Wednesday, 4 January 2017

The art of organising and note taking....if only!

I think one of my writing goals for 2017 should read be more organised. I work in an organised chaos and am bad at making notes when I write. I'll remember that, I think. Oh yes! (Case in point - couldn't remember the name of a very minor character who appears once and is mentioned once when he had a name! Made no notes 😐. Ended up leaving a ? It will come out in the editing, but annoying.)

So I am going to try and get my act together a bit this year. Over breakfast I went through Writing Magazine to see who was looking for what and cut out the ones I thought I might enter. Instead of leaving the little snippets stuffed in a plastic pocket (where upon I take a few out and then lose them!) I have stuck them on a sheet of A4 paper and highlighted the deadlines and anything else I think is important (word count, for instance). One of the competitions had a deadline of tomorrow so I had to make a quick decision and I did. I fired off a piece of flash fiction I had which fitted the word count and had been waiting in my 'Flash' folder on my laptop.

Over the last few days I succeeded in my first goal for 2017 and finished the humorous novel which was put aside in October so close to its ending. The bones of the last few chapters are there. I know I will need to do some serious editing but at least it is done and I can move on. (We won't mention the chapter I thought I'd lost - see note about notes!). I have no idea when I shall start editing it. I now have rather a lot of editing hanging around my neck.

Going back to submissions I try to have a mix of competitions and magazines. Competitions require a monetary outlay which mount up if you do too many in month. However, looking at the websites of some magazines their submission guidelines can be quite daunting. Sometimes I don't even know what they asking for because their explanation is so weird. It puts me off and I just decide not to submit there. Surely a genre requirement, word count and a look at an issue of their magazine would suffice? Why the obscure and mysterious wording? Am I alone in this?

So, it's back to the submissions and editing. If you are doing the same, good luck.

Friday, 30 December 2016

The last minute submission and the yearly review

Don't write something at the last minute and submit it at almost the final hour. That's my advice. Do I take it?! This is just what I have done today. My success with poetry this year has been pitiful and I've more or less given it up. And then I saw my local library was advertising their yearly poetry competition. Now, I've been quite successful here in the past - one year I came second and another I had a poem commended. The competition is also free and has the added advantage of being local, so no global entries into their thousands.

I saw the competition late, picked up the leaflet and pondered it. Now and then I thought about it again and then yesterday (deadline is 31st December!) I decided I'd look and see if I had anything fitting this year's theme. I did! You can enter up to four poems. I had three and then dismissed one. And then.,,,,,,oh dear....I decided to write one specifically for it. The idea came quickly. It's amusing (amusing poems don't win prizes but it's a free entry so what the heck. I like them). I re-read my poems again and then sat on them overnight. I don't have longer to ponder them. I read them again this morning and still liked them, including my last minute write. So I've shot them off this morning. The good thing about this competition (and entering late) is that I shall know one way or another by the end of January if any have sunk or swum into the winning zone.

Now I wouldn't recommend writing this way - last minute - because one day you go back and look at it and think what the hell! But now and then I like to take risks. It's anonymous, who's going to know! So there we have it, my last submission of the year.

And now we come to my review of the year. It makes an interesting read but will probably bore the pants off you. Still here goes.

  • January - three poems submitted - no acceptances
  • February - three poems submitted and two flash fictions - one flash fiction accepted
  • March - one flash fiction submitted (accepted) and three short stories
  • April - four flash fictions submitted - one accepted
  • May - one flash fiction submitted and accepted
  • June - A poetry pamphlet competition entry with 20 poems, 5 other poems submitted, one flash fiction and one short story - short story accepted
  • July - nine poems submitted and three short stories - (one short story still waiting result) 
  • August - three flash fiction submissions and one short story - one flash accepted and one was shortlisted.
  • September - Two flash fictions (both accepted) and two short stories
  • October - nine poems submitted, (one accepted, four waiting result) four flash fictions (two accepted, one waiting result) and one short story
  • November - Two flash fictions submitted - both accepted
  • December - three poems submitted (waiting result), one flash fiction (accepted) and two short stories (waiting result)

What I see here is that flash fiction has been my forte and I intend to plug away with that. Flash fiction is anything up to 1,000 words in my book. The shortest published flash I've written was 50 words. I have to thank Paragraph Planet for liking my words enough for me to appear on their website on average once a month! (I love it that my name appears alongside my favourite author Elly Griffiths). Thanks PP. Their 75 word challenge is a great one. Another flash fiction I wrote was originally an exercise from the Open University FutureLearn online writing course. I always liked it and though it wasn't picked in a competition I entered Gold Dust magazine liked it and it can now be read in their latest edition online! (Issue 30) I was thrilled to be told this story entitled High Noon had made it. It has that certain humour I so much enjoy writing. I only found out on Christmas Eve that it was published, though I'd known for a couple of months it was to happen.

