Seven Books That I Read in August

August has been a busy and challenging month, with writing contests to enter, and technology challenges to overcome, computer glitches and getting connected to the National Broadband Network but I still made time to read. My selections were perhaps a tad more lighthearted than usual.

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The Fast and The Furriest by Sofie Ryan: A Second Chance Cat Mystery

The cover of this book with its handsome black cat and its title attracted me. Two cat -loves- of- my- life were black cats, Midnight and Mystic. Previously I’ve enjoyed a couple of cat mystery series Midnight Louie by Carol Nelson Douglas and The Cat Who series Lilian Jackson Braun.This might easily be another series to add to my favourites list.

The Fast & the Furriest

The fast and the Furriest is the fifth book in the series, but it was easy to get involved. Sarah Grayson owner of Second Chance refurbishes objects and furniture for her store, with the help of Mac, who can turn his hand to most things. There is also a handsome black rescue cat called Elvis. Life is good in North Harbor, Maine until a woman from Mac’s past visits and ends up dead. Suspicions abound, but Sarah can’t believe Mac did it and Elvis agrees. They just have to prove it.

Antiques Flee Market by Barbara Allan. A Trash & Treasure Mystery

Antiques Flee MArket

Spell check wants to change the title but it is Flee market, not Flea market, a play on words! Almost a reprise of The Fast and The Furriest although this time the featured animal is Sushi a Shih Tzu dog. The story is mainly told by Brandy Borne with occasional interjections by her mother Vivian. It’s a madcap mix of fun and danger. Chapters include Flea market tips. Again, part of a series, but I was still able to follow a lot, if not know all the backstory

Paris Lights by C J Duggan

I was fortunate enough to win a  copy of this book but was under no obligation to review it. Its been on my bookshelves for a month or two.PAris LIghts Book

Claire Shorten should be enjoying a romantic time in Paris, strolling by the Seine, exploring the districts and eating fabulous French food, with her boyfriend who she is sure is about to propose. Her dreams crash when he dumps her, leaving her alone in Paris, the city of romance.

Claire manages to get a job at a small hotel and that’s when things get interesting as she meets the inscrutable yet sexy Louis Delarue. He’s a celebrity chef with attitude to spare. A fun read with a sexy, stylish vibe and a certain ‘Je ne sais pas’ that extra ingredients which lifts it from a standard romance. This is the first books I have read by CJ Duggan and I really enjoyed it as I sped through it.

The Other Wife by Michael Robotham

The Other Wife

An intriguing premise what if everything you thought you knew about someone was wrong? This is the problem facing clinical psychologist Joe O’Loughlin and it’s not an academic problem, it concerns his injured father. It kept me guessing as layer after layer of subterfuge and deceit was revealed. Like Joe we want to know ‘the truth’ but whose truth is the real story? My sympathises fluctuated between characters and I found it a believable and satisfying read, an absolute page-turner.

London Bound By C.J Duggan.

London Bound

London!  Australian Kate Brown has dreamed about it and now she’s there London is tantalisingly close. If only she can escape the ‘it’s for your own good’ clutches of her grandmother who seems to want to occupy every minute of Kate’s day. Fortunately, handsome neighbour Jack Baker finds Kate intriguing and wants to know her better in spite of the unfortunateness of almost running her down.

While I found this an enjoyable read, for me it didn’t have quite the pizzazz of Paris Lights. It ended so abruptly that I turned the page expecting more and was nonplussed to discover it had ended,

Brain Rules for Aging Well by John Medina

Brain Rules

A molecular biologist explains the habits of those people called ‘super agers’ people who stay fit and healthy into old age. The book explores the current scientific thinking and how that can be translated into ordinary lives. Explodes some myths along the way, such as nostalgia is bad for you. It’s good to reminisce. Fascinatingly scientist has managed to double the lifespan of mice but so far there are no human applications. An absorbing read although I did read it slowly. Lots of simple and effective advice.

Lenny’s Book of Everything by Karen Foxlee

Lenny's Book of Everything

I was fortunate enough to be sent an advance reading copy of this book. It’s a book which is hard to categorize and a story that stays with you after you have closed the pages. In a sense, it reminded me of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Narrator Lenny worries about Davey, her younger but much bigger brother and their single mother Cynthia Spink. They are dealing with hardships and illness, and with longings for a better life, a better outcome. Lenny wonders about her absent father and knows that her mother is ’thin with worrying.’ When their mother wins a set of Burrell’s Build it at Home Encyclopaedia, arriving in weekly instalments it opens knowledge and imagination for both.  Her determination that her children will have the best that she can provide is expressed in her letters to Burrell. Lenny and Davey became real to me I smiled at Davey’s imaginary eagle improbably named Timothy. I ached for Lenny with her longing to find her missing father. It might be a stretch for most ten-year-olds but any literate imaginative ten+ should love this book.

 

 

 

Lonely

Blogging can be a lonely business, casting your words out into who knows where?

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So, I was delighted when I was able to participate in a blog share with the fabulous Jo Castro at Lifestyle Fifty. For those of you who don’t know her, Jo ‘s blog is all about women achieving their best lifer after fifty and beyond. Its sassy, it’s fun and shows how over fifties can look good and take care of themselves, as well as travel, or run a business or write a book.

