"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...

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Be Creative in Brighton

I am running a range of creative writing courses in Brighton this autumn at different places and at different times. Each course explores different kinds of writing, but they are all designed to support creative self-expression with ideas that will fire the imagination.
A bit about my style of teaching
I don't believe in tough love. I don't think anyone comes away from a class  more confident and better able to face new challanges after their work has been rubbished. 
I don't believe in giving a (metaphysical) pat on the head and murmuring very good after every contribution made. To move forward you have to become a better reader of your own writing and that means celebrating what works and acknowledging (and revising) what doesn't...I'm here to help in that process.
I do believe creative writing can be taught. There's a craft to learn but the art comes from within. I can't turn you into a Margaret Atwood or a James Patterson...only you can do that...but I can support you on the journey towards becoming the best writer you can be. 
And no one ever wonders why someone who enjoys painting enrolls in art school or a pianist thinks that music lessons might be a good idea...
Here's what past students have to say...

  • Feedback was very encouraging. It made me more productive and not frightened to take risks without fear of ridicule. 
  • I wasn't sure about reading aloud at first but I was made to feel very comfortable in the  group  
  • The interaction between the teacher and class was great. She always made sure everyone understood what was needed from them.  
  • I've done more writing in the last few weeks than since I was seven!  
  • The variety of exercises was inspirational. The tutor had the right amount of input in the classes and was very encouraging.
  • I hadn't been back in the classroom for nearly 30 years and I didn't like it that much first time round. I wasn't sure it was going to my sort of thing but Bridget is very relaxed and I am pleased to say it was exactly my kind of thing.
  • I've been to lots of workshop and classes over the years but for the first time I got the kind of detailed and highly personal feedback (criticism isn't really the right word) that's allowed me to take my writing to the next stage.

Here are details of my Brighton courses - I also teach in London at City Lit the largest adult education centre in Europe.

 Creative Writing for Beginners
A confidence-building journey of imagination that allows you to discover the writer within
 Monday evenings  7pm to 9 pm A ten week course starting on September 26 at Portslade College Chalky Road
The same course also runs on Thursday afternoons 1pm to 3 pm at the Community Centre in South Portslade. It starts on September 29
 We are enrolling now. The advanced course was full up a day after the brochure was published so if you're interested don't delay!
Email comed@pcc-web.com. Call 01273 422632 or go here

Towards Publication
An eight week  practical course for emerging writers who have been writing for some time, or have previously attended a writing class.
Tuesday afternoons 1 pm to 3 pm starting on September 20th at the Friends Centre near Brighton Station (see below for information about how to enroll)

Writing the Biography of your Family
For people who have already researched their family history and want to turn a collection of dates and odd facts into an interesting, readable story that will enthuse the rest of the family (and the general reader)
Wednesday evenings for eight weeks 7 pm-9 pm starting on September 21st
Starts: 21 September for 8 weeks     

Enroll By telephone: Using a credit or debit card – 01273 810210 Online: Please go to: www.friendscentre.org.
(There's a discount if you enroll online)


Monday, 29 August 2011

Quote worth Quoting

In a world where Google can give you thousands of answers, a librarian will always bring you the right one. 
 Neil Gaiman, author and graphic novelist

Read more extracts from the Edinburgh Book Festival interview with Neil Gaiman

Friday, 26 August 2011

Social Media, Writers and fear of the Tweet

I first met Bill Munro at the South East branch of the Society of Authors. Coming from a long line of taxi drivers, he is a writer and a publisher, specialising in transport. He is also interested in anything that supports the life of a writer.
We live in exciting times. (Is that really a Chinese curse?) Change is all about us and Bill is anxious to explore new opportunities that appear to be opening up for authors.
Here he explains his tentative approach towards social media and asks for advice. I've given my response at the end, but if Bill is standing at the brink with a toe in the water, I'm still only paddling around...so if you have any observations, advice, words of encouragement or caution please do jump in.                                                        Photo by Ernst Vikne

