Why use existing words when you can create your own?

Tulip cr Judy DarleyMaking up words has always been an irresistible temptation for prolific writers – Lewis Carroll was a master of the craft, and Shakespeare wasn’t too shabby either.

Encouraging you to give into to your word-spawning urges, English PEN and Arvon have teamed up to give you a chance to win a place on an Arvon creative writing week (including travel) with the Making Up Words competition.

All you need to do is write a poem of up to 14 lines or a piece of flash fiction of up to 100 words, with a title that is a made-up word.

Femi Martin, writer and performer

Made-Up Words is part of europolyglot, an English PEN festival of events, workshops, night classes and roundtables that celebrates multilingualism and active ageing in the UK, in partnership with the European Commission Representation in the United Kingdom.

Submit your entry in the body of an email to competition@englishpen.org by midnight on Friday 29 March 2013. The competition will be judged by writer and performer Femi Martin (pictured left), who has some inspiration to offer here.

For more information and full terms and conditions please visit the competition page on English Pen’s website here.

A wander through The Valley of the Butterflies, Rhodes

Greece, Rhodes, Valley of the Butterflies cr PROTOUR
One of the most beautiful places I’ve visited is the Valley of the Butterflies on the Greek isle of Rhodes. As part of a gap year, I was working as a shepherdess and staying with a farmer and his young family in the village of Theologos. Each day I would spend a few hours watching the sheep, daydreaming and dozing under the olive trees, then head off to the beach for more of the same, minus the sheep and plus a few waves.

I had one day off each week, giving me the chance to head out to Rhodes town to catch a ferry to one of the nearby islands. But I’d heard about the Valley of the Butterflies and was keen to see what it was. I could have caught the bus to Rhodes Town and then another bus out to the valley, but Theologos is set almost halfway between Rhodes Town and my destination, so when my host advised me that it’s an easy stroll, it made sense just to walk it.

Greece, Rhodes, Valley of the Butterflies cr Greek National Tourism OrganisationI set off at 9am, trekking along sun-blasted roads in the rising heat. When I finally reached the natural park, it was like arriving at an oasis. It was only early June, so there weren’t the mass of Jersey tiger moths (Re the misnomer, I guess Valley of the Moths just didn’t sound so appealing!) swarming in the Petaloudes valley that you get later in the summer, but there were still enough to give the gorge an otherworldly feel, and the tourists were also in low numbers, which made it far more atmospheric.

If you want to get the full impact of the invasion, come in July or August when more than a million moths will have arrived to feast on pine resin before copulating and laying their eggs. Quite a sight to behold! On the downside this is also when crowds of the tourists visit, diminishing the tranquility of the place.

Personally, I think May or June are the better times to visit – sure, you’ll miss out on the clouds of copulating moths, but the valley will be far, far greener. You’ll have much of the park to yourself and will be able to wander around the shady forest paths to your heart’s content, enjoying the mist drifting from the many waterfalls and crossing the log bridges at your own pace, not the pace of the people behind you.

Find out more at www.rodosisland.gr.

Many thanks to PROTOUR and the Greek National Tourism Organisation for supplying these images.

Greece, Rhodes, Valley of the Butterflies cr PROTOUR1

Journalism jobs – Simply Crochet seeks Commissioning Editor

Simply Crochet issue two coverOne of the publications I write for regularly, Simply Crochet, is seeking a highly creative Commissioning Editor to the join the team.

If you’re  looking for a job where you can combine your love of crochet and your eye for a great crochet project, this could be the job for you. Based in Bath, Simply Crochet is Future’s successful new magazine launch from the makers of Mollie Makes and Simply Knitting, and is a refreshing, cheerful magazine all about this year’s growth craft! Continue reading

Birthday wishes

Pol and Pad

My Mum

My mum loves lavender chocolates
and chips with fried eggs
The feel of earth pressed down cool
beneath her hands;
The scent of morning in a greenhouse
Snowdrops in springtime
Green apples split in two
The colour purple (in almost every shade)
Ginger kittens soft, and spiky
A child’s hot hand in hers
Sunshine, skies and trees on hillsides
Scones with jam and clotted cream
Coffee late at night when it would
prevent others sleeping
Whimsical, unexpected things
All kinds of adventures
The whole world

Happy 70th birthday, Mum!

