Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Woman's Weekly Workshops 2014

Woman's Weekly have announced a whole series of workshops for both short story writers and serial writers to take place during 2014 in London.

Go here for details.

I have never tried to write a serial but must admit I'd quite like to try one, so I think I might go to one of the serial writing workshops. Now then, where's my diary?

Many thanks to Sam Tonge for alerting me. By the way if you haven't read her book, Doubting Abbey yet, you're missing out. I absolutely loved it. Currently it's selling on Amazon for just 59p (or 96c on the US Amazon site). And no, it's not one of the badly formatted ones I was having a moan about a week or so ago.

This will be my last post before Christmas unless something really urgent comes up in the next two days, so let me wish you all a very merry Christmas. Hope you get everything you dreamed of, and have a fun time whatever you are doing. I'm off on our annual Christmas skiing trip (yahoo! wahey! and other exclamations of deep joy!) this weekend. I'll be back before New Year so see you all then.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Wonderful winter reading

Some of the most prolific womag writers have published short story anthologies recently. So over the Christmas break, why not treat yourself to a few and see how the best writers do it? Most of the following are sitting waiting patiently on my Kindle, along with about 60 other To Be Read books. So many books, so little time!

Karen Clarke's collection of twist-ending stories is a bargain at £2.99 because it contains 55 stories - a very generous collection!
Karen's a wonderful writer who has sold hundreds of stories over the last 3 or 4 years.

Behind Closed Doors and other tales with a twist

Teresa Ashby is a writer who appears in UK women's magazines most weeks. She's certainly one to learn from.Here's her latest collection, more twist enders.

The Painting & other stories

Let's stick to the theme of twist enders for a while longer. Della Galton has published a whole series of her short stories, in her Daily Della collections. This is one of the range which contains several twist in the tale stories.

One Step Ahead (and other twist in the tale short stories)

If you're a regular reader of Take A Break's Fiction Feast you will know the name of Jo Styles, who sometimes seems to monopolise its pages. I adore her stories. And now she's published a collection. What a great no-nonsense title - does what it says on the tin!

Jo Styles Short Story Collection No.1

And finally, if your aim next year is to try to win writing competitions, why not take a look at Jo Derrick's collection of prize-winning stories, and see if you can work out why the judges chose them?

Twisted Sheets

There, that little lot should keep you going. All links are to the Kindle editions on but the ebooks are also available on other Amazon websites - easiest way to find them is to search on the author name.

If you enjoy these books please leave an Amazon review. We do love Amazon reviews. They make us feel all loved and appreciated.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

ebook quality

I've read a lot of Kindle ebooks recently, many of them self-published, others published by digital-only publishers, most of them by writer-friends. (They advertise on Facebook, and I just have to go and buy their books!) Without exception I've enjoyed reading every single one of them.

But, and it's a bit of a ranty but.

Some of them are full of errors. Typos, spelling mistakes, incorrect grammar and punctuation, and endless formatting problems. I do find this very off-putting. In most cases these errors could have been spotted and corrected by a careful final proof-read. The formatting problems can be avoided by doing a bit of research on how to publish on Kindle, and formatting can easily be checked after an initial upload. I do feel that if you are trying to sell a product, you should make it the very best it can be. You've slaved over your plot, characterisation, dialogue and description so why not also ensure your manuscript is pristine, error-free and perfectly formatted? Don't you owe it to your reader?

I've self-published a couple of books as you know, and perhaps some of you are reading this and tutting, saying 'people in glass houses....etc'. There may be a few errors in my own books, and if there are, I do apologise (if you spotted any, email me and I'll correct them and re-upload the books). But I know I made a huge effort to ensure they were as error-free as possible. I proof-read on screen, then printed them out, read through and corrected more errors, emailed them to my Kindle and read through again to check formatting, corrected more errors and only when I could find nothing more did I publish them.

Some of the ebooks I've read this year cannot have been proof-read, they're simply too full of problems. In one, the name of a story changed between the contents page and the start of the story. In another, the first page on my Kindle alone contained about 4 errors. In a third, the formatting was so poor there were paragraph breaks half way through sentences. These books have received some great Amazon reviews, and rightly so because they are good books with fabulous plots. But the formatting and punctuation errors feel like the elephant in the room - the big problem that no one is talking about. I could bear it no longer, hence this post.

I should also point out that some of the ebooks I've read this year have been perfectly formatted, with not a single mistake throughout the book. And those are an absolute joy to read.

So this is a bit of a plea to all self-publishers and small ebook-only publishers out there. Spend the time and get it right. Or if you don't feel you have the skills yourself, get someone else to do it for you. If you don't know anyone who can proof-read and format it for you, pay someone to do it, for instance offer very reasonably priced services for formatting, cover design and uploading (though they don't proof-read).

A beautifully-presented book is so much more professional than an error-ridden book. People are much more likely to review it, recommend it, and buy your next book if your first book was a quality product.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Be careful you search for the right blog...

This blog is the womagwriter blog. It's all about writing fiction for women's magazines. You can no longer simply search for the womag blog, or you'll end up shopping for marble and granite.

Feeling vaguely violated. Should have trade-marked my name. :-(

Thanks to Sam Tonge for alerting me!

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

If All Else Fails - Guest post from Alan Williams

This needs no introduction. Enjoy! 


Do you ever have one of those days when inspiration for a new story escapes you? I did … and it’s lasted two months.

“Why can’t I think of anything?” I asked my very supportive wife of thirty six years.

“Because you’re thick? … or … because you’re Australian? No wait … it’s the same thing.” Then she smiled one of those special smiles that I’ve come to love so much.

“Yeah. But you’re Australian too, my darling Vegemite sandwich,” I countered, quick as a flash.

“I’m only a ‘pretend Aussie’ ‘cause I was born in England so it doesn’t apply to me.” Then she resorted to that bastion of ladies everywhere. “Maybe it’s because you’re a man with a typical one track mind. In your case there was a major derailment some years ago and no amount of little blue pills that you have hidden in the cupboard can help you with that. Besides, I thought your visit to the Woman’s Weekly Event in Manchester was supposed to unleash your innate brilliance.”

It was true. Being the only male amongst all those other aspiring writers and listening to the lectures had helped. I was surrounded by talent so surely some should rub-off onto me. For a start I’d learnt that stories need both a beginning AND an end. That revelation alone probably explained the room full of rejection slips that I’d been lucky enough to receive. Unfortunately the workshop later on hadn’t gone as well. The combined gasps of horror as I read  my hastily prepared opening paragraph were a little embarrassing. I’ve since heard that Gaynor and three other women are still having intensive therapy sessions.

“Perhaps Womag writing isn’t your forte, Alan,” was the suggestion of one of the presenters after the paramedics had left.

Nevertheless I’d returned to sunny (but boring) France determined to produce vast quantities of quality stories. The trouble was my tiny brain had dried up. I tried to get inspiration from the tele; that new sixty second makeover show for instance. A story based on colours often did wonders? Not so this time though. Squid Ink Green did not inspire me at all.

