All posts by chris chambers

It’s almost time to say goodbye, but first, some editing tips…

Hello Everyone,

My penultimate post so time to remind you all once again about the looming deadline of the 30th Sept and to urge you to not leave submitting your entries until the last minute – just in case there are any technical issues at either end!

Before you do send off you work you might just want to cast one final eye over your precious baby and make sure there isn’t a soft downy lock out of place on its head by considering the following advice on editing:

*   Adverbs and adjectives –  do you really need them?  Can you use better/more powerful nouns and verbs that mean you can do without the adverbs and adjectives?

*   Modifiers – very, really, rather etc. do you really need them?

*   Metaphors and similes – use them sparingly and avoid extended pieces of imagery that are overly poetic and not moving the story on.

*   Speech tags – often you can do without them, especially if it is a two person dialogue or use action instead to illustrate who is talking.

*   Clichés – usually they can just simply go.  If you are really saying something with them you will need to think of an original turn of phrase to replace them.

*   Repetition – don’t be tempted to repeat yourself by showing something then telling it as well.  Trust the reader will understand the first time.

*   Dialogue – often this can be pruned.  Remember not to go overboard with making it imitate real speech.

*   Actions – you don’t have to show every single movement e.g. getting up, opening the door, walking through it, closing it behind you, getting out a key, locking the door, walking down the drive, unlocking the car, getting into the car, fastening the seatbelt etc.

*   Detail – important but better to be specific with one or two things that show every single detail e.g. when describing a room.  Be selective and only mention things that are important to the story like a gun on the table but not a plant on the windowsill (unless is it deadly nightshade and hence the murder weapon)

*   Vary your vocabulary – watch out for repeated words close to each other.

*   He/she – make sure it is clear who is being referred to.

*   Avoid overly long, complex sentences that are confusing to read.

*   Avoid fragments that are not complete sentences.  While this does save words it can make the writing stilted.

*   Don’t use capital letters to indicate when someone is shouting.  J. K. Rowling does it and it is annoying to most readers.

*   Consistency – check that you don’t contradict yourself.

*   Anachronisms – if you are writing a piece with a particular time setting make sure you have researched accurately.

And don’t forget to ‘kill your darlings”!

Yes, editing can be a draining process but it is all part of the work of a writer and probably the part that will make the biggest difference to your chance of having success with a piece.  We can all come up with great ideas but writing is all about the skillful execution of those ideas, finding the “best words in the best order” and really bringing that story to life.  So keep going with it and be honest with yourself about what is working and what isn’t in your writing.

It has been a great pleasure to be part of your writing experiences during Crossing the Tees and I have very much enjoyed reading the entries sent to me for mentoring or hearing the little extracts read out during the writing workshops.  So, as a way of returning the favour, I would like to invite anyone following this blog to join me for the launch of my second novel.

The novel, Herself Alone in Orange Rain, is part two of my Celtic Colours trilogy.  It tells the story of one young woman’s fight for freedom and independence for her homeland and herself.  The launch is Friday, 13th October (hope you aren’t superstitious!), 7pm at Drakes Bookshop, Silver Street, Stockton on Tees.  It’s a free event and there will be free refreshments provided so if you’re at a loose end that night and want the chance to grill me about my writing (put ‘teacher’ in the spotlight for a change) then just drop me a line so I can have an idea of numbers (Drakes is a cosy little shop).

And if you can’t make the Stockton launch never fear – I am also doing ‘An Audience With…’ at The Word, South Shields, Saturday, 4th November, 2-3pm where you will be able to head me read from and talk about parts one and two of my Celtic Colours trilogy.  This is also a free event but you do need to book the The Word’s website.  And I’ll have copies of both books there so it’s a good chance to grab a signed one then, if I become mega famous, you can flog it on Ebay for a fortune!

Hope to see some of you at one or other event.  Next week – the big, tear-jerking goodbye…


Time is ticking…

Hello Everyone,

Now with time running very short indeed and the countdown to the final deadline for entries into dates rather than weeks/months you are probably wondering where all that time went and how you’ve managed to leave things so late.  Well, some of you are while those organised souls sit back and relax, entry submitted and nothing but the nerver-jangling wait for judgement to be upon them.

