MarySmith’sPlace ~ Writing under lockdown

Please read the full link, to see if this book is something you would like to buy. In years to come, it will be a fascinating history of a small part of Scotland during the Coronavirus pandemic of 2020. (Kindle version available too)

Mary Smith's Place

I’m excited to be a contributor in a new anthology which provides a unique record of life in my Galloway, my own wee part of Scotland, during the first 12 weeks of lockdown.

Writedown: Lockdown in the Galloway Glens at the Time of Covid brings together the work of 22 writers, each with a Galloway connection. It is a collection of prose and poetry, hopefulness, hopelessness, anger, humour and quiet endurance in which the writers tell the story of a community dealing with life in unprecedented times.

The idea behind the project came from author Margaret Elphinstone, when her writing classes could no longer meet. Inspired by the Mass Observation project which encouraged ordinary people to keep wartime diaries, she invited anyone interested to contribute – 22 of us did.

Margaret said: “In times of trouble people want to be together but with lockdown people had to isolate, sometimes…

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Fiction and Serials: Some Thoughts

I have just published the complete version of my last serial, ‘Vera’s Life’. That story was very personal to me, as the characters were based on people I knew well; family, friends, and neighbours. It did not initially capture the imagination of many readers, though views built up halfway through, with some catching up on the parts they had missed previously. Unlike most of my stories, this wasn’t completely fictional, though I changed the names and jobs of some characters to avoid any unwanted direct comparison.

It was also my longest serial to date; a big ask for readers at forty episodes, though I kept the word count down in each one deliberately. Average views worked out at around eighty per episode, giving the serial a total number of views of 3,200. Comments were complimentary I am pleased to say, as many readers fortunately invested in my ‘real-life’ characters, and their hardships in London during the war years of 1939-1945. Historical dates and details were all fact-checked before being used, and I stuck to the time-line of real events during the war too.

I would like to thank everyone who stayed with the story to the end, and those who also shared on Twitter and any other social media.

Following my recent decision to cut back on the amount of posting I do on this blog, I will be taking an extended break from serialised fiction for the foreseeable future. It takes a lot of time to work out a serial in many parts, as well as the necessary note-taking and research required.

If any new followers would like to catch up with earlier stories, they are all available in the ‘Fiction’ category on my blog menu. Every serial has been compiled into a complete story, and there are numerous short stories and photo-prompt stories to find there too.

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Writing For The Sake Of It.

I went to sleep last night thinking about my latest fiction serial. That led me to consider just how long I had been writing. I don’t mean writing stories on a blog, or even in a notebook, and I don’t just mean the writing I embarked on when I retired and thought to keep my brain active.

From a very early age, around seven years old in my case, I felt the need to write. When we had to write a one-page essay at school, I wrote two pages.
I wasn’t showing off, or trying to look better than my school friends, I just couldn’t stop myself.

At secondary school, we got homework in every subject. That came as a shock at first, but I didn’t mind too much, as it gave me even more reason to write. I wasn’t one of those kids who griped that much about homework and deadlines, I just went home and got on with it. Even when the homework was on a science subject, or something like Geography, it involved writing.
I remember having to descibe what a glacier was, and handing in five full sheets of writing that talked about different types of ice, and how it could look blue in a certain light. I didn’t get a good mark, as I missed out the important technical stuff. But it was writing, and I enjoyed doing it.

English and History gave me full rein to write late into the night. In what was supposed to be an appreciation of one chapter in the book ‘Wuthering Heights’, I almost filled an exercise book with an analysis of the destructive relationship between Heatchcliff and Cathy. Given a History homework about the Parliamentary reform in the early 1800s, I wrote a description of the Peterloo Massacre that the History teacher remarked took longer to read than the actual massacre lasted.

At the age of fourteen, I was writing like someone possessed by words.

It wasn’t much different in another language. When studying French, the teacher insisted on taxing our ability to the limit. We were reading a difficult enough book in Englsh translation, ‘L’Etranger’ (The Outsider) by Albert Camus. Of course, our copies were not translated. We had to write some kind of overview of the book, all in French. I worked at it all weekend and handed in a full notebook. Even allowing for my mistakes in the grammar and spellings of a foreign language, it was a complete work, if I say so myself.
The teacher flicked through the numerous pages, shaking her head. Then with a smile, she said. “If Camus was still alive, I would send this to him”.
She said that in French, naturally.

