Blog Archive

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Pants!



I thought it must have been a scam of some sort. As a very lazy blogger, receiving a blog award nomination seemed rather improbable, but I looked into anyway, just to be sure. It does have the whiff of a chain letter about it, something as a rule I would steadfastly ignore, but it also seemed like a fun thing to do. Maybe it caught me at the right time for a bit of distraction. The last time I got involved with anything chain-letter like it involved pants – knickers I suppose I should say. I can’t exactly remember what you had to do but it involved sending a certain number of girlfriends a pair of knickers (new ones!) – somehow you knew what size and style they wanted - and at some point you would end up with very many more knickers pouring through your own letter-box.  Needless to say the numbers were exaggerated and my bottom wasn’t adorned with an endless supply of fancy pants. The Liebster-blog-chain-letter-award thing asks for a lot more involvement than putting a couple of pairs of pants in the post (see the RULES at the end of this post), but that’s also what’s quite nice about it – engaging with bloggers. It’s a good way of catching up on what people are blogging about. There’s so much stuff out there, but there never seems to be enough time in the day to read it so making an effort to stop and look has been rather nice.  
So, thank you Karen Heidi Rees for the nomination. I have engaged and now I am passing on nominations, in no particular order, to:

http://mrstwritesinclemency.blogspot.co.uk/
http://barkerbarks.blogspot.co.uk/
http://debbivoisey.wordpress.com/
http://www.writerslittlehelper.blogspot.co.uk/
http://teresa-stenson.blogspot.co.uk/

These are the questions set by Karen with my answers:

1) What inspired you to create your blog?
I can blame my daughter – ‘Sign up to Twitter Mum, then you can follow me’. Oh, okay. It seemed totally pointless, but then I realised I could follow other people apart from my offspring. Writers! So many of them out there. Tweeting writers, with blogs. It wasn’t long before I had been sucked into the vortex. All those generous, funny writers who write about their experiences and offer advice. All for free! Then came my daughter again, a blogger herself at the time, ‘Start a blog of your own Mum, it’ll be good for your writing.’ Oh, okay. Reluctantly I dipped my toe in the bloggy waters where I stayed undisturbed until Karen fished me out.  

2) What do you enjoy most about blogging?
I still can’t work out if I enjoy or not. The introvert in me despises talking about myself.

3) What is your favourite book?
There are way too many to narrow it down to one. I have my old classics - Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea, Albert Camus’ Outsider and more up to date favourites include any of Kate Atkinson’s Crime novels, Emma Donohue’s Room. A more recent delight was Peggy Riley’s Amity & Sorrow.

4) First film you saw at the cinema?
Dumbo – not on its first release though! I still remember the tears I shed very clearly.

5) Do you have a favourite place that inspires your writing?
Nice idea, but writing is squeezed into whatever nook and cranny I can find for me and my laptop – in terms of time and location. 

6) If you were whisked off on an all expenses paid holiday for 2 weeks, where would you go & why?
I’d be off to Peru – because Paddington Bear made it sound so mysterious. I’d spend a week exploring the deepest darkest part and maybe do some adventure-type activities that don’t involve great heights, followed by a week staying in the most amazing beach house.

7) Describe your ideal Saturday night.
Depends what I’ve been up to on Friday night. If I’ve been out on the town the night before there’s nothing I like more than having a cosy night in in front of the TV – some crappy family shows followed by a film and some wine. Dinner with friends would be the alternative.

8) If you could be any fictional character, who would it be & why?
I’d be Mary Poppins because in real life I can’t sing and I’m not really that good with kids. I also quite fancy chimney sweeps. 

9) What would be the one dream job you would do if you could?
A detective who only takes on really interesting and well paid jobs.

10) What is your favourite post you’ve posted on your blog?
My literary shame and glory confession.

11) How do you want to be remembered?
As quiet but deadly. Not so much the fart version as the assassin.

And 11 (11! Really?) random facts about myself – as if you need to know anything else about me after I’ve answered all the questions above.

1.      I’ve always lived in houses with the number 9 in the address.
2.      I hate the word titivate.
3.      I love mowing the lawn.
4.      I find it really hard to think of random facts about myself.
5.      I’m scared of bovine animals.
6.      I am prone to cycle rage.
7.      I saved my twin brother’s life when we were 2 years old.
8.      It took me 3 attempts to get my maths O’level
9.      It took me 3 attempts to pass my driving test
10. My 3 kids were born in 3 different decades.
11. My favourite number isn’t 3.

