I’m sharing it with 40 other authors who were winners or
long listed in the 2014 Worcester LitFest flash fiction competition, and
finding myself in the company of such a diverse and talented group of writers
only adds to my sense of achievement.
I also performed my first public reading at the launch of
the anthology. To say I was nervous would be an understatement, but it wasn’t
quite as scary as I’d expected because the audience was very friendly and
Another surprise ‘first’ was meeting several people whose
names I recognised from the Internet, including fellow Alfie Dog Fiction author
and blogger Jan Baynham. As we live on opposite sides of the country, I thought we’d
only ever meet online so I was delighted to meet her in person in
I could get used to this literary life!
Fifty Flashes of Fiction is now available as a paperback from
the publishers, and an ebook version will soon be sold through Amazon.
I discovered NaNoWriMo a few days before November 2005. Until then, I hadn’t considered writing a full-length novel because it seemed such a huge undertaking. I estimated it would take several years and, even if I did manage to complete a novel, there was no guarantee that anyone would want to look at it, let alone publish it.
Writing 50,000 words in one month seemed impossible, but a little voice was saying, Why not give it a try? The worst you’ll do is waste 30 days.
Because I’d never done it before, I looked to Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo, for guidance. His one rule is that there are no rules. So, on the first of November, I sat down with a blank mind and stared at a blank computer screen.
Panic! I had to write something. But what?
I needed a character and grabbed a name – Judith – that floated up from who-knows-where. Who was she? I had a look round her house. I asked her about her past. I met her husband, children and best friend. I gave her a job and followed her to see what she did there. And all the time, because it was NaNoWriMo and not ‘proper’ writing, I found I was bashing out the words faster than I’d ever done before.
It wasn’t until I reached about 30,000 words, that I noticed what was wrong. My ‘novel’ had no plot. I knew the characters inside out but they had no story. What were they going to do? I gave Judith a problem to solve and stopped. It was the end of the month and I’d run out of ideas.
I’d failed to reach 50,000 words. I hadn’t produced anything resembling a novel. But I had enjoyed the experience, and it certainly helped me to write faster.
I saved what I’d written, but didn’t look at it again until a year or so later. I could see then that most of it was rubbish, but Judith leapt off the page at me. It was like meeting an old friend again. I remembered everything about her. I revisited her a few more times over the years and gradually re-wrote the first three chapters. I gave her some more problems to cope with and discovered what she was going to do at the end of the story, but there were still big gaps in the plot that I didn’t know how to fill.
In the meantime, I tackled NaNoWriMo several more times, using it to explore other story ideas and new characters. That’s what I would have done this year, if Judith hadn’t kept popping up to tell me it was time to tell her story. But to do that, I needed some rules.
Before NaNoWriMo 2014 started, I wrote a one-page summary of the novel I wanted to write, just mentioning the main plot points to keep me on track. Then, I spent the first two days of NaNoWriMo working out a more detailed plan for each chapter. This went better than I’d dared to hope because writing in NaNoWriMo mode meant I didn’t have time to explore all the possibilities. I wrote the first thing that came into my head and most of those first thoughts made perfect sense – to me at least!
So far, so good, except that now I’m working on the novel itself my writing rate has slowed right down and I’m well behind my word count target. My inner editor is having hissy fits. I have to keep reminding her it’s NaNoWriMo, so it doesn’t matter if I haven’t chosen exactly the right word or have spelt (spelled?) something wrong.
But I am getting better. Yesterday, I noticed a typo, went back to correct it and – left it! Naughty, but so exciting!
Just realised I’ve only got 66 days to complete all my 2014 writing goals. Don’t tell anyone, but I haven’t even started on half of them. I’m also way behind with my reading challenge. (I’m reading The River King by Alice Hoffman at the moment and can’t help lingering over every word.)
