Thursday, 28 April 2011

Hobbies and Interests: (please use a separate sheet if necessary)

The main reason I never replied to the question “what do you like doing” with the only truthful answer of “I like to write” was because I was petrified that I’d either get laughed at for sounding like a deluded fool or ignored for being… well, much the same thing I guess.

Not me and mum (but the expression's spot-on)

Because everyone else had such sensible, normal, achievable interests. Other people liked to abseil, water-ski, sky-dive, garden, paint, cross-stitch, ramble, cook, even socialise was high on the list of ‘interests’. They could even produce photographic evidence to prove they could DO these things. And I simply couldn’t imagine a scenario in which I’d want to do any of them  - unless "socialising" was the same thing as bumping into somebody I vaguely knew in Sainsbury’s and chatting about the weather for five minutes.

In a bid to try and fit in when I was growing up, I tried collecting stamps. My dad collected First Day covers so I thought this might endear me to him, help us bond; give us something a bit more in common than just DNA. After all, my parents insisted I had to have a hobby - that I should do something constructive with my time when I didn’t have my face in a book. That’s right, in our house in the seventies, reading was not considered a pastime – a ‘waste of time’, yes, but it wasn't a "proper" hobby. “Always got your nose buried in a book” they'd scowl… like it was a Bad Thing. No wonder I grew up confused.

However, after about 6 months of saving up my pocket money to buy little packets of stamps from countries I’d never been to; never particularly aspired to visit and half I’d never even heard of, I decided this was not making me happy. Although I was frightened to say so because Being Happy in our house was not an Option and when it was noticed I'd stopped,  I was given a lecture on how I always started something but never saw it through and how I’d never amount to anything with an attitude like that.

*sigh*

My brother collected milk bottles. That’s right, milk BOTTLES. No, not tops to send off to Blue Peter for a worthy cause ( THAT would’ve made too much sense) - he collected the actual bottles. Okay, in his defence they were the ones with bright, shouty advertising slogans on them that enjoyed a small rush of ‘fashion’ in the seventies, his most coveted being the ‘Beanz Meanz Heinz’ bottle. As far as I recall they sat and gathered dust on the top of his wardrobe for decades as he was convinced they would make his fortune one day. They didn't.

I tried to join my mother knitting but couldn’t get the hang of it. I couldn’t also see the point of it, quite honestly. And I secretly resented it because of the hand-knitted school jumpers my brother and I wore which stood out like pulsating sore thumbs against the shop-bought, machine-woven perfection that were our peers'. Even my attempts at knitting a Dr Who scarf which everyone seemed to think was a cool thing to do at school, ended up looking more like a distressed snake because I’d dropped so many stitches en route, it just tapered off into a lone straggle. I gave it to my best friend who was a Sci-Fi fanatic and it ended up in his cat’s basket.

A spate of Airfix modelling was no better. I quite liked sitting at the table with my dad of an evening with a tube of glue and a saucer of water in which floated little sheets of transfer papers. But this bored me too - after all, the creation wasn’t mine. And my dad nearly had a small fit when I declared a desire to paint Anne Boleyn’s dress a different colour than the box recommended – as though the Airfix Police would have us surrounded if I’d so much as breathed the suggestion louder!

*slightly heavier sigh*

And after all of this, I’d retreat, disconsolate, to my bedroom and write about how crappy my day had been; how I still hadn’t managed to ingratiate myself into the familial fold and how much crappier I thoroughly believed tomorrow would be. Reams and reams of it. And then I’d feel better. I’d read it back and think ‘poor girl, look what she has to put up with’ and then start to imagine how she could possibly be rescued from such tragic circumstances.

Looking back I’m firmly of the opinion that I was in writing denial. I tried everything I could think of NOT to enjoy writing, but every day I wrote. At the time I thought  that my scribblings were just a general bemoaning of My Lot in Life - for when the dog was too busy to listen to me and a sheet of paper would do just as well, if not better.  But now I’m a grown-up I can see that this is what made me happy.  What DOES make me happy; I can decide for myself how I want to spend any time I have now, and I’ll spend it writing, thank you very much.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

In loo of an idea for a post...



...I'm going to write about my time on the toilet this morning.

Eeeew, you're no doubt thinking (especially if you're from Across The Water), too much information. I've been accused of setting too many of my scenes in various conveniences, so why not go the whole hog (bog?) and set a blog post in the bathroom too? A Bog Post. :)

Sorry.

