Daily Archives: September 21, 2011

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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Transcription of BWT podcast episode 27 (Feb 2011) – hints & tips (pt1)

The twenty-seventh episode of the Bailey’s Writing Tips podcast was released on 21st 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-six 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 and romance. This episode had a focus on hints & tips. It included some outdated competitions but I’ve left them in as they’re likely to run yearly.

Hints & tips

National Association of Writers’ Groups’ Link magazine back in June 2006 had a table entitled ‘Imagination used’ which defines how we use our brains – it was split into:

Under 5 years           95-98% used

6-12 years               50%-70%

13-18 years              30%-50%

Adults                    less than 20%

So if you think you need some help or perhaps just a little inspiration…do listen on.

  • Fellow Northamptonshire author (of the ‘Housewife’ series) Alison Penton-Harper has the following tips: write every day, even if it’s not much. Always carry a notebook. Make sure that you’re comfortable when you write so that you can become lost in ‘the zone’ without straining your neck/back/eyes. Edit ruthlessly. If it’s not essential to the story, take it out. When you can’t see the wood for the trees, walk away and leave it alone. Be prepared to accept constructive criticism, but be careful whom you ask for it. Read Stephen King’s book ‘On writing’. There may be a good writers’ group you can join where you can share the experience of the writing process and discuss your work.” Sounds good to me.
  • However trivial it may seem, write down everything. It’s also worth checking whether your phone (or even camera) has dictaphone facilities as you never know when the muse might strike. An idea that is at the top of your memory, the one that is the ‘bestseller’, and you are sure you will not forget it, will be lost almost as fast as you thought of it, if you do not write it down. Later, as you review your ideas, something that seemed so-so, may still be only so-so, but may be just the idea that you needed to jump-start a new project, or give fuel to one you are already working on. I keep two Word documents; one for ideas that may work (i.e. have enough ‘legs’) for novels/anthologies, the other for short stories (although some transferred to the novels file if the ‘legs’ become longer).
  • If you find it difficult to spare time to writing, try small chunks; ten minutes before you do anything else in the morning, while a meal is cooking or before you go to bed (be warned the latter may lead to some loss of sleep as the ideas whizz around in your brain although some authors if stuck go to sleep on an idea and have a solution in the morning). Writing is like housework or homework, if you do it in small chunks you don’t miss the time. It’s when you don’t do any for ages and have to do it in one go that you perhaps start to resent (hopefully not) the ‘loss’ of time. When I did NaNoWriMo for the first time it was surprising, knowing I had to write nearly 1700 words a day, how often I could find time to write a few words because I had to do it. If you can ask yourself at the end of each day “how many words did I write today?” and can answer with a number above zero then you should feel good. Even if you do 50 a day that’s a magazine-length short story a fortnight.
  • Something that works really well for me is to keep a small magazine holder in my bathroom containing a pot of pens/pencils and an A5 spiral-bound notebook. From a list of sentence beginnings I’d created (e.g. As she jumped off the…), I wrote one beginning at the top of each page and then I made sure that every time I spent any time in the bathroom I did some writing, even if it’s just another sentence. It’s amazing how much I wrote over short amounts of time. I’ll then type the story up when the pages are full or the story is complete (or if I get hooked on any of them and want to crack on with them quickly).
  • Back in episode 3 I mentioned the Pocket Encyclopaedia of Short Story Writing which contained a list of 350 alternatives to said (although it’s often said that ‘said’ is still the best word to use). Well, I’ve found a list of 154 courtesy of the sci-fi website Science Fiction & Fantasy Chronicles Network.
  • If your story is a little dull, look at your plain verbs. Do you have a character walking? If so, could they be strolling, ambling, jogging, dashing, sprinting or staggering? Or if s/he is sitting, could s/he be sprawling, lounging, curled up, stretched out? Or if they say something could they mumble, stutter, spew, shout or protest? Finally, if s/he is looking, could they be scanning, squinting, glaring or studying? This also helps to avoid adverbs e.g. she ran quickly = she sprinted.
  • Set aside a small empty box or plastic wallet and put all your ideas (e.g. newspaper clippings or using the notes you’ve made from your above notebooks) in it…but make sure you continue/type them up.
  • Listen to how people speak, and incorporate accents into your writing, e.g. greetings such as ‘my flower’, ‘me duck’, ‘love’ etc. (without too going overboard and confusing your reader). Local websites with video links may well be of use. is also a great source: put the town/city you’re after and accent in the search box and see what comes up.
  • Even if you haven’t written a novel, have a go at writing a one-page biography, one-page synopsis (of your poem, story, whatever), humorous cover letter or, if you do have a novel on the go, the first two chapters. Then when you have a novel ready, you’ll either have the practice of everything else to go with it, or you’ll have everything ready (with, no doubt, some tweaking).
