Monday, 30 June 2014

KLiCbait Volume 1

KLiC is an artist-led collective in residency at the Y Theatre in Leicester. KLiC devises and produces original theatre, film, writing and performance work as well as offering Artist support.

A little while back, KLiC posted in a Facebook writing group I belong to, calling for submissions for an inaugural short story collection called KLiCbait Volume 1. The theme was interesting - the story had to be set in a pub somewhere in Leicestershire on the day of the first commercial space flight to the moon.

Now, I like themes and even more, I like challenges. I submitted my idea and a sample of writing (taken from You Should Have Let Me Sleep, which will be published this summer by the RASSSA) and didn't think any more of it.

'Cos, y'know, I've done competitions and the like, and my stuff just doesn't seem to get anywhere.

Well, I'm delighted to say that there must've been something good in the sample - because I'm one of ten authors who've been selected to write their stories for KLiCbait volume 1! And as it's been officially announced on their website, I reckon I can share the news now...

I can't tell you how exciting this is for me. Everything I've written so far that's been published (apart from Granny Rainbow) has gone into an anthology with people I know putting them together. Now, I'm not for one minute suggesting that being selected is a matter of who you know, rather than what you write. I was well aware, for example, that I wouldn't have made it into Stories for Homes if the writing had been under par. And I've also had the pleasure of being judged a runner-up in a competition which entitled me to publication...

But this is the first time that someone who doesn't know me - who has never seen my writing before - has taken a decision base on the strength of what they've read. It's an incredibly affirming thing to have happened.

It's also bloomin' scary. I have to write to a deadline, make sure this new story lives up to KLiC's expectations, get the facts I'm intending to use right...*bites nails to the quick*

So...I'm now busy plotting out a story set in The Organ Grinder, a Blue Monkey Brewery pub, which will feature moon rocks and space monkeys...and has to be finished by the 31st July, ready for online publication at the end of August.

I think a trip to the pub might be justified...all in the name of research, of course!

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Happy birthday, Squidge's Scribbles!

The Scribbles are a year old today!

This is my 210th post, covering a variety of subjects - mainly writing, but lots to do with family life too. In case you've not been with me all year, here are some of my favourite times...

Being published.
I've been published several times over the year (look here for a full list) but the highlights were the publication of Stories for Homes, the charity anthology in aid of Shelter, and my very own Granny Rainbow. 

SfH saw me deliver my very first public reading of something I'd published at The Ivy House - a fabulous but nerve-wracking experience.

Family stuff.
I have a thing about rainbows, so it seemed natural to blog about why. Last August, the family was thrown into some chaos when my son was hospitalized with a ruptured appendix, especially as it happened just before my church's Flower Festival which I was helping to organise.

I also went skiing for the first time in my life and against all the odds - loved it!

Improving my writing.
I was lucky enough to be recommended Les Edgerton's book on Finding Your Voice when I was struggling with some feedback. This book has to be one of the most important reasons for my improvements this year. I attended the Festival of Writing in York (almost time for the next one!) and wrote about several of the session. My favourite was Julie Cohen's Creating Characters...mainly 'cos we got to watch Pixar clips!

I also posted some of my own thoughts on how to build a story with an analogy that likened writing to knitting socks. 

Free fiction.
In October I took part in the Ultimate Blog Challenge, posting every day for a month. Every other day during that time, I posted a flash fiction piece - including one inspired by a prompt from Chuck Wendig's terribleminds blog, called The Forgotten Library.

And I asked folk to challenge me; early on, I wrote a story that had to include a rocking horse, cowboy and a zimmer frame.

I wonder what will be on my list in another year's time? A second Granny Rainbow book? StarMark in print? More short stories with RASSSA? Only time will tell...

I hope you'll stick with the Scribbles, to find out what does happen!

Friday, 27 June 2014

It all started...

...when Arnie Thunk gave Millie Mylott a frog.

...when Pepe Pizzazzo bought a new circus tent.

...with Old Tom's socks.

...when Fred Dimby fell ill.

