Monday, 30 December 2013

Turkey tales

We didn't have turkey on Christmas Day. We had ours on Saturday last, when Mr. Squidge's side of the family came on their festive visit.

Unfortunately, we had a few problems with the bird.

To begin with, we had to leave it chilling in the garage 'til the last minute; our cat, in the past, has scratched the plastic wrapping off and left claw/teeth marks in the meat. Although the bird wasn't exactly at room temp before it went into the oven, cooking officially started at 9am.

By 12.30, I knew we had a problem; the bird was not cooking.

As a result, the three-and-a-half hour planned cooking time (as determined by St. Delia - and she stuffs her bird, we don't) dragged on into four hours and the juices were still running pink. Dinner - to have been served at 1pm - was looking like it needed a lot longer...

We finally sat down to eat at 2pm, and I'm pleased to say the turkey was perfect. My stress levels, however, had gone through the roof.

Having waved all our guests off last night and straightened the house this morning, I stripped the carcass (there's something rather satisfying about that job - perhaps it's my caveman roots) ready for turkey curry tonight and probably turkey stew tomorrow and turkey salad after that... Mr Squidge did buy a big bird.

By the time the last mouthful of turkey has been consumed, we'll be into a new year. I won't be making any resolutions - other than to avoid turkey for a while. But I will take the turkey lesson on board; that the things we want to achieve often take a lot longer than we think.

And they still turn out right.

So, there's hope for my stories yet...

Monday, 23 December 2013

Looking back - and looking forward.

I'm going to take a break from the Scribbles over the next week - unless something awesome happens that I need to share - so it seems a good time to look back over my year of words.

I've been published - six short stories in five charity publications. And I was runner-up in a short story competition, to be published as an anthology ebook of winners and runner-uppers in 2014.

I parted company with my agent. An unfortunate event, but the silver lining is that it has forced me to write what I enjoy writing rather than what I think will please other people. Whether that means success or failure in the future, I do not know...

I edited the heck out of Rurik and submitted him to new agents. He's been thoroughly rejected by 'the industry', in spite of being favourably received by readers...I've even been asked for the next story in the series.

I started a new WIP - Ani's story - which is coming along slow but sure after I finally found my voice (with some help from Les Edgerton).

I attended the Festival of Writing, a great weekend with old and new writer friends.

I started Squidge's Scribbles late in June, jumping straight into the Ultimate Blog Challenge in July. I really enjoy blogging and it appears there are quite a few folk who like what I say; today, I'm almost at 9000 hits and have a small band of followers, so at least I know I'm not talking to myself most of the time!

I did a little bit of paid editing work for a publisher - and a lot of unpaid editing for fellow writers. It's really satisfying to see good stories grow and develop into some brilliant work when authors take on board the feedback and apply it in the way that suits them.

As for 2014...

Well, Granny Rainbow will be published in January if all goes according to plan via Panda Eyes, a local indie publisher. Getting the work formatted, edited, contacting printers, working with a publisher and cover designer AND seeing my characters come to life in illustrations has been the steepest of learning curves, but I am looking forward to getting a book of stories (that are entirely mine) out to an audience. I'm also scared witless for the same reason!

I will write, of course, though which project to focus on, I have no idea. Depending on the success (or otherwise) of Granny, Rurik may or may not be self-published. Ani's story is still begging to be told, as is Peril in Pergatt, the next book about Rurik. Add to that blogging, Word Clouding, Helping on the Stories for Homes blog...there will be lots of words.

But between now and then comes Christmas and New Year. A chance to take stock and count my blessings in what has been, on balance, a very good writing year. Thank you, dear blog reader, for sharing the last six months with me. 

As we finish 2013 and turn our faces towards 2014 and whatever it may hold for us, all that remains is for me to wish you and yours a very

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!


(Source; 'Tales from the Rainbow Room' blog)

Monday, 16 December 2013

Dear Santa...

Dear Santa,

I've been very, very good this year. Please can you bring me a couple of books to get stuck into in the New Year?

1. Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett.


I'm a big Discworld fan. My ultimate aim is to have all the Discworld novels on my shelf at some point; I think there's only a couple of the Tiffany Aching stories and Eric and I'm there. I am in awe of Sir Terry's ability to create such a believable world. I've learnt a lot about characterisation and economy of words through reading Mr. Pratchett.

2. That Close by Suggs.


I don't usually go for autobiographies. I've often been disappointed by the content when I have picked one up, and I'm not really into 'celeb' culture. But every now and again, I will have another go with someone I admire. Such is the case with Suggs.

I grew up with Madness. Heck, I still buy their CD's now (and damn good they are too!). Suggs as a person looks to be a fascinating character, and a sneaky peek into the book when I popped into Waterstones last week indicated that the book is filled not only with his story but with his unique poetical lyrics and pictures drawn by the man himself.

They're a bit too big to fit in my stocking, Santa, but if you can slip them under the tree, that'd be just as good...

Thanks,

Katherine   x

Go on then - what books are you going to ask Santa for this year?

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Got a warm, fuzzy feeling...

Christmas makes me feel good at the best of times, but this morning, I have two extra reasons to feel warm and fuzzy.

Reason 1. 
A Test of Time - the short stories group anthology that was published at the end of November - has, to date, raised around £50 for Foodbank. The wonderful Vanessa Wester has already put the money to good use, just in time for Christmas. You can read Vanessa's original post here.

Vanessa (right) and the book, handing over a stack of goodies
to Hannah King, the manager of the Cowes branch of Foodbank.

Reason 2.
Last night, at the first launch event in London for Stories for Homes, a cheque for £1500 was handed over to a representative from Shelter. (The book itself continues to climb up the charts, officially designated now as a 'bestseller'.) 

A symbolic cardboard cheque, signed by all the authors present

I played only a small part in both projects - a story for each - but I am humbled and in awe of the people who were the driving forces behind both.

So a big shout-out first to Vanessa Wester, who has been the driving force behind not just A Test of Time, but also Out of Darkness, A Festive Feast, Love is in the Air, and Reading is Magic, supporting a variety of charities. (Not to mention her own books, The Evolution Trilogy and Gurnard's Book of DelightsYou can find details of the short story collections either on my 'Where I've been published' page, or here.)

And another big shout-out to Debi Alper and Sally Swingewood, the masterminds behind Stories for Homes, who brought together an amazing team responsible for producing a world class anthology of short stories in just three months. They are wonderful!

The last shout-out goes to everyone who's bought a copy of either publication - and there are lots of you, I know!

Shout-outs aside, I realise that some of you might be reading this post and judging the 'success' of these two publications according to the amount of money they've raised. Please don't. From my point of view, both A Test of Time and Stories for Homes have been equally successful, because the money they've raised will help change people's lives for the better.

If you're going to judge these books, judge them on the difference they are making in the world; that's something you just can't put a price on. 

Thursday, 12 December 2013

The morning after the day before...

Just to say a huge, Squidgey, rainbowy

THANK YOU 

to everyone who shared in the Book Blast for Stories for Homes yesterday. I think it's fair to say that we had a noticeable web presence - and as a result, we saw the paperback shoot up the Amazon charts for most gifted AND anthologies. If you don't believe me, google it; Stories for Homes pretty much dominates the first two pages, even this morning!

