Jane’s pictures

The Vicar from A Sexagenarian from Smithy Fen drawn by Jane Pobgee

Whittlesey Wordsmiths are having a very productive year, two individual members, Tessa Thomson and Valerie Fish have published their own books. Tessa’s book is of poetry and Valerie’s a collection of limericks. Stephen Oliver has had a number of his short stories accepted for publication, nine at the last count. The Wordsmiths are in the process of completing their two Christmas collections carefully gathered together by Cathy Cade. Cathy is not only an ace editor and proof reader but also a prolific writer too, having published three of her own books. She has had great competition success with her short stories and poetry.Whittlesey Wordsmiths have also benefitted from the artistic talent of Jane Pobgee, not only for illustrations in our upcoming collection of children’s Christmas stories but also in Valerie’s and Tessa’s books.

Finding my Voice by Tessa Thomson
A Sexagenarian from Smithy Fen

These are a few of Jane’s drawings.

Santa’s House from Tessa’s book
Rough Sleeper from Tessa’s Book
Naughty vicar from Valeries book
Incy Wincy from Val’s book.

Jane’s drawings have a beautiful simplicity and capture the essence of the poem, limerick or story they accompany perfectly.

Here is just one, from the upcoming children’s Christmas stories.

This is the Naughty Fairy, from Jan Cunningham’s story by the same name

Santa’s Little Secret

 

This slightly unusual Christmas story was penned by Stephen Oliver, we hope you enjoy it

Santa’s Little Secret

Santa Claus sat in his office and stared out of the window overlooking his new workshop, musing about recent changes in his circumstances.

Fli’i, his head foreman, broke in on his thoughts by knocking politely on the doorjamb in lieu of the door.

There wasn’t one. Santa had implemented his new ‘open door’ policy by removing the door completely. It had seemed the easiest way to do it at the time.

“Good news, Boss,” Fli’i cried. “Production is up by over 300%!”

“That’s good to hear, Fli’i. What with the world market expanding at the rate that it is, increasing production was the only choice we could make.”

“Right, Boss. You want me to see if I can get any more out of them?”

“Why not? You’re doing such a great job. See how much farther you can push them.”

“Okay, Boss. Will do.”

Fli’i wandered out of the office.

I should have done this years ago, Santa thought to himself. It would have saved me so much trouble. This city is much better than the North Pole ever was.

He lost himself in reverie.

The trouble had started when a union organiser on an Arctic safari had strayed from the rest of his companions during a blizzard. He had nearly died before he stumbled into the village during the slack season, just after Christmas, when the elves were relaxing after the seasonal rush.

Since the little ones had nothing much to do, they gathered around him to help during his recovery. Unfortunately, that meant that they heard all of his ravings, as well. Worse, they actually believed the crap he was spewing.

The next thing Santa knew, they had unionised themselves and were making demands. Among other things, they wanted increased pay and reduced hours.

The reduced hours he could understand. Things usually started out slowly enough, but by Easter, they had to begin picking up the pace. The second half of the year got so bad that they were working 24/7. He was lucky that the perpetual sunshine made it harder for them to track time. He wished he didn’t have to work them so hard, but demand had been growing for years.

More pay was an even bigger joke, because he didn’t pay them a penny.

The elves had wandered into this dimension after losing a war in their own. They were such a sorry bunch that he took pity on them. Males and females alike were malnourished and weak. It had taken him months to build their strength up again. In gratitude, they accepted his offer of work and long-term protection.

He had exotic foods imported, at great expense, just to keep them happy and productive. Each of them could eat as much as they liked whenever they wanted to.

They all got to keep some of the toys they made, too, although they never seemed to get the hang of smartphones and games consoles. They could make them, of course, but didn’t know what to do with them afterwards.

They didn’t need money at all.

Santa had always thought of them as a bunch of lovable but simple children. It was because of this trait that the organiser had been able to corrupt them.

He still remembered the first (and only) meeting he had had with the union organiser and his ‘shop stewards.’

When he read the list of ‘demands,’ the first thing that struck him was that the writer had no idea of the real needs of the elves. It was evident from the outset that the union man had been behind the list. For one thing, elves couldn’t even spell such complicated words as ‘intransigency’ or ‘compartmentalisation,’ let alone understand what they meant.

Instead of listening to the man’s rants, he tried to remember why his face looked so familiar. He recognised the heavy jowls, the florid cheeks, the overbearing sneer on the lips. He knew he had seen it before, but he couldn’t recall where it had been.

