Sunday, 30 September 2007

A plea...

Does anyone know the URL for QWF (Quality Women's Fiction magazine). I want to send them something but doesn't exist anymore and all the links I've found on google all point to that site. I know the magazine changed hands and is now based in America but I've got no idea where the site is now.

Can anyone help?

Talk about leaving it to the last minute!

I promised myself, when writing and editing this novel, that I wouldn't let my short story writing slip - that I'd still write at least a short story a month.

Last month I managed to write a 1,500 word story but this month... well... day after day slipped by and I just couldn't find the motivation or the time to write a story. When I woke up today I looked at the date - 30th September - last chance to write a story or have a big ZERO in my 'numbers of stories written' log for the month.

I had a few story ideas to choose from but I really wasn't in the mood to write anything dark or depressing (how unusual!) so decided to write something light-hearted instead. BUT... no light-hearted short story ideas in my notebook. I decided to have a look at the short story competitions that are closing in the next few months instead. Was there one with a theme I could write a story for? I ummed and ahhed over a few competition and, just as I was about to give up, an idea for one of the themes popped into my head.

It took a couple of hours to get it down, but I did it - a completed short story at just under 1,000 words and I'm happy with it and going to send it off tomorrow.

Phew. So that's it for short stories for a while (until 31st October anyway ;o))

Edited to add: And some more editing done tonight. I really wanted to get at least 50% of the second draft of the novel done by the end of this month and I have - 53.7% done.

Tonight I have mostly been...

re-designing my website (oh yes, any excuse not to do some writing or editing!)

It's here:

What do you think? Too foofy looking?

Saturday, 29 September 2007

Useful and interesting links

I've rediscovered the mini-courses at BBC GetWriting (I used to be a member of the GetWriting community but it closed down a few years ago) and there's some really useful articles there. Go here:

and make sure you click on the 'read text only version' rather than the Flash version (the flash version is bit tempramental).

I've also ploughed through the archives of a blog called "Diary of an Unpublished Author" (which is a misnomer as she's going to be published very soon). Check it out here:

Some useful links and info here:

And a very interesting article about writing fiction for 8-12 year olds here (pdf format):

Psychic or co-incidence?

Yesterday I took a taxi from the train station to my flat. Nothing unusual about that - I do it several times a week. But yesterday, as I sat in the back and pulled on my seatbelt (as I do every time I'm in a car), I started to think about the mechanics of a seatbelt, about how far I'd lurch forward if the car was involved in a crash. I noticed how close the seatbelt was to my neck and wondered what sort of damage might be done to my neck if I did lurch foward - would it cut my neck or just hurt?

About seven minutes later...

a car pulled out in front of us causing the taxi driver breaked sharply to avoid hitting it. I fell forward but the seatbelt stropped me from crashing into the seat in front of me, and dug into my neck (but didn't break the skin). No one was hurt and there was no collision. It was the first time that had ever happened to me in a taxi (and I've never been involved in any kind of car accident).

So, psychic or co-incidence? I'm thinking the latter.

Friday, 28 September 2007

A book meme...

Just a meme today as there's not much to report on the writing front because I've developed a stinky cold (I was ill a month ago for God's sake. This isn't fair! Still, that's what stress, a general lack of sleep and pushing yourself too hard at work and with writing does for you. I need to rest up).

Oh, I did do a little bit of hardcopy editing on the train home (before I collapsed on the sofa with a blanket and hot cup of tea). Here's a tip for other writers: don't take a book, newspaper or magazine on the train with you. Take a print-out of your novel instead. You'll get so bored of watching other people snore you'll dig it out of your bag and get reading! I still have to type up the changes I made so my edit counter hasn't moved yet but I have made a bit more progress.

Anyway, the book meme. The lovely jj tagged me for this. Here are my answers...

Total number of books...

Oh God, LOADS, probably hundreds. I've got two bookshelves in my bedroom and two in my living room (and a separate shelf) and I've run out of space. There are piles of books everywhere. I gave away a box full of books to a charity a couple of weeks ago and I've got another bag full of books to take to the charity shop in my hall

Last book read...

I'm currently reading In Search of Adam by Caroline Smailes but haven't read as much as I would have liked as I'm having to snatch bits of time here and there and really need to give myself a few good hours (or a whole afternoon on the sofa) to lose myself in it. I have to say that what I've read so far is fantastically powerful. In fact, after one particular scene at the beginning of the book I felt physically sick for several hours. The fact that Caroline can create such a strong physical reaction in me through her use of words is testament to the power and skill of her writing.

