Wednesday, 21 December 2011

No Nudity On My Watch

Well that's the end of my stint as a student supervisor at the local college. Just looking forward to a few days next month as exam invigilator. It has been an interesting experience. I've loved every minute and I've learned a lot.

The corridors are full of posters. Many of these posters display academic information which has been put together by students of the different faculties. Therefore I've managed to get a bit of an education merely by patrolling past the classrooms. For example I've learned about chemicals associated with death. Poisons such as cyanide, strychnine and arsenic. Gases associated with dying – cadaverine and putrescine. Chemicals used in forensics such as formaldehyde. I have read articles on philosophy, psychology sociology, art and literature. I have discovered what career options are open to students of music, dance and media studies. I found out what the college does to support students with various disabilities and it came as a shock to me that a student can arrive there, having struggled to gain several GCSEs, only to be diagnosed with dyslexia. Surely, in this day and age, it should have been picked up sooner? I now know what mobile phones can do to the capillaries in the brain (something to do with breaking down proteins) and I understand that scientists now think they know what causes ME (something to do with retroviruses – whatever they are).

I've also learned never to underestimate the stupidity of youth. Here is where I explain The Bilborough Challenge. There are four floors and two lifts. The idea of the challenge is that a student gets in one lift on the bottom floor and makes their way to the top while removing all their clothes. They then run along the top landing, past the student lounge, while carrying their clothes. They get into the other lift and get dressed on the way down. It seems harmless fun but if anyone is caught it will go down on their record. We managed to discourage it this Christmas but they got up to other things instead.

Many of the misdemeanours are trivial. Dropping litter, feet on the tables, paper planes off the balcony – stuff like that. Some infractions are more serious and have to be dealt with appropriately. A lot of the time we are trying to stop them injuring themselves. They seem to think it's o.k. to take short cuts across the furniture until one of them slips off a table top and sprains their ankle. They think it's macho to take swigs from a bottle of chilli sauce until several of them get it in their eyes and we have a first aid room full of kids needing treatment.

Fridays are always sexual health day. There are various items they can pick up for free in addition to the opportunity to get checked out. This results in the staff having to clean out the student lounge of inflated condoms, tables covered in spermicidal cream and underwear with 'I've been screened' printed on. In my day they just told us not to do it until we were married.

Having said all this, they are capable of channelling their energy into more productive activities. Just in the few weeks I have been there they have raised hundreds of pounds for various charities via a Santa fun run, a sponsored head shave and selling cakes. Despite the usual stereotype image of idle students, many of them work extremely hard. Even on the final day of term, when Christmassy-type activities were going on all around, I saw many in the refectory, in study areas and sitting under stairwells with their books out. They were either reading, testing each other or scribbling notes. I sincerely wish that they achieve all that they deserve.

A Merry Christmas to them all. And of course to you, my fellow bloggers.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Wish I Was Here...










I've done this in a bit of a rush because I've only just read about Janice Horton's Reaching for the Stars book launch day and Wish I Was Here... event on Angela's blog.

The pictures are all places in Singapore. First is Raffle's Hotel. Couldn't afford to stay there but it is open for the public to walk around and go in the shops and bars. Second is the Pan Pacific hotel which is down the road from Raffles and where I actually stayed. Third is a view of Chinatown.

I've been there five times and it's my favourite destination.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Christmas Party

Wednesday was Nottingham Writers' Club Awards Night and Christmas Buffet. I nearly didn't go because my throat is really sore and my voice has been reduced to a whisper. (It doesn't help having to shout at those pesky college kids). But, as you can see, it really was worth the effort.

The large one is the Jubilee Cup awarded for a story suitable for radio. The next one is for Verse of the Year which I won in March and mentioned on this blog at the time. The small one is the Dai Orridge Cup for being an enthusiastic newcomer and supporting the competitions. I also received a book token for various top placings in the quarterly prose competitions.

Our president Roy Bainton was there to hand out the trophies. My friend Carol also had some success as did Angela who unfortunately could not be there. There was plenty of food. We had quizzes, jokes and party pieces.

I've been a member of NWC for about fifteen months and have really enjoyed the chance to mix with other writers and publishers. The benefits of joining groups such as this are tremendous. I've tried to enter as many competitions as I can, not necessarily for the prizes but for the challenge of writing to a theme and a deadline and for the judges' feedback.

The committee work really hard to put on events such as this and I've just been asked to be assistant to the treasurer. I haven't really contributed much in the way of committee work yet but I'm sure I'll have plenty to do in the New Year. I joined the club to profit from the knowledge and experience of other writers and now it looks like I'm going to have to earn those benefits.

