A couple of competitions

Entering a piece of writing into a competition can galvanise a writer. Without a deadline procrastination or dithering with detail can prevent a writer completing a piece of work and putting it forward to be read. The purpose for most writers to present material to a reader. There is nothing so glorious that to have a reader comment with enthusiasm and respond favourably to a piece of writing. It is even great to have a critical comment as that also proves the writing was worth the candle.

Keep an eye out for competitions. Complete a piece of work and make sure you make that deadline. There may be a cost to entering; to having your work considered for publication may involve a writer sending money as well and that is a different story and involves different considerations.

Here are two competitions offered in The Oldie for which there is no charge. Send your entry for the Jeremy Lewis Prize: 400 words which you recount a memory in which the events you describe took place. Send it by the 31st October  to the following email address: publisher@theoldie.co.uk

Write a poem, maximum 16 lines, on the topic Shoulder to Should. This entry, which must be entered by 15th October, is to be sent to the following email address: comps.theoldie.co.uk


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Kite People

Kite People

I can’t draw.

Can’t paint my mind’s eye

On paper and make you

See how heavy people

Skim across the land;

Scud along, close to the ground,

Like kites seeking

That uplift.

Can’t share the image of

How people, heads forward,

Arm flaps akimbo,

Scissor legs juddering,

Chase gusts, wanting to hoist

Weighted bodies

Into the sky.

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Dither and Delay Tactics 13/3/2020

Not much writing but this time I have a very very good excuse. For the last three months we have been settling into a routine with our second dog. He is a rescue Australian working dog (he certainly has us working hard), two and half years old, loving and willing. However, a young kelpie is active animal and he has us walking us more than five miles a day (yes, we are getting fitter) which includes a lot of ball throwing, moreover, he is taught the house rules which have to be repeated several times and he is given toys and games to play which engage for us considerable periods of time. And, unlike us, he still has bundles of energy to spare.

He came with the name Simba. One of the difficulties of adopting a dog in that it comes with a name to which it responds but is not necessarily the name I would have chosen. My attempt to alter it to Simarrillion or Simmer or Symbol was met with resistance. My son likes to stand in front of the alert dog and intone in a deep throbbing voice ‘Simba, why have you forgotten me!’ Even though he has the colouring of Scar! Mostly he is called Sim.

Isla, the small kelpie heeler cross, rescued five years ago is both pleased and dismayed by the interloper. Serious amounts of time go into making sure her habits and affections are attended to. Sim defers to her in the matter of food but he will steal her toys and he can travel backwards faster than she can go in any direction but then Isla can use the dog flap, and Sim cannot, so there is always an escape route. His athleticism is extraordinary and his joy is to take a ball out of the air while he himself is airborne. Several times Isla has been tumbled over by his rushing enthusiasm; long-legged Italy too often kicks little Sicily. At the end of the day, though, they will lie down together on the rug and she likes the companionship at night or when we go out.

It all sounds like hard work but there are rewards. Every night we walk a short distance along the lane and I see stars and moons sometimes in glory,  sometimes seeping around the corner of clouds or smudged by man-made light but always different in mood and position. Even going out on a dark dark night is fascinating. On all of the dog walks I encounter animals and plants; it makes me aware and appreciative of their seasonal variations. I am infected with the optimism of my dogs who are convinced the day will unfold treasures and refreshed by our uncomplicated interaction.

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Dither and Delay Tactics …. 1/2020

How many of you realised, as I did not, how often I dithered and delayed at VI …. so the number of excuses for not writing a piece of fiction were considerably more than I expected to see when I glanced over the headings of my author’s blog.  So a new set of headings – see above – especially as it was the length and demands of the festive season prior to and after the first day of 2020 which has kept me from writing any fiction,

Short stories and poems had shuffled, not even half-baked, aside while I wrote Christmas greetings to a hundred sundry folk, issued and accepted invitations and correspond about a bleak election in a mild winter. Then I wrote thank you letters and sent New Year salutations. I wrote the last entry into the Christmas Book I have kept for 27 years and retired it to the trunk under the guest bed. I wrote to dear friends to make arrangements to meet in April. I wrote minutes and notices and lists.

