Writing Corner: Kelly from This Northern Girl on Writing Short Fiction

Hi guys! I totally did not mean for it to be this long between posts, I was so busy at the end of last year with working full time in order to pay for going to South Africa and then of course at the beginning of this year I was obviously in Cape Town and on semi-hiatus, so Writing Corner kind of fell by the wayside a little.

However, it’s back now, and I’m very happy to share my first guest post of 2020, from Kelly who blogs over at This Northern Gal. I did a blog post for Kelly a couple of years ago so I’m really happy to be able to return the favour and host her here. I’m really excited to share Kelly’s post with you guys, as I have definitely be struggling with writing during this lockdown period, and I’m hoping her post about exploring shorter forms of fiction will be helpful for anyone else who feels the same way. 

Hands up if you have dreams of being a writer?

I certainly did and still do.

Now, put your hand up if you actually do some writing?

You’ll notice I didn’t ask about publication there. The only criteria was that you, from time to time, spend some time actually writing. That might be a novel you would like to see in a bookshop one day or a poem you never want anyone else to see. Either way, if you wrote it, you are a writer.

This, for me, is one of the central problems with writing. A lot of the time, we set ridiculous parameters on that matters when it comes to writing, which can then take away from what can be a very enjoyable  (and sometimes frustrating) activity. I used to think that I wasn’t working on a novel for publication, I wasn’t really writing. How ridiculous is that? You can be a runner without doing the London Marathon but I wasn’t appreciating the writing that I was doing.

The reality is that writing a novel is hard. Yes, I still do it – I’ve been working on a fantasy novel for months – but that doesn’t take away the value of other pieces of writing.

To be truthful, between a full time job, studying, blogging, reading and generally living, I don’t always have the time or motivation for a novel. Sometimes I just want to write and be creative with something that I have a chance of drafting in an evening.

This is where the biggest shift in my attitude to my writing has occurred. In the last year or two, a lot of my writing has been in shorter forms. My hard drive and notebook is full of poems, flash fiction and short stories. And guess what? Since I still wrote them, it still counts as writing!

In all seriousness, experimenting with new, shorter forms has reignited my love of writing. I’m motivated, I’m enjoying it and I’ve written some pieces that I’m really proud of. There is something very satisfying in knowing that I can write, edit and redraft a piece in a weekend if I want to. I love writing novels but they are a big commitment in terms of time, energy and planning that I can’t always make.

I’ve also noticed that my writing skills have improved (even if I do say so myself). Because I am writing more, I’m getting more practice in, which always helps! Writing shorter forms also requires a slightly different skill set that I’ve been trying to develop. When I’m writing a piece of flash fiction, I have to build a sense of character quickly. As someone who was used to having tens of thousands of words for character development, I’ve really had to up my game and adapt my writing style.

And capturing a character’s emotions in a poem? A fun challenge!

That, I think, is central to my new found love for shorter forms.  I am in no way saying that these forms are easier but they are certainly a different way of approaching writing from what I was use to know. Changing my approach has been a worthy challenge that I think has really helped with my writing and how I view myself as a writer. Particularly with everything that is going on at the moment, finding new ways to be creative and making the most of my bursts of motivation has been wonderful and essential.

If you’re feeling slightly unmotivated about your writing, I can’t recommend trying a new form enough. You might be pleasantly surprised. If you want to try it for yourself, here are some ideas:

  • Tell a short story using dialogue alone (this is trickier than you think but a great way to improve your dialogue)
  • Write a sonnet about an unusual love story
  • Start a short story with the line ‘I knew it was there. Of course I did.’

I’ve also been sharing writing prompts on Instagram and Twitter so if you are looking for some more, I have a few you can try.

I hope it helps you fall in love with writing, whether that is falling a little bit deeper or even falling back in love with it!

Happy writing!

Kelly is a writer, reader and blogger at www.thisnortherngal.co.uk. An all-round word-lover, she also shares her recent reads, writing prompts and snippets of writing on Instagram and Twitter. You can find her at @thisnortherngal on both of these sites.

Thank you Kelly for this brilliant guest post! Fellow writers, have you explored shorter forms of fiction? What are your tips for experimenting with short forms? Are you also struggling with motivation during this lockdown? Let me know in the comments!

If you are a writer and you would like to do a guest post for me, please get in touch! I have spots open through the rest of this year, from May-December, so either drop me an email (my email is jo.ell.x@hotmail.com) or a DM on Twitter (my handle is @iloveheartlandX). You can talk about any writing related topic you’d like, and it’s not limited to published or agented writers, all writers are welcome! You also don’t have to write fiction, if you write anything at all, I’d love to here from you.

