Saturday, April 30, 2016

Writing Weather

It’s been perfect writing weather. We’ve had high winds, snow, sleet and hail. In-between there’s been some cold sunshine. Great weather for sitting at my desk, central heating on and getting on with some work.
I’m a lucky writer because I get a regular income from my columns, or features as Anita Loughrey prefers now. A column sounds just that – a column. A feature will cover a whole page, or even two. I’m now selling stories again too. Three in the past fortnight.
Years ago, an editor from a D C Thomson magazine phoned me to ask if I had any stories for him. He was short of them. I was out of breath when I answered the phone and he asked if I’d run in from the garden. I told him no. I’d run upstairs. Then he told me that he got fewer stories in summer because most of his writers were part-timers or hobby writers and were out in the garden during the summer months. There’s a tip for you – send off some stories this summer.

Q.  Where would you expect to see those words and what do they mean to you?

A.  They were on a M&S till receipt and they were short for A Touch Of Butter.    

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Lynne's secret diary - aged nine years and exactly one month

Editing wasn’t taught at school. I had to learn about it much later.
If I had edited this piece there would not have been that repetition in the second sentence – 
On the way we bought some sweets and ate them on the way.
And there’s another lesson for writers here. We’ll often write about what we know and assume everyone else knows too. Why would Miss Tipper know who Susan and David were? I should have added a few words to say they were my cousins and much younger than me.

My first thought was that this entry was a bit on the boring side but Auntie Beryl still lives in that house at Stourport. I clearly remember going to see those foundations. So this is a little bit of family history.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Not writers' block. I get writers' jam.

I often think, What am I going to write today?
It must be lovely to be a crime writer and know that you are going to sit down and continue with the main plot, a red herring and a sub-plot. Or how about a romantic novelist who will switch on her computer knowing that her hero and heroine are waiting for her together with a complete cast of characters?         
Some days I wish I was a novelist. Instead I am a butterfly writer. I gave myself that label. It means that I flit from one thing to another.
A typical morning begins with me switching on the computer, staring at the screen and wondering what to write. Does that sound familiar? What I should do is decide the night before which tasks I am going to undertake the following day but the order of tasks is put off until the last minute. Why? Because of Writers’ Jam. Jam as in traffic jam. The ideas are queuing up in my head but where do I start?  My ideas are like an assortment of vehicles lining up, jostling for position.
My book, a magnificent (hopefully) Rolls Royce, revs its engine loudly. Choose me. A deep honk from a sturdy family saloon sounds urgently. That’ll be the host of emails that need replies. And then there’s a chorus of tiny beeps from a medley of Minis - the short story department.
This morning I heard a tiny splutter from an apologetic little Robin Reliant.  ‘Don’t forget me. I’m important too.’ Yes, you are. It’s my regular piece, Novel Ideas, for Writing Magazine and with the deadline looming I allow the little three-wheeler to manoeuvre its way to the front of the queue. It smirks up at the Rolls. ‘My turn,’ it says. 
I have managed to prioritise. Novel Ideas is first today. Prioritising is something I am always trying to perfect.

We hear too much about Writers’ Block, especially as it doesn’t exist. If you think you’re blocked go and do something else. You probably only need a change of scenery, a bit of stimulation. Writers’ Jam does exist. Perhaps it isn’t mentioned because it sounds rather pompous. ‘I’ve got so many ideas I don’t know where to begin.’ Believe me, Writers’ Jam is out there and a lot of writers don’t know how to cope with it. It is too easy to sit and wonder which project to work on and maybe flit from one to another. And that’s why I’m a butterfly. 

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Unintentionally funny or confusing writing

One of my annoying habits according to the LSO (I don’t believe I have any) is reading out the classified ads. Aloud! They can be so unintentionally funny and a lesson to all writers. Be careful how you choose your words.  What you write, or what you say, can be construed completely differently to how you meant it.
For example I once saw, in a Worcester newspaper  - ‘For sale. Very old black lady’s bicycle.’ I was so tempted to phone and ask how the very old black lady was.
Another favourite, remembered from years ago, was,  ‘Pensioner needs someone to cut parrot’s toenails’.  What a picture that conjures up, and there has to be a story in it too.  Why wasn’t the bird taken to the vet?  Why wouldn’t the vet come out to the bird?  Why couldn’t the pensioner do the job himself?
How about, ‘Ironing board.  Forced to sell due to house move.’ This one didn’t make sense at all to me, unless the seller was moving to a doll’s house, or perhaps the ad had been placed by the long suffering mother of six sons who all wore fresh shirts every day. In which case, I’d flog the ironing board too. 
There has to be a story in this one - ‘Rocking chair.  Cheap because dog chewed arms.’  I wonder what happened to the dog.  And I wonder why the rocking chair’s owner thought anyone else would want it in its chewed condition.
For years people have been describing articles for sale and prospective jobs, often in hilarious ways.  A friend once gave me a copy of an old poster which states - YOUNG GIRLS WANTED FOR PICKLING AND BOTTLING.  We all know what is meant by it.  Young girls are needed to help pickle and bottle fruit, onions etc. but what it actually says is something entirely different.  I always have visions of young girls, quite small ones, sealed inside enormous jars.  For some reason they blink at me through the pickling vinegar when they should have drowned in it.
And how confusing is ‘Pink basin with matching blue vanity unit’?

