Saturday 31 December 2016

Did I Achieve My 2016 Writing Targets?

It's time to say goodbye to the old writing year and hello to a new one. 

In the first week of 2016, as tradition dictates, best writing chum Tracy Fells and I met up in our favourite teashop for teacakes. We weren't just eating teacakes though, we were setting our writing goals for the year. You can read the full post here.

So how did I do? 

Well, 2016 has been a strange year writing wise - a bit of a roller-coaster if I'm honest. My hope that this year would be 'the year of the novel' hasn't come to pass (I'm keeping my fingers crossed for next year) but it's not all been doom and gloom. I've had many stories published in three different magazines and this year, four of them have been turned into audios as well which has been very exciting. 

But what of my targets? The results are below and you can see that they are a little mixed.

Goal: To find an agent to represent me.
Achieved? Yes! At the beginning of the year, I was thrilled to be offered representation by the Eve White Literary Agency. You can read how it came about here.

Goal: To have written 50,000 words of novel two by the end of August ready to submit to the RNA New Writers' Scheme.
Achieved? No. The writing of novel number two had to be put aside as I was working on substantial edits for novel one. This was the novel I eventually submitted to the scheme and I can't thank my reader enough for her incredibly helpful comments.

Goal: To publish at least one more story collection.
Achieved? Sadly no. I can't self-publish any more story collections while I am under contract.

Goal: To write at least two short stories a month.
Achieved? Absolutely. Most months I've managed to write at least three. They've been a life saver during the often roller-coaster ride of novel writing and editing.

... and that's it folks.

All that's left is for me to wish you a very Happy New Year and thank you all for supporting my blog in 2016.

Sunday 18 December 2016

My Writing Year 2016

Today, as tradition requires, I shall be looking back at all the lovely things I've been doing this year (excluding general story sales).

January - I started the year with the usual teacakes and goal setting with writing chum Tracy Fells and I shall be posting how I got on with them after Christmas. I re-joined the RNA New Writers' Scheme and Anita Chapman was my guest, talking about social media.

February - This month was the fifth anniversary of the day I started writing. I wrote a post on writing ghost stories and my blog guest Phillipa Ashley wrote about breaking writing rules.

March - Big news this month was that I was signed by the Eve White Literary Agency. I was interviewed by Helen M Walters in Writer's Forum about what I look for as a story competition judge. Debbie Howells was my guest, talking about writing psychological thrillers.

April - Went on a fabulous Lake District holiday.

May - Visited beautiful Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast. Elaine Everest was my guest, talking about the new novel, The Woolworths Girls. Had my first attempt at dumper truck racing!

June - Had an inspirational weekend in Florence. Went to the RNA summer party.

July - There were three lovely guests on my blog this month: Lynda Stacey (writing a debut), Becca Puglisi (show not tell your setting) and Helen Yendall (magazine writing).

August - Wendy's Writing Now had its 4th birthday. I was interviewed by Simon Whaley for an article in Writing Magazine about writing seasonal stories.

September - Had our annual holiday in Greece - this time the wonderful island of Ithaca.

October - Three guests this month: Julie Day (writing with asperger's) Cass Grafton and Ada Bright (successful co-writing) and Emily Royal (the RNA NWS). This month saw my story Too Good to Last published as an audio which you can listen to here. I was judge for the Nottingham Writers Group Rosemary Robb Ghost Story Competition and wrote another post on writing ghost stories.

November - This month, I  went to the RNA Winter Party. My blog guests were Kate Blackadder, Chrissie Bradshaw and Gill Stewart (writing cross genre). My story The Artist's Apprentice was published as an audio which you can listen to here.

December - The final month of the year saw a new updated version of Wendy's Story Timeline (interactive timeline). My final guest of the year was Patsy Collins talking about her new writing guide. Finally, I had four Christmas stories published in magazines and The People's Friend made an audio of another of my stories, The Girl in the Striped Sundress which you can listen to here.

All that's left is to wish you all a Merry Christmas... and I'll see you back on my blog after the festivities are over!

Sunday 11 December 2016

Wendy's Story Timeline Calculator Updated!

Last week, Patsy Collins, was a guest on my blog introducing her new writing guide, 'From Story Idea to Reader' (you can read the post here). In her book, under the chapter heading of 'useful reference materials', she provides a link to my Story Timeline Calculator.

So what is it?

