Six Things I Learned About Blogging

Here’s a GREAT 6-pointer reblogged to help focus the mind to help smarten-up and sharpen-up your blogging. I had never considered point number 4; perhaps I should! Thanks for this R Michael. Let’s have some more!

R. Michael

  1. Consistency

If you aren’t regularly posting content, at least a few times per week, then it will be easier for your work to get drowned out by other voices.  Regularly posting helps your SEO.  It shows the internet that you are invested and care too.  If you post once per month it will become easy for people to forget about you.  It may not be fair, but it is a reality all of us writers need to come to grips with.  Once I started posting daily content, I noticed a significant increase in readership opposed to a few years ago when I would blog when inspiration came my way. Consistency is important for any medium for producing content on the internet.

  1. Quality Content

So, you post every day, but still no one reads your stuff.  Maybe then it’s time to look at WHAT you post.  Someone online complained to me…

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Five Tips on Writing Characters

Having a bit of a blank when it comes to writing a character? Can’t quite get into their head? Worry not. It’s easy peasy lemon squeezy really. By using one of your best writer’s skills – Observation – you’ll see your characters are all around, fully formed and perfect for harvesting. Reading The Metro recently I was delighted to find five fully-formed characters staring at me from the page, ready to be gathered together like spring flowers and plopped into a novel. Let me share them with you:

Shy Blonde In Red Coat
Very Shy Girl
Brunette With Light Blue Eyes
Rachel The Sleepy Blonde
and my absolute favourite,
The Sweaty Guy With A Runny Nose.

All these are love-lorn commuters looking for love through The Metro’s Rush Hour Crush. So, a sweaty guy with a runny nose. Sounds better than Plague Victim I guess, but what a base to build a character on. Had he been running in cold weather? Or was he ill? On drugs maybe? Blond or bald?  For Shy Blonde read Assassin for sure, and Brunette with light blue eyes – well, not necessarily a woman is it?

Another place to find a character, even if you’re not especially looking for one, is at an event. Last week I was at a Jaguar Car Heritage Day at Blenheim Palace – not my usual entertainment for a Sunday but it’s good to do something you wouldn’t naturally do – and there he was. The Character I had a name for but not an appearance. I have a character that is not a nice person, but I didn’t want him to be a characterisation of a bad person – he has to be real. And there he was, right in front of me.

Picture the scene: millions of pounds worth of vintage cars, polished and buffed to within an inch of their historic automotive lives, surrounded by fans and enthusiasts – mainly dressed in beige slacks and leather shoes or designer jeans and trainers – when into my view swaggered a cigarette smoking man of about 45. Hair still dark, long to his collar and in which he’s parked his sunglasses, designer jeans – but with the hems trodden down at the back, scruffy around the pockets, wearing a jacket that didn’t match nor fit especially well and fraying slightly on one sleeve. He loped around a few of the cars, dropped his shades over his eyes and stood against a low wall for a while. He seemed distracted – he could have been waiting for a bus – but I knew straight away he was the character in my next short story. Gotcha. See – easy peasy lemon squeezy.

How To Make Them Real:

1 Observation. Always. Look closely, if you can; observe the shoes, the hair, the hands that serve you that coffee.
2 Short snippets in newspapers or online. The small bits that are used for fillers are often the gold nuggets where you’ll discover your characters
3 Amalgamation Jigsaws. Take the best of worst of lots of people you know or are in contact with. Squish ‘em together, make a character. I call this my Frankenstein Character – they don’t all turn out to be monsters!
4 Animals. This way of creating a character is usually done when the moon is full and the creative juices have gone off-piste for a bit, but you can have a lot of fun doing it. Old dog, limps slightly due to hip trouble, a bit deaf, square hairy face, independent spirit,
or,
Old man, limps slightly due to hip trouble, a bit deaf, square hairy face, independent spirit. You get the idea.
5 Start with the name. A woman called Star, for example. What would she do? Singer? Librarian? Full-time Mum? Make a list – I love excel for this* – create names in one column, profession/job/life direction in another. Match up as your instinct tells you. Then ignore that instinct and match up differently. Maybe Colin in Accounts becomes Colin the professional tennis player by day and drag queen by night. Up to you. 

Try this fella for size…andrii-podilnyk-1060018-unsplash.jpg
photo by Andrii Podilnyk
on Unsplash

 

 

 

 

*note to self. Out. More. Get.