Guest post from Bill Munro 
 It took a long time for me for the penny to drop about Twitter: what it’s all about, I mean, not how to make the best use of it. That bit, I’m still struggling with. Anything on a computer that has proved successful over the years has been an adaptation, and often an enhancement of something us of the inkwell generation has used in pen and paper (or telephone or photographic) form for decades. I mean stuff like word processing (i. e. writing), spreadsheets, family tree layouts and more sophisticated stuff like DTP (which is based on the traditional editor’s cut and paste-up) and Photoshop. We all understand them in principle, so adapting our brain to use them digitally has been pretty straightforward.

Twitter, and Facebook for that matter are a quantum leap beyond.

Twitter combines the messages carried by flyers, letters, office memos, phone calls, chats over the garden wall or by the water cooler, handbills and other paper and personal stuff with new-fangled techie stuff like texts and emails. It’s a ‘word in your ear’, a soundbite and an advertising slogan, digitised and condensed. It is an adaptation of what we have done for years, but bundled up and often disguised in a plethora of technicalities and jargon and used at hyper-speed.

Many of us of an older generation have learned to use computers on an ad hoc basis, and haven’t the virtually intuitive way of using them that the younger ones amongst us seem to have. Thus we struggle to grasp the ‘McGuffin’ of social media, at a time when we, as struggling authors are told that it is the way we need to promote ourselves and our work. It leaves us baffled, and sometimes fuming.

When the penny dropped, I opened a Twitter account. But that penny has yet to set the machinery working. I have left it virtually unused because I don’t know the right things to say to whom, and I don’t want to look a twit (I use the word advisedly) by sending irretrievable and possibly self-harming messages into the Twittersphere, and to the wrong people. Does anyone know where I can get advice about this? And does it actually work anyway, or is the mantra ‘use social media to promote your work’ a piece of lazy journalism put about by people who have yet to achieve results but believe, rightly or wrongly, that others have succeeded in growing their writing careers through it? Is it ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’, digitised?

Bill Munro

View Earlswood Press ebooks on Smashwords at www.smashwords.com

My response:
Last December I gave eight reasons why I found twitter useful to me as a writer and as a  lecturer in writing and eight months on I pretty much stand by them. I work a lot from home and, wonderful as that is, there's no denying that I miss the water cooler moments. You can't just write, write, write. Y
How to get started?
Relying on the kindness of strangers has always worked for me and writers tend to be generous. They know how to share.
I've found the blog of the Scottish writer Nicola Morgan enormously helpful and she has now put all her advice about twitter into an ebook. It is not only useful, it is also a lesson in on how a writer can build a readership using social media.
You can follow Bill on twitter at @MunroBill 
I'm there too at

Thursday, 25 August 2011

10 best jokes from Edinburgh Festival

Just because it's a cold, grey day in August. Just because I am re-writing and revising and need a break. Just because humour is as important as the serious stuff and often so much harder to write...for all those reasons here are the ten best jokes from the 2011 Edinburgh Festival as decided by Dave - the digital TV channel. 
Scroll down to the bottom and you'll find the worst joke of the festival. 
1) Nick Helm: "I needed a password eight characters long so I picked Snow White and the Seven Dwarves."
2) Tim Vine: "Crime in multi-storey car parks. That is wrong on so many different levels."
3) Hannibal Buress: "People say 'I'm taking it one day at a time'. You know what? So is everybody. That's how time works."
4) Tim Key: "Drive-Thru McDonalds was more expensive than I thought... once you've hired the car..."
5) Matt Kirshen: "I was playing chess with my friend and he said, 'Let's make this interesting'. So we stopped playing chess."
6) Sarah Millican: "My mother told me, you don't have to put anything in your mouth you don't want to. Then she made me eat broccoli, which felt like double standards."
7) Alan Sharp: "I was in a band which we called The Prevention, because we hoped people would say we were better than The Cure."
8) Mark Watson: "Someone asked me recently - what would I rather give up, food or sex. Neither! I'm not falling for that one again, wife."
9) Andrew Lawrence: "I admire these phone hackers. I think they have a lot of patience. I can't even be bothered to check my OWN voicemails."
10) DeAnne Smith: "My friend died doing what he loved ... Heroin."
Veteran entertainer Paul Daniels for: 
"I said to a fella 'Is there a B&Q in Henley?' He said 'No, there's an H, an E, an N an L and a Y'."

