A FLASH OF INSPIRATION

Did  you know the next National Flash Fiction Day will take place on Saturday, 15 June 2019?

National Flash Fiction Day was founded in 2011 by Calum Kerr, a writer, lecturer, editor, typesetter, book designer, and generally ‘someone who spends a lot of time with words’. He’s written over 1000 flash fictions, and is the author of The World in a Flash, a ‘how to book’ in which he shares his knowledge and experience of writing compulsively readable flash stories.

The NFFD is currently run by three flash fiction enthusiasts,  Santino Prinzi, Ingrid Jendrzejewski and Diane Simmons. Their aim is to celebrate all that is exciting, bold and above all, brief, in the world of flash-fiction.

All this sound pretty exciting, so let’s get down to details.

National Flash Fiction Day aims to:

  • Promote flash fiction and flash fiction writers in the UK and beyond
  • Inspire new short-form writing
  • Encourage new writers and writers of other forms to explore flash fiction
  • Provide a positive, encouraging, inclusive community for flash fiction writers and readers around the globe

Submissions are now open for the 2019 NFFD Anthology and Micro Fiction Competition!

This is what the organisers say:

  • The 2019 Anthology:  We’re looking for flashes up to 500 words on the theme of ‘Doors’.  Deadline: 15 March 2019.  For full details, please read our full anthology submission guidelines.
  • The 2019 Micro Fiction Competition:  Flashes up to 100 words are eligible.  There is no theme for the Micro Fiction Competition.  Deadline: 15 March 2019.  For full details, please read our competition submission guidelines.

Right. Sheet of paper or new document. Brainstorm ‘DOORS’. The more original the idea, the better. As the resident frog will vouch…

Unusual ideas can come from exploring unusual situations.

 

 

Frog: (Not very cheerfully)

I’m seriously thinking of looking for another job!

You have three wishes…

What if… you could have three wishes for 2019?

Three wishes to change your life. Let the game begin…

Oooh! How a thousand things do spring to mind!

Indeed!

World peace.

A ginormous lottery win.

My bus is never late.

My pernickety boss is offered is dream job… in darkest Peru.

That superior woman – you know, the one who knows everything and is never wrong – is sent to the Antarctic, with a team of huskies, and an impossible mission.

Yours truly wins the tennis club annual tournament.

STOP!

It’s my game, and I can see I need more rules. You have three wishes. For the magic to work. they must be personal and specific, and there must be the possibility, even though slight and vague, that they are achievable.

So browse your brains for more ideas.

OK. I’m feeling penniless after Christmas? How about a designer outfit going for three pounds fifty, AND it fits me perfectly?

Personal and specific, yes, but three pounds fifty? Not possible.

I wish for a new suitcase, a new swimsuit, and a ticket for a fortnight’s holiday in the Maldives.

On your pay? Please! Besides, that’s three wishes in one.

It’s time to take this seriously.

Seriously?

Yes. Think about things that would make your whole future better in some way.

What would you wish for, then?

After a lot of thought, and a great deal of pondering, here are my three wishes:

I wish that by the end of 2019 I will understand people better.

You mean, you want to work out why some people seem unfriendly, or unreasonable? 

Like my boss.

Like that superior woman I sent to the Antarctic!

I wish that I shall learn to complain kindly but firmly, when necessary, whether it’s about a poor meal in a restaurant, for example, or about homelessness and injustice in the world.

You sure do need that one.

Actually, I need it too.

I wish for an imagination that will carry me through every task I set myself.

For those stories you want to write? Be confident!

For that book you’ve been too busy to get on with? Just do it, pal. Just do it.

I can see that my three wishes have something to do with courage, confidence and perseverance. These are exactly what I wish for all my writing friends.

Here’s to a successful 2019 for us all.

Frog: (m

errily)

Hellebores for Christmas…

… and the first primrose of 2019.

There’s always something new to discover.

 

 

A happy new year to frog supporters everywhere.

Who are you meant to be?

‘No-one is born with prejudice,’ announced a headline in the i.

I would like to add to that.

No-one is born with a sense that they are inferior. This is something acquired from the way they have been treated.

If you’re told often enough that you’re rubbish at something, or hopeless, or incompetent, then you probably believe it.

If the important people in your life make you feel bad about yourself, it will take a lot of love and trust from someone special to help you become the person you were always meant to be.

Some people grow up with hidden gifts for music, art, an ability with science or language, to name a few.  We all need encouragement to bring our particular gift to fruition.

It may take years of struggle and work before we can say, ‘This is the real me. This is what I am like.’

So… do you feel like learning to play the mandolin?

Do you want to paint a decent picture?

Are you longing to write a book that people want to read?

Be inspired by 90 year old Priscilla Sitienei, is a former midwife, who enrolled in primary school in Kenya, and learnt along with 6 of her great-great-grandchildren. ‘I want to inspire children to get an education,’ she said.

