My latest short story is now available to read at Coffin Bell. Find it here.
My latest short story is now available to read at Coffin Bell. Find it here.
Strange that a long overdue meeting with old friends should cause so much tension, but there it was. There were butterflies, sweaty palms and long sessions in front of the mirror beforehand. And, once there, half forgotten conflicts resurfaced…
The two rivals paused, sizing each other up for their next attack.
“Not this again,” sighed Iris. “We’re supposed to be working together, remember?”
‘Fatty’ dismissed this. “It’s only our bit of fun.” But everyone knew it wasn’t.
“Did you hear what happened to Pegs?” asked Moley.
“Poor thing! And always so proud of having none too.”
“That’s what fat does to you.” This was said with a meaning look.
“Of course, there are worse disfigurements.” Another meaning look.
“Right, that’s it,” said Iris. “I’m communicating with head office.”
“I would. Someone has to be the brains behind this operation.”
Moley shuddered. “Don’t say that word.”
“Why ever not?”
“Hysterectomy,” Moley whispered. “Sometime soon.”
“Oh dear.” Distress caused a temporary alliance.
“For a minute,” said Fatty, “I thought you meant they were going to whip a not so little something off.” The alliance was over. Moley bridled.
“Or suck something out?”
“Now see here…”
“I do,” interrupted Iris in a resigned voice. “I see far better than you. Head office wants a word.”
“Great indeed,” someone snapped. The ‘brains of the operation’ had arrived and was not happy. “I was busy minding my own business and trying to have a good time with my old friends, and now instead I’ve got to think about you. You should realise how unimportant and superficial you are. I can manage perfectly well with or without you, and I will even do fine without other, much bigger parts. Because I’m not defined by you. All that really matters is that I am me. The rest is just shell. Now stop bothering me with your insecurities, because I’m not going to waste anymore of my time worrying about you.”
With the ease in which authors can self publish now, I’m finding that many actually don’t know how to do it the traditional way. And by traditional I don’t necessarily mean sending your epic novel to Penguin Random House, getting a five figure advance and winning the Man Booker Prize. (Can’t be just me who has those dreams?) No, the simplest way to be traditionally published is to send a short story out to a literary magazine, whether online or printed, and be accepted. And it is a lot more likely.
I previously did a post on ten places to submit your writing, which many of you found helpful. The problem with any sort of list like that, though, is it eventually becomes outdated. But if you know how to find these places for yourself you can be more sure that your information is correct.
What’s the advantage of this compared to publishing your short stories on your blog?
Well, first of all, you might get paid. Yes, some magazines do actually pay authors for their work. Amounts vary, but we’ll take anything right? Secondly, if ever you do decide to submit that epic novel, you’ll be taken a lot more seriously if you have some publishing credits to list.
So, having (hopefully) convinced you to send out your short stories, how do you know where to send them?
My top tip is to sign up for Submittable. You will need to do this anyway as a large number of publications only accept submissions through their portal system. But while you’re at it, sign up for their monthly newsletter. Each one includes opportunities for writers and information on publishers seeking submissions. You can also find such information on their website.
Authors Publish magazine is also an excellent place to go. As the name suggests, they are dedicated to helping authors share their work. They too have a newsletter you can sign up for to get regular notices in your inbox of which publisher is looking for what type of writing. It also includes a helpful articles written by fellow authors on some aspect of writing. (Look out for the one in issue number 246. Just saying.)
Finally, a simple search engine enquiry can throw up some very interesting opportunities. Try to be as specific as possible though. Trust me, if you search ‘short story submissions’ you are going to come up with an awful lot of results to wade through. Which isn’t necessarily bad, but including extra information that’s important to you can really help narrow it down. So trying something like ‘short story submissions, UK’ or ‘short story submissions, free’ or ‘sci fi short story submissions’ can really help.
As always, I hope you’ve found this article useful. If you have any tried and tested ways that you use to find places to submit to, do add them in via the comments.
I learned an important lesson last month. I decided I wanted to enter some short story competitions again, something I haven’t done in a while. One of the ones I looked at was asking for short stories and poems on the theme ‘dusk.’ Now, I’m not always very good at coming with a story on a particular theme. I wracked my brains on this one, but what actually came into my head was a narrative poem. I don’t as a rule write poetry, and I’m not too good at it. However, I thought if I wrote this poem it might clear my head for another idea, or a story might come out of it. So I did. And I thought it was okay. Maybe I would enter it after all. I put it aside to think about, and then decided it was rubbish. So I did nothing with it.
