Archive for category Non-fiction
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!
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.
Here is a free to enter competition which is completely relaxed about the format and genre of entries.
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.
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.