Sarah Ann Hall

Reporting on writing in progress or, more probably, not; practising flash fiction.

Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category

Priorities met, almost

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Of the three priorities I set myself in my last post, there are two successes and one fail:

I have married the first and second halves of my competition story and submitted it.

I am not sure of its worth, but I never am. I emailed it to two writer friends asking for their opinions, and I let it sit for a few days before I read it again. Unfortunately, neither of my friends was able to get back before the deadline, and I was still tweaking the fourth time I read it aloud just before hitting the send button. It’s not ready and won’t get anywhere, but it has shown me I can get things done with enough forward planning.

I have written more of my story based on a picture of men sitting on a bench.

I have changed the tense – past to present – to increase the energy in the story. I now need to add in more emotion and feeling, as well as doing some research on Ukrainian food, which features as a comfort for my protagonist. The story is currently 1000-words and might increase to 1500. At the moment it is possibly more a vignette than a story: it starts in the middle, goes back to the beginning, and the ends with the characters about to live a new life that the reader has to imagine. I’m not sure this is enough of an ending. I’ve left the story alone for a week so it’s time I looked at it again.


I haven’t blogged my progress until now. I had drafted a post to put up a week ago, but life intervened and this is my first free time in a while. I wonder if I should give myself deadlines for posting in order for me to keep them regular.


Priorities for the next fortnight: work on men-on-bench story and get it ready to show colleague on 25th Feb; get into a routine of blog reading and writing.

Ongoing projects successfully met: my crochet learning has been facilitated by some very long car drives and my understanding of patterns improved. I should be making things soon.

Fails: both piano practice and Italian study have been neglected; blog reading has not increased enough.



Written by Sarah Ann

February 15, 2017 at 9:12 pm

New Year, New Me? Probably not.

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After a year of no writing or blogging, my head seems to have made room for both. I have changed jobs, from one where I looked at documents and computer screens all day long and all but gave up reading for pleasure, to one where I see families for short periods and writing is limited to an hour-long report per visit. This work is also part-time, giving me space to do some much needed decorating, practise piano, learn to crochet properly – something I promised my husband’s aunt I’d do 18-months ago – and get back to reading.

There is something else spurring me to write again. One of the women I met two years ago on a writing course has got herself an agent. True, her writing is very different from mine, more on-trend and much tighter, and she got an agent through someone who knows her husband, but I am an eternal optimist/ eternally deluded. If she can do it, so can I. And so, over the next weeks and months, I will be reading across my bookshelves to get my head back into the groove, and hope, in time, to get on with editing my own work. I re-commenced reading on New Year’s Eve with Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer, a birthday present from a few years back, and was blown away by page two by her detailed and fluid descriptions. Her prose is nothing I can ever emulate and, if I weren’t so deluded, might have sent me straight back under my writing-free stone.


Written by Sarah Ann

January 2, 2017 at 8:06 pm

Book review: “How Not to Write Fiction,” by David Armstrong

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Warning, this book is dangerous.

I don’t usually write book reviews, and I’m not sure this counts as one, but I do think more writers should read David Armstrong’s (2003) How Not to Write Fiction. I might be out of touch (it won’t be the first or last time) and perhaps the book is well known and much read. It should be. I found my copy in a charity shop over the summer when I was taking an unintentional rest from writing. The opening pages state, “If you’re thinking of becoming a writer, read it. If you’re still writing at the end of it, you’d better accept it: you’re probably a writer too!” (p. 3). I can’t say whether it was Armstrong’s witty prose, or the summer break that helped, but I am writing again after six-months of doing nothing.

Armstrong’s book doesn’t quite address its title. Instead it takes an A-Z approach, including advances, agents, editors, research, PLR, and explains these in terms of his own experiences. Armstrong wrote this book after publishing five novels. He describes the up and down, the emotional ride of broken promises, the crushing moment when the agent and publisher that had published his first four books decided to not take his fifth. The book doesn’t take a crowing, ‘here, look at me, do it my way,’ approach. Instead, it is measured, describing the real life experiences of a mid-list writer – Armstrong’s self-description.

It is a warm, informative, funny read. I want to encourage others to read it, and I’m going to look out for Armstrong’s fiction now I have been exposed to enticing snippets. But most of all, the book has made me feel I shouldn’t give up. I hadn’t written for so long and hadn’t missed it. I was beginning to wonder whether or not I was committed or needy enough. And that’s why I feel this book is dangerous, because at the end of reading it, I wasn’t ready to pack in writing for good. On the contrary, I picked up my pen.


