Monthly Archives: September 2011

Flash Fiction Friday 002: Neil L Yuzuk’s ‘Captain Jack’s Cave’

Welcome to the second Flash Fiction Friday and the second piece of flash fiction in this new weekly series. Last week’s was a story entitled ‘Green’ by JD Mader. Tonight’s is ‘Captain Jack’s Cave’ by crime novelist Neil L Yuzuk

The Crooked Corsair’s Cave looked as good a place as any to get out of the heat and fierce tropical sun. I opened the door, stepped in and waited for my eyes to adjust to the dark cave-like interior. The aroma of food made my mouth water and snatches of gay conversation filled the air. One gruff voice dominated, “C’mon matey and shut the door, you’re letting the hot air in.”

I sensed someone near and a woman’s arm took mine, “Come in and I’ll guide ye to a table. Captain Jack’s about to fill the air in here with some bullshit story about his pirate days and ye don’t wantta miss it. Jack,” she shouted, “Jack let me get this one seated and ordered and then ye can start.”

“Quickly lass, the day’s growin’ old.”

As we walked I began to make out the interior. It looked like a Disney Pirates of the Caribbean set, but the furnishings here were heavily weathered. A large dark-skinned man dressed as a pirate sat comfortably in a captain’s chair on a small stage, his peg leg resting on a stool and a schooner of beer was within easy reach. A parrot perched on a stand behind him.

“Here ye be, sir,” she said as we approached what looked like the last empty table – lucky me. I sat and almost laughed out loud at the theatrics. But I was on vacation, so what the heck.

“And what would ye be having to drink?”

I looked at my companion, who was dressed as a pirate wench with a low-scooped top that hinted at pleasures to be revealed. Her clear café au lait complexion was matched with a saucy grin and dark eyes that examined me as frankly as my blue ones did her.

“Your best rum with ice, and,” I looked at the chalked menu on the wall, “the grilled snapper with a small mixed salad.”

“That’s a good choice, the snapper’s fresh caught,” she said with that same smile. I looked at even white teeth, pink lips and real eyebrows – no makeup, all natural. Not the usual woman I would meet in the city. She tossed her long and wavy honey-gold hair at my examination as if to say, ‘Like what you see?’ Instead I heard, “I’ll have your drink right away.” She turned and with a swish of her hips she hurried away leaving behind the aroma of her perfume, musk—my favorite. She was back quickly with my drink. I took her wrist and asked, “And what be your name, saucy wench?”

“Never ye mind . . . and ye best watch your manners in front of Captain Jack. He doesn’t like his wenches to be pestered.” She slapped softly at my hand, I held on.

“Daniella lass, can we get started?” Jack called from the stage.

“Soon as me bucko unhands me.”

I released her wrist and said, “Miss Daniella, we’ll talk later.”

She smiled and bustled away. I had to have her, she was going to be mine. The parrot began to squawk, “Oyez, Oyez,” and Jack started his pirate tale, but I wasn’t listening as I stalked her with my eyes. Occasionally I saw her looking at me. I sensed her hunger, but mine was greater. I needed to feed.

It was later that night, after we’d made love, I looked down at her resting my weight on my forearms as I cupped the face that had captivated me between my hands. I turned her so I could see the left side of her neck; I leaned forward and pressed my lips to the spot that was warmed by the flow of blood through her carotid artery. I touched it with the tip of my tongue and gave her a tiny nip with my teeth.

“Oh now, is that the way ye roll?’


With unexpected strength she flipped me and I was on the bottom looking up.

“And this be how I roll,” she said with a fanged grin and she leaned forward.

“That’s just what I was hoping for,” I replied as I reached for her with my own fangs.

We fed on each other that night and have hunted together, ever since the day we met in Captain Jack’s Crooked Corsair’s Cave.

I asked Neil what had prompted this piece and he said…

The inspiration behind “Captain Jack’s Cave?” hmm . . . I was in Washington, D.C. and a LI site was having a short story contest. The story needed a pirate, a cave and it had to be under 700 words. Ergo, “Captain Jack’s Cave” was born. I tried to give it a modern twist rather than doing a version of the Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s a variation of another short story I once wrote in the YA genre. It didn’t win, but it was fun to write. Morgen likes it, so that makes it a winner. Enjoy!

I do. Thank you Neil.

Neil L. Yuzuk was born in Brooklyn, New York. Now retired after twenty-two years, as a SPARK Substance Abuse Prevention Counselor, he wrote Beachside PD: The Reluctant Knight, after collaborating with his police officer son on a screenplay of the same name. The book was a finalist in the Global eBook Awards in the category of suspense / thriller.

The second book in the series, Beachside PD: The Gypsy Hunter is in pre-publishing, and will be available in December, 2011.

He’s working on the third book in the series, entitled Beachside PD: Undercover, as well as a screenplay: Fade To Light. Another book, Zaragossa: Fruit of the Vine is also in the works.

Neil’s co-author son, David A. Yuzuk was born in Brooklyn, NY and has been working in law enforcement for the past 14 years in southern Florida. He is also working on a prequel to the Beachside PD series called, Beachside PD: Cities of Sand and Stone.

David is the author of a soon to be released children’s book entitled, “The Legend of the Smiling Chihuahua.” He says “It’s my hope to create something positive and uplifting with my little story. If it can inspire children of all ages to follow their dreams, then who knows how beautiful this world can be.”

Let me know how you go David. :) 

If you’d like to submit your 1,000-word max. stories for consideration for Flash Fiction Friday take a look here.


Posted by on September 30, 2011 in childrens, ebooks, novels, short stories, writing


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Guest post: Writing Short Stories For Women’s Magazines by Helen M Hunt

I’m delighted to bring you this guest blog post, today by short story author, book review blogger and writing magazine columnist (and writing friend so I asked her to do this for me :)) interviewee Helen M Hunt.

Writing Short Stories For Women’s Magazines

The women’s magazine short story market remains one of the most competitive out there. Sadly, it is a shrinking market and because competition is so fierce, only the very best stories will make it to publication. There are still opportunities for those determined to succeed though, and in this post I’ve gathered together what I think is the most helpful advice for anyone who wants to make their mark!

For beginners

Patience is the key – don’t expect your first story to be accepted for publication, or your second or third. It can be a long process. Check submission guidelines for specific magazines carefully: there’s no point in sending a story that doesn’t fit the magazine’s requirements. I strongly recommend Womagwriter’s blog which has all the guidelines and contact details for the magazines you might want to submit to.

Initially you should concentrate on targeting one or two magazines – pick the ones that appeal to you most as a reader. If you try to research all the magazines in one go you’ll be overwhelmed. Remember that magazines are looking for stories that are similar in style and tone to the ones they are currently using, but at the same time they need to be different enough to catch an editor’s eye. That’s why you need to study the magazines really carefully and ask yourself why the stories in them work. Then ask yourself how you can bring something different to it!

Magazines aimed at writers – Writers’ Forum and Writing Magazine are the big names – often have advice for beginner writers and also for short story writers. I’m writing some articles for Writing Magazine at the moment that cover different aspects of short story writing, so look out for those over the next few months.

For those with a bit more experience

Write as many stories as you can and keep sending them out. It’s helpful if you can set yourself a quota – but make sure it’s realistic. Once you are writing to a publishable standard, the more stories you have out there, the greater your chance of acceptance.

Never give up on a story! If one magazine rejects it, look at it again, revise it if necessary and send it somewhere else. Different editors have different tastes and I’ve sold a story on its seventh outing before.

Join a critique group if you haven’t already, either online or in the real world. Make sure that at least some people in the group are being published in the area you are aiming for. Ideally join a group that are just writing short stories as, although general creative writing groups are great for encouragement and inspiration, short story writing skills are very different from novel or poetry writing skills. If this isn’t possible you could use a critique service instead.

Women’s magazine writers are a friendly lot and always generous with their advice. There’s lots of online support out there for people who are aiming at this market.

In particular you might want to have a look at Womagwriter’s blog, Teresa Ashby’s blog and Della Galton’s website.

For anyone who prefers a book to refer to, Della Galton’s ‘How To Write And Sell Short Stories’ is the best book out there on this subject and I highly recommend it.

You might also be interested to know that I run workshops for people who are interested in writing for the women’s magazine market. You can find full details here. I also offer email short story critiques.

Thank you Helen! :)

Helen Hunt writes short stories and features for magazines. Her short stories have appeared in Woman’s Weekly, My Weekly, The Weekly News, People’s Friend and Take A Break Fiction Feast in the UK, and That’s Life Fast Fiction in Australia. She also writes articles for Writers’ Forum and Writing Magazine. Helen is also a contributor to the ‘Tears and Laughter…‘ anthology.

You can find her blog at You can also read my interview with Helen here.

If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about – take a look here for the list of current topics and dates. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please” (while quietly bouncing up and down in my seat with joy!).


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Transcription of Oundle Lit Fest (March 2011) – Day 3 of 5 (Mark Billingham & Michael Robotham)

The twenty-second special episode of the Bailey’s Writing Tips podcast was released on 30th May 2011 and featured the third day of five as a volunteer at Oundle Literature Festival here in Northamptonshire, England. The content has never been released other than website links (on my website).

Arriving at Oundle late afternoon, I met up with, and chatted to, Oundle Literature Festival Chairman Nick Turnbull at his Oundle School Community Action office in the town centre, which formed the second part of special episode 12.

That evening in the picturesque venue of the Long Room opposite St Peter’s Church, I was fortunate enough to get to sit in the ‘green room’ to chat to Mark Billingham and Michael Robotham before the event started (having nipped to Tesco to buy Mark a bottle of beer) :). Covering a variety of topics including writing (as would be expected), I was in my element especially as Mark and I were already Facebook ‘friends’ and he’d said he’d been looking forward to meeting me (and me him, obviously).

When the official event started, introductions were made by Molly Bickerstaff before she asked Mark what happened to him in a hotel room in 1995. He explained that he’d been there with a colleague and had ordered room service. The door bell rang and three men in balaclavas burst in, tying them up, before taking their valuables including their credit cards (and pin numbers). The colleague got himself then Mark free, grabbed a fire extinguisher and they ran to reception where the staff were oblivious of what had happened so were equally frightened to see two men charging at them. A year later his first novel came out and said he knows fear and can do that well. Because of what happened to him, Mark said he wanted to give the victims in his novels a voice.

Australian Michael then said that he’d been working for the Mail on Sunday in the UK and one story was about a £4M betting scam. His editor had sent him across to Ireland to investigate quoting him as saying to “send the Australian” making Michael feel very expendable. He said he’d had a similar experience to Mark where some men in balaclavas had tied him up, taken him to the airport and told him to go home. When he phoned his editor, the editor had said to wait 20 minutes and return to investigate but understandably Michael had taken the first out of Ireland.

Molly then asked how they create their characters, and how they feel about them? Mark said that even though it’s realistic writers need to engage the reader with heightened realism – if too realistic it would be too boring (going home to their spouses etc). Michael added that it’s hard to operate within the rules and gave an example as court procedures – too boring; so trimmed. So they have to make it richer…

Michael explained that his main character is a clinical psychologist and that he, Michael, worked with a respected clinical psychologist and admire someone who can get inside people’s head. His character though is flawed; he has a sharp mind but weak body (suffering from the onset of Parkinson’s).

Mark then referred to Tom & Jerry scenes where they’re hit by an anvil and suffer an anvil-shaped dent, but in the next scene they’re fine, and said it is similar in some books; they’re too unrealistic. They have to stay anvil shaped. Also each book has to read independently as well as part of a series; it’s all about realistic characters, and they’re not always likeable. He also said that he’s received lots of feedback from readers asking questions about the characters, even being asked when they’ll get married.

Michael said that he’d been asked if a character had had a baby and the reader had been stunned when Michael said he didn’t know!

Molly turned the talk to villains.  Mark said evil has a religious connotation which he’s not comfortable with. He doesn’t think people are inherently evil/good but have elements of both.

Michael said that when he was a young journalist: murderer on the run would phone him in the early hours, tipping him off when he’s committed a crime. It turned out that the criminal was only a couple of years older than Michael; very normal looking; like an ordinary Joe. He’d expected him to look like a thug.

Mark then talked about true-life cases and how down to earth even some of the most prolific murderers had been. Michael mentioned that his wife said they’d lose dinner invitations because he wrote such dark books!

Molly asked Mark and Michael about their use of prologues. Mark replied that a book should always start with unanswered questions so the reader says “why, what, who” etc. then the rest of the book should answer them. Apparently his wife will continue reading a book that she doesn’t enjoy saying “it’s not going to beat me”! whereas Mark would be quite happy to abandon it.

Michael explained that he uses the prologue to entice and that you should subtract your age from 100 and that’s how much you give a book, which I liked.

Molly then turned the conversation to plot. Michael doesn’t plot and once even pulled out 30,000 words which weren’t working. He said he may use them again and I’m sure they wouldn’t have been wasted. And this is a conversation I’ve been involved in recently on one of the LinkedIn forums.

Organic and exciting he said and added that Jeffrey Deaver apparently writes c. 250 page outline so he knows what he’s doing. Michael loves not knowing and the characters surprise him so he figures the reader won’t know either. (me too)

Mark does some sketching but a character’s never surprised him, which I think is a little sad. He wants them to surprise the reader but they don’t him and said the writer is in charge which is true but I do go with the flow and am often enthralled by what comes out.

Mark said that writer’s block is rubbish and quoted the phrased I’ve heard before about plumbers not being able to work because they’ve got plumber’s block so it should be the same for writers. And I totally agree.

Michael quoted Stephen King as saying “dig and reveal” – see a bone, what will it be? Dog or dinosaur bone? Michael hopes it’s going to be a dinosaur.

Molly then asked how to avoid the clichés? Mark replied first saying that crime readers know it’s going to be crime so you have to make the readers care about the characters. Michael added that twists and turns are vital and it’s unrealistic when a character is in a dark warehouse with no reason… to which Mark said writers should try and avoid the parts that the readers will skip, which made the audience laugh.

Mark then said it’s all about economy and that every writer needs editing. Michael then gave Steig Larsson as an example as having too much content.

Molly asked how to write quick dialogue so readers don’t lose track. Michael said that good writers make it look easy (he writes longhand so the dialogue is sharper then types it up). Mark added that dialogue is a strength and should tell you everything about the character. You should know what you’re good at.

Molly said that as they’d both written about women, how do they do it? Michael explained that was a ghostwriter for 15 autobiographies (Geri Halliwell, Lulu amongst them) and initially he was worried as most of the readers would be women but has three women (his wife and two daughters) as his first readers.

Mark said that you have to write them and be able to write them, and that his favourite book to write was In ‘The Dark’ where main character was a heavily pregnant woman, although he admits that it was harder work.

Molly: how important are jokes in the books? Great mix of humour then dour and vice versa. Mark: life isn’t all dark – said he’d been out with the police and they joke because they’re nervous. Michael: agreed, it’s not because they’re insensitive, it’s their safety valve.

The audience was then invited to ask questions and the first was one that I was planning on asking; what Mark thought of David Morrisey’s TV portrayal of Tom Thorne. Mark said he had wanted him from the very beginning but that reader feedback said there were too many changes, but he was very pleased.

When Mark was asked whether he’d written the screenplay, he said he wasn’t but was involved in the making of the TV series.

The next question, directed at Michael, was about how he heard that his novel ‘Bleed for me’ had been shortlisted for the TV Book Club and what impact had it had.  He’d received a phone call from his publicist, and he was sure that it had made an impact, certainly in gaining awareness of him and his books.

Michael was then asked whether he is going to be easier on Joe? to which he said that Joe plays a small part in next book out and the one he’s writing now he has a bigger part. Someone then requested that Joe back with Julianne to which Michael laughed and said that he’d had mixed feedback on this and that he’d consider it.

The conversation then turned to how they were published. It turns out that they both submitted around 30,000 words and were both accepted. Mark admitting that he was ridiculously lucky especially, he said as British crime writer RJ Ellory had 28 unpublished novels before he was accepted. Michael said that he was known as ghostwriter so think that helped. Word then got out which resulted in a bidding war for his novel which then obviously put pressure on him for the other 2/3rds of the book. He even had no title for it, just a working title of ‘The Suspect’ which he felt  to be too much in the vein of John Grisham. Mark said had come up with shout line for his book: “he doesn’t want you dead, he doesn’t want you alive, he wants you somewhere in between”, which I really like.

When asked what the police think of his books Mark said how supportive they were and even assigned him a detective who put him in touch with others and he said that they can’t wait to tell you (official and unofficial juicy stuff), especially happy to talk about murder.

A member of the audience sitting near me asked Michael what made you give Joe Parkinson’s Disease? He said he had a two-book deal and had the idea for the second one of a religious mystery but the contract meant he had to write in a similar style. Hadn’t planned to use Joe again but loved the idea of healthy mind but crumbling body, quoting Stephen Hawking as example but then said that he loves Joe so much that he wishes he hadn’t done it to him now.