But, ever optimistic, I’ve finally decided it’s the right time to do something I wish I’d done many years ago – I’ve signed up for an online course on Illustrating Children’s Books. I’m pretty sure I’ve left it too late to have any chance of becoming a professional illustrator, but it’s a subject that’s always fascinated me and I’m hoping that learning more about the technical side of illustration might be useful for my writing.
My first published stories were for children and I’d love to get back into writing for them. I have some ideas for picturebook stories where a lot of the story is told in pictures so it would be helpful if I could show a publisher some sketches instead of trying to explain it all in words. But even if nothing publishable comes out of it, I’m sure I’ll enjoy doing the course.
Oh, yes, and I’m also going to do NaNoWriMo this year.
Perhaps I’ll prove the old adage, if you want something doing, ask a busy woman!
I heard this time-management idea on the radio the other day and it certainly seems worth a try. Instead of having a long to-do list that only makes you feel guilty because you never cross off all the tasks on it, spend a few minutes each evening making a list of everything you did do that day.
It works. Just look how productive busy I’ve been!
I read the paragraph I’d just typed and noticed a comma
where a comma shouldn’t be. I moved the cursor up to delete it. The comma
wriggled down to the next line.
I peered closer. The ‘comma’ was a tiny
insect. I tried to blow it away. I tried to sweep it off with a sheet of paper.
It didn’t budge. I leaned even closer and saw that it wasn’t on the surface of
the monitor but inside, under the glass.
I’d never encountered these little beasts until we moved
here. Our house faces fields mainly used for growing wheat and barley, which is
where they (correct name is cereal thrips) spend most of their lives. The
locals call them thunderflies because they swarm in the kind of hot, still
weather that triggers thunderstorms.
Fortunately, they don’t bite, sting or spread disease. Their
big nuisance factor is their size, or rather, lack of size. It enables them to
get everywhere. And now one had got into my monitor and I wanted it out.
“It’s got two choices,” said the resident computer expert.
“It either finds its own way out or it’ll die in there.”
Poor little thing!
This was odder still. I hadn’t felt sorry for all the
hundreds, thousands (millions?) of thunderflies I’d brushed out of my hair,
shaken from my clothes, wiped away or sucked up the vacuum cleaner, but seeing
a lone individual wandering around right in front of me awakened my caring
instincts. Was it male or female? Was it trying to escape the strange
environment it found itself in, or was it enjoying its exploration? Was it
hungry? Thirsty? Lonely?
Suddenly, it was a complete character with a name, history
and lists of likes and dislikes. I began making up his first adventure while I
went to get a cup of coffee. When I came back – he was gone.
Now I was even more concerned. I searched along the edges of
the screen. Had he escaped and rejoined his little friends? Had he wriggled
deeper inside? He couldn’t have (gulp) gone to that big barley field in the
sky, could he?
I kept looking but I haven’t seen him again.
So if you find yourself in a cloud of black dots that makes you
feel itchy all over, please pause a moment before waging war on them. One of
them might be my thunderfly. His name is Timmy.
To be honest, I’m not sure I deserve any blogging awards at
the moment as I’ve been so busy with other things that updating my two blogs
has slid right to the end of my to-do list. I have no idea how Anne manages to
put interesting new posts on her Annecdotal blog so
regularly, but I obviously need to follow her example.
To accept the award I now have to disclose 7 things about
myself that you might not already know. Here goes:
1. I never know what to say when I’m asked where I’m from because I’ve lived in so many different places. I was born in Kent, but my parents moved about a lot and then I married a man whose work took him to a new place every few years. Home is wherever I happen to be at the time.
2. My husband and I married just two months after we met. (I knew I was going to marry him on our first date, but it took him 10 days to propose!) We’re still happily together over 40 years later so it must have been the right decision.
