Nothing Much This Week

animated-frog-image-0015Over the last couple of evenings, I’ve just three book reviews for my Dear Reader blog.  I know some of my followers aren’t too bothered by book reviews, but I’d really appreciate it if you would take a look.  Just this once.   The books I reviewed are:

‘Katharina Luther Nun Rebel Wife’ by Anne Boileau.  As you’ve probably worked out from the name and the title, this is a biography of Martin Luther’s wife, but she was quite a girl.

‘American Notes for General Circulation’ by Charles Dickens (his research for Martin Chuzzlewit, btw, and… revealing the identity of the real Eden swamp.)

‘Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death’ by James Runcie.  The first of a series in cosy crime, and, apparently, appearing in a series on ITV.  (How do I miss this sort of thing?  Too busy writing (no, working) to watch telly, that’s what.)  Five more to read.  Bliss.  Plenty of dark winter evenings left.

What I’m saying is that, having written three book reviews, I think I’ve done my duty, and so I’m not posting on this – writing – blog this week.

Enjoy half-term week.




IWSG: What Do I Love About Historical Fiction Genre?

We IWSG-ers are asked, this month, about what we love about the genre we write in most often.  I write modern-historical, what some publishers would call contemporary, stories set in 1970s and 1980s.  According to the Historical Novel Society, a proper historical novel ‘must have been written at least fifty years after the events described’.
You’re expecting me to say the research is the thing I love most, aren’t you, Dear Reader?  But you’d be wrong.  As a history student (a long time ago), I spend three years with my bum on a seat in various libraries around Manchester, researching.  I would often find myself sitting next to one or more of my history honours colleagues, most frequently, next to Anne, who is now a professor of medieval history.  In those days, libraries were supposed to be silent, but we used to chat and giggle… about boys mostly.  So, nowadays, I do my initial research impatiently, wanting to get on with writing the story, and then further research, as required, as I go along.
What I really love about historical fiction is immersing myself in another era.  I love the challenge of writing about people who don’t have all the mod cons we have, how they communicated without computers, for instance.  My lot had telephones… some of the time, when their telecommunications weren’t cut off for political reasons.   I like using contemporary language, referring to contemporary issues and, especially, pop music.  I suppose there is an element of nostalgia in it… which brings me on to another point.  What I have found is that, in writing modern historical, I need a lot of background information about how ordinary people lived their lives.  This is more necessary for me in my modern historical sub-genre than for writers in the proper historical genre, because there are people still alive who lived that life and who would know if I get it wrong.  What I really would like is a library of personal reminisces, written by those people.  Couldn’t we writers write one?
The first Wednesday of every month is Insecure Writer’s Support Group day, when we post on our own blogs, about our doubts and the fears, which we may (or may not) have conquered, our struggles and triumphs.  We also give support and encouragement to each other.

Competition Tips

sad_100Apologies for the many re-blogs over the last few weeks.  Due to work and other commitments, I haven’t had time to compose my own posts.   Since the beginning of January,  I’ve probably written more words than anyone, Dear Reader, but the not right sort of writing.  Together with a lot of other things, I’ve actually produced four worksheets on how to use WordPress to build a website.  I completed the last worksheet last night.   They are for the web development class I’m teaching, but I’m happy to share.

Two weeks ago, I attended the Association of Christian Writers Committee Retreat in Northampton.  The ACW Historical Fiction comp closed to entries on New Year’s Eve and winners have been notified.  We are now working towards the next ACW comp, which will be for journalism.  The launch date is Saturday 10 March, so look out the ACW Competitions page at around that time.  ACW comps are free to ACW members and, for non-members, the fees are only £3 for the first entry and £2 for the second.  Almost free!  We do good prizes too, £25 book token for first prize and £10 for second prize.

If you’re wondering what on earth Psalm 137 is about, look closely at this map!

After the journalism comp, the ACW comps that follow will be:  a piece in any format based upon the first verses of Psalm 137 and then a comp for writing for children.  I understand that some writers are put off entering ACW comps because they don’t feel confident about writing Christian bits.  What I would say is you don’t have to lay it on with a trowel.  Contemporary Christian fiction isn’t like that.