But what intrigued me the most must be, ‘Man with well-trimmed beard seeks woman for fun.’ What has a well-trimmed beard got to do with anything and, ooh, it’s too early in the morning to think about it, is the beard somehow involved in the fun? (Answers, not on a post card but in the comments please.)

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Books and depression

I’ve mentioned before about picking random books up when visiting the library. Just by going to a shelf and selecting a book – any book – I have found new authors and new favourites.
Not so this week. The two books I picked at random were about terrorism and torture. This is one of the reasons I left my book club. We had six depressing books in a row. Far too many for a sensitive soul like me to cope with.
Why, when the world is in so much turmoil, do writers insist on making things worse? Where’s the escapism? Who is going to give a brighter side to things, some hope for the future?
Why are doctors supposedly suggesting reading as a cure for depression? The book club’s offerings made me feel miserable. My random choices from the library made me feel the same. (Thank the Universe for Laurie Graham and those like her.)
As a short story writer I have judged competitions and found many depressing stories, often about what’s happening in the world at that time. I was a judge when Madeleine disappeared and half the entries were about abduction. Lately, judges have been complaining about the number of depressing stories. It would appear that the same doesn’t apply when it comes to novels. Make your reader unhappy, miserable. Show them the horrors of torture in graphic detail and sign your publishing contract.

I’m packing my bags and setting off to live in People’s Friend World. 

Saturday, April 02, 2016

All Story-ed Out

I don’t want this to be all about bragging - it's the bragging that made me leave Facebook - so I’ve used sub-titles to show you what you can learn from this.

Can’t write? Don’t worry.
All story-ed out is what I have been for the past few years. I’ve been writing and selling stories since 1981 so it was little wonder that my story ideas dried up. Did I worry? No. Did I miss story writing? Yes. But to fill in the gap I got busy with article writing and I have five regular columns to produce each month. Add to that the grindingly slow process of putting my cyclist’s life together and I wasn’t being exactly lazy. (see below) Now, suddenly, almost three years on, I’m getting story ideas again. Better still, I’m writing them. I remember Eileen Ramsay, the novelist, telling me about the fallow fields outside her home. She compared them to writing. It didn’t look as if anything was happening in those fields but things were busy underground and in the Spring… well, we all know what happens. Life (ideas) return.

Who told you that you were lazy, had a big nose, flat feet…?
Many of you know that, as a child, my mother told me I was lazy because she was always on the go and I was always curled up with a book or pen and paper. If you believe anything bad about yourself, ask who told you this and question it now you’re an adult.

Don’t let rejected stories fade away
I sold a couple of stories during those story-less years but they were old ones which had been turned down. Now they’ve sold. I often wish I’d kept count of the sold stories but I stopped not long after 400. Count your successes. Take another look at those rejections and see if they can be improved. Maybe they can be shortened or lengthened to suit a different market.

Aim for more and more
Last month, March, I sent out seven stories and four of those were brand new. I hope to beat that in April but I won’t beat myself up if I don’t. If you sent out one last month, try for two this month.

Personal experience makes it easier
I had joined in an online discussion about nightmare guests. Someone had written about a guest who arrived at 2am shouting up to the bedroom window, ‘Coo-e. I’m here at last.’  That was my opening line for a new story. I remembered a couple of sets of guests who had not exactly been delights and I was away. It took me just over an hour to write the story because personal experience always makes it easier. I worked on it later and again this morning, changing words, moving sentences around and now reckon it’s ready to go out. My confidence is returning.

A little help from your friends
Up until yesterday’s story I had been sending any new ones to Glynis Scrivens, my cyber-sister, asking if they were any good. I had grave doubts about all of them but she assured me they were fine. I’d lost my confidence during the fallow years. Every writer needs a writing friend who will tell them the truth.

Recently I’ve sold to My Weekly, The People’s Friend and The Weekly News but this week I got what I had been wanting – an acceptance from Take A Break’s Fiction Feast.