So begin the first of four new stories about Granny Rainbow, already written and illustrated, and waiting for a blue or yellow story to join them - written by YOU!

There are three days left until the deadline for the competition... Get scribbling for your chance to win!

Thursday, 26 June 2014


Nope. Not the insect - the book company. Ladybird Books. 

The company was started in my home town and although Ladybird are still publishing books today, they're now owned by Penguin and everything's moved south, leaving a big hole in the town.

Next year, Loughborough's going to be celebrating the centenary of Ladybird Books and today, I went to a meeting to put forward ideas of how those celebrations might look. A Literary Festival has been suggested...

It's still very early days in the planning stages, but  there were some lovely ideas floating about. My publisher, Ian, was a typesetter with the company and there are many people who live in town who used to be connected to the words and pictures that made a Ladybird book so special - I'm hoping for some wonderful exhibitions of memories and artefacts, as well as reading events and lots about illustrating for children's literature.

The local press dropped in to cover the meeting and asked for a photo of everyone. We were all given a museum copy of a Ladybird book to hold (I was hoping for Cinderella, but got The Vikings instead) and we posed...

I'll keep you posted as details come in, as I'm sure there are loads of you who have fond memories of Ladybird.

My favourite...but I hated the blue dress!

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Ups and downs

What a weird week so far.

Good : sold 7 more copies of Granny Rainbow at the school fair last Saturday and made over £30 for the PSA with my rainbow straw game.

Not so good : bloomin' arm's playing up again. Another trip to the walk-in centre, only to be told it's too long after the original injury for them to deal with me, and I need to see my GP to be referred back to the hospital for an X-ray IF they think I need it.

Good : Awards Evening for the kids. Both received multiple awards and performed with rock club. The highlight for me (sorry, kids!) was one of the Y10 boys who sang a solo. Amazing performance!

Not so good : T due on a survival camp at the weekend with Scouts. Not yet received kit list, permission form or health form... I mean, does he need a bivvy bag 'cos he sleeping under the stars? Or will he actually be in a tent? I know the scouts' motto is Be Prepared, but this is getting a bit ridic!

Good : I finished another Granny Rainbow story for the next book.

Not so good : I realised there's a whole section in StarMark that doesn't work, and I'm a bit stumped as to how to fix it.

Good : Received my first entries for the Granny Rainbow competition! Only a week to go...

Not so good : Have been invited to a book launch and I think I'm away. Pooh.

Good : I am one of 10 writers to have been selected to write a short story for a project in Leicester...but more of that in another post.

So. A bit uppy-downy, and it's only Wednesday. Gutted about StarMark, but I know that battling with it now means it'll be better later. If only I can crack this middle bit...

How's the week going for you? Hoping very much that on balance, the goods are outweighing the not-so-goods...

Monday, 23 June 2014

RASSSA. Whassat?

You probably know by now that I'm a proud Cloudie. That is, a member of The Word Cloud, an online writing community run by the Writer's Workshop.

Within that community are various groups; I belong to one called the Random and Speculative Short Story Appreciation group - RASSSA for short. (he! pun intended.)

Well, this particular group, under the editorial eyes of JA Ironside and Matthew Willis, are producing an anthology of short stories. I'm thrilled to be able to say that two of mine have been accepted for publication in A Seeming Glass. The stories are based around a theme of reflection and every story is inspired by a much older original - but our versions are a little...twisted; fairytales don't always have a happy ending.

As part of the pre-launch publicity (look out for a book blast coming soon!), each of the authors have been asked to write a piece of flash fiction for the Random Writers website - but it has to be connected to our stories in the anthology. They'll be posted from mid-July onwards and be available to read absolutely FREE! (I'll let you know when the first of the prequels are up...keep an eye out!)

But I tell you what, writing something that's connected to the main story, yet doesn't give anything away and still leaves the reader wanting to know more is flippin' difficult! Mine both ended up as prequels. The first one lent itself very well to a short story format - it had a beginning, middle and end of its own and featured one of the characters from the main story. Lovely jubbly. The second...well, it ended up as something that would've served better as an introduction. It didn't have that same sense of completeness about it.

