Competition in the writing world is fierce, but don’t let that put you off. We all start somewhere, not just with hopes and dreams, but with goals and determination.
Tracy Fells has all those things. Several months ago she entered the Commonwealth short story prize for 2017. The organisers received almost 6000 entries from 49 Commonwealth countries. Tracy Fells won the section for writers from the Europe and Canada. It’s a terrific achievement to be awarded such a prestigious prize. Along with winners from the four other regions, namely Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and the Pacific, was transported to Singapore for the prizewinning ceremony on 30th June.
After a nail-bitingly tense evening, the overall winner was announced – it’s Ingrid Persaud representing Trinidad and Tobago. Tracy’s comment was, ‘A wonderful story from a talented and lovely writer.’
All Tracy’s friends are sorry she didn’t win the overall prize, but think she’s done fantastically well to be the winner of the Europe and Canada section of the competition.
Before she left for Singapore, I wanted to ask Tracy for her advice, and I found exactly what I was looking for on an excellent website that I’ve only recently discovered. It’s www.theshortstory.co.uk –– excellent because it’s written with enthusiasm and practical help. Founder Rupert Dastur includes a whole section where you can access some of the most universally acclaimed short stories in print. That represents a feast of education for everyone who would like to write a stunning short story. Why not take a look?
ADVICE FROM TRACY FELLS
(Quoted with permission from Rupert Dastur and Tracy Fells)
What are the three most important considerations when writing a short story?
Narrative arc: I’m a traditionalist and believe a short story must have a complete story arc. The reader must feel a sense of satisfaction at the end of the story. If a question/hook is set up in the opening then it must be answered before the story’s concluded.
Theme: I also believe a really good short story has a theme. A good tip is to define the premise of your story in one sentence. What is it really about?
Character(s): A brilliant plot idea or storyline is nothing without believable characters. You don’t always have to like them but the reader must care what happens to them, otherwise why bother? A truly memorable short story lingers long after reading, but what actually sticks in your mind is the character or the character’s voice not the plot.
You can read the whole interview at
Find out more about Tracy Fells at tracyfells.blogspot.com/
Read Tracy’s winning story at https://granta.com/the-naming-of-moths PS If you don’t know anything about a golem, it’s a good idea investigate on Wikipedia first.
I think The Naming of Frogs would be a fantastic title for a story, don’t you?
What people say, and the way they say it, can tell us a lot about their personalities.
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?
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.
INSPIRATION FOR DAN
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.
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.
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!
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.
Writers’ block may be plot block after all. (Trust me – I know a lot about this one!)
What do you think?
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?
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.
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.
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!
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!
REVISITING OUR GOALS
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…
FOR BUDDING WRITERS
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
FREE TO ENTER
Closing Date: Monday 13th February
Entry fee £5 , £3 for subscribers to Writing Magazine
Closing date: 15th March
Binsted Arts Festival Poetry Competition
Original unpublished poems
Entry fee £5 for first poem, £3 for each subsequent poem
NB Entries need to be posted for this one.
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.
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.
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.
January, 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!
But 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.
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.
Don’t send out your work too soon. Let it cool down, then edit it one more time.
Don’t take rejection personally.
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 http://www.dellagalton.co.uk
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.
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
TIPS FOR WRITING MEMOIR
How to tackle those memories
‘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.
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?
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.
The sunlight shining down through the water in the pond….
Sounds romantic? Well, it was until that huge toad landed ON MY HEAD!!