Posts Tagged ‘true story’

The pleasure and the pain of Peer Review

I’ll begin by saying I doubt I would still be writing if I hadn’t been introduced to peer review by my good friend Simon Kewin back in 2008. The fact that he simultaneously gave up on it, finding it a block to his creativity, simply indicates the difference between our levels of writing experience at that time. He had already had over fifty stories published and I had just written my first, of which I was extremely (and mistakenly) proud. My introduction to You Write On was a baptism of fire but one for which I will be forever grateful. Today I am a member of four peer review sites, two public and two private, each of which has different benefits and drawbacks.

There are dozens of peer review sites available but for those who have never put their work up for public scrutiny, I would recommend YWO as a first step. This is how it works: you join, upload a short story or the first 7,000 words of a novel and your submission goes into a pot and takes its turn to be assigned to a reviewer. While you are waiting, you request an assignment and pick something from your daily choice of six stories to review. You rate the piece over eight categories and write a review that (hopefully) justifies those scores. It takes a while to get the hang of it but you soon learn how to give useful feedback and this in turn helps your own writing. It sounds ideal – you get free reviews and, if you apply the best advice, you can improve your writing at a much faster rate than if you sat alone filing rejections from agents and publishers. And, because there is a ratings chart that can win your piece a free appraisal by a publishing professional, there is an outside chance you will be ‘discovered’. However, to get to this stage, unless you have a rare and universally-recognised talent, there will be some unpalatable medicine to swallow along the way.

The pitfalls arise from the nature of the site. The competitive aspect adds excitement but brings out the worst in some people. They may praise your work to the skies but score you low because they believe this will scupper your chances of beating them to their coveted top ten place. Unfortunately for them, although the scores aren’t revealed, you can work them out by keeping a chart if you are so inclined. This leads to bitter complaints and arguments on the message boards but since there is a 1-in-5 removal option the writer can use to delete a useless or low-scoring review, the effects of ‘sabotage’ reviews are largely mitigated.

Another problem arises from the proportion of inept feedback that is bound to occur on a free, public site. You have to be realistic about the depth and range of feedback you will receive from amateurs, who may actually be incapable of writing a coherent review or story themselves. Not surprisingly, the varying quality of reviews  loosely reflects the varying quality of submissions. If you are baffled by the feedback you receive, take a quick peek at the reviewer’s own work…

As a direct result of both of the above, occasionally inner, or ‘knitting’, circles form, ostensibly to ensure that these members get more useful feedback (and better scores) than the outsiders. They get pally via the message boards or email and then try and ‘catch’ one another’s work to ‘save’ it from sabotage or useless reviews. If the circle gets big enough, it can begin to skew the charts and certainly affects the chances of receiving poor feedback if you are not one of the chosen few. Luckily this isn’t a regular occurrence.

All this nonsense aside, if you do go onto a site like YWO, you can strike gold; not necessarily by beating your way to the top of the charts, but by honing your craft, steadily improving with each upload. And the more work you put into reviews you give, the more experience you gain to apply to your own work. It’s win-win if you use the opportunities to full advantage. You will also grow a skin as thick as that on school custard so eventually you learn not only to thank every reviewer (good, bad or ugly) for their comments, but relish the insight into your writing that can help elevate it to a higher league.

Chances are that even if you make the top ten and win a ‘pro-crit’, you will not come away with a publishing deal. Only a handful of members have achieved one over the last six years. What you will get is a privileged view into what the professionals are looking for. Having had a good number of these I know that the more critical they are, the more useful they will be. Since my work only comprises complete stories, I have often received a very handy overview of what works and what doesn’t.

The other public site I belong to is Readwave. This is completely different to You Write On and has no competitive element. It is essentially a showcase for very short stories and true-life articles, which anyone can read and comment on. As such, there is little opportunity or appetite for in-depth criticism and most comments tend to be of the ‘I really loved this’ kind, possibly in the hope they will be reciprocated. As one of the team of Staff Reviewers, I tend to venture a couple of suggestions that I think will improve the writing/story but avoid rigorous analysis, tempted though I may be. Most of the time the writer leaves the piece exactly as it is and, frustrating as that may be, I have learned over the  years to shrug and say, “Well, it’s their story.” It won’t win any prizes, but that’s not really why they are there. They simply want to be read and ‘discovered’. And some stories/writers are. One piece  recently ‘went viral’, achieving 20,000 hits in one day! You can read it here.

