Thursday, December 31, 2009
All those poor souls who are not writers are having to endure all those back-to-back "review of 2009" programmes (which the television companies did last June - because like writers, they work six months ahead). And those non-writers are also having to sit there and decide what their New Year resolutions for 2010 are going to be.
But we, as writers, did all that six months ago, didn't we? It may be snowing outside in the 'non-writing' world, but here in the writing world, I'm sitting in my shorts and T-shirt in 28 degree heat with a clear blue sky and a Cracker - no, not a festive cracker (that is so six months ago), this Cracker is a cocktail of Cranberry juice, Pink Grapefruit juice, Pineapple juice and Orange juice.
Well, when you're busy pitching summer travel pieces and trying to create summer short stories, it's important that we writers get ourselves in the mood. Gosh, here in the UK, in less that 4 weeks, the kids will be breaking up for their summer holidays - I ought to get that article idea sorted about how to look after 30 children aged 13 to 16 from the local neighbourhood for the entire summer break with just 75p, three wheelie bins and a bag of crack cocaine.
Anyway, working so far ahead has it's benefits. The great British general election is all done and dusted in my writing world. (Katie Price aka Jordan is now Prime Minister, and although the weekend newspapers had a field day immediately after the election showing our new Prime Minister in photographic poses that no other Prime Minister has been (legally) snapped in, at least it does mean that her clothing expenses will be negligible - unlike many of the outgoing MPs.)
However, for all you writers out there approaching the traditional 'six month dip', I know that coming up with new ideas at this time of the year can be difficult, so below are some links to some 'event' calendars, which may spark some article or even short story ideas off for you.
The Lady magazine - Media Pack - planned issue themes for 2010
The Date-A-Base Book - details of all major anniversaries in 2010
Vegetarian Times Editorial Calendar
Parent & Child magazine editorial calendar
We Magazine for Women (USA)
There's quite an eclectic mix here, but the reason for this is to show that magazines around the world and on practically any and every subject, plan their issues well in advance, and some even publicise this fact (for the advertisers). To find out if your favourite magazine produces an editorial calendar do a Google Search for the name of the magazine and include the phrase "editorial+calendar".
So, I'd like to take this opportunity to wish you all a Happy July 1st tomorrow (doesn't time fly when you're having fun?) and a very productive second half of 2010 and first half of 2011.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Dave Cullen also sent me an update and has achieved seeing his 42nd joke published in That's Life 'Rude Joke of the Week' slot. It may only be a payment of £15 per joke, but with 42 jokes published, Dave has now earned £630 from this slot alone - who's the one laughing now?
This is a good time of the year to take a look back over the year and look at your successes, no matter how small they are. Having the courage to print out your work, pop it in an envelope, and then slip it into a postbox is a success if you've never done it before. A letter published in a newspaper or magazine is a success too. With all the reality TV shows talking about 'the journey' that the contestants have been on, look back over this year and consider your own writing journey. As long as you have achieved something that has taken you further along the road of your writing journey, then you have a success to be proud of.
Merry Christmas to everyone!
Friday, December 18, 2009
For those of you who've followed this blog for a while now, it's reminiscent of the Observer's 'Crap Holiday' slot. The 'prize' for this slot though, is a little better than the Observer's first aid kit. Pen the winning entry and you could receive £200 spending money in the currency of your choice.
Your piece can be no longer than 500 words, and entries have to be made by email to email@example.com. To be in with a chance for the weekend's slot, the entry has to be submitted by midnight on the Wednesday before.
As always, read a few to get the style of what they are looking for, and this is easily done on their website. Just visit http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/travel-writing-competition/
Seeing as Christmas is a time when many people are traveling, why not see what you can come up with? Yes, I'm setting you another challenge. Last year, my blog followers managed to fill the Observer's Crap Holiday slot for four weeks out of a period of six, so let's see what we can do with the Telegraph's Just Back slot then.
Sunday, December 13, 2009
To see me and hear my words of wisdom about writing non-fiction books click here.
To see Lorraine Mace talk about writing humour, Stephanie Baudet discussing writing for children, and Alison Chisholm praise poetry, then click here.
Anyone with a nervous disposition, should look away now.
Friday, December 11, 2009
Draft 1 = 132,936 (what I brought with me)
Draft 2 = 129,171
Draft 3 = 118,066
Draft 4 = 103,002
The difference between the first draft and the fourth draft is some 29,934 words, so I think I can claim to have met my target. Now I've examined it in this much detail, I think it's still possible to cut further.
I'm used to cutting a 2,500 word article to 800 words, which many may see as 'drastic' cutting. But with non-fiction, there are ways of doing this easily. It's not necessary to use complete sentences, for example. But that I mean:
- We can break the text with bullet points.
- Produce succinct, detailed lists.
- Provide website addresses for further information.
- Use sub-headings to link two unconnected paragraphs together.
I found some wonderful pieces to delete. Here's an example:
"Don't be stupid, you can't ..." said Felicity, stopping in mid sentence.
Er? What was with the 'stopping in mid sentence' bit? Do I think that the reader can't work out that Felicity's dialogue is not a complete clause and the ellipsis ( ... ) at the end, doesn't give the game away? Anyone remember the catchphrase "Stand back in amazement"? When I read that it was "stand back in embarrassment"!
The end result is a novel I am happier with. Along with some structural chapter changes (Draft 1 was 25 chapters, Draft 4 has 71) I've also cut a couple of minor plot lines. The result is, in my opinion :-), a far pacier novel.
So, publishers and agents in 2010 need to brace themselves. Aldermaston's Anarchy could be coming through a letterbox near them soon!
I have to go now and start packing. As you can see from the picture above, the weather here has been fantastic recently. Yesterday, I literally was, above cloud nine ... well, 2,635 feet anyway. There can't be many times when you learn a new word at 2,635 feet, but yesterday was one of them. The word was 'Fogbow'. I was chatting to another photographer at the summit of a mountain, who'd said that he'd seen a strange sight the day before from the same summit. It was like a rainbow, only pure white. He took a picture of if and emailed it to the Met Office. They'd told him, it was not a 'rain'bow, but a 'fog'bow. It's rare in the UK, purely because the sun has to be low in the sky, and the geology of the surrounding landscape needs to be right (which is rare in the UK). Unlike a rainbow, the water molecules in fog are far smaller, so less sun is refracted, hence the whiteness. To see what one looks like click here.
