Monday, 9 May 2011

Casting off!

Last night was audition night, and we now have officially cast Irma Vep. Jak and I guffawed heartily throughout - none of that poker-faced professionalism for us! It was so great so hear the lines spoken aloud by voices other than our own, and most amusing to watch the chaps auditioning drape themselves about one another as they endeavoured to be man and wife.

And this Sunday coming I shall be going up to sing at Wembley, oh yes. It's going to be a long old day, but singing with over 6,000 others is going to be summat special to be sure. Note to self: remember ticket.

On a less positive note, I have had yet another rejection - this time from Woman's Weekly. As ever, I shall not be disheartened and the unloved story will be stuck back in the post to someone else. I will not be defeated!

Thursday, 7 April 2011

The Hunt for the Grey Wolf (and other stories...)

So, it’s been ages and ages and ages and ages and ages. I’m sorry. But golly gosh how busy I have been!

Where once there were just a couple of 7ft mummies, there is now even more weirdness. There is currently a wooden alligator (or crocodile, the jury’s out) living under my coffee table. Let me rewind a tad and fill you in.

There has been much in the way of organising and arranging various quirky oddities for Irma Vep. As I may or may not have mentioned, there are many literary and film references within the play, with the majority of films alluded to either being Hitchcock or of that ilk, or B-movies. So Jak and I have decided to draw heavily on that influence for our set and costumes, and as such we’ve designed everything to be entirely in shades of grey like a black & white movie (apart from a brief sojourn into Glorious Technicolor in act 2).

We also want everything, in a nod to all things gothic horror, to be slightly sinister. The man of the house is an Egyptologist and one of life’s globetrotters, so we want his drawing room to be full of souvenirs from his travels, but all of them need to be just a little bit menacing.

This, we are certain, is a marvellous idea – clever, witty, a little bit unusual, even if we do say so ourselves. What we hadn’t thought about was how tricky it was going to be to dress the set and find props that are suitably disquieting whilst only being black, white or grey in colour. As such, most of the bits and pieces we have found, we are having to paint, and anything we can’t find, we are having to make.

This is fine, it’s fun and interesting and it’s stretching my creative capabilities, but it means that our houses are full of peculiar items and in my case, a ‘craft corner’ overflowing with pots of paint and bags of ripped newspaper, and a fridge filled with tinfoil-wrapped crockery containing various shades of grey paint, a tub of wallpaper paste and a large lump of clay. Not a lot of room for food. I will tell you about my various crafting exploits shortly, but first to explain Gregory, the crocodator (or alligile if you prefer).

It all started when we were trying to find a wolf. All we wanted was a stuffed grey wolf. A simple ask, or so we thought, but it turns out they’re rather like hen’s teeth. Between us we have tried taxidermists, prop hire companies all around the UK, various museums, the National Theatre props store, and I even spent a useful half hour on the phone with the props mistress at the Drama Centre, but all to no avail. Even a trawl around the wonderful junk (treasure) shops of Hastings came to nought. The hardened treaure-traders of the town all sucked air through their teeth, hunched their shoulders and shook their heads in the manner of a man looking, with some pleasure, at another chap’s kaput car engine. No words were needed, their gestures said it all – ‘you’ll be lucky’.

So we gave up.

And then we saw Gregory. It was love at first sight. We may not have a wolf, we will have to resort to our Plan B, which is funny, possibly funnier, but still not our Plan A, but we do have an alligile. With a little bit of wood stain and TLC he will make a marvellous footrest for the man of the house – jaws yawning in a threatening manner.

Another set dressing idea is to have many masks hanging on the walls, from around the world – African, Asian, Hindu, Native American, they’re all there – but again, none will be overly friendly in appearance. Obviously there was no way that we were going to be able to buy any of these so I am making them out of papier mâché and clay. I have several in various stages of completion on my dining table, and these are another two that I’ve completed already. Don’t laugh at my painting skills, I am not one of life’s painters – just remember, no-one’s going to get close enough to examine the minutiae!

Another thing I’ve had to make is a hat – out of a net curtain. We have decided to style one of the characters as something of a Miss Havisham - bitter, bridal and a little bit dusty. Her dress is being made by our costumier, but the hat fell to us. It needed a veil, hence the net curtain. For a while, it did indeed look like a hat with a net curtain stuck to the front, so I pulled everything apart, cut everything up with scissors in a brutal, no-nonsense, irreversible fashion, and started from scratch. Here is the hat. Again, in the same way that I am not a painter, I am not a milliner, but it should serve its purpose.