Virtual hugs to all of you for helping to make a difference!

(And if you missed it, you can still get a flavour of it here or drop into the Bookseller Crow on the Hill (London) for the first launch event TOMORROW, 6pm onwards.)

Plans are afoot for a Nottingham event - keep your eyes peeled...

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Book blast - Stories for Homes




Nearly 85,000 children will be homeless in Britain this Christmas. 

Eighty-five thousand. That's more children than the entire population of my home town.

It's not their fault if mortgages or rent can't be paid through illness, separation or redundancy, so their home is repossessed.

It's not their fault if councils won't lend the support their parents need.

It's not their fault if they're forced into temporary or low rent accommodation whilst their parents wait for social housing to become available.

It's not their fault that they are subjected to poor living conditions which affect their health and emotional well-being.

It's NOT their fault.

But these kids will still be homeless at Christmas.


exists so that no-one has to fight bad housing or homelessness on their own.


To do that, they need funds.

Stories for Homes is a book of short stories, written and produced with the sole intention of making a difference. The dedication inside reads 'To everyone who knows what it is to struggle and to those who work to make a difference.' The 63 authors involved - and a good many other folk besides - gave of their hearts and time to make the anthology a reality and in a small way, make a difference.



Today, in advance of the first launch event for the paperback at The Bookseller - Crow on the Hill (London) - on the 13th December, we are SHOUTING about this book all over the net.

Every penny of profit goes to Shelter to make a difference to someone who no longer has somewhere they can call home. Please, share Stories for Homes. Share this post on Facebook, Twitter it, link and like. Watch the video. Buy a copy if you haven't already. Pop into the launch in London on Friday evening, or visit Andover library at 2pm on the 18th December to hear some of it read.

Above all, make a difference - and let's find those 85,000 kids (and their families) somewhere they can call home.

Katherine x

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

A caricature - of ME!



Tomorrow, there's going to be a Book Blast for Stories for Homes. And I'm joining in...

But tonight, I'm sharing the caricature drawn by one of the book's authors, Kara Tobin, as part of the project. Not only does Kara write, but she's also an extremely talented musician and likes drawing too. Her aim is to have produced a cartoon for every one of the 63 authors in the book, plus Debi Alper and Sally Swingewood, the masterminds behind it all. You might see a few more popping up tomorrow...

We were asked for our eye colour, a favourite item and our favourite colour...so I'm sitting on a rainbow in a purple dress!

Sunday, 8 December 2013

What does Christmas mean to you?




My church has an Advent community project running; an Advent calendar of flags, made by members of the church and local community groups, and displayed outside homes in the parish in the run-up to Christmas Eve. (You can see the flag I made for the 1st December here.)

As part of the project, we were visited by a film-maker, who has put together some 'thought for the day' snippets...and I popped up today! Thought I'd share it with you...

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Hooking your reader

After the difference that Les Edgerton's book 'Finding your voice' made to me, I recently bought his book 'Hooked' to peruse as well.



Having received several more rejections of Rurik - in which the sentence 'it didn't really grab me' featured yet again - it's starting to become very clear that I have to do something different to what I am doing in order to catch an agent's attention. I think the opening is probably part of it.

Les talks in Hooked about lots of things you can improve to make your opening the best it can be, but the one I learnt most from was about identifying the 'inciting incident' - the thing that happens in the story that is the REAL reason the main character embarks on the journey that I, as the writer, take them on. He offers some useful examples which made me realise I had not identified the correct 'inciting incident' in Rurik...assuming I've understood this right!

Rurik's story opens with him waking up and cursing the fact he's not 13. He ponders for a while about the death of his father, which has meant the poor kid can't become an apprentice cobbler as planned. There is no money left to buy a new apprenticeship and Rurik's mother must remarry within 12 months to keep her home. So, over breakfast, Rurik's uncle offers to take the boy on as his apprentice instead - only Rurik has no idea what his uncle's job entails.

If Les is reading this, he's probably face-palming right now, because I've just listed at least three of the pet hates of editors and agents about openings; waking up, internal dialogue, eating breakfast...and I didn't even mention the backstory. Sorry, Les.

Laying all that aside, there's actually a bigger problem for me here; I'm struggling to decide what the inciting incident is - is it the death of Rurik's father, which sets off the whole train of events? Or is it actually the moment at which Rurik finds out about the plan for his new apprenticeship?

Gut feeling tells me it could well be the latter, in which case, I have also found my 'story-worthy problem' - the finding of a new apprenticeship. Not, as I'd originally thought, Rurik's adventure to find an object which is lost.

If that's the case, then I need to start my story later. Not much later, granted; but it definitely needs to start at the point where Rurik finds out about the apprenticeship. I feel a rewrite coming on...

If, like me, you're struggling with grabbing your reader from the start, it might be worth looking at Hooked. It might just make the all the difference.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Make Christmas cards. Tick.

December.

Like me, do you have a humungous list of things to do?

There's something about the deadline imposed by 'Christmas' that seems to eat away at me, because I HAVE to get the cards written, HAVE to buy pressies, HAVE to wrap them, HAVE to sort a tree, HAVE to buy enough food to feed an army...on and on it goes. Add to that church and family commitments, school stuff, visitors, illness - I feel like December is one long list of things that need to be ticked off.

This morning, I managed to shorten the list; I made my Christmas cards. Well, strictly speaking I'd already done a bit on them, but they needed all the fiddly hand-finishing. So while the wind has done its best to blow the house, fence and neighbour's scaffolding down, I finished the cards.

Here they are;



From left to right...

My favourite. The star aperture is backed with gold mirror card and then I added
 a gorgeous handwritten sentiment I found on the internet. I love playing with fonts...



The cracker aperture is backed with red mirror card and 
then I added a joke slip from a pre-printed sheet.


Silver mirror card behind the crown aperture, and a text stamp I designed a few years ago. 
The stars are highlighted with a clear glitter Sakura pen to give a bit of sparkle. 


 Green mirror card behind the tree-hole, with a short length of 
'Merry Christmas' ribbon underneath and a hand-drawn red star to finish.


So all I need to do now, is write my Christmas letter to be posted with them, go to the Post Office for stamps, write the envelopes...

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Tired Tuesday

We've had Black Friday and Cyber Monday - I'm on Tired Tuesday.

The virus does not seem to have shifted at all, so I've not had the energy to do anything much over the last week. I'm looking at a pile of half-created Christmas cards, knowing that I really need to clean the house, I have various church commitments to honour (which fortunately involve more words and sewing than physical action) and I need to organise my pressy-shopping and Christmas letter-drafting before the weekend.

I suppose I should add a bit to Ani's story too, just so I don't lose the thread.

Brew me a Lemsip, I've got work to do...

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Stories for Homes - the Paperback!

The button has been pressed - the paper version of Stories for Homes is ready to purchase!

If you're in the US, buy it direct from CreateSpace and even more of the profit goes to help make a difference via Shelter, a UK charity, for those experiencing homelessness or housing difficulties. If you're in the UK, you might have to wait a week till it's listed on Amazon...THEN you can snap up your copies! (As of 2nd December - it's listed on Amazon too)


*whispers* And it's just in time for Christmas!

