Saturday, 20 June 2009

Writing Competitions

If you're interested in submitting your work to writing comps rather than submitting to magazines, you might want to take a look at Sally Quilford's Writing Calendar

It's regularly updated and Sally also has a monthly competition calendar in Writers' Forum Magazine

If entering comps is a new venture for you, Sally can provide you with lots of tips here.

Guardian Short Sory Comp

Thanks to my writing chum, Kath Kilburn, for pointing this one out to me:

The Guardian Short Story Competition

Win the chance to have one of your short stories published in Guardian Weekend's annual summer fiction issue.

Submissions can be on any theme, must be previously unpublished and no longer than 2,000 words.

The judges will be authors William Boyd and Julie Myerson, and the winning story will be printed in Weekend magazine alongside others by established authors. Five runners up will have their stories published on the Guardian books website. .

Send your story by 10 July to Short Stories, Guardian Weekend, Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9GU or Please include a phone number.

Terms and conditions can be found on their website.

Book Reviews

It's one thing getting rejections for mag stories or even a novel submission but imagine you're a published novelist checking out your ranking on Amazon only to find customers have posted scathing reviews of your book. Working Wonders by Jenny Colgan is a case in point. It scores 3 stars out of the 5 and has some of the most diverse reviews I've seen on Amazon with remarks ranging from 'Exquisite' to 'Downright boring'. Ouch!

When I posted my thoughts on book covers on here, I'd picked out several books from my shelves and realised I hadn't read this one by Jenny even though I've probably had it since it was published in 2003! I've read around 4 of her other books and enjoyed them, so decided Working Wonders would be my read for the week. From the cover I was expecting chick-lit but it's much more. And maybe this is why some of her followers didn't like this one. I'd say it was more mystical escapism. I found it a refreshing change from the high-flying-thirty-something-career girl-looking-for-love type read. I also liked the ordinariness (is that a word?) of the setting - a town planning office in Coventry. I wouldn't hesitate in recommending it. 5 stars, Jenny!

Written from the male protags POV. the plot goes something like this:

Arthur Pendleton has led an unexciting life, working as a town planner and slowly realising that his life holds few surprises. Then he encounters the head of a team of management consultants, the beguiling and beautiful Gwyneth Morgan, a woman Arthur finds himself intimidated by. Her job is to inspire Arthur and his ill-assorted team of planners to take on a daunting task--ensure that Coventry becomes the new European city of culture. Looking around at such colleagues as nerdish computer expert Sven and the unhappy (and long-suffering) Cathy, Arthur becomes increasingly dispirited. And then, astonishingly, Gwyneth shows signs of being attracted to him, and (even more surprisingly) his team begins to fire on all cylinders with ideas. But which is more achievable: beginning a relationship with the intriguing Gwyneth, or making Coventry appear interesting? The elements that made Jenny Colgan's earlier books bestsellers are firmly in place here: quirkily observed characters, capricious plotting and a truly involving sense of the way in which most of us live our lives. Both Arthur and Gwyneth are beautifully drawn, and even if the basic theme (dull hero and brighter heroine in a non-metropolitan culture clash) may owe something to David Lodge's Changing Places, it's none the worse for that; this is an enchanting read. (Taken from Amazon)


I've come to the conclusion that Twitter, Facebook, and blogging are for people with far more interesting lives than I have. According to Twitter's home page:

Twitter is a service for friends, family, and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?

That's fine if you have family living a million miles away and want to keep in touch or want to make sure Himself has put out the wheelie bin while you're away - though why not just pick up the phone? By Twittering, you're assuming your friends are glued to their PC 24/7...okay, my son just told me they are. But why does anyone want or need, to know that some friend of a friend of a friend is 'eating spag bol with a glass of rose'? Who cares? Well, apparently the thousands who've signed up, I guess.

Am I supposed to be thrilled that my friends care enough about me to want to know 'I'm p****d off with getting Final Demands from companies who think I owe them money even though I paid their darned bill 2 weeks ago'? And yes, the latter is my morning's Twitter! Look, I'm grumpy enough without having to dwell on it longer than I need do while I type out a rant and send it to all my followers...oh and followers, that's another come I only have four?

Friday, 19 June 2009


...and how to cope with it. I know what all the advice is concerning agent rejections and could regurgitate it all on here including that much, quote about how JKR had dozens of knock-backs before finally getting a publisher and look where she is today...but I won't bother, you'll have heard it all before.

The only way to avoid that rejection letter is never to submit. Fact!

Book covers

I wasn't aware, when I first started novel writing, that the writer has little or no input into the design of his/her book cover. Unless you're a top-selling, famous 'name', at least. I expect JKR has some say.

Book covers, apparently, aren't that easy to design, hence the need for a specialist to fashion something that not only catches the eye but conveys the idea behind the book on one single page. It needs to be unique, creative and striking enough to jump off the shelf and scream 'Buy me'.

