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.”





Every Picture Tells A Story (or a novel – or a poem…)

copyright Craig Sellars

The wonderfully evocative picture above is by the very talented Craig Sellars. A name I probably wouldn’t have come across but for the lucky circumstances that result, every so often, in a copy of ImagineFX magazine being abandoned on the dining table. (Lucky Circumstances being a pseudonym for Arty Daughter).  And of course I’m compelled to have a look while eating my breakfast because – well, I’m me and it’s reading material. On my last visual meander I saw this picture, amongst others, in a feature about Craig.

For the uninititated ImagineFX  is a monthly magazine on fantasy and sci-fi digital art, although the term fantasy is loosely interpreted. But then I suppose everything that is designed from the imagination and not copied directly from a real scene is fantasy, really; and all writing that’s truly fiction could be termed fantasy in the same way.

Craig works on commissions for all kinds of projects, but left to his own devices he favours futuristic images or characters juxtaposed with retro 40’s scenes. The scene above just screams to be written about – or it does to me, anyway.But on his website I discovered other beautiful scenes he’s created, like this one below.

copyright Craig Sellars

I challenge anyone with even the smallest creative bone in their body not to look at these and feel a story brewing.

In the first image, who is the man on the phone talking to? Why is there a monkey in the phone box – does he belong to either of these characters or neither? Obviously the figure with a gun is portrayed here as a fantasy/alien character, but of course in your story he could be a man. Or a woman. Or a child…hmm.Or another monkey!

The second picture suggests a certain era because of the clothes, horse-drawn vehicles etc. Perhaps you’re not into creating period pieces.

No matter. The carriage could be a car. The woman could be wearing jeans and holding an umbrella, not a parasol. Is she standing there waiting for someone to arrive, or waving goodbye? Who are they? Is she happy, wistful, shocked?  Has she just arrived – is that her luggage they’re unpacking? And who is the mysterious figure, coat pulled tight around him, hat down, striding away off-stage?

Do go and take a look at Craig’s work. And next time you look at a picture – of any kind – don’t just look; listen to the story that it’s telling you. There’s bound to be one – or more, if you’re lucky.

Good luck! 🙂

In Which I Am An Ungrateful Whinger

I’ve not blogged for ages. This is naughty. Life has been busy. And talking of things not done –

I’ve not really been into the competition-entering Thang this past year.  2010, as some of you  know, was very busy and stressful.

I did try. I abandoned a few stories that ran out of time (one soooo near to completion that I’ll send it elsewhere, soon). But then, almost on a whim, I entered a poetry competition.  Again. Even though I am Not A Poet – as I have explained to my OU tutor, the witty and wonderful Caron Freeborn. (Particularly wonderful today as she has granted me an extension for my assignment – backache has me doing the Womble Walk if I sit for more than a few minutes).


The competition? Writers’ News, August. The brief? The theme: Generation Gap.

So I played for a bit with words, which is how I approach poetry. (To be honest, approach is too strong a word. I go for what sounds good. It’s about as technical as spreading jam.)

And lo and behold, today February’s WN catapaults through my door (yes, catapaults – my postie is very enthuisiastic – hello Phil), and I flick through the pages to discover that…
once again…
I have been shortlisted.

Now I know what you’re thinking. I should be doing the Happy Dance.
Can’t. Bad Back, you know.
But seriously, I am partly doing the Happy Dance, yet there’s a little part of me that’s whispering…

shortlisted Again…I should be delighted…but wouldn’t it be nice to, ahem…win?
Or even be runner-up?
Wouldn’t one win be more heartening, more impressive to editors, agents & the literati in general, than four shortlistings?

So tell me – d’you see my point, or am I just an ungrateful whinger?

Oh – and just to make up for no posts for ages, straight after I post this one, I shall dip into my drafts and drag out one that needs to see the light of day.
Need to stand up. Maximum sit-down exceeded. Womble walk, here we come.

New week, same – er…stuff ;-)

What with the weather deciding to skip autumn and go directly to winter without passing go, it’s been a cold and soggy few days in Cambridgeshire (and in Kent, where I was to be found at the weekend). Not very inspiring…sigh.

I’ve had a stack of work to do for Proper Job A (I never have to do any ‘homework’ for Proper Job B – it’s not that kind of gig, LOL). And this week is just as busy as last week – or perhaps a bit worse!

