Tuesday, 23 February 2021

Hooray! I received an honourable mention in this years 6th Annual Valentiny Contest run by Susanna Hill

For anyone who is not aware of Susanna Leonard Hill's Annual Competitions, they are a fantastic challenge for any children's writer. With the Halloweensie contest in October, the Holiday Treat one in December and the Valentiny in February, each one offers a short and specific brief to write to in rhyme or prose. 

The first time I took part I felt frustrated and clueless. But, with a last minute burst of inspiration (not sure where on earth it came from), I managed to clinch an honourable mention. It felt like it was exactly the right time to discover these contests as that entry went on to become a fully-fledged picture book that was short-listed for the WriteMentor Children's Novel Award and placed in the top three picture books. 

I'm now a massive fan of all three of these contests. Across two years (6 entries), I have missed out twice, clocked two Honourable Mentions and been in the final twelve twice. That's a real confidence boost from a competition that accumulates anywhere from 200-450 entries. However, that's not why I enter. The real joy of Susanna's contests is that they allow you to develop your writing skills under pressure, provide opportunities to conjure fresh ideas and, best of all, gives you the chance to read hundreds of fabulous and varied ideas from fellow writers who have all followed the same brief and hit the same word count. They are totally brilliant- moving, creative and funny. 

So, in case anyone fancies reading it, here is my entry below for the 6th Annual Valentiny Contest. The Brief: A 214 word (or less) story about bravery. 


The Wibbler

Deep in the depths of the dark, dark fridge

something RED was wibbling and wobbling.

JELLY!

The birthday party was in full swing and SHE was to be the star of the show.

She could sing, she had great moves–easy peasy! But she just couldn’t do it!

Jelly had heard rumours about these birthday celebrations. There were murmurs from the sausage rolls and panic from the pizzas; something about the star of the show having a rather unhappy ending…

Jelly wibbled with confusion and wobbled with uncertainty. Everyone sounded happy. Shrieks of laughter floated outside the door. How bad could this be?

Jelly stopped her wibbling and stood FIRM. It was time to be brave!

But next door in the deep freeze, Ice-cream was having a MELTDOWN! She heard worried whispers…

“Be brave, Ice-cream!”

“Stop being drippy – no tears from the star of the show!”

Jelly quivered with delight. Ice-cream was the star of the show too! She didn’t have to face this alone.

It was time! The door flung open and hands reached in.

Jelly held FIRM. Next to her, Ice-cream appeared. He was frozen firm too except…one little drip dropped onto the plate.

Jelly nudged him.

“Don’t worry Ice-cream. We’re together. Time to be brave!

Besides, how bad could this be?”

Thursday, 18 February 2021

Why Writing is like Exercise: A reflection.

For those who don’t know me , I have two main ways that I spend my free time outside my

family and caring commitments. The first is reading and writing stories for children- a labour of love-

and the second is fitness- which most of the time just feels like labour.

Although this feels like two very different ways to spend my time, if there is one thing I’ve learnt

during my four year writing journey is that they, in fact, are not that different at all. For one, fitness

requires a lot of GRIT, something that surely no writer needs…do they?


So here are some reasons why, for me, writing is like exercise:


Welcome to the long game: Grit, determination, motivation, perseverance, and discipline. These are

all things that you need to show up for a workout day after day, month after month and they are all

the things you are going to need if you are serious about getting your writing out there. Of course,

there will be some massive highs; from the exhilaration of pounding the pavement with uplifting

music blaring through your headphones to escaping into the magical worlds you are conjuring up in

your head. However, the reality is that muscles strengthen and tone through the repetition of key

moves; squat…squat…squat…redraft…redraft…redraft…and even then, it may take some time for the

scales to tip in your favour.


Don’t forget to Warm-Up: This is a classic mistake that I have made over and over again when it

comes to both fitness and writing. To allow your mind and body to reach its full potential, ease

yourself in gently. Allowing ten minutes for free writing may unlock your voice or your next plot

point. Sceptical? Yes, so was I! Until I tried it and found some of my best ideas came from a timed

warm-up or prompt. Who’d have thought it? And if nothing comes of it..well, it’s less painful than a

pulled muscle.