3. I don’t have a mobile phone – and don’t want one.
4. I failed my first driving test because I was too polite. I stopped at a zebra crossing and waited patiently for two old ladies to cross the road. But they didn’t want to cross. They had just stopped on the pavement to have a chat. When I realised my mistake I stalled the car, crunched the gears, and generally went to pieces …
5. Sweet peas are allergic to me. They are one of my favourite flowers, and I’ve tried to grow them many times, but the poor little things never survive.
6. This is what’s on the wall above my desk.
7. I still don’t know what I want to be when I’m grown up.
Now comes the most difficult part of the Versatile Blogger Award. I’m
supposed to pass it on to 15other bloggers, but so many of the blogs I follow
have already been nominated for this award or else they have polite ‘no awards,
thank you’ notices on their blogs. So, if you’ve managed to find your way to my
little blog and you think you deserve an award too, please help yourself (here are the rules) and
leave a note in the comments below.
After a lovely ten days away, I came home itching to get back to work. I'd written another chapter of The Novel in longhand and wanted to get it typed up while I could still decipher my handwriting. I also had some notes and ideas that might come in useful later, dozens of photos to download and sort, and I couldn't resist buying a few new books to put on my 'to-read' shelf.
I switched on my computer - and it refused to work properly. I guessed it was sulking because I'd left it alone too long.
After switching it off and on again, and doing whatever else people-who-understand-computers do to fix misbehaving machines, my resident expert decided that the only solution was to send it on holiday to the repair shop. So that means I've got to take some more time off.
Fortunately, I'd backed up all my important stuff before I went away so I should be able to carry on from where I left off easily enough when I get my computer back. In the meantime, I can borrow a laptop for essential work - such as this post - but finding my way round a different system takes a lot more time so I'll be putting most things on hold for a week or so.
Hope to catch up with you all soon!
P.S. Just received one piece of news that I can't wait to share. I've won 1st prize in the Worcestershire Lit Fest & Fringe Flash Fiction competition. (I know, I can't believe it either!)
I once had a very nosy neighbour whose main aim in life was
to find out every little detail about everyone around her. She had no sense of
tact and simply asked whatever she wanted to know, no matter how personal or
intrusive it was.
I wanted to tell her to mind her own business. I wanted to
make her understand that her constant prying was not only annoying but often very offensive.
But, being a polite British person, I just avoided her as much as possible and,
if she managed to waylay me, I feigned deafness and answered her questions with
remarks about the weather.
When I moved house I was so relieved to find new neighbours
who were friendly but liked to keep themselves to themselves.
But my nosy neighbour obviously stayed in my subconscious
because she popped up again some years later – in one of my stories. It was a
new genre for me that I really enjoyed writing, a mystery story that may (or
may not) involve a murder!
What’s better than being shortlisted for a writing competition?
Being shortlisted twice!
I couldn’t decide which of three very short stories to submit to the Worcestershire Lit Fest & Fringe Flash Fiction competition so I entered all three, and two of them have made it to the shortlist.
Unfortunately, I won’t be able to go to the festival because it clashes with a holiday I’m taking to help my little sister celebrate a big birthday. It looks really good though, packed with all sorts of interesting events, so I’m sure it will be very enjoyable for everyone who can get there. Perhaps I’ll make it next year …
In a recent post on her blog, Sally Jenkins asked how other writers respond to questions about their writing. I was a bit surprised, but relieved, to find I’m not the only one who hates talking about his or her work. Admitting that the story you think is your best ever has been rejected for the umpteenth time, or that no, your novel hasn’t been published yet because you’re still working on the second draft, all sounds so boring – especially to non-writers.
For many years, only my closest family knew I was writing, and if they embarrassed me by mentioning it to anyone else I always played it down. I’ve only had a few stories published. It’s just a hobby. I’m sure it’s not the sort of thing you’d be interested in reading, etc. etc.
These days, I do put ‘Writer’ on forms that ask for my occupation, but in social situations where I can’t hide behind a ‘proper’ job I’ll mumble something like, ‘Oh, I do a bit of writing.’ But then I change the subject as quickly as possible!