I’m hoping to have another Jo Talks post up for you guys over the weekend, so look out for that. If I don’t get a guest poster for this next month, then I’m going to talk about Writing Whilst Abroad, and my experiences writing for Cape Chameleon whilst I was in South Africa, so that should be a good one (and I’ll probably post it anyway, even if I do have a guest poster next month, seeing as I have a lot of extra time on my hands at the moment!).

Top Ten Tuesday #240


Hi all! I hope you’ve all had a good week since my last post, last weekend was Black Friday weekend (because yes, Black Friday has spread to the UK, much to the chagrin of UK retail workers) so it was really, really busy, but thankfully that is over now and this week is my last week of work before I head up to Scotland for the holidays.

Anyway, as it’s Tuesday, I have another Top Ten Tuesday for you all, courtesy of Jana at That Artsy Reader Girl. This week, the topic was meant to be Holiday Reads, but since I’m not a big seasonal reader, I decided to do a different holiday themed topic instead, and I’m talking about my favourite TV Christmas Specials, because one of my favourite things about the holidays, is curling up on the sofa and watching TV with my family. So here we go:

  1. A Heartland Christmas

So far the only Christmas episode of Heartland, this special, 90 minute episode follows Amy, Ty, Jack and Tim as they attempt to rescue a herd of wild horses from an avalanche in the town of Pike River. Meanwhile Lou, and Mallory butt heads over Christmas decorations and Ashley and Caleb struggle with buying each other presents on their shoestring budget. Heartland is the perfect show for Christmas, given the importance of family in the show, and their Christmas episode never fails to make me smile.

2. Call The Midwife Season 6 Christmas Special

I’ll admit, this one was hard, because I honestly think all of the Christmas specials from Call The Midwife have been brilliant (okay, well last year’s one wasn’t my favourite, but aside from that) but if I had to choose one, this would be my favourite. In Christmas of 1962, the Nonnatus House team heads out to South Africa, to help a small mission hospital after the Sister in charge of the hospital dies. This episode is a great one in terms of growth for our characters, Trixie makes great strides in her professional life, Tom and Barbara take steps forward in their relationship, and it’s great to see all the characters thrown out of their comfort zones. It’s quite different from any of the other Christmas specials, given the different location, and different climate, but I think that’s one of the reasons I love it.

3. Miranda Christmas Special

Miranda’s Christmas Special, entitled “Perfect Christmas”, is as Penny would say “such fun”. Miranda has to chase after her missing Christmas presents, all while trying to avoid Christmas with her family. It is a hilarious and incredibly heartwarming show, as despite all the drama, everyone comes together for Christmas after all.

4. Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

The Sabrina Christmas episode is a little different, as the focus is the Winter Solstice rather than Christmas, given that Sabrina and her family are witches, so it’s a spookier Christmas than most of us would be used to. The main plotline of the episode follows Sabrina trying to contact her mother on the other side, and of course, it doesn’t go to plan and hijinks ensue from there.

5. Gilmore Girls

The season one episode “Forgiveness and Stuff” also acts as a Christmas episode, and is much better than the season seven equivalent “Santa’s Secret Stuff”. So many of the most memorable moments from the first season of the show happen in this episode, Luke making Lorelai the santa burger, the heartbreaking scene with Richard and Emily in the hospital and of course, Lorelai giving Luke the hat that he wears for much of the series. It’s definitely a standout episode in the first season of the show, and the Christmas trappings are really just a bonus.

6. Doctor Who-The Christmas Invasion/The Runaway Bride

Okay, I’m cheating and picking two Christmas episodes for Doctor Who, but do you have any idea how hard narrowing this down was? So the two I’ve picked are the first Christmas special of the revival of the show, it’s such a brilliant episode as it’s David Tennant’s first full episode as the Doctor and really sets the tone for the rest of his run, The Runaway Bride is brilliant as you have Donna introduced for the first time, the Racnoss is a terrifying monster, and Catherine Tate and David Tennant make such a good team, it’s just really fun to watch.

7. Friends-The One With The Holiday Armadillo

Friends tends to lean more towards Thanksgiving specials than Christmas ones, but when they did do Christmas episodes they were great. Ross’ plans to teach his son about Hanukkah go awry, when Ben desperately wants Santa for Christmas, and his attempts to obtain a Santa suit have hilarious consequences.