I  thoroughly enjoy being involved in ACW competitions, although my role is organising and administering them, not judging.  I have to find suitable judges, sometimes, although, mostly, my ACW colleagues are good at making suggestions.  The other day, I read a very interesting post on Patsy Collins blog, Words about writing and writing about words, in which another writer, Sheila Crosby, was talking about being a judge of writing comps.  I endorse every bit of advice Sheila gives, with two additions:

  • Check the format required. If the comp asks for play-script or poem, don’t enter a short story on default, as, I’m afraid, a lot of entrants do.
  • Check the file type required. Most comps ask for .doc or .docx (ie Word formats). Me, I’m a nice helpful competition manager, and I will try and rescue works in other formats, but not every comp manager is like me. It is possible to convert from Mac formats and OpenOffice formats to Word format, but this is not always straightforward. If you can’t work it out, query the person running the comp.

Hope to be writing proper posts on schedule from now on.  I’m off now to attempt to finish an article I’ve been trying to write for about three weeks, then to review a couple of books on my Dear Reader blog.

Writing a Novel: Cutting Out The B.S

If you’re writing a novel, this is all very good stuff.

Sorry nothing from me this week. Am awaiting learning observation in… 40 minutes. Very scary! Ask any teacher.

Blog About Writing

The more I try to write a novel, the more I feel like I’m learning to write all over again.

I’ve got until the end of January to get the second draft done and sent off for a critique, so now I’m going through the first draft (which is as rough as a bear’s bum) and:

1. making a list of all the scenes (so many mad ideas! Some to be jettisoned, some to be expanded).
2. sorting out the ‘backstory’ and putting those pages into a pile of their own, clearly (and rather appropriately), labelled ‘BS’.

When I went on a novel-writing weekend last October, I was told in no uncertain terms, that my first 5000 words were (pah!) ‘backstory’ (ie: stuff that comes before the ‘narrative frame’ of the novel) and, it seems, that’s a typical rookie mistake.

Another delegate on the course confided that she’d had to…

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The Last Day of Christmas

Can’t stop long.  Am reading Anne Boileau’s Katharina Luther, Nun Rebel and Wife, which is amazing and I’ve got to finish it for book club on Tuesday afternoon, when the author herself is coming to deliver a talk on Katharina Luther and her book.  Actually we’ve all known Anne for a long time, as a member of the congregation of our neighbouring church and by another name – her real name.  It’s great to read a very local author.

January 2018, Together magazineIn the meantime – and on a much smaller scale – my article on church bookshops (Do We Need Bookstalls Inside Churches?) has been published in the January edition of Together magazine (Together being the journal of CRT (Christian Resources Together), which supports all Christian publishing.)  Of course, one and only husband found a SPAG, a word omitted – my besetting sin, since I started writing stories at junior school.)

Christmas decorations in bags, having been packed up.It is now the end of Christmas.  Today is 6 January, Epiphany, the last of the twelve days of Christmas.  First thing this morning, OOH and I took down the decorations and put the tree outside.  They’re all in bags now, waiting to go into the attic.  I do love watching the Christmas lights on our Christmas tree, but there’s something very refreshing about seeing the house uncluttered by cards and dangling Christmas lights with trailing electric leads.  The days have started getting longer and lighter, really, honestly… well, a bit anyway.  Not so nice is having to prepare my lessons Bags full of teaching materials, ready for work tomorrow.tomorrow.

So, it’s down to work and down to writing… I hope.  Dear Reader, you saw my writing schedule in my previous post.  First thing is I have to write a blog post for the Association of Christian Writers More Than Writers blog for Saturday, 13 January.  However, already every day life is intervening.  I’ve just had to pay £300 on my car.  I took it into my usual garage to get its indicators sorted out, only to be told, by the mechanic, that all my tyres were almost illegal.  Seeing as I will be taking my poor little car to the same garage for its MOT in a couple of months, I had to get it sorted out.  Ouch, says my poor old bank account.  Ouch.  When are you going back to work, it asks, and when are going to be able to feed me again?

Schedule for Writing and Publishing?

Insecure Writers Support Group badge
ISWG badge

The day has come… for the Insecure Writers Support Group.  This month, we are asked what sort of schedule we have in place for writing and publishing.  I sort of alluded to this in my previous post (about New Year Resolutions).  My biggest issue at the moment is that I’m teaching and doing other (paid) jobs, also I’m Competitions Manager for the Association of Christian Writers and involved in leading services and preaching at church.  Contrary to what everybody believes about teachers (‘You get your long holidays, don’t you?’ Snigger, snigger, snigger.  Btw, we don’t.  Not in the adult sector), we work very hard, preparing lessons and doing all the paperwork required by management.  Moreover, although I enjoy my role in the ACW enormously, it does take up a lot of my time, as does what I do in church.  So…. a very crowded life, even though I retired, once, from full-time teaching, and this year I’ve got to think about what has to go.  (Put it another way, what I can afford to go.)