Never mind. I may have missed the deadline for 50 Stories For Pakistan because I wasn’t paying attention (grr), nearly disowned Google (because, despite doing some things very well, their Google Sites set-up is RUBBISH and I am condemned to use it for 2 miserable years) , and lost three pieces of paperwork that I need for work…
But! on the plus side I have:

  • done more work on the Proper Job website (eventually! See Above!!)
  • attended my daughter’s presentation ceremony – she won awards for Ancient History and Science, and was recognised for her achievement in getting her GCSE Media Studies 2 years early (after doing a two year course in one year) and for scoring highly overall in the core subjects. We were a very proud Mum and Dad 🙂
  • sent two poems out for scrutiny (oh please be kind judges/editors!). One is called Colleagues and was submitted for the Writers’ News ‘Generation Gap’ theme competition. The other, Dining Room, has been submitted to Prima  because I thought it was right up their street; a poem about family and what brings us together. I wrote the original for the first part of my Diploma, but it underwent a fairly drastic rewrite before I sent it off.

Fingers crossed. Anyone know if and when Prima let you know if your poetry has been accepted? Is it like the Wise Words column – you only find out when you get the cheque and/or see your work in the magazine, LOL?

I’ve also just requested a writers’ pack from Take A Break, because I’m keen to submit to TAB and Fiction Feast – I may also have a go at The Weekly News, too.

Off to the dental hygienist after work tomorrow. What a thrill…

Just Another Manic Monday

When the Bangles have already summarised my day so well, why would I spend time looking for a better phrase?!
The manic element was introduced by a lack of sleep (weekend cold caused the Dreaded Tickly Cough that Only Comes in the Night), a lack of remembering to set the alrm clock (although I remembered to change the time! Credit where it’s due, please!), and an attempt to work at both my Proper Jobs whilst fitting a doctor’s appointment for Arty Daughter in the middle.

Until 2 p.m, all I had eaten today was a small banana, a Milky Way and one of those miniscule Go Ahead strawberry cereal bars.

Meanwhile I have:

  • slapped a book reviews page up and swiped a review from my old blog
  • read the rest of the Prima issue I was published in and decided to submit a poem for their poetry column – it’s one I wrote for a previous OU course
  • searched my inbox in vain for a reply to an email I sent to an editor eleven days ago
  • spent a lot of time doing paperwork etc for one of my Proper Jobs
  • been gifted with the permanent smell of swimming pools up my nose (I’m guessing this is a sympton of whatever lurgy’s given me the cold, rather than a sign that a parallel-universe-me is a lifeguard).

The rest of the week is already looking much the same, because there’s a lot going on. My brain is fried by over-activity, germs and high-frequency sneezing attacks of great velocity.

I am going to lay down in a darkened room.

Close at home and far away

I don’t like this week. Unexpected events are eating into my time, and everything has taken longer than planned (or gone wrong/broken down/fallen over etc!). I’ve got lots of  ‘take-home’ work to do for my main Proper Job, plus I’m now working extra hours (why oh why did I say yes!) So now I don’t get a day off this week.

Not to mention the fact that I still haven’t completed my tax return (or last year’s Aug-Dec final figures that need to be done first). Gulp. I know the deadline approacheth apace…sigh.

The main printer at home has gone bonkers, so with that and the bizarre ‘thou shalt be a complete jellybrain’ curse that I’ve been under for days, it took me a while this morning to polish and finally print my poem, ‘Colleagues’.

But it’s done, and duly sent off by post to the Generation Gap themed competition in Writers’ News. Fingers crossed…

That’s what’s happening close to home. Now for Far Away…

If you’re aware of 100 Stories for Haiti, put together by Greg McQueen, you might be interested to know there’s a similar collection coming out to raise funds for the Red Cross Pakistan Floods Appeal.  There are more details here(and I’ve popped the link in my blogroll). 50 Stories For Pakistan will be a book of 50 (you’d never have guessed!) stories of varying genres by a whole host of writers, with a max word count of 500 – and of course no violence, destruction, death etc.

I started rewriting a short story I wrote a couple of years ago, which I’m going to send – I’m sure there will be lots of submissions, so we’ll see how that goes. It would be great to donate a story to something so worthwhile. If you want to donate directly to the appeal right now, the link in the sidebar over there > will take you straight to the donation page.

Once thing’s for sure – their problems make mine seem pretty insignificant. I’ll stop whinging.
That’s all for now…