When three buses come along…

Published March 5, 2017 by helenlaycock

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I think that all writers would agree that we do it – writing – purely because we love it, and also, perhaps, because we are a little bit obsessed by it!

However, it’s always an added bonus to get a bit of recognition:

It’s wonderful when someone tells you that they have enjoyed reading the words you have written; it’s fabulous when you find a new review of one of your books, or read an encouraging comment on a writing or social forum… but what especially floats our/my boat is when you/I receive the email that says,

We would love to publish your work.’

It doesn’t happen that often, but, like the old bus cliché, I recently had three concurrent publication conversations.

17097306_1317827568277459_3697667099805185446_o.jpgThe first was with Rebecca, the editor of The Caterpillar. This is a wonderful magazine for children full of poetry, stories and art.

John Hegley chose The Caterpillar as one of his ‘top ten poetry books’, and many, many big names have been published in it.

The first time I submitted a batch of children’s poems to Will (the other editor) and Rebecca, they weren’t the ‘right fit’, but, encouragingly, they asked me to submit again. By return email, I sent a batch of poems which were different in tone from the first, and they chose ‘Wind’ to be published in the Winter edition. (See earlier blog post)

                         Spring Edition

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Imagine my surprise when Rebecca contacted me again recently to ask if they could use another from the selection I had sent to be included in the Spring edition.

Marmite’ has just been published.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few weeks back, Maverick publishers had put out a call for picture book submissions. This is an area I have never really considered, but I thought I’d send a couple of ‘story poems’, anyway. In all honesty, I expected to hear nothing. Then I received a totally unexpected email:
I especially enjoyed reading Turning Up The Heat as I felt your tone, rhyme and humour were all very strong. I love the idea of a dragon who is afraid of fire and I believe the story would lend itself well to illustrations. My only qualm was the end – at the moment it feels very sudden and rushed. It did not give Smoky his moment to shine as a hero and lacked the jubilation of Smoky saving the day, as well as his fear being accepted by the surrounding characters. You are under the word count at the moment so don’t be afraid to expand the ending a bit more to give your story that rounded finish. If you choose to have another look at Turning Up The Heat then I would definitely be interested in seeing a new draft.’

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They also gave me an email address to jump the queue…

Well, I reworked the ending and re-sent the poem.  It was taken to an editorial meeting, and while they loved the new ending, the outcome was that having a character with a quirk which becomes an asset is a little too predictable. Out of 4000 yearly submissions, they only publish 15… but it was very exciting to be considered.

Coinciding with both of these was another invitation to have a poem published by Popshot Magazine. They had asked for poems written for the theme ‘Future’. This is what Jacob, the editor, wrote:

After extensively whittling down the shortlist over the last week, it gives me great pleasure to let you know that your poem — To the unborn — has been chosen for publication in our forthcoming ‘Future’ issue. Thanks so much for sending it in for consideration; it’s an absolute beauty of a piece and we can’t wait to immortalise it in print.

My poem  is to appear shortly. It has been slightly tweaked from the original which involved a couple of emails to and from Jacob with alterations. Again, I was thrilled to be involved with such a prestigious magazine. Here’s what it’s about:

‘In June 2008, the idea for a poetry & illustration magazine materialised as a result of picking through the literary shelves of the now deceased Borders. There was a feeling that the world of poetry was driving itself into an elitest and fusty no-through road, and we wanted to do something about it. Combining illustration with poetry in a neat and beautifully designed format, in April 2009 the first issue of Popshot launched, thumping its chest and quoting Adrian Mitchell’s ‘Most people ignore most poetry because most poetry ignores most people’. With black pages, a sans serif typeface, and filled with vibrant illustration work, the magazine didn’t look like a poetry magazine and we were thrilled with it.

Some favourable press swiftly followed with the magazine being picked up by Dazed & Confused, placed on The Observer’s Cool List and named as one of ‘the fresh breed of literary magazines’ by The Independent. Shortly afterwards, Prospect named Popshot as ‘the new face of British poetry’ after it became the first British poetry magazine to achieve major international distribution into 18 countries. With the launch of Issue 7, we started talking about the introduction of short stories and flash fiction into the magazine, as well as poetry. In October 2012, with the arrival of our eighth issue, Popshot relaunched as ‘The Illustrated Magazine of New Writing’ firmly positioning itself as a literary magazine that champions new writing across the globe.