Friday, 29 November 2013

Writing - and illness...

Over the last few days, I've been feeling somewhat under the weather; my son kindly passed on his cold. So I've been a bit lethargic, to say the least.

It's meant a couple of days off from housework. Feeling very guilty about that. Honest.

Instead, I've just been sitting on the sofa with the laptop.

Which has meant that Ani's story has grown by about 3500 words and has finally hit the 10K mark. I know, I know - nothing compared to NaNoWriMo, but it's all going in the write (ha! pun intended) direction.

I've also finalised the website design, if I can pluck up enough courage to publish it...

I didn't wait to be ill to write, of course! It just seems strange that a mentally productive time can come when the body is physically unable. You'd expect your brain to want to shut down a bit too, but perhaps that depends on exactly what you're suffering from?

Several of my writer friends have experienced - are still experiencing, in some cases - debilitating illness. Yet in spite of the limitations this places on their lifestyles, they continue to produce prolific and interesting work that stands out from the crowd, writing from the heart.

After just a couple of days feeling crook myself, with a few thousand words to show for it, I take my hat off to these inspirational folk.

Love and respect, guys.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Flying the flag

I didn't mean to post again so soon, but here's a link to what I've been up to recently...something creative that isn't writing!

Our church's Advent Project is an Advent Calendar of flags, which will see a new flag displayed somewhere in our Parish every day in the run-up to Christmas...the blog will post pictures every day, and there will be a map to show where they can be seen in situ.




Tuesday, 26 November 2013

A Test of Time....

Yet another short story collection published by Vanessa Wester, on behalf of the short stories group! I don't know how she does it...

Called A Test of Time, the book has stories written by both published and previously unpublished authors on the theme of 'past, present and future'. It's a great collection for children who are mature readers - as well as adults who like something a bit sci-fi/time travel/futuristic.



I got a sneaky advance read of the collection just before publication when I was asked to proof-read; I have to say - and it's not just because I've got a story in it - I reckon these collections keep getting better and better. I'd even go so far as to say I think the contents of this one make it the best yet. (But I do recognise that I'm biased!)

The charity being supported this time is Foodbank on the Isle of Wight where Vanessa lives - they provide emergency food for families in crisis; a very worthy cause.

The book is available in paperback, for Kindle, and on Smashwords for a variety of e-readers - check out the Stories for All blog for details of where to purchase.

Monday, 25 November 2013

When you can't get a book out of your head...

As a bit of fun, I had a look at this link to the 2003 BBC Big Read survey, where over three quarters of a million votes were received from the British public to find the nation's best-loved novel of all time. It's ten years out of date, sure - and there are many more novels that could feature if you redid the survey tomorrow - but I was surprised at scoring only 39 out of 100, in spite of being a well-recognised bookworm.

It made me think about some of the books which had the biggest impact and stayed with me in my life.

I first read King of the Copper Mountains by Paul Beigel when I was at junior school. It seemed a hefty tome - I must've read it two or three times. It's a story of stories, beautifully illustrated throughout and it stayed in my head for many, many years. Just a couple of years ago, I rediscovered it - one of the children I was helping with their reading had a new version, complete with illustrations. I think I actually snatched it out of his hands in my eagerness to check that it really was the book I remembered...and the same day, I ordered a copy. It was a much shorter book than I remembered, but the magic in the pages was still there...


I got into horror when I was a teenager - James Herbert's The Rats frightened me silly. I can't remember much about the story, except that it made my stomach clench every time the rats attacked...and that the sequel was even worse. There's one scene I remember, set in the underground in London - but I really wish I could forget it. (I read Terry Pratchett's Amazing Maurice novel as an adult; the rat king made all the memories and fear come flooding back...)




I wasn't into horror very long.

In the sixth form, I found a book with my name on it - literally! Katherine, by Anya Seton. The only reason I picked it up was because my spelling of Katherine was somewhat unusual among my peers (I knew lots of girls with the same name, but they were always spelt with a 'K' and an 'a' or a 'C' and and 'e'...not a 'K' and an 'e'.) Fortunately, I loved the story as well.


Discworld - I didn't discover Discworld novels until I was married. I don't think there's a bad one among them. Nuff said.

And the last one that stays with me is Peepo, by the Ahlbergs. 'Here's a little baby, one, two, three...' If I read that book once, I read it a million times to my children. It has lovely detailed pictures, beautiful rhythm, and always made me feel like I was singing the words rather than reading them. We had to buy it as a board version because the paperback got so tatty.


I'm sure there are others I could have picked, but these are the ones that jumped out at me this morning.

Is there a novel you read that impacted on you? Why? Drop it in the comments - you never know, it might be one we've shared.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

More about Pixar - and how it can help your writing

A while ago, I blogged about Julie Cohen's session at the York Festival of Writing about using Pixar films to help story structure.

Today, on Facebook, a friend shared this link to more Pixar wisdom on storytelling.

The 'rules' are well worth looking at. As anyone who's watched Wall-E, Up, Cars, Monsters Inc, Finding Nemo, knows (I could go on, there are loads more) they are brilliant visual stories, full of action, (Cars?) get you all emotional (the opening of Up?) and get us rooting for the characters (Wall-E and Eeee-Va).

Everything our writing should have in fact... It's worked for Pixar - will it work for me and you?

Don't know - but I'm off to memorize them all!

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Granny Rainbow's ISBN Number

Omiflippingosh!

Granny has an ISBN number! A real, live, kosher ISBN number! Yesterday, I added it to the formatted document that is my master copy of Granny. It's there, in black and white - a unique number that will be linked to the publisher and me and Granny for ever...

Then I had a bit of a moment; somehow, that 13 digit number made it even more real that I am actually doing this - publishing a book full of my writing and Laura's pictures.

And of course after that, the doubts started creeping in. What the heck am I doing? Are the stories really good enough? What if Granny falls flat on her face and I'm left with 499 copies of a book I can't sell? (I'm ordering 500...I'll let you know if that was a rash decision later).

I'm sure lots of writers - including the big names in the business - experience the same wobbles when it gets close to publication. I know that if I give in to the wobble, it'll eat away at my confidence, take away the joy when I write and make me lose sight of the real reason I got into writing; to give children something they enjoy reading.

 I can't afford to let that happen.

I have to have faith in this book - and in myself. There are too many amazing people who've been on this writing journey with me so far; I'd feel I was letting all of them down if I didn't keep trying to make a go of this writing lark. And of course I'd be letting myself down by quitting.

Those who think they can't - are often right.

So I'm going to take that ISBN number and run with it - see where it takes me. I could end up a mile along the road or I might only be a few fumbling footsteps from where I started - but I'm not going to be going backwards.

Which can't be anything but good.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Working on a website

A website? What the heck?!

Don't panic - I know you pop in here to catch up with me and see what I've been up to and that's not going to change! Squidge's Scribbles will remain the blog of Katherine Hetzel, author, for the foreseeable future.

But I've been wondering whether to create a website as well - to act as both a direct selling platform AND be somewhere that children (assuming they like my stories and want more!) can drop by...