But when writers are asked about their reading it seems the opposite is true. The Alfie Dog Fiction blog – Alfie Dog Bites – is currently running a series of Writers on Reading and it’s obvious that the featured writers all love talking about other people’s writing.
Perhaps the next time I’m asked what I do, instead of saying I’m a writer I’ll say I’m a reader. That will be so much easier!
The most important quality every writer needs to cultivate is a dogged determination to keep on writing – and then write some more. Easier said than done, but it helps to know you're not the only one struggling with the disappointments and frustrations of rejection.
One of the most encouraging things I’ve read for a long time is this sentence from the acknowledgments page of Henry Mitchell’s novel, The Summer Boy.
Thanks to the almost two hundred agents and editors who passed on my queries, thus compelling me to keep searching until the right publisher found me.
TWO HUNDRED?? Now there’s a lesson in persistence!
* * *
The Internet is awash with advice on how to get your work accepted by agents and publishers, how to self-publish, and how to ensure your book achieves bestseller status. So if you just follow the rules laid down by all these experts success must be guaranteed, right? Wrong! And that was why this sentence by Beverley Birch leapt out at me from her article in Notes From The Slushpile.
The truth is that no one knows how to publish successfully in the 21st century’s multiple currents, cross-currents and swirls – least of all publishers.
And Beverley knows what she’s talking about. Not only is she a published author of over 40 children’s books, but she has also worked as a commissioning editor for a respected publishing house.
Am I dismayed that someone with her experience and insider knowledge doesn’t have a secret formula for publishing success? No, her words felt like a very welcome gust of fresh air. Her only advice for writers is to keep on writing the story you want to tell – and that’s exactly what I’m doing!
* * *
And finally … perhaps the most encouraging sentence of all.
We would like to publish your Rave in the next issue of Mslexia.
Mslexia’s Rants and Raves feature is where readers describe something they love or loathe. It’s only a paragraph, but I almost didn’t submit my Rave because I thought it would be considered too flippant for a serious literary magazine.
Whoo-hoo! This one little acceptance has cancelled out at least a dozen previous rejections!
This is me dipping my toe into the big, scary world of book promotion.
I find it very hard to advertise my own work. And that is why I had a big problem with Alfie Dog Fiction.
I’m very proud that Alfie Dog has published a few of my stories as ebooks, but even a modest plug on this blog for one of my Alfie Dog stories seems uncomfortably like showing off. On the other hand, because it specializes in publishing short stories – something many other publishers ignore – I do think the company deserves to be better known by the reading public.
Then I had an idea …
I spend most Saturday mornings with an amateur art group in the Realitas Community Arts Centre in Market Deeping. At the heart of Realitas is a very popular tearoom and I noticed that a lot of customers there use their iPads, laptops and smartphones while enjoying the delicious refreshments on offer. Some people even read ‘real’ books borrowed from Realitas’s art library! It seemed like the perfect place for introducing people to the wide range of Alfie Dog stories.
After getting permission from Neil, who runs Realitas, and Rosemary J. Kind, the owner of Alfie Dog Fiction, I launched a free prize draw with ebook stories as the prizes. It attracted a lot of attention, and I found myself doing a lot of explaining. For example, several people said they didn’t read ebooks because they didn’t have a Kindle. This gave me the chance to explain how easy it is to download ebooks to other devices such as their home computer. Mentioning that the Alfie Dog list includes stories for children also attracted quite a bit of interest – mostly from older people who were concerned about the amount of time their grandchildren spend playing computer games. They thought it was a great idea to have bedtime stories on tablets and laptops.
Spreading the word about Alfie Dog was surprisingly easy and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Perhaps when I get my novel published, and need to boost sales, the trick will be to pretend I’m promoting it for someone else …?
Do you find it difficult to sell your writing?
P.S. If you’re ever in the Peterborough/ South Lincolnshire area, do make a detour into Market Deeping and pop in to Realitas. The people are friendly, there’s always something new to see, and their homemade cakes are amazing!