He was still racking his brains when the man stood up, leant threateningly on the table, and began screaming at him.

A name floated up from the past.

Frederik Augustus Tyranus Silenus Osternic.

As a chubby young boy, he had been mercilessly teased because of his initials: FATSO. He had retaliated by becoming the biggest bully, in turn, at the school, his workplace and, finally, the union he joined when he started his first job.

Santa had to smile when he remembered just how many sacksful of coal he had delivered to the Osternic household over the years.

Osternic took the smile the wrong way, thinking that Santa was being condescending to him. He recalled all the disappointing Christmases when his parents used his ‘presents’ to heat the house. This was his chance to get his revenge on Santa, and he was going to enjoy every moment!

Santa was quiet and logical, tearing each of Osternic’s ridiculous demands apart and showing their inherent idiocy. By the end of the meeting, the man’s arguments had been reduced to shreds, and he slunk out of the meeting with his metaphorical tail between his legs.

The revolution began the next day.

At first, it had been little more than a small strike. Some of the elves laid down their tools and refused to work. A few hours later, entire workshops stood idle, raw materials piled up on all sides. Elves hung around, looking bored, wondering what on earth they were supposed to be doing with themselves.

The initial act of sabotage may have been spontaneous, but Santa was pretty sure that Osternic was behind it, somehow. Others followed soon after, then open warfare broke out between different factions.

The gravity of the situation only became apparent when Santa realised that it wasn’t a fight between elves loyal to him and those against him. They were fighting about who was going to be in charge after they had strung him up from the North Pole itself, which stood just in front of his house.

At this point, flight was the only option.

He almost lost his life when they found him fastening the magic reindeer to the sleigh. Fortunately, he was able to jump in with his wife and children, who grabbed as many of the loyal elves as they could. Fli’i, Floo’hoo, Markio and Wialid, his four foremen, plus their spouses, accompanied the family into exile.

By the time they finally landed in the city, the revolution was over.

The last that Santa had heard from the area was that they were trying to set up a workers’ cooperative under the rule of President for Life Osternic. The aim of the new government was to take over his function as Father Christmas.

He wished them well, but somehow doubted they would succeed. With no production facilities, due to the destruction of all the workshops, and no imports or exports, since the only flying reindeer had left with Santa, their future was going to be very bleak.

His own future hadn’t looked much brighter at the moment. He was still trying to persuade his suppliers to let him have the raw materials they could no longer deliver to the North Pole, when Floo’hoo came into his office, full of excitement.

He had been on a purchasing trip with his mate, standing on her shoulders under a long coat. They had stopped off in the Far East and had accidentally wandered into a sweatshop. Seeing how the people there were working twelve hours or more a day for little pay, they realised that this method could help keep the production costs down.

“We can’t do that,” Santa protested. “It’s unethical and unfair.”

“Boss, we worked for nothing,” protested Roo’har, Floo’hoo’s mate.

“Yes, you did,” Santa replied. “Except that you loved your work, you were well fed, and you got all the toys you wanted. Unlike these people, you don’t need sleep, either. Plus, I have been protecting you from the Xarilii, who were trying to wipe out your species. They still are, as far as I know.”

“He’s right, my sweet,” Floo’hoo added, reluctantly. “He’s never made any profit out of this. Instead, he’s always looked after us out of his own pocket. These people are being exploited because they have no other choice. We had a good thing going with our bargain. Oh woe, that we ever listened to that madman.”

“It was such a lovely idea, too,” Roo’har lamented. “Isn’t there some way we can implement it anyway?”

“I don’t know how,” Santa replied sadly.

He did finally get his personnel problem sorted out, with a little outside help.

His memories were interrupted by Fli’i’s knock on the doorjamb.

“I’m sorry to interrupt your planning, Boss,” he apologised, “but I’ve got someone here who insists on seeing you at once.”

“Who is it, Fli’i?”

The elf’s expression was embarrassed and somewhat worried.

“I’m afraid it’s… your brother.”

Oh dear, Santa thought to himself, he’s come to see how I’m getting on, now that I’ve had to go to him for help. No doubt he wants to gloat, as well.

His brother brushed Fli’i lightly aside as he walked in. His red suit was trimmed with sable instead of ermine, and his beard was as black as Santa’s was white. Otherwise, it was plain to see that they were twins.

