25 Dec 2012

Xmas Wishes

Just wanted to wish everyone at Storyslingers and everyone following this blog a very Happy Christmas! We've had such a fantastic year; hopefully in early 2013 we'll do a quick round-up post highlighting some of the exciting things Storyslingers has done in the last twelve months.

Until then, we hope you have a wonderful time, whatever you're up to and whether you celebrate Xmas or not. We'll see you in the New Year!

20 Dec 2012

Storyslingers Festive Party, Dec 18th 2012

Another wonderful Storyslingers holiday party! There were minced pies, delicious cupcakes, popcorn and drinks, as well as a selection of games. We played the Dictionary Game which was a lot of fun, so I thought it worth posting the rules here for anyone unfamiliar. It's a lot like the British TV show Call My Bluff, and is great fun if you're looking for a party game at any time of year. (I'm stealing most of this from Muriel, who helpfully explained the rules to Storyslingers.)

DICTIONARY: The aim of the game is to deceive others about the meaning of a strange word while resisting their efforts to deceive you. You will need a dictionary and non-distinctive scrap(s) of paper.

One player, the Dictionary Holder, chooses an obscure word unfamiliar to all. Example: "Pleymon".

In secret, each player then has to concoct a definition of the word and write it down. The Dictionary Holder writes the real definition, then collects all the definitions in a hat/pot. The Dictionary Holder then reads out all the definitions in a random order:

PLEYMON: a pale yellow star in the constellation Scorpio; the neck part of a suit of armour; a musical instrument from the Pyrenees; the fatty deposit in the second stomach of a cow; an ancestor of the porcupine; a gorge formed by melt water from a glacier.

Then players are to guess which one is the real definition. Bear in mind, thinking aloud is opportunity for mild gamesmanship.

Players then cast a vote each and announce it to the Dictionary Holder. You may not vote for yourself. Really wacky answers may get votes for sheer chutzpah.

Finally, the Dictionary Holder announces the correct definition. You score a point for a correct guess. You also score a point for each person who voted for your (false) definition. The Dictionary Holder scores a point for each player who didn't guess the right answer.

Then the dictionary is passed to the next player, who becomes the Dictionary Holder. Rinse and repeat.

(Note: "Pleymon" is a made-up word, so all definitions above are nonsense!)

We ended up playing this in a mix of individuals and small teams, which I think made it funnier as some of the discussions were absurd (and of course, at times a little naughty).

We also played some festive Dada. Here's one I captured on my phone:

A massive thank you to everyone who came along, bringing food and drink and making it an excellent evening!

18 Dec 2012

Christmas/ Apocalypse Party

Christmas/ Apocalypse party tonight usual place, usual time. There will be mince pies, there will be pop, there will be sweets, there might be something healthy but it will be shunned. Call my Bluff, Dada Poetry, exquisite corpse, mad libs; literary parlour games galore. 

I found these exquisite corpse pictures off the internet. Thanks internet!

9 Dec 2012

Mind-Mapping for Fiction Writers

Today I'd like to talk about mind maps—what they are, how to use them, and where to get them—as a way of brainstorming, solving problems, keeping track of your events and timelines, and generating new ideas.

Sometimes stories are straightforward: you begin with your basic idea or outline, and then you sit down and write it from start to finish. But not all stories are that easy-going. Quite often you find they grow and become complex, unruly things, and before you know it you're buried under a mountain of notes and plans, maps and research—and that's before you've even tried to structure your plot or study your characters in depth.

This is where mind maps could come in handy.

I'm fairly new to mind maps, but so far I've found them helpful for keeping my novel timeline in order. They're also an excellent "quick-reference" if you're looking for a specific detail and you don't have time to wade through page after page of notes.

What is a mind map? From Wikipedia - A diagram used to visually outline information.

How do I use a mind map? You start with a central theme or idea, usually placed at the centre of your map/page. This could be anything from a single word prompt to a phrase or topic, problem, character or concept. From there, you create sub-nodes and attach anything associated with the central theme. These sub-nodes grow outwards, generating more and more sub-themes and ideas, very much like a spider diagram. The best way to understand how a mind map works is to see one in action. Take a look at this hand-drawn mind map and this computer generated map (both images from Wikipedia).

How to make a mind map: You can create easy, free mind maps using paper and coloured pens or pencils (see example map above). But if hand-drawing isn't your preference, there are also a number of programs available for the computer—some free and some paid.

Free Mind – Free Mind is a Java-based software that is free to download and use. They have a helpful website that provides instructions on installing and running the program. Works on PC and Mac.

