In the reader’s mind

In my last blog, I talked about using imagery, following the advice of Mary Cole in her book Writing Irresistible Kidlit. Mary suggests carefully ignoring clichés and searching for new ways of saying something.

Can we, as story-tellers and writers, create new ways of helping our readers to get totally involved in whichever scene we’re writing?


More advice came this week from Sophie Hannah, who is running a very interesting course called Dream Author. (Check it out at It starts officially in September, but there is a lot going on already.)

Sophie’s advice is all about making readers care, not by telling them exactly what’s going on, as for example in the following fictitious example.

A masked man appeared in the doorway of the bank and pointed a gun. Mrs Bone and little Georgie were terrified. As for Monica at the desk, she had never been so frightened in her life.

My reader’s not part of that scene, is he? He’s detached, and probably doesn’t care a farthing about any of them.

We want readers to feel something for themselves, and Sophie Hannah tells us that they will do this if we ‘allow them to encounter a situation/character in a piece of writing first-hand and have their own direct, emotional response to that person/situation.’

Let’s go back to Mrs Bone and Georgie. What did they do when the masked man rushed into the bank? Did Mrs Bone’s mouth go dry? Or drop open perhaps? Did she grab little Georgie and thrust the child behind her. Did Georgie gasp? Or scream? And what about Monica at the desk? How did her fear physically manifest itself in her face? Her body?

July was my personal Similes and Metaphors month. August is more ‘Come on in, Readers, and feel the heat/cold/rain/terror/etc.’.


Words into pictures

This month I’m working with a very helpful companion.

It’s a book called Writing Irresistible Kidlit and author Mary Cole covers everything you need to know about creating fiction for middle grade and young adult readers. Mary talks a lot about the power of imagery.

‘With every word,’ she writes, ‘you are painting an image inside your reader’s head.’

Her advice includes ignoring clichés and searching for new ways of saying something.

The ‘new ways’ bit sounds difficult to me. But not, I’m sure, impossible.

Adjectives can be useful, but does anyone else run into a dead end (whoops, cliché) when they try to think of the perfect description of a blue sky, for example. ‘Cornflower blue’ conjures up a perfect day, but the phrase has been used lots of times in some of the books and stories I’ve read.

A ‘delphinium sky’ is more original, but doesn’t seem to epitomise summer in the same way.  I have plenty of borage plants in the garden at the moment, with dainty blue flowers. I’m sure you’ll agree that a ‘borage sky’ sounds a tad peculiar. I’ll have to keep working on that one!

Mary Kole stresses that imagery can be particularly effective when we use similes and metaphors, especially if they are new and fresh.

Just to remind you – a simile is a figure of speech that directly compares two things. For example:

He has eyes like a hawk.

Her life was like a box of liquorish allsorts.

‘There was a quivering in the grass which seemed like the departure of souls.’ Victor Hugo

A metaphor is a figure of speech that directly refers to one thing by mentioning another for rhetorical effect. For example:

You are my sunshine.

Laughter is the music of the soul.

‘I tom-peeped across the hedges of years, into wan little windows.’ Vladimir Nabokov

I’m making July my personal Similes and Metaphors Month. I’ll be looking out for them in the novels and stories I read, and working on them as I give my book its first edit.

Note to self: Must carry notebook everywhere I go, in case a diamond of an idea pops into my head when least expected!



Rogues are welcome in this garden. You didn’t include me in that broomstick statement, did you?





Have you heard of the Enneagram?

Maybe you came to my course on the Enneagram at the Swanwick Writer’s Summer School last year, or you’re already familiar with it.

Welcome to a refresher taste.

Maybe you’ve never heard of the the Enneagram. In which case, welcome to all first time learners.

What is the Enneagram?

Rosemary Cowan of the London Enneagram Centre writes:

The Enneagram is a comprehensive guide to personality types, based on a number of ancient wisdom traditions. It’s a tool for understanding human nature. 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.

The Enneagram can help a writer create realistic and believable characters.

At the same time, one of the outcomes of studying it is that we can get to know and understand ourselves better too.