Private sites are a different species altogether. Membership is by introduction or invitation and all the members have reached a certain level of competence in their writing and criticism. This brings problems of its own, strange as that sounds. When receiving criticism it is vital that you learn which to follow and which to ignore. If you are writing for the pleasure of the activity rather than to complete a novel, it may push you into producing something that isn’t really yours and with which you have no affinity. It is a trickier judgment when your reviewers are experienced, published and respected authors. But they are not YOU and they are not writing YOUR book. You still have to trust your instincts! What you do get on private sites is a small group of people who get to know your work and who can home in on your weaknesses – the ones you knew were there but were hoping to get away with – with accuracy and regularity. There is also the benefit of having several people read a whole novel and give an overview. I recommend it as the next step when your mixed bag of reviews on your open site starts to send you round in circles.

Eventually many writers suffer from review-fatigue and consequent boredom with writing in general. Several experienced writers I know have found that, over time, the act of picking writing apart can suck the fun out of the creative process and even from reading for pleasure. This is one of the greatest dangers of peer review. Strategic breaks and writing in different formats can help but a degree of honesty and self-knowledge is needed at this point. Do you continue to belong to crit sites because you still want/need help with your work or because you are addicted to the message boards and enjoy the support of virtual (and actual) friends? Is your writing and output improving or suffering as a result of your involvement?

Simon decided six years ago that peer review was having a detrimental effect on his writing and has gone from strength to strength since making the decision to go it alone, while I still need to be told that what I have written is a coherent story and not just a piece of semi-realised waffle. But these days I only need opinions from a couple of trusted people whose work I admire before sending it out into the world. Although my activity on YWO has dwindled to  nothing, I will always be thankful for what I have received there, including my rhinoceros hide.

So that’s my advice to new writers who opt for the bumpy road of peer review: give as much as you can and accept what is offered with grace and joy. If you do, you won’t regret it.

***

If anyone would like to provide a link to their recommended peer review site, please add it below with a few words of description. On the other hand, if there is one to avoid feel free to say why. Thanks!

Co-author of Hand-Knitted Electricity, Perry Iles, agreed to a little chat with John Hudspith, author of Kimi’s Secret:

How much do you weigh and what’s your favourite colour?

Too much and a kind of liverish purple, the colour of a bruised Billy-boy the morning after a Rangers away match.

Ah, like PERRYwinkle? Nice.

Is that what colour periwinkle is? I never realised.

If you could invent a colour what would it be?

Brurange: the colour of Irn Bru or a Polish trucker’s piss

When did you start trying to be funny?

Primary school. It came about as a result of a feeling of profound social inadequacy. I was ugly, ginger and fat, and I thought it best to burst out laughing before everyone else did. I knew they were going to point at me and laugh, so I pointed back at them and laughed first.

Ever done or thought of doing stand-up comedy? Throwing liver at the audience could be your trademark. 

After Hand-Knitted Electricity I realised that some of the definitions could be used as onstage rants for humourists from the Lenny Bruce/Bill Hicks mould. Personally I don’t think I have the right characteristics for stand-up. I don’t smoke any more and I don’t like it when people hurl bottles of wee-wee at me. I’d welcome the idea of writing stand-up for someone else. I knew someone once who writes for Jonathan Ross and he makes a fucking fortune. He’ll be getting a free copy of this book, believe me…

How did Hand-Knitted Electricity come about?

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away there was a writing site called the Bookshed. It was, and still is, populated by crabbit old buggers who take their writing seriously, have high standards and low tolerance-levels. One day someone invented a word and posted a new thread on the Bookshed forum in which they asked people to invent a definition of its meaning. So I did, then posted a word of my own. I did this a few more times, as did others, and we found that we were enjoying ourselves tremendously, and so were some of the people reading the burgeoning thread. Then, like Topsy, it just growed.

The title…What’s that all about?

My sweet wife, Heather, came up with it. Just like that, spur of the moment. So I took a word, defined it and put it at the start to illustrate the satirical/absurdist content, and one of the cover designer’s pals did the cartoon. Time for a tip of the hat to JD (Jane) Smith, who supervised layout, design and artwork and took away from me anything even vaguely technological. Jane, you’re a shining star, dear.

What prompted your contributions to Hand Knitted Electricity?

A sense of frustration at the po-faced bastards who set themselves up as our moral guardians. Whoever they are and wherever their ideologies lie. Whether it’s The Guardian or the Daily Mail, a religious extremist from Texas or the Taliban, a feminist or a misogynist, a salad-dodger or Gillian McKeith. I don’t care. I don’t like extremes very much so I thought it was about time someone stood up for mediocrity.

