Writing at the speed of light

carbonaceous chrondite


SPEED OF LIGHT was the theme for September’s Story Friday evening, held at the cave-like theatre at Burdell’s Yard – in conjunction with A Word in Your Ear

Story Fridays are held every second month in Bath, UK. Six or seven writer-performers read freshly-minted stories inspired by a theme, this time Speed of Light. The packed audience heard stories intriguing, exciting, sad, straight and downright hilarious.

I was very happy that another of my short stories was one of these: The Find.  It was not written at the speed of light, however. If you write about meteorites you have to find out about them. This certainly took time, especially as I have no geology in my background. This tale was about the finder who became a – wait for it – meteoriticist, (takes practise to say!) It’s the story of how a young man turns tragedy into obsession and how that obsession separated him from “a peopled life”.

It was read by talented actor, Kirsty Cox. You can judge here how brilliantly Kirsty performed my tale.

Mine was only one of the stories read, the packed audience enjoying a wide range of content that evening from talented writers using sci-fi, romance, humour  to interpret SPEED OF LIGHT in their own ways.

(Story Fridays, A Word in your Ear in conjunction with Kilter Theatre, are the creation of the talented playwright and short story writer, Clare Reddaway.)

I didn’t ask the other authors how long they took to write their stories, but this is relevant because there’s currently a great deal of interest in writing a great many books in a short time to ensure (attempt) a very good income (Anderle). That has sparked a great writers’ debate around quality versus quantity and, in effect, whether everyone can write at the speed of light, or what may seem like it to those who need a couple of years or more to complete one novel.

Writing a huge number of books in a short space of time? Well, it’s been done, it’s being done. Usually there are characters who appear in different adventures/situations in each book, with the genre being closely defined – e.g. urban fantasy. There may be a close similarity of structure, characterization and plot within the books in the series. It fits with a life-style that demands instantaneous gratification.

This writing is at the opposite end of the scale to writing Flash Fiction which may be read in a flash but can take many attempts to whittle away the word count. This means heavy investment in word choice and serious consideration of meaning.

Short stories – that is stories of 1,000 words upwards – are different in many ways and different to write. There’s more to discuss as shown on sites such as Shortstops, Tania Herschmann’s website. How long does it take to write a satisfying story, beginning, middle, end? Something credible, because it has been properly researched. Something memorable? It’s worth asking different short story authors for the answer, which in itself depends on how the germ of the idea came to the author’s mind. More of this in another blog post.





This weekend, Jude Higgins pulled off a wonderful feat in initiating the first Flash Fiction Festival in Bath.

Gaining support from the Arts Council Fund, she was able to attract some of the best flash practitioners to give readings and workshops to enthusiastic participants from five countries.

Vanessa Gebbie, Kit de Waal, Tania Hershman, Paul McVeigh, David Gaffney, Ashley Chantler, Peter Blair, David Swann, Meg Pokrass, Jude Higgins, K M Elkes, Christopher Fielden, Michael Loveday and Calum Kerr all gave generously of their time and expertise.

The weekend course opened with an overview of the genre from Peter Blair (Senior Lecturer, University of Chester) who led through saucy double-entendres and allusions to describe the range of names and kinds of very short fiction. From dribbles, drabbles, palm-held, micro-fiction and many others, he showed how a world could open up from a hard-worked choice of words, and from the power of omissions. Using examples of thought-provoking word-minimalists he discussed the significance of white space, and came near viewing the tiny story on the big page as an art form.

The writing tutor, Pamela Painter, Emerson College, Boston, opened the workshops with a charm that held the audience in her grip. Within minutes she had writers composing the most unlikely but captivating story titles.

Subsequently her workshop plummeted writers into developing stories they had not known were in their heads.

In a thought-provoking and directly helpful workshop Kit de Waal brought participants into her world of powerful stories. She demonstrated how to make the title work for the writer, and used images to stimulate imagination within the ‘container’ that is flash fiction.

Jude, herself, led a dream workshop that produced amazing results. Using three different techniques the original dream fragment developed into a meaningful whole, using myth, underlying thoughts and a current experience.

Charismatic Paul McVeigh talked of the power of every word to summon up a setting, a character, an era through saying little but saying it exactly. He described “opening a box in readers’ brains” calling on their past knowledge to furnish what was not written. He advocates laying personal pain on the line and imbuing every sentence with passion.

Tania Herschmann enlivens her writing with her scientific background. She fascinated her workshop participants with examples and exercises using scientific concepts to form innovative prose.

