Monday, 17 August 2009

Flash Fiction: Classified

FREE to good home: full set of Charles Worthington Blonde hair care products. Never used. Radiance boosting and clarifying. Will make your hair glow, akin to an angel. EMAIL ONLY – PICKUP REQUIRED.

The girl with the flaxen hair, by Debussy, was always my favourite track. Not because of the melody; it's not that exciting. No, it was the name. The girl with the flaxen hair. That's what my granddad would call me when I was little.

A teenager once yelled “Oi! Rapunzel” at me as I sashayed down the street, my hair swinging from a high pony tail. Even though it was in an 'up-do', it still reached my shoulder blades. Best piece of street heckling I've ever had.

Now they shout at me for a very different reason. Now they shout because I am ugly.

The chemotherapy has ravaged everything: my nails, once shiny and well-conditioned with hydro-oil by L'Oreal, are now dull and cracked and chipped and pink nail varnish slithers off onto my bed clothes several hours after application.

My eyes, once bright and with twenty/twenty vision, are now red and dry and itchy to the point that my greatest pleasure is to rub and scratch, like a dog with a bad allergy.

My lips are cracked, like cavernous, pink, fleshy valleys, arid after the worst drought of the year.

But it's my hair that bothers me the most. It's gone. The last remaining strands have been removed. I say 'have been removed'. I almost can't bear to admit that I shaved my head last night. I gave in. I listed the expensive hair products on Gumtree. The hair products I bought last week: one last hope. One last salvation. They'll go to some other pretty airhead. As long as I can leave it all outside and not have to see the locks that will benefit from my vanity.

I'm still the same person, the same, strong, beautiful woman. As Christina Aguilera said: 'I am beautiful, no matter what they say. Words can't bring me down'. I don't agree with the last bit, but I sing it with gusto; it's on repeat on my iPod. Once I brainwash myself enough, maybe I won't see the monster looking back at me in the gold framed mirrors that hang around my home. I feel like the Evil Stepmother. Hurling a chair at the biggest, and most mocking of the set did make me feel better. Until I realised how much it cost.

The love affair is over and I am reduced to my core. Yet that core is strong. Without the veneer, without the pretence, without the gloss and fake eyelashes – I'm still here.

Plus my mum's bought me a wig.


Flash fiction written for East Surrey Creative Writing Workshop - write 500 words about why someone placed a Classified Ad.

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Tuesday, 11 August 2009

ESCWW Practice exercise: 'It Changed Me'

'It changed me': non-fiction article

Write an article of around 500 words about an experience in your life that changed your perspective in some way.

  • It could be you learnt something new that changed your attitude, or maybe your view of someone... maybe someone surprised or even disappointed you? That's not an exhaustive list: anything that changed your mind or perspective or broadened your horizons fits into this exercise.

  • Keep it factual (though you may change names if you wish).

Writing facts doesn't mean you have to change your style: it can retain some features of narrative story-telling if that's what you want. However, if you want to write the article in the style of a newspaper story, in the third person, then please do. It's entirely up to you!

  • Remember to write what happened, what you thought about it, why it sticks in your mind and how it changed you, your perspective or views, and even how that's affected you in the long-term (what you've learned from it - about yourself, life, people, or even what the moral of the story is...)

When critiquing

It changed me: subject matter criticism

It's hard to critique without some framework.. so think carefully about the aim of this piece.

The aim is to inform the reader about an experience that changed them, their life or a small part of their mindset in some way.

Do you get that from the piece? How did it change the writer? What effect did the change have? Is there a moral to the story?

Style analysis

  • How does the writer convey the change and how it affected them? Does the style fit the topic? If not, what do you think might work better? How about the language? What phrases and sentences do you like? Why? Which ones don't work? How do you think they could be improved?


  • Have they stuck to the word count? If not, what should they remove? Any punctuation or spelling nits? If so, don't be afraid to point them out too.

Monday, 27 July 2009

"Long after the cost is forgotten, the quality endures" steal a line from Sir Henry Royce, co-founder of Rolls Royce.....

A few weeks ago I was at a networking meeting. This meeting was thrown together at the last minute and was full of professionally dressed, high-flying businessmen and women.

The first presenter, a young sales executive from Birmingham, stood up and gave an engaging, thought-provoking, five-minute speech about the importance of connecting with customers, instead of selling to them.

Within minutes, she had the audience engrossed and hanging off her every word. I was impressed. This woman had charisma and bags of intelligence. Even her outfit blew us all away.

