Monthly Archives: May 2012

Take a deep breath…

This morning, the blog muse is strangely silent. She has nothing to say about writing, reading or anything else factual, as she usually does on Mondays, and so nor do I. (Although just typing that makes me wonder if I should muse on the concept of the muse!) Anyway, I’m hoping that it’s because she’s feeling fictional and creative, so here’s a picture of some of Rory’s Story cubes and an off-the-cuff response which I hope will be amusing, entertaining or at the very least, coherent.

It’ll be a rough draft,so please be gentle, but let me know what you think!


“Meet me at the fountain – You know? The one with the fish in it? – at 4 o’clock,” he said. But it’s ten past and there’s no sign of him. I should have known he wouldn’t show. My Dad has never been late for anything in his life, but the number of times he hasn’t shown up at all, well that’s legendary.

I walked around the edge a third time, trying not to look for him, trying to pretend that I was here to study the fountain’s engravings. It was an old installation – been there since Capability Brown did the gardens probably, although in those days the fish would have been something a bit less exotic than the karp which now nibbled on pond weed in the setting sun.

I got to the North-East compass point when something made me look up and out, as if a sound had caught my attention, though I’d heard nothing consciously. I read this poem once, it said “The sun sets in the West, so if you see a light in the East it will be the fire of my love, burning to return to you, borne on a magic wind to be with you wherever you are.”

There was a light in the East that night, but in the age of modern electric light, I knew it was just the gift shop, where I’d finished working a little early today to make it over here by four. But the poem came to mind and I like the idea of a lost lover, and I guess I wanted some magic in my day to make up for the disappointment. I closed my eyes and saw a rainbow, with my lover (not just his love’s fire, but himself in person) transported along it from some great distance to be by my side. He took my hand and led me into the orchard grove out past the rose garden. We sat under a tree. He said that we would be married in a secret ceremony, that nobody needed to give me away, because I belonged to noone but him. He promised he would never be parted from me again, that we would be together forever. He told me I was the one.

But when I opened my eyes, there was only a fountain, and fish, and a clock which no longer made any pretence that my father would be coming to meet me.


Filed under Writing

Friday Fictioneers – Drive-Thru

A rare and dangerous attempt at something lighter this week. I’d love to hear what you think!

Thanks to Madison again for the prompt. Hers and others can be found here:


“Green One to Green Leader. I have the target in my sights. Permission to fire, Sir?” Luke paused for a moment, then settled into a steady ack-ack-ack of machine gun fire.

“I think they are lovers,” said Mom. “The green one is the boy, trying to persuade the pretty but shy girl to date him.”

Jenna sighed. Her family were so predictable, like a TV show cliché. She stared at the window, willing it to open and the cashier inside to pass out their food before Dad chimed in. But it was too late.

“Do you want flies with that?”

For your further amusement and entertainment, Tim McGraw.


Filed under Friday Fiction, Writing

Don’t Judge a Book by its Cover

Never judge a book by its cover, right?

Book covers can definitely be misleading. The artwork is almost always done by someone who has had no hand at all in the content between the covers, and certainly not in the writing of the novel. I once bought a boxed set of the Chronicles of Narnia, stories with words and illustrations I have loved all my life. The covers were new and modern and drawn by someone I’d never heard of, but they didn’t change the bits of the books I really enjoy.

Another feature of book covers are those little quotes from reviewers or famous authors. I know I’m not the only person who finds these comments highly suspicious – did Neil Gaiman really read this, or did his publisher just tell him to say something nice? And even if he did read it, could he have said he didn’t like it? Quotes and reviews are also a bit like Literary Prizes. Some incredible novels have won prizes and critical acclaim, but so have some … let’s say difficult reads. None of this is any guarantee that you as a reader are going to enjoy the book.

The best clue is perhaps the blurb: the tantalising synopsis on the back of the book that introduces one or two characters, plot lines and cliffhangers. But even then, it’s not always written by the author, it doesn’t tell you whether the ending will be satisfying or whether the topic will be dealt with well. Its very job is to peak your interest, but sometimes I feel blurbs venture into spoiler territory, giving away more than I wanted to know about the storyline or the twist.

But if you can’t judge a book by its cover, what else can you do? You can open it and read the first few pages, or the last few (I know at least one person who does that!), rely on recommendations from friends through word of mouth or things like Goodreads or just stick with favourite authors – although they’d have to be fairly prolific to keep up with most readers!