I switched channels. It was the one day in the month when I was allowed to touch the coveted remote. How about the vivid imagination of a famous secret agent visiting my old stomping grounds Down-Under? I could learn a lot from his sparkling insight into my fellow county-persons and then I could compose the bestest story in the world.

I gave up after two minutes of watching. “They call ‘kids’, ‘ankle-biters’ in Australia he explained, knowledgeably.

“Yeah and every Brit says ‘tickety-boo’ and ‘time for tiffin’” I yelled back at the television.
Let’s see! What else could I try?

Perhaps I could finish that story I began three years ago? The first two lines read ‘The universe ended yesterday. Today was going to be worse still.’ It was no use. I gave up on that idea too after a frustrating two hours.

Alcohol fuelled brainwaves, maybe? No good for me. I’m the only Aussie in the world who can’t drink.
Mind-expanding drugs then? I never touched drugs myself (apart from the 820 little blue ones I bought for a fiver on e-bay) but my darling other half had been a child of the sixties so I decided to try some of hers that were stashed in the kitchen drawer. The morning after saw no change in my creative thoughts. Apparently paracetamol is different to LDS but how was I to know that?

“Why not try some romantic writing?” my lovely wife suggested. “Romance. Women love to read anything about unrequited love and passion. I could help you out …”

“I’m a married man. What do I know about romance?”

The next three weeks were spent sleeping on the couch. My back was killing me and someone had used up all the pain-killer tablets.

Finally, in desperation, I fired up the old Amstrad 464 to go on t’internet. Surely somewhere I could discover a way to ‘relight my fires’. The answer was there in green and white. Cheese! Not the gooey French stuff that is only useful for making the fridge smell or developing new anti-biotics. Equally well Cheddar, or Wensleydale were out of the question since British cheeses are banned by law in France. The answer was Gouda. Yummy-yummy Gouda.

Apparently (according to t’internet), two slices of rubbery Gouda taken at 3.10 in the morning will induce so many nightmares you’ll never be short of ideas again! Simples!! It’s because cheese contains tryptophan (and other cheesy stuff). I’m now in the process of incorporating a vegetarian crocodile into my story about ninja koalas. I’m certain it will be a best seller and plan to send it to People’s Friend next week.

So, fellow Womaggers. There’s no excuse for failing to come up with story ideas. According to a Cheese Board study in 2005, Stilton is great for ideas about talking vegetables and Johnny Depp whereas Cheshire is brilliant for dreams of a more romantic nature. In fact this very enlightening tale is itself the result of a Chili and Mozzarella Pizza I ate at four o’clock this morning so you can see how well it works.

Now I’m off to start my novel. It’s about a very strange Australian. Anyone I know?

Thursday, 21 November 2013


That's how much was raised by the Authors for the Philippines auction! What an incredible total!

Well done to all who offered goodies and services, and to all who bid on items. I need to go and check if I won anything!

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Authors for the Philippines

Bidding is now OPEN for all sorts of writer-related goodies, in an online auction in aid of the Philippines. All money bid will go to the Red Cross to help those affected by the terrible typhoon last week.

Here's the link to the auction site but you might be especially interested in lot number 108 where Sam Tonge (she of the last guest post here) is offering a detailed critique of a womag story.

There are all manner of items offered, from books to full manuscript critiques from agents (high bids for this one already!) to offers to give talks in schools. Do go and take a look, and help out this very worthwhile cause.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Guest Post - Sam Tonge - From Novels to Shorts and back again

Womagwriter Samantha Tonge's first novel is to be published tomorrow - Doubting Abbey. Here she talks about her writing journey from novels to short stories and back to novels, and shares with us what she's learned along the way.

Unlike many writers, I started off working on novels and then moved to short stories – most people do it the other way around. So, I have a clear opinion just how much short story writing has helped me with the longer form.

I started writing nearly nine years ago and regularly literary friends suggested I try my hand at a short story. However I found it impossible – even if I managed to think of a beginning, I could never come up with a middle and end, which seems very strange to me now! Then an online friend ran a short story competition for the release of her debut novel in 2010 and for the first time ever I managed to put together an entry. By then I’d written several novels.

Of course, looking back that very first story, it wasn’t the best, but it gave me the confidence to try other competitions. I was short-listed in a couple and in autumn 2010 joined an excellent short story group on the site WriteWords. Here, other commercial short story writers critiqued my work. I learnt a lot and in March 2011 made my first sale. Since then I’ve sold over 80.

So what is the difference writing novels now? I’ve written two more since I started writing shorts – one bagged me an agent. The next, Doubting Abbey, a publishing deal...

1 The first thing I learnt when writing shorts is that clarity is absolutely paramount. Sometimes in the critique group a member wouldn’t understand part of one of my stories, and it was because I’d fleshed out the story in my head, but not put all the detail on paper, wrongly assuming the reader knew as much as I did. Therefore my new motto became “if in doubt, spell it out” – whether that referred to putting in enough dialogue tags or reminding readers of fine plot details.

2 Individual chapters began to take real shape. Rather than looking at the whole novel as one long opus, I considered each chapter as a short story, with a beginning, middle and end. I’d already realized that one fault with my chapters was that I never tried to grab the reader at the start, instead just concentrating on the cliff-hanger as it finished.

3 As I sold more short stories, one editor told me I needed to put more emotion into my work and this really helped me with the novels -  feedback had frequently come back that my main characters weren’t lovable enough, and I think part of this was due to me not making the reader truly ‘feel’ their predicaments.

4 Overall my novel-writing has improved because thanks to creating short stories I’ve written from many different points of view, in various settings and eras. My experience has diversified.

5 I’ve become more laid back with my novels because now the emotional investment in them is smaller. During all those years when I wrote and subbed nothing but books, the rejections took their toll – after all, it was 6-12 months of work being sent back each time. But once I started to sell short stories my bruised writerly ego healed a little and meant that if rejections for the novel came back, hard as it was, I still had my short story successes to focus on. A happier novelist = a better one!

So for those of you who write novels, and are just starting out with shorts, don’t give up – it will benefit your writing in all areas. I wish I’d started years earlier.

Thanks Sam! Best of luck with the book launch. I adore the cover, and will be buying this novel as soon as it's released tomorrow! 

Doubting Abbey - the blurb
Swapping downstairs for upstairs… How hard can it be!? Look up the phrase ordinary girl and you’ll see a picture of me, Gemma Goodwin – I only look half-decent after applying the entire contents of my make-up bag, and my dating track-record includes a man who treated me to dinner…at a kebab shop. No joke! The only extraordinary thing about me is that I look EXACTLY like my BFF, Abbey Croxley. Oh, and that for reasons I can’t explain, I’ve agreed to swap identities and pretend be her to star in the TV show about her aristocratic family’s country estate, Million Dollar Mansion. So now it’s not just my tan I’m faking – it’s Kate Middleton style demure hemlines and lady-like manners too. And amongst the hundreds of fusty etiquette rules I’m trying to cram into my head, there are two I really must remember; 1) No-one can ever find out that I’m just Gemma, who’d be more at home in the servants quarters. And 2) There can be absolutely no flirting with Abbey’s dishy but buttoned-up cousin, Lord Edward. Aaargh, this is going to be harder than I thought…

Monday, 4 November 2013

Guest Post - Helen Hunt gets competitive

As I mentioned a little while back, Helen Hunt is soon to take over the competitions column in Writers' Forum. Here she blogs about how she began writing, and asks for input for her column.

