29 June, 2016

Put Pooh Down and Nobody Gets Hurt

You may have noticed a meme going round in the last few days. Since the EU Referendum there has been so much anger, blaming, shaming and misunderstanding all over social media that somebody decided to address the matter by making a spoof conversation between Pooh and Piglet. It was twee to say the least, and has now been parodied so many times. Pooh and Piglet appear to have become foul-mouthed politicians. Enough! Let's reclaim Winnie the Pooh for AA Milne and for children (young and old!) everywhere.

The funny thing is, genuine quotations from Winnie the Pooh books say much more about love and friendship, tolerance and understanding much more eloquently than anything anybody else has made up. Here are a few to lift your spirits...

On talking
When you are a Bear of very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it. 

On giving people the benefit of the doubt
If the person you are talking to does not appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear.

On being a friend when everything is uncertain
"I don't feel very much like Pooh today," said Pooh. "There there," said Piglet. "I'll bring you tea and honey until you do."

But Piglet is so small that he slips into a pocket, where it is very comfortable to feel him when you are not quite sure whether twice seven is twelve or twenty-two.

On the chaos of social media
"I might have known," said Eeyore. "After all, one can't complain. I have my friends. Sombody spoke to me only yesterday. And was it last week or the week before that Rabbit bumped into me and said 'Bother!'. The Social Round. Always something going on."

And one that is nothing to do with referendums but for the kid inside each one of us
When you see someone putting on his Big Boots, you can be pretty sure that an Adventure is going to happen.

16 June, 2016

Guest Post with Derek Thompson

Today, I am excited to be appearing on Derek Thompson's blog talking about why making a shortlist can be just as good as winning. You can check out the post here.

Derek is a friend of mine whose series of Brit-thrillers are getting great reviews. You can see what they're about here.

10 June, 2016

Competitions: the statistics!

Ever since I started writing I have kept a file on my computer listing the competitions I've entered and highlighting the ones where anything nice happened. By 'nice' I mean anything that wasn't a straight-forward nothing. These "hits" include being a winner, shortlisted, commended or published. The list starts in January 2007. So how am I doing?

  • I have entered 60 competitions
  • I have 30 hits of some sort
  • In seven of my hits I was the overall winner 
  • I have 29 misses (and one competition still awaiting results)
  • Over a third of my entries were in 2008 or 2009 - before I started writing novels or having children!
  • My longest run of hits was at the start - competitions one to six were all hits!
  • My longest run of misses was May to July 2009 where I entered seven competitions and missed out on the first six.
  • In the last two years (while concentrating on novel writing and taking two extended breaks to have babies) I have entered six competitions in total. One is still awaiting results and the other four were hits - hooray!
  • You can see a full list of my hits on the competitions tab
  • If I had to pick my favourite entries I think I would choose The Language of Fish (2nd place, December 2014) and Handrails and Parachutes (winner, October 2012)

So, it looks as if I'm running at a hit rate of about 50% overall, which I'm not unhappy with. I think a key to this is competition selection. I could have entered 61 international and prestigious competitions and had a hit rate of 0%. For me, competitions are a good chance to learn something about your level of writing. Yes, it's important to stretch yourself and enter the big competitions - Bridport, Costa etc. - from time-to-time as you never know what might happen, but you learn more from the competitions where you come third or make the longlist and can compare your writing to that of the winner. How do you choose which competitions to aim for?

I am heartened to see that the last couple of years, although very slow in terms of competitions entries, has been successful. I guess my ideal now would be one of two things:
a) to start entering more things again and choose my competitions well enough that my hit rate stays 50-60%, so I'm challenging myself but not being silly about my level of talent!
b) to keep entering very few competitions - ones where I stand a good chance but which attract a reasonable number of entrants - and try to keep my hit rate higher; focus on quality of writing and competition.

In reality, I am unlikely to enter much for the next few years. Finding time to write my second novel is difficult enough. If I enter more than one or two competitions, the extras are likely to be the fun ones - txtlit, or 100-word challenges, things like that. I am particularly interested to see that entering more competitions did not improve my hit rate - proof that, although practice is important, the quality of your practice is as important as the quantity!

Of course this list doesn't include the competitions associated with my novel, The Art of Letting Go. I am currently on the shortlist for the People's Book Prize, so please do go and vote for me and help me on my way to being a prize-winning novelist for the first time too! Thank-you.