I've been playing on Wix and have come up with something reasonably basic that I like. It's not live yet and certainly won't be until I run it past a few more folk who know a lot more about websites than me! (Talk about a steep learning curve - I thought setting up the blog was complicated at first, but if you'd seen me trying to insert a picture onto a web page that didn't keep cropping whenever I tried to resize it... )

I've done my research - looked at lots of children's author websites and the sort of thing they offer to the browser. 'Course some of them are all-singing, all dancing and have animated pictures and games and music and everything else that I wouldn't have a clue how to add. My website's going to be a bit simple by comparison - like this blog.

And me.

So far, I've planned pages on bio, books, news and contact details - and a link to this blog of course. But I'm also wondering whether to offer samples of stories, competitions, author visits...

Thing is - do I really need it? Is a website just another thing to take up my writing time when I could (probably) add similar things to my blog? The only real advantage I can see at the moment is that as my name becomes more familiar as an author, it would be easier to find ME on the world wide web; 'Squidge's Scribbles' probably isn't the first thing you'd think of if you wanted to search out the books and writing of Katherine Hetzel.

What do you reckon? Is it worth the extra effort to advertise myself that bit more? Or should I continue to build a platform from the Scribbles?

I'd be interested to know what you think...

Friday, 15 November 2013

Zoom! Zoom! Zoom!

Today is Children in Need Day in the UK.

Lots of folk get involved, and the schools are usually the first to sign up for the fun.

This year, my children can pay to go to school either in their PJ's or dressed as a hero/superhero. T is in Y8, J in Y10. As you might expect, there's a certain teenage reluctance to be seen in pyjamas, (unless it's a onesie) and there's definitely no street cred attached to dressing as Einstein (J) or the man who invented LEGO (T).

What did they go as then? Can you guess from the pictures?!

Hint : Zoom! Zoom! Zoom!
Hint : No-one can touch her...
And just to prove that even artificial
grey looks good!


Amazing what you can do when you raid your own wardrobe, the dressing up box (yes, I still have one!) and a needle and thread!

Thursday, 14 November 2013

All the fun of the Fair!

The Fair's in town

It's been held in November since Henry III granted it a Charter in 1228 - I think the Mayor still has to read the decree from the Town Hall balcony to declare it open. And it's quite a rare thing, our Fair, because it's one of the few still held within the town centre (in spite of various attempts to move it to the outskirts in recent years.)

Everything is crammed into the town centre - you can see the showmen in the couple of days before, sizing up exactly where the rides will go and working out exactly how close 'Atmosfear' can get to Primark before your feet hit the walls when you're riding it...

It's three days and four nights of bright lights, loud music, thrills and spills, mouthwatering smells...as well as dirt, uneven pavements, crowds and sometimes, trouble.

It's very much a love-hate thing for the folks who live here.

I have to say; I love it! I'm not a big fan of the rides particularly - my limit is the Dodgems and Twister, but I love the atmosphere and have to walk through at least once a year.

As a child, we'd go down as a family on the Thursday night, because Dad collected football coupons on Fridays and by Saturday, the prices had gone up. As a teenager, I'd go with friends and later on with Mr Squidge and our friends in the Quorn mob. (That's not as bad as it sounds - honest! The lads just all came from a village of that name...) I even came back from uni on Fair Weekends - you just couldn't miss it. When our children arrived, we went back to riding the train and the mini-waltzers - allowing just three rides each, so they had to choose carefully.

This year is the first time both J and T will both be going with friends and we're allowed to wander round on our tod again. Via the pub.

I'll think of you while I'm eating my candyfloss...


Tuesday, 12 November 2013

A shortage of stories

I'm part of the short stories group run by Vanessa Wester, which produces collections of short stories on a variety of themes in aid of charity. There have been four so far (have a look here for details of the three I'm in) and the most popular one to date is, I believe, Reading is Magic, written for children.

We'd like to produce another collection for children; our current theme is 'past, present and future', so there's plenty of opportunity for time travellers and historical figures, ghosts of the past and robots of the future...

Only problem is - we don't have enough stories.

We currently have four - we reckon we need at least eight to make it a viable project. Last time, we had a baker's dozen...

So do you write for children? Could you offer a story to support a good cause? If you are interested, please consider joining us. We can provide some limited help with editing - though we are not professionals - and all we expect in return (if your story is chosen for publication) is that you help to promote both the finished book and the charity it supports. Please note that not all the stories we are offered will be suitable for inclusion, but we do try to use as many as we are able. It's a good way to get your name and work in print - and helps others as a bonus.

If you want to find out more, please take a look at the short story group page and if you have a story (or two) you'd like to offer, mail Vanessa directly.

Alternatively, drop me a line via the comments here if you have questions that aren't answered on the site.

Thank you,

Katherine x

Monday, 11 November 2013

Lest we forget...11.11.13














Lost at Sea.

No cross, no grave, to mark the place
where a plane sank in the sea
taking Seargeant Gooch down with it
on that day in ’43.

He was my Grandma’s brother -
(christened Daniel, known as Jim)
- an RAF air gunner.
Did he think it would be him
who would manage to cheat death
and carry on ‘til conflict’s end?
Did he hope to dodge the gunfire
and a coffin, like his friends?
They only found the pilot:
just one body, washed to shore,
but all the others disappeared
and Jim was just one more.
No cross, no grave for him –
only a poppy, once a year
in the corner of a photoframe,
the picture still so dear.

With Grandma’s death, the ritual ends…
Jim’s memory fades away.

Yet maybe not, for here it is
for you to read today.


 
Sergeant Daniel Last Gooch, aka Jim


As a child, I remember wondering who the young man was in the photo on top of the cabinet, but Grandma never spoke of him. And every November, the poppy would appear. I wrote this poem last year, when my uncle told me what happened...

RAF Sergeant Daniel Last Gooch was based with 100 squadron at RAF Grimsby. His plane, a Lancaster, ED599 and radio sign HW-S, went down over the sea after flying between Bordeaux and Cherbourg on the 4 March 1943. No trace of the plane was ever found, though the pilot’s body was recovered some 30 miles away and buried in France. It is assumed that the crew went down with the plane.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Finding your Voice - and finding mine...

A few days ago, I posted about having lost my voice.

There must've been something in the air that day - a writer friend, having seen three blogs all on the same subject, recommended the book Finding your Voice, by Les Edgerton.


I decided to buy the book. I read it, cover to cover. And boy, did I learn a lot.

This post isn't a book review though - I stuck that on Amazon. Instead, I wanted to share what a difference Les's view of voice has made to my own. I now understand why my own natural voice has turned 'beige' - the sort of technically brilliant, please-everybody stuff that lacks soul; the kind of writing that 'lacks sparkle...isn't commercially viable...isn't strong enough'. Sound familiar? I've certainly heard those phrases more than once before...

Anyway, one of the exercises in the book is to rewrite something you've already written, but only when you think you've begun to recognise your own, unique voice. I'd like to show you the difference it made to mine, using snippets from the first chapter of a new WIP. See what you think of the changes...

