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Friday, 25 September 2015

I Love Autumn!

I love autumn. Not just because it's birthday time for me, but because it always feels like the time for new beginnings. As I've said before, I think many of us associate autumn with the start of the academic year.

I did some goal setting at the beginning of this month and one of the things I did was to sign up for The Fish Flash Fiction Online Writing Course. I've always wanted to write better flash fiction and when writer friend, Diane Simmons recommended this course, I knew I had to sign up. What better way to kick start my writing? I'm currently working my way through the second module and it's great fun. I can thoroughly recommend it. Mary Jane Holmes is a fantastic tutor and turns around assignments in a very short space of time. I'm learning a lot!

I was thrilled to bits when Richard Pike of Curtis Brown Agency said that he'd be very happy to read the revised version of my novel whenever I was ready to resubmit. I've made a few changes already and have written a new outline. Let's just say it's a project that's bubbling under.

A more urgent project is a serial I'm writing for The People's Friend. Again, I've written a rough outline and the first few hundred words. I'm on a tight deadline for this one, so from next week, the serial will have to take priority.

A little bird told me that prolific womag writer, Della Galton, currently has fifty pieces of writing out there. I totted up and I currently have fifteen. My aim is to double that, at least, by Christmas. I submitted a 3,000 word story to The People's Friend this week and have started writing a new one with them in mind. I also have one almost ready to send to Woman's Weekly.

I was thrilled this week to receive an email from Janine Enos of Bridgend Writers' Circle asking me to judge the final few stories in their annual short story competition. I used to judge at least two short story competitions a year, but haven't judged any in a while, so this is something I'm really looking forward to.

Finally, I found out this week that one of my stories has been shortlisted in The Doris Gooderson Short Story Competition. That gave me a much needed boost, because in other news, our beloved guinea pigs died within a week of each other this month. They were six-years-old, so had a good innings, but we miss them so much.

Friday, 14 August 2015

ARVON COURSE - WRITING TV DRAMA - LUMB BANK



‘These are life-enhancing weeks.’ - Simon Armitage.

This is the quote on the home page of The Arvon Foundation’s website. I would add that these courses can also be ‘a life-changing experience’. 

On Monday 3rd August I turned up at Lumb Bank near Heptonstall for the start of a five day course on Writing TV Drama. The tutors were Simon Block (writer) and Eleanor Greene (TV producer). 

I’d gone along with an old university friend, Margaret. Neither of us had ever attempted to write a script before. It soon became apparent that all but one of the other course participants had, which was a bit intimidating. Even more intimidating was the fact that two of the other course participants had worked in TV - one as a producer of documentaries and the other as a runner on the Bridget Jones Diary feature film, as well as series producer of Billy Connolly’s Route 66. Another lady had been writing plays for fifteen years and had them performed both here and in the States. There was a well known TV actress amongst us, a university lecturer in Script Writing, a Brit School gradate and ex-Sunday Times journalist and press officer for Shell. How on earth could this ex-teacher turned short story writer possibly hold her own amongst such talent? Well, I couldn’t! But I tried my best.

Actually everyone was lovely and we spent most evenings chatting and drinking wine in the garden after dinner. I laughed a great deal, and I also shed more tears than I have in a while (mostly in private!). I imagine most people find Arvon an emotional Haribo mix of a week.
Door to Margaret's Room (mine was on the opposite side)

Lumb Bank is the former home of poet, Ted Hughes. It’s a beautiful, large stone built farmhouse with spectacular views and not another house in sight. There’s a lovely stone barn conversion (I shared a ‘suite’ there with Margaret), a small cottage (for the tutors) and a converted coal-house for a couple to share. Lumb Bank even has its own cat visitor, the lovely Ted. He’s a very sociable cat and had plenty of laps to choose from during our week. There were twelve of us on the Writing TV Drama Course. 

A meal and wine was provided for us on the first night, then three of us had to clear and wash up afterwards. There was an introductory talk by the tutors in the upstairs area of the barn, then everyone disappeared to their respective rooms only to be ousted a few minutes later by the fire alarm. We all had to gather at the Fire Assembly Point near the lane to await the fire brigade. Thankfully, there wasn’t an actual fire and the sight of two hunky fireman jogging down the lane with a torch was rather nice. It turns out that spraying large amounts of deodorant around sets off fire alarms (I won’t mention any names). 

After breakfast on Tuesday, we gathered around the dining table to share our TV Drama idea with the tutors and the rest of the group. I hadn’t come up with a definite idea (I had two or three bouncing around), thinking that we’d have a session to help us generate ideas. So... I thought I’d try and adapt my crime novel idea. I was immediately shot down in flames when the tutors both agreed that my idea was too complicated and I had to simplify it. I felt absolutely gutted. Everyone else’s ideas were amazing and I felt as if I’d turned up at the wrong wedding or came dressed as a bear for a fancy dress party when it was a black-tie do. It was only Yolanda’s kind words (she sat next to me) and Sophie’s winks and encouraging smiles that stopped me walking out to pack my case! I also realised at this point that I’m not good surrounded by a lot of people. I’m so used to spending most of the day on my own.

Eleanor Greene (tutor) was lovely to me and told me to sit with her at lunch and she’d help me simplify my idea, which she did. She’s a very clever woman and has the ability to see straight to the heart of any story in an instant. I can’t tell you how much she helped me that week. 

I was on clearing away and washing-up duty again after lunch and it was a rush to get to the 2pm session in the barn. Eleanor showed us the first episode of one of her all-time favourite TV Dramas, Catastrophe, which I highly recommend. She paused it after each scene and asked questions. It was easy to see how the twenty-six minute episode was put together. The writer and comedian, Sharon Horgan is one talented lady and very funny! We learned to look out for the inciting incident (a one-night stand), the impediment and learned that each scene has a purpose. We learned about genre, sub-plot, obstacles to happiness and conflict. Everything must relate to the central theme. For each of their wants, there’s a ‘but’. And so much more....And a brilliant quote to pin up on your noticeboard: ‘Sub plot is a relevant distraction.’ We then did a writing exercise to explore our characters in more depth.

If that wasn’t exhausting enough, I was then on cooking duties with Margaret and Sarah. Sarah lived near Rugby when growing up and went to the Girls’ High School. We had several friends in common (mostly musicians), so had a lovely chat while prepping and cooking a main course, garlic bread and dessert. Once we’d served dinner for fifteen, we were able to relax over rather a lot of wine. We all met up in the barn at 8.30pm to watch The Eichmann Show, which Simon Block had written earlier this year. By 9.30pm most of us were so tired that we had to go to bed (or in our case relax in the garden with a nightcap!). 

