Sally Jenkins

The Magic Faraway Tree and Two Free Writing Opportunities

I heard on the news today that Jacqueline Wilson is to write new stories in The Magic Faraway Tree series, originally created by Enid Blyton. On the Today program she said, “I’m being very very faithful to the whole situation that Enid Blyton set up with this wonderfully original idea about a tree that reaches up to different lands. I have three modern children going into the Enchanted wood, up the tree, meeting Silky, Moon-Face etc. and then going up and finding the different lands. So the magic world stays the same and if anybody reads this new book when it comes out I very much hope that they will go back to the others.”
I’ve mentioned before that I loved The Magic Faraway Tree books as a child so I’m in two minds about the new, modern stories being written. I don’t see how they can contain the same magic if the children are eating pizza rather than pink blancmange. But if the new books are a hit with today’s youngsters and get them reading (as they did me, way back when) then they have to be a good thing.
What do you think?

If you’re scratching your head and wondering what writing project to tackle next, a couple of free competitions have come to my notice:

The Fusilli Writing Flash Fiction Competition is looking for Fusillistories up to 200 words with a twist.
There is no closing date but the winner and short-listed entrants will be announced once 100 entries have been received (website shows details of how many entries have been received so far). No prize except publication on the Fusilli website and promotion on social media. Plus there is the opportunity to purchase feedback for £3.

The Kenneth Branagh Award for New Drama Writing 2022 is looking for one-act plays of 25 to 35 minutes from amateur playwrights. The plays should use a maximum of six actors and be suitable for a studio theatre. Three winning scripts will be performed during the Windsor Fringe Festival in October and the overall winner will receive a £500 prize. Entry is £10 BUT if “BBC Writers Room” is written on the top right hand corner of the contact sheet accompanying the play, no submission fee is required. More details about the waiving of the fee can be found on the BBC Writers Room website.

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National Flash Fiction Competition 2022 from Nottingham Writers’ Club

I’ve had an email from Mars Hill about a new competition being run by Nottingham Writers’ Cub. To reflect the growing popularity of flash fiction, the Club are offering prizes of £100, £75 and £50 for the best 100-word stories on the theme ‘Wish You Were Here’.

The competition details suggest, ‘You could tell a story in the traditional form of a postcard from a beautiful place, or maybe you’d like someone special to be with you at a certain time. It can be happy, sad, dramatic, frightening, scary or horrifying, the choice of genre is yours, and please make it clear who you wish to be where.’

The entry fee for each story is £5 (free for Club members) and everyone gets a few lines of feedback. Entries will be accepted from 1st to 28th February 2022 either by post or via the Club website.

However, this is not a competition for ‘professional’ writers and those who have earned more than £150 from short stories during 2020/21 should not enter. And, as always, don’t forget to read all the terms and conditions.

Over the last couple of years we’ve had less opportunity to send postcards but increased reason to ‘wish you were here’. It’s a theme that will resonate with most of us – so why not make the most of it and get writing?

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On Submission! (Again)

463434 © Judwick | Dreamstime.com

For the greater part of this year I’ve been working with my wonderful agent, Juliet Mushens, to get my current manuscript into tip-top condition. She is now happy with it and last week it went out into the big wide world of publishers. My fingers are firmly crossed but, as I know from my experience two years ago, there is many slip between cup and lip. I’m not saying much about the actual story except there are no murders and it’s infinitely more cheerful than Bedsit Three or The Promise.
Juliet recently re-opened to submissions if you’re currently querying agents and think she might be a good fit for you.

I’ve also continued writing occasional articles for The People’s Friend and was asked to pitch ideas this week for Christmas 2022! As I’ve said before, finding the ideas is by far the hardest part of article writing. Correction: finding ideas that haven’t already been covered in some shape or form by a magazine with such a long history is the hardest part of article writing. The good part about writing for The People’s Friend is the quick response to most pitches – I usually get a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ within a week to ten days and the ‘pitch black hole’ of many publications is non-existent.
There are submission guidelines on The People’s Friend website if you fancy having a go at writing features for them.

