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Sheila 01823 67 28 46

Valerie 01884 84 04 22

Tuesday 31 May 2011

Definition of a Freelance Writer

'The freelance writer is a person who is paid per piece, or per word, or perhaps.'

Robert Benchley (1889 – 1945)

Friday 27 May 2011


The moth ate words
leaving them undigested.
The Church grew like a prison
strangling the word, the delicate candle
sinking in the dusk with the sun.
Now, the ether is full of electronic words,
no one understands.

The moth slept for years
and its wings were crushed into
the ground by plodding boots.

© Valerie Taylor
All rights reserved

Tuesday 24 May 2011

Surprise! I’m going to be in your book!

In writing fiction, few things are as discombobulating as a surprise character.  You spend all this time and energy mapping out your story, putting the characters in their proper places, and then, at some point during the writing process, an unfamiliar personality appears and demands a role.  You are then faced with a dilemma.  Do you let the character take the stage, or do you simply bypass him or her and continue writing the story as you originally planned?  The answer:  it depends.
The rule of thumb is that if a character (or a scene) helps to move the story forward, adds necessary depth to it, or contributes an unexpected twist (as long as the twist serves to further and/or add texture to the story) he or she can stay.  However, if the character doesn’t have any place except to show off his or her talents as a fictional being, you will probably need to cut them out.  The question then, is how do you know whether or not the character belongs in the story.  This is where writer’s intuition, a good sense of story, and a little sound judgment come into play. 
I don’t believe any character should ever be dismissed entirely.  Sometimes, characters are speaking to you from the future (as in a book that has yet to be written) and will fit perfectly into a different story. These characters are jumping the gun, overly excited by their own existence, and don’t yet realize that their time hasn’t come yet.  Other times, a character is speaking to you from the past (as in a former character, probably in disguise, who doesn’t feel he or she got a fair shake the first time around.)  These guys often need to either be dismissed, or altered enough that they are unrecognizable from one book to the next.  Good characters, like good actors, should be dexterous enough that they can adapt to and blend into different storylines while still retaining their believability.  Resurrecting old characters under different names is a custom that, although common enough, can only go so far. After a while, your characters will become stale and predictable.
When I was writing The White Room, my first surprise character was Aunt Mimi (this was before I started calling my mentor “Mimi”, by the way).  Aunt Mimi just appeared and in true diva style, demanded the floor.  I was terribly unseasoned then and never even questioned her existence.  As it turned out, Aunt Mimi went on to lend the story some much needed comic relief in those earlier scenes.  Later, in the same book, when Kendra Howell appeared, my mentor told me to stop and consider her place in my story before writing her out.  I was torn because while I didn’t feel Kendra had a very large part, my instinct told me that what little role she was going to play would be an important one.  I didn’t feel attached to Kendra like I did some of the other players but I couldn’t escape the sense that she had something of value to contribute.  After some deliberation, I decided to follow through with my instinct and let this surprise character play her part.  As it turned out, I was right.  Although Kendra’s role was a miniscule one in terms of presence and dialogue, she ended up being the answer to a serious hitch in my storyline.  As was Sir Purrcival (another unexpected presence in The White Room), my main characters irritating and ever-present pet cat.
The same thing has happened in An Evil Heart, the book I am currently working on (and close to being finished with!) with my friend and mentor, Kim Williams-Justesen.  As Aunt Mimi did in The White Room, a character simply known as The Thinning Man appeared in the first scene of An Evil Heart.  I wrote him and then dismissed him as nothing more than a passing face that would populate and add a little color to the book. But all along, I was unable to ignore the haunting suspicion that he had a more important role than giving my main character someone to talk to in that first scene.  As the story has developed, The Thinning Man has become crucial to the story as my main characters greatest enemy and ultimate downfall.
Also, in An Evil Heart, there have been characters that showed up, been written, and finally, been decided against and deleted.  Such was the case with Julia, a girl who felt important but ultimately contributed nothing to the story.  Maybe one day, Julia will reappear somewhere else, but as for An Evil Heart, she will not be found in the final draft at all. 
Often times, surprise characters like to show up right before or shortly after the leave of another more important character.  In An Evil Heart, a guy named Damien showed up right before my main characters best friend Brytt exited the story.  Damien felt very important but in truth is no more than an extension of Brytt; Damien is the materialized result of my reluctance to say goodbye to Brytt.  Damien had to be stopped. Now he only occupies a negligible slice in the overall life of the story.  But Damien is significant to me, because his appearance was the first one I recognized for what it was before I wrote him out, and that is a step in the right direction.  One day, I will give Damien his just dues and allow him his own story, so long as, of course, he isn’t so much like his predecessor Brytt that he smudges my style :) .
Yet another irritating way in which characters can annoy the ever-loving bejeesus out of a writer is to deviate from the plan.  These characters already exist and are a part of the story, but they are rebels and will absolutely refuse to play the role you’ve cast them in.  As it is with surprise characters, handling rebellious characters requires intuition and storyline management.  When I was writing The White Room, a character I’d created named Winter went a completely different route than I’d intended.  He was supposed to be a bad guy.  He refused.  I threatened to delete him.  He said, “Go ahead.  See what happens…”  I tried forcing him to be deceptive and nasty.  He laughed at me.  (I realize how crazy this all sounds by the way, but personifying these characters here is the best way I can illustrate the strange nature of this process; bear with me.)  When I finally accepted that Winter would not be swayed, the story began to take a new shape.  A better shape.  “Look,” Winter said to me (after I’d agreed to have a cup of coffee with him), “if you’ll let me do this instead of that, I promise you won’t be sorry.”  I’m just kidding,of course.  That never really happened.  Winter hates coffee.  He prefers fresh blood. :)
By letting Winter have his way though, a few different things happened.  First, the story got tighter and more compelling.  And second, Winter became one of my favorite characters of all time, despite his refusal to follow the rules.  So, personally, I am all for letting the characters have their own voices… for the most part. 
The key then, is to recognize what can stay and what must go, and that key can only be found in the use of sound judgment and the observance of intuition.  Either way, it’s entirely up to the writer.  Some will tell you that must listen to your characters without question.  Others will say you must never, under any circumstances, let a character control the story. Myself, I’m somewhere in the middle. Personally, I look forward to meeting more surprise characters and seeing what they have to say… as long as it’s something I need to hear.

