Wednesday, 20 February 2019

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Open Manuscripts 19th February 2019.

There was a review of Erskine Group attendees for the SAW Conference in March.

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Kate rhyming story was of a child dreaming of an exhilarating experience of dancing with creatures in the sky. On waking, the child found a piece of a sky rocket in his pocket.

Elizabeth doubted the pleasure and speed of a freezing cold one horse open sleigh ride in the snow. She would rather forgo the jingle bells and opt for a chauffer driven ride in a Lamborghini on a warm summer’s day.

John told us of his experience as a confused fourteen year old, when his mother was rushed to hospital following a gas explosion in the kitchen. He ha a good excuse for being late for school that day.

Pete’s story was of an encounter between two intrepid hill walkers and an angry pig. The pig had the last laugh.

Joan Fr. read a piece inspired by her time helping young offenders. She used their vernacular to explain how the youngsters had been castigated by their extreme backgrounds

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There were two stories resulting from by the exercise during the previous week’s workshop by Ajay Close.

Pete’s story was of a young Mother recuperating after an illness during Christmas. She re discovers the simple pleasure of being outside and feeling the vagaries of the weather.

Hilary’s character also valued nature as she waited for the late but welcome arrival of the postman on Valentine’s Day.    

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Two people read “Dear John” letters.

Jacklin’s was a letter from a Hotel Manager giving John a persuasive list of reasons why a baby elephant would not be welcome in one of the resort’s ‘Pet-friendly’ rooms.

Morag’s letter was ending a close relationship between two teenagers. It was a relationship which had run its natural course and was ending without bitterness.

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Wilma read two more chapters from her book about the history of Blawarthill Parish Church.

First, were the continuing fund raising activities, particularly the garden fetes.  Food stalls during rationing after the war, the handkerchief stall, ‘sun-shine penny’ and home made recipe books.

Second were the activities of the Woman’s ‘In-between Club’. They included, keep fit classes, cooking, corsetry classes, garden clean-up and tartan night.

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Pete demonstrated text-to-speech software package NaturalReader 14 on a laptop computer. The voice used was Scottish female CereVoice Heather.

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Next week – Recycled Nursery Rhyme – 500 words

Friday, 15 February 2019

Workshop - Short Stories for Magazines - Ajay Close

Ajay Close has a background in journalism but has since had plays and novels published. She is interested in the creative writing process and was at one time Writer in residence in Paisley. She gave us an excellent tutorial and workshop which kept us all engaged and busy writing.

Her topic was writing for Woman’s magazines. (though as she pointed out Weekly News readership is 50% male, 50% female). Not an easy task. Women’s Weekly receives 800 short stories a month, of which they publish 8! She advised polishing the story and also sending it to a friend/ friends to read. A good short story should be like a fine slice of fruitcake. Payment can be from £80 upwards. The short story pays better per word than a novel does.

General Advice
1.       Research the market.
2.       Read the magazine. Don’t try to break the mould and write something quite different. They won’t take it.
3.       Follow the mag’s guidelines and rules. Remember they are a commercial operation selling a product. They know what sells.
4.       Aim for a contemporary feel eg people use smart phones. Don’t write about the elderly as lost in the modern world. Avoid slang: it will either be out of date or readers won’t understand it.

     The fiction editor may just read the first paragraph and decide from that if the story is worth taking.

People’s Friend
   Ajay handed out copies of advice from the People’s Friend website and highlighted some aspects about readership, (30 to 80+) the kind of adjectives used to describe the stories such as tender, touching, amusing, moving, charming. She advised us also to look on line at the Women’s Weekly website.

Themes, topics, settings
Weekly News will take stories about death, illness, fear, as long as there is a happy ending. Avoid shocking endings.
Magazines often like setting to be geographically vague, so relevant to all. Don’t use dialect, though you can put in some dialect words.
May help to imagine your story as a film. Max 4 characters.
Plots and settings to avoid
Historical setting
Graphic scenes of murder or sex
A straightforward romance where boy meets girl and they live happily ever after
A story where narrator is revealed to be a child, a fox, a tree, an inanimate object
Policeman who turns out to be a singing telegram
Husband’s secret lover is a man
Tampering with car brakes
Nosy neighbours

Ajay read out various possible plots/ settings/ characters and we discussed whether or not they would be suitable for Woman’s mag and why.
Cinderella’s ugly sister
Mother abandons baby in plastic bag
Road rage
Time running backwards
Old lady selling ‘antiques’ she has made to dealer
Babies switched at birth
Avoid the formulaic!

