Monthly Archives: August 2012

Friday Fiction – White Pegasi

This week’s Friday Fiction prompt is from right here in Toronto, courtesy of Stacey Plowright, via Madison Woods. It’s an interesting one, but didn’t immediately give me anything to work with, so I went all round the houses with ideas, then came back to my first idea – complete with a bit of mythology, which I hope Stacey will appreciate! The story tallied in at 237 words to start with, so I hope the condensed version still makes clear what’s going on.

I’d love to hear what you think – good or bad.

White Pegasi

“Is Pegasi even a word?”

“Plural of Pegasus? White horses of the sky? I think it’s the perfect name for the painting.” I felt myself tossed on those clouded waves, soaring through a sky so blue I could taste it.

“There was only one Pegasus,” scoffed my fellow judge. “Ridiculous clouds.”

“Aren’t they beautiful? Like waves on the ocean, the perfect replication of nature in all things. And based on reality.” I handed her the “Inspiration” photograph.

For a second, she hesitated; then her face hardened again.

“Photoshop is a terrible thing,” she said, flouncing off to the next entry.


Filed under Friday Fiction, Writing

Submissions – Ploughshares

One of the places I have submitted in the past, but now decided may not be the best for my work, is Ploughshares. It’s a serious literary magazine, with a strong pedigree in bringing newcomers to American literature and is guest-edited for each edition by some pretty big names. The magazine (really more like a paperback book) is published three times a year, and mailed out in hard copy to subscribers, who pay $30 per year for the privilege.

There are three ways to submit to Ploughshares.

Open Submissions

Fiction, poetry and certain types of non-fiction manuscripts are accepted unsolicited between 1 June and 15 January. Up to five poems can be submitted together, prose pieces should be submitted individually and be no more than 6,000 words long (5,000 is prefered).

There are no submissions fees for mail-in submissions, but a $3 charge is levied to submit online. Payment is $25 per page (Min $50, Max $250) together with two copies of the title published and a year’s subscription to the magazine.

Pshares Singles

The magazine has recently launched a new series, publishing one longer fiction piece (6,000-25,000 words) in electronic format once a month. The submission criteria are the same as above, and I believe so is the payment scheme.

Emerging Writers’ Contest

Finally, Ploughshares runs an annual contest for up-and-coming writers. This is defined as anyone who has yet to publish a book, including chapbooks and self-published works, in any genre. The contest is currently CLOSED and runs from February to April each year, with the winning entry published in their “Fall Edition”.

Entries should be no more than 5,000 words (or 3-5 poems) and the entry fee of $20 includes a year’s subscription to the magazine. Winners in each genre (fiction, non-fiction and poetry) are awarded $1,000 prize.


So, why won’t I be submitting any more?

Last year, I entered the Emerging Writers’ Contest. I didn’t win, or indeed receive any response to my entry, but this decision is not sour grapes on my part. It is proof of the lesson which is drilled into us time and again by books and articles and anything else giving advice on writing and publishing, and that is to know your market and choose wisely when submitting. My entry into the EWC gave me a year’s subscription to the magazine (for less than a year’s subscription would have cost, I hasten to add!). I’ve now read a couple of their publications in a lot more detail than the free excerpts online allowed me to do and I’ve come to the conclusion that it isn’t the place for my writing.

I write mainstream, some might even call it “literary”, fiction. I don’t write genre pieces, so Ploughshares ought to be a decent fit in that regard. However, what I don’t write is Literary Fiction in the sense that Ploughshares publishes it. Poems are usually incomprehensible to me, and even the short stories in their publications have a hint of poetry to them. I like a story to have a beginning, a middle and an end – a satisfying balance and a reason behind the words. I like likeable characters, or at least ones that I can be moved by, and I can’t handle even 6,000 words inside the head of a character who is clearly weird.

All of which is a poor attempt at describing the pieces I find in my latest copy of Ploughshares. The writing is good, by some definitions, but if a friend sent it to me and asked for critique, I’d rip it apart. I think most of my critiqueing friends would too.

So the truth is, I won’t be submitting to Ploughshares again unless my writing style changes. But if you think Literary suits the way you write (and for some people it really does), then it’s a fantastic place to try your work. The rates are decent, the lack of submission fees is a bonus and it’s definitely a publication with kudos behind the name. And if you’re not sure, enter next year’s EWC and try a year’s subscription for yourself. It might just be the springboard to great things.

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The Real Piccolo

Last Friday I wrote an extract from the story I want to write next – currently known as Piccolo’s Tale. The Friday Fictioneers are always kind and supportive, but this time I was really overwhelmed by how everyone rallied around the little lost cat, and by how many fellow cat lovers I have connected with through this group.

