Murder Served Cold, the next step.

Spot the Dalmatian?

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This week’s picture of our Dalmatian Duke was taken on a six mile walk on Dartmoor that we did earlier in the week.  It was a lovely day but very hot and he was very happy to find this pretty little stream.  As were we – but there are no pictures of us having a cooling paddle though.  Nor of us enjoying a well deserved pint at the end of our walk.

Murder Served Cold.

The edits are finished and the book has now gone on to the next stage in its journey to publication.  I’m feeling more and more like I did in the months before my children started school for the first time.  With mounting dread I would watch the days on the calendar slip by all too quickly as the start date drew closer.  I’m getting that same feeling as October looms.

So now we’re talking covers and it’s all beginning to feel very real.  This is the ‘buying the school clothes’ part of the process, I suppose.  At the beginning the words were everything and I didn’t give the cover much thought.  It was a case of “I’ll know the right one when I see it” – and my publisher, Crooked Cat Books have come up with some great ones so I’m really looking forward to this part of the process.

This the first time I’ve had any input in the choice of cover art.  In September, my eighth Large Print book,  Brought to Account,  will be published in the Linford Mystery (or Romance) series which are sent to libraries.  I’ve had mixed feelings about some of the covers as the art work usually consists of a picture of a woman who bears no resemblance to my character.  It’s often the same with magazine illustrations as well.  But I figure they know their market.

And for my next trick….?

I have started the sequel to Murder Served Cold and it’s a delight to be back with some of the characters again and to move their story on.  But it also brings problems.  Like when did I decide Betty was called Sandra?  And if I’ve used the ‘gone to seed dandelion’ analogy in book one, can I use it again in book two?  I’d be very flattered if someone remembered what I’d written from one book to the next (I often can’t!) but the reader might feel short changed.  I wish now I’d been more organised when I was doing the edits for Murder Served Cold and made notes as I went along.

But I’m now 15,000 words into the first draft and it’s going well.

And finally….

Here are you daily prompts for the second half of June.  I hope you’re finding them useful.  Check out Writers’ Prompts.  A limitless supply of story inspiration for hints on how to use them.

  • 16. Not all Grannies knit.  (the title of a book by Jane Fearnley Whittingstall)
  • 17. Old friends, old wine and and gold are best. (Proverb)
  • 18. The battle of Waterloo was fought this day in 1815.  Write about something you believe is worth fighting for.
  • 19. On this day in 1975, Lord Lucan was found guilty of murdering his children’s nanny.  Write about disappearing.
  • 20. “Stands the church clock at ten to three?/ And is there honey still for tea?” (Rupert Brooke)
  • 21. Burying bad news.
  • 22. Write about a ceremony
  • 23. It’s raining, you’re late for an appointment and someone nips into that parking space you’ve been waiting so patiently for.
  • 24. She was the kind of woman who….
  • 25. Write about an eclipse.
  • 26. Grandmother’s secret.
  • 27. What would you do for £10,000? (note: it’s for £10k, not with!)
  • 28. You have a new neighbour.  Is that good or bad?
  • 29. Listeners never hear good of themselves.
  • 30. Write about your own version of Paradise.

 

 

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Dog walks, hurdles and a murder mystery.

I’m later than I meant to be getting down to work because today’s dog walk took even longer than usual.  Several of the fields around our village have been cut and baled and our Dalmatian Duke insisted on stopping to wee on every one of them!  (It was a big field and there are a lot more bales out of shot, all duly marked by Duke).

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The first hurdle – and how I fell at it.

I started writing this blog after reading “The Author Blog: Easy Blogging for Busy Authors” by Anne R. Allen  ( Anne’s blog) which is crammed full of useful advice for newbie bloggers such as myself.

Unfortunately I’ve  fallen at the first hurdle because one of Anne’s pearls of wisdom is  about being consistent.  Blog regularly, she advises.  

Ah yes, I thought.  I can do this. So  I set up a schedule (I’m very good at setting up schedules.  Keeping to them, however, is another matter) and decided I would blog fortnightly.  I then entered the fortnightly publication days in my diary.

I chose to post fortnightly (a) so that I wouldn’t clog up your inboxes and (b) it would give me some breathing space to get on with my life… and, of course, the day job.

But that is where the problems started.  Life , the day job and the local farmer’s hay making (see above) got in the way which is why, according to my schedule, I am now two  postings behind.  So, if you’ve been waiting impatiently for the Daily Prompts from May 16th onwards, please accept my sincere and grovelling apologies.  

To make up for it, I’ll put the Daily Prompts from May 16th – June 15th  at the end of this post.  And if you’re new to this blog and wondering what on earth I’m going on about, check out the post (Writers’ Prompts.  A limitless supply of story inspiration) on how to use the prompts.  