My very first short story to be published came out in an Anthology by Eyelands (a Greek based competition). This was an other long wait. My story Reading the Auras was a shortlisted entry appearing alongside the winning ones. The book due out at the end of November was delayed (and then there was postal strike in Crete!). It arrived on Christmas Eve. So, you can see I was in rather a good mood for Christmas!

Deciding to write more flash stories and short fiction is paying off. I adore writing them and people seem to like them. I thought it would be good practice for novel writing as before attempting my first novel I'd only really written really short flash fiction. I did send out one of my novels to two agents. Both returned it and I have since re-written the first chapter and am trying to get some professional feedback on it. While I can get feedback on shorter stories through my writing group a novel is different. I have no one to read those at all so I haven't a clue if they work.

Having completed all my goals for 2016 by not aiming too high I am now thinking about 2017.
My goals look like this:

  1. Continue writing and submitting flash fiction and stories widely
  2. Get professional feedback on one novel
  3. Edit one novel and try and find an agent
  4. Continue writing longhand in my special notebook using the prompts from Writer to Writer (I'm so enjoying this right now) and type up some of the stories for submitting once edited
  5. Finish the humorous novel (it's very close to the end)
  6. Take time away from writing sometimes (I've found the pressure of not writing a novel at the moment so good!)
  7. Have a sort of writer's retreat just to relax and write without the burden of chores and family
  8. Probably book a place at Swanwick Writers' Summer School in August

I think number 3 will be the tricky one!

I have no desire (right now) to write another novel, though that doesn't mean I don't have ideas. I would like to write a sequel to one and one other humorous novel so I have a set of three! There are other ideas, notes and profiles but I'm not going there yet. I have to consolidate what I have with lots of editing and submitting. This will be the year of the flash and the short!

Looks like it could be a busy year and hopefully a fruitful one. Wishing everyone luck with their own writing in 2017. And if you feel brave tell me your goals.

STOP PRESS I've just found out that I have been longlisted for the Retreat West prize (short story category). That was my one waiting from July! This doesn't mean I'll get on the short list and I have to wait another month for this. Oh the waiting, the waiting! Wish me luck! HAPPY!

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Getting away from manic characters for Christmas!

I had already decided to take a break from writing to concentrate on Christmas. I did not want character turmoil interfering with my preparations. I was at that point where I could break off. Most of what is waiting for me is editing and submissions.

I had already thought about next year and where I go from here. I had tentative plans to spend some time reading up some books on writing and tackling some writing exercises from them. And then I thought, why wait until the new year? So I have already started using Writer to Writer by Gail Carson Levine. I bought a new notebook and have been writing by hand, something I haven't done in a long time. Each chapter of the book comes with some prompts to get you writing. There were three at the end of the first chapter (which is as far as I have got but I'm enjoying it). The first thing I noticed was how weird my stories were! The exercises take you out of your comfort zone and get you writing things you would never normally even consider. The aim isn't to produce fantastic prize winning writing (though you never know) but to get your imagination going and to write something. I don't think I'd ever have written what I have in any other life!

And now I have succumbed to the inevitable cold everyone has had or is suffering right now. It means that I have to take it easy for a bit and I do need that. Switching off is very hard for me. So right now I am catching up with reading, watching things I recorded from the TV and napping!

I did, this morning, tackle a massive ironing pile and clear the airing cupboard of the last lot as well as strip techie son's bed (been asking him for ages to do it) and put it all in the wash.

Luckily I have Christmas more or less wrapped up (pun not/intended - delete whichever you like!) as after a slow start I accomplished a lot in one week. I've got through all my commitments, seen the friends I needed to exchanged gifts with so I can now relax. Hopefully I will be okay by Christmas Day. We have sporty son's girlfriend staying two nights but otherwise nothing else on the agenda.

I always have a book list to give to the boys and this year I have opted for a couple of books from Indie authors. I still have a backlog of books to read but really, can you ever have enough books? I've just finished reading Calling Mrs Christmas! by Carole Matthews which was given as a present last year. I was knee deep in War & Peace at the time so I saved it for this year. Carole's books are always good fun but now I want something dark - a thriller/crime perhaps. In My cupboard upstairs I know where there is one!

This could well be my last post before Christmas. I'm still waiting on two things which were supposed to be happening for me this month but no news yet. I seem to spend a lot of time waiting!
Anyway, I'm off to the sofa via the kitchen. Why do colds make me so hungry? It's all I can do not to open the Christmas food!

