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Win �0 in our world-famous story, poetry and flash comps
how to write
what to write
where to sell it
HOOK YOUr
READERS
How to grab hearts and
minds from the start
Plus Using cliffhangers and recaps in a successful serial
Finishing school
The Mentor explains
how to keep writing
if you hate writing
Why you should treat
your first draft as ugly
but essential scaffolding
Four questions to
test your story when
you get to The End
WF188JUN01cover.indd 1
88
Reveal the story
9 771467 252042
Reasons to go on
#188 Jun 2017 ? �95
Every month workshops, exercises and market news
to help you write better fiction, non-fiction and poetry
09/05/2017 14:01:49
0208 339 6060
WF179-Grosvenor.indd 2
09/08/2016 11:38:25
Welcome
Writers Forum
A word from
the editor
4
6
T
his month, the Mentor
helps Emma from
Fishguard, who says she
hates writing. Her letter
struck a chord with me. Any
writing tasks, even these
small editor?s letters, cause
me stress. In fact, I don?t
know any colleagues who
enjoy the act of writing.
People sometimes compare
it to running and it?s not hard to see why. Both are tiring, can
be lonely, and are bad for your joints if you?re not careful.
However, I do like the feeling afterwards and can tell it?s
good for my wellbeing. On occasion I even manage to feel
happy whilst doing it, if the wind is in the right quarter and
things are flowing well. But mostly it?s a slog.
Still, as the Mentor says on p58, to stop writing just because
it?s difficult would be a loss. And it?s still a great deal easier
than being a school teacher, say, or a deep-sea fisherman.
8
10
13
15
16
Write soon, Carl
Don?t miss issue #189 on sale from 15 June
Writers? Forum
Select Publisher Services Ltd
PO Box 6337
Bournemouth BH1 9EH
Tel 01202 586848
Publisher Tim Harris
Editor Carl Styants
Chief SUB Wendy Reed
Photography and artwork
With thanks to Shutterstock
COVER IMAGE Tithi Luadthong
� Select Publisher Services Ltd. No part of
this magazine may be reproduced without the
written permission of the publisher.
Writers? Forum cannot accept responsibility for
any unsolicited material. Writers? Forum is fully
independent and its views are not necessarily those
of any company mentioned herein. All copyrights
and trademarks are recognised. Every effort has
been made to identify the copyright holders of
images. Writers? Forum cannot accept responsibility
for inaccuracies or complaints arising from
advertisements featured.
Ad Sales Manager Wendy Kearns
Email advertising@writers-forum.com
Tel 01392 466099
19
20
Circulation Manager Tim Harris
Production Manager John Beare
IT Manager Vince Jones
Subscription rates (12 issues)
UK �, Europe �, ROW �
Subscription Manager Chris Wigg
Email chris@selectps.com
22
Printed by
Precision Colour Printing, Halesfield 1,
Stirchley, Telford TF7 4QQ
Distributed by
Seymour Ltd, 2 East Poultry Avenue,
London EC1A 9PT
Registered in England. Registered Number
5450559. Registered Office: Princecroft Willis
LLP, Towngate House, 2-8 Parkstone Road, Poole
BH15 2PW. A catalogue record for this magazine
is available British Library. ISSN 1467-2529
For submissions, visit www.writers-forum.com/contact.html
We reserve the right to edit any article or letter received.
Please note that Writers? Forum does not carry book reviews.
24
26
headlines
Newsfront The latest in
the world of writing
AUTHOR INTERVIEW
Coasting to
success Kate
Chapman talks to
disability campaigner Debbie
North who has written two
guide books with her husband.
Writers? Circle
Your letters
plus First Draft
FIRST STEPS
Second draft You?ve
finished your book, what
now? Douglas McPherson has
four searching questions for
your inner editor
TALES oF MY GURU
Hugh Scott?s mystery mentor
has more secrets to share
CUT OUT & KEEP GUIDE
Commas & apostrophes
Phil Barrington looks at
problems with punctuation
CHILDREN?S BOOKS
Voice is key Anita
Loughrey talks to
children?s editor and
YA writer Dionne McCulloch
about her work
AGONY AUNT
Dear Della Writer Della
Galton answers your queries
FREELANCE MARKETS
The Magazine Scene
Adam Carpenter?s regular
round-up of industry news,
including the crowdfunding
New Internationlist plus Diary
of a freelance hack
FICTION MARKETS
Inside Story Douglas
McPherson shows how to
create a strong episodic
structure, using his own
womag serial as an example
WRITING EXERCISE
The sense of an ending
How you leave your readers
is as important as how you
hook them, says Barbara
Dynes, setting an exercise
FLASH COMP
Our writing contest is FREE
to subscribers plus the �0
winner of our romcom
character competition
28 OVERSEAS MARKET
New Zealand markets
for freelances Glynis
Scrivens suggests some paying
opportunities for your features
31 EXPERT Insight
Technophobia Keir
Thomas defines what?s best
in digital dictionaries
33 INSPIRATION
Ideas Store Paula Williams
and the strange case of the
vanishing hand
34 ACHIEVEmENT CALENDAR
June Keep up the good work!
37 story competition
This month?s winners
of �0 in cash prizes
48 FICTION WORKSHOP
Lure the reader
in Fiction editor
Lorraine Mace has
some attention-grabbing
tactics to help readers? stories
50 POETRY WORKSHOP
Turning things around
Poetry editor Sue Butler
speaks out for the opposition
plus Experiment
52 Poetry competition
This month?s winner of �0
and a dictionary
54 Writers? Directory
This month?s events, writing
courses and helpful books
58 MOTIVATION
The Mentor How will
The Write Factor?s Emily
Cunningham help a writer
who dislikes writing?
60 Writing know-how
Research secrets People?s
stories are literary gold,
romantic author Graeme
Simsion tells Anita Loughrey
plus Writing Outlets with
Janet Cameron
62 competition calendar
Helen M Walters
speaks to organisers
of the NAWG ?100?,
plus comp news and tips
65 Subscriptions
Get Writers? Forum delivered
direct to your door
66 Where I write
Phil Barrington visits lawyer
and author Suzanne Leal in her
Sydney garage
Writers?forum #188
WF188JUN03contents.indd 3
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10/05/2017 13:28:33
newsfront
HEADLINES
The latest in the world of books, the internet and publishing ? written by you
Rise of the boxset
??
First it was the wireless,
more recently ebooks, and now
boxsets are being blamed for
?killing off? the novel. Fiction sales
have fallen by almost a quarter
in five years as more people,
apparently, choose binge-watching
a TV series over a good book.
Stephen Lotinga, chief executive
of the Publishers Association,
said the fall was partly down to
more options for consumers?
leisure time. Lotinga said: ?Fiction
books in particular are one of
those areas where we?re basically
competing for people?s time.
?We?re up against a whole load
of other media and formats?
We know not just from our own
data but other data out there that
people feel they have less free
time than they?ve ever had before.
?There is a lot of competition
for people?s time from a lot of
leisure activities, and particularly
those which lend themselves to
people sitting in their homes.?
However, the figures also
showed a growing thirst for
Fun of the Fair
Following the success of
?its?first
Small Publishers? Fair,
Word up for Kindle
is a new app launched by
?Amazon.
?KindleItCreate
offers a simplified method for
converting a Microsoft Word document into
a Kindle ebook. According to Amazon, the
app will enable authors to preview and edit a
manuscript in Kindle format, create a table of
contents and add professionally designed themes
to enhance the finished version of the ebook.
If the original document contains lists, tables,
images or hyperlinks there are certain limitations on functionality, but there should be no problems
with straightforward novels. Kindle Create is currently in beta and Amazon are looking for feedback
from users in order to refine and improve the software.
The Kindle Create app is free and available for both Windows and Mac. More information and the
download links are at https://kdp.amazon.com/help/topic/AIEDQZJ8TVWZX Sally Jenkins
non-fiction, with a nine per cent
rise in sales last year helping UK
publishing to a record year, with
sales of physical books across all
genres leaping by eight per cent
to �billion.
Also, remember those boxsets
are often based on bestselling
books and that TV dramatists are
also writers ? so fiction is still
essential!
Dawn Fraser
The only way is Essex
??
Sarah Perry?s The Essex
Serpent has won the British Book
Awards Book of the Year, beating
off strong competition from
36 shortlisted titles.
The Essex Serpent is Perry?s
second novel. Judge Sam Baker
praised its ?intriguing title,
compelling storytelling, covetable
packaging and an inspired
Festival-goers at last year?s
Frome Small Publishers? Fair
Frome Writers? Collective is to
stage a second one this year. It
takes place on Saturday 8 July
at Frome?s Silk Mill centre, as
part of the Somerset market
town?s annual festival. A number
of specialist publishers from
the South West will be sharing
space at the fair alongside
companies that provide support and services for budding authors. Prominent among them will be
Frome Writers? Collective?s own book brand, Silver Crow Books.
FWC?s Debs Dowling said: ?Once again, the Small Publishers? Fair is a sell-out, reflecting the enthusiasm
local writers have to see their work in print. It also underlines the popularity of the writer-targeted
elements of the Frome Festival, which includes the very popular Writers in Residence competition also
organised by FWC.? Entry to the fair is free. See fromesmallpublishersfair.co.uk
4
slow-burn campaign?.
Publisher Serpent?s Tail
set a modest sales target of
5000 hardback copies but it
sold 104,078 in that format
alone in 2016. It was crowned
Waterstones Book of the Year
last year.
Alice O?Keeffe, books editor
at The Bookseller, said: ?The Essex
Serpent has been an absolute
masterclass in how to publish
exceptional fiction.?
Skate expectations
of one of the
?world?s
?The winner
most prestigious short
story competitions has paid
tribute to an unlikely object for
everything it taught him about
writing ? the humble skateboard.
Bret Anthony Johnston made
his comments after scooping the
�,000 Sunday Times EFG Short
Story award with Half of What
Atlee Rouse Knows about Horses.
He said: ?As a skateboarder,
you view the world differently
to everyone else. You look at
architecture, at landscapes, at
obstacles differently, which is
Writers?forum #188
WF188JUN04news.indd 4
10/05/2017 14:13:36
recently moved into audiobooks.
?Being a small publisher means
we can respond quickly to
opportunities,? says Kind.
The birthday celebrations
will culminate in offering five of
those collections to readers for
free. Full details can be found at
www.alfiedog.com
The highs and lows of fame
author of The Girl on the Train,
?Paula
?Bestselling
Hawkins, has revealed the good ? and
not so good ? about becoming a literary
sensation. Acknowledging the positives of
selling 20 million copies in two years, she
told The Mail on Sunday?s Event magazine:
?Obviously it?s fantastic and it has been an amazing experience.?
But Hawkins also described her sudden fame as ?overwhelming?
and ?terrifying?. She said: ?It makes you feel vulnerable and exposed.?
Ahead of the launch of follow-up Into the Water, Hawkins said:
?What I?m really nervous about is the reviews. There will be a
lot of stuff written about me, that?s the frightening bit. I have to
justify everything I write or say. A book that does well is picked
apart more. That?s obviously uncomfortable for me ? but on
the up side my book gets more attention. There is such a jarring
disconnect between sitting in your garret writing and having to
run around everywhere, selling things. I?m not a seller.
?I do find myself moaning about things like my schedule but then
I think, ?Most writers would kill for this level of publicity. Do not
be ungrateful. You never know when it?s all going to go away.??
Learn from a master
and Schuster have
?issued
?Simon
a set of previously
unpublished short stories by
F Scott Fitzgerald, under the title
I?d Die for You, edited by Anne
Margaret Daniel.
Fiona Wilson, writing in The
Times, says the stories are about
divorce, despair, affairs and sexual
awakening, topics that would have
been rather too advanced for
their time. Fitzgerald complained
that he was constrained by having
to give editors yet more of what
their readers wanted ? what he
called hack work.
?Are the stories lost gems?? asks
Fiona Wilson. She says that many
are unevenly written and feel like
the trying out of ideas. This, with
the biographical notes included
by the editor make the collection
a valuable opportunity for those
struggling to write short stories
to see an expert at work.
Dawn Fraser
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Writers?forum #188
WF188JUN04news.indd 5
SE
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We want short news items
for these pages, either researched
directly by you or sourced from press
releases or publications and rewritten for us.
In return you?ll get a byline and the best item each month wins a
free subscription. This month?s winner is Sally Jenkins
Items should be under 200 words ? the snappier the better.
You can attach a good quality photo and please make sure stories
about events are submitted in time. Importantly, you must be able
to prove your story is true and where you found it. Writers? Forum
may edit any items submitted and if a story is covered by more
than one writer we?ll choose the best version.
Please send items to news@writers-forum.com You can cover
any topic that will be useful, interesting or amusing to
writers. The subject should be big enough to appeal to a national/
global readership although local news might still inspire or
entertain writers in other regions. Get writing and good luck!
0
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ODD SPOT BY HUGH SCOTT
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Hugh Scott is a Whitbread-winning author. He writes and illustrates for The Park Free Press
folk singer Kathryn Williams
for a joint novel and soundtrack
project. Greatest Hits will tell
the story of a former pop star
looking back on her life, and its
16 chapters will feature the
words of 16 songs the pair have
co-written for the accompanying
album, Songs from the Novel
Greatest Hits.
birthday. Launched with just
58 authors and 200 stories, the
story download site has grown to
include 1600 short stories from
325 authors across the globe.
?We still have 31 of those
original authors working with us,
but have also had the privilege
to take on many new ones,? says
editor Rosemary Kind.
As well as story downloads, the
publisher has brought out novels
and story collections in response
to author requests, and has
.95
author Laura
?Barnett
?Bestselling
has teamed up with
?With my second novel
I wanted to do something
different by bringing music and
fiction together,? said Barnett,
who topped the Sunday Times
bestseller list with her debut
The Versions. Douglas McPherson
? �
Book with a soundtrack
#1 00
X X 00
X x 33
20
17
just what an artist does. You?re
noticing things other people
don?t notice.?
Long hours practising tricks
over 30 years proved unexpectedly
beneficial, he said, despite a series
of injuries including near-severed
fingers that had to be sewn up.
?Any success I?ve had as a writer,
I put down to the fact that I keep
falling down and getting back up.?
Johnston, who is director
of creative writing at Harvard
University, said persistence was
the key skill he tried to teach his
students.
?Give me a Saturday afternoon,
I could tell you everything you
need to know to be a writer. But
what I really feel I?m teaching
is patience ? patience and
stubbornness and discipline and
resilience.?
Dawn Fraser
5
10/05/2017 14:13:50
HOW I WRITE
Coasting
to success
Disability campaigner and guide book writer
Debbie North tells Kate Chapman how she turned
adversity into a new career
K
een hill walker Debbie North?s
life was turned upside down when
she was diagnosed with chronic
degeneration of the spine. She
was confined to a wheelchair, forced to
take early retirement from her job as a
head teacher and feared she would never
be able to enjoy her passion for the great
outdoors again.
But determined not to be beaten, Debbie
set about researching specialist equipment
and, with her husband Andy, redesigning
and adapting popular walking routes so
that wheelchair users can follow them.
Her campaign Access the Dales launched
in 2011 and it was after she became the first
woman to complete the Coast to Coast path
on four wheels, from St Bees in Cumbria
to Robin Hood?s Bay in North Yorkshire,
that the couple were approached to write
a guide book about their adventure.
?We hadn?t planned on writing a
book at all,? admits Debbie, who lives in
Lincolnshire, ?but we met a member of the
Wainwright Society while we were on the
walk. He contacted us after speaking to
an independent publisher, Sigma Press,
which specialises in UK leisure guides,
and they asked us to submit a proposal for
a guide book ? the introduction, synopsis
and first chapter.
?We hadn?t kept a diary of our journey,
although we?d made notes on a few little
things that happened. We had been doing
an awful lot on social media, however, and
were blogging about it, plus we were doing
radio interviews along the way.?
The couple drafted the submission
while Debbie was undergoing treatment in
hospital. Two months later they received
an offer asking for 30,000 words within six
months so that the book would be ready
for the following walking season.
?We?d done no research other than to
look at maps and explore possible routes
6
so we had to start from scratch,? recalls
Debbie. ?That meant research became
imperative and then rechecking the route
was also a factor. We didn?t complete the
whole walk again but returned to some
places on more than one occasion ? when
we?d done it originally there were a couple
of heart?stopping moments that we just
couldn?t recommend to others!
?We took a lot of photos when we were
walking, but they were just our own
snapshots ? they were never intended to
be included in a book, so that was another
thing we had to go back and do again,
making sure they were the right resolution
and print quality.
?We did a lot of sharing and reminiscing
to get things down on paper. I did a lot
of the research, then Andy pulled it all
together ? he has a wonderful, humorous
writing style. He comes from a teaching
background too, but left education to
concentrate on scriptwriting, so his
expertise was vital.?
The couple found the best way to break
the book down was to dedicate a separate
chapter to each day of their week-long
trek, while the introduction detailed their
story, including information about their
campaign and why they had decided to do
the walk.
In order to get the tone right, Debbie
says, they immersed themselves in travel
writing to help hone their own style.
?We?re both big readers and very
passionate about Alfred Wainwright?s
classic hill-walking books ? we love his
style. One of the rooms in our house is a
library, so we?re both always reading and
looking at how writers get their voice just
right and why we like it.
?We wanted to follow the rules while
still making the book our own; although
it?s a guide book, we still wanted ?Debbie
and Andy North? to come through. We
Disabled access campaigner
and author Debbie North
didn?t want to lose the essence of what
Access the Dales is about ? and that?s
getting up and going for it.
?Wainwright said in his book it wasn?t
about following his route cross country, it
was about making your own. That?s why
we called ours In the Spirit of Wainwright
? we made our own way and want to
encourage others to make theirs.?
During the writing process, Debbie and
Andy kept the text between themselves,
only allowing a fellow walker who
provided their maps to read extracts and
help check accuracy.
?We were quite lucky as there weren?t
any major edits required,? says Debbie.
?One of the most useful techniques we
found was reading out loud what we
had written. We could spot in an instant
whether the text flowed well simply by
doing that.
?The whole book was quite a quick
turnaround, but the most stressful part
was putting it together in the format the
publisher wanted. We had to show where
the maps went and the photographs,
making sure they had the right captions,
Writers?forum #188
WF188JUN06author.indd 6
09/05/2017 14:05:52
Debbie and Andy
A wonderful feeling
Although it?s a guide
book, we still wanted
Debbie and Andy to
come through
as the publisher didn?t have that detail.
?Another thing we found difficult was
that we were asked to proofread it. We
are not proofreaders ? that is a completely
different skill altogether.
?The book took over our lives. We were
writing all hours and everywhere we
could. I?m not sure whether working with
Andy was easier ? we were with each
other 24/7, which some might think is a
bit unhealthy, and then you have to decide
between you who has the executive say.
Sometimes there were disagreements but
I had to go with Andy?s writing experience
and expertise.?
The couple?s forthcoming second book,
Coast 2 Coast 2 Coast, was commissioned
before they had undertaken the walk
it was based on, a pioneering 81-mile
journey from the shores of Semerwater
in Wensleydale to Ullswater in Cumbria.
This meant they were able to keep more
detailed journals and ensure the right
photographs were taken along the way.
?We?d done the proposal for the second
book not knowing if it was going to be
achievable, but because we?d developed
a relationship with the publisher she still
offered the contract,? Debbie explains.
?The second book was grounded in more
early research, but the main difference
on this trek was we knew the types
of photographs we were looking for.
We knew we had to take them to meet
resolution specifications and we had an
idea of shots that played well.
?But one of the things that concerned us
was it still had to come in at 30,000 words,
even though the trek was less than half
the distance and number of days. There
are only so many ways you can say ?travel
down this bridleway until?? so with
Coast 2 Coast 2 Coast we?ve tried to shake
up the structure a little bit. We wanted
our voices to become intertwined to create
just one voice. Hopefully we?ve succeeded
in making something a little bit different,
that?s an easy read and that might just help
someone see adventures are possible. I
think a lot more humour comes through,
too, as we?ve got into our stride.?
With a third book in the pipeline, Debbie
admits books aren?t going to make her
millions, but there is a certain kudos that
comes with being a published writer. There
have been opportunities to give speeches
about her campaign and she?s teamed up
with TV presenter Julia Bradbury to design
wheelchair-friendly walks for Julia?s
website The Outdoor Guide. The couple
have also joined the Outdoor Writers? and
Photographers? Guild, whose members
have provided invaluable support.
Debbie says: ?We?re writing in a niche
genre, but we?re getting the word out there
in the hope that access issues will become
more than just a bolt-on. To see the finished
book on the shelves with all the other
guide books was a wonderful feeling.?
? For more information on Debbie?s campaign
visit www.accessthedales.com
Writers?forum #188
WF188JUN06author.indd 7
7
09/05/2017 14:06:04
Reader letters
Writers circle
Your news and views, writing tips and funny stories
WINNING IDEA
Julian Friedmann, co-founder of
Blake Friedmann Literary Agents,
gave a talk to Cambridge Writers?
Group about how the publishing
industry and the role of agents
has changed. Each year an agency
receives 5000-10,000 manuscripts
and only 10 or 12 new writers
are taken on. The odds of getting
represented is akin to doing the
Lotto. And when someone new
is taken on, someone else is
knocked off their list.
I asked Friedmann if
competitions were useful in
getting an agent. He said anything
you can do to get noticed is
good and it shows that other
professionals like your work.
Now I?m entering competitions
rather than submitting material in
the traditional way. This year I?ve
already entered the Caterpillar
poetry and Bridport writing
comps and a self-publishing comp.
Of course, my writing has to
be very good, and I?ll need a bit
of luck, but maybe the odds of
getting noticed are better than
sending in my manuscripts with
nothing to back them up.
Peter Dean,
Great Shelford, Cambs
I O. Him a lot
Last month the writer
PRIZE O. Henry came up in
LETTER Barbara Dynes? article
about how to develop
characters. O. Henry was an
early 20th-century US writer
specialising in twists-in-the-tale.
He?s not well-known in the UK,
which may explain why I?ve seen
him referred to as O?Henry ?
must be his Irish cousin!
His work has been a huge
influence on me, and helped me
8
Popular short story
writer O. Henry
to secure numerous story sales.
I?d recommend every short story
writer to read his work and take
note of how he plots and portrays
characters.
My favourites from a
sometimes inconsistent canon
are: The Last Leaf ? written in
1907, and way ahead of its time,
about two young women artists
co?habitating; The Gift of the Magi
? a famous Christmas story; The
Whirligig of Life ? a humorous
story about simple, elderly folk
taking stock of their marriage,
and a masterclass in how to write
dialect; A Municipal Report ? set
shortly after the Civil War and
tackling spousal abuse and racism,
again well ahead of its time; and
The Furnished Room ? set in a
single room, this story gives me
goosebumps just thinking about it.
I hope readers can find the time
to look at these stories ? and
others! Their entertainment and
instructional value are enormous.
Paul A Freeman,
Abu Dhabi, UAE
Freelance fees
Working full time and writing
as a hobby, I?m grateful for any
recogniton, whether it?s the free
educational books I review, a
prize from a magazine, or a token
cheque. Reading Susie Kearley?s
article ( #187 May) about writer
earnings was a pleasant antidote
to the news we usually read.
With the dwindling short
story slots in magazines and the
laments about payment, it is
easy for the beginner to become
disheartened. It was inspiring
to read that people who aren?t
bestsellers or well known can
actually make enough to live on
and happily work from home
creating new ideas.
The article provided hope ?
although for now I?d better not
give up the day job.
Cindy Shanks,
Todmorden, Lancs
Inner success
In issue #187, the Mentor
considers a plea from writer
Mark, from St Leonards, who
wonders whether to continue
writing despite the lack of
recognition. I find myself stuck
in this same quagmire. I have
achieved modest success in the
past but in recent years have not
been accepted by any agent or
editor.
I was feeling more and more
dispirited. I wanted to be
published just to know whether
I?m still ?worth it?.
Having read the feature, I have
given myself a stern talking?to!
I am now confident that my
renewed enjoyment in putting my
fingers to keyboard and my eyes
on screen will lead to publication
once again. Even if it doesn?t, so
what? I will still be writing and
loving it. Thank you, Emily.
Sally Zigmond,
Rosedale Abbey, N Yorks
Family focus
I have a huge story inside of me
that I want to share with the
world but self-doubt stops me
from writing. Having read Emily
Cunningham?s warm words
of wisdom to Mark in #187, I
shall push aside my demons and
embark on the journey of my
life, one that my grandchildren
might one day read and hopefully
appreciate. May I add that this
letter is my first piece of writing
in a year. Good luck, Mark.
Debbie Kupczenko,
Poynton, Cheshire
Title ROLE
Despite the help offered by
Douglas McPherson to remedy
?first page panic? (issue #187),
I have a problem even before
reaching that tricky first page.
I find it almost impossible to
seriously start on a topic unless
I have a title. Why can?t I think
of a title for my boarding school
memoirs, my anecdote about
moving house, or my travel item
about a recent sailing holiday?
I?ve got so much I want to
write, but I?ve convinced myself
that first I need a title. I?ve read
that one will come once you
start writing and not to worry
Writers?forum #188
WF188JUN08letters.indd 8
09/05/2017 14:07:02
Just for fun
WIN
a year?s subscription!
The writer of the prize letter each month will win
a year?s subscription to the magazine. Please make
sure that you include your full name and address in
your email. Write to letters@writers-forum.com
Oh dear, it looks like Helen Callaghan was having
a bad writing day. Can you spot the 20 errors in
this ?first draft? of Dear Amy?
Katie Browne is packing.
Before settling in New Zealand,
I had eight wonderful years
with Yarm Writers in North
Yorkshire. I started as a 64-yearold novice and left confident in
the art of writing, planning the
chapters for a memoir.
Arriving in New Zealand,
with a collection of books and
ring?binders full of writing, I
needed to be among writers
again. I immediately joined
Tauranga Writers. They
encourage members to bring a
piece of writing to read, with
copies to hand out for comment.
Members silently critique while
you read, then hand them back
for you to examine and build on.
Knowing I had a complete
manuscript of my memoirs,
fellow members urged me to
get it done! I took their advice,
and had it edited by one of the
group?s professionals. Following
Keir Thomas?s articles on
self?publishing, my memoir The
Road From Grimsby was born.
Peter Pratt,
Tauranga, New Zealand
Bargain boost
I?m a new subscriber to Writers?
Forum, although I?ve read it for
years. I signed up in a moment of
inspiration after picking up issue
#185 on the way home from my
weekly MA Creative Writing
course. That?s � from my
Greek key
Sue Butler?s article ?Postcards
from the edge? (issue #186)
reminded me of a card that
turned me into a poet. Sitting on
the Acropolis in 1975, aged 19,
I was inspired to write a sonnet.
Recalling Shakespeare?s Should I
compare thee to a summer?s day, I
composed my poem and sent it
on a postcard to my parents.
Back home I was delighted to
discover they had been arguing
about whether I had copied it out
of a book. That poem became the
first of 14 sonnets which won me
a prize at university.
David Lewis,
Ferney-Voltaire, France
She gropes under her bed, seized her blue back pack with the
faux leather trim and begins stuffing clothes and toileties into it
with frantic energy, her eyes blinded by tears.
There is very little sense or order in this packing, but that?s
all right, because is it the act of packing and not the objects
themselves ? the grey an green leggings, the union jack makeup bag puffed up to bursting with all her lip colours the maroon
jersey top with gold stitching that makes her feel so mature and
sophisticated ? that makes the difference.
Katie was leaving for good this time. She is never coming
back. She has had enough. She flounces down on the bed, pulling
on the pair of shiny red-brown ankle boot that her Dad bought
her a month ago.
On the window of her little room, the rain taps with
increasing insistence, al though urging her too think again.
Nearly tripping over her disgarded gymbag with her
still-damp swimming kit nestling inside, Katie swings the blue
backpack over her shoulder, all the while aware of the hatefull
murmur of the television downstair in the living room and it?s
chorus of caned laughter. They?ve turned the volume up but she
is sure she can hear hidden whispering, her mum talking about
her to that useless lump Brian. As though he has any right to a
opinion.
As though he was her dad
Sent in by Patricia Lowther, from Bearpark, Co Durham, who wins �
10 that her dad bought (no capital).
11 as though urging (typo). 12 to
think again (wrong word). 13 her
discarded (spelling). 14 gym bag
(two words). 15 hateful murmur
(spelling). 16 television downstairs
(spelling). 17 and its chorus (no
apostrophe). 18 of canned laughter
(wrong word). 19 right to an
opinion (wrong word). 20 he was
her dad. (missing full stop).
New zeal
university assistance fund grant
well spent, I think.
I have found the achievement
chart to be of immense help. I?m
autistic and have mental health
conditions that are helped by
writing but often hinder it too.
Having the chart in front of me
when I?m feeling utterly hopeless
reminds me what I?ve achieved
and picks me up a little. It also
inspires me to get writing; I don?t
like to see an empty line.
The writing competitions
in Writers? Forum are a boon,
too. So often I want to enter
competitions but am put off
because I simply cannot afford
the fees; I understand the need
to charge, but it does put them
out of reach of people like myself
on low incomes. As a disabled
student I really appreciate your
free (for subscribers) flash
competition and the low price of
your short story competition.
Thanks for being accessible, and
for the inspiration every month,
Rosemarie Cawkwell,
Immingham, Lincs
Corrections
1 bed, seizing her (wrong tense).
2 blue backpack (one word).
3 clothes and toiletries (typo).
4 because it is the act of (words
transposed). 5 grey and green
leggings (typo). 6 Union Jack
make-up bag (capitals). 7 lip
colours, the maroon (missing
comma). 8 Katie is leaving (wrong
tense). 9 ankle boots (plural).
about it until later. But having no
title written down, or even in
my head, is preventing me from
putting pen to paper! How do
other writers deal with the tricky
issue of a title?
Georgie Moon,
Ryde, Isle of Wight
�
Could you ruin a passage from a modern novel? Send your
error-ridden First Draft (around 250 words), and the 20
solutions, to firstdraft@writers-forum.com. Please note that entries
are accepted via email only. We pay � for the best published.
Writers?forum #188
WF188JUN08letters.indd 9
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09/05/2017 14:07:14
First Steps
Get started
Second draft
Douglas McPherson shows you how
to get your stories into shape
L
ast month, we looked
at the importance of
getting to the end of a
story. One of the biggest
pitfalls for new writers is
getting hooked up on writing a
?perfect? first page or opening
scene. They tweak and edit the
same passage over and over,
while pages 2 to 200 never get
written at all.
The trick is to turn off your
inner editor and get on with
the story. If the first page or
10
some other scene, or some
small or large detail such as a
character?s name, isn?t working
too well, don?t fret. Do what
you can and move on. Get to
the end.
At that point, you may not
have a fabulous piece of prose,
but you will have a story. You
will know your characters
inside out. You will know the
twists, turns and climax. If it?s
a mystery, you?ll know who
done it. You?ll certainly know
far more about your story than
you did when you sat down to
type the first line.
That point, when you have
something raw but complete
and workable, is when it?s
time to turn your inner editor
back on and begin work on the
second draft.
Writing for yourself
The reason is that there are two
types of writing: the writing
we do for ourselves, and the
writing we do for our readers.
By writing for ourselves,
I don?t mean self-indulgent,
therapeutic or private writing.
I mean the writing we do in the
process of working out what
we actually want to say.
A lot of a first draft is spent
working things out as we
go along. You can?t hold an
entire plot and characters in
your head, even if you have
an outline. So we write a bit
to see how it sounds, and that
bit inspires us to write another
bit; the story and characters
grow organically.
But here?s the thing: not
everything we write as part of
that process has to end up in
the finished piece.
As an example, you may
have to write Scene A to get
you to Scene B. But once
you have Scene B, is Scene A
redundant?