Mark was then asked whether his work shows up a dark side in him to which Michael said that he likes people look like their dogs which, as a dog-owner, made me smile. Mark said that it’s what he likes to read and that he likes closure (when the cases are solved) and he’s bored if there’s no action (bodies, car chases etc.). Michael added that there are even bodies in Shakespeare’s plays; so drama and conflict.

And really, that’s what it’s all about. Even in romance there has to be some element of drama and in every good story, a conflict.

Again, the book stall was a sell-out with me buying the last copy of Michael’s book. I’d already bought my collection (of six) of Mark’s books with me so I didn’t buy his latest, especially it was in hardback, which I’m not so keen on.

When everything was tidied away, lights turned off and the building locked up, Mark, Michael, committee member Leigh and I headed towards the pub to kill time before their train. As I’d not been directly invited I didn’t want to outstay my welcome so bade them goodnight and went to my car parked nearby, to drive home a very happy person.

So, that’s what happened on day 3 out of 5 – links to the transcriptions of the other days will put listed on when they’re posted.

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Posted by on September 29, 2011 in events, interview, LitFest, podcast, writing


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Author Spotlight no.14 – Scriptwriter, novelist, actor (and more) Gregory Allen

To complement my daily blog interviews I recently started a series of Author Spotlights and today’s, the fourteenth, is of Gregory Allen. You can read the others here.

Born and raised in Texas, but moved north to become an official ‘Yankee’ for the past 24 years – Gregory G. Allen has had short stories and poetry published in over half a dozen journals including Loch Raven Review and Off the Rocks 14. He is a blog and article contributor to several websites and has written over ten musicals that he has served as book writer and/or composer/lyricists produced for the stage. Proud Pants: An Unconventional Memoir about the life of his older brother’s fight with addiction and eventual death is available digitally and has garnered many wonderful reviews for Allen’s nontraditional way of telling a story through the mind of his dying brother. Allen has been in the entertainment business for over twenty years as an actor, director, writer, and producer and studied at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy and as a composer in the BMI Musical Theatre Workshop. He’s been the recipient of musical grants from BMI, ASCAP and the Watershed Foundation, and his musical River Divine won a Best Score award in New York’s TheatreWeek magazine back in the 90s. He spent six years as the Artistic Director of a theatre company in New Jersey and currently manages an arts center on a college campus.

And now from the author himself:

I have always loved to write since I was a child. I used to write stories and plays and direct the neighborhood kids in my original works. Who knew that would lead to a career in the arts so many years later? I love to write stories that have some sort of twist or do not give the reader (or audience for stage shows) what they expect. These are also the types of creative arts I’m drawn to. When Hollywood decides to change the ending of a movie to ‘please’ the audience, I always wince wishing they would allow the piece to be seen in the manner it was intended by the writers / directors. I think its part of the reason I do not want to be considered a certain genre writer that must write in any type of formula. My short story pieces have all been of different genres and even my longer stories have done the same. Proud Pants was a non-fiction memoir that I wrote about my brother. They are his stories, but I’m putting the words/thoughts into his mind in my attempt to make sense of his life. My novel Well with My Soul out in October, 2011 is a novel dealing with family dynamics, addiction, religion and sexuality. And the story does not necessarily go where most readers will think it is leading them. My stage musical, Invisible Fences, was a piece that dealt with racial tensions in the 1960s and included a bi-racial love story that was considered very taboo in the U.S. South during that time. My novel Patchwork of Me (that will be out in 2012) allows me to get into the women’s literature genre writing in the first person voice of a female protagonist with drips of a mystery thrown in.

About five years ago when I decided I wanted to really give writing a real go at it, I knew I needed to work hard to get my name out there. So I started with any online places I could submit my work to in order for others to see it. That was followed by a blog that I started a year ago and blogging is a way for me to not only connect with people, but continue to have a writing voice heard as I discuss many different topics. From reviews of shows, to weight loss, to politics and pop culture – I like to give my thoughts on what is happening in the world. Social media has knocked down that invisible wall that stood between authors and their readers and I have enjoyed being able to follow and speak online to several authors that I’ve long admired. It has also opened up a new world for me to meet amazing people (some that are other writers) that are carving out their own niche in the world of the internet.

While writers are taught to ‘write what they know’, I like to expand my mind and study other things to write about. I love to travel and I enjoy using those travels to set my stories in varied places – adding interest for readers who like to escape into a book and be transported to other places. I find the research when working on a novel to be an integral part of my work and something I greatly enjoy. It allows me (much as when I’ve acted in a show) to take on a different persona and give my characters jobs and life experiences that I would never have. And when a story that I’ve worked on for months and months comes to an ending point – I am sad to leave those characters, but know I will move on to another time and place full of other interesting people. I hope readers find them just as enjoyable to read about as I do writing them.

Thank you Gregory. :) For more information about Gregory G. Allen, visit or

The blog interviews will return as normal tomorrow with mystery author and fellow spotlighter Anne White – the one hundred and forty-first of my blog interviews – and Gregory’s interview is scheduled for Wednesday 2nd November, no.175. :) If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the authors further. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me. You can also read / download my eBooks here.


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Guest post re. writer’s block by Smoky Trudeau Zeidel

I’m delighted to bring you this guest blog post, today on the topic of writer’s block, by Smoky Trudeau Zeidel.

‘Fallow Times: Dealing With Writer’s Block’

If there is anything a writer fears more than a crashed hard drive, it’s writer’s block. The terror of one day sitting down, poising our fingers over the keyboard, and nothing coming out is enough to send most writers back to bed.

Sometimes, we sabotage ourselves, simply by not sitting down at our computers and putting finger to keyboard. Yesterday, I suddenly decided I just had to retile my bathroom floor; I spent the entire day on the floor, cutting tile, putting it down, fussing to make sure it was laid with the precision of a professional floor tiler. I asked some of my writer friends about their procrastination activities. One said she spent hours ironing her girls’ school uniforms. Another spent hours repainting baseboards. A third invited her grandchildren over for a sleepover so she’d have to focus on them rather than her writing.

That is procrastination, not writer’s block. The cure for that is to schedule a day once a week or so to do projects like these, and the other days, put your butt in your chair and your fingers on the keyboard and write!

But what if you are where you are supposed to be, at your desk, fingers poised, and not one word flows from your brain to the keyboard? What if you really are frozen, unable to write?

Believe it or not, this is okay. In fact, it’s a necessary part of being a writer. I don’t believe in writer’s block. When we can’t tap our ideas, it doesn’t mean we don’t have any. It means they aren’t ripe yet; they aren’t ready for birth. Any organic gardener will tell you fallow times are just as crucial to a good harvest as growing times. The soil needs to rest, to prepare itself for the next growing season. Your creative imagination is exactly the same. It needs to lie fallow and rest between crops of good stories. Winter of the mind is as crucial to a story as winter of the earth is to a good harvest.

That’s all very well and good, you may be thinking, but what if I’ve been in a fallow time for too long? How can I jump-start my ideas?

Different methods work for different people. What one writer swears is the cure for writer’s block, another writer will say doesn’t help at all. This list of suggestions is just that—a list of suggestions. If one trick doesn’t work for you, try another.

  • Change your routine. I’m a morning person. I can happily awaken at 5:00 a.m., fix a cup of coffee, and write until noon. Then, at exactly 12:02 p.m., my brain turns to mush and I can’t write any longer. I have writer friends whose schedules are just the opposite. They sleep until noon and write into the wee hours of the night. If you’re blocked, shake up your routine. Try writing in the morning if you’re a night owl, or writing at night if you’re like me, a morning person.
  • Write something different. Yes, you’re working on your masterpiece of a novel, the one that is sure to be a best seller. But if you’re blocked, you aren’t working on it, are you? Instead, try writing a poem, a limerick, a haiku. Write a love letter to your partner. Write a song. Don’t worry if it’s good or not. Good isn’t the issue—writing is. It’s very possible that the simple act of putting pen to paper (or keystroke to keyboard) is all you’ll need to jump start your creative imagination.
  • Take a walk. Or, go to the gym. Play tennis, or golf. Sometimes our brains don’t work because we’ve spent so many hours hunched over our computers our bodies are turning into piles of mashed potatoes. A little exercise will lift your spirits, tone your body, and give your creativity a jolt.
  • Play with toys. Yup, toys. I hereby give you permission to put playthings on your desk. If you don’t have any toys, go to the store and buy some. The reasoning behind this is quite simple. Think for a moment: who are the most creative people you know? Children, of course. Remember as a child casting aside your newly unwrapped holiday presents to turn the box into a spaceship? How many of you made forts from your parents’ dining room chairs? Playing with toys will bring out your inner child. Your creative, inner child. When I taught fiction writing workshops, this was always a favorite assignment of my students: to go out and buy toys for themselves!
  • Practice some other creative art. This is similar to the toy thing, and works well for people who are so grown up they can’t find their inner child anymore. (But that isn’t you, is it? I didn’t think so.) Your creative nature is like your health. It needs to be fed and nurtured. Carrots are a healthy food, but your body wouldn’t stay healthy for very long if you ate only carrots, would it? The same is true for your creative nature. Feed it only one food—fiction writing, in most of our cases—and that creative nature will grow unhealthy. To keep it fit, sculpt clay, paint with watercolors, or take up jewelry making. Make a collage. It doesn’t matter what it is, just so long as it is new to you and creative. It doesn’t have to be very good; no one has to see it but you. I am partial to making little statues and figurines out of Sculpey clay, and to making jewelry from semi-precious stones. But sometimes I dabble in watercolors, silk dyeing, and book making. Every time I finish an art project, I feel like I can return to my computer and take on the world.
  • Go ahead and write crap. If you really, truly don’t want to do anything other than work on your novel, by all means, sit at your computer and write crap. It is easier to fix bad writing than it is to create something from nothing. It could be that writing crap will wake up your muse enough to make her indignant and come rushing back to help you dig yourself out of that big pile.

All writers experience fallow times at one point or another; anyone who tells you otherwise is not being honest with you. If you’re in a fallow time, enjoy it. Make notes about what is going on around you; go to a coffee shop and eavesdrop on conversations. Who knows? You may overhear something that you can use. Remember, for writers, everything is research, everything is material for stories.

You will survive your fallow time. In the long run, it just may make you a better writer.

Thank you so much Smoky. I’m off now… to go and write. :)

Smoky Trudeau Zeidel is the author of two novels, On the Choptank Shores and The Cabin; a recently-released collection of stories,Short Story Collection Vol. 1; and two nonfiction books on writing which have recently been combined into one book, Smoky’s Writer’s Workshop Combo Set. She is the author of Observations of an Earth Mage, a collection of prose, poetry, and photographs celebrating the natural world. All her books are published by Vanilla Heart Publishing. Smoky lives in California with her husband Scott (a college music professor and classical guitarist), her daughter (a college student and actress), and a menagerie of animals, both domestic and wild, in a ramshackle cottage in the woods overlooking the San Gabriel Valley and Mountains beyond. When she isn’t writing, she spends her time hiking in the mountains and deserts, splashing in tide pools, and resisting the urge to speak in haiku.

If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me at with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please” (while quietly bouncing up and down in my seat with joy!).


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Transcription of BWT podcast: Oundle Lit Fest (March 2011) – Day 2 of 5

The eighteenth special episode of the Bailey’s Writing Tips podcast was released on 9th May 2011 and featured the second day of five as a volunteer at Oundle Literature Festival here in Northamptonshire, England. The content has never been released other than website links (on my website

Thursday 17th March: Sarah McIntyre, Children’s Illustrator & author

Introduced by Committee Member Leigh Giurlando, she explained that Sarah’s London studio, based in London, was a former police station which Sarah renamed The Fleece Station after her love of drawing sheep. Sarah initially talked about her children’s book ‘You can’t eat a princess’, featuring Princess Spaghetti, which she read out to the wonderfully enthusiastic audience of Years R, 1 and 2 (5-7 year olds) alongside projected stills of the book. Every few seconds she’d ask the audience questions and each time dozens of hands went up in the air. Looking around the room, all eyes were on Sarah in her colourful pink dress, furry bolero and jewelled headdress, especially captivated when she imitated voices of the characters including aliens, monsters, Princess Spaghetti and her father King Cupcake.

Sarah explained that she has been drawing since she was a toddler and professionally since she was the same age as the children she was speaking to, carting the pictures around her neighbourhood selling some for 10c. Other slides included early sketches of Princess Spaghetti and her father (which looked nothing like the finished characters). The rear inside cover of the book has about a dozen of nameless aliens so the next few minutes were spent with the children naming them with suggestions including Giggly, Jemima Cupcake, Greedy and Mr Five Eyes.

Sarah then drew an alien on a flip chart starting with a basic semi-circular body shape and three feet, each with three toes. Next she asked for a number of eyes and ended up with nine; one close to the body and eight on long stalks. With help from the children, she gave it a huge open mouth with five triangular teeth then added long lashes to the eyes. Giving it fish breath (delightfully depicted by a curly line with a fish at the end of it) and then seven arms, one holding his favourite food: poo ice cream. A long stripy curled up nose then followed just before another arm held a pen flavoured hot dog, topped by delicious blue mud. He was then given seven spiked hairy ears, pink pointy punky hair and a large pink moustache. Finally two of the children added some facial hair and suggestions from the children lead him to being named ‘Silly Bogey Rudra’. A poo tree was then added to the picture.

Pencils and pre-printed sheets with the original body shape were then distributed to each child who took to drawing their own alien with help from their teachers the festival volunteers. I was on pencil duty until everyone had them so I joined in providing limb suggestions.

Sarah then moved on to drawing a spaceship which she did again with initial suggestions from the children, allowing time for the children to draw their own on the reverse of their sheets while she continued hers.

Mentioned briefly at the start, Sarah’s other books include ‘Morris and the Mankiest Monster’ and ‘Vern and Lettuce’, and all three were available for sale at the Oundle Bookshop stand.

Once the spaceships were drawn, it was time for a Q&A session:

She was first asked whether she enjoys drawing, to which she asked the children whether they had enjoyed drawing your ship? (a resounding yes) and replied “Well, that’s the fun I have all day”. Next Sarah was asked whether she draws flowers and she showed us a mouldy flower she’d drawn in one of her books. She was then asked what it’s like to be an author? She said, “it’s really fun – I get to go places like this and I get to work with other authors, she then mentioned that one of her friends draws for the Beano but then said that sometimes it’s hard work.

To the question of what her drawings look like, Sarah explained that the initial drawings often look quite different to the finished version, as we had seen earlier with the Princess and King pictures. She was asked how much did she have to pay?

First of all I had to pay for printing, ink etc but then when you get successful people pay you. The final question was ‘How do you make the front cover?’ to which Sarah explained that she sometimes has to paint (ink and watercolour) the cover two or three times, although she said the ‘You can’t eat a princess’ book was right first time.

After the book-signing the children were then escorted back to their coaches and I was incredibly impressed at how organised they were, walking hand-in-hand, in pairs, out of the Great Hall in small, but uniformed, regiments.

Thursday 17th March: Literature quiz

I arrived back at the Great Hall after spending three hours wandering around the town (including a trip to Oxfam where I bought a notebook and DVD) and found that the hall was filled with tables in preparation for the evening’s literature quiz. Events Manager & Committee Member Simon Price, some of the other volunteers, and I then covered them with tablecloths while Community Events & Committee Member Paula Prince covered the main top table with a variety of wrapping paper, shoe boxes and other oddities. With a few minutes to spare before people arrived for the quiz, I was able to chat to Paula which was recorded as the first half of special episode no. 12, released on 22nd March.

As I was there in the capacity of paying member of the public, Paula wouldn’t let me in on any of the secrets (rightly so) and I’m glad she didn’t as not knowing made it all the more hilarious when she gave us the instruction to make her a present and wrap it in the shoe boxes. Two of my team mates were artists so made her a fantastic pair of biscuit and wool earrings, beautifully wrapped in a bowed box. In between the tasks we had rounds of questions on a variety of themes, during one of which we could play a joker. We decided to play it on the children’s round which turned out to be our strongest and I learned the next day that although we’d not won (the team who had, had won the previous year) we had in fact come second.

So, that’s what happened on day 2 out of 5 – links to the transcriptions of the other days will put listed on when they’re posted.

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Posted by on September 27, 2011 in events, LitFest, podcast, writing


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Author Spotlight no.13 – children’s author Helen Moss (Isabella Cass)

To complement my daily blog interviews I recently started a series of Author Spotlights and today’s, the thirteenth, is of children’s author Helen Moss. You can read the others here.