Also just learned that my short story appeared in the Lincolnshire Echo the other week. We don't get that in Nottingham but they kindly sent me a PDF version and I was amazed to see that it filled a two-page spread. I managed to print it out on nine A4 sheets and stuck it all together. Also, my story that People's Friend asked to be edited has now been accepted.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Getting Down With The Kids

Well that's two weeks spent as college supervisor. (Less one day for the public sector strike). I don't think I'll be able to gather enough material to be the next Gervase Phinn but there have been a few interesting encounters:

Scene 1.
** Two girls and a lad come out of the lift.
Me: Hold it, you three. Have you all got lift passes?
** Only staff and disabled students are allowed to use the lifts.
All 3: No.
Me: Let's see your ID then.
** The two girls show me their ID.
Me:
O.k. you two can go.
(To the lad) You're Lloyd aren't you?
Lloyd: How do you know my name?
Me: I've seen your picture on the database.
Lloyd: (Now getting a bit alarmed) What database?
Me: Your details are on a college database.
Lloyd: What, a special database?
Me: Oh you're special all right Lloyd. Don't let me catch you again.
** We have access to the student database so that we can identify them and know which class they are supposed to be in. I can even quote their GCSE results at them which freaks them out. I love this job.

Scene 2.
** I'm walking down the corridor past one of the recreation areas where two girls are sitting having a conversation.
Girl:
Excuse me.
Me: Yes?
Girl: Do you know what a mongoose is?
Me: Yes it's a sort of furry thing with a long neck. A bit like a ferret.
Girl: Oh. Not a sort of chicken then?
Me: Because of the goose connection?
Girl: Yes.
Me: No. Believe me it has no feathers. In fact I think meerkats are part of the mongoose family. I think I read somewhere that in India they use them to kill cobras. Why do you ask?
Girl: Someone just called me a mongoose. Because I have quick reactions.
Me: There you go then. Quick enough to catch a cobra.
Girl: O.k. thanks.
Me: No problem. If I see any cobras in the corridors I'll call for you.

Scene 3.
** I'm walking through the student lounge and a girl is sitting alone on one of the sofas.
Me:
Hello, Stacy.
Stacy: How do you know my name?
Me: You showed me your ID the other day when I caught you on the lift with Lloyd. Remember?
Stacy: You must have a good memory.
Me: Not really.
Stacy: Are you Security?
Me: No. Just a supervisor. I'm here to make sure you don't damage college property. Or each other for that matter.
Stacy: Cool. Say, can you do this?
** She lies on the floor and starts writhing about.
Stacy:
This is called 'The Worm'.
Me: I'm not going to get down there and do that.
Stacy: Why not?
Me: I'd look ridiculous.
Stacy: Doesn't matter. You have to live a little. Do mad things.
Me: I've done mad things. I don't really want to any more.
Stacy: Have you ever run naked across a bridge?
Me: Certainly not.
Stacy: Have you ever drunk a whole bottle of tomato ketchup?
Me: Why would I want to do that?
Stacy: What have you done?
Me: I've seen the pyramids, I've climbed Ayers Rock, I've swum with the fish on the Great Barrier Reef in Australia...
Stacy: Oh, I've had a fish pedicure.
Me: Well, that is exactly the same thing.
** A young lad has heard part of the conversation and comes across.
Lad:
I've been to Australia. I'm moving there with my family after my exams.
Me: You'll know all about Ayers Rock then.
Lad: (Looks puzzled) What?
** It was time I moved on by now. As I left the room I heard Stacy say “What a nice man.” I love this job.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Another New Experience

Another turn of events this week.

A temporary supervisor's position has come up at the local college and, through my work there as an exam invigilator, I got the job. It's just a few hours each day until Christmas. I get there in time to supervise their official morning break and leave just after lunch. There are two ladies who do the job on a permanent basis and they have been looking after me.

The students are 16 to 18, studying for A levels. Most of them want to be there, are hard working and serious about getting to university. A small number are just there to party and I've had to reprimand a few for giving me lip and ignoring reasonable requests.

Nevertheless I'm enjoying every minute and I'm keeping my eyes and ears tuned for any inspiration for future stories. We've recently had a tip-off that some sort of prank is about to be pulled. I'll say no more except that we're on streaker alert at the moment.

Had a story accepted for the Lincolnshire Echo this week. This is for a competition organised in collaboration with Writing East Midlands which I learned about from Helen Yendall's blog.

Also managed to get hold of a copy of Ireland's Own through my son working over there this week. So I may have another possible outlet for short stories.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Reading Aloud

I went along and supported my local library last night on their second Reading Aloud event. This is where you can go along and read out anything that takes your fancy. There were about twenty of us – about the same number we had last March – and again we had a good mix. These are the ones I can remember:

A bit of Pam Ayres. Not poetry but a book about her family life and a hilarious piece describing her attempts to learn French.
Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café.
A couple of Walter de la Mare poems.
Gervase Phinn – always popular.
A couple of the pieces reflected this time of year with WW1 books The Monocled Mutineer and Testament of Youth.

In the interests of blogger solidarity I chose to read out a passage of Frances Garrood's The Birds, The Bees and Other Secrets. I picked a piece near the beginning where Cass's mum tries to teach her and her brother the facts of life. It went down very well and I had difficulty finishing it with all the laughter going on.