It's said that most customers browsing a book store will make up their mind within 20 to 30 seconds. Er...who are these people making snap decisions? Do they have a bus to catch? An egg to boil? Don't know about you, but I spend an age deciding on what to buy and often as not I don't choose from the 'Best-sellers' or 'Top Twenty' placed prominently by the door. They may be best-sellers but I feel kind of conned into buying them.

Not for me, either, is the piled high '3 for 2' table because I invariably pick up one I really, really want to read, then end up struggling to choose 2 others I know I won't ever get around to reading. No, I like to browse the far corners of the store. Find something maybe published years ago.

Just remembered something - When Accent Press published the first of the Sexy Shorts range, which carried one of my short stories, I had to go ask an assistant to find it for me. It was lurking (1 copy only) behind a pile of children's toys stacked against the shelves. Lovely book cover, shame about the placing!

But I digress - where was I? Oh yes, book cover design...if I ever bag an agent and get this damn novel pubbed, I know exactly what I'd like my cover to look like. Or at least what I'd like it to incorporate. Something like this:

And the book blurb for The Cuckoo Club:

One chef's deflated souffle, is another chef's frittata. Can Róisin Connor encourage her boss, Alex, to apply the same principles to his life?

Amongst the dated decor and padded banquettes of The Pink Pig Café, waitress Róisin (Raz) Connor struggles with the three men in her life. Foremost is cafe owner, Alex Dearly. There’s his cousin, the celebrity stylist Gabe Locksmith and lastly, there’s a corpse.

Alex is the love of her life though it seems unrequited, but right now it’s the corpse, Alex’s father, William, who is causing Raz the most concern. A wreath with a note pledging everlasting love from unknown ‘C’ arouses her suspicions. Is ‘C’ the mysterious veiled mourner who attends his funeral?

When Alex's old school chum, Sandra Montford-Jones appears on the scene, William’s widow, Maggie, starts acting even more oddly than usual. Raz makes an unlikely link between Sandra and the recently departed.

She's forced to keep her suspicions to herself as Alex becomes increasingly dependent on Sandra. Raz confides in Gabe, but it appears he too is keeping secrets.

What follows is a bitter-sweet tangle of love, lies and divided loyalties.

Oh shut up, I can dream, can't I?

Smile on the Happiest Day of the Year

Some joker (psychologist Dr Cliff Arnall) has devised a formula for measuring mood through outdoor activity, energy levels and sunlight and came up with the answer that today is the happiest day of the year.

Hmm, well, Himself has gone off for the day golfing which means I can write uninterrupted, so maybe Dr C. has something!

And, this morning I had a bit of a brainstorm. Back in 2006 when the mighty Miss Snark, Literary agent, ran her blog, I dared to send a query letter and chapter off to her Crapometer contest. Here's what she said.

At the time, no-one knew who Miss Snark was, only that she vented her wrath on the hapless world of writers and crushed them to sand beneath her T.Rexual heels of stiletto snark, so I was unable to follow up with a proper submission. When I did find out who she was, I DID NOTHING ABOUT IT! Why? Why? Why? Today, I'll rectify that.

PS Thanks go to my on-line friend Lizzy for jogging my memory!

UPDATE! I just sent my query letter and brief synopsis off to Janet Reid at FineLit Agency US. Holding thumbs!

UPDATE TO UPDATE: Quick response from Janet Reid - Thank you for your query. I regret the volume of queries has made a form letter necessary. I regret I have to pass on many interesting projects due to time constraints.
I urge you to query widely of course!

Thursday, 18 June 2009

I'm a Super Hero

You have to have a go at this

Loving the look!

To Blog or Not to Blog

If you've been paying attention you may have noticed there has been a large gap in my posts, somewhere around all of 2008. I could say it was because I was locked away in my study (converted garage and just as cold as ever it was) editing my novel but in truth it's because it's not all that easy to keep updating a blog. Well, yes, it's easy in that I just type words, then press a button to publish, but finding anything to say is the difficult bit.

Unless your life is as dull as mine and you really, really want to know that today I went to the recycling bank with a bin bag full of empty gin I mean cola bottles, what's the point in blogging?

I'll tell you why...because like having a website (shameless plug - raises my writing profile. That, in theory, is a good thing. If it's done well. The infamous Miss Snark covered this on her blog and made the point that there were many crappy blogs out there and a few that were downright damaging to an author's public face. Yikes!

Do agents troll the blogosphere looking up a writer's blog when they're interested in a submission? Do they google hot prospects? Yes, they do! I know because I have a site meter on my website and can tell who's been peeking, so when I send off the ms to an agent I often sneak a look to see if they've been sneaking a look too. And yes, I've caught one or two checking me out. Did they like what they saw? I'll never know the answer to that.

