Week 5: Sleighbells ring, I’m not listening

Somebody please tell me how it’s December 5th. I’ve had the first listen to the old Metal Christmas tape, I’ve eaten half a dozen mince pies, but I’m not getting what you’d call festive. There is no tinsel in my heart. Of course this won’t surprise anyone that much if they’ve ever encountered me in December before, but I do try (sometimes) to feel the excitement and capture the magic. In a non-consumer-capitalist way, obviously.


Hat(s) courtesy Sister Number 1.

Closest I’ve got this year so far is via the fabulous sketches by Chris Mould for Matt Haig’s new children’s book The Girl Who Saved Christmas – he’s tweeting pages day by day I think. Incidentally, it looks like Chris Mould is from Bradford, which I honestly only noticed after I’d been bowled over by his illustrating style…

This week I’ve made two story submissions, and written nearly 6,000 words of the novel I was doing for NaNoWriMo (it got derailed so I’m giving it a bit longer). And read a lot of urban fantasy (which is relevant to the novel I’m writing).

Time to start thinking back on the (reading and writing) year, soon. How has yours been?

Week 4: NaNo grinds to a halt

Considering my prediction last week, this week has been surprisingly eventful. I managed to spend a few hours in Leeds at the New Writing North Northern Writers’ Awards Fiction Roadshow on Saturday, soaking up advice and information about the awards themselves, how to edit your work to a suitable standard for sending out, and how to approach agents, as well as some glimpses behind the scenes of publishing. I feel slightly more confident about entering the awards again this year.

No submissions this week, that would have required a bit more coherence than I was generally able to muster, and only the one rejection, but I have got a couple of submissions planned for the coming week. Along the way I wrote a short story I didn’t really mean to – I’m supposed to be writing a novel, if you recall. Sometimes, though, the story is just hammering on the inside of your skull, demanding to be written down, and if I could have written that many words in one day every day this month I’d have cracked NaNoWriMo about a week ago instead of being barely in five figures with only a few days left.

I also rediscovered a novel. By which I mean I looked in a file I hadn’t touched since August 2012, wondering just how many words of that crime novel I’d written and if any of them were any good. The answer being about 45,000 and if I’d read those first few pages in a book I’d picked off the shelf in the local library, I’d have been hurrying over to the desk to get it stamped. Simultaneous joy at my (ahem) brilliance, and despair at having wasted four years not finishing the blasted thing. It’s now been added to the (ever-growing) list of stuff I really need to spend some time on during this sabbatical/period of unemployment/temporary withdrawal from the rat race.

All this, and December is almost upon us. Time to buy some mince pies and limber up for a good Bah-humbug.

My ten commandments of writing

I promised you something pre-written to entertain you during my absence. Probably you were expecting it sooner in the week, but better late than never as habitually late people often say. I ran across a list from 2013 headed ‘my personal ten commandments of writing’ which I assume I wrote in response to an exercise in a book I’d borrowed from the library (happens a lot) and it may be of interest, and largely still applies.

  1. Characters with some aspect I can relate to, be it the love of a cat, or a background like mine.
  2. Nuanced characters, neither all bad nor all good.
  3. Realistic dialogue.
  4. Pacing such that it doesn’t feel like you’ve been reading a different book for a while, because you’re off on a sub-plot.
  5. Prose that’s not difficult to read, language that’s suited to the topic and the point of view character.
  6. Events not too predictable, or if predictable then characters real enough so we care how it affects them/how they handle it.
  7. A setting that matters, not just incidental.
  8. No longer than it needs to be – don’t try and force a novella to be a novel.
  9. Always throw a touch of humour into the dark moments.
  10. Don’t force humour.

I would guess this applies nearly as much to books I read as to stories I write. Anyone got any others (or comments on mine)?

The Writer’s Life, Week 2

This week it’s all about performance. I’m scheduling this post in advance, so when it appears I’ll actually be on the way to Chapel FM with a couple of other members of Ilkley Writers. It’s the initial meeting for their Writing on Air festival 2017 and we’re looking forward to being involved again (if you missed us back in April, you can catch up via this old post).

Plans for more storytelling with Alice Courvoisier next summer are emerging but they’re at a pretty early stage (again, if you missed us this summer you can catch up with some of my readings via this old post).

A little nearer, and much further on in the planning, is another evening with Alice, at which I may well be talking about the Bradford Female Educational Institute. This time we’re working with some of her other friends (who got her and thus me into storytelling events in the first place), and it’s going to be part of the York International Women’s Festival. Here’s a preview of the ticket site:


Tickets won’t be on sale till January when the brochure comes out, so you’ll be able to use your Christmas money. Don’t worry, I’ll remind you nearer the time.

Week one of the writer’s life

I’ve drunk a lot of tea and I’m feeling free, as Ian Hunter never quite sang. One week into my season of writing and there’s not much more to show for it than a pile of teabags in the compost caddy and a vague aura of tranquility, though I’m enjoying the pre-breakfast walks and big rollneck jumpers of the new regime. I never did get used to the filtered air and unseasonal temperature of a mechanically-ventilated office.

I’ve had a rejection for a story I sent out in March (seven and a half months to read 350 words!), and I’ve sent out another story to a new magazine, but there’s been no step-change in my submission habits. NaNoWriMo carries on apace, but sadly that’s a snail’s pace and I’m averaging only about twice as many words as if I’d had to cram all my writing into my lunchbreak, as I used to do. If I was including all the notes I’m writing, however, I suspect I’d be nearer the mark (and I’m certainly doing better than last year). I have been doing a lot of poking around the internet and calling it research: Cumbrian folk songs, terraced houses to rent in small Yorkshire towns, maps of the north Pennines. Are you intrigued yet?

Thankfully I’m also finding time to read. I was a bit concerned that without that 40 minutes of sitting on a train with a book, I might fall behind. So far this week though, I’ve finished the Doctor Who novel (7th doctor, one of the Virgin New Adventures) I was reading for the last few days of commuting, read the first couple of chapters of a novel I’ll be reviewing for The Bookbag in a couple of weeks, and worked my way through chunks of two creative writing books (one fresh out of the library, one I own and have read before). And I’ve messed about on Twitter a bit. Obviously.

All in all not a bad start to a break from the 9 to 5. Further updates to follow.

An essay, a story, a couple of reviews

It looks like I’ve neglected to tell you what I’ve been up to lately. I entered an essay into this year’s NUHA Blogging Prize, on the topic of ‘Do schools and universities have a responsibility to educate their students on social behaviour alongside the academic?’ and you can read it (and comment on it) here. It’s already sparked a bit of discussion, not least in the Monkey household.

I’ve also got a short (just under 500 words) story in issue 8 of Firefly Magazine, which you can read online here.

Before that came out I reviewed a fast-paced sci-fi novel, vN by Madeline Ashby, over at Luna Station Quarterly, and a book on spelling, grammar and punctuation at The Bookbag. Bits of it reminded me of Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson, but it never quite lived up to its promise. And I still don’t know the proper names for all the parts of a sentence, I just use them as they fit best. Reading hundreds of books for fun over the last 35 years has no doubt helped with that.

So there you are, that’s you (loyal reader) all caught up. Enjoy the rest of your Sunday.