By the end of the session we had come to several conclusions:

War is terrible.
If you can learn to read you can learn anything.
Kids don't read enough these days.
The English language is magic.
Anybody who closes down libraries should be shot.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Phew!

It's been a heck of a week again.

Wednesday I was due in at college for some more exam invigilating. There are a few exams during November so I get the chance to go in for a day or two. My timetable said I was needed for a 1.15pm start but I got a call from the administrator just after nine in the morning asking why I wasn't there. I thought I had read my timetable correctly but she asked me to get there as soon as possible as they were short staffed. I shut the computer down, changed into cycling gear and locked the house. I went down to the changing room as soon as I arrived and decided not to have a shower but to get changed and dash straight up to the exams office. When I got in (out of breath and red in the face) she was most apologetic as the top half of the timetable had somehow been deleted before it was e-mailed out and several others hadn't turned up either. So it was a hectic day but at least it wasn't my fault. I hate it if I let people down.

In the evening it was Nottingham Writers' Club manuscript of the year competition where we take in our little stories of 250 words max and have them read out anonymously by a team of readers. We then all vote for our favourite. I was one of the readers and anxious to do my best so that each entry was presented at its best. The theme was 'stormy weather' and it was fascinating for the number of different ways this was approached. Some entries used it as an analogy for stormy relationships. Others used it in the conventional sense with rain and winds causing danger to shipping and flight delays. I didn't win but I still got something out of the effort and from hearing the other entries.

Thursday morning I logged in to find I hadn't won Helen Yendall's mini saga competition either. Having read the short listed entries I could understand why. You can read the top five stories on her blog here. Amongst them is fellow blogger Patsy who came second.

Thursday afternoon I received an e-mail from Jill Finlay at The Weekly News to say that one of the two stories I had submitted had been accepted. Yippee!

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Crikey!

I read in the news the other day that, because of the popularity of text speak, traditional British words are dying out. So I think it's the duty of all of us to reverse this trend and start to introduce some of this vocabulary back into our work. This is my attempt and I expect you all to follow my example. See if you can guess which are the words in danger of dying out before clicking on the link above. Not sure I've used some of them correctly.

“Cripes!” exclaimed Dickens as he threw down his newspaper in disgust. “What bally awful news.”
“What is it?” enquired Darwin. “What malaise is troubling your mind? Has the tomfoolery of the rambunctious masses exploded into civil unrest?”
“Verily, if that were all that is wrong,” replied the renowned raconteur. “See for yourself.”
As the famous scientist picked up the sheet, the door opened and in walked their friend.
“Salutations!” declared Gladstone on entering the room. “And felicitations on your latest novel Mr Dickens. Rather a spiffing yarn I thought. I understand it has been lauded across the land.”
“Load of balderdash if you ask me,” said Darwin.
“Don't be such a cad,” said the novelist. “If I were a fighting man I would smite you down and quash those unkind sentiments of yours.”
“A woman is jilted by her betrothed and remains shut away wearing her wedding dress for the rest of her life? And that Pip seemed a laggardly fellow to me. Betwixt the two of them, I don't know which character was the most unbelievable. Unless I am lacking in some arcane knowledge.”
“For a naturalist you are unnaturally rude,” said Gladstone. “I thought it was a swell piece of fiction.”

Monday, 24 October 2011

I'm Romantic (Sometimes)

Just a short trip up the M1 to Chesterfield on Saturday to take part in Sally Quilford's workshop on pocket novels for My Weekly and People's Friend. Also there was my friend Carol from Nottingham Writers' Club. It was a fantastic day. Sally is very friendly and relaxed which rubbed off on all the attendees. As well as learning the dos and don'ts of writing romance for these magazines we all had a lot of laughs. In addition, I swapped blog addresses with a couple of the other participants so my writers' network continues to grow. So if you get the chance to go to one of Sally's workshops I thoroughly recommend it.

Just to show that I did learn something (or not – you decide):

Keith's lips brushed Sally's cheek as they embraced and said their goodbyes. Turning swiftly away before his rugged good looks betrayed the sadness in his eyes, he left Chesterfield Market Hall wondering if they would ever meet again.

Friday, 21 October 2011

I'm Friendly (Usually)

Thanks to Angela at Fonts and Fiction
for my Friendly Blogger award. Angela is a colleague at Nottingham Writers Club and often posts examples of her poetry and prose. If you like beautifully written descriptive material and brilliant scene-setting then please go along and have a look.
I think most of the blogs I follow have already received this award so I have just these two to pass it on to. As far as I know these have not yet been honoured and they are both very friendly.

Frances Garrood


A Mission Impossible For The Dark Fantasy Nightwriter

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

It's A Funny Old Game

It's a funny game this writing lark isn't it? At Trowell Writers we held our annual prize giving day on Sunday and it was the best turnout we'd had for a few years.

