7 ways to engage with your readers : Writing Challenges


Whether you want to get more followers on Twitter, encourage people to buy your books or just get your name out there, you need to engage with them. Tweeting (or blogging) lots of buy links will get you noticed but in the wrong way.

A better way to do this is to get involved in the writing events and challenges being run by other helpful Tweeps.

In the past, I have taken part in several writing challenges. In this post, I will share some of the ones I know about.

Do you know of any others?

paragraph planetAccepts stories which are exactly 75 words long. A different one is published each day. This is fine but yours may not be published. However, you can tweet it first.

81 wordsWrite a story in exactly 81 words. Other people rate them. Has a link to your website and includes your Twitter name.

100 Word Challenge for grown upsA weekly prompt is offered and people respond in 100 words or fewer.

finishEvery Tuesday, a prompt is given. Finish the story in up to 500 words. A winner is chosen each week.


Every Thursday a photo-promt is offered and two words given. The story must incorporate the photo in some way then begin with the first word and end with the second. The story should be between 90 and 110 words long.

2015TTBadgeEvery Thursday, a prompt is given based on a line from the previous week’s winning entry. You have until 7:00am the following morning to submit a piece of flash fiction (in the comments on the post). Winners are announced and your Twitter link given.

Flash Friday

Every Friday (the clue is in the title) A picture prompt is offered. You have to write a 200 word story and post the result into the comments of the blog. A winner is chosen and your Twitter link given as well as a 60 second interview published on Wednesday.


To be or not to be


There are many different views about grammar, ranging from ‘it doesn’t matter’ to Grammar Nazi.

Its easy to cheque you’re reaction too bad grammar.

Whilst I get annoyed by those people who trawl the internet searching for missed apostrophes or checking for rules-they-care-about being broken, grammar does matter.

If readers are distracted or confused by incorrect spellings or your use of the wrong word, they will soon abandon you and your writing. After all, there are plenty of authors who can either write grammatically or use a good editor.

One of the things that cause a great deal of difficulty is the conjugation of the verb, “to be” and its contraction.

Conjugation Contraction Confused with
I am I’m
He is He’s  His
She is She’s
We are We’re Were
They are They’re There or Their
You are You’re Your
 It is  It’s  Its

It is difficult to understand why these cause so much confusion but the most reasonable explanation is that they sound the same. The easiest way to see which version to use is to try to fit the un-contracted version into the sentence and listen whether it works.

For example, in the sentence, “It’s a good thing” you can replace “It’s” with “it is” and the sentence still makes sense. However, “He threw it’s stick” can clearly be seen to be incorrect as, “He threw it is stick” does not make sense.

This works with all these contractions and if there is an apostrophe (in this case) there has been a contraction. After a while, you get used to checking all versions of ‘Its’ and ‘It’s’, ‘your’ and ‘you’re’ and ‘were’ and ‘we’re’. Just don’t turn into a Grammar Nazi, I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself.

Why not create a mood board for your novel?

street scene

My current WIP is set in an alternative (Steampunk) Victorian England. Although the setting is fictional, I want to create the right Victorian feel and only deviate where the steampunk elements require it.

To help me, I started an Pinterest board to gather images for different characters and settings. I already had an idea of what I wanted so I searched Google for these specific images. Whilst this took some time, I also collected other images I found ‘by accident’. Each time I come across a new picture I think will work with the book, I add it to the Pinterest account.

When I need to consider a setting in some detail, I can view the images and gain inspiration. I know some authors do the same by storing pictures in Scrivener or similar.

Would your current project benefit from a collection of images to inspire you? Or have you done something similar in the past?

I am considering whether I should release the book with links to the Pinterest account so readers can share in the visuals.

I would be interested to hear what other authors do and whether readers would welcome the chance to see the images too.

If you want to see the current collection of images, it is here: https://uk.pinterest.com/anthonygerrard7/ruination-novel/

100 Word Challenge


100 Word Challenge for grown ups

100 Word Challenge for grown ups

I do enjoy finding new challenges to keep my writing brain thinking. I came across the 100 word challenge on a blog called Julia’s Place.

I liked the idea of writing a story in 100 words or fewer prompted by an image.

This week’s image was three wise monkeys.

Three Wise MonkeysThis is my response. I hope you enjoy it. The other responses can be found here.