The most recent task Jak and I have undertaken is some publicity photos for the next theatre What’s On magazine. I have to write about the play but we needed a directors' photo to go alongside the blurb, and we decided that we wanted to hint at the content of the play without giving too much away. So we decided to have our photo taken in a Hitchcock style – black and white with lots of shadow. And to keep it as tongue-in-cheek as possible, we borrowed a couple of fur coats from the costume department, slapped on some 1930s make-up and got a fellow actress and hairdresser to style our hair. Mousse + hot rollers + hairspray = hair helmet. Here is the finished result!

So there you have it, that’s the latest in the Irma Vep Land. Next thing is to finalise the artwork for the poster and programme, but that’s next week. This weekend, between making masks, I shall mostly be painting my kitchen, just for something different to do!

On a non-theatre note, I have written some more stories and have three out in the world at the moment – one with Woman’s Weekly, one with The Weekly News and one with a competition.

And I have finally got Hearts & Finds on Etsy up and running and have also got some of my products in the gift shop I work in too, which is most exciting! And I’ve sold some – which is even more exciting!

Monday, 21 February 2011

Macmillan Heroes and Heartbreakers submission guidelines welcomes submissions of original short romance stories in all subgenres (contemporary, paranormal/urban fantasy, women’s fiction/chick lit, historical, romantic suspense, etc).
We are not interested in “true confessions” or other non-fiction material. We are particularly interested in stories between 6,000 and 15,000 words, although exceptions may be made. Simultaneous submissions are allowed.

Original short stories acquired for this program are edited by both in-house editors and freelance editors who are experts in the romance genre.

We pay $1,000 against a 25% royalty. (The royalty enters the picture with respect to downloadable versions of the work.) Although we will consider edge cases, “original” means original—not previously published.

In your cover letter, please include the following:
  • The subgenre of your story
  • Confirmation that the story has not been previously published
  • If you are a published author, and if so, for whom you write
  • If your story is connected to a larger universe in which you already write
This is not required, but please feel free to include your Twitter and Facebook URLs in the cover letter.

Stories should use standard manuscript format (Our preference is 12 point, Times New Roman, double-spaced) and be emailed as Word or RTF. Please send it with a cover letter including the elements described above.

Submissions and questions about the acquisitions process should be emailed to

The Weekly News submission guidelines - February 2011

Weekly News Short Story Guidelines

The Weekly News has a largely older readership which is evenly split between the sexes, so we are looking for general interest tales — crime, humour (especially), ghost stories (although we’ve had plenty of these recently), or “coffee break” dramas which wouldn’t be out of place in any popular TV soap. At the moment we're also interested in stories with a bit more 'edge' that are slightly darker.

Although an old-fashioned love story may occasionally be appropriate, we're not looking for slushy romantic fiction, or anything twee. And although it’s a popular style, we don’t generally take chick-lit. Similarly, we don’t want anything too racy or gory. As The Weekly News is a family paper, we wouldn’t use anything with any sexual content.

Many stories we publish have an interesting twist to surprise the reader, as these seem to be popular. But if your twist is “it was all a dream” or “he/she/it was a ghost”, or the main character is actually a pet, it won’t get through!

  • Aim for something light-hearted, perhaps centred around family life or a recognisable situation.
  • If your main character is strong enough, you can have them carry the whole story.
  • A positive outcome is favoured, but this can be reached by a good bit of double-crossing, or the comeuppance of the baddie.
  • Be playful – have some fun with your characters at their expense i.e. in embarrassing social situations.
  • We also like sensitive stories that may involve a death, an illness, a fear, etc. If the situation doesn’t come across as too dark and depressing and has an uplifting end, then it may make it through.
Stories can vary in length from about 750 to 2,000 words at most, though we reserve the right to edit them as appropriate. Also, we rarely accept stories written in the first person or present tense.

Please note that, at present, we use three fiction items at each week and, even if an item is accepted, it could be some time before it is published.

We always have plenty of stories to read through, so it could be six to eight weeks before we can respond to submissions.

  • Use strong, identifiable characters – but remember they don’t always have to be likeable.
  • Use natural-sounding speech. We tend to avoid dialect as we like to be a bit geographically vague to add to the universality of the stories.
  • Check your historical facts fit your time-frame and characters.
  • Be thought-provoking if you want – be topical.
  • Read and check your punctuation and paragraphing. The easier your work is on the eye, the easier it is to make an informed decision.
  • Work within reality – this is fiction, but it does have to be believable.
  • Do include your email address, postal address and phone number on your story.
  • Full stories, please. We can’t get enough detail or feel for a piece from a pitch or synopsis.
  • No murdered spouses, dreams, ghosts or pet twists.
  • No first person or present-tense stories.
  • No relationship-centred stories.
  • No hard copy. Email is now our only method of delivery. Please send to  You'll receive an auto-reply from this address so you know we’ve definitely received your email.

