Monday, 30 July 2012

Living in the Past

Some wonderful advice from historical novelist, Liza Perrat, on how to breathe life into your novels.

I was initially drawn to historical fiction because I love history, and historical novels bring it closer to us in an entertaining fashion. I have only just set out on my third historical fiction adventure, so I’m far from being an expert, but this is what I’ve gleaned about this fascinating genre so far.

It appears very few historical fiction writers have university degrees in history. Most authors of historical fiction are, first and foremost, novelists who must master the craft of good fiction in the same way as contemporary novelists. Knowing how to write a good story, which hooks readers and keeps them turning the pages, is as vital as getting the historical details right.

Yet we do have to get those period customs and technological details right. Our ancestors had very different attitudes about many aspects of life than people of today. What was your heroine’s relationship with her husband, her children, the people with whom she lived? Did she use cutlery and plates? What job might she have had? Would she have been literate? Historical fiction falls flat on its face when the characters jump off the page as modern-day people dressed up in period garb, and details like this can be frustrating to research. But these days, with all the historical resources available, and the internet, authors spending the time and effort can usually discover those golden nuggets that will bring their story to life.

Besides spending hours online and frowning over the barely legible print of yellowed letters, postcards, diaries and old books, there’s nothing like spending time in a place, trying to imagine how it might have looked, felt and smelled, in the past. Readers like to sense the spirit of place –– the vegetation, the seasonal light, the odours. It pulls them into the story, makes them empathize with the characters, and provides a stage on which they can visualize the story. But readers will quickly become bored with history lessons, so information should be integrated into the story, without it coming across as school textbook.

Historical monuments and structures evoke the past and I like to study them as closely as possible, and take lots of photographs (preferably minus any lurking tourists!). A walk around the rural French village in which I live gave me the idea for Spirit of Lost Angels, the first novel in my historical series, set during the French Revolution, and recently published under the Triskele Books label. On the banks of the Garon River, I came upon a cross named croix à gros ventre (cross with a big belly). Engraved with two entwined tibias and a heart shape, it is dated 1717 and commemorates two children who drowned in the river. Who were they? How did they drown, and where are they buried?

I felt the urge to write the story of these lost little ones –– to give them a family, a village, an identity. The Charpentier family and their village of Lucie-sur-Vionne were thus invented –– backdrop to a series of tales encompassing different generations of L’Auberge des Anges (Inn of Angels). For Wolfsangel, the second novel in L’Auberge des Anges series, I visited the haunting memorial of Oradour-sur-Glane, site of the tragic WWII massacre.

Local fairs, festivals and events also provide great sources of inspiration for the historical fiction novelist. One I know well is the annual bush peach festival. What’s the big deal about peaches, you might ask. Well this is not simply a succulent fruit with flesh the colour of blood. The bush peach is grown alongside the grape vines. Susceptible to the same diseases as the vines but quicker to develop the signs, vine growers plant peach trees next to their vineyards to warn them of potential problems. The bush peach has been part of the arboricultural patrimony of this region since the seventeenth century so, despite its questionable history as martyr, even the humble peach is firmly anchored in the village history.

If you are fortunate enough to live in a historical place, local people may provide insight into past professions. One of the characters in Spirit of Lost Angels is a r√©mouleur –– an itinerant knife-grinder or sharpener. Local resident, Georges, is a vestige of this profession that dates back to 1300. Lugging his odd-looking bicycle along to the marketplace every Saturday morning, Georges sits amidst the convivial banter, punnets of raspberries and strawberries, the boudins and saucissons, cycling in earnest to sharpen our knives and scissors.

On a personal note, I have to say that whilst bookshops are crowded with novels about famous king, queens and emperors, I find more interesting, and identifiable, stories that focus on the commoner, the peasant, the itinerant –– the greater segment of a population.

Even though historical fiction has become a hot genre in recent years, with many historical novels featuring on bestseller lists, many more contemporary novels appear. So, it seems that to interest a publisher, or to gain a readership in the case of self-publishers, a historical novel must encompass the qualities of a contemporary novel –– well written and highly polished –– coupled with historical accuracy.

Some resources I have found useful for writing historical fiction:

Historical blogs such as:


How to Write Historical Novels by Michael Legat

The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction by James Alexander Thom

Writing Historical Fiction by Marina Oliver

Liza Perrat grew up in Australia, where she worked as a general nurse and midwife. She has been living in rural France for the past twenty years, where she works as a part-time medical translator. Since completing a creative writing course ten years ago, several of her short stories have won awards, and been published widely in anthologies and small press magazine. Her articles on French culture and tradition have been published in international magazines such as France Today and France Magazine. She has completed four novels and one short-story collection and is represented by Judith Murdoch of the Judith Murdoch Literary Agency.