That's easy to answer: it's what it says on the tin. It's a pretty fabulous tool for working out your story/novel's timeline, created for me by my husband when I got bogged down with paper and dates while writing an historical story. I don't know how I managed without it.

Just click on the timeline picture in the sidebar (or here) to find out more about it and download.

Why am I mentioning it again? Because Wendy's Story Timeline Calculator has just been updated... cue fanfare!

After feedback from some of the people who have used it, we have now included the following:
  • More character columns
  • A box to put in the start and end year of your writing project

What people have said about Wendy's Story Timeline Calculator:

"This is great for me as I always get a pickled brain writing my novels. They're family history inspired and call for past events connecting to the present so your time-line will be a brilliant help to me!"

"I'm working on a novel about the lives of several generations of people in a French village, so this will be invaluable."

"I can't even begin to find the words to express my appreciation. My first novel was a historical fiction that spanned generations and this would have saved me tears." 

My timeline calculator is free to download and use but if you want to make a small contribution to the hard work that's gone into it, there are a couple of my short story collections on the sidebar to choose from, each for the price of a cup of coffee!

If you find my timeline useful, please let me know in a comment and, if you share it, please credit this blog and provide a link  to it.


Sunday 4 December 2016

From Story Idea to Reader - Guest Post Patsy Collins

This week's guest needs very little introduction - it is our very own Patsy Collins of Womagwriter fame. It's always a delight to welcome a fellow short story writer onto my blog and I'm even more pleased because she (along with writer Rosemary Kind) has written a new guide to writing short stories. It's called From Story Idea to Reader. With hundreds of magazine stories and competition wins under her belt, there is nobody better qualified to write a book like this and if you aren't already a short story writer and are thinking about having a go, I'd wholeheartedly recommend it (there's even a mention of my rather nifty Story Timeline in it).

So without more ado, let's start the interview.

What made you decide to write this book?

It's all my husband's fault! He said as I'd written articles (for Writing Magazine) about writing, a book was the logical next step. Logical? Yes, maybe, but also huge and a bit daunting.
I happened to mention this to Rosemary who immediately suggested a collaboration. Fairly quickly I realised her work as an editor and publisher plus the fact she can explain grammar, in a way which actually makes the subject clearer, would be assets.

We soon started planning what we'd do if we went ahead. Rosemary created a list of the topics we'd like to cover. Alongside each were initials. Mine were against subjects such as getting started, generating ideas, finding time, women's magazine fiction, competitions, staying motivated, getting and using feedback, keeping submission records... All things I knew about and was happy to tackle.

Rosemary felt the same way about the rest, which include grammar, self publishing, tax and legal matters associated with writing, characterisation, POV, editing, research...
As soon as we saw we really could do it we were eager to start.

How long have you known Rosemary?

We first met about nine years ago on a writing forum and then a critique group. It's amazing how well you can get to know someone through their writing, especially when you're part of the process. We've helped each other with our short stories and novels. Rosemary has edited some of my work and published it through her company, Alfie Dog Fiction.
We've even met for real a few times. On each occasion there was less cake and more dog walking involved than you might imagine. It would appear she's a good influence.

Was it difficult to co-write or was it all plain sailing?

Pretty much plain sailing. In fact I wrote a few short sections on board a ferry!
I'm not saying we never suggested that something the other had written could be improved (and other creative ways of expressing that general sentiment) but knowing this was solely for the good of the finished book meant I didn't mind rewriting until we were both happy. Rosemary still replies to my emails, which I'm taking as proof she feels the same way.

How long did it take you to write?

That depends how you look at it. We've both spent years building up the knowledge, experience, articles and course materials the book is based on. But once we had it all planned out we completed most of the new writing in around six months. We both write full time so, although we didn't concentrate solely on this project, that represents a lot of keyboard hours.

What can this book offer that other writing guides can’t?

It really does take a writer through the whole process from hunting down ideas and the basic equipment needed, through making the work the best it can be, to ensuring it gets read.
Between us we have experience of being published, of editing and publishing our own stories, and those of others. We've won, and run, and judged writing competitions. Most of all though, we're writers. We love writing and want to help others enjoy it too.

Did you find writing a resource book harder than writing fiction?

Not harder, no. It's different, just as writing a short ghost story is different from writing a romantic novel or an article. Although it's been done to make it more accessible to the reader, having the information broken down into shorter sections probably helped with the writing too.

Is there advice in it that you wish you’d followed when you first started?