Excuse me, but that's just given me an idea for an article ... I'm off now. See, that's what I like about the Lake District. Inspiration everywhere. I wonder if I'm doing right by going back?
Hmm, we'll see!
Thursday, December 3, 2009
The two hats I'm referring to are 'editing hats'. When you edit, do you edit as a writer or as reader?
My novel is now shorter than it was when it first arrived in the Lake District, although it is not as short as I need it to be. Going through the text as a writer has improved it immensely. Not only have I corrected the spellings and the grammar and deleted all those pet phrases of mine (well, merely, just), I've also been improving the punctuation, layout and chapter structures. As a consequence, I now have more confidence in my text.
But with only 12,000 words sent packing so far, the next stage of the editing process is about to begin. I'm going to swap to my 'editing as a reader' hat. This is where I'm asking the question (as a reader), "Do I really need to know this?"
I'm currently reviewing the beginning of my novel and asking this question. I think the novel starts well - at an all important point of crisis (the main character discovers that they are being blackmailed), but could the start be even better?
Many of my students will know from their own assignments that I often strike out the first two paragraphs of their articles and say, "Actually, your third paragraph is your real first paragraph." As a tutor, this jumps out at me, because I am reading your text as any reader would. I haven't been involved in the creative process. As writers, we need to learn to do that with our own work.
This is why we're told to put work aside for a couple of days and then we can look at it afresh. Those days provide a barrier between the creative process and the editing process. However, we are still the creator and it is our creation that we are trying to edit, so we need to learn to be critical of ourselves. I'm now going through the beginning of my novel, cutting all that exposition - the explaining of the setting, scene and characters, that isn't actually needed. Ask yourself the question - Do I REALLY need to know this? If you answer 'yes', then ask yourself another question - Do I REALLY need to know this NOW? Might this exposition sit better, later on in your text?
This means that I am cutting some of my 'darlings' - those paragraphs that I am particularly pleased with. Is that sad? Yes, but they were not a waste of time. It was the enjoyment of writing those paragraphs that kept me writing the novel in the first place. Without writing them, I may never have finished writing the novel. So, they had their place in the writing process. And just because I'm deleting them from this piece of writing, it doesn't mean that I can't use them in another piece of writing, does it? Nothing in this writing game is wasted!
So next time you come to edit your work, set out both hats on your desk. Put your 'Writer' hat on first and edit. Then replace it with your 'Reader' hat and edit again. You will find that the text will be better. There's a cliche that says, 'two heads are better than one' and I'm of the opinion that 'two hats are better than one' too!
Talking of 'twos', last Friday the Cumbrian town of Keswick had 'two' too - two celebs for the Christmas Lights Switch On. The first was HRH Prince Charles, seen here meeting the staff in Booths Supermarket, after having met some of the staff from the Emergency Services, Army, County Council and Environment Agency who are involved in the clean up operation following the flooding. Little did I know when I was sitting in their cafe, that Charlie would walk in for a cup of tea and a sticky bun. I didn't shake hands with him - well, with all the hands he shakes in a day, he must be one of the biggest spreaders of Swine Flu in the UK at the moment!
When refreshed he made his way up into town and joined television presenter, Julia Bradbury, to switch on the lights. The message to the outside world was a clear "the Lake District is open." This is when they need the visitors.
So, good luck with your editing. And good luck with your Christmas shopping. Which reminds me ... I must start doing that soon!
Friday, November 20, 2009
This is the road to Hawkshead, my nearest village about a mile away, which is only passable if you have a Land Rover (and then, it comes up over the bonnet!). Technically, I am stranded. All roads are blocked. Cumbria has seen 18 inches (about 45cm) of rain since the beginning of November, of which 16 inches (40cm) have fallen since this Tuesday. Locally, the Met office are calling this a 'one in a thousand years' event.
Where I'm staying is above Esthwaite Water (the lake that has flooded the Hawkshead Road above) however, the volume of rain has flooded the cellar here at the property, which has knocked the heating out. Thankfully, it isn't cold though. I still have electricity too!
And even if I lose that, I have a head torch with batteries that last 140 hours, and because I'm working on the novel, I'm using a red pen to highlight the words I want to delete on the manuscript, so I shall still be able to work!
My thoughts though are with the family of the missing Policeman and all those other people who have been flooded out in Cockermouth, Keswick, Coniston, Ambleside, Windermere, Kendal and Ulverston.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
On Tuesday and Wednesday the Met Office have said that 2.5 inches of rain fell in Cumbria and today they are forecasting another 4 to 8 inches of rain within the next 24 hours! Who knows, by Saturday the Lake District may just have one very large lake - I'll call it Lake Cumbria.
Of course, as far as I'm concerned, this isn't a problem. The family have all gone home now, leaving me on my own to do what I planned to do whilst I was up here - deleting all those words from my novel. I'm stocked up with food, and more importantly, teabags, so I'm set for the next few days. Which is probably just as well because Kendal is no longer accessible by road from the north.
But all this talk of bad weather has got me thinking. Do you mention 'weather' in your writing? Whilst fiction writers should avoid the classic cliche, "It was a dark and stormy night", this does show how weather can set the mood of a scene. It can be a great tool in our "show, don't tell" toolbox.
Reading through the last six of the stories I've written, I've noticed that I've only mentioned the weather once - when a character had to shield their eyes from the sun. This simple action conveys much to the reader. This is not a weak, washed-out sun trying to burn its way through autumnal mist and fog, this is a strong 'glaring' sun, the type that makes you sneeze if you don't take avoiding action. This is the type of sun that appears on days with clear blue skies.
So don't tell your readers that it was raining, show the weather in other ways. Have a character getting drenched by the cheap umbrella which inverted itself in the slightest breeze. That tells the reader that it's raining, is windy, and that the character is too mean to buy a decent umbrella!