I’m not a crazy cat lady, but I am a cat lover through and through – I’ve wanted one since I was a little girl (actually, I thought I was one when I was a little girl) and finally fulfilled that dream two years ago when Pepsi and Max arrived in my life. It’s fair to say that I’m completely besotted with these two and very happy to have brought them into my family. However, it was a close call at the time, and the reason, is the real Piccolo. I’m glad I’ve begun to write a fictional story fit for him to live in now – but here is the true story of Piccolo.

When we arrived in Canada, it was always my husband’s and my intention to get a cat. In fact, it was the closest thing I made to a condition on moving out here or, indeed, marrying him in the first place! We lived at first in a small apartment in the centre of Toronto, and the move took a lot of getting used to for me. I’d gone from being a successful, highly paid lawyer, surrounded by friends and colleagues I knew and loved, to being a housewife in a strange country, with nothing to structure or focus my days. I was going stir crazy in that apartment, and we were both savvy enough to recognise it.

We were looking for houses to move to, and I was researching job options as well as starting to find people who would become my new friends, but we decided that it might make me feel better to start looking for our new kitten too. So we began to go around the city, visiting the homes of people who, for whatever reason, had kittens available.

They say you should let the cat choose you. Although we saw many adorable kittens, none of them chose us until one morning we went to see a family who had one tiny grey and white boy looking for a home. He snuggled up to me OK, but when he got on my husband’s lap he was clearly in his element – eventually falling into a purring sleep.

That afternoon, we visited another cat family. These were three siblings who had been rescued, along with their mother, from a drain by the lady who was now taking care of them. One was long-haired, something we’d agreed we didn’t want. But the other two weren’t – they were a boy and a girl, mirror twins in black and white tuxedo. The boy was playful and friendly; the girl was terrified of everyone and spent the whole time hiding, together with their mother.

We came away thinking that the decision – while hard – was made. The grey cat had clearly bonded instantly with us, and since we weren’t looking for two, the twins really weren’t right for us. After a long drawn-out discussion, we called the grey kitten’s family and agreed to take him. We’d call him Piccolo.

Now, I should mention that I am a big fan of decisions. Uncertainty is not something I deal well with, and I generally feel much better when a decision has been made. However, in the interests of full disclosure, I should also say that when faced with an impossible decision, I will toss a coin then see how the decision feels before I act on it. In this case though, we had already acted – we had called the grey kitten and once I’ve acted on a decision, I don’t go back on it. It’s just not in my nature.

But I spent that whole night in tears. I couldn’t sleep, I felt terrible, and in the morning there was really only one thing to do. I called Piccolo’s family and tearfully apologised that I couldn’t take him. I called the lady looking after the twins and we agreed to take both. The boy was already named Max by his foster carer, we named the girl Pepsi.

Piccolo was a beautiful, tiny kitten, and I know that he will have found a wonderful family to love him, but sometimes I still think of him and wonder how he’s doing. I don’t regret our final decision, but I am delighted if I can now finally share some time with Piccolo and give him both love and adventures on the page.


Filed under British Expat in Canada, Friday Fiction, Writing

Friday Fictioneers – Far Afield

This week’s picture comes from Maggie Duncan, on Madison Woods’ site. There is something very British about the photo, but I have a feeling that’s more nostalgia in me than accurate geographical identification. I’d love to know where it’s taken though. It’s another landscape, and for me those are always harder than the close ups of something, so I thought I’d give you a taste of the longish story I’ve been wanting to write since the idea popped into my head recently. With luck, sometime I’ll have a chance to write the rest!

By way of background, you need to know that Piccolo is a cat who is trying to get home to his family. Which is another reason this picture made me want to write about him, because, as Maggie mentioned in her post, fog comes on little cat feet.

Far Afield

Piccolo batted a damp leaf from his nose and sniffed the air. He’d been dreaming of chasing the string bird around the bedroom with Dad, and the cold damp air around him came as a shock. It smelt strange – like spring and grass.

Peeking out from the bush, he felt a pang of loneliness. This place was nothing like home. There were no houses, no roads and the only sound was birds, too high to catch, in the branches above him. Ahead, the ground was invisible, blanketed in thick fog, dotted only with more trees, ghostly in their silhouettes.


Filed under Friday Fiction, Uncategorized, Writing

Inspiration Monday – Nobody Films a Funeral

Thanks to BeKindRewrite for the inspiration again this week. I’m so pleased to be forced to write this morning, although now I’ve got the bug and really want to spend the rest of the day at the keyboard fictioning, rather than racing around the house doing all the stuff I should be doing! Curse you, inspiration!!!

Nobody Films a Funeral


“Nobody films a funeral,” Aunt Alice said. “It’s indecent.”

“That’s what he wanted though.” Hugo slid the handwritten pages across the table, his finger picking out the paragraph entitled Funeral Arrangements.