Have a great Christmas and I hope the New Year brings everything you dream of. Happy writing and reading and thanks for dropping by here throughout the year. Hope you continue to visit next year.

Friday, 9 December 2016

A small story has me dancing!

My flash story Silent Dancing is up on the Visual Verse website right now if anyone would like to go over there and read it! Really pleased. This is an old story which just never worked in it's original form. The picture on the website (to respond to) sparked new life into it! I took it apart, re-named the characters and suddenly I had something.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Round up of November delights

Fallen leaves are like words; each have their own story to tell
I haven't been here for a month. Sorry about that. I have been rather caught up in things. I've been writing the first draft of a novel as well as editing flash fiction and short stories. I had a new 75 word flash fiction published on Paragraph Planet in November but I didn't get round to writing here about it. The piece will now be in the archive if you'd like to read it.

I'm also doing an online course with Faber Academy entitled Read Like a Writer. We've been examining extracts of stories to see the elements authors use in their novels and now we are coming to that point of submitting our own work (a 1,000-2,000 word piece) Mine is about done. The course ends in a week's time.

Submissions slowed down after the October splurge but I have submitted three stories this month. I also took one of my stories to the writer's group I belong to. I had a query about it. As a writer it isn't always easy to take a back seat and read it differently but I did know what might be wrong with it. It was too long to get feedback on the whole thing, so I read half and emailed the total script to members later. I was amazed to find they didn't think I should change anything and the part that worried me was okay. We also discussed the age group for the piece. I didn't feel it was for adults but it wasn't children's. Someone said they thought it was Young Adult. A first for me!

Feedback is so important. That is what I'm lacking with the longer pieces of work, novels in particular. I have drafts of  many different length stories. Where to go for help is the thing. I've looked at different online community writing websites and signed up for a couple but I'm still not happy with them, Most are based in the USA and some of my work is very English. Not sure Americans will get me. So I've come to a standstill for the moment.

As for poetry I've more or less given that up. I had another rejection today. I send out less and less poetry and I write even less new poems. I honestly don't think I'm going to get published in any 'good' magazine. I've been trying a long time and now my heart isn't in it. I now write poetry for my own pleasure and may think about self-publishing at some time. People I read my poetry to love it but it obviously doesn't fit in with what small press magazines want. There comes a point when you just have to accept that. And the thing is it doesn't bother me as much as it once did. I think that says it all. It seems to be one of a few things I'm shedding this year!

I've had far more success with my fiction. I love writing stories, living in other worlds, fleshing out my characters. The need to write poetry is dwindling but I still enjoy reading it and hearing new poets read.

I had a very interesting conversation with the lady who runs the writing group. She'd doing an MA, I think, in Creative Writing and she's really struggling with experimental writing. She has to write an essay on it and she doesn't understand it. Her tutor is mad about it. She explained what this experimental writing is and I agreed. I've seen it in poetry and it leaves me cold. I don't get it. I didn't even know that stories were written this way with words missing and set out weirdly. I read for enjoyment for the plot and the characters. I don't get what this is about apart from trying to look clever. Maybe someone could explain it to me?

I have more or less decided that next year is going to be the year for learning. I have several how to books with exercises. I want time to go through them and try out some different writing, see where it leads. I also want to continue writing short stories and flash and perhaps find some way of getting feedback on one of my draft novels. That's all I will say for now because these are tentative goals for next year and I'm still thinking things through.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Reward system......oh and a published flash story

Sometimes, because I'm not a fan of housework, I set up a reward system, like if I do the ironing I can go back to reading that book, or if I clean the kitchen first I can then do some writing. It works, especially when the housework has built up!

Today it was I will clean the top of the cooker, then write. So I sprayed it with a solution you leave on for a bit and went to check my emails (that's not writing!) and saw one from Visual Verse. Yes, my flash story has been published on their site! I went to check it out and thereafter I began flitting between twitter and Facebook before I remembered the cooker top. Yes, I did go back and clean it and now I am free to write (though there is a basket of ironing staring at me so I feel another reward style thing coming on).

My story is called Marigolds (you will need to scroll down a fair bit on the home page) and this one is very close to my heart.

Have a lovely day whether it's writing or houseworking!

Monday, 31 October 2016

A dark tale for Samhain (Halloween)

Bonfires & Ale

He was a bugger of man when he was alive, full of a drink and angry words. I’d spent years dodging his fists only to have to endure his weeping apologies the next morning. No one respected him, not even his own mother. In the village he’d run up debts, verbally abused the grocer and on a good night he’d be so damned drunk he wouldn’t make it back at all. Those nights we slept sound, the boys huddled together next to me on the straw mattress.