Last book bought...

That would be Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction by Lisa Tuttle. I didn't end up writing the sci fi story I'd planned for a competition and instead sent in a comedy piece (it was in my 'old stories' folder and I basically re-wrote it). That said I still want to write my sci fi story at some point but there's no rush now. The fantasy section of the book will still come in useful when I start outlining my children's book. Ummm, yes, having said earlier that stress is making me ill I've decided to try and write a children's book in a month to enter into the Times competition. Yeah, yeah, I know - I'm pushing myself too hard but there's nothing like a deadline to get me fired up. If it weren't for another comp - you know the one - I might not have finished my novel so why break a successful formula? Feel free to berate me when I get hospitalised halfway through October ;o)

5 Meaningful books...

This one is really tricky. How do I choose just five books that are meaningful to me out of all the ones I own. Okay, rather than examine all the shelves I'm going to go with the ones that pop into my head first.


1. The Faraway Tree Stories by Enid Blyton

This series of books totally grabbed my imagination as I child and I fell into the stories, totally losing myself in the tree, the characters, the worlds at the top and the adventures. Enid Blyton was my childhood hero and inspired me to write.

2. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

In my mid teens I really got into novels about dystopian futures and this was my favourite. The other two were Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury and 1984 by George Orwell. Which leads me onto...

3. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.

I only discovered Margaret Atwood relatively recently (about four years ago) and this was the first of many of her books that I read. Not only is this book about a dystopia but it's also fantastically written. I so, so admire Margaret Atwood's writing style and even enjoyed the first book she ever had published (which is probably her weakest). Last year I even got to meet her (well, I went to the London Book Fair, listened to her talk and queued up for her to sign her latest book, The Tent). I know lots of people really rate 'Alias Grace' and it's on my bookshelf - waiting to be devoured when I go on holiday towards the end of October.

4. Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse

In my early twenties I took off on a tangent and started reading books by Henry Miller, Simone de Beauvoir, Dostoevsky, Nabokov, Oscar Wilde, Albert Camus and Herman Hesse. Apart from
The Picture of Dorian Gray the book that had the most profound effect on me was Steppenwolf. It's not a book that women typically relate to (as far as I know) but I lost myself in Steppenwolf's mind and his perception of the world (sorry, I know that sounds pretentious).

5. After You'd Gone by Maggie O'Farrell

This is probably quite a popular choice but I LOVED this book. I loved the story, I loved Maggie's writing style, I loved the sense of mystery and other worldliness. In fact, if there was one book I read as an adult that made me think "I want to write something like this" it's this book.

So that's that and now I'm feeling horribly guilty about all the books I didn't mention, like "Lord of the Flies", "To Kill a Mockingbird" and countless more modern novels that I fell in love with. Am scared to look at my bookshelves now in case I have to come back and revise this entry!

And now I have to tag five more people to fill out this meme so I choose:

A. Writer, Sally Quilford, womag writer, Nichola and Sarah G.

Thursday, 27 September 2007

The joy of research

The joy of research? The joy of research? I never thought I'd write that sentence but I did some research (for a short story idea I've got today) and it really was enjoyable.

A little background...

I had an idea for a short story set in a prison. Now I've never been to prison (I'm pleased to say) and don't know anyone who has been to prison. In fact, my only 'knowledge' of prison are films or dramas I've seen on TV and I didn't want to rely on them to get my facts straight (particularly as "Prisoner Cell Block H" is probably a little dated! ;o)) of my friends is a prison officer. Perfect! I sent her a message on facebook asking if she could spare the time to answer 8 questions I had. I expected her to reply with a couple of brief sentence responses to each question...but she did even better than that...she rang me up and we talked for an HOUR as she answered all my original questions and ones that popped into my head AND provided loads of extra info I didn't need but was really useful. As if that wasn't good enough she also, after I told her my idea for the story, told me how my character might feel, how other prisoners and guards would react to her and what sights and sounds my character would experience. By the end of the conversation I felt thoroughly shaken... not in a bad way... in a good way. My friend had painted such a wonderfully vivid picture of prison that I felt terrified on behalf of my character (and I'd filled 5 sides of A4 with notes - on both sides).

So thank you so, so much prison officer friend. You're lovely.

p.s. Did some editing last night and am now 43% done.

Monday, 24 September 2007

Why write a new story when you can recycle one?

A night off from editing tonight...

Actually that's not strictly true.

