Tuesday, 31 May 2011


I am going on holiday tomorrow to my favourite place in all the world.

I don't know if I will be able to keep posting but, if not, I'll be back on the 12 June.

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June is busting out - on this month

Hello. Here is the first of On this Month in History posts.

I've selected those events which I hope will be of most interest to writers.

June is Busting Out

1 June 1926 Marilyn Monroe born
1 June 1928 Comedian Bob Monkhouse born
2 June 1840 Thomas Hardy born
3 June 1926 Alan Ginsberg born
6 June 1944 D-Day
6 June 1961 Jung died
7 June 1970 EM Forster died
8 June 1924 George Leigh Mallory last seen climbing Mount Everest
9 June 1870 Charles Dickens died
9 June 1934 Donald Duck made his first screen appearance
13 June 1865 WB Yeats born
15 June 1215 Magna Carta signed.
15 June1775 George Washington appointed Commander in Chief
16 June 1904 James Joyce saw and fell in love with Nora Barnacle
18 June 1812 US declared war on Britain.
18 June 1815 Battle of Waterloo.
19 June 1973 Leonid Brezhnev declared the Cold War over
20 June 1893 Lizzie Borden acquitted of the axe murders of her father and stepmother
28 June 1491 Future King Henry VIII of England born
28 June 1914 Archduke Francis Ferdinand and wife assassinated. Led to WW1
28 June 1919 Treaty of Versailles signed ending WWI

Saturday, 28 May 2011

On this day

I've had a think about how useful this thread may be and come to the conclusion that it would be more useful if I changed it to this month in history and set it for the following month.

My reason is that this will give people more time to reflect on the events and I'll be able to pick out the more important and the more quirky for inclusion. I mean, some days, nothing much seemed to happen!

So, nothing for a few days. (I'm going away for the weekend anyway.) Then I will start On this Month for June.

Here's a few things which happened in June:

The US declared war on Great Britain in 1812.
Edison invented a voting machine.
The Beatles released Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967.


Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Writing Tip # 3 The Hero's Journey

I mentioned how useful the Hero's Journey framework has been to me in helping me plan my stories. As I said, there is a good introduction to it on Wikipaedia so it is worth checking out.

I have designed a grid which you can use to help plan your stories. Please leave a comment on this post with your email and I will send a copy to you.



Sorry I forgot to add the link to the new book and also the post. I need a cup of tea.

Nuggets from Smashwords.com

On this day:

23 May

Literary events

1883 Douglas Fairbanks born
1943 Thomas Mann begins writing Dr Faustus
1966 Beatles release 'Paperback Writer'

Other events

1430 Joan of Arc captured and sold to the English
1568 The Netherlands declare independence from Spain
1813 Simon Bolivar leads the invasion of Venezuela and is proclaimed The Liberator

24 May

Literary events

1530 Wyclif's bible burned in London
1830 Mary Had a Little Lamb is written - does anyone know who wrote it?
1895 Henry Irving becomes first theatrical knight
1941 Bob Dylan born

Other events

1809 Dartmoor Prison opened to house French prisoners of war
1819 Victoria, future Queen of England, born
1916 Conscription begins in Britain
1930 Amy Johnson, first woman to fly solo from UK to Australia lands safely
1954 IBM announces vacuum tube 'electronic brain'

Hell is paved

Hell is paved with good intentions and I've missed one 'On this day in history' post.

My excuse is that I spent much of the day trying to get the cover right for my collection of short fiction, Nuggers. This is available at Smashwords.com for all formats.

Sorry once again. Here are yesterday and today's posts for On this Day


Sunday, 22 May 2011

On this day 22 May

22 May

Literary events

1803 First public library in the US opens in Connecticut
1813 Richard Wagner born
1159 Birth of Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes
1907 Laurence Olivier born
1907 Hergé, creator of Tintin, born

Other events

334 Alexander the Great defeats Darius at the Battle of Granicus
1176 Saladin escapes an attack by the Assassins
1840 Britain stops the transportation of convicts to New South Wales
1933 First alleged sighting of 'The Loch Ness Monster'
1973 President Nixon confesses his role in Watergate cover up

Planning a short story

In Top Tip #2 I described a planning tool and the next day listed the elements of the story which this had generated.

I have now written the story which will soon be available in a collection of short fiction later this week.

For readers of this blog: here is the story.


Melissa lounged against her car. It was a warm and sunny day and she had arranged to meet her friends from college. They’d all passed their exams. They all wanted to celebrate.

After the celebrations she would have to make up her mind whether to go to university or accept the job at the bank.

She watched as an elderly man moved up and down the line of cars, picking up the rubbish with a stick and depositing it in a large plastic bag. He did not work swiftly, did not seem to relish his job, but he was methodical.

At that moment a young woman strolled past, shopping in her arms. Melissa watched her, admiring her elegance, envious of her well-cut skirt and top, her designer ear-rings. She was beautiful, with high cheek-bones, a flame of red hair curling upon her shoulders like a mane and gorgeous alabaster skin tone. She was only a few years older than Melissa but she seemed a universe away.

