Wednesday 25 March 2009

Reasons to be Cheerful

Tom the vet phoned today with the result of the test he did on Tilly about ten days ago.
He took some cells from a lump on her chest. It didn't feel like the normal lumps and bumps dogs get. It felt hard and not very mobile.
But - I could shout this from the rooftops - there are no malignant cells. I need to keep an eye on the lump, but no treatment necessary.
Nothing to do with writing perhaps, but the best news I've had for a while.

Monday 23 March 2009

Delusions of productivity

I didn't do all those things I said I was going to do at the weekend.

I didn't even do half of them. I got the rejections sorted out. That was it.

I have these delusions of productivity.

So here's a picture of Oakley my daughter's dog in the forlorn hope that anyone reading this will say aaah what a sweetie (and he is) and not notice that my brain does not co-operate with my good intentions.

Saturday 21 March 2009

Rejections and painless shredding.

When I first began sending my work off, I almost looked forward to getting rejection letters. It meant someone had read what I’d written. Okay, they hadn’t liked it, but they’d looked at it.

In the case of the D C Thomson magazines, you often got a reason for the rejection which was very helpful. But it was the last line, the one that asked you to send in more of your work that was so encouraging. So hand in hand with disappointment came hope.

These days I still don’t look forward to the thud of the fat brown envelope coming through the letterbox, or the email that contains the words unfortunately or sorry.

I had five this week. That’s not a bad week. It’s not a good one, but I’ve had much worse. A dozen in a day. That’s hard.

By the time the stories come home after being away for several weeks or sometimes months, I often don’t recognise them. Did I really write this? I check the name on the title page – apparently I did.

I went through the stories last night. The first one had only had one outing, but it had been written for a very specific market and would have needed too much work to make it fit anywhere else. I didn’t like it much anyway. It went in the shredder.

The other four I read through and I’ve rewritten one. Cut out a character, tightened it up and reduced the length to fit another market. Three more to go. They all need to be rewritten to make them suitable for other markets. The originals all need to be shredded.

I’ve also been reading through my novel in progress. I’ve got about thirty-three thousand words written. I hope to do a little more on that this weekend. And then there are the three brand new stories I am working on and hope to get finished this weekend. It would be so much easier if it was piddling down with rain.

My message for today is don’t let rejection cut you up. Look at what comes back, see if you can improve it and if you can’t, stick it in the shredder and forget about it. Move on. Write something else. Write something better.

And a shredder is a great investment. Being paranoid about people looking through my recycling and having a good old laugh at my rubbish stories, I used to tear them to shreds and it used to hurt. My thumbs throbbed, my fingers ached, my wrists twanged. And all that time you’re rip, rip, rip, you’re acutely aware that it’s your own hard work you’re tearing to pieces. A shredder does it in seconds. Far less painful.

Wednesday 18 March 2009

Write it Down!

Last night as I dropped off to sleep, I had an idea for a story. Well not so much an idea as a first line.

When I woke up, it was still there and so was the idea for another story. This one I worked out in my mind. Joy! As soon as I got up, I would go to my computer and open new Word files and put in the ideas ready for when I had time to work on them.

What did I do? I did some hula hooping, a spot of Yoga and had a few goes on the ski slalom. Then I had another coffee and wrote an email – a long one. Of course I had to do the New York Times Set Daily Puzzle to kick start my brain. And there is the news, depressing as it may be, to be read.

And now to Word. Open a new document. Type in the first line of the story. But wait, that other story, the one that had arrived almost fully formed – I should do that one first. Another new document and . . . it’s gone.

I imagine it is out there somewhere looking for another writer. One who won’t prevaricate and who will give it the attention it deserves. I know from experience that it won’t come back to me however much I search for it. I hang my head in shame. This is not the first time this has happened to me. I should know better by now.

A few years ago, the story would have stayed in my mind till I could write it down. It would be there along with several others queuing up to be used. I never forgot an idea. When other writers said they kept a notebook by the bed, I used to think they were being daft. Why on earth would anyone need to sit up in the middle of the night, or first thing in the morning and write stuff down?

Young writers with your lively minds and perfect memories take note. One day you might need a notebook by your bed. I have one. I also have a pen. Now all I have to do is train myself to use it.

