The Trouble with Titles (or ‘I’ll Know It When I See It’)

I am now well in to Book 4 of my Much Winchmoor Mysteries.  It’s going pretty well and I’m having so much fun catching up with all the old characters and mixing them up with a few new ones.

I have the murder method, the murderer, the victim and, of course, an entire shoal of red herrings to, hopefully, mislead my readers.  I have the ongoing romance between my main character, Kat, and her long suffering boyfriend, Will plus an added complication in the shape of a tall, good looking Irishman with a voice that could melt the polar ice caps.

Archie

I’ve also got some new animals to add to the ones that have already appeared in the previous three books.  These are Prescott, the feisty little Jack Russell whose bark is worse than his bite, Rosie the laid back labrador and Prescott’s best friend a gorgeous Irish wolfhound called Finbar.  Then, there is the pub cat called Pitbull and, new to the gang, the vicar’s cockerpoo called Archie.

But what I haven’t got is a title.  And it’s driving me mad. At the moment, the book is called MW4, which I don’t think my publisher will go for as it won’t look very good on the cover.

I’ve never had trouble with titles before.  In fact, sometimes the title has been the inspiration for the book or story.  (Wouldn’t you just love to have come up with “For Whom The Bell Tolls”, one of my favourite titles ever.  I’m not sure why, maybe because it takes me to the original quotation, from John Donne’s poem which includes the lines “never send to know for whom the bell tolls.  It tolls for thee.”  Chilling!)

Much of my writing career has been spent writing for magazines where it doesn’t pay to be precious about titles because they will inevitably be changed… and not always for the better.  I once wrote a story about a little boy who was embarrassed by his mother’s big swirly cape that caused havoc wherever she went  (based on a real life  event that my son claims to have been traumatised by).  I called it “Here Comes Batman” but the magazine changed to “Oi! Boy Wonder.”  Hmm.

My latest serial that has recently finished in My Weekly was inspired, as are many of my stories, by a dog.  This one was called Monk who’s a Search and Rescue Dog and the story opens with Monk, alone on a mountain, searching for his owner who’s gone missing.

I loved that opening.  So I’ve set it out below, just because I can!

Monk. Opening scene.

The dog stood at the point where the rough stone track forked into two.  He sniffed the chill November air.  He smelt sheep further up the left hand track.  He smelt a sandwich wrapper to the right and his empty stomach grumbled at the thought of food.  He smelt rain, thick and heavy,  as it swept down the valley and up the fell sides towards him.

But he did not smell what he was searching for.  He did not smell the familiar scent of the man.  The man who’d trained him, all those years ago, to search the mountains for people who’d got lost.  And now, he, the man, was lost.  And the dog was searching for him. 

And even though he was now an old dog, his legs not as strong as they used to be back when he could run up and down these mountains all day without tiring, yet his nose and his brain were as sharp as ever.

So he’d keep looking, like he’d been trained to do,  until he found the man.  

He knew no other way.

Does that make you want to read on?  I hope so.

I wanted the title of the story to be ‘Monk’.  It’s an unusual name for a dog and I felt it set the tone of the story.  Needless to say, it was changed and became Castlewick Crag which was ok.  It’s an editor’s privilege and they probably know what appeals to their readers better than I do.  But I still preferred Monk and if I ever expand the story to a full length novel which I may well do as I loved the characters, particularly Monk, so much I shall revert to my original title of Monk. Something to look out for.

The first short story I ever had published had a brilliant title, even though I say it myself and this one wasn’t changed.  Wouldn’t you want to read a story called “Angels on Oil Drums”?  That story always retains a very special place in my heart.

But, back to my current work in progress. MW4 and its lack of a suitable title.  I’ve spent far too long fiddling around with various ideas, none of which appeal.  When it comes to choosing a title, it’s very much a question of “I’ll know it when I see it.” 

My problem is I haven’t seen it yet.

And this is where I am reaching out for help.  On my Facebook author page, I have set up a post asking for suggestions for a title based on the opening (very short) chapter.

This is it. (Or at least, the present version of it.  It will probably change but the gist of it will remain)

MW4. Opening scene

The top of the tower of the church of St Oswald in the small Somerset village of  Much Winchmoor was the perfect spot for a bird’s eye view of the village, spread out like a relief map some one hundred feet below.  To one side, the village nestles in the  curve of the Mendip Hills while the other side is a view across low lying willow-fringed pastureland towards  Glastonbury Tor and beyond.

According to the poster on the church noticeboard, it was the perfect spot, too,  from which to launch 35 teddy bears in a week’s time. The proud owners (or, as was more likely, their parents) had each paid £3 to watch their precious bears abseil down off the tower, thereby boosting the fund for the restoration of the children’s play area by £105. 

It would be, the poster promised, a fun day out for all the family with refreshments and bric a brac stalls in the church grounds.

Realisation came in a flash.  Because it was also, without doubt, the perfect spot to commit a murder. 