A better night’s sleep and nice chats over breakfast on the Wednesday, but I couldn’t get my head around writing a one page summary of my story (I’m not a morning person and was too busy cooking the night before). At the 10am session, Eleanor asked me to read mine out first. I had to confess I hadn’t done it. I was the only person who hadn’t done it and the only person who had nothing to read out. I felt so cross with myself and that I’d not only let myself down, but the rest of the group. Eleanor was very good about it and told me not to worry. I then was able to get my head together and make notes on what my story should be. I realised I’d got so bogged down with my novel in recent months, that it was blocking me from making the most of my Arvon experience. A novel is a world away from a script and once I realised that and came up with a different story, everything clicked into place. Over lunch Simon Block told me not to worry about writing my one page summary and go straight to the next task which was to write a monologue from one character’s viewpoint. This I found very easy to do and it seemed to go down well when I read it out the next day, but I had to write that one page summary as well, just for my own satisfaction. When I told Eleanor at dinner, she hi-fived me and said I was like a different person. Yes, it took me until Wednesday afternoon to feel comfortable and come out of my shell. 

Wednesday afternoon’s session with Simon Block was my favourite of all. It was a collaborative exercise, which made me realise that this is the sort of writing I like best. There were some great ideas flying around the room. Simon had witnessed someone shoplifting at Kings Cross Station on Monday and asked us to write a scene together about a shoplifter. He asked us lots of questions about the character, the story, the inciting incident and so on. We had such a laugh during this session and came up with a great, action-packed scene that was truly an original and exciting idea. 

Our guest on Friday night was Ben Newman, a former runner and fairly new script-writer who has written a couple of episodes of Shameless, episodes of Strike Back, Miss Marple and Poirot as well as the screenplay for AD The Bible Continues. He was an entertaining and enthusiastic speaker, and we learned how to submit scripts to script editors. After his talk, I had a lovely chat with Yolanda about Cucumber (written by the brilliantly talented Russell T Davies), a drama series we both loved and then another chat with Lita, who admitted she felt as out of her depth as I did on Tuesday. I also managed to stop my friend Margaret dancing on the table. 

On Thursday morning we had a workshop on dialogue and the ability to listen. Live To Listen! is my new motto. I decided that in future I will go to write in cafés, jotting down gems of dialogue in my notebook. We watched the openings of three films: Sunset Boulevard; Broadway Danny Rose and All Is Lost. We then had to write a conversation we’d recently overheard, keeping the action to a minimum. 

Thursday was great, because not only did I have a one-to-one tutorial with Eleanor Greene who asked the right sort of questions so that I ended up with a detailed storyline, but we also had the afternoon and evening free to write. I bashed out the first scene of my script, while sitting in the beautiful and well stocked library at Lumb Bank. 

Thursday was also good for another reason. My son, Matt, phoned to say that he’d passed his driving test. Thursday wasn’t so great either, because it was the funeral of Roy, my ex-brother-in-law, a lovely man. Matt went to support his auntie and cousins at the crematorium in Rugby and in the evening some of the other course participants at Lumb Bank joined me in raising a glass and drinking a toast to Roy. 

Thursday evening after dinner was quite a rowdy one, as most of the women on the course sat at the dining table, recounting naughty and revealing stories about their lives, including a story about having an orgasm in a taxi. I think we shocked the two twenty-something girls who joined us. I was disappointed we didn’t trek off to the pub in Heptonstall, but to be honest we would have been even more exhausted the next day had we have done so and.. there was plenty of wine left. 

You know you’ve had a good night when you’ve still got last night’s make-up on when you wake up. The workshop at 10am on Friday was on genre and plot. We watched the opening scenes of All The President’s Men as an example of good plotting. ‘A good story is both entertaining and universal.’ Each scene has to convey only one or at most two pieces of information. End a scene on a hook. We then looked at two genres - rom/com and family drama, then broke them down into the main plot and the rules of the genre. This was another interactive session and very useful.


We also had a free afternoon on Friday in order to write the first few scenes of our script. I sat in the library again and was joined by Yolanda. She asked me to read a few character parts in her script (she’d written loads... oh, to have the stamina and energy of youth!), which was great fun. I got about four scenes completed, having scrapped my original first scene, as Eleanor helped me discover that it should be the final scene in the episode, not the first! I then had a one-to-one tutorial with Simon Block. He commended me on how I’d turned things around during the course of the week and said my story idea was brilliant (I’m not convinced). We talked it through and he helped me discover the theme and how best to portray it. It was a beautiful sunny day again and we sat outside taking in the breathtaking view of the valley. 


Friday evening was a celebration of the work we’d done so far and a chance to present our opening scenes. A lot of course participants asked others to help them read various parts. The poor actress on our course was very busy that night! She has a wealth of regional accents and characters to draw on. It’s no wonder she won the Gold Medal at RADA. 

Despite a small technical hitch, my presentation was well received. The tutors pointed out that I had a bit too much exposition in my dialogue and a bit too much dialogue, but my scenes flowed really well, my characters were vividly described and there was a warmth to my scenes. I was pleased with that, considering I’d never attempted to write a script before. It was a wonderful evening and everyone’s scripts were amazing. Sarah from Doncaster (there were three Sarahs on the course), although shy and retiring, produced the most amazing comedy and had us all roaring with laughter. She didn’t crack her face throughout. Her dry delivery and perfect comic timing made the whole thing even funnier. I think the whole evening, if not the whole course can be summed up so well in an extract from the email Simon Block sent us on Monday this week:

‘It is very easy for tutors to conclude the week by telling all the students how wonderful they are, and how terrific their writing is. I've seen it done several times. However, while people are generally wonderful on the courses I've taught (and you were a genuinely lovely group to work with), the writing people put forward on the last night is not always uniformly strong. You were genuinely a very strong group. All of you have very strong, very clear ideas that could be realised in script form. But both Eleanor and I were blown away and surprised by the quality of work we heard on Friday night. We expected you to have taken on board what we tried to convey about telling your stories in a sequence of scenes, etc. What what we hadn't accounted for was the quality of dialogue. Very unusual, and very impressive.’

We were lucky in that we had two very talented and inspiring tutors. They complemented each other beautifully. They were kind, generous and patient. What more could you ask for?

I was genuinely sad that the week had come to an end so quickly and reluctant to say goodbye to every single one of the lovely people who took part to make it an unforgettable week. There was talk of a reunion, but even if there isn’t one, I’ve already connected with a few of these inspiring people on Facebook, Twitter and via email and text. 