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Official: Fiction is good for you

Reading stories makes you a better person. Every reader knew it: now there's proof.
The results of a Canadian university research team led by  British psychologist Keith Oatley reveal that fiction readers   are better at relationships.
"Reading about Darcy and Elizabeth or Hamlet or Harry Potter and the progress of their relationships and dilemmas gets you, the reader, practising how to understand others and how they think and behave."
This is serious stuff. Not only should the research findings bring a glow to every bookworm's pale cheeks (we always knew we were nice people), it may also offer a formula for mending Cameron's Broken Society.
Imagine it. Novels could be on (free) prescription.
Three or four books a month perhaps, taken at will, and the patient could have a completely free choice from a wide selection. 

Oh wait, we have that already - the libraries that are under threat in every corner of the country.

Proffesor Oatley's research is published in Such Stuff as Dreams - The Psychology of Fiction. He also happens to be a novelist himself...what were the chances of that?

If you don't know what copyeditors do...

Or you are about to self publish and think you can't afford a professional copy editor take a look at this video produced by successful self publisher Catherine Ryan Howard.
In Catherine's book (and she's written three) there are only two "acceptable excuses" for not paying a professional copy editor.
Number One
is you are already one yourself (even then I'd suggest you get someone to look over it: your eyes can all too easily see what should be on the page instead of what actually is there). 

Number Two acceptable excuse is that your book has no words in it. 
Everyone else can't afford not to pay for a professional edit.

You can read more about Catherine's adventures in self publishing on her excellent blog at http://catherineryanhoward.com

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Searching on twitter

The founder of FACEBOOK said privacy is dead and this account from Joanna Geary, Web Development Editor at The Times seems to prove it. She describes how she traced an American serviceman and his relatives in nine steps. It started with an innocent tweet and ended with a search across national boundaries and international organisations, all of it legal and all of it done from her desk. The result was potentially security sensitive data and personal details of the hapless target's extended family.
Read the full story and be scared here.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

More about Brighton Digital Festival

Brighton Digital Festival 2011: Flash-lit Fiction: a Slam and other Experiments

Sunday, September 11, 2011 from 7:00 PM to 11:00 PM
Sticky Mike's Frog Club (formerly The Jam)
9-12 Middle Street
More event connected info at:

An evening of short shorts, flash writing and digital technologies
 At the heart of the event is a 300-word flash fiction slam competition and an online Twitter story competition, with competitors battling it out for fame and glory.
The night is brought to you by the makers of Grit Lit (http://www.gritlit.org), Story Studios (http://www.storystudio.co.uk/about.html).
Judging panels  include Richard Hearn from Paragraph Planet (http://www.paragraphplanet.com) and Myriad Editions (http://www.myriadeditions.com/). 

Advance tickets £5:  Tickets on the door: £6

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Spoilers DON'T spoil the story

Intrigued by the report on Alison Flood's blog that research by the University of San Diego's psychology department reveals that spoilers don't spoil a story...
 Even in who-dun-it's it doesn't hurt to know who...
Subjects were given a dozen short stories by a range of famous authors. Some were in their original form while others included a paragraph that gave away the ending or a crucial twist. The result?
"Subjects significantly preferred the spoiled versions of ironic-twist stories, where, for example, it was revealed before reading that a condemned man's daring escape is all a fantasy before the noose snaps tight around his neck..." 
Not such a big surprise really....I don't feel compelled to turn to the last page first, but I am a great re-reader. Reading when you are no longer driven by suspense means you can relax and enjoy the language, the way the characters develop, the light and shade...
I can remember the first book I ever re-read. I got Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass one Christmas. When I finished I just turned it over and went back to the beginning. I was still reading it when we went on our summer holidays...
And there are plenty of stories where the ending is revealed at the start so it's not what happens next that drives the reader to turn the page (or carry on viewing) but wondering how did that happen or why.
And now I've written that I can only think of Columbo or Martin Amis' Time's Arrow....there are others, aren't they?