All of it! But if you want me to be specific...
The exercises would have helped. Immediately applying something we've learned really does help retain the information. Naturally I'm biased, but I honestly do think many writers, particularly those just starting out or returning to writing after a break, will find From Story Idea to Reader useful and encouraging.


You can buy From Story Idea to Reader here

Patsy's blog:  for free entry competition links and other writing news is

Womagwriter blog:  for guidelines and other information regarding women’s magazine fiction

Sunday 27 November 2016

A Jarful of Moondreams - Guest Post Chrissie Bradshaw

Today, I am delighted to welcome fellow RNA New Writers' Scheme member, Chrissie Bradshaw, to my blog. Chrissie was winner of the Elizabeth Goudge Award at this year's conference with her debut novel A Jarful of Moondreams and I wanted to find out more about her road to publication.

How long have you been writing and how did you start?

I started writing fiction a few years ago when I was stranded in Chicago for an extra week. Flights to Europe were being postponed due to volcanic ash and, after I’d read all of my own books and my husband’s, I started making notes for a novel. It was the start of an exciting new chapter in my life.

Did you ever have self-doubts when writing your novel?

When I’m writing, I’m happy and in the moment and time has no meaning. I love it! When I’m reading over my efforts and planning what to change, I’m full of self criticism and wonder whether anyone will want to read my work. I never feel like giving up though.

Can you tell me a little about your road to publication?

I can be impatient, I had a good plan but didn’t stick to it. Once my novel was finished, I intended sending a sample to three agents each month and staggering the inevitable rejection slips. After two months, I started looking into self publishing or ‘supported’ publishing because I wanted my contemporary novel out there when it was fresh. I published with Octavo last July and had the satisfaction of seeing my work published as an ebook and a paperback. I’m OK about what I did but next time I’ll try to find a good agent.

‘A Jarful of Moondreams’ is your debut novel. Can you describe it in one sentence?

‘Dr Foster’ visits ‘Waterloo Road’ in A Jarful of Moondreams as Cleo, Teri and Alex sort out their relationships with one other and the men that they love through seven full moons.

Like me, you are a member of the RNA NWS. How has this benefited you?

The scheme is just brilliant for new writers. It gave me the confidence to go to writing conferences where I could mingle with other new writers and learn from established ones. The opportunity to hand in a manuscript and have an experienced writer give constructive feedback is priceless.

This year you won the Elizabeth Goudge award at the RNA conference. Well done! Can you tell us what it felt like when your name was called?

Surreal and so unexpected. I loved my story and it was written from the heart but I didn’t know if anyone else would feel the same. I had to ask those around me if I’d heard the winning title correctly. When I stood up and went to receive the trophy from Eileen Ramsay, I felt like an Oscar winner! Everyone was so nice afterwards too. The RNA members are a lovely bunch of people.

What was the hardest part of writing A Jarful of Moondreams?

The timeline of events. I made this hard for myself by planning the novel over seven moon months. I had to make sure that I was always in sync with the 2015 moon calendar and that the ‘once in a blue moon’ moment happened at the right time. I’m now quite an expert on the phases of the moon!

Any plans for a second novel?

I’m in the middle of ‘The one about Heather and Erin’ This is my working title and any title suggestions would be welcome. Heather is Cleo’s best friend and, after her minor part in ‘A Jarful of Moondreams’, she demanded her own story. Erin, an aspiring actress, is Heather’s younger sister and wanted a leading role too. Their lives are full of drama and they are finding the road to love a rocky one.

Do you have any tips to pass on to other writers?

There is never an ideal time to write so grab the moments that you can spare. Meet other writers by going to conferences or joining a writing association. My RNA friends keep me going and they understand the ups and downs and the absolute wonder of writing.

Chrissie Bradshaw lives by the Northumbrian coast with her family and loves taking her dog for a daily run along the seashore. Her other feel good essentials are tea, chocolate and a good book. A career in education, as a teacher then as a literary consultant, has given her the chance to share her passion for reading with young people. She believes that there are books to suit every taste and loves match-making a book with a reader. While undergoing treatment for cancer, Chrissie listed the things she wanted to do. (She is very good at lists but not so good at carrying them out!) Top of this list was believe in your writing and make time for it. She did. Three years later, she has one novel published, she has won the Elizabeth Goudge award 2016 from the RNA and she is writing her second novel.

