Friday 29 June 2012

Fabulous Blog Ribbon Award and Other Awesome News

Friday again eh? I hope everyone has a great weekend in spite of the freakish weather that's affecting various corners of the globe. Today I'm going to do a bit of a round-up of some stuff that I'm involved in in hopes that others will be interested too.

First though, I received the Fabulous Blog Ribbon Award from Lauren at Eclectic. Thanks! Rules as follows:

1. Post the rules on your blog.
2. Name five of your most fabulous moments, either in real life or in the blogosphere.
3. Name five things you love.
4. Name five things you hate.
5. Pass the ribbon on to five other bloggers. (Leave them a comment to notify them of their win.)

Five fabulous moments (hmm):

1. My wedding day
2. Birth of my daughter
3. Finishing a book for the first time
4. Getting a story published
5. Getting a job at my local paper (only three months, but hey)

Five things I love:

1. My family
2. Writing
3. Reading
4. Wotsits
5. Amazing blog peeps!

Five things I hate (should be fun):

1. The Disney Channel (if you've got kids you'll understand)
2. People who drop litter or cigarette ends. Especially out of moving vehicles.
3. Housework
4. Programmes in the Jersey Shore/Made In Chelsea genre
5. Spammers

Five deserving nominees: 

1. Treskie
2. Suze
3. James Anderson
4. E.J. Wesley
5. Jessica L. Foster

Now onto something much more interesting...

The effervescent Candilynn Fite has started up a brand new monthly flash fiction contest, Follow My Lead. Each month, she will post a photo and prompt and you have two weeks to post your entry. The closing date for this first contest is June 30th, so you'll have to scramble to get your story posted this time, but the good news is that from now on the contest will open on the first Friday of each month! So only a week till the next one, woohoo.

Candilynn is also offering fantastic prizes, namely books written by authors within the blogging community. For this first contest, it's End of Days by the mercurial Roland D. Yeomans, a great friend to many of us. Entries are posted directly within the comment thread, so if you want to read my attempt, jump over to Candilynn's blog and scroll down to somewhere near the bottom (not forgetting to check out all the other stupendous offerings). Loads of fun!

Next, a couple of blogfests that I signed up for recently. I'm sure that many of you are already aware of them, but if not, you might want to think about getting involved. First up it's Hookers and Hangers hosted by the ladies at Falling For Fiction. This is all about seeing how good your chapters are at grabbing the reader in the first line, and leaving them dangling at the end. Post your first lines on July 16th and last lines on July 18th. You can post as many as you want, and the first three will be judged. The five judges will each pick a winner from both categories, making a total of ten winners who will each receive a 10 page double spaced critique and a Friday Spotlight on FFF! Exciting times! Sign up here.

And looking further ahead, there's the fab-sounding "What If?" Fairytale Madness Blogfest running August 13th to 17th. Quite a lot of rules to go along with this so here's the lowdown from the horses' mouths:

Have you noticed that by changing one detail; one event, one character trait, one can completely alter the rest of the story?

For this bloghop we are exploring "What If?"
Not only do we want it to be fun, but it will hopefully be a fun writing exercise and make for some great reading during the hop!

To enter:
Think of your favorite "well known" fairytale and ask "What If…!"
Then, pick one of these four categories: (be sure to mention which category you're joining, during your blog post!)
·       Best Plot Twist
·       Best Love Story
·       Best Tragedy
·       Best Comic Relief

Finally, write a scene(s) illustrating a new detail of the 
fabled fairy tale that changes our perspective.
To recap,
Is it a plot twist? (Cinderella gets knocked up by the Carriage Driver…)
An unknown romance that comes to light? (Snow White dumps the Prince for Grumpy…)
A tragic loss occurs? (The Three Little Pigs are too late to save their house…)
A little comic relief? (Hansel and Gretel win a trip on Euro Rail, sponsored in part by M&M’s…)

Whatever the change…It's limited only by your imagination – but please keep it PG-13.
Other Rules:
·       Post your story during the week of August 13 to 17.
·       Flash Fiction – 300 WORD MAX. (You don't have to tell the whole story in three hundred words. Pick what works to illustrate your point.)
JUDGING CATEGORIES and the respective judges:
 ·       Best Plot Twist – Cassie Mae
·       Best Love Story - Morgan Shamy
·       Best Tragedy -  Leigh Covington
·       Best Comic Relief - Mark Koopmans


(Prize will go to the winner of judge's sponsored category. For example, Leigh's prize goes to the winner of Best Tragedy, Mark's prize goes to winner of Best Comic Relief, etc.)

