Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Christmas Wishes

Just a quick message to wish everyone who's been kind enough to follow my ramblings this year, a very happy Christmas and a specially good New Year. To those who write - I wish you all the success you dream of. It's a difficult time for writers, but we must accept that it's a difficult time for just about everyone, and just hope things will improve soon.

I've surprised myself, in the run-up to Christmas this year, by finding the time to start the New Novel, which I hadn't expected to do until New Year; so I've now got a nice buzzy feeling of anticipation about getting back to it after Christmas, instead of that dreaded 'blank screen anxiety'!

But wherever you are with your writing - whether you're plotting something, revising something, mid-story or mid-novel or just trying to come up with some ideas - give yourself a break over Christmas. Most of us surely need to, especially if we're hosting Christmas, cooking for families etc - but I never fail to be amazed (and not sure whether to be impressed or just slightly puzzled!) by those writers who say they can't bear NOT to do their thousand words, or their next chapter, or whatever - even on Christmas Day. OK, so most of us are a bit fanatical about our writing but surely we can 'let go' once in a while! Don't you think so? Apart from anything else, I'm sure my husband and family would object, and think I'd completely lost the plot, if I took myself off to do some writing in the middle of the festivities - and they'd be quite right!

So let's all give ourselves a well-earned break - and enjoy it. Have a lovely time everyone.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Freebies for OAPs? (or maybe not!)

I still haven't quite got used to being an Over-Sixty. In fact I keep referring to my recent birthday as my fiftieth - by mistake of course, I'm sure I'm not fooling anyone! In fact my fiftieth birthday only seems like a couple of years ago, which is a bit scary. However, I'm a positive-thinker by nature, and I'm also aware that I have a lot to be grateful for: I'm still in pretty good health, have a wonderful family and lovely friends, and I've achieved my dream of becoming a published author.

AND I'm determined to enjoy whatever perks come my way for the privilege of reaching the age of maturity! I can't understand those of my contemporaries who feel insulted by being issued with their bus pass, for instance. I'm lucky to live in an area where the bus routes are good, and already I've saved myself a lot by taking the bus into town - especially at this time of year when the car parks are so full, as well as being expensive. OK, so it takes a little longer, and I've had to get used to not buying too much Christmas shopping in one go, or I can't carry it all home! - but after all, I have a more relaxed lifestyle now I'm not working in a day-job so why worry?

When I realised I was also (apparently) entitled to Free Swimming at my local pool, I was very excited. I like to swim a couple of times a week when I can - it's the only form of exercise I enjoy, so I'm keen to keep it up. So I applied (on-line, as suggested) within days of my birthday back in September. Heard nothing for weeks, but I'd been busy with Daughter's Wedding and then went on holiday, so eventually presented myself at the pool again and asked what was happening about my Free Swimming pass.
Receptionist: Oh, if you applied on-line, you won't hear back from us.
Me: But it said, on the website, that I'd get a letter.
Receptionist: Sorry. That might have happened once, but it doesn't any more. You just have to turn up here and collect your pass.
Me: OK. So here I am. Can I collect it?
Receptionist: Give me your name and address and I'll see if your details have got into the computer system yet. (Looks on computer). No, sorry, you're not on the system.
Me: But I applied over a month ago!
Receptionist: Well, I don't know what happened there. OK, I'll enter you on the sytem now.
(Puts my details into the system.) OK: have you got your proof of ID?
Me: Sorry? What proof of ID?
Receptionist: We need two proofs of ID - your driving licence and a utility bill.
Me: That wasn't mentioned on the website either. I don't have them on me.
Receptionist: Sorry. You'll need to bring them next time, then.
Me: OK. I'd better pay for today's swim, then.

Next time, I went along duly armed with proof of ID, and explained what had happened before.
Receptionist: Right. That's all fine. So I'll just get your pass for you. That'll be ten pounds, please.
Me: What? Ten pounds? What for?
Receptionist: The free swimming pass costs ten pounds.
Me: Then it's not free, is it?
Receptionist: Well, no, but you get in free every time you come, once you've paid for it.
Me (sighing): Well, I haven't got ten pounds on me today. So I'd better pay for today's swim again.

