What people say, and the way they say it, can tell us a lot about their personalities.

For example:

Freddy is cheerful and exuberant.

Digby thinks the world owes him a living.

Jemma is rather bossy, but you can’t help liking her.

Tammy is very shy. 

They’re all friends. They’ve known each other a long time. Let’s say they’re in a café, and someone opens a window next to them, without asking whether they mind, and an unpleasant draught swirls around them.

How would each character react? What would they do and say?

Who would prefer to shiver and not make a fuss?

Who would actually get the person to close the window with good grace?

Try this:

Can you think of ten ways in which different people could ask for a window (or door) to be shut? What is it that makes people polite, jokey, or downright rude? Are they always rather aggressive, or having a bad day?


When you put your characters under pressure, you have to think about how they will react. Another thing… once you’ve created them, don’t expect them to do exactly as they’re told!


Frog: (staring resolutely ahead)

It’s true. I never do as I’m told!



Dan wants to write a story.

He’s not at all sure where to start. It’s as if he’s standing at the bus station, and there are so many intriguing destinations, but he can’t focus his attention long enough to buy a ticket and ride.


Choose a competition to enter, such as

The 2017 WoW! One thousand word story competition 

The nice thing for beginners is that the competition judges here will accept stories between 950 and 1050 words long.

The prizes are attractive.

First Prize – £200  Second Prize – £100  Third Prize – £50

The entrance fee is reasonable: £5

Closing date: 30th June

Now there’s the question of writing the story. Feel as if you’re about to face the impossibility of setting sail on a bus? Read on.

  • Create a character.

    Observe people on the tube, the bus, the ferry, at work, at church, at your exercise class. Anywhere and everywhere. Choose one. Change their name and appearance so that they are completely unrecognisable.

  • Give your character a problem.

    For example, someone from your character’s past calls at their door  – for revenge? For forgiveness? Seeking help? Is this person genuine? Or simply after their recent lottery win?

  • Brainstorm how you could solve the problem.

  • Begin the story as far into the plot as you dare….

…….and then just keep on writing.


Frog: (whispering)

Little guy hiding from BIG GUY. And then……

Just trying out an idea, that’s all.



We were talking at the Plymouth Christian Writers’ Group about writer’s block.

We came to the conclusion that for a lot of people the main problem isn’t that we can’t write. What causes us anguish is finding a good idea in the first place, or, for that matter, any idea at all. So we came up with a few ideas to help us ferret out inspiration. Here they are.

Keep a notebook and record your observations.

Collect characters, mannerisms, facial expressions. How do people express themselves through body language? Watch animals and birds. Seagulls and cats are particularly fascinating.

When you have a selection of characters assembled between the pages of your notebook, choose one at random, and give him/her a challenge or problem. Then help to solve or frustrate it!

Writing prompts.

One of the writers in our group had bought himself a small book of writing prompts, and we tried one which he selected at random. It was this:

Your mother-in-law has written to say she’s decided to move in with you. Write an email to tell her it’s impossible.

The replies were highly imaginative, and had us all laughing.  

The challenge of the character and the problem might bring out the best or the worst in your character. Or a combination of both. 

Scour the newspaper.

Stories can be adapted beyond recognition. If you want good news stories, look in the i every day. Turn to page 3 for a positive story that lifts the spirits.  

Make a list of themes which could become the basis for a story, for example, jealousy, betrayal, rage, shame, loneliness, sorrow, peace, justice, mercy, patience, kindness. Keep adding to the list as you think of more. 

Pick one from your list and brainstorm as many ideas as you can. Choose one idea and write something, anything, even if it has to be shredded afterwards.  

Alternative diagnosis!

Writers’ block may be plot block after all. (Trust me – I know a lot about this one!)

What do you think?

Frog: (shrugging sadly):

I’m not very good at thinking at the moment.


Naming your characters can be challenging, fun, or a problem.

Is your hero a Keith? A George perhaps? Or maybe a Dave?