Of course, the weather is a useful tool to the non-fiction writer too. Many travel magazines like to see blue sky images accompanying the articles because it inspires readers to go to those places. (They'll have trouble this week in Cumbria, that's for certain!) But it is still possible to write a travel feature using bad weather as the catalyst.
I once spent a week in Wales on holiday, where it rained everyday. (Wales has a lot in common with Cumbria, it seems!) Yet, I still managed to produce a travel article from this. How? I simply wrote about roofs! By the end of the week, I realised that I'd gone to tourist attractions with a roof - well you would if it was raining, wouldn't you? So, I simply created a travel feature entitled, "Roofs of Wales". I produced a tourist drive linking the straw roofs of the Iron Age huts found at Castell Henllys Iron Age settlement, with the striking and ornate roof of St David's Cathedral, and the new 21st Century roof of the glasshouse of the National Botanical Gardens of Wales near Carmarthen. Naturally I had pictures to accompany the piece!
When I moved from Surrey to Shropshire, neighbours said, "ooh, you'll get a lot of weather up there!" Actually, in Shropshire, I get just as much weather as anywhere else in the country, it just happens to be more varied!
So whilst most of the Irish Sea and half of the Atlantic Ocean appears to be hammering at my windows panes, why don't you ask yourselves this ... is there enough weather in your writing?
Before I go, I thought I'd share one more anecdote with you. It isn't one of mine, it's one of Beatrix Potter's, which seems most appropriate seeing as I'm in Beatrix Potter country. (in fact the country house I'm staying in is adjacent to land once owned by Beatrix.) I'm reading a book entitled "The Wrong Kind of Snow" - it's a daily companion of the British Weather, so I read each entry for the relevant day. In light of all the rain we had yesterday (and will get today), I thought yesterday's entry with a quote from Beatrix Potter was quite appropriate.
"After heavy rain the hill sides are slippery, and I saw a neighbour's cow tobogganing as if she had been shot out of a gun - she flew down hill sitting on her tail. If she had not kept all her legs in front of her, she would have broken her neck, but she finished on a flat piece of grass, sitting down like a cat, just before she reached the river."
Beatrix Potter, Lake District, 18th November 1927
Good luck. (And don't forget to put your waterproofs on!)
Thursday, November 12, 2009
Standing at the top of Wetherlam (2,502 feet above sea level) I could see far and wide. I had a complete overview of my surrounding area - the northern Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales, Morecombe Bay and in the very distance, Scotland. Height helps us put things into perspective.
I'm currently re-reading my novel and because I haven't looked at it for about a year, it's like standing at the summit of Wetherlam. Suddenly, I'm rediscovering the journey to the summit and getting a 'feel' for my surroundings. Already I've deleted passages that take readers along the wrong path and hinder them from their journey. Our writing should always push the reader forward (whether it is fiction or non-fiction). If we're giving the reader information they don't need to know, we're merely sending them in the wrong direction, which not only wastes time, but it can be so infuriating it causes the reader to abandon the journey altogether. Not what we want!
So, when you have a few spare moments, have a rummage in your notebooks or on your computer and dig out something you wrote a long time ago. Re-read it. Does it still achieve what you wanted it to when you wrote it originally? If it doesn't, cut out the dead-end paths and make the journey more direct for your reader. You'll find your work will be tighter, easier to read, informative and more authoritative.
Good Luck (with your writing ... and the weather!)
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Seeing as last weekend I was at the Writers Bureau Tutor get together in Manchester, I spent a couple of hours browsing the city centre before catching the train home. The WHSmith's there is huge - far bigger than anything I have in my home county.
All in all, I spent about £35 on magazines, and one of them was this one - The Chap. It's strapline is The Journal for the Modern Gentleman. Hmmm, having looked through it, that seems rather tongue in cheek!
One of the main articles in this latest issue is an interview with Adrian Dannatt, who played 'William' in the 1970's TV series 'Just William' (the version that had Bonnie Langford as Violet Elizabeth Bott). I think that sets the age range of the typical 'Chap' reader.
The website hints more at what the magazine is about. It says:
"The Chap takes a wry look at the modern world through the steamed-up monocle of a more refined age, occasionally getting its sock suspenders into a twist at the unspeakable vulgarity of the twenty-first century.
Since 1999, the Chap has been championing the rights of that increasingly marginalised and discredited species of Englishman - the gentleman. The Chap believes that a society without courteous behaviour and proper headwear is a society on the brink of moral and sartorial collapse, and it seeks to reinstate such outmoded but indispensable gestures as hat doffing, giving up one's seat to a lady and regularly using a trouser press."
Whilst you probably need to be of a certain age to really appreciate this magazine, there were a couple of articles, which may have been freelance written, including:
- A Biography of Edward James - an aristocrat who turned his back on Upper Class England and built a magical Surrealist kingdom in the Mexican Jungle.
- A look back at some of the dress codes of the pupils of Eton school.
- How to buy a proper 'vintage' watch.
- John Ruskin - the dapper dresser that many people don't realise.
- La Grande Distillation - a history of the village that became the epicentre of Cognac.
So, for all you gentlemen out there, who are exasperated at the number of women's magazines on the newsagent's shelves, here's one that may interest you.
For more information, visit the magazine's website at www.thechap.net.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
The Author is the journal for the Society of Authors and is published quarterly. I've been a member of this organisation for several years now and they are worth every penny of the annual subscription.
Some time ago, I proposed an article idea to the editor. There's a group of us in my local area who have had books published, and we've got together on several occasions to do 'joint' book signings. It's a bit different from traditional author book signings and we've had a bit of a laugh doing it too. So I proposed an article explaining how other authors could do the same.
The editor accepted it and it was published a couple of weeks ago in the Autumn 2009 issue. I was rather surprised to see it as the first article in the issue - but it was nice to see it there!
Then when I opened the post this morning, I was surprised but delighted to see a handwritten note from the editor, Andrew Rosenheim. He thanked me for my piece and said that it deserved its 'pole position' in the magazine because of it's "inspiring mix of utility and entertainment."
And then he ended with the best words possible - he hoped that I'll think of submitting work to The Author again!
It's so easy these days to imagine editors as half-human/half-devil, setting impossible deadlines and then cutting or rewriting our precious material. But every now and then we should remember that they are human, just like you and I. They don't set out to be
ogres or monsters to be avoided at all costs. In fact many of them began their writing lives as freelance writers.
