Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Every picture tells a story

One of my stories (written, as usual, under my real name, Sheila Norton) is appearing in the 12th June issue of 'The People's Friend'. (Yes, the magazine that's still my best friend! I REALLY can't imagine why I seem to be best at writing stories for the ... ahem ... more mature ladies, but there it is, can't deny they take more of my stories than anyone else does!). This particular story ('Buttons and Bows') was the result of an interesting experiment for me. My friendly editor at P.F. had asked me if I'd liked to have a go at writing a story to 'fit' a spare illustration. They apparently had several . This was my first attempt, and it was great fun! The picture I was given, happened to be quite an obvious theme: a little girl dressed in what could have been a party dress but I decided was definitely a bridesmaid's dress, and a lady who just had to be her mum, also dressed in a nice satin number - so I made her a bridesmaid/matron of honour, too, and wrote a wedding story, from the child's point of view. It went down well, pleased to say, and was accepted straight away.

The whole exercise reminded me of being at primary school, having my favourite lesson ('composition' as we called it back then) - being given a theme, or maybe a choice of themes - or sometimes just a title - by the teacher and having to write a story around that. It was the one thing I really excelled at, at school, and I decided very early on that I was going to become a writer so that I could sit around all day having that kind of fun! Well ... maybe things didn't turn out quite like that (something called earning a living got in the way), but yes, in the end I did become a writer and yes, the best thing about it is that it's still (most of the time!) great fun!

Being given a theme by someone else is a really good way to kick-start your writing if you're in the doldrums. That's why I've always recommended writing competitions to new and aspiring writers. I won two of the short story competitions in 'Writers' News' magazine myself, back in the 1990s, and apart from the confidence this gave me to keep going, I think I also learnt a lot from the experience. You can't expect to get anywhere in a competition unless you stick strictly to the word count, the given theme or title, and any other instructions - and this is all good practice for following the magazines' fiction guidelines.

I enjoyed the experience of 'writing around a picture' so much that I've recently asked to have another go - and needless to say, just to make sure I don't get too sure of myself, I found this one a little trickier, so the jury's still out on whether it gets accepted. Fingers crossed ...

So if I get stuck for ideas in future, I might just pick a random picture from a newspaper or magazine, without reading the story it accompanies, and make up one of my own to fit it. Give it a try!

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Essex events

Just a quick reminder for anyone living in the Essex area - book now if you'd like to come along to our Essex Writers' Panel next event at Galleywood Library (near Chelmsford). It's from 2.30pm this Saturday (22 May), and will be an afternoon with authors Maureen Lee, Fenella Miller, Jean Fullerton, Fay Cunningham and myself - talking about our writing and answering questions from the audience. There'll also be time at the end for informal chat and the opportunity to buy signed copies of our books.

Anyone who'd like a FREE place at this event, please contact the library on 01245 259042. It's only a small library, space is limited so don't delay!

And if you live in the area but can't make this date, our next event will be at Ingatestone Library on the afternoon of Monday 7 June, again from 2.30pm. The number to call for this occasion is 01277 354284.

Fingers crossed, no fire alarms going off this time ...!

Saturday, 8 May 2010

An alarming experience at the library event!

Our panel of Essex Writers gave another appearance this morning, at Chelmsford library. This was an event arranged specifically for the book groups attached to the library, and once again we were made very welcome by the library staff, and by a lovely audience who asked lots of interesting questions.

With five of us on the panel, it's a very relaxed way to conduct an event. When I give talks on my own, I always spend quite a while preparing my talk, making sure it's appropriate to the type of audience I'm going to address, making notes and then practising it aloud to make sure the timing's right. I enjoy giving these talks, and now I'm used to them I'm fairly relaxed about them - but with our panel, it's a different thing entirely, and it doesn't really need any preparation at all. After each of us introducing ourselves and chatting a bit about what we write, etc, we ask for questions from the audience and there's then a lot of inter-locution amongst the five of us. Fortunately it works well because we're all good friends!

This morning was a little more exciting. Just as I was answering the usual question about 'where I get my ideas from', there was a loud jangling of bells and it was 'Everybody out!' - the fire alarm had gone off. We obediently traipsed out of the fire exit and into the street, where it was cold and raining but several of us managed to get under a bus shelter! We thought at first it was a fire drill (we'd all been carefully instructed before the event kicked off, about fire regulations - but of course, that's all a necessary part of Health & Safety now). But when (after thankfully only about 10-15 minutes) we were allowed back in, we were assured it wasn't a drill - the alarm had actually been activated so the whole building had needed to be checked.

Chelmsford Central Library is a large building in itself, and it's under the same roof as County Hall - the main Essex County Council premises. Everyone from there also had to be evacuated, including a bridal group! The poor bride was shivering outside the hall, her little bridesmaids sitting glumly on the steps waiting to be allowed back inside. How awful if the alarm had gone off just as she and the groom were about to make their vows!

But of course - being writers - by the time we were allowed back into the library, the five of us had started inventing stories around the situation. Those who write romantic fiction were concocting scenarios where the bride's ex boyfriend had turned up and set the alarm off to stop the wedding so that he could run off with her, or where the bride and groom had been turned out of the hall but were determined to marry at all costs so repeated their vows on the steps outside; whereas Fay, the crime writer of the group, was determined to get a murder in somewhere and had ideas of someone being deliberately run over as they left the building ... It would be quite interesting, in fact, if we were all to write our own version of one of these stories and see how differently they turned out!

It was a relief to get back inside and continue answering our audience's questions. We ended up overrunning our time slightly to make up for it - but then again, that might have had more to do with the fact that we were fed, along with the tea and coffee at the end of the morning, with a choice of delicious home-made cakes (thanks again, ladies!).

Our next event will be in two weeks' time - 22 May - at Galleywood Library on the outskirts of Chelmsford. This is my own village library, a much smaller venue, but I'm looking forward to it because it's my 'local' and I think it'll be another nice friendly event. I've made some leaflets to 'canvas' my neighbours about it - I didn't want to deliver them until this weekend, as I didn't want people throwing them away assuming they were election leaflets! - and I've been promised a piece in the Essex Chronicle about our panel too.

All good PR, and a fun way of showing our support to the library service as well as meeting new readers who we hope will go on to buy our books - or at the very least borrow them from the library! All that, and inspiration for fire alarm stores too!