When I started writing fiction my biggest worry (apart from never producing anything good enough to be published) was that I might accidentally copy another writer. I’d been an avid reader for years so, when the germ of a story popped into my head, how could I be sure it was my own original idea and not a memory of something I’d once seen in a book or magazine?
I lost count of the number of stories I abandoned after a few pages because they seemed too familiar.
My love story had been written before – by Shakespeare! That clever murder mystery had been solved years earlier by Agatha Christie.
And the autobiography of a horse? It was just an updated version of Black Beauty!
Even after I’d had a few things published I still had nightmares about being sued for plagiarism.
Then I came up with a solution. If I based at least a part of a story on something I had experienced or witnessed in the real world that would surely make it my story. Other people might have written about similar situations, but the unique details in my story would prove I hadn’t copied them.
And that was how The Dancer came to be written.
I remembered sitting in a packed village hall watching a show put on by the local dancing school. The audience was made up of friends and relatives of the performers and every turn was greeted with loud applause.
A group of young ballerinas took to the stage. They wore identical costumes and danced in perfect unison, but one girl was obviously different. She was short and dumpy, with rolls of fat clearly visible beneath the tight dance costume.
Someone behind me whispered, ‘Poor kid! You’d think her mother would do something about her, wouldn’t you?’
Part of me agreed. It wasn’t healthy for a child to be so overweight. But I was also annoyed that the whisperer hadn’t kept her opinion to herself. The thing I’d noticed most about the girl was the expression of pure joy on her face as she danced around the stage. She was clearly loving every moment and neither knew nor cared what she looked like.
But suppose she had heard the remark from the audience? How would she have felt? Would it have changed the course of her life?
That was where my imagination took over from the true story and the result – I was certain – was a completely new story.
The Dancer was accepted by Best magazine. When it was published a few months later I was able to read it with fresh eyes – and what I saw made me groan. Why hadn’t I recognised that I’d written a slightly different version of a very well-known fairytale? There was a moment of panic until I realised that the editor had thought my story original enough for her magazine. And who was I too argue?
And I’m very pleased to say it has now been published again as an ebook by Alfie Dog Fiction. Keeping my fingers crossed that nobody who reads it will want to sue me!
Do you think it is possible to tell a story that has never been told before?
(I wonder where Hans Christian Andersen got his idea from?)
That was almost half the month gone and I hadn’t ticked off any of my February writing goals. I needed to get cracking and … Hold on. The thirteenth of February? That meant it was St. Valentine’s Day the next day and I hadn’t got Him anything.
Oh, well, it didn’t matter. He wouldn’t mind. The last time we were in town we couldn’t help noticing that almost every shop was decorated in pink and red. Everywhere we looked it was ‘Buy this for Valentine’s’ and ‘Buy that for Valentine’s’. We both had a good old moan about how the whole thing was too commercialised, and how all this romance nonsense had nothing to do with real life – or real love.
But I’d always given him a card (usually a jokey one) and he had never forgotten …
“Just going to post this,” I said, waving an envelope at him as I scooted out of the house. As soon as I was out of sight, I stuffed the empty envelope into my pocket and hurried to the village shop. The one, small card rack was still filled with half-price boxes of Christmas cards.
“Don’t suppose you’ve got any Valentine cards?” I asked.
“Only these.” The shop owner pointed to a box on the counter. It contained a dozen cards all with the same design, a rather tired looking bunch of red roses. “The missus and me don’t bother with stuff like that any more,” he confided. “Well, you don’t when you get to our age, do you?”
I put on what I hoped was my enigmatic smile, selected the card that looked the least shopsoiled and paid for it without saying another word.
When I got home, I was surprised to find Him pulling on his coat. “Thought I’d go for a walk. My knee’s stiff again. A bit of exercise usually sorts it out.”