But don’t despair.  There is still time to polish your pieces and get them into the comp.  To help you with this here are some tips on two aspects of story writing that people often find a challenge – dialogue and descriptions:

Dialogue dos and don’ts

  • Try to find distinctive speech patterns for your characters.
  • Use non-standard spellings to demonstrate accents/pronunciations.
  • Keep speech tags simple (he said) and don’t overuse alternatives (yelled, whispered, cried, exclaimed etc.).  Save these for when you really need them.
  • Don’t use too many adverbs with your speech tags (quietly, loudly, angrily etc.).
  • Think about what real people say to each other e.g. they don’t tell each other things that both parties will already know.
  • Keep passages of dialogue fairly short and intersperse with action/description to maintain reader interest.
  • Don’t let one character speak for too long uninterrupted.  Real conversations don’t work like this.

Doing Descriptions – what to describe

  • Characters – both their physical appearance and personality
  • Places/settings – could include things like furniture/décor, weather, light/darkness etc.
  • Action – what is happening, what characters are doing etc.
  • Speech – how things are said, through speech tags
  • Time – both when your narrative is set and how time passes in the narrative

And how to describe it

  • Imbed description in action
  • Don’t rely too heavily on sight, use all the senses
  • Do use specific details e.g. colour, pattern, size, flavour etc.
  • Don’t overuse similes or adverbs/adjectives especially if they are not needed e.g. he yelled loudly
  • Make sure metaphors are original and avoid clichés like the plague!
  • Avoid lengthy passages of dry description
  • Use occasion brief ‘telling’ for dramatic affect e.g. he was dead

So look back over your stories and see if there are any areas that would benefit from a little reworking.

For those organised souls I mentioned earlier who might, entries sorted, be turning their thoughts to pursuing new writing goals (and for the rest of you once you’ve made those last minute tweaks to your stories) I do offer a mentoring and appraisal service.  So if you would like some input on your writing, feedback on work in progress, help with getting something to a publishable standard or just some personal guidance tailored to whatever stage you are at with your writing just contact me and we can talk over ways forward.

Now back to the keyboard and get those stories finished!


Narrative perspectives and National Novel Writing Month!

Hello Everyone,

Well, we are now into the final big push in the last few weeks before your competition entries need to be in (30TH SEPTEMBER!!!).  But there is still time to get that award winning story polished and perfected.

This week as you move towards a final assault on your writing, I thought it would be helpful to share with you all some tips on narrative perspective.

First all some appoaches to narrative perspective or point of vie (PoV) as it is sometimes called:

Possible Perspectives

  • First person (I/me) – allows the writer to explore the inner thoughts of the character and helps the reader to develop empathy for the character but it does restrict what the writer can show the reader.  Can get round this by having more than one first person narrator e.g. The Sweetest Thing by Fiona Shaw.
  • Second person (you) – this is rare in fiction but very common in persuasive/rhetorical writing like speeches.  It can work well for short fiction but would be difficult to sustain over a longer story.  One advantage of it is it makes the reader a character in the story by addressing them directly.
  • Third person focalised (he/she/they) – a common and popular perspective that allows the writer and reader some distance from the character but maintains a close contact.  Disadvantage is that, like first person, it restricts what the writer can show the reader because the narrative follows only one character e.g. Harry Potter by J. K. Rowling.
  • Third person omniscient (all seeing) – more common in Victorian novels.  The perspective is that of a god-like figure looking down, able to go anywhere and see anything.  This frees the writer to show every event of the plot no matter which characters are/are not involved but it prevents the reader from getting close to any one character and can make empathy more difficult e.g. The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy.

Now all you have to do is work out which is best for your story.  Things to consider are:

  • what are the main plot points of your story
  • which characters are involved in those ‘scenes’
  • what is the story’s time line e.g. are some of these events happening similtaneous?