Next time, I made sure I'd got ten quid on me. This time I was definitely going to get a free swim!
Me: Here's my ten pounds for my 'free' swim pass.
Receptionist: Thank you. Here's your pass.
Me: And here's my parking ticket. (The cost of an hour's parking at the swimming pool has always been refunded to users of the pool).
Receptionist: Oh, sorry. We don't refund your parking if you're having a Free Swim.
Me: What! Why not?
Receptionist: Well, you're not paying for the swim, so you don't get free parking.
Me: But I've just paid ten quid!
Receptionist: Sorry. And you do know the pool is closing for refurbishment at the end of November, don't you? (This was the middle of November).
Me: Yes, but now I've got my pass, I can carry on using it after Christmas when you reopen, can't I.
Receptionist: Yes, until the end of March.
Me: What! I thought it lasted for ever!
Receptionist: No. It's for a year, from April to March.
Me: So I have to pay another ten quid in April?
Receptionist: I'm afraid so. But as long as you come back in January and swim at least once a week, it'll still be a bargain.

A bargain? I thought it was supposed to be a freebie! I get my swim free (for £10), but I now have to pay to park? How's that a such a bargain?? I'd go by bus (of course!) except that the bus route doesn't go to the swimming pool. Honestly, it's enough to make an OAP swear!

However, continuing to look on the bright side, I did get my pension at 60, and I realise this is something to be very grateful for. I'm one of the very last bunch of women to still be entitled to the State Pension at 60, before it's gradually phased up to 65, the same as men. As several people have pointed out to me, it's totally unfair, in this age of equality, for women to get their pensions earlier than men. Oh yes.

BUT ... I'd like to point out, in defence of all those of us born back in the 1940s and 50s, that in the era we were born into, raised and educated, we were NOT equal to boys or men at all. Things have changed so rapidly in this respect over the last few decades that our daughters have grown up not just expecting to be treated the same as boys, but not even understanding why there should be any question about it. And thank goodness for that. But when I started work, women's salaries were certainly not equal to men's, and lots of career opportunities were still closed to women. We were also expected to leave our jobs when we were having babies - we certainly didn't get maternity pay - and most mothers I knew weren't able to find decent jobs afterwards that they could fit around their young families, unless they were teachers. We mostly made do with part-time work that typically paid us only 'pin-money': a few pounds a week, to help out with the family budget.

I'm not complaining, because I loved bringing up my children, but that was the way things were. When my kids were older I went back to work in the NHS and paid into the NHS pension scheme as well as paying my National Insurance for many years - ending up paying double N.I. because I was self-employed as a writer, as well as working at my day job. My expectation had always been to retire at sixty with a full pension - and maybe it's not fair, but I am very relieved and grateful to do so. And whilst I agree that it's only right to phase the retirement age gradually up to 65, I feel sorry for those of my contemporaries who have just missed out by a few months and will have to wait a little longer for their pensions. I also feel very sorry for younger people - including our own children - who will have to work until they are even older. I just hope that they are compensated for it by having a better lifestyle, better jobs with good salaries, and all the other benefits to life that we didn't have when we were young. The trouble is, in this current economic recession with everyone's jobs being so uncertain, I don't know whether that's true.

So I'm quite happy really about having entered the ranks of the Senior Citizens. I certainly don't feel old, and I certainly hope to keep enjoying life for a long time yet. Whether I have to pay for my swimming or not!

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

My Weekly story research

I promised Julie over at 'Julie's Quest' blog a while back that I'd join her in doing some research into the magazines I have trouble getting published in. Typically of me, I bought the magazines, read a few stories, for pleasure, and didn't get any further ... so I felt quite guilty when I read Julie's excellent post about 'Take a Break' ( - because 'Take a Break' is the magazine I most need to get to grips with, and what have I done? Nothing!! I'm really grateful to Julie and sure I will find her research very useful - I certainly hope so as I have never managed yet to get a story in TAB.

So to make up for it, I sat down last night with My Weekly's 'Bumper Issue' (No 5000) from 28 November, and did some proper research on the stories in that. Sadly, 'My Weekly' has become a closed door for many writers, since they recently decided to stop considering submissions from anyone who hasn't had a story published there before. I can only hope they'll change their minds again in due course; but I haven't found it an easy market to target recently anyway, although I have had stories published there in the past.

The first thing that struck me about the Bumper Issue was that, out of only four short stories and one serial, TWO short stories are 'Exclusives from best-selling authors'. So it does seem as though 'My Weekly' are concentrating their efforts on not just previously published writers, but very successful writers!

