Saturday, 18 December 2010

The show must go on

You know that saying, 'it never rains, but it pours'? You also know the one - 'a baptism of fire'? Well both these wise old adages are perfect for Jak's and my introduction to the world of backstage crew.

During final dress rehearsal for Darker Shores, the legs of a wooden doll (a prop) weirdly and randomly fell off and landed on the floor with a clatter backstage, during a quiet moment. Jak and I clapped our hands  to our mouths and looked at one another with wide eyes - 'oops!' we were both thinking. One week later, and we are both looking back fondly on the time when a doll's legs fell off - such a small and insignificant mishap. Oh how we laugh when we think of that crazy, crazy day.

This last week, during performances, we have had the lights brought up on set too soon, so we were still on stage doing a reset, a door on the set broke and wouldn't open at an important moment, and a large scenery truck decided to get stuck fast so we couldn't move it onto the stage. More troubling than the doll's legs, but still, we kept calm and carried on, because that is what you do.

Then last night, thanks to 'adverse weather conditions' as they are politely known, one of our leading men got stuck in traffic on his way to the theatre. "Did he arrive in time?" I hear you cry. No, dear reader, he did not. Eventually we decided to bring the curtain up anyway, slightly late, dressed a willing yet nervous director in the character's costume, handed him a script (which we hoped he would be able to see without his specs) and with a hearty amount of Blitz spirit and back slapping, shoved him onto the stage. He did very well, he has, after all, been directing the play for the last few months so knows it inside and out. But as I have mentioned before in other posts, there are magic tricks in this play, which he can't do, certainly not holding a script, so things were never going to go quite according to plan.

Eventually the missing actor arrived in a flurry of panic and snow, only to discover once half undressed, that he had no costume. So then commenced the most bizarre moment I've had for a many a year, as two grown men stripped to their pants in the dark of backstage and swapped clothes in a frantic high-speed manner. The actor resumed his rightful place on stage to applause from the audience, and the director was packed off for a stiff sherry in the bar. All's well that ends well, to coin another phrase.

The show has been cancelled tonight, due to those pesky adverse weather conditions, so I have a quiet evening planned of curry and Strictly - so much tamer than panicky men in pants. Hopefully all unwanted meteorological phenomenon will have cleared enough by tomorrow so the matinee can go ahead as planned.

Monday, 13 December 2010

The ghost of Christmas present

Well, I am now all up to speed on the backstage happenings of Darker Shores, which opens tomorrow night, and after a six-hour rehearsal yesterday I think we’re pretty much there. It’s final dress tonight, so Jak and I can iron out our final set-moving wrinkles.

Darker Shores is a Gothic ghost story set in the 1870s. Professor Stokes takes lodgings at the Sea House on a desolate stretch of the East Sussex coast, but the troubled history of the house comes to the fore with a series of disturbing and mysterious events. He enlists the help of an American spiritualist to try to find out what or who is haunting the house and whether it can ever be cleansed of the vengeful spirit.

Trickery is used to add to the mystery and spine-tingly drama, and the director, Duncan, got a professional magician in during the rehearsal process to teach the cast some cunning illusions. I can tell you no more as they were sworn to secrecy, and frankly, I wouldn’t want to ruin the fun anyway. Suffice to say – it’s all very clever and should keep the audience on their toes!

Jak is stage manager for the production and is therefore in charge of the backstage magic, and I am her trusty (I hope!) second in command – we have to move scenery, reset furniture and props during blackouts and, best fun of all, create a spooky atmosphere with the help of smoke machines. The trick with these is to puff enough smoke to set the scene, but not so much that you gas the cast, as Jak discovered briefly yesterday! There’s nothing quite so scary as a ghost with a hacking cough!

The writer, Michael Punter, came to rehearsal yesterday and seemed pleased with what everyone has achieved. I can take no credit for any of it as I literally only joined the team a week ago, but they’ve clearly all worked so hard and have produced a rather marvellous play that, I think, won’t fail to get the hairs on the back of people’s necks standing on end.

And Jak and I, both seasoned actors but neither of us ever having worked on the backstage technical side of things before, are loving it! We are utterly involved in the play, we get to help, in a small way, to make it what it is, but we don’t have to remember any lines! It’s truly wonderful – why didn’t we ever think of this before!

Production photos were only taken yesterday, so when I can get my hands on a couple I will post them up here so you can appreciate the ghoulishness and Duncan’s outstanding set.

(L to R) Mel, Mark, Fred and Matt get to grips with the seance scene in rehearsals

Amazing Skylight review!

By David Hare

19–27 November 2010

Reviewed by Martin Robinson

The Stables’ production of David Hare’s Skylight offered high-quality drama delivered with punch, subtlety and consummate skill by all concerned. The amateur roots of the Stables were completely invisible (not for the first time this season) and, but for the ludicrously low entrance fee, there was nothing to distinguish this production from the professional stage.

Skylight offers parts for just three actors, the chance to construct only one set, and precious little in the way of plot; but its focus on character, ambiguity, passion and regret sets a huge task, far removed from the mechanical delivery of lines and fulfilment of stage directions.

Kyra, played by Sarah Evans with restraint and absorbing truth, in her freezing, deeply unfashionable London flat, is a barely willing hostess to her former lover, Tom, for a single evening. The couple have plenty to discuss, but their communication is halting and fractured, veering from rancour to tender compassion, but with distrust and self-protection always sensed behind their words. Kyra’s emotions, and those of Tom, bubble and gush to the surface in a pool of recrimination, self-justification, painful insight and plain incomprehension. The currents between the pair force each to observe the other in full flow, and yet both actors managed to retain interest and sympathy throughout by carefully delivered gesture and facial expression.

David Morley as Tom, millionaire restaurateur, man of business, bereaved husband, abandoned lover and uncaring father, found the torture and loss which allowed the audience to empathize with a superficially unattractive character. Both actors delivered truly exemplary performances, and James Collins as Edward, in many ways the most likeable of the three characters, stood well in the company of his elders, beginning and ending the piece with the required blend of nervous flourish.

Jonathan Pitts, directing as well as designing the set, must take credit for assembling a pitch-perfect cast, but deserves far greater praise for enabling them to deliver the play in such a direct, personal and assured way. It is to his, and the actors’, credit that they clearly understood the complexities of the piece and allowed the audience to wrestle with the ambiguities on display without driving to a single conclusion or taking sides with either protagonist.

In bringing David Hare back to the town of his birth, the Stables has joyously reminded us that that we don’t have to travel to find theatrical excellence, simply appreciate what we already have.

Monday, 29 November 2010

O frabjous day!...

‘Callooh! Callay!’ I chortle in my joy!

Skylight is done and my life is, for a short time at least, once again my own. I will very soon be back at the theatre as I’m an assistant stage-manager on the theatre’s upcoming Christmas production of Darker Shores, but for now at least I have a few days off.

I can forget the reams and reams of lines I’ve been holding in my head for the past forever – not as easy a task as you might imagine as they are still assaulting me in my near-sleep, near-waking moments and will do so for a week or so yet I should imagine – and I can sweep the unhappy last few months under the dusty rug of things best forgotten.

I am however, a glass-half-full sort of gal, so have thought long and hard on what I can take away from the experience that is useful, and my overall umbrella realisation is that I now know exactly what not to do when Jak and I direct Irma V next year. A bit of a negative positive to be sure, but a positive nonetheless.