Would I attend an Arvon Course again in the future? Quite possibly.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

The 2015 Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, Harrogate Part Two

Lisa Gardner
Saturday kicked off with a cracking interview between Ann Cleeves and Lisa Gardner. The day before Mary Jane Riley had assured me that I’d enjoy Lisa’s writing. I certainly enjoyed listening to her speak about her research and her novels. Lisa has over twenty-two million books in print (imagine that!), which is quite something given that she’s only in her forties. She has an engaging personality and charmed the socks off the hungover Harrogate audience. Lisa told us about her visits to the infamous Body Farm in Texas and how thoroughly she researches each book. The audience was surprised to hear Ann Cleeves confess that the only thing she does in the way of research is to sit in crofters’ cottages, chatting and drinking tea. Lisa has three main crime series, featuring three very different investigators - Detective D.D. Warren; FBI Profiler Pierce Quincy and Police State Trooper Tessa Leoni. Her latest novel is Crash and Burn about the hunt for a missing girl the father claims doesn’t even exist.
I then took some time out to chat to regular Theakston Crime Festival goers, Phil and Lauren. The ever popular New Blood panel at noon was packed out. Val McDermid hosts this panel every year and told us about the large number of first novels she’s been reading since last autumn. It must have been incredibly difficult to choose just four authors to interview. The new bloods were: Clare Mackintosh (I Let You Go); Ben McPherson (A Line Of Blood); Renee Knight (Disclaimer) and Lucy Ribchester (The Hour Glass Factory). These four debut novelists have quite a plethora of qualifications between them. Lucy has a degree in English from the University of St Andrews; Ben has a degree in Modern Languages from Cambridge and is a TV producer/director; Renee has worked for the BBC directing arts documentaries and has written television and film scripts; Clare Mackintosh spent twelve years in the police force, including CID and was a public order commander. It made me question whether a mere ex-Modern Languages graduate and teacher stood a hope in hell of getting a novel published. The New Blood panels are always exciting, because you know that these debut novels are going to be the creme de la creme. I always go home and purchase at least one (I’m currently reading I Let You Go, which is based on a real hit-and-run incident, which took place in Oxford). I was fascinated to hear about each and every one of these novels and how they came to be written. I then thought how useless I’d be, should I ever be invited to the New Blood panel (not that there’s much chance of that!). The question and answer session was interesting, as two ladies (who were both sitting next to each other) proceeded to give an in-depth critique of two of the novels featured, one of which wasn’t entirely positive. You could sense the rest of the audience squirming in their seats. And their question? There wasn’t one. Val then asked if there was anyone in the audience who actually had a question, which caused a ripple of laughter. Val, to her credit, did point out how much writers appreciated readers who had taken the time to study their work in enough depth to give constructive feedback. Well saved, Val!
After I spent half an hour trying to extract roast beef from between my teeth (lunch provided as part of my Rover Ticket package.... the Eton Mess was lovely, however), I had great fun playing Battleshots with Sharon in one of the tents. This was one of the publicity events organised by Crime Files Books to promote James Law’s novel, Tenacity. James is a sub-mariner and we had some wonderfully entertaining conversations with him last year. I lost the game, which was good, because I got to drink a fair few rum n’ coke shots (channelling my inner pirate). Quite a crowd had gathered to watch and the photographer was snapping away. You can see the pics here.
I did a bit of mingling, then was about to go to my room for a bit of a chill and a read, when I came across Sharon in Reception.
“Are you booking for next year?” I asked.
She told me that while relaxing in her room and scrolling through Twitter feeds, she noticed Theakstons Crime had tweeted that they only had seventeen rooms left at The Old Swan for next year, so she rushed down to book.
“And I’ve booked you in, too. I’ve paid your deposit as a present.”
How wonderful is that? I’m so very lucky to have such a generous friend.
The Forensics panel is another popular event at Harrogate and one I try not to miss. The panel was hosted by Lin Anderson, creator of forensic scientist, Rhona MacLeod. She did an excellent job of extracting extremely useful information from Lorna Dawson, a Principal Soil Scientist; Niamh Nic Daeid, Professor of Forensic Science and Director of Research at the Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification at the University of Dundee; forensic entomologist, Martin Hall; and Professor James Grieve, Senior Lecturer in Forensic Medicine and Police Forensic Pathologist. These experts gave us a wealth of insider information and no doubt triggered a series of plot ideas for some members of the audience. Body Farms got an honourable mention once more and so did pigs heads, which are closest to human heads in the way they decompose. Niamh talked about setting fires in sixty-odd cupboard-sized rooms and pointed writers in the direction of Cardiff University’s website for up-to-date forensic information, including fingerprinting.
We’d arranged to meet our lovely writer friend, Amanda Huggins at 4.30pm and found ourselves queueing for the TV Panel at 5pm as soon as we’d said hello. This is always another popular event. We were all gutted that Sally Wainwright had cancelled earlier that week, as we are big fans of Happy Valley, Last Tango in Halifax and Scott & Bailey. She is up there with Jimmy McGovern as one of my favourite screenwriters. This was always going to be a particularly important event for me this year, as I’ve signed up for an Arvon Course in Writing TV Drama at the beginning of August. Sally Wainwright’s are the scripts I’m going to study before departing. Anyway, Paul Abbot replaced her and I don’t think they could have picked anyone better (with the exception of Jimmy McGovern, of course).
Paul Abbot

Paul Abbot’s CV is impressive by anyone’s standards: Coronation Street, Shameless, Clocking Off, State of Play, No Offence.. to name but a few of the TV dramas he’s written. He admitted that he directly ripped off his own family situation for Shameless, which is pretty shocking in itself. His mother abandoned the family when he was nine and his father left just a couple of years later. His sixteen-year-old pregnant sister took on the role of head of household and between them, all ten children redecorated the whole house, which took them two days, working through the night and skiving off school. He said the only reason they noticed their dad had gone was because there was more room.
Abbot’s humour deflects his obvious inner turmoil. He tried to commit suicide at fifteen, was sectioned and has been in therapy for years. A classic example of the writer’s tormented soul. Abbot is softly spoken and it was difficult to catch his punchlines. He had a couple of rude stories to tell, but we missed his point. He was interviewed by the stunningly attractive Steph McGovern. She’s obviously a big fan of Paul Abbot and said how much she’d love to live inside his head for a day. Abbot said that he’s currently working on seven different projects, two as executive producer and the rest ongoing writing projects. The fact that he’s working on another series of State of Play was very popular with the Harrogate audience. He also revealed he’s working on a musical set in the Old Bailey (and he hates musicals!). There is also going to be a second series of No Offence.
Saturday night was a blast. After a quick shower and change, Mandy and I met in Sharon’s room for a large glass of red. We then walked down to the town centre, as Mandy had booked a table at L'Albero Delle Noci in Cheltenham Crescent (highly recommended). We wended our way back to The Old Swan and sat with Stuart Neville and Steve Cavanagh before mingling with Paul Finch, Col Bury and co. Apparently, the Northern Writers beat the Southern Writers at the football match and injuries were sustained (Luca Veste came off worst with a fractured ankle).
I had a lovely chat with Mandy while Sharon flitted about trying to buy a bottle of white wine that wasn’t warm. Once Mandy left for her B&B, I found myself in the company of the ‘last ones standing’ in The Old Swan bar. An hour earlier the bar declared ‘residents only’ and I was conned into putting someone’s drinks on my room bill with the promise of cash to compensate which didn’t actually materialise. Lesson learned. (He wasn’t a writer) At 4am I staggered to bed.....
I just about managed to get up for breakfast and the 10am Celebrating Patricia Highsmith panel. This was one of the highlights of the festival for me. Highsmith published eight short story collections. I consider myself (so far) to be a short story writer first, and novelist second, so she is on my list of great writers. Andrew Taylor (who reviews crime novels for The Spectator) chaired this panel (brilliantly, it has to be said) of four crime novelists: Peter James; Sarah Hilary; Martin Edwards and Peter Swanson.
Patricia Highsmith
Gay, but isolated, Patricia Highsmith was considered ‘unlovable’ and ‘unloving’... quite a character assassination. She kept pet snails and insisted on taking them to parties and smuggled them out of the country under her breasts when she moved to France. Anyone who does this obviously has a human side. She couldn’t have been all bad. Patricia Highsmith was an alcoholic. ‘Write drunk; edit sober’ was Hemingway’s infamous quote. Someone on a panel had talked earlier about tapping into the sub-conscious by writing in a dream-like state on waking. Many writers experience a more enlivening dream-like state while drinking alcohol. I think Patricia Highsmith has to be one of my all-time literary heroines. Sarah Hilary is obviously a Mr Ripley fan. This panel injected so much enthusiasm into Highsmith’s work, that I’m sure, like me, most of the audience would rush home and seek out some of her novels or short stories. Highsmith’s criminals often get away with their crimes. Now that is close to my own heart... What happens to the ones who get away?
More coffee and chats outside as well as a few goodbyes before heading off to lunch at Hales Bar. Already that feeling of anti-climax and sadness that it’s all over for another year. How can one weekend go so quickly? To compensate there is that warm feeling that I’m booked for next year.
The journey home was long and tiring, but there was the promise of telling my family all about it and feeling enthused about my crime novel once more.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

