Archive for October, 2011

World Book Night 2012 – Be a Giver

Do you fancy enticing people who don’t read for pleasure to open a novel and give it a try?

Applications are now open for those who would like to be a ‘giver’ on World Book Night 2012.

This entails distributing 24 copies of your chosen book (selected from a list of 25) to people who read very little. 20,000 givers are needed on April 23rd 2012. Givers must be over 16 and able to collect the 24 books from their local library/bookshop. The closing date for applications is December 31st 2011.

To apply click here. You must state where, to whom and why you want to give the books away.

A wide range of books are available to give, including Pride and Prejudice, The Book Thief and The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic. The full list is here.

I would choose to give The Book Thief but I’m still thinking about where I would hand them out. I’d want to be sure of finding people who don’t currently read much but who would appreciate the book and at least give it a proper try.

Encouraging more people to read books has to be a good thing for the publishing industry and thus, in turn, a good thing for all us writers who would like to see our work in print.

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FBFT Sports Writing Competition 2012

Don’t panic – this is not a competition for a kick by kick account of a football match or an in-depth account of an athletics

A football striker wearing the number 10 shirt...

Image via Wikipedia

meeting. FreeBetsFreeTips, the organisers, are happy to accept prose or poetry, fiction or non-fiction. And it’s free entry – so no excuse not to have a go.

The prizes are £50, £30 and £20 plus publication on the Free Bets Free Tips website. Word count is 1500. You can write about any subject as long as it relates to sport. The organisers are looking for something exciting, original or even abstract.

Closing date is 13th May 2012 and last year’s winning entries can be read here.

By the way, if you Google ‘Sally Jenkins’ you will discover the Wikipedia entry for an American sports writer. Amongst many other things she wrote cyclist, Lance Armstrong‘s story – ‘It’s not About the Bike‘.

Maybe I should enter this competition and see if I can emulate my namesake’s success in this field…

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Novel Writing Booster Kit with Martin Davies

The other Saturday I attended a novel-writing ‘booster’ workshop with the author, Martin Davies at Mackworth library.

what happens inside

The aim was to build on what we had learnt earlier in the year at his ‘starter’ workshop .

Martin set lots of exercises to get the pen moving over the page and thus prove to ourselves that ‘writing’ isn’t some wonderful magical gift that you must have in bucket loads in order to succeed – instead tenacity is one of the qualities most useful to a writer.

Once again Martin was very generous with his advice and I came away with the following tips jotted down:

  • If a minor character is feeling 2-dimensional, give him an unusual hobby to flesh him out
  • Before you begin your novel, write a 2 sentence or ‘elevator’ pitch – and repeat this exercise at regular intervals to make sure you’re not going off at a tangent
  • The odd observed detail will bring your settings and characters to life – not swathes of description
  • When setting a scene, mention one big thing e.g. the mountain that dominated the landscape, and one small thing e.g. the cigarette burn on the table-cloth.
  • Finish the first draft without looking back over your work AT ALL
  • In preparation for the second draft  print out the manuscript and read it through, marking any corrections/changes as you go – don’t change anything yet because you’ll lose the momentum of how the story flows. When you’ve read & marked to the end you can begin changing the text. Repeat this as many times as necessary.
  • Read aloud to check the flow of the story.
  • Write what you feel excited and moved by.
  • Don’t tell other people what your novel is about – it will make it feel stale to you. 

So now I’m trying to pluck up the courage to go back to the Pocket Novel that I completed in the summer. I need to turn that rough first draft into something comprehensible – or maybe I’ll decide that it’s rubbish and bin it! But, as Martin said, no writing is wasted – it’s all practice for better writing.

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100 Not Out!

Yes, this is my 100th post!

When I started out around 12 months ago I wasn’t sure whether I’d have enough material to sustain a blog for more than a few weeks never mind a whole year – but I’m still here!

Blogging becomes addictive (watching those stats go up and down and wondering if you’ve offended somebody when there are no comments on a post) and it generates a feeling of power (I can write what I like without wondering if it will get rejected by some picky editor).

