Monday, 31 May 2010

Amazing revelation no.73

I'm not actually counting how many revelations I've had about my writing recently, but it's got to be at least 73. Yesterday I went to a local village hall with a very small group of amateur children (very young kids, some of them) and heard them speak the words that I wrote. Not literary masterpieces, in fact the children told me the characters and stories, at least in overview. I just filled in the words, in first draft, for them to edit and trash and rearrange and ultimately own. They used them just as they were, pretty well, and I had the magical experience of hearing my words as I imagined them, spoken by a lovely cast of kids. Maybe I would feel the same about a radio/stage play for adults. The A363 course focuses partly on dramatic styles, and like the life writing which terrified me and the poetry, I can see how how it will inform my fiction. This is the first scene of one of the plays - beautifully acted by the young lady who came up with the story.

Characters: Jake: an outlaw woodcutter who lives with his grandparents
Storyteller: An olde worlde reporter who follows people around looking for a good fairy story.
Pops: Jake’s grandfather, who is old
Granny: Jake’s grandmother, who had arthritis
Volcano: Just the voice of the volcano oracle, who gives people wisdoms providing they tell the truth.
Witch: Evil witch who lives a hundred miles away and keeps a monster as a pet. She grows magic flowers to feed her pet, otherwise he will attack her.
Monster: Non-speaking acting part
Herald: brings news from the king, a bit pompous and self important!



Storyteller: (dramatically, to the audience) Our story begins in a lovely little land. (shakes his head)
No rewind that. (thinks a bit)
Our story begins in a land full of fear and terror.

Jake: (cutting wood) Fear and terror, hah!

Storyteller: Yes, fear and terror. Hey, you – local person. Tell me more about the fear and terror.

Jake: You mean the king.

Storyteller: Is the king a terrible tyrant? Is he a bully, does he chop people’s heads off? Does he torture them to death in dungeons beneath his castle?

Jake: (sarcastically) Oh, yes, he’s a terrible tyrant is our king.

Storyteller: So what’s so terrifying in this (looks around, pauses) charming little land.

Jake: Actually, nothing. It’s the king that’s terrified. He’s frightened of his own shadow. We call him King Henry the Trembling.

Storyteller: He’s an anxious king? Scared of spiders, that sort of thing?

Jake: No, I mean literally scared of his own shadow. They’ve painted all the walls grey so he can’t see his shadow following him around. He’s a nothing king, no-one takes any notice of him, unless they have to pay his taxes.

Storyteller: Well, this isn’t going to make a very good story, is it? Where’s the drama in a slightly annoying king and a few taxes?

Jake: Well, I’m sorry about that but I have to get on. All this lot of wood has to be loaded onto the boat for the trip down the river.

Storyteller: (Looking more interested) Are you going to rescue your true love? Is the wood in some way magical or special? Maybe you are on a quest?

Jake: Nope. So either get out of the way or help me move it.

Storyteller: (picking up a small piece of wood to Jake’s huge armful) So, boy, what are you doing with this wood?

Jake: I’m taking it down the river to sell. My Grandfather is old and my Grandmother is ill. So, I have to bring in the pennies, ha’pennies and farthings.

Storyteller: Your grandmother, is she under a curse? Maybe she has offended evil fairies or has eaten poisoned apples? Come to think of it, your cottage is a bit – (looks around with disdain) run down.

Jake: This is the Outlaws’ Cottage. It’s a bit damp. And small. And dark. And the well isn’t very good, and the privy is falling down, and the thatch is full of rats. It makes my grandmother’s arthritis worse. But if I sell all the wood, we’ll have a few shillings, enough to buy food for the winter. But lots of people won’t deal with us, what with us being outlaws. We just get the leftovers from the market and then they overcharge us.

Storyteller: (to the audience) There must be a story here somewhere. (Turning to Jake) How did a boy like you get to be an outlaw, anyway?

Jake: I haven’t got time for this. Pops! Granny!


Jake: Pops, you know what they said down the market. There has to be a way to cure the king. Maybe then he will be grateful and stop us being outlaws.

Pops: Now, Jake, remember what I said. Just go to the market. I know they talk about the volcano oracle in the market, but that’s too dangerous for you. Just buy as much food as you can, and hopefully we can just get through the winter.

Granny: They probably couldn’t even cure the king, he’s been scared so long. He was always a bit sensitive for my liking, even when he was a little boy. Do your best, Jake, and whatever you buy, we’ll make it last.

Jake: Well, hopefully I’ll get a good price for the wood and we’ll get some decent food this time.