It may be that Scene A is
necessary to the story, so you
can leave it in. Or Scene A
may be the equivalent of a
mathematician showing how
they worked out a sum. They
needed all those extra figures
to get the answer, but the
reader only needs the answer.
In that case, Scene A can go.
It was writing you did for
yourself. Cutting it and leaving
only Scene B is the writing you
do for your readers.
Writing for readers
Only once you know your story
(because you?ve completed a
first draft and can see it from
beginning to end) can you be
Writers?forum #188
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Only once you know your
story can you be sure of the
best way to tell it
sure of the best way to tell it.
Don?t start changing words
and polishing phrases yet ?
that comes in Draft 3. Instead,
while everything is still rough
and changeable, use your
second draft to look at the big
questions, and be open to a
major rewrite if necessary.
?? Have you started in the
right place? We often write
our way into a story, unsure
what the plot will be. Now you
know, should you cut some
preamble and begin where
the action gets underway?
Conversely, have you begun
with a dramatic scene then been
forced to put in a flashback as
explanation? If the flashback
breaks momentum, would it be
better to start earlier and put
things in chronological order?
?? Is your story right for
its genre or market? If it?s
a romance, is the romance
prominent enough? Do you
need to push subplots and
secondary characters further
into the background and put
more emphasis on the central
relationship?
?? Is the viewpoint right?
Perhaps most of the story is
from the heroine?s point of
view but an early scene is from
another character?s viewpoint,
or an external (author?s)
viewpoint. Could you rewrite
it all from her perspective?
Would it be better to switch
from third person to first?
?? Is the theme clear? If the
heroine?s relationship with her
mother became more important
as you wrote her, should Mum
appear in the first chapter
instead of the fifth? Do later
ideas need foreshadowing?
You can also apply these
questions to old, rejected
stories, by the way. Re-look at
them as first drafts, waiting
to be shaped into something
saleable.
Scaffolding
Once the big issues have been
addressed, it?s time to begin
separating the writing you did
TRICKS OF THE TRADE
Douglas shares writing tips he?s learned through experience
#29 Join the guides
A retired academic told me he wanted to write about science but
he?d hit a psychological barrier: what right did he have to tell other
people what he thought? The solution is to think of writing not as
?telling? but as ?showing?. Stand sideways to your readers, so that
instead of lecturing them, you?re all looking at the subject together.
You can point out things and help them see things they may not have
noticed, but let them do the thinking for themselves.
The prof?s other worry was that everything had already been
written about, and done better than he could. The trick here is to
write about new discoveries, or new discoveries to you. Write about
things you would like to know more about. Make your writing a journey of discovery that you share with your readers, basically saying:
?Hey, look at this cool thing I learned today.?
?? If you have a question about getting started as a writer,
please email Douglas at gettingstarted@writers-forum.com
Take the step
for yourself from the writing
you want to leave in place for
your readers.
For example, in a first draft
we?ll often over-describe a
character?s appearance or
thoughts. We do that because
we?re not sure what they look
like or what their motivation
is. We?re writing to build up
a picture in our own mind as
much as in the reader?s.
By the end of the story, we
know them a lot better, so we
can go back and strip out a
lot of that faltering character
construction and deftly evoke
them with just a few precisely
drawn strokes.
A first draft may contain
narrative passages that are
more like outlines. They fill in
the plot but would be better
replaced with fleshed out
scenes that show rather than
tell what?s happening.
In The Writer?s Source Book,
Chris Sykes compares the
?figuring it out? type of writing
to scaffolding. You have to put
it up while you?re building the
house of your story. But once
the building is complete, you
take down the scaffolding so
people can see the end result.
Polishing off
It?s at this point that you can
progress to your third draft:
a line-by-line polishing of
individual words and phrases.
I find that the most fun part,
and it?s easy to see why people
are tempted to begin it before
they?ve completed even a
first page.
To do so, however, is
counterproductive, as you?ll
probably end up changing the
first page anyway.
Like all pleasures, the
enjoyment of the final polish
is much more satisfying if you
save it for a treat after every
other element of the story is
in爌lace.
Lesson 1
Never edit too early.
Leave things rough
and press on to the
end. Only when the
story is complete are
you ready to edit.
Lesson 2
There is a difference
between the writing
we do while we?re
working out the plot
and characters, and
the writing that we
want our audience
to read. The former
is like scaffolding:
necessary for the
construction work
but to be taken down
once the story is built.
Lesson 3
Use your second draft
for major structural
edits. Save line-byline polishing for
the final draft, when
everything is in place.
Homework
Take a rejected story
and view it as a first
draft to be shaped
into something
saleable. Notice what
is working and what
could be improved.
Does it need to start
in a different place
or with a different
viewpoint? Write a
new draft and see if
it works.
? Start Writing
Today by
Douglas
McPherson is
available as
an ebook to
download from
Amazon now
Writers?forum #188
WF188JUN10start.indd 11
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1andOther:Layout 1 02/05/2017 11:22 Page 1
In his first two novels Thomas breathes life into
Charles Dickens? beloved characters from
A Christmas Carol, and his original characters
by creating back and future stories.
??give or take a pebble.? takes place days before
Scrooge?s intervention and ends a
year later.
??give or take a shilling.? has
murder, revenge, and romance. It
visits how Scrooge came to work
for Fezziwig, how he met Marley,
and he rekindled
an old flame.
Study Creative Writing
at postgraduate level
Available as a part-time award, either
face-to-face or via online learning
Engage critically with poetry, prose
and scripts and enhance your writing
Open Day:?17 June 2017
??give or take a moment.? is still
being written, but will move the
characters to 1892. It is scheduled
to be published at Christmas 2017.
Both titles are available online: Amazon, Barnes
and Noble, and Google Play
Starts September 2017
01904 328482
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WF188-012.indd 12
02.05.2017 14:12:14
04/05/2017 13:04:45
Likely Stories
Tales of my GURU
by Hugh Scott
The mystery mentor continues his lesson on creating atmosphere
A
waitress approached me carrying
an open umbrella above her
head. She said: ?Avoid the soup,?
and smiled a smile that lit the
underside of the brolly. ?Rain?s dripping
into it.?
?Oh.?
?Stew?s good, though.?
?Stew. Thanks.?
?I don?t tell everybody. ?
?No??
?But I love your hat. Tr鑣 dashing! I?ll
hang it up for you.? And she snatched the
hat and wore it jauntily until she reached
the coat stand, where she placed it with
an exaction that retained its jauntiness.
Then she winked at me, and wiggled into
the kitchen.
My temperature had gone up several
degrees.
?Keep cool, my friend,? murmured a
voice; and I jumped, for a man I hadn?t
noticed was sitting at my table. ?She makes
everyone feel special. Excellent trait in a
waitress. Or in anybody. Mrs HalburtonSmythe troubling you??
I wasn?t surprised at this knowledgeable
remark, for I realised that the man was
my Guru, a flickering life-spark inhabiting
every dimension, who was kind enough
to aid me with my amateur writing; and
capable of eating vastly at my expense.
?I gave Mrs Halburton-Smythe
your advice,? I replied, ?about creating
atmosphere in her story by giving objects
a history ? but??
?She didn?t listen.?
I shrugged. ?She didn?t believe me.?
?I understand. She?s too proud. When
you get the chance, repeat the advice and it
may sink in. Make it clear, also, that giving
objects a history is only one way to create
atmosphere.?
?Here comes the stew. Two plates, I
observe. No umbrella.?
?Thank you, my dear,? beamed my Guru.
?Lovely to see you.?
And the waitress winked, smiled that
smile, and shot off.
?Good stew,? I said. ?What other ways??
?To create atmosphere? Detail, for one.
But not any old detail. Some beginner
writers insist on mentioning an amber
stream of tea when someone is pouring.
Not only is this fact obvious, and therefore
boring, it is not part of the story. If you
mentioned that the hand holding the
teapot was missing a finger, this is unusual
enough to be interesting, and could be
part of the story because a four-fingered
handprint was found at the scene of a
crime, say.
?To enhance atmosphere, your detail
should be unexpected. Such as, in a
country mansion, there may be a table in
the passageway leading to the servants?
quarters, and on the table are fifty
candle?holders for servants to use when
going to bed. This type of detail plumps
the reader into the passageway, letting him
see how the servants live; in other words,
he experiences the atmosphere. Here she
comes again.?
And he beamed up at the waitress who
tilted her smile at us.
She lifted the stew plates. She leaned a
gentle elbow on my Guru?s shoulder, and
murmured slyly, ?Sticky toffee pudding?
La-arge portion??
?Oh, yes,? he breathed. ?And for my
friend.?
She left, and I didn?t say: ?You know her
well??
And he didn?t say: ?Twice a week for
pudding.?
And I didn?t say: ?What about the other
five days??
And he didn?t say: ?There are other sweet
things on the menu.?
And thus we chatted innocently until
she returned and sloshed custard around.
?You said that there are more ways to
create atmosphere ? apart from history
and detail.?
?Probably the principal way,? said my
Guru, his eyes on the sticky toffee pudding
and his spoon poised, ?is something we
all practise, and that is adapting our voice
to the content of what we are saying. If
you are complaining about the cost of
double-glazing, your voice is arranged
suitable to the purpose of giving some
chump earache. If you?re asking a girl out,
your voice is a mixture of pleading and
if-you-don?t-want-to-come-it?s-all-rightbecause-I?ve-probably-got-to-help-the-wifewith-the-dishes-anyway.
?Anyone with kids knows that telling
a bedtime story is a perfect moment for
creating atmosphere with the voice. If it?s
a sleepy bedtime story, then a? (oh! some
pudding!) a just-you-and-me-at-the-end-ofthe-day sort of voice; or if it?s a rollicking
adventure, then the rushing of deep rivers
should be in your voice, or the rumbling
thunder of an advancing tsunami should
frighten the little ? the child to sleep. The
voice matches the content of the story.
?It?s the same when you are writing:
A spooky story requires a spooky voice
inside your head so that words land
spookily together on the page; and an ugly
story full of cigarette-stenching detectives
requires uglified words.?
He delved into the sticky toffee, and ate
with his eyes closed. ?Some girl,? he sighed.
?She makes this, you know.?
?Under her umbrella,? I suggested.
?She illumines everything. The rain is
nothing to her but a blessing. She will boil
the spoiled soup into a block and feed it
to the birds. Writing about her could be
nothing but a love story.?
I stared at him. Was my Guru
infatuated? Could a spirit of creative
writing fall in love with this waitress?
Suddenly, she was approaching the table
carrying the bill and wearing my hat.
She placed the bill in front of my Guru.
He didn?t even flinch because her face
beneath the hat was ablaze with life and
beauty. To my astonishment and also to
my dumbfoundedness, he searched in
his pockets, produced a wallet, then paid
the燽ill!
I must have passed out, for she was
repeating: ?Can I keep the hat??
But I wasn?t that dumbfounded.
Use it or lose it
I?ve chosen a simple word today because some
of you are dozing off. Oh. You have dozed off.
Writers?forum #188
WF188JUN13guru.indd 1
13
10/05/2017 17:17:47
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WF188-14.indd 14
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Website: www.hilaryjohnson.com
04/05/2017 13:08:46
Commas & Apostrophes
TECHNIQUE
Writers?forum CUT OUT AND KEEP GUIDE TO?
To check that you have used commas
in the right place, try removing the
section that they enclose. The sentence
should still make sense.
DO NOT use commas around an
essential part of the sentence, ie the
bits that can?t be removed without
destroying the sentence.
Head judge, Salem Bilge, gave a speech. ?
Remove the bit in commas and the
sentence no longer makes sense:
Head judge gave a speech. ?
It shows you don?t need commas:
Head judge Salem Bilge gave a speech.
?
That second example looks odd, but
in the right context ? where Mary being
a tennis star is essential to the meaning
rather than just helpful ? it would
make sense not to use commas:
Mary Fawke the tennis star played
while Mary Fawke the scientist watched. Commas in series and lists
Commas can be used instead of saying
?and? when writing a list.
London, New York and Paris.
It was a big, bulky parcel.
You DO NOT need commas to separate
adjectives that work together without
needing ?and? between them, and
whose order can?t be swapped around:
My annoying and little sister. My annoying little sister. A birthday chocolate dark brown cake.
A dark brown chocolate birthday cake.
?
?
?
?
Apostrophes
Missing letters
Apostrophes are used to show where
letters are missing.
She is not in. She isn?t in.
Wouldn?t. Should?ve. You?ll. They?d.
Rock and roll becomes Rock?n?roll.
Belonging words
Apostrophes are used when something
belongs to someone or something.
Bill?s car ran out of petrol.
The handbag?s strap broke.
Jane and Dan?s wedding was great.
Jane?s and Dan?s mums got on well
Note the difference between something
that belongs to Jane and Dan as an
item (their wedding) and to each
separately (Jane?s mum and Dan?s
mum).
Apostrophes are not used for yours, his,
hers, theirs or its (unless it?s for it is!).
Take care with plurals.
Sometimes, adding commas gives the
sentence a different meaning:
You do not need a comma after the
penultimate item in a list:
The boy?s football. (One boy.)
The boys? football. (More than one.)
The TV star Jazz Fish won the award. ?
The TV star, Jazz Fish, won the award. ?
The French flag is blue, white and red.
The first rule is the apostrophe comes
straight after whatever it belongs to,
whether singular or plural. The second
rule is that if you add an extra ?s? when
you say it, you should also write it.
The first means that Fish, who is a
TV star, won. The second means that
Fish, who is the TV star, won. This is
probably not what was intended, as
there?s more than one TV star around.
It matters whether you?re being
general or specific. Example:
My brother Mycroft is abroad. My brother, Mycroft, is abroad. Both are correct but the first means
?
?
But you should add one if it helps
comprehension:
The napkins are available in red and white,
blue with white dots, and pink.
If you need this extra comma (called
an Oxford or serial comma) it?s often a
sign of poor sentence construction:
Men?s club. Witch?s brew. Ladies? loo.
The class?s teacher. The princesses? duties.
Mrs Smith?s party. The Smiths? house.
Mrs Jones?s arrest. Charles?s surprise.
Goodness? sake. Hastings? arts centre.
Among those interviewed were Haggerd?s
two ex-wives, Kris Kristofferson, and
Robert Duvall.
Apostrophes are NOT used to make
plurals, eg in CDs or 1960s, but we?ll
cover plurals in depth another time!
Writers?forum #188
WF188JUN15cut-out.indd 13
MOTIVATION
Hello, Mum.
Hey, kids, get out of there!
You are, by the way, doing well.
The next day, when she went into the
kitchen to start breakfast, she saw the letter.
?
?
Among those interviewed were Kris
Kristofferson, Robert Duvall and
Haggerd?s two ex-wives.
MARKET INFO
Mary Fawke, the tennis star, played. Mary Fawke the tennis star played. Better to rewrite the sentence:
15
REFERENCE
These aren?t just put in when you
pause for breath.
In a sentence, use commas to
separate the bits that give extra
information that is helpful but not
essential to the sense of the sentence.
This includes names, exclamations,
asides, and so on.
LEGAL & ADMIN
you have several brothers and it?s
Mycroft who is abroad (essential info).
The second means your only brother
is abroad, whose name is Mycroft
(helpful but non?essential).
Finally, look at these examples:
Commas
GRAMMAR
Phil Barrington looks at common problems with punctuation marks
10/05/2017 17:18:35
Children?s books
WRITING4CHILDREN
VOICE IS KEY Dionne McCulloch explains how she juggles her job as a children?s
book editor and competition judge with working on her own Young Adult novels
M
y life before
becoming a full-time
writer and editor was
varied; I like to think
of it as an ?extensive research
phase?. I grew up the daughter
of a diplomat so my childhood
was spent moving country
every two or three years. I
didn?t find this unsettling at
all. I loved the adventure.
After university I mixed
work with travel, including
an overland trip across Africa,
before producing documentary
TV in Washington DC and
New York. There was a stint as
a White House intern for Bill
Clinton and a couple of years
playing in a rock band in Los
Angeles with my brother.
Now I edit all genres of
fiction and some narrative
non-fiction, but as I write YA
I suppose it?s my specialty.
Young Adult fiction has
always interested me because
it?s such a vital time in a
person?s life. As a teenager,
I fell into the shy, bookish
camp whose main source of
information (in those preinternet days) was stories.
Without books, I?d have
been wandering blindfolded,
stumbling into adulthood. I
was guided by books from
the practical (Judy Blume for
periods, first kisses, losing your
virginity) to the blueprints
for how to be a feisty sceptic
(Nancy Drew) to the plain
old page-turning thrill fests
(VC Andrews, Stephen King,
Dean R Koontz).
Balancing act
I have to organise my time
to balance my own writing
with my work as an editor,
which isn?t always conducive
to inspiration, but I do my
16
Writers?forum #188
WF188JUN16children.indd 16
09/05/2017 14:19:19
Picture books Story books Easy Readers Chapter books Middle grade Young Adult
Easy Readers Chapter books Middle grade Young Adult Picture books Story books
with
children?s author
Anita Loughrey
best. Two days a week I work
for Cornerstones Literary
Consultancy providing
assessments on synopses and
first few chapters. The rest of
the week, I typically have four
to six author clients on the go
at one time, with whom I may
be working in a mentorship
capacity, or reading their work
and writing editorial reports. I
also write for a few blogs and
magazines about writing.
But each day, before I
read the news or emails and
my mind starts whirring,
I spend a couple of hours
writing. Sometimes this is just
taking notes, experimenting
with my main character?s
voice, conducting character
interviews, but mostly it?s just
writing. I tend to have a vague
idea of the story and then write
my way into it. It may not be
the most efficient method, but
it works for me.
I have two YA books and two
middle grade books in various
stages of completion. The book
I?m working on right now is
YA, about a girl searching for
her older sister who runs away
after her parents reject her for
being gay, and in the process
having to confront her own
nascent moral code. It?s about
the strange, beautiful and
delicate bonds of family, and
how sometimes it is up to the
child to raise the parent.
My middle grade books have
both grown out of ?make it
up as you go along? bedtime
stories for my daughters. Who
knows where those will end
up, but they?re a joy to write.
I have a little editor on my
shoulder all the time, which is
brutal for those early drafts of
a book when inspiration must
be protected. In 2016 I took
November off work and did
NaNoWriMo for the first time,
and it was a huge success for
me. I squeaked across the finish
line with 50k words and now
have a first draft I can unleash
my inner editor/demon on. I
think if I?d tried to write while
working as an editor I?d never
have been able to write a whole
draft in a month. I?d still be
red-lining that first paragraph!
Great children?s books
The single most important
aspect of writing for children
is emotional honesty. Children
and teenagers can sense
pandering a mile off and will
drop the book like a hot potato.
If it?s middle grade, the story
should start fast. One of my
kids? favourite books, Neil
Gaiman?s Coraline, begins:
Coraline discovered the door
a little while after they moved
into the house. Main character,
inciting incident and setting
all in one simple sentence.
We?re off!
In YA, the most important
thing is voice. John Green,
Rainbow Rowell, Kate Scelsa
and Meg Rosoff are four of my
favourite YA writers. You fall in
love with their characters like
real people and never forget
them because their voices are
so strong.
In essence, children, teens
and young adults read for
the characters. They aren?t
interested in themes or issues
or historical significance or
literary prose ? all these things
are great and have a place in
children?s writing, but they
shouldn?t be the main focus.
My favourite thing about
being a children?s book
editor and judge for the Bath
Children?s Novel award is
Prize winner
Lucy Van Smit
the writers. I love them! In
my opinion, authors writing
for children are the most
empathetic, wise, love-driven
and caring group of people on
the planet. If children?s writers
ran the world we?d all be fine.
So out of these imaginations
come the most adventurous,
humorous, emotional and
creative stories we have.
There are no boundaries.
A boy flying around in a
giant peach? Sure! A kid who
accidentally shrinks his mother
with a ray gun and keeps her in
a hamster cage with white wine
in the water bottle? Excellent!
A girl with wolves for best
friends who takes on the evil
Tsar of St Petersburg? I loved it!
And don?t even get me started
on the Mr Gum books because
they?re pure comedy genius.
There are two books that I
have worked on recently that
I love and am hopping excited
about, but cannot mention as
they are in negotiations right
now, but one I can mention
is the winner of the first Bath
Children?s Novel award, Hurts
So Good by Lucy Van Smit,
who was just signed by Barry
Cunningham. I love this book
about a rock chick named Ellie
who moves to Norway with
her family and falls in love
with a boy who loves wolves.
It?s dangerous and totally
unique, layered and utterly
compelling. I couldn?t stop
reading it the first time and
can?t wait to see it in print.
Expert tips
My top tip is to know what
your main character wants.
What drives him? What is her
story goal? Too many times
I see intriguing concepts,
gorgeous writing, beautifully
built worlds wrapped around
stories that are flat and lack
tension because the main
character has no agency.
Things happen to them instead
of them being the agents of
change.
Also, any editor worth
their socks, whether freelance
or working for a literary
consultancy, should offer you
a free initial chat or assessment
to make sure you click.
Finally, when when receiving
feedback, always take time to
digest. There?s no need to offer
rebuttals if your editor says
your story starts with too much
backstory or they don?t find
a character?s voice authentic.
Breathe. Let it sink in. Question
yourself. You don?t have to
agree with everything your
editor says, it is your vision
and you must protect it, but do
yourself the service of listening.
? Dionne is on Twitter
@DionneMcCulloch and see
www.cornerstones.co.uk/editors
Writers?forum #188
WF188JUN16children.indd 17
17
09/05/2017 14:19:37
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WF188-18.indd 18
04/05/2017 13:10:34
Got a question ? or advice for one of these readers? Email help@writers-forum.com
ADVICE PAGE
Need advice on writing and publishing? Novelist
and short story writer Della Galton can help
I?m a newbie ? where do I begin?
Q
PRIZE LETTER I am 46 and a
single mum to a teenager. I divorced
fairly recently, after a long marriage.
I?ve spent a while rebuilding our lives,
putting my child first. I work hard, care
for my family and I now enjoy being
me. I?ve started to realise I am a person.
I have always been told I should ?try my
hand? at being a writer. The other day at
work I met a woman who is a small-time
published writer. Before she left she too
suggested I should try writing.
This throwaway remark from somebody
who met me only briefly, and was clearly
impartial, has prompted me to write to
you. I have no idea how or where to begin
my journey. There is a part of me that feels
I don?t deserve help as I?ve not studied
writing for years, as many others have, but
am just starting out. Any advice from you
or your readers would be great.
Daisy, via email
A
I think that an awful lot of people
will be able to relate to what you?ve
said. Don?t be too hard on yourself. In
my opinion, anyone who wants to write
should try it and see how they get on. You
don?t need any special qualifications. In
fact, sometimes I think it helps if you don?t
have any formal training because you?re
more likely to write in your own voice.
I?m not denigrating MAs etc, but they
aren?t essential. I don?t have one. I left
school with two qualifications to my
name: English Language and Literature. I
didn?t know what I wanted to do. I wasn?t
academic. I then joined a creative writing
class run by the council. It was not an
academic course, simply a ?fun? course
for beginners to experiment and learn the
basics of creative writing.
This course inspired me, and the tutor
? a published writer herself ? showed me
how to submit my work to magazines
and agents and publishers. I also bought
a book, Teach Yourself Creative Writing by
Dianne Doubtfire; recently updated by Ian
Burton, it?s still available. Then I practised
writing. That is how I started and I know
many people have taken the same route
with similar success. Good luck.
Q
I am working on a cookery book
with a particular theme. Although
most of my recipes are original, I also
want to use some published ones. If I
reprint a recipe from a book or magazine,
do I need permission first or can I just
reference it?
Alyssa-Mae Nugent, Loughborough
A
Copyright law doesn?t protect recipes
that are simply lists of ingredients.
However, there may be copyright issues
with reproducing a ?method of cooking?,
especially if the instructions are lengthy
or unusual. Also there may be copyright
issues on unique recipes, which can be
patented. And you are not permitted to
reproduce combinations of recipes, ie a
selection from a cookbook.
The Society of Authors told me that it?s
best to ?always try and get permission in
the first instance. This will prevent any
possible future repercussions.?
Q
How important for serious writers
is ?media presence?? I have read
more than once that if an agent finds a
script with potential, they immediately
check for an established online presence.
However, at a recent conference, an agent
and publisher said it is the voice and
content that sell a book, that a blog is
not a marketing tool, and that Twitter
followers can be purchased.
Trish Hastings, Wolverhampton
A
I think most agents and publishers
would agree that the quality of the
book comes first. Promotion will always
be secondary to having something good
to promote ? unless, of course, the new
author is a celebrity with a large fanbase.
Publishers and agents are interested in
one question: ?Who is going to buy this
book?? That?s why it often works the
other way round ? if a blog becomes very
popular, and there is enough content for
it to be made into a book, then an agent or
publisher is likely to be interested because
there is already an established readership.
I think a blog is handy, but personally I
feel they are more useful as a promotional
tool if you are writing about a specific
subject. For example, how to create a patio
garden, or how to lose a stone in a month,
are the kind of things a lot of people may
be already searching for on the internet.
You can use an established blog or
Twitter following to promote your novel,
of course, but the content should have
some relevance to your followers.
Q
I have always wanted to write and
my head is so full of ideas I can?t get
them down fast enough. Should I carry
on writing spontaneously or would I be
better working from a ?how to? book at
this stage, or going on a course for some
structure? Any other suggestions, please?
Beverley Wibberley, Church Stretton
A
There is a lot of value in going on a
structured course. Not just because the
tutor can point you in the right direction,
but because it?s inspiring being with other
writers and comparing notes. Books are
valuable but nothing beats a few wellplanned lessons and personal feedback.
If you don?t want to go on a course, why
not team up with another writer or a group
of writers and exchange feedback? It?s
helpful if you aren?t all beginners but have
a mix of different levels of experience.
Win Della?s book!
Each month the best question
or most helpful letter wins
a copy of Della?s book The
Short Story Writer?s Toolshed,
available from Amazon in
paperback and Kindle formats.
Writers?forum #188
WF188JUN19agony.indd 19
19
09/05/2017 14:10:51
Freelance Markets
THE magazine SCENE
Adam Carpenter gives a round-up of launches, trends and other magazine news
The Oldie catches up with the internet age
Now looking for
newsier stories
The Oldie has recently had a revamp with a new editor and a new
website and they are always happy to hear from new contributors?
?? The website allows the monthly title to be more topical so think
ahead for a relevant anniversary, eg Dizzy Gillespie?s 100th birthday
or suffragists picketing the White House. But give your idea a modern
twist rather than being nostalgic. Editor Harry Mount says readers
tend to be in their 60s, but there are plenty in their 20s ? ?as I was
when I first began reading when it started 25 years ago.?
?? Two sections where submissions are particularly welcome are the
?I Once Met? column and ?Rant?. The former has included encounters
with the likes of Daphne du Maurier and Field Marshall Montgomery.
They should have a good story attached to them. Then there?s ?Rant?,
which is a short item around 250-300 words, just enough time to vent
your frustration with anything from showers to windowed envelopes.
?? Poetry and short stories are not accepted. It?s also worth
emphasising that the team wish to receive full articles rather than
ideas. They can be on any subject but ideally between 600 and 1300
words ? so go for it!
Recent coverlines: The joy of glue; Inside the care home for
criminals; My husband left me for a cult
Contact: Email submissions to editorial@theoldie.co.uk with
?FAO Harry Mount? as the subject line
Arena video-gaming spawns new sports area
Believe it or not, watching people battle it out on video games such
as Call of Duty has become a huge arena sport around the world.
Collectively it is known as eSports (electronic sports) and one
website that covers the subject is eSports Pro?
Market NEWS
From the publisher of The Oldie comes a new erotica magazine
called The Amorist, edited by Rowan Pelling, formerly of Erotic
Review. Already dubbed ?an erotic Woman?s Hour?, The Amorist is just
one example of the recent and encouraging growth in the number
of independently published magazines. Pelling believes that as print
circulations fall and readers are able to access news for free, they
will reserve their money for more niche publications.
?? eSports Pro covers all the news in the eSports world, whether it?s
tournament results, game updates or companies getting involved in
sponsorship. Andrew Wooden, content director for publisher NewBay
Media, says: ?We?re based in the UK, but our coverage is international.?
?? Aside from news items, the site features opinions and points of view
of everyone in the eSports area ? spectators, players and sponsors
? so make contacts and pitch an idea on their behalf. Andrew says: ?If
you are in the eSports world then you?ve most likely got something to
say, and we want to give you a platform.?
?? Some general advice about any news item you may have. Andrew
says: ?Be efficient when communicating the information. If it?s relevant
to the audience, our team will be interested in what you?ve got.
They?re looking for news everyday so you are working towards the
same goal.?
Visit: www.esports-pro.com
20
Thinking of starting a magazine yourself, in the light of the
above? Stack is a subscription service that delivers a different
indie magazine to its customers every month, with subscribers up
16 per cent in 2016. Founder Steven Watson says such magazines
?always begin with someone who has something to say? but struggle
to find advertising and readership. His advice is to try and find a
niche that fits in a traditional consumer category, such as travel.
As the fight against fake news increases, Wikipedia founder
Jimmy Wales is launching Wikitribune, which aims to bring
together professional journalists and a community of volunteers to
produce fact-based articles on global events. The site is appealing
for supporters to fund 10 journalists on an ongoing basis. Articles
will be authored, fact-checked and verified by journalists and
members ?working side by side as equals?. In other words, a great
platform for your news stories. See www. wikitribune.com for more.
Writers?forum #188
WF188JUN20freelancemarket.indd 20
09/05/2017 14:11:49
This Writing Life
Inside view
New Internationalist
New Internationalist is
a multi-award-winning,
independent, non-profit
media cooperative that
recently secured over
�0,000 of funding
through a Crowdfunder
campaign appealing
for people to buy into
journalism with ?facts
and heart.? Here are
a few pointers for
pitching to them.
How to help
The main mission of the title is ?to bring to life the people,
the ideas and the action in the fight for global justice?. There
are various sections to target including ?Making Waves? ? an
interview with an individual who is fighting for human rights
in some way. Recent subjects have included an exiled Iranian
journalist using social media to challenge Iran?s hijab law and a
10-year-old transgender activist. Co-editor Dinyar Godrej says:
?We accept pitches from anyone ? though we do also search
out specific writers to commission, especially for the themed
?Big Story? section that is at the heart of each edition.?
Beyond borders
You must think global. This is a title that really cares about
the people of the world and there are no sections that focus
on particular countries. Dinyar says: ?In a nutshell, we need
popular, clear, non-academic writing on issues of interest to
our international readership. Hence focusing on domestic
politics or issues is unlikely to work unless there is a global
perspective or resonance.?
Send targeted ideas
Read the magazine carefully; only one in 20 submissions is
accepted. Once you are commissioned, you will receive further
guidelines to help you complete your feature.
Recent coverlines: Populism rises again; Escaping child
marriage in Mozambique; Sisters and brothers ? three generations
of change in an African fillage; Womb for rent ? can surrogacy be
free trade?
Visit www.newint.org
WHAT COULD GO RIGHT?
Y
ou?ve sold an article. Yay! What could go wrong? Well, for
starters, you haven?t sold an article ? you?ve had an idea
accepted. You won?t have sold anything until the money?s
in your account, and between now and then a whole lot of things
can go wrong. Here are six problems with separate articles that
I?ve been dealing with just today.
?? The editor disappears. You get an encouraging but vague email
of interest ? subject to a question. You reply to answer the query
or ask questions of your own, such as how many words do they
want, or how much are they paying. And although they emailed
literally five minutes ago, you get the response: ?So and so is now
out of the office until?? You chase on that date, but he?s away
again. No one else at the mag can help. So you?re plunged into
limbo, potentially until the idea?s topicality has expired.
