Nick Daw's Writing Blog - Inside the writing world of Nick Daws
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Thursday, October 30, 2008

FieldReport Update

In this blog post a few weeks ago I talked about FieldReport, a new, ongoing online writing contest and writers community.

FieldReport was - and still is - offering big cash prizes for true-life stories, with no entry fees required.

Anyway, I've been asked to remind readers that the final submissions deadline for the January prizes is coming up soon (Nov 15 2008), so now is the time to send in your stories.

There are 20 categories you can choose from, but according to data received from my informant, two categories in which there haven't been as many good submissions so far are Real Breaking News and Sport/Challenge. So if you have a good true story in either of these categories, your chances of success could be better than you think.

Also, if you know any teenagers - or you are one - they are looking for the best submission by a teenage writer in the TeenReport category. There is a special $25,000 prize for the best story in this category.

FieldReport is open to anyone in the world. The monthly category prizes are worth $1,000, with a monthly $4,000 prize for the top-rated story in any category. Not only that, on January 5 2009 the best overall submission as voted for by FieldReport members will be awarded the $250,000 Grand Prize.

So get your thinking cap on, and get over to the FieldReport website today. And if you win, remember who sent you ;-)

UPDATE: I've just heard that FieldReport's final submission deadline has been extended till 31 December 2008.

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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Review: Research Wizard Pro

I was lucky enough recently to be offered a free review copy of Research Wizard Pro, also known as Search Accelerator Pro. So, now I've been using it for a little while, here are my thoughts on this premium research tool.

The first thing to say is that Research Wizard Pro is NOT a search engine or search engine aggregator (a tool that combines the results of a number of search engines in a single list). Rather, it is a software tool that aims to help you use the wealth of research resources on the Internet as quickly and effectively as possible.

The first thing you notice when you launch RWP (as I'll call it from now on) is that it offers a wide array of icons, buttons and boxes. Here's a screen grab of just one set of controls, the search categories toolbar.


Fortunately, RWP comes with a highly professional, 73-page user's manual in PDF form. And for those who learn better visually, you also get a series of instructional videos, including a Quick Start Video to get you up and running as soon as possible.

You start searching on RWP by entering any keyword or words in the box at the top left of the screen. The results of this search in Google (or whatever default search engine you choose) will then appear in the results panel in the middle of the screen.

So far, so unexciting, but with RWP this is just the start. You can refine your search in all sorts of ways. For example, you will see a list of other suggested search terms in the panel down the left of the screen. The terms listed include tutorials, websites, articles, blogs, newsletters, reviews, top tens, and so on. Clicking on any of these then launches a new search for your original keyword/s plus the term in question, helping you to narrow down your search.

Of course, you could do this yourself without RWP, but using the software makes the process much quicker, and it also suggests other search terms you might not otherwise have thought of. You can also set it to show only PDFs or images if you prefer.

Even this, however, is only the beginning. Using the search categories toolbar pictured above, for example, you can access a huge range of search tools.

The way this works is that the top row represents a particular category of search, e.g. the camera represents image search and the film icon is video search, while the RSS icon represents RSS feeds, blogs, blog articles, and so on. The lower row changes according to which item in the top row you have selected, and includes links to specific search tools in the category concerned.

Finally - although this by no means exhausts the options offered by RWP - the Related Searches toolbar features a number of links that will suggest related searches you might also want to try. For example, there is a link to the Overture search term suggestion tool, which will suggest other search terms related to your original one, with stats showing how often these terms have been searched for recently. If you are researching a how-to guide or article, this could be useful for discovering what people most want to know about the subject concerned.

I have been using Research Wizard Pro for about a month now. Although initially I found the huge range of options a bit daunting, it didn't take me long to get the hang of it, and I wouldn't want to be without it now. Although RWP does save me time, even more important to me is the way it suggests search options and resources I would never have thought of myself. I'm sure the quality of my work has improved as a result.

Do I have any reservations about RWP? Well, only a couple of minor ones. One is that when I first downloaded it I got an 'Access Denied' message when I tried to launch it - no other explanation given! After some research, I found out that this was caused by the User Account Control in my Windows Vista operating system. Setting the program always to Run as Administrator solved the problem. I blame Microsoft for this rather than RWP, but it's something to be aware of if you use Vista.