Leigh is offering: A Paperback Copy of "Save The Cat," by Blake Snyder!
Morgan is offering: A full manuscript critique!
Cassie Mae is offering: $25 Amazon Gift Card
Mark is offering: a $25 Hawaiian care package (incl. $5 USPS Priority Shipping) Winner can choose from any number of small items such as candy, trinkets, Kona Coffee, etc.

I think this will be a hoot! I'm yet to finalise the details of my story, but I plumped for Team Tragedy. I like letting out my evil side and watching my characters suffer! *rubs hands together and laughs maniacally* Go to any of the hosts' blogs to sign up and add your name to the linky list!

And last but most certainly not least, a good blogging buddy of mine, Kyra Lennon, is launching her first book, Game On, on August 6th and celebrating with a blog tour running until the 19th! I'm really excited for Kyra. If you follow her blog, you'll know she's always bubbly and upbeat and her writing itself is just as likeable. Here's the blurb for Game On:

After swapping her small town life to work for a top U.S soccer team, Leah Walker thought she could finally leave the ghosts of her past behind. However, when she meets serial womanizer, Radleigh McCoy, the memories of her old life come swarming back, and she is forced to ask herself whether she has really changed at all. 

Go and show Kyra some support in the run-up to her tour, as well as commiserations for England crashing out of Euro 2012! >:o(

That will be all... Have a good weekend everyone!

Are you participating in either of the blogfests? Following Kyra, or interested in Candilynn's contest? Anything else exciting coming up?

Monday 25 June 2012

Fear of Finishing

So you're getting to the end of your manuscript. You think you know how things are going to pan out and you're getting to that big climax - the end is in sight. Then everything dries up and somehow you can't quite bring yourself to put your exhausted characters through those final hoops. There could be several reasons for this:

* You don't want to finish the first draft as you'll miss it when immersed in the nitty-gritty of revisions.
* You're worried the ending isn't going to be satisfactory, or provide answers to all the questions that have been left dangling in the lead-up to that point, or you can't work out how to tie everything together properly.
* What you're writing isn't as dramatic or jawdropping as it seemed in your head. Of course this can be a constant problem, but in my experience it hits harder when reaching the crunch point.

If you're experiencing any of the above problems then it might be helpful to bear in mind the following.

* You've been through a lot with these characters. You owe it to them to offer some sort of resolution, even if it might not be a particularly happy ending, rather than leave them hanging.
* Sounds obvious, but what you're doing isn't set in stone. Subsequent revision may reveal the true strengths of your story and your finale will change accordingly.
* If you never finish the story, all the hours and strain you've invested in it so far will be for naught.

OK, I'll admit I was talking to myself in this post as I grapple with tying up my WIP, but hopefully someone out there will find it useful too.

How do you feel about endings? 

Friday 22 June 2012

Interview with Julie Dao

Happy Friday! Today I have a special guest on the site. Julie Dao was one of the winners of my 200 Follower Giveaway and chose an interview as her prize. She's a talented young writer of YA Fantasy and Paranormal. So without further ado, let's hear from the lady herself...

Hi, Julie. First, can you tell us a bit about who you are and your background?

Hi, Nick! Thanks for interviewing me on your blog! 

I'm a normal twenty-something girl who aspires to be a published author. I grew up in New England, the most beautiful place in the U.S. (in my somewhat biased opinion). I'm the daughter of two math-minded engineers and older sister to two math-minded brothers, so I'm something of a black sheep in my family :)

I studied biology in college, but switched tracks from medicine to something a little closer to heart and home - science writing. I spend my days making science a little more understandable for the average person, and I spend my nights writing creatively. It's a great balance and I feel very lucky to have both.

Getting to write during the day job is pretty sweet! Nice one.

