Monday, 30 December 2013


I watched two Queen’s speeches this year: the official speech at 3pm on Christmas Day, and the David Walliams version in his children’s story, Gangster Granny (which was just as fun for adults, too!). Whilst The Queen in David Walliams’ programme did more dancing than speaking, Her Majesty in the official speech discussed the benefits of reflection.

Reflection is something writers should do regularly, and I know it is something I could do more often. That’s one of my goals for 2014. It’s so tempting, as soon as we’ve finished writing something, to send it off, in the hope of getting good news in return. Instead, we should spend time reflecting upon the words we have written. How can they be improved? Have they conveyed the message we wanted?

Similarly, reflecting upon our ideas enables us to develop them properly. Our first ideas are not always our most original, or our best, so time spent reflecting upon them is time well spent. Whilst an idea may work well in our original target market, a period of reflection could reveal an alternative market where our writing works better, and possibly in a better-paying market!

To help get into the habit of reflection:

- put your idea/work aside for at least 24 hours,
- when you are ready, sit in a comfortably chair (not where you normally write) and read through your idea/work.
- pick up a pen and jot down your thoughts in a notebook. What works well? What doesn’t? How can things be improved?
- put these thoughts aside for another 24 hours, at least.
- when you come back to these thoughts, pick out the strongest comments, or those that mean the most to you, and take it from there.
- come your amended idea/work against the original. Can you see what your period of reflection has achieved?

And on that note, I’ll leave you to reflect upon this thought!

I wish you all a happy, prosperous, creative and reflective 2014!

Good luck.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Merry Christmas

Well, a Merry Christmas to everyone, and thank you for following my blog for another year. I hope you're all ready for the festive season. It's that time of year to battle with the crowds in the shops, argue with the relatives you haven't seen since last year, and cope with that sinking feeling when you suddenly calculate that in order to defrost the turkey properly you should have taken it out of the fridge last Tuesday.

Of course, to all of your writers out there this is just fodder for next year's articles, stories and other writing projects! And if you ever think that Christmas does not make a good subject matter for creative writing, then read a copy of Alan Ayckbourn's Season's Greetings. (

Happy Christmas ... and ...

Good luck!

Monday, 16 December 2013

Dealing With Deadlines

It was Douglas Adams who commented that he liked deadlines, particularly the whooshing noise they made as they go by. The problem is, if it was a customer who set you your deadline you should be doing everything to ensure you don’t hear that whooshing sound … if you want to work for them again. 

According to the OED, the word ‘deadline’ originates from a physical line drawn in the ground around a prison. If prisoners stepped over it they would be deemed as escaping and shot. It was literally a line that you died by, if you crossed it. 

Deadlines are all around us. They can be self-imposed deadlines (those of you who’ve set yourselves a deadline of achieving something by the end of 2013 don’t have long left), or they can be set by third parties. Some projects have several deadlines through their life: books have a deadline for the supply of the finished manuscript, there’s a deadline for proofreading the page layout proofs, and then the ultimate deadline of a publication date to adhere to. 

If you have any input into a deadline (and a deadline is best negotiated if possible) think about how long it will take you to do the job … and then add on another 20%! Don’t do what I did once when an editor asked me on a Wednesday if I had time to do a commission for him - I told him I was going away on the Saturday for a week and I hoped that wouldn’t be a problem, to which he replied, “Of course not, I need it by this Friday!” (Walked into that one, didn’t I?)

If ever you think you may have a problem meeting a deadline then get in touch with the editor at the earliest opportunity. The sooner you do this the more chance there is of adjusting it in some way. Leave it until the last minute and you’ll leave the editor with little room for manoeuvre. If you can, give the editor something by the initial deadline date. Deadlines are set because there’s a process that takes place after you, the writer, has done their bit. If you can give the editor something so they can, at least, start doing their bit, the better.

Of course, the best situation is to deliver before the deadline, and every time you do that you increase your chances of working with that editor again. Reliability is key.

Being a writer is all about juggling deadlines. Unfortunately for non-writers, this can be frustrating. I still have much to do in preparation for Christmas Day, but the writer in me is concentrating my efforts on the deadlines that are due to arrive before then!

Good luck.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Troublesome Titles

Thinking up titles can be troublesome. On the other hand, some come easy. But getting the title of a piece of writing right is important … sort of.

I’m currently trying to think of a suitable title for a novel I’m writing. Novel titles have a lot of work to do. Ideally, they should convey something about the plot, or at least the genre. However, generally, novel tiles should be short. Sometimes a title may be one word. That’s a lot of work for one word to do.

Short story titles can be longer. One of my published short stories went by the title: It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken, which for those of you who are not good at counting is eight words. It was published with this title, although when I sold it to an Australian magazine the editor cut it to A Good Life. Personally, I don’t think that’s as good. In my opinion, the If You Don’t Weaken is much more revealing about the story’s plot than A Good Life. A Good Life could be about anything: a nun, or a charity worker. But the phrase, If You Don’t Weaken immediately tells the reader that temptation is close by! Still, the Australian editor went with the shorter version, and at the end of the day, an editor knows best for their magazine.

For magazine articles, titles can be straight forward. Many articles take a numeric approach: Seven Ways To Drop A Dress Size Before Christmas (which’ll probably be to eat less on Monday, eat less on Tuesday, eat less on Wednesday …) Or, if they fill a regular column the title may be obvious. An article about the joy of finding a church unlocked for The Simple Things magazine had to take the column’s regular name as the first part of the title: Things I Miss … What came after was obvious really: Things I Miss: Unlocked Churches.