 

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Jo graciously opened her blog to other women over fifty who blog, so why not pop over and have a look? So many inspiring women.

My post is in Fabulous Women over Fifty who Blog -Part Six Lifestyle Fifty.

I’d love to hear from you

This is Why your Story Didn’t Win: Part Two

I took notes during Laurie Steed’s talk, but these are summaries of the advice that he offered and my interpretations.

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But I Know the Judge!

Some contests will announce who their judges are, many are judged blind their identity only announced once judging is complete. It is highly unethical to contact the judge, and even more unethical to offer inducements. You could be disqualified for that alone. Laurie said one woman asked him which of three topics she should enter-he declined to answer.

Titles: The Good, The Bad and What The??

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The title is the first impression the judge gets of the story. What are you writing about? Do you want to let it be known right away or keep a bit of intrigue?

Titles that are simple and direct, such as Rudolph the Reindeer might work for a children’s book but not necessarily for an adult reader.

Bland titles are not the best reflection of your creativity. So, Susan’s Day, The Picnic. My Dog Sam, or The Wedding and unlikely to fill the judge with much enthusiasm. Of course, if you are a brilliant writer you might just pull it off, but why risk it?

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A better choice may intrigue the reader and invite them to read the story. You might find inspiration within the story itself or an idea may suggest itself when your story is written. You might even use a quotation such as Ray Bradbury did with Something Wicked This Way Comes. (Shakespeare) An example Laurie Steed gave of a good title was The Fantastic Breasts by Julie Koh.

Talking about Topics, what you should know.

Some topics are just more popular with writers than others. Does that mean you should avoid them? Not necessarily but be aware that many others will be writing on the same subject. You might have to be more creative in your approach so that your story stands out.

Popular Topics  and the Less Popular Ones    

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Popular Topics   

 

Likely to get lots of entries)            (Less competition)

Divorce.                                                    Immortality

Adolescence.                                           Happy Stories (Hard to do well)

Romance.                                                 LGBT Romance

Pregnancy/Abortion                               Anxiety

Cancer                                                       Urban Animal stories

Office Life.                                                Speculative Fiction

War.                                                           Fantasy( Hard to do well)

Depression.

Race.

Abuse

Violence

His advice was to be original, subvert expectations, use your creativity and allow yourself to think beyond the obvious. Engage the reader, include sensory details and don’t be knowingly clever!

Two Additional Tips from Me.

Check and recheck the terms and conditions.

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I did that this week prior to sending a contest entry off and it’s lucky that I did.

Most contests specify a size 12 font, but this one specified size 11 font. Who could have guessed, and will some entries be disqualified because they didn’t comply?

 

Retain Your Copyright- It’s Precious!

Check those terms and conditions again to make sure that you are NOT signing over your copyright. Who knows what your future holds? You might be the next big thing.

What if J.K Rowling had signed away her copyright? She would have lost book rights, foreign rights, film rights, digital rights, adaption rights, merchandising rights and possibly others that I am unaware of.

Contests challenge us to produce our best work, to think laterally and to enjoy our writing. Even if your story didn’t win it’s probably a perfectly good story, it just didn’t suit either that judge or that contest.

You may submit it elsewhere, or you may decide it needs more work. Your story, your choice.

 

 

 

 

 

This is Why your Story Didn’t Win.

How to improve your chances

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Last weekend I was fortunate enough to attend a workshop focussing on why stories win or don’t win competitions.  Experienced short story writer and author of You Belong Here Laurie Steed was the presenter.

He began with the basic and obvious pointers.

Follow the rules. If they ask for a 2,000-word short story don’t send one word over that limit.

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Read all the terms and conditions. It would be awful to be disqualified on a technicality. Some contests are open to anyone, some to residents of certain areas, or age groups. Some stipulate no one who has earned money from their writing is eligible.

What a judge hopes to see.  

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A strong opening to the story, with an engaging or relatable character, strong stakes, and some sort of closure. Not necessarily a ‘happily ever after’ but an ending that satisfies the reader.

Laurie Steed made that point that people now have so many other choices to entertain themselves, so if they devote their time to reading it had better be good. Everything matters in your story-there is no space for a digression, your reader has chosen to be with you, it’s your job to keep them.

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Writing on Topic:  If a picture or story prompt is given-try to avoid the obvious approach. Strive for an unusual or unique perspective with good details.

Pacing. Keep an eye on the pacing and sentence length strive for balance neither too slow or too fast. Appropriate to the story that you are telling.

Don’t try telling a story too complex for the word length or with too much back story or irrelevant details.

The next post will summarise further advice relating to creating strong and weak titles, and story topics.

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From 500 entries submitted to one contest, he estimated that about 10% were serious contenders. Learn how to make yours one of them.

 

 

 

 

 

Which Books did I Read in July 2018?

 

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In spite of July being a busy and challenging month, I did manage to keep up with my reading. For a writer, reading is essential but more than that its a pleasure. I cannot imagine my life without reading.