Helen Moss writes fiction for the ‘Middle Grade’ age group – young readers between about seven and twelve years old. Her series, Adventure Island, is set on the fictional island of Castle Key, and follows the adventures of brothers Jack and Scott Carter, their friend Emily Wild and her faithful dog, Drift, as they solve a series of baffling, exciting – and often perilous – mysteries.

Born in 1964, Helen grew up in the beautiful rolling countryside of Worcestershire, interspersed with spells in a remote corner of Saudi Arabia with her family. After completing a PhD in psycholinguistics, she spent many happy years researching and lecturing on the way our brains process and represent language, and how this can be affected by brain injury and disease. She has lived in London, Glasgow and Oregon, but now lives near Cambridge with her husband, two teenage sons and a menagerie of dogs, hens and other animals.

And now from the author herself:

Writing for 7-12 year olds is great fun and incredibly rewarding. It’s an age when children are really starting to find their reading wings, and are moving on to novels and longer stories. The world is full of possibility! There’s scope for all kinds of books at this age, from the funny to the serious to the challenging to the frivolous to the good old-fashioned adventure yarn. The more the better!

As a child, I was an avid fan of Enid Blyton (Famous Five, Secret Seven, Five Find-outers and Dog, I devoured them all) and have continued to love detective/mystery fiction as an adult (PD James, Tony Hillerman, Sue Grafton, Alexander McCall Smith, Sophie Hannah, Nicola Upson, Sara Peretzsky, Joan Smith, the list goes on!). So when my editor at Orion Children’s Books asked if I’d be interested in writing a mystery/adventure series – in the grand tradition of Enid Blyton, but brought right up to date – I practically fell off my chair jumping at the chance!

The first six Adventure Island books have just been published (Summer 2011) and I am currently working on another four to come out in 2012. One of the best things about these books is that they have beautifully detailed line drawings at the beginning of each chapter (not by me, I hasten to add, but by a very talented illustrator called Leo Hartas). As well as looking great, the illustrations play an important role in making these books accessible to slightly younger or less confident readers who are moving up to longer books.

Before Adventure Island, I worked on a series called Superstar High for Random House Children’s Books, under the name Isabella Cass.  The series follows the fortunes of three girls and their friends as they start life at an international boarding school for the performing arts. These lovely sparkly books are full of fun and friendship and hopes and dreams.

I have one other project in the pipeline; another series of detective novels, with a slightly more contemporary (dare I say, edgy?) feel. Beth Hunter, the thirteen-year-old heroine, knows her way round the science lab, can strip a car engine and has a mean taikwondo kick. The mysteries she has to solve have very little to do with secret passages or invisible ink; they’re much more likely to involve endangered species, toxic waste dumping and fake pharmaceuticals. This series is not yet with a publisher, but fingers crossed!

Adventure Island Series

1.The Mystery of the Whistling Caves

2.The Mystery of the Midnight Ghost

3.The Mystery of the Hidden Gold

4.The Mystery of the Missing Masterpiece

5.The Mystery of the Cursed Ruby

6.The Mystery of the Vanishing Skeleton

You can find more about Helen and her work via…

Her author website:

Adventure island series website:

Thank you Helen. :)

The blog interviews will return as normal tomorrow with poet and novelist Franki deMerle – the one hundred and thirty-ninth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the author further. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me. You can also read / download my eBooks here.


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Transcription of BWT podcast special ep.12: Oundle Lit Fest (March 2011) – Day 1 of 5

The twelfth special episode of the Bailey’s Writing Tips podcast was released on 22nd March 2011 and featured the first day of five as a volunteer at Oundle Literature Festival here in Northamptonshire, England. The content has never been released other than website links (on my website

Running from Saturday 12th to Sunday 20th March, I attended the Oundle Literature Festival from the Wednesday until the Sunday evening. Welcomed warmly from the start, I pitched in and undertook a variety of tasks from putting out chairs to helping children draw spaceships, from selling quiz sheets to buying Mark Billingham a bottle of beer (one of my highlights!).

Wednesday 16th March 1.30pm: Andrew Lane (Young Sherlock Holmes)

Having been to the Oundle Literature Festival the previous year, as a member of the public, I had no trouble finding the Great Hall where the first event of the day was due to take place; with fiction author Andrew Lane. I arrived early while Andrew was setting up so had the opportunity of chatting to him before the children arrived when I helped direct them to their carefully chalked areas, lead by Kid Lit Committee Member Helen Shair.

Andrew introduced his talk by providing the path he had taken to writing from Dr Who books and Wallace & Gromit to the Young Sherlock Holmes books that were being promoted at the Festival.  A life-long fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character, Andrew had previously included Sherlock in the Dr Who books and talked about him and his capabilities (chemist, violinist, actor, boxer, fencer). Explaining that Doyle had written him over a 30-year period he’d had to adapt the stories as cars, planes and telephones were introduced for authenticity. After Doyle’s death other authors adopted the character incorporating him into their stories so he featured in science fiction, horror and even appeared with Batman & Robin and Tom & Jerry! Andrew mentioned Sherlock’s brother Mycroft who was incredibly intelligent but far lazier than Sherlock, so much so that if people (say, the police) wanted his help they would have to go to him! Andrew then introduced his three Young Sherlock Holmes books, explaining that the first was set in the UK, the second in the US and the third (due out in June 2011) set in Russia, then showed slides of other depictions of young Sherlocks and comedy adult variations including Peter Cook & Dudley Moore, and John Cleese & Willie Rushton. With a hall full of over 300 school children and accompanying adults, Andrew held their attention (and mine) all the way through so it wasn’t surprising that the Q&A session produced a forest of hands. Andrew was first asked why he had written Sherlock Holmes as a teenager to which he answered that it hadn’t been done before and he’d been intrigued as to what could have made Sherlock the complicated character that he’d grown up to be, Andrew explaining that he plans to write a series of 9 books, all in close liaison with Sir Arthur’s Estate. The second question asked why Andrew had become a writer? Andrew had read a story by Terry Nation in a particular issue of Radio Times celebrating the 10th anniversary of Dr Who and was so gripped that he’d not wanted to do anything else, especially since he had a very encouraging English teacher at school, although it had not made him want to study English at University favouring the sciences instead and said how logical Sir Arthur’s writing is. Andrew then revealed that his next book is going to be set in Edinburgh and will feature bodysnatching but in a realistic way rather than relying on zombies etc. Talking about his writing, Andrew was then asked how easy it was to describe a young Sherlock Holmes to which he explained that it was on the surface, his external attributes, but internally was much more difficult for instances when he was scared or vulnerable as it would pave the way for his adult complexities. The next question focussed on Andrew’s favourite aspects of Holmes to which he replied that he loves the fact that he jumps from one thing to another; his ability to analyse people from their outward appearance then explain the steps behind his conclusions. When asked if there was anyone cleverer than Sherlock, Andrew quoted Stephen Hawking but said that the great power of fiction is that you can make anyone anything. To the next question, Andrew said that, alongside his day job and book promotions, he writes about 1,000 words a day which he said equates to about 4-6 months for a 70,000-word novel so can write 2 books a year.

Once the event had finished, books signed and everyone had left, I headed to ‘The Coffee Tavern’, one of four coffee shops in the town. Having been recommended to me by one of my writers, I could see why as it felt like a traditional village café with a friendly atmosphere and I was more than happy to stay there until six o’clock when I returned to the Festival.

Wednesday 16th March 7.30pm: Nigel Warburton (Philosophy Bites)

Set in the Great Hall’s other ground floor room, chairs were set out in the evening for the tickets sold plus a few spare but it soon became apparent that more chairs would be needed and by the time the talk started, the room was packed to (almost) bursting; a sign of Nigel’s popularity. Not surprising, since we learned in the introduction that his podcast has had over 9 million downloads (3 million since the festival’s brochures had been printed) and Nigel was currently 81 in the Twitterati tables. Nigel started his talk but discussing current news items and his views on them. Comparing the recent Japanese earthquake to one which took place in Lisbon, Portugal in the 18th century. This lead on to the question as to whether God exists, Nigel stating that he is an atheist, which raised an audience-led debate. Nigel then set a couple of dilemmas, the first of which was: if someone was on a train track with a train bearing down on them on one side of the points, and six people on the other side, who would you save? What if the six people were criminals and the one an innocent child? The audience, in the majority, went for the ‘greater good’. Nigel then moved on to talk about free speech before quoting John Stuart Mill’s ‘Dead dogma’ argument of the 19th century, Nigel explaining that views need to be challenged before going on to explain that philosophy is a particular way of thinking; that it challenges questions about reality – getting right what the world is; about thinking critically and not accepting on trust.

The Question and Answer session started with Nigel being asked how philosophy has changed his attitude to his life? He told us a true story about his wife having left her mobile on a taxi and the taxi-driver had rung the number marked ‘home’. Nigel then arranged to meet him in Brompton, Greater London and when he later rung the taxi driver to meet him, it turned out that they were already in exactly the same spot at the same time. He was then asked whether philosophers ever have a direct answer to which Nigel quoted Carl Marx and said that it was a case of asking the right questions, although he admitted that not all would be answered in a lifetime. The discussions then turned to good vs evil and nature vs man. A member of the audience asked how much bad do we need to experience to appreciate the good, to which Nigel compared it to a small black mark on a white canvas before recounting an incident in Australia where a thief had stolen a car with a child it in. He’d abandoned the car in a rural area on a very hot day and it wasn’t until he was under significant pressure that he told of the location (and the child was saved). It was agreed by most that it was right for the thief to be coerced in order to save the child. Nigel then lightened the mood by cracking a budget-related joke where a maths teacher asks for a table, paper and a wastepaper bin; the philosopher then beats that simple request by saying that he wouldn’t need the bin.

As with all the author talks at the Festival, the Oundle Bookshop had books for sale, with some even selling out, and Nigel too had a long queue of people wishing him to sign books for them.  I had a quick chat with him, talking blogs mainly, and it was him saying that he has 1,000 hits a day to his (I’m 1/7th of the way there :)) that inspired me to start mine.

So, that’s what happened on day 1 out of 5 – links to the transcriptions of the other days will put listed on when they’re posted.


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Guest post: ‘Writing fantasy’ by Vonnie Winslow Crist

I’m delighted to bring you this guest blog post, today by the multi-talented YA / adult fantasy author / illustrator, poet, and non-fiction writer Vonnie Winslow Crist (

‘Writing fantasy’

Good fantasy writing demands the same standards of grammar, story or verse structure, characterization, dialog, and proper word usage as any other form of writing. Fantastical stories have characters, settings, and plots. Fantasy poems still have a tone (the writer’s feelings), mood (how the reader feels), and theme (the larger idea the writer wants you to remember). And fantasy literature uses the same writing devices: alliteration, metaphor, simile, personification, sensory language (imagery), onomatopoeia, etc. as mainstream literature.

But fantasy writing needs more:

1- Magic. In fantasy writing, there needs to be something magical, miraculous, or mysterious. It can be an item or person with special powers. It can be a mystical place or an incantation that transforms the mundane into the extraordinary. It can be a potion, a carpet that soars through the air, an angel, or a wishing well that grants wishes. Whatever it is, there needs to be the feeling of drifting beyond our day-to-day world.

2- World-building. A fantasy writer needs to build a believable world for their audience to inhabit for the duration of the reading experience. When constructing this world, the writer must decide on language, clothing, food, weapons, plants, animals, landscape, characters, modes of transportation and communication, employment, housing, religion, family structure, etc. If the world is quite complicated, drawing a map can be helpful, too. The clearer the writer’s vision, the easier it will be for readers to “suspend their disbelief” and enter the universe of the story (or play or poem). But remember, be selective which details you include in your piece of writing. The reader doesn’t need all of this information – only the writer needs to know everything!

3- Rules. Fantasy worlds must have specific rules, and the writer must adhere to those rules. For example: in mainstream work, gravity and breathable oxygen are part of the accepted world, so we don’t usually have characters floating off the earth or using special breathing apparatus to convert a toxic atmosphere. A fantasy story could have different rules, but it must have rules just the same. Everything does not go! A note here about magic: Magic or use of magical items should have rules – what works and what doesn’t. And consequences – there should be a price for using or encountering magic.

4- Imagination. Fantasy literature requires a lively imagination and excellent storytelling abilities if readers are to accept the strange worlds created by the writer. Think how quickly Frank Baum drops us into Oz, C.S. Lewis walks us though a wardrobe, J.R.R. Tolkien has us cheering for Bilbo Baggins, and Poe drapes us with the gloom of Usher. One of the tasks of the fantasy writer is to not only imagine what comes next, but what comes after that, and after that. To paraphrase an oft-repeated introduction from the Star Trek series, we are challenged to “write where no one has dared write before.” Or at the very least, come up with a new way of looking at the oft-viewed.

5- Characters the reader can identify with. This is trickier for a writer when the protagonist of a story is a werewolf, fairy, or unicorn. But as long as readers can recognize a part of themselves in fantasy characters, they will come along for the story. No matter how alien the characters, by including familiar emotions a writer can weave a successful tale about vampires, halflings, or dragon-slayers living in a fantastical world. Your characters need to have complicated relationships with others, be neither all good nor all evil, and have flaws, weaknesses, dreams, and goals. In short, fantasy characters should be just like you and me.

Things that go bump in the night, talking animals, and fairy godmothers of childhood tales and nursery rhymes, prepare us to not only read and accept magical worlds, but to create them. If you focus on writing well, adding a pinch of magic, building a believable world, having consistent rules on that world, stretching your imagination, and creating characters your readers can identify with – you’ll be a successful fantasy writer.

Here are a few sites I’ve found useful. For markets: and and for anthologies For lots of information about writing fantasy:

I loved that, thank you Vonnie!

Vonnie Winslow Crist, BS Art & Education, MS Professional Writing from Towson University, is a columnist for Harford’s Heart Magazine, an illustrator for The Vegetarian Journal, the editor of The Gunpowder Review, and a contributor to Faerie Magazine. A firm believer that the world around us is filled with miracles and magic, she has had a life-long interest in reading, writing, folklore, myths, legends, fairy tales, and art. Her fantasy, science-fiction, and dark fantasy have been published in Canada, Australia, Finland, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the USA. In her latest book, The Greener Forest, she draws from the world around her where still sees angels in the trees, trolls under bridges, pillywiggins in her garden, and goblins of all sorts in the shadows. Please do go visit her website:

If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me at with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please” (while quietly bouncing up and down in my seat with joy!).


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Podcast: Bailey’s Writing Tips – Episode 040 (26 Sept 2011) – auto/biographies

Episode 40 of the Bailey’s Writing Tips podcast was released (early) on Sunday 25th September and, because I hadn’t covered this topic since episode 22, had a focus on biographies and autobiographies culminating in a flash fiction freebie. I started by explaining the difference between auto- and biographies: biographies are books written about people by someone else and autobiographies are written by the ‘celebrity’ themself (often with a ghostwriter – I have a really interesting guest blog coming up in November about ghostwriting by a prolific author of that genre; Andrew Crofts). The websites mentioned in this episode were:

The episode concluded with ideas, sentence starts, feedback (from a listener called Jules – thank you Jules :)), On This Day in History, and a 380-word first-person short story called ‘Feeling like a child again’.

Details of the other episodes can be found at


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Transcription of BWT podcast – special episodes 13&14 – Oxford Lit Fest (April 2011)

These special episodes of the Bailey’s Writing Tips podcast were released on 11th and 14th April 2011 and the content has never been released other than website links (on my website The following is a review of my day spent at the Oxford Literature Festival on Saturday 2nd April.

Having dropped my dog off at my mum’s house in Hertfordshire, I then caught a lift with fellow writers friends Jackie and Rachel (who has since become my editor!) and Jackie’s friend Andy before driving on to Oxford’s park and ride (where we joined three more writer friends), and to Oxford centre, arriving just short of the area of Christ Church and the venue for the Literature Festival.

10am: Philip Pullman panel

Set in the beautiful, if not slightly windy, setting of the Christ Church Master’s Garden Marquee, the first event we went to was about ‘voice’ with poets Patience Agbabi and Kate Clanchy and children’s author Philip Pullman. Chaired by James Hawes, he firstly explained why they were wearing purple badges (in support of saving our libraries then introduced the panel.

James started the session by asking Patience where she gets her voice from She said often from long-dead or recently-deceased writers, although some from living writers, in other words she reads a lot. She said finding your own voice is finding your own style but as a writer you are what you read. When asked what is the voice for poetry she quoted fellow poet Bernadine Evaristo and PerFORMance poet (with the emphasis on ‘form’), and likes trying different voices, and voices within voices. She says “Why should novelists have all the fun?” then read out a sonnet from Charlotte Smith entitled ‘Queen of Shadows’ before reading one of hers entitled ‘Problem Pages’ saying that, as the name implies, was inspired by the problem pages from magazines and was written in the format where Charlotte’s feminist voice, Patience said, poses the question and then Patience’s poem answers it. This brought up issue of plagiarism and she explained that she asked permission to use quotes from other poets and had mixed responses from their estates. The TS Elliot Estate, for example, were very reasonable only charging £70.

