Friday, 26 January 2007

Pictures and Words

One of my short stories was published in a magazine today, and the illustration that goes with it is excellent.

I’m well pleased – I always think the size and quality of the illustration the editor gives you is an indication of how good they consider the story to be. So a full page full colour picture has made my day!

Thursday, 25 January 2007

An Honourable Man

This morning I finished the first draft of the novel I’ve been working on for the past two and a half years. It feels like a huge load has been lifted from me. I should put it away now and give it time to settle, but I have a deadline to meet so I started redrafting it straight away. It’s very depressing – I can already see so much of it needs to be rewritten completely.

Sunday, 21 January 2007

Brighton Rock

I started re-reading Brighton Rock today. I always think of it as one of my favourite books, but I realised almost at once that it’s been a long, long time since I last read it. Although I know the beginning by heart I soon came to a part that I did not remember at all, as though I were coming to it fresh. It’s so good when that happens!

Saturday, 20 January 2007

The Lay of the Land

I finally finished reading Richard Ford’s Lay of the Land today. It’s been a bit of a slog at times, but I enjoyed it while I was reading it. Someone somewhere described it as ‘expansive’, and I guess it is. It’s certainly very good writing, and in lots of places it provokes deep thought. I think that’s why it has taken me so long – one of the reasons, anyway – to finish it. I don’t think this is as good as The Sportswriter or Independence Day, but I would read it again and I recommend it both for its prose style and for its insights into the Human Condition. The downside of the book is that the narrator is so ordinary (boring, according to one reviewer) that, even though I enjoyed the book while I was reading it, once I’d put it down I was never desperate to pick it up again. But then, in my defence, I have been wrestling with writing/editing two novels of my own just lately!

I know writers who say they can’t read while they’re writing anything. But surely, as writers, we’re always writing something (even if it’s only in our heads). I have no problems with reading while I’m in the middle of a writing project. But I guess it’s each to their own.

I was supposed to run today, but the knee is still sore. Or is that just an excuse?

Friday, 19 January 2007

More expense

Last night my laptop packed in again. It had been fine all day, although I had been afraid to switch it off just in case, and I backed up everything every five minutes or so (very tedious). But after a break to watch the evening news, I returned to my desk to find the wretched thing had broken down irretrievably. Nothing on its screen but a dull grey blankness. I tried running the recovery disk, but even that wouldn’t work. I decided to leave it till this morning (sometimes a little peace and quiet seems to help it recover). Alas, this morning there was no improvement. I persevered, but I couldn’t bring it back to life. I’m now on the lookout for a very cheap replacement . . .

Meanwhile, my injured knee feels a lot better today – no pain, just some stiffness – so I’ll be back on the run tomorrow.

Thursday, 18 January 2007

Please donate!

The London Marathon is just three months away this weekend, and I'm still some way off my target fundraising amount.

This year I'm running for Macmillan Cancer Support. When my mother died of breast cancer in 1998 her last days were made more bearable thanks to the care she received from a Macmillan Nurse. Now my dad has cancer, and he too is receiving invaluable support from Macmillan nurses.

Please dig deep and sponsor me online.

Donating through the Justgiving site is simple, fast and totally secure. It is also the most efficient way to sponsor me: Macmillan Cancer Support will receive your money faster and, if you are a UK taxpayer, an extra 28% in tax will be added to your gift at no cost to you.

So please sponsor me now!

Many thanks for your support.

Wednesday, 17 January 2007

Blank Screen

It was very hard today to revert back to writing new material for the work-in-progress after being in editor mode for the past two days. But I slogged away and eventually managed to grind out my morning’s quota. Then, as my knee is still sore, I skipped today’s run and drove to Tesco instead (such excitement!). When I came back, though, my laptop had died. It’s been playing up for a while, being temperamental, but this afternoon it refused to do anything. It powers up okay, but the screen stays blank. Nothing happens. So I phoned a local computer engineer, who didn’t hold out much hope for it. Maybe I could claim a new one as an allowable business expense? Spent the afternoon comparing prices of new laptops, which of course meant I did no actual work.

Tuesday, 16 January 2007

Deadlines

Phew, what a day! I was up till 1.00am last night working on the crime novel, then again all day today, typing away till my fingers bled. Didn’t manage to run (which is okay, because I’ve strained something in my knee and could use a rest) and finally got the novel revised and emailed off soon after 4.00pm. Finally ate breakfast/lunch/dinner at 6.00pm, feeling a real sense of accomplishment. I love having a deadline – there’s nothing like it for forcing you to pull your finger out!

