Monday, 1 December 2014

The Psychopath Versus The People's Friend

I'll begin this week's blog with some lovely news. I won second prize in the Greenacre Writers November Competition judged by crime writer, Bettina von Cossel, who said this about my story: 'The story begins harmless enough, but bit by bit we learn that the narrator is a psychopath with a reasoning of his own. A killer who has the 'grace' to announce his plan but no mercy for those who fail to understand the announcement. I really enjoyed reading this story, it is a beautifully portrayed insight into a killer's mind.'

These comments meant a lot to me, as I do enjoy writing crime and I'm pleased that I can successfully get inside the mind of a male psychopath - certainly enough to make him a convincing character. The narrator character was inspired by a rather obnoxious man who was holding forth at the bar in a little pub in Worcestershire back in 2012. We were staying there as part of my 50th birthday celebrations. To say he spoiled our 'quiet' after-dinner drink is an understatement! He was harassing a girl of around eighteen-years-old (he was middle-aged) so much that we nearly had to say something to him. Instead my husband and I retired to our room and drank champagne.

I've had news of another competition success this week. I won a Highly Commended prize in the Erewash Writers Short Story Competition, which consisted of a free entry into their next competition. This competition was judged by Malcolm Welshman, so it was quite an honour.

To prove that writers collect more rejections than acceptances or competitions successes, I had three women's magazine rejections last week. Two of those were from the infamous Maureen Street at Woman's Weekly. One story was considered 'too downbeat' and the other 'more than a little weird'. I did laugh when I read the latter! I had another rejection from Alison Cook at The People's Friend, but she sent such a lovely, chatty email and said that I wrote very well and they'd like to see more of my stories. I do find it difficult to tune into The People's Friend readers. I'm much more comfortable writing about psychopaths!

Thursday, 20 November 2014

In A Foreign Field

I went to another funeral last week. The third this year. It was my Great Aunt Ivy's. She was ninety-six and had an eventful life, part of which was full of fun and adventures. She visited relatives in Rhodesia and got up close and personal with lions. She travelled quite extensively in Europe and when at home regularly got tipsy on her home-brewed sherry and wine. She didn't put milk in her coffee, but Bailey's Irish Cream instead. She also loved barley wine and said to my uncle once that she wanted her coffin to be full of it. Her grandsons did the next best thing and after taking it in turns to talk about her life, toasted her with cans of Gold Label. It was a lovely service last Friday, all planned by Ivy twenty years previously. There was lots of her favourite music and the crematorium was one of the nicest I've ever been to (Sandwell Valley). During the service a lone magpie strutted around on the grass outside, soon joined by its mate. They sat in a tree with copper leaves for a while and as the curtains closed around the coffin, off they flew together. I liked to think it was Ivy and her late husband, Jack. Ivy had a tough life at times. She had five children in five years during the war and survived cancer twice, going through very crude radiotherapy treatment many years before it became more commonplace.

Great Aunt Ivy isn't in the photo above, as she wasn't yet born, but my grandmother, Edna, Ivy's sister is sitting on their mother's knee. Gertie is sitting on the left with their brother, Frank behind and Ada in the middle. Their father, William Francis Page stands behind his family, dressed in his First World War uniform. He volunteered in 1916 at the age of 31. He was a slaughterman by profession. He was at The Battle of The Somme, was gassed and invalided out of the army. Apparently, he suffered poor health from his damaged lungs for the rest of his life and never really worked again.

At Great Aunt Ivy's funeral in West Bromwich, I met several family members I hadn't met before, including Ivy's son, Brian who is also tracing our family tree. A few days later Brian emailed me a copy of Great Grandad Page's sign up papers for World War One. I was able to print off a copy as well as a copy of the photo above and Megan took them to school to show her History teacher, as they're currently studying World War One. They are now part of the classroom display and Megan got a Merit!

Talking of World War 1, did anyone see the wonderful programme about the poets of the Somme last week? Our English teacher made us study them for 'O' Level and I was so glad he did. The programme has made me want to revisit the poetry of Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen and Robert Graves, as well as acquainting myself with other poets of the time like David Jones and W N Hodgson.

In other news... I entered the first 3000 words of my novel and synopsis in the ITV This Morning Novel Competition last week. There will be thousands of entries so I'm not holding my breath. I also sent the first fifty pages and synopsis to another agent. I entered three stories in the HE Bates Competition, one in Write Invite's 1000 word competition and one in the monthly Greenacre Writers Competition. I entered a flash story in the Writers' Bureau Competition, too. Now I have to work on some new stuff for the competitions closing at the end of this month. I submitted a new story to one of the womags last week as well, but was told they have a backlog, so I'll have to be patient.

