Thank you for visiting this blog site. It's mainly writing-related posts including thoughts, tips, info and psychological aspects of writing. If you felt like following, well that would be great.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Writing for the Family at Christmas

As families get together at Christmas, there is often a lull in 'things to do' once the grand lunch is over. Board games or other everybody-join-in activities don't appeal to everyone, either. 
by LizMarie_AK
What John & I have enjoyed for a number of years, and which fits nicely into a 'quiet' slot, is to provide a reading, a mini panto, or a play of some sort. Sometimes they're worked out last-minute, but the family always listen dutifully, laugh in the right places, and shout out if it's called for. It's been such fun that I wondered if others might consider giving it a go.

Of course some people are currently busy with NaNoWriMo, but even they could put the idea in their brain section marked 'ideas for later'. I believe all writers have one of these, and that's why I'm blogging about Christmas this early.

by David Blackwell
Here are some of the 'productions' we've offered in recent years.

*  We'd acquired an Angelina Ballerina Theatre set to amuse the grandchildren. So, for two
        consecutive Christmases I wrote 20-minute 2-act plays for the Angelina characters to
        perform. The script had stage directions and everything. I did the moves and most of
        the voices, while John acted a severe Miss Lilly, narrated, and operated the FX,   
        revolving bit of the stage, the curtains and the 'lights'. Popcorn was served in the 
        interval. There were, of course, some black moments but always a happy resolution. 
        The highlight of these plays, in 'Roger the Rat Saves the Theatre', was John's FX for
        the roaring of Roger, made by that crocodile toy that roars when you pull the lever.
        The immediate response from the children was to dive under the table to see how he
        was making the noise.

*  An existing folk tale, narrated and with speaking characters, about a princess saved by a
        donkey that could make gold coins shower out of its huge ears. At crucial moments
        a handful of gold-wrapped chocolate coins would be thrown into the air, and play
        stopped while the children scooped them up.

*  A reading of Twas the Night Before Christmas, which was written in 1822. I'd taken the
        liberty of altering the text to remove any references to Santa smoking his pipe, so I
        was interested to hear very recently on the wireless that someone else was thinking
        along the same lines.

*  A ten-minute Christmas ghost story for children. Each character had resonances with at
        least one person present. It involved a family where the tree decs had always been red
        and gold although the girl would have loved something different for once. The ghost of
        a child visits the girl on Christmas Eve, and in the morning there's a new purple bauble
        hanging on the tree.

*  Usually I also write or copy a poem suitable for children, print it out and laminate it, and 
        ask the children if they'd be willing to read it for us. No refusals so far! My all-time
        favourite is Christmas by Steve Turner. Four lovely 8-line verses, with the recurring
        theme a variation on 'We always do that.'

This year's effort isn't planned yet, but now the children are older, I'm thinking a play with perhaps a ghost theme and involving social media. It might be an idea to write in a part for each of the children, too - I'll ask them.
by WaterHorse Media, LLC
If anyone is inspired to do this sort of thing this year, I'd really love to hear about it!  It can be a lot of work for a short 'performance', but great fun and, hopefully, memorable. Anyone want to borrow a story?!

Sunday, 21 October 2012


Delighted to Have Received an Award!

Thank you so much, JPF Goodman ( for nominating this blog of mine for an award. Very pleased to receive it, and of course I follow and enjoy your blog as well (though not sure if one can bounce an award back).

This is an informal arrangement, but there are 'things' to be done. Firstly, to explain why I blog. I am an opinionated type, and wanted to express my thoughts on various subjects although on this blog I have been concentrating mainly on writing and writers. As a former psychologist and a writer too, I have a really inquisitive interest in how, why and what other people write and in any features common to most writers. I began to write blogs (my other one is about vegetarian food) after we'd discussed social media at my writing group, Southampton Writing Buddies. A number of us now post blogs and manage to make them our slaves rather than our masters.

