Monthly Archives: March 2012

Friday Fiction – Childhood Dreams

Fans of the old, dark, miserable Elmo, will be delighted to hear that today’s piece returns to form. Hopefully subtly enough not to upset any younger readers, but if you’ve been lulled into a false sense of security by happier posts, consider this a warning of “Adult Themes” and also “Some Readers May Find This Distressing”. Feel free to come back another time if you prefer not to read on.

As ever, I welcome feedback – good and bad. At which point I’d like to thank those who stopped by yesterday’s pitch slam – if you didn’t get chance, check out the link in my post yesterday (

Thanks again to Madison for the prompt, you can find her story, and links to the others, at

Childhood Dreams

When Annie found the abandoned truck, she thought it would be a good place to hide: away from her brothers, and her father’s grimy hands. She knelt behind the wheel and pretended she could drive away from this town. But then Daddy found her there, and the truck became as grimy as his hands.

Twelve years later, her sons found the truck, barely touched by time. They took turns to sit at the wheel and imagine driving away. After dusk, they told each other ghost stories, and pretended they heard heavy breathing, screaming, and saw shapes moving in the darkness.


Filed under Friday Fiction, Writing

Pitch Perfect

Today my 25 word pitch for “Who is Eric?” appears on Madison Woods’ blog in her weekly event – Would you buy it? – to allow writers to test their pitches on readers and other writers. I’d be super grateful if you could nip over to her blog ( and leave your votes and comments on her page, so that I can get the best possible picture of how I’m doing. It’s TOTALLY fine to say you don’t like the pitch, especially if you can give me any ideas on what would make it work better for you.

In the meantime, I thought I’d have a parallel post here about pitches in general. The pitch is used to sell a book to agents, publishers, retailers and even potentially readers. It is linked to, although not necessarily the same as, the blurb on the back of a paperback, which hooks the reader in and gives them both enough information and enough intrigue that they want to read the book.

The 25 word pitch is often called the Elevator Pitch, and that’s a term used in other businesses too. It’s a simple idea – you find yourself in the elevator with the perfect investor / publisher / agent / business contact and you have just one or two floors worth of time to sell your idea. Of course, you hope that having heard your elevator pitch, the guy is going to invite you into his office for a longer conversation, so you can save the details – the finances and all your complicated marketing strategies – for then. The elevator pitch is about getting his attention, and getting yourself that chance to pitch more fully.

It’s not easy. 25 words is not many, an elevator moves up a floor or two in a matter of seconds, but if you think about some of the greatest innovations of all time, it’s possible to see how it might work. With stories, it’s maybe harder. I have grappled with a few of my favourite novels and I don’t know how I would sum them up persuasively and uniquely in so few words.

One of the suggested ways is to start big, then gradually cut out more and more of the words until you find the 25 or so that really convey the essence of the story. On Monday, I’m going to post the longer versions of my pitch to show the process by which I achieved the 25 words Madison is offering, but for now I don’t want to sway you with more detail. Be sure to stop by next week and check out that post though. And in the meantime, please do pop over and see my pitch on Madison’s site.


Filed under Writing

Writer seeks Readers, GSOH a must!

Every time I think about re-starting my blog about an english girl’s adventures in Canada, I come across the same problem. The best way to make it interesting to other people would be to cast it in a humorous light, a la “A Year in the Merde”, Stephen Clarke’s book (later, series of books) about his time in France. But my sense of humour is traditionally British – dry and sardonic. If sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, then I might be the lowest form of whit(1).

Ok, I throw in the occasional pun for good measure, but mostly my sense of humour doesn’t translate well onto the page, and especially not to a Canadian audience. It didn’t take me long over here to discover that God’s Frozen People were taking me far too seriously, and potentially getting upset by what I appeared to be saying.

For example, in one piece of short fiction, I had a young character who doesn’t like children, refer to the “spawn” of some of her friends. To me, it was clear that the term was used (by the character) in jest and with an eye to the dramatic, but my writing group friends were almost universally appalled!