Finally, a writer friend and I thought it would be an excellent idea if short story competition organisers mentioned how many entries they received when they publish the shortlist. It's one thing being one of ten shortlisted out of 300 or 3000 entries, but quite a different thing when they were only twenty entries in total. What do you think?

Saturday, 8 November 2014

From Autumn to Winter

I've definitely felt the shift from autumn to winter this week. Maybe it's because of the first few frosts and fog. Or the fact that it's suddenly gone much colder. My body has also been telling me it's time to start feeding up and storing fat in preparation for winter shortages. I don't think our bodies realise it's the 21st century and such shortages are a thing of the past. I've had the urge to scoff warming stews, soups and have been craving sugar. Not great when you're trying to lose a few pounds. This hasn't been helped by supermarkets stocking wonderful Christmas treats.

I had a week off blogging and writing generally during half term week. My aunt came to stay and we had a wonderfully relaxing time with some retail therapy thrown in for good measure. It was also my youngest child, Megan's birthday. She was thirteen, so I'm now the proud mum of not one, but two teenagers. She had a bowling party followed by a meal out on the day, then a clothes shopping expedition when she spent most of her birthday money.

I found it very difficult to get back into writing again this week. A week last Friday I entered four competitions ending 31st October and this week I typed up some old Write Invite entries with a view to expanding them into fully fledged short stories. There are a couple of competitions I want to enter in the next week and I've been working out which stories would fit them best.

I sent the first thirty pages of my novel and a synopsis to Tom Witcomb at Blake Friedmann back in July, having pitched to him at The Harrogate Crime Writers Festival. I hadn't heard from him, so thought that was the end of that. Full of self-doubt, as usual, I decided to put the novel on one side and focus on short stories. Anyway, I was very surprised to receive a most encouraging email from Tom this week: 'Firstly, my apologies for holding onto your work for so long - it is an unfortunate, yet unavoidable consequence of making tough decisions on projects which you’ve enjoyed greatly. I’m afraid that in my final decision, I’ve decided not to take your project any further. I wish you the best of luck in your endeavours to find a suitable agent and look forward to hearing news of your success.
With good wishes, Tom'

Not a bad rejection, is it? I was encouraged by it, anyway. Encouraged enough to consider submitting to another agent, which I'll do next week. I've given the synopsis a tweak in the meantime. I've also had wonderful encouragement and support from the lovely crime writer, Eva Dolan, who I also met at Harrogate.

I've had more good news in the past week or so. I've been shortlisted in Flash500, shortlisted in the October Greenacre Writers Competition and was longlisted in Word Hut.

I also submitted another story to The People's Friend this week. Wish me luck! 

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Almost there?

It has been a slightly more productive week on the writing front, thank goodness. I skived off for lunch out with some ex-teaching colleagues on Wednesday, had to have a filling at the dentist on Tuesday and did some manic kitchen cleaning on Thursday in preparation for my aunt's visit in a week's time.

I started a new story with Woman's Weekly in mind, tweaked another one and entered it in The Word Hut Competition. I was also shortlisted in last week's Write Invite, but the results still aren't out, so I'm still crossing my fingers for a win (the story was inspired by the funeral I attended last Friday). Yesterday I did Write Invite again and I'm quite pleased with the story, which is a bit womaggy and so another potential submission.

Since I started regularly submitting to the womags again in early September, the first rejection has come in. It was from Alison Cook at The People's Friend. This is one market I haven't yet managed to crack. Alison emailed me to say:

Many thanks for sending us your short story “The Blacksmith’s Apprentice.” We are always pleased to receive new submissions for consideration and although this isn’t one for us, we feel that your writing shows a great deal of promise and I’d like to explain more about this story and why it didn’t quite make the grade.

The storyline is pleasant but it’s too predictable. Also, the style of writing makes it a story which lacks warmth and emotion. The reader needs to feel involvement in the characters’ emotions throughout – they are merely told the story from a rather distant viewpoint.

I’m sorry that this isn’t one for us, Jo, but we would very much like to encourage you to send us fiction, period and modern, in the near future and would be delighted to hear from you again.