David Armstrong. (2003) How Not to Write Fiction. Allison and Busby. ISBN 0 7490 0680 3

Written by Sarah Ann

October 5, 2015 at 2:42 pm

The Habits of British Book Readers

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Came across this and had to share….


The Habits of British Book Reader

by Sofia M.
Explore more visuals like this one on the web’s largest information design community – Visually.

Written by Sarah Ann

May 27, 2014 at 10:05 am

Posted in Reading

Normal service will resume …

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I had intended to write that, after weeks of feeling as if my head’s not been on my shoulders, life and writing are returning to normal. My muse has peeked out from the recesses of my mind, and descriptive imagery has flitted across my consciousness instead of just lists of things to do. I had planned to pick up the flash fiction baton once again, but I’m not sure I can yet do two things once.

Clearing my late aunt’s house, organising the funeral, liaising with bank, estate agent and family, has taken more of a toll than I had imagined. When I went on holiday in the summer, I itched to be writing, fought not to check flash fiction challenges and read blogs. Over the last couple of months, there has been no time, and I have lost my drive and inclination. The quick-firing neurons that dash off flash fiction stories have turned tail and disappeared. Over the last few weeks I have looked at the prompts, and even scribbled down a few lines, but nothing has fallen into place. If I came up with a story, it wasn’t finished before the challenge deadline.

While my writing has faltered, I have been reading. Following various sources of advice, I have looked for books similar to mine, found agents’ websites, and read books of the authors they represent. Reading for work rather than pleasure has been a release, enabling me to see the author behind the words; where they use a particular word or technique frequently. I gave up on one book when the writer used, ‘It was as if X had read his mind,’ to circumvent character dialogue twice in the first 20 pages. I noticed the plodding, over-bearing language of one historical novel, the continual repetition of another, as if the reader had the memory-span of a goldfish. I cringed at character dialogue designed to let the reader know a character was away at school that was written in such a way it informed the mother who had sent him there. And I got caught up and rushed through a contemporary crime novel, only to groan five minutes after I’d finished. I may be wrong, but are people really imprisoned on confession-only evidence these days? Would only one policeman know that the forensic evidence pointed to self-inflicted stab wounds while everyone else thought otherwise? I just need to adopt the same critical eyes and editorial mindset when I read back over my own WIPs.

I had so many plans at the end of the summer  but all deadlines have been passed. On the positive side, my recent reading has shown me how to end Pippa’s story. Beta-readers were concerned the book ended with a funeral. I have added an extra page or two so the reader can enjoy a happy ending, knowing life goes on. Over the next month, I plan to draft a ‘letter to agents’ and seek comment and advice on that from a friend’s mother, a published writer of many tomes. I will read and edit Pippa and polish it ready to send out come January.

A Year in 200 Words has suffered with me writing 200-words/ day for only two weeks out of the last two months. Still, I have 271 200-word entries and enough emotion and character development to work with in the future. And I have three weeks of December left to write about my character’s impending wedding.

My plan to publish my short stories has gone by-the-by. I might return to it, but for now I do not have the time or energy to commit to self-publishing and marketing. Maybe once the agent-ready draft of Pippa has been sent and is being read and rejected, I might revisit my short stories.

And I hope, slowly, to return to the blogosphere. I have an email account for my writing, separate from the one that copes with day-to-day correspondence. It has been neglected. My blog reading and commenting has been non-existent. Do I yet have the headspace to be able to focus on getting my work published traditionally, AND take up once more the pleasure and challenge of flash fiction? Watch this space.

Written by Sarah Ann

December 6, 2013 at 4:33 pm

Vague thoughts on grammar and punctuation

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After a day spent re-lining a tired tweed jacket with an old silk shirt; sewing the sleeves on to the front and back of a woolly; booking up jewellery fairs and paying bills, I thought I was ready to re-read Chapter 18. When I started this afternoon my immediate thought was, ‘This is awful.’ It’s wordy without saying much. The tone and pace are plodding. In no way would I carry on reading the book if Chapter 18 fell in the place of Chapter 1. After a day of practical activity I can only imagine that my brain is in a different place to where it goes for writing. In an attempt to achieve something constructive, I’ve copied all the chapters into one document and all of Pippa’s emails into another. In doing so my word count has increased again (by 5000). Either that, or my Excel document isn’t keeping pace adding up the individual chapter totals. Whatever, I’ve decided to skip the onscreen read-through and go straight back to editing the hard copy.