A night off from editing the novel tonight. I meant to sit down and write a short story for a competition but instead browsed my short story folders and discovered a story that was a very good fit BUT...
  • It was too long (by about a thousand words)
  • It contained too many characters
  • It had a distinctly miserable editing

If I was going to sub the story to the competition I had to do a lot of work to it. SO I did. I:

  • chopped 1,000 words (and the remaining words tightened)
  • chopped two or three characters (I wrote the story before I found out you should have a maximum of 4 characters in a short story)
  • made the ending upbeat and much cleverer than the original ending (if I do say so myself)

And you know what? Although it took me the best part of the evening I actually really enjoyed the process and now I feel a tremendous sense of job well done. It doesn't even matter if the story doesn't place in the comp - it's in a sub-able state now.

Now why the hell can't I feel the same about editing my novel? Oh, I know. The story was complete at 2,200 words. The novel is over 91,000 words more than that. Back to novel editing tomorrow.

A weekend without writing (but a little bit of editing squeezed in at the last minute)

This weekend I meant to:
  • edit my novel
  • write a sci-fi story for a competition
  • send four short stories off to competitions
  • turn at least one of my eight short story ideas into an actual story
  • start planning out my idea for a children's novel (am contemplating writing it in October so I can send it into the Times children's novel competition before the 7th November deadline)

Instead I...

  • stayed up late watching trash TV on Friday night
  • had a long lie-in on Saturday (I'm talking 1pm people!)
  • read some more of In Search of Adam in bed
  • took a walk down to the beach and lay in the sun as the waves lapped at the shore
  • watched a good film (The Science of Sleep)
  • tackled my jungle of a garden
  • sat on my balcony and read the Sunday papers
  • watched more episodes of America's Next Top Model than is healthy

And it was GREAT.

I've been putting far too much pressure on myself writing-wise recently and I really needed some R&R. I feel so much better for it.

Other pleasant surprises this weekend included a copy of Neil J Hart's book Spritz in the post (I fully intend to start reading very soon). Thanks Neil :o)

So, a very, very relaxing weekend all in all but I have a confession to make - I edited some more of my novel tonight. I've now completed over a third of the first draft. Yay!

Friday, 21 September 2007

Still editing

Sometimes, most of the time actually, I'm not in the mood for editing but tonight something clicked and I've just spent the last few hours ploughing through a significant chunk of my novel. My counter shows 28.4% done but that's just type-written words edited, I've actually done a bit more by reading through another 45 pages of my novel, making edits on the print out.

At first I really struggled - there were several pages of clunky text one after another and I started to get annoyed with myself for writing such crappy prose but then, thank God, page after page of text that really didn't need much work. When you hit pages like that you can really speed through and reading what you've written actually quite a pleasant rather than a cringe-worthy experience.

Before I started writing my novel I believed that editing just meant correcting the odd typo and correcting the physical descriptions of characters (like a character having blonde hair at the beginning and brown hair later on). God I was naive.

I'm trying to speed through the first edit of my novel because I've promised myself I can write some short stories, maybe outline a new novel when I'm done. Then I'll grit my teeth and get on with edit number two.

Anyone else promise themselves 'rewards' for editing or writing? (When writing my novel I bought myself a little present for every 30,000 words I wrote. I tried promising myself a small glass of wine for every 2,000 words I wrote but didn't have the self-restraint and often sipped a glass as I wrote. That probably explains where the pages of clunky text have come from!)

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Apparently agents are JUST like this...

I'm kidding of course. Or maybe I'm wrong and they are. I don't know, I don't have an agent yet. Maybe I should try and incorporate a pebble or a shark or a squid into my novel before I try and get one...and have my main character die at the end of the first chapter. Oh wait, she does...

Gotta love Mitchell and Webb (particularly Peep Show)

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Ever wondered what an agent's slush pile is like?

Go here:

and search the novel submissions.

The website allows authors to upload their finished novels so agents and publishers can read them and, ideally, negotiate a publishing deal. There are some very, er, interesting approaches to novel writing.

I'll say no more...

Science Fiction vs Fantasy

I'm loving my new book Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction (Writing Handbooks) by Lisa Tuttle. Unlike the reviewer on Amazon I'm finding it incredibly enlightening. I haven't read any Sci Fi (or SF as I'm supposed to call it according to the book) since I was at school and fell in love with Ray Bradbury's novels (particularly Farenheit 451) and I didn't realise how much the genre had explanded since then. I'm now enlightened about the different sub genres which are:
  • Hard SF
  • Space opera
  • Military SF
  • Cyberpink
  • Steampunk
  • Alternate realities
  • Thrillers
  • Utopias and dystopias (Farenheit 451 is the latter)

And I've finally understood what 'speculative fiction' means - it's basically another word for SF where your story or novel 'speculates' about the future of the world/mankind/universe. I've also realised what bloody hard work it is to write a SF novel - particularly if you plump for Hard SF. SF is grounded in fact and physics and you can't rewrite science's established rules to suit your novel - you need to know your stuff. I've never been into research (and I only got a C in Physics GCSE) so hard SF is definitely not for me!

