This is a blog you’ll enjoy if you like writing! I write for magazines in the UK and abroad and I am also the Agony Aunt for Writers’ Forum magazine.


The Long and Winding Road – to a Book Deal!

‘Whatever the struggle – continue the climb – it may only be one step to the summit.’
Diana Westlake
This is a quote I keep over my desk – because blimey it’s so true of writing.

The road to success is littered with rejection slips as we all know. I could paper St Paul’s Cathedral with mine! I still get dozens. Yet I had my first short story acceptance letter in 1987 – I can’t believe that was almost 30 years ago and I had no idea back then that it would one day be my career. Not just my career, but also one of the best things in my life. My raison d’être if you like and yes it really is that important.

I’m writing this on the train. I’m about to go and meet my agent, my new publisher and my publicist for lunch. I’ve just been signed by a major publisher, Quercus, who are owned by Hachette. In the interests of being ‘cool’ I was going to try and pretend this isn’t as exciting as it sounds, but I can’t because it wouldn’t be true. I have dreamed of this day happening for thirty years.
To be signed with a big publisher was, and always has been, my number one goal.

I have four novels out there, several books on writing, ten or so novellas, even a memoir about a dog, oh and a fair few short stories too. I’ve been making a living from writing for 16 years. It’s been hard work. According to Malcolm Gladwell you have to practice a craft for 10,000 hours before you can become a master of it. I’ve certainly done that. But for many years my number one goal eluded me.

So how did it come about?

Earlier this year my first agent, Judith Murdoch got in touch. I’d just sent her another manuscript.
“Not this one,” she said on the phone, “but I’ve got a proposition for you. One of my editors is looking for a writer. Can you write to order?”
“I can do backward somersaults at the same time if they like?” I said.
I wrote a sample chapter.
They loved it.
I wrote the rest of the novel – or as it turned out, three linked novellas.
They loved them.
So here I am on the train to London.
Was it luck? Was I just in the right place at the right time?
Yes, a little bit of luck, I think. But it wouldn’t have happened if I’ve ever given up trying. Would it? So that’s my very top tip for writers.

Never Give Up. Whatever the struggle, continue the climb, it may be only one step to the summit

Lunch was brilliant by the way. Nothing beats a publisher quoting scenes from your book that made them laugh. The penne arrabiata was nice too!

The novellas that I wrote will be published under the overall title of The Reading Group.  The first three, January, February and March will be out on 1 December 2016. They are available for pre order now.  But if you’d like to get a little better acquainted with the characters before deciding whether to buy then why not download the FREE short story (December) and see what you think.



Here are the first three covers. So far there are six in the series. I think they’re beautiful. What do you think?






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Creating Characters – How well do you know your imaginary people?

social media image with hammerSometimes a character comes into my head fully formed. Sometimes they are shadowy. Sometimes they are shy like real people and I have to get to know them slowly.  Interviewing them is good.

These 21 questions are one of my favourite ways of interviewing them. I may not know the answers, but the character often will. Does that sound mad? Probably, but I’ve never claimed to be completely sane.  I’ve used these questions, or variations of them, with dozens of students.  So I thought I’d reproduce them here. Hope it’s helpful.

  1. Name, age & sex.
  2.  Brief physical appearance. List 3 things.
  3.  Job.
  4. What is your character’s current problem?
  5. Personality type – extrovert, introvert bossy etc.
  6. Where does your character live? Flat, house, rural, city etc.
  7. What, if anything, would make your character laugh or cry?
  8. What is your character’s soft spot/weakness?
  9. What is your character really good at?
  10. What is your character afraid of?
  11. What would make your character furious?
  12. If your character had one wish, what would it be?
  13. How does your character view money?
  14. Does your character have any prejudices? If so, what?
  15. What are your character’s main qualities?
  16. What are your character’s main faults?
  17. Does your character get on with their parents? Siblings? Friends? Neighbours?
  18. What is your character’s biggest secret?
  19. What is the most defining experience your character has ever had?
  20. Who is the last person your character argued with and why?
  21. Summarise your character in a sentence. Pick 3 significant things. E.g. Dora is 82, wears mismatching clothes on purpose and likes to shock her rather pompous son.

