Playing with Word Clouds

It’s always nice to find a new tool to play with when the procrastination monkeys start swinging from the rafters. Not that I’ve been idle – I finished the first draft of book two recently (more about that soon!), so I’ve been taking some time out to read and to plot a short story, as well as some early planning for book three.

Anyway, I found this thing called Wordle. It creates word clouds that you can customise in all sorts of ways. Just paste in your text, and play away…

This is one I created for Black Wood (which, by the way, audio fans – is now available on audible, and I LOVE the narration!)

…and this is one for my second book. Comparing the two, the word ‘back’ seems quite important – which makes sense I think, as both novels deal with secrets and have characters who don’t want to look back – but unfortunately, they can’t avoid it. Also the words ‘one’ and ‘like’ feature heavily. I’ve no insights on that. However, I will have some news about book two soon, so stay tuned, Davie Gray fans!

P.S. I recently shared my five favourite fictional murder weapons for BritCrime – you can read it HERE

P.P.S. I also featured on Anne Cater’s blog as part of the Book Connectors/Trip Fiction ‘Around The World’ Blog Tour – you can read it HERE

P.P.P.S I have been recommending a book to everyone called Take Off Your Pants! by Libbie Hawker – I will be blogging about it in detail soon, but if you are struggling with the mid-draft slump, or thinking about #NaNoWriMo, you might want to take a look 🙂

P.P.P.P.S You can sign up for my newsletter HERE (you won’t get anything for a while as I am still setting it up, and you can unsubscribe any time – updates will be infrequent, but will include exclusive news and giveaways)

Happy New Year – Happy New Writing

Hello again…

Well after a flying start at the end of last year, I’ve become a bit slack with the blog… sorry about that! At the end of November I had intended to write about my experiences of NaNoWriMo, but I felt so drained after it that I ended up not writing much at all… So what happened? I bailed. Yup, I’m a NaNoWriMo ‘loser’ so I don’t get the winners’ badge. But am I bothered? Not really.

NaNoWriMo – NO!

It started off well with words flying from all directions. I had an outline of the whole book and it changed and grew with every word I wrote, and for a lot of the time, I enjoyed it (anything that can get me out of bed at 7am has to be a good thing, right?). But then I had a bad day. Then I picked it up again. I even wrote a chapter from my sister’s spare room while I was away for the weekend, ensconced in a house with an unruly toddler and a screaming baby (both of whom, I LOVE, by the way…) But then I had another bad day. Really bad. I wrote, but the words weren’t making sense anymore. I was rushing to the finish line, words came out jumbled and wrong and there were too many plot holes and ridiculous coincidences and I started to HATE my main character and everyone else around her.

So at 40,000 words I made the decision to stop. I had two choices: break my neck trying to bang out the remaining 10,000 words over two days to reach the goal and become a ‘winner’, sacrificing my enjoyment of writing and any hopes of the novel being readable OR just stop, put it away, and be happy with the achievement of writing 40,000 in 28 days, which by most people’s standards makes me a winner of sorts anyway. It was certainly the most I’ve ever written, and the furthest I’ve got with a draft novel. I haven’t re-read anything that I wrote yet. I know that a lot of it is toe-curlingly bad, but I still think it has legs. So for now it’s been stuffed into the virtual bottom drawer, but that doesn’t mean it’s gone for good.

WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?

So the day after ditching the ‘novel’, I wrote something else. A story called ‘As Black As Snow’ for the first edition of the fabulous What The Dickens! Magazine. It starts on Page 25 if you want to read it 🙂

Then I did pretty much nothing in December, although I did manage a post at my usual haunt, The Black Flag.

Then two things happened: I won a writing diary in an online competition on Mslexia, then I got sent a free book from a publisher after I tweeted about the author’s previous one (it’s not released yet, so I’ll keep that one quiet for now – I plan to review it very soon). I don’t usually win things, so I was pretty excited about both of these 🙂

THEN I spotted a link to Cara Michaels’ WIP500, a new challenge for 2012 with the aim of encouraging writers to produce 500 words a day – every day – for the whole year. Yup – that’s 183,000 words. The thing about this though, is that it can be on any Work In Progress (WIP), not just on one thing like NaNoWriMo. I decided it was the challenge I needed. So far it has yielded me two 100 words stories (you can read them on my Facebook page), plus a new Black Flag post here, half of a story that I intend to submit to an anthology and a story called ‘The Advert’ for Morgen Bailey’s Flash Fiction Friday which will be posted (fittingly) on Friday 13th Jan.