Then, the other day, I was scrolling through my notes and came across it. And it was actually pretty good! The only problem was, the deadline had passed just the day before. If I’d entered it, I probably wouldn’t have won anything. But I definitely won’t now! I wouldn’t have lost anything by trying. So that reminded me once again not to give in to the self doubt that is part of a writer’s life. Just send your work out. You never know.
The above post is an excerpt from the December edition of my newsletter. While it’s more for fans of my work than for new writers, whom I try to cater for on this blog, I am taking it in the slightly new direction of being a lot more open and honest about the ups and downs of my writing life. So if you enjoyed this post and think such experiences could help you, then do sign up for my monthly newsletter on the pop up form or the contact page.
‘I’d love to write a book if I had time’ is one of those comments that writers get regularly, and never fails to make them resolve to kill that person off in their next story. Once I even had someone tell me that, although now they did have the time to write, they just didn’t need the money anymore. I resisted telling them that that’s like someone who once appeared in their school nativity play saying they didn’t pursue their acting career because the fame would be inconvenient. So, can anyone who has the time write? What makes a real writer?
You all know what this first point is going to be. A real writer writes. They don’t have a choice. That’s whether they have the time or not. Because we can’t imagine not writing.
Of course, some writers come to it later in life, when they retire perhaps. And they do have time. But they still have to sit down and actually write something. They choose to do that with their spare time because that’s what they really want to do. Most people who say they would love to write a book if they had time will not do so, even when they do. Even if you sent them on a writer’s retreat for a month. That’s because writing is hard. It’s a lot harder than you know until you try. Which brings me to the next point. Yes, there is a next point. There any many quotes out there that say if you write then you’re a writer and that’s it. I disagree. I think there’s a little more to it…
Real writers finish. The hard part about writing is not starting a book. It’s finishing it. I remember when I began my first novel, I got to 13,000 words and thought I’d written half a book. I then looked up how many thousand words a novel normally is and realised I’d actually written less than a quarter. It can be a slow process and there is always a slump in the middle. The bit when you’re not sure if you can do this. Where you’re convinced the whole thing is the biggest load of drivel ever written. When you’re not sure where to go from here. Non writers drop their work at this point. Real writers work through it.
A real writer wants their work to be the best it can be. That means redrafting, rewriting and revising until your sick of it. It means editing until commas appear before your eyes when you shut them. It even means paying someone else to edit it if you’re struggling yourself. A real writer knows that the first version is only the beginning.
A real writer learns from other writers. That means reading. A lot. A writer never stops learning how to be better. Stephen King says that if you don’t have the time to read then neither do you have the time or the tools to write. And it’s true. So, if a writer is a reader, does that mean that a reader is also a writer? Often, yes. A love of words and books is usually manifest both ways. I was once told on a short story course that anyone who reads can write. But reading on its own isn’t enough. So if you read a lot and think you might like to write a book, make sure you are willing to do all the other things listed in this post too. Writing, real writing, is about perseverance.
Finally, a real writer shares their work. A friend recently expressed to me how brave she thought I had to be to send my work out. And it does take courage. But as I told my friend, no work of art is complete unless it has an audience. A beautiful picture that spends its life facing the wall is unfulfilled. There may be many examples of lyrical prose or heart wrenching stories in someone’s old exercise books, but they are never going to impact the world from there. And that’s what art should do. It should make the world a slightly different place to what it was without it. But it can only do that through its audience. And a writer can only get the true perspective of their work when it’s out in the world, standing on its own. That perspective is essential to improving as a writer. So if you have exercise books or a computer stuffed with stories that have never seen the light of day, take the final step to becoming a real writer and send them out into the world.
I hope this post has helped you realise that you are a real writer. And if it hasn’t, at least you know never to say to one that you would love to write a book if you had the time.
Normally I try to avoid spoilers in my reviews, but in this case I find it impossible to fully express how I feel about this book without mentioning the ending. So if you haven’t read The Miniaturist yet and don’t want to know what happens then go away, read it and come back.