Photo of your blogger.
Me, in author pose.

Last month, I did myself an Author Photo – using the selfie tool on my iPhone (see right).

My schedule so far (not necessarily in this order) is pretty ropey:

  1. Edit The Novel whenever I get a spare moment.
  2. On completion of 1, consider structure of The Novel and re-edit.
  3. Write article on rejection for Christian Writer (already pitched).
  4. Read books in later historical genres.
  5. Read and review books published by Instant Apostle (because I’m in their Facebook group and who knows… they might be interested.)
  6. On completion of 1 and 2, seek an editor (probably seeking advice of someone in ACW).
  7. By 1 November 2018, be in a position to start Nano with a new book!

… And I think that’s enough to be going on with. However ropey my schedule seems to you, Dear Reader, I certainly won’t get around to doing anything more.

Happy New Year… But Spare Me the New Year Target-Setting

I don’t do New Year resolutions.  I have had enough of target-setting at work.

So don’t expect me, today, on New Year’s Eve, when I’m full of mince pies and Christmas cake and busy with family and social activities, to vow to eat less/ do a dry January/ join a gym/ read more/ do more in the garden/ spend more time with the cat… or even to do more writing.

Most targets at work are just bits of paper for your manager to wave in front of his/her manager.  So are too many New Year Resolutions.  Most New Year resolutions would dissolve in the fountain in Trafalgar Square (if we could muster the energy to get off our sofas, take a train to London and jump in).  Come the second week of January, we’ve forgotten about them (unless anyone’s joined a gym, in which case he/she will get an unpleasant reminder every time  receive his/her monthly bank statement).

What’s special about a new year?  If we’re serious about what we do, we consider what we want to achieve carefully and over a longish period of time.  We set our proper goals whenever, in any month, any week.  Most importantly, we give ourselves the necessary tools, because our goals are real and we believe in them.

Cartoon writerI am definitely not doing enough writing.  I’ve posted on ‘From Story Idea to Reader’ Facebook group that I want to finish editing The Novel. Also,  I know I should also be submitting short stories to likely markets.  But, as you know, Dear Reader, I’m visiting The Novel every Thursday (in term-time, anyway) and not submitting any short stories at all.  The tool I need is time.  So… I have got to think about ways to make more time to write.  This is not easy to get my head around and will not come quickly, seeing as a girl has to live as well.   And I want to do my stuff for church and the Association of Christian Writers.  I’m accepting entries for the ACW Historical Fiction competition at the moment, but I’m not promoting it in this post as the deadline is midnight tomorrow.

No quick New Year fix, I’m afraid.  …Maybe I should give up blogging.  It is very time consuming.

When my husband worked in the City, he used to buy the Private Eye annual every year and get it signed by Ian Hislop, in Waterstones.  Says my husband, “Well, Ian, another year.”

“Yes,” replies Ian Hislop.  “Another year, another pair of underpants.”

(And that’s a true story.)

Help Me Raise £250 For The Dogs Trust By Leaving Me A Link To Your Blog

Even this cat-lover says… The Dog’s Trust is a good cause.

Hugh's Views & News

The Christmas tree is up, but something is missing. There are no gifts under it, and I need your help to put that right.

#charity #appeal #christmastree #christmas

For this year’s Christmas charity appeal, I’m asking you to help me raise up to £365 for The Dogs Trust.

The Dogs Trust, formerly known as the National Canine Defence League, is an animal welfare charity and humane society in the United Kingdom which specialises in the well-being of dogs. Click here to go to their website.

Want to get involved? Here’s what you need to do.

  1. In the comments section of this post, leave the name of your blog and a link to it. This can be a link to your ‘about me’ page, a favourite blog post you’ve published, or the home page of your blog.
  2. If you’re an author, you’re also welcome to leave me a link to any books you have published. So, for…

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Writing Over Christmas

Take a break from writing to spend time with family, meet friends and celebrate.  That’s what romantic novelist and womag writer, Patsy Collins, is recommending in the From Story Idea to Reader Facebook group.  Too late, Patsy, I’ve already started.

