Tuesday, 27 November 2012

My Small Kindness

This was me at my wedding reception. It was a day of trips and falls, and laughter and leaps. I married the love of my life. My gorgeous children walked me down the aisle. Friends and family came together to help us celebrate (and got on tremendously well).

It was also one month since I had had an operation in hospital. I was still recovering and ill. I'd lost a stone in that time which would normally have been a welcome development but on this occasion it meant that my wedding outfit was too big. Other things went wrong which verged on spoiling the day but what I remember the best are the small kindnesses that added to the joy of our wedding.

We didn't have much money. When we started planning it, money wasn't a problem but as so often happens, life throws the proverbial detritus in your lap when you're least expecting it. All of a sudden, we had a photographer and a venue but little money for a cake, flowers or clothes (let alone invitations or dressing the reception room). What should have been a day to remember fast began to turn into a nightmare money-pit.

What saved the day were a number of people who, without being asked, showed us incredible kindness. One friend offered us the silk roses from her wedding cake to dress the supermarket, iced slabs we bought. The hotel where we were holding the reception leant us an antique cake stand and knife for free and decorated the cake for us. Another friend let us have the left over balloons from her sister's wedding which we used for the children at ours. Yet another friend sent us left over children's favours - little toys, notepads and crayons. More friends still sent me information on stores and websites where we could buy what we needed for a low price. My manager allowed me to print off our wedding stationery at work. The sister of another friend, a professional photographer, supplied me with a beautiful, autumn photograph for free for the front of our invitations. There were so many people that contributed to the day that above all the problems, we felt supported and approved of and loved.

Sometimes it is the smallest kindness, the least expected gesture, that stays with us the longest.

This article is part of the Small Kindnesses blogsplash.

Tuesday Choice Words

A Writer's Pre-Flight Checklist on the Adventures in YA & Children's Publishing offers a check list to test your manuscript.

Create Key Moments with Secondary Characters from the Live Write Thrive site discusses a method for the  creation of relationships between your main character and their supporting cast.

How Much Do You Need to Describe Your Characters? from The Other Side of the Story is an interesting read on the subject of character description - a topic that I personally need to look into.

Thinking in Multiple Drafts is an excellent article from Steven Pressfield about wearing 'a different hat for each draft'.

How Much do you Need to Describe Your Setting? from The Other Side of the Story is a checklist on necessary setting description.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Looking Forward to Small Kindnesses

 On Tuesday, 27th November I will be taking part in the Small Kindnesses Blogsplash and writing out a special small kindness someone paid me in the past. Would you like to join me?

The Blogsplash is organised by Fiona Robyn to celebrate the release of her novel 'Small Kindnesses' which will be free on Kindle on the day. All you have to do is write something about being kind - a memory of someone who was kind to you, a list of kindnesses over the past week, or something kind you did for someone else. It'll be a celebration of kindness in all its forms, especially those little kind acts that make all the difference.

You can find more details here.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Tuesday Choice Words

Have you tried Media Deprivation? by Julia Cameron discusses the value of uninterrupted creativity.

How to write a fairy tale is a Squidoo lens written by Tolovaj.

An answer worth the journey: plot and story from This Itch of Writing discusses the difference betwenn story and plot.

Storyteller Saturday: Anne Rice is a talk from Anne Rice on advice for writers on the Mindful Banter site.

Living in My Head: Crafting Natural-Sounding Internal Thoughts on The Other Side of the Story discusses getting inside a character's head.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

The Right Teacher

Or should that be the 'write' teacher? This post could apply to almost any course you take but I'm specifically thinking of writing courses today. They come in all shapes and sizes and modes of transmission. Some follow a specific theory. Others are tailored to an event. The trick to finding the one that will offer the most learning value to you is two-fold:

1.   Discover the learning vehicle that suits you, and

2.   work out what kind of teacher can instruct you the best.

Learning Vehicle

I've studied several writing courses in the past, some good, some not so good, and have looked into many more that I decided not to take. I know from personal experience that what works best for me is face to face learning in a classroom environment and reading books on the subject (although not all books - I'll expand on that in a moment). What appeals to me though, won't necessarily appeal to another student of words. Discovering what learning vehicle works  best for you is the first step in making a decision on which course to take.