Competitive Edge – new competition page for Writer’s Forum

As some of you will already know, from the January 2014 issue of Writers' Forum, I'll be taking over the competition page from the wonderful Sally Quilford who has been running it for five years now.

Although this blog is mainly aimed at people who are writing for the women’s magazine market, I know that there are lots of you out there who enter competitions as well.

I’ve always had a love of competitions, because they’re a big part of how I got to where I am now. I started off writing for, and trying to get published by, women’s magazines several years ago, but back then I just didn’t seem to be able to get anything accepted.

So I took a detour down the competitions route, and it was there that I had my first fiction success. It was having one of my stories published as a result of a competition that kept me going in the face of what felt like endless rejections from women’s magazines. You’ll be able to read more about that in my first column!

These days I’m primarily a women’s magazine short story writer, but it was competition writing that gave me my first breakthrough and that’s why the subject is so dear to my heart, and I’m so pleased to be taking over this job.

As I prepare to take over the page, I want to hear from you if you’re a women’s magazine writer who also writes for competitions.

How do you balance writing women’s magazine stories with competition style stories? What are the main differences in approach? What do you think the areas of crossover are?

I also want to hear from people who have any competition news, views or queries. Let me know about your competition wins, or any unusual competitions you come across. And if you’re a competition judge or organiser, I’ll do my best to list your competition if you can send details three months ahead.

If you want to get in touch you can email the competition pages at competitiveedge(at)writers-forum(dot)com

I look forward to hearing from you.

Thanks very much to Womagwriter for letting me take over her blog today.

You're very welcome, Helen! And best of luck with the new column.

Edited - just found Writers' Forum on Facebook.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Guest post - Sharon Boothroyd on how she began writing

A few posts back , I wrote about how I began writing and how I had some invaluable early encouragement from a magazine editor. I asked then for posts from blog readers about how they got into writing, what made them start and what kept them going.

Here's Sharon Boothroyd's story:

I began writing seriously in 2010, when I managed to get a story published in Debut, the then sister magazine of Scribble.(Sadly, Debut folded a while ago –  however, Scribble still lives on!). 

I also entered a short story competition run by Linda Lewis. I didn't win – I wasn't even a runner up – but part of the entry fee included a critique from her. One sentence rang out – 'You write well.' From a high profile womag writer such as Linda, this was fantastic praise! 

I was chuffed to bits!

We kept up an email correspondence (on and off) and she has always encouraged me to never lose faith. 
She even decided to include my name and my question to her, in her 'Short story success' column for Writer's Forum magazine in October 2010, which was lovely to see!

Since then, I've continued writing and subbing regularly, and of course, reading and studying the stories in the magazines I hope to be published in. 

I realise that it's not an easy market to break into. When the rejections pile up, I take a break from stories, and focus on other projects for a while.

Then my mind is refreshed and I feel ready to start again. It's great to get paid for work, but I'm happy to write on a voluntary basis, too. Each writing success, whether big or small, is an achievement I feel immensely proud of.  
I know there's a lot of high quality womag writers out there, yet somehow, even in my more darkest, depressing moments, thanks to Linda, I've never lost my passion to write.

Three years later, we still keep in touch.

I haven't sold as many stories as Linda... but you never know what's around the corner! 

I love the way writers support each other. Does it happen in other professions to the same extent I wonder?
Sharon, by the way, is one half of the team which set up A Quick - a short story reading app for Android phones.
Sharon's website
Sharon's blog

Friday, 25 October 2013

Dear Editors

This is an open letter to all staff at the women's magazines dealing with submissions.

I've heard of a few cases recently where story submissions sent by post have been rejected and returned, and the writer has ended up having to pay excess postage.

This has happened for two different reasons:

  • Lots of stories have been stuffed into a single SAE, taking the weight over the limit.

  • An A5 SAE supplied by the writer has been taped onto an A4 envelope. The stamp supplied by the writer was only sufficient to cover small letter costs.

As you can imagine, it's very frustrating for a writer (or anyone!) to get one of those notes from the postman, saying they need to pay £1.50 or so to retrieve the letter. (You have to pay the excess postage plus a £1 admin fee.) The recipient has no idea what the letter will be until they pay the excess and collect the letter or have it redelivered.

So, please, if responding by email is not possible, please put a single rejection in the supplied envelope. If the writer has sent an A5 envelope, simply fold the submission. It will easily fit with one fold.

An alternative is for writers to stop supplying SAEs, and instead supply a stamped, addressed postcard marked with the story title and the word Rejection. The magazine staff could then simply post this and bin the story itself - if that would be acceptable to all?

Obviously none of this applies to those magazines who now use email only for submissions and responses, but there are still a few who prefer postal submissions (Take A Break, Woman's Weekly in particular). That's ok, we're happy to send by post, but we'd really prefer not to have to pay to get rejections!

Friday, 18 October 2013

The circle of writing

I got home last night to find a fab new review of Short Stories and How to Write Them, from Sally Zigmond. The review's on Amazon, and she's also put a lovely endorsement of the book on her blog. I went to bed last night with the biggest ever grin on my face. This review really means a lot - because she may not realise it, but Sally and I go wayyyyyyy back...

In the summer of 2003 I had just begun writing. I'd started a novel, and then an idea for a short story pinged into my head. Actually these days I would recognise that the idea was not a story - more a monologue - but I was new and inexperienced and excited, so I sat down and wrote it. It was from the point of view of a woman with advanced Motor Neuron Disease. She could no longer move, and lived out fantasies in her head. A family friend was dying of MND at the time, and I had her in mind as I wrote the story. When I'd completed it, I liked what I'd written and wondered, in the naive way of new writers, whether anyone would want to publish it.

I thought that the well-known women's magazines were probably not the best place to send my first ever story, and that I should start with a smaller market. So I searched online for women's short story magazines, and came across Quality Women's Fiction (QWF), then edited and owned by Jo Derrick. They paid £10 for a story, and I thought that seemed reasonable for my first ever offering, so I emailed it to them. Sally Zigmond was the submissions editor at the time.

I had a quick response from her, pointing out that if I'd bothered to read the submission guidelines I would see that they only took printed, mailed submissions.

Well, that was news to me. Submission guidelines? What were they? Did all magazines have them? Who'd have thought it!

So I went back to the website, found the guidelines, printed and posted the story along with a covering letter, and waited a month for the response.

