National Literacy Trust: The reading charity of choice

Well folks, as promised… here are the details of the charity that I’ve chosen for donation of all royalties from the sales of the Once Upon A Time short story collection…

Ta da…

It’s the National Literacy Trust

I spoke to Lorna Taylor, Corporate Partnerships Manager, and she sent me a few facts and figures about literacy in the UK that might shock you…

  • One in six people in the UK struggle with their literacy (that means that their skills are below that expected of the average 11 year old)
  • One in three children in the UK don’t own a book of their own
  • 42% of UK firms are dissatisfied with school leavers use of English.
  • 12% of employers provided remedial literacy training for graduates.
  • 22% of men and 30% of women with literacy below entry level 2 live in nonworking households.
  • Men who improve their literacy rates see their likelihood of being on state benefits reduced from 19% to 6%.
  • Men and women with the poorest literacy or numeracy skills were the least likely to have voted in the 1987 and 1997 general elections.
  • Individuals with low literacy levels are more likely to live in overcrowded housing with reduced access to technology.
  • A literate family is less likely to experience divorce, as divorce rates amongst those with high literacy are low, and significantly lower than those with poor literacy.

The trust do a hell of a lot to help with these issues, for both children and adults – you can read  more about the projects here.  But like all great charities, they rely on donations to help them achieve their goals.

Did you know that:

  • £7 could give a child a free book and motivate them to read through an inspiriational event.
  • £10 could support a reading session for three families, helping them gain the skills they need to support their children’s literacy.
  • £20 could allow two disadvantaged teenagers to improve their communication skills in preparation for working life.

As I may have said somewhere before, I think short stories are a great way to encourage reading – not just for us with our busy lives, but for others, where reading even one of our 1-page tales is a massive achievement.

Something to think about…

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You can order copies of the Once Upon A Time anthology via Amazon, here (UK) and here (US).

[Hopefully on kindle soon, too – I’ll update when it’s available]

Worth the wait?

As you may remember, I had the bright idea of creating an anthology for the Once Upon A Time Flash Fiction Contest, which was held to coincide with National Flash Fiction Day… which was on the 16th May. You may also remember that I had hoped to have the book ready for then… As you are no doubt aware, it is now almost July, and this was over six weeks ago…

So what happened?

Right, here goes (feel free to skip this bit if you’re not really interested in my pain, but the pain was real and I felt it and I want some sympathy…)

I DID have the book ready for the 16th May, pretty much. Of course I’ve made a few tweaks during the proofing stages, but by and large it was ready.

Thanks to Anna, we got a wonderful offer… Jess Grey (who also donated her book as a prize and is basically a bloody lovely lady) offered the services of her husband to create us a swanky new cover… for free! Whoohoo! Amazing, and after a very short time, we had agreed on the fabulous cover – which you can see below (sorry, it won’t go any bigger in this post, but you’ll get the general feel of its gorgeousness).

So far so good.

Then everything went wrong.

I wanted to use CreateSpace, but at the time they didn’t have a European distribution channel, which would’ve meant that half of the authors in the book would’ve had to order from the US, taking to long and costing too much in postage.

So I went with a UK based company, who have distribution partners in the US. They have a nice looking website and they came recommended and I had seen one of their books before  and it looked great – so what could possibly go wrong? Upload the interior file (created according to their specs), then upload the cover file (created according to their specs), get a proof copy (quickly) then get it out there for everyone to buy. Simple, right?

WRONG.

First off, their lovely looking website was actually quite faffy and difficult to navigate. Then I uploaded the interior… the sizing was wrong… er, hello? I created it according to your sizing spec. I amended and uploaded another. Ok, fine.

Then for the cover. Sizing was wrong. Completely. Er, hello again? It was created according to your sizing spec. Now you might be thinking – ok, big deal, fix it, upload again, move on. It wasn’t that simple.

I sent it back to Jess and it was fixed quickly, despite the confusion over why it wasn’t right when it was right according to the specs. To cut a long story short, I think this happened three times, maybe four. I lost the will to live at one point, but luckily Jess was a sweetie and calmed me down. her hubby was fitting this work around his real, proper work, so I had to be patient. Meanwhile, I exchanged a few emails with my contact at the printing company. I was sick of the pretty website – it seemed to be full of bugs and issues and I lost faith in it.

Finally, the proof came: the cover was the wrong size and a white line appeared down the edge.

