Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Angels and Demons



The toys are put away. There are no small hands pulling at my jumper. I am no longer required to read Super Sid the Sausage Dog six times in a row. I have unpeeled the sticky shapes from the dog's back. The cat has come home. I can eat adult food again. I have had an unbroken night's sleep and can write in peace.
Yes, the grandchildren have gone home...and it is too quiet!


Thursday, 25 October 2012

The Blue Suitcase

This is what I had planned for today: visit my daughter and granddaughter, decide on the paint for the downstairs cloakroom, sort out the mountain of paperwork that needs filing, do the weekly shop, babyproof the house before the youngest two grandchildren descend on us at the weekend and of course...write a story!

BUT... that was before I started reading The Blue Suitcase by Marianne Wheelaghan.

If I'm honest, I decided to read it because Marianne ran the excellent writing classes.co.uk which inspired me to start writing for magazines and because she has been very encouraging to me on her blog but the story is so readable that I haven't been able to put it down...hence my lack of productivity today!

The story is set in Germany and follows the life of Antonia, through her diary, from the age of twelve into young adulthood. The story begins in 1932 when political unrest has yet to begin its inevitable march towards war and the young Antonia is interested in the political upheaval, only in so much as it is dividing her family and spoiling her birthday.

As the story, and the war, progresses we come to see how ordinary German citizens and Antonia herself, move from being supporters to becoming victims of Hitler's reign.

Harrowing at times, Antonia's often pragmatic diary entries make you want to carry on reading to the end to establish the fate of the young woman and her family.
Marianne's second book Food of Ghosts, a crime novel with an exotic twist, will be out in November so I had better expect a few less stories to be written next month!

I shall review Marianne's new book in a later post.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

People's Friend - A Friend Indeed

I was reading an article about 'The People's Friend' by Tina Jackson in this month's Writing Magazine and one part in particular stood out for me.

In the article, Editor Angela Gilchrist stated that they 'value writers who are prepared to work with the editorial team' and 'like writers who can accept criticism and react to it.'

She also said that 'if we see potential in a writer, the fiction team will work very hard with that person to get them their first acceptance.'

I thought I would tell you about how The People's Friend has helped me - in more ways than one.

I think it is fair to say that if it hadn't been for the fiction team at 'The Friend' I would never have become a published writer - the irony is that my first published story was not in this magazine at all but in Fiction Feast.

After a few straightforward rejections from the magazine, I received a lovely letter from one of their fiction team saying that a short story I had submitted was 'well written but the story was not strong enough'. Fair enough. Pleased with this feedback, I carried on writing stories for them and continued to get helpful and encouraging letters back.

One letter in particular said that they really liked a story I had written but it was unsuitable for their audience. It was suggested that I try sending it to a magazine with a younger audience. I sent it at once to Fiction Feast who bought it. It was my first sale and is called 'Try Saying Yes' -  it appears in the November issue. Thank you 'People's Friend'!

I was so grateful for their help with my first sale that I was determined that I would write a story that would suit their market. I sent another one off and my contact from the fiction team said they really liked it but there were some lose ends. Suggestions were made and determined to succeed this time, I rewrote it. To my surprise and great pleasure the story was accepted.

Finally, a Christmas story I sent to them was liked very much but the editorial team thought the characters more suitable for another market...hence my next sale to Fiction Feast!

I continue to write stories for 'The People's Friend' in the hope that they will like them, even though their payment isn't as high as the other magazines. A story I have been working on with them is on the fiction editor's desk at this moment and I am keeping my fingers crossed for another sale. They were the first people to believe in my writing and without their help I may have given up hope of publication. With their guidance, I think I am becoming a better judge of my audience and I am hoping that this will lead to more sales to 'The Friend'.

In conclusion, a message to all you new writers out there - have a go at writing for this friendly magazine...who knows where it might lead.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Adiemus - nothing about writing, all about singing

Anyone who has been reading my blog will know of my love of dancing but there is something else I love - singing!
I have belonged to  Cantatrice ladies choir since it formed in 2004. Our wonderful musical director is Zoe Peate and we sing a range of songs some simple and melodic, others more challenging. It is hard to believe that there are are now over ninety singers in our choir.
The exciting thing is that tomorrow we are singing at The Hawth theatre in Crawley along with three other choirs. The highlight of our evening will be singing 'Adiemus' Songs of Sanctuary by Karl Jenkins.
What is original about this piece is that there are no lyrics as such, instead the vocalists sing syllables and 'words' invented by Jenkins. The whole thing has a mystical 'New Age' African feel to it - which sounds strange but is really beautiful to listen to.
Have a listen to Enya singing an extract from Adiemus. It is truly haunting.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Remembering the Storm of 87

"Earlier on today apparently a woman rang the BBC and said she had heard that there was a hurricane on the way. Well if you are watching, don't worry, there isn't."

