#inspiringastory – turning a guilty pleasure into a force for creativity

I haven’t been in here for a while. A very long while. Earlier this week, a friend mentioned she’d popped in to look at my website and I thought, phew – it must be six months since I did that. Then I looked – and it’s considerably longer than six months!

I know I’ve been busy. I’ve been having a lovely time giving talks to the ladies of the Warwickshire Women’s Institute and hosting Live Lit events. Here’s a montage of the talented writers I hosted at this year’s Stratford Literary Festival Indie Authors event – what a great night that was.
stratlit indie authors 2019 landscape

IMG_3301Then there was the day my StoryVine colleagues (Terri Daneshyar & Sue Newgas) and I ran a day of creative writing workshops for my daughter’s school, Stratford Girls’ Grammar. Five sessions reaching around one hundred and fifty girls, plus Terri’s lunchtime talk about her new young adult fantasy!

It’s all been great. I’ve heard a lot of excellent writing and been inspired by so many interesting and stimulating people. I’ve even started work on my first novel, which is a big new adventure for me.  But more about that another time.

Through all of this, there’s been another constant, and time-thirsty, activity. I’ve spent many hours in front of my laptop. To tell you the truth, not all of it has been what you might call ‘productive’. I’ve become rather prone to letting myself get distracted by social media, especially twitter.

It’s a most guilty pleasure, and some days it’s not even that pleasurable. There’s so much gloom and unrest at the moment, not only here in the U.K., it’s going on all around the world. Like a lot of other people, people from all points on the political compass, I’m left feeling impotent and depressed. Some days not even a picture of a whole litter of kittens riding on alpacas could cheer me up.

steampunkSo, I’ve come up with a way to turn my guilty pleasure into a force for creativity. For all the misery, the internet is still a beautiful place and I follow some wonderfully talented folk who post the most amazing pictures. Now when I indulge myself with twitter (which is still at least twice a day), I retweet anything that prompts me creatively with the hashtag #inspiringastory. It might be a beautiful painting or sculpture, a poignant wildlife photograph, or a thought-provoking news story. No rules, just inspiration.

Why not take a look, you can find me on twitter as @jennyjheap or just look for #inspiringastory. Even better, tweet some yourself and help spread the creativity. Here are a few examples to get you started (with thanks and full honours to the original tweeters and accredited artists).


sunny scene  girl with umbrella  naked cyclists    statue    cliff    tamandua



This post has no title…

Ia poets dozen’ve just been re-reading a book of short essays written by my friend the talented poet and entrepreneuse (plus many other exciting things) Gwyneth Box. The book is called A poet’s dozen and it explores many devices and ideas for writing poetry. So many of Gwyneth’s ideas are pertinent to my current project (even though I’m not writing poems, I’m writing ghost stories) and I was particularly struck by the essays on line breaks, reading aloud and titles.

Gwyneth points out the effect of line breaks on emphasising particular phrases or words within the poem. I find the same can work well within prose.

lauren childThis is a concept often used in modern in children’s literature. You only have to look in many recent picture books to see sentences spread across pages, or over the page to great effect. The current Children’s Laureate, author-illustrator Lauren Child takes it further, her text climbs stairs and flies around the page, often upside down or in multiple fonts and sizes. Although Lauren Child is perhaps best known for her books about Charlie and his little sister Lola, my personal favourites are Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Book and That Pesky Rat. It all adds to the storytelling. I can understand, though, that it might not work for a serious grown-up story …

… or would it?

Gwyneth Box also writes of the benefits of reading aloud – and not just at live lit events, such as Words of Love earlier this month. And not only for work that is designed to be read aloud, such as monologues or other performance pieces. Reading your work aloud as part of the review/editing process is a very effective way of spotting snags and hitches that might trip up your reader, interrupting the flow of your idea or narrative. It’s also a chance to check the rhythm of the language and syntax – does it enhance or distract from the atmosphere of the piece? This can come across more strongly if you read to someone else, or even better listen as someone else reads your work aloud.


Gwyneth reading her love poetry Upstairs at Merchants

Then there’s the title. The very thing that might persuade (or fail to persuade) someone to read that particular poem, story or book. As Gwyneth points out, some poets don’t use titles, opting to number their poems instead, albeit often within an overall themed collection. I don’t think I could get away with that as a writer of short stories – where would be the incentive to read story ‘5’ without even a hint of what it’s about?

