C is for Cool: Competitions, Evolution, Bono, Penguins & Positive Productivity!

I have the same problem with Cool as I did with Boring yesterday. So many things are cool – where would I begin? People with enquiring, open minds; people who aren’t scared to speak up against prejudice, even when it doesn’t affect them; parents who encourage their children to make decisions for themselves, instead of dictating their beliefs and aspirations – and provide them with the tools to do so. All very Cool.

Penguins, of course, live in cool places and are also inherently cool. Some have funky hairstyles, the Dad does his share of parenting and contrary to urban myth, they do not become so fixated on aeroplanes in the Falkland Islands that they fall over backwards while watching them, because they are far too cool for that.

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With all this abundance of coolness, I decided to simply share three of my Google Alerts that struck me as cool.

1) Competitions

Interesting creative writing competitions for children, particularly with good prizes, are relatively rare – but this one qualifies. Stroud Library are running a competition to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Laurie Lee, most famous for Cider with Rosie. I recommend Laurie Lee; if you haven’t read any of his work, shuffle off to the library right now. As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning is a favourite of mine.

Laurie Lee

The theme of the competition is Legends set somewhere in the Five Valleys, where many of Laurie’s stories originated, and where he lived in the village of Slad.

There are two age categories for the competition:

  • Under 7s : 50-500 words
  • 8-12 years: 300-1,000 words

For each category the 1st prize will be £25 and a bundle of books and the 2nd prize will be £15, which is great, so if you know any young budding writers, point them in the direction of this page, where they can download an application form. The competition opens on 5th April and closes on the 31st May, and the webpage also has details of a workshop children can attend to help them get started on their masterpiece.


Scientists have been looking afresh at the Permian-Triassic extinction that occurred around 252 million years ago . While they know that this event, which destroyed 90% percent of marine life and 70 % of terrestrial life, was caused by a disruption to the carbon cycle, the cause of the disruption has always been a mystery – although they knew that something ’caused a burst of carbon to come out of storage’, turning seas to acid and raising temperatures.

According to the Smithsonian website, geophysicist  Daniel Rothman and his team have noticed that the carbon cycle disruption  wasn’t typical of a geological event like a meteorite strike or volcano, where it would peak then taper off; instead the disruption seemed to grow at an increasing rate over time. So they’re hypothesising that microbes may be to blame – pesky microbes that may have traded genes. They believe that Methanosarcina gained two genes from a bacteria that gave them the ability to eat organic waste (with its stored carbon) from the sea floor, causing them to pump out methane and push carbon back into the water. You can read the full article here.


It makes you wonder what else microbes may have been responsible for…

3) Bono

Bono is (arguably) cool, but apparently the poor lad has writer’s block – which is seriously delaying progress on U2’s planned new album and follow up tour. CBC books thoughtfully provided 5 brief writing tips from authors that might help him on his way. You can read them all if you want, but I wanted to share  my favourite one:

“The secret of getting ahead is getting started. The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.”

Mark Twain

Not only is this true, but it’s also the essence of a handy book by Simon Whaley, called The Positively Productive Writer, which explains in detail exactly how to  ‘break your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks’ and provides a host of useful and inspiring tips to get you started.

If you’re a writer who needs a constructive kick up the butt and a Plan, then read all about it here before hopping off and buying (or downloading) it. Perhaps I should send a link to Bono, too…

In Which I Admit That Alex Gazzola @HealthJourno And @Simon Whaley might have a point :)

Confession time.

With fiction, I feel I know what I’m doing. Roughly. I have a uni Diploma in creative writing. I’ve had a small amount of fiction success. So hopefully I understand the principles of telling a good yarn, even if, like all writers, it takes me a few rewrites to sieve out the grit and get to the gold. And non fiction shouldn’t be a problem, should it? My OU education tutor, very well-respected and much published, urged me to do a Masters because he felt I wrote well at that level. I happily chunter on in my monthly column about preschool happenings in the village mag, and had a history article accepted by a Huntingdonshire magazine editor (she never ended up publishing it, mind, or commissioning the series she wanted me to do, but that’s another story).


But here’s my CONFESSION: generally, as far as non-fiction goes, I’m a bit scared. I’ve always felt I’m not worthy. Yes, I’ve dabbled in a few careers, but never risen to any professional prominence in them; I have hobbies, but haven’t pursued anything obsessively. I don’t even OWN an anorak. So why would anyone want me to write about education, childcare, inclusive practice, equality and diversity, history, medicines, children’s literature, books, or the genius that is Stargate in all its permutations, when there are hundreds of people out there more qualified than me?