If you’re stuck for ideas for potential titles, consider the following:

- a play on words/phrase:  Amazing Feat (walkers who’ve achieved something spectacular).
- alliteration: Seven Seductively Secret Saunters (walks with hidden promises).
- a song title: Happy Holidays. (Be careful with song titles, though. You have to exercise caution when using lyrics, so if the song title comprises lyrics it may be better to think of something else.)
- stating the bleedin’ obvious: How To Build A Boat.
- a quote, proverb, or saying: From Tiny Acorns …

Of course, whatever you come up, you have to remember the editor may have his/her own ideas. The image at the top of this post is an article of mine appearing in the January 2014 issue of Cumbria magazine. I’d given it the title Cumbrian Weather Forecasting For Tourists. As you can see, the editor has changed it to something else: It Rains ... Get Over It!

‘nuff said!

Good luck!

Monday, 2 December 2013

They Should Have Known Better

In America, two large photographic agencies - Getty, and Agence France-Presse - have just been fined $1.2m for using photographs they’d acquired through Twitter, without the photographer's permission.

The photographer, Daniel Morel, had taken photos of the Haiti earthquake aftermath and then posted them on his Twitter account. These photos were downloaded by one of the agencies and distributed to the other, without the photographer’s permission. In a complicated legal battle, Morel sued for breach of copyright. The agencies’ lawyers claimed that because the photos had been posted on a social media website they were open to commercial use. The jury decided no - and that Morel’s rights had been infringed - the photos had been used without his permission.

This just highlights how big companies can get it wrong. There is a common misconception that anything on the Internet is copyright-free - this is simply not true. Copyright laws state that the creator owns the copyright and it’s up to them what rights they issue to others to use that work. Every word you read on the Internet, and every photograph you see on the Internet, is protected by copyright. You can’t just help yourself to anyone else’s work, in the same way that they can’t help themselves to your work.

There is a movement call Creative Commons ( where people can give permission for their work to be used by others (but not commercial organisations) … and some work you see on the Internet is covered by this. However, the original creators have made the decision to offer their work in this way. They’ve granted permission for their work to be used in this way. And that’s the key point to remember. If you come across words, or photos, anywhere (not just the Internet) that you’d like to use within your own work, or on your website, you should always ask for the creator’s permission. Some will be happy for you to do so, and they won’t charge, others will be happy for you to do so if you pay for the right to do so. As the copyright holder it is their decision as to who can use their work, and in what way, and whether they want to charge for this.

Roy Greenslade has written an excellent blog posting on this issue called Ten Bogus Excuses People Use When Stealing Photos From The Internet (, which I would encourage you to read. It’s just as valid for a writer’s words as it is a photographer’s photos.

If posting any of your work (written, or photographic) on social media sites, just be aware that they have terms and conditions. Some social media websites have a habit of updating and changing their terms, which doesn’t make life easy. And be aware of competitions, particularly photographic competitions. Some have it in their terms and conditions that any entry becomes the copyright of the competition organiser. That enables the competition organiser to use your work in any way they like without any further recompense to you, and without the need to ask your permission (because by entering the competition, you’re deemed to have accepted the terms and conditions of the competition, and, therefore, you’ve given them the copyright in your work). The golden rule, then, is: Always read the rules, or the terms and conditions.

Good luck.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Creative Non-Fiction - Part 4

Do you ask enough questions? Another creative non-fiction writing technique is to ask lots of questions.

All writers ask questions - it’s a great way of finding out new information. Journalists ask questions to establish facts and to use the answers as direct quotes. However, this has limitations. Journalism is all about telling. Or reporting. Whereas creative non-fiction is concerned with showing and revealing information. 

When journalists quote their interviewees they’re also subject to the limitations of their interviewee's (limited - potentially) vocabulary. Interview someone who trekked hundreds of miles to reach the North Pole and ask them “What was it like there?” and you’d be forgiven for being a little frustrated when they answer you with, “It was really, really, really cold.” 

Creative non-fiction writers take the process one step further. Instead of reporting what it was like, the creative non-fiction writer asks as many questions necessary so that they can then write about the place as if they were experiencing it themselves. In other words, they ask all the questions they need to be able to write about it as if seen through their viewpoint. This then allows the writer to use their own language skills to convey the drama to their readers in an interesting manner. Ask enough questions and the writer can step into the shoes of the interviewee.

This is how many ghostwriters work - those who are employed to write someone else’s story. Some celebrities use ghostwriters to write their autobiographies for them, but they’re written in a way that makes the reader think the celebrity wrote them.

Writing from your subject’s viewpoint is more common than you may think. It’s not just celebrities who use ghostwriters; anyone can. Pick up any women’s magazine containing real-life stories and most of them will have been written by professional writers, not the people whose lives the stories are about. (The piece may be attributed to a writer, “as told to Fred Bloggs,” or the writer's name may appear near the spine of the publication in a font size that requires an extra strong magnifying glass!) If you read the stories, though, you’ll see that they’re written in the first person, using first person pronouns, like I and we. The writers have achieved this by asking their interviewee lots of questions. 

It’s an interesting exercise to experiment with. Ask someone lots of questions about a specific time, or moment, in their life and then write it up as if you were them. Do that, and you can describe what they saw/felt/heard/smelt/touched using your own language skills and vocabulary, rather than rely on those of your subject.

Good luck.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Creative Non-Fiction - Part 3

Creative non-fiction writers can add sparkle to their text if they use dialogue. Remember, dialogue requires at least two people to speak: there needs to be a conversation. Traditionally, if non-fiction writers wanted to add authority to a piece of text they would quote some words from a relevant expert. Whilst this involves putting text into speech marks, it’s not the same as dialogue. Here’s an example:

It’s a fact. Christmas is getting earlier each year. “We’ve studied the period when retailers begin showing their Christmas adverts,” says Fred Bloggs of, “and we’ve discovered that most retailers are launching their advertising campaigns two weeks earlier than they were five years ago.”

