Wednesday 29 June 2022

From Story Idea to Reader - 2nd edition

Rosemary J. Kind and I have updated From Story Idea to Reader. It's still got everything which earned it review comments such as 'a great resource' 'very inspirational' and 'excellent book packed full of useful information'. Topics covered include getting started as a writer, finding ideas, writing for competitions, plotting, titles, blurbs, social media, feedback, editing and proofreading etc etc* but now there's more.

We've added sections on creating audio books, dealing with gender and creating covers. 
The sections on womag writing, self- publishing and the business side of writing have all been updated, as there have been a lot of changes recently.

The second edition is available as a paperback or ebook here, or can be read for free through kindle unlimited. The audio version hasn't been updated, but if you order that you'll also get a pdf of the new version, so won't miss out.

*See Amazon's 'look inside' feature for a full list of topics covered.

Monday 20 June 2022

Any excuse

Here are some photos from our current travels in Ireland, plus a few bits of writing news to justify a post ...

Free entry competition news

 This short story competition with the theme clean vs green offers a £500 prize.

The theme for On The Premises latest short story competition is 'Objects In Motion' and first prize is $250.

Publication opportunities news

Thanks (again!) to Alyson for passing on some information – this time it's about a publisher looking for unagented authors of complete novels.

My news

You can read all chapters of my romance Escape To The Country for free here 

Saturday 18 June 2022

Copyright - the early years

As part of out travels we visited Donegal Castle, in Donegal town, in County Donegal (photos taken there and at the abbey). We had a very interesting tour where we learned how little we knew of Irish history! The part which most captured my imagination concerned one of the earliest copyright cases. In around 561 a man called Colm Cille borrowed a bookfrom St Finnian. He may not have been a saint at the time, and Colm certainly wasn't as he copied the book without permission – books were a really big deal back then. When Finnian found out, he was rightly furious and demanded Colm hand over the copy (later known as the cathach). He refused and eventually the King of Ireland ruled on the matter.

The King said 'to every cow her calf, to every book its copy' and said that Colm should give up his plagiarised version. Colm didn't accept this and he and his clan went to war on the matter. Many lives were lost. Later Colm felt great remorse that his copying the book had resulted in such tragedy. He did many good works and himself eventually became a saint. 

Thankfully these days we don't tend to have physical battles over copyright rules, but it's still an important and emotive subject. That's why I (repeatedly) urge writers to read and understand contracts and competition rules before signing or submitting work and only proceed if they're willing to agree to the stated terms. I don't advise that anyone give up all rights on their writing – but the decision is yours.

Wednesday 15 June 2022

Over To You

Womag news

Do you have any womag news?

Are you researching, writing, subbing? Had any acceptances or rejections? Any other news?

Feel free to use the as a picture prompt. If you'd like other writing prompts, short exercises and story/scene suggestions then you might find this book useful.

Free entry writing competition news

I'd love to hear your competition news.

Do you have writing tips to share, questions to ask, or suggestions for this blog?

Saturday 11 June 2022

Guest post by Geraldine Ryan – Little Murders Every Day


I’ve always loved the definition of a good story as one that consists of a beginning, a muddle and an ending. In other words, your story need something to happen. It needs a Plot.

Novelist E. M. Forster wrote:- ‘The King died and then the Queen died is a story. The King died, and then the Queen died of grief is a plot.’

So what’s the difference between a) and b)? Well, plenty. For starters a) isn’t going to make anywhere near your word count, is it? It’s over before it’s begun. Whereas, just think of all the questions b) provokes! Think of the muddles you can get the Queen into and then, finally, out of. Was her grief genuine? Was it, in fact, guilt that killed her in the end? Did she kill him? Or was it her lover who did the deed?

Plot then is what happens. Some writers insist they never plot. They start with character, they say, or setting. Look, there are no right answers or we’d all be Richard Osman by now. I’m somewhere in the middle of being a plotter and a pantser in that I know where I want to get to but I’m not always sure of the journey. As writer Flannery O’ Connor said:- ‘I have to write to discover what I’m doing.’

One thing is certain though. You need to give your character a muddle to get out of. And so, once your story’s finished and the muddle has been resolved, your theme will emerge. Because if Plot is what happens, then Theme is what the story says. It tells us something about the world and alters our view of it.

A plot can be plotted, but I’m not convinced that a theme can be themed. For example, there you sit at your computer, fingers poised. You need to come up with an idea for a story and quickly if you want to avoid getting the gas turned off.

‘I know!’ you tell the cat. ‘I’ll write about Poverty. Because as a writer of magazine stories that’s something I’m greatly familiar with.’

And then you sit there. And you sit there. And nothing happens. Because Poverty is a big word and a big theme and you just don’t know where to start.

Then you remember that young woman you pass on the street every day, huddled beneath her blanket, her faithful dog by her side. You don’t know her. Maybe you’ve never even spoken to her. Maybe you were too embarrassed. Felt guilty, waltzing past with your bag full of shopping – your vegan cup cakes and your packet of organic pasta.

