Monday, 30 September 2013

Story time - in more ways than one.

OK, I've decided that, as I'm trying really hard to get the last Granny Rainbow story finished AND revamp Rurik so the rings aren't so obvious AND jot a stroyline for The Lufbra Job AND draft shorts for the next short story group collection - *whispers* - I'm going to cheat on this ultimate blog challenge!

Over the two years I've been a member of the Word Cloud, I've not missed a single monthly comp. Because of that, I've produced a variety of flash fiction which has been constrained by various parameters. (To be honest - that's part of the fun, giving myself a challenge and writing in ways I couldn't possibly hope to keep up through a  novel!) Now - some of the long standing cloudies who drop in here might have seen them before, but I reckon there's a lot of Squidge's Scribbles readers who haven't. So - every other day, purely for your enjoyment, there will be a very short story posted.

Added to that, I'm going to set up another 'Challenge Me!' If you didn't get involved last time, the idea is that you, blog reader, post three objects in the comments box below; I will hand over the list to the rest of my family, who will choose their favourite combination. Then, I'll endeavour to weave those objects into a story. (Please bear in mind that I reserve the right to delete suggestions I deem are unsuitable.) Last time, it ended up with me writing not one, but two stories - you can read them here and here.

I reckon I'll give you until the 15th to post your suggestions, then I'll stick the finished story up on the 31st. How's that?'s to Squidge's Scribbles and an October filled with snippety bits of literaryness!

Sunday, 29 September 2013

The Ultimate Blog Challenge!

Can you believe, it's time for the next blog challenge? The last one was July, which really got me going on this blogging lark - but I didn't realise it ran every quarter!

I'm wondering whether to go for it again; 31 posts in 31 days, over a month which isn't the summer holidays, when I'm writing more on Granny Rainbow and Rurik. Hmm...have I just made life difficult for myself?

Oh, what the heck! Let's go for it!

Anyone else fancy joining me? Let me know if you do - we can cheer each other on!

Friday, 27 September 2013

A chance to get your work published...

One of the short story collections I've been involved in - Reading is Magic - has raised £134.88 to date for the NSPCC! How fab is that? 

Vanessa handing the cheque over

Vanessa, the short story group originator, posted the news earlier today, and I couldn't be more pleased for her. She invested so much time and effort to get the book ready for publication (I had a small part to play in editing the stories before the authors submitted their final versions), it's good to see that all the hard work has been worth it. I think I'm right in saying that it's also the most popular collection to date by the short story group.

The short story group is currently inviting authors to submit stories for the next collection on the theme of 'past, present, future', and you can find further details here if you're interested. Again, all profits will go to a charity - and you get to see your work in print.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

A bit of a revelation...

OK, so you know a while back, I was lamenting the fact that I couldn't use rings in Rurik's story without nearly everyone thinking I was ripping off Tolkien? And I also mentioned more recently that I'd had a lightbulb moment regarding what I could perhaps focus on instead?

Well, I've had a revelation today, about how I can improve things...Come closer, so I can whisper;

I think I know how to change Rurik so I can keep the rings in - but they aren't the main focus of the story! 


Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Strong storytelling

Jeremy Sheldon is a writer and a screenwriter - a good one. His session on strong storytelling was high on my list of 'must-go-to-this' workshops, because one of the things I've been told about my stories is that they're 'too nice'. If Jeremy could help me see how to make the stories stronger - I wanted to know how.

Now I have to admit, my notes from this session are not that easy to decipher after the event - though they all made perfect sense on the day. I can remember what hit home the most for me, so that's what I'm going to share!

Okay - so - consider the mechanics of storytelling, as opposed to writing. You can write many things, but storytelling requires controlled information delivery in order to get the reader to invest in your story. Over the course of the story, the writer (hopefully) meets the reader's expectations so they carry on reading, and by the end of the book, they will have had their investment returned with a satisfactory outcome. To achieve this, there has to be continuous movement through the story - a hook in the plot, followed by another and another.

Now, some folk talk about their stories being 'plot-based' or 'character-based'. Jeremy reckoned you can't separate the two - both are essential in a strong story. (I've already blogged about character and structure if you want to read more - they reinforce this point). This makes perfect sense, as characters are the people who experience your plot and are present throughout the story. It'd be a pretty boring story without people/dragons/talking plants.

This meshing together of plot and character was coming over loud and clear as something I needed to work on. The reader has to see the character change. 'Recognition and Reversal', Jeremy called it. Can the character recognise their weakness and reverse the effect of it on their life? If they can, the story ends up a comedy. If they can't, it becomes tragedy. So it can be a major plotting device to give the character what they need - not what they want - and see whether they can adapt to that.

This served to reinforce my dawning realisation that I am probably a 'plot-driven' writer who happens to create good characters. But for a really strong story, I have to entwine the two and show my characters changing as a result of what I put them through.

Otherwise? I'm at risk of writing 'nice' stuff for ever.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Honing your pitch

I'm hopeless at trying to condense my story into a couple of sentences - just hopeless.

Fortunately, Juliet Pickering ran a session at York where she encouraged us to try. Now I have to admit that during this session, I was struggling with a migraine that made my head feel like it was filled with cotton wool and needles. Juliet must've thought I was mad, sitting in a corner with my sunglasses on...either way, it didn't make writing a pitch very easy.

As a starting point, she suggested we write a pitch for a book you know and love - in no more than two lines.