His brother sat down uninvited and gave a pointed glance out of the window into the workshop.

“How are they doing?” he asked abruptly. “Are they all that I promised?”

“They are. I’m not going to ask you where you got them from because I already know that. What I want to know is, what inducements are you using to get them to work 24/7 without pay?”

“Oh, that’s an easy one,” his brother smiled. “I’ve promised them that, if they continue to work like this, I won’t send them back again.”

“That would work, I suppose,” Santa acknowledged, albeit reluctantly. “Is there any particular reason you’re helping me? Some nefarious plan you’re cooking up behind my back?”

“Can’t I just be helping you out of the goodness of my heart?”

Santa’s expression was as sardonic as his brother’s.

“Anyone else, maybe. You, no. You don’t have any goodness.”

“Ah well, maybe I deserve your mistrust, given our history together. Let’s just say that I don’t want to see your little enterprise fall flat on its face after all these years, and leave it at that, shall we?”

He stood up and walked over to the window. Standing and looking out over the hive of activity in the workshop, he went on.

“Actually, I have been having some space problems recently, especially the numbers of inferior people I’ve been getting. Your need for workers is helping me get rid of some the losers I’ve acquired over the years. It’s a win-win situation for both of us.”

He turned back and looked at Santa.

“Admit it, I’ve been a real help to you, haven’t I?”

“Yes, brother, you have. I’ll eat crow and say: ‘Thank you very much.’ Satisfied?”

“Eminently. Ah, I see your wife is bringing us tea and some of her excellent cake.”

His brother turned back to watch the workers below while Mrs Claus busied herself with the contents of her tray.

Isn’t it ironic how unimaginative our father-mother Antas was? Santa thought to himself. He-she couldn’t even think of two names that weren’t anagrams of his-her own.

In the meantime, His Infernal Majesty Satan, Monarch of All the Hells, turned away from his contemplation of the damned toiling in his brother’s workshop to accept a cup of tea and a slice of Victoria Sponge.

Stephen Oliver

How to deal with Writers Block

This post is from Stephen Oliver author of “Unleash Your Dreams: Going Beyond Goal Setting”. It gives inspiration and practical suggestions for those suffering from Writers Block. It is a long post but difficult to condense and yet retain his useful advice.

photography of brickwall
Photo by Fancycrave.com on Pexels.com

 

Dealing with Writers Block

A couple of years ago, I received an email in connection with a post I made on the TUT Writer’s Group on Facebook. The writer asked me about how to become a writer and how to deal with writer’s block. The following is based on my reply.

When it comes to writing, I would like to know where your writer’s block lies, so that I can give you more targeted advice. However, I can give you the following points, to begin with.

What sort of writing do you want to do?

Are you intending to write fiction or non-fiction? I do both, and each needs its own way of looking at things.

Fiction

If you want to write fiction, do you know what sort of story you want to write? Is it romance, general fiction, erotica, fantasy (science fiction, dark fantasy or horror, sword and sorcery, urban fantasy, to name but a few)? Is it a novel or a short story? Whatever type you want to write, you need to do some reading in that genre, just to get a feel for what is acceptable to the reading public. I, for instance, have read all of the above-mentioned fantasy types for years. You don’t want to copy them, of course, but you do need to know the kind of stories that are available.

Sometimes, a story you read will trigger an idea of your own. You might like the story and want to know what happened next. Why don’t you write about that? This is where a lot of fanfiction comes from.

If the story took place years ago, why not rewrite it into modern times? West Side Story is really Romeo and Juliet set in 20th century New York, for instance. The Lion King is a modern take on Hamlet. One of the short stories I’m about to publish is my take on Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid. And so on.

At other times, you might think to yourself “I don’t like the way that story turned out.” So why not write your own version, giving it the ending you would have liked?

Or you read a story and imagine something completely different, that’s still somehow connected with the original, like my story about a modern Frankenstein.

Television and movies are other good sources of ideas. Just as I mentioned above, they can trigger thoughts and ideas that lead to a story.

I’ve also had ideas that have come from dreams and daydreams. You just have to be open to your thoughts. There are stories that I have started writing with nothing more than a single phrase or concept.