When it came, it was a rejection, but Sally had taken the trouble to write half a page of feedback. I no longer have that email, sadly (owing a computer crash) but I remember that in amongst the criticism, Sally praised my writing style. She also pointed out that it wasn't really a story - there was no resolution - and she included suggestions on how to make it better.

Even in my dreadful naivety I realised that it was probably not the norm to get this amount of constructive feedback, and I treasured it. I rewrote the story, using some of Sally's suggestions, then resubmitted it to her. Still a rejection, but again, a lovely helpful email, and this whole experience gave me confidence that it was worth me continuing to write, and also taught me that I had a whole lot to learn.

I don't think I ever submitted to QWF again - I bought and read a few issues and as I progressed with writing, I realised my style was more suited to the women's magazines. But I never forgot Sally Zigmond's name, or the boost she'd given me right at the start of my writing career.

Fast forward a few years to 2007. By then I was beginning to have some success with the womags, and I decided to set up this blog. I had two aims:
1.  To put magazine submission guidelines in one, easy to find, place
2.  To try to pass on some of what I'd learned to other new writers

And fast forward again to 2013. I still regularly read Sally's blog, The Elephant in the Writing Room, and over the years have learned a lot from Sally. (I loved her novel Hope Against Hope and can't wait for her to publish another one.) I'm also facebook friends with Jo Derrick who now publishes The Yellow Room magazine.

So you can see why Sally's review of my book meant so much. It feels like we've come full circle.

How did you get into writing? Who or what gave you early encouragement? I'd love to hear your stories - if you've got a good one please consider writing a guest post for this blog!

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Blogging, and Best

Two things I wanted to draw your attention to today.

Firstly the non-controversial one - help author Nicola Morgan out by taking 5 minutes to fill in this survey on blogs. What are your blog-reading habits? What makes you go back to a blog over and over? I must admit I want to see the results of this survey! I'm wondering if blogging has had its day. Everyone seems to be on facebook or twitter instead, these days.

And secondly, the magazine Best is holding a Christmas short story competition. Details are here. 1000 words, with a top prize of £1000. You need vouchers to enter but they can be printed off the internet, the first one is here. Sounds great, doesn't it? BUT before you enter do read Helen Yendall's post on her experiences of being a runner-up in last year's competition. It seems Best will publish the top 3 stories but only pay the winner. Make sure you're happy with this before you enter.

Personally I would prefer to see the prize fund split between all writers whose stories end up published. Because although there's kudos in coming second or third and seeing your story in print, kudos doesn't pay the bills and that story can't then be sold elsewhere (first rights will have gone).

What do you think? Would you be happy to be second, published, and unpaid? Some writers have asked Best the question both on their website and on their Facebook page, whether the runners-up will be paid, but so far no one's had a response.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Short Stories and How to Write Them

I'm delighted to announce publication of my second How To book - Short Stories and How to Write Them. Now available from Amazon as a Kindle ebook, priced just £1.53!

It contains fourteen of my short stories, all previously published in the womags. After each story is a discussion section covering topics like dialogue, story structure, point of view, making time to write, and many more. So it's in the same format as my previous book, Ghost Stories and How to Write Them and I hope will be as well received as that one was.

Please take a look, buy it if you like what you see, and if you enjoy it, please leave a review and tell others!

If you don't have a Kindle but would like to read it, go here to download a free Kindle reading app for iPhone, iPad, Mac, Android device, laptop or PC.

Also available from

Friday, 11 October 2013

Competitive Edge

Have you got it? Do you want it?

Head on over to Helen Hunt's blog. She's taking over from Sally Quilford at the Writers' Forum competitions page. Sally's been writing that column and compiling the comps calendar for five years now, and has done a great job. But it's time for a change, and Helen is stepping into her shoes to take over the column, now renamed Competitive Edge. It'll still list competitions and contain articles about the art and craft of competition entry, and I'm sure Helen will be a worth successor to Sally!

Sunday, 6 October 2013

New website!

I've created a new website under my own name. It's here. Please pop over and say hello there! I'll be blogging about once a week on that site, about me, life, writing, whatever comes to mind.

Don't worry, I'll still keep this blog going, for any news or articles relating to writing fiction for women's magazines, but it'll be lovely to see you all over on the new blog as well.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Guest Post - Sam Tonge on being published by AlfieDog

I'm a big fan of Sam Tonge's blog where she interviews not only other writers but people connected with women's magazines such as fiction editors and illustrators. Her writing is going from strength to strength, and she has a new short story collection Sweet Talk just out, published by Alfie Dog Fiction, available as both an ebook and a print book. 

In this guest post she talks about her experiences of publishing through Alfie Dog, and why she chose this route rather than self-publish.

Alfie Dog Fiction is an innovative short-story publisher, offering hundreds of stories available to download, plus collections, some of which are out in paperback. They have just published my short story collection, “Sweet Talk”, so I thought I would share my experience with those of you who are considering submitting your stories to them - and those of you who, like me, have never been through the process of publishing a book.

Back in June, I started off submitting my individual stories to Alfie Dog Fiction, most of which had been previously published by women’s magazines. Each one accepted was posted on the site, and available for download for 39p a time – I would earn 16p from each sale. Not a huge amount, but, to my mind, more than I’d earn if said sold stories were left to languish in my computer files.

Having had a number accepted, I approached Alfie-Dog Fiction’s editor, Rosemary Kind, to see if she would be interested in putting together a collection of my feel-good stories. Several of my fellow magazine writers have self-published their own collections, but this was never an option for me. I considered it better to have Alfie-Dog’s platform to sell my book from, as well as my own, plus, of course, the benefit of Rosemary’s experience as an editor and publisher. Also, unlike some of my fellow writers, technically, I lack confidence and knowledge regarding the self-publishing model. I didn’t want to have to invest a large amount of writing time learning how to correctly – and professionally - format the cover and contents, get the book onto Amazon, buy the IBSN number, etc.

To my delight Rosemary was interested and our first task was to decide on a title, to be taken from one of the stories we were considering. I suggested what I thought would be the most uplifting, appealing ones – “Sweet Talk” or “Bluebirds of Happiness”. Rosemary liked both, so I canvassed friends for their opinions. In retrospect, what luck that the majority chose “Sweet Talk” because this meant we had a wide range of covers to choose from, and - more importantly - when it came to asking retail outlets to stock the book, there was an obvious market: sweet shops.

The great thing about working with a very small, independent publisher is the input I’ve been allowed to have, at every stage. Rosemary offered me approval on all the cover choices, the font to use, positioning of the words… A journalist photographer friend of hers took a picture in Rosemary’s local sweet shop, which we both deemed perfect. Cover decided, Rosemary then selected 20 of my stories, covering a wide range of subjects and seasons. We discussed which should go first. I wrote the dedication, the acknowledgements, a paragraph about myself and the blurb for the back and Amazon page, all under the beady eye of Rosemary of course.

