A few days ago I received some rather good news. One of my short stories has been shortlisted for a competition. After the initial ‘yes, it really is your story, no you are not dreaming’, came gasps of joy, disbelief and an overwhelming sense of all good things. Buried deep, almost hidden I found strength. Let me explain… Writing can be a lonely experience, the road is often filled with diversions. Great big signposts fill your head – ‘give up’, ‘you’re rubbish’, ‘not good enough’. Writing novels is a long experience and takes an awful amount of strength. As time goes by that strength can wane, as it does those ‘signs’ sitting on your shoulder grow bigger. Being shortlisted has refuelled me. It has given me strength, provided re-enforcement to keep going.
I do not know if I will win, but I do know that I am now superwoman and can conquer the world once more!
Today I’ve been ruminating… Yes, I am feeling quite well, thanks for asking!
A while ago I wrote a blog piece on the believability of character flaws. They are such a big part of a writers remit that I wanted to revisit them. Recently I’ve read a few books where the characters were not believable and it irked me. The books were well written, and the stories could have been so amazing. Yet the characters were not believable. Those books sadly were just words on a page, there was no life in them and I got bored!
Characters need to be equally at home eating a plate of pasta, as running for their lives. Buried deep within the pages they need to live, breathe and come to life.
As a reader, I need to understand them. If I don’t understand them, I don’t believe them. If I don’t believe them, I can’t connect with them and I hang up. I don’t have to agree with them or even like them, but I do need to have a level of understanding.
As I move forward to write book 4 my head is filled with people. Tall people, short people, fat people, thin people – all bouncing through my mind waiting for their moment to connect. Some I’ve already ditched, some I am curious about and some keep me awake at night!
They are ordinary people living ordinary lives…. until something extraordinary happens. How many ordinary lives do you know that are perfectly lived? Exactly!
We, as a species love nothing more than neat little boxes. We want labels on absolutely everything from gender to religion, to leftovers in the fridge (maybe that one’s just me…). We gain a level of security knowing where we are within the world and how everyone else fits into our model.
I, am a walking contradiction. I change my mind more often than not, tell white lies, debate, argue and cry. I laugh at things I shouldn’t and get myself into awkward and tricky situations. Am I perfect – er no! Am I believable? I would like to think so. And that’s the point. It is OK for me to change my mind – I am flawed, it’s part of who I am. It is the same for my characters. They can change their minds too but (you knew there was a ‘but’ coming), as writers, we get so focused on making sure our characters fit into the boxes we’ve created they can become ‘too perfect’. Characters with contradictions, some ‘why the hell did they do that?’ moments grab our attention. Crazy events work well if you understand them. You need events to move your story forward. People are peculiar- not perfect!
Usually, events are character driven, unless you’re a shark, a big great white shark with big teeth! Although, thinking about it, even shark based thrillers require the characters to get into the water!
So lovely people put your characters in the water and watch them swim for their lives! They can swim right?…Cue scary music…
I can hardly believe it was only two weeks ago that myself and four very talented ladies got together for the most magical of experiences. The occasion was a writing retreat, but my lovelies, this was not just any writing retreat. This was a magical adventure, held in the most magical of places.
Heartfelt thanks go to Rosie Longstocking from Greenacre writers who organised the retreat. We were treated to four days at Agatha Christie’s summer home – Greenway in Devon. Yes, that is what I said, I stayed at Agatha Christie’s summer home!!
My goal was to complete the first full edit of my historical thriller and to tighten and rework the first few pages.
Having never met the other writers I was apprehensive. In the days leading up to the retreat, I wondered why I had been so cavalier in signing up, but as they say, he who dares and all that. Maybe I am not as introverted as I like to think!
My worries soon disappeared on meeting these fine ladies. They were funny, friendly, and oh my, so talented!
We shared meals, taking it in turns to cook (who knew you couldn’t make rice pudding with Basmati rice??). The rest of the time was self-directed.
What followed were periods of procrastination involving – long walks, visits to the boathouse, a scoot around Agatha’s house, another visit to the boathouse, discussions concerning impending snow, attempting to find a phone signal, yet another visit to the boathouse – you get the picture… until….. finally…. I began to write!
It worked! Whether it was Agatha sending me good vibes, the wonderful company, or the location I know not. What I do know is that it was my perfect storm – I wrote my heart out. I was spurred on by receiving news that one of my short stories had been shortlisted in The Fiction Factory short story competition.
I can happily report that my edit got completed and my pages got tightened (nowhere else will you ever hear me say those words). And here’s the best bit ….. it was fun!
Between us, we created an environment that was supportive, encouraging and creative…. I think Agatha would have been pleased. Her sanctuary for those few days also became ours, and we flourished.
Episodes of Poirot
Laughing a lot
Playing story cubes after several sherbets!