It’s Festival Time Again!

Great news for local self-publishers in the Midlands – we’re off to the Stratford Literary Festival again to read and promote our work and this time to a paying audience! Last year’s inaugural event was an absolute blast, and we’re delighted to be asked back again this year. So much talent!

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The self-publishing world has grown and developed at such speed at times it’s hard to keep up. There are many different platforms to enable and encourage writers and a tremendous support network too. From writers’ groups, to open mics, to book festivals and creative writing workshops, there has never been more on offer – all helping to develop and improve the self-publishing experience and product. As a lover of books and reading, I support all endeavours to get our books out there – digital or paper – whether through the traditional agent/publisher route or your own self-ploughed route.

This year’s event is peppered with poets, including the Warwickshire Young Poet Laureate, Hannah Owens who we are delighted to have on board. Prose writers, short storyers (new word!) and open mic old hands will be entertaining us for two hours on Saturday 27th April from 7pm. 

Only five quid on the door and you get a free gin and tonic! (non gin-based enjoyments will also be available). So if you’re in Stratford upon Avon on Saturday you’ll find us at the United Reformed Church on Rother Street – you can’t miss it – and most likely with a SLF banner flapping in the breeze to welcome you in.

Wolf

What is it about the word ‘wolf’ that conjures up so much mischief? Hilary Mantel’s book Wolf Hall has, in my humble, one of the best titles for a book ever. Yes I know she didn’t make up the title – who but the Tudors would name their homes so? Houses of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were bestowed more pastoral names such as Sunnyside, Rose Cottage, Orchard View; no lupine references there to warn any visitor ofyannick-menard-1272925-unsplash the ambience of the place. Forget entering the lion’s den – the mere assonance of the words wolf and hall tells you all you need to know. In literature, as we know, the wolf has done a marvellous job securing a place in folklore – whether for good or ill – there’s the favourite, little red and all her trials and traumas; that sneaky double-dealer the wolf in sheep’s clothing, Peter and his wolf, which has a sort of nice ending – the wolf doesn’t end up brown bread, but he is wolfnapped and put behind bars in a zoo. Then there’re those house-building pigs and their nuisance neighbour who wanted to puff their properties down, and indeed, thanks to Aesop, the attention-seeking little boy who couldn’t help himself and kept crying ‘wolf!’ until one day there really was a wolf and…well…we all know what happened then, plus any number of other wolfie-related stories, sayings and poems littered through history and literature. ‘Holding the wolf by the ears’ is a great metaphor for things being a bit tricky, and keeping ‘the wolf from the door’ has a delicious medieval ring to it, sounding much better than ‘too much month left at the end of the pay packet’. The most up to date wolf story I found this week (although it may well be old news by the time you’re reading it) is about the young wolf who got himself stuck in a freezing river but thankfully was rescued. Except the rescuers didn’t know what they were rescuing – imagine being in a car with a cold and grumpy wolf across your lap, taking the scenic route to the vet. Dodgy. But it is a heartwarming story, so here it is, courtesy of the BBC.

The wonderful photo above is by Yannick Menard, freely published on Unsplash. Thank you Mr Menard
@yannickmenard

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-47330924

And now a poem by Richard Edwards
taken from
The Thing That Mattered Most: Scottish Poems for Children
edited by Julie Johnstone (SPL/B&W, 2006)

A Wolf In The Park

Is there a wolf,
A wolf in the park,
A wolf who wakes when the night gets dark?
Is there a wolf in the park?

Is there a wolf,
A wolf who creeps
From his hidden den while the city sleeps?
Is there a wolf in the park?

Is there a wolf,
Whose nightly track
Circles the park fence, zigzags back?
Is there a wolf in the park?

Is there a wolf,
Who pads his way
Between the tables of the closed café,
Is there a wolf in the park?

Is there a wolf,
A wolf whose bite
Left those feathers by the pond last night,
Is there a wolf in the park?

Is there a wolf?
No one knows,
But I’ve heard a howl when the full moon glows…
Is there a wolf in the park?

