Welcome to my summer blog

July/August 2017

I’ve just had the pleasure of helping to judge a short story competition, run jointly by our local arts forum and the local writing group, prizes donated by our local MP. My job was to select the top ten, from which a panel of three decided on the top three prize winners. I enjoyed doing this, partly because the word count was just 500 words : a good enough length for plot and characterisation, and short enough to prevent (hopefully) too much description, too much backstory and too many tangents.

Did they succeed? On the whole, yes! The good stories really stood out for me and these were the features they shared:

  1. A very definite start: I was introduced to the people, the plot and the conflict in the first paragraph.
  2. An unusual or intriguing setting.
  3. Tension, building to a climax.
  4. Often a twist at the end, or at least an ending I wasn’t expecting but was totally satisfactory.

I was particularly impressed with the many different ways in which the writers interpreted the theme. Quite a few delved into history, taking true stories or legends and giving them a new slant – very inventive. But there were quite a few, I have to say, where I was struggling to remember what the theme was.

It was extremely hard getting the entries down to just ten: I really wanted to hand over 15, but I couldn’t. So I read them all through for a fourth time, choosing the ones in which I felt there wasn’t a wasted word. Even in 500 words, there were quite a few entries that contained descriptions or backstory that were not, really, necessary. And finally, it was down to the voice – that elusive element that only comes with practice, practice and more practice.

The top three were named in June and I’m pleased that they all appeared in my personal top five!

My hints for competitions:

  1. Make sure the theme is identifiable
  2. Use an unusual setting
  3. Be creative with names of characters
  4. Have a structure to your story – even in 500 words
  5. Check and re-check your entries for spelling and grammar
  6. Get the punctuation as good as you can
  7. Double-space your story with paragraphs indented (and no extra blank lines between paragraphs). Just makes it easier for the judges to read.

Happy Writing

Linda

ps Please do send your comments through the Contacts page. I’m working on how to get them on this page so we can share!

Welcome to my May/June site

My BLOG is an interview with debut children’s author – Jennifer Killick;
my WRITING ARTICLE is about using concrete and abstract nouns;
I’ve ten WRITING PROMPTS for you; and more COMPETITIONS to enter.
Do let me know what you think – of any of them! 

Alex Sparrow and the Really Big Stink!Jennifer's book

I know I waxed lyrical about a book and an author last month (Jeffery Deaver’s The Steel Kiss) but I’m going to wax lyrical about another author and book this month: Jennifer Killick’s debut novel for children Alex Sparrow and the Really Big Stink.

Jennifer is one of my really good writing friends whom I met on the Creative Writing MA course at Brunel University five years ago. She’s been kind enough to spare me some time in the week after her launch to answer some questions.

How did you feel at the end of your launch day? My launch was a manic, nerve-wracking, exciting blur. I was so touched by how many people supported me, that the feeling I had at the end of the evening was like being in the middle of a big, warm, loving hug.

How long has it taken to first thinking of the Alex Sparrow idea to that launch? A rather horrifying-when-you-look-back-on-it six and a half years!

What were the highs and lows during that time? There were many lows, and lots of them carried over long stretches of time. The agent rejections were tough, along with the realisation that I would have to rewrite the whole story (several times!) Having a publisher really interested and close to signing me, only to decide not to take me on after all was also dreadful. At one point, I lost all confidence and stopped enjoying writing. That was the worst. Meeting Imogen Cooper of the Golden Egg Academy was life-changing. Receiving the email from my agent, Kirsty McLachlan, to say she would love to represent me was a joyful moment. And of course receiving my offer from Firefly made me dance around the house in disbelief and delight.

Screen Shot 2017-05-10 at 10.26.01You have two children and three step-children. When and where do you find time to write? I can’t get out much so I write at home whenever I can fit it in. My youngest goes to nursery two mornings a week, so I get a lot done then. And once he’s in bed in the evening, my laptop is straight out. If I’m first drafting, I often get up at 4am to write before everyone else gets up. The kids come first, always, but every bit of spare time I can snatch, I use for writing. And of course, even when I’m not typing, my mind is hard at work.

Do you have any advice for would-be novelists? Other than being prepared to work hard and being ridiculously stubborn and determined, even when it seems as though all hope is lost, I think advice for writers should be cautiously given. Everyone’s technique is different, and everyone’s path to publication is different, so advice that’s too prescriptive can be disheartening. It’s good to find out how other writers work, so you can try things out if you want to, but what works for them might not work for you. The thing that I have found most invaluable on my writing journey has been my writing friends – people who understand the process and who have my back. People to share work, failures and successes with, and who make the tricky journey easier or more enjoyable. I couldn’t cope without them.