Second, I was a bit surprised to discover that to access some of the bonus videos, I had to provide my name and email address over again. I couldn't see the point of this, since the publishers obviously had my contact details already. I hope they will scrap this requirement soon. You can watch the main instructional videos without having to do this, by the way.

Overall, I am happy to recommend Research Wizard Pro to anyone who does a lot of online research - it WILL save you time and it WILL improve the quality of your research. It's not the cheapest tool you'll ever find, but it is produced to a very high standard, and the instructional manual and videos are exemplary. I also found the company quick and helpful in responding to my queries.

LATE ADDITION: Good news for My Writing Blog readers! Because I like this software, I've managed to persuade the publishers of Research Wizard Pro to give a HUGE discount to readers of my blog. When ordering, just enter WRITER2008 in the coupon code box and click on 'Apply'. The cost will then be cut by a whole FIFTY PERCENT! I'm honestly not sure how long this offer will go on, however; so if you are interested in taking advantage of this discount, please don't delay too long.

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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Over 100 Free Open Courseware Links for Writers

That's the title of a very useful article on the MatchACollege website.

It actually lists 103 free learning resources in a range of areas. The topic headings include Essay Writing & Research, Technical Writing, Language & Grammar, Technology/Web Writing/Design, Legal Resources, Creative Writing, Literature, and so on.

There is also a list of writing-related videos and podcasts, in case you get tired of reading and want to listen and/or watch instead! Just a pity that WCCL's excellent online radio station WritersFM wasn't included, though.

There are lots of useful and interesting resources here, including many I hadn't seen before, so I expect to spend quite a bit of time exploring them. I recommend checking out this well-researched article, and maybe adding it to your Favorites list.

* Have you written a blog post or website article with great info for writers and aspiring writers like this one? If so, drop me a line with details. If I like it, I'll be happy to feature it on this blog!

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Contact Me Form

I've been aware for a while that this blog lacked an easy way of contacting me, so with the aid of the free Contactify service, I've created the Contact Me form below. Please use this if you would like to send me a message, and it will automatically be forwarded to me.

If you are receiving this post by email, you may need to visit my blog to see the form.

There will be a permanent link to this form in the sidebar on the right.

I'm looking forward to hearing from you!

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Free Report for WAHMs

What's a WAHM, I hear you ask. It's an acronym for Work At Home Mother - a group whose numbers are growing rapidly at the present time.

And the free report I'm talking about is called WAHM-IT! - A Work-at-Home Mother's Guide to Successfully Building a Real Business on the Net.

WAHM-IT! is written by four work-at-home mothers, who have all built their own thriving online businesses. It's a highly professional 85-page PDF produced by the SiteSell organization, publishers of the popular Site Build It website research and building tool.

As you might expect, part of the purpose of WAHM-IT! is to promote Site Build It, but there is plenty of useful information here for anyone, work-at-home mom or not, who is considering setting up an online business. In particular, the four-step C-T-P-M System provides a good framework for setting up a website and making money from it.

The report also includes several case studies of successful, money-making sites created by WAHMs. They show how the women concerned got the ideas for their sites, how long it took them to achieve success, and how they manage to fit the work in among their other domestic responsibilities. Once you've read each case study, it's fascinating to visit the site in question.

Anyway, if you're at all interested in earning money online, in my view WAHM-IT! is well worth a read - and the best thing is, you don't even have to provide your email address to get it!

* One other point I should mention - there is currently a special deal at Site Build It, where you can get a second website for just $100 more than the basic single site licence. You can give the second SBI site to anyone you like, or keep it for yourself. This offer expires at midnight on 31 October. For more info, visit the main Site Build It site and click on the Halloween Special banner.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

A Visit to North Wales

A few weeks ago Jayne and I enjoyed a short, end-of-summer break in North Wales. Before our visit becomes too distant a memory, I thought I'd tell you a bit about it and share a few photos.

