the post on the use of submission services at How Publishing Really Works.

Puss Pass

Don't you love those cutsie stories they use to finish off the news? Loved today's gem about a puss called Casper, who, for the past few months, has been catching the number 3 bus outside his home in Plymouth, Devon. He hops aboard, snuggles down on the back seat and enjoys the ride. The driver drops him off on the return journey.

Apparently his owner didn't know about his antics until the bus company, First, informed her. First has even put up a notice in the canteen alerting drivers to take good care of him. Ah, makes you go all warm inside, doesn't it? Wonder how long it'll be before Health & Safety get a whiff of it? One way or another his joyriding will be stopped, mark my words.

Photo and more details here.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

Splish, splash, splosh!

Photo opposite is the view from the dining room where I'm typing this!






Isn't the weather depressing? What happened to summer? I can't recall a day since about May when it hasn't rained at some point during the day. This morning started well with a little sunshine, then around 9.30am the skies darkened and down it came. Hasn't stopped since.

Hmm, an ice-cream van just turned up outside my house - who in their right mind buys ice-cream on a day like today? Talk about optimism!

Where was I? Oh yes, I was moaning about the weather which brings me to point out that I live on a smallish 70's housing estate with poor Broadband reception and drains that flood every time there's sustained rainfall...no, the two things aren't connected but seeing as I've had intermittent Broadband all day, I'm feeling a tad wound up about it! What with that and the TV signal being interrupted...

Anyway, remember the floods a couple of years ago? You were unaffected? Well, parts of where I live were underwater for over a week...some even longer. If this keeps up, it's going to happen again. The main road between our house and our business premises is particularly fun to navigate today, with fountains of water gushing from displaced manhole covers. Note to parents of children happily splashing around in it...THIS IS SEWAGE WATER! This fact is evident when the rain stops and the water subsides. The road is littered with...you can guess!


The photo opposite is of Bridge Street in Worksop at the time of the last flood. Photo taken from Worksop Guardian.





Several houses on this estate were flooded back then (thankfully not ours)and those worst affected were the ones lying below the road level. Not sure who took the blame, the council, the house builders or Severn Trent, but anyway, defense gates were installed which in the main were pretty ineffective. So for the next 5 weeks the road is being dug up to sort out the drainage problem once and for all. This means 3-way traffic lights have been installed to aide the flow of vehicles coming off the main A57 into Worksop.

PLEASE, please can the authorities leave these lights in place when the work is completed because for the first time since I've lived here I can get in and out of the estate with ease. AND more importantly, it would prevent parents parking their cars on the double yellows outside the school gates which snarls up traffic at peak times. And before you inundate me with angry comments about how parents need to transport their offspring by car because of danger from paedophiles etc, I'm not interested in your whining. The road in question is narrow, extremely busy, has yellow hatching and double yellows and is the only exit off the estate PLUS there are 2 car parks within 20 yards so bl**dy well use them!

Whew, I feel better already ;o)

Saturday, 25 July 2009

New Template

Do you like my new template? Hope so as it's taken me the best part of today to get it right...well, almost right. It still needs a little faffing with and tweaks here and there but on the whole I'm quite taken with it.

I think everything I need has been brought over from the old site. If anything's missing I'll find it and add it later.

Still having problems getting the 'followers' pane to appear but I understand it has something to do with an incompatibilty between Google Friends (or was it Google Contacts?) and the old 'followers' format. I'm probably wrong but hey-ho!

Friday, 24 July 2009

Sent to Coventry?

Where have all my followers gone? I thought it was just me who'd been deserted, but I've looked on a few of my favourite blogs and their gadget seems to have disappeared completely, too.

I visited The Real Blogger Status and there're lots of disgruntled bloggers with similar problems. According to Google Support the problem is resolved but obviously it isn't. What's going on? Hackers? A simple glitch?

And now my anti-virus has kicked in so that'll slow things up for the next few hours! Don't you just love computers?

