"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...

Monday, 31 January 2011

A Small Stone Number 31 -- the last

With tight fists and mewing cry
You demand attention
With apricot down on cushion cheeks
And eyes like smoky Lapis Lazuli
You demand attention
With soft burps and semi permanent hiccups
And a look that seems as old as granite
You hold us as we hold you
and we’re together forever.

No Blog No Book Deal

Just been reading a manifesto from MX Publishing - a UK publishing company that specialises in two distinct subjects: books about therapy and the Victorian period - especially anything to do with Sherlock Holmes. 
Apparently the average adult in Britain spends 52 minutes a day on the web (hate to count up my time...must be nearly 5 times that...and it's not all solitaire and bubble shooter) so they have decided they only want authors who have blogs. 
 "...authors with good blogs sell more books, it’s as simple as that."
I can see the argument from a small independent's point of view. With a limited budget for promotion, it's not unreasonable to expect that the author do more than hand over the manuscript but I wonder if larger, mainstream companies are taking that view with new authors. Have you got to have an online presence BEFORE you send the first three chapters and tentative cover letter...?
Read the MX article for yourself by clicking on the title of this post.

Obsessed by Someone? A February date not to be missed...

Biography - What Publishers Are Looking For
Thursday 24th February Drinks 6.30 for 7.00 pm start
Organised by The Biographers Club
Swendenborg House, 20-21 Bloomsbury Way, London, WC1A 2TH (nearest Tube Holborn or Tottenham Court Rd)
John Blake Managing Director of Blake Publishing, Heather McCallum Trade Publisher at Yale University Press, Alan Samson, Non-Fiction Publisher at Weidenfeld and Paul Sidey Editorial Director at Hutchinson will be discussing how the biography market is changing, what sort of biographies and authors they are looking for and how proposals should be presented.
Chaired by Nicholas Clee joint editor of BookBrunch and former editor of the Bookseller.
Tickets £10.
To book please send cheque [payable to The Biographers' Club] to the Club Secretary Andrew Lownie, 36 Great Smith Street, London SW1P 3BU, secretary@biographersclub.co.uk

A Small Stone Number 30

The City Creats New Landscapes After Dark

Useful phrases for Monday morning

These phrases come from the OMNIGLOT website (click in the title to go straight there) and are mainly from phrasebooks and language courses. 
Jeg er allergisk over for muskatnød 
I am allergic to nutmeg. 
Kiom kostas tiu hundeto en la fenestro?
How much is that doggie in the window?


Ha'aheo no paha 'oe i kena papale kupalaka, pehea la.
You must be very proud of your large hat.

OK, so the creative writing exercise is to use these in dialogue and make it sound natural...

Sunday, 30 January 2011

A Small Stone Number 29

Three blushing lilies in a red glass vase fill the air with pink scent.

A Small Stone Number 28 (and 300th post! Hurrah!)

Marble arms slicing through water, the sound of Ritchie Valens bouncing off the swimming pool walls, ten bodies following orders, arching and splashing and making clumsy unlikely movements to order. And afterwards feeling virtuous, as though we'd been to church or watched a re-run of The Waltons...

Should you follow advice?

A lot of advice about writing - especially online advice - is assertive, emphatic and down right dogmatic. 
     8 ways to become a bestselling author
    The 7 secrets of writing a blockbuster 
    The 6 mistakes that guarantee a rejection letter
    no matter how great your manuscript

Quick-fix solutions appeal and those kind of headlines are not confined to blogs and websites devoted to creative writing and publishing. They have  become almost the standard for giving advice on the internet:
5 ways to get rid of acne permanently 
The 12 rules for successful potty training
Some of the information given under those titles can be sound and sensible: worth reading and worth following. Some of the information is so vacuous and wordy - saying the same thing is three different ways in a faux down-to-earth, next best friend style - that you know  the author has to have an agenda other than informing...
And they do. 
It's all about attracting surfers to the site. End of.
We read 25% slower on screen than we do from the page so instantly understandable titles are going to be clicked. Ones that also make promises are going to get more clicks. 
American writer Jane Friedman argues that kind of attitude also seeps into the advice on offer. Click on the the title to read what she has to say in full but here's a taster.
Writing a great blog post or developing a successful online presence is often about knowing how to attract attention, or be bombastic in a charming way. Talking about the gray areas within an issue—parsing through all the intricacies—isn’t known for generating traffic. Boldness is.
So here I am in praise of the grey (or gray). I'm not against eye catching headlines - that's what we all want - but I am against the notion that there is a formulaic answer to anything outside chemistry (ok, and physics and perhaps even an ology or two that I haven't quite mastered). Or that there's secret information out there in a Dan Brown kind of way and once you acquire the insider knowledge everything is going to be just fine and dandy.

Here are the two best bits of advice I have ever come across.
On writing itself
There are only two ways to learn: the first is to write and the second is to read
(Ok, numbers again but this time it turns the convention on its head.) 
On being a writer (but it applies to anything)
If you do something - something happens

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Should you follow the rules?