Okay, I made that up. (Am I the only one fed up with watching Christmas adverts already?) However, in this example, the quote tells the reader that the writer’s statement (Christmas is getting earlier each year) is not a personal opinion, but a belief held by others. But when quotes are used like this the writer is reporting what was said. I consider this pushes readers away from the source of the quote. Effectively, the writer is saying, “Here’s what this bloke told me the other day.” The reader is getting the information second-hand, and is being told what was said.

Dialogue changes things, and works better for some areas of non-fiction, such as travel writing and (auto)biography. When a reader comes across dialogue, it offers some immediacy. It’s as though the reader is standing just behind the writer’s shoulder and listening in to their conversation. With dialogue, the reader feels as though the action is happening now. They’re experiencing the conversation just as the writer did.

You look like a man on an adventure,” says the waiter, with a wryness to his smile.
“I might be.” I hedge my bets.
“You should go to the market at first light, tomorrow. You’ll see locals, then. Leave it until an hour after sunrise and you’ll be one tourist amongst thousands of others.”
“Thank you. I’ll do that.”
“Watch out for Pedro on the rug stall. He offers good deals but short changes his customers.” The waiter winks and walks away.

That, in itself, is a little scene (see last week’s post about scenes), but I hope you found that more engaging than the quote example earlier. It still conveys a lot of information to the reader, but in a more immediate way. The writer could have written: Go to the market at first light to watch the locals go about their daily business before the tourists arrive. And beware of Pedro on the rug stall, who’s known to short change his customers. It gives the same information, but those two sentences lack life. Dialogue adds that life.

Essentially, dialogue allows a writer to show the reader information, whereas quotes tell the reader stuff. In fact, if you read last week’s post again, you’ll see that the opening scene begins with dialogue, because it’s a great way of grabbing the reader’s attention. It’s the immediacy of dialogue that helps achieve this.

So next time you want to convey some interesting information to the reader, consider the art of conversation. It can be quite revealing.

Good luck.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Creative Non-Fiction - Part 2

Last week I looked at how being a little creative with events in your article can help you convey the facts, or the truth, of your piece in an interesting way. Another creative non-fiction technique is to write in ‘scenes’.

All non-fiction requires a structure of sorts, and considering your subject matter as a series of individual scenes can work well. By focusing on one particular idea in each scene you make your writing more succinct and precise. With a clear idea to get across to your reader, you’re less likely to go wandering off at a tangent. 

However, thinking in scenes also allows writers to use those scenes more creatively. Here’s an example from a published article of mine:

“Solvitur Ambulando,” he shouted, as he dashed past me on the path to Watergate Farm, at Loweswater.

“Morning,” I replied, wondering what the heck the at-least-80-year-old hiker was going on about as he made his way back towards Maggie’s Bridge. Had he heard me muttering as I ambled towards the trees at Holme Wood? Probably. I know I have a habit of talking to myself when I’m out walking, but talking to yourself can be some of the best conversations a person can have. Sometimes I just get carried away and forget to whisper. And if a route suddenly gets busy, I have been known to hold a mobile phone to my ear, because people seem to find this more acceptable. That was until someone pointed out there was no mobile phone signal in the area I was walking.

I know I was having one of my more in-depth discussions with myself, because I was trying to resolve a problem. I’d been working for a particular client for some time and was getting frustrated at the amount of effort I was putting in for the meagre reward. Being self-employed, it’s easy to say yes to any work that comes your way, because any work is better than no work, especially in this current economic climate. But that work/life balance equation rears it’s ugly head every so often, especially that phrase of ‘working to live, not living to work’.  
Today was one of those days in the Lakes when you had to get outside. I frequently escape to the Lake District, but being self-employed, I often find myself doing some work whilst supposedly ‘on holiday’ – with so many self-catering properties and hotels having free Wi-Fi, these days, it’s difficult to break free. And despite my earlier comment, I did once check my emails half way up the Old Man of Coniston. But today was one of those classic clear blue-sky days, with not enough moisture to make a wisp of cloud, and no wind to turn a leaf, let alone a wind turbine.
Normally, for me, it would have been a day to go high. I’m not one to set out to climb a mountain if it’s guaranteed to be in cloud. If I’ve put effort in to ascend a summit I want to be rewarded with a view, or at least a sneaky peak of a view, and so days like this always have ‘Go high!’ stamped firmly across them. But as I contemplated where to go, my dilemma influenced my decision. If I went high, I’d be doing it because that what I always did. It’s like saying ‘yes’ when someone offers me work. It’s what I felt I ought to be doing. So, going against the grain, I decided to stay low. I wouldn’t climb: I would circumnavigate instead. Which is why I found myself approaching the shores of Loweswater.

The first scene (paragraphs 1 and 2) introduces readers to the old man I met on my walk and how I came to be talking to him. The second scene (paragraphs 3 to 5) goes back in time and explains how I came to be at this place and talking to this old man.

Had I written this in strict chronological order then scene 2 would come before scene 1. But paragraphs 3, 4 and 5 wouldn’t make a good opening. So, by writing this as a series of scenes, I’ve been able to use the the fiction technique of ‘flashback’ where you start at a point of interesting action and then flashback to a period in the past to give the reader the information they need to understand the article in full.

Some great examples of this scene structure in articles can be found in the real-life stories in the women’s magazines. They often have this fictional feel to them because of this scene structure.

So next time you want to make your non-fiction more engaging, look at the scenes in your piece. Have you got them in the right order? Shuffling them around may give you a more interesting piece.