I’ve written a pantomime.  Oh yes I have!

In my post of 25th March The Path Less Travelled and why it (sometimes) pays to take it I described the fun I was having writing our village pantomime.  This year, we’re doing The Fladdams Family – the Panto, which is based, very loosely indeed, on the TV programme The Addams Family.

I have finished it.  Almost on schedule.  And if you’ve ever wondered what goes on during the creative process of writing a pantomime, take a look at a (totally unedited) page of my notepad which  sits beside me when I’m writing.  It’s either a snapshot of the creative mind at work – or the ravings of a madwoman.  You decide.

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A new serial.

Yay! I have a new serial coming out at the end of the month.  My eight part murder mystery entitled All The Birds of the Air starts in the People’s Friend on June 23rd.  

This serial is the result of an approach by People’s Friend’s Fiction Editor, Shirley Blair, asking  if I’d be interested in writing a crime serial for them.  Now I’d love to let you go on thinking this is an everyday occurrence for me and that editors are regularly contacting me in this way.  I wish!

Usually it happens the other way around.  I get an idea for a story, write it and then spend the rest of my time and energy trying to persuade an editor to buy it.  So after I said yes to Shirley I found myself in the unusual situation of looking for something to write about.

This was where my ideas box came in handy.  It’s an old document box, crammed with tattered files and dog eared notepads, most of which make as much sense as the one in the picture above.

But then I found a notebook from a creative writing class I took at my local Further Education Centre many years ago.  I enjoyed the class very much except for those times when the tutor would set us a challenge to write something really clever which we then had to read out to the rest of the class.

I was, and still am, absolutely rubbish at that sort of thing.  My brain freezes and I  sit there doodling while the rest of the class scribbles away furiously.  That particular day, the brain freeze was obviously a full on glacier because this is what I wrote:

Who killed Jock Dobbin?

That was it.  Apart from a weird drawing of what I think was supposed to be a cat and a reminder to myself that my son had cookery in the morning and not to forget the sultanas. (He’s all grown up and sensible now and buys his own sultanas.)

But the line intrigued me and I started thinking about a man called Jock Dobbin who dies suddenly.  His death is put down to natural causes until a series of anonymous notes begin to appear around the village.  These notes are all based on the rhyme “Who killed Cock Robin?” and that, of course, gave me the title as well. Then I started thinking: “What would you do if a total stranger left you everything in his will?”

All the Birds of the Air was such fun to write and there will, I hope, be a sequel.  But that depends on whether the readers of People’s Friend enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Fingers crossed.

Daily Prompts

Today’s writers don’t have to hunt around in dusty old boxes for inspiration. At least, not the ones who follow this blog.  So here, better late than never, are the Daily Prompts, as promised for May 16th – June 15th.  And I promise I’ll be back before June 15th with the prompts for the rest of the month.  I’ve already put it in my schedule.

16. Write about being bullied.

17. When you fear the worst and the worst happens, there comes that moment when you realise there is nothing left to fear. 

18. My brother/sister had this really annoying habit….

19. Write about what you didn’t do.

20. Opening line.  Where were you last night?

21. Dark behind it rose the forest (The Song of Hiawatha.  HW Longfellow)

22. Once, when nobody was looking…

23. The end of the day.

24. You are in a hotel room.  Alone.

25. Actions speak louder than words. (Proverb)

26. Buried treasure.

27. Write about a time you felt abandoned.

28. Something you bought mail order.

29. You’re taking an exam you are totally under prepared for.

30. You walk into a bar and a sudden silence falls.  But no one will meet your eye.

31. Slipping in and out of the shadows.

JUNE

1. Married in the month of June/Life will be one long honeymoon.* (see below)

2. It was the family wedding from hell.

3. Write about an anniversary.

4. ‘I’m playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order”. (Eric Morecambe)

5. Write about a balcony.

6. If you won the lottery, what is the first thing you’d do?

7. The first time I saw my baby brother/sister I felt….

8. Write about being the last person to be picked for a team.

9. “Last night I dreamt I went back to Manderley…”  (Or Myrtle Avenue, or wherever)

10. He walks into a room and there is complete silence.  All heads turn in his direction.  Then he smiles and walks up to her.  “Hi, I’ve been looking for you….”  (Feel free to change he/she etc)

11. I love you because (Do you remember the old Jim Reeves song?)

12. Ann Frank was born this day in 1929.  Write about keeping a diary.

13. “It wasn’t my fault, Mum, honest.  It just….”

14. “There are two ways of spreading light. To be the candle or the mirror that receives it.” (Edith Wharton)

15. A funny thing happened to me on the way to…..

  • Footnote:  I got married in June and, on the off chance that my husband reads this, yes, it has been one long honeymoon! (Most of the time, anyway)

Where do you get your ideas from?

