Monday, 20 December 2010

Spot The Difference

For this week's blog posting, I want you to take a look at both of these pictures.

The first image, with the blue sky, was taken in February 2009. The second image was taken last weekend. (Don't panic - the snow has thawed at least once between  when these pictures were taken!)

I enjoy photography because it's possible to take two pictures of the same scene and get two completely different images. Despite being different pictures, both of them contain many of the same features:

  • snow
  • sheep in the field
  • a bare tree
  • fences denoting field boundaries

We can achieve the same effect with our writing too. When writing an article, it's often necessary to carry out some research. Invariably, we collect a lot of information and where many beginner-writers go wrong is that they think they have to include all of their research in their article. They don't. When you analyse your target publication, you should get to know the reader and then write your article using the research you've uncovered that will be of interest to them.

Targeting your writing this way, means that it is possible to get more than one article from each 'idea' depending upon the facts and information you include within your piece. Many of those pieces will contain similar pieces of information - in the same way that my two images above contain similar features, but because I've looked at those scenes from a different angle, they've produced two very different photos. Tackling your writing in the same way can produce two very different articles as well.

In my local neck of the woods, there is a 24-hour walking challenge called the Long Mynd Hike. (I haven't done it by the way - at 50-miles in 24-hours, it's a little too pressurised for my kind of walking.) But, I have written about it. For a local county magazine, I focused in on the history behind the event, and how it has grown into one of the biggest walking events in the Midlands. For a hiking magazine, I decided to concentrate on the walking challenge itself (the route includes climbing a total height of over 8,000 feet - that's the same as climbing Ben Nevis - the UK's highest mountain - twice).

Many of the features within the articles were the same. I included similar quotes from the organisers in both pieces, I mentioned how the hike came about in both features, and I also included the finishing times of the fastest completers in both articles. (The fastest people achieve all 50 miles, and 8,000 feet of climbing in less than 9 hours!) But despite these common features, they were very different articles.

So, next time your write an article, take a step back and look at all of the information in front of you. If you were to focus in on a different area, could you write another one, two, three or four articles from your research? In some ways, writing an article is no different to taking a picture. In both cases, we select the scene we're going to focus on and then create our masterpiece.

If you live in one of the countries which seems to shut down over the Christmas period (assuming the snow doesn't achieve this first) why not take some time out to review some of your previously written material and look for a different picture? It could help you get your writing off to great start in 2011!

Good luck.

Your Vote Counts - Update
Those of you who have followed my blog for some time now, may remember an appeal I put out on behalf of a student of mine, John Price, whose writing group, Rising Brook Writers had applied for grant funding to buy some computer equipment to enable them to create a regular newsletter for their housebound members. It was possible for the public to send a text message to support the grant application. (See for more info). Well, I'm delighted to say that they were successful and the group has gone from strength to strength. So much so, that they recently produced their own novel 'Fair Deal'.

As John explains, "The story is built up week by week during the group’s workshops and through an on-line bulletin that enables those who can’t get to meetings to also contribute. The process has been variously described as like pegging out washing on a line or completing a jigsaw puzzle when the picture on the box keeps changing. As contributors email their pieces to the editor, the story gradually comes together in chunks of around 500 words with each piece being shuffled forwards and backwards to achieve the best fit."

"The latest tale of mayhem is Fare Deal, a farce that features, in the best Carry On tradition, an ill-fated wedding between an Old-Labour family and the local aristocracy, a vicar with a liking for fairy costumes, unscrupulous rival cab companies, and Vera and Gloria supplementing their pensions at Big Bertha’s ‘personal services’ establishment. Farce is a difficult genre even for the most experienced writers but the absurdity of this unfolding catastrophe is guaranteed to stretch your chuckle muscles."

It is what I call, great British farce, which is right up my street, and I'm enjoying every minute of it. It's clear to see that everyone in the group enjoyed writing it and is well worth a read.

Copies can be obtained from Rising Brook Writers (Box WB), Rising Brook Library, Merrey Road, Stafford ST17 9LX, in return for a donation of £6.00 per copy, which also covers postage and packing. Cheques should be made payable to ‘Rising Brook Writers’.


And before I go, I'd like to congratulate Amshan KumaAmshan.

And on that note, it's time for me to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, wherever you are.


Monday, 13 December 2010

And The Winner Is ....

Well, I have to say, I was a little taken aback when I discovered that I had 57 entries to judge in my mini-competition to win a copy of Kate Walker's 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance. What a romantic lot you are! Or perhaps that should be, what a lot of hopeful, romantic writers you are!

I loved the diversity of stories; they weren't just about romantic love between humans, but also the unconditional love between a human and a pet, unrequited love of a first teenage crush, and even the calorie-hogging love of chocolate!

But, let's get on with the show. In true Oscar-winning style, first, I shall announce the nominations - those who made it to my final four. They are:

  • Helen Lowry
  • Carina Barnett
  • Rob Innis
  • Maria Perry Mohan
Now I've made those four people nervous, and the television camera has focused on their anticipatory faces (probably as they practise their smiling-whilst-accept-defeat-graciously faces) let's move to the nitty-gritty.

My thumb slips under the envelope flap (it's a gold one, of course - the envelope, not my thumb) and together with my index finger, pulls out the card with the winning name.

And the winner is....
(Scroll down ...)

(keep scrolling...)

(and a little more scrolling ....)


(Everyone in the auditorium are on their feet.)

Congratulations Carina, your copy of Kate Walker's book is in the post to you. And here is her winning entry.

He is next in line at my till. I feel his eyes on me and fumble as I pack Mrs Johnson's shopping. I am aware only of him. Waiting. As I reach to scan his Chianti, our fingers touch, his tanned and slender. I picture them entwined in my own and colour floods into my face. When I look up, his eyes smile into mine. The lashes are thick and dark and I have a sudden, vivid vision of them white with age. I somehow know that when they are, I will still be gazing into them.

So, once again, congratulations to Carina, and thank you to everyone who took the time to enter. I'm tempted to run another competition in the future!

Monday, 6 December 2010

Free Short Story Anthology

Writers Abroad, is for Ex-pat, English speaking writers who live away from their 'natural' country. To celebrate National Short Story Week (November 22nd to 28th 2010), they've written and produced an anthology of short stories.

A PDF version of the anthology can be downloaded, free of charge from the group's website at or, if you prefer a hard copy, one can be ordered directly from at

With a foreword by fellow WB tutor, Lorraine Mace, there's a mixture of stories, all with the theme of living abroad. It's well worth a read!

And thanks to those of you who have already sent me a submission for my competition to win a copy of Kate Walker's book, 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance - see my previous post I'm looking forward to judging this. The closing date for entries is this Friday, 10th December.