Monday, 15 January 2007

Revision

I emailed the publisher that I’d sent the first three chapters of my crime novel to back in October, just to check my manuscript hadn’t got lost. They emailed me back to say they liked it, and wanted to see the whole novel – could I email it to them? Well, I would, I thought, if only I’d finished it! I’d left it languishing in a drawer with handwritten amendments and crossings out and arrows all over it. So in a panic, I dusted it down and started revising the damn thing. I should be over the moon, but instead I’m busting a gut and burning the midnight oil trying to get it into shape. There’s a lesson here – never listen to colleagues who tell you there’s no point working on the full ms until you know you’ve got a publishing deal. I’ll know better next time.

Flora London Marathon Training 15

Felt really sluggish this morning, but actually the time wasn’t too bad. When I ran in Hyde Park on Saturday I did a stupid thing and decided to play football with a fallen chestnut casing – and pulled or tore something in my right knee. Nothing much, and I ran on, but today I was really feeling it, and the knee stiffened up after today’s run. Doh!

Distance: 5.6 miles Time: 42:00

Sunday, 14 January 2007

Training

I didn’t run today, but instead spent most of the daylight hours on a train – either stuck on a tube (signalling problems) or a South Eastern overland service (scheduled track maintenance) – getting back to the east Kent coast. Earlier, The Secretary had told me my beard, which has got very grey of late, makes me look old. First thing I did when I got in was shave it off.

Saturday, 13 January 2007

Football

The Secretary came with me to Stamford Bridge, where we met my brother and watched Chelsea win 4-0. How can such a high score line result from such a dull game? The Secretary said she didn’t mind – she enjoyed the spectacle of the Big Match. She asked if I preferred the modern, comfortable, all-seater stadium to the terraced ground I used to come to as a kid, when the only seats were in the rickety old east stand. No contest – the terraces were much better! Even without cover (except in the Shed) the atmosphere in those days was fantastic. ‘Where were you when you were sh*t?’ the opposition supporters were singing, as usual, today. I was standing pretty much where you’re all sitting now, I thought, cold and wet, watching my crap second division team getting beaten by some equally crap second division team. But before that we had the Docherty era of the sixties, then the great Sexton side of the early seventies. And we were pretty good to watch under Vialli, too. Sometimes I wonder whether it isn’t better to be entertained than to win. Wouldn’t it be great to have both!

Flora London Marathon Training 13

I stayed with The Secretary up in the Smoke last night so this morning I had a reminder of what I left behind when I moved out to the sticks. First, there was the sheer number of people - and so many of them puffing on cigarettes - that I had to weave past on my way to the park. Then there were the smells - fried food, traffic fumes, fags (obviously), women with too much perfume (I'm more used to cow pats and slurry now!). And then there was the deluge of other runners in Hyde Park. I soon got reacquainted with the London way of avoiding eye contact as we passed each other. It's so rare to meet another runner out in the east Kent countryside we practically hug each other! And then I got lost (twice) in Notting Hill Gate running to and from the park. So taking all that into account, I was well pleased with my time this morning.

Distance: 7.5 miles Time: 56:26

Friday, 12 January 2007

No Work Today

I overslept this morning, having slept like the dead after yesterday’s 14 mile wind-resisted run. So I’ve been behind all day. I had a meeting this morning with a couple of writer colleagues (a playwright and a children’s writer) and we agreed to continue to meet up regularly to critique each other’s work in progress. But with that and my recovery run and the fact I had to travel up to London this afternoon, there wasn’t much sign of any work in progress. But I’ve already met my output target for this week (in terms of quantity if not quality!) so I can take it easy for the weekend.

Flora London Marathon Training 12

A recovery run today, nothing too strenuous. And a good run it was, too. The wind has dropped to a ‘stiff breeze’ and the distance was a breeze after yesterday. I took a slightly different route, down a narrow country lane I’d never been down before, and found myself seemingly in the depths of the wild Kentish countryside – a rural idyll. And only two miles from my village . . .

