Keeping On, Keeping On

“Keeping On, Keeping On,” said Alan Bennett. But I’m wondering whether that is always the right thing to do? Should there come a point when it’s best to draw a line in the sand, say, “I tried my best”, and then move onto something else?

I’m going through a dry patch in my writing. You may remember me telling you that I had a second book on submission with my agent and was keeping my fingers crossed. As with the earlier novel, this one also failed to find a home with one of the big publishers. I suggested trying both books with the smaller, digital first publishers. My agent felt unable to add much to this process and therefore we agreed that I would proceed down this route un-agented. I have submitted to several places but, as of this moment, nothing has come of it.
I’ve put a lot of work into getting so near, but yet so far. People tell me that I did well to get taken on by one of the best agents in the country. I understand that and I learned a lot from the process. But it’s still very difficult to get re-enthused about starting all over again on another novel that might also never see the light of day.
I’ve considered returning to short stories and have managed to write two. One’s gone off to a competition and the other one is waiting for a final edit before I try it with The People’s Friend. However, the short story market has shrunk and shrunk and shrunk, so I’m not feeling optimistic.
And, at the moment, the article pitches seem to be landing on deaf ears after a good run of successes.

On a more positive note, I am two weeks into a free Zoom novel-writing course run by Jacci Turner. She’s running the course in the US at 10 am, which is a convenient 6 pm BST but there is an Australian in the cohort joining from a darkened house at 2:30 am! I’m hoping this course might re-ignite my passion and enthusiasm.

But in the meantime I’d love to hear your opinion/advice:
Should I continue ‘keeping on, keeping on’ as a writer or call it a day and find something else? How do you cope with dry patches like this?

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‘Clean vs Green’ – Free Short Story Competition

Green Stories Writing Competitions want your stories on the theme ‘Clean versus Green’. Environmental Short Story Competition

The competition is looking for an engaging fictional story which will help readers understand how over-cleaning and misinformation about bacteria can mean that we can end up killing our bodies’ ‘good’ bacteria through over-use of harsh cleaning products.

To help you get started there are story ideas on the website plus a free virtual writing workshop on June 6th, to which you can take your draft stories for early feedback. Attendance at the workshop is not a prerequisite of entry.

First prize is £500.

Entry is FREE. Stories must be between 1000 and 3000 words and the story can be in any genre. Closing date is 21st July 2022.

As always, please make sure you read all the rules before entering.

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The Poetry Pharmacy, Bishop’s Castle

Poetry Pharmacy Bishop's CastleOn holiday in Bishop’s Castle, Shropshire, I discovered the Poetry Pharmacy run by Deborah Alma. It’s part cafe, part poetry bookshop, part events space and part therapy; the latter via an appointment with the Poetry Pharmacist.

We’d been walking as part of the Bishop’s Castle Walking Festival and needed coffee and cake when we found the Pharmacy. It doesn’t do the usual lattes, cappuccinos etc. Instead the waitress recommended one of the different coffee blends and then delivered a glass flask of black coffee plus a jug of warm, frothy milk on the side. Similarly, she recommended a tea blend for my husband. We sat for a long time in the quiet, peaceful space, leafing through poetry books and magazines which centred around the calmer side of life. Afterwards, I treated myself to a copy of The Emergency Poet edited by Deborah – and, unusually, the book was cheaper in the Pharmacy than on Amazon. It’s a volume full of poems designed to destress and improve the reader’s state of mind. I will be sharing some of the poems with my Shared Reading Group soon.

Still on the subject of poetry, I’ve come across three competitions open for entries:

The Winchester Poetry Prize for poems on any subject and in any form or style. First prize is £1,000. Entry fee is £5. Closing date is 31 July 2022. The judge is Jo Bell, whom I recently had the pleasure of interviewing about her role in compiling the book On this Day She: Putting Women Back into History One Day at a Time for an article in The People’s Friend magazine.

The Writers Bureau Platinum Jubilee Poetry Competition. This is FREE to enter but you need to be quick: closing date is 31st May 2022. The prize is publication on The Writers Bureau’s website and a course or place on a Zoom workshop of the winner’s choice.

