Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Ultimate Blog Challenge - Complete!

  31 blog posts in 31 days. Wowser.

Part of me thinks I must have been mad to commit to it, newby-blogger that I am. But I have to say, I've enjoyed writing the posts immensely. Still trying to work out some teccy issues - like how do I embed pictures and things at the side of my blog, rather than in the posts themselves. Fortunately, I have a 14-yr old daughter who can probably advise me...

What I've realised is that I can't keep this pace of blogging up for ever - not least because my writing brain gets so taken up with what I want to share with you, blog reader, that I have no writing brain left for the things I should be concentrating on.

So from August onwards, I'll aim to post two, or maybe three, times a week. Best way to keep up to date is, I suppose, to follow me - but I will understand if you just want to pop back every now and again!

Don't forget that you have until the 2nd to post three things for the 'challenge me' story...

Right - I'm off to a virtual launch party for Stories for Homes...catch you later!

Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Stories for Homes - Publication Day.

The ebook of Stories for Homes has been published - TODAY!! 

An amazing collection of 63 stories about 'Home' for just a fiver, with all profits going direct to Shelter, the housing and homelessness charity.

While you immerse yourself in some fabulous writing from established and emerging authors, Shelter will be using your pennies to put a roof over someone's head.

Buy it NOW from Amazon - I promise you, you won't be disappointed.

(Oh - and there's a story in there written by me...)

Amazing promo video by Imran Siddiq - with soundtrack by one of the 
authors in the book, Dan Maitland.

(PS. If you like Dan's music, check out the rest of his

Monday, 29 July 2013


Advance notice of two reasons to celebrate on Wednesday, 31st July:

1. I will have completed The Ultimate Blog Challenge - to post on this blog every single day throughout July. (Fingers crossed I don't get run over by a bus tomorrow.) Not bad for someone who only started blogging at the end of June!

2. Fingers crossed, the Stories for Homes Anthology will be published in ebook form. (I've written one of the stories). There will be a virtual launch party, running simultaneously on both Facebook and Twitter (though I'm not a twitterer myself), to which everyone is welcome. Paperback and real, live launch party will follow in a month or so.

So right now, I'm off to paint my nails. I've got to look glam when I'm tappitting away on the keyboard at the virtual launch party!

See you there!

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Redefining 'Finished'.

Earlier this month, I set myself five things to do, writing-wise, before the year end. One of them was to self publish Granny Rainbow - and I said at the time I'd completed three of her stories.

Ahem. *embaressed face*

Today, I've actually finished those same three stories. And by finished, I mean formatted identically and absolutely, definitely, not-going-to-be tweaked-again, finished.

As a result of the work done today, I realised my previous definitions were a little misleading to myself.

Drafted actually meant 'I've jotted a load of ideas down in a roughly logical order with a few snippets of potential conversations, to mould into a better shape, later.'

Finished actually meant 'It's pretty much there, but some tweaking still required.'

So how do I define the stage I reached today? Polished? Completed? The Terminal Version? (Good title for a thriller, methinks! Shame I don't write that kind of book...) Whatever phrase or word I end up using, it means the stories can be put aside to work on something else, because I'm satisfied that they are 99.999% the best they can be.

That's a stage I'm very happy to have reached. After all - no-one's 100 % perfect...

Saturday, 27 July 2013

Challenge me!

On the Word Cloud, there are a few friendly competitions, run by the cloudies. Every month, there is a new challenge, set by the cloudie who won the previous month's comp. And because everyone is unique in what and how they write, you get a wide variety of challenges set. This month, for example, we had 350 words to play with, and the piece had to include a raised hand.

I've also taken part in the Job Centre Challenge - we had to choose a job from a list, and when the participants had chosen, only then were we given a further set of parameters to work with.

So, I thought - why not try it on here?

You, blog reader, if you want to take part, need to give me three items in a comment. (Please bear in mind I reserve the right to delete unsavoury suggestions, according to my own view.) I will pick one at random (or get Mr Squidge to pick one for me) and write a short piece, max 500 words, to post in the future.

What do you reckon? Want to see what I can come up with? Comment before the 2nd August and I will produce something by the 9th. *rubs hands with glee*

Over to you...

Friday, 26 July 2013

Hej hej! (Hello!)

This afternoon, my son returns from scout camp. He'll be returning, not only with a week's worth of camp washing (I bet the socks will be able to walk to the washing machine on their own), but with a couple of Swedish scouts (and their kit) as well.

We're ho-ho-ing.

