"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...

Friday, 31 December 2010

Competition for a Poem on a Medical Subject

This is an annual poetry competition and there are two ways of entering. The open category is for anyone anywhere - it is an international competition - but there is also a separate category for anyone who is or has ever been employed by the UK's National Health Service.
The prizes are pretty impressive.

Open International awards
£5000  1st prize   
£1000  2nd prize  
£ 500  3rd prize
Twenty commended entries - £ 50  

NHS awards
£5000  1st Prize  
£1000  2nd Prize
£ 500  3rd Prize
Twenty commended entries - £ 50  

The 2011 judging panel includes Gwyneth Lewis who is Wales’ first National Poet and Professor Steve Field CBE, Chairman of the Council of the Royal College of General Practitioners from 2007-2010. 

Deadline January 31st  ---  click on the title of this post for more information

Thursday, 30 December 2010

BE SCARED. BE VERY SCARED. Daily Telegraph Ghost Story winner

In early November I reported that the Daily Telegraph were running a free Ghost Story competition. They received nearly 2000 stories and are so pleased with the high quality of the writing that they've decided to publish the short list as an ebook.
 One of the things judge Susan Hill wanted to see was a ghost who had a motive for making an appearance. In fiction everything is connected, she argued. Things happen for a reason in stories while real life is allowed to be a lot more random. 
The winning entry came from Richard Crompton and there is definitely a strong internal logic dominating his contemporary story, set within the world of interactive social media.
Click on the title of this post and you can read the story in full. Here's the opening lines to whet your appetite...

For an unpopular guy, Lake sure had a lot of friends.
Thousands, according to his profile. Intrigued, I sent him a friend request. He declined.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

52 weeks 52 writers = 1 play

Next Best Page is about to produce a highly collaborative and innovative piece of theatre.
On the 3rd January 2011, the first page of the play will be available to view on their website. (Click on the title of this post to go there.) This will be written by a mystery playwright.  Each week throughout 2011 anyone can send in their Next Best Page. At the end of each week, the creative team will read all submissions and decide which entry will join the script. Each writer will take their inspiration from the previous pages and be the inspiration for the next page.
The story could go anywhere....sounds risky, doesn't it? Sounds exciting. The result will be performed in London in 2012 (they are taking bookings now).

More New Year Resolutions

Over on the excellent blog STRICTLY WRITING, Caroline Rance has come up with her own personal writing resolutions.
They include making better use of 'dead' time, writing more in longhand and listening to audio books.
I like her last resolution best - I've given it in full here but you can read them all if you click on the title of this post.

7) Write for writing's own sake
The thought that everything has to be good enough to be published has been holding me back for a long time. So I'm going to have more fun with writing, try out some flash fiction and poetry, and enjoy spending time with the characters in my novel rather than worrying whether I'm really doing justice to the big themes I've stumbled into.

LAUGHING STOCK 2011 - be bold, funny and original

BBC Writersroom and BBC Comedy Commissioning are joining forces in a nationwide competition to find new comedy gold. If you can invent LOL characters, tell stories that keep readers on the edge of our seats, and tease the audience to come back for more, then the BBC want to hear from you.What is on offer is a comedy masterclass and an intensive week away developing your ideas  with BBC comedy producers and established comedy writing talent. You may even get the chance of having your work performed at the Sitcom Showcase in the newly opened Studio in Media City, Salford.
The challenge is to write an original comedy script which has the potential to be a series.
It has to be between 15 – 30 minutes long and you also need to produce a one page outline of how your series would develop.
Cheryl Taylor (Controller, Comedy Commissioning for the BBC)
Kate Rowland (Creative Director of New Writing for the BBC)
Writer, Simon Nye (Men Behaving Badly, Reggie Perrin, Doctor Who)
To enter, send your script and one page outline to:
Laughing Stock
BBC writersroom
Grafton House
379 Euston Road
CLOSING DATE: Monday February 21st 2011
MASTERCLASS: Tuesday 5th April in Manchester 2011
WINNERS ANNOUNCED on or before Tuesday 31st May 2011
RESIDENTIAL WEEK: w/c 6th June 2011
SITCOM FESTIVAL (in Salford): Autumn 2011

PLAIN SONG and eight gramophone records

This song was broadcast on the radio just before Christmas as one of Nick Parks' (of Wallace and Gromit) eight gramophone records on Desert Island Discs. The musician doesn't have a recording contract but PLAIN SONG has notched up thousands of hits on youtube since it was first heard on Radio Four.
I like it. I like the way he uses an ancient form and makes it his own and the way the voice become another instrument. I like the feel of it but I realise it might seem an odd choice because this is a blog about writing and it is hard to catch many of the words. But that doesn't mean they don't matter. The way they sound and work together contribute to the mood...see what you think

I missed the original programme but I've been listening to Desert Island Discs since a child (it's been going since 1942 so I was a late starter). Just the phrase eight gramophone records is enough to send me back to the days of checked school dresses and socks held up with garters made out of elastic...
If it's not already part of your cultural heritage tune into Radio Four and give it a go. The idea is simple. Each week the guest has to choose the eight records they would take with them if shipwrecked on a desert island. They can also take one luxury which is not allowed to aid their escape and one book, in addition to the Bible and the Complete Works of Shakespeare which have already been washed ashore.
One or two guests have chosen all their own records. Maeve Binchey wanted to dance around the island to the sound of The Ride of the Valkyries. Bob Geldof chose a pack of three as his luxury: 'just in case' .