So, don't think badly of editors. Always be polite, professional and charming to them. And one day you may be rewarded with a little magic of your own.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
To find out more, follow this link: http://gewgawwritings.blogspot.com/2009/10/inspirational-book-is-finally-here.html
Well done John!
Thursday, October 15, 2009
I only ask the question this week because of the successes of a couple of friends from my writers' circle this week. Both Di Perry and Julie Phillips have had articles accepted by our local county magazine, Shropshire Life. Now Shropshire Life is THE local high society glossy. It's been around since the early 20th Century and anything to do with Shropshire's high society appears in it.
Both Di and Julie had written articles with a strong Shropshire angle, so the market made perfect sense for them to target. But when they emailed me asking what to do, the tone and choice of language showed that they were nervous of approaching the magazine. The problem with creative writers is that we have creative imaginations! Whilst we're sitting in the corner of our rooms wondering whether to send something off to a specific magazine, we picture the gruff, over-bearing, chain-smoking, alcohol swilling editor at a desk over burdened by freelance submitted material screaming out, "Not ANOTHER amateur!" as they read our submission. Of course, having never met the editor or seen inside their office, we have nothing else but our imaginations to rely on.
Yet what we imagine is nowhere near reality! I've said it before and I'll say it again - every word you read has to be written by somebody, so why shouldn't it be you? If you think that your idea might fit the magazine then try. IT'S THE ONLY WAY TO FIND OUT! Don't assume anything.
Both Di and Julie had 'problems' with their submissions. Either their original submission was lost in the post, or the pictures couldn't be emailed through in one batch, or they worried about whether the pictures were of a good enough quality. But they didn't let that stop them. (They may have gone all queasy in the stomach, chewed a few nervous lips and wrung their hands in fear of what they'd started, but they still persisted.) And within 24 hours of each other, each had an email from the editor accepting their work. (Actually Di had another article accepted on the same day by a different magazine, so she had a REALLY good day!)
When starting out in your writing career you need to be realistic. If you've never written anything before and you've never had anything published, the chances of getting your first piece published in VOGUE magazine are quite low. Both Di and Julie have had a couple of articles published elsewhere. Some have been for free, others have been paid for. But they're now at that stage when they have a little portfolio of work proving that they can write and write to a publishable standard.
So why shouldn't they aim high? I'm a firm believer in the maxim, 'nothing ventured, nothing gained.' If you have a magazine that you always dreamed of writing for, then have a go. No magazine says 'only writers who have had X number of pieces published can write for us,' do they?
When we are first published, it's easy to stay in the comfort zone of the market that first accepted our work. But you'll never know which other markets you are capable of writing for, unless you try! So aim high!
Thursday, October 8, 2009
The aim is simple - to spend 30 days, from 1st November until midnight on 30th November, writing a novel. The task is to write at least 50,000 words. You don't need to worry about perfection, you can hone that later. This effort is just designed to get the first 50,000 words done. Let's face it - it's easier to edit something than it is to start filling in a blank page, so the idea is that come December, you'll have made a huge dent into writing the first draft of your novel!
I know many people who have given it a go - and if you tell everyone that you're doing it - and they leave you alone - you'll be surprised at what you can achieve!
And finally, just before I go, another bit of fiction news. I have a story, "Chief Suspect: Mickey Mouse" in the November issue of Fiction Feast magazine, which is out now. It's taken me a while to get a story in this magazine, but I'm holding a copy in my hands and proved that I can do it. Just have to do it again now don't I?
It's something we should all remember with our writing. I'm just putting the finishing touches to a very different writing job at the moment. Is it a magazine article? No. Is it a short story? No. Is it a non-fiction book? No. It's a TOOLKIT. A what? Exactly!
For the past few weeks, I've been working for God. Well, actually, it is the Diocese of Hereford who have employed my services. A friend and ex-colleague of mine is organising a conference to be held in November in Hereford. She's invited over a hundred people from churches all over the UK to the event. Her job is to encourage communities to use churches as community buildings - not just as place of worship on a Sunday morning. Historically, churches always have been used for a wider community use, so her conference is designed to explain to community groups how to go about doing this.
In most cases, this involves making some changes to the church building. It may be as simple as removing pews and installing chairs, so they can be moved out of the way to create a space for the community to use. It could be to install some audio-visual equipment. (Some of you may recall the talk I went to in June about the Television series - Victorian Farm. This talk was complemented with a slideshow of pictures, projected from a computer onto a large screen - and yes, this all took place inside a church.)
But of course, these changes require money, which often involves applying for grants. Then of course, there's the need to go through the Church of England's own planning process to 'adapt' a church building.
The 'toolkit' that I have written for the people going to this conference is a basic step-by-step guide on how to deal with this process. Now, admittedly, I spent six years working in the grant arena - both applying for grants and managing grant programmes, so I have some knowledge of this process. But the reason the Diocese approached me is because I'm good with words.
There are thousands of people out there who work in the grant industry, many of who are capable of producing an impressive document, but they wanted someone who could write this information in a clear and simple way.
Applying for a grant involves lots of terminology. There's baseline data, outcomes, outputs, match-funding, leverage, defrayed expenditure, additionality, in-kind support and so the list goes on. I can see your eyes glazing over now! But big words shouldn't prevent someone from getting involved in an opportunity. So my job was to produce a 'toolkit' that ordinary people can understand.
Now, personally, I hate the word 'toolkit'. I would much prefer to have called it a 'guide'. But my customer wanted it called a 'toolkit' so a 'toolkit' it has been called. Because of this, I've given it a D.I.Y. theme. There can't be that many Church of England documents containing the phrases Channel 4's Challenge Anneka, Nick Knowles DIY SOS, Strippers (paint), and colour charts!
It's been written using language that people will understand. I've kept it simple. As writers our aim is to communicate with other people, so if you use words that are easy to understand, then more people will understand you.
One of the books I've written is called "Fundraising for a Community Project" and it tells ordinary people how to go about applying for grant money. I wrote it because I know from experience that this world is full of jargon, and when I used to do the job, I spent most of my time explaining that jargon.