'Lacks warmth and emotion' hurt a little, but I am renowned for my gritty, edgy style of writing, which does well in competitions, but obviously isn't for the womags. I thought I'd injected a fair bit of emotion and warmth, but obviously not enough. I didn't think the viewpoint was distant, but I must look at the story again to check. As for predictable..... yes, well.....  I'm very encouraged by this rejection and have been re-reading my recent copies of The People's Friend in an attempt to get into their mindset. I want to fire one back out to them this week, if I can.

I should maybe change my usual reading matter for a while, if I'm going to channel The People's Friend readers. I'm currently reading Long Way Home, a crime novel by Eva Dolan, whom I was lucky enough to meet and chat to at the Theakston's Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate this year. The novel sees DI Zigic and DS Ferreira called in to investigate a hate crime in the Peterborough area. The victim is a migrant worker, and both a far-right arsonist and a slum landlord soon come into the mix as suspects. Do you see what I mean? Hardly The People's Friend! I shall choose my next book very carefully.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Call Myself A Writer?

It has been a difficult week and I've hardly done any writing. I am so easily distracted by life and events that I get really cross with myself. I have very little self-discipline these days.

On Monday my husband had the day off and took me out for a pub lunch. I had wine. When we got back, we watched TV for the rest of the afternoon. So lazy!

On Tuesday I did a longish bike ride, then called on my ex-mother-in-law for a coffee and a chat. Then I had to make a trip to the florists to pay the bill and take in the cards for the family flowers ready for the funeral on Friday. In the afternoon I read several short stories and threw a tantrum when the bathroom fitter shouted, 'See you tomorrow!'. I had hoped he'd have finished so that I could get on with the big clearing up operation. I sulked, listened to some new CDs and drank wine. Oh dear.

On Wednesday I managed another bike ride. The bathroom fitter was late arriving, as his van broke down. I decided to start blitzing the kids' bedrooms and accomplished a massive amount. I managed to throw about 8 bags of rubbish into the skip and fill 6 ready for the charity shop. The bathroom was finally finished, so a cause for celebration. I didn't achieve anything vaguely writerly unless you count checking the Write Invite email to see my story 'came close' in last Saturday's competition. At least Nancy won Great British Bake Off.

The day got off to a bad start when I noticed my bike had a puncture. Not to be deterred, I took Megan's bike out, but my knees were up by my chin somewhere and it was too uncomfortable to ride further than round the block. I felt emotionally wobbly all day and burst into tears when my usual charity shop said they weren't taking any more donations for the time being. Thankfully, the lady in the Oxfam shop was incredibly grateful for the 6 bags of items from Megan's room. I then went to The Range to stock up on new bathroom accessories. At least that was the idea. They had very little in stock and I ended up with just a new bath mat and a new wine glass. I then forced myself to type up an old Write Invite entry with a view to tweaking it for one of the womags, except I didn't actually get round to the tweaking bit (call myself a writer!!). Nige and I managed to lug the solid pine chest of drawers down the stairs from Megan's room for the people who were collecting it. Isn't freecycle a wonderful thing? Nige attempted to mend my puncture.

So... Friday and the day of my ex-father-in-law, Ralph's funeral. Nige's puncture repair hadn't worked, but he did raise the seat on Megan's bike so that I was at least able to go for a therapeutic bike ride before getting ready for the funeral. I was very proud of my son who performed a couple of songs on his acoustic guitar as a tribute to his grandad. My nephew, Ryan read the most beautiful and fitting tribute entitled, Such a Lovely Man. It was so well written. Perfect. Lovely as it was to see family and friends, it was a very sad day (made me miss my late husband so much) and when I returned home from the wake, I was fit for nothing.

I did enter Write Invite last night, but wasn't feeling the love. I wasn't at all happy with my story, but I guess it can be reworked at a later date. That's what I love about Write Invite. It forces you to write for half an hour even if you're not remotely in the mood.

So..... onwards and upwards. I really need to get more writing done this week and tackle that mountain of housework.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Sadness and Joy

It’s been a very busy week. You may remember in my last post I mentioned my late husband’s father, Ralph was very ill? Unfortunately, he passed away last Saturday evening. His family were with him at the end. I was able to say goodbye to him when I visited on Saturday afternoon and helped make him comfortable by giving him sips of tea, adjusting his pillow etc. The funeral is next Friday.