Monday 23 May 2011

5 Tips for Writing Fiction (from Writing Companion)

Writers of the top 10 writing blogs (as judged by selectors connected to the blog Write to Done) were recently asked to provide their best writing tip. Selecting and combining what I found useful and adding my own thoughts, I have come up with 5 helpful tips for writers of fiction.
  1. Write YOUR story.

    Write ‘the story you were born to write.’ But how do you go about finding your story?
    Consider your interests and dislikes, your particular background, your dominant values and beliefs. Pay attention to the kinds of books you like reading, especially the ones you keep and reread. Then consider how to combine your interests. If your bookshelves are filled with historical books about ancient Egypt, collections of horror stories, and books that tie in with your passion for silver collecting, imagine how you could blend  these topics to create a story.
    Discovering a unique perspective ensures that you do not fall into the trap of copying others. Janet Evanovich broke new ground when she moved into crime writing and created a refreshingly different sleuth. She made her character, Stephanie Plum, a novice rather than an expert. Not the usual hard-boiled, lone detective, Stephanie is a romantic who enjoys being part of a normal (well, maybe not!) and loving family. By going beyond the familiar, Evanovich created a successful niche in this genre.
  2. Keep inspiring yourself.

    Every month, my photography club sets a topic for a photo. Having a topic encourages me to brainstorm ideas and try out ways to respond to it. If I didn’t have the topic, I probably would never get my camera out and experiment.
    Looking for inspiration is just as important when writing. As you go about your day, jot down ideas—things that happen to you, topics you read about, overhear, sense, think. Try brainstorming these ideas and experiences to consider possibilities for developing a story.
    When award-winning writer Christos Tsiolkas happened to glance in the interior of a laundromat, he had an inspiration, an image of  ‘a middle-aged man trying to find coins for the detergent dispenser’. The result was a published short story, ‘The Dawn Service’.
  3. Find more arrows for your writing bow.

