Cut the Waffle

by Sue Cook

Recently I’ve been reading The Diaries of William Rowbottom. These record interesting events in Oldham between 1788 and 1830. Deaths, elopements, shootings, salacious court cases—that sort of thing.

I particularly enjoy the causes of death, some of which were surely unusual then, let alone now. Consider the mortal wound caused by ‘being stricken in the loins by a carrot weighing 1lb 6oz’. It’s straight out of Blackadder, isn’t it?

A puzzling entry I read this morning involves an odd use of ‘fustian’. I thought this was a type of material, but that made little sense.

I was right, though—it’s heavy cotton cloth. But a second meaning is overblown/pretentious writing or speech.

Many examples abound in the arena of literary ingenuity we call creative writing of the ambitious yet perhaps misguided ‘master’ of the pen who is nothing of the sor…

Stop! I’ve gone all fustian. I mean, we’ve all seen it—inexperienced writers who confuse long words and complex clauses with fine writing. Fustian, in this sense, means ‘padded’.

Why is this relevant to the current blog theme of progress against writing aims? I’ll tell you.

Last December, I set out my six SMART objectives for 2021. My progress is on target, so that’s boring. Alongside these, though, I am working on reducing wordiness because several of my ‘tight’ short stories were judged to waffle by fellow WOMAG writers.

Waffle? Moi?

Frankly, yes.

Consequently, cutting extraneous words has become so habituated, I’ve started self-editing when I talk.

This week, for example, we forgot to put out the recycling. The bin-lorry came past. “It’s ok,” I said. “The blue bin is barely half-full because we haven’t been ordering anything like as many parcels as we have been.”

Whoa there! What’s wrong with, “It’s ok. The blue bin’s half empty.”?

This is extreme, but many everyday phrases can, and probably should, be cut.

  • A bouquet of flowers
  • In the fullness of time  – eventually
  • In the event that – if
  • skin rash
  • heart palpitations
  • Sit down, stand up.

William Rowbottom’s Georgian diary is very concise. Most of his entries are only 20 or 30 words long. He confines himself to facts, and his writing is riveting.

Had he waxed lyrical on how exactly the veg victim had  been stricken, how he lingered, or who grew the massive carrot, I would have read the entry and moved on. As it stands, my imagination has run wild. How did the carrot connect with his loins? Was it sharpened? Who thought to weigh it afterwards?

Now I stop to think about it, I’m not exactly clear where the loins are, either.

Less, as they say, is definitely more.

PS, weather notes for May 1792: ‘uncommonly wet and cold’. I wish I could offer you hope for the ensuing summer, but he only mentions a terrible thunder storm in July with a cow struck by lightning in Gimbies. 

Bottoms Up!

by Jo Harthan

I made a To Do List in March 2020 when lockdown first began. I knew the only way to get through the isolation was to keep busy. There were thirteen things on that list, including seven un-finished writing projects. By the end of the year they were all ticked off apart from three. Of those, I completed and published Creative Writing for Dreamers last month in readiness for a workshop I’m booked to give at Swanwick in August. Another is currently undergoing the final edit; a travel memoir of my time solo back-packing in New Zealand ten years ago. 

I haven’t been able to see past that initial To Do List. But now I’m told I must because Dan wants us all to write a blog about our plans for 2021. To be honest I need a break but, as you all know, I always do as I’m told, (stop it!) 

I had my second Covid injection yesterday so I poured myself a very large measure of rhubarb gin last night in celebration.  Throwing in a couple of ice cubes, I added some ginger ale and then poured the whole thing back into the gin bottle. Who needs a glass anyway? 2021 suddenly looked a lot more promising.

As my sore arm hovered over the paper, pen clutched tightly in my hand, I started my 2021 To Do List. I could only think of one thing to write—TRAVEL. The how and why of that is a bit more problematic with this damned traffic light system but I’ll work it out. Currently the answer is looking like it might involve buying a second hand Mazda Bongo with a rock’n’roll bed and driving away into the sunset. I may have to buy a dog named Boo as well. Mind you, before I go I really must publish my NZ memoir, re-write my first ever novel ‘Who Stole Charlotte Miller?’, finish another partly completed novel ‘Blood Ties’ and buy another crate of rhubarb gin. 

