Goodbye 2020

I considered not writing a 2020 roundup style post, even though it’s something I’ve done every year since I started this blog. It somehow felt wrong to look back at writing goals and reflect on what went well (and what didn’t go so well) when for so many this year has been such a struggle.

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Even writing a paragraph, or finding time and/ or headspace for any kind of creativity this year should feel like an achievement. And if you’ve taken the whole year off from writing, that shouldn’t be considered a failure to meet a goal.

I wrote a post towards the beginning of the pandemic called ‘Is it OK to not be writing?’. I’ll answer my own question: yes, it’s OK. Please ignore all the social media posts about how lockdown has carved out the perfect time to write a novel or complete another creative project you’ve had on the backburner for years. For some, that may be true, but for many, lockdown has been the complete opposite. Social media is really good at making us feel really bad… It’s completely fine if lockdown hasn’t felt like a creative opportunity for you.

I’m not going to look back at what goals I set myself at the end of 2019. They feel somewhat irrelevant now. 2020 was so unexpected, that any opportunities that were thrown my way were things I could never have predicted or planned for. Who knew lockdown lit would become a genre? Or that ‘lockdown’ itself would enter our lexicon? I could never have predicted my most successful short story would have been one about loneliness and hope set during the pandemic. Or that I’d find comfort in writing short stories about the everyday, set in such an unusual time.

I met with my team at UCLAN just before Christmas (virtually, of course. How many people had heard of Zoom pre-2020?). It was amazing to hear positive feedback on my novel, Lost in Galderwood. It gave me a slight glimmer that maybe my book is viable. Maybe it’s not a complete disaster and something I should chuck in the bin.

It’s also great to have an idea of what the next few months are going to look like: Zoom meetings with feedback, rewrites, and editing. It’s the first time in my “writing career” I’ve got a semi-clear route ahead of me (well until Spring, at least), and it’s a lovely thing to have.

Yet I’m not going to over-plan 2021. And I’m not going to goal set. 2020 has taught me that our best laid plans can all go wrong, and we’re much better off taking each day as it comes. Beyond working with UCLAN on editing Lost in Galderwood, I have no idea what 2021 will hold for my writing. It could be another year of short stories, or another novel, or a sequel to Lost in Galderwood. Or maybe the editing will take up all my time, and I won’t write anything new at all. It’s kind of exciting to just go with the flow…

With only 2 days left of 2020, all that remains to say is Happy New Year! Let us hope that 2021 is a different year, and a better year than 2020.

“Florrie Moore is Innocent” – Short story shortlisted by Writers’ Forum Magazine competition

Today I heard my short story Florrie Moore is Innocent has been shortlisted by Writers’ Forum Magazine.

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This exciting news has come at the perfect time, as I’ve recently been feeling disheartened my collection of “lockdown shorts” have been struggling to find homes.

Although being shortlisted does not mean the story will be published (only if it wins one of the top three places), this is still a massive confidence boost. It reminds me of a blog post I wrote a couple of years ago about how important it is to celebrate all successes, however large or small.

Florrie Moore is Innocent is set in Victorian Bristol and was partly inspired by the BBC programme A House Through Time. I love reading historical fiction, but this was my attempt at writing historical fiction for an adult audience. I’m therefore thrilled the story has been shortlisted, and in a reputable magazine at that.

Should I use archaic language when writing historical fiction? You can find my earlier blog post on this topic here.

This weekend, I’ll be back to cramming in novel rewrites (more on that soon). But for tonight, atleast, I’m going to be putting my feet up and delighting in my shortlist success.

Blog Post published on Dare to Write?

This week my blog post “Why I’ve been Writing Short Stories during Lockdown” was published on Dare to Write?

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Dare to Write? aims to inspire and support anyone at any point on their writing career journey, from emerging writers to published professionals.

My blog post was in response to a call for submissions to “The Great Margin” – “A series of stories about places and people living in
and between the margins of our writing world
“. The project is co-funded by Bath Spa University and Paper Nations. You can read the blog post on the Dare to Write website here.

Writing historical fiction: Should I include archaic language and dialogue?

This month I’ve been working on a short story set in Victorian England. I find history fascinating, and love reading historical fiction, so I thought why not have a go at writing it too?

happy young ethnic woman writing article in cozy workplace

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I posted the first draft of this story on the critique site Scribophile (you can find my review of Scribophile here). One person commented that they think it needs more accent, or old-time verbiage to give it a period feel.

Using archaic language, and whether to give characters a dialogue reflective of the time, is a dilemma I’ve wrestled with once before when I was writing my novel (which features time-travel). I decided in that case not to include archaic dialogue, partly because my style of writing tends to sway more towards being accessible and easy to read. I was hesitant to overcomplicate the language, and I find sometimes if I am reading novels with too much unfamiliar language, I tend to zone out. Although of course, that’s just personal preference.

Anyhow, writing a short historical story for adults brought this question to light again, so I decided to explore it a little further.

The main argument I could find for the inclusion of archaic language and dialogue in historical fiction is it can make your writing more believable and realistic. Using lexicon true to the times can, when used effectively, instantly transport your reader to a different era.

However, there’s the issue: when used effectively. This can be very hard to do. Writing historical fiction itself requires a lot of research. If you want your characters to speak archaically, then this will require further research into the idioms of the time. And even then, it’ll be hard to get it completely right. Readers may nit pit that you have the rhythm wrong, or have used an unsuitable word, and your work may feel wasted. Writing in an archaic style is always going to require a certain degree of guess work.