  • Classroom based writing courses - often held on an evening in a local school or college, classroom based writing courses can work well for writers who like to interact and compare notes face to face with other like-minded souls. This can work especially well if you enjoy reading out your work.There are also more extended writing schools that you attend for a weekend or several days, writing retreats to get away from the demands of daily life, and something I would love to do, writing holidays. 
  • Books - there are an incredible number of manuals on how to write and all the different aspects of the publishing world too. Have a look on Amazon or in your local book shop. It is worth investigating these books before purchasing one because not every writing manual will suit you. Read a couple of pages, look at the chapter titles, and find out about the author beforehand. Personally, I prefer books that intertwine writing lessons with the writer's own journey such as On Writing by Stephen King. 
  • Online courses - some run to deadlines and timetables while others (such as the Open University's free courses) leave the timing to you. If you spend a lot of time online and are happy communicating by email, then this kind of course can be convenient and easy to fit into. Online courses may include forums to discuss course material with lecturers and other students, and some lecturers also set up a blog to communicate with students. 
  • Podcasts - I have found a handful of courses that teach via podcast (an audio file). These can work well if again, you're familiar and comfortable with online interaction. If you're a visual person though, you may find yourself distracted away from listening to the podcast.

Whether you're an extrovert, an introvert, a technophobe or an online whizz, there's sure to be a course that will suit you.

Learning Motivation

To work out the best teacher for you, you need to find out about your learning motivation. Just as we are attracted to different learning vehicles, we are also motivated to learn by different things and different people. Think back to the teachers at school who taught you the best and the most and the easiest - the ones you remember.What was it about them and their teaching that caught your attention and made the lessons stick in your mind?

For me, it was the teachers who enthused about their subject, the ones who were passionate and animated and larger than life. My first secondary school English teacher was a ginger haired, wiry man with a rolling accent and an energy that propelled him around the classroom. With a book in one hand, and the other hand sweeping through the air, he drew us into each text like a fisherman casting a net. A retired actress taught me for my English literature A'level at college. She would cry over Shakespearean tragedy (we studied Romeo and Juliet) and become rather aroused, and hot and bothered, over a scene in Thomas Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd where  Sergeant Troy flirts with Bathsheba with his sword (read it and you'll see why). Over the years there have been other teachers too whose words have stayed with me, and each time they have been enthusiasts and performers. That is the kind of teacher that suits me best. Find out what kind of teacher is the most effective for you.

A Word of Warning

Don't just accept any course or teacher without researching them first. Read a couple of pages of a book before purchasing it. Visit the website of an educational organisation or writer before signing up for their course. Search online or elsewhere for reviews. Anyone can say they have this or that qualification or experience. Check before any money changes hands. There are some wonderful writing mentors and teachers out there but equally there are people who will embroider their experience to charge a lot of money for information that you could have found anywhere (or probably already know).

Good luck. Good learning.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Tuesday Choice Words

Nine No's of Dialogue from diy MFA is an excellent examination of how we can strengthen our dialogue.

Harness the Power of Words on the Finding Bliss site discusses the intentional and clever use of words to enrich our writing.

Treasures in the Attic is the latest in the Making the Most of Ideas series of articles by David B Coe on the Magical Words site.

How Stephen King Writes Imagery from Galleycat offers some excellent writing advice from one of my writing favourites.

Stay On Target: When is a Subplot Leading You Astray? from The Other Side of the Story talks about the  value and danger of subplots.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Happy Birthday Bram Stoker

165 years old today! Although he died in 1912, his name lives on as the creator of Dracula, a figure that, like Frankenstein's monster, has become entrenched in our cultural memory.

I read the book as a young teenager and scared myself witless for a few weeks afterwards. Every tap at my window was a vampire intent on drinking my blood (of course it was actually a moth drawn by the glow of my nightlight). That shadowy figure staggering down an alleyway in the city where I lived was surely another blood-sucking villain (no, just a drunk on a mid-day binge).

What many people do not realise is how prolific a writer Bram Stoker was, the author of many other novels (The Jewel of Seven Stars, The Lair of the White Worm, to name but a couple), short stories and non fiction.

We see the mark of his classic vampire character in so many of our novels and films. The current trend for young adult vampire romance owes a great deal to this Irish writer.

Bela Lugosi in 1931's Dracula

Christopher Lee as Dracula in 1968

Al Lewis as Grandpa in The Munsters
Gary Oldman as Dracula in 1992

Leslie Nielsen as Dracula in 1995

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Tuesday Choice Words

In the Beginning: Which Type of Opening Works Best? from The Other Side of the Story discusses the pros and cons of different kinds of story openings.

Setting: The Stepchild of Writing Craft is a guest post by Blythe Gifford on the Erin Reel website suggesting five reasons that setting is such an important element to our stories.

How Emerging Authors Can Make The Perfect Pitch: Advice from Katharine Sands on the bookbaby site discusses pitch-craft.

Secondary Characters Have a Life of Their Own from the Live Write Thrive site talks about your novel's supporting cast.

The Scene Conflict Worksheet - Developing Tension in Your Novel from Adventures in YA & Children's Publishing is a useful checklist to bring more depth to the conflict in your novel.