How do people read?
Ajay pointed out we should understand how people read. The reader is alert, he/she stores away every crumb, trying to second guess where the story is going. Reader is hyperaware.
So therefore, only put in details which you are going to use, which have a purpose. If you put in what seems like a significant detail and then don’t use it the reader will feel short-changed. Everything must pay off.   It is often quoted that Chekhov said that if in Act 1 of a play you have hung a pistol on the wall, someone must fire it in Act 2.
Don’t bore the reader with literal truth. You need artificiality to make fiction feel real.

Ajay gave us a sheet Creating a character- a few pointers
In fact 13 pieces of advice! We also at one point discussed if a main character can be unlikeable. In Ajay’s experience people may accept a male main character who is less than sympathetic, but not a female character.
Caring about the character is an important factor in what makes a reader read on.
A well-chosen detail eg faint smell of TCP is better than a detailed description.

Names of characters
Vitally important. We guessed from a list Ajay read out which names were names of real people and which were fictional characters. Avoid John and Margaret. NB Editors may change name.
Name can give region, sociological status, era. Ajay suggested that names with unusual letters are more memorable eg  x, z, q, k  Some characters have suitable names like Ian Rankin’s Rebus or  names used ironically like Janice  Galloway’s Joy in The Trick is to Keep Breathing.
Be bold re characters even ordinary-seeming people can have something weird about them.
Eg woman who keeps a motorbike in front room.
Blurred line between character and plot--- character drives plot but character also reacts to things which happen.

We all chose and shared a memorable male and female name.

Use sparingly because dialogue uses up a lot of words in a short story. Edit, turn up the contrast between two characters. Readers get the point quickly, so don’t use waffle or repeat things.

Concept to describe the fact that each of us has a particular way of speaking eg  vocab, swear words, slang, er and umph, like, you know, giggle, nervous laughter, and stuff.    We all speak with a recognisable vocal pattern. This is useful for the writer who then does not always need to write     said Richard, replied Anna.

We were asked to write down at least 5 things which we find
ie which have an emotional effect.

Then we were asked to start writing a short story incorporating some of what we had listed
Followed by 25 minutes silence as we all wrote!

NB Ajay also gave us a sheet on presentation of story when we submit it and on re-selling stories in another country.

A most enjoyable couple of hours. Thanks Ajay for giving us information, challenges, inspiration and fun!

Posted by Morag Moffat.

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

5 Feb 2019. Open Manuscripts

Jack continued to look for comments and suggestions on his ‘Sci Fi’ story of a man resuscitated many years after he had been drowned.

He explored the relationships, good and bad, with his now much older family and how the story might come full circle.

He was also looking for ways to present a potentially novel sized story in an abbreviated form.

Pete led us to believe we were hearing banter between a young couple discussing their wedding rehearsal. We then found it was not quite the type of rehearsal we were expecting.

Kate gave us two poems.

The first was of a voyage of exploration through the contents of a handbag in order to retrieve one item from amongst a host of long forgotten ‘treasures’.

The second explored the possible benefits of common sense versus a university degree when bringing up a family of children.
Hilary’s short story was about reluctant car boot sale browser who was persuaded to purchase a cardboard box full of keepsakes including a brooch which she immediately pinned to her coat.

Later that day the distraught previous owner recognised the brooch. The cardboard box and contents were returned and both ladies happy with the explanation and the outcome.

Wilma read another chapter from her proposed book on the history of Blawarthill Parish Church.

This section concentrated on the Church Choir. As well as being a religious choir, the group also performed concerts which led to social life outwith the church.

It allowed them to temporarily escape from everyday chores. Wilma detailed the ‘dressing up’ for the concerts, the travel logistics and the setting up of the sound equipment at the venues.

Joyce worried over the modern meaning of the word ‘celebrity.’ Previously one had to do something outstanding to become a celebrity. It now appears that via the media a person can become famous for being famous.

Just who are the participants of “I’m a celebrity, get me out of here.”?


Next week:- Workshop.  Short Stories for Magazines.  Ajay Close.