Do you do Loo-Lit? Where else can you sit comfortably for as long as you like, undisturbed save for the odd dripping tap, with the book of your choice? Loos are particularly suited to the reading of essays which set one up for the day. For me, something spiritual often fits the bill. OK, perching on the loo may seem an odd way to commune with the Higher Realms. But since my present choice of Loo-Lit is Finding Water by Julia Cameron, it's all very apt. I only need press the flush or turn on the tap to achieve the goal of the title. Fortunately, there's a sub-title: The Art of Perseverence. (Also apt, when not enough fibre has been consumed.)

All dreadful puns aside, I cannot recommend a book more highly. For anyone who's finding the writing journey a tough one - and who doesn't? - Cameron's been there. She knows what it's like to get up after a sleepless night and go to the page in spite of of exhaustion, crippling fear, inertia and the sniping inner critic. Less upbeat and gung-ho than The Artist's Way, Finding Water goes to the heart of the dark places a writer encounters, and offers wise guidance for working towards the light.

One of the most resonant things for me has been the realisation that writing keeps me sane. In spite of all the prevalent myths about writers being divas, alcoholics, depressives, drama-queens/kings and neurotics, the act of writing actually keeps one 'regular' (get the ongoing theme, here?) It's the not-writing, the writerly constipation, that causes the problems. We writers are dramatic people, in the sense that we're lucky enough to have a magic, scenic, exciting inner life. And we work best when that excitement translates to the page on a regular basis. I notice that when I'm writing regularly, just a bit every day, I'm happier, healthier and more human than when I exclude myself from my writing. When I'm not writing, I'm on the lookout for drama. I can make a crisis out of a missed bus or a burnt piece of toast. My moods shift dramatically. I pace around with the back of my hand glued to my forehead in an oh-woe-is-me kind of way. When, as Cameron puts it, one keeps the drama on the page, life becomes more centred, more fluid and more fulfilling.

So try to go (to the keyboard or the pen) at least once a day, whatever the inner (or outer) weather. Apply the seat of your pants to the seat. Sometimes you'll have the urge, sometimes not. But if you sit there long enough, often enough, something will emerge...

Keeping regular isn't always easy. But three pages a day is do-able. Three pages a day grows a novel, chapter by chapter. Three pages a day...

... and who knows, you might end up with a wonderfully Shitty First Draft.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Free The Words



If like me, you’ve spent some time looking at a blank page, hoping for, WILLING some inspiration into being, have a look at the ten tools below, designed to fire up the dormant creative juices. Some, I’ve made up and some I’ve read about, as being beneficial to other writers caught in that awfully scary place, where words fear to tread.


1. If you can, visit a real graveyard, preferably an old one and using the oldest inscription you can find on a grave, construct a first person, present tense point of view paragraph about the person during the time they lived. If you can’t visit a real graveyard – close your eyes and imagine the words that would appear on an imaginary gravestone.

2. Sit in a room, with the window open as wide as it can. Listen. Just listen. Switch off your other senses. After five minutes, write a paragraph about the sound that resonated most with you during that time.

3. Take the opening paragraph from your most recently read and loved book. Change the POV and rewrite it, seeing if it frees anything – an idea, a character?

4. Using a favourite lyric e.g ‘Been down to the bottom of every bottle’ and write a third person past tense paragraph on a person who might have said those words.

5. Imagine your favourite male and female celebrities. Write a love scene – One page of dialogue only which must end on a cliff-hanger.

6. Light several candles and sit in a darkened room. List the first thirty words that come to you e.g. haunt, flicker, light, scared. Choose your favourite, most evocative word and write a flash fiction story of only fifty words. It must have a beginning, middle and end!

7. Conduct a Parky style interview with a pretend celebrity. Ask the questions you know no real host would dare to ask! Make the celeb’s responses honest and instinctive.

8. Examine a photograph - preferably one from a magazine and preferably one with unknown people in it. Write a list of the personality traits of the person you feel to be the main character in the photograph. Now describe him/her physically, write down their birthday, birth sign, favourite food, the job they do. Enough at least for a short story!

9. Write a love letter. It must start with ‘My dearest...’ and end with ‘sending you all the love in my heart’. Other than that, let your fingers tap the talking.