The 2015 Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, Harrogate Part One

The Old Swan, Harrogate
Fast paced, intense and addictive. No, I’m not talking about the work of Patricia Highsmith nor the latest novel by Eva Dolan, but The Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate.
I’ve been trying to work out how many of these festivals I’ve been to. I was definitely at the 3rd one in 2005 (highlights were Kathy Reichs and Ruth Rendall) and the 4th in 2006 (highlights Ian Rankin, Jeffrey Deaver and Kate Atkinson). I was there last year and the year before (here’s a blog about the 2013 Festival). If I’ve been to any more in between, then my memories of them are hazy, to say the least.
Anyway, this year was the very best experience for me. It could well be because my good friend, Sharon Birch (aka Effie Merryl/Ash Cameron) had introduced me to so many lovely writers last year, so that this year I felt part of the gang.
Soon after we arrived at The Old Swan, Sharon and I met in her room for the obligatory bottle of pink fizz followed by Prosecco. I met her lovely husband, Steve, who polished off the complimentary bottle of Theakstons Old Peculier in my goody bag within minutes. Then after a quick change, Sharon and Steve treated me to a lovely meal at The Crown (more wine was consumed). Then it was back to The Old Swan for another drink to take into the Crime Novel of the Year Awards hosted by Mark Lawson. (If you’re getting the impression that this festival is a very boozy affair, then you’d be right). We were thrilled that our mate, Sarah Hilary won with her debut novel, Someone Else’s Skin. The after-party was fun and gave us a chance to chat to more friends (I made the mistake of ordering a complimentary pint of Old Peculier instead of a glass of wine.....). Then it was time to mingle outside and drink even more wine. I had a lovely chat with both Paul Finch and Cally Taylor, as well as enjoying a brief conversation with Mark Billingham about Eddie Izzard’s marathons (Mark even offered to buy me a drink). I was one of the sensible ones who went to bed before 1.30am... Enough said.....
I admit I didn’t feel great on Friday morning, but I did make it down to breakfast, even though I couldn’t face anything cooked! I did have to go back to bed afterwards, but managed to pull myself together sufficiently to attend the 10.30am panel, They Do Things Differently There... a marvellous selection of historical crime novelists (Lindsey Davis, William Ryan, Manda Scott, Christopher Fowler and Elly Griffiths) discussing crime solving in the past. Some of the most interesting points made were that Neanderthal man actually spoke in a high-pitched voice (makes sense when you think they were much closer to apes - http://www.iflscience.com/plants-and-animals/could-neanderthals-have-high-pitched-voices); Roman buildings like the Coliseum would have been painted in bright colours and weren’t plain white; how the Romans completely changed the cultural landscape of England and how we wouldn’t recognise Boudica’s Britain at all.
Before this panel started, I had a serendipitous moment. A lady sat down next to me, leaned forward and said, “Jo?”. I felt bad for not remembering her name, but then she introduced herself as Mary Jane Riley. I’d published Mary Jane’s stories in QWF many years previously. She told me that her crime novel, The Bad Things, was coming out in August. After the panel, we went for coffee together and had a wonderful discussion about our experiences of writing crime fiction. Being able to talk about the problems I was having with my novel face-to-face was incredibly useful. We then went off for lunch together and we caught up on mutual writer friends and our families. Of course, we then had the obligatory glass of wine in the bar area, where we were joined by Sharon, clutching a bottle of water and a sandwich. She had only just surfaced (it was 2.30pm by now) and missed both breakfast and lunch. (Warning: Attending this festival can seriously damage one’s health.) We discussed the possibility of the first festival attendee to be found dead in their room.
We all trooped in to The Morality of Murder panel at 3.30pm (Belinda Bauer, Wiley Cash, Jonathan Freedland, Nicci French and Cath Staincliffe). ‘Is there anything you couldn’t bring yourself to write about?’ Cath Staincliffe asked. Husband and wife writing team Nicci French said that they were asked the same question many years previously when their children were growing up and said then that they couldn’t write about the murder of young children, then subsequently wrote about it in their next book. The general consensus was that we make sense of the senseless and of evil by writing about it. Through fiction we can bring victims justice and this doesn’t always happen in reality.
There was just time to nip off to The Slug and Lettuce for a bite to eat and a glass of wine before the next panel, Yorkshire Pride (Steve Mosby, Peter Robinson, Lee Child, Nick Quantrill and Frances Brody). Having recently decided that I must get out of the house to write, as I’m finding it impossible to write at home these days (too many distractions), it was interesting to hear that Steve Mosby wrote in Leeds pubs. Does he buy a pint and make it last three or four hours? I think a café or library might be a safer bet for me! I was thrilled that Winifred Holtby got two mentions as being a writer who put Yorkshire on the map. South Riding is one of my favourite novels.
Sharon and I noticed that the panelists’ geography was a little shaky. Peter Robinson said that one of his Yorkshire heroes was Captain Cook, who was actually from Middlesborough (however, that may have been classed as Yorkshire at the time he was born) and another panelist mentioned that Get Carter was filmed in Yorkshire, when it was, in fact, Newcastle. Reginald Hill was born in a village two miles outside Hartlepool when it was part of County Durham, so not strictly a Yorkshireman. One more interesting fact (this time from Sharon, not the panel): There are three pub/restaurants in Benidorm called Yorkshire Pride!
Friday night was a heavy one in that there were two more events I didn’t want to miss. Mark Billingham in Conversation with Eddie Izzard followed by The Black Art of Criticism with Ann Widdecombe, Stav Sherez, NJ Cooper, SJ Parris and Jake Kerridge. The Criticism panel wasn’t quite as controversial as I’d hoped. Ann Widdecombe said that it was generally the writer who was criticised, not the work,. I liked Jake Kerridge, if only because he made it clear he thought Dan Brown was a terrible writer (‘Brown gets better and better: where once he was abysmal, he is now just very poor’). I couldn’t believe that ‘Widders’ had written a crime novel based on Strictly Come Dancing. Sharon foolishly parted with £10 for a copy of this self-published tome (and she was stone-cold sober!). I read the first page and was appalled at the over-long sentences and poor punctuation.
Mark Billingham