It's also important for recipients of this award to nominate other blogs. Yes, it is a little like a chain letter but it's a way of expressing appreciation for other people's work. So here are the blogs which I am nominating for The Addictive Blog Award. (JPF's blog explains how this works - link in first line above.) - mo is a novelist and really interesting blogger who's lived a bit ... - keen writer, talented artist, again some fascinating experiences - enthusiastic writer with flair, glamour, and great cooking too - not just parenting, but a range of interesting opinions & insights - the travel blog of Jo Carroll which can leave me breathless!

And thanks to everyone who writes blogs which I read and enjoy regularly. Especially JPF for this award.

Delighted to Accept an Award!

Friday, 31 August 2012

Blood and Guts in Short Stories: What does it tell us about the author?

Horror, zombies, blood, guns - a quick look at Amazon's lists shows that there's a 
market for short stories in this (pun alert) vein. So what does such content reveal 
about the author and, indeed, the reader?
DBduo Photography
One approach is to look at the motivation behind this choice of material. First, the writers - why do they write about violence? 

1  The glib answer, pseudo-psychogically, is they are freeing repressed urges to commit
          violence. I don't hold with that, except maybe occasionally it might be a socially
          acceptable and safer outlet. We'd rather they wrote about it than did it.

2  Versatile and savvy writers may have realised that bloodshed sells. It's a sound business
          approach to identify a market and buy into it.

3  It can be a way of slipping outside the usual comfort zone of safe writing, to be tried as an
          experiment. They may then enjoy it, maybe not.

4  This is my view of the prime motivation. Violence seems rarely to be the chosen genre of
          the rookie writer. Rather, as time goes on and authors develop experience and
          confidence, they may start to write crime, horror, violence just because they realise
          that they can. I base this on personal experience and it seems valid for us all. Earlier
          this year I worked through an online short story course, and came to realise that the
          standard of successful stories was vastly higher than I'd been producing. Without
          noticing what was going on, I found myself producing two dark stories, both
          involving death - one accidental, one deliberate. Both have since been published by
          others. I've since continued with dark and sometimes creepy themes, and find that I'm 
          ready to attack them head-on. Again, that is just because I can.
Brenda Clarke

And now a brief word about the readers of gory material. I believe it's for the same reason that people watch fictional violence on television. It's chilling, which may mean thrilling, but at the same time safe because it's fiction and anyway, you can close the book just as you can switch off the television. 

And here's where my personal psychology collapses. I can write (and read) about a bit of gore, but I'm behind a cushion when the TV villain aims a gun close to the victim's head. This is because my brain seems determined to bank such visual images and keep them for ever, and I really don't want them. Oh no. I'm barking after all!

One last confession - I can never watch animal cruelty or slaughter on television, and will never put it into any of my writing. As Aunty Joan (in Doc Martin) reaches for one of her hens, the nice old lady in Midsomer Murders prepares to put a pet rabbit out of its misery, or a lion is seen about to pounce on its prey, I'm out of the room p.d.q. Animal stuff seems more real to me, probably because I know it goes on all the time in the real world and I can't bear that. 

I was going to end by saying that violence towards animals (even from other animals) is the only area I won't tackle. But wait. I haven't started on erotic fiction - and probably won't, because I really am a prude. Shame - there's obviously a good market for it!

Sunday, 19 August 2012

A Memory-based Party Trick!

This party trick was originally written up in an early edition of my monthly newsletter for teachers of special needs children - Special Needs Information Press. SNIP was delivered to 500+ subscribing schools by the time I handed it over to a team of teachers after about six years of publication.

The 'trick' rarely fails to impress anyone who doesn't know how it's done. I featured it because it was a useful aid to improving auditory memory and is great fun, too. It is included in this blog as part of my 'psychology' strand. 

You need one person from your audience to be ready with pencil and paper. Here's how it works.

1  Your opening gambit: I'm going to ask you to make a list of ten common objects. After
    you have told me the objects just once, I shall be able to remember them straight
    away, in any order, from their number alone.