10. Pick your favourite word in the dictionary. Mine is ‘serendipity’. Read and re-read the dictionary meaning. Look it up on Wikipedia. Google it. See if there’s a google image for it? Write one paragraph where your favourite word appears, either in script or in theme.


See now, I’m all inspired. I feel a tale coming on. One of a serendipitous meeting of an ex alcoholic D list celebrity falling for his dead lost love... Only it’s all in his head, see? Oh and it takes the form of love letters heading each chapter.

Been done before? No problem. Change the POV. Make it emails/texts/ Facebook status reports instead. OMG, imagine a ghost that can only communicate through Facebook! Love it!

As usual when I write posts that are aimed at helping - moving people along, I end out worrying for myself...

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Working outside your comfort zone


I’ve been lucky enough recently to be working on a project for a well-known series fiction packager.

It’s a whole new way of writing for me. I’ve been given a detailed breakdown of what happens, chapter-by-chapter. I have to flesh it out and bring colour and life to the story.

Despite the prescriptiveness of it all, I already feel that the characters are ‘my own’ and am enjoying the whole experience very much.


The editorial input is quite tough and even though I already work with a brilliant editor at my own publisher, I’m finding that process is like a writing work-out. Because I’m not having to think about where the plot is going [all that has – bliss - already been decided] I can really work on the nuts and bolts of my writing.
When they asked if I wanted to try out for something else, I almost bit their hand off. But here was something even more challenging; writing a sample of a ‘pink and sparkly’ book for girls aged 5-8.

I’ve got two boys and while I’ve read a lot of fiction aimed at older girls just for pleasure, I had literally never even opened one of these ‘little girl books’ before. So I asked some trusted writer friends [thankfully I know a couple who write very successfully in this genre] for advice and recommendations. I read three books [Fairy Bears:Sparkle by Julie Sykes, Unicorn School: Team Magic by Linda Chapman and a Rainbow Magic title] in a morning. I childishly kept taunting my horrified 12-year old with them - I think he feared he would turn into a little girl in fairy wings if one touched him].

I soon saw the immense skill in these stories and found myself being pulled in to what was going on, just as much as I would with any good book.
Then I got to work..

Now the sample is done and now I’m just crossing my fingers and waiting again. I’m also chomping at the bit to get back to my own stuff. But it’s made me realise that working outside my comfort zone has been a bit of a literary work out.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

No missed aches in the man you script with the spell chequer!


Hell oh. Ewe may remember me - the spell chequer. Eye previously post ted on Strict Lee Right Ting last year and eye had quite ah phew comments congratulate ting me on my vital roll eye play in you’re man you scripts. My wonder full exist tense means that ewe shoe dent halve to reed over you’re man you scripts.

Eye cheque all you’re words bee fore you’re book goes of to those big scary agents and publish hers. Eye all ways run my eyes threw you’re books too make sure their our no spelling missed aches. I catch them all the tyme and alert ewe to the fact the whirred is wrong. For example, hear is a sentence eye saw in sum silly write hers book:

John drove Daisy to the hosspital.

Now, ewe will sea that the whirred hosspital is spelled badly. It’s my job too spot these mist aches and eye like too think eye am success full. Just rely on me and ewe won’t go wrong. I remove all the words that our under lined in green sew that ewe halve a page witch is era free.

Eye all ways put the era wright too make sure you’re books our the best. All two often write hers make the mist ache of knot using me. Many write hers simply reed threw there man you scripts bee fore post ting them of. Let me tell ewe – ewe do knot knead to do this – just press the butt in four the spell chequer – that’s me. Putt you’re trussed in me, and ewe will knot bee wrong.

Eye come with all pea seas and eye max, and many say eye am the king of spelling. Once again eye halve cast my I over this blog and there our no green lines. That’s what eye like too sea. Eye hope ewe halve know green lines on you’re pages!

Any way, eye mussed dash of – eye really do knot have tyme too talk two ewe plebs. Huh, ewe think ewe don’t knead me. Well, your wrong sill he write hers!

Monday, 18 April 2011

On putting down your pen - Guest post by Neil Ansell

I am writing this from the midst of a perfect storm of promotional activity for my first book. My life just now is one long round of interviews, feature commissions, public appearances and photo-shoots. It is exhausting, but of course I have to seize the moment; it will all be over before I know it. I thought that perhaps the story of how I got here might be of interest to other writers; it has been a long, strange journey.