There were other workshops from Vanessa Gebbie and Christopher Fielden: it was impossible to attend them all but informal discussion between events revealed a very high level of satisfaction. There was enthusiasm for the possibility of a second Flash Fiction Festival next year. Will it need a larger venue to meet the demand?




Five essential writing tools

Starting out on your first writing journey?

Starting out, Flickr, Simonov

If you are just starting out to write and self-publish, whether fiction or non-fiction, put some money aside for the journey. After all, if you were about to open a shop,  or offer a repair service, you’d expect up-front costs. Don’t expect the writer’s expense to be limited to computer, printer, ink, paper and reference books. Below I’ve listed five essential writing tools. You will be very thankful for these. If I’d known of them when I began, I’d have saved many months of time.

  1. WRITING PLAN  Scrivener  software organizes you. Forget writing from A-Z on one document. Scrivener encourages you to write in scenes, sections, chapters, ideas, dialogues, time frames, or whatever takes your fancy. Everything is updated and saved automatically. You can set yourself targets. Slip easily between looking at your notes, the outline, research, all beautifully laid out. Yes, you have to learn how but you can use the tutorials, or, easier, buy this book : Scrivener Essentials. Author Karen Prince explains clearly and succinctly: a big contrast to Scrivener for Dummies where the only tilt at your newness to the application is the occasional very weak (and patronising) joke. When you’ve finished the last chapter and have compiled the various sections into one book, Scrivener formats it for you: paperback, ebook or mobi. This in itself is a huge help.
  2. EDIT AND REVIEW Pro-writing aid This is a comprehensive editor, good to use chapter by chapter so that when the book is finished, your editor and proof reader will have far less work and cost you less. Pro-writing aid surveys your grammar, writing style, (over) use of words, and lots more. Paying attention to its advice will make you a better writer as you are progressing with your book.
  3. READ GUIDANCE Kindle  If you don’t have one, do it now. This cheapest one is quite good enough, clear to read indoors or out. You can download free, or free to read guides for your writing, marketing, style etc. onto the Kindle and have it beside you as you work on your book on your desktop or laptop. That’s so much easier than reading, making notes or trying to remember steps, and then returning to your computer to put it into practice.
  4. NOTIFY OTHERS Canva You may want an illustration in your book, but more likely you will want to blog about it or post on Facebook. Canva allows you to painlessly compose visual images and add text. It’s quick, too.
  5. FORMAT AND PRODUCE Vellum  Above all, when you’re sure your book is ready, avoid hours and days trying to format your book for the different platforms. Buy a lifetime licence for Vellum and have beautifully laid out books with no stress. 
    This advice comes from painful experience. If you don’t follow any of it, the same pain will be yours!

Strengthening your writing via stimuli.


Writing stimuli. What gave you that sudden idea that made you urgently scribble it down? It’s worth exploring.

The power of olfactory stimuli in activating memory is well known. But it’s much harder to ‘dream up’ a smell that might affect the character in your story, than it is a sound or sight.

When we’re stuck for ideas for a visual stimulus,  Art can provide perspectives, narratives, symbols to enrich our writing.  For auditory stimuli, theatre and radio present us with ideas and emotions through sound patterns, speech or music.  snuff_optThere is no equivalent for smells.

So having found the right sound or sight stimuli to cause your hero to pale with emotion how to find the right smell/scent/perfume/stink to cause emotional impact? Leave aside the obvious triggers: magnolia, blood, excrement, cabbage (who wants to write hackneyed stuff?). Will the character stop short as spinach fumes enter his/her nostrils, or candy floss?  What particular scent might have been recorded in his/her long term memory?


You can prepare for that blank moment. How about noting down your own strong reactions to any smell, pleasant or unpleasant? List the source for each. This will make you rack your brains, and may well summon up incidents that you can use in your story. Add any smells that you already know act as powerful reminders for you – and write down why.

A scent for one person may be a stink for another. One perfume might raise very different memories for two different characters. Identifying that memory can enrich your story line. For instance, the whiff of musty clothes in a charity shop reminds Kara of a great aunt, but Debra of pass-me-downs when she was young.  The scent of aloe vera takes Anna back to the birth of her baby, but reminds Dan of a little lane in Almeria where he was set on by teenage thugs. They find themselves quarrelling . . .


With such a list of smells, you can google them to add any interesting facts to their source and the memories they evoke for you.  Strengthen your writing with that detail that enthralls readers and brings them right into your story.

Title Optional

Struggling to find the right title?

A writer recently remarked that she had difficulty in thinking of titles. I thought I’d concoct a list for beginner writers allowing use for different genres. Let me know if you like this kind of post. It can be taken seriously or not. Who knows, one of these may spark the next novel for someone. These titles are intended for you to make your own associations (and stories). I had fun.