Pops: Flour without weevils would be nice.

Granny: And vegetables without maggots, and cheese that isn’t hard and green. But you just do your best, Jake. We’ll be OK.

Storyteller: (to the audience) Not even a good human interest story, really. There isn’t much of a market for fairy stories about the elderly.


Meanwhile, I'm working on the course. Activity 1.3 got me reading the short story 'Violin Lessons' by Derek Neale to identify genre. It's got a lot of elements of fairy stories in it, a man in a workshop and a boy, the local woods, machinery that can kill you, a young girl... But the threats that emerge are more crime - he fantasises about the machines drawing her in and killing her - then the girl goes missing. But the man is, in many ways, sexually naive, it is the children who are knowing and rather aggressive. It turns out the provocative girl has run away with her violin teacher. So it raises expectations from one genre to the next, then does something unexpected but bot jarringly so.

I also had a nice rejection letter for a short story, which would have left me sobbing in a ball in a cellar somewhere (I know we don't have a cellar, but metaphorically, that's where rejection used to put me. Woman's Weekly beckons, I think!

Dear Rebecca,

Thank you for submitting Moving the desk for consideration by the Candis reader panellists. On this occasion, I’m afraid your story has not been selected for inclusion on the fiction pages of Candis. As you know we can only accept twelve short stories a year from the hundreds we are sent in so please don’t be discouraged. What may not be accepted for Candis may well be quickly snapped up by another publication.

I do wish you continued luck with your short stories and look forward to reading other submissions from you in the future.

Very best wishes,


Debbie Attewell

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Moving smartly on to A363

Well, enough shaking and wittering about A215, as it's a done deal, in the past, over and out. Until the results come out, of course... OK, a small amount of wittering still to come! Anyway, A363 starts today (for me, anyway!)

So, I had a look at the very beginning of chapter 1, and it started looking at genre. Not just big genre like poetry or fiction or drama but sub-genres like crime or romantic fiction. So, we got a short passage and had to look at it as if it had one of five different titles, which each suggested a different genre. I must admit, the title does set up certain expectations! Then we had to write a follow up (in activity 1.2) from some of the titles. So in the crime drama/mystery beginning, the body lies across the church doorway and the figure glides away, the body that of someone who has majorly pissed someone off and the figure - maybe the killer - or someone who witnessed it? If the same words were part of a romantic mystery titled 'The Betrayal', my focus was on the person who found the body and the woman who glided away, the inference that the characters will be central. If I was to write 'My Problem with Peyote' the body in the doorway wouldn't even be dead! So, pages 1-3 sorted. On my way!

There are also some top poetry comps coming up:
National poetry comp 31 October
Bridport prize 30 June
Wells Festival of Literature 31 July
Mslexia poetry comp 26 July
Poetry London Comp 31 May (OK, this one is a bit close!)

As usual, Mslexia are full of ideas for editing. Here for inspirational approaches to editing.

I tried the babelfish thing too! Babelfish, if you don't know, translates English into other languages, just put 'babelfish' into your search engine. Then translate it back - and the words are different, pick out any interesting changes!

She never lies, she never says ‘no’.
Her hands are smooth in memory,
Her body slender, unlined, pictured
Forever at twenty three or thirty two.
No demands of flesh, no meaty needs.
Her brain does not snip or snipe
As she rests, under a blanket of grass,
A silver birch, waving to the road.


Elle ne se trouve jamais, elle ne dit jamais le `no'. Elle des mains sont lisse dans la mémoire, Son corps mince, sans doublure, décrit pour toujours à vingt-trois ou à trente-deux. Aucunes demandes de chair, aucuns besoins de viande. Son cerveau ne coupe pas ou ne tire un coup de feu pas d'un coup de ciseaux Comme elle se repose, sous une couverture d'herbe, le bouleau argenté d'A, saluant la route.

and back again!

It is never, it never says the `no'. It with the hands smooth in the memory, Its body thin, without lining, are described for always with twenty-three or thirty-two. Aucunes requests for flesh, aucuns needs for meat. Its brain does not cross or does not draw a shot not d' a blow of scissors As it rests, under a cover d' bleaches on grass, the birch silver plated d' With, greeting the road.

I love greeting the road, for example, and hands smooth in the memory.

Friday, 28 May 2010

ECA finally gone

Oh, well, it's gone now, it's probably good enough for a 2 and is within a chance of a distinction, which would be my very first ever. Would make a nice starting point for a BA too! The Open University is a bit addictive - we should just have holidays like normal people...