8. Gavin and Stacey Christmas special

Quick aside, but who’s excited for this year’s Gavin and Stacey Christmas special? The last Christmas special (this one) saw all hell break loose as Gavin announced his plan to move to Wales to be with Stacey and I’m sure this year’s Christmas will be just as chaotic as before.

9. A Very Glee Christmas

Glee had several Christmas specials of varying success, and it was a hard choice for me between this one and the season three one, as the season three one has one of my favourite Finn & Rachel scenes of the entire series, but I went for this one because the songs were so good, particularly Kurt and Blaine’s duet of Baby It’s Cold Outside (I hate that song, but I love their version).

10. Switched At Birth-Yuletide Fortune Tellers

A classic “what if” switch episode, this episode imagines what would have happened if Bay and Daphne had not been switched at birth. Of course, the alternate reality is worse, and in order to switch back, Bay and Daphne have to embrace their mothers’ Christmas traditions (which they hate).

So there we go, sorry for the later than usual post this week, I was late back from work, so everything got a bit pushed back! Do you have any favourite TV Christmas specials? Do you like any of mine? Let me know in the comments!

Next week’s topic is a Freebie, so I’ve gone for Books I Thought I’d Love But I Didn’t, as a counter to the Books I Didn’t Expect To Love But Did post I did earlier in the year.

In the meantime, I should have my #RockMyTBR Challenge list for 2020 up over the weekend. If you haven’t been to vote on my Twitter polls yet, please do, I’m @iloveheartlandX on Twitter, and there are 12 different polls to vote on, so vote on as many as you’d like to decide what I’ll be reading next year!

Writing Corner: On How NaNoWriMo Helped Me Write My First Book

Hi everyone! With National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) only a week away, I thought it would be quite timely to write a post this month about it, and how it helped me with writing my first full length novel. I unfortunately won’t be taking part in NaNoWriMo this year as I’m too busy with work to commit to it, but it really did help me with writing my novel, This Is Not A Love Story, so I wanted to talk more about it today.

I have been writing most of my life, starting when I was a little kid, but when I was a teenager, my fiction writing kind of dropped off a bit, I was mostly writing fanfic and blogging/news writing. I just didn’t have the ideas, I didn’t know what I wanted to write about, I didn’t really know how to get started with fiction again, so I kind of just left it, despite my goal of eventually becoming an author not changing.

Then in 2016, I was in a meeting for the Creative Writing society I joined whilst I was at Uni & we were given a prompt of writing a story based off famous first lines from books. The one that drew me in was from Robert McLiam Wilson’s Eureka Street, “All stories are love stories”. I have for a while been quite frustrated by the overabundance of romance in YA, I understand that first love is a part of the teen experience, but it’s not part of every teen experience, it certainly wasn’t part of mine. So I set out to write something that wasn’t a love story, at least not a romantic one. I wanted to write something for teenage me, to show her that she wasn’t any lesser for not having a relationship and that it was okay not to have found “true love” at sixteen.

It was soon after I’d started writing This Is Not A Love Story that I found out about NaNoWriMo. Everyone on Book Twitter was talking about it, my friend was doing it and despite the fact that it was November and I had several essays due for Uni before the end of the semester, I decided to go for it.

It was the push I needed to actually get a novel off the ground. I had the idea, and now with NaNoWriMo and the daily word count goals, I had a reason to make sure that I got something down every day. It wasn’t easy, and I didn’t write every single day, some days I just couldn’t because I had to do Uni work, some days I just didn’t have the ideas, but it definitely got me into the habit of writing regularly. I worked at a relatively steady pace throughout most of the month, with generally between 1500-3000 words a day, though there were some days were I wrote nothing, some days were I wrote very little and some days where I wrote A LOT, like on the final day where I wrote over 6000 words!

It got me in the habit of actually sitting down and making sure that I carved out time for myself to write as well. I can still go months without writing, and have done, depending on how busy I am but now I actively seek out time to write. Before I did NaNoWriMo, I was kind of, “Oh well, I’m at Uni, I’ve got things to do, I don’t have time to write”. Now, even though I work full time, whenever I have time to spare, I immediately go to writing and I definitely think that came from doing NaNoWriMo. I had to balance multiple deadlines with my NaNo project, and I still managed to get all of it done, so I realised that my “lack of time” excuse had been just that. If I wanted to, I could get the words down, no matter how busy I was, so NaNoWriMo was definitely an exercise in prioritising my writing which I desperately needed.