After all, abseiling is only the second fastest way down a church tower.

Ok, so that’s the gist of it.  No prize for guessing what the murder method is going to be. But there may well be a prize for coming up with a title that gives me that ‘I’ll know it when I see it’ moment.  My publisher likes my titles to contain three words, if possible. (He’s thinking cover design here).

So, if you’d hop over to my author page and add a suggestion or two that would be wonderful.

My short story. The Kindness of Strangers (and where I got the idea from)

Before I was married I used to work in Bristol city centre and would catch the bus (it was, if I remember, the #18 for Clifton) to and from work.  And the buses were, at times, erratic.  No electronic thingy in the bus shelter showing when the next one was due.  You just waited and waited – and then three would come along all at once.

All that is a very long winded way of saying that I haven’t posted to my blog for several weeks and now I’m posting twice in one week.  I could tell you it’s because I’ve been poorly, but you don’t want to know that and I’ve waffled on quite enough.

So the reason for this, the second post of the week is the fact that issue 216 of Writers’ Forum is out this week and in my Ideas Store column, I said (among other things)….”and you can read the whole story on my blog.”  But, of course, it wasn’t there.

So apologies if you went to my blog hoping to find it.  But it’s here now.  (Although chances are, you have voted with your feet and decided not to bother, in which case I am talking to myself again.) 

IMG_9437
One of my earliest entries

In my column I was writing about notebooks and how I’ve kept one, on and off, for the last 15 years.  My first notebook was an old A4 hardback that I’d liberated from the day job but once I’d filled that, (it took my four years) I started using Moleskine notebooks because I was earning some money from my writing by then and could afford the luxury.

When I was writing short stories, I needed a steady influx of ideas to keep the stories coming.  (Wendy Clarke, who also started her writing career as a short story writer, touches on this in my interview with her). 

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Very often, I would use a prompt, many of which came from Judy Reeves’ A Writers Book of Days.  I hope you can see from the illustration how well used my copy is.  One of these days I am going to add up all the stories that I’ve sold as a result of this book!

But the story I feature in this month’s Ideas Store, The Kindness of Strangers, does not come from a prompt but from my Fiction Square.  In Judy’s book, there is a prompt for every day of the year and I’d already used that day’s prompt in a previous year and had sold a story as a result of it.  So I didn’t want to use that again as I couldn’t get the original story out of my mind.  Instead, I used the Fiction Square from my column.

If you’re not familiar with the magazine, there is a 5 x 6 grid printed each month, showing 6 characters, traits, conflicts, locations and objects.  The idea is you roll a dice to find all the ingredients of your next story. On this particular day my dice rolls came up with:

Character 1. a sullen child

Character 2. an heroic climber

Conflict: Dispossessed

Location: charity shop

Object: a book.

IMG_1639I began writing in my notebook: Ok, I see a boy. Sullen, defensive.  He’s shoplifting.  Been dared to do so by so-called mates.  But, like everything else he tries, he’s not very good at it. He’s Billie-No-Mates.

Caught in the act by the climber, Rob.  (Something more valuable than a book) Rob is broken.  On crutches? Certainly doesn’t climb any more.  Why?  An accident.  What’s he doing in a charity shop?  Helping someone – his mother? No, he’s a customer. He’s a hero because he got a party of children to safety.  Doesn’t feel like it because one of them died. 

Since the accident, he’s been numb.  Blames himself even though the enquiry exonerated him. Praised him for his courage. He’s walked away from everyone who cares about him. Drifting from one dead end job to another. One dead end town to the next.  Sleeping rough. Shopping in charity shops for warm clothes. 

My notes went on for another two pages and at the end of it I had almost outlined  a complete story. I’d like to tell you it always worked like that but, sadly, that is not the case.  In fact, at one time I thought it had the makings of a serial.  Which it may well do one day.  Who knows?

So, as promised, here is the final version of that story, which was published in the UK magazine, My Weekly and has had subsequent overseas sales as well. 

THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS

As shoplifters went, the kid wasn’t even very good. Drawing attention to himself with each furtive glance. The idiot might as well be wearing a striped jumper, black mask and carrying a bag marked ‘swag’ over his shoulder.

Mac took a jumper off the hanger. It was a horrible mustard yellow, hand knitted thing, which was probably why it ended up in a charity shop. Not that he gave a toss what it looked like. The people he mixed with didn’t set too much store on sartorial elegance any more than he did. It was warm. It was cheap. Job done.

 He turned to take it to the till. The kid was still by the CDs. Probably just browsing after all. Whatever. None of his business.

The kid’s head suddenly shot up as three lads of about the same age as him came up to the window. One signalled him to hurry up. Mac watched as the boy slipped the CD into his pocket and hurried out to his giggling mates. He saw him show them what he’d got, heard the shrieks of derisive laughter. He saw, too, the kid’s head go down, shoulders hunched, as he shoved the CD back in his pocket.