Let’s start with the things I really liked. The characters were compelling, flawed and real. The prose is beautiful. Jessie Burton has a gift of describing everyday things in a way that transforms them into something extraordinary. I think it is this quality that gives the entire story a feeling of surrealism. It does also mean that it starts off slightly slowly, but my advice is just to sit back and enjoy the language. The story soon speeds up.
So, what is the story? Nella, a nineteen year old bride, arrives at her new husband’s house in Amsterdam to take up residence. He is not there to greet her, instead she is met by his formidable sister, Marin, and the servants, Cornelia and Otto. It is not a warm welcome, nor does she get one from her husband, Johannes, once he returns. She is left to occupy her room and bed in solitary splendour. The only real attention Johannes pays her is when he presents her with her wedding gift- a cabinet containing a replica of the house. Nella does not like it, but after an argument with Marin she orders from a miniaturist several pieces of furniture for it that Marin will not provide her with in real life. The miniaturist duly sends these pieces, but also some others, which are strangely accurate. The rest of the story follows Nella in her new life and family, each major event finding an echo in the miniaturist’s exquisite work.
There are several twists in the story, but I can’t say any of them took me by surprise. It’s easy enough to guess that Johannes’s indifference to his bride arises from a preference for men. Also the hints dropped about Marin’s pregnancy are quite obvious. Although, I admit I didn’t guess the father! I don’t know if we are meant to guess these things or not, but it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story. But there are some things that did…
I don’t want to be overly critical here. It was a really, really good book. But the prologue- why, oh why are authors still writing them? This one is really confusing. I admit that my own assumption when I read it was that it was Johannes funeral, since Nella was clearly a widow. Reading the book with that assumption throughout made it very easy to guess that Johannes was executed, from the moment we find out that he was homosexual. It’s since been pointed out to me that it is in fact Marin’s funeral. But the fact that it so unclear and that I started with this wrong assumption (and we do try to work out what’s happening in a prologue, no matter how deliberately criptic) still ruined the story climax for me. I’m not sure if Jessie Burton has underestimated or overestimated her audience here!
The ending itself has no closure. Nella never gets to meet the miniaturist. Many questions go unanswered. I was left feeling unsatisfied. However, the world of The Miniaturist and the atmosphere created by it has remained with me, perhaps partly because of that. But it was the quality of the writing, rather than the story, which truly gripped me.
What did you think of The Miniaturist? Please post a comment and let me know!
There are many different ways to write. There are plotters and pantsers, writers who type straight off, writers who do it all by hand first. Writers who don’t look back until the first draft is finished, writers who perfect each section as they go. How do you know which methods are right for you?
Part of it has to be trial and error. So don’t be afraid to try different methods. I always used to type everything straight away. Then I had a great idea for a story as I was about to climb into the bath. I didn’t dare take my tablet in with me, so I took a notebook. And I found the whole thing flowed better and I was less caught up in things like punctuation. Now I usually write my words out on paper first. So just because you’ve been using one method for ages doesn’t mean another won’t work as well or better. So give it a go.
Another help to deciding what methods will work for you is self knowledge. I’m a pantser for two reasons. Firstly, because I know making detailed lists and character studies would bore me and keep me away from the actual writing. Secondly, I know that part of the fun of writing for me is to find these things out as I go along. I like to get to know my characters gradually, in the same way that the reader will. And the scenes that are unplanned, that arise out of my subconscious, are always my favourites.
Having said all that, some methods will depend on what you’re writing. My last manuscript jumped back and forth between past and present, and the timing was quite complicated as it had to align with some real historical events. So I made myself a timeline, something I would never ordinarily do. One of my future projects will need each chapter to be (roughly) outlined to make it dovetail together properly. But for my current project I just know basically what I want to happen, and there’s a few scenes in my head, otherwise I’m just going for it.
You also need to recognise that in this case there is no wrong or right way to do it. All writers are different. The oddest method I’ve ever heard was Lin Anderson’s. She starts with one scene, always a crime scene. When she starts she has no idea how it will end. And she just writes a chapter at a time, only starting the next one when the previous is polished and ready. I’ve never heard of any writer doing it that way before, but clearly it works for her as she has had multiple works published. So don’t be afraid to come up with your own, unique method.
Do you have any interesting writing methods? I’d love to hear them! Feel free to leave a comment.
Lost and Found starts off like a lighthearted romance. There’s the usual love at first sight, crackling sexual tension and unhappy misunderstandings. To be honest, this isn’t really my thing, but it was extremely well done and I enjoyed it much more than I would have expected.
