Monday, 30 September 2013

Do You Follow Instructions?

Do you follow instructions? I know I do.

The lovely inventor of Wendy's Story Timeline and I had a few days break in the Peak District. We had never stayed in that area before but as my daughter lives in Manchester, we thought it would be a good place to combine seeing her with a few days walking.

We stayed in Castleton - a chocolate boxy type of village which we immediately loved. Our first day saw us stepping out of our farmhouse B&B and walking 9 miles along the ridge of the peaks that surrounded the village.

The second day saw us hobbling up the slopes of a hill in the beautiful area around Dovedale (can you believe we spent an hour looking for the village of Dovedale in order to have a coffee before realising it wasn't a village just an area of dales).

Not being boy scouts or proficient with maps, we followed a walking guide which we'd found in the farmhouse. My husband read out the steps and I followed them dutifully.

Eventually he read the instruction Walk across the field where you will see a gate in a fence. Go through the gate...

So, liking to follow instructions to the letter, and not being able to bring myself just to walk around it, I did just that!

Whenever I do any writing or send anything for publication, I read the guidelines once, twice and then again to make sure. Why give magazines or competition judges reasons to throw your work to one side unnecessarily?

Maybe this is one reason why I came home to find some very happy emails.... five sales to three different magazines. I need to remember days like this when I next have to pull on that rejection T-shirt.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Guest Post - Samantha Tonge

I am very lucky to have as my guest post today the lovely Samantha Tonge. If you don't know who she is, just open any People's Friend magazine and you will find one of her wonderful stories there. 
Sam has just published an anthology of her short stories through Alfie Dog. It is called Sweet Talk - but I won't say any more about it as I'll let Sam do the sweet talking herself.
Hi Sam, I know you always offer your guests cake when you interview them on your blog. I'm not much of a baker but I can offer you sunken Victoria sandwich or burnt flapjacks...

 Ooh, burnt flapjacks, lovely thank you – nice and chewy!

Perfect... they needed using up. Now the niceties are over, lets get down to the important writerly stuff. You have a collection of short stories “Sweet Talk”, which was published by Alfie Dog Fiction on 24th September. Would you like to tell my lovely readers a little about your stories.

They are warm, uplifting stories, guaranteed to make you feel good after a hard day. The perfect gift (I like to think, when my marketing cap is on!) for a woman who likes to dip into fiction or take a book travelling – plus they cover a wide variety of settings and themes.

Sounds like a great holiday read, Samantha. Do you have a favourite or would that be like asking a mother to choose between her children?

Ooh, I couldn’t possibly say! But I felt a huge sense of achievement after writing “Birds of a Feather” as it is set just after the Second World War and I don’t write many historical stories. Plus it is from a young lad’s point-of-view – I really enjoy creating stories where the protagonist is a child. “The Ultimate Hero” is another favourite as it is a saucy story for the ladies and was huge fun to write!

A saucy story for the ladies - sounds perfect! Can you tell me the inspiration behind a couple of the stories?

Sometimes a news item will inspire me – “Icing on the Cake” was inspired by an article on a new phenomenon from America, ‘gender-reveal cakes’. You’ll have to read the story to find out what they are! “Messy Buckets” was inspired by real-life and how, in my younger days, I hooked up with a rather nice man after we met on a train.

Ooh, you must tell me all after the interview but until then, using only two adjectives, how would you describe the stories in your collection?

Feel-good and uplifting.

I won't give you my husband's reply to that answer, Sam. Moving swiftly on, what made you decide to publish your stories through Alfie Dog? Was it their suggestion or yours?

I noticed that they had published collections by other authors, so after submitting several of my own individually, I approached the editor, Rosemary Kind, to ask if she’d be interested in putting together a collection of mine. In fact I am writing a blog post for the lovely Womag blog in a couple of weeks, detailing the whole process of my journey with Alfie Dog, from approaching Rosemary in the first instance, to picking up copies of the book last week.

I shall enjoy reading that post, Sam. You started out writing novels - what made you decide to change to short stories?

I’d written several novels, without publishing success, and had really reached a point where, for my own self-esteem and sanity, I needed some sort of validation of my work. I’d tried now and again but just couldn’t put together a beginning, middle and end, in the short form. However, I finally succeeded for one competition in around 2010, I think. Although I came nowhere, this spurred me on to join an online group which helped me learn how to write for women’s magazines. In March 2011 I made my first sale.

I know that a lot of your time is spent writing fiction for the People's Friend, does that leave you any time for writing novels?