I’ve read advice about writing non-fiction in magazines articles and on the blogs of writers like Simon Whaley and Alex Gazzola. I’ve learnt about finding my niche, expanding my niche, twisting topics in my niche so they fit into other people’s niches and venturing out of my niche. It all made me feel very buoyant. But when I had snuck away  and thought about it for a while, the only thing I felt confident writing was a comment, preferably in size 6 font, on the end of their posts: “I haven’t got a niche. I don’t know quite enough about anything.

Alex Gazzola @HealthJourno
Alex Gazzola
Simon Whaley @simonwhaley
Simon Whaley

I’n not the only one. I know this because on Alex’s blog, Mistakes Writers Make, he has charts showing  most popular posts this month and most popular posts ever. Guess what? His post on this very subject -‘Mistake No. 12: “I can’t write for Yachting Monthly!”‘ is the top post this month and no.6 in his all time greats. Simon’s posts on this subject, which include Taking small steps and You’re the best person to write this piece because … are on his tutor blog Simon Says because he knows these concerns are shared by a lot of his students. But readers, I listened to their words of wisdom but did not quite believe. Forgive me, father, for…

Then this morning I sat down armed with pen, notebook, this month’s Writer’s News. I intended to read all the market news but in all honesty was only intending to note down fiction markets. Because, remember, I don’t Know Anything.

I started down the first ‘Flashes’ column. Pah! The top item was about Farm and Ranch Living,  a U.S. bimonthly. Yeah, right. What do I know about farming and ranching in the U.S? Then BING!

Yellow light bulb

I don’t know a lot about it, but I know a woman who does. Mary O’Hara.

I know what you’re thinking. The Irish harpist? Really? No, silly. Mary O’Hara the musician, screenwriter and author, who amongst other things wrote My Friend Flicka which was turned into a film and was all about life on a ranch. Not surprising really as she lived on a ranch for 17 years with her second husband. And my fascination with her books made me research her and read her autobiography… hmm. Perhaps I could write an article about her life as a rancher’s wife. Or the way she represented ranching in fiction. Or compare the life of a rancher’s wife in the 1930’s and 40’s to the life of a contemporary rancher’s wife – or indeed lady rancher. Ok. Star that one and write details in the notebook.

Next down, The Aviation Historian. Well I don’t know anything about…
Hold on. I live in East Anglia in the midst of a very hotbed of current and historical RAF activity. I live just over a mile from an RAF base. This means the local papers often feature historical photos and items about RAF history. It was one of these, an item about the extreme bravery of a Lancaster bomber crew member, that sparked my as yet incomplete novel, Forgive and Forget. The first chapter got me a very pleasing mark as my ‘exam piece’ in the first year of my Diploma. And even though that was a few years ago, I did lots of research, all of which I have tucked away. Hmmm…

So sorry, Alex and Simon. I see your point now. I need to think a bit more widely and have more confidence. Perhaps I’ll turn these musings into a filler or a letter, as well! *Whispers* “Ahem… you were right.”





Spring Cleaning – thanks Adrian Magson and The New Writer!

It all started with Simon Whaley talking about my piles.
Ok, that’s not strictly true. I commented on Twitter that my dismantled study was in piles in my bedroom (building work loometh), and that amongst said piles I had to find a stack of not-so-sticky-any-more sticky notes: a scene-by-scene novel plan. I won’t tell you what Simon said about my piles, gentle reader, because your delicate ears don’t need to hear it. But by the time I’d retrieved those sticky notes I had decided enough was enough. I couldn’t cope a moment longer without a desk – I can write anywhere, but need one organised location for all my writerly bits. And I couldn’t cope a moment longer with my bedroom resembling the aftermath of a riot in WHSmith. either.

Currently the only place for my large desk is in the corner of the riot-stricken bedroom. Cue large scale furniture moving and reorganisation. But it so happened that in this very week I had been rereading Adrian Magson’s Write On!, and had got to the section about Spring Cleaning, AND had found the The New Writer’s spring issue that I had somehow failed to read, featuring Nicola Daly’s article about…Spring Cleaning.

