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Welcome to The Literary Pig's blog - a safe haven for all those afflicted with
the unbearable urge to write.

Monday 31 December 2012

A writing year in review

Blimey is that 2012 all done with already? And what a year with the Queen's Diamond Jubilee and 2 sets of Olympics to cheer about. Hopefully you've had plenty to cheer about in your writing too. The Indoor Writer looks back on her writing year highlights as she starts to set out some new goals for 2013 (more in a later post):

April - a day out at the London Book Fair to pitch my children's novel to a publisher. Pitch was unsuccessful but a great experience (more here about surviving my day at the fair).
May - my first ever sale to a magazine. Short story sold to Fiction Feast (and published in November).
Sep - joined a local poetry group, meeting once a month, and I've started writing poetry again.
Oct - first sale to The People's Friend (my mum pretty chuffed about this).
Dec - converted a short story into a one act play. This has inspired me to consider writing a longer play and possibly a screenplay.

April - Won a bursary place at West Country Writers' Annual Literary Weekend - a real treat and met some lovely writers. More here.
June - Steyning Festival Short Story Competition. This is the biggest win to date and I had a fabulous day with Handsome Hubby at Wiston House for prize giving ceremony and lunch. Also got to meet Simon Brett and Elly Griffiths! More on this here.
August - Won a free week plus accommodation to Swanwick Writers' Summer School. A fabulous experience, again met some great writers and some new friends. Here's a write up of the event.
Nov - Won ChocLit Summer Short Story Competition. A great prize and a tin of choccies too!

There were plenty of rejections, inevitably, but thankfully balanced by a steady sprinkle of good news. And I'm very grateful for those sprinkles as they are just what a writer needs to keep believing that somebody out there likes what you write. And that's all you can wish for...

Wishing you all a Happy New Year and much success in your writing goals for 2013!

Monday 24 December 2012

Merry Christmas and all that...

As you can see LitPig is all set for Christmas ... now we just need to wrestle the TV remote off him.

Merry Christmas to all our followers. 

Hope it's a good one!

Friday 21 December 2012

Inspired to write

Thank you to the lovely Patsy for giving me this Inspiring Award. I have to squeal that the award is for my blog, but the Indoor Writer is hijacking the response and so here she goes (again) with 7 random facts of what has inspired her writing...

1. Several English teachers inspired me to write. My earliest memory of having a story read aloud in class was age 7 and from then on I declared I wanted to 'be a writer'. There was a couple of years during early teens when the ambition changed to 'international show jumper' (I went through a pony craze), but then reverted by the time I was off to uni.

2. At uni my Zoology studies didn't really inspire, so I wrote a novel in my second year. It was dreadful and remains handwritten (on lined A4), hidden away in a plastic crate in the loft. (Now if I was a true literary genius it would be locked in a trunk in the attic...)

3. Post uni I started a correspondence course for writing (you know the type: earn your fee blah blah), but never finished this as I met a nice bloke. And guess what - that bloke is now Handsome Hubby. Romance led to marriage and a baby... and the inspiration to write disintegrated for many years.

4. Hubby was seriously ill for several months and somehow this triggered the writing again. Wrote a short story, Hurricane Harry's Heir, during this period which later went on to be published in Five Stop Story Anthology. The original version was written 10 years ago... which demonstrates how you should NEVER throw any writing away.

5. Giving up my full time career in 2010 was another trigger to write. Suddenly my head was empty of work gunk and quickly flooded with story ideas. Since then I haven't stopped writing short stories.

6. Inspiration for stories comes from many sources but I find other people's writing often triggers new ideas. Reading, watching TV or listening to the radio can prompt a story theme or sometimes just a title, and oddly the rest of the story emerges later. A quality piece of writing stirs emotions and I hope one day I could write that well. When a book or film makes you think WOW I wish I could write like that, that is truly a moment of inspiration.

7. I find reading about writing actually prompts me to get on with it. LitPig is modelling below four of my particularly favourite inspirational books on writing:
Stephen King: On writing - full of his wisdom on the writing process and semi-autobiography. A rare page-turner of a how to book.

Simon Whaley: The Positively Productive Writer. Full of enthusiastic and encouraging tips, plus some nagging. I have put into operation several of his tracking systems (but then I was a control freak to start with).

Della Galton: How to write and sell short stories. It does what it says on the cover. This is one of several books that helped me to get that first Womag sale.

Noah Lukeman: The first five pages. You can read a review of this from a previous post here.

I'm passing this on to these inspirational bloggers: Simon, Helen, Della.

Monday 17 December 2012

Ben Hatch: Are We Nearly There Yet?

‘Are we nearly there yet?’ was Radio 2’s Book of the Year for 2012. On Twitter Ben Hatch (photo left) describes himself as: Dad, lover of bumbling & cheese. Sticky up hair. Following the review below LitPig chats with Ben and learns some exciting news about Ben's next book and a film deal...