    One of the exciting but frustrating aspects of being a writer is that writing helps you discover what you really want to develop in your work. By grappling with your material, you learn more about writing—different ways to reshape and strengthen your stories.
    The skills you gain as you write function as additional strings to your writing bow, but I tend to think of them as arrows. While in New Guinea, a tribesman presented me with his working bow and set of arrows, each arrow made for for hunting a particular prey. Does it help to think of your writing skills in a simlar way, each one having a specialised purpose that you know?
  4. Focus on readers first, then go for perfection.

    No fictional work is perfect; some of the best stories have minor problems in plot or style.  Stig Larsson’s famed Girl with Dragon Tattoo trilogy has some long boring bits. Did I stop reading because of these problems? Definitely not because the overall story was gripping.
    Eventually you need to perfect your story—but the first draft is not the time to do this. As you start your draft, focus on readers. Think about what you want to tell them and how you imagine them reacting as they read your material. Keep focused on the bond your story will build between you and readers.
    If you edit and redraft prematurely, you run the risk of what one blogger called analysis-paralysis, where you begin doubting your story and perhaps even your writing ability.
  5. Establish a consistent routine.

    A doable writing routine—it’s what many of us try to develop and maintain. For some writers, the routine means writing at a certain time each day or establishing regular periods during the week. For others, the sense of routine may be something completely different but workable.
    More difficult than starting a routine for writing is keeping it up.  I should know—I’m having some rooms painted, which means that I cannot get to my desk easily, and the solitude and writing time I’m used to has temporarily vanished.
    Even though it is difficult, try to keep your writing habit going. I was taken with one blogger’s advice:  The only person who can make your writing a priority is you.
    Are there things you could change in your life in order to bring your writing to the fore—and keep it there?
    originally posted at Writing Companion

Imagine this:

One hundred and twenty-eight Frogs on horseback, riding over the water.
Clogs clatter on wood as the sea creaks and cracks.
As they reach their destination, the Senior Frog cries out 'O La,'
And a Saw Bones looks out, surprised to see these brightly dressed Frogs 
so far from the shore
The year is 1795.

© Penny Smale
All rights reserved

Charles Mozin's Capture of the Dutch Fleet
For more information about this extraordinary event at the end of the French advance into the Netherlands in the winter of 1795-5 see French Cavalry Defeats Dutch Fleet?


But For Me, her breasts would sag, her eyes would squint to see,
     Her hair, lie lank and thin, her shoulders hunch.

But For Me, her teeth would loosen and fall out, her neck would crease,
     Her memory would fail and her nails would become hardened claws.

But for Me!

© Penny Smale
All rights reserved


I am a shape-shifter
And ubiquitous as daffodils in spring.

I fizz with delight
When united with my friendly foe
Who, after many couplings,
Will destroy me.

I am cheap, yet much prized
For without me,
You would be diminished.

Drop me
And I could prove to be
Your downfall.

© Gill Dunstan
All rights reserved


You'd be surprised to learn
It took
About three years to eat this book.
Why is it that my slow digestion
Absorbs the text,
But not the question?

© William Botley
All rights reserved

A Riddle

There once was a fellow named Liddle
Who needed to go for a widdle
He pulled down his fly
He shouted oh, my!
Cuz the dribble he saw was not piddle.

(And a clean version!)

There once was a fellow named Riddle
Who played on a very fine fiddle
His fingers were fast
His music a blast
But all that he played was a twiddle.

© Caroline Nicholson
All rights reserved


He has plundered
the dark, hidden conditions
prevalent in my compilation
of assorted yarns.

Without having any regard
for what I planned to make
(the intricate delicate stories,
I should have deftly woven)
an unobtrusive thief
has converted the threads
of my narratives into nourishment.