I'm chuffed with the feedback that I've received from readers of this book. In fact, the latest review on Amazon says:
"This book is brilliant. It is most readable, gives examples, where and how to approach funders."
I particularly like the phrase 'it is most readable'. Wow. A book on the stuffy subject of applying for grants is 'most readable'. I feel good when I see phrases like that. It means I did a good job as a writer in keeping it simple.
So keep your writing as clear and simple as you can and your readers will be pleased. And editors love writers who please readers.
Thursday, October 1, 2009
It's also a Super Thursday for other reasons though. One of my students, Helen Baggott, has a letter published in the November issue of Writers' Forum magazine, (out today), so she wins herself a Moleskine notebook. (Savour the moment as you unwrap it from its cellophane Helen.)
Her letter provides a tip to other writers about developing writing opportunities. I won't pass the tip on - go and buy a copy of the magazine - but it also demonstrates that the letters page of a magazine is a useful place way of passing on hints and tips. Editors like the letters page to have 'club-like' feel to it where friends can meet and share news, comment and gossip, so hints fall into this category nicely. So if you have a tip you share with friends, why not share it with the readers of a magazine too?
I happen to have the Star Letter in the November issue of MacWorld magazine (a magazine for Apple computers). My prize is a desktop publishing layout programme - a professional tool, with a professional price. There's no way I could have afforded the price - not at over £900!
And if you happen to buy the November issue of Writers' Forum, then look out for Cass and Janie Jackson's regular column on page 45. I'd like to thank them here for the nice words they said about me!
The November issue of Writers' News magazine is just out, and inside are details of the latest achievements of Penny Legg, a friend who was one of my students. I've blogged before about her book successes, but this raises another point to remember if you can... tell the world about your successes! Being writers shut up in our garrets, we don't often get a chance to blow our own trumpets. So if you've had a success then tell someone. You deserve it! It proves that you are a writer! And people will learn to respect you more as a writer too.
To shout about your successes in Writers' News magazine you need to be a subscriber (well worth the subscription - you get Writing Magazine included in the subscription cost). But even if you're not a subscriber you could still write a letter to a writing magazine (and get another success out of it, if that's published!)
A quick glance though the magazines also shows that Fiona from my writers' circle has got a letter in Writer's News and (update to this post) another member, Julie has a letter in Writing Magazine this month too.
(Update number 2 - and I was just about to close Writing Magazine up when I spotted a letter from another of my ex-students, Rob Innis. Well done everybody!)
So I think you'll agree - Super Thursday doesn't have to just be about books!
Thursday, September 24, 2009
If ever you get an opportunity to go and review a place, then go. Having experienced this, I can now say for certain, that I know where I am meant to be in life! Within minutes of arriving in my car (I had to leave the helicopter behind) a member of staff was there to carry my bags and check me in. I met the Activities Manager and we had a most pleasant afternoon tea, whilst we chatted about what was going to happen during my stay. I had a few minutes to settle into my room, before being led on an idyllic walk along the banks of the River Wye. In fact the weather was so good, we were out walking for over two and half hours! When I returned, it felt fitting to test out the bathroom facilities.
Owned by the Laura Ashley family, each room is individually decorated and very comfortable. My room had a very comfortable double bed, with armchairs, LCD television, Victorian double wardrobes along with writing desk and hotel paper and envelopes.
The bathroom had a triple aspect, which meant that I had a choice of three views whilst soaking in the bath, and the view overlooking the Black Mountains was probably the best.
Of course, I had to get dressed once again for dinner, which was a most unusual experience, if only from the fact that I was the only one at dinner that evening. There were a handful of guests in the hotel that night, who decided on eating in their rooms. This did of course mean that I had all the attention from the waiting staff.
I began with a selection of canapes and found I enjoyed the Crayfish, Quail's Egg and Caviar the most. This was followed by my starter of Salmon. Once I had - delicately - devoured this, the waiter brought me a Mandarin Sorbet before my main course, which was a Duo of Welsh Lamb. This was very tasty!
Whilst allowing myself to digest the evening's first three courses, the waiter told me about some of the guests that he'd had the pleasure of serving here. Being only a few miles down the road from Hay on Wye, many of the literature festival's speakers have stayed here, including Salman Rushdie, Sting and his wife, and Cerys Matthews. For dessert, I finished with a Lemon Tart, before retreating to the lounge with some tea and after dinner chocolates, whilst the pianist played a little light music in the background.
Yesterday was the main event - a walk up Pen y Fan, the highest mountain in south Wales at 2,907 feet. Unfortunately it's high altitude meant that we (a selection of walkers from the local walking club, a press photographer, the hotel manager, activities manager and the Head Ranger from the Brecon Beacons National Park) spent all day in thick cloud. Thick cloud gets very wet, particularly when you're walking in it for over three and a half hours, and I must say it's been a long time since I've been soaked through to the skin like I was, on a walk. Still, it didn't matter did it - not when I had that bathroom to look forward to! One of the best things about getting drenched on a walk is the long, hot, steaming, bubble bath you have when you get back! Whilst we didn't see the views from the top of Pen y Fan, it was actually, a really enjoyable day's walk.
Afternoon tea was served upon our return - well we'd climbed nearly 3,000 feet and walked over 7 miles - we deserved it. Hot scones, hot Welsh tea cakes, homemade biscuits and cakes were the order of the day.
For those of you who are now salivating, last night's meal comprised:
- another selection of canapes,
- Seared King Scallops on a bed of Cauliflower sauce,
- Melon sorbet,
- Welsh Black Beef with Bubble and Squeak
- Chocolate fondant and vanilla ice cream
- Tea and after dinner mints
But it's helped me to set a few more goals for myself. When I get asked to attend the Hay on Wye Literary festival as a guest speaker - I now know where I want the organisers to find a bed for the night for me!
In all seriousness though, from a writing point of view it's been quite a challenge. I have pages and pages and pages of notes taken during the event to draw upon, and unfortunately the bad weather climbing Pen y Fan meant I couldn't get any photos, which is a serious drawback. If I'm writing about a walking activity break, pictures of walkers climbing a mountain underneath blue skies and sunshine would have been brilliant, and under a grey sky would still have been acceptable. No pictures though is a problem.