Taught two very different classes yesterday, one after the other. In the first - a small group of non fiction writers who have been working together since September - one member was full of apologies for the work she was presenting. It was too short: 500 words when I asked for about 1000. It hadn't involved any research just chatting to her mother again, helping her to remember a time that's passed. It didn't include any of the figures of speech that she had learned in class....it wasn't what it was suppose to be.
It was much better. 
It was a simple, straightforward account of a simple straightforward act of a heriosim by a man none of us knew, in a place we had never heard of, for a cause we didn't believe in and it moved us all to silence. Written straight from the heart to the page, the writer followed the only rule that matters: she wrote. 
The other members of the group had - more or less - followed the exercise which was to focus on one word, research it and then integrate that research with writing of a more personal nature, family history or incidents from their own life. Each one was different. Each one worked, exploring areas of biography and memoir that the author hadn't considered before, may never have written about if they hadn't chosen that particular word and made new and exciting connections. 
I was so pleased. I was delighted. Hours later I walked out into the raw winter night  still feeling a warm glow. All down to me I said....all down to my brilliant exercise. Of course it wasn't, it was down to the writers and what they brought to it. How they made that original small idea entirely their own and in the process turned it into something bigger and better. 
As they trooped out of that London classroom, 20 students for my next class walked in. It's an introductory  class and even though it's Friday night they are a buzzy, lively group, eager to write and very eager to send in their first assignment.
There were questions about it - naturally. Concerns about what was wanted - naturally.
I hoped I answered them all but I have a feeling they would tell me if I hadn't. But one thing I did make clear was that this was creative writing and sometimes you look at an assignment with the best of intentions but your imagination springs to another idea and then another and you find you are writing at a tangent, off message, off the subject that you thought you were focusing on, you're off the page. 
And sometimes it works and it's magic. And sometimes it doesn't. Just like the original exercise you were set. But tangents are interesting places to be...
(NB if any of my university students are reading this remember that you are writing for a very specific and specialized readership - an academic board. So, let's discuss any tangents before you submit...)

A Small Stone Number 27

In a hospital waiting room where the wait is weighed in hours, I pick up a paperback and smell the pepper of old ink on its lightly braised pages. It's Maigret's first case M.Gallet decede translated to Stonewalled in this green Penguin printed the year I was learning to read.  
Patients are complaining to each other, chairs grind out a protest on the linoleum, but here, in these tired pages, It's a hot summer in 1931 and there is a bullet in a body in the Hotel de la Loire.
I am twenty miles from Paris. I am walking the mile long boulevard of dust with the Chief Inspector. He is sweating. So I am. We are both overweight.
The nurse calls my name.  

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

A Small Stone Number 26

A last minute meeting at home. Ok so I hadn't found the time to hoover. I'm a working woman and my lounge sometimes turns into my office. Ok so I hadn't managed to shift all the clean washing from downstairs to upstairs. I thought about it at 2pm but an urgent email got in the way. And a deadline. And another deadline.
Good meeting. Great meeting with a woman I had never met before. A meeting of minds. As I said goodbye, mentally timetabling all the things we'd agree, I noticed the pile of clean clothes on the chair that would have been in her direct eye line. And that's when I saw the pair of knickers sitting on top.
Oh God
Oh God
Oh God 

FREE creative writing workshops in Brighton

I am writer in residence on Tarner Stories, an exciting Heritage funded local history project. We are working with individuals and communities recording and recreating the stories of those that have lived and worked in a working class area in the heart of Brighton on the south coast...and I have two workshops coming up.
They are free. They will be fun. And they will certainly be different (as much as I like alliteration couldn't think of another approriate F word) 
PLUS...work produced may be published on the Tarner Stories website or in the book we will bring out in Spring 2012.
Want any more reasons for coming along? There's a free creche at the Centre and they serve up a nifty vegan lunch for £1.50. It just gets better and better doesn't it? Don't keep it to yourself.  Please pass this information on to anyone who might be interested. (Did I mention it's free?)

Inspired by History
Monday February 7
10.30 am --- 3 pm
Together we will use the material produced by the oral history project to kickstart ideas and help us weave stories about the people who once lived and worked in the streets surrounding the Centre. We will write non fiction that brings the past to life and create poetry and stories that gives a feel of a time that has now vanished. The atmosphere will be warm and supportive - you don’t have to be an experienced writer to take part

Inspired by Women
Monday March 7
10.30 am – 3 pm
2011 marks the centenary of International Women’s Day which this year is on Tuesday March 8. To mark this special occasion we are running a workshop the day before to focus on the lives of Tarner women, turning history into herstory. Through the resources produced by the Tarner History Project we will  explore the struggles, concerns and achievements of local women of previous generations. Everyone – male and female, experienced writers and absolute beginners – very welcome. We will be writing fiction, non fiction and poetry.