?? The interviewee disappears. They?ve got a book to promote,
you?re offering fabulous publicity ? but they don?t want to do
it. Avoidable if you check availability first, but gutting when it
seemed inevitable that they would.
?? The PR disappears. Not literally, although you wish they
would. Instead, they keep promising you the interview but never
come back with a definite date. Every time you chase them they
assure you it will be fine, it will happen? but as time ticks down
to your deadline, you start to wonder if it ever will.
?? The photos disappear. Your article is accepted but can?t be
published unless you provide the pictures. So you go back to the
PR and repeat No. 3.
?? The article disappears. It was received with an emphatic
?Fabulous!? but months pass and your piece never appears. Have
they changed their mind? Have they forgotten it? You chase and
they assure you they have a stockpile, it will go in eventually.
Sorry, they can?t pay you until it?s printed, but don?t worry, it will
be! Something to look forward to, then? in your old age.
?? The money disappears. The article looked super, you?ve had
your warm glow, but where?s your cash? It?s seldom a straight
refusal to pay, or that the company has gone bust (though both
happen). Instead, the editor forgot to tell accounts, or the computer
crashed, or they?ve lost your invoice, or it will go through next
month, or the only person who can write the cheque is away.
Whatever the reason, you?re once again chasing when you
should be writing, and gradually reducing the value of a fee that
originally sounded such a lot for the work involved.
Writers?forum #188
WF188JUN20freelancemarket.indd 21
21
09/05/2017 14:12:01
Fiction MARKET
InsideSTORY
Using his My Weekly story Queen of Memphis, Douglas McPherson
shows you how to structure the episodes of a serial
A
magazine serial is not
just a long short story
chopped into pieces.
Nor is it a short novel
with a few chapters. Because
of the way it?s read, it needs to
be structured in a completely
different way.
The most obvious thing a
serial needs is a cliffhanger
at the end of each episode, to
make us eagerly await the next
instalment. But because a week
will have passed by then ? and
because some readers might
come to the story midway
through, having not bought the
previous week?s mag ? each
part should begin in a way that
smoothly takes us back into the
world of the story and subtly
recaps what?s happened so far.
In other words, while the
overall story needs a beginning,
middle and end, each episode
should also be a satisfyingly
rounded read.
?? The beginning of each part
(re)acquaints us with the setting
and characters, their goals and
problems.
?? The middle develops the
plot and escalates the emotional
jeopardy.
?? The end brings matters to
a head, and points the way
forward to the next instalment.
If each episode has its own
mini storyline or theme, so
much the better.
Planning
It?s a good idea to plot a serial
before you begin. In the case of
my story Queen of Memphis, I
started with this outline:
?? Part One opens in Memphis, in
1978, where Lauren?s life revolves
22
Although the end should make
them want to know what happens
next, it must also feel like an end
around the demanding Jack, until
she gets a call from English music
promoter Barrie ?Lightning? Bolt.
A record she made 20 years ago has
become a surprise dance floor hit.
Will she do a UK tour?
?? Part Two follows Lauren on
tour as she gradually falls for
Lightning.
?? Part Three finds her back in
Memphis, where she has to resolve
her commitment to Jack and her
love for Lightning.
The fact that each instalment
was wholly set in one country
? America in Part One, England
in Part Two and America in
Part Three ? already gave
each episode a sense of
self?containment.
The next step was to make
sure that each part had its own
story arc.
Cliffhangers
An episode can?t end all of a
sudden, as if you ran out of
room. You don?t want to leave
a disorientated reader turning
the page to see what happens
next and thinking, ?What? Is
that all? Is there supposed to
be more??
So although the end should
make them want to know what
happens next, it must also
feel like an end ? a satisfying
conclusion to that week?s read.
Because the cliffhangers
are so important, it?s useful
to know them at the plotting
stage. That way, you can write
the episode in a way that leads
up to that crisis point.
In my case, Part One would
end with Lauren breaking the
news to Jack that she?s going
to England. The cliffhanger is:
how will he react?
To load that question with
tension, the entire episode
would be leading us to believe
his reaction will be bad.
Because the episode would
end with Jack, I began it with
him. Although he?s off-stage
nearly all the time, I established
him as a controlling figure
in Lauren?s thoughts before
she gets the initial call from
Lightning:
If his dinner wasn?t on the table
when he got home there?d be hell
to pay.
As the story unfolds
and Lauren?s attraction to
Lightning develops, her desire
to go to England is complicated
by the question of whether she
can bring herself to leave Jack
behind ? or, at least, tell him
she?s going.
So although, in the wider
arc of the serial, Part One was
the beginning of Lauren?s
romance with Lightning, it also
had a self-contained storyline
about Lauren breaking free
from Jack:
?? In the beginning, she?s under
Jack?s thumb.
?? The middle is her finding the
resolve to go to England.
?? The end is her decision to go.
In that way, although the
episode ends on a cliffhanger
? how will Jack react? ? there?s
also a sense of conclusion to
the mini story about whether
she can escape his control. We
know there?s more to come, but
we can put down the mag with
the comfortable feeling that
we?ve read a proper ending to
this week?s episode, rather than
an irritating interruption to the
ongoing story.
New beginnings
Part Two was set in England,
and I began it like a selfcontained story with Lauren
stepping off the plane at
Heathrow.
Jack?s reaction happened
off-stage, but of course I had
to refer to it, to resolve the
previous episode?s cliffhanger:
She wished Jack could have
been there to share this moment.
But bringing Jack would have
been impossible.
His reaction had been every bit
as bad as she feared. But fleeing an
explosion was better than giving
him time to wear her down and
stop her coming.
The above didn?t just
resolve the previous episode?s
cliffhanger, however; it also
set things up for this week?s
suspenseful ending, which was
Lauren deciding to end her
stay in England by sleeping
with Lightning.
The story arc of Part Two
was a straightforward romance:
our characters grow closer and
end up consummating their
relationship. In that sense, the
Writers?forum #188
WF188JUN22insidestory.indd 22
09/05/2017 14:13:05
FIRST CLASS FICTION
STARTS
TODAY
queen of
memphis
Can one man?s enthusiasm rekindle a faded singer?s career?
By Julia Douglas
Memphis, 1978
I L L U S T R AT I O N S : S I L K E B A C H M A N N , W W W. I L L U S T R AT I O N W E B . C O M
L
auren McGuinty swung her
Oldsmobile into the drive of
her neat timber-framed
house in the leafy suburbs
of Memphis.
?Thank goodness it?s Friday!? she
sighed, as she cut the engine.
She loved music, always had, but
sometimes she wondered if teaching it
to eight-year-olds was her punishment
for several past lives of sin. Little Scotty
Atkins was the living end. He couldn?t
ring a bell in tune.
Her ears still ringing from that
afternoon?s cacophony, she went
indoors, glad of the couple of hours?
peace she?d have before Jack got home.
Not that she?d be idle in that time. If
his dinner wasn?t ready on the table,
there?d be hell to pay.
The jangle of the phone made her
jump. It was probably Martha, calling to
arrange their shopping trip tomorrow.
??Lo?? Lauren picked up distractedly.
?Hello,? said an English voice she
didn?t recognise. ?Is that Lori James??
Lauren frowned. She hadn?t heard
that name in years.
?Um, this is Lauren McGuinty,? she
said guardedly.
?Ah, yes, of course.? The caller
chuckled nervously. ?Dewey Williams
told me you?d changed your name.?
Dewey?? There was another name
from the distant past. His warm, fatherly
smile flashed briefly in her memory.
?I?m sorry, I should explain,? said the
10
Englishman. ?My name?s Barrie Bolt,
sometimes known as Lightning Bolt. I?m
a promoter in England. I?d like to talk to
you about coming over for a tour. Your
record?s a big hit over here.?
?Tour?? Lauren laughed ? a light,
girlish laugh that for the first time that
day made her feel younger than her forty
years. ?I?m sorry, Mr, um ? Lightning?
There must be some mistake. I haven?t
had a record out in twenty years.?
?I know,? said Lightning. ?But there?s
a big rockabilly revival going on over
here. Tongue Tied Gal is a smash on the
dance floors.?
?Tongue Tied Gal?? Lauren could
barely remember singing it. ?This isn?t
April first, is it? Because you must be
putting me on.?
?No, this is straight up!? Lightning
insisted. ?Look, Lori ? Miss McGuinty ??
?Mrs,? she murmured.
?I?m only in Memphis for another two
days. Could I buy you lunch tomorrow
to discuss my proposal??
?Well, I don?t know??
Meeting a strange man didn?t sound
such a good idea to Lauren, even though
this Lightning guy sounded sincere.
There was a boyish excitement in his
tone that was kind of infectious.
?Dewey will be there. I know he?d like
to see you again after all these years.?
Lauren pictured the kindly record
producer who?d given her a break. He?d
be? what? In his sixties now. It would
be nice to see his face again.
?Well, OK,? she said, wondering what
she was getting herself into.
They arranged to meet in a restaurant
on Beale Street. Before she hung up,
Lightning said, ?This means so much to
me, Miss James. I?m your biggest fan!?
Lauren shook her head as if she?d
been daydreaming. She gazed at her
reflection in the hall mirror and was
surprised to see so much of Lori James
smiling back at her.
Her neat golden bob sparked with
silver threads and there were lines
around her hazel eyes ? hardly
surprising considering the past few
years. But she was still trim with a wasp
waist and a kind of perky look.
?Biggest fan, huh?? She raised her
eyebrows at ?Lori.? Until that moment
she hadn?t known she had any fans. In
fact, she didn?t remember having many
back in 1958.
The phone jangled again and jolted
her out of her daze. She bet it was the
English guy calling back to say it had all
been a joke. But no, it was Martha.
?Hey, hon, are you coming into town
tomorrow??
?Oh, Martha, I?m afraid I can?t. I?m
meeting a man.?
Her friend was momentarily shocked
into silence, then drawled, ?Well, you
sly fox??
?It?s not like that!? Lauren laughed.
Before she realised what she was doing,
she blurted out the whole story.
Martha was incredulous. She?d
known Lauren for five years and never
knew she?d once made a record.
?You mustn?t tell anyone,? Lauren
said worriedly. ?I don?t want Jack to find
out. He?d think? well, you know??
?Don?t worry, honey child,? Martha
drawled. ?Your secret?s safe with me!?
As Lauren went into the kitchen, she
Nostalgic New Serial
regretted telling even Martha. She knew
if Jack found out about her assignation,
he?d think it was far from innocent. But
then, there was no reason for him to know.
Jack slept late on Saturday mornings,
hungover from Friday evening at
Roxie?s bar. In the afternoon he?d go to
watch the game with his buddies. It
wouldn?t cross his mind to ask where
she was going. He took it for granted
that she always went shopping with
Martha on Saturdays.
As long as she was home in time to
serve his dinner, he?d be happy. After
that, the TV would keep him occupied.
Lauren doubted the meeting would
come to anything ? a tour of England
sounded as likely as a trip to Mars. It
would just be nice to see Dewey again.
?Lightning Bolt, indeed!? She laughed
as she put the kettle on.
A
s she drove to Beale Street the next
day, Lauren passed the former
Saturn Records studio. It was a carpet
shop now, but the storefront hadn?t
really changed. In the window where
rolls of cheap carpet stood in a row,
there had once been Venetian blinds
and a red neon sign shaped like the
ringed planet Saturn.
Lauren remembered the jangle of a
brass bell as she pushed the door open
one sultry day in her eighteenth summer.
She was wearing a calf-length
dog-tooth pencil skirt; a thin, scarlet
v-neck sweater; white heels and matching
gloves. She held a dull red guitar case
that had accompanied her to a hundred
talent shows and house parties.
The door opened into a small office
with two desks and a couple of filing
?Oh, Martha, I?m afraid I can?t see
you tomorrow. I?m meeting a man?
cabinets. A circling fan hummed
overhead. On the yellowed walls were
framed records alongside black and
white photographs of local blues singers
and singing cowboys. The south was
still segregated ? except in the emerging
world of rock ?n? roll.
The office was empty, but a door
stood open to a room beyond.
?Hello???
Lauren went through it and found
herself in a small studio with pale green
sound insulation tiles on the walls and a
recording console. It wasn?t unlike the
local radio station where she had a
weekly two-hour spot, singing country
songs between reading out adverts for
the sponsor, Bluff City Cadillac.
A genial-looking middle-aged man in
a waistcoat, tie and rolled shirt sleeves
was sitting behind a drum kit, eating a
sandwich. He looked up and smiled.
Nervously Lauren cleared her
suddenly dry throat.
?Um, I was wondering how I might go
about getting an audition??
Dewey Williams eyed her guitar case
and drawled in a voice like molasses,
?Well, honey, there?s a microphone
right there ? an? I?m free for ?bout the
next ten minutes.?
T
wo decades later, some words
came quietly to Lauren?s lips as
she parked the Olds:
My tongue goes bip, bip, bippity-bop,
Continued overleaf
www.myweekly.co.uk
www.myweekly.co.uk
instalment had a satisfying
end. But, of course, the
cliffhanger worked because in
the context of the wider serial,
we know that Lauren and
Lightning getting together isn?t
the end. Tomorrow she will be
back in Memphis with Jack, so
what will happen then?
As with Part 1, the tension
in the cliffhanger was more
about Lauren?s relationship
with Jack than her romance
with Lightning. That?s why
it was necessary to establish
Jack?s presence in her thoughts
at the beginning of the episode.
That way, everything that she
did was placed in the context
that she will eventually be
going home to face the music.
for example, it was logical that
as Lauren stepped off the plane
her thoughts would return to
Jack, who she?s just left behind.
Too much time spent in a
character?s head can be boring,
however. So to fill in a bit more
backstory, I wrote a scene
where Lauren is launching her
re-released single on Radio 1.
The scene served a purpose
plot-wise, because it showed
the completely different life
Lightning has introduced her
to, and paved the way for her
later appearance on Top of the
Pops.
But, just as important
structurally, it allowed the disc
jockey to tell his listeners the
story so far:
A recap
?Now, what were you doing in
1958? I wasn?t born myself,? the
Brummie joked. ?But my next
guest was at the legendary Saturn
Records studio in Memphis,
recording a song called Tongue
Tied Gal.
?The record didn?t do much at
the time and Lori James hung up
her rock?n?roll shoes to become a
teacher ? as you do.
?Little could she have imagined
that twenty years later Tongue
Another necessity was to
remind readers what Lauren
was doing in England in the
first place.
Recaps have to be done
subtly. You don?t want to bore
those who remember what?s
going on, so it?s best to revisit
old information in a way that?s
interesting in its own right and,
most of all, fits logically into
the story. In the above instance,
Tied Gal would be discovered by
a new generation of rockabilly
revivalists, and that she?d be
brought out of retirement for a
tour of England??
Final reel
For Part Three, I began with
Lauren back in Memphis and
struggling to readjust to her old
life. So it was natural that her
thoughts would turn to recent
events:
?Mrs McGuinty! Are you with
us??
?Huh?? Lauren realised the
principal was staring at her with
beetled eyebrows, as was everyone
else at the staff meeting.
But who could have blamed her
for letting her mind wander back
to England?
Two weeks ago, she?d been
standing on stage with a scarlet
skirt and frothy white petticoats
swirling around her knees, singing
rock?n?roll to a hoard of jiving
teenagers in brightly coloured
teddy boy suits.
As she drives home, a song
on the radio reminds her of
her night of passion with
Lightning. Back at her house,
she reflects on how life with
Jack has returned to normal,
on the surface at least.
Because of the recap, we
know what?s at stake when
Lightning re-enters her life and
disrupts it all over again.
Although Part Three was
the end of the serial, in
which all the story threads
are finally resolved, it too
had a self?contained story.
Whereas Part Two was the
story of Lauren in Lightning?s
world, Part Three is about him
adapting to hers.
By carefully structuring each
instalment, I therefore created
a serial that told a story from
beginning to end, but which
you could also pick up at any
point without having read the
previous episodes.
Next issue
Making the changes an editor
wants.
How to Write and
Sell Fiction to
Magazines by
Douglas McPherson
is available to
download from the
Kindle store.
Writers?forum #188
WF188JUN22insidestory.indd 23
11
23
09/05/2017 14:13:21
Writing Exercise
The sense of an
ENDING
Expectations by Charles Dickens
came to be published. In the
original manuscript ending,
Dickens has Pip accidentally
meeting Estella in London ? she is
in a passing carriage. They shake
hands and then part. The original
manuscript finished like this:
I was very glad afterwards to
have had the interview; for, in her
face and in her voice, and in her
touch, she gave me the assurance,
that suffering had been stronger
than Miss Havisham?s teaching, and
had given her a heart to understand
what my heart used to be.
Leonardo DiCaprio at
the end of the 2013 film
version of The Great Gatsby
Barbara Dynes explains why the end of a piece should be
as important as the beginning ? and sets an exercise
W
e are advised,
quite rightly,
to spend lots
of time editing
the all-important beginning of a
story, novel or article, to grab the
attention of an editor, agent or
reader. Yet you could argue that
the end is just as important. How
will they feel about it? They?ve
spent time reading your story; the
least you can do is to provide a
satisfactory ending.
Here are two famous, very
different endings.
24
So we beat on, boats against the
current, borne back ceaselessly into
the past.
F Scott Fitzgerald finishes The
Great Gatsby with that powerful
comment, which perfectly matches
the tone of the whole story.
I lingered round them, under
that benign sky: watched the moths
fluttering among the heath and
hare-bells; listened to the soft wind
breathing through the grass; and
wondered how anyone could ever
imagine unquiet slumbers for the
sleepers in that quiet earth.
This is how Emily Bront� ends
Wuthering Heights. The wonderful
description also sums up the
tone of the novel and seems
the perfect ending for such a
traumatic, passionate story. We
are satisfied that Catherine and
Heathcliff are now at peace.
Fulfilling expectations
There is an interesting account
of how the ending of Great
It was not a particularly happy
ending and Dickens? friends,
among them Wilkie Collins,
advised against it. So the author
changed it, saying afterwards
that he?d ?put in as pretty a little
piece of writing as I could?. The
final published version has Pip and
Estella meeting in the grounds
of Satis House, Miss Havisham?s
ruined home:
I took her hand in mine, and
we went out of the ruined place;
and, as the morning mists had risen
long ago when I first left the forge,
so the evening mists were rising
now, and in all the broad expanse
of tranquil light they showed to me,
I saw no shadow of another parting
from her.
That ending is thought to
imply that Estella and Pip end up
together, yet that is by no means
certain, given earlier individual
statements by the couple. It is,
though, satisfactory in that the
story comes full circle, bringing us
back to the source of one of the
important earlier scenes in the
book: Miss Havisham?s house.
Writers?forum #188
WF188JUN24exercises.indd 24
09/05/2017 14:14:13
Writers?forum
Some questions to ask
yourself
?? Does my ending resolve
promises made at the
beginning?
If you promised a mystery at
the start, you must deliver one
and solve it by the end. If you
promised a love story you must
finish with a resolved relationship.
You have to fulfil your obligation
to your reader. That problem
you introduced at the start of
your story, is it resolved in a
satisfactory way?
Scarlett O?Hara ? the main
character in Gone with the Wind
? is not exactly happy at the end
of the book, but author Margaret
Mitchell has given us enough
information about her to know
what she will do about it: Scarlett
will plot to get Rhett back.
?? Has my main character
changed in some way
(grown or learned
something important)?
If he or she has not changed ?
even slightly ? then the piece is
static and no one, including the
reader, will have moved on. That
problem you gave your character
at the beginning ? if you?ve solved
it by the end, then he or she
should have changed in some way,
or at least learned something
through what has happened
within the story.
?? Is my ending
overwritten or too rushed?
Never go on past the real
ending and drag things out. Once
you?ve resolved the major conflict,
answered the main questions and
tied up loose ends ? stop!
Do you really need that
detailed explanation about how
they coped afterwards? Credit
your readers with intelligence and
let them work out the obvious
stuff for themselves. If an ending
goes on too long it is likely to
quell any emotional reaction.
You?ll end up with an anti-climax.
Equally, make sure the ending
is not tied up too quickly. We?ve
all read a gripping storyline that
builds up excitingly towards the
climax, only for the whole thing
to peter out in a couple of pages.
It?s as though the author got
WF188JUN24exercises.indd 25
fed up with writing the book!
Sometimes this occurs when
the writer allows things to
happen off-stage; we are just told
what happens:
Jack eventually caught the thief
after chasing him through the
shopping centre. Later, he got two
years for robbery and assault.
The author has related what
happened instead of showing us.
If the story has been leading up
to a rip-roaring climax, surely the
reader deserves to actually see
that scene unfold? Otherwise, he
misses all the excitement!
Similarly, telling a scene through
dialogue or flashback can also
short-change the reader.
It?s all a matter of balance.
Make sure your ending balances
with the rest of the story, in
content, length and tone.
Your outcome must be
inevitable ? a logical conclusion
to the path you have travelled.
A sudden surprise that is out
of context to the rest of the
story will not work. Or, if
you?ve described really dramatic
incidents in the novel, such as
car chases and violence, and it is
all building towards a nail-biting
situation, a peaceful compromise
at the end will only disappoint.
EXERCISE
Finish with a flourish
A
Sue is getting married and wants her
estranged father and his new wife at the
wedding. Her mother, Jo, says no way. If
Sue invites them Jo will refuse to come to
the wedding.
Work out three plots suitable for a 2000-word story on
this theme.
a
A plot with a happy ending
b
A plot with a not so happy (but satisfactory) ending
c A plot with an open ending, with a lot left to the
reader?s imagination
Introduce other characters where necessary. Perhaps the
new wife intervenes or Sue?s fianc� takes drastic action?
Whatever, provide a satisfactory ending to suit the story.
Notes
Completed
/
/
My scene rating
/
?? Is my ending clear?
Clarity is everything. Have
you tied up enough loose ends,
and given your readers enough
information about the fate of
the characters for them to feel
?Right, this really is the end of the
story?? Have you evoked some
kind of emotional reaction in your
reader?
Aim for a really sparkling
finish. Make your readers sit up;
give them food for thought, a
lump in the throat, an uplifting
experience. Spend a bit longer
on your next ending; make it a
polished, extraordinary one.
Barbara Dynes? latest
book, Masterclasses
in Creative Writing,
is published by
Constable & Robinson
at �99
B
Read just half of a published story.
Don?t read the rest, but provide your
own ending ? one which you think would
be appropriate for that story. You will
need to keep the market in mind and
your ending must suit that particular
magazine.
Now read the published version and decide which is the
better ending ? yours or the printed one. Why?
Notes
Completed
/
/
My scene rating
/
09/05/2017 14:14:22
SHORT SHORT WRITING
Writers?forum
FLASH COMP RESULTS
Last month?s task was to create a romantic comedy hero or heroine
C
lich閟 were a common problem this month. I asked you to
write a 250-word scene introducing the main character of a
romantic comedy novel. It?s a genre where it?s all too easy to
fall back on formulaic scenes and personalities. Romantic comedies are
often looked down upon for not being ?serious? literature, but I think
this showed many of you how difficult it is. So well done if you managed
to send an entry in on time.
Many entries used the tired old trick of having the character stand
in front of a mirror to make it easy to describe their appearance.
Technically it works, but it?s boring. In any case, only the minimum
amount of description is needed ? look at most modern novels and
there is hardly any. The name, manner and voice of a character can
form a picture without the need for vital statistics. In fact, it?s better to
let the reader create their own image in their head. Like a caricaturist,
you should depict only what?s different about them. So if you need to
give your character glasses, blue hair, buck teeth or whatever, do so
? but you need to do it early, before the reader has formed a different
picture in their mind that they will then stumble over.
Most of these mirror-set entries, and quite a few others, had the
character getting ready for a date. It seems a natural way to introduce
both your heroine/hero and the major plot point ? that they are single
and in the market for romance. The trouble is it?s been done to death.
And doesn?t it make your character rather one?dimensional? This is
a novel, not a short story. He or she needs to have an interesting,
independent life that a partner would want to share, not be a blank
space waiting for someone to come along and make them whole.
And why are they single? Many entrants said their characters had
been ditched for a younger partner, or a domineering mother had
kept them at home. Yes, these are perfectly normal reasons for people
ending up alone, but normal won?t make your entry stand out. Some
entrants wrote that they were divorced for the ?usual reason of the
younger model?, or that it was ?the same old story?. But even if you
point out that what you are writing is a clich�, it?s still a clich�. If you
find yourself writing a justification like that, delete it all and come up
with a more interesting idea. Your plot doesn?t have to be outlandish,
but readers do like to be taken somewhere new.
Runners-up
Colin by Ros Woolner
When his neighbour died, Colin started setting his alarm
for 8am. After nearly five years of retirement with no structure
or purpose to his days, he had finally found something worth
getting up for. And he always woke up with a smile, which is
more than he could say about the long years he?d worked as a
market researcher.
Now, every morning when he got out of bed, he opened his
bedroom curtains and looked down on the neighbouring garden
where Marge, his neighbour?s widow, would be cutting fresh
flowers for the grave, with a Laura Ashley apron tied over her
black dress.
This morning, the movement of the curtains must have caught
26
her eye and she looked up. Colin flushed and sucked in his
stomach where it was straining against the buttons of his pyjama
top. Then he shuffled slowly back out of sight, hoping she hadn?t
seen him.
Perhaps he?d catch the bus into town this afternoon and buy a
new pair of pyjamas. Did stripes make a man look very old, quite
old or not very old? Maybe he?d pop into the library too and see if
they had any useful books on mourning. How long did widows
mourn, on average? On a scale of one to ten, how flattered would
they be if you said that black suited them? And what kind of
biscuits were most popular in the target group in question ? the
rather niche market of recently widowed 65-year-olds living in
Leamington Spa?
? Ros, from Wolverhampton, says: ?I thought it would be fun to write a
story about a man who?s spent most of his life conducting research into
people?s habits and preferences but who doesn?t have a clue about how to
approach a real woman when there?s no questionnaire to guide him.?
Ed?s comments: In the final par I could see the comic potential of
a man viewing life through the prism of market research, and this made
the entry stand out. I?d have liked more of this from the start ? before
it?s explained what he did for a living. Also, we need to sympathise with
Colin if he?s to be a hero, not see him as a Peeping Tom! As it stands,
he?d make a nicely unsuitable suitor for the heroine of a romcom.
Jack Barrett by Helen Yendall
?What?s a bitch?? a boy at the front asked.
Bloody hell, when he?d asked for questions, Jack hadn?t been
expecting that. The teacher had already slipped out of the
classroom, so it was just him and Sparky, facing rows of expectant
eight year olds.
This was the problem with kids; here was a perfect example of
what he?d tried to explain to his agent: they were unpredictable.
The one who?d posed the question looked cute, with his
freckle?splattered face and red hair ? perfect for one of Jack?s
books, in fact ? but then, he?d come out with that. ?Bitch?, indeed.
Mind you, he?d probably heard his father yelling it at his mother.
Poor bugger.
Jack scratched his chin and shifted in his seat, or as much as he
could in the tiny chair. He had visions of standing up later and
finding it still attached to his hips. He ran his hand down Sparky?s
neck. Often, rubbing the old boy?s head brought inspiration, like
Aladdin calling forth the genie from the lamp.
?Well, a bitch ?? he started.
?Is it a lady dog?? the boy asked.
Jack frowned. He?d been expecting a catch but judging from the
boy?s open face, there wasn?t one. ?Yes, it is.?
?And I know what a boy dog is called!? The boy stood up in his
excitement.
The teacher was opening the door. She smiled encouragingly at
the class and stood with folded arms at the front.
Writers?forum #188
WF188JUN26flash.indd 26
09/05/2017 14:20:35
HOW TO ENTER
?Do you?? Jack said, weakly.
?Yes! It?s a son-of-a-bitch!?
? Helen, from Blockley, Gloucestershire, says; ?This character is the male
lead in a romantic comedy that I?m currently writing. I thought it would
be fun to write about a children?s author who can?t stand children. The
actual lines came from a little boy I knew, many years ago.?
Ed?s comments: There isn?t a romance element here, but the
scene definitely has a romcom feel. The character of Jack feels fully
formed, with a past and a future. I like the way we?ve been dropped
into the middle of the scene. We don?t know what sort of character
old Sparky is, for instance, but this invites us to read on to find out.
�0 winner
Dani by Barbara Young
?Thumb and forefinger. Push and twist.?
Dani felt queasy as she watched Justin work the hook out of
the fish?s mouth. After endless weekends of quad biking and
abseiling, this was the latest of his man skills to be demonstrated.
The salmon was beautiful. Iridescent silver scales streaked with
darker tones. The whole body punctuated with shades of pink. It
thrashed on the grass, bony mouth gaping for oxygen, tail beating
wildly.
?You can?t kill it,? she said.
?Best lunch in the world. Salmon lightly grilled over an open
fire.? Justin pulled a hammer from his bag.
?No way.? Anger surged. Dani scooped up the salmon, lowered
her hands into the water and released it. The fish hovered, gills
flaring in recovery.
?My salmon,? Justin howled, plunging into the river. He lurched
sideways, stumbled and met the water face first. A flash of silver
and the fish was gone. Justin was flopping around like a beached
whale.
?I can?t get up. Give me a hand.?
Only last night Justin had treated her to a video of Fishing
Safety Tips: Waders may fill with water? fisherman unable to move?
on to your back? arms out in the crucifix position?manoeuvre
gradually to the bank.
Dani knew just what to do. She rolled him over and eased him
towards the faster water.
?What are you doing?? he spluttered.
?Just adopt the crucifix position. You?ll be fine.?
She gave a good hard shove and released him.
Her taste in men was in need of a serious makeover.
? Barbara, from Otterburn, Northumberland, says: ?I saw comic potential
in a slightly ditzy, essentially likeable character like Dani, who finds
herself in difficult situations and often resorts to doing the wrong thing
for the right reasons.?
Ed?s comments: I?d say Dani seems more determined than ?ditzy?
in this short scene, but we can still empathise with her. It?s good to
see the heroine being proactive rather than putting up with Mr Wrong.
Barbara saw the comic potential in some unusual advice ? how to
escape drowning in waders ? and conjures up a funny image. There?s
no physical description of Dani here but we see the salmon described
through her eyes, and get to see her emotions and ethics. For me, the
opening line is the weakest part but it?s enough to work as, ahem, a
hook. The scene ends amusingly with Justin heading off downstream as
she releases him. There are plenty more fish, after all?
Writers?forum
FLASH COMP
Enter our monthly quick writing
contest with a �0 first prize
O
ur monthly competition for short short
writing has a �0 prize for one winner
and a number of runners-up may also be
published, depending upon the nature of the contest
and available space.
The flash competition is FREE for subscribers
(single entry only). For non?subscribers (or extra
subscriber entries) the entry fee is � which you can
purchase by following the link on the Writers? Forum
website (www.writers-forum.com).
Entry is strictly by email only.
Writers? Forum wants to encourage you to write, so:
?? We will have a theme/task each time so that new
writing has to be produced.
?? There will be a tight deadline so that results can be
published quickly and entrants can?t dither!
The judge?s decision is final and no correspondence over results
will be entered into. By entering, entrants agree to these rules
and for their entries to be published in Writers? Forum.
Comp 188: HOOK
Deadline: 12 noon GMT on
30 May 2017
Editor?s assignment: Write
the first half (400 words � 10) of
a story that really hooks the reader in and leaves them
wanting more. Make the premise/setting/characters
gripping. Next month, the task will be to write a satisfying
conclusion to the opening that wins this time.
How to enter
1Paste your entry straight into the body of a new email
(NOT as an attachment) followed by the wordcount
and your name and address. Give your purchase order
number or state if you?re a subscriber to check against
our database. Add a line or two about what inspired you.