You can read my creative Loweswater article in full here: (which was published in Lakeland Walker magazine).

Good luck.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Creative Non-Fiction - Part 1

The term ‘creative non-fiction’ may seem like a contradiction of terms. After all, if non-fiction refers to the facts and truth, as opposed to fiction being all the made-up stuff, then how you be creative with facts? 

It all comes down to the fact, or truth, that you wish to get across to your reader, and how you go about doing that. The creative element comes into the delivery of the truth/fact, rather than influencing the fact itself. And there’s a lot of scope for using creative non-fiction. Writers who explore travel, biography (and autobiography), nature and food writing can use the techniques, as can ghost writers. Being creative with how you deliver your facts is what helps to engage the reader. Here’s an example:

“Watch out for the lobsters,” screamed a little girl running out of the church door. “They’re huge!” She ran off down the steps and onto the beach to rejoin her family.
I marvelled at the imaginations of children as I stepped from the heat of the midday sun into the cooler air of St Julian’s Church. The heavy door fell behind me, into its frame, with a solid thud, cocooning me from the bustling beach scene outside. Now I was alone, standing in a space only big enough for four pews, three thin stained glass windows and, above the altar, a fishing net with three of the tackiest, bright orange plastic lobsters you’ve ever seen!

I’ve been creative with some of this scene: the little girl did not exist. I made her and her dialogue up. But it doesn’t matter, because if the reader were to go to this particular church, on the harbour front at Tenby, they wouldn’t meet her. However, they will come across those lobsters hanging on the wall above the altar (see photo as evidence!). This is the fact that I wanted to convey to the reader.

Bringing in the little girl to offer some dialogue helps to draw the reader into the paragraph. Dialogue adds life and interest to text, and when you use dialogue, readers feel as though they are there at the scene, ‘listening’ to what’s being said as it happens, rather than being ‘told’ or ‘reported’ what was said, like a journalist would. So by using a little creativity here, I have, hopefully, made the fact a little more interesting.

So next time you want to convey some facts and figures to your readers, let your imagination wander. See how creative you can be in delivering some facts and truths to your readers. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be exploring some of these creative non-fiction techniques in more detail.

Good luck.  

Monday, 28 October 2013

Meet The Team

We all know how it’s important to approach a named person at a magazine when we want to send them some work, or pitch an idea, and scrutinising the publication for this information isn’t always easy. The staff list can’t always be found at the beginning of the magazine - sometimes it’s in the middle, or even near the end.

However, these days, it is becoming a little easier with the advent of what I call the Meet The Team section - an area devoted to the thoughts or opinions of the staff. These comments are often tied into the theme of the issue. Country Walking magazine, for example, might ask the staff for a few words about their favourite view in an issue devoted to Britain’s best views. Country Living magazine has gone one step further and devoted a whole article to their staff’s Christmas Projects. (Yes, the December issue is out now - see picture.)

From the freelance writer’s perspective this is a great way of finding a useful contact name, along with a photo of the staff (thus proving that those who work for magazines are not rejection-issuing dragons, but real people), and occasionally, their contact details. What makes these useful to the freelance writer is that these pieces often include junior members of staff, not just the editors, and it’s these people who can be useful. 

For example, the editorial secretary may be the best person to contact first if you want to pitch an idea by phone to an editor and want to ensure you don’t call them just as the publication is going to press. Nor do you want to ring them when they’re just about to go into a meeting. A quick email or phone call to the editorial secretary may just steer you to the perfect time to call.

Likewise, an editorial assistant may be a better contact to email if you want to check whether your submission arrived safely. And the administrative assistant can be a good starting point to find out who’s the best person to contact regarding the missing payment you’re still waiting for.

So, the next time you come across one of these Meet The Team sections, or articles, get out your contacts book and add the names, job titles and contact information (and don’t forget to record the date you added them so you know how up to date they are when you next look them up). You never know when they may come in useful.

Good luck!

Monday, 21 October 2013

What Kate Said ...

Saturday was our writers’ group’s annual workshop day as part of the Wellington Literary Festival, and this year we were fortunate enough to have bestselling novelist Kate Long come and talk to us. She gave us two great workshops: one on creating characters and another on using dialogue.

Kate also offered us her top tips, and this is what she had to say:

- Write regularly and often. Ideally, try to write at least two or three times a week. The more your exercise your brain, the more toned your writing muscle will be.

- Set yourself targets, but make them achievable. Kate explained that she sets herself a target of 3,000 words a week (600 a day, for five days a week). However, she understands that many people claim they don’t have enough time to write, but it’s all down to how much you want it. Her bestselling novel The Bad Mother’s Handbook was written whilst she was holding down a day job as a teacher and then as a mother with a young child.

- Give yourself some personal writing space where you don’t have to tidy up after anyone else, and they don’t clear up after you … then she reminisced about the days when the family only had one computer and she had to clear away the lego first in order to get at the keyboard!

- It’s okay to feel selfish about your writing. Writing is a solitary activity, but you’re entitled to your own personal time and hobbies. Her son made a sign for her room door - on one side it says It’s OK To Come in, whilst on the other side it says, No, Go Away, I’m Busy!

- Read widely - both within your target genre, and also outside of it. Not only is to important to keep up with trends, but’s it’s a great way to learn how other writers express and treat ideas.

- Keep notebooks. Ideas will disappear if you don’t write them down. (Incidentally, Kate writes in the dark! She jots down notes in bed, with the light off, and then types them up in the morning. She wonders whether not being able to see what she’s writing enables her to gets her thoughts down without feeling the need to edit and review her work.)

- Go on a course - residential, if possible. A residential course will take you away from life’s distractions - and it tells you that it’s okay to be a writer and spend your time, whilst away, to write.