Despite the unfortunate rehearsal process, the run itself was a great success, excluding one performance where I dried so faked a crying fit to cover it up, and another where my opposite number dried, couldn’t hear the prompt, and I rewrote David Hare for a while in order to help him back to the script – in fact, even those two performances with their minor disasters were still good. We had some terrific feedback from audience members, not the least of which was how we’d managed to learn all the lines in the first place, and on from that, how did I manage to cook whilst remembering lines? To both these questions my answer was, and still is – I have no freaking idea!

The added bonus to the play being over, finito, done, dusted and heartily kicked to the kerb, is that my face is no longer displayed giant-size on the poster boards outside the theatre. No-one needs their head that big – literally, metaphorically or photographically.

...and so, her sigh of relief could be heard far and wide, whirling amongst the trees and skyscrapers and issuing forth across oceans and streams, and her smile, which had for a time become a stranger, once again made its home on her face.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled pepper... or did he?

Okay, so I will admit that I'm on a bit of a Jasper Fforde bender at the moment and have just last night finished The Fouth Bear. I know I've been going on about him a lot lately, but he really IS worth the fuss! The Fourth Bear is one of the Nursery Crimes series and involves Goldilocks and the three bears, as well as a cameoes from the Gingerbreadman and Punch & Judy, amongst many other literary references. It's stacked to the rafters with golden moments but the one below is genius and made me laugh out loud. Detective Jack Spratt is imparting gossip to Sergeant Mary Mary...

     "Pippa's pregnant by Peck."
     "Pippa Piper picked Peck over Pickle or Pepper?" exclaimed Mary incredulously. "Which of the Peck pair did Pippa Piper pick?"
     "Peter 'pockmarked' Peck of Palmer Park. He was the Peck that Pippa Piper picked."
     "No, no," returned Mary, "you've got it all wrong. Paul Peck is the Palmer Park Peck; Peter Peck is the pockmarked Peck from Pembroke Park. Pillocks. I'd placed a pound on Pippa Piper picking PC Percy Proctor from Pocklington."
     There was a pause.
     "It seems a very laborious set up for a pretty lame joke doesn't it?" mused Jack.
     "Yes," agreed Mary, shaking her head sadly. "I really don't know how he gets away with it."


Wednesday, 3 November 2010

It's too early for the hangover!

Oh... my... life. It's just over two weeks until curtain up on Skylight and it can’t come soon enough. It’s been immensely hard work one way and another, and not just because I've had so many lines to learn and the play is technically incredibly tricky, what with the cooking and everything – other factors, theatre-related and otherwise, have played a big part in making the last few months a less than wonderful experience.

It upsets me that I haven’t been able to enjoy the rehearsal process this time – normally it’s what makes the whole thing worthwhile. I suffer so badly with nerves that, believe it or not, being on stage in front of an audience is not why I do this, it’s terrifying, and curtain calls are my bĂȘte noire – I’d rather just finish the play and go home or up to the bar for a gin, without all that bowing and clapping nonsense! Fun rehearsals, a challenge and the chance to wear wigs and false eyelashes(!) have always been the draw for me – and although it’s been a great challenge for sure, for one reason and another it's fallen flat this time. They say, when you don’t enjoy something anymore, stop doing it, but unfortunately when you’re tied into it like this you can’t just walk away.

Right now, even though it hasn’t finished just yet, I’m in that ‘hangover’ phase – you know, when you had one (or several) too many the night before, and this morning you’re holding your aching head and rocking back and forth, swearing ‘never again’. I wasn’t planning to act next year as I want to concentrate on directing Irma Vep, but at this point, I feel like I don’t ever want to act again – my stress levels are at an all-time high and my finger nails are being bitten shorter by the day. I’m really hoping that’ll pass as acting’s been part of my life forever and I would hate to lose it.
Whinge, whinge, whinge!

I am, however, looking forward to immersing myself in the directorial side of things next year. I am currently getting to write, albeit not ‘properly’, as I’m putting together the audition notice. It’s a fine line between conveying your enthusiasm for a play and encouraging people to audition, and being overzealous and sending folk running for the hills. I hope I get the balance right!

Also, I’m enjoying a book by one of my favourite authors at the moment – Jasper Fforde. As a rule I find it hard to read when I’m learning lines, but as my lines are learnt now and I must derive pleasure from somewhere, I have picked up an old favourite. If you consider yourself a writer in any capacity, or simply love words and literature and you have never read any of his books before, you absolutely must. The man is a genius – if I’m not laughing at something funny, I’m marvelling at something clever.

Finally, I joined the Rach Writes Inaugural Writers’ Platform-Building Crusade the other day, a marvellous idea and a lovely way of knitting together the blogging community - pop along and join. And welcome to my newest followers who've found me via the Crusade!

Monday, 11 October 2010


It’s official – I am sick, sick, sick of spaghetti bolognese. As you may or may not be aware, Skylight (for which I am currently in rehearsals) requires me to cook on stage and create a meal of spag bol. Fortunately I am the only person required to eat it, as I believe it may taste nasty (I’m not the world’s best cook), but already the smell makes me queasy. It wasn’t my favourite meal to begin with, but I fear that cooking it several times a week, and it’s only going to get more frequent as the run approaches, is going to ruin the dish for me FOREVER. At the moment, at the end of each rehearsal, the director scoops up the results of my culinary experiments into his Tupperware and takes it home for his tea – I’m wondering how long it will be before he too is sick of the taste/smell/sight of it.

There are several practical considerations that have had to be overcome with this cooking-on-stage malarkey. For starters, the script requires me to chop an onion, but they make me weep and I can’t risk washing my contact lenses away in a flood of tears – so I am now using dried onions, which have to be soaked in boiling water and which, incidentally, smell extremely bad. I also have to chop a chilli pepper. The director has caved, finally, and provided green rather than red chillies. Seeing as in the second act I do have to eat some of the stuff, it’s vital to make it as mild as possible – a coughing fit would detract from the drama methinks (or perhaps add to it if I’m having an off night). But still, green chillies are hot to me – yesterday I was very careful during the scene not to put my fingers near my eyes or mouth once I’d finished with the chopping, but forgot when we were taking a break and had to run off sharpish for a glass of water. Talk about a situation ripe for disaster. We also nearly had a burning issue with the sauce and, although I am meant to ‘forget’ about the pasta boiling, I constantly have one eye slightly askance at the stove, just in case the water starts to erupt over the top of the pan. I am doing my best not to think about the myriad of things that could go wrong.

On another note, it’s been a while since I’ve spoken about The Mystery of Irma Vep, the play my friend Jackie and I are directing next year. Since I last wrote in June (can’t believe it’s that long ago!) things have moved on leaps and bounds. For starters, Jak, who is the queen of minutiae, did a marvellous job of a props list and a ‘dream’ budget. There tends to be a set budget at the theatre, regardless of the production, but thanks to Jak’s eye for detail we were able to prove that we would ideally need a slightly higher budget, in order to produce the play of our dreams, and we found out a week ago that it’s been granted. We had started to think of get-rich-quick schemes, including a bake sale in the foyer, but fortunately we, and the punters, will be spared this horror.

This is a huge weight off our minds, as we desperately wanted to be able to get some fantabulous costumes specially made. The play is a quick-change piece, with two male actors playing eight roles, including women – nearly all the costumes need to be adapted for quick-change and the dresses have to have ‘boobs and bums’ sewn into them. We’re setting it in the 1890s, which means floor-length hemlines, leg ‘o’ mutton sleeves and high necklines – in other words, a lot of fabric and a lot of expertise in their creation. All being well, we have found a willing costumier.