2In the email?s subject line box, write Flash Comp 188:
followed by your interesting and relevant story title.
3Send your email to flashcomp@writers-forum.com
by the deadline above.
The results will be published next issue. Good luck!
Writers?forum #188
WF188JUN26flash.indd 27
27
09/05/2017 14:20:44
OVERSEAS MARKET
New Zealand Markets
for Freelances
Glynis Scrivens shares information on a receptive magazine market
T
here are some good
paying opportunities
for freelances in New
Zealand magazines.
Most require contributors to
provide quality images and
be familiar with Dropbox or
similar. Some will consider
reprints if they are tailored to
New Zealand and not available
online. The following editors
welcome pitches and articles
from UK writers.
Animals? Voice
www.animalsvoice.co.nz
Animals? Voice is the official
publication of SPCA Auckland
and describes itself as ?the
perfect publication for animal
lovers and those interested in
animal care and welfare?. It is
published quarterly and has a
free newsletter.
Editor Bruce Scott is happy
to consider submissions from
overseas writers. Bruce says:
?The writer would need to
contact us with either a story
idea or completed text and
we would discuss the way
forward from there. Terms of
story acceptance, wordage,
28
photographs and payment
would be discussed at that
point.
?Ideas or stories would have
to be animal or animal welfare
related to fit the magazine?s
philosophy of ?the magazine
for people who really care
about animals?. As examples
of no-no?s, we wouldn?t run
articles supporting rodeos or
battery farming.?
Articles in recent issues
have included: A voice for the
animals; Choose the right pet
care service; Why we love our
companion animals; Natural ways
to de-flea; Nutrition ? a question
of balance and Endangered species
? Amur leopard.
As an example of what is
required, the article ?Animals
and us? is available on the
website (see above). It covers
five pages of the magazine
and includes 12 photos, one
covering a whole page.
Check out the website and
email your ideas to Bruce at
bruce@regatta.co.nz
NZ Lifestyle Block
thisnzlife.co.nz
New Zealand Lifestyle Block is
published monthly and has a
presence on Facebook, Twitter
and Instagram. The mag covers
lifestyle topics such as pets
and livestock, running a farm,
and rural people and issues.
It is described as ?a magazine
packed full of practical
information on everything
from organic gardening to
pest control, orchard care to
cheese making?.
Editor Nadene Hall is open
to pitches from overseas
writers. She says: ?I don?t mind
hearing about possibilities
from British writers; however,
it would have to be something
really relevant to NZ.
?We are a very small
magazine and pay NZ$700
(approx. �5) for a 1500-word
story and accompanying
images. We normally ask for
a selection of up to 30 images,
of which we?ll use perhaps
10-15, again depending on
the story. We also require
contributors to sign a writing
agreement and/or possibly a
photography agreement with
Lifestyle Magazine Group.
?I?d prefer a pitch first, but
if you have something written
already, I?m happy to take a
look and see if I?m interested.
I would consider a reprint,
although it would need to be
tailored, and payment would
depend on where it was
Writers?forum #188
WF188JUN28nzmags.indd 28
09/05/2017 14:21:32
available. If people here in
New Zealand are unlikely to
have seen it or find it online, I
don?t see why we wouldn?t pay
for it as per usual.?
In terms of format, Nadene
says: ?We prefer sidebars,
boxes, etcetera. Supply images
as large as possible for a story
once commissioned (through
Dropbox or whatever system
you are using) at 300 dpi, but
you are most welcome to send
thumbnails or a proof sheet
PDF to show what can be
provided.?
Recent articles have included:
What?s the best chicken for you?;
Keeping hens mite-free; Seasonal
composting; Go garlic; What you
need to know about all-natural
fertilisers; Design the perfect
palace for your poultry; 22 lessons
in running a successful farmers?
market stand; Why we need
to teach our city friends about
country life; and Must-haves if
you want to be truly self-sufficient.
Check out the website and
pitch your ideas to Nadene at
editor@ nzlifestyleblock.co.nz
NZ Life & Leisure
thisnzlife.co.nz
The stable mate of Lifestyle
Block, NZ Life & Leisure is a
bi-monthly magazine with its
own presence on Facebook,
Twitter and Instagram. It runs
a free newsletter, and aims
to tell ?stories of living and
traveling well in New Zealand?.
Recent articles have
included: Let?s go surfing; How
a barren fishing village became an
arts Mecca; A life less ordinary at
the Fox River Commune; Hollie
Smith: what I learned about
myself while on tour; Kurow
Lavender Farm?s sweet smell of
success; Saving the world through
cake; The king of Kombi vans;
A nose for the truffle business;
and Turning Japanese: brewing
sake in Queenstown.
In each issue there is a
section on international travel.
Destinations covered in recent
times include Berlin, Greece,
Mongolia, Morocco, Poland,
Vanuatu, Western Australia,
India, Syria and Papua New
Guinea. This area of the
magazine in particular is open
to freelances from overseas
countries.
Editor Cheree Morrison
says: ?We take all submissions
into consideration. We pay
$1200NZD for the story/photo
package and need to own an
ongoing, non-exclusive license.
Wordcount is generally 1200
words, and we need a large
number of images submitted.
We would need a Dropbox of
low-res images to be able to
make a choice, and then hi-res
provided.
?We don?t reprint stories
that have been featured
elsewhere and we expect to
receive the full written piece,
not an idea or outline.?
Check out the mag?s website
to gain an appreciation of its
style and tone. Then send your
complete travel article ? with a
link to images on Dropbox ? to
Section Editor Cheree Morrison
at cheree@nzlifeleisure.co.nz
Good Health Choices
www.nowtolove.co.nz
New Zealand Good Health
Choices is published monthly
and has a presence on
Facebook. It is New Zealand?s
number one health and
wellbeing magazine and aims
to be a personal and practical
guide to living well. Its target
audience is women aged 25
to 44.
Editor Rachael Russell will
consider submissions from
British freelances, although
preference is given to New
Zealand writers.
Articles in recent issues have
included: Get fit at home; Are
you at risk of leaky gut?; Drop
weight without trying; The top 5
ways to live longer; 6 Alternative
health tests and when to use them;
Walk yourself well; Anxiety: how
to spot the signs; I quit sugar;
and Beat the bloat: Natural ways
to aid digestion.
This is a paying market.
Would-be contributors should
pitch their ideas to editorial
assistant Sinead Corcoran at
goodhealth@bauermedia.co.nz
New Zealand
Horse & Pony
horseandponymag.com
New Zealand Horse & Pony
is issued monthly and has a
presence on Facebook, Twitter
and Instagram. According to
its website, ?our magazine
brings equestrian style to
life, sharing the stories of the
horse people, their passions,
properties and businesses that
continue to define the very
best of New Zealand?s equine
heritage?.
Editor Rowan Dixon says:
?I use contributions by British
freelances ? or writers of
any other nationality. I
don?t really have any formal
guidelines, though. It?s
probably best to read a recent
issue to get an idea of the kind
of articles we run as they are
all sorts of lengths and styles
and formats.?
Freelances can either send
a complete article on spec or
pitch an idea.
Rowan welcomes highresolution photographs to
accompany a piece but is
happy to source his own if
necessary. He will consider
using a piece that has appeared
in an overseas magazine,as
long as the publication isn?t
available in New Zealand.
Articles in recent issues
have included: Vanessa Way ?
from tragedy to triumph; 8 ways
to prepare for winter; Fitness for
riders: cardio; Feeding tips for a
calm horse; Mind power: thinking
like a winner; The ultimate
Christmas gift guide; Retraining
racehorses; and Dressage training
customised.
Send your feature ideas ?
or complete articles, if you
prefer ? to Rowan at rowan@
horseandponymag.com
Writers?forum #188
WF188JUN28nzmags.indd 29
29
09/05/2017 14:21:40
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WF188-30.indd 30
04/05/2017 16:44:18
Computing
Technophobia
Keir Thomas looks at how to dive into the
wonderful sea of words using your computer
DIGITAL
DICTIONARIES
W
ould you like
to be stranded
on a desert
island with only
a dictionary for company?
If somebody pulls a face at
this question, I?d be reasonably
sure they aren?t a writer.
However, if the individual?s
face lights up and they ask how
soon they leave, then I might
have identified a potential
reader of this magazine.
Regardless of whether you
like dictionaries or not, there?s
no getting away from them
if you work with words. As
since most of us write using
our computers, this month?s
Technophobia looks at
dictionaries that are accessible
via a computer ? both online
and off.
Note that we?re looking at
standard reference dictionaries.
In a future instalment of
Technophobia I?ll examine
access to other kinds of word
references, such as thesauruses,
rhyming dictionaries and more.
Special needs
list of correctly spelled words
against which your work is
checked. No other information,
such as word definitions, is
included.
The fact that spellcheckers
and dictionary apps are
separate is why you might
sometimes see an obscure
word highlighted as misspelled
when you are typing, but then
subsequently be able to find
the word in the computer or
word processor?s own look-up
dictionary.
The big players
Scholars and writers would
surely agree that, outside
of translation or learner
dictionaries, there are three
British English lexicographical
heavyweights: Oxford,
Chambers and Collins.
The daddy of them all is,
of course, the OED, which
advertises itself as listing ?more
than 600,000 words over 1000
years?. There are a variety of
ways of consulting it via a
computer ? which is to say,
accessing the full OED and
not the single-volume Concise
or Shorter editions that Oxford
publishes.
For example, you can get
the complete Second Edition
OED on your PC or Mac for
a whopping �2.50 (https://
goo.gl/xyMCdV). This comes
on CD-ROM but, crucially, it
installs to your computer?s
hard disk so you can look up
words at all times.
Alternatively, you can
subscribe for online access to
the full OED at � for three
months, or a year at �5. See
https://goo.gl/rN9405.
Thankfully, if you live in the
UK, most libraries not only
provide access to the full OED
via their own computers but
also allow home internet access
for registered library users.
Just type in your library card
number after selecting to log in
at www.oed.com.
There?s little difference
between print, CD-ROM
and online versions, in that
all include the incredible
etymological depth that defines
the OED, although the online
version includes spoken audio
samples of words in both UK
and US voices.
Notably, Apple Macs already
come with a built-in Dictionary
app that provides access to the
Oxford Dictionary of English.
This is an entirely different
dictionary to the OED. You?ll
find the Dictionary app within
the Applications list of Finder.
PC users can get the same
dictionary for � from http://
wordweb.info/ODE.html,
where they?ll also get spoken
audio samples of words,
something that?s sadly missing
Continued overleaf
Writers?forum #188
WF188JUN31tech.indd 31
?
Dictionaries are commonplace
on our bookshelves, of course,
and it isn?t hard to find the
definition of a word online.
Just ask Google by prefacing
the word with ?define?: ?define
exoteric?, for example.
However, we writers have
more complex needs. Knowing
a word?s 16th century origin
and subsequent evolution
can provide a poem with a
crucial additional dimension.
Similarly, if words are indeed
the palette from which a writer
paints, then we need access
to lots of them. We might
demand something like the
full Oxford English Dictionary,
which, when printed, stretches
across 20 separate volumes.
Additionally, computers
can play sounds, and being
able to click to hear actual
pronunciation can be
incredibly useful for poets and
playwrights who deal with
spoken language.
As you might expect,
dictionaries made the leap
from the page to the screen
years ago. In fact, it?s said the
in-progress monumental Third
Edition of the OED will never
be released in print. However,
not all ways of accessing a
dictionary via a computer
offer all the features we might
expect.
A quick side note: when it
comes to computer dictionaries
there?s often confusion in
people?s minds between a
spellchecker and an actual
reference dictionary that might
be installed. The two are not
the same thing and, in fact,
aren?t linked in any way.
Although often referred to as
a dictionary, a spellchecker is
nothing more than a very long
31
09/05/2017 14:22:28
Technophobia
Continued from previous page
in the Mac?s Dictionary app.
Both PCs and Macs can
get the Concise Oxford English
Dictionary on CD-ROM for
a recommended retail price
of �.50 ? see http://amzn.
to/2pgmT7h. This is the
single?volume edition culled
from the full OED and, like its
elder sibling mentioned earlier,
it too will install on your
computer. It includes spoken
audio samples of words.
Chambers
If the hefty but rather old?
fashioned OED isn?t your cup
of tea, then you can buy the
13th Edition of the Chambers
Dictionary, complete with its
The online
version of the
OED includes
audio samples
of words in
UK and US
voices
290,000 entries, as an app for
PC or Mac for � at http://
wordweb.info/Chambers.html.
This price includes Chambers
Thesaurus too.
You can access Chambers
21st Century Dictionary online
Send your computing questions to tech@writers-forum.com
at http://chambers.co.uk for
free although the definitions
it provides are terse, to say the
least. For reasons unknown, it
simply isn?t possible to access
the full Chambers dictionary
online, and a notable feature
missing in the app and also
online is audio samples of the
word being spoken.
Word includes a proper
built-in dictionary
Collins
If the Collins English Dictionary
is your linguistic favourite,
with its 722,000-plus entries,
then you can buy it in PC and
Mac app form for � at http://
wordweb.info/Collins.html.
You can also search the full
dictionary online, and for free,
at www.collinsdictionary.com.
In both app form and online
you?ll get audio samples of the
word being pronounced.
Others
If there?s a fourth favourite
dictionary in the UK then it?s
probably Macmillan (www.
macmillandictionary.com),
although some would argue
that the Cambridge Dictionary
(http://dictionary.cambridge.
org) deserves that ranking.
Both are online only outside
of their print editions ? so there
are no PC or Mac apps for the
plain reference dictionaries
? and the Macmillan website
provides very short word
definitions. Neither provides
etymological information,
although they do provide
spoken pronunciation samples.
There are, of course, many
other dictionary projects that
provide apps and websites.
However, many focus on US
English and I don?t need to tell
you that US English and British
English can be very different.
Within word processors
Modern word processors such
as Microsoft Word also provide
dictionary look-ups. Being able
to look up a word quickly while
writing can avoid breaking the
creative flow. Such look-ups
can also avoid the temptation
to follow linguistic rabbit holes
presented by dictionary apps
in which one word leads to
another, then another, and
another? Before you know it,
the afternoon has disappeared!
Within Word, just rightclick the word and then select
Comparison of digital dictionaries
PC/Mac software
Etymology listed?
Usage examples?
Audio clip?
Cost
OED
Yes
Yes
No
�2.50
Concise OED
Yes
No
Yes
�.50
Oxford Dictionary of English
Yes
Yes
Yes
�
Chambers
Yes
No
No
�
Collins
Yes
Yes
Yes
�
Online dictionaries
Etymology listed?
Usage examples?
Audio clip?
Cost
OED www.oed.com
Yes
Yes
Yes
Free via some libs
Chambers chambers.co.uk
Yes
Yes
No
Free
Collins collinsdictionary.com
Yes
Yes
Yes
Free
Macmillan macmillandictionary.com
No
Yes
Yes
Free
Cambridge dictionary.cambridge.org
No
Yes
Yes
Free
32
Smart Lookup from the menu.
If you?re using an older version
of Word, you might have to
click Look Up > Definition.
Either way you should find
the definition appearing at the
side of the program window,
although in Word 2016 you
might need to select the Define
tab, rather than Explore, to get
the actual dictionary definition.
Word draws upon the
Oxford Living Dictionaries
(https://en.oxforddictionaries.
com), which is yet another
offshoot from the folks
responsible for the OED and
Oxford Dictionary of English.
LibreOffice doesn?t include
a reference dictionary but it
does include a thesaurus and
this can be used to quickly
discover rough meanings.
Just right-click the word and
select Synonyms from the
menu. Unfortunately, because
LibreOffice is managed by a
non-commercial project, there
doesn?t appear to be any way
of adding in a full reference
dictionary.
? Keir
Thomas
has been
writing about computers for
more than two decades. He also
offers personal technical support
and upgrade services for Apple
products in the Manchester,
Stockport and north Cheshire/
Derbyshire areas. See www.
mancmacsupport.com
Writers?forum #188
WF188JUN31tech.indd 32
09/05/2017 14:22:36
The writers?
I
Inspiration
poem Break, Break, Break that goes: But oh,
for the touch of a vanished hand and the sound
of a voice that is still. To me, that line perfectly
encapsulates the sense of loss. It brings tears
to my eyes just thinking about it.
I keep a notebook when I?m writing and the
one with this story was full of angst. I knew
I wanted to write about that sense of loss
love talking about writing, reading about
writing and, best of all, writing about
writing. And nothing gives me a bigger
buzz than when someone contacts me to
say that something I?ve written in this column
has lit a spark and inspired them to write.
I had such a moment when Farida Shukoor
emailed me from her home in Koto Kinabalu
Paula Williams shows that success is full of crossings out
in Malaysia, where she runs a writers? group.
She bought Writers? Forum on a trip to the
UK in January and as she read about how a
visit to Wordsworth?s Dove Cottage in the
Lake District had inspired me, it brought back
memories of her own visit.
?I am fascinated by English poetry but never
had time to write a set of English poems,? she
says. ?I was in the Lake District in 1988, while
on a scholarship to do my Masters in the
teaching of English at university in Norwich. I
went to Dove Cottage to see the environment
where so much was created.?
After reading my article, Farida went home
eager to get on with her own writing.
?Sometimes I feel so uninspired, having few
people interested in poetry,? she goes on in
her email. ?Thanks to Writers? Forum, I am now
creating poetry very slowly. Lots of drafts,
crossings out and hesitations.?
Crossings out and hesitations are good,
Farida. I can still remember the tingle down
my spine during that visit to Dove Cottage
when I saw a copy of Coleridge?s poem, Frost
at Midnight, written in his own hand, complete
with crossings out. It really brought the poem
and the poet vividly to life for me.
E
arlier this year I started a series of
short stories based on the senses, and
this has proved to be a particularly
rich seam for me. I have written and
sold stories inspired by the sense of smell,
sound, taste and sight, and most recently, the
sense of touch.
This story, A Vanished Hand, was a long
time in the writing and, like Farida?s poetry,
involved countless drafts, hesitations and
crossings out. I knew I wanted to write a
story inspired by the line from Tennyson?s
fiction SquaRE
Roll a dice to find all the ingredients for your next story
? or use each of the squares as a daily prompt this month
Ist & 2nd roll
3rd & 4th roll
5th roll
6th roll
7th roll
Characters
Traits
Sense
Location
Object
1
bricklayer
7
gossiping
sight
2
politician
8
quarrelsome
3
driver
4
5
manager
touch
16
12
fickle
17
smell
magnifying
glass
28
23
18
29
package
24
bank
27
primroses
church
sixth sense
26
22
hospital
Day two and my confidence in the story
was wavering. I wrote:
Not sure where I am going with this yet. I
want the touch to be that of a dog but is that
a bit predictable? Losing touch. Stay in touch.
Touchstone. Touch wood. The sense of touch when
gardening. I think the touch of a dog is the way I
want to go but? It won?t do for WW, will it?
By day three I was ready to give up:
toy train
cemetery
taste
pushover
20
21
She?d never really thought about touch that
much. Her parents weren?t into ?that sort of thing?.
But realised her journey into adulthood had been
marked by touch. The touch of Tom?s lips on hers,
that first kiss. The velvet softness of her newborn
baby?s head. The bristly chin of that same son,
now all grown up. The papery softness of her
parents? skin, now grown old.
But she?d never know the touch of Tom?s papery
skin because he never did grow old. and that
poem kept playing and replaying in her head. The
sound of a voice that is still wasn?t so bad. Modern
technology (in the form of her grandson?s smart
phone) had recorded the speech Tom had made
at their ruby wedding, but oh, for the touch of a
vanished hand. That was the killer.
25
finger
museum
15
11
6
postman
15
10
intuitive
19
ferry
sound
9
introverted
child
13
without descending into sentimentality or
becoming maudlin. My notes began:
30
ashes
Still stuck on this. May have to give up. I
thought I could just keep writing and something
would come. But what? I?ve got it. Benji is the dog
next door. She only took him in as a favour when
her next door neighbour collapsed.
But by the end of day three I wrote:
I did it! I worked through this until a story (of
sorts) came through. It?s a terrible mess and will
need a lot of work in D2 but there?s something
there after all. Well done me!
This story had a happy ending, for me at
least. Woman?s Weekly loved The Vanished
Hand and said it made them cry. The lesson
is never give up on a story, keep writing and
rewriting and, hopefully, it will come.
Do you have a line that triggers your
creativity? Make my day and get in touch at
ideastore@writers-forum.com
Writers?forum #188
WF188JUN33ideastore.indd 31
33
09/05/2017 14:23:55
What am I writing?
Notes
Enter brief notes about what you want to achieve today
(or plan your work for tomorrow if you prefer)
Important dates
and deadlines
Thu 1
Fri 2
Sat 3
Sun 4
Mon 5
Tue 6
Wed 7
Thu 8
Fri 9
Sat 10
Sun 11
Mon 12
Tue 13
Wed 14
Fiction and poetry comps (rolling deadline)
Writers? Forum #189 on sale
Thu 15
Fri 16
Sat 17
Father?s Day
Mon 19
Tue 20
Wed 21
Thu 22
Fri 23
Sat 24
Sun 25
Mon 26
Tue 27
Wed 28
Thu 29
Fri 30
WF188JUN34chart.indd 1
Time to get serious about your writing
? pin up this calendar and then use it to
keep track of your progress this month
Sun 18
Flash comp #189
09/05/2017 14:24:36
Writers Forum
June 2017
?Writing and travel broaden
your ass if not your mind
and I like to write standing up.?
Ernest Hemingway
Pin up this calendar and then every morning add a note
about what you are going to write that day ? it really works!
WF188JUN34chart.indd 2
Image: Tithi Luadthong
09/05/2017 14:24:53
Creative Writing Weekend Course
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? ISBN - supply and registration.
Call us today for a FREE copy of our
sample book ?Self Publishing Simplified?
on 01279 657769 or
email john@czdesignandprint.co.uk
WF188-36.indd 36
Writing Fiction
26 - 28 May 2017
Higham Hall, Bassenthwaite Lake,
Cockermouth, Cumbria
Small class sizes
Beautiful rural location
Experienced tutor
A residential creative writing course aimed at both beginning
and intermediate writers interested in ?ash ?ction, short
stories, novellas or the novel. Lectures on structure, narrative
point of view and editing. Writing exercises, individual tutorials
and uninterrupted writing time. You may opt out of scheduled
lectures and exercises to continue work on an existing project,
or attend all planned sessions to gain insight and inspiration.
For more information please;
Visit: highamhall.com/darren-harper or ring 017687 76276
Ask the tutor a question:
darrenharper.esq@gmail.com
04/05/2017 16:46:18
Story comp
Writers Forum
fictioncompetition
Congratulations to this month?s winners, Ruth Skrine, JD Hellsinger and Deborah Freeman.
Do you have a short story that could impress our head judge Lorraine Mace?
Any subject, any style is welcome. Turn to the rules and entry form on page 43.
First Prize �0
Fighting for Life
Ruth Skrine
T
he bells of London, ringing in the New Year, did nothing
to ease Jane?s distress. Something had died ? or been
killed. Surely not by Justin? He had given her so much; the
studio, her exhibition and his love.
She stood back from the easel, wanting to slash the landscape
that would not live. Screwing up her eyes she saw that the green
forest was too flat. Was it a garden? She mixed some ochre with
white and flattened it still further, then took up a finer brush for
a surrounding fence. But the posts grew taller and more solid,
the knots in the wood becoming windows that glared at her from
high rise buildings. Against her will a crane leaned in from the
top, dominating the picture. No matter what she did, the cityscape
attacked her, colonising her eyes, her hands and every colour on
her palette.
Seizing the board she dumped it in the corner facing the wall.
As she nibbled a biscuit to ease the nausea she was fighting so
hard to hide, her mobile rang.
?Did I wake you?? Justin sounded excited. ?I?ve just escaped from
the party and couldn?t wait. I have a buyer for another painting.
May I bring him round first thing tomorrow??
His belief in her talent and his determination to make her a
success were exhausting. ?Is he that keen??
?He has been hankering after it since the end of the exhibition.?
He paused. ?You haven?t asked which one??
?You had better tell me so I can put it out.?
Justin hesitated. ?You may not want to let it go.?
Jane knew at once that it must be the scene from the lighthouse,
the one she had painted the day after he arrived at the cottage.
They would never have met if his car had not broken down. The
picture had been important to them both.
?If he?s prepared to pay a good price that?s fine. No point in
being sentimental.? She could not pretend that she still cared. ?I?d
better get some sleep. See you in the morning.? Without waiting
for his usual endearments she pressed the button to cut him off.
Lying on the bed in the alcove, not bothering to remove the
ribbon that kept her wayward hair from the paint, she watched
the neon lights flashing on the ceiling. If only Justin would
stop trying to persuade her to move in with him and the boys.
It was too soon for them ? for her too. When they were away at
boarding school she enjoyed waking to his warmth and the faint
smell of pomegranates. But when they were at home she had an
excuse to escape from his ambition and scorching concern. In her
own space she could try to recapture the spark that brought her
pictures alive. But nothing had worked since she missed that first
period. Justin had said he would be careful and she tried not to
blame爃im.
Big Ben struck two as she twisted from side to side in the
narrow bed. Getting up she made some cocoa, her mother?s
long?standing prescription for insomnia. But the familiar warmth
of the mug and steaming sweetness were no help. Would she ever
be able to paint again or would the staring walls and oblivious
crowds hijack her life until she was an old woman with no energy
to lift a brush?
***
Mr Peabody was a portly man who narrowed his eyes as he
walked about looking at the picture from different angles. Unable
to bear his pretentious posturing, Jane asked if he would like
Continued overleaf
Writers?forum #188
WF188JUN37storycomp.indd 37
37
09/05/2017 14:28:10
Story Comp
Fighting for Life continued
some coffee and left him alone with Justin. Even with the door
shut she could hear them talking.
?North Wales,? Justin said, in answer to a question. ?I found her
hidden away in an isolated cottage.?
Yes, he had found her. ?Discovered? her and dragged her down to
London. Be fair, she had leapt at the chance, blossoming under his
compliments. After that first visit, the villagers eyed her differently
and even the old man who mended nets, perched in a prominent
position on the sea front, asked where plain Jane had gone.
?She?s amazing, isn?t she?? Justin was showing her off again. ?The
way she captures the lightness behind the cloud and the softness
under the angry breakers.?
Jane cringed. She felt like a horse having its withers and
haunches displayed by those men in hats and plus-fours at Ascot.
?I recognise that headland.?
She was surprised by Mr Peabody?s lowered voice, as if he was
aware of her listening and was using the subject of the painting to
protect her.
When she carried the refreshments in he did not turn from
the window where he was gazing out at the river. Justin took the
tray and without thinking she went to stand by the side of the
potential buyer.
?It?s a great view,? he said, in the same quiet voice, for her ears
alone. ?But very different.?
How right he was. Why could she not find inspiration in the
pleasure boats and ferries that should have given life to the scene?
She let her eyes drift over the water to left and right, then brought
them back to the bridge. There was energy in the wavelets and
artificial currents caused by the stanchions, but somehow it had
been tamed by the hands that had mixed the concrete and driven
the cranes that had lifted the huge blocks of stone into place.
He turned from the window. ?Shall I make it out to the gallery
or to Miss Fairweather??
?Jane,? she said, without thinking.
The question had been directed at Justin. But as he extracted
a cheque book from the inside pocket of his jacket he looked
directly at her. His eyes, embedded in heavy lids above dingy
cheeks, glittered with interest. ?To you??
?No. I mean? please call me Jane.?
Justin signalled to the one chair and sat himself on the bed.
?Make it out to the artist.?
Jane was surprised. Their arrangement was that he took thirty
per cent of any money from the sale of pictures. Although he
had spent thousands of pounds on her, he insisted that their
professional relationship was separate.
She slipped the folded cheque into the pocket of her smock
before pouring the coffee. Mr P, as she called him now in her
mind, discussed frames with Justin and made plans for the
delivery of the painting. At the door he handed her a business
card. ?Just in case??
As soon as the sound of his feet on the stairs had faded away,
Justin took her in his arms. ?I missed you so much last night.?
She wanted to talk, to ask him why he had let her have all
the money, to tell him about the baby and the hostile city that
threatened her very existence. But he pulled her on to the bed and
the words were smothered.
***
On the express to Crewe, Jane tried to concentrate on the
practical things she must do to make the cottage habitable. The
owners had said that it was empty but the central heating did not
38
work. She had emailed back that she would collect driftwood to
burn in the empty grate. They said she could stay till Easter at
a reduced rent if she liked. She made a list of necessary stores.
Lifting her head she stared at the countryside slipping past the
window and realised she would not be able to carry everything
down the lane at the same time as her case and easel. Whatever,
she would cope.
On the slower train that ran along the north coast of Wales
she could no longer keep her anxieties at bay. She took Mr P?s
card out of her pocket again. Find yourself through mindfulness was
printed above his details. When she had read it the first time,
along with the �00 cheque, she knew she was indeed lost. But
she would damn well find herself without the help of any system.
She was forty years old, brought up by her single mother to be
independent. Was it the baby, Justin?s lavishness or the city itself
that had led her into this wilderness? She could afford an abortion
now, if she had to pay. She would give herself just one week to
make a decision. Otherwise it would be too late. When the money
ran out, the caf� in Beaumaris would employ her, as they had
done before.
As for Justin? she did love him. She had left a note saying she
needed space. He would guess where she had gone. She could
not decide if she wanted him to find her again. What if, even on
the rugged cliffs, she could not escape from the horrors? Those
walls made of glass, some black and opaque, some reflecting the
sky so that clouds became vertical. Others were studded with
caverns of hidden eyes that threatened her very soul. If she could
not break free she did not want to live. Her hand moved to caress
her stomach. She could not subject a new life to the end she would
choose for herself, smashed on the rocks with the seagulls crying
above. A suitable way for her to go, but what if the child was a city
person? After all she, or he, had been conceived in the city. But
Jane had watched her mother struggling alone and had vowed she
would never bring up a baby without a man.
It was dark when the train eventually reached her station. One
taxi stood forlorn outside and she sank gratefully into the seat
by the driver. When she told him the address he shrugged and
turned on a fog light to supplement the others. ?Very bleak out
there at this time of night.?
She was too tired to explain. He wanted to wait while she found
the key but she waved him away. Inside, she sat in her coat to eat
the extra sandwich she had bought on the train. Then she put on
all three of her sweaters, collected the blankets on to one of the
two beds, put her coat on top and crept inside. Her last thought
was to wonder how Eskimos could possibly keep their children
alive under all that snow.
The day she had appointed for a decision arrived and passed.
Justin sent just one surprisingly short email. Take all the time you
need. I love you. Each day she had to walk further to find wood.
When snow was forecast she made three trips to the village in one
day to buy two electric stoves, tinned vegetables and condensed
milk. Behind a pile of beach balls she found a stack of paperbacks
and chose several at random.
The wind rose and she stuffed cushions at the bottom of the
doors in a vain attempt to keep out the drafts. She had not dared
to unpack her paints. She would rather believe her artistic life was
over than grapple with the suffocating grip of twisted steel and
watchful windows.
The snow did not arrive until the first week in February, together
with a second message from Justin. It was longer than the first
and told her that he and the boys were well. Then he complained
that Mr P was being very fussy about the frame, disputing the
colour and insisting on a larger mount. ?It needs to breathe, like the
artist.? After the italicised quote Justin had added that he quite
Writers?forum #188
WF188JUN37storycomp.indd 38
09/05/2017 14:28:19
Story comp
liked the funny little man, even though he was such a pest.
It snowed for three days and then the sun came out,
transforming the world. Jane walked down to the beach. The
tide was out, leaving the sand and shingle patterned in different
shades of grey that contrasted with the gleaming white of the
snow above the high tide mark.