One day too long

Caught in Time

Idyll in Back Alley

Plenary Session

Forbidden Journey

Is There Hair on my Burger?  (or their hair – works as well)

fur burger

An Intricate Endeavour

It Takes Time to Jam

Black is the New Grey

They never called me Edna

Not Everyone Marries in a Cathedral

Blogging To Bliss



IF YOU LIKE THIS, I CAN DO MORE. (But I should be finishing my next chapter).

Alternative history. Is it fiction?


The Roman Empire active, 2016? Alternative history in fiction

Today’s post features a very successful independent author of historical fiction in an imagined scenario. ALISON MORTON, is the author of INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO and AURELIA, B.R.A.G. Medallion® honorees. Her premise for her ROMA NOVA series is: Suppose the Roman Empire never died? This idea has fascinated her readers,leading them into this world of alternative history.

Alison has had a recent fillip to her success. As an independent author and member of ALLi (Alliance of Independent Authors) she has become an inspiring forerunner of what is to become; that is, the possibility for real commercial success, not through any gimmick or useful network of associates, but by sheer hard work, talent, thorough knowledge of her subject and an inspired theme.

I wanted to interview her so that other authors could gain some sense of her literary path.

Alison, the warmest of welcomes. Please tell us about this latest, exciting success.

Thank you for the welcome, Rosalind. Yes, it’s all very exciting. I’ve signed with Blake Friedmann Literary Agency who will be representing me for translation, audio and other ancillary rights. With all the other things I have to do, like writing books(!), I don’t have the time (or energy) to pursue these areas. Carole Blake and her team have exactly the experience, expertise and contacts to exploit these rights properly for me. Carole read INCEPTIO and was bitten by the whole Roma Nova idea.

Alison Morton with Carole Blake_opt

To have Carole Blake representing you is the acme of success in itself. How exciting to know that your books will be enjoyed in different countries and in different forms. Can you predict the outcome of this widening of your reading audience? Perhaps your agents have suggested one?

I can’t predict really, but from meeting my new agents(!), there are numerous possibilities. I’m hoping for audio and some translation deals this year, but I’m leaving that to the experts. Once readers discover the Roma Nova books, they seem to love them, so my aim is to widen the audience. I’m confident that the Romans are on the march to conquer the known world in the 21st century.

That’s a wonderful 2016 ahead of you. What will it mean to you in practical terms?

Lots more book sales! Being serious for a moment, Book 5 in the series has gone to my copy editor and I’ve drafted about 36,000 words of Book 6. I hope therefore to be able to offer new readers two more books this year which will then give them two Roma Nova trilogies. As a reader, I like series, so when I discover a new author who has written one, I’m in heaven.

If translation deals appear, that may mean more travel to give talks which I LOVE doing, and an increase in my profile. Of course, I’m waiting for Hollywood to knock at my door…

Enviable! However, this success was not won overnight and it’s important for readers of this interview how much really came before. I know, for instance, that you have a military background. Do you think this training enabled you to plan an effective strategy?

I’m not sure I had a strong strategic plan. As you learn your way around any profession, you discover the ins and outs and the players and influencers, you make friendships, you collaborate on promotion, you secure speaking and blogging spots. You monitor your own progress and amend your wishes, aims and goals accordingly.

Serving in the military does give you the purpose and the self-discipline to carry out plans. But I’d been in a government policy unit before then and also read an awful lot of crime and thriller novels, so I’m a plotter by habit. Also, to be truthful, by nature. It ties in with the whole ‘what if’ idea behind the Roma Nova books; you have to think everything through to see the possible consequences.

Can you outline for readers the steps upon the way to your success? I note that Book 1 is a precursor of the following books in the series. Did you intend it to be a stand-alone originally, the further books emerging as you got immersed in the alternate world of Roma Nova?

Well, the first one, INCEPTIO, burst out of my head after seeing a rubbishy film in 2009. I thought I must be able to do better. I’d had my strong character (Karen who became Carina) rampaging around in my head for years, so I plonked myself down in front of my computer and poured her story out.

This strong female character did interest me, this blog being developed around character-driven fiction. Even though you are a plotter, Carina has been a factor in your success. And what about the professional steps toward publication?

I’d written much of my life: translation, government policy papers and reports, academic papers, marketing and PR materials, but hadn’t written fiction since I was at school. I joined the Romantic Novelists’ Association which had a new writers’ scheme, read books, went on an Arvon Foundation commercial fiction course, attended conferences, talks and classes. IRoma Nova books_sm_opt put INCEPTIO through critique partner, beta readers, professional editors – you name it – in my drive for perfection.