Mac shrugged. No need to get involved. He’d be moving on tomorrow. To another dead end job in another dead end town. But at least this time accommodation of a sort went with the job. That would be good. The nights were getting too cold to spend many more on the streets and the pain in his leg was getting worse, the colder it got. Sleeping rough was not one of his better ideas.

The girl at the till looked ridiculously young to be alone in charge of a shop. No wonder the kids were stealing off her. Mind you, if she kept the more valuable items, like that little egg cup he was pretty sure was silver,  nearer the till, that would be a start. 

“I’m so glad someone’s bought this,” she smiled as she folded the jumper. “My gran knitted it for my brother and he refuses to wear it.”

“Lucky for him he can afford to be choosy,” Mac growled – and instantly regretted it. It came across as whingey, and self pitying and he was neither. 

“Oh Lord, I’m so sorry.” A flush stained the girl’s pale cheeks. “I didn’t mean to offend you.”

“You didn’t,” he said tersely. Why didn’t she just bag the thing and let him go? He didn’t come in here to get her life history. Didn’t want to know about knitting grannies. Certainly didn’t want to think about his own, who didn’t knit. But worried. Even though he was thirty two next birthday, she still worried about him. Probably a little less now he’d given up climbing.

“I don’t usually work in the shop,” the girl was saying. “I’m happier looking after the animals. But the rescue centre needs the money desperately and when we had the chance of this empty shop for a few months, we jumped at it. But I’m not very good at it, as you can probably tell. Take these biscuits, for example. There were eight of them but now there are only six and I know I haven’t sold any. Look, I’m going to have a cup of tea and a biscuit while they’re still here. Would you like one? I made them, so it’s ok.” 

“No thanks.” Mac grabbed the bag and headed for the door. What? Did she think he was a bloody charity case? Or, maybe she thought he was the one who’d been nicking her precious biscuits? He might look a down and out. He might shop in charity shops. But that didn’t mean –

He stopped. He was angry. Hell, yes, he was angry. It was the first time he’d felt anything, except an icy numbness, since The Accident. Correction. Since the day after, when Mrs Pearce had screamed at him, called him a murderer. Said she hoped the knowledge that he’d killed her daughter would haunt him for the rest of his life. Well, she wasn’t wrong there.

He’d coped by training himself to feel nothing. No pleasure. No joy at the sight of a sunrise, no warmth in the company of friends, nor even the comfort of a soft bed. It was, he reckoned, a price worth paying. To be where no one knew him. Or tried to make him feel better by saying the accident wasn’t his fault. That he’d done all he could. 

When he knew, just as Mrs Pearce did, that he hadn’t.

Why then, had he got so angry, because a young woman with a big soft eyes and a sweet smile had offered him kindness? Was it because she’d seen him as an object of pity? Someone who couldn’t even afford the price of a cup of tea and a biscuit? Who relied on the kindness of strangers?

Much better save her pity for the downtrodden donkeys and abandoned dogs.

As he reached the door, he was surprised to see the young shoplifter approaching and stood back to let him in. Then, on an impulse, he turned and followed him back into the shop. Outside, the others were urging the kid on. Obviously, the CD was not to their taste and they’d sent him back for bigger fry.

The kid reached into his pocket, took out the CD and put it back on the shelf. Mac watched as he edged up to the shelf where the silver egg cup was. Saw the furtive look as he picked it up, the relief when he saw the girl was busy on the other side of the shop.

Without realising he was going to do it, Mac walked across, put his hand over the boy’s stick thin wrist. Waited until the hand opened and the boy let the egg cup go. He looked up at Mac, his eyes wide with fear.

“Look, I’m sorry, mate,” Mac said loudly. “It’s no good asking me about volunteering. You should ask the lady over there. It’s her shop. I’m sure she can do with some extra help. Isn’t that right?” he said as the smiley girl came across to them. “Who knows? She may even offer you a cup of tea and a biscuit while she tells you all about the rescue centre.”

She looked surprised. Saw, too, the egg cup, upside down on the shelf. He could see she understood what had happened here. Would she call the Police? Up to her. It was stupid of him to have got involved anyway. It was just there was something about the kid. He’d seen it many times before. 

Back in the day, before The Accident, he’d worked with kids just like him. Not bad kids, most of them. They came to the Outdoor Pursuits Centre where he’d worked, full of bluster and bravado when they first got there. Scared witless at their first sight of a mountain close up. Trying desperately not to show it. Hell, but he used to get such a kick out of the ones who ‘got it’, the ones who scraped their knuckles, cramped their legs muscles, forced themselves so far out of their comfort zones they’d never be the same again. The ones who stood with him on the top of the mountain, their eyes full of awe, their faces full of wonder.

This boy wasn’t a bad kid. Just had some bad mates. Not that Mac gave a toss what happened to him, of course. 

“Here,” the girl gave the boy a beaming smile and handed him a leaflet. “It’s really good of you to enquire about volunteering. We run the rescue centre on a shoestring, you know, and need all the help we can get. Why don’t you read that and, if you’re still interested, come up to the centre, meet the animals and we’ll talk about it?”

