Archive for category Non-fiction
During lockdown social media has been full of pictures of banana bread, sourdough starters (whatever they are!) and other delicious things produced by the nation’s bakers. In between the chocolate beetroot cake and lemonade scones, I’ve been trying some of the free food that nature has to offer:
Nuts from the Monkey Puzzle Tree.
When we moved into our house 24 years ago there was a small monkey puzzle tree in the garden. Nearly a quarter of a century later, there is a HUGE monkey puzzle tree in the garden and, for the first time ever, it has produced nuts. A quick internet search confirmed that these nuts are edible if boiled for ten minutes. They taste a little like chestnuts and are very moreish …
Like most people I used to cook the green bushy broccoli top and discard the stalks. However, if you slice the stalks very thinly, they can be successfully stir-fried or roasted in the oven and there are even recipes specifically for broccoli stalks.
Obviously, blackberries aren’t a completely new food for me but I’ve never really taken advantage of the easily available abundance of this fruit until this year. Last week we picked A LOT of blackberries and now have stewed blackberries in the freezer and ten jars of blackberry jam in the cupboard. The pips are a disadvantage compared to strawberries and other jamming fruit but spread over toast they don’t cause too much of a problem.
What has all this got to do with writing?
Not a great deal, but it does nicely lead up to me telling you that the food and drink website pellicle.com is accepting paid pitches for its blog.
Tip: My wine-related pitch was turned down because they are stocked up on wine articles for the next six months – so you might want to peruse the website and come up with a different topic.
Freelance writers must study their target publication before starting work on a short story or article.
It’s essential to find out the following as an absolute minimum:
- Are freelance contributions accepted? Look at the bylines, list of contributors etc.
- What’s the word count for the slot in the magazine you are aiming at?
- What’s the tone/style/age range of the publication?
- What topics have been covered recently? Potential writers will have to come up with something different.
- What’s the name and email address of the feature editor? This will allow an idea to be pitched in advance before writing up the whole article.
It’s difficult to discover the above without reading several copies of a magazine. If you’re aiming to write for several different publications, buying all the magazines can become very expensive.
I’ve just discovered the joy of Readly. For a monthly subscription of £7.99 Readly gives access to a wide range of magazines plus a couple of newspapers as well. You can read as many publications as you want across up to 5 devices including laptop, tablet and phone. Perfect for a writer to study the wide magazine market.
The Readly website currently offers a one month free trial but it’s sometimes possible to get a longer trial elsewhere. I found a two month trial via Money Saving Expert but unfortunately that’s finished.
However, electronic reading doesn’t beat curling up with a proper, paper copy of your favourite magazine. Use Readly for market research but please continue to buy your favourite magazines on the high street – otherwise there’ll be no markets left for us to write for!
Entries can be fact or fiction and there are categories for prose and poetry. However, the subject matter must have a connection with some aspect of mountaineering, rock climbing, walking or ski mountaineering / ski-touring.
In both categories the prizes are: 1st £200: 2nd £100; 3rd £50.
Prose entries should be a maximum of 2,000 words and poems a maximum of 200 words long.
Closing date is 31st August 2020.
As always, please read all the terms and conditions before entering.
The Canal and River Trust is asking for 300 words of your experiences of being by water.
The Trust says: You could recall a peaceful stroll, reminisce about spotting wildlife on a boating holiday or spin a yarn about a fishing trip with an unexpected twist. The subject matter is endless – the only condition is that the piece must be inspired by a visit to river or canal cared for by the Trust.
The judge is poet and author Ian McMillan. The winning entries will be published on the Canal & River Trust website and the winners will receive personally signed copies of Stephen Fry’s books – The Ode, Paperweight and Mythos.
Closing date is 31st August 2020 and don’t forget to read the terms and conditions.
I rarely read memoir or autobiography but the title ‘Diary of a Lollipop Lady‘ jumped out from the library shelf. The subtitle is, ‘Memories of a Crossing Patrol in the 1960s’ and it is exactly what it says on the tin.
