Stephen Oliver is a prolific writer of short stories most of which occupy the Science Fiction and Fantasy genres.
Shuttlers is his first full length novel. I was privileged to read it prior to publication and enjoyed it thoroughly. Stephen is the consummate story teller the book is imaginative, original and not to be missed.
After reading the manuscript as it was then, I gave him my order for the first paperback print copy. If you can’t wait for the print edition the ebook is available now on Kindle,
Trouble is brewing across the Multiverse, and Justin Wilson, a young inter-reality smuggler, is in the thick of it. Alternate versions of the Earth are being raided, plundered and even accidentally destroyed, by Shuttlers, beings like Justin who can slip between realities with ease.
The story begins when Justin is arrested for smuggling forbidden books from his world into another by Pol Atkinson. Pol is a patrolman of the Sidewise Directorate, the organisation set up to prevent further damage to all these defenceless worlds. Justin eventually decides to work together with Pol to avert a conspiracy from gaining control of all of Earth’s alternate realities everywhere.
Forget about reaching for the stars, which may be impossible, and explore the infinite variations of our own world, where anything can and will happen!
This post is from the very talented Valerie Fish. Not only is Val a terrific storyteller but she is an absolute star in the world of limericks.
We are fortunate to have in our writing group, the extremely talented, Tessa Thomson, who writes the most beautiful poetry which often induces teary eyes round the table when recited at our monthly meetings…
Then at the other end of the scale, there’s me and my bawdy limericks! Well to be fair, they’re not all like that, although members of the clergy do have a tendency to misbehave…. And there’s a difference between being risqué and downright rude, I would hate to offend anybody.
I have been composing limericks for years, I have hundreds of them, enough for a book, which may be one day I’ll give a try.
What is it about a limerick that I find so attractive? I love that sing-along A A B B A rhyme meter (an anapaestic trimester, I’ve just learnt); I love the challenge of composing something that hopefully will make people smile, and I like to inject something different into my limericks, get that final twist. Sometimes it will take ages to find the right word, not the poshest or the longest, but the right word; it can make all the difference.
Where do my ideas come from? Sometimes I will have a prompt; in my early days, my local radio station ran a weekly limerick competition, incorporating a place in Cambridgeshire.
This was my winning gem:
This is from a while back, when Eastender’s viewing figures were a lot higher than they are nowadays…
At a fancy dress do down in Bury
Maid Marian had a drop too much sherry
It wasn’t young Robin
Who had her heart throbbin
‘Twas Little John who made Marian merry!
I am a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, where it pays (actually it doesn’t!) to be topical.
After Phil’s Christmas cracker with Mel
She decided to kiss and tell
To her best mate Lisa
Who gunned down the geezer
In a classic crime passionelle
And a couple more with a soupcon of Francais.
Late for school, couldn’t get out of bed
I’ve been summoned to see the head
In a fait accompli
No detention for me
Sir’s been given the sack instead
The wife got wind of our affair
When she came across a blonde hair
In the marital bed
(She’s a flaming redhead)
It’s au revoir to the au pair
My poor hubby doesn’t always fare well, I hope he realises it’s ‘what I call’ poetic licence…
It was all planned, a cruise round the Med
Now thanks to Covid 19, instead
I’m stuck home on my tod
Whist hubby, the daft sod
Is self-isolating in the shed
Last night I dreamt of the Azores
Palm trees, clear blue seas, sun-kissed shores
Was lost in a trice
Woken by hubby’s thundering snores
Here are those naughty men of the cloth….
With his sermon about to begin
The priest had to suppress a huge grin
Cos just minutes ago
Out the back with a pro
He’d committed a cardinal sin
Tired of living a life of vice
She went to her priest for advice
‘You must renounce your sin’
He said with a grin
‘But one last performance would be nice’.
Forgive me, father, I concede
I have sinned in word thought and deed
With Sister Theresa,
She begged me to please her
The poor girl was in desperate need
Followed by a few random risques…
The best man was proposing a toast
But he just couldn’t help but boast
‘Today’s stunning bride’
He drunkenly cried
‘Was yesterday’s notch on my bedpost!’
I just couldn’t believe my eyes
I have never seen such a size
There was no topping
Her melons, so whopping,
She waltzed off with ‘Best In Class’ prize
Under the boardwalk of Brighton pier
A drunken encounter cost me dear
I gave him my all
Up against the wall
The little’ n’s due early next year
Said the dentist, clutching his drill,
‘Now just open wide and sit still,
First a tiny prick,
That should do the trick,
You won’t feel a thing – but I will!’
I’ll finish with a nice clean one for all you animal lovers out there, I know we’ve got at least two here in Whittlesey Wordsmiths.
