Sunday, 1 October 2017

Coffee Shop Writing Exercises

Hi everyone.

I'm not sure if it's the time of year, the time of life or the HRT I'm currently taking for the menopause but I seem to be in a clearing-out mood at the moment. I have all this energy that I've not had for years and nothing is safe any more, especially if it's been languishing in a cupboard for far longer than it probably should have done.

Writing is not escaping this "new broom" feeling either and I recently dismantled the notebook containing writing exercises that I kept in my handbag. I kept it in my handbag because I used to go into town a lot, sometimes several times a week, and write in coffee shops and cafes. The notebook was very useful for helping to kick-start my writing, especially when the lure of a second cappuccino and another chocolate eclair seemed too difficult to resist.

I thought it might be good if I shared a few of these exercises with you. Of course, you don't need to go into a coffee shop or cafe to try them. They are great for doing anywhere or anytime. And please don't be put off by the word "exercises". We're not talking mental aerobics here. They are just prompts, really. A fun way of getting some words down on paper, that may or may not lead to something which you could incorporate into a longer piece or which might work as the first draft of a stand-alone item.

So here we go. 

1. You are sitting in a coffee shop or cafe and a mysterious man or woman walks by and hands you a piece of paper. They leave before you get a chance to read it. What does it say? What do you do? Who were they?

2. Choose ten people you know and write a one-sentence description for each of them.

3. You acquire the ability to change in size. How do you use this power?

4. Write "The trouble with..." in the middle of a piece of paper and then brainstorm your ideas.

5. You go into a room and discover a cupboard that you have never noticed before. What do you find when you open the cupboard door?

6. Pick an object that you can see in front of you and describe it to a blind person.

7. Open a book or a newspaper at random and select the first noun you see. Repeat with two more random pages. Now write a piece of flash fiction (maximum 150 words) that includes all three nouns in the order in which you found them.

Have fun!


Sunday, 23 July 2017

Self-Publish And Be Damned

Hi everyone.

I hope you are having a good summer if it is summer in your part of the world.

Today I have a big announcement to make. After years of railing against self-publishing and resisting it with every fibre of my writing being such as in this post, I have finally decided to throw my principles out of the window and give it a go after all.

I am currently dusting off all eleven (yes, eleven) of my unpublished children's books which are currently sleeping peacefully in my filing cabinet, along with all the rejection letters from publishers and agents that they have accumulated over the years and starting the process of self-publishing them all.

It has taken me a long time to come to this decision but in the end, my reasons for doing so are as follows:

1. It seems a bit pointless having them all shut away in the filing cabinet when they might as well be out in the world getting rave (or not) reviews on Amazon.

2. Having recently started a new venture of helping other authors with their book publicity and promotion (more of that in a future post) I have realised that the more "products" you have in your shop window, ie your author website, the better.

3. The big Six Zero is looming and frankly, I don't think I have enough time or patience left to wait around while another set of agents and publishers take twelve months to decide to reject a manuscript.

4. Everyone else seems to be doing it and yes, I know the thing about not putting your finger in the fire but if I'm honest, I think a lot of those writers are considerably less experienced than I am.

5. I really like the idea of having total creative control over everything from the manuscript to the cover design to the publicity. It's perfect for a Control Freak like me.

6. The quality of self-published books has improved considerably over the last few years and although it is still difficult to get them taken on by traditional booksellers, there are so many more outlets for points of sale now, especially if you have a really good quality product.

7. The rise of social media and easier access to online reviewers etc means that anyone can do their own book publicity (or hire me to do it for them) without the need for a marketing department behind them.

8. I won't have to be "pigeon-holed" as a writer as I probably would have to be if I was being taken on by an agent or publisher. In other words, if I want to be a children's writer, a non-fiction author and a poet, with self-publishing I can be.

9. It will provide a valuable insight into the whole process of self-publishing which could stand me in good stead for future ventures and also help me to be more empathic to self-published authors who come to me for book publicity and promotion. And I'll have something to blog about.

10. I don't want to be published posthumously!

So off I go on my self-publishing journey and we'll see where it takes me. I'll keep you in the loop.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Publish And Be Damned

Hi everyone.

I hope you are having a good summer wherever you are in the world.

I wasn't expecting to discover this week that I have something in common with former royal butler Paul Burrell but it appears that I have. His book A Royal Duty published in 2003, is based on his experiences as butler to Diana, Princess of Wales who tragically died in a car crash twenty years ago this year. The book caused considerable controversy at the time because of the "revelations" it contained about Diana's private life based on personal letters that Burrell had included in his book.

Nothing unusual there then, given the apparent penchant of ex-employees for spilling the royal beans. What was different about Burrell's book however was that Burrell had not only included letters written by the late princess to himself, but had also included letters written by Prince Philip to his daughter-in-law in the early 1990s.