Good luck!

Monday, 29 November 2010

A 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance and a 100 word competition!

Anyone who knows Kate Walker, knows that she's an expert when it comes to writing romantic fiction.Well, someone who writes over 50 romantic novels that have been published in over 50 different countries, selling over 15 million books worldwide, clearly knows their stuff! (And if ever you get a chance to hear Kate talk about writing romantic fiction - or rather, how not to write romantic fiction (a talk she did at the Caerleon Writers' Holiday one year about the various names inexperienced romantic writers gave to their character's 'bits and pieces' was absolutely hilarious) then go, because you'll learn so much ... even if it is just to learn how to avoid using terms such as a 'throbbing manhood'.)

Kate's authoritative guide, Kate Walker's 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance, is packed full of advice and the third edition has just been published. Fourteen chapters explore the world of writing romance, from defining what romance is (which any bloke my find useful, irrespective of whether they write or not!), how to use sensuality to build up tension, finding out what makes a good hero, to creating a believable, happy ending. Each chapter has a set of 12 questions that the romance writer should ask about their work, which will help them to improve their text.

Kate also explains the tricky subject of writing the love scenes (not sex scenes - this is romance, remember?), whilst reminding you that the hero has to be an upstanding character (no, that isn't a euphemism) and consider safe sex. Modern romance needs to reflect modern society.

The book ends with a section of advice from other, prolific and expert romantic writers, including Julie Cohen, Kate Hardy, Natasha Oakley, Gill Sanderson and Trish Wylie.

Here's your opportunity to win a copy of Kate's book.
If you've ever thought of giving romantic fiction a go, then read Kate's book. And here's one way you can do that.

1. In no more than 100 words, write a love-at-first-sight scene between two characters.
2. Email your entry to simonwhaley[at]
3. The deadline for entries is 10th December 2010.
4. The winner will be notified within a week, and the winning entry will appear on this blog.

Good luck!

Kate Walker's 12 Point Guide to Writing Romance is published by Aber Publishing, priced £10.99.

Visit Kate Walker's site at

Monday, 22 November 2010

An Unfortunate Incident At A Booker Party

At my writers' circle meeting on Saturday morning, we were fortunate to have as our guest speaker, Alan Maher, Publishing Director and Chief Executive of Tindal St Press.

Tindal St Press are known for publishing award-winning novels. It was originally set up in 1998 in the front room of a house in Moseley, Birmingham, in an attempt to prove that regional writing can be both literary and publishable.

Of the first 4 books that they published, 3 were shortlisted for various awards, but it was in 2003 that Clare Morrall's book, Astonishing Splashes of Colour was published, then long-listed for the Booker Prize. And when it was then short-listed for the Booker Prize, apparently, the phones didn't stop ringing!

In 2007, they published Catherine O'Flynn's, What Was Lost, which won the Costa First Book Award in 2007, won Waterstones Newcomer of the Year British Books Award in 2008, and was longlisted for the Booker Prize and the Orange Fiction prize.

It's not often that you get the chance to talk to directly to publishers, particularly those who publish such award-winning novels, but after a brief explanation of the history behind this Arts Council funded, not-for-profit company, Alan kindly opened up the floor to questions.

He explained that:
  • they receive 600 submissions a year (they are a small publisher) but only publish about 6 books a year, highlighting the size of the competition.
  • when a publisher likes a book, they then have to go around and encourage everybody else (Sales, Marketing, etc) to get behind the book too. If an entire publishing company doesn't love a book they are publishing, then it won't get published.
  • many of the books they reject, are brilliantly written novels, but they are just not right for them.
Tindal St Press publish regional, literary fiction. So, if they are sent a brilliant novel set in London, they will reject it. If they receive a brilliant novel set in the Black Country district of the West Midlands, but it isn't a literary novel, they will reject it. Which just demonstrates that even when sending out novels, you have to know your market.

It was a great opportunity to chat to someone like Alan and it's one of the reasons why I encourage all writers to go to a writers' group, or a literary festival, because you never know what opportunities may arise from the meeting.

You'll be able to gain some inside knowledge and a few laughs too! Alan told us of a time when he was at one of the Booker Prize parties and was talking to John Carey, one of the judges, when his tooth fell out!

So, next time you get an opportunity to mix with the publishing world, give it a go. You never know what you might learn, or what opportunities may open up for you!

Good luck.

Monday, 15 November 2010

It All Started When ...

Have you noticed? We are awash with biographies. I'm not moaning about the plethora of celebrity memoirs piled up on the 3 for 2 tables in bookshops this Christmas (although publishers were saying last year that the celebrity memoir had had its day), but instead, the short biographies in magazines.

Appearing either at the foot of an article or under a 'Contributor List' on the contents page, more editors want to share some of their writers' lives with their readers.

If you spot your target publication giving the lowdown on its writers, then you should consider including one with your submission. As always, copy the style and format of the biographies used in your target publication.

"But I'm only a beginner!" I hear you cry. "I've nothing to say in my biography!"

Rubbish! Take a closer look at the biogs in your target magazine and you'll see that they sell the writer's experience in the topic they're writing about, not their writing credentials. Take the latest issue of Lakeland Walker magazine and one of its contributors, Andy Stothert:

Andy has been wandering about on the Lakeland fells for over forty years and his passion for the high places of the Lake District is stronger than ever. His passion is his work, as he earns his crust mainly from taking photos of this astounding landscape.

See? This tells the reader why Andy knows what he's talking about in his article - he's been wandering the Lake District for over forty years. He's an expert on this subject, which is why you should read the article. And that's what you need to do remember when writing your biographies.

  • Mention the key facts that sell yourself as an expert.
  • Keep it short.
  • Make it appropriate for your readership.
Here's my biography that appears at the end of my article in this month's Ezee Writer feature, entitled 'Success With Series' - an article about writing non-fiction books.

Simon Whaley is a tutor for the Writers Bureau and the author of over 400 articles. He has also written several short stories and nine non-fiction books, including the bestselling “100 Ways For A Dog To Train Its Human.” You can follow more of Simon’s advice at his ‘Simon Says!’ blog: and

You can read the article at

For an article about organising self-catering breaks in the UK for Holiday Cottages magazine, my biography read as follows:

Simon Whaley has been organising self-catering holidays in the UK for nearly twenty years. These breaks have ranged from a week's solo self-catering in Scotland, to organising short breaks for groups of up to 12 in Wales. He's been stuck up one-in-three gradients, bullied by ghosts and marvelled at the view of the local cement works in a national park. In his opinion, you can always tell the quality of a self-catering cottage by the state of its frying pan.

Two different biographies aimed at two different markets, but both about the same person!