We began talking about how the sweet shop cover would really appeal to sweet and gift shops and I consulted writing friends who had successfully got their books into various retail outlets. I thought “Sweet Talk” might sell well as a gift, due to its feel-good nature and appealing cover. How exciting it was when Rosemary decided to invest in doing a trial print-run with my book - a first for Alfie Dog. This meant we would have 100 books to get into shops and that this would be feasible because we could offer a decent, attractive discount of up to 30%. If we’d not done a traditional print-run and tried to get the POD paperback version, from Amazon, into shops, we would only have been able to offer an unappealing - and frankly unworkable - 10% discount.

 Doing the print run meant we needed to add another story, to fit the printer’s page requirements. Then finally the order was made and several weeks later, I met up with Rosemary – and her lovely dog, Alfie - to pick up my copies. This was very exciting!

I love the look and professional quality of the physical book and have put on my thick skin to get it into outlets. So far, we have done deals with a gift shop, sweet shop and post office. I am waiting to hear from a book shop.

It’s been a fascinating journey and one which, in many ways, is only just starting.

 I hope this post provides a comprehensive view of Alfie Dog Fiction and the opportunities this inspired publisher offers.

Thanks Sam! The book does look good enough to eat and what a great idea to market it in sweet shops and as a gift. I've not had chance to read it yet, but it's on my Kindle, and up next. 

Monday, 30 September 2013

Guest Post - Lynne Hackles

Many of this blog's readers will know Lynne Hackle's name from the womags or her many articles in the writing magazines, or via her books. Her latest book, Handy Hints for Writers is currently on offer at only 99p for the ebook version!  Here's a lovely guest post from her, explaining how her short stories all hold a little bit of her, sometimes literally...

I was on stage in a small theatre giving a workshop on short story writing. I’d taken a mixing bowl with me and was dropping story ‘ingredients’ into it as I explained them – a clock to show you need a time-scale, a picture of a riverboat to represent setting, a string of paper dollies to show how many characters work (I’d rip the heads off the superfluous ones). When it came to what I consider my special ingredient – a bit of myself – I’d planned to rip off my bracelet and toss it into the pot. I’d chosen an elasticated bracelet especially. It would be easy to remove. Too easy as it happens, or perhaps I was too exuberant. The bracelet shot off my arm, flew across the room and hit a lady in the front row right between the eyes.

I bet she remembers my secret ingredient.

There’s a bit of me in all my stories. It’s the grain of truth that makes a story seem real. I used my fear of getting too close to a child when my son dated a girl with a ready-ade family. The story was nothing like the real experience but I was able to use my real feelings. The Monster Upstairs, one of my favourites, was written after I’d told my little grandson’s dad how to get rid of an imaginary monster. I used the method in the story - get a big box and a stick, catch the monster in the box and take it to the tip - but the mum in it
was single and wondering if her son would take to the new boyfriend. He was the hero who caught the monster.

When, for the first time in many years, the LSO and I visited a fairground I gave my experience of that visit to a character whose husband was in a rut and she took him back to the days when they met and had been to the fair.

Before I became a full-time writer I had over fifty different jobs. Most of them have been used in my stories as settings or minor parts of a plot – a building society, fish and chip shop, being a nanny... There is one yet to appear. It’s a tricky one. I watched dirty videos and typed reports about them when I was working for a company who put cameras down sewers.

For me, adding that bit of personal experience is the key to getting acceptances. It’s the sparkle in a story. My book Writing From Life came about because of this. The subtitle is ‘how to turn your personal experience into profitable prose’ (How To Books). When the editor read my proposal she said she couldn’t believe that I’d used my husband’s heart attack to sell stories/articles to half a dozen different markets.

Now I’ve put all my writing experience into a book. Handy Hints for Writers (Compass Books) holds everything I’ve learned about writing. It’s been described as informative, helpful and amusing. It’s only been out for a couple of weeks and is being sold as an ebook for 99p during the last two weeks of this month. Why not treat yourself? What I’ve learned over thirty years you can gain access to in a few hours.

And my final bit of advice –not in the book – Beware of elasticated bracelets.

Thanks Lynne! Great guest post, and your book is a bargain, now installed on my Kindle. I can also recommend Lynne's other book Writing from Life, which is available in print as well as ebook

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Novels and How Tos

This blog's been a bit quiet lately and I'm aware I've only posted links or guest posts for some time now. I thought you might be interested in what I've been working on recently, and what's become of the novels I've mentioned here before. So here's an update.

I've written two complete novels. The first was the one based on my family history research, and featured the lovely Henry who took over this blog on one of Sally Q's Blog Takeover days. I wrote and edited that novel, got some professional feedback on it, and then put it aside, knowing that it wasn't really commercial. That's the problem with basing fiction on real life - the facts get in the way of a good story.

I then wrote another novel - a time-slip one with two linked stories in different time period unfolding in alternate chapters. This also has a genealogical angle but is entirely fictional. The 1-line 'elevator pitch' for it is: What happens if, when researching your family tree, you discover not a metaphorical skeleton in a closet but an actual skeleton, buried in the garden of a house once occupied by your ancestors?

I loved writing this second novel, and am now trying to find an agent for it. There's been a smattering of interest - two agents asked for the full manuscript - but no takers as yet. I live in hope.

And now I'm planning another novel, also time-slip, with a contemporary and a World War Two story unfolding side by side. I also have an idea for a 4th novel...

In between, I've written a second How To book: Short Stories and How to Write Them. This follows the same format as my Ghost Stories book - ie it is part anthology and part how to. I'm waiting for my son to complete a cover design for it, and it needs a final proof-read, then it'll be ready for publication. Don't worry, I'll let you all know when it's ready!

I'm vaguely planning to use CreateSpace to produce a print version of the two How To books in one volume. They're both a bit short to be worth printing by themselves, but will work combined into one. What do you think - would you buy it?

Monday, 23 September 2013

Timeline Tool

A short guest post from Wendy Clarke introducing her new, improved writers' timeline tool:

You may remember last December, I told you all here on this lovely blog about a free resource my husband had created to help you with your planning: Wendy's Story Timeline.

I wanted to let you know that my lovely husband has been at it again!

Whilst using the timeline for one of my stories, I came across a problem. I knew that I wanted my character to be age 18 at the beginning of WW1 (1914) but unless I used my fingers (I'm not too good at mental arithmetic) I had no idea in which year she would have been born, in order to place her on my timeline.

 'I'll sort it,' said my husband and he set aside a Sunday to solve the problem for me (and you).

He has created a new version of the timeline to include a fantastically useful 'Date of Birth Calculator'. You can put in the year of an event and the age you want your character to be at that time and the birth calculator will tell you in which year they were born. You then add the character's year of birth into the timeline and - hey presto - you have all the information you need for your story.

The new timeline can be downloaded from my writing blog for free. Once again I would just ask that you leave a comment or give me a mention if you use it or share it.

I hope you all find it useful.