Before we get going, please read the following:


  1. You were born with your personality type. You may change and grow in some ways, and be affected positively or adversely by circumstances, but your basic personality type will not change.
  2. Not everything in the notes about your personality type will apply to you.
  3. It is common to find something of yourself in all the personality types, but after a little or a lot of consideration, one of them should emerge as being closest to yourself. This is your basic personality type.
  4. If you are meeting the Enneagram for the first time, don’t be in a hurry to ‘label’ yourself. And I’m sorry, as much as you would like to be a particular number, you can’t pick and choose which group to be in!
  5. The numbers are arbitrary. It isn’t better to be a Four than a Six, or a Nine than an Eight. A One isn’t the crême de la crême, being the first number, neither is Nine, perched on top of the Enneagram diagram. All are of equal worth.


To begin our study, we’re going to have an overview of the nine distinct personality types, illustrated in the diagram. Each has many excellent qualities, as well as a few less desirable qualities. After all, we are human, made up of good and not-so-good. So, here we go:

1 PERFECTIONISTS believe they must be good and right to be worthy. They are dependable, principled, and conscientious, but they can also be resentful and critical, and they can judge themselves harshly.

2 HELPERS believe they must give fully and unceasingly in order to be loved. They are warm-hearted, considerate, and sensitive to the needs of others, but they can be prideful, demanding and intrusive.

3 ACHIEVERS believe they must accomplish much and be successful in order to be loved. They are industrious, self-confident, and goal-orientated, but they can be unmindful of feelings, image-driven and lacking in patience.

4 INDIVIDUALISTS believe they must obtain an ideal relationship or situation in order to be loved. They are sensitive, intuitive, and empathetic, but they can be moody or dramatic, and they sometimes become self-absorbed.

5 OBSERVERS believe they must protect themselves from an over-demanding world. They are perceptive, analytical, and knowledgeable, and they seek self-sufficiency. However, they can be overly-private and detached.

6 SUPPORTERS believe they must gain security and protection in a world they can’t entirely trust. They are responsible, trustworthy, and loyal, but they can also be fearful, doubtful and accusatory.

7 ADVENTURERS believe they must live to the full, all the time, in order to have a good life. They are energetic, optimistic, and fun-loving They seek pleasure and are always on the lookout for more possibilities. However, they can be perpetually avoiding pain, self-serving and afraid of commitment.

8 LEADERS believe they must be strong and powerful to be sure of protection and kudos in a tough world. They are energetic, self-reliant, and action-orientated, but they can also be excessive, overly impactful and sometimes impulsive.

9 MEDIATORS believe they must be agreeable and blend in, in order to be loved and valued. They are calm, reassuring, and accommodating, but in their search for harmony they avoid conflict, and they can be self-forgetting, and stubborn.

Interested in finding your own number?

Some people find at first reading that they have a little bit of every number in their personality, or they feel they might belong in more than one group.

That’s fine. Take your time.

There are a number of websites offering to help you find your personality type. I tried 

and for me it came out as expected.

An easy to read and straightforward book is

The Enneagram Made Easy: Discover the 9 Types of People

by Renee Baron and Elizabeth Wagele

Well known for their books on the subject are Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson.

There’s my book, too, written to help writers develop their characters. Paperback (left) or Kindle version (right)










Come back next month for part two, and together we’ll learn to make our characters more interesting and more believable.


Frog: (Blinking) My personality changes with the weather.



This month two talented writers are celebrating their debut novels.

What she saw by Wendy Clarke is a psychological thriller. The by-line reads,

‘How far would you go to keep your daughter safe?’

Publication date: 1st May 2019



The by-line for Ellie and the Harp Maker by Hazel Prior reads,

‘Sometimes it takes a chance encounter to discover what your life can be . . .’

Publication date: 2nd May 2019

It’s an incredibly exciting time for these two writers, but don’t for a minute think they’ve always had it easy.

They have both worked hard, very hard. They have had successes along the way, but they’ve had disappointments, too. One thing I know about both of them is that they never give up, and because of this they are an inspiration to people like me who want so much to be able to say, one day, here’s my debut novel.

I’m planning to read both these novels.

I’m also planning to keep on writing mine.

Congratulations Wendy and Hazel. Enjoy every moment of your special days.

Frog: (promising to work hard)

One day, oh yes, one day…

Harvest in April?

I belong to two writers’ groups, and today I’d like to tell you about one of them.

The Plymouth Christian Writers has a dozen members, and we meet once a month in the Methodist Central Hall, in Plymouth’s city centre.