Then we tried it on our own WIP. Boy, did I struggle. In two sentences, I needed to give a clear indication of the genre as well as what happens to the main protagonist. It needed to be hooky, as it'll probably follow the book right through the publishing process. Oh - and I had to try to include the unique selling point too. So...

'When Rurik arrives on Ring Isle as a servant, one of the five rings of power has been hidden to protect it. Rurik's accidental adventure to find it leads him to the ring - and a destiny he never dreamed of.'

Guess what? *sigh* Rings - Juliet picked up on that straightaway.

Now you'll know from an earlier blog that this is a problem with Rurik. They aren't rings for your finger, but because I mention 'rings' quite frequently there's been an assumption that Rurik will be a Tolkien derivative. (It's not - but first impressions count).

So what IS the USP for Rurik if it isn't rings? Mandy, a fellow cloudie sitting in the session, has read Rurik. She suggested an I came up with this:

'By the time Rurik realises that the auras he can see are ancient powers of protection, he is already on a quest to save them. When he finds the object in which some of the power is trapped, he also discovers a destiny he never dreamed of.'

Cracked it? Not entirely sure...but it doesn't mention rings. Now to rewrite the synopsis - with the same 'no-rings' treatment.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Learning story structure from film.

“Standing room only! How cool is that?”

Thus began Julie Cohen’s popular workshop on story structure, using Pixar movies to demonstrate her points.

I LOVE Pixar films! They are funny, fast, emotional and beautifully executed artistically, with characters you can’t help but fall in love with.

No, I didn’t pick it just because it was an excuse to watch clips from some of my favourites - Cars, Finding Nemo, Wall-E and Up! These films had been picked by Julie because they’re aimed at children and as such, have been stripped down to the essentials of story-telling and are easy to study. Like the many others who attended, I was interested to see how using them would improve my writing. 

What I learned is :

1. Pixar films open fast. Just think of the opening sequence in Cars, when Lightning McQueen is literally hurtling round the race track. Wall-E seems much slower by comparison, but both manage to get across vital information about the main character, their conflict and the world they are living in, into – usually - the first 4-6 minutes of film. Backstory is always included as part of the story itself, but it's kept short and it has to be essential.

I know from experience that my stories don’t start as fast as perhaps some folk would like them to, but if I get the vital information right, hopefully it’ll still give me the hook I need to keep the reader’s interest.

2. They use the three act structure – or for those who like it simple: beginning, middle and end. So we are introduced to Lightning’s selfishness and desire to win fame and fortune in Act 1. In Act 2 we see him change when he finds friendship (Mater), love (Sally), and fickle fame (Doc Hudson). The end of Act 2 is marked by the lowest point in McQueen’s journey (the ‘oh shit!’ moment), when the media find him again and his new way of life falls apart. Act 3 opens with the climax – will Lightning win the race at any cost? No - he redeems himself by demonstrating he’s a very different car to the one we saw at the start. 

This really hit home – I can’t have a fabulous plotline on its own. I need the character to be ‘a very different car/man/girl/robot/dragon to the one we saw at the start’. (I wrote about character qualities earlier this week if you want to know more...). 

3. Using a repeated image helps to chart the emotional journey of the character through the story. For example, helium balloons appear several times in Up – particularly in the fabulous prologue (more of that later!). Similarly, hand-holding is a recurrent theme in Wall-E.

I tried to think whether I’d ever used this in my stories - and came to the conclusion I hadn’t. It will be interesting to consciously ‘plant’ something I can use subtly through a storyline and link it to the MC’s development.

4. Subplots are always related to the main plot, which should always move forwards and offer insights into the development of the main character. In Finding Nemo, the plot is about finding courage, when Marlin (the dad) needs to find enough to enable him to rescue his son, and Nemo finds enough to escape the fishtank he's found himself in.

Again – this points to flaws in my ability to character build, as I’ve never consciously considered the character arc. I’ve had sub-plots, yes, but just viewed them as twists and turns, rather than use them to ‘grow’ characters.

5. The climax has to be BIG! There’s always lots at stake to keep the viewer on the edge of their seat, wondering how on earth the MC is going to get through it.

This, I understand and do achieve reasonably well. However, it’s worth noting that in Pixar films, there is always a satisfactory resolution. No leaving the viewer on a cliff-hanger, feeling cheated that the story hasn’t really finished, so buy part 2, which picks up where part 1 left off - NOW! Personally, I don’t enjoy that in a book, so my stories always have a resolution. Normally happy because hey, I like to make people smile. I do like to leave a door open, in case I have an idea for a sequel…but the main story gets tied up neatly.

6. Prologues are sometimes unnecessary – but they can be wonderful when done right. Just look at Up, where the first ten minutes or so are total backstory about when Carl met Ellie and how their dreams of adventure coloured their life together. Had it been written, that part would probably have been cut. Visually, it’s a stunningly beautiful prologue and never ceases to make me - or Julie Cohen, or the vast majority of the delegates in the session - need to find the tissues. (If you’ve never watched Up, you’re missing a treat. I guarantee you’ll never say ‘SQUIRREL!’ again without laughing…)

I’ve had funny experiences with my prologue. It’s been like the hokey-cokey: in, out, in, out. Even shaken about. At the moment it’s in, loved and hated in equal measure by those who’ve read it. I think the rule of thumb has to be whether it is vital to your story for the reader. Not vital for you, to explain how this wonderful world you’ve created works, or to explain exactly how your MC got the nasty limp: vital for the reader. Julie’s advice is to write it last, once you know your story.

