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.