"A word after a word after a word is power" - Margaret Atwood


A blog for readers and writers

A blog about the stories we tell each other and how we tell them...

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Re-inventing the Whelan

I've moved.
I've packed up, wiped down the insides of the cupboard, emptied the rubbish bin.

And now I have a NEW BLOG over on wordpress

It's nice. You'll like it.

Here's my new address. Come on over....

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Why you hate twitter. In 140 characters or less.

Free to enter. Fun to enter.
Other people do crosswords, writers work on sonnets or competitions like this.
Words with Jam are giving away three mugs (who said you were going to get rich as a writer). All you have to do is tell in exactly 140 characters (including spaces and punctuation) why you hate TWITTER. Simple as that.
Entries should be sent in the body of an email  tdanny@wordswithjam.co.uk. (I'm told attachments will be mortared all to hell.) Closing date 5th of September
Why not...if you complete a crossword, you just complete a crossword....

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Writing like Mo Farah runs - Making sense of the Olympics

The Olympics  are over and it's all right to go back to watching ordinary TV. The news returns to workaday-economic-disaster and ice caps melting faster than we thought.

My husband's almost glad: he feared that taekwondo was going to be too steep a learning curve. In 17 days he had mastered the nicities of dressage and dive scoring and came to understand the concentration required in clay shooting. For one brief glorious moment he knew what it meant to be a coxless pair with the taste of victory in your mouth and experienced the thrill of escaping elimination in cycling contests, but he wasn't sure he was going be a good enough spectator for the taekwondo contestants. 

As a novice watcher I wasn't so worried, most sport is a mystery to me, but I was transfixed by the stories acted out in front of us in real time each day. I was learning a lot too about crises and climaxes, character development and story arcs.

If you are a writer who wants to write a page-turning unputdownable epic, I recommend watching Mo Farah's 5000 metres race. It was suspense distilled into 13:41.66 minutes.

Here's part of Carol Ann Duffy's take on what we have just lived through. It's got a punch big enough for a boxing gold.

A summer of rain, then a gap in the clouds
and The Queen jumped from the sky
to the cheering crowds.
               We speak Shakespeare here,
a hundred tongues, one-voiced; the moon bronze or silver,
sun gold, from Cardiff to Edinburgh
               by way of London Town,
on the Giant's Causeway;
we say we want to be who we truly are,
now, we roar it. Welcome to us.
We've had our pockets picked,
               the soft, white hands of bankers,
bold as brass, filching our gold, our silver;
we want it back.
We are Mo Farah lifting the 10,000 metres gold.
We want new running-tracks in his name.
For Jessica Ennis, the same; for the Brownlee brothers,
Rutherford, Ohuruogu, Whitlock, Tweddle,
for every medal earned,
we want school playing-fields returned.

Read the rest of it in The Guardian

And it starts again on August 29 with more heroes and heroines telling more stories...

Monday, 6 August 2012

The worst thing a student could do in a creative writing class?

Cathy Dreyer - a student on Oxford University’s Undergraduate Diploma in Creative Writing - posted her suggestion here in a LOL short story that won a £50 prize. Students do not copy! (the story or the way the protagonist handed in homework).

Meave Binchy quote about ducks and women and how it should be

 In my stories, the ugly ducklings don't grow up to be beautiful swans, they grow up to be confident ducks!

CREATIVE WRITING in Brighton and London

Since my last post was about the arguments regarding whether creative writing can be taught, I suppose it's not surprising that I should be thinking about the courses that I will be running in Brighton and Central London in the autumn - although I haven't actually been away this summer yet.
Courses take a lot of planing and ideas for new exercises and new approaches to familiar subjects come from a diverse range of sources - a chance remark, a photograph, an article in Sunday supplement.
Last night after a dinner party I suddenly saw how I could use titles from Philip K. Dick's books to spark new and original writing and went straight to my laptop to plan a lesson instead of heading for the kitchen sink and the washing up...can't think why. What's else on offer next term?
Halloween and all things ghoulish, creating believable baddies, discovering how being in the moment can aid description and two entirely new courses - nature writing on the edge of the Sussex Downs and a lunch hour course in central London for busy writers who just want/need to go home after work.