After school came work, and not too much writing. I made do with ideas in a notebook, making lists, and more reading than writing. Marriage followed, and as the years went by, I had little time or reason to write. Every so often, ideas would burst out of my head onto a page in a notebook, simply because they had to. I wrote letters to friends, and even to people I didn’t know that well. Letters became my new form of writing, and were often ten pages long, written on both sides.

In 2012, I retired from work and moved up here. A friend suggested I start a blog, to perhaps note the differences between life in London, and rural Norfolk. Within a few months I was posting daily, and not long after that a lifetime of ideas, experiences, and reminiscences started to translate into fiction on my blog as short stories, then serials. Eight years later, and I just cannot seem to stop writing, even if I wanted to. But one thing has become clear.

It was always going to happen.

Blog Feature: Usual Muttwits

Some readers may recall a blog started by one of my oldest friends, Julian. It was full of amusing stories about the doggy residents of an imaginary town, and their feline arch-enemy. Well that blog has been revamped, and now has great new illustrations by Zozo alongside the amusing stories.

Each character now has their own feature too, with the drawings summing them up perfectly.

Whether lamenting about the lack of available food, or investigating new canine arrivals, the antics of the Muttwits gang reads like a wonderful soap opera of the activities of all the pets in the town of Westley Piddle. If you own a dog, have ever owned one, or just love them, I am sure you will find this blog a delight. There is also a book in the works.
Dogs tails from Westley Piddle

So check out this new blog, treat yourself to some great illustrations, and a good laugh at the stories. Perfect Lockdown relief!

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

Sadness, and Stories.

I woke up feeling a bit sad today.
Nothing specific, just thoughts about some things that make me sad.

Like lost friends that I can’t phone, or meet up with.
And things left unsaid with those now departed.
Or wishing I had made some better decisions in life a very long time ago.
Not to mention my frustration at my inability to get to grips with technology.

Stuff like that.

It obviously wasn’t too bad, because I soon shook that off thinking about ideas for more stories to go with the photos being sent to me.
By the way, if you have thought about sending me a photo to make a story from, there is no deadline. Please send me one, and I will do my best.
(Just a reminder, reduced size files, emailed to petejohnson50@yahoo.com)

One thing about having to make up stories from photos, it keeps your mind active. In my case, almost too active. I find myself considering stories in my head as I walk around with Ollie, trying to remember if I have posted one with a similar theme or idea before, and just forgotten it by now. But the photos are what they are, and often tell me their own story, which I just have to translate into something readable.

Photo-Prompts are very different to the complex discipline of a long fiction serial in many parts. They don’t require notes about time-lines, character’s names, or historical research. But the basic idea is the same. I think of the ending, come up with a suitable title, then work it all back from there to the first line of the story.

After more than six years of regularly posting fiction on this blog, I wonder when the day will come when my imagination fails me, and I run dry of ideas. But for now, as long as you keep reading them, and most of you enjoying them, I am inspired to continue.

Guest Post: Daniel Scott White

Today I bring you a post from the American writer, Daniel White. He is a published author and blogger as well as owning the magazines shown in the links, and the Thinkerbeat Reader website. If you have ever wondered why your stories might have been rejected in the past, or if anyone will ever publish them, this article will be very helpful.

Daniel’s bio and extensive experience.

Experience

The Thinkerbeat Reader
CEO
Dates Employed Sep 2012 – Present

Longshot Press
Publisher
Dates Employed Aug 2015 – Present

Location: Eugene, Oregon
Today’s modern reader is a globalized reader. Art is becoming a global phenomenon. People want to read stories from all over the world. Longshot Press brings you stories for the modern reader. The global reader.

For fantasy: http://unrealmag.com

For science fiction: http://unfitmag.com

For networking: https://thinkerbeat.com

Representative authors include: Martha Wells, David Brin, Orson Scott Card, Philip K. Dick, Robert Silverberg, Cat Rambo, Yoon Ha Lee, Jerry Oltion, Emily Devenport, Eric Del Carlo, David R. Grigg, and more.

