Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Pitch Perfect - My Day at the Write By the Beach Conference

On Saturday, I attended the Write By the Beach Conference, run by The Beach Hut Writing Academy. It's the third year I've been to this event, with writing chum, Tracy Fells, and I've enjoyed each one, so I thought I'd give you a little taster of what the day was like.

Rather than have us wait around on cold station platforms (as snow had been forecast) my lovely husband offered us a door to door taxi service. How could we refuse! After picking up writer, Liz Eeles, we were chauffeured to the Friends Meeting House in Brighton, where the conference was to be held. Arriving early (and worried there might not be any coffee served until the break) we popped into the nearby Lanes Coffee House, conveniently situated opposite, for a quick cup.

It was the first year the conference had been held in the Friend's Meeting House but, with its high ceilings and spacious meeting room, it proved to be a good choice. The previous two conferences had been held in a lovely townhouse on the Hove seafront, but it had been rather a squeeze to fit everyone in. This venue fitted the bill perfectly.

The lovely Kate Harrison and Laura Wilkinson were our hosts for the day and they did a brilliant job, welcoming people and making sure everything ran smoothly. After saying a quick hello to fellow RNA writing friends, Merryn Allingham, Deirdre Palmer and Sue Griffin, we took our seats for our first speaker. It was Julie Cohen and her talk was Plotting With Post-it Notes. Although I've heard Julie speak on this subject before, she is so engaging that I didn't care and was soon sticking Post-Its into my book with the best of them! It was billed as a fun, interactive workshop and it certainly was. 

The next session I went to was run by Kate Harrison and it was called Pitch Clinic: 7 steps to make your book irresistible. Well, making my book irresistible is pretty important to me at the moment, as I'm at the agent subbing stage, so I was hanging on to Kate's every word! Thankfully, by the end of the session, I realised that I'd already done most of the things Kate had recommended. Just as well, seeing as my submission was already with one of the agents I was seeing later that afternoon.

After a coffee, it was back to the meeting room for a panel talk, where agents from Janklow and Nesbit, Conville and Walsh, DHH Literary Agency, The Bent Agency and David Higham Associates were going to be telling us what was needed to catch their eye with a standout submission. It was really interesting to get an insight into the workings of the different agencies: how many clients they took on through events like this one and how many from the slush pile; what they didn't want to see in a covering letter and what the next trend might be - 'uplit' apparently. 

It was then time for lunch (a delicious Indian buffet) and a chance to have a chat with other writers (although I have to admit my appetite had rather left me as I knew my agent pitch was coming up).

But, before the pitch session, I had another talk to go to. This time, it was Erin Kelly talking about the history of the psychological thriller. For me, it was the highlight of the conference as it was relevant to my writing. In Erin's view, Jane Eyre was the first psychological thriller - she may well be right.

As my pitch session was in the middle of the next talk (a choice of either Erinna Mettler's 'Short Stories' or Bridget Whelan's 'Memoirs') I took time out to calm my nerves and look at the book table. I then joined the others outside the room where the pitches were taking place. Strict timekeeping was kept by the ringing of a bell, reminding me of parents' evening, and you could almost feel the nervous energy from those waiting.

Thankfully, the agent I'd chosen to see was absolutely lovely and soon put me at my ease. She'd made notes on things she wanted to discuss about the three chapters and gave me a couple of pointers. Then she told me how much she'd liked what she'd read and asked if I'd send her the rest. I couldn't have been happier. It was also a relief to be told that my covering letter had hit the mark.

Having done my pitch, I could now relax and enjoy the tea break where drinks were accompanied by a choice of the most delicious tray bake cakes I've seen (or tasted). What a treat. The final session was an author panel talk about different types of publishing then, before we knew it, the day had ended and we were on our way home, tired but buzzing from all the information we'd absorbed. 

I really hope the Write By the Beach conference returns next year. If it does, I will definitely be there.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Another Bugbear - the semi-colon

I had no idea just how popular my post on commas would be last week! If you missed it and would like to have a look you can find it here.

In your comments here on my blog, on Twitter and on Facebook, several of you mentioned that the incorrect use of the semi-colon (or semicolon) was something that irritated you. For me, it's not so much the incorrect use of the semi-colon but the use of a comma when a semi-colon should be used.