Not only do we need costumes, we also need costume doubles for rehearsals. The changes are such an integral part of the production that we want our actors to be able to rehearse in dress almost from week one. Because of this, we also needed to secure a much earlier audition date than would normally be needed, to give the costumier time to make the muslins before rehearsals start. Fortunately, we’ve managed to move the audition forward by a few months, which will give the costumier plenty of time to work her magic, and the actors a good amount of time to get familiar with their lines so they can be book-free asap and get to grips with their pretty frocks.

There’s so much to think about, and I don’t feel that I can give it my full attention at the moment due to Skylight. But the light is starting to show at the end of the tunnel for that. Come December I’ll be able to start concentrating on Irma V in earnest.

Also come December, I plan to start writing again. I had another rejection letter the other day, which was disappointing. They didn’t say why it wasn’t right for them, which leaves me in the dark somewhat, but them’s the breaks. I’m not disheartened – I never thought for one moment that this was going to be a walk in the park. I think, for now, I will swap over the stories that have been rejected and send them out again. I’m not sure they’re right for the publications, but I’d rather have them out in the world than not, and I’ve no time to write anything new at the moment. My poor brain is full to the rafters with lines and spaghetti-flippin’-bolognese.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

ET go home!

My posts are a little scattered at the moment - apologies for that. I’m working a lot, which is great, but it leaves me little free time, and what free time I do have is being taken up with rehearsals and line-learning. One of my fellow actors and I recorded our lines last week, so now even my car journeys are all about the play – when I wake up in the morning, it is with the fuzzy residue of odd sections of monologue in my head – I feel like I’ve been taken over by an unwelcome alien. Sod off and let me sleep in peace ET!

Our new actor started with us on Monday, after our previous ‘Edward’ decided, quite fairly, that Skylight was one play too many for his busy teenage life. It’s a relief to have the new guy on board, but something of a drag to have to go over the six weeks of wasted rehearsals again – not his fault, of course, and he seems to pick things up quickly, so I have moderately waist-high hopes that rehearsals for the two scenes I share with him will be less like pulling teeth than last time.

On Saturday I had the most amazing day in London. My lovely friend Alexis took me for lunch at Tate Britain, which was delicious, highly recommend it, and then – the highlight of the day for me – we went to The Globe to see The Merry Wives of Windsor. It was my first time at the theatre and it is safe to say that I was blown away.

The structure itself is impressive and really does make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time, and the acting, as you would expect, knocked my socks off. The director created a colourful and fabulously fun production with some lovely touches and details that were hilarious. And seeing as how they are so limited with what they can do set-wise, they made very clever use of the space with some nifty little twists. Alexis and I are planning to book up to see everything they do next year – I am newly excited about Shakespeare and want more!

After the theatre we went to Tate Modern – again, another first for me. I have a friend who is doing an MA at Goldsmiths and spends much time at the Modern – I fear I will have to sit down with her and ask searching questions, as I found that much of the work, particularly the installations, left me confused, bemused and unmoved – particularly the heap of old clothes pinned to a wall by a garden statue. It was all a bit far-fetched for me – I had never thought of myself as someone who only liked ‘pretty’, recognisable pictures, but perhaps I am. Mind you, splotchy bowls of fruit and brown-gravy depictions of historical scenes also leave me cold – so maybe I’m just a fussy so-and-so!

And finally… I had my first rejection letter yesterday. I feel surprisingly unfazed by it – possibly because I had just assumed that is what I would get. I feel that I have been initiated into the world of the professional fiction writer. However, the editor who wrote to me did say that although the story I had sent wasn’t right for them, she enjoyed reading it and thought it was well written, and has asked me to send some more of my work. I have no doubt that everyone receives such platitudes, but regardless, it did go some way to softening the blow. So now I just have to find the time to write something else to send… hmm.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

My Weekly submission guidelines August 2010

Basically, they wouldn't send me any!

I will try again at some point and will publish them on here if I get them, but as it stands at the moment, they are inudated with stories and aren't accepting from new writers.

For the foreseeable future they are unable to read and therefore accept unsolicited stories from authors who have not already had an acceptance from My Weekly.

If you have contributed to My Weekly in the past then you can submit, if not, then there are no opportunities at this time.

Woman's Weekly guidelines August 2010


We regret we can’t accept stories by email. Please include an sae in case we have to return your manuscript.

Fiction is a vital ingredient of Woman’s Weekly, the place where readers can escape and switch off. This doesn’t mean predictable plots or old-fashioned romances. Escapism means getting involved in a really gripping tale with believable characters. Above all, we are looking for originality and a wide variety of themes and moods, such as mystery, humour, relationships and family issues, with warmth still an important factor. Try to be subtle in your writing and remember the maxim: “Show don’t tell”. We recommend you read several issues of Woman’s Weekly and Woman’s Weekly Fiction Special to get a feel for our audience.

Unfortunately, we can’t offer criticism, but if your writing shows promise, we will contact you.


For the weekly magazine:
  • Short stories of 1,000 and 2,000 words
  • Serials in 3 parts of 3,800 words each

For Fiction Special (25 stories 10 times a year):
  • Stories of 1,000 to 8,000 words


  • We read only typescripts. Handwritten work or disks can’t be considered.
  • Double line spacing on one side of the paper only and wide margins.
  • Number each page and make sure your name is at the top of each page.
  • If sending stories from abroad, please enclose an international reply coupon.
  • If you would like us to acknowledge receipt of your manuscript, enclose a stamped, addressed postcard.
  • Please note that it can take up to sixteen weeks for manuscripts to be considered, and that we are unable to enter into any correspondence by email.

Please send stories/serials to:

Fiction Department
Woman’s Weekly
IPC Media
Blue Fin Building
110 Southwark Street
London SE1 0SU

People's Friend submission guidelines August 2010

Short stories

These vary in length – between 1,000 and 3,000 words usually. Deeper, more emotional, stories tend to need more space than lighter ones. We also accept short, short stories, from 500 to 1,000 words, for our complete on-a-page fiction.

Our readers like reading about people of any age. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking we only use stories about grans and granddads, widows and widowers. Stories with older characters are, obviously, important, but our readers also enjoy those with up-to-date, young, romantic themes. There’s always a place for the light-hearted and humorous, too. This isn’t to say we avoid “modern” themes like divorce or single parent families, but these must be treated sympathetically and tactfully. We’d rarely show divorce happening “on stage” in a short story – or a serial. Separation which ends in reunion would be something our readers would approve wholeheartedly!

We’re always looking for good Christmas stories (as well as other seasonal material) but beware the well-worn themes! Again the message is – be original and try to reflect the real spirit of Christmas.

So what don’t the readers enjoy? Well, they’ve made it clear they don’t want to read depressing, or bitter, stories. Or stories that shock or disgust or upset because of their graphic content – be it sex, violence, murder or substance abuse. And avoid the story with a twist in the tale that misleads or cheats. Any twist has to be credible – and emotional. Readers like to have a chuckle, or a lump in the throat, at the end of a story ... or even both! But remember, they prefer to laugh with people rather than at them. And they like to know how a character feels, as well as what he, or she, is doing.

Write from the heart as well as the head – so that the emotion of the situation comes across strongly. And the ending has to be satisfying. We rarely use stories from the viewpoint of animals or inanimate objects. Historical short stories are difficult – it’s not easy to be convincing in under 3,000 words. And anything with a supernatural theme always gets the thumbs down from our very responsive readers. In the author’s byline we frequently describe our stories as tender... touching... moving... amusing... charming... All words with positive feelings behind them.