Onwards and upwards to A363. Apparently we are going to learn more about: ways of writing (looking at writing for readers); Writing drama (for which we have to adapt a piece of writing for a dramatic medium like film or radio); and developing style, to create more interesting writing. That's the intro sorted, now I just need to get on with the actual writing and reading exercises. there is less guidance in this course, so I might spend more time on the exercises and TMAs that I otherwise might have. The plan is to get this (smaller) book done by September with drafts of TMA's on fiction, drama and poetry sorted. Then I can maybe sort out something for the other TMAs when the actual assignment book comes (9th September, apparently). Then I won't feel so stressed, I suspect.

Daughter has had end of year exams at uni, and with the ECA I seem to have picked up a bit too much adrenaline, I think I need a few days in a darkened room. Pretty unlikely to happen, though - the kids have their Chaucer project on Sunday and I have things to sort out for the trip to Winchester. I shall breathe more easily when we have found somewhere to live.

In the meantime, I have fiction to go off and short stories to edit. What I would like to do is to start a few first drafts, something to work with for the course(s) coming up . maybe next week!

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Sending off work for publication

Well, that was demoralising! I polished and honed and otherwise whittled a masterpiece out of a rather unpromising stick, then I sent it off. Then I read the last bit out loud to my husband and a mistake appears. After I'd sent it off. How much more editing are we supposed to do? It even got through no.1 son. Anyway, I have a short story to go off to People's Friend - yes, I did hope it wouldn't be my natural market, too, but there's something very sweet about the story that might do OK. Don't ask, don't get, and at this point I'm just hoping to get published again somewhere.

I also wrote a short story first draft and nearly finished a second one. The theme seems to be about romantic second chances - I suppose like the one I got. A friend has just got married for the second time, and the photos on Facebook were lovely, so full of love and joy. I think there's something special about finding yourself, finding your feet as an individual and then being lucky enough to have a new life partner as well. I hope my publishing life has second chances too!

Anyway, I also had the demoralising experience of reading the plot of a book I wrote three years ago written (probably better - but it isn't that good, so only probably) by someone else. The only thing that was left out was the twist, so maybe one day I'll try and write something around that. Otherwise, it works as a training exercise but I'm moving on to the latest books. Nice to be able to shelve it, though! (And she had way too many characters and POV's!)

All of which is good distraction from the ECA, of course, which I should just finish and post. What am I waiting for, anyway? It isn't going to improve while I ignore it, sitting in the corner with my eyes screwed shut and my fingers in my ears, singing la la la. Hmm. Maybe I need a new technique. Like just getting on with the commentary and sending the sodding thing off! Not to mention that it is now the 25th of May and it has to be posted at the weekend at the very latest.

Anyway, I can at least sort out the People's Friend story for posting and then that commentary.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Looking at the market

OK, don't judge me but I had a short story shortlisted for a magazine last year that was distinctly commercial. And romantic. And a bit gooey. So I fished it out with literary rubber gloves and spread it out to look at it. Not bad, though I now can see why it wasn't a winner but the basic ingredients were there. Plus goo. So I picked up some women's magazines, the ones that do short fiction, and had a look at whether I could place a revamped improved version with them.

First I thought about People's Friend, OK, not exactly my sort of magazine because I assumed everyone who read it would be over 80 but there were a few stories that weren't written about Grandma's or set during the war. One was a neat little commercial romance, by a Nicola Cleasby, that I thought did the job. There were also stories by a Rebecca and an Alexander, which is quite cool because my name is Rebecca Alexander, so I took it as an omen. Anyway, the contributor's guidelines completely ruled out divorce as a theme or for a leading character, which seems daft given how many people - older ones included - end up divorced, many through no fault of their own. So, I had a look at Women's weekly, which might be a better place to send that one though they get 1000 a month, unsolicited, apparently, according to the Story website Is that crazy? When I was writing for magazines before a dozen a week was the most you had to contend with, maybe 20. Is the story one in a thousand? Hmm.

OK, story 2, still gooey, sent back from a competition because it told more than it showed and definitely had some very wonky, unrealistic dialogue. But no-one gets divorced, and there is a happy ending. So, I'm struggling with the story, trying to give it a better framework and much neater ending, when I realise I'm enjoying it. This literary, clever stuff is one challenge, but actually, there's no harm in belting out good stories if they entertain someone. And at this point, I would just love to be published, anywhere! So, I'm trawling through the old stories and mostly finished drafts, and adding the odd sprinkle of glitter or goo where needed. No harm in sending them out, it's only postage!

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

OCA final assignment in!