Even though I've been listening so long, I still haven't come up with my eight gramophone records...thinking of seven New Year resolutions is a doddle in comparison...

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Seven New Year Resolutions for Writers

It's that time of year again and here are my top resolutions for writers and emerging writers and anyone who wants to write. 
Don't fool yourself into thinking that weaving stories while you travel to work or peel potatoes or sit watching the world go by is almost the same as being a writer. Writing in your head is only an acceptable substitute for writing on paper when you are thrown into a computer-less, pen-less and paper-less environment against your will. (It has to be against your will because otherwise you'd have brought such basic necessities along, wouldn't you?) Something happens when you put words into the hard concrete of type or the softer clay of pen or pencil. You can start a sentence without knowing where it will end. You can bring unconnected ideas together and make something new. Working with your hand and head, you can discover what it is you want to write and it is always always different to the way it seemed when you were just thinking about it.
You don't always have to be writing a story or working on a big project. How about finding the right combination of words to describe the colour of the carpet or the exact sound the cistern in the bathroom is making. Or use 10 words to describe the smell of a candle just after it's been blown out.
Many professionals live by the thousand words a day rule. It doesn't have to a thousand good words or a thousand words that will some day be published, just a decent wodge of words out of which something like a story, or a half decent idea or a phrase will emerge. Think of it as manufacturing raw material.
But it is important that you don't set yourself up to fail. For most people a thousand words is ambitious. How about 500 words? Or a page of your notebook? Or don't set yourself a word count at all and fix on a set amount of time instead. Ten minutes a day perhaps? Or if that seems too much, make it 10 minutes a week. Just make it something.
If you don't make your personal goal . It doesn't say anything about you as a writer or as a person if you fail to make your word count, just that life got in the way. There's always the next day or the next week...
Unless you also never ever watch television. There's nothing wrong in watching other people's stories but you can't use them as a reason for not writing your own. And there is something wrong about making excuses. You don't have to be a writer, you know...
Read the kind of books you want to write. At least one a month. Read everything else in between. A couple of times a year (this is an absolute minimum) read something that is not "your kind of thing": action thrillers if you enjoy romance, literary fiction if you aspire to writing science fiction. Don't create a reading ghetto for yourself. Venture out now and then and discover new ways of telling stories and creating characters.
Even if you hate poetry - especially if you hate poetry. There's a lot to learn about using language and writing succinctly from a good poem. If you're not sure where to start I suggest Emily Dickinson (19th century American) and Wendy Cope (21st century British). 

HAVE I LEFT OUT SOMETHING VITAL? Do you have a resolution to add? Do let me know if you have any advice to share.

Monday, 27 December 2010

2011 A literary agency will run its own creative writing course

This is a first - Curtis Brown will be running a three month course from its London offices in the summer of 2011. Expect announcements in January meanwhile here's the basics.
Fifteen students will be selected in March on the basis of a synopsis and 3,000 words of a novel in progress. The course will run from May 5th to July 21st.
BUT (there always has to be a but) quality alone won't win you a place at the table. There's a hefty fee to pay: £1,600 for the 12 weeks.
For that successful applicants will get a weekly evening class and a number of extra sessions that will be conducted by "leading writers and other publishing professionals," according to novelist Anna Davis who is running the course.  I've just googled Anna and she is a former Guardian columnist who has written five novels. 
Perhaps the most interesting element is that each student will also receive a critique from a Curtis Brown literary agent at the completion of the course, with stand-out fledgling novelists being offered representation.
So...if Father Christmas has been very very generous this could be a way of grabbing the attention of industry professionals. However,  if he hasn't, look at what is on offer from your local education institute and compare the price. These classes represent incredible value, typically between £60 and £150 for the same length of writing course. And the teaching is rigorously quality controlled and backed by impressive support systems. I'm not knocking the Curtis Brown initiative - it sounds exciting - but your apprenticeship as a writer doesn't have to come with that kind of price tag.
I will post the details of the courses I am running in London and Brighton soon just in case anyone is interested in joining me and this time I will also spell out how much they cost because for a lot of us that makes the difference between doing something and not doing it. But click on the title of this post if you'd like to find out more about what Curtis Brown are planning. 

Friday, 17 December 2010

FREE International Competition (but it probably wouldn't hurt if your writing had a touch of Italian style)

Accenti is a Montreal magazine that 'celebrates Italian influences on North America's cultural and literary heritage' and its been running writing contests since 2003. For the first time you can enter fiction or non fiction on any subject
Deadline: February 18, 2011 by email or post
Prize: First Prize is $1,000 and publication in Accenti. Second and third place winners receive $250 and $100 respectively.
Rules: click on the title of this post to find out more. (And don't forget to obey rules to the letter)

Monday, 6 December 2010

How much for that book? Depends where you live

Reports in newspapers today suggest that how much you pay for a book could depend on where you live. Well, it wasn't just books, it was all kinds of Christmas presents (but you weren't thinking of giving anything else, were you?) And it wasn't referring to proper bookshops but High Street chains like John Lewis, Gap, House of Fraser, Argos, HMV, Boots and WH Smith...
 John Lewis! I thought they were the Mother Teresa of commerce, but they are one of the stores that have put their hands up and said yes, that's what we do...
Others are saying no, not possible with our computerised tills - it must be some mistake.
One of the examples the Daily Telegraph gave was WH Smith selling Nigella: Kitchen Recipes From The Heart of The Home and Jamie's 30 Minute Meals, for £3 more  in London than anywhere else. 
Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised or annoyed that there isn't a national pricing system. Perhaps there is an argument for a Sunderland price for Shakespeare's plays and a Chelsea price. Maybe I'm just being a bit Monday morning-ish. What do you think?

