Sunday, 31 January 2010

The best that can happen ...

I've got a short story in the next Woman's Weekly Fiction Special (due out on 5 February) - and flicking through my copy, I'm delighted to see that my 'blog friend' Teresa Ashby has got no less than THREE stories in the same issue - fantastic achievement, Teresa, not that it's anything too unusual for you!! - and Geraldine Ryan from Strictly Writing, and Lydia Jones - all bloggers whose blogs I enjoy reading - have got stories in there too. Exciting to be in such good company, and if I've missed anyone else who's in there, give me a shout!

Well, I'll tell you something about this story. The title is 'The Worst that can Happen' and it's a humorous story about a girl who always fears the worst. The idea came from something I always used to say to my daughters when they were children, and were worried about something: 'What's the worst that can happen?'. It was meant to make them realise that even if they'd lost their homework or got into trouble at school, they weren't likely to be expelled or thrown into prison for it! But they'd often reply dramatically: 'The teacher will kill me!' Fortunately of course it was never as bad as that!

Facing up to the worst possible scenario can make us feel braver sometimes ... but it can also have the reverse effect. As a parent, it presents us with horrible possibilities that have to be put out of our minds, otherwise we'd never manage the job. We'd be forever wrapping our kids in cotton wool, scared to let them out of our sight, afraid every childhood fall means a fractured skull and every sniffle is the plague. These fears are part of being a parent, of course, but we can't let ourselves focus too much on them.

And just as you get to the point where your kids are all grown up and you think: hooray, they're adult, they're settled down, married or whatever, they're safe - I can relax ... (not that you ever, entirely, stop worrying about your children - as every mum knows!) ... along come the grandkids, and all the old anxieties return! Is he OK, is he too hot, too cold, sleeping too much or not enough, is he crying because he's hungry or has a pain, or just because he feels miserable? I'm re-living all this now along with my daughter ... but, of course, the pleasure and joy of seeing little Noah growing up far outweigh any of the natural concerns of parenthood/ grandparenthood! I wouldn't change it for the world!

Here's Noah with me at Christmas, and a couple of pics from recent weeks.

Believe it or not he'll be 5 months old next week - where has that time gone? He smiles, laughs, rolls over and is almost sitting up on his own. He loves his bath and has already been taken swimming ... and best of all he loves bouncing on his feet in his new Christmas-present bouncer - so much so, that he now wants to bounce on our legs whenever we hold him on our laps: his poor mum has bruises! He's absolutely gorgeous and a credit to his lovely mum and dad - not that I'm at all biased, obviously!

Having brought up three gorgeous daughters, we never had any regrets about not having a son ... but now we've not only acquired the three nicest sons-in-law we could have asked for, but also a (literally!) bouncing baby boy. And that's why, despite the title of my story, I've called this post 'The Best that can Happen'!

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Enjoyment: the whole point of reading

I've just been reading an excellent post over on Sarah Duncan's blog ( about individual tastes in reading, and why some people think it's shameful to admit to liking 'certain types' of book. It's so true - I know a lot of people look down their noses at anything that could be classified as 'light' fiction - whether it's romantic, or just easy beach-reading stories, or 'chick-lit' ... my books have been referred to in all those ways, and sometimes accompanied by a definite sneer!

Coincidentally, I mentioned this at the talk I gave on Monday. By the way, it was very successful, thank you to those of you who asked, and who wished me luck! I was staggered by the size of the audience ... we worked out that there were over 160 people there - there weren't enough chairs in the hall so about a dozen were standing in the aisles! Don't get too excited, they weren't just there to hear my pearls of wisdom (!) - it was a meeting of a new U3A group and obviously they had other business to attend to at their meeting, but as I was their first 'professional speaker' (as I was introduced ... no pressure there, then!), it was very rewarding for me!

I often bring up this subject in talks: the fact is that most of the very successful authors out there write genre fiction (romance, crime, paranormal, chick-lit etc) rather than 'literary fiction'. And I always point out that 'literary fiction' is a very new concept (and actually I think the term is meaningless!). The New York Times apparently published an article a while back in which it was pointed out that the distinction between highbrow and lowbrow fiction has only recently been invented, and that in fact, Charles Dicken wrote crime novels and Jane Austen wrote chick lit. Nobody sneers at them, do they! And their novels are certainly considered 'worthy'.

I write the type of books I do because they're what come naturally to me - what (I hope) I'm good at. If anybody ever asked me (as I once read that another author was asked) why I don't write something 'better', I'd find it hard not to say that it was an incredibly rude question! - but I'd also have to say that I write the best books I can ... maybe they're not 'good' enough for some people, but presumably those people won't buy them or read them. And my consolation is that, if they're 'good' enough for an editor to have accepted them for publication, then that's good enough for me!

