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!