Either way, I hope you'll drop by the site and, if your appetite is whetted by our flash fiction pieces, perhaps you'll consider buying the book...

Thursday, 19 June 2014

The storybag goes to school - again...

Yesterday, I spent a lovely morning with Class 2 in one of the local village schools in Diseworth; my second ever author visit.

It's such a dinky little school! (You have to remember that my own children went to a large town primary (where I also worked) of over 500 children, so I'm used to a much bigger setup.) I had a quick tour before the children came into school - three classrooms, a central hall, fabulous playground and field area with trim trail, wildlife area and outdoor classroom...all for around forty children. Wonderful! I loved it. I especially wished I could've stayed for lunch - pizza or chicken curry. Nom nom...

Anyway... There were 15 children in Class 2, aged five and six. They were very excited to meet a real author! (I really must get used to that fact : I AM an author!) I was fortunate that the teacher, an old Guiding friend of mine, had already introduced the children to Granny Rainbow a couple of days before.

I started by telling them how Granny Rainbow came to be written, then we finished the Marmalade Machine story which they'd begun in storytime the previous day. I followed that with a chat about some of my favourite books. I'd taken in a selection - some I'd read when I was younger (like King of the Copper Mountains and Children of Willow Tree Farm), others I'd read with my own kids (Horrid Henry and Spy Dog) and I even included poetry with a bit of Doctor Seuss. I don't want these visits just to be about Granny Rainbow, y'see ; they're about reading AND writing AND getting kids enthused about both.

After an hour of fantastic listening, the kids had a bit of a runaround on the field and then we set to with the storybag. (My storybag is full of random objects, and the kids get to pick three things out of it; the stories they write after that have to include all three, but in whatever way they want to.)

The tales we were told! Children never cease to amaze me with their imaginations. The problem I've found is that for some children, their imagination and vocabulary outstrip their writing ability. But - providing you can be a bit creative with how to 'capture' their ideas in pictures or sound or even by writing it down for them as they talk - they can still produce some excellent stories.

The most amazing things happen, because no-one's saying 'that's a daft idea' or 'that wouldn't happen in real life'. So we had baked bean fired rockets and sunflower-sensitive dinosaurs on the moon. We had police cars with reflective shields that were better able to withstand a dragon's flame. We had a rainbow monkey who loved adventures...even when those adventures included a zombie or two!

With the teacher's permission, here's a story from each of the groups...

Rainbow Monkey, cuddly cat and telescope:
Once upon a time there was a rainbow coloured cheeky monkey called Boris who loved an adventure. Shockingly one scary stormy night Boris looked through his shiny yellow telescope and suddenly he could see slimy terrifying zombies were coming towards him. They got closer and closer. The zombie was terrifying. Unfortunately Boris was stuck in some sticky glue. The zombies got even closer. The zombie grabbed the monkey and bit him. Devastatingly he turned into a monkey zombie. His mum was shocked.
Luckily Kitty the cat heard some screams and ran to the rescue but sadly she was too late.

Dinosaur, tin of baked beans, sunflower:
Once upon a time there was a huge dinosaur, his name was Ben. He was a dinosaur who loved baked beans. One day Ben made a rocket out of a baked beans tin. He launched for take-off. Unfortunately there was a flower and it made him sneeze. Bang! Crash! Within minutes he was on the moon. Luckily Ben had an air sack and so he lived on the moon forever eating lots and lots of beans every day. Finally he got fat and bored on his own.

Dragon, police car and wooden cat:
Once upon a time there lived a fire breathing dragon. The dragon is big, hot and scary. There were noisy sirens everywhere around the dragon. It was a devastating, awful and tragic disaster! The sirens were melting like ice on an ice rink on fire. The police wheels were popping like popping candy that you eat. Bang! Boom! Luckily a cat came to their rescue. The cat is cute, small and cuddly. The cat scared the dragon and they all lived happily ever after.

