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.


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!


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.

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...