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Angels on Oil Drums

As I started writing this week’s blog, the flag of St George was flying from the flagpole on the top of our village church for St George’s Day, England’s patron saint. 

I have good reason to celebrate St George’s Day because it was the inspiration behind the very first story I ever sold.  

 I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write.  As soon as I was old enough to hold a pencil, I was writing.  Plays, stories, comic books, poems and even a pageant or two. Throughout our childhood,  I bullied my three younger brothers  into appearing in various ‘plays’ I’d written which we’d then perform for all our neighbours – at least, the ones who weren’t quick enough to come up with a decent excuse.

My first publicly performed work was a bit of a cheat as it didn’t involve any original writing.  It was a pageant, enacted to the words of the hymn “For all the saints, who from their labours rest…” to celebrate St. George’s Day.  

The ‘stage’ was to be our front lawn, the backdrop Mum’s washing line with a couple of old grey blankets draped over it.  I’d filled two large jugs with armfuls of  pink and white blossom which stood at the front.  It looked perfect. Except for the oil drums.  One on either side of the ‘stage’. 

My mother drove a hard bargain and insisted that if she was going to allow her garden and washing line to be turned into a stage, then my two youngest brothers (three year old twins) had to be given parts in the pageant.  I was not keen.  But, in the end I capitulated and said they could have non-speaking parts as angels – as big a piece of miscasting as Tom Cruise as Jack Reacher.

But there was a slight problem (and I’m not talking Tom Cruise here).  The twins were quite small and so would not be seen. So I had the brilliant idea of standing them on upended oil drums, one either side of the stage. (Now why didn’t Tom Cruise think of that?)   

I then tied one of Mum’s sheets around their necks to cover both them and the oil drums and commanded them to hold their arms up as wings.  I also made them beautiful blonde wigs from unravelled binder twine which, they complained, itched.  (Did I say I was also the costume and set designer?  Not to mention writer, producer and chief press-gang officer).

I was St George, of course.  After all, it was my pageant.  And my other brother, Mike was the unfortunate dragon who spent most of the time being beaten around the stage by me wielding a wooden sword.

We were about half way through the first verse of “For all the saints...” when the left hand ‘angel’ started to fidget and fell off his oil drum.  The right hand ‘angel’, who probably had more sense than his brother, decided he was bailing out before he too fell off his oil drum and made a dash for freedom across the garden, trailing his sheet behind him and ending up hiding in the middle of the raspberry canes.  He was closely followed by the family dog who thought this was the best game ever.

I, like the trouper I was,  carried on singing.  And beating the dragon about.  Until he decided that he, too, had had enough.  So there I was, St George,  victorious and alone, singing away to myself and failing to notice that my mother had disappeared into the raspberry canes after my brother and the dog.  And the rest of the audience was falling about with laughter.

After all these years my brothers still claim they were traumatised by the event, which gets told and retold at every family gathering.  So when, about twelve years ago I was looking to break into the short fiction market and trying to follow the advice ‘write about what you know’, I wrote this short story based around my ill fated pageant.  

Angels on Oil Drums” was the first of many stories I sold to Woman’s Weekly and it still remains one of my favourites.  Not such a favourite with my brothers, though – although I did buy all three of them their very own copy of Woman’s Weekly which I’d like to tell you they have treasured to this day.  But I very much doubt it!

A few years ago now, my brother Mike (the ex-dragon) came to one of the pantomimes I’d written for our village theatre group  (link here to my thoughts on writing this year’s). He remarked what a relief  it was for him to come and see something I’d written that he hadn’t been bullied into appearing in.

My story, Angels on Oil Drums, will be in my first collection of short stories, entitled “Selling My Grandmother” which will be published later this year.  Watch this space!

Other News

I’m finishing the final edits of the final chapter of my serial, The Primrose Path, this week – and am at that stage where I think I’m never going to be able to cut it down to the required word length.  Although I always do, somehow.  As for tying in all those loose ends…

Duke, the Dalmatian has had a poorly paw and after a week on anti-inflammatories and antibiotics is now confined to lead only walking for another two weeks.  Trying to keep a Dalmatian quiet and rested is like trying to contain a Jack-in-the-box with a faulty lid. But if you’ve got to do an on-lead-only walk, then the beautiful Bishop’s Palace Gardens, in Wells, Somerset has got the be the place to do it.

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Daily Prompts. May 1st to 15th

I hope you’re enjoying the daily prompts. (For details of how to use them, follow this link)  I have now caught up with myself, so below are the prompts for the first fifteen days of May.

I always keep a note in my journal of where the ideas for each new story came from and I can see that of the fifteen, four made it as completed (and sold) stories.  So it does work!