What do you do? How do you choose your next read and how do you feel about the things you find on book covers?


Filed under Awards, Writing

Friday Fiction – The Lie of the Land

Thank you all for you kind wishes last week, it was very exciting to be able to finally share the news.

Madison has surpassed herself again with a gorgeous photograph – below. Check out her blog for other responses and comments ( My story is below. I’m not sure where it’s going this week; it sort of wrote itself, but I am quite tempted to press on and see where it goes next. So I might write a longer short story sometime next week. In the meantime, do let me know what you think of this opening by leaving a comment below!

The Lie of the Land

I have walked in these fields every day since I was a child. I know the trees and shrubs as well as I know my brothers; I know the undulations of the ground so well that I could navigate by them alone, with my eyes blindfolded or picked out by the jackdaws which whirl and cackle overhead.

I have walked in these fields every day since I was a child. But until today, I have never seen a clearing on the Mcguinty land. Now it is picked out by the tip of a rainbow, and I can see nothing else.




Filed under Friday Fiction, Writing

Changing the Colours – Time for a re-think

Back in February, I posted a piece called Flag-Raising, wherein I set out my writing goals for the year. I’ve occasionally noted my progress (or lack of it) since. Now I’ve decided it’s time to move the goal posts or, to retain the flag analogy, change the colours.

They are funny things, goals. Setting them is hard – you want to keep them achievable, but still stretching. I remember learning in lawyer training that goals should be SMART – Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timed – and I think mine were all of that. Or at least, could have been.

But life had other ideas. Those who read last week’s Friday Fiction piece will know that life got in the way. I’ve been pretty lucky with my pregnancy so far, but it has certainly reduced my productivity on the writing front. Also, with a due date of 30 October, my participation in NaNoWriMo is looking precarious. I have already pulled out of MLing as I *know* I won’t have the time or energy for that. So, here’s what the flag looks like now:


Let’s be honest. I’ve lost a lot of motivation for Eric. I believe there’s a story in there to be told, but at the moment, I think it runs the risk of being lost in a lot of rubbish. What this novel needs is more than the tinkering edit I’ve been planning. It needs a full re-write. And to do that, I need a lot of time and motivation. So I’m shelving Eric in rough draft form and admitting to myself that he won’t be finished any time soon.


I am very eager to keep this blog up, so my twice-a-week commitment to Elmowrites remains. Stay tuned for Fiction every Friday and a random collection of ramblings on Mondays. Thank you for your support and comments, they really do make a difference.

So far I’ve not quite managed a submission every month, but have managed an average of one submission a month. I’m aiming to keep that up, at least until the little one arrives.


All my short stories from last November are now in the realm of beta readers, and I’ll continue to shop them around, polish and edit until I’m happy. there’s a contest in July I’d like to enter them into.

I still write shorts when I can, and in the absence of Eric I’ll hopefully write a few more, but I’m not making this a SMART goal, it is neither specific nor measurable nor timed. It’s an AR goal.

I’ll still crit anything I’m asked to, and even with around 100 participants, I’ll still try to read all the Friday Fictioneers’ submissions each week.


It’s a smaller flag, but it’s still flying high and I’ll still do my best to protect it. Writing is a part of my life now, and I never want to lose it again.


Filed under Friday Fiction, Writing

Friday Fiction – Halloween

Once again, thank you to Madison Woods for a stunning photographic inspiration. I’m saving my introduction for after the story, as it contains spoilers, but I do hope you’ll read to the end.


It’s a night fit for horror. The full moon struggles to pierce gathering thunder clouds overhead and rumbles in the distance foretell a coming storm. Bat-like silhouettes flit briefly across the bright spot in the clouds, then disappear cackling into the blackness.

My teenage self would have feared ghouls and vampires approaching unseen in the gloom. As a child, I’d have been dressed as one and demanding treats. All Hallow’s Eve, the Day of the Dead.

But today there are no horrors. Today, I’m busy with the most important job of my life, and so is my brand new daughter*.

* * * * *

Post-Story Introduction

Clichéd, I’m sure, but the picture said ghosts and ghouls to me. However, the end of October has a special significance in our household at the moment, because we’re expecting a baby (*gender unspecified, but I had to pick one for the sake of the story), due 30th October! And what better way to tell you all than through a bit of Friday Fiction?