Kindle Direct Publishing for Absolute Beginners was selected by Amazon as one of November’s Kindle Deals. Amazon have discounted the book to 99p and given it a little bit of a push. So far it has sold about three times more than in October which is good! And it’s currently got orange bestseller flags in both the Amazon Electronic Publishing and Digital Media categories. But at 99p my royalty rate drops to 30% so financially I won’t make any more money, however I’m hoping the boost the Deal has given me will generate a head start for December when the price returns to normal.
If you’d like to nominate any of your books for an Amazon Deal, go to your Amazon bookshelf and click the Marketing tab along the top of the page. Scroll down to see the option to nominate your e-books. It’s free of charge and so worth a try. There’s more information on the Amazon help pages.

Now I’ll stop typing so that I can cross my fingers again!

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Writing as a Team (or The Importance of a Weapons Cabinet)

Most of us write alone but occasionally successful writing partnerships come to the fore. James Patterson regularly co-authors novels and his latest partners have included Bill Clinton and Dolly Parton. C. L. Raven are identical twins who write horror stories together. Good Omens was written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. Madeleine Purslow and her brother, Robin, recently published The Field of Reeds: In Shadows (Children of Bastet Book 1).
Today Madeleine and Robin have kindly agreed to spill the beans on the sometimes vicious experience of writing with a sibling.

So, co-authoring a novel. How does that work? Hmmm, let me introduce you to the weapons cabinet…
Picture, if you will, an antique cabinet in the corner of the room, ornate and a bit dusty. Now, open the doors. They protest a little, they groan, they could do with a spot of oil. Inside though… now, that’s unexpected, every kind of weapon you can think of, softly shining in the half-light. The weapons are all in perfect order and ready for use at a moment’s notice.
Got it? Great, hold that thought, we’ll come back to it in a minute. Small Maddie Guest Blog Photo
So, writing is a solitary thing, isn’t it? You take yourself away from other human beings for hours on end. Go deep inside your own head and stay there.
Stephen King said, writing is actually a form of telepathy. You take words, images, emotions and transfer them from one mind to another. Well, if that works between a writer and a reader, there is absolutely no reason why it shouldn’t work between two writers.
Well, perhaps not absolutely no reason…
Unless you really, get on well with your potential co-author, don’t even think about it. It has been said, that the best way to break up a friendship, is for two people to go on holiday together. I have a better one, try writing together.
If you are writing with someone else and you are both convinced that you have just come up with the best possible way to express what you are trying to say, who’s words do you use?
That’s where the weapons cabinet comes in…
You have to fight it out. Maybe with twin swords? Or, sneaky, ninja, throwing stars? Even a ball point pen can be lethal in the right hands…
Eventually, a compromise, the best of both worlds. Two brains really can be better than one. They had better be brains that genuinely like each other though. Whatever wounds you inflict in the heat of battle, you have to be able to live with afterwards.
So, what about the nuts and bolts? Well, it starts with huge brain storming sessions, lots of notes and a lot of laughing. You build the world, the shared playground and agree on a writing style.
Then, it may be that we take a chapter each, go away and write it. Or, if we are really unsure about how a chapter should go, then we both write the same chapter and ‘swap papers,’ like doing a test at school. Then we… Did you hear the creak, as the weapons cabinet doors opened?
Boundaries are also important, recognising who does what best. If you know your co-author is better at dialogue, or spooky atmospheres, or has a real feel for a particular character, then, you do what serves the story. After a trip to the weapons cabinet, obviously.
So, there you are. This blog has been brought to you after a short but vicious fight, by the gestalt brain that is Madrob, or possibly Robeleine. We have to decide which. Excuse us for a moment, we are just going to the weapons cabinet…

About The Field of Reeds: In Shadows (Children of Bastet Book 1):