The boy mumbled something barely audible and scuttled out of the shop.

“Thank you, Mac” the girl said quietly. “You handled that really well.”

He spun round, his mouth dry. “You know me?” he whispered, rubbing his hand through his straggling beard, his long lank hair.

“I do now. You are Rob McKinley, aren’t you? I wasn’t sure when you first came in. But my brother – the one who hasn’t the wit to recognise a good jumper when he sees one – he has a poster of you on his wall. Climbing’s his passion. You’re one of his heroes.”

Hero? He was no bloody hero. He was the guy who hadn’t been able to stop a young girl fooling around on a mountain. Hadn’t insisted she stayed with the group and not forge on ahead. Hadn’t been able to get down to her quick enough. Hadn’t been able to stop his own out of control tumble down the treacherous scree covered slope as he tried to reach her, his leg snapping like a twig during the fall. Hadn’t been able to move her, nor force her to hang on to life as they’d waited for the rescue party. 

Had cradled her lifeless body, long after she’d gone. 

“I was so sorry to hear about your accident,” the girl said softly. “Sorry, too, about the girl. It wasn’t −”

Mac’s hands were shaking as he wrenched open the shop door. Time to move on. Fast. Before she had chance to tell him that the accident wasn’t his fault, that he was – what had they said at the enquiry that had exonerated him? – a hero. 

So he did what all ‘heroes’ do when they come up against something they can’t handle. He ran – as fast as his wreck of a leg would carry him.

………..

“Thank you,” Mac said as the man dropped money into the bowl. He felt a cold nose touch the back of his hand and reached to fondle the dog’s head. Archie was never far from his side.

“Well, how are we doing?” Beth asked.

“The money’s rolling in,” Mac said. “It’s typical of Tom to turn his leaving do into a fund raising bash, isn’t it?”

“He’s a great kid, isn’t he? And he’s going to be a great vet, too.”

“He’s got a long, hard slog ahead, though. Getting into vet school’s one thing. Staying there’s another.”

“He’ll be fine, Mac. Don’t be such a pessimist.”

He pulled her towards him and kissed the top of her head. “You always see the best in everyone. And I love you for it.”

He loved her for a whole load of other things as well and there wasn’t a day went by that he wasn’t thankful for the way she’d run after him that day. Taken him back to the shop, made him sit and listen and eat those damn awful biscuits she’d made.

“Of course I see the best in people,” she said. “And you don’t, I suppose? That day in the shop, you could have had Tom arrested for shoplifting.”

“And so could you. You knew as well as I did he wasn’t in the shop to volunteer.”

“Yet look where volunteering’s taken him,” she said. “I knew, from the first moment he turned up at the rescue centre that he was as nuts about animals as I am.”

“Nuts being the right word.” Mac ducked quickly. Beth could pack a hefty punch, a result, she claimed, of standing up for herself against her bully of a brother.  The same guy who was now Mac’s best friend, climbing partner and soon to be best man at their wedding.

“Well, get on with it,” Beth said. “There’s a load of people heading this way who haven’t bought raffle tickets yet. You’re slipping.”

Mac smiled as he watched her hurry away to talk yet more people into sponsoring donkeys or adopting ducks. 

Beth could never resist a stray. She treated the frightened, the abused and abandoned with the same quiet patience she’d dealt with him. Gently, but firmly, she’d chased away his demons and dragged him back to life. 

A life which, amazingly, she wanted to share. Along with four donkeys, a foul mouthed parrot and goodness knows how many dogs, cats, chickens and ducks.

 THE END

Where does crime writer, Joan Livingston, get her ideas from? Plus Daily Prompts 16-31 December

Joan has recently appeared in my column in the UK magazine, Writers’ Forum where, as always I am pushed for space.  But here, I can ask as many questions as I like without the strait-jacket of a word count. 

I am thrilled to feature crime writer Joan Livingston on my blog this week.  I have read and really enjoyed both books in Joan’s Isabel Long series and am eagerly looking forward to the next which she tells me is due out early in 2019.

Me.

Welcome to my blog, Joan and thank you for dropping by.  So, where did you get the idea for your Isabel Long series from?

Joan.

Prior to starting the Isabel Long series, I never thought about writing a mystery. My previous books were literary fiction, but I was inspired after reading one an author friend wrote. When I thought about it, my life has been immersed in mystery. Since I was a kid, I’ve read mysteries and watched suspenseful shows and movies. I enjoy figuring out whodunit and being surprised by a plot twist.

And before I was a fiction writer, I was a journalist. Often, I had to piece together a story using clues and sources. Certainly, as my protagonist, Isabel Long, learned, these are transferable skills.

So, I sat at my computer and began writing Chasing the Case. I didn’t use outlines, notes, or programs. The story came from “somewhere” and I was the conduit. As the words flowed, I learned three things: the amateur P.I. would be a woman; her cases could be related to her former career as a journalist; the setting would be rural Western Massachusetts (US).