My 11 questions to you, dear Liebster nominated blogger or to anyone else that wants to answer them:
1.      How often do you manage to write and how long for?
2.      What’s the worst job you’ve ever done?
3.      How much research do you do before starting a new writing project?
4.      What little things do you get really cross about?
5.      What are you reading for pleasure at the moment?
6.      Do you ever give up on a novel you’re reading or do you have to stick with it to the end, however bad it is?
7.      What was your New Year resolution and are you keeping to it?
8.      What was the last film you saw at the cinema?
9.      Who are your favourite writers?
10. What has been the biggest adventure in your life so far?
11. When was the last time you got the uncontrollable giggles?


So here are the official rules, for those nominated please copy & paste as a means of forwarding instructions to your own nominees, so they aren’t left totally confused:

RULES
  1. Thank the person who nominated you, and post a link to their blog on your blog.
  2. Display the award on your blog — by including it in your post and/or displaying it using a “widget” or a “gadget”. (Note that the best way to do this is to save the image to your own computer and then upload it to your blog post.)
  3. Answer 11 questions about yourself, which will be provided to you by the person who nominated you.
  4. Provide 11 random facts about yourself.
  5. Nominate 5 – 11 blogs that you feel deserve the award, who have a less than 1000 followers. (Note that you can always ask the blog owner this since not all blogs display a widget that lets the readers know this information!)
  6. Create a new list of questions for the blogger to answer.
  7. List these rules in your post (You can copy and paste from here.) Once you have written and published it, you then have to:
  8. Inform the people/blogs that you nominated that they have been nominated for the Liebster award and provide a link for them to your post so that they can learn about it (they might not have ever heard of it!)

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Never mind the bullocks - Parts III, IV & V



I sat at the desk in my room. 
 

















I looked at the view. It was stunning. I drank it in for a very long time. What you can’t see in this picture is the mini festival going on in the garden - the traveller vans and caravans belonging to the volunteers constructing the eco tutorial studio just below my window. Their gentle hammering and the hazy sunshine soon worked their soporific magic and every now and then I had to succumb to the tantalisingly close bed (it was a very small room) and take a nap. Between naps I wandered downstairs for a coffee and a scone and a bit of sun on my face and a chat with whoever else was around. I read through the writing I’d already done and I tinkered with it. I thought about the premise of my novel (as advised by Kevin) and let my mind wander off to possibilities of how far to expand the protagonist’s broken familial relations. I didn’t write a single new word until day four.  I was stymied by the worry that what I had done so far was good, but that I needed to plan what was to come, to make sure it carried on being good. On top of this, my worry about the reading ceilidh on the final night suddenly kicked in. A traditional Scottish dinner of haggis & neeps: Great! Walking in with a piper: Great! Drinking whisky: Great! Me doing a reading: Terrible! 
 
A few people had done their readings the night before. They were the ones relaxing back into the sofas, slowly supping their drams of whisky. I was the one knocking it back even though I can’t stand the stuff.  I had negotiated being one of the first readers on this evening, desperate to get it out of the way. I had that stepping on to a plane feeling again. It sounds ridiculous, but I actually didn’t think I could do it. I was going to nose-dive and fall flat on my face. The words wouldn’t come out. My heart would beat so fast I would explode. Thanks to my roomie, Mairi (we didn’t share an actual room but the walls were very thin and our rooms were very close) I had been put through my paces in a practise reading with her earlier in the day. I very rarely let anyone read my writing.  I never speak in public. Put these two things together and it’s like having two bullocks in my path. That practise session really helped but even so, the crippling fear never left me. But I’m a grown up, I can’t just run away. I’d enjoyed listening to my fellow writers sharing their work after getting to know them during the week. I had to do this. 

So I did. I read the first very short chapter of my crime novel and an even shorter flash fiction story.  And then we moved on to the next reading and the next. I didn’t pass out and I didn’t get trampled. 

So, to the ghosts of the many bullocks that sheltered in the barn before it was converted into Monicak Mhor’s wonderful living room and where the readings took place, I raise my whisky glass to you. 