The second immediately obvious point is that, although this is only a 28 November issue, ALL the stories have Christmas themes. So the scope for Christmas stories, at least in this mag, is wider than I'd realised.

The two best-selling authors in this issue are Jacqueline Winspear and Rosie Harris, and their stories of course are both great.

Jacqueline Winspear's story, 'The Scent of Love', a one-pager with a full page illustration, is about a blind girl who spends Christmas with her family who find her disabilty difficult to deal with; but the person who understands her best (apart from her faithful guide-dog), is her driver ...
What struck me about this story was that it was written from the point of view of the dog, was told in the first person and the present tense. I like writing in the first person myself, and often in the present tense, but some of the other mags discourage both of these - as they also discourage stories told from an animal's viewpoint! So it was good to see that 'My Weekly' had no such qualms - at least, not where a bestselling author is concerned!

Rosie Harris's story, 'The Christmas Wallflower', a longer 3-page story, is about two sisters, illustrating their differences (one quiet and shy, one outgoing and confident), and how at a Christmas ball, the quiet one ends up getting the man, which was a nice satisfying ending, although not altogether unexpected! This is more traditionally written in third person and past tense.

There are two other short stories in this issue - and as per My Weekly's stated requirements, these fell into specific and labelled categories: the first a 'Twist in the Tale', the second a 'Coffee-Break Tale'.

The 'Twist' story, 'An Absolute Treasure', by Deborah White, is a two-pager and again, I was pleased to see that it has some unusual elements: It's told from a male point of view, and concerns a mixed-race relationship, with a baby given up for adoption before her parents marry.
The daughter then comes into their lives again by chance as an adult. A nice idea, presented really as a love story - and worth noting that 'My Weekly', unlike 'The People's Friend' for instance, isn't afraid of stories involving babies born out of wedlock!

The 'Coffee-Break tale' is 'Clowning Around' by Stella Whitelaw - a one-page quick read, again told from an unusual point of view - that of a child, whose parents are separated and who unwillingly has to play the part of a clown in the school Christmas play - but manages to make her parents smile.

The serial is a 'Christmas Murder Mystery' - called 'The Blue Rinse Brigade' by Douglas McPherson. This 4-page instalment is the first part, and is a good, lively read about some pensioners who decide to act as civilian volunteers to help the police. I've only ever tried writing serials a couple of times - many years ago! - so this isn't really my field but it seems a good market for those who do write them.

To sum up: for those of us still currently eligible to submit to 'My Weekly', I think it's still going to be a hard nut to crack, as they obviously seem to have their pick of well-known writers.
However, I was heartened to see the variety in these stories: particularly the different viewpoints being used, indicating that the editors are more interested in a good story than in sticking to any particular rules about tense, POV, etc - and that they're publishing stories with sensitive themes like the blind girl, and the mixed-race baby given up for adoption.

So all I need to do is come up with some new ideas, presented in an unusual way, make them into cracking good stories, fit them into one of My Weekly's standard categories - and I'll still probably get nowhere, but at least I might be giving myself a chance! Good luck to anyone else targeting My Weekly in 2010 - and let's hope their submission policy gets reversed soon, to give everyone else a fair chance.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Have I got another problem?

OK, don't answer that - I know I've got problems, haven't we all!

But this time it seems my blog is causing grief - Colette over at has just kindly let me know that she can't seem to post comments on this blog recently.

So this is a trial. If anyone would kindly like to try to post something (just 'Yes!' will do!) on this one... I'll guess I'll know the answer if I seem to get ignored, won't I!

Thanks for your help. I suppose I'll have to find a kind (or otherwise) helpful Help person on the Blogger Help, if it's not working - unless anyone more knowledgeable has any ideas! x

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Strictly Writing - and strictly for computer dummies.

Phew - deep breaths ... I'm just calming down from the excitement of coming back on line after yet another frustrating computer problem, to find that my guest blog post has been published on the Strictly Writing blog ( ) - fame at last! Thanks, guys for letting me have my shout on your brilliant blog. Only sorry I was late finding out about it.