Bottoms up.

Short and Sweet

By Joy Mutter

My last blog on this site was far too long, so you’ll be pleased to hear I intend to keep this brief. ‘Fat chance,’ I hear you say. I’m tempted to stop now so you can carry on with your WIPs, read a book, work your guts out, watch telly, or just gaze into space scratching your belly, all activities more worthwhile than reading my words. This is where you’re supposed to say, ‘Please, don’t stop now, Joy. What have you got to say for yourself?’

Well, I’ve recently restarted writing my two WIPS after six weeks of proofreading six books for an illustrious author in this group. As much as I enjoyed reading her books and the editing process, I’m eager to finish my two thrillers, Nuru and his Crows, and The Storms of Brentwood, plus a couple of other projects. I’ve edited about twenty books for other authors but have never advertised these services. They’ve come about by chance. Yesterday, I agreed to edit another of Colin Garrow’s books. He and I have a reciprocal arrangement, so no money changes hands when we edit each other’s books. The arrangement has been working well for several years.

I’ve almost completed the first draft of Nuru and His Crows and over halfway through writing the first draft of The Storms of Brentwood. I should also be editing the two novellas I wrote during NaNoWriMo 2020, but it might be more sensible to write another novella during this year’s challenge and publish all three novellas in one book. The third novella I wrote in last year’s NaNoWriMo has morphed from 20,000 words into the 275,000 words of Nuru And His Crows. The genre has also changed as there were no talking crows, African witch doctors or magical realism in the original novella. 

On the 27th of April at 9 am, if you’re extremely unlucky, you might see me being interviewed live on YouTube by author Vince Stevenson for Boomers on Books. I will be discussing my paranormal thriller, The Hostile, the first book of The Hostile series. I’ll also touch on some of my other books during the hour-long conversation. It’s a shame I can’t get a haircut, highlights, and lose five stone before then. 

Like many people, lockdown has done me no favours, physically. I became type 2 diabetic last month and have been put on yet more tablets. I’m beginning to rattle now I take eight pills a day for my various ailments. My GP told me I’ve always had a fifty percent chance of getting the condition as my father became diabetic in his later years. I immediately decided to cut out all alcohol, not that I was ever a heavy drinker, but I’d habitually drunk a glass of Baileys or port before every evening meal and a small glass of wine afterwards. A throwback to my hectic schedule before my recent retirement. I used to need a little pick-me-up in the evenings but now I don’t. Despite having performed that ritual for decades, I’ve found it easy to stop and have been teetotal for a month. I also go to bed much earlier to avoid nibbling evening snacks, so hopefully I’ll see off diabetes. 

Let’s hope I don’t make a total hash of my imminent live author interview. Those of you who know me also know I’m prone to oversharing, so you’ll be aware embarrassment is possible, even probable. I might survive unscathed if I imagine my 91-year-old mother is listening. We shall see. This time tomorrow, if my internet connection behaves, it will all be over. 

Hmm. This blog post isn’t as short as I’d hoped it would be. ‘Told you so,’ I hear you all shout.

Setting Goals

Jennifer Joyce

I’m one of life’s procrastinators. Left to my own devices, I’ll happily spend the entire morning scrolling through social media instead of getting words down on the page. I need daily to-do lists to keep me on track (plus, ticking stuff off always makes me feel productive, no matter how small the task) but last year was pretty tough when it came to organizing my writing life. Being in the middle of a global pandemic and home-schooling my youngest daughter meant concentration and time was limited, so I was happy to get anything done, whether it was on a list or not.

I did manage to get a first draft of a book down during the first lockdown/home-schooling, but with my more relaxed, goal-less attitude to getting words on the page, it took longer than usual so I was shocked when, a few months later, I managed to write almost 70,000 words in one month during Nanowrimo. Nanowrimo is a big ask, with rigid daily word count goals to stick to, and I found I could keep up with the pace – despite everything going on around us – if I put my mind to it.