Shake it up: It doesn’t take long for the body to get used to one type of exercise. In the same way

you might be a die-hard aerobics fan, you might be dead set on the genre you want to write. That’s

totally fine but never be afraid to shake it up and try new things. Poetry? A short story? Flash fiction?

A different age-group? You may surprise yourself and add a new string to your bow!


Together vs Alone: Okay, so we all know writing is a solitary activity but when this tips into isolation,

is it going to reap the best results? When someone caught me at the school gates one morning and

asked if they could join me on my run, my legs turned to jelly. Why? Because I knew they were going

to push me right out of my comfort zone and challenge me to up my game. This led to me joining a

local fitness group where suddenly I had an instructor who knew how to get the best out of me and

a whole community to socialise and share the burn with. Suddenly workouts were so much more

fun! With brilliant writing communities like WriteMentor, there’s no need to feel like you’re alone.

Seek feedback, hone your craft, hang out with like-minded people and IMPROVE!


BUT BECAREFUL…


Eyes on your own: Although I have built up a decent level of fitness, I live just outside a village

where there’s a huge surf culture and parents compete in triathlons for fun! Even after training for

months to do a half marathon, I had to endure people steaming past me on the actual day while I

hobbled along- demoralising huh? Yet, I still reached the finish line, was awarded the same medal as

everyone else and got a healthy sense of achievement for completing something I never thought I

could. Comparing your journey to someone else’s isn’t going to do anything but evoke negative

emotions and, unlike a triathlon, writing isn’t a race. It’s about getting your very best work into the

hands of deserving young readers whether it takes four years or forty. So, let’s focus on that!


Soak up the small successes: Whatever your end goal is, this journey, at times, can feel like an

insurmountable mountain. Break it down into small steps and celebrate each milestone; a

completed draft, good feedback, an extra lap or an improved time. It will help you carry on.


Just one more push: Can’t do it? Had enough of edits? Just one rejection too many? The writing

journey is as gruelling as the toughest of workouts but you’ve got this. Dig deep, take a breath (or a

rest), seek encouragement and give it one…more…try. Everything you’ve got! When you’ve done

your absolute best, you’ll know.

Monday, 7 December 2020

Ho! Ho! Ho! Daddy's Christmas Beard- Susanna Hill's Holiday Treat Contest Entry 2

 And because I'm just love the festive season and writing fun, festive stories, here is my second entry:

Daddy’s Christmas Beard

My dad has chose to grow a beard,

Don’t you think that’s really weird?

Prickly, scratchy hedgehog stubble...

It’s caused a heap of awful trouble.


For one, it’s scratchy, sharp and rough.

Two, he looks a frightful scruff.

Three, he’s got a cream moustache,

And four, just look! There’s blobs of mash!


It’s pretty grim but that’s not all,

for when December comes to call...

Dad’s sprays his beard silver grey

to look like Santa in his sleigh,


My friends all laugh and point and shout,

I need someone to help me out.

And so I write, “If I behave…


Santa, give my dad a shave!”


S.C writes back, “Ah, no can do.

Beards are fine, I have one too!”

And so my wish goes up in smoke,


This bushy beard’s a Christmas JOKE!


UNTIL…


whilst flying past a chimney spire,

It’s Santa’s beard that catches fire…

He rushes round, “Can I enquire...

is your father’s beard for hire?”


I gape at Santa’s beardy mess,

My Dad can help by saying ‘YES!’

He does-so Santa makes our day,

You are so kind...

jump in my sleigh!”


I can’t believe it – off we fly,

we soar across the starry sky,

whizzing down each tall chimney,

to leave wrapped presents by the tree.


The greatest time I’ve ever had,

comes from this beard I thought was bad,

So dad can keep his grey haystack…


but Santa never gives it back!


Ho! Ho! Ho! It's Susanna Hill's Fabulous 'Holiday Treat' Contest

 Merry Christmas everyone!🎄🎅🤶

Here's hoping we can close a challenging year with a bit of festive cheer. 

One thing that always gives me some festive cheer as a writer is participating in Susanna Hill's Annual Holiday Treat Contest, which is now in it's 10th year.