James then introduced Kate who, like me (and James), is an early-to-bed-early-to-rise author. She told us about her involvement with a school writing project by children with studying difficulties and read out a poem called ‘Some people’ by Jack, a dyslexic boy; a story about his experiences as an excluded child. The poem was part of an anthology of the children’s work that had been published and some of the children had read out at a previous festival. As Patience had, Kate also mentioned about ‘form’ although she said she wasn’t sure it was the same as finding a voice. She said that she usually writes poetry as a first and last line, then fills in in between, sometimes hearing it as music so the poem ends up with a melody to it, as poetry often does. She said that voice often comes from reading (I’ve heard most authors so this, as Patience did) and said that her feedback to authors is often “very good but go and read some more”.

James then talked about his wife reading to her son and really wanted to know how Philip Pullman creates his books. Philip said that it’s all a chain involving 5 or 6 people. There’s the physical writer, the writer that the reader imagines the writer to be (although they are more access these days; photo on the book’s back flap, the internet, live events etc.), in the case of fiction there’s the narrator (who can observe what happens and tells us). Then he spoke of differences between 1st person and 3rd person and said that whilst the narrator is more obvious in 1st person there is also a narrator in 3rd person. Philip then went on to talk about the difference in the voices between His Dark Materials and his fairy tales. He said he doesn’t think about the reader when he writes but then said that actually he must do because he toned down the ‘voice’ in the fairy tales as the audience is younger.

On the subject of ‘voice’ Philip said that he spends quite a lot of time at the beginning of writing a novel looking for the voice. He hears it and listens to it and writes, writing in silence as, agreeing with Kate, he hears music. “Who’s telling me that? Where does it come from?” he asked himself, then said he doesn’t know (to which the audience laughed). He explained that he hears what his characters say and just writes it down. He even impersonates different voices and said that if he writes from the point of view from a non-human (mentioning a ‘sprite’ as an example) he can’t actually think of the character as a human would.

James asked how the other characters feel about the protagonist. Kate said that she makes faces as she imagines the character, imitating them and Philip said that there are characters whose heads you’re allowed to get into and there are some that you’re not, which in any other profession would invite a black leather lounger with accompanying psychiatrist but we all knew what he meant.

The panel was then asked whether they read the words out loud as you’re writing them. Patience answered first by saying “absolutely” and that she can get inside the words better, become the piece or characters, to which James said that sounds very physical and asked it she gets up and walk around? She said that she doesn’t but that Dickens did; she is seated but is vocal. Kate said that she sits in silence while she thinks and Philip was in between; saying he does speak but in whispers. He said there is no need for him to be audible but has to get the words in his mouth, which is an interesting concept. Literature, he said, needs to be vocal and audible as well as oratory to detect things that the eye doesn’t catch.

James then opened up the question to the audience. The first was directed to Patience about observation: about what she reads, her past experiences, do her observations change as you grow older, will she read differently in the future? Having said that she’s currently working on Canterbury Tales (and will be for the next two years at least) she said you think you’ve come up with a wonderful line then realise that it’s already been done and has to check online that she’s not plagiarising

A lady in the audience said that she finds Philip’s idea of sprite as a freedom that new writers are scared to inhabit. She writes scripts and finds the unplanned basis of prose terrifying and wonders about the tension with publishers expecting writers to produce a certain type of novel.

Kate replied that she’s writing her first novel and will be worried about pressure if it’s successful to then follow up to that or a higher standard.

Philip agreed with the comment about script as it’s often predefined, e.g conversion of a novel to a script or if commissioned, but said he loves the unknown of writing prose. He then mentioned the three-act structure of a script and said that when he meets other writers they speak very little about the writing process, favouring to talk about other things. He has to have silence, a secret time, a time for the voice. When then asked whether he’d been involved with the films of his books, he said that film is no place for the writer unless you’re directing as well, which was interesting as I would think that the writer would want to be involved to see how it differs from the original intention.

The question was then put about knowing the style or voice early on? How long did it take the panel to find their voices?

Patience said that she went to an African writing school and studied poetic forms (villanelle, sonnet etc) and found the structure inspired her to define her voice.

Kate explained that she was 28 when she wrote her first poem. It was well-received and so she continued, adding that if it had been rubbished then she probably would have given up and done something different, i.e. away from writing. Although I’d not read any of her work, it was obvious from the audience reaction that they were glad that she hadn’t

Philip said that he’d recognised his early writing as being his style but did feel that it had his voice, then added that he’d made the mistake of reading Hemingway while writing first novel and found his style changed, so reading does have a great influence, and loved Allen Ginsberg poetry when he was writing poetry.

Another member of the audience asked for examples of where voice doesn’t just appear but have had to be revised; built through the writing process?

Patience said that she wrote a dramatic poem which she found very repetitive but lacking so converted it into a sestina and finding that a structured format worked far better.

Philip said that he was really looking forward to seeing her project on the Canterbury Tales to which Patience said she was as well which made the audience laugh.

Kate then talked about voice coming out as she edits rather than in the initial draft which was interesting.

Philip likened it to carpentry; that editing is the reworking done after you’ve created the piece of wood. When he worked on a typewriter he did little editing as it was too difficult to retype etc. and still always writes a first draft with ballpoint pen then types it up. If he finds a piece is hollow/dead (where nothing of consequence happens) then he goes back to where it’s lively and continues from there; otherwise that would be the point where readers put the book down and go and watch the TV.

When the panel was asked whether they write for themselves or for their reader, Patience agreed with Philip where he said he doesn’t write for the reader as he feels that it’s not theirs until it’s published and Kate equated writing a first draft as a splodge on a canvas. You know you hadn’t imagined a splodge and you don’t know what you meant until you redraft and end up getting back to the bones of the original idea, rather than having it fully formed in the first draft and refining it.

The next questions was on writers block; whether they wait for inspiration or ‘write their way through it’?

Philip said that sometimes he thinks “I ought to write and get on with it” and quoted Northern Lights, the first of the trilogy His Dark Materials, saying that as he was writing, he found out something about the character that he hadn’t realised was missing?

In answer to the next question, the panel then talked about the pressures of being original, coming up with original ideas?

Patience said that she felt none as a poet because there is less pressure generally, which gives her incredible freedom. She did say however that she finds it more difficult if she’s impressed with the original inspiration (e.g. a section of Canterbury Tales) but less so if she doesn’t like it so much.

Philip felt that there’s nothing wrong with imitation, but not plagiarism obviously, and that he’s all for it. Quoting that fact that there are supposed to only be 7 stories in the world… although he knows for a fact that there are 11 (to which the audience laughed). He admitted to loving Neighbours (as do I) and has been watching it for years, he said that there’s lots of repetition but it’s humanity… then quoted the Archers having used a queried paternity story line at least twice.

Regarding the panel’s emotional commitment, to write passionately in the voice (playful or not) they were asked whether they have to be deeply involved in the character they’re writing about? Philip said that it’s very important to be emotionally committed and has written passages that made him cry and laugh. (I can relate to that, although not quite to the crying stage). Kate added that no artistic idea comes without emotions and that emotion equates to strong inspiration.

With Patience she generally has the form first, and content afterwards. There’s a bit of you in everything you write, she said.

Philip loves form, and agreed that it’s very important, saying you can be passionate about the form, quoting sonnet as an example.

James concluded with his thanks and the authors were led to the book signing area within the bookshop area of the marquee and then the audience followed them out. As my friends had nothing planned until 1.30 they headed for the local coffee shop while I typed up these notes, chatted to a lady about Simon Winchester’s session (on at the same time as our ‘voice’ panel) then headed back to the marquee for the midday session.

12noon: Roald Dahl ‘Funny Prize’

This was supposed to be a panel consisting of Michael Rosen, Shabi Khorsandi and Louise Rennisen but unfortunately Shabi couldn’t make it so another lady joined them whose name, unfortunately, I didn’t catch.

Returning to the Christ Church Master’s Garden Marquee, I picked (quite accidentally) the perfect seat. Despite being 8 rows from the front my view of the stage, was only obscured by young children so not actually obscured at all which was great.

Nicolette Jones talked about her being one of the judges of the Roald Dahl Funny Prize then introduced the winner of the 7-14 age category: Louise Rennisen (then mentioned that Louise Yates ‘Dog Loves Books’ won the picture book prize for children 6 and under). Nicolette then asked Michael to explain how the Roald Dahl Funny Prize came to be. From the off he was hilarious, saying he’d got loads of children but couldn’t remember how many. He’d noticed that his children preferred funny books and when he approached the Roald Dahl Estate to create a Funny Prize they were very supportive and the Book Trust administers it.

Nicolette pointed out that funny is often viewed as trivial to which Michael quoted Terry Pratchett as saying that books can be funny and serious, and she agreed.

Michael then praised Louise’s character, a teenage girl, and the serious topics that she deals with while still having the humour running through it. And said she won on a ‘gag’ count = one gag per page and sometimes three.

Michael, a fan of JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye said it was very funny but with serious issues then told us about when he was younger he’d acted out the plot with brother and had is in stiches.

Louise talked about her first book Angus, Thongs and the Full Frontal Snogging and that she’d been writing for a newspaper and has been asked to write a book about a teenager, by an editor had read some of her previous work and had said that her writing was so childlike.

Louise said that she went to an all-girls school with 1000 girls and one male teacher (the rest being female) and didn’t know she wasn’t supposed to be funny. Then she told us about going to a fancy dress party dressed as an olive; had to go down the stairs sideways. She’d got to her father’s car and couldn’t get in so her father suggested she walked to the party with him driving the car beside her which she said was pointless; they took her costume apart in the end to get her there.

Michael asked her what the teachers thought of her; she said “not a lot”. Nicolette asked her about the German teacher in the book; Herr Kameyer and Louise admitted that he was not only based on her teacher but she’d used his real name as she’s too lazy to change it. She added that she found the German language ‘funny and talked about a trip they went on, diesel train, Herr K opened a door on the wrong side of the train and disappeared. Fortunately there was nothing coming in the opposite direction so he’d managed to get back on.

Nicolette asked if there was anything in her books that hadn’t happened in real life and she said “no” then asked Michael whether the same was for him and he agreed. Then Louise said that her friends had found it endearing to start with but are now more careful (but thinks they’re still actually flattered).

They then talked about Louise’s latest book ‘Withering Tights’ and talked about the plot; a school girl called Tallulah based in an amateur dramatics college in Yorkshire, Northern England.

Nicolette then asked what Louise enjoys reading and she mentioned Just William then what she finds funny and she mentioned The Banana Splits, a TV series from the 1960s.

Michael said his older brother would read funny books to him and had a trait to share everything he learnt, which sadly, being 4 years older, was calculus and Beethoven symphonies but that he was highly intellectual (modulating and capitulating) but it was the funny stories that stuck in Michael’s brain; like a home theatre that his brother (now a palaeontologist in charge at the Darwin exhibit at the Natural History Museum in London; and has been published first book was on Coral Reef called Reef Encounter!).

Louise was then asked whether she was involved in the film of Angus which proved to be a sore point and she had been approached to be but Hollywood had decided to use two male script writers who’d never been to England and they changed so much (e.g. the setting from Leeds to Brighton, the romantic interest from Dave the Laugh to Robbie the Romantic. Louise has watched it and has come to like it for what it is; a different story.

The questions were then opened up to the audience and the first to Louise was which of her books does she like best? She said that she had originally been worried about the humour of the first one so a relief when it was warmly received, although she really enjoyed writing the latest one. Nicolette then told us that Louise had done an Irish jig when it was announced and she had to collect the award (and was then asked to repeat it on the stage, which she did!).

She then talked about her audition at an art & performance college but was told that she’d not done enough dancing but she’d retorted that she was going to college to learn and wasn’t there to learn something she could already do but then she’d not great feedback while she was there but it had at provided the inspiration for Withering Tights.

Michael was then asked whether picture books are easier to judge than older children’s fiction to which he said the fiction is easier really because . With the picture books you have to put your mind in a child, did test on their Michael’s children and Bill Bailey’s son (Bill being one of the 2009 judges). In 2008 (Year 1) they’d had an illustration judge (Chris Riddell) and whilst Michael hadn’t thought the illustrations so important, Chris had said the illustration should be good which does make sense as young children do love the pictures. Nicolette added that it’s difficult to measure how funny a picture is.

Louise was then asked what’s the funniest thing that was said about her.

She couldn’t think of a direct answer but was told that she likes ecstatic chaos.

Michael said he was studying medicine at Middlesex Medical College (incidentally mentioning that his parents were teachers) and was late for a lecture wearing a lumberjack-type jacket and when he arrived he was mistaken for a plumber which he found hilarious and has always stuck in his mind.

The next question was to which non-typically funny (i.e. not comedian) would the panel give the funny prize?

Michael said either Blackpool Manager Ian Holloway / Former Manager of Man United Tommy Docherty.

Louise said Boris Johnson because of shape of his head and it makes her laugh when he gets on his bike.

Nicolette recalled a recent event she’d been to where amateur poets were over dramatically miming the simplest of words as they read out their poetry.

The rapport between Louise and Michael throughout the session was hilarious especially when Louise said that her family were Irish and Jewish (Michael calling her ‘Irish Stew’).

As before, the panel left first and headed for the bookshop and the audience followed afterwards, many heading in the same direction to get their book signed.

With one of the Highland Park keynote speeches starting at 1.30pm there wasn’t much time to spare and my friends were already milling by the time I came out. To ensure seats, we headed to the area and it wasn’t long before it started.

I was surprised when Stephen started speaking because, although I knew he’d written A Year in The Merde, I hadn’t expected a distinctive French twang. It turns out that although he’s English, he’s lived in France for 18 years so not surprising that it’s rubbed off on him. The talk was entitled ‘5 Things You Didn’t Know about Paris’ and the first thing he said was to say “Bonjour” explaining that before anything you do anything. The second was that when a waiter asks if you are ready make sure you are otherwise as punishment, that he will look up to heaven (even if he doesn’t believes in God), then leave for 10 minutes ignoring any attempts by you to attract his attention until he’s ready to serve you. Thirdly when you’re in a restaurant he recommended that you don’t say that you are a vegetarian or have any food allergies. He said that Parisians only care about what they want and know. Everyone says “Pardon” because they are polite even if they’re thinking I’m going to elbow you and when they do they say “Pardon” afterwards. One way to annoy Parisians… if in a queue and the cashier says “Aprez vous je suis fermé” (after you I am closed) then it’s your responsibility to tell the rest of the queue which Stephen soon learnt to either stand facing the rest of the queue until it’s his turn to be served so anyone who might be waiting don’t miss out or, perhaps simpler, he joins another queue. Fourthly if cycling, assume that everyone wants to kill you. Cycle lanes are shared with buses and taxis and they always think it’s more their right to be there than you.

Lastly he talked about romance and how people believe that Paris is romantic. He then talked about Robert Doisneau’s Lovers with Leeks (shot outside L’Hotel de Ville) and described it in gorgeous detail highlighting what’s in the picture and imbibing the atmosphere of it.

He then summarised the rest of the book, for instance saying why it’s a fashion capital and that it was actually British designer Charles Worth who had invented haute couture, by opening a shop and rather than the customers saying what they wanted, which was the norm up to then, he had told the rich ladies of Paris “this is what you are going to be wearing”, added a label, turned away some customers to heighten the covetousness of his products and it worked. Stephen also talked about the history behind the 300+ traditional newspaper/magazine kiosks in the city, saying that they are paid on commission only (18% of sales) and have to pay €500 per annum for their site. They earn nothing from the advertising on the sides of their kiosks unless they’re advertising magazines, which would boost sales and that should they be approached for directions, don’t be surprised if they’re rude as they’re too busy with trying to make a living.

He then ended his talk by comparing Paris to a screen actress projecting a romantic evocative and seductive illusion. We had to leave for the 2pm talk as the question and answer session then begun and the first question he was then asked was whether the rules for living in Paris are true wherever you are. I heard him say that they mainly were but then started talking about the areas the city but didn’t catch any more.

2pm David Constantine ‘BBC National Short Story Award

Set in the intimate room of the Festival Room 2, an off-room of one of the grassy courtyard of the Christ Church University, the room itself was packed soon getting rather stuffy.

Having already read the ‘winning’ short story and being rather unimpressed, I was interested to see how the story would be received by the audience. Introduced by novelist Jem Poster, the first thing David said was that it was short and probably why it won which set the tone for the hour. The Midland, he explained, was based on The Midland at Morecombe on the Lancashire coast of England. He then described the hotel and its views.