The writing/editing is of such high quality, not to mention the entertainment value of the content, surely some publisher would have snapped this up. Did you try/consider that route? Why did you self-publish?

No, I never did think about submitting it. I didn’t even consider that we were writing a book until I’d downloaded all the definitions from the Bookshed and realised it was God-knows how many thousand words long and would stretch to over two hundred pages. At which point I thought “well, blow me down!” or words to that effect. It was the most painless ways of writing a book I’ve yet encountered, and I may do it again one day. Of course, much of the book’s professional appearance is down to Jane Smith, who appears to be superhuman. (I second this – Blog Ed)

What do you find funny?
The sublime, the ridiculous, the surreal and nonsensical. The cartoons of Bernard Kliban, Glen Baxter and Edward Gorey. Old episodes of Police Squad! – in color! The humour of Spike Milligan and Vic Reeves. Terry Gilliam’s animations in the old Monty Python episodes. The Viz Profanosaurus. Charlie Brooker too – go and look at tvgohome.com, a spoof Radio Times listing apocryphal TV programmes that Brooker created a few years back. It remains the funniest thing on the entire internet. I spent far too long thinking Charlie Brooker was Janine off of Eastenders.

The funniest thing I ever saw on TV was a sketch on the Kenny Everett Video Show in the 1980s. The Sketch was about a programme called The Dinosaur-Pizza Challenge, in which contestants were asked to talk for one minute without mentioning Italian flat-based pie ingredients or extinct reptiles. The first contestant came up, and when Kenny Everett asked him his name he said “Johnny Mozzarella-Brontosaurus” and a twenty-ton weight fell on his head. Christ I thought I was going to die, although I was cataclysmically stoned at the time.

What do you find NOT funny?

Seventies sitcoms now billed as “iconic” – Only Fools and Horses, Terry & June, The Likely Lads, Dad’s Army, this kind of thing. To me it’s all so linear and obvious. Modern sitcoms leave me cold too, especially the American ones. Comedy is so personal. I’ve watched episodes of Vic Reeves Big Night Out and Green Wing that have left me incontinent with laughter while those around me look on in perplexity.

If you could replace the Prime Minister with anyone of your choosing, who would that be, and why? 

Nadine Dorries off of I’m a Celebrity, because she has much nicer tits than David Cameron. Actually, everyone has nicer tits than David Cameron, except me. Therefore, by Rimmer-logic, everyone would make a better PM than him. Except me.

And if you could make one new law, starting right now?

There is no longer any such thing as illegal drugs. Now, can we help you instead of arresting you and sending you to prison?

What’s the most perspicacious thing anyone’s ever said about you?

“He would do better if he concentrated more on his studies and less on entertaining his classmates” – headmaster’s report, 1966. He was probably right, but guess what? He’s fucking dead now and I’m not. Oh, and I had a girlfriend when I was fifteen who said “all he ever thinks about is food and sex” and she was right too, so I hope she’s not dead yet.

Are you ever serious?

Seldom. The human condition is best viewed through a veil of humour. Occasionally I make serious threats on the lives of Jedward and One Direction or Ant and Dec, and everyone thinks I’m still joking. Oh, and I was serious with that comment about drugs back there.

I know you don’t like seriousness, but it has to be said that Hand-Knitted Electricity is one hell of a fine read, intellectually smart, and funny as. Do you have plans for another or are there any projects on the go we can look forward to? 

If this book sells enough to recoup it’s cost, I’ll be looking towards a sequel, more of the same thing. I have some new definitions, but anyone wanting to give me more words to define is welcome to send them to chamberproof@Yahoo.co.uk, where they will be rewarded with a first-class honorary doctorate of letters from the City University of Newcastle upon Tyne and they’ll get a piece of paper with their name and First-Class Cunt written on it, which they can store next to their Blue Peter badges.

What, if anything, do you enjoy?

Music that sounds like a train crash, anything and everything by Cormac McCarthy (another miserable bastard), the company of dogs, not being English any more and my wife’s spaghetti carbonara.

What do you dish up when it’s your turn in the kitchen?

Bolognese sauce, which can be used in traditional spag bol or as a stuffing for lasagne. If you replace the mince with Quorn or TVP, I will seek you out and kill you and all your friends and all your family. And your fucking dog.

What do you fear most in this world?

Certain Americans.

How would you like to die?

