Observing Social Distance. Doing Things Virtually.

Empty supermarket shelves in Sainsburys
Creative Commons Licence

We in the western world have never seen the like of Coronavirus and it seems that one of our coping strategies is to talk, talk, write, write about it.  I see online, and from casual conversation, that many would-be writers are announcing that they will use their enforced idleness to do some proper writing.  I wonder if they will.

NanoWriMo writers are invited to share their activities on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and Nano are also launching a Young Writers’ Program.  It looks interesting.

Also there’s the Uplifting Stories for Crazy Times group on Facebook.  This is a ‘private’ group, only visible to members, and I’m not sure who is eligible to join, but the stories are wonderfully light-hearted and do lift morale.

Me, seeing as all my work streams have now dried up, I’ve signed up to, and have started doing (is this the right word?) the Curtis Brown Creative Weekly Workout.  It’s definitely not a writing course, but an opportunity to work writing exercises on your own, with the guidance of someone with experience in publishing.  (If you want personal feedback, you pay £35 for each piece.)  The first thing I’ve done – today – is free-writing for 15 minutes, without being allowed to go back and correct or edit.  (Well, I did edit a bit.  I couldn’t help myself.)  Next I write about an object I’ve come across while decluttering.

Finding the time is the thing.  You’d think that with no work I’d have LOADS of time.  That’s what I  thought, Dear Reader, but … there’s putting content on to our church website… storing and acknowledging entries to the Association of Christian Writers Flash Fiction competition…  window-cleaning… talking to daughter and son on FaceTime and on WhatsApp video…. and just writing to people.  I mean, friends, family, those I go to church with.  Our church is running an email stream entitled ‘Coffee Time’ in which we share the little humdrum things of our days, what make the world go round.  Never have I written and received so many emails, texts and WhatsApp messages.

Tim Berners Lee, inventor of internet
Attrib https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/day-the-web-was-born/

It’s like all our conversations are being carried out online.  Where are those whingers who moan about ‘sochal medja’ now?  It’s a life-saver even for us who have it easy and are just ‘staying at home’.  Boris allows us out only to do ‘essential shopping’, walk a dog (which we don’t have – our cat is too lazy to go out anyway!) and to exercise (close to our homes – not driving miles to the Peak District as a couple of walkers famously did yesterday). For people who have the virus and are in hospital and for people in care homes, it’s much more than that.

A few nights ago, people in the UK raised a round of applause for its health workers.  Let’s also do a Like – on whatever medium you wish – for Tim Berners-Lee for inventing the internet.  Otherwise, we’d be climbing up the wall.  I’m starting a Twitter thread now.  Find me.  My Twitter handle is @REJohnsonWriter.

ACW Flash Fiction CompetitionAnd don’t forget the Association of Christian Writers Flash Fiction Competition.  Closing date this coming Tuesday.

The Pest

I’m borrowing Albert Camus’s title because a blogger friend of mine in Los Angeles managed to get in first with the one I wanted to use for this post.  (Fortunately, titles are not copyright.)  Life (and love) in the times of Coronavirus was written by CampariGirl just a week ago, and I read it thinking how events in LA chimed with what’s going on here in the UK.  Now we’re a week further on, and deeper and deeper into this horrible mire.  I have just finished speaking on Facebook Video with friends in Texas and, yesterday, with my son and girlfriend in Seville.  We are all stuck at home, wondering how long we will have to remain, and wondering where and how we’ll find groceries.

At the current time, there are 5,683 in Britain with 281 people having died so far (https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/#countries – accessed 22 March 2020).  Last week, we were getting ready to fly to Seville to visit our son, but, on the Friday before we were scheduled to go, he rang us to say that the whole country was closing down and being put on a ‘state of alarm’, which rapidly changed to a ‘state of emergency’.  We managed to ‘move’ our flights to October (thank you, Ryanair) and the hotel where we were intending to stay did not charge us.  In the later part of this week, we’ve seen on television British Ex-Pats desperately to get ‘home’ and considering themselves lucky to find seats on British Airways for £1000 a pop.