How does a woman disappear in a town of a thousand people? That’s a 28-year-old mystery Isabel Long wants to solve

Me.What inspires you most?  Characters?  Settings? 

Joan.

Isabel is what the French call une femme d’un certain age. She’s been a widow for a year and has an adult romance. She’s a bit of a smart-ass, so I let her tell the story. (I admit there’s a bit of me in her.) Her sidekick is her 92-year-old mother who came to live with her — my 95-year-old mom is her inspiration. Strong characters I’ve created move this series along.As a writer, I take what I know and have my way with it. I use a rural setting because I’ve lived many years in small towns (a thousand people or so) and understand what they are like. As a reporter, I covered them. 

Me. How did your writing journey start? 

Joan.

I was fortunate to have great teachers when I went to public school as a child. My fourth-grade teacher encouraged me to write short plays and have my classmates perform them. In fifth grade, I was part of a group chosen for an enrichment program — Wednesday afternoons we would gather at a school for advanced science and creative writing classes. The science was okay, but I was hooked by the creative writing, learning about metaphors and similes at such a young age. I recently found the little pieces I wrote and found them charming.

I should also say I was a big reader, thanks to my mother, who took us to the library twice a week.

I had a bit of a drought until I went to college, where I got into poetry in a heavy way, publishing and doing public readings. I fancied myself a poet. 

I recall my creative writing professor telling me something that has continued to stick with me: Tell it like nobody has told it before. 

Me: Have you always written? 

Joan.

I will confess that I had a 25-year writer’s block. It coincides with motherhood when my creativity naturally went into raising six children. I had given up on poetry. And I found to my dismay, I couldn’t sustain a thought in prose although I wanted to be a writer.

My situation began to change when I became a part-time correspondent for the local newspaper, where I was paid by the inch to cover news and features in the small hilltowns of Western Massachusetts. Besides being immersed in the hilltowns — the source of inspiration for my fiction these days — I learned to write unadorned prose. I also listened to the way people talked and behaved, which I believe has been beneficial to writing realistic fiction. I also enjoyed people’s responses to what I reported and wrote.

But the 25-year writer’s block didn’t really break until I was promoted to editor. The job had more responsibility, but it didn’t drain my creative juices. Suddenly, I found it was a rare day when I wasn’t writing fiction. It was part of who I am. That is true today. Writing is my form of expression, one that brings me great happiness.

Ah, but publishing is another thing all together. I’m sure I could swap war stories with other authors about that.

The books’ blurbs

CHASING THE CASE

New to the game. But that won’t stop her.

How does a woman disappear in a town of a thousand people? That’s a 28-year-old mystery Isabel Long wants to solve. 

Isabel has the time to investigate. She just lost her husband and her job as the managing editor of a newspaper. (Yes, it’s been a bad year.) And she’s got a Watson — her 92-year-old mother who lives with her. 

To help her case, Isabel takes a job at the local watering hole, so she can get up close and personal with those connected to the mystery. 

As a journalist, Isabel never lost a story she chased. Now, as an amateur P.I., she’s not about to lose this case.

REDNECK’S REVENGE

Her next case. She’s in it for good.

Encouraged by her Watson — her 92-year-old mother — Isabel snaps out of it by hooking up with a P.I. and finding a new case. 

Isabel Long is in a funk months after solving her first case. Her relationship with the Rooster Bar’s owner is over, but no surprise there. Then cops say she must work for a licensed P.I. before working solo.

The official ruling is Chet Waters, an ornery so-and-so, was passed out when his house caught fire. His daughter, who inherited the junkyard, believes he was murdered. Topping the list of suspects are dangerous drug-dealing brothers, a rival junkyard owner, and an ex-husband. 

Could the man’s death simply be a case of redneck’s revenge? Isabel is about to find out.

Me. Do you have any future plans?


Once I finished the first book, I was onto the second — Her next case. She’s in it for good. — then the third. I will stick with the series as long as I am interested in the exploits of Isabel Long and the cases she takes.

But to be clear, the plots for Chasing the Case, Redneck’s Revenge, and the 2019 release, Checking the Traps, are not based on anything that happened. The same is true for my characters. They are only real to me and I’m glad many of them can join me for more than one book.

Me

Thank you so much for stopping by, Joan.  That was brilliant.  And I can’t wait to find out what Isabel and her mother are up to next so I’m really looking forward to Checking The Traps..


Book Links

Chasing the Case.  https://mybook.to/chasingthecase

Redneck’s Revenge. https://mybook.to/rednecksrevenge

Coming next on this blog

Next week is an important one,  Friday 21st December has been written in big red letter in my calendar and on my wall chart for months now.  It is DEADLINE DAY.

I think my second book, which will (probably) be called Rough and Deadly, will be ready in time for submission to my publishers.  But every time I look at it I find another plot hole, another end that I haven’t sewn in!

