Monday, 31 May 2010

Eavesdropping Competition

Eavesdropping is not rude, it's research as far as writers are concerned. Only the other day I heard an elderly woman in my local Co-op food store say to her friend, "I'd pull it tighter, only I'm scared that if I pull it too hard, it'll snap off, and then what would he say to me?"

Indeed, what would he say, whatever it is she's be pulling? And that's exactly what a new competition is asking for.

On 1st July 2010 the 'Bugged -Creative Eavesdropping' competition wants people to listen out for snippets of conversation, and then use it to create a whole new piece of work, whether it be a 1,000-word short story, flash fiction of up to 150 words, a 5 minute script, or a poem of 60 lines.

Entries need to be submitted by 15th August at the latest, but you can start submitting as soon after 1st July as you like. Good entries will appear on the competition's blog for others to read, and the best entries will be produced into an anthology.

For more information visit

It sounds as though it is time to find some cotton buds and clean out your ears. I SAID, IT SOUNDS AS THOUGH ... oh, never mind.

Good luck!

Monday, 24 May 2010

Blooming Marvellous!

I've spoken about taking pictures before, but this week, I thought I'd mention them again for a different reason. Research.

When you're out and about researching for articles (or any kind of writing), take a small camera with you, or just remember to use the one on your mobile phone, if you have one.

Having a notebook is great to be able to jot down thoughts and interesting facts, but sometimes a picture can help to re-awaken other thoughts and memories. Why have I included a picture I once took inside the flower marquee at the Shrewsbury Flower Show? Well, according to research by Nikon, almost half the people in Britain can recall a smell associated with a scene or location, just by looking at a picture of it. Nikon undertook the survey in 23 countries, and here in the UK, 47% of us said that a photograph can evoke the memory of a smell or other sense.

Looking at this picture above, triggered several memories, for me. The perfume when I walked into the marquee was overwhelming. The sweetness of the scents was exotic. One memory I do recall, is thinking, "these scents all work together." It always annoys me when I walk into a department store that all the fragrances (Chanel No5, Boss, Calvin Klein, etc) are shoved together in the entrance hall. When the fragrances all merge with one another, in my opinion, it creates one of the most unearthly stinks on the planet. I have to hold my breath as move through this department. And if I were one of the fragrant producers, I'd be a bit peeved. If I'd spent years and millions creating a delightful new fragrance, the last thing I'd want is for it to be battling it out with a Calvin Klein and a Davidoff less than a foot away. Man-made fragrances do not mix together at all well, but here, in this marquee, mother nature had produced wonderful individual scents, but scents that merged to create a wonderful super-scent too.

Another memory invoked by the picture is heat. The air inside was at least ten degrees hotter than it was outside (and the Shrewsbury Flower Show takes place in August.) I remember the beads of sweat erupting on my forehead, then merging to form a drip, running down my temple. I also remember the speakers inside the tent declaring the winners of the judging process, and a round of applause rippling through the marquee when the overall winner was announced.

So, next time you go out and about researching your ideas, don't forget to take a few pictures. Whist the visual reminders will be immensely important, the other sensual memory triggers will be pretty useful too.

Good luck.

Monday, 17 May 2010

It's The Way I Title 'Em

Titles. They may be the first thing to appear at the top of your manuscript, but in my experience, they're best saved until last.

Titles are important. They're the first words to put their hands around your reader's neck and pull them into your feature or story. And remember ... that very first reader will be the editor. If your title doesn't grab their interest, why will they be encouraged to read on?

I was marking a couple of assignments yesterday, and students had analysed their target market and noted that the style for the titles in this publication was, "Snappy, a play on words, or a startling statement." Well, if that's what you discover from looking at your target market, then yours should be in the same style. Instead, I went on to read articles titled A Fun Day At The Beach. Don't get me wrong - for some magazines a title like that will be fine. But if you've seen that all the titles in the publication you are targeting have fun, snappy titles, then is A Fun Day At The Beach really the best title you can come up with?

The picture above is of an article I had in Holiday Cottages magazine about the literary festival at Hay on Wye on the Welsh Borders. For ten days at the end of May and the beginning of June, this small market town is swamped with literary folk and names known the world over. Titling the piece, Hay Fever, works on several levels. It's a nice play on words; it uses a phrase on many people's tongues (or should that be up their nose and in the eyes?) at this time of year. But it also conveys the atmosphere of the place. It tells readers where in the country the event is taking place (Hay on Wye), whilst also demonstrating the mood of the event. One definition of 'fever' is, a state of intense emotion or activity.

