Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Just a quick post this week as after blogging last week about Sue Johnson's new book 'Creative Alchemy: 12 steps from inspiration to finished novel' I'm determined to spend most of this week's writing time working on mine.

One of the (many) things I've found difficult about freelance writing and journalism over the years is getting hold of a copy of the magazines I think I'd like to write for. This sounds as though it should be really easy but in my experience it's not.

"How to" books, articles and some editors often say that you should study at least six issues of any target magazine. This is rather OTT in my opinion (a couple of recent issues should tell you pretty much all you need to know) but they never seem to advise on how to get hold of sample copies.

Obviously the popular weekly titles are usually available at the newsagents but monthly or quarterly ones can cause problems. If a magazine is on subscription only for instance, it is completely unrealistic to take out an expensive year's subscription on the off-chance that you might want to pitch an idea to that magazine. However, asking for a sample copy, unless the magazine has a system in place for would-be contributors (small press poetry magazines are particularly good at this) tends to make you look amateurish and rarely results in a copy landing on your desk.

Over the years I've tried several different (legal) ways of obtaining sample copies and have even considered pretending to be a prospective advertiser! I was really pleased therefore to come across (

This site allows you to buy single copies of a huge range of magazines, whether they are on subscription or not. Postage rates are very reasonable and delivery, in my experience, is just a couple of days. There is also a way of zooming in and looking at the covers of back issues which I've found particularly useful in seeing what topics the magazine has recently covered.

So my advice would be to log on, choose a few titles that take your fancy and before you know it, the postman will be coming up your drive with a whole host of potential markets.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Creative Alchemy: 12 steps from inspiration to published novel

I'm always interested in new books about writing and happy to promote them if I feel they would be of interest and use to other writers. In the case of writer and tutor Sue Johnson's new book 'Creative Alchemy: 12 Steps from inspiration to finished novel' it was a "no-brainer" as her book is definitely one to get hold of if like me, you are keen to get a novel published but are having difficulty starting or, as in my case, finishing.

The title 'Creative Alchemy' comes from Sue's belief that writing is "a magical process that turns the base metal of your original idea into a memorable story". I really like this description of writing and it prompted me to ask Sue a few questions about her book and how she came to write it. Here are her answers.

Why did you decide to write 'Creative Alchemy'?
The trigger came from when I read an article stating that for every 100 novels started, only one was completed. The reasons given for the 99 per cent that failed included running out of steam, loss of confidence in the project and negative messages from the past or from friends and family. Many of my writing students have spoken of the "gremlin voice" inside their heads that often sounds like a former teacher or disapproving parent. I've found that once this problem is addressed, it's a bit like opening a door. It's wonderful to witness writers stepping through and seeing their writing blossom. 

How much of 'Creative Alchemy' was based on your experience of writing your own recently published novel 'Fable's Fortune'? (
When I wrote the first draft of Fable's Fortune' in 1998, I was battling these same negative messages as I'd just parted from a husband who would repeatedly say, "Don't tell people you write, they'll think you're weird". Having gained my freedom, I kept writing, spilling words onto the page and determined to reach the end of the story. I didn't return to the first draft for several years but by then the story had grown and developed inside my head. I'd also written the first drafts of several more novels and had numerous poems and short stories published but the determination to see at least one novel published never left me.

How easy was it to get 'Creative Alchemy' published?
It was easier than pitching a novel but the whole process still took about a year.

What advice would you give to someone, such as myself, who is struggling to finish their current novel?
Once a first draft is completed, there is more likelihood of the writer taking time to revise and polish it. Many people worry too much about getting things 'right' as they go along, rather than just getting the whole story down and tidying up later.Over the years I've seen writers with brilliant ideas give up too easily. I've also seen writers of average ability go on to achieve great success because they were determined to do so. My mission with 'Creative Alchemy' is to encourage more people to think positively and not stop until they've achieved their writing dreams.

Thanks Sue. You have definitely inspired me to get on with my novel!

Sue's top tips for writers include:
1. Write every day even if you lack inspiration.
2. Carry a notebook.
3. Finish what you start.
4. Ignore negative criticism and believe in yourself.
5. Have a minimum of five pieces of work in circulation.
6. Keep going until you achieve your dream.

