Are You Sitting Comfortably?

My story so far.

I left education thirty years ago. I don’t have a degree. I work full-time. I only started writing three years ago. It is true that once I turned my spare bedroom into my own office to work a few days a week from home, there was no stopping me. I’d write a story or two every month, and either post it here on this blog or enter it into competitions, out of which, 95% were rejected. The successful stories made it into printed anthologies or on-line journals. Click here for details of those.

Then 2020 happened. I bought Masterclass, and, after watching several sessions, realised I was ready for some interactive, on-line, real-time classroom writer’s training. Doing a degree (£9,000 per year tuition fees) and working full time, was out of the question. If I went back to working in the office, then I’d be too tired to travel to class after work. I didn’t have a clear idea for what I wanted to do, except that I was ready to observe, learn and ask questions within a group of writing students.

I struggled with my old chromebook until March 2021, when I had finally saved enough for a Mac. I bought Scrivener (which I am still trying to fathom out). In the last six months, I must have attended 50-70 online creative writing classes, author talks, book launches, publishing industry seminars and related webinars. Of the dozens of partially-started stories and outlines I’ve written to prompts in breakout rooms, a handful have made it further (click here for one of them).

It is strange now to think that virtual events and online teaching wasn’t done on a mass scale until last year. I hope it continues as life begins to open up again. At the moment, I still have far more things to read, write, watch and learn from before I take any more new steps, but at least I have stretched myself out of my comfort zone.

Here follows some of the things I have learned that you may find useful.

Stephen King’s book ‘On Writing’ is recommended in almost every writing class as a must-read.

I usually type on a screen but if I’m in a Zoom class, I write by hand. I write in one colour of ink on alternate lines, then use a different colour ink for my edits in the spaces left. (I get now why they always ask for submissions to be double spaced!) My favourite pens are the Stabilo PointBall Ballpoint Pen and the Schneider Slider Memo XB Ballpoint Pen. I must have a dozen ballpoint pens but only one has black ink, and I’ve only bought that for signing official forms. (Apparently it’s National Ballpoint Pen day on June 10th)

Not all writing paper is the same. I like the feel of the paper in Leuchtturm1917 notebooks.

Eventbrite has loads of Zoom/MSTeams classes. Paying for classes doesn’t guarantee that they will be good. Free classes aren’t necessarily bad. It depends on how the classes are funded and who is teaching them. I would recommend searching for library or city literature festivals, as well as adult education classes. Lots of those organisations have Arts Council funding, so their creative writing or author events are usually free or subsidised. Some are, however, ringfenced to certain groups of people, such as residents of a particular county. Some publishers also run courses, with their own authors as tutors.

Many of these organisations record their Zoom classes/webinars and add them to YouTube after the event, (Reedsy), or onto their own websites for a small charge (The Hay Festival).

Twitter is a great place to find and connect with writers and publishing industry people. What other field could you chat to famous people and attend classes taught by them for free?

Most writing competitions use Submittable or Duotrope. The former tracks your progress. This is a small portion of my Submittable tracker.

Most writers don’t make enough money from writing, so they need a day job as well. Writers read a lot (see above for part of my tbr pile). I’ve found it hard to concentrate on reading recently, so have immersed myself into Audible.

70 lessons condensed into 70 words

You will hear about the inciting incident, hero’s journey, creating a narrative, showing not telling, a sense of place, mind mapping, hermit crab flash fiction, prose poems, hybrid stories, polishing your story, strings of tension, three act structures, limiting your flashbacks, the story arc, flow, character motivation, memorable/unusual not obvious descriptions, conflict, pace, every sentence needing a verb, drama IS conflict, being concise, and what does the protagonist want/need?

I’ve heard these lines more than once. The more you write the better you get at it. It’s during the process that the nuggets of gold can be mined so you get to the emotional core. You can’t edit a blank page. Most writing is rewriting. There are structural, character or line edits. Use fewer adverbs. Only use “said”. Readers don’t see “said” but they will see “exclaimed”, “whispered” or “bellowed” and it will throw them off.

There’s a difference between what some editors want to read and what the public generally wants to read.

One of the rules is that it’s positive feedback in class only. If the reader thinks the story doesn’t work, they are generally right. Learn to live with rejection. It’s just one person’s opinion.

None of the above is set in stone. It is all opinions I have heard that you are free to agree with and use, or not.

Only you can write the story you want to tell, and look where it might lead to!

Dahlia Books Short Fiction Festival Weekend – 12 and 13 June 2021

The Short Fiction Festival Weekend, hosted by Dahlia Books, is a celebration of the short form, featuring writing workshops, author discussions and networking.

Led by some of the A Brief Pause tutors, the weekend is the ultimate retreat for anyone looking to master the short form.

Click here to find out more and to buy your ticket!


If you’re quick, you can still grab a ticket for an online reading and author talk with none other than Kathy Fish, queen of all things Flash Fiction, hosted by Dahlia Books. Click here for tickets.