Meanwhile, our lives are becoming smaller day by day.  Last Monday,  having told my employer that I was not in Spain, I was given three days’ invigilation work, because many of the other invigilators are over seventy and self-isolating.  I mixed, as usual, with colleagues and candidates, although we were cleaning the computers and the desks with antiseptic wipes between candidates.  On the Thursday, we were organising the exam room, placing the exam desks a column apart as they waited, 200 of them, cheek by jowl in the corridor.  Now the college is closed, until after Easter at the earliest.  Schools have also closed.  Over painful telephone conversations with our daughter, we came to realise that we would not be allowed to look after our grandchildren while she and son-in-law worked (as we had expected to do).  Last Sunday we attended church as usual, but today my husband and I watched a streamed service – from our church and our own vicar – on Facebook.  Over the last few days, I have spent a lot of time building a new ‘Sunday’ page for the church website, answering church emails and posting on church matters on Facebook.  Yesterday and today, we have taken walks in the countryside, but I wonder how long we will be able to do even that.  Boris is advising us to avoid all unnecessary social contact.

Nobody is to blame for all this.  It is tragic and we will have to manage best we can, but what really upsets me is the extent of panic-buying in this country.  It is totally unnecessary, and people who have held back are now at a disadvantage.  No toilet roll – why?  No flour, of any sort.  No eggs, not even from people who sell them outside their front gates.  No fresh veg – a bit of a problem for vegetarians like me, not even from organic fruit and veg delivery companies… not even for regular customers like myself. The trouble is empty – and emptying – shelves make us more anxious and set off a chain reaction.

As for writing, I haven’t done any.  I admire anyone who can while all this is going on.  Nevertheless, there are competitions out there for the focused and strong-minded – see Write In Time.  And, of course, the Association of Christian Writers Flash Fiction comp has just nine days to go.  Just write an entry 300 words and a £25 book token might be yours.  You would also be published in Christian Writer, with a circulation of 700.  Do give it a go.

Writer Insecurity and Personal/Family Traditions

Insecure Writers Support Group badge
ISWG badge

Insecure Writers’ Support Group day comes around quickly, doesn’t it?  Me, I’m okay… swallow… yes, okay.  See the last few posts, Dear Reader.  I’ve had a few acceptances for short stories and flash, a short-listing (but not a place) and I didn’t win a comp.  Onwards and upwards.  Swallow!  I find the whole writing and submitting process so emotional.

This month our optional question is:  Other than the obvious holiday traditions, have you ever included any personal or family traditions/customs in your stories?

This question immediately set me off on what we’re not supposed to mention – holidays.  Our only family traditions are not really traditions at all.   The first one is that we pack everything up, check air tickets and passports, get in the car and on the road, then remember something crucial.  One year, as we drove off, my son (then primary school age) asked when we would return home, and I answered, “When we remember something we’ve forgotten, darling’ – and, sure enough, we turned around almost immediately after that conversation.

Cat on cushions
My cat sitting on cushions, like Princess and the Pea.

More recently, we – almost- forgot our swimsuits for a two and half week trip to India.  The second is that, after about a hundred miles, we wonder where the cat was when we left.  Is she locked in somewhere?  Stuck in the garage, for instance?  Frantically, we ring neighbours to check.

Regarding other traditions, such as Christmas and Easter, this question has made me wonder if I have subconsciously included our family customs.  For instance, on Christmas Day, we go to church, prepare and serve a lunch of turkey (not me – I have veggie alternative), roast potatoes and brussel sprouts, followed by Christmas pudding, listen to Queen’s Speech and then open presents.  Part of me says… well… doesn’t everybody do it that way?

When I was writing The Novel, the narrative didn’t include Christmas or Easter, but I mention Poles celebrating Wigilia starting on 6 December – difficult for me to get my head around.  A friend at my writing group yesterday read out a very illuminating travel writing piece about celebrating Christmas in Sweden.  In the past, I’ve been invited by Muslims to meals after sundown during Ramadan.  When we were on holiday in India we talked extensively to our (Christian) guide about courtship and weddings and what he described could not be more different to what we do in the western world.   As writers we need to be aware of how other people do things and research them properly, if we are to be authentic as writers.

Hope this is not too preachy.  I may have gone off the subject a bit!

Novel Writing is So Hard

Well, isn’t it?

