Sunday 29 December 2013

2013 Writing Round Up

Here is a short round up of my writing this year.


Short stories: 32  * update 33

                       The People's Friend (17)  * update (18)
                       Take a Break Fiction Feast (11)
                       Woman's Weekly (4)

Serial:            The People's Friend

                       Writing Magazine (2)
                       The People's Friend (1)
                       Towpath Talk (1)


Short stories: 27

                       The People's Friend (12)
                       Take a Break Fiction Feast (11)
                       Woman's Weekly (4)

Articles:           Writing Magazine (1)

Submissions still out there: (A few of these may have been rejected by a magazine and re-submitted)

Short stories: 28

Rejections: Taken as those stories rejected by all three womags and put away!

Short stories: 5

All in all, this has been a very good year for me with sales tripled since last year. I am also thrilled that I have managed to achieve my goal of 2013 which was to write and sell an article and a serial. In a way, this makes it harder for the coming year as I need to keep up the momentum which might be hard. Also I need a new writing goal (which I shall mull over with Tracy over teacakes).

But most of all, I have been overwhelmed by the support for my blog this year and for all my wonderful commenters. Thank you all very much, I really appreciate it... it's what makes this writing malarkey so enjoyable.

There is now nothing let but to wish you all a very happy and successful new year.

Monday 23 December 2013

Welcome to my Blog Chain Thingy!

How exciting to be part of a blog chain thingy!

Patsy Collins asked whether I would like to be one of her victims and who was I to refuse such a kindly request.

Here are the questions that I have to answer:

What am I currently working on?

At the moment I am not working on anything as I am trying to give myself some 'White Space' (see post last week) but when I start up again after Christmas, I shall be concentrating as usual on my womag stories. I shall also be working on the third and final instalment of my serial for The Peoples Friend and I have an idea for an article that I want to start.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

That's a difficult one and probably one that only regular readers of the three magazines I write for can answer. What I will say, is that I am not afraid to push the boundaries: for example I have written first person stories to magazines that generally prefer third, stories from a male POV to ones that usually like female protagonists and have covered many sensitive subjects such as bereavement, disabilities and illness.

Why do I write what I do?

Because I haven't had the 'big idea' yet that would make me want to write anything longer. I like the immediate gratification you get at the end of the relatively short length of time it takes to write a short story and the thrill every time one is in print. I'm probably too impatient to have to wait a year or so to complete a project.

How does my writing process work?

It's all very random and sporadic. I set myself the task of writing at least one story a week - if I write two it's a bonus. I don't have set times or days when I write - I tend to fit it around other things I am doing. I edit as I go along and then give the story to my husband for a final check and it is his job to tell me that Jim has turned into Tom halfway through the story.

The three lovely people below will be the next link in the blog chain thingy and will be posting their answers to these questions on 30 December, so please pop over to their blogs next week for a peek.

Keith Havers is a former engineer who is now a student supervisor and writer. His work has appeared in various publications in the U.K. and Australia. Keith's blog is called Dream It, Then Do It

Amanda Brittany writes short stories for magazines. Her stories have been published in magazines in the UK, Australia and Sweden. Amanda's blog is called Writing Allsorts

Tracy Fells writes short stories, flash fiction, the occasional article and drama for theatre and radio. Her stories have appeared in Take-a-Break Fiction Feast, People's Friend, The Yellow Room, The New Writer and Writing Magazine. Tracy's blog is called The Literary Pig

Finally, my I take this opportunity to wish all you lovely readers a very Happy Christmas and I'll be back for a round up at the end of the year.

Thursday 19 December 2013

Sing it Again - Read My Story in The People's Friend Fiction Special

I was very pleased to see my story 'Sing it Again' in The People's Friend Fiction Special today and thought I would write another in my series of inspiration behind the story.

The tale is about a young Italian woman who has left her beloved Italy and her budding career as an opera singer, to marry an English plumber. Her mother, once herself a great mezzo soprano, is devastated that she will no longer be able to re-live her dream through her daughter. They become estranged and it isn't until her husband becomes involved, that Francesca returns to her native Tuscany with her young daughter and faces the ghosts that made her give up her singing.