So I hesitate to publish any anecdotes about life in the colonies for fear of causing offence, or at least confusion. And my fictional writing tends to steer clear of any attempts at humour too. Maybe this is why I am always inclined to write about death and destruction!

If you have any hints or tips about ways to add humour, and particularly how to indicate sarcasm in print, I’d love to hear from you. Otherwise it’s back to reading Clarke and Austen, two great British wits (whits?) for suggestions.

1. Whit, for those without a British English dictionary, is a 15c variant of “wight” and means “creature”.


Filed under Uncategorized, Writing

Friday Fictioneers – The Crater

Friday rolls around again and Madison ( has given us a new picture to wrestle with. I found this one a bit of a challenge – I stared at it for a long time before the answer came to me. If you’re interested in how I write these pieces, do check out Monday’s post on Muses and Methods (; I’d love to hear from other Fictioneers about how you approach this weekly challenge.

My contribution this week is below, as ever criticism and critique are most welcome.

The Crater

I’ve only seen trees as white and bare as that once before – floating in a pool near the sunken peak of Mount St Helens. I remember thinking how spooky it was that they were bright white, not blackened or charred as I’d expected.

Today, I saw them again. But not an entire landscape this time, just a small ring of them around a large hole.  The hole looked a little like a volcanic crater, but the geology was all wrong. This crater had been made from above, not below. And it’s my job to find whatever, or whoever, made it.


Filed under Friday Fiction, Writing

Friday Fictioneers – Muses and Methods

Every Friday, a group of writers from around the globe get together online to write 100 word stories based on a picture prompt. I am one of them, and hopefully you have already enjoyed some of my Friday stories, each of them with the picture at the top. 

The picture is our inspiration and it’s an interesting exercise to watch how different writers take it in different directions. Some writers have genres – sci fi, vampires, mystery – and others have ongoing sagas – a detective mystery, the adventures of two young boys… – and some just throw out a random piece, unconnected to the others in any way.

If I had to categorise mine, I would say that they tend to be curious little stories, set in the real world and with the occasional twist in the tail. There also seems to be a heavy helping of death and destruction, although usually with at least a hint of hope. That’s something like what I’m aiming for, anyway.

Madison posts the picture on a Wednesday. I know that many of my fellow Fictioneers consider and draft and edit for a couple of days before posting their pieces on a Friday. But personally, I prefer to use the picture as a snap exercise. I mean no disrespect to Madison, or to the other Fictioneers by this, it’s just an exercise I find useful. I don’t look at the picture until Friday morning. Then, I open it up, copy it straight into a word document and write the first story that comes to mind. I frequently write these stories entirely line by line, that is to say the picture triggers a sentence rather than a story idea, and I write not knowing where the story is going to lead.

I aim to spend no more than an hour on my post, usually it is a lot less. I have practised this enough to know what roughly 100 words feels like, so once the first draft is written, I only have to tweak maybe 10 words up or down, spell check it and fiddle with the odd incomplete image or inconsistent reference.

I like the rough-hewn nature of blogs and the instantaneous nature of flash fiction. Occasionally, it leaves me with the feeling that I could have written something better, but usually it creates a sense of accomplishment at what I can achieve in a tight timescale.

So I’m wondering, of other Fictioneers, and other bloggers in general – do you draft and edit? Do you write on the fly?And do you approach flash fiction differently from how you approach longer short stories? I’d love to hear from you!


Filed under Writing

Friday Fictioneers – Lucy

Once again, Madison Woods ( has given us a challenge with this week’s picture, but on the plus side it did allow me to return to a slightly more morbid tone! This week was very much an exercise in automatic writing, I thought for less than a minute before I started this one, and the only edits were to tweak the number of words. I’ve love to hear what you think, and whether that has improved or hampered my story-telling for you!