The young woman headed towards the line of cars and Melissa tried to guess which one belonged to her. The Mini, she decided.

She was surprised to see that the woman headed for a brand new red Porsche. It had darkened windows so that nobody could see inside and open top so that everybody could.

She must be a young executive, Melissa thought, a lawyer or a businesswoman. I’d love a car like that. I wonder whether she went to University or straight into work.

The car was only two or three spaces from where the man was collecting rubbish. He ignored it, why shouldn’t he, for cars were part and parcel of his daily life. He kept on slowly but surely retrieving rubbish and placing it in the bag.

The hood of the Porsche opened wide, yawing like the mouth of a hippopotamus.

The young woman looked wonderful in her car, the picture of sophistication.

She put on a pair of designer sun-glances, glanced around the car-park and bent down. Then she started to fling piles of rubbish out of the car and onto the car-park.
Melissa was astonished to see this.

The cleaner was incensed.

‘Hey,’ he cried. ‘What do you think you’re doing?’

‘Getting rid of this rubbish,’ said the girl with a shrug.

‘You can’t just throw it on the ground like that,’ the man said.

‘Why not?’

‘Because I’ve got to pick it up.’

‘But that’s your job.’ The young woman shook her head as if pitying his lack of understanding.

The man did not reply for a moment, could not reply.

‘It’s not my job to clear up after you,’ he began. Then he paused. He took a step towards her.

‘Don’t I know you?’

The young woman peered more closely at him.

‘Oh yes. Didn’t you used to be Mr Taylor?’

‘I still am.’

‘I mean Mr Taylor, my science teacher.’

The cleaner nodded. ‘That’s me.’

The young woman looked him up and down and her hand played with her hair. She gave a sympathetic pout.

She looks pained, Melissa thought, but was not sure how genuine this was.

‘But why are you doing this, Mr Taylor?’ the young woman asked. ‘Why are you clearing up rubbish?’

‘I was made redundant.’

The woman frowned. ‘I’m sorry about that,’ she said.

‘Not as sorry as I am.’ He passed his hand over his eyes. Why me, he thought for
the hundredth time since the day it happened.

He turned to the young woman. ‘Now about this rubbish?’

‘Well, don’t complain Mr Taylor,’ she replied. ‘I really am helping you out. If it wasn’t for me throwing rubbish out like this then you might be made redundant from this job as well.’

She bent down and flung another handful out before driving off.

Melissa bit her lip. University or bank? Bank or university?

By the way, you might like to read more of my short stories in my collecttion of short stories Pick and Mix.

It costs 70p, $1.14 or €0.99


Saturday, 21 May 2011

On May 21

21 May

Literary events

1688 Alexander Pope was born
1908 The first horror film, 'Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde' released
1916 Author Harold Robbins born. His books sold over 750 million copies.

Other events

1804 Lewis and Clarke expedition starts
1840 New Zealand becomes a British colony

Friday, 20 May 2011

On this day in history

On This Day

As a writer of chiefly historical fiction I thought it would be useful to note down what happened on this day in history. I may regret this as a mind-numbing, totally irrelevant experience which no one finds at all interesting.

However, here goes. First, I ought to give fair warning of four things:

I cannot vouch for the accuracy of every date. I check the facts with several sources but may slip up. If you want to use them please triple-check.
Some days there might not be much worth noting.
Some days I might be on holiday without internet access.
Some days I might forget to look stuff up.

So, with these caveats here goes for:

20 May

Literary events

1609 Shakespeare's sonnets are first published (possibly in a pirate edition)
1830 Honore de Balzac was born
1830 The fountain pen was patented by D. Hyde (just in time for Honore)
1830 First railroad timetable published in a newspaper in Baltimore. (Very handy for crime and detection fiction.)

Other events

1191 Richard the Lionheart conquered Cyprus on his way to fight in the Third Crusade.
1834 Marquis de Layfayette died
1932 Amelia Earhart flew solo across the Atlantic
1908 James Stewart was born


Monday, 16 May 2011

David Gaughran

I've just read a couple of interesting stories by David Graughan called If You Go Into the Woods. Worth a look and less than £1.00 or $1.00. Just like my books.

He has a really interesting web-site: davidgaughran.wordpress.com

He offers really practical advice about e-publishing.

Martin Lake

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Writing Tip # 2 continued with an example

I went to a supermarket yesterday and was momentarily shocked to see a garden rubbish bag apparently dumped near some bushes. Only when I looked further did I notice that the area around the bushes had been cleared of weeds and that, therefore, the bag presumably belonged to a gardener employed by the supermarket.

A good theme for a story I mused.

As I lay in bed this morning I thought I would use the object plotting device (from now called Martin’s Game for ease) to see if I could create a story.

This is what I came up with. The objects I noted down were 1 the bag, 2 a little decorative brush hanging on the bedroom wall, 3 a picture of blue bells on a calendar my father painted, 4 a bottle of anti-bacterial cleaner now filled with water and used as a spray, 5 a suitcase containing spare pillows, 6 a mirror, 7 the glass of the mirror, 8 a luminous star 9 the curtains

This led to the following idea for a story.