The Culprits

Both writers were urging me to go through my old work and spring clean my attitude to my writing too, as well as giving me a timely reminder that sometimes, as much as we love books, it’s time to let some go *sniff*.  I took their advice and a week later I am just about sorted. There is still paperwork to go through, but the desk is reassembled and reorganised and around 100 books have been decluttered, with those that remain (don’t be fooled, there are still hundreds!) reorganised on bookshelves that now have new homes. Despite my doubts, it seems my bedroom can be both haven and workplace.

But what was most useful was the looking back through old notebooks.
Adrian Magson says doing this can ‘make you realise that what you wrote in the past actually wasn’t all that bad’. But if like me, you have the memory of an inebriated goldfish, you can leave out the ‘wasn’t all that bad’; it can make you ‘realise what you wrote, full stop.

How can I have forgotten the beginnings and rough synopsis for a story I originally intended for the National Trust/Mills & Boon competition? (Looks like a good candidate for a My Weekly Easy Read submission). Or that when I started writing a pocket novel at Sally Quilford‘s Pocket Novel workshop last year, I based it around Cornwall and smuggling because I’d been researching those topics for the YA novel I had fully planned out? I had started far more, and got further along with far more, than I remembered. Great news.

Hopefully my new ‘writing home’ will produce good results. In the meantime, no hate mail please just because I forgot to take the ‘review copy’ sticker off Adrian’s book. I buy lots of books but occasionally am spared the expense of doing so by the perks of my husband’s job, and luckily he manages to bring home some Accent Press review copies (unfortunately someone beat him to Sue Moorcroft’s Love Writingso that is on the Christmas list…and if I found out who it was… my vengeance shall be mighty!


2 Great Books, 2 Good Causes

I’m not quite sure how I’ve left it so long to announce that THE PAPERBACK OF 100 STORIES FOR QUEENSLAND IS OUT!

100 Stories for Queensland

The paperback is available from Amazon for £9.99, or you can order it from Waterstones (although strangely, not online there yet – they are only listing marketplace copies). The ebook is available from here for A$4.99.

Just in case it escaped your attention, one of those 100 stories is mine – Pop. But far more importantly, all the profits go to the Queensland Premier’s Disaster Relief Appeal. Grim stories were banned, and although I haven’t had the time to read them all myself yet, I can tell you that, like me, fellow writers Sally Quilford, Simon Whaley and Catherine Miller contributed light-hearted tales. So if you need a smile over your cup of coffee, this will be just your…er…cup of tea.

And now on to plug another good cause and the work of a friend – not writing this time, but photography. The very gorgeous book Quoted Moments is out now, with beautiful photography and inspiring quotes that help you appreciate the important things in life. All profits go to the Irish Cancer Society, and you can buy a copy here for just €15+ p&p, or from stockists in Ireland. One of the contributors is talented prize-winning photographer Val Robus.

I’ve still not heard if my contribution to the New Sun Rising anthology has passed muster – I do know that the publishers have had enough subs to fill four books, so competition is tough! More on that (whether I’m in it or not!) when I hear firmer details.

Giveaways & Good News

Just to confuse you, I’ll do the good (although slightly old) news, first.

Which is (drum roll):  despite writing it in a tearing hurry, my submission to 100 Stories For Queensland was accepted! If you haven’t heard of this excellent volume, it’s an anthology that will be published to raise money for charity, following in the footsteps of 100 Stories for Haiti and 50 Stories for Pakistan.

I was pleased to be on the shortlist, but thought that’s as far as it would go, so very chuffed with the news. The story is called Pop, and it’s about…ah, well, that would be telling. You’ll have to buy the book. I’ll just say that it’s a light-hearted humorous tale that was inspired by a birthday card – one that was sent to Techie Husband several years ago. So you see – ideas really can come from anywhere!

The book will be available in print, digital and audio formats, and is full of the work of other lovely writers, such as Sally Quilford, Simon Whaley, Glynis Scrivens, Sue Moorcroft…and 95 others, of course!
More info soon.

Now for the Giveaway (drum roll again please, Mr. Collins. And do take that gorilla suit off).

I have a paperback copy of Lisa Gardner’s The Neighbour to give away to the first correct answer of this question:

What’s the title of Lisa’s first Det. D.D. Warren novel?

I have a little stash of book goodies to give away in the near future, but I’m thinking of auctioning some for Comic Relief or other good causes, so keep your eyes peeled (but only metaphorically, please. Don’t want any bloodstains on the blog.)

Mmm…great title for a novel…’Bloodstains On The Blog’… 😉