Anyway, I'm not going to write a SF novel - I bought the book because I fancied writing a SF story and wanted to swat up and also get some inspiration. And I did! On the train home from work, book in one hand, pen in the other, I scribbled down an idea. Now I just have to write the thing. Sometimes I'm desperate for a short story idea and my mind is a blank, but it's the other way round at the moment. My notebook contains seven or eight short story ideas (just one for SF) but motivation to write them is low. My imagination is willing but my typing fingers are week. But there's no hurry - the ideas aren't going anywhere and it's somewhat reassuring to build up a little stockpile for 'later'.

The other good thing about the book is that it's split between sci fi (oops, SF) and fantasy and the idea for a children's book that I mentioned in my previous post is most definitely fantasy (and no, it doesn't involve a young wizard. I think that may already have been done ;o)). Actually my novel is partly based in fantasy too so I'll be interested to find out, as I continue reading the book, if I've broken any of the fantasy 'rules'.

So anyway - that's my book recommendation for anyone interested in SF or fantasy.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007


I've just come up with an idea for a children's book. Strange how ideas can sometimes jump into your mind completely unbidden.

Apparently I look like a writer and I talk like a writer (but am I?)

At lunch time today I went to my local Waterstones to see what their selection of "How to Write Comedy"* books was like. Someone beat me to the very small Creative Writing bookcase so I hovered behind her and waited for her to make her selection. Her fingers fluttered over the spines and I watched as she selected a book, read the blurb on the back, replaced it and selected another. After a couple of minutes she realised I was standing patiently behind her and turned round. I smiled.

"Are you a writer?" she asked.

Um, I thought. Am I am?

"I've just finished writing a novel," I said.

"How was it?"

Um. Wow - we could be here for some time if I go into detail, I thought.

"Tough," I said. "I wrote it in just under four months. I'm still editing it."

She looked impressed, but slightly crestfallen.

"I haven't got the time or money to do a creative writing course," she said.

"You don't need to - I just read a few of these books," I said, waving a hand towards the bookshelf.

What I imagined would be a five second conversation turned into a five minute conversation about the different books available, what she was going to write, what she needed to learn, what kind of book she'd find helpful and the different websites I thought were useful.

"So what's your book about?" she asked after she'd scribbled down a couple of URLs.

I paused. "It's a supernatural romantic comedy."

She looked at me expectantly but words failed me (whenever I tell people who my book is about they give me an incredulous look. For those that haven't read the synopsis it involves death, the living dead, ghosts, trainspotters, goths, nerds, love, hope and a twenty-one day task).

"It's..." I said. "It's..." (I really need to work on my sales patter)

The girl saved me. "Are you a full time writer then?" she asked.

I shook my head. "No, I've got a full time job. I write in the evenings and weekends."

"What's your name?"


And then there was another pause, when I really should have asked her her name but instead my brain was going "I'm not even a published author and I'm giving writing advice to total strangers. Who the hell do I think I am?"

"Thanks for your advice, Cally," the girl said, waving the book I thought was the best fit for what she wanted. "I'll get this one I think."

"My pleasure."

I really hope she finds the book useful and that she gets lots of advice from the website I recommended and that she does write her book. Me? I feel really flattered that someone listened to my advice, but also a bit of fraud.

Strange day.

* I ended up buying a book on how to write fantasy and science fiction because all the comedy books were aimed at people wanting to become stand-up comics (a thought that makes me quake). I know, I know. Science Fiction? Fingers...pies...too many...I just can't help myself!

Old Books, New Books, Swap Books!

I just discovered this fantastic site:

that does what it says on the tin - you read a book and then you swap it for a new one (well, second hand but new to you) and it only costs 90p in postage. Now I know what to do with the enormous pile of books I've got at home that I've been meaning to get rid of for ages.

Only one problem - I was trying to get rid of the books to clear more space in my flat. If I swap each one for a new book I'm not going to clear out much space am I?

Ah well, I'll just swap a few *coughs* honest.

Monday, 17 September 2007

Still editing

I'm nothing if not determined!