The dog? Oh, I don’t know where she came from. She appeared about the anniversary of the fire. I didn’t pay her much attention at first; the site’s a haven for strays. She didn’t look dishevelled enough to have been a stray for long, but she’d no collar, and she hadn’t eaten in a few days.

But she seemed to favour me. She came to my door each morning, even though at first I didn’t feed her. And there was something about her eyes. I hadn’t seen eyes like that since I lost Lucy. How could I send her away?


Filed under Friday Fiction, Writing

The Versatile Blogger Award

Thanks to the awesomely named and awesomely talented Color Lime (, I have been nomiated for a funny thing called the Versatile Blogger Award. Which is why, slightly unusually, I come to you on a Thursday and with a post that has very little to do with writing.


Now, the deal with this award is that it’s both very meaningful and rather meaningless. Nominations are not judged or scrutinised – everyone nominated is automatically a winner; Anyone who writes a blog can nominate others and the rules suggest that if you are nominated, you should nominate multiple others – a little like a chain letter (except that there’s no bad luck or lack of sex if you don’t!).

But at the same time, I like to think that if the Lime nominated me, it’s because she genuinely appreciates reading my blog. And that is a big deal to me. She is telling her friends, readers and fans – go see what elmowrites has to say! And that’s the sort of nomination that makes me proud. So thanks, Lime!

For my nominations, I’ve thought about the blogs that i read and follow regularly. I suspect most / all of thse folks have already been nominated, but I’m not going to let that stop me linking them here.

Madison Woods ( – inspirational leader of the Friday Fictioneers, Madison is a fantastically professional blogger and I feel daunted by the power of her blog. If anyone is to succeed in conquering the strange world of the blogosphere, it’s Madison.

The Color Lime ( – she posts a lot, often multiple times in a day. It’s all completely random, and definitely versatile. And a lot of fun.

Ironwoodwind ( – A key member of earth’s last line of defence against alien attack. His friday fiction stories are often intellectual and /or political. I enjoy the challenge, and the broadening of my American history education, and the skill in his writing.

Craig Towsley ( – I genuinely think Craig’s stories are my favourite more often than any others. His ability to provide 100 words in the ongoing story of Owl and Raccoon every week always keeps me bounding back to his blog on a friday afternoon.

The Rules

  1. Thank the award-givers and link back to them in your acceptance post. [done]
  2. Share seven (7) FACTS about yourself. [see below]
  3. Award 15-20 other bloggers the versatility award. [ 15-20 is more blogs than I regularly read. I’ve kept this list short to give the real highlights]
  4. Contact your nominees so they know you nominated them. [will do!]

Which just leaves me….

Seven Facts

1. I anthropomorphise everything, including the laws of physics.

2.I am virtually incapable of visualisation, whether of real things, the future or memories. By way of example I’ve got NO IDEA what my husband looks like. I could not describe him to you.

3. Many things amaze me – the fact that I can post a letter in any post box in the UK and have even a chance that it could land on someone’s doormat hundreds of miles away the following day; the fact that planes fly; the images on the television screen…

4. I have a strong moral compass, but I firmly believe in forgiveness.

5. I can’t write if the TV’s on or I’m listening to music, but background music in a coffee shop doesn’t penetrate my concentration once I’m in the zone.

6. Since I started to take writing seriously, I find myself thinking about plot and characterisation when watching TV, movies or reading a book.

7. I didn’t watch Sesame Street until i was 12 years old.


Filed under Awards, Writing

Planning 101

As promised, in previous posts (see, I’m going to try to lay some groundwork here about the planning process for writers who choose to plan in advance. I am not advocating planning as the only method of writing, but when the project is big, or time-pressured, or simply when the writer has a good idea in advance of where the story is going, it can help to get that down on paper before the writing starts in earnest.

Today’s post is about Plot planning, there are other kinds of planning which I’ll deal with another time.

