Friday, September 28, 2012

Writing at Fishbourne Roman Palace

Writing is often a solitary occupation. You sit at a laptop or with a pen and paper and try to focus on story and character. However, in reality most areas have great writing communities either on line or in the form of groups and clubs.

I personally like to mix with fellow writers who are up beat and positive, not just to share ideas or tips but for fun. It's really motivating to have a deadline to produce some writing to read at a writing group. And doing writing exercises together is great, but I love to wander for inspiration.

Today I arranged for The Writers @ Lovedean to visit Fishbourne Roman Palace near Chichester. It's great to get the opportunity to sit with a coffee and have a relaxed chat with other writers who understand if you suddenly drift off alone, pull out paper and pen and start to jot down notes furiously. Or perhaps listen while someone mentions how they would like to include a dolphin and a hare in a poem, but are not quite sure how or why. Most of all I think sharing a laugh with other people who share your hobbies and outlook on life a great source of inspiration.

Best of all is when you share the work you have written, and are shocked and surprised at how differently everyone's work is from the same starting point. I went to Fishbourne with preconceived ideas, but once there it all went out of the window. Why? Because I visited it with others discussing holidays, work and pointing out things I didn't notice.

Often these trips are viewed with the pessimistic belief that it won't provide any kind of inspiration, yet every member of the group jotted down a few ideas or was struck with that magic little brain itch that could be a new story.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Energy Vampires

Way back in the eighties when I was laboriously photocopying my notes for a 'friend' who had missed another lecture because she had lost a contact lens I was warned by another student about what he called psychic vampires. I had scoffed at the time. But amethyst necklace dangling he went on to warn me to be on my guard, as a 'will help anyone out sort of person' I was she warned 'a juicy meal to those who just feed off you and do nothing back.'

I started this blog to keep me focused on my own private goal of writing and hopefully one day getting some fiction in print. It's been a valuable tool. I have been shocked to realise how much time I have wasted 'helping others' who don't actually want or need to be helped. For those unfamiliar with the term 'energy vampire' let me explain. Unfortunately, they don't go around under the cover of night or sparkle in direct sunlight. And they can be incredibly hard to spot.

They suck you in using a variety of methods, you may be curious about their gossip or stories, or you may get sucked into the drama that follows them around, or (and this is my Hercules heel) their hard luck stories pull you in.

It is hard to connect the dots of spending time with or 'helping' that person with physical reactions. If you find yourself experiencing muscle tension, loss of energy, headaches, irritability, sadness, mental confusion, or negativity, focusing on events in the past, you likely have an energy vampire in your midst.

Recently I've been limiting contact and followed the advice a friend from the writing group gave me from the

At first I noticed those who are intrusive or overly dramatic and end up consuming a lot of my time with their tales of woe or displays of theatrics, that their behaviour was worse. However, I've started each conversation with the truth, "I currently feel drained dry and unable to support myself, let alone anyone else." And it is true, I am on a very low ebb at the moment. I've realised that I have nothing left, I can't do the tea and sympathy. I'm unable to plaster a smile on my face and list the bright side of someone else's life. I don't have the energy to sit and tell someone else how wonderful or special they are, or that they really should try to reach their goals, or agree that it wasn't their fault something bad happen. Have they then said, 'is there anything I can do to help you?' or 'lets do an activity which will either take your mind of things or give you enjoyment.' No, they may play at helping but the truth is when they are no longer able to feed off you they drop you like a stone. The conversation may start with out are you feeling but quickly went back yo how bad things are in their lives. And this helped me most of all. It's stopped me from feeling selfish.

So I will give the same warning that I foolishly ignored at 18. Don't get pulled in. No matter how much you might like to think or hope you will be able to fix their problems, you won't. Negative people will either resist your interventions or create new crises in their lives for you to "fix." The truth is that for some people even the best therapists in the world have difficulty helping these people. In short, their problems are beyond your ability to "fix."

Currently I'm trying a strategy is to protect myself by setting clear and firm limits. For example, for those who are very needy or insecure and constantly want my guidance, I'm resisting offering solutions and sympathy. It is amazingly difficult.

So this week I have done very little writing. Anyone suffering from anxiety related problems understands the mine field of triggers before you reach it and I knew this was going to be a particularly hard week. So I set myself very specific goals, I finally sorted that wardrobe at the weekend, Monday got up early and mowed the lawn, Tuesday mowed the back garden and sorted things for the tip. It sounds mad but I have set myself achievable targets that will help my writing and life, it is hard to write when surrounded by chaos. I'm a little worried about my goal of sorting out the companies books because I need to rely on another to do that.