I stood next to him and pointed. ‘My father used to bring me and my sisters here. He would re-tell the story of the three wise monkeys every Saturday. It became a ritual, a shared experience between us. I learned it was better to keep quiet, not to speak out, to look away from evil and block my ears to what was happening.’

He stared. ‘Sometimes you have to watch, listen and scream the truth.’

‘I just needed you to understand what it was like.’

He lowered his head. ‘Shall we return to the station and begin?’

I nodded.

Making a Steampunk Thermometer

I’ve been planning to put together a Steampunk outfit, just in case I need one at any time – you know how it is…

I was interested in modifying something to make it Steampunk but I still wanted it to function as a real object. I believe the Victorians would not actually have liked the obsession with putting cogs on things for no purpose.

I bought  cheap thermometer and hygrometer from the internet (similar to this one).

It arrived today and I unpacked the box.

Straight out of the box

Straight out of the box

  1. On the back of the meter are three pegs used to hold it all together. Prise it apart.Back
  2. Pull off the needles (take care with this or you pull out the innards – use a screwdriver to twist them off). Peel off the two meters which are stuck on to the dial.Dismantled
  3. Spray the two white plastic parts and the needles with primer. When dry, spray with the metal colour you wish to use (I used brass).
  4. Scan the dial into a computer and use Photoshop (or similar) to age the image. I used a sepia tint and a texture.New Dial
  5. Cut out the new dial and glue it back on to the original dial. Then glue the mechanisms back on.
  6. Put it all back together.

This is my first modification and I’m really pleased with the result. Now for that Nerf Gun…

Backup or troubles (in your old kit bag)

Not me ... but it could be!

Not me … but it could be!

When I was a teenager at school, I used to enjoy teaching myself BASIC on their Sharp MZ80K computers. One day, the school bought an Apple ][. It had very good graphics (for the time) and new commands to learn. One of the new commands was PLOT. It allowed the programmer to draw a dot on the screen at a given coordinate.

I realised I could draw quite complex shapes by giving the computer a list of coordinates to draw. Being a geeky sort of child (but you worked that out), I bought an A1 size piece of graph paper and traced an image of the UK on to it. For the next three weeks, in my spare time, I transcribed all the coastline’s coordinates into the Apple ][. When I’d finished, the program I’d written drew an accurate image of the UK on the screen. I was very pleased and, more importantly, my friends were impressed. One told a teacher who came along to see my work.

I loaded the program I had previously saved on my floppy disc but, to my horror, I got an error (Bad checksum, if I remember). It meant that the work was lost … except I had backed up my work. I put in my backup floppy disc and reloaded the program. It also didn’t load. I was devastated. In an instant, I had lost three weeks of work. The teacher walked off laughing … but that’s another story.

One backup is not enough

It taught me a good lesson: One backup is not enough.

When I hear people brag (and it often is a brag) that they don’t backup their work I feel obliged to point out the error of their ways.

To make sure I don’t lose any of my writing (or anything else) I always do the following:

  1. Save my WIP each week as a new dated version on my laptop.
  2. Copy this file onto a flash memory stick.
  3. Email a copy to myself.
  4. Print out a hard copy, which I carry around with me.

If my laptop crashes, I have other versions elsewhere. If I delete a section I later decide I want, I can go back to older files to recover it. When the formatting messed up in my WIP, I was able to copy the style from a previous version and fix it (it’s also useful if you ever get into any legal challenges over plagiarism).

If you choose not to backup your work properly, you are choosing to lose it. You have been warned!

How I write

pen and paperI am still exploring the way I write. I say this because, unlike so many people I read about, I’ve only recently started to put pen to paper. I have to write reports in my job but writing stories is new to me. I decided that the best way would be to read a few books about writing but they appeared to be contradictory. It was then that I realised that what works for one writer does not always work for another.

The best pieces of advice were:

  • Just write – Your first attempt will not be perfect, but it doesn’t matter, just get it down on paper.
  • Write the first chapter and then the last one. You know where you start and where you end up, now join the dots.

I use both of these but things change. The first chapter I wrote became the second chapter of the book. The final chapter ended up as one in the middle. I don’t mind that. Things happen and I’m not afraid to change them to make the book better.