The colourfully dressed and heavily made-up Eddie Izzard was funny and weird. Mark Billingham, his old Comedy Store buddy (and fellow struggling stand-up comic back in the Eighties), was funnier, in my opinion. I am one of those people who don’t ‘get’ Eddie’s surreal humour. To think he can now fill The Hollywood Bowl at one of his stand-up nights... He has recently turned to acting and I’m told he’s very good at it. Mark Billingham, of course, turned to crime fiction writing and he’s excellent at that (I have a bit of a girl crush). Eddie left us with his answer to the theory of the universe after he revealed he drank gin and tonic while sitting in an ice bath once he’d completed each of this forty-three marathons. I hope Mark Billingham will conduct more interviews with guests next year.
After the last event of the evening, I was lucky enough to be asked to meet with Eva Dolan to discuss my novel. Eva has been so supportive of my writing and I can’t thank her enough. She always seems two steps ahead of what is happening with agents and publishers. I feel so privileged to have access to such inside information. We then joined Cally Taylor, Mark Edwards, Phil Viner and others for a lively chat about LSD and stalkers amongst other things! Phil Viner was also very generous with his advice.
The lovely Cally Taylor

This blog is going to have to be a two-parter. Writing it is proving almost as exhausting as attending the festival!

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Band Project Update/Feeling Demoralised

It hasn't been a good week writing-wise. I had a rejection on Monday from Woman's Weekly, saying the story had a 'well-worn theme'. I was an 'also read' in last Saturday's Write Invite, which means my story was in the bottom three (this was a 'band themed' story based on Jack Savoretti). Then I had another rejection today, this time from The People's Friend who said that one of my characters came across as 'cold' and the other didn't have enough development for a 4,000 word story. Getting published is tough. Sticking at it when the going gets rough is difficult. Having an editor 'diss' your characters is painful.


The band themed story project has ground to a bit of a halt. I've almost reached the last of the bands nominated by Facebook friends and it was getting to the stage where I couldn't face writing another story on that theme. In fact, I'm writing a longer story, which began as something based on Anything But The Girl, and put in references to the next five bands on the list (Radiohead, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, The Strokes, Volbeat and The 69 Eyes). A bit of a cheat, but it seemed to work. Again, this story is unfinished!

On Sunday I decided to do a few calculations to make me feel a little better about the whole band themed project. Up to that point, my total word count from 5th January to 8th March was 55,878. I had completed 36 stories and 19 stories were unfinished, so a total of 55 stories written. Not bad for two months work. Two stories were Top Ten in Write Invite, then I got a 2nd, a 3rd, a 4th and a 5th placing with four other band stories. My Thin Lizzy band story was longlisted in the 17th Word Hut Competition. Maybe I shouldn't beat myself up too much?

This week I decided I'd finish off a few of those 19 unfinished stories. I've only managed to finish one so far (Moody Blues). I haven't been writing with my writing buddy on a daily basis as I had been doing, as we both felt we needed a break from the routine. I admit I feel I need to recharge my batteries writing-wise and I need to do more reading.

So... what has this crazy band-themed short story project taught me so far? It's taught me discipline - turning up at the keyboard every day to write. It's taught me stamina - pushing on through, despite not feeling in the mood or particularly inspired. And motivation - I've had a reason to turn up at the keyboard to write instead of some vague idea of what I'm going to do. I've realised that I work better with a factual framework and a list of prompts. It has also taught me that, if I can write over 55,000 words in two months, then I could get the first draft of a new novel completed in 3-4 months. I guess that will be my next target.

The funny thing is that I'd almost forgotten that I now have 36 new stories to send out to competitions and magazines. The submission process can be time-consuming, as I may invest some time over the next few days doing just that.


I've also been worrying all week about a trip to Windsor on Saturday. I have to do the two hour drive with Megan and her best friend to take them to a Dr Who 'Day Of The Doctors' event at a hotel there (specifically to meet Tom Baker). It means leaving the house at 6.45am (I'm not a morning person, especially at weekends) and not getting home till around 8pm. I guess that will be test of stamina in itself. Wish me luck!

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Guest Blog: Tracy Fells Talks About the Transition from Writing Short Stories To Writing A Novel



Today I’d like to welcome the talented short story writer and novelist, Tracy Fells to my blog. We enter many of the same literary competitions, and I’ve followed Tracy’s writing career with great interest. I’m always fascinated by the transition from writing short stories to writing a full-length novel, so when I heard that Tracy had written her first novel, I wanted to ask her how she found it.

After writing so successfully for the short story market, what made you want to write a novel?
Well, I have to admit sometimes I don't feel all that successful! Before starting to write seriously, I did write a novel - one of those bottom drawer efforts that should stay in the bottom drawer. It was dreadful and I decided I needed to learn the 'craft' of writing before attempting anything longer. So I started writing short stories and flash fiction ... and got hooked. An idea for a longer piece was always niggling away in the back of my head and I guess I wanted to prove I really could write something decent that was longer than 4,000 words. But sadly, I also think there is terrific pressure on a short story writer to write a novel. Every one kept asking: 'Are you writing a novel?'. It's the same with Literary Agents - they're not interested in a short story collection and just want to know if you're writing 'something longer'. As if short stories don't count. I find this quite depressing, but it is the reality of the publishing world right now.

I know just how you feel about that pressure, Tracy! It's such a shame that short stories don't carry the same weight as the novel. Short stories are becoming increasingly popular genre with readers. So, did your novel spring from a short story you'd written or did you have a totally separate idea bubbling away in the background?