Lay quivering in his bed
Blankets pulled over his head
‘Whizz bang and pop,
Please make them stop
I’m waiting for walkies’ he said
I hope you have enjoyed this small selection of my work, and in these troubled times have put a smile on your face.
Before we had the Corona Virus, before we were all locked down and isolating Gwen wrote this piece about a recent holiday. Holidays seem like distant memories now.
On a recent journey I could not help but find people’s behaviour fascinating. Some being friendly; others reserved; and others downright aggressive. As the journey progressed observations became very much clearer.
The mum and daughter syndrome: the mother commenting to me, that now she was a widow she could enjoy all things SHE wanted to do, as opposed to her late husband’s dominance. Little did she know she had spawned a duplicate of her husband; a daughter! The daughter was an aggressive type, would barge her way to the front of any queue. Wow betides those poor souls in her way.
The quiet man who gave off the aura of ‘don’t speak to me’ was an interesting personality. He had a partner, whom conversed with him, but his sole intention at the dining table was to eat as much as he could in the time allocated. His partner was quite different. Nice friendly person.
The very tall man, his wife was bent over due to a back problem. Preventing her falling by constantly holding her hand. How dedicated can one be: Never had a chat with him, but on leaving the group he warmly shook your hand saying ‘it was a pleasure to have met you?’
The sad lady who had dementia and caused a lot of anxiety for her friend, who had not realised she was so confused. Her wanderings around the various hotel lobbies very early in the morning asking when the coach was leaving and having her bags packed. She realised on some occasions she was confused. It made life difficult for her friend, most of the group supportive when needed.
The gentleman who requested they change his bottle of freshly squeezed orange juice as this one contained too many pips. He got his way after many arguments. His face was not dissimilar to a beautiful pencil drawing on display in one of the hotel lounges. The said ‘orange juice man’ was extremely tall and as we were in Viking country I would have enjoyed researching his family history.
The various nations with whom we shared our hotels with were varied. One nation in particular took it upon themselves to attempt to clear the buffet of all foods. Hiding loaves of bread, butter pats and boiled eggs into every orifice that was available to fill. Life is very interesting when you are travelling and gives me lots of ideas to write stories about.
Thursday saw The Whittlesey Wordsmith’s first virtual meeting via Zoom. Stephen Oliver kindly hosted the meeting Cathy Cade did much of the organising thank you very much Cathy and Stephen.
Considering it was our writing group’s first attempt, as slightly older members of society, it went remarkably well. A few members were too unsure of their technical skills to try it. Gwen had problems seeing us and being seen, Sandra had synchronisation problems with her device or signal. Six of us started the meeting, five managed it right through.
The meeting followed its usual form in cyber space as it does in real life, plenty of wondering off topic and anecdotes but as usual an interesting conversation. Jane found it easier as she was able to see everyone’s faces and could lip read more easily.
It is was not as good as a real life meeting but it was nice to chat to friends and see their faces. Hopefully we can address the technical issues before next month, if we need to have another virtual meeting.
As an excercise our U3A writing group members each wrote a short piece about their favourite poems and included the poem or poems in the piece. Over the following months we will be publishing the contributions on this blog.
The first piece in this series is by Val Fish, it seems a strange time of the year to use this example but we are approaching spring, a time of renewal, new growth and the hope for better things. We can only have spring after winter the sun can only rise after it has gone down.
For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon
Inspiration for ‘For The Fallen’
Laurence Binyon composed his best known poem while sitting on the cliff-top looking out to sea from the dramatic scenery of the north Cornish coastline. A plaque marks the location at Pentire Point, north of Polzeath. However, there is also a small plaque on the East Cliff north of Portreath, further south on the same north Cornwall coast, which also claims to be the place where the poem was written.
The poem was written in mid September 1914, a few weeks after the outbreak of the First World War. During these weeks the British Expeditionary Force had suffered casualties following its first encounter with the Imperial German Army at the Battle of Mons on 23 August, its rearguard action during the retreat from Mons in late August and the Battle of Le Cateau on 26 August, and its participation with the French Army in holding up the Imperial German Army at the First Battle of the Marne between 5 and 9 September 1914.
Laurence said in 1939 that the four lines of the fourth stanza came to him first. These words of the fourth stanza have become especially familiar and famous, having been adopted by the Royal British Legion as an Exhortation for ceremonies of Remembrance to commemorate fallen Servicemen and women.
Laurence Binyon was too old to enlist in the military forces, but he went to work for the Red Cross as a medical orderly in 1916. He lost several close friends and his brother-in-law in the war.
For The Fallen
With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.
Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.
They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.
But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;
As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.
Laurence Binyon 1869 – 1943
I was privileged to perform on the stage at The Broadway Peterborough in 2014, in the ‘Sing for Life’ ladies’ choir, to raise funds for a new wing at Sue Ryder’s Thorpe Hall Hospice.