But life is worth these little extra challenges, if it throws a few of these associated experiences with it. So if ever you get an opportunity to be part of a press pack, then give it a go. It may feel very daunting at times, but it'll be an amazing experience.
Now if you'll excuse, there's something I have to do. I'd like a cup of tea and I keep clicking my fingers, but no one seems to come running. I suppose I'll have to do it myself. Ooh it makes me shudder at the mere thought - having to turn a tap on oneself. I really must get some staff in.
Friday, September 18, 2009
To read the article click here.
Thursday, September 17, 2009
The problem with the Internet is that theft (because that's what it is) is all to easy. People simply believe that what is on the Internet is free for anyone to use - it is not. But they simply 'cut and paste' and help themselves.
Sadly, Rob's experience is quite common. It hasn't happened to me ... yet ... or at least I'm not aware that it has, but I am aware that it has happened to others.
When Rob approached the website in question and pointed out that it was his text that had been used without his authority, the website removed the content and apologised. As I said earlier, many Internet users simply don't appreciate that text on the Internet cannot be taken and used freely as they may think, and when this is pointed out to them, in the vast majority of cases the text is removed.
If you find that this happens to you, consider taking the following steps:
1. Contact the website (there should be a 'contact us' link on the website somewhere) and point out that you think your text has been used. Be prepared to quote a date when your text first appeared. Rob's article first appeared in a print magazine, and obviously this could be verified from the issue date of the magazine. Because his article appeared in print first before the text appeared on the website, then Rob had to have been the originator and creator of the text.)
2. Explain that the text has been used without authority. Offer the website the opportunity to correct this. You may be happy to sell them the Electronic Rights so that they can use your material online. If you haven't already sold the Electronic Rights then they are still yours to sell. Name your price.
3. If they are not able to pay you for the rights, then simply ask them to remove the text from their website with immediate effect. If they're not prepared to buy the Electronic Rights, then you have the right to offer them elsewhere. they will not be bought though, if the text appears online already. If the site decides to buy the rights, ask them to attribute the text to you - ask for a byline - for the word "By [Your Name]" to appear by the text.
4. Visit the website to check that the action they've decided upon has been carried out.
What can you do to prevent this from happening? Sadly, not a lot. It merely isn't practical to view every single one of the billions of pages found on a website (a figure which grows every day).
You can use Google Alerts to help you a bit. This free facility allows you to type in a phrase, which Google then stores. Every time it comes across a web page using that phrase it will send you an email with the link to that page. Many writers use this facility to search for their name and the titles of their books because it points out websites that may be using the text from their books. Of course, the less common your name the better. Set up a Google Alert for John Smith and you'll be inundated with tens of thousands of unsuitable page links.
Stay vigilant, and remember, you wouldn't want someone stealing your text, so don't fall into the trap of stealing text from someone else. If you want to quote then tell readers who the source of the quote is. If you want to quote a lot then ask permission. Unfortunately the law in the UK says that people can quote a reasonable amount of text, but there is no definition of 'reasonable'. A 40 word quote may be fine from a 100,000 word novel but is it fine from a 50 word poem? If in doubt, ask for permission. It is the safest way.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
Published by Innoword (ISBN: 978-0-9840928-0-2) it is a collection of short stories, essays and verse aiming to seize the resulting momentum of the expatriate's experience. Here, the writers and artists who have succumbed to the allure of Spain illustrate why there is no place in the world they would rather call home.
Another reason why Rob is so chuffed with this (I suspect) is because the course he studied dealt with just non-fiction! He didn't study fiction. But that's what I like about the world of writing. You may be interested in one specific genre, but suddenly a competition or a writing opportunity will pass before your eyes and for some reason, it just sparks an idea. So you give it a go.
My specialism is non-fiction, but I occasionally dabble with fiction. Regular readers will know that a few weeks ago one of my short stories was placed in the top five of a competition. And at the end of August, an editor contacted me to say that she was going to use one of my short stories in Fiction Feast magazine.
I'm currently drawing to the end of writing a correspondence course, and when I've finished that I shall start working on a project I've been commissioned to do for the Hereford Diocese. So as I say, sometimes an interesting writing opportunity will put itself before your eyes. And when it does, banish that first initial thought that says, "Nah, I don't do XXX." Stop and think for a moment. Consider saying to yourself, "Yeah, why don't I give it a go?" Because you never know where it could lead!
Well done Rob!
Thursday, September 3, 2009
Best of British is the country's leading nostalgia and heritage monthly magazine. The publication offers an enjoyable journey down memory lane for a readership that tends to be over 50. (So there will be some readers who are younger, but the majority of readers will be older.)
The 1930s, 19401s, 1950s and 1960s are the most popular periods of interest to the readership. Articles about British people, places, industries, crafts and pastimes of today also fit into the editorial mix.
The magazine welcomes original and previously unpublished articles and pictures for consideration. Articles should be the writer's original work. Although they make every effort to check, copyright issues regarding plagiarised work remains with the writer! (You have been warned!)
The magazine prefers articles to be submitted by post as a paper copy. If possible, include a copy of the article on a CD Rom in Microsoft Word format. The magazine is unable to open Microsoft WORKS format (the filename ends in .wps) Emailed articles are accepted by prior arrangement only. (Usually if you become a regular contributor).
No article should be longer than 1500 words, but preferably 1,000. (So there's no excuse for getting that bit wrong now!)
When submitting your work, include your full name, address, and email address if you have one.
Always enclose a SAE for the return of your work. Submissions without a SAE will be destroyed after 18 months if your work has not been used within that time.
Images should be saved as separate files on a CD Rom, not placed within your text. Articles that are accompanied by pictures stand a greater chance of publication. (How many times have I told you that?) The magazine accepts original photos, prints, digital images (in jpeg format) and colour transparencies. Photographs that capture the period setting of the time (people, street scenes, old shops, etc) are particularly welcome (because they are so difficult for the editor to find.) The magazine cannot use photocopied pictures, however, they can be submitted as an indication of what pictures are available.
You must state if you do not own the copyright in the pictures.