(Slightly off-topic - I bought one of Julie's books at York: Girl from Mars. I loved it 'cos it's a great story, but there were proverbial lightbulbs popping all the way through it because as I read, I could see and understand exactly what she'd been covering in her workshops about characterisation and story structure.) 

So, back on topic - even though my kids are now a little old for Pixar, I’ve got an excuse to watch all the old favourites again. When I've done that…

...I’m going to write a story as though it were going to be the next big thing to come out of the animator’s studio.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Introducing...Laura Buckland, illustrator of Granny Rainbow.

Laura writes...

Self portrait, August 2013

I am 19 years old and have just completed an Art and Design Foundation course, receiving a Distinction. I have always loved drawing and painting, especially animals and characters. I love books and decorating things (yes that includes doodling) and now am aspiring to be an illustrator.The degree I will be studying is Graphic Design and Illustration at De Montfort University.

Spirit of a horse


The previous book I illustrated is called Metal Molly by Ariadne Tampion.  

I am very thankful for the opportunity of illustrating two books and developing my skills, including using a graphics tablet. A Graphics Tablet is a device that you plug into the computer which enables you to draw using a pen/stylus - a bit like a big cursor pad on a laptop. It makes it so much easier to draw than using a mouse.

Katherine writes...

Knowing that Laura had illustrated one book already, I thought it would be good to work on the pictures for Granny Rainbow with someone I knew. I do draw sometimes, but I'm not sure I could draw well enough to do the pictures justice. I asked Laura to produce black and white character portraits rather than scenes from the stories,  mainly because I like the character style of Chris Riddell, but also to keep printing costs down and make it easier to transfer to ebook format if I decide to publish via paper and digital routes.


As Katherine finished each story, she sent it to me and I sketched out the main character who appeared in it. We promised a sneaky peek - so here are the early stage sketches of Granny Rainbow and the Black Shadow and the characters who appear in the 'Purple Potion' and 'Blue-footed Twitterer' stories: Timmy Tenta and Roger Randoodle.

Old Tom isn't here yet - he's still giving me some problems. (Katherine realised she'd asked me to draw him with a beard, but there is no mention of a beard in the first Granny Rainbow story! I think they call that a continuity error...)


Hmmm...must sort that one out! I'm really pleased with how Laura's taken my ideas and created the characters I had in my head, bringing them to life visually for the reader. Can't wait to see what she draws for the characters in the remaining stories!

So, over to you, Squidge's Scribbles readers - what do you think? 

Friday, 20 September 2013

And now for something completely different!

Is everyone Yorked out yet? If not, don't worry; there are more posts to come. But just for a change, I thought I'd share a couple of things I've done this week that have been creative in a non-wordy way.

My first creative endeavour was all about spreading some lurve. I found The Lonely Bouquet scheme after reading an article in a flower magazine (whose title escapes me - apologies to the editor!). The idea is that small bouquets of flowers are left, in public, with a label attached to them inviting someone to take the bouquet home. 

Now I really liked this idea.  

You're supposed to use flowers from the garden, but I cheated this time and bought a couple of mixed bunches from the supermarket instead, as my garden is mainly green (weeds). Result: 3 bouquets in a variety of recycled pots. 


While the kids were at orchestra, around 4pm, I found places to put them in a small area of my town. Here's where one of them ended up - the others were left on the steps of a church and a bench. 

By the time I got home at 5.30pm, two of the three had already been found and were posted on Lonely Bouquet's facebook page to say where they'd ended up! Both had made a difference to their finders days...and it made me feel so good to have made that difference. I'm going to make some more - officially, Lonely Bouquet Day isn't till next June, but why wait to spread a little happiness in the meantime?

The second creative session I had was a long awaited birthday present - a stained glass workshop, bought by members of my family. The session was run in Belper by the lovely Jo Cuffley, who designs and makes the most amazing stained glass panels. We weren't making anything that ambitious - but I did come away with two beautiful light catchers.

First task was choosing our colours. Just look at the choice! Fortunately our first project needed just four rectangles...

We were encouraged to play with different mixes until we found the one that grabbed us. I kept saying things like 'I need it a bit bluer/greener/turquoisy,' at which point Jo looked at me over her glasses and said 'You're an artist - they have more trouble because they want to mix just the right colour!' You can't see too well from the photo, but the glass is also textured, or streaked with darker hues, or has air bubbles in it.

Copper foiling came next - edging every piece of glass so that the solder would stick. Quite fiddly to start with, but once I got the hang of it, pretty easy.

Next - soldering. This was flippin' hard, and several times I got the solder stuck to my suncatcher! Here's the finished square...

Then we moved onto a bigger piece - I loved the swirlyness of this shape. As you can see, I played with a rainbow, but as I have so many in my house already, decided toplay with colours that are in my bedroom as well.

Here's my final choice - sticking to aqua and lilacs...

And this is Jo, putting the loop on once I'd soldered everything.

After that lot, I'm feeling all fired up, creativity-wise! Let's hope it rubs off on whatever wordy projects I get stuck into over the weekend...

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Holistic writing - The four elements of creativity.