If you like Bill Bryson then you will love Ben Hatch. ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ recounts a family’s 8,000-mile car journey around Britain. This is the modern equivalent of the Odyssey, but takes place on land in a Vauxhall Astra and Ben takes his own Penelope (wife Dinah) with their two children (both under four) along for the adventure. Ben and Dinah were commissioned by Frommers to write a guidebook about family travel in Britain and this book tells of what went on behind the scene of researching the guide.
To say this book is funny is an understatement. Many stories made me laugh out loud, particularly the wonderful conversations between Ben and Dinah, or with daughter Phoebe. Hatch demonstrates great skill in interweaving his own memories of growing up in Britain along with remembering life with his father. During the roadtrip Ben’s dad was seriously ill and this illness becomes a big part of the journey he undertakes. The memories of his dad are poignant, passionate and painful, an honest and genuine account of a difficult relationship.

Ben Hatch is an accomplished storyteller, but do not underestimate the skill of a writer who can make you laugh and sob in equal measure. I openly cried on reading several sections of this book. This gets a FIVE pig rating. Highly recommended for your Christmas book list.

Ben Hatch gave a very popular talk at West Sussex Writers (Worthing). You can follow him on Twitter (@BenHatch) – he is very funny.

LitPig chats with Ben…

Q: When did you get the idea to write 'Are we nearly there yet?' Was this planned when you set off on the trip, or did the idea come later?
Ben: I am far too stupid to have come up with the idea myself. I was originally only writing the guidebook. It was my editor at Frommers, the publisher of this guidebook who suggested it. He'd had to fire me from writing any more guidebooks because I kept sneaking too many personal stories into the review entries. He did this with a heavy heart as he really liked what I was writing. I'm very grateful to him because he put me in touch with Summersdale who specialise in travel narratives and it was through talking to them that the idea developed.

Q: Twitter has played a big part in your promotion of the book. What impact Twitter has made on sales? And do you have any Twitter Top Tips to share?
Ben: Twitter has been enormously important. Without it the book would have flopped badly. I missed my window on publicity because the book was embargoed to the Express who were going to do a feature on it. Except the London riots happened the week it was supposed to run. It got pulled and I was left and dry. The PR staff at Summersdale had moved onto other books so it was down to me. Basically I started tweeting all the reviews I got. I had some great ones from John Cleese, Terry Wogam, Danny Wallace, Richard Briers Jenny Colgan, Lisa Jewell, Mike Gayle and others and it started from there. That got a little buzz going, then it was reviewed in the Daily Mail and just took off.

Top twitter tip - don't be too self-conscious. Be proud of your work and tell people about it. Obviously don't only tweet about your book though. That gets boring. And treat tweeter folk as you'd treat friends you see in day to day life. Reply to people, for instance. What's strange is what started off as marketing idea for me has changed into something completely different. In fact I probably spend more time talking to tweeter followers then I do talking to my real life friends now.

Q: Will there be another Hatch family road trip? Are you working on another book or project right now - can you tell us about it?
Yes, We have completed a massive 10,000 mile road-trip round France. I am currently writing that up. It will called Road to Rouen and is due for release in May next year

Q: When Hollywood take up the movie option for 'Are we nearly there yet?' who would you like to see playing Dinah and, of course, yourself?
Well it's Island Pictures who've in fact bought the film rights to Are We Nearly There Yet? They are developing the book with movie director Kirk Jones (Nanny McPhee, Waking Ned, What to Expect When You're Expecting and Everybody's Fine) and they have mentioned all sorts of names though obviously it would have to someone crushingly handsome but who also happened to like cheese. I tease my wife that they're lining Sue Pollard up to play her.

'Are we nearly there yet?' is available on Amazon: paperback and Kindle edition

Tuesday 11 December 2012

Tasty timeline tool

The wonderful Wendy Clarke (who only lives down the road from us) has created a fabulous tool: character timeline spreadsheet. Well, her hubby has set it up, but go check it out here where Wendy is generously sharing the tool. You can download the spreadsheet and start using it yourself.

The Indoor Writer is always get characters ages wrong and timelines out by several years and her trusty proofreader (Handsome Hubby) doesn't alway catch the howlers. So now she has no excuse.

Thank you Wendy!

Monday 10 December 2012

Oh Lucky Day!

Do you have a lucky day or date? For the Indoor Writer NOVEMBER seems to be her lucky month. In 2011 Wednesday 16 November was the luckiest day of the year (read post here). Then incredibly it happened all over again on Thursday 15 November this year with the news of winning Choc-Lit Summer Short Story competition.

Other  reasons for November being a lucky month were: payment from Fiction Feast (her first published womag story), payment from People's Friend (they pay on acceptance not publication, NICE!), getting Highly Commended in The Yellow Room Flash Fiction competition, winning Write-Invite weekly competition, filler published in Writers' Forum magazine (winning free subscription for a year) and shortlisted for Writers' Forum monthly short story competition. She's quite chuffed about the last two as her subscription to WF had just run out (jammy or what?) and she's being submitting short stories to WF competition for quite a few months. So never give up trying with a market.

In 2013 I'm saving my piggy-bank money for her to buy a lottery ticket during week of 15/16 November, as clearly there is something auspicious about those dates!!

Go on, share your lucky day...

Wednesday 5 December 2012

Poetry feast

As you can see I'm enjoying the Indoor Writer's tin of Cadburys' Heroes. This was part of her prize for winning Choc-Lit Summer Short Story competition. If you missed the earlier blog plug here is a link to the winning story.