Edited another 3% of the novel tonight. It doesn't sound like much but I'm getting there. I realised tonight that I'm putting too much pressure on myself to make the 2nd draft perfect whereas, realistically, I've probably got another two or three rounds of edits to go (if not more) before I'm sick of this novel and decide "I can't polish this any more" and send out the first three chapters and the synopsis.

Telling myself that seems to have helped. I just need to get the novel into a state where I can read it all the way through without totally distracting myself with bad grammar or clunky phrasing and then I'll be able to see it more clearly in terms of story and how well it works and flows.

One thing I am focussing on at the moment is making sure there's a good hook at the end of each chapter (or as many chapters as possible) to ensure that, hopefully, the reader can't put the book down and has to read "just a bit more". I've lost count of the number of books I've started reading at 8pm at night and I'm still reading at 2am (with matchsticks propping open my eyes) and I'm thinking "I can survive on five hours sleep, maybe four, I just need to read a bit more..."
That's what I'm aiming for anyway... some end of chapter hooks are better than others.

Anyway, editing is going okay at the moment. It seems to go in phases. The first 3,000 words I really struggled with (because I'd read them so many times) and then it got a bit easier as I seemed to get into the flow of the story, then it got really bad again (I kept repeating myself and padding out the text) and I had to cut out massive chunks and I wondered what the hell possessed me to write such a pile of crap. Now I'm editing another section that flows okay and I'm happy again.

Editing - it's like the writer version of manic-depression. Up, down, up, down. Enjoy the ups while they last I say because there's always another down round the corner!

I feel the need to post this again...

...because it still amuses me (apologies to those who have seen it before)...

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Still editing...

More ruthless chopping tonight and words are falling like leaves.

Apparently I like to repeat myself...a lot... Why say something once when you can say it in three different ways (one after another)?

chop, chop

Have also been cutting superflous words (I seem to have a particular fondness for 'really' and 'that')

chop, chop

I haven't been referring to my self-editing books, but some of the advice seems to have sunk in because I'm immediately spotting sloppiness in my prose and have been tightening and tightening. Will go back to the books later to check I haven't missed anything.

So far I haven't had to alter the plot or chop any characters (which I'm very relieved about) and the main thing I'm working on is pace. When I read through the 100 or so pages I'm editing now (there are another 200 pages to read when I'm done with these) I marked pages that seemed to drag or I found boring. As I edit I ask myself "Is this important to this scene and the story? Does it add anything?" If it isn't, or if it distracts the reader, or goes off on a tangent or is just me getting into my stride and writing about something that interests me rather than adds to the novel, then it gets cut. As a result I've cut quite a lot!

Am slightly concerned by how many words I've chopped already but, from chapters 10 onwards, the chapters are shorter and more succinct than the ones I'm editing now so hopefully the chopping will become a little less extreme. 20% done. 80% to do.

In other news I've signed up to this website:

to receive a copy of the film "The Girl in the Cafe" which I've promised to watch, review on my blog and 'send off on tour' to the next recipient when I'm done.

Want to join in? Go to the website above and send 'the girl' an email. She's very nice.

Thursday, 13 September 2007

Two excellent blogs

I've been reading this blog: for ages now and today it took me to this blog:

which contains some excellent writing tips. I suggest you check out both if you haven't already.

p.s. Even if you haven't signed up for Susan Hill's creative writing course you should still check out her blog. There's a very interesting discussion about novel openings going on at at the moment.

Cutting ruthlessly

Well, I finally managed to do some editing tonight - a couple of thousand words anyway and have just started chapter eight (of thirty-one chapters!). I'm cutting ruthlessly and the total word count has already dropped nearly 3,000 words already (from the original novel length of 100,000 words). It's currently 96,566 words long.

I'm hoping I won't need to cut quite so heavily in the rest of the novel or I'm going to end up with a total word count of less than 80,000 words at this rate! Originally I aimed to write a 90,000 word novel so if I drop another 6,000 words that's okay. In fact, as long as the novel is over 80,000 words that's okay too. The thing to do now is to 'cut the crap' and worry about how long the novel is later.

More editing tomorrow...

Editorial services

A quick post because I'm going to spend this evening doing some editing (at last!). Feels like forever since I last looked at my novel.

Anyway, I said I'd list the editorial services that comes most highly recommended. If you've finished your book and edited it within an inch of its life you may want to get a second opinion via an editorial agency. They don't come cheap however. The average price for a 70,000-100,000 word novel is £350-£450. For that you'll normally get feedback on the structure of your novel, characterisation, plot, opening, endings etc and, if you pay for the full package, advice on typos and grammatical errors.

