Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Stories - old and new!

My short story 'The Lamp' is being published in Woman's Weekly 8 December issue. I've just received my complementary copy and feel pleased with it - the illustration is lovely and the story reads OK. Do you have favourites amongst your own stories? This was one of my faves from this year - because it was inspired by the trip to Marrakech we went on, last May, with our group of friends. Re-reading it, I remembered other stories I've written, over the years, that were inspired by holidays: some of them, I know, turned out better than others! Sometimes the idea was too weak, and wasn't enough to make much more than a rather dreary 'holiday' story. Other times, there was something different about the holiday - or something different that occurred to me - that made the story a bit more special. Those, of course, were the ones that got published!

Thinking about this, yesterday I got out the file where I keep copies of all my published stories, and started looking through them. During the early 1990s, before I started seriously trying to write a novel, I had stories published quite frequently in 'Woman's Realm'. It was actually the fact that this magazine folded, that spurred me on to write the novel that eventually got published first. 'Woman's Realm' had been my best market, the editor was lovely, they paid me well - so losing it was a terrible blow, and I began to think I'd never have any short stories published again: so I became more determined to try being a novelist. At least I have them to thank for that!

Of all the stories I had published back then, I have a few favourites - stories I was really pleased with at the time, and still feel pleased with now when I re-read them. One was inspired by a holiday in France; another by a trip to the Yorkshire Dales. Travelling definitely seems to do the trick! On the other hand, lots of stories back then were also inspired by my day job: working in a hospital does give you access to lots of stories - some funny, some sad, some romantic!

It occurred to me that some of my best stories from a decade or more ago, could easily be rewritten slightly, brought up to date where necessary, and made into completely new stories to be submitted elsewhere. I've been feeling a bit short of ideas lately, so I got quite excited about this, and chose one straight away that I thought would lend itself to a re-write. With the original story out in front of me, I started tapping away at the computer. New names, new places ... the heroine would now have two young sons instead of a teenage daughter; the hero would be a doctor instead of a lawyer. A new twist occurred to me; the plot took a different course ... and suddenly, I realised something strange was happening. I wasn't just changing the original story as I went along ... I was turning it into a something completely different!

I worked on that story until quite late last night, and I'm still feeling somewhat shell-shocked. I've gone from idly wondering if it was worth changing and resubmitting some old favourites, to feeling quite fired-up at the thought of using LOTS of my old stories to simply provide some much-needed inspiration for new ones! Why hadn't I thought of this before? When the creative spark feels like it's started to flicker and die a little, it needs feeding ... so, if going off on another jaunt abroad is out of the question right now - I'll get back to looking at some more of my old favourites!

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Doing what comes naturally

I've just been reading Samantha's excellent post over at Strictly Writing ( ) giving her Top Writing Tips. It set me to thinking about how often I've been asked, when giving talks to writers' groups etc, for tips and advice. Of course, we all have our favourite tips: I often tell would-be writers, for instance, that the best advice is just to make a start! - as so many people tell me they'll become a writer at some imagined point in the future - when the kids start school, or when they retire, etc - and I really wonder whether they ever will, if they're not motivated enough to get started right now!

But I often also repeat a quote I've seen, by Somerset Maugham, who said: 'There are three rules for writing. Unfortunately, no one can agree what they are."!

I love writers' magazines, books about writing, forums inhabited by writers, etc - and over the years, I've gleaned some wonderful advice from all of them. Just as you're never too old to learn, you're also never too experienced or successful to find out more about the inexhaustible topic of writing for publication. Not that I'm particularly succesful! - but I have been going at it for a long time - and yet I read Jane Wenham Jones' 'Wannabee a Writer' earlier this year, and found loads of helpful advice in it - presented in an easy-to-read and amusing way.

But as Samantha points out in her post, we all need to be able to filter the massive amount of advice we read, to take on board the bits that apply to us (and which work for us), and ignore the rest. Sometimes that's difficult when it seems that all the so-called 'experts' out there are saying stuff that seems to go against what comes naturally to you.

For instance, I don't think anyone would disagree that when you're fitting in your writing around a full-time job, you just have to write whenever you have the time and the energy - but it seems that once you're a full-time writer, almost everyone advises you to work to a routine. I have to keep reminding myself not to feel guilty or to feel like I'm not a 'proper writer' for completely ignoring this advice! It just doesn't suit me - since not having a day job, I like to be flexible and write at whatever time I feel inclined on different days.

I'm giving a talk at a Rotary Club this week and I've no doubt I'll give out some of my so-called pearls of wisdom about becoming a writer! - it's what people usually want to hear. But since reading Samantha's post and mulling all this over, I'll definitely also add the caveat that my tips might have worked for me - don't necessarily expect them to work for you. Writing isn't an exact science, where you can learn the 'rules' like a maths lesson (God forbid!) and expect to get 10 out of 10 or a gold star (showing my age, there!) for getting them all right. So if you like using adverbs, for instance, or you think you might be doing a bit of Telling instead of Showing - but it seems to work, and feels right - don't beat yourself up. Trust yourself to break or bend a rule or two and see what happens!

Sunday, 15 November 2009

A Rainy Living Library Day; but good news on a feature

Well, the 'Living Library' Day yesterday could not possibly have been on a worse day, from the weather point of view, could it! The rain was beating down and the wind was blowing a gale as I drove there - and the library was pretty much deserted all afternoon! I felt sorry for the organisers as it could have been such a nice event.

