Words of a Feather

A Reading & Writing Community

Constructive criticism

As one of the key activities in the Workshop is that of giving and taking constructive criticism, I have now created a page with a list of sites which offer advice on the subject.

To offer constructive critique is almost as difficult (if not more so!) than the writing itself, so if in doubt, whether you are a member of the Words of a Feather Workshop or not, you might like to take a look at the page and do a little investigation in to what constitutes a good critique — and how to accept one too!

Here is the page >>>

MIT online courses

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology offers an amazing range of free online courses. You might like to check out those for creative writing in all its forms, from prose to playwrights’ workshops and more. Lots of materials to download and projects to attempt. Many of the courses also offer extensive reading lists.

Take a look for yourselves by following this link and scrolling down to the bottom of the page:
‘Find courses by topic’

More online courses

True to tradition, Future Learn is offering some new online courses that could well be of interest to writers. The latest ones are particularly interesting for gaining historical background to periods of world conflict. I have listed them all in our events calendar, so do check them out when you can.

Please bear in mind that you will only find courses which have some connection with creative writing and that Future Learn offers courses many other fields of interest.

Conjugate verbs

If you are anything like me, every now and again you will look at a word you have written and for some reason it looks as if you have misspelled (misspelt??? and there’s an example for you!) it. Most writers, at the very least, will have a decent dictionary to hand, but it’s another thing when you need a good grammar book with full conjugation of verbs!

So I was delighted this morning when, plagued by one of these spelling-bees, I came across this nice, simple little site which obviously set out to help people with their French spelling, but inadvertently created a great search function for people like myself who need help with English verbs. I have listed the site in our Resources under LANGUAGES, but will add the address here too. It is not clear with what authority the site offers the service — maybe an educational institution or maybe just someone like myself, but having tested it with a fair number of verbs, I can see that it has a high level of accuracy and as such is worth bookmarking for future reference.

Here goes:

Venice at a glance

Not everyone gets a chance to do it the ‘Venetian’ way when they visit the city of Venice.

I was a tour guide for a number of years and know full well what the routine normally involves – drop off from the tour bus early in the morning, and then according to finances and inclination, a walk or a boat ride through to the St.Mark’s Square area where the group will be met by a local guide for a quick tour around the Square. A glance at the better known monuments followed by a brief exhibtion of glass blowing and the usual look at the glass showroom where you can pick up – for a sum which is often higher than elsewhere – a piece of glass which hopefully doesn’t have a ‘Made in China’ label underneath.

Having completed the ‘accelerated’ tour it is just about time to head off for lunch. For the less courageous there is usually the option to follow the bus tour guide to a local restaurant where a ‘tourist’ menu has been negotiated as part of the daily deal. Sad to say that what you eat often has very little to do with ‘typical’ Venetian food, but no time to haggle, and if you hadn’t found the courage to eat somewhere unassisted, you will probably also have booked up for the rest of the afternoon’s activities.

More often that not these will include a ride in a gondola where you will share the experience with at least another five people, be they strangers or not, in the same gondola. Don’t wax too lyrical at the serenade – the guy will probably be singing something Neopolitan anyway unless you are extremely lucky. The only song most visitors to Venice know is ‘O Sole Mio’ and we know the customer is always right. The other trip you might have booked yourself on would likely be the one over to the islands, where in actual fact, unless you are exceptionally lucky, you could well find yourself inside yet another furnace watching yet another guy doing something with molten glass. And if you aren’t careful, if they didn’t get you first time around, here you might end up opening your wallet for that expensive, and usually useless – piece of glass.

And just when you were thinking that you might still have time to have a look around the shops, the tour guide warns you that it’s now time to head back to the bus. Dinner is at 7pm and by the time you take the local transport boat, and then all get on the bus and wait around for the family that inevitably gets lost and holds everyone up until the next boat gets in – then ride the twenty or so minutes back to your hotel which is out in the middle of nowhere – you realise you just have time for a quick shower and change for dinner. That is of course, providing you haven’t booked in for the evening ‘Gondolier show’ back in the city centre again.