So if you have several events happening at the same time and involving different characters you will probably be best off with either several narrators or an ‘all seeing’ third person perspective.  If your story is all told through the PoV of one character then first person or third person focalised would work well.

Remember whatever you decided to do with the PoV to consider the following:

  • How closely do you want your reader to empathise with your hero? (this will be important if you have something of an ‘anti-hero’ as a protagonist).
  • How will you be restricted by first or third person focalised perspective?  Will this make structuring your story difficult?
  • Will you need/want more than one narrator?  You are allowed to switch between different narrators and even different perspectives but this must be deliberate, not just arising out of inconsistency.
  • Do you want the reader to experience the story alongside the character?
  • Will dramatic irony be important to the tension of your plot?
  • Are you planning to kill off any of your characters?  There is no reason why you can’t kill off a first person narrator but who will take over the role of narrator?
  • Are you using past tense or present tense?  How does this fit with your PoV?

Although we still have a few more posts to go before I disappear from the blog-sphere I am also going to spend these last few blogs letting you know about opportunities to keep developing your writing beyond Crossing the Tees.

This week I want to let you know about National Novel Writing Month.  This is a great chance for those of you with a novel in you to get in down.  The challenge is to write it in a month.  More information can be found here:
We are particularly lucky in the Tees Valley as there is also a well established support group for people taking part in NNWM so check out their Facebook page at: and get that novel out!

Good luck with your final redraft.  More next time,


Writer Wednesdays at Sixth Element, and planning your plot…

Hello Everyone,

Well, another week has rolled by so here I am again. Most of the workshops are done now and a big thank you to everyone who came along and contributed to what were very enjoyable and rewarding sessions. There is still time to grab one of the few remaining mentoring places (Stockton, Hartlepool and Hemlington have a couple of spots left each) but there are going fast so be quick.

If you’re not lucky enough to get your name down for a one-to-one with me then Sixth Element, our wonderful local publishing house based on the Green in Billingham, are running the following FREE event next week:

Writer Wednesdays at Sixth Element

Wednesday 30th August, 10am to 2pm
Arthur Robinson House, 13-14 The Green, Billingham TS23 1EU
Free. All welcome.

Coffee and chat

10.30am to 11.30am
Free poetry workshop with David Smith
Whether you already write poetry or not, come along for some creative inspiration that will spur on whatever type of writing you’re working on.

11.45am to 12.45pm
Picnic lunch
On the Green if it’s sunny, inside if it rains! We’ll have sandwiches and cake but feel free to bring a little something for the table if you like.

1pm to 2pm
Free short story workshop with Sixth Element
Find out what elements we think make a great short story, whatever genre you write. We’ll have lots of inspiration for the Crossing the Tees short story competition, will take a look at what other competitions you can enter and will have a chat about how writing short stories can help your novel come along leaps and bounds.

To book call 01642 360253 or email and Gillie or Gramae will sort that for you.

This will also be a great chance for those of you who hope one day to see your writing in print to find out about the services 6E offer.

And in keeping with continued writer development here is this week’s input from me on plots:

Story Motors and Quests

These elements of a story help to maintain tension and keep readers interested. They are also how character and plot are intertwined in your narrative.

Quests – What does your character want/need? What are they searching for? There may be one overall quest and/or several smaller ones.

Story motors – The drama (obstacles) among the detail of your story that keeps the story moving forwards. How many story motors you need depends of the length of your story.

The beginning of a story should introduce the problem. The middle will develop the problems, perhaps adding more difficulties and obstacles. The dramatic climax is the crisis point in the story just before everything is resolved. The ending outlines some sort of conclusion, even if it is one that is not neat and finite.


Try to plan out your plot, making notes on:

• what the protagonist’s quest is
• how you will introduce that quest to readers and set the character off on their quest
• what obstacles or difficulties will your protagonist face during their quest
• what will the crisis point or climax of the story be
• how will you resolve the quest

You can do this as notes or is can help to plot (pun intended – hahaha!) it out as a line diagram that rises to the climax. This should help you see if you have too much or too little plot and give your writing a purposeful direction.

