Monday, 30 December 2013

Chain Wheel

I've been asked to take part in a blog chain in which I have to answer four questions:
  1. What am I working on?
I always have several projects on the go. I like to keep my short story submissions to magazines up-to-date. I also have a children's novel which I'm submitting to various agents.
  1. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
In my women's stories I hope to bring a new angle just by having a man's outlook and sense of humour. My children's novel is an attempt to get back to old-fashioned adventure stories.
  1. Why do I write what I do?
I enjoy writing. It gives me the freedom to work for myself. Writing for magazines gives you a relatively quick turnaround time on your stories and the opportunity to try different themes – romance, crime, twist-in-the-tail etc.
  1. How does my writing process work?
This varies. Sometimes I just get an idea and work on that. On some occasions my wife has given me a challenge to make a story out of something she has seen. When the ideas dry up I have to revert to the standard creative exercises of flow writing and mind mapping.

Thanks to Wendy Clarke for inviting me to do this. Wendy is a prolific writer for The People's Friend, Take a Break and Woman's Weekly.

Carrying on the chain next Monday, January 6th will be my friend Helen Ellwood:

Helen Ellwood was born in London in 1958. She was a keen writer from an early age, winning a school poetry competition aged ten.

Helen suffers from a chronic neuromuscular disability which limits day to day life severely. She uses voice recognition software to enable her to write. 

Over the last ten years she has had two plays staged, been a member of the script writing team for two BBC funded docudramas and has had two short stories broadcast by the BBC. Helen is the co-author of Taranor, a fantasy trilogy for young adults of all ages.

Her latest book, an autobiographical account of her time spent on an uninhabited desert island in the South Seas in the late 80's, is currently being read by a literary agent.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

National Competition

Nottingham Writers' Club have announced their inaugural Short Story Competition 2014.

Nottingham Writers' Club has run thousands of competitions for its members since it was established in 1927; from prose to poetry in a wide range of genres and styles, our competitions have been judged by both published, and well-known, writers.

There will be three main prizes - £200, £100 and £50 – plus twelve extra prizes generously donated by Random House, Tesco and Morrison's.

The theme of the competition is 'Emotion', the story (up to 2,000 words) can be written in any genre and your characters don't even have to be human. We chose this theme because, at the heart of all good stories are the characters and the emotions that drive them. There are plenty to choose from including love, hate, envy, jealousy, frustration, despair, fear, terror, horror, resentment, sorrow. Make your reader feel the emotions…

This competition is for non-professional writers only, as we want to encourage as many new and less experienced writers to enter.

All writers will retain the copyright to their entry/entries and the winners will be published on the NWC website.


Closing date 31st January 2014.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Women's Things

As you can imagine, being a man and writing short stories for women has its problems. I often have to research certain aspects of a story so that I know I have been accurate and realistic. Things like fashion, make-up and jewellery are subjects I know little about. Of course, these days the internet makes it easy to explore such topics. But it can have its drawbacks.

As you are probably aware, everything you do online is monitored. So much so that you only have to make an enquiry about, say, insurance and you are inundated with ads for life cover, car insurance, house protection etc. This has resulted in me being bombarded with promotions for ladies dresses, expensive perfume and diamond rings. When these offers pop up in my wife's e-mail I have to explain to that I have not been online shopping for her Christmas present. She should be so lucky.

Recently I have been putting together a story which involves a wife using a home pregnancy test and the husband buying those little blue tablets that help a man be a man... if you get my drift. Now, of course, my computer is full of ads for fertility testing and grotesque looking appliances that enhance certain parts of the male anatomy. Again I have had to justify this to my wife. I think she believed me.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Bits And Pieces

It's a time-consuming task trying to keep the various magazines supplied with stories. I don't have a very good success / rejection ratio so I like to maintain a steady stream of submissions to keep them busy. At least it reminds them that I'm still here and I'm not giving up. Then there are the various competitions run by Nottingham Writers' Club. Entry numbers are often low so I endeavour to make a contribution just so that the competition has enough to run. It doesn't take very long just to put a comment on Twitter so I like to keep that piece of social media active. That's why this blog gets a bit neglected. So here are a few snippets to fill the void.