So.... I’ve spent a fair bit of time this week discussing funeral arrangements and running little errands for the family while my ex-sister-in-law was at work. I also had to take my mother-in-law to the hospital to register the death. A great new pilot scheme is in operation there where the registrar comes in to the hospital once a week so that relatives don’t have to go elsewhere. I even found out that registrars use ink specially made for the Registry Office. There’s possibly a good story there.

Our downstairs bathroom still isn’t finished and there’s dust everywhere! The workman has been cutting the tiles in the room itself, so it’s gone all through the house. I am resisting doing the housework until he’s finished. Again, it’s not very conducive to writing, as my office is right next door! However, I have achieved a few writerly things this week. I submitted two Flash pieces to Flash 500 on Tuesday and sent off an entry to the Henshaw Prize. These were older pieces that needed work, so a fair bit of tweaking took place at the eleventh hour on Tuesday. I managed to submit a story to Take A Break Fiction Feast on Thursday. I haven’t had any success with them for a long time, so fingers crossed. Again, it was a story that has been out before, but needed work. I like to think I’ve improved it now. I also submitted two pieces to Firewords for their autumn themed third issue. I don’t hold out much hope, as I think the pieces may be a little too ‘distasteful’ for their tastes. 

I think the highlight of my week was going to see Andy Kershaw at the Bridge Theatre in Warwick. My friend, Sarah, treated me to the ticket as a belated birthday present and even volunteered to drive. We had a fantastic night. I first came across Andy when he was the Ents Sec at Leeds University. I was a First Year Student and he gave us all a talk about how brilliant the Ents Soc was and how we should join. If only I had! During the 70s and 80s Leeds Uni Ents Soc booked some of the best bands in the world, including The Who (Live at Leeds), The Rolling Stones, The Pink Floyd, U2, The Clash, and Ian Drury and the Blockheads). I was lucky enough to see a few famous bands in the refectory at Leeds, including The Boomtown Rats, featuring Bob Geldof with his flies undone throughout the first half of the set. Andy was asked by Harvey Goldsmith, no less, to organise the UK concert for the Rolling Stones ‘come back’ tour in 1982 at Roundhay Park, Leeds. He wanted Andy and his stage crew, made up of Leeds Uni students, to be involved. The stage was the biggest ever built for a rock concert in the world at the time. You have to read Andy’s autobiography No Off Switch for the full account of this particular adventure. I just want to say, ‘I was there!’. I actually went on my own and at the age of just nineteen, it was a very heady experience and the biggest concert I’d ever been to. How I didn’t get lost, I don’t know. I just remember having to walk miles to find my car at the end of the gig.

Andy brought his gorgeous Schnauzer dog, Buster onto the stage with him. Buster roamed around the audience for treats and took the odd nap throughout the evening. Andy, too, did a fair bit of roaming around the stage, never keeping still for a second and taking time out only to sip from a bottle of Coke or tear off a piece of loo roll on which to blow his nose. Classy. Or should I say ‘rock n’ roll’?

I must say Andy was thoroughly entertaining. He’s a great raconteur and some of my favourite bits were when he talked about sharing an office with Radio 1 producer John Walters and DJ John Peel. He said they were ‘a radio station within a radio station’. His impressions of the great John Walters were brilliant and I wish the two Johns were still alive to regale us with stories in a similar manner on an arts centre stage in the middle of Warwickshire.

The wow factor of this show for me was the music. Andy chose some of his all time favourite songs (including those he wishes he’d have chosen for his Desert Island Discs) and with the aid of Richard, the technician, blasted them out for the audience’s enjoyment. Did you know Chuck Berry wrote Promised Land in prison? He asked the guards for a map of the Southern States of the USA, chose a route and wrote about it. Andy recited all the lyrics to the song before playing it to us. Certainly had my foot tapping and it was joyous. Oh, and Andy pointed out that Chuck Berry is a despicable man, but can write great songs. I was also blown away by James Carr’s voice. He was a little known soul singer (considered to be better than Otis Redding) who made a few records in the 1960s, but died destitute. Very sad. 

Andy Kershaw truly does have ‘No Off Switch’ and the show overran by an hour! He was still good enough to sign everyone’s books at the end, despite the fact he had to drive all the way down to Portsmouth afterwards. If you get chance to see him at a venue near you, I highly recommend the show. 

Friday, 26 September 2014

Dust everywhere!

This week has been remarkably productive writing-wise, which is a miracle considering work started on our downstairs bathroom.