You should ensure that each item in your envelope is clearly labelled with your name and address. Although every care is taken, the magazine cannot be held responsible for items that are not clearly labelled, nor can they accept responsibility for the loss or damage to manuscripts, photographs or illustrations.
Decisions & turnaround
The magazine aims to to respond to submissions as soon as possible, although with 200 submissions a month, this can take time. Acceptance of an article does not guarantee publication. Articles are not used in strict date order, but may be held for some time before it is used. If an article will be used a letter of confirmation will be sent to the writer. Payment will then be made at their normal rates, the month AFTER publication.
As I always say, the best advice is always to look at a couple of copies of the magazine first, to ensure that your idea fits the style and readership of the magazine.
Let me know how you get on with this market!
PS - Severn Trent have just advised me that they won't be cutting the water off today, or tomorrow as planned. Instead, they're going to do it next Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Another whole week of pneumatic drills, JCB trucks and generators all orchestrating their own noisy symphony for 10 hours a day.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Well, he's just email again to say that he's now expecting another £100 for a photo that will be published and two more £15 cheques for jokes sent to That's Life magazine.
So there you have it - proof that these small amounts really can produce a nice regular income!
Well done Dave ... again!
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
So I thought I'd just let everyone know that following my last posting - about the pleasure of being a freelance writer - here's the pain.
Severn Trent have finally succumbed to local demands to replace the water main at the bottom of the hill. It regularly bursts every few months leaving us without water for most of the day. Still, following a petition and lots of letters (people power does work by the way), Severn Trent agreed that they would replace the faulty water main at the bottom of the road. Hooray!
They are, of course, having the last laugh. They have also decided to replace all the water pipes ABOVE this main water main too. This includes the pipe that runs up my road as well.
So, here I am, sitting at my desk, trying to write a module on the Finance course I am working on at the moment about Break-Even Analysis (don't ask) and Severn Trent are currently using several diggers, pneumatic drills and other noise inducing equipment to dig up all the roads around here. It's compounded by the fact that it is actually sunny here at the moment too - something we've not seen much here in the western half of the UK since June, so I just have to have my window open.
It will be a painful week. Especially as we've been told that we'll be without water on Thursday and Friday. (It's okay, I had my bath three months ago, so I'm not due for another in the immediate future.)
Of course, the irony is not lost on any of us who live up my road. Have you seen the weather forecast for Thursday and Friday?
However, I have a deadline, so I will work. The writer who strives for the perfect ambiance in which to write will spend all their time getting the ambiance right, rather than writing. Severn Trent will make this week painful, but they won't stop me from writing. (Unless they go through the power cable, which they have been known to do once or twice before).
So if you find writing painful, push past the pain barrier. Because the pleasure comes when it is finished and published.
Wish me luck.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Take last night as an example. I was just about to switch off my computer when the editor of Country & Border Life (who I do the monthly walking features for) emailed.
The luxury hotel, Llangoed Hall, nestling on the banks of the River Wye in Wales is establishing a series of activity breaks, one of which is walking. The magazine has been offered a free place on one of these walking breaks, so the editor was asking if I'd be interested in going. Hmmm, now let me think about this....
Let's look at the facts:
1 - Each room is individually decorated with antique furniture, fabrics from Elanbach, Sir Bernard's textile printing company based in the grounds, and work by artists such as Whistler, Sickert and Augustus John.
2 - Guest designers such as Tom Parr, have also added their own individual style to the bedrooms. Similarly, seventeenth century antique mirrors, Roberts radios and cast iron baths are just some of the features that make each room both welcoming and luxurious.
3 - Winner of no less than three rosettes, Head Chef, Sean Ballington, is a firm believer in fresh, local produce. From Welsh lamb and local Salmon to Black Beef, his signature dishes are often described as classic with a twist.
4 - Most guests tend to relax at Llangoed Hall. Reading the papers by the fire, playing snooker in the library or, weather permitting, enjoying a glass of wine on the terrace.
However, for those who want to explore more than our wine list, we can offer everything from fishing, rock climbing and clay pigeon shooting to 4x4 driving, orienteering and white water rafting. Team building events can easily be arranged with qualified experts. All we ask is that you make any requests in advance.
Of course, my biggest challenge will be the best way to arrive at the venue.
Based in the heart of Wales and resting on the site of the former Welsh Parliament, Llangoed Hall commands spectacular, uninterrupted views of the Black Mountains.
Surrounded by meadowland and woods, it is an idyll of peace and quiet, with only your fellow guests and the local sheep for company. Just one hour from Newport by car or 45 minutes from London by helicopter, any form of transport can be arranged on request, from taxis and limousines to helicopter or private jet.
I just hope the weather works out because there's over 10 miles of walking to do across the Brecon Beacons whilst I'm there (hence the need for a full Welsh Breakfast every morning!)
So, which you think sounds better? Working from 9 till 5 for a local council, or this freelance writing lark?
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
I was recently contacted by one of my students, Dave Cullen, who has been very busy and is benefiting from his success. And much of this success has been with the shorter letters and fillers, in addition to some articles too.
Take "That's Life" magazine. Near the back they have a section called 'Rude Joke of the Week' - where they use three of four of these. Now it's not a lot of money, but they do pay £15 if they publish a joke that you've sent in. Dave has had 28 jokes published so far, and for those of you who can't do the maths, 28 x £15 = £420! Now when I used to work in an office, rude jokes were always doing the rounds on the email system. Next time your get one in your inbox, instead of forwarding it round to your office colleagues, why not forward it to That's Life?
His letters have earned him almost £100 and sending funny pictures to the right slots in the magazines has also netted him £150. Add this lot together and you can see, we're talking serious money now.
Being a writer, doesn't necessarily involve sitting down and writing the great novel - merely sitting down and doing some writing. If you only have 10 minutes to spare, writing a letter or a short filler is more than feasible and the rewards are proportionately bigger than for much larger projects.
So if you find yourself with a spare ten minutes, which isn't long enough to start the next short story, or article, don't give up on your writing - produce a letter or joke instead. It's still publication!