At this point I was ready to give up on the whole thing. I felt totally crap. I thought I was going to have to let everyone down. I stayed off twitter, I didn’t blog. I went on holiday and started thinking ‘what if I never go on twitter again?’ This might sound like an overreaction – my account of it all probably doesn’t even sound that bad… but when you’re like me, and you like things to be perfect, it was all a massive, massive let down. My contact at the printing company didn’t get back to me, it was all hanging in limbo…

Then a miracle happened.

CreateSpace announced that they now had a European distribution channel, so the book could listed on both the .com and .co.uk Amazon sites. Happy Days!!

The process looked a bit complicated – it wasn’t. I expected issues with the formatting. As it turned out, they have a neat little template for the interior, I had to do minor resizing and shuffling and checking. I expected that the cover wouldn’t fit. I uploaded it anyway. It didn’t fit quite right, but guess what? THEY FIXED IT. No hassle, no crap, no tears from me. I ordered a proof… I paid the extra for super fast delivery… it arrived.

Guess what?

It looks fan-bloody-tastic!!!

So it’s now in the CreateSpace eStore – you can buy it from there, but it should be on Amazon in 5-7 days where the prices will show up in dollars, sterling, euros. I’ve made it as cheap as I possibly can for you – it’s under £3/$4 (plus postage), but you’re not allowed to have no royalties so I’ve set them at a penny. I’ll give all the pennies to charity, and I’ll let you know which one when I do.

Finally, I’m excited again – and I’ve managed to get my mojo back – I’ve been back writing my novel again this week, and I’ll update you on the progress of that soon. I’m still a bit quiet on twitter, but I am back and I’m gradually popping my head above the parapet.

I can’t wait until you see the book… I can’t wait for your reactions when it plops through your letterbox.

I hope you’ll agree with me when I say it’s worth the wait!

***

P.S. I haven’t been totally idle, I wrote a festival review while I was on holiday… 😉

National Flash Fiction Day: A Debrief

So unless you’ve been living on the moon for the last few months, you’ll know that National Flash Fiction Day was on Wednesday. To re-cap – this was an event that celebrated flash fiction, i.e. very short stories, usually written quite quickly and generally focussing on a brief moment in time (that’s my definition, but there’s nothing set in stone). There were events online and all over the country (and international events too) – you can read more about it on the website and blog. When I saw the first announcement about it on twitter, I immediately jumped in with both feet.

Once Upon A Time

My first port of call was to contact Anna Meade at Yearning For Wonderland and ask if she’d like to collaborate on a competition. ‘It’s not just for UK writers,’ I begged her… and after her recent success with The Fairy Ring contest, I was keen to run something similar. An open competition where writers post their stories on their own blogs and link them all together. The lovely thing about The Fairy Ring was the way that everyone supported each other, read each other’s entries, and generally caused a Twitter frenzy. After lots of time-zone limited discussions with Anna, we came up with Once Upon A Time (#ouatwriting) and started madly promoting using our alter-egos… she, #fairyqueen and I, #darkfairy. Sometimes these personas switched. The result was a whole sheaf of fabulous prizes, including books, t-shirts and general adoration. We exceeded expectations and received 88 fantastic entries. It was very difficult to choose the winners. I had a rather long shortlist, as did Anna, and guess what? They were almost completely different! After a few painful discussions, we both did another re-read and came up with a much shorter list, and finally, the winners.

Oliver Barton’s ‘Pink Bells‘ was just the perfect, poignant tale. Angela Readman‘s ‘A Mermaid in Texas’ was just so completely raw and stunning, it stuck with me from the very first time I read it. McKenzie Barham‘s ‘I can show you the world’, felt so unbelievable real, it just blew me away. Then there was the gorgeous fan favourite, ‘Three Simple Words’ by Cory Eadson… There were many, many others worthy of a mention too, and I realised I had to do something about this – we couldn’t just celebrate the winners…

So I had the bright idea of putting them all together into an anthology… I wanted to celebrate the competition, but I underestimated the difficulty and time-constraints of putting a book together. It turned into a logistical nightmare, trying to coordinate 88 entries into a book, when each one was formatted according to individual taste on everyone’s own blog… everyone’s editing style was just ever so slightly different: single or double quotes, curly or straight, short or long hyphens, double spaces at the start of sentences, breaks between paragraphs, and my personal favourite – using spaces instead of tabs! Writers, PLEASE don’t so this – it makes editing a complete nightmare 🙂 As for typos, everyone does the now and again – how many times have you read a published book and find them? The odd one isn’t an issue, but if there are a lot, it does look sloppy (Note: this doesn’t apply to any of the entrants!) Then, of course, I had to contact everyone to ask for their permission, to make sure I had their link details for the author info, and to chase up people with missing information… My email decided to cause me a few problems there, but I got in touch with everyone in the end! Anyway, it’s almost done and I’ll be posting details of where you can buy it soon 🙂