Andrew Wille is a book doctor and author, whose workshop I attended last year at York. The concept was so interesting, I signed up for the mini-course this year to cover the subject in more depth.

Basically, Andrew takes a holistic approach to a manuscript. As a great believer of gut instinct (I really should allow myself to listen to it more often though when writing), I liked the idea that by using the four tarot elements of earth, air, fire and water, I could develop my writer’s intuition. Please note – this does not mean that I had to read or perform tarot. Neither do you… Just use the words as prompts to look at particular aspects of a manuscript.

Fire is the creative imagination in a piece – what fires you up, be it sci-fi, dragons, murder, history, fantasy or whatever else floats your boat. It’s often associated with voice.

Water is the heart of a piece – the emotion. This is likely to be where you connect with your reader on an emotional level, and they connect with your characters.

Earth is how the piece relates to the physical world – how it evokes sensory perceptions for the readers relating to the body and the material world.

Air is the qualities of the mind found in a piece – how much you’ve thought about what you’ve written and how you’ve structured or organised it.

The problem is that it’s easy to go overboard on one or other of the areas, so the manuscript feels unbalanced. The trick is to recognise this imbalance – and then know what to do to rectify it.

Andrew gave us exercises relating to the particular elements. No, not exercises: writing experiments. (I found it incredibly liberating to be able to sit with pen and paper and just go for it!) Through these experiments, I realised quite quickly how much thinking I do when I write, often rewriting until it sounds right – by which time I’ve edited the ‘me’ out of it. Hmmm...too much air and not enough fire.

Equally, I realised I struggle with water – the emotional side of things. One experiment was to create a list of ‘I remember’ statements, a la Joe Brainard, and read them aloud alternately with a partner. Mine were all statements of fact, like sweets being weighed out from jars, or warm milk in small bottles, or hating netball. My neighbour’s were all emotional, and began ‘I remember feeling…’ More water needed, perhaps.

The four hours sped by, and gave me lots to think about in terms of which elements my current WIP – Rurik - really needs. Less air, certainly; I can pick out distinct sections that I’ve worked and reworked, because now they stand out. Almost as though a different person has written them. And I definitely need to look out for the fire – the ‘spark’ that makes the work special. There’s a flicker of flame every now and again in Rurik, but not enough to make it stand out from the crowd.

If I'm honest, this made me quite despondent for a while. I've tried so hard with Rurik that I may well have ruined him by working him over too many times. But equally, I know there's a lot of good in him as he stands, especially a flippin' good storyline. Question is, with an MS that’s been rewritten so many times, do I rewrite yet again, or am I better off starting a new project?

Maybe I'll send Rurik out into the world anyway, but try to ensure my next project has a better balance of the elements from the word go...or is that me being too airy?

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Playing at being God - Creating Characters

Fifty people walked into a lecture room at York. A hundred walked out.

No, it wasn’t some strange cloning experiment – it was the session on ‘Creating Character’ by the author Julie Cohen at the Festival of Writing 2013. I’d heard about this session when Julie ran it previously at York, because everyone who attended rated it so highly. I decided to sit in this year, and wasn’t disappointed; Julie is an engaging speaker who obviously loved controlling us and the characters we were led to create!

I have to admit, it was to a certain extent pure indulgence on my part; I love creating characters for my stories. Perhaps it comes from my days in Am Dram and my love of fancy dress? It’s an excuse to dress up and become anything I want to be. In the same way, I like moulding the people in my stories, giving them little quirks that bring them alive on paper.

So I went, not really expecting to learn much.

Boy, was I wrong!

We started simply; the letters on two yellow cards, picked at random, gave the initials of a character. The number on an orange one - their age. The toss of a coin, gender. (Dropped coins meant you ended up with a robot, dragon, androgenous humanoid…)

Easy-peasy, lemon squeezy, I thought.

Describe the character. Great! I’m a very visual person, so I really enjoy picturing the physical characteristics and mannerisms. A chance to let my imagination fly? My character was easy to describe.

Make the character walk into a room and pick something up. Classic character-in-action or ‘show, don’t tell’. Again, something I enjoy. No problem with that stage, even if he did only pick up a silver goblet.

Now say why the object that was picked up is important to the character. (Pity the poor attendee last year whose character picked up a prawn vol-au-vent! I’m reliably informed by him that he still made it work…) Nothing unusual here. In my stories, the MC is always after something. I kept it simple – he wanted the drink.

But there’s a problem, related to the object. O-kaaay. Still alright, I think – there’s always something which puts a spoke in the works and makes the MC stumble in their quest. I can work with that and create some conflict for my new character. Let’s make the drink run out…

What’s your character’s best quality? What’s their worst fault? Make them the same thing.

Say what?! Qualities? Do they need qualities? I thought they just needed something to do! If they succeeded, we’d got to the end of the book!

At this point, I realised I was breaking new ground. I have never consciously thought about my character’s qualities. In my new character, I focused on his memory…

The last two tasks dealt with dialogue and inner voice, where our character had first to keep a second character from discovering a secret, and then show us their stream of thoughts. I muddled through these two sections, because lightbulbs were literally popping in my head.

I realised I’d been drawing my characters in all their fine detail and putting them in some super settings, but I’d completely failed to let the reader see how they’d grown and changed through the conflict they’d experienced during the course of the story. Oh, they found the object/gained power/thwarted the baddie, but essentially, they were the person they always were.