Education
National Taiwan University
Degree Name MBA
Dates attended or expected graduation 2010 – 2012

I graduated with a GMBA degree in June of 2012. The Global MBA program focused on international business.

Columbia College Chicago
Dates attended 1988 – 1990

Columbia provides a unique combination of training in both the business and artistic fields. I studied record company management, contract negotiations, record production and studio recording techniques. Upon graduation, I was hired to work as an engineer in Chicago’s Acme Recording under the ownership of Jim Rasfeld. I received credits on 6 nationally released records and was eligible to become a voting member of the Grammy awards. My most memorable time was working on a record for Bob Dylan, produced by David Bromberg for Columbia Records.

Here is his unedited article.

Blind Copy
By Daniel Scott White

Here’s a typical example of the stories I get. I’ve remove the author and title to protect the innocent.

Scene 1: People meet at a bar. Description, conversations, numbers exchanged, various couples go home together.

Scene 2: A car accident. The same people. Coincidence (unbelievable!). Proposed meeting at a restaurant later in the week.

Scene 3: People meet at the restaurant. More description. More conversation. Character development. But no sign of a plot yet.

Scene 4: The main couple goes for a walk on the beach. Hints of a deeper conversation. There’s a troubling conundrum in someone’s life. He needs some advice. Finally, the first plot point.

We’re now 3000 words into the story. The whole story is 8000 words long. So far, the writing is good from a technical perspective. Great paragraphing, which I like. Even the descriptive writing isn’t bad. But we have no idea why we are reading this story. What is relevant about it?

Why not start with the first plot point and build from there? Yes, in the very first scene, give me your first plot point. Start with the conversation on the beach!

About another 3000 words in, you start to guess the end, where someone will die. I don’t usually like stories where someone has to die for it to end. It’s the cheap way out. “And then he died.” is just a short skip away from “It was all a dream.”

At the end of 8000 words, you’re thinking you’d never buy this one. What are the options?

Should you ask the writer to trim the first 3000 words? I understand it’s important to set the story up, to build suspense. But get to the point of the story sooner than later. One publisher I am fond of says: don’t even try to describe the characters until later on, and then, only if you need to. If you don’t need to know the color of their eyes or how they dress, don’t tell me that. It doesn’t drive the story forward.

In this example story I’m talking about, the writer even understands the idea of an immediate scene. If you don’t know what that is, go look it up. That tip alone will earn you a ton of money. You can pay me for my advice later.

The writer also knows how to ‘block’ out a scene. What I mean is each scene is very clear cut. One scene moves smoothly to the next. There’s no ambiguity there. You’re never left wondering how we got from A to C with no B in the middle (although the coincidental car accident was too much of a stretch for my taste.) The outline is simple. Bar. Accident. Restaurant. Beach. First plot point.

And this particular writer sells a lot of stories to mid-level markets. Nothing much at the pro level, though. I’ve read his work several times before in previous submissions and in general, liked it, but never bought any of it.

Should I take the time to teach him how to do it? Well, no. I’m not here to teach you how to write. There are plenty of places for that. I want the finished story, ready to go.

What this writer is missing is balance.

I think what a lot of people don’t understand is that the short story market is different from the novel market in that you have to be more specific, more concise. It doesn’t have to be a rollercoaster ride from page one, but you have to get to the point and then build on that. Introduce the concept right away, then spend 8000 words expanding on it. A lot of people are in ‘novel writing mode’ when they put together a short story. You’ve got to mentally switch gears if you’re going to do both, write short stories and novels. Writing short stories keeps you sharp and will go a long way to strengthening your novels.

Nowadays, I have a hard time reading novels, because I’m so used to looking for padding in stories that drives the word count up. Time is money, and in this case, words are money, so make them count. I feel like most novels are just padded short stories. They spend pages and even chapters explaining some footnote to the whole thing.

So what I’m talking about is the balance within the story. That’s where most budding authors drop the ball. How much time do you spend expanding each scene, each detail? Somewhere in the editing stage, writers should be thinking: trim this, add in more of that, make it all significant, all relevant to the story, and in so doing, relevant to the reader. Don’t waste words.

