Wednesday, March 31, 2010


I've been wondering whether I should enter a few more writing competitions. I have to say I have a love/hate relationship with the idea and up to now have entered only a handful, one of which was the Bridport Prize (well I can dream, can't I?).

I think for me a competition needs to have a prize element which might enhance my writing CV, eg publication in a reputable magazine or in an anthology published by a good indie publisher, or simply be a 'big name' competition. Entry fees to competitions can mount up, particularly important in our current difficult financial circumstances, and for me entering lots of smaller competitions would just be a financial lottery. You might be lucky enough to win a small cash prize, but would you ever recoup the total outgoings?

Sally Quilford is the queen of all things to do with competitions in the UK and I regularly take a look at her useful competitions calendar. I was also interested to see that she is the judge in the current Slingink Prize competition and to read her views on what might catch her eye as a judge. I'm not sure whether I felt encouraged or put off by reading so much detail, including her dislikes (sorry, Sally).

Personally, I think that trying to tailor an entry for a named judge can be quite difficult and take away from a writer's natural style. After all, a judge doesn't want to see a clone of their own writing and may enjoy reading many other types of story, a point made here by Tania Hershman a judge on the Bristol Short Story Prize this year and by Sally Quilford herself.

I have to admit that all my own competition entries so far have been either work rushed out at the last minute, just before the deadline, or pieces already written during my Open University creative writing courses. I've not put too much agonised thought into them. I'm not sure if that is a good thing or not, but I have had some success. So if I carry on entering competitions, I suspect I will continue in the same haphazard way...

Monday, March 29, 2010

School holiday escapes

Son 2's Easter holiday has just begun, so for the next two weeks (and one day) the house will be noisy, messy and generally chaotic. Although my desk is upstairs and Son 2 prefers to be downstairs, I still find it difficult to concentrate on any work.

So this holiday I'm taking advantage of the fact that Hubby is home and I'm going to take my writing out. Sadly there is no nice coffee shop in walking distance of our house, but the small local library is less than ten minutes on foot. Just a short bus journey or one stop on the tube, in either direction, can be found coffee and shopping, so I'm spoilt for choice.

Today I had a browse around five charity shops, picking up some kids and young adult fiction in an attempt to further broaden my reading (it's a while since I had to read children's books out loud). Then I retreated to Starbucks where I read and drafted some ideas and themes for future short stories over two mugs of coffee, only returning home when I felt caffeined out.

I'm hoping to repeat this later in the week, but tomorrow I might try working in the library...

Friday, March 26, 2010


As you all know I've been editing the novel on and off for about two months. Although I think it's about as good as I can get it on my own, every time I open the document I find something else tiny which needs tweaking.

But you can't go on like that for ever. Yesterday Hubby told me it was time I let it go and as it happens today was the date I'd agreed to get it to my lovely mentor Caroline for her final edit. It's gone.

So now I'm going to begin drafting my synopsis and query letter (though possibly not during the school holiday, which is about to start) and prepare myself for another round of edits when the novel returns.

And in the meantime my head is buzzing with ideas for future writing projects, which I need to pin down and prioritise...

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Lesley who?

I was sorry to read last weekend of the death of Lesley Duncan. Lesley who? Well, she was singer/songwriter and session singer with a beautiful voice, who recorded the vocals to one of my favourite songs ever, If I Could Change Your Mind by The Alan Parsons Project.

It's really old now, but this song is one I consider to be part of the soundtrack of my life. It saw me through the end of a serious relationship, the words just seemed to express everything I was feeling at the time. I still like listen to it and now Son 2 seems to enjoy it too.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Future of Publishing

You've probably all seen this clip already as it's been doing the rounds of blogs and Twitter ( I first discovered it via Nicola Morgan), but I thought I'd put it up anyway, simply because I love it.

For anyone who might be unfamiliar, you MUST watch the clip right to the end to understand it properly. It's very clever.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Living life to the full

Whether you agree or not with the legal and moral issues for which she has been fighting, Debbie Purdy is an inspiration (as is her husband Omar Puente). Whenever I read about the couple I am struck by how their positivity is enabling her to live life to the maximum for as long as she can, as this article so clearly shows.

I'm just not sure whether I'm yet ready to read her forthcoming autobiography. Maybe I'll buy a copy and put it away until I'm a little further down the line, perhaps to be pulled off the shelf if my own well of positivity starts to run dry.

For me, at the moment, it is far more important to remember the words of my GP that there are very many people living with MS who are much more mildly affected than Debbie Purdy (or Jacqueline du Pre for older readers). I'm currently lucky enough to be at that mild end, I don't have the same concerns as Debbie Purdy. I hope I never will.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sleep deprivation

I'm feeling exhausted. Son 2 has decided that it is cool to get up between 5 and 5.30am, almost every day. A recent lie in to 6.30 was a luxury.

We don't know what wakes him. A neighbour does drive off in a van at a ridiculously early hour, but that is around 4am. I sometimes stir and hear the vehicle but go straight back to sleep. Does that disturb Son 2 as well?