Hope this helps.

Keep writing,

Hello Everyone,

Well, time for the latest installment from me.  This week sees us moving towards the end of the workshop sessions and on to the mentoring.  There are still some mentoring spaces available at some of the locations so if you are now beginning to think you might want to have the chance of some one-to-one feedback on your competition entry just ring the library where you would like to have your mentoring and they can let you know what times are available.  And don’t forget that if you are doing some mentoring it is really important that you EMAIL your story to me about a week before your session so I can have chance to read it and type up some comments for us to discuss.  You will get your work returned to you, via email, with these comments to help you with ongoing redrafts etc.  If you can’t do this (or forget to) then you are still very welcome to attend your booked session and we can talk over your ideas more generally with me perhaps reading some crucial scenes in your piece and giving you some feedback during the slot.  If you haven’t had the chance to pick up one of my cards with my email address then you can contact me to email your story through my website

Try Writing

Try Writing is the website of Teesside author Tracey Iceton. As well as including information on her own work Try Writing is a place for aspiring writers.


And on the theme of developing your stories last week I began to post up some of the material from the workshops to help those of you who haven’t been able to attend.  I plan to continue doing this over the remaining blogs (which will continue until the comp. deadline 30TH SEPT!) so this week a little bit more guidance on developing characters and next week something on plotting your story.

Characters can be developed through:

  • What they do
  • What they say
  • Their physical appearance
  • How they contrast with other characters
  • Their mannerism, traits and personality
  • How they fit into the world of the story (contextualisation)
  • Their thoughts, revealed through interior monologue


Remember the golden rule of ‘show, don’t tell’.    Consider these two examples:



He walked with a shuffling movement.  His eyes were half closed in a squint and he looked cruel.  He had yellow teeth that were badly decayed.  His smile was sickening.  His hands were filthy and his breath smelled foul.



He shuffled forwards, squinting wickedly at me.  Drawing back his lips in the most sickening smile, he displayed teeth yellowed with age and neglect.  He extended a filthy paw and grasped my hand.  Leaning forwards as he did so, he sent me reeling with disgust at the foul stink of his breath.


The ‘showing’ example works by keeping the action going while describing the characters.


Now do one of the following writing exercises, making sure you ‘show’:


Write the scene in which your readers first meet your character

Write a short piece of dialogue for your character

Write some interior monologue for your character

Put your character in a difficult situation and write what happens

Write the scene in which your protagonist first meets his/her antagonist


Good luck with this.  Keep writing!


Only 8 weeks until the short story competition deadline!

Hello Everyone,

Yes – it’s time for another post so here I am again.  This past week has been a busy but rewarding one with workshops happening in Hartlepool, Stockton and Saltburn with this coming week promising to be even more jam-packed with creative writing as I add Darlington to that list.

All the groups so far have been absolutely fantastic – full of inspired ideas for their competition entries and offering a great diversity of approaches to the task of writing a story.  I do want, in particular, to mention Saltburn however.

Having been told by the library that they would limit the group size to 10 because of the space I was overwhelmed (joyously so) by the uptake.  Twelve people squeezed themselves in and I know there were another couple of writers who would have liked to participate but couldn’t.  I would never have known, if not for the festival, just what a hotbed of creative writing the small seaside town of Saltburn is.  The scene there is truly alive with three separate writing groups established and running on a regular basis.  I know there is a similar level of interest in creative writing in other areas but so far not the active development of groups so I would encourage all of you writers out there who are hiding away in darkened bedrooms to get together, take a leaf out of the Saltburn writers group guide book (if they haven’t published one they should) and get your groups up and running.

