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.