Reading with the girls
Writing some more
Finding Ingrid in the bathroom writing!
Continuing to write
Ladies in the gift shop
Got ya! There were no murders, well not real ones!
There really were so many special moments.
Our adventure continued when we came to depart. As had been predicted, the snow came. A frantic half hour ensued. We debated whether or not to ‘wait and see’ and risk getting snowed in, or to depart. I think it was Agatha’s way of trying to keep us there… ‘Five Get Snowed in at Greenway’… Logic got the better of us and we left. The snow continued to fall… heavily, and so began the long haul back to our own worlds. We got stuck on a snowy hill, stuck trying to leave Torquay (roads closed due to snow), snow, snow and more snow fell. Thankfully we all made it home safe and sound.
February will see my loyalties scattered to the four winds, hence the title. I shall be reading, writing, party planning, dog walking, pregnancy managing (the dog, not me), working the day job, traveling, encouraging (the kids – exams… nuff said), and possibly making a few cakes! Sadly I have planned no holidays in February, I must be slipping! As you can see I will be busy!
Today has already been productive. And it’s not even 10 am. I have been to the beach and it was glorious. Yes, past tense. We had to make a run for it as the rain decided to make a guest appearance. I now sit, Cappuccino in hand secured behind the wheel of my car with a lovely view of sea mist. Was it worth the extra early start? In short, yes… if the dog’s happy then I’m happy, my house is simple like that! She is wet from surfing the waves and the car is filled with the smell of fragrant coffee and ‘eau de woof’.
January came and went. We had buckets of rain, a plethora of mud and enough wind to take the wood from the trees – branches mainly, which are now nicely drying in my shed – kindling anyone?
There really is nothing finer than writing – except perhaps reading. Both provide food for my soul. There are times when the words refuse to come, so I read. Then, there are the times when all I want to do is read, and so, I don’t write. They are two sides of the same coin, intrinsically linked by my imagination which flows to and from the words on the page and, as much as it pains me, I love it with all my heart.
Yes, dear reader, it pains me – big deep unabashed stabbing pains of self-doubt and inadequacy fill me. A sense of never getting it quite right sits on my shoulder in judgment as I type away. I often wonder where the words come from and at times am left questioning if it really was me that put them there! Perhaps the words are using me, not I them? A conduit by any other name but a conduit no less. Weird? Not really. Who knows where the words come from. All I know is they burn images and sentences within me that do not abate until they are released.
Each day is a battle to continue, to sit and know that most of what I will write will be dross and disappointing, yet it is because it is dross that I continue. It was Beckett who said ‘Ever Tried. Ever failed. No Matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better’, and that is what I intend to do ‘fail better’.
Don’t get me wrong there are victories, small quiet ‘pat myself on the back’ victories and it is these that make my heart sing. Moments of self-congratulation, however, do not stay long, they are fleeting and come crashing to the floor at every given opportunity.
Sometimes the words I smugly admired not 24 hours before have, overnight, magically transformed into the worst sentences I have ever written! On rare occasions, the opposite is also true and I dance for hours, complimenting myself on such skillful wordplay. But…. when I am there, like really there, in the zone, allowing myself to freefall into the words, there really is no place I’d rather be. It is food for my soul and I love it!
For me, this year will be about reading more and writing more, oh, and parties, I have a few of those to organise too!
Today I’m going to focus on the ‘reading more’ aspect of my year ahead. Whilst I have committed to read 60 books I didn’t want to leave it there. I wanted to be a little more adventerous and give myself a few parameters. Hopefully I’ll be able to find new unexplored (by me) bookish delights. If you’re a list person then please feel free to jump onboard and join in.
I shall endeavour to keep you posted. My task is simple – to read books that fall into the categories below. To help keep me on track I’ve designed a nifty bar chart – who doesn’t love a bar chart! I shall feel like a right clever clogs if I manage to adhere to my bookish plan into February never mind December!
Here’s my list:
Read a book that is /was……
1. Written by a Devon-based author (excluding myself obvs)
3. A comedy
4. Contains a month of the year in its title
5. Aclassic children’s book not yet read by me
6. Published in the year of my birth ( not quite a classic yet… hehe)
7. A fantasy novel
8.Written by a new author
9. Set in Africa
10. About mental health
11. Set in India
12. Contains a song lyric in its title
Whoa! That is a whole heap of mischief right there, I reckon I’m going to be hitting the bookshop and the library this weekend to see what I can find.
As you can see my bar graph looks a bit sorry for itself right now and a bit blurry, no I’ve not been on the wine – January is a dry month for me! Hopefully, over the next few weeks, I shall be adding a multitude of colourful lines and colourful reads to my chart. I’m hoping to average 5 books a month. In the meantime, if you have any suggestions of neat reads, which fit into the categories above I’d love to hear them. Please pop a comment in the comment box below.