Most of you will have learnt that Best magazine are running another fiction competition. Look at their website for full details. I believe it has been confirmed that, while the two runners up may be published in the mag, they will not receive a prize. As far as I know, the last time they ran this they did call the runners up to ask permission for publication so I suppose you can always say no. A thousand pounds for a page of writing isn't a bad return though, so it might be worth a gamble. They want a Christmas theme so, as it's probably too late by now to submit a seasonal story for most mags, if you have an idea then this could be the place to try it out.

Having had stories in the last two Yours magazine yearbooks I finally had one accepted for the fortnightly issue in October. You get a short bio and a tiny photo at the bottom of the page so now people know what I look like. If they have good eyesight that is.

I was asked at a few days notice to run a short story workshop at Nottingham Writers' Club at the beginning of the month. I'd done one before but was a little apprehensive because of the circumstances. The original speaker was a former club member who is now a successful scriptwriter and appeared at this year's Cannes Film Festival. I wondered if people would be disappointed with the second-rate substitute. As it turned out everyone worked hard and seemed to enjoy the experience. Phew!

Finally I'd like to draw your attention to Samantha Tonge's blog if you haven't already paid a visit. As well as being a successful writer herself she regularly interviews people from the world of publishing. So if you want advice from People's Friend editor, Shirley Blair, or want to know who does the story illustrations, look no further.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Another Legend

Even before I started school I was interested in how things worked. That's probably why I eventually became an engineer. But it wasn't just how things were put together that fired my imagination. I often wondered how things were created. What was the spark that led to these things being invented?

It's the same with TV programmes and feature films. I'm fascinated by the story behind the story. How does a writer's idea get to the point where his words are being spoken on screen? I want to learn about the process and bits of trivia that occur in between those two endpoints. These days there are programmes that give us behind-the-scenes insights into some of our most popular series.

So, as promised in my last post, I'm now going to share some facts about one of my favourite TV series.

Some of you might be old enough to remember The Adventures Of Robin Hood. The one that starred Richard Greene.

The programme was commissioned by Lew Grade but was created by American writers who couldn't find work in the US, having fallen foul of the McCarthy communist witch-hunts in the 1950s. Because of their precarious position the writers could not be granted artistic credit for the episodes they worked on.

Apart from film actor Richard Greene, many other established and future stars appeared during the series. The one I remember is Paul Eddington of The Good Life and Yes Minister who played Will Scarlett if my memory serves me right.

You may also remember actress Patricia Driscoll, who played Maid Marion. She was the presenter of the Watch With Mother programme Picture Book.

The theme song was recorded as a single and rose quite high in the UK charts. I think I still have a copy somewhere in my loft. (On a 78rpm of course).

One episode of the 2006 BBC Robin Hood series was entitled Lardner's ring as a tribute to Ring Lardner, one of the original 1950s writers.

Does anyone else have memories of this drama?

Saturday, 31 August 2013

What Am I?

One of Patsy Collins' recent posts was about professionalism. She asked those of us who had been paid for our writing whether we considered ourselves professional writers. This got me thinking. Thanks, Patsy. As if I don't have enough to do with all the links you put up for competitions and other writing opportunities. Now I have to spend time thinking.

Where was I? Ah yes. I was thinking. Not just about being (or not being) a professional. But other stuff. Like am I working class or middle class? At sixty one am I old or still middle aged? Am I British or English? (Definitely not European). Do people think I'm a geek or just an enthusiast?

That last point got me worried. Well, not worried maybe. But puzzled. Surely we're all geeks in a way? We all have our skills and interests. There must be a fine line between nerdiness and just being an expert. Maybe it becomes geeky when you just can't resist showing off your knowledge to anyone within earshot. (Or blogshot?) Just like I did on my last blog post with those bits of trivia about The Lone Ranger.

The geek look was in vogue for a while with horn-rimmed glasses and braces becoming fashionable accessories. But it didn't last. More recently, the American sit-com Big Bang Theory (of which I'm a huge fan) has given a 21st century insight into the world of geeks. In any case, I think I prefer the term 'geek' to 'anorak'. The latter invokes images of train spotters. Not that I wish to alienate any railway enthusiasts.