FlashFlood

Then came my next activity (note: I have not even mentioned writing anything myself yet…) I volunteered my services and was very pleased to be chosen as one of the 7 editors for the FlashFlood Journal (I also chose the name *ahem*). This involved us all taking a stint on the accept/reject and posting schedule. I’m not telling you which day I was on, but it was non-stop until midnight, then actually a fair bit past that, tidying up the inbox etc. It was a crazy experience (especially towards the end when the emails started bouncing back for no apparent reason)… Stories were flying in quicker than I could read them. I managed it by giving each one a quick read, then moving on, then going back to each one again – then a lot of the time, filing it for a third read. Some stories didn’t make it to the third read, and it wasn’t because they were bad. Mostly it was because they just didn’t grab me, even if the writing was beautiful. Others didn’t make it because I just didn’t understand them! That might’ve just been me though… the whole selection process is very subjective and each editor has their own likes and dislikes. FYI – some of my ‘not sure’ stories got 4or 5 reads – it was that difficult.

However, a few stand-out things that led to my third read (and remember this is only my opinion)

  1. A great title (seriously – if I have to pick from a pile of similar stories, the best title will win)
  2. A great opening line/paragraph
  3. A quirky subject that I haven’t already just read in similar forms in 20 other stories

Funnily enough, these three elements are things that I try hard to think about with my own writing. That, and a good ending. It doesn’t have to be definitive, but it has to be satisfying. I like twists too, but they have to work well. I won’t tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t write, but if you use your twist to tell us that ‘and all along the main character was an animal’ then you better write it well or else it leaves me disappointed! Again, just my opinion. My last thought on this (and some, but not all of the other editors agreed) is that don’t write stuff TOO depressing. It doesn’t have to be funny or crazy, that doesn’t always work either unless it’s written well; but after you’ve read a few miserable tales about funerals and cancer and break-ups, you get a bit fed up with them, even if they are beautifully written (before anyone says anything, yes, I am guilty of the odd bit of misery myself, that’s not the point here – we all do it!) I also learnt something else – as tempting as it might be to email the editors when you’ve received a rejection – don’t. They really and truly don’t have time to give feedback, especially on a project like this where the submissions came in over a short period of time and were being set up for posting on a schedule. I think we all tried our best to respond to everyone, but now having been on the other side, I appreciate how frustrating it must be for anyone hoping for feedback.

So – to sum up – being involved in both of these competitions was a  great experience and a great insight, and (being a glutton for punishment) I would love to do it again.

Stuff that I wrote

As for my own writing… *Beware – I am blowing my own trumpet here*

  1. ‘Shed’ was published in the National Flash Fiction Day Anthology, Jawbreakers
  2. ‘Message’ was published on 1000 Words
  3. ‘Sweet Sixteen’ was published in the Raging Aardvark Twisted Tales Anthology
  4. ‘Nightcrawler’ was published in Chris White’s Photocopier Press Pamphlet
  5. ‘The Rock’ was published on the FlashFlood Journal (note: subject to the editing process, like everyone else!)
  6. ‘Uncle Charlie’ was written and posted on the Write-in Blog on National Flash Fiction Day
  7. ‘Beware: Swans’ will be included in the Once Upon A Time Anthology

I also posted a flashpoint that I wrote in a pub 🙂

What’s next?

And now that it’s all over, I’m reverting back to my *To Write* list… which is ever growing (and includes getting back on with ‘the novel’)…

Thanks to everyone who’s been involved in the above, and a big big thanks to King of Flash, Calum Kerr for the excellent work he put in to creating  and executing National Flash Fiction Day… someone buy that man a cake!!

Once upon a time… there were WINNERS #OUATWRITING

At last – it’s 16th May and it’s finally here: National Flash Fiction Day 2012 – whoohoo!

I’m keeping this short and sweet, I don’t think any of us can cope with the suspense any longer…

The winners of #OUATWRITING are HERE!

Picking 3 out of the fabulous 88 entries was very, very hard – please don’t be disheartened if you are not one of the 3, but you should definitely pop over and give them all a pat on the back via Twitter, or by commenting on their blogs… but don’t forget to give yourselves a big pat on the back too – you all ROCK!