So, once Nanowrimo was over and I’d had a little break over Christmas, I decided to make a list of the main writing goals I wanted to achieve during 2021: I had the two first drafts I’d completed during 2020 to work on, a self-published book I wanted to release as a paperback, plus Nanowrimo 2021 to take part in. It seemed like a lot to begin with, but I broke each project down and thought about how long I’d realistically need for each one without causing myself too much stress or leaving too much room for procrastination (but just enough, because we all need a little bit of wandering-off-to-do-other stuff time) before adding them to my diary. So now the goals are there, in black and white, ready to be tackled, and I’m going to really put my mind to it and do my best to tick them all off.

Nothing Ventured, Nothing Gained

By Jackie Hales

2020 was a landmark year for me. I finally did it! As I approached my 70th birthday, I retired AND I finished my novel, which had been on the back burner for a few years. A double whamee! I’d threatened to retire so many times, did it once in 2010, and no-one believed I’d actually do it. Personally, I didn’t believe anyone would want to publish my novel, kick-started by spending two years researching family history, with all the secrets and stories that throws up. Suddenly, just before my birthday, after refusals or being ignored, there was the email I thought would never come! What a birthday present! So now, contract signed, I have to wait for them to get around to publishing “Shadows of Time”. They don’t move fast, do they? I’ve been on a steep learning curve. I am still absorbing the metalanguage encountered for the first time this year – I had no idea that what I was doing was a line edit, or any other kind of edit, and I’d never identified deliberately putting in conflict or a story arc, even though that’s what I’d done! Whew!

Thanks to NanoWriMo, I wrote a second novel at the end of last year, so I need to decide what to do with it. I may have to learn how to self-publish, which will present me with more new challenges. My sister, Bonnie Meekums, nobly took on uploading our joint memoir, “Remnants of War”, for publication through Amazon, so I haven’t crossed that pain barrier yet. It’ll be exciting to see the challenge we undertook coming to fruition. It’s been such a fascinating, sisterly, demanding thing to do, collaborating on it, and of course I think my version of events is the right one, and Bonnie disagrees.  

In my second novel, “Nana Boo”, I’ve experimented with different voices and viewpoints. I spent years analysing and teaching other people’s writing, so it’s good to be able to try things myself, even if that doesn’t lead to publication. I produce a monthly story for my U3A writing group, but it may take another NaNoWriMo to pin me down to finishing a third novel! I’m in awe of how prolific some people are! What an inspiration Oldham Writers have been for me!

In my wardrobe, I have an old box, full of poetry, short stories and “prose bits” (because I didn’t know there was such a thing as Flash Fiction until last year), collected over the years, when teaching absorbed my time and publishing didn’t enter my mind. There are two children’s stories I would like to finish, one because I took it, unfinished, into my son’s primary school (he is now 32!), and the children gave me enthusiastic ideas, and another because it’s based on my dad’s childhood. It really is time I got round to doing this. 

I’ve been so involved with the ever-changing Covid-19 guidance for schools that writing things other than reports and policy seems to have stagnated a bit, though I have written some poetry and a couple of short stories. I’ll probably enter some competitions, because sometimes they motivate me to try something I haven’t tried before, though chances of winning are slim. I started a blog in 2020, and surprisingly, I found it helped the sister of a friend, who can’t get out. She’s also a writer, and knowing she loves reading about my wanders and thoughts keeps me writing it.  

I write, as I always have, because it gives expression to the ideas in my head, but I think I’ve decided that seeking an agent is probably not for me. That said, you never know what’s round the corner, and I had no idea, a year ago, that I’d be typing this, with thanks to a lovely group of people who were kind enough to let someone from the white rose county share their Zoom meetings. 

The Joys of Blogging

By Carolyn Crossley

My blog is very important to me and it is one of the many things I want to continue in 2021.

I started my WordPress blog on 1st April 2020 to record my NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month) poems which turned out to be a successful project. I found TDH (The Daily Haiku) towards the end of April 2020 and began writing haiku to the daily/weekly themes followed by haiga, tanka and renga which are all Japanese forms of poetry. The haiku consists of three lines with 17 syllables and is formed 5/7/5 syllables. It focuses the mind and teaches you that you have to make every word count.