One question I’d had when reading the piece was why Odysseus featured and this was answered when he said that it was a wooden frieze by Eric Gill on one of the walls in the restaurant. Then he read the story itself. I must admit that having heard an explanation of the history behind the story did make it more understandable, that and hearing it read by the author (my third reading of it in total).

After the reading, Jem said that it manages to pack so much into a very small space. Having explained that David is widely known as a successful poet, Jem asked about the differences between David’s poetry and short stories. He said that he struggles with all forms of writing and in this instance started with the image of the frieze and the surfers. Jem highlighted the fact that there is a lot going on beneath the surface then the talk turned round to the mythology of the story; the sacred law, as David put it, of the island to not save shipwrecked sailors. He doesn’t like stories that tie off with a neat bow so leaves his stories with the aim of his readers to think further. To the woman, the surfers represent a freedom that she doesn’t have; even though she’s a mistress and could leave the relationship at any time.

Talking about the sparseness and sharpness of the male character, Jem then moved on to Eric Gill’s ( private life and the discreetness of him (I since read that little was known about the intimate nature of his life until the 1989 biography by Fiona McCarthy) and the way the characters themselves are very discreet. A comparison was made to David’s use of this and DH Lawrence’s Women In Love. Continuing on the theme of the characters and how we inevitably warm with the woman rather than the man.

Moving on to punctuation (which I was going to ask about), David said he stopped using speech marks so that it wasn’t obvious whether the characters were talking, thinking or whether it was the narrator’s viewpoint. He said that some people may have been annoyed by it (I wasn’t a fan of its absence). Literature, when it works, enables you be less trapped and entertain other possibilities. To me this is definitely more of a poetic slant.

Jem asked David to comment about the quest for truth in writing and David talked about the recent Arts Council funding budget decisions (which I’d known about as I’m a member of The National Association of Writers in Education and had only just received emails about this issue a couple of days before). He said he has some sympathies with politicians as they are bound by their office.

David then shared with us that Helen Simpson’s publishers wouldn’t allow her titles to include ‘and other stories’ so that people might think they were novels and presumably buy them without realising. This does annoy me when I go to buy books from anywhere other than an organised bookshop where they have anthologies in a separate section.

The historical aspect of David’s story was then discussed with Jem comparing it with another of David’s stories ‘In Another Country’ which talks about a 20-something year old who’d fallen down an iced crevasse and preserved there. His son (a young child at the time of his disappearance) still lived in a neighbouring village and was an 80-something when they found his body. We was then asked to go and see his father. This is the sort of story I love, the quirkiness of it, so would be interested to read it.

Jem mentioned the misdemeanours by the characters and of Eric Gill and asked how much we, the readers, could forgive of characters who are flawed. David said that in life we have to make choices but literature is much more freeing, although it has to be realistic.

Jem said that there were likely to be writers in the room (which I knew there were) and if your characters do not seem to have come to life then perhaps you’ve not given them enough of a voice. In David’s story, he said, the voices of the two characters are very distinctive.

We were then invited to ask questions and the first was “Do you vocalise your writing?” Definitely he said, and referred to the anthology as having some great voices but said he had no ability for different voices (accents) other than his family’s background of Manchester so plays it safe otherwise.

I then asked how long he had been writing short stories and did he write any other genre? He said that he’d been writing short stories for a long time and enjoys both although has no desire to write novels. I thought that too but now love writing them.

A lady from the audience said that she had been speaking to a novelist and asked her if she would submit a story to the 2011 BBC National Short Story competition and she said she could never do that as it’s (the short story form) is too temperamental, clearly more suited to writing longer forms. David agreed as many readers prefer novels because they want backstory etc. but he prefers the shorter, tighter form, as you would expect poets to.

Jem then added that you shouldn’t feel that any form of writing hasn’t been padded, that it should always have energy.

It’s very clear that David is well-read as he often quoted passages from many classic and more modern novelists and poets.

Jem then concluded by thanking David and invited the audience to buy his books and get them signed. I bought the 2010 BBC National Short Story collection which David signed for me and I’m especially looking forward to reading Jon McGregor’s story as I met him a couple of years ago and have all three of his books, the latter of which ‘Even the dogs’ was one of this year’s SpecSavers TV Book Club shortlist.

After a quick look round the cathedral next door, we caught a bus then headed back to the park and ride and back to Tring. Although I wasn’t on the inside of the festival and therefore didn’t get to chat to the authors, other than with David very briefly, it’s made me want to go to more events and my application to the Winchester Writers Conference in July is now winging its way to them.

Update: I went to Winchester Writers’ Conference and had a wonderful two and a bit days including interviewing crime novelist Sally Spedding for my podcast (

That’s it. Thanks for visiting – a list of the other transcripts and summaries can be found at

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Posted by on September 25, 2011 in events, LitFest, podcast, writing


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Author Spotlight no.12 – Sarahjane Funnell

To complement my daily blog interviews I recently started a series of Author Spotlights and today’s, the twelfth, is of children’s author Sarahjane Funnell. You can read the others here.

Sarahjane Funnell is the Regional PR Officer for LUSH Cosmetics and a newly published children’s fiction author. Predominantly she writes young children’s picture books and middle grade stories set in magical places and enchanted lands but is soon to self publish her first short story written for YA readers. Launching as an Amazon ebook in October 2011, Sarahjane’s latest literary addition to her published repertoire will be the fantasy story Blake – a short story which Sarahjane hopes will capture the imagination of young readers in particular those who would prefer a shorter fiction book.

Blake is an aloof and mysterious guy. He possesses a sharp glint in his eye and harbours a hidden secret. Ebony, a schoolgirl, becomes completely mesmerised by him and his strange character. Longing to unveil just what it is that makes Blake so different, she desperately searches for him in need of an answer. When Ebony finally has an opportune moment to discover the secret that surrounds him, she learns that it is not only he who has an unknown mystery but that she too has a secret that stretches far beyond her own identity, one that indeed changes not only her thoughts, but also her physical human form.

Blake will be available to download as an ebook from Amazon on Monday 10th October 2011 by Sarahjane Funnell. Cover Illustration by Dimitra Mathioudakis.

And now from the author herself:

I have been writing stories for as long as I can remember but I never set out thinking one day I would be a children’s author. Writing is just something I’ve always done. I can remember as a young girl at home writing little stories and drawing pictures then putting little books together. I would do this in my room at home or sat in the back of the church hall when my mum had her church singing practice. I also loved colouring in and reading adventure books such as Enid Blyton classics and Alice in Wonderland and watching fantasy films including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Disney’s films such as Beauty and the Beast and sleeping beauty. These stories and many others probably explain my love for castles, magical lands and imaginative creatures, which are usually the main themes within the stories that I write.

As a teenager I loved watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It was my favourite teen series and I always wanted to be just like Buffy and became fascinated by Angel and the mystery that surrounded him. I think aspects of all these stories and genres have influenced my writing and my creativity. With Blake in particular, I have been inspired by the likes of other current fantasy films such as Twilight and Avatar. I also have a fondness for nature, beautiful gardens and historical houses from living in Plymouth in Devon for most of my life. With natural and picturesque surroundings such as Dartmoor and many National Trust houses my imagination is constantly sparked and inspired.

Blake will be my debut, solo published works following on from my previous published story entitled Princess Rose and the Royal Tea Castle appearing in the anthology A Pocketful of Moondust published by Rebel Books. I feel very excited to be releasing my first solo material as an ebook and I am also very proud to have such a brilliant cover designed by my university friend Dimitra Mathioudakis who has just completed an MA in Graphic Design Communication at Chelsea. I hope readers will enjoy the story and I feel the ebook market is a great way to prepare for releasing my next story which will be a children’s picture book scheduled for release in print and digital formats during Easter 2012.

Blake will be available to download as an ebook with Amazon on Monday 10th October 2011.

Thank you Sarahjane. :) You can find more about Sarahjane and her work via… and you can follow her on Twitter @sarahjanestyle.

The blog interviews will return as normal tomorrow with novelist and short story author Alberta Ross – the one hundred and thirty-seventh of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the authors further. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview (the interviewees love to hear from you too!) and / or email me at You can also read / download my eBooks here.


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Transcription of BWT podcast special ep.5 – review of Chorleywood Lit Fest Nov 2010

My review of this festival was originally broadcast on 9th December 2010 and the content has never been released other than a summary with website links (on my website so I hope you enjoy it.

I attended the recent Chorleywood Literature Festival as a volunteer and thought I’d write a review about my experiences. Although this episode had the approval of the festival’s Committee, please note that this review contains purely my opinions and observations of the weekend and in no way reflect those of the participants, organisers or Committee.

The outsider’s insider review…

Based in Hertfordshire, England, the Chorleywood Lit Fest, now in its 5th year, was opened on Tuesday 16th November by latest Man Booker winner Howard Jacobson at, I understand, a much larger venue than originally planned.  Unfortunately I was working up until late Friday afternoon so only attended for the weekend. I soon learned, though, that the events leading up to the weekend had been incredibly popular as many people turning up on the two days that I was there, had been to almost every other event. Novelist Simon Scarrow was the second talk (on the Wednesday evening), followed on the Thursday by the ‘New & Local Author Showcase’ (which I’m disappointed I missed and will definitely catch next year). The week ended with The Greatest Monarch Debate – I’m told that James 1st won with 40 votes and Queen Victoria came last with just 4 votes; with Elizabeth 1st and Richard 1st somewhere in between) on the Friday evening.


It was the first time I had been to a festival as an insider was even more of a treat to be surrounded by everything literary. I live in Northamptonshire but was born in Amersham, Buckinghamshire which is divided from Chorleywood by Little Chalfont, where I went to secondary school, so it was lovely driving ‘home’. I hadn’t been to Chorleywood for years and if you didn’t know about, and could ignore the signs for, the village centre, you could imagine that Chorleywood consists of just the one single-sided postcard-picture row of houses with the common and golf course to one side and the two rustic halls at the end.

The first event Pirates Ahoy! started at 9.30 on the Saturday morning so families arrived soon after the doors opened. Most of the children were in fancy dress, from princesses to Batman, and of course pirates and were soon captivated by Danya Miller, a storyteller based in nearby Kings Langley. This was her first year at Chorleywood and the success of the event was shown by how well the children behaved throughout the reading (I liked her immediately because she wore purple head-to-toe). A very intimate affair, the reading was held in the smaller section of the hall, which was later turned into a bookshop, and was very relaxed with Danya crouched on the floor with a variety of props, in front of a colourful blanket-covered room packed with children and their parents doing likewise.

Since finding out about the festival in the summer (thanks to an online search for events in my family’s area), I had been in regular email contact with Committee Member Gill who was one of the first people to welcome me on the Saturday morning. I had promised beforehand that I was at her disposal for the weekend and that I was more than happy to do anything that was asked of me.

From the events that followed though, it was quickly obvious what needed doing, and we all just cracked on with ‘mucking’ in. Apart from stopping for a delicious ploughman’s lunch (for listeners outside the UK who may not know what that is, it consisted of crispy French bread (I know, not very English!), for me some tasty Vintage Cheddar (others also had Brie), apple, salad, ham, and rounded off with tangy pickle sauce.

It was then time to put the 200+ chairs out for Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy – another sell-out event, and whilst most events have ‘no-shows’, the packed hall certainly implied that no-one had wanted to miss out. In fact, more chairs had to be obtained from next door’s British Legion Hall with standing room only at the very back.

Apart from occasional minor sound issues, Carol Ann’s readings were a mix of amusing and thought-provoking. I had heard little of her poetry before and from what and how she read, can see why she was appointed the poetry for the people role, as it is the sort of writing that most people can relate to, my favourite being ‘Cold’ which I have since found on the’s website.

The third event of the day featured 72-year-old former newscaster and TV presenter Peter Snow who was incredibly impressive recounting the history of The Duke of Wellington right up to the battle of Waterloo. Speaking continuously for over an hour, accompanied only by a digital slide show, he was so comprehensive that you almost felt you didn’t need to buy the book but the extensive question and answer session and book-signing queue proved me wrong. One of my claims to fame would be handing him a glass of water. :)

British author, historian and Times columnist Ben Macintyre was equally entertaining as he read extracts from his intriguingly titled book ‘Operation Mincemeat’ (of which Wikipedia has a great explanation –

I had to leave straight after Ben’s question and answer session but again, judging by the amount of people attending to the event and asking questions, I am sure that the book signing went well.


After an overnight stay in nearby Tring, I started the day as an attendee of the Toby Litt writing workshop. I already had his anthology ‘Exhibitionism’ which, unfortunately, I’d only read up to, and including, the sixth story but it did give me a feel for his style of writing (quirky, which I love!) although I had bought his latest novel ‘I play drums in a band called okay’ from the Chorleywood Bookshop stand at the festival the day before but hadn’t had a chance to start reading.

The workshop itself was another sell-out and was held in the intimate, though unglamorous-sounding, setting of the Royal British Legion Hall. Situated at the back of the main War Memorial Hall, it again had a very friendly feel to it, added further by the tea and coffee, homemade cake, croissants and mini mince pies.

The three hours flew by with barely time for a 5-minute comfort and refreshment break in the middle. The standard of writing overall was impressively high and although one young lady was rather nervous about reading her work out, when she did she didn’t disappoint.

Meanwhile a Joke Workshop for 5-9 year olds (though younger and older children were in attendance), lead by children’s author (of the wonderfully named ‘Dinopants’ and others) Ciaran Murtagh, was taking place in the Memorial Hall and by all accounts, it too was a roaring success.

Still on a high from the workshop, I joined the other volunteers for another ploughman’s (this time with brie, which wasn’t actually as bad as I remember, as the cheddar had gone AWOL) in the side room formerly used for the Pirates Ahoy-turned-bookshop, during which I had a bit of a chat with Bloomsbury novelist and Sunday Telegraph dance critic Louise Levene about a PC vs Mac (before I got my Mac in June, I would have said the former from personal experience but as they say ‘once you go Mac you never go back’ and it’s so true for me). Around us, others were finalising the preparations of the final event of the day; ‘The Bloomsbury Reading Group’.

Author Marika Cobbold joined us as we were on desserts and enjoyed a piece of homemade lemon cake while we chatted about trains, Andre Rieu (my aunt’s a huge fan) and cushions! With half an hour to go, Jane Rusbridge joined us and the conversation was again far from literary until Jane produced a book by Clifford M Ashley called ‘The Ashley Book of Knots’ and two example rope knots! Then it was time for the off and we headed into the main hall.

Scheduled to run from 2pm to 5pm, the Bloomsbury Reading Group started with an author-to-audience session facilitated by David Ward, Bloomsbury’s Sales Director who initially invited the three authors to introduce their books and read extracts from them.

Marika started and told us about Rebecca Finch, the protagonist from her sixth novel ‘Aphrodite’s Workshop for Reluctant Lovers’ followed by Jane who discussed her thought-provoking debut novel entitled ‘The Devil’s Music’ and finally Louise with ‘A Vision of Loveliness’ which she read brilliantly – I’d vote for her as the voice for the audiobook!

The audience then split to the three tables (one for each novel) for a discussion session, initially without the authors present, allowing the readers to discuss the book amongst themselves accompanied only by some warm mulled wine (which was lovely – I had a tiny glass as I was driving). While this was going on I retired to the smaller room to start typing this review, leaving the Marika, Jane, Louise and David to chat amongst themselves on the stage for a few minutes before coming to the side room.

After about half an hour, the authors joined their relevant sessions and I caught a few minutes of each group. Starting with Marika’s, I heard her say that she doesn’t write about her life as she doesn’t feel that it is particularly interesting but rather uses her experience in her writing, and was a translator before becoming a novelist.

I then moved on to listen in on Jane’s group where the discussion was mid-flow regarding knots (a key feature in ‘The Devil’s Music). One of her readers brought up the subject of second-person point of view (‘you’) and whilst some people felt uncomfortable with the narrator talking to them so directly (it can feel intrusive) others didn’t mind it at all, which was good to hear. Jane explained that whilst her editor was happy for her to use the second-person, she had anticipated that it wouldn’t get past the Sales and Marketing team which thankfully it clearly did as it’s so rarely used. I covered viewpoints in episode and gave Jay McInerney’s ‘Bright Lights Big City’ as an example of a second-person novel. Although I only started writing this point of view quite recently, I love writing it, so asked Jane if it changed the style of her writing (mine, I explained, can be quite dark in that viewpoint). She said that she tries not to write the actual word ‘you’ very often so that’s something I’m definitely going to have a go at, probably at next Monday night’s writing workshop.

Finally, I caught the tail end of Fiona’s group discussion where she was saying that she’d been put off writing novels by being bullied into writing one (a chapter a week) at school when she was 12. I got the impression from her that she is a planner – she mentioned that she writes a lot on index cards (very popular with authors when giving speeches – I’ve got as far as buying a load but they’re all still blank!). She did say that you should write only what you can imagine happening on stage (a tip I think she was given) which is great advice.