I’ve found some lovely people online (but I’ve never met you – so maybe you’re really all mad-axe murderers waiting for the right moment to strike!) as we cross-pollinate each others’ blogs.

So to celebrate, here are a few competitions mentioning 100 in their requirements or winnings:

  • The Angels and Devils Poetry Competition is offering a first prize of £100 and has a closing date of 31 December 2011
  • Each quarter Cheerreader are offering a 100 Euro prize for a humourous short story. The next two closing dates are 15 December 2011 and 15 March 2012.
  • Helen Yendall is offering a £15 Amazon e-gift voucher for a 100 word story based on the photo displayed on her blog. Closing date is 31 October 2011.
  • And a reminder that Readers Digest are running another 100 Word Story Competition with £1000 first prize. Closing date is 31 January 2012.

Thanks to those of you who’ve been with me since the beginning and a warm welcome to all those who’ve joined along the way. Here’s to the next 100 posts!

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Article Writing

The other week I ran an article writing workshop for my writers’ group. I’m not one for speaking in front of a group and so was a bit concerned about how it might go. However, once I got going and the participants started asking questions, I began to relax and enjoy it.

We started off by analysing the pile of magazines that we’d brought with us:

  •  Comparing staff names on the masthead to the by-lines on the articles to see which were written ‘in-house’
  •  Looking at the adverts to get a feel for the readership of the magazine

This raised the problem of the expense of buying magazines to search for markets in this way – especially since it’s necessary to read around 3 consecutive (and up-to-date) issues in order to spot the regular columnists and get a proper feel for the content.  Unless you live near a large, well-stocked library there’s no easy answer to this – other than begging, borrowing or stealing from your friends. What do other people do? 

Once each of us had established a potential market, we brainstormed a list of ideas that we felt might make an article for that magazine – trying to stay away from the obvious well-worn themes. This was the part of the evening that I found really interesting. There was a wonderfully wide range of feature ideas – displaying sides of my fellow writers that I never knew existed. Without giving too much away (because I hope they’re all going to write-up their articles) these included:

  • Batman
  • Activities for winter evenings
  • Dog-related issues
  • The significance of one lady’s mother’s choice of wedding date
  • Railway memories
  • Multiple Sclerosis

We went on to draft a short email pitch to the editor before the chairman rang his bell and our time was up. 

There are a couple of useful blogs that include generous advice on article writing and are well worth a visit:

Remember there are many, many more markets for articles than fiction or poetry – so why not give it a go?

P.S. Many thanks and welcome to those of you that requested email updates to this blog over the past fortnight – a donation is now winging its way to the RNIB.


Birmingham Book Festival Short Story Competition 2012

The annual Birmingham Book Festival is currently under way and it includes a short story competition.

The theme is ‘Clocks’ and the story must be between 1000 and 2000 words. The winner will receive £100 plus a writing workshop of their choice (from a program yet to be announced for next spring) and the second prize winner will receive £50. Two runners-up will receive tickets to an event of their choice in the Birmingham Book Festival 2012 ‘Spring Thing’. Each prize winner will also get to read their story at a special celebratory event. 

Entry fee is £5 and closing date is 31 January 2012. Full details are here

Remember – stories with a theme, like this one, attract fewer entrants than ‘open’ competitions – so have a brainstorm and try to come up with something unusual on the theme of ‘clocks’.

Also – until midnight tomorrow (14th October 2011) I am donating £1 to the RNIB for each new subscriber to this blog. Simply enter your email address in the box on the right – it’s free and you can unsubscribe at any time. More information is here.



Poetry, Pictures and Andrew McMillan

On Saturday I went to Morley in Yorkshire to collect my certificate for the Friends of Morley Literature Festival ShortSally Jenkins - Morley Literature Festival Story Competition. It was a lovely evening which featured Andrew McMillan (not sure if he’s any relation to Ian) reading poetry that had been written for a special project undertaken in conjunction with the Literature Festival.