I have an idea of where the story will go and what will happen but new situations arise and I might end up in a totally different direction. The story started out as science fiction based around an alternative currency. Now it’s a crime thriller. It might change again.

I have settled into a routine. At the weekends and some evenings, I write new chapters. Then, I print out my manuscript and read it, editing as I go.

There might be some writers who look at this and say ,’Oh no, don’t do it like that.’

I say, ‘I’m enjoying myself so does it really matter?’

Writers Tips – Using Styles in Word



Some authors spend a long time (or a lot of money) ensuring their works are in the correct format for Kindle, Smashwords or a manuscript. By setting up styles before writing, Word will do most of the hard work for you.

What do they do?

A style is a pre-defined format for text. Any of the modifications you are able to make to a paragraph can be set up in advance using a style. When you allocate a style to a paragraph all the settings are applied to this paragraph.

How do you use them?

In my novel, I have three styles defined.

Chapter Title

12 Point, Italic, Centered, Page break before, Outline Level 1, Style for following paragraph: First paragraph

First paragraph

12 Point, Fully Justified, First line indented 0cm, Style for following paragraph: Main Body

Main Body

12 Point, Fully Justified, First line indented 1.25 cm

It looks like this:

word viewTo create a new chapter, I go to a blank line and select the Chapter Title style. Word starts a new page and allows me to type the chapter title. When I press enter, the caret moves to a new line and the style changes to First paragraph. When I’ve written the first paragraph and press enter I get a new line and the style changes to  Main body.

Effectively, I can just type my document and Word automatically formats it for the Kindle.

It it possible to set up styles for Manuscripts too. The main change is to add the following to Chapter Title.

Spacing before 255pt, Spacing after 60pt

You also need to change the two paragraph styles to left justified and double spaced.

The power of styles

If you have set a style for every part of your document and you modify the style, it will change every instance in the whole document. This has two implications:

  1. If you only want to change one instance, you have to be careful!
  2. If you want to reformat the whole document you only need to change a few styles. For example, if you want to change the font on every chapter title, just change the Chapter Title style and they will all change.

You can add styles to a document you have already created but you need to go through and set each paragraph to a style to get the benefit of using them.

Automatic Table of Contents

As I set Chapter Title as Outline Level 1, I can add an automatic Table of Contents. Word will create this and put in all the correct page numbers. You can update it with one click of the mouse.

The automatic Table of Contents feature looks for all instances of text labeled as Outline level 1 and adds them to the table. As all my Chapter Titles have this attribute they are all automatically added to the table.


I hope you enjoy using styles and, more importantly, I hope you save yourself hours of reformatting time.

Further information

Microsoft Style Basics

Microsoft Word – Writers shortcuts

ImageMicrosoft Word offers a number of features that make the writing / editing process easier.

Function Keys

The function keys at the top of your keyboard (labelled F1 to F12) perform different actions in Word. Remembering them all is a chore but some are really useful.

Shift F3

Toggles captialisation. so word becomes Word becomes WORD becomes word again.

This is very useful when editing.

Shift F5

Moves the cursor to the last edited point. This will also work when you first open the document and helps you to get off to a flying start.

Shift F7

Brings up the Thesaurus for the current word.

Automatically jump to last edit when opening a document

Whilst you can press Shift F5 as soon as you open a document, you can automate this.

Go to View – Macros – View Macros

Type in ‘AutoOpen’ as the Macro name and then click Create

Enter the following text:

On Error Resume Next

Then save the document. From now on, when you open a document it will automatically jump to the last place you were editing.

New idea – Review Day

I have read many author blogs, Tweets and Facebook posts explaining the importance of readers leaving reviews.

Reviews are important as they provide greater exposure to good books and help readers identify books they would enjoy reading.

Review Day is one idea to help increase the number of reviews and should be supported by everyone who loves books.

The Rules:

  1. Review Day will the the 3rd day of each month. The ‘rd’ is there to remind you!
  2. On Review Day, write (at least) one review of (at least) one book on (at least) one website.
  3. Reviews must be honest, fair and balanced.
  4. Add #rd or #ReviewDay to the review to show it was written as part of Review Day.
  5. Use social media, if you can, to promote Review Day. Use hashtags #rd or #ReviewDay

That’s it. Make it a habit. Make it a ‘thing’.