In the years since, that positioning has developed into a strong reputation for quality writing, with Dazed & Confused calling the magazine “a who isn’t yet who of contemporary literature” and The List claiming that “Popshot looks for the best and finds it.”’

For more information about submissions and competitions, you may like to have a look at my ‘other blog‘: 

I also have two websites which may be of interest:

Fiction in a Flash

Helen Laycock | Children’s Author

As Little Red Riding Hood can attest…

Published February 23, 2017 by helenlaycock

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Flat shoes. Can’t overrate them enough. Abseil ropes? Something else that I shall carry from now on.

I had packed carefully for our trip to Durham University as I knew there’d be a lot of walking. Our younger daughter has been offered a place there for September and was invited back for a post-offer day this week. It’s a long ol’ journey – it took us nearly five hours, but it’s such a lovely place that we didn’t mind at all. In fact, we turned it into a kind of mini break. We booked into a hotel on Tuesday night ready for the 9 am start on Wednesday morning.

Durham, like Oxford and Cambridge, is a collegiate university. Our daughter had selected a college to apply to without ever having actually seen it. We had been to Durham’s Open Day in the summer but hadn’t got round to visiting every college. As the college tour started at 10.30, we had a bit of time to spare and decided to have a look at the sports centre first, which was right on the edge of the action – just where the town ended and the countryside began. We left half an hour to get back.

Well, now my tale turns towards my husband.

Unlike me, he has a very good sense of direction… most of the time. However, our hearts invariably sink when he announces that he (thinks he) knows a short cut. As we were heading back along the main road, the very road which we had followed to get to the sports centre (which, in case you have forgotten, is in the middle of the countryside), he stopped at a pathway which disappeared into woodland on our left. There was no signpost, but, he assured us, it was going in the right direction and would be a short cut to the college.

So, off we ambled in the morning sunshine, kicking through the leaves, admiring the view to our left – fields of horses and far-reaching vistas, while on our right was steep woodland. We had walked quite a long way, without a sniff of civilisation, when I suggested that this might not be The Way.

But, hey, what do I know?

On he marched, and on we trotted behind him. On several occasions, I brought up my concerns, but it was only as the woodland trail began to curve to the left that he reconsidered his conviction.

‘Oh,’ he finally declared. ‘It’s heading in the wrong direction.’ It was as though the path had deliberately misled him about its intentions.

‘I did try to –’

He glanced to the right and his eyes travelled up to the top of a very high, very steep slope.

‘All we have to do is take a right here to get us back to where we should be.’

‘But there’s no path –’

Undeterred, off, and up, he scrambled. My daughter, a gymnastic mountain goat, skipped up behind him and I brought up the rear, my over-sized, over-stuffed handbag weighing heavily on my right shoulder and throwing me off balance as I began to climb.

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No matter how many steps I took, the summit seemed impossibly far. The reason was that, with every step, I was sliding backwards. Although the surface was covered with dry leaves, underneath was cunningly concealed, slippery mud. I muttered loudly as I teetered and tottered, my arms spiralling like windmills as I tried to maintain my balance. But then the slide of all slides began to pull me, feet first, back down to sea level.

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There was just no stopping me. My knees eventually wedged into the mud and my hands sank beneath the leaves. That halted me all right.  Did my fellow mountaineers help? No! They did not. They just took pictures as my hair dangled in the mulch.

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Suffice to say that I eventually made it, and that when we did emerge from the deep, dark forest, we weren’t that far from the college.

At every tuft of grass, I stopped for a boot rub down, but I don’t think I made the best impression as we arrived to a meet and greet with refreshments. My boots were caked in mud, my knees were dirty, and I was still brushing off humus from the zip of my handbag. I probably had leaf-mould in my hair, too. Who knows? I avoided hand-shaking as we introduced ourselves, preferring to cup my brown hands around a white china mug of coffee instead. And for the rest of the day I picked mud out of my nails.

The moral of this story is: Never veer off the path, as Red Riding Hood would confirm. Oh, and never take a short cut with my husband.

 

Rubbing shoulders with Thomas Hardy

Published December 10, 2016 by helenlaycock

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This week I was delighted to receive the Winter edition of The Caterpillar, a lovely publication for children full of stories, poems and art.

The Caterpillar is the offspring of the prestigious Moth  arts and literature magazine.

I sent off a selection of poems to one of the editors, Will Govan, back in September. Although they weren’t suitable, he asked for more…

‘Wind’ was one of the poems I submitted in the next batch, and Rebecca O’Connor, the second editor, said that they would love to publish it. I actually only added that one to make an even number of submissions; I thought it was the weakest of the lot. What do I know?!

