Category Archives: Booker’s Seven

Plan B

Every once in a while last year, I looked back at my targets for the year to see how well I was doing. The answer, to be honest, is not that well. At the beginning of the year, I had a lot of writing ambitions, then in February I discovered I was pregnant, and a combination of physical impairment and too much to do put paid to a lot of my plans. I had to back out of NaNoWriMo entirely, and a lot fo other plans went by the board too.

Now that Sebastian is here, and more settled, I have clawed my way back to three blog-posts a week and I’m starting to find time to write (indeed, breathe!) again. Having said that, things are different, and will undoubtedly keep changing as his needs and habits change. So, I need to be flexible in what I want to achieve.

At the moment, I’m finding more time to read than before – because I sometimes read to him and he doesn’t care what I’m reading, so I’ve got through a couple of novels and I’m now deep into How Fiction Works by James Wood. However, I’m not going to assume this will continue – it won’t be long before Sebastian is ready to take a more active part in the reading process, and then we’ll be on to Where’s Spot, which is hardly going to extend my literary experience very far. I would, however, like to read more this year than I managed last.HFW


Apart from this blog, I would also like to work on more writing. This is where the dilemma arose. Last year, I tried to do a bit of everything. I wanted to submit every month again, edit Booker’s Seven and/or Eric AND write new pieces – in particular my nano novel. The result of these broad ambitions, coupled with the distractions mentioned above, was a lot of nothing.

I stopped submitting in the late spring, and the only new pieces I really created were here online. As for Booker’s Seven, I gave them a good go, but the feedback I received boils down to this:

For experimental pieces, they are good, with some well-written parts. The exercise was a worthy one, and didn’t fail. However, the stories should be viewed as exercises rather than stories to be polished and submitted … and you should put them away and focus on the latter if you’re serious about getting published. In short, not your best work.

Given that none of the other six writers involved completed the exercise, it’s not going to go anywhere as a project, so I’m going to heed this advice. A couple of them, Robin Hood in particular, are probably salvageable as short stories for submission, but salvageable, not complete as they stand. Others, to be honest, need to be consigned to the “Proof I shouldn’t meddle in this genre” folder.

I decided last year that Eric needed a little longer to ferment before I could bring him out for editing. I’m sticking by that this year.

So, what am I going to do? Well, at the risk of taking on too much, I have two plans for 2013. The first is to take out and look at Phoenix Fire. It was my first ever novel-length draft and has some definite issues. It needs more than tweaking at the edges – I think some serious rewriting is required, and a vicious attack with the editing pencil. However, I’ve let it rest for a couple of years now, and I think it might be time to bring it out and give that a go. Before I start, I’m going to formulate a plan for HOW to edit it, which I’ll hopefully be sharing with you in a week or two.

I don’t want to ditch the idea of submitting altogether, but I think I need something new to submit. I’m also conscious that the stories I write here are very short, and I do want to exercise my ability to sustain a story for more than a few hundred words. So I’d like to try to submit something once a month again, but it might have to be once every two months or a little flexible. I’m hoping that writing to prompts and word counts will help me to write new stories and vary the length I write.

I’ll let you know how it goes, but please leave a comment if you have any suggestions for any of the above, especially how to return to a first draft after a few years away – I don’t want to squander the fresh perspective that time should have given me!


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Novel Planning #2 – Plot-Type

Yesterday, I introduced this week’s series of posts about planning for novel-writing.  Step back there for one method, or read on for another method of planning your forthcoming masterwork. I refer to these masterworks as novels, but these methods would work with a bit of tweaking for other writing formats too.

Today, let’s look at plotting the Christopher Booker way.

Those who have been following my Booker’s Seven project will know the basics here. Christopher Booker says there are only seven basic plots in the world, and all stories fall into one or other. You might not agree, but if you do, you can probably identify which of those seven yours falls into. They are:

Overcoming the Monster

Rags to Riches

The Quest

Voyage and Return




How, you have to be a bit slick, because Comedy doesn’t necessarily mean funny; it ties in more with the Shakespearean definition, and has a lot to do with large casts of characters, and situations caused by miscommunications between them. Think Much Ado About Nothing or Twelfth Night. Similarly, Overcoming the Monster might not involve a physical monster, but more something internal or an external (but non monster-y) challenge like an asteroid heading for earth.