Luke and Arianna are instantly likeable and I was rooting for them from the start. Also, there was some description, but not too much, and the places really came alive. Where the book really got going for me though was after the kidnapping. From then on it was one thrill after another and I loved it. I especially want to read more about Isabella! I hope that’s what the author has in store for us in the sequel.
All in all it was excellent read, with the slower pace of the beginning gradually building to a proper page turner that I finished in a few hours. I even got teary-eyed at the end. There’s something in this book for most people, whether you’re a lover of romance, action, or a little bit of both. I highly recommend picking it up.
Get Lost and Found here.
How does a week of no internet affect my writing?
Post a message on Instagram to let everyone know I will be away for a week, though I don’t bother with my other social media platforms. I’m not so popular on any of them.
On the way to the holiday cottage, I have a sudden thought that I might have forgotten my phone. It’s a thought that happens fairly regularly, but this time it’s unaccompanied by the usual panic. I don’t bother to check. It doesn’t really matter if I have it or not. There’s no internet or even phone signal at the cottage. So I just lean back and go to sleep. It’s oddly freeing.
I’ve already read two books and written a review for another. I’ve also had a nap, watched a film, had a walk by the sea and cooked a nice dinner. Not missing social media yet.
My new book isn’t quite so gripping as the last two, plus I’ve taken some good bookstagram pictures, so I wouldn’t object to a few minutes on social media. I’ve also submitted a few short stories lately and want to see if there’s been a response to either of them, though it’s probably too soon really. Nevertheless, I can’t resist quickly checking my messages in a nearby coffee shop. But there’s nothing of much interest. Although, curiously, I’ve had an influx of blog followers, even though I haven’t posted in quite some time now. Examine my stats, but am unable to find a reason. Still, it’s good to know people are still reading my blog even though I’m not promoting it.
Finish book number three and write a blog post and part of my next newsletter.
Have written three more blog posts. Feeling really good about getting ahead. Normally I would also make some visuals to promote them on social media, but for that I require internet. So that’s slightly frustrating, until I remember that I can just use my own photos or simply some text. Have some fun doing that. My phone now needs charging. First time in two days. Finish book four and write a review.
Feel like I really ought not to start a new book yet as have so far written a good many blog posts but absolutely no new chapters for my WIP. So I must do that today. Not this morning though, as I didn’t wake up until 10:45. It is now 11:30, I’m still in bed and we are going out for lunch. I believe we are planning to take a walk afterwards, but when we get back I will settle in front of the fire with a warming drink and possibly a slice of cake and write my book. I do like holidays.
Finished book five. Didn’t do anything to my WIP. Whoops. I did write a short story to feature in my next newsletter though.
Got up a bit earlier today. Hubby is getting restless and wants to actually wants to do something today. Outside. So we have decided to visit an aquarium. Which sounds like great fun and perhaps could even inspire a story. That’s what I’m telling myself anyway. Not sure what that means for working on my WIP.
Never made it to the aquarium, it was closed. So we looked around Duff House instead. A stately mansion and art gallery that made me feel very uncultured. A tour guide pounced on us in one room and asked if we’d spotted the painting that was worth more than the house. I said not yet to point out that we’d only been on the room about thirty seconds. Then felt incumbent on me to guess, which I did without success. She pointed us towards an original El Greco painting of St Jerome. Apparently it’s worth around ten million pounds. Sadly it merely confirmed my conviction that I have no real soul for art. Although there was a Picasso which I enjoyed- Soles I think it was called- and a Lavery, which was my favourite.
There’s something peculiarly exhausting about looking round old houses. When we get back to the cottage I take a gin and tonic to bed and prepare to work on my WIP. Only to find that the full manuscript is not downloaded from the cloud and I can’t do that with no internet. (According to the file I haven’t opened it since the beginning of July, which shocks me. But then, I have moved house and released another book since then.) And I can’t quite remember where I’d got to. But I write a scene anyway and hope it fits.
Finish book six. Then go to a coffee shop with wifi just so I can download manuscript. iPad has been disconnected from the internet for so long that it’s agonisingly slow. But we get there in the end.
Have had slightly panicked text message from sister asking if we are ok. I’m sure I told her we would have no internet this week but seems she didn’t expect us to drop so completely off the grid. Interesting aspect of modern life that if you’re not posting on social media then you could be dead.