(This was a point reinforced in a separate workshop by Jeremy Sheldon on ‘Strong Storytelling’. I’ll blog about that one another day!)


Maybe that’s what was missing from what I’d written up to now? A character’s qualities. Or if they were there, it was more by luck than judgement. I’m going to have to make a conscious effort to include them in future, that’s for sure.

What’s that? Before I sign off, you want to know who I created in the session? Meet...

Theo Arblewurtle, 44, snappy dresser with a missing tooth and a phenomenal memory which he maintains by drinking a special potion - it’s his job to remember the faces of people who seal deals with his boss. Unfortunately, he’s on the last bottle of potion and there’s a big meeting coming up where his boss, an underworld criminal, is relying on Theo remembering who he’s got to give the stolen money to. Theo’s memory is going to get him into trouble when he tries to use it to blackmail the boss.

I think I created a potential story, not just a character…

Monday, 16 September 2013

York - the pictures!

OK, I was so busy talking that I didn't actually take many pics...but I'm going to post the few I have anyway!

The Festival of Writing is an incredible experience, due in a huge way to the fabulous team at Writer's Workshop who organise it. Here are the wonderful Nikki, Laura, Deborah and Lydia, with the 'thank you' bouquets presented to them by Cloudies.

I wouldn't have arrived in style again without my personal chauffeur - Imran (aka Flickimp). He is the king of tweets and the most prolific writer I know - his enthusiasm for writing blows me away. With him is Neil, who kept me smiling all weekend with his Brummie humour.

I met lots of new faces too - in the background is Gippsgirl chatting to Imran, and in the front, the lovely Steph, who runs a fantastic scheme called kidsreadwritereview and had me playing 'guess the author' with the pics on her phone! This lady moves in hallowed authorly circles and does a brilliant job of enthusing kids about reading books. (Oh - and the tablecloth's tucked under her chin 'cos the napkins got taken away with the main course, pudding was chocolate brownie, Steph's dress was cream - and she wanted to keep it that way!)

Another new face - Kieran, who for some reason had the after dinner mints for our table placed directly in front of him. I think he was rather pleased about it.

Folk travel from all over the world to the festival - this is Belinda, (on the left - I'm on the right) who came from Australia! Oh - and while she was here, it seemed only right to celebrate her parent's golden wedding anniversary as well...

Some of my cloudie friends and myself were 'bouquet bods' for the evening. At the back with me is the wonderful Debi Alper, who has been an absolute rock in my times of disillusionment and a constant encourager - a very special lady who's loved by lots of us! On the front row are (l to r) Mandy (Skylark), Sophie (TenacityFlux) and John - three fabulous writers who are, I think, on the very cusp of being published. We scrub up well, don't we?

There are so many other folk I could mention too, but I don't have their pics and I'm bound to miss someone out if I try to remember names! Suffice it to say that everyone I met added to my experience, but special mention must go to all the cloudies who looked out for me on Saturday, when I was poorly with a migraine (thank goodness it disappeared in time for the gala dinner) and to Susan (Franklin), who mopped me up and sorted me out when I got my 1-2-1 times so muddled, I completely missed the first one and burst into tears at the thought of having to see the agent when I hadn't psyched myself up for it! And of course I can't miss out Harry Bingham - who this year couldn't be with us for two very special reasons - but sent us a video instead. You are the spirit of the cloud, Harry, and we wouldn't be where we are as writers without you and your vision for the community.

For more pics, check out the Twitter feed #fow13 or Debi's blog - and who knows, maybe next year, it'll be you with me on the photos?

Sunday, 15 September 2013

York - there I was!

Where to start?

Fabulous weekend - apart from a flippin' migraine on Saturday and missing my first 1-2-1 'cos I got the times of the book doctor and agent muddled up! (The fabulous WW team managed to rearrange it though, for which I am very grateful!)

I've laughed and cried. I've met up with old friends and made lots of new ones. I've also learnt so much about the craft of writing and - more importantly - about myself as a writer.

There will be lots to post over the next few days. No doubt others will blog too, and I'll link to as many as I'm able so you get a flavour of this amazing event for writers. You'll probably get sick of hearing about it! But tonight...

Tonight, I need to sleep on it all.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Arnie’s Aerial Adventure.

You might remember that in July, I posted a story challenge. The winner's story had to include a rocking horse, a cowboy hat, and a zimmer frame.

One of the folk who left me a challenge was Sarah, the daughter of an old friend from uni days. As Sarah was the only child to suggest three words, I promised to write a story including them, whatever 'won' the challenge. Last Tuesday I mailed it to her; a short story including a snowman, a flying elephant, and a kiwi. This is the reply I received from her mum...

Sarah was really excited to read the story. She was so pleased that you had written one just for her. The story is fab, or in Sarah's words fabulosous ! And Terrific.
Well done getting snowman,kiwi and flying elephant into it.. Exclamations of surprise and awe came from the front room about the snowman and elephant as she read that far..
On reading it to Luke both children thought the description of the little kiwi snowball was cute and wonderful.
Thank you so much for taking the time and effort to do this for Sarah. We will print it out and she will treasure her copy..
She is more than happy for you to share the story.'

So, with Sarah's permission, here's the end result...