Monday, 16 September 2013

Never mind the bullocks - Part II


The table set for dinner
So, there I was, stuck in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of complete strangers, supping wine and wishing I’d practiced a neat one or two sentence answer to the frequent question ‘what are you writing?’, then I could have avoided cringing my way through my feeble, wishy-washy replies. 
After dinner we made ourselves comfortable on the squashy sofas, the sun still streaming through the windows. Fourteen people – twelve participants and two tutors – Kevin MacNeil and Suchen Christine Lim – did introductions. I was almost the last to go. During that agony of waiting, while my fellow writers told of exciting lives and equally exciting writing projects, I still failed hopelessly to think of anything interesting to say about myself or my writing. ‘It’s a crime thing. New direction. Mumble, mumble.’ There followed general writing chat and a balmy night with little sleep – the heat-wave really had made it to Scotland. A strange bed in a strange house.
One of the sheds
Day one was the busiest retreat day you could imagine: A workshop in the morning and my one-to-one meetings in the afternoon with each of the tutors who were going to comment on the work I’d sent in advance. Stepping into the writing shed with Kevin was a bit like boarding the plane again. I felt I had to do it in order to get to where I wanted to go, but I was afraid he was going to say the engines have failed, you’ve run out of fuel, there’s no-one in the cockpit and you’re free-falling into a sea of pointless prose and clichés. I’m not going to try and quote him, just in case he reads this and I get it wrong, but the gist was that the first three chapters I had shown him were good - although there were a couple of incidents of flying ‘perilously close to a cliché’ (and I am quoting him here). I was flying very high when I came out.

I had a breather, thinking about what Kevin had said as I looked out into the beautiful landscape around me, and then stepped into Suchen’s shed. Wow.  She gave me and my writing quite a welcome. While Kevin had given me an overall opinion and then focussed on choices of verbs, commas and dialogue - and emphasised the need to make a plan for the rest of the story, Suchen reached inside my protagonist’s heart and drew out her pain and conflicts. I was almost in tears. She said to let the story come to me and develop over a few years. It went from micro to macro, from Yin to Yang. I came out glowing inside and thought for the first time, this is something I can really do. This was quickly tempered by the fact that if I was going to get anywhere with it, I needed to follow through and deliver on the promises I had made in the early chapters; all those questions raised, all those mysteries to be solved.
I was on the cooking roster for that day and reported for duty shortly afterwards. Kevin and Suchen’s comments swirled around in my head as I chopped and grated and layered, and then had to de-layer and layer again in the correct order, while also chatting to Ivor and Christian, my cooking buddies.  That’s the other great thing about a writing retreat – all the lovely writers you meet. Fourteen people, all very different and from all over the globe and all walks of life - and amazingly, all writing about very different things.  

So, day one was action packed. That left four more days of the retreat and the only structured activities I thought I had left to worry about were eating and drinking. Plenty of time to do what I came there to do...


 


 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Never mind the bullocks - Part I

This week, in order to avoid the hideous roundabout of death, I am negotiating a small corner of the countryside on my cycle to work, but this means coming face to face with another, far worse, fear. At the roundabout of death too many drivers fail to see me. Cycling across the fen, it’s this invisibility I suddenly crave as the frisky gang of bullocks up ahead snigger and snort to each other the minute they see me coming. They time their moment perfectly to rampage gleefully across my path. I like to think my pathetic scream was just inside my head. Friends and family laugh at me when we’re out walking and I race ahead, refusing to dawdle and chat when crossing fields of cattle, but these fears are very rational. Every time someone is trampled horribly to death, I send a link of the story to those who scorn me.

Other fears I have are less rational, but equally beast-sized in my imagination. Fear of flying. Fear of talking about myself. Fear of being alone in the countryside. Fear of being told my writing is rubbish. Fear of talking out loud in a group or of being trampled by indifferent silence after doing a reading. I faced all of these in one intense week when I travelled to the other end of the UK to the middle of absolutely nowhere, 12 miles outside Inverness for a tutored writing retreat and some quality time with my newish story.  After leaving my house at 8.30 in the morning, I made it to Moniack Mhor on a hot and sultry evening, just in time for some very welcome pre-dinner drinks.   I had survived the flight – my first time flying without a companion – and had launched myself well and truly out of my comfort zone. I smiled at the people around me, sipped my wine and tried to ignore the creeping terror that there was no escape now from my remaining fears. I had arrived and was stuck in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of complete strangers. I'll let you know what happened in Part II.





Monday, 3 December 2012

Moving on

So, the love came back. Some chapters were re-jigged, some words went off to that sad land of The Deleted, the protagonist became more proactive and I was happier. The breakdown therapy worked - for a while. I was ready to face another round of submissions, but blimey - don’t they take time? That dreaded letter, that tortuous synopsis, the varying number of opening chapters or pages agents want. Twelve submissions down and I’m not sure if I can face anymore. The doubts have already come flooding back in with the first (next day) rejection. The rest of the disembodied chapters are still out there and while I’m waiting for them to come flying back in with their tails between their legs, it feels like a good time to move on, draw a line and run away with some new characters who’ve been flirting with me for a while. The promise of new, exciting locations and situations is too much to resist. I might return, but who knows? For now off I'm off on new adventures.


 Byeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Driving away from home by Violet Kashi


Sunday, 23 September 2012

Breakdown


I’ve had enough of this commitment lark. The old ball and chain is weighing me down. That nagging voice hovering in my head when I stay away too long is making my brain hurt. I just want to leave it all behind and succumb to the new stories and adventures tempting me away every time I come to a sentence I’ve read a million times already. I keep shouting 'I don't know what I ever saw in you! Why am I wasting my time here?' The spark that lit the fire for the story raged out of control for a while, but now it’s burnt itself out. A tiny ember tries to reel me back in with the promise of better behaviour. I agree to give it another go as long as we get some therapy, try a new approach.

This is therapy Admin-Queen style. A way to get to the nub of things, find out what’s important and what areas need work. But it’s not Relate I’m off to, it’s Excel. I love order and I especially love spreadsheets: All those neat headings and columns, all those cells just waiting to be moved around to places where they fit better. And of course my finger hovering over that delete button.

The therapy is a chapter by chapter breakdown with columns for Setting, Characters Present, the Purpose of the Scene and the Main Action (taken from one of Sarah Duncan’s blog posts). Sarah Duncan does this with index cards, but I don’t have any. I’ve also added a Cliff-hanger Rating column.
  
My novel of around 120,000 words, broken down into chapters as a colour-coded spreadsheet, looks like this:

It’s a good way to hone in what the purpose of a chapter is – what it boils down to in a couple of sentences. It’s also a great way to see when characters need a kick up the backside. You can see at a glance when someone is still belly-aching about the same problem three chapters along. It is especially good as a reference for checking what happens when and if it is logical.

As to whether I fall back in love with the story once the issues have been thrashed out remains to be seen. Here’s hoping.
 

Saturday, 14 April 2012

My literary shame and glory

I’ll get to the glory bit shortly, but first to the shame and my confession. Once upon a time I was a Brownie. Being a Brownie is supposedly about doing your best and honouring the queen and all that stuff, but in reality it’s all about the badges – getting more badges than anyone else. Perhaps I did what I did because it came hard on the heels of failing my first-aid badge. Please understand; everyone else got theirs so my mortification went very deep.

Next up was the writer badge for which, amongst other things, I had to compose a poem. The judge was Brown Owl’s husband. I wrote some free-form poetry about our family chickens that lived at the bottom of my garden. He read it, judged it and rejected it. Unbelievable! What he knew about writing I have no idea. They lived in an executive mock Tudor new-build and he was a business man. I suspect his judging prowess was based purely on his proximity to Brown Owl.

In a fit of quiet pique I slunk away and rather than try and improve the poem or write something new, I consulted my book of children’s verse and copied out a poem. I would imagine this is much harder than doing a copy and paste job from an unsuspecting e-book (and using the find and replace command to change the names). I didn’t bother changing the pig to a sheep to cover my fraud, but I did actually have to write it out and I had to do it in my best hand writing. I’m sure that even business men in executive homes become suspicious when a shoddy effort is followed up with an actual published poem, but he passed it all the same. I was awarded the badge, but I wasn’t very proud of myself and the guilt has lived on.

Fast forward a few years (okay, decades) to the glory. I recently entered a few writing competitions to provide a distraction from slashing and editing The Big One. Someone tweeted the other day about being long-listed for the Fish flash fiction competition and I went straight to the Fish Publishing website to see if I was on the list, my heart already sinking with the inevitability of more disappointment (and that Brownie shame weighing me down). I couldn’t find any mention of a long-list and I couldn’t work out how the tweeter knew. The penny dropped a few days later - you can log in to your author page and see your mark: A = shortlisted, B = longlisted, C = unsuccessful. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the A beside my entry. I had to get my other half to verify it for me.

The shortlist may turn out to be very, very long but, out of 1200 entries, frankly I don’t care. It was all my own work and I worked hard on it. It’s entirely possible that being shortlisted for this will be the only writing accolade I ever achieve, but it is a badge I will wear with pride. If a mistake has been made or I’ve misinterpreted the mark, then it will serve me right for wearing that Brownie badge and claiming someone else’s work as mine.

Best not talk about the sewing badge.