Before Les:
In three days time, they’ll tattoo me...
            The thought set Ani’s limbs trembling and she drew her cloak closer. The sun had not long risen above the dunes and there was little heat in it yet; that’s what caused the shiver, she told herself.
            Not the thought of any pain.
            Shifting position, Ani heard only the faint hiss of disturbed sand in the heavy silence of the desert. A movement at the edge of her vision showed another early riser - a brown mottled lizard, emerging from his burrow an arm’s length away.
            It was pure impulse that made her pick up a stone and throw it at the reptile. There was a moment’s satisfaction when, with a flick of tail and a spurt of sand, the lizard disappeared. But then Ani realised exactly what she’d done, and glanced over her shoulder, checking that no-one else had seen.
            Alone again, she hugged her knees and stared into the empty desert.
            Why did she have to be tattooed? It was so… so… unnecessary! There hadn’t been a Listener for thousands of years – there were plenty of oases now, enough for everyone who still chose to live in the desert. But because Baba always stuck to the old ways of the desert, instead of opening his mind - like Uncle Niyall - to some of the ways of the people who lived beyond the sand, Ani had no choice. Bitter frustration sent hot tears coursing down her cheeks.
            When her name was called, Ani didn’t answer. Everyone knew where to find her; under the twisted date tree at the very edge of the oasis, where she was free to dream. And, Ani thought when the caller came into view, it wouldn’t hurt Tulisa to walk off a few of the dates she’d been so keen to consume yesterday evening.
            “You’re to come straight away,” Tulisa gasped, when finally she drew close. “Mommi wants you.”
            Ani considered ignoring the order. But the woman who had filled her mother’s place eleven years ago had a heavy hand, and she had no wish to feel it again today.
            “Did you hear me?”
            “I heard.” With deliberate slowness, Ani rose to her feet and made a show of brushing the sand from her dress while studying her half-sister from the corner of her eye.
            The two girls couldn’t have looked more different. Tulisa was short and round: Ani, a good head taller and slim as a palm tree. Not for the first time, Ani wished she had Tulisa’s golden skin and brown hair, instead of skin the colour of roasted coffee beans and hair the colour of a moonless sky. The girls shared just one physical characteristic – their father’s pale blue eyes. Other than that, they looked just like their respective mothers.
            

After Les:
In three day’s time I’d be tattooed with a lizard on the left side of my neck.
            I didn’t want it to happen. I might have been too young to say no to the piercing, a year ago, but I wasn’t going to give in so easily this time. They couldn’t force me - I’d run away, go and live in the city. Problem was, Baba could – force me, I mean.
            I started to shake. From cold, of course, nothing else.
            Well, that’s what I tried to tell myself. It was because the sun hadn’t been up long and there wasn’t much heat in it yet. I pulled my cloak tighter, disturbing the sand underneath me and making it hiss in the silence.
            What was that? A movement – just a lizard, emerging from his burrow. Daresay he was going to take advantage of the early sun.
            Damn him.
            I picked up a stone and threw it. Ha! Almost!
            I felt a warm glow inside as, with a flick of his tail and a spurt of sand, the reptile disappeared. The glow suddenly froze over as I realised - someone might have seen. A quick glance over my shoulder was all it took to reassure myself I was still alone. I didn’t fancy a beating…
            The sun rose higher, doing little to lift my black mood. It just wasn’t fair! All this fuss, just because centuries ago, we’d had need of a Listener to save us. We were perfectly able to look after ourselves now – well, those of us who still had to live in the desert, anyway.
            I really wished Baba would try the city – Uncle Niyall had. He’d come back with such tales, Baba had nearly had a fit. There was no way he’d go against our traditions. That’s why I already had a great big hole in my ear. Tears of frustration prickled my eyes and spilled down my cheeks.
            “Ani! Ani, where are you?”
            I scrubbed my cheeks dry. They’d sent Tulisa to fetch me. Suppose that was better than Baba. Everyone knew where to find me when I went missing – under the twisted date tree. 
            As she got closer, I could hear Tulisa cursing under her breath. She hated having to fetch me – hated the long walk to the edge of our oasis. At least it walked off a few of the dates she’d stuffed herself with last night.  
            “You’re to come straight away,” Tulisa said when she reached me. “Mommi wants you.”
            For a split second, I thought about ignoring the order. But Hesta had a heavy hand, and I didn’t want to feel it again today. And anyway, Hesta was not my Mommi. She just happened to be my father’s wife.
            “Did you hear me?”
            “I heard you.” Taking my time, I stood up and brushed the sand from my clothes. 

Result for me personally? The second one was written with very few edits - almost off-the-cuff, it felt so...comfortable. And I also discovered that I write pretty natural dialogue - what my characters said needed hardly any changes at all in the rewrite. I'm sure there is more I could do to 'improve' the piece further (I've already received several suggestions - thankfully, none was 'start over'!!) but what was SO different about this second version is that it wasn't hard work. I simply told the story in the way I'd have told it to my kids.

In MY voice.

It was a lightbulb moment. Heck - it was a whole DIY lighting department moment, complete with chandeliers!

So, if anyone's struggling with voice, I'd really recommend Les's book. Read, digest, and make sure you do the exercises - they WILL make a world of difference. I'm off now, to rewrite chapter 2...

Friday, 8 November 2013

When a book is a beautiful thing...

Yesterday, I bought a book.

Woop-de-doo, you say. So what?

It wasn't even Raising Steam, the latest offering from Discworld and Sir Terry Pratchett, even though yesterday was publication day; it was Goth Girl, by Chris Riddell.

(If you are a regular reader, you will know I love Chris's illustrations - indeed, he was the influence behind Granny Rainbow's pictures.)

I've got a problem with this book though - I daren't open it! It's, quite simply, too beautiful.

You wuss, Katherine! I can hear you yelling at me. Get the book open - read the flippin' story! Stop being daft!

Just let me describe this book, and see if you can understand why I can't...

The cover is midnight black, royal purple, silver (actual silver foil!) and white. It's a hardback - weighty and solid. The edges of the pages are coloured metallic royal purple. You open the cover, and the inside leaf is all silver and black skulls...

See the light, glinting on the silver?!

Then you get to the story itself. On the first page - even before the words appear - is a full page illustration. Thereafter, pictures are dotted through the book, the text wrapped round them like a hug. (In fact, as I flicked through, there were very few double spreads that didn't have artwork... think I only spotted one.) The story ends on the last page with a full page picture again, then there are more silver skulls - and a mini-book in it's own little holder inside the back cover; an exquisitely drawn comic-cum-poem about one of the characters.

It feels like handling not just a book - but a work of art.

I have read the first few pages - very carefully, so I didn't leave a mark on them - but have decided I must read it only when I'm alone. Mainly because I can't help laughing, or reading bits out loud and sharing the pictures with my bemused family.

Mr Riddell, sir - I take my hat off to you. This book is an object of great beauty, and you might have just become my second favourite author of all time.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Calling all self-published authors! What size was your initial print run?

I'm at the point in self-publishing Granny Rainbow where I need to decide how many copies I ask the printer to run off initially.

Depending on the print method and quantity, the price per book varies significantly (as you might expect). At the moment, I have a price for 100, 250 and 500 units.

Initially, I looked at 100 units. But I got twitchy because it meant I had to bump the cover price up to make sure I had enough for the shopkeeper's cut. (I'm already working on a couple of contacts in the 'shop' department) There's something psychologically awful about breaking into a tenner and asking £6 for what is essentially a small book of seven short stories.