Princess Diana dancing with John Travolta at the White House
Photo Credit: Ronald Reagan Library (PD)

This brought into focus the whole question of who owns a letter once it has been sent. It's a dilemma that I've been wrestling with ever since I discovered a cache of about eighty letters and postcards hidden at the back of my late mother's wardrobe after her death in 2010.

The letters I found had been written to my grandmother by a close friend of hers called Ethel North. Ethel was lady's maid to Lady Winifred Burghclere, the sister of the 5th Earl of Carnarvon who along with Howard Carter discovered Tutankhamun's tomb. The letters were written between 1919 and 1933 while Ethel was travelling to some very exotic locations with her employer. Although obviously not in the same revelatory league as Burrell's letters, they do contain some fascinating gossip about many leading figures of the day including King George V, Sir Winston Churchill and General Haig.

George V and Queen Mary

As soon as I found the letters I knew almost immediately that I wanted to try and get them published. I started typing them up and researching their content with a view to publishing them as a non-fiction book called My Dear Elsie.

Everything was going fine until I discovered that although I own the actual letters themselves, I don't own the copyright to them. That still belongs to the "residual legatees" of Ethel's estate, in other words her legal heirs.

Despite my efforts to trace the copyright holders, I have reached a bit of an impasse, mainly because it is proving difficult to find out exactly who these legatees are. Ethel had five sisters and most of them had children so there seem to be quite a number of potential copyright holders involved.

Of course, the whole issue of copyright law is rather ridiculous in this situation anyway. It's not as if the copyright holders can do anything with the copyright as they don't own the actual letters because I do. And if I can't do anything with the letters because I don't own the copyright, then no one is ever going to find out what George V used to say to the Prince of Wales when the latter had stayed out all night at a ball or why General Haig could command an entire army but fail to control his teenage daughter! 

A page from one of Ethel's letters

A fellow writer has urged me this week to "publish and be damned" as she feels I've probably already done enough to try and trace the copyright holders. According to an article she kindly sent me in relation to the Burrell book, there is some room for manoeuvre. Apparently there can be a legal defence when it comes to using copyrighted material of "criticism, review and new reporting" which was interesting to discover.

Of course, whether or not I can take the probably faint risk of an expensive lawsuit if any of Ethel's legatees decide to challenge my book, remains to be seen. After all, Burrell seems to have got away with it. On the other hand, I could wait another thirteen years and the letters will be out of copyright anyway as it will be 70 years after Ethel's death. So to publish or not to publish? That is the question.

What do you think I should do?

If you'd like to find out more about Ethel's letters please visit the website

Friday, 12 May 2017

National Limerick Day 2017

Hi everyone.

Happy National Limerick Day 2017! And sincere apologies that I didn't quite manage to "up my game" in terms of blogging as I said I would do in my last post which was way back in November. But "onwards and upwards" as they say.

National Limerick Day is celebrated annually on May 12th every year in recognition of the birthday of the poet, author, illustrator and artist Edward Lear who was born in 1812. His Danish father apparently ended up in debtors prison so Lear had to start earning a living at a very young age. He began as an illustrator for the London Zoological Society and then went to live on the estate of the Earl of Derby. It was there that he wrote his first book of poems A Book of Nonsense which was intended for the grandchildren of the Derbys.

Edward Lear by Wilhelm Marstrand 
Photo credit:

Although Lear went on to write many travel books, he subsequently became most famous for his humorous light verse including such well-known poems as The Owl and the Pussy Cat and The Dong with the Luminous Nose. He is also credited with being the creator of the form and meter of the limerick as we now know it. 

I must admit to having rather a soft spot for the limerick and I have always enjoyed writing them. Maybe it was because one of my first ever writing competition successes was when I won First Prize in the Leicester Limerick Competition run by my local evening paper the Leicester Mercury, way back in 1981.

This was my winning limerick and the prize was £20 which felt like a small fortune in those days.

There was a young lady from Leicester,
Who worked as a steam-roller tester.
One day she fell out
And gave such a great shout,
For she found that the job quite depressed her. 

Many years later in 2008, I was fortunate to have some limericks accepted for publication in The Mammoth Book of Limericks edited by Glyn Rees and published by Robinson. I've just looked on ebay and it's there for under £3.00. A bargain in my opinion!

Here is one of my limericks from the book.

There was an old writer called Reuel,
Whom everyone thought was a fool;
Till he wrote some huge novels 
About hobbits in hovels,
And now he's a literary jewel.

And here is one of my limericks that so far hasn't been published.

One thing that they say about food,
It's supposed to get one "in the mood".
Oysters won't do it 
And neither would suet
But chocolate could get me quite crude!

If you would like to find out more about limericks and try your hand at writing them, there is a useful post here which should give you some tips and prompts:

Have fun!

All the above limericks are Copyright Melissa Lawrence 2017.