Blurb for ‘ A Jarful of Moondreams

Sparring sisters, deception, family secrets and reawakened love means that trouble and change is in the air for Cleo Moon and her family. Cleo finds that losing control of your life and losing out in love is tough when you have always strived for success. Alex hates the crazy idea that she should be uprooted from her home and friends to live with her selfish older sister for the whole summer. Teri is desperate for her two daughters to bond but worries that she has left it too late. The family ‘Moondream’ jar, an Egyptian urn that has held their wishes for many years, provides links to the past and we discover which of the many wishes that it holds can be fulfilled.

Author links:

Visit Chrissie on

For regular chatter, follow her on Facebook and Twitter:

Sunday 20 November 2016

November Catch Up

Just a short post this week in the lull between guests. November has been an interesting month. I'd been going through a bit of an, 'I'll never be able to write anything again' stage but perked up no end when, as well as sales to The People's Friend, I sold two to Take a Break Fiction Feast and two to Woman's Weekly (the only two I've sent in over a year).

There have also been a flurry of publications - they've been a bit like buses. This week, I have one in The People's Friend Weekly and three in The People's Friend Fiction Special... I'm certainly not complaining though.

Also, I was very excited to find out that The Friend had made an audio recording of my story The Artist's Apprentice which you can listen to here

In other news, I went to the Romantic Novelists' Association Winter Party last week. For someone who doesn't like big gatherings, I had a lovely time. I spoke to as many people as I could and made an effort to talk to some writers I'd never met before. Everyone was unbelievable friendly but the noise was unbelievable!

And that's all for now... I'm off on a mini-break in the New Forest but I'll see you next week when I'll have a new guest taking the spotlight. Hope you'll join us.

Sunday 13 November 2016

Writing Cross Genre - Guest Post Gill Stewart

Please give a warm welcome to this week's guest in the spotlight, Gill Stewart. When Gill asked if I would be interested in a blog post on writing cross genre, my answer was a resounding 'yes'. Writing across genres has always interested me and having recently published the third in a YA mystery/romance, Gill is a bit of an expert.

Over to you, Gill.

This month my third Young Adult mystery/romance, No More Lies, was published. This is the final book in a trilogy following the story of George and Finn’s growing romance, but in each book there is always at least one mystery to be solved. I didn’t set out particularly to write romance or mystery, and definitely not both! It’s just that the first book developed that way and the others naturally followed on.

By the time I came to writing Young Adult, I was already published in two genres – sweet romance (as Gillian Villiers) and women’s contemporary fiction (as Gilly Stewart). So what made me venture into this new arena? Firstly it was because I’ve always loved reading YA. And when I think back to some of the favourites, they often feature either romance or some kind of mystery to be solved – or both. Think Anne Of The Island crossed with Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkeban; that would pretty much be my perfect book!

So, although these thoughts weren’t conscious, they must have been there at the back of my mind. Music and Lies started first and foremost with the setting: a rather wild music festival. I’d found myself at an off-beat music festival as the (unwilling) responsible adult for 3 thirteen-year-old boys. The lack of willingness was on both sides – I wasn’t sure I wanted to be there and the boys definitely didn’t want me around! We came to an uneasy truce where I sort-of kept them in sight and they pretended to ignore me completely.

The festival was in the depths of a forest, with almost no mobile signal, and the feel that a great deal of illicit substances were being consumed. What would it be like, I wondered, if a girl a little older than these boys found herself at such a festival, unsupervised? And the idea of George going to the Forest Fest was born. The other characters gradually came to life – Finn, the strange, reserved boy who George becomes more and more attracted to. So it was going to be a romance! And then the knowledge that there were crimes taking place, that both George and Finn were keen to solve, although for different reasons. Ah, so this was going to be a mystery, too, was it?

Once I had this template in mind, it was easy enough to move on to the second book, Bright Lights and Lies. I definitely wanted to continue developing the relationship between George and Finn and by moving the story to a big city – Glasgow – I could incorporate the story of a sleazy journalist, homeless people and George’s favourite band. For the final book, No More Lies, the location changes again, this time to the Scottish Highlands, in winter. For once it seems that things really will go smoothly for George and Finn, until Finn learns the truth about his own past, and mysterious stray dogs begin to turn up on the doorstep. Yes, we have another mystery waiting to be solved!

There are definitely some advantages to writing cross-genre:
  • As someone who occasionally struggles to have enough ‘plot’, I now had plenty!
  • It was easy to vary the pace of the book by moving from one strand of the story to another.
  • I had 2 hooks on which to hang the marketing: both romance and mystery.