With my double entry winning me an honourable mention and a place in the final last year, as well as coming ninth in this year's Halloweensie contest, there's no pressure or anything...

But seriously, I've spoken before about how much joy these writing contests give me. They are super fun and I often find that a short contest entry often paves the way to a full picture book idea.

So without further ado, here is my first entry below. I really hope you enjoy reading it:


Elf Tidings Headlines -Rudolph’s Cold

BREAKING NEWS-DISASTER!

There’s bad news – you must be told!

Christmas may be...CANCELLED

for Rudolph’s got a cold.


His nose is even redder,

Loud sneezes can be heard,

Can he guide the Christmas sleigh?

No way! Don’t be absurd!


We MUST find a replacement

Who else can smash the task

of whizzing right round planet Earth?

There’s NO ONE we can ask!


Let’s post an ad:


PLEASE HELP US!

A sleigh guider we seek…


And someone comes! A dragon;

Magnificent and sleek.


But Santa’s not as sure as us,

Thank you but -oh no!

If a dragon comes to help...

she’ll melt our North Pole snow!”


Next there comes a unicorn,

My horn’s a guiding light,

My sparkling wings are fabulous,

I’ll lead you through the night.”


Santa slowly strokes his beard,

You’re perfect for the job…

but it simply doesn’t feel right.

I miss my Rudolph – sob!”


But someone else has seen the ad:

A witch who offers aid,

Santa frowns, “You cannot fly…”

He seems a bit afraid.


The witch whisks out her cauldron.

Just you wait and see.

Take me to the patient.

Right now! Immediately!”


Soak his hooves in honey

Put menthol on his chest,

Drink this potion, Rudolph,

Get some proper rest!”


BREAKING NEWS-next morning:

Good news- you must be told!

Rudolph’s woke up right as reign...

he’s right back in the fold!


A witch’s help saved Christmas.

Her magic was pure gold,

Her gift was simply priceless…


she’s cured the common cold.



Friday, 2 October 2020

Fall Frenzy Entry

 It's that time of year again when the writing contests start to roll round and what better than to spend a stormy autumn day curled up writing an entry. 

This year's Fall Frenzy has asked kidlit writers to write 200 words of a poem or story based on a range of a pictures. As I love all things spooky and Halloween, this is what I chose and my entry is below. 


Tabitha's Friend

Amid bracken and soil and crispy, fall leaves,
a witchling called Tabitha conjures and weaves...
a spell - for one reason - to gift her a friend.
A friend who, till now, has been only pretend. 
This friend is a pumpkin head - all that she has -
for a witchling like Tabs with her spooky PIZAZZ
is too much for the kids in the class at her school
and to Tabs they've been horrible, hurtful and cruel. 
If only they knew what her magic could do -
what potions and charms she could easily brew,
what fun they could have - from wearing witch hats...
to conjuring brooms to go flying with bats. 

But no, they don't want that! So Tabs lifts her chin.
and seeks solitude with her homemade pumpkin.
And once he's alive, they'll be best friends for ever.
And no one will take him away from her - NEVER!

Amid bracken and soil and crispy, fall leaves,
a witchling called Tabitha conjures and weaves...
a spell - for one reason - to gift her a friend,
for a friend always makes such a good, happy end.


Saturday, 12 September 2020

The Chapters of Chasing Dreams: Part 5-Playing the Long Game

It was all going so well...

and then the second quarter of 2020 happened...

bringing lockdown with one hand and taking my writing time with the other. And, as the months have dragged on, things have seemed to go from bad to worse. On top of having barely any waking hours to  create new things (writing early or late just doesn't work for me), my six month roll of writing successes dried up, the same manuscripts failed to list in further competitions and, after finishing my year long writing course- no agent is responding to my submissions. (Which I keep reminding myself is to be completely expected and better than a NO!)

So what happens next when the hope starts draining out of your plans? I gave this a lot of thought as I jogged the length of our local two-mile beach this morning. 

1) Keep Perspective

Writing is something I love to do and want to do full-time but not being able to do it is absolutely nothing compared to what 2020 has bought to others this year. Being thankful and grateful is something I aim to be everyday - including being aware of how lucky I am to spend able to my Saturday mornings running on a beach! 

