Saturday, 18 July 2009

Flee Flea.

If there's one thing about warm weather that creeps me out it's the abundance of flies that suddenly appear. From small midge-like ones to the fat bluebottle, I hate them all. I mean what is it with them? They have the whole outdoors to do their dirty thing on so why invade my space? If they're not doing horrible things in the dog's food bowl, they're bashing their brains against the window pane or buzzing manically around my ceiling light.

Seems the only way to thwart them is to close all doors and windows or fit screens like I've seen in every American movie I've watched. That and to invest in industrial sized cans of fly killer.

Soon as I here the sound of fly hitting window pane I'm under the kitchen sink looking out the spray. The one I use is formulated especially for food premises and boy, is it fast. One spray and they drop like...well, like flies! From flight to stone dead in seconds. None of that noisy spinning on their back under the TV stand/behind the kettle nonsense! Don't you just hate that?

Why am I discussing the life and times of the bluebottle on here? Well, I'm writing a short story set in the fifties and needed to know when those sticky, ribbon fly papers were around. You remember the ones. My grandmother always had them pinned to the ceiling in her sitting room and kitchen. Used to give me the heebie-jeebies even as a child. Dozens of those little black bodies stuck fast, legs thrashing about till they gave up the fight and died. Eugh! My cousin, Colin, who was a bit older than me, used to wait till the adults were out of the room, then pull one off the ceiling and chase me with it.

I seem to recall that someone's budgie got stuck fast on the fly paper and had to have it's feathers trimmed to release it but I'm not sure whether that's true or not.

Oh, and remember the sweet mincemeat shortbread served up on school dinners? Dead fly pie the boys would chant. No wonder I can't look at a Garibaldi without shivering.

A Family Toot!

Tom, my daughter's partner has been awarded a police commendation for services to our local community. Here's Amy and Tom together in the grounds of Kelham Hall where the ceremony took place on Wednesday. And no, Tom isn't standing on a higher step than Amy - he's 6'4" and she's 5'2"!

And this one is of Tom (on the right) collecting his commendation. Well done, Tom, you deserved it!


I was appalled to read on Teresa Ashby's blog about her experience of being plagiarised. No wonder she was so upset and who can blame her.

Writers have a hard enough time as it is without being victims of the cut and paste brigade who think it's okay to lift text word for word and pass it off as their own. Like Teresa and many others, writing isn't just a hobby for me. It's my living. And a very meagre one, at that. I'm nowhere near Teresa's league but I've worked hard to hone my skill and I'd be pretty cut up if someone put their name to that hard work - let alone took the fee for it! Teresa tells us that this particular woman had sent off many stories all of which then fell under suspicion as plagiarised work. Could one of them have been mine? I guess I'll never know.

Reading through the comments left on A Likely Story Teresa's not the only writer to have had her work attributed to someone else.

Of course, magazine editors do make mistakes from time to time. Despite what we sometimes think about them, they are only human. I'm not the only writer who's had work published without her knowledge. I only found out one of mine had appeared in an Australian mag when an Aus. writing friend spotted it and happened to send me a 'congrats' email. I realised immediately that I hadn't had an acceptance for this story so was able to check through my records and chase the editor for payment. In this instance it was a genuine mistake, but how may times had it happened before? Again, I'll never know.

It's got me thinking (for 'thinking' read 'paranoid'). Have I ever written something another writer thinks too similar to their work not to have been copied? I don't mean word for word, but of a similar theme? They may well have, but there's no copyright on ideas and aren't there only supposed to be 7 basic plots anyway? Or am I confusing that with how many hills make up Sheffield? Or was it Rome?

Every time I come up with a witty one-liner (well, what I think is witty!), a tantalising twist in the tale, or a quirky character trait, I have to convince myself it is my own work and I haven't subliminally soaked it up from something I've read. When I was editing my novel I was convinced I couldn't possibly have thought up 'that twist of plot' or 'that funny line'. I actually had to go page by page through the last few books I'd read to check I hadn't plagiarised the authors. I hadn't, thankfully. I put it down to a lack of confidence about my ability and from chatting to other writers, they've suffered similar moments.

You can read more on the subject of plagiarism here at How Publishing Really Works and here at Dear Author

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Use Your Loaf

I spent yesterday working on a short story inspired by my own post about mum and toddler spaces in supermarket car parks. I got a first draft together quickly (too quickly in retrospect!)and posted it for my writing group to crit. It went down okay but the overwhelming feeling was that the clues I'd laid (it was a twist in the tale) were too subtle. A bit too 'off camera'. So I put it to one side to work on today and then DUR! I remembered my daughter's partner, Tom, is in security and thought he might be able to help me with research.

I texted him and yes, he's been a great help. In fact, I'd made some silly assumptions regarding police procedure following a pickpocketing. Note to self: Check your facts! A writer owes it to her reader to get the basics right!