I spent Monday clearing out the bathroom and doing bits and pieces of housework, which was a complete waste of time, because when Steve (of Affinity Bathrooms) started gutting the room, there was a layer of dust all over the house! I did manage to fit in a longish bike ride, but no writing today.

On Tuesday, after another longish bike ride and in between making Steve cups of coffee, I had a final read-through of the 'blacksmith story' I worked on last week, printed it off on my new printer and walked down the road to post it off. I really hope the womag in question likes it, because if they don't, I really don't know where else I can send it. I then tweaked a different story and entered it in The First Black Pear Press Competition. It's always tricky to know what sort of thing a new competition team will go for, but the story in question should appeal to most tastes. I then pulled up a story that Woman's Weekly were very interested in a few months ago, but felt didn't quite work. Clare suggested I 'rest' it for a few weeks and go back to it. It's interesting that with the benefit of a good long 'rest', you see a story in a completely different light. It's well worth spending time dusting off old stories from time to time. (Like what I did there?) I realised that one of the main reasons this particular story didn't work the first time around was that I'd told it from two different viewpoints when I should have told it from just one. I also thought of a new twist I could incorporate, which I feel gives the story added 'umph'. The original story was far too long. I'd written beyond the story's natural end, so had to cut about a thousand words. This wasn't as painful as it sounds. By this time the banging and drilling in the bathroom next door was getting to me, so I decided to call it a day.

Fortunately, the rain stopped early enough on Wednesday morning for my bike ride. In fact, when the sun came out, it was a beautiful morning. I also realised what a mad world we live in when the scrap man came to the door and asked if he could take some stuff out of our skip. Actually, there might be a story there..... I was meeting friends for a belated birthday lunch today, so after a quick bath, I drove the twenty miles to meet them halfway. We chatted far longer than I'd factored in time-wise, so it was a mad dash back to Rugby with a quick pit-stop at Sainsbury's for essentials. Didn't manage to get any writing done today. One unexpected bonus was that my friend said she thought I'd lost weight. Oh, and another was that I found out I'd come 6th in last week's Write Invite competition. I was particularly thrilled as Rob said in his write-up that the last line really made the story rise up the rankings. Great to hear when I always used to be rubbish at endings!

After yet another longish bike ride (the weather has been so good again this week) and a businessy-type email to write, I settled down to work on the story Woman's Weekly had been interested in. It still wasn't right and I knew I'd have to go away and mull it over. My copy of Issue 2 of Firewords arrived this week and prompted me to look for a couple of stories to submit to them. No payment, but it's a beautifully illustrated literary journal I'd be proud to appear in. I received a phone call from my late husband's mother to say his father had been rushed to hospital with breathing difficulties. Knowing my ex-father-in-law, he'll pull through and bounce back. He has been doing since he got encephalitis and subsequently Parkinson's at the age of sixty-five. He's now nearly eighty-nine. I'll be visiting him on Saturday.

So... it's Friday again, another bike ride and I'm just about to start work on that pesky womag story and sort out a story to enter in the Henshaw Press Prize. It's creeping ever closer to the closing date for most of the September competitions. I want to enter Flash 500, but having now entered all my old Flash stories, I'll now have to write a couple of new ones. I find Flash incredibly difficult to get right, so this will be a real challenge. I'd better hurry up and get started, because my husband's band, Visitation have yet another gig tonight, so it will be an early tea, then off out for 6ish.

I want to mention how much I'm enjoying Cilla, ITV's new drama series. I've always loved Sheridan Smith and I think this particular role will bring her many awards. I hope so. She's also a much better singer than Cilla Black!

Friday, 19 September 2014

A Funny Old Week

It has been one of those weeks where nothing has gone according to plan. So much for my writing routine! At 9am on Monday morning I still had no idea whether or not I'd have to drive my son back to Uni in Hatfield, Hertfordshire. He's sharing a different student house this year with a group of friends from his Songwriting and Music Production course and they couldn't get in touch with the landlord about where to collect the keys. Even though their course doesn't start until the end of September, they had to start paying rent from Monday, so were eager to move in. By 10.30am one of the boys had contacted Matt to say he was meeting the landlord at the property at lunchtime to collect the keys. Fortunately, Matt had packed most of his belongings, but it was still 12.45 by the time we'd packed the car and were ready to set off. It was a mercifully quick and uneventful journey down there, but by the time we'd unloaded Matt's stuff and I'd taken him and two housemates to Asda for their shopping, it was 4.15pm by the time I set off for home. On the way down to Hatfield we discovered that the M1 Northbound had been closed between two junctions due to a fatal accident involving several vehicles and the accident investigation team were still at work as we passed. The tailback queues were horrendous, so I resolved to go back via the A5. By the time I approached Dunstable the rush hour had started and the knock on effect of the M1 closure had a terrible impact. I sat in a traffic jam for an hour.  I finally got home via the reopened M1 at 7pm. So much for Monday.....