It helps me to think of the title as a piece of the whole: the frame around the picture, a clue, a sneak preview, sometimes a play on words or just a brief summing up of what the story is really about. It’s proved a bit tricky coming up with a title for this blog post. You might like to add your own?

N.B. Read more from Gwyneth Box on her website: www.gwynethbox.com


Whose stories are they?

Jenny close up readingLast Thursday, I had a wonderful evening launching Women in Shorts out into the world. Yes, it had already been on Amazon for a few weeks, but this was the official launch with friends and prosecco and enough cake for a battleship full of hungry sailors, let alone a land-locked village hall with forty or so ladies (and four gentlemen).

kitty and colin

Despite it being, perhaps, the coldest evening so far this year, there was a great turn-out – possibly due as much to the reputation of my husband and daughter’s baking as to the prospect of hearing a story from me. The village hall was rather chilly, but, fortunately, one of the ladies present is on the committee and knows how to get the heating going. This, along with the lively conversation, soon warmed us all up.


ladybird cinderella

I put a lot of thought into selecting which story to read and mulling over readers’ reactions to my first book, The Woman Who Never Did. What struck me was how different people not only like (and dislike) different stories, each reader interprets a story in their own unique way – sometimes finding a meaning that even the author didn’t realise was there!

scarecrow painting

Once upon a time, my neighbour, Sylvie, painted a picture  inspired by a rhyme I had written about a scarecrow who was dreaming of the harvest ball so that she could ditch her rags for one night. My scarecrow was thinking of a big, sparkly Cinderella ball-gown from the Ladybird book I had as a child. Sylvie Jolie, my elegant French neighbour, had different ideas. In her wonderful, colourful painting, the scarecrow lets down her long dark hair and slinks off to the ball in a saucy, figure-hugging, little scarlet number.

At first, I was unsettled by the idea that a reader might not see the story in the same way that I do. Then I thought about the books we discuss at our village book group; we’re always disagreeing and pointing out different aspects to one another – that’s part of the fun. And so, the more I think about it, the more I like the idea that different readers may interpret my stories in different ways. Of course, I want them to get the essence, the plot, the main theme – otherwise I might just as well type up a list of my favourite words and leave it at that. But I think it’s wonderful that the story continues to grow and develop once it’s printed and leaves my hands.

PhilippaIn the end, I didn’t choose a story to read. I said a few words about how the book came to be (covered in an earlier post, so I won’t repeat myself here) and I read a rhyme called ‘The Day We Got to Choose’ (read it here), which is about the joy of doing things on your own terms. Then I handed over to my friend, Philippa Mitchell, and she read a story from the collection that she had chosen and rehearsed herself – without input or direction from me. Her reading was beautiful, full of interpretation and feeling, and it was like hearing my own words with fresh meaning.

Now I feel Women in Shorts has truly been launched out into the world!

village hall filling up

P.S. There were lots of good photos from the event, below is one of my favourites. It looks like a real soap opera moment. Your suggestions please … what has Sue just told Terri?

Sue with a story to tell

Phew … Book Number Two!

Hooray, Women in Shorts is done! I’ve written it, edited it, had someone else edit it, edited it again in response to their feedback, reshuffled the stories, formatted the document, checked it all and uploaded it to CreateSpace. In parallel, I’ve designed the cover in Canva, tweaked it, printed it, changed it, and also uploaded that to CreateSpace. I’ve ordered a proof copy, waited a week, kicked myself and made changes. Then I’ve ordered another proof copy, waited a week, kicked myself and made changes again. By the way, I know this opening paragraph is not a very good opening paragraph and should be ruthlessly cut down – I’ve already done that, this is the abridged version. Most of the listed tasks should actually be listed multiple times, in particular the number of edits, which runs into double figures.

One of the things I love about being an indie-author is that I get to try my hand at everything – for example, this evening, I shall be ironing transfers onto canvas tote bags to send to all the other women in shorts who feature on the front cover. 


Another wonder of digital self-publishing is that a mere few months after deciding to put the collection together, I’m now waiting to take delivery of a big fat parcel of books (and biting my nails that they will arrive on schedule). In the meantime, Women in Shorts is already available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle form (here). And I’m a bit worn out.