As a young man I wrote compulsively, every day, and largely just for the pleasure of it, probably for the best part of twenty years. I must surely have accumulated the 10,000 hours that Malcolm Gladwell speculates you have to dedicate to any activity in order to achieve proficiency. Most of my work I showed to no-one. Occasionally I would send something off to an agent or publisher, but a single rejection would be enough to convince me that I was clearly not ready yet. Any ability I have as a writer was honed by the quest for self-improvement; a self-doubt that never goes away, and probably never should. I am rather in awe of those who have such confidence in their own abilities that they will self-publish after a slew of rejections, assuming that the problem must surely lie with the short-sightedness of the gatekeepers.

And then my life changed. I found myself working full time to support a young family, and later I was to become a single parent too. Something had to give, and what gave was the writing. The years passed. Two years ago I quit my job to go freelance, and saw a window of opportunity. I wrote a single chapter of my memoir Deep Country – an account of five years I spent living alone in a remote cottage without services in the mountains of Wales, and a meditation on the relationship between man and nature, and the psychological impact of extreme isolation.

I sent this chapter to the agent of my choice, and received a contract the following day. Everyone she showed it to seemed to want it, and my unwritten book went to auction. These are straitened times insofar as advances are concerned, but I still received enough that I wouldn't have to worry about other work for a year or so. It appeared that I had found my voice in the years of silence.

The book seemed almost to emerge onto the page fully-formed. It was a joy to be writing again, and it was as if I must have been writing it in my subconscious mind for all those years, while I was sleeping. So, my advice to those who have yet to achieve what they want through their writing would be that it may just be that their time has not yet come. And that sometimes it may be no bad thing to put down your pen for a while, and live a little.




Deep Country was published on 7 April and is available in hardback and Kindle editions. To hear Neil talk about his book and see the landscape that inspired it, have a look at his YouTube video.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Back to Basics


With the publication of book four scheduled at the beginning of May, and the draft of book five safely with my editor, I'm enjoying a brief haitus in deadlines.


Indeed, I'm trying to use my energy wisely and doing as much publicity as I can.


To this end, I agreed to write a short feature for a crime and thriller ezine called Shots. It's one of those sites that is hugely popular amongst its target audience, drawing a loyal following of voracious readers.


As you can imagine, I was highly chuffed to be asked to whip up an article about how I started writing and what keeps me going.


Chuffed for the publicity, of course, but also chuffed to be forced to turn my mind to such an important question.


Since my first book was published, I have written and published a book a year. This year I've written two. Now I'm not going to complain about that, would be mad to...but it doesn't leave too much time or room for reflection.


And I happen to think that reflection is an important thing in life.


I've never been one of those people who just goes with the flow and sees how things turn out. I'm a planner by nature. I write down my goals then break them down as to how best to achieve them. Then I regularly re-assess. Is this working? Is this what I want? If not, then how can I make changes for the better?


My writing career, however, has been a helter skelter ride. Everything has happened so fast and has been so full on, I have had no time to check things have been going how I wanted.


So this week, I've been writing my article but also asking myself those deep questions.

Why do I do this? Is it what I want to do?


Having coffee with a mate, she laughed at me and said, 'isn't this what everyone wants?'

Well, maybe, or at least in theory...but that's not enough is it? Living what everyone thinks is the dream aint the same thing as living it.


I mentioned it in passing to my uber practical husband, who rolled his eyes and pointed out that most of us in life have to earn a living. And yeah, I'm not so daft that I don't realise there are such things as mortgages to pay. Yet, I could make ends meet in any number of other ways...a lot of them a damned sight easier and better paid.


So why do I do it? Why do I write?


The answer of course is that I love it. Even when I feel more like a word factory than a creative, I still love it.

I want to tell my stories, I want to explore my ideas, I want to invent, I want to share...and there's just no better way of doing that than writing. Or not one that I can think of at this moment in my life.


So here's a toast to Shots, for letting me publicise Blood Rush, but more importantly for making me take stock and remembering that yes, I bloody well am living the dream.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Don't forget to vote


If you haven't already voted for one of the shortlisted stories to win our competition, you have 15 days left before voting closes. All the details are in the link in the panel on the right.