Since I've been extremely busy this year with magazine submissions and various competitions I only put one entry into the short story section this time. I thought the plot was a good idea at the time but when I read it back to myself it didn't flow as well as I'd hoped. It was a story based on the Three Wise Men but you weren't supposed to work that out until the end. I had done some research and used ancient names for the characters and also for the various places they travelled through. In other words I was trying to be a smart-arse. The completed work seemed a bit laboured but with the deadline approaching I sent it in anyway not believing it would get in the top three.

You've guessed haven't you? I wouldn't be telling you this otherwise and the picture is a bit of a giveaway. It won. Not only that, I was given the award for the best overall piece across the various categories. The judges said that they liked to see someone stretching the vocabulary but cautioned me not to overdo it.

This is me doing my impression of Nobby Stiles. You have to know about 1960s footballers to get that one.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Mixed Fortunes

It's been a mixed couple of weeks.

Received a rejection of four stories from Yours magazine. Another rejection from an agent. Didn't get in to the top places of the Red Cross short story competition for Day of the Disappeared.

As I'd hoped, the winning entries for the Didsbury Arts Festival short story competition have appeared on the website. You can read them here

Still have a few competition results coming up so there's plenty to look forward to. A couple of workshops as well to keep me busy.

One small piece of good news. Came second in Nottingham Writers' Club summer short story competition.

PS
My blogger has been acting up again. Sometimes my headings (Create Blog, Sign In – that sort of thing) are appearing in French. I don't know if this is connected but some of my comments haven't been appearing on your posts either. I can only apologise. Je m'excuse.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Still Busy

In my last post I said there was plenty to keep us busy and I wasn't wrong. In case you haven't heard, Reader's Digest magazine are running a 100 word story competition.

Cornerstones also have a competition. Send in the first 100 words of your manuscript to win a critique on your full-length novel.

Had a call from a lady at Erewash Writers' Club with news of another workshop in November. Only £3-50 including buffet so that sounds a worthwhile exercise.

As if I didn't have enough to do I've been persuaded to become Nottingham Writers' Club's assistant treasurer. I don't know anything about keeping accounts but, as I'd already ducked a few other requests to help out, I thought I couldn't turn down this one. As it turned out the treasurer himself didn't turn up on Wednesday so I had to hit the ground running by collecting fees from non-members. That meant going home on the bus with twelve quids worth of loose change in my pocket. At least no mugger would want to run off with that weighing him down.

Found out I was just out of the top three with a highly commended in the Didsbury Arts Festival short story competition. The theme was 'maps' and once I had worked out a story I enjoyed writing it. At least I have another story I can put away and possibly use another time. I hope they are going to put the winning entries on the website so I can see what I was up against.

Monday, 19 September 2011

New Season

Thanks to several of you fellow bloggers out there plenty of competitions have been brought to my attention recently. Plus, with both my writers' clubs in full swing after the summer break and a few workshops coming up there's plenty to be getting on with.

The domestic cricket season has ended and all three cycling Grand Tours are over for this year so there's nothing to distract me from getting down to work.

But wait a minute. The Rugby World Cup has just started, England's cricket tour of the subcontinent will be coming up soon and my own pedal-powered racer is beckoning me from the garage.

Aaaaargh!!!

Sunday, 4 September 2011

A Real Friend

Just when I thought nothing much was happening as far as my writing was going, something turned up. I have quite a few submissions 'out there' to magazines, competitions and agents but nothing has come back for a while. Even a rejection would be almost welcome just to prove my entries aren't disappearing into some Royal Mail black hole.

Then Saturday morning I had a reply from People's Friend. Not an acceptance unfortunately but not an outright rejection either. The first thing that impresses me with PF is their response time. I posted my submission second class on Tuesday and received the reply just four days later. Previous recent submissions have also been acknowledged (rejected) within a week so this wasn't just a one-off.

The letter from Shirley Blair explained very clearly what they liked about the story but also why it wasn't quite suitable for PF. Some suggestions were offered for the dialogue and the ending and I have been encouraged to amend the script and resubmit. I'm not aware of any other magazines that do this.

I must admit I've found it hard to find the right balance with PF. They have a traditional readership but still deal with themes such as crime and hardship. It's not all domestic issues and romance. So I suppose I'd better get on with it. Hopefully my first story in PF isn't too far away.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Busy Busy

Busy week just gone.

Monday, my wife offered my services to go and paint the church hall. As a non-churchgoer I was surprised they couldn't find any volunteers from the congregation. Blessed are the painters and decorators.

Tuesday we went to check on my mum who is 90 in a few weeks and just decided at the eleventh hour that she is too frail to attend her grandson's wedding. Fair enough really. If you can't please yourself at that age when can you?

Wednesday was our first visit this year to Nottingham Theatre Royal's classic thriller season. Death By Fatal Murder was a spoof Agatha Christie-type murder mystery. Next week it's the more conventional Strangers On A Train. Looking forward to that.