But the flavour of today's blog is poetry. Slipstream poets met on Monday for their December workshop and the theme was FEASTS. The Indoor Writer salivated over the following poems and delighted in discussing the merits of foodie poetry:

  • A winter feast - Paul Schmidt
  • The bistro styx - Rita Dove
  • Washing rice - Lam Thi My Da
  • The great tablecloth - Pablo Neruda
  • Indian cooking - Moniza Alvi
Her favourite was The Great Tablecloth, a poem with heavy political undertones (Pablo Neruda spent most of his life in exile from his homeland of Chile) yet the words slip off the tongue like melted chocolate. A poem to be read aloud! Has inspired us to read more of Neruda's work.

Part of the workshop was to pen two poems. The first on the theme of winter feasts. Amongst 12 people there was incredible variety here from Australian Xmas turkey to Scandinavian rotting fish. She wrote about Valhalla and the warriors feasting (and fighting) for eternity. The second exercise was to write of a meal in a restaurant involving a mythical character (either from Greek/Roman myths or any historical figure). Again this prompted immense diversity with Father Christmas, Oliver Cromwell and Poseidon popping up. We rather enjoyed the tale of Odysseus dining out with Penelope - wouldn't blame her if she tipped pudding in his lap considering all his philandering with goddesses. You can read the Indoor Writer's effort at the bottom of the post - her Father Christmas is a bit of a pagan...

If this has spiked your poetry appetite then why not have a go at the following trio of poetry competitions:

Closing 31 December 2012: Writer's Bureau Poetry Competition 2013
To be judged by the lovely Alison Chisolm (met her at Swanwick Summer School)
  • 40 lines max, no theme, £5 per poem (reduced if you subscribe to Freelance Market News)
  • Prizes: £500/£300/£200/£100
  • Entry postal or online
  • Poems must not have been published
Closing 31 January 2013: Slipstream Poets Open Competition 2013
  • 40 lines max, £3 per poem or 4 for £10 or 6 for £12 (very good value)
  • Prizes: £250/£100/£75
  • Entry postal
  • Poems must not have been published
Closing 8 April 2013: Buxton Festival Poetry Competition
  • 40 lines max, £5 per poem, Theme: History and heritage
  • Prizes for Open category (>19 years): £300/£200/£100
  • Postal entries only with accompanying entry form (download from website)
  • Poems must not have been published
And finally...(hmm perhaps she should stick to prose?)

Yuletide Pizza by Tracy Fells
I chastise him across the garlic ciabatta, hissing,
- You can't do that sort of thing in here.
- Such a pretty thing, he chortles. And I only asked her to sit upon my knee.
His plump cheeks flush to the colour of his suit, a startling stunning red.
Tossed onto the table our pizzas almost skid off their plates.
Margherita, plain and simple, for me.
Four seasons in one pizza for him with all the extra toppings
and extra on top of those too.
He thinks I'm not looking when he scoops grated carrot from his salad bowl,
sweeps handfuls into fur-lined pockets.
- For the boys, he says with a wink. They like a dose of carotene.
Tickling his gleaming bush of beard he signals for the waiter
and another half pint of sherry.
With the back of my hand I swipe away the Cappucino moustache.
Thank god I only have to do this once a year!

Tuesday 4 December 2012

Love Sussex Living

On Sunday walked with a friend from Cissbury Ring to home and took a slight detour up to Chanctonbury Ring. It was a crisp, clear day and the view from Chanctonbury was stupendous (see photo left). Made me think how much we all love living in West Sussex.

To celebrate Sussex living why not enter this Short Story Competition to support West Sussex Writers, click here for details of the competition. And here for the entry guidelines. Good Luck!

Wednesday 28 November 2012

Patsy Collins: It's FREE now

Patsy Collins' excellent read Escape to the Country is FREE to download today (Wed 28 Nov) and tomorrow (Thurs 29 Nov). Click the link below to access this brilliant offer.

Patsy Collins: It's FREE now

Monday 19 November 2012

How to be an effective editor with Sarah Higbee

Sarah Higbee is the Deputy Chair of West Sussex Writers and teaches Creative Writing at Northbrook College (Wothing). Her enthusiasm for guiding writers to improve their writing engulfed the audience of West Sussex Writers on 8 November at our monthly gathering. Sarah was keen to share her top tips for avoiding the dreaded slush pile. Even the brightest and shiniest ideas need polishing to catch an editor’s eye. On finishing a piece of work Sarah advised to first leave it alone:
  •          Short story / poem for a week
  •          Novel for 1-2 months

Get some distance before you start editing. And then slice up your editing into manageable chunks, so you can focus on different topics at each review. Sarah recommended using a checklist and then she shared her particular list:
1.       Structure: check there is a story arc; does the character have a journey?
2.       Strong beginning.
3.       Sufficient conflict.
4.       Subplots and minor characters: are they all needed?
5.       Strong climax: the moment in the story when everything changes i.e. the ‘tipping point’.
6.       Viewpoint: is this consistent throughout story?
7.       Dialogue: read aloud to check authenticity. Consistency of representation for external / internal     dialogue.
8.       Scene setting and description.
9.       Check for time anomalies.
10.    Writing style: know what your ‘wicked’ words are and get rid! (These are adverbs for the Indoor Writer or just and so). Look out for overuse of adverbs / adjectives and use effective verbs instead.
11.    Punctuation: accuracy and consistency.
12.    Consistent tense.

