Saturday, 14 August 2010

National Short Story Week

National Short Story Week
is an annual awareness event. Its aim is to focus the attentions of the public and the media on the short story and short story writers, publishers and events. It is intended as a framework for promoting literary events and publications at a national and local level.

It's aims are:

1) to get more people reading and listening to short stories

2) to get more people writing short stories

3) to develop creative and commercial opportunities for individuals and organisations involved in the short story form.

The website is very informative with lots of stuff to listen to, download etc. and loads of opportunities to get involved. Patron is the lovely Katie Fforde. Read what she has to say here.

Not a lot changes.

Out of interest I looked back to see when I began this blog - Tuesday, October 3rd 2006. That's almost 4 years, with a lean bit around the beginning of 2008 when Google, for whatever reason, locked me out of my account.

My first ever post had the title Life Of Riley (scroll to bottom of page the link takes you to) and listed all the things I'd done that morning. You know, like chores and stuff.

How boring am I? I realise I've done exactly the same things this morning, the only difference being it's a Saturday and there wasn't an incidence at the supermarket checkout where I wanted to punch someone's lights out - though I did visit Tesco. Oh and as it's a Saturday the roads weren't blocked with school traffic. So, a little bit of variation on the morning but not a lot as Paul Daniels would say.

If you bothered to click on the PD link you'll know he too has a blog. I had a snigger at the comment he made about the Lovely Debbie McGee having her bottom fixed - he's referring to the boat they own and not his wife! Well, it amused me.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

It's All Greek To Me

I'm taking part in Sally Quilford's Blog Take Over Day again this year so here goes. Hope you enjoy!

A passport craves a bit of adventure.

Yes, I admit it, I am still smarting from being abandoned in that poncey Greek taverna, so no, since you ask, I am not in the right frame of mind to hear my owner is planning the next holiday debacle.

You know, there was a time I had my life planned out. The first ten years, anyway. The Caribbean, the Maldives, Goa. All inclusive, of course. Drinks package, the whole caboodle. But what do I get? Two-star self-catering in the same shit-hole for the past three years because milady here has a thing for a certain Greek waiter. Trollop!

Hello, what’s she up to now? On the phone to her sister wanting to know the meaning of ‘moral turpitude’. From what I can make out she’s filling in some on-line form. Something about a visa.

I wish I hadn’t mentioned the Greek incident now. Takes me right back to this time last year. She’d been on the retsina since she’d packed her suitcase and was still knocking them back on the plane - cheap seats. Last Minute dot crap.

We’d flown a day earlier than planned and she’d gone straight to the taverna to surprise Mr Greek. She did that all right. Caught him with his bread stick in another woman’s pastitsio. Get the picture?

Well, she picks up the pepper mill and lays him out cold. Next thing, she’s being escorted out to a taxi by some guy who’d been sitting at the bar (American - all loose tie and rolled up sleeves) and taken back to the airport. Somehow, in the kafuffle, I’ve fallen out of her handbag and become wedged under the dessert trolley alongside a stray olive.

I swear I can still smell garlic when she flicks through my pages and there’s a nasty stain on my faux leather case. That’s another thing...faux. Every passport I know has the real thing, though my preference would be for a nice Cath Kidston; the Provence rose one. Now that’s class. But no, Slack Alice here wobbled between fake Burberry and faux leather. Pink, faux leather. But I digress. The important thing, I suppose, is that the young chap who’d come to her rescue returned to look for me. For whatever reason, probably so she could refund him the taxi fare, young chap had given her his phone number and she’d called him from the airport when she realised I was missing.

Several hours later, we're back home, the suitcase is stashed under the spare bed, I’m back in the shoebox at the bottom of her wardrobe and she’s sobbing down the phone. No doubt to Mr Greek though it’s difficult to hear when you’re wedged under a pair of gladiator strappies.

Anyway, this goes on for months which brings us to the here and now. I’m lying on the desk with my spine crushed to buggery while she’s singing away to herself and tapping away on the computer. Then the phone rings and she’s on it like a German on a sunlounger.

Yes, she’s telling caller, she’s sorted out the visa. She can’t wait to see him again. And his ranch. Ranch? Fly first class? America? Max? Who’s Max? Of course! The guy who came to her rescue in Greece! He's the one she's been speaking to on the phone all along.

This passport is bound for Vegas, baby!

Whose point of view?

My fourth novel was originally written from a male viewpoint because it was the hero's story I wanted to tell, but maybe more so because it felt comfortable that way. A few chapters in I posted it on a well-known critique site. I received some useful feedback but was advised that I'd do better to swap to a female POV as that's what women readers preferred. Did they?

Anyway, I took this advise on board and my heroine, Roisin Connor, was born. Now, I love her to bits but I often wonder how the book would've turned out if I'd told Lex's story instead.

I was thinking about this when I came across an interview with Sue Moorcroft on the Singles Titles website. Her two novels Starting Over and All That Mullarkey, published by Choc Lit, both feature the hero's pov. Luckily, she has a male friend who can read her chapters to double check if her hero is thinking like a man. Particularly liked the line about 'lifting hems'. To see what I mean, read Sue's interview here.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Why Can't I get Published in the Womags?