Filed under Friday Fiction, Uncategorized, Writing

Write who you know?

It’s an oft-quoted piece of writing advice to write what you know, but it’s as oft-flouted as it is quoted. After all, if writers stuck to it religiously, there could be no fiction at all, and certainly no fantasy, historical fiction or sci-fi.

The best writers draw on their own experiences, mixing them with research and good old-fashioned imagination. Emotions, for example, are extremely transferable and to some extent scalable. I’ve experienced the fear of hearing strange noises in the house or of seeing a suspicious-looking character walking towards me on a dark street, so it’s escalation rather than invention, to imagine how I, or my characters, would react if those fears turned out to be real, or to other frightening circumstances. If grief can be measured (as with love, I’m not persuaded it’s a ratio scale), I have been fortunate only to experience milder forms – for pets, grandparents and not-incredibly-close friends. But I know enough of it from both inside and outside to conjure some of the emotion that loss causes into my characters. It works like empathy – I can’t imagine how it feels to lose one’s partner, child or parent, but I can begin to, and that is why my heart goes out to friends, family and even strangers who have.

Emotions aren’t the only place where writers mix experience and imagination. We do it in every scene and virtually every sentence, as we craft a story which we want to ring true. Like watching a singer miming, readers pick up on inconsistencies in stories almost subconsciously. You can’t always point to the problem, but you know it doesn’t ring true.

to me, that’s one reason that writing realism can be harder than fantasy. If I write about a dwarf speaking to an elf, fantasy fans may say that my dwarf is not accurately portrayed, but what they are really saying is that my vision of dwarves doesn’t match that of Tolkien, or some other master of the fantasy cannon. Although I might be wise to follow the crowd (or to create  anew name for the race I’m creating from scratch), I cannot be “wrong” because I am creating something out of nothing. But if I write about two plumbers, discussing the nature of a problem in the pipework, I’d better be sure I’ve done my background reading, because plumbers and their wives / mothers / assistants / apprentices everywhere will pick me up right away if I muddle caulking with grout.

All of which is probably why a lot of writers pick a career and stick to it (Crime writers cling to detectives, John Grisham churns out lawyers…) or avoid involving careers as far as possible (who knows or cares what the majority of Stephen King’s characters do to earn their crust?). We also tend to choose a genre and a time period, whether that’s our own (Jane Austen, Jodi Picoult…) or a particular one we’ve researched endlessly (Catherine Cookson, Philippa Gregory).

And, most writers stick to the gender they know best, at least for the narrator or principal character. “We Need To Talk About Kevin” is about a teenage boy, but the narrator and in many ways the main character is a woman, as is Lionel Shriver, and all her books, however well they depict men, do it from the outside.

Age is tougher, but also more flexible. Most published writers are over 25, yet young adult fiction is immensely popular and children’s fiction fills a huge area in every bookshop and library. But at least we’ve been there, and many adults have a pretty close view of childhood through their own families. And maybe age makes less of a difference than we would like to think. 60 year olds, 30 year olds, even 18 year olds don’t think that differently. Our hopes and fears change, as do our priorities, but the emotions that embody them aren’t so different however old we are.

But still … I look at my draft novels and I wonder why I’ve got a third person close narrative from the point of view of a thirty year old man, and a first person diary written by a middle-aged father. Do I just like to make things difficult?!

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Filed under Writing

Friday Fiction – Marigolds

As ever, thank you to Madison Woods for the pictorial inspiration, although this week I should also thank Mary Shipman who submitted the photo. You can see their stories, and the responses of the other fictioneers, in the comments to Madison’s post:

Here’s mine – As ever, I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments.


I haven’t seen that paper since I was a child. Bright orange marigolds covered white walls then; both are yellowing now, behind years of paper and paint.

“Children see things in black and white,” my Grandpa used to say, “The agony of a playground fall, the ecstasy of Christmas morning.” But he meant the opposite: children see things in vivid technicolour, in contrasting extremes.

It’s only as adults that we’re imprisoned by shades of grey. We feel neither fear nor delight unadulterated, because life and experience have taught us that nothing is permanent.

Not even orange marigolds and white walls.


Filed under Friday Fiction, Writing