 Arnie's Aerial Adventure.  
For Sarah – a very special Squidge’s Scribble. x

Arnie took a deep breath before he stepped away from the cover of the tree ferns. He’d done it plenty of times before and nothing had ever happened - but it paid to be careful. He really didn’t fancy running into a stoat. Momma had told him plenty of times that a stoat would eat him as soon as look at him and as kiwis weren’t built for speed or flying…
            The little chick shivered at the thought, but he couldn’t stop now. It was all Grandpoppa’s fault, really. He should never have told Arnie about the other birds – the ones with wings who flapped and flew and glided up there in the daytime when the sky was palest blue and the sun had swapped places with the moon. Arnie had to be right in the centre of the little clearing to be able to gaze up into the night sky.
            “I wish I could fly,” he whispered, staring at the twinkling stars. “It don’t seem fair to be a bird and be stuck on the floor.”
            As Arnie watched, the stars winked out one by one, hidden behind cloud. Then something landed on his beak. Something white, and fluffy, and cold.
            Everyone had heard about the magical stuff, but it mostly fell on the mountains. Not here in the rainforest. The single flake was joined by another, then another and another, until the air was filled with downy feathers of white. They stuck to the little kiwi, making him look like a snowball with feet and a beak.
             A movement among the ferns made Arnie’s heart leap. Was it a stoat, come to eat him up? But the figure that approached the clearing was definitely not a stoat; it was tall and two-legged, and made of swirling whiteness. A man – made of snow.
            “The Snowman!” Arnie couldn’t believe his eyes. Grandpoppa had told this story, too – how, once in every lifetime, when snow fell in the rainforest, The Snowman would walk among the tree ferns and grant a wish to one lucky animal or bird.
            Before Arnie could move, a cold white hand swept him into the air.
            “Well, what have we here?” Twin points of ice-blue glowed where the man’s eyes should have been and a slash opened up to speak the words. “A snow-covered kiwi chick? What on earth are you doing out here, little fella?”
            Words failed Arnie only for a second or two. But then he remembered about the wish, and words tumbled from his beak.
            “I’m Arnie, sir. I was looking at the sky and oh! Please, Mr Snowman, sir! Please, can I have the wish?”
            The slash turned upwards into a smile, and The Snowman tilted his head sideways. “My wish?” The laugh, when it came, was like the crackle of frost on leaves. “Tell me, Arnie, what would you wish for? Juicy berries, fat insects or wriggling worms?”
            Arnie shook his head. “I wish I could fly.”
            The blue eyes flared brightly for a second, then faded. “Fly? But you’re a kiwi. Kiwi birds don’t fly – it’s what makes you special.”
            “Just once,” Arnie begged. “Please?”
            “Hmmm...” The Snowman lapsed into silence.
            The longer the silence lasted, the lower Arnie’s beak dropped. When he felt himself being gently lowered back down to the ground, a single tear ran down Arnie’s beak and plopped into the fresh snow; he wasn’t going to get his wish after all. 
            But The Snowman had other ideas. With a complicated twist of his fingers, he caught a swirl of snowflakes, turning them between his fingers until it began to take on a strange shape. A creature, with four thick legs, a rounded body, huge ears and the longest nose Arnie had ever seen, emerged from the snow.
            The Snowman chuckled. “You can’t fly, but you can go piggyback.”
            “Is that a pig?” Arnie gasped.
            “No – it’s an elephant, a flying elephant. Watch.” The Snowman breathed on the white flake-filled shape and it solidified. No bigger than a wombat, it lifted its tube-like nose and flapped its ears…and took off. After a short flight around the Snowman’s head, the elephant landed beside Arnie.
            Once again, The Snowman lifted the chick. This time, Arnie found himself sitting on the elephant’s back.
            “One flight,” The Snowman told them both. “That’s all, so make it a good one.”
            Arnie clung on tight, excited and scared in equal measure as the elephant’s ears flapped and the ground dropped away underneath them. Higher and higher the pair rose, until Arnie could see the whole forest below him.
            “I’m flying!” he squealed.
            For hours the snow-elephant flew over New Zealand, showing Arnie things he’d only ever dreamed of or heard about in stories. He felt the hot breath of volcanoes and was chilled by the spray from river rapids. He saw the turquoise blue of glacial lakes and the yellow of sulphurous springs. He even flew over a kiwi farm, laughing out loud at the thought that there was a fruit named after a bird, because Arnie certainly didn’t think he was named after a fruit!
            Dawn was streaking the sky pink and purple when the flying elephant landed softly beside The Snowman. Arnie slid from the elephant’s back, his eyes wide from all the amazing things he’d seen. 
            The Snowman crouched down. “So, little chick, did you enjoy flying?”
            “Oh yes – thank you so much! I’ve seen more than any other kiwi, ever!”
            “Good – then it is a wish well spent. But now, I must leave. The sun is coming up, and it would not do for me to be seen.” The Snowman clicked his fingers – they made a sound like ice cracking – and the elephant leapt into the air. Before Arnie could blink, the animal exploded into a mass of snowflakes which fell gently to the earth.
            “Goodbye, Arnie,” The Snowman murmured and he disappeared.
            Arnie began to run as fast as he could towards a certain burrow.  
            “Grandpoppa!” he called as he burst inside. “I got the wish!”
            “Eh? Whassat?” Grandpoppa nearly fell off his feet in surprise. “Wotcha doin’ out here at this time of the morning, Arnie?” The old bird peered closely at the excited chick. “You’ve snow on your feathers.”
            “I’ve seen The Snowman! I got his wish and I flew, Grandpoppa! I flew!” Arnie was bouncing round the old bird like a feathered ball.
            Grandpoppa’s eyes twinkled. “You did, did you? Well, best set yourself down and tell me all about it then before we go to bed.”
            “Well,” Arnie began. “It was like this…”

Friday, 13 September 2013

York - here I come!

