Friday, 31 December 2010

It's almost here

Christmas is over. I've eaten my chocolates. The new toys are put away. Life is on the way back to relative normality. There's just one more thing to do before the children return to school next week.

I'd like to wish you all the very best of new year celebrations and a truly joyful 2011.



May it bring you what you wish for, but more importantly, what you need.

Here we go again!

Friday, 24 December 2010

Just one more day to go

before I can watch my children rip off the wrapping on their presents and I can sit down with my family to enjoy a Christmas lunch. We put so much stake on this one day and then it's over so quickly and we return to our normal routine for a few days until the new year celebrations begin.

For many of us, the day is all about our children. For others it is a time to bring family together, especially if we've lost touch with them over the year. For us, Christmas Day is about both of those things. The morning is for our children. The afternoon is for visiting family. The evening will be a time to relax with a glass of wine and think of loved ones who aren't with us this Christmas, or at least not in body. If that sounds like a sad end to the day, please be assured that it isn't. Remembering those who loved us and shaped our world is always a cause for celebration.

So with less than twenty four hours until it all begins, I would like to wish everyone a wonderful Christmas. May it be all that you wish it to be.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

7 ways to give to your writer friends at Christmas

1. Magazine Subscription

I'm a firm believer that staying informed on not only your craft but also your industry is important for all writers. There are various writing related magazines that can serve this purpose and that also run competitions. A good choice for all writers is Writing Magazine which incorporates Writers News. A similar publication is Writers Forum. For women writers, there's also Mslexia.

2. Writing Software

There are all kind of writing related software packages that you can buy for your writer friend. New Novelist provide a package that I've found quite useful in compiling the details of my novel and constructing a chapter plan. For help with creating your characters Character Writer provides what looks like an in depth approach that includes an enneagram based character generator. Storybook provides an open source (free) novel writing programme that can be downloaded from their site.

3. Books on writing

I personally feel that there is an unnecessary glut of how to books on writing that often give identical advice. Having said that, there are certain gems in there. The Writers and Artists Yearbook is my bible providing up to date information on publishers, agents and excellent advice from the industry. Stephen King's On Writing isn't so much a 'how to' as a 'how I did' book that makes for an entertaining and informative read. Writer Mama and Get Known Before The Book Deal by Christina Katz are mainly aimed at non  fiction writers but provide information that can also be helpful to fiction writers. The first seeks to help parents fit a writing career in with their family life. The second describes how to build a platform for publicising your work.

4. Blog

Not every online presence has to cost a fortune. Show how much you appreciate your friend's writing, by setting up a blog for them to discuss and display their writing. Blogger provides a free blog service with a variety of designs that you can personalise to their taste.

5. Pens and pads

There aren't many writers that I know who don't turn into a child when faced with a stationery shop. Typing our creative expression onto a computer can be an efficient way to record our writing but having an ideas pad to carry around with us and beautiful pens to write those ideas down with is an indulgent joy that can be treasured.

6. Writing Slot

Any writer's internal editor offers more than sufficient reasons to delay our writing. Add those to the day to day routine (work, house chores, children, social life) and it can often seem that there isn't enough time in the day to get any writing done. If your partner is a writer, then giving them an hour a day when you won't disturb them or expect them to do anything but write can be a wonderful gift. If your writer friend is a parent, then offering to take their children to the park for an hour so they can write will be tremendously appreciated too.

7. Recognition

This may sound silly but one of the best gifts you can give to a writer, published or not, is your recognition of them as a writer.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

A new writing record

As you know, the month of November saw me taking part in National Novel Writing Month, the aim being to write 50,000 words. I started off well, remaining on target until the middle of the month when life intervened in the form of ill children and work commitments. Still, I broke my writing record from past NaNoWriMos and managed just over 26,000 words.

I may not be an official NaNoWriMo 'winner' (the term used for those who have achieved the full 50,000 words) but I feel like a winner none the less. For the entire month, I sent my internal editor on holiday and just kept on writing. The resulting prize are several chapters of first draft quality which I'll look back over next week.

Writing in this way, without editing, felt risky at times and stumped me at others. The world of my story grew, the  details and colours gradually sketching themselves in. My characters fleshed out in often surprising ways. A couple of minor characters became more important and a new villain was introduced into the mix.

I'll definitely take part in NaNoWriMo next year. Now I just have to keep the impetus running and finish this novel.

Monday, 15 November 2010

30 Plays in 30 Days

As you know, I'm currently in the middle of National Novel Writing Month in an attempt to write 50,000 words over the thirty days of November. However, I was sorely tempted to join B L Goss in her attempt to write 30 plays in 30 days.

