Friday, 2 July 2021

Super Stories Launch Competitions!

You know how much I love my competitions!

Well, if you come to see me in The Literature Village at the Newark Book Festival on the 10th or 11th July, there will be a chance to win an e-version of Super Stories if you find a gold pencil in my Pick-a-Pencil game (50p to have a go!)

But if you're not going to be anywhere near Newark that weekend, then here's another competition anyone can enter. 

As Super Stories is all about...writing Super Stories...then to enter, I'd like you to write a very short story (between 500 and 1000 words long) using one of my favourite and most-used prompts - Three Things.

If you'd like to enter, simply pick three of the following objects, and write them into a story. Interpret them as you wish - for example, the police car could be a toy, like the one shown in the photo, or real; it's entirely up to you.

Once you've written your story, email it to me as an attachment with a message title 'Super Stories Competition Entry'. Only put your name and age (if under 18) in the body of the message, and please tell me which three objects you chose. I'll then print out the stories and judge them anonymously. Closing date - midnight 31st July. 

The winner will receive a signed copy of Super Stories and some of my favourite writing prompts. Two runner-uppers will receive a signed copy of the book. Fingers crossed, they will be announced - and maybe even read out - when I hold an online launch for Super Stories, most likely in August.

So get scribbling! And spread the word to other writers or budding authors you know...

Thursday, 1 July 2021

Squidge's Guide to Super Stories - We Have a Cover! (And a Competition)

It looks as though Super Stories is going to be published a little later than we hoped, sometime in July instead of June...but...

We have a cover! Ta-dah!

This is my first non-fiction book, and although the cover has been designed for me, the artwork it uses is mine! 

To celebrate the upcoming publication, I'm launching a competition, too, but more of that over the weekend...

And if you know any budding authors who'd like a fun read that will also help to improve their writing, Super Stories will be available to pre-order soon. 

Thursday, 24 June 2021

Degree Show Time!

If you've followed the Scribbles for a while, you'll know that every year in June, round about my birthday, I go to the Fine Art Degree Show at Loughborough Uni. Of course, there wasn't one last year because of covid, but I was delighted to see the show advertised again this year.

Obviously there were covid restrictions in place, which meant you had to book a time slot to attend, follow the one way systems, and read QR codes if you wanted to find out more about the individual artists, but it was SO nice to see what had been created by the very talented students after a year away.

It's difficult to credit the individual artists, as I only realised about the QR codes quite late on in my wanderings, so I hope they will forgive me for not saying who they are. 

I wondered whether there would be a darkness to this year's show, following the pandemic, but was pleasantly surprised at the amount of colour and light on display. usual, here are some of the things that really caught my eye. All the photos are from my phone this time, so I'm not sure how well they will show the pieces. Seeing a photo is never quite the same as seeing the real thing, but it'll give you an idea of what I found particularly interesting. 

This incredible paper-folded sculpture seemed to writhe like a snake, suspended over your head. Always love to see some fabulous paperwork.  

There were two obscured mirrors as part of this installation - I was struck as I looked at my refection in them how much of me was obscured, and yet I could clearly see my rainbow mask and the rainbow hearts on my t-shirt in the gaps...

This one I loved - only the rocks under the telly are real. The large boulders are actually beanbags, printed with photographic images of lichen-covered rocks. The artist had managed to capture the irregularity of the rocks not just by the image, but how the beanbags were shaped, too.

Took this one for Mr Squidge, to show him how he could get creative with bike bits!

The textile prints are always gorgeous - and in this case, embellished with stunning pearl and diamante centre buttons which accentuated the print beautifully.

The colourways here were stunning - maroon with red and burnt orange. The collars are covered in 3D beaded and fabric flowers, and would be great to add to something plain.

These were like geometric stained glass and very textural. The colours aren't as vibrant as in reality, but I was impressed by the workmanship and the weaving techniques that held each sheet together.

There are always some amazing textiles and garments, and this photo really does not do the clothing justice. I loved the idea of 'melting' trousers - and the beadwork down each panel was exquisite. The blue jacket was quilted into contours, and had lots of blue beads and eye tokens sewn all over it. (The eye token is always blue and white, and I always associate it with Greece). What you can't see on the picture are the beads dripping off the fingers of those yellow gloves...

Again. the colours aren't so good in the photo, but the vibrancy of the orange and yellow against the green and blue just stood out for me.

This graphic design used one of my teenage heroes - Adam Ant - so I just had to take a pic...

This piece was in the most gorgeous earthy tones, with each square meticulously slow-stitched. It might be just running stitch, but I know there are hours of work on display here.

This artist must REALLY love pistachio nuts. I cannot bear to think how long it took to feed shells into the channels in the sheer fabric, or to drill holes in the shells and then string them with tiny clay beads to create another rather intriguing textile. 

I'm always fascinated by beadwork, and this looked exceptionally real. Even the eyelashes are beaded, and the lids are sculptural rather than flat.

Last bit of beadwork - teeny tiny beaded spiders, sewn at intersections between the different fabrics.

The piece that had the biggest impact on me, I didn't take a photo of. To do so felt intrusive, as you'll probably realise when I describe it...