Smallest Maddie Field of Reeds in Shadows 5 x 8 book one

When Priah, Captain of Cats, began her night patrol, everything was as it had always been. The sleeping streets of ancient Bubastis were quiet, dark and still.
Then it came… death came… sorcery came.
Before dawn, Priah’s life would be forever changed…
In Bubastis, the holy city of the cat Goddess Bastet, a secret enemy stalks the streets after dark, killing indiscriminately. As this seemingly unstoppable foe spreads terror, it falls to Captain of Cats, Priah to halt it in its tracks. She embarks on a quest to do just that, with the help of the newly arrived stranger cat, The Alexandrian. Together, their journey will lead them through magic and dangers and ultimately beyond life itself.
The Field of Reeds: In Shadows, is set in a fantastical world inspired by ancient Egypt, a stylized version of every cat’s original homeland. Here, cats have a hierarchy. They tell heroic tales of “the days of the beginning.” They communicate with and live alongside humans, in a secretive parallel existence, as advisers, spies and allies.
This is the first book in an epic fantasy series, that takes the ‘talking animal,’ genre to a very different place. A place full of heart and heroism, extraordinary things extraordinary deeds and extraordinary characters.
Death stalks the dark streets of Bubastis and they are the only hope of salvation…

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An Update on Me

What’s been going on in my writing life recently?

At the end of June I completed the second round of agent edits on my current WIP and submitted the manuscript again. Over the last few weeks I’ve been biting my nails while I wait to hear if more work is needed or whether the novel has reached the standard for submission to publishers. You may remember that a previous manuscript went out to publishers a couple of years ago but failed to sell.

While I wait for the verdict I’ve found it difficult to get back into fiction (a new novel or short stories), so I’ve been doing bits and pieces of non-fiction writing.

I’ve taken the opportunity to update Kindle Direct Publishing for Absolute Beginners. The book was first published back in 2014 and has consistently been one of my best-sellers. Every year or so, I’ve re-read it and made changes/additions/deletions to reflect the ever changing landscape of self-publishing on Amazon in both Kindle and paperback format. It contains lots of useful information if you’re thinking of self-publishing for the first time.

I’ve also written a few articles for The People’s Friend. The hardest part of this (like any writing, I think) is generating ideas that are appropriate to the readership and haven’t already been covered in the magazine before. The magazine holds weekly editorial meetings and so I usually get a ‘yes’ or, more likely, a ‘no’ on ideas quickly. The downside is it’s no longer possible to earn any ALCS money on articles or short stories published in the magazine.

In June I had my first post-lockdown holiday. My husband and I walked the first five stages of the Cost to Coast. We started at St Bees and finished at Kirkby Stephen five days later. Physically it was much more difficult than we’d envisaged but great to finally get away. I took notes along the way and am currently turning those notes into a short e-book. It will be partly a personal experience narrative and partly resources for those planning to do the walk themselves. If you enjoy walking (or are just nosy about what other people get up to on their holidays) watch this space!

Finally I’ve recently got into the crime novels of Jane Harper. Jane was born in the UK but now lives in Australia. Her novels are set in the Australian outback which gives them quite a different feel to more urban murder stories. I started with The Lost Man and am now half-way through The Dry. In 2014 a short story submitted by Jane was included in the Big Issue’s annual Fiction Edition. This inspired her to pursue creative writing more seriously. Big things from little acorns grow!

Kindle Direct Publishing for Absolute Beginners

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Improve Amazon KDP Keywords

If you’ve published on Kindle or in paperback via Amazon KDP, you’ll be familiar with the concept of keywords. The purpose of these keywords is to make your book more discoverable in Amazon searches. But deciding which seven keywords or phrases (a keyword can be a short phrase rather than a single word) to use is difficult, especially for works of fiction.

