Tuesday, 25 October 2011

stories at bedtime

So I've been reading my most recent story aloud, listening for hicups, killing my darlings. I've always heard people talk about reading aloud and how much it helps, etc, but I always poo pooed it, because, well, to put it simply, I can't be told. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I've now come round and am finding it most useful (point to note, other things I heard were great and ignored and then realised I loved are; Harry Potter, Kindles, sushi, red wine, Mslexia).

I'm quite pleased with my new story. Continuing current trends it's written in the second person, but it's quite a departure for me because it's historical and has a happy-ish ending. It's also super short, which I like, 712 words to be exact. This is part on purpose and part because that's how long the story is. I'm going to enter it in the Ruth Rendell competition (which you can find by following this link here http://www.interactreading.org/content/ruth-rendell-short-story-competition-20112012) and I'm actually quite chuffed with my bad self because although most of my stories are earmarked for certain comps, not that many of them actually make it. This one will because I'm literally at that last "take a comma out, put a comma in, delete half a sentence, change a word" stage of editing and if someone put a gun to my head, I could actually send it now. But I won't, I'm going to send it on Thursday, when I've been paid.

Other things that have made me happy this week are the fact that I've been mentioned in a blog as a resource for writers, which I didn't think I was and which made me feel oh so important. You can check out the blog here


she's worth a follow, she really is.

And I think that's just about it for bijou-news. November is nearly upon us and I am super-duper excited for NaNo, and my Arvon course, both of which are almost here. I've built Arvon up to mythical proportions in my head, so am a little bit scared that I'll be disappointed, that nothing can be as good as it is in my imagination, where it plays out a little something like this: go and meet lots of lovely writers and be the most inspired I've ever been and live in a lovely bubble of candy coloured prose and short stories that flow like a big flowy thing, and get really constructive - hang on, I'll be honest since it's my head - really AWESOME feedback about how wonderful I am and then come home and continue being inspired and keep in contact with people I've met for continued honest and constructive feedback and end up finding an agent and getting published and binning the day job and living happily ever after.


Sometimes, it is a bit of a curse, this imagination malarky...

Sunday, 25 September 2011

I've started, so I'll finish

Eeek, well my story is now published in Writers' Forum. It's really nice seeing something you've written in print, in an actual magazine which people actually pay for. Lovely, lovely, lovely.

In other news, I've found a home for my amazing title. It isn't for a story, but for a collection of stories (most of which are currently not in existence, or in some form of first draft limbo, or worse, incomplete first draft limbo). Anyway, I've formulated a plan. It goes a little something like this...

  • finish all the stories I've started

  • use NaNoWriMo to write more stories (I know it's technically a bit cheaty, but I figure that if I can write 50,000 words of short stories that I then look at and edit and do something with, it is better than writing 50,000 word of novel that is so jumbled and frightening that I don't know where to begin and therefore never look at it again)

  • pull all this together into some semblence of order and send it off to New Writing North for their Northern Writers Awards

  • send all stories off to competitions (with optional feedback) and make them the best they can be

  • enter the collection in the Scott Prize for short stories

So, if I follow this plan it gives me about a year to do all this, which is do-able. I need to think about the stories as an all-together and not just as stories, but I've had some ideas on how I can do this, which is nice.

I've been reading a lot of short stories recently (helped in no small part by the fact that Salt Publishing are selling collections of stories for 86p for the Kindle. Yes, that's right, eighty-six-freaking-pence. It's all kinds of awesome). So I've been reading a lot of short stories and have realised something - I really need to up my game. Like, seriously. So imagine an appendix to plan A...

  • practice, practice, practice

  • don't be too scared to do brave things with my writing

  • just be better, generally

One story that's stuck in my head is called Darling and it's by a lady called Padrika Tarrant and it's amazing. Absolutely make me feel a little bit sick with envy amazing. You should read it, it's very good.

Anyway, that's about it really. The husband has fixed it so I can now comment on my blog again, but the little icon where I can add a link and make it look like words has disappeared. I guess a girl can't have everything.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

What's in a name?

So I'm in the process of changing my name. I'm going from Miss Something to Mrs Something-Something (yes, I'm double barrelled now, I could have been triple barrelled if I'd kept my old name too but I decided that would be a bit too much). Anyway, it's weird. And there is a lot to do. I never thought about how many organisations have my details and now they keep popping into my head...tax office, TV license, Sky...do I have to tell everyone? Does it  matter if I forget some?

