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Updated: 2018-03-05T14:08:25.577-08:00


The Yellow Room 500 Word Flash Competition Winners


Flash Fiction Helps You Write Better says the caption on the image I've selected for this post. I certainly believe that's true. I think the essence of a great piece of fiction is what you don't say. Allow your reader to work it out for themselves and that way your reader will gain much more satisfaction from the story. Nowhere demonstrates this more completely than the Flash Fiction piece. There are so few words, there isn't room for background detail, lots of dialogue, character development or plot. The writer is aiming for a snapshot of a moment in time. The reader is left wondering, What's really going on here? It's what isn't said that's the most important thing.Nothing demonstrates this more perfectly than the first three prizewinning stories, Brain Freeze by Freya Morris, Missing by Carol Warham and About Life by Amanda Huggins.It took me a long time to judge this competition. You'd have thought it would have taken me less time, as the stories were less than 500 words each. However, I had to allow them to stew a while. Brain Freeze didn't grab me as much as some of the other entries on the first reading. Then I couldn't get the images out of my head and I wondered why. On re-reading, I noticed so much more was going on than I first realised. I then began to dwell more on the central character and what his life was like. At first glance it is a story about a man sitting on a bench eating an ice cream. Then we learn that he should be at work. He is a schoolmaster and should have been taking assembly that morning. So what has happened to make this usually responsible and upstanding man neglect his duties in this way? I'll let you read the story so that you can make up your own mind. Each time I read this story I gained more insight. A superb piece of writing. So simple, yet so effective.Missing was another slow-burner. The first time I read this story, I wasn't sure what was going on. I almost completely missed the point. It was that last line: 'In the middle of the playground lies a small shiny, red buckle shoe, forgotten, lost.' that grabbed my attention. I couldn't get the image out of my head. On re-reading this story, I noticed more and more detail. In fact, it was the attention to detail that had me hooked. This is a highly atmospheric piece and there are several powerful images. The way the writer personifies the elements such as the breeze made this particular reader sit up and take note. Stylistically, this is a difficult one to pull off, but Carol did so, effortlessly. This story has great resonance and tugs strongly on the reader's emotions.About Life drew me in the first time I read it. That first line: 'The fields are crouched low in the winter sunlight' is wonderful. I knew from the outset that this writer has a wonderful feel for language; something I always look for in a winning story. Her characters leap off the page and we immediately empathise with both of them. Again, this writer pays great attention to detail. Every gesture; every word; every action has significance. Amanda Huggins doesn't have to tell us how these characters feel about the tragedy in their lives or how they'll cope in the future, she shows us with unflinching honesty. The ending could have been clichéd, but Amanda shies away from the easy option and creates a more believable character as a result.Tantric Twister by Tracy Fells deserves a special mention, because it has an excellent twist.  Again, both the characters and the situation are real and true. The story also raises a smile and brings hope. Recklessness, fun and sex aren't just for the young, but also for the young at heart. I also love the title!Judging this competition has taught me so much about Flash Fiction and has made me eager to write more Flash pieces myself. Thank you to all who took part.[...]

The Yellow Room Flash Competition Shortlist


I've now drawn up a shortlist from the twenty-eight longlisted Flash pieces entered in The Yellow Room 500 Word Flash Competition:

About Life
Black Soles
Brain Freeze
Carrying a Torch
He Brought Me Orchids
Identity Crisis
Talking About Horses
Tantric Twister
Underneath Her Clothes
Where There's Life

I have also been a guest on two blogs this past week. Susan Howe kindly asked me to write an article about the WriteOnSite Competition, which you can read here. I was also delighted to be interviewed by Vanessa Gebbie for her blog. Both helped to give sales of my short story collection, Twisted Sheets, a bit of a boost over the weekend.

I hope to be able to announce the Flash Competition winners by the end of this week.

The Yellow Room Flash Competition Longlist


Better late than never... Here are the 28 longlisted stories in The Yellow Room Autumn Flash Competition:Journey TracesUnderneath Her ClothesThe BoxBaobabWhere There's LifeBlack SolesBrain Freeze After The Event The BridgeBallAbout LifeMissingClosing The DoorCarrying A TorchAwakeThe ToothSugar and SpiceLost and FoundCutsTollingMineHe Brought Me OrchidsGranny SmithTalking About HorsesPenny For The GuyIdentity CrisisTantric TwisterI hope to have the shortlist drawn up by tomorrow.In other news.... I've just received my first 5 star review on Amazon for my short story collection, Twisted Sheets.[...]

Twisted Sheets on Kindle!


I'm thrilled to announce that I've bitten the bullet and published my short story collection, Twisted Sheets on Kindle. I decided to have a go at publishing it yesterday evening and couldn't believe how easy it was to upload and create a cover via Amazon Kindle Publishing Direct.

I had the collection all ready to go, as I'd entered it in The Scott Prize last year, then submitted it to Cinnamon Press. The latter gave me great feedback and I came close to being taken on by them. This gave me confidence in the collection as a whole. Most of the short stories in the collection have either previously been published or have done well in short story competitions. Several of them are prizewinning stories.

Today has been great fun, as I organised a last minute launch party on Facebook. There was lots of virtual champagne, canapés and laughter! Thanks to those of you who came along to wish me well!

The e-book went on sale at around 8pm yesterday and already it's Number 34 in the Kindle Bestselling Short Stories Chart alongside the likes of Terry Pratchett and Victoria Hislop. It's also Number 68 in the Kindle Bestselling Literary Fiction Chart just above Maeve Binchy! I can't believe how many people have purchased it already. I'm now hoping I get some positive reviews.


Time... and Time Again....


Most days I ask myself the question, what would I do more of if I had the time? The answer is always the same. I'd read more and I'd write more. So what do I spend most days doing? Reading? Writing? No! My days disappear in vague swathes of nothingness, it seems.

I admit I spend more time on Facebook than I should. I also watch far too many TV dramas. I have thought about banning both from my daily life, but then I would feel strangely cut off from the world.