To celebrate finally hitting the send button on it, I’ll be posting a short story on my blog.  It’s one of my all time favourites because it features a Dalmatian and, if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you will know I am absolutely dotty about Dalmatians.  This one is called Jemima.  Unlike the real Jemima the one in my story is beautifully behaved – until she comes up against a hooligan boy dog with the unlikely name of Dolly.

……..

Daily Prompts.  16th – 31st December

Please refer to this post for advice on how to use these.

16. Things I never told my mother

17. An abandoned pet (dog, cat, your choice)

18. The mellow tones of a saxophone drifting in through the window

19. “I could murder a cup of tea,” Aunt Mildred said seconds before she died.

20. You’ve planned a quiet, romantic Christmas dinner for just the two of you.  Then, you discover on Christmas Eve that your partner has invited the in-laws/the rugby team/the guy from the pub who after a couple of pints of Guiness sings Danny Boy over and over again.

21. It was Sunday morning. (Or Deadline Day!!! See above)

22. In a cemetery

23. The overnight snow had transformed everything.

24. If I could turn the clock back, I’d…. (Write about something you’d do differently)

25. A time someone lost control

26. She was the kind of woman who….

27. You’re stuck in a traffic jam, going nowhere.  The road is closed and you’re late for the most important meeting of your life.

28. I have this terrible weakness for…..

29. Thousands of years ago, cats were worshipped as gods.  Cats have never forgotten this.

30. Write about your special song.

31. Knocking on heaven’s door (song title)

Where does crime writer, Val Penny, get her ideas from?

A slight change of direction

When I started this blog, back in March, it was only intended as a record of my faltering steps towards publication of my debut crime novel Murder Served Cold which was published in October.   Link here. 

The publication date is the reason for the longer than intended gap between posts as I completely underestimated the amount of time the marketing/social media aspect side of the writing business would take – not to mention the fact that I’m busy writing the second in the series, provisional title Rough and Deadly,  to a very tight December deadline.  (No Christmas shopping for me this year! Yayy!)

Having achieved my publication date goal, I would now like to change the emphasis of this blog slightly and include interviews with other writers.  I shall still continue to post about my own progress (or lack of it)  as I get down to what I am fast discovering is the really hard bit about writing a novel – ie getting it ‘out there’.

The blog will still include my daily prompts and the current ones (albeit slightly late, for which I apologise) are, as always at the end.

Why a guest post?

IdeasStoreWhen I’m not writing crime fiction, I also write a monthly column, Ideas Store, for the UK magazine, Writers Forum.  (Link here). I have been doing so for eleven years and have ‘met’ so many great authors in that time who patiently and generously respond to my question: Where do you get your ideas from?

But there is never enough space in my column for all I would like to include, nor room for author pictures or book links.  So I’ve decided to include some of them as guests on my blog on a regular basis.

One of the big bonuses for me when Crooked Cat Books agreed to publish my first book, Murder Served Cold, was being introduced to a galaxy of new to me writers, one of which is my first guest, crime writer Val Penny.

author-pic-2Val is the author of the Edinburgh Mystery Series featuring Detective Inspector Hunter Wilson.  I have read and very much enjoyed the first two books in the series and am looking forward to the next one.

My interview with Val Penny’

Me:

 Hi Val, Thank you so much for agreeing to appear on my blog.  Now, that question that all writers dread to hear: 

Where did you get the idea for your book from?

VP:

 I always find this question the most difficult to answer, but I will try! I first began writing novels when I was being treated for breast cancer. I was very ill and had little energy except to read, watch daytime TV and try to beat the disease. 

As anybody who has been poorly and subjected to daytime TV will attest, it gets very old very fast, so I began a blog to review the books that I read www.bookreviewstoday.info

When I began to recover, I still had little energy, but needed something to occupy my mind. It was at this point that he who is known as Handsome Hubby suggested that, if I knew so much about what made everybody else’s books good, or not, I should write one of my own. (If only it was that simple!) Anyway, I accepted the challenge and, as my favourite genre to read is crime, I decided to try my hand at writing a crime novel.

The first character to be created was Joe Johnson: he came about from a throw-away comment made by an assistant in my office many years ago. She said she liked to be able to see the customers before she could smell them! So Joe Johnson was born and the rest of the story in Hunter’s Chase was created around him. 

Me: Tell us a little about your book.  What is your genre? Is it a series or standalone?

VP:

I write crime thrillers: the sub-genre is probably police procedurals. The novels I write form a series, The Edinburgh Crime Mysteries. I like to be able to tell the stories of the individual character’s lives as well interesting my readers in the crime DI Hunter Wilson and his team have to solve.

Crooked Cat Books published the first in the series, Hunter’s Chase, on 02.02.2019 and the second, Hunter’s Revenge on 09.09.2018.  The links are:

myBook.to/HuntersChase

myBook.to/HuntersRevenge

The third in the series, Hunter’s Force will be published in Spring 2019. 