I resolved the problem by marrying a real Venetian. If you want to do the same, you had better be quick since there aren’t many of them left.

I feel obliged here to stress a point — the real McCoy Venetian glass is a classic handcraft, and the few working furnaces that still survive on the island of Murano produce some exceptionally beautiful pieces of work. Unfortunately, due to disloyal competition from abroad, the craft is slowly dying. The European economy at the present time (2014) makes it difficult for the Italian craftsmen to compete with the labour costs of many non-European markets. When you buy glass in Venice, please look for the Murano authenticity and quality certification.

Fairy World

Of course Creative Writing is written for all ages, not just for adults! In my constant search for interesting resources, today I came across this nice little web site that deals with everything ‘fairy’ — from names to illustrations to costumes and if I saw right — I think you will even find the odd cake recipe or two in there. Looks as if it might be useful for those who are aiming their writing efforts at a younger audience.

Take a look >>>

From my own point of view, I just purchased a couple of new books which deal with illustrations of fairies. I would really like to attempt some of these and — who knows — might even illustrate my own fairy stories!

Title: DragonArt — Fantasy Characters
Perfect Paperback: 128 pages
Publisher: IMPACT Books; Act edition (26 Oct 2007)
Language: English
ISBN: 978-1581808520
Product Dimensions: 27.9 x 21.6 x 1 cm
Amazon link: Dragonart Fantasy Characters: How to Draw Fairies, Elves Ogres and More

Title: How to Draw Fairies by David Antram
Paperback: 32 pages
Publisher: Bookhouse (1 Nov 2011)
Language: English
ISBN: 978-1907184628
Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 20.8 x 27.3 cm
Amazon link: How to Draw Fairies

Open University text books

Perhaps you might be interested in knowing which compulsory text books were used on the Open University Creative Writing course during the year I followed it in 2012. I will check out the current course details to see if there is a new book list available.

We affectionately called it the Red Book or The Big Red Book. Some 650 pages of content which includes many exercises alongside the very clearly written explanations of the various aspects of the art. Both prose and poetry are covered.
Here are the details of the book available on Amazon:
Anderson, Linda (2006) Creative Writing, Abingdon, Oxfordshire: Routledge
Amazon link: Creative Writing: A Workbook with Readings

The Advanced Open University course – The Big Blue Book – covers similar ground but concentrates more on script and play writing.
Neale, Derek (2009) A Creative Writing Handbook, Milton Keynes: The Open University
Amazon link: A Creative Writing Handbook: Developing Dramatic Technique, Individual Style and Voice

My reading list

This is a list of book recommendations I picked up from fellow students during my OU Creative Writing course. I have decided to list them here (so as not to lose sight of them on one of my usual scraps of paper) and hopefully find the time to read some of them in the future. Do feel free to create a similar list for yourselves. Just remember to give WORKSHOP group access only or INDIVIDUAL access and to add the MY READING LIST category.

Before i go to sleep by S J Watson One Day by David Nicholls A week in December by Sebastian Faulks Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones The Line Of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst Barbara Kingsolver’s Poisonwood Bible The World According to Garp A Son of the Circus Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook. Frost in May by Antonia White Thomas H Cook – Red Leaves The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794) by Ann Radcliffe The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson A Scots Quair by Lewis Grassic Gibbon The Preacher by Camilla Lackberg

More to come

How to write Fiction

Posted this just for the heck of it – do feel free to post your own book/writing orientated content in the group. Franz – if you want to write a review of your own book in here for the general public, do feel free. There are also the Amazon links available if you wanted to add one, but you will need Affiliateship to add your own IDs into your profile page.

I have only had my Kindle a short while. Thinking I wouldn’t use it that much, I even opted for the less expensive version without all the bells and whistles. Nothing could have prepared me for the importance this gadget has taken on for me in the last couple of months. With the unexpected return of my daughter to our nest – along with all her stuff and a dog, I suddenly needed to create space in our tiny home. Woe is me – all the family fingers pointed at my mountain of books! Sure enough, the Kindle has since become my bookcase and most of the paperbacks I owned are now digitally stored on my Kindle with room for many more than a thousand of them still.