One of my favourite things about this particular character sheet is that it doubles up as a plot creation tool. For example Q4 is the basis of a short story or longer piece of fiction.

Q18 is quite good too, when it comes to plotting. Q19 is one of my favourites when it comes  to novels and getting the psychology right.

If you can do Q21 you will probably know your character pretty well.

Happy Writing.


My next course, How to Write and Sell Short Stories is at a new venue. Shaftesbury, Dorset. The course will be small – a maximum of 10. (The venue is small.)  It will run on Saturday 12 November between 10.00 and 4.00 and costs £45.  This course is suitable for beginners as well as experienced writers and I hope students will go away with the beginning of a short story, the ending of a short story, (hopefully the same one!) and a good idea of how to develop the middle. Please email me via this website (or leave a comment) if you would like to book a place.

If you would like to know more about writing short stories, please check out my book, The Short Story Writer’s Toolshed. £2.49 for Kindle. £4.99 in paperback.




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Writing Courses – are they worth it?

teaching at fishguard

Teaching at Fishguard Writers’ Holiday

There are so many writing courses around these days. Universities run them, publishers run them, magazines run them. In fact every Tom, Dick and Harry (if you’ll excuse the cliche) runs writing courses. Even the smallest town has a literary festival. But are they worth spending your hard earned cash on?

In my opinion, that depends on what you hope to gain. So before you begin, establish what you want and choose the right course for you.

I started my writing career by joining an Adult Education Class called Writing for Profit and Pleasure back in 1987. My tutor knew about getting published. Jean Dynes,who currently writes a column for Writers’ Forum as Barbara Dynes, was already well published.

  • Top Tip Number One: Choose Credibility
  • If you want to get published, get someone to teach you who is well published themselves. It helps if their students are too. I was inspired by another student in the class who had got published since joining (she’d just sold her 27th short story that year).
  • Top Tip Number Two: Choose Expertise
  • If you’re aiming to get published in a magazine and they run a course about getting published in their magazine, then go. They are the best people to teach you. I teach for Woman’s Weekly Magazine in London, Manchester and Glasgow, alongside their fiction editor, Gaynor Davies.

    Woman's Weekly at Blue Fin Buildings

    At Woman’s Weekly with Fiction Editor, Gaynor Davies.

  • Top Tip Number: Three Choose longevity.
  • I’ve just come back from the Writers’ Holiday at Fishguard, which is run by the lovely Anne and Gerry Hobbs. This year’s Writers’ Holiday was their 30th! They have a huge repeat rate of students, who can’t resist their courses because they are well organised, the food is fabulous, the locations (Fishguard, Pembrokeshire) is wonderful and the tutors are all working and well published writers. Top marks Anne and Gerry.
  • Anne and Gerry also run a weekend course at Fishguard in February. I’d advise booking as soon as possible if you fancy it because places are limited. I’m teaching the short story course in February 2017  by the way.
  • More information about Anne and Gerry’s courses can be found at Writers’ Holiday.
  • More information about Woman’s Weekly Courses can be found at. Woman’s Weekly Courses. (incidentally that photograph is not of me, but a much fatter imposter, tee tee).
  • More information about my courses is usually on my website, or you can email me. Next week I am running a day course (Saturday 6 August 2016.) Write a short story in a day. (£29 summer special offer, they’re usually £45). Venue Kinson Community Centre. Please email me if you’d like to book. Or leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.

Happy Writing!


Posted in Short stories for magazines, Tips on writing, Woman's Weekly, Writing, Writing conferences & schools | Tagged , , | 11 Comments

Tips on Writing Flash Fiction

writing Inspiration

writing Inspiration

Flash Fiction is a term that can be applied to anything under 1000 words but more usually it’s shorter. For the purposes of this blog let’s say between 300 and 500 words.

It shouldn’t be anecdotal, i.e. it should still have the elements of a short story (see definition) but I often see Flash that is quite anecdotal so clearly this will depend on the judge. If possible check the previous winners for hints.

My definition of a short story is: a character with a problem, which is resolved by the end in an unexpected way. The character should change in some way by the end of the story.