Because a book is easy to read, it doesn't mean it's easy to write. If that were true, we wouldn't have such brilliant books published for children who are only just learning to read. I had a lovely message on my Olivia Ryan website today from a 19 year old girl who has reading and writing difficulties, had never read books before, but had read my 'Tales From' books and enjoyed them so much, she wanted to know if I'd written any more books. Of course, I told her about my Sheila Norton books! - but her message meant so much to me, because surely this is what it's all about: the enjoyment of reading.

And of course, the enjoyment of writing, too. I'm having a good time working on my attempt at a serial ... a steep learning curve, but I think I'm finally getting the hang of it! I'll keep you posted. And next time, I'll also update you all on how my lovely little grandson Noah is progressing!

Happy writing ... and reading! (whatever you enjoy).

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

A double dose of blogging!

What's this ... two blog posts in two days? Surely not!

Well actually it's three posts in two days, because yesterday I took up an invitation from Julie over at Julie's Quest, to contribute to her blog. You can see my 'bit' on :

It was an honour to be asked to contribute, as I've always enjoyed Julie's blog. And I finally got around to it yesterday because I've been stuck at home feeling a bit poorly this week - so (every cloud has a silver lining) - I haven't felt like doing anything other than writing. Which is great in lots of ways: I've finished, and submitted, the first part of my serial (fingers crossed), written another chapter of the new novel (not even at the fingers-crossing stage with that yet), and for once in my life, caught up with all the e-mails, blogs, forums etc that I often get so behind with.

But of course, being laid low with a bug isn't a pleasure so - having got rid of the snow and having got my car back on the road (another story, for another time!) - I'm itching to get back to some sort of normality.

Meanwhile thanks again, Julie, for giving me 'space' on your blog.
PS: The post has just arrived - one of my SAE's ... but NOT a rejection (quite) ... an invitation to re-write a short story for a second time: they still like it but want more changes! OK - back to work ... hope it's worth it!

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Letters to the Editor

I had a letter published in the Daily Mail yesterday. (Yes, I admit it, I'm a Daily Mail reader - I know, I know!!). It wasn't anything earth-shattering: it was just in response to an article in there last week about the re-publication of the 'I-Spy books' so popular with those of us who were children in the 1950s and 60s. The article only told half the story; the original books were issued in conjunction with the old News Chronicle, and were part of the culture of the 'I-Spy Tribe' - the kids who joined were called Redskins and earned feathers for their headbands by completing the books. Simple pleasures, eh! I found an old black & white photo I took of my friends from primary school when we were all members of a Redskin patrol - holding a pow-wow in my back garden - and sent it to the editor with a brief letter about it all. I didn't really expect it to be published, especially as it finally appeared (with the photo) almost a week after the original article, with my reference to it edited out so it seemed a bit 'appropos of nothing'!

I don't write to newspapers very often, but strangely enough, only the day after I'd sent that letter, I was being urged by other writers, on Facebook and internet forums, to write (again to the Daily Mail) in response to a reader whose letter appeared in the 'Debate' section of the letters page. He'd written in defence of self-publishing, which was fair enough - I've nothing against it, and who knows, might well end up doing it myself one day! - but he took the opportunity to have a sour-grapes-type dig at mainstream publishers, declaring that a lot of books published by them are rubbish and used an expression along the lines of 'formula type books like chick-lit'.

My books are often referred to as chick-lit; my editor doesn't agree; I don't know, I don't really care what anyone calls them as long as they enjoy them! And - well, what a stupid comment. If there's a 'formula' for writing them, I wish someone would tell me what it is! We all know that getting a book accepted by a mainstream publisher these days is incredibly difficult, no matter what genre. I decided NOT to retaliate to that reader's letter; it was ill-informed and best ignored ... if we'd all rushed to defend ourselves I think we'd have looked hysterical and 'protesting too much'.

But you know what? I actually started off my writing career at the age of nine-and-a-half, with a letter to the editor of 'Essex Countryside' magazine. It was in response to another reader's letter about a bird he'd seen in the fields, which he couldn't identify. My Dad (who taught me all I knew, back then, but have sadly mostly forgotten since, about nature in general and birds in particular), suggested I looked through his bird book and tried to identify it from this guy's description. Whether my diagnosis was right or not, I decided I'd write up and give him the benefit of my nine-and-a-half-year-old's wisdom. I was overjoyed that the letter was published, and decided there and then that I wanted to be a journalist when I grew up. In fact I did nothing of the sort, but that's another story!

Since then, I've only occasionally felt moved to send a 'reader's letter'. A previous one published in the Mail (several years ago) was in response to someone who'd written that 'mature people' shouldn't wear trainers, have holiday romances or eat microwave meals (amongst other things!). Isn't it amazing how some people think they can decide what other people should do! And a letter to one of our local papers about my hospital's no-smoking policy was given almost a full page and a huge headline ... they obviously didn't have much news that week!).

