Friday, 26 July 2013

Struggling to Write

As we're in London tomorrow, Bonnie is on another mini-break with Grandad. The weather was so lovely at six o'clock (evening, not morning!) that I just had to go out for a walk - dog or no dog. What it did mean was I was able to take photographs. This is a rarity on a walk as usually I am scanning the horizon for dogs that Bonnie might potentially like to eat!
I ended up walking for about an hour and a half, just enjoying the beautiful view, taking photographs and thinking about my next story.
I like to remind myself every now and again what a beautiful part of the country I live in.
Is it just me, or is everyone finding it harder to write in the hot weather? I find my attention span is shorter and I start itching to go out walking instead of writing.
No great writerly news today, except a sale to PF (thank you Shirley) and despite the distraction of the weather I managed to write a Christmas story.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Guest Post - Douglas McPherson

Today, I'd like to welcome special guest Douglas McPherson who has kindly agreed to answer some questions about his writing life.

I'm sure many of you will know Douglas from his brilliant articles in Writing Forum on a range of topics from writing a serial to how to get a feature published in a magazine. I know I've certainly found them useful and I'm sure there are many other writers out there who have too.

You may also have seen his stories and serials in My Weekly under his pen name Julia Douglas.


Hi Douglas and welcome to my blog. Could you tell my readers a little about how you started out writing fiction?

I've been a freelance journalist for many years and one of the magazines I wrote for was My Weekly. They used to send complimentary copies whenever they published one of my features and I'd always go through and read the stories, not least because I really liked the paintings that illustrated them. I decided to have a go at writing one and I was quite surprised when I got a copy of the guidelines and learned they were looking for crime stories and, at that time, sci-fi. I thought they might not get many sci-fi submissions, so I wrote one with a 1950s small town America setting called Somewhere Out There. That was my first published fiction.


That first sale must have been really exciting. Do you have a favourite place to write? Mine is the kitchen... living room... conservatory... garden... (I am a bit of a nomad).

I have an office in my house and do pretty much all my writing on a laptop at my desk. I don't really write anywhere else - except in my head, of course. Whether I'm in the car or at the supermarket, part of my mind is always turning over a tricky paragraph or thinking up ideas. That's probably why I always forget to buy one of the things I went out for.

Of course a lot of your readers will know you by another name, Julia Douglas. How did this name come about and why did you feel you needed a woman's pen name to write your stories under?

I used Julia Douglas for my first pocket novel, Nashville Cinderella, just as a brand thing, because I think a feminine name looks better on a romance. Also, in a magazine story, if it's a first person story, a reader might see a bloke's name at the top and start reading in the belief that the character is male before they read down a few paragraphs and realise she's a woman. If they see a female author name they're more likely to start reading in a female voice, so I don't have to worry so much about establishing the character's gender in the first paragraph.

That's interesting as I've just sold a first person story and the main character is a man... maybe I should have a pen name for these occasions... Clarke Wendson maybe? You seem to have a finger in a lot of pies... magazine stories, serials, articles and eBooks. Which would you say you enjoy writing the most?

Really, I enjoy all writing equally and I don't think the differences are as great as people sometimes think. The journalism I've always done isn't hard news or about running around chasing scoops, it's always been reviews, interviews and narrative non-fiction and those things use very similar techniques to fiction. It's all about telling a story, being descriptive and trying to entertain people. I also think journalism really helps with fiction, because you're constantly being exposed to new things, new people and the different ways they talk and so on.


Would you say your stories are mostly plot or character led?

The setting usually comes first with me. That's probably the journalist in me. I usually start from the point of view of 'Cor! that's an interesting world - let's write a story that shows people what it's like to work in a fairground or Buckingham palace or whatever.' Characters come next. Plots, and particularly a good ending, are the toughest part for me. It's like figuring out a puzzle, but it's immensely satisfying when you 'crack the case' as it were and it all falls into place. The answer usually comes from thinking about the characters: what would this person really do. So I suppose that's a long-winded way of saying character led!