My only appointment to write (when I turn up at the computer at a set time) occurs most Saturdays at 5.30pm. I am addicted to the Write-Invite competitions, as most of you know. That way I know I will write something new at least once a week.

This is all very well for short stories, but for someone who dreams of getting a novel published, this isn't too helpful. Most weeks I ask myself whether I am cut out to be a novelist. I am an impatient person. I like to complete a task in the shortest time possible and, in the case of writing a piece of fiction, get it out there to earn its keep as soon as possible.

Novels don't work like that. They rarely come fully formed. I struggle with writing longer pieces of fiction. I tend to lose my way. I fall in love with my characters, but they're soon hanging around not knowing what to do with themselves. A bit like me, really. Do I get that admin finished or shall I nip out to Sainsbury's for a few bits? Shall I read for an hour or put some washing in and hoover up? Oh, and I really should get that critique finished and promote The Yellow Room a bit more. You see how it goes?

This is why I can't keep up-to-date with my blog. I usually end up moaning about where the times goes or about not being able to finish anything!

Goal setting and list making has never really been my thing. I go through phases of being disciplined like this, then it all falls apart. I hate anything regimented or set in stone. I guess I'm a bit of a drifter and a dreamer. Oh well... time to get the tea on.....

The Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival Part Two


I think Saturday was my favourite day of the whole festival. Once more the sun shone and the temperatures soared. I made the mistake of wearing my ‘too long’ hippy-look maxi and spent much of the day turning to the person behind me (usually male) to politely inform them that they were standing on my dress.  After a hearty breakfast at The Cairn, Sally and I ventured forth once more to The Old Swan. I was particularly excited about seeing Ian Rankin and couldn’t help thinking of my friend, Sharon (aka Effie Merryl), who would have given her right arm to be there. I wish she had been, for several reasons, but mainly because she could have done the introductions. I now wish I’d been brave enough to speak to Ian when he sat on the next table talking to my ‘new friend’ Lauren Sarno. Oh well!  Ian Rankin was in conversation with William McIlvanney, who, I gathered, was a bit of a legend in the crime writing world. William is from Glasgow, and I did have trouble understanding his broad accent. Apparently, he is the Godfather of Tartan Noir. Ian Rankin’s Rebus novels were inspired by McIlvanney, who treated us to an extract from one of his own gritty books. I was surprised at the literary style, although the violent scene wasn’t to my taste. I don’t really ‘do’ gangsters, preferring my crime to be a little less hard-boiled.  Sally and I then had the good fortune to bump into Carole Blake and her handsome assistant, Tom Witcomb. I was delighted that Carole recognised me from Twitter and Facebook. Sally had met Carole before and had had lunch with her, so they nattered away like old friends. I got so carried away that I totally forgot about which talk we were going to next, so surreptitiously had a glance at my programme to realise I was in danger of missing Val McDermid in conversation with forensic anthropologist, Professor Sue Black. Fortunately, Carole also remembered she had to be somewhere else, so we said our goodbyes. There were no seats remaining in the main part of the ballroom, but lots to spare in the garden room at the back. I was relieved to see two large flat screens right in front of us, so that we could get a good view of the two friends in conversation. I could have listened to their easy banter all day. Sue Black had some fascinating stories to tell, including one in which she was responsible for bringing back two prostitutes’ decapitated heads from Verona to Dundee, where they had the specialist equipment and expertise to help identify them. She had put the buckets containing the decomposing heads into two Gucci bags and had two letters, one in English, one in Italian, explaining why they were in her possession and stating that she could not be physically separated from the heads in case of contaminating the evidence. Her experiences at border controls and customs were hilarious. I think my favourite was when the stewardess on the flight from Verona to Heathrow asked Sue to put the Gucci bags in the overhead luggage rack. Sue refused and showed the stewardess the letter. The stewardess then promptly moved her to Business Class where Sue had a seat as far away from anyone else as possible and was then ignored by the stewardesses for the rest of the flight. She didn’t even receive so much as a glass of water. Val McDermid asked Sue how she came to be interested in bones. Sue explained her fear of rodents and how she’d do anything to avoid having to dissect them. She veered towards a study of anatomy, as a result. I found it amusing that she hadn’t heard of some well known crime authors and books! Sue said there was only one occasion when her work encroached on her personal life and that was when a middle-aged man was dancing with her daughter at her prom. Sue said she watched his hands very closely (having spent a lot of time at work studying images on paedophiles’ hard-drives for identification purposes). It transpired that the man[...]

The Theakston's Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, Harrogate 2013 - Part One