My output is quite high when I’m not writing a novel – I usually write and sub two stories a week. This might drop to about one a week, when I’m writing a novel. I try to keep 10-15 stories out there at any one time and that seems to work for me.

Blimey! I thought my output of one story a week was high... I'd better write faster. Which do you prefer writing - novels or short stories?

Impossible to say – writing romantic comedies is probably my first love, but having said that, I adore the versatility and scope of shorts. Recently I sold a cowboy story to The People’s Friend and it was such fun to write. Plus, if a rejection rolls, at least I’ve not put months of my life into it. Let’s say I’d marry a novel, but snog lots of shorts J

What a great saying - wish I'd thought of it. You are participating in a blog tour to publicise 'Sweet Talk', in what other ways are you promoting your book?

Well, I am of course promoting it a lot on Facebook and Twitter (sorry to my friends there, but it is a necessary evil for writers nowadays!) Also, Alfie-Dog Fiction have trialled a traditional print-run with my book, so I have about 70 copies to get into local outlets! So far the lovely Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe in Alderley Edge has agreed to stock it, and I am doing a signing there on October 12th (so if anyone here is around it would be great to see you!) I have also contacted a local radio station and newspaper, to see if they will give the book any coverage. I am new to all this, so it is a steep learning curve.

I think Mr. Simms from the Olde Sweet Shoppe should feature in one of your stories. Finally Sam, can you tell us something we may not know about you?

I have a degree in French and German. My German accent was never fully authentic, but when I lived in France and spoke French people couldn’t tell I was English – for some reason, they thought I was Belgian!

She's not just a pretty face, readers! Thank you, Sam, for finding the time in between writing short stories to talk to us and I look forward to reading your anthology.

You can find Sam's website here

Alfie Dog Fiction's website is here

Sweet Talk is available to buy here


Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Wendy's Story Timeline - Version 2 with Date of Birth Calculator


For those of you not already familiar with Wendy's Story Timeline, let me explain (everyone else can skip this part!) A while ago, I was writing a short story set in the present day with flashbacks to WW1. In the story, it was important to know in what year a character might feasibly have married, had a baby, become a grandmother etc. I got into such a muddle (I tried to marry off my lead character when she would have been only eight!) so decided to draw myself a time line to work from. This was time consuming, scrappy and only usable for one story.

When I looked online, I could find timelines but nothing specific to my needs.

These were the things I wanted:

  • My character's age to be automatically calculated against each year on the timeline..
  • A column to show major events logged against each year
  • A column where I could record events in my character's life
  • A timeline that could cover any century
  • A timeline that could be filled in for my story, saved and a new one started for the next

This was when I turned in desperation to my husband - who kindly dedicated an evening to creating the perfect timeline for writers.

To go to Wendy's Story Timeline Click here. It should be straightforward to use - after all it was made for me and I'm pretty useless at technology! I have filled in kings and queens and some major events but you can fill in events of your choice.

So what's new? Whilst using the timeline for one of my stories, I knew that I wanted my character to be age 18 at the beginning of WW1 (1914) but unless I used my fingers (I'm not too good at mental arithmetic) I had no idea in which year she would have been born in order to place her on my time line. 'I'll sort it,' said my husband and he set aside a Sunday to solve the problem for me (and you).

The new timeline now has an Date of Birth Calculator. See below for how to use it.

Once you have your character's date of birth, just add it to the timeline and - hey presto - you now have all the information you need.

What else is new? Well, this isn't a new feature, you just might not have realised you could use Wendy's Timeline for this purpose. Instead of putting in your character's date of birth, you can put in a life event such as marriage or date of ascension to the throne. The timeline will then calculate the number of years married or on the throne. This is a good way of finding out anniversary dates for your characters. See below for an example.

If Wendy's Story Timeline is new to you, below are simple instructions for how to use it.

If you have any problems or questions about using this timeline, please let me know and I will try and help. It is free to download, but could I just ask that if you do, please leave a comment and if you share on your blog please credit this blog or provide a link to it. Many thanks.

This timeline is absolutely FREE but if you feel you'd like to make a contribution to the hard work that's gone into it, there are a couple of rather lovely story collections on the sidebar that you might like to put on your kindle for the price of a cup of coffee. 

Happy planning!

The Timeline is now version 3. This has a slight change to make it easier to select a range of years to view. It also has more character columns.

To download Wendy's Story Timeline V3, Click here.

Friday, 13 September 2013

So Much for Happy Families - Read my story in Fiction Feast

This is the inspiration behind my story 'So Much for Happy Families', which is my second story published in this month's Fiction Feast..