Ironbridge Poetry Competition 2022. This competition welcomes poems on any and every subject. First prize is £300 and the closing date is 31 July 2022. The judge is Simon Fletcher, who is widely-published as a poet and lives in Shropshire. He’s also the manager of Offa’s Press.

Poetry Pharmacy Menu

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Librarian Stories Wanted

This is a bit of an unusual call for stories but it caught my eye because I’ve been working as a library assistant since last October.

Stack of chocolate chip cookies on isolated background

16211412 © Grahamtaylor | Dreamstime.com

Air and Nothingness Press want short stories about a librarian for their upcoming anthology which will have the title ‘The Librarian’. However, the stories must be about a very specific librarian who, “… travels the multiverse (along the timeline – past through the future – and across planetary systems and universes) helping out people, societies, and those in need, with their questions, problems, and research (as librarians do).” The stories should be positive and hopeful and have narratives that celebrate librarians.

There’s lots more information about the requirements on the Air and Nothingness Press website.

The closing date for submissions is June 30 2022. Selected stories will be paid for at the rate of 8 cents per word and authors will also receive one print copy of the anthology.

The cookie picture was just to get your attention. Sorry.

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Talking About Authors and Reviews

Last week I watched a Facebook Live broadcast by the Empowered Author Group. It was facilitated by Sam Missingham and Katie Sadler. The chat covered a range of topics from how to deal with reviews, how to encourage readers to leave reviews and what to do with those reviews when you get them. I jotted down the points that resonated with me.

  • Reviews are subjective and what one reader hates, another will love. Anyone who’s ever been in a book group will know that a single book can generate a whole range of love/hate discussion.
  • Authors need to develop a thick skin. This is not just for reviews but for an author’s life in general. The knock backs are many and we have to develop the skills for dealing with them.
  • Many authors never read their reviews. If this is you, it can be useful to get a trusted friend or partner to read them to extract any constructive comments that be used in the writing of the next book. For example: A popular character could make an appearance in a sequel.
  • If you are ever tagged in a positive social media comment, always respond with a thank you.
  • The question was asked about how useful it is to get reviews from friends and family. In theory, Amazon does not allow reviews from friends and family, some will get through and can create a useful starting point. However, be aware that if these reviewers usually favour a different genre, their reviews on your book may mess up Amazon’s algorithms. For example, if your brother usually reads Westerns but reviews your Romance novel, Amazon may start showing your book to Western readers and this may limit your potential for sales. It can cause similar confusion on your ‘Also Bought’ lists. It might be better to get friends and family to recommend your book on their own social media and in real life. Or perhaps they could request it in the library or order it through a bookshop.
  • Actively encourage readers to review or rate your book using your social media presence. 
  • At the end of each book put a polite request for a review.
  • Build up a group of early readers or a ‘Street Team’ who will be happy to receive and review an early copy of the book and to shout about it for you. (Early readers can also be found by making your book available on NetGalley but this can be an expensive option unless you have a publisher willing to pay.)
  • Blog tours are a good way of generating reviews. Build your own tour (Reedsy has a list of bloggers) or pay one of the excellent tour organisers to do it for you.
  • When you get good reviews, use them for marketing purposes. Put them out on social media and in press releases.

It’s not easy to encourage reviews – most of us probably never thought about leaving a review until we became writers ourselves. So prize those coveted words of praise. And remember that even bestsellers get some bad reviews.

If you fancy writing a greater length about a book you’ve enjoyed, the Marlborough LitFest 2022 Love Books Competition gives you that opportunity (closes 1st July 2022).

Happy reviewing!

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Free: Concrete Short Story Competition

Outsideleft is running a free to enter short story competition in conjunction with The Bear Bookshop.cement-mixer

The theme is ‘concrete’. ‘Concrete’ might not immediately grab you but the story doesn’t have to be about physical concrete. It could be about solid ideas or anything unmovable and difficult to get around.

First prize is £100. Maximum of 1,000 words and the closing date is 31st May 2022.

Any genre is acceptable and entry is by email only. As always, make sure you read all the rules before submitting.