But I put my foot down for manuals and how-to-do-its on my Kindle – until today. Can’t quite remember why, but I tripped over the Guardian masterclass on how to write fiction. Not that I am without similar books in all shapes and sizes. I hide behind them all the time rather than write, always managing to convince myself that ‘the-mother-of-all-fiction-writing-books’ has still to be written – and more to the point – has still to be read by me.

Forgive me – I digress. So in a word (or two), I am now the proud owner of ‘How to Write Fiction: a Guardian masterclass’, Kindle version, bought for the grand sum of about €3. At first glance it looks as if it will be quite useful (unlike all the other 50 books I own????) and includes a few exercises, some of which are a bit different and quite stimulating. Being on the Kindle, it is all very portable and might end up with my notebook on my trips out and about.

Anyone else read this one?


Why write?

NB. This post is open to Workshop members only

Not expecting anyone to give away their whole life story, but I thought it might be nice to know a bit about one another – if nothing else from the ‘wannabe’ writer’s point of view. So I will start – if you feel ok with this, you can just comment beneath this post rather than start up a new one. Just click on the title of the article to open up the whole page with the comment box too.

Well you know the name – here in Italy we married women hang on to our maiden name which is a bit misleading. I am married to a Venetian and we have one daughter in her early 20s. She just returned home after a 3 year stint away, so things have been a bit traumatic lately! Our fault for getting used to the idea of all that freedom.

I’ve been here, off and on for more than 40 years, so without submitting you to silly guessing games, that puts me firmly in my early 60s. Don’t be foiled by all the pics of me in my tender years – that blonde is now a pure white, though I do still dash around Europe on the back of a motorbike with hubby, so I’ve not completely given up on youthful frivolity.

Now to the writing – I have been involved in writing for many years as a ghost writer and translator mainly for contemporary art galleries (catalogues, press releases etc) but also for web sites of all sorts, some of which I have built myself. A couple of years ago I decided to take creative writing a bit more seriously and did the full OU Creative Writing course. Great course, and obviously much more complete than the one we have just done. But with all the best intentions in the world, life got in the way – a couple of rather distressing family situations, and my writing got put more or less on hold. I did continue to take my notebook with me everywhere though!

Then spurred on by my brother’s recent success – a non-fiction tome published last summer – I gradually organized my life to make space for some writing again. I was delighted to find the MOOC course which has been perfect as a refresher. For now I see my writing in short story form – but who knows. But certainly for the time being I will be trying to improve my techniques in that area. As to genre – I like mystery and crime, though I don’t exclude that I might attempt others.

So what about all of you?

More than a meal

Quite apart from the wonderful experience of eating good food, there is no denying that there are dishes that evoke particular memories or thoughts in many of us. It might be that a recipe reminds you of your Mum’s cooking – or of the delicious aroma you always smelled when you visited your grandmother. What about those wafts that titivate your nose as you pass an Italian pizzeria or Greek taverna?

This is the theme of one of our creative challenges – we want the recipe, but we also want the story to go with it! Of course anyone can try out the idea as a prompt, but only our registered Workshop members will be able to post their work on the site for peer feedback.

Looking forward to some Food for Thought!

Editor’s scribbles

When I’m not working on my book, I’m a hobby magazine editor, and for many of you, it’s a good idea to cut your writing teeth on submitting articles to magazines like mine. The discipline of more journalistic writing can be very useful while you’re learning your craft and will get you used to producing work under pressure. So, here are a half a dozen tips from a busy editor to help you get your articles into print.

