My current work in progress has been a long hard slog. It has danced fast and slow, and at times come to a halt. There were moments when I wondered if it was to be an ‘eternal’ work in progress, destined to be placed on the back burner and dusted off every now and again. But I have pulled myself together and viola!
As many of you know, I have been working on an historical fiction novel for the past few years. This has involved an enormous amount of research. I have read books both fiction and non fiction, spoken to historians, and tried to get under the skin of the time period. I have realised that amidst the changes brought on by moderisation and technology, hidden within the cracks of wars and disasters, lies a truth which transcends everything – we, ‘people’, we don’t really change that much. Certain aspects of who we are have remained constant. Like night following day we continue to love and laugh and cry. It has been a wonderful journey, full of so much richness and discovery. Quite what I shall do once I finally hang up the red pen on this one I’m not sure, but one thing I do know is that it has been well worth the ride!
With The Brits oh, I mean The Bryts (I’m so old school…) held last night, I got to thinking about how powerful and inspiring music can be.
Music connects with me in a way not much else can… except…books!
Music reaches into my soul and shines a light into places that are often left in shadow. Maybe it evokes a memory or a feeling. It plays around with parts of me that don’t surface as often as they should.
Recently I set myself a challenge to create a soundtrack for each piece of writing I either completed myself or read. It has been an entertaining and enlightening experience! My musical taste is eclectic to say the least, and I have spent hours pondering whether a character in one of my short stories is more into rock than jazz! If truth be told I would probably want all of my characters to like jazz, but that’s a whole other blog post!
So, what pieces of wisdom did I manage to garner from my quasi experiment? Above and beyond the obvious fact that both mediums tell stories and the sheer good fun of it all?
I’ve learnt that in order to be brave you must be vulnerable. It could I suppose apply to any art form, but my drugs of choice are books and music. They are as interconnected in me as blood and DNA. They exist to compliment each other not to compete. Buried within the words of both is a truth, shared just with me. The wordsmiths have been brave. They have laid out their vulnerability for all to see. The least I can do is try to hear and understand.
2018 spat me into 2019 before I felt ready! The good news is now I’m ready! So, belated New Year greetings!
I have a plan for 2019, well sort of. I slumped my way towards the end of last year after an action packed Spring, Summer and Autumn. I don’t have a crystal ball but this year is not about puppies or kittens or any other sort of fluffy fur-balls as far as I’m aware. This year is about my writing. Thanks to my wonderful diary courtesy of Charlie at Urban Writers Retreats I can hold myself to account. I shall be either patting myself on the back, or slapping myself around the face, depending on how things are going! I’m happy to report so far no faces have been slapped! 🤣 Happy New Year!
When I was young I desperately wanted a doll for Christmas. Not just any doll, a special Tiny Tears doll. It’s quite profound to think the doll I was taken with was a doll that cried.
We never had much money, and the doll was expensive. I prayed Santa would make it happen. I didn’t hold out much hope, I had not been the perfect child!
Christmas came, and low and behold, the baby was born – I had obviously behaved better than I gave myself credit for! Alongside my treasured Tiny Tears, I was given books by my grandfather – Ant and Bee, and The Cat in the Hat. I was 5 years old. I named my doll Trudy. I washed her, played with her and read her bedtime stories. I was in Christmas heaven.
My euphoria lasted all of about 3 days. My naughty little sister decided it was time for dolly to have a ‘makeover’. She poked out her eye and gave her a nasty red pen rash! It was time to take dolly to the hospital – the prognosis was not good. After my initial hysteria, I grew accustomed to my unsightly doll, who was now rocking a funky eye patch, and freshly cut hair. I would sit for hours reading books to her. I even took her to the library! Over the years my love of reading increased – my doll playing not so much!
I loved that doll, but I loved reading more. It was the year my love affair with books began.
I couldn’t tell you what happened to Trudy, but the books are safely here with me and always will be.