2  The set-up: On paper, the chosen person writes the numbers one to ten in a column,
    and beside each they write the name of a common object. Typically they might 
    choose things like pen, chair, cat. Then you recite the numbers one at a time, and
    after each number the person tells you the object. At this point, people don't believe
    you can do it.
by Esme Vos
3  The trick: This is done by auditory memory and visual association, and you need to 
    learn the basic code of associations. This is:
           one-bun    two-shoe    three-tree    four-door    five-hive (beehive)
           six-sticks    seven-heaven    eight-gate    nine-line (washing line)    ten-hen.
    As the objects are named, you make a visual association in your mind, preferably a
    nonsensical and action-based link. For example,
           1  Table - one-bun, visualise a table which is rocky because one of the legs is
                 resting on a squashed currant bun.
           2  Wheelbarrow - two-shoe, a wheelbarrow trundling along filled with shoes.
           4  Pig - four-door, opening a door and a herd of pigs rushing out towards you.
           5  Spoon - five-hive, lifting the lid of the hive and scooping out the honey with
                 a spoon.
     And so on until all ten have been (rapidly) memorised.
by artethgray
4   The show: Now you simply invite the person to say any of the numbers, and your
     visual picture should prompt you straight away. Easy!

This is a very quick process once you get the hang of it. The associations may not last longer than the rest of the day, but that won't matter. As the old Ellison's joke catalogues used to promise, 'Amaze your friends with this very simple trick'!

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

The Olympic Struggle Should Not Apply to Writers

by Aaron Fulkerson

After wondering for some time why I'm such a wet blanket about the Olympics, an answer has emerged. The point of this blog is that I believe my reason applies to writers as well - some of us at least.

The aim of the Games, for individuals and teams, is to make your country proud by proving that you are better than anyone else at what you do. And, as the bard says, 'There's the rub.' I strongly believe that 'be the best' should not be applied as widely as it is. All right, a little competition at school sports days for fun - but look how easily it turns into bitter competition, no less for parents than for pupils, perhaps damaging the child-parent relationship along the way. How much more must it affect athletes and other competitors to fail in their bid, especially after years of planning, outlay and effort have taken over their lives.

Moving on to writing, I have also realised that it is not so important to 'be the best'. Although for many years I have been a published article writer, recently I have taken to fiction, making use of courses, advice books and feedback. At first I naively entered competitions, and heard nothing. Then a little feedback started to arrive, often mainly positive with just a few correctable problems. That's progress, and I'm happy with it. I'm now seeing my fiction published here and there, and that's joyous. Fortunately I don't need to make my living this way, and any type of success adds building blocks to my self esteem and confidence as a writer.

For those who are able to make their living through writing, that's just wonderful. I sense that many are not especially striving to win competitions, but just to write work that large numbers of people are happy to buy and enjoy reading. If an agent puts an author's work in for a competition, fine, and it if does well - brilliant.

In summary, I feel that progress and success lie in building on one's own achievements, grasping opportunities and making the best possible outcome, rather than wanting to conquer everyone else.

So my competition efforts will be limited, although I love to read winning entries. I'm aiming to improve my standards and my publication rate as an end in itself. And that's why I don't rate the Olympics. It's not necessary to be the best.

Monday, 18 June 2012

The Parade, 1940

This poem was inspired by a family photograph of my paternal grandfather, a major in the Middlesex Regiment, escorting the Queen Mother along a line of his soldiers in July 1940.

This first appeared as winner of the poetry section of Southampton Writing Buddies first anniversary anthology, Wordfall, published in 2011.

So here is the photograph .....
© Jacqueline Pye 
..... and here is the poem.

The Parade, 1940

The stout man in khaki has a smile as wide as this,
Strutting, proud, with medals on his chest.
       These are my men.

Elizabeth, charming, greets one in every four.
The man in khaki follows, hands by sides,
       Two steps behind.

Harry Baggins, Ma'am. He lost his hand in Caen.
Thank you, Harry; the King and I salute your bravery.
       An honour, Ma'am.

A camera flashes.

But now the line of men is not quite straight;
He glares at those he sees are out of true.
       They can't stand still.

And so she's reached the end of the parade -
She'll soon forget the details of today.
       They won't forget.

     *            *            *            *            *

That photo, now so old, has hardly faded,
Unlike the line of men with heads held high -
       They've all gone now.