As in 'Home Hospitality'; the Swedish scouts are guests of several local troops. Apparently, we've been allocated two teenaged girls, as there was a shortage of female scouts at this end. Although I'm sure T would have loved a couple of lads to play Nerf wars with, we're one of only a few families who have a daughter of a similar age to the female Swedes. They'll be staying with us for a couple of nights, before everyone heads off to London for three days, T included.

Google translate has been consulted and various useful phrases printed out, as we have no idea how good the girls' English will be. Better than our Swedish, most probably. There's no phonetic spelling on the list, so I have no idea how to pronounce anything. I could be trying to say 'how are you?', and might end up with 'your grandfather sucks wellington boots.'

It's all part of the adventure...the phrase list is telling me 'det gรถr inget!' (Don't worry about it!)

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Yet more about me

Posted on Stories for Children, my answers to the questions set for all the authors who wrote stories for Reading is Magic. 

Cheese features quite a lot.

Competitions and Confidence.

In September, hundreds of writers, agents, publishers and book doctors will descend on York University campus for a weekend of all things writerly and bookish at the Festival of Writing.

I'm one of them.

Not only do I get to meet, in the flesh, my virtual friends from the cloud - I also get to hear published authors speak about their writerly journeys: always a reminder that success doesn't come overnight - even in the case of overnight successes. I'll be given an opportunity to hear how my writing is shaping up in the book doctor/agent one-to-one sessions, where I get ten minutes of feedback on 3000 words.There'll also be the chance to hear some of the best writing around in the Friday Night Live Competition, and when the winner of the Opening Chapter competition is announced.

Like last year, I shall enter both competitions - but this year, I have a strange reluctance to finalise what to send. I think it's partly because, having attended the Festival once before, I know just how good the entries have to be - and my inner critic is whispering 'you don't stand a chance!'

I'm trying not to listen: I know my writing has improved over the last twelve months. I know I can pull together the threads of a story and weave a damn good adventure with some unexpected twists. I know that I can create believable characters and locations. That's all good stuff. But in spite of having had four short stories published since February, being placed runner-up and third place in two different competitions, and with another short story due to be published later this month, my writer-confidence remains pretty low.


The problem is that time and time again, I've been told the full length novels I've written aren't commercial enough - don't have the spark - don't excite the 'gatekeepers' of the publishing world. Quite frankly, I'm worried that the spark is missing from whatever I write. And without that spark, what I write will seem ordinary. Not competition winning material. But I won't know if I don't try, will I?

Best tell my inner critic to zip it, and crack on.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013


I haven't written a single word today - apart from this blog. I'm just not in a word-y mood.

Instead, I've been creating other note holders from coasters and pet food boxes, brooches of flowers from knitted loops, and mini-artworks on teeny canvases. I'm now sitting here with a bagful of things to sell on the stall in August - lovely things that I'm proud to have made - but I feel guilty because I've not spent any time with Granny Rainbow or Rurik.

Ah well, there's always tomorrow.

In the meantime, if you do want to read something I've written, then Reading is Magic and the second editions of both Love is in the Air and Out of Darkness are (hopefully) free to download at the moment. Enjoy.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Am I doing it wrong?

Found something today that made me think. 

Thanks to a blog on the Word Cloud, I followed a link to Terrible Minds, the blog of Chuck Wendig. His post today is about being an 'aspiring' writer...and if you are, you might be doing it wrong. 

Now, I've called myself exactly that...heck, even the subtitle of this blog is 'blog of wannabe author, Katherine Hetzel'. Aspiring, wannabe - same difference. 

So I had a look at Chuck's list and this jumped out at me:

If you always find an excuse why you’re not writing, then UR DOIN’ IT RONG.

And to push the point further, while nosing round his site, this is the advert for one of his books, 500 ways to tell a better story:

Here are the two states in which you might exist: Person who writes, or person who does not. 
If you write: you are a writer. If you do not write: you are not.
Aspiring is a meaningless null state that romanticises not writing.
It's as ludicrous as saying, "I aspire to pick up that piece of paper which fell on the floor."
Either pick it up or don't.

Ouch. Bit close to home, that.

If you see the subtitle of this blog change - you'll know why.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Here comes the climax.

I promised myself some writing time today, as I've got the house (and laptop) to myself.

So I spent the morning cleaning, to put off the moment where I had to tackle the problematic climax.

It's been a little difficult, to say the least. My baddie was advised to undergo a bit of a personality change, which meant losing a particular character trait (and a fair bit of his dialogue) because it didn't 'fit' the new persona. And of course, the baddie features a lot in the climax. I also had to be very careful about a 'shock-horror, who is this other person who's popped up to put a spanner in the works?' moment, which could have seemed too...convenient...if I wasn't careful. And there's nothing I hate reading, more than a convenient moment in a story; it has to be a plausible, wholly believable moment.