Plus lockdown has bought a lot of positive changes too - more time with my family, a slower pace, more appreciation for things we take for granted. 

2)Figure out what I Want to Achieve

I mean, publication, is the dream, right? Watching as talented illustrators bring your story to life, holding that proof copy and finished product in your hand. I have friends who are going through this amazing process right now. But is it why I write? No!
This week has been a reawakening. Having lost myself in the doldrums of routine and the demands of parenting, being able to return to writing during the school day and then being free to spend evenings and weekend focussed on my family, is the dream. I'm lucky that my work is currently minimal and flexible. And, as I lost myself in a new chapter book manuscript this week - a manuscript that centres around a topic that currently isn't selling-I remembered how intoxicating and enthralling it is to let a magical world pour out of your head, how joyous it is to meet new characters and how satisfying it is to achieve a full-formed story that has come from your own imagination. This is therapy! It's what makes me feel alive.

This has brought me back to a question that Stuart White, who founded the awesome WriteMentor, posed on Twitter a few weeks back:

Would you rather be able to write for the rest of your life but never get published or get published but never be able to write again. 

At the time, it was a question I simply couldn't answer, but this morning it was clear. After a week of typing away, of living out my ideas...how could I ever not want to do it, whatever the outcome.

Which means...

I have to see publication as a bonus. As a looming possibility on the horizon. 


3) So Keep Doing it Your Way.

When you are jogging straight across a beach, illusions of the mind, of mist and of space makes it feel that you are never going to reach those cliffs at the end. Yet, as long as you keep jogging, walking, limping or crawling you will! That's where you are heading, that's the goal and only if you stop, will not reach it! But what if I don't head straight for those cliffs? What if I change direction? Or zig-zag across the sand or stop for a paddle in the frothy surf? I may or may not get to the cliffs but I'm having a jolly fun time. 

Last year, I trained hard for a half-marathon. I stopped enjoying my runs and, although I just about completed my goal, it made me ill. After that I was forced to pair right back...and found my enjoyment of just plodding again. 

So maybe I'll keep writing that manuscript that probably won't sell. Maybe I'll stop to socialise with some writing friends or hang out on social media. Maybe I'll keep doing those courses or try some new styles. It's more of a fun journey than pounding those keys in a rush to press send. 

It doesn't mean I lack motivation or dedication. It doesn't mean I'm not achieving. It means I'm doing this for me, in a way that will give me more joy and fulfilment instead of stress and panic. 

Lockdown has affected everyone. Agents are busy looking after current clients. People are furloughed and worried. Let's take some time out to figure out what's really important to us. As Stuart again always tells us; focus on the processes, not the outcomes- something it is so easy to get caught up in. 

4) Protect your Mental Health

So now I've re-realised that as long as I am writing, I am happy. And that brings me to the place where I can continue to make the right decisions for me. Submitting and showcasing my work is something I still want to do but is no longer the priority. Now we are at the time of year when things begin to happen again and competitions open their doors, what's the best thing to do...for me. 

Last year I was lucky enough to shortlist in both the PB Prize (my third attempt) and the WMCNA. As these opportunities roll round again, should I re-enter? Part of me hoped that I wouldn't need to because my summer goal was to gain representation from an agent. But, that was a pre-lockdown goal and the goalposts have changed. 

If I'm happy just writing, do I need to enter myself into the same competitions and put myself under the possible stress of not achieving the same result as last year? Will the fear of not being re-listed have a negative effect on my mental health and my craft? Is it a sure fire marker that I have failed to progress and achieve this year...when in fact we've all been coping, adapting and striving?

No, I don't have to! I may well do, because the positives that can come from these fabulous opportunities should not be overlooked, BUT if I do it will be with the calm understanding that it is writing, not the winning, that makes me happy. That just being able to write for the, hopefully, long and foreseeable future is what's important and something that I don't want to take for granted again because who knows how long it's going to last for this time? Just like running, a long journey means you weather the clouds, the sun...and the battering wind!

Life is short- spend it doing something you love. 