The Indoor Writer often reads aloud her work (scary!) but I'm going to share this top tip with her:
first turn a word file into a PDF file using Adobe, then go to View, click Read Out Loud option and click Activate. This allows you to listen to your story, while still following the manuscript. Sarah recommends this for picking up all the small errors and typos that can be easily missed.

Sarah emphasised the importance of always reading the publisher/agent’s submission guidelines before submitting any work. Some magazines/publishers have house styles for presentation and punctuation (particularly for dialogue) so always check these first. 

You can learn more about Sarah Higbee and her own writing at her website here.
And if you are interested in coming to a meeting of West Sussex Writers then check out the future programme (and how to join) here.

Friday 16 November 2012

Short Story Writers

Day 5 of National Short Story week and I wanted to share my favourite authors of short stories. Here goes...(in no particular order)

Elizabeth Taylor - have recently acquired the new complete collection of her short stories and can't wait to tuck in.

Raymond Carver - master of terse prose, but I learned recently that his work may have been heavily edited. Will be looking into this and further post coming...

Penelope Lively - queen of the short story in my opinion. Her stories linger long after reading and often deliver shocking surprises. Her collection 'Pack of cards' contains one of the most disturbing ghost stories I've ever read.

Kate Atkinson - have only found one collection 'Not the end of the world', which is great fun and packs an emotional punch in many of the stories.

Patrick Gale - have not yet read any of his novels but loved his two collections of short stories 'Gentleman's Relish' and 'Dangerous Pleasures'

Alice Munro - what can you say about Alice other than pure genius. Apparently she is still writing (now in her 80's) and a new collection recently released.

Helen Simpson - wonderful mixture of stories often funny or terribly sad.

Nicholas Royle - not for the easily shocked, but the most creative short story writer I've read.

Tessa Hadley - a real advocate for the short story (see earlier post on Tessa's Masterclass)

John Burnside - his stories linger for sometime.

Katherine Mansfield - have only read a couple of stories and must get hold of a collection.

Anthologies are a good way to sample lots of writers in one hit. I've really enjoyed the Penguin collections of Modern Women's Short Stories (vol I and II edited by Susan Hill).

There are many more writers to sample, but always so little time...sigh. Please share your favourites...

ChocLit Competition Success

I'm letting the Indoor Writer have some blog space in the hope she will stop going on about this... Yesterday she learned her story 'Phoenix and Marilyn' won the ChocLit Summer Short Story Competition. It's a good prize and rumour has it she's also won chocolate (another reason for giving her airspace...). You can read the winning story here. It's a bit soppy, but hopefully is a story with a heart. Shows she's just an old romantic underneath all that literary pretense.

Thursday 15 November 2012

Easy on the ear

If you write short stories then you probably love reading them, but do you also listen to them? The Indoor Writer recently blogged about recording a short story for The Voice of Progress, a local talking newspaper. Helen Yendall is the World Audio Short Story Writer and has her winning story available to listen here. The Short Story Radio states its aim is "is to promote the short story form and short story writers, and to broadcast quality recordings of short stories via the website and podcasts". You can listen to more short stories online, penned by many excellent writers, on the Short Story Radio website, click here for a list of stories.

As part of National Short Story Week some Radio stations are broadcasting stories, read more here. They also have several stories available to listen online here (linked with Short Story Radio).

Radio 4 (and Radio 4 Extra) still support audio short stories. An excellent competition Opening Lines has just opened for new writers and the winning stories will be recorded and aired on Radio 4, more details here. You can read previous winning stories to get a flavour of what they are looking for in a story suitable for radio.

Wednesday 14 November 2012

Kite flying for short story writers

Day 3 of National Short Story Week and today I want to share some quotes on the theme of short stories. These are all thoughts, mainly by other writers, that I've recently read.

Firstly Tessa Hadley at the RSL Masterclass on the Short Story (full post here) described short stories as "word paintings", which I rather love as a succinct explanation of the genre.

Susan Hill in her introduction to the Second Penguin Book of Modern Women's Short Stories writes: "really excellent stories ... are rare and precious as jewels and dazzle with a similar brightness... They extend one's literary horizons, and deepen one's understanding of the human heart. They make an impact. They are memorable. There is nothing small-scale or miniature or trivial about them."

In Piers Plowright's write-up the 2012 VS Pritchett Prize award ceremony for the RSL Review 2012 he shares Sean O'Faolain's thoughts: "writing a short story is like getting a kite to catch the smallest breeze and fly." And how Adam Foulds described the process as: "going out for a walk on the spur of the moment."

I particularly admire the image of flying a kite, and can remember how difficult it is to get a kite to fly well and to keep it in the air. We used to go kite flying on Beachy Head (East Sussex), where the winds were a challenge!

Tomorrow I'll be highlighting some outlets for audio stories and on Friday sharing some of my favourite short story writers. And now I'm off to fly that kite...

Let me know who you admire as a writer of short stories and if you have any particular cherished stories.

Tuesday 13 November 2012

Outlets for Short Stories

This week we're celebrating National Short Story Week and today why not check out the outlets for your short stories here. More details of writing competitions and top tips on writing short stories can also be found here.

The Indoor Writer has stories on Alfie Dog. You can download stories from 39p, so ideal for commuting or just sampling a writer's work. Three excellent stories to download here (someone has to do her PR!).