- Meet authors wherever you can. If there’s an author visiting your local bookshop go and talk to them, even if it’s an author you don’t know, or who writes in a different genre to you. They may just pass on a vital nugget of information … and don’t forget to buy a copy of their book!

- Get feedback on your work where possible, but get the right feedback. Don’t ask family. Don’t ask a members of a writers’ group who specialise in writing romance to give you feedback on your horror story. Ask people whose opinion will be relevant.

- And finally, get your work out there!

Good luck!  

Monday, 14 October 2013

NaNoWriMo Preparation

The countdown has begun for anyone considering attempting this year’s NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). For those of you who don’t know, the idea behind this scheme is that writers around the world sit down on 1st November, with the aim of writing 50,000 words by midnight on 30th November. They don’t have to be perfectly honed words, just the first draft.

Whilst it’s aimed at novelists, I think the basic idea works well for any writer. If you want to write a non-fiction book, well, consider getting it written in November. Whereas most novels are at least 80,000 words, many non-fiction books are 50,000 words - so why not use November to write a WHOLE non-fiction book, rather than five-eighths of a novel? And don’t think just books - consider what else you could do with the 50,000-word target. Article writers could set themselves the challenge of writing fifty 1,000 word articles in November. Short story writers could write 25 two thousand word stories. Those of you who write both fiction and non-fiction could do a combination of both!

If you’re going to consider undertaking this exercise, a little preparation goes a long way:

- The rest of the world doesn’t stop in November, much as we’d like it to. Work out when you can fit in, or what you need to give up in order to fit in, the necessary time to write. If you can identify roughly the same time every day, that works best. Can you do every day of the week, or can you only write during the week, or at weekends?

- Once you now when and how frequently you can write, identify what your word count target is for each writing session. So, if you’re going to write every day in November, you need to write 1,667 words (rounded) every day to hit your 50,000 target. If you can’t write at weekends, there are 21 working days in November, which means you need to write 2,381 words in each writing session.

- Do any necessary research now. Collect your data. Do you background reading. Create your characters. Draft your plot. Think of different angles for your article ideas. You stand more chance of success if you can use your writing time to write. 

- Set up a system for recording your word counts. A spreadsheet, document, or even a Post-It Note will suffice. Simply record the total number of words you achieve during each writing session. You need to be able to see how you are progressing.

- If you have a good day and write more than your daily target, don’t think you have fewer words to write tomorrow. Stick to meeting your minimum word count target every day. If you hot your target by 27th November, you’ll feel even better!

And I can’t let an opportunity like this pass without mentioning my own book, The Positively Productive Writer, which has advice on how to stay motivated.

For more details about NaNoWriMo visit the official website at

Good luck.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Foggy Day Writing

Last week, a student apologised when she sent in her assignment, because she felt it wasn’t particularly original. It was a travel piece and she’d written about the venues and attractions that everybody writes about for that particular destination.

I call this Foggy Day Writing because writers are blinded by the obvious to see the creative detail. A similar thing happens with photography. When photographers wake up to be greeted by a foggy morning, many simply assume that it’s not a good day for photography. This is because all they see is the fog. Fog can be highly creative for photographers.

Fog is actually great weather for capturing the colour green. Zoom in on anything green and it appears more saturated: greener. (It’s all to do with how the light is reflected, apparently.) Fog is also a reminder that being creative is all about viewpoint. It frequently collects in valleys, which means if you can climb above it you’ll be rewarded with a completely different perspective of fog.

Foggy day writing tends to focus on the obvious, yet creativity can be found with a little effort. For the advice for photographers:

A) look for the green, or rather home in on the smaller details.

B) change your perspective. Look at your subject from a different angle.

I recently had to undertake a writing exercise where I had to write a complaint letter. Fortunately, or should that be unfortunately, I had several real-life complaint letters to write and tried drawing upon one of them for inspiration. But no matter how frustrating the experience was in real life as a creative piece is wasn’t working. It was then that I realised it was a foggy day piece of writing. I was simply drawing upon the obvious. Instead, I decided to focus on one small detail. I created a story where the tiniest of details was wrong and this led to a series of catastrophic disasters. Then I added a twist, turning the complaint into a thank you piece. This piece turned out to be far more creative and interesting than my previous idea.

So next time you begin writing something, ask yourself: am I producing Foggy Day Writing? If you answer “Yes,” then do what photographers do. Look for some small detail, or change your perspective.

Good luck.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Is It A Man's World?

I was looking through the latest issue of Outdoor Photography magazine this week, and when I turned to the page listing all of the different contributors (and their head-and-shoulder photographs) my immediate thought was: “they’re all men.” Then I looked more closely and spotted that there was one woman in amongst the collection of 12 contributors.

The reason I mention this is because I was then amused to see on the readers’ letters page a question from a reader making the same observation, and asking the editor outright, why he preferred male contributors to female contributors.

The editor responded that he didn’t - that was just the way things worked out, mainly because he received more contributions from men than women. He ended his response by saying that he looked forward to receiving more contributions from female writer/photographers (so, if you’re reading this, are female and can take photos too, then there’s an opportunity for you!).

But the editor raises an intriguing point. If a magazine relies upon freelance submissions, the editor can only choose to publish from what he receives. And writers shouldn’t perceive that just because the subject matter is geared towards either a predominantly male or female readership, that you have to be of the same sex to write for it too. You don’t! Men can write for women’s magazines and women can write for men’s magazines. Indeed, some magazines like getting a different perspective on the subject matter.

So, don’t think because Woman’s Weekly is a women’s magazine, predominantly written by women, that you have to be a woman to write for it, or that because Esquire is a man’s magazine you have to be a man to write for it. You don’t. All you need is the right idea for that readership. And, thankfully, both male and female writers are capable of coming up with good ideas! So there’s nothing stopping you. Got that?