The stout man no longer wears his major's cap;
He dozes in a chair while young girls fuss.
       That's me, he says.

We know, they tell the major, that one's you.
Aren't you real smart, the uniform and all.
       Then he's asleep.

© Jacqueline Pye 2010

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Twitter - Thoughts on Following & #FollowFriday

This post is about how I feel towards twitter, so it's a purely personal view. I wonder if readers will agree.

Following You on Twitter 

Twitter was created primarily as a social media site, and much of its content is indeed social. 'Which is nice.' It's fun to read other people's news, views and recommendations, and to reply to some. Like chatting to someone you meet on the bus, in the library, outside school. There may be links to interesting/informative/funny articles or pictures, and recommendations to follow others, and I might check them out and follow if I fancy, widening my range of follows and sometimes going through them to see if there's anyone I might want to unfollow. 

If I unfollow you, though, it's not an insult. It may be that you tweet only about things you'd like me to buy, or you repeat the same tweets over and over again, you tweet every five minutes or you've changed tack and lost my attention. I may come back later.

Similarly, if I don't follow back immediately, it's not an insult. Maybe I don't share your interests (as shown in your list of tweets) or maybe there's a hint of language which I don't like to read. (Being, as I've said before, something of a prude.)

I do like to comment on people's tweets where I feel strongly or especially enjoy them or find them useful. Most of us surely love to think someone's read our tweet and has something to say to us. If someone's unwell, or has a life hiccup, I'll send cybersympathy. If I know the answer to a question, I'll write it. And as for competitions, if the prize is attractive I'll usually have a go. Numbers of entries can be low, even if the setter has a long list of followers.

Following Me on Twitter

I'm inordinately pleased to have new followers, even if you're a business and will quickly unfollow if I don't respond or follow back. I don't get intense about numbers of followers otherwise I guess I'd make more use of hashtags to scoop up more. Perhaps that's a mistake. 

Even more pleasing is if people respond to something I've written. It makes a person feel noticed and appreciated. And if anyone should retweet me, well that's like being given a large bar of Toblerone (but lasts longer).

I've decided to opt out of Fllwrs (who tell you who has recently followed and unfollowed). This is partly because of suspicion that there may be a connection with spam, but also because I don't want especially to know who's unfollowed so I can't be miffed. Bye bye techno geeks, tarpaulin providers, Scottish holiday firms who were on my unfollowed list before.
Alan Levine
Follow Friday
#ff is interesting. I try to use it at least every other Friday. As everyone knows, it's a way of passing on to followers some people who are good to follow for whatever reason. Still, it seems to have turned into just a way of expressing appreciation and it's good to get a mention. What's funny is, if someone does a #ff to as many people as will fit in the tweet, some of those will retweet the whole list, making it seem that they are appreciating them. If you see what I mean. My #ff lists have gone in some interesting directions and this is certainly not a complaint!

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Writing Courses - What I Hope to Find

The very first writing course I followed was a correspondence type many years ago. The subject was non-fiction, and the promise was a full refund if the fee was not recouped by sales during the course. There was a good deal of positive feedback latterly, and the tutor seemed confident that I'd be published, but there was no success with magazines at the time. Gathering and returning all the course materials as demanded, I received a refund - but I kept writing. Should I have felt guilty about the refund, given that I covered the fee in sales fairly soon afterwards?
By David Blackwell 

The most recent course has been for short story writing for more literary and competition type work, with the aim of ending up with a story of publishable standard. Again, I completed all the assignments and received a good deal of useful feedback, although the main piece of work is not quite up to standard as yet. It's a 'work in progress'.

Reviewing the outcome and range of emotions during the course, I've compiled a list of ten things which I  would hope for in a writing course.

 1  In the blurb, a clear statement of the aims for achievement by the end.

 2  Again in the blurb, a comment about the optimum level of prior experience. Is it suitable 
          for beginners, for example, or writers just starting to be successful, or those already 
          well on their way?