So, next time you send off an article, consider revealing a little bit more about yourself ... but not too much!

Good luck.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Remembering ...

It's certainly a fierce weather day out there today, so when the sun peeked out briefly, I decided to chance it and go out for my daily walk. The timing was perfect because I was able to stand at our local War Memorial for the two minutes silence at 11 o'clock.

I watched as local residents placed poppies around the six-inch railings surrounding our stone cross, each with a loved one's name carefully inscribed. I couldn't help but notice that all the writing was spidery - a sign of the age of those doing the remembering - or a sign of emotion as the name was written - or both.

It's an immensely moving moment watching men in their 80s and 90s saluting fallen comrades who never came home to continue with their lives as they have done.

I found myself wondering about them then. Whenever I go to workshops or writers' circles, many writers tell me how they came to writing later on in life. Yet, those we are remembering today and on Sunday, never had that chance of a 'later on in life' moment. How many great writers have we lost in all wars, past and present, that we don't know about because they weren't given the opportunity?

At the end of the two minutes, people began drifting away and I continued on my walk. About twenty minutes later, on my way back, I saw an elderly gentleman walking towards me. I recognised him as one of those who'd saluted fallen comrades at the war memorial. As he approached, I could see he wanted to chat, so I spoke first.

"Wasn't it lovely how the sun came out whilst we were at the war memorial?"

"The sun always shines on the righteous! Mind you, I've stood there in all weathers," he said, proudly.

"It is a bit rough today."

"We need it rough, son," he continued. "Reminds us we're the ones who are alive."

And on that note, he turned and walked on.

The weather may be rough outside. Your life may not make it easy for you to be a writer. But we are alive and because of those who gave up their lives for us, we can be a writer and write what we like.

So, if you enjoy writing, try to make time to do some today. Call it a small token thank you, to those who were never given the opportunity.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

A Retreat Is As Good As A Rest

This week's post has been delayed slightly, because yesterday I was traveling back from my writers' circle's annual retreat. Eleven of us headed into the depths of Wales for a weekend writing break.

The idea behind our retreat is that members can devote as much of their day to writing. We hire a large self-catering property, giving us all plenty of room to spread out and write. Several of the group are currently tackling NaNoWriMo, so were able to increase their word counts significantly. We have few rules on our retreats.

  • You get up ... when you want.
  • You get your own breakfast ... when you want.
  • You get your own midday snack ... when you want.
  • But we all eat together in the evening.
  • Nobody is forced to do any writing ... although this is such a wonderful opportunity everybody does! (And there is something to be said about the guilt factor, if everyone is writing and you're not!)
The whole point behind a retreat is that it offers a freedom that you don't get at home. On Sunday morning I woke at 7am (much to my disgust because we'd been chatting until 1.30am!) and had been thinking of how to structure a short story idea I'd had for several months yet hadn't been able to write. I began reading a short story magazine and the third story had the structure I needed. Suddenly, I knew what to do, and began writing.

By 9.30am, I'd written nearly 800 words and was clear what my ending was going to be and how I would achieve this. My reward was breakfast! If I were at home, others in the household would be shouting, "The kettle's on, do you want a cup of tea?" or "Are you having breakfast this morning?" On retreat, you're free to do what you want, when you want, or rather, when it is convenient for your writing. After breakfast, I went back to my room and finished the rest of the story.

Part of retreating is going out and exploring, and this usually involves a good walk! It's always good to stretch your legs and get some fresh air because it re-invigorates the brain ... and also allows the photographers amongst us to take candid moments. (There are some censored images that will not be appearing on this blog.)

After the walk, I returned to my room, where I typed up my short story and undertook a basic first edit. Others were tackling edits for their publishers, or structuring the outline for a new children's book, ploughing on with NaNoWriMo, or plotting a new poem. And the benefit of being surrounded by other writers is that you can ask writerly questions. Several retreats ago, one member said, "What's a better way of saying glutimus maximus?" to which the other seven writers in the room, all replied simultaneously, "arse!" With help like that on retreat, you can't go wrong can you?

 You don't have to go away with writing friends to benefit from a retreat (although if you can, do!). The whole point about our retreat is that it's a change from our normal daily routine. Simply altering your own routine, for one day, can make your day more interesting and creatively stimulating. If the first part of your writing day involves you switching on your computer and checking your emails, then make a conscious decision not to do that for one day. Go and sit down with a notebook and pen instead. Don't sit at your writing desk, plonk your bum in a comfy chair.
 Changing your surroundings for an hour or two can make a wonderful difference.

At the end of a 'normal' day - plan a 'different' writing day:

  • Decide what you're going to write about.
  • Decide where you're going to write - in a different room at home, in the garden (if it's warm enough), in the local library, or at a cafe.
  • Make sure you have everything you need with you - pens, notebooks, research material. You don't want to have to keep nipping back to your usual writing place.
  • Treat yourself to 'special' drinks. Don't make instant coffee, have a latte, ground or percolated coffee. Or instead of Sainsburys Red Label tea, have an Earl Grey.
 No matter what you do, however big or small, change it in some way. Use a different pen. Write in a different notebook. Do some completely different writing. (I spend most of my time writing non-fiction, so tackling fiction whilst I was away was wonderful.)

Start off small, with an morning, or afternoon retreat, and you may surprise yourself with what you achieve. Do it once, and you'll soon find yourself planning the next. On my retreat, I managed 3,000 words over the weekend. And now, sitting back at my writing desk, I feel completely refreshed.
 So even though I was still productive over the weekend, as I said in my title, a retreat is as good as a rest!

Good luck.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Wannabe A Writer We've Heard Of?

Writing isn't just about sitting in your garret and churning out the words - although, if you've signed up to this month's NaNoWriMo challenge, then this is probably what you'll be doing for the next 30 days!

And even if you are going to be chained to your desk, trying to conjure up 50,000 words over the next month, taking some time out to relax could be a productive step, so why not get hold of Jane Wenham-Jones' excellent follow-up to her highly-successful book, Wannabe A Writer, called Wannabe A Writer We've Heard Of?

Here, she explains why, and how, writers should publicise themselves. It doesn't matter whether you write fiction, or non-fiction, books, short stories or articles, you need to tell the world that you are a writer. (A journalist wouldn't expect a scoop news story to come knocking on their door, although it can happen, but only if the world knows he or she is a journalist in the first place!)

Although this is geared up to book writers, any writer can gain some useful knowledge from Jane's humorous look at a side of life many writers would happily ignore. Let's face it, if we wanted to be centre stage, many of us would have become actors, rather than writers! But these days, it is the writer who blogs, tweets, facebooks, myspaces, and uses any other social media networking opportunity who is more likely to be taken on by a publisher. We all need to up for a bit of publicity if we want our books or writing to sell.