Because he can't be left unattended I have to get up too. Now strangely at Christmas, when he was sleeping better, I went through a phase of waking at 5am myself. I had a huge burst of creative energy and wrote a significant chunk of my novel on those mornings, before anyone else rose for the day.

But now I'm too tired to contemplate early morning writing. I just crave a shot of caffeine, not least to damp down the muscle spasm I usually have on waking. And I need to find something even more effective to cover my dark shadows.

Monday, March 15, 2010


So, on Saturday afternoon I was to be found sitting in a coffee shop, nursing a large black Americano and reading two great short stories by my lovely friend Helen in the latest issue of Woman's Weekly Fiction Special. Then I started to draw a spider diagram of some of my rough ideas for novel two and a few new developments emerged, which was pleasing.

That led me on to thinking about Mother's Day (which was yesterday in the UK) and whether either of our mothers, who both now have some level of dementia, would appreciate the cards we'd sent. Actually they both has already rung twice to thank us and the other also remembered to say thank you after a prompt about what day it was yesterday.

Then I moved on to thinking about mother-daughter relationships and how important they are in creating self-esteem and helping girls learn to function as women. Sadly, in our generation, there isn't a healthy mother-daughter relationship on either side of the family and it's something I'd always hoped to remedy if I had a daughter. But I don't. So that led to lots of 'what ifs' and...well, that's what writers do, isn't it?

Friday, March 12, 2010

A day off

Today started really badly. There was an argument in the street because a rather selfish driver was blocking our road, preventing son 2's special needs school bus getting to the house, and she refused to move. Then I overheated some cooking oil, almost setting the house on fire in the process.

I've decided to give myself a day off, a whole day away from the writing. I'd already got a lunch date arranged with an old friend and she will be collecting me very soon.

So I'll leave you with what I have finally realised is the theme tune to my novel:

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Making a difference

It's only the middle of the week, but already there have been a couple of occasions where I have spoken to people and what I have said has made a real difference or will hopefully do so. I find that hugely satisfying. I get so much help and advice from others, it's lovely to be able to give back sometimes.

Other things have fallen into place too. I have my first appointment with the MS nurse booked for a day in April. When I agreed the date I hadn't realised that Son 2 would still be on holiday. Nor had I realised that it would be a home visit rather than a clinic appointment. So when I got the confirmation letter last week I must admit I panicked a little.

I could, of course, have changed the date. But I've waiting to see the nurse since my diagnosis last summer, as she had just gone on maternity leave then and has only now returned. She will be the pivotal health professional in my future care and I am already needing her advice, so I didn't want to postpone.

Luckily I have managed to book Son 2 into a playscheme for that day, so I should be able to have a calm appointment where I can think and talk with a clear head as she assesses my needs. Hopefully it will be the start of a relationship that will make a difference.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Too old to be published?

There's an interesting debate on Nicola Morgan's blog today about the difficulties that older writers might face trying to land an agent or a publishing contract in today's market.

For me it made depressing reading because, if it is correct, both my age and my recent diagnosis will put me at a significant disadvantage. Obviously I don't need to disclose my age (and I am told I look younger anyway), but my MS will most likely be evident to anyone I might meet, as I now usually walk painfully slowly, often with a stick.

But then I looked at it another way. I have had so many life experiences, in a professional career, as a mother and a carer. Elements of all of these have fed into my novel. In other words, I couldn't have written the book I have just finished when I was much younger. Neither could I have done the OU distance creative writing courses, which built my confidence enough to attempt a novel, when my boys were very small ( apart from anything else they didn't exist then).

I've been writing seriously for five years. My writing has come a long way in that time and will no doubt continue to improve. I have been published, with my work having been selected for anthologies by writers I admire. The potential must be there and, unlike many other jobs, there is no need to retire from writing at a particular age. I have many, many writing years ahead of me and due to changes in family circumstances I now have more time to devote to writing than I ever did before.

I just hope that when I start to submit my novel in the next few months, agents and publishers will be able to look beyond such prejudices. So how can I sell my ability not only to write but to promote my work? Well I blog. I'm on Twitter and Facebook. I network with other writers. I live in London, not the middle of nowhere which could be more restricting while I can't drive. For the first time in 18 years I am not the sole carer in the family, which gives me much more flexibility. Perhaps most of all I now have more hunger to get it right and have been willing to invest time and money to do so. Finally, I write Women's Fiction which I hope would appeal to women across a wide age range rather than a narrow demographic.

Would all that convince you?

Friday, March 05, 2010

Adult Autism Strategy

Following on from the passing of the Autism Act in 2009 the Government has now published its Adult Autism Strategy for England. I haven't yet read it, but this is the take of the National Autistic Society.

One of things that amazes me is that over the years no one has kept accurate records of how many adults have autism. This has obviously been affected by the fact that diagnostic procedures have improved and many people are diagnosed in adult life. But given that the diagnosis rate in children is 1 in 100, according to the National Autistic Society, there must be a lot of adults with autism out there, most of whom are not getting appropriate services. Anything which recognises this and makes progress towards increasing support has to be welcomed. But nothing is going to happen quickly, and current budget restraints will no doubt slow the processes up even further.