I married three years ago and inherited three lovely step-children as well as Bad Bonnie. With two girls of my own of similar age to my husband's eldest two, it was never a foregone conclusion that they would get on. However, I am delighted to say that the two families (Including Bonnie and Bobbie) have merged seamlessly.

Recently, the children (ages ranging from 14-26) ganged up on us on us after a family lunch and said we all ought to go on a family holiday... to bond!

I think the term 'over my dead body' might have been uttered by myself and my husband but a seed was sown. What would happen if a family did try to play happy families on holiday?

My story is once again set in Greece but Kate's choice of holiday destination is not to the older children's liking. It is a tale of sibling jealousy and rivalry but by the end of the story, teenager Lilly is forced to re-evaluate her feelings for her own family after her new friend Stephan tells her of his own family tragedy.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Two Rants and a Rage

  • To the person who drove right up my bumper flashing their lights: Yes, I did see you when I pulled out of the side road (it would have been a safe distance if you hadn't been speeding). I also saw you when you carried on tailing me and flashing your lights. Strangely enough, I was still aware that you were annoyed when you over took me blaring your horn... I hope you, and your road rage, enjoyed your day.

  • To the dog owners who saw me put my dog on a lead and move off the path away from you and still allowed your four dogs to charge down the hill at Bonnie: What part of my non-verbal and verbal communication did you not understand?

  • To the postman who flinched at the glare I gave him as he handed over three stuffed envelopes with my handwriting on: Sorry, Mate... you should know that it is traditional to shoot the messenger.

Yes, dear readers... today I shall be wearing this.


Friday, 6 September 2013

Saying Goodbye to Summer - Read My Story in Fiction Feast

I have been lucky enough to have two stories published in this month's Fiction feast. Today, in my Inspiration Behind the Story post, I shall talk about how I came to write the first one: Saying Goodbye to Summer.

The title came from a headline for an article (I think about gardening) which caught my eye in a newspaper, last year. I had taught a little girl with the name Summer (only spelt differently) and I couldn't help but think of it as a play on words. Who could Summer be in a story? Why would people be saying goodbye to her? Who was saying goodbye to her?

At the time of thinking about the story, a lot of my friends' children were embarking on their first year at University and were talking about how it would feel when they had gone.  'The empty nest' was a hot topic over our weekly coffee on a Friday. My own daughter had just left for her final year at Cambridge University and although immensely proud of her, after two years I had grown used to her being away and it being just my husband and me (and Bonnie and Bobby) at home.

I decided to write about a woman who instead of feeling bereft when her daughter Summer left home, actually just felt proud and as though she had done a great job as a mother. I knew that this subject had been done to death in magazines and would need a twist. When it came to me, I was really pleased and knew it might give my story the edge over others with the same theme at this time of year.

Of course, as usual, I don't want to tell you what that twist was as it will spoil it for anyone wanting to read it but the moral of this inspiration post is: if you can find a different angle to a well worn theme (sorry to use that term!) you have a better chance of publication. This applies to seasonal stories such as Easter and Christmas or stage of life stories such as graduations, weddings, retirement etc. If any of my readers are new writers hoping to break into the magazine market, I hope this post has been helpful.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

The Man Behind the Mask - Read My Story in Woman's Weekly Fiction Special

Another in my 'Inspiration Behind the Story' series. I have a story in this month's Woman's Weekly Fiction Special called The Man Behind the Mask. I am very pleased as it is the story I sold them following my visit to the Woman's Weekly Fiction Workshop in June (a nice quick turnaround from penning the story to publication).

This story is unusual in that it is only 1000 words. I am much more at home writing longer fiction (often around 3000 words) but I had decided to try a short twist in the tail piece for the first time.

The inspiration for my story is something that I saw on a double decker bus on a trip to London. I would tell you what it was but if I do, any of you wanting to read the story will have the ending spoilt. As soon as I saw the 'thing', I knew exactly what I was going to write - in face I wrote it in my head while on the bus and then it was an easy step once I'd got home to type it up. This is so unlike me - I usually have no idea where my story is going to go.

Samantha Tonge on her blog says 'the brain is like any other muscle – the more you use it, the better it is at any particular function' and she is so right. The more I write the more I am finding potential stories in the things I see.

Not much inspiration to share after all but proof that stories can be found anywhere.

A tip for writing 'twist' stories: start with the ending and work backwards. (I can't believe I just said that - it's such an alien concept to me!) If you want help with writing a story with a twist, this book might help you.