Diary of a Writer – Writing Prompt January – the Door to the Year

The Door of the Year

The Door of the Year

The Door to the Year is Georgian and I found it while walking around Dublin’s beautiful Georgian streets. As many readers know, I focus my own Regency and early nineteenth century fiction in Edinburgh and London. On the other hand who wouldn’t wonder what’s behind this lovely door and its equally tempting neighbour?

Early January is the time for handing in entries to the Scottish Association of Writers annual conference competitions. I have at least a short story – can’t give any clues what that’s about – and you may be going along and have entries, too. Headline speaker is Helen Lederer and you’ll find the Conference Schedule by typing September into the search box. Day delegates are welcome. The Westerwood Hotel and Sports complex is welcoming, comfortable and easily accessible from the train to Croy or by car.

Occasionally competitions excite my creative imagination, but more and more, they’ve become a distraction from the main work. Of course, as with the People’s Friend serial writing competition, sometimes the distraction pays off. Shortlisted and published, together with two subsequent short story sales, it was a profitable distraction.

So, what is The Door to the Year opening up for your writing.? Will you share a few hopes with us?

Diary of a Writer – Start in Time

Wise Owl

Wise Owl

Start in Time

Time management has never been one of my stronger character traits. I greedily gather in brochures and leaflets. I note deadlines for Edinburgh Writers’ Club, founded 1947, competitions and for comps or challenges being run by other organisations I belong to and they approach steadily. They approach so steadily that I often reel with astonishment to see a closing date is now tomorrow.

Why is this? I do know, and in fact live with, people who are capable of starting in time. whether it be planning a holiday, whittling down the purchase of Christmas presents or writing a paper, they do it bit by carefully timetabled bit.

I have tried it and while it was great last year when I knew I needed to lose some weight and achieved my goal with three weeks in hand, it sometimes leads to duplication of effort. I cannot ever believe that I can leave the house for three weeks unless I’m in a lather of organisation and waist deep in lists, lists, lists. So I start re-checking. Yes, I did cancel the milk and the paper delivery. Yes, I have emptied the fridge. Yes, I did ask someone to water the house plants.

It unnerves me more than a little and perversely I head off sure that I’ve forgotten something.

But in some walks of life, I am getting better. For example, today I’ll be decorating large boxes for the local church’s Gift Services. Every year, I collect 7 or 8, strengthen them with parcel tape and cover them with Christmas wrap. This year I have all the boxes, I have the parcel tape and the wrap. Ready to go without having to stop and buy extra – provided no one has ‘borrowed’ my stanley knife. There’s no doubt it makes the job feel less stressful.

If you would like to donate a new and unwrapped Christmas Gift to someone who might otherwise receive nothing, check out The Salvation Army’s local appeals here.

Writing the next novel..

Well, it’s on the stocks and I have two lovely central characters, a setting and I’ve made enquiries of an editor. What’s holding me back? Thinking I might enter those competitions. Is it maybe over-programming rather than lack of planning that gets in my way?

Naw! I don’t really do time-management. How about you?

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courting-the-countess

Diary of a Writer – October Prompt

Sea Lions, Chile

Sea Lions, Chile

Last month’s prompt was a path bordered by lush green gunnera. It was relatively peaceful, although one or two of you found sinister thoughts along the disappearing pathway and into the hidden areas beyond.

I took October’s prompt, above, while on a botanical trip to Chile. It was perhaps my favourite outing of the whole expedition and the island in the picture is part of the reason.

It’s an island – and like JM Barrie, I’m mildly fascinated by them.

It’s covered in sea lions.

The scene is full of life and energy. The sea lions fought an ongoing struggle to get out of the boiling waters among the rocks and onto the island. It was mesmerising to watch.

Sorry you have to take my word for the sea lions. My camera isn’t strong enough to show them in detail, but they are there.

How does the prompt affect you? Care to share any piece with us?

Diary of a Writer – Travel, Food and Story Openings

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By Margaret McNeil, Crieff Hydro, SAW

So, a couple of weeks ago, before I had a great trip to Lincoln where they have a wonderful abbey and also The Old Bakery, I promised to add a wee resume of my Q&A at Edinburgh Writers’ Club. We’ll get to that in a moment.

Entering Lincoln Abbey for the first time is one of those heart-stopping moments. How did they do it? No computers, powered tools, digital images, but there it sits in all its beauty. It is a fine Gothic building and at one time the tallest in Europe. The Old Bakery is a wonderful restaurant and a great example of re-using what’s there. The building was a bakery and shop when its owner died leaving it to his daughter. She shut the ground floor and moved upstairs where she lived for forty years. Enter chef, Ivano de Serio, and his wife, Tracy. They’ve carefully carved out a restaurant on the ground floor and fitted out three comfortable bedrooms above. A delicious experience.