Giving a book for Christmas is so much more than giving a present. Books have staying power, you don’t discard them for the next best something or other – they are the best. Sometimes you re-read them, sometimes you pass them on. Books hold so much power, sometimes I think we forget just how amazing they can be. They have the power to change our opinions, the power to make us feel, the power to open up new worlds, the power to teach, they can make us laugh and cry… I could go on and on, but you get the idea – books are powerful!
Giving a book is as personal as it gets. You are giving over a piece of yourself and saying ‘this speaks to me, I hope you enjoy it.’
This Christmas I challenge you to think about a book you wished more people knew about, then gift it to a friend. It is the season for giving after all.
If you’ve read a book you wished more people knew about, please pop a comment in the box below and share the love…
Sitting on the train back from Manchester I let my mind wander. Is space really the final frontier? Perhaps, but I would argue there is one that lurks a lot closer to home. The confines by which we live, think, engage and converse are all set…by us. We have errected our own barriers, our own limits. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the way we work.
We have conditioned ourselves to be busy bees, always having somewhere to go, something to do. ‘I’m busy people’ we shout to anyone that will listen. But what if we stopped? Someone I admire once said if he saw me staring from the window he knew I was thinking. I may have just been thinking about what I’d like for tea, or when I needed to feed the dog, but the fact I’d given myself the head space meant I was already a step ahead. Giving yourself the freedom to ‘just be’ and let your mind do its thing can sometimes get lost in the drama of life. The ‘I’m too busy’ to think mantra perches on your shoulder and before you know it 💥 – another day gone.
So lovely people my advise for a rainy December day – ditch the ‘busy barrier’ and give yourself the time and space to think – you’ll be amazed at what happens!
No one said this writing lark was easy! Well, if they did they were either lying or delusional.
With lots of ‘life events’ consuming a large portion of 2018, my writing for the most part has taken a backseat. Yes, of course I have dabbled, I have written everyday but not ‘big’ writing. For ‘big’ writing I needed time and headspace, both of which have been in short supply this year.
From birthing puppies (I kid you not), to providing a taxi service for the kids, 2018 has added a few more ‘life lived’ chapters to my story.
With Autumn well and truly ensconced (what a fine word ensconced is), I am getting back into my groove and tap tap tapping away. Dark nights and dark mornings I love them!
Book 3 is back on my desk and I’m editing like crazy. It has been good to step away and come back to it. Amazing what you discover the third and fourth time around!
Now it’s a race to the finish – on your marks, get set… Go!
When Gail Aldwin and I met on Twitter we were keen to share the experience of living and writing in the South West of England. I am pleased to welcome Gail to my blog. She answers our shared questions below, followed by mine. First, let me introduce Gail.
Gail Aldwin lives and writes in Dorchester. She is Chair of the Dorset Writers’ Network and works as a visiting tutor to creative writing students at Arts University Bournemouth.
1. Have you always lived in South West England?
Dorchester in Dorset became my home in 2007. At the beginning, I wasn’t particularly pleased to be moving from my lovely life in south London but my children and me had to up sticks when my husband got a job in the county town. I soon came to appreciate the benefits of living in a county area and it certainly extended the childhood experiences of my son. He spent his summers building camps and swimming in the river where his London friends thought a good day out was visiting Chessington World of Adventures.
Although I was brought up in London, I spent several years travelling overseas and have lived and worked in Australia, Papua New Guinea and Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. I do like a remote and beautiful location but living in one is not always easy. There are stories set in Australia and Papua New Guinea in Paisley Shirt, my recently published collection of short fiction. Something of a place remains with me from all the different locations I’ve experienced.
2. Is there one particular place in the South West that is special to you, if so why?
My husband is from Cornwall and we spent many summers on the north coast when my children were little. Our favourite beach is Chapel Porth near St Agnes where a river meets the sea. Out of season, my husband and son spent many hours damming the river in order to flood the beach but that wouldn’t make them popular in the summer when it gets packed with visitors. My novel The String Games draws from my experience of losing my son when he was three years old on a crowded beach. While I was busy smothering my daughter in sunscreen, he wandered off. I started searching for him by heading in the wrong direction. In spite of a tannoy announcement, he was lost for forty minutes then I eventually found him way down the beach jumping over the ways and completely oblivious to the panic he had caused.
