Submitting to journals: the Jo Bell method

This is what I am doing wrong. In a nutshell. I am too precious about my short stories. I stand over them like the anxious mother at the school gate, fussing and petting over them. I need to let go. I need to submit. Great post here from Bell jar blog.

The Bell Jar: Jo Bell's blog


[This article is now taught as part of the Open University’s Creative Writing MA, and I’ve had many many messages to tell me that people have increased their publication record, sometimes by 200% in a year.]

I’ve spent some time lately with poetry journal editors – and also with the poor poetic beggars who, like me, send off work to them. It’s struck me anew that many people, especially those at the beginning of their poetry career, don’t have much idea of how submission works and what time span is realistic for an editor to consider a poem. Also, they’re wondering how to keep tabs on the seventeen different poems that they’ve sent out, in order to avoid the no-no of simultaneous submission.

What follows is the Jo Bell Method; the method of an immensely, award-winningly disorganised poet who nonetheless has managed to win awards. My vast and lofty experience teaches…

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Where do stories come from?



If you are not a writer, or have never yet put pen to paper, it is not surprising if you ponder the idea ‘where do stories come from’?

If you are a writer, you’re probably not wondering where they come from, but where the hell did all the good ideas go?


You can bet your sorry little ass, that for that insy winsy split second, when the most amazing idea for a blockbuster – ‘5 million copies sold’ novel – comes silently floating into your brain, it just as inconsiderately slips right back out again. And you don’t remember one itty bitty bit of it.

If you have read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, you will have read of her concept that ‘ideas’ are their own thing, and are buzzing around the world waiting until the right person opens up for them and allows them space to grow.

This is a unique concept and not everybody might agree on that point. However, Elizabeth Gilbert does use it to explain why more than one person happens to come up with the same idea at the same time. Perhaps you have even experienced that yourself. You know the thing. You’ve been mulling over a story idea for ages, you meant to get on with it, and then bingo! You find it’s the current plot line in Eastenders, or Downton Abbey,  or Dr. Who, or whatever else you watch.

Now, if you don’t go along with this idea of floating plot lines etc whizzing through time and space, then where do they come from? And if they don’t magically appear in your head, how on earth will you find any at all?

  1. You’re a writer are you not? Be nosy. People watch. Listen in to their conversations – it’s allowed, you’re a writer!
  2. For reasons I don’t quite understand, people tell me things. Seriously (rolls eyes), I mean, I’m a writer, and people feel like offloading their most guilty secrets to me! Really! So I listen, then write a plot line around it. Well, not all of it, but you get the gist. And it is true that people like to tell me stuff. I wish they wouldn’t.
  3. Read the newspapers, especially the trashy ones. It’s amazing what weird and wonderful events happen to other people. And they do say truth is stranger than fiction. But write down any odd thing that takes your fancy.
  4.  This follows on from 3. Job descriptions. I love reading snippets in the local rag about so-and-so, a bricklayer/chimney sweep/ pest control/self-employed personal finance consultant has embezzled his company out of thousands of pounds/brushes/cans of highly toxic chemicals etc. Keep a notebook and make list for jobs/ crimes/names/bizarre events/funny sounding town names etc.
  5. Keep a look out for snappy sounding titles and you could write a short story starting from an inspiring title. I was in the departure lounge at Stansted airport recently, or maybe it was Belfast, well I can’t remember, but it was an airport. We were having a snack in a restaurant and I took a photo of the napkin. It had a snappy logo/statement emblazoned on it, and I thought, wow! I could totally turn that on its head and come up with a totally amazing, bestselling commercial novel that would start a bidding war to end all bidding wars. The napkin said ‘NOTHING TO DECLARE’. Now it was talking about additives and other crap in its food, that it had none obviously, but it was also a bit of a pun because we were in an airport. But I thought to myself, you know, I could turn that on its head and have a crime/psychological thriller novel about a man called Alfred, who worked in Pest Control, who embezzled his company of 100’s of cans of rat poison, and then his wife goes missing. Did he do it? Did he murder her? Or did she in fact, frame him for the job, knowing he’d nicked the rat poison, and actually she had run off with a woman called Maybelline who was a bricklayer from Nether Wallop.  I still think its a good title, but the plot might need a little work. Actually it might make a good short story.
  6. Go online and look for old documents/websites/newspapers. I once followed a link on the PRONI website, and ended up on a highly fascinating site that gave me details of all the shipping records at Derry during the 18th century. And what did I discover? Cases of cannibalism! Uh huh! Who would have thought of that? Sailors used to eat each other. And there were lots of other little snippets that were logged that at first glance might not have been that inspiring, but when you let your mind wander, and open your creative side to a bit of ‘what if?’ your brain starts to imagine all sorts of possibilities.
  7. Or you could try anyone of the many short story or plot generating sites online. This was my amazing bestseller that I rustled up in no time!

    Someone like Doris

    A Sizzling Romance
    by Patsy Chattykins

    Richard Bogtrotter is a weak, pale and understanding police officer from the seaside. His life is going nowhere until he meets Doris Donaldson, a hairy, thin woman with a passion for cookery.

    Richard takes an instant disliking to Doris and the tactless and rude ways she learnt during her years in Scotland.

    However, when a mugger tries to trick Richard, Doris springs to the rescue. Richard begins to notices that Doris is actually rather brave at heart.