But on the other hand there were definite disadvantages:
  • I had to make sure that both strands were given sufficient prominence, but that neither overshadowed the other
  • I had to make sure I didn’t ‘lose’ one of the threads at certain points
  • The mysteries required a great deal of research
  • How would I market this: as a romance or as a mystery?

Would I do this again? Yes! But next time I will Do More Advance Planning. As a typical ‘pantster’ writer, I was going into the mist and really not knowing what was going to happen next. This meant that when I had reached the end I had to do a lot of editing. If I had planned better I could have saved a lot of time.

Despite the challenges, I’ve loved delving into 2 genres at once, and would definitely recommend it to anyone else who is looking for a new challenge, and a bit of fun.

Find me at:



No More Lies  by Gill-Marie Stewart
Time to tell the truth?

Finn is not happy when dippy Aunt Lulu drags him off to spend Christmas on a community farm in the Scottish Highlands. Things look up when his girlfriend George joins them, though. Finn needs to start making some decisions about his life, but when abandoned dogs turn up on the doorstep, and Aunt Lulu starts revealing uncomfortable truths, it all gets a bit overwhelming …

George can’t sort out what is going on with her and Finn, so she concentrates on getting to the bottom of the mystery dogs. Impulsive and unpredictable as always, her actions lead her and Finn into danger once again.

No more lies: it's time for George and Finn to tell the truth about their feelings and move forward. But will that be together or apart?

Sunday 6 November 2016

I'm Dreaming of a Black and White Christmas - Guest Post Kate Blackadder

Today, I am delighted to welcome fellow magazine writer and author, Kate Blackadder, to the November spotlight. If you're anything like me, you might have started thinking just a teeny weensy bit about the seasonal 'C' word. With her new book 'Stella's Christmas Wish' just out, I asked Kate to tell us what she'll be wishing for this year.

Over to you, Kate.

This year I’m dreaming of … a Black & White Christmas, because Black & White Publishing
has just brought out my novel Stella’s Christmas Wish:

Six days before Christmas a family crisis brings Stella home from London to the Scottish Borders and the man she left behind. Christmas is the last thing she’s thinking about but as the day draws nearer it begins to work its magic ...

These are a few of my favourite Christmas things (and some of Stella’s):


I can’t sing for toffee but that doesn’t stop me …  I love them all but am particularly fond of O Little Town of Bethlehem <hums tune to herself>


I have some Christmas tree earrings which I love. I’ve had them for about 20 years. At a Christmas Eve party when Stella first got together with Ross she wore a dark red dress and fluffy snowball earrings.


Stella wears a silvery-green one with stars but my favourite has a Christmas pud on it – and my daughter inside it.


There’s always smoked salmon with blinis (I made them from scratch one year). If we have the traditional turkey fest for me it’s got to include red cabbage and roast parsnips. When there are chocolates on the go no one else likes the coconut ones so, yippee, I get all of those, but we fight over anything that can be described as ‘solid chocolate’.


Prosecco while we’re opening presents, and a nice heavy red wine with dinner. Cheers!


A friend painted a glass ball for me which I love. Stella’s granny has a collection of antique baubles with scenes of the nativity inside, but it’s the fairy on top of the tree – and her magic wand – that has special meaning for Stella.


My mum and dad gave me a girl’s annual every year; I always had them read from cover to cover well before breakfast. They inspired me to collect annuals – I have around 350 now.

More recently, I loved waking up early on Christmas morning just before the scampering of feet along the corridor heralded excited children clutching stockings. These days they still get stockings and there’s still a bit of excitement but no scampering.


Every Christmas Eve I read The Night Before Christmas aloud to anyone who’ll listen. When my offspring were younger I read them A Christmas Carol most years and two terrific books by Paul Theroux, perfect for any age, A Christmas Card
 and London Snow.


As a family we are positively addicted to It’s a Wonderful Life. We have a DVD of it but that doesn’t stop us watching it when it’s on television or, joy of joys, when it’s shown at a local cinema in the run-up to Christmas.

My daughter and I (and Stella) love a slushy romantic movie on a winter’s afternoon, watching with a mug of hot chocolate and some Christmas baking to hand. My favourite is The Holiday with, amongst a starry cast, Kate Winslet, Cameron Diaz and Rufus Sewell. It’s set in gorgeous (if impossibly snowy) Surrey and glamorous Los Angeles.