If you're confused by these fiddly punctuation marks, you're in good company. Most people find them the trickiest to master. My year six class certainly did and, if they moved on to secondary school with an understanding of them, I'd give myself a little pat on the back.

"Just put one in your SATS writing task," I'd beg. "The marker of your paper will think you're a genius!"

So what is a semi-colon?

Basically, it's a type of pause - longer than a comma but not as long as a full stop.

There are two reasons why you would use a semi-colon.


This is the simplest use of the semi-colon. Usually, you'd use a comma to separate items in a list but what if the list is more complicated? More descriptive? This is when you'd use semi-colons.


(simple list) In my bag is a pen, comb, a receipt and a purse.

(more detailed list) In my bag is a red pen with a missing lid; a comb with no teeth; a receipt for a coffee and a beaded purse with no money in it.

Easy peasy!


This is a little harder to explain but bear with me. Many writers make the mistake of using a comma to join two complete sentences. DON'T! This is the dreaded comma splice and, if I see you use it, I will shout SPLICE at you very loudly (something I made my year six children do if they identified one in a list of sentences I'd written on the board).

Look at these two sentences.

The boy pushed open the window.
He climbed in.

We could write them as two separate sentences using full stops.

The boy pushed open the window. He climbed in.

There's nothing wrong with this but, if you look closely, you'll notice that the two sentences are closely linked. The first is about the window being opened and the second is about the boy climbing through it. Because of this, it would be more powerful to link the sentences together with a semi-colon.

The boy pushed open the window; he climbed in. (note: no capital letter is used after the semi-colon.)

So, to recap. They must be two complete sentences and they must be linked by theme or topic to each other if a semi-colon is to be used.

What you MUSTN'T do (sorry to shout again) is use a comma! A comma can only join a sentence with a part of a sentence. If you try to join two complete sentences with a comma, it is a comma splice... arggg! Stand outside my door!

To finish, which one of these sentences is correct?

a) Bonnie is a bad dog; she likes to chase other dogs.

b) My cat is very old, he sleeps most of the day.

c) My husband is good at fixing things; if they're broken.

d) I can hear  traffic outside my window; I'm going to the cinema.

P.S If you say b I might never speak to you again!

The semi-colon is, sadly I feel, going out of fashion. do you ever use it?

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

A Bee in My Bonnet - about commas

Once upon a time, I was an English teacher in a primary school but I expect you already know that. It was a subject I loved and I hope I taught the children well. 

Although it was a private school, we followed the National Curriculum and I like to think that, by the time they left in year 6, most of the kids had a pretty good grasp of the fundamentals of reading and writing.

Some of the elements I had to teach amuse me now. I remember how, in the Key Stage 1 SATS writing tasks, extra marks could be gained by using three adjectives in a row or a plethora of adverbs. Things they would have to unlearn if any went on to become authors! Oh, well.

Somewhat surprisingly, it was punctuation that I really loved teaching in the English lessons. I taught every year group and it was rewarding to know that the child who was about to leave the school in Year 6, knowing how to use a semi-colon, was the same one I'd taught to use a full stop in Year 2.

There was something I had a real bee in my bonnet about though. COMMAS.

A little while ago, I met an old pupil of mine. She was now sixteen but told me she still had my voice in her head whenever she did any writing. I asked her why and she told me it was because to teach sentences with two parts, I used to write a sentence on the board and read it out saying the word comma when I came to the symbol

When evening came, the moon started to rise.
When evening came comma the moon started to rise.

After reading it, I would then get the children to make up their own sentences and say them in the same way. 

She then said, "Do you remember that lesson called, Cut it Out?"

I did. It was to help them to learn how to use two commas to separate a piece of information in the middle of a sentence. I'd write sentences on the board and then get the kids to shout, "Cut it out!" if the sentence made sense without the part enclosed by the commas. If it did, the sentence was properly punctuated.

This is a sentence that would have the children saying the magic words: 

I left the house and, realising I was late, took the short cut. 

If you cut out 'realising I was late', the sentence still makes sense. Which is why I've been surprised to read sentences punctuated like the one below in novels: 

I left the house, and realising I was late, took the short cut. If you cut out 'and realising I was late', the sentence does not make sense.