Next should come the marketing bit. I’m not very good at that. There’s lots of excellent advice around, and lots of resources and ideas you can either use yourself or pay others to use for you. I quite enjoy some of them, Facebook and Twitter for instance, but I’m not sure how much difference they actually make to my sales.

sell your booksOne of the best books I’ve read on the subject is Debbie Young’s Sell Your Books (read more here). She recommends tailoring your marketing plan according to the sort of thing you write and what you feel comfortable doing. So, for now, I shall be blowing my own trumpet on Facebook (just a bit), tweeting a bit, blogging a bit, reading a story and chatting with Nick Le Mesurier on the Stratford Words radio show next Sunday  (19th November, 4-5pm, you can listen live here), and having a little celebration party with friends in our village hall at the end of the month (that’s why I’m so anxious about the books arriving on schedule). I also hope to find the time for a sizeable nap.

Then, in 2018, I’m looking forward to reading from Women in Shorts at WI meetings across the county and at Live Lit evenings, including Words of Love, Upstairs at Merchants in Warwick on Monday 12th February. After all, it was for events such as these that many of the stories in the collection were written.


*** UPDATE – I’ve just heard that Welcombe Radio is moving premises and will be off air until they can be reconnected on 26th November. So, sadly, this week’s Stratford Words is postponed to a later date. ***

I’m going to tell you a story – but how?

front only women in shortsI’ve just ordered the first proof copy of my new book Women in Shorts and I’m feeling rather nervous about it.

This isn’t because I think it’s going to be a mess and I’ll have lots of work to do to tidy up the files. I’ve worked very hard on the editing and formatting and I know the files are in good shape – while there are bound to be a few corrections to make, I’m not expecting anything major.

Nor am I unhappy with the stories. Of course, I’m prouder of some than of others, but I like each and every one and I’ve worked on each and every one until it’s the best I can make it.

What’s making me nervous is how the book came to be in the first place.

The book I intended to write

After I published The Woman Who Never Did, I resumed work on a project I’d already begun under the working title, ‘The Mother and the Ghost’ (see several earlier blogs – I did a lot of research at one point!). This was to be a collection of short stories, each with their own theme and narrative, but interlocking (rather than simply linking one to the next) to form an overriding work. However, over the past couple of years, I’ve allowed myself to be distracted by all sorts of interesting opportunities and, so far, the book I’d intended to write next consists of one completed story, three planned stories and a handful of false starts.

The desire to publish another book

portrait sizedIn the meantime, I’ve discovered the joys of having an audience. When a friend who was too poorly to honour her booking at a local branch of the Women’s Institute asked me to stand in, I had a wonderful time speaking about my writing, reading stories, and chatting with the assembled ladies. One thing led to another, and I now have a diary full of bookings for early next year. I’ve also appeared at a number of open mics and even hosted my own series of live events Upstairs at The Globe in Warwick.

I always take along copies of my book and people had very kindly started asking when the next one was coming out. Which made me realise I really wanted to have another book to my name. Unfortunately, as I mentioned already, ‘The Mother and the Ghost’ had not progressed as I’d hoped.

The book I realised I’d already written

So, I wondered, had I actually done any writing over the past two years? Was I really a writer, or had I become someone who just talked about it all the time?

When I looked back, I realised that I had produced plenty of stories, often specifically for open mics and public readings. Indeed, I had almost enough stories for a book. But they didn’t link together like my first book and there was no over-riding theme. Except for this: the stories were all about women. Which is why this new collection is called Women in Shorts see what I did there?

So, why am I nervous?

nervous clipartWomen in Shorts is a bit of a mishmash: of subject matter, of mood, of lengths, of ages of the protagonists. I don’t think that’s a problem, per se. What bothers me is that many of the stories were written specifically for reading aloud, a few are actually monologues, and I wonder if these will be as satisfying if the reader only hears the words in their head. When I read my stories in public, there is always an element of performance – even if I don’t leap about, I pull faces, pause, place the emphasis on certain words or phrases. Will the same stories work in black and white on the printed (or electronic) page?

I think they will – although they may not remain precisely the same stories as when I perform them for an audience. The readers will fill in those gaps in their own way, making each story their own. And I rather like that idea, that each person will interpret FAB at 50 based on their own experience of such celebrations, or On the Way Home based on their own childhood. There are nineteen stories in my new book, but this view means those nineteen will actually result in many more.