When I've received an email from someone upset about malicious rumours circulating about them I immediately told them to go to the police and that I couldn't help. Another worried about their health I told them to go to the doctor I can't help. Another worried that they wasted their life I got off the phone. When my partner started to complain about feeling really down and tired I got him to take me home and did physical exercise instead of engaging in the 'how can I help routine.' When he started to complain that work wasn't going his way I offered to help and when I realised he didn't want that I got out of the way fast.

More than one therapist has told me that I'm a good friend and mother to others but a sergeant major to myself. It's true. If I ask myself what I am feeling at this very moment it is sad because I want someone else to make me feel better. I want someone to give me a pep talk, someone else to do something nice, to tell me everything will be okay in the end. But you can't rely on others for your own happiness.

I can tell myself that I did good. I did not just curl up under that duvet. I got up, got my work done and put things into practice to fight my own depression and demons. I'm going to be a friend to myself. The well is dry and it needs to be filled up. I've got my reauthoring event to look forward to on Saturday. I'm hoping to take a creative writing course in the library this September and another at Southampton University in the New Year. These feelings are like bubbles they will burst and go away.

I have also realised and I'm quite proud of the way that yes I might suffer from PTS, anxiety and depression but by God I put up a fight. I'm definitely a survivor so why the hell should I get pulled down with 'life's victims?' I have nothing in common with that mind set.

According to Dr. Bourg Carter
'In the times we live in today, energy, especially the positive kind, is a precious commodity. It's not something you should willingly give up to the negative power of those who want to steal your energy. Instead, keep a positive attitude and surround yourself with positive people who leave you feeling upbeat and energized. In the words of Helen Keller, "Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see the shadow."'

Monday, September 10, 2012

Our Writers Group Etiquette

Last week I posted a blog about the difficulty in explaining to someone interesting in coming to our writers that I didn't think it was the right group for them. This sparked a debate with other writer friends and also members of The Writers @ Lovedean. At our last session I handed members a piece of paper to jot down what they thought would help a writing group keep on track. A sort of nice manners list really. I was surprised by the same comments and suggestions on everyone's list. The sheet below is what most of the members contributed to and feedback from other writer friends. In future I intend to hand it out to new and interested members.

Welcome sheet

The Writers @ Lovedean aims to be a mixed ability, all welcome group. Here is a little information about the group with the aim that you settle in and feel comfortable with us as soon as possible.

What can you expect?:

One week we read our work aloud and receive feedback. Depending on numbers you will tend to get between six and ten minutes to read. That's around 1000 to 2500 words, plus another five to ten minutes to receive the criticism. If there is time left after a reading week you may get the opportunity to read twice. The second week we tend to do a writing exercise, were you write on the day. We have competitions throughout the year, Write Out Days four times a year. Also, there is a bit of a tradition of the occasional lunch out to celebrate any success.

I'm always on the look out for places members can read, plus we produce a yearly non profit making souvenir anthology. Everyone can place five pieces of work into it but beware please don't submit something that you may want to submit elsewhere.

We have a cash book for people to sign as they put £4 in the tin - if you find you have left your wallet at home, please sign and put a dot next to your name so you can bring it next time.

We find that the group runs smoothly when we all remember that:

Criticism, when given is always constructive, honest and well meant. It's important to be able to GIVE and RECEIVE reasonable criticism.

Remember the usual manners at any writing group, phone on vibrate, keep to your six minutes, trying not to fidget when it's someone else's turn, not snore ...

Once you have read please allow others to have their reading time and not go off track on another conversation.

Try and be punctual, everyone is late sometimes or may need to go early another day. If that's the case please just come in and sit down, we try to leave the greetings or reasons we are late for after people have read or better still break time. If you need to leave early, just get up and go, don't worry about your cup or table.

If you are sharing a car with a member, please be considerate and offer to contribute to petrol and parking. It's been a bit of a sore point in the past as many people feel unable to ask for a contribution. We roughly follow a 25-30p a mile, most members are Mums or retired, on a fixed income or plain broke. Mums no matter how much you want to offer lifts during term time think - what happens to your passenger if school calls? Don't feel bad.

We tend to only read new work, reading something you produced before for the sake of reading can become a little trying for the rest of the group. Think about how you would feel to hear the same piece of writing time and time again.

HOWEVER if you are in the process of editing say the first three chapters of a piece of work to send away, and you are making changes of course we understand. In that case I recommend you print out copies which members can scan while you read to help you
check for silly mistakes.

New to writing?

We all remember how nerve racking it is to read aloud.