  1. Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May (Shakespeare)
  2. A time when you wanted to leave but couldn’t
  3. Being discovered in the wrong place at the wrong time.
  4. “I have spread my dreams beneath your feet/ Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.” (WB Yeats)
  5. Suffering the consequences of doing something to excess.
  6. Write about a premonition
  7. Your first day at school, work.
  8. Look back in anger. (John Osborne’s play of this name opened in 1956)
  9. Fear of getting old.
  10. Things done in the heat of the moment.
  11. He/she is the sort of person who….
  12. Write about your earliest memory
  13. Living the dream
  14. Through the open window comes the sound of someone playing the piano.
  15. On this day in 1918 the first regular air mail service began. Write about receiving an unexpected letter.

Thanks for reading this far.  Each time I post, I promise myself that I’ll keep it short and snappy this time.  But I never do.  And that’s what I love about blogging.  After three days of trying to cut 5800 words down to 3300, writing this has been sheer bliss!

Roller coasters, editors and daily prompts

I’m later than intended getting this blog post written because last week was a real roller coaster of a ride with some dizzying highs followed all too swiftly by those heart stopping, stomach churning swoops down to the lows.  Some people love that sort of ride.  But I prefer a smooth, gentle glide with time to admire the scenery to the breath-snatching thrills of the roller coaster.

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Photo by Angie from Pexels

Progress in my works in progress

 I’ve always have more than one large project on the go at any one time but this week, three of them have suddenly pushed themselves centre stage, demanding my instant attention.  The pantomime I wrote about last time is going well. (The Path Less Travelled and why it (sometimes) pays to take it  I have finished Act One now and she-who-makes-things-happen is very pleased and excited about it.  Now all I have to do is figure out what’s going to happen in Act 2, because at the moment I haven’t a clue. 

I’ve also been writing a 5 part murder mystery serial, entitled The Primrose Path, and have now been given the go ahead for the fifth and final part.  And, as with the pantomime, I have a vague idea how it’s all going to work out but at the moment it resembles a basket of wool after a kitten’s been at it – a tangled mess with loose ends everywhere. 

The only thing I’m sure about is “who done it” and I’ve more or less got the “why done it” sorted.  But the “how done it” is giving me brain ache. More on this in a later post.  (Once I’ve worked on why she didn’t just get her phone out and call for help!)

My big news!

But the new big news is the one that’s really sending me in a spin and wanting to bury my head under the nearest duvet.

I HAVE AN EDITOR  

One of the reasons I started this blog, apart from the joy I get from just sitting down and writing about whatever takes my fancy, is that earlier this year I was signed up by Crooked Cat Books who are going to publish my debut full length murder mystery, later in the year.  I thought it would be interesting to blog about my journey to publication.

I’ve been published many times in magazines (and still continue to do so, says she with fingers, toes and anything else that can be crossed firmly crossed).  I also have five large print novels, some crime, some romance, available through the library service, with a sixth due to be published in August.  

But this is the first ‘proper’ book I’ve had published.  Not that any of my work is ‘improper’, you understand.

Murder Served Cold

Murder Served Cold is a murder mystery (the clue is in the title) set in a small Somerset village not dissimilar to the one in which I live.  Think Stephanie Plum follows a faulty sat-nav and finds herself  in Miss Marple’s St Mary Mead.  Like Stephanie, my character Kat is feisty and witty, with an answer for everything.  She also feels as out of place as  Voldemort at the Teddy Bears’ Picnic when  circumstances beyond her control force her to return to her parents’ home in the small Somerset village where she grew up.

I’m sure you’ll hear more about Kat Latcham in later blogs.  Most of the time I have difficulty shutting her up.  However, this is my blog and not hers.

But for the moment I’m trying to get my head around the fact that  I’ve been assigned an editor, the first step on the pathway to publication – and I’m absolutely terrified.  She’s reading Murder Served Cold as I write this and I feel like I’m waiting for my end of term school report, complete with the  ‘could do better’ comments.

Kat, of course, wouldn’t give a toss.  But she’s a feisty 23 year old, with cool spiky multi-coloured hair and cool, spiky boots to match.  She has an opinion on everything and is not afraid to share it.  I, on the other hand, am not 23 nor anywhere near it. (A glance at my author picture will confirm this)  I’m not feisty either, although I’d love to be.  I’m an introverted writer who prefers to spend my time sitting at a laptop and living vicariously through my characters, even (or do I mean, especially?)  the bad ones.

So, while Kat would be saying ‘Bring it on” to my newly assigned editor, I freeze in terror every time I check my emails.  Is she going to say it’s rubbish?  That my sentences are too long?  That my story arc doesn’t arc enough?  Or, the worst ‘could do better’ comment of them all, that she doesn’t think it’s funny?