  1. The book’s blurb – Hunter’s Chase.

519VedYjK8L._AC_US218_Detective Inspector Hunter Wilson knows there is a new supply of cocaine flooding his city, and he needs to find the source, but his attention is transferred to murder when a corpse is discovered in the grounds of a golf course.

Shortly after the post-mortem, Hunter witnesses a second murder, but that is not the end of the slaughter. With a young woman’s life also hanging in the balance, the last thing Hunter needs is a new man on his team: Detective Constable Tim Myerscough, the son of his nemesis, the former Chief Constable Sir Peter Myerscough.

Hunter’s perseverance and patience are put to the test time after time in this first novel in The Edinburgh Crime Mysteries series.

51KrSzhcIKL._AC_US218_

  1. The book’s blurb – Hunter’s Revenge

Who would want to harm the quiet, old man? Why was a book worth £23,000 delivered to him that morning? Why is the security in George’s home so intense?
Hunter must investigate his friend’s past as well as the present to identify George’s killer.

When a new supply of cocaine from Peru floods HMP Edinburgh and the city, the courier leads Hunter to a criminal gang, but Hunter requires the help of his nemesis, the former Chief Constable, Sir Peter Myerscough, and local gangster, Ian Thomson, to make his case.

Hunter’s perseverance and patience are put to the test time after time in this taut crime thriller.

Me: That’s great, thank you.  Now, tell me a bit more about your writing life in general, please. What inspires you most?  Characters?  Settings? Books you have read?

VP

I am most inspired to tell the story of my characters and how these play into the crimes investigated in the novels. Having said that, the setting of the beautiful city of Edinburgh is also important and it is a treat to have to research areas of the city that I would not have a chance to visit otherwise.

Me: How did you writing journey start?  Have you always written?  What was your first published piece.

VP:

I have always enjoyed writing and telling stories. Even when I was a little girl I used to make up stories for my little sister. However, my first published pieces were all non- fiction articles published in dry, dusty old journals and my first creative pieces, were poems included in national poetry anthologies.

Me: And your future plans?  More in the Edinburgh Crime series, I hope!

VP:

I am now about to start the edits for the third book in The Edinburgh Crime Mysteries series, Hunter’s Force and I am writing the fourth in the series, Hunter’s Blood. 

I was also asked to speak at The Swanwick Writers’ Summer School this year and I, as I lectured at Heriot Watt University for years, I would be thrilled to get more involved in speaking at writers’ conferences.

…………

Thank you so much for that, Val.  That was fascinating and I wish you the success you so richly deserve with the Edingburgh Mystery Series.

Would you like to be featured here?

If you’re a writer and would like to be featured either in this blog or my column in Writers’ Forum (or preferably both!) please get in touch.  Or, if you have read a book that you really enjoyed and can’t sleep at night until you find out where the author got that particular idea from, do let me know and I’ll do my best to find out..

And finally….

And no, I hadn’t forgotten the daily prompts.   If this is your first visit to my blog, check back to this page for advice on how to use them.

Daily Prompts. 16th October – 15th November

October

16. My heart leaps up when I behold/A rainbow in the sky (Wordsworth)

17. “This time,” he croaked, “I’m really, really ill.”

18. There’s a first time for everything.

19. You wake up – and everything is different.

20. Write about falling.  In love?  Down a hole? On a dream?  You decide.

21. She was wearing my ring.

22. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks (Proverb)

23. Catching someone in the act of cheating

24. “It’s all you could expect,” he said.

25. An abandoned house.

26. Your first car.

27. It’s too soon to tell.

28. Being lost along the way.

29. Returning takes too long.

30. The difference between men and women.

31. This is what was left when he had gone.

November

1. On this day in 1848 the first WH Smith railway bookstall opened on Euston Station.

2. I hate this time of the year.  It’s so …….

3. Write about a time someone said yes.

4. Before I was born…..

5. Rising early to begin a journey

6. One man (or woman) and his/her dog.

7. “Love comes from blindness, friendship from knowledge. (Comte de Bussy-Rabutin)

8. She who must be obeyed.

9. The stranger

10. An overheard conversation

11. Out of the corner of my eye I can see …..

12. To everything there is a season

13. The end of the street.

14. Every man is his own worst enemy (proverb)

15. Write about an island.

How to define your genre (or maybe not….)

This past week I’ve been booking a blog tour of book reviewers. This has involved filling in loads of forms, with author pics and bios and I’m very excited to say that I have a tour booked with Rachel’s Random Resources for 10th  16th November.

BlogTourRRR

In my last blog post I was whingeing (sorry, writing) about how difficult it was to write a blurb for my book.  This week I’ve found another hurdle that had me skittering away like a spooked pony and was a major stumbling block when I was filling out Rachel’s form.

My stumbling block consisted of just three little words.

 Define.  Your.  Genre.