“Don’t go too far,” I said. “Looks like it’s going to rain soon.”
“No, just round the block.”
I watched Him limping up the drive. He was right about the exercise doing him good. As soon as he turned onto the road he was able to break into a jog!
The next morning, there were two red envelopes on the kitchen table. We both pretended to be surprised as we opened them.
“Well, it’s the thought that counts,” I said.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought.”
We put the two cards on the windowsill in the front room to show the world we hadn’t forgotten.
All my fictional stories are inspired by real people;
usually real people I don’t know. Even when a story draws mostly on my own
memories and experiences, the initial idea begins with a glimpse of a stranger
or an overheard snatch of conversation that jogs my creative cells into
thinking Who? What? When? Where? Why?
For example, Tree Hugger began when I saw two little boys
having great fun climbing a tree. And Lifters might never have seen the light
of day if I hadn’t noticed someone behaving rather suspiciously in a shop ….
I’d like to be able to thank all those anonymous people who
have inspired me, but I’ve no way of knowing who they are and will probably
never get to meet them. But I’ve just realised that as well as gratefully receiving
inspiration I might sometimes be able to pass a little on to someone else.
I was pleased to share what I thought was a very ordinary
and uninspiring photo with Alice Algood. Just look what she did with it on her
clever blog, A Word of Substance.
Who inspires you? And do you inspire other people?
I’ve noticed that as I get older some things take a little
longer than they used to. Getting up from a kneeling position, threading a needle or
recalling someone’s name all demand a bit more time and effort these days.
On the other hand, some tasks have become quicker and
easier. For example, now my husband and I no longer need to wear smart clothes for work I’ve
cut my ironing time from hours to minutes!
But one change that took me completely by surprise when I noticed it, is how much my reading speed has slowed down. When I had a lot less time for reading, I
easily managed 2–3 full-length novels per month. But when I looked back at the books
I’d read during 2013 I realised that each one took me 6-8 weeks to finish. Why?
After so many years of practice I should be really good at reading now. It’s
still one of my favourite occupations and something I do every day.
The only explanation I can think of is that I'm forgetting to
change hats (another symptom of the passing years!) If I’m reading an
interesting, well-written book I tend to have my writer’s hat on. As I read,
I’m also analysing why I like this book and what tricks the author is using to
keep me turning the pages. When I come across a particularly good sentence or
paragraph I’ll read it several times in the hope of learning how to improve my
A book I don’t like so much takes even longer to get
through, because I read it with my editor’s hat on. It takes me ages to go
through it with my imaginary pencil; correcting awkward phrases, crossing out
unnecessary words, and putting question marks where something just doesn’t seem
to make sense!
I need to find my reader’s hat again, and to remind myself
to keep it on I’ve accepted the Goodreads 2014 Reading Challenge. I’ve pledged
to read 12 books - one a month – but I’m hoping that if I can speed up I might
manage a few more.
2014 is going to be the year in which I am completely organised.
This was my one and only New Year Resolution. And I thought I was getting off to a brilliant start.
Before I left for my Christmas break I had already:
reviewed all the writing I’d done in 2013
made sure all my records were up to date
backed up everything on my computer
transferred important information into my 2014 diary
After a lovely, relaxing few days with the family I returned home and completed the preparations:
I wrote a new goal list
I wrote a new to do list
I worked out a detailed timetable for the whole of January
I decided on some deadlines later in the year to keep me on track
On New Year’s Eve, I was confidently looking forward to starting my new, efficient writing regime first thing on January 1. And I might have succeeded if I hadn’t been suddenly struck down by some unidentified but persistent bug that left me feeling ill and befuddled for the rest of the week.
So, today’s resolution is to catch up with the 5 wasted days of 2014!
Have you made any resolutions? Are you managing to keep them?
P.S. If your resolution is to make more money from your writing – or other marketable skills – you might want to take a look at this new website www.gigfreeks.com