That's why, I'm in it for the long game. 

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

The Joy of Writing Contests

Writing competitions are a great opportunity to showcase your work but I'd never realised how entering a writing contest with a specific brief could be so enjoyable and so instrumental in developing your skill as a writer.

It wasn't until the Autumn that I heard, via my critique partner, about Susanna Hill's Halloweensie contest Link to blog. Susanna is a children's author based in the US and hosts an annual Halloweensie (October), Holiday Treat (December) and Valentiny (February) contest through her blog. The 2019 brief for Halloweensie was to post a children's Halloween story of 100 words that included the words, TRICK, COBWEB and POTION.
The fact that the task was so specific and so tight on the wordcount sent me into an instant panic. I had literally no forthcoming ideas at all, let alone an idea that would be stand-out or different. Convinced I couldn't do it, I descended into a sulk and gave up on the idea of entering.

And then, on the final evening before the deadline, the grim determination that keeps every writer writing began to flicker. As I sat there musing on the sofa, a passing comment from my husband about gender stereotype gave me the spark of an idea. Could I possibly give this a go?
So I spent the evening scribbling before entering the following piece:


My Mummy’s a WITCH!” announced Anna, wide-eyed.
It’s a secret she keeps but I know cause I’ve spied...”
Our home’s PACKED with cobwebs, the corners are full.
She knits them at night with her sparkly wool.
There’s jarfuls of coloured, bright, magical potions,
under the bed hidden next to her lotions.
And tonight’s Halloween- I said ‘trick please, no treat.’
Mum twitched her nose and black bats filled the street.”
But Anna’s been fooled, you should never assume.
In the Halloween skies flies her dad on his broom.

To be honest, I was just relieved I had cobbled something together and was subsequently amazed to find out that, out of 324 entries, I had received an honourable mention and just missed out on the final. It was definitely the boost I needed to rise to the next challenge; the Holiday Treat contest where one of my entries reached the final and the other receiving an honourable mention. 

The Choice of a Tree

Orla
thought that
a real Christmas Tree was
rather like the ghost of Christmas present.
Along with the angel on top, it watched over you for one
year only; a silent guardian guilded with glitz and gold it didn’t really need.
In
past years
they had chosen
proud ones, tall and regal,
that had loomed over formal family dinners,
jolly, round ones for frivolous festive fun and simple, understated ones
for the quieter, stripped back years that held hushed moments of golden, glowing joy.
But this
year Orla wanted
none of the above.
Her Grandad had gone and their
holiday treat of choosing their seasonal watchman
from a field full of fresh pine felt as hollow as his empty, unfilled chair.
Until,
there, alone,
set apart from the others,
Orla saw the tiniest, droopiest,
most doleful Christmas tree she had ever seen in her life.
At once she felt it’s pain and knew they could offer each other comfort.
We
can’t have that tree!”
her mother said but Orla insisted
and soon it was chopped and taken home,
banished to her bedroom where Orla decorated it with
her Grandad’s cherished ornaments that had adorned his trees in years gone by.
And,
sitting in
sombre silence
together, watching the stars that
Orla hoped held her lost, loved one, she relived

her favourite memories of Christmas’ past whilst her
Christmas tree companion offered glistening lights of comfort- until
with disintegrating branches
and fallen
needles, it
faded away,
nudging Orla
towards her future.


The Gingerbread Sleigh

The day is drawing nearer,
for our yearly Christmas treat.
We’re heading off to Grandma’s
to whip up something sweet.

A gooey, sticky biscuit house,
with walls of gingerbread.
And a roof that’s draped in icing;
white and green and red.

We cover it in sweeties,
Pipe windows on, then doors.
And roll some golden marzipan
to carpet all the floors.

But my brother is not happy.
We do this every year!”
So Granny gives him full control.
Make something else, my dear!”

My brother looks delighted
(though I am not too keen).
He cuts out complex templates
and pipes a background scene.

Till, finally, I come on board
and help to mix and weigh
and bake and glue his good idea…

a jolly Christmas sleigh.