PS to Twenties Girl Post

Okay, 2 rejections dropped into my in-box this morning so I'm feeling about as bright and creative as...as a dimly lit uncreative...thing. In an effort to cheer myself up I've baked a carrot cake and I nipped out to the shop to buy a hardback copy of Sophie's Twenties Girl. I got it half price so don't whine on at me about waiting for the cheaper paperback and anyway, my depression calls for chuckles Sophie-style so there!

And if any of my kids are reading this (I doubt it, I bullied them into being 'followers' but I suspect they haven't paid a visit since) sorry, if you were planning on getting a copy for my birthday. You'll have to think of something else...like another book.

Oh and Mum texted me from Bulgaria this morning. She's in her 70's and though she's had a mobile phone for ages, she only learned to text a couple of days ago. So, this morning I get a text from her that goes like this: HANBAGS!(sic) Guchi, Dolchi, jimmy choo, prada - small or large - choose.
From this I'm assuming she's met some dodgy geezer in a back street selling knock-off/fake stuff. Honestly!

PS - I chose Jimmy Choo.

It's all Swedish to me



I received my contributor's copy of Allas in the post today. Page 22 carries the story I submitted to them on May 28th and they purchased on 6th June. The issue is dated 23rd July, so a fairly quick turnaround in mag terms!

I can't read it to see if they've changed anything, because of course, it's in Swedish. I tried an on-line Swedish to English translator but it wasn't much help handling huge chunks of text. My original title was Love Hurts but according to the translator their title 'Smartsam Karlek' means something like Shrewd Fellow. Bit odd as my male character was anything but shrewd.




I can see they've kept my characters' names but then I did got out of my way to provide them with suitably Scandinavian-sounding ones. No illustration to accompany it this time but it's only 1000 words or as they call it '5 min novellen'.

There's a by-line beside the title with my name as the author but there's also a line that says 'Overs och Bearb: Ulla Hening.' I wonder if that's the translator's name? When I tried it in the translator it told me it was Dutch and not Swedish. No idea what's going on there!

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Twenties Girl


I'm a big fan of Sophie Kinsella so can't wait to get my hands on this new book. Love the trailer!
There're some fun pages here

What the critics say:

Sophie's latest tome is a wise, funny ghost story that will have you gripped from the first page. Perfect summer reading.
- Heat

Wonderfully witty tale...You'll love this quirky read - it's just as girly, exciting and fabulously funny as Sophie's other gems *****
- Heat

Best read with a cold glass of wine at sunset (with tissues).
- The Times

PS - when I get my novel published I'm going to call on everyone I've publicised to do the same for me! So watch out Sophie!

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Never Give Up

Argh and I had such high hopes for Never Give Up, the story I submitted to Woman's Weekly back in May. I know Clare Cooper can take up to 8/12 weeks these days as there's only two staff and one part-time assistant in the office, so I wasn't unduly worried. Sometimes, if a story doesn't come winging back within that time, it can mean it's in with a good chance and stupidly, that's what I thought might be happening. After all, weren't they short of the longer mystery?

Anyway, when a writing friend got a 'yes' this morning for something she subbed quite a while after me, I did what I loathe to do(and editors dislike, too)and chased it up. Clare got back to me within minutes to say it'd been declined (so much nicer than 'rejected') on July 13th. I'd either missed it in my in-box or it got lost in cyber space. I do like the people at WW. Unlike some editors, Clare will always answer a 'chase' even though I know she must be drowning under piles of mss.

So, what to do with it now? It's around 4000 words and has already been declined by Take A Break. I could try My Weekly but I'll have to wait until next month as they're only allowing one sub per month these days and I've already got my July one in. It's def not suitable for The People's Friend...the story has suggestions of s-e-x before marriage, shock, horror!

It's not really competition material so that isn't an option. And it's far too long for a BBC radio script - they want 1900 to 2000 words which runs to around 14 minutes.

Never Give Up is based loosely on a script I wrote during a TV drama writing course tutored by Chrissie Hall who's written for the BBC's Doctors series. That was a couple of years ago now and it still hasn't sold. Is it time to give up on it? Certainly not! Even if it has to undergo some massive editing, it will eventually sell. As the title says, Never Give Up!