I'm completely blown away by my brilliant (and perceptive, did I mention that?) tutor on the OCA course, who says such lovely things about my writing even when she's telling me what's wrong with it. And she's always right! If it wasn't for Gerry, I wouldn't be able to take criticism in the same light at all, I'd probably cry myself to sleep and give up - like I used to! But she really encourages me to push past the doubts and the fears and write anyway. I have found a completely new way of looking at my work in the last year, largely due to two fantastic tutors. I know how lucky I have been, and I know some people have struggled with their tutors, but they were great courses and I think I've learned masses from it. On to the next stage. Thank youl thank you G.R. and D.G., if I ever get anything published it will be down to you.

Coursework done, only the ECA to go...

TMA05 came back with a good mark - in fact all my marks have been within 10% and the average puts me in the distinction range. However, the ECA is harder and I think is marked more critically, so I have to review and review my pieces carefully. I have a piece of lifewriting but I'm not happy with it - it seems too emotional to me, and needs less 'story' and more writing. I've got a small scene in the middle I can cut out completely, to give me a bit of room for some settings and descriptions. Having got this far I want the distinction if I can get it. I am, however, very happy with the short story but the last TMA came back with one main complaint - no real 'hook' at the beginning. So I just need to make sure there's enough to draw in the reader. Back to my notes.

I'm feeling refreshed after some time off to make a quilt - I'll finish the top today - then I can get back to writing. The next book does beckon, it's some weeks now since I did any 'coursework' and I'm missing it. I now have to take the quotes down from my own work that I will send off in the ECA so I don't get caught 'plagiarising' my own work. I will miss A215, and I'm looking forward to A363.

Friday, 14 May 2010

I'm in, I'm in! (to the MA at Winchester)

Huge relief all around, so much that I promptly got a migraine. I'm very pleased to have a place, especially as I don't have a literature degree (or even a BA) only a silly old science degree. I suspect some of the English stuff will be a steep learning curve, but I have bought a couple of books (one written by a tutor on the course) so I can do some valuable reading over the summer. I've more or less finished my ECA but am still looking through the commentary which is where I will lose the most marks, I suspect.

So now I can relax a bit and make concrete plans to rent somewhere in Winchester with the boys (nos. 1 and 3) while no. 2 heads off to university. It will be nice not to have so many other people to consider every day, there's been seven or more here for the last month and it gets tiring thinking who eats what, needs what, is going into/coming back from somewhere and worse, the horrible, horrible paperwork that goes with one child at university, let alone two, and me, and the two boys at college on residential bursaries and grants and EMA and ALG...forms, forms. Not my strong point. Thank goodness for form friendly husband.

I've taken a couple of days off to do something non literary, and I've really enjoyed it, but the habit is hard to break so here I am writing away. I try and write 500 words minimum a day, even if it's just morning pages or rambles or freewrites or poetry or blog. That's the single biggest change in my writing, the exercising of my word-finding muscles. I must admit, I am a bit nervous about the workload, I have to keep reminding myself I won't have this house and the whole family to look after and the boys will mostly be at 'school'. That's a new experience for me, the kids going out all day and being in the house on my own! I hope I don't enjoy it too much, or it will be a bit of a shock the next year.

Anyway, to celebrate Winchester I have taken some time off to start a patchwork quilt, another form of creativity. It's nice to be back making something and it's for our 'new' bedroom, when we get the best room in the house and tart it up for ourselves. About time, really!

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Competition time

Well, I've got a bit of time now so I'm polishing up assignments, especially the ones that my tutor thinks might be publishable, ready for competitions. So far, I've done the Biscuit flash fiction one, a Writing Magazine short short story and an old story (also known as TMA05) has gone to Writers Forum, mostly to find out what's wrong with it!

I've also got Viking Funeral on the go for Writing Magazine, and six others in their early stages. Nothing looks remotely poncy (sorry, well crafted) enough to enter the Bridport Prize. I thought half the last years stories were brilliant and the other half were pants. Maybe there were two judges and they got to pick half each. I'm cool with mysterious and intriguing but I don't want to be baffled even after I've read it again, and certainly I want to care about at least one of the characters.

On the bright side, this time last year I didn't know how substandard my writing was, and I now even have a few ideas about how to improve it. This A215 course has been absolutely brilliant for me, although it was the OCA course that really got me started. I would recommend either, or both, to anyone who wants to master the nuts and bolts of writing and nurture the inborn talent.

Just a word about flash fiction. I haven't tried it before (not wanting to part with any of my darlings, obviously) but cutting a 2-2.5k story down to 700 words is amazingly therapeutic. I've now squeezed two stories that didn't work that well down to miniature masterpieces (comparatively.) Give it a try!