Writing can be a lonely business, and it’s good to meet people who not only love writing, they love talking about writing, too. The Plymouth Christian Writers share a faith, too, but that doesn’t mean we necessarily agree with each other’s points of view. At its heart, the Christian faith is inclusive and tolerant, and I love it that these people are supportive of each other even though they know certain viewpoints would have meant the ducking stool in years gone by.

What do we do?

The group suggests topics for writing in advance. There’s no law that says a) You must write about this or else…, and b) You will be excommunicated if you don’t bring anything to read out. Sometimes it’s useful to be given a topic to write about, and certainly working towards the deadline of the next meeting is helpful to those of us whose minds have a tendency to wander, whether it be to the next meal, the lawn they ought to be cutting, or the next chapter of the book they’re not quite ready to write.

For March we’d decided upon ‘Customs’. I am always amazed at the number of different approaches that can be taken to each subject, and this was no exception. There is often humour with underlying  compassion from one member, and a new approach to a character from the Bible from another. Among us we have poets, playwrights, a travel writer,  short story creators, writers for children, a novelist, and non-fiction writers. Some of us balance several writers’ hats!


After each reading, there is the opportunity for feedback. Of course, a good writers’ group strives to encourage its members, and the members of the Plymouth Christian Writers group are good at constructive criticism. For example, praise is given where due, and then, if there are words or phrases that need attention, they are addressed in a positive way.

As the leader of this group I have taken to heart the following advice from William Ryan, historical and crime novelist, in a feature he wrote for the Writers & Artists website.

‘Perhaps most importantly, each member of the writing group should take the other members’ writing as it is, and try to encourage the other members to achieve their vision of what they’d like their writing to be, rather than impose their own style on someone else.’

If you’d like to read the whole article, go to

We have occasional visiting speakers and workshops…

… including an open poetry workshop led by Plymouth poet laureate, Mike Sullivan,







and several workshops  with prolific novelist Veronica Heley


What else do we do?

Over the years we have produced booklets to mark varying times in the year—Christmas, Easter, and Summer  are past topics, and last year we wrote for ‘Passiontide 2018’, with contributions from ten members.

Our latest venture is ‘Harvest’ and this month we’re working on pieces for our proposed new booklet, hopefully ‘done and dusted’ (excuse cliché) by September.


When everyone has read out their work, we may have time to spare for a writing game or exercise. In February we had five minutes to write about gnomes. Brains whirred and silence fell. At the end of the time slot we read out what we’d written, and I would be surprised if the people in the Discovery Café didn’t hear us laughing.


I love gnomes, so can’t resist sharing what I wrote:

The Garden Gnome

Jack’s house was by the school bus stop, so he was never surprised when one or more of the youngsters slipped into his garden and moved his gnome. It disappeared once, and he felt sure he saw it looking down from the top of the number seven . It appeared to be eating a Mars bar. Jack thought about getting a new gnome—it had been chipped over the years after all. Three days later he saw someone creeping into his garden. Tough luck, it’s gone, he thought. He made his way to the front door. He looked out, and there he was, Freddy, with a new coat of paint and a Mars bar wrapper in his hand.

So, that’s the Plymouth Christian Writers.

If anyone in or near Plymouth would like to join us, please leave me a comment and I’ll get in touch.

Frog: (Uncertainly) Bit suspicious of gnomes, me.


5 tips for flash fiction

1 Write about something that matters to you.

In other words, make the reader care.

If you have a passion for travel, set your story somewhere you’ve visited, or somewhere on your bucket list.

If you are a stickler for the truth, how do you feel about people who get away with telling lies?

Do you worry about your children’s safety?

Are you afraid of growing old?

Make a list of things that matter to you. It will be useful now and in the future.

2 Spend time creating your title

It can add to your story or help invite a reader in.

3 Start as far into the story as possible

In other words, grab the reader’s interest straight away.

Study examples of flash and see how little the reader needs to know. If the story’s good, he won’t mind working to fill in some of the details himself.

4 Things to avoid:

Too many adjectives and adverbs


A weak ending



5 Whatever problem or question is set up at the beginning of your flash, be sure to solve or answer it at the end.

National Flash Fiction Day. Saturday 15th June.

Details online at




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!


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.


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.


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


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.’


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.