The importance of opening paragraphs

It can never be overstated just how important opening paragraphs are. Faced with a string of innocuous words dealing with a mundane subject, or “I didn’t mean to kill her…” or “The red house on the hill stood out like a beacon. Were the tales she had heard about it true? Amanda shuddered…” which opening are you drawn to? It is commonly recognised that enigmatic first sentences do draw the reader in…
”In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit,” for instance – you can just imagine lots of frowns on lot of faces. J.R.R. Tolkien knew his craft when writing ‘The Hobbit.’ “It was a pleasure to burn” was another frown-maker: courtesy ‘Fahrenheit 451’ written by Ray Bradbury. And what a draw is the sentence – “The man in Black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” From Stephen King’s ‘The Gunslinger.’ All food for thought before you start your next short story/novel!


My U3A – University of the Third Age – Creative Writing Group

I recently did a satisfying mental recap on our small, but successful informal ‘class’. The premise of the U3A is to share our joint knowledge and this seems to work very well on many levels, for we all have different experiences and lives.

With my mind on what we should tackle during the autumn/winter months ahead, I leafed through some of the past homework, which is always an enjoyable pastime. When we started up as a group, most of us were either writing poetry or short stories, with two members working on a novel and a memoir; but for class work, tackled fifty word stories and limericks. Both are fun to do and teach one to be succinct. I’ll share some examples in a future post.

In the autumn, we are all looking forward to literary challenges and to creating more magic with words for our own and readers’, hopeful, enjoyment. Members repeatedly surprise me with their excellent, literary poems and short stories. This is not empty praise! As with everything, one has to start at the beginning, and as time passes, those folk lucky enough to have a ‘feel’ or penchant for writing, grow through experience, practice, skill, or using their innate talent to the full.

Regular members: Sue King, Kathy Rollinson, Margaret Chapman, Natalie Sampford and newer members Jenny Kearney and Carol Drewry – good writers all – each has their own ‘style’ which is sometimes difficult to define. Sue’s sometimes unique turn of phrase can turn an ‘ordinary’ story into a special one, and she has a knack of introducing surprises in her choice of words, and slant on life. Kathy’s descriptive poetry is just that…her work lets your imagination soar… and she ‘paints’ easy word-pictures which delight. Margaret also has a distinctive ‘voice’ and can capture the mundane and make it special; as does Natalie – who writes with clarity, and her poems and descriptive pieces are often evocative, bringing echoes of other lives into your own. Jennie Kearney’s ’punchy’ work is familiar through attending poetry readings and belonging to the Torrevieja Writing group in the past. She tells it as it is…and her often cheeky limericks and amusing poems have left smiles on many faces! As for Carol Drewry, she too is a worthy writer and has had many, excellent travel and other articles published in a local magazine; as well as winning third prize in the popular Torrevieja First Short Story competition in 2005..

As a group, we intend to grow and write, read and learn, and then write, write, write; so watch this space!

Article writing

Journalists are always taught to spell out the HOW, WHERE, WHAT, WHY and WHEN of a story. “Be succinct” they are told, and what good advice it is! More especially valuable when writing short stories and articles, when the ’bones’ really must count. The topic is all important; too much meandering is frowned upon. Articles shouldn’t be written in a showy or high-flown fashion; and short sentences work best. Double-lined spacing is the norm (unless otherwise stated) on size A4 white paper. Always adhere to the specified length and word count when entering competitions or complying with briefs, otherwise your articles will not be accepted. Remember, dialogue brings an article to life, and personal interviews are an added bonus. When using quotations, especially lengthy ones, do make sure that the originator has been dead for one hundred years…or that you have had permission to do so. One big thing in your favour is that there is no copyright on FACT. So, as long as you have done your research and got it right, you can get a lot of life out of just one article by rehashing or adding to it, and offering it for other publications. 

What to read and what not to read?

Fortunately for writers, taste varies enormously. There are those who are simply seduced by a book cover (highlighting the importance of cover/jacket designs). Others, of course, have their favourite authors and can’t wait for their next publication. This, quite naturally, leaves new-fledged writers floundering. Luckily, there will always be the curious (count me in) – lured by the book title, back cover blurb; sometimes the appeal or reputation of the author, and of course, the subject matter. I often read book reviews and am amazed at the variance of opinion and taste lurking in readers. Take the much discussed book: James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses.’ Why was I not surprised that Stephen Fry thought it “One of the greatest masterpieces of modern history” and “wise, warm, witty, affirmative in nature…” (he is, after all, a brilliant intellectual whose taste runs parallel with a universe that I, for one, don’t inhabit). Further down the list were hugely differing opinions on the work. “Experimental and completely unreadable” from one person, and “Pretentious hogwash” from another. You pays your money and takes your choice… I admit to making a huge effort to read ‘Ulysses’ many years ago, and tried again on another occasion, but just couldn’t ‘get hooked.’ I hate being defeated and rarely abandon a book I start to read; maybe I will try again one day. On second thoughts, perhaps not. There’s not enough time to read all the books I really fancy reading.