Ok, I have to ask... you seem to have a thing for the circus - many of your stories and your eBook 'The Showman's Girl' have a circus theme. You even have a blog 'Circus Mania'... so Douglas - what is it with you and circuses?

Like a lot of people, I hadn't been to the circus since I was a kid. I couldn't even remember much about it. But, exactly ten years ago, The Stage asked me to review the 100th anniversary show at the Great Yarmouth Hippodrome, which is Britain's oldest circus building and doesn't seem to have changed much in the past century. It's incredibly atmospheric, but with a really modern show. I was totally blown away by the daredevilry of the performers and decided to interview one of them, Eva Garcia. She told me how she'd just broken up with a man who asked her to choose between him and the circus. She chose the life that had been in her family for generations. Then, a week later, the day after my article came out, she fell and died during her act. The tragedy made me want to find out all about people like Eva and why they take the risks they do and that eventually led to my non-fiction book Circus Mania and its tie-in blog. Years of writing about the circus also led me to write The Showman's Girl, which is fiction, but also another way of taking people into the world of the circus. 

A little bird told me that you - I mean Julia - have been honoured with a very special award... from none other than Princes Stephanie of Monaco. Blimey! How about you tell us a little bit about it - go on I know you're dying to!

Princess Stephanie is a huge circus fan and the patron of World Circus Day, which takes place in April each year. This year the day was celebrated by events in 47 countries from Afghanistan to Vietnam. I was proud to do my bit for the UK and marked the occasion by giving away a free download of The Showman's Girl on iTunes. So it was nice to get a signed certificate from Princess Stephanie for doing my bit to promote circus culture. One of the official aims of World Circus Day, by the way, is to "promote the art of happiness," which I think is a nice aspiration. If you missed the free download, you can still buy it from iTunes for only 49p!

To finish, Douglas, what exciting things do you have in the pipeline for the rest of the year?

I'm very excited about the latest Julia Douglas ebook, Polka Dot Dreams, which will go live any day now. The large print Linford paperback edition is already in libraries if anyone wants to borrow a copy. Polka Dot Dreams is my favourite of  the romances, I've written, not least because it's the first out-and-out comedy. It's set in the vintage clothes and rockabilly scene and is about a girl obsessed with 50s fashions, and her romance with the fabulously handsome but accident-prone owner of a rock'n'roll-themed ice-cream parlour. I had tremendous fun writing the heroine, Natty Smalls, and hope readers get a lift from her zest for life.

Thank you so much for visiting, Douglas. If you want to know more about all things circus, visit Douglas's blog Circus Mania or if you want to delve a little into his alter ego Julia Douglas, you can visit her blog Polka Dot Dreams, where you will find links to her other books.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Is there a Man Drawer in Your House?

This post is for my writing friend, Tracy (owner of the very large rucksack and long-suffering companion at the WW workshop). We were sharing tea and a chat at another writing friend's house, yesterday and the conversation moved on from writing to other things - namely, the existence of The Man Drawer.

If you haven't seen it before, I plead with you to watch this famous Michael McIntyre clip on Youtube - it is so accurate.

If you can't be bothered to watch the clip (though you'll be missing a treat if you don't) I will fill you in. 'The Man Drawer', as Michael says, 'is the man's little zone in the house and they fill it with things they think they need'. There will be light bulbs, batteries, instructions for things you don't own any more and keys for houses you no longer have.

The picture at the top of the post, is my husbands Man Drawer and I'm sure he won't mind me showing you it. I had a look to see if there were any of the above objects hidden away in it, and this is what I found...

.... evidence that the contents of The Man Drawer are standard and universal.

Then I decided to see what the strangest object was in the drawer and I found this.... any ideas anyone?

Tracy's husband has a man drawer and I bet your husband/partner does too... I dare you to look in it an share with us the contents.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

I Dreamed a Dream....

We all have our dreams, don't we, and mine is to stand on the West End stage and sing 'On My Own' from Les Miserables. Ever since I first heard it, over two decades ago (when Michael Ball was a young and lovely Marius) I've loved the song and I confess that the number of times I have seen the musical is into double figures.

Of course I'm never going to be in a West End musical - I am too old and my voice, though passable, is just that... passable.