Head over to Yearning for Wonderland too, see what Anna’s got to say about all this… 🙂

As for the anthology – it’s nearly finished, and as soon as I’ve checked the proof, I’ll be posting details about where you can get hold of it!

In the meantime – keep writing… we love your stories 🙂

FlashFlood Journal #nffd

Writers of flash fiction – you don’t want to miss  this…

I’m delighted to be one of the editors of the National Flash Fiction Day FlashFlood Journal – which is accepting submissions of 500 words or less until midnight on 15th May… then for 24 hours, your stories will be posted continuously in a lovely pop-up journal to mark the day…

All the info is here: http://flashfloodjournal.blogspot.co.uk/

Don’t miss out! Submit now 🙂

Once Upon A Time… there was an anthology #ouatwriting

Yup, you read it right… but I’ve kind of given it away now, haven’t I? 😉

So, some of you who follow my ramblings on twitter may have picked up on the fact that I have been working on a TOP SECRET PROJECT… and maybe if you’re one of those detective-types, you might have guessed that it has something to do with the Once Upon A Time writing competition that Anna and I have been working on… well, you’d be right!

It became apparent  as the entries began to come in that we were getting some seriously good stuff. Then we got more. And more. AND MORE. But there can only be 3 winners… 3 out of 88 is practically impossible. Seriously, the standard of entries was extremely high. We had lots of new takes on the old classics, we had modern adaptations, we had some very original new fairytales, we had an instruction manual, we even had a rhyme. I can’t speak for Anna, but in my humble opinion, there was not one bad apple in the whole box – yes, I had some strong favourites, and these were not necessarily the same as Anna’s – which is what made collaborating on this such a great experience for me. I really enjoyed reading all the stories and I love the way that everyone has been enthusiastically reading and commenting on each others’ – culminating in the FanFav mini-comp and the resultant fame of our lovely winner, Cory Eadson.

SO, without further ado – I announce the ‘Once Upon A Time’ anthology, which will contain all the stories from the competition, plus mine and Anna’s.

The collection will be available in both eBook and REAL PAPER format and I will post the details when available. It will be ready soon after National Flash Fiction Day on 16th May (when the WINNERS will also be announced).

Now for the technical bit: I am still working on the running order of the stories, and I need a couple of things from you…

(1) Copyright remains with the individual authors, but you need to tell me if you DON’T want your story published in the book.

(2) Some of you didn’t give your story a title, and some of you don’t have a full name on there – I need titles and names, folks. Also, if you don’t have a blog, you need to confirm that you are happy for your twitter name to be added into the ‘bio’ section (essential this is a list of blog addresses – there is no space for anything more than that)

I will be sending an email to everyone soon with more details of what I need from you…

…and that’s it for now… hopefully I have now brightened your day 😉

Questions, comments etc – you know where to find me!

Beware: Swans (my non-eligible entry for #ouatwriting)

Remember that girl from school? The one with the braces and the stringy hair, the long gangly legs; the flat chest. She was never quick nor funny enough with her comebacks, so in the end she just stopped trying and retreated into her oversized shell.

You meet her again; years later.

Technically, you’re middle-aged. Boys are receding and paunchy. Girls are all dark roots and whatever-fits clothes.

You all trundle along to the reunion hoping for cheap booze; memories of fumblings behind the bike shed and the day that Jonny Parker set Mindy Collins’s hair on fire in the science room.

You don’t recognise her at first.

‘Who’s that with the tight dress and the smooth legs and the big hair?’

‘She’s talking to Old Beaker, the science teacher. Is she at the wrong reunion?’

‘She’s looks too young to have been in our year – we’d remember her, wouldn’t we?’

Salivating men gravitate like bees to nectar; bitches huddle

‘Maybe she works here. I don’t recognise her, do you?’

‘Who does she think she is, dressing like that? Showing us up…’

You look down at the identical glittery tops you’ve bought from the same High Street store, only difference being some have bought the red and some the blue. No one’s bought the black because you’re all wearing same style black trousers; cheap polyester-mix straining over inactive rumps.

‘Whatever happened to Mindy Collins?’

‘Wonder if that bald patch ever grew back?’

You cackle.

You ladle punch from a bowl the size of a wash-basin, refilling your little plastic cups more often than you take breath.

The woman walks away from Old Beaker and you hear him say: ‘Nice to see you again, Mindy. So glad to hear you’ve done well for yourself.’

Your mouths hang open.

‘Catching flies, ladies?’ she says, smiling.

You don’t know that she’s tipped a little packet into the punch bowl; the crystals dissolved in an instant. Mindy was always good at science.