Thursday was results day at the college where I work during exam season. Some happy faces. Some not so happy. Not a good idea to let your mum tag along when you know you've not done very well. At least use the bus ride home to think up some excuses.

Friday was the wedding. My son, Robert and Poppy, his bride. Under the bandstand at Sheffield's Weston Park. Glorious weather. Couldn't have been better. Even the guy who wandered into the tent and helped himself to a drink while we were outside having photos taken gave the day an unusual talking point. A few coppers amongst the guests managed to send him on his way. Could be an idea for a story...

Friday, 5 August 2011

Summer's Here

We seem to be well served with writers' clubs where I live.

Trowell Writers have packed up until September. We had our annual summer fuddle on Monday night. A few sandwiches, cakes, sausage rolls.

Nottingham Writers Club also has a summer break. Wednesday was their social and took the form of a murder mystery night. A few nibbles also on offer.

Erewash Writers held a two-hour workshop over Wednesday lunchtime. I'm not a member here but they often take part in some of the Trowell events and vice versa. A couple of us paid our £3 and went along. I thought it was two hours well spent.

Just results day coming up in a couple of weeks and that will be the last of my duties at college until the retakes in January.

With all these 'seasons' coming to an end it feels like old fashioned school holidays at the moment. And with the news that the story I sold to T-a-B Fiction Feast back in April has finally appeared in the latest (September) issue plus the fact that I've sold another to That's Life! (Australia) I'm starting to get into holiday mood.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Success, Sales, Sorry and Solder

A bit of a mixed bag today:

I was fortunate enough to win Helen Yendall's mini-saga competition and you can read my entry and the runner-up on her blog here.

I've learnt that 100 Stories For Queensland has gone on sale in bookshops in Australia. It probably won't happen in the UK but it still gave me a buzz to see a picture of a book featuring one of my stories sitting next to the latest James Bond.

Next – an apology. For quite a while now Blogger has stopped displaying my Followers. I can't see anyone else's Followers either. The space is there but no icons with your lovely smiling faces. I know there are some new visitors who have left comments so if some of you have become Followers and are a bit miffed that I have not returned the compliment then rest assured that I have created a folder in the Favourites section on my browser for your links.

Carol of Carol's Corner has been giving me some tips, when we meet at NWC, on how to get my Followers back but so far nothing has worked. I've been on the Real Blogger Status site but that seems to assume I know all about domains and layered security (what?). It's not my computer because I get the same problem on my wife's laptop and the machines down the library. So if anyone out there has any ideas then all contributions are welcome. Being an engineer I'm a bit ashamed at my inability to sort out a technical problem. My excuse is that my degree in electronics was taken before all this computer black magic came along and when we were barely out of the valve era. Any faults could usually be fixed by a dab of solder. In fact, when my dad taught me how to solder, the soldering iron wasn't even electric. You had to place the tip in an open flame in order to heat it up. How I long for those simple days...

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Do It Now

A subject that seems to crop up quite often in the blogs I follow is procrastination and there's a feature on it in this month's Candis. I really must get round to reading it sometime...

No, seriously, I did read it and it recommends The Procrastination Equation by Dr Piers Steel.

We often joke about it but the consequences can be serious if it impacts your health, your finances or your job. Apparently there are three types:

1. Arousal - the thrill of getting close to deadlines
2. Avoidance - fear of failure
3. Decisional - lack of confidence

Fortunately there are techniques to overcome the problem:

1. Find out what's stopping you
2. Put distractions out of sight
3. Break down your tasks
4. Proritise
5. Share your problems with a friend
6. Reward yourself
7. Don't lie to yourself
8. Commit some time to the tasks you should be doing

I shall make a start on that list straight away. Starting with number 6.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Back Down To Earth

Well, I didn't win the 2 nights at a Best Western Hotel. (See previous post). I didn't get anywhere in the latest Nottingham Writers' Club competition either. After the successes of the last few months I've been brought back to reality. I know I shouldn't be greedy and you can't win 'em all but I still felt a bit down. I suppose it's a good thing really. It was getting so I could hardly get my head through the door. And then a wonderful thing happened.

On Friday, out of the blue, I received an e-mail from one of the ladies at NWC. She hadn't had a chance to speak to me at Wednesday's meeting but wanted to let me know how much she had enjoyed my winning short story from the Winter competition. (See 28th May post below). Not only did she commend me on my content and structure she thought my punctuation was spot on too.

It's nice to win cups and prizes but, after all, they are just a measure of what others think of our work. That e-mail was worth several trophies to me. The fact that she had taken the trouble to write in detail about my effort gave me a big boost. Like most of you, I write to entertain other people. It's good to know I'm achieving my aim.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Best Competition

Thanks to Patsy Collins again for posting a link to another fun competition. Here you can win a Best Western weekend break with just 300 words. If you go on their blog you can read some of the submissions including my own entitled 'Unwelcome Guest'. You only have until Monday but it's only a few words so - what are you waiting for?