I've almost re-written the thing now, but I'm still not convinced it's working. I'm hoping to target Take A Break with it (primarily because they're the best payers!) and really had my sights set on the weekly issue but now I'm going through the editing, I can see it needs more room for the plot to unfold. I reckon the finished story will come in around 1500-2000 which is far too long for the weekly issue, but it still may suit TAB's monthly Fiction Feast. And if it isn't suitable I can try a few other magazines...Woman's Weekly might go for it.

Anyway, as I've been mulling over it in my head, I baked a cheese and onion loaf.

First time I've done this recipe in the bread maker. Must make a note of the timings/heat settings so I can repeat the success.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009


Well, the new car arrived yesterday - a Zafira to replace the Renault Scenic. I loved that old Scenic. For a start, though it had manual transmission, it had an automatic brake which meant I didn't have to remember to apply it when I switched off the engine...always reassuring when parking up or down hill! It also had a push-button ignition - no twiddling with a large bunch of keys. I just had to remember to have the card reader thingy in my pocket or handbag and Robert's your mum's brother.

I knew I'd wander off topic but anyway - on the subject of keyrings...mine was given to me by my South African writing friend, Ginny, when she came over to the UK a few years back. It's made from twisted wire and orange beads in the shape of a gecko and I love it!
Dangling from this is another keyring containing a pic of my 4 kids, the car key (obviously), a front door house key, a back door house key, a key to the safe (presently empty in case you were thinking of mugging me), one rogue key I daren't throw away because I have no idea what if anything it opens, last but not least, my Tesco points card.
So it's pretty bulky as you can imagine. When the ignition key is inserted, the rest of the bunch swings precariously against my knee - because I'm short and have to practically sit on the dashboard to reach the pedals.

The Scenic also had a handy card recognition system which meant the vehicle would open its doors as I approached it. And no, I was never in fear of car-jackers taking off in it because without the card-reader with them the thing was immobilised.

So back to the new car - I drove it for the first time this morning...down the by-pass on my way to collect morning goods from the bakery. The gears were smooth, the pick-up equally so and the suspension seemed better than the Scenic.
Windscreen wipers took a bit of getting used to - sorting out the intermittent setting from the 'powerful enough to remove a stray bull elephant from the windscreen'. The latter useful on safari tours.

Oh, and the traffic update caught me by surprise. There I was dawdling along when a Radio Lincs traffic warning thundered into my peaceful bubble and I almost crashed into the central reservation! But once I get these little niggles sorted and my fluffy cat sitting on the dashboard, my Bagpuss air freshener and my lucky Bob The Builder in place, I'm sure I'll come to love it just as much as the old car.

Why the soft toys? So I can park in the mother and toddler spaces with impunity, of course. An MPV with various soft toys scattered around it must belong to a harassed mum of six! No, don't boo! I brought up 4 kids way, way before the invention of supermarket trolleys with baby seats, mum and toddler parking spaces etc. I'M OWED!! Though, in all fairness, I'll soon qualify for a disabled/senior citizen space...

Rejection & St Swithin's Day

Two rejections in my in box this morning both from the same mag. Unusually, the editor has given a reason - too short. I just checked and the guidelines I'm going by have them at the correct length so maybe their requirements have changed recently. Thing is with this sort of rejection, I'm left wondering whether I should re-submit at the correct word length. But then again, she'd have said as much, wouldn't she? Hey-ho. I don't think I'll bother and the stories in question have both sold in 4 countries each under different guises so no real loss there.

I must get some serious writing done in the next few weeks as my output has dropped massively from what it used to be. I also need the dosh - a good reason for getting down to it!

I fancy trying another crime/thriller. Mainly because they tend to write to a higher word length - well, mine do, anyways. I'd like to target Take A Break some more too. There was a time I'd make it into every monthly Fiction Feast - not so these days. It's entirely my own fault. I've let other things get in the way. The day job for instance. Himself owns a butchers/bakery shop and I've def spent more time this past year filling in for staff absences/holidays or just generally catching up on making BBQ stuff. Ha! Consdering the downpour we have here, there won't be many BBQ's lit today. Nor for the foreseeable weekend as it's forecast rain and more rain.

Did you know today is St Swithin's Day? Do you recall this Elizabethan rhyme?

'St. Swithin's day if thou dost rain
For forty days it will remain
St. Swithin's day if thou be fair
For forty days 'twill rain nae mair.'

According to :

Legend has it that as the Saxon Bishop of Wincester lay on his deathbed, he asked to be buried out of doors, where he would be trodden on and rained on. For nine years, his wishes were followed, but then, the monks of Winchester attempted to remove his remains to a splendid shrine inside the cathedral on 15 July 971. According to legend there was a heavy rain storm either during the ceremony or on its anniversary.

And so the old wive's tale was born that if it rains on St Swithin's Day (July 15th), it will rain for the next 40 days in succession, and a fine 15th July will be followed by 40 days of fine weather.

However, according to the Met Office, it's nothing other than a myth - well they would say that. Anyway, it's been put to the test on 55 occasions*, when it has been wet on St Swithin's Day and 40 days of rain did not follow.