The climax has been cut and repasted and recut and restitched - but I think I'm done.

Now all I have to do is sit on it a bit, before reading through to make sure it all hangs together in the cold light of day.

Right - on to the next job. An opening chapter for York. Wish me luck - I'm thinking of writing something brand spanking new, which all starts with a tomato...

Perhaps I'll find something else to clean, instead.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Picturing my story...

I'm intending that Granny Rainbow will have pictures.

The problem I have is trying to get the pictures that are in my head onto the page.

Now, I can draw - a bit. I spent some time producing black-and-white images to be made into rubber stamps for crafters. But there's no way I can draw well enough for a book. Which is where Laura comes in; she's already illustrated one children's book, yet has only just finished her foundation course in art. She'll do a much better job than me.

But she needs something to work with.

I think I know what I'd like in the book - but can I explain it sufficiently well for another person to translate? I know I'd like to focus on the characters rather than scenes from the stories. My idea at the moment is to have a gallery of portraits, all in frames. I found something by Chris Riddell which is kind of like that - he captures a character really well and often works within a simple frame.

But will pictures add to or take something away from the stories? I know how I picture the characters when I write them - if they don't end up being quite the same when committed to paper, will it matter to the reader? Or to me, as their creator?

I'll be honest - I'm a bit scared at the prospect of finding out.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Planner or Pantser?

I was first asked the question 'planner or pantser?' at the Festival of Writing in York last year; Emma Darwin, the speaker in that session, blogs about the subject here.

In a nutshell, it means when you write, do you have an idea and just start writing, wondering where it'll go,  (a 'pantser' - as in 'flying by the seat of your pants') or do you have to have the story planned out in fairly fine detail before committing pen to paper? I suppose I view this as an analytical vs creative approach. Yes, I know it's all creative, but there are significant differences in the two approaches - bear with me...

Another writer remarked recently that he was amazed that I wrote fiction, because the work I had completed on his factual manuscript was very analytical - very different to how he perceived an author would write fiction. I think he expected non-fiction writing to be analytical, and fiction to be more - what? Airy-fairy?

To some extent, his observation was right. Y'see, going back to the planner/pantser thing, I still don't know what I am. I think there's a bit of both in me, and depending on what I'm doing, one or the other will be dominant in my fiction.

So - The Planner will write the storyline, knowing where we start, where we end up, and why. The Planner will also do the chapter summaries to make sure the pace is increasing and every chapter moves the story on. And The Planner will also sketch out the characters, using a mixture of visuals and notes to capture the essence of a personality, as well as working out exactly what the castle/boat/island looks like.

But then, The Pantser takes over. It's The Pantser who gives the main character his twitch or the villain his accent. The Pantser who throws in an unexpected blizzard on the mountain-top and watches to see what happens next. The Pantser who comes up with stunning visual effects when all The Planner wanted to say was 'the box exploded'.

The two of them are constantly vying to be heard - but the trick, I've found, is to know which one to listen to - and when.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Stories for Homes

Today, I 'ave been mostly proofreadin'. (Remember the Fast Show?)

37 stories down, another 26 to go. And boyoboyoboy! There's some damn fine writing in this anthology.

Stories for Homes is a project to raise funds for the housing charity Shelter and to raise awareness about the housing crisis in London and beyond. Established and emerging writers (love that phrase - makes me think I might be a butterfly one day!) were invited to submit a story on the theme of 'Home'. A multitude of talent from the writing, marketing, design and publishing worlds have offered their skills free of charge to create and sell the end product; I will blog when it's published so you can check out the book for yourself.

It made me think though, about 'home' and the sort of things that make it the place I want to be. I came up with the following about my own four walls...

Another mark to join the rest on the airing cupboard in the bathroom, charting the kid's growth spurts...

The LEGO minifigure army, standing guard on the hearth...

The cat curled up on the discarded double bass case...

Intricate origami models crowding the shelves...

The 'Man Tin' for all his clutter, bought to keep all the odd screws and tools and glue - that should really be in the garage - out of sight in the kitchen...

The pictures which are now spot-welded to the kitchen cupboards by hardened blu-tak...

The soft 'blip' from a demi-john of gooseberry wine we've just put on...

The sewing box, left out ready to sew another badge onto the camp blanket...

The scale model of 'Bob', our windmill, the unofficial sixth member of the family (the fifth's the cat!)...

I could go on, but that'd be boring for you, and I might just get a bit tearful if I think of some of the stories I've read today where 'home' sometimes has less favourable memories tied to it.

So over to you instead. What makes your home the place where you want to be?

Thursday, 18 July 2013


Not mine...not really.