This girl meant business. And boy, was she going to get some. After all, you couldn't fault her style, her message and the way she delivered it. We were already shifting in our seats, mentally queuing to buy from her.

At the end of her presentation, her assistant passed around a handout to accompany the speech.

And that's where it all went wrong.

Although beautifully presented, with great use of colour and plenty of white space for easy reading, this 4-page document was riddled with spelling and grammar errors. These weren't even misspellings of difficult words: 'business', on the title page was missing one of the final 's's. The name of her biggest customer was spelled incorrectly. Several sentences finished without a point...

I'm sad to say that her speech was forgotten. Her remarks about paying attention to detail when you liaise with customers were laughable.

No one bought from her that day.

The lesson

Proofreading and editing is key to your (and your company's) credibility. Some of these mistakes would have been picked up by a Word Processor's built-in spell check, but most of it wouldn't.

Fortunately for the professional editor and proofreader, computers don't have the syntactical knowledge to be able to read a sentence and glean that it is unintelligable.

However, proofreading doesn't have to be a laborious and tedious chore. You can make it easier by doing simple things like reading out loud, reading the text backwards, or simply printing the words on to a coloured sheet. Reading on a different colour can really help you catch those mistakes.

Or, of course, you can pay a professional to do it for you, in half the time, and with guaranteed results.

Don't get caught out by the typo your brain skipped.

For more information on why your brain will trick you when you're reading your own work, please click here.

To contact me about proofreading, editing or copywriting, please visit my website or call 01293 574160 for more information.

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Friday, 10 July 2009

Creative Writing Workshop: Meeting Two

I am pleased to announce that we have a new member of East Surrey Creative Writing Workshop; Brian, who's a salesman from Epsom. Brian contacted me last week and came along to see how he found the meeting.

Present: Tannice, Brian, Alex.

Susi and Liz were unable to attend, but we discussed their practice work.

Meeting 2's Task

Alex and I kicked off by going through Liz and Susi's practice material. The task this week was to write a synopis with 2/3 characters, a setting and an ending. Members had a theme choice of a) Romance, (b) Thriller or (c) Sci-fi. (500 words).

We set this task as both Alex and I were finding it difficult to end our great stories.

Meeting 3's Task

The practice task for our next meeting (22nd July) is a poem.

The poem must be around 100 words (+/- 10%). The theme is your choice, but there must be at least one rhyming couplet.

Recommended metre: iambic pentameter (optional).

If you'd like to join East Surrey Creative Writing Workshop, please contact me on with the subject 'Creative Writing'.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

First meeting: ES Creative Writing Workshop

Today was the first meeting of the East Surrey Creative Writing Workshop.

Attending: Alex and Tannice. Absent: Vicky and Susi.

We met in the Bull's Head pub, in Reigate High Street, at 7.30 PM.

Alex and I went through introductions and we discussed books and genres that we enjoyed. Alex noted that she was most interested in discussing and practicing fiction.

I also enjoy writing fiction but would also like to do some non-fiction writing, such as essays, articles and features. I may even bring copywriting to the group to get feedback. More details on non-practice discussion is below.

Alex hadn't had time to do the nature practice exercise but did read mine (which you can read here) and we discussed the potential of developing it into a longer short story instead of a flash.

We discussed the structure of the workshop and decided on the following:

Practice exercises, submissions and criticisms

Exercises will be sent out on the Wednesday we meet. Members then have one week to submit their writing to the list (until the following Wednesday). Members will then have one week to write crit notes, which will be presented at the next meeting.

Email-only members can submit their criticisms via email to all members.

I would encourage members to ensure that their criticisms are a good balance of positive and constructive. Crits may include notes about style, grammar, what you'd like to read more about, what you liked and what you think could be improved.


We will start by presenting crits of the submissions.

The next section of the meeting will be for members to present a piece of writing as a discussion point.

The writing may be from a book, article, short story or any other piece of writing that you like. Members should start with a small introduction on why they've brought the piece to the meeting and a brief synopsis of the story if it's an extract from a book or a longer piece of writing.

We want to know:
- what you like, and why
- what you think works, and why
- what you think should be changes or could be improved upon
- anything else you want to say about it.

The third and final stage of the meeting is for the discussion of anything non-practice we've written, discussions of style and any grammar queries you have.

You will receive the details of the exercise via email.