Your raw material is people. Our readers want to identify with your characters, believe in them, their problems and the situations. If they can’t get close to a character, or that character does or says something unconvincing, they’ll lose interest. Your job is to keep the reader reading. WE STRONGLY SUGGEST YOU TRY WRITING SHORT STORIES BEFORE YOU ATTEMPT OUR OTHER FORMATS.

Fiction series

These might be considered a sort of hybrid, a cross between a short story and a serial. They are usually based on a strong, central character in an interesting situation. Each week’s story is complete in itself and, in subsequent weeks, new characters and their problems are introduced. But each story has a common setting, or theme, or central character playing a pivotal role.


These are normally worked on from the early stages by the author and at least one member of staff. The storyline is carefully worked out by phone, letter, or by a face-to-face conference. Only when agreement is reached does the story proceed. All our serials have a strong emotional situation as their central theme, usually family based. There can be other loosely-connected storylines involving family members, relatives, friends... so it’s quite in order to change viewpoints. It’s even possible to do this in a first-person story – with a bit of ingenuity!

We avoid subjects that are controversial, or which would be beyond the average reader’s comprehension. We don’t want to teach, or preach, or clamber on bandwagons. We don’t want unusual, outrageous or offensive characters. This doesn’t mean that characters have to be bland. Far from it. They must appeal to the reader’s imagination and stir their emotions. Your story can be set in the present day or it can be historical – without going too far back into the dim and distant past!

Writing a serial isn’t like writing a novel. You have to enthral the reader in such a way that she – or he – is looking forward eagerly to next week’s instalment. You don’t have the luxury of writing long, beautifully crafted narrative or descriptive passages. Serials run from eight to twelve instalments on average, though we will use shorter, or longer, stories from time to time.

The opening instalment is usually quite long — around six thousand words. You should aim to set the scene, introduce your characters and explain their problems. Your opening page must catch and hold the reader’s interest right away. Some problem, some crisis, should be coming to a head, some endeavour, some venture about to be undertaken. Succeeding instalments are normally shorter, round five thousand words.

Each instalment is made up of three or four chapters. (Get the idea of differentiating between a chapter and an instalment.) Each chapter should deal with a particular aspect, or incident, or scene in the story, moving it forward at a good pace. Although there will naturally be some overlap, each chapter should be more or less complete, ending on a high point to encourage the reader to go on. Don’t jump around in short, quick, disjointed scenes. Give yourself a chance to develop your characters and their relationships. The readers enjoy a good, sustained read. Your final chapter to the instalment should have a more powerful curtain, so the reader is impatient to know what will happen in the following week’s magazine.

How your characters react – in their different ways – to the problems and situations you put them in, is what makes your “Friend” story. Your storyline – plot, if you like – is important, of course, but the reader will remember a good character long after she’s forgotten other details. Effective use of dialogue will not only build up your characters in the reader’s mind, it can also provide background information and keep the story moving along briskly. Don’t write long passages explaining what makes your character tick, or what’s gone before. The reader should “sense” their personality through what they say and how they react to challenging situations. Let the characters speak for themselves, so the reader can get involved and identify with them. Study the popular soaps on TV. See how effectively their writers use dialogue!

We very rarely buy a complete serial in manuscript form. Don’t even try a first instalment on your own! Send us your idea, with perhaps just a few pages of the story, and give us a detailed synopsis of how the story develops... and we’ll get back to you.

Submission guidelines golden rules

  • We’re always happy to consider unsolicited manuscripts, but once you’ve completed your story, try to read it objectively – we know it won’t be easy, because you’re so close to it and you’ve obviously put a lot of effort into it. But do try to ask yourself – “Is this really a ‘Friend’ story?” And answer honestly, now! If the answer is a definite No, please don’t send it in. But if you feel it’s along the right lines, by all means let us see it. We’re here to help and advise you.
  • Your manuscripts should be typed – on one side of the paper only. Use double line spacing and leave a generous left-hand margin. ALWAYS KEEP A COPY.
  • You should also have a flysheet, showing the title and author’s name (or pen-name if you prefer). Please make sure your own name and address also appear on the page.
  • Number the pages of your story – or serial instalment.
  • Paperclip your manuscript together. And preferably use an A4 size envelope so that you don’t have to fold the typescript over. Anything you can do to make your work easy to read will be much appreciated by our hard-working staff. Please ensure postage is correct.
  • Address your short stories to the Fiction Editor at the address below. Children’s stories should be sent to the Children’s Page Editor and poetry to the Poetry Editor and so on.
  • Seasonal stories or articles should be submitted fully three months in advance.
  • Remember to enclose a suitable self-addressed envelope with the correct postage. Or if you live abroad, send an International Reply Coupon. PLEASE NOTE, WE WILL NOT RESPOND TO SUBMISSIONS UNLESS AN SAE/IRC IS ENCLOSED.
  • Please don’t swamp us with manuscripts! We very often find that a collection of stories all have the same basic flaw. So, if you’ve been enthusiastically writing, pick the best one, or two, to send in to test the water. It’ll save your postage and we’ll let you know if we want to see more of your work.
  • Be prepared to wait a few weeks for a reply. Our selection process can take some time.
  • Payment is on acceptance. You won’t have to wait for publication.
The People's Friend
Phone Dundee (01382) 462276 or 223131 Fax: 01382 452491

Take A Break submission guidelines June 2010


Basic requirements: We are looking for contemporary stories aimed at women from their mid-twenties upwards. We require about 1000 words (N.B. Please note reduction from max of 1100 words) with a strong plot and a good twist in the tail. We do not have a weekly serial, so stories must be complete in themselves. It is highly unusual for us to buy stories written in the first person (I), we prefer third person narratives, (He/she).

N.B N.B. N.B !!!!!!

The twist MUST arise out of the plot, rather than simply turn on a detail, which the characters know but is deliberately kept hidden from the reader in order to mislead:

To check your twist is a genuine twist - not simply a deception - imagine your story were being made into a film and ask yourself - would the surprise still work? If it wouldn't, I'm afraid it's not for us.

Subject matter: We particularly like settings and situations which readers can recognise and relate to, rather than say, country house murders or stories about drugs’ rings or jewel thieves. It's essential to read several issues of the magazine to get the flavour of the type of fiction we publish before writing a story aimed at Take a Break. Many writers waste a lot of time and effort because they haven't done this. Please avoid straightforward romance i.e. boy meets girl and they live happily ever after. Also avoid historical backgrounds, science fiction and stories narrated by animals or small children. Take a Break is a family magazine so graphic murders etc. are not acceptable.

Common plots to avoid: UPDATED

* The heroine/narrator is revealed to be a cat, dog, fox, or whatever! This is a complete no-no.

* The victim of a rip-off tradesman or horrible motorist etc. turns out to be his or her new

boss/emergency dentist/VAT inspector.

* The policeman/woman is really a strippagram/singing telegram.

* The woman discovers her husband's secret lover is a man (or man discovers wife's lover is a woman).

* A husband/wife's mysterious arrangements turn out to be for a surprise gift/party - not an affair.

* The character who sees 'ghosts' is actually one him/herself.

* A shifty antiques dealer or similar dupes an old lady out of what he thinks is a priceless antique and it

turns out she is making them by the dozen.

* Anything to do with twins.

* Someone nervous about a first day at school turns out to be the teacher; or about a wedding, turns

out to be the vicar; or an interview, the interviewer and so on.

* Anything to do with bumping off elderly relatives for the inheritance; in fact 'Wills' in general are best

avoided. stereotypes please! It's all too easy to fall into the trap of having lazy husbands and put upon wives, battle-axe wives and put upon husbands, grumpy old people and their longsuffering relatives, lonely single mums and their matchmaking children… Stories about super-husbands and overly-cheery grannies can be equally dull.