I mean, yes, I've been stuck inside all day with a poorly boy. (What the heck - weather man says we've got another six weeks of heatwave, so a coupla days missed won't be too bad.)

It's everyone else's disappointment.

T, because he was supposed to go on scout camp tomorrow for a week. Having not eaten anything for 24 hours and only just able to keep water down, there's no way we can consider that. And the 100-strong camp wouldn't thank us if the bug goes through them all like a dose of salts. We're also supposed to be offering home hospitality to the Swedish scouts camping with them; 'Hullo, welcome, please excuse the cross painted on the door, we've got the lurgy...'

Oh yeah, and it's T's birthday on Saturday - we'd invited friends round for lunch today so he could open his pressies early. Needless to say, that didn't happen. (Funnily enough, T did manage to open everything that arrived today, as poorly as he felt. Just didn't have the energy for the long-awaited Nerf battle...)

J, because she's limited to what we can do as a family, and the girly time we'd planned next week won't happen if her brother's still ill at home.

N, because he enjoys the holidays and spending time with the kids. He's even had to give up his bed so T can have someone with him overnight in case he's sick. Again.

It's not quite the start to the summer holidays I had in mind...but thank God we're at home and together. We could've ended up back in the hospital...

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Blogging stats.

I am taking part in the ultimate blog challenge, and am determined not to miss a single day in July. However, today is the closest I've got to doing that, having spent the afternoon at the hospital with my son while the doctors tried to work out why he had severe stomach pains. Fortunately, T is OK, though extremely tired and very tender from being poked in the tummy by so many different people in such a short space of time.

Anyway - today's blog is on something I'm finding rather fascinating; who logs onto this blog.

Fellow bloggers will know that you can watch your stats, finding out where readers are logging on from, what countries they're in, which search engine they're using, even the time when they view the blog.

 It is amazing and quite humbling to know that my words are being read, quite literally, all over the world. Well - I hope they're being read. Perhaps a few folk drop in on the off-chance and decide they're in completely the wrong place, or that I'm talking a lot of tosh and they'll never come back again...but I suppose, like most bloggers, I'm hoping they find something they want to bother with. I certainly have no idea whether 1000+ page views in 3 weeks is a good or bad thing.

What I enjoy seeing most is the variety of countries who visit. (Ha! Imagine that - a whole country visiting my blog!) I'm a little disappointed to only be able to see the 'top ten' because very quickly the interesting ones disappear. All countries are interesting of course, but I sort of took it for granted that I'd get hits from Europe and the US. What I didn't expect was a sudden rush from Russia, a visit from Venezuela or a mooch from Mexico. I was delighted to see Quatar, Israel, and Oz - though in most cases their single-digit visits disappear really quickly from my limited stats list and are lost to the mists of time.

I wish the stats for 'all-time' really were that; I would celebrate every single visit and hope not to miss anywhere else interesting...

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Exciting things happening...

Exciting things are like No 27 buses - you wait ages for them, then they all come at once!

Exciting thing 1: Not only has Vanessa updated Love is in the Air, she's also updated a collection of ghostly goings-on, called Out of Darkness. This second edition includes a ghost story of mine, Red Shoes. In total, four new stories have been added and proceeds again go to charity - Cancer Research this time.

Exciting thing 2 : Today I met up with local publisher, Ian, who is writing about 'The Loughborough Job', an event which heralded the end of Luddism in this country. I'm helping him to edit the manuscript, and it's fascinating to learn about my home town of 200 years ago. He's writing the grown-up version - but it's the children's version of the same event that I'm hoping to write. Talking with him today fired up all sorts of possible storylines, and really got the juices flowing! But that has all got to wait because...

Exciting thing 3 : the 'Stories for Homes' project, masterminded by author/editors Sally Swingewood and Debi Alper, is at the proofreading stage...and as I've offered my services in that department, I could be getting a sneak preview of all the wonderful stories offered by well-known and 'emerging' writers to support Shelter. Can't wait!

Monday, 15 July 2013

Makeover magic.

Earlier this year, I got involved with the Short Stories Group set up by Vanessa Wester. The aim of the group is to produce themed collections of short stories (like you couldn't have guessed that from the name of the group!) with the intention of selling books in support of various charities.

St Valentine's Day Massacre was the first story I'd written after attending an on-line self editing course run by the Writer's Workshop (the same lovely people who set up the Word Cloud), and it was the first time I felt really, really pleased with the finished product; I knew I'd improved as a writer. When my first ever published story arrived, neatly packaged in a pink-hearted paperback called Love is in the Air, I was so proud.

Well, a second edition has just come out - revamped, recovered, and with an extra story, by David Corbett.