I’m a proud member of both the Romantic Novelists’ Association and the Crime Writers’ Association.  I love writing murder mysteries, spiced with humour and lightly sprinkled with a touch of romance so the three elements of crime, romance and humour are very important to me.

I know my book will probably be put in the ‘cosy’ category.  But that conjures up what someone described recently as ‘cutesies’, where ladies in tea shops solve murder mysteries with the help of their cat. Or a psychic goldfish. Nothing wrong with that, of course, and they are incredibly popular.  But that’s not what Murder Served Cold is about.

So what is it about?  I hope you’ll come back for future blogs and learn more about Kat and the other characters in Much Winchmoor.  They’re a lot of fun – apart from the odd murderer or two, of course!

Daily Prompts.  April 16-30th.

As promised in an earlier post, here are the daily prompts for the rest of April.  I hope you’re  finding them useful.  Check out the previous post  if you’re uncertain how to use them.

16. All is forgiven

17. Being misunderstood.

18. Getting away with murder.

19. When the dust settled….

20. Jumping to the wrong conclusion

21. No man is an island.

22. In the heat of the afternoon.

23. “This is it,” I thought.  “Things don’t get any better than this.”

24. You can’t tell a book by its cover.  Or can you?

25. Things I wish my mother had told me.

26. My grandparents’ wedding picture.

27. Feast day of St Zita, patron saint of housewives, bakers and sometimes invoked by people    who have lost their keys.

28. Everybody stopped to watch the stranger’s arrival.

29. A pair of shoes.

30. Something that happened this time last year.

And finally….

Thank you so much for dropping by.  What’s happening with your work in progress at the moment?  Do you prefer roller coasters or a gentle ride?  I’d love you to leave a comment.

The Path Less Travelled and why it (sometimes) pays to take it

Plus a Can’t Fail Writing Tip and More Daily Prompts

Cathedral

On my usual morning dog walk the other day, I took a different path. It was rough, muddy and overgrown – but there was this big, barky dog on the other path and I was in no mood for canine fisticuffs.  And even though my dog promised to be on his best behaviour and that butter wouldn’t melt in his little spotty mouth (he’s a Dalmatian in case you think I’m getting personal) I didn’t really believe him. Or at least, I wasn’t prepared to take that chance.

But taking the more difficult path had its rewards, one of which was it took me somewhere I’d never been before and afforded a stunning view of  the lovely Wells Cathedral, seen  from a slightly different angle.

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Back home, as I scraped the mud of the dog (and quizzed him as to how he managed to get some on the back of his head) I started thinking how good it is for life in general but my writing life in particular to move out of my comfort zone occasionally.

(And to pay him back for all that mud, here’s a rather inelegant shot of Duke looking totally in his comfort zone.)

But, dog walking aside,  this is the time of the year when I move so far out of my comfort zone I go completely off piste.

So what am I doing?  Can you guess from the last three items on my internet browsing history?

  • Italian processed meats
  • Witch name generator
  • The Addams Family

I’m writing a pantomime.  Oh, yes I am!

For the benefit of overseas readers, a pantomime is a peculiarly British form of entertainment, put on around Christmas and the New Year and tells a story (usually a well known fairy story, such as Cinderella or Jack and the Beanstalk) where men dress as women, women dress as men, there’s lots of singing and silliness and the audience is encouraged to be very rowdy.

I live in a small Somerset village where for the last five years we’ve put on a pantomime.  And every year, at about this time, I say I’m never, ever going to write another one.  That’s it’s not my thing.  That I write anything from short stories to full length novels; from magazine serials to a monthly column; from this blog to angry letters to my local paper complaining about the threat to our library service.

BUT I do not write pantomimes.  Never again.

Then she-who-makes-things-happen comes to see me about 48 hours after the final curtain on the final performance of the last pantomime I will ever write and she says:

“I’ve been thinking, Paula.  How do you fancy…..?”

Last year she reeled me in with Calamity Jane.  And yes, I know I said pantomimes are usually fairy stories, but we do things differently in our small corner of Somerset.  In my hands (because I can never write anything straightforward) Calamity Jane became Calamity Wayne and involved a man dressed as a woman who dressed as a man until ‘her’ transformation scene when he/she dressed as a woman.

Are you still following?  It was complicated.

Where to start?

Once I’ve finished moaning (like I am now) about how I can’t write what she-who-makes-things-happen wants me to write and that it will never work, I start with the list of available cast members which gives me an idea of how many parts to write.

And yes, I know that’s probably not the way the Alans Ayckbourn or Bennett start writing their plays.  But they’re not writing for a small village theatre group where everyone wants to be in the pantomime and the men’s ‘dressing room’ is a very small, very old caravan parked outside the village hall.  It’s a bit of a challenge for the man dressed as a woman dressed as a man when he has to wriggle into a hooped crinoline for the final scene! But our members are nothing if not resourceful.