One has only to think of someone like Dickens to bring vivid characters to mind. I am sure we have all read fairly good stories marred by boring/uninteresting people weaving their bland ways through a tale.

Do make your characters count. Look to your past…Doubtless, you will have met some unusual, noteworthy people in your time. I have been extraordinarily lucky to have had a varied career – often working part-time as an assistant or secretary in various companies. An early favourite, who easily ‘lent’ his personality for later – grateful – use, was a Mr. Sapte or was it Mr. Wilde? – head of a well established company of solicitors in the City of London. I think it was the former…anyway, he was a dead ringer for a comic strip character in a newspaper called ‘Bristow’ – pinstripe trousered with a bald pate. ‘Vertically challenged,’ Mr Sapte was the kindest employee, and when standing, would rock back and forth (to elevate himself?) and often sucked on an unlit pipe. His male secretary (I was a junior) is memorable for reminding me of a small, scrawny-necked vulture, with ‘bum-fluff’ on his chin and a moustache which resembled a light frothing of milk…Very much in Uriah Heap mode, he fawned and gushed over his superior in nauseating fashion, and several times fell over in his speed to open doors for our boss! He was horribly rude to me (an underling) and I have never forgotten him. It’s really quite an honour in a way to have free rein to write, more or less, what one likes. Three cheers for living in the western world. Imagine living somewhere like Russia, India, Pakistan, et al AND being a woman writer!

So, writers, look to your past for inspiration, or look to your imagination, and dish up some memorable characters.

Woody Allen Fan

Surely no-one could more aptly fulfil the meaning of ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ than Woody Allen! He depicts ‘the little guy on the beach with bad fitting trunks and a concave chest, the big guy kicks sand at’ – and yet, what an incredibly talented, intelligent man he is! On the 23rd/24th July, I watched the revealing documentary on Woody, made by Robert Weide for TV. Woody still touch-types on the electric typewriter he bought in the fifties…”An Olympia portable SM3.” And if you’re worried about your haphazard way of writing… it was interesting to learn that he types ideas and pieces of prose on scraps of paper or sheets – sometimes ‘cutting and pasting’ with scissors and a stapling machine! Most of his books and many film-scripts evolved in this way. The fact that he also directs films, plays the clarinet, and occasionally performs stand-up comedy, reveals the man’s range of talents. I have seen many of his films – the most recent being ‘Midnight in Paris,’ which I loved – and seen him perform as an ‘entertainer/comedian’ (on film that is). Long may he reign.

Classic Woody Allen lines:

“His lack of education is more than compensated for by his keenly developed sense of moral bankruptcy.”

“If you’re not failing now and then, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.”

“Not only is there no God – try getting a plumber at weekends!”

Advice to ‘Shrinking Literary Violets’

Ever aware that I too can learn something new every day…writers should never be self-satisfied; that’s ringing the death knell! On the other hand, heed the brief saying:- “If you think you can, you can!” To all you ‘shrinking literary violets’ (I was one too!) out there, please digest that there will always be lesser and greater persons – whatever their calling in life – so don’t get despondent, GET ON WITH IT. If you hide your writings in a drawer, no-one will know you are a writer but you. Years ago, when I sent reams of poems, articles and a few short stories ‘out there’ I received enough rejection slips to paper the loo. Of course I was disappointed but was too ‘in love’ with the magic of words to let it put me off. Like many artistic people, I have been plagued with doubts about my ability to produce something worthwhile, but instead of bowing to pressure and falling by the wayside, I pressed on. Of course you have to work hard, but it can bring its own rewards. Show your mettle – it can be empowering. No-one had to tell me to read a lot, for I found it to be a natural need and pleasure. I can recall one special day – just after I had written a page of prose as an exercise – going to the library and borrowing one of John Steinbeck’s books (I can’t recall which one). Inside that book, he used – practically word for word – a description of a sunset which matched mine. I was jubilant, and that simple sentence told me that I was at least a promising writer and urged me to write on. So, what are you waiting for – share your promise with the world!

Be a (subtle) eavesdropper

It’s surprising what you can overhear on buses, trains and anywhere else for that matter e.g. “And I said to him – don’t talk to me like that, who do you think you are?” “And what did he say then?”
“Well, you shouldn’t have done it!”  Straight away, if you’re a curious writer (and you SHOULD be!) you’re wondering what ‘he’ said and what she did. Innocuous maybe, but bones for a short story perhaps.  You could take it anywhere…

TRUE STORY- I was having coffee, seaside, with my husband on a lovely, sunny day awhile back, and was drawn to a couple seated nearby.  The vibes were there…surely, they’d just met?  Both fortyish, attractive; he German, she Swedish (spoke excellent English) I was intrigued, especially when I overhear snippets about his travels and her family and how neither wanted “Sex per se – I’d have to like the guy!”( her) and “I could have had as many girls as I wanted in Hong Kong, but I wanted more than a quick bonk!”(him) I relayed their conversation to  ‘my girls’ at a writing session (U3A writing group) to ‘take the story from there.’  Four of them produced totally different, excellent tales.  So, don’t forget to keep your ears pinned back wherever you are!