Val McDermid chatting outside the entrance to The Old SwanThis was my third visit to The Harrogate Crime Writers’ Festival. The first time I went to the festival was in 2005 when it was held at The Cedar Court Hotel. Coincidentally, Ruth Rendell was the first speaker I saw that year, too. The second time I attended was in 2006,  and the festival had moved to The Old Swan. The first speaker I saw that year was Kate Atkinson, whose talk was also one of the highlights this year.  Sally 'I Used To Live In Harrogate' ZigmondMy constant companion at all three festivals was Sally (I Used To Live In Harrogate) Zigmond (previously known as That Sally Bloody Zigmond, as she used to win every short story competition going). This was the first year we’d stayed at a hotel for the Crime Writers’ Festival (as Sally used to live in Harrogate, you know and she kindly put me up in her lovely home in previous years) and bought a Weekend Rover Ticket and oh, how much more we got out of the event as a result. We stayed at The Cairn (more of which later). Oh, and before I continue, please don’t think I’m being rude to Sally. We’re at that stage in our friendship where we can say what we like to each other without causing offence (a bit like Ruth Rendell/Jeanette Winterson and Val McDermid/Sue Black, if I dare compare myself to such literary greats). We both arrived in Harrogate on Thursday and naturally aimed straight for the bar at The Cairn and my first Theakston’s of the weekend. From there we made our way to The Old Swan to pick up our goody bags, groaning with free books, which we then had to lug around for the rest of the evening. We were delighted that Denise Mina won the Crime Novel of the Year Award with her ‘really hard won book’ Gods and Beasts, particularly as she was the only female on the shortlist. At the opening party Sally and I stood on the periphery, sipping our pints of Old Peculier and we were just wondering whether we’d ever see anyone we knew, when a pretty blonde lady peered at me with interest and then approached and tentatively asked, ‘Are you Jo Derrick?’. She looked vaguely familiar, so I was thrilled to discover it was none other than Susannah Rickards (winner of The Scott Prize in 2010 with Hot Kitchen Snow, whose work I’d first published in Quality Women’s Fiction some years previously and more recently in The Yellow Room. It transpires that Susannah has written a crime novel and secured a well-known agent who stood just feet away from us (the formidable looking Jane Gregory). It was wonderful to meet Susannah and I lost count of the number of times I bumped into her over the weekend. We ended up spending rather a lot of time together drinking wine and discussing writing in the next three days, which was brilliant. I’m pleased to say we got on like a house on fire! Susanna Rickards On Friday we awoke to another fabulous day weather-wise and excited about seeing one of our literary heroines, Jeanette Winterson interview Ruth Rendell (or Baroness Rendell Of Babergh CBE, as she is otherwise known). It was heart-warming to witness their wonderfully intimate relationship as they shared a fair amount of banter and leg-pulling. I got the impression that Jeanette saw Ruth as something of a mother-figure. She began by telling us how Ruth first gave her refuge in the 1980s when Jeanette needed space to write her second novel, then proceeded to ask Ruth about her writing, which spans a total of fifty years. I did feel rather queasy when the discussion turned to female genital mutilation, a practice which Baroness Rendell is fighting hard to put an end to. All in all, it was a great start to the festival, making me want to revisit the Barbara Vine (the pseudonym Ruth Rendell uses for her psychological crime thrillers) novels in particular.  Now I apologise f[...]

Chocolate Heartache


Every other Wednesday I receive an organic veg box from Riverford. Today was one of those moments when I pick up the box and groan. Not one, but two aubergines! I never know what to do with them apart from put them in a curry or soup. Then I had a bright idea. I have a cookery book by Harry Eastwood, which tells you how to make cakes using vegetables. I quickly scanned the index for 'aubergines' and found Chocolate Heartache cake, using two aubergines. Excellent! I even had the rest of the ingredients (including 300g of 70% chocolate) in my cupboards and just enough eggs. Phew! I haven't finished making it yet, but I'm sure it will taste divine with a cup of tea later.In other news..... I've become a little obsessed with history... specifically the Second World War. This is partly because my unfinished pocket novel is set in that era and I need to do lots of research, and partly because I've just finished Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, which now ranks amongst my top ten reads of all time. Now I'm avidly seeking out novels set in a similar time period (1910 to 1945) and was pleased to discover there are still two Persephone books in my collection I haven't yet read (High Wages by Dorothy Whipple and A Very Great Profession: The Women's Novel 1914-39 by Nicola Beauman). I'm currently reading Dawn Chorus by Joan Wyndham (her diaries are also brilliant!). All this has made me wonder whether I can actually finish the crime novel I'm rewriting for the millionth time or whether I should set about writing an historical novel. It's interesting how our tastes and inclinations change as both a reader and a writer as we get older.Some of you will be relieved to hear that Issue 9 of The Yellow Room goes off to the typesetter this afternoon! I will then revamp the website a little, as I now want to sell PDF versions of some of the earlier issues in order to help cover printing costs. Some subscribers may have noticed that their subscriptions have automatically been cancelled by Paypal. Do not panic! I will contacting all subscribers to let them know the current status of their subscription and when they need to renew.In future, there will only be two windows per year for submitting to The Yellow Room - in September and February. The plan is to publish more competition winners than previously. Payment can now only be a free subscription.[...]

The Yellow Room 1000 Word Spring Competition Longlist


I can't believe how long it's been since I last blogged! I'm also pleased to report how much better I've been feeling since taking a daily dose of Soya Isoflavones!I've been focusing on submitting stories to the women's magazines in the last couple of months, as well as returning to do Write Invite every Saturday. I'm pleased to report that I've had two stories accepted by Woman's Weekly and I've been a runner-up, but not yet a winner, a few times in the Write Invite Competition. I haven't been entering as many short story competitions as last year, but still like to enter my favourite ones like Word Hut and Multi Story.Issue 9 of The Yellow Room should be published this summer. It was put on hold while I gave my office a good de-cluttering. I've also been busy with my son's 18th birthday celebrations (his birthday was on 13th May). I can't believe he's now officially an adult. He's now in the throes of A2 exams.Anyway, without further a do, here is the longlist for latest Yellow Room Competition. I hope to announce the shortlist and the winners in the next few days.A Lesson For The TeacherA Year of RainBeverleyBlessingsBob Marley and A Fear of NeedlesBouncingBrighton Beach SundaysCrossing the BridgeEarth MotherFlaskFull TimeJust A ThoughtLast RespectsLet’s Pretend It’s The RitzMe and DGPeace of MindRebooting Dougie MasonSnap DecisionStars and BeetlesSwamp MonsterSwopping BeadsThe CornerThe Danger of Cake CrumbsThe Good DaughterThe Knot of FaithThe Lost Art of ConversationThe Map of UsThe PonyThe Right CastenetsThe Trouble With VirginsThere Are No ReasonsTo Be The BeachWhite Lilies[...]

From One Extreme To Another


I don't look like the lady in the photograph, but I probably felt just as good when I went for my run this morning. Talk about from one extreme to another. If you read yesterday's post, then you'll know how negative and menopausal I was feeling. I woke up this morning feeling great, despite a few night sweats! Could this be down to the red wine I treated myself to last night? Or could it be the soya milk latte I had? Or the Alpro soya yogurt? Perhaps it's the sunshine? Or is it just a fluke?