Back to that Q&A

How To Lose Competitions

My own pet hate as a judge is reading The day had started badly or It had been one of those days. Such an opening is invariably followed by a detailed explanation of what went wrong. You can think of the sort of thing. Bert set the alarm for 8.15 when he meant to set 7.15; the dog escaped when he opened the door; the milk was off and the toaster exploded.

All of this ‘back-story’ is perfectly acceptable character creation, BUT the reader doesn’t need to read it. They need to absorb it by your showing of it in the action of the story you’re telling.

As the writer think – how does your man react to losing the dog? How does his body react to a mouthful of sour milk? How is he coping NOW?

Another issue raised by this sort of beginning is word count. If you have 1500 words, why are you wasting them by describing events outside your story?

There was other discussion and folk did have questions. They may come up in later posts.

Weather: I hope you’ll scroll down and read the post about the use of weather in our fiction. It was great fun to write and I loved the others in the Round Robin. However, apart from shameful self-publication, may I just say I need the light on to see the keyboard this morning as yet another sleet shower passes by…

So, I’m no agony aunt, but what puzzles you most about losing writing competitions? I don’t write poetry, folks. And like every other judge, one has to say that a different eye might have made a different choice.

Not just any old word

The late Margaret McKinlay was my mentor and friend. As the anniversary of her untimely death comes round I find myself considering some of the things she taught me about writing.

A small selection of the novels by EWC members past and present.

A small selection of the novels by EWC members past and present.

The most important was her remark about editor’s or judge’s comments. At this distance in time I can’t remember the exact words, but the gist was this: NEVER dismiss the comment out of hand. A busy person has taken time to read your work and say a little about it. That’s what they believe. Read it. Consider it well. Come back to it when you’ve left it for a couple of days.

Margaret was the writer we’d all like to be. She sold countless humorous articles, short stories and general articles. She tutored for Writers’ News. She mentored people privately. She was an outstanding crime novelist. She also motivated people in ordinary life and was hugely influential in setting up a young people’s centre near where she lived.

I can’t tell you how much I miss her insight when the going is tough.

However, I recently had one of those toughies when a judge’s crit used ‘good’ six times in eleven short lines: but did not rate the story. Instead of sticking pins in anything, I consulted a wiser friend and have read her advice carefully. I think, no more than that, I see where the problem might be. Story amended as suggested has gone off to an experienced ed for consideration.

Every writer needs insightful friends. I have a few and I appreciate them greatly. Thank you all.

 

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http://goo.gl/PKptQg Bella’s Betrothal US

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And at the EWC

Edinburgh Writers’ Club now meets in the Wash Bar and we had a cheerful crush of members and guests last night to hear Janne Moller of Black and White publishing talk about Publishing.

It’s always good to hear how it is on the other side and Janne was clear about the constraints and challenges facing today’s publisher.

Her advice to those wishing to submit was equally clear. Don’t send me several pages of your backstory, is rule number one. When an editor is receiving around five mss a day, she doesn’t have time for that. Instead do send:

A short and interesting synopsis of the story and a few sample chapters

Your name and contact details.

A reply won’t come back too quickly and in the pressurised weeks around August – early November when the Christmas market books are going out, it is even slower. A quieter time to submit is December, January and February.

Janne cautioned against sending mss that are not visible in a house’s list. Black and White, for example, don’t publish poetry. This should tell the poet to go elsewhere rather than make him think, “They need me.”

Black and White publish around 45 books a year and about 10 will be fiction. Janne said in reply to a question that she was looking for contemporary women’s fiction with global appeal. As she is the foreign rights sales’ person, she wants to know the story will travel.

She used an expression I haven’t come across but might pin up over the wall behind my pc:

“microcosm within the macrocosm.”

Isn’t that what interests us all? How our individual story or drama sits within the global?

Scottish Association of Writers Conference and Competitions

The Scottish Association of Writers is an umbrella organisation and you might be a member of it. If you’re a member of an affiliated writing club or workshop such as Edinburgh Writers’ Club or Umbrella, then you’re good to go.

GO WHERE?

SAW runs several events and chief among these at present are an October day, 25th, called Write Up North; an annual conference, 2015 27th – 29th March, and in June 2014 the Write Down South day in Dumfries.

Write Up North has three associated competitions, but as the closing date is now past, I won’t list them here. The event’s key speaker is Bob Davidson of Sandstone Press and it’s held in Inverness Town House from 9.30 – 4pm. Contact Jen at jen.butler@blueyonder.co.uk £30 fee includes lunch.