On a slight tangent...I've realised recently that one of my areas for improvement is finding interesting titles for stories. I'm just not very good at it. I'm always The Something-to-do-with-the-story, which just aint disco, apparently. How do people think of good titles? Titles that are clever but relevant? I think this is the next thing I'm going to really work on and try to improve. Saying that, a brilliant title popped into my head the other day, so I now have a title that I love but no story to go with it. Apparently, this is how Ian Rankin writes, but its all new to me. My title is probably only so fantastic because it isn't attached to anything, like a really amazing photo where the subject has been caught at the only angle they look any good at, and when you see them in real life you think, oh. Was that you? Its a struggle at work too, as I have to give everything headlines and it is really hard - I wish I thought in witty captions, I really do...mind, when you're essentially writing the same stories over and over it is hard to be original. Ah, the dizzy heights of corporate journalism! Speaking of which, I must really get up and get ready to go to the office...bye!

Wednesday, 7 September 2011


You are still feeling a bit out of sorts since getting back from Vegas. Sleep is inconsistent. You didn't make any time to write whilst you were away and now have stories that you want to put on paper. Since your recent success, you have decided that you really like writing in the second person. You are going to write all stories in the second person from now on, although you are confident that this will just be a phase and you will return to third and first eventually. You are going to experiment, and push boundaries. It is somehow freeing, you like this. You are reading more widely now, reading books that make you gasp, make you cover your mouth because you can't believe how beautiful the words are, how clever. This is what you want, this is the dream.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Houston, we have a problem

So for some reason, I can't comment on my own blog, or anyone else's. It won't let me. I don't know why, but it is very irritating. Not irritating enough for me to do anything about it, just irritating enough for me to be really irritated. But there you go.

Today is my last day at work before my holiday. I say holiday. I mean wedding. I'm oh so very excited. I'd be more excited if I wasn't full of cold, but I'm hoping that will pass before Thursday. My nephew, who gifted this cold to me, is well and truly off my Christmas card list, no trike for you, young man, oh no.

Well that was it really. I don't have anything interesting to say. I'm going to sit up in bed now and drink my vitamin drink and do some editing and then get up. Wooooohooooo!!!!

(That's how excited I am)

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Fifth time lucky

As some of you might know, one of my favourite competitions to enter is the Writers' Forum competition. I enter quite a lot. It's cheap. I've learnt an awful lot from the feedback they've given me. In short, I like it.

Anyway - wonderful, wonderful news. My story has come second, yes kids that's right, SECOND, in their competition. Happy, happy days. I am slightly elated.

The boyf (I can't call him that for much longer, I'll explain why in a bit) has forever been pestering me to write a story with a happy ending. I've been resistant. I like misery. My stories don't really have happy endings, but this one did. I didn't force it. It came to me that way. There was about half an hour where I toyed with some horrible things that could happen to the main character, but I opted not to go with them, and boy, am I glad I did.

The other reason this story is a bit of a departure is because it is written in the second person, which is very new to me, but something I actually felt really comfortable doing. Do you ever have a story that seems to write itself? Well this was one of those stories. Wooooohooooo! So I think it will be out at the end of August, I'll keep you posted.

This is the second success I've had this year. If you want to check out my other story, you can do so here...


I'm on page 19.

And in my last very exciting news? This time in two weeks I'll be on a plane to Las Vegas, on my way to get married. We're having a very traditional Elvis wedding.

So it's all go in the bijou household!

Sunday, 29 May 2011

oh, so fickle

A while ago, I wrote about why books are better than Kindles, about how I had no interest in Kindles, and would never, ever, ever even entertain the thought of buying one.

Last month, I bought a Kindle.

And I LOVE it.

I love that it is so light, and when I travel instead of having two (or more) paperbacks in my handbag, I only have to have one little Kindle.

I love the fact that it is linked to my Amazon account, so if I'm browsing and fancy a book, I can have it immediately (although that is quite dangerous).

I love the fact that there are hundreds of free books. Yes. Free books. Books that cost no money.

I love the fact that there are hundreds of cheap books.

