Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Getting to know … Kathy Sharp

What genre would you say your novels fall into, or do they defy classification?
Novel, singular, at present – although another one is on the way. I tend to refer to it as fantasy since the characters inhabit a sort of parallel universe, but I don’t think it’s a typical fantasy novel at all. It’s certainly not of the dragons-and-wizards variety, though I will admit to a battered castle and some rather odd goings-on. It was recently referred to as a ‘fantastical tale’, which I think describes it rather better.

What made you choose that genre?
I think it chose me. The story just appeared in my head, and wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.

How long does it take you to write a book?
It varies. Isle of Larus was completed in the space of seven months, but the current book is proving a rather more drawn-out process.

What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
I try not to force it. Sitting down in front of the computer and telling myself I will now write my 500 or 1,000 words for the day tends to result in laboured writing, or, at least, it does for me. But when an idea strikes, and the words start to flow, I’ll work solidly until all of it is safely written down. Revision and editing is a rather more orderly process, I’m glad to say.

Where do you get your ideas for your books?
I don’t think any writer could fail to be inspired by the Jurassic Coast of Dorset, where I live, and I’m certainly no exception. Dramatic sea stories – real ones – happen around me day by day, and the landscape’s air of dangerous beauty is a constant source of ideas. Isle of Larus was born directly out of my experience of this wonderful place.

When did you write your first book and how old were you?
Six. As soon as I realised a book could be created by folding a couple of sheets of paper, I was away. Soon I was producing little volumes of poetry, stories about birds, little magazines. All hand-written, of course, until the day I got my hands on a battered old typewriter and saw that proper print was within my grasp. No doubt a six-year-old these days could use a computer to produce a publication that would have been beyond my wildest dreams back then.

What do you like to do when you're not writing?
I love plants, both wild and cultivated, and I enjoy photographing them. There’s a vague plan in my head to collect photos of every type of plant on the planet, though I think that might be a tad ambitious. I also enjoy singing with a local choir, Island Voices, on Portland.

What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?
As far as Isle of Larus is concerned, I simply had no idea I was capable of so much imagination. In fact I was convinced I couldn’t write fiction at all. But the wonderful people I met through my local writing groups, and the Dorset Writers’ Network, helped me to flex my imaginative muscles. Of course you can write fiction, they said. And now I find myself the creator of a whole collection of imaginary people and an imaginary place for them to live in. You can’t really get anything more surprising than that.

How many books have you written?
Quite a few, all non-fiction and many years out of date now.

Which is your favourite and why?
I suppose most writers have a soft spot for their first ‘proper’ book. Mine was a sprawling memoir of my teenage years, written when I was in my thirties. It wasn’t very exciting and was never published, but I learned a great deal in the process of writing it. I look through it occasionally and realise that I would have forgotten so much of the detail of my own past if I hadn’t written it, so it’s a firm and precious favourite.

As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?
I never wanted to be anything but a writer, really. I made the mistake, as a teenager, of thinking I had nothing to write about that anyone else could possibly want to read. It took me a long while to realise that everyone’s experience is unique, valid and interesting, and thus worth writing about.

What are you working on now?
The further adventures, and misadventures, of the inhabitants of the Isle of Larus. They never cease to surprise me.

Growing up by the sea in Kent, back in the 1960s, it was Kathy’s ambition to become a writer. Time passed. She married, moved to west London, and had a daughter. She continued to write, and had a small book or two on countryside and nature subjects published.  She worked for many years as a desktop publisher for Surrey County Council, and as a tutor in adult education.

And then, one day, she visited a friend who had just moved to the Isle of Portland, Dorset, and fell in love with the place. She has now lived in the Weymouth and Portland area for eight years, and still loves it.

Isle of Larus will be published by Crooked Cat Publishing on 26 July 2013

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Monday, 22 July 2013

Long Lists for Flash 500 Competitions

Long Lists 
The long lists are up for the second quarter 2013. You can find the titles of the flash fiction long list here and the titles of the humour verse long list here.

Great Judges for the Third Quarter Competitions
We have best-selling author, Rachel Abbott, judging the flash fiction category and a welcome return by Sarah Willans for the humour verse entries.