In the summer I’d entered The Novel into the Historical Writers Association & Sharpe Books Unpublished Novel Award.  I didn’t expect to win – and don’t hold your breath – I didn’t.  They published their long list last week.  But – the big but – the reader delivered feedback (all part of the entry fee), from which it was clear that he/she had read my book properly.  He/she even commented on the ending.  The feedback was presented as a classic praise sandwich, and, of course, I didn’t enjoy the bits in the middle, but I felt my work was taken seriously.  I would recommend this competition to other historical novelists.

He/she said that the story took a long time to get going.  I agree with this.  I battled with this issue from the moment I started writing… and I’m struggling with the same issue in my next novel.  He/she also commented that ‘Feel much of the narrative relies on dialogue rather than dramatic action’, which is interesting, and something I hadn’t seen myself.  Yes, there was a lot of dialogue, but to my mind heightened tension or a reveal is most likely to arise out of conversations between characters.   These are just some of his/her comments by the way.  He/she finished off with ‘Obviously an experienced fluent writer.’  Well, I can accept that bit.

They are also offering me telephone feedback (as part of the comp deal), but I have held back.  When I first saw their email, I felt too emotional to ring them.  You invest so much into a novel and I had to process the initial feedback first, but even after several days I don’t see how I could change the bits he/she felt were inadequate.  It’s as if I’ve wrung everything out of that novel and those characters.  I WILL ring them…

I’ve also got The Novel with another publisher.  It’s been there for several weeks, so I suppose I will have to get on to them soon.

Also… another also… I submitted a piece to a well known (and well-regarded) flash fiction site in July through Submittable and I haven’t heard back from them.  On the site it suggested that if I hadn’t heard in three months, I should contact them at a given email address, and I have done this twice, and not heard back from them.  Submittable shows the story to be ‘In Progress’.

How It’s Never Safe to Boast

Frog waving rattle.I’m thrilled to report that The Mummy Track appears on the home page of Fiction on the Web as we speak.  It actually went up last Monday, so forgive me for coming into this late… but we’ve had the grandchildren since Saturday.   You can’t do much with a six year old and a three year old in your house.  They need taking out, and entertaining, and they’re not very good at going to bed.  Right now, I’m sitting in my living room with my cat standing on my knee and my grandson lying beside me, his head resting on my hips.  All we grandparents are fit for when they eventually sleep is flopping down in a chair… only briefly though, because we have to take ourselves off to bed early because said grandchildren wake at 6ish.

Hmm.  Write On is a writing blog, so let’s go back to what it’s supposed to be about.  On Monday, when The Mummy Track came out, I posted a link to my story on Facebook and Twitter, using my iPhone, in between clearing up after lunch and getting ready to go to the next children’s event.  (‘Making Flamingo Plates’, it was.)  Being of the generation for whom ‘showing off’ was the worst thing you could do, I feel very self-conscious about doing this, but, to my delight and amazement, my face-to-face, non-writing friends read my story and liked/commented.  They are truly amazing and supportive.  And one writing friend shared my Facebook and Twitter posts – thank you, Allison.

I’ve had another story accepted, in a magazine I’ve been hoping to find favour with for some time, so I started this post feeling pretty chuffed.  Over the last few months I’ve been going through stories sitting doing nothing in my short story folder and sprucing them up.  These are mainly things I composed for my writing group and forgot about, because I was writing/editing The Novel.  However I’ve now run through this backlog so I’ll have to write some more stuff.  I’m still reading stories posted daily, weekly and twice-weekly on short story websites and this has influenced how I edit my own work, a lot.

So there I was feeling quite complacent, when, after I started writing this post, I received a rejection.  Brings you back to earth with a jolt, doesn’t it.

Writing Inspired by Pictures

Insecure Writers Support Group logo
Insecure Writers’ Support Group logo

Insecure Writers’ Support Group day already!  January passed by very fast!

This month our optional question is about any picture which has inspired our writing.  Mmm.  Mmm.  In 2011, I wrote a very short piece based upon a photo of a little girl in an advert for the charity, Plan (which works to advance children’s rights and equality for girls).  The story was about someone giving to charity and, rereading it now, it wasn’t too bad.  Every Day Fiction published it (in 2011).

On the more general writers’ insecurity front, in my last post I was documenting subbing The Novel.  One of my selected publishers, the one that didn’t acknowledge my submission, responded to me, saying ‘After careful consideration we are going to pass on this project. We are looking for active writing with a clear hook for readers to want to keep reading. We wish you luck in your writing endeavors.’