*Tarner is an area in central Brighton mentioned in Graham Greene's Brighton Rock. Teenager Pinky is a violent gang leader - Tarner was the area he grew up in and where he never wanted to return

NO NEED TO BOOK JUST TURN UP AT BUCFP - Tilbury Place, off Carlton Hill.
Find out more about the project by clicking onto the title of this post

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Monday, 24 January 2011

A Small Stone Number 24

Morning: I reached for the mug of tea on my bedside table. It was early and all I could taste was hot.
In the shower I used the still-almost-full bottle of Apple Mint gel bought in a Norfolk pound shop last summer
. There's a reason it's been relegated to the back of the shelf: it smells of factories rather than orchards or herb gardens, of plastic rather than sharp bubbles of cider. To make matters worse, it's the colour of an abrasive mouthwash or a wake-up stripe in toothpaste.
And it clashes with the pretend limestone of the tiled walls.

I am very grateful and moved by this poem written for my granddaughter by a talented Brighton poet

For Aylah

by Christopher Michael Skinner

You are new to this world;
All is new and exciting
And frightening.
Stay excited.
Everything is new for now,
And "now" is only a dream away from "forever."
Don't be afraid to be frightened,
Grown-ups get frightened too;
Most of them just aren't brave enough to show it!
All the wisdom and all the love in the world are yours for the taking,
So help yourself!

Sunday, 23 January 2011

A Small Stone Number 23

A winter mirror

A Small Stone Number 22

A perfect moment with my youngest son in a quiet flat. In another room Classic FM is playing, but in this one all we can hear is hiccups as his week old daughter gazes into his eyes and smiles. We both know it is wind: neither of us believes it.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

A Small Stone Number 21

Taking a short cut through a small cemetery, where it always seems to be autumn, I noticed for the first time a weathered headstone to a grandfather called Fred Friend. The alliteration, a furry blur on the tongue, encourages smiling and I think I would have liked this man whose family knew that he wouldn't have wanted the formality of Frederick.

Friday, 21 January 2011

A Small Stone Number 20

Head full of history and the danger of adverbs
Arms full off registers and hand outs
A shy smile from a new student who
is not certain she's in the right place.
A lazy grin from a two semester old timer who

knows he is.

It's the start of a new term

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

A Small Stone Number 19

It's a cold night without the comfort of clouds

A Small Stone Number 18

Woke up with a head full of things to do: a house to clean and a wash to be put on; emails to send and an accountant to ring; a last look at a class handout. Does it do the job?
And then I remember that I've left a small stone unwritten. And I knew what I was going to write about too.

I had made notes in my very beautiful William Morris notebook about city streets at night when the puddles on the pavement dance with the lights from the queues of cars driving out of town. I was going to write about the darkness hiding last summer's fly blown dirt clinging to the windows of the pub at the corner and the feeble wreath of Christmas lights that still straddle the windows. And I was going to find a metaphor to somehow convey how I felt looking through the window and seeing that, although all the lights were on and there was an empty glass on the bar, no one was inside and it looked as though no one was coming...

And it would have been good too. If I had found that metaphor and if I had remembered to write it down.

Monday, 17 January 2011

100 stories for Queensland

I have family in Brisbane and it sounds tough out there.
A charity anthology of short stories is being compiled for Queensland and here's how you can be part of something special.

Wanted previously unpublished short fiction between 500 – 1000 words with an uplifting or upbeat nature
DEADLINE: Friday, 28th January 11:59pm (Australian Eastern Standard Time)
I've done some research and reckon that's 1.59pm UK time
For more details click on the title of this post and good luck Queensland...

A Small Stone Number 17

A writer's lot...
...I have a sudden burning itch to write in the voice of an onion, a mushroom, a whole salad drawer of characters. I'm inspired by Sylvia Plath:
Overnight, very
Whitely, discreetly,
Very quietly

Our toes, our noses
Take hold on the loam,
Acquire the air.
And by Suji Kwock Kim
I don't mean to make you cry.
I mean nothing, but this has not kept you
From peeling away my body, layer by layer, 
The tears clouding your eyes as the table fills
With husks, cut flesh, all the debris of pursuit.
What does a potato sound like or a Brussel sprout?
Drat! I can't find out -  I have a tax form to fill out.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

A Small Stone Number 16

Whenever I cook roast potatoes and I do often, two or  three times a month, I think of my mother's Sunday dinners...lamb a soft lavender grey with fat the colour of cream, the rich nearly-burnt brown of the beef joint and the pallid chicken, served up in chunky slices with a watery gravy that tasted of disappointment. But it is my mother's potatoes that I remember most vividly. They really should have been crisper: they failed every acceptable culinary standard, but oh, how they tasted. Cooked in fat from roasting the Sunday's  joint, under my mother's gaze the par boiled King Edward's would turn a gentle butterscotch in an oven that wasn't quite hot enough. She would turn them out and shrug: not much good again while I would try to steal a golden mouthful when she wasn't looking.

Because I couldn't resist....


We didn't expect her to be the most beautiful baby girl ever, but that's what we got...