Friday, 17 June 2011

Exam Time

Patsy Collins has posted a link for a competition asking for true stories about odd things happening in exams. As an exam invigilator this should be tailor made for me but I can't really recall anything that merits a 300 word story. I have a few observations about the experience but I don't think they fit the brief of the competition so I'll just share them with you here:

It never ceases to amaze me how many kids insist on bringing phones and iPods into the room (which they have to leave at the front) but don't think to bring pens or rulers etc.

I'm astounded that they are sitting A levels in stuff like physics and computing but if you ask them whether they are sitting in rows A to L or rows M to X they haven't a clue which side row F is in.

Geography students have trouble finding their way to their desks (or even getting to the correct room).

Maths students can't work out the finishing time for an exam which starts at one fifteen and lasts an hour and three quarters.

They have to bring a photo ID card and place in on their desk so that we can go round and inspect them after the exam has started. But since the photo was taken they've probably changed their hairstyle or hair colour, lost weight or had piercings so it's difficult to be one hundred percent sure. Even with the boys.

I wish young girls would stop asking me if I can lend them a rubber. I always make sure to call it an eraser when I ask for it back.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Turning To Crime

A few weeks ago I found out that, after coming third in Nottingham Writers' Club autumn short story competition, I actually won the winter one. The brief was to write a crime story with the theme of 'Identity'. Judging the competition was author Stephen Booth who has written a series of crime novels.

I have to admit that, when I submitted my entry, I wasn't sure if it would appeal to an established crime writer. My story was based on a lone hit-man rather than being a conventional cops versus criminals tale. As it turns out I must have done something right.

Stephen Booth has written several novels set in Derbyshire so, living on the Notts/Derbys border, they are of particular interest to me. Descriptions of familiar countryside and the mention of real place names gives his stories an extra edge. His two main characters are a sergeant and constable rather than inspector and sergeant and so the action is centred at a lower level in the police hierarchy than many other series such as Morse and Frost. If you like crime or fancy a change from your usual genre then I recommend you give these a try.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

100 Stories For Queensland



100 Stories will be released in paperback on Tuesday 17th May as part of an Amazon Chart Rush.



Readers are invited to purchase the book from Amazon on the day with the intent to capitalise on the volume of sales to move the book up the Amazon best seller list.



The book retails online for £9.99 and is listed here at Amazon.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Recommending A Fellow Blogger

Frances Garrood very kindly sent me a copy of her second (I think) novel called 'The Birds, The Bees and Other Secrets'. It's really a woman's book I suppose but I don't mind admitting I read my wife's Jill Mansells and, of course, I have to research women's mags. It was an enjoyable read and should appeal to anyone who likes quirky characters. Because this is definitely a character-led story and I wanted to keep reading to find out what happens to them all. Some of the people in the story aren't even given proper names and even the various dogs that appear have their own eccentricities.

If you get a chance, please get hold of a copy of this book. I promise you won't be disappointed. You can't have mine because it has Frances' autograph in it.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

This Is Me

Jarmara Falconer at A Mission Impossible for the Dark Fantasy Nightwriter has kindly passed on the Versatile Blogger award to me. It requires me to tell you seven things about myself. However, as I did this a while ago for the Sweet Friends award I thought I'd tell you about my dad instead. Then you might get an insight into what makes me tick.

1. Yesterday was the 22nd anniversary of his death. He had just turned 66 which means that in a few years time I will be older than my father. That will be weird.

2. He stares back at me from a photo frame which sits just below my computer screen. People say I look like him. I take this as a compliment because he wasn't bad looking but I've never been able to see it myself.

3. He originally came from Norfolk and still retained some accent even after living in Tamworth, Staffs for forty years. If he ever got mad with us my brother and I would put on fake accents and mock him mercilessly. He never stayed mad for long.

4. On the last day of school term the teacher asked each child in his class if they could rub their stomach in a circular motion with one hand while patting their head with the other. (Try it – it's not that easy). My dad was the only one that could do it and for some reason this marvellous feat was rewarded with him being allowed out of school an hour early. Halfway across the deserted playground he passed the school bell and couldn't resist ringing it loud and clear. He was punished, of course, on his first day back.

5. When war broke out he volunteered for the navy but was turned down because he worked on the land which was a reserved occupation. When he finally did get called up they put him in the infantry despite having a dodgy leg. As a boy he had developed an infection and had to have his tibia removed. The army has never been renowned for its common sense.

6. He once received a certificate from Tamworth police for helping to apprehend a chap trying to nick stuff from Woolworth's one evening. Our house overlooked their back yard and dad had seen him climb over the wall. He had run off by the time a copper came so they drove round Tamworth in my dad's Ford Anglia till they spotted him. I think the guy pulled a knife at one stage. Exciting stuff.

7. The only piece of advice I can remember him giving me is 'Never mind your arse, mind your head, boy'. I don't know if this is an old Norfolk expression but I think it's a quaint way of saying 'Get your priorities right'.