Because many writers write to this type of brief, their stories become boring and perhaps a good

twist is wasted. Be open-minded about your characters but keep them real!!!!!!

Because our stories are so short, it can be confusing if you have too many characters. A maximum of four is usually best. The main character should always be a woman.

Stories must be your own idea and original work, previously unpublished, and not on offer to any other magazine or publisher at the time sent to us. Should your story be accepted we would probably have to edit it to conform to page length and style.

Presentation: No e-mail submissions or floppy disks please!

Typed manuscripts are quicker and easier to read, but if you can't get your story typed, write clearly in double line spacing.

Please ensure your name, address; e-mail address (if you have one), and telephone number are on each page of the manuscript as well as on any accompanying letter. An accompanying letter is not necessary. Please include a stamped address envelope large enough to hold your story. Self-seal envelopes are especially appreciated. It's advisable to keep a copy of your story to guard against the remote chance of loss.

Features and articles should be sent directly to the Features Department with a covering letter.

It can take 10-12 weeks before a decision is made concerning your manuscript, so please be patient. If your story has not been returned after 12 weeks, please drop me a line giving me the story title, a 2-line synopsis of the plot and the date sent. Include your phone number (and e-mail address if poss.) and I will get back to you as soon as possible.

Should your story be rejected it can be for any number of reasons. Sometimes we have already published or have in stock a similar story. More likely though, I feel it will not appeal to our readers. This does not necessarily mean I will not like another of your stories, so please don't lose heart.

Payment: £400

Usage Terms: First British Serial Rights with extended usage only across all media platforms

Stories sent for specific issues, such as Christmas, Easter, Halloween etc, must be sent at least three –four months in advance of issue date.


As Fiction Feast is a short story publication we can be very flexible about the length and type of fiction required. However, do read Fiction Feast every month to get the flavour of the magazine. Please note we rarely, if ever, publish stories written in the present tense. If writing with us in mind, please think carefully whether your story wouldn't work just as well in the past tense!

Please check the 'common plots to avoid' list (updated) above. Remember, too, that stories must be original, previously unpublished and complete in themselves. (Sorry, no serials) If you have good, strong 750 - 3,000 words, suitable for a family publication, I'd be delighted to consider it.

Presentation: as for Take a Break (see above)

Reading time: It can take 12 weeks for a decision to be made regarding your story. If you haven't had a verdict after 12 weeks, please drop me a line, giving me a brief synopsis of the plot, and date submitted. Include your telephone number (and e-mail address if poss.) and I will get back to you as soon as possible.

Payment: which is generally on publication, depends on published length, starting at £200 for a single page.

Usage Terms: First British Serial Rights with extended usage only across all media platforms

If you have any specific queries about submitting stories to Take a Break or Fiction Feast, I will be happy to answer them. Please write to me, Norah McGrath, Fiction Editor, Take a Break 24-28 Oval Road, NW1 7DT.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Yes, I am still alive

Lordy, life's a little hectic of late - sitting down to write has completely fallen by the wayside. I have a story all written, helpfully critiqued by members of the forum I'm on, but have I found the time to polish and send it out to a magazine? No, I have not - it's gathering dust on a shelf and looking very sorry for itself. I am going to endeavour to do something about that this week.

Rehearsals for Skylight are coming along, although I came back from my holiday to discover that one of the actors had pulled out. Frustrating, as rehearsals up to that point had just been for me and him, so all the work we'd done is rendered somewhat obsolete. Another actor is auditioning tomorrow evening I believe, so hopefully he'll be great and we can start all over again. Deep joy, because it was so much fun first time round! On a more positive note, rehearsals with the other actor have been good so far. My concern overall is just when am I going to find the time to learn my lines? Of which, I might add, there are MANY!

There is always a point during the rehearsal/performance process when I ask myself why I am putting myself through it. Usually that occurs on dress rehearsals and performance nights, when I'm waiting in the wings to go on. With this play, I am asking the question already, which bodes well does it not?!

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Trial and error

This is the result of my photo shoot for the Skylight publicity last week - the chosen one, if you will. Unfortunately, however, it was decided there wasn't enough blank space around my boat race (I've cropped this one even further) to fit the title of the play and all the necessary wordy gubbins, so on Wednesday it was back to the drawing board, as 't'were.

Trying to recreate a picture, it turns out, is nigh on impossible, so we ended up with a different image altogether. It's going to be black and white, there may well be more flesh on show (although nothing X-rated I should point out, I'm really rather a modest lass when you get down to it) and I look a lot crosser. Not a hint of a smile in sight. I don't know why I look cross, I wasn't aiming for cross - I actually think the photographer caught me in an unprepared moment when I was feeling annoyed that I couldn't pull quite the same expression as last time - I mean, how hard can that be? Apparently, very. So anyway, there you have it, this old photo will never see the light of day other than on here. When the new image has been poster-fied I shall upload a copy.

First rehearsal last Sunday was good - there are an awful lot of props involved and trying to read my lines whilst unpacking shopping bags and making tea for two proved awkward. However, by what can only be described as a small miracle, I had my lines learnt for that scene for the second rehearsal on Wednesday, which made life much easier. I should point out that being off book by any sooner than six weeks before first night is unheard of for me, and it's unlikely I'll manage it ever again, so this was indeed an impressive coup.

I'm also not sure whether I mentioned that I will have a working kitchen on set and will have to not only really make cups of tea (getting the kettle to boil on cue should be interesting), but I will also have to rustle up an edible spaghetti bolognese. Fact is, in real life I can't cook, so I am faced with a double whammy here - remembering my lines whilst endeavouring not to burn onions.

I am, it has to be said, somewhat concerned about the logistics of this - there are many, many things that could go wrong. Let's hope they all happen during rehearsals and not in a performance. On the plus side, my family are looking forward to being able to come round for dinner and enjoy a meal they can actually eat (the last attempt, many months ago, having ended up in the bin - yes, I really am that bad). Surely after four months of cooking the same dish, I'll be able to make one I'm not scared to serve up to my nearest and dearest without fear of poisoning?

Friday, 16 July 2010

'Are you ready for your close-up?'

It's been a funny old couple of weeks. I've been working a lot, which is great - it's always a comfort when you're a freelancer to see a few pennies rolling in!

I have found the time for a creative venture or two, although unfortunately no writing. I have spent a large chunk of my day today critiquing the work of fellow writers on the forum I'm a member of - it's been fun, and hugely interesting, to read so many pieces of great writing, so many individual takes on everyday ideas, and so many unique ideas turned into clever stories and moving poems. I feel very honoured to be able to share my work with such a talented group of people. Not that I have any to share so far this month! Perhaps tomorrow I will find some time to sit and write something of my own.

I went pottery painting last week - it's a lovely way of passing an afternoon. There is a small and friendly farm shop near my home, where I'm now something of a regular. They set me up with my little table and my paint and brushes, supplied me with some marmalade on toast (an excellent source of energy when painting), and away I went. I have taken photos of my finished items, but they're a present for someone, so I shan't post the pics until the present has been given, just in case I spoil the surprise! I met and chatted with some nice people during the course of my afternoon, as when folk pop in for a cup of tea, they invariably wander over to take a look at what you're working on and conversations ensue. One lady I spoke to was a self-confessed Bloomsbury addict and we had a great chat about Vanessa Bell and Virgina Woolf, and it made me keen to get back to Charlston Farmhouse, which, if you haven't been, is a truly inspiring place.