The Blue Fairy Book by Andrew Lang

A feeling of nostalgia had me reaching for this well-loved childhood classic. Beautifully produced and with the original illustrations, it is a visual delight. Reading now as an adult, I was surprised at how some of the stories defied the happily ever after tradition.The Blue fairy Book

The Olive Sisters by Amanda Hampson

After reading Amanda Hampson’s later book The Yellow Villa I was looking forward to reading this. Initially, I found the dual timeline confusing. As I read on the strands of the story became clearer. The sisters came to Australia with their family from Italy. Their family relationship is complex. Later, one of their descendants inherits the farm. For her, it becomes a refuge and retreat as she uncovers more about her past and long-lost family secrets.

The Olive Sisters

The Upside Of Over by J.D Barrett

When TV newsreader Olivia makes a drunken mistake her whole life implodes. She loses her marriage, her career and her self-esteem. How did it all go so horribly wrong? And what can she do now?

Luckily, a couple of friends are still there for her as she picks up the pieces. Through her own efforts and with their help she discovers that the network was eager to get rid of her due to her age and this was the perfect excuse.

Olivia discovers that there is an upside to over, being your own person and authentically yourself.  Funny, sexy and wise, but not necessarily for the prudish.

Upside of OVer

Disclaimer I won a copy in a contest but was under no obligation to review the book.

Date with Mystery by Julia Chapman

DAte with Mystery

Book Three in The Dales Detective Series.

Although I hadn’t read the two previous books I still enjoyed this book. It’s an amusing mystery full of Yorkshire wit and grit. About three-quarters of the way through the book I had a good idea as to what had happened but no idea of the why-the reason. I am not too sure about the contrivance of having characters called Samson and Delilah. It stretches the bounds of credulity, but it seems to work for TV’s Shakespeare and Hathaway, so that may just be a personal quibble.

The Beach Hut by Veronica Henry

the Beach hut

When I picked this book up I hadn’t realised that it was an interconnected series of short stories.  All are based around the beach huts on Devon’s Everdene beach. A peek into many lives over the weeks they use the huts. Some stories come full circle while others remain incomplete, left to the readers’ imagination. Initially,  I found it rather disconcerting to move from one story to another. I feel the cover gives an impression of a lighter read, while the stories have more depth.

 

PR Secrets for Savvy Authors By Louisa West

PR

As a writer, you need to get your work noticed and for that, you are going to need PR. (Public Relations) Maybe you are an introvert who doesn’t want to put yourself ‘out there’. Or perhaps you are an extrovert but don’t want to come over as ‘pushy.’ And what is PR anyway?

Help is here, Louisa West is both an author and PR professional. The book is written specifically for authors and addresses their concerns. From learning the difference between PR and marketing, to how to feel ‘legit’ and how to establish your ‘brand’.

The importance of networking effectively with readers, writers and influencers. It demystified the whole process of how to post in social media and how to make it work for you.  Presented in an easy to read style – this book should be an important part of any authors toolbox

I learnt a lot and I think it’s a great read for anyone wanting to know more about PR

Disclaimer I was gifted an advanced reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

Where do you get your ideas?

‘The past is a foreign country they do things differently there.’ LP. Hartley ‘The Go-Between’

 

Beach

It’s a question that every writer hears ’where  do you get your ideas?’ At times it is tempting to say something flippant like ‘Oh I pop down to the App store and pick a few.’ But it’s not that easy.

So where do writers get ideas?  The answer is probably as individual as the writers themselves. Some writers are meticulous planners and know what they will write about. They are known as Plotters and have inciting incidents and compelling storylines at their fingertips. They have detailed plans and character profiles and timelines all prepared. At times I wish I was more like them, but I am not.

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My stories begin who knows where? Although the term Pantsers is applied to writers like me, I prefer to think I am an organic writer. One who builds as she goes, capturing a fragment of a sentence, an intriguing snippet or topic, an overheard remark or a sliver of memory.

photo-1496867557017-559adb93b339 David Zwalia

Recently, I entered a short story contest and the picture prompt didn’t initially inspire me. The trick was to let my imagination roam, to go beyond the obvious. In one story I used three incidents I knew about, things that had happened to me, or to friends. Sibling rivalry, an attempted drowning and person with mental illness.  The facts bled into the fiction, hopefully giving it an authenticity.

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Writing the second story I began with a fragment of memory of clearing the attic and as I wrote a long-forgotten memory surfaced. I must have been about six and we were at the beach.  My father dived in and rescued a woman who was attempting to drown herself. I remember her sobbing, with dad’s jacket placed around her shoulders. And then it’s a blank- what happened next, I have no idea.photo-Gir on stony beach Caroline hernadez

I’d forgotten about it until now, so many years later, when I fictionalised it and used it in my story. If memory chooses not to come at my call but returns unprompted it is still a valid memory. The trick is to hold on to that image, that memory, and see if more will follow.

Nowadays, I think of my past as a place to explore. I can get there from here. The route may be unfamiliar, the recall imperfect, but it is uniquely mine. Others may recall the same events, but not in the same specific way. What attracted me, what was important to me, may not have mattered to them. My stories begin here, and I realize that the things that matter to me always have.