This is her final project on her Major American Authors course, running from 15th November (today) to 15th December. She will be posting each play on her blog daily and she invites other writers to join her.

Read her full article here.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Photo Inspiration

As the nights draw in and the weather turns rainy, I thought I'd bring you a little summer photographic inspiration this time.


Saturday, 13 November 2010

A Literary Treasure

Portrait of Robert Louis StevensonImage via Wikipedia
When I fired up my computer today and opened a browser, I was met with the latest Google image - pirates, sailing boats and treasure. Puzzled, I investigated further and discovered that on this day, one hundred and sixty years ago, Robert Louis Stevenson was born.

I've always associated him with the novels Treasure Island and Kidnapped and of course the films of these novels. What I didn't realise until today was how extensive his writing talents were. He was not only a novelist (also penning The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde among other novels) but an essayist, a writer of short stories and a poet.

Born in Edinburgh, his life would take him to London, Europe, the USA and further still. He finally settled in Upolu, one of the Samoan islands where he died at the age of 44. His was a life lived richly and extensively. It's no wonder that his novels were so numerous and so varied.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

I must, I must...

I must improve my NaNoWriMo wordcount.

During week one of National Novel Writing Month, I carved myself a regular writing slot. Once the children had been delivered to school and my husband to work, I would sit at the computer with a coffee and write for a couple of hours. I was not only achieving the suggested daily word count of 1,667 but bettering it. For the first time in the history of my NaNoWriMo attempts, I was ahead.

Week Two is notorious for being the week when most of the lunatics, I mean contestants of NaNoWriMo falter in their attempts and gnaw through more than one pencil (not sure if that metaphor works for keyboards...). I was ahead though, hair flying in the sweet breeze of success. I laughed at the thought of anything going wrong with my progress just because we'd hit the second week of our challenge.

On Monday morning, I found a rash on my daughter's neck and my son had a fever. The doctor was called and my daughter was diagnosed with an unidentified virus. "It's nothing serious," said the doctor, "but best to keep her off until the rash has faded." A day of nursing grumbly children ensued and no writing. I shrugged off the change in routine and decided that I'd write once they were in bed. By midnight, I'd only managed 500 words.

The next morning, my son was much better (I'm still wondering if he'd simply been holding his head against the radiator to get a day off school. Cynical mother? Me?) but my daughter remained at home, alternately scratching her rash and moaning that she was bored. Once again, no writing was had until my demonspawn, sorry, angels were in bed. And once again, by the time midnight tapped on my shoulder, I had not met my required wordage.

Yesterday I decided that enough was enough and setting my daughter up with things to do (and instructions not to scratch), I sat down at my computer to write, fingers poised, notes at my side. Not a lot happened. I typed some more of my novel but not much, maybe a couple of hundred words. I had a coffee, put a wash on, then returned to the computer. Again, I managed another two hundred words before hitting a wall of mind and finger silence. After twenty more minutes of stopping and starting, I decided to write more that evening.

I put my novel out of my mind until the children were settled in bed, my tea was eaten and I had a glass of wine to hand. In the first hour, I managed about a page of text. I was still only halfway through my daily word requirement and worse, I needed to write another thousand words on top of that to catch up with that the NaNoWriMo purple line (fellow NaNoers will know what I mean by that). So I got another glass of wine and pushed on. The entire evening was conducted in a similar way, start, stop, wine, start, stop, read notes, start, stop, stretch legs. I couldn't seem to get any real flow to my creative juices. The well of my creative juice was drying up at an alarmingly speedy rate.

Then it struck me, like a Hammer Horror villain with a very big axe. It was the curse of Week Two! Nooooo! Did I run away screaming or hide behind the cushions though? No, I did what most NaNo writers do on an hourly basis. I checked my wordcount, checked my notes and ploughed on. You see that's the thing about a curse. It only works if you believe in it.

The trick to suriving Week Two is simply this. Be realistic, forgive yourself any lapses and just get on with it. Don't fear Week Two. Embrace it like the knowledgeable teacher it is. If you can survive these seven days, then you're well on your way to your 50,000 words.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Bonfire Night

GuysSparklerImage via Wikipedia
Remember, remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot.

My husband and I were trying to remember this poem today in the car. Like Christmas Day, in our household Bonfire Night is all about our children. Our plan tonight is to wrap everyone up warm and head out to a local castle for a bonfire and firework display, unless we get the torrential rain that the weather people say is heading our way. In that case, it'll be fireworks at home tomorrow night.

However you celebrate Bonfire Night, have the best of times and stay safe.
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Wednesday, 3 November 2010

When is your writing slot?