And then there was a lull! I wrote a review for my science fiction blog. And I wrote a very small short story for Oswestry Writing Group which I copy below.  Yes, yes, yes! I actually wrote something:

Empty Bottle

Ben clattered the bottle as he shoved open the front door. It spun at his feet as if it had been flicked by a boy hoping to win a kiss. It was a green wine bottle with a white label and it was empty.

Ben felt a sneer disfigure his face and words bubbled furiously off his tongue. ‘Bloody hell, Paula! Bloody drinking again!’ The rage, which had been fed by his run-in with Baxter at the office and engorged by close encounters with incompetent drivers on his way home, surged and he booted the revolving bottle with savage force.

The bottle flew along the corridor and smashed the opaque glass door at the end of the corridor. The explosion threw shards of glass back as far as his feet.

For a moment Ben was aghast. He was shocked by the violence of the rebound. Then he realised the bottle, the damned bottle which had caused him to lose his temper, was still intact resting atop the glass fragments of door. His rage came roaring back.

‘Paula!’ he bellowed. ‘Look at this mess. Look at the damage your bloody drinking has led to. Again!’ He waited a few scant seconds. ‘Paula. Paula!’

Ben shouted his wife’s name so loudly his voice cracked. He fell quiet. For a moment he thought he might cry. His heart was seesawing in his chest and his head thundered with blood. He blinked his eyes until the sting subsided and the jagged mess of glass came back into focus. The wine bottle was glinting poisonously in the light from the kitchen.

Ben picked a careful path over the glass in the corridor and he paused to pick up the empty bottle which he held like a club in his right hand. The kitchen was as empty as the bottle. There was not a dish out of place and clean surfaces; spick and span just as he liked it and yet it was unsatisfactory.

It took Ben several moments, swinging the bottle around like a Geiger counter, that there was no food! The fruit bowl, the jars which normally held nuts and dried fruit, the sugar bowl and the butter dish were all empty.

Ben carefully placed the bottle on the melamine table top, walked across the kitchen and opened the fridge. Empty! The freezer was just a white cavern and the cupboards were bare.  Ben gulped down a hysterical giggle. His breathing sounded more like panting.

‘Paula?’ and his voice trembled. ‘Paula, he whispered. He turned around and around in the kitchen like a windmill; his arms flailing as he tried to grasp the totality of the emptiness that was engulfing him. A waving arm caught the neck of the empty bottle and tottered to the edge of the table, fell and smashed apart on the kitchen floor.

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Dither and Delay Tactics VIII and XI

How do you put off writing? Get yourself a young rescue dog! One week ago Dave and I and Isla, the eight year old small kelpie, welcomed a long-legged 2 year old male kelpie called Simba into the house. We have not sat down yet during the daylight hours. He is a happy and sweet dog but busy busy busy. Fortunately he likes to fetch balls, likes the long walks and he wishes to please, he adores Dave, so we are making lots of progress but by the end of the evening we are TIRED. Image may contain: dog


And then there are the Christmas cards. When I pick up a pen it is to write a few words to old and true friends – to pause and remember good times. It takes ages because it also involves trotting over to Dave remind/ask him and we fall into conversation about ‘that was when/where’.

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A couple of fragments


Fragment I

Jeff paused before he plugged in his shaver into the socket beside the basin in his hotel. His hand trembled as the memory ambushed him; maybe the smell of the Lily of the Valley soap had triggered this vivid tumble into childhood.

He had been staying with his grandmother. Steering his toy truck in rapid turns around the sitting room carpet to avoid her brisk thrusts with the soft bagged, hard edged upright vacuum cleaner. She had been wrapped in a thick apron and had a Players cigarette firmly lodged in the corner of her mouth. The musty dusty monster had roared as it chased him around the old Kidderminster carpet sucking at his fingers and the laces of his shoes. Finally the din ceased and Jeff watched as she levered the two-pin plug out of the wall with a nail file which fell out of her pinny pocket as she escorted the cleaning machine back to its cupboard.

Jeff had appropriated that file in a flash. It was made of a tough thin metal and the hook at the end was ideal for tinkering with wheels of his truck. He imagined his tin truck into a tram which travelled for a while on the tracks created by the carpet design until the whole scenario led him to the electric socket and the file became the electric connector.

Jeff had been thrown across the room. His grandmother had thumped and shaken him back to life, lathered the burn on his hand with honey and wrapped it in strips of cloth. His head had throbbed for days.