Walking round the headland she found a sheltered cove where
she brushed the snow from a flat rock and sat down. Far out to sea,
gannets dived. On the shore in front of her, a flock of sanderlings
ran to and fro with the waves. Her eyes were drawn to the cliff face
where pockets of snow were caught on projecting ledges. Deep
crevices could be cave entrances, reminding her of the caves in Les
Eyzies in the Dordogne. Her mother, on that last trip before she
died, had spun a story of a family living in such a place, the low
ceiling, the drip of water and the smell of wood smoke drifting out
from a hidden fire. Jane was back in the story, looking through the
makeshift bars, reaching to scoop a fist of snow as a child pulled at
her skirt and a gull swooped past. Looking down she saw herself,
a small hump, insignificant in the grandeur of sea and sky. As she
got to her feet she felt a flutter in her stomach. There was no doubt
about it, something inside was kicking.
Back at the cottage she reached for her paints with the urgency
of someone who had fasted for months. What matter if the cliff
grew windows, she would put herself behind them; the subject
looking out, not an object being scrutinised. Once started she
could not stop. Her landscapes became more abstract. She took
up her charcoal stick and began to draw portraits from memory,
smiling as the face of Mr P appeared with Justin alongside. It was
no good, she must tell him about the baby ? and soon.
But the days drifted by and she did nothing but draw and
paint. As the tourists began to arrive she went into the town and
sketched heads and shoulders as they passed. They were good
likenesses and sold easily. Now she had enough money to pay the
full rent and she extended her lease of the cottage for another year.
On Easter day she sat on her new canvas stool with her easel
adjusted to the right height. If she stood for too long her back
ached. As she looked up the path towards the cottage, church
bells pealed in the distance. She mixed one colour after another,
determined to catch the tones of yellow and orange in the
daffodils and polyanthus that struggled to live among the weeds
in the small garden. She did not turn as a car drew up in the lane
behind her. More tourists were arriving every day. They always
stopped to look at her work but she had learnt to ignore them. The
corner of a roof above two pillars appeared in the foreground of
her painting. She blurred the edges with a creeper, for, although
it made a good contrast to the flowers, she would not let the inert
stone dominate the living plants.
?That?s good.?
The voice behind her did not belong to any tourist. Two drops
of iridescent white fell from her stilled brush onto the outline of a
green shrub. ?You?ve brought my viburnum into flower,? she said,
before turning to look up into Justin?s face.
He glanced down at her changed shape. ?Is it mine??
She nodded.
?I?ve sold the studio,? he said. ?Mr Peabody made me see that you
would never flourish there.? He searched the front of the cottage,
the small windows now framed with the gingham curtains she
had made. ?Can you stay here??
She nodded again.
?I?ll put the money into a trust for him.?
?They say at the hospital that it?s a girl.?
After a long moment, when he did not seem to believe her, a
wide smile spread across his face. ?I?ve never managed one of
those. May I visit??
?Just as often as you can.?
He offered a hand to help her up. ?Could you manage a cup
of爐ea??
She led the way inside.
About the author Ruth, a retired doctor, has written a
book for the profession, as well as a memoir and a self-published
novel. Two further novels have been accepted by Pegasus
Publishing. This is her first story competition win.
SECOND Prize �0
Death by Chocolate
JD Hellsinger
D
eath Row Diners??
?You like it??
?So, cooking for condemned men??
?Mostly men, but the occasional female as well.?
?On death row??
Barney nodded.
?But?? I didn?t know where to start, ?? don?t they get a last meal
anyway??
?More prisons are going down the outsourcing route these days,
or doing away with the meals altogether.? Barney flipped open a
folder on his desk and pulled out some sheets of paper. ?I got my
guy to knock up some artworks,? he said, turning them round to
show me.
?The Last Supper??
?For the front of the menu card. I think they?ll be OK with it ?
even the ones who?ve found God in there. Maybe especially them.?
?Yes, and it?s subtle.?
?Hey, don?t come over all picky, Gordon. You said you needed
work. Well, here it is ? on a plate.?
?Stop.?
?I thought you?d be hard-boiled enough to??
Continued overleaf
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Death by Chocolate continued
?Just stop, OK??
?So is that a yes??
I shook my head.
?What??
?We don?t even have the death penalty in this country.?
?More?s the pity, but did I say it was in the UK? No, this is in the
States. Most of the gigs so far have been in the south, but it could
be anywhere.? Barney pointed at me. ?By the way, you don?t have
any kind of record in the US, do you??
I was at a low ebb, but there had to be something else. Maybe
not in the UK for a while but somewhere in the world there had to
be a kitchen that would take me.
Actually no, Barney reminded me. He?d been working on it for
the past month.
?Basically, you?re toast.?
?Come on. No one died,? I said.
?Well, this time someone will and you?ll have the honour of
preparing them their last meal on earth,? said Barney. ?Think of
this as a way of redeeming yourself.?
?By cooking grits for a serial killer??
?What do you care? These guys are willing to pay top dollar.
That?s not to say it won?t be grits. By the way, what are grits??
?Think polenta but with more texture. So why don?t they just get
a local restaurant to cook the last meal??
Apart from the fact that restaurant owners were touchy about
that sort of thing damaging their reputation, security was the
Donna was my first female client.
She wanted a cake for the wedding
she?d never had
main issue, apparently. Outsourcing to a company who supplied
independently verified chefs, who had no prior knowledge of the
offender or the correctional institution, eliminated that risk. Risk
of what? I wondered.
?Who knows? Listen, everything you need to know will be in
the brief, including how to contact the client.?
Is this what it had come to? Maybe it was time to go and do
something else altogether, but what? I?d worked in kitchens from
the age of 16, it was all I knew. True, the old fire had burnt out but
was this the way to try and reignite it?
Reading my mind, Barney said: ?Face it, Gordon, you?re not
exactly spoilt for choice and, who knows, this could work out
better than you think.?
?I?m trying to see how, but here?s a question for you: what
happens if the food?s not to the client?s liking??
?You mean, if you execute it badly??
?You can?t help yourself, can you??
?Look, this is one gig where it?s impossible to fail. Whatever
you serve up it?ll be preferable to what?s facing the guy in the
morning.?
Hangman?s Plat de Jour, Mississippi Murder Pie, Mixed Grill �
la Gallows, Guillotine Gateau, The Firing Squid? these were just
some of the names Barney had come up with for those ?clients?
who didn?t know what to order.
?For their sake I hope it never comes to that,? I said.
?Lethal Infusion?? he shouted when I was halfway out the door.
My first booking was in Texas. The client, a man in his late
50s who?d been on death row for 24 years, wanted a handmade
40
burger and fries. Simple as that. You?ve heard of the world?s most
expensive burger ? the one made from Kobe beef, caviar, black
truffle brie etc. Well, the one I cooked for ? let?s call him Chuck
? left it in the shade, at least in terms of price. OK, I did use
premium-grade grass-fed beef, a quality brioche bun, my own
pickles, organic onion, tomato and lettuce, plus hand-cut fries
(made from Burbank potatoes) but the $1000 fee plus expenses
still seemed on the steep side. Not that Chuck baulked at the price.
The guard told me Chuck enjoyed the burger, although he said next
time to put on more of the sweet mustard and ketchup combo.
?Next time??
?Sir, it ain?t never over till the fat needle stings,? the guard said.
Everyone?s got a line on death row.
My next gig was a request was for potato gnocchi and basil
pesto with griddled pears and dolcelatte cheese to follow. Angelo
was a former hit man from New Jersey who sounded like Brando
in The Godfather and managed to look dapper in his orange
jumpsuit. I said his gratuity was overly generous.
?You can?t take it with you, kid.?
Which is what made Death Row Diners such a solid business
model. These clients were the ultimate captive audience and some
of them had money to burn. Why not blow some of it on a special
last meal? Barney was right and there was no shortage of work.
No sooner was one job done than another message popped up
with the client?s name, location, the execution date, and the last
meal request.
?It?s what I love about America ? the land of opportunity. If it
goes on like this I?ll have to find another chef,? said Barney.
My name was getting around, just like in the old days, albeit
this time among a different set of clients and in another milieu.
Actually, the clients weren?t really that different; they just had
more tattoos and wore plainer clothes. They also tended to be
more polite than many of my old customers. Less demanding.
Mostly, they were grateful for the personal service.
Whether or not they deserved it, wasn?t something I tried to
answer. Typically, I didn?t know anything about the crimes they
had committed unless they or the guards told me, and I made it
my business not to ask.
What amazed me was facing what they did, how any of them
still had an appetite in the first place. I?d have needed a bottle of
Jack Daniels, although alcohol was a no-no, of course. Hell, even a
cigarette was forbidden. ?There?ll be plenty of smoke where these
guys are headed,? one guard told me.
I lived out of a suitcase as I moved around, mainly in the bible
belt states of the south, but also north to Nebraska and South
Dakota. I adapted to my new life on the road as an itinerant chef.
Walking into a strange kitchen didn?t bother me, nor did the
banter from the resident cooks (some of them inmates themselves)
which was mainly good-natured. I mean, no one saw me as the
bad guy. And with so many gigs, pretty soon my bank balance
was looking peachy.
Maybe that?s when I should have called it a day. Money aside,
it wasn?t exactly inspiring work. There is a certain intensity
to preparing someone?s last meal on earth; watching an egg
poaching or a battered piece of chicken in the deep fat fryer and
knowing it will be the last good thing he or she tastes on this
earth. I tried not to think about it. I tried to see it the same way I
did when critics used to come to eat in my restaurants in the old
days and I?d try and focus on delivering the best food I could. But
it wasn?t easy.
Then along came big Donna.
Donna was my first female client. She wanted a cake for the
wedding she?d never had. Apart from insisting on a heart-shaped
cake, she wasn?t fussy about anything else so long as the cake had
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?loadsa cream and chocolate?. She said to make it big and double
up on everything, the eggs, the cream, the chocolate, and to forget
about adding any fruit or nuts or any ?healthy shit?. She wanted to
indulge her sweet tooth to the max. She also wanted Donna and
Lyle written in edible sugar paste on top. Lyle was the name of her
husband-to-be; the one she?d bludgeoned to death with a cast-iron
skillet. Actually, she said it was only one swipe, and a glancing
blow at that. Turns out Lyle?s skull was as brittle as a Kinder egg.
?Write his name in yellow,? she said.
This was in Alabama, a state where condemned inmates get to
choose between dying by lethal injection or electrocution. Donna
had opted for the chair just to be awkward. Awkward, because
due to her size, they were having to construct a special one, a
bespoke Old Sparky. ?I?m gonna go out on a high-voltage throne of
my own!? she said, sounding pleased.
In my time as roving chef with Death Row Diners I?d learned
that when it came down to it, when the date was set and the last
chance of an appeal exhausted, all the condemned were left with
was words and even those usually started to dry up. The odd
one still had plenty to say. Often it was regret, a lot of the time it
was bluster, but that wasn?t the case with Donna. I?d be lying if I
said she was cheerful, but she was reconciled to her fate and was
determined to go out on her terms. As she put it, this was one
occasion in her life where she was gonna have her cake and eat it.
On D-Day minus one, I set to work. I?ll admit I?m no pastry chef
as it requires total precision at every stage and I prefer to be more
creative than prescriptive. Not an issue with Donna?s cake. That?s
not to say I just threw all that butter, cream, chocolate sugar,
eggs and flour together, but I worked with the kind of abandon
I hadn?t felt since making mud pies as a kid. I wanted to please
Donna, don?t ask me why. I guess I fell under her spell. Better that
than her physical self, as Barney might have said, but there was
something about her that needed filling, if I can put it like that.
As a chef, I?d always known that by feeding people ? no matter
who they were ? I was nourishing something in myself at the same
time. Somewhere along the way I?d lost that feeling, but making
Donna?s cake, some of the old inner joy started to come to the
surface; barely perceptible, not even a low simmer, but it was there.
The cake turned out to be a thing of Gothic beauty. A black
heart covered with eighty-seven per cent Venezuelan cocoa and
laced with black chocolate liqueur. It smelled boozy. Yellow icing
on top wouldn?t have been my choice but Donna?s tiny eyes lit up
when she saw the cake. For security reasons, she had to eat it with
a guard present in the room in case I?d hidden a pack of Marlboro
inside, or maybe a gun. And only I was allowed to yield the knife.
Donna asked me to keep Lyle?s name on one slice, a big slice to
be sure, but I did as she said. She?d eat that one last. I didn?t think
she?d get that far, in fact, I was sure she wouldn?t manage more
than three slices, but I wanted to stay and watch. I?m not a fan of
those TV shows where people see how many hot dogs they can
wolf down in a sitting, but I don?t deny the spectacle has a certain
low appeal.
?I hope it?s to your liking,? I said.
?Why, thank you, gar鏾n,? said Donna. Like a lot of big people
there was a delicacy about her. A lightness of touch. She took her
time with the first slice, dabbing her lips between mouthfuls.
She closed her eyes and nodded to signal her pleasure. Slice two
quickly followed and then slice three, after which she paused for
a glass of water before starting on slice four. Nearly half the cake
was gone already, which was truly impressive. The guard, who had
a big walrus moustache and must?ve weighed more than 20 stone
himself shook his head and looked at me as if to say, ?no way?.
But, yes way.
Slice five followed four and was itself followed by slice six. More
water. I noticed sweat beading on Donna?s brow and upper lip. She
was breathing hard now. Three slices were left, plus the extra big
one with Lyle?s name on it. But I knew Lyle wasn?t in any danger.
Donna was taking sips of water in between each mouthful. Slice
seven took her five minutes to get down; slice eight ten. Before
eating slice nine, she got slowly to her feet and belched, managing
somehow to do even that with a certain grace. Twelve minutes
later, there was only one slice left. By now, Donna?s regulation
blue top was dark with sweat, her hair was matted to her temples
and the sparkle had gone from her eyes. The twin forces of fat and
sugar were taking a heavy toll.
?Hey Donna?? said the guard. He was about to make a
suggestion, like maybe he could help out with the last slice, but
she silenced him with a wave of the arm. She knew her rights.
?Now for this two-timing son of a bitch,? she said, bringing the
slice with Lyle in yellow to her lips. But before she could bite into
his sugar-paste moniker, her eyes rolled up in her head and she
Each gate that clanged shut
behind us brought me closer to the
free world again
slid off the chair. The guard must have set off an alarm because
within seconds the room was filled with prison staff. Actually
there were only three of them but they were all as big as sumo
wrestlers and kept bumping into each other and getting in the
way while Donna lay inert on the floor at their feet. I was ushered
out and told to wait in the room next door; a long narrow room
with a curtain on one wall and a row of chairs facing the wall.
For a while there was much toing and froing along the corridor,
but then it went quiet. I waited for about half an hour in that
room with the weird vibe ( it only dawned on me later this was
the observation room for guests invited to witness the execution
and behind those curtains was the electric chair) before a guard
appeared, the one from earlier.
?How is she?? I said.
The guard sighed. ?Donna didn?t make it. The doc says it was
cardiac arrest.?
?Jesus Christ. Sorry, I mean??
?It?s all right, but the governor?s mighty pissed,? he said.
?I didn?t think she was going to eat the whole cake ? I mean you
saw the size of it.?
?Hey look, Donna finally copped a break ? she died happy!
What a way to go, right? Chocolate, cream, eggs ? boom! No, the
governor?s pissed because of the money wasted on building that
special chair that?s not gonna be needed now.?
I nodded, not sure where this left me.
?That said, chef, might be best if you made yourself scarce. I?ll
walk you through the gates. You got anything you need from the
kitchen, any special knives or stuff? No? OK, then.?
I followed his big frame along the squeaky corridors and on
through the numerous gates. Each one that clanged shut behind
us brought me closer to the free world again. Finally, we stopped
under the sign for the main exit.
?You?ll find your way from here OK,? he said.
?Thanks.?
?One thing I gotta say, chef, this is a strange way for you to make
a living. I mean, must be plenty of restaurants?d hire a man with
your skills. Why your face is even kinda familiar. You ever been
Continued overleaf
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Death by Chocolate continued
on television, doing one of them cookin? shows??
I started to say that as a matter of fact? but checked myself.
Maybe he?d seen the clips on YouTube. Over a million hits the last
time I looked. The famous chef, clearly the worse for wear, having
a meltdown live on television. The one who stripped off and
started throwing food at the studio audience. That one: the real
naked chef. The crazy one, who craved fame and then found he
couldn?t handle it. Eventually.
?Not me,? I said.
?Anyways,? he said, offering me his beefy hand, ?been a pleasure,
although if you don?t mind me sayin? so, I think the sponge in that
there cake was a bit on the heavy side.?
In my anxious state, worried I was going to get into some kind
of trouble for denying them the opportunity to execute Donna,
while also feeling bad for the part I?d played in her death, I hadn?t
noticed the crumbs and bits of yellow icing that were stuck in the
guard?s moustache.
So Lyle?s name hadn?t survived after all.
?Too heavy, huh?? I said. But it was OK. As I say, pastry has
never been my forte and I was on my way to a better place. A little
bistro maybe, nothing too fancy. Cooking food that was good for
the soul.
About the author JD Hellsinger lives in the north-east of
Scotland and worked as a regional press journalist and editor
for many years. Recently he has been devoting more time to his
first love, writing fiction.
THIRD Prize �0
By Madeleine Black
Deborah Freeman
Contains strong language
Q
uarter to six. Here they are. Three of them. A
triumvirate of professionals wearing huge coloured
badges. Sweaty Steve, Probation Officer. Svelte Yulia,
Case Manager for The Charity. Last but not least, The
Psychologist, (I won?t name her; she has a stunningly perfect name;
I won?t falsify that even for the sake of a story.) They are here to
introduce me to My Two Volunteers. These, I gather, on their way.
They?ve been hand-picked for me, my two do-gooders, by Svelte
Yulia and The Charity. I?m where I was told to be. I?m at a corner
table in Jack?s Place, twenty yards from the Tube and Big Issue
Seller. I asked for a glass of water. It has a smear on its surface
which looks like an oil-slick, except it can?t be.
I?m not relaxed. Would anyone expect me to be, less than a
month after my release? I?m thirsty but whatever is floating on the
water bothers me. Inside, I wouldn?t have noticed. I?d have drunk
it. Life now is magnified. If I lean to the left the slick disappears.
Lean to the right it comes back. Weird.
***
I?m really careful about what things mean. When I was
inside, when life had picked me up, swallowed me, spat me out
existentially devastated, I kept asking myself ?Why?? So what
did I do? I began to study Philosophy. I got one quarter of what
could have become a degree. The reason it won?t now is because of
capitalism and what that does to the chances of people like me. (I
read about capitalism as well.)
Before My Volunteers arrive, My Professionals talk me through
the rules of our new game. A new script for a film. I often imagine,
when someone is talking, that I?m in a film. I?m in half light ? dusk,
or dawn after a complicated night. I look up and see a camera, and
a boomswinger. I love that word.
Synopsis: Ex-offender starts to meet regularly with two women
volunteers. The identities of the volunteers to be buried beneath a
pile of rules. 1. No surnames. 2. No addresses. 3. All messages to
be conveyed through switchboard of The Charity ? ie no mobile or
42
email contact. Best rule: The Charity will permit them to buy me a
meal! Upper budget, Yulia spelled out: six pounds. Fish and chips.
Pasta. Bacon butties.
They are not allowed to ask me what I did. It?s up to me whether
I tell them or not. The Psychologist suggested I might find it
hard to talk about it. This was at our last meeting. The one where
we discussed the 30-page document she had given me to read.
Borderline Personality Disorder. The essence of that was: People are
complicated. Stuff happens. Nobody knows whether people make
stuff happen or whether it happens anyway and the people are
fucked, or as she tried silkily to get me to say: why not try using
a word like ?crushed?? Or any word other than one deliberately
calculated to shock?
Here is my take on this world full of lies and distortions. My
small contribution to the evil network called humanity is minor,
on the scale of things. I committed one accidental crime. One.
***
The volunteers. One looks old enough to be my mother, the
other?s old enough to be my grandmother. The aged one has pale
grey hair, glasses, and a crushing Christian stare. The younger
one cropped ginger curls, tight to her head.
Someone must have coached them before the meeting, because
half of it is taken up with a predictable subject. Football. They sit,
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eyes popping out of their heads, feigning interest. Truth is, I?m
pretending too. Part of what the experts call my childhood was
that Dad and his step-brother normally came to blows on this
topic.
They supported different teams. That justified the launch
of World War Four every Saturday. Later, I learned the term
?collateral damage?. I identified myself as that.
By the way ? I know from experience that some of the stuff in
the novella The Psychologist gave me is crap. For example, the
stuff about relationships. It is not true, even if I do have what she
called (crossing and uncrossing her legs) A Borderline Personality,
that I cannot sustain relationships. OK. I have not sustained All
Relationships, but for Christ?s sake, who in this world ever has?
This cafe is an odd place. Chunky tables made of thick pale
wood. I order pizza and chips, The Professionals share a starter
of humus and crudit閟. Yulia looks embarrassed when she says
crudit閟. I believe she is asking herself: ?Does he know this French
word? Mustn?t embarrass him.?
You can see when the food arrives that I am the one living on
hostel menus. All my volunteers want is a pot of tea for two. They
babble on while I gobble.
***
I was seventeen the day I left what I call for the sake of brevity
?home?. Best day of my life so far. I woke up that morning without
the weight of something heavy on my chest. That feeling of dread
which always turned out to be justified.
One minute after I left, it was as if I?d never had a home. I spent
my cash on a train fare to Windermere, walked a mere hundred
yards and within an hour landed myself a job (waiter,) a room,
and a god-cousin. All that in a day.
This waitress called Mags befriended me, the way people do
in films. She asked me if I?d been baptised. I said no. Her eyes
welled up then, and she declared she?d never have grown up OK
if it hadn?t been for her godparents. So, to launch me in my new
life, in which she believed 100 percent, she pronounced herself my
god-cousin. Just like that. It happened. She fancied me, but I didn?t
fancy her at all. She had a spotty face and was already 24.
My first day off she took me home to meet her dad Cedric, who
was as easy-going as she was. Before I returned to Windermere,
he?d decided to play the same game. He declared himself,
laughingly, my unofficial godfather if I wanted one. I said I did,
my eyes blurring.
Three months later, aged 18, I moved to Spain. Cedric and Mags
gave me a great send-off. Like this time I got my real launch into
adult life. ?We are your new family!? they kept telling me, as we
waved goodbye. We promised to stay in touch and did. They were
the sort of people who designed and made their own Christmas
cards and sent them weeks in advance, but I didn?t mind.
I stayed in Spain for five years. I worked in hotels. Oversexed
tourists bought me meals ? and more. I took a lot of stuff in Spain,
and drank too, but I wasn?t an addict ? not the real thing. Not the
way some of my acquaintances were.
Then, in October 1999, the eve of the Millennium, I got a letter
? people still wrote them ? from my unofficial godfather Cedric.
This letter said two tragic things. He was ill, and Mags was ill.
Two different kinds of illnesses, was how he put it ? one physical,
one mental. I knew from the fact that he wrote the letter, which of
them had physical, which mental. Come and see us, he wrote.
So, I ended up back in Windermere, well, just outside. Cedric
was half the size I remembered from before; he walked with a
Continued overleaf
WF188JUN37storycomp.indd 43
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09/05/2017 14:28:57
RIDING THE FATE TRAIN
by Bette Guy
?The whole bloody world is a bit di?cult. Yet it can be
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Institute of Continuing Education
Study creative writing
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would she have ever migrated from England? If a bully had not
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Is it all down to chance or coincidence? Or luck, good or bad?
How much in life is down to individual choice? How much is
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Fate Train questions whether Fate is the New God.
Each story presents an aspect of life in Britain or Australia at a
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RIDING THE FATE TRAIN
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?Yet it can be unbelievably brilliant.?
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at Madingley Hall, a stunning 16th-century mansion renowned
for its beautiful gardens and award-winning cuisine.
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?the sky all around me as if I am an
eagle in an eyrie, the clouds like lace
lying over silk?
from Three Sisters, Three Queens
by Philippa Gregory
women?s
NOVEL
competition
2017
1st prize: �000
for unpublished women novelists only
Closing date: 18 September 2017
JUDGE: Philippa Gregory
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Story comp
By Madeleine Black continued
stick and his skin had gone papery. When I asked him how Mags
was, he began to cry. This genuinely did my head in.
Somewhere in The Psychologist?s document about people like
me they go on about vulnerability. Like, people like me can?t cope
with change, and stress. Well, here?s the thing. The change and
stress with which I proved unable to cope was not mine. Not mine,
I repeat. I cope brilliantly with my own change and stress. But.
?L?enfer, c?est les autres!? When Jean Paul Sartre said that, nobody
tendered the theory that he had a fucking ? sorry, crushing ?
Borderline Personality.
I went to see Mags in hospital. Recognising me, she throttled
me with a two-minute hug, drenching my cheek with tears. I
found this revolting. She had the same spots, I think, that she?d
had all those years earlier. Red, squeezed, ugly, bruising. She
said my name, over and over again, Bob, Bob, Bob, Bob, Bob. Bobby.
This made me feel even more alienated. I?d changed it, hadn?t I? I
changed it in Spain. I?d gone out there as Bob, and but after a year
became Derek. Anyway, I said:
?Doesn?t seem too bad here. ? (Complete lie.) ?What do you do
with yourself, Mags??
?Mondays we have a group, Tuesday we go to the park, but I?
just a minute? let me think, Bob. Let me think.? She closed her
heavy eyes and nodded off. A nurse came in then, woke her up
and told her in a loud voice it was time to go to sleep.
I stayed in Cedric?s house that night, but I couldn?t sleep because
he spent the night vomiting noisily. Early in the morning I walked.
I took ham from Cedric?s fridge, and bread from his breadbin. I
took a bottle of water. I never went back there. I never saw either
of them again.
I had enough money left for one more night in the small B&B.
I decided to stay there and enjoy the scenery because everything
about Cedric and Mags had made me feel so sick. And yes, I
did take that personally. I took it as what my uncle Duncan
called (illustrating it) a punch in the solar plexus. After the crap
non?family life I?d had, two wholesome people living in the most
beautiful place had given me a new identity, only to fall apart
themselves, crumble in mind and body, and leave me alone again.
Anyone human with a heart would have minded this.
***
The B&B was at the bottom of a cul-de-sac down a hill. At the
back there was a tumbling brook, like straight out of a film. I got
back at seven, it was dark, but the red berries on the shrubs in the
garden seemed luminous. The door creaked as I opened it.
There was someone else. Sitting on a dilapidated sofa, clutching
a handful of maps, tourist guides that she wasn?t reading, I saw a
vision. That?s what it looked like to me. A vision of beauty. Dream
come true. Sexy version of Mags minus spots and madness.
?Hello. Didn?t know anyone else was staying here. What?s your
name??
Freya talked like Kate Middleton. (Princess, Duchess of
Cambridge!) Except she was from Manchester, and had masses
of blonde curls. This made watching her exciting. Sometimes you
saw her whole face ? gorgeous ? sometimes not. She buzzed with
something. Buzzed. Absolutely crushing buzzed.
If things had gone differently between me and her that night,
we would have survived it, and become a couple. We?d met by
chance but we knew each other by instinct ? and my instincts go
deep. We started that evening with the best sex I?d ever had. She
sat over me, her hair floating, her body swaying, moaning.
At eight-thirty we flaked out on the bed. I sat up when she
began pulling stuff out of her green canvas shoulder bag ? weed,
cannabis, hash. We argued over what to call it. Then we smoked
it. Then the Landlord cracked his knuckles loudly on the door,
yelling that he couldn?t stand our smell. There was a bit of an
altercation. To cut the story short, he most unfairly threw us out.
What did we do? Found a bench on the dark road, and sat on it.
For my part I would have chosen to talk about what was going to
happen to us, but the nightmare was that she somehow slipped
out of my control. Don?t ask how. It wasn?t anything I did. Just ?
something flipped in her head. She lost it. (Or she had hysterical
She dipped her face to my ear,
whispered: ?I?ve met this guy. He?s
a poet!?
multiple personality disorder, which does exist.) She literally
became another person. Her hair changed colour in the dark, I
think. She started to talk, and kept going. Her voice rose and fell.
She was a fox howling in that high-pitched way. Then she was a
kitten stuck up a tree.
She?d grown up in Didsbury, wherever that was, an only child,
too much attention, with rich parents. (I could have wept for her!)
Her mother sold jewellery in a place called The Royal Exchange.
No wonder she reminded me of royalty. Her father ran a business
making T-shirts.
?Sounds like you got everything anyone could need!? I
said mildly, and with this innocent remark of mine, she
metamorphosed further, slid into Hysterical Woman mode.
?Stand up!? she panted, tugging me off the bench, ?stand here
and let me hit you! I hate them both, I hate everyone, I hate them
for giving me so much that I don?t know who I am, who I am
supposed to be. If I?m alive after the Millennium, I?m going to
America!?
You know, I still held it together, at that point, for both of us. I
stood my ground, ignoring the fists pummelling me. Some of the
blows left real bruises. (No one believed afterwards that they were
from a woman.) Then I took her hand firmly.
?Come on,? I said, ?we?re going to find a pub. The village is ten
minutes away.? I led the way. I was mature and patient. Left alone
she would have rambled off and been run over. To this day I get
nightmares that that happened. I find her lying, head split open,
brains on the road. Grey brains and crimson blood.
We came to a pub. It was open, and crowded. I can?t give an
honest account of what happened next, and no point stopping for
a philosophical reverie on the subject which would be: What is
Objective Truth. We met a man. He was taller than me, thinner.
He sat in the corner, mournfully.
He looked at Freya, she looked at him, and it started all over
again ? the flirting, that shaking of her head so the hair came
to life, flying, shining. They ended up heads close together,
inspecting some minute piece of paper he?d fished out of his
pocket. They looked so absorbed, so in their own new world, I
felt literally sick. She came over to me, dipped her face to my ear,
whispered: ?I?ve met this guy. He?s a poet!?
There was a man sitting opposite me. He bought me drinks. I
told him the gist of what had happened. How was I to know he
had a personality disorder, too? Probably an impulsive one? At
the end of my story, he shuddered, muttering ?Bloody hell!? Next
thing I remember ? he confronted the poet, told him to leave Freya
Continued overleaf
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Story Comp
By Madeleine Black continued
alone. Next thing we were dragging him outside, followed by a
hysterical Freya.
My memories of the fight are blurred. It happened in a blur
of fierce pain. No idea who hit who or hardest, how the injuries
were actually inflicted. But I know that the poet was killed and I
was charged. In my film version, the following happens. The man
from the pub, raving, frothing at the mouth, the type of person
who invariably attracts trouble, drags the poor poet (bleeding,
half?conscious) and throws him at me like a dummy in a Bond
film. I catch him. Or I don?t. He falls on the ground, his head
hitting a boulder. Sharp intake of breath. I am not entirely to
blame. But my crime has happened. (In my third prison, I found
a book with a poem in it by the poet. Not a good one. Something
about fell?walking and death.)
***
The worst thing of all about being what they call rehabilitated
is this: I?m not allowed, not by any of them, to talk, certainly not to
write about my crime. Verboten.
There?s a place I go to now, don?t go often, when I do it?s for the
food, a change from the food bank. It?s called New World. Guys
like me are supposed to do things like playing Scrabble, painting,
cooking, yoga. Even writing. But are we allowed to write anything
like any kind of truth about anything that really happened to us?
No, we are not.
So here?s what I?ve done. The old volunteer, the one with the
glasses, goes to the toilet at least twice during our meetings. Last
Tuesday both of them went to the Ladies together, giving each
other significant looks as they obviously made a decision to leave
their bags on the bench beside me. So I wouldn?t think they didn?t
trust me. One of the bags had a diary sticking out, so I picked it
up, registered her real name, then quickly pushed it back in the
bag. Madeleine Black. This diary belongs to Madeleine Black.