New Words for Old

There have been some really good words about recently – new words that is. Not new meanings for old words, but actual new words born into the world. There are some words I’d be happy to see replaced however. Y’know, a bit like a spring clean. Clearing out the dictionary.  For example, normal. It’s judgemental for one thing, and exclusive. If you are not ‘normal’ you are deemed to be ab-normal ergo not good enough. A carrot farmer was sighing this unhappy truth to me last autumn. He had abnormal carrots. But they’re just carrots, I said. Not straight enough, he said. Green leafy bit (that gets cut off and never seen by anyone else) deemed not green or leafy enough. By whom? Carrot Judge? Seemed a strange state of affairs. All the world’s languages (current estimate 7,000!) are chock full with tongue-twisting and diverse lexicons so you’d think that we could do without certain words. No-one would notice, surely?
Recently, a friend was laughing hysterically at an on-line photograph of a cat and the text beneath. I interrupted his chortling to ask him where the word meme came from.

“The internet,” he said.LOL.png
“But what does it mean?” I asked.
“Doesn’t mean anything. It’s just funny.”
Hmmmmm…
“It must have come from somewhere,” I persisted.
He gave me a look that said how stupid are you? which I chose to ignore. So, other than to admire pictures of pretty kitties, I too took to the internet and had a little search. I was very surprised to find that the word meme is a very old word indeed, it’s roots belonging to those ancient Greeks. The online Oxford English Dictionary currently defines the word thus:

an element of a culture or system of behaviour passed from one individual to another by imitation or other non-genetic means.
That’ll be the pre-internet definition then, courtesy of one Mr R Dawkins.

and

an image, video, piece of text, etc., typically humorous in nature, that is copied and spread rapidly by Internet users, often with slight variations.  

So, when I pointed out to my colleague that the word meme was not born in the early 2000’s it was fair to say he was so engulfed by disbelief he had to take the rest of the day off.
There’s a meme in there somewhere.talking cats.jpg

Christmas Part Three: The End

We looked at her, horrified, and she looked at us like a snake would look at a mouse before eating it alive..
           She cast her gaze downward and we followed suit. All around were the presents that had been saved up for, carefully chosen and fastidiously hidden, just to make our Christmas Day special.
            “Take a good look,” she said quietly, “because you won’t be seeing them again.”
            We packed them away in silence, tears pricking my eyes each time I retrieved a toy I really wanted but knew I wouldn’t be getting. The ruptured plaster and torn paper was noted, our mother gently touching it in that scarily silent way parents do to indicate the size of trouble you were in. The silence sounded like Big Trouble.
            We made our way into the living room. The Christmas tree lay on its side, its fairy askew and showing off her knickers. The Very Old what I now know to be Victorian glass baubles that had been my great-grandmother’s lay in shattered shards across the carpet like a broken rainbow; the lights were dead and there was a faint whiff of something strange in the air. Mrs Tibbs sat by the window, staring out.
            She looked really odd.
            But then, when a cat chews the flex of Christmas tree lights and electrocutes herself, she’s going to look a bit odd, isn’t she?
            White whiskers – those that were left – were black and curly, and her fur had a tough melted feel about it. The vet was good enough to see her that very night – Christmas eve night (imagine the cost!) – and despite shock and a burnt tongue, Mrs Tibbs survived.
            Christmas day came and went unnoticed and for the first time ever we were marched down to the church service at our village church where I sang my little heart out and my brother put a half-chewed toffee in Jennifer White’s hair just for fun.
            By the evening however, our mother’s rage had ebbed, our father was pretty well sedated and something resembling reluctant calm had fallen: mum gave us each a present.
            “From Father Christmas,” she said.  I took the present unenthusiastically. I had always been told not to tell lies, and here was my mother lying to me about Father Christmas. Straight up. An In-Your-Face Adult Lie.
            She smiled wanly.
            “It seems he came after all,” she said. “I’ll go and check on Mrs Tibbs,” she continued, leaving us to unwrap our gifts.
            “Heh heh heh! Told you it was mum and dad,” my brother sniggered, and lifting one buttock, farted loudly.
            Christmases came and went, and as I grew up I promised myself that if I ever had children of my own, I would a) apologise that they had my brother for an uncle, and b) never ever ever ever ever ever ever lie to them about Father Christmas. How hard could it be?
            Shoot forward a few decades as I held my breath deciding between truth or lie.
            “Well does he, mummy?” my six year old daughter had asked.
            “Well…” I began… ’
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