Once I know how many I’m writing for (and the numbers increase every year) I then start thinking about the characters’ names.  This year, the ‘how do you fancy having a go at….? question was followed by… The Addams Family.

My answer was, not really.  But here I am, after binge watching black and white episodes of the Addams Family on YouTube and I’ve got the title.  “The Fladdams Family – the Panto.”  This at least warns the audience that things might not be quite what they’re expecting.  In fact, it’s going to be a sort of Addams Family meets the Sound of Music, with maybe a little bit of Downton Abbey thrown in.  Oh, and lots of rude noises.

My ‘can’t fail’ tip for writing pantomimes.

If the script is dragging and you’re in need of a laugh, have Sound Effects make a rude noise. (He’s very big on rude noises, is our Sound Effects guy).  Or say something rude about the people in the next village.

And if you really want it to go with a bang, then make a rude noise while saying rude things about the people in the next village.  I promise, it will bring the house down (which, given the state of the ceiling in our village hall would not be difficult).

And those internet searches?

I was looking for characters’ names.   So far, I have got:

  • Fernando Fladdams
  • Mortadella, his wife
  • Bugsy, their son
  • Thursday, their daughter
  • Evanora Crowe (Mortadella’s mother)
  • Dowager Countess Grimley
  • Pancetta Von Trip (Mortadella’s sister)
  • Uncle Pesto (Fernando’s brother)
  • Anti Pasta (his wife)
  • Grunch, the butler….
  • Albert Snaffles, international jewel thief
  • Sidney Sniffles, his side kick.
  • …… And assorted servants, villagers etc.

I could go on.  But I’d better not.  I’ve got a pantomime to write.  Oh yes I have.  (And this is where the audience shouts: Oh no you haven’t!)

Back to the sane world of blogging

I am very grateful to Helen Yendall for putting a link to this blog in hers.  Helen’s blog (link to blog here) is a wonderful example of how to build and maintain an informative and entertaining blog.  I am in awe of her!

I’m still finding my way around the blogging community and recently came across Helena Fairfax’s blog. ( link here)   She’s writing about the inspiration behind and the writing process involved in her novel Felicity at the Cross Hotel (which I have read and very much enjoyed).  Helena’s also included a list of writers in what she calls a ‘Round Robin’ who are also blogging about the same thing.  It’s a fascinating list and I can’t wait to read them all.  Yet more to add to my tottering TBR pile.

In the meantime, I’ve got to get back to the thing at the top of my even more tottering TBW (to be written) pile.  So far, I’ve written:

Act 1, Scene 1.  Front of curtain.  Enter Albert Snaffles and Sidney Sniffles.

And that’s it.  The rest of the page is a terrifying blank.  Actually, that’s not strictly true.  As I wrote in my last blog, Writers’ Prompts.  A limitless supply of story inspiration sometimes sitting down and writing about not knowing what to write about is all it takes to unclog the log jam in your mind.  I can now see exactly how that first scene is going to go now.   Pity about the other five scenes though….

Daily Prompts.

I hope you’re enjoying the prompts from my last post. (see above paragraph for link) In between my pantomime, I’m writing a crime short story based on the prompt ‘a host of golden daffodils’. (March 21st). I’ve almost finished the first draft and it seems to be working out ok.  I’d love to hear how you’re getting on.

April prompts.  1st – 15th April.

These are the daily prompts for the first fifteen days of April.

  1. There is no fool like an old fool
  2. My father always told me….
  3. The kindness of strangers
  4. Cinderella, set in the present day… Or maybe even the future?
  5. She lived alone and few could know/When Lucy ceased to be/But she is in her grave and oh,/ the difference to me. (Wordsworth)
  6. These are the things you can trust.
  7. You are standing on one side of a closed door.
  8. Be careful what you wish for
  9. A compromise
  10. The first book of crossword puzzles was published this day in 1924.  Write about a puzzle fanatic.
  11. ‘He that stays in the valley shall never get over the hill.’
  12. Hindsight is always twenty twenty.
  13. Broken promises
  14. Write about a person who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing
  15. First love

There are some interesting nuggets in there, don’t you think?  Who knows, I may be able to work one into my current work in progress.  There’s nowhere in my rules that says it has to be a completely new piece of work.

Thanks for dropping by – and happy writing.

Writers’ Prompts.  A limitless supply of story inspiration

When no choice is the right choice

I started my writing career as a short story writer.  As soon as my stories started selling in significant numbers  I realised it was no good sitting around waiting for the ideas for my next stories to come to me.  I had to go out and find them.

I read every how to book I could get my hands on that contained advice on how to get ideas.  One of the methods I liked most was the use of writing prompts.