The hook shouldn’t be: I wonder what’s happening in this story? Why am I reading this? Does the author even know? Oh, I wonder what happens…first? When will we find out? 3000 words later? WTF?? (That’s a kind of negative suspense building.)

The suspense should be: How does this particular plot unfold and eventually resolve?

There. I said it. A short story needs to have a hook. Sounds simple enough. But why wait 3000 words? If it’s about the money, forget it.

This is a link to his blog, where you can read a lot more. Daniel pays for stories he uses, and if you think you have what it takes to get published, you can contact him on his site.

Welcome

Watching Films, and Writing Fiction

Ever since I started to publish fictional stories and longer serials on this blog, many readers have asked me where I get the ideas for them. I usually answer that I get the idea for a title as I am walking around aimlessly with my dog Ollie, lost in thought.

That is the truth, in most cases. The title appears in my head for some reason, and I then begin to construct a story, working back from an ending that I imagine suits that title. I have no idea if this is unique to me. For all I know, many of the better-known writers may well have discovered their own inspiration in a similar fashion.

I started to regularly watch films at exactly the same time I began writing short stories. That was a long time ago, when I was around eight years old. Not that I copied the plots of those films for my stories, you understand.
What happened was that I would see the stories in my head, not unlike the way I had just been immersed in watching a film for two hours. My characters would come to life in my mind, with their clothes, faces, expressions, and actions as real to me as if they were on a screen in front of my eyes.

I soon learned that you cannot just transcribe what you see, and make that into a short story, or longer serial. It would be a huge volume. Imagine trying to write down what you saw in just one long scene in your favourite film. Think of how enormous film scripts are, with their movement directions, and descriptions of scenery, reactions, and close-ups.

By the time I had started to work out how to whittle all this down to a readable story, I had grown up, left school, and started work. I had no time to write fiction any longer, and I was eventually married, and embarking on a career as an EMT.

In 2012, I retired, started to blog, and later tried my hand at fiction again, after a gap of more than forty-five years. I had many misfires, and wondered if I had lost any talent for story-telling. Then I remembered how I had seen those stories like films in my youth, and went back to that method. That definitely improved my writing, and resulted in the long serials and short stories that I was publishing by the early part of 2018.

I conclude that I have to thank a lifetime of watching films for enabling me to rejuvenate my love of writing.

Reblogged Stories

I am very pleased that so many readers are enjoying the stories that I have been reblogging recently.

For those of you considering doing something similar, my up to date Stats might prove to be of interest.

I know that only a small percentage of WordPress bloggers view their Stats on a regular basis. Based on that, this may or may not be informative, but it is a good example of how Stats can affect what you decide to do on your blog.

When I reblog a post, in this case fictional stories from some years ago, the Stats inform me very accurately about who reads what. Over the past couple of weeks, the reblog has received more than 60% of the views. But those seeing this, and liking it, rarely go on to read the full original story. Around 32% actually read the story, whether or not they comment, or like either version.

This is not a complaint, merely an observation. So just over one third of readers and followers actually click the link to read the whole original story.

I don’t know about you, but I find that very interesting indeed.

Thinking Aloud On a Sunday

That Book.

After twenty days of compiling my latest fiction serial, it was suggested that I offer it for publication, as a novella. I went to bed last night thinking about that flattering idea.

Ever since I started blogging, in 2012, friends, family, and blog followers have often urged me to write a book. At first, they suggested I compile my Ambulance Stories into a collection, or perhaps expand the idea into a novel, based on over twenty years of attending emergency incidents. Later on, many people kindly offered their opinion that some of my short fictional stories would make an interesting book, and I should choose some of the most popular ones to put in it.

Way back at the start of this blog, I wrote a post about why I didn’t want to write a book. Here it is, for those of you who have never seen it.
https://beetleypete.com/2012/08/11/we-all-have-a-book-in-us/

It has been a long time since then, and I have met lots of people around the blogs. People who have published their own books, sold them on Amazon, or other sites, and have either done reasonably well, or sold none at all. I admire them all, for having the determination to get the books finished, and for going through the potentially arduous process of trying to get them published. I have gone so far as to introduce both a ‘Blogger’s Books’ and ‘Featured Blogger’ series, in the hope of helping them by promoting their work.
Good luck to them all.