So I did what I always do when I’m spooked.  I turned to the experts.  In this case one of my go-to how to write books, ‘Love Writing’ by the very talented Sue Moorcroft (link here) who knows more about writing than I ever will ever. 

Sue says genre is important for these reasons.

1. Publishers need to know where to place a book on their lists.

2. Booksellers need to know where to place it on their shelves.

3. Publicists need to know to understand what they’re promoting.

BUT

4. Most important of all:  Readers need to know if you write the kind of thing they like to read.

Now there’s no point reading the advice of an expert like Sue if you’re not prepared to buckle down and act on it.  So, that is what I did.

This is the conversation between me and my Inner Critic (IC) , the voice in my head that’s nagged at me ever since the moment I signed the contract for Murder Served Cold and everything became horribly real.  (Publication date October 19th…. eek!)

Me:  It says… (groans) Define your genre.  What?  I can’t do this.

IC: Of course you can’t.  You don’t even know what genre means.

Me: Yes I do.  I’m a writer.  I know things. 

IC: Go on then.  What does it mean?

Me: Well, um,  it means what sort of a book is it.  

IC: Oh right. I see.  Is there a genre then for rubbish, then?

Me: No, it means where would you find this in, say, a bookshop or a library?

IC: The waste bin?  The recycling box?

Me: According to Sue, it’s to help people decide whether or not they want to read my book.  Say, for example, you were a lover of horror, then my book would probably not be your thing.

IC: So whose ‘thing’ will it be?  Who do you think will want to read Murder Served Cold?  

Me:  Well, it’s a murder mystery –

IC: Really?  I’d never have guessed from the title.  So, does that mean there’s lots of blood and gore in it?

Me: Oh no, nothing like that.  I’m a bit squeamish and not very good at blood and gore.  But there’s plenty of humour, as well as a touch of romance.  

IC: Ooh!  Lots of sexy scenes then?

Me: Well, no.  I’m afraid not.  I’m not very good at sexy scenes either.  I keep thinking of people I know reading it.

IC: But just now you were worried that nobody would read it.

Me: I know.  But if they did…  Anyway, I’ve got to come up with a genre.  It says so here on Rachel’s form.  So I’ve been checking out other books that are similar to mine and I think I’m going to put Cosy Crime as the genre.  Besides, that’s what it says on my book’s cover.

IC: Cosy crime?  Do you mean it’s about little old ladies who knit running round solving mysteries, helped by their cats? 

Me:  Absolutely not.  Kat is a struggling young journalist – or she would be if someone gave her a job.  She’s part of the ‘boomerang’ generation.  There’s no knitting involved.

IC: Ha! But there’s a cat in it.  I knew it.

Me: Not that sort of cat.  Her name’s Kat, only no one ever remembers to call her that.  And she – oh, you’ll just have to read the book.

IC: Me?  You’ve got to be kidding.  Cosy Crime is so not my ‘genre’. Particularly if there are no knitting grannies or crime solving cats in it.

On a lighter note…

If, like IC above, cosy crime is not your genre either then how about revisiting the classics?

I have recently discovered dailylit.com, a website that delivers bite sized pieces of fiction which are sent to your inbox every day.  At the moment, I am thoroughly enjoying revisiting E.M. Forster’s ‘Room with a View’, something I haven’t read since my schooldays.

(I wonder if E.M. Forster had to worry his head about what genre ‘Room With A View’ was?)

I find I really look forward to each day’s instalment and am at present on part 18/81.  I love the gentle pace of the book and had forgotten the pleasure in reading something slowly.  Everything I do at the moment seems to be done at breakneck speed, but this daily dose of E.M. Forster is a little oasis of calm in my busy day and I love it.

It’s not just the classics on offer from DailyLit but most genres (that word again!) and include fiction and non fiction.

Daily Prompts.  1st-15th October.

I hope you’re  finding my Daily Prompts useful as starting off points for your great ideas.  (link to Where do you get your ideas from?) I look forward one day to a writer, in answer to my question, “Where do you get your ideas from” replying: Why, Paula, from your Daily Prompts, of course! (IC: Huh! Watch out for flying pigs!)

1. “Where am I going?  I don’t know/What does it matter where people go?” A.A. Milne

2. My first day at school.

3. Leaving somewhere (or someone) for the last time.

4. My favourite place.

5. Riding for a fall.

6. Divided loyalties.

7. Holding a new born baby.

8. Hearing an echo.

9. You’re walking alone, along a dimly lit street, when you hear footsteps behind you.

10. A fall from grace.

11. Just beyond the edge of the woods.

12. Attempting to avoid someone.

13. “This is not about you,” I yelled.

14. The first star of the evening.

15. He that suppeth with the devil needs a long spoon. (Proverb)

And finally…

What’s your favourite genre?  And do you read slowly?  And, go on, tell me: where do you get your ideas from?  I’d love to know.

 

 

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).

DukeBales

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.

notebookpage.jpeg

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?

IMG_1361

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.

DukeTulips.JPG

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!

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.

DukeOnHisBack

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