Some of the people I know that have used these agencies have only done so after they've received a handful of rejections from agents (with standard rejection slips) and have no idea where they went wrong. Some of those people re-wrote their novel based on the advice they'd received, re-submitted it to some more agents and finally got signed (and published). Some still aren't published. One thing you should bear in mind is that the advice you receive is subjective - only one person will read your book and give you feedback. One thing I am pretty sure of, however, is that they will be a published author or have experience in the publishing industry. You should also prepare yourself for criticism (as well as praise) where appropriate.

It all really depends on you and whether or not you can afford it and if you think it's worth it. Anyway, the editorial agencies that come most highly recommended are:

The Writers Workshop

Hilary Johnson Authors' Advisory Service


The Literary Consultancy

Right, I'm off to order my copy of:

Hopefully, when it arrives it'll give me the kick up the bum I need to pull my finger out and work as hard on my editing as I did on the first draft!

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

Are you sure you want to be a published author?

Just discovered a blog posting called "Things I've Learned Since My First Book Got Published"which made me grin (even tho' I haven't actually had a book published):

p.s. See, told you we'd return to writing-related posts soon!

Thursday, 6 September 2007

What book are you?

You're Ulysses!

by James Joyce

Most people are convinced that you don't make any sense, but compared
to what else you could say, what you're saying now makes tons of sense. What people do
understand about you is your vulgarity, which has convinced people that you are at once
brilliant and repugnant. Meanwhile you are content to wander around aimlessly, taking in
the sights and sounds of the city. What you see is vast, almost limitless, and brings you
additional fame. When no one is looking, you dream of being a Greek folk hero.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

My vulgarity? Thanks a bunch! I do tend to wander around aimlessly though (always thought that was due to an inability to read maps).

So what book are you blog readers?

The joy of eavesdropping

Some authors claim their stories and novels were inspired by conversations they overheard. Now you too can access a plethora of overheard snippets and you don't even have to leave the house:

p.s. Do please leave the house occasionally. You need the fresh air.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

More recommended reading...

When I talked about recommended reading in the last post but one I forgot all about magazines. I've subscribed to, and bought, a fair few magazines for writers over the last few years but the ones I subscribe to are:

Writing Magazine and Writers News (double subscription but you can subscribe to just one if you like).

Writing Magazine contains lots of articles and advice on everything from novel writing, short stories, poems, scriptwriting and writing for children (as we as a computer 'problem page' and a short story 'surgery') while Writers News deals with...well, news in the writing world (also very good for finding new markets and competitions).

If you're going to test drive just one I'd suggest Writing Magazine. You can pick it up in your local WHSmith.

The other magazine I subscribe to is Mslexia which is a magazine for women writers. Its primary focus is novel-writing, short stories and poems and it's always packed with useful articles and fantastic stories. It's a more literary magazine than Writing Magazine but don't let that put you off. I always look forward to the latest copy of Mslexia plopping onto my doormat.

You can get a sample issue of Mslexia for free by going here:

The two literary magazines I buy when money permits are QWF (Quality Womens Fiction) for literary short stories written by women (I would link to it but its website seems to have disappeared?) and Cadenza which publishes some excellent literary short stories.

I've probably forgotten some magazines but that'll do for now...

Writing a synopsis, novel-writing software and where to get help

Okay, it's going to be a quickie tonight because I really need to get on with editing my novel!


Writing a synopsis

This is just a bullet point list of what I found out when I was searching the web looking for advice on synopsis writing (examples given are made up off the top of my head and not taken from my own synopsis):

  • A synopsis should ideally be a page long (some sites recommended no longer than 600 words)

  • You should write it in the third person (even if your novel is written in the first person)

  • You should write it in the present tense

  • It's not a bad idea to start by stating what your main character's goal is (if it's a character led novel) i.e. "All Amy wants is to meet the man of her dreams, fall in love and live happily ever after. Unfortunately for Amy life just isn't that kind..."

