Monday, 8 December 2014

Anthologies, Shortlists, and just getting on with it.

There's something very exciting, when you're an extremely boring person who sells gas for a living, about typing your name into an Amazon search, and seeing a selection of things you've been published in. I'm very proud to have not one but two pieces published in Hysteria 3. The first is a flash fiction piece about a female butcher. The second is a short story I wrote quite a long time ago, using my mum's old teaching notes from the 1950's as inspiration.  I love writing stories set in the fairly recent past, and hope to write a lot more.

My story No Cause For Concern will be published in another anthology, having been shortlisted in the first Black Pear Press Short Story Competition. I'm thrilled to be building up a decent writing profile. It would be nice to know though, how many people actually entered these completions.  There's a big difference between coming 10th  out of 20 entries, and coming 10th out of 200 or even 2000 entries.

In other news, I made it onto the shortlist of the Greenacres November Short Story Competition. 
I like this competition. It delivers results when it says it will, and it's simple to enter. What more can you ask for? Oh, and my story SMILE came 5th in the Write-Invite 1000 word short story competition. I have won a free critique, which I await with bated breath.

I'm pleased to be able to say that I completed my November challenge to write a first paragraph every day. I'm now ready to make some of those paragraphs into proper stories. It's lovely to have so much to work with, but I'm struggling to find the motivation to actually sit down and write the stories. I hate this time of year, with its dark mornings and evenings, and its bad memories and negative feelings. Sometimes I wish I could just hibernate until the middle of March. But there are competitions to enter, and magazines to submit to. So I suppose I'll do what my family has always done, and just get on with it.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

My November First Paragraph Project

It's November again (how did that happen?), the time of year when many brave writers turn their attention to NaNoWriMo or, for the uninitiated, National Novel Writing Month. The idea is that you attempt to write the first draft of a 50,000 word novel during November. No editing, no messing about, just writing. I only ever attempted it once, and I think I lasted about a week, by which time I had run out of plot, and writing had become an onerous chore. Never again.

This year I have set myself a far more modest challenge. Every day in November I am attempting to write the first paragraph of a completely new story. I even have a special notebook for this purpose, and I've optimistically written the dates at the top of the pages.  Some days, so far, I've written a whole page. Some days I've only managed two or three sentences. The good thing is that for more than a week now I've come up with a fresh idea every day. I'm already starting to plan what I'm going to do with some of them. Others might end up going nowhere but I reckon that if I end up with half a dozen decent new stories, my little November project will have been more than worthwhile.

In other news, I've had a few more writing successes. That story that was longlisted in the Doris Gooderson competition was sent out into the world again to take its chances, and ended up published in Issue One of Kishboo, an exciting new online magazine. You can read my story here. If you enjoy it, you can vote for it to win. If you prefer, you can vote for one of the other stories.

As I think I've said before, The Word Hut Short Story Competition is one of my favourites, and I was thrilled when my story Roar came 2nd in the most recent contest. I was especially pleased with the judge's comments:
       'We liked the way you had the narrator showing signs of dementia and linking it to her mother's similar decline. We receive many stories about dementia and the elderly, but this was very different in the way it was presented. The ending was also very powerful and emotive.'

And finally, I've been a runner-up in WriteInvite a couple of times. This last week I lost out to Della Galton, one of the queens of the Womags. So there's no shame in that!

Lily, 'helping' me with my writing, as usual.

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Gettting A Bit Embarrassing Now!

Since I last posted, I've won WriteInvite for another two weeks on the run. You can read my stories here. Obviously, I'm thrilled, because it's always good to have people you don't know say that your work is good. But I can just imagine the other entrants thinking 'Oh no, not her again!' For the record, winning three weeks running is a complete fluke. In the past I've gone weeks, and months without a shortlisting, sometimes with stories that have gone on to be competition winners elsewhere. It's a lottery. But it's really nice when your numbers come up!

In other news, I was longlisted in The Doris Gooderson Short Story Competition. This is the furthest I've got in three years of entering this competition, so I'm really pleased, especially since they had 180 entries. My longlisted story has been sent off  elsewhere now. Watch this space.....

Friday, 19 September 2014

Finally, my name in Mslexia, plus a WriteInvite comeback....

There's something very exciting about opening your favourite writing magazine, Mslexia, and seeing an advert for a book which includes your writing on the inside of the front cover. Sometimes I feel like an actual proper writer. For about 30 seconds. Then the feeling passes.