Flash Fiction must be strong. The following all work well in flash:

  • Twist endings.
  • Very strong characters, especially in a slice of life story.
  • Powerful emotion.
  • Humour if it’s established swiftly and from the outset.
  • Tales with a moral, for example, criminal gets come-uppance.
  • Strong structures that help to carry the story, for example, the story may be headed up in sections such as a diary format or winter, summer, autumn, spring.
  • Strong themes – such as revenge, hope, loss, love.

What doesn’t work?

  •  Anything that’s too complicated. Plots should be simple with one main thread.
  • Too many characters dilute the story. One central character is good.
  • Very long time spans are hard to pull off.
  • A lot of dialogue is hard to fit in. Snippets are good.
  • Likewise too much scene setting won’t work. There isn’t room.
  • Multi viewpoint is hard to pull off. Stick to one character or use a narrative viewpoint.

Flash must have a good hook and it must have a strong end. It’s usually better to write over your target word length and then cut back. It is very good practice for building both your short story skills and editing skills.

Not to mention great fun.

By the way The Morning After the Life Before is 99p today and tomorrow. That’s the sequel to Ice and a Slice, it doesn’t go on promo very often so grab it if you want it.

Thanks for reading.

Della xxx





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Five Tips to Stay Inspired With Your Writing

  1. Got an idea for a story? Write more than one opening paragraph – it takes the pressure off having to get it perfect. Keep writing openings until you feel the inspiration kick in.  This can sometimes take me a while.
  2. Don’t edit your beginning until you’ve completed the story. It’s very easy to focus so much on perfecting an opening paragraph that you never get to the end.
  3. Don’t end the section you’re writing at the end of a scene break. Stop mid scene, mid paragraph or even mid sentence if you’ve got a good memory! It’s much easier to pick it up again.
  4. We tend to spend much less time on the end of a story.  The right ending can take time. Write more than one closing paragraph.  Then leave the story a week or so before coming back and seeing which one feels right.
  5. When you have a complete first draft. Leave the story another week before you do your final edits.  A student I once taught likened it to putting your story in the ‘naughty cupboard’. When you go back to them they will tell you everything they did wrong. This is so true. Mistakes will leap out after a gap of time that it’s impossible to see when you’re close to your work.

Posted in Inspiration, Tips on writing, Writing | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

The Short Story Writer’s Toolshed

The Short Story Writer’s Toolshed was first published as a series in Writer’s Forum. I later decided to compile it into a handy little book. Here is an extract I thought you might like.

How The Toolshed Works

Every writer has certain tools at their disposal. We all in fact use the same tools when it comes to writing short stories, but we’re not necessarily that adept when we set out. This book is a little like an instruction manual, which I’m hoping might save you some time.

So, what exactly do we have in our toolshed? Well this particular toolshed is divided into shelves and on the shelves you will find the following tools:

Shelf one: ideas and getting started; shelf two: plot; shelf three: characters and viewpoint; shelf four: dialogue; shelf five: structure; shelf six: time span, pace and theme; shelf seven: flashback; shelf eight: cutting and editing; shelf nine: putting it all together; shelf ten rejection and motivation.

If you like you can work through the entire toolshed, or you might prefer to go straight to the relevant shelf. But to begin let me take you on a whistle-stop tour of the toolshed. Let’s examine what a short story actually is, as well as having a quick look at some of the available tools.

A Look Around The Toolshed

What is a short story?

This might seem like an odd question to ask in an ebook for writers. We all know what a short story is, don’t we? It’s a story that’s short; it’s less than the length of a novel; it has a beginning, middle and end and gives the reader the chance to spend a brief time with some interesting characters. Simple enough, you might think. But actually no, it’s not that simple at all.

It’s shorter than a novel, yes, but there’s so much more to writing a successful short story than size. The techniques used, the tools if you like, are exactly the same as the tools for writing a novel. Except they are used differently!

In this ebook which I hope will be useful to both beginners and more experienced writers alike we will look at how to use the tools we have at our disposal.

We will look at not just what makes a story work, but also examine the reasons why some stories which on the surface have all the right ingredients don’t work.

To my mind, writing a short story is like painting in miniature. It should have all the depth and colour that a full size canvas allows, but there is no room for waffle. Don’t make the mistake of thinking they are easy to write. Many successful novelists will tell you that short stories are one of the hardest forms of writing. They are a craft.