Thank you to everyone who has voted so far; we can't wait to count your votes and announce the winner.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Quickfire questions with writer Candy Gourlay




Which 3 writers, living or dead, would you invite to dinner?

Is this like a date? Do I have to comb my hair?

I wonder if Mark Twain (aka Samuel Clemens) would hog the conversation too much? No matter - he was a legendary wit and comic, and in the late 1800s, he was a vigorous opponent of America's imperialist intentions in my native Philippines. I have many questions to ask him and I will be content to sit quietly and laugh at his jokes (and judging by his hair, he won't mind that I haven't combed mine)


What's your favourite writing snack?

Of course I don't snack. It's against my principles as a healthy eater and an intellectual. However the Cadbury's whole nut chocolate bars occupy far too much space in the fridge and must be consumed er removed. And ice cold Diet Coke I am told is an effective screen cleaner.

Longhand or computer?

I have never written in longhand - I have Miss Valdivia, my high school stenography and typing teacher, to thank for the fact that my penmanship is indecipherable because I can't tell the difference between Gregg Shorthand and the alphabet. After converting from sit up and beg typewriters to computer keyboards, I cannot be creative without the comforting accompaniment of tapping noises and the feel of a QWERTY keyboard at my fingertips.

Win Booker prize or land Hollywood film deal?

Hollywood film deal. Definitely. Mainly because I will become very popular with my Facebook friends who all seem desperate to play corpse extras in a movie. But first I must write a novel with corpses in it.>

Tabloid or broadsheet?

Is this question supposed to flush out the snob in me? Well, as ex journalists, my husband and I are news junkies - when our employers used to pay for our papers, we had all the broadsheets delivered every morning and spent most of the day reading the darn things. But when I got to my desk at the news agency I worked in, I loved reading the tabloids because it was like seeing the world through a comedy prism with a large bust size. When I covered media for Marketing Magazine many years ago there were interesting discrepancies in the statistics of readers who admitted to buying the Sun and the Sun's booming sales figures.

These days though, we get the Guardian from Monday to Friday (worthy, sometimes too sneery), on Saturday we get the Financial Times Weekend (I love the magazine but hate How To Spend It, the magazine designed to earn lots of money from expensive advertisers), and on Sunday we get the Sunday Times (love the Culture magazine, squirm at the columnists who say things you would never hear in North London)
>

Independent bookshop or Amazon?

When I started trying to get published, I saw Amazon as the Darth Vader of the bookselling world. But now that I am published, I realize that Darth Vader was Anakin Skywalker after a failed facelift.

Amazon does what it does very well - when I give talks about websites, I cite Amazon as one of the best designed websites because it achieves what it set out to do. And because it's in the business of selling books, it is set up to maximize an author's opportunity to sell her books: I get a profile on Amazon, I can upload my videos, I can join discussions with people who want to find books like mine, my book get suggested to anyone who is buying similar .... Amazon is setting a very high standard.

Amazon is part of these digital times. Booksellers were always going to be under threat from new technology. It is just one factor in a long list of things impacting book sales - the other huge thing being the demise of the Net Book Agreement http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Net_Book_Agreement
- and who brought this about? *whispers* publishers!

Meanwhile - how can an author not love the indies? Booksellers who actually read books, who take authors to meet their readers, who trade not on technical wizardry but on real relationships. When I was a little girl, my idea of a perfect birthday was to go to a bookstore.

So it's complicated. To be honest, I think the independents would gain more from some kind of Net Book Agreement than any kind of carping against Amazon.


Hacker or adder? (in terms of editing)

Hacker. As in a hacking cough as I click to check on my word count after four long hours of furious writing only to find that it's gone down instead of up by thousands of words.

Plotter or pantser?

I plot in a very overviewy, general, undetailed sort of way and then I see where it goes. Pantser is an inappropriate term for an activity that has reduced the seat of my pants to bare threads.

Leave on a cliffhanger or tell all?

Cliffhangers every time! Why tell the reader anything?

You really must read.

Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve, which I only read last year, was the last book to make me go Wow! (The year before that, it was Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce)

I get most excited by.

Children's drawings. It's like looking at the world through magic eyes.

If I wasn't a writer I would be.

... a miserable, disappointed, bitter, twisted, grumpy, snivelling wreck.

Or maybe I'll be a film maker.


An author should always.