Annual Conference is an altogether bigger event. Booking opens Wednesday 1st October 2014 for March 2015 and everything you need to know is on the SAW website where you may download a pdf giving all the speakers and all the competitions. That’s Here.

Keynote Speaker is ALEXANDRA SOKOLOFF 

Competitions are for members of SAW only (including for this event the Open categories. Please check the pdf for full rules and terms)

There are Open competitions and competitions you may only enter if going to the conference and ONE hybrid.

Hybrid? The annual conference has a Scholarship competition which is open to enter, but if you win, then you are expected to attend the conference as the prize is Free Accommodation for the weekend.

Scholarship for 2015 is a 45 minute Drama for the stage. Judge is Danny McCahon. Closes 28th November 2014

The several novel competitions close on 28th November ’14.

Also Open is Castles in the Air Story, fable or mystery 2,000 – 2,500 words. Prose fiction. Judge Russel McLean. Closes 16th January ’15

There are entry fees for all the competitions and they vary. Again, please consult the pdf for full details.

The long list of shorter competitions includes short stories, articles, writing for children, poetry, flash fiction…and more. Looks to me like something for everyone.

So, get going on the early deadline competitions and have your entries ready in good time.

No details for Write Down south 2015 are currently available.

 

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“Oh, Mariah, let us not quarrel. We will be married within the month. At least your papa’s house contains plenty of books. You may practise throwing them.” anne stenhouse

http://goo.gl/NxYxj5 Mariah’s Marriage UK

http://goo.gl/PKptQg Bella’s Betrothal US

 …a solitary figure ahead among some gorse and shrubs. Charles thought she made a beautiful picture in her riding habit with the exquisite hat Jenny Menzies wished to inherit. He thought the girl might get it sooner rather than later if he followed his instincts. At that precise moment, he wanted to shake Bella hard. Then he would lock her in the castle in Strath Menzies and hold her forever. anne stenhouse

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Edinburgh Writers’ Club

Edinburgh Writers’ Club began life in 1947 and still goes strong today. I’ve written about the club elsewhere, Lothian Life. so I won’t recap. Last night was the first night of our new season and we found ourselves in The Wash Bar.

The Wash Bar may be the sixth venue I’ve attended meetings in over my association with the club. It’s wonderfully apposite as it sits at the foot of the steps leading from The Writers’ Museum in Lady Stair’s House.

This season’s syllabus is directed at participation. You’d be surprised how many folk come along to a writers’ club, but never write or, if they do, never send anything out. so encouragement is us this year and we got off to a flying start with a visit by Shirley Blair,  fiction editor of People’s Friend.

Shirley posed a few questions about what we thought the 230,000 readers in their weekly circulation were seeing and surprised us by the changes in acceptable subject matter. People’s Friend remains a feel-good and gentle read, but the boundaries of social acceptance have shifted more than a little.

Then it was time to sharpen our quills and write a scenario based on three people in a given situation. The aim being to show characterisation. Three or four brave souls shared their work and Shirley was able to explain her reaction to it.

As with any magazine read several issues before submitting. People’s Friend Writing Guidelines can be found here.

Top Hint from the Fiction Ed: longer pieces are less submitted and therefore stand a better chance. She’s very interested in young romances at present and the word count that sets her pulse racing is 3,200 or 3,000.

Next meeting is on Monday 6th October. Historical Writing – Authenticity and Accuracy and is a talk by prize winning author Margaret Skea. Margaret’s book, Turn of the Tide is available here.

6th October is also the deadline for our Members’ only poetry competition.

 

 

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“Oh, Mariah, let us not quarrel. We will be married within the month. At least your papa’s house contains plenty of books. You may practise throwing them.” anne stenhouse

http://goo.gl/NxYxj5 Mariah’s Marriage UK

http://goo.gl/PKptQg Bella’s Betrothal US

 …a solitary figure ahead among some gorse and shrubs. Charles thought she made a beautiful picture in her riding habit with the exquisite hat Jenny Menzies wished to inherit. He thought the girl might get it sooner rather than later if he followed his instincts. At that precise moment, he wanted to shake Bella hard. Then he would lock her in the castle in Strath Menzies and hold her forever. anne stenhouse

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KATE BLACKADDER The Family At Farrshore Ulverscroft Linford Romance Library

Kate B at Penrith

Kate B at Penrith

Kate Blackadder, Edinburgh based author of Family at Farrshore, is a well known writer of short stories and her name will be familiar to many readers of large circulation mags such as People’s Friend and Woman’s Weekly. In 2011 Kate’s first serial for People’s Friend, The Family At Farrshore was published in seven weekly instalments. It has now been produced by large print label Ulverscroft in their Linford Romance Library and is available from April the first.