I work really well when I have definable goals to work towards, so NaNoWriMo really helped me in that respect, because in order to finish on time, you need to reach an average number of words a day. Some days I wrote more than that, and some days I wrote less, but I always had a definable goal for the day: like I want to finish this chapter, or I want to get to this point in the story. I got really on a roll on some days, so I would tend to just carry on until I realised I needed to do some work on my essays, or it got late! I’ve carried that on since NaNoWriMo, when I sit down to write, I always have a definable goal in mind: I want to finish this chapter, or I want to write for this long today, or even just I want to finish this portion of the story today. Sitting down in front of my laptop, knowing where I want to end the writing session is really helpful and that’s something that I learned from NaNoWriMo.

I think for me, actually getting the first words down is always the hardest thing, so I often avoid starting projects even if I have an idea for them. Actually in both years I’ve done NaNoWriMo, I’ve always had the first line, first paragraph, even in 2017, the first chapter ready to go. Still for others, who maybe don’t find starting new things quite as daunting as I do, NaNoWriMo is a great opportunity to kick start that novel idea that you’ve had swirling around in your brain that you just haven’t had the time to get down yet. I reckon if I do NaNoWriMo in the future, I will probably always work from something that I’ve already started, because I like to get ahead, and also because if I don’t have at least my first line down, I’ll just procrastinate starting!

My two NaNoWriMo experiences have been very different. My first year, I completed the 50,000 word goal, but I didn’t write every day. My second year, I got to just over 44,0000 words, but I did write something every day, even if it was only a couple of hundred words. I don’t think either way is better than the other, but it did show me that there is no way to really “lose” at NaNoWriMo because in both scenarios, I had more words at the end than I’d had at the beginning.

NaNoWriMo gives you the opportunity to write a really messy first draft, without that internal judgement of “Oh this isn’t good enough” because it’s not meant to be. My aim for NaNoWriMo that first year, wasn’t to write a perfect book, it was literally just to finish something. When I wrote fiction before NaNoWriMo, I had a terrible habit of starting my books and then not finishing them, even doing Fanfic, whilst I finished most of my stories, I’d start several at once, and there are quite a few still up there that are unfinished. With NaNoWriMo, I had a specific goal to work towards and a specific time limit to do it in, so I was more motivated to finish. I mean a lot of the reasons I didn’t finish any of the books I wrote as a kid, is because I was a kid and didn’t have the attention span but still!

Doing NaNoWriMo allowed me to finally get passed the “first draft” stage of writing. Before I did it in 2016, I’d never got anything far enough to require editing, but doing that intense period of writing, meant that I finally had something concrete to edit. The last three years since doing it, I’ve been refining and making the novel I wrote, This Is Not A Love Story, a far stronger version of the story than the one I wrote in 2016 was. It still has the bones of the story I wrote back then, but a LOT has changed and for the better. Still without NaNoWriMo, I would never have had a substantial enough story to edit in the first place. It really was the start of me writing with a focus towards actually getting published, as opposed to writing for fun, and I will always be grateful for the experience.

Of course, NaNoWriMo isn’t going to be for everyone. 30 days of writing is a huge time commitment, and not everyone has that time to spare, I certainly don’t this year. Some people just don’t suit that intensity of writing, and prefer to write smaller amounts over a longer period. That’s okay, you just have to find what works for you. For me, NaNoWriMo was a great way of getting my work off the ground and having something substantial to edit at the end. I would definitely recommend it to writers who are looking to start their publishing journey but have struggled with getting something substantial down, because it massively helped me: prior to 2016, I didn’t even have a first draft to edit. Fast forward three years later, I’ve not only edited TINALS, but I’ve queried it, and written almost 30,000 words of the sequel.

Has anyone else done NaNoWriMo? What have your experiences been like? Are you doing it this year? Let me know in the comments!

If you are a writer and would like to be featured in Writing Corner, then get in touch! I still have spots open for November and December, and will be looking for writers to feature in 2020 very soon, so either drop me an email (my email address is jo.ell.x@hotmail.com) or a DM on Twitter, where my handle is @iloveheartlandX. You can write about any topic you’d like as long as it is to do with writing, and is within 600-1000 words. I take submissions from all writers, no matter what stage of the publishing process you are at, or even if publishing isn’t your goal at all. If you write, I want to hear from you!