If I go for 500 units, I am going quite a bit over the budget I set myself for outlay but the cost per book is significantly reduced. A very attractive proposition, but I am struggling to get my head around exactly how much space 500 books of 100 pages each will take up; the WHOLE of my spare bedroom? Just a corner of the dining room? Every available surface throughout the house for years - until I sell them all or have a ginormous bonfire 'cos I can't stand the sight of them any longer?

Am I being completely unrealistic, expecting to sell 500 copies?! I know it'll depend on the type of book, it's audience and probably a million other factors too, but...

If you self-published printed material, how many did you plump for in that first print run?


Monday, 4 November 2013

I've lost my voice...

No, I don't mean I've got some horrible lurgy! I'm talking about 'voice' - that indefinable something that appears in what a writer writes.

In the past, I've been accused of being 'too nice'...of not being 'thrilling' enough...of not having 'commercial sparkle'. Last Friday, I received another rejection for Rurik; 'fluent and professional, but the voice was not strong enough to draw me in.'

I've heard it before in various guises, so it didn't surprise me. I'm not overly disappointed either - there are more agents to hear from who might have other things to say.

What it did start me wondering, was whether my 'voice' will EVER be strong enough for an agent. I know what 'voice' means - I can recognise it in others and often wish to goodness that I had something as distinctive - but I don't think it's something that can be manufactured. I recognise that I am, first and foremost, a storyteller, and I think I tell a good story.

Just not with a 'strong voice'.

I found this at Writing World, in a post about 'Finding your Voice as a Children's author':

'One thing that separates great authors from mediocre ones is that their writing appears effortless, even if it took tremendous work to achieve. A forced voice happens when authors try too hard to sound like a writer. I think the best voices appear when authors write as they speak. Has a story ever sounded profound and lyrical in your head, but lost something when you put it on paper? That's because in your head you're telling the story to yourself in your speaking voice, and when you write it down suddenly you're trying to be a writer. You go searching through the thesaurus for the perfect word, something you'd never use in normal conversation. You use three words of description, just because you can, rather than one word that really says everything you need to say. And suddenly in that process of writing down what's in your head, you've lost your voice. You've adapted the voice of someone else, or the voice you think your writing should have. So next time you write, try writing exactly what's in your head. If you type, try typing your writing exercise with your eyes closed, so you can't see the computer screen. Closing your eyes also helps you focus inward where the story is being conceived. Then you'll be guided by how the words sound and feel, and that's the closest thing to your true voice.'

So there you have it - I'm probably destined to be a mediocre author rather than a bestseller.

What do I do then, about my 'voice'?

1. Stick with it - this style and voice which IS mine at present - even though it doesn't suit the industry?
2. Be true to myself and put reader's opinions about my stories above the market's opinion, ignoring the issue of voice completely?
3. Stop worrying about whether a 'proper' publisher wants to publish my stories, because in this age of self-publishing it is (relatively) easy to publish myself?
4. Alter how I write?

I really don't know.

To those of you who've read my 'stuff' - can you see 'me' in every piece I write? Is there a recognisable 'Katherine Hetzel' element to my work?

If so, WHAT THE HECK IS IT? I'd love to know...

Saturday, 2 November 2013

100th blog post: Another reason to delay decorating...

So, we're still trying to fit the underfloor insulation.

I'm pleased to say that what we've already done under our dining room and hall HAS made a difference - the dining room used to have the radiator on max and still felt cold; not so now! In fact, the thermostat for the central heating has had to be tweaked up a little, 'cos the hall is so much warmer, the heating clicks off too soon to warm the bedrooms!

BUT.

Whilst under the floor, Mr Squidge was alarmed to find what he thinks is damp in some of the floor joists. Fortunately, it's not a huge problem - and he's worked out how to address it. Phew.

However, having borrowed a damp meter from a friend to check the joists, he has since gone round the entire house, checking above the skirting boards.

Guess what?

We have a damp problem.

It's very localised, but it's bad and it needs sorting. Now, the last time we had the damp-proofing done was when we bought our house: twenty-one years ago. (Sods Law states that the guarantee was for twenty years, doesn't it?) Fortunately, as first-time buyers still living in our respective parents' houses, we weren't living there at the time - but I seem to remember being warned against staying in the house for a while to let the 'stuff' do its work. Then there was the replastering...waiting for the plaster to dry...redecorating...

The same problem areas, mid treatment 1992

Now we've got to go through it all again. With two kids, a cat, and a houseful of possessions. *sigh*

As often happens, one job leads to another. In this case, I can't get my hall, stairs and landing redecorated next year - as we'd hoped - until the damp is treated. But we can use the opportunity to apply insulating plasterboard to the low walls either side of the front door (where the damp problem is) and perhaps double-glaze the stained glass panels above...

See - I'm trying to put a positive spin on it. But it still feels like another step back in the plans to get our house sorted.

If my smile looks a little strained over the next few months, you know why.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Blog Challenge - finished!

Well, I've done it. Finished the month, having missed only the day I was in hospital with my son. I consider that, near-as-dammit, 'challenge completed'.

Thirty posts in thirty-one days.

This time round, it's been exhausting! I'm not sure whether it's because the first challenge I did was in the holidays, so I had more time to write? This month, I've been so busy with stories and preparing Granny Rainbow for publication, the challenge became a chore rather than a joy.

Don't get me wrong - it has been fantastic to be a part of the facebook community and I've logged onto blogs I never would've found otherwise, meeting some really lovely bloggers on the way! I hope to keep visiting some of those which really tickled my fancy...

But the amount of creative energy it has drained is enormous, in spite of the fact that - I'll admit - I cheated a bit by posting flash fiction I'd written over the past year or so. In reality, I've probably only written 15 new posts during the month.

It's also made me question why I'm blogging.

I know that: a) I like writing b) I'm slowly putting myself 'out there' as an author without (I hope) beating everyone over the head and screaming 'Lookit! I write stories! Read them! Buy them!' and c) I'm sharing what goes on in my life and my writing. (Look here if you do want to buy books with my stories in though!)

For me, blogging's not a business. I want it to be, primarily, a shared conversation between me and you - like a quick chat over coffee, a chance to catch up.

As of tomorrow, it's back to just 2/3 posts a week so I can get back to writing my stories, but don't worry - I'll let you know what's happening.

I'm still looking forward to our next chat, but for now... catch you later!

Katherine x



Wednesday, 30 October 2013

A little bit of flash - Jennifer

This story had to be created around a song title. As a huge fan of the Eurythmics, I chose 'Jennifer' from the 1983 album 'Sweet Dreams (Are made of this)'. 

'Jennifer, with your orange hair
Jennifer, with your green eyes
Jennifer in your dress of deepest purple
Jennifer, where are you tonight? 
Underneath the water...'


The newspaper slips from my nerveless fingers.

I stare at the vendor, his face swimming before my eyes. I think he speaks, but I can find no answer in the depths of my agony. I stumble away, staggering along the pavement like a drunkard.    
My only thought – underneath the water! My heart tears.

I think I shout her name - Jennifer! - and gasp with the pain of knowing she will never reply.

Memories assail me...