Saturday, 15 January 2011

A Small Stone Number 15

Just met for the first time the word mizzle, Cornish for what we Irish call soft rain. Its not falling from the sky rain so much as floating water, mixing with the air to leave seeds of silver in hair and on the gentle down of wool jumpers. Its soft, seditious rain soaking layers of clothes without the owner noticing until they are wet through...

Friday, 14 January 2011

A Small Stone Number 14

The sea mists have melted away
a grey day
you can see through

A Small Stone Number 13

I'm late creating this small stone...for reasons that will become clear...

This evening at 7.26 a bonnie little girl was born with black hair and midnight eyes: Aylah. Our granddaughter. 

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Visitors from places I'd like to visit

The flag counter on the right hand column has just recorded the 400th visitor to this site from America. Hello and welcome! 
Thanks to another wonderful piece of software that I don't understand I am pretty confident that the visitor was from New Brunswick, New Jersey, just pipping to the post a surfer from Dillon, Colorado. 
And just behind was someone using a computer in the great town of Dublin in California who stayed on this blog for a whole four hours....(What's the guessing: a slow, careful reader gripped by every word, or someone who went away and made supper, ate it, had friends around, put the cat out and then remembered to turn off the computer...)
Joseph O' Connor wrote a travel book after visiting all the Dublins in America - I think they are 14 of them. I would love to visit and - publishers please note - write about the American towns and counties named after my mother's family - Sullivan.  That would also take me to California, and then on to Illinois, Indiana, Maine (Stephen King country), Missouri, New Hampshire, New York, Wisconsin and then there's a whole city to explore in Texas...Can't wait. I'm dreaming about it already: the people I'd meet and and the history I would discover. There has to be a book in Sullivan, USA, hasn't there?

Has your fantasy travel adventure got a theme to it? I did know someone who planned a road trip to the States around towns mentioned in songs...

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

A Small Stone Number 12

Random Thoughts
A word picked at random from a book picked at random – third shelf from the bottom, fifth book from the left, flip to page 101 and first noun or adjective (no adverbs) 
The Book
I pick up Peter Ackroyd’s London: The Biography and it's a pleasure to hold it again. I haven’t touched these pages in a couple of years.
The word 
It's a good word to spring from a history book, stretching back to the centuria, the Roman soldiers who marched across the world. But the group of 100 weren’t all military men, the Romans took their administrators with them, knowing that   control needs more than the point of a sword. 
They also took something else. I remember a half heard radio programme  explaining the importance of foot care to a Roman soldier. It’s an uncomfortable truth but the centuria wore socks.
With sandals.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Looking for web wizards

New Writing South are looking for young people aged 13- 18, living in the Brighton and Hove area with a passion for creative writing. They want them to join a panel to help develop t their new website and become ambassadors for the literary organisation serving the south east of England. Click on the title to find out more and make contact with Anna Jefferson.


369 libraries plus 29 mobiles are currently under threat of closure or have recently been closed. 
Even where libraries are unlikely to actually close their doors permanently, hours and staff are being reduced. I was particularly incensed to read in Public Libraries News that West Sussex has saved money by demoting some members of staff from the grade of librarian  to the level of library assistant. That's just dishonest. If you cut a staff member's hours then at least he or she can look for another part time job to fill the gap, or, if that's unrealistic, can go home and read a book. 
But forcing someone to work the same hours for less money makes the cuts  'invisible' and adds a very unfair layer of blame and judgment - "you're not good enough"- to a decision which has nothing to do with quality and everything to do with budgets... 
Every corner of the UK is affected in some way and if you click on the title of this post you can see a depressingly long list and a map of libraries in danger. 
But there are some reasons to be cheerful: the following authorities have announced no library closures

Brighton (my own local authority! Hurrah! which has a quite brilliant selection of libraries from the iconic Jubilee library in the centre to tiny branch libraries such as Portslade which uses imagination and insight to connect with the local community.)
Hillingdon - a North London borough
But it doesn't matter because Roy Clare, the head of the Museuems, Library and Archive Association apparently thinks people fighting to save libraries are invariably white middle class.  If he genuinely believes that then he can't have been in a library recently (or ever, come to think of it). They have always been warm refuges, full of good things like stories and music and newspapers and information and directories and posters and leaflets and seats you can sit in without someone asking you to buy something. And we need them.

A Small Stone Number 11

The tree is the ghost of a forest,
shape-shifting with the seasons.
It's a ship’s mast planted in the playground,
sailing across a tarmac sea.

Monday, 10 January 2011

A Small Stone Number 10

A muffled drum beats a slow and steady rhythm and I think I recognise the tune. If it wasn’t behind my right eye, I might even be able to dance to it.