One by one, you collapse.

In the end, the whole tragic event will just get blamed on the dodgy prawn vol-au-vents.

The Jawbreakers Anthology is Here!

Can we have a little drum roll please?

I am very excited to have one of my flash fictions included in the National Flash Fiction Day Anthology: Jawbreakers 🙂

This is the cover…

There are so many brilliant writers in here, I still can’t quite believe I’ve made it. All the story titles are one word long and mine is called “Shed”.  That’s all I’m giving away for now 😉

The book will be out very soon, and when it is I will post details of where you can get it from 🙂 Meanwhile, there are still lots of other things you can get involved in for this years National Flash Fiction Day on 16th May – keep checking  the website for updates!

***UPDATE 26th April***

You can pre-order the book  now, via this link 🙂

Once upon a time… there were really cool prizes #ouatwriting

DID SOMEONE MENTION PRIZES??!!

So here’s the exciting bit… hopefully you’ve already seen the list of fabulous competition prizes over at Anna‘s site? If not, you need to click here right now!

Cool, huh?

But here’s the best bit… the t-shirts are not just for the winners. Yes, they’ll be getting them free of course, as a reward for their efforts – but even if you don’t win the comp (and let’s face it, we can’t ALL win), you can still have an everlasting memory of the experience in the form of the extremely cool ‘Once Upon A Time T-Shirt’, created by the immensely talented and ironically named Failed Artist!

The t-shirts can be purchased via the ‘Buy Now’ button above. When you click the button, you’ll go through to Paypal, and under your address details (essential if you want us to send you a t-shirt!) you’ll be asked if you’d prefer a ladies or gents style t-shirt and if you want Small, Medium, Large or X-Large. You can also choose a colour if you like… The default colour is black, but most standard colours are available: red, white, blue etc. If you ask for ‘the colour of freshly mown grass’ you’ll get green 😉

They are priced at £6.50 GBP, which includes postage & packing to anywhere in the world… at time of going to press, £6.50 GBP works out at about $10 USD / 8 EURO – and don’t panic, Paypal will convert it all for you at the checkout 🙂

If you haven’t already entered the competition, get scribbling now! You’ve got until the 29th April to send us your 350 word ‘Unexpected Fairytale‘ and you can enter via Anna’s page, or you can click the frog linky below – and don’t forget, you don’t need a blog to enter – just email Anna or myself and we will post your entry here or at Yearning for Wonderland for all to see!

Happy writing!


P.S. Remember to tweet us if you need us! @SJIHolliday & @ruanna3

Gone: A Short Story

This was first published in What the Dickens! Magazine (Issue 2), based on a prompt from Issue 1. It’s a sweet and slightly sad tale, not my usual evil variety. Let me know what you think 🙂

Gone

Grandad Terry crawls out from underneath the bunk-beds. ‘It’s no good, love,’ he says, taking a scrunched up handkerchief from his trouser pocket and wiping the sweat off his forehead. ‘I can’t find the damn thing anywhere.’ His bones crack as he gets to his feet. ‘You’ll just have to tell them.’

‘I can’t,’ I say. ‘They’ll be devastated.’

‘I know, love. But they’ll have to find out some time. We can’t keep on pretending.’

‘Maybe I can say he’s gone on holiday?’ I say, rubbing at my eyes and pretending I’m not about to cry.

‘Hmm,’ he says. ‘That might work. For a little while anyway.’

‘Just until we can go to the pet shop…’

He nods. He doesn’t know I’ve already phoned the pet shop. They’ve only got pure white ones in. Morris is ginger with one white ear. They’re phoning round for me, trying to find one.

‘Can’t you just tell them the truth?’

‘No!’ I shake my head, fast. ‘They’ll say it’s my fault.’

‘But it is your fault!’ Grandad Terry says, loud. Making me jump. Then he smiles and says: ‘Sorry, love. You know it’s not your fault.’

It is my fault though. He was sleeping when mum went out. ‘Look after the twins,’ she’d said, adding: ‘and your grandad,’ as she walked out the door, blowing me a kiss as she went. She looked sad. Grandad Terry’s told the twins she’s gone on holiday. I’ll just tell them Morris has gone to join her and they’ll both be back soon.

‘When’s mum coming back?’ I ask, feeling more tears getting ready to escape, trying hard to suck them back in.

Grandad Terry just shakes his head. He looks sad now too. ‘I don’t know, love,’ he says. ‘I just don’t know.’

 [to be continued???]