Over the Summer I had a long break from my weekly fix of WriteInvite competitions. I didn't mean for it to be such a long break, but as the weeks went by I lost my confidence, and kept finding reasons not to enter. Finally, the Saturday before last, I forced myself to have a go. Not sure how I managed it, but I won, with 72% of the vote. You can read my winning story here. That's all the writing news I have, for now.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Good Things Come In Threes

I haven't posted for a while, because I've had nothing much to say. And then, suddenly, writerly  things started to happen again. The first one was coming third in The Word Hut's 14th Short Story Competition with my story Nativity (you need to scroll down past my other story The Pen if you want to read it). The Word Hut is one of my favourite competitions. It's not Bridport, or Bristol, or whatever, and it makes no claim to be. But it always does what it promises - publishes results when it says it will and pays promptly. And James, who's in charge of it, is a fellow cat lover. So he must be a good person.

Then, last weekend, I received my copy of issue 2 of  Firewords Quarterly. I posted about this lovely magazine a while ago, and I'm more than a little bit happy to say that my flash fiction story My Evil Twin was accepted for publication. This time around the format has changed, and it's now more of a paperback book than a 'comic'. But it's still the most beautifully illustrated literary magazine that I've ever seen, and I'm proud to be a tiny part of it.

And then, just when I thought life couldn't get any better  (well, actually, my life could get a lot, lot better, but you know what I mean), another of my flash fictions A Quiet Night In  was published, on 21st August, on the online Flashfiction Magazine.

So, after a bit of an unproductive period, I've got my enthusiasm back, and I'm looking forward to September which I always view as a time of new starts and good resolutions. Once a teacher, always a teacher....

Monday, 7 July 2014

My New Discovery - Firewords Quarterly

I recently made a wonderful discovery, and I want to share it, because it deserves to be better known than it is. It looks and feels like an old fashioned comic, and when I took it out of its envelope it took me back to the days of Bunty and Judy. And I must admit, I thought 'Oh, is that it?' I'd been expecting something more physically substantial, and a bit glossier. But Firewords Quarterly  is pretty much perfect.

I came across it because my fellow My Baby Shot Me Down anthologist, (if that's even the right word), Rachael Smart has a story in Issue 1. And a very good story it is too. It's one good story amongst many. There are poems and flash fictions too. What makes it so special is the way each piece is so stunningly and appropriately illlustrated. I can't put into words how good it is. You have to see it, and hold it in your hands.

If you're a writer, you can submit your work to it. There's still just about time to submit for the next issue The details are here. They accept short stories of up to 2000 words, and poetry, and they have a flash fiction challenge, for pieces of under 400 words, which include a given prompt. This time the prompt is 'As the lights went out, everything changed.'  Submissions close on Friday 11th July.

I haven't submitted anything to them yet, although I hope to.  And if they reject what I send them I will keep trying, because I'd just love to be published in something like this. Well done, Firewords people. Long may your work continue.

Monday, 30 June 2014

How To Stop Your Human From Writing

1. Sit on her work in progress.

2. Sit in front of her monitor. This strategy is particularly effective when your human is attempting to take part in the Write-Invite competition on Saturday evenings. She will still be able to type, she just won't be able to see what she's written. This can be quite amusing.

3. When your human goes downstairs to make a cup of tea, hide behind her monitor. When she returns, choose an appropriate moment to emerge and scare the living daylights out of her. She's probably not really writing anyway, she's wasting time on Facebook.

4. Curl up and go to sleep on her favourite writing chair. Attempt to look as cute as possible. Covering your face with a paw is a good idea. She won't have the heart to wake you.

5. Lie in the doorway of her study looking pitiful and needy.  A little sad mewing is also recommended.

6. If all else fails, and she continues to write, turn your back on her and SULK to the best of your ability. Cat treats will be forthcoming. Works every time.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Another One For The Book

This is a photo of me with my maternal grandparents Bert and Ada. Last Friday, 20th June, would have been their wedding anniversary. They were married in 1931, and died, within 11 months of each other, just a few years short of their seventieth anniversary. Nana always said the secret to a good marriage was never to argue about money. Grandad reckoned the key thing was to never contradict your wife, even when she was talking rubbish. And, to be honest, Nana talked a lot of rubbish. I'm rambling on about them now because I've been thinking, over the weekend, about how much they've influenced my writing.