So, I can't read it in the bath. So, I've heard a rumour that if you subscribe to a magazine, and end the subscription, all the back copies disappear. You can't share books (that is a bit sucky. I do love to find a good book and lend it to my friends) But...you know what? I don't care. I love it. Love, love, love it. I love it so much, I've bought one for my dad.

Will it stop me buying real books? No. There probably isn't anything in the world that would stop me buying books. But I'm getting quite a fine collection of unread books on my Kindle. Which is awesome. Next time I'm on a train, and I can't settle and I want to read something but I'm not sure what, I'll have a not-so-little library at my fingertips. What's not to love about that?

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Happy Sunday

Well I've had a story accepted for publication! What a lovely thing to wake up to! It's for Gumbo Press, and will be in the first edition of their Word Gumbo magazine. I'll post a link when it goes up at the end of the month, but until then, woooohoooooo!!!

It's one of my better stories, and one that has been doing the rounds for quite a while. I've sent it to Aesthetica (twice), Mslexia, Global Short Story Comp, Writer's Forum...and I'm sure there are some other ones that I've missed off. So it's nice to finally have it accepted somewhere, and (at the risk of sounding trite) it does just go to show that you just have to keep sending stuff. Someone will want it, somewhere!

Last week, I was feeling quite rubbishy about my writing. I thought it was crap and I might as well give up and the small successes of the past were just a fluke and blahblahblah. Today, I feel a bit more positive. So I'm going to give my story back-catalogue an overhaul, get more stories to the stage where I can send them out, and I'm going to send them. Because as a wise man once said to me, "if you throw enough balls at enough coconuts, sooner or later you're going to win a prize".

Monday, 25 April 2011

feedback and the art of making it better and knowing when you just don't know something (or anything)

I like to enter competitions where I get feedback and a particular favourite is the Writers' Forum comp, because for the bargain price of £8 you can enter the competition and get feedback (if you're a subscriber, I think it's a bit more expensive if you're not).

This month, I sent in a story which I really like, but I was sure needed something doing to it but I wasn't sure what. I thought it needed perhaps some more conflict, or something else to drive the story forward but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. So I thought, I'll send it away and see what happens.

And do you know what happened? I got the best piece of feedback I've ever received from them.


For the first time, they didn't pull me on the layout, thought the title was good, thought everything, overall, was well...good. Here, I'll let you see for yourself....

Hello Helen,


Thanks for entering the Writers’ Forum competition.

Presentation: Manuscript layout is generally good.

Title: Very good. It’s apt for the story and works on more than one level.

Opening: Very good. This grabs the reader’s attention and takes us right into the heart of the story.

Dialogue: Generally good. The dialogue is minimal, but where used it does everything that good dialogue should.

Characterisation: Good, but your narrator’s age seems to fluctuate. I would suggest going through this with the age in mind and correcting the sections where the voice is too young or too old. Because of this fluctuation, I couldn’t quite grasp her age.

Overall: This is a well written and poignant story. It has lots going for it and your writing style carried me along to the end. However, you have a slight tendency to overwrite, almost as if you don’t quite trust your readers to get things. Often you explain something that your dialogue and narration has already made perfectly clear, for example: “But if he does wake up, he’ll know how much we love him and how much we’re going to miss him,” I said. This made her cry again [which was a bit confusing. I thought that was a nice thing to say]. You don’t need the words in brackets as they detract from what is already a well portrayed situation.

Commended - needs some work but has potential

Best wishes,
I have to admit, I was really quite pleased. I've tried really hard to follow all the (very confusing) rules in regards to layout, and I've taken on board advice from previous feedback about the title, and applied it and now my feedback is...good. Not great, but good. I feel like I'm getting there.

So I had a little think about what I needed to do and enlisted the help of a friend. The narrator for my story, Vivian, is six years old. I don't know any six year olds. We have a little downstairs neighbour who is three and a half and just adorable (quote of the day on the stairs yesterday "my daddy is sick of my mummy but he isn't sick of me") but she's really the only child we see on a regular basis, and even then she's only chatty sometimes.

So I asked my friend, who has three kids ranging from four to eleven, to go through the story for me and tell me what was working and what wasn't. She replied within a few hours with the most informative suggestions I've ever had. She hadn't just gone through the story, she'd written an introduction on her experiences with her children, the things they say and how they react in certain situations. I now feel like I can go through it and make the changes that I need. I now feel like I know what I need to do. Both of these are exciting feelings.