Twitter Writing Competition

Do you tweet?
I do, as I've mentioned before in this blog. (Follow me @agoodconfession)
Yes, it can be a time waster.
Yes, it can give you the false idea that you're connecting with people when in reality you are just sitting at your desk thinking on the keyboard

But it can also be a great source of information, advice and entertainment. The wit of other contributors never stops surprising or delighting. 
It can be a channel for protest. 
Twitter users bombarded companies last month pleading with them to stop advertising with the News of the World.
It can also be wildly misleading.
There were numerous tweets last week about a riot happening right outside my front door in central Brighton when all was quiet, all was peaceful. (Brighton prefers a riot of colour - the  police marching at Pride last Saturday got a big cheer.)
It can also be creative. Yes, truly. Give it a go with this just launched twitter writing competition that is marking the inaugural Brighton Digital Festival.
To take part in the Twitter competition use #FLF11 so the organisors can start tracking your story submissions.

 Email flashlitdigital@gmail.com with queries.

More info about Brighton Digital Festival: http://brightondigitalfest​ival.co.uk/

Monday, 15 August 2011

Best Comedy Scene Competition

Words with Jam are looking for a scene that is LOL funny. It can be a stand-alone sketch, a complete scene from a novel/short story, play, script or anything else you can think up.
You are also allowed to include a brief (40 word max) synopsis to introduce the scene but the organisers stress that it really just the jokes that they’re interested in.

So don’t worry too much about character development/setting etc unless it is integral to the humour.
Word limit 1000 words maximun - no lower word limit.
Prizes: £200 First Prize (plus publication in Words with JAM) and five runners up of £25 each (plus publication on the Words with JAM Blog) and a hardback copy of Christopher Brookmyre's Where the Bodies Are Buried
Entry Fee: £5, plus £3 per entry thereafter
Closing Date: 19th August 2011

Winners will be announced in the October 2011 issue of Words with JAM.
For more details on how to enter: http://jdsmith.moonfruit.com/#/main-competition/4550153175

Friday, 12 August 2011

Getting to Grips with EREADERS

I have been reading lots of articles about ebook opportunities for writers recently but I have to hold up my hand and confess that I'm still not an ebook reader.
With the technical ability of a gnat, I need help
  • about the options
  • about how much I can expect to pay
  • about whether it makes sense to go with anything other than a Kindle
 In this GUEST POST Anne Jeffery explains what you should consider, clearly, concisely and with her own bias declared....
Choosing an Ereader

Hottest topic among readers and writers these days is undoubtedly the e-reader. (Once you get past the inevitable discussions of plot points, agents, self-publish or not, etc.)  

KINDLES are not the only ereaders...

It is becoming increasingly clear that the majority of people refer to e-readers as Kindles. But Kindle is like Hoover or Biro. It's a trade name. The Kindle is only one of a number of models on the market.
Hands up at this point and admit that I am not a huge fan of the Kindle because it is tied in directly to Amazon and will not read any type of file except Amazon’s own and pdfs. There is a wonderful, free computer program called Calibre that allows you to convert files but typos creep in and it can spoil your enjoyment slightly.
I am the proud owner of a Sony PRS350 and have had hours of enjoyment from it, carry it permanently in my handbag and love the reaction when people see me reading it. I’ve even made it a cute little padded bag to live in. I chose it after a long consultation with a helpful assistant in my local Waterstone’s bookstore. He went through the options on the types they stock and let me play with some demonstration models so I could see what they were like. I would recommend doing the same before you make a final decision.