Distance: 4.4 miles Time: 34:56

Thursday, 11 January 2007

Work in Progress

I had a very productive day writing today. I’m really glad I decided to set up a dedicated writing space for myself, it’s really paying dividends. The novel is coming together nicely, and I’ve got to the stage where the end is clearly in sight. Technically, this will be the second draft, but in reality it’s only the first draft. I’ll explain. About a year ago, I showed an extract of the first draft proper to The Secretary, just to get her initial thoughts. (The Secretary is a great ‘reader’ because [a] she reads voraciously – fiction of all genres – so she knows what’s good writing and what’s not, and [b] despite our relationship she is brutally honest. Generally, writers know better than to show their work-in-progress to their nearest and dearest – they either say it’s great even if it’s crap, or they do say it’s crap but can’t be more specific.) Anyway, The Secretary thought the extract of the first draft I showed her was ‘all right’ and gave me some really helpful comments. In particular, she really liked one of the characters. I mean, she REALLY liked him. She thought he was great. The only problem with that was the character only had a bit part in the novel as a whole. So I re-read the extract I’d shown her, then I read a part where this character didn’t feature, and I could see The Secretary was absolutely right – the parts with this guy in were much better. So – I completely rewrote the novel to give this particular character a starring role. Which means I have a completely different (but hopefully better) novel. And the first draft is nearly finished. Hoorray!

Flora London Marathon Training 11

I nearly didn’t run today, the winds are so strong. But the forecast said things would quieten down a little, temporarily at least, in the early afternoon. So I set off at noon. I was doing my long run today, as I’ll be seeing The Secretary at the weekend, and don’t want to be wasting two hours of our time together with running when I could be with her (lying in bed with the Sunday papers, basically).

Unfortunately, the weather forecasters lied. My long run took me along the coast, from Sandwich to Kingsdown and back. It was so windy the cross channel ferries weren’t even operating (they were all parked up in the Downs) so I must’ve been crazy to have run. The wind was a gale force easterly, with gusts up to 70mph that kept threatening to blow be into the sea. It was a real struggle to exceed walking pace (or even to move in a forward direction sometimes!) but I thought that, as I was running an ‘out and back’ course, it would be much easier coming back. It wasn’t. I was completely and utterly ker-nackered by the end. My overall time was meaningless: there should be a way of measuring effort – I felt as though I’d run a full marathon. Once I’ve recovered I’ll probably think today’s was a damn good session, but right now I just think the whole marathon thing is a crazy idea!

Distance: 14 miles Time: 2:09:36

Wednesday, 10 January 2007

Debut Dagger Competition Opens

The Debut Dagger is the Crime Writers Association's competition for previously unpublished crime writers, and I was lucky enough to have my novel The Belfast Boy shortlisted for the 2006 award. The Secretary and I had a grand day out up in London for the awards ceremony, posh frock and penguin suit, and even though I didn’t win a dagger I had a tremendous time and as a runner-up received an enormous pile of crime novels.

This year's competition opened on 8th January and entries have to be in by midnight on 14th April. Unfortunately, my Novel in Progress isn’t really a crime genre novel so I’ll have to finish it quick and start a new one if I want to enter this year’s competition.

Which reminds me: The Belfast Boy has been with a publisher for over three months now and I haven’t heard anything from them since October. Is that a good sign? Or have they just lost my manuscript??

Anyway, the CWA website has more information about the Debut Dagger.

Flora London Marathon Training 10

Today was supposed to be seven miles slow, but I was feeling good and although I ran a hilly route it felt easy enough. I did get very wet in the downpour that caught me halfway round, though.

Distance: 7.1 miles Time: 53:13

Tuesday, 9 January 2007

Progress

Another decent day at the office. I’m getting my head back into focus, beginning to occupy the novel again. I had a bit of a surprise today when I discovered that one of my characters had a secret lovechild that she hadn’t mentioned to anyone before. Even to me!

Flora London Marathon Training 9

Hard session of three two-mile intervals today (jog a mile, run two miles hard, jog recovery, two miles hard, etc). I made it harder by choosing a particularly hilly route, and the strong winds we’re having at the moment made it even tougher. Staggered home completely knackered, having to remind myself it’s all for a good cause the the wretched marathon won’t run itself . . .

Distance: 8.75 miles Time: 1:09:10

Monday, 8 January 2007

Discipline

It was my first day back at work today after the long break for Christmas and the New Year. It felt as though I’d been off for months, and took me a long time to get back in the swing of things. Nevertheless, I was very disciplined, and determined to meet my daily word count target. It was much better to be working upstairs in the front bedroom, rather than on the living room sofa or the dining room table.

Flora London Marathon Training 8

Really good session this morning: the sun was shining, the wind had dropped and it was the perfect temperature for running. Shame the ground was so boggy under foot, but you can't have everything. I even passed a fellow runner enjoying the lull in the rotten weather we've been having and will be having again later in the day and later in the week. And the training schedule I've been following seems to be working - I felt really comfortable this morning, running well within myself. So I might enter the Dartford 10 on 21 January. I've already entered the Canterbury 10 held the following week, but as I've missed so much of the cross country season I'm thinking I could make up for lost time. Or not. I'll think about it . . .