I should have my October Book vs Movie post up tomorrow, so if you want to read me ranting about how terrible the Percy Jackson movies were, this one is one for you! I’ll have another Writing Corner post up next month, though I’m not sure what about yet, it will depend on whether I have a guest poster, or if I’m writing it.

Writing Corner: Zed N.Khan On His Writing Journey

Hi everyone! I have another wonderful guest post for you today, this time from YA writer Zed N. Khan about his journey as a reader and a writer, so hopefully you guys all enjoy it, and get a little insight into Zed and his reading and writing process.

I’m Zed, a writer on the road to publication, hopefully! Thanks to Jo for giving me this opportunity to share a little bit about myself and my process when it comes to reading and writing.

So I wouldn’t say that I was always an avid reader. When I was in primary school, so that’s from the ages of 5 to 11 here in England, I wasn’t always to be found trying to read something but when we had to, like in class or for homework, I enjoyed doing it.

I remember there were these books where the characters surnames were a colour. Like there was ‘Jennifer Yellow Hat’ and her brother Johnny, I think his name was. There was also ‘Billy Blue Hat’ and characters like that and I guess they lived in the same town or something. Those books were fun. I also remember being upset because I didn’t get to perform a play-like piece I had written with my friends for my class. I was quite proud of it and the story that I’d written.

Talking of reading, it was also around this time that my mum used to read stories to my brother and I from this magazine she had in Urdu, our mother tongue. And I always enjoyed those stories so in part- and probably more than that- I credit my mum for my interest in stories, which had a hand in me becoming a writer.

However, it wasn’t until I started secondary school at the age of 11 that I started to read more out of individual choice. Due to some struggles that happened because of my disability, in that being in a wheelchair suddenly wasn’t as easy as it had been the year before when I had been 10, I became really self-conscious and started spending most of my time in the school library instead of on the playground, the way I used to and as a result I began to read a lot more. And I fell in love with books, becoming an avid reader rather than a casual one.

But it was really, in terms of a literary inspiration, the discovery of Harry Potter that started my road to wanting to become a writer. I remember in 2001, watching a trailer for a film that was coming out entitled ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’. I was intrigued and, after seeing that the trailer was based on a novel series, when I went back to school after what must have been a weekend or an evening, I went to the library and asked the librarian if the first Harry Potter book had come out.

She said that it had and so had the second one, the ‘Chamber of Secrets’. She asked me if I wanted to take them both and read them over the week long school holiday we had coming up. I agreed, took the books and fell in love with Harry Potter, not knowing at the time that many others were doing the same.

It was JK Rowling who said that as writers we go through a phase where we imitate our favourite authors and it was Harry Potter that led a 13 year old me to try and write a novel about a magical boarding school. Even then though, I was attempting to do something different and my protagonist was an elf, not a wizard.

I can’t stress enough how important reading and writing have been for me. Reading, as well as being fun, was an escape for me when I needed one and writing’s the same, except with writing, I also get to live vicariously because the characters don’t have the same type of struggles that I myself face.

I guess I never grew out of wanting to write that magical boarding school story. Even my WIP now that I’ve been fortunate enough to work on is about an elf that goes to magical school. So I guess that attempt at 13 has also found its way in!

The series is called Marley Grimm and is, right now, a planned 6 book saga. I absolutely love the series and one of the greatest things has been the fact that I’ve been able to add disability representation, something that I found sorely lacking growing up and perhaps something that will inspire readers in the future, especially disabled people who see characters going through the same issues as they themselves are.

I hope each of you all can find your happiness, the way I have with writing.


You can follow Zed @ZedNKhan on Twitter to keep up to date with ‘Marley and me’. The elf, not the dog movie! You can also find Zed’s blog, @BooksNotBeyond. 

Thank you Zed for sharing your experience with everyone today! If you are a writer, and you would like to do a guest post for me, then please get in touch. I have spots open for October-December, so either drop me an email (jo.ell.x@hotmail.com) or a DM on Twitter, my handle is @iloveheartlandX. You can talk about anything writing, or publishing related, and I’m open to all writers, not just published or agented ones.

My next post will be my usual Top Ten Tuesday post on Tuesday, so look out for that. I don’t know what I’ll have for this feature next, it will very much depend on if I get someone to guest for October, but if I don’t I’m sure I will come up with something for you guys!

Writing Corner: Writing Modern Fantasy Vs Second World Fantasy

Hi guys! I know, I know, I made you guys wait till the last day of the month for one of these, again, but once again, work has been busy and I’ve had to put these longer posts on the back burner. Still, I do have something for you, and today I’m going to be talking about the different experiences I’ve had working on my fantasy novels, one of which is a Second World fantasy, and the second of which is a fantasy set in our world.