It's a real privilege to share these kind of creative moments with both the teachers and their children - not least because the teachers are enabling the children and celebrating their work.

We've got a few photos, but as before - I forgot to get a group photo with the children! Which is a pain as we (me and the school) were hoping to send one to our local newspaper with a little report. *sighs* Next time... And I have a feeling that there will be some competition entries coming in from Class 2 (follow THIS LINK if you don't know which competition I'm talking about) in the near future - Hooray!

So - huge thanks to Diseworth School, particularly Class 2, for making me feel so welcome, and I look forward to visiting again soon!

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Testing, testing...

Bit of a weird post, this, but I need your help...

I've had some problems recently with folk not being able to leave comments on the Scribbles. Now, as I've not changed any settings since I started the blog, and they've always been set to 'anyone' without the need for spambot checks, this was a bit of a mystery. I seemed to get round it by playing with the settings and re-saving, but as I was re-saving them how they always used to be, that didn't make much sense.

Recently, comments have dropped off again. I'm not sure whether this is 'cos I've not posted anything worth commenting on - yep, I know, sometimes I just talk to myself for the fun of it and I don't expect responses all the time anyway. Or - the problem's back.

Please, would you try commenting on this post, even if it's something you don't usually do, just to check that everything's ticketyboo?

You should be able to comment anonymously, through a Google account or via OpenID (whatever that is), and if for any reason you can't comment, would you contact me via with any error message.

Thanks for your help. x

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Time's running out...

Just in case you missed the earlier competition posts, I'm repeating myself...because there are only TWO WEEKS to go before the competition deadline to find a problem for Granny Rainbow to solve!

The next batch of stories are well on the way to being finalised and the illustrations are being drawn as I type. But I'm still short of a blue or yellow themed problem for Granny to sort out this time round.

If you've read Granny Rainbow and can think of a problem for her to solve that involves something blue or yellow, why not enter the competition?

You could win the chance to see YOUR idea written as a story and included in the next book of Granny Rainbow stories! You’ll also win a copy of the new book, signed by both myself and Laura, PLUS a unique hand-coloured illustration of the character who features in your story. And yes, it can be a brand new character if you like!

Send your name, email contact and address, your age and your idea for a problem (you can send an outline of the story or a more detailed summary - I can work with either) before the 30th June to:  with ‘Granny Rainbow Comp’ in the title line  


post to ‘Granny Rainbow Competition’, 26 Colgrove Road, Loughborough, Leics, LE11 3NN

The winning idea will be picked and announced on the 1st September. 

Get scribbling!

And if you'd like to enter and haven't got a copy yet, pop into The Reading Shop in Oadby, The Bookshop, Kibworth, or order direct from me by using this link. If you order in the next day or two, you should still have plenty of time to enter... 

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Anyone for birthday cake?

It was my birthday earlier this week. I had a lovely day; lunch with Mr Squidge, followed by a walk in Bradgate Park where I got sunburnt! I was thoroughly spoiled... Thank you to everyone who sent birthday wishes through the cloud, postman or FB, and for my lovely presents!

But it's my birthday cake I want to share with you all.

In the past, I used to decorate the kid's cakes. I'm a hopeless baker, so it'd always be a shop-bought cake which I'd make look like whatever the kids wanted...Here's a few I made earlier:

For the 'lotsa sweeties' party...
The fairy party...
The Pirate party...

The Curse of the Were Rabbit film party...
The Despicable Me 2 Party...
The 'first day back at school after the summer,
in new uniform with the new logo,
which also happens to be your birthday' party...

Actually - I think the last two were done by the kids for each other...I didn't have much of a hand in either of those.

And I like that they want to get involved - they decorated mine this year.

What you have to understand though, about the theme they chose, is that since I've written Granny Rainbow, my immediate family seem to have become obsessed with Marmaduke and Mrs Fluffy (Granny and Tom's cats, respectively.) For some reason, they want me to write a spin-off book about the cats. To include stories such as Marmaduke and Mrs Fluffy's Night on the Tiles. Marmaduke and Mrs Fluffy get chased by a big dog. Marmaduke and Mrs Fluffy have furballs. Marmaduke and Mrs Fluffy leave a headless mouse as a present.