The curse of THAT!

thatI recently did a search of my WIP to look for the word ‘that’ as I had a feeling I overused it. It was everywhere!

There were three uses of the word I was able to replace.

Use ‘it’ instead

“Where is that?” became “Where is it?”

Use ‘the’ instead

“Where is that newspaper?” became “Where is the newspaper?”

Delete ‘that’ completely

“She realised that she used it too often.” became “She realised she used it too often.”

By using these replacements, I was able to remove almost half of my ‘that’s and the WIP reads much better for it.

I didn’t realise that I used that word so often. Now I know that, I can eliminate that and that’s a good thing.


Steampunk Shelf

Steampunk Shelf

A selection of things I bought since I started collecting things over 30 years ago. I have always loved victorian science, technology and knowledge.
As well as the Origin of Species, I have two chemistry books, Fowlers Phrenological Instructor, a general knowledge book and a teatise on trigonometry.
You can also see a set of brass weights, a circular slide-rule, a brass microscope and a chemical bottle.
Yes, I know it’s geeky, but it is fun.
I have quite a few other things too but I don’t want you to get too excited!

#FP – Friday Phrases

Image On Thursday, I followed David Buchan on Twitter (@Buchan_David_) who suggested I get involved with Friday Phrases (@FridayPhrases).

The idea is to “Tweet & RT 140-character stories, poems, story prompts, chain stories & other microfiction gems.”

It seemed like a good idea so I wrote several short pieces just for #FP. I would recommend it. The Tweeps involved were friendly and supportive and it was good fun.

As Twitter is a medium where writing gets lost, I have copied some of my #FPs here:

He danced with her in the dark. She snuggled into his neck.
‘To bed?’
She nodded.
He carried her upstairs and lowered her into the cot.

He wasn’t sure of the Pleasure-Pain principle, until now. The pain was excruciating but the pleasure! He died with a smile on his face.

The last Centaur! He admired the elegant creature; such grace, such poise, so much wisdom. He wanted to study it forever. He fired.

‘Dad, I hear banging, it’s scary!’
‘Back to bed! Mum & I are playing.’
His son went. He dragged the corpse further downstairs.

The full archive of the #FP I took part in can be found here.

81 words

I came across a website listing stories with exactly 81 words. I like 81 (it’s 9 squared and 3 to the power 4 – but that’s not important right now).
The website is  at 81words.net
As I’m always looking for a new writing challenge, I decided to submit an entry. I quickly wrote something and submitted it. Later on, I read it, hated it and deleted it.
I learned that stories need time to mature. You can’t just knock them off and produce a masterpiece.
I re-wrote it. I’m not claiming it’s a masterpiece now but I certainly like it more.
I also found that there was a website run by Ofcom listing phone numbers for use by writers. It’s here by the way.

As he walked past an old-fashioned phonebox, the phone began to ring. Curious, he stepped inside and answered it.
‘Help me! I’m stuck.’ A woman’s voice; she sounded terrified.
He spoke to her but she did not reply.
A prank?
He replaced the handset and pushed the door to leave. It would not open. A notice read: ‘If you need help, call 01632 567384.’
He dialled and waited.
Fifty miles away, the phone inside an old-fashioned phonebox began to ring.

How did I get here?

As I sit in my room at 6:40am on a cold Sunday morning, I wonder what the hell I am doing!

It all started at Christmas, just two months ago, when I had an idea for a story. I often get ideas for stories but this time was different. It was different because I started to write it down.

Usually, I create stories in my head and say to my wife, ‘this would make a good book.’ She listens patiently, or not so, and I let it float away whilst I get on with my life.

So, what was different about this story? Nothing really. What was different was me. I decided that I was no longer ‘a reader’ but ‘a reader AND a writer’. To give you an idea how big this is for me: I last wrote a story at high school.

Now I’m near fifty and I’m suddenly calling myself a writer?

A writer – Someone who writes with the intention of sharing their writing.

An author – Someone who writes and has published their writing.

I don’t know if these are valid but, as I step into this exciting new world as a writer, I fully intend, one day, to be able to call myself an author too.

The Name

‘Oh no, not him. That can’t be the name, it can’t be.’

He started blankly at the paper. He read it again. The name called to him. It taunted him.