Another outlet for selling your stories is Ether Books, click here for more details. This site specialises in downloads to mobile phones, so ideal for reading 'on-the-go'.

If you write for the Womag market then check out the Womag Writer's Blog which regularly updates on new guidelines and any trends or news in the Womag market. Often lists some good competitions too.

If you know of any other outlets then let me know.

Keep writing...

Monday 12 November 2012

Short Story Masterclass with Tessa Hadley

As part of National Short Story Week the Indoor Writer attended a Masterclass on the short story run by the RSL (Royal Society of Literature). The main attraction for attending was the facilitator Tessa Hadley, the author of Sunstroke (short story collection). Here the Indoor Writer shares her experience...

I must be dedicated to the craft of writing to spend over nine hours sitting on a train to travel to Cardiff and back for this Masterclass. When I first signed up I didn't note the location, assuming it would be held in London, and only later realised I needed to get from West Sussex to Cardiff for a 10.30am start at the central library on a Saturday morning (coinciding with the rugby too!). I let the train take the strain, but this meant an overnight stay to ensure I made the class on time. Thankfully I found myself amongst eight like-minded lovers of short fiction, soon immersed in discussing why we all wrote fiction and sharing our favourite short story authors. Surprisingly I was one of the few to have actually sold stories and been published, but others had novels or scripts published and sold.

This was not a 'how to' workshop, but more an appreciation of the genre. Tessa read out a very short story (<1000 words) The Family Meadow by John Updike, which we all dissected with gusto. We all agreed the opening lines of a short story foretell the mood of the piece and that endings have to be much more powerful than in a novel. Tessa urged us all to "read our own work as a reader. Try to read a story as if you've never read it before" and advised that "cutting is one of the best tools" for a writer to employ. Many of us were already editing and cutting chunks from our first drafts - paid up members of the splicing gang. I also liked her phrase "word painting" to describe the art of the short story.

Tessa got us working on several exercises, which we all freely read aloud and received very positive and constructive feedback from everyone. This was the most valuable part of the morning and encouraging to hear what others think and to collaborate our ideas. I think we all now have several new plotlines seeded, with helpful tips from Tessa on how to progress them. I liked the exercise of writing a motif for a story, a three line summary as follows:
Something is lost.
Every effort is made to recover it.
Something different is found.

This is a technique I will definitely use in future when considering plotlines to develop. And here's one I wrote earlier, the one I developed in the class:
A husband hires an au pair.
The wife believes the girl is taking over her life.
From outside the house the wife looks in, she has no reflection and the family are content without her.

Tessa suggested I end the story almost exactly as described above and this a piece I am keen to start writing.

The three hours passed all too quickly and I found myself squashed back on the train, but fired up to keep writing short stories. I now have a long list of short story writers to read, even though I believed I was pretty well read in the first place. I have some new friends and contacts from the class to keep in touch with. One of the major benefits of attending a short workshop or Masterclass is the people you meet. Writing can be a lonely business and networking becomes a vital lifeline. To date I've not yet met a writer I didn't like!

Finally Tessa Hadley signed my own, rather battered, copy of Sunstroke wishing me good luck with my own writing. In conclusion what better way to spend a morning than in the company of writers discussing short stories ... BLISS.

RSL runs regularly events and Masterclasses, click here for upcoming list (sadly the evening on 28 November with Margaret Atwood is already fully booked)

Tessa Hadly lives in Cardiff and teaches creative writing at Bath Spa University. Published novels are:

Accidents in the home
Everything will be all right
The Master Bedroom
The London Train
Clever girl (to be published May 2013)

Friday 9 November 2012

National Short Story Week: 12 - 18 November

Are you doing anything for National Short Story Week or attending any events? This year it runs from Monday 12th November to Sunday 18th. You can read all about the week and planned events here .

I'm really pleased to see the focus on listening to short stories, more details here, as this can be an excellent medium to enjoy this genre. My Grandad lost his sight late in life audio books and books for the blind became very important to him. So I was really excited to have recorded one of my short stories especially for The Voice of Progress, a locally produced talking newspaper. 'A Waste of Time' will also be available to listen online next week through the charity's website. Warning: you do have to listen my voice and not that of an actor - it was fun to record though. Top tips for reading aloud and recording short stories: read off a screen, or put your pages in slippery fish to avoid extreme paper noises! I had to read through the story several times, because my paper rustling was too loud.

Let me know if you have any plans for the week. The interest in short stories is growing and it's good to see an emphasis on this genre of writing.

Tuesday 6 November 2012

Slipstream Poets Open Poetry Competition 2013

First Monday of the month the Indoor Writer has been slipping out to join a poetry group. Each month they focus on a topic, read associated poems, discuss, and also try some free writing. She doesn't describe herself as a poet, but loves to read and listen to poetry and occasional dabbles in writing some herself.

For a small group the Slipstream Poets run a BIG annual competition. They have just opened the 2013 competition and for more details click here.

  • Closing date 31 January 2013
  • Open theme
  • 1st prize £250, 2nd £100, 3rd £75 and 2 highly commended prizes of £10, plus publication on the website by end March 2013
  • Adjdicator is Roselle Angwin
  • Poems must not exceed 60 lines and not be previously published or posted on the internet
  • Entrance fee: £3 per poem, 4 for £10, 6 for £12
  • All West Sussex poets are also judged by Paul Ward for best poem in West Sussex category. Prize is £25 and The Jim Johnston 'Chanctonbury Cup'.
You can read 2012 winning poems here. We particularly loved The Ice Storm (2012 winner), a very visual and haunting poem.