My stash is in pieces.

© Sophia Roberts
All rights reserved

Three miles from Macclesfield’s roundabouts and despite the Great Warning–Off in 1989...

Emptying his Tangoed glove box, he noticed a lamb writhing on its side, plastic contorting its frothing mouth.
 “Something should be done,” he muttered.
The blue Fiesta sporting the logo Gubretti L drove off.

© Tim Scott
All rights reserved


Question 3. See figure 2. Train A leaves station X at 8:45 travelling westward. Train B leaves station Y at 9:20 travelling eastward on the same track. Given that the standard speed on the line is 60 mph, at what time will they collide? Take into account the following factors: the driver of train A had three cups of coffee this morning and enjoys the hillside views; the driver of train B fell in love last night; the signal keeper at point Z got new binoculars for his birthday.

© R. Rushforth
All rights reserved

Sunday 22 May 2011

Ten Top Tips For Creative Ideas


1) Dreams
Not necessarily the whole thing, but an aspect from a dream that stays with you when you wake. Keep a dream journal — that will give you a place to go when you’re looking for things to put in a piece of writing. Try this even if you usually have boring dreams. Sometimes paying attention to your dreams stimulates them to become more vivid.

2) The news
Yes it can be distressing, but you will find it can also provide ideas for stories and images for poems. Whether it is on tv or in the papers try using a real life incident and writing a ‘what if’ version of it that turns the situation on its head.

3) Soaps
Really? Well, yes, just look at their plots lines or a specific character and how it might work in a different setting or context for you.

4) Listening
I love cafes, or the deck of a ship, because you get to hear all sorts of odd snippets of conversation between other people. Maybe one line of dialogue will inspire you, or part of an overheard phone call can help you imagine what the other half of the conversation is all about. Wherever you are look at it as a chance to collect material.

5) Visual Sparks
A picture is worth a thousand words, or at least enough to be the basis of a short story. A picture can be the spark for a whole story, or a whole series of poems. Take a famous one, like the Arnolfini Wedding, and write about what happened before that moment in the painting – or what happened at the reception afterwards.

6) Other People’s Words
Go to a large newsagent and browse the specialist magazine racks. From chicken keeping to model cars you will find features that could spark a story – maybe a chicken coop designed like a model car that the owner has spent five years building? If you never read gossip magazines, do so and make up a story that is even more improbable than Paris Hilton‘s ability to stay out of jail.

7) Your favourite book
What is the plot idea? Take it and shake it and rewrite it – change the setting, the period, the main characters sex or religion.

8) Your least liked book
You must have had one at some point that you abandoned or threw across the room – well use it as a template and make it better. If you railed against the stupid hero, rewrite him, or if the plot had more holes than a colander then plug them.

9) Movies
Take the elements of the current blockbuster and make it personal to you. What element of any Disney movie, or war film, could you take and build into a unique story of your own?

10) Music
Music stirs the soul, and the memory. Put on an old nostalgic track and take yourself back to that point in time. Write about who you were then and what with hindsight you might have done differently. Or, put on a piece of abstract music – classical or jazz – with no lyrics and see what story unfolds as you listen.

Sunday 1 May 2011

Don’t Explain. Express.

There is a fundamental adage that most writers learn when starting out called ‘Show Don’t Tell’. 
Instead of telling your reader that the character was, say, angry, you write a scene that give them the opportunity to fling plates and throw punches. Instead of saying something was scary, you create a situation that fills the reader with fear.

Applying this advice makes passages of writing that are dull, leaden, secondhand, opinionated, even painful, immediately take wing.

Readers don’t like to be told; they’re far more connected and appreciative when they’re engaged in working out what’s going on for themselves.

As in writing, so in life. When we focus on voicing or demonstrating our own needs, joys or challenges, instead of taking the easier way of telling or judging or persuading others, we find actions, experiences and relationships that felt dull, leaden, secondhand, opinionated, even painful, suddenly take wing.

Don’t explain, express.

Orna Ross: Go Creative! It's Your Native State.