Spirit of Lost Angels is available as an e-book or paperback on Amazon and Smashwords.


Her short story collection –– Friends, Family and Other Strangers from Downunder –– is currently available as a FREE download on all Amazon sites.

For more information on Liza, or her novel, please visit her website: or

Critique Service for Writers
Flash 500 Flash Fiction Competition
Flash 500 Humour Verse Competition

Monday, 23 July 2012

Flash 500 News

Long lists
The long lists are up for the second quarter 2012. You can find the titles of the flash fiction long list here and the humour verse long list here.

Our readers say that choosing the entries to go forward to the next stage of judging is getting harder all the time because the standard in both flash fiction and humour verse is so high.

New judges
The flash fiction judge for the third quarter 2012 is an award-winning crime writer, Ruth Dugdall, and our judge for the humour verse is a multi-talented poet, writer and performer, John Hegley.

Change to prize for Highly Commended winner
Don't forget that from last quarter the winner of the Highly Commended award in the flash fiction category can choose between a copy of The Writer’s ABC Checklist (print edition - see note below about the e-book version) or a copy of Bad Moon Rising (in whichever e-format suits the winner).

Disqualified entries
I'm going to repeat a paragraph from a previous newsletter: I’ve mentioned the rules in several newsletters and have even put the necessary sections in bold on the websites, but still we receive entries with the entrants’ names on them. We also receive poems of more than thirty lines and stories of more than 500 words. Please, please comply with the rules. It’s heartbreaking to disqualify anyone’s work, but we have to do so in order to be fair to those who keep to the rules.

Accent Press have put The Writer's ABC Checklist on at a special price
The Writer’s ABC Checklist is available as an e-book for the low price of 77p/99c (normally £7.99/$12.95). I don't know how long the offer will last, but all the Secrets to Success books published by Accent Press are currently available at this extremely low price as e-books. The print editions are not on special.

For all of you who have made the second quarter long lists, congratulations and good luck with the next stage of judging.

If you missed out this time, here’s hoping you make it through to the long list in the third quarter. For more info on everything to do with both competitions, visit the websites: Flash 500 Flash Fiction and Flash 500 Humour Verse Competition.

Kind regards,


Critique Service for Writers
Flash 500 Flash Fiction Competition
Flash 500 Humour Verse Competition

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Horrific? Terrific

My guest poster today is Keddy Flett, who brings us insights into the mind of a potential horror writer. Keddy, put that puppy down!

After two years of dunking my head in the thick viscous goo that is the introspective process of memoir-writing, I’ve decided to pat my face dry and face plant into a new genre. And I think I have a new calling. Thrillifying revengetastic horror.

Having just finished Frances di Plino’s Bad Moon Rising, waves of a dusty vision – one hiding away in the back of my mind – washed over me. The idea? A sick, twisted and macabre horror/thriller novel called Christmas Puppies.

I know, I know. Sounds innocent enough, but I plan on setting up a sick story. I plan on having a mentally deranged lunatic hack off the legs of babies with scissors. I plan on having a disgustingly disturbed killer gouge the cataract-covered eyes of little old ladies.

But why? Where did this idea come from? Why do I want to introduce a character who would commit such sadistic acts? Well, it all starts with a puppy. A fantastically fluffy fur ball: my dog Richie.

When I met Richie it was at the local pound on a chilled April morning. He weighed just over a kilo and he was wrapped in a blanket, shivering like mad. Big brown beady eyes shot out from a mess of white fur and his wet black dot of a nose completed his cuteness. Richie was handed to my girlfriend and it was love at first bite. You see, the precious package was an absolute head case, damaged goods at just four months.

“He’ll become more relaxed as time goes by,” the worker said. “This one was found wandering round in a national park. Who knows for how many days.”

“What do you mean?” my girlfriend asked.

“He was dumped in a park by his owner. It happens all the time. The puppies are given to people for Christmas, but once the novelty’s worn off they just dump them. Some are even tortured or killed.”

That news blew me away. It lit a fire in my breath. A fire that kaboomed in my belly. I wanted to kick their heads in – break their legs. I wanted to punch these torturers in the face until their faces looked like squashed plums.  

That’s why I’ve turned to fiction. I’ve invented a man in my head – a worker at a puppy rescue centre who tracks down these people and punishes them the way they’ve punished their pets. I want to write a story about an everyday man who finally snaps. About an average Joe who can take the mistreatment of poor helpless animals no more.

So what does he do? He gives them a taste of their own bad medicine. For example, if an old lady has drowned a puppy, he breaks her knees and leaves her in a bathtub full of ice cold water to saturate to death. And, if a teenage boy lights a puppy on fire, he forces him to swallow gasoline and flicks matches into his throat.