WHEW! ANYTHING ELSE?

YES! I was awarded an honourable mention in the Five Stop Story October/Halloween competition, and I am still waiting to hear about a story I entered in Writing Magazine‘s 1000 word story competition – fingers crossed (but I’m not holding my breath on that one – the competition is usually very fierce). They did, however, print a letter I sent to them about a couple of articles I read in the last issue. It was a lovely surprise when I opened the magazine this evening and saw my byline 😉

IS THAT IT NOW? JEEZ…

One last thing… I’ve met loads of lovely writers on Twitter since I started frequenting the place in mid-October… and I am now contributing to a joint blog called The Pyjama Club. It’s fun – come and have a look 🙂

Oh wait, one more… I managed to blag obtain a review copy of a great new book by Nicola Morgan by chatting her up nicely on Twitter (again, not yet published – but I will write a review when it is). I am hoping it’s going to be my saving grace for my entry into this year’s CWA Debut Dagger competition (which I haven’t written yet, but I seem to write better with looming deadlines… maybe I should become a tabloid reporter?)

That’s it now… I think… Must get back to today’s 500 words (or more – I think it might be more… A whole novel outline presented itself to me while I drove home tonight…)

Speak to you again soon(ish)!

Susi x

P.S. I think I might go to CrimeFest this year… do a bit of literary mingling 🙂

Ssshhhh! Don't tell anyone I've written this!

After buggering up my facebook account yesterday and almost losing all my photos and links to my real human friends, I decided it was time to come out of the closet… the writing closet, that is. It’s a bit like that wardrobe that goes to Narnia, except all you’ll find inside mine is a pile of mishmashed thoughts, half-baked novel plots and quite a lot of drivel. Of course, being a writer, part of my job is to be self-deprecating and act as a staunch non-believer in my own worth. Maybe it’s the irrational fear that people will think that some of what my characters do are things that I’ve done?

So just to clarify – to date, I have not:

– Stabbed my boyfriend  and ended up strapped to a bed in an asylum

– Set my primary school on fire

– Employed the use of taxidermy to preserve my elderly wife

– Been hit by a tube train and died on the tracks

– Planned to kill my father by drugging his casserole

– Conducted odd experiments on subjects in a sleep clinic

– Tipped over a field of cows

– Escaped from Broadmoor and killed a man in the toilets of Reading train station

– Fallen drunkenly off a stool in the Tram & Social in Tooting (note the specifics…)

– Seen a flower that has actual eyes

– Bought a ghost from eBay

– Applied for a job as a serial killer (not yet…)

– Been suffocated by my own hoardings (ditto…)

– Snorted coke off a wheelie bin

– Killed someone on an ice rink

– Stabbed a tramp near Blackfriars bridge

– Smothered a student in her sleep

– Got my hair cut too often because I fancied the hairdresser

– Worked as a doctor in a dystopian city named after a Monkees song

– Been a single father and fireman who can’t bake very well

– Been a young boy at school during the Battle of Britain

– Crashed my car while being scolded for being drunk by a talking dog

I have, however, had fictional characters who’ve done these things. If you like some of my stuff, let me know. Also let me know if you don’t like it; constructively, that is. There’s no need for ‘this is shit’ type critiques – they don’t really help anyone 😉 I relish your feedback. I won’t cry. The main thing is that I’m enjoying it… and if I get somewhere one day, that’s just a bonus.

The biggest thrill for me is when someone tells me they like something I’ve written. So for anyone who’s already done that – thank you! I am nothing without my small and loyal army of fans 🙂

P.S. Almost reached 27k on NaNoWrMo. Past half way now. Last week was a struggle, but I got there. I think one of the new characters will have to be completely rewritten because he’s a bit of a knob, and that wasn’t really how I envisaged him. If you want to see where I’m at with it, its updated on Smashwords every day (as a back up more than anything, but 50 people have downloaded it… unfortunately no one has told me if they’ve actually read it…) PLEASE remember my disclaimer though – this is a first draft and is being written over a month, it’s nowhere near perfect, but you might still like it (and you might be able to help when I start the first edit!)

Shiny New Website Launched!

My new website is now live – whoohoo! You can find it here: http://www.sjiholliday.com/ (Thanks, Mr H!)