The length of a short story changes with the fashion. If you are writing to sell, then your market will dictate what length you should aim for, be it magazine or podcast or radio. If you are writing for a competition then the rules will dictate the length. Even if you are writing for your own pleasure and have no desire to see your work in print, it is wise to set yourself a word limit. This is because length is relevant to the elements of a short story. For example, you’ll have trouble writing a story of 1000 or 2000 words if you have a cast of ten or twelve characters.

They’ve got shorter than they used to be. A quick search of the internet will reveal short story competitions that start with a length as short as 60 words. In fact, I even found one which had a word limit of 6 words. But most short story competitions these days have a maximum word length of around 5000 and this is probably on the long side. The vast majority of competitions ask for short stories of between 1000 and 3000 words.

Magazine lengths are similar. Podcasts may go a bit longer. So even if you are not setting out to place your work, then it might be as well to limit yourself to a saleable length just so you can get into the feel of writing something shorter. If you find your stories feel stretched at 3000 words then you might want to reduce it, but the best way to find out is to write a few. See if the pace suits you. Find the length you are comfortable with and then stick to it until you feel you have mastered the art of fitting your plot and characters into that space.


You won’t have room for dozens of characters. In my experience one or two main characters are usually enough. You may of course need supporting characters, but look at them as bit part characters who don’t necessarily need to be fully developed or even named. That doesn’t mean they should be stereotypes. There are many ways of making minor characters spring to life with very few words.

We will look at this in more detail when we get to characterisation. Your main character or characters must be fully developed though. If they are not the reader won’t care about them. If she doesn’t care about them and cannot emotionally engage with them, there’s a good chance she won’t read on.

Interestingly, to return to the subject of length for a moment, when I first started writing stories longer than 1000 words I assumed I’d need more characters to get the extra length, but I quickly realised that it wasn’t about adding characters it was about developing the ones I already had. This is one of the most important things I’ve ever learned about short story writing. I later realised it applied to serials and novels as well.

So to summarise, if you are writing a short story of 1000 – 2000 words you probably won’t need more than a couple of main characters and one of them should be main, which takes us nicely on to viewpoint.


I’m not going to go into the different types of viewpoint at great length here. I will cover those in the viewpoint section (or should I say on the viewpoint shelf). But just in case you’re new to writing, viewpoint simply means whose eyes we are experiencing the story through.

For example, let’s assume we are writing a story about a marriage break up where the wife has had an affair and left her husband. There are three characters in this story: the wife, her lover and the husband. The story might be told through the eyes of any of them, if it is the wife, then she will be the viewpoint character. Not only will we see the action of the story through her eyes, but the story will be coloured by her viewpoint.

It is traditional in a short story to stick to one viewpoint, although you may change if you have a good reason. The viewpoint character also tends to be the main character. There are certain things that should happen to a main character in a short story, one of them being that they should experience some kind of change.


Dialogue is fictional speech. It is very important. It characterises and moves on the plot and gives life to a story. It’s possible to write a short story without it but again you should have a good reason – and by this I mean a reason linked to the story, not just because you don’t fancy the idea of writing dialogue!

When you are working within the very tight framework of a short story, dialogue is even more important. You can, for example, start a short story with dialogue and throw the reader straight into the action and also set up what your story is actually about.

Let’s take the example of the wife, husband, lover story. You might start it like this:

“I’m leaving you, John. I’m sorry, but it has to be like this.” Kathy knew her voice was calm, but inside she was shaking.

“You’re not going anywhere.” He took a step towards her and she was glad the table was between them. “If you think I’m going to let you walk away with that scumbag you’re more of an idiot than I thought.”

This is not particularly subtle, but it’s a swift way of setting up a scene. Already we have a glimpse of the couples’ history as well as what is happening now. Kathy is obviously afraid of her husband and it looks as though she has good reason. You can show a lot of information through dialogue that would take considerably longer in narrative.


A short story is a snapshot, a glimpse into a character’s life but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t have a plot. Without one it will probably be too slight. A plot is basically a series of events and in a short story it tends to start with the main character experiencing a problem, which by the end he or she will have resolved. There should be some surprises along the way; otherwise you’ll end up with a linear sequence of events. For example, a basic crime story might be: crime is committed, crime is solved. This is not a plot. In order for it to be a plot, there must be surprises along the way.