Anyway, once you’ve picked out which Booker Plot you are intending to write, you can use it to plan your novel. Ideally (certainly in Mr Booker’s mind) you’d go out and buy his book, for a full breakdown of what that plot entails. Alternatively, you can go online and google search some summaries of his ideas. Like this one at

The plot is neatly broken down for you into stages, and your task is simply to take each stage and write a couple of paragraphs detailing how that stage will look in your story. Take time to think not only what will happen, but why, how the characters will react and – particularly if you have a target word count for the whole piece – who long that stage will be. Remember, as we saw yesterday, not all stages should be the same length.


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Progress Report – insert flag-related-pun here

After last week’s celebrations, I want to try to give you this progress report in as cheerful a light as I can. The truth is, I’m so far from hitting the goals I set myself at the beginning of the year that I can’t even remember what they were. I’m certainly not going to link back to them and run the risk of catching a glimpse of all the things I haven’t done. But that’s OK, because a lot’s changed since I set them, and I’m about to become a homeowner and a Mum, both of which are pretty time-consuming things to achieve, and pretty cool too.


I’m still managing to keep up my three-posts-a-week plan here. Whether that will survive the arrival of the baby (33 weeks down, probably somewhere between 5 and 10 to go…) remains to be seen, but I hope you’ll forgive a brief period of radio silence when he arrives. I do intend to get back to this as soon as I can.

There might also be a little radio silence during the house-move in two weeks, until we get internet set up at the new place.

The (still growing) following I’ve gained and the number of blogging friends I’ve made have far exceeded any target I would have dreamed of setting, and I think my writing is benefiting from the process too.


Having given Eric a backseat, I’ve now reached the conclusion that he needs a LOT of reworking and a fair bit of rewriting. I’m working on co-creating a small group of writers in Toronto focussed on editing, in the style of NaNoWriMo but with a focus on editing and rewriting instead of first drafts. If that ends up happening (probably sometime in 2013), Eric will be my piece for that. Otherwise, he’ll stay wrapped up for now so that I have enough distance to see the good and the bad when I come to look at the manuscript again.

I’m still working on my Booker’s Seven pieces. The editing process has definitely slowed down, but I think there is some good writing there, and I’m hopeful I can turn at least some of these stories into marketable work.


Ah yes, on the subject of marketable work. I’ve ground to a bit of a halt on submitting. It is at least partly intentional. I’ve woken up to some limitations in my previous submitting plan, and in the pieces I was trawling around magazines and short-fiction publications. It all needs a bit of a rework, and that’s something I need to focus on when I have the time to do it justice. Until then, there’s very little point continuing a scattergram approach to submissions.

Having said that, some “No thanks, but please consider us again” replies, and the successful publication of two 100 word stories in Readers Digest has proved to me that I can do it, and once I have a chance to put that focus into my portfolio, I believe I will find more success.


With a baby due two days before it starts, I’ve had to withdraw from my organisational role in Toronto’s NaNoWriMo group. That’s a shame, but it wasn’t really open to negotiation! Depending when he arrives, and what happens then, I’ve got a banker of an idea for what I will write in November. I think we can be pretty confident I won’t get 50,000 words written, and depending on his arrival date, I am contented that I may not even get 50 words written, but if I am kicking my heels around waiting for Baby P to put in an appearance, I’m hoping to make a start on Piccolo’s story, as excerpted in Friday Fiction a few weeks ago.


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Updates and bragging and shout outs!

A Link-Back

First things first, for those who read last week’s post about Children’s Stories, I posted my attempt on Thursday, and I’d love to hear what you think about it. Please take a look and let me know.

Even if you saw Thursday’s post when it first popped up, I would strongly recommend you nip back and look at it again. My friend, Sam Agro, heard about the story and created some original artwork to bring Sally to life. He’s very modest, but this picture was knocked together in less than 10 minutes and I personally think it’s fantastic! You can get a link to Sam’s blog from the post, and see more of his artwork and illustrations too.