I've come to the conclusion that I have to take each day as it comes. I'm a bit of a stickler for routine, so I get upset when I don't feel up to doing the things I usually do on a set day (like always running three miles on a  Wednesday and a Friday). I felt like running this morning, so that's what I did. Who knows how I'll feel tomorrow?

Anyway, I'm off to do some stretches, then a shower before working on some edits for my pocket novel. I hope to send off a story to The Word Hut Competition today and possibly one to Woman's Weekly Fiction Special. My plan is to bombard the latter with submissions until they have to say yes!!

Mid-Life Inertia!


I'm back! I think!

I can only apologise for not blogging more frequently of late, but I've been struck down by lethargy and inertia. It's my age, m'dears. I've been plagued with horrendous night sweats/shivers and hot flushes during the day as well as extreme tiredness. I can't seem to function normally at all. I even had to cancel my run today (this happens quite often).

The menopause has also affected my creativity. Self-doubt seems more overwhelming than usual and I haven't got the get-up-and-go to make myself sit at the keyboard and write. I can totally identify with the main character in Sue Townsend's novel, The Woman Who Went To Bed For A Year. That's exactly what I'd like to do. Go to bed and stay there.

Last year I was driven by that big number: 50. I was determined to make a go of my writing with a 'now or never' attitude. I entered practically every short story competition I could find, and I had a fair amount of success. Then something happened. I can't pinpoint the day or the week or the month, but I seemed to grind to a halt. The long winter didn't help, and spring still seems a long way off even though we're well into March. At least the sun is shining today, despite being bitterly cold and there being the odd flurry of snow.

There's a line from Carole King's song, It's Too Late: 'Something inside has died and I can't hide..' That's kind of how I feel. I can't summon up the energy to feel remotely excited about anything, so it makes it rather difficult to pursue my writing goals. I realise this is just a phase and it will pass, but it's an unpleasant phase. There's also the loss of youth, looks, vitality and memory to cope with! Add to that a growing awareness of my own mortality and the outlook is pretty depressing!

Anyway, there were two pleasant surprises in the post today. A signed hardback copy of Kate Atkinson's latest novel, Life After Life (a freebie from The Harrogate Crime Writers Festival Events team) and a copy of To The Edge Of There And Back, the 2011/12 Whittaker Prize Anthology featuring one of my short stories, Metal Guru. And I did write... just a few lines......

Guest Blog: Madalyn Morgan Interview


I first came across Madalyn on the Really Relaxed Writers Facebook page and I was intrigued by the cover of her novel, Foxden Acres when I saw a post about it. It immediately conjured up the flavour of the era Madalyn was writing about - The Second World War. Another writer friend, Amanda Huggins, had read Foxden Acres and recommended it, so I downloaded it onto my Kindle. Before I had a chance to start reading it, I contacted Madalyn and asked if I could interview her for this blog. Madalyn has been an actress for over thirty years, performing on television and in the West End. She is also a radio journalist, and has written articles for newspapers, including The Daily Mail, The Islington Gazette, and the Leicester Mercury. Is Foxden Acres your first novel and if so, what made you want to write it?I began writing Foxden Acres after my mother asked me to find the Polish pilot who had made her a Wellington bomber out of brass, during the Second World War.  Franek had escaped Poland to fly with the RAF and stayed with my grandparent s while Bitteswell Aerodrome – two miles away – was being made ready to accommodate allied and Commonwealth Air Force personnel.  Franek had died, but I found his son and my mother was able to give him the Wellington.  Coincidences do happen because, at that time, I was doing a correspondence writing course and the next module was biography.  I wrote a biography about my mum, which my tutor liked, but she said that because mum and I were both unknown, I should turn it into a fiction.  And I shall one day.   Foxden Acres is my first novel.  At least it’s the first that I’ve completed and had published.  I’ve plotted several  contemporary novels,  and half-written one that has the working title, ‘Forty-Two into Twenty-Eight Won’t Go.’  But I need to finish the other books in the Dudley sisters quartet.  Foxden Acres is the first of four books about the lives of four very different sisters during the Second World War.Foxden Acres is about love, strength and crossing the class and gender divide.  Bess Dudley, the daughter of a groom and a trainee teacher, is in love with James Hadleigh, the heir to the Foxden Estate.  When she’s told that James is engaged to socially acceptable Annabel Hadleigh, Bess accepts a teaching post in London.  War breaks out, the children are evacuated, and Bess returns to Foxden to organise a troop of Land Girls.  Flying Officer James Foxden falls in love with Bess.  But Bess has got to know and respect Annabel.  Can she be with James if it means breaking her friend’s heart?  Besides, Bess has a shameful secret that she has vowed to keep from James at any cost…The second book, Applause, is about blind ambition – and is Margot Dudley’s story.  Margot marries her childhood sweetheart and leaves Foxden to live with him in London.  She is fiercely ambitious and works her way from being an usherette in a West End theatre, to leading lady of the show.  However, she soon finds herself caught up in a web of deceit, black-market racketeers, Nazis, drugs and alcohol.   The third book, China Blue, is about love and courage – and is Claire Dudley’s story.  While in the WAAF Claire is seconded to the Royal Air Force’s Advanced Air Strike Force.  She falls in love with Mitchell ‘Mitch’ McKenzie, an American Airman who is shot down parachuting into France.  At the end of the war, working in a liberated POW camp in Hamburg she is told that Mitch is still alive.  Do miracles happen? The fourth book, The Bletchley Secret, is about strength and determination – and is the youngest sister, Ena Dudley’s story.  Ena w[...]