Obviously the biggest difference between writing the two different types of fantasy is right there in the title. In Underground Magicians, I’m working in the framework of our world, so there’s not really much work to do with the setting there. Obviously I have to research the different cities that the book takes place in, but I’m not developing a whole world from scratch, and the underground tunnels that I use for the home of my magicians in the book, also exist in real life, so again, it’s more a case of researching and finding out where they all are. Most of what I’ve done in terms of developing the setting in Underground Magicians has been familiarising myself with the locations I’ve used.

With This Is Not A Love Story, it’s been a whole different kettle of fish. It’s a second world fantasy, so I’ve developed everything from scratch. I had to come up with the origins for the world, the magic system, all of the different Kingdoms, the Resistance and how that came about, basically everything to do with the world had to come from me. On the one hand, this is super fun because you basically have free rein to come up with everything. But on the other hand, it’s quite difficult, especially, if like me, you have difficulty picturing things in your head (see my latest Jo Talks post for more details on that).

The biggest benefit to Second World fantasy for me, over writing a modern world fantasy was definitely the fact that you don’t really have to explain why magic exists. In a second world fantasy, it’s accepted that everyone has magic because that’s just the way that world is, and whilst I obviously had to explain why all the Kingdoms split & how some people were able to use more elements than others, I never had to explain why everyone has magic because that’s the norm in Elementa. In general, Second World fantasy allows you a bit more freedom because you don’t have to work within the limitations of our world, instead you can create your own. This also means there’s quite a difference between how my main characters react to their new lives in each book: Tiffany is surprised by the existence of the Resistance and the fact that she has multiple powers, but magic itself is not a surprise to her. Sophie on the other hand, is learning about something that she thought only existed in fantasy novels, so it’s a whole different kind of learning curve for her.

With Underground Magicians however, it’s set in our world so I had to come up with some kind of an explanation as to how this group of people in 21st Century Europe have magical powers. I have to admit, I struggled with that for a while, but once I had figured out the villain of my story, and what their goal was, the reasoning behind these people having magical powers fell into place for me.

There are obviously benefits to writing modern world fantasy as well. When I sent my first draft of This Is Not A Love Story to my critique partner, she mentioned that I used too many things that were obviously fine to use in a modern world but that people wouldn’t necessarily have the same name for in a second world fantasy. With Underground Magicians, this wasn’t a problem, my protagonist has grown up in a modern world setting, so I can use pop culture references, references to real places and things and it’s not a problem because it fits with the settings I’ve used.

My two books, by design have very different magic systems. This Is Not A Love Story is based on a more traditional, Elemental style magic system, it’s a lot more simple, everyone has an elemental power from the Kingdom that they were born in, and some people have one or more extra powers. Underground Magicians is a bit different, there are lots of different powers, and everyone has a different magical power depending on how the magical energy manifests in them. Both types were fun to write in different ways, Underground Magicians, I’ve given myself a bit more freedom to explore different types of magic, but in This Is Not A Love Story, I get to explore the limitations of one particular type of magic in depth.

Overall, whilst Second World and Modern fantasies have fundamental differences, the process of writing for me has still been very much the same. I still have to build my worlds, albeit in different ways, I still have to develop my characters and I still have to come up with a plot that make sense for the world and the characters that I’ve created. Both types of fantasy allow me to be creative in different ways, and switching between my two very different worlds means that I focus better on both because it allows me to explore two different types of magic, two very different main characters and two very different worlds, so I come into each feeling refreshed and excited to explore the different stories that each world allows me to tell.

How about you? Any other fantasy writers explore both second world and modern fantasy? Which do you prefer? Let me know in the comments!

If you are a writer, and would like to do a guest post, Q&A or any other kind of post for me then please get in touch! I have spots open for this feature from September to December, so either drop me an email (my email address is jo.ell.x@hotmail.com) or a DM on Twitter, my handle is @iloveheartlandX. You can talk about any topic, the sky’s the limit, and I take submissions from all writers, whether you’re agented, unagented, published or unpublished, if you write, I want to hear from you!

I should have a review of my most recent read An Ember In The Ashes up next week, as well as my latest Top Ten Tuesday post. In the meantime, I’m not sure what I will have next for this feature, so I guess you’ll just have to wait until next month and see what I’ve come up with!