Closer to home in Dorchester, it’s possible to walk across the water meadows and experience Thomas Hardy country. I love going to the cottage that is the place of his birth in Higher Bockhampton. I usually take a detour to visit the great writer’s gravestone in the churchyard at Stinsford. Although it was Hardy’s dying wish to be buried there with his parents, the executor of his will had other ideas and Hardy’s body ended up in Poets’ Corner at Westminster Abbey while his heart was buried in Dorset. Along the shaded riverside walk, I imagine how this place sparked ideas for Hardy and try to generate a few myself!
3. What’s it like to be a writer in the South West?
Dorset has a thriving writing community with literary events scheduled across the county. I am Chair of the Dorset Writers’ Network and work with the steering group to inspire writers and connect creative communities. We do this by putting on workshops and talks to support writers at different stages of their writing journey. The South West is full of creative people and I love to link up with writers in different counties. I have taken steps to achieve this by joining activities in Devon. I delivered a spoken word performance at the Sandford Y Festival book event and participated in the Chudleigh Dragons pitching competition as part of their annual festival. I would love to see better links for writers across the South West so that we can celebrate the creativity of the region.
The short answer is no! I started my journey towards living in the West Country as a ‘grockle’ (tourist). The children were small back then and we would set off at the crack of sparrows and head west. Like many who’d travelled before us, we would wind our way slowly down the A303 for two glorious weeks in North Devon come rain or shine! We promised ourselves that if we ever got the opportunity to relocate we would grab it with both hands. Well, that’s what happened. In 2010 we relocated because of my husband’s work. It was a big decision. I am so proud of the way our kids adapted. It was a big shock initially, but within a few months they were taking everything in their stride – even school lessons delivered on the beach – now that was a first!
Until our move to Devon I had lived mainly in big cities such as London and New York. My work in international PR and marketing took me all over the world, and I know I draw on a lot of those experiences when I write.
I now live betwixt the villages of Iddesleigh and North Tawton. Iddesleigh is famously the home of author Michael Morpurgowhilst North Tawton was home to the late poet laureate Ted Hughes. It is a place of isolation, and I love it. There is something quite profound about my small hamlet which runs along the river Taw. Perhaps it is the ebb and flow of the river. I’m not sure, but I know it has worked its way into my bones. Living in a farming community the effects of late harvests, early harvests, failed crops, all subconsciously inform my thinking. I seem to draw on the landscape especially with my short stories.
2. Is there one particular place in the South West that is special to you, if so why?
I find myself drawn back to the River Taw time and time again. When we first arrived in Devon, it was the first place I discovered within walking distance of the house. We would spend many a happy hour skimming stones, swimming or sitting on ‘the beach’ (a patch of sandy shingle by the river’s edge). There are many ‘hidden’ parts of the river and every time I walk there I find something new.
Further afield I would say it would have to be the North Devon coastline. It is wild and structurally stunning. The rock formations you see are dramatic and magnificent. I have a story in mind for that coastline! Peppered in between the ancient stone cliffs are sandy coves and big expanses of golden beaches. My favourite beach is Westward Ho! The only place in the UK to have an exclamation mark as part of its name – fact!
3. What is it like to be a writer in the South West?
Devon is a superb place to write, and if someone were to do an audit or something clever like that I believe they would find a writer present in every village! There are a wealth of literary festivals and events across the county, which provide fantastic opportunities for support and collaboration year-round. It is such a positive community. I belong to a group called the Sakura Positive Press Writers Group; we hold open mic evenings in our local pub for storytelling. It’s great fun. It would be great if we could roll this out across the region. Stories were initially told that way, and it would be great to see this form reignited.
Today I happened upon this quote. It spoke to my heart so I thought I would share it.
“At heart write always for yourself, not for family and friends, for admired teachers, for reviewers or publishers; but make sure you write from your real self, not that one besotted by vain glorious dreams of a future self. One day you will realize that the true rewards of writing lie inalienably in the writing itself.”