Would Lily suit your heroine? Or Rosemary. What about Daisy?

How do you go about the task of finding a suitable name?

I have a book of baby names I picked up at a church fete. Creased, the pages bearing a lightly toasted look, it was published in 1993, but has proved invaluable for helping me decide on the names of my characters.

I often rehearse different names before deciding. It’s a funny thing, but sometimes my characters seem to hear me trying out a Maud or an Ethel, and either smile, or mutter in disbelief. ‘How could you even think that,’ say the polite ones, or, ‘Not flippin’ likely,’ mutter the more outspoken.

Writing in the i on 28th February, Tom Bawden reported some interesting research published in the Journal of Personality and Psychology.

This is what he says:

‘Social expectations of what a name tells us about a person are so strong that people subconsciously evolve their faces over time to fit that image, a new study claims. And the researchers claim the effect is such that we are frequently able to correctly guess other people’s names simply by looking at their faces.’

The study was led by Dr Ruth Mayo, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. ‘Scientists conducted a series of experiments in Israel and France in which hundreds of people were shown a photograph and given a list of four or five names to choose from.

They chose correctly between 25 and 40 per cent of the time, depending on the experiment, compared to 20 to 25 per cent if they had picked the name randomly.’

The newspaper printed photos of nine people who work for the i and gave the reader a choice of 3 names for each one. The correct names were published the next day. On the results we had, my husband and I fell into the 25 to 40 per cent correct bracket. Luck? Perhaps.

Interesting nevertheless.

It does, however, suggest why I can’t get used to the names Mabel and Agatha for two modern babies I know. Mabel is the kind old lady my own mother visited in the nineteen fifties, and Agatha is definitely a rather haughty great aunt! Fictitious, I might add!

I think what I’m trying to say is…

Choose the names of your characters carefully. People may approach your Tom, Dick, or Harry with preconceived expectations.

There again, you could prove them all wrong!


FROG: (Putting me in my place)

A REAL name? You mean like Charlie, or Cedric, or Harry?

No, no. They wouldn’t suit me at all.

And neither would Greeny or Hoppy! Whatever next?

My name is Frog!




My January blog was about setting goals for ourselves as writers. So…

Repeat after me:

This is the year I learn to write better than I’ve ever written before. 

It’s time to review our writing goals.  

Can we identify something we achieved during January, and perhaps something we didn’t do very well? What are we going to do about it?

Maybe some of our goals need adjusting.  After all we have to remain in the realms of the possible, the achievable.

Let’s make the time to reassess our targets, breaking them into manageable pieces, because…

This is the year I learn to write better than I’ve ever written before.


If one of your goals is to enter a creative writing competition, you might like these:

Writers and Artists Yearbook

Prize: An Arvon course of your choice

A story in no more than 2000 words

No set theme


Closing Date: Monday 13th February

Writing Magazine


No theme

Entry fee £5 , £3 for subscribers to Writing Magazine

Closing date: 15th March

Binsted Arts Festival Poetry Competition

Original unpublished poems

Theme: Harvest

Entry fee £5 for first poem, £3 for each subsequent poem

NB Entries need to be posted for this one.



Frog: (determinedly)

I just said my goal was to build my confidence.

So, who thought this might help?














How do we do it?

  • We set goals.

YES!  Behind every successful person there is a set of goals.

All you need to know about setting goals can be found at

  • We write our goals down.

There’s a very good do-it-yourself goal-setting chart at

  • We break our goals into manageable pieces.

  • We review our goals regularly.


  • If things go badly, we learn from experience and we give ourselves another chance.

Frog: (With a little trepidation)

You’re going to tell me to go for it, aren’t you?

Taking the plunge wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, you know.

Be inspired by Della Parker

Round of applause, please, as I welcome the multi-talented Della Parker to my blog15181642_1119388248179772_9078752180984183138_n2.