So, to sum up: I'm a young-at-heart, English working class, semi-professional writer with geeky tendencies. Just to prove it – in my next post I'm going to bore you to death stir your interest with several facts about another legend. You have been warned, Patsy.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Who Was That Masked Man?

Just been to see the new Lone Ranger film. I knew it would only be a parody of the original tale and so didn't have any high hopes but, as a lifelong fan, I couldn't miss it. It was entertaining enough so no complaints and I have to admit that a tingle ran down my spine when he first rode onto the screen to The William Tell Overture. My 1958 Lone Ranger annual sits on the shelf above me as I type so I thought I'd share a few facts about the legend of the Masked Man.

It started off as a radio programme in 1933. The phrase 'Hi-Yo, Silver! Away!' was written into the script to indicate to the listeners that a riding sequence was about to follow.

The character of Tonto was introduced so that the Lone Ranger had an accomplice to talk to. This made it simpler to explain the plot to the audience.

Actor Clayton Moore played the main part when it hit the TV screen in 1949. Due to a contract dispute he was replaced by John Hart for one series but was soon reinstated.

Canadian Jay Silverheels who played Tonto was born Harold Smith on a Mohawk reservation. Being an outstanding athlete, his nickname, Silverheels, derived from his speed across the ground while playing lacrosse. He started out in films as an extra and stuntman but eventually was given acting parts alongside stars such as Humphrey Bogart and James Stewart.

The Lone Ranger's real name is John Reid. He was part of a posse of Texas Rangers who were ambushed by a band of outlaws. His five fellow riders were killed including the leader, his brother, Captain Daniel Reid. Tonto discovered the injured John Reid and nursed him back to health. They buried the dead men and dug a sixth empty grave to make it look like all six had perished.

He acquired his horse, Silver, when he rescued him from an enraged buffalo.

When the series ended Moore and Silverheels continued to make appearances in character but Clayton was forbidden by the studio to wear the iconic mask. He resorted to wearing dark glasses and joked that people changed the phrase 'Who was that masked man?' to 'Who was that glassed man?'

Moore died in 1999 and Silverheels in 1980.

PS  If you're a fan of Classic FM I understand that the definition of sophistication is the ability to listen to Rossini's overture without thinking of The Lone Ranger. That's me out then.

Friday, 19 July 2013

Mixed Bag

A bit of a mixed bag for this post...

If you read my vilification of modern technology from last time you wouldn't believe I was an electronics engineer for thirty years, working on wide ranging projects from automotive engine management to fibre optic communications. Maybe I was in the wrong job all that time. Maybe I was just a terrible engineer.

It's not that I don't believe in progress it's just that we seem to have become dependent, even addicted, to our state-of-the-art gadgets and when they go wrong it screws up our lives completely. I resisted owning a mobile phone until I became an exam invigilator and sometimes found myself in need of support but unable to leave the classroom. When a colleague recently asked me to text her if I needed help I had to inform her that I didn't know how to perform such a task. I'll never forget the pitying look she gave me. I wasn't even sure if my cheap Tesco phone had that facility. I've since been assured that it does.

Other news:

I had a story in The Weekly News in June and another one appeared this week. People's Friend featured one of mine last week and I still have another one due in Take a Break Fiction Feast soon. Then there is the one for Yours magazine Yearbook due in a few months.

My friend Carol won Nottingham Writers' Spring short story comp which was judged by another fellow blogger Patsy Collins. I'm looking forward to reading Carol's winner in our quarterly magazine Scribe. My own effort came third.

I'm currently trying to keep up my work rate with the added distractions of Test Cricket and the Tour de France. I hope you are all managing to keep cool and carry on writing.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Let's Regress

I'm going through a patch of technology trouble at the moment which has left me yearning for the good old days when life was less complicated and the language more colourful...

Pray welcome, good gentlefolk.

Forsooth this cursed machine is so temperamental it might turn a man's brain to curds. Such is my frustration I have hence forsaken all modern instrumentation. Likewise have my utterances regressed to the language of yore.