I?m using her name. Just like that. I?ve stolen it. Ha ha! I?m a thief
as well as a murderer.
Or am I? Have I actually stolen her name, or has she stolen
my story? And if she has, what does that make her? More like a
criminal, more like a psychologist, more like a very unreliable
volunteer, or more like a writer?
About the author Deborah is a playwright. She has written
for theatre and radio, and published stories and poetry. She has
completed a novel, Mrs Faust, and is setting up a rehearsed
reading for new play Remedies, about the mystery illness ME.
Highly commended
There were five further shortlisted stories this month:
What?s the Italian for Campervan? by Robert Kibble
In the Grey by Shaunna Gibson
Playing with Fire by Sarah Radford
Dominion of Crows by Chris Mendham
When We Sleep We Kill the World by Neil Greybanks
46
T
he term ?life-changing?
is often taken to mean
an improvement in
someone?s situation,
but it can also denote the
reason a life spirals out of
control in some way. This
is the dual theme of Ruth
Skrine?s Fighting for Life.
The opening paragraph
sets the tone for this touching
story. A New Year is supposed
to herald new starts and
positive resolutions, but here
it reinforces the heroine?s
negative feelings.
Something had died ? or been
killed. Surely not by Justin?
He had given her so much: the
studio, her exhibition and his
love.
We have no idea at this stage
what has died, but a little while
later are given a strong hint that
a new life might already have
begun.
As she nibbled a biscuit to ease
the nausea she was fighting so
hard to hide, her mobile rang.
Instead of telling readers
how far they have drifted
apart, Ruth uses the item that
brought the lovers together to
show the current state of their
relationship. Justin tells Jane
about a potential buyer, but
not for which painting.
Justin hesitated. ?You may not
want to let it go.?
Jane knew at once it must be
the scene from the lighthouse,
the one she had painted the day
after he arrived at the cottage.
They would never have met if his
car had not broken down. The
picture had been important to
them both.
?If he?s prepared to pay a good
price, that?s fine. No point in
being sentimental.?
She could not pretend she still
cared.
Ruth uses dialogue to good
effect when showing Justin?s
possessive attitude.
?North Wales,? Justin said in
answer to a question. ?I found
her hidden away in an isolated
cottage.?
Later we see the effect this
has on Jane.
Jane cringed. She felt like a
horse having its withers and
haunches displayed by those men
in hats and plus-fours at Ascot.
Apart from this aspect
of ownership, or possibly
because of it, it is clear Justin
has been good to her, so I
liked the way the author uses
Jane?s reluctance to mention
the baby to remind the reader
that all is not well. It becomes
clear she has a decision to
make ? to keep the child or to
have a termination. Finding
out she had watched her
mother struggle to manage
as a single parent gives
readers a level of empathy
that otherwise might not have
existed.
I also enjoyed the
descriptive passages showing
how Jane felt about cityscapes
and the way they blocked her
ability to paint.
Those walls made of glass,
some black and opaque, some
reflecting the sky so that the
clouds became vertical. Others
studded with caverns of hidden
eyes that threatened her very
soul.
The story ends with a
compromise, rather than a
black and white resolution,
but that works extremely well
in a story where the two main
characters could never live
permanently in each other?s
worlds. A well crafted tale of
opposites attracting.
D
eath by Chocolate by
JD Hellsinger also
covers the theme
of life?changing
events, but change in an
entirely different direction.
In this story the narrator has
already undergone a negative
experience resulting in a
major decline in career.
The author opens the story
with some excellent dialogue
showing the depth to which
the chef has sunk, but holding
back on what caused him
Writers?forum #188
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STORY COMP
Competition round-up
Life-changing events
Lorraine Mace explains why she chose this month?s winners
to achieve? These questions are
answered by the narrator using
a film synopsis format. This is
a clever way to let the reader
know what is going on without
it feeling like an information
dump.
Deborah uses Bob?s own
words to show his lack of
emotional responsibility and
in doing so makes the reader
want to know what it is he did
to be incarcerated.
My small contribution to the evil
network called humanity is minor,
on the scale of things. I committed
one accidental crime. One.
to fall so low that his only
option is preparing last meals
for prisoners facing their
execution.
Some of the really amusing
lines come quite early in the
story, showing not only the
tone, but also enhancing the
characterisation.
this could work out better than you
think.?
?I?m trying to see how, but here?s
a question for you: what happens if
the food?s not to the client?s liking??
?You mean if you execute it
badly??
?You can?t help yourself, can
you??
Barney flipped open a folder on
his desk and pulled out some sheets
of paper.
?I got my guy to knock up some
artworks,? he said, turning them
round to show me.
?The Last Supper??
?For the front of the menu card. I
think they?ll be okay with it ? even
the ones who?ve found God in
there. Maybe especially them.?
Apart from showing the
relationship between the
narrator and his agent, the
above slips in a good hook.
Why is Gordon not spoilt for
choice? What happened to
derail his career? This question
is cleverly only answered near
the end of the story.
Before we get to that point
we are introduced to Donna,
who chooses a magnificent
chocolate cake for her last
meal ? and it turns out to be
exactly that! The set-up for her
death scene is well executed
(excuse the repeated pun). The
descriptive passages of suicide
by cake allow the reader to be
And later, when the narrator
realises he will have to take on
the job.
Reading my mind, Barney said:
?Face it, Gordon, you?re not exactly
spoilt for choice and, who knows,
there as she forces down slice
after slice.
By the time we discover
Gordon was an infamous
?naked chef?, he has made a
life-changing decision. Having
rediscovered his joy for
cooking, he thinks of opening
a small bistro, cooking food
that is good for the soul.
L
ife-changing events are
peppered throughout
Deborah Freeman?s By
Madeleine Black. From
the opening paragraph to the
final line, the voice in this story
is compelling ? even though
unlikable. Usually I find it
difficult to empathise with an
unpleasant narrator, but I was
drawn almost against my will
into identifying with Bob.
The first paragraph raises
questions, always a good way
to hook readers into a story.
Why are the three professionals
and two volunteers meeting
with Bob? What is it they hope
His lack of empathy is
demonstrated when the two
people who had shown him
kindness became seriously ill.
Instead of caring about them,
he feels anger that they had let
him down in this way.
After the crap non-family life I?d
had, two wholesome people living
in the most beautiful place had
given me a new identity, only to
fall apart themselves, crumble in
mind and body, and leave me alone
again. Anyone human with a heart
would have minded this.
This is good characterisation
because it feels entirely credible
that he would react in this
way. The story ends with a set
of questions which further
enhances the dysfunctional
nature of the narrator. Not
an easy story to read, but one
which moved me.
Lorraine is co-author
of The Writer?s ABC
Checklist (Accent
Press) and author of
children?s novel Vlad
the Inhaler (LRP)
Writers?forum #188
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Short stories
Fiction workshop
with tutor
Lorraine Mace
Our head judge uses reader entries to show how to improve your writing
Lure the reader in
W
hatever the
length of your
story ? flash
fiction, 2000
words or a novella ? the
opening paragraph, even
just the opening line, is the
most important part. If you
don?t give readers a reason to
continue, you will lose them.
The few seconds it takes to
scan the introduction are all
you have to convince your
potential audience that your
story is worth the effort of
reading on. You have to hook
them at that point or risk
losing them forever.
So, what does it take to
create such an opening? Such
an important question deserves
a simple answer, but writing
well is never easy. There are
many ways to hook readers ?
and just as many to lose them!
I?m going to run through a
few options.
Lights, camera, action!
That film-making term works
just as well to kick off the
written story. If you thrust
your reader into the middle
of an action scene it creates
questions. The reader will want
to know what is going on and
why it is happening to the
central character.
Getting your readers to ask
questions is one of the best
ways to grab attention and
keep it ? as long as you don?t
dilute the tension by providing
the answers too soon.
Say something
outrageous
An outrageous or contentious
statement made in the opening
paragraph, either as dialogue
48
or in narrative, can make
readers sit up and take notice.
Be careful, though, not to
alienate readers by having
your protagonist appearing
to be racist, sexist, sizeist, or
any other ?ist? that has the
potential to offend. However,
if a lesser character, or the
antagonist, says or does
something offensive, having
your protagonist shoot them
down (metaphorically or not)
will put readers on the central
character?s side.
Life-defining events
This doesn?t have to be
something major, such as a
birth or death, but it has to
be the pivotal moment in
your character?s life at that
particular time.
It could, for example, be the
end of a sex scene, where the
protagonist (male or female)
regrets what has happened.
Readers will want to know why
there is regret. Who are the
two involved? What has been
their past relationship? Are
they a couple, or is one or both
cheating on a partner?
Or it could be someone being
told bad news ? or something
that will affect the protagonist
even if the event doesn?t
happen to him or her.
Then you have to build the
tension, so that the reader
becomes involved in the fallout
from the event.
Force characters to
make a choice
If the story opens with your
protagonist having to decide
between two alternative
courses of action ? what he
wants to do versus what he
feels he should do ? readers
will immediately feel the
character?s anguish as he
sacrifices his desires to ensure
someone else?s happiness.
However, do bear in mind
the choice has to have massive
consequences for the character.
Deciding between a morning
cup of tea with a biscuit and
a mug of coffee with a slice of
toast will not entice anyone
into the story. The decision has
the make the reader empathise
with the dilemma, while also
hoping the protagonist can find
a way to resolve the issue and
get what he wants.
Pat Bunting has her
protagonist make a difficult
choice in her story New
Beginnings. Jane, the central
character, has been browbeaten
by her mother all her life.
After her mother?s death,
Jane has continued as before,
carrying on as Mother would
have demanded, until a kind
friend encourages her to go
on holiday. At first she has
found it difficult to adapt to
her freedom from the tyranny
she has endured, but gradually
comes to believe she is allowed
a little happiness.
Jane stretched out in the sun,
lying on the huge towel that
she had brought with her. Sand
between her toes, a lovely feeling
of freedom came over her. It had
been such a long time since she
had felt able to mix with people.
The offer of a seat on the coach had
been given to her, quite forcibly,
by her friend, Sarah. A day on the
beach, such a long time since she
had felt able to leave the house.
I feel the hook could be
strengthened by showing Jane
being uncomfortable in her
new circumstances, rather than
luxuriating in them. Although
we want to know why Jane
has not previously been able to
leave the house, she is now in
a secure place, both mentally
and emotionally, which
means there isn?t a reason for
the reader to find out what
happens next.
If Jane were to feel guilty
or unworthy, that would lead
Writers?forum #188
WF188JUN48storyworkshop.indd 48
09/05/2017 14:30:29
If you?d like your Story Comp entry to be considered for a workshop, tick the box on the entry form or state it clearly in your email
into personal growth when
she learns to deal with such
emotions. The reader will want
to know how she vanquishes
the lingering ?mother? voice in
her head.
Make the character real
Characters presented almost
entirely through backstory are
unlikely to appeal to readers.
However, it is possible to bring
in the backstory in such a way
that it adds to the character?s
appeal.
The Amateur Gardener by
Christine Hill opens with a
chunk of backstory narrative
that is distancing because we
cannot get close to the main
character.
Marion had three boys, Sammy
and Peter who were now at
university and then there was
Jason who was still at home. The
two older boys had been happy,
boisterous lads when they were
younger, but when they became
teenagers they both knew exactly
what their aims in life were.
Sammy wanted to be a teacher
and Peter wanted to be a dentist.
Both of them did very well at
school and gained good grades
with their A levels, earning them
places at Durham University to
continue with their education.
Jason, however, had always been
a bit of a problem child, who
was unruly in his younger years
and then, when he became a
teenager, his mother and father
often had heated debates about his
management. He was what could
only be described as a very angry
young man. Nothing anyone did
for him pleased him and he seemed
determined to do everything that
his parents told him not to do.
Marion had confided in her best
friend, Sheila, one day when
If necessary, write it later
everything seemed to be spiralling
out of control.
If we look at this passage
it is not only an information
dump, it also stops the reader
from identifying with Marion
because we are told about
her situation and feelings. If
the story opened with Sheila
coming to pick Marion up for
a proposed outing, then all the
necessary information could be
presented in a way that makes
readers care about Marion.
After Sheila?s standard rat-a-tat,
the kitchen door opened. Marion
looked up through a blur of tears.
Damn, she?d forgotten today was
Thursday. Well, Sheila would have
to go into town alone. Marion
didn?t have the strength to fix her
makeup.
?What?s happened to you??
Sheila asked, rushing over and
pulling Marion into a hug. ?Not
that I need to ask. It?s that Jason of
yours, isn?t it??
Marion would have given
anything to say it wasn?t her
youngest son who?d upset her
again, but Sheila had been the
recipient of too many tearful
exchanges to pretend otherwise.
She nodded.
?What?s he been up to this time??
?I wish I knew,? Marion said.
?He won?t tell us anything. Tells us
to mind our own business if John
and I ask where he?s going or what
he?s doing. I don?t understand
where we?ve gone wrong. Sammy
and Peter were nothing like Jason
when they were his age.?
?Sit yourself down,? Sheila said.
?I?ll make us some coffee.?
Marion watched Sheila fill the
kettle and get out two mugs.
?You haven?t done anything
wrong. You should be so proud of
how well your two eldest are doing
Very often the perfect opening paragraph only comes to
mind after the author has reached the end. If you find you are
struggling to pen a strong and compelling first paragraph,
leave it until you work on later drafts. While reading the
story on the first rewrite, jot down any thoughts you have
about where and how the story should start. You might find
the original opening belongs midway through the tale and
something near the end is actually the best place to start.
at Durham,? Sheila said over her
shoulder as she spooned coffee into
the mugs. ?I?ve got some choccie
digestives next door. Shall I go and
get them? Comfort nibbles,? she
added with a grin.
Marion nodded. Biscuits might
not be the answer to everything,
but right now she needed
something sweet to lift her mood.
The above passage, while
rough and in need of refining,
brings in all the essential
information. There are three
boys, two of whom are doing
well at university and one
who is out of control. Marion?s
confidante is her friend Sheila.
The difference, though, is that
both Marion and Sheila come
to life through the dialogue
and interaction. We can see
them as real people, so it is
possible to care about what
happens.
The big bang theory
Although this is a technique
more often used to open thriller
and spy novels, it can be very
effective for short stories. In
this scenario, stories open in
the middle of frenetic action ?
either something the characters
have to deal with, or the fallout
from an action the characters
themselves have set in motion.
Let?s take a bank robbery
as the set-up. If the characters
are clients or employees of
the bank, they would have to
deal with the situation when
the robbery takes place. If the
characters are the robbers, but
still the (almost) good guys
(perhaps the robbery is taking
place to right a wrong in some
way, or is being undertaken
to help someone in desperate
need), then they would have
to deal with the aftermath of
their actions.
All stories need a hook
Vodka and Honey by Pauline
Healy and In the Countryside by
Stella Lavelle both open with
observations on the actions of
an animal. Vodka and Honey
deals with a kitten.
Smirnoff is only eight weeks
old. His greatest pleasure is to sit
at an open window, studying the
vigorous activities surrounding an
eight foot tall agave yucca.
Smirnoff is a recently orphaned,
abandoned and frail kitten. The
yucca is partly in flower, and the
object of his profound and intense
scrutiny is a petite, modestly
attired, busy worker bee.
Although this introduces
Smirnoff and tells the reader a
little about his life to date, there
isn?t a strong enough hook to
make readers want to find out
what happens to him.
He is clearly now in the
care of someone who cares
about him (the narrator). I
would suggest opening with
Smirnoff being found in dire
circumstances. This would
enable the reader to get
involved in his rescue.
In the Countryside starts with
the narrator recalling one of
her mother?s sayings.
Mother always said that if cows
sat down in a field it was going
to rain. Once we moved to the
country, to a small and rather
damp cottage, I was able to check
on that. It was wrong. Some cows
sat down. Some wandered. Some
just stood. It rained! But to be
honest, it always seemed to be
raining. So if they had just sat
down when it rained they would
have starved to death, or become
paralysed. So there was another
myth exploded.
Here I would suggest
opening with a hook regarding
the reason for moving to the
country ? giving hints of how it
all went wrong for the narrator
? perhaps weaving it into this
cow anecdote or using it as a
metaphor. This opening doesn?t
show us what type of story we
are reading or why we should
care about the narrator.
Writing as Frances
di Plino, Lorraine
Mace is the author
of the DI Paolo
Storey crime series.
Her latest book
is Looking for a
Reason
Writers?forum #188
WF188JUN48storyworkshop.indd 49
49
09/05/2017 14:30:39
Poetry workshop
Turning things around
O
pposites are a feature that all
poets should consider with care
when they are writing. And while
clich閟 are always best avoided, I have my
fingers crossed that the following exercises
in opposites will attract.
Hot and cold
Walk down a street anywhere in the
world (or in another world). Walk down
this street on a baking hot, still, dry day.
As you walk, notice what you see, hear
and smell and how you feel. What effect
does walking in this weather have on
you physically and mentally? Write about
the experience using the first person
perspective.
Now take the same walk, in the same
clothes, at the same time of day but when
icy rain is falling and a strong, freezing
wind is blowing. Once again, write about
the experience in the first person.
When you have written about these
two walks, take some time to explore the
different words, line lengths and cadences
you used.
Then, taking what you have learned
about how different temperatures may,
or may not, be best described by certain
styles of language, write about drinking
a scalding cup of tea or coffee or hot
chocolate. Then drink the same beverage
once it has gone cold.
Now move away from physical hot and
cold, literal hot and cold, and write about
some other things that could be considered
hot or cold. For example:
?? Emotions or feelings
?? Colours
?? Leads in a whodunit poem
?? Music or dance
Rhyme or no rhyme
Here are the first four stanzas of Boris
Pasternak?s poem False Alarm:
Cattle trough and bucket
Confusion since dawn,
Rain squalls at sunset,
Damp evening coming on,
Tears choked down by dark sighs
In the dark hours before day,
50
A locomotive calling
From sixteen versts away.
And early twilight
In backyard and garden,
And all these breakages?
September?s here again!
By day the breadth of autumn
Is scissored by the shriek
Of heartstruck anguish
From the churchyard by the creek.
Rewrite these stanzas without rhyme:
no rhyme at the end or the beginning of
lines and no internal rhyme. How does this
change the poem? Might it change the way
readers engage with the poem?
Now do the reverse with the first stanza
of Wallace Stevens? poem Woman looking at
a vase of flowers:
It was as if thunder took form upon
The piano, that time: the time when the crude
And jealous grandeurs of sun and sky
Scattered themselves in the garden, like
The wind dissolving into birds,
The clouds becoming braided girls.
It was like the sea poured out again
In the east wind beating the shutters at night.
What happens to the tone and the
narrative of the poem when you put the
rhyme at the end or the beginning of lines?
What is the effect of using internal rhyme?
Conviction or lack of it
Write about something you believe very
strongly indeed.
It could be that God or ghosts or
vampires exist. It could be that no one else
on the planet can make apple pie half as
delicious as your mother?s.
Do you believe a certain football player,
golfer or boxer is the best that ever lived?
Do you believe someone you know tells
lies, steals (things or ideas) or wears
a toupee? Do you believe your father
preferred one of your siblings to you? Do
you believe in love at first sight?
Write about your chosen belief with
passion. Shout and stamp, put your heart
and soul into the writing. Show the reader
why you hold this belief so dear.
And when you have finished writng
about your belief, take a few deep breaths
and slowly drink either a real or a
metaphorical glass of water (hot or cold,
you choose).
Now write about the exact opposite
point of view, but as if you believe this
passionately? wholeheartedly? without
a shadow of a doubt.
Declare in your poem that God or ghosts
or vampires don?t exist. Write a poem
declaring how your mother?s apple pie is
so dry and tasteless that you would not
eat it if you were starving. Denounce your
favourite sports star as a cheat.
Write about how you were your father?s
Writers?forum #188
WF188JUN50poetryworkshop.indd 50
09/05/2017 14:31:28
POETRY
You can contact Sue at poetry@writers-forum.com
with poetry editor
Sue Butler
favourite child or how love at first sight
is codswallop.
How easy was it to take the opposite
stance? Did you find yourself writing in a
style that you do not usually use?
Time
Write a poem that in effect begins Once
upon a time and moves through the
narrative in a linear fashion. Lead the
reader through a logical state of events
from the beginning to the end of the poem.
Now write the poem in reverse. Begin
with the end and lead the reader through
the poem until they reach the beginning.
What problems, challenges and
opportunities does this create?
Some topics for you to consider are:
?? An oak tree becoming an acorn
?? Beef stew and dumplings retracing their
journey to farm and field
?? A scream returning to the screamer?s
mouth
?? A symphony returning to the
composer?s head
Look in the mirror
And finally for this month, stand in front
of a full-length mirror and describe what
you see. Start with the literal and then,
if you feel so inclined, allow yourself to
become metaphorical.
Now step into the mirror, turn around
and look out of the mirror at yourself.
Take some time to get used to being your
reflection then describe what you see.
Once again, start with the literal and if you
feel so included allow yourself to become
metaphorical.
How does the language you use change
depending on where you are standing?
What are the pros and cons of writing from
these two perspectives?
Poetry feedback service
If you?d like detailed and targeted feedback
from Sue, you can purchase an extended
critique of three poems for �. Email her at
poetry@writers-forum.com for details.
EXPERIMENT
Almost
(In memory of Ken Smith)
You can be the richest person on earth and be happy, almost.
You can win the lottery and become a millionaire overnight.
You can be famous, list your bonds on the stock market.
Or go bankrupt, die of shame and regret, almost.
You can live happily in good health, in peace with your
Neighbours, almost; or you can fight each other forever.
You can be almost anything you want to be in your dreams ?
The Milky Way, Beethoven, Shakespeare or Michelangelo.
You can fly to the moon, or just be yourself, happy, unknown.
Some days you feel on top of the world walking the streets.
Some days you fear losing almost everything in an instant,
Being swept off your feet by UFOs or killed in an accident?
Unlimited possibilities are not given to human beings,
If they were our lives would dissolve in the boundless.
From Imagine: new and selected poems (www.harpercollins.co.in)
The narrator of Shanta Acharya?s poem Almost tells the reader what they
could or could not be. The narrator addresses ?you? directly and gives a
range of possibilities ? some pleasant, some not so pleasant.
But of course, everyone is different and has different views.
So with that in mind, rewrite the poem from your own very personal
perspective. Use the first person singular and as you say I?, I?, I?, share
with the reader honestly and openly the things that would make you
happy and the things you fear. Would being famous make you happy and
what do you become in your dreams?
If you have some spare time this month, I urge you to read Shanta
Acharya and also Ken Smith, the poet to whom Shanta has dedicated
Almost. If you don?t know Ken Smith?s poetry, The Poet Reclining: Selected
Poems 1962 ? 1980 (Bloodaxe) is a great place to start. My copy has
accompanied me on so many journeys it is almost falling apart.
POETRY WORKOUT
Water, tea, lemonade, milkshake, gin, blood: do you drink too
much of any of these or not enough?
1
2
3
4
ave you ever drunk water full of sand, animal faeces and
H
mosquito larvae? If not, imagine how it might taste and what it
might do to you: your body and self-esteem. Now give it to your
children.
Lower a bucket into a well. What is in the bucket when you haul
it up?
Write about a thirst for something other than fluids. Can this thirst
be quenched?
Invent a new drink and write a marketing pitch to sell it.
Writers?forum #188
WF188JUN50poetryworkshop.indd 51
51
09/05/2017 14:31:36
Poetry
Poetry competition
�0 winner
Lines written outside
a Melbourne church
Jenny Taylor, London
[Dedicated to my brother]
God is not in this building
With its sign politely warning
About masonry falling on my head
As if the Triune God were not a greater doom.
He?s out there
Huge and cruel like a bushfire.
The ancient Spirit of the dead
We think we tamed with ploughs and hymns
He fills the air with ruthless light
The Mesmer light of blue-grey gum.
Then flashes out of nowhere
Squawking green on red
He cries, flits, twitters overhead
A rainbow splash of dazzling flight.
Above this crackling bone-dry thin-skinned land
Of dead leaf, bark and bleached white bone
Where man has been a moment
Scratched his name in the sand.
The God of all things slouches now
Aboriginal, aglow
Through wilderness, in drought
He is not here in King Street?s crumbling portico.
He rides the light, careers through dust
He pounds Van Diemen?s Land
If I tell you what I saw
You?d never understand.
Because he?s gone beyond the sense
That words can muster
Thoughts too small for Arnhem Land
Invoked in childish prayer and managed doubt
He?s in the red anonymous sandstone planes.
He?s OUT.
About the poet Jenny Taylor, 61, is a journalist and Bloomsbury
author who founded Lapido Media, a charity helping journalists
?get religion? in an age of globalisation. Her writing has appeared
in the Guardian, the Times and academic journals.
52
T
he winning poem this month combines two very personal
experiences: the loss of a brother and the narrator?s beliefs
concerning a divine being. The personal is then set against
the public space of a church and the vast, natural landscapes
of Australia. This interweaving of personal and public, manmade and
natural, gives the poem energy and vibrancy ? whether or not the
reader shares the narrator?s beliefs. And this is one of the lessons this
poem delivers ? that poets can use a number of techniques to engage
readers even when writing about interests, passions, experiences or
beliefs about which the reader may have doubts.
So if you can find time this month, try writing about a belief that
plays important role in your life; or an experience that has shaped
your beliefs. What techniques might you use to engage sceptics? What
techniques might you use to change the minds of unbelievers? Give
special thought to how you might use both the personal and the public;
the physical and the not-so physical.
Poems that might have been
Each month we give you three suggestions or questions
about the winning poem. Use them to explore the
different directions the poem might have taken.
Think about format, style of language and narrative
development. Use the questions to inspire your own
poem or poems.
?? This is quite a long poem. Compact each stanza into three lines.
What must you leave out and what effect does this have?
Writers?forum #188
WF188JUN52poetrycomp.indd 52
09/05/2017 14:32:23
Writers Forum
Each month our winning poet
wins �0 and a copy of the
new edition of Chambers
Thesaurus, worth �.
Want to see YOUR poem
published in these pages?
Any topic, any style ? all entries welcome! Rhyming or free verse,
haiku or sonnet, funny, sad, romantic or angry?
Prize �0
and a dictionary
enter as many poems as you like
?? Instead of a building, write about a person who does not contain
something, eg compassion, generosity, modesty, vanity, ambition.
?? Build a poem round the penultimate line of Jenny Taylor?s poem.
Feel free to change the gender, the colour, the type of rock and the
flatness of the landscape.
Highly Commended
Scissors by Andria Jane Cooke, Gresham, Norfolk
This poem begins with a simile used to convey a physical sense of
scissors but quickly moves on to a stark statement of the effect
scissors can have:
Two handles joined
Like glasses;
Twin loops forge a frame
For fingers
To make an ache.
This opening stanza contains no personal pronoun and seems to
be describing all scissors, ie scissors in general. But then comes a
two-line stanza where the narrator declares: I will cut my cloth, / create
a paper face.
The poem then offers the reader three ?generalised? stanzas with
no personal pronouns, before closing with another two-line stanza:
Sever all connection / between me and you.
Getting the right balance between general and personal is not
easy but this poem proves it can be very effective in drawing readers
through a poem and keeping them curious about what happens next.
A Cautionary Tale by Peter Dean, Great Shelford, Cambs
The combination of general and personal is also used to good effect in
this poem. It opens with:
Beautiful women on the website
All from Europe?s eastern side:
Aleksanda, Sofya and Bernice?
All the women tell ?similar tales? and this makes the narrator, This
Western man, his heart a flapping / Thinking how to catch his bride wonder
if these women ?just want his money?. The narrator is aware he ?may be
caught out if he?s smitten? and there is a definite sense in the poem of
the narrator, this specific man, standing on one side of a battle line and
many, many possible brides standing on the other side.
The optimistic heart by Marie Greenhalgh, Burnley, Lancs
In contrast, there are only two people present in this final poem.
Here everything is personal, including lines such as: My mind knew we
wouldn?t work? But my heart is an optimistic sort? You were my whole
life? My heart chose to look the other way?
When you?re writing this month, don?t be afraid to explore intensely
personal subjects; just think how best to present them to your reader.
�PEr poem ? OR �WITH CRITIQUE
? Poems must be a maximum of 40 lines and printed on A4.
? Give your name, address, phone number and email address.
? Add a brief biography of yourself: age, occupation, family,
writing career to date, favourite poets.
? Entry fee is �per poem, or �per poem if you would like
a brief but helpful critique from poetry editor Sue Butler.
Cheques (in sterling only) should be made payable to
?Select Publisher Services?, fill in your credit-card details
below or pay online at www.writers-forum.com
How to enter
Fill in the coupon below (photocopies are acceptable) and
post with your cheque or credit-card details to:
Writers? Forum Poetry Contest
PO Box 6337, Bournemouth BH1 9EH
By entering, you will have been deemed to agree for the poem to
appear in Writers? Forum if it wins a prize.The competition is open
worldwide but entries must be in English.
Deadline: 15th of each month. Late entries go into the next contest.
Name Address
Postcode
Phone number
Email address
Poem titles
I declare that this poetry has not previously been published
or broadcast and that it is my own work
Signed
I enclose (please tick)
my poem(s)
payment of �
a stamped self-addressed envelope for my optional critique
OPTIONAL Please enrol me for an annual subscription
at the price of � (UK) � (Europe) or � (Rest of world)
Visa/Mastercard/Maestro (delete)
Total �
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Signature
WF188JUN52poetrycomp.indd 53
09/05/2017 14:32:29
DIRECTORY
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WF188-Boards.indd 54
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Send your event listings three months ahead to diary@writers-forum.com
Literary diary
Directory
Kate Medhurst brings you
the pick of next month?s
writing and book events
Festivals
Hay Festival
25 May ? 4 June
Every year this huge book festival brings
together writers from around the world to
debate and share stories and celebrate great
writing from poets and scientists, lyricists and
comedians, novelists and more.
www.hayfestival.com
Belfast Book Festival
7-17 June
A programme jam-packed with events for all
tastes, featuring well-known authors, comedians
and journalists, including Jamie Morton,
Norman Finkelstein and Sara Pascoe.
www.belfastbookfestival.com
Stoke-on-Trent Literary Festival
8-10 June
Now in its fourth year, this celebration of
outstanding writing and brilliant books features
author talks, panel discussions, hands-on
workshops and live performances.
www.stokeliteraryfestival.org
Balham Literary Festival, London
8-11 June
The second Balham festival, organised by
Dulwich Books, welcomes Thomasina Miers,
Jeremy Greenstock, Jay Griffiths, Sarah Driver
and more. A weekend pass costs �.
www.balhamliteraryfestival.co.uk
Derby Book Festival
9-17 June
Venues across the city host a programme of
book-related activities for all ages and interests.
This year?s festival coincides with the arrival of
the Tower of London poppies at the Silk Mill,
and the opening event will feature Birdsong
author Sebastian Faulks at Derby Cathedral.
www.derbybookfestival.co.uk
Borders Book Festival, Melrose
15-18 June
Established as one of Scotland?s premier literary
events, the festival celebrates its 13th year
in 2017.You can expect a varied programme
featuring some of today?s best writers and
leading personalities.
www.bordersbookfestival.org
University of Winchester
Writers? Festival
16-18 June
This leading international festival for emerging
and experienced writers includes workshops,
talks and one-to-ones with literary agents,
editors, authors and publishing experts. Lemn
Bradford hosts its
literary festival in June
Sissay will give the keynote address and Claire
Fuller, Elizabeth Enfield, Cliff McNish and
William Ryan are among those taking part.
www.writersfestival.co.uk
the written and spoken word. Last year saw
over 200 events taking place across 10 days and
2017 looks to be just as action-packed.
www.bradfordlitfest.co.uk
Broadstairs Dickens Festival, Kent
Ledbury Poetry Festival
17-23 June
This mixed arts family festival, inspired by
the works of Charles Dickens, offers varied
literature-inspired events including a festival
play, reading competitions and more.
www.broadstairsdickensfestival.co.uk
Evesham Festival of Words
30 June ? 2 July
A celebration of words in all their forms,
written, spoken and sung, aimed at all the family.