I am also very glad to be running a course on writing the biography of your family again. There's nothing as interesting as people and I meet some fascinating characters in the classroom - the fact that some of them have been dead a couple of hundred years doesn't make any difference.
While the course is aimed at anyone who wants to put flesh on the bare bones of family history - a list of dates of births, deaths and marriages reveals very little by itself - it is also suitable for students who want to write the life story of a parent or grandparent.

Get in touch if you'd like to find out more. 


Creative Writing – an introduction MONDAY MORNINGS
It doesn’t matter if you haven’t written since school - come along and discover the writer within on this confidence-building 10 week course starting on October 1st 2012
South Portslade Community Centre
www.portslade.org 01273 422632 or email comed@paca.uk.com

Creative Writing – advanced THURSDAY MORNING or AFTERNOON
An imaginative 10 week course designed to offer support and inspiration to the emerging writer. Morning and afternoon sessions available  starting on  October 4th 2012
South Portslade Community Centre
www.portslade.org 01273 422632 or email comed@paca.uk.com

Writing from Nature at Foredown Tower SIX WEEK COURSE
Take inspiration from the natural world, and look at the familiar in new ways at this unique site on the edge of the South Downs. This is a short Wednesday morning course starting on November 7th 2012
www.portslade.org 01273 422632 or email comed@paca.uk.com

Help! I Want To Be Published!  FIVE WEEK COURSE
A short course for aspiring fiction and non fiction writers that combines practical guidance on the nitty gritty of getting published with advice on how to make your writing stand out for all the right reasons.
Starting on November 6th at the Friends Centre, near Brighton Station.
www.friendscentre.org 01273 810210


Fit creative writing into your busy day in central London. A relaxed, informal rolling programme for writers of all levels of experience who enjoy being thrown new ideas and experimenting with poetry and prose. This Friday lunchtime class starts on September 28th 2012 at City Lit in Holborn.

Writing Your Family Biography
A non-fiction course for students who want to learn how to use writing techniques to transform the bare bones of family history into a gripping read.
This Friday afternoon course starts on September 14th  2012 at City Lit in Holborn.

Ways into Creative Writing
An imaginative and supportive course covering prose writing and poetry -suitable for the beginner
This Friday evening course starts on September 14 2012 at City Lit in Holborn.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Can creative writing be taught?

No one wonders why an aspiring artist should want to go to art school or thinks there is anything strange about a musician taking lessons, but 80+ years after the first university creative writing programme was launched the debate about whether creative writing can be taught still rages on.
Author and editor Louis Menand writing in the New Yorker in 2009 questioned the way creative writing is taught

Creative-writing programs are designed on the theory that students who have never published a poem can teach other students who have never published a poem how to write a publishable poem.


British screenwriter and author Hanif Kureishi - of My Beautiful Laundrette and The Buddha of Suburbia fame - seems to find very little of value in any creative writing course. His observations are much ruder and considerably less funny. I can't help wondering how the post grad creative writing students he supervises  at Kingston University feel about his assertion that such courses only attract the mad.
I've put the other side of the argument (surprise, surprise) in the latest issue of What the Dickens creative writing magazine. You can download it for free at
Or buy it for your kindle at £1.53 or $2.99
There's lots more to read in the summer sunflower issue - from author interviews to reviews and craft articles. Plus a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes at a new writing website that offers intriguing against-the-clock writing exercises.


Have a peek at my article and then come back here. I'd love to know what you think, especially if you've ever been on a creative writing course (including one of mine!)
Did it boost your writing self confidence or undermine it? Did you pick up new skills and have you written more since going on the course?
(Gulp!) Could Hanif be right?