The groups then disbanded for refreshments; tea, coffee and traditional English village-style cream teas (fresh homemade plain and sultana scones – I’m told made by Committee Member and Chorleywood Bookshop owner Morag) strawberry jam and of course fresh cream – of which my brother is allergic but that is another story!

The afternoon then reconvened with a final panel question & answer session – mine was ‘Is there a question that you’ve never been asked that you would like to have had’. I figured that they wouldn’t have an immediate answer, and said as much, so wasn’t surprised when no-one could think of a reply and moved on to the next question, although Marika said a little later that she’d loved to be asked why she’s never received a Nobel prize which had the room in stitches.

After the Q&A, the authors signed their books; most of the audience had brought their own copies although many people bought the other two books they hadn’t read from the bookshop’s stand which they then had signed and some, including me, bought all three. My other purchase of the weekend was a canvas ‘I heart Chorleywood’ bag to send to a long-time friend in Germany (probably containing a few hefty thrillers – she’s a big Ken Follett fan, although as a fan of the TV series ‘Bones’, she’s currently working through some Kathy Reichs I sent her earlier in the year).

Marika, Jane and Louise were all very approachable and clearly delighted that people were so interested in their writing, which is how you would want an author to be. I had a wonderful chat with Marika and Louise about NaNoWriMo amongst other things and once they and the public had departed, it was then left to return the hall to its original state which, with all hands on deck, was done very quickly. I returned to have a meal at my mum’s in Tring, a 20-minute drive from Chorleywood, drive home (my dog strapped safely on the backseat – the only part about being in the car that he doesn’t enjoy) to Northamptonshire, still reeling from such wonderful two days.

The future of the Chorleywood Literature Festival

I chatted with Nikki over the weekend who has been one of the organisers of the Festival since inception and is responsible for the writing of the promotional literature and website content. The website itself is run by another of the Committee Members, Adrian who, with his lovely wife Ellie (who also took part in Toby Litt’s writing workshop), were also there for the weekend. The website ( has all the information and photos.

Gill, Penny and I did also discuss developing the Short Story Competition. I provided them with information of two that I am involved in, one short story and one poetry, and gave them a stack of back issue magazines (women-only Mslexia, The New Writer – both quarterly, and monthlies Writing Magazine and its sister publication Writer’s News) so the festival itself, with such dedicated volunteers, can, I hope, only go from strength to strength.


Throughout the weekend (and no doubt during the evenings leading up to it), feedback cards were handed out and reading some of them, they were full of praise. I get the impression that most of the Committee and many of the attendees are residents of Chorleywood which could only have added to the warming and welcoming ‘village’ feel which must make the Chorleywood Literature Festival a favourite amongst lit fest attendees. I’ve been to a few but this was the first time as a volunteer and within a few hours of arriving home, I’d volunteered for two other festivals next year nearer to my home. One of these was Oundle which was March 2011 and formed a 5-part podcast review which will be posted in the not too distant future.

The events were captured on film by Rob Avery, a photographer based in nearby Stevenage. It was his first year covering the event, as the previous years’ photographer was unable to attend, she recommended Rob ( who was a constant, though unobtrusive, presence before and during events.

And the downside? Apart from parking being an issue for some, naturally expected when catering for over 200 people in a village setting, and the occasional sound blips, the weekend went without a hitch and it’s difficult to believe that it is only its 5th year.  And probably the best thing about it for me is that it was where I met Rachel, my now editor!

I hope you enjoyed my review. Everything mentioned here was purely my opinion and observations of the weekend and in no way reflect those of the participants, organisers or Committee of the Festival. In the meantime, if you have any feedback, do email me or via the Contact page of my website

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Posted by on September 24, 2011 in events, LitFest, novels, podcast, writing


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Flash Fiction Friday 001: JD Mader’s ‘Green’

I’m delighted (I use that word a lot don’t I, but I am) to bring you the first piece of flash fiction in what I’m hoping will be a long-running (for as long as you provide me with your stories) weekly series.

So, without further ado (do I hear a cheer at the back?) tonight’s story is a 325-word piece entitled ‘Green’ brought to us by my regular guest San Francisco-based JD Mader…

She felt the warmth of the rising sun crawl up her legs, but beneath her the grass was cool with dew.  The contrast was pleasant, like jumping into a hot bath after playing in the snow.  Her mind was calm, and she could see each blade of grass distinctly, green towers reaching toward the reddening sky.  Each blade was the same height, the tops torn off by angry mower blades.  Every so often a stalk stood proudly, knowing that it had escaped the fate of its comrades.
   She could hear the distant call of birds.  Their songs were lost in the thick air and became blips and screeches as they clawed their way through the morning haze.  Her mind was simultaneously lost in the present and the past.  She was lying in the grass.  She was also standing on a stage.  Her dance had just finished.  The adults were clapping.  She did not want to be a dancer.  That did not seem to matter.
   There were many things that did not matter.  It hadn’t mattered when she told her mother that she wanted to be an astronaut.  It hadn’t mattered when she then decided to forego college and travel the world.  It hadn’t mattered when she was fifteen and she told Billy Abrams that she wanted him to stop.  Funny how it all worked.  Not funny funny, though.
   There was a line of ants marching through the grass.  She blew on them and they scattered, reforming their ranks like soldiers once the wind had passed.
   The reflection of the sun expanded as it rose.  It cast a pale green glow that seemed to coat her in peace and tranquility.  Behind her, she could hear the moaning of the other passengers.  An occasional scream.  It was all very far away.  She could smell the burning airplane, but somehow none of it was as important as the soft green grass and the tender warmth of the sun.

And the inspiration behind this piece: I teach writing workshops.  We do all kinds of writing prompts and write for five minutes or so.  I always write with the students, and then we share what we wrote.  Pretty standard stuff.  The prompt for this piece was, get ready for it, “Green”.  We all wrote about the color green.  A lot of times I use my portion of the writing time to try and show how you can subvert conventions and make any idea your own.  Green conjures peaceful images for me, so I tried to go as far away from that as possible.  Or to combine the tranquility of green with a backdrop of terror.  The piece came out pretty well.  I wish I could say that it happened like that every time. Green is a very short piece.  My stories are usually longer, but the impact of the stark contrast is so immediate that I think it works.  I never contemplated expanding this piece.  I think it would detract from the overall effect.

I think so too… thank you JD. ‘Green’ was the subject of my first ‘red pen’ session podcast episode and was released on Monday 8th August – you can read the summary and get the podcast links here. JD Mader is a teacher and writer / musician based in San Francisco.  He has been fortunate enough to encounter many giving and inspiring people in his life.  He hopes to repay the debt.  And to make enough money with his writing to buy a house. His website is where you can read more of JD’s writing and if you’d like more (and why wouldn’t you?) his novel Joe Café is available here.

If you’d like to submit your 1,000-word max. stories for consideration for Flash Fiction Friday take a look here.


Posted by on September 23, 2011 in novels, podcast, short stories, Twitter, writing


Transcription of BWT podcast episode 31 (Mar 2011) – hints & tips

The thirty-first episode of the Bailey’s Writing Tips podcast was released on 28th March 2011 and the content has never been released other than website links (on my website) so I hope you find this information useful. In the first thirty episodes (see for details), I covered ‘show not tell’, the five senses, repetition, points of view, tenses, dialogue, characters, crime, poetry, short stories, novels, writing for children, scriptwriting, comedy, romance and chick lit, erotica, ‘writing rules’, historical & the classics, name & characters, Christmas, opportunities, songwriting, reading, auto/biographies, computer tips (parts 1&2), competitions & submissions, romance, hints & tips (parts 1&2), short stories and scriptwriting. This episode had more hints & tips.

Hints & tips

  • Crime writer Mark Billingham (who I met at the Oundle Lit Fest) says: “My advice is to write the kind of book that you’d like to read. Don’t hold on to what you’ve written for too long; get it out there. Don’t fiddle with it too much. James Lee Burke said a book is finished when ‘nothing rattles’. As soon as it’s rattle-free, leave it alone.” Another quote I loved was “Hendricks is a character I’m very fond of and if I came up with a vehicle for him, I would happily climb on board.”
  • Margaret Atwood has ten tips for writers’ block: 1. Go for a walk, do the laundry or some ironing, hammer some nails, go swimming, play a sport – anything that requires some focus and involves repetitious physical activities. At the very least: take a bath or shower; 2. Read the book you’ve been putting off; 3. Write in some other form – even a letter or journal entry. Or a grocery list. Keep those words flowering out through your fingers; 4. Formulate your problem, then go to sleep. The answer may be there in the morning; 5. Eat some chocolate, not too much; must be dark (60% cocoa or more), shade-grown, organic; 6. If fiction, change the tense (past/present or vice versa); 7. Change the person (first, second, third); 8. Change the sex; 9. Think of your book-in-progress as a maze. You’ve hit a wall. Go back to where you made the wrong turn. Start anew from there; 10. Don’t get angry with yourself. Give yourself an encouraging present. If none of this works, put the book in a drawer. You may come back to it later. Start something else.
  • produces a yearly Date-a-base Book and the 2011 edition “lists over 1,900 historic anniversaries that will occur during 2011, giving you plenty of time to write about them” they say.
  • Gail Sher (author of ‘One continuous mistake’) said that there are ‘four noble truths of writing’: 1. Writers write, 2. Writing is a process, 3. You don’t know what you are writing until the end of the process, and 4. If writing is your practice, the only way to fail is not to write. In other words, just put pen to paper and see what happens. Final drafts are usually very different from first drafts so don’t worry if it doesn’t sound perfect or anywhere near perfect – it rarely does first time round.
  • has lists of novel beginnings and some are fantastic. Whilst you won’t be able to steal them, they may show you what works (or perhaps doesn’t work). An article on Suite 101 may also help. is a top 100 is the 100 Best First Lines of Novels as chosen by the editors of American Book Review. My favourite is no. 49 (Iain M Banks).
  • A writer’s block tip I’ve heard is that if you’re struggling, leave the last sentence you’re at half-done and that’ll inspire you to carry on when you return to it. I found this out during our first workshop when we picked sentence starts as mine was a complete one; I really struggled continuing it but got there.
  • Another tip I’ve heard is to listen to dialogue in a film, fictional TV programme or play. Does it sound realistic? You wouldn’t leave in all the ‘ums’ and ‘erms’ or real dialogue but what works and what doesn’t? It’s often quite common for people to interrupt each other (which would be written with ‘…’ at the end of that last word) and this speeds the dialogue up even further. Without going overboard, give great consideration on how the age of the person would speak; a teenage is very different to a pensioner…in theory anyway, although having your pensioner say “hey dude” could be fun.
  • Another recommendation is to pick a random line of a book, magazine or newspaper and see if any words inspire a title or theme. Or for a more ongoing basis, whenever you buy a newspaper (ideal as they have bigger headings), cut up each word of each heading, put it in any kind of container (I have a white ceramic topless head) and whenever you want inspiration, just dip into the container and pull out a word. At Northampton Literature Group monthly writing night, we have a 4 minute write-a-thon using the same word and it’s amazing how different our stories are. We’ve also started to do a round robin one-sentence-per-person following on from the previous person’s until you get your own piece of paper back, with hopefully a completed mini-story, and it’s great fun (good thinking Alan).
  • Don’t overuse clichés. You can use them (George Lucas said “don’t avoid them – they’re clichés because they work”) but if you can find your own way of saying something and it sounds better, then go for it.
  • To write a good story, you should know the answers to why, when, where, who, what and how. There are a few websites that can help you with this. explains that it is a ‘concept originated from Rudyard Kipling – The Elephant’s Child’ and is shows as follows:
Place Where is it done?
Why is it done there?
Where else might it be done?
Where should it be done?
Person Who does it?
Why does that person do it?
Who else might do it?
Who should do it?
Sequence When is it done?
Why is it done then?
When might it be done?
When should it be done?
Means How is it done?
Why is it done that way?
How else might it be done?
How should it be done?


Here I provide a couple of story ideas or ways to get new ideas then list seven sentence starts; each one, if you’d like to use them, for a daily writing project.

  • Take a short story you’ve written and change the male character to a female one (or vice versa) and see how the story develops; and/or
  • Now change the tense; i.e. from present to past or vice versa (assuming you’ve not written it in future tense which has been done but is quite wearing!).

The podcast concluded with Quotes, News & Feedback, On This Day in History and a haiku called ‘Summer’. I picked a haiku because it’s very short, typically being three lines; 5 syllables, 7 syllables then another 5 syllables and so therefore quick to do. Eve Harvey (Radio Litopia’s former femme extraordinaire and now involved with and I were chatting on Facebook about quantity vs quality and this is definitely quantity over quality, as it took me about a minute to write it but she liked it so I’ve not changed it and if you’ve never heard a, or heard of, haiku before, then it’s an example. There’s a great explanation of haiku at

  • The clocks go forward / summertime begins today / car boots, dog walks, sun.

That’s it. Thanks for visiting – a list of the other transcripts and summaries can be found at


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Transcription of BWT podcast episode 30 (Mar 2011) – scriptwriting

The thirtieth episode of the Bailey’s Writing Tips podcast was released on 14th March 2011 and the content has never been released other than website links (on my website so I hope you find this information useful. In the first twenty-nine episodes (see for details), I covered ‘show not tell’, the five senses, repetition, points of view, tenses, dialogue, characters, crime, poetry, short stories, novels, writing for children, scriptwriting, comedy, romance and chick lit, erotica, ‘writing rules’, historical & the classics, name & characters, Christmas, opportunities, songwriting, reading, auto/biographies, computer tips (parts 1&2), competitions & submissions, romance, hints & tips (parts 1&2) and short stories. This episode had a focus on scriptwriting.


  • is the sister organisation of NaNoWriMo and rather than the 50,000 words in a month, Script Frenzy’s aim is to write 100 pages of script every April – I had a go in April 2010 and while I found it an interesting exercise, it’s not made me want to be a scriptwriter, although it has made me appreciate the work that goes into each film I watch, and sometimes I imagine it written as a script but then that’s the analyst in me! I liked the story I came out with so a little later I converted it into the beginning of a novel. The rule is the same in both projects; you can plot as much as you like before the beginning of the month (November for NaNoWriMo and April for Script Frenzy) but you can’t start writing the actual story until the 1st then it’s pens down (or fingers off keyboard) as the month ends and while you’re doing it you can keep score online, chat to others doing the same thing and a lot of people meet up. I won’t be doing Script Frenzy this year but I may well use the time structure to do some serious word count to one of the four novels I have as yet unfinished. Douglas Adams was quoted as saying “I love deadlines; I love the whooshing sound they make as they fly by” but I find them invaluable as it’s so easy to let my writing slide.
  • is an interview with Eastenders writer Rob Gittins. I won’t read it all out but I’ve just pick my favourite couple of questions and answers out of the eight asked and answered: ‘What makes a good story?’ (Particularly in the field I operate in, which is mainly TV drama and an awful lot of drama series, I think what makes a good story is really simple; ‘what happened next’. That’s all anybody wants to know, it doesn’t matter what the story is. I think when writers lose sight of the fact that ‘what happened next’ is what an audience is interested in, that’s when it becomes a bit pretentious. The thing about writing is that it is actually incredibly simple and it’s very difficult to realise that.), ‘What is the best writing tip you have been given?’ (I think Simon Moore the film writer has got this thing about perspective; taking an idea and putting it down in the middle of the room and walking around it. So in fact if you think the idea is about a 40yr old man and a 20yr old woman try reversing it. Try it with different age groups, different sexes. Simon Moore has actually taken that perspective idea, to its logical conclusion because I think the last time I spoke to him he was writing the oldest story in the world – the nativity, but from the view point of the animals and actually the minute you say that you think that’s obvious. That’s a great example of taking a very, very old story but actually telling it from a brand new perspective. I think when you get an idea and you twist it and twist the characters, you can get something fresh with it.)

