December 2017 ~ January 2018 After nursing my wife for twelve years through multiple sclerosis, and a number of serious debilitating illnesses, she finally succumbed to the ravages of breast cancer on the 7th.January. The devastating end to 52 years of marriage has left the pen empty of words. To attempt to revive my writing, I have revisited an OU Creative Writing workshop module. Having the discipline of working through a set programme will not only demand my full concentration, but hopefully awaken a waning interest in any indulgent activity. Even if the process doesn’t produce satisfying results, the practice will demand my attention until my spirit awakens again. I did have an acceptance during January of a previously submitted humorous short story ~ BITTER PILL TO SWALLOW to be published by Carillon Magazine in the final print edition. November 2017 Being told by a consultant that your lifelong partner has only three to six months remaining of her life’s journey certainly focuses the mind. All actions, like listening to music, singing, watching TV, and laughing...yes, especially laughing...suddenly become guilty pleasures, disrespectful, and selfish indulgencies. And writing... that exercise that purges the soul of it’s emotional experiences, becomes the greatest sin of all when measured against the dedicated practicalities demanded in confronting the challenges ahead. October 2017 A spurt in the latter part of the month produced two short stories and an article about the Royal Mail postal history ~ BEFORE THE PENNY POST, which is to be published in December issue of ICENI magazine. A humorous story ~ GRAVE ERROR written earlier this year has been accepted by SCRIBBLE, a print magazine, for publication later. I remember those Friday Essay lessons we had at school. The teacher would take a line from a newspaper and we had to use it as a theme for our work. So long as we have music, poetry, and headlines there will never be a shortage of ideas to stir the imagination when we ‘cannot think of anything to write about’. I often jot down a line or phrase, especially if it is charged with emotion, to use later. A few examples I recently garnered in a single day demonstrate the endless variety of possibilities… Every time you hurt me, the less I cry. (Pop music) Tell me who takes care of me - it should have been you. (Pop music) Where on the deck my captain lies - fallen and dead (O captain! My captain!) So it must have been after the birth of the simple light (Fern Hill - Dylan Thomas) Flights cancelled over volcanic ash (Headline) War songs totally unacceptable (Headline) They can present an opportunity to put an alternative slant on their original meanings. September 2017 As a full time carer it is not possible to set rigid targets. That does not mean I haven’t ambitions to achieve certain outputs per month or year. So when life ‘gets in the way’ it is not surprising to become frustrated. Hospital visits and cancer treatment for my wife this month, coupled with home visits by four other health professionals, has resulted in zero finished output - my first for many a month. It goes without saying that it is certainly a time when writing must take second place. I keep a target in my head, and although I am accountable to nobody for my writing effort, being self-driven, guilt naturally sets in when I feel I've not produced enough. So for the last few days of the month I have forced the writing issue at bedtime before switching out the light - not daring to look at the clock. Music can serve as an excellent mood maker for both writers and their characters, Being tired or irritated is not conducive to enthusiastic writing. Playing music can calm, excite, or even inspire you - put you 'in-spirit'. It is an effective medium to employ to flesh out your characters or visualise a setting. A classical pastoral piece for instance, can evoke a vision of the countryside, whereas modern popular music can provide an upbeat emotional connection to romance or unrequited love. Then there’s country music - if your depressed character is destined to slash his wrists. (Joking!) Music can influence our mood and serve as an excellent tool in helping to build realistic character traits. August 2017 I never enjoy those months when nothing turns up in the post - whether an acceptance to spur me on, or a rejection that makes me even more determined to try harder. But then it is never a steady flow. Even with a regular output the responses never follow the same pattern. This, coupled with a lull in writing, makes enthusiasm for picking up the pen wane somewhat. As my caring role is now encroaching on my sleep time it was a challenging August. So a rattle of the letterbox would now be welcomed. Last year I had to turn down the opportunity to act as correspondent for a county magazine because of time constraints. It is an opportunity neglected by many writers. Most editors are glad to have freelance writers willing to feed local news and feature articles about local personalities. Payment is nothing to get excited about, although expenses are usually paid. It does however help to raise the profile of a writer in the neighbourhood. July 2017 Another challenging output month. I did manage to fit in and ship out a short story. A few other pieces are 'in process'. With my time constraints, I am reminded of Dicken's description of John Willet in