In a room of ordinary people, she had been extraordinary, her rebellious nature evident from the brilliant orange crew cut which clashed with her dress of deepest purple. Green eyes, the same colour as the scarf draped casually around her throat, had flickered over the rest of us with something akin to amusement…and finally rested on me.

Eventually I had asked – no, I think I begged - this fascinating creature to step outside; the building we were in seemed too small to contain her. I wanted to experience her company unfettered by the confines of bricks and mortar and glass. 

Her breath had been warm against my ear. “In the park, on the little bridge,” she whispered. “Give me ten minutes.”

Now, guilt overwhelms me and forces me to my knees.

I had been late, but I had remained on that bridge until the last champagne-soaked partygoer had left and my hopes had shattered. I remember screaming to the stars; ‘Jennifer! Where are you tonight?’

If only I’d looked down.

Rudvargrad Times, April 17th.
Breaking news; The body of a young woman, strangled with a green scarf, has been discovered in the lake at Dibrovik Park. Police are appealing for anyone who might remember seeing the woman’s distinctive orange hair and purple dress…


(The song – ‘Jennifer’ by the Eurythmics, 1983.)

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

When writing hurts!

This is necessarily short today - I have a writing injury!

I spent quite a while yesterday typing up what is tentatively titled 'A Stitch in Time' - my offering for the next charity anthology by the short stories group.

Today, I can barely move my wrist.

The trouble is, I'm a petite lady. We've recently bought new mice for the computers and they are just too big for my hand. I think some research is in order, to try to find a flatter mouse...

...and I will have to give intensive writing sessions a miss for a few days.

Not happy. Not happy at all...


Monday, 28 October 2013

A little bit of flash - His other love.

Inspired by our own much-loved Moggy Traveller, and the hours my hubbie used to spend looking after it... 

It was to be her final triumph, the life insurance.

She had planned it to the last detail.

He’d spent hours on the blasted thing, leaving her alone in the house with a silver screen of flickering images for company.

Each evening, he returned from work, wolfed his dinner and donned the tatty, oily jeans and grubby jacket to which the smell of oil, fiberglass filler and Swarfega clung. Then he disappeared into the garage.

Hours and hours he spent in there, rebuilding.

‘It’s an investment’, he told her. ‘It won’t cost us a penny in road tax once it’s done, and I’ll be able to maintain it myself.’

But already, the restoration had taken thousands. From their holiday fund.

Her dream - of a beach hut with an infinity pool on a desert island - had slipped away.

Every moment he spent with his new love, hate ate her up a little more. At Christmas, she even hung a bunch of mistletoe over the bonnet...he thought it was a great joke.

So he wasn’t the only one who spent hours reading the Haynes manual for the Morris Traveller. Or who knew how to tighten a brake union.

When the money finally arrived after the tragic accident, she smiled bravely.

‘I kept asking him if he knew what he was doing,’ she murmured through her tears.

He wasn’t the only one who knew how to fix up a car.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

The big reveal - Granny Rainbow's cover!



Well, here it is!

The cover of Granny Rainbow, illustrated by Laura Buckland and designed by Imran Siddiq!
(Huge, HUGE thanks to them for their artistic input - I am indebted to them both!)

We went through a few ideas before settling on this as a final design - we started with shelves of coloured powder bottles, (too busy), then Granny in silhouette against a lovely swirly tree background. Although fabulous in concept, that particular image was felt to contrast too much with the content and intended age range of the book.

Then we looked at using Granny's portrait, partly because when a book is illustrated, 9 times out of 10 it uses an image by the same illustrator on the cover - presumably because it gives you a flavour of what's inside. As all the illustrations are portraits of the various characters in the stories, this one felt right. There had to be a rainbow (of course!) and we've got the all important powder bottles.

Even looks good in thumbnail size!

So - what do you think? Would it catch your eye in a bookshop? Would you be tempted to suss it out for the little people in your life? (And I don't mean folk who are vertically challenged like me!)

Saturday, 26 October 2013

A little bit of flash - Something in my pocket

Pastor Weinbaum’s sermon was dragging.

‘The ungodly shall burn in hellfire...’

At least I’d be warmer, I thought; frost had bitten hard last night. It was the first time I’d needed this coat since last winter. I shoved my hands deep into its pockets in a futile attempt to thaw my half-frozen fingers.
‘…haunts of the wicked, where all manner of debauchery…’

There was a small rectangle buried deep in the pocket. Intrigued, I drew it out. I turned the pink card over and read the words printed on it.

The Emporium  of Delight.

My hand snapped shut over the ticket, my fear of discovery now, as great as it had been then. Heat flooded my body - surely the pastor must feel it radiating from me?

‘…women of ill-repute! Gigolos! Alcohol!’

How could I possibly explain the lure of prohibited pleasure? Memories filled my head. I’d felt like a sparrow among birds of paradise; heady from exotic scents, dazzled by a rainbow of colour and bewildered by music of a kind I’d never heard before. How could I have forgotten the decadence of the interior, all red velvet and gilded wood? Or my first ever sip of champagne from a crystal flute? Or the young gentleman in the peacock blue waistcoat who had flirted so outrageously with me and asked to see me again?

A secret smile tugged at my lips as I stopped listening to the pastor and considered the request.

Maybe he would, I told myself.

Friday, 25 October 2013

When Squidge went skiing...

Yesterday, I had my first ever skiing lesson.

To understand just how momentous an event this was, you have to know something important;
1. I hate being cold.
2. I can't roller skate or ice skate.
3. Skiing has never, at any point in my life, appealed to me. 

So why the lesson?

Mr Squidge has been skiing - once. Years ago, when he was young and fit and a student; the memories of that time have lived on. (Even though he smashed his hip on a rock - because falling over was an easier way to stop than the method taught - and he still has a dint in his thigh as a result, twenty-five years later)

My daughter went skiing earlier this year with school, after a series of lessons at the Tamworth SnowDome. She loved it. 

My son...wants to go skiing.

We have also recently bought, via a charity auction, a week in a friend's flat in Aschau...which has a skiing resort.

Result; they've ganged up on me.

Now, assuming that we can actually book a holiday when there's snow on the ground and which fits in with school term times (like looking for a needle in a haystack, unless we pay extortionate prices for flights and ski passes because the tour operators have got school holidays marked in dark red 'this is where we make the money' ink)  I did say that I was prepared to skiing. 

Once. To try it. 

So the lesson, Katherine, I hear you ask - did you enjoy it? Did you have fun?

Erm... they are not the words I would use to describe the two hours I spent at the SnowDome in Tamworth. I didn't HATE it, but it wouldn't be what I would call fun. I did spend a lot of time laughing - at myself. I am not a natural skiier, and would probably be best repeating the whole of lesson one because I didn't feel comfortable and confident with what I was doing today. I could have done with longer to master the basics

In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if there's a video on YouTube somewhere; me going down the ski slope backwards, on hands and skis with bum in the air, doing about 55 miles an hour before crashing into the barrier at the bottom...

Will I go back? Probably. Will I get better? Maybe. Will I ever enjoy it? That remains to be seen. 