Writing Corner: Tips on Getting An Agent From Writer Amy McCaw

Hi everyone! I totally meant to get this post up way before the end of the month (my bad, work has been super busy), but it’s still July, so better late that never I suppose! I’m really excited about today’s post, Amy was my secret sister for the #otspsecretsister project on Twitter, and she has an agent, Sandra Sawicka, so she very generously offered to write a post for you guys about how she found her agent. As someone who is currently going through the querying process, I hope you find Amy’s tips helpful and that it makes the process a little easier for you!

Agented authors will have such a range of stories about how they got there. These are my tips about how I got to that amazing meeting where I was offered representation.

Writing programs

I’d queried in the past and got some positive feedback, but it didn’t work out. This time around, I did my research and discovered Write Mentor. I got a place on their summer program and was paired with Marisa Noelle. She helped me to get my manuscript in shape and the program’s end date gave me lots of motivation to keep writing and editing.

There are lots of programs out there and I’m sure they could have similar outcomes, but Write Mentor definitely worked for me.


Writing is so solitary that there’s plenty of room for self doubt to creep in, but finding my writing community helped me to keep my perspective. I met critique partners through Write Mentor, Twitter and at book events that are not only brilliant writers, but I also trust them to give honest, helpful feedback. Through them, I got advice on everything from pitching to that ever-painful synopsis.

There’s also the option to get paid critiques, and Lauren James gave incredibly astute, constructive feedback that really pushed me.


I was terrified at the prospect of telling someone in person about my manuscript but I decided to prepare a pitch for the free agent sessions at YALC. I pitched every day and got some great feedback, but most importantly, on that very first pitch I met Sandra Sawicka, who ended up being my agent. The face-to-face contact showed that we clicked and I really felt her enthusiasm for my pitch.


Once Write Mentor was over, I started querying. Part of the process involved getting a synopsis and query letter ready to go, so then all that was left to do was to choose my agents.

If you don’t end up polishing your query with a mentor’s help, there are lots of great online resources. Writer’s Digest and Nathan Bransford’s blog were my go-to guides.

I used books such as The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook to narrow down my choices, as well as the #MSWL hashtag on Twitter and Manuscript Wishlist website.

Once my research was done, I made a spreadsheet to track who I’d queried and their responses. I also kept notes about agents’ wish lists and preferences, which helped to personalise my queries.

I hope you’ve found this post useful! If you want to talk books or writing with me, you can find me on my blog at yaundermyskin.co.uk or on Twitter @yaundermyskin. Happy querying!

amy mccaw

Amy McCaw is a YA writer and blogger. She’s a fan of all things dark and spooky, and is currently working on her untitled Gothic YA mystery novel set in 1990s New Orleans.
Her main interests are books, movies and the macabre, and her debut novel has elements of all of these. If Amy’s not at a book event or reading, she can usually be found scribbling away in her writing room, surrounded by movie memorabilia and an out-of-control signed books collection. Unsurprisingly, she’s a huge Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan and has gone to conventions to meet James Marsters more times than she cares to admit.
Amy also loves travelling and has a particular affinity for America. She’s visited 29 states, 13 Man Vs Food restaurants and many bookish locations, including the cities where Twilight, Interview with a Vampire and Vampire Diaries were set.
If you want to talk with Amy about books or 90s movies, you can find her on Twitter.

Thank you Amy for that very insightful post! Fellow writers, do you have any other querying tips? Share your top tips in the comments.

If you are a writer, and you would like to a guest post for me, then please get in touch! I have spots open from August-December, so either drop me an email (my email address is jo.ell.x@hotmail.com) or a DM on my Twitter, my handle is @iloveheartlandX. You can talk about any writing related topic you want, and it’s not limited to just published or agented writers, all writers are welcome!

I’m hopefully going to have a review of Strange The Dreamer up over the weekend, so look out for that. I’m not quite sure what’s going to happen with this feature next, as I don’t have anymore guest posts lined up, but if I don’t get anyone for August, then I’m going to be talking about writing second world fantasy vs writing fantasy set in our world and the pros and cons I’ve found of each, which should be quite a fun one!


