Sunday, 22 November 2015

The RNA Winter Party - a week to celebrate!

This is me at the RNA winter party. It may look as though I'm smiling but in fact I am grimacing due to the ridiculous height of my heels! In fact, from the moment I arrived I was unable move from this spot and had to wait for people to come to me (a bit like the queen) for fear of toppling into someone if I worked the room. I seem to remember the same thing happening at my first party (there's a picture  of them in a post about it called 'I Went to the RNA Winter Party... Well Done ME!' which you can read here).

It was  a lovely evening, especially as I got to meet Viv Brown (who writes as Vivian Hampshire). It's always great to meet another magazine writer in 'real life' and we had lots to chat about as Viv has also been writing a novel alongside her short stories.

Talking of novels, it was due to the other two people in the photo, Natalie Kleinman and Elaine Roberts, that I even have a novel. At last year's winter party I went as a guest, not as a member, and I have these lovely ladies to thank for persuading me to join the RNA New Writers' Scheme which in turn made me get on with writing my book. It was certainly nice to be there this year as a novelist as well as a magazine writer.

I'd show you all my  wonderful photos if only  I'd remembered to take any! This one is courtesy of Francesca Capaldi Burgess... thanks, Francesca!

I had this great plan that during the evening I would make sure that I would stalk chat to some lovely agents and plug tell them about my amazing debut novel. When it came to it, though, the room was so packed and loud that even if I had managed to collar introduce myself to one of them, we would have been shouting and using sign language. I did manage to have a chat with Rebecca Lloyd from Accent Press though (who I'd had a one-to-one with at the conference). It was nice to see her again and she was very happy to answer some of my (probably rather naive) questions.

My biggest disappointment of the evening was not being able to meet up with half the people I wanted to. In fact, some people I didn't even see or saw so briefly that all I could say was a quick hello. I can probably blame my shoes again for that! Still, as someone said to me - there's always next year.

Now that's the the RNA party covered but what is it I'm celebrating I hear you ask. Well, it's two things really. The first is that I have a story in both The People's Friend weekly and the Christmas special.

... and the second is that since I started my blog three years ago it has had 150,000 pageviews WHOOP!

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Who'd Have Thought? - Quick Fire Guest Patsy Collins

Last week, writing chum Tracy Fells and I were lucky enough to meet up with fellow magazine writer and author Patsy Collins for a considerable amount of cake. I even had a tour of her campervan (she must like me). With Patsy cornered in the cafe, it was the perfect opportunity to ask her some quick fire questions. Of course it was a bit of a risk as, with Patsy, you can never be certain what the answers might be! I shall now unveil them.

Hi Wendy and thanks for inviting me onto your blog to answer some easy questions. I just hope they don't involve decisions. I'm not good at making decisions.

Black or pink?

If the pink is bright then pink, otherwise black. Pale pink doesn’t really go with purple. Actually I’m not sure bright pink does either. So black. 
I thought you said these were going to be easy?

Strictly or X Factor


Kindle or paperback?

Both. I don’t want to rule out a good book which is only available as a paperback or vice versa.

Fireman or paramedic?

Fireman. They know how to handle hot stuff ;-) 

Night in or night out?

A night out in the camper van. 

Camping or glamping?

If that’s your idea of a trick question you need to buck up my girl. Campervanning, obviously!

Jane Eyre or Frankenstein?

Jayne Eyre. The plot relies on coincidence a little too much for my liking, but otherwise it’s a great story.

Letter or email?

Email, although I feel just slightly guilty about that.

Beer or champagne?

Champagne. Or Cava. Or Cremant de Alsace. Or Prosecco. If my drink has bubbles I want it to be white and to taste of wine. Unless it’s a gin and tonic.

Cats or dogs?

Dogs. I like to be loved.

Heels or slippers?

Why aren’t boots an option? I have slipper boots, high heeled boots, hiking boots, wellies, even rigger boots. I could have answered a question on boots.

Boiled or poached?