Prue Leith, Susan Lewis, Ian McMillan and Tony
Husband are taking part this year.
www.eveshamfestivalofwords.org
Felixstowe Book Festival
30 June ? 2 July
Be inspired, challenged and entertained with
an eclectic mix of fiction and non-fiction
authors and writing workshops. Louis de
Berni鑢es, Esther Freud, Maggi Hambling, Stella
Rimmington, Tracy Chevalier, Terry Waite and
AL Kennedy are just some of those taking part.
www.felixstowebookfestival.co.uk
Bradford Literary Festival
30 June ? 9 July
A cultural and literary extravaganza celebrating
30 June ? 9 July
Head to Herefordshire for 135 events over
10 days, with talks, readings, performances,
slams, sign language, translations, competitions,
workshops, residencies, theatre, song, dance,
puppetry, art, comedy, walks and bike rides.
Fiona Sampson is the poet in residence.
www.poetry-festival.co.uk
Althorp Literary Festival,
Northampton
5-8 October
The festival takes place against the backdrop of
one of England?s most beautiful historic houses
and includes talks, readings and debates. Clare
Balding, Evan Davis, Joanna Moorhead and
Allison Pataki are among those taking part.
www.althorp.com
Author & Book Events
Katie Welsh, Edinburgh
1 June, 6.30pm
The author will be at Waterstones discussing
her new novel The Wages of Sin with Lucy
Ribchester before a Q&A and book signing.
For more details call 0131 226 2666.
Writers?forum #188
WF188JUN54diary.indd 55
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10/05/2017 13:31:33
DIRECTORY
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WF188-Boards.indd 56
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Send your event listings three months ahead to diary@writers-forum.com
Alan Lee, Exeter
2 June, 6.30pm
The illustrator of several recent Tolkien editions
is at Waterstones to launch Beren and L鷗hien,
which presents an epic tale taken from Tolkien?s
original manuscripts.
For more details call 01392 423044.
Salman Rushdie, London
6 June, 5.40pm
The author is at Waterstones in Gower Street
to sign copies of Home, his new title in the
Vintage Minis series. This is a free event but to
avoid disappointment please arrive promptly.
For more details call 020 7636 1577.
Jenny Landreth, Manchester
6 June, 6.30pm
The swimming book and blog author will be at
Victoria Baths discussing her new book Swell
with Amy Liptrot, followed by a Q&A session
and signing. Tickets �
For more details call 0161 837 3000.
TF Muir, Glasgow
8 June, 6.30pm
The crime author will be at Waterstones
Sauchiehall Street, talking about his latest DCI
Andy Gilchrist thriller, The Killing Connection.
For more details call 0141 332 9105.
Simon Sebag Montefiore, Bath
13 June, 7.30pm
The historical author will be at Christ Church
with the final book in his acclaimed Moscow
trilogy, Red Sky at Noon. Tickets cost �
For more details call 01225 428111.
Booker Shortlist Evening, London
13 June, 7pm
Authors and translators on the Man Booker
shortlist join for a panel discussion chaired by
Jim Naughtie, with selected readings. It takes
place at St James? Church, Piccadilly. Tickets �.
For more details call 0207 734 4511.
David Keenan, St Andrews
15 June, 7.30pm
The debut author will be at Topping and
Company Bookshop with This is Memorial
Device, set in the world of post-punk in ?80s
Aidrie. Tickets � including a copy of the book.
For more details call 01334 585111.
Directory
New courses
Residential Courses
Writers? Centre Norwich
Adventures in Comedy
Writing, Greece
15-22 July
This course, from The Writers? Lab on the
Greek island of Skyros, will help you discover
your unique comic voice ? from finding your
creative inspiration to learning the building
blocks of humour. There will be some nonwriting exercises designed to encourage the
participant?s creativity, alongside writing games,
with group feedback and tutor-led suggestions.
It costs �5.
www.skyros.com
exercises and discussion, to help you start on
or develop your novel. It takes place from 10am
until 4pm and costs �.
www.writerscentrenorwich.org.uk
Writing the Bright Moment
Online Course
26 August ? 2 September
This course, led by UK poet and author Roselle
Angwin, focuses on developing your writing
at the same time as deepening your sense of
relationship to the world around you. There?ll
be lively discussion, stimulating writing tasks
for the imagination, shared silence and walking,
as well as words and readings. It takes place at
the Gardoussel Retreat in France, a picturesque
hamlet set in 45 acres of private meadow and
woodland. The retreat starts from �5.
www.abricreativewriting.com
One-Day Course
Writing a Novel: The Importance
of Character, Norwich
3 June
Why is character so important in novels, and
how do we go about writing great characters?
What is the relationship between character and
plot? This workshop by Sunday Times Top Ten
bestselling author Rachel Hore will help you to
explore these issues through creative writing
Constructing a Novel
26 June
This course run by Penguin Random House
teaches the art of writing successful fiction
while developing the creative and literary skills
needed to progress your initial ideas towards
completing the first draft of your novel. It
takes place online over 14 weeks, around
10?15 hours a week and is tutored by Barbara
Henderson. It costs �9.
www.thewritersacademy.co.uk
EVENING Course
Novel Writing, London
From 14 September
Taking place in the agency?s central London
offices, this hugely popular, face-to-face creative
writing course for 15 writers features visits
from the Curtis Brown literary agents. It takes
place over six months, is led by Simon Wroe
and costs �90.
www.curtisbrowncreative.co.uk
helpful new Books
Tom Vaughan MacAulay, London
So You Want to? Write a Screenplay: A Step-by-Step Guide to
Writing for Film, Video, and Television by Taylor Gaines (�.41,
Atlantic Publishing) will give you the lowdown on the entire screenwriting
process. Knowing the ins and outs of the business will give you a leg-up on your
competition. In this book, every aspect of the script-writing process is covered,
from your initial idea to pitching your screenplay to agents and executives.
Debut Fiction Showcase, London
Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write with Confidence by
William Kenower (�.99, Writer?s Digest Books) is aimed at both fledgling
writers and veterans with years of experience. Far from being a how-to book,
the author provides information on how you can prepare yourself ? holistically,
mentally and spiritually ? to be a writer. Truly fearless authors, he says, banish
writer?s blocks with ease, receive critiques gracefully, and infuse their passion for
the craft into every word they write.
22 June, 6.30pm
Waterstones Leadenhall Market welcomes
the author for the launch of debut novel Being
Simon Haines.
For more details call 020 7220 7882.
29 June, 6.30pm
A new quarterly event celebrating new
literary talent. Enjoy gin, canap閟 and literary
amusement as Anita Sethi introduces
Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney,
Sympathy by Olivia Sudjic and The End We Start
From by Megan Hunter. Tickets cost �
For more details call 020 7636 1577.
Writers?forum #188
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10/05/2017 13:31:43
MOTIVATION
Emily Cunningham of The Write Factor
publishing agency helps you find the way
forward with your writing
MENTOR
The
I hate writing
I am writing to you with a curious
problem in that the answer seems plain,
but it isn?t to me. My problem is that I
don?t enjoy writing. You would think
that the solution would be simply not to
do it, but then I would feel as if I had let
something that is important to me go.
What should I do?
Emma, Fishguard
A
thorny conundrum, Emma,
and one that I can relate to.
Without wanting to steal your
thunder, this is a battle that I
have struggled with all my writing life, so
I completely understand the difficult place
you find yourself in.
You can see that you have a talent for
writing and perhaps have something
to offer, but the actual process throws
up so many psychological barriers it
becomes unpleasant; a chore. You end up
asking yourself what?s the point of doing
something that you don?t find enjoyable.
Novelist Hari Kunzru described the
writing process vividly:
There are the pitfalls of self-disgust,
boredom, disorientation and a lingering sense
of inadequacy, occasionally alternating with
58
episodes of hysterical self-congratulation as
you fleetingly believe you?ve nailed that
particular sentence and are surely destined
to join the ranks of the immortals, only to be
confronted the next morning with an appalling
farrago of clich閟 that no sane human could
read without vomiting.
(Guardian Books, 3 March 2009)
Wouldn?t it be so much easier to step
gracefully away from the computer and
find something more fun to do instead?
Couldn?t you contribute to the world
just as valuably without having to write?
After all, you make a mean lemon tart,
people appreciate that? As you might
have guessed, these are the arguments I
challenge myself with on a daily basis.
However good the equivalent of your
lemon tart is, I would argue that it will
never replace the value of writing for you
because, as you said yourself, you would
have let something important to you go.
You recognise that it would be a loss not to
write. I don?t mean a loss for other people
? although I?m sure that?s true; I mean for
yourself. You would not be appreciating
yourself fully or acknowledging your
ability. As the American saying goes, you
wouldn?t be ?your best self?.
When I mentioned my ambivalence
towards creative writing to my colleague
Lorna Howarth at The Write Factor, she
was quick to applaud the contribution
that my lemon tart makes but also wanted
to get to the heart of the problem, and
thereby find a solution. I identified that
writing ?for myself? was difficult because I
was soon stalled by my inner critic, telling
me how boring/rubbish/derivative I
was. I realised, however, that writing for
someone else ? for example, when I am
ghost-writing a book or even replying to
an email ? is so much easier.
Lorna came up with the great idea of
helping me kick-start my own creative
Writers?forum #188
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Send your letters to Emily at mentor@writers-forum.com
I no longer feel
dwarfed by the
enormity of
the task
writing by tapping into this revelation.
Because I find emailing pleasurable she
sends me an email on the theme of my
story idea, and I reply to it. No pressure,
no angst, just a simple response to her
question. I no longer feel dwarfed by the
enormity of the task. It?s also made me
less isolated and helped me drown out the
inner critic. Another thing I noticed was
that getting a fresh perspective and some
oxygen into the area has inspired me. I
came up with an idea for a subplot last
night when previously my mind remained
stubbornly closed to the subject.
When looking at the emotions associated
with writing, it?s important to remember
too, that although it feels unpleasant at
the time, it does reap dividends. Writing
is a way of processing your thoughts and
crystallising your point of view. Will Self
said: ?Fiction is my way of thinking about
and relating to the world; if I don?t write
I?m not engaged in any praxis, and lose
all purchase.?
A second benefit is that you feel a sense
of pride that you have created something.
You didn?t shy away from it, you soldiered
on and achieved. Perhaps one way to
approach it is to think that there are
hundreds of tasks you dislike doing but
still do, because the outcome makes it
worthwhile. Like exercise, for example.
Exhausting, repetitive, tedious, it?s all of
those things, but the sense of achievement
and the rush of endorphins afterwards are
reward enough. The key is to focus on the
end rather than the arduous road towards
it. As many writers have said, including
George RR Martin: ?I hate writing. I like
having written.?
As well as remembering the goal, it
could also help to learn that it is possible
to change your perspective about the
process. I?ve been reading about braintraining recently and boggled at how the
brain is far more plastic than we knew.
We generally believe that our feelings
about things are fairly static; that their
foundations were laid down years ago and
are non-negotiable. Now, neuroscientists
have discovered that these foundations are
malleable. For example, in your case, you
have the thought process: ?Writing makes
me unhappy, therefore I don?t want to do
it.? This has developed because your brain
has formed a neural pathway between
the concept of writing and the emotion
of unhappiness. The two have become
linked (probably due to a negative early
experience of it) so whenever you think
about writing you feel down.
The great news is that you can reroute
your brain so it forms a new neural
pathway, this time between writing and
satisfaction. The secret is to go outside
your comfort zone and approach writing
differently. Try a writing exercise that is
easy and fun for just two minutes. Reward
yourself afterwards. Rinse and repeat. This
will help carve a new pathway in your
brain and you will discover that writing is
not the grind you anticipate.
In conclusion, Emma, the fact that you
have written to me for help suggests
that you want to find a way around this
problem, rather than abandoning your
writing altogether, and this means that
there is hope for the future. Take a deep
breath, pick up your pen and start writing
once more.
Tips to take away
?? Try Lorna?s strategy and start emailing
a friend. Use this to develop characters,
plots and vignettes. The joy of the new
arrival in your inbox will help you stay
motivated.
?? Give your brain-training a nudge by
looking back over work you feel proud of.
The sense of achievement will help forge
positive associations for your writing.
?? Add writing to your daily routine:
brush teeth, empty dishwasher, write for
20 minutes. It will soon become something
you do unthinkingly, rather than agonise
over and berate yourself for not doing.
The Write Factor offers all
sorts of services to support
your writing process, from
mentoring and writing courses to editorial
feedback and assessment. Find out more at
www.thewritefactor.co.uk
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09/05/2017 14:33:27
Author know-how
Research secrets
Romantic comedy author Graeme Simsion explains to Anita Loughrey
how you can?t beat real-life experience as the best research resource
I
?m primarily a novelist,
though I?ve also written
screenplays, short stories
and non-fiction. In my
previous life as an IT and
business consultant, I wrote
professional articles, academic
papers and two books on
database specification. My first
two novels were the romantic
comedy The Rosie Project and
its sequel The Rosie Effect. Then,
The Best of Adam Sharp about a
relationship re-kindled ? and
the consequences. I?m currently
editing Left Right, a romantic
comedy set in Spain, co-written
with my wife Anne Buist.
If that?s not enough, there?s
always Data Modeling Essentials.
My stories and characters are
based more on life experience
than formal research, and
much of that happens before
I begin even thinking about a
novel. Living is research!
The Best of Adam Sharp was
prompted by a visit from my
wife?s ex-boyfriend, and some
consequent ?what if? reflection
? plus a desire to write a story
about the role popular music
plays in our emotional lives.
I was able to draw on my
own knowledge of music,
but I?m no musician. A friend
had begun to teach me piano,
and I?d learned a bit of theory,
and that turned out to be a
surprisingly useful start: just a
bit of experience, whether it?s
trying to learn piano or firing
a gun or playing an extra in a
movie, is a huge improvement
on none at all.
I pestered my pianist friend
for stories of his life as a muso
dating back to the ?60s and for
piano-related anecdotes. Little
bits like the one about the
black keys playing better on
worn-out pianos and answers
60
to ?What song would you play
to demonstrate to someone that
the piano was a rock ?n? roll
instrument?? (Great Balls of Fire
or Billy Joel?s You May Be Right).
The experience of (trying to)
learn to play popular piano
was surprisingly valuable,
short-lived as it was. It gave me
a sense of the feel of playing:
and professional pianists who
have read the book assume I do
play. I?m pleased with that.
An unexpected bonus was
that my friend told me about
his relationship with his father,
a jazz pianist, and that inspired
an important part of Adam?s
history.
Adam is a music trivia buff,
and I obviously had to check
the details ? a dangerously
addictive pastime ? which,
again, I projected on to Adam,
shut in his room surfing the net.
He?s also a Mancunian,
and I?m Australian. It was
important that he sounded
authentic: I got most of the
way by imagining a particular
friend from Manchester
speaking in my head, though
I got stuck for a while on ?I?m
You always
want to know
way more
than you put
on the page
good at pub quiz? vs ?I?m good at
the pub quiz?. I instructed an
English first reader to look out
for anomalies: is it the ?school
dance? or the ?school social? or
the ?senior prom??
Adam?s partner is an IT
project manager ? a no-brainer
for me, using what I know ? but
his great lost love, Angelina
Brown, is an actor. I talked a
couple of times with an acting
teacher friend who had been
active in the late ?80s for things
like pay rates, treatment of
female actors ? and stories.
Angelina?s husband is a
consultant, foodie and wine
buff ? no research required!
The Best of Adam Sharp
takes place in three countries:
Melbourne in 1989, Burgundy
in the present day, and various
parts of the UK ? Manchester,
London, Norwich ? in between.
I chose Melbourne because I
lived there in 1989, but I still
had to re-check little details ?
restaurants, rules for driving
licences, which horse won
the Melbourne Cup. And my
wife and I have holidayed in
the French village, which is
why I chose it, but I went back
to check details (it?s a tough
job?).
I?d lived in Norwich for six
months a long time ago, but
visited again, and was lucky
enough to have Emma Healey
(Elizabeth is Missing) and her
partner as my guides. I rode
the cross?country train from
Manchester, but didn?t note
some important details of
Manchester Piccadilly station.
Fortunately, my agent had to
visit the city and she phoned
them in.
It?s all about the little
details ? the old piano shop
in Norwich, the sound of the
cross-country train engine
starting, the old lady walking
her bicycle in the French village
? that you see with the story
in mind.
When researching, memory
is the first place I go. It?s hard
to beat having experienced
what you?re writing, or
something akin to it. The Best
of Adam Sharp centres on a
choice between romantic love
and a long-term ?companionate?
relationship. That needs to be
absolutely authentic: and the
best place for it to come from
is my own life. Even if I?ve
never made that choice myself,
I have to use a combination of
analogous experiences and a
bit of imagination to put me
there. This applies not only
Writers?forum #188
WF188JUN60researchoutlets.indd 60
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Literary MARKETs
writING outlETS
with Janet Cameron
Alternative literary mags
Grey Borders Magazine
greybordersmagazine.jigsy.com
to the protagonist, but all the
characters. As much as possible
I want to draw on my own
lived experiences to enter their
heads, feel their feelings.
My next best research
resources are my friends, and
failing that, people who are
happy to sit down and talk at
length about their interests.
For example, a friend gave me
the story of playing for a State
team against the All Blacks,
and from him I got a sense of
how that must have felt, and
adapted it as Charlie?s defining
story. But I also checked the
detail with another friend
who?s a rugby nut and she
filled in on the context ? the
bigger picture of international
competition rather than just the
individual player experience.
Of course, only a fraction of
that made it into the book, but
you always want to know way
more than you put on the page.
After that, I do use the
internet a lot ? but mainly
for quick checks: Was Angel
perfume around in 1989? (No, I?ll
have to use Obsession); What
songs were playing on the radio
when Adam started learning piano
at seven? (The Kinks? Lola ?
perfect).
The smartphone is a boon.
It took me a while to get into
the habit of taking photos
of anything that might be
relevant, but I use these more
than notes. Not just locations:
menus, clothing, signs.
I talk to people a lot: I
remember talking to a couple
with UK northern accents in
the taxi queue at Paris Nord
station about how they?d
express a certain thought. I
seldom think of these chats as
interviews ? and often let them
wander off topic. When you?re
talking to people who have
some connection to what you?re
writing about, you never know
what gold might turn up.
There are a couple of
transgressive sex scenes in
The Best of Adam Sharp. Suffice
to say that I sought to research
them as well as I could without
risking a divorce.
I went three times to the
American Bar at the Savoy in
London to research a scene
where Adam orders a cocktail
and talks to the piano player,
and had chats with the pianists
there on the different nights ?
including requesting For Once
in My Life and asking what
chord they played on ?life? (one
played an augmented seventh,
one an augmented without the
seventh and one didn?t know
the song). In the end, I dropped
the scene. So, all that drinking
? and the tips ? were for no
purpose. Except living.
I?d say to other writers: if
you can?t get the experience
directly, try to talk to people
who have done so, and look not
just for the facts but the stories
behind them. ?Would a typical
popular musician be able to play
other instruments?? Yep, is your
answer, but what you want
is: ?One time I was in the studio
with Dylan, and Mike Bloomfield
already had the guitar gig, but I
wanted to be in on the song, so I
went to the organ??
A lot of research happens
before you even have the idea
for the story ? it?s the wellobserved life experience that
will often prompt a story. And
then it?s a matter of having
observed well, so you can draw
on it as deeply as possible.
? See www.graemesimsion.com
or @graemesimsion
Grey Borders, as the name suggests,
seeks stories and poems that
challenge social norms, a good
choice for writers who want
to explore radical or alternative literature. It is published
monthly in print and online. Each month one author is specially featured. This author is paid and also receives copies
of the edition in which their work is published. All other
successful authors receive a free copy of the print magazine.
Tip: Try fiction with a moral or alternative slant, focusing
on issues of race, gender and social justice.
Submissions: Poetry: up to 15 pages, Fiction: up to 20
pages. Please include a short author biog. Submit in one file
to editors@greyborders.com
Every Pigeon
everypigeon.com
Every Pigeon is a brand
new magazine that
wants you to concentrate on the mundane.
They love stories and
poems that focus on
exquisite detail and magnify it in celebration of the important everyday things of life. Every Pigeon will be published
online in June and December, starting this year!
Tip: Your work should explore the nature of everyday
things, and, most importantly, reveal what is underneath.
Submissions: All genres considered. Previously unpublished work only. Poetry: send one to five poems. Fiction:
500 to 2500 words. Access the Contact link on the menu
and enter your details.
Impossible Archetype
impossiblearchetype.wordpress.com
Impossible Archetype is a new online
poetry magazine for LGBTQ+ people. They are looking for all styles and
forms of beautiful and musical poetry,
including experimental and slam. They
publish twice a year so you should
check their reading periods online.
Tip: The editors like all kinds of poetry, and have no objection to traditional forms like villanelles, sonnets and sestinas.
Submissions: Send one to four poems. There?s no upper
line limit and longer pieces are welcome, but don?t go over
10 pages. A short author biog is required; check out specific
guideline requirements on the website. Send your work to
impossiblearchetype@gmail.com
? Janet?s ebook Fifteen Women Philosophers, published by
decodedscience.com, is available from Amazon
Writers?forum #188
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09/05/2017 14:34:22
Comp calendar
Competitive Edge
Keep it very brief!
Kevin Machin
Helen talks to the judges of the National Association
of Writers? Groups? 100-word competition
K
evin Machin is comp technician
for the National Association of
Writers? Groups 100-word Mini
Tales Competition.
?NAWG has many writing competitions
throughout the year,? Kevin says. ?The one
I help to run is known as the ?100?. As the
name suggests, it?s for short fiction of exactly
100 words in length.
?Each round of the competition lasts until
we have 100 accepted entries. At this point,
two things happen: the next round begins
immediately, and the judge picks the winner
and runner-up. We keep going; there?s no
closing date! We have a different judge for
every round.? (You can find more details in
this month?s listings or full details online at
www.nawg.co.uk/3805)
Kevin usually finds the administration
goes pretty smoothly, although there is the
occasional challenge.
?Entries are by email only, so it?s pretty easy
to administer,? he says. ?Everything is already
in electronic form, so there?s no typing up to
do and no paperwork. Having said that, some
writers use their word-processors in peculiar
ways. Occasionally I have to decode their
strange formatting.
?Competitors can help by making sure they
follow the rules and instructions exactly.
Common mistakes including omitting contact
information, or even forgetting to attach the
story!?
Kevin kindly asked two NAWG judges for
their insights into a competition where very
few words are allowed.
?Precision,? says competition organiser
Marvin Close. ?It?s sometimes amazing how
many words people waste just within a very
short piece. Treat your flash fiction like an
extended tweet ? edit ruthlessly to leave
only the words that matter in driving on
your story. Pursue one idea only and don?t
overcomplicate things.
?Offer us a surprise or twist at the end. But
beware of your endings. I?ve often read flash
62
fiction that ends with a ?boom-boom? style
punchline ? don?t go there. Unless you have a
truly original metaphor, don?t use them.
?Also, is the story told from the most
interesting point of view? For example, I?ve
judged a number that have been written very
effectively in the second person, which is an
unorthodox and interesting approach.?
Steve Bowkett, who is due to judge the
next round of the competition, says: ?As in any
piece of fiction I would be looking for vivid
details, good pace and emotional impact.?
Kevin would like to encourage readers to
have a go at the NAWG contest.
?It?s fun,? he says. ?It?s also a good challenge;
100 words is very short, so you have to hone
your story to perfection. It?s also inexpensive
and ongoing, so if you don?t win in one round,
you can always have another go in the next.
?You?ll be helping other writers too. The
NAWG is a non-profit organisation, aimed at
providing education and support for writers
everywhere.?
Thanks to Kevin, and to the judges, for their
advice and encouragement. Why not give it a
go and take up the ?100? word challenge?
Helen?s Hint
Entering comps, your ultimate goal is to
win, or to be as highly placed as possible.
But sometimes entrants can be their own
worst enemies. Here?s how to avoid scoring
competition own goals:
?? Don?t enter a comp you?re not eligible for
? it?s just throwing money away. Most of the
comps we feature are open, but some have
restrictions, eg women only or beginners only.
?? Don?t miss the deadline. And don?t assume
it?s midnight. It may be midday or 5pm.
?? Don?t send your entry to the wrong place.
Some comp websites have more than one
email address on them. Make sure you pick
the one that?s actually for entries. If you?re
lucky a misdirected email may be sent on to
the correct one, but not if the account is an
unattended one. Don?t take the risk. The same
goes for postal addresses. Make sure you have
written the details correctly and clearly.
?? Don?t shoehorn themes into existing
stories. Judges have a sixth sense for recycled
work. If you want to enter a themed comp it?s
much better to write something fresh that?s
actually been inspired by the given theme.
?? Don?t aim too high, or too low. Starting
out, you might find smaller comps with
lower fees and less impressive prizes are
a good place to cut your teeth. Look also
for comps that give feedback. But don?t be
scared to move on to bigger contests as your
confidence and experience grow.
Good luck, and I hope you score a win or
shortlisting soon.
Competition of the Month
The HG Wells competition this year has
?Light? as its theme, and the organisers urge
you to interpret this in any way you wish.
Although the contest celebrates HG Wells,
your entry does not have to be science fiction.
So where would you start with such a
broad theme? Maybe with the dictionary
definition of the word ?light?. The first thing
you?ll notice is that it has many different
meanings. It can be used as both a noun and
a verb, and there are many everyday phrases
that contain the word light. Any one of these
permutations could give you a starting point
for your story. Or maybe you could use two
different shades of meaning to give your story
even greater originality.
Another great thing about this comp is
that it strives to encourage writing, especially
among young people, and is free for under-21s.
See the website at hgwellscompetition.com
for full details ? and good luck!
We?re always keen to hear your
recommendations for Comp of the Month.
Do get in touch at the email address above.
Writers?forum #188
WF188JUN62compedge.indd 62
09/05/2017 16:11:38
Send your success stories, questions for Helen, tips and comp news (three months in advance) to comps@writers-forum.com
with short story writer
Helen M Walters
Founded by world-renowned BBC Aeronautics Correspondent Reg
Turnill and his wife to celebrate the life and works of HG Wells and
encourage creative writing, especially among the young, the competition
offers generous prizes and free publication of all shortlisted entries in
a quality, professionally published paperback and Kindle by St Ursin
Press.
Comps Now Open
Manchester Writing
Competition
Closes 29 Sep 2017
Story: 2500 words. Poems: three
to five, maximum 120 lines in total.
Fee: �.50 Prize: �,000.
Judges: Nicholas Royle, Adam
O?Riordan. Details: see www.
manchesterwritingcompetition.
co.uk or write to Manchester
Poetry/Fiction Prize 2017, MMU
Finance Service Centre, Manchester Metropolitan University,
Righton Building, Cavendish Street,
Manchester M15 6BG.
Bedford International
Writing Competition
Closes 30 Sep 2017
Story: up to 3000 words. Poem:
up to 40 lines. Fees: �or three
for �. Prizes: �0; �0; �0;
Bedford Prizes donated by The
Harpur Trust (short story �0;
poem �0). Judges: Ruth Hogan,
Lesley Saunders, Steve Lowe.
Details: see www.bedfordwritingcompetition.co.uk or email bedfordwritingcomp@aol.co.uk
Tom Howard/Margaret
Reid Poetry Contest
Closes 30 Sep 2017
Poem: 250 lines maximum. Rules:
Either open style/genre or rhyming/
traditional. Fee: $12. Prizes:
$1500 in each category. Details:
see winningwriters.com
NAWG ?100? Competition
Ongoing
Flash: 100 words. Fee: �3 for one,
�5.50 for two, �8 for three. Prizes:
�75; �25. Details: see www.nawg.
co.uk (also see feature, left).
The theme for this year?s competition is LIGHT in its
broadest interpretation.
Manchester
Metropolitan University
There are two categories: authors 21 years of age and under with a prize
of �00. (Entry is free).
�0; �; �for any published on
website. Details: see www.earlyworkspress.co.uk or write to
Earlyworks Press, Creative Media
Centre, 45 Robertson Street,
Hastings, E Sussex TN34 1HL.
Henshaw Press
Short Story Competition
Story: 2000 words. Fee: �
Prizes: �0; �; �. Details:
see henshawpress.co.uk or write
to The Henshaw Competition, 24
Rowlandson Close, Northampton
NN3 3PB.
Thursday 21 September 2017
shortlists announced
Sunday 26 November 2017
Awards Ceremony in Folkestone
retreat at the Circle of Misse,
France; ?1000. Details: see www.
themothmagazine.com or write to
The Moth, Ardan Grange, Milltown,
Belturbet, Co Cavan, Ireland.
Words Magazine
Short Story Competition
Story: 2000 words. Theme:
?Christmas?. Fee: FREE. Prizes:
�; �. Details: www.wordsmag.com
Wow! Short Story
Competition
Story: 1000 words. Fee: �
Prizes: �0; �0; �. Details:
www.creativewritingmatters.co.uk
Doris Gooderson
Short Story Competition
Story: 1200 words. Fee: �
Prizes: �0; �0; �. Details:
see wrekinwriters.wordpress.com
Continued overleaf
or contact
hgwellscompetition@gmail.com
12 -18 August 2017
Sophie Hannah
Guest speaker
Wwww.swanwickwritersschool.org.uk
Fiction, Poetry, Crime, Scriptwriting, Non-Fiction, Children, Short
stories, Pitching, Marketing, Illustrated books, Intimate Scenes,
Research, Grammar, Characterisation, Life Writing, Comedy
Sketches, Flash Fiction, Self-Publishing, Plays, Acting, Guest
Speakers, Open Mic, Buskers and above all....... fun!
Swanwick - too good to miss
email secretary@swanwickwritersschool.org.uk or call 01290 552248
?
WF188JUN62compedge.indd 63
For further information, go to:
https://hgwellscompetition.com/
The Moth Short Story Prize
Comps Closing Soon
Earlyworks Press
Poetry Competition
Poem: 40 lines. Fee: �50 for
one or � for up to six. Prizes:
Dates for your diary
Sunday 16 July 2017
final date for entries
Story: 6000 words. Fee: ?12.
Prizes: ?3000; week-long writing
10 Jul
30 JunE
Authors aged 22 years and above with a prize of �0 (entry � or �with student id).
Registered Charity No. 1168531
09/05/2017 16:11:49
Comp calendar
Win a 4 night stay in a historic building
with Landmark Trust
Giving new life to buildings at risk
Landmark Trust take on historic places in danger and carefully and
sensitively restore them. By making them available for holidays, they
make sure they can be enjoyed by all, now and for future generations.
They have in their care nearly 200 buildings in Britain.
Though they range from the sober to the spectacular, all their buildings
are rich in history and atmosphere. They include picturesque pavilions
and medieval long-houses, artillery forts and Gothic follies, clan chiefs?
castles and cotton weavers? cottages, the homes of great writers and the
creations of great architects.
You have a chance to win a holiday for four nights in one of their
fabulous properties by entering our short story competition.
Have a look at their beautiful website; Landmark Trust.
All you have to do is write a ghost story...it can be funny, romantic, or
downright scary, just make it entertaining and a maximum of 1000
words.
Entry fee of �for up to two stories per person.
Please put your name, email address and story title on the
first page, also number your pages.
Write ?Ghost Story Comp? as the subject.