Now, it has suddenly dawned on me that we are less than 8 weeks from the competition deadline.  I know there are probably many of you out there who wanted to be able to attend the sessions but couldn’t because of other commitments, so I thought over the next few blogs I will share with you some of the writing activities that we have been doing in the sessions in place of my usual writing prompt.  This week there is an activity below that you can do to help you create your main character.  Simple answer these questions about him/her:

  • Who are you (name, age, gender, species, etc.)?
  • What are your physical attributes?
  • What are the main traits of your personality?
  • Where do you live?  With who?
  • What work do you do? With who?
  • Who is your best friend and why?
  • Who are your enemies and why?
  • What is your background (backstory)?
  • What do you want in this story?
  • Why do you want it?
  • What is stopping you from achieving what you want?
  • How will you try to achieve what you want?
  • How far are you prepared to go to get what you want?
  • What might stop you from doing this?
  • Who will help you and why?
  • Who will try to stop you and why?


This will help you get to know your character so you can understand what they are doing in the story and why.

More next week!


From a furry friend in Peru, to more writing workshops in Teesside!

Hello Everyone,

Phew! I’m back, made it!  Survived the Inca Trail: four days, three nights (yes, I had to camp!), 45 km, 4200 m above sea level (oh, the air’s thin up there!) and very little of the hiking was on a nice smooth flat surface (think Roseberry Topping x 1000 and you’ll be somewhere close).  But it was exhilarating to have done it and, as you will see from the photo, I made a new friend too.

So now it’s back to reality and, more importantly, back to writing.  Over the next few weeks I’ll be running the workshops at Saltburn, Darlington, Hartlepool and Norton so if you haven’t already booked on them and are hoping to attend please ring the relevant library to secure a place on the workshop(s) of your choice.  Don’t forget that you can attend any session, you don’t have to go to your local one and you can attend different sessions in different places if that suits your best.  Just a quick reminder that session one is on character and plot, session two covers narrative structure and perspective while session three explores writing descriptions and dialogue plus some tips on editing your writing.

I’m sure that many of you are already well underway with your competition entries so feel free to use them as the basis for the activities we will be doing in the workshops.  However, if you are still looking for inspiration then hopefully the workshops will help you generate some ideas.  And of course you can (and should) make the most of any nice weather to get out and about in the Tees Valley to draw inspiration from the places that might well feature in your stories.

And with that advice in mind here is this blog’s writing activity – slightly different to the usual prompt but I hope it will get those imaginations whirring away!

Step 1 – go somewhere (in the Tees Valley) that either you’ve never been to before or haven’t been to for at least 10 years.

Step 2 – find a spot to station yourself (street corner, park bench etc.)

Step 3 – note down: 2 buildings/natural structures nearby, 5 people who pass you, 1 animal you see, the weather, any smells you detect, 2 forms or transport and 1 other random thing

Step 4 – return home and use your notes to create a narrative.  You can tell the story of one the people you observed, or maybe the animal, or one of the forms of transport (the passenger/driver maybe) or even of the building (e.g. what is happening in there that you couldn’t see?)  Use the other notes to vividly recreate the scene and generate some tension and conflict in the narrative.


More soon,


An adventure to Peru awaits, but before then…

Hello Everyone,

Just a quick post to help keep your morale up as you busily beaver away on your short stories for the competition.  Several of you have been in touch over the last couple of weeks to report your progress so far and I’m really excited that already so many of you have entries that are shaping up strongly.

This week saw the final Middlesbrough workshop taking place at Hemlington library – massive thanks to all those who took part for getting so involved in the sessions and being willing to share work in progress.  I know this is a daunting experience but everyone who took the plunge surfaced with some valuable pieces of advice (sorry, I was all out of pieces of 8!).

But don’t worry if you do live in the Middlesbrough area because you can attend any of the other workshops and there are still a few places available for a mentoring session at Hemlington.  The writing workshops will run through August across Stockton, Darlington, Hartlepool and Redcar & Cleveland and are open to anyone from any area.  Just ring the library concerned to book either the workshops on the mentoring.

I’ll be taking a short break from blogging for a couple of weeks as I’m off to deepest darkest Peru (in search of Paddington Bear, of course!) but I’ll be back soon and will look forward to meeting some of you in August.