It is a depressing fact that someone will always read something better than you, which will leave you feeling despondent - stick with it.

All new writers want to apologise for their work before reading it aloud or try to explain its a first draft. It is a stage in the learning process. But try to just read from the page, most of us come with first drafts and bits we have written were we aren't sure where it is going. Remember if you do ever get to the point were you send your poem or story away - you will not be able to chat with the editor.

Have fun with your writing, experiment. There is no right or wrong way to express yourself on the page.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

It's Not Fair Friday Flash Fiction

Carol sat at the back of the church.

"Can you believe the turn out! I didn't get half this many for my special day. There's hardly a seat left."

"Yeah, well yours was on a Wednesday. It's a weird day Wednesday, lots of people were working." James said.

"What about Uncle Brian? He's retired, explain how he's here for my sister but couldn't be bothered to come when it was me."

"I don't know. Maybe he wasn't well, anyway be quiet I want to listen to the reading."

"That's another thing, on my day we were in and out. None of this - people standing up to share - nobody said anything nice about me."

"Carol, shut up."

Carol folded her arms and frowned, "I'm her sister I should be at the front."

James threw her a nasty look and she made do with the occasional tut. When Bethany started to cry quietly she rolled her eyes. "I'm not even mentioned."

"It's not your day, it's Janet's"

Uncle Brian leaned heavily on his stick, "I'd like to read psalm 15..."

"That's a nice choice," James said.

Carol didn't even try to hide her sulky face for the rest of the ceremony.

"Well that was beautiful," James said "are you coming down to the cemetery? I think they are burying her next to mother."

"How come she is being buried next to Mum when I'm at the other end of the cemetery? It's not fair."

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

How do you prevent an antagonist from ruining your writers group?

I run a weekly writers group. No committee, I'm too much of a dictator for that, just me. One week writers read from their own work to get feedback. Depending on numbers they tend to get between six and ten minutes to read. That's around 1000 to 2500 words, plus another five to ten minutes to receive the criticism. The following week we have a go a writing exercise which always starts with big groans and then excitement as the creative juices start flowing. Across the year we run in house writing competitions, days out for inspiration and I'm always on the look out for places members can read, plus we produce a yearly anthology.

I run an all welcome, all abilities group.

When it comes to criticism I hold the view that once you have read your piece aloud you have lost ownership of it. If criticism upsets you - don't read. Maybe it's because of my own way of viewing criticism. I believe if you don't want people sticking their nose into your life offering solutions, don't tell them your problems. If you want everyone in a room to say wow your work is great, don't read it out at a writing group.

When a writing group works well it is a truly amazing place. You find that your writing ideas are flowing, your confidence growing, and you are learning about new opportunities, and finding different places to send your work.

The Writers @ Lovedean currently have eighteen regular members on the books but attendance is around 11 to 12 a week, with 10 members needed each week to cover all costs.

Occasionally you get a member who doesn't fit or changes the dynamics of the group, acid tongued, loves the sound of their own voice, lives for confrontation, jumps at any opportunity to argue about politics. 90% of the time you find that your membership drops as the person in question sucks the life out of a group until they don't get the emotional kick back they want, then they leave.

Recently, I received an enquiry email and phone call from someone interested in the group. Usually I'm all for saying come along and meet us, but for the first time ever I didn't. Something about the types of questions he was asking gave me the impression that ours wouldn't be the first writing group he tried. And then by one of those 'it's a small world consequences' I bump into someone from the writing community only to find out that another group is thinking about folding because of this individuals monthly diatribe and the feeling of being in a therapy group.

So how can my group reduce the risk of a malevolent new member spoiling what we have?

For the last couple of incidents I have solely relied on what I call my core 'sane members' for support. Anyone in a writing group can quickly realise when someone is there solely for the purpose of putting their own writing career first. Fair sensible individuals can provide a mountain of support.

I was asked today what are the biggest problems that can face a writing group, it took a lot of thought (and this is not just from running the Lovedean Group but my 20 years experience of writing groups and writing courses.) Anyway here is my list;