Secretly longing for something more adventurous?

Everest at 65? A marathon at 71, and a 156-mile run across the Sahara desert?

That’s Sir Ranulph Fiennes for you.

Fiennes is a great inspiration for the senior adventurer because he doesn’t make it look too easy.

Heart surgery, diabetes, frostbite and bereavement, he’s had the lot.

He proves that you can keep achieving even if health and family life don’t give you a smooth ride.

How about something more creative?

Daniel Defoe wrote Robinson Crusoe, his first novel and perhaps the first-ever modern novel, at age 60.

Mary Wesley wrote 10 bestsellers including The Camomile Lawn, after she was 70.

So go for it. Yes, practice does make perfect. Read between your own lines. Take George Eliot’s words to heart:

‘It is never too late to be what you might have been.’

SUFFERING AND WRITER’S BLOCK

When someone you love has an incurable illness, your perspective changes. ‘Not curable but treatable’ becomes a thread of hope. Each day is precious. A myriad of life’s annoyances, things that seemed so important at the time, are now mere trivia.  Mud on the clean kitchen floor is just that. Mud. A leaky shower is water in the wrong place. It can be put right.

Suffering is something else. I have a friend from church who is confined to a chair by day and a bed by night. Another friend has known the downside of cancer for four years. Yet another battles stress and depression. Amazingly, each one of these people shows the world a cheerful face.

For a writer, suffering of any kind can be one of the causes of the dreaded Writer’s Block. Knowing someone you love is in distress or pain can also cause your creativity to dry up. You, too, put on a brave face. Yet inside you feel a giant wave of sadness waiting to push you to the bottom of the ocean.

I told my husband I felt I had nothing to say in my writing any more, nothing that would be of value to anyone, nothing that could possibly entertain another human being. I used to love creating stories, bringing characters to life.

‘Write for yourself,’ he said. ‘Don’t worry about the rest.’

‘I think I’ve got Writer’s Block,’ I said.

He smiled and gave me a hug. ‘That proves you’re a real writer at last,’ he replied. I like a positive man!

 

 

Frog: Halloween! Bonfire Night! No wonder my friends advocate hibernation.

 

LOOKING AHEAD, BUT…

…WITH MANY A BACKWARDS GLANCE

Note to self: Plan to create some exciting stories for 2019 by researching the past.

Inspiration number one: Trees

One hundred years ago, on 1st September 1919, the Forestry Act was passed in the UK. The Forestry Commission was created, recognising the importance of forestry in England Scotland Wales and Ireland. The first Commission trees were planted on 8 December 1919 at Eggesford Forest, in the Taw Valley, Devon. An important first step, because numbers of trees had been declining since the middle ages. During the first world war, stocks reached the all-time low of covering 5% of the land area. The UK was on the brink of complete deforestation.

Thanks to the Forestry Commission’s work and inspiration, numbers of trees have steadily increased, and now stand at 13% of the land area.

Trees offer all sorts of possibilities for stories – Charles II hiding in an oak tree to escape the Roundheads (1651); fake trees used as observation posts in World War One (can this be true?); Johnny Appleseed, the legendary folk hero and pioneer apple farmer in 1800’s America (I definitely want him to be true).

The imagination will fly beyond boundaries. Let’s think…

A cherry tree with pink spring blossom

Self-sown sycamores, and ragged hawthorn trees

Conkers on the ground under leafy horse chestnut boughs

Giant sequoias

Coconut palms.

Second note to self: Create a TREES page in writer’s notebook.

Throughout Autumn add ideas. Let them simmer.

On a cold winter’s day, open notebook, choose a subject and draft a story.

Sounds good to me.

Useful websites for research:

https://www.forestry.gov.uk/aboutus

http://www.confor.org.uk/resources/events/100years/

Frog: (Shakily)

Hasn’t anyone noticed? I am not a tree frog!

Besides, in my experience, ponds can be extremely inspirational.

CHANGE THE NARRATIVE

That was something Amit Dhand’s father used to say to him.

One of the evening speakers at Swanwick was Amit Dhand, described on his author’s page on Amazon as follows:

A.A. Dhand was raised in Bradford and spent his youth observing the city from behind the counter of a small convenience store. After qualifying as a pharmacist, he worked in London and travelled extensively before returning to Bradford to start his own business and begin writing. The history, diversity and darkness of the city have inspired his Harry Virdee novels.

The windows of that corner shop were often broken by a gang of local youths. The police were often called out by Amit’s father. Amit told us that one day, when the windows had been smashed again, Amit’s father said it was time to ‘change the narrative’. The young men were outside, sitting on the pavement, drinking beer. Mr Dhand picked up a can of cider and went outside.He looked at the group, and they looked at him. He said he could either call the police, or they could talk. He sat next to the leader and yes, they talked. There were some tense moments, but they ended up swapping drinks, and Amit’s dad said that as they’d talked and shared drinks, then surely that made them mates now.