Women in Shorts will be available on Amazon from 20th November. If you read it, please let me know if it works for you – you could always try reading it aloud.

A (pink) face for radio…

Stratford Words Flyer jpegAn exciting first for me last weekend – my first ‘appearance’ on the radio.

Welcombe Radio has only been broadcasting since May this year. It’s a community station for Stratford upon Avon and the surrounding area and you can listen to it over the internet here. I had been invited onto Stratford Words, a new program for all lovers of the spoken or written word set up by Bernard and June Hall.

I read my first piece, Monty and Jules Act 1 (which is one of the stories in my new book – Women in Shorts – due out in November) plus a couple of rhymes and I was interviewed by Nick Le Mesurier about writing in general and my love of short stories in particular. These days, I’m fairly comfortable reading to an audience – even when the room is full of strangers. Why then was it all so nerve-wracking to be reading aloud in a little room with just two other people? Was it the big black foam coated microphone invading my personal space?


Wanderer above the Sea of Fog by Caspar David Friedrich

As I read my story, though, I began to settle down and when it was time for my interview I  thoroughly enjoyed talking to Nick (who is also a regular performer at the open mic events Upstairs at The Globe). For the record, one of the things I really like about short stories is that you can capture a moment, or a scene, or a mood in the way that a picture does. I’m not good at painting or photography, but I can get closer to the meaning with words. And writing short stories gives you the time and the space to try to perfect that moment or mood. Of course I love novels and I have great admiration for those who can write them, but for me, at the moment, I just don’t have room in my head to hold a novel-sized idea.

After my interview, I was able to settle back and enjoy the rest of the program, although I must confess to scoring a measly 4/10 in this week’s quiz. As usual, there were plenty of entertaining readings, including two pieces by Nick, and an interview with the talented poet Gwyneth Box about what ‘history’ actually means. All of which was extremely pertinent as we’re getting ready for the Historical Words open mic Upstairs at The Globe on Tuesday 3rd October.

Once I got over my jitters, I had a great time – and would love to be invited back again (hint hint). In the meantime, I shall certainly be listening in every Sunday between 4-5pm.

I was going to end with a photograph, but I forgot to take one! Still, this may be as well, one of the benefits of radio is that nobody can see you – so if my hair wasn’t brushed and my face and neck were pink with nerves, then no-one outside the recording studio need know. I will end instead with a photo of Bernard and June Hall and two other talented contributors to Stratford Words: poet Gwen Zanzottera (seated) and actress Sophie Jukes (on right).

bernard etc


Creativity @ The Crypt

Image result for st mary's church warwickOver the past few weeks I’ve been working on a very exciting project with St Mary’s Church in Warwick. We first worked together last year, when I was asked to host Words! Words! Words! Inspired by Shakespeare and the Bible – the first in what has since become a regular series of themed open mic events Upstairs at The Globe.

St Mary’s has now applied for a grant for me to work with them as their Writer in Residence for a year running a programme involving local writers, GCSE and A Level students and members of the congregation and wider community.

Our project is called Creativity @ The Crypt and our aim is to promote creativity, literacy and public speaking skills through a series of writing workshops. Selected work produced from the workshops will be combined into an anthology – Pilgrim Tales: A St Mary’s Miscellany, culminating in a book launch and public performance in the church in November 2018.

(Find out more about St Mary’s Church here.)


Creativity @ the Crypt - voting flyer - final finalPlease would you help?

St Mary’s has applied to the OneFamily Foundation and have made it through the first round of selection, being selected to go on to the public vote. There are a number of projects in the running and we need to get as many people as possible to vote for our project. Basically, the projects with the most votes will be awarded the grants.

Public voting runs from 9th August to 6th September 2017. To vote you need to register on the OneFamily Foundation website, but it’s quite a simple process.

It would be wonderful if you would vote for us, and fantastic if you’d ask your friends and family to vote for us too. Just follow the link here.

I’ll keep you posted on how it goes. For now it’s getting hard to type with my fingers crossed!

UPDATE: Sadly, we didn’t get enough votes to win the grant. Happily, we’re not giving up and are looking into other funding possibilities as I type…