Apart from the fabulous illustration by Andre Leonard, the inspiration behind this story was the most wonderful holiday my husband and I had two years ago to celebrate a special birthday of mine. We had three days in Tuscany, three in the Cinque Terre and three at Varenna on lake Como - an absolutely magical holiday.

'Nothing had changed in the seven years since Francesca had last been in Italy. The Tuscan countryside, dotted with cypress trees, fell away to either side.'
This was the sight that met my husband and I as we drove to our hillside hotel and when we arrived, the villa that stood before us could have been Francesca's mother's house Casa Bianca.
'Stretching ahead of them was the road that would lead them towards the little town of Fiesole on the hill. The white villa stood on the edge of the hillside, its wide loggias looking out across the vineyards to Florence."
Like Francesca, we were able to stand in the garden of the villa and looked out across vineyards and as night fell, watch the lights of Florence in the distance.
The story itself is pure fantasy except for Francesca's flashback to her stage fright after she sees her fiancé the great tenor Adriano Giovani with a chorus girl. This is the second time I have written about stage fright and it is based on a real life experience of freezing half way through a poem during a speech and drama festival when I was a child (I've mentioned this in a post before, but couldn't find it).
'Sing it Again' was a dream to write - one that just flowed. How I wish they could all be like this.

Monday 16 December 2013

Trying to Find the White Space

"Are you going to have a break from writing this Christmas?"
Tracy and I are sharing a coffee and a teacake in our local café.
"I don't know. I haven't really thought about it." I say.
I actually haven't, and if I'm honest, the mere idea of not producing any writing for a couple of weeks sends me into a panic.
"If you were in a different job, you'd have time off, though, wouldn't you?" Tracy says wisely.

It makes me think.

If I'm perfectly honest, my reaction to her suggestion has shocked me - after all, I have set my own weekly goals, no one else has. Maybe I should ask myself for permission to have a proper break.

Once I make the decision to wind down a bit, I feel quite excited at the prospect. I think of all the things I can do:  see my grandsons in their Christmas plays, last minute shopping, zumba classes without wondering if I could use the Columbian instructor as a male lead character, walks with Bonnie without the need to rush home to get a story finished. The fact that I make myself write two stories and an article that week, to feel I deserve my non-writing time, I can live with.

So far so good.Then comes the tricky part - turning off the ideas part of my brain. Of course, to see potential stories in everything you do is a blessing but when you have decided you want 'time out', it is nothing but an irritation. In her article in Writing Magazine on planning for 2014, Margaret James quoted novelists Rachel Louise Dove and Phillipa Ashley as saying that in order not to neglect our family and friends (not just at this time of year) we should all 'Try to let some white space into our lives'. What a lovely peaceful image - white space... if only my active brain will allow me to find some.

In her blog post this week, Sally Jenkins says that she finds it difficult to read a book without looking at it through the eyes of a writer. I am starting to find the same with everything I do.

In reply to her post, I commented that when I was an education officer at a nature reserve it took me two years after leaving my job to be able to go on a walk and enjoy it for what it was (rather than trying to analyse every animal track or identify every wild flower). Happily, the part of my brain that was locked into work mode, whenever I was in the countryside, eventually gave up and now I barely give a flower a second glance except to think, 'That's pretty."

... If only I could do the same now I am a writer.

Any tips on how to enjoy my two weeks of 'white space' will be gratefully received.

Tuesday 10 December 2013

Bah Humbug? Not Me!

In reply to the lovely Frances' Bah Humbug post:
Here are a few of the reasons why I love this time of year.
An excuse to snuggle in front of the fire and an excuse to get creative with the fairy lights.

An excuse to read my favourite Christmas stories to the grandchildren... again!
Lots of Christmas dances - so an excuse to wear my new 50s inspired dress.