I also decided to introduce 5 x Daily Affirmations and 5 x Gratitude Journal entries and something I call good vibes which are essentially uplifting or inspiring quotations by most famous people. All my posts also have a photograph to accompany them which I source from various sites. 

When I got my first couple of followers on my blog, I got quite excited. To date, I now have 543 which gets me even more excited! My audience has been grown organically by following, reading and commenting on other people’s blogs and not by having advertisements on my blog. 

My word for 2021 is PUBLISH so I am also working on my first anthology of poetry to self-publish on Kindle Direct Publishing. However, I have no plans to ditch my blog as they will be some of the people who I hope will buy my book. 

I am going to branch out into podcasting some of my blog’s contents, but that is for later on in the year. 

©VixenOfVerse

Backfromdarknesstolight.com

The Keeper of Stories

by Bonnie Meekums

I thought I had finally completed my second novel in 2020, but on sending it out to agents I received no actual takers (one did ask for a full manuscript, and even gave feedback, but the trail went cold when I resubmitted). It’s a historical novel, set in the Second World War. Quite recently, I had a lightbulb moment when I realised my pitch to agents has been very dry. What’s missing is an impassioned statement about why I needed to write this particular story. The novel is, in many ways, a homage to my mother, starting as it does with a mother trying to cope during the London Blitz. Whilst Lili’s experiences are sometimes different from the stories my mother told me about her experiences, they are richly coloured by those personal tales. 

Which leads me on to another literary itch that has been asking to be scratched. I have been thinking a lot lately about how the things we get attached to hold symbolic significance for us, because of the personal stories they represent (Think The Keeper of Lost Things). It’s my age. I don’t want to turn my toes up without letting my family know exactly why I have that little arrow in a box, or that lump of white rock with the green line running through it, or indeed that bit of brown pottery that looks like a chipped off piece of something. Each one of them could very well be thrown out on my demise (Yay! At last, we can clear out the batty old bint’s stuff she’s been hoarding!), unless you know that the arrow is in fact from an archaeological dig in the states, sent to me in a tiny box that was itself wrapped in brown paper bearing the address and appropriate postage, from a very dear friend called Bill who I had met on a British archaeological dig in the UK some years previously. I have known Bill since 1974. We still video call each other every now and then. My kids have met him. We have visited and stayed in each other’s houses over the years. It was on that first dig in Baldock, Hertfordshire, I dug up the brown bit of fired clay. It is, in fact, a bit of Roman Samian pottery. Not to be thrown in the bin. And the lump of rock? That is Iona marble, carried home by me from the remains of the quarry there, in 1968. 

And so, my writing tasks for 2021 include another bash at finalising my second novel, writing a slightly different and more personal pitch about a story that needed to be told, and consulting the Writers and Artists Year Book once more, for another round of queries. Sigh. 

But it is to memoir that I find myself increasingly pulled. It tends not to attract a lot of interest from agents unless you are already famous, but that’s not the point. The recent loss of one of my cousins has shown me how much people crave their parents’ stories after they have gone. Right now, no-one sits me down and asks me about my life, but that’s OK. One day, they might just want to know. And so, my joint childhood memoir with my sister, Jackie Hales, will be self-published in the spring. But there are many more personal stories to tell, some of which won’t ever make it into the public domain. Still, I might just enure they are there for my children and grandchildren to read, as they joyously ditch my stuff.

Juggling Balls

By Dan Forrester

I’ve never been able to juggle. It seemed safer to leave it to those who saw the point, while I could get on with more productive things. Things that would be less likely to cause accidents at home. Now I wish I’d learned.

As 2020 came to a close, my writing projects were looking very organised. Nice and neat. Two novels completed, and the opening chapter of the third novel down. I was awaiting a manuscript assessment for the first novel which, naturally, would confirm how great it was. Couple of tweaks, perhaps, but nothing major. All set for an ease-in to 2021.

The plan was to submit my second novel to agents in January, once the deluge of NaNoWriMo submissions had subsided, and would submit the first again once I had addressed those minor edits. Meanwhile, I could get on with drafting the third. Easy.