Simple Mind – A simple, easy to use program. This is also a Mac app, but I'm linking to the desktop version as you can use it on a PC as well. You can only download a trial for free; you'll need to buy the full version if you want to keep using it after 30 days.

Bubble.us – I've not tried this one, but it looks like it could be useful. You create your mind map directly in your browser. You can print it out, or download it to your computer when you're done.

Mindomo – This is a paid program. The website states: Human thought is characterized by expansion in multiple directions.  As a mind map software, Mindomo is a perfect match to work the way your brain does reflecting your thoughts.

MindMeister – This mind-mapping tool allows you to share your mind maps with others and collaborate easily. There is a free trial, though it should be noted that you have to pay a monthly subscription for the full program.

There's also a list of (rather pricey) paid mind map programs for Mac here, and a list of freeware programs for Mac here.

And there's a list of free mind map programs for PC here.

29 Nov 2012

Christmas Mini-Saga competition

Today’s edition of the Western Gazette features details for a competition from Yeovil Community Arts Association. Similar to The Times’ ghost story competition a few of the Storyslingers attempted not too long ago, this is another fifty word story challenge with the theme being “Seven”.

The short story must be 50 words exactly and can have a title up to 17 words long. Entries must be received by Wednesday December 19. 
The entry form is on page 31 of the newspaper if you would like to enter (photocopies are not permissible).
More information on the Yeovil Literary Prize and the YCAA is available on the following websites - http://www.yeovilprize.co.uk or http://www.yeovilarts.com

27 Nov 2012

New brains for Storyslingers' blog, & the Dorset Writers' Network

We've been a little remiss about blogging here at Storyslingers lately, due to me and Jenny Bell being busy with other personal projects. So we thought it was a plan to invite a few of our fellow writing group members to guest blog from time to time. Don't be surprised if you see posts from new names, and feel free to comment if you have anything to say! We're always up for a discussion here on Storyslingers. I'm very much looking forwards to seeing what our new bloggers talk about.

It's also worth noting that The Dorset Writers' Network website is up and running, and has lots of information about up-coming writing events around Dorset. There are also write-ups of events that have already taken place—check out the Events Showcase page for more info, featuring an account of the Bridport Story Slam that recently went down a storm.

26 Nov 2012

Observations: Eyes vs. Ears

Muriel Higgins sent this along, so I thought it would be good to put it up here on the blog. Many thanks to Muriel for sharing her thoughts and observations on reading vs listening!

What you read on a page with your eyes is different from what you listen to and hear with your ears.  Each medium has something the other lacks, e.g. print on the page can be seen all at once or jumping around, at the reader’s pleasure; while sounds in time are sequential and are not controlled by the listener.
These are some of the characteristics of what you read:
  • you can look ahead and see how long it is, how far to the end
  • you can see how dense it is: lots of speech? slabs of prose?
  • you can choose how fast to read and to look forward or back
  • use of indentation, eg for lists, like this one
  • hierarchy of headings (probably applies more to non-fiction)
  • different typefaces and point sizes, can help understanding
  • use of spaces: between sections, chapters, paragraphs, sentences, even words or letters
  • italics, caps, small caps, bold to show stress/emphasis as intended by author
  • asterisks or superscript numbers for footnotes
  • interpolated signs like (!) or (?) or bracketed letters Hol(e)y ghost
  • variant spelling to suggest character (teenager says alright); place/accent (color, traveled); names spelt differently as time passes He spells it Shaun now; Christina vs Krysztyna in a story about Polish girl now living in UK and adopting a new persona; or informality How ya doin?
  • idiosyncratic speech: Just William’s Violet Elizabeth: I’ll thkweam and thkweam until I’m thick
  • emoticons, OK, not (yet) usual in prose on paper … but hang about …

And some characteristics of what you listen to or hear:
  • the reader-aloud, or narrator, controls speed/tempo and volume, not the listener (you can’t listen faster)
  • the narrator adds interpretation of the text in different ways:
            . different voices for different speakers
           . regional or foreign accents
           . stress and intonation: He wasn’t really very sorry can be said with at least 5 meanings
           . pausing to show contrasts of sections etc

Some of these interpretations are suggested  by the writer:
  • in words: ‘Six o’clock.’  ‘ No, six thirty,’ she corrected gently.
  • word or sentence division: Mum went ba-llistic,  I. Don’t. Want. To. Know.
  • punctuation: … (fade out);  dash (interrupted speech); quotation marks “Lady” Jane, she calls herself.
  • italics, caps etc :  Not Quite the Thing.