To throw a couple of ideas out to you:

  • What would it feel like to be immortal? You know that everyone you love will one day be gone, while you have to carry on without them forever more. How will you live? What will you do? Is there a problem with boredom, because you’ve done it all before? If they reincarnate, will you seek them out again?
  • How about someone whose job is to protect a city, like a superhero, except he can’t remember who he is until the city is about to be destroyed? How does he react until he realises that he’s the one to save the day? How do the inhabitants treat him because he’s always so late coming to the rescue?
  • Or how about a woman who can’t find her car keys, until she remembers that she never learned to drive? Why does she think that she has keys for a car she doesn’t own? Is she suffering from amnesia? Does she have a split personality? Is she channelling someone from a parallel world? Or is a ghost trying to contact her? The possibilities are endless.
  • What is the exact meaning of a company name, like Blue Dog? Does someone have an unusual name? Why do they have it?

These are a few ideas that just popped into my head while I was writing this. Be prepared to think strange things and follow them up.

If you still can’t think of anything, google “writing prompts” with the genre name. You will find thousands of entries to get you started. Amazon also has large numbers of prompt books, often for only £0.99, or a little more.

If you do decide to write, I suggest you keep some sort of notebook to write your ideas down. Personally, I use a program called Evernote (https://evernote.com), which you can get for free. It runs on the PC, Mac, iPhone and iPad, any Android device, etc. What you do is download it on any device you use and then set up an account with them or Dropbox or iCloud, or some other cloud service. Once all devices and their versions of Evernote are synchronised to the same account, if you write something down on one of them, it will be available on all of them within seconds. You need never lose an idea again. Except in the shower; I still have no idea how I can do it there.

If electronic devices are not your thing, and I know people who still prefer old-fashions methods, buy yourself a small reporter’s notebook with an attached pen or pencil. Keep it with you at all times and jot down any ideas you get. Every so often, say once a week, write them up in a bigger notebook or school book. Give it a title like “My Great Ideas Book.” Cherish the ideas as they come, accept them as the gifts from whomever or whatever you think of as a higher power, and they will keep coming. They will increase, and you will soon wonder why you never had any ideas.

Non-Fiction

Although all that I’ve written about above is as true for non-fiction as it is for fiction, non-fiction has a few extra points you need to keep in mind.

First of all, how much do you know about the subject? If it’s something you work with every day, and you know all about it, then you’re set. You just need to work out how to put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard.

If you know a bit, or even nothing at all, then you are going to have to research. There are books available on just about every subject under the sun, many of them cheap or even free, if you know where to look. Try Amazon’s free books, for example, or check out Project Gutenberg for books that are out of copyright. Google the subject and follow any leads you find. Just be aware that there is a lot of useless or even false information out there. As Theodore Sturgeon, a science fiction writer, once said: “90% of everything is crud.”

As you’re doing your research, keep making notes of ideas and concepts that you want to include in your book. As I noted earlier, a notebook or some electronic aid such as Evernote, is an excellent way of keeping everything together. You can even cut and paste whole web pages into it. It doesn’t matter whether everything is neat and tidy, or just a bunch of scribbles and phrases, as long as they make sense to you when you come back to them later.

Once you start writing, you will have to find your personal style. When I’m working on a non-fiction book, I always write as if I’m actually talking to the person. If I’m teaching someone how to use a computer program (and I have written a user manual), it’s as if we’re sitting down together in front the machine and I’m telling them what to type and where to click. This is my style, and I know that there are people who prefer other styles, such as impersonal teacher dishing out commands.

My fiction style varies, depending on the needs of the story.

Whatever you found during your research, don’t write it exactly as you noted it down in the first place because you may find that you are plagiarising someone else’s words. Instead, write it down in your own words, as if you are trying to explain to someone else what it is that you’ve read. Don’t worry if you think you have nothing new to say, it may be that someone else needs to hear it put the way that you can uniquely do it. Say it your own way, and it will be new to someone.

Don’t talk yourself out of an idea just because it’s been done before. Put your own spin on it. Bring in your own personal experiences. You will have your own stories to tell, which will make it unique.

Dr Joe Vitale

Problems

Now, let’s look at one or two problems more carefully.

Ideas are blocked

If you think that your problem lies with writer’s block, try this little trick. If you prefer to work by hand, get a blank piece of paper and a pen or pencil, and write the subject you want to write about at the top of the page. Underline it or draw a box around it, whatever makes you feel that it’s important.

Now, let’s establish a couple of simple rules. First of all, when you start writing, don’t stop! Secondly, you are only allowed to write from left to right and top to bottom. You can’t go back and correct something at the moment; that comes later.