An excuse to take the grandchildren to the late night Christmas shopping in town, where we also have the excuse to eat toasted marshmallows, admire the Victorian Christmas scene in the sweet shop window and browse the goodies inside.

An excuse to read my three Christmas stories in Fiction Feast (sorry, I couldn't resist that).

All this and still two weeks to go.

Sorry Frances, but I can't help it... I just love Christmas!

Friday 6 December 2013

Guest post Tracy Fells - How to Succeed in Writing Competitions

I am thrilled to have as a guest on my blog today, writer and competition queen, Tracy Fells. I would have offered Tracy some of my home baking but I think my previous guests might have had a word with her and she suggested meeting in our local coffee shop... I can't think why!

Firstly, Tracy... congratulations on another competition success. Can you tell my blog readers a little more about your Hysteria win?

Of course, but first can I thank you for inviting me along to your writing blog. I enjoyed your recent Writing Magazine article, Wendy, and hope to be a well-behaved guest!

This is the second year Hysteria have run their short story competition, which is only open to women writers and you have to write on the theme of ‘women’s issues’. I was pretty excited to make the shortlist (and anthology Hysteria1) with a story in 2012, so this year I was ecstatic when I’d heard I’d won.

I was rather hoping that your story would be about two writers who survive an assassination attempt on their way to a writing workshop but maybe you could write that one next time. Could you tell us what your story was about, Tracy?

Sorry, Wendy, but I think you covered that particular story here, didn’t you? And thrillers aren’t really my genre. You can read a little more about the inspiration behind my story here, but really it’s a bit of a moral tale on how we should never accept people at face value. I also hope it sends a positive message on how we should be treating the elderly members of our society. It takes place in a Care Home for the elderly and involves mathematics and biscuits.

How many competitions would you say you enter a year, Tracy?

Hmm, this is a bit embarrassing as I enter a LOT of competitions. Probably up to a 100, maybe more. Now I’ve written that - the total does sound scary and I probably need to cut down!

Well that's 99 more than I entered - probably why I never win! Can you tell me what your three biggest competition successes have been?

The biggest have been:

Reader’s Digest 100-word story: I was runner-up in 2013 winning £100 worth of book tokens. So not necessarily a big monetary win, but to come second out of over 2,000 entries meant a lot to me.

Steyning Festival Short Story Prize: I won this in 2012. First prize was £250 and the real treat was attending the prize giving ceremony and lunch held at Wiston House (West Sussex). I got to meet the judge, Simon Brett, plus author Elly Griffiths who read out my story. The whole day was magical.

Swanwick Writers’ Summer School (with Writing Magazine): I won attendance to this summer school (6 days free accommodation, all meals and all workshops) in 2012 with a themed article. The package was worth about £500!

They are some pretty major successes - you're obviously doing something right. Is there a formula you follow that helps you write good competition stories? (You can whisper it to me if you don't want anyone else to know)

Wish I could say Yes, but no not really. If there is a theme then I spend a lot of time letting ideas mull around and try to pick something off-the-wall – never go for the first thing that pops into your head as everyone is likely to come up with the same idea. I keep a notebook with ideas and sometimes I keep an idea maturing until I feel the right competition comes up. For Hysteria comp I knew exactly the story to write and submit. And it paid off, call it intuition or a ‘tingle’ but it does seem to work for me (sometimes!).

Some competition entry fees are quite steep. I have to say, I'm a bit of a skinflint - is there a maximum you will pay to enter?

It depends on the prizes on offer. Worryingly, entry fees are increasing and you can normally expect to pay £5 per story for a first prize of £100-500 (or less!). It can vary enormously. Novel competitions can be steep too, over >£10 per entry. I personally now never pay an entry fee >£10 for a short story competition and this year won’t be entering Fish 2013 because I think the fee is too high (20 euros). And there are many FREE competitions, so I do enter as many of these as I can find.

I think that's good advice. Would you advise new writers to start with smaller competitions, with less submissions, or go for gold with one of the biggies like Bridport?