But the problem with prompts for me was that I spent way too much time reading through them until I found one that ‘spoke’ to me and inspired me to start writing.

I was doing it the wrong time around.

I’m a Libran and find the whole process of decision making a nightmare. Also by introducing the element of choice, I was using the analytical side of my brain to find the prompt that appealed to me.  But, in doing so, the analytical side was overriding the creative side.

All that changed when I discovered daily prompts.

A daily prompt can be anything – a proverb, a quotation, a book title, a fact, an anniversary  or merely a phrase.  I started compiling a list of them, one for each day of the year.  And the time I spent doing this has been repaid over and over again.

The important thing about daily prompts is that they remove the element of choice from the process.  Instead, you take whatever prompt is set for that day and get writing before the analytical part of your brain kicks in.

So I tried it and, to my surprise, it worked. It’s still working.  And it will work for you, too.

So what do you need?

Ready to give it a try?  This is what you’ll need.

  • a list of prompts (see below)
  • A notebook
  • A pen that you enjoy using
  • An open mind

These are not set in stone (apart from the open mind).  By all means, write on a computer, or even your phone, if you prefer.  Or on the back of supermarket receipts, cereal packets or fancy notebooks.  Whatever takes your fancy.  Use a gold fountain pen, or a ‘free’ pencil from Ikea.

Having said that, I believe it’s important to honour your craft.  You’re a writer and proud of it.  And consequently, you owe it to yourself to use that special notebook with the kitten on the cover, or the picture of your favourite team.  And if you enjoy writing in purple ink, or love the feel of a roller ball as it glides across smooth, thick paper, then go for it.  Do whatever makes you feel good.  Indulge yourself.  Have a good time.  Because you’re about to let your inner child out to play. And your inner child is worth it.

Next, take the prompt for whatever day of the week it happens to be (no peeking at tomorrow or yesterday) and start writing.

I’m writing this on 16th March and the prompt for that day, as you will see below,  is  ‘The Fool on the Hill’  OK, so you don’t want to write about this?  I can’t say I did either.  Then start by saying so.  Start writing about why you don’t want to write about it rather than thinking about it. Just sit down and write.  Don’t stop to go back and read what you’ve written.  Or to correct spellings or typos. The important thing is that you just keep going and keep the analytical side of your brain out of the way while you do so.

When do you stop?

Sometimes I do a timed ten minutes or whatever time I have to spare.  Other times (and this has proved the most productive) I’ll keep writing until I get that ‘buzz’ that tells me I have the beginnings of a story. Or the characters come alive and start telling me their stories. And that’s what keeps me in love with writing.

These prompts aren’t meant to be used every day, although if you can come up with a different story every day for a month then respect to you.  But it’s not something I could do because sooner or later you’re going to have to stop playing and settle down to do the tricky stuff.

In his brilliant “On Writing”  Steven King, writing about finding ideas says” “Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognise them when they show up.”  But recognising what makes an idea worth developing into a story is something I’ll explore in another post. At this stage, you’re still scrabbling around in the recesses of your mind for those very ideas.

To sum up, then, the most important thing about these daily prompts is that you don’t have to stop and think what you are going to write about.  That decision is taken for you. (Great news for us Librans!)

I’m writing this on  March 16th and today’s prompt is “The fool on the hill”.

Go on, then. What are you waiting for?   I will if you will. …….

My Fool on the Hill  (warts, bad handwriting and all)

WritersNotebook
March 16th. Fool on the hill

I wrote:

The fool on the hill is today’s prompt and it’s not something I want to write about because all that’s going through my mind at the moment is the Beatles’ song and if I am not careful I’m just going to end up writing down the words of the song.

The man with the foolish grin is sitting perfectly still.  See?  I’m doing it.  Why is the man sitting perfectly still?  And why the ‘foolish’ grin?  Why not one of those grins that are infectious?  Like a happy labrador?

Charlie Masterson couldn’t stop smiling. He sat on the bench at the top of the hill without moving.  Just sitting there, thinking.  And smiling.  He tried several times to think of something that made him sad like maths or Man U losing in the last minute.  But it was no good.  Back would pop that smile again.

Now when I started this I didn’t know I was going to write about a child. But there he is, little Charlie Masterson.  Sitting alone at the top of the hill, smiling.  I’m not sure I want to write about a teenager though.  I think Charlie is much younger (although what is he doing alone on that hill?) and that he knows a secret that he’s bursting to share. But can’t.

…..

I could go on.  I probably will because I want to know about Charlie and his secret.  Maybe it will turn out to be one of those stories that are based on misunderstandings.  I love the way young children can so easily get hold of the wrong end of the stick when they’re trying to make sense of the crazy world of adults.  And I really want to know Charlie’s story, so watch this space.