Thursday, 2 December 2010

And ONE reason why you shouldn't join TWITTER

You discover things you don't like about authors you love....

This tweet came a few minutes ago from
Any writers out there thinking of 'banning' our PM from liking their books? Do we know who he reads? Does he read...?
and this was author SUSAN HILL's reply
He reads a lot, or used to. I`ve met him in bookshop and had reading conv.I`ll happily let him read me and he's a good man.
Oh dear. 
(Guess which one I'd rather not have read...)

8 reasons why a Writer should join TWITTER and a helping of Stephen Fry to tempt you...

 1) You exercise your writing and editing skills. The aim is to be pithy and witty in 140 characters
2) You can find out what’s happening in the publishing industry – many (most?) publishing houses, editors, publicists and some agents tweet. Leading London agent Carole Blake (author of From Pitch to Publication) tweets. Authors tweet. You can find a comprehensive list at http://www.highspotinc.com/blog/2009/02/a-directory-of-authors-on-twitter/
3) Feel part of it – I got tweets from a dinner table at this year’s Booker. It was fun to know what everyone was eating or being too nervous to eat (lamb) and who won before it was on the television news.
4) Make contacts and friends
5) Increase your blog readership
6) Promote your writing – but not all the time.  You wouldn’t want to mix with someone who only ever talks about one thing.
7) Get topical ideas from the ‘hot trending’ subjects (what people are tweeting about): journalists do it all the time.
8) Get useful information, advice from other writers like this:
from @mewroh
good links, inspiring people, a chance to home one-liners, and the freedom to completely fabricate a twitter character.

networking, raising profile, marketing, promotion, ideas , social benefits, community

Not convinced? Read Stephen Fry’s three page letter to his two millionth follower (Jonathan from Dundee) at http://www.stephenfry.com/2010/11/30/two-million-reasons-to-be-cheerful/

Here’s a taster:

…I first heard about Twitter a month or so after it had been launched on the world and with my usual perspicacity mentally consigned it to the dustbin of history. ‘What a simultaneously hysterical, banal, footling and useless idea,’ I remember thinking. Be honest Jonathan, you almost certainly thought the same when you first heard of it. Everyone does….

... the majority, the great majority of people are friendly, forgiving and kind…You will be astonished too by the wit. The speediness, elegance and brilliance of some twitterers regularly takes my breath away…mostly Twitter and my two million followers are as good a reason as I know to trust people. To respect people. To believe in people…

and if you want to chat you can follow me @agoodconfession

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Famous last words --- YOUR famous last words

Win a place on a four day residential writing course in Cornwall - FREE Entry
It’s all part of the 1st birthday celebrations for WORDS WITH JAM. The prize, generously donated by Orion author Ruth Saberton, is a four day residential place on one of her Writers’ Courses Cornwall (UK) retreats - http://www.writerscoursescornwall.co.uk. Included is all tuition, 5 star accommodation in Polperro, food at a local inn, drinks and a car parking permit.
All you have to send us is the last couple of lines of a story. That’s it. Obviously you have to have written it yourself and not lifted it from some famous piece of work. The lines can be from something you’ve already written or just made up for the competition. It can be funny, or clever, or moving, or just bloody good. 40 words max, pasted in the body of an email, and no more than three goes per entrant. 

Easy peasy...
Entries should be emailed to danny@wordswithjam.co.uk by no later than 14th January 2011. The winner will be announced in the February 2011 issue, where WORDS WITH JAM will print the shortlist of ten, together with the overall winning entry.

MONEY and WRITERS - two words you don't often see together

Great news! New Writing South - an inspirational literary organisation serving the south east of England - has launched an exciting new bursary scheme.  The New Buds Award will give small grants up to £900 to writers living or working in the region. 
The awards will particularly help emerging writers at early and/or crucial times in their career to apply for grants below the Arts Council’s Grants for the arts threshold.
Aimed at those striving for excellence and writing fiction, poetry and drama, the awards can help pay for career development and ‘time to write’ expenses and can also cover: professional training (but not formal education), mentoring, travel costs for attending a course, research or other valid and viable means of support that will enable the writer applying to write.
Find out more and apply by clicking on the title of this post. 
(By the way, the south east region covers: Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, East Sussex, Hampshire, Isle of Wight, Kent, Oxfordshire, Surrey and West Sussex.)

Monday, 29 November 2010

Favourite household chore

Been off line for four days, seven hours and....(have spotted gap in the market - sympathy cards definitely appropriate for this situation) so no posts for awhile, no tweets, no emails, no nothing. So I thought I'd mark my return with a quote close to my heart
“My second favourite household chore is ironing. My first being hitting my head on the top bunk bed until I faint.” Erma Bombeck
That message should be displayed in cross stitch in every home...
Erma Bombeck is new to me but I imagine not to anyone on the other side of the Atlantic because her columns on  a housewife's lot in the mid west were apparently read twice weekly by thirty million readers of 900 newspapers in US and Canada. (Can that statistic really be true? Anyone good at maths reckon that's feasible...?) 
That's a helluva lot of readers.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Irish only book discount

Just heard that online book retailer, The Book Depository, is spreading a little cheer in Ireland by launching a special, Irish only, discount for book buyers.
The site, which sells books at a hefty discount and with free shipping, is offering an extra 10% discount to Ireland-based buyers if they use a specific code when purchasing.
Book buyers will have to buy books before 17th December. They can access the site and find the code by clicking on the title of this post. The offer is also exclusive of VAT.