I woke up and knew that something was different. The bedroom was eerily dark - and there was a rumbling and blustering outside the window that I hadn't heard when I had gone to sleep the previous night.

My first thought was for my six month old baby. The light switch flicked uselessly and I had to feel my way along the walls, out into the corridor and into my daughter's room, where, to my relief, she was still sleeping soundly - thumb in mouth.

Making my way back to bed, I parted the curtains and a scene from a bad horror film confronted me. The trees waved savagely and the thin arms of the lilac whipped at the ground but the worst of it all was the roaring of the wind.

The walls of the house trembled and I clutched at the bedclothes.

"I'm going to check downstairs," said the baby's father, feeling blindly for the door.

"Don't go," I said.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Mind Mapping your Stories

If you use an iPad or have an iPhone or iPod touch, I have discovered a great free mind mapping App that can help you with planning your stories. It is called Total Recall. The maps are easy to create and edit at the touch of a finger and it is a brilliant way to organise your thoughts and ideas.

This is, of course, if you are one of the lucky people who are able to plan their stories. I am not one of those writers. How I wish I could plan. I have sat with a notebook in my lap or with my new beautiful mind mapping bubbles just waiting to be filled in and come up with a big fat nothing.

The only way I can write a story is by coming up with the kernel of an idea. I then sit down and write...whatever comes into my head and gradually the story forms. At this point I don't even know how the story will end. A walk with Bonnie helps to pull all the parts of the story together and sows the seeds of an ending and by the time I get back to my computer, the story has usually come together in an organic way.

The good news this weekend is that I have sold my first story to Woman's Weekly.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Proofreading Your Story

Who proofreads your story? A word of warning to any new writer out there reading this - never think you can proofread your own writing satisfactorily.
After I have finished a story, I leave it for a day and then read it through again for any mistakes. I will often find things that I hadn't noticed the day before - a mistake in the punctuation or a typo that's slipped through when spell checking. I will then read it again and maybe find more things. At this stage I am convinced that the work is perfect with slip ups erased.
Do I then send the story off? Oh no. I learnt that lesson the hard way when having read through a rejection, found I had slipped from first to third person in the last paragraph. How I would have berated my year 6 for that crime!
My next step is to pass my work to my husband. I don't know how I would manage without his proofreading. Last night he read my finished story and said, "I like it, but who's Sam?"
"Why he's the main boy, the male love interest. who did you think he was?"
"I don't know," he replied. "But I do know that he used to be called Dan!"
He was right. When I looked, the boy was Dan for the first half  of the story and Sam for the second half. When I had finished the story on the second day, I had obviously not checked his name. I had missed this glaring error at least three times.
The moral of this story: Never trust your own proofreading!
Who proofreads your work?


Tuesday, 9 October 2012

First Story Published - in Fiction Feast

This is a very exciting day - seeing my first short story in print.

If you would like to read my story 'Try Saying Yes', it is in the November issue of Take a Break's Fiction Feast. I thought the first sale couldn't be topped but nothing beats seeing your first story published.

When I opened the magazine, what I really loved were the photographs. To think that time has been spent creating an image to go with my humble writing. It's worth buying the magazine for the picture of the busker - he's even better than in my imagination!

Monday, 8 October 2012

When Can You Call Yourself a Writer?

When can you call yourself a writer? This is a question I know a lot of new writers ask. Is it when you have successfully completed your writing course? Is it when you have finished your first short story, article or novel? Is it when you have sent off your first manuscript? Is it when you receive that exciting email saying that you have had your precious work accepted or when you receive your first payment?

I have the answer: It is when your husband tells you that in answer to the question from a work colleaque,"What does you wife do?" he has replied, "She is a writer." I don't know it he's right but for me that was a very special moment.

When did you feel you could call yourself a writer?

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Tribute to Big Jim Sullivan

I had been invited out with a group of friends to see a local duo and, having recently divorced, I remember the oddness of going out on a Sunday night.