Thanks Wendy! Here's the link

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Haunted Hallway

I'm delighted to be a guest in Sarah England's Fiction Hotel this week. She's put me in the Haunted Hallway and asked about my Ghost Stories book, and also about my current writing projects. Please pay a visit - it's very spooky in there all by myself!

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Wannabe a writer - part 2

Part 2 of Jane Wenham-Jones's marvellous pilot TV show is now available to watch here.

You might remember in part 1 the very brave wannabe writer Delphine met top agent Carole Blake and got some hard-hitting but very useful feedback on her novel. In part 2 Delphine meets best-selling writer Katie Fforde, and picks up some tips and techniques on how to improve her novel for when she resubmits it to Carole. A must-see!

If you're interested in taking part in a possible series of this TV show, you can sign up on the website here.

Another, and possibly easier way to find an agent is to research them via this new website - LitFactor. You can search for agents, find their requirements and track your submissions all in one place. If you're at that stage with a novel it looks like a very useful site. Along with AgentHunter I'm thinking the old way of finding agents by thumbing through the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook is looking decidedly outdated!

Monday, 9 September 2013

David Young

Nip on over to Sam Tonge's blog where she's having coffee and cake with the rather dishy David Young, illustrator for People's Friend. If you've ever wondered who paints the pictures which go with your stories - here's your answer!

Saturday, 7 September 2013

A couple of things to check out...

1.  Amanda Brittany is running a series of interviews on her blog with writers who've made the jump from short stories to novels. The first one, with Cally Taylor, is up there now and well worth a read.

2.  And to give yourself a kick start if crossing over to novels is what you want to do, check out the competition which Lynne Hackles writes about here. Send your novel's first page for a chance to win a weekend writing retreat at beautiful Kimmeridge, just down the road from where I live. I'll be entering - I really fancy this prize!

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Back to School

Tomorrow my 15 year old (creator of this wonderful little trailer for my Ghost Stories book) goes back to school, and starts his final year of GCSE courses. And in two weeks my 18 year old (star of the trailer) goes off to university for the first time. The sun's still shining down here in Bournemouth, but summer's almost over. We'll go blackberrying at the weekend and make jam, and that's usually the full stop on summer activities.

Last week while on holiday I read Cally Taylor's anthology, Tears and Rain, which she wrote about in the guest post below. It's a superb little anthology - the stories are all linked by a loose theme of hope after loss. I can highly recommend it.

And just when I thought I was catching up with reading all the wonderful anthologies you brilliant writer-friends have published, along comes another which I just had to buy. Have a look at the product description for Douglas McPherson's collection of serials (previously published in My Weekly) The Blue Rinse Brigade and you'll see what I mean. Sounds irresistible, and only £1.98!

Great cover, isn't it? As a follow up to Cally's post on self-publishing, you might be interested to hear this cover was created simply using Kindle Cover Creator, and used a free image from the limited selection available, which he then cropped.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Guest Post - Cally Taylor on How to Self-Publish

Everyone's at it these days, and the latest short story collection by a writer-friend is Cally Taylor's Secrets and Rain, which is sitting on my Kindle waiting for me to read it while on my cycle-touring holiday in Brittany next week. She offered the following guest post for this blog, showing just how she went about self-publishing. (My own route was much the same except I cut more costs by doing my own proof-reading and asking my son to design the cover.)

So, over to Cally! 

Self-publishing a collection of short stories: a brief how-to guide

I’m best known for my chicklit novels ‘Heaven Can Wait’ and ‘Home for Christmas’ but, what some people might not know, is that I started my career writing short stories.
I submitted my first story in 2005 and, after dozens of rejections, received my big break (and a huge boost to my confidence) in 2006 when I was placed second in the Woman’s Own short story competition. Since then I’ve been published by Take a Break Fiction Feast, My Weekly and My Cat magazine amongst others and, whilst the majority of my time is spent writing novels (my first psychological thriller ‘The Accident’ will be published by Avon HarperCollins in June 2014) my first love will always be short stories.
Although I’ll always advocate traditional publishing  it’s near impossible, unless you’re a big name author, to get a deal for a short story collection so this month, with my agent’s blessing, I decided to self-publish my own collection (‘Secrets and Rain’) on Amazon.
So…how did I do it? And how much did it cost? Here’s a brief ‘how to’ guide:
Select your stories
The first thing I did was to go through my previously published stories and pick out the ones I was most fond, or most proud, of.  ‘Wish You Were Here’ the story that came second in Woman’s Own was a no-brainer, so was ‘My Daughter the Deep Sea Diver’ which came third in the Writers’ Bureau competition and ‘Under the Waves’ which won the Bank Street Writers competition. I was definitely proud of those stories.
But what of the rest? ‘The Little Box of Wishes’ had to go in as it was the first story I had accepted by Take a Break Fiction Feast (I was so chuffed with the magazine I put it on my wall!), so did ‘Dinner for Eight’ which was commended in the Southport Writers competition (and made me cry when I wrote it) and several other stories that were poignant and meant a lot to me. But I didn’t want the collection to be too sad so I also picked out several, more light-hearted stories, to balance that out. So in went ‘Rent-a-Cat’, ‘Marry Me Man’ and ‘The Woman Who Became a Tree’.
Selecting the stories to go in took the longest time and I had to read and re-read the collection to check the flow was right (even then I had to do a last minute tweak when my proof-reader told me I had two stories about infertility in a row).
My formatter commented that all my stories had the same theme – ‘hope after loss’ – even the funny ones. I didn’t intentionally select them on their theme but, if you’re struggling, selecting by theme could work really well for a collection.
Get it proof-read
If I were self-publishing a novel I’d insert ‘get it edited’ before ‘get it proof-read’ but, as I’d had all my stories published at some point I knew there weren’t any glaring editorial errors so decided to skip that step. Rates for proof-reading are quotes in pounds sterling (or euro) per 1,000 words. I found they ranged from £5 to £8 per 1,000 words. My friend Laura Barclay is a qualified proof-reader and charges £5 per 1,000 words. Luckily she did it ‘mates rates’ for me so I saved some money there. Regardless of cost I’d HUGELY recommend her. She spotted things I’d missed even though these were stories I’d read and re-read myself over and over and again before I’d submitted them to Norah, Gayle etc (I cringe now knowing they weren’t perfect when I sent them in!).
Format for Kindle
There are lots of different ereaders out there but Kindle is by far and away the most popular and, in my research to see whether other self-published authors were targeting all the ereaders or just Kindle I found several blog posts where the author said 90% of their sales were on Amazon. So, format for Kindle it was (it seemed like the easiest way).
I’m pretty web savvy and decided to do my own formatting (where you format your Word document so it’s suitable for Kindle). I bought a formatting template (you can get one here and on various other sites) but, when I ran into difficulties and the edits for my newest novel appeared in my inbox I thought ‘sod it, I’m going to pay someone else to do it for me’. How much you pay for formatting can really depend on who you ask. The average rate I was quoted for a 22,000 word anthology was between £30 and £60. Luckily I have a friend who did it for mates rates so saved a bit of cash there too.
Cover Design
Again, I tried to save money and attempted to design the cover myself. Big mistake, huge! Not only did I spend lots of money buying photos and images from Shutterstock that I didn’t actually use but my designs were awful. The two I’ve posted publicly (you can see them on my blog here) were too chicklit-y and too summery. Neither of them reflected the image or tone I wanted my book to convey or represented the theme of the stories (‘hope after loss’). This is where I called in the experts and spent the majority of my money.
I used Design for Writers because I’d seen what a good job they’d done on DJ Kirby’s midwife book and on Clodagh Murphy’s novel. Design for Writers charge (at the time of press) between £149 and £209 depending on whether you want an ebook only or ebook and paperback cover. When you sign up with them they set up a private ‘design forum’ internet site where they ask you lots of questions (‘what’s the theme of your book?’ ‘which covers do you love/loath?’ ‘Are there any specific images/moments in your book that might make for a good cover?’ etc) and you answer them. I had to think long and hard before I answered the questions, particularly the one about ‘which other books would you like to see your book sitting alongside?’ as they really focus you on the market for your book. I’ve never used another design firm so I have nothing to compare Design for Writers against but I’d use them again in a heartbeat. Their first attempt at a cover for me was so perfect I pretty much signed off the project there and then.
Sign up to KDP Select
This was the bit I was worried about. Surely the whole uploading/publishing bit would be really difficult? Not so. All you have to do is Google ‘KDP Select’ and then click on the link. If you’ve ever bought goods from Amazon you’ll already have an account with them so you just need to enter those details into the sign in. Then it’s just a case of entering the details of your book (title, description, author etc), upload the cover, upload the file, decide on the price you want to charge (You get 70% of the cover price if your book is priced £1.49 and above, 30% of the cover price if it’s below £1.49), select which Amazon territories you want it published in (I clicked ‘all’ so my book is available in Amazon US, Amazon Germany, Amazon Brazil, Amazon India etc etc) and whether you want it DRM protected (i.e. whether people can rip it off or not. Some people choose not to have it protected as, some people claim, illegal rip-offs can help market you as a writer!).
And that’s it. You press publish and, within 12 hours, your self-published book is up on and all their international sites. If you want to make any changes to the description or file you go back to KDP Select, make your changes and it’ll be updated on Amazon within 12 hours. You also go there to view your sales figures. Oh! One thing you will need for KDP Select is your bank’s IBAN and BIC codes (you can get these by calling your branch) as Amazon will need these to set up a monthly direct debit to pay you your share of the sales.
And that’s pretty much it!
I paid £250 in total to self-publish my collection of short stories and it could cost you more (I calculated a maximum of £400 if you pay full price for proof-reading, formatting and cover) or less if you’re a graphic artist or know one who could do it for mate’s rates.
And if you’d like to download a collection of previously published and prizewinning short stories to your Kindle to see what it looks like you could…if you’re feeling so inspired…buy mine! (Only £1.53 for a limited time).
Do let me know if you take my advice and have a go at self-publishing your own collection!