Do we write differently for the eye or the ear?
I can’t decide about this, myself and would like to hear others’ thoughts.  
  • When you write you cede a bit of control, either to the reader or the narrator: does this matter?
  • Reading your own stuff is different, you know what you meant when you wrote it.
  • If someone else is going to read it, they need help and guidance …
  • … or are you happy to say Go little book and let it take its chance? 

A few things to ponder:
Reading but not-reading: when you reach the end of a page with your eyes when your brain is elsewhere.  Not-listening also happens.  Does this matter to writers/providers?  Can they make it less likely?  Or is it only to do with the reader/listener/consumer?
Do you read print with an accent?  Review of Schwarzenegger’s autobiography: I read this with a flat Terminator accent.  
Can people talk with spelling mistakes? (asterisk means wrong form) *pronounciation, *antiboetics (which my father always said), *enmity (my favourite) or are these just wrong words?
A journalist resident in Scotland has been said to write with an English accent (not a compliment)
TV review represents heart sign by: There will be a tsunami of ‘I *heart* programmes like this’; written report of a tweet finishes *innocent face*.  So asterisks are quotation marks for emoticons? 
Review of audio books: Many modern novels are distinctly puzzling when heard rather than seen on the page. 
Bill Bryson writes: The cannons didn’t go BOOM! …  they went puff.  Good for eyes and ears both.
I ended a story: Love you lots, Hazza xxx.  Can’t read this aloud, needs gestures, can’t do on radio.
Do kids read out texts to each other, or pass the phone over?

Muriel Higgins, October-November 2012

18 Oct 2012

Map Making Competition Results

Yes, it has been a while since we last posted anything, but that doesn't mean we’ve been idling around not doing anything. In fact, it’s been the opposite. We’ve been so snowed under with going places, doings things and generally being awesome that we’ve had no time for the internet and its many distractions. Some people may have been wondering whatever happened with that map making competition we were going on about at the end of summer. The results were announced back in September during Shaftesbury Arts Week, and then on Facebook. For those who were not at Shaftesbury Arts Week or Facebook, here are the results (drum roll please…):

Awarded a slip of paper that read Excellent: PETER JUMP. This map was colourful and gave us a good impression of the locale of one of his superb stories. 

Awarded a slip of paper that read Highly Commended: JAMES BROOMFIELD. His map wasn't finished. We implored him to finish it and re-submit next time, because it showed a lot of promise and good imaginative scope. We also liked that it comprised of two layers, one of normal paper, the other of tracing paper. We like this sort of inventiveness and use of different paper types.  

Awarded a bronze rosette: JOANNE PAUL: Jo’s map was a classical fantasy map that really sparked our imaginations. The place names were brilliant; a particular favourite was The Three Mages. It really intrigued us and made us want to see more of this world. This map displayed some wonderful colouring-in techniques, the likes of which have not been seen by me since GCSE graphic design class.


Awarded a silver rosette: DANNY MORISON. The scope and execution of Danny’s map was incredible. His map encompassed an entire fictional galaxy and was probably one of the most original approaches that we’ve seen. Danny is a professional illustrator, and this shows in how accomplished his drawing skills are. We liked the range of environments that were depicted and it certainly sparked our curiosity and imagination. Unique! Imaginative! Splendid! We loved this map.


Awarded a GOLD rosette: ROBBIE CUMMING. What we liked about this map was how detailed it was. The idea of the competition was to ignite our imaginations and make us want to find out more about new fictional worlds. Robbie’s map was so packed full of details that we couldn't tear ourselves away. We wanted to know what the places were, who lived there, what are they doing? This map could spark a whole volume of interesting stories.

We will be running another map making competition, most probably to coincide with our 2nd Birthday party in May 2013. So there you have it, plenty of advance warning this time. We’ll do some more official marketing of the next competition from January 2013.

Shaftesbury Arts Festival was kind of good because we hung out together at a time when we were not at a writing event or group and we could appreciate each other as people rather than writers. This should be a more frequent occurrence  As for the handmade book stall: almost total failure. We sold a couple of things. I think someone stole one of my graphic novels. Generally people don't like to buy original hand made literature, they prefer to ignore it or steal it. 

Other things that we've been doing include: Jennifer K Oliver and I went to about half an hour of an Iain M Banks Book Launch/ talk/ signing in Toppings, Bath. We were meant to be there longer than half an hour, but massive trains delays caused us to spend a disproportionate amount of time on the train compared to time in Bath. We may or may not talk more of this in another blog post. 