A Small Stone NUMBER 9

Stars on a biting night shine on chrome bumpers while frost turns cars into ghosts

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Poetry in Brighton

Naomi Foyle, a poet I admire very much , is running two poetry courses this spring. Details below. If you want to learn all the difficult bits in a  supportive atmosphere then check this out.
Lyric Poetry: Open Form
January 11th – Feb 1st
Tuesday evenings, 7:30 – 9:30
Cost:  £40 / £35 conc.
The lyric poem is `a brief subjective poem strongly marked by imagination, melody and emotion, and creating for the reader a single, unified impression' (C. Hugh Holman).  In this course students will study and write lyric poetry in `open forms' (or `free verse') and discuss the role that metre, rhyme and other elements of poetic craft  play in the composition and appreciation of open form poetry.
Narrative Poetry
March 1st - 22nd
Tuesday evenings, 7:30 – 9:30.
Cost:  £40 / £35 conc.
Whether long or short, fictional or confessional, the narrative poem tells a story. While it may contain lyric elements including imagination, music, and emotion, this poem moves the reader through time, developing character and
plot.  In this course students will read, write and workshop narrative poems, with a special look at the ballad, the dramatic monologue, and their own life histories.
The Kemptown Bookshop
95 St George's Rd

A Small Stone NUMBER 8


 Aros Pritje Attesa Bekleme Feithimh Venter Warten
 A poem in syllables
 Waiting in
Welsh Albanian Italian Turkish Irish Norwegian German  
Waiting for Aylah
A granddaughter waiting to be born

Friday, 7 January 2011

A Small Stone NUMBER 7

Rich russet tiles, still wearing the touch of the men of who made them, warming a January evening.

Writing the BLUES...

You're going to have be quick on this one because the closing date is January 15 2011, but if you already have a short story or poem that fits in with the theme then you might want to have a go because the first prize is worth having: a week at an established writer's retreat in Greece. Tempting isn't it?
And the theme is
The organisors are asking you to create something "bluer than blue".*   
Short stories maximum of 3000 words: Poems up to 500 words. Fee: £6
For more information click on the title of this post.
*Google produced 920,000,000 results for the word BLUE in 0.7 seconds…. Here’s mine in seven minutes or so: blue sky, blue sea, blue mountains, Blue Peter, blue lagoon, singing the blues, having the blues, blue films, Joni Mitchell’s blue, sapphire, lapis lazuli, woad, periwinkle, gentian, delphinium, Blue John, the Virgin’s blue cloak in renaissance paintings, Paul Newman’s eyes…

COMING UP: a writing competition to chase away the winter blues....

Thursday, 6 January 2011

A Small Stone NUMBER 6

Making soup from the forgotten: the onions roll forward, pushing and shoving, among them a generous womanly onion, brazen in burgundy, a white one in sleek silver, slippery as lycra, a snapping young one, crisp in sheer lingerie; then the carrots, lots of carrots, a legion of carrots, all of them too long on active service, growing old and whiskery at the bottom of the fridge. The tomatoes follow, rich and sweet and showing off and, finally, a tiny touch of chili sneaks in, a spy, an undercover agent, a depth charge.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

A Small Stone NUMBER 5

Early Evening: smelling sharp and earthy Satsuma peel on my fingers, feeling the smooth contours of the table made out of John Lewis pine, hearing the blur from next door’s television, looking at perky pleased-with-themselves chrysanthemums shouting at the ceiling, tasting the dinner I’m already cooking in my mind.

What Amazon book sales ranking actually means...

...for a clear explanation click on the title and go to the post written by author April Hamilton (although she isn't giving away the formula that Amazon actually use - that's a closely guarded secret).
I knew it was possible to manipulate the figures - there are numerous websites to guide you through the process, most of which seem to have been written by business gurus keen to promote a how-to-get-rich-quick pamphlet. (Basically, you get a lot of people to buy at the same time - that way it is possible to break into the top 100 in a particular genre.) 
April explains the mechanics of it:
ASR (Amazon sales ranking) is recalculated hourly, and only includes titles that actually had sales activity during the hour in question, or were ranked within the top 100 in any category during that hour. This is how it’s possible for your book’s ASR to sometimes be higher than that of multi-million-selling books by authors along the lines of JK Rowling and Stephen King; if neither of them sold any copies in a given hour when you sold 2 copies of your book, your book’s rank will be higher than theirs’ for that hour...
Read the rest of her interesting post.
The reality is that there is an whole industry devoted to helping companies (or individuals) to fake it, before you make it...I recently discovered that you can buy twitter followers by the thousand (they won't actually read your tweets though - it's hard to manufacture genuine reader interest) and for all I know blog followers and probably lots of other things I haven't thought of...ah well, better to know than not know and read with a large pinch of salt handy...

Jewish Book Week

March might seem like a long way ahead but if you're interested in the Jewish Book Week workshops run by the London literary organisation Spread the Word it is probably best to book early.
The Afternoon Play
Tuesday 1 March
A scriptwriting workshop with playwright Nina Rapi.
Learn and play around with the basic principles of writing for performance. By the end of the afternoon you should have the very rough first draft of a short play!

Find Your Voice
Wednesday 2 March
Find your poetic voice in this practical writing workshop with poet Malika Booker.
Memories are essential ingredients for constructing poems. Explore the power of stories and how objects can reveal unexpected gems about our lives. Bring an object that means a lot to you. Come prepared to find your poetic voice.