Wednesday 31 October 2012

The first five pages

Apologies for infrequent posting throughout October. LitPig is in a huff as I've been unavailable to assist with the blog (trotters and keyboards don't mix). The excuse ... my goal was to submit my children's novel (for 9+) to The Chicken House /Times children's novel competition and all entries had to be in for last post on 26 October. The book was written, but I wanted to re-write sections, add sub-plots and basically re-edit the entire manuscript in time to submit (unusually this competition asks for the whole manuscript up front). So I shut myself away and got on with it. It did help that we were having the downstairs decorated at the same time, which meant I was trapped at home for almost two weeks. And I could be at my desk for 8.30am each morning, when normally I complete household chores, voluntary work, or some healthy activity (gym, swim or run) before lunch and then settle down to write in the afternoon. So these longer days really helped my productivity.

What also helped was this book: The First Five Pages, by Noah Lukeman (Oxford University Press). Marketed as "A writer's guide to staying out of the rejection pile". My lovely new Swanwick friend, Heather Allison, had raved about this book and how it had helped her enormously with her novel. It arrived just as I started my re-writes and I read it as quickly as I could. The premise is simple: literary agents and publishers receive hundreds of manuscripts a month and are looking for a reason to reject. After reviewing over ten thousand manuscripts Lukeman came to recognise that most writers make exactly the same mistakes and he's gathered these together in the chapters of the book. He promotes polishing your book until it glimmers and don't give them a reason, any reason, to reject. As always much of this book is common sense, but somehow we all need this information rammed home (well I do) and each chapter has plenty of examples to hammer home Lukeman's points. The examples and exercises make this book stand out, as it was through both of these that I really understood the concepts of each chapter.

The book is divided into 3 sections: preliminary problems, dialogue and the bigger picture. The immediate challenge is for a writer to present the first five pages that will hook in an agent/publisher/reader and keep them reading. Any common errors or problems in these first five pages will guarantee your precious manuscript a place in the slush pile. I found the 5 chapters making up the Preliminary Problems to be the most enlightening. I have an addiction to adverbs (phew I've said it) and  once I have a first draft I then carefully edit to remove all of these beloved darlings. I also love imagery, which when writing from the POV of a 12 year-old-boy needs constant supervision, and the delete key again. After reading the chapter on "Adjective and Adverbs" I finally saw the light and not only killed my darlings, I slashed and obliterated them too.

The section on dialogue was more of a reminder, but still incredibly useful. And again all the points were carefully illustrated by worked through examples. The final section on The Bigger Picture delved into topics such as: hooks, subtlety and tone. Lukeman points out that these areas are relevant to the whole manuscript and will only be truly assessed by agents/publishers if they want to see the whole work. Again, getting them past the first five pages is critical otherwise they never get that opportunity to assess the subtlety of your prose.

Whether you are still working on your first draft or ready to submit your manuscript then I'd recommend reading this book. In fact I keep it close to hand now - to dip into when I need a reminder on what I'm trying to achieve. There's a yellow sticky on the Adverbs and Adjectives chapter as my addiction is only in remission and I'm likely to reoffend.

And yes I hit the deadline and submitted my novel on time. Whatever happens in the competition I'm  pleased with the novel. The end result is I am now more confident about my writing and my ability to deliver a quality product. Thank you Noah Lukeman.

Monday 29 October 2012

A new competition on the block

West Sussex Writers have launched their new National Competition, details below. Sadly, the Indoor Writer can't enter this one as she's currently Secretary for the group and part of the initial reading committee for all entries ...

West Sussex Writers launches national short story competition

Final judge: Simon Brett

One of the UK's largest and oldest writing groups, West Sussex Writers, is pleased to announce the launch of its first national short story competition.

With an open theme, generous word count and well-respected final judge – crime and comedy author Simon Brett – West Sussex Writers hopes to attract the cream of the UK's short story writers.

Chair of West Sussex Writers, Sarah Palmer, said `We're very excited to be running this, our first national short story competition. We hope to see entries from across all genres, and from beginners to more experienced writers.'

Maximum word count: 3000
Theme: Open
Closing Date: 31st March 2013
Prizes:  1st prize £200; 2nd prize £75; 3rd prize £50
Final judge: Simon Brett

West Sussex Writers was established in 1937 with the aim of encouraging writers of all genres and abilities. With a current membership of over 80, the group meets on the second Thursday of each month at Inclusive Arts, Heene Gallery, Heene RoadWorthingWest Sussex.

Full details, as well as further information about our eclectic mix of speakers, workshops and events, are available on our website: www.westsussexwriters.co.uk

Monday 15 October 2012

How sweet!

Thank you to sweet Patsy Collins who recently gave me this delicious looking award. I know you just want to lick the screen - go on - you know you do...

I now have to disclose some sweet facts about my eating habits, such hardship!

1. Cookies or cake?
Always cake over cookies as I'm not much of a biscuit fan, unless they're drowning in chocolate of course.