Monday, 22 November 2010

50 reasons to be cheerful in Ireland

OK, we're all going to hell in a handcart and Ireland's leading the race, but the Irish Times discovered  parts of Irish life that economics can’t reach. They asked Twitter users to name the things they love about Ireland. Here is a selection - click on the title of this post to read all 50.
  •  knowing all your cousins 4 times removed and being shamed by your mother for not knowing all their kids too
  • West Cork, the sunset through the namhog bus stop at Dingle Harbour, Lough Allan flat beneath a pure blue sky 
  • The ritual “no thanks I’m grand I’m only after a cup” followed by “well if you’re having one yourself”
  •  Where you can still watch a Western during prime time Friday night telly
  • They can take away our sovereignty but they can never take our red lemonade or sugar sandwich
  • The fact that we don’t have to pay for royal weddings 
  • Having a defence force instead of an army
  • The Tart with the Cart, Floozie in the Jacuzzi, Stiletto in the Ghetto, Time in the Slime & The Hags with the Bags
  • Having a unique measurement of length – the long mile – and naming a road after it.
  • Waving hello to complete strangers on country roads
  • Beautiful words fashioned in the misty dawn of the countryside, from celtic gossamer. Like . . . gobshite

Sunday, 21 November 2010

In a dark mood?

Perhaps you're bored with Christmas already (everything gets earlier every year - it's a fact - including the fed-up-ratio); perhaps the boiler has broken or you've just remembered that Monday follows Sunday...but if you are in the right frame of mind you might just be able to come up with a cracking name for a Christmas Serial Killer. 
If so email author Richard Jay Parker before December 10th at richard@richardjayparker.coand you could win a copy of his debut crime novel Stop Me. I haven't read it but it's been well reviewed and is up for some major awards. Below is his  killer opening (I know, I know but I couldn't resist)  And if you are really in a dark mood Parker's website lets you send a similar email to all your friends which is one way of cutting down on the number of presents you have to buy. (click on the title of this post to find out more)

On Monday February 5th
johnnya@apex.com received an email:
howdy doody
on vacation
slim, attractive, dreadlocked babe with a fun sticky-out bellybutton, likes rabbit fur
forward this email to ten friends
each of those friends must forward it to ten friends

maybe one of those friends of friends of friends will be one of my friends
if this email ends up in my inbox within a week I won’t slit the bitch’s throat
can you afford not to send this on to ten friends? 
                      Vacation Killer

This blog is proud, very proud...

...to be on author's Nicola Morgan's list of resources for writers under the heading UK Authors whose well-followed personal blogs are useful for aspiring writers.
Gives me a warm glow on a chilly morning...

Click on the title of this post and you will be taken to Nicola's blog Help I need a Publisher where you will find witty, pithy and practical advice for anyone who wants to see their words in print. Nicola has written over 90 books for teens and young adults and knows her subject inside out.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

75 words

Kate Mosse (the writer not the model) says writers should practice writing in the same way musicians practice the scales....Well here is a way that will also allow you to broadcast your talent and become part of a community of writers. Since October 2008 authors have submitted 75-word paragraph to PLANET PARAGRAPH  Entries have ranged from stand-alone pieces to extracts from short stories or novels. Published, aspiring and occasional writers have all got involved. For some it has kickstarted their creative juices; for others, its an addictive, time-wasting distraction!Find out more by clicking on the title of this post.

Whisky Writing and a Scottish Island...what's not to like

Jura malt whisky is offering one writer the chance to stay at the island’s exclusive Jura Lodge and compose a short story based on the island. There is, however, a catch... Writers will only have 1984 minutes to compose their story (I make that 33 hours..hey, if you're in one of my classes you'd think that was a luxury...), in keeping with the name of the George Orwell masterpiece which was penned on the island more than 60 years ago.
To win the competition, writers are being asked to submit the first 300 words of their proposed short story. There are only two criteria. First, the narrative of the short story must take place on the island itself. Second, the story should have a link to one of the many myths and legends about Jura.

Monday, 15 November 2010


Nothing to do with writing....except as inspiration...except as a way of putting you in the right mood...except this did start as marks on paper and words on a page...except everything has something to do with writing...

Writing in one of the most beautiful places in the world....

The Beara Writing Experience:  Becoming a Part of Rural Ireland through Landscape, Literature, and Culture
Sometimes we need to set down our burdens and wait for our souls to catch up.
I've just received news about The Beara Writing Experience in  west Cork.  I'd go in a heartbeat if I had the chance. I stayed in Anam Cara for a two weeks in the summer of 2009 and the magic lingers on.
The workshop/retreats are for everyone - novice to experienced writers, teachers and business people. They offer the opportunity to retreat from the dailiness of  life into the atmosphere of peace and tranquility that is the Beara peninsula and Anam Cara Writer's and Artist's Retreat. They are also a chance to immerse yourself in Irish literature, history, and culture in a landscape of haunting beauty as well as the community life of a rural Irish village.

