Friday, 10 July 2020

If you can't say something nice ... become an editor

You will have heard the old adage: if you can't say something nice, say nothing at all. 

It can create a real conflict for an editor, because what use is a critique if it doesn't point out the shortcomings in a piece? Not that critiques can't go to the nice side - it's good to point out what works as well as what doesn't. However, the real value of a good critique is in pointing out the errors, the rough edges and the bits that don't work, so an editor will concentrate on the not-so-nice side.

It's hard to over-estimate the value of a good constructive critique, which is why Hornsea Writer, Penny Grubb, a judge in the recent Write2Ride creative writing competition, put together a short article pointing out some of the things that entrants might have done better.

'People don't always appreciate constructive criticism,' she says. 'Especially when they are just starting out, but this is the route to becoming a better writer. Doing a generalised feedback piece like this one allowed us to highlight errors without singling anyone out.'

CLICK HERE for the full article on why some people won and others didn't. 

Friday, 3 July 2020

Free LitFests from the comfort of your armchair

Covid-19 may have curtailed travelling and cancelled face-to-face events, but it has opened a plethora of online talks, lectures, and instructive how-to demonstrations, most available on YouTube.

For the writer and the reader the Society of Authors has run a series of Afternoon Tea With… as well as useful talks on marketing for writers. Lockdown Litfest is currently showcasing talks with authors, and York Festival of Ideas took its annual festival online with talks on a wide range of subjects. All of these and many more are free to view. Others, Jericho Writers, being one, are paid events.

It was while trawling the site of York Festival of Ideas, that Linda Acaster came across a talk by writer Edoardo Albert and York archaeologist Paul Gething: Warrior: A Life of War in Anglo-Saxon Britain centreing on a cemetery dig just outside the walls of  Bamburgh Castle. It turned out to be so entertaining that she is currently devouring the book.

Friday, 19 June 2020

The slash and burn stage of editing

I’ve written enough over the years that even when a novel is just an embryo idea, I know how long the finished book will be.

My idea for Boxed In, due out later in the year, was always a book of under 100,000 words, so when the first draft came in at 140,000, the serious editing hat had to come out.

The editing journey was a slash-and-burn fest – CLICK HERE for some more detail on nuances, twists and the ghost of a children’s book.

The end result of the initial charge through all 140k words, wielding the newly sharpened editing pen, was an uncannily accurate match to my original prediction – a book of exactly 99,999 words.

Boxed In is the latest book in Penny Grubb's Annie Raymond series, following on from Falling into Crime, Where There’s Smoke, Buried Deep and Syrup Trap City.

Friday, 12 June 2020

Guest Blogging – how to help you and your host

Header image from the post on Sharon Booth's website
It used to be that a book had to be seen 5 times before it lodged in a reader’s mind. According to a Society of Authors presentation this week, that number is now 22.  Yes, we can all point to social media, but most of its impact is both short and transitory.

Blogging has more depth, each post a dedicated URL, and that URL can be highlighted via social media months after the post has gone live. This is why blog tours are arranged for launching titles, not just to give an initial boost but to provide content for future promotion. Yet guest posts don’t have to be reserved for new titles.

Hornsea Writers member Linda Acaster has accepted a guest spot on Sharon Booth’s website. Both write Romance, but Sharon writes Contemporary RomComs and Linda writes Historical Drama so their readers don’t necessarily overlap.

‘I knew I’d need to be light-hearted in my approach, both to appeal to Sharon’s readership and to fit with the tone of her blog,’ Linda says. ‘Beneath The Shining Mountains is set among Native North Americans of the early 19th century so I also wanted to convey more detailed information, in this case about their decoration techniques.’
Moccasins with porcupine quill decoration 1882

The answer was to write an associate post on her own blog, linking in to Sharon’s and linking Sharon’s into hers.

‘I approached Sharon first, obviously, and she thought it an excellent idea.’ It also meant that both websites get extra links which help in search engines searches.

A win-win.

Friday, 5 June 2020

Adventures using dictation - April Taylor on talking to herself.

As some people will know, I have arthritis in my hands. This means I can no longer write 3000 words in one sitting as I used to. It has, as you can imagine, had a significant effect on my writing life and my productivity.

Basically, I decided to switch from Apple to Windows, purely so that I could use Dragon Naturally Speaking. Since I took this decision at the beginning of the year, my writing life has been...let's say up and down!

I had used the integral dictation software in Word, Google docs etc. and some free and very cheap software packages. My experience was less than stellar and not good for my blood pressure. They may be fine for general emails, but writing an entire book. Certainly not. The decision to change took a long time and I was very conflicted by how much it was going to cost. But the time came when it was almost change or stop altogether. That was not viable.