At a time and place of my own choosing, by a method of my own selection, when I’m good and ready. I don’t like being taken by surprise, and I don’t want to be all icky and incontinent and have my mind turn to mashed potato.

Choose your last supper.

As much Kentucky Fried Chicken as it’s possible for a human being to eat – thigh portions only, hold the chips. For dessert an entire Bruce Bogtrotter cake off of Roald Dahl’s Matilda.

And your epitaph?

“Everything you ever love will reject you or die. Everything you ever create will be thrown away. Everything you’re proud of will end up as trash. “— Chuck Palahniuk

What would you like to be remembered for?
The dose of clap I caught from The Pussycat Dolls and passed on to Girls Aloud.

What phrases do you overuse?

“Scott laughed hard when Wanda brought home the contaminated cheese.”

Do you have any favourite words?

Dalrymple, Chihuahua, blini, squirrel, eschatologist, Tulisa.

What would be your desert island…

Dessert Double chocolate pavlova with whipped cream and none of this fruit nonsense. Take three egg whites and whip the little buggers until they’re stiffer than porn star’s wobbler. Whisk in 175 grams of caster sugar until the mixture has achieved the sort of texture that you’d happily lick from the breasts of the celebrity of your choice. Turn the mixture into a flat circle on a baking tray and bake for 2 hours at 120c. Melt two big bars of your favourite chocolate and pour it over the meringue base. Take a big tub of cream and whip it until you start thinking about tits again then shove it on top of the chocolate on the meringue and then eat the bastard, baring your lips and snarling at anyone who aspires to share it with you.

Desert The Atacama

Nude actress Christina Hendricks

Nude actor Robbie Coltrane (so the nude actress might see me as the preferable option)

Nude cartoon character Can I have Jessica Rabbit and Leela off of Futurama? In return I’ll send Robbie Coltrane back. 

Nude comedienne The entire cast of Smack the Pony.

Any final thoughts?

Snipers? Don’t be stupid, they couldn’t hit a thing from that dist—

Thank you, Perry.

Folks, buy the book, hang it in the loo. Hand-Knitted Electricity is unadulterated quality and will keep you on the pot for hours.

***

Darren Rimmer is professor of hermeneuticsand neologism at the City University of NewcastleUpon Tyne. His PhD thesis, A Statistical Correlation Between Popularity and Breast Size in British Celebrities Since WW2, was published by OUP in1987. Since then, he has become recognised as an authority on social trends and celebrity culture within the female demographic. He is currently researching dogging, alcohol and full English breakfasts whilst on sabbatical at the University of Magaluf.

Perry Iles is an embittered hack living a reclusive life in a small Scottish town. He enjoys watching liver sliding down the wall and feeding insects to his pet lizard. He is married with a young daughter, and his best friend is a lurcher called Oh For Fuck’s Sake, Dog, What Now? He has been writing for twenty years and once sold a book. His hobbies include incontinence and the sustained abuse of electric guitars.

Amazon links:

Hand-Knitted Electricity First Edition (ebook)

Hand-Knitted Electricity First Edition (paperback)

Hand-Knitted Electricity Facebook page

John Hudspith writes fiction, edits novels, messes around on the internet far too much and never sees the light of day. John thought he was a grumpy old man until he spoke with Perry Iles.

John’s website

John and Kimi’s Blog

Footnote: The Blog Editor may also have had something to do with this outrage. It would depend who’s asking.

Some of this may surprise you, but please bear with me!

1. DON’T get yourself into a position fiscally where you have time to spend writing every day.

I retired from the military, got myself a part-time
job teaching English. Hmmm…. what to write about?
Write what you know! Of course, people are
desperate to read another of ‘Those Funny Andalucians/Provencales/Vietnamese’ sub-standard memoirs about unhelpful locals and tongue-tied retirees from Blackpool and Bognor. Okay, don’t forget you might have time to write, but will you be able to write anything people want to read?

My advice: don’t give up the day job.

2. DON’T live somewhere exotic/inspiring.

We’ve all read Chris Stewart’s Driving Over Lemons. How hard can it be? No-one tells you that hiding away in darkest Andalucia means you’re not so available when it comes to sending manuscripts or maintaining a broad-(in the least broad sense of the word) band connection to send your submissions to the agents and publishers who actually accept an e-submission. Ah… manuscripts. We British are always inclined to complain about the Royal Mail. I’ll never do it again. It’s not the deliveries that are so random, rather the collections… from main Branch Offices.