Looking good, don't you think? I've changed the link on the 'where I've been published' page so you can go straight to the second edition, but blowed if I can change the picture to match! Either way, if you purchase a copy, it'll be doing lots of good things for Diabetes UK, as the authors receive only the satisfaction of seeing their work in print and finding out what you - the reader - thinks of the stories; the profits go to charity.

Anyway - it got me thinking about makeovers in general. Remember Trinny and Susannah? Well, I have them to thank for a huge change in my life.

Oh, I wasn't lucky enough to be the object of their attention on the telly programme (did I just say 'lucky'? I'm certain there are some who were on the show who didn't feel that way...). I just bought the books.

It all started when I saw a picture of myself and the in-laws on Scarborough beach. I looked as old as Grandma - and she was nearly seventy. So the time had come for some drastic action. I tried on a catalogue order of all the things I usually wore - I looked awful and sent everything back.

Then I sat and studied the 'What Not to Wear' books from cover to cover. I analysed my body shape and discovered I was the same proportions as Trinny - the skinny, leggy one. But apparently it was all an illusion. Could I create the same illusion for myself? Somewhat nervous, thinking 'I wouldn't normally wear any of this stuff,' I ordered all the things they said I should choose to hide my faults (No, I'm not going to tell you what they are - that's part of the magic, to keep them hidden!)

Low and behold - when the new order arrived, a miracle occurred! I looked good! My wardrobe's never been the same since.

And a certain 'scareycrow' in Follow the Yellow Sick Toad  is based (loosely) on that real-life event...

Sunday, 14 July 2013

The Pear Tree Pirate

Today is the first day I've struggled to come up with a topic for the blog. Somehow, sitting in the the dappled shade of our pear tree, words seemed unnecessary. It was more about enjoying this brief interlude of sun and quietness at the beginning of the summer hols. So I spent the day watching hubby and son have a water fight, while I stitched some tie bags and daughter alternately read a book and made origami stars for ear-rings. Mind you, I've got sunburn, in spite of trying really hard to stay in the shade all day. (Tomorrow, I cover up.)

Anyway - I digress. The other good thing about being under the pear tree was that I came up with another story about Granny Rainbow - and something to share on the blog.

My hubby decided, when the kids were younger (just three and eighteen months I think) to build them a tree house. I agreed, as long as it had a retractable ladder. Well, the end result was a marvel of engineering, built in our pear tree. The ladder not only retracted, but concertina-ed right up, out of the way. The triangular platform nestled about six foot up where the trunk split into three main branches. Once you'd climbed the ladder up to it, you felt like you were on a ship, its prow pointing over the neighbour's garden. Rope rigging, strung between the branches, stopped little people falling over the edge. The kids loved it.

One day, some years later, T was at home sick. He'd not long had a pirate-themed birthday party, complete with assorted pirates in the tree-ship. (Amazing how many five year-olds you can fit on that platform!) He was feeling pretty miserable, so I wrote him a poem to keep him amused. I called it 'The Pear Tree Pirate'.

Today, sitting under the pear tree, I was reminded of that poem, and thought it would make a fabulous title for a Granny Rainbow story - 'Granny Rainbow and the Pear Tree Pirate,' about a little boy who believes he's a pirate and won't come down for tea till he finds treasure. And of course, it's up to Granny Rainbow to solve the problem...

Think that'll work?

Saturday, 13 July 2013

One down, four to go.

If you remember reading this recent blog, then I've completed one of the goals already.

I pressed the button; Rurik is winging his way through the electronic ether to an agent. I am sitting here wondering what the heck I've done - was he really ready for that again?

The pessimist me is saying 'They'll think it's rubbish!'

The sensible me is saying 'What's the worst that can happen? A form rejection, sent very quickly - so what? You've had them before, but for writing that was nowhere near the quality of the current stuff. You might get some feedback if you're lucky - a line or two saying something nice, even if they don't want to see more. There is always the possibility that they ask to see the rest of the manuscript, in which case, you'd best get those last couple of scenes kicked into order, pronto. And even if, after all that, they still say 'no ta', there are other agents and indie publishers to try - don't lose heart.'

The dreamer and fantasist that lurks behind most of my stories is lying on the sofa, eating chocolate, drinking champagne and telling me 'Darling! They'll love it and have a publisher lined up by next Friday! Film rights to follow!'

Hmm. Well, I've had too much good feedback on this story to believe it's rubbish and I don't particularly like chocolate, so I'm listening to Mrs Sensible...

Friday, 12 July 2013

As one door closes...

Today, I left my job.

I've been working part-time as a learning support assistant in a primary school for just over three years, but my association with the school goes back ten, to when my daughter first started there and I offered to help in her class. My son followed - as did several different roles on the PSA, helping in the library, going on trips, etc etc.