When did you first realise you wanted to write and can you tell us about how you got started?

I know a lot of people say this, but... I've wanted to be a published author since I was a kid. I was the nerd with the big glasses who hunched over library books instead of playing on the playground with my friends. (I still am that nerd!)

I loved reading fairy tales, but always asked myself questions about them. How did that glass slipper come to be made? Who was the fairy godmother as a person? Why was the evil queen so obsessed with looks? I began writing answers to these questions and that's how I started creating my own stories.

I love writers who ask questions like that. There is so much room for interpretation of those stories.

What are your biggest inspirations when it comes to writing?

I'm passionate about books. I want to tell stories and take people by the hand into the worlds I create, sit them down with my characters, have them witness a swordfight or attend the ball. What inspires me is the hope that I'll have readers who want to come along for the ride. 

Making readers feel involved in the story is a great thing to be able to do.

Tell us a little bit about what you’re working on, and your daily routine as a writer.

I just finished a Cinderella retelling called PUMPKIN PATCH PRINCESS, which is a romantic comedy featuring the fairy godmother and her struggle to find her own happily-ever-after. It touches on many famous tales, including the 12 Dancing Princesses and the Frog Prince, and is meant to be a charming, humorous YA novel with heart. I'm querying it now!

In the meantime, I've got two new projects to distract me while I wait for agent responses :) One is called FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS and will be an epic fantasy set in ancient China. It's about an exiled princess fighting to reclaim her throne from the grasp of an evil empress. The other story is called ELEGY, which is inspired by Phantom of the Opera and tells the tale of a cursed violin that lands in the hands of the greatest prodigies of the age, sending them into a spiral of madness and obsession.

During the week, I only have time to write at night, so my writing routine consists of trying to stay awake long enough to get anything done! I get most of my writing done on the weekends.

Good luck with the querying! Your new projects sound very exciting too. I'll be following your progress on the blog and I recommend everyone else to do the same. Which brings me to my next question...

When did you start blogging and what prompted you to do so? What’s the best thing about it for you?

I started blogging in 2008, when I was easing back into creative writing after a years-long dry spell. I wanted to share my work online and find out whether I had "it" - the drive and the dedication it takes to get a book published.

The best thing about blogging is my blogging buddies. Absolutely NO ONE in the world understands what it's like to write a novel (and the tears, the heartache, the feverish bouts and word droughts) like these wonderful friends I've found. They keep me going.

I couldn't agree more!

What would be your advice to people who are just starting to write or thinking about it?

I would say to be realistic. Writing is HARD. They should be willing to commit themselves 100%, to spend time doing research, revising, putting in their best efforts to produce the highest quality they can give.

So often I meet people who want to write a novel and already they're worried about the agents and the publishers and what kind of a book deal they want. The focus should be, first and foremost, on the writing itself. Get a novel written - get that novel polished. THEN worry about all the other stuff.

Very sound advice.

And just for fun, can you describe yourself as if describing a MC from one of your novels?

A black-haired girl appeared in the doorway, pushing a pair of thick glasses up her nose. She tiptoed over to the counter in well-worn sandals and threw a self-conscious glance at the other customers. Her eyes, a shade of brown so dark that they appeared to be nothing more than dilated pupils, narrowed at the cashier as she whispered, "I'll take everything on the menu."

HA! That was a lot of fun, Nick! Thanks again for hosting me on your blog!

You're welcome!

To find out more about Julie, pop over to her blog, Silver Lining. Give her a wave and wish her luck in her search for an agent!

Enjoy your weekend, everyone. :)

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Breakthrough Breakout Party, 7 x 7 Award and Interview at Imagine Today!