Say YES to life because that's where the stories are. Saying NO is not as much fun. Unless you're a vampire. And then it's boring because immortality is just history repeating itself.

THANK YOU!



Candy Gourlay is a London based Filipino author and journalist. Tall Story (David Fickling Books) is Candy’s first novel. It was short listed for the Waterstone’s Children’s Prize. Candy is working on her second book for David Fickling.
http://tallstory.net
http://candygourlay.blogspot.com

Monday, 11 April 2011

Remember your First Time?

So I’ve got as far as the M’s in the Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook 2011 and I’m frozen.

I’ve been sending out enquiries for my 3rd teenage novel, ‘Grounded’ and although I’ve been here before - five times before to be precise - this time is the first time it actually hurts when I think about moving onto the N’s.

Of course I sent it to my Top Ten favourite agents first before turning to the WAAYB.

And every time it’s different. I remember feeling absurdly excited when I started subbing my first novel, 8 years ago now (*gulp*…excuse me while I peel myself off the floor… Jeez was it REALLY that long ago?) and how naïve I now realise I was in my thrill to get it Out There. I did everything I’d read a writer should do when submitting a novel to a literary agent: I found a published author who wrote in a style similar to my own, looked them up, found out who represented them, printed off a letter, synopsis and first three chapters, posted them off and waited.
And waited.
Sometimes for 8 months.
Then, when it came back with either a cursory ‘Sorry, not for us’ or even with a scrawled-in-red “NO!” across my original enquiry letter (seriously), I’d try another.
I'd send off the same printed chapters and synopsis with a new letter addressed to somebody else… and wait.
Again.
That waiting I did back then, now feels earnestly raw. And looking back at those 'wilderness' years, I actually squirm at how immature I was with my ridiculous expectations and blinkered patience. It took me three years and a whole file-full of rejection slips (yes, I kept them all) to appreciate that this book was going precisely nowhere.

I won’t say that I was blasé by the time I started subbing my third book, 5 years later, but I had sussed out a different approach. For a start I no longer printed off chapters and sent self-addressed envelopes with return postage unless I was specifically asked for a hard copy. And I was already starting to notice which agents were answering me personally, commenting  - albeit briefly but that’s still a result in agent-terms - on why it wasn't 'suitable', and I felt a lot less ignorant.

One agent said “you can certainly write.." which will stay with me forever ( followed by the inevitable but...). And another agent told me I should drop the part of my enquiry that said: “I submitted my last book to you, 18 months ago ….”   because if they hadn’t liked that one, they were going to be suspicious of further submissions.  I remember taking silent umbrage to this at the time but soon realised how sensible that suggestion was. Now, even though I don’t ever tell an agent I’ve subbed to them in the past, this time round I was delighted to be asked recently "I recall you sent something to us before, can you remind us what it was..." - which means they're beginning to remember me!
Another said “I remember your last book being a close call…” which I was mightily encouraged to hear even though this, too, was rejected.

And nowadays I only e-mail my initial enquiry. I don’t attach the chapters and synopsis any more and I don’t paste anything into the body of the e-mail, which is something else I did with the last book. I’ve learnt that if an agent is interested enough then they WILL mail back and ask for sample chapters. One even telephoned me this time round and asked me to post her some chapters. Subsequently rejected by e-mail, but still… a telephone call - from AN AGENT!

So every time it feels different and I learn more stuff and I DO get better rejections… in fact some of the agents I sub to, I’m on first name terms with, which I never thought I’d be able to say!

But now, not only has my subbing stopped, my writing's frozen too. I feel like I've wrapped a protective cloak around myself and my book so we can't be hurt again. We're sitting this one out. In fact we're even contemplating going home, putting on our pyjamas and eating a whole tub of ice cream... each.

What is equally true, however, is that if I don't fling off this cloak, reveal our party frock and paint on a smile then nobody's going to ask us to dance either.

So, party or pyjamas..... ? they're both so compelling and scary for entirely different reasons.

Friday, 8 April 2011

WORDS, AND PICTURES


Writers need words. Obviously.


And sometimes, pictures are useful too.


I'd like to sing the praises of the collage as a handy tool for writers - and everyone else.


The collage above measures just four inches by two. I've recently completed one that's more like two feet square. Size really doesn't matter. Intention does.