So there it is. That's where I get my rustic sense of humour, my cynicism and my laid-back attitude. Thanks, dad.
I think all of the blogs I follow have recieved this award or something similar recently so I'll be passing this on when I've found some new ones.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

On A Roll

Coming hot on the heels of my surprise success at poetry I had another two pieces of good news this week.

After some delay the charity anthology 100 Stories For Queensland, which features a contribution from myself, is now due out on May 3rd. This is in aid of the survivors of the Queensland floods that occurred a while ago. Availability and pricing are yet to be announced.

On Thursday I had a phone call from Nora McGrath of Take a Break magazine asking about buying one of my short stories for its sister publication Fiction Feast. It was needed in a bit of a rush so I spent the morning downloading all the legal stuff to sign and send off in the post plus re-formatting my story and e-mailing it off.

I don't want this week to end.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Watch Out, Miss Duffy

I've run out of library trivia so I thought I'd share this with you.

A couple of weeks ago Nottingham Writers' Club held their Verse of the Year evening. I don't normally do poetry but the theme was 'SatNav' and seemed like a good subject to squeeze a few rhymes out so I had a go. Unbelievably I won, so I present it here for your critical eye.

Voice of an Angel

Straight on at the next roundabout, keep left as you get near it
Approaching in a hundred yards, then take the second exit
Be careful on the carriageway, there's roadworks up ahead
You need to slow down now in case the traffic lights turn red

You've missed your turnoff, now I must recalculate your route
Turn left at the next junction while the journey I compute
This constant droning voice is really driving me insane
Dictating all my moves from motorway to country lane

It's starting to annoy me now and getting such a bore
I'm quickly losing patience and can't take it anymore
On every trip, that monotone keeps bossing me around
It's getting so I cannot bear to hear that awful sound

I got rid of that annoying voice, I threw it in the water
I bought myself a SatNav, now my journeys are much shorter
The young girl's voice is charming, I'm convinced she's heaven-sent
Unlike my wife who's body is now floating in the Trent

And if you want to hear me recite it, you can go to the Nottingham Writers' Club website at http://nottinghamwritersclub.org.uk/audio.shtml

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Library Services

My mother still lives in Tamworth, Staffs where I was born and raised and she always saves me interesting stuff from the local paper. I think most local newspapers have a section these days which focuses on the history of their particular area and the Tamworth Herald is no exception.

Because of the interest in libraries lately they took the opportunity to give a brief history of how they came about and how the one in Tamworth developed. Nowadays it's housed in a modern building but in the past it has been located in several different sites.

In the early days most libraries had a Reading Room. Tamworth's had a big open fire and was furnished with comfy armchairs. Apparently they were so comfortable that people would go in for a nice warm nap and so the armchairs had to go. On another occasion it was reported that 'single gentlemen of the borough, having done their washing, were using the Reading Room as a drying area, leaving items of personal clothing scattered around'. This, of course, was sternly discouraged.

Ah, those were the days...

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Reading Allowed

Continuing the library theme, I thought I'd tell you about an evening they held at my local last week.

The idea was that you go along and read out a favourite piece of writing. It could be prose, poetry, anything you like. I went along for several reasons: It sounded interesting, I like to do anything I can to support my library, it cost only £1, wine and nibbles were provided.

I was not disappointed. There were eighteen of us which wasn't bad for a chilly winter's night and the selection of reading material covered a wide range. There were classics such as Rebecca and the poem Kubla Khan. There was a novel called Duncton Wood which is apparently a bit like Watership Down with moles. A lady read out Psalm 23 (King James version). A gentleman read an extract from Spectator In Hell which is about the experiences of British troops in Auschwitz (some of us were not aware there were British soldiers in Auschwitz).

It brought to my attention some pieces of literature which I had forgotten and others which I have never read but may look up in the future. This was a good idea to make more use of our precious library service.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Shh...

I went to another excellent night at Nottingham Writers' Club last week where we listened to novelist and psychotherapist Maxine Linnell. Maxine read extracts from her book 'Vintage' which is aimed at the young adult market and she explained where her inspirations came from. She reminded us of the time when, as a young girl, she regularly visited the library and borrowed books from the children's section. But it wasn't until the age of twelve that she was issued with an 'adult' ticket and a whole new world was opened up to her.

Nowadays there isn't such a strict divide. Booksellers are careful to market their young adult stock (can't call it 'teenage') so that it appeals to a wider range. There are also instances where the same book is given two different front covers - one that appeals to children and one for adults.

Maxine brought back memories of my own local library which had a similar arrangement. I don't think children were even allowed in the grown up's section and I remember once being told off for whistling as I entered the lobby. If you wanted any help you had to whisper. Now these institutions are open-plan and a combination of meeting place, temporary classroom and cyber-cafe. Infinitely more accessible, of course, but sometimes I still want to put a finger to my lips when someone rustles a newspaper a little too loudly.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Are You Trying To Be Funny?