Mid Year Check In (2019)

Hi all! We’re over halfway through the year, can you believe that because I can’t. I’ve had such a packed year already with Uni finishing and graduating, that’s it hard to believe we’re this far through 2019 already. Only six months to go till we’re in the 20’s guys! Anyway, at this point in the year, I like to check in on how I’m doing with the goals I made at the start of the year, it’s something I started doing about three years ago, just to help keep me accountable for the goals I’ve made and also it’s quite fun to see how I’ve done with them over the past six months. So here we go, here’s how my goals have been going:

  1. Complete my Goodreads Challenge

This is one of those goals that I have every year, I started off at 24 books at the start of the year, but I’ve already reached that and I put it up to my usual goal of 35 books. I reckon if I keep going at the pace I’m going, I should reach 37 books by the end of the year, but I’d quite like to push it and get to 40 if I can.

2. Complete my #RockMyTBR Challenge

This one is going really well as well, it’s another annual challenge. I have 12 books on this challenge list, and I’m right on target with them, having finished 6 of them so far and started my seventh. I’ve really enjoyed the books I’ve read for this so far this year (for the most part) and I’m really excited for the ones I have to come going into the second half of the year.

3. Become a 5 star writer for The National Student

I did this one! I actually completed it all the way back in January since I wasn’t far off it by the end of last year. I’ve now written over 100 articles and had over 100,000 views, which I’m really pleased with.

4. Continue working on revisions for This Is Not A Love Story in order to prepare it for querying

I’ve done this! I actually sent This Is Not A Love Story off for querying back in April, and then to more agents in May and although I haven’t had any requests on it yet, only rejections, I’m really proud of myself for actually doing it, I wrote a book and sent it to agents and that is no mean feat. I’ve also made a lot of headway on the sequel as well, which makes me happy.

5. Read more non-fiction

Of the 24 books I’ve read so far this year, 3 of them have been non-fiction, which doesn’t seem like a lot, but since I started at a base of 0 from last year, it’s definitely an improvement, and my shelves are largely fiction, so I only have a handful of non-fic to read anyway. I’ve really enjoyed the ones I have read, so it seems like this is a trend I need to keep up.

6. Catch up on 2018 releases I missed

I have so far this year, read 4 of the 16 2018 releases that I said I wanted to catch up on in a Top Ten Tuesday post at the beginning of the year, which isn’t as many as I would have liked, but it is something, and I plan to read more before the year is out. 16 is quite a lot of books, so I think if I finish half of that list I made, then I’ll be quite happy.

7. Unhaul some of my books in preparation for graduation

Yup, done! I used Marie Kondo’s method to decide which books to unhaul way back in April and then when I was up at Uni for graduation, I finally took them all to Oxfam books, so my book collection, whilst still huge and unwieldy, has been streamlined a little bit.

8. Start my Book/Movie comparison feature

I started this one last month, it’s under the Book Vs Movie tab in the menu bar. So far I’ve only done one, for The Perks of Being A Wallflower but I’m planning on doing another one this month, and every other month for the rest of the year.

9. Focus on backlist books 3 years old or more

Ha ha this was a well meaning goal, but I haven’t done very well on it! I’ve read a couple of books from 2015 & 2017 and even the rest of the Grisha trilogy books which were published in 2013 & 2014 but largely my reads this year have been either new releases or books that were released in 2018.

10. Get my Netgalley ratio up to 80%

I’m not quite there yet, but I’m doing really well, I’m at 75%, so I’m hoping I can get the other 5% before December, I’ve got a couple more books on my shelves to clear and then I probably will reach it.

11. Try more audiobooks

I’ll be honest, I’ve actually only just started with this one, it’s been hard to find the time when I’ve had so many Netgalley books to read throughout the year, but I’m reading Priory of The Orange Tree on Audible at the moment and really enjoying it. They’re really good for reading on the bus, as they’re divided into short 15-40 minute chapters which are quite easy to consume on my morning commute to work.

12. Have more guest posts on the blog

I’ve had a couple of these, author interviews with CG Drews and Amanda Foody, and a guest post from writer Madeline Dyer, but I’d really like more, so if you’re interested in doing a guest post for me, especially if you’re a writer, then please get in touch, either via Twitter (@iloveheartlandX) or via my email, jo.ell.x@hotmail.com.

So that’s how my year has been going so far. I’m pretty pleased with what I’ve done, I’ve done better on some goals than others, and I think I’m on track to complete most of them by the end of the year, which is good. How about you guys? Did you make any goals for your reading/blogging/writing life this year? If so, how are they going so far? Let me know in the comments!

I will be back with a new Top Ten Tuesday post on Tuesday, so stay tuned for that. I’ve started work, so my posting my be a little more sporadic over the next month or so, so please be patient, I will get around to doing all the posts I want to, it just might take a little longer than usual!