Good luck! 

Monday, 23 September 2013

What's In A Name?

Hello. My name is Bella Beechcroft. Well, it was a couple of weeks ago when I was at the National Association of Writers’ Group’s Festival of Writing. During the festival, they run a Mini-Tale competition, where delegates who enter have to tell a tale in exactly 100 words. Not 99 words. Nor 101 words. Exactly 100.

However, in order for the competition to be judged blind, entrant’s have to use a pseudonym, a pen name, so for mine, I chose Bella Beechcroft, and as you can see from the photo here, my Mini-Tale entry was one of the shortlisted tales.

I know many writers wonder about whether they should use a pseudonym. There is an air of mystery behind pseudonyms, especially in light of the recent revelation that JK Rowling is Robert Galbraith. But don’t get hung up over whether you should use a pseudonym. To be honest, put the effort into writing whatever it is you want to write first. Worry about your name later.

At the moment, my attitude is that whatever I write will have my name next to it, unless there’s a reason for not doing so, such as this competition example. But there are legitimate reasons when a pseudonym may be necessary:

- Like JK Rowling/Robert Galbraith - if you have a track record in one particular genre, getting agents/editors to read work you’ve written in a different genre in an objective way can be difficult, so a pseudonym may help with this. But this is only something you need to worry about when you’re a well-known name in a particular genre!

- To differentiate one genre of books from another to your readers. Again, when you’re well known for writing one particular genre, and you have an enlightened publishing team who are willing to consider something you’ve written in another genre, it may still be necessary to use a different name to tell your readers that your work is of a slightly different nature. Iain Banks wrote books under this name, but he also wrote Science Fiction books under the name of Iain M Banks. Not a huge name change, but enough for his readers to differentiate the genre of the book. The novelist Joanna Trollope also writes as Caroline Harvey. Madelaine Wickham had written several successful novels before she began writing the (very) different Shopoholic series of books, under the name of Sophie Kinsella.

- Sad to say, but some readers expect certain genres to be written by men, and others written by women. Men make better thriller writers whilst women are better writers of erotic fiction. Actually, that statement is complete trash, but if the general readership believes this to be true then some agents/publishers believe it’s better to have the right ‘name’ for the genre. 

- To get more work. For non-fiction writers, pseudonyms aren’t as important, with many non-fiction writers writing about a variety of topics under their own name. However, there may be times when a different name can be useful. If you regularly work for an editor of one magazine, they may not take kindly to you selling similar work to a competing magazine … so a pseudonym can help get over this problem! 

- Sometimes, editors become aware that a large portion of an issue is written by a handful of writers, and so they might encourage the use of pseudonyms to suggest to the readership that their bank of writers is actually bigger than it is! Some short story writers use more than one name, especially if they are prolific.

- Finally, a writer may use a pseudonym because they don’t want to be known as the writer. If you’re a six-feet nine-inch tall bloke, who plays rugby at the weekend with your mates, drinks fourteen pints in the after-match party and drives 44-tonne juggernauts during the week, you might not want your mates knowing that you write Mills and Boon romances.

So, don’t get hung up about what name to write under. The one you’ve got is pretty good place to start. If you need to consider a pseudonym there’s usually a very good reason for doing so … even if it is just for one competition to help with the anonymity for judging. If you don’t have a good reason for doing so, then don’t.

Good luck. 

Monday, 16 September 2013

The Writing World of Contradictions

The writing world is full of ‘rules’ that contradict each other. On the one hand we’re told to “write about what we know,” yet on the other hand if we do that we’d never research anything new. Which is why there’s the other rule of “question everything and write about it,” so we give ourselves more to write, to save ourselves from becoming stale.

One of the other common writing contradictions that can confuse newbie writers is:

 - “Always write for a specific market” and
 - “Be true to yourselves and find your own voice.”

If we’re being true to ourselves and writing what we want to write (meeting that urge within us that forces us to pick up a pen, or caress that keyboard), how can we ensure we’re writing for a specific market? Writing for the market means being clear who you writing your words for, and why, and following the ‘style rules’. Whereas being true to yourself and finding your own voice means writing whatever interests you, in a way that interests you.

The solution is simple: play by both rules … at the right time.

Many of you know that I sometimes provide walking route descriptions for Country Walking magazine. The style means that when I write such a route description I have to write with the specific market in mind. I have 400 words to describe, in a way that ensures the reader doesn't get lost, my walking route, whether that’s two miles in length or twelve miles.

But I often write two versions: the Country Walking version, and then the version for myself - where I write using my own voice. I write about the sounds, smells and the historical and natural sights along the way. This process satisfies my need of writing what I want to write, whilst also enabling me to write something for publication.

And there are times when I can draw upon that ‘true’ writing for other articles, or even short stories, or other forms of writing. Nothing in this writing game is wasted. Write what you want to write, to satisfy that urge we all have within us. Then learn to write what you need to write to get published. Over time, your personal ‘true’ writing will help your voice develop, which will help you to grow as a writer.

Good luck.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Think About It.

On 31st August I attended the National Association of Writers’ Group’s Festival of Writing at Warwick - and very good it was too. One of the workshops I went to was Tim Wilson’s Writing A Novel: Working Practices and Motivation, designed to give us strategies for starting and maintaining a regular writing habit in order to get that first draft of the novel written.

Of course, the strategies work whatever type of writing you do, and one of the exercises he gave us was to think. Yes, that was it. We had to spend ten minutes thinking. We weren’t allowed to write anything down. All we could do was think about something we wanted to write about.