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Sunday, 21 June 2009

East Surrey Creative Writing Workshop (ESCWW)

ATTN: budding writers of East Surrey!

Do you have dreams of writing a novel, poetry, a collection of short stories or articles?

Do you yearn to write but sometimes lack inspiration?

Have a great idea that needs work, but you're stuck?

Are you plagued by writer's block?

East Surrey Creative Writing Workshop can help!

Currently there are only 4 female members and we'd love to grow our group to be as diverse as possible.

We've not met up yet as this is an entirely new group. However, the proposed plan is thus:

We will meet bi-weekly. At the moment, no time and place has been set, but a suggestion in discussion is Wednesday nights at 8PM, at the Bull's Head in Reigate. This is subject to change, so please feel free to contact me (contact info below).

Practice exercises will be sent out every two weeks. Members will then prepare their piece and email it to the other members. Obviously, the more quickly a member writes and submits their practice piece, the more criticism and feedback they'll receive.

We will then meet up and discuss the various submissions from members. All criticism must be constructive. As the chairwoman of the meeting, I will endeavour to keep a lid on any heated discussions, should they occur.

Once we've gone through development points, suggestions and anything else about the submissions, we will move on to chat about different elements of writing.

This includes, but is not limited to;

  • Books we've read and liked/hated
  • Grammar and style queries and discussions
  • Brainstorming plot elements, character development, or anything else regarding members' non-practice work
  • Discussion of submissions to publishers, where required
  • Discussion of possibly publishing our practice pieces as an anthology (this is by no means a requirement of membership - purely an idea at this stage).
To contact me about the group, please call me on 07981969693, email me via my website, Cam Poetic License, or @ reply to me on Twitter, @CPoeticLicense

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Flash Fiction: Blitzkreig: Lightning War

It was a perfect night for it. The rain was hammering down on the windows, reminding Dylan of an air strike. The roar was deafening as the rain drops tuned to sleet and the sound intensified. Dylan could almost imagine that it was he who controlled the rain, concentrating on making it slam down even harder on the parched ground.

It had to be a dark and wet night. The bridge should be empty so Dylan could be alone. Only four more hours until midnight.

Dylan heard a rumble and then, seconds later, saw the piercing light of a lightning strike. It was just the right night for the choice he'd made.


Last Wednesday had been the hottest day of the year so far and he'd taken his niece out. They'd played among the long, summer grasses that the council had neglected to trim.

Dylan had held her pretty feet and lifted her up into the low branches of an Oak tree. She'd sat above him, amused by the antics of the curious squirrels scurrying up the higher branches. She'd asked him why there were no conkers and Dylan had laughed, telling her it was the wrong time of year. It was then that Dylan had felt some sadness and doubt. But after further, logical consideration, he was certain that it was right. After all, Sarah would benefit most. Dylan was sure that, in ten years, when Sarah turned eighteen, she'd understand his decision. As he was unmarried and the rest of his family were estranged, she would be the main beneficiary of his will.

Dylan's thoughts were interrupted by an ominous creaking sound, ear piercing screams and a cacaphonous splintering of wood and buckling of metal. Sprinting towards the front balcony, Dylan flung the patio doors open.

The Yew tree he'd cultivated for twenty years had fallen. Weakened by his over-zealous pruning and the violent winds, it had pinned his neighbours; Janet and her daughter, Susi, in their car.


It was half past eleven; almost 4 hours since the accident. The firemen had safely extracted his neighbours from their car and they were in their house, drinking tea and contemplating their luck. Dylan sat on his balcony. He didn't notice the stinging hail, nor the bright, flashing lights of the ambulance and fire engine.

The Yew had changed everything. Dylan never went to London Bridge.
Yew tree forklore

Flash fiction submitted for this week's exercise on the Internet Writing Workshop.

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Monday, 8 June 2009

Writing hot web copy: four ways to convert traffic to sales

Web users are just a click away from leaving your site. There are billions of websites out there all competing for their attention and you need to keep your bounce rate down by ensuring your copy is succinct. Read on to find out how.

Remember your goal

Before you start writing, think about two things, and two things only:

  • The goal of your copy

  • Who you're selling to.

Anything in your copy that doesn't work towards your goal or target audience should be cut.

Extraneous adverbs

Remove adverbs (really, very, extremely, quickly) that add nothing to your marketing message. Replace them with a stronger verb to convey how your products or services will be of value to your customer.