Pray address your remarks in the appropriate manner of learned gentry. Thou canst hail loudly in the general direction of the shire of Nottingham, direct your missive by carrier pigeon or transport such documents via stagecoach.

Gadzooks! The first option is surely effective if standing atop a bell tower within sight of the highway known in these parts as M1. Only select the second if said bird is sound of wing. The latter is most likely to succeed but may perchance take up to three days.

I am told I must expend up to four hundred Guineas to replace this infernal contraption. What thinkst thou? Stap me vitals! I wouldst sooner allow my wife to find gainful employment in the local whorehouse than waste my hard-earned wealth.

I must away now to partake of my lunch of stewed rodent. Then I must toil about my duties - berate my wife for her spendthrift ways, beat the servants for their indolent conduct and abuse my neighbours for lack of breeding and deficiency of wit.

May your quills stay sharp and your ink be as black as my heart.

Until the morrow.

Saturday, 15 June 2013

For Father's Day

                                     Midnight Caller

I came to see you tonight, dad. I wanted to come after dark, in the small hours, when the rest of the world is asleep. I wanted it to be just you and me.

I climbed over the gates by the bus stop and found my way through the maze of footpaths and lawns by moonlight. Three rows up from the big white stone angel. Six plots along from the footpath and here you are.

Mum chose the wording on your headstone.

To be remembered in our hearts is not to die.

I suppose that's profound enough to satisfy both believers and atheists. What were you, dad? I never got round to asking did I?

I think you must be pleased with our choice. Just plain black marble with gold lettering. No fancy shapes. Just rectangular with a bevelled edge.

It's strange. You only notice all the other graves when you're trying not to stumble into them in the dark. I didn't realise there were so many to choose from. Arched, pointed arch, Gothic, with cross, without cross, plain cross, Celtic cross, praying angel, weeping angel. Who thinks them all up?

I noticed there were no flowers. Usually there are several bunches and wreaths lying around. People bring them on birthdays and anniversaries don't they? But there are none here now. Maybe the cemetery staff have cleared them up. Or maybe no-one cares.

And the inscriptions. I didn't stop to read any but there must be a lucrative business writing those.

So where was I? Oh yes. How does that poem go? I can't remember who wrote it.

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.

Well, I am standing at your grave, dad, and I am weeping. And I just wanted to say.
                                         I love You.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Diversions

This blogging lark isn't as easy as you think is it?

It's nearly the end of May and I didn't post at all in April so I thought I'd better get something down pronto.

Time management has been a problem. I've been trying to keep the magazines busy with a few submissions and I've managed to sell a few more stories. I have a total of five not yet published – People's Friend, Take A Break, Yours and two in The Weekly News. Being a competition junkie means even more time taken up. Plus, we're in the middle of the exam season so I'm working up at the local college in my invigilator rĂ´le. Then there are the other distractions like Test Cricket, the Cycling Grand Tours and the forthcoming British & Irish Lions rugby tour to Australia.

On top of all that there's the domestic stuff of everyday life like decorating, gardening, repairs etc.

The other problem is that you've all been posting such interesting stuff about writing, publishing and competitions that my trivia will seem a bit... well... trivial. Then there's the contract controversy at DC Thomson which several blogs have commented on including womagwriter and my friend and colleague at Nottingham Writers' Club, Carol.

I know you've all probably got your own personal excuses for not doing what you feel you ought to be doing so I don't expect a great deal of sympathy. So, good luck to everyone with their writing projects this summer and please continue diverting me with your fascinating blogs.

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Get Involved

We seem to be well-blessed with writers' clubs in the Nottingham area. Of course, we have a rich literary heritage around here with the likes of D.H. Lawrence and Alan Sillitoe. Whether that has anything to do with it I don't know.

I'm a member of two clubs.

Trowell Writers is a twenty minute walk from my house and takes place in the organiser's living room. Every other Monday we start by reading our latest piece of poetry or prose and then take part in a couple of exercises.