Perhaps one day we’ll settle down to watch a film version of Stella’s Christmas Wish (I wish … ).

About Kate Blackadder

I live in Edinburgh with a view of the Castle. I’ve had around fifty short stories published and three magazine serials. Two serials The Family at Farrshore and The Ferryboat are available in large-print library editions and on Kindle. Stella’s Christmas Wish, set in Edinburgh and the Scottish Borders, is my first full-length novel. I blog at and can be found on Twitter @k_blackadder and

Thank you, Kate. Now over to my lovely readers. What's your favourite part of Christmas?

Sunday 30 October 2016

Writing With Asperger's - Guest Post Julie Day

Sometimes you come across someone for whom you have great admiration. In my case it is writer, Julie Day, this week's guest in the spotlight. The reason for my admiration is Julie's fabulous motivation and work ethic. When she's not writing a children's book, she's trying her hand at womag stories or pocket novels. And when she's not doing any of these she's helping other people with their writing or helping them publish their books. She puts me to shame!

This is not all though. Julie is a writer with Asperger Syndrome and I invited her onto my blog to answer some questions about how this has affected her writing career.

First of all, a very big welcome to my blog, Julie. My first question is what made you decide to start writing?

A recurring dream. I had a dream two nights in a row which stuck in my mind. The only way to get it out was to write it down. Once I started writing, the ideas came to me. I've been writing on and off since.

I know you enjoy writing in a variety of genres. Do you have a favourite?

Writing for children. I can have fun, let my imagination go and not be too serious about what I write.

As a writer with Asperger’s, what has been your biggest challenge when writing fiction?

Going to talks and meeting new people. I get anxious when I meet new people and have to introduce myself to a group.

Going to literary events can be quite daunting at the best of times. I met you at the RNA conference in 2015. How did you find the experience?

Interesting, but full-on and tiring. I now find that I can't do weekend conferences where I am going from one talk to another and meeting people. Also, I've never been able to sleep in a strange bed properly, so am tired throughout the whole time.

Can you tell me a little more about the series of books you’re writing?

This series is not just for children with Asperger’s Syndrome, it is also for their friends and family. The series covers friendship, school and the difficulties a child with Asperger’s faces, with a positive approach which helps readers to understand the disorder. It will also cover how going out into the world and facing those challenges affects children with Asperger's.

You are very active on social media. How beneficial has this been to you and your writing?

Very beneficial. I have made connections with other women who have Asperger's, as well as connecting with other indie authors. I have joined author groups on Facebook who have helped me promote my books.

You also help new authors to publish their work as e-books. Can you tell us a little about it?

It started with doing talks at a library about being an indie author. One man joined the attendees and later asked me to help him with his fiction. I found I enjoyed helping him, that when someone else at the library said they wanted help, I said I would. I helped the man publish his first children's book in July. I have also been in contact with a couple of other children's authors, giving my opinion on their book ideas.

What has been your biggest writing achievement?

Publishing my first children's ebook 'The Railway Angel'. The sense of achievement when I managed to do the formatting myself then publish it was great. I enjoyed having control over the whole publishing process that I decided I wanted to stay being an indie author.

How important is it to raise awareness of Asperger’s?

Very important. I know there are lots of other disabilities, but Asperger's is considered a hidden/invisible disability where the person might look normal on the outside but not so inside. So, you might come across a child or adult with Asperger's and not know it. Aspies have lots of challenges with communication, and understanding how they can cope with them will help us not feel so anxious.

Do you have any advice for other writers with Asperger’s?

Blog about Asperger's. Enjoy what you write. Don't be afraid to join groups on-line and off-line. Don't be afraid to meet other writers. Don't be afraid to tell them you have Asperger's. I did, and people were understanding.

Thank you, Julie, and good luck with your writing.

Julie's website:

You can find Julie's books on Amazon.

Sunday 23 October 2016

Writing a Winning Ghost Story

In just over a week's time it will be Halloween. To be honest, I've never been a huge fan of this celebration and even when my children were young, we were never ones for Halloween parties or trick-or-treating.

What I do like, though, is writing and reading ghost stories and this week I've been getting in the mood for all things ghostly, having just judged the Rosemary Robb Ghost Story Competition for the Nottingham Writers Club. I was asked to be adjudicator after the organiser had read one of my blog posts in which I explained how I'd crafted the ghost story that had just been published in Take a Break Fiction feast.

If you'd like to read the post, it's called, Ghost stories don't need to be scary.