There are a number of things to think about when you buy, and how the reader feels in your hands is quite important if it is going to be used a lot. 

What else do you need to consider?
Well price is important, obviously, but the majority of readers are somewhere in the £110 to £150 bracket. There are some that fall outside that and price is not always indicative of what you will get.
What are you going to use your reader for? Might sound like a daft question, but some readers have MP3 players or can be used to surf the net as well as to carry a library in your pocket.
What kind of screen does it have? Your choice is e-paper (also known as e-ink) or LCD. E-ink is easier on your batteries because it only uses power when you turn a page. LCD screens are back-lit so they use power all the time, and have been known to cause headaches.  If you want colour the LCD is your only option though.
Touch screen? One of the things I love about my Sony is that I can sweep a finger across the screen to turn the pages. It feels more natural to me that way. (There’s also a button to do it if you like.)
Size? You will be offered five inch or six inch and, unless you have very bad eyesight, I think that is purely down to personal preference. Check how much you can zoom in on the type face (and how easy it is to change).
Memory? Some readers come with a slot to add an SD card and extend the memory. Unless you want to carry round a small bookstore you probably will never use more than the internal capacity though.
File type? The most popular file type is ePub, which is the format most e-library books use. You can convert files using Calibre, but if you want to download everything from everywhere, the bigger range your reader can handle, the better. Project Gutenberg offers formats of many kinds. (http://www.gutenberg.org/)
Battery life? Claims of between 7,000 and 10,000 page-turns between charges are common. That is plenty to read a couple of novels.
What books are included? Most readers will offer you something. My Sony came with about 350 classics available to download free when I registered my purchase.

What’s available?

Well, the Kindle, obviously. It comes with all sorts of extras like 3G and an MP3 player.
The Sony. There are two sizes: 350 and 650. The 650 is larger and more expensive. Touch screen. E-ink. It also has a cute little design point where the case is shaped to look like it has a hardback spine. Remember I’m biased.
There's the BeBook. It has an external SD card slot so you can boost its memory to 4GB. I think it looked a bit clunky though, if that sort of thing matters to you.
The Elonex. Cheapest on the market. It has a colour screen, but it is back-lit so could give you eyestrain.
The Cybook Opus from Bookeen. It has a 5 inch non-reflective screen, auto rotate and adjustable font size, long battery life and an expandable memory. It comes in four colours. 

I advise you not to buy anything until you've had chance to play around with a couple of different kinds. If your friends have one, take a look at it and try reading with it. At least get yourself off to a bookshop and try before you buy.
I've not looked back since I bought my Sony and neither will you. Happy e-reading!
Thanks Anne!
Read her blog at MORNING AJ  http://morningaj.blogspot.com/

Monday, 8 August 2011

Free to enter writing Competition

Like me, you may not have known that August 30th is The International Day of the Disappeared. It commemorates people who have gone missing throughout the world in situations of violence and armed conflict and the Red Cross are bringing attention to it this year with a free competition. It is a reminder of the hundreds of thousands of families who are unaware of the fate of their loved ones, and organisations like the Red Cross who work to restore family contact between separated family members.
There are only two rules (isn't that refreshing to hear)
  1. Your writing should be based on the theme of ‘the disappeared’.
  2. It should fit onto one side of A4 paper.
So this could be poetry, prose, a comic strip, a short story, an excerpt from your diary, a song... anything as long as it relates back to the theme.
Entries can be either typed or handwritten. (Now there is generous. Be kind on the judges and make sure your writing is clear by giving it to someone to read before you post it off.) Drawings and illustrations are also welcomed, but remember – this is a creative writing competition – so these should accompany your message, not be the message.  
 Deadline is August 30 
The winning entry will receive a £50 cash prize and a £50 national book voucher.
A compendium of the top entries will be compiled and published for International Day of the Disappeared 2012. All authors of published entries will receive a free copy.
How to enter
You can enter by emailing your work to entries@redcross.org.uk or by posting it to:
Creative writing competition
British Red Cross
Bradbury House
Apple Lane
Sowton Industrial Estate

