Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Competition buzz

I get such a buzz from sending off my stories to competitions. It's that mixture of satisfaction, hope and anticipation, plus knowing that someone out there - a complete stranger - is going to read my words.

I sent off my entry for the Write Space 'Forbidden Friends' comp yesterday. I had been intending to email it in today, today being the deadline and that being the way I work. But yesterday I thought 'No, let's get this thing in a whole day early'. Glad for that thought as when I checked the website I discovered I needed to send off for an entry form and post my story to Cornwall by snail mail. Thankfully the lovely people at Write Space are prepared for last minuters like myself and emailed me an entry form by return. Also thankfully my often truculent printer was in a good mood. So story is off; it has hopefully wung(?) its way south and has dutifully landed on the desk of an eager reader this morning.

I made a commitment to myself this year to make space for my writing in amongst my work load. I'm fortunate in that I work freelance from home and can usually make time for writing. Sometimes though it's tough and at the moment I'm having to make work my priority. So my children's novel, after progressing so well last week has not moved on at all this week - that competition deadline of November 17th is approaching like a steam train (not quite an intercity express though, so there is still hope). Next week should be better as my current work deadlines are all for this Friday.

Didn't come anywhere in the Times Ghost story comp (now I come to think of it my 'spooky house' motif wasn't particularly original!). You can read the winning entries here.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Faster than fairies

I can't put down The Accidental by Ali Smith - what a fantastic book. Makes me (almost) want to give up writing altogether tho' - my prose seems so clunky and laboured compared to hers. Also makes me want to pledge only to read really, really good books and not settle for less - a pledge I know I would break next time I am tired or on a long train journey or both.

Talking of which, I had to go to Cardiff this weekend for work - 5½ hours on the train there and 5½ hours back the next day. I always have such high hopes about train journeys - I imagine dashing off a major part of my novel or suddenly being inspired to write poetry. The reality is that surrounded by mobile phones and chatter, legs cramping in the never quite big enough space and the apathetic tiredness that usually hits me as soon as we set off, I am more likely to just switch my brain off (see above). However this weekend was an exception. I wrote all the way there: give or take half an hour or so of refuelling on cappuccino and M&S salad. I started off jotting down snippets of chatter from the three old ladies sat across from me, and then got stuck into my children's novel. I really felt I got somewhere with it - it's flowing so much better now I know who my characters are(see previous post). I kept up the good work most of the journey back too, but then discovered The Accidental in my bag and got lost in that for the rest of the way.

So a very productive couple of days - and I even got paid for the work I did in between! Aren't trains great. I feel the need for some Robert Louis Stevenson (am I the only person in the world who used to get him confused with Robert Stephenson the train man?)

FASTER than fairies, faster than witches,
Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches;
And charging along like troops in a battle,
All through the meadows the horses and cattle:
All of the sights of the hill and the plain
Fly as thick as driving rain;
And ever again, in the wink of an eye,
Painted stations whistle by.

Here is a child who clambers and scrambles,
All by himself and gathering brambles;
Here is a tramp who stands and gazes;
And there is the green for stringing the daisies!
Here is a cart run away in the road
Lumping along with man and load;
And here is a mill and there is a river:
Each a glimpse and gone for ever!

'From a Railway Carriage' by Robert Louis Stevenson

Friday, 19 October 2007

What age do you act?

Ok so I'm not obsessing about the humungous age that I reached on Monday but I just had to give this a go after finding it on an old friend's blog (Thanks Neil!)

How old am I really? Lets just say the result below was a pleasant surprise

You Are 26 Years Old

Under 12: You are a kid at heart. You still have an optimistic life view - and you look at the world with awe.

13-19: You are a teenager at heart. You question authority and are still trying to find your place in this world.

20-29: You are a twentysomething at heart. You feel excited about what's to come... love, work, and new experiences.

30-39: You are a thirtysomething at heart. You've had a taste of success and true love, but you want more!

40+: You are a mature adult. You've been through most of the ups and downs of life already. Now you get to sit back and relax.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Shaken not stirred

I've been full of cold ever since the weekend - in fact ever since my big birthday party, where I think the dry martinis weakened my immune defences. Anyway I have found writing to be slow and painful with a bunged up head, so have fallen back on web surfing (see below) and reading (lots of Jacqueline Wilson which I'm loving). Also really enjoyed being at my WEA class this morning and just listening to other people read - some great stuff- without me reading anything of mine.

Meanwhile found this on the web and it made me smile.

Number 65 even made me giggle.
Makes me thing I might have been missing a trick when I lost interest in maths.