This book reveals all about blurbs, book launches, book signings, promoting yourself through newspaper and magazine articles, getting on television game shows, networking, websites, newsletters, Twitter, and Facebook. It's a rip-roaring read, but practical too. And only Jane Wenham-Jones could write a book where Joanna Trollope can be found under Trojan Condoms. (I'm referring to the index.)

Wannabe A Writer We've Heard Of? by Jane Wenham-Jones
Published by Accent Press
Price: £9.99
ISBN: 978-1906373979

Further details can be found at

Strangest Genius; The Stained Glass World of Harry Clarke

I also wanted to mention a book by one of my students, Lucy Costigan, written in partnership with photographer Michael Cullen. Lucy's book has been nominated in the Irish Book Awards, in The International Education Services Best Irish Published Book of the Year category. 

Votes can be made online and I would encourage anyone who has read Lucy's book (and if you haven't, why not take a look) to vote online at Those who vote can also enter a competition to win €100 of book tokens.

Strangest Genius; The Stained Glass of Harry Clarke
Published By The History Press Ltd
Price: £50.00
ISBN: 978-1845889715

Further details can be found at

Good luck, Lucy!

Monday, 25 October 2010

Writing - It's Just Like Climbing Mountains

I began marking a student's assignment yesterday and their first comments were apologising for the delay in sending this latest exercise through. She was surprised at how much work was involved and how long it had taken her to complete it.

Many beginner writers believe that writing is easy. You just pick up a pen and sit down to write. Whilst this IS true, (there's no other way of writing, without actually doing some writing) what they don't realise is that that isn't it! There's a lot of honing and editing to endure before the text is perfect.

True writers are those who understand that writing is like mountain climbing. There are many who set off at the bottom, full of enthusiasm and raring to go. Then the incline gets steeper and suddenly the novelty starts wearing off. Out of puff, many turn around and return to the bottom, having underestimated the challenge ahead. It is the real writers who continue climbing.

A little preparation works wonders. When I climb a mountain, I plan my route in advance. I sit down and consult the map, looking for a suitable route up and and enjoyable route back down. I identify stages where I can stop for breath ... I mean ... stop to take a nice photograph. I try to gauge what time I should be at the summit to ensure I allow enough time to get back.

The same goes for my writing. I plan out roughly what I need to do. Where should I look to find out further information and background material? When is my deadline? Where should I be at each stage of my writing? In my own imagination, the summit of the mountain is the completion of my first draft. Getting the first draft written is always my challenge. Once I've done that, the editing process is all downhill! So, if I have a deadline of two weeks, then I will plan to be at my first draft summit by the end of week one.

Viewpoint 1
It's imperative that you plan these 'photographic breaks' on your climb. When climbing mountains, the view changes with every step you make. At the end of the day, or your writing time, stop and look back over what you've just written. Perhaps the path was harder going than it looked. But there's nothing to worry about now. You wouldn't drop back down a mountain at this stage and look for an easier path up, would you? You're here now. The next stage, is a new day, so look forward to the next viewpoint. How are you going to get there? Jot down a few simple notes to remind yourself when you're next back at your writing desk.

Viewpoint 2
At the end of your next day's writing time, stop and take another look at the view. Refreshed from your break at Viewpoint 1, you'll find it easier to get going again on the next stage, if you're clear about where you're heading. Mountain paths have a habit of getting steeper as you draw towards the summit, especially if it turns out to be a false summit. But no matter how many false summits I encounter on my climb, the fact remains - I am higher than I was before. As I progress to each viewpoint in my writing, I know that I'm further in my journey. I might wish I was at the top now, when I'm not, but I know the summit is closer than it was two days ago!

Viewpoint 3
As you near the summit, you get a better overall picture of what lies beneath you. You see the bigger picture now. It's tempting to start planning your descent, or the changes to your text now, because you can see it better from this viewpoint. But don't. You don't start descending, until you've reached the top. By all means, make a note of any changes to the path back down that you'd like to make, but don't make them now - now is the time for that final burst to the summit.

Summit - Hooray!
 First things first, have a break and enjoy the view! You've achieved the toughest part. Creating something new can be daunting, but the sense of achievement when you've created it is overwhelming! Remind yourself as you look back over your text, that back down at the bottom, none of this had happened. You've made it happen.

Enjoy the moment and share your news. Walkers share their experiences too at summits. Watch out for that nasty patch of stinging nettles by the third stile - they pounce when your back is turned! Tell other writers about finishing your first draft, and the view you can see now. They may offer you some helpful suggestions for your editing route back down to basecamp.

Then remind yourself of your route down. Do you need to make any changes to your path? Is there an easier track you can take? Can you take the path you planned or are you tight for time now? With some writing projects, deadlines can change as quickly as the weather turns on a mountain. Sometimes, it's necessary to get back down quickly, but you should always do so safely, don't take risks. Taking a short cut with the editing process can be risky.

Back at Basecamp
When you finally return to basecamp, you'll feel another sense of achievement. It's finished. You did it! Walker's celebrate a mountain climb with some completely unhealthy rewards - a drink in the pub, some fast food (well, faster than the climb up) or an entire packet of chocolate hobnobs. But that's okay, because they've worked hard for it. And writers who finish writing and editing their work should reward themselves too. It's what motivates us for tomorrow's mountain.

basecamp next week end, I'll be able to look back over this week and see what I've achieved. And because I've planned my route out beforehand, I know which summit I'm conquering this week.

Good luck.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Scrivener for Macs .... and Windows in 2011!

Those of us using Apple Macs have had the joy of using a programme called Scrivener for some time now. It was created by a writer, for writers, and it assists writers by allowing us to focus on the content we are writing and worry about the structure later. It works best (in my opinion) for large projects - the non-fiction books, the novel and the screenplay, although it can be used for any form of writing.

It's a great in that it allows you to store all of your research data and information (including pictures, soundtracks and movies) in the same file as the document you are writing.)

Scrivener is not a word processor, although it can do the basics of bold, italics and underlining, etc. Instead, it allows you to write a scene, or a collection of scenes, in any order that you like. What makes Scrivener better than a word processor, is that you can move huge chunks of text around, quickly, easily and without cutting and pasting. So, if you decide that scene 14 would be better as scene 2, you simply drag and drop. Here's how the programme is described by the developers:

Scrivener allows you to split up a long text into smaller, more manageable chunks (chapters, scenes, main points - how large or small is up to you) and to edit them independently or together as one long document. Its structural tools include a corkboard and an outliner for rearranging the constituent parts of your draft, so that you can plan your work in advance or get an overview and restructure it after the first pass. You can also refer to research documents (such as images and PDF files) by having them alongside your text as you work.