So what should a blog/website contain? Here's what I think makes a blog work well:

1. Lots of pretty pictures/photos. A reader likes to know what you look like. It also gives them something to look at so they don't notice how dull the rest of the content is.

2. Keep it humorous. Unless you write misery lit, obviously. This could confuse readers.

3. Pack it with info. Post links to other writers' sites (but only ones you think are crappier than yours.) And be aware that if you give out women's magazine guidelines, you'll unleash a demon. The editors will be deluged with subs and you wont get a look in.

4. Give the visitor a peek into your life outside of a writer. Make it up if you want. Chances are you'll never hit the big time and wont be found out. Have you noticed how many writers claim to live in converted barns on Scottish Isles. Usually with a rescue dog or two.

Happy blogging!

PS One of the prettiest/most informative writer's website I've come across belongs to the lovely Milly Johnson.

Fashionistas & mag writers

Anyone been following BBC2's Mary Queen of Charity Shops? Mary Portas who put Harvey Nicks on the fashion map was given the task of dragging the UK's charity shops into this century by getting better quality donations. Easier said than done what with EBay being the best place to off-load last season's Nicole Farhi - or, as in my case, George at Asda.

Anyway, Ms Portas managed to increase one shop's sales above and beyond anyone's expectations, despite the volunteers (average aged 105, favourite saying:'We Don't Like Change, pass the custard creams, Ethel') trying everything to sabotage her efforts.

Out went the staple of all charity shops - the threadbare Teddies, the 'present from Cleethorpes' spill vases (who uses spills these days? What are spills?) and the incomplete jigsaws. In their place came up-to-the-minute designer fashion, hand-made shoes and even a Jimmy Choo handbag.

The shop's turnover more than doubled and continues to draw in younger people - a much needed customer base. And all this got to me thinking about magazine editors/writers...well, of course it did, this is a blog about writing remember!

Since I've been writing for the womags I've seen a few editors come and go as some of the mags upped their fiction specials or indeed, ditched their fiction slots altogether. And the writers? I was talking to someone the other day (a newbie womagger) who was complaining that it wasn't very fair of the eds to choose the same writers every week/month. Why couldn't they give the newcomers a chance?

I think they do give newbies a fair stab, but the writers who've been doing it for years know their markets very, very well! They also know they have stiff competition from the newbies, so it's in their interests to up their game and keep abreast of what the readers want.

I've been writing for the mags for 7 years now and I'd be doing myself no favours by churning out the same stuff as I did all those years ago. That isn't to say I don't sometimes dig out an old story and edit it with the purpose of re-selling it but I'll look at it closely and ask myself 'Is this plot/setting/dialogue relevant nowadays?' Times change and so must our writing.

Here endeth today's sermon ;0)

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

The New Romantics

Seven British novelists who are proud to write novels about the ups - and downs - of love: Lucy Diamond, Sarah Duncan, Matt Dunn, Kate Harrison, Veronica Henry, Milly Johnson and Jojo Moyes

For more information visit here

How authors are paid

This is interesting though it will probably put off any newbie novelist!

Follow this link to Kate Hardy's blog

Sales & Copyright issues

June has been good for me so far. 3 sales to date. It would've been 4 but I withdrew one from publication after receiving the contract which demanded I sell them the copyright. No way, Jose! This was to a US mag - one from the 'Trues' stable. Apparently it's the done thing over the pond to give up copyright but I've never come across it anywhere else in the world.

I've sold over 200 short stories in the UK, India, Australia, Sweden, Norway, France, South Africa, Middle East, Ireland and the most restrictive contract has been with Woman's Weekly which asks for First Rights for 18mths before selling elsewhere excluding OZ. I do hope other magazines don't follow the US lead or my income will plummet. I rely heavily on re-edited stuff!

I'm Back

Can you believe I forgot I had this blog? I rediscovered it while lurking on someone else's blog and thought I ought to come over here and delete it. Then I thought, hang on a minute, why not bring it up to date? I'm bound to have done lots and lots of deliciously exciting things you'll want to hear about. Er, no. The sad thing is, nothing much has happened since 2007!

That's propbably not true. Okay the book hasn't sold yet, but it has attracted more than a passing interest from at least 2 agents recently ie. Both requested a full ms read and fired lots of questions beyond 'Are you currently sectioned under the Mental Health Act'.

Did I mention the book has been re-titled. Trumpets please...It is now The Cuckoo Club. And it isn't only the title which has changed. No I've edited it beyond recognition, so much so that I'm thinking of sending it out to agents I targetted years ago. Do agents have long memories? My guess is, it was so raw all those years ago that they never got beyond the first couple of pages. Yes, maybe I'll give that some more thought. What do I have to lose?