Distance: 5.1 miles Time: 38:26

Sunday, 7 January 2007

Flora London Marathon Training 7

I ran an out and back route today. I felt great for the first six miles, nice and relaxed and seemed to be flying along. Reached the Pegwell Bay Nature Reserve and did a figure of eight through the reserve looking for my niece's pony Polo [Florence: Polo wasn't there - I think he may have been eaten by wolves!]. That's when I first noticed there was quite a stiff breeze blowing, a breeze I hadn't noticed before. I noticed it on the way back, though! No wonder I'd felt so good running the "out" stretch - I'd had a pretty strong wind assistance. The "back" stretch was really tough, like I was fighting my way through treacle. A really tough workout.

Distance: 12.75 miles Time: 1:42:53

Saturday, 6 January 2007

Flora London Marathon Training 6

If I hadn't been injured just before Christmas I'd be racing today as part of my running club's cross country team. To make up for it, I ran this morning's five mile, cross-country session at as near race pace as I could manage given I was running in road shoes rather than spkes. It went okay, mostly, although the mind wanders and the pace drops when you run on your own. I sometimes think I'd like to run with a training partner, but it would only work if we both ran at more or less the same training pace. I saw a guy yesterday, during my run, running towards me in what seemed to be pukka running gear at what seemed to be my kind of pace. I wondered why I hadn't seen him out and about before, and whether he was new to the village and also looking for a training partner. But when I drew nearer I could see he had been showing off a bit in his Christmas running outfit and was only out for a New Year's resolution jog, rather than being what I'd call a serious runner. Then again, most of us started out like that, jogging round the park to get fit. It's only when you enter your first race, and jogging becomes training, that you know you've been bitten by the running bug. And it's always good to see a fellow runner. Not many of us round here in rural east Kent!

Distance: 5.1 miles Time: 35:33

Friday, 5 January 2007

Deadline January - Writing Competitions

I've listed below a large selection of forthcoming competitions, but the list isn't exhaustive. If you are aware of something I've missed, please let me know...


Chapter One International Open Short Story Competition
Annual International Open Short Story Competition with prizes of £2,500, £1000 & £500plus publication for the top three winners, ten runners up and five highly recommended stories.Max. words: 2500Status: unpublishedEntry fee: £10 per storyClosing date: 14 January 2007All entries must include the author's contact details on a separate sheet.Please make cheques or postal orders payable to Chapter One Promotions.For more information please check out our rules page at http://www.chapteronepromotions.co.uk/sstory2007rules.htm .

University of Hertfordshire Writing Award
Do you like to write? Would you like to win £1000 and a three year scholarship to the University of Hertfordshire?
If so why not enter our competition. All you have to do is submit a short story of 3,500 words on the theme of 'vision' to the University of Hertfordshire Writing Award. This is a fabulous opportunity for new writers to showcase their talent as the top twenty stories will be published in an anthology by UH Press. 1st prize £1,000 2nd prize £500 3rd prize £300 4th prize £200 The winner will also be able to apply for the UH Writing Award three-year scholarship* to the University of Hertfordshire, study commencing in 2007. *Eligibility terms and conditions apply. These can be viewed on the Entry Form. Deadline for entries 15 January 2007.
http://perseus.herts.ac.uk/uhinfo/index.cfm?84D88A33-C41C-D4D5-95E3-9339E39B2887

International short story competition from HappenStance Press
HappenStance is proud to announce a new short story venture. Primarily a poetry publisher, we are interested in short narrative forms, in prose or verse. We believe short stories and poems have close connections—they may have more in common, for example, than novels and short stories. The short story is a form where every word counts, where what is not said can be as important as what is. Competition entries will help fund the publication of a chapbook of winning entries. We hope this will be an annual event and that it will provide a new and valued outlet for short story writers.
· 1st prize £100
· 2nd prize £50
· 3rd prize £25
Length: up to 2,500 words
Judge: James Robertson, award-winning novelist, short story writer & poet: author of The Fanatic (2001), Joseph Knight (Scottish Book of the Year 2003) and The Testament of Gideon Mack (2006). Short story collections include: Close and Other Stories (1991); The Ragged Man's Complaint (1993).
Winners and runners-up will be published in a HappenStance Press short story chapbook. Each contributor will receive three complimentary copies.
Every entrant will receive a tick box critique of their story if SAE is enclosed. Short listed entries will also receive a commendation listing on this website.
Postal or online entry available
Entry fees:
By post: £3.50 per story. An optional additional payment of £3.00 (£6.50 total) secures a copy of the competition winners' anthology (when published) if inside the UK.
For Europe, fee £3.50 (£7.00 if requesting anthology). Outside Europe: submission £3.50 (£7.50 to include anthology).
Online entries: Inside UK £5.00. The additional charge covers printing costs and mailing out of free critique. Outside UK, £5.50. Winners' anthologies can also be ordered online here.
Entries close January 25th 2007
· Short list announced February 28th, 200
· Winners announced March 31st, 2007
· Pamphlet published Spring, 2007
http://happenstancepress.com/Story.htm