When your manuscript is complete, you can compile it into one long document for printing or for exporting to a word processor such as Microsoft Word. 

To find out more, visit the Scrivener website at

There's a great video demonstration available at
Why am I mentioning this now?
Well, the second version of Scrivener is about to be released for Apple Mac users, but in 2011, for the first time, there'll be a version for Windows users too. And, any Windows computer user who tackles this year's NaNoWriMo event (National Novel Writing Month in November) and successfully completes the required 50,000 words during that month (and gets their verification certificate) can obtain a 50% off discount voucher of the Windows version when it is released early next year. (A single license will be $40, so the voucher will drop it down to $20.)
To find out more:

Good luck if you're planning to do NaNoWriMo this year.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

How To Turn 3p Into £100

Just take a look at this cheque. Yes, that's right. Barclays Bank sent me a cheque for 3 pence. (It wouldn't have happened in my day when I worked on the 'Open and Close' account section.)

I closed an account and did they simply transfer the outstanding credit interest to my current account? No. They sent me a cheque. Ooh, I can feel the steam rising from your own ears as you read this! Infuriating isn't it? Not only have the banks made a mess of our economy, but they clearly have money to waste by posting cheques of 3p out to their customers. (Yes, it was sent first class.)

So, how many times have I told you that you should send off a letter to a magazine when you have something to say? Well, spotting an opportunity I decided to do just that and I wrote to Moneywise magazine. And guess what? It's their Star Letter in the October issue! And what's the prize for their Star letter? £100 of M&S vouchers!

So that, my dear readers, is how you turn 3p into £100.

Can anyone better that?

Good luck!

Monday, 18 October 2010

Where Do You Write?

This time last week I was taking this picture of Loweswater, in the Lake District, Cumbria. (Looking out of my bedroom/office window now, the weather is a little different.)

The scenery instilled calmness and serenity - it was certainly inspirational - I've still to type up the article I drafted with pen and paper at the end of that day, but the idea was inspired by this view.

As I've mentioned before in this blog, whenever I go away, I make a point of buying the local magazines and in one was an article about the writer, Hunter Davies. Hunter is a prolific writer, author and journalist and ghostwriter of many celebrity biographies including; The Beatles, Wordsworth, John Prescott, Wayne Rooney and Gazza. The article explained how Hunter Davies splits his year into two - he lives for six months in London, and for the other (sunnier) six months he lives in the Lake District. In fact, he lives here at Loweswater. (I'm jealous now.)

The reason I mention this is that here in the UK, British Summer Time ends in a couple of weeks and the clocks will go back an hour (fall back, spring forward - for those who can never remember) and this process reinforces upon us the onset of winter. It's a time when our habits change, and it's worth considering changing where you write. Now I'm not saying that you need to consider travelling like Hunter, from one end of the country to the other, but is where you write during the summer months the best place to write during the winter months?

During the winter months, daylight is scarcer and I much prefer working in natural daylight, so I move my desk next to the window in order to maximise the amount of time I can use this resource. (It's also where the radiator is situated, which is also a bonus!) Spend a few minutes considering your writing environment. I don't like using the darker evenings and the colder weather as an excuse not to write. Like Hunter, I find moving to a new writing place, even if it is from one side of the room to the other, the start of a new phase. It reinvigorates my excitement about sitting down at my desk each morning to work. It's different. And then just as spring takes a hold again, in preparation for the coming summer, I'll move back across to the other side of the room.

Hunter Davies is in his mid-seventies now, and shows no signs of retiring. (Isn't writing just the best job in the world anyway? Who does retire from writing?) Having a summer writing place and a winter writing place could be just what you need to maintain your inspiration levels. You may have the opportunity of moving further than me - perhaps into an adjacent room. However limiting your opportunities are, take a few minutes to consider your options. It could reawaken your creativity.

Good luck.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Nuturing the Realtionship

Last week I blogged about sowing your seeds continuously, and those who do will be rewarded when a seed suddenly flowers unexpectedly. A couple of days ago, one of my students, Dave, wrote to update me of his efforts. For those of you who follow regularly, Dave is my student who regularly submits jokes to That's Life's 'Rude Jokes of the Week' slot. He's just seen his 60th in print (yes, 60 jokes at £15 a time totals £900 - so he's laughing all the way to the bank.) He definitely knows where to sow his humorous seeds anyway!

However, Dave has also been submitting articles to a variety of magazines, including one of the railway publications. He's been sending work in on spec, and the editor has liked what Dave has written, asking him to continue sending in material.

When he spoke to another member of the editorial team a few days ago, they told him that the editorial staff were due to get together some time this month to plan out the issues for the coming year. At first Dave considered this to be bad news - if they knew what they wanted for the next 12 issues, any ideas he had might not fit in.

However, when a magazine plans out the future, they don't decide at that one meeting what is going to be on every page of every issue for the next 12 months. They tend to plan a theme, identifying specific ideas for some specific pages within the magazine. Effectively, they create an editorial calendar, which is often used by the advertising department to sell advertising space. (If an issue is going to be focusing on Railway holidays, then the advertising department will approach holiday companies that offer railway holidays inviting them to advertise in this specific issue.)

But, now that Dave has a relationship with the staff at this magazine, he's in a position where he could ask for a copy of the editorial calendar when it's been created. That way, he can 'twist' his ideas to fit the theme of a specific issue. By approaching the editor by email with an idea (and remember, the editorial staff now know him), his chances of success are greater, if he's pitching an article idea on a topic that the magazine wants to cover.

Sometimes a relationship with a customer (yes, the magazines and publishers are your customers - and remember - the customer is always right!) needs some careful handling. But nurture it correctly and it could blossom into a rewarding relationship.

Good luck.

Friday, 8 October 2010

UK Reader's Digest Competition - Watch for Copyright

The UK edition of Reader's Digest is running a competition for a 100-word story. The story has to be 100 words exactly. Stories of 99 words will be rejected.

The story that appeals most to the panel of judges will win £5,000, with the two runners up winning £100 of book tokens. All three will be printed in the Reader's Digest.

However, you should always read the terms and conditions of a competition.

Further information can be found here.

Full details of terms and conditions can be found here.

NOTE: "Contributions become world copyright of Vivat Direct Ltd (t/a Reader's Digest)." The terms and conditions of this competition state that the copyright of ANY ENTRY SUBMITTED INTO THE COMPETITION will become the property of Reader's Digest and its parent company.