Guest Blog: Leigh Russell - Crime Writer


I was delighted when Leigh Russell, an international bestselling author of crime fiction, contacted me volunteering to be a guest of The Yellow Room blog. This is thanks to the magic of Twitter. I've been relying heavily on the latter to promote The Yellow Room and sell the remaining copies of Issue 8, as I haven't generated enough income from this print run to make ends meet. The Yellow Room Magazine is sadly in danger of folding. Please do urge as many of your friends as possible to purchase a copy from the website ( has some impressive credits to her name including: CWA Dagger Award Shortlisted Author; WH Smith's Top 50 Bestsellers List; Lovereading's Great Crime Sleuth; Amazon's No. 1 female detective; Crime Time's Best Crime Fiction List and Eurocrime's Top Reads List.It has been a pleasure interviewing Leigh for my blog.When did you start writing seriously and what sort of things did you write?CUT SHORT was published in 2009. It was shortlisted for a CWA Dagger Award and went on to become an international bestseller. The story developed from an idea that just occurred to me one day as I was walking through my local park. I started to write the story down and after six weeks of compulsive writing, I finished the first draft.   What made you decide to write a crime novel?I never made a conscious decision to write a crime novel. My publisher phoned me two weeks after they received my first manuscript and after a few meetings they offered me a three book deal. So once I had finished working on CUT SHORT, I was already contracted to write two more crime novels. ROAD CLOSED and DEAD END followed CUT SHORT in becoming bestsellers, so my publisher then asked for another three books in the series. The first of these, STOP DEAD, is out in print in 2013 and available to download this December. At the moment I am committed to writing two more books in the series, after which I hope my publisher will offer me a further deal. As long as people keep reading my books, I’ll keep writing them!Did you have a story/outline in mind before you began to write your first novel?When you write a book you are taking your readers on a journey. I always know my starting point, and I know the destination, but the route between the two develops and evolves as I’m writing. Do you think it’s possible to be a ‘fly by the seat of the pants’ crime writer?I know many brilliant crime writers. Some are rigorous planners, some fly by the seat of their pants. It seems that both work, for different people. Every writer has to find their own method of working.  Although I plan my stories in advance, I also like the writing process to be organic and creative. That, for me, is part of the fun of writing. I know where my narrative is heading, but I’m never quite sure of the detailed route to get there before I start writing.How much planning and research do you do beforehand?I do a lot of research. I’ve visited police stations, spent time with a Murder Investigation Team, a fire station, and a closed prison, to name just a few places I’ve visited in the course of my research. I’ve taken advice from leading experts in DNA, finger prints, human remains, and many more.  The research is always fascinating. My advisers aren’t necessarily leading experts in their fields. They can be market traders, scientists, IT technicians, an acquaintance who has suffered a broken nose... anyone who can help me to understand a situation that I’m writing about but have never experienced.   Do you contact experts in a particular crime field? Frequently. You can do a lot of research on the internet. If you want to find out a tiny random snipp[...]

Autumn Flash Fiction Shortlist 2012


This week I've been in 'reading mode'. This has come as a relief, as I haven't done very much reading this year. The reason for this is that I can't seem to write prolifically, if I'm reading and vice versa.I've been immersed in Ian Rankin's latest novel, Standing In Another Man's Grave. It's great to see Rebus back in action and I think it's one of Ian's best novels to date. I've also been reading some short fiction (Dot Dash by Jonathan Pinnock) and catching up with my writing magazine reading.Yesterday I whittled the 61 Flash Fiction entries in The Yellow Room Autumn Competition down to just 17 shortlisted stories. I'll be reading those 17 once more today and will pick the winning entries.Here is the shortlist:A Guide To IndependenceAnother CountryBagsCarly, LoveCleaning The WindowsFat Girl Yawning - 1960Good For The SoulHe Loves Me, NotJunkLast ChanceMiss Scarlet In The ShedMockersThe BridgeThe Dung Beetle RaceThirstThis Year’s ColourYou Breathe[...]

Guest Blog: Jonathan Pinnock - The Scott Prize


It has been far too long since I last updated this blog and for that I apologise. I have no excuses. I really didn't think I had anything interesting to say, which is why I'm delighted to welcome a guest blogger today.When Jonathan Pinnock asked on his Facebook status whether anyone would like him to do a guest blog, I jumped at the chance. I'd had a little communication with Jonathan asking for tips on entering The Scott Prize, as I'd almost finished putting a short story collection together. He very kindly answered my questions, then agreed to write the following piece. I then rushed to the Salt website ( to purchase Dot Dash and have been reading the stories all week. I wasn't disappointed. I strongly recommend you purchase the collection, if you have any interest in what makes a good short story. Here's what Jonathan has to say about The Scott Prize:The Scott Prize ( is an international annual prize for a first collection of short stories. It was set up by Salt Publishing in 2009 and is now pretty much the only way for an unknown short story writer to get a collection published by them, as they do not accept unsolicited submissions. The fact that hardly any other publishers will consider publishing a short story collection unless it’s by an established author means that the Scott Prize has massive significance for anyone who has an interest in the short form.I’d been writing seriously since 2005 and submitting work since 2007, which meant that by 2009 I was building up a reasonable portfolio of work. But when I first entered for the Scott Prize in that debut year, I got absolutely nowhere. I wasn’t even shortlisted. I was more than a little peeved about this, as I’d had a few individual successes by then and I obviously thought I was ready for the big time. However, in my heart of hearts I knew that there were several fillers in my proposed collection. And when I read the collections that had won that year – especially Tom Vowler’s “The Method” – I realised I was going to have to raise my game if I was going to have any chance of being selected in future. There was no room for fillers.So I kept on writing and I kept on submitting and I notched up one or two more decent hits, including BBC Radio 4’s Opening Lines. This meant that I could chuck out a fair bit of the chaff and generally make the collection a bit stronger. The other thing that had happened was that I’d been playing around with TwitFic (Twitter fiction – complete stories in 140 characters or under) a bit more by then and I had quite a collection of very, very short pieces that I could use as a kind of punctuation between the longer ones. In fact, I had just enough short pieces to make it possible to alternate them. And that, in turn, led to the title of the collection.When I first entered the Scott Prize, my collection was entitled “Hidden Shallows and Other Stories”, which was – to be honest – a bit mundane. To move away from that to “Dot Dash”, a title that simply reflected the structure of the book, was quite radical and that gave it another chance to stand out. I think it also reflected the playful nature of a lot of the content. I submitted “Dot Dash” to the Scott Prize on October 6th, 2010 – for once in my life well ahead of the deadline.Nine days later, I submitted my first novel “Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens” to Salt’s new science fiction imprint Proxima and just over a month after that it was accepted for publication. That book was then scheduled for publication in September 2011, which meant that when I was eventually announced as one of the winners of the 2011 Scot[...]