* source: the book entitled 'Red Sky At Night'

As writers we should be aware of such events and use them to our advantage by incorporating them into our stories. Says me who didn't know what day it was until that nice weather girl mentioned it this morning on GMTV! So I'm making a note right now on my 'story calendar'. Next year I'll have a St Swithin's story pubbed - watch this space (but not too closely)!

Monday, 13 July 2009

That annoying Witholding Tax

Many thanks to HappyWriter who has taken the time and trouble to call the tax office over the annoying business of non-Aus writers having witholding tax deducted from our fees. Here is what she has to say:

If an Australian doesn't supply an ABN number they will have around 46% in tax taken out. Australians can solve this by either getting an ABN number (if they consider themselves a business not hobby)or giving a Statement by Supplier form and ticking the reason they are not supplying an ABN.

For Foreign residents, if you do not supply an ABN number theoretically 10% withholding would be taken out HOWEVER, all you have to do is supply the Statement By Supplier Form, tick the reason you are not supplying an ABN (*the supplier is not entitled to an ABN as they are not carrying on an enterprise in Australia*) and NO TAX should be taken out - at all.

This is the second time I have been given the same advice, and tax office said that if anyone is still taking out tax after they have received your Statement by Supplier Form, then get them to contact the tax office.

The issue is only different if we are talking about, interest, dividends, ROYALTIES, construction, casinos and other specific businesses.

Sunday, 12 July 2009


Did you know a man who has a fondness for nibbling women's ears is called a gynotikolobomassophile?

I'm assuming it's meant to describe someone who nibbles indiscriminately? As in, a man who'd run up to a female whilst she's queuing for a bus, say, and go straight for the lobes without so much as an introduction? But surely that's assault? So he's most likely a bit of a yob as well as a gynotiko-whatsit.

Suppose our man is a gentleman, an upstanding citizen...he'd ask permission first, wouldn't he? Not so much assault then, as a romantic gesture? Well, no not really. It'd be rather like a flasher asking politely if one would mind if he exposed his dangly bits.

How the heck did I get here? I know I began with doing research on a short story but...

Readers' Letters

You may be a published author with lots of articles and fiction to your credit but don't turn your nose up at sending off readers' letters to the magazines.

If you're stuck on constructing a novel chapter or a short fiction piece, leave it aside and write a letter instead. They're easy to put together - try to find a good quality photograph to accompany it if you can - and are a better way of filling those brain-foggy moments than playing Spider Solitaire (which is what I tend to do when I'm stuck on something!).

As with fiction, get a feel for the content of the mag before sending anything, though there seems to be little restriction on what they take. Keep your letter short, up-beat and interesting. I've recently sent a couple off - yes, you guessed, it's about my recent holiday!

The fee is generally around £25 for each letter printed with £50 for the 'Star Letter'. Some mags will award a bonus prize, too. The turn around time tends to be much quicker than waiting for accepted fiction to appear. So, go on, have a go.

Little Face

Like most people I like to pack a few paperbacks to take on holiday. Often I don't have time to open them but this last break was all about R&R so I took 4 with me. One of these was borrowed from my daughter, Amy. She'd purchased 3 by Sophie Hannah from her work's book club. I'll be honest, I'd never heard of SH but the blurb of Little Face really intrigued me so it was the one I delved into on my first day by the pool.

When Alice Fancourt returns home after having been out for the first time without her two-week-old daughter Florence, she insists that the baby she finds at home, in the care of her husband David, is not their daughter but a child she has never seen before. David denies it, claiming that the baby is Florence and that Alice has gone mad. Is she crazy, or is David lying, and if so, why would he do such a thing? And where is the real Florence? Alice has no proof, but she needs the police to believe her, and quickly. While they wait for the DNA test that will settle the matter, valuable time is being lost, and David’s behaviour towards Alice becomes increasingly threatening and sinister. Can Alice make the police listen to her before it's too late?

There aren't many books I can't put down (and I read an awful lot!) but this one had me hooked from the beginning. What I liked the most was that Sophie kept the tension going throughout. There weren't any 'dips' where I felt I had to speed read chunks to get through any boring bits.

It wasn't until I checked on Amazon today that I see this novel has very mixed reviews (don't they all!?)ranging from 'Enthralling' and 'Gifted' to 'Abysmal writing' and 'Disappointing ending'. Had I read the reviews beforehand it wouldn't have put me off. Each to their own etc., but how anyone can call the writing abysmal is beyond me. I thought it flowed wonderfully.
Alice's husband's horrid behaviour - especially the bathroom and food scenes were very well done.

Okay, the ending was a teensy bit weird. I suppose I was expecting something spectacular as the explanation to the baby's disappearance (won't give too much away here or it'll spoil it for you if you wish to read it and I hope you will) and maybe what I got was rather mundane but in retrospect it made it all the more believable.

I'll def be reading more of Sophie's books.