A Story by Bedtime
Thursday 3 March
Writing bedtime stories with novelist Shaun Levin.
Explore some of the elements of a good story to enable you to write a bedtime story to read to loved ones later in the day (or even for their afternoon schloff) - drama, tension, adventure, goodies, baddies and a happy end.

All 2.30pm – 5pm
Royal National Hotel
Bedford Way
Nearest Tube: Russell Square

To book please call 0844 847 2274 or book online: http://www.ticketweb.co.uk/INFO/JBW/JBW.HTML

All workshops £20 each (£15 concessions

Mystery writing competition UPDATE

On January 2nd I gave details about an interesting competition run by an American publishing company who are looking for new writers for the Young Adult market. At the time, although it looked as though they would be happy to receive international entries, I wasn't entirely certain about the prize on offer (Can a US kindle work in Europe?) Budhapussink have been in touch to clarify - this is what they had to say:
We are definitely looking for new talent, as well as, already published authors.

In answer to your question about the Kindle - if the First Prize winner resides in a country where Kindle is not yet available, we will give the winner the cash value a new Kindle in the form of a gift card.
Just to remind you, they are looking for a mystery and they have pretty clear ideas about what that means...

What is a mystery? In a mystery, the main character must track down the truth about an event, often a murder. If the protagonist is in any danger, it usually becomes a problem only as the detective/protagonist approaches the truth.
The deadline is the end of January

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Ever felt like a complete and utter idiot? Worse, a complete and utter NAIVE idiot

Just had a great email from Man Price in Portland, Oregon in response to my plea for clarification of the term used by sci fi and fantasy publishers Angry Robot. This is the mission statement which caused my confusion.
Angry Robot ™ is a new global publishing imprint. Our mission, quite simply, is to publish the best in brand new genre fiction – SF, F and WTF?!
Traditional SF and fantasy has been ploughing an entertaining furrow for many decades, but to our way of thinking much of it is missing a trick.
Man Price was very gentle when he attempted to explain.
I assume you are aware that WTF can mean, in non publishing circles, something along the lines of "What the heck" but with Heck being replaced by a much stronger word. USA kids will use WTF on Facebook and while texting on their phones.  So in theory, Angry Robot could be asking for WTF fiction--maybe, that is, fiction that makes you respond, "What the heck was that?"

Otherwise, I have not heard of WTF as an abbreviation related to writing.
To quote Homer Simpson: DOH! 

He (Man Price, not Homer) suggested that working out alternative meanings for WTF might  be a good source of a small stone...and he has come up with a few ideas.
White Transgendered Futurist
Wild Terrifying Fiction
Withhold The Facts
So, in keeping with the publishing theme, here's my thoughts...

Winsome tender fantasy
Wasted torpid fairytales
Wise teasing fables
Got anything better?

Thanks Man Price. 
You can read his own small stones at http://manprice.blogspot.com/

A Quote for Writers

Just found a quote I really like which is perfect for this time of year when we are thinking about the future and what we want to achieve.
There's a word for a writer who never gives up... published" - Joe Konrath
And apparently he knows what he is talking about. Joe Konrath is an American author who mixes humour with horror: he collected nearly 500 rejections before seeing his words in print.

A Small Stone NUMBER 4

This morning the radio said the partial eclipse was a smiley face on the horizon. The clouds didn't co-operate. It’s another four years before the next one I won’t see.

HANG UP YOUR GARGLE BLASTER.......If you're a Sci Fan get your pen out and write

ANGRY ROBOT ™ is a new global publishing imprint that's based in the UK. The website says it publishes the best in science fiction, fantasy and something I haven't worked out yet. Can anyone tell me what WTF is?!
I wanted to write about them because they are doing something very special in March 2011. For one month only they will operate an open door policy for unpublished, unrepresented writers (that means anyone who doesn't already have an agent can just send them a mansucript). They promise to read through every submission received and the best of will be considered for publication.
Have a good look at the website (by clicking on the title of this post) and check out the kind of writing that gets ANGRY ROBOT excited.
And if you find out what WTF means please let me know.

WATERLOO an Historical Short Story Competition

An Historical Short Story Competition to raise funds for the restoration of Hougement, before the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the battle of Waterloo in 2015.  All the proceeds from this competition will go to the restoration project.   
Closing date: 31st of January 2011

Entries must be in English, original and not previously published in any form or broadcast, and no longer than 1,500 words. 
Entry fee:  £5 per first story entry and £2 for each additional story entered.  The maximum number of stories that each person may submit is five.
  A historical short story competition set in the days leading up to or during the battle of Waterloo.  The genre of the historical story is open and could be an adventure, crime fiction or even romantic.
  There will be three main prizes and additional runners up prizes of books.  The 1st prize:  £250, 2nd and 3rd and runner up prizes to be announced later. The winning stories will be published on-line on www.tavistockmusic.co.uk  The prize winners will be notified by post and email two weeks before the prize giving.
Presentation of the prizes
:  The results will be announced and the prizes will be presented by Professor Richard Holmes after the Tavistock Music and Arts Festival on Monday the 25th of April 2011.
:  The judging will be in three stages.  The final short list of stories will be judge by a panel of judges. Myfanwy Cook (Currently the Features Editor of the HNR magazine – www.historicalnovelsociety.org) will oversee the receipt of entries and the allocation to first and second and third stage adjudicators..  
For entry forms by email, or if you have any additional questions you can contact the organisers on:   waterloo@gacuk.eclipse.co.uk