My advice: stay where your market is – unless you’re moving to Berlin or Barcelona.

3. DO self-publish (but…)

Yes. Why not? Type up your word document, convert it to PDF and upload it to Bubok/Lulu/the on-line POD publisher of your choice. You don’t need it proof-read, do you?  Well, no. If you’re one of those rare creatures with superb spelling, superlative syntax and great grammar. Even if you have, your precious book will emerge as a horrible hodgepodge of misplaced indents, crazed paragraphing and inexplicably blank pages – if you don’t get someone to look at formatting your document so that it can be typeset properly.

My  advice: pay someone to do both, even if you’re self publishing.

4. DON’T market to the huge number of expatriates living wherever you do. (But they all read, right?)

Well, up to a point. A look around the charity shops and second-hand markets of Southern Spain shows that in recent times there are fewer and fewer stalls dedicated to books. The worst phenomena that occur in UK publishing: Ghosted Celebrity Autobiography, 50 Kinds of Dire, Pastel-covered Chick Lit, all appear in microcosm on the few stalls that have books for sale alongside that broken toaster and a pre-flat-screen era TV. Some of these books look brand new. They may not even have been to the beach. DO a local pub-quiz and count the full marks awarded in the Literature round, if there is one. On the Costas themselves, count the red-tops on display next the stuffed donkeys and cheap flip flops. Your magical realist fable is going to be difficult to crowd fund here.

My advice: Start a book club and a Creative Writing group. The same people may be in both, but nothing ventured.

5. DO get properly connected.

Yes, I know you’ve got a computer. If you are not a social networking whiz, find someone who is. Join something like Ether Books or Jottify and get tweeting/Facebooking: become an e-mail pest and start annoying people into liking/reviewing/even buying your short-stories. These sites are about networking, the more people you can interest in what you’ve written the better.

My advice: Spend treble the time (at least) on marketing as on writing. It’s no good writing a ground-breaking novel if no-one reads it. You can be Jack Kerouac (15 years to get On the Road  published) or E L James. You decide.

Confession.

I haven’t done anything right. I am in the process of taking my own advice. We’ll see if it helps.

***

Ewan Lawrie lives in inland Southern Spain. He teaches English to a selection of bemused Hispano-phones and writes in his spare time. He has pieces published in various anthologies which actually have ISBNs! He has a novel which has been on the cusp of being ‘taken on’ for so long now he has written three quarters of a sequel. He is a member of too many writing sites and has won an occasional prize or two, when he can find something that has not already appeared on line to submit.

You can try Ewan’s attempt at self-publishing complete with eye-watering typesetting.

His unit-selling collection of short-stories ‘Please Allow Me’ can be found on Jottify.

He has several short-stories on Ether Books, if you are rich enough to have an I-Pad or I-Phone, some are free. Hunt in the drop-down menu of writers for Ewan Lawrie.

Ewan’s occasional blog.

(the blog owner reserves the right to disagree with some of the above)

I’m a disabled grandmother, with tangerine hair,
and I shoot outlaws!

Well, now I’ve got your attention, this is my story.

I have been writing since I first picked up a pen. I don’t have blood in my veins, I have ink! But it has to be black, I can’t write in blue. I was encouraged in my reading and writing by my Dad and Paternal Grandad. Mum was only ever really interested in her animals, and seemed to see reading and writing as a complete waste of time! In later years, a rather strange ‘coincidence’ made her change her mind!

Since then, I have had a variety of poems and short articles printed in various papers, anthologies, and magazines. Some were paid but not many. The very first one I saw in print was in our local paper, when I was about 11 or 12 years old. My poem was a long one about the Vietnam War, the paper did a 2 page spread on the war, and put my poem on the same page. I still have the very ragged cutting!

The moment I saw that, something deep within me started restlessly moving. One day I was going to be a published author with a hardback novel to my name, I just knew it. Poetry is good for the soul and I used it mainly for its cathartic nature. Every time I received a rejection letter for another short story, or even for a novel, I resorted to poetry.

They say ‘write about what you know’ don’t they? Well, for years I totally ignored that, and wrote what I thought would sell. If only I’d written about what I knew, I might have been published much earlier.