The name Della Galton is familiar to many readers. Her first short story was published in 1987, and since then she’s sold over 1,500 short stories. She regularly writes serials, and features for magazines. Della has been published in every major women’s magazine, and she’s the agony aunt for Writers’ Forum. Her last two novels Ice and a Slice and The Morning after the Life Before deal sympathetically with the struggles of an alcoholic girl.

Della’s latest series of novellas are rather more light hearted and are released on 1st December, under her new pen-name Della Parker. I asked her to tell us a bit about the stories.

The Reading Group

The Reading Group is a series of novellas about six women, who live in the seaside village of Little Sanderton and come together every month to share their love of reading. No topic is off-limits: books, family, love and loss . . . and don’t forget the glass of red!

There are five novellas.

reading-group-bookends-2January, February, March, April, Summer Holiday.  They are published by Quercus which is part of the Hachette Group and are 99p apiece.


Anne-Marie has always considered herself a bit of a matchmaker – never mind that she’s only got one real success under her belt. And this year she’s determined to up her game: Little Sanderton’s singles could certainly benefit from her expertise!

61otwooiskl1But while Anne Marie thinks she knows what’s best for everyone else, her own life couldn’t be less of a fairytale romance. Between looking after her cranky father and running her own business, she doesn’t have time for a relationship. Her friends in the Reading Group know better though: after all, love can be found in the most unexpected of places . . .

This January the Reading Group is tackling Jane Austen’s Emma . . . which has some uncanny parallels with Anne-Marie’s life, but who’s got time for fiction when romance is in the air.

WRITING TIPS for wanna-be writers

While you’re here, Della, please would you give us three tips for writers at the start of their journey.

  1. Join a writing group is my number one tip – if your aim is to get published, choose one where the tutor or leader is published and can show you how to do it.

  2. Don’t send out your work too soon. Let it cool down, then edit it one more time.

  3. Don’t take rejection personally.

Thank you very much for visiting us today, Della. I wish you huge success with The Reading Group. 51-scrgyzcl1

To give you all a taste of the series, December the festive short story which introduces The Reading Group, can be downloaded FREE from Amazon.

So, do download it, read it, and then please rate and review it on Amazon. Your ratings really do help writers.

Visit Della’s website at




The Plymouth Literature Festival runs until 2nd November – an exciting 12 days, with the aim of promoting local authors. One of the events I ran was called Memories are made of this.photofunia-memories-are-made-of-this

During the session I gave some tips on writing memoir, interspersed with readings from the Plymouth Christian Writers’ Group, who had polished up some memories of their own for the occasion.

Here are some of my


How to tackle those memories

p1230214a‘Write memoir, not autobiography. An autobiography is the story of an entire life, but a memoir is just one story from that life. You can only ever write one autobiography, but you can write countless memoirs. It’s a much less intimidating project if you view it that way.’

From How to write your memoir, by Joe Kita

How to start

It’s a good idea to keep a notebook. Jot things down as you remember them. It’s good to have sections, for example: before I went to school; my primary school days; teenage years; at work; etc.. You may find that at first you only remember a few things, but after a while, more and more memories will come flooding back.

Before you start writing for your family

Think about your reader. Think about yourself as a reader. Why do you carry on reading a story or a book? Because it’s interesting. So…

Find a good starting point. A cracking first line.

What writers call a hook. Something that lifts your piece of writing out of the ordinary.

How to make your memoir more interestingp1230220-2

Use the five senses – help everyone relate to your story.

Here’s a fictitious example.

Don’t just write: ‘It was 5th November, and we were taken to the village bonfire by our Dad. There was a great crowd of people.’

Tell us about some details. The distant flicker of flames. The smoke that tickled your nose. We want to imagine the guy lolling on top of the giant bonfire. The first rocket that swooshed into the sky. Describe your reactions. Did you clutch Dad’s hand, or did you jump up and down and clap your hands?

p1230211Good writing triggers a response from the reader

You want your family to understand what it was like, when you were a child, when you went to school, how bossy those grown-ups were.