Publication – success and failure

In Canada, Reader’s Digest’s August edition has hit the shelves, complete with the “Quick Fix” article, which features two of my Friday Fiction stories. I’m so excited to see my name in print.

And I’ve had two more rejections – both of them personal and ending with encouragement to submit again. Little Fiction said: “Your story was close to making our shortlist, if that’s any consolation — our decision was more or less based on how it was fitting with the rest of the pieces making up the compilation.”

Narrative Magazine commented: “We found many strengths to recommend your work and, overall, much to admire. We
regret, however, that [your story] is not quite right for us.”

Although I’m aware that a rejection is ultimately not a success, emails like that go a long way to making me feel like I’m getting somewhere with my writing and hopefully someday will have more acceptances to brag about.

Booker’s Seven – Progress report

I’ve once again knuckled down to editing the great Booker’s Seven project. I’m working on Brothers at the moment, a story of adventure and discovery. It’s off to my wonderful writing group, Moosemeat on Thursday to see what they think. Wish me luck!


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Great Scott!

This week I thought I’d share with you a contest I’m strongly considering entering this year, if I can get Booker’s Seven up to scratch in time. The Scott Prize is awarded to a debut collection of short fiction and is a prestigious prize in the otherwise quiet short-fiction scene.

The requirements are for a book-length collection of short stories, between 30,000 and 75,000 in total. The prize is £1,000 plus a publishing contract and the entry fee just £20.

Submission window is open now, and closes on 31 October.

This is a pretty small fee and prize fund for such a body of work, which probably will put some people off, but there’s a definite opportunity for more money and also for a real published copy of your short stories to be on the shelves in bookstores. In my experience, that’s quite a coup in itself, especially at a time when short stories are still struggling to get the respect they arguably deserve. So if you’ve got a collection of short stories you’ve been wondering what to do with, I’d definitely recommend you take a look.


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Flagging – (Lack of) Progress Report

I did wonder whether I could continue the flag analogy on these progress reports, but given the update I’m about to post, it seemed there was only one possible title for this post. Sadly. Have you ever found yourself bogged down in a cycle of procrastination? Apart from the old-fashioned rocket-up-the-bum, do you have any foolhardy tricks for getting back into the groove?

Author: Hubert Berberich

My goals are set out here: and, to some extent, here:


My goal is to finish this edit by 1st July so March was meant to be a big month for me. Instead, I largely neglected him, and then got into a mood with him after my pitch slam suggested I might have deeper problems with such a bleak story. I feel the novel needs a stronger sub-plot, but that equates to substantial revision and it’s all sufficiently daunting that I haven’t got back into it. Now we’re halfway through April and I’m still procrastinating from even opening the file.


I did manage to submit in March, although it was touch and go for a while, and with the exception of one post I missed by being away, I’ve kept up with my blog. I’m focusing on this as a good point – something that didn’t go wrong!


I’ve finished my first edits of Booker’s Seven. The table now looks like this

Story Idea

Booker Plot


Colonisation Overcoming the monster Awaiting Beta Readers
Wild West Voyage / Return with stage 1 Beta reader
Concert Tragedy Awaiting Beta Readers
Road Trip Comedy Needs post-beta edits
Stargazing Rebirth Awaiting Beta Readers
Robin Hood Quest With Stage 2 Beta readers
Phoenix Rags to Riches With Stage 2 Beta readers

If Beta Reading is something you’d like to do, and think you do well, I’d love to hear from you!

My husband and music collaborator has been busy again, but he’s started putting some music to my lyrics from February, and I’ve started thinking about edits to make some of the lyrics better (or at least, shorter).

My writing group, Moosemeat, are starting work on our annual chapbook, so I need to prepare a 500 word story for that. I’ve done one, but I hate it. I can’t quite work out whether to run with radical re-writing or starting again. So, like Eric, it’s in a state of being ignored.