Nottingham Writers' Club meets on the first and third Wednesday of every month at the old Nottingham Mechanics Institute which is now a social club. On the first Wednesday we have a guest speaker, usually an author, journalist or publisher. Our second meeting of the month is where we can bring along our work to read out and get feedback from the other members.

The two clubs have widely differing resources and are run along completely different lines so I get a wide range of benefits from them both. I would strongly encourage anyone who writes to join a club. Writing need not be a lonely occupation. If you can't get to meetings many of them (including the two mentioned above) run associate membership where you get a newsletter and are allowed to enter the in-house competitions. If there are no clubs nearby why not start one? You don't have to be affiliated to any organisation and you can run them to your own agenda. Just get together with some like-minded friends and swap ideas. You won't regret it.

Monday, 4 March 2013

A Gold Medal In Creativity

In my last post I mentioned the so-called Olympic legacy. This is the government's idea that, because those Lycra-clad show-offs of Team GB won a few bits of scrap metal and half a yard of coloured ribbon, we should all be joining gymnastic clubs, swimming fifty lengths before breakfast, cycling thirty miles every Sunday and entering marathons. Well – something like that.

My six-year old grandson had a different angle on the whole event. He was very taken by the medal ceremonies and likes nothing better than to re-create them. My wife bought him a small pool table last year, so every time he visits we all have to take part in a pool tournament. He likes playing the game but his real enjoyment comes at the end. I've let him have my triathlon medals to play with. (After all, they're only bits of old iron and strips of ribbon). He uses a brass one for gold, a greyish looking one for silver and the rest all pass for bronze. The winner, which is always him of course, gets the gold hung around his neck and the rest of us take what's left. He stands on a stool while we all stand either side and sing the National Anthem. I don't suppose it's quite what Lord Coe had in mind but at least it's fired the young chap's imagination.

I have several techniques to stimulate my creative thinking. Spending time with my grandson is one of them. I think it's probably the best. After all – he inspired this post.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Trivial Pursuits

On a news item recently I see that author Hilary Mantel has courted controversy by insulting the Duchess of Cambridge. I'm not certain if her comments have been taken out of context but she has been heavily criticised in the media. It doesn't seem to have done her career much harm though. I understand that sales of her books have risen since the article was published. On that thought I wonder if I should publicly vilify a well-loved national icon to raise my profile. Sir Steve Redgrave maybe? Dame Vera Lynn? Perhaps not.

In the same news programme I heard that the pub quiz is enjoying a surge in popularity. Maybe it's because the British public are tired of sitting at home staring at computer screens. Or perhaps they're bored with banal TV programmes. Does this mean people are going to start socialising properly again instead of collecting virtual friends? Hopefully, the knock-on effect will be that reading becomes a popular pastime again. Good news for us authors.

If people are looking for more stimulating ways of occupying their spare time it's possible that families may start spending more time together. Wouldn't it be great to see our parks full of parents playing games with their kids? It's healthy and it costs nothing. That would be the real Olympic legacy that the government is always talking about. You don't have to join a club to get fit.

I remember our Sunday afternoons down the local rec with bats and balls. Some games could get quite competitive though. I remember one afternoon mum got concussed while playing cricket. We had to move her from first slip to square leg. Dad was really upset. Next weekend was our football tournament and she was his best goalkeeper. Happy days.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Still Learning

Just spent another few weeks observing college life while invigilating for the January exams. I've learnt another few facts about students:

Some don't know the meaning of the phrase “Stop writing.”
Some can't read an analogue clock.
Some think it's o.k. to exit a room and immediately stop to have a conversation despite the fact there are two hundred others trying to get out as well.

Many of them appreciate the efforts we put in to ensure they get the sort of exam conditions in which they can do their very best.
Quite a few are willing to battle through severe weather conditions to get to college.
Most of them work bloody hard.

On writing matters:

In early January I ran a workshop at Nottingham Writers' Club which seemed to go down quite well. The members enjoyed it and produced some wonderful pieces of writing in a very short time.

Marion Clark at Yours magazine has accepted another story for the 2014 Yearbook.

I've been informed that my story due to be published in People's Friend will appear in the 9th February edition.

Looking forward to some brighter weather which lifts the spirit and boosts the creative mind.