At the leaver's assembly, (I was one of seven staff members leaving or retiring) some very kind words were said which brought tears to my eyes and I was given a beautiful rose bush and a very heavy present. Now, knowing that I do a great impression of Rudolph whenever I'm teary, I deigned not to open the pressie until I got home...just in case.

Most of my colleagues know that part of the reason I've left is to write; their present couldn't have been more perfect. I received a fabulous satchel, packed with the following;

Six notebooks - four lined, one plain (they know I like drawing too) and one full of scriptural quotes with plenty of space to add my own thoughts. Each book is beautifully decorated and completely unique - one with butterflies and birds, one with fabric clouds (!!), one with an Indian theme, one with leaves, one with flowers. And they are all different sizes too - from handbag size to A4.
Pad of sticky notes
A propelling pencil
A dozen coloured pencils
Half a dozen sketching pencils
A box of HB pencils
A LAMY fountian pen.

I was, to put it mildly, overwhelmed; I cried for ten minutes.

I have no excuse not to write now, do I?

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Unfinished business

Have decided today - I'm the world's worst 'finisher'.

I'm sitting in my lounge, looking at two unfinished knitting projects and a ball of wool to start a third, a bag of ties to turn into purses and bags, a pile of ironing that I started two days ago, the paper copy of Rurik that is staring at me (waiting to have a couple of scenes sorted), and the rough list of flowers for the flower festival in August that needs to be finalised.

Years ago, when I was working full-time, I used to be really good at organising myself; we were trained in the use of the TimeSystem, where every large activity was listed as separate, achievable goals and each mini-step was allocated a completion date. I still have the planner, but found it was too big to cart around with nappy bags, children's toys, changes of clothes, etc. Although I still have all the different planning sheets, I rather got out of the habit of using the system for anything other than meeting notes.

Nowadays, I tend to just use a notebook and have a rolling list of 'things-to-do', trying to kid myself I'm on top of things. Problem is, I leave the stuff on the list that I know really needs to be done, and add other things I've done but probably shouldn't have, purely for the satisfaction of crossing something off.

I think I need to sort my planning out if I want to stand any chance of completing yesterday's list...

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

5 things to do, writing-wise, before the year ends...

1. Get Rurik ready for York - the new prologue and first few chapters are pretty much oven ready.

2. Submit Rurik to agents - there are a couple of scenes which need to be rewritten, but I'm confident I have the outlines in place. Just feel ridiculously scared to send him out again...

3. Self-publish Granny Rainbow - I'm aiming to have at least seven short stories in a collection. I have three stories finished, another four drafted (though 'Granny Rainbow goes green' is giving me a few headaches), and I've lined up an illustrator.

4. Plot ideas for a new children's book - it will be about a famous event that happened in my home town some two hundred years ago, and will ideally be published alongside  a 'grown-up' book about the same event, which I'm helping to edit.

5. Be more disciplined about how often I write - I leave my current employment on Friday, so theoretically I should have more free time after the summer hols.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Listen to yourself...

Another ultimate blog idea today - to write about a time when you ignored your intuition.

Well, there have been a few times I've done exactly that. Especially with writing.

In one particular instance, I accepted the inclusion of a particular sentence into my manuscript. I wasn't entirely happy - it didn't 'read' like me - but I did it because the person suggesting it was an agent and knew what they were doing, right? Wrong. When I put the chapter out for feedback, several people picked up on exactly that sentence: it didn't fit.

There have been other occasions since that one - and every time, I've thought afterwards 'I should've gone with my gut'. I think I'm learning to trust my own judgement more in what I write; I certainly follow the rule 'accept, amend or reject' now, as suggested by the wonderful editrix and author, Debi Alper. I still find amend and reject hard to call sometimes, but I'm more comfortable with my final decision.

Following gut instinct might not be the most scientific of editing methods, but I think I get better results. Just got to keep reminding myself to listen to it...

Monday, 8 July 2013

When being a writer ruins reading...


A plotting point - how can a deaf boy sign to his companions in a dark cave? Don't they need to see him?

I'm currently reading Hollow Earth by John and Carole Barrowman, from which the above situation is taken. The premise of the story is good - twins who draw pictures that come to life, whose abilities are sought by villains trying to access Hollow Earth: a place where demons, devils and imagined creatures lie trapped. 

Unfortunately, I'm getting more and more frustrated with what appear to be pretty basic errors in this book - like repeated information, unrealistic dialogue, too much tell and not enough show. Now I'll gladly hold my hands up to state - this is my own personal opinion,  and this post isn't about the book and its merits - it's about whether being a writer ruins reading.