New Entries on Resource Page
Once again, our page of useful sites for writers has been updated. There are many links listed which could be of benefit, regardless of whether you write prose or poetry. Don't forget to share this page with your writing friends: Writers' Resources

Slight Change to Highly Commended Prize for Flash Fiction
I have received many emails asking if a paperback of Bad Moon Rising could be offered in place of the e-book. I'm more than happy to comply and will send a signed copy to the highly commended author if that is the preferred choice of books.

For all of you who have made the second quarter 2013 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 in one of the other quarters this year. Both categories are now open for entries. For more information on everything to do with both competitions, visit the websites: Flash 500 Flash Fiction and Flash 500 Humour Verse Competition.

Don't Miss Out on our Annual Competition for Novelists
Unlike the flash fiction and humour verse competitions, this is NOT run on a quarterly basis, but is an annual competition with a six month entry period, which opened on the first of May and will close at the end of October each year. Information regarding prize money, judges and rules can be found on the website: Novel Opening and Synopsis Competition

Kind regards,


Critique Service for Writers
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Flash 500 Humour Verse Competition

Friday, 19 July 2013

Keep Your Words

Today, we have an excellent post from Trish Nicholson who advises us to:

Keep Your Words
I don’t mean you can skip the editing and avoid cutting out words you spent hours wrestling onto the page. On the contrary, as a lover of flash fiction I am by nature a slasher, but I do not advocate ‘slash and burn’. Don’t ‘kill’ your darlings – transplant them.

Remove your finger from that delete button. Get your file management system in order and save every golden phrase and magnificent metaphor for another day, another story. And this applies not only to the cuttings from your manuscripts. One of my closest writing friends once confided to me: “I keep everything – notes, feedback, comments, correspondence – you never know when you might make creative use of any written material.” Thank goodness for digital storage.

But much of my research data, images, and past scribbles go back thirty years and are only on paper. I’ve had to turn the box room into exactly that – a room full of storage boxes – fondly, and euphemistically, referred to as ‘the archive’. The main attraction is an extremely comfortable lounger along the only empty wall.

I was reclining there one day, having completed a long non-fiction manuscript and skived off to the archive to get away from the keyboard, when I spotted on a bottom shelf a tatty but more recent file of my short stories. I retrieved it and returned to the horizontal to browse at leisure. Some of these stories I hadn’t looked at for two or three years, and I realised I was reading them as if they were someone else’s. In a couple, I saw different meanings to what had been intended – as if a slightly different reading self was reviewing my writing self.

And then I noticed that in the same file were notes of successes and failures in competitions, critiques, judges’ cryptic comments and feedback from writing group members. The file even contained early versions of stories and scraps of outlines – I could trace where a story had improved my writing and why I had abandoned others to oblivion.

Short stories can teach us so much, not only about writing but about reading, too. Writers must use apparent simplicity to create depth in a small space; make every word count, and still find a resolution. Some understanding of the writer’s task enriches a reader’s experience, shows the value of ‘close reading’. I was having so much fun I missed lunch, but it sparked an intriguing idea.

Instead of producing a short story collection – a vague notion that had long inhabited the back of my mind – I would share the lounger experience: write a book about writing and reading short stories; share the critiques; discuss the elements of story we have to weave together, and use my own stories as illustrations because I knew where they came from and what they had been through.

So I explored seven key issues: inspiration; character; theme; structure; voice – the most challenging and rewarding – critiquing, and maintaining momentum, choosing 14 stories to analyse, and another one to end with – a not-too-serious account of my writing journey. I added some previous articles of mine on writing, and wrote some new ones for readers, keeping in mind that I wanted readers to share this as well as writers. It may seem these days that everyone is a writer, but there are still a few readers who are not – yet – so I had to take special care that they felt included.

It is not a ‘how to’ book; more a buddy to join you on the lounger for a ‘show and share’ session over a glass of wine. You can decide for yourself what you think of my efforts, because it is now published in digital and print formats by Collca: Inside Stories for Writers and Readers. I would love to have your feedback – and rest assured, it will be filed in the archive.

[By the way, the print edition (available soon) also includes the complete text of From Apes to Apps: how humans evolved as storytellers and why it matters. The e-book contains an extract.]

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Trish Nicholson is a writer of stories and non-fiction, and a keen photographer. She lives in New Zealand, beside a lake in the ‘winterless north’, where she balances writing time with raising native trees, and providing relaxation therapy.

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