Thank you, Jennifer. And I’m sure everyone wishes you every success with your book. Happy Writing for the sequel! Jennifer’s book is on Amazon.

Have a good month’s writing!

Linda

 

 

 

 

Your menu for April and May

Sorry this update is later than usual. Family matters took precedence. Back on an almost even keel now. NHS staff are wonderful, just not enough of them and the system needs an overhaul. Rant over!

  • My blog below is on punctuation
  • The writing article is how to write in SCENES
  • There are ten prompts to keep you going for a while
  • The theme for a new competition is MAGIC

Jeffery Deaver – my hero!jeffrey_deaver

Jeffery Deaver is one of the United States’ top thriller writers. He has sold 50 million books worldwide in 150 countries in 25 languages. He’s probably best known for the film The Bone Collector starring Denzil Washington as Lincoln Rhyme. I’ve just finished reading the 13th of the Lincoln Rhyme thrillers:  The Steel Kiss.

To say it was a page turner is an understatement. And to use another cliché, I just couldn’t put it down! 600+pages kept me enthralled from the opening line: Sometimes you catch a break. I read it in bed, in the bath, in my office (when I should have been writing), in the park, in the car, in hospital waiting rooms and in the garden (we have had a few nice days recently). If ever there was a writer I’d like to be, Jeffery Deaver is it (and Philippa Gregory too!).

His main characters, Lincoln Rhyme and his side-kick and partner Amelia Sachs, are SO real. We know their likes and dislikes, their habits, their moods, their speech patterns, their personality traits, their goals, their dreams, their worries, their morals – everything we know about our own best friends.

But the reason for this blog doesn’t concern his writing (clear, concise, easy to read), nor his plots (complicated, often technical, but always realistic and believable), nor the two wonderful twists at the end of the book that had me gasping, “I didn’t see that coming!”

No, the other reason for my admitted hero-worship is

Jeffery Deaver and the Dangling Modifier.

Don’t worry if you don’t know what a Dangling Modifier is.  Writers and authors can spend their lives quite happily not knowing. But once you know, you’ll always be on the lookout!

A dangling modifier is when a subsidiary clause doesn’t have the same subject as the main clause. eg Jogging in the park, a dog chased me. This implies it was the dog who was jogging in the park.

Having gained a 2.1 at university, Peter’s parents bought him a car. This infers that it was Peter’s parents who gained the 2.1.

Driving home late last night, all the traffic lights in the High Street were on green.  This actually means it was the traffic lights that were driving home.

If you use a subsidiary clause and a main clause, the subject of both clauses MUST be the same, otherwise, the subsidiary clause – the modifier – is left dangling.

There are two great twists or surprises towards the end of the Steel Kiss.  But the biggest surprise of all for me came on page 197 when one of the new characters actually admits she is using a dangling modifier!

Lincoln Rhyme is talking to his new intern, Juliette Archer:

‘Do you speak German by any chance?’
‘No, afraid not.’
‘Ah, well. I’ll find something else to occupy your time. I think there are a few projects that aren’t too boring.’
‘Well, boring or not, I’m happy to work on anything you have. And forgive the dangling modifier there.’
He gave a chuckle. True, she’d just said that whether or not she was boring, she’d be happy to work on any project. Grammar, punctuation and syntax could be formidable opponents.

Thank you, Jeffery Deaver – you are my hero!

TELEMMGLPICT000124991431-large_trans_NvBQzQNjv4BqknWtNqbf_ggLEul4V1OoOsXBqUOBBd16DypepmHmfZsSo too is The Hooded Crusader of Bristol who goes around the city at night, painting out erroneous apostrophes on street signs and shop fronts! We’ve all seen them: Open Monday’s to Friday’s, Amys Nail’s and even Potato’s. So if you see a hooded figure around Watford, Rickmansworth or Croxley Green, you never know, it could be …………

Happy Writing!

Linda

 

 

A regular writing habit

 

Your menu for March: My blog  follows on from the quote about writing every day; I’ve had a query about writing a synopsis; there are ten new writing prompts to try,  two more book recommendations and an article on the use and misuse of Sentence Fragments.

Do you write every day? It doesn’t have to be a thousand words on your latest project! Although if it is, that novel will get written so much more quickly! And I don’t think Jane Yolen means that e-mail to your bank manager or the shopping list. But writing something connected with creative writing every day is a very good habit to get into.

            There’s a theory that to be good at anything creative or athletic, you have to put in 10,000 hours of practice before really succeeding*. Using very rough maths, let’s say you’ve been writing for 30 years: that works out at one hour a day for every day of those thirty years (with perhaps a few days’ break). Doesn’t sound a lot, does it? But can you remember when you last devoted a whole solid hour to your writing?