Fancy putting some of that workshop knowledge to good use? Why not enter one of your own pieces of short fiction into the Leicester Writes annual competition or submit it to a new PAYING literary magazine called A Present Tense.


One of the positives to come out of the recent lockdown is the online festival and I think it’s here to stay. It’s perfectly suited towards all things bookish. I can honestly say that I’ve attended more virtual author talks, book launches, panel discussions, webinars and writing classes in the last year than the rest of my life combined. There was no rugby scrum for tickets, I didn’t need to book a train ticket or worry about it being cancelled due to the weather. I was able to ‘go to it’ even though the event was held in another country or I was feeling unwell. I didn’t need to find someone to go with, because everyone who attended was on their own. I have interacted with high profile authors in masterclass settings whilst still in my pyjamas. Delegates and Tutors have Zoomed in from all over the world, all coming together to learn, share their knowledge and network. I’ve felt safe, knowing that disruptive people would be booted out (Jackie Weaver style). Spoiler, I’ve never yet attended a Zoom class where anyone has been unfriendly or rude. I’ve found it a much more comfortable setting to learn, and think that these classes foster a sense of intimacy and community from the start.

126. The Aspiration Project on Colony IV


Photo by Sarah Dorweiler on Unsplash

Gemma poked her thumbs through the holes in her sleeve cuffs, then crossed her arms over her chest. Mum said she could sulk and regret it, or make the most of the few days they had left together. If she wanted to be taken seriously and be treated like an adult, then now was the time to start, and to try to appreciate that difficult decisions weren’t taken lightly. Gemma couldn’t understand why Laura had picked that stupid, greasy, lanky boy over her own sister. It wasn’t fair. Dad was dead. Laura was leaving. Every penny they had went on Mum’s medicine, and it wouldn’t be long before Gemma was on her own. At least she’d get to keep most of Laura’s clothes, including the jumper she had on. She looked at the fabric composition label. 60% Recycled Polypropylene. 35% Recycled Acrylic. 4% Recycled Viscose.1% Reclaimed Wool. Almost everything she had ever owned was second hand, vintage, hand-me-down, used, pre-loved. Clothes, toys, books. Colony IV was brand new. Laura would get her own apartment, and everything in it would be straight from the factory. She imagined how Laura would peel off the plastic wrapping from the front door and it would make a sucking sound as it opened. Shiny, clean and white. New intakes always moved into a hermetically sealed zone for the first two years, so they could acclimatise and be monitored for disease. All those teenagers. Taking classes together. Being trained for something important. Good food and free medical treatment. 


Early Colonisers had worked hard to set up The Aspiration Project, and reliable fresh air was a real thing now. There were enough trees growing to make it a renewable resource. She’d heard that people could run outside – on purpose – and were still able to breathe! It sounded amazing. No wonder she felt so jealous. Mum said that she would get her chance soon to apply and to not give up, and that everyone has to make the best life they can with what they’re given.


Laura’s Fare Well Event was in nine days time, and then she would be allowed only five minutes worth of video calls during the rest of her life. Due to the physics of space travel, it would take Laura six months to reach Colony IV, by which time, Gemma would have aged eighteen years. She doubted that Laura would care enough to ever call her again, and that she would sell her video slots to other people who were actually going to miss their families. But there was always the small chance that some time in the future, Laura would contact her. Gemma might even recognise her on one of those Colony documentary shows.


What neither of them knew, or the majority of people on that dying planet would ever know, was that the voyage Laura and her boyfriend were about to take, was not to The Aspiration Project on Colony IV, but to a human recycling plant. Those who actually got to go to one of the Colonies were not the most fertile, physically strong or genetically healthy specimens like the adverts showed. Prime humans at the start of their adulthood were not living their best lives on Colony IV or any other Colony for that matter. Colony IV was designed as a hospice paradise for in-bred, sickly offspring of legacy investors and their extended families. All of the spaces were always going to be permanently reserved for those who could afford it. But to avoid any hint of a rebellion or civil unrest, the lottery for tickets had to be seen to be a fair system for everyone. People cannot be allowed to give up hope.

Photo by Ryunosuke Kikuno on Unsplash

One of the benefits of lockdown is that I have been able to attend creative writing classes on Zoom and continue to work full-time from home. If I was still commuting, I would not have had the time to travel to different locations for classes.

The above short fiction was written to a Science Fiction brief in an ‘Investigating Genre’ class run by InspireCulture.org.uk


JOIN ME ONLINE!

As part of my professional development short story writers group A Brief Pause I am doing a “tight three minute’ reading on Tuesday 27th April 2021 at just after 19:00 BST, as part of their new short story reading series. This monthly space is for writers, readers and publishers to listen to and discuss short stories.

Click here for a link to the Eventbrite ticketing page.

UPDATE- Me doing my reading!