I went to College as a ‘mature student,’ and achieved A levels in, Arts and Crafts, Art History, and Photography. They led to an Honours Degree in Cultural Studies, level 2 Counselling Certificate and a teaching Certificate. Then, I decided I enjoyed the whole College scene and, with a little nudging from various people, especially husband Chris, I went on to achieve my Masters in Writing Studies (a combination of Eng. Lit and Creative Writing). I loved it. And again, one of the things I learned was, ‘write about what you know’. But still I wrote what I wanted to and sent out poems, articles, stories, and even novels, all of which came right back to me. I started calling them ‘frisbees’ as, every time I received one, I’d spin it across the room in disgust!

I then started teaching Arts and Crafts and Life Skills, to people with special learning needs, and Creative Writing, in both evening classes, and Open College classes, for the local FE College. I also led workshops for the local library on a regular basis for a while. I was in my element! I still love gabbing on about the wonder of writing, to anyone who will stand still long enough to listen!

As a child, we had lived on farms (where I ran wild in the fields, riding the beautiful Jersey cows, and herding geese) and in pet shops (with fierce ferrets, grumpy gerbils, savage skinks, and pesky piranhas) and in poodle parlours. So, chances were very strong, that I would be an animal person when I ‘grew up’ — and I am.

After Chris and I married (we met in a field, of course!) we moved to Kent, where we renovated an old farm cottage, long before ‘doing up’ was fashionable, turning the land around us into a smallholding with animals and poultry, as well as crops, I also used the tons of wild, free food that surrounded us.

As well as the two Westerns (published this year by Robert Hale), I am now working on my autobiography, stuffed full to bursting with stories of my animals and of our lives on our tiny smallholding, where I had the chance to keep ponies of my own, at last. It will probably run into 3 books, as there are so many stories, some of which are funny, some tragic, but almost always concerning animals.

I know a fair bit about horses. I had been riding since I was 3 and have spent all my spare time with horses, for around the last 20 years. I know a fair bit about Native Americans and have had a passion for their culture since I was young. For me, even as a pre-teen, I felt they knew how to live with the Earth, and make use of all the free resources which surrounded them. They knew how to be at one with Nature. I wanted to be an Indian. I grew up watching lots of cowboy series, and movies, Laramie, Bonanza, Stagecoach, Lone Ranger, Champion the Wonder Horse, and so on — you get the picture. So, cowboys, Indians, horses, where do you think this is going?

And then… stay with me, it really does have some bearing on the whole picture, honestly! My husband Chris had grown up with no knowledge of his real father; his mother married when he was 7 and never told him about the man who had sired him. He had often mentioned to me that he wished he knew who his real father was, and where he was from. His mother had died without revealing her secret, but left some old sepia photographs of men in uniform in the back of a drawer. No-one in the family knew who they were but, for some obscure reason, they were collected by Chris’s sister and put in a box, along with their Mum’s other papers. How grateful we are that she didn’t just throw them away.

Knowing how much it meant to him, for his 65th birthday I bought Chris a DNA test, to try and settle it once and for all, thinking this might be the last chance we would have, as his father would then be quite old, or even deceased. The results were posted on the Ancestry web site. A mere couple of weeks later, another result came up on the site, which bore a remarkable similarity to Chris’s. We sent e-mails back and forth, and then I thought I would ask if we could send the old photos, on the off-chance someone might recognise them.

The photos were e-mailed to California and, the next day, the reply came, beginning with the words, ‘We have a Match’! One of the men had been recognised by two family members separately. He was their uncle! So Chris and Stuart are cousins. Unfortunately, his father had died some years previously, so Chris never did get to meet or talk to him, but we are in constant touch with the ‘new’ relatives. Thank goodness his sister had kept those photos. Now he keeps a picture of his real father, and grandparents, beside his bed. He wanted to take the name of his real father, so we added it to the name which he grew up with, and now we are double barrelled!

Cousin Stuart and his partner came to England from California last year, and visited with us for two days. For Chris to be able to shake hands with his real, blood family at last was quite an emotional moment. But for me at least, the very best part of the story is, they are the Great Great Grandsons of a Chippewa chief. Their ancestral home is in Wisconsin, a densely forested area, right at the edge of the Great Lakes. So, from being crazy about Indians for so long, I am now actually married to one!

Now Chris will be an Elder of the tribe, and has been bestowed with a Native name ‘Waa-Bani-Noo-Din’, which means ‘The Wind That comes from the East’, as our voices are sent to them over the airwaves from the East of them. As his wife, I have also been bestowed with a Chippewa name – ‘Nii-Gaan-O-Se-Kwe’, meaning ‘Woman Who Leads’. I love it, and am so proud to have it.