Sometimes, words on the screen aren't enough. Sometimes, actually, they're too much. After a few hours/days/weeks at the screen, it's easy to lose touch with other kinds of inspiration. For me, a few minutes spent looking at colour is like finding an oasis in the desert: colour feeds me, slakes my thirst, rounds me out.


Collages have many uses. They remind writers that there are other facets to the imagination than the word. They inspire. They give the fingers a break from repetitive key-tapping, and allow the child in us to cut and colour and paste and play. They bring new ideas to the surface. They affirm our values. And many people use them as a tool to invoke changes they'd like to make in their lives: wishes they'd like to fulfill, goals to achieve, places to go. I knew a church organist who used to spend his holidays playing the piano on cruises. He did a collage of the places he'd most like to visit. They happened. Someone else, single, created a collage of her ideal marriage. Within a year, she'd married a man who looked very similar to the one in her collage. And a man made a collage about the kind of house he'd like to live in, tearing images from magazines. Years later, in his new home, his son pulled out the collage whilst playing. The house they were living in was the same one the man had pasted onto his collage.


Now, I can see the cynical among you raising your eyebrows - but the thing is, it doesn't really matter what you use them for: your collages are an expression of you - where you are or where you'd like to be - and simply embodying those dreams in images and phrases can be immensely affirming.


So, a challenge for the week: give it a go. Your collage may consist of a single image and a word or phrase. It may be full. It may be torn and 'messy' and intuitive (all you pantsers) or formal and contained and purposeful (for the plotters out there). I've just seen a wonderful one, where the maker produced a grid and pasted images of the same size in each square. Very powerful. Of course, words can go in too. And phrases. Anything that appeals to you or energises you. Collages can be 'photographs' of where you are right now. They may be very dark. Often, these 'dark' collages are immensely liberating. Somehow, the act of setting the images down frees one to move on.


The best thing about collages is that they're easy. There are no 'rules'. All you need are:


- a stack of magazines (Sunday supplements, or, if you're feeling richer, buy a selection of House/Country magazines, Travel magazines, anything that's of special interest to you - the R.A. magazine is fabulous for artists, for example - and an 'inspirational' mag like Oprah's 'O', or Spirit and Destiny, or Psychologies)


- a pair of scissors


- a glue stick


- and a large (or small) piece of card or strong paper to stick on.


Put aside an hour - and go for it! Pantsers will tear out images and phrases with abandon, sticking them as they go, trusting that there'll come a point when it feels 'right'. Plotters will move thoughtfully, carefully cutting and piling the images until they have a stack, then spending time arranging and rearranging them on the page. It doesn't matter which method you follow.


You can begin with an intention or a question, eg: 'What I'd like my life to look like' or 'What do I need right now?' or 'Show me some ideas for a short story'; or you can be completely intuitive and go for colours, words and images that draw you. There's no right or wrong. No-one will judge it. It's yours, and you.


What's to lose?


You may just return to your writing renewed.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Finding The Time


I’ve realised just lately that I’m missing something, something vital, from my writer’s tool box. I have the laptop, the notebooks, the pencil and red pen; bags of enthusiasm for the craft, ideas galore and a genuine will to succeed. So, what’s missing?

Time...

I metaphorically kicked myself in the butt the other day and told myself to make time. There are 24 hours in the day. So what if my daughter is getting married in five weeks and there is still lots to do (least of all is to finish buying whatever I’m wearing) So what if I’m flitting between home and London trying to be with the hubster when he’s not at work. So what if I seem to be constantly fricking well doing fricking, fricking housework when I fricking well hate it SOOOOOO much and I should be writing. And as for the fact that I seem to be unable to say ‘No’ to people who make demands on whatever time is left , well...

Everyone is busy. We ALL lead busy lives, most of us run a full time job, a household and family and we still manage to find some time for writing.

See, I think I lied...

It’s not more time I need. It’s more selfishness. I need to tell myself that every Tuesday and Wednesday, whoever it is that needs something from me can naff off, and whatever ‘thing’ I have to have done can bloody wait. I’m writing. So there.

Easy peasy.

And today is Wednesday. Anyone want to phone my daughter and tell her that no, I can’t drive into London, pay the congestion charge in doing so and a fricking exhorbitant car parking charge in order to collect her wedding dress and drive it home to ours so that it’s hidden? Yeah, I know – it’s an exceptional task but my problem is that at the moment, they all are...