Jeff shook himself into the present like a wet dog. He pressed the fingers on one hand onto the dark scar in the palm of the other. He rubbed the stubble on his face several times and carefully put the shaver back in its case.


Fragment II

Cara fumbled the change into the mean-mouthed cslot of the parking meter. One coin dropped onto the paving stones and her nails rasped on the rough surface as she scrabbled for it. Once the ticket was on the dash and with her briefcase in hand she walked briskly to the Town Map positioned near the entrance. The angle of the sunlight blurred symbols and the names of streets and she spent fretful moments bobbing or craning her head until she was able to elicit how to proceed to her destination.

Cara headed uphill on a narrow pedestrian path almost touching closed doors and rough sandstone walls. She was unpleasantly aware of the constant rush of cars and gusts of exhaust fumes. She hurried and held to such a fast pace by the time she reached the brow of the hill and the Town Square she was panting. She stopped and rested her hot hand on the cool black twist of a lamppost until her breathing eased. A few steps further and, screwed onto an old tudor building, the name of the street she was seeking glared at her. Just a bit further down the street she could see the elaborate lettering which spelled the name of the shop in which she had a vital appointment. Cara straightened her back and walked forward. Halfway there she had to give way to a large splay-footed man in a duffle coat as most of the footpath was occupied by an enormous flower filled urn. She brushed her fingers through a small bush of lavender and she could still smell its sweet sharp scent when she pushed open the door.


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Dither and Delay Tactics VII

Well, well, well, I have taken putting off to a whole new level; I am astonished to see it is more than eighteen months since I last wrote here which is symptomatic of ‘since I last wrote at all’.

Of course, one does have to define writing. I have written letters to friends and family in Australia which are long with family and local news and indulge in a swipe or two at the state of the nation. I have written minutes for the Science-Fiction Group, Oswestry Library Friends and Leaf by Leaf Press. I have written to my MP, despite my conviction he is too one-eyed to consider any other position, cleverly constructed missives to which he must reply in person and not brush me of with a photocopy of party policy which I can easily access on my computer. I have written to media organizations complaining about a doubtful presentation of information and amid all of the bland and unsatisfactory replies have received one apology and action plan to improve which I have framed – it is worth the effort. I have written reviews and commentaries and, in large print, the talk I delivered on the History of Australian Immigration between the Wars. I have written notes to focus my learning on a MOOC about the Law of the Sea (currently studying Dangerous Questions. Why Academic Freedom Matters University of Oslo) I have written in my journals about ‘stuff’; lots of moans and groans and the occasional literary effort.

And there’s the rub! The real writing, molding words into functional, stirring stories and poems has stalled.

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Dither and Delay Tactics VII

Not writing this blog for a long time fits in with all my other delays on writing projects.  I wouldn’t say I hit a writer’s block so much as lost interest in writing at all.  The here and now has been so intense there as been little time for reflection.  Writing is about having the space to turn and ponder on stuff and reshape it.  I haven’t had the mind space and I certainly have not been able to make it into something else.  And, until recently, I am not sure I believed in my writing any more.  Given the choice, and I did have choices, for the last few months I would rather read.

But today is a day to record my joy in walking the dog was moderated by having to negotiate nettles more than six feet high; to celebrate a garden full of butterflies and a red kite investigating the harvested field beyond our hedge; to ponder on how the sun encouraged me to take off my shirt bask in the rays but the attention of horse flies made me put it back on again.  The roses are blooming.  The hens have no more idea than we do and make a dive for the remnants of chocolate cake before sullenly turning their attention to the mixed grain. Is it a positive sign that the wasps like my Brewdog Nanny State non-alcoholic beer as much as I do?

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The Wannabe Writer.

When we founded Leaf by Leaf Press I had plenty of time to write but since then I’ve managed to construct a huge scaffold of excuses. I got a full time job, (which I like), a four hour train commute, (which I sleep through) and recent bouts of ill health, (which I moan about). So instead of being a writer I’ve turned into more of a facilitator. I deal with the website, the typesetting, the Kindle formatting, the accounts and of course I encourage our brave authors to persevere with their excellent writing whilst quietly, deceitfully, neglecting my own.

I use the word ‘brave’ purposefully. It’s a brave thing to be an author. Authors put themselves into their writing and, whilst they want to be read, it’s no small thing to open oneself up to such close scrutiny and criticism.