Mummy, mummy, mummy

Woe is me. I’ve had a couple of rejection letters back from People’s Friend and Take a Break, and I now eagerly await my rejection letter from Woman’s Weekly, which I’m sure is just days away! Back to the drawing board – I need to conjure up another story or two from my flagging imagination and whisk them out into the world.

I had a peculiar yet productive weekend. Sunday was a day of conveyor belt pattern cutting for the crafty items I’m making. I have called my little sideline Hearts & Finds (because I like making heart-shaped things and I decorate them with stuff what I have found – see what I did there?!), and have set up a shopfront on – although it’s entirely empty at present. I shouldn’t be too long before I have some completed items to upload for sale.

And on Saturday Jak and I had a very useful meeting with Charlie, the young artist who’s helping us with our Irma Vep publicity and programme. He was splendidly enthusiastic and I am feeling most positive about the artwork aspect.

The other thing Jak and I did on Saturday, was start creating two sarcophaguses (or should that be sarcophagi?). Having made back boards out of 7’ tall sheets of cardboard, I wrapped myself liberally in chicken wire to create a shape and then lay on the cardboard whilst Jak staple-gunned the wire in place around me. For any drama-exercise enthusiasts out there, this is a much better trust game than falling backwards and hoping someone catches you.

So anyway, once we had built our ‘skeletons’ we set about papier-mâchéing them – slimy work and I got through several pairs of rubbery gloves. But even if I do say so myself, by the time we’d finished they looked pretty darned good. We’ll have to keep building them up over the next few weeks and eventually, once we’re happy with the shape, we’ll start on the painting. For the next few months Jak has to live with two enormous mummy coffins in her living room. I imagine she’ll enjoy the company, but I’m as certain as can be, she won’t share her KitKats. 

The middle

The beginning

The slime

Monday, 7 February 2011


My life feels full to bursting at the minute. In an ideal world I would be able to organise my days in neat little lists, lots of straight lines and lashings of order. But it never seems to work out that way. I currently have several little nibbly bits going on that I can’t pin down in my brain, but still, better full than empty, better busy than bored.

Nibbly bit No.1: I have a new client. This is quite exciting as I have been gradually doing more and more hours for a local newspaper and, although this is great because it’s relatively guaranteed income and has become my financial bread and butter, I had recently started to feel like all my freelance eggs were nestling in just the one basket. So this new client is a glossy local magazine and I’m writing their property page for the next couple of issues. That’s why it’s nibbly. It’s not certain that after these two articles that I will get any more work from them. I hope I will, but you never know.

Nibbly bit No.2: I finally seem to be getting my writing mojo back – about flipping time! I hesitate to use the word ‘rattle’ as it sounds hasty and rough around the edges, but last week I did indeed ‘rattle’ off a short story as I surfed on a rocking wave of inspiration. I posted it on one of the writers’ forums I’m on and received great feedback. So I tidied it up based on everyone’s critiques and this afternoon will be sending it out to Take a Break to see if they’ll take if for Fiction Feast. I also have two other stories that I sent out last year that were rejected (leaving me not defeated but momentarily deflated), so I’m also posting those out to Woman’s Weekly and People’s Friend. So this is nibbly because nothing’s guaranteed and I have to sit on my hands and wait to hear from others. No control.

Nibbly bit No.3: I have joined a choir. Oh yes, because writing and theatre just isn’t enough for me, I’ve become a member of Rock Choir. It’s great fun, although there is an awful lot of ‘dancing’ – you know the thing, gospel swaying and clapping, and a little bit of salsa stepping thrown in for good measure. Thing is, I have two left feet. Try as I might, there is a connection missing between my brain and my feet, so any kind of dance movement invariably ends in me treading on a neighbour’s toe or simply falling over. But I’m prepared to stick it out because the singing is fab and the people are nice and the choir master is a talented loon, which I appreciate immensely, and in May we’re going to be singing at Wembley. Oh yes. But this is nibbly because at some point I’m probably going to have to stop choir so I can concentrate on Irma Vep rehearsals, but I don’t know for definite and I don’t know precisely when, and I don’t think I really want to.