 3  Unambiguous info about the expected length of the course, and any restrictions on the
          time allowed.

 4  Statement about what feedback the student can expect during the course, e.g.  from tutor 
          and other students, and whether each student will be asked to give feedback to others.
by Frankie Kangas

 5  Advice on how to give considered and constructive feedback. (Says
          she after a bit of a battering - though in the latest course this advice 
          was certainly given clearly.)

 6  Opportunities to study successful work and pieces which are considered 
          great writing.

 7  Ongoing feedback which picks up problems and gives pointers towards addressing them.
          Personally, I feel that occasional specifics are very helpful, e.g. when an issue with
          dialogue is flagged up, an example of what would be better (even if just one line).

 8  At the end of the course, a summary of how far the tutor feels the student has progressed
          (not "Don't give up the day job" though.)

 9  Suggestions for further study, individualised for the student if time/fee permits.

10 Finally, if there is work of reasonable standard, suggestions as to where it might be
          submitted when polished, so the student can research those opportunities.

Thanks for reading this. I'd be very interested to hear whether anyone who's currently on a course, or who has recently completed one, agrees with these points or has any to add.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Friday, 16 March 2012

Course, Week 5 - nearly there

Some more excellent advice in the week's course notes, all taken to heart. Two very pleasing critiques received from fellow students, with one describing my half-finished work as 'monumentally creepy' - just what I was aiming for, fortunately! Submission this week was the finished story - not necessarily in its final form but showing how it all works out, and I did that, surprising myself with incorporating a death - and I've never used 'creepy' or death in a story before. So something is changing.
         Another task was to produce a shorter story from scratch in one go, which I have done. No idea where the story came from, apart from a memorable (for all the wrong reasons) moment in my mid-teens involving a spider. The story just, as they say, told itself. 
         Now both of these stories need some going over. I have emailed them to our gas fitter! He is a keen reader, especially creepy, and asked if he could see them.
         The final week will involve critiquing by and for each student - I expect everyone, like me, is bracing themselves. This is a good course, stirring up the waters and producing surprising results.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Short Story Writing Course - week four

All exercises duly completed, including providing feedback on two anonymous part-stories. One was difficult to visualise because the characters' physical positions in relation to one another were not clear. I could visualise the characters themselves, though, and there was a great twist at the end of the plot summary which I didn't see coming. The other posed a mystery from the start which hadn't been revealed in the text so far but which set me trying to guess; well written and the secondary character easy to visualise but the main character still mysterious. Don't yet know if we get to see the finished works.

A short story to be listened to online - very strange and dramatic, marked changes of pace - slow, then building to fast, and then dream-like slow pace allowing something frightful to be followed with dispassionate interest. Looking at characterisation, and how dialogue illustrates it, in this module, getting to know my characters more deeply and realising I haven't done this sufficiently in the past.

Definitely feel that I'm stepping back and looking at the short story in a completely different light, as well as realising the need for something a lot more intense than before. But beginning to think I could do this.

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Week Three

So on to week three of this short story writing course. This looked at how to leave blanks in the narrative to allow the reader's imagination to work, another aspect I'd not really considered before.

There was also a short story from the tutor's own collection; chilling, but with a feast for the senses coupled with never actually mentioning the most important fact about the characters - this is worked out by the reader towards the end. Another example of the principle was in the link given to a prize-winning story, which again left me with a sense of satisfaction but wishful thinking about my own work.

The piece to submit was further work on the short story begun earlier. Having distilled the points from the two critiques, and absorbed the 'lesson' of this part of the course, I deleted some weak bits which didn't move the story forward or which told too much, tried to keep just the one point of view, and adjusted expressions which had tripped up the critics. By the time I'd done all the other exercises, I got round only to progressing the story a little further, and submitted it in the hope of more positive, less negative feedback this time.

I do get it, and realise how meandering and flat my earlier work has been. Spurred on by this, and by hearing that one of our Southampton Writing Buddies, Jacqueline Field, has just been shortlisted in the Writers' News competition (as well as another of her works being runner-up in one of their comps about 3 months ago), it's onwards and upwards at the half-way stage of the course.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Week Two of the Course

The second part of the short story writing course caused mixed feelings. I duly used the link provided to read a most excellent prize-winning and atmospheric story (cue "I could never write like that".) The writing exercises were completed too (not to be submitted at this stage, but filed away). I had submitted a draft of the first 800 words of a story, with the task being not to worry too much about editing at this stage, and submitted my feedback on the story openings buzzed over from the tutor.