By way of excuse, I’ve been busy with other things and under the weather, as well as the fact that a lot of life-related stuff has got in the way of concentrating on writing. But the truth is, if my heart was in it, I’d have fitted writing in around these things. I need to push myself back into the groove now it’s April, before another month slips by… Wish me luck!


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Booker’s Seven: Progress Report

Way back in October, I introduced the plan for my 2011 NaNoWriMo ( project, which I refer to as Booker’s Seven. Christopher Booker suggested that there are “Seven Basic Plots” from which all stories are built. So, with a group of 6 other writers, I have embarked on a project to write seven stories each, each story following one of the plots and with a few connecting features between our versions. So my “Robin Hood” story is a Quest, someone else will be writing it as comedy, someone else as a tragedy, etc. To further link us, everyone’s Robin Hood story will have a main character called Robin and a first line of “It was a dark and stormy night.” The other story ideas have a set main character and first line too.

Here’s my list of stories, along with their progress so far.

Story Idea

Booker Plot


Colonisation Overcoming the monster To be Edited
Wild West Voyage / Return In Editing
Concert Tragedy Awaiting Beta Readers
Road Trip Comedy Awaiting Beta Readers
Stargazing Rebirth Awaiting Beta Readers
Robin Hood Quest With Stage 2 Beta readers
Phoenix Rags to Riches With Stage 2 Beta readers

Which brings me to a more general point about writing. Leonardo Da Vinci said “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” Paul Valery said the same about poems a few centuries later. I am far from the first to apply it to writing stories.

Colonisation is about as raw as my writing gets. In spite of the admonishment of nano HQ, I can’t write blind – if I make a mistake while writing, I’ll got back and correct it. If I turn up a load of complete nonsense in a word war, I’ll delete it there and then and rewrite that paragraph. But I don’t go back and proof read until after the fact, so I haven’t touched Colonisation since November.

Wild West I have read through once and dealt with the typos and the silly spacing and a few bits of glaringly bad wording, but I still want to go through it at least once more before before anyone else sees it. I want to balance out the plot better, flesh out a few characters and deal with the fact that the POV is all over the place.

Then it can become like Concert, Road Trip and Stargazing, ready for a first few critical and conscious readers to look over it. These three are waiting because my first beta readers tend to be my amazing writing group, and I can only take so much of their attention! They are 100% worth waiting for. They don’t pull the punches, they are not afraid to tell me something is dreadful, that they didn’t understand it, or that huge chunks need to be ripped out and pissed all over! And to me, that’s exactly what Betas are for.

Once they’ve done that, my editing process starts again. I have to go back over the piece and really hone it before sending it out to slightly gentler Stage 2 beta readers. Hopefully these guys won’t find anything to hate, or if they do, it will be something I’ve decided it’s worth having readers hate. But they still have a crucial role in critiquing, because they are my last line of defence before I abandon the story and send it out into the world.

In reality, of course, they hopefully will find something(s) to fiddle with, and there are a few ideas in my head I’m still working through. Phoenix, for example, still doesn’t sit quite right with me, so when I get it back from my Stage 2’s, I’ll probably tweak it again and find some Stage 3’s to send it to. But that’s my right as the author, NOT to abandon it!

Those of you who’ve stuck around for a while are probably wondering about my previous NaNo projects, the novels: Phoenix Fire and Eric. PF has in theory gone through Betas and is ready to abandon, but actually I think it needs me to pick it up as if it’s a first draft, and start editing from scratch. I certainly aim to do so before I try to publish it. Eric is not as far along, I’ve finished the phase 1 editing, but now I need to start moving chapters around and filling out plot points. He’s at the same stage as the Wild West, but whereas a 7,000 word story can go through the whole process in just over a week, a novel takes disproportionately longer, and Eric is more than 10 times the length of Wild West!

When I’ve finally abandoned Booker’s Seven though, I’ll be right back on his tail. I love Eric, and I really want to get him to the stage where I can share him, first with the trusted few, and then one day, I hope, with the world.


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NaNoWriMo Update

Since I last posted here (that is, since *I* last posted, as opposed to the automatic updates) I’ve travelled half way around the world and back, and a million miles in my subconscious. All of which did exactly as it was meant to do and gave me a new perspective on my life and life plans. However, there’s one thing that doesn’t change and that’s my love of writing.

