Things I’ve learned about writing: how to receive feedback

Feedback. On your precious writing. Also known as critique, constructive criticism, edits, thoughts, comments, disemboweling, soul crushing … I’m talking here about those written reports, emails, notes, track changes etc, which might be given by relatives, friends, critique partners, tutors, mentors, competition readers, agents, and editors, to you, on your full or partial manuscript.

Never mind that you asked these lovely people to review your manuscript for free; or paid them for advice; or have a contract that shows they already love the story – giving your work to someone else to read can be heart-shakingly hard. You may have spent three years getting this story up to scratch, and then a person reads it in less than a day and tells you lots of things they think are wrong with it. HOW you respond to feedback may vary depending on the WHO, but trust me, it’s going to involve emotional turmoil of some kind.

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Things I’ve learned about writing: The power of prompts

Prickly Chairs – photograph by Royston Hunt of earthnotes

The picture above was the prompt for the 2020 Flash Fiction Festival Micro Fiction contest. I was thrilled to come first with my story Eye, Aye, I.

Prizes courtesy of Bath Flash Fiction Award and earthnotes

Entering online short story competitions is how I first dared to put my work out into the world. These past few years I’ve entered fewer, focusing instead on writing novels. But having recently parted from my agent, finished a novel, and lurking in lockdown lethargy, I’ve found myself searching out short story and flash fiction competitions once more. There’s a kind of comfort in it, a way of reminding myself that I can still write, that I will have more ideas. 

This kind of sums up writing life. However far along the publishing path you get, at some point you invariably loop back to a place you were before – older, wiser, and hopefully a better writer.

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Writing with mental ill health

This is a blog I wrote back in August for the #WriteMentor Spark Programme. Another of Stuart White’s wonderful inclusive and encouraging iniatives, Spark is a good affordable way to get help with your writing and engage with the children’s writing and publishing community.

How to keep writing when you have mental ill health – 6 practical tips

Alongside therapy, medication, and exercise, many people find writing can help to manage their mental health.

Confused Mental Health GIF by Lisa Vertudaches

But there’s a catch: How do you write when depression means just getting out of bed is too hard? Or OCD has you stuck in a loop of some tedious behaviour? Or anxiety tells you that you’re not good enough, you’ll never be a writer, and sends your brain spiralling?

Having lived with chronic anxiety since childhood, plus depression and OCD on the side, in my experience life is always better when I’m writing. Any kind is good – non-fiction, journaling, memoir, poetry, therapeutic – but for me, fiction works best. Here, I offer some practical tips to help you keep writing on difficult days.

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Endurance Writing Part 2

Sunday morning run on the cycle track through woods.

May is a month that weeps green. Cow parsley and nettles reach my shoulders in places along the path. The smell of wild garlic shouts life, joy, hope, and mingles with the sleazy scent of hawthorn flowers.

This is a path I run often, through all the seasons, and I love it.

The very first short story I had published was born here, about eight years ago. Little Red Running Hood. I entered an online competition run by the wonderful Inktears. The story was commended, and published on their website. I look at the story now with a critical eye, of course. Certainly, I didn’t understand the concept of killing darlings back then. 😁

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#WriteMentor Summer 2019

It’s back! #WriteMentor – the highly successful mentoring progamme for YA and children’s writers. And I’m delighted to be a mentor again this year.

Why I Mentor

I’ll tell you the truth. This time last year I was pretty low about my own writing. My novel had been out on submission with publishers for a (long) while and things were not looking promising. I struggled to write, had repetitive strain injury from refreshing my emails, and spent far more time than was good for me on twitter.

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Mentoring, Editing and Reading Services

I’m now offering mentoring, editing and reading services for writers of Middle Grade, Teen and YA fiction, and short stories of all kinds.

I believe in giving kind and constructive feedback, and my aim is to help writers on to the next step of their journey.  If you’d like to know about my qualifications and experience please take a look here.

Services include a Submission Package, Full Report, Procrastinator’s Package, Beta Reading, and the Teen Reader Report. Further details can be found here.

Please take a look and get in touch if you’d like any further information.

Endurance Writing

This is not a humble brag, or any other kind of brag for that matter, (and if you ever saw me running, you’d know that is the truth), but I’m in training for a half-marathon. I’m the sort of runner whose main aim is to make it to the start line, never mind the finish. Personal bests, credible times and podiums (ha ha), be damned.

Anyway, I’m in the endurance phase of my training programme. These are the weeks when you turn up, day after day, and put in the miles. Good days, bad days, fast or slow, sun or rain, flowing or stuttering. (Yes, it is a writing metaphor.) Often, I feel like I’m getting slower, less fit, achier. Too old, my body protests. But I keep on. Because I’ve been here before. In a few weeks’ time, some magic will happen, and I will run a longer distance than I ever felt was possible. (Yes, that is also a writing metaphor.)

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#WriteMentor – why I mentor

So, I’m a mentor for #WriteMentor and I wanted to explain why I signed up, my approach and the sort of ‘mentee’ I hope to support.

See that kitten? That’s me, hiding in a book. Although I’m not as furry, or as cute. But I did hide in books as a child. Painfully shy, an ‘extreme introvert’, books were a way to escape myself. And even now as an adult, when the world gets too much, or even when everything is just fine, reading is where I go. I love to read, and that is one of the reasons I like being a mentor. I want to read your words.

When I started writing seriously over a decade ago, I had this image in my head of the writer as a tortured soul alone in their garret. And I went with that for a few years, writing in isolation, afraid to show my words to anyone.

You can read about my journey out of the garret here if you like. But to cut a very long story short, which is kind of what this is all about, I discovered the wonder of working with other writers – sharing stories, giving and receiving feedback, and positive, constructive criticism.

I found my writing family while studying for an MA in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University. But I appreciate that such an opportunity is not available to everyone. So, I would like to support a writer who may be nervous about sending their story out into the world, or who hasn’t yet found their writing community, or someone who struggles with the whole ‘putting yourself out there’ part of the journey to becoming a published author.

While I always try to offer critique in a kind, constructive manner, I will be honest with you if I think something isn’t working or needs improving. I’m also a detail person, and have a bit of a reputation for spotting typos and continuity issues.

An empathetic character and a strong narrative voice are far more important to me than genre. I like books that make me think and have some beauty in them. I read all sorts of stories but in particular I like:

In YA: Contemporary realism, the grittier the better; feminist speculative fiction; issue-led books, particularly mental health; historical. In MG: contemporary; magical; adventure; historical.

If this sounds like the kind of mentoring you’d like, please put me down as one of your choices on the mentee application. If not, take a look at all the other wonderful mentors available.

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More Mentoring News

Delighted to say I am now a writing mentor for #WriteMentor, a programme for unagented Middle Grade and YA writers. We offer the opportunity to develop a manuscript with an agented or published author. There are various options available from a query package to developmental edits on the full manuscript.

Each mentor has something different to offer, in terms of input and style. We aim to encompass a wide range of genres, styles and diversity, and encourage mentees from anywhere in the world to apply, although all work should be submitted in English. There will be an agent showcase at the end of the process in September.

Interested? What’s the next step?

  1. Check out the mentor bios.
  2. Choose three mentors to apply to.
  3. Send your application between 4th and 11th May.