A few days ago I watched an online presentation organised by the the Alliance of Independent Authors, featuring Darren Hardy who is the UK Author and Editorial Programmes Manager at Amazon KDP. He was talking about how to increase book sales via KDP and he gave some useful tips about keywords:

  • Keep them generic but relevant
  • Don’t use punctuation or ‘stop’ words. A ‘stop’ word is something like ‘also’, ‘and’ or ‘because’. These words are skipped over by the automated search logic.
  • Don’t waste words by repeating words already in the book’s title or subtitle.
  • Avoid using things like, ‘brand new’, ‘amazing’, ‘free’ etc.
  • Do not use the names of other authors or the titles of other books.
  • Include synonyms or alternative spellings of words. Readers may use these in their searches.
  • Include the setting of your book.
  • Include character types, e.g. ‘single dad’.
  • Include character roles, e.g. ‘strong female’.
  • Include plot themes, e.g. ‘coming of age’ or ‘forgiveness’.
  • Include the story tone, e.g. ‘feel good’ or ‘dystopian’.

Darren also mentioned the importance of category selection in making a book more discoverable. I’ve previously written about Amazon categories in this post.

If you’d like to generate more sales for a book, it’s well worth reviewing your keywords and categories to see if they can be improved.

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Sexting – Considerations for (Mainly) Girls in a Highly Sexualised World

Sexting is the sending of a sexual message, photo or video to someone else. It’s not something I usually talk about on this blog. However, it was suggested to me when I discussed the possibility of a guest post with Arnie Witkin to launch his new book It’s Not A Big Thing in Life.


Arnie’s book began as a series of writings for his grandchildren and he gave an early draft to a friend’s granddaughter who was starting university. It had such a positive effect on her that she believed it should be for grandchildren the world over and their parents and grandparents. Hence the eventual publication of It’s Not A Big Thing in Life. The book is full of life advice for those starting out in the world and for those of us already in it! Arnie’s book would make a great present to slip in a student’s backpack to be read and absorbed as needed.

And now for Arnie’s advice on how to handle sexting:

If it hasn’t already happened you will be subjected to requests to send nude pictures or videos of yourself

How will you respond to the challenge of sexting?

If someone you don’t know or have recently met asks you to sext him, consider the simplest possible response. ‘No.’ No discussion.

However, if you are in a relationship, albeit for a short time, and you are tempted, consider that you are totally responsible for yourself. Know that, whatever the state of your current relationship or feelings, these are most likely to change. If a man is scorned, he may well publish those pictures on the internet. So before you completely expose yourself take responsibility for the consequences. I would suggest that you only do it if you are in a loving and trusting relationship, but even then you may want to hide your face. There is no place for naivety.

What if you don’t want to do it? You may feel that if you don’t oblige then you will be excluded. This is more complicated because that has to do with self-esteem and the desire for acceptance.

This is a great opportunity to grow up, assert yourself and build self-esteem. Trust your feelings. If you don’t want to do it then you shouldn’t. If you are ‘dumped’ I can assure you that the person wasn’t worth having, no matter how attractive he may seem. In fact usually the opposite of exclusion happens. Strong people who resist the pressure are admired for it.

Consider taking a firm but non-judgmental approach. ‘I am not happy to send naked pictures of myself.’ If he asks again or ‘why’, simply repeat it. It probably doesn’t pay to take a moralistic or indignant approach. ‘I like you and want to continue the relationship, but please don’t ask me that.’

If he says, ‘If you loved me you would do it’ you most definitely should consider leaving the relationship. ‘If you loved me you would….’ is one of the most selfish and controlling statements there is. It is said purely for the gratification of the person and doesn’t care about your feelings. A good riposte is ‘If you loved me you wouldn’t ask me to do what I don’t want to do.’ If you do succumb and remain in the relationship he will control you until you stand up to him. You may as well do the standing up at the earliest possible opportunity.

Another ploy could be to tell you that everybody is doing it and that you are immature. This is similar to ‘If you loved me…’ You could say, ‘If I wanted my life judged I’d go to a more competent authority.’ Peer group pressure is the greatest pressure in the world. Resisting it is hugely character building. You will be proud of yourself.

If you find the request offensive it is well to remember that offense can be given, but it doesn’t have to be taken. You can decide what you allow to offend you or not. A turd on the side of the road is offensive, but you don’t have to step in it.