2. Chocolate or vanilla?
Chocolate for cake (and cookies) but vanilla for ice cream and shakes. In fact why not combine the two: choconilla...

3. What is your favourite sweet treat?
Too many to pick, but probably chocolate fudge cake with hot fudge sauce and of course a side helping of vanilla ice cream. Yum.

4. When do you crave sweet things most?
At the end of a long day of writing and when drinking white wine (or red wine, or rose wine, or any alcohol for that matter).

5. If you had a sweet nickname what would it be?
Hmm I think LitPig's nickname for me is rather sweet: the Indoor Writer. Handsome hubby has always called me Frogface, but not sure that's terribly sweet.

I'm now passing on the cupcake torch to these sweet bloggers: Penelope, Kate and Yellow Jo.

If you'd like to accept, just answer the questions on your blog and then pass it on to up to a baker's dozen more sweet people.

Tuesday 9 October 2012

A new Friend

The Indoor Writer has recently been a bit down in the dumps, with little news on the submission front, and spends far too much time listening to that Doubtful Demon. So today's good news has really cheered her up and I can already see the Positive Thinking Angel unfurling her wings. Two years ago she submitted her first ever Womag story to The People's Friend. After 2-3 days the self-addressed envelope returned bearing bad news (as they always do). She gave up on that market for a while but this summer had a short story that another Womag writer suggested was right for TPF. The writer recommended a few tweaks to names and marriage status before sending it off. The Indoor Writer followed the advice and submitted, but wasn't that hopeful of success thinking TPF was still a tough market for her to crack. Okay, I expect you've worked out the plot twist. Today she got an email from Shirley Blair, Fiction Editor for TPF, and the story has been accepted. Shirley had even taken note that this was only the second story from our, now singing and dancing, writer.

She now asks if after selling two stories to the Women's magazine market can she legitimately call herself a Womag writer? Or does it take more to join the club?

Not sure about when the story comes out but will let you know...

Wednesday 3 October 2012


Do you keep a writers' notebook to jot down those nuggets that erupt  at the oddest of times? I keep such a notebook in my bag and take it everywhere with me. I used to carry a dictaphone, but found I was too embarrassed to ever use it (you can get some strange looks). So a traditional notebook is ideal to record my lightbulb moments, but which one to pick? As you can see from the photo (left) I have an addiction - I love notebooks! There is some logic to the organisation of these tools:
one is for on-the-hoof-ideas, another for recording competition details, one for padding out features/article ideas, one for recording books I've read and another for poetry / memorable quotations. A prized notebook is a traditional moleskin, which I won for a letter printed in Writers' Forum. And the latest addition is this one on the right. I just loved the cover, a perfect notebook for a hopeful writer.

This latest fix was purchased specifically for a new project started on 1st October. Recently I kept stumbling across references to 'Morning Pages' a technique for writing a 'stream of conciousness' every day. First I read about this here on Simon Whaley's blog and then it was mentioned in Paula Williams' monthly Writers' Forum column (The Writers' Idea Store) for the October issue. And a writer friend, Heather Allison, also recommended the technique to me. Basically the idea is to write three pages as soon as you wake in the morning - don't think or plan, just write. I understand this technique is detailed in Julia Cameron's book 'The Artist's Way', but I have to admit to not yet reading this. Well three days into this initiative and I'm hooked. I've strictly stuck to three pages but could write more and so far the words have just flowed. Mainly I'm writing about plans for the day and how the previous day panned out. I've also been writing down any plot problems I'm wrestling with about or issues I need to think through and oddly as I start to commit them to paper solutions begin to pop up. Don't know if you are supposed to read back over the week's pages and not sure I want to, because I'm also recording all those nagging insecurities (the Doubtful Demon wakes early).

What do you record in your notebook? Do you keep more than one? Go on, confess now, are you a notebook addict?

Tuesday 25 September 2012

Random words shortlist Open Category

We're celebrating today as the Indoor Writer's flash story 'Dirty Talk' has reached the final shortlist of Helen Yendall's Random Words short story competition. You can read her story and the other four shortlisted stories here.
The brief was to write a short story in under 250 words ensuring the key words of plague, sleep, magazine and reluctant were included.

Winners get announced for both categories later today. Keep your trotters crossed. Though still reckon she should have written about pigs...

Monday 24 September 2012

Random words shortlist

Bit of a cheat today, but here is a link to the Newbie shortlist of 5 flash stories from Helen Yendall's Random Words competition. The Newbie category is a great idea, allowing new writers who haven't yet been published elsewhere to enter a story.

The Open shortlist of flash stories from the same competition should be available later today. The Indoor Writer did enter a story, but as the judge muttered about the 'plague' of rats featuring in the stories then she's not too optimistic about her chances... I told her to write about pigs, but she never listens to me and went ahead with the rat tale.

Look out for the announcement of the two winning stories tomorrow at Helen's Blog about writing.

Thursday 20 September 2012

75 not out!

Last night I was catching up with Vikings and Neil Oliver while the Indoor Writer updated her story catelogue. Two & half years ago she started writing short fiction and recorded the outgoings and success (or lack of it) for each story in a lined exercise book. The book is now full so she's transcribing the contents to a new and much larger book. OK she does track everything in a spreadsheet too, but still has a soft spot for the old fashioned paper method.