As we've done several times before, we stayed at the Tremeifion Vegetarian Hotel in Talsarnau, which is between Maentwrog and Harlech. It's also directly opposite the Italianate village of Portmeirion, possibly most famous these days as the location where the cult 1960s TV series The Prisoner was made.

Since our last visit, Tremeifion had changed hands. John and Maureen (the previous owners) had - much to our regret - moved on. The new owners, Barbara and Kevin, soon made us feel at home, however; and though it seemed a little strange at first, we soon got used to their slightly different - but by no means inferior - way of doing things. It helped, too, that we had met some of the other guests before (Hi there, Angie and Barry!). It's only a small place, and you inevitably get talking to the other visitors.

Being late summer, and being North Wales, we had a mixture of weather. On our first day it was lovely, and we took a short drive across the estuary to visit Portmeirion. Here's a picture of the centre of the village from high up...


And here's a closer view of one of the houses, beautifully lit by the bright sunshine.


Jayne always enjoys visiting Portmeirion. In this picture she's standing just in front of the art gallery, which I think in The Prisoner was Number 2's house...


The next day was a total contrast. The rain set in early, so we decided to make the best of it and have a day out on the Ffestiniog Railway, which runs between Porthmadog (just up the road from Portmeirion) and Blaenau Ffestiniog. Here's a picture of Porthmadog station...


And here's our train waiting at the platform. You can see how dull the weather was...


It was raining all day, which limited the views from the train, although we did see some pretty spectacular waterfalls. We had a leisurely lunch at a pub in Blaenau, watching the rain driving past the windows in slow-moving, pale-grey bands like ghosts. Sorry, no pictures of that, but I don't think any still photo would have done justice to it really!

On our return we took a few more pictures at Porthmadog Station. Here's a locomotive 'steaming up'...

And here's a picture Jayne took of Porthmadog harbour. I begged her for a copy of this photo, as I love the contrast between the flowers in the foreground and the grey, washed-out waterfront behind.


Well, I hope you enjoyed this brief account of our Welsh mini-break. If you're looking for somewhere tranquil and beautiful, yet with lots to see and do, I highly recommend North Wales. And if you want somewhere quiet and friendly to stay, Tremeifion would definitely get my vote. Neither Jayne nor I am strictly vegetarian, but it's no hardship to go without fish or meat for a few days when the quality of the food and hospitality there is so good!





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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Two Useful Websites for Online Writers

As a working professional writer, I find that I am increasingly writing and editing content for publication on the web. And that often means adapting content originally written for another medium.

A common scenario involves converting material originally written in Microsoft Word, either by me or someone else, into a 'web-friendly' format. That typically involves stripping out the special characters inserted by Word that make written documents look good but often don't reproduce properly online.

The classic example is Word's 'smart quotes'. If you try to reproduce these in website text, you simply get a string of nonsense characters where the quotation marks should be. Other characters that typically fail to display correctly include dashes and ellipses (...).

Going through a long document stripping out the Word special characters can be a real pain. However, I recently found a useful (and free) online tool that does 90% of the job for you. It's the Replace Smart Quotes tool on the Hochman Consultants website. You simply copy and paste your word document into their online form and click on the 'Remove Funky Punctuation' button. A version of the text with smart quotes turned to straight ones and dashes turned to hyphens then appears, ready for you to copy and paste into your chosen application.

The Replace Smart Quotes tool doesn't replace all of Word's special characters - ellipses are removed, for example, but not replaced by a single full stop, which would be my preferred solution. But I still find this tool a big time-saver, and you can't beat the price, clearly.

Another free online tool I find useful is this HTML Stripper from Zubrag.com (which also offers a range of other free scripts/tools). It works in a similar way to the Replace Smart Quotes tool. You can paste any text with HTML into it, and the HTML characters will automatically be stripped out, leaving you with plain text.

I don't use the HTML Stripper as often as Replace Smart Quotes, but that's simply because stripping out HTML isn't a task I have to do so often. But when these occasions do come round, again, this application saves me an awful lot of time and effort.

Thanks very much to the developers of both of these free tools for making my working life a little easier. Both now have places of honour on my Favorites list!