Hey everyone, it's the second and final day of scientifically-minded blogger and author Stephen Tremp's Breakthrough Breakout Party at his blog, to celebrate the fact his novel Breakthrough, the first of a trilogy, is available for FREE for two days. Head over here to show your support if you haven't already, and don't forget to download a copy! Here's the blurb for Breakthrough:

In a world where the Information Age is moving at breakneck speed, breakthroughs in areas of science that were once fodder for science fiction are now becoming a part of our everyday life.
A group of graduate students from Massachusetts Institute of Technology have stolen a breakthrough in opening and stabilizing Einstein-Rosen Bridges, or wormholes, as they are commonly known, that allows them to transport people from one location to another. Their goal is to assassinate any powerful politician and executive controlling the world's banking system that would use this technology for their own greedy gain rather than the advancement of mankind.
Synopsis from

It sounds great! I can't wait to read my copy. :)

In other news, I have been awarded the 7 x 7 Link Award by another blogger buddy I've had the pleasure of meeting lately, Michael Pierce. His YA fantasy novel, Provex City, is available now from Amazon.

RULE #1: Tell everyone something that no one else knows about you.

When I was ten or eleven, I was a militant vegetarian, but only for about six months. I was heavily influenced by my brother, who was an activist for Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. We would lecture people about the evils of McDonald's cattlefarming practices, and I remember staging my own personal hunger protest at my Scout group, when they ordered Big Mac meals for everyone.

RULE #2: Link to one of the posts that I personally think best fits the following categories.

Most Beautiful: F is for Family
This is an easy one. This A-Z post is clearly my most beautiful because it includes pictures of my darling wife and all four lovely kids. (You'll just have to ignore my ugly mug.) In it, I got unashamedly soppy about how my other half encourages me in my writing.

Most Helpful & Most Popular: J is for Journalism
My most popular post in terms of comments was my first challenge for the last Platform Building Campaign, but I think this A-Z post was the most helpful. I trained in journalism and discussed how its principles could be applied to creative writing. I've not seen this topic blogged about anywhere else, so I think it offered a fresh perspective.

Most Controversial: To Chapter or Not to Chapter?
I guess this post about whether or not to write in chapters is the closest I've been to being "controversial", as a couple of commenters said that they'd never considered not writing in chapters.

Most Surprisingly Successful: Platform-Building Campaign - First Challenge
I never know how people will take my work, so I was pretty surprised when around 90 people responded with positive feedback for this entry in Rach's most recent Platform-Building Campaign.

Most Underrated: Painting With Words
I've gone with this early post, not so much because of the slightly ropey painting/writing analogy (I guess I was lucky to get two comments considering I had about six followers!), but because I included a link to one of my published stories as a sample of my work. Neither of them mentioned it, which was slightly disappointing!

Most Pride Worthy: 
This one right here because I announced that I won Knights of Micro Fiction. I've not had any amazing news to share (apart from this!) so far but hopefully someday!

Now I need to pass it on to seven bloggers. I'm going to go with my seven most recent followers this time round. Here they are in reverse order:

Andrea Teagan
Hope Roberson


Update: Just wanted to let you know that Kathy McKendry has interviewed me at her blog Imagine Today. If you can check it out, that would be great!

Friday 15 June 2012

Knights of Micro Fiction

I decided to take part in the Knights of Micro Fiction contest this month, hosted by the awesome Kathy at Imagine Today and Jess at Write.Skate.Dream. Go and check out both their blogs if you don't know them and join in the challenge if you fancy it! They post a story prompt on the 13th of each month and participants have until 11.59pm on the 15th to post their entries. By the 17th, two winners will be chosen to be featured on their blogs. Here's this month's prompt:

Write a 200 word or less, flash fiction beginning with this phrase:  Her eyes shot open....
You are free to change the gender and the POV if you want to. 

Here's my entry of exactly 200 words. I had half an hour to write it as I was at my daughter's sports day this morning and I edited it over lunch. All feedback welcome!

The Clearing

Her eyes shot open, then closed again. She hadn’t expected blinding sunlight, and her fuzzy mind tried to retreat into oblivion. But she knew something was wrong, so she slid one eye open to find clouds instead and leaves in her peripheral vision.

She sat up and tried to work out why she was in a forest clearing, panic rising within her as she realised she had no idea what had happened last night. Had she been violated, left for dead?

Although she was in one piece, it didn’t mean something bad hadn’t happened. The first thing to do was get home, then get herself checked out by a doctor. She stood up unsteadily.

At the edge of the clearing, her phone rang. She didn’t recognise the number and answered warily.


“Hi, it’s Davey.” Ah... “Are you OK?”