A cooperative partnership created to explore and honour all that is the Beara Peninsula through the writing arts, the Beara Writing Experience is a joint effort created by Paddy O'Conor, a poet, educator, counselor, and fisherman; John O'Leary, a professor, poet,  historian, and farmer; and Sue Booth-Forbes, an educator, writer, editor, and director of Anam Cara Writer's and Artist's Retreat.Scheduled to fall on or near Celtic quarterly celebrations, the next one is the Imbolg Writing Retreat scheduled for 27-30 January 2011 at Anam Cara.  For more information, see www.beara_writing_experience.com.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Wages for Interns --- claim up to six years later

Have you worked as an unpaid intern within the past six years? 
The National Union of Journalists say that you could be entitled to claim back the National Minimum Wage, regardless of the terms of your internship agreement. 
The union want to hear from any former journalism intern who would like legal support from the union to claim unpaid wages.  It could be possible to recover up to £232 per 40-hour week of the internship.
A judgment given in Reading Employment Tribunal in November 2009 has shown it is possible to claim back wages, no matter what the original agreement. Nicola Vett - an intern who worked for a London production company - had agreed to receive only expenses. After her internship ended, she decided to seek payment of wages, with the full legal backing of the Broadcast, Entertainment and Cinema trade union, BECTU.
 The tribunal recognised that a worker is entitled to the National Minimum Wage (NMW), whether or not they have agreed to work for nothing. Find out more by clicking on the title of this post.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

BRISTOL Short Story Prize

Maximum words 3,000. 
Stories can be on any theme or subject and are welcome in any style including graphic, verse or genre-based (crime, thriller, science fiction, fantasy, romance, historical etc.).
DEADLINE March 31 2011.
1st - £1,000 plus £150 Waterstone's gift card
2nd- £700 plus £100 Waterstone's gift card
3rd- £400 plus £100 Waterstone's gift card

The other 17 writers who feature on the shortlist will be presented with a cheque for £100. All 20 shortlisted stories will be published in both print and ebook versions of Volume 4
of the Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology.The 20 shortlisted writers will be invited to an awards ceremony in Bristol on July 16, 2011 when the winners will be announced and the BSSP Anthology Volume 4 will be launched. Prizes and anthologies will be sent to any shortlisted writer unable to
attend the awards ceremony.

For more information click on the title of this post

Monday, 8 November 2010


1) You need a ghost. Ok, that one is easy, but remember that it's not a sprite or devil from the underworld or a monster from outer space. It can be an animal, but it is far more likely to be human. The crucial thing is that it is something that was once alive and is now dead.
2) There is one big difference between 'real life' accounts of  ghostly appearances and stories crafted for the big screen or the printed page. In fiction the ghost has to have a purpose
A ghost story only works if the ghost has a reason to appear. The ghost may be seeking revenge for what happened to it in life, it might be intent on dishing out punishment to the descendants of a wrong doer. Some ghosts may want the truth to be uncovered or justice done, some may be altruistic and want to alert the living to a secret. They may even want to bring comfort and consolation. It doesn't matter what it is - evil or benign - as long as it is something they want to do, say or make happen. Without that you may have a ghost but you haven't got a story.
3) Ghost stories are about creating atmosphere. This is a real test of a writer's skill. Without spooky music or special effects, with words as your only tool you have to create tension and suspense. You have to convince your reader to see with your eyes and hear with your ears, to be afraid of the thing that's scaring you...
Weather can play a big part. There's a lot of it about today, so it's a good research day. Here's some pages from the notebook...
...Heavy clouds hanging over a crazy sea, frothing in anger. Cold thin rain, needle sharp, carried by an east wind with the chill of the Alps on its back...relief to be home but it's a cold house that greets me, the boiler refuses to co-operate, and I am still twiddling knobs and swearing when the lights go out ....and I can feel...
....a bony dead finger on my neck...


GHOST STORY competition

SUSAN HILL -- author of The Woman in Black (among many things) -- is judging The Daily Telegraph ghost story competition. The winner will have his or her story published and illustrated in The Daily Telegraph Saturday Review, and will receive a unique specially bound copy of The Small Hand by Susan Hill.
Closing date: November 20th
Word Count  2,000 words or fewer.
Email or postal entries are accepted - click on the title of this post for more details.

Last week I set one of my classes the task of reading Edgar Allen Poe's classic story The Tell-Tale Heart. For homework they had to come up with a contemporary version of the story and the opening paragraph. A lot of strong, interesting ideas came out of the exercise - there wasn't a dud among them - but it was the ones set in the most ordinary surroundings that made the hair on the back of the next stand to attention.
Here's a trailer for my all time favourite film ghost story. Written and directed by Guillermo del Toro (who went on to make Pan's Labyrinth and is currently filming The Hobbit), The Devil's Backbone is set at the end of the Spanish Civil War when the fascists have won and the living are more scary than the dead. Watch it and be inspired and very, very scared...(Warning: the trailer has none of the poetry of the film or its subtlety. It's a taster in the same way as a fish finger is a taster for line caught plaice...)

Friday, 29 October 2010

What agents hate to see in Chapter One

Laughed out loud when I read American literary agent Chip McGregor's horror of finding the following sentence in the first chapter of a submission. Of course, it shouldn't appear in any chapter.
The [adjective] [adjective] sun rose in the [adjective] [adjective] sky, shedding its [adjective] light across the [adjective] [adjective] [adjective] land."
I've said it before and I will say it again. Adjectives do not get lonely. They do not have to travel in pairs.