Then, in 2010, our lives changed quite drastically. In June I had a heart attack. I was in hospital for a week, and told to take it easy for a year after I got home. Then, in the August, just to prove he could do better than me, Chris had a stroke. He was in hospital for a month and now has to use a wheelchair, cannot use his right hand (and he’s right handed) and has difficulty communicating. He had another, smaller stroke in October last year, which affected his swallowing. So I never did get my restful year and am left with angina and arthritis. I hide from the world in my writing. With that, it doesn’t matter what goes on around me, I am in another place and, when I can have a good day on my writing with no interruptions, I have a sense of a job well done.

My writing then took a very strange and different turn and I began at long last to write what I actually knew about; horses and Indians, and cowboys. A little while after all the DNA story had been sorted, I had a dream, possibly started by Chris’s family story, or there might be another, spookier reason – read on. The dream gave me a title and almost the whole plot for a Western novel.

I had never even thought of writing in that particular genre, which, given my childhood interests, is probably a bit strange. I wrote the book, which took me about 6 months. I did have to do some research, but most of it was deeply embedded in my brain from my childhood. I sent it to Robert Hale, the only publisher of Westerns in the UK. I didn’t expect too much as they receive hundreds of manuscripts a week and only publish a few. One report has actually said, that I had two Western manuscripts hidden under my bed when Chris found his ancestors. That is definitely not true, I did have manuscripts under the bed, but Romances, not Westerns!

Within a couple of weeks, my book was accepted, contract signed, advance paid, and I was well on the way to becoming a ‘real’ author at last. When I told my Mother, she asked me what kind of book I’d actually written and, when I told her, she was stunned. Her father, my Maternal Grandad Harold, had only ever read Westerns. There were never any other kind of books in the house! He had died long before I was old enough to notice what he was reading.

Was it Grandad Harold who had given me that dream? I like to think so. Since then, my second book has been accepted, number 3 is with Hale now, and I am working on three others. And, I don’t care how strange you think I am, I really do believe that it is Grandad Harold who is guiding my pen, as he used to write a lot himself. I write the Westerns straight into the computer, which I have never done with any of my other work but, once I get started on one, my brain goes so fast that my fingers just seem to fly.

Now, after all these years, and all those horrible, depressing, rejections, I can say that I am a published author, with 2 hardback novels to my name so far. And it really does pay to write about what you know. Lesson learned, at long last. But I am still writing my Romances too. Just as a point of interest, there are only four women Western writers published by Hale, all in the UK, and all writing under male names!

Our local paper came to do an article on me this week. I think the photographer had the contrast on his camera wrong — the hair is auburn, but in the paper it shows up as tangerine! Still, I suppose it stops the eye and makes people want to read about the mad tangerine headed witch!

The latest article of mine, which is not about Westerns, will be appearing in a magazine called ‘Doll’s House and Miniature Scene’ in August. It’s about a Tudor, wood-framed, doll’s house, which Chris was building from the ground up, using real wooden joints, real stone flag floors, and so on. Then he had the stroke so, now he cannot complete it, we are hoping that someone will read the article, take the house, and love it to completion for us.

I have set up my own website where I am placing anecdotes from my life, excerpts from my books, and other works. Please, do take a look, and leave me a message or feel free to contact me if there is anything you think I might be able to help you with. You can reach me on Facebook too, at JillMcD-C Author, or on Twitter, @JillMcD-C. If you would like me to come and talk to your group, or lead a workshop, and you are in my general area, please do contact me.

Thank you for reading, folks!

A quick round-up of my current status regarding the various competitions I have entered for National Flash Fiction Day, next Wednesday, May 16th.

One of my stories was longlisted in the Spilling Ink comp but got no further. Both my entries in Flash500 were shortlisted and one came in fourth, Highly Commended, and received a judge’s comment and a prize. There were several hundred entries, so I’m delighted. Having now been placed 1st, 3rd and 4th (twice) I am hoping to take that elusive 2nd one day! I really recommend reading the top three stories – all are excellent and worthy winners – as are the winners of the Humour Verse competition. They are laugh-out-loud funny.

All my other entries have yet to be judged.

I also heard last week that my competition entry for a 1,000 word murder/mystery in Yorkshire Ridings Magazine is to be published in their next issue. So that’s exciting, especially as I’ve never written murder/mystery before and hadn’t really a clue how to start.