Olympic Torch Relay and a 'Gold Medal' Win!


I've just got back from going to see The Olympic Torch Relay in Rugby town centre. I'm so glad I got up earlier and made the effort, because the atmosphere was fantastic. When I saw the torch coming into view, I got all emotional and trembly. A once in a lifetime experience. It was great that most of the Lawrence Sheriff schoolboys stood on their school field behind me, cheering and going wild - and that was just for the members of the public cycling past before they closed the road!!I had a bit of a 'gold medal moment' on Saturday when I discovered that my story, I Like Your Bow-Ties, Mr Day won first prize in The 5 Minute Fiction 1st Birthday Competition. It's the most prize money I've ever won - £100. The Top Ten stories were on the website for a week and readers had to vote for their favourite to win. Thank you for those of you who voted, by the way! If you'd like to read the story, here's the link:'ve been enjoying a fair bit of success with my short stories this year, which is most gratifying. I'm entering as many competitions as possible and I write an average of four new short stories a week. Not all of these are good enough to enter into competitions, but it's certainly helping improve my technique. My story, Camels In A Field, won The Word Hut competition in May. The story was published on their website and I was asked to do a 'Meet The Writer' interview for them. Both the story and the interview attracted the attention of Thomas Stofer, an agent specialising in the crime and thriller genre at LBA. He emailed me, saying he would like to read my crime novel. I was extremely flattered to be approached by an agent, even though he didn't feel the novel was the sort of thing he was looking to represent. He was, however, very complimentary about my writing and urged me to submit it to other agents, which was most encouraging.I have been busy clearing my childhood home in rural Staffordshire ready for a tenant to move in. This has been emotional experience and part of me would love to move in there myself. However, my husband and two children have all sorts of ties here in Rugby and wouldn't want to relocate. I have been enjoying spending the odd day here and there at the property, using the opportunity to have friends round for lunch or coffee instead of packing possessions in boxes!I am also helping my seventeen-year-old son with his university choices. He isn't very pro-active and I'm having to nag him to do more research. We visited The University of Hertfordshire a couple of weeks ago and Matt loved it. It's one of the best universities in the country for Music and has great links  with the music industry. It's also only 25 minutes from Central London. However, the music courses are always over-subscribed, so Matt will need to apply early and work even harder to get the grades he needs.I am in the middle of proofreading stories for Issue 8 of The Yellow Room. I also have a huge backlog of submissions to deal with, so I apologise to those of you who are still waiting for a decision and some feedback.[...]

The Yellow Room Spring Competition 2012 Results


I apologise for not keeping up-to-date with both the blog and the website, but I've been up to my eyes in novel revisions, as I've been approached by an agent asking to see it. This is all very exciting, but I'm not holding my breath. The Jubilee Celebrations almost passed me by as I was lost in 1972; Corona pop, platform soles, loon pants, glam rock, gruesome murders and family secrets.I did briefly attend a village street party in the pouring rain on Sunday, as my son and two of his friends performed a few numbers in the afternoon. I'm also halfway through watching The Jubilee Concert, which I recorded last night. I thought Tom Jones stood out as being one of the most talented and entertaining artists of the evening. Robbie didn't do too badly either! As for Grace Jones and that hula hoop. Wow, that lady has stamina!Finally, the results of the 2012 Yellow Room Spring Competition. The standard of entry was high this time, and I chose the top three based on their amazing use of language and ability to make me feel present at the scene. There were 121 entries in total.The final results of The Yellow Room Short Story Competition 20121st Moonhorses by Eryl Samuel2nd No Consequence by Joanna Campbell3rd Paper Chaste by Diane E. TatlockThe following are Highly Commended:4th Playing For Alex by Deirdre Palmer5th The Girl With The Bright Yellow Plait and The Boy With Blue Eyes by Mandy Huggins6th Chipped and Wandering by Jeda Pearl7th Maria's Silence - Carly Holmes[...]

The Yellow Room Spring Competition Shortlisted Stories


It has been a very busy few weeks for me on many fronts, but I have finally read all the stories entered in The Yellow Room Spring Competition 2012 and can now announce the shortlist in alphabetical order of title.

Shortlisted stories:

Chipped and Wandering
The Cowboy
Dr Algernon's Creed
Fallen Women
Lemon Drizzle Cake
Maria's Silence
No Consequence
Paper Chaste
Playing For Alex
Puddings In The Park
Robbo and Juliet
Sell Out
Spring Fever
The Girl With The Bright Yellow Plait
The Leopard's Reward
Violet Rocks The Boat
Went Away

A Bolt From The Blue


I apologise for not blogging in a long time. My stepfather died suddenly on 19th March, so it has been an emotional time, and it has thrown things somewhat awry. He lived in the house left to me by my mother, so I have been preoccupied with the business of clearing it. It seems quite strange to 'reclaim' my family home after many years. I plan to let the house in the short term. I wouldn't go back to my childhood village to live, much as I love the view from the house and the beautiful garden (see photo). I have my memories and have set my novel in a place based on the village and surrounding area. The place will live on in my head, even if I never physically revisit it.

I am about halfway through reading the 120 Yellow Room Competition entries. The standard is high this time. I am reading in alphabetical order of title. I hope to announce the shortlist here on this blog in the next couple of weeks.

I have already sold out of Issue 7 of The Yellow Room. The pressure is now on to get Issue 8 off the starting blocks. The magazine is proving very popular of late, and I will certainly need to do a bigger print run next time.

I have had a few more short story competition successes recently as well as several rejections. All part and parcel of a writer's life. I have a regular Saturday evening appointment with Write-Invite, which has to be my favourite competition of all. I have won twice now and been placed second or third numerous times. I'm the top of their league table again this week, which is a huge thrill. I also recommend the Five Stop Story Competition.