Meanwhile, here’s a writing prompt to keep you going (holiday themed, naturally):

The pilot made his final approach, the runway growing wider and flatter as they dropped down towards it.  She looked out of the window, her mind filled with thoughts of…

Happy writing,

Hemlington workshops, music gigs, and a new writing challenge…

Hello Everyone,

Firstly, apologies for the slightly longer than usual gap between posts but I had a hectic week last week.  Not only was I running the first of the short story workshops in Hemlington (more on this later) but I was also away twice in the week.  I dashed down to Birmingham with my other half for the Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow gig on Wednesday.  NB: – For any 1970s rock fans out there who may be wondering – yes, it was awesome, even better than last year, and yes, I do feel very fortunate to have managed to get tickets for the ‘once in a lifetime’ gig two years in a row (am keeping my fingers crossed that Blackmore does it again next year too so that I can be three for three).  Then on Friday I went to London for the 20th annual Great Writing conference.

This year was my third time attending and giving a paper at what is one of the most useful creative writing conferences in the country, if not the world.  Every year it attracts those writers and writing teachers who are at the cutting edge of creative writing practice and studies.  People come regularly from Canada and the USA, Australia and New Zealand, the Middle and Far East, Europe and all over the UK and for the first time this year there were delegates from South America.  It really is a fantastic place to meet other writers and find out what they are doing with both their creative work and the teaching of creative writing.  Now I am full of good ideas for further courses and workshops so be warned I may be trying out some invented methods for teaching writing on any of you that might be inclined to enroll on any of my future creative writing courses.

And speaking of creative writing sessions I did promise a return to the topic of the Hemlington series.  So far we have had two of the three sessions with the final one next week.  There are places still on that and also a couple of slots for the mentoring day at Hemlington in August but if you want to be sure of getting a place best not leave it too much longer.  And in case you are wondering if these workshops are any good (they are, of course EXCELLENT!) here is a little feedback from Peter who has attended both the Hemlington sessions, is signed up for the third and also for some mentoring so you don’t just have to take my word for it.

“When I decided to enter the short story competition, I felt like I needed more help as the theme was vast! So I signed up for the first of the workshops and got more than just help for the competition. Attending these workshops has reminded me of what I love about writing in the first place and has got me writing multiple times a day again, whenever I get a moment to myself. There are plenty of opportunities to get feedback from other writers which is one thing I’ve always been afraid of, but I’m getting better at sharing my work.” Peter (Hemlington workshops)

So you can see from this that getting together with other writers, although daunting at first, is a rewarding opportunity in what is an otherwise solitary craft. If you feel your writing could use a boost like Peter has experienced then maybe now’s the time to get yourself signed up for a session or two.

And finally…the writing prompt.

As Peter said, one of the most useful things to come from the workshops is that he is back writing regularly.  I want to encourage all of you to do the same so this week I set the following challenge:

  1. Chose a book off your shelf.
  2. Open it at random.
  3. Read the first word on that page.
  4. Write one sentence using that word in it.
  5. Do this at least twice per day for a week (more often if you can manage it).

Try to make the sentences link together so that be the end of the week you have a paragraph that you can then develop into the opening of a story.

Until next week – happy writing,


We need your opinions!

We hope you enjoyed this year’s festival. Whether you joined us in Stockton Town Centre for Choc Lit day, attended one of the events aimed for younger ages such as Just Soph or Lipstick Library, or enjoyed a workshop with one of the great writers we had visit us such as Ben Kane or Adele Geras and Sophie Hannah – we want to hear from you!

We have put together a short survey and would really appreciate your feedback, it should take no longer than ten minutes to complete. You can complete the survey by clicking on this link

Even if you didn’t attend any of the events or know friends and family who didn’t, we would still like their feedback as we are interested in the reasons why some people may not have come.

Don’t forget you still have plenty of time to enter the short story competition and you can take part in writing workshops with Tracey Iceton who will guide you through the best process for writing your story. The workshops are happening until 23 August and are £3 per session. If you would like one-to-one advice then you can join Tracey on mentoring days which start from 29 August. You can find out more about the workshops and mentoring sessions here.