Monday, 15 October 2007

Teenage diaries

I've been working on my children's story for the Times / Chicken House competition lately. I thought all had been going OK but then realised a week or so ago that I hadn't done enough character work and didn't really know several of my characters very well at all. I have since compiled a notebook of details about each of them including pictures (torn from catalogues) back story time lines, 'questionnaires' etc. This has been really useful, even though it has inevitably led to massive rewrites

I read A. Writer's blog today and found that she had experienced something similar. I am going to follow her example by interviewing my characters - more in depth than a questionnaire and potentially very useful for finding out things I didn't know about them.

As part of my research / character building I spent part of today (my birthday!) reading the diary that I wrote when I was 14 (my central character is a 12/13 year old girl). According to my closely packed barely legible scribblings I was unashamedly obsessed with boys and music. But my strong friendship with my best mate Vicky is also very evident and there are some references to school work that are quite illuminating:
"Maths homework too hard. Tried for two hours still can't do it. Wrote English essay in bath and while drying hair."

My favourite bit is the much asterisked and exclamation marked week labelled 'The Best Holiday Ever' - a school skiing trip to Italy, which is recorded in furtive hints and half-code that I only half understand - although I think it is clumsily covering up Bacardi drinking and adolescent fumblings. It was enough to trigger some happy memories though and bring a smile to my aged face.

I'm really enjoying this project - just hope I can meet that deadline!

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Women who write

Hurrah for the return of snail mail.

Two very welcome deliveries this morning (and no bills!).

The first was the new copy of Mslexia which always cheers me, although I have to eek out my reading of it carefully over the next three months.

Second was a bundle of copies of a writing anthology called Landscape from a Dream - which has a piece by me in it! Ta-dah!- publication at last. The anthology was produced by the Newcastle Lit and Phil Library for National Poetry Day on the 4th October, and the organiser Sheree Mack asked me for a piece way back at the beginning of summer. It's so lovely to see my words in black and white in an anthology of, in my 'umble opinion, 'damn fine writing'. The booklets were distributed in Newcastle on National Poetry Day - let me know if you got hold of a copy and what you think. Meanwhile I will be distributing my copies among family and friends, and of course keeping one for myself.

Mslexia is subtitled 'for women who write' and when I began subscribing a couple of years ago I considered myself 'a woman who wants to write'. I've still got a long way to go and a lot of writing to do but over the past year I have moved on, so that I am now 'a woman who writes', it is part of my life and I love it.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Whoosh - there goes a deadline

"I love deadlines.
I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by."

-Douglas Adams

Damn it I missed the deadline for the Fish Criminally Short Short Histories Comp. I'd written and carefully edited two pieces, both under 250 words, that I was really chuffed with - then forgot to submit them! I need a better system (current system being a piece of paper on the wall with lists of comps - but I can't rememebr if I tick them off when I've written them or when I've submitted them.)

So now I'm on the look out for a comp requiring a crime story less than 300 words - any suggestions anyone?

Its Thursday tomorrow which is WEA Creative Writing class day. I really look forward to it every week. We have a truly inspirational tutor who is full if excellent ideas and tips and the class is so varied in terms of age, background and motivations for writing that it's a short story/ radio play/ sitcom in itself (though I might have to leave town if I ever got round to writing it.) Ooops that reminds me I haven't done this week's assignment yet - a restaurant review that avoids cliche and adjectives and uses strong verbs and nouns instead. I'll make notes while watching my tape of Monday's Nigella later (mad as mad but I love her food)

Went to a short story comp prize-giving thing last week. My story wasn't placed but my friend Ann came third so I went along to cheer her on and also to listen to the judge Martin Bedford talking about short story writing and what he looks for when judging competitions. In the break when he came over for a chat I did something a bit rash (blame it on the pear cider I drank before I got there): I asked him for some feedback on my story . Fortunately he remembered it and said it nearly made his shortlist; he loved the dialogue (hurrah! - the whole thing is basically a dialogue between two women) and the situation BUT he felt it was a longer piece that had been squashed down. I was so pleased! Obviously he wasn't going to stand there and say it was complete rubbish and watch me crumple, but the reason he gave made a lot of sense as the night before the submission deadline my story was 5,300 words long and by four o'clock the next afternoon it was the requisite 3,000. I have since restored it to its 5,000 word glory and submitted it elsewhere.

OK Wea assignment time and after that a bit more of my children's story for the Times comp - its going well but I have two concurrent ideas and I'm finding it hard to keep focussed on the main one - I certainly don't have time to write two children's books by mid-November, so one of them will have to wait