So this morning, I've been through the story. I've taken out my two favourite lines on Amy's advice as they weren't age appropriate and so far, it is going quite well. I'm glad I asked an expert as these aren't changes I would have made on my own (I loved those lines, but "kill your darlings" boohoo).

Right, ok, that's me done. I'm going back to my rewrite...bye!

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

writing courses for horses

So I've just signed up for an online short story course, organised by the lovely Michelle at Winning Words. This is the third course I've signed up for this year. The first one is a massively scary Arvon course. The second is a series of workshops run by Kathleen Kenny, which will take place in the Lit and Phil, possibly one of my favouraite places in the whole world.

Three courses, ranging from cheap - relatively cheap - bloody expensive. And I'll start the second course first, the third course second and the first one is the last one waaaaaaaaay off in November.

I think I'm going to blog about what I'm doing, and how I'm finding them. Whether they're value for money, what I'm learning, etc. So I guess this blog post is a pre-emptive declaration of intent.

They start in May. Watch this space...

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

live from Greenock

So my hotel looks like it's recently had a visit from the Hotel Inspector. I imagine she came back and took in the flock wallpaper, the little tray with a tea pot on it and incredibly modern shower and gave them ten out of ten for effort.

The hotel didn't look like this on the website. To be fair, when Claire (the lovely girl who organises all the travel and accomodation) emailed me the hotel details, she did so with a disclaimer that Greenock was a small place with not many hotels, so she hoped it was ok. You know it's bad crack when someone apologises before you've even got there. But no, I'll be fair, the Tontine Hotel is really quite nice.

I'm currently sat in the bar, enjoying a pint of Tenants (when in Scotland...) and utilising the free wifi. In a bit, I'm going to (wait for it) order room service and go and watch CSI in bed. In bed? With a proper meal, like you would eat in a proper restaurant? Crikey moses!

When I was away the other week, they didn't have room service in the first hotel, but I got chatting to the barmaid who was lovely so being in the restaurant on my own was ok. And the next night, I kind of thought my hotel room might be haunted, plus they only had five channels (oh! the horror!) so the restaurant was the better choice, but tonight, no, it's room service all the way. Well, I'll order in the bar and have them deliver to my room. But it still counts, right?

This week I'm out and about lots. I work for the Digital Switchover Help Scheme, and my job is to write the magazine that goes out to everyone who works on and with the Help Scheme. Basically, we're switching to digital TV and the Help Scheme is there for those who might struggle otherwise, mostly those over 75 and disabled, so they're still able to watch TV after the switchover. Part of this is getting out and about meeting the Networkers and Project Co-ordinators who deliver presentations to the public, which is what I'm doing tomorrow. I'll be attending a presentation to a macular degeneration group, so it will be interesting to see the Networkers in action (as opposed to being out and about on the bus, answering people's questions, which is what I did last time).

After that, I'll have a flying visit home and a night with the boyf (who has an infected insect bite, how horrible and how typical that it happens when I'm away), then I'm off to Huddersfield (first class, dontcha know), overnight at Ma Duffin's house and then to Birmingham. PHEW!

At least it's better than sitting at my desk, wishing for Friday...

Sunday, 10 April 2011

submission Sunday

so I've just sent two stories off. not bad, not bad

not as good as actual writing, but better than nothing. now I'm watching CSI and contemplating making jambalaya...oh, the excitement!

next week is another busy week in the life of your favourite roving reporter. I'm off to bonny Scotland on Tuesday, back Wednesday night then Thursday morning it's off to Huddersfield I go, stop over at my Mum's house and then Birmingham on Friday. busy trumps dull, every time.

anyway, must dash. I have some urgent chilling out, not writing to do.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

when is a blog not a blog?

When it is a line or two simply saying, I was going to blog, but I'm simply too exhausted.

I've been to Stevenage this morning, spent about seven hours on a train...that's a lot of hours. I've picked up a loyalty card for the coffee shop at the train station because I'm going to need it. Discovered that you can get a bacon roll for one shiny pound when you buy a cup of tea. How exciting. It's a good job I'm going back there tomorrow morning...