It stands so proud and regal
Piped with gleaming gold.
But still, it’s needing something more
and so we start to mould…

We sculpt and shape the marzipan,
we work till they appear.
We paint, then add the antlers...
a fleet of nine reindeer.

Our holiday treat is finished;
a sleigh of gingerbread,
but we never get to eat it...


for next day the sleigh has fled!

And still the neighbours whisper
about the strange-shaped sight...
a biscuit sleigh with reindeer
flying out into the night.


Moving into the New Year my luck seemed to change. My Valentiny entries didn't get anywhere. Neither did my #50PreciousWords entry run by Vivian Kirkfield . But although receiving recognition for your writing is always a wonderful thing, for me the contests are now about building ideas and skills as a writer as well as being rather addictive. So much so that one of my ideas is now a fully fledged picture book manuscript which has been longlisted in a competition.

For those who would like to read them, here are my Valentiny and #50Precious Words entries:

Crazy, foolish love  (Brief: Curiosity theme, 214 words max)
I’m hiding upstairs!
It’s that smoochy love day
of red hearts and flowers
when mum and dad say,

I love you! I love you!”
I love you, you’re mine!”
They kiss and they cuddle,
Oh sweet Valentine!”

Yuck!

Pass me the puke bowl,
It’s sickly sweet,
Can they just- please - for my sake
be super DISCREET?

But look at these animals
doing the same!
How goofy and foolish,
Ugh, love is insane!

Did you know that frogs sing
to the girls they admire?
Some spiders dance,
whilst the birds form a choir...

declaring devotion
to all who can hear,
while the bowerbird builds
- he’s a twig engineer!

Bustards puff up -
they’re inflating balloons;
bright red and shiny
like bums of baboons.

Dance flies bring presents,
wrapped up in thread,
Beware praying mantis
they’ll bite off your head!

Peacock’s a show-off
with feathers all fanned,
whilst pufferfish draws
pretty patterns in sand.

Why do they do this?
Be silly for love?
I swear when I’m grown...

there’ll be no LOVEY-DOVE!

No dancing, no singing,
no balloons and no feathers.
No cuddles and kisses
at my get-togethers.

We may play some football,
We may watch TV…

Oh, darling boy,
Just you wait and see!


Pea-po
Pea-po.
I spy pea.
She’s crouched behind
my cup of tea.
Pea, hi! Why so shy?
You look as though
you’re going to cry.
Is it to do with…
my mum’s pie?
She’ll pop you in and
then you’ll…

GULP!

I see!
Don’t worry!
We’ll turn you into...
ESCAPEE!


So what's next? Well the Spring fling contest of course! Another new one on me with an interesting brief: write a 150 word story max about a springtime GIF.

The result is below and I'm really looking forward to entering it.


The Blossom Avalanche

Three little yellow chicks
bounce upon a branch,
happily creating
a blossom avalanche.

Petals fall like raindrops,
swirling round and round.
One excited chickydee
topples to the ground.

Two little yellow chicks,
jumping in a tree,
create a blossom avalanche
for everyone to see.

Cherry pink confetti
floats towards the dirt.
One elated chickydee
falls but isn’t hurt.

One little yellow chick,
dancing on his own,
creates a blossom avalanche,
despite being all alone.

Clouds of silky ovals,
surf upon the air,
One delighted chickydee
isn’t taking care.

No little yellow chicks,
anywhere in sight,
A rosy, dew-dropped carpet,
glistens in the light...


Three little yellow chicks
burst up from below
a royal rug of petals
that fell to earth like snow.

An avalanche of beauty,
the flutter of a wing.
Three little yellow chicks
welcome in the spring. 

I think the point is that you win some and you lose some but the craft of writing can't be lost if you keep at it. Some ideas will shine brighter than others, some will resonate more than others but I know I am a happier, stronger, more confident and a far more social writer than I was before I took the plunge. It's about pushing, not pressure. If it's not for you, walk away. But if you fancy the challenge then give it a go and do your best. What have you got to lose?

Hooray! I received an honourable mention in this years 6th Annual Valentiny Contest run by Susanna Hill

For anyone who is not aware of  Susanna Leonard Hill's  Annual Competitions, they are a fantastic challenge for any children's write...