That's a good question. It was always an idea for a novel because it is a complex story with many characters. At first I found it hard to pick up the momentum (or energy) to work on something that was going to be >80,000 words (which seemed both terrifying and impossible). To make the task easier, or more achievable, I started to write a series of short stories based on characters from the novel. Not the main characters, but lesser ones who had interesting back stories to tell. This really helped to make progress with the main narrative, as I was able to weave aspects of the short stories into the novel. This also worked wonders with achieving a weekly word count - insert a short story and YAY target done for the week! Can I just add here that one of these short stories went on to be shortlisted for the 2014 Commonwealth Writers Short Story Prize (which is my biggest success to date).

Wow, well done on being shortlisted for such a prestigious literary competition! I like the idea of writing a series of short stories based on characters from your novel. It’s an interesting way of working. Can you tell us what genre the novel is and what sparked the idea?
The genre is a tough one to define, but I think it falls into 'accessible literary fiction', or I'd like to think of it as 'quirky contemporary literary fiction' (trying saying that quickly!). It's a contemporary fairytale populated with misfit characters. The original idea was sparked absolutely years ago and I do mean years. I remember watching a news item, could have been on Countryfile, about how you need a special licence to handle dormice. The wonder on the faces of the conservationists, as they crowded round to see the tiny dormouse dragged from its nest, set off a chain reaction in my head. The memory sat there for many more years until it started to evolve into something that resembled a storyline. To be honest this is how most of my fiction begins. Something I've read or seen on TV or film catches my attention, then festers away in the dark corners of the subconscious before it turns into a genuine story.

It sounds wonderfully quirky! And thank you for giving us an insight into how you're inspired. What aspects of novel writing did you find most difficult? Was it the structure? Plotting? Setting? Viewpoint?


I'm now in the editing stage, so thankfully the bulk of the writing is done. Thinking honestly about this question I'd have to say the plotting has been the most challenging aspect of the writing. From early on I knew the structure and viewpoints that I wanted to work with. But the story has numerous plot strands that had to be woven together and I was terrified of leaving something dangling. I use index cards to help with this. Using different coloured cards for each PoV, I sketched out chapters and then played around with order. However, once I seriously got underway with the writing I completely forgot about the cards! A large whiteboard is also essential for working through character arcs - but so far I've not found one large enough to do the job!

It all sounds like a complicated system, but it's great to get an insight into your working methods. I often think writing a novel is like spinning plates. Did you manage to continue writing short stories while you wrote the novel or did you have a complete break from writing them?

Funny that you mention spinning plates, as one of my beta readers commented on how many plates I had spinning in the novel. I wish I could say I was able to balance all my writing projects, but the short stories and drama all suffered. At first I tried writing one chapter a month and continued to work on short fiction, but the novel was progressing so slowly and the writing felt disjointed. Other writing friends kept nagging that the only way to make progress was to complete absorb myself in the novel. They were right. As I'm also working on a part-time MA in Creative Writing (at Chichester Uni), I decided to devote the summer recess of June-September to writing the novel. I was able to write >60K words and get the bulk of it done. The sacrifice was giving up the short stories for that time. And I went a bit cold turkey ... when the MA term started up again I was gagging to get back to writing short stories. I wish I could find the perfect balance, but so far the two writing forms have to be kept apart. For me, anyway.

Yes, I know what you mean. I find it difficult to write short stories alongside the novel, but the novel always seems to lose out! You wrote 60K in a very short space of time. Well done! So, you say you're now editing your first draft? Have you already started approaching agents or will you wait?

I found the trick was to break down the word count to a weekly target and then a monthly target. I found I could write 20K words a month. Yes, I'm now on third draft. I've actually been approached by a couple of agents asking to see extracts. At present I'm trying to come up with a list of agents who I'd love to work with. When I have a polished, gleaming mss then I will begin to send it out. That's the horrible bit and I'm planning to postpone it for as long as possible. Having invested so much time and effort into the novel any rejection will be painful. Bit like someone telling you what you they think of your beloved offspring ...


I know! That awful fear of failure. So, how did you manage to get agents approaching you? Was it a result of your Commonwealth shortlisting?
The Commonwealth shortlisting helped. Well, tweeting about it on Twitter helped. Top tip: shout about any successes, as you never know who's listening. Also making it onto writing competition shortlists will get your name and writing noticed. One agent contacted me after reading a shortlisted story on a website. They then read other work of mine online and liked my voice. I never believed this actually happens, but it does. Agents do look for new talent via competitions so use this to your advantage.

That's very useful to know! What about the dreaded synopsis? I take it you’ve written one? How did you find that experience? Any tips?

Well, there’s no magic formula, unfortunately! Like most other writers I hate this part. My beef is that there's plenty of examples to be found of 'good/successful query letters', but rarely does anyone share a successful synopsis. I'm beginning to suspect that's because they don't exist! The jury's still out on whether agents actually read / or take any notice of them either. But my top tips are: Have a selection prepared i.e. the full blown Mslexia version (the template & guidelines are on their website and are excellent), a two-page version and the one page version. Write it early, even before you've finished the novel as this helps you to focus on plot and themes (you can change it later - and you will ... many many times). And remember to get it proofread by someone you trust! As well as Mslexia, I can recommend 'Book Proposals' by Stella Whitelaw, which incorporates a very easy to follow section on writing a synopsis. My writing chum, Wendy Clarke, recommended 'Write A Great Synopsis' by Nicola Morgan. I have this on Kindle but not yet read.

Finally, are we allowed to know what your  novel is called? 

The Dormouse Disciples. Can you guess what it's about. Ha-ha!

Erm.... Elephants? I think that wraps it up, Tracy. Thank you so much for being a guest on my blog today and for sharing your thoughts/experiences on novel writing. I’ve found it most inspiring. I wish you the very best of luck with The Dormouse Disciples and can't wait to see it on the shelves! 

If you’d like to find out more about Tracy and would like to follow her progress with the novel, she blogs at: http://tracyfells.blogspot.co.uk/

You can also follow Tracy on Twitter: @theliterarypig



Sunday, 22 February 2015

Band Themed Short Story Project Week 7

I admit that I haven't done very well writing-wise this week. I started a potentially good story around The Smiths on Monday, set in a Manchester school. However, it's one of those longer stories that I need to go back to. This was for Keith Boothroyd of Kishboo E-Magazine. A university friend got me into The Smiths in the early 80s. I used to drive my parents mad when back at home in the holidays I blasted out the Meat Is Murder album. My husband hates The Smiths, so I don't play their music much these days. I recently read Morrissey's autobiography and once I'd adjusted to his ponderous writing style, I did enjoy it.



The Smiths
Tuesday's band was Harsh Reality nominated by local writer and former actress, Madalyn  Morgan. Madalyn has written two wonderful books set in World War Two. I've read the first, Foxden Acres and I whole-heartedly recommend it. Harsh Reality is a great starting point for a story and I raced off the starting blocks with this one. I wrote 878 words, but sadly, didn't finish it. I will. It's partly autobiographical, too.