I just wanted to clarify that it is not the writers of the winning entries who lose their copyright - but every writer who submits an entry who will lose their copyright in their creation.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Sowing Seeds For The Future

There are times with this writing game when you may feel that all of your efforts are being ignored. You send off a submission ... and hear nothing. You query an editor with a great idea ... and hear nothing. However, all of these actions are not wasted. You are, in fact, sowing possible seeds for the future.

Last February, I approached an editor with an idea for an article about the Long Mynd Hike, which takes place, here where I live,  during the first weekend of October. Hikers set off at 1pm on Saturday from the centre of the village, and within 24 hours have to walk the local hills - a circular route of 50 miles (80km) which includes over 8,000 feet of climbing. These sorts of events tend to take place in our National Parks, but the Long Mynd Hike takes place less then fifty miles from Birmingham City Centre. Having chatted to one of the founder members of the hike, I could offer an interview and background piece.

But I heard nothing.

After two weeks I approached the editor to enquire whether he'd had an opportunity to consider my idea.

I still had no reply.

So, two weeks later, I made another enquiry, by email.


At the end of April, I made one last ditch attempt and telephoned the editor, but he wasn't there. I left a message, but he did not ring back.

It seemed that this seed had fallen on stony ground, however that was not the case. In the middle of September I received an email, from the editor I'd originally approached back in February. Could I help him out? Another writer had let him down at the last minute and he desperately needed a feature to fill several pages within the magazine. The idea that I had proposed back in February would fit neatly, but (and here comes an element of the freelancing world that may seem a little unfair in all of this) could I produce the article within the next 24 hours?

Now, novice writers may see this as unfair - I'd originally approached the editor six months ago, and if he'd made the decision then, I could have had a couple of months to produce a fantastic feature, and now all I had was 24 hours to produce a fantastic feature!

But, back then, the editor didn't know he was going to have a problem with a piece in this issue and I saw this as an opportunity to show an editor that I could be relied upon. It was hard work, but I did it, and within the deadline. And, I saw it as bonus work too. Because I hadn't heard from the editor about my original submission, I'd written off this idea with this market.

And that's how freelance writing works sometimes. You may send off ideas and submissions but not hear back straight away. That doesn't matter, because sometimes those seeds do go on to germinate, and when they flower, it is always a beautiful surprise.

Incidentally, if any of you fancy climbing a total of 8,000 feet and walking for 50 miles around the Shropshire countryside, you may be interested to know that the quickest entrants achieve all this within nine hours! 

Good luck.

Monday, 27 September 2010

The Oxford Comma

Okay, I don't usually get technical with punctuation, but having read a brilliant example on Twitter this morning, and having had this issue crop up with an assignment I was marking over the weekend, I thought it was worth mentioning. 

When I was at school (which for me was many Prime Ministers ago), I was always told that we had to use a comma to separate words in a list. For example, if I'd been on a school visit to a local farm, the teacher may have asked me to write about it. As a seven year old, I'd have written something like this:

Last week I went to the farm and I saw cows, pigs, sheep, goats, horses and geese.

My teacher would have praised me for using a comma to separate each item in my list of animals. I would also have been praised for NOT using a comma after the word 'horses' and before the word 'and'. I was always told at school that we did not need a comma before an 'and'.

BUT ... there are times when you do, and it is known as the serial comma, although many people know it as the Oxford comma, because it is a stylistic point used by the Oxford University Press. 

Which brings me to the great example mentioned on Twitter this morning. Here is a sentence that has a list and does not have a comma before the word 'and':

"I dedicate this book to my parents, Martin Amis and JK Rowling."
Reading this sentence as it is, it suggests that this author is the love child of Martin Amis and JK Rowling! Now, I'm sure this isn't the case ... Martin Amis and JK Rowling may never have even met ... but this sentence, as it stands, tells us that this book is dedicated to two people.

To clarify the sentence, we need to insert the Oxford comma, before the word 'and', like so:

"I dedicate this book to my parents, Martin Amis, and JK Rowling."

Suddenly, all becomes clearer! Instead of dedicating the book to two people (Martin Amis and JK Rowling), the book is now dedicated to four people (Martin Amis, JK Rowling and both of the author's parents). The Oxford comma may break the rule that I was always taught at school, but it clarifies the sentence, which is what all good punctuation should do.

A comma may only be a small squiggle of ink, but sometimes, it's an important squiggle!

Good luck!

Monday, 20 September 2010

Make The Most Of Opportunities ... Before They Disappear!

So, there I was, last Thursday, with a magazine editor sitting on my sofa, drinking a coffee I'd made him five minutes earlier, when he flabbergasted me. It had nothing to do with a decision he was making - but the reason he was making it.

Inside the back page of his monthly magazine was a sunny/cloudy column. Somebody would write a 300-word pessimistic outlook on life, and then someone else would counteract this with a 300-word optimistic version.

At the bottom of the page was his call for submissions - he asked writers to submit something suitable for one of the 300 word slots (either a pessimistic outlook, or an optimistic one) and someone from the editorial team would write the other pessimistic/optimistic angle. I had my piece published in the March issue. So what was it that the editor said that flabbergasted me?

How many freelance submissions do you think he'd received during the two year period (that's 24 issues)?

  • 1,000?
  • 800?
  • 392?
  • 89?
No. The answer was none of those. In two years, all he had received were four submissions. Four.  FOUR! And one of those was mine, whilst another was from a friend in my writers' group.

No wonder he was dropping the column. He was fed up of having to write it himself each month!

So the message is, don't dismiss any writing opportunity. If you see an editor calling for submissions at the bottom of a page, then give it a bloody go! Write something and send it off. You don't know how grateful the editor may be! And when you've done it once, do it again. Who knows where it may lead? The editor may ask you to write more things for the magazine.

The editor sitting on my sofa believed that many writers simply assumed that hundreds of other writers were sending material in. Don't fall for that assumption. If you do, you could find that the opportunity is taken away.

Good luck.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Kicking About With Kindle

I don't know where you stand on the 'eBook' issue, but my attitude is that physical books will never die. There are times when a physical book is the right tool for the job (reading in the bath, or that huge, heavily illustrated tome on the coffee table, for example). I do think that eBooks are a new market, not a competing one. I have just ordered an eBook reader, because I have limited space and, horror upon horrors, have found myself in bookshops recently, putting books back DOWN on the shelf because I don't much space left for them!

I will still buy physical books, but I will buy more books overall as a result of having the eBook reader.

So, I decided that I ought to get into the eBook market, and today, my second dog humour book, One Hundred Muddy Paws For Thought is now available in Amazon Kindle format. It can be downloaded onto Amazon Kindles from the UK store and the USA store. (And if you have the free PC or Mac version of the Kindle reader, or the iPhone App, you can download it there too.)