Aunt Alice poked at her glasses, knocking them further down her nose, so that her menacing appearance was only enhanced by the move she had once thought coquettish. “I should like to be buried at St Mark’s, having a full Catholic Mass funeral, which will be video-taped and then archived with Fish Brothers in Bath. They have my instructions as to what to do with the recording,” she read, somehow managing to sound all too much like her dead brother. “Well, it is simply ludicrous.”

She pushed the Will back towards her nephew, tutting under her breath.

“Maybe I could contact this Fish Brothers company? See if they can give us any more information?” Hugo suggested. “They might have an explanation. Or, at least, knowing what they are going to do might help us to understand.”

“Young man,” Aunt Alice began, pausing only to poke at her glasses again, “My brother, the only relative I have left in this world, has just died. I can be expected to be devastated. I am grieving. I do not have time for chasing across the country, following strange puzzles which he left in a Will which, frankly, is so recent it was probably written in a less-than compos mentis state. And I do not want the paparazzi attending upon my grief. We will have the Catholic Mass, although God knows he never attended one when he was alive, but I will not have video cameras at my brother’s funeral. Is that understood?”

Hugh rose to his feet. He had never stood up to his Aunt before, and to do it now, he felt he needed the advantage of height. “My father’s wishes are very clear. I should like to follow them if it’s at all possible.”

Aunt Alice pushed back her chair and got to her feet, giving her several inches’ advantage over Hugo. For a moment, her hand hovered inches above the table as if to slap him, then she turned and stalked out of the kitchen. Hugo let out the breath he’d been holding, and walked over to the phone.


Filed under Inspiration Monday, Writing

Why blog?

I was reading the wise words of my blogging friend Sandra this weekend, about why she has a blog page on her website, and it reminded me very much of my own thoughts about blogging. You can see Sandra’s post here.

In this Information Age, a lot of people share a lot of information, and much of it is, in my view, pointless. I struggle with Twitter because it has such a high noise to value ratio. When I log on, I am overwhelmed by the number of messages I could read, most of which are of no interest whatsoever, a few of which are idly diverting and only occasionally is there something I’m glad I’ve stopped by to see. On Facebook, I enjoy the chance to catch up with friends and to keep an eye on the major life stories of acquaintances, but I am endlessly confused by the updates which talk about incredibly private, personal details of either the poster or their family members. Do these posters not realise just how many people can read what they write? Or has it suddenly become appropriate to share details of relationship breakdowns, bra sizes and toilet habits with the world at large?

The same can be said of blogs. When I flick through blogging sites, I’m overwhelmed by the sheer volume of content, and how much of it I can’t imagine being of interest to anyone at all, except possibly the spouse or parents of the blogger.


I love my blog. When all my other writing projects go to the wall, this is the one I defend to the last. I enjoy the discipline of posting three times a week, according to a schedule which works for me, and hopefully provides something for readers too. I enjoy the writing challenges that Inspiration Monday and the Friday Fictioneers give to my writing, and the chance to exercise the muse regardless of what else she’s doing (which is frequently editing, something neither she nor I enjoy). And most of all, I enjoy the community: the small band of readers who stop by every week to give me feedback and encouragement, and to reassure me that I’m not talking to myself here.

Not only do I love my blog, I also love the blogs I read. For various good and bad reasons, I read a lot fewer novels now than I used to, and that is a sad development in my life, but one I’m not currently in a position to rectify. However, the addition of blogs has allowed me to get a healthy dose of fiction almost daily, and in bite-sized chunks. They exercise my imagination, they feed my muse, and they sate my inner editor when I want to keep her away from my own work for a while. And on top of that, I feel as though some of the other bloggers have become my friends, and you can never have too many friends.

Now I accept that if I spent less time blogging, I’d have more time to write “proper” pieces for submission and even to read the novels my life seems to lack, but I’m not sure I would actually do more of those things, or whether I’d procrastinate in other ways. Plus, my biggest publication success is Reader’s Digest – which was a direct result of my Friday Fiction compositions.

So until someone persuades me there’s something better, you’ll find me here at elmowrites – writing, reading and critiquing to my heart’s content. I hope to see you around!


Filed under Friday Fiction, Inspiration Monday, Writing

Friday Fictioneers – Sin

Today’s picture comes from Lura Helms, through Madison Woods’ friday fiction page. As ever, if you’d like to read the other stories, go to Madison’s site. Mine is below. Not an easy one this week – the picture didn’t say anything to me for a while and then what it did say is nothing like what I eventually wrote. The Muse is clearly feeling capricious! Anyway, I’d love to receive your comments, good and bad.