Or not. The manuscript assessment for my first novel arrived just after Christmas, and, as you will have gathered by now, suggested a lot more rewriting than I had expected. The editor clearly hadn’t read the memo.

As I set to it, my third novel niggled at the back of my mind. It was new and exciting; I had done all the prep and got those difficult first pages down, sending in the vanguard to vanquish those scary white pages. I was impatient to see it develop.

But there was also the second novel, languishing in my ‘Completed – Wow, You Really Are Amazing’ folder. I wanted to submit to agents, but researching and preparing submissions takes time. Time I couldn’t seem to find.

For the first time on my writing journey, I had a small glimpse of what it must be like to be a traditionally published author. Deadlines competing with deadlines. Editing, researching, planning; juggling those balls. 

And amidst all that, the plot I had planned for my third novel was busy changing beyond recognition. I took my eye off it for five minutes, left it simmering away in a quiet corner of my brain, and it decided to jump genre. But the idea is better; the plot and characters are stronger. It is back to planning, but I am more excited than ever to see where it goes.

There is work to do on the first novel, and I have had valuable support from the writing group, but the second is now out there, raising a hand for attention from the slush piles.

So, my goals for 2021? Hook an agent for my first two novels and finish the third so it is ready to join them. Then onto planning the fourth…

Oh, and learn to juggle. Possibly.

NaNoWriMo 2020 and Me

by Joy Mutter

This will be my second foray into the frenetic world of NaNoWriMo. I debated whether to take part again as I’m a full-time indie author who writes daily anyway. I decided to join in again as last year’s challenge concentrated my mind more than happened in the other eleven months. I’ve often been called prolific, almost as an insult and have never suffered from writer’s block. Even so, NaNoWriMo is not a stroll in the park. 

Reaching State Pension age on November 3rd means writing will be easier for me than those participants who must earn a wage as well as hit their daily word targets. I live alone hundreds of miles away from my family, so nobody prevents me from writing. Saying that, life can still destroy plans in various ways. For instance, I was busy writing one day recently when an author asked me to edit their book. A week of my writing life disappeared when I agreed.

Last November, interacting with the other local writers was informative fun. Stuck in this problematic COVID-riddled year, social interactions over Zoom during NaNoWriMo will be even more valuable to me, having left my house for only three hours since March 12th to have my Warfarin levels checked. Hardly fun outings.

I didn’t prepare for last year’s NaNoWriMo and began writing three days late yet still managed to write over 62,000 words of The Trouble With Trouble, published in April 2020. Since then, I’ve written and published book three, Trouble in Cornwall. Book four, called Troubled, is with beta readers and will soon join my other fifteen books on Amazon. 

For this year’s challenge, I planned to finish writing The Storms of Padstow as I’ve already written over a hundred pages of it. I’ve opted to write a second book of short stories and have broken my Pantser habits by making character sketches and plot outlines for each story. No endings are yet decided to prevent me losing the thrill of a story writing itself. The stories will be as dark as those in Her Demonic Angel, my first short story collection, published in 2015. Ideas for full-length books often surface while creating short stories and there are contenders among those I’m planning to write.

I could avoid the pressure of NaNoWriMo but rarely take life’s easiest path. I could ignore it and continue writing in isolation with no specific target, but I’d like to help make the event a success. The least I can do is add my word count to the total written this November by all the wonderful Oldham writers who I enjoy meeting regularly on Zoom. 

I’m eager to get stuck into this year’s NaNoWriMo challenge despite 2020 being more than challenging for everyone. Keeping a word count and giving myself a daily target will be a welcome distraction from the endless doom and gloom. Writing a book is a wonderful way to escape reality, immersing the author in an imaginary world populated by characters who only exist inside an author’s brain. I’ve never been so prepared to write a book and feel like a runner poised in the starting blocks listening for the bang of the starting pistol. I’m also looking forward to producing the artwork for its new book cover and promotional material, something I always enjoy doing as a former graphic designer. I even have a narrator in mind for the audiobook edition. Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. 