So, even while I was away, I made a hand-written start on the year’s contribution to National Novel Writing Month – a frenzy of words and friendship that gets the creative juices flowing and, mercifully, has given me something fun to plough straight into as soon as I got off the plane.

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, my plan this year is just to write the minimum 50,000 words, as opposed to the last two years where I’ve aimed and hit much higher. It’s actually kind of hard to limit yourself to 1667 words per day when you’re in the flow of writing. Well, it is for me anyway. In that first week with a notebook and pen, I barely managed 8k because I was so busy with my travels, but I’ve already caught up and now i just want to keep going.

I’ve completed two of my seven shorts (and 17073 words) – one a fantasy piece about a fallen star and the other a sorry little tragedy about a vagabond in Vancouver. I enjoyed both, although I must admit there is a lot less fantasy in Stargazing than I would have liked. Must try harder on my genre fiction!

Now I’m working on a new story entitled Robin Hood, about one woman’s search for her father’s inheritance. It’s really stretching my creative muscles as it includes extracts from the Tales of Robin Hood book which she’s reading, and it’s also testing my literary knowledge as it includes references and memories of other classics such as Wuthering Heights and the Lord of the Rings (bear in mind I hated the former and haven’t read the latter!).

At seven thousand words each, the biggest challenge with doing these stories for NaNo is not to waste words. It’s easy when caught up in a word war (timed, competitive writing challenges) to just keep writing for the sake of getting something down on the page. But a short story is not like a novel. You don’t just fill the pages any which way; every word, every scene has to contribute something to the overall flow. In a novel, you can weed out or beef up the tangents at the editing stage, but with a short story (especially one with a target word count) there is less room for maneuver. It’s good practice and I’m genuinely loving being back in the writing groove, but it’s a very different challenge from the one most Wrimos are facing this month.

If you would like to keep track of my progress, you can check my profile at

Alternatively, just keep checking back here where I’ll be updating with word count and progress whenever I can.

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It’s mid-October, which means a fair proportion of the writing community is starting to eye next month with nervous glances. November is National Novel Writing Month; in which writers across the globe try to hone a single story into at least 50,000 words over 31 days. It’s a challenge, it’s a community and, for many, it’s an obsession.

There are some basic rules to NaNoWriMo, like it should be a single piece of fiction, which you haven’t started writing (planning is OK though) before November 1st, but no-one checks up on you and “winning” is merely determined by inserting your word count into their count feature, so it’s a question of honesty. Mind you, the prize is a PDF certificate and a warm fuzzy feeling, so if you cheat, you’re only really cheating yourself.

For the last two years, I’ve followed the rules. Eric is the product of last year’s effort – 80,000 words or so – and Adam (at 120,000 with a LOT of padding) was 2009’s contribution. This year, however, I’m trying something slightly different.

I’m going to be away from my computer / internet connection / life for the next three weeks, (blog posts will be brought to you through the wonders of delayed posting!) so I’m going to start November a week behind. Also, I’m still deep into editing Eric, and don’t really want another novel on my back at the end of November. Finally, I’m signed up to do a short story writing project I’m referring to as Booker’s Seven, for which the target is 49,000 words.

So, as of November, I will be trying to write seven short stories, each 7,000 words long (plus a bit so that the total tips 50k!). Each story has been allocated one of Christopher Booker’s seven plots (he says there are only seven possible plotlines in all stories. More another time on my reaction to this), seven main characters, seven themes and seven first-lines. I’m working with a group of 6 other people, who are combining these differently, so that we will in the end have 49 stories mixing up our plots and themes, but the writing will be entirely my own.

To add to the challenge, I have decided to write the stories in seven different genres, most of which I’ve never dabbled with before.

In all honesty, I suspect I will find this harder than a single novel of 50,000 words, but I like a challenge, and having been a purist for two years, I’m ready to branch out.  To all my nano-ing buddies, good luck with the first week. I’ll catch up with you after 7th!



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