It was the ‘after careful consideration’ bit that really got my goat!  The Novel is 90,000 words and they were responding after two days.  They must read very fast.  Of course, I’m not totally naive.  I know that publishers often look at the first few pages, or even less, decide it’s not for them and move on.  I accept that this happens, even though I don’t like it.  I spent years writing that novel and it hurts.  I also accept that my novel may be rubbish and I just can’t see it.  But don’t lie to me, publisher, and don’t mock me.  You didn’t do ‘careful consideration’ , did you?   

Does the writing business have to be so brutal, and so rude?  Would organisations like IWSG be necessary if it wasn’t?  In education, it is very important to be supportive to students, even when their work is very poor.   Why is the world of writing so different?

The Subbing Process

Attrib publicdomainvectors.org

Here be dragons!  Subbing (submitting) pieces of writing to editors and publishers is a minefield of pitfalls.  Sorry about the overload of metaphors but they are necessary.  The standard advice goes along the lines of writers always reading the terms and conditions.  Well, yes, obviously, but easier said than done.  Subbing pieces of writing is stressful, Dear Reader, and, the longer the work, the more stressful it is, and, when you’re stressed, you overlook minutiae in said Ts and Cs.

During last week, I was attempting to send The Novel to publishers.  Just reading publishers’ websites dragged my self esteem down to rock bottom again.  This is intentional!  Publishers are deluged and being unwelcoming  is their attempt to reduce it to a trickle – containing what they think they want, of course.  The unintended result is that only brass-necked authors get their work published.  As I’ve said before, me, I’m a mouse… but there I was reading through a list of publishers who might just be  interested in ‘historical’ and selecting two (for now).  Subbing novels is not like subbing short stories.  First of all, there is the dreaded synopsis, and covering letter, and each publisher wants something different , so it’s not just a question of opening an email and clicking on the paper clip icon.  And the novel itself.  Which font?  What do they want in the header/ footer?  Do they allow formatting?  How wide should the margins be?  Always different.   It is expected that your novel is stored on one file; copying chapters from separate files into one large file challenges most computers’ patience and most writers’ nerves.  Publishers require one chapter, three chapters… any other number… of chapters.

Because one of my destinations didn’t do swearing, last week I used ‘find ’ on Word to remove all swear words and replace with words conveying a similar meaning and emotion… throughout the whole novel, only to discover, when I checked the ts and cs again, that they only wanted three chapters.  What a waste of time!  For this particular publisher, you had to choose the editor most likely to take your novel, so I did, but my email (with three chapters, synopsis and covering letter, edited to their precise requirements) bounced back within seconds as ‘address unknown’.  I tried one of the others, which didn’t bounce, but there was no acknowledgement either.  Not promising!  The other publisher sent me a very pleasant acknowledgement, saying they ‘very much’ looked forward to reading my work.  How lovely!  Please take my book!

Although subbing novels is new to me, I’ve been sending off short stories for well over a decade.  So,  entering a piece to a competition should have been light relief, even though I was doing it on the day of the deadline.  However,  when I attempted to send it, following the instructions on the organiser’s website,  EventBrite told me the comp was already closed.  Very cross, I contacted the organiser, who got back to me almost immediately, suggesting I sent my entry to her email.  Very helpful lady!  But, stressed by all the faffing around, I sent my entry to her with my name on it – something the tcs and cs expressly forbid.  What an idiot I am!  Realising immediately, I sent another version without my name on it, and I hope she’s okay with it.

Moral! If you have problems sending your work, or paying for your entry, contact the competition organiser and ask.  Ditto, if you know you’ve made a mistake, apologise and ask him/her to accept corrected entry. Being a competitions manager myself (for the Association of Christian Writers), I can assure you we are not all monsters..

Writer Feeling More Chuffed

William Shakespeare
(c) Wikimedia William Shakespeare

Having written two posts from rock bottom, I am delighted to report that I have placed two Flash stories over the last few days.  The Bard Was No Ageist appears in 101 Words this morning.  I think the title says all that is needed by way of introduction.  Am feeling more chuffed.

‘The Mummy Track’ will appear on Fiction on the Web on 17 February.   Fiction on the Web post every Monday and Friday – do read the futuristic story from yesterday, by Margret A. Treiber.  It’s written as a court report – an interesting format.  Stories and flash presented in formats other than straight narrative can be very effective, and I believe there is a market for them.  ‘An Important Call’ appeared on CafeLit on 16 January.  (Think I mentioned that already.)