Also last week, I went to see a play called The Boy Juliet. It's basically Shakespeare in Love, but unfortunately without Joseph Fiennes. It was a good production, the set was very clever and held it's greatest surprise until the end, when the back panels, which for the duration of the play had been the rough wooden boards of a barn or similarly rustic rehearsal room, opened out towards the back of the stage, revealing a misty darkness lit by a line of tea lights. The cast walked away from the audience and out into the darkness, the candles, of course, denoting the edge of a different stage, as they commence their production of R&J to a different, imaginary audience. Very clever indeed. The script (by Royce Ryton) was basic and slapstick in places, but produced laughs and did its job. Perhaps not the highest praise, but I think I've seen plays and read scripts that have been cleverer and made more of the English language. That said, I've also seen a lot worse. A terrible play called The Man Who Left the Titanic, springs to mind.

I went to see this a couple of weeks ago, and actually left at the interval in favour of going to the pub for a gin. The play was a two-hander, about Bruce Ismay, he of the White Star Line who hopped off the literal sinking ship into one of the lifeboats. The script contained no drama, but appeared to be merely a vehicle to convey the facts of the case. The performances were lack-lustre and the actor playing the ghost of Andrews did an excellent job of carrying the show, as Bruce himself seemed deeply uncertain of his lines in places. It's a touring production - should you find it coming to a theatre near you any time soon, I'd be inclined to give it a miss. The pub was much more entertaining.

This week I went to the photographer's studio to have my photo taken for the publicity for Skylight. I have never sat for a professional photo before and found it to be an unusual experience. There were lights upon me from many angles, and a silvery space-age contraption that looked like it had been designed by NASA, was stuck under my chin. The resulting photos, however, made me wish I could take all the lighting and photographic paraphernalia with me everywhere I go, as they clearly work miracles. Once the poster has been designed and I have a copy in my hot little hands, I shall scan it and upload it here so you can enjoy my discomfort. First rehearsal on Sunday - I'm feeling quite excited about it.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Inspiration blockage

I have an idea for a story - it's full of joy, sorrow, history, romance, familial duties and pressures, teenage rebellion - it has potential I think. But can I write it? Can I heck as like.

I've started - there's an opening to be sure, but now what? I've written a couple of middling paragraphs, shuffled them around a bit. And I know how I want it to end, but haven't attempted to put that down on paper as yet. It's like doing a dot-to-dot with an invisible pen.

I need to write this story - it is too early on in this fledgling fiction writing career of mine to be thwarted by writer's block and a lack of inspiration. The question is, do I slog away at it, or do I put it to one side and try and write another?

On a different subject - rehearsals for Skylight will be starting in just over two weeks, and the issue of publicity has arisen, i.e. the poster/flyer/programme image and the photographing thereof. Turns out, the publicity image for this particular play is... my face.

Hadn't reckoned on that.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

The naked hen

I am beginning to look on this blog as my own personal rant vehicle. Today I have a rant that is entirely unrelated to anything creative, literary or in any way cerebral. Today I am venting my spleen about shopping.

Am I the only woman on the planet who hates shopping? Please tell me I'm not alone. It's meant to be an age-old male/female divide thing - men hate it, women love it. But I am a woman, and I HATE SHOPPING!

The reason I have worked myself up into this tizzy is a themed hen night next weekend. I have to attend as I'm a bridesmaid, and of course I want to attend, as the bride-to-be is one of my closest friends, but glamour is not my forte, and the theme of the night is Sex and the City, so glamour is something of a prerequisite.

I spent Friday trawling around Brighton trying to find a dress, and failed dismally. In fact, I started talking to myself - never a good sign. On entering Oasis, I stood in the doorway and demanded of the people around me, "When do I ever shop in Oasis? What on earth am I doing in here?" then turned and walked out. No doubt I left a few bemused shoppers in my wake. After four hours I could feel the pull of the sea - a flying leap from the end of the pier was tempting. Instead, I headed home and phoned my mama, who talked me down.

Yesterday I drove to Canterbury so that my lovely mum could accompany me around yet more shops, trying on more dresses than I knew existed and looking utterly ridiculous in all of them. I reached the point where I could no longer be civil to the incredibly helpful and patient shop assistants in Noa Noa, so called it a day and once again headed home empty-handed.

Currently my friend will have a naked hen... well, I have some shoes.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Call me Kyra

After an amazing audition on Sunday, I have just found out that I have, once again, landed the part of Kyra in Skylight. And thanks to the casting of a superb male lead, I feel confident that the play will be good, if not great, and I am finally looking forward to doing it. I had started to fear my enthusiasm would never return.

Having turned down the role for various reasons earlier in the year, I was caught in a strange limbo land of not being entirely sure I wanted to reaudition (even though I had said I would) but also not sure that I wanted anyone else to play the part either. It was all dependent on the right chap playing opposite me, and I do believe, having seen him in Equus earlier in the year, the director has bagged himself the right actor for the job. Hurrah!

I now await my rehearsal schedule...

Monday, 21 June 2010

What NOT to do

Okay, I'm not anywhere near the point of approaching an agent to represent me - I think it's safe to say that's a good couple of years down the line (unless I surprise myself). However, I shall be referring to this blog - SlushPileHell - daily, for handy tips on what not to write in my query letter.

It's very funny, so if you want a good laugh you should definitely check it out - my favourites thus far are June 20, 11, 8 & 3, and May 30, but they're all cracking in their own way.

I'm a novice, I admit, but I like to think I have enough common sense not to make mistakes like these. But then I guess they thought that too...

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Six fingers and one thumb

So here's something I've been wondering - how do people prefer to write and why?

All the way through my last OU creative writing course, we were told again and again, write in your notebook, but I have to be honest (now that the course is finished and I can't be berated) and say that my notebook is sadly bereft of scribblings.

It isn't that I don't have ideas, and it isn't because I don't know how to hold a pen, and it's not because my handwriting is illegible - I just find the pen and paper system extremely longwinded.

I know there are writers out there, famous, prolifically published ones, who write in ratty old notebooks, piles and piles of them, until they've produced their masterpiece. But then what? I'm assuming they go back to the beginning and start typing it all up. Which seems to me to be a bit of a waste of time.

That said, I also imagine that may well be an excellent way of starting the editing process and the ideal time to begin cutting paragraphs and waffle. So perhaps I'm missing a trick...

I am an advocate of typing from the get-go - albeit inexpertly with only six fingers and one thumb out of my available eight and two, in a configuration that would make a typing teacher cringe and clench. I'm not sure if I type faster than I write with a pen, but I think, psychologically, that I feel I'm achieving something more quickly by seeing all those neat black lines appearing on the clean white screen - even if they don't make sense!

I'm thinking of investing in one of those little A5 laptops to use as my 'notebook' - small enough to carry around, which will hopefully encourage me to jot down ideas the moment I have them, rather than carrying them around in my head until I find a moment to sit down at my laptop and write. Until then I shall keep my redundant notebook and pen in my bag, just in case.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

My first award - hurrah!