The question of how we come across when we write on the internet has come up recently and I've been giving it some thought. The subject was particularly relevant this week when I received an e-mail from a local councillor. It was in reply to a questionnaire that had been sent out and I had taken the opportunity to point out an error on the newsletter. He thanked me for my comments and asked if I would be interested in a job (unpaid of course) as a proofreader. I wasn't sure if he was joking.

My style of story writing is usually light-hearted and this is the tone in which I blog and comment. But I'm always afraid that readers may not understand that I have a dry sense of humour and so I always think very carefully before I click on that PUBLISH POST button.
I also read a few internet forums and comments pages and it often occurs that one contributor criticises another's comments only to be informed on a later post that they were trying to be sarcastic.

I'm not a big fan of text slang but I'm suggesting a couple of new ones to go along with 'lol' and 'imho'. How about 'oj' for 'only joking' and 'tic' for 'tongue in cheek'? A big cash prize for the first person to comment using one of these (oj).

Monday, 7 February 2011

Life's Experiences

Well that's it for the time being. My 'proper' employment has finished until the middle of May. I'm referring to my stint as an exam invigilator at a local college and the temporary job I had at Tesco in the run-up to Christmas. And these two jobs could hardly be more different.

I love every minute I'm involved in the exams. It's a sixth form college so it's the students' choice to be there and the atmosphere is great. My other job at the supermarket was physically demanding and I don't think I've ever worked so hard in all my life.

Anyway, the point is, with such diverse environments I'm hoping to pluck a spark of inspiration from the two experiences and inject it into my writing.

I've actually had two pieces of good news this week. I came 3rd in Nottingham Writers' Club autumn short story competition and I've just found out I've been accepted in the 100 Stories For Queensland charity anthology. I think I'll celebrate with a bag of crisps from my favourite supermarket.

Sunday, 30 January 2011

An Inspiring Film

I went to see The King's Speech the other day. Really enjoyed it. I came away with three things on my mind:

1. I had been so engrossed in the film that I didn't realise I had been sitting there for over two hours until the credits began to roll.

2. It's a simple story. A man – albeit the King – has a speech impediment. He hires an expert to help him overcome his difficulty. The chap cures him. Yet they managed to string it out for two hours. Now that's how to tell a story!

3. I remembered one line from the film. It went something like this - “You don't have to fear the things that scared you when you were five.” Which, thinking about it, could be what the film is all about. In fact, that could form the theme for a whole lot of stories.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

One Small Step

I often see comments by writers in blogs and magazines who claim that almost every time they tell someone what they do for a living they get the response 'I'd love to write a book'. They then go on to reflect on why these people don't do just that so I thought I'd put forward my own ideas. To me it's very simple. Writing is BLOODY HARD WORK.

O.k. maybe it's not too difficult to think up a scenario and vague plot. But when you get down to the details of the story, characterisation, dialogue etc. it takes a lot of effort. I don't know about you but I sometimes agonise for ages over single sentences, even words. I sweat and I get headaches. Then there's spelling, grammar...

And the hardest part? Sorry to bring up a sporting analogy yet again but I used to have my own ideas about that too. I used to compete at triathlon. The races were what I looked forward to but the training took a lot of self discipline. And it didn't matter how cold that lake was or how muddy the the run course or how steep those hills were that you felt if you went any slower you might as well get off your bike and walk. Nothing compared with taking that first step out of the front door and forcing yourself to go out training. It could be a freezing January night or a hot summer afternoon when everyone else is outside drinking beer. Just to strap on your trainers and drag yourself from in front of the TV and go out and do the work - that's what took the effort.

So it is with writing. The first words are the hardest to come up with. So my advice would be to take that first step. Get a scrap of paper, a fag packet, a bus ticket, anything. Write a sentence and that's it. You're a writer.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Happy New Year

A Happy New Year to all our readers - as they used to say in the Beano.

Is it really 50 years since Biffo the Bear wrote 1961 on a wall and stood on his head to prove it read the same upside-down? Of course it was - do the maths!

Those were the days. When teachers were literate, only men had tattoos and us kids were actually encouraged to eat the fatty bits on meat because it 'put hairs on your chest'. (Worked for me.)

How different it was then. Our soldiers were fighting in foreign countries, Coronation Street was the most popular programme on TV and Cliff Richard was belting out songs on the radio. Hang on a minute - maybe things haven't really changed that much.

Anyway, here are my predictions for 50 years from now.
Having celebrated their one hundredth birthday by having the Rover's Return regulars abducted by aliens, the Coronation Street boozers are returned to Earth as if nothing had happened but the population of Weatherfield don't seem to notice that they now speak in a strange monotone and can't bend their little fingers.
Cliff Richard is preserved as a hologram and is still touring the country to packed venues.
The President of the United States of Europe declares Britain to be an offshore penal colony.

Have a good one.