  • Those wishing to monopolise the discussion, you will find that they are quiet until they have read and then will change to subject to anything other than writing. Totally and selfishly unconcerned about those who are still waiting to read.
  • Someone who is producing a lot of writing and wish to have more reading time, they have more work therefore they MUST have more time. They will come late read and go early once they have read. They only turn up when they want something and they tend to believe no one else notices. I ask you this - do you notice when someone doesn't pay their round at the bar? Enough said.
  • Rude, dismissive or hurtful criticism can be a problem. But as I've mentioned before I usually have an idea of the people in any group who I trust to give a really honest informative feedback I ignore the rest. For everyone you find who likes your work you will find someone who doesn't like it. But criticism should be given in a fair constructive manner.
  • The oversensitive can be a real problem anywhere but in a writing group it can be very draining. Let's face it you go to a group for a couple of hours each week or month. You read, you get feedback, you decide whether or not to take it on board, you have a cup of tea a laugh and get on with your life. The oversensitive will make a general feedback comment a mountain of misery that can suck a group down. They flutter from one member to another complaining about this so called slight which no one else noticed, or cared about. Or which tended to be an unwise joke.
  • The negative. No one can ever get published unless they are famous or know someone. They are jealous of anyone else's success and wait for weeks to jab and hurtful personal comment in.
  • The drama king or queen, they burst in late instead of sneaking in and sitting down they don't care that someone else has waited thirty minutes to read, and was in the middle of their piece of work. They want to tell you all about that cow at ASDA who wouldn't give them cash back and this story is more important than someone who was reading, it was too important to wait until the tea break. And it is never a one off.

I think our group does need to have a discussion about what is and what's not acceptable.

In one of my old writing groups the clock started the moment it was your turn. We never had a problem of someone wasting time looking for the correct sheet of paper, starting searching for their glasses while everyone else twiddled their thumbs, no one made those long dialogues of I don't know if I should read it, it's not that good, it's only a first draft. Or the one I really hate...I've brought two pieces of work you haven't heard either which should I read? Well obviously the one you want criticism on doh! Then there is my all time grating on the nerves, do you want me to read it? So you have to start massaging their ego before they even start.

What is needed to make a cracking good writing group is a grown up attitude? There are always going to be people who are a better writer than you. Someone is always going to read some magnificent piece of fiction just before you read you first draft, not sure where it's going bit of dribble. It is normal to feel jealous if someone swans in with a publishing deal.

As an organiser you must make sure everyone gets the opportunity to read or to join in with any opportunities you provide. The point of a group is to be kind and supportive of one another. To have fun. To learn. And currently we have a great group of folks at our groups.

Like the saying everyone is a fruit and nutcase. So if you are a fruit or a nut come along - but if you have some other agenda please just move along.

Monday, September 3, 2012

There's nowt so queer as folk - sock puppets

If you had asked me on Friday what a sock puppet was I would have told you something you made with your children during the school holidays. I would have also stressed the importance of losing the damn things straight after you made it so you don't have to waste hours watching the mindless ramblings of preschoolers.

My fellow writers have spent the weekend re-educating me. A sockpuppet is an online identity used for purposes of deception. Or using misleading online identities. In a complete panic my first thought went to horror stories of pedophiles pretending to be ten year olds, con men trying to get you to buy fake shares in a gold mine, online dating sites were men pretend they have hair.

Why else would someone go to the time and trouble to create a different identity?

I'm a writer with four unpublished novels under the bed. The list of things I wouldn't do to gain that all important publishing contract is pretty small. But even I felt the cringe of embarrassment when I found out that authors have been creating false identities to...fake reviews. Cringe worthy but I sort of get it. I actually felt sorry for crime novelist RJ Ellory who faked his own book reviews. Would he have got on the Richard and Judy book list if he hadn't given them a little nudge?

And according to

'It turns out all those fake-sounding reviews on probably are. Bing Liu, a data-mining expert tells the New York Times that about one in three online reviews are fake.
The reason: there's a lot of money in fake reviews, according to an excellent exposé by the New York Times's David Streitfield.
Take the case of Todd Rutherford, for example.
Rutherford used to write press release for authors hoping to get professional reviewers to read their books.
Eventually, Rutherford realised he could cut out the middleman. So he started charging money to write reviews. He would charge $99 for one review, $499 for 20 and $999 for 50. He eventually published 4,531 reviews and at one point pulled in 28,000 per month.
The business worked because it worked for Rutherford's clients. Authors who get a bunch of reviews on Amazon tend to sell more books than those who don't.'

Buying reviews? I sort of get it if reviews sells books.

What I can't understand is those amongst us who fake an identify to give nasty or hurtful reviews?

In a study it showed that reviews do affect sales on Amazon. A writer analysed sales immediately after a one-star review was posted – they went down. When a five-star review became the most recent, sales increased. The reason? We don't read reviews, we skim them looking for reasons to buy, or not buy, the book.

However, to me unless it is a personal vendetta against someone you know personally and there is a long history of bad blood, I can't understand how this disgusting practice is gaining momentum? Some writers have been exposed as ‘sock-puppeteering’ – creating false accounts to write rave reviews of their own work. This is dishonest enough but it gets really nasty when those sock puppets write one-star reviews of rival authors.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Five most important social media sites, explained by a non techie!