Or are they? Is there some subtle procrastination going on? I really don’t think so and frankly haven’t got the time today to find out. I’ll never know if I was meant to sit and write the best chapter of my life this morning. I’ll never know if instead, I’d have found some way to subvert the time I’d gifted myself and procrastinated beautifully instead.

All I know is I have to keep trying to find the way forward that works best for me. And I do have to start saying NO. But not today, not to my gorgeous daughter who needs me today. Tomorrow. Tomorrow I’ll write. This I promise myself.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The winner of a copy of Kate Johnson's 'The Untied Kingdom' is...

... Alison...!
If you send us your address on the Strictly e-mail we'll get the book in the post to you right away!  Congratulations!

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

What?


You'll have to forgive the fact that today's post is a. brief and b. dull.


Frankly, I can barely string together a sentence.


This year I have two books coming out and if I ever say I'm going to do this again please just shoot me.

Don't give me the requisite warning.

Don't aim to disarm.

Just do me a favour and go straight for the jugular.


In the past fourteen months I have written book four. In the period where my ed was reading the draft, I didn't take a breath. Oh no, I cracked on with book five. Then I put that down to edit book four. Edits done, I had to crack on with book five again.


And on, and on, and on.


Then some bright spark in marketing decided book five had to be pushed forward, so the whole timescale was reduced. Could I sub book five just a month or two earlier than planned.


My answer was Are You Fucking MAD? Or it would have been, if I wasn't the sort who hates confrontation and never says what they mean, so in fact I mumbled something mealy mouthed about giving it my best shot.

And that was the kiss of death because I'm also someone who doesn't like letting people down. Someone who sticks to what they've said. And I'd said I'd do my best. Sigh.


So for the past couple of months I have been writing like a whirlwind. Words, words, words.


My poor family have had a lot to put up with. Tea has involved a lot of toast, post has gone unread and I have locked us out of the house not once, but twice.


Yesterday, however, I did it.

I finished.

I subbed book five.


Yay, yay, yay.


And now I wait for my ed's response, which can often be a tricky time...but it's not. I don't care, I'm too knackered.

She's reading it this week then going on holiday so I reckon I have two weeks off ebfore the edit.


I have plans to

1. Get mightily pissed

2. go on holiday

3. Read a lot of books

4. Not type one damn word.


Bliss.

Monday, 4 April 2011

The naughty step for novels


While I was waiting for the verdict on my first draft of book two, my editor dropped me a line to say the edits were soon on their way. So, I pressed her cheekily, what kind of pain should I be expecting? Were we talking routine hernia op, or was it more like open heart surgery? ‘Oh, routine hernia op,’ she said. ‘Nothing too major.’

I did a little jig at this because deep down, I was expecting something even more extreme than open heart surgery [my medical metaphors broke down at this point].

But then the edits arrived.

And they’re looking a darn sight more than routine op to me, let me tell you. I’d say they are at least on par with... I dunno... some sort of ruptured organ repair. Or an eyeball replacement. Something horrible and painful. And messy. I think she was just being kind and trying to keep me calm.

So a week on, I’ve read and digested all her points and made copious notes about what needs to be done. I’ve done a chart with lots of different colours on it [one storyline is highlighted in a very fetching aquamarine.] I’ve paced and thought and walked about and banged my head against a few walls. I’ve done a bit of growling at my family and stared into space a lot when people were trying to communicate with me.

I’m not by any means there yet. But maybe, just maybe, some small cog in my brain has shifted imperceptibly. I’m hoping this will lead to something that feels like progress soon.

I’d love to say what it was that helped this along but half the time, I don’t know how or why something has worked for me. But I do have one blinder of a tip.

I can’t claim credit for it because I read it in a ‘how to’ book on writing. No idea which one, sorry. But it’s brilliant and it works.

Here it is: treat your story like a naughty child. [Stay with me here]. When you’re stuck and your imagination is starting to feel like a popped balloon tell yourself that you are going to ignore it. Just ignore it.

Don’t muse on plot points. Don’t even allow your brain to veer in the direction of your book. It’s like putting your story on the naughty step. After a day or two of being ignored, it’s going to be jigging up and down with its hand in the air wanting you to look at it. And incredibly, this can lead to breakthroughs when you least expect them.

Try it. It might just save you from an eyeball explosion.