            So often, particularly recently, my writing time gets divided into 10- or 20-minute bursts which isn’t great for continuity or flow. And I’m sure you all, with family and work responsibilities, can say you’ve been there.

            But I am certainly in agreement with that well-worn cliché practice makes perfect.

I’ve been running creative writing classes for the past 17 years and I can definitely say that I’ve seen a huge difference between those who do the weekly exercises, go in for competitions and are forever working on a writing project, and those who do sporadic bits of homework because they “just don’t have the time.”

            What it comes down to, I believe, is your desire. It really is no use saying you want to write a novel if you don’t put in the work on a regular basis. And by work, I don’t necessarily mean Hemingway’s 500 words a day. Brainstorming an idea; creating your plot points; character profiling; researching; blogging; all are areas of creative writing that will build up your skills over the days, months and years. Just like an elite athlete. Practice makes perfect.

Some authors who wrote every day: 

Arthur Conan Doyle     3000    “Anything is better than stagnation.”

Frederick Forsyth        3000    “12 pages a day, 3,000 words, 7 days a week. But it’s the research that takes the time. And yes, I have to force myself to write. Sounds ungrateful, I know.”

Graham Greene            500    “I have always been very methodical, and when my quota of work is done, I break off, even in the middle of a scene.”

Ian McEwan                  600 “I am writing 600 a day and hope for at least a 1000 when I’m on a roll.”

Lee Child                     1800    “I write in the afternoon from about 12 until 6 or 7.”

Barbara Kingsolver     1000    “I wake early with words flooding into my brain. It’s a relief to get to the keyboard and dump them out.”

Happy Writing!

Linda

*That theory came from Anders Ericsson, a professor at the University of Colorado, who wrote a paper called The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance. His research was based on the work of a group of psychologists in Berlin who had studied violinists.

A regular writing habit

Your menu for March: My blog  follows on from the quote about writing every day; I’ve had a query about writing a synopsis; there are ten new writing prompts to try,  two more book recommendations and an article on the use and misuse of Sentence Fragments. 

Do you write every day? It doesn’t have to be a thousand words on your latest project! Although if it is, that novel will get written so much more quickly! And I don’t think Jane Yolen means that e-mail to your bank manager or the shopping list. But writing something connected with creative writing every day is a very good habit to get into.

            There’s a theory that to be good at anything creative or athletic, you have to put in 10,000 hours of practice before really succeeding*. Using very rough maths, let’s say you’ve been writing for 30 years: that works out at one hour a day for every day of those thirty years (with perhaps a few days’ break). Doesn’t sound a lot, does it? But can you remember when you last devoted a whole solid hour to your writing?

            So often, particularly recently, my writing time gets divided into 10- or 20-minute bursts which isn’t great for continuity or flow. And I’m sure you all, with family and work responsibilities, can say you’ve been there.

            But I am certainly in agreement with that well-worn cliché practice makes perfect.

I’ve been running creative writing classes for the past 17 years and I can definitely say that I’ve seen a huge difference between those who do the weekly exercises, go in for competitions and are forever working on a writing project, and those who do sporadic bits of homework because they “just don’t have the time.”

            What it comes down to, I believe, is your desire. It really is no use saying you want to write a novel if you don’t put in the work on a regular basis. And by work, I don’t necessarily mean Hemingway’s 500 words a day. Brainstorming an idea; creating your plot points; character profiling; researching; blogging; all are areas of creative writing that will build up your skills over the days, months and years. Just like an elite athlete. Practice makes perfect.

Some authors who wrote every day: 

Arthur Conan Doyle     3000    “Anything is better than stagnation.”

Frederick Forsyth        3000    “12 pages a day, 3,000 words, 7 days a week. But it’s the research that takes the time. And yes, I have to force myself to write. Sounds ungrateful, I know.”

Graham Greene            500    “I have always been very methodical, and when my quota of work is done, I break off, even in the middle of a scene.”

Ian McEwan                  600 “I am writing 600 a day and hope for at least a 1000 when I’m on a roll.”

Lee Child                     1800    “I write in the afternoon from about 12 until 6 or 7.”

Barbara Kingsolver     1000    “I wake early with words flooding into my brain. It’s a relief to get to the keyboard and dump them out.”

Happy Writing!

Linda

*That theory came from Anders Ericsson, a professor at the University of Colorado, who wrote a paper called The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance. His research was based on the work of a group of psychologists in Berlin who had studied violinists.