Many thanks to the lovely Mandy for giving me my very first award! I would like to thank my mum and dad for creating me, and the world for letting me live in it. :o)

According to the rules I now have to tell you ten things about myself that you don't know. So here goes:
  1. Sweet Williams are my favourite flower
  2. One day I want to live in Aldeburgh in Suffolk
  3. I have an interesting family: My step-grandad was a journalist amongst many other talents and interviewed Elizabeth Taylor and Salavador Dali in his time. My granny, amongst her many other talents, was known as the Queen of Portobello Road (a term coined by The Observer I think) and brought back the trend for vintage clothing in the Sixties. My great-uncle, who is American, was a Senator. My mummy is a vicar!
  4. I'm terrified of Daddy Longlegs
  5. Sometimes I snort when I laugh and I'm not ashamed to admit it
  6. Cinnamon gives me a headache
  7. I am really quite obsessed with the Twilight Saga, even though I am no longer a teenage girl. If you haven't read these - you should!
  8. I HATE hoovering
  9. I don't play sport and am not interested in watching any sport - apart from the Tour de France, which has me glued to the screen every summer. One day I would like to hire a camper van and follow the the whole tour.
  10. I have absolutely no idea what the future has in store for me - sometimes that scares me, but most of the time I find it thrilling.
I would like to pass this award on to:

Fanciful Alice

Lucy Diamond

Clara Wieland

Sally Quilford

Emma Darwin

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Better late than never... I guess

On a scale of one to ten, how bad do you suppose it is to be 40 minutes late to a pre-audition audition? Hmmmm.... That's what I thought, so it's safe to say that I have made a bad impression this afternoon then!

Earlier in the year I auditioned for the part of Kyra in Skylight (by David Hare). I got the part but turned it down as the performances clashed with the end of my course. But the director postponed the play until November and asked me to audition again when he recasted, which was today and next Sunday. Today was a read-through so that actors could get an idea of the parts, before next weekend's audition proper. I thought it was at 4.30, but got a phonecall from the director at 3.40 to ask me where I was, as it had started at 3.30. Needless to say, I drove like the wind to get to the theatre, but was still VERY late and on the receiving end of some unimpressed faces. Ah well, 'tis all in a day's muddle for me!

On a lighter note, last night I went to the theatre to see a play called Two by Jim Cartwright, he of The Rise and Fall of Little Voice made famous by Jane Horrocks. Jak was prompting and two friends, Duncan and Bertie, were in it. The play is set in a pub, with the landlord and landlady leading the charge, and the two actors playing them also playing the various customers who pop in for a drink.

By turns poignant and funny, scary and slapstick, the play was brilliantly written and the various characters wonderfully observed. From a little old man who has conversations in his head with his dead wife, to a violently jealous man and his downtrodden, defeated wife, a colourful array of characters pass through the doors. And all the while, the landlord and landlady deal with their own unresolved problems, weaving seamlessly between their clientelle and coming to a head after closing time. Duncan and Bertie did an amazing job of bringing all the characters to life, and Duncan's crazy 'dad' dancing will go down in the annals of the theatre. Oh how I wish I'd had a video camera.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Haunted houses and men in dresses

Well, it's unofficially official, Jak and I will be directing our first play next year, so now, no longer risking the temptation of fate, I can announce that the play we have chosen is...

da da da daaaahhhh...

The Mystery of Irma Vep - a penny dreadful by Charles Ludlam

Hands up all those who've heard of it... Yup, thought not.

So, here's a little background. It's a spoof of Gothic melodrama, a quick-change farce, loosely based on Rebecca. It requires two male actors to play eleven roles, which include the lord and lady of Mandacrest Manor, a Mrs Danvers-esque housekeeper, a servant with a wooden leg, a werewolf, a vampire and a topless Egyptian princess.

Jak and I have already started designing the set. Pictured is our in-progress, scaled-down and much-simplified Blue Peter effort to help demonstrate our ideas to the set builders. Clearly there is a long way to go! But seeing as neither of us has ever designed a set before or built a mini version, we are rather pleased with our amateur efforts. Anyone caught smirking will be summarily executed - you have been warned.

The quick changes within the play (and I'm sure Jak, who is the 'details queen' of this particular operation, will correct me if I'm wrong) number in the high thirties, the majority of which need to be of around 10 seconds, less if possible. When this play was originally staged in Greenwich Village, New York, in the early 1980s, starring Charles Ludlum and his partner Everett Quinton, people would pay extra to have a seat backstage so they could watch the quick-changes, rather than sit out front and watch the play itself. That's how spectacular they were, and how amazing we hope we can make them. No pressure.

The set involves secret entrances and exits, as well as a bleeding painting, the mechanics of which we have yet to figure out. We have to bring in an Egypt set in the second act that needs to be removed without dropping the curtain and with the audience in situ, which could prove tricky. However, we have a cunning plan up our joint sleeve for that one.

So there will be challenges aplenty, but I have no doubt that we will not panic at all and will remain calm and in complete control throughout the entire project. I'm absolutely sure that will be the case. Okay, 85% sure. Well, high 70s anyway. But then again... Hmmmmmm...

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Self-publishing - friend or foe?

The sun is glorious, there's not a cloud in the sky, the sea is like a mill pond, and I am sitting at my desk, working and missing it all. Such is the life of a freelancer. This has made me bitter, so I'm going to have a rant. Please forgive me in advance.

I'm currently proofing a manuscript that makes my heart cry. I'm always torn when I receive work that I don't rate. I'm full to the brim with admiration for the author, who has devoted their time and soul and managed to set their ideas down on paper and complete a book. I'm only too aware this is no mean feat - I've been writing and rewriting the first three chapters of my humble offering for about 6 months now. I'm struggling to get off the starting blocks, finding that my need to edit and proof as I go (an occupational hazard) is slowing me down and drowning my creativity. This is something I'm working on.

But the flip side to this admiration is when the work I read (in my opinion, obviously) is not good. The majority of manuscripts I proof are self-published, which doesn't surprise me as I fear no agent or editor would touch them with a barge pole. Plots are as leaky as the Titanic, if there is a plot at all. I have found Ann Summers shops, AK47's and drug addict-riddled high-rise flats lurking in Victorian England settings - honestly, don't even get me started on that one. Grammar and spelling are hurled by the wayside - what happened to polishing your work before you send it out?

A common problem I find, particularly with children's novels and sci-fi, is a complete inconsistency in the spelling of invented names and places. Seriously, how hard is it to make up a name and write it down on a piece of paper, so that you ensure you spell it the same way throughout the book? I have found myself, on more than one occasion, creating glossaries for the author so that if there is a sequel, they have a point of reference for their own creations.

I can't begin to explain how much it frustrates me. Mainly because it's such a colossal waste of my time and I don't get paid nearly enough for the amount of basic work I have to do to make the manuscripts make any kind of sense (which is surely the job of the author?). But there's a small part of me that is frustrated because I know, if only I could get past my bad habit of editing myself, I could do better! That's not a boast, I would put money on the majority of people out there who call themselves writers being able to do better also.

So my thought for the day is this - is self-publishing a good way to go? Personally, I would rather write something and take the agent route. If I'm told that my work is no good and unpublishable then I will feel sorry for myself for a while then move on. I would rather that than think my work is amazing when it isn't, publish it myself because I'm so convinced the world will want to read my words, then sell five copies to close family and friends who tell me it's great because they feel they have to, not because it really is. It's like the people who audition on X Factor because their mum and dad have told them they're the next Whitney Houston. Simon Cowell tells them, actually, you're distinctly average, and mum and dad (or gran) come barging in, affronted, and pick a fight, telling the expert he's wrong.

My feeling is, listen to the experts - if your writing is good, they will tell you that and they will help you. If they reject you, there's a reason for that. Take a step back, look at your work objectively and honestly, and fix it. Then try again.