Tuesday was more productive writing-wise and I managed to submit a story to one of the womags (won't say which one, as I don't want to jinx it!). Managed to fit in a bike ride and do some housework and shopping.

I didn't manage anything remotely writerly on Wednesday once I'd been for another bike ride and out for a lovely lunch with a friend I hadn't seen in a while. I also bought a new mug today, but when I made a cup of tea in it back at home, it started leaking! I then discovered a big crack in it, so I had to go back to the garden centre I bought it from and get it changed. Grrr....

On Thursday I went for a quick run (only just building back up my stamina for running after being ill earlier in the year) and to see my GP for a bit of a check up (all seems well). I then set to work on finding two stories to enter into one of my favourite short story competitions - Erewash Writers' Group. I usually leave it until the very last minute to enter competitions and this one was no exception. Once I'd found the two stories I wanted to enter, I read through them and did a bit of tweaking. It's funny how you can always find something to change, even if you've entered the stories in something before. I then did some more work on a longer story I'm hoping to submit to The People's Friend. I got so close to selling to them once before (Shirley liked it, but the main editor didn't), but haven't tried since, so it's a market I'm desperate to crack. It's a story set in Edwardian times and one I'm particularly fond of. It's been out to a womag before, but was rejected. It's now had a radical rewrite and is better for it, I feel.

And so it's Friday.... I was hoping to do a longer bike ride today, but when I got up it was raining and I didn't fancy tackling muddy off road tracks. I did a shorter ride once it had stopped raining and realised halfway round that I was more tired than I thought, so it was a good job I didn't tackle the twelve-miler.
Before I went, I managed to add more words to the womag story I was working on yesterday and finished it. It now needs to rest over the weekend, then I'll re-read it and submit on Monday.

It's my birthday weekend this weekend, so I'll be skiving off drinking wine, champagne and hopefully having fun at the Visitation gig on Saturday (Visitation is my husband's band. He plays lead guitar and sings. They've been going since the 1980s and play a combination of space rock (Hawkwind type stuff) and classic rock covers (Pink Floyd, Hendrix, Cream etc). Hopefully, my husband will keep to his promise and take me out for a meal on Sunday, too!

Friday, 12 September 2014

Womag Writers' Blogs - An Inspiration

On Wednesday I went for a lovely long bike ride out to Draycote Water. The sun was out and as I rode round, the views from the reservoir were spectacular . By the time I got back home I'd cycled a total of 12 miles and tackled some very steep hills.

The downside of this was that I felt too tired to do any writing in the afternoon. Instead I decided to do a bit of groundwork to get me back into writing fiction for the three main UK women's magazines, Woman's Weekly, Take A Break Fiction Feast and People's Friend.

One of my favourite womag writers is Teresa Ashby. I've been reading her stories for years and her fiction appears in almost every issue of the magazines shown above. Teresa has a great blog called A Likely Story and after reading a few recent posts, I then looked at her links to other well-known womag writers' blogs. The first one I clicked on was Wendy's Writing Now. Wendy Clarke started writing just over two years ago when the primary school where she worked closed down. Since then Wendy has sold over 80 stories to the women's magazines. That's over 80 stories sold in just over 2 years! Wendy certainly puts me to shame (I've been writing since the early 90s, but nowhere near as consistently! The last stories I had published in the womags was last year - two stories in the August 2013 issue of Woman's Weekly Fiction Special). Reading every single blog post Wendy's written since August 2012 was a huge kick up the backside for me. I'm determined to write more, submit more and sell more! Thank you, Wendy.

Despite spending a fair amount of time getting my son's laundry washed and ironed ready for his return to Uni on Monday and buying my daughter new uniform (yes, I know she started back to school two weeks ago!), as well as the usual food shopping, cooking, housework etc, I've got another story ready to submit (the second one this week) and have started a couple of new ones. I've also been avidly reading more womag writers' blogs and lots of issues of the magazines above, including the current ones. Hopefully next week will be even more productive!

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

A Slow Start To The Week!