1. A deadline is a deadline. If you want a quick way to make an enemy of an editor, submit your work late. People like me have a very short list of contributors they know they can rely on to produce the goods on time, every time, and they’ll be the first people I’ll call when I need something in a hurry.*

2. If an editor specifies a word count, stick to it. I can’t tell you how infuriating it is to have agreed a 2,000 word piece with a contributor, only to have a 2,500 or 3,000 word essay arrive (or, in one spectacular case, 9,000 words!). An editor specifies a word count because he’s intimately familiar with how much space a certain number of words will occupy on the page when combined with images and captions. So don’t make the editor’s life difficult, and don’t be surprised if an over-written piece ends up back in your inbox.

3. Proof your work. If you can’t be bothered to check your own spelling and grammar, then I can’t be bothered to publish your piece. The odd typo is acceptable, but submitting work littered with errors is just bad manners. A good practice is to put the piece away in a drawer (really, print it out) for a week or two before sending it in, then re-read it — you’re much more likely to spot the howlers. A reliable friend who can proof-read is another great asset, especially if they’re pedantic!

4. Don’t pester the editor. People like me receive a LOT of email. If you’ve sent in work on spec, rather than having been specifically commissioned, understand that however good your piece is, it will take a while for the overworked editor to get round to it. If you’ve heard nothing after a month or two, a polite enquiry as to its progress is fine, but badgering is another quick way to fall off the popularity pole. Far better to submit multiple articles to several magazines than stew in your own juices by staking your sanity on the success of a single piece.

5. Become an expert. If I had a pound for every enquiry I’ve received along the lines of “What would you like me to write about?” then, well, I’d have a lot more money than I do now! First of all, you should have read at least a few issues of the magazine in question to get a feel for the kind of subject matter they publish, and the editorial ‘style’, be it young, fresh and zippy, more formal and academic, or enthusiastic and down to earth. Then, think about what *really* interests you within the magazine’s particular niche, and write about that. I’d much rather be sent 1,000 words brimming with genuine enthusiasm than a dry-as-dust 5,000 words that have evidently been chiselled in boredom. You can’t fool an audience: if you don’t enjoy writing it, don’t write it!

6. And finally, do the courtesy of addressing an editor by his or her name. These days, “Sir” or “Madam” not only come across as rather stuffy, they also imply that you couldn’t be bothered to research the name of the editor whose approval you seek. And I can tell you that anything I receive which begins “Dear Sir or Madam” goes straight to the trash can! Similarly, “Kind regards” or just “Regards” is far less awkward than “Yours sincerely” or “Yours faithfully” at the end of an email.

Happy writing!

*Fortunately, book editors seem to be softer creatures than magazine editors. My own editor with Pen & Sword has been endlessly patient with me as I present the latest set of pathetic excuses as to why I still haven’t got the darn thing finished. On the other hand, as during this very afternoon, I can crank out 2,000 words plus photos if I need to. Go figure…

© Henry Hyde 2012

Discovering Literature

Made a brief visit to A.J.Waine’s blog this morning and there I discovered, secondhand because she was the first to mention it – that the British Library now has an area of their online resources dedicated to ‘Discovering Literature’.

Her account of a writer’s journey is a neat description of what can often prove to be a long and painful route to the publisher and the local book shop.

Read more >>>

What Sort of Writer Do You Really Want to Be?

Insights from Joanna Penn

Our guest author, Henry Hyde writes an interesting review on Joanna Penn and her web presence.

If you are, or want to become, a professional writer, then I can give no better advice than to take yourself to The Creative Penn, home of author/entrepreneur and best-selling fiction and non-fiction writer Joanna Penn.

Read more >>>

Travel writing competition

The Daily Telegraph, a national newspaper in the United Kingdom, offers regular travel writing competitions with interesting cash prizes. The “Just Back” weekly competitions are open to residents of the UK, Channel Islands Isle of Man and Republic of Ireland aged 18 years or over
You can read more about them by following this link:
Submission guidelines >>>



There are many excellent books on the market whose sole purpose is to provide you with never-ending lists of publishers in every corner of the globe. I would be making a futile attempt to re-invent the wheel by trying to compile a list here so I will content myself by offering a few book titles as suggested reading. Most of these books are jam-packed with publisher details, and in particular, the *Yearbooks offer detailed information regarding the submission guidelines for each. *Here you will also find similar information for submission to newspapers and magazines.

Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook 2014
Cover type: paperback
Pages: 816
Language: English

[amazon asin=1408192195&template=add to cart] Children’s Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook 2014
Cover type: paperback
Pages: 480
Language: English

[amazon asin=1408195127&template=add to cart] The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook Guide to Getting Published
Cover type: paperback
Pages: 384
Language: English

[amazon asin=1408128950&template=add to cart]


www.blurb.com www.Lulu.com


I am starting up a page with a list of publishers, concentrating mainly on self-publishing. You will be able to access the list and other publishing resources from the ‘Resources’ item in the main horizontal menu on the site. Be patient as this will be a work in progress as we gather names here and there. Meanwhile, do take a peek at our Facebook page where we have been adding information over the past couple of years.

Calibre (e-publisher)

I joined the Goodreads web community recently having seen it recommended in a couple of places. My first impact has been one of total confusion — so many discussions going on about all manner of things, including many which seem ‘off topic’ if books are to be considered the common denominator of the site!

However, it is still early days, and at least one good thing has come of getting myself in the door, and that is the discovery of ‘Calibre’. I am not quite certain how to define this piece of free software. I suppose it is an e-publisher really for those of us who might be interested in taking the self-publishing route and who want to make our books available on Kindle in a digital format.

Following a couple of helpful comments made by a fellow Goodreader, this morning I downloaded and installed the program. I did a quick experiment to see how the thing works and, voilà — within 30 minutes I was reading my ‘book’ on my Kindle. Personally I am pleased to be able to assess the ‘look and feel’ of the book before submitting it to publishers such as Amazon — to iron out the creases and tweak the layout before a book goes live.

I will try to get around to doing a more thorough review of the application once I become more familiar with it. Then I will bring my findings in here to share with you all.

Useful Books

Reference & ‘how to do it’ books:
Padel, Ruth ((2004)[2002]) 52 Ways of Looking at a Poem, London: Vintage Books Fry, Stephen ((2007)[2005]) The Ode Less Travelled, London: Arrow Books Novakovich, Josip (1998) Writing Fiction Step by Step, Cincinnati: Story Press Novakovich, Josip ((2008)[1956]) Fiction Writer’s Workshop, Cincinnati: Writer’s Digest Books Anderson, Linda (2006) Creative Writing, Abingdon, Oxfordshire: Routledge Neale, Derek (2009) A Creative Writing Handbook, Milton Keynes: The Open University George, Don ((2009)[2005]) Lonely Planet’s Guide to Travel Writing, London: Lonely Planet Publications Oltermann, Philip (2009) How to Write, London: Guardian Books Weatherly, Lee & Corner, Helen ((2010)[2006]) Write a Blockbuster and get it Published, London: Hachette UK Sommer, Robin Langley (1996) Nota Bene, USA: Dove Tail books Green, Jonathon ((1999)[1986]) The Penguin Slang Thesauras, London: Penguin Books

Open University

The natural evolution of an OU Creative Writer would probably be to move on to the Advanced Creative Writing course — at least, that certainly seems to be how a lot of the students in the forums see it for the development of their writing careers. Their decision may also have something to do with how their degree course is structured, but as I am probably looking at an Open Degree which at this stage has just as much chance of becoming a Science Degree as an Arts one, I don’t feel as if I am harnessed by the more obvious choices.

Thinking about other possible options here are a few courses I find of interest:

‘Worlds of English’ [Read more … ]
Level 2 course, ‘Creative Writing’ [Read more … ]
Level 3 course, ‘Advanced Creative Writing’ [Read more … ]
Level 3 course, ‘Children’s Literature’ [Read more … ]
Level 3 course, ‘English Grammar in Context’ [Read more … ]
Level 3 course, ‘Religion in history’ [Read more … ]

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