I have also read a lot about how Amazon dominates the market, and traditional publishers are only interested in authors with a proven track record. The hard work of editing, proof-reading, getting Beta readers, and constantly trying to promote books on every social media platform available. There have never been so many books for sale. Even moderately successful authors have had to resort to giving away copies of new novels, in the hope of attracting readers to the sequels.

So we know that there is no money in it, for 99% of published writers. But I concede that isn’t the point. Getting the work out there, seeing our name on a book cover, and reading a blurb about YOU on the back. That must be a wonderful feeling, even if nobody ever buys a copy, or reads it for free. But I have been around long enough to imagine the sleepless nights associated with completing a novel. I have just written a serial of almost 27,000 words. That took me close to thirty hours, including some corrections. In a novel, that would translate to just sixty pages. 60. I have read chapters longer than that.

Even short novels these days, at least in Kindle editions, are usually around 275 pages. Let’s say I went for 300 pages. That would be five times the length of my serial, so would take me at least 100 days to write.
Hang on! That sounds easy enough.
Maybe I should do it?

But that’s the easy part. Writing it is just the start. Then comes the really hard work. And work is the operative word here.

I gave up work in 2012. I had worked pretty hard, mainly in stressful jobs, since my first job in 1969. When I turned my back on the day to day routine of employment, I promised myself I would never work again. I got a dog, started walking, and began taking photographs again. Not long after that, I started blogging. I enjoyed the process, and soon developed my blog into what it is now, an enjoyable hobby that takes up a large portion of my day.
No complaints there. I have met some wonderful people, and made real friends online too.

I also started writing again, for the first time since my teens. I enjoyed it, constantly trying to improve my fiction, taking on board various welcome criticisms, as well as being very happy with the praise that came for my work too. Later on, I managed to get articles published on film websites, and finally saw my name in print, when a short story was accepted for publication in a magazine.

For me, that was a considerable personal achievement.
But it still wasn’t ‘work’.

So I doubt I will be writing that book anytime soon. 🙂

Longer Fiction, and Serials

Recent comments from the lovely ladies Maggie and Jude made me realise something. I have a lot of new followers, and many of them are engaging regularly on the blog now. Most of them have not read many of my previous works of longer fiction, and they were not around for the start of most of the serials either. Rather than reblog so many stories, I thought I would put up this post, with links to them, and some idea what they are about. Hopefully, this will entice some new readers to explore those older pieces, and they might even enjoy reading them too. 🙂

It Begins.
A heartless serial-killer, planning with meticulous precision. It has some dark themes. 12,500 words.
https://beetleypete.com/2019/01/08/it-begins-the-complete-story/

Marjorie.
A teenager is kidnapped, but it doesn’t go to plan. They didn’t count on Marjorie being the girl she was. 21,400 words.
https://beetleypete.com/2018/12/05/marjorie-the-complete-story/

Benny Goes Bust.
A coming of age tale set in modern-day London. A grandmother who was a glamour queen in her youth, and how it all intertwines to give Benny a career he never expected.
One of my own favourites. 26,000 words.
*Moderate adult content, some sexual references*.
https://beetleypete.com/2018/10/06/benny-goes-bust-the-whole-story/

A Pillar Of The Community.
A respectable man, with a dark secret. A motiveless murder, and a police investigation that goes very wrong. 35,000 words.
https://beetleypete.com/2018/10/06/a-pillar-of-the-community-the-whole-story/

Street Life.
Hard times on the streets of modern-day London. Living rough, drug use, and exploitation. 18,500 words.
https://beetleypete.com/2018/06/29/street-life-the-complete-story/

Jackie Jam-Jar.
The criminal underworld, in 1970s London. Crime and violence, slang speech, and lots of nicknames. 10,000 words.
(Contains a glossary of slang terms used)
https://beetleypete.com/2017/12/03/longer-stories-jackie-jam-jar/

Travelodge.
A secret love affair, a husband betrayed, and his complex revenge. 11,000 words.
https://beetleypete.com/2017/12/02/longer-stories-travelodge/