Wednesday 11 March 2009

5000 words

I have today finished a story that came out just over 5000 words. For the first 2000 words it was like wading through treacle with your ankles tied together. Then something unexpected happened. A new character appeared and the story took off. She made sense of all the rest of it and brought it all together.

It took me five days and three early mornings to write it. I had to go back to the beginning and change a little here and a little there to bring the new character into the story, but she slotted in so well it was as if it was meant to be.

I have also written some bits for the About the Author slot for my new serial. I tell no lie when I say that I found writing those pieces much harder than just making something up!

Maybe that is what I should do, make up a glamorous life for myself. Pretend I'm not a grey-haired granny (my grey hair isn't some noble gesture - I became allergic to hair dye otherwise I can assure you I'd be blonde or a red-head - I've been most colours over the years since I started going grey at a disgustingly early age) but that I am a gorgeous, six foot tall ex-model, dividing my time between my homes around the world.

I have also been trying to use the car less so I walk up to meet my grandson from playgroup. Today I had to walk all the way home carrying a paper plate on which was stuck a paper sheep with damp cotton wool for its fleece - bear with me - which was liberally scattered with cress seeds. It was windy. I was afraid the wind would dry out the cotton wool and blow the seeds away. It was a perilous journey, but we made it home with every seed intact.

Tuesday 10 March 2009

About writing

Writing about writing is a new departure for me. I rarely even talk about it - except with a handful of very close writing friends.

My parents were very supportive when I said I wanted to be a writer. They bought me a reconditioned office typewriter for my 16th birthday. It was an Adler and I adored it and I was going to write my masterpiece on it. I can still remember the smell of it and the shiver of anticipation I used to get when I sat down to write - which was every evening after work.

There was a girl at my office who used to break things. On her first day she broke her dictaphone. Then she broke her typewriter and so I brought mine in for her to use until the boss could get her a new one. She broke that too. "I don't know what you're so upset about," the boss said. "It was only an old one." It wasn't old to me. I'd only had it for two years. He didn't replace it. What was the point? What did I need a typewriter at home for?

He'd seen my copy of the Writers' and Artists' Yearbook and it had given him a good old laugh when I said I wanted to be a writer. Back then I wanted to write books. I still do.

So I bought a portable typewriter through an ad in a magazine. It was dreadful. The print was uneven and even with a new ribbon, the letters didn't come out properly, but I wrote an awful lot of stories on that thing and some of them I sold.

Talk about going off the subject. I just wanted to say that this doesn't come easily to me. I have been ridiculed over the years by people when I've said what I do for a living. I remember several of the nasty little comments that were made and I am thankful for them. Why? Because by telling me that I had no chance, those people gave me the shove I needed to do it.

There is still an element of nose-looking-down when people find out how I earn my living and I've had people ask if I'm still "Writing your little stories?"

Yes I am. And I'm writing a lot more besides. Stuff that will probably never see the light of day. Or maybe it will. If I have learned one thing apart from keeping myself to myself it is never to give up hope.

Saturday 7 March 2009

Kill them off

What do you do if you have a 1500 word story and it is the kind of story that only a magazine wanting 1000 or 2000 words would publish? Cut it?

Well yes that's one option. And how do you do that? Go through over and over nipping out a word here, a sentence there. It's never easy to get rid of those excess words.

The other option is to fatten it up a bit, but there's a problem with that too. All that excess wordage can look a bit ugly and make your story feel too heavy.

Apart from shaving words, there is another option. Kill someone off. I don't mean have them murdered or drop dead in the story, but get rid of them. Wipe them away and leave not a smear behind. They never existed. Make it so.

Take Betty. Lovely lady. Warm, friendly and with a sharp wit and an acute sense of justice. She has some lovely lines. It would be a shame not to use them. But cut her out and does the story suffer? No? Get rid of her then, blow her away. Bye Betty. What are you left with? 1100 words? Shave off that excess 100 - easy peasy.

Do you use her in another story? That's up to you. I've only done it once I think, but don't quote me on that because my memory is unstable. Normally if I kill someone off, that's it, they're done. No matter how nice or nasty they are, I find it very difficult to fit someone into a story just because I happen to like the character.

This is in danger of becoming a waffle. What to do if you don't have a Betty to get rid of? Well you can carry on nipping out sentences and words, or you can try making the story longer, or you can just try to find another home for your 1500 word story.