Hazel Wheeler spent 1966 as a lollipop lady in Yorkshire. She has two young daughters, her husband is working all hours and the debt collectors are after them. Back then it was unusual for mothers to do paid work but being a lollipop lady fits with school hours and the family needs the money. Hazel kept a diary during her twelve months in the job, noting down stories about her regular ‘customers’, the extremes of weather and the interesting things she witnesses.
What I liked most about this book were the odd comments Hazel dropped in about her ambitions to write for a living. Like many of us, she was an avid writer of letters to magazines. She records how she went into Smiths to leaf through the latest issues and see if anything of hers had been published. When it was, she celebrated the one guinea payment or the tea caddy from Peoples’ Friend (I think that prize is still going!). Her children are encouraged to enter writing competitions – with success. The book ends on a positive note, with an acceptance for Hazel from the BBC in January 1967 for a feature to be used on the ‘Home this Afternoon’ programme. Her fee is 10 guineas – more than three times what she earns in a week on the crossing.
After finishing the book I Googled ‘Hazel Wheeler’ and was sad to discover she’d died in 2009, not long after the book came out. Her obituary charts her diary-keeping and her publication history. Other volumes of her diaries provided material for ‘Living on Tick‘ and ‘Huddersfield at War‘.
I’m sure Hazel would be pleased to know that her books are still being read after her death – something for us all to aim for.
When I was young one of my ambitions was to own a secondhand bookshop. It was an ambition that was never fulfilled but I do still love to wander around shelves full of pre-loved books.
Shaun Bythell owns Scotland’s biggest secondhand bookshop and for a year he kept a diary of life in that shop. The diary was published in book form, The Diary of a Bookseller, a couple of years ago and it makes interesting reading for anyone who’s ever wondered what goes on behind the mountains of paperbacks and collectables.
There are comments on the customers (especially those who spend hours reading by the bookshop fire and then don’t buy anything), the staff (who have a tendency to the eccentric), the people who are selling their lifelong book collections and the way online ordering works in the secondhand industry. Sunny summer days are busy but in winter the takings are meagre.
Two particularly interesting points from the book are worth highlighting. Why not join the shop’s Random Book Club? For £59 a year you will be sent a surprise book every month. Might make a great present for someone who loves to try different genres?
And, if like me, you’ve ever wanted to run your own secondhand bookshop, here is the holiday for you:
Stay in the apartment above another secondhand bookshop, The Open Book, and you get to manage the bookshop (with help from volunteers) during your stay. But you need to plan ahead – the holiday is very popular and booked a couple of years into the future. Get on the waiting list via the Open Book Facebook page or book the apartment via AirBnb.
It’s often said that public speaking is people’s number one fear. Many of us would rather adopt a tarantula, stroke a python, walk a tightrope across the Grand Canyon or be enclosed in the tiniest of spaces than speak in front of an audience. I know, I’ve been there.
But it doesn’t have to be like that. The fear of public speaking, or glossophobia, can be managed. The nerves will never completely go, but that’s a good thing. A little bit of anxiety ensures proper preparation beforehand and a dose of adrenaline improves the performance.
Writers who can face an audience (even if they are quavering inside!) are at a big advantage. Think of the growing number of literary festivals that take place throughout the year, up and down the country, showcasing authors and their books. Think of the opportunities offered by libraries for local authors to make themselves known to local readers. Think of the critique possibilities available at writing groups, classes and residential courses to those brave enough to read their work aloud.
Writers are often stereo-typed as introverted loners, hunched alone over a laptop. We can do a lot of networking and promotion online via Twitter, Facebook and all the other social media, but nothing beats getting out into the real world, meeting real people and sharing our work.
2019 is drawing to a close. Start preparing now to make 2020 the year you crack glossophobia and take your writing and author talk to the audience it deserves.