Thursday, 17 March 2011

greetings from your roving reporter

So I've started the job, and, so far, so good. There's a fair bit of writing, a fair bit of talking to people, some travel. The week before last, I was in Birkenhead. Week after next, I'm in Nottingham and Bury St Edmunds. Oh! The glitz! The glamour!

I'm becoming quite particular about capital letters, I'm learning all about brand identity (we are quite specific about shades of purple) and pantones and printing and mailing plans. I'm making contacts, writing copy, proof reading, working with the creative team.

It's all good. It's all new. I feel like this is something I can actually care about.

I haven't really be doing any writing. I should write in a bit, but instead I'm watching Choccywoccydoodah.

In other news, I had a minor victory which made my writing year so far. Check this out


(It's all hilarious, but the important bit is the entry from March 1st)

Anyway...so long, fairwell, etc etc xx

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

new(ish) year, new job

so I'm sat drinking peppermint tea and watching the Brits, thinking about what I can write and if it will be interesting. I've not been blogging too much so far this year because, well, I've had my stresshead on and I find it difficult to motivate myself to do anything other than lie on the couch when I'm feeling that way. but anyway, the exciting news of the year is...I have a new JOB


yes, that's right. you heard me


as of next Monday (if they bother themselves to get my contract to me, but that's another story and will just involve me whinging about how rubbish HR are, so I'll save us all some time and leave that bit out) I will officially be a Communications Executive. now, this is definitely one of those jobs where they didn't quite know what to call it, so they stuck "executive" on the end, but hey, it works for me.

so, as of next Monday, my duties will include writing and editing an in house magazine. I will have other things, writing marketing material, standard letters, blah blah blah, but the main bit of my job will be writing and editing.

how exciting is that?!?!?!?!

it's taken me a long time to get here, but it finally seems like I've alligned my writing and my working life. I hope.

so I only have two more days of old work left, then I'm off on Friday as they boyfriend and I are having a birthday and then I have the new job. and I might blog a bit more. because I'm in a bit of a better fettle.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

new year, new things

this morning, I did a new thing. I got up early (on a Saturday) and went to the GYM

yes, that's right, the gym. I went to a body pump class. for those of you who don't know, its like squats and lunges and general movement with weights. it hurts. and I feel ok now but tomorrow I imagine I will feel like I've been kicked down the stairs

yesterday, I did another new thing. I posted my story in a forum to get some feedback on it. I've never done that before and it was quite scary. scarier, even, than my writing group, but so worth it. so far I've received one critique but it is so thoughtful and so considered I've taken every little bit on board. a couple of the points I read thinking "you're so right". I guess that kind of objectivity comes from someone who doesn't know me, when comments don't have to be said out loud. anyway, so far, it has been an incredibly positive experience and one I definitely intend to repeat. the story will undergo a few more revisions and tomorrow it will be printed and read outloud a few times whilst the boyf is at the football (its the derby. last time Newcastle absolutely humped Sunderland but can they do it again?) and then it will be sent out. this will be the fourth time its gone out, but the first in it's most recent incarnation of being in the first person. fingers crossed it will fare better

the forum (should you wish to check it out) is part of Winning Words, a website maintained by the lovely Michelle, you can see it here


ok, thats it from me. good night! xx

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

hello again, Happy New Year and all that jazz...

So today I submitted the first short story of the New Year. Woohoo! Exciting times. I have plans to finish rewriting another two. One needs a lot of work. One, not so much. When you're rewriting, do you ever feel like it will never end? Like you don't have enough words in you to shape this little story into what it needs to be?

That's a bit how I feel. I just need to put my head down and actually work hard. It'll get there.

In other news, I may soon have nothing but time to work hard at my writing as I got told last month that I'm at risk of redundancy. I was a bit stressed, but then realised it was out of my control so have stopped being stressed about it. I have, however, found and applied for a job (inhouse) which is all about writing. I know. And had I not been at risk, I might not have checked the jobs board that day, so fingers crossed something will come from that.

Aside from that, I just have to keep writing. The devil makes work for idle hands, or in my case, he finds a remote control and puts it there and then I'm forever trapped in an endless cycle of rubbishy American crime dramas. I'm fast approaching the end of my two weeks off...right, must get a shower and WRITE.