The danger of using, or at least overusing, archaic dialogue is that whilst it may be realistic, it could also be tiresome to read, and your reader’s may switch off after a couple of pages. Overly flowery and obscure language can be a big turn-off for some readers, who will want to get into the story, rather than worrying about what words mean.

The good news is if you choose to write your story using modern language, there are still a few things you can do to give that historic feel and make your story as believable as possible.

One straightforward method is to add descriptions of period details instead. Describe the setting, and give brief descriptions of clothes and housing, for instance.

You could also include attitudes reflective of the time, for example attitudes towards women. How would your character talk to women? Maybe they’d be blunt or dismissive. These things can be incorporated without the inclusion of archaic language.

In addition to thinking about what to add into your story, you may also need to think about what to leave out. Consider the etymology of words. When did they come into use? Avoid modern slang terms and think about the context of words, and whether they’d have the same context in the time you’re writing about as they do today.

Phrasing dialogue in certain ways can also help to give an archaic feel. For example, “where are you walking?” can feel more archaic when rephrased as, “to where do you walk?” This is still easy to read and comprehensible for the modern reader.

To sum up, whether to use archaic language in your writing is a personal choice. Some people love the believability it brings, whereas others will prefer to use entirely modern language. There’s really no right or wrong answer.

However, if you do use it, it’s best to use a sprinkle approach and use sparingly to maintain readability. There are numerous other ways to give your writing that historical edge, such as using vivid descriptions, incorporating attitudes reflective of the times, avoiding modern terms, and using phrasing in your dialogue.

Do you write historical fiction? And if so, do you use archaic language, or stick to modern words?



How to find inspiration for writing short stories [during lockdown]

Last week I posted about how I’ve been writing more short stories during lockdown. Sometimes I find the trickiest part of writing short stories is coming up with the initial story idea. Often, I find myself thinking up ideas that are too complex or long-winded to fit into a few thousand words. Other times, I’ll come up with an interesting concept or character, but I’ll struggle to create a proper story with an opening, middle and satisfying ending.

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Lockdown itself, for me, has provided a lot of writing inspiration.  For instance, imagining what lockdown is like from different points-of-view, such as people who are alone, self-isolating, or for people struggling without the routine of work. These ideas have formed the basis for a couple of my short stories, including my recently published ‘A Dog called Rupert’.

The more I write short stories, the more I’m beginning to understand these don’t have to have outlandish, action-packed story lines. They can tell the story of simple things, everyday life, internal struggles, and challenges individuals may face.

In this blog post I’ve explored 10 ways to find short story inspiration. And the good news is, most of these can be used during lockdown.

  1. Eavesdropping

So, we might not be able to sit in coffee shops anymore to eavesdrop into conversations, but conversations are still happening around us all the time. Next time you’re in a long queue waiting to get into the supermarket, listen to the conversation happening next to you (subtlety!). The short story I’m currently working on was inspired by a rather loud conversation I overheard taking place just outside my house.

  1. Dreams

Ever wake up in the morning thinking that was a fantastic dream, only to find it slip away from you in seconds? Keep a notepad next to your bed so you can jot down interesting dreams before you forget them! I also find the time spent just before I fall asleep seems to (rather annoyingly) be the time when my brain is best at coming up with new story ideas.

  1. The News (TV, radio, newspapers)

Watch, listen, or read the news and imagine what it would be like to be in their shoes (whoever the news report is about). This doesn’t always have to be the main headlines. Look out for those little stories in local newspapers.

  1. Journaling

I’m a huge fan of keeping a journal/ diary. I have one of those five-year ones, and I just love reading back over what I was doing on the same day in previous years. Keeping a journal isn’t only a great way of getting in the habit of writing on a regular basis, it also can be a great source of inspiration.

  1. Random Word Generators online

These are easy to find with a quick internet search. There are even short story idea generators online, although I don’t personally find these too helpful.

  1. Old Photographs

Old photographs hold so many stories! I love imagining who the person in the photograph is and what their story is. You can find old photographs online. One of my favourite places to start is to look at old photographs of the area I live and go from there.

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  1. Read like a writer

Reading more will help you to become a better writer and can also help spark new ideas. When you’re reading, think about the plot. Most plots follow a very similar pattern. In fact, there’s an argument there are only really seven basic plots all stories will fall into, these include rags to riches, overcoming a monster and quests.

  1. Keep an ideas jar

This is something I came across whilst on a creative course in Toronto. It works well with writing groups, but you could do it by yourself too. Jot random words, phrases, ideas for characters on a piece of paper and pop them into a jar. If you’re in a group, you can mix them between yourselves and pick a certain number of pieces of paper each ‘blindfolded’. Put the pieces of paper in a jar. Add new ideas, interesting characters you met, interesting places you visit to the jar as and when. And pick a piece of paper out of your jar when you need a fresh burst of inspiration.

  1. Just write!

Sit down with a blank piece of paper and a pen, give yourself ten minutes and write continuously. It doesn’t matter if what you’re writing doesn’t make any sense. You could just write, ‘I don’t know what to write’ over and over again. The idea is to let your subconscious flow and hope something that flows out of you that could be turned into a story.

  1. Talk a walk/ visit a different place

This one is slightly trickier to do during lockdown, and for some may not be possible. But if you’re struggling to come up with a new idea for a story, I find the best way to find inspiration is to visit a new place. For me, historic places are the best. I love imagining all the different people who may have passed through a place over the years.

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