To read more about what agents do not want to see click on the title of this post to go to the blog about literary agents. (Hint: it was all a dream comes high on the list...)

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

PITCHING advice from an expert - there's nothing new under the sun

Here's advice from Rachelle Gardener, an American literary agent
In non-fiction book proposals, we always have to provide comparable titles (the "Competition" section) and increasingly, editors are asking us for comps even for fiction. Many authors write something like, "There are no books similar to mine." What it says is, "I haven't taken the time to properly research the market and I have no idea what other books could be compared to mine."
Remember, it's not bad to be able to compare your book to others people have heard of. It's good. It helps people begin to capture a vision for the type of book you've written. If you can point out the ways your book is similar and different, and why you think yours is a good complement to the other, you can further help a publisher understand what your book is all about. Don't ever claim "There are no books like mine." If that's your impression, go back to the bookstore and find some.
Good advice....and I guess A Good Confession was pitched as A London Irish Thorn Birds....the one I am working on the at the moment I hope has the absorbing action of Kate Atkinson's When Will There Be Good News combined with the rawness of Gerry Conlon's In the Name of the Father...I think...
Read more of Rachelle's advice on her blog by clicking the title of this post

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

International NOVELLA competition

                                    Me and Ernie hanging out
The 2011 Paris Literary Prize is for those who have written something perfectly formed (or in the process of writing it) that's too long to be a short story and too concise to be a novel.  Minimum word count of 20,000 and maximum of 30,000 and it must have a "sustained narrative". Linked short stories won't do. But you don't send the entire manuscript unless you are shortlisted. Here's how it pans out.
December 1st Send by midnight (Paris time) the following - online submission only:
• A title page: Your name, address, email, phone number, and title of novella
• A one-page (maximum 250 words) cover letter introducing yourself and your novella
• A maximum 300-word synopsis of your novella
• The first 3000 words (you may send less than 3000, but not over)
February 20th 2011shortlist announced.
March 20th 2011 short listed entrants have to send the complete manuscript.
June 16 2011 (Bloom's Day - that's nice) Winner announced
PRIZE 10,000€ and a weekend stay in Paris, France. The winner will also read from his or her work at a special event at Shakespeare and Company Bookshop in Paris.:
There will be two runner-ups. They will receive a weekend stay in Paris and an opportunity to read from their work at Shakespeare and Company Bookshop in Paris. 
Entry fee: 50 euros - pay by PayPal unless you're in Paris and can pop in.
It is heft entry fee but it's a prestigious award (and cool - the Left Bank bookshop has been an iconic gathering place for writers and artists such as Ernest Hemingway (see above), F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Gertrude Stein.)
Click on the title of this post to go to the website

PAGE 99 - the true test

Open the book to page ninety nine, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you.                        FORD MADDOX FORD
 Try it for yourself on this new website by clicking the title of this post. Read anonymous pages from the famous and the unpublished, from the classic to the so fresh the ink will come off on the screen. It's quite addictive. And you get to make comments. And you can post your own stuff too. What's not to like....
I admit that page 99 from A Good Confession is there. See if you can find it.
I suppose it does give a flavour of the book but there is one phrase that makes me wince every time I read it. How did that get past all the editing stages? What was I thinking of!

Monday, 25 October 2010

Austen and her editor

There were reports in the news today that the elegant style of Jane Austen was largely down to her Editor but read the story in full and a different picture emerges.
Professor Kathryn Sutherland of Oxford University has looked at 1,100 original handwritten pages of Austen's unpublished writings. She says that the manuscripts contain blots, crossing outs and a powerful counter-grammatical way of writing.  Absent was the  "The polished punctuation".
It's rather a relief to know that Austen made mistakes, took risks, played with language and ideas. Perfectly placed semi colons are important, but it takes nothing away from the writer if someone else helps put them in the right place. More worrying is Sutherland's assertions that the manuscripts show Austen "to be even better at writing dialogue and conversation than the edited style of her published novels suggest." Semi colons, only editors!

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Something new from Amazon

In a press release last week, Amazon announced that it will launch Kindle Singles. This is how they describe what they want.
"compelling ideas expressed at their natural length. Kindle Singles, which can be twice the length of a New Yorker feature or as much as a few chapters of a typical book might be the perfect, natural length to lay out a single killer idea, well researched, well argued and well illustrated--whether it's a business lesson, a political point of view, a scientific argument, or a beautifully crafted essay on a current event. Kindle Singles will have their own section in the Kindle Store and be priced much lower than a typical book."
I'll let you know if I find out more...but it could be a very interesting new market

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Best parking sign ever

Who would you reserve a parking space for? Click on the title of this post to go to writer's Catherine Howard's blog (worth reading if you are interested in self publishing, Orlando, the life of an emerging writer and parking signs that deserve a second look.)