Well, this is weird, I update my website and blog as I've been doing for the past 4 years but for the first time I announce it on Facebook and it generates quite a few questions from wannabe womaggers. Most wanted to know:

How come I can't get published in the Women's mags?

There must be a thousand and one answers to that one but I'll save time by cutting and pasting my answers from my archives. I doubt anything has changed!
Here goes...

First off, it probably has nothing to do with how well you write. And I trust you CAN write well before you attempt publication.
No amount of literary prose will impress a magazine editor unless it's what she/he is looking for. It must 'fit' his/her magazine (look I'm sick of being PC and writing 'his/her' so in future it's 'her' okay?).

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

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

So how do we please them?

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

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

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

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

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

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

* The ed loves your story but she needed a 1000 word piece and you sent in 2000 and there isn't time to ask you to cut it, so she chooses the next in the slushpile and you get a rejection...or if you're very lucky you go onto a short-list for next time there's a need for 1000 words. Except this short-list tends to be a very long short-list in most magazine offices. My advice is to re-send any short-listeds after 6 months.

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

* The editor has bought far too many recently - enough for another six months. They have a budget tighter than a camel's bottom believe me! Make a note of when the editor said she's ready for more subs and re-send when the time is up. But be quick, every other writer will do the same.

I'm sure there're a dozen other reasons and any editors reading this blog might like to chip in.

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

PS Apologies to any wool shop owners(my friend Kath)who wouldn't be seen dead in anything tweed.


I've spent a few minutes applying for our ESTA's or Electronic System Travel Authorisation forms which replace the Visa waiver form you used to fill in on the aircraft before landing in the US. Application can only be done online so if you don't have a PC or a friend able to fill in the form for you, its tough luck! They're valid for 2 years and free until Sept 9th then they'll cost £9 after that. Think I've got that right.
Loved some of the questions on the form - like anyone's going to tick the 'yes' box!

B) Have you ever been arrested or convicted for an offense or crime involving moral turpitude or a violation related to a controlled substance; or have been arrested or convicted for two or more offenses for which the aggregate sentence to confinement was five years or more; or have been a controlled substance trafficker; or are you seeking entry to engage in criminal or immoral activities?
C) Have you ever been or are you now involved in espionage or sabotage; or in terrorist activities; or genocide; or between 1933 and 1945 were you involved, in any way, in persecutions associated with Nazi Germany or its allies?

My application went straight through while Himself's is 'pending further investigation'. If he disappears suddenly I'll know the FBI have caught up with his criminal moral turpitude!

PS. Beware of scam websites that are not only virus-ridden but are asking for around $50 for the application.
See Martin Lewis, the Money Saving Expert's website for more detailed info

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Mid-week Wanderlust

We, that's Himself, my daughter Amy and her fiance Tom, drove out to the Peak District last week. We haven't been that out way since we moved from Sheffield when it used to be a regular thing to just hop off up into the hills. I don't know why we stopped going as it's only 30 miles away from Worksop where we live now. Anyway, I'm glad we went because I'd forgotten how beautiful it is. Helped by the fact we had good weather. I have memories of horrible, biting rain and clouds so low you couldn't see the top of Mam Tor.

There was a bit of mizzle on the way to the Blue John Cavern but the sun came out later on as we descended into Castleton.

This is a pic of me and Himself, completely inappropriately dressed for a trip 300 metres underground but my excuse is we'd only intended to visit Castleton (pub lunch) and I'm allergic to fleece.

After we came out of the cavern (exhausted after climbing 400-plus slippery steps - and note to cavern owners: Please sort out your disgustingly-smelly toilets they smell worse than the sheep!)we drove down into the valley. The scenery is absolutely stunning.

We stopped in Castleton for a pub lunch at The Castle where the service was extremely slow but the food was worth the wait. Real food, if you know what I mean. None of that freezer to microwave rubbish as proven by the caterpillar on Amy's tastefully-arranged vegetables! But we forgave them because we were having such a jolly time. See, I'd never use the word 'jolly' EVER, but that was how the day made me feel, jolly!

There's a Norman church in Castleton and anyone who knows me will guess I spent a happy hour there snapping away. I don't find these places eerie or feel the need to tread carefully around the graves. Why place a magnificent headstone dedicated to your loved ones if you don't want folk to gawp? I find them fascinating and more than once have I written a story based around a headstone. Like this one.

Who were these children? Why did they die so young and one after the other? Why the memorial (obviously not a poor family)and why were they later interred in Mount Jerome Cemetery, Dublin? What is the story behind it? I've done a bit of digging n the Net but so far I haven't come up with anything. No doubt if I'd gone into the church at the time and asked they'd have had some info but our little group wanted to be off to the Lady Bower reservoir.

Derwent Reservoir was next on our list. We found a large picnic area, sat on a bench, ate crisps, drank cola and ducked (why?) as a military helicopter flew over the treetops right above our heads.

We followed the A57 across Derwent viaduct and headed back home making a detour to a Nottingham shopping mall to pick up a 6 berth tent and fleece clothing for any further wanderings into the dales. In fact, Amy & Tom christened the tent this weekend. They are, as I type, camped in a farmer's field with 6 of their mates. And I'm jealous!

PS. I also got a great snap I'm going to send to My Weekly or maybe The People's Friend for their readers page. I earned £50 for My Weekly's star letter last month so not to be sniffed at!