When are you at your most productive during the day or night? For me, it's when I've just arrived back from the morning school run. My creative mind tends to start turning over on the drive home and by the time I sit at the computer, I already have the details of what I'll write next. This slot has worked out well for my NaNoWriMo adventure this year, giving me a chance to write my November novel undisturbed and when my brain is energised.

Today, however, my routine was thrown. I had offered to help out at my daughter's school in the morning. Then I had to buy some replacement school uniform (my children keep growing). By the time I got home, it was almost noon. My muse was on her lunch break. I managed about 400 words before other duties called.

Tonight, I decided to push on and upped my daily word count by another 2,000 words but it was hard work. I was tired, my children were noisily settling for the night and I felt bad neglecting my husband so my writing stopped and started over a couple of hours.

Tomorrow I'll be back to my morning writing slot - peace and energy and a good supply of latte. Bliss.

Monday, 1 November 2010

And we're off!

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) begins today. I mentioned this in October and ever since then I have been putting together a chapter plan for a quirky, dimension travelling, fantasy novel. Then three days before the month began, I changed my mind about which novel to write and started all over again with a different story idea. Am I mad? Probably but then I think, to an extent, most NaNoWriMers are a little mad. Why else would we throw ourself into the lion's pit, battling through a monthly wordage of 50,000? That's 1,667 words per day.

I started as I always do in my NaNoWriMo onslaught (this will be my fourth year) with blind enthusiasm and a childlike rush of excitement. With my chapter plan (well, what I could manage to put together in three days - fourteen chapters) beside me, I managed to achieve 2,467 words today.

I'm quite impressed with such a good start but the challenge will be to keep the momentum going. Wish me luck.

Sunday, 31 October 2010

A Writerly Hallowe'en

I've been reading a lot of Hallowe'en related blog posts about everything scary recently - carved pumpkins (that's ours on the left), costumes, recipes and films - but I was surprised how few mentioned books.


So I've put together a short list of reading suitable for this night of ghosts and ghouls.

I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett

This is the fourth Pratchett novel about Tiffany Aching, reluctant witch and the noisy but loyal Wee Free Men. Tiffany is just settling into her new home and witchly community duties. She's doing her best but things get complicated when an evil ghost fixes its eerie sights on Tiffany.

http://www.terrypratchett.co.uk/

The Witches by Roald Dahl

My children love books by Dahl but I've kept this one back for now as I find it quite frightening myself. The High Witch plans to rid the country of children by turning them into mice (and if that isn't bad enough, she's placed a large order for mousetraps). Thankfully one young boy overhears her plans and with his grandmother sets out to defeat the witches.

http://www.roalddahl.com/

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

This classic tale of horror is an all time favourite of mine. Told as a story within a story within a story, Frankenstein's god-like vanity leads to the creation of the monster whom he quickly rejects. Abandoned in a lonely, cruel world, it is inevitable that the monster will turn on its creator.

However you spend this Hallowe'en night, have a great time.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Pan's Labyrinth

Teaser PosterImage via Wikipedia
Hallowe'en films don't all have to be about gore and zombies. Sometimes they can be more subtle in their terror.

Like the best gothic fairytale, there is something both frightening and enchanting about the award winning film, Pan's Labyrinth. Directed and written by Guillermo del Toro, it tells the story of the stepdaughter of a sadistic army officer who escapes from her miserable life to a terrifying but magical fantasy world. The film is set in the fascist Spain of Franco and balances the cruel family life of Ofelia and her mother with the often disturbing but ultimately preferable world of the labyrinth. The mythical cast includes a caustic faun and a monster who sees through his hands.

I'm still undecided whether the ending is sad or not. Watch it and make up your own mind.
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Friday, 29 October 2010

Lucky lucky me

I consider myself to be a lucky person. I have a wonderful husband, two lively, loving children, my health, good friends, so many things to be thankful for. However, I don't generally win competitions, of any kind. It's not that I think 'oh, I'll never win'. It just doesn't generally happen. In fact, I can count the number of times I've won anything on one hand, until this month.

October has been my extra lucky month. Firstly, I won this beautiful jewellery from Aspire Style. They've just opened a new store in Solihull, but you can also find their shops in Warwick, Oxford and Stratford on Avon. Or you can shop online through their delightful website.

My second win was of a Hallowe'en competition run by Retro Chick for a spider web shawl, umbrella, wallet and compact mirror also from Aspire. In addition to selling retro and vintage clothing and accessories, Retro Chick runs competitions on a regular basis with some lovely prizes.

Both of these websites are well worth a visit. Click on the links above.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

I Value The Arts





If you care about the Arts, please click on the badge above to find out more about this campaign.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

On your marks...

get set... We're almost there. In just under three weeks, National Novel Writing Month starts. For NaNoWriMo virgins, here is their press release.