Anyway, here it is, looking perfectly lovely on p.21:

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And, this will probably be the only time that my name appears on the same contents page as Thomas Hardy.

Secrets… we all have them.

Published December 1, 2016 by helenlaycock
There’s still time to get your FREE Kindle edition of The Secret of Pooks Wood, a time-shift adventure set at an old manor house during a Christmas blizzard.
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Here’s another little taster:
 
Stella found herself sitting on a rug on the wooden floor in Uncle Alfred’s study. It was day time and it was bright and sunny outside. There was no trace of snow. In fact, there were blossoms on the trees. She caught sight of her feet. Such little feet in shiny black patent shoes and white socks with bows at the ankles, and she was wearing a dress she had seen in a photo of herself… when she was two. She looked at her tiny hands with their tiny fingernails and found herself sucking her thumb for comfort. On the floor beside her was Whisker Ted. She’d forgotten all about him. She picked him up with her other hand and rubbed him on her face. He smelled familiar. All his fur had been loved off, and bits of straw poked through, but she loved his bristly roughness on her skin.
The great door opened and a much younger Uncle Alfred peeped round it.
‘Ah, there you are…’ he said in his gentle voice.

Get it while it’s hot… or should that be cold?

Published November 30, 2016 by helenlaycock

Still time to download your FREE Kindle edition of The Secret of Pooks Wood. It has been enjoyed by adults as well as children, so get it while it’s hot… or should that be cold?

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UK link: http://tinyurl.com/jxpkdpy
US link: http://tinyurl.com/hwqjtzq

Here’s another extract to whet your appetite:

As far as she could see there was white. The children’s and Eliza’s footprints had long disappeared. Which way had they gone?
She lurched out into the snow and, panic-stricken, looked in all directions. If they were playing in the fields she would see them, but there was no sign of anyone. Wait, there was a figure in the distance, but where were the others? Stella raced towards it, falling several times, so that her trousers became heavy and cold. As she got close, she slowed to a halt, her arms hanging by her sides. It was a snowman and he was wearing a discoloured bent tiara.
The woods off to the left looked magical, like some sort of Narnia. Surely that’s where they had gone? It was so difficult to run through the thick snow, and even more tiring now her wet clothes were dragging her down.
Within the woods there was silence. The snow had managed to sprinkle itself through every gap onto the woodland floor and lay there, still and untouched. It all looked so different, dressed in white. The familiar paths and landmarks were all hidden, changed into something quite beautiful, soft, pure and glittery, like powdered diamonds. Stella twisted her way between the trees.

Extract from The Secret of Pooks Wood #freebook #mglit #kidlit #childrensfiction

Published November 29, 2016 by helenlaycock

The Secret of Pooks Wood will be FREE to download until December 2nd

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Stella rubbed a circle of breath off the fogged-up pane and felt dizzy as she watched the snowflakes hurtle down outside. It was as if someone had split open a pillow and shaken it. The trees had sprouted white feathers and the hedges were furred with white; the whole world looked like a scene from the top of a Christmas cake.

She spun round as the heavy oak door thudded on the bashed nose of Jonty, the wooden dog that had sat behind it for years, and smiled at the squealing twins as they ran in.

‘Look what we found!’ shouted Oliver.

‘It’s a snow globe!’ His twin, Lily, jumped in as usual before Ollie could finish. ‘Guess what’s inside?!’

Stella knew immediately and, without a word, reached out for it. The twins became quiet and Lily handed it over. They studied their mother’s serene face intently as Stella cupped the globe and shook it.

If she had been standing outside in the grounds at that moment, looking towards Great Uncle Alfred’s mansion, she would have seen the exact same scene.

Inside the globe was a miniature model of Great Hawkesden Manor sitting in the middle of a glitter blizzard, just like the one that was going on outside for real right then and had been for the last three hours.

‘Mummy, will we really be able to stay here over Christmas with Alf?’ Lily looked up at her mother with her large turquoise eyes, her dark curls tumbling untidily over her face from hiding in the coat cupboard.

Great Uncle Alfred, Lily. You mustn’t call him ‘Alf’. It’s disrespectful.’

‘But are we?’

‘Well, it certainly looks that way. We’re cut off now. The roads are blocked and, even if we could get to the station, the trains aren’t running apparently.’

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