She was pretty astonished to count up a total of 75 stories completed and sent out. Most were submissions to competitions but several to Womags and ezines. How does that compare to other writers - is 75 a good innings for 30 months? Or is that total woefully small? How many short stories do you pen in a year or month?

And then the angels and demons started. First the Positive Thinking Angel is chirping on about the effort involved to finish and edit 75 stories. What an achievement and shouldn't she be proud to have such a portfolio to draw on etc. Then the Doubtful Demon sidles up and begins whining on about why has she only sold ONE story to date. And though she's had competition success then why doesn't every story win a prize.

I had to step in and ask which is better: Angel or Demon? And of course there was only one way to find out. They're still fighting, so I'll have to let you know the outcome another time.

Adding vinegar to the open wound out today came the results of Writers' Bureau Short Story competition. Her entry didn't make the named top 3 (don't think any other names are released). From the winner's comments it would appear this is his second major win for 2012 (a big achievement), but it also seemed these were the only two stories he's written to date. I may have misunderstood the brief comments, but if that's a true statement then the Doubtful Demon is going to town on that nugget and the PT Angel is hanging up her wings...

Keep writing... not sure if the Indoor Writer will...

P.S. Did try to find a suitable image of fighting Angels and Demons for this post but gave up after scrolling through too many posters for the Tom Hanks film/ Dan Brown novel. You'll just have to use your imagination instead.

Monday 17 September 2012

What's a reasonable entry fee?

This topic has been raised in several writing blogs but I just wanted to put my snout in the trough one more time and add my thoughts. The Indoor Writer enters a lot of writing competitions so has to watch the out going pennies and assess a competition's entry fee against the winning pot (and the chance of being successful). The Asham prize closes on 21st September and the entry fee is now £15 with £1000 for the winning story. Now this is for women only, so should narrow the field, but still that's a big chunk to pay out for one story. She doesn't have a story written for the theme 'journey' and to be honest probably any story would fit  - as every story is a journey for the characters involved blah blah - but the quality of writing will be good for this high profile competition. Consequently, this year she's going to pass on the Asham. Bridport is another high profile competition but offers better value with a top prize of £5,000 for £7 entry fee. Most competitions now seem to set an entrance fee of £5 per story with first prize of anything from £100 to £1000.

As we're always looking out for a bargain then why pay to enter a writing competition when many are FREE. Both Patsy Collins and Helen Yendall post blogs about FREE competitions, often with excellent prizes. All the writing magazines: Writing Magazine, Writer's Forum, The New Writer and Mslexia list competitions both free and with paid entrance. In fact Writing Magazine's October issue has a pullout competition special packed with a year's worth of writing comps. It also has a couple of brilliant articles by the Indoor Writer (a shameless plug, but I have to keep her sweet). And here are a couple of tasty competitions I truffled out earlier:

The Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival Food and Drink Writing Award:
Click here for further details. This is FREE to enter and the top prize is a whopping £7,500. All you have to do is submit a short story (under 2,500 words) with the theme food and /or drink at its heart. You do need to get writing because the deadline is 1 October 2012. The winners will be announced at a lavish dinner during the 2013 March festival.

A.Vogel Dormeasan story writing competition: write a story for bedtime
More details are here. This closes 31 October (midday), has FREE entry for up to three stories and offers top prize of £500 with £300 for second and £100 for two runners-up. You can enter stories right now and they do select a monthly winning story to publish on the website and pay £50. The monthly winner still goes into the final competition too. Check out the website to read 2011 winning stories. Basically your story needs to be a good bedtime read, and they accept all genres except erotica (as such stories have other aims than sleep...)

It does take a while for the results to come out - Spring 2013 I believe - so it's a long time to tie up three stories. Oh and be warned they rather sweetly send a letter to every entrant to announce the winners. This got the Indoor Writer (and many others) pretty excited at the time because competitions usually only write if you're one of the winners. It was a nice touch though to at least have your entry acknowledged and appreciated.

Wednesday 12 September 2012

Five Stop Story out today

The 2nd Volume of the Five Stop Story ebook is now available on the Kindle. It can be purchased for £2.99 here. The guys at Five Stop Story are making the book free for 3 days so you can download your copy for free. It will be available for free download from Wednesday 12th - Friday 14th September. 

Why am I telling you this? Well Five Story Story run an excellent monthly competition, click here for more details, and guess who has a story in this collection. Yep, the Indoor Writer has a strange little tale called 'Hurricane Harry's Heir' in the ebook. The story was originally a runner-up back in the October 2011 monthly competition. If you get a copy then do let her know what you think of it.

Keep reading, and writing too...

Monday 10 September 2012

Once upon a time...

I believe all stories should start with 'Once upon a time...' but then I'm an old fashioned pig. Why not check out this new anthology of tiny tales 'Once upon a time: A Collection of Unexpected Fairytales': A collection of 89 modern and adapted fairytales (each is only 1-page long) from the Once Upon A Time Flash Fiction Competition, run in conjunction with UK National Flash Fiction Day, 16th May 2012. All proceeds go to the National Literary Trust (http://www.literacytrust.org.uk/).

The Indoor Writer's fairytale 'Just Add' is part of the anthology. It does have a cheery ending, but be warned many of the tales do not end happily.

Here is link to the paperbook version on Amazon and click here for the Kindle version.