  • You should detail only the main events and the main characters. Don't try and include all your characters and all the subplot. It's the main character's story that counts and how she changes as the novel progresses

  • Reflect the style/tone of your book in your synopsis. If your book is funny make your synopsis light-hearted and if it's more serious reflect this in your synopsis. The agent will look to your synopsis to get a feeling for the tone of your book and whether or not you can catch his/her attention and keep it

  • End the synopsis by showing how the main character has changed i.e. Amy realises that there is no such thing as happily ever after and that it's more important to enjoy your life instead of wishing it away

  • Don't leave the ending dangling. Don't write "to find out whether Amy chooses Josh or Patrick you'll just have to read the book" or "Josh or Patrick, who will she choose?" An agent needs to know the whole story to work out if your book is marketable and they're not about to wade through your 90,000 manuscript to find out
  • In the very last line of your synopsis you should summarise the themes of your book i.e. "Amy's Choice" is a romantic-comedy about dreams, love, friendship and growing up

Novel-writing software

I should have mentioned this in my previous post but I forgot. Once I'd worked out a rough chapter outline I started using the YWriter software. It's free, it's easy to use and it allows you to split your books into chapters and scenes so you can see and edit your novel in seconds without having to scroll through a 481 page double-space Word document!

It also allows you to set yourself a target word count and a target date for completing your novel and how many words you need to write a day in order to achieve it. If you miss a day the daily word count needed will go up. It's a great incentive to sit down and write (or that count will go up even more if you miss another day).

YWriter also keeps a tally of how many words you've written and displays words written vs total count in a similar way to the counter on the left of my blog.

Oh yes - and you can export the whole novel into a format suitable for opening in Word (I did that when I was finished and was astonised to discover I'd written 481 pages!)

Where to get help

If you're struggling with your novel you may find it helpful to join an online writing community. There are lots of them around so here's a selection of the ones I've looked at:

Slingink - a free writing community. They don't specialise in novel writing but they're a chatty and friendly group who make newcomes feel immediately welcome. There's a place on the discussion board to post work and I'm sure they'd happily critique a posted first chapter (but it may take a little while before someone does it). Just make sure you return the favour for someone else. No writing group appreciates members who just take.

Writersdock - another free writing community. Part of the discussion board is set up for people to talk about novel writing and critique each other's work. The writers here are friendly and it's a mixed group - some beginners, some intermediate and possibly some more advanced. Writerdock also invite famous authors to answer questions on the boards

WriteWords - £35 for a year but also offers a database of agents (some complete with comments from WW members who have experience of using or contacting the agents) and details of publishers.

Although there's a short story and flash forum the focus of this community seems to be novels and groups have been set up for all the genres (chicklit, woman's fiction, historical etc) and there's even a synopsis group. Depending on the group you join it may be a little quiet or more busy. Again you'll receive critiques on uploaded work but you must critique other people's work in return or you'll receive a polite email telling you to pull your socks up!

This site also benefits from some 'site experts' all of whom are published authors and they have been know to offer helpful advice on newbies work.

So - that's that for now. Next I'll blog about the different critiquing services I've heard of (the ones that have been most highly rated by the people who have used them).

p.s. feel free to add synopsis advice/links to other writing communities in the comments box.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Plot, structure and finishing your novel

First off - all this advice is based on personal experience and what worked for me (bear in mind I haven't actually finished editing my novel yet but I did finish writing the 100,000 word first draft - something I'd failed to do before) and advice I've read in books, found on the internet and been told by other people.

If you don't have a plot yet - or if you're not sure that your plot works - you could do worse than visit this site:

Before I started writing my novel I spent a lot of time reading the above site.

I also spent time thinking about 'The Hero's Journey' which is a classic way of structuring a novel (used most famously in the Star Wars films). It may sound archaic at first but it works perfectly well in a modern setting with a bit of imagination and if you're a bit stuck it's a tried and tested approach and might help you move on. Here's a basic breakdown of the Hero's journey:

1. A call to adventure, which the hero has to accept or decline
2. A road of trials, regarding which the hero succeeds or fails
3. Achieving the goal which often results in important self-knowledge
4. A return to the ordinary world, again as to which the hero can succeed or fail
5. Application of the goal, in which what the hero has gained can be used to improve the world

You can read more about the Hero's journey here:

What I did next was grab a piece of paper and divided it into chapters (I decided on 16 but my novel ended up being 30!). I had no idea how many chapters my novel would have so just guessed. What I did know were what the major events were in the novel - what the beginning was (and how the novel would progress for several chapters), what the end was and what the major climax was. I scribbled these into some of the chapter boxes on the page.

What was left was lots of gaps...

So what next?

I had to work out how my main character would get from A to Z - what trials would she encounter along the way, what would go wrong, how would she develop/change, what were the other characters in the novel doing? I scribbled down as many ideas as I could think of into the boxes.

And I started writing.