The story ended amicably, with the group agreeing not to break the windows any more, and  Mr Dhand taking on some of the group as paper boys.

Amit said it was one of the greatest lessons he learned from his father. To change the narrative. Which he had to do himself many times as he struggled to become a successful novelist.

As writers, we may have to do the same. As many times as it takes.

I’ve just finished writing a new version of The Three Little Pigs. Laugh if you must! It’s for our family service on Sunday. I HAVEN’T CHANGED THE BASIC STORY, BUT I’VE CHANGED THE NARRATIVE.

Maybe our first effort at writing a story, a poem, a novel, or an article, may be like the first little pig’s effort to build a strong house with a barrowful of straw. Maybe our next effort may end up like the house made of wood – better but not there yet! Maybe our third, forth, our twenty seventh, or even our ninety ninth effort will match that of the third little pig.

I think it’s worth a try. Don’t you?

Frog: (Sadly) Pigs! Why pigs, when it could have been The Three Little Frogs!


If you like writing

If you like writing, you’d love what has become known simply as Swanwick.

What is it?

It’s The Swanwick Writers’ Summer School, now celebrating its seventieth year.

Held at The Hayes Conference Centre, Swanwick, Derbyshire, it takes place annually for a week in August, and it’s a holiday where writers from beginners to well-published authors all find plenty to put smiles on their faces every single day.

This year there are specialist courses to suit aspiring crime-writers, novelists, short story writers, life-writers, and poets.  The tutors are experts in their field. You don’t have to choose beforehand. You simply turn up on the day with a pen and notebook or a laptop.

There are short courses on a wide range of subjects – as usual loaded with valuable information about writing and publishing.

There are an amazing number of fun activities too, for all ages, including quizzes, a disco, with a theme for those who like dressing up (this year it’s a forties night),  a couple of open mic evenings, a buskers’ night , and an evening of sketches written by Swanwickers.

There are after dinner speakers on four of the evenings – this year we are looking forward to hearing Sue Moorcroft (Sunday Times and international bestselling author), Amit Dhand (The Harry Virdee novels), Simon Nelson (Development producer with BBC Writersroom for three years)  and Sophie Snell (professional writer and storyteller).

There are peaceful ground too, with a couple of small lakes to wander round. Plenty of space for an early morning run, if you’re so inclined, or to join a session of ‘Morning meditation by the lake’. Then there’s ‘Unwind your mind’ at the end of the day – the perfect pick-me-up to prepare for a fun evening ahead.

I first went to Swanwick in 2012, when I won a place there as the prizewinner in the annual short story for children competition. (There are usually three annual competitions – short story for adults, short story for children, and poetry – each offering the prize of a free place at the summer school.) I’ve been back every year since 2012. I’ve been privileged to run a short course on flash fiction, and this year I’m running one called ‘How to create believable characters using the Enneagram’.

So, what is the Enneagram?

·         The Enneagram is a tool for understanding human nature. It suggests that there are nine basic personality types.

·         It shows us the unconscious motivations behind the ways we react, when we are secure, and when we are stressed.

·         When we study the Enneagram we can understand more about why people think, feel, and act the way they do.

·         One of the best outcomes from studying it, is that we can get to know and understand ourselves better.

Want to know more?

Well, if you’re coming to Swanwick, you might like to come along to my short course. If not, I’ve written a book about it. It’s packed with information, examples and exercises. It’s available from Amazon, where you can take a look inside it. Here it is. How to create believable characters using the Enneagram.

 

 

Frog: (Thinking hard)

Am I a believable character? No, don’t answer that! Don’t say a word!

 

ALL KINDS OF STORIES

Everyone likes a good story.

Recently I was privileged to judge the short story entries in a competition for members of the South Hams’ Writers’ Group.

I thought you might be interested in the things I looked for when I read the stories.

  • The overall impression. Did I feel the plot was original in some way? Was I fascinated by the concept?

  • A beginning which drew me in.

  • A middle which held my attention.

  • A satisfying ending.

  • Did the story have characters who seemed real, people who didn’t suddenly behave in an unexpected manner.

    I like surprises, but not if the really nice man next door turns out to be a chimpanzee in disguise. If that is the case, I need clues early on, so that I can look back and think, ‘Ah, that makes sense now.’

  • Personally, I like stories about human nature, stories which show a character growing and learning from his or her experience. However, this wasn’t one of my criteria. The things that were important to me were good writing, amazing ideas, and an excellent use of words.