Alice felt Liam’s hand on her bra. She didn’t dare look down, but she couldn’t look at his face either.  She wanted so much to enjoy this, but she’d heard too many stories about how easy – and how terrible – it was to get pregnant. Her gaze flicked away to the forest that was keeping them safe from prying eyes.

But God could see them.

As Liam’s fingers touched her skin, she screamed. High in one of the trees, a single eye stared out of a sheep’s bleached skull. The animal was dead, but the eye watched – omniscient, eternal and judgmental.


Filed under Friday Fiction, Writing

Submitting your “Grey” Fiction

That’s right, it’s not purple prose or blue movies, the new colour on the writing scene is Grey. 50 Shades of it, to be precise.

I have written exactly one piece of smut, which I used to bolster the word count of my first nanowrimo novel. It was almost certainly all terrible, but since I haven’t properly edited that draft yet, it’s still there in all its filthy glory. However, although I don’t think I’m ready to start submitting anything quite so colourful for a while yet, some of you may be.

And if you are, Oleander Press in Cambridge, UK, is looking for your submissions. Here’s the text of submissions call a friend of mine sent me today:

“In response to the extraordinary success of the 50 Shades trilogy,
Oleander’s setting up a new imprint to publish romance and erotica short
stories. If you know of anyone, including yourself of course, who can write well
and might be interested, please ask them to contact us at
and I’ll talk them through the plan. Basic info is that, in the first instance,
they’ll be published straight-to-ebook and the romance stories should be 100-150
pages (30-45,000 words), and the erotica 10-20 pages (3-6000 words). For
examples see the relevant sections at Amazon.”

Oleander also accepts other types of submissions – you can find out more about them on their website


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A Brief Literary Interlude

A few weeks ago, I was in the Peak District (that’s a rural area of England for those from further afield) spending a few lovely days with a few lovely friends. In spite of the changeable weather, we had decided to go for a walk. Those of us with “conditions” had decreed that said walk should be reasonably flat, and so it was decided to walk around a lake. We had a choice of two lakes, and eventually decided on Tittesworth Reservoir – man-made with a fancy dam at the end (there are enough engineers among my friends that “engineering porn” is a well-worn phrase where I come from, and dams count).

However, the OTHER lake, the one we didn’t visit, is Rudyard Lake. The story goes, that Mr and Mrs Kipling -to-be spent some time at Rudyard Lake and thought it so beautiful they named their son after it. Presumably an early precursor to the Brooklyn Beckham school of thinking. It has since been voted the “3rd most romantic spot in Britain” or some such honour.

It’s probably a good job the courting couple went to Rudyard Lake, Tittesworth Kipling doesn’t have the same ring to it!

One of Mr Kipling’s exceedingly good poems came to mind this week. It’s been a favourite of mine and an inspiration for years; I learned it by heart as a teenager, not for a class project, but simply because I wanted to take it with me wherever I went. The last line has proved controversial in our modern age of gender equality, but I think the point stands regardless of the wording, and I enjoy it for what it is.


If you can keep your head when all about you, are losing theirs and blaming it on you,

If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting too,

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies;

Or being hated, not give way to hating

And yet don’t look too good or talk too wise.

If you can dream and not make dreams your master

If you can think, and not make thoughts your aim;

If you can meet with triumph and disaster,

And treat those two impostors just the same.

If you can dare to hear the truth you’re spoken,

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

And watch the things you gave your life to broken,

And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools.

If you can make one heap of all your winnings,

And risk it on one turn of pitch and toss,

And lose, and start again at your beginnings,

And never breathe a word about your loss.

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew,

To serve your turn, long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing left within you,

Except the will, which says to them “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,

Or walk with Kings, nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

And all men count with you, but none too much.

If you can fill the unforgiving minute,

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

Yours is the Earth, and everything that’s in it

And, which is more, you’ll be a man, my son.




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Friday Fiction – Shells

I thoroughly enjoyed reading all the Friday Fiction posts last week – hopefully I’ll be able to dedicate that much time more regularly again soon, because it’s a real highlight in my week. Sadly, it won’t be this week and if you leave a comment (and I’d love it if you did), please forgive me for a short delay in reading it and replying. If you’d like to know more about my distractions recently, take a look at Monday’s post.

Today’s picture comes from Susan Wenzel and as always the other responses can be found at Madison Woods’ site. Enjoy!


Amy watched the crabs in the shallow water. Their sideways motion made their approach indirect, an elaborate dance to close the few inches between them.

She thought how human courtship was similar. Right now, Liam was throwing sand over a pretty girl, not because he didn’t like her, but because he did. And the girl was squealing at him to leave her alone and probably hoping he wouldn’t.

She remembered how Andrew had wooed her indirectly too, when he told her his friend thought she was gorgeous, and could he buy her a drink to apologise. All those years ago.


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