What I always found scariest about horror novels is a character that is human in his exterior, yet has no passion for human life, rather than being some super-powered extra terrestrial. And the masks. You’ve got to have a freaky mask. But what? A pillow case with one slit? A hessian sack? A ghost face? I’m thinking a paper bag with one slit for one eye.

I want to write a story that follows a handful of people that mistreat Christmas puppies, from cutting their ears off to letting them starve in a cage. And then, once the reader is truly disgusted and pumped full of hatred for these people, our killer will take action. He’ll make the readers salivate with his gory revenge. He’ll inject balance back into the universe.  That is, until he targets the wrong person: a woman as sweet as sugar. A woman who has accidentally broken her puppy’s leg. From there a cat and mouse game will ripple through the storyline, with an outcome that disgusts and delights. I’m just not sure which one it will be.  

And now more questions begin to plague me. What could thrill, shock and excite the reader? What could keep the reader on his/her toes?

 At the end of the day it’s all about turning a genre on its head. You see, there are so many rules to the thriller genre, yet Bad Moon Rising is one that finds an exception – and that’s what makes it shine. Personally, I’m at a loss right now. I guess I must be barking up the wrong tree. All I know is that drawing from personal experiences and everyday rage can help you create a wicked environment and an even wickeder psychopath – one that’s half evil, half you.

Author Bio
Keddy Flett is a twenty-eight year old travelogue writer who resides in Sydney, Australia with his girlfriend Poppy Lin and mutt Richie von Vicious. His delightfully rude stream-of-conscious adventure memoirs Swallow the Swell and Swallow the Sea are out now through Crooked Cat Publishing.


Critique Service for Writers
Flash 500 Flash Fiction Competition
Flash 500 Humour Verse Competition

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

How To Get Beyond Procrastination

Procrastination – we all do it, but how can we force ourselves to get over it? Today Lesley Cookman, prolific author of the Libby Sarjeant cosy crime series, tells us how she does it.

Well, this is one way... ask a friend in the business if she’d like you to write something for her blog!

I am a master at procrastination. I’m a Master of Arts, as well, but we won’t go into that. My Oxford  dictionary says procrastination is to “defer action”, “be dilatory” and “postpone”. It is all of those things, and it seems to me to only occur when you’re supposed to be doing something that you HAVE to do. I mean, you wouldn’t defer the pleasure of reading a new book by a favourite author, would you? Not unless you’d promised yourself a treat after you’d finished doing this incredibly hard task at which you’re - er - procrastinating.

So, procrastinating is putting off something which you really ought to do. In the case of writers, it’s frequently a deadline. In the case of the pre-published writer with no deadline, it rarely occurs, because writing is something done purely for enjoyment. If, however, you are enrolled on a scheme such as the Romantic Novelists’ Association’s excellent New Writer’s Scheme, then you have a deadline, to submit your nurtured baby for a critique, possibly a second read, feedback - and who knows? Possible publication. This is an excellent training ground for the exigencies of the published life.

Sadly, this argues that procrastinating means you’re doing something you don’t like doing. Actually, most of us do like it. It’s just that it’s incredibly hard work. It isn’t simply sitting down at the keyboard and copy typing 2000 words a day. You’ve got to think as well.  The sensible advice is, of course, to plan every inch and tittle of your story to the last full stop, then you probably could sit down and copy type it, but even if you have prepared a proper outline and/or synopsis, story-telling is organic. Situations and characters appear out of nowhere. Sometimes you greet them with an air-punch and a shouted “YES!”, frightening the cat. Sometimes you just wrinkle your brow and say “How the hell did that happen?” And then you have to stop and think about it, and then, yes - you’re procrastinating. Wandering into the garden to deadhead the roses (did that yesterday), writing a guest blog (doing that today), dusting - what? Dusting? Well, maybe not.

I haven’t really helped, have I? When it comes down to it, if you’re procrastinating so much you’ve completely lost interest, I’d stop. Even if the hot breath of an editor is on the back of your flinching neck. I’ve done it. Told my editor this story isn’t working and could I start again. That made the deadline even shorter, but it worked a lot better. And the nearer you get to that deadline the less procrastinating you do because you haven’t got the time.  As with writer’s block, about which I’m not sure, you just keep going. All right then, go and make a cup of tea, deadhead the roses, write a blog. But Come Back. And just write. Go on, you know you want to really.

Lesley has been writing for money for thirty years, but only for the last few as a mystery novelist. She has written for trade publications, women's magazines and the stage, was a co-founder of the Green Carnation prize and next year will be the inaugural Creative Writing Tutor at Arte Umbria in Italy. She is a member of the RNA, CWA and the Society of Authors.
Follow her on Twitter @LesleyCookman

Critique Service for Writers
Flash 500 Flash Fiction Competition
Flash 500 Humour Verse Competition