That one’s easy. Poached. Spiced pears poached in port or poached eggs on a buttered muffin v boiled cabbage or socks.

Thank you, Patsy. That was... erm... interesting! 

Alice has a fantasy. It starts with being rescued by a hunky fireman, involves the kiss of life and ends in him not needing his uniform. At the New Forest Show, Alice is offered an innocent version of her dream. Reluctantly she turns down fireman Hamish's invitation.

Despite Alice's blameless behaviour, boyfriend Tony's obsessive jealousy kicks in. Hamish wants to take Tony's place, but a hoaxer ensures Alice already sees far too much of Hampshire Fire Service. The threat of an explosive sprout surprise, her mum's baking, sister Kate's mind boggling pep talks and the peculiar behaviour of Alice's boss Miles provide distractions.

Is Alice really in danger? What is Kate up to? Can Hamish possibly be as perfect as he seems? It takes Alice masses of wonderful food, disgusting wine, smelly mud, red footed crows and steamy Welsh passion, but she finds the answers. And rethinks her fantasy.

You can buy Firestarter here

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Not Just a Shaggy Dog Story...

Someone said to me the other day that they hadn't seen much of my bad step-dog Bonnie on my blog recently - or Bob cat for that matter. Well, today I am going to remedy that by telling you the inspiration behind last week's story in The People's Friend, 'For Better For Worse'.

I've always been a 'cat person' and my sister a 'dog person'. I think it started the first year I found a cat calendar in my stocking on Christmas morning and my sister found a dog one. The same happened every year until I left home, so it's no surprise that when I eventually had a house of my own, I got a cat... and my sister a dog!

I've had many cats over the years and they've all been lovely but I have a very soft spot for my cat of the moment, Bob. He's fifteen years old, a great lap lover and a great dribbler. After my divorce, he, my daughter and I lived happily for several years - not expecting anything to upset our little family. But as John Lennon so cleverly put it - life is what happens when you are making other plans. What I hadn't expected was that life was going to be a whole new family - a husband, three step-children and... a step dog. 

A new husband was a blessing, my step-children a blessing also - but a dog? I knew nothing about dogs - except that they were big, hairy and often smelly. When I visited my sister, I would ignore her dog and refer to it as 'the hound'. Now I was going to be expected to live with one. Would I cope? More to the point... would Bob cope? 

'We'll have a trial,' I said, 'and if Bob is traumatized and leaves home then Bonnie will have to go.' Except that it wasn't as simple as that. When I told my colleague at work (who is a dog lover) what I had said, she warned me that the bond between a man and dog is a strong one. If Bonnie went, so might my future husband (although he insists this wouldn't have been the case). Also I felt sorry for Bon - she was, after all, the innocent party in all this. We would just have to try our hardest to make it work. 

Bonnie started by coming on day visits and then for sleepovers. She wasn't allowed upstairs, so Bob had a safe place to escape to, and we kept her on the lead in the first instance until Bob got used to her. And, you know what? It worked. The fights and the stand-offs never happened. For the first few days Bob stayed upstairs and then he gradually came down. Now they play together like the best of friends and if Bob gets agitated by something (like the cat next door) Bonnie comes to find me to let me know!

So what about me? How am I getting on? Well, for a start, a lot of the scrapes Cindy the dog gets into in 'For Better for Worse' are inspired by ones that Bonnie also got into. One of them is shown in the video below (which I know some of you have seen before but I just had to show it!).

TIme for dog-divorce? Actually no. The truth is, after five years, it is me who walks her and me who worries about her. I moan about Bonnie but I know I'd be the one to miss her if she wasn't there. My story is a tribute to my furry family.

Hmm...I wonder what calendar I'll be getting in my Christmas stocking this year?

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Writing for Magazines - Guest Post Leonora Francis

Leonora Francis is a name you will recognise if you are a reader of women's magazines. She started writing the year before me and we have followed similar paths - from short stories to serials. I though it would be interesting to find out more about this magazine writer's writing life.

How long have you been writing and what made you start?