Instead of: My new book will really help you to quickly get more customers. (12 words)

Use: My new book accelerates customer attraction. (6 words)

That don't impress me much (with apologies to Shania Twain)

Don't pack your copy with technical terminology, buzz words or high-scoring Scrabble® words that impress nobody. Although useful to reduce repetition, a thesaurus can be your worst enemy if you misuse a word. Write for your audience: after all, if your customer doesn't understand what your message is, you've lost them.

Instead of: Sesquipedalian copy won't get results.

Use: Overusing long words won't get results.


'Cut' (or CTRL+X for keyboard shortcut fans) is your essential tool for efficient marketing. 24 hours after writing, go back and cut around 20-30% of what you've written. Remove anything that doesn't guide customers from introducing the product/service, how it will benefit them and then through to how they can get it. If your point's unclear, be ruthless.

Tannice Pendegrass has six years of copywriting, proofreading and editing experience, having worked for an international bank and a leading UK games studio. Tannice also provides proofreading and editing services for businesses and students. You can find her at Cam Poetic License and on BT Tradespace.

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Friday, 29 May 2009

Flash Fiction: His name was not important

Su and Ian gawped through the glass of the Intensive Care Unit at their newborn son. They'd been awake for 72 hours now, always waiting to find out if he'd make it through the next few minutes. Each hour gave them new hope that he'd start to breathe on his own. Each hour they fell more in love with him.

Su was determined that they'd call him Louis but Ian wasn't so keen. Squabbles on what now seemed a trivial issue had abated ten hours into labour when they began to realise that their son might not survive.

Nurses with limited assurances faded in and out of their lives as they considered a lifetime never knowing him. Ian considered the many hours of football coaching his son might never have, the lost opportunity of teaching him new things, watching him marvel at buses and trains and butterflies landing on petals. Things Ian had stopped noticing but would experience again through child's eyes. Ian already missed his son.

Su was taking it hardest. Inexplicably, she was blaming herself for her son's struggle to draw breath. He was early. Su wasn't prepared for his arrival and she was even less prepared for his departure. She wasn't thinking about what she'd miss out on if her son died; she was thinking about all the things Louis would never experience. He'd never love, be angered, feel sad or know the joy of doing something well, even if that was just scrawling unintelligible lines on a piece of scrap paper. She was overwhelmed with love for this child she'd been unable to hold, or even really touch. This child who'd missed out on the first crucial hours of bonding.

Su and Ian didn't know that I had been there for him in their absence. When they went home for a few hours every night to try to sleep, I would creep into the unit and comfort him. They didn't know that I loved him or that a friendly nurse helped me to feed him and kept watch for me. They didn't know that I'd held him when he'd seemed stronger this morning and that he'd clenched my finger in his tiny hand. Maybe he didn't want them as his parents. Maybe he knew I would be able to look after him after all. Despite what we'd all agreed. I didn't want to break it to them before we knew that Oliver was safe. I knew it would be hard to be his mum on my own. But I was keeping him.

In response to the Internet Writing Workshop's exercise: A Child Is Born.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Why Susan Boyle won't (and shouldn't) win Britain's Got Talent

There can't be many people who are unaware of Susan Boyle. Type her name into Google and you'll find 7,270,000 results related to this 'singing sensation' (Times Online). The single, 47 year old woman from Blackburn has taken the world by storm since her first appearance on Britain's Got Talent on the 11th of May.

Susan's first rendition of 'I Dreamed a Dream' from Les Miserables shocked the studio audience, the judges and viewers at home after she walked on the stage, wiggled her wide, middle-aged hips and proclaimed that she'd 'never been kissed'.

The introduction pieces to camera just before venturing on stage clearly set up viewers with preconceived ideas; cute kids and young adults with sob stories are almost definitely excellent and get the necessary 'yeses', whilst the old and middle-aged are mocked with clownish music and shots of them saying how 'this is their dream', telling Ant and Dec how brilliant they are and predicting victory.

Susan's introduction immediately fell into the 'sad case' category as we listened to comedic music playing over shots of her munching a sandwich and standing awkwardly backstage as she waited for her cue. Viewers looked forward to another freak show to laugh at as she walked on the stage in her drab, gold dress, ungroomed eyebrows and bird's nest hair.

With Simon calling her 'darling', we could be forgiven for thinking that this would be another deluded contestant to provide hilarity in between the good acts; after all, she'd declared that she'd 'make that audience rock', and as we've seen before, those with too much confidence often fall flat on stage.