Maybe the person committing the crime is not who we thought, or maybe we learn along the way their reasons are not selfish but altruistic. Either of these scenarios would turn a sequence of linear events into a plot.


You won’t have room for reams of description, but you must have a setting. Your characters cannot interact with each other in a vacuum. Setting needs to be skilfully interwoven. To go back to our husband, wife story, the mention of a table indicates that the story is taking place indoors, possibly in a kitchen. Further snippets of setting would need to be given.

Pace and time span

The pace of a short story is swift. There isn’t time for lengthy set up; the reader should be dropped straight into the action, which must be relevant. Then the story will proceed quickly to its conclusion. A short story by its nature will often only cover a short time-span in the life of the character, say an afternoon, or possibly a few days.


Just because your story takes place over a short time span doesn’t mean that you can’t bring in past events, via flashback.


Structure, pace and time-span are linked. For example, let’s assume you’re using a diary structure. You could divide your story into a series of sections, each headed up as a different diary entry. In this way the story can move seamlessly over a longer period of time.


For me, the theme is the glue that holds the story together. A theme dictates what the story is about. Is it loneliness, revenge, healing? If you know before you begin, then it will help you to stick to the point and only include what is relevant. Theme is a great help when it comes to cutting and editing. It will help you ensure your work is tightly written.


This is the end of the extract. If you would like to read more of the Short Story Writer’s Toolshed you can purchase it for your Kindle for £1.99 here.

If you are reading this between 12th and 19th April, 2016 you can get it at a bargain price of 99p. Here.

If you prefer a ‘real’ copy. It is also available in paperback for £4.99, Here.

Happy writing.

Very best wishes

Della xx


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The Biggest Occupational Hazard of Being a Writer!

thoughtful pen mineToday I’m writing about the biggest occupational hazard of being a writer.  No, I’m not talking about writer’s bottom! Although that is a hazard, I have to say. Especially when combined with Easter and all the chocolate I’ve recently consumed!

But today I’m talking about the other HUGE occupational hazard. I mean that moment when someone you’ve just met asks what you do and you tell them you’re a writer and they say…  “I’ve got a good idea for a book/story/novel you could write.” Then they tell you what it is – in full technicolour detail and – if you’re still awake – they add those immortal words. “Maybe you could write it and we could share the profits.”

“Maybe,” you say, nodding politely.

Which got me to thinking what percentage of a story is ‘the idea’ and what is hard graft. Just supposing you were going to split it like this. Would it be 20 per cent idea and 80 per cent hard graft of doing the actual writing? Or would it be 50/50 or would it be even a smaller percentage for the idea, say 10 per cent? Or would it be idea 70 per cent and writing 30 per cent?

I think this might well depend on individual writers. For me the idea is about 20 per cent of the whole product. Most of the work is in the writing. So if I was going to pay for ideas – supposing there was a handy little ideas shop somewhere I think the most I’d pay for a £100 story idea would be £20. Actually, having just written that down I think it would be more like £10.00.  Although I might be prepared to pay more for an actual plot. One that had an end. And if it had a brilliant twist ending. I might pay a fraction more.

One of my novelist friends did actually give me a complete short story plot the other day which worked superbly, thank you Nancy. Just in case you happen to be reading this blog. My ramblings are not aimed at you.

So my questions today are:

  1. How much would you pay for an idea?
  2. What percentage of the finished product is idea and what is the actual writing?

While I’m on, I’m running a course soon. How to Write and Sell Short Stories is on 28th May in Bournemouth.  £45.00 I suspect there will be a few ideas floating around there! Please do email me for details if you’re interested in that one. Max numbers 12. I think there are 4 places left.

Bye for now.

Della x


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Literary Devices and their Use in Fiction

We’ve been talking about literary devices in my classes, which, perhaps oddly for a writing class, we rarely do. We’re usually focusing on dialogue or characterization or some other element of short stories. So here are just three literary devices which are often used in fiction.