People often assume that your writing is autobiographical. Most of mine isn't. I have led an essentially dull life that nobody in their right mind would want to read about. But Nana and Grandad, unremarkable as they were, have managed to leave behind them a treasury of writing material.

Nana had a saying, whenever anything vaguely amusing happened.
        'That's another one for the book,' she would say. I'd love to write that book. It would probably include the time, when my grandad was away serving in WW2, she moved house without consulting him. And the time she 'mended' a deckchair. Grandad sat in it, while she was out shopping. Her inadequate stitching gave way, and he was left stranded in the deckchair frame until an acquaintance came to the back gate, hoping to buy some plants.

Nana was 'a character'. She had a membership card for every bingo hall in town, and most of the ones in Liverpool. At one time, playing bingo was more or less a full time job for her. She was a fan of crosswords too, although she didn't pay much attention to the clues. She preferred to just fill in any word she could think of that fitted.  There was always a copy of People's Friend or Woman's Weekly on the arm of her chair. I grew up reading them.

Grandad was quieter, and I wish I'd talked to him more when I was younger. I know stuff about him now that I didn't when he was alive, because he rarely spoke about his early life. I know he was orphaned by the time he married, aged 21, and that an older brother was lost at sea during WW1, aged just 18. I also know something that he almost certainly didn't; that he had a half brother, born when his mother was just a teenager, and a full ten years before her marriage to his father. I wonder what he'd have made of that, had he still been around when the 1911 Census became available to view online.

My Nana told me lots of stories, when I was growing up. She told me about the twins she gave birth to, after a fall downstairs seven months or so into a pregnancy she wasn't even aware of. They lived for ten minutes, and it was another eight years before my mum came along. She told me about the teenage years she spent in domestic service, when her employers tested her by planting coins under the rug. The first time she found them, she stacked them on the mantelpiece. The second time, she glued them down. There never was a third time. She told me a story about Grandad, and how when he was a boy, he knocked his father unconscious when he saw him raise his hand to hit his mother.
All these are just stories waiting to be written. They're nothing special. Every writer, however mundane their family, must have a stock of ideas like this. But thank you, Nana and Grandad, for leaving me yours. I just hope I can do them justice.

Monday, 16 June 2014

A Bit Of Good News!

Well, after posting last week about Write-Invite, I somehow managed to win again last week. You can read my winning entry here. I was quite pleased with my little story, although there a quite a lot of things I would have gone back and changed if I'd had more time. Still, who knows? It may yet grow up to be a much longer story.

I've also had two of my flash fiction stories accepted for inclusion in FlashFlood, an online flash fiction journal, the latest installment of which is due to appear on National Flash Fiction Day, Saturday 21st June.  Stories will be published online at regular intervals throughout the day. Mine are set to 'go live' at 6am and 3pm. The first one, Flying High, concerns a middle-aged man, his much younger girlfriend and a game show. The second, Mr Thoroughgood is about a married couple, an amorous postman and an imaginary dog. Submissions are being accepted until 23.59 on Thursday 19th June.

I have, at last, done a little bit of updating on my blog, creating a page for links to stories that have been published online, and another for links to 'paper' publications in which my work appears. And I have actually managed to do some new writing! This week I'm hoping to get my entries ready for Flash500 which closes on 30th June. I've been entering this every quarter for the last couple of years but, apart from once coming second, I've not had much luck. Still, it's a great competition with generous prize money and, importantly, they don't keep you waiting and waiting for results.

Fingers crossed, then, for a productive writing week!

Monday, 9 June 2014

My Writing Addiction

I've written virtually nothing this week. Not because I have 'Writer's Block', not because I've had momentous things going on in my life, and not because I've been busy at work, or elsewhere. I just haven't written anything because, as I've said before, I'm a basically lazy person and I need to try harder. One thing I did do, though, was enter Write-Invite which, for if you're not familiar with it, is a weekly online writing competition.

This is how it works. You register, you pay your entry fee, and then, at 5.30pm every Saturday you're given a list of three prompts. You pick one and write a story. You have thirty minutes. You click the submit button and wait until the following Wednesday, when the shortlist comes out. If you're on it you congratulate yourself and wait to see what happens. If you're not, you get to vote on the top three stories. If your story was in the top 20 you will receive a comment about it from the organizers. Or you might be an 'also read'.  But even if that happens, all is not lost. I've been shortlisted in competitions with stories that began as Write-Invite 'also reads'.