I kid you not.

Needless to say, I've not written anything of the kind. But this fascination with the two cats has continued. So...


Have to admit, I thought they'd done a Rainbow Nyan Cat at first. Apparently it's Marmaduke chasing a rainbow! And we're now trying to eat it in such a way that Marmaduke doesn't get cut into 'til the last minute...

Anyone fancy a slice?

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

The 'beautiful game'

So... unless you're a hermit, you probably have realised that the football World Cup starts tomorrow.
Apologies here and now to fans of 'the beautiful game', but I'm afraid I'm not a fan. Never have been.

"It's patriotic and uniting" a friend remarked the other day, when I said the only good thing about the World Cup was the number of films that are on the telly at the same time.

In fact, we had quite a ...lively...discussion about it.

"Why," he asked, "don't you support the England football team, when you were completely swallowed up by supporting the UK in the Olympics two years ago?"

I started muttering about too much hype, salaries that would clear some countries debts, players better suited to the Oscars from their performances on the pitch, poor role models, the fact that I don't have a sporty bone in my body and don't really get involved with ANY sports...I think I went on a bit more, but you get my drift.

In the end, we agreed to disagree.

Yesterday, though, I watched the programme David Beckham made about his road trip to Brazil, because Mr Squidge wanted to see it and I was interested to see whether the footy hype would follow Beckham into the jungle. (David Beckham into the Unknown is available on BBC iplayer for a few more days, and worth watching even if you're not a footy fan - even if it's just to see one of the world's most recognisable footballers trying to explain the game to a tribal elder of an isolated Amazonian tribe...)

And that's when I realised; I prefer to 'get behind' the people, not the team. I enjoyed the Olympics because it was individuals striving to be the best they can be at their chosen sport, often succeeding against the odds, often poorly paid (if at all) and doing it for the love of the sport.

I can't help feeling that a lot of the time, particularly with football, it's become more about the humungous salaries, the multi-million pound stadiums, the celebrity status and the glittering wives. Or the almost tribal mentality of 'our team's better than yours and if you don't like it, we'll fight you for it.' There are probably lots of football fans now shouting at their monitors, saying it's not like that at all! What about the genuine supporters? I accept that, and I think the media has a lot to answer for in how I view football...

I admire David Beckham, the man.He comes across as a thoroughly good bloke, who genuinely cares for his wife and family and treasures his friends. And yeah, he's a good footballer too. There's integrity there, an honesty - even when talking about the time he was red carded at a previous world cup match. He appreciated the people who'd set him on his footbally career path and he appeared to learn from his mistakes. And let's not forget everything he's done for charity.

Now, if every footballer on the planet was like that, I'd be a fan. It really would be 'the beautiful game.'

(PS If you logged on earlier and are wondering where the pics have gone...was pointed out that perhaps FIFA/Mr B wouldn't endorse my use. So we're back to text only.)

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Two hundred!

Did you know, that two hundred...

* is the number of seeds produced by each dandelion head?

* is the number of Japanese executives who die every year on golf courses?

* is the number of pounds (or dollars) you get for passing 'Go' in Monopoly?

* is the number of hours, estimated to be spent globally every day, to collect water?

* is the number of companies who control a quarter of the world's wealth?

* is the number of fire-flashing eyes Typhon the Titan had in Greek mythology?

* is the average number of miles covered daily by the Pony Express in the US?

* is a number signifying 'insufficiency' according to Billinger's study of biblical literature?

* is the number of posts I've written on the Scribbles to date?!

Any more '200' facts you'd care to share? (And for this, I really, REALLY hope that readers can leave comments. There seems to have been a glitch on my previous post which prevented anyone commenting, even though all the settings are the same as they've always been... Please let me know if you're still having posting problems and I'll have to get on to blogger.)