Monday, 8th September 2014

I felt much more energised than I expected this morning. Usually on a Monday I head back to bed for an hour or so once my youngest has gone to school. I cooked a decent breakfast, hung some washing out and then braved a short run. I used to run at least three times a week and covered about three miles at a time, but since I was ill over December and January, I couldn’t get my mojo back. I tried to run, but every time I felt it was too much of a struggle, which resulted in me feeling demoralised and scared that I wasn’t as healthy and fit as I thought. I stopped running back in early April and in May my husband had the bright idea of buying bikes. I embraced cycling wholeheartedly and have been clocking up a few miles over the summer. This has boosted my fitness levels drastically without the pain. Cycling reminds me of being a child again. I love being outdoors, that sense of freedom, fun and feeling the wind in my hair. Anyway, today’s run went well and I didn’t feel as awful as I thought I would. This has given me much more confidence in my ability and I’m relieved that running is back on the agenda. Running makes me feel young, energised and vibrant in a way that cycling doesn’t. 
I had to do a quick Tesco shop (I seem to be shopping every day lately!), but after lunch I knuckled down to some writing-related activity. I didn’t actually write anything new, but I finally got to grips with a story I’ve been working on and felt confident enough in it to submit it to one of the womags. I found another couple of stories that would be suitable for a competition with a September closing date, but they both need more work (on the endings, as usual!). 
My copy of The Story: Love, Loss and The Lives of Women - 100 Great Short Stories Chosen by Victoria Hislop arrived today. It’s a huge hardback - a gorgeous book that I’ll keep forever. I’ve already started to dip into it and have read three of the stories. Even more pleasing is that I found this copy on amazon Marketplace for just over £5 including postage. Today I’ve read stories by Polly Samson, Anne Enright and Carrie Tiffany.

Tuesday, 9th September 2014
The day didn’t get off to the best of starts with an upset stomach. However, I was determined not to let this ruin my schedule. I had the bed linen out on the line by 10am, then went for a bike ride in the sunshine. By the time I got back it was almost lunchtime. I really wasn’t in the mood for housework, but felt obliged to put the vacuum round upstairs and down, as well as give the bathrooms a quick once-over and clean the kitchen floor and window. Before that, however, I wrote a review for Alex Marwood’s The Killer Next Door, which I’d read on holiday in August and thoroughly enjoyed. In fact, I wrote the review twice, as my computer did something strange before I managed to save the first version! In the end I didn’t finish the housework until 3pm and then my daughter was home from school. Then via Facebook I heard of the death of the wonderful writer, Graham Joyce. I first met him when he was one of the tutors on a workshop I attended in Milton Keynes in the late 1990s. He was incredibly inspiring and helpful. I remember having a wonderful conversation with him. He was also a very handsome guy! I met him again in Leicester at a writerly function of some sort a couple of years later. He was diagnosed with cancer a year or so ago and his Facebook posts during his treatment were humorous, positive and again, inspiring. Do read The Tooth Fairy, one of my favourite novels of his. Dark Sister is also excellent. A good friend of mine who also knew Graham says that his novel, The Facts of Life has had a huge influence on her. He will be sadly missed.

So.... no ‘real’ writing done today, apart from this blog entry and the review. I'm hoping for a more productive day tomorrow!

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

September: The Start of a New Year

September is my favourite month. It could be something to do with the fact that my birthday falls on the Autumn Equinox or that it has always seemed like the start of a new year to me (probably because the academic year begins in September).

Even though the summer holidays fled by this year, I was glad when my daughter went back to school (my son doesn't return to Uni until the 15th). I do enjoy her company, but I relish time spent alone with space to think, read and write. My husband now spends one day a week working from home, so I have even less time on my own.

We returned from our annual week's holiday in the north of England on Saturday. I felt relaxed and refreshed, eager to begin the new year with a new set of goals. It occurred to me that I've spent most of the last two years worrying about other people and situations, forgetting to focus on my own goals and ambitions. 

I began this week by focusing more closely on eating less and more healthily, drinking less alcohol and exercising more. For most of this year these important daily routines had been put on one side while I worried about other things. After only three days of this mindfulness, I’ve dropped a few pounds and feel so much better! 

I haven’t set myself any huge writing goals. Again, little and often is the rule from now on. I started my writing week on Sunday by writing a few reviews of our holiday let and the places we’d visited. Then on Monday I reviewed a couple of the novels I’d read while I was away (The Secrets We Left Behind by Susan Elliot Smith and Public Battles, Private Wars by Laura Wilkinson) on both amazon and Goodreads. Yesterday and today I’ve tinkered with and edited two potential womag stories, researched short story competitions closing in September, re-read womag guidelines and have written up a Write Invite story ready to edit.