The small room at the back of the Chequers was crowded. It was the early nineties and the air smelt of beer and cigarette smoke. On the stage stood two men, drinking pints and chatting amiably. One in particular caught my eye. He was large and twinkly eyed with a shock of white beard.

His name was Big Jim Sullivan and his music partner was Willie Austen. When they started playing, the room came alive - feet tapped, bodies swayed and songs were mouthed with the band. It was the best night out I had had for a long time and was one I would repeat many times over the years.

To me, Big Jim was the one who smiled benignly, the one who took a back seat as Willie charmed the crowd but he was also the one who could play guitar - and I mean really play. I Look back at that time in the pub (that seems so long ago now) and realise how little we knew the real Big Jim.

Did we know that he had been one of the best session musicians of the 60's and 70's? No. Did we know that he had played with Tom Jones? We certainly didn't and likewise we were also ignorant of the amazing fact that he was a regular drinking buddy of Elvis.

What we did know, in those carefree days in the pub, was that we were listening to someone special to us, the locals. That is the memory that I wish to keep - Big Jim in the Chequers playing his guitar rifts behind his back just because he could.

I heard a rumour that he died quietly while listening to music...I like to think that it was to Johnny B Goode, the song that started my love of modern jive. I wrote my blog post 'Dancing' three days ago. The day before Big Jim Sullivan died.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012


At the end of my last post I said that I'd just had two stories rejected for Woman's Weekly. I was disappointed as I haven't sold a story to them yet (and would really like to) but did as all good writers must - I sent them on to another magazine.

Imagine my surprise when today I received a lovely email from someone else at WW today saying they liked one of my stories but wanted me to change the end and send it back! Too late! There was obviously a communication mix up at their office. If I had only waited......

To cheer myself up, I am going to show you a video of my salsa first wedding dance (mu husband and I met at salsa classes and got married in 2010). I would like to say I usually dance better than this, but it's difficult in a long dress. Nobody knew that we were going to be doing salsa at the end of the dance, so I hope it was a nice surprise.

I started dancing Salsa about twelve years ago, when I felt I needed a new challenge. I started off learning Cuban salsa and then moved on to LA (cross body) style. In the video we are dancing LA style which I prefer because I like all the styling and spins you can do.

Monday, 1 October 2012


Anyone that knows me will know about the hobby that has been a part of my life for the last sixteen years - dancing. You name it - I have probably tried it!

Modern Jive. Salsa, Merengue, Bachata, Lindy Hop, Waltz, Foxtrot, Viennese Waltz, Ballroom, Tango, Argentine Tango, Quickstep, Cha Cha, Rumba, Samba........

It all started when I went to see a band playing in our local pub. I can remember them playing Johnny B Goode and as the song got going, two couples emerged from the rows of people watching the band and started to dance. How I wanted to join them - my feet were itching. It looked like Rock and Roll but different in some way and when I asked one of them after wards what dance they were doing, they said it was Ceroc or Modern jive.

I found out there was a class near the town where I live and decided to join. Luckily, I went with someone who had been dancing a while and, with his help, picked the dance up quickly (it is the best dance to start off with as you don't have to do any set footwork). This was in 1996 - little did I know that sixteen years later I would still be dancing - this and other dances.

What is great about Modern Jive classes is that you don't need a partner. Classes are organised so that men stand in one line and women stand in a line facing them. You dance with that partner and the teacher teaches you the first move. When the next move is taught, the women move on a set number of men so you have a new partner. It is a great way of getting to know people before the freestyle dance session at the end of the lesson.

The freestyle session at the end is arguably where, as a woman, you will learn the most. At this stage you can't be shy! It is perfectly acceptable for the women to ask the men to dance (if you don't, you may end up not dancing all evening) and the men will be very pleased if you ask them. If the man you dance with is a competent lead, you will be led easily into moves you haven't even been taught and of course each dancer has his own unique style. When I was first learning to dance, I made a point of asking the better dancers to dance so that I could learn faster.

Most importantly - don't give up! It may take a few weeks to feel you are getting the hang of the dance but once you do, you will have a hobby for life.

When you feel more confident, there are dance weekends that you can go to. These are great fun. My husband and I go to one on Hayling Island. There are dance workshops during the day and dances in the evening - you also get fed well.

Next weekend we are going to a jive dance near Battle and staying overnight in the hotel - what a treat!

The bad news - two rejections from Woman's Weekly (a magazine market I have yet to crack).