I made the change. Yes, it has been a tad bumpy at times, especially because I write historical crime, which has a whole different vocabulary, even as far as names of characters. And, now, of course, I can dictate on the move and Dragon transcribes my recordings. The landscape in which I now live has inspired the new series I am writing and when you see one photo of it, you will understand why. The freedom to stand in the midst of it and dictate what I see, hear etc. has brought a new dimension to my writing.

You can read about my journey so far here:

You can read more about April Taylor here:

Friday, 8 May 2020

What did you write during the Lockdown, Mummy?

Courtesy Steve Bidmead via Pixabay
As Covid-19 races around the world, and the word Pandemic brings more than a touch of historical meaning to our doors, daily life has changed.

The UK’s version of Lockdown began 23 March, bringing with it initial food shortages due to panic-buying. But this soon gave way to a resurrection of the type of ‘Wartime Spirit’ the vast majority of the population has never experienced. People speak to one another in the street, if socially distanced, and everyone now knows their neighbours through the Thursday evening Clap for Carers.

Being in Lockdown was expected to prove a boon for members of Hornsea Writers. With no outside appointments shouldering into our writing time, words were going to flood from our fingers. It isn’t quite working out like that.

There seems to be a lot of long-postponed DIY being undertaken, but at least Madeleine McDonald emailed her publisher the typescript of her Romance before taking up a brush to paint the skirting boards. Linda Acaster hasn’t that excuse, leaving a Crime novelette and a Western to their own devices while she embarks on the sort of spring cleaning even her grandmother fought shy of.

In April Taylor’s household a sewing machine has taken prominence, no matter the two Historicals in various stages of editing, and the research for another begging to be started. The new office curtains look good though, and clothing destined for a charity shop have been given a new lease of life with some judicial cut and paste-- sorry, cut and sew.

Some of us, of course, don’t have excuses as much as priorities. All hope of writing fiction migrates to a Lost World when home schooling collides with home working and being the shopper for vulnerable relatives. Even living in a three-generational household doesn’t necessarily help. Penny Grubb caught herself making up the spare bed rather than tackle the current Crime novel, though she couldn't quite work out who she was expecting to stay.

And what is this need to bake? Throughout the country flour is a mere ghost on supermarket shelves, whereas there’s plenty of ready-made cakes and bread to be bought. Gardening has a definite pull on us all, perhaps to put a bit of space between us and those we live with, now on a 24 hour basis. Stuart Aken has retreated to his office space, not to tackle his latest Science Fiction epic but to immerse himself in learning new photographic software. He didn’t mention whether he was also baking bread, though we all agree there's something comforting about its smell.

At least one of us has got her act together on this 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe. Annie Wilkinson has already done her bit, and can sit with her tea and scones, surrounded by bunting. Enjoy your own.

Available in pbk, ebk and audio

Saturday, 25 April 2020

Creative writing advice out of a lockdown project

Helping out with a creative writing competition can mean many things from judging to helping out with the logistics, to donating prizes. 

This #WriteToRide competition aimed to give young riders something to do during the pandemic lockdown, and it involved developing 7 Top Tips for short story writers. They are equine-flavoured and aimed largely at schoolchildren but some are relevant across the board, for example:

and some can easily be adapted to suit most creative writing projects, for example:

and some are clearly tailored to a school or college audience, though I hope still with useful advice:

and some are simply fun ways of showing writing techniques in action, including from the late great James Herriot:

Friday, 10 April 2020

Every Breath I Take

Buglight Theatre, a small but innovative troupe, devised a clever way to give people a smile while under house arrest.

Send us your mini-monologues!

As it happened, I had just had new hearing aids fitted and been amazed by the assault of sounds I had not heard properly for years. Birdsong poured from every tree. At the same time every breath I took whooshed in my ears, And so the idea for my monologue was born.

Sting’s song with the chorus Every breath you take has a distinct rhythm of da-da-dah-da-da. I paced the house, hearing the gunfire crack of hundred year-old floorboards creaking, and tried to put words to Sting’s tune. Not easy. Anyone can string five words together, but I needed couplets of five words that made sense and fitted a da-da-dah-da-da pattern.

Buglight paired me with the actor Pam Hilton, who did a splendid job. You can hear the result at

Madeleine McDonald

Friday, 27 March 2020

Free Reads for #Covid-19 Isolation

How life can change in less than a month. Here at Hornsea Writers everyone is so far so good, and we hope all our readers are enjoying similar health.

Like other countries in Europe, in the UK we are getting used to life under lockdown: home-schooling, creating new routines, staying two metres apart while outside. But it still means an awful lot of time within our own four walls, and 24-hour television soon palls.