Friday, 27 July 2012

Farewell to Summer School

This is a short post to everyone who attended this year's Summer School - it was a blast.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Write a novel in three days? Of course you can. But can you edit it...

Doing anything the beginning of September? No? Then you might want to consider taking part it a 35 year old literary marathon that has produced 25 published novels in its time and a lot of tired writers. The competition is international and differs from NaNoWriMo

  • It's shorter - a month is so-o-o-o long
  • It costs to register
  • There are prizes
Early-bird registration (deadline: August 15) costs $50 which at today's exchange rates is nearly £32 and about 40 euro. That's quite a lot of money but if you do submit (there's no obligation) someone is actually going to read it. First prize is publication by the organisors, second prize is $500 and third prize is $100.

The Nitty Gritty 

The actual writing AND editing must begin no earlier than 12:01 a.m. on Saturday, September 1, and must stop by 11:59 p.m. on Monday, September 3. It's run on the honour system but they do ask you to give details of a witness who can verify that you've obeyed the rules.
There are no limits to the novel’s length, but they expect something in the region of 25,000 - 30,000 words. I may sound a bit picky but that's not really a novel - it's more like a very long short story. I'm not knocking it though - that's 30,000 words entrants might not have written otherwise - 30,000 words that could grow into something big and important. I approve of seat of the pants writing, where you're forced to convert all the ideas you've had floating in your head into ink and paper, forgetting the niceties of the semi colon and proper meal times.
I guess the organisers will get suspicious if you submit a proper novel length submission (that's usually reckoned to be between 80,000 and 100,000 words) accurately typed with evidence of immaculate copy editing. They say they can always tell if someone has cheated...and I bet they can, because I cannot understand why they don't let you edit afterwards. It just doesn't make sense (like some of the manuscripts submitted, I presume).

White Hot and Ice Cold

72 hours of burning fast writing sounds great - sounds like the kind of creative kickstart some of us need (hand goes up) - but editing is done with an ice cold pen, ripping out scenes, squelching witty asides and strangling endearing characters because they don't serve any useful purpose in the story. And you need distance to do that - at least a week (Aristotle recommended nine years) but definitely not during that white hot creating phase.
What do you think?
Anyone done something like this? Can you edit and write at the same time?

Monday, 16 July 2012

The Lion, the Witch and The Wardobe - book and film covers over the years

Did you fall in love with the Narnia books as a child?
A rare first edition of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is up for auction later this week. It is expected to make around £12,000 because it is signed with love from Jack Lewis - a name that the great man only used with his family and small circle of close friends. The owner was the son of a very good friend and he was given it Christmas 1950.
One thing's for sure and that is book covers have improved in the last 60 years. This one manages to make riding on the back of a lion look dull - turning Aslan into a rather large pet
I don't think the cartoon version is much better. Aslan just looks cross.
This Walt Disney DVD cover is an improvement - at least it's clear that this is not an out of Africa story.
While the modern paperback is frosty with venom, making it clear that it is tale about a world where it always winter and never Christmas.

I'm more envious of the other gift bestowed on the young Nicholas Hardie - something that can't be auctioned. The Silver Chair was dedicated to him as a child and I think it is my favourite Narnia books with the unforgettable Puddleglum as the star. It is probably nostalgia that makes me like this cover - there's not a marshwiggle in sight, or hungry giants, or a black knight. Apart from that it's just fine.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

TELL A LIE and win £1000

BOOK GUILD PUBLISHING, the Brighton based independent publisher, have teamed up with City Reads* to run a free short story competition.
The story must be on the theme of ‘THE LIE’ and not more than 3,000 words in length – but flash fiction fans please note that the organisers specifically say that there is no minimum length.Deadline: August 16 2012
More essential information from the Book Guild website. Find out all the the rules - and follow them to the letter. They matter. They are the difference between falling at the first hurdle without even being read and giving yourself and your writing a chance.
*City Reads is a fantastic Brighton festival held every autumn. Every year one book by one author is chosen for the whole community to read, discuss, debate and creatively engage with in a series of special events, workshops and performances. This year it is a novel set in Brighton for the first time ever - My Policeman by Bethan Roberts

Monday, 2 July 2012

Free advertising opportunities for writers and all things literary

I've written about WHAT THE DICKENS magazine before. It is an excellent on-line magazine -- going into print later in the year -- and I will soon be writing for it, so I hope you will come over and visit.
Meanwhile check out how you can use the free listings and resources section on the website and in the magazine to promote the things that are important to you.