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Critical or caring: critiques

When I first began to write, I was convinced that I was writing fabulous stories, full of adventure and mystery that would keep any child glued to the page. How wrong I was. Something like eight years, four professional critiques, numerous beta readers' comments and several courses later, I'm closer to that dream - but still not quite there. Yet.

Critiques have definitely helped, but why do I, and many others, continue to subject ourselves to critique when it can be such an uncomfortable experience sometimes?

1. Because we like to show off. 
Shout it from the rooftops - "I've written a book!"

2. Because we want to know we're producing good stuff.
We need our ego stroked, and affirmation that what we've spent hours slaving over was worth every ounce of effort.

If you're lucky, your mum/dad/significant other/BFF will read what you've written, mainly because it's in their contracts that they have to be nice. You may have a beta reader instead - someone you trust, who will be honest with you, and whose opinion you will at least listen to. Or you can splash the cash and pay for a professional critique, though be careful; go by personal recommendation and reputation, and remember 'you gets what you pays for!'

3. Because we want to be better writers.
It's all well and good getting that warm, fuzzy feeling when someone raves about what you've written. But would they really tell you if they didn't like it? If they couldn't follow the story? If they thought you needed to invest in a dictionary/some punctuation lessons/a dose of reality? How can you learn from your mistakes if you can't see them yourself and no-one will tell you what they are?

Receiving critique/feedback is hard. The first critique I ever paid for slapped my wrist so hard and was so uncomplimentary about my story, I set aside what I was working on for a couple of years, convinced I was completely c**p at writing. When I finally got angry enough at the loss of my dream to start again, subsequent professional critiques were easier to stomach, mainly because they highlighted good things as well as bad, and suggested improvements by providing concrete examples.

Whenever I'm asked to read through someone else's work, I'm intensely aware that I need to be encouraging as well as 'critical', remembering how that first critique made me feel.

Unfortunately, not everyone has the same approach. I've seen a spectrum of responses in critique, ranging from the blandest of comments which don't really say anything about the work just read, to those delivered with all the subtlety of a brick to the head. I've seen critiquers slate the early offerings of new writers, giving no consideration to the courage, first language or educational history of the author. Equally, I've seen critiquers offer entire rewrites of the original, which is tantamount to shouting 'I can do it better than you!' I remember one particular post of mine where that happened - the critiquer even went so far as to say 'I'd love to get my hands on this to edit it!' By 'edit', I assume she meant left a very bitter taste indeed.

But the person requesting the critique is not a helpless pawn in this process, and how they receive the feedback makes a difference too. When you receive feedback that is unexpected or not to your liking, you could:
a) throw your toys out of the pram and hit back at the reviewer, because what do they know anyway? It's your book and no-one's going to notice the spelling mistakes/that the heroine's eyes change colour in chapter 3/that the mystery was never truly solved. You've written a masterpiece and no-one's going to tell you otherwise.
Or b) sulk/cry/eat a ton of chocolate/moan to anyone who'll listen about the unfairness of the review for as long as it takes for you to calm down. Then, you re-read the report and consider respectfully whether the opinion of the reviewer is valid and has any use in improving your work. Only THEN do you reply to the reviewer...

When you're on the receiving end of a critique, Debi Alper's 'rule' of Accept, Amend, Reject is invaluable; if I had a writing desk, rest assured those three words would be framed and hanging above it. As the writer, you have to be open to improving your work and making it the best it can be; very few authors write their first book straight off, with no changes needed. And as some have been heard to say - (paraphrased) overnight success takes years.

So the next time you ask for, or are asked for, a critique, take a deep breath and put a little caring into it. As Mary Poppins said, "A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down."

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Reasons to be cheerful: 1,2,3

Pinch, punch, first day of the month.

And there are several things I'm going to celebrate this June:

1. My birthday. (No, I'm not going to tell you how old I am...)
2. My 200th blog post will be published.
3. Squidge's Scribbles will celebrate its first birthday.

Since I know that some of you have been reading the Scribbles since day 1, you're all invited to celebrate with me!

Are you ready to Paarrr-tay?