Does anyone else feel like crying and throwing their toys out of the pram when they have computer problems or is it just me? I'm the first to admit that I'm technologically challenged, but we have other friends of our generation (pre-computers, almost pre-typewriters really!!), who never seem to endure the sort of frustrations we keep coming up against. It makes me feel like we must be doing something wrong! And being without the internet, even for a few days, is such a horrible experience these days, isn't it - how did we all become so dependent on it! I managed a quick visit to our village library (only open for half days on alternate days) yesterday to have a brief check of my e-mails, but it just isn't enough time to do all the things I need to do. I've now got to catch up on all my favourite blogs and writers' forums etc! Sigh!

And one of the worst things about computer failure is the way some of the experts on the Help lines speak to you. They either babble away in computer-jargon so that you haven't got a clue what they're on about, or else they adopt a really patronising attitude as soon as they realise they're dealing with someone who knows next-to-nothing. This can be even more annoying. OK, I might not understand the workings of a computer but that doesn't make me an idiot! I'm the customer, and I'd like to be spoken to with respect and a little sympathy, to have my problem taken seriously and discussed in layman's language. If a doctor can manage that when dealing with his patients (I'm on home ground here, as I worked for doctors for most of my life), then I'm sure computer technicians can manage it too. After all - for all these very superior-sounding so called Help people know, I could be a brain surgeon or a brilliant linguist or a world-famous scientist - (or even a novelist, ha ha!) - and computers could be the only one thing I'm not clever at! (I wish!).

Having said that - we do sometimes come across really helpful, polite, people on the help lines and we spoke to one recently at PC World, too, who obviously knew his stuff and was prepared to talk to us like we were human beings despite the silly questions we were asking. So if there are any IT technicians reading this - please remember all this when dealing with computer dummies! We do need your help but that doesn't make us thick!

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Feature in Writer's Forum - and a successful talk

Like all of us, I get my share of rejections and disappointments! - so it's specially gratifying when a couple of better things happen in my writing life in fairly close succession, making me feel a bit more successful again!

Hot on the heels of the publication of my story in last week's Woman's Weekly, I've now had my feature on pseudonyms published in 'Writer's Forum' magazine ('Name Games' on p44).

It's the January 2010 issue, which is out this week - weird thinking about January already when I can hardly believe it's December yet!

Several lovely fellow members of the RNA (Romantic Novelists' Association) contributed their thoughts to the article, so I hope everyone will find it interesting and informative! My 'real' photo appears on the page together with the 'young me' one that I used when I was first reinvented as Olivia. Quite amusing to see them both side by side!

I've also got a snippet in the 'Members' News' pages of the new issue of 'Writers' News', revealing my 'Olivia Ryan' identity as Sheila Norton ... I sent this in a few months ago when I first 'came out', but it's taken a while to be published! Still, it includes a bit about the latest book so I'm hoping it might catch a few readers' eyes.

The other thing might not sound particularly glamorous or amazing, but I gave a talk one evening last week to a local Rotary Club. Being an all-male club, and as the books and short stories I write tend to be quite female-oriented (although I must point out here before they contradict me, that I do have male fans and I'm dead chuffed whenever I hear from them!) - I was wondering how to target my talk and whether they'd find it interesting or if they'd all doze off after their dinner! I decided to talk about the realities of life as a writer - good and bad! - including various facts & figures, and quotes from better-known authors. And I'm pleased to say they were very appreciative and - always a good sign - I got asked lots of questions at the end. And sold some books too! So, together with the lovely meal provided for myself and the husband, it made it a successful evening for me.

I've given quite a few talks since having my books published; it's not a natural thing for me, and at first I was very nervous. But I'm a lot more confident now and actually enjoyed last week's one so I'm keen to continue building on that - it's all good PR and I hand out business cards and/or handouts about my books, as well as selling a few books if I can. I never would have thought, years ago, that I could cope confidently with this type of thing (I much prefer writing to talking!), so I'm quite chuffed to have gained a new skill at my advanced age!

And I've just seen that I've got a nice five-star reader review on Amazon for 'Tales From a Honeymoon Hotel' - which has really cheered me up!

Now to concentrate on the magazines I'm failing to 'hit'. Julie over at Julie's Quest ( and I, have made a joint challenge to ourselves to go back to basics by studying the relevant mags again, and trying to work out what sort of stories they're accepting and why ours aren't hitting the mark. I've just bought my first couple of 'research' issues ... so I'll be back soon with my thoughts!