Buy ‘Secrets and Rain’ from
Buy ‘Secrets and Rain’ from

Thursday, 22 August 2013

Woman's Weekly - change of house style

In a recent letter to contributors, Woman's Weekly mentioned a few things it is worth me passing on:

  • They have changed their house style, and from now on will use single quotes rather than double for speech marks. Therefore when submitting to WW it would be very helpful if writers would use single quotes.
  • Please always put your name, the story title and your email address on the first page of the story itself, not just on the cover sheet. (Actually I always put these on every page - the title and my name in the header and the page number and my email address in the footer.)
  • WW are currently looking for stories of all their preferred lengths - 1000 words, 2000 words, and 2500-8000 longer reads.
Happy writing!

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Wannabe a TV star?

Jane Wenham-Jones, novelist, columnist, womag-writer and author of the Wannabe a Writer? books, has a new project brewing. She's trying to get a TV reality show off the ground - one which follows wannabe writers as they try to get a publishing deal.

She's produced a pilot episode for the show, with the help of a talented TV producer/director, and you can watch the first part of it here.  In it, an immensely brave first-time novelist Delphine submits her novel to a top agent, Carole Blake, and receives some valuable feedback. In part 2, which will be available later in September, Delphine seeks advice from an as yet unnamed best-selling novelist.

All very exciting, and what's even more exciting, is that if the show takes off, Jane will need other writers to take part. She's also interested in hearing from short story writers, and I imagine would try to persuade some of the magazine editors to take part as well... If you're interested, sign up here.

Do watch the pilot - it's very well put together and makes for a fascinating programme. I really hope this show gets picked up by a production company. I'm far too shy and retiring to volunteer for it myself but I would love for at least one of my blog readers to be involved (you could give me a plug...)!

Thursday, 15 August 2013

All power to the Friend!

If you've 'liked' the People's Friend on Facebook you may have seen the lovely news posted today, that the latest official magazine circulation figures show that PF has increased its circulation by 1.3%, more than any other traditional women's magazine!  Well done to PF - shows readers do still want fiction-led magazines! 
Here's the link.

Talking of PF I heard on the grapevine today that they're in need of some longer stories at the moment - those in the range 2500-3500 words. So to increase your chances of a sale, try writing something of that length. 

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Hard Graft

I'll get back to writing my own, longer blog posts eventually I'm sure, but in the meantime, take a look at Sally Zigmond's excellent blog in which she has posted about the need for hard graft especially when writing for the womags.

I had a fabulous holiday, by the way, and am just getting back to my own hard graft. Currently working on another how to/anthology to sit alongside Ghost Stories and How to Write Them. More news in the autumn when I hope to have finished it!

Edited - link to Sally's blog above now doesn't work. She removed her post for reasons given here. Shame. There's privacy, and then there's genuine interest from people working in the same field. 

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Sally's Birthday Giveaway!

My great friend Sally Quilford is 50 today, and to celebrate, she is giving away over 50 prizes to her blog readers. To be in with a chance of winning - simply go here and wish her a happy birthday!

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Interview with Shirley Blair from PF

I am off on holiday in a matter of hours, but first had to let you know that Sam Tonge is promising tea and coffee with Shirley Blair, fiction ed of People's Friend, on her blog next week.

So do keep an eye on it and don't miss it!

Monday, 22 July 2013

Are we all enjoying the sunshine?

Down here on the south coast we've had four weeks now of relentless sunshine. After complaining about the freezing Spring, no one dares mutter about the heat! I'm lucky enough to live just five minutes from the beach, and we've certainly enjoyed life lately - hence the lack of posts. We're due a storm tonight I think, so that might be the end of it. I don't mind - we're off camping in the Alps at the end of this week, which I'm very much looking forward to. So this will be the last post for a few weeks.

Meanwhile, here are a few bits and pieces for you.

Writer Douglas McPherson, or at least his alter ego Julia Douglas, has managed to secure royal approval for one of his books. Something to aspire to, hey? Full story here.