Novel fever takes the world by storm.

Symptoms include flashes of brilliance, questionable plotlines, and blatant use of mixed metaphors.
Berkeley, California (Oct 1, 2010) - At midnight on November 1, armed only with their wits, the vague outline of a story, and a ridiculous deadline, more than 200,000 people around the world will set out to become novelists.

Why? Because November is National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, the world’s largest writing challenge and nonprofit literary crusade. Participants pledge to write 50,000 words in a month, starting from scratch and reaching “The End” by November 30. There are no judges, no prizes, and entries are deleted from the server before anyone even reads them.

So what’s the point? “The 50,000-word challenge has a wonderful way of opening up your imagination and unleashing creativity,” says NaNoWriMo Founder and Executive Director (and eleven-time NaNoWriMo winner) Chris Baty. “When you write for quantity instead of quality, you end up getting both. Also, it’s a great excuse for not doing any dishes for a month.”

More than 500 regional volunteers in more than 90 countries will hold write-ins, hosting writers in coffee shops, bookstores, and libraries. Write-ins offer a supportive environment and surprisingly effective peer pressure, turning the usually solitary act of writing into a community experience. That sense of community even extends beyond the page—so much so that more than a dozen marriages and at least four babies have resulted from NaNoWriMo over the years.

Although the event emphasizes creativity and adventure over creating a literary masterpiece, nearly 60 novels begun during NaNoWriMo have since been published, including Water for Elephants, a New York Times #1 Bestseller by Sara Gruen.

“Writing a novel in a month inspires incredible confidence in seasoned and first-time novelists alike,” says NaNoWriMo Program Director, Lindsey Grant. “Completing a draft of the novel they’ve been contemplating for ages gives participants a tremendous sense of accomplishment and leaves them wondering what else they’re capable of.”

For more information on National Novel Writing Month, or to speak to NaNoWriMo participants in your area, visit www.nanowrimo.org or contact press@nanowrimo.org.

The Office of Letters and Light is a California-based international non-profit organization. Its programs are the largest literary events in the world. Learn more at www.lettersandlight.org

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Remembering Charlie

Monday was the birthday of my late father, Charlie. He would have been 88 years old. That's him in the photo, standing in a street in York with my mum.

He was an ever supportive influence in my life, softly spoken, strong, thoughtful and eternally optimistic. He was probably better thought of and more kindly remembered that he realised.

He was a hard worker, my dad. He was also a dreamer, full of ideas and thoughts. He did his best to improve himself so that he could support his family which often meant we only saw him at weekends, a treasured forty eight hours when family time was spent out walking, maybe driving in the countryside, or in the garden. A country lad at heart, my father usually found a way to drag us out into nature.

When he retired, my father decided to research his family history. I can remember the trips he took to London and Edinburgh (sometimes with my mum and on other occasions alone) and holidays spent traipsing through overgrown graveyards in Scotland. One of his great regrets, and frustrations, in researching his family tree was that he hadn't listened to the stories told by his father and the gossip and news that was tossed around at family gatherings.

My father always saw himself as a 'workhorse', head down, get on with it, don't complain. He failed to value the other more lyrical side of his personality. He was a storyteller, describing his childhood in Scotland, his adventures in London, and the colourful people he had met on the way.

More recently I've picked up the reins from my father to continue his research. I've even started writing a blog about it. My parents have left me an immense amount of paperwork, books and photographs, in addition to my father's genealogy notes but I now share my father's frustration. I wish I had listened to my parents more. I wish I had asked them questions about the mountain of photographs, many of people unknown to me. I wish I had written down the stories they told me. All I have now are patchy, threadbare memories of those stories.

Will my children bear the same frustration when I am gone? They are happy to listen to my stories now but a lifetime is such an immense thing to track and more importantly remember, how can anyone retain it all, every second, every breath, every thought or heartbreak? Even the most romantic biographer must decide what should be included and what should not. But maybe that is the magic of memory, to filter out the unnecessary debris, retaining the gems of our past.

So I have a new project, to keep a record my life, including the stories that I tell my children, as a keepsake for my family. At the least, it will be an interesting writing exercise. At the best, it may provide us all with some clarity.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

The first day of autumn

I am a child of change. I always have been. Life can be as harmonious and bountiful as you like but if there is no room for change, then I just can't be happy. It's not that I'm ungrateful for the joys I've been given. It's just that I don't like to sit still for long - on to the next project or improvement. That's why I like autumn - it's a sign of change.