By the time you read this, I'll be winging my way to York University for the Festival of Writing.

I'll report back after the weekend in LOTS of detail...but to get your appetite whetted for future blog posts, I'm attending:

 - a mini course on 'the Four Elements of Writing', a longer version of a workshop I enjoyed at last year's Festival.
 - workshops on character, self-publishing, using Pixar films to aid plotting, honing a pitch and what makes a strong story.

I'll also be having a couple of 1-2-1's (one with a book doctor, one with an agent) to get feedback on the first 3000 words of Rurik.

On top of all that, there's the Friday Night Live to vote on and the winner of the Opening Chapter Competition to listen to (like many others, I didn't make the shortlist for either), and lots of friendships to make and renew. I am really looking forward to it!

In the meantime, make sure you pop back here tomorrow, because I'm posting a short story for your enjoyment while I'm away.

See you next week!


Thursday, 12 September 2013

Can I tell you a secret?

I've a green-eyed monster sitting on my shoulder.

See, the Festival of Writing 'Friday Night Live' shortlist was announced yesterday...and I'm not on it.

Now some of you may be thinking 'Hang on - didn't Katherine tell us that she'd not been shortlisted for either of the competitions a few days ago?' You're right - I did. I was disappointed then, when I thought the deadline had passed and my inbox remained empty. It's just that I've been disappointed all over again, now that it's definitely definite I'm not shortlisted, because the folk who have been are telling us!

Don't get me wrong - I am utterly, utterly delighted to find that at least four - or it might be five - of my fellow cloudies are shortlisted. I know, having read their work, that the standard is therefore very high; they deserve to have been selected. I am looking forward very much to hearing each of them read their 500 words, cheering from the sidelines and trying to choose my favourite to vote for - if I can decide between them!

But there's still that little green-eyed monster, whispering 'wish it was me instead'. I'm owning up to it because that monster ain't going to be allowed to sit where it is for very long. The last thing I want to become is bitter and twisted about my apparent success or lack thereof, because losing is not the same as failing, something Rachael Dunlop wrote about earlier this year regarding competitions.

So - monster begone! Let me learn instead from all the fabulous pieces I'm going to hear. They're all potential winners after all.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Coming soon! Granny Rainbow - the pictures!

Coming soon!

The very first guest blogger on Squidge's Scribbles!

I shall be delighted to hand over to Laura Buckland, the artist behind the illustrations for Granny Rainbow. Once Laura's introduced herself, there'll be a sneak preview of some early sketches of various characters who will be appearing in the book - including Granny Rainbow herself!

Monday, 9 September 2013

The creative process.

Can't take the credit for this, I'm afraid - I was reading a blog post at the busy mockingbird (about lunch bags, of all things!) and noticed she'd retweeted 'the creative process'. It went like this...

1. This is going to be AWESOME!

2. This is hard.

3. This is terrible.

4. I'm terrible.

5. Hey...not that bad.

6. That was AWESOME!

Thing is, I reckon as writers, we go round this loop so many times...and depending on where we're at with the WIP, we might loop back at different stages.

So... when I lose faith in a piece of writing, and choose to start something new rather than persist with the original, I'm looping endlessly from number 2 or 3 back to the beginning of the process.

Assuming I actually finish something and ask for feedback... Number 4. Well, if the feedback isn't as positive as I'd hoped and I allow myself  to believe that comment, I'll probably loop back to number 2.

But if I get good feedback and worth-affirming comments, I've reached number 5! At that stage, I'll probably loop back to do the final tweaks, bypassing 3 and 4 because by this point, I know they are not as true as I told myself they were back in the early days of the WIP.

And when I see my work published, I've reached number 6 - at last! That really IS awesome!

So for you, fellow writer, at what point do you find yourself looping back most frequently? And what can you do to help yourself get beyond it?

Saturday, 7 September 2013


For regular readers of Squidge's Scribbles, you may notice I've had a play with a few things! Nothing major - I've just finally had time to work out how to do a blog list, and allow folk to translate my various musings if English isn't their first language...

I decided to remove the 'wannabe' from the sub-heading too. I am not a wannabe any more - I am, after all, a published author. I may not have hit the big time, but my stories are out there to read, in real books.

About time I started to recognise that.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Writing time at last - so why am I not writing?

Today, I've got time to write!

T is back at school (albeit still part-time), the ironing pile has been dealt with at last, the house has at last had a thorough clean, I've sorted through the post and my other half is packing for a weekend away. So now, I have - what? - three or four hours to get back to what I love doing.

And you know what? I am a bit scared to even start.

Not because of all the usual fears that I wrote about the other day, but because my life has experienced such upheaval and uncertainty recently, I can't help wondering whether even more unexpectedness will jump out of the woodwork to immediately demand my attention and thwart my efforts to get the words down?

It must be something in my character - I used to get a similar feeling when the kids were babies. Remember the days when you had to do night feeds, with the first one around midnight? Not enough time to get some decent kip before you have to wake up again - so I didn't use to go to bed until after that first feed. I just didn't see the point. As a result, I ended up even more cream-crackered  - entirely through my own fault.