I am working hard on my novel, as I hope to get a synopsis and the first two or three chapters out to agents in early June. I'm sure that by the end of the year I will have developed an incredibly thick skin! It is getting tougher by the day.

Getting Organized!


It's been a while since I last blogged. It sometimes feels as if I have nothing interesting to say.

I've been incredibly busy the past few weeks. I've been writing new short stories and submitting to competitions. I also realized that with so much work out there that I'd have to be more organized, so I've been busy creating databases. I can now see at a glance which stories are where. When they come back, or succeed, I can enter the outcome on the database, too. I've also created a database for all the competitions I want to enter, giving details of the website, word count required, closing date etc. Unfortunately, I can't seem to share the database with others, as I use IWorks Numbers, which isn't compatible with other systems.

Another little flurry of success has come in this month. A story of mine was longlisted in The Fish Short Story Prize, which I was thrilled about, as it's such a prestigious competition and attracted 1,900 entries from all over the world. Then I found out this morning that one of my micro-fiction pieces was longlisted in The New Writer Prose and Poetry Prizes 2011 - another prestigious comp. I'm thrilled that my writing buddy, Sharon Birch, won a prize in the non-fiction section of that particular competition and was runner-up in Multi-Story.

We won't mention the crime novel ;-)

The Yellow Room Issue 7 is due to arrive back from the printers today, so fingers crossed that there isn't some sort of delay or that they don't try to deliver when I'm walking up to collect my daughter from school.

Finally, don't forget to enter The Yellow Room Spring Short Story Competition, which closes on 31st March. Email entries only. You can either pay the entry fee online via Paypal or pop a cheque in the post. Good luck!

Blitz Research


Last year I started writing a pocket novel intended for My Weekly and set during The Blitz in London. I did quite a lot of research and wanted the period detail to be as authentic as possible. I wrote about 32,000 words (the finished novel has to be 50,000 words), then ground to a halt. Why? I couldn't find out any details about dressmaking in 1940. Why didn't I make it up and carry on? My perfectionist tendencies often block me as a writer, as I've said before. I feel I have to get it right first time (hence my problems with the first draft of my crime novel), then get frustrated when I don't. Anyway, I'm determined to finish the pocket novel in the next couple of weeks. I've dug out my books about The Blitz and hope to find something to inspire me enough to finish this particular work-in-progress.

I dropped lucky this week in that an email from Rugby Freecycle landed in my Inbox offering an eight volume set of World War 2 Magazines published in 1972. Of course, the year they were published is also the year in which my crime novel is set. It felt like this was meant to be. I arranged to go and pick up the magazines yesterday (the person who got in first didn't turn up to collect them, so another bit of serendipity!). There are some great photographs in the magazines and they were worth getting for these alone. I find that photographs can be great a starting point for a story or an idea. I still haven't found that nugget of information to inspire me to continue with the pocket novel (and still don't know much about dressmaking in 1940), but maybe I'll plough on regardless. Sometimes you can sweat it too much.

Trumpet Blowing!


I am thrilled to report that I won last week's Write-Invite competition with my story, The Fledgling. I've been entering these weekly competitions since last August and thoroughly enjoy the adrenalin rush of writing a complete story in under thirty minutes. I've been placed 2nd and 3rd a few times, but unfortunately there isn't a prize for runners-up, so to win the £50 first prize was a real boost, especially as the winner is chosen by fellow participants. The competition is quite tough, as there are some very talented writers entering each week and some well-known names in the womag fiction world.

I also came second in The Cazart Flash Fiction Competition with my story, The Lie, which you can read here. Unfortunately, there wasn't any prize money for the runners-up, which I was a little miffed about considering the entry fee was £5. It has taught me to look more carefully at writing competition entry fees and the prize money offered.

Enough trumpet blowing for now! It certainly pays to be persistent and to write every day. I entered eleven competitions in January with about 16 stories, so we'll see whether persistence has paid off this month. There aren't quite as many competitions to enter in February, but I have earmarked ten so far.

More good news in that I have found another print company (Antony Rowe) willing to publish the next issue of The Yellow Room Magazine. Issue 7 is currently with the typesetter, so should be available from the end of this month. I hope it's worth the wait!

Entries are slowly trickling in to The Yellow Room Short Story Competition. Don't forget to enter. The closing date is 31st March. Email entries only from now on.

The sun has just come out to melt the last of the snow, so it should be an enjoyable walk up to the school to collect my daughter today.

Oh, and remember I said I wasn't reading as much? I couldn't resist starting My Last Duchess by Daisy Goodwin at the weekend.