Thursday, 31 January 2019

29 January 2019 – Paul Kelbie – Magazine and Newspaper Articles.

Our guest speaker this week described himself as a Hack Journalist. Paul Kelbie, originally from Aberdeenshire, has worked as a Freelancer for a variety of newspapers such as the Daily Mail, Times, Telegraph, Observer and Financial Times. He is currently the reporter for the magazine Scotland Correspondent which is a free website publication covering all things Scottish He offered the following advice on pitching an article to a magazine or newspaper.

First and foremost was to check the magazine and become familiar with its contents. The next step was to ensure you were pitching to the right person and on the appropriate day of the week depending on the subject matter. Simple things to avoid your story being ‘spiked’, ie rejected at the outset, were to ensure you spelt your contact’s name correctly and to type your pitch in the body of an email and not as an attachment. Attachments would not be opened as there was the possibility of a virus being passed on. The catchline should consist of only eight to ten words.

Your pitch should indicate why you think it’s a good idea and why it’s timely and should consist of only three to five paragraphs. He also advised never to send it in a hurry; to leave it for a while then return to it as you would probably find points you wished to edit or improve upon. Unless it’s a travel article written in 1st person, the article would normally be in 3rd person. It should be concise and factual and include quotes of one or two sentences from any experts or interested parties. Sources of information should be credited. He explained there was no copyright on an idea and suggested that you pretend you are in a pub and telling a story.

If your pitch is accepted, ensure you retain your rights. Check the length required for the article, the deadline and who should provide images. Establish whether it is a negotiated fee or a kill fee, ie a fee paid if the article is not used. Finally, to follow up with a telephone call if you don’t hear anything and offer to send again.

A very informative session with Paul which was enjoyed by all.

Posted by Wilma Ferguson

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Kathleen Hammond 1927- 2019

Erskine Writers have had the pleasure of Kathleen’s writing’s over several years.

With her stories of growing up in the Kent countryside, the listener was given a unique picture of her home life and her adventures with her sister. She wrote to capture her life, as a gift for her for family, but her stories touched all who heard them.

Kathleen’s also wrote poems, which were very intuitive and meaningful.

                          Butterfly Emerged

                 Take my hand and rejoice with me,
                  Lift up your heart and sing,
                  From the valley of shadow and the vale of tears,
                  I’ve emerged like a new born thing.

Kathleen died 9th January 2019. 

Her family will miss her greatly; as will we.

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

22 Jan 2019. Open Manuscripts

As an extra element to this week’s Open Manuscripts, Hilary had asked us to look out for incidents which might give inspiration to the plot for a story.

Morag, whilst driving, had noticed a fine old tree which had been recently split down the middle. What was the cause? Could it be a metaphor? 

Whilst using a taxi abroad, the driver needed to use a phone to establish the location of her hotel. Was he really trying to get directions or was he plotting her kidnap?

Elspeth overheard part a family conversation. “Where’s Jack?” asked the boy. “We don’t talk about Jack.” replied the father.”

Pete had noted three incidents possibly worth of short stories: a slow walking lonely lady, an unlikely metal detectorist and a driver apparently lost on a roundabout. 

He has recently bought a pottery haggis whistle and reminisced about how, as a boy, he used to blow on one to round up the haggis herd on the family farm.

John had recently met an old friend and their main topic of conversation appeared to be the discipline, rules and difficulties of dealing with wheelie bins. His poem told of a mid night mini adventure to put out the correct bin ready for that week’s pick up.

On his recent visit to weightwatchers, he had only just managed not to laugh out loud when he found the group leader to be a physical and verbal caricature of a character in TV weight watching comedy.

Fiona told a story of her observation of the chance encounter of two people in a bar. The man usually came in with his family. The lady normally had her own circle of friends. After a few warm-up drinks, an obvious friendship developed. At the end of the evening, they separated with a less than formal kiss. Did either of them recall that kiss when they next visited that same bar with their normal circle of acquaintances?
Hilary overheard a mother in a library to her young son “You stay with your friend until Mummy gets back.” Hilary’s story imagines herself being adopted for a while by the child and persuaded to read to him a dragon story. Mum came back and collected the boy; apparently none the wiser.

Joyce read the synopsis of a potential serial suicide mystery novel. Were they really suicides or were they disguised murders? Joyce wasn’t yet sure.

Pete read his entry to the Women’s Short Story competition. A troubled soldier on sick leave stumbled across an ex military couple. He caused them to recall their own times of trauma whilst serving in Afghanistan.

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Next week:   Workshop  -  Articles  -  Paul Kelbie.