As I wrote INCEPTIO, I realised I was going to have to write a trilogy; there was just too much story to contain in one book! More seriously, I wanted to find out what had happened to Carina a few years on. Book 2, PERFIDITAS, was half written by the time I (eventually) published INCEPTIO in March 2013, and I had the character development for Book 3, SUCCESSIO, in my head. Thus, although each book is a complete standalone, readers will a gain a richer experience if read one after another.

So that was the trilogy done and dusted, but I had become fascinated by Aurelia, who was a main secondary character in Carina’s story. She was Carina’s grandmother, but as a young woman had lived through a dangerous time in Roma Nova’s history, the Great Rebellion. Aurelia was still haunted by the charismatic rebellion leader, Caius Tellus, thirty years later. So of course, I had to write her story and this has developed into a second trilogy.

You’ve certainly undertaken the whole process in a manner that writing and publishing professionals would admire. You have been so thorough and well organised in your approach. Finally, coming to the last stage – publication itself. I have seen several books published by SilverWood Books. They always have such good presentation: good quality paper, attractive lay-out, and a sense that the concept is geared to the particular book rather than pushed out in a set format aimed at speed of turnover. How did you come to SilverWood and what difference has it made?

I was determined to publish my novels and to publish them with the highest possible production values. Once I decided I needed help, I researched the whole thing to death, asking other indies, reading articles and posts, searching and searching. Mick Rooney of The Independent Publishing Magazine was especially helpful.

A publishing services company has to make money – they’re in business – but I wanted one with a book-oriented approach, rather than a services one, and an organisation run by caring human beings. In the end, I compiled a huge spreadsheet of questions about prices, services, rights, timings, and processes then narrowed the ‘finalists’ down to three. After a long telephone call to each, I chose SilverWood Books.


AURELIA shortlisted for the 2016 Historical Novel Society Indie Award


Thank you so much, Alison. I think there will be many writers wanting to follow your path. However, the concept, knowledge and research your books entail, as well as the whole marketing process, will perhaps daunt them. Do you have any final words of encouragement?

- Write stories you are passionate about 

‘Good enough’ is not good enough – Listen to advice and don’t be precious.

Be nice.

Starting a Novel – 10 points




Are you starting to write a novel? Yes, it’s hard. Really, it’s best just to press on with it rather than tell people about it. There will be time for that when you’re finished.

Here are 10 points to consider. You can waste so much time in the early stages of starting a novel when you should be just getting that important first draft down. Before listing these, one thing that will help you above all others, is to buy Scrivener. At around £45.00 it’s the best purchase I’ve ever made and if I’d had it years ago, I would have had a longer life and lived more of it! It organizes all your writing and avoids all those hours searching for previous drafts, short notes you’d made on a character or setting and so on. It will considerably help your structure. You can even trial it free.

Let’s say you’re well past the ‘thinking about writing a novel.’ You have the germ of the plot and have written enough to imagine the finished work in your hand. Download the trial of Scrivener and start building your chapters, or scenes within the chapters. (iTunes has how-to videos).

Now consider these ten points.

1. Write your target quota each day before entering any social media site. Social media diverts you, it is time-consuming and will seriously cut in to your allotted writing time.  Scrivener provides a progress signpost, showing how well you are meeting your target.

2.  Write from your instinct before reading any writing advice on style. This is to ensure it is your voice that emerges on the page. Texts on the craft of writing are best read before or between writing novels. The analytical task is best kept separate from the creative one of starting to write a novel.

3.  Similarly, only seek feedback when you have planned and written a substantial section. It is your novel from your imagination and experience. Others’ views and suggestions when you are writing the first draft will confuse that first push to get the story down.

4.  Only seek feedback from other writers. Readers’ views are wonderful, but only when your novel is published or ready to publish.

5.  Stop and decide where the plot is going one third of the way through. You might write the end at this point.

6.  Lie in bed and hear your characters’ voices clearly. Feel their conflicts and listen in to their conversations.

7.   When you are ready to read your first draft, print it out. Highlight the sections you’re unhappy with in blue. Scrivener allows for you to mark your chapters or scenes with colours according to how near they are to ‘finished.’

8.   Beyond halfway, read the first and last lines of every chapter. This is a way of seeing a ‘want to read on’ for your future readers.

9.   Your own voice and writing style will be uppermost in your mind.  Read a highly rated novel – with a very different plot from yours – while you take a break. High quality writing is privilege to read. Each such work has some impact on your own developing skill.

10.   Care about your characters and write their future… and above all, get on with your writing NOW