Biscuit Flash Fiction Prize
Write a short story of 500-750 words in any genre, including children's. First prize is £1,000.
£5 per story, £4 each for additional stories.
Deadline 27 January 2007
See the website for entry details
http://www.biscuitpublishing.com/

Leaf Open Short Story Competition 2006
Closing date January 31st 2007
Overall winner receives £200.
Runner-up receives 10 free Leaf Books.
Short stories on any topic welcome.
Word limit 1,500-5,000.
Entry fee: £6.00 per submission, which includes a Leaf Book of your choice
http://www.leafbooks.co.uk/writers/competitions/openshort06.html

The Countryside Tales COUNTRY GHOST STORY COMPETITION
Maximum length 2000 words. Prizes: £75.00. £25.00. £15.00.
Closing date 31 January 2007.
Entry fee £3.00 per story. Free entry for annual subscribers to either of their magazines. The winning story will appear in the spring issue of Countryside Tales (published in March 2007). Short-listed entries may also be considered for publication.
More details HERE

Flora London Marathon Training 5

I've had The Secretary staying with me since Christmas Eve, which has been very pleasant, but she went home today. As I was driving her into Canterbury to catch the train back to London the exhaust fell off my car. This is the latest in a long list of things to go wrong with the wretched thing since I decided not to get rid of it in November. I should've dumped it when I had the chance – it's hardly fit for scrap at the moment.

It's back to work proper on Monday, but I made a bit of a start on a few bits and pieces today. It was really tough getting the brain into gear, so I think I'll have to do a bit more over the weekend. All over Christmas and New Year I've had ideas buzzing about my head, but today I sat in front of the computer like a complete dullard.

I blame the lack of alcohol.

Easy recovery run today, four miles over countryside tracks just to keep the knees aching. It was surprisingly warm once the wind had dropped. Of course, I spent the whole run thinking about my decision yesterday to resign from my position with the local writers group. Although I made an unpremeditated snap decision to go I think it was the right thing to do. Probably.

Distance: 4.32 miles Time: 34:11

Thursday, 4 January 2007

Flora London Marathon Training 4

There's nothing like a good, blazing row with someone to set you up for a hard training session. Until today I was on the committee of a local group, but I found myself caught up in the politicking between the current Chair and the original founder of the group, and all the flak seemed to be hitting me. So I resigned in the midst of a stormy phone call to the Chair. Then, still wound up and angry, I went for my training session. Just under six miles hard, with hills. What a great way to relieve the tension!

Distance: 5.8 miles Time: 41:16

Wednesday, 3 January 2007

Flora London Marathon Training 3

It was tough getting out for today's session. I had so much to do, and I had a meeting this afternoon I needed to prepare for. Could I really spare an hour or so for running? No choice, really. And after yesterday, when I was a lot colder than I thought I'd be (wind chill factor does exist, folks!) I wrapped up warm in legs and a rainjacket. It just started to rain as I set out, and the wind was just as strong and just as cold as yesterday. And of course the fields were muddier, so the going was slippy and slow. Worst of all, I'd been distracted putting out the rubbish for the dustmen and had forgotten to take a blast of Ventolin before I set off, so my asthma was a real problem. Nevertheless, I weazed my way round the east Kent countryside and felt much better than if I'd stayed tucked up nice and warm in bed.

Honest.

Distance: 6.1 miles Time: 50:49

Tuesday, 2 January 2007

Writing Space

I bought a cheap second-hand table in Deal this morning and began to set up a proper writing space in the spare bedroom. That’s one New Year’s Resolution I can tick off already!

Flora London Marathon Training 2

I'm training for this year's London Marathon, and hoping to get a 'Good For Age' time of under 3 hours 15 minutes. My best time, in 2005, is 3:20 so I'm hopeful . . .

I'll also be raising money for Macmillan Cancer Support, should you be intersted in sponsoring me:

http://www.justgiving.com/garp

Today's training was meant to be a short, slow recovery run (four miles). But the wind was biting and the slower I ran the colder I felt. So I had to go a bit quicker than planned. I'm sure it won't kill me.

Distance: 4.3 miles Time: 35:14