It was happening so frequently (in traditionally published novels) that I was beginning to doubt myself. How happy I was then to turn to the 'On Writing' column in the March edition of Writing Magazine and find that writing tutor, Tony Rossiter, had covered this exact subject. With relief, I read the paragraph where he explains that it must always be possible to remove the information between two commas without damaging the sentence. He then uses an example just like mine. Phew - thanks Tony, for saving my sanity.

He also mentions the use of two sentences joined together with a comma instead of a semi-colon - the dreaded comma splice.

It might be better not to get me started on that one!

Do you have any bees in your bonnet about punctuation?

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

A Fortnight is Not Enough - Guest Post Rosemary Goodacre

How exciting to add another RNA writing friend to my list of guest bloggers. Today, it's the turn of Rosemary Goodacre, whose debut novel, A Fortnight is Not Enough, was published this week by American publisher, Books to Go Now.

Wanting to find out more about her book, I asked Rosemary a few questions.

Can you remember where you were and what you were doing when the idea for A Fortnight is Not Enough first came to you?

Often, during a memorable holiday, I enjoy a fantasy about not returning home.

You’ve met me in an elevator. Can you convince me to buy your novel before it reaches the ground floor?

Have you ever enjoyed a holiday so much you couldn’t bear to go home? When Imogen meets Jules in Provence her three days there extend to a fortnight, and then she deliberately misses her flight home…

How long did it take you to write?

I had the initial idea for a long while before I decided how it would end and chose the setting. Once I had all the ingredients it only took a few weeks, as it’s a novella of about 20,000 words.

Are you a planner or a pantster?

I find I need an outline plan before I start. I generally do a chapter breakdown, to decide if there’s enough story, and have an idea how it will end. I’m not an obsessive planner, though, and you need to be prepared for the characters to suddenly develop and take you in a new direction.

What was the hardest scene to write?

Imogen has an old boyfriend, Luke, who wants her to return home. She was attracted to him, but now she has met Jules she becomes aware of the flaws in Luke’s character.

When you write a character, do you have an image of a real-life person in your head?

Sometimes I do. It can help you begin a story but in different circumstances the person might take unexpected actions.

What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

When I’m not actually sitting at the computer I enjoy belonging to writers’ groups, for social events and to keep abreast of industry developments. I belong to The Write Place creative writing school and the New Writers Scheme of the Romantic Novelists’ Association. Both provide stimulation, advice and encouragement.

I also do voluntary work one day a week for a charity which trains disabled adults. I take a monthly half day walk with a group through the attractive local Kent countryside. I also belong to Friends of the Earth, because I’m very concerned about what we’re doing to the planet, and anxious we don’t spoil it for future generations. I love travel, particularly to the continent, and enjoy classical music.

What does your family think of your writing?
My husband doesn’t normally read novels, and my sons are more likely to read action-packed ones than romance. They’re impressed that I’ve been published, though. My husband read my novella just before it was released and found a mistake in the spelling of a place name, luckily when it could still be corrected.

What next for Rosemary Goodacre?

I have recently completed a full length novel entitled The Day of the Dolly Bird, which is a romance set in London in the Swinging Sixties. It has received a largely encouraging report from a professional novelist. I am currently working on a romance set in World War I.

Thank you so much, Wendy, for inviting me to your blog. The visit has been very enjoyable.


Rosemary Goodacre has worked in the computer industry and teaching, besides raising a family. She loves writing and has had short stories published, besides her novella, A Fortnight is not Enough.

Her historical novel Pleasure Train Polka (set in an Austrian spa town in summer 1914) was shortlisted in the 2014 Write Time competition run by Corazon Books.

Rosemary has recently completed a romantic novel set in the 1960s entitled The Day of the Dolly Bird. Currently she is working on a historical novel set in World War I.

Rosemary belongs to the New Writers Scheme of the Romantic Novelists’ Association. She is interested in travel, languages and classical music. She lives in Kent, England.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

The Week that Changed My Life

Each year, I approach this week in February with mixed feelings - for it was in the half term week of 2011 that my life was to change in a way I couldn't have predicted.

This blog post I wrote two years ago, gives more details.