Like spring, autumn heralds a turn in the year, a handing over from the summer's long days to winter evenings that wrap us in their shades of darkness. The autumn equinox marks the second day in the year (the first being the spring equinox) when there is a balance between light and dark, a brief harmony before the world carries on towards winter.

Today is the autumn equinox, the first day of autumn, called Mabon by pagans. For me, it's a day of being thankful for what the year has brought me (my harvest), looking to see where I'm out of balance, and finding ways to bring harmony into my life and to those I care about. I plan to do some baking with my children (buns and breads - maybe even an apple cake), get in touch with friends I haven't seen in a while and raise a glass to the gods of the vine.

May I wish you all a bountiful Mabon.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

End of Day

The cool, sharp tang of the sea
carries on the evening breeze
as the husky sigh of the wind rises
to drown the murmur of shallow waves.

Final echoes of the sun
lay weary on the water,
auburn dimming to grey.

Like dust before a broom,
the clouds disappear,
leaving only the solitary moon
to watch over the night.

Untouched

I wrote this in July 2000.


Untouched, yet felt,
a guilty glance offered
with the knowledge that
once accepted,
once succombed,
there is no going back.

Untouched, once more,
we talk around the heat
that hangs between us,
levels of meaning
silently entwining,
warm in our minds' caress.

Untouched, we part,
and sigh that friendship
held our hearts in virtue.
Regret is sweet,
and yet I wonder.

Heathers

Another poem I wrote in 1991.


Laughing with shared secrets,
we sprang across the moors -
boots heavy with peaty-earth,
faces radiant with the winter air
and each other.

The heather was our sampler,
where new joys,
unwrapped in the shivering air,
were offered, tasted and savoured.

Too impatient, our eyes too naked,
we could not see what would become
of our wilderness shared.
The eager cold, goose-pimpling us,
would numb our emotions,
and the the moors would be scorched grey.

The School Gates

Written by me and included in an anthology called 'The Write Moments' in 1990/91.

She left me at the school gates.
Alone, with a multitude of lost faces
I watched, we watched, as she, they, waved,
and the gates closed like a final sentence.

I, we all, turned to the tarmac wasteland,
precisely traced  with circuits of white paint.
Our new parent, hovering, twittering,
bird-like behind immense round spectacles,
gathered us up in her nestling embrace,
trapping our backward glance.

We became a form, as the minutes tumbled by,
of black and blonde, and brown and blue.
Wellies, coats, bags, hooks marked with duck-shaped
stickers, and words,
our names gloriously written in rainbow crayons.

She was forgotten, our home maker.
She did not enter our minds,
was pushed out by new textures, new tastes.
She was not now, but later,
when we charged into the afternoon.
She was waiting where we had left her,
or she had left us,
by the school gates.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Great way to start the week

BERLIN - NOVEMBER 05:  Bono of U2 performs dur...Image by Getty Images via @daylife
On my journey home from the school run this morning, I listened to this song on the car radio. What a brilliant sentiment for a grey Monday morning.

Beautiful Day by U2


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Friday, 17 September 2010

Hoarding with Pride

Yesterday I wrote an article on my family history blog called Hoarders Anonymous. It talks about how the habit of hoarding has become a negative concept but that to geneaologists, the hoarded clutter of a relative or family can provide a treasure trove of research clues and information.

The collected clutter left to me by my parents sits under the stairs until I can free up a cupboard for it all. I've already filled one cupboard with photographs (note to self: must buy photograph albums and put these all in order) but I need more cupboard space for old family bibles, my parents' love letters and documentation that stretches back a number of generations. To this end, I started going through the cupboards in our study.

What I found was an interesting mix of craft materials (mainly for the children), the aforementioned photographs, an over abundance of candles (bring on the power cuts - no, don't, please - I need my computer), a graveyard of old gadgets that my husband hasn't got round to rehousing, a massive amount of stationery (did I mention that I'm a bit of a stationery whore?), and file after file of my writing dating back to my teens. It provides for some interesting reading, charting the growth and maturing of not only Fiona but also my writing skill. I doubt that I have thrown anything away since I first put creative brain cell to paper. There is the writing exercise inspired short stories from a creative writing course run by Pat Borthwick whom I've mentioned before on this blog. There's a bound copy of a novel written when I was twenty years old which forms the basis for the fantasy novel I'm currently working on, and a ring binder file which contains a children's novel, written when I was going through a difficult patch in my life. My favourite find amongst it all is a list of story and character ideas.