How to get published

Typed pagesSuccessful writing is about more than putting pen to paper, or finger to keyboard, as bestselling author Fiona Walker knows only too well. Here she offers her advice for ensuring your work has the best possible chance of being published. 

I knew nothing about publishing when I fired off my first novel to literary agents. I had never joined a writers’ circle or sought advice about writing. I had no idea how hard it usually is to get into print. If I had, I might never have tried. Ignorance was bliss. Writing was bliss. That was all I knew. I only really sent it off because my family and friends – to whom I had foolishly confessed what I was doing, kept asking if I had found a publisher yet.

Seek out resources for budding writers

Publications like the The Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook are a great resource if you’re seeking literary agents to send you work to. These books usually also state the basic rules of submission, most of which I completely overlooked:

* In most cases, send the first three chapters, a brief synopsis (two pages max and a covering letter with some personal details.

* Send white loose leaf A4 – no binders.

* Present the work in a straightforward font, double-line spaced.

* Print material on one side of the (numbered) page only.

* Agents generally prefer to be targeted one at a time.

So what did I do? I compiled my favourite chapters (one, three, nine and 18 as I recall), single-line spaced, bound in natty plastic spines. I added a 37-page synopsis and a self-deprecating letter explaining that I was overweight and my novel was 300,000 words long (it was actually longer).

I sent this to five lucky agents concurrently. One sent it back by return with a note saying ‘not seeking new clients’, one rejected it as ‘unreadable’, one asked for a reading fee as it was ‘rather long’ and two agents called on the same day saying they wanted to represent me.

Within a week, I had signed a two-book contract with Hodder and Stoughton that made me a full-time novelist.

Consider the ingredients of a bestselling novel

I was incredibly lucky, a fact I never deny. I used to say I was just in the right place at the right time. Now that I know publishing better, I sense that every time and place is right if the book kidnaps the reader’s imagination, and you can only do that by trying. There are a few things that I unwittingly did right, and I would advise you to do the same:

The Love Letter by Fiona Walker* Write what you want to read.

* Believe utterly in your characters.

* Never forget where the plot is going.

* If something doesn’t work, rework it until it does.

* Having finished it, warts and all, take a break. Then go back and tweak it until you fingers ache.

* Really, really enjoy writing it.

* Always put writing first, dreams of publication second.

That’s how I still do it. It works for me. Yet everybody writes differently, with a unique voice, and telling somebody how to write fiction is like telling somebody how to talk. How dull if we all spoke the same way.

Ergo, my only real advice is to write from the heart. Whether your work becomes a bestseller or you gather the largest collection of rejection letters in existence, never forget why you write. Have fun!

fiona walkerFiona Walker is the author of a stream of bestselling contemporary romantic comedy novels. While working briefly in advertising, she became addicted escapist fiction, and then tried writing her own. Her first effort, French Relations, was published by Coronet in 1995. Fiona’s latest novel is The Love Letter

Find out more about Fiona Walker at www.fionawalker.com.

Book review – The Mussel Feast by Birgit Vanderbeke

The Mussel Feast coverThe latest slim volume from Peirene Press is an elegant tale by German author Birgit Vanderbeke, which is as tightly wound as its young narrator. Beginning with the seemingly joyful preparation for a father’s return from a business trip, cracks soon begin to appear through the celebratory veneer, widening and splintering as the father fails to materialise at the expected time and the night wears on.

The dad, seen through the eyes of his teenage daughter, is a man with a very specific idea of how family life should be. Having escaped with his wife and two children from East to West Germany just a few years previously, it’s seems that this success heightened his expectations of their behaviour and appearances to unreasonable levels. That’s the excuse hinted at, but we’re left for the most part to deduce this fact for ourselves, along with the actions he is being excused for. Continue reading

Covetable curiosities

The Otherist window, AmsterdamSome shops are less a retail opportunity than the chance to enter a whole new world. Part art gallery, part magician’s storeroom, The Otherist is definitely one of these.

Pewter woodpeckerI came across this compact wonderland on a sunny day in Amsterdam, while wondering alongside the little Leliegracht canal. The shelves were covered with curiosities, from pewter kingfisher skulls to porcelain pebbles embellished with intricate insect portraits, to a cabinet crammed with gleaming vintage glass eyes. I was entranced.

