In Celebration of Maya Angelou

mayabird mayaphenom

Poet, memoirist, civil rights activist, “Phenomenal Woman,” and many other things, Dr Maya Angelou will be turning 86 on the fourth of April. She has lived a full and varied life so far, which is documented in her seven volumes of memoirs.

I first heard of Angelou when I studied the first volume of her memoirs, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, for my English Literature A Level. Here she speaks of her childhood, where her experiences are painful, heart-warming, shocking and funny, and her personality shines through every word. The quality of her writing is such that, despite the huge differences between us, I lived every moment of the book with her, living in “the Store” in Arkansas, dancing at a Mexican fiesta and much, much more.

But it was when my teacher showed the class video clips of Angelou performing her poetry that I really appreciated how great she is. She spoke with a passion and vitality that made me truly understand poetry for the first time. At school and college we had studied Keats, Shelley, Owen and Yeats, all great poets, but all dead men whose words rested silently on the page. Angelou, however, brought her words to life with a power that showed poetry is life.

Dr Maya Angelou is an amazingly talented and inspirational woman who deserves so much celebration and admiration.

To find out more about her read her books and visit her website. In the media section you can see her recite “And Still I Rise.”


Weekly Inspiration

Charles Gould

Charles Gould

Think of something you’ve never done but would like to. This can be possible or impossible, big or small and as weird or mundane as you like; riding a dragon, climbing a mountain, doing your ironing on Mars, singing on a tropical beach.

Write about yourself doing this, using all the senses.

Competitions With May Deadlines


Worcestershire LitFest & Fringe Flash Fiction Competition
Genre: Fiction
Word Count: Maximum 300
Entry Fee: £4, or £10 for three
Prizes: 1st- £50, 2nd-£25, 3rd- £10

Writers’ and Artists’ Writing Historical Fiction Competition
Genre: Fiction- Historical
Word Count: Maximum 1000
Entry Fee: FREE
Prizes: 1st- £150, two tickets for Beamish Museum and Writing Historical Fiction: a Writers & Artists Companion. Runners up- £25 and Writing Historical Fiction: a Writers & Artists Companion.

Fiction Desk Ghost Story Competition
Genre: Fiction- Ghosts
Word Count: 2000-5000
Entry Fee: £7
Prizes: 1st- £500, five runners up- £100
Winning stories will be published in an anthology, winners will receive two copies.

David Burland Poetry Prize
Genre: Poetry in English or French
Word Count: None stated
Entry Fee: £8 for one poem, additional poems £4
Prizes: 1st- £500, 2nd-£100, 3rd- £30
Winners will also receive a recording of their poem on CD

Frome Festival Short Story Competition
Genre: Fiction
Word Count: 1000-2200
Entry Fee: £5
Prizes: 1st- £300, 2nd-£150, 3rd- £75
Winning stories will be read by a London literary agent.

The Bridport Prize
Genre: Fiction and poetry
Word Count: Short Story- Maximum 5000; Flash Fiction- Maximum 250; Poetry- Maximum 42 lines
Entry Fee: Short Story- £9; Flash Fiction- £7; Poetry- £8
Short Story: 1st- £5000, 2nd- £1000, 3rd- £500, Highly Commended (X10)- £50
Flash Fiction: 1st- £1000, 2nd- £500, 3rd- £250, Highly Commended (X3)- £50
Poetry: 1st – £5000, 2nd- £1000, 3rd- £500, Highly Commended (X10)- £50

Yeovil Literary Prize
Genre: Fiction and poetry
Word Count: Short Story- Maximum 2000; Novel (synopsis and first three chapters)- Maximum 15000; Poetry- Maximum 40 lines
Entry Fee: Short Story- £6; Novel- £11; Poem- £6 or £9 for two, or £11 for three
Short Story- 1st- £500, 2nd- £200, 3rd- £100
Poetry- 1st- £500, 2nd- £200, 3rd- £100
Novel- 1st- £1000, 2nd- £250, 3rd- £100

Weekly Inspiration


Set your MP3 player on shuffle. Write down the titles of the first two tracks that come up. Use them in the first and last sentences of a short story. Feel free to change tenses and pronouns- or turn pronouns into names; i.e. “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” could become “Only love could break Jane’s heart.”