And my tip for the day is this - if spelling and grammar are not your strong points, that's okay - but buy a book on punctuation and learn it. Some people find it easy, others don't, but if you're writing a book, you need to know when to use a full stop or a comma or a colon; you need to know when to put your punctuation within quotes or without; you need to know when and how to use an apostrophe. Spare a thought for the person who's going to be proofing your work while the sun is shining outside. It's also the kind of thing that will help an agent decide whether you're worth representing. They get so many manuscripts that a missed apostrophe in the first line could send your book into the bin.

Okay, I'm clambering down from my enormous horse now. I shall return my attention to this overly complicated book, with Regent's Park spelled Reagents Park (come on!). Fortunately, my friends are arriving in an hour or so to rescue me, and we're going for a picnic on the beach, so all is not lost!

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Things to make and do

Through my haze of germs (which are thankfully lessening) I forgot to write about my creative and productive day last Saturday.

Jak and I went to visit a lady about costumes for our play, and spent a most enjoyable time rummaging through rails and rails of frocks and frock coats, blouses and bloomers, and rafter-high shelves crammed with wigs and hats, shoes and trews. Despite the small cast of two for this play, we will need 15, yes, that's 15, costumes. If/when we take our actors to this most magical barn to fit them for costumes, it will be, I fear, necessary for me to dress up too.

We also, Jak and I, had our very first sewing lesson. This is with the view to being able to alter some of the costumes ourselves next year. Should we get to direct it of course, still not tempting fate!

Having only ever carried my mum's sewing machine from her house to mine, and not even removed it from it's case before, the whole experience was extremely alien to me. But by the end of our lesson I had not only learned how to switch the machine on, I had made an actual pin cushion - pictured here in all its glory.

I am aware that my feeling of triumph is disproportionate to the end product, and have been heartily mocked by my mum and brother, but I don't care. As Jak pointed out, with a suitable dose of mirth, it is only a hop, skip and a jump from pin cushions to corsetry. Non-believers will be laughing on the other side of their faces when I can rustle up stunning cushion covers and curtains from old dust sheets, bits of ribbon and the odd button I find lying around. Oh yes.

Love this poem!

Listen by Charles Bukowski

If it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
Unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
If you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don’t do it.
If you’re doing it for money or
don’t do it.
If you’re doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don’t do it.
If you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.
If it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.
If you’re trying to write like somebody
forget about it.

If you have to wait for it to roar out of
then wait patiently.
If it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

If you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you’re not ready.

Don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-love.
The libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
over your kind.
Don’t add to that.
Don’t do it.
Unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.
Unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.

When it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

There is no other way.

And there never was.

Desperately seeking young, vibrant writers’ group!

I’ve read in various different places how important it is as a writer to join groups and communicate with fellow writers. First and foremost because writing can be such a solitary pastime, but also because you can give and receive valuable feedback. I’ve really enjoyed that aspect of my OU course and will miss it now that it’s coming to an end – my final assignment is in the polishing stages and I plan to send it on Tuesday. Not nerve-wracking at all then.

To take the place of the course, I have been lucky enough to join the lovely Get It Write online group run by Amanda Brittany, in order to hold on to that ‘we’re all in this together’ side of the creative process! I’ve also been curious about ‘real life’ writers’ groups, where you actually meet face to face with your compadres. My friend Susannah tracked one down and on Thursday night we went along to see what was what.

Hmmmmm… T’was an experience to be sure, but not quite what we were after. It was a little bit ‘blue rinse’ to be honest, with S and I feeling rather watched, as if to see what ‘the youngsters’ would do next. When we spoke eloquent sense it possibly came as a surprise, and we were crowded and manhandled by a somewhat overbearing Fleet Street sports reporter. The best laid plans and all that…

So we’re back to the drawing board on that one: Desperately seeking young, vibrant writers’ group! There is however the possibility that S has found us a book club to join – she’s working well! We shall find out in a couple of weeks if that too is overly cobwebby and crusty for our tastes, but until then I’ll endeavour to be optimistic.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Agents and actoring

So, let me tell you a little about a project I hope to be undertaking next year. My good friend Jackie (Jak) and I are members of a local theatre. We met several years ago when we acted together in an uplifting and joyful (can you hear the sarcasm?) one act play about suicide called 4:48 Psychosis (written by Sarah Kane should you feel inclined to read it). We weren't put off and between us we've been in many other plays since then.

After the final performance of a play I was in last October, it was suggested to me by a fellow cast member that I consider directing something. Daunted about taking on such a task on my own, I suggested to Jak that we do it together and, fortunately, she thought that was a good plan. We had talked about doing something two or three years ago, but were never quite brave enough to do anything more than discuss what a good idea it would be.

So having decided this time to go for it, we spent quite a bit of time reading and researching plays we may like to direct (any with roles in that either she or I would want to play were summarily dismissed), and we finally settled on one with an enormous all-male cast of two. We presented it to the artistic planning group at the theatre and were shortlisted - very exciting.

On Sunday just gone we were invited back to give a second presentation, and although we haven't been given an official thumbs up yet, I think it's in the bag. Not wanting to tempt fate completely though, I shan't unveil any further details on our chosen production until I have something in writing!

On a different note entirely, I follow a blog by a literary agent called Nathan Bransford - I'm new to it so still discovering things about it. I found out yesterday that every week he does a critique of a follower's first page. As far as I can tell it's on a first posted, first served basis. Even if you don't get your post on in time, his critique and red line of the successful person's work is incredibly useful.

Also, I'm currently reading a book by an agent called Noah Lukeman called The First Five Pages. If you haven't discovered this book - go on to Amazon and get it now, it's fantastic! (Or Waterstones, as, at the time of writing, it's on offer with them.) He basically tells you, step by step, the cardinal sins that will ensure your work ends up in the agent's bin, rather than on his 'to call immediately' pile. He also gives you exercises to apply to your work, in order to correct any problems that may stand between you and an agent reading it. He's done a couple of other books too - The Plot Thickens and The Art of Punctuation. I haven't read them yet, but if Five Pages is anything to go by, they'll be equally interesting.

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Bodies on the roof

My friend Susannah and I went to the Antony Gormley exhibition yesterday at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill. We went twice, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. 'But why?' I hear you cry. Well, the exhibition is on the roof, so we wanted to see it in different lights. The roof of the Pavilion is an amazing venue, with the sea providing a beautiful backdrop. The exhibit was unusual and had the sun not been so bright and the sky not been so blue, it may have been eery. As it was, it was bizarre but interesting to be surrounded by casts of the artist in various postures.

Other things that happened yesterday: An entire, lovely day spent with a new friend (aces); an extremely low flyby from a military helicopter; impressive sunburn; a laryngitis diagnosis (rubbish).

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Hello, good evening and welcome

Well, I have set up my blog. Here it is. Pretty innit?

I have spent today in the throes of task avoidance, with a manuscript (unfortunately not mine) to proof, and a final assignment for my course to be edited. Instead, I went into town and bought some boxes to organise things in, some new photo albums (2 for 1 so obviously irresistable), and a large bag of Doritos. All important things, I'm sure you'll agree.

But this afternoon I did eventually knuckle down and edit my assignment. I had to cut vast amounts to fit the word limit so I imagine my plot line is now reminiscent of a leaky seive, but nonetheless, it is done. Still a couple of weeks till it's due in so I can look at it again next week and grapple with it some more. The manuscript will have to wait until tomorrow as my head is full of cold and I've had enough now. Spending money I don't have earlier took it out of me and I need a lie down. And I might do some knitting. Yes, I knit, what of it? Don't judge me.

Fred is calling, it's tea time and I am being an unfit mother by ignoring him. I must be off to fulfil my maternal duty before he jabs  me with one of his pin-like claws.