Now, in some ways, this seemed to go against other advice we writers are given, such as always carrying a notebook to jot down our ideas so we don’t forget them! But here we weren’t allowed to write down anything.

After that particular exercise we then moved onto another technique, and then we broke for tea and coffee (offering us our first opportunity to meet up with others and chat). About twenty minutes later we returned to the workshop room and sat down. Tim then asked us to write about the subject we’d been thinking about over half an hour ago.

And it worked. We all sat there, busy scribbling in our notebooks. The words flowed. 

Tim is a great advocate of the principle of knowing what you want to write about when you sit down to write. In other words, if you sit down to write and then think, “Now, what am I going to write about?” the words won’t flow. Whereas, if at the end of your previous writing session you think, “When I next sit down to write I need to write about this, this and this,” you’ll find it much easier to get going.

But his thinking exercise takes this one step further. If you know roughly what you need to start writing about when you next sit down, that can be enough, as long as you think about it in more detail before your next writing session. So, when you’re doing the ironing, the washing up, or mowing the lawn, use the time to think about what you’re going to write about, when your next writing session arrives. Thinking time is still writing time, even though you’re not actually writing.

From the novelist’s point of view, he was suggesting that we think about the next scene, but, of course, any writer can use this technique, whether you’re writing an article, a filler, a non-fiction book or a short story. And the more often you sit down knowing what you’re going to write, the more often you’ll sit down and write something. Which, at the end of the day, is what all writers want to do!

Good luck!

Monday, 2 September 2013

Slowly, Slowly, Catchy Monkey

I had one of those nice commissions on Friday afternoon: one that came out of the blue, when I least expected it. Except, the more I thought about it, the more I realised that this was not completely out of the blue. I had done something to generate it.

The commission was from the editor of Outdoor Photography magazine, Steve Watkins, who wanted 650 words to accompany a couple of images I’d offered him several months ago for a specific slot within the magazine, called Viewpoints. (One of the photographs accompanies this blog.) Here, photographers send in images of places that would be of interest to other outdoor photographers, so they can visit those places and (hopefully) capture some awe-inspiring photos.

The Viewpoint section within the magazine comprises two 650-word pieces with accompanying photographs, and then there are also 8 smaller pieces, each with one photograph and 50 words. All ten of these submissions are provided by ten different photographers. So, it’s a great slot to target, because the editor is looking for ten different contributions every four weeks (yes, Outdoor Photography is published four-weekly, not monthly, so that’s 13 times a year, or 130 opportunities in this one section of the magazine every year!).

I’ve always liked this slot as a reader, and so I made a conscious decision to submit something to the editor for this slot on a regular basis. And this ploy has worked: the editor has used three of my photographs for the smaller 50-word slots over the last couple of years. However, last Friday’s commission was the first time I’ve been asked to do the bigger 650-word slot (which also pays considerably more!).

As a writer, the larger, 650-word, slot is the one I’ve always wanted, and as a photographer I prefer this slot because the photos are printed bigger than the other viewpoints. So, after making regular submissions over the past few years, I’ve been rewarded with the opportunity that I was looking for.

If there’s a slot, or a magazine, you’d like to see your words in, then, obviously, you need to submit something to it. However, if the first submission fails, don’t give up. Keep submitting. And if the editor uses your submission, but not in the way you’d thought, then go with it, and continue submitting for the slot you want. The editor will spot your tenacity and remember you for it.

Even though I’ve achieved the commission for the slot I was targeting, I shall continue making submissions to this slot in the future. After all, if I’ve done it once, I can do it again! So, make a commitment to submit regularly. It may take you several years but determination is a major ingredient in the recipe of success. And my commission would not have happened, if I hadn’t sent something off in the first place.

Good luck!

Monday, 26 August 2013

Photographic Folly

I’m sure many of you will be aware that I usually have a photograph to accompany my blog postings. I like to think that it adds a little more eye-candy to the post. These photos usually come from my own photographic library (currently approaching 10,000 images, and always growing). On those times when I don’t use my own image, I usually use a piece of clip art, or perhaps the cover of a book. In other words, I do this to ensure that I don’t infringe anyone’s copyright. (Technically, using book covers does infringe copyright, however, most publishers don’t kick up a fuss because they like the publicity.)

The reason I mention this, is because, if you have time, I would seriously recommend you read the following blog posting by romantic author Roni Loren: This shows how an ordinary person, who did not set out to harm anyone, found herself on the wrong side of the law, when using some photographs found on the Internet to illustrate her blog.

It’s something I find many writing students do - especially when tackling assignments on travel writing. They write their articles and then search the Internet for some suitable images. As a writer, you would be mortified if someone stole your words, but, because photographs are everywhere on the Internet, many people think it’s okay to help themselves to anything that they can find. What’s on the Internet is free to use, right? No. I own the copyright in this blog posting, and I also own the copyright in the photo accompanying this post. (Yes, even though it is a photo of me, I took it, because I set the camera up on a timer. And also, remember, it is the person taking the photo who ‘creates’ the photo, not the person who owns the camera.)

I’ve mentioned before how photographs can increase your chances of selling your words. Indeed, that’s what my next book is about (I’m reading the final proofs as I write this), so I understand why writers look for images. But the safest way to do this is to take your own photos, or to get permission to use photographs (for writers the best source is directly from PR and Media departments who have photographs for this precise purpose - to be used in publications to publicise the destination/product.)

So next time you need images to illustrate your article, or book, remember that copyright applies to every creative form, just as much as it does to words. Don’t make the mistake that Roni Loren did, because it could lead to financial claims, or months of heart ache from threatened legal action.

Good luck.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Edit. Edit. Edit. Stop

A friend at the writers’ group I go to asked me a question at our most recent meeting: at what point do you stop editing your work?