As for the title of this posting ... well, That's Life also has a section called "Aren't Men Daft?" where women write in about stupid things their husbands or boyfriends have done. Dave happened to admit to me that he's sent in a few examples of silly things he's done. He's had to do it from his wife's email address, but they've used three of his submissions so far - and they pay between £25 and £50 depending upon where on the page they use the piece. So is Dave daft to do this? I wouldn't call 'being published' daft at all. In fact it's the people who waste that spare ten minutes they have, instead of writing, who I think are daft.
Nice one Dave!
Friday, August 21, 2009
Now I haven't cracked this one yet, but I'm going to, and I wondered if some of you might like to have a go too. Are you brave enough?
The "Confessions of a Tourist" slot appears in the Sunday Times Travel supplement at the weekend, although copies can be found online. They range from between 500 and 650 words in length and are, as the name says on the tin, a confession of a time when you were a tourist. It's a sexual confession though.
If you read through some of the examples online, you'll see that the format tends to fall into three camps:
- the tourist looking for 'an experience' and failing miserably,
- the tourist not looking for 'an experience' and getting the partner of their dreams,
- or the tourist enjoying the 'experience' and then being embarrassed/caught out.
Here's some links to some existing confessions to get you in the mood!
Michelle got my Motor Running
Only As Old As The Holiday Fling We Touch
He Lived With His Mum, But He Made My Day
My personal Adonis
Shake, Rattle and Roll Over
If that's stirred you into life, then try emailing your submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org and mark them for the attention of Stephen Boyd.
This is one piece of writing where you may want to use a pseudonym!
Good luck - and do share your success with us :-)
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Who am I? I'm known as S.C.S - no, not the furniture store, but "Simon's Caerleon Stalker". I first met him three years ago, but really began following him closely two years ago, much to the amusement of many.
Yet it's not until you stalk someone that you really find their true character. I mean, he always says that he's more of a non-fiction writer, but then, yesterday he got an email from the Vanda Inman Write Space website saying that his short story entry for their 'Families' competition made the top five out of 142 entries! He's been told that his entry should fit one of the fiction slots in the women's magazines, so he's already sent it off. That's why he's gone for a walk - he's posting his submission.
And he's had some feedback from a critiquing service about the novel he's written. Apparently it needs some editing, but then he already knew that. What he wanted to know was whether it was worth him spending the time doing so. Whilst the novel he's written isn't in a genre that booksellers are falling over themselves to publish at the moment, he's been told that it's a good story, with great dialogue and a good pace. He can write a novel it seems.
So what is the genre? Well it's good old fashioned humour, a great British Farce if you like. Having worked in local government, you can understand where he gets his ideas from. Simon enjoys a laugh, although I have noticed the smile falls from his face when I walk into the room.
Does the fact that the publishers are not buying farce-like novels at the moment worry Simon? Of course not. He's always up for a challenge. In fact I overheard him the other day telling someone that "if it's not a challenge in life, then it isn't worth achieving is it?"
So have your specialist subject areas, but don't forget to experiment with your writing too. We all have to take risks in our lives - heck, if Simon finds me tapping away on his computer my life won't be worth living - but we take these risks because the rewards are bigger, aren't they? Risks help us to follow our dreams. As for my dreams, well, I don't want to make you blush but what I've always fancied doing to Simon is .... uh oh... better dash. I can hear Simon walking back up the drive! I'm off out through the window now.
Don't tell him I wrote this will you? But remember what I said. Follow your dream. In fact, why don't you stalk it? Someone who stalks isn't always a psychopath, although my court case comes up next week!
Love and Kisses to you all (especially Simon)
Saturday, August 1, 2009
So, my last posting was a picture of a woman, with the question "Do You Know This Woman and Why Is She Looking At My Blog?"
Well, the woman in question is Anita Loughrey and she was running an After Tea session at Caerleon this year about how to use Facebook, My Space and how to blog. This took place in the Book Room, because it has a large screen which drops down from the ceiling, onto which a computer screen image is projected. Imagine something about 12 feet wide by about 9 foot tall and you get the picture!
Now Anita made the mistake of happening to mention to me that she might visit my blog during her demonstration to show her audience (nearly 40 in total) what a good blog looks like. (Anita has taste, you note). So I decided that if Anita was going to use my blog, then I ought to post something suitable to be viewed on such a big screen!
When Anita clicked on the link to bring up my blog, the audience all laughed, but Anita, being the true professional that she is, merely continued. Actually, it took her ten minutes to realise what I'd done, but thankfully she saw the funny side.
Her talk was really useful in explaining some of the different things you can do with blogging and linking posts with a Facebook account. The time was also used to set up a blog for short story writer, Lynne Hackles. You can view Lynne's blog here ... well you can when Lynne actually posts something on it. (Come on Lynne!)
Katie Fforde gave an excellent talk one evening about writing romances and was very humorous, and her advice for all writers was to put a bum on a chair and to keep writing.
The literary agent, Teresa Chris, told us all about publishing in today's climate, and said that the writers who succeed are the 'real writers' - the ones who actually sit down and do some writing.
I gave a talk on how to be a positively productive writer, where I suggested that the more you write, the more chances of success you have, so get out that pen and notebook and start writing. Zoe Sharp gave an insight and humorous talk about writing crime fiction, and suggested to anyone interested in writing in this genre to read as much as they can, but also to stop that flashing cursor on the screen from blinking idly by hitting some keys on the keyboard and getting it moving.
Hmmm .... can you spot a trend here with the advice being given?
Caerleon isn't just about writing, workshopping and lectures, there is some fun to be had. The last night ends with two 40 minute performances by the Cwmbach Male Choir , after which they retire to the bar in order to re-lubricate their vocal chords. Everyone else piles into the bar and the singing continues. Click here for the YouTube video.
This year's Caerleon was rather a special one because it was the 25th. Anne and Gerry work tirelessly to produce a truly enjoyable event. We couldn't let the anniversary pass without marking it in some way, so we managed to embarrass them both suitably well during the last night's singing. You can see the presentation on YouTube by clicking here.
So, if you get the opportunity to mix with writers, make sure you get involved. You never know what you may learn.
And yes, I'll be at Caerleon in 2010 - I've been booked to run another set of workshops!
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Apologies for those of you who aren't there and won't understand this blog - I'll explain upon my return! Promise.