For anyone who doesn’t have an MP3 player, here are some from mine you could use.

Guess Things Happen That Way/ Horses Under Starlight
Galaxy of Emptiness/ Committed to Life
Move the Crowd/ The Rip
Spying Glass/ Molly’s Lips

Massive Open Online Courses

dracula lefthandofdarkness

Earlier this year I discovered Coursera and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). A MOOC is a course that can take an unlimited number of students to study for free online.

I was told about Coursera as a good way of updating skills or knowledge, or as a way to begin to branch out into a completely new area. In the list of courses I found one called “Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World” and so of course I had to do it…

The course is taught through a series of video lectures, given by Professor Eric Rabkin of the University of Michigan. Each week a “before you read” lecture is released on that week’s book(s). After the essay deadline several more lectures are released, looking at the text in more detail.

To pass the course, and gain a printable certificate, you must submit at least seven essays out of a possible ten, and average a pass mark for your seven highest scoring essays, and also review and grade five other students’ work for each essay you submit. From comments people have made in the course forums it seems this is a fairly typical way of running a MOOC.

The good thing about this Science Fiction course is that it encourages you to read the books in detail, really think about what they are saying and how they say it. It makes you look deeply into what makes good literature. The short essays (270-320 words) make you really focus your writing, make every word count in arguing your thesis. And as well as this you read other people’s essays; see their opinions, you can watch the video lectures to gain further insight, and you can discuss the books on the course forums.

However, when the “before you read” video is released on Thursdays and the essay deadlines are on Tuesdays, it can be a bit of a rush. I’ve realised that it’s best to start reading before the video is released to ensure I have enough time to read it properly and think about my essay. There are also problems with the peer reviewing system; there are many people posting on the forums who believe they’ve been unfairly marked down, or saying their reviewers have made insulting comments, and although reviewing five essays is necessary to receive your grade and comments, not everyone does it, meaning someone might only get one or two reviews on their work.

In spite of these faults though, I think taking this course has been positive and beneficial. I’m reading- and rereading- books I might not have picked up otherwise, and I’m engaging with them on a deeper level. I’m practising ruthlessly editing my writing and thinking carefully about my use of words.

MOOCs are an opportunity to increase knowledge and to use your brain, and so I think most of these courses, not just the literature based ones, can benefit writers; the more you know the more your imagination has to work with, the more connections you can make to form new ideas.

Weekly Inspiration


I took this photo yesterday at Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire.

What is that stone structure? (Is it alive?) What happens if you go through it? Is this a place in the real world or a fantasy world?

Write whatever the picture inspires in you.

Review: The Etymologicon by Mark Forsyth


Mark Forsyth explores the reasons behind “the glorious insanities of the English language” by looking at the etymology of words and phrases. Each chapter leads into the next until we are brought back to the beginning again.

This is definitely a book for the layman, it is light in tone with short chapters that might discuss several words and meanings. Serious etymologists will probably be annoyed by the lack of detail and the sketchy bibliography, but for people who are just quite interested in words this is an enjoyable and easy to read introduction to etymology.

Forsyth has a friendly, jokey style of writing which is mostly engaging but occasionally falls flat; saying the invention of the term post-natal “has allowed people to be depressed” is rather dismissive and an unnecessary dig at women in a vulnerable state.

Over all The Etymologicon will interest and entertain, bringing etymology to the masses.

Weekly Inspiration

I trod on a slug this morning- by accident of course. In my bare feet. My foot will never feel clean again. The slug is now an ex-slug.

Write about this from the slug’s point of view. Write the slug as human, but a human who lives like a slug.

A Feeble Attempt at Introducing Myself and My Blog

So… This is my first post.

I’m starting a blog to try to connect with other writers and readers; to share information, inspiration and book recommendations.

I write short stories and poetry and I’m also attempting a YA novel.

I’m currently a stay-at-home-mum of two and a volunteer in a charity bookshop.

Writing about myself is always the hardest thing, so now having made a cursory effort to introduce myself, I’ll find more interesting topics for future posts.

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