  • Get a first reader. There’s nothing like a second opinion, especially from another writer and the more the merrier. If you have email, you can swap your work quickly and easily, and do be honest with each other; someone saying it’s great (as friends and family often do) is lovely but not very helpful. Things to look out for are ‘show don’t tell’ (i.e. where something happens or is said but then you go on to explain what happened), repetitive words (unless intended), boring sections (I said to be honest) or parts that seem unclear (it’s good for the reader to have some questions but they should be answered by the end of the piece). Equally, be positive and point out parts that work. If the author knows where they’re going right then they can do more of the same and avoid repeating any bad habits or bits that don’t work.
  • Even if you’re not writing poetry, think of how your words sound e.g. alliteration Writing sounds better read aloud and even better with rhythm.
  • Quietly unassuming is not necessarily boring. Take Sean Connery’s James Bond for instance. He was suave and charming…but there was more to him. You don’t want to make a character dull or boring as the reader will be bored (and you’ll probably be bored writing him/her) but you can make them surprising; lead them in one direction (or appear to be one thing) and then reveal a hidden layer – like someone coming on to the X-Factor stage and it being assumed from their appearance that they are going to be awful but then they open their mouth… that’s how Susan Boyle became such a success.
  • With any story it’s vital to keep a pace, and therefore the reader’s interest, going. Keep the scenes short and to the point but, in fiction mainly, leave holes so that threads tie up nicely at the end. A mix of short and long sentences is always good, as are questions that rest in the reader’s mind as they read. As well as bringing the story to life, dialogue is very important as it splits up the prose (and should always advance the plot) but stories work well with a good mixture. If you remember that dialogue usually shows and narrative generally tells, and the golden rule is “show, don’t tell”, then it’s best to have a mixture of both for the story to work well. Dialogue is also a very economical use of character development as you get a feel for the character by what they say as well as their tone.
  • I’ve mentioned song lyrics before and it’s worth listening to your favourite (or not so favourite) songs as most tell a story. While the lyrics themselves are copyright, the story they tell isn’t. Or a quicker way is to look up the lyrics online (e.g. or and if there are any stories that appeal, re-write them as fiction (obviously also changing any names).
  • If your story isn’t quite working, try changing the viewpoint (i.e. from 1st person (I) to 3rd person (he/she) or vice versa – or have a go at 2nd (you – mentioned above)) or by tense (present to past or vice versa). Present tense is very immediate and often works really well.
  • Endings: Do you, or have you ever thought about starting with the end of your story? Lucy from my writing group mentioned a while back that that’s how she usually starts her poems. Most people have an idea of where their story will end but it’s a great idea to try an ending as a starting point then work backwards and see if it helps your writing. Whilst endings should round off all the loose ends, if you plan to write a sequel (or even a series) then leaving it at a cliff-hanger, as you would at most chapter endings.
  • Speaking of endings, here’s a tip courtesy of a podcast I heard a while back. Think about the order within your sentence. Apparently the last half of a sentence has more impact to a reader than the first half and therefore the action should happen at or towards the end. The example given ‘They swam across the river on a very hot day’… was suggested to work better as ‘On a very hot day they swam across the river’.
  • Think of double-meanings. For instance one of my beginnings is Advert: ‘Part-time lover wanted. Must be flexible…’ which could be taken in at least two ways. Others include ‘As a small business, Heald’s Nursery was struggling…’ (is the nursery a kindergarten or garden centre?) and Holly was prickly at the best of times… (plant or woman?). The Two Ronnies were famous for their double-entendres (do you remember 4 candles?). ‘Your nuts, my Lord’ is another example; see the 2-minute video at A link to Fork handles (and many others) is on the same page. Be warned, you could be watching for hours. In the recent ‘Up in the Air’ movie with George Clooney, there was a scene where an air stewardess gives him a drink then is perceived as asking “cancer?” but when he’s clearly confused, she repeats it slow as ‘can sir?’ then holding a can out. I’m not sure why the scene was in there as it didn’t further the plot but it was useful for this podcast. 🙂


The podcast concluded with sentence starts, Quotes, News & Feedback, On This Day in History and a 60-worder called ‘DIY doh!’: “Women are useless at DIY” Josh scoffed as he watched his girlfriend getting some steps out to change a light bulb. “Give them here!” He grabbed the bulb and ladder to do the job himself. Wearing slippers, he carefully stepped up, did the deed – then cut his finger on the old bulb as he threw it in the recycling!

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


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