This is a true story. I wrote a book in my late twenties and received a lovely rejection letter from a publisher, with feedback, and they asked me to write another one. I should have, but didn’t. If only I knew then what I know now.

I didn’t put pen to paper again until four years ago. I was helping my daughter with an essay and it kick-started my love of writing. My son encouraged me to send my stories out to publishers. I did. And here I am.

Can you remember the first magazine story you sold and has your style changed since then?

I will never forget it. It was a humorous story about a granddaughter encouraging her granddad to give up smoking in exchange for removing her navel ring, which he hated. An acceptance was waiting for me from Shirley Blair at The People’s Friend when I returned home from work one day. That was in early 2011 but I didn’t really get to grips with writing until 2012. I learnt so much in those early days and I never gave up.

And yes, my writing style has changed. After that first acceptance, which I put down to the quirkiness of the story itself and not my style, I wrote many, many stories. They were all rejected. That is, until a kind editor at the People’s Friend personally contacted me by email. It was from him that I learnt about ‘voice’, which in turn helped me to engage with my characters. There are only so many themes that you can write about and I believe the story is almost secondary to characterisation. I thank my editor for bringing this to my attention.

How do you keep track of all your submissions, rejections and acceptances?

I have a lovely spreadsheet and use pretty colours for acceptances and rejections. More importantly, there’s also a short section to add a few words as to why the story was rejected. In the early days I used that section as a learning tool. I still do!

Briefly describe a typical writing day?

I’m brightest in the morning and write in bed. Yes, in bed, with my laptop on my knees! I exit my bed at about mid-day to start editing. I don’t edit in bed. I find some other room in the house and always edit on a paper copy. Don’t ask me why. I try to finish at about 3 o’clock, but if a story has gripped me, I can write into the early hours of the morning, which drives my husband mad.

What made you move from short stories to writing serials?

My stories were getting longer and developing into these huge dramas, especially the period ones. In late 2013 I received emails from both PF and WW asking if I would like to attempt a serial for them. I was excited and rushed into it without thinking. Fortunately, my first serial for Woman’s Weekly, Amos Browne, made the grade. My attempt for PF was a disaster.

Do you have any bad writing habits?

I don’t plan, so I have no idea what’s going to happen in any of my stories until just before I type, ‘The End’. It can be costly. More than once I’ve reached part 3 of a serial and got stuck. I’ve had to abandon a few because of it. I also have an obsession with commas and exclamation marks, but I don’t think I’m alone in that!

If you could write in only one genre what would it be?

It would have to be Sci-Fi or Fantasy. Andre Norton books were my first love and I’m just about to finish reading book 3 in the Tawny Man Trilogy by Robin Hobb. The only downside with writing Sci-Fi or Fantasy is that your memory has to be pretty good otherwise you’d have to constantly check your notes. You’d also have to have a fairly good understanding of all the technical/science stuff. I’m not sure I can write one until I try. 

Do you write in the same genre that you enjoy reading?

Before I started writing seriously I didn’t read much in the way of crime or romance. When I think of an idea for a story I rarely have romance in mind. My stories seem to turn into romances as soon as a strong male character walks on stage. As for crime serials, I concentrate less on the actual crime and more on character development. One day someone is going to clock that the crime itself doesn’t quite ring true or that it would have been impossible for the perpetrator to have ‘done it’! Seriously though, writing outside your comfort zone can be so much fun.

What are your future writing plans?

I won’t give up trying to write a serial for The People’s Friend. (My mother would be overjoyed! So would I!) After that, I’d like to attempt that Sci-Fi novel. I’ve got an idea forming, but it needs a lot more development before I crawl into bed, open my laptop and start typing. Saying that, I’m not sure I’ll ever abandon short stories because adore writing them.

Leonora Francis was born in Leicester and now lives in South London. She’s had over a hundred and twenty stories published in women’s magazines, and is currently writing her sixth serial for Woman’s Weekly. Leonora thinks she’s normal but her friends say she’s eccentric. Sometimes she has to agree with them.

You can find out more about Leonora on Facebook