There's been some talk on Facebook recently about the importance of selecting the right judge for a particular competition. I agree that matching a judge to the genre is crucial. If I was asked to read a selection of play-scripts or crime novels, I might know which one I liked best but I would find it hard to explain why I thought the entry worthy of being the winner. Why? Because I wouldn't know the craft of that particular type of writing. Equally, I would be in no position to explain why the entries that had not won, had fallen short of their mark. 

On the other hand, short stories in general, romances and magazine stories are things I know about and have had success with. This is why I have been happy to adjudicate stories in these areas - thank you to the Chiltern Writers' Group and the SWWJ for asking me. If you haven't already read my post on being invited to hand out the prizes at the the SWWJ Christmas tea alongside Sir Tim Rice, you can read it here.

So why did I say yes to judging the ghost story competition? It was because, as I said earlier, I love reading a good ghost story but more importantly because I have had success writing them myself otherwise I wouldn't have agreed. I've written eight to date - one that was long-listed for the BBC Opening Lines Competition and the others published in magazines (I even had the honour of writing The People's Friend Magazine's first ghost story).

And that's what I want to talk about today... writing a winning ghost story.

Of course, as with any competition or magazine submission, the judging is subjective to a great extent. Every adjudicator or editor will have a different idea of what they like in a ghost story. Some may like them to be chilling, others might prefer them to to be heartwarming, romantic or humorous. Whatever the judges preference, they will be looking for a well-crafted story that pleases.

Ghost stories fall into three categories:
  • One where the narrator of the story is the ghost. 
  • One where the narrator of the story is being haunted. 
  • One where there is no ghost at all (there is a rational explanation for any ghostly happenings). 
For my own part, apart from the competition listing, all my stories have had a ghost that's been a subtle presence rather than an 'in your face' apparition. More often than not, the ghostly character hasn't been revealed to the reader (or the main character) until the end of the story. See my ghost story breakdown here. That is how I like my ghost stories but that doesn't mean I don't enjoy one that is crafted a different way.

Whatever type of ghost story you decide to write, there is one rule that needs to be followed to make it work. THERE MUST BE A REASON WHY THE GHOST IS HAUNTING. Sorry to shout that but it's really important.
  • The ghost might have had a problem in his/her past life that needs to be resolved (which can usually only be done through the main character).
  • The person being haunted has a problem which the ghost can help with. 
Whichever you decide on, the reader must believe the problem is important enough for the ghost to be there otherwise the story will seem unbelievable and the judge won't want to turn to the next page.

The next thing to think about is the setting. What first comes to mind might be churchyards... old houses... a dark wood at night. Of course, these can lend atmosphere to a ghost story but your setting doesn't have to be dark and Gothic; an ordinary setting can work just as well. Why? Because the reader is more likely to be taken in by it. Settings of my own ghost stories have included: a sailing boat, an underground station, a school, a beach and a street like the one you might live in. Think of an ordinary setting and see how you could make it work.

What about the ghost itself? They can be sinister or benign. Both work. I've even read a story where the ghost had been an animal or an inanimate object. Whoever, or whatever, your ghost is, remember to flesh them out (if that's possible with an apparition!) as you would any other character. Give your ghost personality, and emotions that can be recognised, and help the reader to picture them. Whether the ghost appears to be human or is just a shadowy spirit the reader will want to know if they are angry, sad, lonely or amused? These are all things to think about.

The final thing I want to talk about regarding ghost stories is tension. If your story is a spine-tingler, be sure to build up the tension gradually. Don't tell the reader what is happening straight away - let them fill in the details. Drop in hints that all is not what it seems along the way. If you don't, you will lesson the impact at the end of your story. There will be no surprises and the judge/editor will say, "Okay, but I knew that anyway." Do you have any fears? If so, use them. I'll guarantee they'll be more believable than ones you've made up.

You've thought about all these things and have written a fabulous wining ghost story. Right? Well, not necessarily. At the end of the day, your ghost story is just that... a short story. You mustn't forget the fundamentals of any story. Pace, story arc, a clear beginning middle and end, technicalities such as grammar, punctuation and dialogue and thoughtful word choices are all very important, as is a professionally presented manuscript.

You can read what I look for as a competition judge here.

So there you have it. If you're thinking of having a go at writing a ghost story, I highly recommend this book by Kath McGurl. It's called Ghost Stories and How to Write them

Go on, have a go... whooooo!