Do quite a lot of work to my WIP before dinner. Finally get past the wedding, which means I’m about a third of the way through. Slightly worried that the whole thing is really boring. But I always get that feeling.
Finished book seven late last night, then didn’t get off to sleep very well. Maybe it was the seafood for dinner. Hubby chooses this morning to wake up really early. Resolved not to read another book today but concentrate on my writing and get an early night, which I actually stick too.
It’s back to normal tomorrow. I’m looking forward to having the internet again, looking forward to sharing what I’ve been up to this week. On the other hand, it’s good to know that I can quite easily go for a week without social media. I’m not dependent on it. I don’t need the likes and comments to tell me how interesting I am. Has it boosted my productivity though?
Well, I’ve certainly read more. But then, why is lounging on the sofa with a book considered better than scrolling through Instagram or Twitter? Social media teaches me just as much about other people and places and social issues as reading does, perhaps more. I’ve found that if I don’t stay up late reading articles on Facebook I’ll stay up even later reading a book. Part of that has been knowing I don’t have to get up in the morning, but it’s mostly that a book is more gripping to me than social media can ever be. And that forces me to the conclusion that social media isn’t limiting my productivity.
On social media I quite quickly run out of things to do. So actually, if I want to write more, then I need to read a bit less. It’s not the conclusion I thought I’d come to at the beginning of the week. I thought I’d get so much writing done without the big distraction of the internet. And I have done a lot. But I think that’s more due to having so much extra time. The time I would have spent on the internet I’ve not spent writing. I’ve read and watched TV and gone for walks on the beach. Social media isn’t limiting my productivity, I am. I need to be stricter with myself, to get on and do it. Write when I don’t feel like it. So this experiment was definitely worth it, if only for that little bit of self knowledge.
DANUBE DEFIANCE, by novelist JANE GOLDEN, is an enthralling mystery about an art heist involving ancient icon art. Travel with super sleuth, Jeni, as she ventures through the antique markets in New Orleans’ French Quarter and across the ocean to Eastern Europe’s bustling city of Bucharest and the Romanian countryside. Jeni stumbles upon one clue that leads to others. Something doesn’t add up, and she gathers a few friends… an antiquities expert, a journalist, and a dashing New Orleans shopkeeper. Together, they follow a river of clues and dead bodies. But will the thieves get them first?
I’d mainly label this book as a cosy mystery, but in reality it’s a mix of things. It does have the slower pace of the cosy mystery, on the other hand there is none of the traditional list of suspects or plot twists that you would expect from that genre. It’s more of a thriller, but written in the style of a cosy mystery. I must admit to finding the solution slightly unfulfilling. But then again I often do.
The characters were believable and endearing and the writer clearly knows what she’s talking about. I would guess that perhaps she once filled the same role that Jeni, the main character in the book, occupies. I’d recommend it to fans of the fictional detectives Agatha Raisin and Daisy Dalrymple, who share the characteristics of achieving results by a mixture of luck and tenacious curiosity. Jeni very much falls into this category.
Also, if you like reading about other countries but dislike dry travel guides, this is a great way to learn about another culture without even thinking about it. It reminded me of Mary Stewart in that respect. The descriptions of Romania did slow the story down, but I enjoyed them nevertheless. All in all, it was a light but highly enjoyable read.
Find it on Amazon. About the Author: Jane Golden, author of SECRETS IN THE VINES and DANUBE DEFIANCE, was born with an inherent sense of adventure. The Biloxi, Mississippi native gives new meaning to tripping abroad. Experiencing international travel for the first time in her early teens, the brief jaunt stuck with her. She knew in her heart that the day-long excursion to a Mexican border town was the beginning of a lifetime of exotic journeys,which later included trips to Chile, Malawi, Costa Rica, the Caribbean, Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, Jordan, and Europe.
After practicing law for many years, she was unexpectedly thrust into the role of a diplomat wife in Eastern Europe. Much of the background material in SECRETS IN THE VINES and DANUBE DEFIANCE is borrowed from personal travel experiences, including humorous insights and unique perspectives gained upon arrival in Bucharest. Jane’s profound insights into the Romanian culture are eye-opening in both books, igniting the curiosity of the reader while providing non-stop entertainment.