When I first registered, I got a free credit. But I was so scared of giving it a go that it expired before I got round to entering my first competition.  Once I got started I was hooked. I was shortlisted the second time I entered. I thought my story was rubbish. I wrote it on my laptop, and kept losing my wifi connection while I was writing. But maybe they like to encourage newcomers.  I didn't win, but I was encouraged. A couple of weeks later I wrote a winning story. You get £50 if you win, nothing for being a runner-up.

So far this year I have won 4 times and come 2nd twice. I am at the top of the league table (and, as the world's least sporty person, that's a sentence I never thought I'd write!.  You can read my winning stories, and those of other writers here. Winning is a massive confidence boost, and I think of any cash I win as my 'competition entering fund'. The more times I win Write-Invite, the more other comps I can enter. But the main thing, for me, is the fact that every time I enter I end up with the germ of a new story. Looking back, probably more than half of the stories I've been successful with have begun life as Write-Invite entries. I am hopelessly addicted. I find myself entering no matter how tired, depressed, unwell or distracted I feel. I always feel better afterwards. There are worse things to be addicted to.

Writing with a 30 minute deadline is scary, but it's also exhiliarting. You never know where your story will take you. The first time I won, my story veered off in a totally different direction from the one I had intended. That had never happened to me before, and it was really exciting. By the way, if you're going to enter, please don't even think about copying and pasting a story you've prepared earlier. It's against the spirit of the whole thing. And if your story is too polished many people will be suspicious. They won't vote for you. So just write for 30 minutes off the top of your head and see what happens.

Monday, 2 June 2014


It's been a week of small disappointments.  I was pleased to be longlisted, then shortlisted, in The Word Hut 13th Short Story Competition. But I wasn't placed. Still, it was nice to make it into the top ten. And my copy of the latest issue of  Mslexia has arrived. It includes the winning entries in their short story competition. My effort isn't amongst them, which is no great surprise. I made the top 50 in this competition last year, and I was hoping for greater things this time. But never mind. At least now I have a story to send elsewhere.

The end of the month is always a busy time in terms of competition deadllines. I entered four this month, and decided against entering a fifth, which shall remain nameless, because the entry fee was, in my opinion, far too high. One of the things I love about competitions is that, until the results are published, you always have hope. You never know what's going to pop up in your inbox.

I haven't done much actual writing, apart from polishing my 250 word Bridport Flash entry, and entering Saturday's WriteInvite competition, where you choose one of three given prompts and write a story in 30 minutes. So far this year I've won 4 times and been a runner-up twice. It's the only thing I seem to have any success with lately. But even when you don't win, you still have the beginnings of a new story, which is probably the most important thing. Many of my successful stories have begun life in this way.

In other news, I have been reading The Stories of Jane Gardam. I have loved Jane Gardam's books since I was a teenager, and I was interested to see that, in her introduction to this wonderful collection, she claims that she has always preferred writing short stories to writing novels. A woman after my own heart, then. She also says that Irish, French, Russian and American short stories are the strongest; which has increased my wishlist of books.

The anthology which includes some of my work, My Baby Shot Me Down, has received some great reviews on Amazon . It really is worth a read. Here is my cat Lily, guarding a stack of pristine copies.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Back Again!


My blog, like my garden, has been sadly neglected for far too long. I am basically a very lazy person. If nobody's shouting at me, telling me to do something, I probably won't do it. That's why I like writing competitions. They have deadlines. They make you focus and get things done. But I realise that, if I'm serious about writing, I need to impose my own deadlines. So this is me, having a go at a blog post at least once a week. It may last, it may not. Let's wait and see.

I can think of no better place to restart a blog than with something I've been published in. I've been published before, in magazines, and competition anthologies. Nothing else, though, has made me quite as proud as being part of this new anthology of woman writers  My Baby Shot Me Down from Blinding Books. It's a lovely thing; beautifully bound, printed on top quality paper, with a lovely quirky cover.  It includes five of my flash fiction pieces and a short story. When I got my copy, I was scared to read it. I was convinced that all the other contributors would be much better than me, and that I'd just been included to make up the numbers. To be honest, I'm still not convinced that that's not true. There are some wonderful writers in this book. If you can't find something to like here, whether it be poetry or prose, then you're a very difficult person to please.
In other news, I'm wondering whether it's worth entering The Bridport Prize with one of my flash fictions. They get thousands of entries, many of them from 'proper' writers. But as my dad always used to say, 'You have to be in it to win it..' So I'll probably give it a go.