Yesterday I transcribed an interview. This morning I learnt I’d done it incorrectly. Lynne Truss’s Eat, Shoots and Leaves informs me that the ellipsis (i.e., …) is used for missing words or a trailing-off ending. I have to go back through my interview and replace the …’s with (Pause). Not having had a formal grammatical education, or at least one I can remember, I have picked up on how to write by reading. I think I do okay. I had worked out for myself that [sic] meant ‘the foregoing mistake was in the original’, but now I know that sicut means ‘just as’. Did I need to know that? Maybe not, but it’s good to have one’s assumptions confirmed. Although, according to Lynne, I think I should be using “ _” instead of ‘_’, and I’m going to have to watch my use of hyphens.

As a kid (around 10 or 11) on holiday in Wales I remember traipsing down to Woolworths to buy a long, thin, green grammar book. I spent my summer holiday (probably a rainy two weeks) in Milford Haven working through the exercises. It was mainly filling in adjectives and nouns in sample sentences, which is a pity as I’m still not sure on tenses. I think I know how to use them in English because they come naturally – my ear is in tune with my native tongue. But when I try writing to French friends, I’m at a loss. The simple tenses (past, present and future) are easy enough to use, but what is the ‘present subjunctive’ or the ‘past anterior’? If I knew what they were in English, I might be able to work out what I wanted to say in French. It’s unfortunate that Truss’s book focuses on punctuation only, as I’m sure she’d be able to sort me out.

Written by Sarah Ann

May 16, 2012 at 3:37 pm

Losing track of time

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I seem to be engaged in a vain attempt to catch my own shadow.

February 8th was my last writing Wednesday (more on the 15th later) and turned into a sorting out day. The short story I was working on led me to look inside some old files and folders on my laptop. I found the first vague thoughts and notes for my bottom drawer book. They were over ten years old and have gone in the bin. Never more can I be reminded of the awfulness of my prose. There were some starts to short stories of which I have no memory, or further interest, so they too have been ditched.

Once I’d tidied it up, I tried to clone my hard drive, but my destination disk was full. I tried to synch my ipod, but a new software download was available – did I want it? I clicked yes and an hour later my ipod was restored to factory settings. All I’d wanted to do was add my latest music so I have something new to listen to during insomnia nights.

Attempts to get the short story to gel failed and so I ended up reading. I read through Sue Healy’s blog – catching up on all of her January posts. I read though a couple of BBC scripts available from (Death in Paradise and Sherlock). Having watched both episodes I could see the pictures, but it’s a form of writing I can’t get on with. The correct, inoffensive adjective to describe what I feel as I read screenplays has yet to come to mind.

After that, I returned to the Diary of a Psychic Narrowboat – the blog of our boating life from day one and not updated since November. I’d been stuck on how to get a very wordy, convoluted-without-actually-saying-very-much, diary entry, into something readable. And now I have. Hopefully, having got over that hillock, I’ll carry on at more regular intervals, but I doubt it.

And then we come to Wednesday 15th February, which was not a writing one. Instead, hubby and I went to visit his mum before he jetted off to Las Vegas with mine. Yes, hubby is spending four days in the sun (it’s 18°C and sunny there compared to the heavy rain and wind I’ve experienced all day) hopefully stopping my mother gamble away all her savings. She didn’t ask if I wanted to go with her, but she didn’t ask hubby if he wanted to look after Dad either.

While they are away I am supposed to be editing. This is an opportunity to move on with the second draft of my book. Instead, I have driven back and forth between my parents’ house and the boat. I have painted hubby’s solar air heater three times (see a future blog for photos and an explanation of that). I have chopped and sawn wood. I have moved things around in my parents’ (over full of rubbish they won’t throw away for some reason) loft in preparation for PV solar panel installation in a week’s time. I have shopped, run Dad about, cooked, washed clothes, looked at my lists of ever growing jobs and wondered how I’m going to get half of them done.

Today, however, I did edit. Having returned to the boat to paint another coat of undercoat on the solar heater, I sat down this afternoon and started to edit Chapter 4. Thankfully, as I scribbled on my paper copy last May, “I like this chapter,” I still do. The words have stayed largely the same, but the sentences within paragraphs have been reordered to improve flow and reduce repetition. This evening, once I’d finished, I emailed hubby the good news: ‘It’s fine. I am working.’ Everything I need to continue is laid out on my parents’ dining table and I’m setting the alarm to go off early. Tomorrow morning I’ll have the next chapter halfway done before Dad comes down for breakfast.

As if!

Written by Sarah Ann

February 18, 2012 at 10:29 pm

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