One of the biggest difficulties is there can be no 'one size fits all' solution. People on the autistic spectrum can range from profoundly disabled to university professors, with most slotting in somewhere inbetween. Have a look at Temple Grandin's TED talk on autism for a wonderful view of autism from a high functioning autistic adult. But remember that for every Temple Grandin there is also an adult who can't communicate and needs 24 hour support.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

On and on...

I'm still editing. It's slow, painstaking work largely involving small tweaks and the moving of commas. I make changes and then the next day change them back again. Some days I read my work and think it's not too bad, the next day I hate it.

I know I've got to take my time on this edit, to get the novel into the best shape I possibly can. But it's causing far more self-doubt than even the actual writing did, and that at times was like pulling teeth. Some days the right words come, sometimes I can't think of even simple expressions. I don't know if this a side effect of my MS or just a deficiency in my writing skills.

To cheer myself up I've been researching agents to whom I might wish to submit. But if I feel like this about the novel now, how on earth will I be when it is launched out into the world on its own?

Monday, March 01, 2010

Thaw Blogsplash

Ruth's diary is the new novel by Fiona Robyn, called Thaw. She has decided to blog the novel in its entirety over the next few months, so you can read it for free.

Ruth's first entry is below, and you can continue reading tomorrow here.


These hands are ninety-three years old. They belong to Charlotte Marie Bradley Miller. She was so frail that her grand-daughter had to carry her onto the set to take this photo. It’s a close-up. Her emaciated arms emerge from the top corners of the photo and the background is black, maybe velvet, as if we’re being protected from seeing the strings. One wrist rests on the other, and her fingers hang loose, close together, a pair of folded wings. And you can see her insides.

The bones of her knuckles bulge out of the skin, which sags like plastic that has melted in the sun and is dripping off her, wrinkling and folding. Her veins look as though they’re stuck to the outside of her hands. They’re a colour that’s difficult to describe: blue, but also silver, green; her blood runs through them, close to the surface. The book says she died shortly after they took this picture. Did she even get to see it? Maybe it was the last beautiful thing she left in the world.

I’m trying to decide whether or not I want to carry on living. I’m giving myself three months of this journal to decide. You might think that sounds melodramatic, but I don’t think I’m alone in wondering whether it’s all worth it. I’ve seen the look in people’s eyes. Stiff suits travelling to work, morning after morning, on the cramped and humid tube. Tarted-up girls and gangs of boys reeking of aftershave, reeling on the pavements on a Friday night, trying to mop up the dreariness of their week with one desperate, fake-happy night. I’ve heard the weary grief in my dad’s voice.

So where do I start with all this? What do you want to know about me? I’m Ruth White, thirty-two years old, going on a hundred. I live alone with no boyfriend and no cat in a tiny flat in central London. In fact, I had a non-relationship with a man at work, Dan, for seven years. I’m sitting in my bedroom-cum-living room right now, looking up every so often at the thin rain slanting across a flat grey sky. I work in a city hospital lab as a microbiologist. My dad is an accountant and lives with his sensible second wife Julie, in a sensible second home. Mother finished dying when I was fourteen, three years after her first diagnosis. What else? What else is there?

Charlotte Marie Bradley Miller. I looked at her hands for twelve minutes. It was odd describing what I was seeing in words. Usually the picture just sits inside my head and I swish it around like tasting wine. I have huge books all over my flat; books you have to take in both hands to lift. I’ve had the photo habit for years. Mother bought me my first book, black and white landscapes by Ansel Adams. When she got really ill, I used to take it to bed with me and look at it for hours, concentrating on the huge trees, the still water, the never-ending skies. I suppose it helped me think about something other than what was happening. I learned to focus on one photo at a time rather than flicking from scene to scene in search of something to hold me. If I concentrate, then everything stands still. Although I use them to escape the world, I also think they bring me closer to it. I’ve still got that book. When I take it out, I handle the pages as though they might flake into dust.

Mother used to write a journal. When I was small, I sat by her bed in the early mornings on a hard chair and looked at her face as her pen spat out sentences in short bursts. I imagined what she might have been writing about; princesses dressed in star-patterned silk, talking horses, adventures with pirates. More likely she was writing about what she was going to cook for dinner and how irritating Dad’s snoring was.

I’ve always wanted to write my own journal, and this is my chance. Maybe my last chance. The idea is that every night for three months, I’ll take one of these heavy sheets of pure white paper, rough under my fingertips, and fill it up on both sides. If my suicide note is nearly a hundred pages long, then no-one can accuse me of not thinking it through. No-one can say; ‘It makes no sense; she was a polite, cheerful girl, had everything to live for’, before adding that I did keep myself to myself. It’ll all be here. I’m using a silver fountain pen with purple ink. A bit flamboyant for me, I know. I need these idiosyncratic rituals; they hold things in place. Like the way I make tea, squeezing the tea-bag three times, the exact amount of milk, seven stirs. My writing is small and neat; I’m striping the paper. I’m near the bottom of the page now. Only ninety-one more days to go before I’m allowed to make my decision. That’s it for today. It’s begun.

Continue reading tomorrow here...