Barnaby Rudge, It was John Willet's ordinary boast in his more placid moods that if he was slow he was sure. I admit to having his doggedness and positivity, although would refute any suggestion that I possessed his self assured nature. Sadly after more than seventeen years Carillon Magazine is to cease publication. It has published a number of my stories, and has been an excellent vehicle to showcase the work of new writers. It is well worth checking how long you will have to wait for a decision before submitting your golden words. The average time for online magazines seems to be 60 to 90 days. Popular printed magazines are generally around sixteen weeks. (One magazine held mine for 15 months before returning it to me without as much as a rejection slip) The growth of online publications has been matched by an increase in contributors, resulting in larger slush piles and longer waiting times. Nowadays with the advantage of online submissions through publishing portals it is possible to submit to a number of magazines at the same time. Should it result in an acceptance from one, then submissions to the others can simply be withdrawn. Such an improvement on the typed manuscript and SAE's that one day will be a quaint memory. June 2017 Another very difficult month health wise for my wife. Time for writing has been scarce. I did however squeeze in an article, PRINTING COMES TO NORWICH, which was accepted by Iceni Magazine. It covered the introduction of printing into Norfolk 450 years ago by a Dutch immigrant - ironically the Iceni Magazine has just ceased its print version and is now an online magazine only. There is a lot to be said for simply getting something down on paper. Laying out the paths the characters will take with overworked outlines, character bios, scene settings, etc. particularly for shorter stories, can be an obstacle to ever getting to that elusive first paragraph. Mind-mapping can be a useful aid to swiftly fleshing out an idea for a story, and a short route to that first draft. Preparation is necessary. But a map is not a journey. May 2017 This has been a challenging month. My wife suffered a major deterioration in her health resulting in a period of hospitalisation. My writing understandably took a back seat. Nevertheless I did manage to produce an article for a county magazine. Whereas the number of print magazines is in decline, there is an exponential growth in online opportunities. It is now possible to submit to online magazines anywhere in the world. The drawbacks are that payment (if any) is generally poor, and many titles have a short life. But most online magazines enjoy a large following, and often have reader feedback, which can prove very useful. April 2017 Being unable to leave the village has never been a problem. I have no need to travel to find stories – they come to me in abundance. My notebook is full of tales related to me. This month I dashed off two flash fiction stories which were inspired by one of my wife’s carers. When someone tells you that she had a good reason for jumping up and down on her grandfather’s grave, to the horror of passers-by, it was begging to be written as a humorous piece. And explaining to very young children that their recently departed grandmother has changed into a butterfly lent itself to a tale about the delicate handling of the fallout from a little white lie. Google Street View enables a writer to use vivid settings from anywhere around the world. Not only is it now possible to place characters in the ruins of Pompeii or on the heights of Machu Picchu, but you can also zoom into small detail to decide whether your character is, crunching the gravel underfoot, or she wished she had chosen better footwear for the muddy trail. Whether sitting with the tourists by the Trevi fountain or exploring the backstreet slums of Colombia, Street View enables a writer to bring realism to any setting from his own desk. March 2017 This month the pen hardly touched the pad. The tail end of Winter and Colygraphia reigned supreme. However, Spring has arrived, the garden has been tidied, and my writing garden seat has been resurrected from the garage. So, with the sun’s encouragement, I am eager to sit in the fresh air and get some words down. I am pleased that Carillon has agreed to publish my short story OPRESSION v HATRED in the Autumn. Sometimes emotive news stories can have a greater impact when dramatised. I usually reserve my writing on worldly and political matters for the Letters pages of newspapers - my fiction generally reflects the lighter side of life. This story covers a very controversial subject though, and is likely to attract strong comment. February 2017 Writing a story in the first person when the main character ends up dying is a risky business. And you can be sure that many a formal editor will be eager to point out your folly. Of course the story could simply be re-written in the third person. But if it is felt that it wouldn’t have the same impact, then there is nothing wrong in persevering until you find an editor happy to let you paint outside the established craft lines. So my thanks this month goes to Graham Rippon - editor of Carillon magazine for accepting for publication this Spring, my short story COLD COMFORT. Another of my humorous stories, THE THREE MONTHLY VISIT is also scheduled to appear in the Summer edition of Carillon.