There were only three of us 'living books' for the afternoon session: the fourth, a dog breeder, had dropped out because his staff were off sick - presumably he needed to be there to breed the dogs! Pity, because it would have been interesting to talk to him. Apparently there were four 'living books' for the morning session too, including a nun and a funeral director! Hmm. Well, the other afternoon people were a man who worked for the Royal British Legion, who was responsible for distributing money from the Poppy Appeal in Essex, and a lady who makes willow sculptures, and also lectures at a local college, running courses in working with willow and other horticultural subjects. The three of us did manage to find plenty to chat about all afternoon, which was just as well! - as we only had two genuine 'readers' (who we shared between all three of us). And one of those hadn't actually come to the library to talk to us - we just saw him looking lost and called him over, and he was too polite to refuse!

Well, I hope they decide to try it again, (perhaps in the summer!) - as I'd certainly agree to take part again and see if we can get it some better publicity next time. I suppose I'm quite used to taking part in events where only a handful of people turn up so it didn't seriously disappoint me!

On a more positive note, I finally had confirmation on Friday from the 'Writers' Forum' editor that he's going to use my feature on writing under a pseudonym in the January issue (due out at the beginning of December). I'm looking forward to seeing that published as I spoke to lots of authors about their experiences, for it, and I'm hoping people will find it interesting. I'll let you all know when it's out.

The new novel is finished and I've started the submission process; and meanwhile I've got a few rejected short stories to 're-work' and send out again. And a talk to prepare for a Rotary Club booking next week. Hopefully there will be more than two people there!

Sunday, 8 November 2009

A Living Book - me???

I've taken part in quite a few library events since I've written my books - mostly giving talks about how I got published and so on. But this coming Saturday, I've been invited to take part in a rather unusual event at one of the libraries near me (Ingatestone Library in Essex). It's a Living Library Day. The idea is that I, and other so-called 'experts' - (which is very amusing in itself as I don't think I'm an expert in anything, except perhaps drinking too much beer and managing not to fall over) - will act as 'living books' on our subject. My subject of course is writing and getting published, not drinking beer unfortunately! We 'books' then get 'borrowed' by readers, who 'read' us by sitting with us, asking us questions about our subject.

I don't know who the other 'living books' are, but the Readers' Guide says 'books may represent prejudices, stereotypes or experiences', which sounds intriguing. And apparently we 'books' are encouraged to chat to each other while we're sitting on the shelf waiting to be borrowed! So it could be interesting. Sounds like it could end up with books arguing amongst themselves!

The rules include the fact that 'living books' may not be taken out of the library - bit of a shame if I happen to get borrowed by any fit young men, or anyone who'd like to take me to the pub to read me! - and also that 'living books' may return themselves to the shelves if they should encounter any rudeness or aggression from readers.

It sounds like it could be fun - hope so, anyway! My only real concern is that I might end up 'on the shelf' for the whole afternoon with nobody borrowing me, which could be a tad humiliating - but then again, no more humiliating than book signings I've done in the past where I've sat on my own the whole time, chewing my pen!

Well, it's all good PR if nothing else. And back when my first Sheila Norton book was published, I made a promise to myself that I wouldn't turn down any opportunities like this if I could help it.
I'll let you know how it goes!

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Coming to The End

Which part of writing a story, or a book, do you enjoy most? Looking at the blank screen in front of you, deciding where to start? Oooh no - that may be exciting but it can also be scary and overwhelming, especially at the start of a novel. The middle - if it's all going well and you're enjoying it and have a bit more idea where it's going? Yes, that can be exhilarating and even quite surprising when ideas come out of nowhere and characters sometimes do things you didn't even plan!

But for me, the lead-up to the end is often the most exciting. Not that I'm particularly good at endings - sometimes, especially with short stories, I change the last couple of sentences lots of times before I'm happy that they're snappy enough. But approaching the final chapter of a 100,000 word novel can be a great adrenalin rush. I've been at that stage this week, and I could hardly bear to be away from the computer - I knew exactly how I wanted to finish the story, and how I wanted to get there, but of course, it couldn't be rushed ... and the very last words of the last chapter had to be just right. Typing them made me want to shout Hooray!!

But then ... oh dear. That very first chapter, that I've been worrying about all the way through but was determined not to go back to until I'd finished the book, now needs some attention - and I've got no excuse for putting it off any more! Not so good.

And then ... the dreaded submission process to 'look forward to'. Enough said!

Ah well. 'The end' isn't actually the end at all, of course!

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Lovely Blog!

I'm very excited and proud to say I've been passed this 'Lovely Blog' award by Teresa Ashby - whose own blog 'A Likely Story' at is one of my favourites, and who is such a successful writer I can't think how she has time to write such a lively and interesting blog! I'm very honoured and surprised that Teresa has chosen mine. Thank you, Teresa!

It's now my turn to pass the award on to someone whose blog I admire. Oh dear. I feel like I used to when my children were little, and they asked me to choose the best one out of their works of art or stories, etc. How to choose, when you love them all? I'm sure this is why I'm now such an indecisive person - all those years of saying 'Well, yours is the nicest drawing, but she's used the best colours, and she's chosen the most unusual subject ...' etc!

I'd like to nominate so many of you - everyone whose blogs I follow - because obviously they're all my favourites. But I'm going to settle for Julie of Julie's Quest, at , because I've been so impressed by the progress she's been making as a writer during the time I've been following her blog, by the sheer amount of work she puts in, and by her lovely attitude. Julie - I'm afraid I can't remember if you've already received one of these! - if you haven't, you should have done! And if you have, then my apologies for doubling up but it's obviously well deserved! The procedure seems to be that you now choose someone else to pass on the award to. Well done Julie and keep up the good work with your Lovely Blog!