But my favourite choice for a holiday is still sun, sea and sand.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

A little bit of flash - Last line/First line

This snippet was based on using the last line of the previous entrant's story as the first line of my own...I picked up a killer.


His words trailed off as the officer disintegrated before his eyes, part of him flying into the hedgerow, part into the row of chrysanthemum’s behind them.

Damn these artificial police officers. The mark 3’s just weren’t sturdy enough for field work.

Ten of the mark 2’s had exploded before anyone realized that a blip in their circuitry was reacting to exposure to chlorophyll and blowing the systems. The Mark 3’s were supposed to have been fixed. At least this one had been OK until he sniffed a daisy.

Matthison pressed the button on his intercom.

“Er – Trath? We seem to have sorted the chlorophyll problem.”

His earpiece crackled with static, then Trath’s voice exploded in his ear.

“Really? Hey, dude, that’s good news!”

Matthison’s face twisted into a grimace within his isolator mask. He’d hoped for success: then the artificials would be out here 24-7 instead of him, looking out for the enviros who were trying to destroy the pure-bred pollaxes. Why the grath couldn’t they see that pollaxes were the only way to feed the population since the Great Contamination? If they got the artificials right, then he wouldn’t have to risk his own ass in the storm of hatha-particles which still filled the atmosphere. Matthison cleared his throat and flicked the intercom switch again.

“Not exactly…they’ve developed a severe case of hayfever instead.” 

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Granny Rainbow takes a trip to the printers: Part 1.

When I first thought of self-publishing Granny Rainbow, I knew I didn't want to go via Amazon. Not sure why, exactly, as most of my stories to date have been published using Createspace.

Anyway - yesterday, I went to a local printer, (Dovecote Press), who works with a local publisher I've helped with some editing (Panda Eyes). I took with me a mock-up of formatted text, (based on a 5" x 8" page size) some of the illustrations and the cover design.

I don't know what I was expecting to find at the printers - long gone are the days where huge printing presses clatter and rattle; it's all digitalised and computer screens - but there are still HUGE piles of paper everywhere and tubs of ink...

Anyhow - the upshot is that I now know;

1. A fair bit more about putting a physical book together - Granny Rainbow will be stapled and bound, not 'perfect bound.' The cover hides the staples, and I'm assured that the book won't fall apart.

2. A Xerox machine will be better for my initially small print runs. When I'm selling thousands, it switches to the BIG machine...(yeah, right!)

3. The more I can do up-front with respect to editing, proof-reading and formatting, the better it is for the printer - and the cheaper it could work out for me on unit price.

4. That my initial deadline to myself of 'before Christmas' might not be for the best - the printer advises an after Christmas publication/launch date to take advantage of all those book tokens bought as presents. This is because the printer and publisher have links to our local Waterstones store for their local history books; they are hopeful the branch will support and stock Granny too.

5. How important it is, for me personally, to deal with real people and support local businesses rather than deal with a faceless megacompany.

And the last thing I've learnt? That you can be scared and excited in equal measure when you take the plunge to self-pub because I have no idea how Granny will be received by a wider public - but I'm getting really close to the point of finding out! 

Added sometime later: On the subject of finding out what people think... I am one very happy Squidge! Have now received feedback from four young test-readers of Granny Rainbow... 4/4 likes - nay, dare I say, loves - though I probably need to adjust the intended age range to a slightly younger audience. All the stories were enjoyed,  whether they were read by or to the child, with the 'little green man' and 'black shadow' stories coming out as favourites. Also sounds like they were a hit with some of the parents too...

And just to put the topping on the lovely warm and fuzzy feeling I'm experiencing, I found out that one of those young readers has already introduced her friend to the stories I wrote in 'Reading is Magic'; they have been singing the 'Follow the Yellow Sick Toad' song and made up actions to go with it! How cool is that?!

Beginning to believe that kids really will enjoy my stories...

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

A little bit of flash - The Bluebird

This is a comp I set - using something visual as inspiration. You can see the variety of stories and what I chose as a winner, here. I couldn't resist writing something myself...




Every Firstday, I send the price of a ticket to the Teatr Fratang. Every Tenthday, I watch the performance, as I have done every mooncycle since the Bluebird arrived.

This Tenthday, like always, I leave the cheap floor seats behind. As the seating rises in height, so too does its price; I can afford to be high. I settle into my usual place, a skyseat in the very centre of the row. The view here is astounding – you can almost reach out and touch The Bluebird as she flies past.

When she steps onto the launching platform, there is a murmur of excitement. Blue-green feathers waft gently around her face, teased by the heat rising from the bodies beneath. Gas lamps add a mellow sheen to her golden bodysuit.

She glances over her shoulder, knowing exactly where I will be. Our eyes lock.

Ungrateful bitch.

To think I was once besotted with her flawless beauty and exquisite performance.

‘My art is for all to enjoy.’ That is what she dared to tell me when she refused the rare blue silk I offered her - my last, desperate attempt to win her over. Well, if I can’t buy her for my own private entertainment…

The Bluebird steps to the edge of the platform and stretches out her arms, readying herself for the first leap.

My eyes drift upwards. To the ceiling, where the ropes and ribbons so integral to her performance, are secured.

Well, all except one.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Knitting socks...and how it helps writing

I bet you're wondering how the heck I can combine knitting socks with writing? All will become clear... I hope!

I like knitting; I'm a pretty accomplished knitter. A few years ago, for a challenge, I taught myself to knit socks. They look fiendishly difficult, but are actually quite easy once you get the hang of where all the pins go. Most of the time, I knit on three pins - on a triangle, if you can imagine that - and except for the fiddly bit when I shape the heel, I'm basically knitting a continuous spiral. On three pins.

See what I mean about the triangle?

(This is where the link to writing comes in... but you don't have to be a knitter to understand it!)

It's this triangular aspect that's important to writing.

Y'see, I did an online self-editing course a little over twelve months ago, run by the Writer's Workshop. (Fab course - one's just about to start again, well worth the money and I guarantee you'll never look at your WIP in quite the same way again after doing it!)

In one of the early lessons, we were given an exercise; to write a maximum of 3 sentences per chapter of our WIP, describing what happens and how that moves the story along. Essentially - where did the scene start, what happens and how do the characters react, where do they end up as a result?

Remember I told you about the three pins? And knitting in a spiral? Well, my story-telling and knitting of socks just morphed into a knit-a-story analogy! Let me explain...

When I knit, I complete three pins worth of stitches to complete one circular row. Three pins - three stages in my chapter. So I can view one row knitted as another chapter completed. And then I do it all over again... I end up a little further along the sock/through the story as a result of this continuous circling; the sock grows, the story develops.

My current WIP, Ani's story, doesn't look like it is going to have chapters. Does that muck up this analogy of one round of three pins equals a chapter?

Not at all. I still use the same three stages (starting point, action, where d'you end up?) over and over again to develop my storyline - but they won't be defined by chapter breaks. If we think of it in knitting terms again, it's more a case of sussing out when the sock's long enough (without counting the rows) before I turn the heel. Or - as was the case with my last pair of socks, knitted from leftover sock wool - when does it feel right to change to a new colour?


Look what I ended up with when I used that method!

I just hope Ani's story ends up as colourful as my odd-bod socks... and that I've not stretched this analogy too far!