The question which continues to rear its ugly head is this: Am I a short story writer as opposed to a novelist? Does it matter if I only ever write short stories for the rest of my life? Your opinions on this would be greatly appreciated. 

Finally, I started on Operation Get The House and Garden Straight. This is an ongoing project (isn’t it always?). I’m not the world’s most house proud person, but I do have certain standards. Neither am I a natural housewife. I’m rubbish at cleaning. Is it something most women are taught by their mothers or should it come naturally? Most of the time there’s too much stuff going on in my head for me to even notice the state of the house. It’s only when I hear the dreaded words, ‘Can so-and-so come round?’ that I start to panic and get out the vacuum cleaner. Anyway, as far as OGTHAGS goes, it’s a case of essential house and garden maintenance as well as just cleaning and decluttering. You wouldn’t believe how difficult it is to get someone in to do these maintenance jobs. The downstairs bathroom needs a complete refit and a guy did come and measure up, but we haven’t heard sight nor sound of him since. Was it really that off-putting?

Anyway, OGTHAGS got off to a small start this week as I began clearing out and cleaning my kitchen cupboards. Okay, so I haven't finished one complete cupboard yet, but I've made a start. Little and often is the rule.

Oh, and look... another writing project finished this week.... 

Friday, 15 August 2014

Summer Holidays

Despite telling myself year after year that I won't allow the school summer holidays to disrupt my writing, they always do. It's particularly unfortunate this year, as I pitched my novel to an agent at The Theakston's Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival at Harrogate and have sent him the first thirty pages of my novel and a synopsis. I really should have this latest draft knocked into shape by now just in case he wants to see the rest of the novel, not that I'm holding my breath.

In between taxiing my nineteen-year-old son around (he's staying with his girlfriend in Brighton this week, thank goodness) and entertaining my twelve-year-old daughter, I have managed to get a lot of reading done. In fact, I always manage to get a lot of reading done no matter how busy I am. And yes, I know, I should make my writing more of a priority. I find it so darn difficult to actually start writing, though. It's far easier to pick up a book. Thankfully, when I do get round to writing, I write quickly and usually get around 700-800 words written in half an hour (thank you, Write Invite for the discipline!).

I've just finished reading The Legacy by Lynda La Plante. I was seduced into buying it after attending Lynda's talk at Harrogate Crime. She is one of the most entertaining speakers I've ever seen there, and her acting credentials came to the fore. She had the audience in stitches for the best part of an hour, which was no mean feat at 9am when most of the audience probably had a hangover. During the question and answer session an audience member asked Lynda which of her many novels she most enjoyed writing. Her answer: The Legacy. I didn't realise until I looked it up on amazon that it was, in fact, her first novel. She said she enjoyed writing it so much, she couldn't end it and went on to write a sequel. I have to say that it does read like a first novel and could do with a darn good edit! It didn't hold my interest from beginning to end and I admit I skim read the boxing scenes (don't ask). However, I was determined to finish it, as Lynda La Plante tweeted me, asking me to tell her what I thought of it. She will now never tweet me again. I can't help but be honest.

I've had a book buying frenzy this summer. I blame amazon for stopping their free delivery for items under £10. Take this week, for example. My daughter wanted a £5 metal hook for her loom band making (yes, yes, she's absorbed in the latest craze and has progressed from making bracelets to making wonderful 3D animals with her loom bands). To make it worthwhile delivery-wise I ordered a couple of books. You see how it is? A few weeks ago I noticed a book I'd been dying to read was on sale on amazon for £1.75. Bargain! Of course, I then had to order two more paperbacks to get the free delivery. Aargh! And don't tell me to read books on my Kindle. It's just not the same! Actually, I do buy books on Kindle, but prefer the real thing!!

I am thrilled to have discovered another wonderful writer: Susan Elliot Wright. I think her book The Things We Never Said has to be my favourite read this year so far. I've just purchased her second novel, The Secrets We Left Behind. If you like Maggie O' Farrell (another of my favourite authors), then you'll love her. Her blog about the writing process is a real inspiration. I aim to set myself a similar series of targets..... once I'm back from my holiday in Saltburn and the kids are back at school/Uni!!