Some of these ideas are based on what is known as the Snowflake Method, which you can read about in more detail here:

Stage 1: Elevator Pitch

When the novel(1) is finished, the writer may want to pitch it to a publisher, agent or editor. But even from the beginning, it’s a great idea to have a clue vision of the basic premise of the story. Ideally, we’re going for no more than 25 words and a single sentence.

EG “An old woman looks back at a love affair from her youth and the disaster which separated her from her lover forever.”(2)

Stage 2: Paragraph Pitch

This stage is in many ways just a part of Stage 1. The idea is to expand the single sentence pitch into a paragraph, but it’s still very much a pitch. It will still leave the reader guessing about a huge number of things. It shouldn’t be more than about 100 words and 4 or 5 sentences. It will start to identify the themes and focus points of the novel.

EG “Four boys facing challenges in their daily lives, learn the location of a body in the woods. Set out on foot to see it, but a rival group of older boys is heading the same way. On their journey, the heroes face experiences and dangers which test not only their friendship but their own strengths and personalities. The boys who find the body are not the ones who set out to look for it. This coming of age drama tells the story of childhood friendships and innocence on the verge of discovery.”

Stage 3: Paragraph Story

This is where the plotting really starts. Stages 1 and 2 did little more than identify the  themes and ideas. They were deliberately vague and enticing, but this is the time when that stops. From Stage 3 onwards, the plan is not for the eyes of anyone except the writer. It absolutely should contain spoilers and answers to the questions the first two stages raised. This paragraph should be around the same length as the previous one, but this time be clearly plot driven. The first sentence should deal with the opening scenes, the last sentence with the ending, and the middle of the paragraph three key events that happen in between.

**SPOILER ALERT: This example contains spoilers for a film starring Joaquin Phoenix and Bryce Dallas Howard.**

EG: “A 19th century village, surrounded by woods populated by scary monsters that keep the inhabitants trapped in their otherwise idyllic lifestyle. A young couple falls in love, but a mentally handicapped boy who had hoped to marry the girl himself stabs the lover repeatedly in the chest. The girl’s only hope of saving her fiance is to travel through the woods to the nearby town to get medicine. Giving his blessing, her father admits to her that the monsters are not real, created by the elders of the village to protect its inhabitants from straying to the tempting but dangerous town. When she travels to the town, the girl realises that she and the villagers have in fact been living in a secret enclave in modern America, set up by the elders to escape the dangers and excesses of 21st century society.”

Stage 4: Expansion

From here, the process is simply one of expansion. Each sentence in that paragraph can be turned into a paragraph of its own. Each of these new paragraphs into a page, and so on. In some ways, this process could be repeated forever until the story was novel-length, but it is my view that to do so would be to create a much flatter story than is possible by writing more organically. Therefore once I have a collection of about 25 scenes, I tend to stop and write from scratch, using this plan as no more than a guideline. I might add in more scenes, or flesh some out more than others, depending on the flow of the writing and the scenes which lend themselves more to tension or action.

Taking the example above, this film incorporates a huge amount of set up; the first sentence alone takes up something like half the length of the film, with the second sentence creeping in and taking up most of the rest. The third and fourth are brushed over relatively quickly and then the final sentence is the denouement and ties together all the threads that have been spun out by elements either only hinted at or not mentioned in this summary.

Expansion is over when the writer says it is. They may do little more than chapter headings, or they may write a page or two of notes for each chapter. They may even not break the book into chapters until after it is written.


1: For convenience, I’m referring to the story / work as a novel. This could equally apply to a shorter story, a memoir or whatever piece of creative writing is being carried out. I’m not sure it works so well for non-fiction, but I imagine it is quite easily modified to do so.
2: Feel free to play the game of identifying the famous books or movies I’m using for my examples.