  • I did take a few marks off for grammar and spelling mistakes. When you enter competitions, good editing is vital. It’s a bright idea to read your story aloud before you send it off, because that way it’s easier to spot errors you might otherwise miss. There’s a lot of talent out there, and you have to give yourself the best chance you can, by making sure everything is as good as it can possibly be.

This is how I ended my judging remarks:

If you didn’t win a prize this year, don’t give up. Every time you create a new story, you have the chance to learn something new about writing. Huge congratulations to the winners. Don’t rest on your laurels, because all the other entrants are coming fast on your heels.

 

Notes from a failed novelist

I have spent the past three years or so living in a kind of dream world. I’d found an agent. I imagined my debut novel on the shelves of Waterstones. I believed I could do it. I stopped sending off so many short story competition entries. I worked hard when my friends were walking the moors, or enjoying the Cornish coastline. I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but I felt hopeful. Hard work will pay off, I thought.

I wish I could tell you that it was worth it, that my dream is about to come true.

I can’t.

My agent couldn’t find a publisher for my first book. OK. I wrote another. She loved the second one, she said. She made me feel I was going to make it in the big wide world. I didn’t. She couldn’t find anyone who thought my novel about the sixties worth investing in. People said the writing was good, but… I wrote a third novel, set in the fifties. Not what people wanted to read about. Not going to be what anyone wants. Not the sort of book that will be in Waterstones. Not ever.

Now I have no agent.

I am back at square one. It’s not a lonely place. I know others who have had the same experience. I am not angry, just disappointed. And sad, too, of course.

Stick with me, kids. I’m finishing a non-fiction book very shortly, and I’m going to start writing a novel for children.

Am I going to get there in the end?  I don’t know any more, but I’m going to give it my best shot.

I was cheered recently when I read on Twitter that my flash fiction Kirianna had made the list of finalists in the Storgy competition. It is to be published in a paperback called Exit Earth. I felt a faint glimmer of hope.

The future may well be bright.

Don’t give up, writers. Our time will come!

Frog: Today I am smelling the roses.

SCARLET LILY BEETLES OF THE WRITING WORLD

Scarlet lily beetles are beautiful. They are also a menace. They treat lily leaves like a feast nurtured especially for them. Their larvae have orange bodies and black heads, but you don’t get to see much of these cheeky little fellows, because they hide in a blob of their own excrement, and munch with incredible speed.

Now, if a writer has you gripped in the pages of their book and she mentions lily beetle larvae attacking the roses, you stop. You frown. ‘That’s not right, is it?’ you think. You reread the passage to make sure you haven’t misunderstood. Then you realise. The writer hasn’t checked the facts. You’ve been distracted from the plot, and you may feel disappointed, too.

So, resolution number one:

If we’re not sure of our facts, let’s check them with the experts. For example, let’s go to the RHS website for advice on plants, and the RSPB for facts about birds. Etcetera.

The faithful Wikipedia, whose photograph is reproduced above, says

‘The lily beetle belongs to the order Coleoptera, and the family Chrysomelidae, the leaf beetles. The adult lily beetle is about 6 to 9 mm in length, with relatively long legs and antennae. Its elytra (harder forewings) are bright scarlet and shiny. Its underside, legs, eyes, antennae and head are all black. It has large eyes, a slim thorax, and a wide abdomen. Each antenna is made up of 11 segments. The eyes are notched and there are two grooves on the thorax.’

All totally riveting, but… if my character was a lily beetle, would I need to give so much information at once? I think not. I would expect eyes glazing over at the least, never mind closing my book, and my reader vowing never to read another of my stories.

It’s the same with descriptions. A couple of well-chosen details can make a character totally believable, or a setting completely real. Readers have broad imaginations, and are willing to fill in details for themselves.

So, resolution number two:

Let’s try to remember that less is more.

For those interested, Wikipedia says:

‘This lily beetle may be confused with the cardinal beetle (Pyrochroa serraticornis), which also has red elytra and a black underside. The wing cases of the lily leaf beetle are dimpled and are shinier and more rounded than those of the cardinal beetle, which are relatively dull, and narrower, flatter, and more elongated. The cardinal beetle also has comb-like antennae. The lily leaf beetle is herbivorous, while the cardinal beetle preys on insects.’ 

When we write a story, let’s try not to confuse the reader by introducing characters that are similar, but not the same. I read a children’s novel recently where groups of names were so similar – very short and starting with the same letter – I could scarcely keep up with them. OK, I know children have young, fast-moving thought-processes, but I thought that several young readers at any one time may have ended up feeling their brains had been invaded by identical aliens.

So, resolution number three:

Let’s try to make our characters distinct individuals, with minds, characters, and names that cannot be confused with anyone else in their world.

Unless they happen to be identical twins of course. That’s a different story!

 

FROG: (Scanning for lily beetles) 

I’m sure they must be edible. There’s only one way to find out.