Saturday, 28 May 2011

Surrounded by History

Something else that we can see if we only take the time to look is the history that surrounds us.

The past shapes the landscape, from the round barrows dotted across the hills to the marks of medieval strip farming.

Or more recently - from a time when the coast was fortified and guarded. A time when an invasion was feared. Hence the pill boxes we find along our coastlines.

Or even here, in this field. This was a radar station, manned day and night, watching for enemy aircraft crossing the channel. It was part of the Chain Home early warning radar network that proved so vital during World War 2.

Now forgotten and half buried beneath the meadow grasses.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Children and Pets

Do your characters have pets?

One of the things we tried when I was doing the rewrite for WRRW was giving my MC a pet. I went for a dog. But in the end he didn’t really work so I took him out again.

Yet when you think about it, there is often a pet, particularly in children’s books. How about Timmy in the Famous Five and Hedwig in Harry Potter?

We were discussing this over on the Litopia forums and someone said something that stuck in my mind – she said that most kids these days don’t have a pet but would like one, and so they like to read about them.

Is that really true? Do most kids really not have pets? Do your kids have pets?

I guess because I live, and always have lived, in the country, animals are very much a way of life.

And we don’t have many ourselves. I’d like to get chickens but my husband draws the line there. So for the past five years my kids have made do with only the guinea-pigs.

But now that has changed.

Please meet the latest additions to our household:


And Mimsy

A mother and daughter we have just adopted from the RSPCA.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Slush Reading - Reposted

Looks like my original post vanished - so here it is again:

I've been helping out over at Litopia, reading submissions for the forthcoming Litopia Anthology to be produced by Nemesis Publishing, and it's proving to be a very interesting and insightful experience.

Needless to say, since all the stories have been submitted by Litopians who have passed the assessment process to achieve full membership the writing quality is high. So none of the stories I'm rejecting are as a result of poor writing.

In fact, before I started this process I was concerned that it would be very difficult to whittle the stories down. But this is in fact not the case.

The really good stories stand out. The suck you in from the first line and before you know you've reached a satisfying end. They go straight through to the next round.

But the ones I reject are let down by two very simple things - story and structure.

The commonest problem I'm finding is submissions that aren't really a story. They are just a vignette, a scene, a snapshot. There's no character arc, no real beginning and no end. They may be beautifully written vignettes. But a short story has to be a complete entity in its own right. These are just a scene that could easily be part of something larger.

The other flaw I'm seeing is stories that are summaries of stories, more like a synopsis. I don't want to read a synopsis - I want to read the story itself!

If you want to know a bit more about possible problems with short stories do check out this earlier post of mine on common short story mistakes.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

If you look you will see

There’s an old gnarled tree by the side of the footpath. I could have walked by but instead I stopped to look.

Other people came along the footpath, some walking their dogs, others lost in thought. They walked past the tree but they didn’t look. They didn’t see.

When we write we look that little bit deeper. We look for the small telling detail that creates a scene, be it the buzz of insects around the apple blossom on a spring evening, or the old man at the back of the bus picking food from between his teeth.

So pause and look again. A tree can be so much more. As I stood there I could see the hubbub of activity, back and forth, back and forth.

Look at little closer

Honey bees.