I have hoarded all of this over the years as a pool of creativity and inspiration to be dipped back into when my muse has evaded me. I have encouraged the gathering of dust and laughed in the face of minimalism. Like my parents before me, I am a hoarder and shall continue to hoard with pride.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Roald Dahl Month

Portrait of Roald DahlImage via Wikipedia
 My daughter has developed a penchant for paperback novels. She can devour one in a single sitting. Not unusual for an adult but this eager reader is only eight years old. It was her birthday this weekend so I treated her to two books that I loved at her age, James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, both by the wonderful writer, Roald Dahl (pictured), an apt purchase because September is Roald Dahl month.

This celebration of Dahl was originally launched on 13th September 2006 on what would have been his ninetieth birthday. 2010 sees this celebration stretch to embrace an entire month of festivities.

 "Roald was a great believer in birthdays being filled with treats, so he would be happy that this tradition seems to be becoming an annual event," said Dahl's widow, Felicity.

Events this September include:

  • 'Fantastic Mr Fox' performed at the Little Angel Theatre, Islington
  • a staging of  'George's Marvellous Medicine' at the Taliesin Arts Centre, Swansea
  • a roadshow called 'Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Roald Dahl', and
  • a chocolate decorating workshop (a'la Willy Wonka) at the Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre, Great Missenden.

You can find out about more Roald Dahl month events here.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Muse calling. Come in, Writer!

Where do you get your inspiration? Where does your muse strike you on the head, shouting "Oi! Numpty! Try this on for size."

As a busy mum, my brain is often on multiple tasks, for instance, making packed lunches while getting my children breakfast and ensuring my husband is out of bed. Even in bed, I'll be mentally planning the day ahead.

However, there is one place where I concentrate solely on the task at hand and hence clear some space in my mind - the shower. Whilst soaping up this morning, I had a moment of clarity about my novel, a realisation of what was missing and how that could be solved. What was a two horse race has found itself an additional runner. Bricks have fallen into place and although it may mean that I have to rejig my chapters and plot, I'm confident that this new development will add richness and a new appeal to my novel.

What about you? Where does your muse coming calling?

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

7 ways to get over writer's block

  1. Step away from the keyboard (or pen and paper). Do something completely different for twenty minutes then return to your writing. This usually helps me reboot my imagination.
  2. Re-read what you've written. Of course this only works if you have actually written something already.
  3. Look over your notes or synopsis. Try to work out what it is that you're attempting to achieve with this piece of writing. Is your synopsis at fault? Would it be better to change the order of events? Is there a knowledge gap that is preventing you from taking the next step? Are you trying to make your character do something that they just wouldn't do?
  4. Write something different. You're stuck on chapter three so write chapter four. Act three is being a pain, so move to act four. Alternatively, if you're a blogger, go write a blog article (perhaps about writer's block). If it's your blog article that's causing your writing muscle to cramp, then revisit that novel or poem that you've been working on.
  5. Do twenty minutes research related to your writing. I say twenty minutes because it is not my intention to provide you with an excuse for spending half the day surfing the internet. We all know how reading one blog article can lead to a related newspaper article which in turn... You get the gist. It doesn't have to be anything as material as researching how to cremate a body when your story is set at a cremation. It can be as simple as looking at images of the sea if you're writing about a day at the coast or reading a book in a similar genre to your own story.
  6. Ring someone. No, I don't mean send them a text. Pick up the telephone and ring a real, living individual. If nobody is available, then go out and find a real person to talk to. I'm not suggesting that you accost a stranger in the street. It might be that you have a family member at home. Perhaps your neighbour is in their front garden. Failing all that, go down to your local newsagent and chat to the cashier as you pay for your newspaper (probably best to buy something rather than just go in and strike up a conversation). The point here is that listening to a real human interchange relinks you with the rhythm of living, breathing speech which after all is what we are trying to portray in our writing.
  7. Just write. If everything else fails and your muse still refuses to get out of bed, then simply put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and write. It doesn't matter if it makes sense. I don't care if it's complete twaddle. For twenty minutes, write what comes into your head and your heart. You never know. You may surprise yourself and find a masterpiece in the chaos.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Season of Bounty

Yesterday I wrote about my affection for the month of September but  autumn in general is a favourite time of the year for me. Like the harvest from the fields, orchards and hedgerows, this season always feels like a time of reward and fruition. As I mentioned yesterday, autumn brought to me my daughter and my husband. This was also when I got married.

In her '52 Qualities of Prosperous Writers' newsletter, Christina Katz wrote this week about being 'bountiful'. She writes,

Bountiful implies that your cup is already overflowing so you simply tip your abundance into the hands of others. No sainthood required!

One thing I'm always thankful for is the abundance of ways in which I can apply my writing. There's this blog of course, the plays I write for Murdering The Text and the ideas I have for novels too. More recently, my writing 'cup' has overflowed and with the help of my husband (who is also my writing partner), we've taken the scenario and cast of one of our plays to create a sitcom. Sharing our creative natures, we've found a quirky voice that perfectly reflects our relationship.