The print version of the book was published in 2004 and sold 50,000 copies, but by 2009, it was out of print. So, having checked my contract with the publishers, I wrote to them and asked for the rights to revert to me. Once this had happened, I was then able to start working on the Kindle version, because I held the electronic rights once again.

This illustrates the importance of keeping a record of which rights you have sold in your text and which rights you have retained. It does annoy me a little, when publishers buy the eBook rights to your text and then do nothing with them!

So, if you happen to be the owner of an Amazon Kindle, and fancy reading a short, humorous book about how dogs train their humans to cope with the great outdoor life, then why not take a look?  It's currently £3.44 including VAT (yes, VAT does apply to eBooks - oh, there is still so much for the publishing industry to sort out!)

There are some writers who have uploaded their books to Amazon in Kindle format and seen sales that have attracted physical book publishers. It won't work for everybody, but it's a different stepping stone to consider. 

Good luck!

Monday, 13 September 2010

It's All About The Competition!

Well, on Friday I was visiting the Writing Buddies in Southampton for their fortnightly meeting, although this one was slightly unusual - it was an awards ceremony!

They'd organised an internal competition, with categories as diverse as article writing, fillers, short stories, flash fiction, drama and poetry. I'd judged the article and filler categories. The winners from each category will have their entries printed in the first Writing Buddies anthology. The poor souls though, had to endure having their photos taken with me as I presented them with their winning certificates (hence why I'm now hiding at the back of this picture here, because by this stage I was all photographed out!).

Many of the entrants were surprised at their own achievements, and this demonstrates the importance of competitions. When we sit in our writing garrets alone, we're unaware of the standard of writing around us. As writers, we tend to think that everyone else is better than us, despite there often being no evidence for this! Competitions can help to put that into perspective.

If you enter a competition, the judge will be assessing your entry blindly. He or she will not know who wrote the entry, they will merely judge the writing. And it was a point I mentioned at the Writing Buddies meeting. Their competition had been judged externally. Every category of entries had been judged by someone who wasn't a member of the group. As judges, we weren't offering them a prize because we wanted to be nice to them, or because we didn't want to offend anyone. This competition was judged by people who did not know their writing. So it was their writing, and their writing alone, that led to their success.

In some ways, this has parallels with getting published. Whenever you send anything off to a publication, whether it be a short story, article, poem, novel or a serial, it's like entering a competition. The judge (editor) probably doesn't know you - and they certainly don't owe you any favours. But you also need to remember that your submission is 'competing' with the other submissions the editor is receiving. 'Hobby' writers are competing with other 'hobby' writers, who are also competing with 'professional' writers, who are also competing with other 'professional' writers. A magazine has a set number of pages to fill in each issue. A publisher has so many books it can publish in a year. Your work, is therefore competing for a limited resource.

So, remember when you send your work out there into the big wide world, you may not be technically entering a competition, but your words are competing with the words of other writers. And the editor's decision, just like the judge's decision, is final. Remember that you are competing with other professionals, so be professional with your submission. 

Of course, one way to ensure that you don't isolate yourself in your writer's garret and have no knowledge of the standard of writing out there, is not to read anything. Alex Gazzola's post the other week,, explains why writers should be voracious readers. If nothing else, reading gives you an idea of the standard of writing you are up against.

I didn't start writing short stories until I'd judged a couple of short story competitions. It wasn't a market that I read, so I knew nothing about the standard of writing. But when I did read it, I felt I could write stories that were just as good, if not better. Reading other writer's work also teaches you. You learn from another writer's mistake, which is what I did and have now seen my stories published in the UK, Ireland and Australia.

Competitions offer an opportunity to practise your writing. They also give you a deadline. In some ways, the world of publication is one continuous competition. If you want to win and be published, you've got to be 'in it to win it'. People who don't enter competitions, don't win them.

Good luck!

Monday, 6 September 2010

Punctuating Dialogue

Dialogue can make a piece of text more interesting to read, for a variety of reasons. Firstly, it can make the reader feel as though they are there at the scene themselves, eavesdropping on the conversation. It doesn't matter whether the scene is a piece of fiction, or an interview in an article, using dialogue allows the people in your writing to talk directly to the reader, rather than you, the writer, recount secondhand what was said.

Dialogue also benefits a piece of text by breaking it up on the page and making it easier on the eye for the reader.

But as I was marking a few assignments over the weekend, I noticed that there appears to be some confusion concerning punctuation and dialogue.

When using dialogue in a piece of text, you must always have a piece of punctuation before the closing speech marks. If the speech or quote is part of a longer sentence, then you use a comma, before continuing your sentence, like so:

“The weather is absolutely barmy today,” he said, as he found some shade to sit under.

(NOT "The weather is absolutely barmy today", he said, as he found some shade to sit under.")

If your piece of dialogue is the end of a sentence, then use a full stop, or other final punctuation mark, like a question mark or exclamation mark, before the closing speech marks.

Sitting under the tree for shade, he said, “I can’t believe that it can get any hotter.”

(NOT Sitting under the tree for shade, he said, "I can't believe that it can get any hotter".)

If your dialogue is a complete sentence in itself, again, the punctuation mark goes before the closing speech marks.

"What the blazes is going on here?"

Never have a space between the punctuation mark and the closing speech marks, because this may confuse your word processor to insert opening speech marks, not closing speech marks.

Good luck. 

Monday, 30 August 2010

The Editor Has Changed My Work!

Maria contacted me recently to tell me that one of her articles has just been published in The Lady. So firstly, congratulations on your success, Maria! But when Maria read the piece, she noticed the editor had changed a few things, raising some questions including:
  1. The editor asked me to produce 1,500 words and agreed a price for that word count. She has now edited it down to less and changed the title without telling me. What should I do?
  2. Should she still pay me the agreed price for 1,500 words?
  3. Should I tell her that I am not so happy with the title and the editing?

 The simple answers to these questions are:
  1. Nothing.
  2. Yes.
  3. No.
 Let me explain further.

The editor asked me to produce 1,500 words and agreed a price for that word count. She has now edited it down to less and changed the title without telling me. What should I do?

Absolutely nothing. As long as you've delivered what was agreed, then you've done nothing wrong. When the time comes for an editor to use a piece they've commissioned, they may suddenly discover that there isn't as much space available as they thought. Perhaps the advertising department have done well and sold more advertising space. Perhaps, the picture editor has found an amazing image that would illustrate the article well, and to do it justice it needs to be a certain size. Perhaps a news item has just come in which needs space and your article is the easiest to cut. Perhaps the editor got out of bed the wrong side this morning.

There are numerous reasons why space for an article is cut and why an editor may need to edit a feature to make it fit the space available. As long as you've provided what the editor has asked for, then you have delivered your side of the contract.