Send your chilling stories to: pdsawriting@aol.com
Paypal payments to pdsawriting@aol.com
All entry fees donated to the pet hospital
Closing date 3rd June
Winning entry published in the July issue
Puddle Magazine
Target
your market
through the
pages of
Writers?forum
Call Wendy Kearns on
01392 466099
Continued from page 63
or write to The Competition Secretary, 29 Christine Avenue, Wellington, Telford TF1 2DX.
three, � for five; flash �or �
for three, � for five, � for
seven. Prizes: �0; �; �.
Details: see www.hissac.co.uk or
write to HISSAC, 20 Lochslin Place,
Balintore, Highland IV20 1UP.
13 Jul
1 Aug
Ledbury Poetry Competition
Poem: 40 lines. Fee: �for one,
then �50. Prizes: �00 cash and
course at Ty Newydd centre; �0;
�0; see website for children?s
comp. Judge: Fiona Sampson.
Details: poetry-festival.co.uk
14 Jul
Ilkley Literature Festival
Competitions
Story: 3000 words. Poem: 30
lines. Fee: � Prizes: story �0.
poem �0; �0; �. Details:
www.ilkleyliteraturefestival.org.uk
or write to Ilkley Literature Festival, 9 The Grove, Ilkley, W Yorks
LS29 9LW.
Wasifiri New Writing Prize
Poetry: five poems. Fiction/life
writing: 3000 words. Fee: �for
31 Aug
one category, � for two, � for
three. Prizes: �0 in each category. Details: www.wasafiri.org
Park Publications
Article Competition
Article: 1000-1500 words. Theme:
?My writing day?. Fee: � Prizes:
�; �; �. Details: see www.
parkpublications.co.uk or write to
14 The Park, Stow on the Wold,
Cheltenham GL54 1DX.
16 Jul
HG Wells Short Story
Competition
Story: 1500-5000 words. Theme:
?Light?. Fee: �; free for under-21s,
�with student ID. Prizes: �00
(21 and under); �0 (over 21s).
Details: see hgwellscompetition.
com or write to HG Wells Short
Story Competition, 20 Brockman
Road, Folkestone, Kent CT20 1DL.
27 Jul
Biographers? Club
Tony Lothian Prize
Biography: proposal of 20 pages.
Fee: �. Prize: �00. Details:
see www.biographers.club
Earlyworks Press
Flash Fiction Competition
Flash: 100 words. Fee: �50 or �
for up to six entries. Prize: �0.
Details: see www.earlyworks
press.co.uk or write to Earlyworks
Press, Creative Media Centre, 45
Robertson Street, Hastings, E Sussex
TN34 1HL.
Aesthetica
Creative Writing Award
Poetry: 40 lines. Fiction: 2000
words. Fee: poem �; story �.
Prize: �00. Details: see www.
aestheticamagazine.com
31 Jul
Cinnamon Press Debut
Novel/Novella Competition
Novel/Novella: first
10,000
words. Fee: �. Prizes: year?s
mentoring, publishing contract and
100 copies of book. Judge: Ian
Gregson. Details: www.cinnamonpress.com or write to Cinnamon
Press Writing Prizes, Meirion House,
Glan yr afon, Tanygrisiau, Blaenau
Ffestiniog LL41 3SU.
HISSAC Short Story and
Flash Fiction Competitions
Story: 2000 words. Flash: 500
words. Fee: story �or � for
64
Unless otherwise stated?
Theme and genre are open. Entries
should be original and unpublished.
Postal entries should be printed on
white A4 in a clear plain font. Include
a separate cover sheet with the title,
word count, your name, address and
postcode, phone and email. Stories
should be double-spaced with good
margins.Where necessary include a
large enough sae with sufficient
postage. Always contact the organiser
or check their website to confirm
details.Writers? Forum does not
accept responsibility for errors in or
changes to the information listed.
Writers?forum #188
WF188JUN62compedge.indd 64
09/05/2017 16:11:57
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09/05/2017 14:50:44
Writing rooms
Where I write
Phil Barrington visits Suzanne Leal in
her home in Sydney, Australia
I
live in a suburb of Sydney called Malabar.
It?s close to the water and has a small
village feel. It inspired my novel, The
Teacher?s Secret, which is set in a fictional
coastal community. Over the last 17 years
66
I have watched with affection the daily
intrigues of a community which, bordered
by the ocean, a row of shops, a golf course
and a jail, is almost a cul-de-sac in itself.
My laptop is always with me in case
I find a moment to sit and write. I can
write anywhere so long as my kids are not
around. I have a daughter who?s five, and
three sons aged 19, 17 and 13. I write in
the garage at home, in a caf� on the way
to work, at the swimming pool and on
retreat in the mountains, at Varuna, the
Writers? House.
When I was working as a member
of the Refugee Review Tribunal (I?m a
lawyer specialising in refugee and child
protection law) I would schedule my
hearings later so that I could drop the kids
off to daycare and school, then write in a
caf� near work for two hours. When my
kids were younger my mother would mind
them for a day a week and I?d write in the
golf club. Sometimes that would coincide
with large lunches for the golfers, so I?d
just put in my earplugs and keep writing.
Before my daughter started school this
year, I?d take her to swimming lessons
at the local sports centre where there?s a
cr鑓he. I think it?s to encourage parents
to use the facilities by having a swim or
taking a class. Instead, I?d throw Miranda
into the cr鑓he after her class, then hightail
it to the pool area and make a writing
desk for myself between the benches in
the raked grandstand: I?d sit on one and
use the higher one as a desk. This writing
space worked all year around, except
during school swimming carnival time
when the pool would be hijacked and I?d
be relegated to a patch of grass outside.
When my ex-husband and I bought our
house, the garage was a complete mess.
Some years later we decided to make it
a workable space. I realised that beside
the work bench was a little nook, slightly
elevated, that would make a perfect
writing space. There?s very little in here: a
small table, my late grandmother?s green
velvet chair, a lamp and a fan. There?s
no wi-fi so I focus on writing rather than
checking emails, Facebook or pretending
to research. Although there are windows,
it can be a bit dark, which for some reason
helps me write.
It?s pretty ideal, although I wouldn?t
mind a little fridge for milk and a kettle so
that I could make a cup of tea. And a fan
would be good for when it gets too hot,
and a decent heater for when it gets cold.
I?d like the space to be cleaner ? it gets
pretty dusty and I don?t clean it that often.
The problem is, once I?m down there, I
don?t want to clean, I just want to write.
This garage was the first space I?d had
that was mine, just for writing in. I think it
signalled the beginning of my confidence
as a writer.
? See www.suzanneleal.com
Writers?forum #188
WF188JUN66writingroom.indd 66
09/05/2017 14:51:22
WF156-68.indd 68
09/09/2014 15:27:53
WF188-68.indd 68
09/05/2017 14:57:00
ner
Lines written outside
a Melbourne church
Jenny Taylor, London
[Dedicated to my brother]
God is not in this building
With its sign politely warning
About masonry falling on my head
As if the Triune God were not a greater doom.
He?s out there
Huge and cruel like a bushfire.
The ancient Spirit of the dead
We think we tamed with ploughs and hymns
He fills the air with ruthless light
The Mesmer light of blue-grey gum.
Then flashes out of nowhere
Squawking green on red
He cries, flits, twitters overhead
A rainbow splash of dazzling flight.
Above this crackling bone-dry thin-skinned land
Of dead leaf, bark and bleached white bone
Where man has been a moment
Scratched his name in the sand.
The God of all things slouches now
Aboriginal, aglow
Through wilderness, in drought
He is not here in King Street?s crumbling portico.
He rides the light, careers through dust
He pounds Van Diemen?s Land
If I tell you what I saw
You?d never understand.
Because he?s gone beyond the sense
That words can muster
Thoughts too small for Arnhem Land
Invoked in childish prayer and managed doubt
He?s in the red anonymous sandstone planes.
He?s OUT.
About the poet Jenny Taylor, 61, is a journalist and Bloomsbury
author who founded Lapido Media, a charity helping journalists
?get religion? in an age of globalisation. Her writing has appeared
in the Guardian, the Times and academic journals.
52
T
he winning poem this month combines two very personal
experiences: the loss of a brother and the narrator?s beliefs
concerning a divine being. The personal is then set against
the public space of a church and the vast, natural landscapes
of Australia. This interweaving of personal and public, manmade and
natural, gives the poem energy and vibrancy ? whether or not the
reader shares the narrator?s beliefs. And this is one of the lessons this
poem delivers ? that poets can use a number of techniques to engage
readers even when writing about interests, passions, experiences or
beliefs about which the reader may have doubts.
So if you can find time this month, try writing about a belief that
plays important role in your life; or an experience that has shaped
your beliefs. What techniques might you use to engage sceptics? What
techniques might you use to change the minds of unbelievers? Give
special thought to how you might use both the personal and the public;
the physical and the not-so physical.
Poems that might have been
Each month we give you three suggestions or questions
about the winning poem. Use them to explore the
different directions the poem might have taken.
Think about format, style of language and narrative
development. Use the questions to inspire your own
poem or poems.
?? This is quite a long poem. Compact each stanza into three lines.
What must you leave out and what effect does this have?
Writers?forum #188
WF188JUN52poetrycomp.indd 52
09/05/2017 14:32:23
Writers Forum
Each month our winning poet
wins �0 and a copy of the
new edition of Chambers
Thesaurus, worth �.
Want to see YOUR poem
published in these pages?
Any topic, any style ? all entries welcome! Rhyming or free verse,
haiku or sonnet, funny, sad, romantic or angry?
Prize �0
and a dictionary
enter as many poems as you like
?? Instead of a building, write about a person who does not contain
something, eg compassion, generosity, modesty, vanity, ambition.
?? Build a poem round the penultimate line of Jenny Taylor?s poem.
Feel free to change the gender, the colour, the type of rock and the
flatness of the landscape.
Highly Commended
Scissors by Andria Jane Cooke, Gresham, Norfolk
This poem begins with a simile used to convey a physical sense of
scissors but quickly moves on to a stark statement of the effect
scissors can have:
Two handles joined
Like glasses;
Twin loops forge a frame
For fingers
To make an ache.
This opening stanza contains no personal pronoun and seems to
be describing all scissors, ie scissors in general. But then comes a
two-line stanza where the narrator declares: I will cut my cloth, / create
a paper face.
The poem then offers the reader three ?generalised? stanzas with
no personal pronouns, before closing with another two-line stanza:
Sever all connection / between me and you.
Getting the right balance between general and personal is not
easy but this poem proves it can be very effective in drawing readers
through a poem and keeping them curious about what happens next.
A Cautionary Tale by Peter Dean, Great Shelford, Cambs
The combination of general and personal is also used to good effect in
this poem. It opens with:
Beautiful women on the website
All from Europe?s eastern side:
Aleksanda, Sofya and Bernice?
All the women tell ?similar tales? and this makes the narrator, This
Western man, his heart a flapping / Thinking how to catch his bride wonder
if these women ?just want his money?. The narrator is aware he ?may be
caught out if he?s smitten? and there is a definite sense in the poem of
the narrator, this specific man, standing on one side of a battle line and
many, many possible brides standing on the other side.
The optimistic heart by Marie Greenhalgh, Burnley, Lancs
In contrast, there are only two people present in this final poem.
Here everything is personal, including lines such as: My mind knew we
wouldn?t work? But my heart is an optimistic sort? You were my whole
life? My heart chose to look the other way?
When you?re writing this month, don?t be afraid to explore intensely
personal subjects; just think how best to present them to your reader.
�PEr poem ? OR �WITH CRITIQUE
? Poems must be a maximum of 40 lines and printed on A4.
? Give your name, address, phone number and email address.
? Add a brief biography of yourself: age, occupation, family,
writing career to date, favourite poets.
? Entry fee is �per poem, or �per poem if you would like
a brief but helpful critique from poetry editor Sue Butler.
Cheques (in sterling only) should be made payable to
?Select Publisher Services?, fill in your credit-card details
below or pay online at www.writers-forum.com
How to enter
Fill in the coupon below (photocopies are acceptable) and
post with your cheque or credit-card details to:
Writers? Forum Poetry Contest
PO Box 6337, Bournemouth BH1 9EH
By entering, you will have been deemed to agree for the poem to
appear in Writers? Forum if it wins a prize.The competition is open
worldwide but entries must be in English.
Deadline: 15th of each month. Late entries go into the next contest.
Name Address
Postcode
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Email address
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I declare that this poetry has not previously been published
or broadcast and that it is my own work
Signed
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WF188JUN52poetrycomp.indd 53
09/05/2017 14:32:29
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Theme: Christmas.
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t: Michelle 07887 685 922
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Publishers for over 100 Years
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Send your event listings three months ahead to diary@writers-forum.com
Literary diary
Directory
Kate Medhurst brings you
the pick of next month?s
writing and book events
Festivals
Hay Festival
25 May ? 4 June
Every year this huge book festival brings
together writers from around the world to
debate and share stories and celebrate great
writing from poets and scientists, lyricists and
comedians, novelists and more.
www.hayfestival.com
Belfast Book Festival
7-17 June
A programme jam-packed with events for all
tastes, featuring well-known authors, comedians
and journalists, including Jamie Morton,
Norman Finkelstein and Sara Pascoe.
www.belfastbookfestival.com
Stoke-on-Trent Literary Festival
8-10 June
Now in its fourth year, this celebration of
outstanding writing and brilliant books features
author talks, panel discussions, hands-on
workshops and live performances.
www.stokeliteraryfestival.org
Balham Literary Festival, London
8-11 June
The second Balham festival, organised by
Dulwich Books, welcomes Thomasina Miers,
Jeremy Greenstock, Jay Griffiths, Sarah Driver
and more. A weekend pass costs �.
www.balhamliteraryfestival.co.uk
Derby Book Festival
9-17 June
Venues across the city host a programme of
book-related activities for all ages and interests.
This year?s festival coincides with the arrival of
the Tower of London poppies at the Silk Mill,
and the opening event will feature Birdsong
author Sebastian Faulks at Derby Cathedral.
www.derbybookfestival.co.uk
Borders Book Festival, Melrose
15-18 June
Established as one of Scotland?s premier literary
events, the festival celebrates its 13th year
in 2017.You can expect a varied programme
featuring some of today?s best writers and
leading personalities.
www.bordersbookfestival.org
University of Winchester
Writers? Festival
16-18 June
This leading international festival for emerging
and experienced writers includes workshops,
talks and one-to-ones with literary agents,
editors, authors and publishing experts. Lemn
Bradford hosts its
literary festival in June
Sissay will give the keynote address and Claire
Fuller, Elizabeth Enfield, Cliff McNish and
William Ryan are among those taking part.
www.writersfestival.co.uk
the written and spoken word. Last year saw
over 200 events taking place across 10 days and
2017 looks to be just as action-packed.
www.bradfordlitfest.co.uk
Broadstairs Dickens Festival, Kent
Ledbury Poetry Festival
17-23 June
This mixed arts family festival, inspired by
the works of Charles Dickens, offers varied
literature-inspired events including a festival
play, reading competitions and more.
www.broadstairsdickensfestival.co.uk
Evesham Festival of Words
30 June ? 2 July
A celebration of words in all their forms,
written, spoken and sung, aimed at all the family.
Prue Leith, Susan Lewis, Ian McMillan and Tony
Husband are taking part this year.
www.eveshamfestivalofwords.org
Felixstowe Book Festival
30 June ? 2 July
Be inspired, challenged and entertained with
an eclectic mix of fiction and non-fiction
authors and writing workshops. Louis de
Berni鑢es, Esther Freud, Maggi Hambling, Stella
Rimmington, Tracy Chevalier, Terry Waite and
AL Kennedy are just some of those taking part.
www.felixstowebookfestival.co.uk
Bradford Literary Festival
30 June ? 9 July
A cultural and literary extravaganza celebrating
30 June ? 9 July
Head to Herefordshire for 135 events over
10 days, with talks, readings, performances,
slams, sign language, translations, competitions,
workshops, residencies, theatre, song, dance,
puppetry, art, comedy, walks and bike rides.
Fiona Sampson is the poet in residence.
www.poetry-festival.co.uk
Althorp Literary Festival,
Northampton
5-8 October
The festival takes place against the backdrop of
one of England?s most beautiful historic houses
and includes talks, readings and debates. Clare
Balding, Evan Davis, Joanna Moorhead and
Allison Pataki are among those taking part.
www.althorp.com
Author & Book Events
Katie Welsh, Edinburgh
1 June, 6.30pm
The author will be at Waterstones discussing
her new novel The Wages of Sin with Lucy
Ribchester before a Q&A and book signing.
For more details call 0131 226 2666.
Writers?forum #188
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DIRECTORY
Publish through
DIADEM
BOOKS
Closing date:
19 June 2017
CEO: C.H.Muller
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Avoid the vanity press
Write, phone or email for
details.
All categories considered.
Combined Editing &
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& US
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Noble,
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the US.
Diadem Books,
Las Lomas del Marbella Club
Pueblo
San Gabriel 5
29602 Marbella
M醠aga, Spain
Tel. 0844 571 7206
Email:
publish@diadembooks.co.uk
www.diadembooks.com
bcs
Let us help you
create a quality
book with a
beautiful cover
We have over 15 years experience creating
professional layouts and excellent covers,
with a knowledgebase to help you on
your journey. Check out our website for
affordable prices on formatting, design,
ebook conversion and proofreading.
bookcreateservice.com
enquiries@bookcreateservice.com
01626 870999
1st prize: �000
Special Prize �0 for the best
poem by an unpublished poet
JUDGE: Sin閍d Morrissey
women?s
www.mslexia.co.uk/poetry
0191 204 8860
competition
2017
POETRY
AUTHORS?
the publishing house for
self-publishers
A small, friendly business
offering publishing services
through editorial, design, sales
& marketing. Phone or email to
informally discuss your work
and find out how we can help.
www.lumphananpress.co.uk
info@lumphananpress.co.uk
01339 880873
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To word-process type your script
Novels, short stories, plays etc
Proofreading, editing, copywriting.
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Prompt, efficient, friendly service.
Established 12 years. For more
information contact Jean Henderson
Tel: 01342 311174
email: hendersonj11@sky.com
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Literary
Consultant
Friendly, professional
support for writers.
Karol Griffiths
Editor & Writing Coach.
Years of Experience working with
Bestselling Authors,
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New Writers.
COMEDY, CRIME & HISTORICAL FICTION
Make your novel stand out from the
crowd with my expert editing and
proofreading services.
Reasonable Rates
For more information visit:
www.karolgriffiths.com
or call: 07942 552 050
Visit www.romansfictionediting.com
or call 07834 670513 for your free
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For advertising, call Wendy Kearns on 01392 466099 or email advertising@writers-forum.com
WF188-Boards.indd 56
04/05/2017 16:58:09
Send your event listings three months ahead to diary@writers-forum.com
Alan Lee, Exeter
2 June, 6.30pm
The illustrator of several recent Tolkien editions
is at Waterstones to launch Beren and L鷗hien,
which presents an epic tale taken from Tolkien?s
original manuscripts.
For more details call 01392 423044.
Salman Rushdie, London
6 June, 5.40pm
The author is at Waterstones in Gower Street
to sign copies of Home, his new title in the
Vintage Minis series. This is a free event but to
avoid disappointment please arrive promptly.
For more details call 020 7636 1577.
Jenny Landreth, Manchester
6 June, 6.30pm
The swimming book and blog author will be at
Victoria Baths discussing her new book Swell
with Amy Liptrot, followed by a Q&A session
and signing. Tickets �
For more details call 0161 837 3000.
TF Muir, Glasgow
8 June, 6.30pm
The crime author will be at Waterstones
Sauchiehall Street, talking about his latest DCI
Andy Gilchrist thriller, The Killing Connection.
For more details call 0141 332 9105.
Simon Sebag Montefiore, Bath
13 June, 7.30pm
The historical author will be at Christ Church
with the final book in his acclaimed Moscow
trilogy, Red Sky at Noon. Tickets cost �
For more details call 01225 428111.
Booker Shortlist Evening, London
13 June, 7pm
Authors and translators on the Man Booker
shortlist join for a panel discussion chaired by
Jim Naughtie, with selected readings. It takes
place at St James? Church, Piccadilly. Tickets �.
For more details call 0207 734 4511.
David Keenan, St Andrews
15 June, 7.30pm
The debut author will be at Topping and
Company Bookshop with This is Memorial
Device, set in the world of post-punk in ?80s
Aidrie. Tickets � including a copy of the book.
For more details call 01334 585111.
Directory
New courses
Residential Courses
Writers? Centre Norwich
Adventures in Comedy
Writing, Greece
15-22 July
This course, from The Writers? Lab on the
Greek island of Skyros, will help you discover
your unique comic voice ? from finding your
creative inspiration to learning the building
blocks of humour. There will be some nonwriting exercises designed to encourage the
participant?s creativity, alongside writing games,
with group feedback and tutor-led suggestions.
It costs �5.
www.skyros.com
exercises and discussion, to help you start on
or develop your novel. It takes place from 10am
until 4pm and costs �.
www.writerscentrenorwich.org.uk
Writing the Bright Moment
Online Course
26 August ? 2 September
This course, led by UK poet and author Roselle
Angwin, focuses on developing your writing
at the same time as deepening your sense of
relationship to the world around you. There?ll
be lively discussion, stimulating writing tasks
for the imagination, shared silence and walking,
as well as words and readings. It takes place at
the Gardoussel Retreat in France, a picturesque
hamlet set in 45 acres of private meadow and
woodland. The retreat starts from �5.
www.abricreativewriting.com
One-Day Course
Writing a Novel: The Importance
of Character, Norwich
3 June
Why is character so important in novels, and
how do we go about writing great characters?
What is the relationship between character and
plot? This workshop by Sunday Times Top Ten
bestselling author Rachel Hore will help you to
explore these issues through creative writing
Constructing a Novel
26 June
This course run by Penguin Random House
teaches the art of writing successful fiction
while developing the creative and literary skills
needed to progress your initial ideas towards
completing the first draft of your novel. It
takes place online over 14 weeks, around
10?15 hours a week and is tutored by Barbara
Henderson. It costs �9.
www.thewritersacademy.co.uk
EVENING Course
Novel Writing, London
From 14 September
Taking place in the agency?s central London
offices, this hugely popular, face-to-face creative
writing course for 15 writers features visits
from the Curtis Brown literary agents. It takes
place over six months, is led by Simon Wroe
and costs �90.
www.curtisbrowncreative.co.uk
helpful new Books
Tom Vaughan MacAulay, London
So You Want to? Write a Screenplay: A Step-by-Step Guide to
Writing for Film, Video, and Television by Taylor Gaines (�.41,
Atlantic Publishing) will give you the lowdown on the entire screenwriting
process. Knowing the ins and outs of the business will give you a leg-up on your
competition. In this book, every aspect of the script-writing process is covered,
from your initial idea to pitching your screenplay to agents and executives.
Debut Fiction Showcase, London
Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write with Confidence by
William Kenower (�.99, Writer?s Digest Books) is aimed at both fledgling
writers and veterans with years of experience. Far from being a how-to book,
the author provides information on how you can prepare yourself ? holistically,
mentally and spiritually ? to be a writer. Truly fearless authors, he says, banish
writer?s blocks with ease, receive critiques gracefully, and infuse their passion for
the craft into every word they write.
22 June, 6.30pm
Waterstones Leadenhall Market welcomes
the author for the launch of debut novel Being
Simon Haines.
For more details call 020 7220 7882.
29 June, 6.30pm
A new quarterly event celebrating new
literary talent. Enjoy gin, canap閟 and literary
amusement as Anita Sethi introduces
Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney,
Sympathy by Olivia Sudjic and The End We Start
From by Megan Hunter. Tickets cost �
For more details call 020 7636 1577.
Writers?forum #188
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10/05/2017 13:31:43
MOTIVATION
Emily Cunningham of The Write Factor
publishing agency helps you find the way
forward with your writing
MENTOR
The
I hate writing
I am writing to you with a curious
problem in that the answer seems plain,
but it isn?t to me. My problem is that I
don?t enjoy writing. You would think
that the solution would be simply not to
do it, but then I would feel as if I had let
something that is important to me go.
What should I do?
Emma, Fishguard
A
thorny conundrum, Emma,
and one that I can relate to.
Without wanting to steal your
thunder, this is a battle that I
have struggled with all my writing life, so
I completely understand the difficult place
you find yourself in.
You can see that you have a talent for
writing and perhaps have something
to offer, but the actual process throws
up so many psychological barriers it
becomes unpleasant; a chore. You end up
asking yourself what?s the point of doing
something that you don?t find enjoyable.
Novelist Hari Kunzru described the
writing process vividly:
There are the pitfalls of self-disgust,
boredom, disorientation and a lingering sense
of inadequacy, occasionally alternating with
58
episodes of hysterical self-congratulation as
you fleetingly believe you?ve nailed that
particular sentence and are surely destined
to join the ranks of the immortals, only to be
confronted the next morning with an appalling
farrago of clich閟 that no sane human could
read without vomiting.
(Guardian Books, 3 March 2009)
Wouldn?t it be so much easier to step
gracefully away from the computer and
find something more fun to do instead?
Couldn?t you contribute to the world
just as valuably without having to write?
After all, you make a mean lemon tart,
people appreciate that? As you might
have guessed, these are the arguments I
challenge myself with on a daily basis.
However good the equivalent of your
lemon tart is, I would argue that it will
never replace the value of writing for you
because, as you said yourself, you would
have let something important to you go.
You recognise that it would be a loss not to
write. I don?t mean a loss for other people
? although I?m sure that?s true; I mean for
yourself. You would not be appreciating
yourself fully or acknowledging your
ability. As the American saying goes, you
wouldn?t be ?your best self?.
When I mentioned my ambivalence
towards creative writing to my colleague
Lorna Howarth at The Write Factor, she
was quick to applaud the contribution
that my lemon tart makes but also wanted
to get to the heart of the problem, and
thereby find a solution. I identified that
writing ?for myself? was difficult because I
was soon stalled by my inner critic, telling
me how boring/rubbish/derivative I
was. I realised, however, that writing for
someone else ? for example, when I am
ghost-writing a book or even replying to
an email ? is so much easier.
Lorna came up with the great idea of
helping me kick-start my own creative
Writers?forum #188
WF188JUN58mentor.indd 58
09/05/2017 14:33:18
Send your letters to Emily at mentor@writers-forum.com
I no longer feel
dwarfed by the
enormity of
the task
writing by tapping into this revelation.
Because I find emailing pleasurable she
sends me an email on the theme of my
story idea, and I reply to it. No pressure,
no angst, just a simple response to her
question. I no longer feel dwarfed by the
enormity of the task. It?s also made me
less isolated and helped me drown out the
inner critic. Another thing I noticed was
that getting a fresh perspective and some
oxygen into the area has inspired me. I
came up with an idea for a subplot last
night when previously my mind remained
stubbornly closed to the subject.
When looking at the emotions associated
with writing, it?s important to remember
too, that although it feels unpleasant at
the time, it does reap dividends. Writing
is a way of processing your thoughts and
crystallising your point of view. Will Self
said: ?Fiction is my way of thinking about
and relating to the world; if I don?t write
I?m not engaged in any praxis, and lose
all purchase.?
A second benefit is that you feel a sense
of pride that you have created something.
You didn?t shy away from it, you soldiered
on and achieved. Perhaps one way to
approach it is to think that there are
hundreds of tasks you dislike doing but
still do, because the outcome makes it
worthwhile. Like exercise, for example.
Exhausting, repetitive, tedious, it?s all of
those things, but the sense of achievement
and the rush of endorphins afterwards are
reward enough. The key is to focus on the
end rather than the arduous road towards
it. As many writers have said, including
George RR Martin: ?I hate writing. I like
having written.?
As well as remembering the goal, it
could also help to learn that it is possible
to change your perspective about the
process. I?ve been reading about braintraining recently and boggled at how the
brain is far more plastic than we knew.
We generally believe that our feelings
about things are fairly static; that their
foundations were laid down years ago and
are non-negotiable. Now, neuroscientists
have discovered that these foundations are
malleable. For example, in your case, you
have the thought process: ?Writing makes
me unhappy, therefore I don?t want to do
it.? This has developed because your brain
has formed a neural pathway between
the concept of writing and the emotion
of unhappiness. The two have become
linked (probably due to a negative early
experience of it) so whenever you think
about writing you feel down.
The great news is that you can reroute
your brain so it forms a new neural
pathway, this time between writing and
satisfaction. The secret is to go outside
your comfort zone and approach writing
differently. Try a writing exercise that is
easy and fun for just two minutes. Reward
yourself afterwards. Rinse and repeat. This
will help carve a new pathway in your
brain and you will discover that writing is
not the grind you anticipate.
In conclusion, Emma, the fact that you
have written to me for help suggests
that you want to find a way around this
problem, rather than abandoning your
writing altogether, and this means that
there is hope for the future. Take a deep
breath, pick up your pen and start writing
once more.
Tips to take away
?? Try Lorna?s strategy and start emailing
a friend. Use this to develop characters,
plots and vignettes. The joy of the new
arrival in your inbox will help you stay
motivated.
?? Give your brain-training a nudge by
looking back over work you feel proud of.
The sense of achievement will help forge
positive associations for your writing.
?? Add writing to your daily routine:
brush teeth, empty dishwasher, write for
20 minutes. It will soon become something
you do unthinkingly, rather than agonise
over and berate yourself for not doing.
The Write Factor offers all
sorts of services to support
your writing process, from
mentoring and writing courses to editorial
feedback and assessment. Find out more at
www.thewritefactor.co.uk
Writers?forum #188
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09/05/2017 14:33:27
Author know-how
Research secrets
Romantic comedy author Graeme Simsion explains to Anita Loughrey
how you can?t beat real-life experience as the best research resource
I
?m primarily a novelist,
though I?ve also written
screenplays, short stories
and non-fiction. In my
previous life as an IT and
business consultant, I wrote
professional articles, academic
papers and two books on
database specification. My first
two novels were the romantic
comedy The Rosie Project and
its sequel The Rosie Effect. Then,
The Best of Adam Sharp about a
relationship re-kindled ? and
the consequences. I?m currently
editing Left Right, a romantic
comedy set in Spain, co-written
with my wife Anne Buist.
If that?s not enough, there?s
always Data Modeling Essentials.
My stories and characters are
based more on life experience
than formal research, and
much of that happens before
I begin even thinking about a
novel. Living is research!
The Best of Adam Sharp was
prompted by a visit from my
wife?s ex-boyfriend, and some
consequent ?what if? reflection
? plus a desire to write a story
about the role popular music
plays in our emotional lives.
I was able to draw on my
own knowledge of music,
but I?m no musician. A friend
had begun to teach me piano,
and I?d learned a bit of theory,
and that turned out to be a
surprisingly useful start: just a
bit of experience, whether it?s
trying to learn piano or firing
a gun or playing an extra in a
movie, is a huge improvement
on none at all.
I pestered my pianist friend
for stories of his life as a muso
dating back to the ?60s and for
piano-related anecdotes. Little
bits like the one about the
black keys playing better on
worn-out pianos and answers
60
to ?What song would you play
to demonstrate to someone that
the piano was a rock ?n? roll
instrument?? (Great Balls of Fire
or Billy Joel?s You May Be Right).
The experience of (trying to)
learn to play popular piano
was surprisingly valuable,
short-lived as it was. It gave me
a sense of the feel of playing:
and professional pianists who
have read the book assume I do
play. I?m pleased with that.
An unexpected bonus was
that my friend told me about
his relationship with his father,
a jazz pianist, and that inspired
an important part of Adam?s
history.
Adam is a music trivia buff,
and I obviously had to check
the details ? a dangerously
addictive pastime ? which,
again, I projected on to Adam,
shut in his room surfin
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