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Ten Writing Competitions

Just finishing a short story or a novel and ready to submit to competitions? Here are ten that just might interest you.

Writers & Artists and Retreat West have teamed up for a free writing competition that offers you the chance to win a place on one of Retreat West’s incredible writing retreats. All you have to do is write a short story no longer than 1,000. The only stipulation here is that your story – which can be about anything you like – must use a beach as its setting. The competition will remain open to all entries (though each entrant must have an account with – also free!) until midnight on 17th September 2017.

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The Dreaded Writer’s Block?

We all  experience it – the scary time – when the page or the screen is blank. The mind is blank. Nothing comes – is this the end, we secretly wonder? Is it the dreaded writer’s block? (If you want my honest opinion – never! writer’s block is just another figment of our imagination)

Will we, can we, write anything new, ever again?

The answer to this is a resounding YES! Writing is our job and if we keep at it then sooner or later something will give. If we show up we will find a toe-hold; the way into something new. The glimmer of an idea,  a distant pathway.

But as well as showing up every day we need to make sure the well isn’t dry – we need days off too – I’m a great believer in days off, they’re good for the soul – so here are some ideas for going AWOL and feeding your writer’s soul.

Go on a Julia Cameron style ‘Artist’s Date,’ – romance yourself, spend the day somewhere inspiring, visit a gallery, an exhibition, go listen to music, see a film, haunt cafes, eat cake, sit in gardens – go with your notebook and just enjoy and observe.

Spend some money, if you’ve got any.

Read – read the books you love, the books that inspire you, the books you’ve been meaning to read- and don’t feel guilty. The reading will feed into your writing – lift words or lines as inspiration – steal from the best.

Read poetry – for the same reasons

Walk the dog – play around with ideas – let them float in and out of your head as you wander by the river or through the town.

Take a workshop – new ideas always crop up in workshops. There are plenty online if you can’t find any near you.

Listen to the radio – voices and stories will come at you from all sides.

Meet your writing buddy.

Begin to write anything . Don’t worry if it’s good – allow it to be bad, don’t think too much, don’t overload it with expectations.

If you’re already working on a story or novel – go to a minor character (or invent one) and let them speak – you may be surprised what they have to say….

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How do you meet the blank page? What inspires you? I’d love to know.




Tutoring for Comma Press & Striking Gold

I thought I’d given up teaching. Well, almost. Even though I loved it, I felt my time as a teacher coming to an end. I was jaded perhaps, and I was protective of my writing time. But then along came Comma Press and whispered devilishly at my ear and before I knew it I’d agreed to tutor their short story course in Newcastle. The teacher in me was secretly energised. The writer in me sighed and fretted.

That was 2016. The course began in January of this year, (well organised and supported by Comma) one session a month until June – 4 down, 2 to go. So what of my teacher and writer selves, what has become of them, what do they think?

I’m pleased to say, the writer in me has stopped fretting. I always like to write with the group if I can, and last night I wrote the end of significant story. What a bonus!  I wasn’t expecting to but I should have known that it’s impossible to work with a group like this and for it not to impact and benefit your own work. Who, after all can resist the charge and energy of twelve writers, scribbling away, intensely focused on the page?

But perhaps the biggest payoff for the writer in me, comes from the reading.  Reading is, after all, the writers apprenticeship and as I read month by month with the group I still find myself inspired by the likes of Kevin Barry,  Breece D J Pancake, by Alice Munroe, Daisy Johnson, Lydia Davis etc etc….and I hope that the group feels the same. I hope that we have read as writers and learned what we can from the greats.

The teacher in me has made a full recovery.  I’ve worked with a lot of groups in my time in a whole lot of different places from library to prison cell, from prefab classroom to university but I’ve encountered no better group than this. Yes, I got lucky. I struck gold. Let’s face it in any group there is usually ‘the pain’ – the dominant, difficult, demanding member. Not this group! Or there’s someone you worry about who sits like a ghost at the feast, saying nothing, producing nothing. Not this group! It’s been my luck to land twelve serious, talented writers, a keen, committed group, respectful of each other and willing to put up with me once a month. Now that can’t be bad. Thank you, Comma Press.

You can read group member Clay Lister’s blog posts about the group HERE

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Amsterdam Launch – Linen Press

I am just back from a gloriously sunny weekend in Amsterdam and the launch at the Boekhandel Van Rossum of Linen Press’s latest publication – Karen Kao’s The Dancing Girl and the Turtle.

20170408_182019It was the perfect venue for a launch, surrounded as we were by books, and the crowd, for there was a crowd, able to spill out into the leafy garden, glass of wine in one hand , book in the other.

Introduced by her editor and publisher Lynn Michell, Karen spoke about her inspiration for the novel and read from the prologue. The reading was beautifully understated and the prose pitch perfect. This promises to be a great novel of important themes, not least a woman’s ‘fight for independence against overwhelming odds.’

It was still warm and folk were still sitting out on the grass in Vondel Park when we left the launch and caught a tram back to Wolvenstraat. Back to the cobweb of canals to a young and vibrant part of the city with  great cafes and restaurants, markets and exquisite flower shops, where we ate Yakatori and toasted, The Dancing Girl and the Turtle, with a final glass of wine…


Confessions of an Author 3

I confess there are times when I fall out of love with Twitter big style and I just have to stop myself from going there. It brings out the worst in me. It’s not so much the way it can eat into my time as the way it preys on my insecurities and jealousies. (Yes, I confess to my shame, I often feel both these things) Times like these it’s as if the whole writing world is more successful than me. Times like these I’m not a part of the clique. I don’t belong.

BUT – other times I LOVE Twitter for all the great people I meet there and for the way it brings me news of opportunities and events and the way it can motivate and inspire. I especially love it for its politics – in my feed anyway

And – times like yesterday when complete strangers Tweet away it’s double love! But then I end up on the self -promotion trail (its hard not to publicise your Twitter love – especially when you’re an indie author ) which takes me right back to the beginning. I guess that’s the nature of these love, hate relationships

Check out Ninja Book Box –  HEREtwitter


Confessions of an Author – 2

I confess, I am a thief. I steal – I like to think from the best. I steal ideas, words, form, ways of doing. But I’m not alone…

Pablo Picasso is widely quoted as having said that “good artists borrow, great artists steal.” Eliot said something similar about poets and before him Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain. So I’m in good company.

The point is that there is so much we can learn, from masters, past and present; so, we figure out what is good, what we really like about the novel and what we want to incorporate into our idea, and then we do something entirely new with it.

My most recent steal is the setting for my novel, The Astronomer’s House, with a house and a place at its centre, spanning time – stolen or perhaps I should say inspired by, but entirely different from,  Alice Hoffman’s The Blackbird House, which I loved.


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