Since my last post I’ve been busy with my NaNoWriMo novel BLACK SHEEP. Currently at 12,000+ words. It’s unfolding in ways that I hadn’t expected… The whole point of the challenge is to get the words down, rather than editing it scene by scene and never getting it finished – I struggle with this, but when I manage to do it, the story keeps flowing. As well as the usual late nights, I’ve been surprised to discover that pre-work early mornings are working well for me (and those who know me will know that I don’t usually find compelling reasons to jump out of bed…)

If you fancy reading about Georgia Black, my fledgling serial killer, you can read the unedited novel on Smashwords as it unfolds:

http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/102281

!!!DISCLAIMER!!! Contains references to drugs, sexual activity and scenes of a violent nature… Don’t say I didn’t warn you! 😉

As well as that, I’ve managed to squeeze in a few submissions to Nano Fiction, Words with Jam and Fractured West… It’s safe to say I haven’t been watching much TV (or going to the gym – although I did manage a sauna yesterday, where of course I had loads of ideas and no notepad…)

Right – back to it 🙂

NaNoWriMo… Here we go!

Just a quick update on this evening’s activities…

My new boxingwithpencils entry is added on the right (Flip Flop Ice Skates). I think it’s better than last week’s – that was WAY too dark, even for me. In my defence I wrote it quite late last night :-/

Twitter found me another new writing market today: http://www.eclatfiction.com They are brand new and taking submissions for their very first issue, deadline is 5th December, but as I already had something half formed, I finished it and sent it off. Fingers crossed they like it, but if not, I’ll try again for the next issue. Rejections don’t phase me (at the moment, at least). The piece I sent was a flash fiction called ‘A Day in the Life of a Phone Canvasser’ and it was inspired by old people who talk too much… 😉

I made a lot of notes for NaNoWriMo. I got all my characters names, ages and occupations. I always struggle with names so I used an online name generator and also looked at some street names on a local map – it worked pretty well. I also thought up the MOs for the serial killers (yes, plural) in my novel. Sometimes I fear for my own sanity, and I’m sure the postman does too: the other day I got two books from Amazon: ‘The Serial Killer Files’ by Harold Schechter and ‘Without Conscience’ by Robert D. Hare. They’re really going to really mess up my ‘recommended for you’ section…

Must finish my notes now as it’s just over an hour until I am allowed to write my first NaNoWriMo word… clock’s ticking.

Hocus Pocus, I Need to Focus…

So, since my last post, I’ve done a few things. Mainly I’ve tried to keep off Twitter. Well, sort of. I have actually done a bit of writing. I just submitted my 100-word flash fiction to http://boxingwithpencils.com/. I do this every week and its quite cathartic (read the entries on there, and you’ll see what I mean… this week’s is called Gobble Dee Gobble Dee Die!) The first entry I posted won the comp (it’s called ‘Poppy Cock Action’) and my second entry got an honorary mention of ‘Most insane scene’ 🙂 It’s called ‘Automobiles or Whatever’. Note: these are the competition titles, the stories are written in the comments fields on the pages, they don’t have titles, they just have to use the theme and 3 words supplied and they must be 100 words or less. There’s a $5 prize for the winner too…

In other news – I sent a competition entry to http://www.fivestopstory.com called ‘Buy Now, Pay Later’ its a ghost story, and a bit of an homage to Joe Hill’s ‘Heart Shaped Box’ (but clearly in no way as brilliant…): http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/0575081864

I also read one of the entries to NYC Midnight posted by one of my new twitter writer friends and quite frankly, it is so good that I would be shocked if she didn’t go through to the final. It is called ‘The Dispossessed’  by LJ McMenemy. I hope she won’t mind me posting it here:  http://ljmcmenemy.com/?page_id=143

I’ve also been writing notes for my NaNoWriMo novel, which I think might be ok, as I have lots of threads to work with, but I am a bit concerned that I will draw a complete blank when I sit down to start writing on 1st November… So many people are doing it and blogging about it and tweeting about it, I am too easily distracted… I think I need to stay off the net as much as I possibly can!

Oh, and I’m still waiting to hear back from Fractured West about a flash fiction piece I sent them.

That’s it. I think.