He had spent years hunting for the name. He had to know. He had pleaded and begged his mother to tell him the name but all she revealed were the briefest of details, nothing more. On her death-bed, she had given him a place, a time, a vague description.

It had been difficult to follow the clues, tracing his mother’s history. Who had she known? Where had she lived? He had spoken to hundreds of people. Followed clues, backtracked from myriad dead ends but always he persisted, driven by his need to know the name. He had read people’s intimate writing, their diaries and memoirs hoping to discover the name, somewhere. It had always been just one more clue away. Tantalisingly close yet unreachable.

The man who lay dying at his feet had been his last hope, driven mad by the frustration of not knowing, he had tortured him until he had revealed all.

Now he stood over him, reading the one diary that contained the name.

Staring down at the man, he realised what a monster he had become. His desire had consumed him.

As he closed the book, he heard the man’s final, dying breath. He looked down and spoke directly to him.

‘I’m sorry, father,’ was all he could say.

The second draft


Thank you for the feedback on my first draft. I have reflected on the comments and here is the second version. Don’t worry, I won’t do this for every version of every scene!

However, I would still be grateful for comments and some might like to see how previous comments have help me to develop the scene.

James Pemberton opened the battered, old door and stepped inside. The building’s odour filled his nostrils. He hated it. He had come to associate it with fear. He was scared of being caught and terrified of the consequences. Though the building frightened him, this was the easy part. It was what came afterwards that always made the bile rise in his throat.

He climbed upstairs to the room where his transformation would take place. He had lost count of the times had had been here. He prayed today’s visit would be the last. As he approached the room, its door flew open and a well-built man strode towards him. James raised his hands in self-defence but the man ignored him and rushed down the stairs. James steadied himself and lowered his hands.

‘It’s alright,’ he reassured himself, ‘nothing bad is going to happen.’ He walked towards the door and entered, ready for his final act.

Three hours later, James retraced his steps a different man. He was no longer youthful and dark haired. Now, he was middle-aged and grey. In just three hours he had aged over thirty years. His new beard and moustache irritated his face. His new glasses pinched his nose and made him feel sick.

‘Concentrate on the money,’ he reminded himself, ‘it is a small amount of suffering for such a large reward.’

He set off towards the bank, his panic growing with each step.

He looked around at the people he passed. What if they were watching him? What if they knew? Just one slip over the previous months and this would be his last day of freedom. His brain screamed as every sense demanded attention. Everything startled him. Twitching curtains, a distant shout, a passing policeman. Did they mean anything? Was he safe, or walking into a trap? He wouldn’t know until today was over. Fraud is a small word but a big crime.

As he finally reached the steps leading to the bank his heart was racing, he could feel cold sweat running down his back. His stomach churned. The deal he had spent so long negotiating would be agreed today. He would soon be wealthy. He began the climb.

It took a huge effort. He expected each step up to be his last. At the top, he looked around, anticipating police running towards him, but there were none.

‘You have come this far,’ he told himself, ‘, you need to finish the job. There is no other way.’

Had he known the consequences of this final visit, he would have turned and walked away, but he did not.

James Pemberton made a decision which would change his life and those of many others.

He went into the bank.


photo credit: ell brown via photopin cc

First draft of opening scene

OK, this is really scary! This is the first draft of my opener for my first novel and it’s the first post of my new blog – that really is a whole lot of firsts.

It’s only short but I would like to know what you think. The book is set in Victorian England and centres around the impact of a financial disaster for a group of young adults. My intention is that it is a steampunk-inspired thriller but my characters may have other ideas!

Here it is:

James Pemberton opened the battered, old door and stepped inside. He prayed this would be his final visit.

Three hours later, he returned a different man. He was no longer youthful and dark haired. Now, he was middle-aged and grey. In just three hours he had aged over thirty years. His new beard and moustache irritated his face. His new glasses pinched his nose and made him feel sick. He considered that the money he would soon receive would more than compensate for his suffering.

As before, he walked to the bank and climbed the steps. Today, the deal he had spent so long negotiating would be agreed.

He heard a shout behind him and swung around, expecting to see police running towards him, but none were there.

James understood his actions were technically fraud. He reminded himself he had no choice and continued to climb.

Had he known the consequences of this final visit, he would have turned and walked away, but he did not.

He paused at the top of the steps then strode into the bank.