    But, the pressures of Doris’s job as a computer programmer leave her blind to Richard’s affections and Richard takes up stamp collecting to try and distract himself.

    Finally, when snotty cleaner, Alison Thunder, threatens to come between them, Doris has to act fast. But will they ever find the sizzling love that they deserve?

    So there you have it.

    7 ideas to find great ideas to write your blockbuster.

    Have you any better ones to beat my sailor cannibal from Derry, or Pest Controller and his sneaky wife, or Doris the skinny baker and Richard Bogtrotter?

    I hope you do.


Book Review of The Cherry Tree Cafe by Heidi Swain

heidi swain cherry tree cafe

I totally adored this book. The writing was sublime and it slipped through my brain like cherry jam on whipped cream!

The beauty of Heidi Swain’s writing is that she laid out such a satisfying, compelling world, that by the time I had finished reading, I was entirely convinced I should set up my own craft cafe. And let me tell you I can’t even crochet!

Heidi managed to fabricate such a  desirable little cafe, with bunting and cake, and sewing and scones and also a totally gorgeous couple that I fell totally in love.

The Cherry Tree Cafe was a contender for the RNA Joan Hessayon New Writers Scheme Award for debut authors, and although didn’t win, in my opinion, was just as good as the winning book, The Gunner Girl by Clare Harvey. See post here.

I would give this book a huge ten out of ten, and I am totally looking forward to her next book coming soon.


Bryony Gordon is a Brave Woman


Madgirl - Bryony Gordon

This week I read a very brave article by Bryony Gordon in the Sunday Telegraph. She has written a new book, a very open and honest account of her experiences with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, starting when she was only a young teenager.

Bryony is many things. She is a wife to Harry, mum to Edie, a daughter, a sister, a journalist, she is funny and brave and refreshingly honest. There arn’t that many people around who can cope being just that honest, but Bryony can. And I take my hat off to her.

Writing her new book, has opened up channels of conversation again across the country. Whether it is among doctors and health professionals, nodding their heads wisely, agreeing that we don’t have enough resources to help young people with mental health issues. Maybe it is between Politicians who are eager to shift the blame from one side to another. But I hope it can be used to get the teenagers and children to talk.

Mental health issues are universal, across the board. Creed, culture, colour, race, location, money – none of that has any sway over who is more afflicted with mental health issues. Everyone and anyone can be affected, but, and their is a but – we do not have the resources to help everyone that needs it; when they need it, and in the high enough doses that they need it.

Bryony notes in the article, that it was her own mum who left a cutting from a paper out for her to read. That started the conversation. But when they went to see the doctor he told them to come back in three weeks, or if it got worse. Three weeks was too long to wait for help. There was a brilliantly written memory of Bryony and her mum, sitting in the car and them both knowing that three weeks was too far away to be of help. Right now was the scary part. Bryony’s mum marched right back into the doctors and said it had got worse already, and they needed help now!

But Bryony has brought this back out into to the open again. And it is good to talk. It is scary to share, and so publicly as Bryony has done, but hopefully with either the book, or the article, it will get those that really need to, talking about it.

The Incubator – Submissions

The Incubator is a quarterly online literary journal. We showcase great new, previously unpublished writing by writers living in (or who have lived in) NI or Ireland. Our submission window only ope…

Source: Submissions

3 Things I Dislike About Northern Ireland -well sort of!


I have lived in Northern Ireland now for 25 years, and there are some things that are unique to this small place. And they get on my nerves.

  1. Weddings – I know weddings are lovely things, so much hope for the future and true love, but honestly, we must be one of the only places where even young girls are getting a fake tan before they step out in style. Truly, weddings here are completely over the top. No matter what the weather, and lets face, it is very rarely warm, the young lassies are all dolled up with bare legs, bare arms, their hair done, face done, nails done and a brand new frock on. And they are frozen. But it’s not even the young lassies, it’s the old dolls too! I mean, please? Bare arms?  Please, take me back to the days when a coat was an acceptable accessory, and only the bride paid to get her hair and make-up done. A rig out for a wedding now wouldn’t see change out of £150. And it’s not just the lassies either. When on earth did it become the in thing for the blokes to get a spray tan too? And highlights? Jeepers I must be getting old.
  2. Religion – When I was growing up in England, nobody was described by their religion. We might have said, “That’s Sheila, she works in the bank”. Here, not only do people say, “That’s Sheila who  works in the bank.” they add on at the end, “She’s a Catholic/Protestant” (delete as you wish), AND they drop their voice at the end like its a bad word. Stop it! Stop it people. We will never move on if a person’s religion is always more interesting than if she is a nice person, she shops in Tescos or last week she burnt her spaghetti bolognese because she was too busy posting selfies on her new iphone. Lose the religious descriptions.
  3. Everybody knows you – seriously! You might not believe me but it’s true. If you go on holiday/move house/go to university/sit on a train/plane/coach oh heck, if you do anything and then get talking to someone new, you will always be guaranteed to discover you are either related to them, or you are best friends with their next door neighbours’ child. You get the picture anyhow.

But if I had to mention the nice bits? Well, that would be the countryside, the mountains, the sea never being too far away, we have fantastic beaches and homemade ice-cream shops everywhere. Oh yes, and Belfast is never that far away, and the craic. You couldn’t get better banter than here.