“Not really. I’m in a forest.”

“Yeah, sorry about that. We left the party together, but you passed out. Then my girlfriend showed up at the house and phoned because I wasn’t there. I panicked and ran back. Do you want some help?”

“No thanks, I’ll manage.” She hung up and reminded herself not to go to any more student parties.

Tuesday 12 June 2012

Giveaway Winners Announced, General Update, and How Writing Promotes Positivity

Sorry for the long-winded title. There's a lot I want to say! Never got round to posting last week, which I apologise for, but I do now have some good news which I'll share with you in a minute.

First, though, it's time to announce the winners of my first ever giveaway! Thanks very much to everyone who entered. I put the names into a virtual hat at and out came: C.B. WentworthJulie Dao and Tasha Seegmiller. Congratulations to the three of you! Julie chose a blog interview as her prize, so look out for that coming soon - another first for me.

So, onto a bit of an update. You may remember me posting a couple of weeks ago about my struggles in finding employment. Well, I've had a few interviews here and there and some near misses. Went up for a 9-5 office job and was one of 10 selected for interview out of 167 applicants who took a preliminary test, but it went to someone else: close but no cigar. However, I'm now pleased to say that I've got a job as a care worker in a centre for adults with learning disabilities. Only part-time, but honestly, that suits me better; once the childcare costs were factored in with the full-time gig, it wouldn't have been a lot of difference. And I'll still get time to write during the day. I've got to wait for the disclosure check to come back to say I'm OK to work there, but I'm relieved to have something sorted out!

Next, WIP progress. I'm still on track to finish my first draft by the end of June (at 58K words now and aiming for 80K). I'd started getting up at 4am to write on days I had interviews, and thought I'd better get in the habit of it in case I had to work full-time, but thankfully this won't be the case! I'd also like to thank everyone who offered to be a CP for this project. I just hope it'll make sense... I've been pantsing this story for a long time, which has been exhilarating although sometimes frustrating, and it's just pure adrenalin pushing me towards the end now. I've been trying to come up with solutions to plot holes in between times and drawing a blank, and it's only when sitting down bashing the keys that they come to me. Anyone else experience this?

And finally, onto the reflective portion of this post. When I was being turned down for jobs, it reminded me of the last time I was being rejected a year ago when I was querying my first job. I wish I'd been involved in this blogosphere then, because I wouldn't have felt so bad about the rejections, and I know for sure I would have met some amazing people who might have shown me where the book was going wrong. However, even I knew that most people don't make it on their first book, and I thought I could do better, so I moved on.

I'm sure that many people have a perception of writers as a terribly depressive, angst-ridden bunch, and I do feel like that some of the time, but on the whole, writing has taught me to see the upside of any situation. I mean, think about it: if we really sat down to consider the odds against ever making a decent living out of this, we wouldn't get up in the morning, and a straitjacket and padded white cell would probably be in order.    

If the alternative is gibbering insanity, then we have no choice but to keep going, and every 100 words written or blog post announcing that someone has secured an agent is a victory to be celebrated. And this can extend to other areas of life as well. I tried to stay as positive as possible during my job search, and I think it paid off.

Do you think writing promotes positivity?

Saturday 2 June 2012

Cruise Review

Well, I promised I would do a write-up of the cruise, so here we go. I'm sure an exhaustive account would be a bit boring, so I'm just going to bring you the edited highlights.

Emma and Eve outside Bodiam Castle
Before setting sail, we spent a few days at my parents' house in Brighton. We took the kids to see Bodiam Castle, a very atmospheric place that I have fond memories of visiting as a nipper. It has an interesting history, never actually seeing conflict but more there to look impressive, and the interior was ruined in the English Civil War; however, it remains a superb example of a quadrangular (square-shaped) castle. The most fascinating parts, according to Eve (the three-year-old) were the garderobes: in other words, the toilets. Many of the rooms had these nifty ensuite facilities, which disposed of your business neatly into the moat below. Eve climbed giddily up the steps in each tower, looking for the next toilet. (Did you know garderobe means "keep clothes" in Old French? Yep, people kept what was usually their only outfit in the smallest room because the smell was the only thing that kept the moths away. Mmmm.)