Your mind wanders away from the girl beneath the blanket to the woman walking by. A character emerges. What if, suddenly, when she gets home, this woman’s high-flying husband is being led out of the house by the Police, having been accused of fraud. Suddenly she finds herself insolvent. So you write your story. Your plot gains momentum. And, once it’s finished, you discover the theme that has emerged. It’s not about poverty after all. It’s about something else altogether – loyalty, or self-discovery or finally understanding who your real friends are.

I’m not saying you can’t get a story by starting with a theme. But writing is about exploration. If you start with a theme already in your head, you’re likely to end up with a story that holds no surprises for you. It won’t throw any light on how you see the world and if it won’t do that for you then it’s unlikely to do it for your reader. Your story probably won’t be the story you’d have written if you’d started with a theme instead of starting with a character, putting her under pressure and tracking her journey. But it’ll be all the better for that.

If CHARACTER + MUDDLE + WAY OUT OF MUDDLE is a plot, then, depending on the sort of person she is, your character will react to her muddle in the way she generally reacts to muddles. And if she’s a different sort of person she’ll react to the same muddle in a very different way.

Each reaction to the same situation will be different because each character is different. And as long as the writer is faithful to the character they’ve drawn, once we put her under pressure, the easier it will be to trust that the direction she’ll take will be the one that best suits her nature and from there your theme will emerge.

Can I just add that I’m not talking about novel writing here – where undoubtedly more than one theme will emerge. I’m talking about short stories, where the number of words restricts or – depending how you look at it – focuses the writer. Because in a story of 1000 words, you’re going to have to make choices and get rid of anything you can’t devote proper attention to that might sidetrack the reader

American novelist and short story writer Gail Godwin wrote about the choices a writer has to make when beginning a new story, where lots of ideas collide and you have to settle on one.

“The choice is always a killing one,” she wrote. “One option must die so that the other may live. I do little murders every day.”

Sound familiar, fellow writers?

Geraldine has produced a collection of short stories, which is available here.

About the author – Geraldine Ryan is a proud Northerner who has spent most of her life in Cambridge – the one with the punts. She holds a degree in Scandinavian Studies, but these days only puts it to use when identifying which language is being spoken among the characters of whatever Scandi drama is currently showing on TV. For many years, she worked as a teacher of English and of English as a second or foreign language, in combination with rearing her four children, all of whom are now grown-up, responsible citizens. Her first published story appeared in My Weekly in 1993. Since then, her stories have appeared in Take a Break, Fiction Feast and Woman’s Weekly, as well as in women’s magazines abroad. She has also written two young adult novels – Model Behaviour (published by Scholastic) and The Lies and Loves of Finn (Channel 4 Books.) She plans for Riding Pillion with George Clooney to be the first of several short story anthologies.

Keep up to date with Geraldine’s news, be the first to hear about her new releases and read exclusive content by signing up to her monthly newsletter Turning the Page. By adding your details, you’ll also receive a free short story. Use this link to subscribe:

Monday 6 June 2022

In conversation with Sheelagh Mooney

When Sheelagh Mooney discovered our travels would take us near Ardagh, she invited us to visit the wonderful eco garden she and her husband Brendan have created. I took many photos! (If you'd like to see those of other places we've visited then follow me on Facebook and sign up for my newsletter.)

As well as talking about gardens, we discussed writing, particularly those things we've learned since starting out and which we feel might be helpful for newer writers to know. For example, not all rejections are equal. If the editor (or publisher) has taken the time to give any kind of feedback or encouragement then this is a positive thing. They simply don't have the time to think up something nice or helpful to say to every person who submits – much as some might like to. Their time and effort will be concentrated on those writers they feel have the potential to produce work they can use. 

Getting suggestions to rework a piece might feel as they you're way off the mark, but the complete opposite is true. The editor has seen something they really like and wants to help you turn it into a published story or article. If you're ever asked to make changes, it's a really good idea to try. Although there's still no guarantee of acceptance, you'll learn a lot in the process, both about what works for that market and about your own writing.

Many new writers can think that receiving nothing but rejections for weeks, months, even years must mean their work isn't good. That's not necessarily true. Check that you're following all the guidelines – if you submit work in the wrong form or genre, to the wrong address, at the wrong time, work of the wrong length etc then the magazine won't be able to use it no matter how good it is. 

It's tempting to think that once you've been published you've made it and rejections are a thing of the past. Sadly that's not true. Each story or other piece of writing will be judged on its merits, rather than your publication history. Perhaps there are womag writers out there who have every single submission accepted, but I still get rejections, and so does Sheelagh and every one of my writing friends and critique buddies. Please try not to be demoralised by what's a normal part of the process.

Are there things you've learned since you started, which you feel it might help new writers to know?

One thing we discussed wasn't specific to writing, but no less important because of that. We both feel it's important to make the most of life by finding ways to spend time doing things you enjoy. That could be travelling and having adventures, staying home and creating a garden, writing a poem, story, article, or novel.