Monday, 10 May 2010

The end of the course is nigh

My final TMA is in and awaiting marking from Friday onwards. My tutor is so brilliant she usually turns them round in days, and with so much feedback. She gives just as much help even if you've got in the 90's, she just pushes a little harder, and she was so helpful to one of the students who did quite badly, she suggested asking for it to be re-marked by another tutor in case she's been too hard. Very fair. I can only hope I get such a good tutor next year - my husband's tutor is slow to mark and really unhelpful with the TMA's. You never knows what she wants! I sent in a short story, with commentary, as if it were for Riptide magazine. I will put it in to a magazine, see what happens.

The ECA is nearly done too, a short story and a piece of life writing. The commentaries don't work together, I think I'll do something that brings in the whole course and what I have learned over the last eight months. Meanwhile, my last university place is being debated by Winchester and all my fingers and toes are crossed. The sheer convenience of walking to it or going on the bus and being able to go to the library, would be better for me. Plus, I think it will be a better course for teaching creative writing in the long run, which I would like to do. An added bonus would be that hopefully, fellow students would be close to Winchester so we could meet up. Still, I love the idea of the Portsmouth course too.

I've also signed up to A363 because it's the only time you can do it for the diploma. I'm looking forward to getting stuck into lots of creative work for that, some of which might be useful for either course. I haven't submitted the same work to two different courses yet, although I did rewrite the piece I used for TMA05 from a magazine entry, so hopefully I should have plenty of starting points for work for the MA. I find that I'm full of ideas until an assignment is looming or someone puts me on the spot.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Lifewriting should come with a health warning

OK, so I wrote this piece of lifewriting, and I consulted my daughter whom it mostly concerned. Then I let no. 1 son, who is my more strict critic, read it and he broke down and cried - for a long time. I'd discussed Steve's death with my daughter for ever, because she was 4 years old and full of questions, I forgot I hadn't really done the same with him.

So, I started a new piece and it segued into fiction. When I was little, I got to paint a shed with old pots before it was scrapped so I could play in it with my sister for a couple of weeks. I also heard about a scandalous story going on over our heads, and though it would be nice to combine the two, see the exciting events unfolding from a child's perspective. Here is my VERY first draft work - ready for a serious edit.

Had to remove it in case I plagiarised myself!

Meanwhile, my next 'Writing Magazine' entry is progressing nicely. It's about living on a narrowboat which my parents do, and living on a houseboat which several friends do, so it's full of nautical details. I'm trying to enter something every month but its been a challenge with the coursework and assignments etc. as well as novels. I've got a few weeks to unwind so I'll get on with that.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

TMA05 commentary and lifewriting (ouch, again)

Well, TMA05 sorted itself out nicely after a bit of bashing into shape and taking out all the adjectives (I wrote the first draft a while ago). I allow myself one per paragraph, tops. My problem is the navel gazing required for the commentary.

I chose a magazine (I started out looking for myslexia but it's intimidatingly good and I chickened out). I ended up with Riptide, because I have seen one once and it looked good but not so far above my head I didn't understand any of it. Anyway, it also has a whole page on recommendations for submissions so something to write about in the commentary. My problem is, I'm not sure how much should be about tracking down the mag and how much about how I wrote the short story?

One unexpected side effect is that I'm now quite keen to submit it to a magazine, to see what happens, as well as working on a competition entry I've been fiddling with for Writing Magazine. I know it's a good story but I'm still not sure my writing suits the subject that well.

I've also been working on my lifewriting for the ECA, a short piece on telling my four year old daughter her father had died. It's no funnier than it sounds, but it's been interesting talking about it to Sophie from her vast life experience at 23. It sparked a clear out and I realised how much crap from my past - mementos, ornaments, books, etc. I was holding onto because they connect to the past. My husband, also widowed but much more recently, does the same, so it's definitely time for a good review of what we actually need to keep and a chance to declutter. It's like there are layers of memories with everything, that are as obvious as the dust, once you move them. I will take the old furniture to Winchester and either dump it or pass it on to Sophie. Meanwhile I'm full of dust and memories and my dreams are emotional and scary, full of dying people and sadness. To make matters worse, we seem to have a wood mouse loose in the house, that comes into our room on its travels at night! I don't mind mice but it's the not knowing where it is that bothers me! It spooked Sophie the other night, up late watching supernatural, all alone, except for the mouse... I don't know who was more scared. Rodents are a major issue with this house, despite four over-fed and idle cats.