P.S. No it isn’t. I also wrote some notes for the winter Toasted Cheese comp (http://tclj.toasted-cheese.com/) – I want to write it now, but I think I need to get NaNo and my other list of stuff out of the way first… focus…

P.P.S. Don’t let me forget about ‘Tournesol’ and ‘Bag Lady’…

I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil ~ Truman Capote

Well, a few things have happened since my last post…

(1) http://5minutefiction.co.uk/ accepted my story ‘Careers advice’ – whoohoo! It’s on the site now and more will follow…

(2) MUCH to my surprise, I made it through to the semi-finals of the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge

http://www.nycmidnight.com/Competitions/FFC/About.htm

This is a 4 part event where you are assigned to a group (there were 20 groups of roughly 25 writers) and given a prompt and a 48 hour deadline – everyone completes parts 1 and 2, then if you make it to the top 5 in your group, you progress to the next round. My first prompts were ‘beauty salon, box of tissues, romantic comedy’. A nightmare for me as I don’t really do romcom. Anyway, I did it and it got me placed 10th in the group – so I wasn’t out of the running, but getting into the semis would involve an almost imossible event – I’d have to come first in the group for assignment 2, and the winner of the first assignment would have to be placed outside of the top 5. Obviously, I did not expect this to happen. The prompts for this one were ‘a doctor’s surgery, a loaf of bread, ski-fi’. This was my second nightmare, as I don’t really do sci-fi either. The other drawback was that I was going to visit friends for the whole weekend of the challenge… Anyway, I ended up writing it late on the Sunday night and I was a bit unsure about it – in fact I almost didn’t bother doing it all, so sure that I couldn’t progress to the next stage… So imagine my extreme excitement when I got an email on Friday morning saying I was in the 100 writers going through. Surely I’d get a better set of prompts this time? Saturday morning email, start of the challenge: ‘a bake sale, a fire alarm, romantic comedy’. AAARGGGHHH!!!!! Not romcom again? Seriously? Anyway, I’ve written it. It needs 139 words removed and at least 3 put it. This is actually what I should be doing right now, but I’m not, because I’m hungover and I’ve been on twitter all day.

Oh – I’ve linked to both stories over on the right. ‘A Cut Above’ was assignment #1, ‘Pleasant Valley’ was #2. I’ll post the latest effort after the comp deadline has passed.

(3) I attended a ‘workshop’ at the Guildford Book Festival:

http://www.guildfordbookfestival.co.uk/53-workshop-jo-herbert

Well, a couple of things about this… It wasn’t really a ‘workshop’ as such, it was pretty much just a talk. We were put in a rather uncomfortable room for the event and I thought the 2 hours would drag, but actually it flew by. The other thing was that Jo Herbert is NOT actually an editor at the Writers and Artists Yearbook any more – she was until recently, and she did ‘fess up right at the beginning. It didn’t really matter though as her 14 years of experience in the publishing industry made her more than qualified to talk on the subject of how to submit and who to submit to. There wasn’t much in there that I hadn’t already read/heard before, but she drilled home the importance of the covering letter – something I hadn’t previously given much thought to (rather naively, I know). Considering this might be the only thing you can get an agent to read, it is of course CRUCIAL that you create the perfect pitch. It is important to buy this book if you want to stand any chance of getting published by a mainstream publisher (despite the scary stats that agents such as Blake Fieldman receive 50 pitches a day and take on 6 new writers a year…)  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Writers-Artists-Yearbook-2012/dp/1408135809/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1319386253&sr=8-1

(4) I completely changed my plans for NaNoWriMo….

http://www.nanowrimo.org

So, I had actually been outlining and plotting and making character notes for a few weeks for a novel I was planning to call ‘Bloodhound’. But then after the reviews of my short story ‘Careers Advice’ (mentioned above!) I had a re-think. Someone (I’m not naming names…) said ‘I didn’t want it to end – I wanted to hear more about her.’ I had a bit of a lightbulb moment just as I left the house to head to Guildford (I have realised that my best ideas tend to come to me when I am nowhere near my laptop, and most good ones come when I am not even able to write, e.g. in the car, walking through the supermarket, just about to drop off to sleep). Anyway, it was probably quite obvious all along, but it seems to me that the main character from ‘Careers Advice’ and the premise of the story contains a lot more than I’d first realised. Yup, this is now the new novel idea for next month’s frantic scribble-fest. The working title is ‘Black Sheep’ and I felt very writerly as I sat with a coffee and a cigarette outside the book festival, frantically scribbling my new plot outline, while lots of middle-aged ladies mooched around looking at books. Talking of middle-aged ladies, there was one in the workshop with a black velvet hat that looked like an iced gem. I couldn’t stop staring at her.

Right… back to the editing.

Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow ~ Mark Twain

Hi there… so, for anyone interested,  I am going to start blogging about my current writing activities. At the moment these are centred around wasting time setting up a blog. Hopefully one day it will become useful. I have a list of competition entries to send, and I am counting down the days until I start NaNoWriMo in November. Come join me. It will get more interesting than this. I promise.