If you are running a competition or want to promote an event or course What the Dickens bi-monthly magazine would be happy to put details on the blog and in the magazine. 

For the blog entry, just send a link and we will press straight from the page onto the blog. If no link is available then e-mail the details.
If you want to go in the magazine (starting in Issue 6) then please also send a brief piece of about 50 words including title, info, details and closing date.
We will happily consider re-tweeting your tweets about any of the above. Include us in using @writersgifts ensuring we will always see it.

Resources Section on WTD Website

Anything such as literary magazines, useful websites, retreats, courses, grants, organisations and so on please send a brief piece of about 50 words including title, info and details such as web address and we will add.

Please send to: victoria@wtd-magazine.com and put ‘LISTINGS’ in the header. Do make it clear in the e-mail which section you would like to go in. The magazine reserves the right to decline a submission.

Spread the word about WHAT THE DICKENS and they will spread it back for you.

DEADLINE for October and December
issues is September 15

Brilliant professional development opportunity for London writers

This almost – not quite – makes me wish I was back in London.
 London Literary organisation Spread the Word has teamed up with Phrased & Confused, and Dartington Festivals to offer a unique professional development opportunity for London writers. 
The six day programme kicks off with a London-based workshop on Wednesday 19 September 2012 (evening), followed by a 5-day residential at Dartington Hall in Devon from the evening of Tues 9 – Sun 14 October 2012 

During the residency writers will:
·      Take part in supportive workshops designed to increase confidence and skill in performing and presenting work.
·      Develop skills in vocal projection, movement and inhabiting texts and experiment with music and words, playing with site and audience expectations.
·      Write and present work at the Interrogate Festival on Sat 14th / Sun 15th October 2012

Writers will be asked to make a contribution of £200.  This will include travel to and from Dartington, accommodation and food for five nights and tuition costs and there is one fully funded bursary to a writer that is unable to make the £200 contribution because of financial hardship. 
For further details, selection criteria and information about how to apply email sue@spreadtheword.org.uk
Applications close on 6 August 2012. 

Friday, 29 June 2012

Famous Rejections (and not just the great J.K)

Every night there are publishers and agents who go to sleep knowing that they held the manuscript of Harry Potter in their hands and turned it down.
I don't know for sure how many times it was rejected - every source quotes a different figure - but it seems safe to say quite a few.

So here are a few more famous rejections to give you heart if you've ever been on the receiving end of I'm-afraid-your-book-doesn't fit-into-our-list  kind of letter.

CARRIE by Stephen King
King received 30 rejections for his story of a tormented girl with telekinetic powers, and then he threw it away – his wife found it and persuaded him to keep on trying.
GONE WITH THE WIND by Margaret Mitchell
Rejected by 38 publishers before it was printed. The 1939 film is the highest grossing Hollywood film of all time (adjusted for inflation).
LORNA DOONE by Richard Blackmore
Turned down 18 times before being published in 1889.(Made up name by the way, just as Jonathan Swift invented Vanessa and Wendy in Peter Pan was the very first of her kind.)
DUNE by Frank Herbert
The epic science-fiction story was rejected by 23 publishers
LORD OF THE FLIES by William Golding was rejected by 20 publishers.  
The DR SEUSS books 15 publishers denied themselves the chance of becoming very rich.
And James Patterson's first efforts were rejected by nearly 50 publishers. He is believed to have sold more books than any other author - that's an estimated 260 million copies worldwide.