Reading has always been The Great Escape, and Hornsea Writers has some great free reads they want to share. Many people subscribe to Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited and here are a few offerings. Links go to the author’s Amazon page unless stated:


Penny Grubb, winner of a Crime Writers’ Association Dagger, offers two sometimes overlapping series: the DS Martyn Webber Mysteries and the Annie Raymond PI Mysteries, both set firmly in the realities of modern UK policing. The first three Annie Raymond books are available as a trilogy under the title Falling Into Crime.

April Taylor writes Cosy Crime with a touch of acerbic wit in her Georgia Pattison Mysteries. Georgia is an early-music singer, so giving recitals in cathedrals and the mansions of the aristocracy are her bread and butter. Alas, there always seems to be a body involved. For music lovers all the Georgia Pattison books have links to the music mentioned. She has written a somewhat darker, psychic Crime, The Angel Killer, with a lead character who does not embrace his “gift”, plus a Sherlock Holmes pastiche and a collection of short fiction.


Madeleine McDonald writes long and short fiction. Her Enchantment In Morocco is a heart-warming story of East meets West and the constraints and acceptance of traditions and modernity. Enjoy life in a sun-baked village where lemon trees overhang white-washed walls and olive groves offer shade to working donkeys.

Linda Acaster writes mythic fantasy and chillers, but also has two historical romances in Kindle Unlimited. There is the ‘sweet’ Mediaeval Hostage of the Heart set in 1066 on the English-Welsh borderlands, full of intrigue and derring-do, and the ‘sensual’ Native American Beneath The Shining Mountains set in a time when European encroachment was mere rumour.


Shellie Horst was one of the principal movers behind Distaff, an anthology of eclectic stories from women writers. It has been very well received, not least for the cover art which Shellie created. Anthologies and collections are always good for readers short of time, enabling them to dip in and out. Be sure to read My Little Mecha which Shellie wrote, especially if you are currently home-schooling.

The SMASHWORDS Authors Give Back Scheme
It isn't just on Amazon where free reads are available. Smashwords is hosting a collaboration with many of its authors to help readers cope with the Covid-19 isolation.

Stuart Aken has all six of his titles listed on the site downloadable for free until 19th April. Scroll down his Profile page for direct links. There’s a choice of erotic romance, heart-warming romance, speculative fiction, humour, dark crime, and for those with a family member suffering from ME/Chronic Fatigue, his own ten-year experiences complete with helpful information.

All authors have other titles available, on Amazon and other retail sites, for prices as low as 99p/99c, not listed here. Check the links to individual authorpages below the header.

We wish our readers many hours of immersive reading as a much needed diversion from the  sombre reality of current day-to-day life.

Stay safe. Keep your distance from others, and wash your hands. It’s the least we can do to alleviate the pressure on our health services, no matter where in the world we live.

Friday, 28 February 2020

Fatigue? Burnout? Worse?

The Thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland at the base of the neck
controlling our metabolism.
Late winter is the time many of us feel the year's grind taking its toll. We're tired; we have trouble focusing; the words won't flow as they used to.

And why not? Many writers have full-time employment to contend with, and a family life to maintain, alongside their passion. Yet there is always that lingering worry... am I approaching burnout? The tendency is to rationalise  symptoms and wait for an improvement.

Hornsea Writers member Linda Acaster did just that - and awoke one morning in 2018 to find a lump on her neck. 1 in 20 people suffer from a Thyroid disorder. Even when you think you're doing everything right, it may all go horribly wrong.

Finally fighting her way back to health, she's written a series of five posts to share her experiences and pass on what she's learned. "If I can make one person stop and think, it'll have been worthwhile."

Catch her posts at and choose the numbered posts from the right-hand column.

Friday, 14 February 2020

Charity anthology for Australia

Anthologies, especially those that appear in print, can take up to a year from submissions to publication. Not in this case, thanks to a remarkable team effort by authors and other staff at my American publisher.

On 14 February The Wild Rose Press launches the first of three e-book and print anthologies, Australia Burns, with all profits donated to the Australian Red Cross to help rebuild lives and livelihoods destroyed by terrifying bush fires. Despite recent rains, the fires still burn.

The initial suggestion came from an Australian author, at the beginning of January, and the response was huge. Everyone wanted to do their bit. Forty-eight authors offered stories, enough in the end to fill three volumes. Editors, formatters, video trailer makers and marketing staff offered their time.

Despite being rushed out in record time, all work has been done to a professional standard. My story, A Solicitous Wife, first published in the UK, was nonetheless edited to conform to the rules of American grammar, which insist on inserting commas before the words and or but. Never quibble with an editor, especially in a good cause.