On the 100th Anniversary of the beginning of the First World War, we sang an adaptation of ‘For The Fallen’ by Rowland Lee.
In the final few bars, we were as stunned as the audience as poppies came falling from above onto the stage. It was a moment I’ll always treasure.
About two years ago I joined the local U3A Writing group as its third member. At my first meeting in Whittlesey’s Not Just Cafe, I was able to read a chapter from Wendy Fletcher’s autobiography. It was unfinished and hadn’t a title but it was for me a work of exceptional quality. Today the first-ever print copy was delivered to Wendy she brought it to the Writing Group (Whittlesey Wordsmiths) meeting opened the envelope and together with Wendy, we had the first sight of it.
This is the foreword
Against a backdrop of the Cambridgeshire fens, lies the
small market town of Whittlesey. Here are many features
of historical and architectural interest, including two
medieval churches, a 17th century Butter Cross and rare
examples of 18th century mud boundary walls.
Less well known, but still quite remarkable, are the pair of
Victorian railway carriages which stand just outside the
Originally built for Great Eastern Railways in 1887,
they have been home to Wendy’s family since 1935.
Now, for the first time, Wendy shares the fascinating
story of her childhood, growing up as a Railway Carriage
Child in the mid to late 20th century.
With a wonderful memory for detail, she paints a
picture so vivid that we are there with her.
Through the eyes of an exuberant child, whose
imagination outpaced her years, we meet the characters
central to her life: an ancient Granny, still governed by the
old fen traditions of an earlier era, a domineering Mother,
a long-suffering Father, and Grandfather who died before
her birth but still inspires her dreams.
With the humour of hindsight, Wendy brings alive a
time when life moved at a gentler pace.
The final chapter follows Wendy as she returns to live
in the carriages as an adult, continuing the renovation and
preservation, to ensure that they survive for another
She shares her thoughts on people watching and how the way they interact with each other and their surroundings. These thoughts inspire her stories that form from the pictures in the mind’s eye. An interesting piece, an observation on observations.
Wendy’s new book, The Railway Carriage Child is launching soon for details follow this blog or follow the link to her site at the end of her post
I started watching people having conversations and wondered what they might be saying to each other.
Poetic licence allowed me to record these conversations without ever hearing a word.
Body language played a big part in this.
Were the couple on a bench leaning in close?
Were their knees touching?
Did they hold each other’s eyes as they talked?
Another couple in a restaurant looked far more distracted. He pushed his vegetables around with his fork. She wiped her mouth nervously with her napkin.
A man with a dog sat in the park. Every time he threw the stick, the dog bounded back, dropped it readily and waited for a fuss. The man leaned over and gave him a hug; not just a pat but a real hug.
Here were characters for a story.
Without eavesdropping, without intruding, I could incorporate their unspoken dialogue into an imaginary scene.
Maybe the young couple were being drawn closer together by some adverse reaction to their relationship. Did they face opposition from parents who perhaps thought them too young for a serious commitment?
Could the older couple in the restaurant be those parents, could they be disagreeing about handling the situation?
And the man in the park; probably Granddad, lonely after the death of his wife, relying on the closeness he feels with his dog, but about to realise how much his wise words are valued by his family as he steps into the role of mediator; to listen to the concerns of his daughter and son-in-law, to feel the pain of his grandson, torn between teenage love and parental concern.
Yes, the idea is growing. I can meld together this family of characters who have never met.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
Wendy’s interesting perspective, it really is another way of seeing things.
Val’s piece about Plagiarism probably touched a nerve with most of us. We do not write in isolation, somehow screened from the real world and its influence.
When I first learned to write, aged about four, I traced the shape of letters that had been designed by someone else; A, B, C and D were not my invention.
Within a year or so, I was putting those shapes together to write my first words: C-A-T and D-O-G. Again, there was nothing original here.
It is just a myth that we writers produce anything original. We are not the proverbial chimps sitting at a keyboard and likely to produce a masterpiece if we are given enough time.
The secret of good writing and, perhaps more importantly, staying out of trouble, is to be inspired, influenced, led by others, but to build our own framework on which to hang these snippets.
An analogy might be that we see leaves blowing in the wind and scoop them up, then drape them on a branch where they form an interesting and unique pattern. We don’t uproot whole trees.
With this in mind, I would like to tell you about my latest collection of leaves.
I have been unable to drive for the last three months and have relied on public transport. The conversations that I have overheard have been an eye-opener of some magnitude. You wouldn’t believe what goes on in the Fens.
So, if you have been travelling in East Anglia, over the last few weeks, you might want to see if you can spot a few words from that lengthy discussion you were having on the bus.
“Well, it was only this morning I was saying to my ‘usband………’