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Pseudotube Update

A few weeks ago in this post I mentioned the Pseudotube sideline business opportunity. There have been a few developments about this, so I thought I should take the opportunity to update you.

To recap briefly, Pseudotube offers the chance to run a video-based website - such as my own Funny Animal Videos site - with no programming required. These sites can then generate income from a range of sources, including Google AdSense.

You can join Pseudotube at various levels, from free up to Enterprise level, which costs $499 a year. With a free account, you get 50% of all the advertising income generated by your site, rising to 100% at Enterprise level.

Anyway, I thought you might be interested to know that it is now even easier to start a free Pseudotube site. Previously you had to buy a suitable domain name and arrange for the nameservers to be pointed at Pseudotube. With the new arrangement this is no longer required - you get a subdomain of the main Pseudotube site with a URL of your choice such as www.yoursitename.pseudotube.com.

This means you can literally have a free site up and running in five minutes. All you have to do then is drive some traffic to it. As a matter of interest, the site achieving the highest number of visits on the Pseudotube network right now is a free one. My own site, I'm pleased to say, has just crept in to the top ten.

I have updated my Pseudotube Squidoo Lens to reflect the latest changes, so do check it out if you would like more info. As a result of feedback received I've also enlarged the screengrab image on the Lens, and added some sample videos from my own Pseudotube site at the bottom.

Good luck if you decide to pursue this opportunity. But even if you don't, if you have a website or blog, bear in mind that you can arrange a free, automatic link swap with all or any of the sites in the Pseudotube network. Again, please see my Pseudotube Lens for more info about this.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Time to Register for NaNoWriMo!

For those who don't know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month.

It is a challenge to write a novel of at least 50,000 words in a month, and it comes around every November.

From humble beginnings in 1999, when there were just 21 participants, NaNoWriMo has grown into a world-wide phenomenon. Last year 101,510 people took part, and the numbers this year are expected to be even greater as the event becomes better known.

There is no entry fee for NaNoWriMo (though donations are welcome), and no prizes either. Essentially, it is a challenge to help you write that novel you had always meant to write but keep putting off. By registering with NaNoWriMo, you are joining a world-wide community of writers who are all seeking to achieve the same end, and are thus able to encourage and support one another.

This year quite a few members of my forum at www.mywriterscircle.com have registered for NaNoWriMo 2008. If you are looking for some 'buddies' to share notes and compare progress with, check out this forum topic.

Although there are no prizes for completing a novel for NaNoWriMo, if you do (and you have to prove it by uploading your work to the NaNoWriMo site), you will be able to download an official 'Winner' web badge and a PDF Winner's Certificate, which you can print out. And, of course, you will have the first draft at least of a novel you should be able to polish and submit for possible publication.

NaNoWriMo is, by the way, a great opportunity to apply the techniques taught in WCCL's new Novel in a Month course, or indeed my own Write Any Book in Under 28 Days.

I'd like to wish you the very best of luck if you do decide to register for NaNoWriMo. Please let me know if you succeed in completing the challenge!

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Thursday, October 09, 2008

How Can Writers Survive the Credit Crunch?

The world seems to be in a topsy-turvy state right now, with banks folding left, right and centre, or else being propped up uncomfortably by national governments.

The knock-on effects of the 'credit crunch' are hard to predict, but one thing that's certain is that sadly a lot more jobs are going to be lost in the coming months.

I'm no economist, but I'd like to offer my 2c worth here on how writers can best survive and even prosper in these tough times. In particular, I'd like to offer two pieces of practical advice...

The first is to diversify. In times of recession (which is where the world seems to be headed right now) no business is safe. And in the publishing world, many are already feeling the pinch as people cut back on 'luxuries' such as books.

So it must make sense to have a variety of sources of income. If books are your main writing interest, then, consider trying your hand at articles and short stories as well. Conversely, if you're mainly an article writer, why not look at other options as well, e.g. writing an e-book and selling it on the Internet?

In my view, every writer should have a broad portfolio of projects. This might, for example, include books, articles, short stories, Internet writing, comedy writing, TV scriptwriting, advertising copywriting, and so on. That way, if a particular market vanishes or a regular client goes to the wall, you still have plenty of other irons in the fire.