1. setting – bag in the car park (supermarket car park)
2. protagonist – brush on my wall (cleaner, a newly redundant executive or headteacher)
3. antagonist – picture of a blue bell (elegant young woman in a big car)
4. theme – bottle of surface cleaner now filled with water (cleanliness [is next to godliness])
5. conflict – a suitcase (the woman throws out rubbish from her car)
6. main action – a mirror (darkened windows in the car which means you cannot see that the car is filled with rubbish which will lead to the conflict)
7. subplots – the reflective glass of the mirror (The man reflects on the fact he has suffered loss of prestige and status – The young woman believes her throwing out rubbish gives him a job)
8. resolution/cliff-hanger – a star (The teacher taught and helped create this successful yet dreadful young woman – The woman used to respect the cleaner who was once her teacher)
9. point of view – a curtain (a young woman who is wondering whether to go to university or into a bank and watches the events unfold)

Clearly, there are even more things at work here in my sub-conscious than I was at first aware of and they were, no doubt, rippling through the process and adding more dimensions and texture to the idea.

Chief amongst these are my elderly father who never fulfilled his potential and advised me not to become a teacher because he had been one for a year and could not cope with it. Yet, at the same time, he has always encouraged me to learn. He is now in his late eighties and beginning to find life a struggle. Late in life he took up painting with great personal success.

The second is the whole world scenario of massive cuts to public services, the amnesia concerning the catastrophic failure of the banks, the shifting of blame and punishment onto public servants and the poor and the continuing adoration of the wealthy and successful.

Third, is the problem young people face in finding the best career for themselves and in building their own moral compass.

Fourth, the problem of older people being made expected to work for longer then being made redundant while society turns a blind eye to the loss of their skill and experience.

Finally, the whole debate about the degradation of our environment and our planet in order to enrich ourselves.

Or maybe I shouldn’t have eaten that cheese.

You can find more of my stories in Pick and Mix on Amazon.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Writing Tip # 2. Harness your sub-conscious

Here is a little exercise which will allow your sub-conscious to help you when you are at a loss for a story or how to progress it.

It makes use of the following categories of story:

1. setting
2. protagonist
3. antagonist
4. theme
5. conflict
6. main action
7. subplots
8. resolution/cliff-hanger
9. point of view

Look around you, or go for a walk, and note down the nine most memorable objects you see.
Give each object a number.
Use the first memorable object to answer the following question: In what way is (the object) like or unlike the setting of my story?
Write down your answer.
Then ask yourself: In what way is object 2 like or unlike the protagonist of my story?
Write down the answer.
In what way is object 3 like or unlike the antagonist of my story?
Write down the answer.
In what way is object 4 like or unlike the theme of my story?
Write the answer down.
And so on down to object 9 and point of view.

Try it and let me know how it worked for you.


My thanks to Suzi Smith who first introduced me to using objects in this way although in a different field altogether.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

The Lost King: Resistance

I've been asked to post an extract from The Lost King: Resistance. Here it is.

‘Welcome, Edgar,’ cried Duke William, as he swept out from his tent. His face was flushed and he was still fastening up his tunic. ‘London has opened its gates to us. Now we shall ride together to receive its submission.’ He swung himself into his saddle and together we cantered down towards the walls, Norman knights and a handful of Housecarls behind us.
I fixed my eyes on the gate ahead of us. I felt like a traitor. I had denied myself, denied my people and denied Harold and all he stood for. I just hoped that my people would forgive me. I thought about what Oswald had said. Was I really the only one with any chance of helping my people? He had meant it to be a comfort and in some ways it was. But it also felt like he had placed an impossible burden upon me.
All too soon we reached the gate. The huge doors had been left open but there was no one there to greet us. Only the empty gate. Duke William halted for a moment and I saw his face set hard and furious. He glanced around at his brother who was scanning the walls above us. ‘Careful, William,’ Odo said. ‘It may be an ambush.’
In answer to that William spat upon the ground. He kicked his spurs savagely and charged through the gate. The Normans looked on in horror, rooted to the spot.
Then Oswald cried to me: ‘Come Edgar,’
At once I began to turn my pony, thinking he meant us to flee. But instead he grasped hold of my bridle and raced after William. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the Duke’s horse disappear around a lane and we hurtled after it. In a moment we had caught up with him and, when the road opened out, Oswald spurred us on still faster. Suddenly we were riding alongside William, matching him stride for stride. He turned and I saw a look of astonishment cross his face. Then he nodded, once, and together we cantered into an open space in front of a church. Drawn up to face us were the armed companies of the citizens of London. We slowed to a walk and stopped twenty yards in front of them.
Duke William surveyed them all in silence. Then he stepped forward two paces.
‘Prince Edgar and I thank you for greeting us,’ he cried. ‘I am William of Normandy and by oath and pledge your lawful king. Submit to me now and let there be peace in the kingdom.’

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Writing Tip # 1

One of the most useful writing tips I have found is also one of the simplest.  This is to create a writing log.  I simply create a table and, each day, list the number of words I have written and the running total.  It is one of the greatest motivators I have found.

Martin Lake