I am now in the middle of my social media course and I have listed what I think are the top five social media sites. I have only been able to successfully use three of them, LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. I have only had one major embarrassing problem and that's been Pininterest, last on my list.

One of the biggest problems I have found is finding out what these sites are! Most people on the net seem to assume you know all about it.


This is the most respected and widely used site for business networking. LinkedIn is where you share ideas and get answers to questions from professionals that you'd never meet any other way. Industry specific professional groups help each other through advice, resources, referrals, and more. Plus, employers post jobs and recruit here.

LinkedIn isn't a fast-track to becoming an executive editor or a CEO but it is good exposure that can be focused on your specialty. People get to know you through discussions. They learn about you and your expertise when you answer questions for others by responding to a discussion. Again, it's about others and earning the respect of others in your network who can make referrals.

In addition, customers and employers can post public recommendations on your page, and you can see when people in your network change jobs or location, which helps you maintain a current network with viable contacts. Your network can be as wide or narrow as you want to work to make it. So obviously very popular during a recession.


The Twitter phenomenon has been around since 2008.

The purpose is to create awareness of your presence. Messages should provide helpful tips, entertain, or inform your target market. Yes, there are spammers and hookers here too. It's easy to block the undesirable element though. The big no-no is blatant self-promotion. Like all customer-oriented content, it's about them, not you.

The short message format is also the ultimate test of your ability to get to the point, which isn't a bad thing to practice. You build a following by offering information that people want, solving problems, and engaging in useful conversation, not by promoting your work constantly. There is an amazing amount of good research information available by doing simple searches too.



If you are looking to meet or find people MySpace is a good place to look. There are lots of people on MySpace so finding people there is easy. MySpace has music and videos you can add to your site for free.

It had advanced Editing: you can add all sorts of things to your MySpace profile. Since you can use HTML and JavaScript in your MySpace editor you are open to adding almost anything.

You can keep in touch: with email, blogs, IM, forums, bulletins and groups you can keep in touch with all your MySpace friends.


Anyone Can Contact You: There is a privacy setting for your MySpace profile but that means no one can see your profile. MySpace offers no way to allow people to see your profile but still keep them from emailing your and trying to add you to their own MySpace friend list. You may get a lot of people trying to add you to their MySpace friend list and if you don't want just anyone sending you messages then this can become a big bother.
Options Are Hard To Find: There are many things you can do on your MySpace profile that are not obvious. Creating a MySpace slideshow is one of those things. Adding HTML templates is another. Adding other HTML or JavaScripts is yet another. As you browse MySpace you will see some pretty amazing things on some of the MySpace profiles you come across and you may wonder how they are done because MySpace doesn't tell you.

Quite frankly this terrifies me. I'm worried that I don't have the technological skill to protect myself. Also it seems filled with younger teen like people.


I've seen an advertisement for this in the cinema and feel quite excited about it.

Basically, Google+ is an amalgamation of several services we already use. The idea, according to Google, is to do them better.

Circles are groups of friends you organise by topic: Friends, Family, College Buddies, Roommates, etc.
From your Circles page you drag and drop your contacts into each of these groups, which makes it easier to share what you want with them. Each topic (writing, dogs, whatever) will get its own "Spark" page and provide links to related articles, videos, photos, etc.

Hangouts are virtual rooms where you can video chat with people in your circles. For example, if you're not busy, you can start a talk with your pals.
So, basically, it's just video chat.
Huddles is a new group messaging app

Huddles is group messaging for people within your Circles. There's a mobile app available for Android now that lets you send messages from your phone. Select your group, and everyone can chat with each other.
Instant Upload shares your mobile photos

This one's simple. When you snap a photo on your phone, it's automatically uploaded to Google+.

But the word automatically worries me. If I take a shot of my dog when it rolls in something nasty to show my husband does everyone see it?

Pinterest is a Virtual Pinboard.

Pinterest lets you organise and share all the beautiful things you find on the web. People use pin boards to plan their weddings, decorate their homes, and organise their favourite recipes.

Best of all, you can browse pinboards created by other people. Browsing pinboards is a fun way to discover new things and get inspiration from people who share your interests.
I keep having a go but I had a very nasty experience with pininterest. I was trying to create a board and put a picture of a dog which looks like Spock on it, I tried a lot. And then I found out that I had done something with my settings which means I had posted that picture 17 times on my Facebook page - its affected my confidence!