  • Allegory: a story, poem, or picture which can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or political one.
  • Example: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis is a religious allegory with Aslan as Christ and Edmund as Judas.
  • Analogy: a comparison between one thing and another, typically for the purpose of explanation or clarification.
  • Example: A biology teacher might explain the immune system by saying, “What policemen do in a town, white blood cells do inside the body.”
  • Motif: a symbolic image or idea that appears over and over again in a story. Motifs can be symbols, sounds, actions, ideas, or words. Motifs strengthen a story by adding images and ideas to the theme. Incidentally, the word motif (pronounced moh-teef) is derived from the French phrase motif meaning pattern.
  • Example: Throughout a story, a character wears a pair of earrings for a variety of occasions: her wedding, her mother’s funeral, and her own daughter’s wedding. The earrings become a symbol of her changing duties as a wife, daughter and mother as she ages.

I use analogies a lot in short fiction and I’m quite fond of motifs for longer fiction. How about you?

For more about writing short stories please check out my Toolshed Series.

The Short Story Writer’s Toolshed.

The Novel Writer’s Toolshed for Short Story Writers


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Is Your Writing Smelly Enough?

Using the senses in your writing, especially the sense of smell, really helps to take the reader into your story.  However, it’s just as easy  to be cliché with smells as with any other writing so choose carefully and be current.   For example, do today’s hospitals really smell of disinfectant and boiled cabbage? Maybe they do, but they smell of a lot of other things too. I asked my writing students to come up with something different. Here are the results.

Hospital smells

  • Antiseptic hand wash.
  • Floor polish.
  • The colognes of visiting relatives.
  • Stale air.
  • Mass produced food.
  • Body odour.
  • Fear.
  • Fresh air and rain on the clothes of visitors.

We did the same thing with beaches.

Beach smells

  • Donkeys .
  • Coconut suntan lotion.
  • Burger vans.
  • Fish and chips.
  • Candyfloss.
  • Cigarette smoke.
  • Diesel generators from fast food stalls.
  • Ozone.
  • Rotting seaweed.
  • Fresh air.
  • Smoke from Bbqs.

I have a post it note stuck over my desk.  Smells, touch, taste.  I tend to use the other senses anyway but it’s easy to forget these three, especially the sense of smell.

A rose by any other name!

A rose by any other name!

For more tips please check out my books on writing.

The Short Story Writer’s Toolshed

The Novel Writer’s Toolshed.

How to Write and Sell Short Stories.

Moving on From Short Story to Novel. 

I am also running a course in Bournemouth on Saturday 28 May – How to Write and Sell Short Stories. 10.00 am till 4.00 pm. £45.00. Please email me via this website if you’d like more details.

Happy writing!





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New Year, New Approach to Writing

If writing more productively is one of your New Year Resolutions – it’s one of mine – these tips might help.

  1. Choose a market. Preferably one with a deadline like a competition. If you’re stuck for an idea. Why not try The Writers and Artists Year Book Short Story Competition. It’s for a story on the theme of Ageing and it closes on February 15 2016. Max length 2000 words. More details here.
  2. Decide what you want to write BEFORE you get to the computer/notepad. Let the idea stroll around your mind for a few days. The subconscious is a wonderful tool. Even if you just have one word. For example, I currently have Fire. I’m going to write something about fire next. I’ve already brainstormed the word for possible plots. I already have emotions attached to the word.  When I start the actual writing I’m expecting my subconscious to come up with the goods. This works. Trust me.
  3. Make a Deadline Date to write. Do this with a writing partner. Set a time. Set a theme. Set a word limit. Agree the time you will write and agree the time you will email your stories to each other for feedback.  Once you have swapped your stories then edit them based on your partner’s feedback.
  4. Edit your story one final time and then send it to the competition. Good luck.

And if another of your New Year Resolutions happens to be losing weight (as mine is)  you might like to know that I have two helpful books, currently both at half price, on this subject.

How to Eat Loads and Stay Slim is half price for kindle from January 1st 2016 until January 8th.

Ten Weeks to Target (fiction – a romance set in a diet club) may keep you sane while you’re doing the actual diet bit! Is also half price for kindle from January 1st 2016 until January 8th.

Happy writing. And dieting!

The Short Story Writer’s Toolshed is perennially cheap at just £2.49 for kindle. £4.99 paperback.






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