To help you on your way Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners on Kindle is reduced to 99p for the next seven days, until 4th December. For less than half the price of a coffee you can learn how to:
- Construct an interesting talk
- Manage nerves
- Build audience rapport
- Manage speaking engagements
- … and much more
If you prefer a ‘real’ book, the paperback of Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners is only £5.49.
Whichever version you prefer, I’d love to know how you get on!
Back in 2011 I wrote a post about Women Only Writing Competitions. At the time they seemed to be a ‘thing’.
Recently two men have independently stumbled across that old post whilst searching for ‘men only’ writing competitions and each left a comment indicating that they don’t think it necessary to have such discriminatory entry requirements. And I agree with them – surely it’s the standard of writing that’s important and not the sex of the writer. Women have come a long way since the days of writers such as the Bronte sisters, who had to hide behind male pseudonyms. I feel we can now compete on equal terms.
Since 2011 other forms of restricted entry have emerged, for example asking for entries only from the LGBT community or from minority ethnic groups or from writers of limited financial means or from particular age groups. I assume that these entry restrictions are imposed because the competition organisers are either looking for stories from these particular viewpoints or the prize is a bursary aimed at those in need or it’s been found that writers from these groups are reluctant to enter open writing competitions. These are all valid reasons for using specific competitions to encourage writing in particular groups.
However, I hope that in the future all writers will feel comfortable entering all competitions, confident that their stories will be judged without prejudice. Meaning that in the future competition organisers (or publishers) might specify if a particular character/story type is required rather than the type of author required. Of course bursaries for those on a limited income should continue to be awarded to those talented writers in the most financial need.
In the meantime here are a few ‘restricted’ competitions, lifted from the pages of this month’s Writing Magazine:
The Nan Shepherd Prize for Nature Writing – for unpublished writers who consider themselves under-represented in nature writing, through gender, class, sexuality, ethnicity, disability or any other circumstance. Closes 10th September 2019.
The Mo Siewcharran Prize – for unpublished UK novelists from a BAME background. Be quick! Closes 29th July 2019 (but will run annually).
Mslexia Fiction and Poetry Competitions – open to women only. Close various dates in September 2019.
Passager Books are seeking submissions of poetry, memoir and short fiction from writers over 50. Closes 15th September 2019.
I’ve been beavering away on a couple of projects recently and am pleased to announce that one is now complete. Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners is now available on Amazon Kindle and paperback. It brings together everything I’ve learnt about addressing an audience over the last five years.
Who should buy this book?
- Anyone who has to speak in meetings (work or otherwise), on a committee or any other group scenario such as a book club or writing group.
- Anyone who’s been asked to speak at a wedding, funeral, family party or similar occasion.
- Anyone with something to promote. That something could be a business, a favourite charity, a political or community campaign, a sports team in need of a sponsor, a club appealing for new members or anything that needs someone to pitch for publicity.
- Anyone who’d like to be paid for talking about their passion. (I receive a small fee when talking about writing to community groups).
- Anyone not included in the above. Remember those times you’ve felt awkward introducing yourself at a writers’ workshop, ‘selling’ yourself at an interview or making a complaint in a shop? There are times when we all lack confidence but being able to organise our thoughts and speak calmly makes these situations much easier.
As the title suggests, Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners is aimed at those with no or very little experience of addressing an audience – that was the starting point for my journey in public speaking when I joined Sutton Coldfield Speakers Club in September 2013. The club is part of the Association of Speakers Clubs (ASC) and in 2018 I represented the Midlands in the national final of the ASC Speech Competition. Back in 2013 I had no desire at all to enter a speech competition and never expected to find myself, a few years later, speaking in a competitive situation on a stage in a packed hall at the ASC Annual Conference. It’s amazing what we can achieve with a bit of encouragement, self-belief and hard work!
But far more important than the competition, several people have commented on how much more confident I’ve become in everyday life since learning to speak in public – and I think that is the real benefit to me from the last few years. I wrote Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners to minimise the fear that we all feel when asked ‘to say a few words’.
I hope it will help you grow in confidence too.