The Wild Rose Press is a romance publisher, but Australia Burns, Sending Australia Some Love, contains a mix of romance, suspense, and mystery. Volume One can be ordered as an e-book at, or in print at

Madeleine McDonald

Friday, 24 January 2020

A Conference for the Indie Author

While there are plenty of events for authors published by traditional methods, finding a conference outside of London that focuses entirely on the needs of an indie author is difficult.

May 30th sees the first Indie Fire arrive at the Kirkgate Centre in Shipley. This is a writer’s conference aimed at all things indie...and speculative. Included in the ticket price are a day’s worth or writing workshops, discussion panels and a book market. 

Hornsea Writer Shellie Horst will be running a workshop on how to get the most from your book cover artist, as well as appearing on a panel about Author Mindsets.

There’s also the chance to catch a live broadcast of The Great Western Woods Podcast to inspire your world building and wordcount!

The schedule is already live and tickets are currently only £20.00. So if you’re considering going down the self publishing route with your Fantasy YA, that hard Science Fiction, or a splendid Steampunk novel, this is an ideal chance for you to come and learn from those who have been making it work for them. You can see more on their website:

Shellie Horst is the author of several science fiction and fantasy short stories and also reviews for SFFWorld & The Future Fire. Her story, My Little Mecha has been nominated for a BSFA Award as has her cover art for Distaff. You can follow her on Twitter @millymollymo and find out more on her website  

Friday, 17 January 2020

Looking back over beginnings

It is exciting to launch a new book. There are a lot of different ways to do it ... and it doesn't always go to plan.

In this post on interviews, Linda Acaster riffs with some of the writing greats whilst launching book 2 of her Torc of Moonlight trilogy; and Stuart Aken is interviewed for an online launch for book 1 in his fantasy trilogy, A Seared Sky.

Launch parties might be physical events with champagne corks popping, but these days are more likely to be online. Stuart launched his trilogy with a Facebook event and Linda launched hers with a blog tour.

Science fiction and fantasy author, Shellie Horst, went to the World Science Fiction Convention in Dublin to launch Distaff: A ScienceFiction Anthology by Female Authors. In this article she talks about women science fiction authors.

But not all book launches go to plan…

A mix-up over delivery saw Joy Stonehouse launching Witch-Bottles and Windlestraws without any books. Writers are creative, it’s what they do. Read this post to see how she handled the bookless book launch.

There are several new launches in the pipeline. Sign up (top left, just under the Welcome message) for advance notice of Hornsea Writers’ 2020 books.

Friday, 10 January 2020

Busted! Penny Grubb’s Life of Crime

Over the festive period, a local newspaper outed me for my new criminal tendencies. Noting my recent retirement from my job as a lecturer in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Hull University, the article says, “Penny Grubb has decided to turn her retirement to a life of crime.”

Not that the local area need be concerned; I don’t have the energy for traditional bank jobs these days, nor the skills for the modern online equivalent, but yes, I do intend to devote some time to the pursuit of crime – in particular the completion of my eighth crime novel which I hope to see released on the world before the end of the year.

The first 3 books in the Annie Raymond mystery series have been rerelease as a trilogy, Falling Into Crime.

Saturday, 4 January 2020

Hone Writing Skills Via Entering Competitions

There's nothing like setting ourselves targets - New Year's Resolutions or not - and the continued honing of our writing skills should be a priority. 

One of the easiest methods is to write outside of our comfort zones. It truly makes us think about sentence structure, characterisation, and speech patterns other than those used as a norm.

However, writers are often strapped for time, and so writing as an exercise can too easily be pushed down the workaday list of priorities. 

Writing specifically for competitions circumvents this by offering a targeted set of constraints: market, wordcount, theme, deadline. Writers merely need to add the creative spark.

Across on his blog, member Stuart Aken runs a massive Resources page which includes a link to a substantial Creative Writing Contests Table, updated on a regular basis. Even better, many are free to enter; all offer prizes.

So what's stopping you?

If you've come to this post by chance and for ease would like more from Hornsea Writers delivered direct to your Inbox, add your e-address to the box at the top of the column. We promise you won't be inundated with daily emails.

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

Happy New Year!

As we embrace a New Year, let us be grateful for what we have, for the people who bring encouragement and smiles into our lives, and for the promise of what might be achieved if we put our minds to a goal. As Charles Dickens wrote:
No one is useless in this world 
who lightens the burdens of another.
We think that an excellent goal for 2020.
With many thanks to our readers on whichever continent you reside. May you all live a happy and healthy year ahead.