Kate and I are both members of the Edinburgh Writers’ Club.Together with a third member, Jane Riddell, we have our first novels coming out this Spring. Novels Now may refer to this as the Edinburgh Three, but only while editorial sense is switched off. An interview with Jane, author of Waters’ Edge will appear later this month.

I took the chance to ask Kate Blackadder a few questions about this exciting future for Family At Farrshore. I’m sharing her answers here.

You’re a well established short story writer, Kate, with People’s Friend and Woman’s Weekly among others. How challenging was it to write so many more words about your characters?

It was certainly a learning curve. The serial came about because I won The People’s Friend First Instalment of a Serial competition at the Scottish Association of Writers Annual Conference. But that’s all I had written – the first instalment. So when The People’s Friend asked me to write a scene-by-scene synopsis before they gave me the go-ahead, it was like walking into a roomful of people I’d barely met. But in writing that synopsis (which took me weeks …) I got to know them all very well, especially the five characters who had viewpoints. Each of their stories had to be interwoven and I ended up with seven instalments rather than the six I thought I’d have.

I know you read widely. How does the magazine serial differ from a ‘normal’ novel?

In a People’s Friend serial each weekly instalment of around 5000 words is divided into ‘chapters’ with headings.

This is how it looks in the large-print edition too. And of course the end of every instalment has a cliff-hanger!

The writing process though, in my experience, was certainly different from ‘normal’ writing because I submitted each instalment to The People’s Friend and waited for their comments before proceeding with the next one. This meant that I couldn’t go back and change anything I’d written earlier – which might sound an impossible way to work but, in fact, it was great and I really enjoyed it.  The People’s Friend staff were very supportive and encouraging.

Are you working on anything at present?

I’m very good at starting things … so, yes – a pocket-novel-length story, a longer novel which will involve lots of research, and short stories.

How about a short extract to tempt readers along to their local library?

Kate's First book

Kate’s First book

This is how The Family at Farrshore begins:

“Cathryn’s hands tightened on the steering wheel. She could hardly see through the windscreen although the wipers were working overtime.

It had been fine in Lancaster when she left just after lunch, anxious to put the miles between herself and Daniel, but the weather had got steadily worse and the road more narrow. She’d hoped to get to Farrshore by six but the dashboard clock told her it was almost eight when all of a sudden a figure loomed up at the side of the road, an arm held out.

At home she wouldn’t dream of stopping for a stranger, and the May evening was still light, but she couldn’t leave someone standing in all this rain. It might be hours before another car passed.

As she came nearer she could see that it was a man, tall and fair-haired. He bent down and wiped the window with his hand and smiled. Just for a moment she was reminded of Daniel and her heart jumped.

She pressed the button to open the window a fraction and leaned over to hear him.”

Well…

Actually, I know what happens next, but for those of you who don’t, I highly recommend The Family At Farrshore and local libraries.

Thanks for dropping in, Kate, Novels Now wishes you every success with your first book and all those projects.

Kate is Membership secretary of Edinburgh Writers’ club. edinburghwritersclub/

Beyond The End: Jane Austen Forever

Edinburgh Writers’ Club is hearing a talk by Maureen Kelly of the Scottish Branch of the Jane Austen Society tomorrow night, Monday 4th March. I feel I can take a tiny bit of credit here as I met Maureen just when the Club were looking to find a speaker to talk about a classic writer. Maureen goes all over to talk about Jane. There are pictures of her on other blogs at a Conference in the US where she talked about whether Marianne would sing Scottish songs. We are privileged.

So why do we find some writers so fascinating that the end of their books, or their output, is not and never will be enough? I remember my own first encounter with this phenomenon. I deliberately did not read the final chapter of Anne of Greengables until I had to because the book was due back into the library. It’s not difficult to work that one out. Why wouldn’t a red-haired girl with freckles not entirely empathise with a heroine who was red-haired and freckled – oh, and downtrodden, but resilient etc, etc? Other examples are easy to find – how about James Bond?

Jane Austen’s works are different. I really can’t see myself living without toothpaste and horses scare me witless at close quarters, so it’s not exactly empathy. Her magic, however, is in the language. She is for me the first truly modern writer in terms of her language. She also concentrates on domestic and social comedy and interaction without troubling this reader over the politics, warfare and philosophy of her times. Maybe I just want to be entertained. I read a lot of British History at Uni, and European, so I haven’t got my head in the sand.  I know about the evils of life in Regency and Georgian Britain.

Beyond the end, many other writers and commentators have helped to lessen our withdrawal symptoms. There are sequels and prequels galore. The wonderful Mr…Diary books. PD James’s take in Death Comes to Pemberley. Emma Thomson…. and of course the scriptwriters bringing us many and varied interpretations.

So what will Maureen Kelly have to say about one of our most loved writers? Can hardly wait.