How joining NaNoWriMo turned me into a published novelist

by Bonnie Meekums

I found out about NaNoWriMo by accident. I can’t quite remember how it happened, but I found myself turning up, at Oldham Library, in early November 2018, feeling a more than a bit nervous. 

I had drafted my first novel by the end of 2017. In 2018, I sent out my draft to what I, as an academic, called ‘critical friends’ (I now know they are called beta readers, in the biz) for feedback, then did my rewrites. And so it was, that by the time I walked through those doors and inquired at the desk, I had got to the point of thinking about trying to submit my novel to agents. I had even visited another library to scour the Writers and Artists Year Book, in search of appropriate names. I discovered that such begging letters are called ‘queries’, though at that point I was absolutely useless at writing one. I wasted a lot of valuable energy. 

Meeting Jacqueline Ward, who had set herself the mission of putting Oldham on the NaNo map, was so reassuring, and my nerves quickly dissipated. For someone who has been honoured by the Queen, and has an agent along with best-selling books to her name, I discovered she was refreshingly down to earth, and not a bit snooty. Plus, like me, she was from a working-class background, a feminist who had also worked hard and got herself a PhD. I could feel my shoulders getting somewhere nearer my chest, instead of hugging my ears. 

I quickly discovered I was a pantser – someone who can’t be bothered to plan her writing in advance, and just loves the thrill of finding out what will happen next, a bit like watching a box set over several weeks, except that I am the one with the keyboard in my hands. I was in awe of Jacqui, who is the complete opposite, and even shared her planning methods with us. It terrified me, but I thought I probably need to borrow a bit of that. 

I had completed my first novel, when it dawned on me that to turn my 30,000 words written as linked short stories into a full length novel of around 80,000 words, all I needed to do was write a thousand words a day (which I can rattle off easily). In not very long at all, I would have the 50,000 words needed. But to write 50,000 in a month would mean upping my game. Amazingly, thanks to Oldham NaNoWriMo, by the end of November 2018 I had my 50,000 words – the skeleton of a second novel. 

I found turning up each week, meeting other writers, drinking tea (very important!) and writing as we chatted gave me huge amounts of confidence. Writing can be a lonely business, but here was I, with a bunch of other people who were committed to using this time to write. 

What I hadn’t expected, was Jacqui’s determination to help each and every one of us, not just to turn up and write, but to learn about the business of being a writer. That included thinking about the possibility that we might actually get published. I think up until that point, I had been going through the motions, not actually expecting my debut novel to see the light of day. But Jacqui sewed a little seed. 

And so, began the rejections. Yes, folks, this is not a straightforward happy ending. I sent queries off to dozens of agents, and got as many rejections. And then, I was on twitter one day, when I saw an indie publisher (that means, not one of the big publishing houses, and crucially, not one that requires an agent introduction) stating they were open to submissions. I thought it was worth a punt, and so I threw a query out. What came back, was a fairly terse response, saying my query letter had been pretty rubbish, but (bless her), the proof is in the pudding, so please send more. I did. And then, silence. 

I was in New Zealand, visiting my daughter in early 2019, when, just after she said she was off to bed (my daughter has three small children, including twins), I opened my emails, and there it was: 

‘…[yadayada] we would like to bring your book to the reading public.’ 

OMG, as they say. Of course, I knocked on my poor daughter’s bedroom door, tears streaming down my face. I read out the email, we hugged (we were allowed to do that, in those days, remember?), and – well, the rest is history. My book was released on January 7th, 2020, the day I set foot once more in New Zealand, and this time I was there not only to see my daughter and her little family, but I was back in libraries once more – this time, Queenstown and Lakes District Council libraries, where I did a mini book tour. I still sometimes feel like pinching myself. 

And the second novel, the one I wrote at NaNo 2018? Well, that’s at the tweaking and querying stage. Wish me luck. 

In case anyone is interested, my debut novel can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Kind-Family-Bonnie-Meekums/dp/1950502074/ref=sr_1_fkmr1_1?keywords=bonnie+meekums+a+kind+of+family+amazon+uk&qid=1602523203&s=books&sr=1-1-fkmr1 

I also have some signed copies, for £10 including p&p within the UK. Email me if interested: bonnie.meekums@outlook.com.