Terms and conditions

  1. Entries must be original, unpublished and not accepted for publication. They should be written in English.
  2. The name and address of the entrant should be clearly listed separately from the entry itself.
  3. Receipt of entry will be given by email if a valid email address is supplied.
  4. A list of commended entries and the winner will be posted on this website, and sent out by email to addresses provided.ttp://www.redcross.org.uk/What-we-do/Finding-missing-family/International-Day-of-the-Disappeared/Creative-writing-competition
  5. Copyright will remain with the author, but the British Red Cross reserves the right to publish any winning or commended entries after the end of the competition.
  6. The winning entry will be announced within a month of the deadline on 30 August, 2011.
  7. The judges' decision is final and no correspondence will be entered into regarding the results.
  8. Submitted entries will not be returned.
  9. Neither the judges nor competition organisers are eligible to enter the competition.

If you are a kindle reader....

check out this website run by professional UK Kindle authors who are branching out independently to create quality e-books at "great prices".
You get an idea of what they mean by great prices by the fact that their two ordering tabs are labeled UNDER £2 and UNDER £1.
The project also includes books that have been out of print for many years for no good reason...

Friday, 5 August 2011

Online Community for Young Writers

If you are (or know anyone who is) between 13 and 18 go to  New Writing South's JUST WORDS. It is an online community for young writers. There you can set up a profile, upload your creative writing and get feedback from other writers. With top tips from professional writers (including me), as well as information on competitions, events and opportunities, it really is the place to see your writing flourish and get connected.

Here's my top tip as it appears on JUST WORDS

What is your top tip for a young writer?


Practice like a guitarist strums a tune or an artist makes a 30 second sketch of an interesting face in the crowd.

How many ways can you think of describing the colour grey between bus stops? Rain grey, ash grey, the blue grey of cigarette smoke, the slimy grey of a fresh slug trail…

And remember there are only two ways of learning how to write:

1)  Write – take risks, try. Try again.

2)   Read – anything. The good stuff will show you the way ahead while the bad stuff will tell you what to avoid. The bad stuff may even give you the confidence to persevere because you know, deep inside, that you can do better …

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Daphne Du Maurier's house for sale...

 FOWEY photograph by Jonathan Billinger - shared under creative commons
...in the lovely Cornish town of Fowey (pronounced foy) which has only one drawback - it's thronged by tourists in the holiday season. I was one of them back in a glorious summer in the 1990s (glorious despite the weather. It rained every day and we had to buy puddle jumping suits for the children. We spent an afternoon on the beach in a downpour and loved it, even though we couldn't find adult sized puddle jumpers.)
Du Maurier lived in her beach side cottage with her own children during the war years when she wrote Hungry Hill and had an on-off love affair with the man who inspired the Irish family saga set on the Beara Peninsular in West Cork. I actually stayed near Hungry Hill last summer with husband and one of those now grown up children who still likes nothing better than messing around in rock pools (although now he'd prefer a pint of Guinness afterwards rather than a carton of orange).
And I actually saw the 1947 film starring Margaret Lockwood (who had hair that could over act) based on Du Maurier's novel in the back of a van in the main (that is only) street of Castletownbere. Haven't read the book but I can tell you that the film is truly awful. Dreadful. If we hadn't been sitting in the back of the van we'd have gone for a Guinness.
But the real Hungry Hill is beautiful and so is Fowey. And I bet the De Maurier cottage is a peach. It's called Readymoney Cottage -- exactly what a writer needs, especially if he or she is going to meet the nearly £2 million price tag.

Monday, 1 August 2011


Oxymoron spotted in an advert in today's edition of the Brighton and Hove Argus