When I finished working at school, I told myself that I would be more disciplined about writing; I have to learn to force myself to write. Whatever my fears about interruptions, I have to keep producing words or risk losing what I've already achieved. And I don't want to become a writer who says "Well, I could have..."

I want to be a writer who says "I did."

PS. I've a little less time now I've got that off my chest...but I am going to do some writing now!

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Self-publishing - a couple of thoughts.

Chuck Wendig has done it again - dropped a huge dose of reality into my lap.

His blog today is '25 steps to becoming a self-published author', and if you're a regular reader of Squidge's Scribbles, you know it's something I've been toying with, particularly for Granny Rainbow, but also because of Rurik.

I'm right with Chuck when he says 'get an editor'. No-one - and I really mean no-one - can look at their own writing and see all the mistakes and glitches they've missed. (And I'm not just talking about spelling mistakes here - I'm talking head-hops, plot holes, unnecessary info, strange phrases...) Hopefully, given time and experience, there will be less to spot, but there will always be something. I learnt such a lot from professional editing of my novels - in most cases by the editrix herself, Debi Alper, (via Writer's Workshop) but also through beta readers, my trusted author friends.

Still with Chuck on the subject of book cover design. Make it good, peeps! And make sure the standard of your content matches that of the super-duper cover. But don't be tempted to cobble something together yourself if you don't have the skills - use friends who are graphic designers or pay for concepts. Personally, I like the covers of series where colour or images link the different stories, rather than detailed images. A simple concept, but it can still make the series instantly recognisable. In my dreams, Rurik's story will be published as five separate books; all the covers will have five interlocked silver rings on them, set within a black circle on a different plain coloured background, where the colour represents the region where that particular story takes place...  

There was one thing that really got me thinking, especially if I do go ahead and plunge into the murky waters of self-publishing. Chuck wrote (with a couple of tweaks by me to keep it clean!) 'Target readers. They’re your gatekeeper now. Don’t build an audience: earn your audience. Find where they are and talk to them — not above them as if on some platform but among them because you are them. (The best writers are also readers, after all.) Get a website. Let that be your central space. Use social media to talk to people, not at people... Stand out. Be the best version of yourself. Try lots of things. Don’t be a jerk.'

It made me realise that it's not enough just to say 'I write for children' and expect the books to wing their way into eager pre-pubescent hands. (Anyone who's ever been into a school to listen to kids read will know that there are lots of reluctant readers out there - the Wii or PlayStation is a much more appealing prospect for entertainment.)

Children need to be exposed to stories - and the age range I write for, 8-12 years, is possibly in that awkward gap where parents are still buying most of the books for their kids - but the kids are starting to realise what kind of thing they really, REALLY want to read. (I'm not a big fan of action books, for example. My son and daughter were 9 and 11 when they got heavily into young James Bond and the Power of Five etc etc. All my suggestions about trying a nice classic, or a fantasy for a change, went out the window.)

This means I'd have to earn two different audiences: adults and kids. Adults might set a load of store by reviews and recommendations, but kids will want to hear/read the stories for themselves, so that could mean a whole load of school/library visits.

Interesting - and probably the part of the self-pubbing process which needs much more thought on my part. Made me wonder - if you were to self-pub your work, which part would you have to really think about?

Monday, 2 September 2013

Writers write writerly advice.

Couldn't resist sharing this - lots of writers who've taken pictures of their hands with writing advice written on them.

Check out Garth Nix - even he has a magic ring! So, I figure, maybe Rurik can have one too.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Rings - has Tolkien cornered the market?

So - a few days ago, I had a very kind rejection from an agent for Rurik. Basically, I was told my writing looked good, but he couldn't see 'rings' selling.

For those who don't know Rurik, the story is about a ring of power that is separated from four other rings (to which it is linked) and hidden by its bearer to prevent the baddie taking all their power for himself; it's up to Rurik, the main character, to find the hidden ring and return it to the rightful owner.

But as soon as I mention 'rings', a phantom rises up to haunt me - Tolkien. I have rings in my story, therefore it's too much like LOTR or The Hobbit.

I don't think so.

But the novel seems to be consistently judged against that one idea. Unfair it may seem - but the agent/publisher has to make money out of my words, so they need a unique selling point. Mind you - how many boy wizard stories followed on from Harry Potter? Or vampiric love stories after Twilight? Or diary-type novels after Diary of a Wimpy Kid? What makes rings so untouchable after Tolkien? Apart from the fact he was a genius and his books are classics, of course.

Anyway - the subject has been broached before, several times and by different people, about changing the rings for some other object of power. I have played with a few ideas, but I keep coming back to rings, mainly because they fit the story - and to be honest, the thought of rewriting to fit a new and different object into the novel fills me with despair. I have edited and rewritten this story so many times - to improve the storyline generally so it became entirely stand-alone instead of the first part of a five-stage quest, to include an agent's suggestions (which once included, they decided they didn't want either the story or me after all), and to act on suggestions received via a professional critique.

I still believe in the story. I think it has legs, even if it IS about rings of power. But the commercial world doesn't seem to think the same.

So what do I do? Stick to my guns and hope that someone, somewhere will see beyond the Tolkien connection? Self-publish and be damned? Give it all up and start something totally new and unique and off-the-wall?


I just don't know what to do for the best...