The piece was a portrait. An old man, and around the central portrait of his face were other, smaller studies of his folded hands...his nose...the bald patch on the top of his head...a closed eye... It was a fragments portrait and yet it was a whole. Then I realised one of the smaller studies wasn't of the man at all. It was of a brass plaque, with a name - Thomas - a date - December 2020 - and an age - 75 years. 

That's when I realised that the siver grey background depicted in so many of the individual pieces was satin.

I was looking at a portrait of a dead person lying in their coffin.

It wasn't gruesome. I felt very much that it was a study of Thomas, painted with love, that made the viewer really take notice of the little things about the physicality of him as a person. I sat on the floor with it for a while, writing how it made me feel in the notebook left by the artist for that purpose.

There were two other pieces in the same installation. One was a picture of a skull, made from photoshopped images of some of Thomas's personal effects - his glasses, tablet box, false teeth and other items. On the wall opposite to the skull was a framed hospital incinerator bag, surrounded by images of items of clothing laid out on top of incinerator bags. 

It was all very moving - sad and emotional because of the subject, but also uplifting in that the tribute to Thomas was evident in the meticulous paintings, even though one assumes his passing was not an easy event. 

I do love the Art Degree Show...

Thursday, 3 June 2021

Cirque de la Vie

Delighted to announce that my short story, Cirque de la Vie, has been placed as a runner up in the Retreat West quarterly circus themed competition! 

Part of my prize was to have the story professionally recorded by a voice artist...and I have to say it's flippin' awesome! There are all sorts of background noises that add to the atmosphere of the story. You can listen to it here:

It was a story that came to me all at once. I wanted to include various circus performers or acts, and I had in my head 'the circus of life' as a working title. But which characters or acts to link to which aspects of life? 

As is the way with stories, it combines fiction with life in places - I loved the Bat Out of Hell musical; I was a lumbering lump when pregnant with Squidgeling T, and that really is what the midwife said to me when he was born! 

If you want to see what the judge had to say about it - or read the story rather than listen to it - you can find it here.

Saturday, 22 May 2021

I am god of my own universe

I recently met up with old schoolfriend and fellow author, Mark R Brandon. Ever since we made contact again after 40-odd years, we've been supporting each other in our writing and often end up chatting about plotting/editing/publication. 

Mark has inspired me to market myself more effectively (exciting things happening soon!) and has also been patient enough to listen to my current problems writing Tilda #4.

On this occasion, over tea and lemon drizzle cake, while trying to explain why I was so frustrated with the current WIP, Mark said several things that really stuck with me and helped me to see a way ahead.

Lemon Drizzle Cake and lots of writing chat over a cuppa

If you've been reading the Scribbles for a while, you'll know I have written in the past about various workshops I've attended on plotting, and how difficult I find following structures - even though they make perfect sense to me. Mark is my complete opposite - he thrives on having the structure to follow. 

One of my main issues with Tilda #4 is that it is the penultimate in her series; I know where she's come from in the three books up to this point, and I know where she's going to finish in the fifth. Although I have lots of ideas I want to include in #4, I have this voice at the back of my head, telling me I've got to make this particular book work hard to become the successful link I need it to be, and something about what I've created to date just isn't achieving that. 

As a result, I've become frustrated and - dare I say it? - bored with writing this particular story. 

And Mark 's initial response - pretty blunt - was that if I was bored writing this story, it was going to bore the readers, too. 


We delved into why I might be bored a bit more, and in doing so, he suggested I apply a five-act structure approach across the five books; that helped to explain why I was in a slump with #4, as without giving too much of the plot away, my antagonist isn't present enough to give the required build up of conflict this story needs. The fact that I have stuck to Tilda's POV in these stories was also limiting me... 

As Mark reminded me, 'you are the god of the universe you have created'. I could do anything I wanted in it, including using multiple POVs when it's not something I've done - yet - in this series. (If you've read StarMark, you'll know it's something I have done before though. There were at least three POVs in that...)

He threw a few ideas my way, (when you read Tilda #4 eventually, the credit for the crab scene is entirely his!) and I threw a few back at him, and when he'd gone, I sat and wrote solidly for three-quarters of an hour, because suddenly, I could see how I could change Tilda #4 to give it the conflict it needed AND lead into the finale in Tilda #5.

All I need to do now is print out 'I am the god of my own universe' and leave it somewhere prominent to remind me of the thing I tell people during my author talks whenever I sit down to write more Tilda; it's your story, you tell it how you want to, and you make whatever you want to happen, happen.

I need to listen to my own advice!

Friday, 21 May 2021

Some Personal Thoughts On Flash (Fiction)

Image from Flash Gordon Returns! My big blonde crush
The Times

Flash! Ah-aaah! Yes, I think the film's barmy and brilliant, but that's not what this post's really about...

On this site, I've often posted short stories that have come about as a result of a writing prompt. (The 'Free Fiction' page will take you to a list of links if you've not read any of them before.)

I've always called them 'flash fiction' as they are quick to read - though not necessarily to write - and most of them have a definite beginning, middle and end as you'd expect from any story.