Also: Mere Literary Festival. 
Also: Bridport Open Book festival Story Slam.
Also: Robbie's Twitter Cartoons. And probably some other stuff. 

All this to come in future posts. But for now, I have to go and do some work. 

10 Sep 2012

Fiction, Poetry & Music night at Beggar's Banquet

Storyslingers and music cafe Beggar's Banquet teamed up last Thursday to put on a night of stories, poetry and groovy tunes. The gathering wasn't widely pimped, though we ended up with around 17 people in attendance, most of whom were writers, artists or musicians (and those in between who do a bit of everything!).

The venue was cosy and mellow-lit, creating a warm and friendly atmosphere. It was gently buzzing as people started turning up—a lot of readers had only met briefly before, so it was nice to reconnect. We also got to meet a few spouses; now they finally know what we get up to when we're all together. We hope they enjoyed themselves, too!

The universe must have been in balance that night, as we were able to set the playlist as writer-poet-writer-poet. Nine wonderful writers shared their work in the end, reading a varied and vibrant selection. As always with these events, we were excited by and extremely proud of the talent in our local area.

Tish Oakwood reading her superb collection of poems

Sue Ashby also sharing a selection of beautiful rural-themed poems

Me reading my short speculative piece "Ring-Ring" 

To close the event, our generous host Meru performed a nifty acoustic song about not having anything to sing about. His soft, gravelly tones went down a storm, and we hope he'll sing for us again at future gatherings.

Our line-up:

Peter Jump - who read two short stories.
Tish Oakwood - who read a collection of poems.
James Broomfield - who read a short story.
Elaine Cadogan - who read a collection of poems.
Jennifer Bell - who read a short story.
Sue Ashby - who also read a collection of poems.
Jennifer K. Oliver - who read two short stories.
Juliet Austen - who read a selection of her poems.
John Maynard - who read a short story.
Meru - who sang and played acoustic guitar.

We'd like to thank everyone for coming, especially those who brought material to read. We hope you'll join us again next time! :)

1 Sep 2012

Shaftesbury Arts Festival Literary events

Shaftesbury Arts Festival Sept 5th-9th.
It's a busy week for Storyslingers. Check out the following exciting things that are happening:


If you go back a few posts you will see an interesting competition for writers (and vagabonds, comedians, artists and the general public). Here's the link: http://storyslingers.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/storyslingers-launches-its-first-open.html

PLEASE NOTE, THE EMAIL ADDRESS WAS WRONG IN SOME ADVERTS OF THIS COMPETITION. If you sent your map and didn't get an acknowledgement of receipt, please email it to the correct address, which can be found on this blog, here.  Resend by forwarding the original map and message you sent. You have until Thursday 6th at noon to resend. Apologies for this!

Winner(s) will be announced on Saturday, noon at the Arts Centre (see item III.)

Check out the facebook page for inspiration/ procrastination opportunity: http://www.facebook.com/events/341655955921155/

(this is a random map I found from the internet. Thanks internet!) 


Storyslingers have teamed up with Beggar's Banquet Music Cafe in Shaftesbury and will host an evening of good stories, funky tunes and slick poetry. There will be snacks of fine quality, there will delicious drinks, you can bring some wine of whatever quality you prefer (corkage fees apply!) 

Beggar's Banquet is an amazing place; provider of wholesome veggie foods, player of excellent music (check out all the vinyl for sale in there), host to exciting arts events. http://www.beggarsbanquetmusiccafe.co.uk/

Thursday 6th September, 7:30pm, Beggar's Banquet, Muston's Lane, Shaftesbury, Dorset. Free entry. 

(writers take note of this amazing opportunity: we have one or two reading slots still available. If you're a prose writer or poet, please email Jennifer Bell or Jennifer Oliver to declare your interest. Time guideline of 5 mins/ 800 words.)


Come to Shaftesbury Arts Centre at about 10am-4pm on Saturday the 8th of Sept, we will have a stall of handmade books, zines, comics, bookmarks, cards, origami, chapbooks and also published works and postcards. We're not sure which room we'll be in yet, but the mystery will only add to your experience as you wend your way around the labyrinth of SAC in search of wondrous treasure (ie: us). 

(a recycled image from last years' arts festival.)

Map making competition winner(s) will be announced on Saturday, at the stall/ display table in the Arts Centre, at noon. All the maps will be on display, along with a display of members' achievements, previous and forthcoming events, information and pictures. 