Well, we were wrong. In contrast to her appearances, Susan did have talent indeed. She wowed everyone and was given a standing ovation.

Susan now has a fan site ( and has been name-checked by Homer Simpson, who marked her as 'a great singer'; one he'd aspire to. She even appeared across the pond on Oprah Winfrey's show, where she twirled for America.

She's hounded by paparazzi and over the last six weeks, the tabloid newspapers have documented her transformation from 'hairy angel' to coiffed and made-up woman about town.

So why were people so inspired by Susan? Everyone knows these are hard times; people are tightening their belts and spending less on entertainment and grooming. Perhaps the two activities of personal grooming and television, when negatively correlated, have produced the Susan Boyle effect? The more time we spend at home, watching reality television, the less time we spend out of the house and the less time we take to dress up and put our slap on. Perhaps we appreciated the every-woman quality of this anti-narcissist Scottish woman and the shock of a beautiful voice resonating through the lungs of a - let's face it - rotund, hirsute woman, made us realise that there's more to life than how we look. Don't judge a book by its cover: beauty is only skin deep.

OK, enough of the clich├ęs. Yes, it's true that Susan Boyle astounded us for all the wrong reasons and that's not really a good thing, but let's be realistic. Susan isn't going to win Britain's Got Talent, despite the hype, or, in fact, because of it.

Take away the judges, the lights and the screaming audience whose reactions are ordained by crew members holding up signs, take away Ant and Dec and the whole competition, and what are you left with?

Close your eyes and listen to both of Susan's songs. Try to forget her appearances on the news, in the papers and her mention in The Simpsons.

First audition (YouTube embedding disabled by request).

What do you hear? A mediocre singer, that's what you hear. Susan's voice isn't special and it's not particularly strong. If Susan Boyle had been on the X-Factor she'd have been out before boot camp. If she'd been a faintly attractive 30 year old, she'd have been kicked out before the semi-finals. When you boil it down (pun fully intended), the only reason she's still in this competition is because Susan is unattractive.

I don't expect you to agree with me; after all, everyone is talking about her winning the series and she's a topic of conversation all over the world. Twitter even recommended her as a search topic in my side-bar on Sunday night. On clicking, I found Twitterers extolling her virtues and posting YouTube videos of her semi-final rendition of 'Memory' from Cats.

So why don't I agree that she'll win? For the same reasons that she's become so famous - her looks.

We like our celebrities to fall into one or more of the following categories; they must be beautiful, like Angelina Jolie or Catherine Zeta-Jones, intelligent and talented like Stephen Fry or Judie Dench, or inspirational, like Richard Branson.

Unfortunately, Susan doesn't fit into any of these. We don't want our celebrities to be normal, every-man types, we want them to be someone we aspire to. Whether it's striving to have hair by L'Oreal like Eva Longoria, acting talent like Anthony Hopkins or the charisma of the late Steve Irwin, they have to be exceptional in some way.

Susan isn't exceptional enough to make money for Syco, Simon Cowell's record label. After the hype has died down, where does Susan go from there? Who is the target audience for her CD and tour? What kind of shows will she appear on to plug her new album of Elaine Paige covers? I can't imagine her being a hit on Loose Women or the kind of guest Jonathan Ross would deign to interview on a Friday night. What would they talk about?

Ms Boyle wouldn't be the first overnight success to be forgotten in 12 months' time. Where is Steve Brookstein, the first winner of the X-Factor? After 12 weeks he lost his record deal, worth £1m, and now sings on ferries. He got 800,000 more votes than this year's winner, Alexandra Burke, but he just wasn't marketable enough. Should Steve's musical demise be a warning to Susan? I think so.

**EDIT** - I know where Steve Brookstein is now - being interviewed on Sky News regarding Susan's four letter tirade against Piers Morgan's praise of Shaheen
Jafargholi. ***

No, Susan won't win. Her celebrity brings viewers and promotes both ITV and Britain's Got Talent, but she's just not marketable enough.

The very thing that made her famous will be her downfall. I just hope that Susan hasn't gotten too caught up in the hype herself. After all, Pebbles the cat as an audience just isn't the same as the Royal family.

*EDIT* - it seems that I'm not the only one who doesn't rate Susan.

So, what do you think? Will I be proven spectacularly wrong tonight, having to retract this article and erase all knowledge of it? If she does win, where does she go from there? Feel free to lambast me in the comments section below....