Something that has come to light over the summer holidays is that my enthusiasm for writing has overflowed into my daughter. She has always been an avid reader and very imaginative. Now, one of her favourite pastimes is to write stories and illustrate them. To say I'm a proud parent is one of the most immense understatemants that I've heard this year.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

September

'Mellow' is the word that always comes to mind when I think of September. The days are still warm, there are flowers in the garden and we have time after school or work to go walking. And yet the way the colours of the garden and countryside have faded and the drawing in of the nights remind us that autumn and ultimately winter is on the way.

I like September. My children return to school and I can reclaim the house from a battleground of toys and abandoned socks. The extremes of summer (the long days, the brightest colours and cloudless skies) give way to a kinder, less challenging season.

I met my husband in September, an unexpected and warmly remembered encounter that set me on this well-loved path. My daughter was born in this month and my father was taken from me too. It has always been a time of change and fresh avenues into the future.

This September is no different. Today I posted off our sitcom pilot script to the BBC. My husband is in the midst of writing a second script for television, this time a quirky drama. We have a taste for this newly chosen writing vehicle now. Whatever route we take, there's no turning back.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Murdering The Text Autumn Newsletter

The autumn newsletter for Murdering The Text is now available online.

With details of our latest play and autumn productions, have a look at the newsletter here.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Writing.Com

Writing.Com will be ten years old tomorrow and will be celebrating from 1st to 10th September with birthday themed writing contests and special activities.
 
There'll be prizes and giveaways of over 10 million Gift Points and if  you're already a member, you'll be gifted 1,000 points per day just for logging into your account.

Writing.com is an online community for writers of all interests and skill levels.

Monday, 30 August 2010

Summer waves goodbye

This last week of the summer holidays has taken me away from my writing as I prepare for my children's return to school. Already, autumn whispers in with it's cool breezes but before the holiday season is over, I thought I'd share some old summer photographs with you and a poem (not written by me) too.

See you in the autumn.

Joy Is Measured
Joy is touched through that we touch daily.
golden light stripes the wall in morning
as apparition appearing
(though no false god this!)
to silently nudge slumber with a most gentle alarm of holiday dream.
was it a dream? - no matter.
to heat, to water!
to the green depths of lake that curtain summer stage.
a dive, then first breath, the slow  blurring of edges,
the lack of form between things.
soon a plot unfolds.
cloud and shadow scheme,
draw plans on distant hills
while breeze, waiting in the wing,
rehearse with wave their entrance and exit,
the tricky part,
all the while whistling vaguely
in the manner of summer.
ah yes, summer.
the season meant to remind,
in the final act and measure,
that a clarity lies just out of sight
(on the lakebed perhaps)
awaiting the memory of future days.

by Ken Blackburn

Friday, 20 August 2010

Calling all scriptwriters - a competition for you

The people at Scripped are holding a scriptwriting contest in partnership with actorsandcrew.com. They're looking for a tennis related low budget script.

For further details and how to enter, follow this link.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Writing about where you live

Inside AA ROAD BOOK of ENGLAND and WALESImage by EraPhernalia Vintage via Flickr
This links back to 'drawing from your life experience'. The block of flats you walk by on the way to the bus stop or the railway station you use on a morning can all provide locations in your writing.

I've lived in various areas of England and Wales, and beyond that family connections have leant further familiarity to places in Yorkshire and Scotland. I can picture my home town with great detail, even though I don't live there anymore and have used that city for one of my novels (as yet unpublished).

The first few murder mystery plays written for Murdering The Text were based in and around an imaginary market town called Dedleigh. Dedleigh is based on several similar towns in Yorkshire.

A children's novel that I wrote a few years ago (again, unpublished) used a house and area where I lived near Croydon, Surrey.

In the novel I'm currently writing, the future set, modern city is completely imagined but the old town where the magic users live is based on suburban areas I have lived in, using not only the setting but also the feeling of community.

Look around you. Take photographs even. Remember how it felt to live in an area. These experiences, like the rest of your life experience, can lend a reality to base your imagined worlds in.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Progress with my novel

Actual writing of my novel has slowed down as the rest of my life seems to have taken over during the summer holidays. However, I've come to the conclusion that the title 'Split' isn't the right one for my novel so I'm thinking on that one. The title 'Dark Divide' keeps coming to mind but I'm not 100% sold on that either. I think the novel itself will probably supply a title from the words of one of the characters. Fingers crossed.