Hints & tips

Script-related websites

  • Dramatica describes itself as the ‘place for novelists, screenwriters and fiction writers of all kinds’. Topics include community (events, news, classes/workshops, writers group, chat rooms etc) and theory (which includes advice such as the excellent ‘12 essential questions’ – – under the heading ‘Do you know these things about your story?’ (which are also relevant to other genres of fiction):
  • Explore Writing’s page has seven sections on ‘plot v. character’, ‘dialogue and description’, ‘formulating the treatment’ (, ‘realism or alternate strategies’, ‘the concept’, ‘scene-by-scene’ and ‘writing a narrative script’. You can sign up to their newsletter via any page of their website. You simply put in your e-mail address and click on ‘go’.
  • The writersroom section of the BBC’s website is the place to visit for hints, tips and example scripts – the BBC is always looking for new scripts whether it be for TV or radio so do take a look.
  1. Main character resolve – does your main character change his way of dealing with the problem at the heart of the story (such as Ebenezer Scrooge’s switch to generosity in A Christmas Carol) or remain Steadfast in his convictions (such as the innocent Dr. Richard Kimble in The Fugitive)?
  2. Main character growth – does your main character grow by adopting a new useful trait (Start) or by outgrowing an old inappropriate one (Stop)?
  3. Main character approach – is your main character a ‘Be’-er who mentally adapts to his environment (such as Rick Blaine in Casablanca) or a ‘Do’-er who physically changes his environment (such as John McClane in Die Hard)?
  4. Main character problem solving style – does your main character use a Logical problem solving style (such as Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs) or an Intuitive problem solving style (such as Tom Wingo in The Prince of Tides…the film starring Barbara Streisand and Nick Nolte)?
  5. Story driver – is the overall story driven by actions first (such as the time travellers arriving in The Terminator) or decisions first (Daniel Hillard’s decision to impersonate a woman in Mrs. Doubtfire)?
  6. Story limit – is your overall story brought to its climax by running out of time (such as the 18 days to save the earth in Armageddon) or by running out of options (such as Thelma and Louise driving over the cliff in Thelma and Louise)?
  7. Story outcome – do your character’s efforts to achieve the story goal result in success (such as killing the shark in Jaws) or failure (such as not being able to open the dinosaur theme park in Jurassic Park)?
  8. Main character judgement – does the main character resolve his personal problems and feel good (such as Luke finally trusting his skills in Star Wars) or not resolve them and feel bad (Clarice Starling still being haunted by her childhood memories in Silence of the Lambs)?
  9. Overall story throughline – if you pull back and look at the story from a bird’s eye view, which general area best describes the nature of the problems ALL the characters are dealing with? Does the story’s conflicts stem from a situation, an activity, a fixed attitude, or manipulations?
  10. Overall story concern – which area of concern are ALL the characters in your story interested in or worried about regarding the overall story goal?
  11. Overall story issue – what is the thematic issue that affects all of your characters in your story?
  12. Overall story problem – what is the source of the central problem that affects your characters?


Here I provide a couple of story ideas or ways to get new ideas then list seven sentence starts, each one, if you’d like to use them, for a daily writing project.

  • The next time you’re in an ordinary public place such as a supermarket or in a bus queue, think about how you would set a TV or radio programme from such a place. If the characters don’t know each other, are they solitary? Is there something that could make this scene out of the ordinary.
  • Try writing a monologue; Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads were really popular. Whilst it doesn’t have to be all that long, it is a different type of writing (and one of my favourites) so do consider giving it a go.

The podcast concluded with Quotes, News & Feedback, On This Day in History and a 60-worder called ‘Metal Mate’: OK, so she drove him mad but she’d seen him through the tough times. But now they were parting. He looked at her one last time, touched her gently, picked up his belongings and said ‘goodbye’, a tear welling in his eyes. He stopped, looked back and winced as the crusher turned his beloved Austin Allegro into a foot-square cube.

That’s it. Thanks for visiting – a list of the other transcripts and summaries can be found at


Guest post: ‘Writing manga’ by fantasy / manga author TJ Perkins

I’m delighted to bring you this guest blog post, today on the topic of animé / manga, by TJ Perkins.

‘Writing manga’

I’ve always loved anime and manga and when I created the Shadow Legacy series I had no idea that, within the folds of the fantasy I wrote, I incorporated a story that reads much like a manga.  So, what is manga?

Manga is a Japanese style of comic book that is presented in a smaller format and with distinct styles of drawing. It is typically distinguished by long, lean characters with large eyes and dramatic hair and other exaggerated features.  Manga is a form of comic all its own, with different conventions and rules than regular American comics.  If you’ve ever browsed the anima section you’ve most likely noticed those thick books, with comics inside, and most are read from back to front.

How should you start a manga?  Like any good story you have to develop your characters, the protagonist and antagonist, their world, and figure out what makes them tick.  What is the plot?  What is the crisis?  Is there a quest? And so on.  This must come first.  Once you’ve developed this important step it’s then time to surge ahead.

Writing manga is more like setting up a comic book.  Once you have your story outlined you’ll have to break it up into sections.  These sections should be broken down in a page-by-page status and go with your dialogue.  Write out the general plot and dialogue for each section.  Keep it simple.  Manga is much more streamlined than prose, and boxes are much smaller than traditional comics.  Brevity is key.  Dialogue should be natural but simple, and the action and expression of the characters should carry the weight of the story.  If you’re an excellent artists and a great storyteller then you won’t have to share your work with an artist.  But if you can only tell a good story you’ll have to find an artist.

Manga is more difficult to write than a novel or short story.  You have to get your idea, thoughts, feelings, emotions and action across within a matter of a few cells – just like a comic book.  How do you do that?  Stay in the moment, one page at a time.  Writing manga is a lot like writing a play or film script because you’re writing according to images.  You’re exploring the characters with their dialogue and using that dialogue to move the story along.  You are writing for pictures so take care not to make your story ‘too talky.’  You’re words have to actually make your pictures come alive.

To tell you how to write would be like someone trying to tell you how to walk.  You can do it – one step at a time.  Let that story flow and match it to your artwork.

Good luck and get your manga on!

Morgen: I love that, thank you TJ.

Award-winning author TJ Perkins is a gifted and well-respected author in the mystery/suspense genre. Her writing style has been compared to that of Mildred Wirt Benson A.K.A. Carolyn Keen (Nancy Drew).  Mystery books for ages 8-14 are Mystery of the Attic, On Forbidden Ground, Wound Too Tight and the first 5 books in the Kim & Kelly Mystery Series. TJ has recently expanded into the world of fantasy for teens. Publisher Silver Leaf Books has contracted to release Shadow Legacy, a 5-book series of fantasy.  The first installment of this new exciting series, Art of the Ninja: Earth, is an award-winner and has been classified by readers and reviewers as a cross-genre of fantasy/manga. TJ lives in Baltimore, MD with her 2 cats and an imagination that’s bursting at the seams.

You can read sample pages of TJ’s writing (, see the book trailer (, check out TJ’s blog, follower her on Twitter, friend / like her on Facebook and find her books at GoodReads (all her books are available on Kindle, Nook, iPad – just look them up by TJ Perkins).

Wikipedia’s articles on Anime and Manga are also worth a visit (after TJ’s sites of course :)).

If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me at with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please” (while quietly bouncing up and down in my seat with joy!).


Posted by on September 22, 2011 in ebooks, ideas, novels, recommendations, tips, Twitter, writing


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Author Spotlight no.11 – DV Berkom

To complement my daily blog interviews I recently started a series of Author Spotlights and today’s, the eleventh, is of fantasy, mystery and suspense / thriller author and interviewee-to-be DV Berkom. You can read the others here.

DV Berkom grew up in the Midwest region of the US, received her BA in Political Science from the University of Minnesota, and promptly moved to Mexico to live on a sailboat. Several years and at least a dozen moves later, she now lives outside of Seattle, Washington with her sweetheart Mark, an ex-chef-turned-contractor, and writes whenever she gets a chance

A huge fan of exotic locales, spy novels and thrillers, DV has always loved to read suspense-filled stories. Having written short stories throughout her life, (the first one at the tender age of seven) she finally took the plunge and completed her first novel in 2006. After that she was hooked and completed three more novels before turning to the shorter, more immediately satisfying novella.

Author of the Kate Jones e-thrillers Bad Spirits (Books 1-5), Dead of Winter, Death Rites and the just released Touring for Death, DV enjoys offering readers an immediate “suspense vacation.” The series follows Kate Jones on the run from her ex, a ruthless drug lord, from Mexico to Alaska, Hawaii and the high desert of northern Arizona.  DV took it to heart when a writing instructor told the class to “place your protagonist in the most dangerous situation you can think of- near death with the bad guys closing in- and then throw rocks at her…”

When not writing, DV loves to travel, hike to obscure hot springs, take photographs and spend quality time with her friends and family. She’s held a variety of jobs including massage therapist, certified Feng Shui consultant, wine tasting manager, hot air balloon ride seller and fish monger, although now works full-time for a local community college.

She is currently working on a twisted new manuscript tentatively titled, Pieces of April, about a retired female assassin who ends up on the wrong side of a serial killer…

…or is it the other way around?

And now from the author herself:

I’ve written in several different genres, including fantasy, science fiction, mystery and romance, but hit my stride and found my voice writing suspense/thrillers. I love the fast pace and especially enjoy blowing things up. The more trouble I can throw at my characters, the better.

Here’s the description of Bad Spirits (Books 1-5) the first novella in the series:  “Kate Jones is on the run with a backpack full of money, intent on finding her way back to the United States from Mexico. Unfortunately, a ruthless drug lord named Salazar is just as intent on finding her, retrieving his stolen money, and making her pay for ever having left him. Is there anyone she can trust?” Readers have called Bad Spirits “…a fast paced, action-packed novella which reads like a high octane movie…”

Writing novellas suits my personality and lifestyle (read: I work full-time) and taught me to use words sparingly. Actually a prequel to two novels I’d already written with Kate as the protagonist, I wrote Bad Spirits at the request of my then e-publisher. After that, the stories kept coming. I first became interested in the escalating drug-war south of the US border when news stories started trickling in linking mass graves with various drug cartels battling each other for dominance. I spent time in Mexico and fell in love with the people and country. The thought of this fun-loving, family-oriented culture caught in the middle of such vicious violence made me angry and sad, and it spurred me to write Bad Spirits.

The next book in the series, Dead of Winter, follows Kate to Alaska, where she hopes to elude her dangerous ex’s reach, but doesn’t quite pull it off.

I lived in Alaska several years ago and when I was trying to figure out where Kate could go to get away from her ex I thought, where else? Alaska’s the polar opposite (sorry for the pun :)) of Mexico and is known to be the place to go if you want to get lost. The romance between Kate and Sam, the man assigned to protect her, apparently hit a chord. I’ve gotten emails from readers saying how much they loved Sam, and would I please bring him back? (I already have a rough idea sketched out for that story… :))

In Death Rites, when Kate has to leave Alaska (and Sam) behind, she runs to the last place she remembers feeling safe: the North Shore of Oahu. Against her better judgment, she re-establishes old connections, but soon faces a new problem in Alek, a gifted carver and avid surfer.  When a brutal murder and theft of a priceless artifact from a museum is discovered, Kate’s thrown in the middle of what appears to be a violent ancient sect come to life. Her only chance of survival is to rely on her wits…

…and the ancient gods of Hawaii.

In my newest release, Touring for Death, Kate’s hiding out from her shady past while driving jeep tours through the rugged high desert of northern Arizona, and is determined to stop looking over her shoulder and find peace from her mistake of a gun-toting, former life. Testifying against a Mexican drug lord and a dirty DEA agent didn’t turn out to be a life enhancing choice and she’s been on the move ever since.

Now, five years have passed with no sign of trouble and Kate’s finally starting to believe she’s safe. Her current goal is to make enough money so she can get lost in the tropics when the tourist trade dies off. Unfortunately, it’s the tourists that are dying off and she may be next.

It’s been great fun writing this series.  Judging from the emails and reviews I’ve received, people have fun reading them, too. To me, reader satisfaction is key.  Everything else is secondary.

Absolutely, thank you DV. You can find more about DV and her work (she says she’d love to hear from you!)…

FacebookTwitterWebsite, Amazon Author Page: USUK and Trailer for Bad Spirits.

The blog interviews will return as normal tomorrow morning (UK time) with Christian suspense novelist and memoirist-to-be Rosie Cochran – the one hundred and thirty-fourth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, directors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate the author further. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found at here. And I enjoy hearing from readers of my blog; do either leave a comment on the relevant interview and / or email me. You can also read / download my eBooks here.


Posted by on September 21, 2011 in ebooks, Facebook, interview, novels, Twitter, writing


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Transcription of BWT podcast episode 29 (March 2011) – short stories

The twenty-ninth episode of the Bailey’s Writing Tips podcast was released on 7th March 2011 and the content has never been released other than website links (on my website so I hope you find this information useful. In the first twenty-eight episodes (see for details), I covered ‘show not tell’, the five senses, repetition, points of view, tenses, dialogue, characters, crime, poetry, short stories, novels, writing for children, scriptwriting, comedy, romance and chick lit, erotica, ‘writing rules’, historical & the classics, name & characters, Christmas, opportunities, songwriting, reading, auto/biographies, computer tips (parts 1&2), competitions & submissions, romance and hints & tips (parts 1&2). This episode had a focus on short stories.

Short stories

  • Wikipedia page says that “The short story refers to a work of fiction that is usually written in prose, usually in narrative format. This format or medium tends to be more pointed than longer works of fiction, such as novellas (in the 20th and 21st century sense) and novels or books…” Click on the blue link for the full text.
  • The Encyclopaedia Britannica ( summarises the short story as “usually presenting a single significant episode or scene involving a limited number of characters. The form encourages economy of setting and concise narration; character is disclosed in action and dramatic encounter but seldom fully developed. A short story may concentrate on the creation of mood rather than the telling of a story. Despite numerous precedents, it emerged only in the 19th century as a distinct literary genre in the works of writers such as E.T.A. Hoffmann, Heinrich Kleist, Edgar Allan Poe, Prosper Mérimée, Guy de Maupassant, and Anton Chekhov.” There are further headings of analysis of the genre, history, the 20th century, additional reading, external web sites and citations. The topics are split by adverts but these are writing related so may be of interest.
  • is an interesting page entitled ‘The short story – a guide to the greatest works’. It mentions examples of Edgar Allen Poe, Nathanial Hawthorne, Guy de Maupassant, James Joyce, Franz Kafka, Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield, Jorge Luis Borges, Ernest Hemingway, John Cheever and Nadine Gordimer (with links to Amazon where you can buy them). There are also brief descriptions and links to purchase two books on writing short stories – ‘Writing Short Stories’ by Ailsa Cox and ‘The Short Story: the reality of artifice’ by Charles E May. The Mantex website is worth a look even if you don’t write short stories.
  • is the website of The Weekly News. Disguised as a folded tabloid, the newspaper is a fascinating read and includes 2-3 short stories! I’d found out about it some months back from a workshop that novelist and short story writer Sue Moorcroft ran. You can email The Weekly News directly from their website or get their guidelines (and many others) from
  • Sue also mentioned Short Talk UK, an online publisher of recorded short stories. They’re looking for stories, c. 600-7,000 word count, for all age ranges that can be read aloud. Send by email with name and contact address, and a short bio with your submission. Payment is dependent on length. Their website is

Fast / flash fiction

‘Fast’ and ‘flash’ fiction are the terms used for stories of 500 words or less.

  • explains that ‘Flash fiction’ is fiction of extreme brevity. The standard, generally-accepted length of a flash fiction piece is 1000 words or less. By contrast, a short-short measures 1001 words to 2500 words, and a traditional short story measures 2501 to 7500 words. A novelette runs from 7501 words to 17,500, a novella 17,501 words to 40,000 words, and a novel 40,001 words and up. It then goes on to explain terms, history, vignette, notes and references (usually other related websites). Vignette says “Flash fiction differs from a vignette in that the flash-fiction work contains the classic story elements: protagonist, conflict, obstacles or complications, and resolution. However, unlike the case with a traditional short story, the limited word length often forces some of these elements to remain unwritten, that is, hinted at or implied in the written storyline.” The notes section lists three references including a November 2006 Wired Magazine article entitled ‘Very Short Stories’. See includes a section on six word stories.
  • has many examples of very short stories (max 100 words) and will give you an idea of how it can be done.
  • Crime writer Adrian Magson, who I’ll be interviewing in a separate monthly podcast this summer, suggests writing a short story before attempting a novel, especially if struggling, because “then you won’t have expended too much effort to see if you can do it. After that it’s a question of scale.”