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In Praise of the Electronic Calendar

Towards the end of 2021 I bought my usual paper calendar and started to jot down the skeleton of my commitments for 2022. In October 2021 I’d started a new part-time job as a library assistant which requires me to work alternate Saturdays. Also in 2021 I became a co-leader of a Shared Reading group – my turn comes around every other Thursday.In Praise of Electronic Calendars
I couldn’t be bothered to go through the whole calendar and work out the dates of both of these two-weekly engagements. Then, my husband, who was working away during the week and didn’t have sight of the joint paper calendar, began putting dates into his phone so he had them to hand.
That was my light bulb moment! I stepped forth into the convenience of the electronic calendar and wondered why I’d been a dinosaur for so long.
It was easy to download the Calendar app and I discovered it was possible to set up single events for the library job and Shared Reading and then tell the calendar to schedule the events fortnightly going forward. What a time saver!
I discovered it was possible to make my calendar visible to my husband and vice versa – so we can see if there are any clashes with dates.
I discovered it was possible to set up an event and send an email invite to someone else.
If I’m out and someone suggests a date for our next meeting, it’s easy to check the calendar on my phone and see when I’m free – no more waiting until I’m home to look at the joint paper calendar hanging on the wall.
So far I’ve come across only two disadvantages to the electronic calendar. Firstly, I can’t simply glance at the wall as I walk past to see what’s happening over the next week – I have to remember to check my phone (but you can elect to get e-reminders of events in advance). Secondly, I have a vague fear of the servers belonging to the calendar provider crashing and burning – and taking the whole of my life with them. But the same could’ve happened to the paper calendar hanging in my hall.
Like everyone else, my work life has long been governed by an electronic calendar on the office laptop. It’s just taken me a very long time to make my personal life easier by embracing the calendar on my phone!
I’m using Google Calendar but other electronic calendars are available – as I’m sure you know because you’re probably light years ahead of me in your use of them. Please let me know that I’m not the only one who’s taken so long to embrace technology!

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How to Organise Your Manuscript using Word

A useful post here for anyone trying to get a large, unwieldy manuscript under control!
Thanks, Claire.

Claire Fuller

Writing a novel can be a big unwieldy task. You’ve written 40,000 words or 90,000 words and you really need to know when you your protagonist sneezed for the first time, or when the octopus escaped, or when you last mentioned that minor character. It’s hard to keep track of it all, especially if you write in Microsoft Word as I do. It’s also hard to move quickly around a big document, as well as reordering chapters and scenes. But there is a part of the programme which should help: the Navigation Pane.

Yes, Scrivener – software designed for writers – will help with all this too, but I didn’t get on with it. If anything it was too complex and it too took long to get to know all its bells and whistles. I’ve written nearly all of my five novels (fifth finished recently) in Word. And I use…

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Still Waiting for News

Slo-cooker marmalade

Last November I mentioned my novel was out on submission. It still is. Off it went to seven publishers and the responses have dribbled back. So far there have been four rejections and three publishers still to hear from. For many of us ‘getting an agent’ is the pinnacle for which we aim and we assume that after we’ve achieved that, everything will fall into place and we will become successful, traditionally published authors. Be warned: that is not always the case! However, hope springs eternal …

In the meantime I’m finding it hard to focus on a brand new novel and my ability to write short stories seems to have gone AWOL. So I’m keeping my writing brain in gear by producing short articles for The People’s Friend and the Mirthy website. Obviously this is not as glamorous as having a novel published but at least I’m no longer writing on spec and am getting paid for my words.

I am also considering doing Alison May’s ‘Re-ignite Your Creativity and Find Your Voice’ online course in order to kick the fiction part of my brain back into gear. But first I need to find some space between the day jobs and my other commitments …

In other news, we’ve been making marmalade in our house.

My husband and I do this every year and it takes hours of simmering the peel and filling the kitchen with steam. This year we used the slo-cooker to cook the peel overnight and it made things a lot easier, quicker and kept the windows free of condensation. The recipe is here – a bit late for this year’s Seville oranges but, if you’re a marmalade love, save it for next year.

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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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