Harsh Reality
It's been half-term week this week, so I've been out and about with Megan. I took her for a photo shoot/make-over on Wednesday. She won this prize on a scratch card from New Look. I won't go into details here, but it was an interesting experience, but sadly, not one she enjoyed. It was way out of her comfort zone. However, from a writer's point of view, it was gold dust. Particularly as the main character of my novel is a photographer. Anyway, back to the band stories.... Wednesday's band was Within Temptation nominated by my online friend, Amy Rowan-Buckley, who recently appeared on national television in a programme about age-gap relationships. Amy and her husband, Lee, also appeared on Lorraine. I'm sure Amy won't mind me saying that she's a bit of a Goth and she became the inspiration behind the story. I managed to complete this one, although it was only a Flash piece. Amy was kind enough to give me feedback and said it was 'a lovely, lush piece of writing and very dark at the end'.


Within Temptation


A guy I met at a friend's party in Glastonbury, Ben D'Busse, nominated The Dead Kennedys. Not an easy subject for a story! I can't stand writing about politics etc, so I had to work around it. I gave the story a punk feel and it's so far at 634 words and unfinished. 

I didn't write at all on Friday and, to be honest, it was great to have a break! I did a bit of work on my Status Quo story this week. It currently stands at 2,076 words and is one of my favourite band stories. Quo have so many songs to choose from and I incorporated a lot of their song titles for this story set in South Wales in the 1960s.

Sisters Of Mercy


I spent most of yesterday afternoon in the company of a lovely Hungarian family who fed me and my daughter and told us wonderful stories about Hungary and their view of Britain! We talked non-stop for three hours, so I was late home and just about made Write Invite. I wasn't prepared, but dashed off a story on the theme of 'Exile', shoe-horning in Sisters of Mercy. A complete story, but I'm not sure Aneilka Briggs will be too impressed! Then it was another mad dash to get ready for my husband's band, Visitation's gig at The Seven Stars in Redditch. Lots more fodder for band stories and great fun with dancing, nice people and plenty of wine!



Anything But The Girl

Today's band, Anything But The Girl was nominated by my writing buddy, Alison. Extra pressure! I didn't tell her that this was the band I was going to write about in our writing session today. I was most inspired by how the band got their name and the story began writing itself. This story has a bit of a psychopath/stalker theme... one of my specialities! Alison said she loved it, even though it wasn't finished. I managed 715 words.

You'll notice that I'm a band behind. My son, Matt Good, nominated NWA. I must try and write two band stories tomorrow to catch up. 

Only 4, 697 words written this week, which includes another 620 words on the Quo story. I'm sure I must have written more.. somewhere. 

Last week's band story I wrote for Write Invite came in the Top Ten, so that's a total of five band stories, which have been in the Top Ten for that particular competition. Not bad.

I'm looking forward to having more writing time this week and attending Lutterworth Writers' on Tuesday when I have to write a poem by candlelight! That should be interesting...


Sunday, 15 February 2015

Band Themed Short Story Project Week 6

It's been a good week for the band themed project this week, as I've finished five out of the seven stories. They are nearly all Flash Fiction pieces this week, because I was fed up of trying to write longer stories then not finishing them. I've decided that after Week 9, when I'll have run out of nominated bands, I'll spend a week finishing off stories.

The story I wrote around The McCoys called 'Queen Of The Quip' came 2nd in February 7th's Write Invite, so I was very pleased about that.

I wasn't on the Storgy Competition longlist, which was a bit disappointing, but I imagine they got a lot of entries and the longlist, frankly, wasn't very long!

The first story of the week was inspired by And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of The Dead, nominated by the lovely Ninette Hartley. I wrote a Flash piece of about 500 words about a gothy teenager and his mother. Ninette liked it and said it had a good twist. I may well enter it in the Flash 500 comp at the end of March.

Tuesday's band was Bellowhead. I'd never heard of them. My writer friend, Susannah Rickards nominated this English contemporary folk band. I didn't finish the story, but it's one I like, so will be happy to work on it a bit more at some point. I'm a little nervous, as Susannah is such a brilliant writer, that my effort will be pretty darn poor when compared to her short stories.

I thought The Grateful Dead would be a fairly easy band to write about or around. They were 'The Godfathers of the Jam Band', so I used that as a title. I also managed to finish the story, but haven't yet sent it to Carolyn Hartwell who used to hang out with my late husband back in the day.

It was fun researching The Modernaires. They were a quintet who sang with The Glenn Miller Band back in the 1940s. I love Glenn Miller's music and the whole big band scene. I found some wonderful images, too. I was fascinated by the only female member of The Modernaires, Paula Kelly who went on to marry fellow bandmate, Hal Dickinson. I wrote a quirky little Flash piece, which I hope captured the era. The Modernaires were nominated by writer, Ferne Arfin who is currently trying to raise funds for crowd-funding her novel, Tunnel of Mirrors with Unbound.
I was dreading The Rolling Stones, as from past experience with this project, I've found that the better documented the band's history, the harder it is to write a story around them.
My late father was a huge Stones fan and I grew up listening to their debut album (I still have the original my dad listened to) and High Tide and Green Grass. My dad invariably would do his Mick Jagger impressions while dancing to The Stones at parties (and there were a lot of parties when I was growing up in the 60s and 70s). Fellow writer, Shirley Wright nominated this band. I didn't manage to finish my story. The main character, based on Mick Jagger, isn't particularly likeable either, but I do have this knack of writing from an unsympathetic character's viewpoint, which doesn't go down terribly well with readers or editors!

INXS was easier to write about simply because I chose 'in excess' as the theme for my story. I wrote just over 1,400 words on this in the space of about 35 minutes. The story wrote itself and I based it on a true family story, which my second cousin told me about yesterday morning. It's a very sad tale and shocking that it's actually true. Thank you to Australian Jo Skehan for nominating this Sydney based band.

I wrote two band stories yesterday. The second was The Mamas and Papas, nominated by Lisbeth Foye. I wrote this story as part of the Write Invite competition and avoided using a band or a singer as the main character/s. Instead I wrote a quirky piece about a retired couple with a bit of a Valentine's theme. I used a lot of Mamas and Papas lyrics for this one and I was very pleased with the result. However, I doubt very much whether Rob, the Write Invite judge will like it. I think that with some tweaking that it might make a good womag story. We'll see.

So, that's Week 6 completed. It's half term week this week, so my routine will be a little different. Megan is having her first ever make-over on Wednesday, which we're both rather nervous about. Megan isn't really 'into' pampering (like her mother) and is a bit of a tomboy (put it this way, she's a huge Dr Who fan). She won the make-over on a scratch card from New Look. Hopefully, we'll get some nice photos out of it. 