Short story submissions

  • American weekly magazine Woman’s World is apparently looking for short (c. 800 words) romance (contemporary and realistic) and mystery (good plot and twist) stories. Send submissions to Woman’s World, Bauer Publishing Co., 270 Sylvan Avenue, Englewood Cliffs NJ 06732 USA marking the envelope ‘Fiction’. See and also for tips on writing for them.
  • ‘Story Quarterly’ is a quality literary online magazine which, Writers’ News says, pays well and has an excellent reputation. Subscription is free with and has an online submission tracking system (like a parcel!). Submit only in April, August and December. The editorial team looks for literary and non- fiction including short stories, short shorts, novel excerpts, memoirs, essays and humour (max 8,000 words). International writers welcome. Submit work as a .doc, .pdf or .rtf file through their website (
  • Vestal Review ( is an eclectic magazine, open to all genres except children’s stories and hard science fiction. It includes four live flash stories per quarterly Web issue. Vestal Review has been published continuously since March 2000 and accepts submissions (max 2 stories per e-mail although you can send as many e-mails as you like) in January/February, April/May, July /August and October/November. E-mail to putting ‘query’ or ‘submission’ with the title of your story in the subject line, then above the story put the word count, a brief covering letter and a two to three line third-person biography. Response time is within three months. Payment is 3 to 10 cents per word…and your work may appear in anthologies. They say “We are deluged with submissions and are very selective. A good flash is so condensed that it borderlines poetry”!
  • lists the rules for a weekly contest where you can submit 55 word stories. The deadline is midnight every Saturday.
  • is an interesting BBC Radio 4 article on Ernest Hemingway winning $10 saying that he couldn’t write a six-word short story. The end result was rather sad, “For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn”. Others have tried it and the BBC page has a link to some including, an American online magazine which has used the Hemingway anecdote to inspire its readers to write their life story in just six words, culminating in a book of the best contributions, entitled “Not Quite What I Was Planning”. You can read BBC’s interview with the magazine’s editor, Larry Smith, to see what made him think of the idea. Below the ‘Listen to the interview’ link there are over sixty-five 6-word listener contributions including ‘Left mad Russian for mad Scotsman’ and ‘Laughed out loud, cried in silence’. Ahhh.
  • I also like these taken from ‘Get rid of body? Knife. Fork.’, ‘Clock alarm struck 6:00, also wall’. Great use of double-meaning. You can read others at random or by category, you can like them to your Facebook page and there’s also a Twitter link.
  • A similar ideas is Fifty Word Stories:
  • – their home page says “big stories told in two little sentences”. Again this site contains loads of short stories through which you can search by topic and on which you can also vote for your favourite.
  • Although no longer takes submissions it’s packed with 55-word stories that you can read and hopefully enjoy. Another is which shows a variety of 55 word stories created by Andrew Looney (what a wonderful name!). The page also contains a link to Steve Moss’ book ‘The World Shortest Stories’ which I have and it’s great!

The great thing about very short short stories is that you can turn them into longer ones! Whether a story is 6, 55, 60, 100 or 150 words, they still have to have a start, middle and end so as long as you don’t steal another author’s actual wording, their ideas could inspire your stories (ideas aren’t copyright). also lists some 60-word stories.

The podcast concluded with sentence starts, Quotes, On This Day in History and a 60-worder called ‘Just the lift she needed’: Jessica’s back complained from lugging the wicker basket around all day. She thought it would get easier as the day wore on, as the sandwiches were sold, but her feet just got sore. As the lift doors opened, Jess looked up and saw Chuck’s green eyes. Her aches were quickly forgotten as he smiled and asked politely “which floor ma’am?”

That’s it. Thanks for visiting – a list of the other transcripts and summaries can be found at


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Transcription of BWT podcast episode 28 (Feb 2011) – hints & tips pt2

The twenty-eighth episode of the Bailey’s Writing Tips podcast was released on 28th February 2011 and the content has never been released other than website links (on my website so I hope you find this information useful. In the first twenty-seven episodes (see for details), I covered ‘show not tell’, the five senses, repetition, points of view, tenses, dialogue, characters, crime, poetry, short stories, novels, writing for children, scriptwriting, comedy, romance and chick lit, erotica, ‘writing rules’, historical & the classics, name & characters, Christmas, opportunities, songwriting, reading, auto/biographies, computer tips (parts 1&2), competitions & submissions, romance and hints & tips (part 1). This episode was hints & tips pt2. This episode also contained some competitions and although the dates have passed, I have left the details in as it will show you what was available and many competitions are yearly so they may well be run again in 2012. Please note: I can’t vouch for these competitions so do check the information thoroughly before parting with your hard-earned writing and money but having a competition win or shortlist is always a good thing to have on your writing CV so I would recommend having a go.

Hints & tips

  • Colours work really well in any kind of piece, especially if they relate to a mood; e.g. a bleak grey sky, a yellow top worn by someone with a happy disposition (others include green (often thought of as envy), white (pure/simple), red (anger/passion)). They all help the reader to picture a scene.
  • Equally when you’re setting a scene, think that buildings have a ‘feeling’ e.g. drab council offices or majestic stately home. How do they make your character and the reader feel? In some stories, the setting becomes almost like a character in its own right so you might like to consider that when writing yours.
  • Passion: I’m not talking romance (necessarily) but there should be emotions in every story. This could be desire, fear, love, grief, anger, jealousy etc.
  • Outdoor or unusual locations: rather than have the action happening in a room, how about somewhere like a forest, farm, church, boat, beach, hospital, construction site or even on a rocket? There could also be locations with restrictions e.g. library or art gallery where the characters have to whisper or to the other extreme where they have to be loud; a nightclub or funfair.
  • As well as things happening or items mentioned, think of what’s not there, using words such as no, not, never, nothing, none, no-one, nowhere, neither, nor etc. Negatives are great and it gives you another perspective to the story. Lee Child’s book ‘Nothing to lose’ is a great example: “and there was nothing in his pockets except paper money, an expired passport, an ATM card, a folding foot brush…there was nothing waiting for him anywhere else, no storage unit in a distant city, nothing stashed with friends, he owned the things in his pockets, the clothes on his back and the shoes on his feet…”. It gives a great idea of the simple life that this character leads who literally has…nothing to lose.
  • Do you ever dream? Or more importantly, do you ever dream and remember the details? If you do, write them down before you forget and see if it might make a story or poem. Dreams can often provide you with incredible stories because there seems to be such a freedom of the mind when we dream. It’s been said, ‘dreams are a window into our very soul’. If this is true, then writing from our dreams could be a great way to write from our hearts, and in that, find out what we’re passionate about. I always keep a notebook and pen or mobile (on which I can dictate) beside my bed. If I dream something that I think I can use in a story, I always jot it down for future reference. Fantasies provide us with another great way to glean new story ideas. We all fantasise at some point in our lives. It can happen in school, in a meeting, on an elevator, etc. This is another great way to open up and stretch your imagination for new stories. Take time to sit and allow your mind to take you wherever it wants to go. It’s amazing what ideas for story lines and scenes, come to light during this time.
  • Think of things that are unusual pairs e.g. a petite blonde called Buffy turning out to be a vampire slayer. You could certainly lead your reader to think one thing then have the total opposite happen.
  • You might find when you’re writing that something keeps trying to bog you down, such as that old feeling that your writing isn’t good enough and that your technique is not up to par. Don’t worry about your technique for now. Just get it down on paper, put it away for a while and move on to something else. When you come back to it you should spot where you’re going wrong (and right!).
  • Practice makes perfect – I always compare writing to playing a piano. If you’ve never played, you’re not going to come out with a concerto. Your first attempts may be more like chopsticks or even just the scales but the more you do it (even just a flash fiction length a day), the better you will become.
  • Journaling is a great tool for writers. It’s a place where we can write down all our secrets, thoughts, ideas, scenes that suddenly come to mind, sounds or smell or sights that we don’t want to forget and anything else that pops in our heads. Journals, in a way, can become a friend to us, or a confidant that we share with. For some, it is our chance to open up ourselves and become extremely vulnerable. This is a tool that writers can use to stretch and improve their writing skills.
  • Observation is a key tool to discovering how the world works. As an observer, try a few different ways to discover new ideas for your writing: Imagine the scene as if you were experiencing it or seeing it for the first time; Imagine the scene as you are now; Imagine the scene as if you were seeing it for the last time because it won’t happen again in your lifetime; By doing this you will give yourself a broader writing point-of-view. You will open up the doors to great storytelling and your characters will become much more realistic and reliable to your readers. You will also find that your readers will connect better with them. People are constantly fascinating me. The way they act, speak, watch, look, dress, walk, etc. I could sit in one spot and watch people pass by for hours. There are so many places to ‘people watch’ such as: the airport, shopping centres, buses or any other transport system, when you’re stuck in traffic, in a dentist or doctor’s, etc. Don’t just watch, but discover how the people react to what’s happening to them and around them. Ask yourself questions about why they do what they do? Why do they look happy or sad? Are they on holiday? Where are they from? Why are they here? There are so many questions, and it’s these questions that can lead you to new story ideas. Let them flow and write down your answers. People-watching can stretch the borders of our imagination. Wherever you go, always bring paper and a pen with you. You never know what will happen. You might just see something that will spark your imagination and set you on a new journey of storytelling.
  • Sounds are important to describe in any story. They give more shape and substance to your scenes. Your readers become more entranced when they are given more information. Reading should be like living for your reader. It should be a world that contains all the senses. Touch, taste, smell, sound, sight – these are all key to making your story come alive for your reader. Listen to the sounds around you, wherever you are. Take a moment to close your eyes (but not if you’re driving) and listen to what is happening instead of just watching. Write down the sounds you hear around you and give a detailed account of each of them. Good listening skills can and will increase your ability to write great stories. By listening, you become more aware and prepared to provide details of the sounds you need to make your story credible.
  • The most important thing is to ENJOY YOURSELF. Let the writing flow. Don’t worry about editing as you go along. Certainly you can edit along the way if that makes you happy. But you might enjoy the creative writing process more fully if you let your imagination lead the way – and let the creativity fall into place.
  • Talking of editing – if you take something out of a sentence/paragraph does it still work? Does it still have the same impact? If yes to both questions, then you can make the chop. Remember to be brutal as an editor is likely to put red lines through a lot of your work so if you can beat him/her to it you’ll get less red back on your manuscript. I’m as big a culprit as anyone and that’s what our Monday nights are for. J
  • Look at adverbs: if you say that something was ‘completely severed’ do you need the ‘completely’? Likewise ‘totally destroyed’ and smiled happily (unless of course you want your character to smile sadly)?
  • If you’re having trouble with a story, how well do you know it? Jot down the answers to the following questions (thanks to NAWG’s Dec 2008 Link magazine and and see if this helps: What is your character’s name? (if you can’t answer that, you’re in trouble); what century is it?; what country is it?; what sort of building (if applicable) is it?; what are they sleeping on?; are there sheets and blankets?; what texture are they?; what can they see from the window?; what is the first thing they hear when they wake up?; what are they wearing?; what colours can they see?; what can they smell?; what time of year is it?; what time of day is it?; what was the last thing they ate?; what is their greatest problem? Not all the questions will be relevant but it may help, and the final question should be key to any story.
  • A tip from many a podcast – trim down the ‘ings’ as they, apparently, weaken verbs. An example would be was instead of ‘Walking into the kitchen, he picked up a knife…’ it would be better to be more direct; ‘He walked into the kitchen and picked up a knife.” I have mixed feelings on this as I think it varies the sentences but one narrator (Jordan Castillo Price in her ‘Packing Heat’ podcast said that’s a bad thing).
  • I’d be really interested to know what you when you’re writing and you need to fill something in later. Do you just leave a gap? Perhaps underlined? Or a row of crosses? A regular help for me if I’ve to add further content is to put ‘MORE HERE’ and when I go back into the document I can just select the Find option (Ctrl F) or search options and type in ‘more here’ and the computer takes me to the first/next instance/s. It’s great.
  • Writing prompts are a fantastic way of getting inspiration. You can either pick a single word (as we do in my Monday workshop group – perhaps from something you see in the room or from a newspaper) and see where it leads you, or pick some from the internet (doing a Google search on ‘writing prompt’ brings up loads of helpful links).
  • Beginnings and endings – does your beginning start with a hook? If, as is often the case, the action gets going after a paragraph or two (or more?), then either lose the first section completely or filter it in elsewhere. Equally, if you re-read your ending, do you feel that it works better without the last paragraph or two. Try finishing it earlier and see what happens.
  • On an interview I heard with Elmore Leonard (who I hadn’t realised had written ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ and ‘3.10 to Yuma’, both great films) he said don’t start a story with the weather, which reminds me of a book called ‘It was a dark and stormy night’ – a beginning from Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s 1830 novel ‘Paul Clifford’ which is often quoted as an example bad beginning. I have a book of the same name which is “the ‘best’ of the ‘best’ dreadful beginnings from the American Bulwer-Lytton contest”.
  • Endings can be tricky. They have a variety of functions; some tie everything up neatly whilst others can leave the reader to work it out for themselves. Twist-in-the-tales are very popular – Take a Break especially love them. Endings work if they provoke a laugh, tear, ooh or ahh. Tips on endings include: strong final images provoke emotional endings; the later the punch, the stronger the reader’s emotion especially with twists; you could work backwards by writing five endings (or five lines from some of your existing stories) then writing stories to lead up to them.
  • If you find a website that has some great information on the topic that you are looking for, remember that they may well have a ‘links’ page which will usually feature other websites of a similar vein. You may lose a few hours going through them all but it would be worth it if you find a gem.
  • Crime writer Barbara Cleverly suggests:
  • Listen to your work as you write. Read it aloud. If it sounds awkward, it is. Rewrite. i.e. make every effort to make your work a joy to read.
  • If you have some cash to spend on your writing, buy: Sir Ernest Gowers’ Plain Words, The Economist Style Guide, and Suspense Novels by Lesley Grant Adamson.
  • ‘Write about what you know?’. Rubbish! Seriously, how many readers are going to be interested? Write instead about what you find fascinating. Immerse yourself in your chosen background.
  • ‘Everyone has a novel in him/her.’ Again, rubbish! And if you have, one’s not enough these days. Publishers offer three book deals. They won’t take a chance on a writer who has only one book in prospect.
  • It is nearly impossible to get your work read nowadays. Choose a small reputable agent and present it neatly and professionally. If it’s crime you’re working on, the CWA Debut Dagger Award ( is well worth a shot. Your script will be read and if it’s any good will be noticed.
    • Writer/teacher Vivien Hampshire ( had a lovely article in Dec 2004 National Association of Writers’ Group magazine ‘Link’ which included: “What makes a good story? Forget about genres and plots and sub-plots. Read to them (new writing students) something with an opening line that hooks them in, a really strong central character they can believe in and care about, and an ending they will laugh or cry over… a story they will remember days later, a story that makes them feel good, and one that will inspire them to try having a go at writing their own. Writing is not about knowing the right words to say. It is not about some secret code that only other writers understand. It should not be the preserve of the literary snobs, all trying to impress with their in-depth knowledge. Writing comes from the heart. It’s a feeling, knowing what we like the sound of, what stories we have enjoyed, what works for us, even though we may not be able to explain why.” :)
    • I mentioned show don’t tell earlier and short story writer / tutor Joanna Barnden ( has the following advice: “By using dialogue to introduce characters instead of just telling readers about them; by starting in the middle of a key bit of action instead of with passive description or a summary of events; by grasping the main scene of the story with both hands and really bringing it to life with sensory and emotional details; by showing emotions happening e.g.: ‘he flung the book down’, rather than telling us about them: ‘he was cross’. But please don’t forget the services of the sometimes neglected ‘tell’! If your story is about a woman’s relationship with her husband we might need to know that they have children, but we do not need flashbacks of her giving birth/reading bedtime stories/going to the park etc (unless they are pertinent to the key issue, such as if a child is disabled and it’s putting a terrible strain on the marriage).” Joanna also offers a very inexpensive critique and re-read service – see her website.


  • Thanks to Auriol from Northampton, England for two travel writing competitions from Skyscanner. One has an 18th March deadline (to win an iPad!), the other is a rolling monthly Twitter-based comp.
  • is seeking sci-fi stories (up to 8000 words by 31st March 2011) – for publication a year later.
  • The Buxton Festival Poetry Competition is now open and submissions are welcome until 1st April 2011 – see for more information.
  • I was sent an email by for their Thyks Poetry Competition. See for details – deadline 30th April 2011.
  • Ware Poets Open Poetry Competition 2011: Closing date 30th April. Sole Judge: Carole Satyamurti. For poems up to 50 lines. First Prize £500. Sonnet Prize: £100.  For further details send SAE to The Secretary, Ware Poets Open Poetry Competition 2011, Clothall End House, California, Baldock, Herts, SG7 6NU or see
  • Check out all the current UK poetry competitions at
  • Joanna is starting a new course on writing magazine fiction serials (most of the leading women’s magazines do them); the first one-day workshop will be held in the Midlands on Thursday April 7th – see for info.

The podcast concluded with sentence starts, Quotes, News & Feedback, On This Day in History and a 60-worder called ‘Holiday let-down’: “Break a leg!” a colleague shouted as Dr Jack Warley left for his Austrian ski-ing holiday. He chuckled as he drove home. Just an hour later he was undressed and showered. He adjusted his dressing gown belt as he started down the stairs…not noticing his son’s toy 4×4 on the step below. He heard his fibula snap as he tumbled.

That’s it. Thanks for visiting – a list of the other transcripts and summaries can be found at


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