Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Bit by bit, day by day

I still can’t quite believe Jenn Ashworth didn’t pick me as a mentee for the Jerwood/Arvon mentoring scheme – grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr - but at least the process wasn’t completely in vain. In my rather last minute application I had to outline how I would make best use of the year on the scheme if I was selected. I decided that with the encouragement of a mentor I could finish the first draft of my current novel in that year and devote the week-long retreat at the end of it to rewriting and editing. At the time, the novel stood at 30,000 words and 90,000 seemed like a nice number to aim for – it divides nicely into 3 - the beginning, the middle and the end. I then broke down the 60,000 yet to be written words into months, weeks and days to see how much I needed to write every day to achieve this goal. It would mean writing 5000 words a month, 1250 words a week, 178.5142 words a day: Completely achievable with dedication and encouragement, yes?
Then of course I realised I didn’t need to wait and see if my application was successful, I could just crack on with the deliciously bite sized pieces of writing each day. I’m sure that the more prolific writers out there will scoff at the measly 178.5142 words I aim for everyday (I have rounded it up to 179) but for me it’s actually working. It’s an amount that doesn’t overwhelm when there are lots of other things to be squeezed in to the evening. It’s an amount that, even when multiplied a couple of times to compensate for the off days when even that tiny number isn’t possible, still doesn’t overwhelm. And the nice thing is that once the minimum word quota is done for the day, it’s so much easier to keep on going.
Of course I’m still sorry I didn’t get picked for the Jerwood/Arvon mentoring scheme, but I’m not sorry I made the application. So far, so good: 53,000 words and counting.  
Obsessed with word-count, me?

Sunday, 9 February 2014


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:


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:

  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...