Filed under Writing

Friday Fictioneers #16

Thanks to Madison Woods for another intriguing photo. You can see her site and the other Fictioneers’ responses here:

I wanted to do something with that strange shape above the entrance, but I got carried away with the story I was writing and never had space to fit it in. It looks like a baseball mitt? Or a musical instrument? Or a bit of tree? I’m sure my MC would have plenty to say about it, but I only gave him 100 words and he never got there. Here’s what he did say. (Please feel very welcome to leave comments and criticism, I’d love to hear from you, good or bad.)

Going Back

Crawling into the old cellar is like travelling back in time. I remember blistering summers, baking beneath the tin roof and icy winters, the wind stabbing us through the walls. Everything’s magnified by memory, including the space itself. Four boys could comfortably sit playing cards and drinking beer snatched from our fathers’ cupboards, and planning our escape from our parents’ world.

Now, the cellar is only a few feet from the back door of the house. Now, my mother could have seen us from the kitchen window. Now, it’s barely big enough to hold four boys, let alone their dreams.


Filed under Uncategorized

The Lonely Writer

“Writing, at its best, is a lonely life.” So said Ernest Hemingway, great writer and master of misery. Which is interesting to me, because of the “at its best” in the middle of the sentence. Writing is a lonely life. Yes, certainly. Most writers fly solo, and by definition fiction is something that only we can see until we set it down in words.

But does “at its best” refer to the quality of the writing or the life? If it’s the writing, then I think that depends on the writer. Some people work best locked in a room alone, others at a coffee shop where the minor distractions of real life help them to avoid the major distractions of boredom, procrastination and writer’s block.

But Hemingway being who he was, I think it’s perfectly possible he was referring to the quality of the life. No annoying co-workers to interrupt, no screaming children or hungry cats, no nagging wife or impatient husband … just the writer and the worlds he chooses to create.

In which case, Mr Hemingway, I must respectfully disagree.

With a group of fellow writers recently, those of us without day jobs were bemoaning the state of our lives. Put very simply, there were three big difficulties facing us. The first, is the rather obvious and clichéd image of the starving artist. As unpublished writers, we cannot be sure that our work will ever bring in any money; we certainly can have no confidence whatsoever that it will feed and clothe us into our dotage. It’s a concern and a very real one. But, for many writers, a day job or a partner with a day job is enough to pull that problem down from Crisis level.

Connected to our lack of financial security is the difficulty of self-motivation in the face of nothing stronger than a hope of one day being published. As an un(der)-employed writer, I know that nobody is going to give two hoots if I spend the day in bed or watching TV. Nobody is going to chase me for the next draft manuscript or the next short story. For me, the solution is a schedule – I’ve mentioned this before – and a healthy dose of self-motivation. I know that on a Friday I must post my piece for Madison’s Friday Fictioneers, for example, and as well as my Flag Raising goals for the year, I set goals every morning for the day and on the first of every month to complete by the end of it. And some days I’m more productive than others, but it means I don’t need a boss standing over me with a deadline and a P45 (Pink slip for US readers).

But, to come back to EH and his lonely life, the biggest problem for the un(der)-employed writer is a much more human one, felt by homemakers and full-time carers, the unemployed and the cast out as well as the world’s writers. We need company. We need to hear a human voice, to talk – even about nothing – and to be listened to. The television or radio can help, but it doesn’t quite fit the bill. And there is something unhelpful about telephones too – I find they help even less. Which is why I consider myself extremely lucky to have made friends with a group of people who have an online chatroom. Most of them are writers, in one guise or another, although there is much more to any of them than their fiction. During the day, whenever I have a mini-success or what feels like a catastrophic failure, I can jump in and tell someone about it. And the rest of the time, we chatter like co-workers do. Not non-stop, or there’d be no time for work, but enough to feel a connection. It’s as important as being able to share the bigger successes and failures with my husband and family. Like I said about the coffee shop, sometimes allowing minor distractions is the best way to prevent major ones.

So, while I fully admit that my writing, at its best, is still not fit to clean the shoes of EH’s worst; for me, the writing life, at its best, is one that’s shared and enjoyed.


Filed under Writing