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Band Themed Short Story Project Week 5

It's been a very bitty week writing-wise, as I've done a fair bit of socialising. On Monday I met the lovely Katie Carr in Leamington for lunch. I've admired Katie's fiction for some time now and she's a regular Write Invite contender/winner. We seemed to be very much on the same wavelength writing-wise and both have a tendency to procrastinate rather than getting our bums on the seat to start writing. We had a lovely chat and I'm sure we'll be meeting up again soon. Katie certainly inspired me to press on with my novel, which I'd put on the back burner yet again.

Monday's band was The Cure. I have a few of their albums, so you'd have thought this a relatively easy one for me. However, my story didn't take off as I'd have liked it to and I stopped at 526 words, struggling for inspiration. This is one I need to go back to.

On Tuesday I met up with an old university friend, Gary. We talked mostly about music and I think I've recruited yet another Visitation fan. It's wonderful when you haven't met someone for thirty years and you simply pick up where you left off. It was as if I'd only spoken to him yesterday. Gary is a bit of a high flyer, to say the least, and it did unsettle me somewhat that he's achieved so much and I've achieved so little in comparison. Another kick up the backside to pursue my ambition of being a bestselling writer!

Tuesday's band was Queen, nominated by two people, Natalie Timbs, a friend from home-educating days and Viv Brown, who is a very talented short story writer and appears regularly in the womags under her pen name, Vivien Hampshire. I cheated slightly with this story, because I wanted to work on my novel, so I took one of my chapters, which features the character, Queenie and used that, adding in some Queen song references as I went. It certainly got me back into my novel and made me realise that, actually, that particular scene would make a good opening chapter.

I cheated again on Wednesday by using a different novel chapter and shoe-horning in some Jefferson Starship references. What I should have done was write a story based on the life of Grace Slick, because she appears to be a very interesting character. Maybe I'll go back to it.




Revisiting my novel has made me question viewpoint yet again. Just how many viewpoint characters can I get away with? I'm currently reading Belinda Bauer's Darkside and she has several. And I need to play around with the structure again. I realise my first few chapters are far too pacy and I need a longer, more leisurely chapter to break things up a little.

Anyway, I didn't really address Thursday's band, Faith No More, because I thought I could work that in to my story based on Faithless, which, you may remember, is destined for The People's Friend. I haven't got as far with this as I'd hoped. My butterfly mind has been in overdrive this week!


I enjoyed researching Soft Machine on Friday and listened to a few of their songs on You Tube. Very reminiscent of early Pink Floyd. I wrote a novel scene, as my novel is set in 1972 and it seemed fitting.
I really enjoyed researching the McCoys yesterday and wrote a story based on their song 'Hang On Sloopy, which was inspired by Dorothy Sloop, known as Sloopy, who was a jazz singer and performed with Yvonne Dixie Fasnacht in New Orleans. I really enjoyed writing that story.
Last band of the week was The 1910 Fruit Gum Company. I'd never heard of them. They had a hit with 'Simon Says' back in the mid-Sixties. I decided to write a story set in New Jersey, featuring a teenage pool party and a boy who gets electrocuted. I need to go back and polish it, but I hope fellow-writer, Elizabeth Ann Roy will like it.

So, that's another week done. I have a lot of work ahead of me, finishing some of these stories off and hopefully, working on my novel. I want to say a big thank you to my online writing buddy, Alison Wassell, who has helped motivate me to write every single day.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

Band Themed Short Story Project Week 4

I haven't managed too many words on the band themed stories this week. Only 5508 so far. I've only finished a couple of the stories, too, so the Get Cape, Wear Cape, Fly story is the only one I've managed to send out to the person who nominated it (Annette Thomson).

I had a fabulous time on Tuesday evening when I plucked up the courage to attend The Lutterworth Writers' meeting for the first time. I craftily squeezed in their January theme 'breaking the ice' into my Get Cape, Wear Cape, Fly story and read it out to the group. I think they were rather underwhelmed, although my writing buddy thinks it's one of the best ones I've done so far.

I got home from the writers' group to find an email from Bridgwater Writers letting me know I'd won 2nd prize in their 40th Anniversary Short Story Competition on the theme of bridges. I was delighted. I'd written the story especially for the competition, so it was its first outing. It will be published in a special anthology. I won a Silver Membership to Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff and a signed box set of 10 books (Mabinogion stories from Seren publishers) worth £100. It's such a boost to have a story in the top three of a competition.

Another of my band stories based on Siouxsie and The Banshees won 5th place in last week's Write Invite Competition. (That story was the really bonkers one I mentioned in last week's blog!)


I'd never heard of the band, Faithless, nominated by Dr Suzanne Conboy-Hill, but I was determined to write a People's Friend story this week, otherwise editor, Alison Cook, will have forgotten about me! I chose 'Oh Ye Of Little Faith' as a loose theme, but only got 267 words down. This one may have to go on the back-burner!


Our friend, Allan Wenman, chose Half Man-Half Biscuit. I enjoyed writing this story and have almost finished it. I can't get the ending quite right, so I haven't yet sent it to Allan. This was a fun story to write, as you can imagine! My character is called Rich T. He should be a rapper with a name like that, but instead he's an ex-footballer.
Mike Ross chose Blood, Sweat and Tears for me. Again, I wanted to write a People's Friend story. I really want to crack that particular market, so although I used the band's name, the story isn't really about the band at all. Another cheat, I guess. I hope Mike won't be disappointed, as my story isn't at all rock n' roll!

I'm not surprised my Facebook friend, Claire Quobabe Davis chose her favourite band of all-time, Status Quo. I haven't finished this story, but I'm enjoying writing it. It's called Picture of Matchstick Men and is about a schoolboy in Wales. My writing buddy really likes it. Let's hope I can finish it this week!


My friend Jam Wellies, whom I met at a party in a field in Glastonbury back in 2010, suggested Flogging Molly. I'd never heard of the band before. Apparently, they're an American Irish punk band. I googled them and looked at titles of their albums and songs to come up with a weird little story. I wrote it during the half hour Write Invite Competition yesterday. The theme was 'Excuse Me While I Kiss the Sky' - a Hendrix lyric. It was a bit of a gift. What I love about Write Invite is that you can get a story finished in a very short space of time. Ideal for my band themed project!

Last band of the week was Duran Duran chosen by writer, Sophie Duffy. This is another unfinished story, but I've based it around the life of John Taylor, the bass guitarist. I've done 500 words or so.

I must just mention I saw the DTs for the first time at The Musician in Leicester on Friday night. They're a great rock blues band, who were gigging a lot in the 1980s and 90s. They were amazing. It was great to spend an evening dancing and enjoying a live band for the first time this year.

So, that's Week 4 of the band themed stories project over. I'm so glad to see the back of January. Already the days are drawing out a little and there's a whiff of spring in the air. I'm looking forward to meeting up with fellow writer, Katie Carr, tomorrow in Leamington Spa. Katie is another Write Invite devotee. I'm sure we'll have lots to talk about.