Monday, 3 January 2011

A Small Stone NUMBER 3

The cleaning fluid shrieks yellow in the sink as work surfaces are wiped clean and the debris of last night’s supper is cleared away to the sound of Leonard Cohen. 
“First We Take Manhattan.” 
Slowly soft cloths are wrung out and the sink’s contents turn a begrudging lime. 
“Then we take Berlin.”

DISCOVER THE WRITER WITHIN --- join me on a Creative Writing Course

It's January. It's time to make changes, to make new beginnings, to do things...(and the best writing advice I ever got was "if you do something, something happens...")
If you've always wanted to write come join a supportive and imaginative course this spring.  I also run specialist courses in London and Brighton...if you want to know more or find out if it is suitable for you do get in touch. My email address is softrain AT ntlworld.com. You can also access it by clicking on my profile (see the column on the right). I'd love to hear from you. I'd love to see you in the classroom.


CREATIVE WRITING A confidence-building journey of imagination
Monday evenings at Portslade Community College, Chalky Road, Portslade 7pm - 9pm
Cost: £50.00 £30.00 concessions
Thursday mornings 9.45 am to 11.45 am South Portslade Community Centre, Church Road

Cost: £50.00 £30.00 concessions
Tel: 01273 422 632 email

Friday mornings at The Friends Centre at Brighton Junction (just by Brighton Station)
10 am - 12 noon
 Cost: £80.00 concession £48.00
Tel: 01273 810210 

My spring courses at City Lit in Convent Garden, Central London are full but the summer term starts at the end of April.

Friday Afternoon 3.45 pm to 5.45  

WAYS INTO CREATIVE WRITING - an introductory course 
Friday evening 6 pm to 8 pm
Cost: £105 concessions £32

I'll also be running a week long summer school with very, very good concessionary rates


Ready Steady Write – A Toolkit for Fiction

SATURDAY Feb 12 at the Friends Centre
Character and Dialogue
10 am - 4 pm
Cost: £30.00 (each workshop)

Description and Point of View
10 am - 4 pm
Cost: £30.00 (each workshop)

 Plots and Ideas
10 am - 4 pm
Cost: £30.00 (each workshop)
Heritage Funded Local History workshops

 Monday February 7 10.30 am --- 3 pm
Using the material produced by the oral history project to kickstart ideas,  we will weave stories about the people who once lived and worked in the Tarner area of Brighton. 
Cost: free

Monday March 7 10.30 am – 3 pm
2011 marks the centenary of International Women’s Day which this year is on Tuesday March 8. To mark this special occasion we are running a workshop the day before to focus on the lives of Tarner women, turning history into herstory. Through the resources produced by the Tarner History Project we will  explore the struggles, concerns and achievements of local women of previous generations. Everyone – male and female, experience writers and absolute beginners – very welcome.

With the writer’s permission, work from these special workshops may be published on the Tarner Stories website and in printed form in 2012


Sunday, 2 January 2011

A Small Stone NUMBER 2

Under a big Sussex sky with salt diamonds in my lungs and the winter sun stinging my face, I can go on and on.
I can go on.

CONGRATULATIONS to a winning author

I was delighted to learn that Andrew Campell-Kearnsey's story ‘Shrinking Violet’ has just won  £25 in the Spinetinglers competition.
Andrew was a member of my TOWARDS PUBLICATION autumn class held at the Friends Centre in Brighton.
Andrew is also a founder member of a relatively new organisation set up to support and promote writers. Called Brighton Community of Writers (Brighton COW for short), it runs a series of competitions. I've given details below but you can find out more by clicking on the title of this post.

BRIGHTON COW  will run four short story competitions in 2011. The deadlines will be the end of February, May, August and November. 
Theme and Word limit: Any subject. 3,000 words
Prizes: top three winning writers will receive £100, £50 and £25. There will also be the opportunity for the stories to be published on the BRIGHTON COW website as well as being recorded for broadcast on Brighton’s Coastway Hospital Radio, which provides music and entertainment to a network of Brighton hospitals.
Entry fee: £4

Write a Short Mystery for Young Adults

I've just come across this US competition via a post on Twitter. It's run by a publishing company and seems to be accepting international entries (but would an American kindle work elsewhere?? That's the first prize but maybe getting noticed would be the real achievement if the company are in the market for new work. Suggest you use American spelling in your story....adjust your spell check - mine seems permanently stuck on US English anyway.)
Here are the detail - see what you think. For more information click on the title of this post.