It can also be lonely, just you and the often obstinately blank page. No one can write those words for you, they are your words. No one can help until those words are committed, saying here I am, this is all I’ve got.

But are those words good enough? Are they the best words you have? Are you sure you’re a writer?

Yes, it’s a brave thing to be an author.


Eleven years ago I was a wannabe writer taking classes at the Gateway in Shrewsbury. As an assignment we were asked to write a small piece on a place that we’re familiar with using the ‘first thoughts’ technique.

The place I chose was my office up in the loft. I had always dreamed of having the luxury of both the time to write and a place set aside to do it. I thought I loved going upstairs every day but the writing somewhat belies this and it seems even back then I had my doubts.

Now, being an obsessive editor, I cannot guarantee these were my ‘first thoughts’ but they are close.


My Office.

I am sat on my wife’s grandfather’s chair. Not a small chair. This chair, a nineteen thirties, straight-backed, straight-laced, work-ethical, upright chair. A chair whose meagre leather padding punishes a lack of motion with numb limbs, stifling the life-blood.

My desk. Had it for years. Blinded in the white heat of IKEA furnishings, my company bought a load in the nineties. They worked, they were big enough and they looked the part. They helped us sell out. Now in a post dot com bubble vacuum it has a position less glamorous, surrounded by an off grey emulsion that barely covers the loose-tongued and not-so-groovy cladding of my office in the loft.

But still it faces south and someday I will put in a window.

A big desk, but computer stuff dwarfs it and alongside the electrics is a three layered in-tray. No out-tray for me.  Three levels. The top, my work, programming projects. The middle, my writing, details of competitions, missed deadlines, drafts and yet more drafts. The bottom holds climbing stuff, logbooks, mountaineering journals, my escape to fresher air and more heroic deeds. But the triptych spills over my desk, scattering it with books, flowcharts, maps, and even some rope, which like a set of worry beads I find myself knotting and un-knotting repeatedly.

Throughout the day, I sometimes hear dogs barking and on a Thursday wheelie bins rolling, but I can always hear the church clock. Chiming its way through my life. A peaceful pastoral evangelical plot, reminding me quietly that I now have fifteen minutes less to live. I should get over there now and repent.

To the left are two pin boards once the earnest destination of lists, notes and dates, now largely covered with photographs of loved ones, past expeditions and postcards. The one list remaining looks down on me with contempt, it’s never pleased, never satisfied, it watches me attempt to ignore it.

This is my office, this is my space. It’s strange how a dream can feel like a prison.

The clock chimes again, fifteen minutes less.


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Dither and Delay Tactics VI

Almost six months since I wrote in this blog – I am astonished; this length of time is my most impressive delay but it does reflect my ambivalent relationship to my writing at the moment.  After the publication of my collection of short stories, Here and There, I came to a halt.  I wasn’t sure what to write next and as a result I have a number of half finished stories, a few poems and two incomplete novels.  I resorted to writing a few reviews for the blog wenlowdwhisperswordpress.com  and made sure I wrote in my journal in the hope these writing activities would jump start my fiction writing again.  Meetings with my fellow Oswestry writers is always positive.

I think though the lift will come from travelling.  A couple of weeks away in a completely different place is just refreshing.

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Dither and Delay Tactics VI

Well, a record!  A whole summer where my fiction writing didn’t run in conjunction with other activities – travelling on the narrow boat, walking the dog, gardening, cooking, swimming – it just disappeared.  When I had any time to write it was spent on concrete and sensible projects: appraising, editing and commenting on other people’s writing; writing presentations on WWI poets, Australia and WWI and Assisted Passage to Australia; and letters – lots of letters.  A lot of writing was devoted to filling in forms which involved surviving wobbles in digital competence and collapses in technical comprehension.  And, of course, I published my book, Here and There A Collection of Short Stories.  Now available on Kindle!

There is a degree of complacency and relaxation which arrives with the printed volumes and sighs of joy, relief and satisfaction after the launch.

It takes a while for the urgent need to pick up a pen and write to kick in again. And then something comes along and it is just so important to write.



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Here and There A Collection of Short Stories

I have sent my book to the printers, Clays, and expect a few boxes from them in time for the launch on 21st June at The Willow Gallery.  Very excited!

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