The second development has been a realisation of the arc of my story and how it will expand into the other two books in the trilogy. A seemingly minor character in the first book will crop up again and a storyline mentioned in passing in book one will carry us through to the final instalment. A second minor character from book one will provide a large part of the storyline in book two and this will involve a new magic user who uses jewellery and stones to influence people.

That all sounds quite vague but I'm pleased that my trilogy is knitting together into a cohesive whole.

Friday, 13 August 2010

Another competition for you

As a writer, I always look forward to getting my yearly copy of the Writers and Artists Yearbook. An incredibly useful resource of listings for publishers and agents, it also includes an excellent range of articles on different areas of writing.

You can win a copy of the Writers and Artists Yearbook 2011 or the Children's Writers and Artists Yearbook 2011 by visiting this link. I've entered already. Good luck!

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Win a book!

Summary Peter F. Hamilton signing his Night's ...Image via Wikipedia
Fans of sci fi, fantasy and the writer, Peter F Hamilton should get over to the Pan Macmillan site where they're holding a competition to win a signed copy of Peter F Hamilton's novel, The Evolutionary Void.

The Evolutionary Void is the concluding volume in the Void Trilogy. It is tentatively scheduled for a worldwide release in September 2010.

Peter also has a blog if you'd like to keep up with the latest news about his writing.

Here's the link to the competition page.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Do you back up?

I trusted my laptop computer completely, until one day it died. As it happened, I was mid-write, working on a murder mystery play. I was on the final straight, approaching the finish line and *puff* the screen went blank. I quietly cursed my laptop as I tried to remember whether I'd saved recently. What I'd written was still fresh in my mind though so past the initial annoyance, it wasn't a disaster.

I pressed the 'On' button. Nothing happened. I checked the power supply which was fine and pressed the 'On' button again. The laptop remained lifeless on my lap. Fighting the rising panic, I tried again. Still, there was no response. My laptop was dead.

At that time, I was not in the habit of backing up but thankfully everything was not lost as my husband, an IT bod, managed to strip down my laptop and rescue the hard drive. Still, it taught me a particularly important lesson - back up your files.

I now back up on a regular basis onto a separate hard disk. It may be a bore but it's better than losing my writing. Get the backing up habit and you won't regret it.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Drawing from your life experience

Write what you know. That phrase comes up time and time again in creative writing tutorials. For many years I dismissed this piece of advice, not through disrespect but because the story ideas I had required me to write about things I didn't know. I didn't know about living in a Tolkien-esque world. I didn't know about fighting in a battle. I certainly didn't know about grieving the death of a loved one.

In my early twenties, I attended a writing class run by a very talented poet called Pat Borthwick. Pat placed great value on life experience and encouraged us to use our memories and every day lives to enrich our writing.

Most of my class members were older than me and it seemed at the time that they had so much more 'life' to write from compared to my own twenty or so years. There was a wonderful American lady in her sixties or seventies who had lived in Burma for many years. If I remember rightly, her husband was a diplomat connected with the American Embassy. Each week she brought with her a flask of coke and some alcoholic beverage, and a wealth of stories about her life in Burma. I particularly remember a story about the crow's court who sat in attendance in the tree at the bottom of her garden. Another lady of similar age who had lived her whole life in the local area provided tales that were equally as interesting and full of warmth and rich memories. She wrote of her children (now grown up), the death of her parents and trips to the sea. A third group member, a quietly spoken man in his forties wrote with a grace and eloquence that matched his distinguished voice but his stories were also saturated with feelings of bitterness towards his ex wife.

A decade passed and my life experience changed. I now knew how it felt to have my heart broken. I knew the pain of seeing someone I loved die. I was also more independent and self sufficient, having lived in bedsit land in a big city. I was dating a man called Tony, ten years older than me, divorced, father to seven children (yes, seven) and an ex fireman. He was a writer too. We critiqued each other's work. He dismissed my writing as naive. I saw his as depressing. We were each drawing from our own lives which were very different. We didn't last.

It's only in the now, another decade later, that I've come to appreciate  what 'write what you know' really means. It isn't a limiting, stoic instruction designed to keep us in our place. Instead, it's a suggestion to base your story in the reality of what you have lived through, to make your characters as real as the individuals that you meet every day. I can explain this by looking at one of the characters in my novel. Isabella may have magical skills and live in a future world where trees are only a memory, but I based her experience as a mother on my life with my children. We have both lost our parents and at times in my life I have been as motivated by fear as she is. Her character is shaped by my life, by what I know.

Each and every one of us, however old or young we are, has a wealth of experience to write from. We all carry the richness of our reality, a reality which can form a solid foundation for our writing.

Monday, 9 August 2010