Then - oh heck. Encouraging feedback from the tutor, with some aspects to consider including an unexpected change of point of view. Yes, I know, a common mistake. One of the students' feedback comments kindly mixed positive with problems and suggestions, and agreed in some places with the tutor's own opinion. The other feedback (almost as long as the original piece) piled comment upon comment about what didn't gel, what didn't make sense, what trips the reader up and so on, with the point-of-view comment only too incisive (and repeated).

It's a funny thing with writers. As a group we seem to lack confidence; even the most prolific and successful suffer. Which I guess is a spur to keep up standards or risk falling victim to failure. This review certainly knocked me for six. After all, it was supposed to be only a draft. Like most students I suppose, I found it hard to take such a wealth of criticism, wrote to the tutor saying maybe I had bitten off more than I could chew, and whinged to my family and my writing group. All-round reassurance followed, and given a few days to stop sulking, I have now listed from each critique the points which I accept and to which attention will be given in the next draft. Just as planned, no doubt!

So, on to week three, about which I'll write soon (getting a bit behind, but will catch up). As a psychologist who has run courses for teachers, I know all about negative/positive feedback, how students often feel after the initial flush of enthusiasm about a course, and how important it is to keep them on track and looking ahead with confidence. Physician, heal thyself and all that. And I shall.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

Back To School!

As I've been venturing into fiction more lately, especially of the flash type but also short stories, the lure of Tom Vowler's six-week online short story course was hard to resist. After looking at his website, achievements and general cred, I paid up and planned - very roughly - my 3-5 hours per week to devote to the course. There are only a few 'students' so feedback from Tom and from the others is manageable for us all.

The first week's work is now done, and I am really glad that this is more a literary course than one for women's popular magazines, as that's what I feel I lack. Tom wrote a useful intro about the short story, and set some exercises - including submitting the beginning of a story - and reader, I did them all. He intends to make silk purses out of sows' ears, and I shall give it my very best shot. Oink, oink.

I shall blog in a week's time about the second lot of exercises now in my inbox, together with (if publishable) any interesting feedback on my first attempt.

Friday, 3 February 2012

Win a Book Token!

Welcome, and here are details of this new competition.

Why a Competition?
I've been reading books avidly on my Kindle lately, and feeling that they are absolute bargains for (a) how much work the authors put in to produce them and (b) how many hours for which each one entertains me. So it struck me that it would be appropriate to 'give something back'.

What is the Prize?
There are two prizes of national book tokens. (Sorry but this means UK entries only.) The first token is worth £15, the second £10.

How to Enter
Simply describe, in fifteen words or fewer, how you would use your book token. Maximum of two entries per person please. There are two ways to enter: either leave your answer as a comment on this blog post, or on Twitter to @JacquelinePye with the hashtag #bookcomp

When Does It Close?
Open now, and closes at 6pm on Wednesday February 8th.

Who Is Judging?
Richard Morris, Founder & MD of TheGivingMachine, has kindly agreed to judge the competition, and all entries will be passed to him anonymously after the close. TheGivingMachine is a thriving not-for-profit organisation, perfect for online shoppers to support their favourite charities absolutely free. Participating online shops (over 350 of the most popular sites so far and counting) pay TheGivingMachine commission for whatever we buy through the portal - only one extra click. These commissions are converted into cash donations to the shopper's chosen charity. Details are on The Giving Machine website. I use it for all my online shopping, and donations go to Leukaemia Research. It seemed the ideal 'partner' for this competition, going with the theme of 'giving'.

Anything Else?
There are no other conditions - I'm not insisting on a follow or RT on Twitter! I'll provide a link to the competition on Twitter, and on Facebook too although I'm, er, rather inactive on Facebook! If you decide to enter, the best of luck. Winners will be announced on Monday February 13th and contacted individually.