I am one of the editors for Calum Kerr’s project ‘FlashFlood‘, which isn’t so much a competition as a selection process. The best entries will be published on the website on May 16th at regular intervals – possibly as often as every five minutes judging by the flood of entries – and will be left there for the immediate future to give everyone a chance to read them all. So please, get your 500-word flashes in by the end of the 15th May – further details on the site.

And that’s it for now because I have another competition to enter, deadline tomorrow!

About six years ago my life was going swimmingly. I had the lot. I had the wife, the son, the house, the career, the car and even the trendy dog.

Today? Well I haven’t got the house, the car, the job, the son, or the career. I’ve still got the dog mind, although sometimes, I wonder if he has me.

Let me explain; I was a Policeman. I wasn’t an ordinary policeman, I was the type who did a bit of stand up comedy on the side. My life was filled basically with moments of fear, fighting, arguing and adrenaline, and that was just the comedy.

In the police I was a response officer, I basically used to drive around Liverpool with blue lights flashing answering 999 calls. I’ve kicked in more doors than Jack Regan and turned over more bodies than Quincy. It was messy, bloody, dangerous and at times, desperate. And I loved it.

I loved my colleagues, I loved the charging around shouting, I loved the challenge and I loved the thrills. I loved my life.

I honestly used to pull up at my house of a night, in my quiet cul-de-sac, and sit for moment and think about how lucky I was. I know that sounds crazy when you say it out loud, but I did. I was that happy.

Or at least I thought I was.

Six years later, sitting here writing this, it seems like someone else’s life I’m writing about, I’m not sure of I’d recognise the bloke who used sit smugly in his car looking at his house with his gorgeous wife waving through the window. To be honest, if I met him, I’d probably think he was a bit of a kn*b.

That bloke’s life finally fell apart when he found out his son wasn’t his. In fairness, although he’d not noticed it, his life had been in trouble for a while but, like a carrier bag that splits at the bottom and drops your spuds on the floor all at once, I/he just hadn’t noticed it going.

I’ll not bore you with the details, that’s another story for another day but, six months after my carrier bag split, I found myself without a job (never write a resignation letter when you are crying) and sitting in a rented house I couldn’t afford with a designer dog that was, quite frankly, disappointed in me.

I had to do something, so when a mate suggested getting a cab drivers licence to “tide you over till you get your head straight” I decided to do that, if only to get out of the house that had become a prison, and to start talking to people again.

It was the best thing I’ve ever done. Because amongst the drunks, the drug addicts, the lager, the lovers, the lost and the lonely… I found myself.

It happened at about four am, sitting in a park, eating a lonely service station sandwich and staring at a cat getting beat up by a bird, that I decided to write.

And that cat, and that bird, led to my book Rear View Mirror being released about two weeks ago for the Amazon Kindle and if I ever meet them again I’ll shake them by the paw/claw.

I’d never written anything before, so I was surprised at how good I felt when I wrote that first story. I didn’t just feel happy, I felt different, like something had happened in my head and my heart, like a place had been found and that I’d come home. I remember reading it a few times and smiling to myself. I even printed it off and stuck it by my bed to read when I woke up, just in case in the morning, after the shine had worn off, I found it was rubbish. I’ve still got that original story upstairs, and I still don’t think it’s rubbish. I created a blog, and posted the story up there, and told what remained of my friends on facebook. Some of them read it, a few of them commented, and I felt good for the first time in years, so I wrote another one, and another one, and another one.

And I felt better; little by little, I felt better.

A few months later a lady got in the cab and we chatted and she told me she edited a local magazine. I told her I wrote a blog about the cab and she promised to read it. I didn’t believe her. A few weeks later I got an email, and she said some nice things and offered me a column in the magazine and said she would pay me for the stories.

I still didn’t believe her, but it turned out she was telling the truth. I’d become a writer, and I was happier than I’d been in years, and it wasn’t money, it wasn’t a house and it wasn’t a car that was making me happy… it was my heart.

Which was finally fixed.

***

Tony Schumacher is a writer, author, broadcaster, and stand-up comedian. His regular column for the Liverpool and Manchester Confidential magazines “Rear View Mirror” has recently been compiled into a book and is available on Amazon.

Tony has written for The Guardian newspaper and recently worked on their Reading the Riots project to investigate the causes of the 2011 disturbances in the UK. As a former Police officer, Tony can often be found wandering the lanes near his home, with his dog Boo, pretending to give out parking tickets and direct traffic. And at other times, he spends his time as a regular guest on Liverpool’s City Talk FM radio station, and has also presented several pieces on the BBC TV’s Politics Show.

Read more on Tony’s website.