The Day My Life Changed Direction

In a nutshell, the end of the school holiday would see my teaching career come to an abrupt end after the sudden closure of the school I was teaching at. On the following Monday, when the new half term began, instead of walking into my classroom and starting the day's English lesson, I would find myself walking my dog along the river bank, wondering what on earth I was going to do with my life.

That day, as Bonnie and I stood watching the swans that had gathered at the edge of the water, I remember how adrift I felt. I was no longer a teacher but it would be another year before I could call myself a writer. 

Of course, on that first day without a job, I had no idea that an exciting new phase of my life was about to begin - that misfortune would turn to opportunity and that it would be the start of a new career. All I knew was that something I'd loved had come to and end. I felt let down by the way the closure of the school had been handled and I had difficulty coming to terms with it. 

If only I'd known, as I looked for answers in that flowing river, that it would all turn out just fine.That, seven years on, I would be writing fiction for some of the best national women's magazines. Not only that but I would go on to write two novels (one of which would win a major competition) and publish three story collections of which I'd be immensely proud.

These are my two stories in The People's Friend Spring Special, which is in the shops as I write.

But, of course, I didn't know any of this at the time. it was something yet to come. 

As with most things, the new path I've taken hasn't always been a smooth one. Just last year, I had a major setback that shook my faith in my writing. I had two choices. I could let it get me down or pick myself up and use it as an opportunity to make something even better happen... just as I did before. I did the latter.

I'm glad I did.

My novel is now with agents and publishers. It might lead to something big... or it might not. Whatever happens, it's another turning point.

And it's exciting.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Ten Things You Learn Once You've Finished Your Novel

1. The writing of the novel is only the beginning.

2. Everything takes a very long time. Not easy, if you are impatient by nature.

3. You will doubt your ability over and over again.

4. You must expect setbacks but find the strength to stay positive.

5. You will start to wonder if the story that's been in your heart and mind for months will ever be read.

6. You will find it hard to settle to anything until you know your novel's fate.

7. You will be eternally grateful for your supportive writing friends.

8. Your email will become both friend and foe.

9. You will compare your novel to everything your read.

10. You will wonder why you ever embarked on this route.


You'll also learn that you're totally unprepared for the enormous sense of achievement you'll feel after you've typed THE END.

Enjoy that feeling... you've earned it!

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Inspiration Behind the Story - The Beloved Sea

"You never blog about the inspiration behind your stories anymore," someone said to me recently and, when I looked back on my blog, I realised it was true. I think the reason I haven't is that on the weeks when I've had a story in a magazine, I've had other news to tell or a lovely guest has visited my blog for an interview. 

To rectify this, I'm going to talk today about the inspiration behind my story in this week's People's Friend Special, called The Beloved Sea (Yay, they didn't change the title!). 

The story was the result of a holiday in Cornwall my husband and I had last year. During our week there, we (and Bonnie of course) walked a lot of the South West Coastal Path and one walk took us to the picturesque village of Mousehole - full of windy cobbled streets and granite cottages bustling around a harbour of colourful fishing boats. Despite its loveliness, our walking book told us that there was a sad story linked to Mousehole for, over thirty five years earlier, a tragedy had befallen the village.

It was on Saturday 19th December that disaster struck. The MV Union Star had suffered engine failure and was being swept towards the rocky coastline. A distress call was put out and the Penlee lifeboat, 'Solomon Browne', was launched from the lifeboat station near Mousehole. Sadly, after four people had been rescued from the stricken ship, neither vessels survived the storm and all involved lost their lives.

Wanting to find out more, my husband and I went to visit the disused lifeboat station at Penlee Point which has been left as a memorial to the brave lifeboat crew of the Solomon Browne.

I found the story very moving, especially after finding out that, within a day of the disaster, enough people from the village had volunteered to form a new lifeboat crew.

As we walked back along the coastal path, watching the waves pound the rocks below, I decided that when I got back from my holiday, I would incorporate what I'd learnt into a story of my own. 

Using the village we'd walked around as my backdrop, I wrote a present day story looking at how a young wife coped with being married to a lifeboatman - one whose family has been touched by the tragedy of 1981. 

It was a story of bravery, family loyalty and, above all, love.

That story was The Beloved Sea.