Now, just keep writing whatever goes through your head on the subject. If you find that nothing relevant to the subject comes out, just write whatever you are thinking about, even if it’s about the problem you’re having writing anything down. The idea is to disconnect your creative process from the critical process of editing, silencing your Inner Critic. Once you’ve been writing for five or ten minutes, or whatever feels comfortable, take a break or stop completely

Now is the time to go back and look at what you’ve written. Don’t change anything yet, just read it from beginning to end to see what exactly you have created. If you find something you would like to alter or even delete, make a mental note to come back to it later. If you prefer, mark where the change should be, but don’t actually make the correction yet.

Once you’ve reread it, you can go back and make the changes you thought about earlier. When you’ve finished, use that as a basis for your writing. You can repeat this as many times as you like, until you’re satisfied.

If you’re a computer user and can type fast enough, create a new blank document and start with that. I’ve even used dictation software to get ideas down as quickly as possible.

This is a combination of two different methods that I personally use. The first is Free Writing, where you just allow words to come out of you without censoring them in any way. The second method includes the first as its first stage. This method is called the Disney Strategy and is named after Walt Disney. It’s the way that he and his team of creators brainstormed new ideas for films and features.

If you want to find out more about this and other methods of achieving your goals, I suggest you look at my book “Unleash Your Dreams: Going Beyond Goal Setting”. You can find it on Amazon as both a Kindle eBook (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00EX4FVUI) and paperback (https://www.amazon.com/dp/0992744113), or as an iBook.

Another suggestion I can make is to have multiple projects going on at the same time. For instance, right now I am doing the final clean-up on a collection of science fiction short stories, another one in multiple genres looking for a publisher, two more of the same that are awaiting editing, a fourth collection of stories being written on the same theme, and one other collection as a work in progress. I also have a fantasy novel I’m working on, and a follow-up book to the one that I just mentioned above. If I run out of ideas, or find myself blocked on one of these projects, I simply switch to another one and continue working there. I do this because I’ve come to realise that it’s not really a block, as such. It really means that what I’m working on at the moment isn’t quite ready to be written down yet.

No ideas at all

You said that you have no idea where to start? Is this because you have no ideas? Or is it because you have no idea what tools to use?

If the first one is your problem, please look earlier in this post, where I’ve given you a few pointers on how to start.

If the second one is where you’re stuck, any word processor, such as Microsoft Word or Apple’s Pages, will do perfectly well. I wrote my first book using Word, and it did the job fairly well.

These days, I use a product called Scrivener, which is specially designed with the writer in mind, allowing you to structure your work any which way you like, moving stuff around if it makes more sense that way. You can download a free trial at http://www.literatureandlatte.com, which will run for 30 days of use; if you use it only once a week, it will work for months. If you decide you like it, it only costs about $45 to buy the full licence. There are versions for the PC, Mac, and iPhone and iPad. It even comes with video tutorials available straight from the programme.

Other problems

If your problems lie more in the realm of the actual publication of your writing, we can talk about this on another occasion.

I hope this helps you in your quest to become a writer.

I wish you lots of luck in the future and look forward to hearing from you soon and reading your writing

Warm Regards,

Stephen

Preparation and tweaking

Whittlesey Buttercross
The Whittlesey Buttercross

Our book Where the Wild Winds Blow is in the garage having its final bit of tweaking. It is jacked up off the ground. Cathy and Wendy are wandering about underneath, attractively attired in nice white overalls with lead lights in their hands. Cathy pokes out rogue commas and semicolons with a very large screwdriver. Whilst Wendy has a big spanner in her hand tightening up any loose phrases or sentences dangling underneath. Very soon we will have the sleek new cover fitted and be ready for the off.

Stephen Oliver is making progress with his novel and anthologies, Stuart Roberts with his next book. Cathy Cade, Val Chapman and Val Fish have contributed to the 81 word challenge, I suspect other members have too but don’t know yet. Going on past form Val Fish has probably got entries in the limerick competition.

The Whittlesey Word Forge is ringing with the sound of writing being hammered into shape.

Review: Unleash your Dreams Going Beyond Goal Setting Stephen Oliver

The key to unlocking the potential to set your goals and work towards reaching them with the help of clear text and helpful diagrams. Stephen shares his experience and encourages the reader throughout this journey to success, a lesson for us all, Stephen.