I wonder whether I'll ever be able to read a book without always thinking 'I'd have written that differently' or 'ping-pong dialogue' or 'that could've been tightened', etc etc. Does trying to become a writer yourself mean that you also become a dreadful critic of others because you're constantly on the lookout for things you can improve? 

I hope not. 

Of course it's always easier to see improvements elsewhere, because you're often far too close to your own work to make an objective decision on it. It sometimes takes another person to come up with exactly the word that you meant, but used twenty-three to say! I feel very strongly that this kind of improvement should be done before your book goes to print, preferably by yourself as the author or your editor - not by the reader. Some rough bits might still get through to the printed page, but it's our duty as authors to make our books the best they can possibly be for the reader who will pay good money for them. I can't help feeling that several of the books I've read recently could have done with a bit more spit and polish before being released on the world. 

Perhaps I've just got to learn to turn my inner critic off at certain times, so the reader in me can enjoy the written word again... 

Sunday, 7 July 2013

The Medusa Medallion

One of the ideas for the blog challenge today is 'online shopping'; the Etsy site was mentioned as a source of ideas. Now, I happen to have a cloudie friend who is an incredibly talented artist, who is selling some exquisite handmade pendants and brooches. Check out some of her other designs here. Anyway, as she's selling on Etsy, I thought I would use one of her creations to write a very short, short story for my post today. Here 'tis...

The Medusa Medallion.

I nearly missed it, buried as it was at the bottom of the box among a tangled knot of broken chains and skittering loose beads. I'd reached for the moonstone, wondering what could glow so brightly in the dark recesses of the broken casket. When I picked it out, she followed.

Was it just a trick that made the snakes appear to writhe and coil around her green face, their tiny eyes glittering in the lamplight? I know she glared at me for disturbing her slumber, one eye all-seeing, the other an empty crystal orb. 

I took her to the window to examine my find, where I saw her delicate features caressed by repulsive reptiles. Such beauty, wrapped in a nightmare. She hung loose from the chain I'd wrapped around my fingers, twisting around slowly until she faced me again.

The moonstone beneath her chin glowed; I saw it, but did not understand.    

Not until I felt my body stiffening. 

Saturday, 6 July 2013

The Laugh Your Socks Off Tour with Jeremy Strong

You can't not have heard of Jeremy Strong: he is probably one of the funniest writers of children's books. Ever. Today, I went to see him with my son (the also-aspiring author) at our Town Hall.

Jermy Jermany Jeremy - apparently a lot of children struggle to spell his name - was as funny in person as his books are to read. He regaled us with stories of his 'studio' (half a garden shed decked out as his writing room, but beware the blue door!) how he tipped the neighbour's baby out of the pram when he was 8 (Jeremy, not the baby), and how his latest book - My Brother's Famous Bottom gets Crowned! - was conceived well before the current royal bump made an appearance.

The children in the audience were giggling all the way through as a result of Jeremy's impressions of the dinosaurs who used to teach him and how he scoots across the studio floor on his wheeled computer chair to get chocolate from the fridge. (If there are teachers reading this, whose pupils come into school on Monday and insist they must have a fridge filled with chocolate in the classroom - blame Jeremy. He works better after a snack, and the kids agreed with him).

I knew Jeremy was a prolific author - my personal favourites of his are the Erik the Viking and famous bottom series - but I was surprised to hear he's written 99 books and is working on his 100th. It was good to know that even he struggles sometimes; The Beak Speaks caused him difficulty when he got half way through the book and realised he couldn't have the boy narrator he'd chosen from that point on, because the boy didn't know about the thing he was supposed to be talking about! Jeremy had to devise a second narrator who could know those things and intertwine the two voices throughout the whole novel. My own plotting problems paled into insignificance compared to that scenario.

I'm not sure what the creative writing workshop was like afterwards - my son felt a little self conscious among the younger children, so he queued to get Invasion of the Christmas Puddings signed, and we left, both of us entertained and quite content.

Mind you, I've just heard him call his Dad 'silly sausage moo-cow'. We've got Jeremy to thank for that, too.

Friday, 5 July 2013

What does Teddy do while you're at school?

I'm a learning support assistant at a local primary school, but as the Y6 child I work with was at their induction day at senior school, today I helped in a Y2 class instead.

The topic was 'bears', and the writing task was 'What does your teddy do at home when you are at school?' The little girl I was supporting insisted that I filled in a sheet; in fact, she brought me two, and started me off on the one with the closest lines so I'd have to write more!

Her teddy was 'very very good and like a aynjel. And reads books.'

Here's what mine gets up to...