Am I going to be killing anyone off today? Well that remains to be seen. I've no stories started, no notes written, so I'd best get on.

Thursday 5 March 2009


What to post about today? Well I thought I might add a picture so here's one of my dogs - this one is Tilly. Tilly is nearly nine years old and I've had her since she was 8 months old. She came with a variety of problems and she still has her demons, but I wouldn't change her for the world.

She hates cats and loves polo mints. She is the dumbest and cleverest dog I have ever known in my life - I think the dumb part is her being clever. She's the prettiest and noisiest, the sweetest and most annoying. She can be gentle and kind or rough and bad mannered. She is extremely complicated and very easy to please. And that is Tilly.

Tuesday 3 March 2009

The good the bad and the ugly

This blogging lark is addictive. Took me ages to get started and now I have I can't leave it alone. I should be writing, but I wanted to share - no not my chocolate, you can't have that!

I've just finished reading Wild Swans by Jung Chang. I bought it for fifty pee at the local bookshop and it is one of the best fifty pees I've ever spent. Amazing book. It was like being back at school and feeling that excitement you get when you learn something new. I will definitely be reading that one again - but not yet.

I've just started my first Mary Higgins Clark book - at least I think it is my first. I have a feeling that somewhere in the dim and distant past I may have read one of her books. This one is called Where Are You Now and so far I am enjoying it. So that's the good out of the way, the reading bit.

Now for the bad. The magazine Best is no longer going to publish fiction. I think that's a shame, not because I have lost a market - I haven't because Best don't publish my stories, but because I think it's sad that so few magazines publish fiction these days. I think fiction provides an escape, a little light relief from the grind of everyday life.

Off the top of my head I can think of ten magazines that I used to write for that are now gone and a further five that are still around, but no longer publish fiction.

Ugly? Well I can't think of anything ugly at the moment, but it looked good in the title so that's why it's there.

As for the chocolate, I haven't really got any. I've run right out. But if I had some, I would share it with you, really I would.

And now to get on with some writing.

Monday 2 March 2009

Books about writing.

Books about writing. Where would we be without them? I've read dozens of the things and I have come away from most of them with something new and a few of them thinking "Why did I bother?". Of the dozens I have read over the years, I have kept just a few and the following are among them.

For anyone wanting to write and needing a lot of encouragement, I would recommend Dorothea Brande's Becoming a Writer. It was first published in the 1930s, but most of what she says about being a writer still holds true and probably always will.

I would also recommend Stephen King's On Writing, not just because I devour everything Mr King writes with a passion, but because the man knows his onions when it comes to writing.

Writing from Life by Lynne Hackles is an excellent book which does exactly what it says on the cover. It isn't just for fiction writers either. In her book, Lynne refers to the splinter of ice in every writer's heart. You'll have to read her book to find out what that means, but if you're a writer you'll recognise it.

Finally for now and specifically for short story writers, Della Galton's How To Write and Sell Short Stories is a must. Della has been writing for magazines for years and in her book she spells out exactly how it is done.

Like Mr King the girls know their onions, but what onions have to do with writing I don't know.

Sunday 1 March 2009

What have I done today?

Having looked at a site about Blogs and what they are all about, I realise that I need to focus my blog on a particular subject. Well, the clue is in the title, "A Likely Story" and so rather than rambling about visits to vets and adventures with glue, I should stick for the moment to rambling about writing.

So here goes. What have I written today? Three emails.

I have also finished writing a 2000 word story which has taken me days. Not solid writing you understand, but an hour here, a half hour there and it has been one of those difficult stories. The main problem being that there was no plot. As sometimes happens, I had nothing but a title. It was a title I liked. Catchy. So I wrote a story to fit it and I don't think it has worked.
But I've edited, spell-checked and printed it off and it'll find its way into an envelope with a little help from me and I shall send it on its way.

Sometimes I think a plot isn't so important if the characters are good, but then again, are they good enough? Time will tell. At least I can feel righteous and pleased with myself for finishing something.

I've been in this business for 25 years and I still can't tell if I've got it right. I can type THE END and feel pleased with what I've done, but that doesn't mean an editor will agree with me.
So what is this post about? I have absolutely no idea. Just I guess to say that it isn't always easy to stand back and be objective about what you've written.

But for now I have another idea to work on, a story with a plot you'll be pleased to hear, but will the characters hold it up . . ?