Last week I plucked up the courage to send The Novel to two publishers, who are reputed to take historical fiction.  This took a long time, as the author needs to adjust the synopsis for each publisher, and possibly also the formatting of the text. I will write about this later, as I’m running out of time.

ACW Flash CompetitionI’m currently at the Association of Christian Writers Retreat at High Leigh, Hoddesdon, about to start our long annual committee meeting.  We are running a competition for Flash at the moment.   Do take a pop.  For ACW members, entry is free and for non-ACW members, £3 for first entry and £2 for second.   As usual, the first prize is £25 book token and publication in Christian Writer (circulation 800) and the second prize a £10 book token.  For more information, visit the ACW site.  …Must go.




Rebuilding Writerly Confidence

Kangaroo hopping
attrib pxfuel.com. Kangaroo. Nothing to do with post, just nice to look at.  And thinking of all Australian wildlife during the current bush fires.

After being such a misery guts in my last two posts, I can report that I’m  hanging in here.

Since Christmas I have subbed six pieces, of which three were subbed this weekend.  I have also written two blog posts on here (one for Insecure Writers Support Group day) and a further post for the Association of Christian Writers More Than Writers blog, all about blog hops (IWSG is one, of course).  Click on More Than Writers tomorrow (Monday, 13 January) to read it.  My shortest effort this weekend is probably the most important: a Twitter pitch for my novel, which I will post on Wednesday (15 January), as part of the IWSG novel Twitter pitch.

I had to do all that subbing, Dear Reader, to convince myself that I was still a writer.  And – der der – the big news is that one of my flash fiction pieces, ‘An Important Call’, has been accepted by CafeLit and will appear on Thursday, 16 January – after 4pm, I’m told.  So chuffed, very chuffed, by that.  It’s short.  It’s funny.  Do take a look.

I am also attempting to follow some of my other new year resolutions.  I have placed a moratorium on all seconds at mealtimes, although I did slip up yesterday when we had takeaway curry (my favourite!).  I’m also attempting to take exercise every day, even if it’s just a 30 minute walk around our village.  My husband, who usually organises slightly longer walks, has a bad cold at the moment, but when he is better we will walk for longer, and my friend Julie – who walks further still – has just returned from holiday.  Once a week I am also doing Pilates, which makes my body feel better generally, and especially – let’s get back to writing – my shoulders and neck, which become very stiff from being at the computer.

So hope everyone has a good week.  I have my eyes on deadlines for next week and all through January.  During the first week of February, I will be marking 900 IT exam questions over the course of eight days – a writer has to live,

What Started Me Off Writing

Insecure Writers Support GInsecure Writers Support Group logoInsecure Writers’ Support Group day comes around again.  This month our topic is: what started us off on our writing journey?  Was it a particular book, movie, story or series?  Or a person, like a teacher?  Did we know suddenly that we wanted to be a writer?

As a child,  I loved books and reading.  I enjoyed going to the library, the smell of well-thumbed books, and the quietness.  My favourite author – by far – was Enid Blyton, who wrote 762 books for children – but not enough for me, so I started composing stories in my head when I was nine or ten.  Blyton’s  school stories were my favourites, so I made up extra adventures for the Mallory Towers and St Clare’s characters – fan fiction, if you like.  In the first year of senior school, a lazy English teacher tasked us to write a novel, in an 80-page quarto-sized exercise book.  Most of my class colleagues didn’t know where to start but I did and, barring one or two breaks to do things like getting married and having children and a job where I had to work twenty-four seven, I haven’t stopped since.

From late primary school, it came upon me gradually that writing and being an author was what I really wanted to do  ‘when I grow up’.  I presumed I would indeed become a writer, with publishers queuing up for my honeyed words.  Yeah right!  I have had a few pieces published, fiction and non-fiction, but not – alas – hit the big time.  Yet.

Girl on trapese.
Attrib kissclipart.

Occasionally, I wonder what I would do with my life if I didn’t write.  If you’ve read my previous post, you will see I’m struggling.  I still am struggling, although several bloggers (including our own Ninja Captain Alex Cavanaugh) have been very supportive.   My current status is ‘hanging in there’.