Just a quick post to say that a friend of mine is on the pink heart society blog this month. I’ve never heard of the pink heart society, if I’m honest. A quick look at their site has revealed all sorts of inspirational stuff, including this post about keeping inspired which strikes a cord at the moment. I know everyone says it’s great to be shortlisted (and it is), but to a glass half empty person it means you lost!
So good luck to Mairibeth – I’ll keep my fingers crossed for your Vikings and your trip to Sweden – and I’m off to work on my conflicts.
I knew this a few months ago and, frankly, it’s been hell not telling anyone. I’ve had all that time for it to fester. Have I won? How many on the shortlist? (eight, I now know).
Now my face is up there with all those smiling young other writers. It’s something to celebrate, right? So why am I thinking, ‘Oh God, look at those wrinkles?’
Because I’m a glass half empty sort of person and that’s what we do! (Plus I take a terrible photo. Why do you think I have a swan as my avatar?).
But onward and upward as this is a positive blog. I don’t know if I’ve won but the point is, they liked my story. My name is worthy of putting up there on their website. This achievement is going on my writing CV. It will definitely be mentioned by me (passive sentence and I don’t care because I’m happy) when I submit my next story.
It just goes to show that you’ve got to be in it to win it. And I would not have come across this competition were it not for social media – a FB friend who writes for M&B flagged it up. So thank you, Kate Hardy, and happy anniversary.
To all you budding writers out there – make connections, keep feelers out and keep writing, no matter how grey your day, no matter how many rejections you’ve had recently.
A couple of months ago I submitted a first chapter and synopsis for a national novel-writing competition. I polished that chapter to a high shine. The synopsis, I admit, might have had less of a patina, but I sent the two off thinking they were at least grammatically correct.
Somehow I got shortlisted. That was when I read the synopsis through again so that when I got the call to say I’d won* I could recall the plot. Imagine my horror when, at the end of the first paragraph, I read, “The catch is she’ll should go as his ‘wife‘”
Head in hands time or what?
Unfortunately, I do this all the time. I think my story is perfect, I send it off and next day spot all sorts of howlers. How? You’d think I was semi-literate.
So, I have discovered the world of online ‘editors’. My latest short story was not released to editors until the whole thing had been checked over by Prowriting Aid. This is a free online tool which allows you to check your work for things like grammatical errors, style issues, repetitions and so on. If you pay you get more tools (and get to upload larger texts and don’t have to put 2000 word stories through in 500 word chunks).
I was just looking for bloopers, but I got a whole lot more. In fact, thanks to various features, I effortlessly cut out 30 words and was able to expand the ending so that it was stronger. I wasn’t expecting that.
I hadn’t realised, for example, how often I used the continuous tense in its various guises. So I tend to use ‘I was going to have to’ instead of a simple ‘I could/had to’.
Not all the suggestions are sensible. In fact some of them are downright ludicrous. But you are in control and decide what to accept. I was so impressed with the reduction in word count today, however, I’m thinking of upgrading.
There are other programmes out there which do the same thing. But if you are one of those writers who cannot for the life of you see your own appalling errors, I think it’s worth thinking about using one of them.
As I mentioned in my last post, I was recently lucky enough to spend a week in Italy on a
writing retreat. Okay, I spent two days terrified that I would be burned alive and the rest of it feeling like the walking dead due to sharing a room with a consumptive snorer. But hey, it was Umbria, the sun was shining, I was with my sister, her fun friend and Sue Moorcroft. Who’s complaining?
I returned enthused with ideas for short stories, including a character, Sarah, complete with external and internal conflicts. Problem is I’m doing my usual doom and gloom jobbie which will not sell into the women’s fiction market. Who wants to read about a single mum who, having won a dream holiday for two, ends up setting her children against each other? This is hardly a sympathetic character. She’s even making me uncomfortable, and I know there’s a happy ending. Great conflict, definitely going to create an emotional response in the reader, but in terms of cheques in the bank? Nope. Never.
How to rescue the plot and create a feel-good sort of mood?
I tried Googling “how to write an upbeat story”. You know what? There’s not that much out there. Seems we love to wallow in misery. And isn’t one rule of writing good fiction to keep twisting the knife and make things worse for our main character?
I did find one article on making your writing upbeat and fun, but it wasn’t much help. I should try using humour, simple words and sentences (like I’m going to send something Dickensian to a woman’s magazine). Oh and ‘keep your mood upbeat and fun’. Right. ‘Hey, Mum. You know that holiday for two to Hawaii? I don’t have anyone to go with. Should I email Brad Pitt? I hear he’s single again. Do you think he’d be desperate enough?’ Doesn’t really fit with a struggling single mother of two who hasn’t got enough money to get her car through it’s next MOT and is still in love with her ex-husband, does it?
I hate going on holiday. I hate the process of going away, I hate the not knowing where stuff is, losing a whole day to get home again, that sort of thing. Add to that the things that can go wrong and, for a natural pessimist, quite quickly the cons can outnumber the pros.
Take my recent writing week in Italy. What could be better? A week’s writing tuition by Sue Moorcroft, a well-known, successful author in my preferred genre, in a country villa in Umbria, the company of friends.
Well let’s start with flying from Stansted at 7 am. Being from the north this meant an overnight stay in a Premier Inn. Nothing wrong with Premier Inn – we chose them over several others. But at 3 am the fire alarm went off and this was a week after the Grenfell tower disaster. And wasn’t Premier Inn the chain that was upfront about the fact that some of their hotels were less than fireproof on the outside? I was out of bed faster than a midday lover at the sound of tires spitting gravel on the driveway. Bang went that night’s sleep, though to be fair to the hotel staff they were quick to reassure us we were not going to roast in our sleep.
At least not there.
The problem was, lovely though our destination was, it was in forest – an endless forest. There had been no rain for four months. A hot wind fanned the valley. Scores of people had recently succumbed to Portugese wildfires in identical circumstances…
Did the owner have to tell us about the local arsenist?
That first night I lay awake listening for the roar of the approaching firestorm, the first faint whiff of wood smoke. I had my plan all worked out: I’d be first in the pool. The water would give some protection from super-heated air. Alternatively, we could barracade ourselves into the small room under the house with wet mattresses against the doors to keep the smoke out and the oxygen in.
Not that I’m a complete catastrophiser, but even boy scouts advise one to be prepared. Somebody has to be and everybody else seemed to be enjoying themselves far too much to have a survival action plan.
Fortunately, on day 2, it rained.
And … relax.
Unfortunately, that was when my husband developed a cold. The subsequent nights were sleepless as a result of coughing and snoring.
But this is a positive thinking blog. Let’s look past the cons to the pros, because there were some. Let us linger not on the stupifying weariness or the constant threat of death by inferno. Let us push those to one side and remember instead:
the motley collection of daft dogs – always entertaining
long hot days with Sue Moorcroft (who won’t be doing it next year)
delicious mediterranean food (and wine)
a cool pool
on the way home, being wedged between two delightful young Italian men because my husband and I are far too tight to pay to choose our own seats on Ryan Air so I always get allocated an E seat (non aisle, non-window) and my husband was four rows aft…
Always there is a silver lining. You just have to look for it.