You can find out more about Sue and pick up other useful writing tips at

'Creative Alchemy: 12 steps from inspiration to finished novel' is published by HotHive Books (


Friday, 11 November 2011

The Plough Poetry Prize

If you have visited my website (
you will know that one of the things I write is poetry for children. I've had some of my poems published in anthologies by publishers such as MacMillan and Oxford University Press and I've also been placed in competitions.

Unfortunately, the anthology work seems to have dried up, probably because mainstream publishers are wary of publishing poetry for children because it gets such a raw deal on the National Curriculum and also because, when faced with budget cuts, poetry seems to be the first thing to go.

I've been touting There's A Gorilla In My Pyjamas, my collection of poetry for younger children, round various publishers with no success, although it was a pretty near miss with Meadowside Children's Publishers ( I've also been trying to get someone interested in my collection of poems for older children called I Wandered Lonely As A Snog but I'm beginning to think that self-publishing is the best chance of getting a first poetry collection into print.

This leads me to the point of this post as I am currently working on an entry for the Poem for Children category of the 2011 Plough Poetry Prize ( It's a fairly prestigious competition (this year's judge in the main categories is Andrew Motion) and is also one of the few competitions that has a category for poems for children.

I've entered it for the last couple of years but was disappointed last year to not even make the long list (it is a very long long list!) so I decided to do a bit more research on the way the competition is organised before I sent in my entry.

I discovered that for the Poems for Children category, a panel of adults draws up the long list. From this long list, fourteen poems are chosen which are illustrated, then printed in a booklet which is distributed among primary school children who vote for the eventual winner.

My dilemma here is do I write a poem for children that appeals to adults in order to try and get through the first stage of judging or do I write a poem that appeals to children and hope that the adults judge the poem from a child's point of view? (And do I submit a poem that will lend itself to illustration and is short enough to fit into the booklet or do I just write what I feel like? I can't help wondering whether the writer of last year's winning poem which was four lines about a cross-eyed cat had this in mind.) 

Of course, this brings into focus the wider issue of whether there is such a thing as a 'Poem for Children' or whether a really good poem should be enjoyed by adults and children alike. Do children need a certain type of poetry or as poets, should we be writing for "the child within" anyway?

The Plough competition organisers have clearly given this some thought as they begin their supplementary notes with this quote from Ted Hughes: ''Writing for children is a curious occupation and the most curious thing about it is that we think children need a special kind of poetry."

The other question of course is one that applies to all forms of writing for children, not just poetry. Who actually buys children's books? I know from talking to staff in bookshops that it is overwhelmingly adults who make the initial purchase, even though the book may be bought for a child. And this brings me back to the question of self-publishing my collections. If I were to publish them as E-books for instance, who would buy them? Adults or their intended audience, children?

Anyway, if you want to put in an entry for the Plough Poetry Prize you have until 30th November 2011 and there are short and open categories as well as Poems for Children. Critiques (tick box) are available for an additional £6.00.

Meanwhile, here is one of my poems for children (or is it for adults?) that I won't be entering for the competition.

Conversation Area

Mum and Dad took me to a conversation area.
It was very green.
We talked a lot.
I saved a snail.

Copyright Melissa Lawrence 2011  


Saturday, 5 November 2011

Writing World

Just a brief post this week as I am feeling a bit under the weather (again) but as usual, not too ill to find another useful writing-related website.

This time it is which describes itself as "a world of writing information for writers around the world" although it appears to be based in East Sussex.

As well as lots of useful articles and other information covering many writing genres, what I particularly like about the site is that you can very easily subscribe to a pretty substantial free newsletter. This is issued on the first and third Thursday of each month and comes in the body of an email so that you can either print it out as hard copy or save it on your desk top if you care about the planet.

Although the newsletter seems more geared to American writers, the articles are fairly universal in their content. The current issue has an excellent article on E-book publishing which I found really interesting, especially as it answered a question about E-books that has been bothering me for some time. (Do they spell the end of good quality literature now that every Tom, Dick and Harriet can publish one?)

The newsletters also recommend books, websites, blogs and competitions for writers and the editorial stance seems to be that freelance writing should be seen as a "proper" job with a decent wage, something I am always keen to promote.

So far, subscribing to the free newsletter has not resulted in my in-box filling up with unwanted emails so why not give it a go? After all, the October 20 issue recommended Simon Whaley's blog ( so it can't be bad!