I entered a piece into a flash competition recently - it's been longlisted and I'm waiting to hear whether it gets any further - so I must be doing something right? But I have to admit that, when I read competition-winning flash, my confidence in my ability to write it usually takes a nosedive.

Does it sound awful to say that I don't understand some of these winning entries? I read one recently that appeared - to me - to be a random putting-together of unrelated sentences. I had no idea what the story was. It felt as though the author was trying to be really 'literary' and in doing so, the story (whatever it was) was hidden so deeply in the prose that I couldn't find it. It had been shortlisted with  others - the majority of which I found equally as confusing to make sense of.

Now I'm certainly not dissing flash fiction as a form; there is very definitely an art to writing a story in very few words that still has impact and takes the reader on a journey. I actually enjoy the challenge of condensing the essence of a story into 500, 250, 100, even 50, words. Every single word needs to earn its place, there needs to be a story although it may not be slap-you-in-the-face obvious, and the ending often lies rather more open-ended than you'd get in a novel, hinting at possibilities rather than drawing a definite line under the action. It's very, VERY different to writing a novel.

I'm no expert, either - though there are plenty of other authors who are. 

When I do compare my own flash pieces to those of other authors - especially to those that are long- or short-listed - most of the time mine feel too simple. I'm not sure how they could ever stand out in a field of poetic prose and deeply hidden plot. I mean, I realise I must've caught the judges' eye for some reason to have been longlisted with the current piece, but it's still on the surface a very simply written story. I can tell you that I think it's good, because it's clever in its structure, but the language is simple and there's no attempt to hide the story as it moves through from start to finish. 

Of course in any competition, however good your piece is, it needs to connect with the reader/judge. If it doesn't - for whatever reason - then you probably won't be placed. Sometimes, you get lucky, other times not. 

I think I'm coming round to the idea that I have to write flash in the way I can, not in the way I can't - that I essentially have to keep in mind the voice I want the piece to have, and that my natural style leads to a simpler prose compared to other authors. I need to embrace that I am a different kind of author. And I musn't try too hard to be something I'm not, making sure to work to my strengths rather than focusing on my perceived weaknesses. 

Then, when I read the flash of others and perhaps don't understand their particular nuances, I have to remind myself to stop making comparisons. I need to accept that each author knows what they were aiming to achieve, and sometimes the reader/judge will get it, sometimes they won't. Either way, it's probably less a reflection on the author and more on me as the reader.

I'll keep writing flash of course - it keeps the old brain ticking over with new ideas - and submitting to competitions, but only if the piece feels really, really good to me

Saturday, 1 May 2021

Discovering your personal Writing 'Rules'

I've been having an interesting conversation in a writing community about writing rules and quotes from famous writers that could be taken as rules. 

You know the kind of thing I mean... 'You will only be able to write well if you write in exactly the same way that I (insert name of author) do.' 

I'm being somewhat facetious here, because of course no one would ever be that blatant. But authors sometimes fall into the trap of believing that because they have achieved good writing in one particular way, then of course if someone else wrote in the same way, they're bound to produce good writing too.

In fact, I did a quick search under 'writing rules' and you'd be AMAZED at how many rules there apparently are... Take a look for yourself if you have half a mo.

Whenever I see these kind of quotes or rules, and I have an opportunity to comment on them, I often do! Mainly because, in my experience of working with fledgeling authors of all ages, there is a tendency for new writers to take all these 'rules' to heart. And quite quickly, they come to believe that if they aren't doing what they're being told to do, well, they'll never be a writer, will they? This can drastically affect a fragile confidence, and put undue pressure on someone when they are still very much learning about writing and themselves as writers. 

I'm not saying that there isn't value in some - if not all - of these 'rules'. You are bound to improve if you write regularly, for example. Using adjectives and adverbs sparingly is sometimes a good thing. Taking the time to edit a story after it's 'finished' is good practice. 

I could go on... 

What's important is that you look at the rules and pick the ones that work for you. Take writing regularly; I have writer friends who write every day, without fail. I don't - I'm a fits and starts writer, who tries to keep the non-writing time to a minimum. I have writer friends who write in silence to avoid distraction, whereas I like to write with songs I can sing along to. (Current music of choice - eighties electronic anthems). Some writer friends use a three act structure to plan their plot before writing anything - I think planning is a great idea, I'm just not very good at sticking to a formal planning method. 

Authors are many and varied in their processes, and their individual 'rules' are as many and varied as the stories they write. 

If you ask me for help with your writing, I'll try hard not to give you 'rules'. I'll give you advice, sure. And I'll always be honest in sharing what works for me, and what doesn't - because even though it doesn't work for me, it might for you. It's up to you to find what works for you. What is an essential self-imposed 'rule' that will help you to write productively, as opposed to working to a 'rule' imposed by someone else that ends up getting you tied up in knots? 

Pick and choose. Try things out. Don't be afraid to ditch any 'rules' that don't work for you, bearing in mind that any set of 'rules' applied to writing projects may change, depending on the type of project and your circumstances at the time of trying to write.

And I'll continue to respond to these quotes-that-could-be-taken-as-rules, to demonstrate that none of them need to be written in stone.