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....