Porcelain pebbles1“I think my favorite Dutch word of the moment has got to be ‘hebbedingetjes’, says proprietor Steven Stoddart. “It’s an all-encompassing category that acts as an umbrella under which shelter all the things one wants but might (or most definitely) not use. The thing that I like so much about it is the sense of urgency, that it doesn’t just translate as little things one wants, but really as sweet little things that one thinks might just be necessary for life to continue in the manner in which one desires.”

It’s the perfect place to feed your imagination.

Happily, I’ve since discovered they have a website too, so if you fancy a few moment’s escapism in the form of an online shopping trip, pay a visit to www.otherist.com.

Happy browsing!

What comes after the ‘happy ever after’?

Portuguese couple cr Judy DarleyDid Jane and Mr Rochester manage a happy marriage? Could Scarlett and Rhett have made it work?

Tracey Cox profile picAs part of Litro Magazine sex-themed February issue, the editors are spending this week hanging out with sex and relationships expert Tracey Cox. Tracey will be sorting out the love lives of famous fictional couples for us, and they’re looking for your suggestions for therapy-worthy characters.

It’s such a cute idea – I love the idea of what happened to these characters once their ‘happy every afters’ began.

You can tweet your suggestions to @litromagazine with the hashtag #litrosex or share them on Litro magasine’s Facebook page.

Even better, they invite you to finish the story yourself, in 100 words. What do you think your favourite literary couples got up to? Email your follow-ups to emily.cleaver@litro.co.uk with the title “Where Are They Now”. The best entries will be published on the Litro website.


Journalism jobs – Zest magazine seeks Deputy Editor

Running shoes cr Judy DarleyKnow your fartlek from your beta flash? Your blast from your bonk? Zest, the UK’s top-selling women’s health magazine, is looking for a highly creative and dynamic Deputy Editor. This is a brilliant opportunity for a talented and ambitious journalist with senior-level experience to join the Zest brand at an exciting time of its development.

The ideal candidate will be a strong ideas generator who can spot a Zest trend at 20 paces and consistently find new and relevant spins on healthy living. An intimate understanding of the Zest lifestyle is crucial, as is the ability to think cross-platform and contribute innovative ideas for both zest.co.uk and other brand extensions.

A flair for energising tired copy, writing attention-grabbing coverlines, and generating compelling specials is crucial, as are excellent management skills and a passion for our core pillars

If you thrive under pressure, can multi-task for Britain, have a strong commercial sense and a sharp visual eye, send your CV plus four cover-worthy feature ideas for a May issue, with coverlines, to taylor.anderson@hearst.co.uk, along with a 500-word critique of the March issue.

Zest magazine is also currently advertising for a Chief Sub-editor and a seniot designer.

Review – Old Times at Harold Pinter Theatre

Old Times by Harold PinterAnyone who has ever struggled with writing a play knows that the key lies in skilfully handled subtext. Harold Pinter is an absolute master of this technique, and he uses it superbly in Old Times, his 80-minute play currently on show at The Harold Pinter Theatre close to Leicester Square.

In Ian Rickson’s production, the set is simple – a chair, two sofas which later become beds, softly-curtained windows that allow in varying qualities of light.

Kristin Scott Thomas and Lia WilliamsThe play begins as Kate and her husband Deeley are awaiting the arrival of Kate’s best, or only, friend Anna, back in touch after 20 years apart. The two female roles are played alternately by Kristin Scott Thomas and Lia Williams – a detail that while insignificant if you only see it once, seems particularly apt given the ambiguities the play unfurls. In the performance I saw Scott Thomas was a deliciously self-contained yet sensuous Kate, Anna played a brittle, chatty Anna, while Rufus Sewell wittered, barked and wept like a sort of attention-seeking hound.

The reunion is wonderfully played, with resentments, insinuations, lies and much unspoken intrigue simmering throughout. As Kate heads off to take a bath, revelations surface between Deeley and Anna, and it is revealed s that the three are far more deeply entwined than we’d been led to believe. Then Kate re-enters and it becomes clear that the old adage is true – it’s the quiet ones you have to watch.

If that seems unclear, it’s because nothing is concrete in this play. Much is said, and more left unsaid. I suggest you watch it, draw your own conclusions, and then go for a drink.

Old Times is on at Harold Pinter Theatre until 06 April 2013.