I know writers who have really got their career off the ground by writing letters to newspapers and magazines. It's a good way to get writing, and publishing, experience - and some magazines pay for readers' letters so it can pay off, in more ways than one. I certainly look for names I recognise in the letters pages of writing magazines, for instance - so it does get your name 'out there', too. But if you get embroiled in serious issues, I think you need to be prepared for retaliation. And with some people, like the writer of the 'mainstream publishing is crap' letter, it's just not worth the aggravation!

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Next Christmas?! - and serial possibilities

OK, so Christmas was over much too quickly for my liking but it surely is over now - isn't it?
The tree's been taken outside, the decorations have been taken down, and we've even found the usual remaining bauble hidden under a chair and the red-nosed-reindeer that I forgot was sitting on the windowsill in my study. We've swept up pine needles for the second time and finished the last piece of Christmas cake. It's over.

So imagine my surprise when I had an e-mail from one of my favourite magazine editors the other day, offering to buy the Christmas story I'd sent her in August! I'd assumed by now that they didn't want it, and I'd planned to submit it elsewhere during the summer. I guess they're keeping it for next Christmas! I know they like to plan ahead, but this is amazing, and makes me think that maybe we need to submit Christmas/winter stories even earlier in the year in future!

So that's two short story sales since Christmas - a lovely start to the new writing year. I've now written about 15,000 words of the first draft of my new novel, (regardless of whether or not it ever sees the light of day), and have also been approached about writing a serial.

Hmm. Hands up if you write serials? I've tried before, but I must admit I gave up ... I found the length very awkward - to say nothing of needing cliff-hangers at the end of each part. I guess I just need more practice. I'm so comfortable writing 2000 word stories, and 100,000 word novels - I 'feel' my way through those lengths of story almost instinctively now. But now I've got the opportunity to try a serial again, I've got the urge to rise to the challenge. It won't be easy, and it'll certainly get in the way of getting on with the novel ... but after all, I'm fortunate to have no real restraints on my time any more. Should I give it a go? Any tips from successful serial writers out there?

Well, the weather is giving me the perfect excuse to stay indoors and write. Warm and snug, with my cat purring away on my lap and a nice hot cuppa on the desk ... I'm SO grateful I don't go out to work any more. Like Christmas, it was good at the time, but it's over now! Good luck with all your writing and may all your snow be melting soon!

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Happy New Year

So: Happy New Year to everyone - yes, I know it's already three days old but I'm very behind with everything and trying not to mind! I've been a Bad Blogger, haven't been keeping up with anyone's blogs - sorry, all my favourite bloggers! - normal service will resume, probably, hopefully, any time now! No excuses - I haven't been any busier than anyone else at this time of year - I've hosted some dinners, been out for some, had some fun, had too much to eat and drink, had lots of lovely presents, had a filthy cold and a couple of anxieties .... and that was Christmas, over again already. Unlike some people, I'm never in a hurry to take down the tree and the decorations and 'get back to normal'. Perhaps that stems from the fact that I don't like starting Christmas shopping and preparations too early, so I'm not fed up with it when it does arrive and I do like it to last the full traditional twelve days. Wednesday will be Twelfth Night and that's when we'll take everything down, hoover up the bits of tinsel, the pine needles and the inevitable mince pie and Christmas cake crumbs that seem to have got into the corners - and (sigh) start Being Good again.

Being Good means different things to different people, doesn't it. I've learnt, over the years, not to make outlandish promises to myself for New Year resolutions - they're just begging to be broken before the end of January. But like most of us, I've totally let go of any personal fitness I had before Christmas (not a lot, believe me!) - and although I won't be going on a diet, I will certainly be cutting back on the wine, beer, chocolates, biscuits, cakes, wine, beer, puddings, pies, sweets, wine, beer, crisps, nuts ... all those nice things .... at least until I feel a bit less bloated and can do my jeans up comfortably again!

Today was the first day I actually sat down at the computer and did some Proper Writing - another chapter of the new novel. But I had a nice surprise a couple of days ago - a phone call from a magazine editor who was apparently working from home on her pile of submissions and called me to accept a story I'd submitted back in July. So that was a good way to round of the Old Year. Now, not being greedy, but I'd really appreciate something equally nice to start off the new one ... otherwise I might have to consider some other means of supplementing the pension, perhaps making and marketing my own soup (as one kind friend suggested on tasting my home-made Parsnip, Leek & Ginger yesterday!). There could be worse ways of making a few bucks I suppose!

As usual I've rambled longer than I intended. This post was supposed to be, purely & simply, to wish everyone 'out there' a happy, healthy and successful 2010. Don't forget to let me know how your year goes!