               There was never money enough to keep hunger at bay. I took in washing to make a few extra pennies, and the boys outgrew their boots so quickly that I couldn’t afford replacements. Often they went barefoot. In winter it was any cut down material I could spare to tie round their feet to keep the cold out.

               But in June the bugger finally drank his last drink and was found slumped in a doorway. He’d gone to meet his maker. What a disappointment that must’ve been to him! Maybe the fiery furnace of hell would make him recall everything he’d put us through. I hope he stays there. But the worry hovers over me so I’ve got the boys outside building the bonfire. Make it big, I tell them.

               I’m not sure if the boys really understand what happened to their father. They’re only six and eight, though the eldest is out there earning now, running errands. And to be honest we are doing alright, thank you, since the bugger died. At least the money is all ours now the debts are paid. I sleep better, though the boys are restless. They think he might come back. I tell them no, but they also know what day it is today and we’re not the only ones building bonfires.

               Just in case, I’m going to leave an offering of ale in the barn, the one he spent more time in sleeping than actually doing anything. I had to sell the horse. Poor thing, it was a bag of bones and had no work left in it. He ran it into the ground, despite my warnings.

               I go out and check how the boys are doing. They’re running around chasing one another. Yes, you old bugger, they’re happy without you, and I intend to make sure they stay that way.

               We are a strange lot in the village. Most folk stick with old ways and who's to say they're not right about this day? Tonight all the doors will be left open and offerings will be left on window ledges for the souls of the departed. My suspicion is that they don’t damn well come. Why would they? Unless they’re in hell. They’re probably much better off where they are than here in this world where poverty and hunger stunts the growth and morning comes too soon for tired bones. I think, though I never say this to anyone, that someone walks around the village in the night and eats and drinks the offerings, probably some poor soul with no home and hardly a crust for his belly. Or maybe it’s someone playing tricks on us. Even so, just in case, I am covering my back and those of my children.

The evening is darkening. My neighbours have already lit their bonfire. Others follow and soon the sky is ablaze, the air full of heat and smoke. I take a torch to our wooden mound and the boys watch, captivated by the roaring yellow fames licking into the night. I urge them inside and to bed. I follow soon afterwards but I can’t sleep. The flames flicker shadows across the wall and then I hear it. The sound of shuffling outside. Something crashes. I’m too tired to move. But anyway logic tells me it’s my neighbours because for them this is a night of merriment, and the ale is flowing. They wait for a glimpse of their loved ones returning. Fools, I say under my breath. I’ve shut my door. He’s not welcome back here dead or alive.

The noises die down and my eyes are heavy. I can’t keep them open much longer. Just as I fall between sleep and consciousness there’s a sound of wood falling. I tell myself it’s the bonfire. The wood is settling; the sparks are crackling. And then there are heavy steps on the stairs. My heart thumps. He’s back. How the hell do you kill a dead man? I get out of bed and search for something to hit him with. Maybe his bones will break if I knock him down the stairs. The children move in their sleep, murmur, whimper. God, if you exist, couldn’t you have kept the bugger up there in the fiery furnace? What kind of God are you to let him do what he did and then let him out to haunt us all over again?

I push the extinguished candle off the tiny three legged table by the bed and raise it just as the door slams back. I stare into his face and lower the table in shock for his features are wizened and ancient, papery and ashen. His clothes are smoking, his hair singed. ‘Help me,’ he says in a broken voice, eyes black in their sockets. His skin is blistered and flaying. I scream so loudly the boys wake and begin to cry. The bugger looks at them as if he’s just remembered they exist, that he fathered them, but I’m out and past him while his attention is on them, running downstairs. I realise I am still clutching the three legged table. He is now behind me and I throw the thin wooden piece of furniture at him. It passes right through him and breaks on the stone floor. I scream again and charge out of the house to the barn where the glass of ale sits untouched on our last bale of straw. Instead of offering it to him as he approaches I turn and throw the contents over him. In a whoosh he ignites. Flames consume him and he’s become a living torch. His screams thud into the wooden posts and walls of the barn, and all I can do is stand in horror watching him writhe in agony. The heat drives me backwards. Then suddenly he disappears. I mean he’s gone. Poof! All that’s left are a few fragments of burnt cloth and ashes. I stare at the place where he’d been standing. I don’t know how long I’ve been here except I’m cold and the little ones come in bleary eyed and confused.
‘It was a bad dream,’ I tell them, enclosing them into my arms.
‘Will him come again?’ the youngest asks.
‘No.’ I reply. ‘You can sleep easy now.’ I take them back to bed and tuck them in. I hope I am right and that he will never come again. But if he does I’ll have the ale waiting.

©2016 Heather Walker