So after this brief visit, we departed from Southampton. Only Emma and Heather disembarked at the first port of call, Amsterdam. (The two teenagers, Andrew and Hannah, stayed with their dad for this holiday.) Emma was thrilled to get a chance to see Anne Frank's secret annexe, having studied the diary in school. Apparently the place still retains a very emotional atmosphere.

Dragons in Tallinn Town Square
We then had two days at sea, with some very choppy conditions, before docking at Tallinn, Estonia. This is a very picturesque old city where we enjoyed a leisurely stroll up to the town square. The highlight of this day for Eve were the two dragons sticking their heads out of the old church. I took a close-up which you can see here.

Next was the undoubted high point of our voyage, a two-day sojourn in St Petersburg. I must admit to having been ignorant of some of the finer points of this fair city, such as the fact that it is crisscrossed by canals leading to it being dubbed the "Venice of the North", and the stunning Baroque architecture at every turn. We learnt a lot about its turbulent lifespan, from its inauguration by Peter the Great and the construction of its many elaborate palaces and churches, to the Soviet years when many of these were desecrated, to the subsequent downfall of the USSR, when St Petersburg started to enjoy a more relaxed European feel.

Gardens at Peterhof
Among the most interesting sights was the Hermitage, an art gallery and museum of gargantuan size, which contains the old Winter Palace of the Royal Family. It holds artworks by Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Picasso and Monet, among many others. We also enjoyed Peterhof, Peter's summer residence at the seaside, which features ornate gardens with gold-covered statues and over 150 fountains. It was definitely easy to imagine how the Revolution came about, as the ordinary peasants who couldn't afford a loaf of bread were none too pleased at the wealth and opulence enjoyed by the Tsars. Interestingly, the first Revolution came about in St Petersburg (then Petrograd) in February 1917, organised by members of parliament. It was not until October that Lenin's Bolsheviks seized command, beginning a hegemony that would ultimately come to be as resented as the royalty.

Two days later we arrived in Copenhagen, Denmark. This was only a brief stop with about four hours to spare, so we enjoyed a pleasant stroll around the harbour area, which has a peaceful quality. The main thing we wanted to see was the statue of Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid, which we found after about fifteen minutes. We had an interesting experience there. Now I'm not intending this story to be racist: I'll simply relate what happened, and I'm interested to know if anyone has seen anything similar.

The Little Mermaid in Copenhagen: Eve still
traumatised from Japanese tourist
There was a sizeable crowd around this attraction, all busily snapping away, so it took some time waiting for our turn to get a picture. A large group of Japanese tourists were taking pictures of each other in front of the Mermaid. They were smiling and waving at the kids: not an unusual occurrence. But then one man put his arms out and scooped Eve up, presumably, I thought, in order to pass her to me so Heather could take a picture (the statue is on top of a boulder at the waterside, and you have to negotiate some smaller rocks to get close to it). But no: he proceeded to pose with our child while all his friends took photographs, before handing her back to me. Now I've got no problem with people telling me she's cute (I mean, they're right, after all), but this seemed to me extremely weird and not something most people in the West would dream of, with the culture of paranoia over children that exists. But to these people it seemed to be perfectly normal. What do you think? Anyway, here is the picture that we finally managed to get.

After this we had another couple of days to get back to Southampton, passing through the same patch of choppy water as the week before, then we got on a plane back to Edinburgh. All in all an amazing holiday. It was our third cruise but I think the best one. The ship was just the right size (not big enough to get lost in), everyone was warm and friendly, we met other families (there weren't too many kids on the ship so it was great for the girls to make friends), and the food was superb with lots of variety. The kids' club was awesome with three sessions a day lasting almost three hours each (yeah, we were spoiled), and the pool might have been too cold for a dip, but we did enjoy the hot tub.

At the restaurant

Emma and Eve with Kids' Club staff

Enjoying a beer on the top deck

What was your last great holiday?

Stop press: The ladies at Thinking Through Our Fingers are hosting an amazing giveaway which is open until June 7th. A critique from four different writers - who wouldn't want to win that?

And don't forget you can still enter my giveaway until June 11th!