27 Aug 2012

First Lines Challenge

At the last Storyslingers meeting, I set everyone a challenge to come up with up to five opening sentences to stories they've never written. These sentences are currently being compiled into a masterlist of first line prompts. You can find the list on our prompts page. Definitely worth checking out if you're looking for inspiration, or you just want to oil the writing hinges.

There are all sorts of opening sentences: fun, frightening, mysterious, serious, literary, tongue-in-cheek. Here are a few to wet your whistle:
  • The suddenly ability of apples to fall upwards and for water to boil as it cooled should have perplexed me enormously, but instead it left me slightly aroused.
  • Roland Boyle had been digging for spare change, but he didn't expect to find a razor blade hidden within his pocket lint.
  • The floorboards creaked and the shutters flapped like trapped souls against the windows; the house had been waiting for me.
  • The six members of the village committee stood staring at the bloodied carcass lying in front of them.
Feel free to send us your opening sentences (either post them in the comments to this entry, or email them to joliverdesigns(at)gmail(dot)com. There are two rules: the sentence is written by you, and it has not been used in a story already.

22 Aug 2012

About Literary Agents

There have been a few misconceptions about agents--what they are, what they do, whether they cost or not, how it all works, etc--so I thought it would be good to briefly clarify a few points in case anyone is still unsure.

The number one factor you should be mindful of when searching for an agent is this:

You should not pay agents to represent you / look at your work.
If an agent asks you to pay them up front to read your manuscript or represent you,
run away. Quickly.

The agent gets paid when you sell your book to a publisher. An agent will take a cut out of your royalties that the publisher pays you. Usually this is around 15% - 20% (it can vary, depending where in the world you are and who you sign with).

Again, be extremely wary of agents that ask for payment up front. They could be frauds. If you're not sure, there are a number of excellent websites that list known fraud agencies. Writer Beware is probably the best.

So what are agents and what do they do? Jane Friedman says it clearly and concisely on her website:

In today's market, probably 80 percent of books that the New York publishing houses acquire are sold to them by agents. Agents are experts in the publishing industry. They have inside contacts with specific editors and know better than writers what editor or publisher would be most likely to buy a particular work. 

Perhaps most important, agents negotiate the best deal for you, ensure you are paid accurately and fairly, and run interference when necessary between you and the publisher.

It's also advisable to ask an agent who else they represent. Or, you can research this online. Agents unwilling to mention any of their authors by name or any recent sales could be dodgy.

Be wary of agents who refer you to an editing service you have to pay for. As sff.net says:

There is, however, a common scam where the agent recommends an editorial service. There's a good chance the service is paying the agent a kickback to make that recommendation.

Also be watchful for "vanity presses" who expect you to pay them to publish you.

It should be noted that you do not necessarily need an agent. It depends on what publishing route you prefer to take, as well as the type of work you're trying to sell. Not everybody wants an agent or a traditional publisher, and there are other options available, such as self-publishing and e-publishing.

15 Aug 2012

Storyslingers launches its first open competition: Maps!

Map Making Competition

Every story is set somewhere and it’s the writer’s job to immerse their reader fully into that fictional world. How are we to write convincing worlds if we do not know our way around them? 

We challenge any budding writer*/ artist out there to draw a map of their fictional world. It doesn’t have to encompass the entire world, it can be a small part of it; a city/ borough/ street, an island, a country or county, a building-plan etc. 

Please email your map to us at zomzara@googlemail.com with Map Making Competition as the subject. Make sure the file isn’t massive, send it as a jpeg 72dpi. Keep a print-version at hand because we’d like to pin some of the best maps up at Shaftesbury Arts Centre (we’ll contact you about this). The winner will be featured on our blog and within Shaftesbury Arts Centre and Shaftesbury Arts Festival on 5th-9th Sept. 

We will be publishing the winning map online, so if your world is top-secret then maybe keep it under wraps for now and submit it next time. 

The world/ location must be your own. We don’t want to see lots of renditions of Hogwarts.

The closing date is Friday the 31st August, so get your colouring pencils out and start drafting! 

Further info:

We don’t take ourselves too seriously, so we don’t expect you to either. We’re not concerned about intricacies of scale or worried over the physics of your world. If it looks cool, we’ll be happy. Inspire us, excite us. 

*Wait, you’re not even a writer? But you like to dream up worlds and make maps? – okay, that’s cool, go for it and submit. Maybe one of us writers will like your world and want to team up with you and write a story set in your world. Our writers are always on the lookout for things that will spark the next story, so we’d love to find a new world to write about. 

More information and examples of already published maps can be found here http://www.facebook.com/events/341655955921155/