It's hard. Very hard.
The novelist Norma Curtis - and soon to be Chair of the Romantic Novelists Association - says after the most basic and immediate business of the day is done (getting up, brushing teeth, dressing, waving goodbye to husband/son - not necessarily in that order) she writes 1000 words BEFORE she allows herself to do anything else. 
They don't have to be a thousand good words. She may later cut 999 of them but she has to get them down.
That might not work for you. It hasn't worked for me and I've tried it. (The list of basic things just gets bigger and I say that as someone with a very high tolerance level to crumbs in the sink and day old coffee marinating in the coffee machine.)
So if 1000 words is impossible, how about 10 minutes and if you click on the title to this post you can go to a handy time setter. 
And if you really haven't had time to write this week, not even 10 tiny minutes, then I presume that you also haven't watched a soap, heard Lord Sugar yell 'you're fired!', or raised an eyebrow over the prices on Antiques Roadshow. It's not wrong to listen and watch other people's stories but you shouldn't do it at the expense of your own. 
That's how I write. Watching television is not my default activity. And I'm reluctant to just watch. I treat television like most of us listen to the radio... while doing something else...(although I may make an exception for Kevin McCloud on tonight's Grand Designs)


Just come across WanderWomen Write contest. Although it's run by a Seattle based organisation, it is open to writers around the world. I've been in touch by email and double checked that point.
The prize is a 10 day trip to Cambodia and Vietnam but you have to pay to get out there from where ever you live so that's why they can make it international.
The contest is open to women, whether they are newly-emerging or seasoned travel writers. and last year they had more than 300 entries.
DEADLINE: December 31 2010 and the winning writers will be announced in mid-February. 
Entries have to be submitted under one of the following categories: 

Family Fun, 
Food & Drink, 
Off the Beaten Path 

The Prizes
Grand Prize: A 10-day tour for two of Vietnam and Cambodia with Buffalo Tours (value $3,550).
Category Winners: Each category winner will receive a Briggs & Riley BRX Explore 22” Upright carry-on bag (value $290)

Click on the title of this post for more information and - as always when entering any competition read ALL the rules carefully and then follow them.

Luck and the Booker

Work and a coughing not-quite-flu-but-feels-almost-as bad cold stopped me from posting straight after the Booker was announced. I was though able to follow events by Twitter. Miss Daisy Frost sent out tweets every few minutes from her table positioned on the frontline, commenting on the lamb dinner and the pallor of the short list nominees. 
Howard Jacobson's novel The Finkler Question, is the first funny book to have won and I wonder if that is a reflection of the times. When there is trouble ahead perhaps the only sensible thing to do is laugh.
Reading the newspapers and blogs such as The Literary Saloon I discovered a couple of surprising things about the way books are selected for consideration by the Booker judges (138 titles this year - some years it is a lot less).
Publishers can only submit two books but the judges can "call books in". It sounds very informal and haphazard. 
Jacobson's book was called in. Did that mean his publishers didn't put it forward themselves because they didn't think it would win? Or were they gambling on the Judges choosing it anyway (he has been long listed twice before) and they wanted to use their two book quota on something that might not otherwise come to the panel's attention? 
The Daily Telegraph says that Emma Donoghue's Room only came to be on the short list because one of the Booker judges went to a party and heard someone praising it a lot. Next day it was "called in".
I suppose the lesson to draw from that is never ever underestimate the power of word of mouth recommendations. 
Or luck.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Bookies worried about the Booker

I love the talk generated by the annual book award. Books should be the subject of debate and news stories and, yes, why not, betting. Books matter. 
For the first time last year the favourite won the Booker - Hiliary Mantel's Wolf Hall - and Graham Sharpe at William Hill bookmakers says they are worried the same thing could happen again with Tom McCarthy's novel C which is the "heaviest backed Booker book ever". It has been given shorter odds than the 2009 winner.
I haven't been able to check this out, but I am pretty sure  Graham was the man who started this kind of betting in the first place because he reckoned that the publicity generated was the kind of advertising that money couldn't buy... (met him years ago when my husband was at The Sporting Life) 
I admit I haven't yet read any of the shortlist this year but I love Peter Carey's writing and I'd be delighted for him to win for the third time, but Emma Donohue's Room is definitely on my to-read  list. 
The winner will be announced tonight at the Guildhall in London, with the successful author collecting a £50,000 prize.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

FISH COMPETITION and no rods or wriggly worms in sight

This international short story competition run by a small literary organisation in West Cork punches way above its weight. 
The Fish Short Story Prize is an open door that's inviting writers to walk through it. It has to be encouraged, celebrated, congratulated. - RODDY DOYLE -
Fish is doing God's own work. It's an inspiration and an avenue to writers everywhere.
Good news:
  • It's well established (it's been going since 1994)
  • Big name judges 
  • If the entry fee is sizable, then so too are the prizes. (And some folk think second prize is the best prize of all and I am one of them*.)
  • The maximum story length is a lot more generous than most competitions - this is an opportunity for the big idea, the one that needs space to develop. However, having said that, you never have to write up to the limit - let the story dictate how long it should be. 
Bad news:
  •  It attracts a lot of quality entries from around the world, but you can't have prestige AND a small mail bag.  
  • Can't think of anything else.
Word limit 5000 words
Deadline November 30
Entry Fee: 20 euros if online but 25 euroes if you submit by post
First prize is €3,000, of which €1,000 is for the winner to travel to the launch at the West Cork Literary Festival in July 2011. This is to insure that wherever in the world the winner hails from, they can join the other writers at the launch, where all the writers in the Anthology will read from their work.
Second prize is €300 with a week's residence at Anam Cara, a retreat for writers and artists in West Cork run by Sue Booth-Forbes, overlooking the Atlantic Ocean on the Beara Peninsula. 
Third prize is €300.
Runners up are published in the annual anthology
* Anam Cara is an idyllic retreat for writers and artists. I stayed last summer and popped in a few weeks ago. The director Sue Booth-Forbes has a gift. She nourishes with good food and good talk around the kitchen table, she offers opportunities to become part of the local community and wellington boots in a range of sizes, and - best of all - creates an atmosphere that allows guests to be their most creative selves.  
I did so much work there. I went with 17000 words and not quite sure where my novel was going. I came away with 45,000 words, back in love with the story I was trying to tell and with a clear beginning, middle and end.