'My teddy is called Bunny. He is very old. He has patchwork trousers and a pink waistcoat. He sleeps in a cupboard, but when I'm at school, I think he plays with my cat.
They play chase and hide-and-seek, and for lunch Bunny has lettuce and tomato sandwiches while Timmy (the cat) has tuna.
They like colouring. Bunny draws green fields and trees, but Timmy makes paw print patterns. When they are tired, they like to read books. They like Peepo best as it rhymes and there are pictures to look at.'

So, tell me - what does teddy do while you are 'at school'?

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Rurik. Almost there...

The story I'm working on at the moment is in the final stages of editing - oops! upcycling. I've done a fair few chapters today, but decided to stop, because I've reached the climax and need to reshuffle a few characters around in a vital scene. That requires a lot more brainpower than going through the marked-up manuscript for rampant ellipses and incorrect semi-colons. (I only learnt how to use them properly a few weeks ago! *embaressed*).

If I manage to complete everything by the end of next week, then I can begin to prepare my 3000 word submission for the Festival of Writing in September. There, the start of Rurik's story will be laid bare before both a book doctor and an agent. 

It's a terrifying prospect, because stories are subjective. What you might like to read, I might not. And vice versa. The same goes for the agents; they need to be enthused and bowled over by what I write to sign me up and present the novel to publishers. To date, although I worked with an agent for two years, (we've recently parted company) my first novel 'StarMark' and Rurik haven't been deemed commercial enough to submit. 

Thing is, I'm not writing because I'm after fame or fortune (though I will accept both, graciously, if offered them) - I'm in it for the kids and the love of a good story. I've received good feedback on both novels and am certain that what I've written would appeal to 8-12 year olds, my target audience. 

Fingers crossed that Rurik's story will one day make it onto the page, and to the youngsters it was written for.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

The Ultimate Blog Challenge


Probably not the done thing, to post twice in one day, but a fellow cloudie, Saintly Writer, mentioned she's signed up to this challenge.

I know I'm a couple of days late in, but I've signed up too, as it'll help my aim to blog daily - at least till I get the hang of things...

So here's to a July full of blogging!

The Pink Violin.

Today, my daughter took her Grade 5 ABRSM violin exam.

She's an amazing musician by the way - plays the descant and treble recorders, guitar (she's strumming K.T. Tunstall's 'You're the other side of the world' while I'm typing!), piano, and has also tried viola and harp. Given the chance, I'm sure she'd pinch her brother's double bass...

(I'm quite envious - I can sing, sort of, but I have to learn everything by ear as I'm no good at reading music. I did play the drums for a while, but keeping a beat is easy by comparison.)

Anyway, while waiting for J to come out of the exam, I got talking to a fellow parent. His daughter was taking her Grade 1 exam - on a baby-pink, personalised-with-her-name-and-a-mermaid-picture, violin. 'Well,' said the dad, 'you've got to have fun doing these things, haven't you?' I totally agree - having a funky instrument might do wonders in enticing the child to practise...

I replied that we were going to buy J a purple recorder, because she's hoping to play with a local Border Morris group whose costumes are black, silver and purple. 

After seeing that pink violin, I'm now thinking through what I can do to personalise a purple recorder! 

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

It's in the genes?

Today, my son brought home a book of poetry: The Poetry Games - poems from the East Midlands, published by YoungWriters. His poem, 'RainForest', is just one of hundreds in the book, but he is understandably chuffed to see his name in print.

He's also a pretty good artist and has already expressed a desire to become a writer and illustrate his own books.

D'you reckon we'll be able to cope with two writers in the house?

Monday, 1 July 2013

Tea with Sir Terry.

If I could pick just one writer to have tea with, it'd be Sir Terry Pratchett. I'm a big fan of his - especially of the Discworld novels.

There's something about his alternative universe that never fails to grab me - whether it's the humour, the larger-than-life characters, the poignancy of certain scenes, or the reinterpretation of modern life into something a little more medieval and magical which remains utterly believable. In fact, it's Sir Terry's ability to take the everyday and twist it that inspired my own story, Follow the Yellow Sick Toad; it was a deliberate attempt at 'Pratchettesque'. (If ever you read it, you'll have to let me know whether I succeeded; it's definitely not in Sir Terry's league, but I do know it raised a few laughs from some readers.)

Over a cup of Earl Grey and a toasted crumpet or two, I'd ask Sir Terry where he finds inspiration for his characters, and once they're born, how on earth does he keep track of them all? Could Ankh-Morpork host a Discworld Olympics to rival London 2012? Will Nanny Ogg make another fortune from her cookbook? And could Lord Vetinari ever be outwitted?

But that's me and Sir Terry - if you could have tea with any writer, living or dead, who would it be and what would you ask them?