Of course, as I started writing the novel, things changed as I pretty much let the character dictate what was going to happen next (within reason) as long as she was pretty much moving towards achieving her goal, overcoming obstacles en route and moving towards the climax and the end of the book. I wrote so many different versions of my chapter outline my notebook is full of them!

If I got stuck (blocked) I'd sit down and sketch out the scenes that were needed within the chapter. That way I knew what was coming next and could continue writing.

I wrote pretty much every day for 3 months and 3 weeks (I think my average word count was about 750 words a day - which isn't that much when you think about it).

The best advice I can give when you want to stop writing or you think the novel is going no where is

"I give myself permission to write crap"

It's your first draft. First drafts are allowed to be crap. In fact I'd bet money on the fact that every author thinks their first draft is crap. When you buy a book in Waterstones or wherever and marvel at the language and the plot I guarantee it didn't just flow out of the writer's pen/fingers in that state. The author revised and revised it. Their agent probably made them revise it again and then their editor suggested several more re-writes before the book was proof-read, corrected and published.

If you don't finish your first draft you won't have anything to edit. So just write it... no one else has to see it. Do it for yourself, do it to prove you can write and finish a novel. Don't think about whether what you're writing is any good. Don't wonder if an agent will like it. Don't try and work out if it will become a bestseller. If you do that you'll become so self-conscious you'll stop writing. So just write it and finish it.

It's bloody hard work and everyone who has every written a first draft of a novel will agree. But how chuffed will you be when you get through to the other side and you've finished it? I drank the best part of a bottle of champagne to myself!

Of course there's still loads to do (and God editing is boring) but don't think about that now. Write.

Okay - this is the world's longest post so I'm just going to end by recommending some books that might help:

See Jane Write - a "how to write chick lit" book. Most of the information in here I'd seen before in other more literary "how to write a novel" books (and covered in more detail) but if you want a light, chatty approach to writing a novel this is the one for you [Edited to add: I've just noticed they're out of stock on but they seem to have plenty left on for about a fiver - See Jane Write: A Girl's Guide to Writing Chick Lit so try them instead]

My personal favourite: How to Write a Damn Good Novel: A Step-By-Step No Nonsense Guide to Dramatic Storytelling

And this one is very, very good and is also recommended by fellow novel racers Solutions for Writers: Practical Craft Techniques for Fiction and Non-fiction

Okay - next time. How long should a synopsis be? How do I write a synopsis? and "Is my novel any good?"

Monday, 3 September 2007

What do you think of when I say "forbidden friends"?

Well get thinking because Vanda from is running another short story competition. Regular readers of this blog will know I was a runner up in the last competition and received £15 worth of vouchers that I used to get a writespace critique of the first couple of thousand words of my novel (I could also have used the vouchers to enter future writespace comps).

Anyway, this time around the theme is "forbidden friends" and the maximum word count is 1,000 words.

Closing date is 31 October 2007 so get your thinking hats on. It's £5 to enter (for an extra £5 you'll also receive a critique of your short story).

And the prizes...

1st place wins £150
2nd place wins £100
3rd place wins £50 plus free writing course

10 runners up receive a £15 voucher to use on writespace services.

To download an entry form click here.

Or go to to read the winners of the last competition.

p.s. If you don't know the first thing about writing a short story I highly recommend you get a hold of "Creating Short Fiction" by Damon Knight

Saturday, 1 September 2007

SuperEd is here!

Look what arrived this morning! It's a CD with "SuperEd" on it (the story that was broadcast on BBC Radio Cumbria last week). Unfortunately it's just the story so you can't hear the DJs comments afterwards but cool to have a copy in my grubby mitts and how nice of Radio Cumbria to go to the trouble of printing out labels and CD inserts - I was just expecting a CD with 'SuperEd' scribbled on it in thick pen!

I've got a 'writers box' into which goes a copy of everything I've had published, award certificates, letters telling me I've won prizes in competitions and any (nice) feedback I've received about my stories. A 'writers box' sounds fancy but really it's just a clear perspex box that I keep everything in so I don't lose or damage it. To most people it's 'just a box of stuff' but it means a hell of a lot to me - it's a visual record of what I've achieved over the last few years and, when I feel particularly shitty about my writing or have received a shedload of rejections, I sort through it and remind myself that yes, I can write and here's the proof. Does anyone else do that or are you more lackadaisical about what you have published/achieved?

Anyway, now I've listen to the CD it's off to the box

Oh yes and I've ripped it to mp3 and you can download and listen to it by clicking here if you're interested. The file is 5MB in size so it may take a few minutes.