I've advertised Sally Quilford's online writing courses on this blog several times. If you've ever wondered what they're like, take a look at Charlie Britten's blog here where she writes about her experiences taking Sally's recent short story course. If that inspires you, why not consider taking Sally's online romance writing course? Details here, but hurry as I think it's nearly full.
Edited 23/7/13 to add that Sally has just announced a one day workshop on writing romance - in Chesterfield on 28th Sept. Full details here

Last weekend I was at Della Galton's book launch for her brilliant novel, Ice and a Slice, which is now available as a paperback. If you wish you could have been there, take a look at her photos on her blog, here.

Finally, I've been so delighted with the response to Ghost Stories and How to Write Them I've decided to write another hybrid How To/anthology with a similar structure. It'll take a little while to complete, but watch this space!

Hope you all enjoy the rest of the summer!

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Two competitions

Whether you like writing long or short stuff, there's always a suitable competition for your work. Here are two from the extremes:

The Bath Novel Award  - Send the first 5000 words of your novel plus synopsis, by end February 2014 (so there is loads of time!) Top prize is £1000, and the judge is a literary agent, so there's more to be won if she really likes your work.

If you can't face writing a novel, how about writing a single line? Fleeting Books are running a competition to find a brilliant new rule for writers. Something along the lines of  "Write drunk, edit sober" (Hemingway) or "There's a word for a writer who never gives up: Published" (J A Konrath). Send in your own pearls of wisdom by 31st July for a chance to be included in a new book 'No Cheap Tricks', invites to launch dos plus £100 cash.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Want to write romance?

Sally Quilford is running a course this autumn on writing romances. It's a one-to-one course, managed via email, and at the end of it you will have all the components of a category romance novel. If you've ever thought about trying your hand at romances, either for the pocket novel market, or for Mills and Boon or the other romance publishers, this is a great opportunity to learn the craft. Participants on the course also get a free ebook, Love Craft which I can personally vouch for (of course, I'm on its cover!!) Sally has sold countless pocket novels (at least, I've lost count) and really knows her stuff.

Full details and how to sign up, here.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

New website, end of an era, story arcs

A few bits and pieces for you today.

Firstly, writer Samantha Tonge has a lovely new website, and best of all, she's added a page of tips on writing for People's Friend. Of all the magazines, I feel this one has the strongest identity. I know many excellent writers who've never managed to get a story published in PF, where others seem to quickly hit the right tone and go on to sell dozens. Sam's in the latter camp, and is kindly passing on her tips to the rest of us!

Secondly, for those of you who enter writing competitions, take a look at Sally Q's latest writing calendar blog post. Sadly she's giving up keeping this calendar up to date at the end of this year. If anyone fancies setting up their own calendar, or perhaps if you already run one, let me know and I'll add a link to it from this blog. Thanks to Sally for all your hard work over the last 5 years, keeping us informed about all the competitions available.

And finally, it's not just me who likes graphs of story arcs. See Della's latest post! If you've read my ghost story book, you'll know I included some graphs in the introductory section. What do you all think - does it help to think of story structure in this way? I come from a mathematical and scientific background, and I do find a diagram often illustrates a concept far better than a string of words (and me, a writer?! *rolls eyes*). But what about the rest of you? I'd love to know what you think.

Sunday, 23 June 2013

Galaxy Domination

My lovely sons have made a promotional video for Ghost Stories and How to Write Them. Starring my 18 year old, filmed, narrated and produced by my 15 year old. Thanks, boys!

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Guest Post by Helen Laycock

I don't know about you, but I am always fascinated to read about other writers' journeys - how they got started, the different types of writing they tried before they began to find success etc. Most of us on this blog have concentrated to a greater or lesser extent on women's magazine fiction, but here's a lovely post by a writer who targetted short story competitions with a good degree of success.

My husband is a scientist. He sees the world in black and white. His dreams are one-liners and he is unable to picture what is not there. He finds peculiar – and I think is rather jealous of – the imaginary world into which I can slip at any moment. We writers are so fortunate in having not only the real world that ‘everyone else’ inhabits, but an alternative, boundless world which we can tweak to our heart’s content.

I can’t even recall my first foray into writing. It must have been as a child with ‘Once upon a time’.

It was 2005 when a friend of mine, who had embarked on an Open University course in Creative Writing, mentioned that there were writing magazines out there with competitions. By that time, I had quite a collection of poetry and I had also begun to write books for children. Pleased to have a new goal, I began to dabble more in short stories, working to a word count, working to a theme. Having a set number of words was stressful to begin with. What if I got carried away? What if my creativity were crushed? But the more I practised, the more I felt the shape of the story taking form in just the right number of words. Often I write to the absolute maximum. You wouldn’t believe how hard it can be sometimes to lose one extraneous word! Reading winning entries showed me that what the judges were looking for was something that stood out from the pack.

When I first saw my name in Writing Magazine that same year, I was thrilled. I hadn’t won, but was shortlisted in their Annual Love Story Competition with a story called ‘’Til Death Do Us Part’. In the same magazine I was later shortlisted for the Adult Fairy Story which was great fun to write. Other shortlistings include Writers’ Forum with a bizarre story (currently awaiting judging elsewhere) and the Erewash Creepy Christmas Chiller Competition with my first horror tale. One of my stories recently won third place in an Internet competition and that will be included in an anthology next year. I also have a few pieces included in the One Word Anthology, an e-book, soon to become paperback, produced by my online writing group.

Having had a few sniffs round by publishers, but nothing further, I made my children’s books into ebooks. I then realised that I could share my short stories by doing the same. I categorised similar tales together and so became ‘Peace and Disquiet’, a collection of twelve darker stories, and ‘Light Bites’ which, as the title suggests, are more light-hearted compositions. I am no computer guru, but, luckily, my husband is. He helped with… okay, DID all the formatting for me. I made the covers by experimenting with photos. The hardest part was not the writing. It was, and is, the ongoing promotion which requires technological know-how in terms of social networking. (I’m still confused by hash tags and how strangers can see my Facebook page.)

 I have lots more stories. There are a few written specifically for forthcoming competitions, but they will eventually take their places in my next two collections which, again, seem to divide very neatly into those of a slightly unsettling nature and those which are just a laugh. I’ve got the titles ready too. It’s been a wonderful journey, and one that I shall enjoy continuing to travel. One reviewer wrote: ‘This is the work of an accomplished writer, one with true knowledge of the craft’. It tells me that I must be doing something right.

Thanks Helen! We often forget, I think, that writing competitions can be considered a market. Although the number of women's magazines publishing fiction is diminishing, there are as many competitions as there ever were, and winning or being placed in a few can be quite lucrative and a good outlet for your work. If you want help finding suitable competitions, try Sally Quilford's Competition Calendar.

Do check out Helen's books. I've just bought Light Bites and am hoping for some more sunshine this weekend so I can do what I do best: sitting in the garden, reading. 

Helen's Amazon Author page is here