So, are you up for the challenge?  Just remember, no picking and choosing.  Go with whatever comes up for the day.

March prompts.

As I’m posting this half way through the month of March, I am setting out prompts from March 17th, starting, obviously, with the Fool on the hill.

16.The fool on the hill

17. St. Patrick’s Day. Keeping a promise

18. The ugly duckling

19. This is what happens when someone doesn’t listen properly.

20. Out of sight, out of mind.

21. ‘A host of golden daffodils’. (W. Wordsworth)

22. Crocodile tears.

23. Being inappropriately dressed. (Eg Batman and Robin in Fools and Horses)

24. ‘How sharper than a serpent’s tooth/Is it to have a thankless child’. (Shakespeare’s King Lear)

25. Write about a Saturday night.

26. You’re in a cafe, the door opens and ….

27. Living a lie.

28. Publish and be damned.

29. The anniversary of the first London Marathon, 1981

30. ‘He had something of the night in him’ (Anne Widdecombe)

31. It’s 2.30am and sleep is a long way off.

Next month, I’ll post the entire month of April.

I’d love to hear which, if any, you used.

Where do writers get their ideas from?

How asking the right question led me to a job that’s lasted ten years …. and counting.

There’s so much good advice out there for writers it’s difficult to know which, if any, to follow.  We’re told to:

  • show don’t tell
  • Write every day
  • Write about what you know.
  • Kill your darlings.
  • Don’t work for nothing

IdeasStore

All good advice.  But sometimes working for nothing can pay off in unforeseen ways.  I’ve just written my 125th column, The Writers’ Idea Store, for the UK writers’ monthly magazine, Writers’ Forum. You do the maths – that’s over ten years!  (I have to pinch myself sometimes).  In that time I’ve written approximately 103,750 words – and I still haven’t run out of things to write about.

So where did I get the idea for The Idea Store from?

For many years I was a regular attendee at the wonderful Writers’ Holiday at Caerleon, a place where I made so many good friends and happy memories. (Writers’ Holiday is still going although it is now held at Fishguard.)

Apart from all the great courses and workshops (not to mention the amazing food)  they also held what they called After Tea Sessions, where people volunteered to give a talk (unpaid, of course) on a subject of their choice.

I was just beginning to sell my short stories at that time (thanks to a brilliant short story course I’d attended the previous year given by the lovely Lynne Hackles) so I thought I’d have a go at an After Tea talk. It was the first time I’d ever done any public speaking and thankfully quite a few people turned up, so I wasn’t talking to an empty room.  The subject of my talk was: Where do short story writers get their ideas from?

To prepare for it I contacted every short story writer I knew (and some I didn’t know) and asked them that same question.  I got such a good response that I ended up with enough material to give a whole week of talks!

When I got home, my copy of Writers’ Forum was waiting for me.  As I read it, I realised I could use all the material from my Caerleon talk and make it into an article.  Which I duly did.

Only, as I wrote, I realised I had enough material for more than one article.  So I wrote the first article and with the covering letter suggested I could maybe do a series  on the subject.

The editor, Carl Styants, thought my Idea Store sounded a good idea and that he’d see how it went.  And ten years later, it’s still going. Only now, I don’t just ask short story writers the dreaded question, but novelists, feature writers, poets.  Published or unpublished.  Everyone has a story to tell.  And most are happy to share it.

My little 40 minute unpaid talk paid off with a job that’s lasted over ten years – and still counting.  And whilst it hasn’t earned me a fortune, it’s a steady income and I’ve met some lovely people along the way.

Where did I get the idea for the title from?

I’ve now written over 400 short stories, serials and articles and having to think up titles for them all has been challenging at times. Sometimes I come up with one I’m really happy with, only to find the editor’s changed it.  I still smart at the memory of the short story with the title Here Comes Batman! that was changed to Oi! Boy Wonder! Other titles appear as if by magic.  My first published story was entitled Angels on Oil Drums, still one of my favourite titles.

But I have best selling author Neil Gaiman to thank for my Idea Store title.  Because when asked the dreaded “Where do you get your ideas from?” question, one of his replies was “From a little ideas shop in Bognor Regis.”

And that was it. Wouldn’t it be great, I asked myself, if there really was an  Idea Store – the writers’ one stop shop?  And if you think that sounds vaguely like a certain well known furniture store, that is purely coincidental.

The format of the column has changed slightly over the years and I now include a Fiction Square which is very popular.  (More about that in a future blog post).  But mostly, it’s about me asking every writer I meet that most irritating of questions:

Where do you get your ideas from?

And if you ever feel like answering it, regarding your own work and would like to be featured in a future Idea Store, please get in touch.  I’d love to hear from you.  Either leave a comment below or contact me at ideastore@writers-forum.com