BUDHAPUSSINK are looking for new mystery short stories that are targeted for the YA audience.
Submission Guidelines:

  • Theme: Mystery – Your choice be it murder, cozy, paranormal, romance, soft-boiled, hard-boiled, police procedural, suspense, thriller, or amateur detective.
  • What is a mystery? In a mystery, the main character must track down the truth about an event, often a murder. If the protagonist is in any danger, it usually becomes a problem only as the detective/protagonist approaches the truth. That's your base, how it plays out is up to you!
  • No gratuitous sex or violence. Please remember your audience is 13 and up.
  • The competition is open to all writers in English except current or former employees of Buddhapuss Ink LLC or members of our judging Panels.
  • You must be 18 or older to enter unless you have written permission from your parent or guardian. 
  • Submissions will be accepted from October 1, 2010 to January 31, 2011.
  • No previously published work(s) or simultaneous submissions please.
  • Entries should be between 3000-7000 words in length.
  • Send your submissions via email to: Submissions@Buddhapussink.com with the subject line “Submission for MYSTERY TIMES TEN" from with your story as an attached file in .doc (Word) format PLEASE INCLUDE in the body of the email:
    • Your name and contact information
    • A brief author bio (2-5 sentences)
    • Entry should be single-spaced in at least a 12 pt. readable font. We suggest Times New Roman, Courier, or Arial.
    • Send emails to: Submissions@Buddhapussink.com
  • NOTE You will receive an email acknowledging our receipt of your entry within 24 hours. If you do not receive this email (check your junk/bulk/spam folder first!) Please re-submit your entry and change the subject line to: "RESUBMISSION for MYSTERY TIMES TEN".
  • Submissions that do not follow these guidelines will not be considered.
  • Notifications will be sent to finalists via email in April 2011
  • There is no limit on the number of entries you may submit. There is no fee to enter. 

Winning Selections:

  • The Ten (10) Winning entries will be published in the Spring 2011 Young Adult Showcase titled Mystery Times Ten to be published by Buddhapuss Ink LLC.
  • FIRST PLACE winner will receive a NEW Kindle, Featured placement in the book, and a Buddhapuss Ink tote filled with swag.
  • SECOND PLACE winner will receive a $100 Gift Card, Featured placement in the book, and a Buddhapuss Ink tote filled with swag.
  • THIRD PLACE winner will receive a $75 Gift Card, Featured placement in the book, and a Buddhapuss Ink tote filled with swag.
  • ALL TEN (10) WINNERS will receive: two (2) copies of the finished book and the opportunity to “fast track” their next Young Adult or Middle Grade manuscript with our Editorial staff. “Fast track” does not mean you will receive a publishing contract, but we will guarantee that your manuscript is given a priority reading and response.
  • Some winning entries will also be featured on our website, blog, and/or Facebook page.


Buddhapuss Ink was founded with a mission to put our readers first and that’s just what we aim to do in Buddhapuss Ink’s first competition. All entries that meet submission guidelines will be read by and rated by judges from our YA Book Blogger Panel and our YA Teen Panel. The top twenty (20) entries—based on total points accrued—will then go on to our Editorial Review Panel.
Our YA Book Blogger Panel is made up of some of the best Book Bloggers on the web. These are people who are passionate about the YA market, who spend untold hours reading, reviewing and promoting books for this audience.
Our YA Teen Panel is exactly that—a group of teens aged 13-18 from across the USA who have been nominated by teachers, librarians, and book industry professionals. All of them are avid readers.
Our Editorial Review Panel is made up of  3 publishing professionals who have a combined total of over 50 years in the industry. The decisions of the Competition's judges will be final

  • No manuscripts will be returned.
  • Winners will be notified & announced in April 2011.
  • Publication is scheduled for May/June 2011. 
Send your best words our way! We publish newcomers and established writers alike.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

A Small Stone NUMBER 1

A triangle of red and green squats in the corner, dripping pine needles and left over bits of Christmas

My Own New Year's resolution

I'm only making one resolution this year and that is to write more. 
More short stories 
More long stories
More articles (and I'm not allowed to count blog posts)
Just more really and that includes writing without thinking what it is going to be or assessing its potential market. That's why I've decided to participate in A RIVER OF STONES (see the logo on the right).It's an interesting project that is going to propel me out of my comfort zone. The idea is create a small image or thought, to observe and think about what I'm observing and do it every day for the month of January (you can still join in even if you're reading this after January 1st - click on the logo to find out more).
So, what really is a small stone? 
Someone commenting on A River of Stones website said that they were beginning to look very like a "Haiku gone wrong" which cheered me because I know I can do that (I'm not nearly so confident about writing a proper haiku even once, never mind 31 times). The organisors say that they are not asking for people to write in any form. but
to look, and listen and taste and feel with all your attention, and then to put this into words. 
Right. I'm ready to give it a go, remembering the words of Samuel Beckett
Fail. Fail again. Fail better
One a day for 31 days and I've just realised that I have 25 minutes to complete the first.