'Sex Change' Author Wins Erotic Writing Prize


Judges of Xcite Books Escape to Erotica short story writing competition were shocked to discover their prize-winning female author was actually a man – top writer and editor of crime, mystery and erotic fiction Maxim Jakubowski.Maxim, who reviewed crime fiction for the Guardian and was named in the Time Out top 30  best erotic London writers of all time, decided to enter the competition anonymously by using a female pseudonym.His story, which told of a romantic liaison between a woman selling olive oil and a journalist at a Paris food fair, was written so sensitively and beautifully that judges were convinced it was penned by a woman.On notifying the winner that she had won the top prize of a seven-night holiday for two to the Hedonism resort in Jamaica, they were surprised as Maxim revealed his true identity.He said: ‘Writing can be a lonely and isolated business and I felt I wanted my work to be judged impartially, that’s why I entered under a pseudonym. I'm delighted to have won the Escape to Erotica story competition. Not only do I love Jamaica, but am gratified that a story that I submitted anonymously was judged on its own merits!’Maxim Jakubowski is one of the country’s leading writers in the erotic genre. He has published nearly 100 books and his short stories have appeared in many anthologies and magazines published by Constable Robinson and Headline in the UK and Perseus and Akashic in America.  He has edited best-selling anthologies of British mystery stories and the Mammoth Books of Best New Erotica for Robinson, the Sex in the City series for Xcite Books and contributes to The Times, The Bookseller and The Evening Standard.Judge and Xcite editor Antonia Adams, said: ‘There was only ever one winner in my opinion. It was so beautifully written and poignant, and it felt so real. It was a contemporary Brief Encounter. It really read like it had been written by a woman, so I was amazed to find out it was by Maxim Jakubowski.’Maxim’s winning story will now take pride of place in Escape to Erotica, an ebook anthology of the five best stories entered in the competition, published by Xcite Books on Valentine’s Day, February 14 2012. The collection will also feature four stories from the runners-up which include new writers Ellie's Present from Charlie by LW, Swept Away by Demelza Hart, The Flight by Ian Perrott and Escape by Kitty Luscious.Launched in November at the Erotica adult lifestyle festival at Olympia, in London, the Escape to Erotica competition was a joint venture between Xcite Books and the Erotica organisers. It invited new writers and previously published authors to unleash their creative inhibitions by writing a 3- 5,000 word story on the theme of escape.Miranda Forbes, Editorial director of Xcite Books, said: ‘Our judges were very impressed by the diversity and quality of writing among the entrants. To be fooled by Maxim only proves what an excellent writer and deserving winner he is.‘The competition has also uncovered new writing talent among our runners-up and hopefully this competition and the Escape to Erotica ebook will be a great showcase for their work.’The four runners-up in the competition win a year’s supply of Xcite books.For further information, interviews & review copies, please contact: Alison Stokes, Media and Publicity Manager, Xcite Books Ltd, Tel:[...]

Writing, Not Reading...


Last year I read a lot of books, mainly novels, as you'll see by glancing at the list to your left. This year I haven't read one book. This was a conscious decision, as I found reading others' work off-putting. I was constantly plagued by negative thoughts such as, I'll never be able to write as well as so-and-so. I'm not half as talented as him/her. Why am I bothering? You get the idea.

I have written a lot this year. A new short story almost every day. I've also edited old stories and worked on my novel. I've entered lots of competitions and submitted several stories to the women's magazines, mainly Woman's Weekly, as it's my favourite (and I think my stories are more suited to this publication). I've become addicted to the high of anticipation.

I've resubscribed to a few of my favourite writers' magazines such as Writers' Forum, Writing Magazine/Writers' News and The New Writer, devouring their contents at every opportunity. I've sent off fillers to a lot of the women's magazines and one of my 'funny animal' photos is due to appear in Full House Issue 8 (out in a couple of weeks). It's all money in the pot.

I was thrilled to hear that I'd won third prize in the Meridian Writing Competition. You can read my story here, if you wish (you'll need to scroll down a little. My story is called No Oil For Hogmanay).

I love being so proactive and busy. Once I've entered as many of the competitions closing at the end of January as I can, I'll finish my pocket novel set during The Blitz and get the first three chapters and a synopsis sent off. Oh, and talking of synopses, do take a look at Nicola Morgan's How To Write A Great Synopsis. It's only a £1 to download onto Kindle, but the offer finishes at the end of the month.

The Yellow Room Issue 7 is now with the typesetter and I'm a little further forward with finding a new print company. Many apologies to those loyal subscribers who have been waiting so long for a new issue to appear.

Call The Midwife


Back in 2002 when I was editing and publishing QWF (Quality Women's Fiction Magazine), I got a phone call from a very nicely spoken lady asking if I was interested in reviewing the book she'd just published. She told me a bit about it and I remember thinking, here we go again! Since the first issue of QWF in 1994, I'd been sent many self-published books to review, most of which were pretty dire, both in content and presentation. However, Jennifer Worth sounded like an interesting woman, and I thought her memoirs might be a good read, so I told her to send me a copy. You can read the review, which appeared in Issue 39 of QWF in early 2003 (and reading it now, I'm dying to get my red editing pen to it. I think my writing style has improved since then!) below.Imagine how surprised I was when I saw a couple of years ago that Jennifer's book, Call The Midwife had reached The Sunday Times Bestseller List, as did the two follow-up books. I was even more surprised when, reading through the TV listings recently, that a TV adaptation of Call The Midwife was going to be shown on BBC1. I thoroughly enjoyed the drama and thought it was very true to the book, as well as featuring some very talented actresses. It was with sadness, however, that after the closing credits, I noticed that it had been dedicated to Jennifer who died in 2011. I had so wanted to contact her again to congratulate her on the book's success.I guess the moral of the tale is that self-published books, even if they are a little rough around the edges, can go on to be published by a mainstream publisher and reach dizzy heights.Here is my review (written in 2002) as it actually appeared in Issue 39 of QWF:Jennifer Worth was a district midwife working in an order of nuns, going around Poplar on a bicycle in the 1950s, when the East End of London was still ravaged by wartime bombs. This book describes with humour and poignancy the experiences of Jennifer, assisting women giving birth in grimly impoverished surroundings.My first impressions of this book weren't good. The presentation is poor, and I found loads of typos and spelling errors in the first few pages, as well as many exclamation marks. I felt the book would benefit from a good edit. I almost put it to one side, thinking it an amateurish self-publishing venture. However, I was enthralled by the narrative and Jennifer Worth's skilful storytelling technique compelled me to read on. I'm glad I did.When I first read Call The Midwife it wasn't too long since I'd given birth myself and it made me grateful for all the new technology and sterile surroundings the hospital provided for a rather long and complicated labour, resulting in an emergency caesarean. I don't know how Megan and I would have fared had we lived in Poplar in 1950-something. I'm pretty sure neither Megan nor I would be here now.This book isn't for the faint-hearted. There are some pretty gory descriptions of childbirth, as well as the general filth some of these women lived in on a day-to-day basis.Call The Midwife is crammed with delightful characters, however, and you can't help but feel total admiration for the midwives. Once you've read the book I don't think you'd dare complain about giving birth on the NHS again.There are also some interesting medical and sociological facts in the book. For example, the women of the East End were encouraged to breastfeed, mainly for practical reasons. [...]