Nibbly bit No.4: Speaking of Irma Vep, things are now truly underway. We have enlisted our costume maker and will be accompanying her at some point to a fabric warehouse in London – muchos funos. I have, I hope, also enlisted the talents of a young artist to design the artwork for posters and programmes, but we haven’t had full discussions yet. Jak and I have started making a list of set dressing and flats we need to order, and know a handy man with a handy brush ready to paint them and make them look glorious. And we have found a wig big enough for a man’s head – it’s not the right colour or style, but it’s progress. But this is all nibbly because auditions aren’t until May so we can’t firm up many of the things we want to firm up – actors, for example.

Nibbly bit No.5: Jak and I went to the 2012 planning meeting for the theatre a week or so ago. This is just all-round NIBBLY because we put forward six plays we wouldn’t mind directing, but we haven’t read any of them yet, and we haven’t even started rehearsals for 2011 yet, and it’s just really difficult to think ahead to next year when this one’s only just started.

Nibbly bit No.6: You may recall that last year Jak and I had a little sewing lesson, in order to know how to use a machine so we can fix costume boo-boos during Irma Vep rehearsals. Well, the other day I had another sewing lesson and learned how to make cushion covers, so now I have many cushion covers. And this got me thinking about making things to sell for a little bit of extra income, and so I spent the weekend making heart-shaped lavender bags, which are looking pretty good even if I do say so myself. But this is nibbly because I can’t decide where to sell them. There’s a website I found that I can set up a little shop on, and I could try to see if the lady who owns the gift shop I work in on Tuesdays would take a few, and if she did then I could see if other shops might take them, and I could also maybe get a stall at craft fairs. But I don’t know yet, and I need reassurance from someone in the world that they’re good enough to sell anyway. Nibbly, nibbly, nibbly.

So there you have it, my nibbly life. If anyone has any tips on how to un-nibbly it, I’d be more than happy to hear from you.

Also, on a little extra positive note - Darker Shores swept the board winning various awards at the theatre's end of year 'awards', including best set and best technical - I'm sure it won other things too but I can't remember exactly what, it did remarkably well anyway. And I won best actress for my role in Skylight! How thrilling is that?! So, all's well that ends well.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Beware the Boiled Sweet Brigade

I’ve just been reading an old Shenton’s View blog post for The Stage, about audiences, and how integral they can be to a performance. He was looking at it from a fellow-audience-member point of view – clearly, in one evening, he suffered from the ‘cougher’ and from a couple of ‘talkers’ and ‘gigglers’. He found it so off-putting he requested to move seats during the interval.

Imagine then, what it’s like to be an actor with distractions like that from the audience. There is, for example, as well as the aforementioned offenders, the ‘boiled sweet brigade’. These are the folk of a certain age who will usually attend on a Tuesday or Wednesday night, or a matinee if there is one, they may have a rug to put over their knees while they enjoy the entertainment, and they will have brought a lovely bag of Werther’s Originals to suck on. There is little more off-putting during a quiet, emotion-ridden scene for an actor, than the sound of a boiled sweet being tentatively unwrapped. It takes forever and is never nearly as quiet as the opener assumes.

There are also the ‘whisperers’ – possibly worse even than ‘talkers’ although it’s a fine line. ‘Whisperers’, certain that they can’t be heard, may well share a running commentary alongside the action on stage, and fail to realise that when the house lights go down and the beginners take the stage, that it is time to shut up.

Audiences also feed off one another, although it’s unlikely they realise that they do. I’m always grateful when I’m in a play that isn’t billed as a comedy, but may have the occasional humorous line, to have a ‘laugher’ in the audience. This is someone who guffaws heartily at the slightest suggestion of a joke, and so confident and vocal is their amusement that the rest of the audience loosens up and is brave enough to laugh too.

In the recent production of Darker Shores that I ASM’d on, there was one particular performance where the audience, thanks to adverse weather, was less than expected and therefore somewhat scattered about the auditorium. There were no ‘laughers’ and due to the dispersal of the audience members, no one had the confidence to even chuckle. The actors literally had to battle against the silence that assaulted them at every turn and it was exhausting.

Then there is the opposite of that. I experienced, during my recent run of Skylight, a couple of audiences who were so involved I wondered if I’d wandered into a pantomime. At every performance I was gratified by the stillness and silence – boiled sweets were on hold, the ‘fidgeters’ were unmoving in their seats – they were truly engaged at every performance. Then on one occasion, when my character went to check her one-bar fire was working, I had two people call out “it is on!”. On another night, after my most ranting monologue, a woman in the audience half-whispered, half-shouted “Yes! Great!”. This is a phenomenon I’ve never encountered before but it amused me greatly! They, whoever they were, will go down in the annals of my most-favourite audiences of all time.