When considering titles, there are several tips and tricks you can use:

  1. Alliteration. Instead of having A Fun Day At The Beach, why not use alliteration, where the words all begin with the same letter, to produce a more interesting title? Fun Frinton-on-Sea Family Frolics
  2. Phrases, Sayings, Song Titles. Sometimes a song title, or a proverb (or part of a proverb) can make an excellent title. Look Before You Leap. Like A Bat Out Of Hell. A Stitch In Time.
  3. Practical 'Tell It As It Is'. For some magazines, a straightforward title is all that is required, so make sure that yours 'does what it says on the tin'. Ten Ways To Leave Your Lover.
  4. Quotes. Another reason for leaving the titling of your feature until the end, is because if you've interviewed somebody, sometimes a quote they've given you produces a really great title. Who Says You Need Wings To Fly?
  5. A Twist On A Phrase Or Saying. Play with words. Sometimes altering one word, or even just one letter, in a phrase or saying can produce an interesting twist. An article about grey squirrels taking over a red squirrel habitat here in the UK, was titled Judgment Drey (a drey is a squirrel's nest), so it was a nice play on words of the phrase 'Judgment Day'.
Don't worry though, if the editor chooses not to use your title. In some ways, it doesn't matter. When you get to this stage, your title has done it's job, because it attracted the editor's attention enough to get him or her to read your article and accept it. Sometimes editors come up with better titles (they are doing it all day), although sometimes you might not like the alternative. But if you notice one of your manuscripts has been retitled, just consider it for a moment. Is it better than yours? What can you learn from this?

Titles. They may be the first thing at the top of your manuscript, but sometimes it's best leaving the titling of your piece until the end.

Good luck.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Beautiful Britain

Beautiful Britain magazine has just become a monthly publication. This is good news for writers because when it first hit the newsagents shelves in 2005 it was a quarterly publication - so whereas the editor only needed material for 4 issues a year, he now needs words for three times as many issues!

I should point out that Beautiful Britain does not accept unsolicited submissions, but the magazine is not staffed by millions of writers (thankfully) so, many of the pieces within it are freelance produced. To get your article considered, simply send a query letter to the editor, Rob Yarham (

Some of the magazine's contents can be viewed online - visit for further information and you'll see that articles cover a range of topics including history and interviews. A quick glance through the magazine demonstrates that some writers have produced a complete words and picture package, whilst other features have been written by writers, with photographs provided by other sources, so it could be a good market whether you take pictures or not.

Whilst the magazine is interested in Britain's history, it isn't entirely focussed on the past. The magazine's strapline proclaims, "Celebrating the past, embracing the future."

Clearly, by going monthly, Beautiful Britain magazine is embracing its own future. Does that future include one of your articles? There's only one way to find out!

Good luck!

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

Every Little Helps!

This posting is a day later than usual, because I spent Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday at Attingham Park - the National Trust's West Midland Regional Headquarters. Over this bank holiday weekend, the National Trust have a second-hand book fair, so a group of Shropshire authors go along and we sell our own books alongside the second-hand ones. It's brilliant! The place is teeming with book-lovers, so, who better to browse what we have to offer, meet the author and get their purchases signed too!

As is traditional with a British Bank Holiday weekend, the weather was certainly 'varied' but there was a cool breeze, which may have reduced visitor numbers. But these events are always great fun and, of course, an opportunity to sell books! I was fortunate enough to sell a few books on both days and whilst it may not have made me a fortune, as the supermarket slogan goes ... Every Little Helps!

It is impossible to predict how sales will go at events like this (so it isn't worth trying) - there are good days when you sell loads and not so good days when there are no sales. But attending events like these every few months makes a difference. From those days when you sell nothing, to those days when you can sell several hundred pounds worth of books, it all adds up. Since I've had books to sell over the last six years, I've sold thousands of pounds worth of my books. Standing back and taking a look at the bigger picture is important from time to time. It helps to put those quieter days into perspective.

The same goes with your writing. A few words written here, a few there, may not feel like much, but totted up over time, they will produce a much larger sum total. You may only have ten minutes to spare for your writing, but ten minutes could result in a hundred words being produced. Writing a tenth of a one thousand word article is still worth doing! Ten minutes over ten days, doesn't sound much, but you could have a first draft of an article by the end of it!

So, next time you only have a few minutes to spare in order to write, or you look back and despair that after an hour all you've managed to produce is a few hundred words, don't panic. Stop looking at the small detail and take a step back. See what those few words are helping you to achieve in your writing career. It may only feel like a hundred words now, but every little helps!

Good luck!