Well in my first year of writing I entered just about anything, but the cost soon mounts up and my successes were rare. I’d recommend a new writer searches out as many FREE competitions as possible and targets smaller competitions. It can be difficult to determine the size of a competition, but the smaller the prize fund usually suggests a smaller number of entries, increasing your chances (theoretically). To put this in context: Bridport had 5,887 entries in the short story category in 2013. Competitions organised by Writers Groups are a good start, such as Greenacres, Christchurch (most advertise in Writing Mag and Writers’ Forum) and of course West Sussex Writers whose competition has just opened and closes in end March 2014 (quick plug for my group!).

Where do you go to research your competitions, Tracy. Can you name a good website which lists a lot of them?

The Word Factory ( publishes monthly news – for all types of writing competitions.

Also I’d recommend subscribing to Writing Magazine, which has a monthly pullout Writers’ News containing listings of many competitions and other writing news. The mag also produces a twice yearly pullout Competition special. But all other writing mags: Writers’ Forum, Mslexia, The New Writer etc list comps.

That's fantastic, Tracy - thanks for sharing. What about writing blogs that advertise competitions? Which do you recommend?

My favourites are:

Patsy Collins blogs regularly about FREE competitions, so worth following. Fellow blogger Helen Yendall also posts about competitions and generously shares competition news.

I believe The Literary Pig sometimes mentions a few competitions too.

Any advice for how to succeed in a writing competition... apart from not to enter the same ones as you or you won't stand a chance?

Ha-ha – I say this to another writing friend, Veronica Bright, who seems to win everything in sight (she was 3rd in the Hysteria competition). To succeed first you have to enter – so that’s Step 1. Don’t laugh, but many writers simply don’t enter competitions because they feel they have no chance of winning. But you have to be “in it, to win it”…

Step 2: If there is a theme then USE it and try to be quirky/off-the-wall (no well worn themes …sorry couldn’t resist that, Wendy).

Step 3: READ and FOLLOW the entry rules and guidelines. Obvious, I know, but it’s shocking how many comp entries are disqualified for NOT following the rules. I was a first reader for West Sussex Writers’ short story comp in 2012 and was amazed that we had to disqualify poems and articles when the rules clearly asked for short stories. What a waste of a fiver!

Step 4: Only send your best work. Ensure presentation is perfect and story well polished.

Step 5: Make a sacrifice to your chosen writing god. I’m not kidding. Every submission needs a little helping hand, because I’m afraid it can come down to just having the right reader for your story on the right day. Good writing helps, but writing is a subjective art form. What one comp loves, another will hate…

Thank you for having me.

And thank you so much for visiting my blog, Tracy. I'm sure many writers will find your advice invaluable. Also you were very well behaved! You can read Tracy's Hysteria win here. and her interview with Linda Parkinson-Hardman from the Hysterectomy Association here

Tracy lives with her family in a rural English village where her mind and writing frequently wander to other parts of the world and time. Her short stories and flash fiction have been published online and in print anthologies such as The Yellow Room, Hysteria1 and Rattle Tales. In 2012 she was shortlisted for the Fish International Flash Fiction Prize and appears regularly on competition credits. Currently she is working on a novel and has started an MA in Creative Writing. A recent addiction is writing drama for both stage and radio. Her first play made the longlist of the Kenneth Branagh Drama Award, an international One Act Play competition, which has only fired her enthusiasm for dramatic writing. She shares a blog with The Literary Pig ( and tweets as @theliterarypig. Actively involved in the West Sussex Writers, a local writing group, Tracy loves meeting other writers to talk shop.


Monday 2 December 2013

Big Blooper!

Here is part of a short story I sold to a major magazine... just as well I have a vigilant husband to edit my work before it gets sent!

            "I sort of miss the toys and the mess. Callum seems to have grown out of that stage - he's only interested in his DS games now or his music, and we don't even hear that as it's plugged into his ears."
            "Well, we should be thankful for that," Lauren said, putting on the kettle. "Look, he's only eleven, Neil. He may be shooting up but he'll always be our baby.
Can anyone beat that?