Whatever you feel, this is the real world. You can’t stop the sexual pressure, but with focus you can decide on your attitude and response.

You have the power. Don’t surrender it.

It’s Not A Big Thing in Life by Arnie Witkin is available in both paperback and e-book format and has some great reviews. It’s worth a look if you know any young adults or would like a bit of advice yourself on living a better life.

And there’s more information about Arnie on his website.

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A Facelift for The Promise

The rights for psychological thriller, The Promise, have reverted from the original publisher back to me.

To celebrate, the Kindle version now has a shiny new cover and new, lower, price point. I’m also delighted to say, the e-book is available on Kobo for the very first time and, fingers crossed, it will qualify for one of Kobo’s Mystery & Thriller promotions soon.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t been possible to carry the reviews across from the old version of the book. But they are currently still available against the secondhand hand editions of the original paperback.

I haven’t yet had time to sort out a new paperback version of the book – that is a project for the coming months.

“Jenkins spins a web of intrigue” – Judith Cutler

Olivia has recurring nightmares about the murder of a man which took place when she was a teenager.
Petty criminal Tina is diagnosed with a terminal illness.
With the clock ticking, Tina needs money and a wife for her younger brother, Wayne.
The discovery of a forgotten letter from an ex-cellmate puts Tina on the trail of Olivia – with devastating consequences.

The Promise is a psychological thriller set in north Birmingham, UK.

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Stories Competition

Here is a free to enter competition which is completely relaxed about the format and genre of entries.

The Evening Standard in association with Netflix is running a ‘What’s Your Story’ Competition as part of their Stories Festival which takes place in September 2021.

Entries can be written (up to 1,000 words) or recorded as a video (up to 2-minutes in length).
The story can be about childhood, life or from your imagination but must be original and from a previously unpublished writer. The entry can be written as a short story, poem, screen/theatre play or can even be sung.
The competition closes on 30 June 2021 at 11.59 AM

The prizes sound pretty good. According to the competition website:
The winners will receive a suite of prizes to support them in their journey into the industry. Including workshop sessions with either leading screenwriters or editors, publication of winning stories on standard.co.uk, and VIP access to the festival. The winning pieces will be performed as part of the Stories Festival by well-known writers.

As usual don’t forget to read all the terms and conditions before entering and Good Luck! This sounds like a great opportunity for someone just starting their writing journey.

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Shared Reading in Sutton Coldfield

Earlier this year I did a 3 day Zoom training course in order to become a volunteer Reader Leader for the charity The Reader.

That training has now come to fruition and my own fortnightly Shared Reading in Sutton Coldfield Group started on Zoom last week. We hope to move to face-to-face meetings in Sutton Coldfield library as soon as restrictions allow (my fingers are tightly crossed!).

The participants in a Shared Reading Group have no homework – all the reading is done aloud during the meeting (as the leader I do have the homework of choosing and preparing the texts). The reading usually comprises a short story and poem and the two texts may share a theme. We take a pause at relevant points in the story and discuss what has been read, hypothesize about what might happen next and pick out any parts of the text which strike a chord with us or that we don’t fully understand. The poem will be read aloud a couple of times before we start to drill down into its possible meaning. It’s not an English Literature lesson (I have no relevant qualifications!) and there are no right or wrong answers: everyone’s opinion is valuable and valid because we all take different things from the text. The things that we take away might educate the way we live our lives.
And participation in the group is free!

For our first meeting we read The Bet by Anton Chekhov as our story. It tells about a bet between two men – if one can live in solitary confinement for fifteen years he will be paid two million dollars by the other. During the reading we discussed who might win the bet, the way the ‘prisoner’ spent his time and what effect the isolation had on him. You’ll have to read the story to discover the outcome of the bet!

We followed this up by reading For Whom the Bell Tolls by John Donne and talked about whether we are all valuable to society.

I’m excited to be getting this group started!

There’s more information about how Shared Reading can help depression, loneliness or simply bring like-minded people together on The Reader website. There’s more about the Sutton Coldfield group on the Folio website.

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