Four families in the area chose paintings from Leeds Art Gallery to hang in their homes for 3 months. Andrew went out to visit these families and talk to them about how they felt about the art works. He then used these conversations as triggers for poems. Three local schools also chose pictures to hang in their classrooms for a similar project but this time the children wrote the poems with Andrew acting as their mentor.

Andrew has a wonderful way of performing poetry and he brought the children’s colourful language & unusual ideas to life with his gestures, timing and strong regional accent. Similarly, hearing him read his own poems made them so much more vivid (for a non-poet like me) than simply reading words on a page.

So, to be a successful poet do you have to be able to perform with panache  and carry the audience with your words? Or can you succeed as a shrinking violet? I imagine that few people buy books of poetry these days and therefore a confident performance is essential to build a following.

The evening continued with a gig by the comedian Arthur Smith (of Grumpy Old Men). He was brilliant but surprised me by including poems (which he knew off by heart) in his act. My favourite was The Mower by Philip Larkin, which is a rather sad tale about a hedgehog.

Also – until midnight on Friday (14th October 2011) I am donating £1 to the RNIB for each new subscriber to this blog. Simply enter your email address in the box on the right – it’s free and you can unsubscribe at any time. More information is here.

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Guardian Travel Writing Competition 2011

A quick glance at the newsagent’s shelves will tell you that there are hundreds more markets for articles than there are short stories. But with competitions it’s the other way around – there are plenty of opportunities to win with fiction but very few contests asking for non-fiction. I’m not sure why this should be but it does mean that if you want to sharpen your article writing skills you should grab every opportunity to submit your work for judging – especially if entry is free as it is in the Guardian Travel Writing Competition 2011.

The competition has six categories and the prize for each is a fantastic holiday. They are as follows:

  • The Big Adventure – wins a place on the 20-day Spirit of Shackleton trip to Antarctica  
  • The UK Trip – wins a stay in a contemporary, glass-fronted cabin (with an outdoor hot tub) in Sherwood Forest
  • The Summer Holiday – wins a seven-night summer break in Cancún in Mexico  
  • The Short Break – wins a trip to the beautiful city of Aosta in the Italian Alps
  • The Family Holiday – wins a snowboarding trip to California for a family of four
  • Unusual Accommodation – trip for two to Zambia with Wildestate Africa

All the categories require just 500 words about a holiday that you’ve taken in the past year – I’m sure most of us can manage that and then, who knows, next year’s holiday could be all expenses paid! Closing date is 23rd October 2011 and entry is via email.

For full details plus terms and conditions see here.

And don’t forget I am currently donating £1 to the RNIB for every new subscriber to this blog – details here.


Read for RNIB Day 2011

A blind man is led by his guide dog in Brasíli...

Image via Wikipedia

Friday 14th October is Read for RNIB Day 2011 – the aim is to raise funds for the RNIB. Participants can do anything reading related – from organising a book sale or literary lunch to getting the office to dress up as their favourite book characters.

As my contribution to Read for RNIB Day, I will donate £1* to the RNIB for each new subscriber to this blog between now and midnight on Friday October 14th. To sign-up simply put your email address in the box on the right of this page. You will then receive each new post as an email instead of having to visit this website. It is completely free and you can unsubscribe at any time.

I do have a special interest in this charity because I am virtually blind in one eye. It doesn’t affect my life – I can still drive, work, read etc. but it does mean I try not to take my sight for granted and have regular checks at the opticians. 

Blind and partially sighted people can’t enjoy the simple luxury of reading a book without expensive technology. 

So here are some of the things that the money raised by the RNIB will be spent on to help blind people read and write:

  • £50 will pay for a birthday book, so we can send every child their favourite book in the format they want on their birthday.
  • £100 pays for a full day’s recording of Talking Newspapers – audio versions of the daily papers people with sight loss know and love.
  • £125 helps run classes that prepare parents to teach braille to their children.
  • £250 can help buy a braillenote machine, so someone with sight loss can read and write on their own again, rather than relying on others.

So please, stick your email address in the box and help me raise money for the RNIB.  

*My donation will be capped at £20 – in case I get spammed or I’m just more popular than I anticipated!