I know this is something many writers struggle with. Every first draft, and sometimes a second draft, will need editing of some kind, but there comes a point when editing changes from a productive activity into a procrastinating one. And it doesn’t help when there are quotes attributed to (several) famous writers who claim to have spent all morning editing, taking out one comma and then spent all afternoon editing, putting it back in again! Those are the comments of a writer without a deadline!

For me, the amount of editing varies depending upon the project, however, generally, when I’m writing articles, I go through a three-stage process:

Stage 1 - Having written the first draft, I then go through and check whether I’ve used the right structure. Sometimes in the first draft I just need to get down the essence of what I want to say. Articles can be structured in many different ways, and, sometimes, I’m not always clear which is the right structure when I’m writing that first draft. Changing the structure can require a heavy edit, even completely rewriting the text! If I’m not changing the overall structure, I consider whether paragraph five might work better as paragraph twelve, or whether the first paragraph is my true opening paragraph, or whether I’d be better deleting paragraphs one and two.

Stage 2 - This is where I go through the text to see if the information now flows well, in a logical manner, and my message is easy to read. Does the point of my article come across? I’ll also aim to get my word count to within 50 words during this editing stage.

Stage 3 - This is my spelling, punctuation and grammar check, and also the point where I consider word count more closely. This is the stage when I think many writers lack confidence about whether they have completed this.

I occasionally dabble in short stories, and the editing process follows a similar format there, although sometimes I may rewrite the story three or four times if I’m playing around with viewpoint. I’m not always brilliant at picking the best viewpoint first time around, and sometimes it’s not until you rewrite a story from someone else’s viewpoint that you realise whose story it really is.

For longer projects, such as non-fiction books and novels, I can go through several editing stages getting structure sorted and word counts adhered to. My next book has a specific maximum word count of 25,000 - and the first draft ended up at 32,000 words! It took me three editing processes to cut that down to the 25,000 words. Then I began my punctuation, spelling and grammar editing process.

One of the best ways to bring your editing process to an end is to have a deadline. This is easier for commissioned pieces, but for those without a hard commission there are still ways of giving yourself a deadline. Whilst self-imposed deadlines don’t always carry the same weight as an externally set deadline, there are ways of making your deadline important. List the consequences of failing to meet your self-imposed deadline.

For example, if you’re writing an article about kick starting your life in the New Year, then for monthly magazines you need to be submitting your text by the end of this month to be in with a chance of having your work considered. The consequence of failing to meet this deadline is missing out on the opportunity to be published in this coming January, and having to wait until January 2015 for your next opportunity.

Similarly, short story writers targeting the women’s magazine market can increase their chances if their stories are themed in some way. Setting your story around St Patrick’s Day means your piece needs to be used in March issues, so you need to be submitting those stories within the next six to eight weeks.

Of course, a good deadline is a competition deadline!

Editing is a fine balance. Every writer needs to edit, but if all you do is titivate with your text, deleting a comma, and then later putting it back in again, you are most definitely entering the world of never-sending-anything-off!

Good luck.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Book Giveaway - Handy Hints For Writers

Following on from last week’s words of advice from writers here’s another tip from Lynne Hackles:

“The best advice ever: Find the market first. Write the product next.”

Anyone who has ever written for publication will tell you how true that is, and once you understand that point, you will increase your chances of success.

Lynne’s wise words come from her new book, which, although has a publication date of 30th August, is available to buy right now. However, those of you based in the UK, can take part in a prize draw Lynne is running to win your very own copy. All you have to do is visit this particular post on her blog (, leave a comment and say hello! That’s all there is to it!

You’ll have to be quick - a winner will be selected at random on Wednesday 14th August, by Lynne’s LSO (Long Suffering One - also known as … her husband!).

Good luck! 

Monday, 5 August 2013

A Reminiscence of Writers

I’ve just returned from the Writers’ Holiday, held for the last time at Caerleon, near Newport, Wales. (Next year’s takes place at Fishguard - for more information visit here: 

These conferences and get togethers are always great fun, a good place to forge friendships, network, learn from others (and wear pink hair - but that’s another story!). Indeed, the overriding point of these events is the sharing of knowledge - everyone is willing to help everyone, sharing tips, news and techniques.

Because it was the last Writers’ Holiday at Caerleon, there’s been a bit of reminiscing going on, and over the years I’ve been fortunate to listen to talks, or go to workshops facilitated by writers like Katie Fforde, Freda Lightfoot, Simon Hall, Iris Gower, Della Galton, Lynne Hackles, Jane Wenham-Jones and Ray Allen (writer of the popular sitcom Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em).

So this week’s post is a look back at some of the snippets of advice I’ve heard whilst at Caerleon over the years …

Solange Hando, travel writer, said: “Start a travel piece with some action, or an anecdote. It gives the piece a human angle immediately and draws the reader in.”

Irene Yates, short story writer: “Don’t write in a writerly voice - find your own voice. Write in a way that feels natural to you. Don’t be tempted to use complicated grammar, or big words, if it’s not something that comes naturally to you.”

Gaynor Davies, editor of Woman’s Weekly Fiction Special magazine: “a story that makes you laugh, or cry, has done its job.”

Theresa Chris, literary agent: “Know when to move from amateur to professional. Many writers approach agents far too early.”

Lynne Hackles, short story writer: “Think of a short story as a piece of knicker elastic. It works best when it’s tight!”

And I think it would be appropriate if the last piece of advice came from novelist Trisha Ashley, who delivered the last speech at the last Caerleon Writers’ Holiday, where she said: “Writer’s block is a luxury. Get over it and get on with it [the writing].”

Good luck.