Putting it bluntly, an editor is King (or Queen) at the magazine. Once you've delivered your text, the editor can do whatever he or she likes with it (within reason). And that includes the title. Titles are commonly changed. You need to title an article to grab the editor's attention and make them read it in the first place, but for the printed version in the magazine an editor may have better ideas. If you don't like the title they use, tough. Don't worry about it. If you want, try to learn from it. Is it better than yours? Why do you think the editor changed it? Does this new title follow a similar theme to the other titles in the same issue?

Look at the rewritten text too. Is it tighter? Does it read better? Has the editor cut a specific paragraph or subject from your article?

Maria finishes this question with, what should I do? And my answer is nothing. The only time it may be appropriate to contact the editor is if the changes made alter the FACTS of the article. If you said the theme park cost £20 for an adult to get in and the editor has changed it to £50, and after double-checking you know your facts are correct, then a polite (yes, polite, not a rant) email pointing this out may be appropriate.

Should she still pay me the agreed price for 1,500 words?

Yes. If that was what was agreed and you've delivered your side of the contract, then you should be paid, even if the editor only uses 100 words in the end. It's not your fault if the advertising department sold more space this month, which meant that your feature had to be cut, is it?

If you've been commissioned to write to a specific length on a specific topic, and the editor isn't happy with what you've supplied, then they'll be in touch asking you to amend the text.

Should I tell her that I am not so happy with the title and the editing?
No. What's that going to achieve? The editor may then decide not to accept any more of your work, if you're going to be one of those 'troublesome' writers. If you really do not like what the editor has done, then ask yourself if you want to supply anything to the magazine again in the future. That's your choice. But you need to accept that editors can change details. I've had editor change the names of the characters in a story, and one the other week, changed an Almond Slice to a piece of Carrot Cake! Lord knows why! But, that's what the editor chose to do. They paid me for my text, and to use a well-worn phrase, the editor's decision is final.

If you wish to continue writing for the magazine then examine the text and see what you can learn. One editor annoyed me at first, because they were always rewriting my opening paragraphs. But I soon learned that actually, my paragraphs were not quite right for the magazine's style. Once, I'd learned this, I began writing opening introductions that the editor did like, which meant she didn't need to change them. So, look at changes to your text as learning opportunities.

Remember, you are the supplier of words. Supply them to the best of your ability, but accept that some of them may be changed by an editor. (The clue is in the job title - they edit from time to time.)

I remember a friend from school who bought a well-known brand of cola because she liked it, but she always 'improved' it by adding more sugar. (I don't think she has any teeth left now.) Should the manufacturer have been knocking on her door telling her to stop playing out with their product? No, because at the end of the day, the customer is always right ... and an editor is your customer.

Good luck.

Sunday, 29 August 2010

What Are You Twittering On About?

Do you Twitter? Can you tell people in up to 140 characters what you're doing? Does anybody else care?

If you've heard about twittering, but are not sure what it involves, or if you've just started twittering and think you're talking gibberish, then nip over to Nicola Morgan's excellent blog Help I Need A Publisher.

She's recently begun a series of posts all about Twitter and how writers can use it to our advantage. I've found it useful so far, and thought some of you may be interested. For more information, follow the links:

Good luck!

Monday, 23 August 2010

Novel on Authonomy

For those of you who've been following my blog for sometime, you will remember that I spent part of last November and December, in the Lake District, editing my novel.

I've decided to use the authonomy website to preview the first 10,000 words, and allow readers to comment on it and (hopefully) recommend it, which will push it up the list. At the end of each month, the five most recommended texts get read by editorial staff at HarperCollins.

So, if you'd like to read the first 10,000 words of my novel, get yourself along to and then you'll really find out how my mind works!

Good luck!

(and thanks!)

Copyright or wrong?

Many writers get confused by copyright. Indeed, with legal staff specialising in this one small area of the law, it can instill fear and uncertainty in those who do not understand it.

However, for writers, understanding the basics will put you in good stead.

Copyright occurs as soon as you produce something artistic. (This can be something in writing, a drawing or picture, a photograph, some music, a video, etc). As I am typing this blog posting the copyright is being created. I don't have to register my copyright. Under current British and EU legislation, it is created as soon as I create something.

There is no copyright in facts, merely how they are expressed. And that's how I think of copyright. Copyright refers to the order of the words that you've written. You have the copyright in the sentences that you create and produce yourself.

As a copyright holder, you have the right to reproduce those words how and as you like, and you also have the right to give others the right to use those words. So, if you've written an article, you have copyright in that article, and therefore, you have the right to offer a magazine the right (First Serial Rights) to publish it. By retaining the copyright, you can also offer a website the right (Electronic rights) to use it on a website. You can offer a publisher the right to use the text in a book.

It is possible to assign (transfer) your copyright. This means that you no longer have the right to copy it yourself and offer rights to others to use it - the copyright holder now has that right. (So, if you transferred the copyright of some text you had produce to someone else, and you wanted to use the text again, you'd have to get permission from the copyright holder!) In many cases, writers should refrain from selling their copyright, so that they can continue to offer these other rights in their work. It is the copyright holder who has the authority to give others permission to use the work.

This also means that if you wish to quote someone else's work, you generally need permission and this should be sought from the copyright holder. The current UK and EU legislation does allow some 'fair use' quoting of someone else's work for specific purposes, such as critiquing or for review. However, the great British legal system has not defined what 'fair usage' is, because that depends upon each individual piece of work created. If a poem has 4 lines, and someone quoted 1 line, it begs the question - is quoting 25% of the text 'fair use'? A novelist would be upset if someone quoted 25% of their novel! This is why it can get tricky.

If you want to quote song lyrics, always get permission. Again, relatively speaking, songs are short pieces of text, so quoting one line could get you into trouble. There's an excellent article on The Guardian website about how one writer fell foul of copyright with song lyrics.

In the UK (and the EU), since 1st January 1996, copyright for writers lasts for 70 years after the end of the year of the death of the writer. So, if a writer died on 29th March 2010, their work remains in copyright until 31st December 2080. (Prior to 1996 it was 50 years after the writer's death.)

  • copyright is created as soon as you've created something artistic - written a series of words. You do not need to register copyright.
  • There is no copyright in facts - merely how those facts are explained.
  • There is no copyright in titles - however, some distinctive titles may be subject to other forms of legal protection, such as a trademark.
  • There is no copyright in ideas or plot. However, the more detail you give an idea or plot, the more specific you make it, the better.
I have literally touched the surface here (and not done the subject justice at all) but if I had gone into all the detail, I would be completely redefining what the length of a blog posting should be! But there are some excellent resources online that can offer further copyright guidance, including:

I hope that's been of some help.

Good luck.