Sometimes you have to capture a special moment, and leave it at that. Don’t ramble on.

Sometimes it helps to turn an incident in your past into a memorable funny story.

Points of departure

Think about things you struggled with, things you achieved, things that puzzled you.

One day your memoir is going to make fascinating reading for future generations. The time to start writing is now.

FROG: (Nostalgically)

The sunlight shining down through the water in the pond….

Sounds romantic? Well, it was until that huge toad landed ON MY HEAD!!

2015-02-21 13.29.48



Last month I wrote boldly about taking up the gauntlet, and I challenged myself to write a tercet. I photofunia-cp-gallery-picadmit it was hard, and I promise the first draft will never ever see daylight again! I took the advice of Alison Chisholm, though. In her publication called ‘The Poet’s Workbook’, she says:

‘It’s always good idea to rest your draft before beginning the revision process. If you can allow a week or two before looking at it again you will …….. be able to view it with a more critical eye.’

Well, it did take a week or two before I could bear to look at it again. But when I did, I was just about ready to face it. And I think I did manage to improve it, a bit. I want to work on it again, though.

Alison’s advice is very good for creative writers of every kind. That’s why, if you’re going to enter a competition, it’s worth starting early. Then you’ve got plenty of time to put it away, take it out later, and if necessary, revise, revise, revise.


My next challenge is to write a feel-good list poem.

Wish me luck!



Try these:

Lancashire Author’s Association Flash Fiction Competition

A story in exactly 100 words

Prize: £100

Entry fee £3/£2 members

Closing date 31 Oct

Go to the open competition page

McKitterick Prize

For the first novel by a writer over 40

Prize: £4000

Free entry

Closing date: 31 Oct

Women in Comedy Festival Comp

For everyone, not just women!

Three minute comedy sketches or monologues; short stories up to 1000 words

Prizes: £50 in each category

Entry Fee: £3, £2 in each subsequent category

Closing date: 14 Oct

Cannon Poets Sonnet or not

For 14-line poems that in some way reflect the sonnet form, or not

Prizes: £450; £200; £100

Entry fee: £4, subsequent entries £2.50

Closing date 31 Oct


In days of old, a gauntlet-wearing knight would challenge a fellow knight or enemy to a duel by throwing one of his armoured gloves onto the ground. The opponent would pick up the gauntlet to accept the challenge. This month I’m throwing down a gauntlet.

Are you up for a challenge?P1220130

I am.

One of the courses I took at this year’s Swanwick Writers’ Summer School was…

Writing Original Poetry

I greatly inspired by our teacher Alison Chisholm, a successful poet, and a regular contributor and competition judge for Writing Magazine. In the bookshop at Swanwick there was a selection of her books, which I spent some time browsing. I already own one of Alison’s collections, and this year I bought a narrow volume called ‘The Poet’s Workbook’, a guide which gives me ten projects for creating new poems of my own.

Here I am at the start. Project One, a tercet.

A what? Can’t we start with something easy?

A tercet consists, apparently, of three line stanzas – tercets – ‘built up to recreate a memory with plenty of imagery to animate the situation.’ This may be free verse, or any number of rhyming patterns.

P1220155No, I will not let myself shut the book and put it back on the shelf. Neither will I listen to that inner critic telling me I’ll never do it.

My tercet will be about my first day away from home. The day I arrived at Brighton Teacher Training College. The building still exists, on the sea front, at Eastern Terrace. Outside the breeze was often full-on and chilling, but inside there was an immediate sense of the past – big rooms and a wide staircase, and the smell of polished wood.

In my imagination, I stand at the entrance, and look along the sea front. Alison’s voice whispers in my ear. Use all your senses. Make a start.

The wind flaps at my skirt

Line by line, verse by verse. First time. First draft. First tercet.

Why not set yourself a fresh challenge this month?

Will YOU take up the gauntlet?


Frog: (Squeakily)

What do you mean? Something that might be within the realms of possibility? Why didn’t you say so? And no, I cannot get down without help.