And, of course, there is no reason why you can't have some non-writing-related sidelines as well. When I started out as a full-time freelance writer, many moons ago, I also sold copyright-free artwork packs by mail order. That business eventually died as electronic clip-art became the norm, but in my early days I was very grateful for the extra income it provided. Nowadays, the Internet offers lots of potential sideline-earning opportunities - check out my Pseudotube site and my Squidoo Lens which explains about it, for example.

Moving on, my second piece of advice is to invest in the best and safest place you possibly can: yourself!

In uncertain times, you need to build up your palette of skills, to increase your employability (if you're seeking a job) or offer a wider range of services (if you work for yourself). Learning new skills can also provide a means for earning extra cash in its own right.

So it's important to invest some time - and, yes, money as well - in developing your skills. A writer seeking to diversify might want to build (or improve) their skills in other areas of writing, such as comedy writing, self-publishing, TV or movie scriptwriting, copywriting, travel writing, and so on. If you're interested in any of these, by the way, you could do a lot worse than check out WCCL's WriteStreet website.

It's also worth developing skills in related areas, e.g. HTML and website design. These days I do a lot of work writing content for company websites. While I'm never going to be an expert web designer, I know enough HTML to insert formatting codes, check hyperlinks, and so on. Allying this with my writing skills has helped to generate a lot of extra work for me. There are courses you can take at many local colleges, or by distance learning, or online. One free resource for learning HTML I highly recommend is PageTutor.

But whatever method you choose, the returns from investing in yourself can be far greater than any stock market investment, and with far less risk. I think that the twin methods of diversifying and investing in yourself should be at the heart of every writer's strategy for surviving the current economic crisis.

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Monday, October 06, 2008

Review: The Best-Seller Secret

The Best-Seller Secret is the latest in WCCL's range of products and courses for writers, which also includes my courses Essential English for Authors, Write Any Book in Under 28 Days and Quick Cash Writing.

The Best-Seller Secret is written by Dan Strauss, Senior Editor of the WCCL Network, and successful author Mel McIntyre. It's provided as an instant download in the universal PDF format, and is therefore suitable for all computing platforms: Microsoft Windows, Macintosh and Linux.

Like all WCCL products, The Best-Seller Secret is beautifully produced, and it has obviously been professionally written and edited. I should make one point clear right away, however. Despite the title, The Best-Seller Secret will NOT show you how to write a best-seller (for that, try Novel in a Month or my own Write Any Book in Under 28 Days).

Rather, The Best-Seller Secret is for anyone who has written a book, or is on the way to doing so, and wants to know how they can get it into the Amazon online bookstore's Top 100 Books list, with all the benefits that can flow from this.

You might perhaps think that only a major publishing house would have the resources (and budget) needed to propel a book into best-sellerdom. But, as this guide reveals, the Internet has changed all that.

The main manual - I'll get to the bonuses later - sets out a ten-step strategy to make your book an Amazon best-seller. It would be unfair to the publishers to reveal too many of its secrets, but they include getting celebrity endorsements, building up a pre-launch network of people who will help to promote your book, and using free bonuses to encourage people to buy.

The Best-Seller Secret really does make this whole process seem realistic and achievable. Yes, it will involve you in doing some work, but the returns (both direct and indirect) from having an Amazon best-seller should justify this many times over. It definitely can be done, and the guide includes several case studies of successful campaigns.

One thing I particularly liked about The Best-Seller Secret was the 'Campaign Flow Chart', which shows visually over several pages how to organize your publicity campaign. It's good to see WCCL using a few more diagrams and illustrations in its products these days. I was also impressed by the way the authors weren't afraid to discuss potential pitfalls and what to do if a particular aspect of your publicity campaign goes wrong.

In addition to the main guide, you get three additional bonus items. These are as follows:

Guide to Promoting Yourself & Your Book - This is a list of twenty 'quick-and-dirty' techniques for getting news of your book out to the world.