My third favourite occupation (after writing and reading) is cooking.  Below is some of the food no family can do without over Christmas.

Christmas pudding
Christmas pudding
Christmas cake
Christmas Cake, iced my son-in-law.
Home made mincepies, using my friend, Julie's, mincemeat
Mince pies using my friend’s mincemeat.






Stocking your blogger made for her granddaughter.
Granddaughter’s stocking.

Last week, I relearned all my needlework skills (from over twenty-five years ago) and made my granddaughter’s stocking.   By the way, ‘relearning my needlework skills’ included remembering how to re-thread my sewing machine.

Photo of your blogger.
Me, in author pose.

Two weeks ago I had to submit a modern author photo to accompany my article in Together  (trade magazine for Christian publishers). Presentation is everything these days.  Sitting at home in my own living room one evening, I took about ten selfies on my iPhone.  I always look terrible in photos.  I really am not America’s Next Best Model as I can’t smile to order.  I eventually chose this one.

Lesson plan for maths class
My lesson plan for my maths class.

Last weekend I was preparing for a learning observation – of a maths class.  Bear it in mind, Dear Reader, that I haven’t taught maths for ten years and only restarted after the October half-term.   I was going out of my mind with nerves.  Then the observation was cancelled due to snow.

So, I will do more writing after Christmas.  Really, honestly.   We all will, won’t we?  In that slack week between Boxing Day and New Year, whilst eating turkey sandwiches and left-over sprouts, you could have a go at the ACW (Association of Christian Writers) Historical Fiction Competition.  (I can’t.  I’m not allowed to because of being ACW Competitions Manager.)   You need to write a short story (word count 1200 words) set in or before 1970.  (This accords with the Historical Fiction Society’s definition of historical being anything fifty years ago or beyond.)  The deadline is 31 December 2017, so you really will have to write during mince pie time.  More information on the ACW website.

Happy Christmas.  I doubt if I will have time to post next week.  I’ll be making the trifle.

Post-Brexit, Let’s Stop Using Euro Language

For some people it’s de rigeur to drop a morceau of francais into their conversazione.  If the plebs they are speaking to is not au fait with le francais,  they enjoy a sense of the old schadenfreude.  After all, we all need a bit of yin and yang, don’t we – if we know what it means.  (Probably not.)

Or maybe they’re into a bit of Latin.  They like ad hoc arrangements or  bore people ad nauseam or even ad referendum, which, despite sounding like Brexit-speak, means to the ‘point of reference’.

Or into Americana.  They go to the bathroom (other than to take a bath).  They own an SUV, which has a hood (and their car (sorry, automobile) would have a trunk if it weren’t an SUV. If someone offered them chips, what would they expect?

The usual reason given for using foreign words is that you achieve a more finely-tuned meaning.  Rubbish!  Put that in your poubelle… or your trash can…schnellpronto.  (Oh… no.  That doesn’t mean promptly, as it sounds, but is colloquial Italian for ‘Hello’.)  I would love to be able to justify my stand by re-stating the common belief that there are more words in English than any other language, but, alas, this is not true.  Whereas the Oxford English Dictionary lists 171,476 English words in common usage, that is nothing to the Koreans’ 1,100,373 words and, in Europe, we’re roundly beaten by the Swedes (600,000) and Lithuanians and Norwegians (500,000 each), even though it was the Danes (well down the list on 200,000 to 300,000)* who invented the word hygge

Hygge means enjoying the simple pleasures in life, and we could all do with enjoying the simple pleasures of our own language, even though I know that all languages are a mishmash of each other.  I’m also aware that languages are living things and develop all the time.  However, there’s a huge difference between using a foreign word for something that English-speaking people don’t encounter, such as tsunami or Perestroika, and substituting where there’s a perfectly adequate English word.

People may use foreign words to show off, like John Cleese’s character in The Dead Parrot sketch.   (‘I wish to complain about this parrot what I purchased not half an hour ago from this very boutique.’**)  Or because they’re embarrassed.  (‘I wish to use the toilette.’)  And there is the danger of misunderstanding your non-English vocabulary and saying something you don’t mean, possibly something offensive.  In all these situations, people end up looking ridiculous.  The Academie Francaise carefully monitors all incursions into the French language.  We should do the same for ours.

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