Sunday, 3 October 2010


Sent off the 201 page manuscript of my second novel on Wednesday and this poem by Anne Bradshaw* sums up some of my feelings...


THOU ill-form'd offspring of my feeble brain,
Who after birth did'st by my side remain,
Till snatcht from thence by friends, less wise than true
Who thee abroad, expos'd to publick view,
Made thee in raggs, halting to th' press to trudge,
Where errors were not lessened (all may judg).
At thy return my blushing was not small,
My rambling brat (in print) should mother call,
I cast thee by as one unfit for light,
Thy Visage was so irksome in my sight;
Yet being mine own, at length affection would
Thy blemishes amend, of so I could:
I wash'd thy face, but more defects I saw,
And rubbing off a spot, still made a flaw.
I stretcht thy joynts to make thee even feet,
Yet still thou run'st more hobling then is meet;
In better dress to trim thee was my mind,
But nought save home-spun Cloth, i'th' house I find.
In this array, 'mongst Vulgars mayst thou roam,
In Criticks hands, beware thou dost not come;
And take thy way where yet thou art not known,
If for thy Father askt, say, thou hadst none:
And for thy Mother, she alas is poor,
Which caus'd her thus to send thee out of door.

I especially like the line

rubbing off a spot, still make a flaw

Sometimes it is hard to know when to give up on the editing, sometimes a little distance** is needed before you can decide when to leave well alone or when major surgery is required.  It's in my agent's hands now and I know he will look at it with a critick's eyes.
I wait. I wait.
*  America's first published poet. Northampton born, she was part of 17th century Massachusetts aristocracy - the men in the family were state governors and founders of Harvard
** Aristotle recommended nine years I believe...

Thursday, 30 September 2010

The Cult of Celebrity Georgian style

Interesting post in The Spectator's arts blog about about how the Georgians did celebrity.  Emma Hamilton could take on anyone....click on the title of this post to go there

More about the Sussex Novel competition

I'm getting very excited about this competition because it seems so well thought out and I love the fact that you can enter even if you haven't completed the manuscript.
This is how the judging will be done.
As mentioned in my previous post, the closing date is December 1st. For that you need the best synopsis you've ever written and 1500 words taken from anywhere in the novel.
(My advice: do NOT wait until the last possible minute to enter. I know writers thrive on the pressure of deadlines but there is something to be said for giving judges time to appreciate the lasting qualities of your work).  The organisers plan to whittle entries down to 18 strong shortlist by about the 12th of December and their names will be published in the January edition of Sussex Life. They will then be invited to submit more of their novel. How much more is up to each short listed entrant - it can be the whole thing or just part.  I'm told that an entire novel has no greater chance of winning than a part manuscript.
John Parsons, ex M.D. of Harper Collins publishers, will head the judging panel, and has stressed that the judges are looking for potential...

What you learn from Daytime TV (1)

It's all about the Benjamin means it's all about the money. (Benjamin Franklin appears on the $100 bill).
This translation of hip street talk was on Pointless quiz yesterday afternoon. Honest, I don't usually indulge (I am usually teaching or traveling or writing) but it was a small celebration....just sent 201 page manuscript to agent, so a small hiatus seem called for...

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

The classroom in the frontline ADULT EDUCATION IN DANGER

There's an odd mix of feelings at the start of a new college year. The summer-can't-be-over-there-must-be-some-mistake fog combines nicely with a fission of excitement: new classes, new students, new writing - it's show time!
Saying hello for the first time to students at Portslade Community College in East Sussex as I take over a well established and well regarded introductory courses on Monday evening and Thursday morning. Hello too to students on Towards Publication which runs on Friday mornings at The Friends Centre in Brighton and City Lit students in London studying Ways into Creative Writing and How to Write A Family Biography. Just completed my first all day workshop on memoir writing and every other Saturday I am running Tarner Drama as part of a writer-in-residence project.
Next week I am back at university.
There are some classes I've given up - my regular Monday morning at Brighton Unemployed Centre, for example. It  has been part of my life since February 2005 and was my first taste of teaching.  I also said goodbye to my Saturday morning class at City Lit in the summer. I miss it. I miss the students that came term in and term out and the new ones who weren't at all sure that giving up a Saturday lie-in was such a good idea (until they discovered it was a brilliant idea). I miss their humour and tolerance and outstanding ability. Some passages of writing produced in Room 507 will stay with me always.
And that reminds me just how important adult education is - and I say that not just as a tutor but also as a consumer - I am a lifelong student. If we stop learning, stop wanting to learn, doesn't something else stop inside...?
This term starts under the shadow of cuts that are predicted to be fierce and terrible. There is a very real risk that adult education colleges will be in the front line. That matters. For example, at present nearly half of City Lit's income comes from the Government. A major reduction would mean very large fee increases and could jeopardise the Centre's future.
I suppose it is difficult to argue for no cuts, but adult education can't be seen as an expendable add-on, nice to have but not really essential. It is so much more than that and every MP should be told so in no uncertain terms. By the way, you can find yours at http://findyourmp.parliament.uk/ Think of it as your first bit of (non fiction) creative writing for the new term. Homework.