As some of you will know, the choir I belong to, Cantatrice, is an 80 strong ladies choir and over the years we have sung a range of songs including the amazing Adiemus. If anyone is interested, you can hear our choir singing  When the Love Comes Tricklin Down by clicking the link. This is a recording on the Banks Music Publications Site made by Arch Gwyn, who arranged this piece.

This time our concert is 'Iconic Songs' and will be such fun - where else would I get to sing 'I Will Survive' very loudly, with all the actions and without a drink in my hand!

Anyway, last month my dream got closer. As part of the concert, we are also singing a 'Les Mis Medley'... oh joy!... and it contains my favourite song. Our musical director asked for volunteers from the choir to sing a solo for the first verse - all we had to do was audition.

And that is as close to my dream as I got. Did I audition? No of course I didn't. Anyone who knows me will know that if put on show, I become a red-faced, gibbering wreck.

It was never going to be, so I will just have to be content with singing into my hairbrush to the CD, in my kitchen... on my own.

Monday, 8 July 2013

It's All in the Setting

As I said in my last post, I have two stories out in this month's Fiction Feast and thought I would give you the inspiration behind them. If you have read them, you will realise that they are very different stories (one is my first ghost story), but they have something in common... the setting.

Usually the stories have something of me in them somewhere... usually an incident or a memory that I can build a story around. This time, however, the stories are entirely fictitious and the only link I have to them is the setting. Not surprisingly they are both set in my favourite holiday destination Greece.

Not all my stories are set in places I know - often I fictionalise a town or village - but my favourite way is to close my eyes and recreate in my memory (and then on the page) places I have been to. I try and use all my senses when I am writing and this is so much easier when I have been to that place.

In my story 'Don't Tell the Bride', a major part of the action takes place in a hotel and a taverna in Greece. When I described the setting, I looked at my holiday photos and tried to recreate the sounds and smells as well as what the places looked like.

My second story, 'Sailing into Trouble' is a little different because although again set in Greece, most of the action takes place on a sailing boat, which leads me to my next point... research. This is what you need to do if you don't know anything about what you are writing about and in this case for me it was... sailing!

Why did I write about something I know nothing about? Well, a friend had just got back from a flotilla holiday and I thought a boat would make a great setting. I spent a morning researching on the Internet as much as I could about sailing and wrote down everything I thought might be useful. I then weaved these into my story and hopefully the reader won't ever know I've never set foot on a sailing boat.

As I said before, 'Sailing into Trouble' is my first ghost story (I have since written two more) and if you fancy having a go, you can't go wrong by downloading Kathleen McGurl's book Ghost Stories and How to Write Them (you will all know Kath from her great womagwriters blog). In her book, she will lead you, step by step, through the process of writing this genre of story. I had already written 'Sailing into Trouble' before I had bought Kath's book but now I have read it, I heartily agree with her advice.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

I Paid for a Rejection!

I arrived home from Greece to find three rejections from Fiction Feast. As if that wasn't bad enough, I actually paid £1.09 for one of them! I hadn't got enough postage on the SAE as the story was a long one and it had made the envelope too fat - fancy paying for a rejection!

But since then things have looked up. I've had an email from Woman's Weekly to say that they want to buy the story I wrote and sent them after the fiction workshop. I must have learnt something then, despite the assassination attempt, the caffeine withdrawal and the see through t-shirt! Thanks Gaynor.

I then had an email from The lovely People's Friend wanting two stories - more thanks.

Now the icing on the cake - today, I see that I have not one but two stories in Fiction Feast, along with my lovely online buddies Teresa, Della and Amanda (all of whose stories are great).

So, all in all, I don't feel so bad about the £1.09 after all!

Monday, 1 July 2013

You'd Have Hated It

Poor me. Having to spend my holiday in Kardamili in the Peleponnese.

As you can imagine, it was awful having to wake up to this view every morning.

Why would anyone want to eat lunches that looked like this?

... or swim in such a horrid pool, which as you can see is swarming with screaming and splashing children?

... or fight for a space on the nearby beach.

Like I say... poor me!