What's It Worth?- This mini-guide looks at pricing your book and, more importantly, easy techniques you can use to justify giving it a higher price tag.

Sample Letters & E-mail Templates - This is a set of templates you can use for e-mail messages to help market your book. It includes sample messages for endorsement requests, joint venture proposals, sales letters, and so on.

Really, my only reservation about The Best-Seller Secret is that it won't be suitable for every writer. As mentioned above, it's only likely to be relevant to you if you've written a book, or are well on the way to doing so. And it's likely to work best with non-fiction books, although many of the strategies would be effective with novels too.

I also think that the methods set out in The Best-Seller Secret would work best - or at least be easiest to apply - if you are self-publishing. It could undoubtedly work with conventionally published books too, but you would need to liaise closely with your publisher. Of course, it's hard to imagine that your publisher would have any objections if your efforts result in your book becoming a best-seller!

In summary, if you're writing a book or have written one, this guide to turning it into an Amazon best-seller could be one of the best investments you'll ever make. If you haven't yet written a book, a guide such as my Write Any Book in Under 28 Days might be more useful to you now, and then buy The Best-Seller Secret once your book is well on the way to completion!

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Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Writing Tips Competition

Recently my friends at SpellCheckPlus wrote to me offering two more annual subscriptions to their premium service, SpellCheckPlus Pro, for use as competition prizes.

For those who don't know, SpellCheckPlus is a free online spelling and grammar checker. I wrote about it a while ago in this blog post, though since then it has been considerably enhanced.

SpellCheckPlus Pro, as mentioned above, is the premium (paid-for) service. It offers a number of advantages over the free version, including unlimited text length (the free version has a limit of 500 words), no ads, and an 'enrichment' tool that allows users to find alternatives to common, often over-used, words such as nice, good, bad, happy, and so on. The winners of my competition will get a year's free subscription to this service.

So what does the competition involve? Well, I thought I'd ask readers to submit their best writing tips of under 250 words including the title. Tips must be original (I will check this online), and they must be posted as comments on this blog. Only one tip per person, please. I'd also be grateful if you would give your tip a title so that I can identify it.

Tips can cover anything related to writing. Some possibilities might include beating writer's block, generating ideas, creating believable characters, making dialogue life-like, boosting your writing income, improving your grammar/spelling/punctuation, and so on.

As an example, here's a tip I submitted recently to the WeBook blog:

Write With All The Senses
by Nick Daws

The art of writing is bringing your words to life on the page. And one of the best ways to do this is to write with all the senses. In other words, don't just write about what your characters see. Describe what they hear, smell, touch and even taste as well. This is a guaranteed way to make your writing more vivid and exciting.

Here's a quick example:

Tony offered Malcolm one of his roll-ups. Malcolm had previously refused, but because he felt guilty about dropping Tony's paintbrush, this time he accepted. He didn't enjoy it at all though.

Now here's the same scene again, with the senses of taste and touch added. By the way, this paragraph comes from the published novel Painter Man by UK author Jeff Phelps:

Malcolm had already refused one of Tony's roll-ups, but now felt so bad about the brush that he accepted. Between his lips it had the texture of toilet paper. It tasted disgustingly of Tony's Old Spice aftershave.

No prizes for identifying which of these descriptions brings the scene more vividly to life! Writers are always taught to show, not tell, and writing with all the senses is one of the very best ways you can do this.


The closing date for this contest is Friday 31 October, so you have plenty of time to come up with your tip. I will announce the winners on the blog on Wednesday 5 November, so be sure to check back here on or after that date to see if you are a winner. One prize will go to the tip I consider best, while the other will be allocated at random by my cats ;-)

Naturally, contributors will retain the copyright in their tips and are free to offer them elsewhere after the competition closing date. They will, of course, remain on this page of my blog, however.

Good luck, and I look forward to reading some great tips posted as comments below!

* Just a quick reminder - when posting your competition entries here, try to avoid using 'smart quotes' and other special characters from Word, as they won't display properly online. It's best really to compose your tips in the Blogger comments box, or alternatively use a text editor such as Notepad and copy and paste from that.

The contest is now closed. Results will be posted shortly!

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