Boom! Shake – shake – shake the room! Where did this week go? Sorry for bringing the DJ Jazzy Jeff ear-worm out to play (I bet you can’t get rid of it now…. apologies). So this week…..did it really fly? Perhaps it was my time spent up in the clouds that prompted today’s post (have a look at my lovely photo)
I found myself quite literally blue sky thinking …see what I did there? You would think a smooth flight, time on my hands, me, a captive audience of one would provide ample opportunities for those words to flow.. eh.. No. As Dr Seuss so skilfully put it ‘Oh the things you can think’. Therein lies my problem – too much thinking! Whether it was the recycled air or the lack of adequate leg room I’m not sure, but thoughts raced through my mind at the speed of… well, the speed of Concorde (yes, I’m old enough to remember Concorde). Ideas whizzed around my head so quickly they didn’t stop long enough for me to capture them. A good problem to have. Usually, staring out of an airplane window results in, well…just staring.
So, why am I telling you this? Yes, why indeed. Because sometimes, it’s OK. It’s OK not to capture every idea, every phrase. It’s OK to let the heat escape out of the roof. By allowing my ideas to come and go I felt I was just allowing myself to think in no particular way, about no particular thing, and do you know what? I felt more refreshed stepping off that plane than I had done in ages. Some people call it daydreaming, perhaps it was. What it wasn’t was planned, focused or structured!
It’s now Friday, my to-do list has grown and I haven’t written very much at all this week, but that’s alright, tomorrow is just around the corner. As if DJ Jazzy Jeff wasn’t bad enough, I shall leave you thinking about those immortal lines from Pharrell Williams:
I know, I know. I have been a bit neglectful of you lovely people recently. I wholeheartedly apologise. I feel as if I have been living in the fast lane but without the F1 shizzle that goes with it!
In a nutshell, and hopefully without boring you beautiful folks, here’s how I’ve been keeping out of trouble:
I have been watching some of this…..
Found a few of these bad boys… yep in a field! Who would have thought it?
And as if that was not enough, I have been getting stuck in lots of traffic, Devon style
So, there you have it my friends, I blinked and missed most of September and some of October. In addition, I have been editing ’til my heart’s content. The finishing touches are being added to my collection of short stories and my historical fiction novel is…well, let’s just say I am investing in some new red pens! I promise to get my groove back shortly and will be boring you all silly with my random posts.. Until then enjoy lots and lots of this…..
What have you guys been up to? Please leave a comment below…
There comes a time in every writer’s life when all good things must come to an end right? Ah, I see I have your attention ……
I’m talking about editing the beast of a novel I have just completed. Hold on, did I say completed?? Yes, yes I did. Since completion, I have randomly danced around the house teaching my dog 1980s dance moves and spontaneously burst into song. All done much to the embarrassment of above my kids. I have taken myself and above-mentioned hound on long bracing walks and eaten my weight in chocolate. I am soooo rock and roll.
Whilst one major milestone has been uncoupled, another has landed firmly in its place.This one is bright red and has the word ‘EDIT‘ written in big bold scary letters.This time I have decided on a different approach to the ‘E’ word. I have parked feeling overwhelmed and underprepared. I have ditched worrying about cutting too much or too little. I have adopted a different mind set.
In business, there is often talk of improving by 1%. Here’s the concept. Sir David Brailsford – coach to the British Cycling Team believes in a concept called “the aggregation of marginal gains”. He explains it as “the 1% margin for improvement in everything you do”. His belief is that if you improved every area related to cycling by just 1%, then those small gains will add up to remarkable improvement. The British Cycling Team went from winning nothing to winning everything including the Tour de France. Now I am not suggesting I ride a bike, although lord knows I should after my calorific dalliance with cocoa based confectionery. No, I am going to adopt the 1% marginal gains principals for my editing.
The cyclists started by optimising things that were easy to improve. They changed their seats or improved their tyres that sort of thing. For me, that translated to checking my grammar and punctuation. The stuff I would ordinarily do, but my aim was to do it better. Are you with me so far? OK, next the cyclists looked at the small insignificant things. Things that were over looked that nobody really noticed. They looked at things such as the pillows in hotel rooms, were they comfortable enough to aid restful sleep? So how could I apply this to my writing? What were the small things I had overlooked that could be tweaked and improved? I had to be brutally honest with myself. Was every word needed? If I could answer yes immediately I left it alone. If however, the answer I gave was more wishy washy then I applied further pressure.
Here’s an example. Adverbs. Oh, I love them! I know I love them and I know I use them excessively. Here’s what I mean. Consider this sentence:
‘Anna ran quickly across the car park, she looked back fearfully’.
Now whilst there is nothing wrong per-say it could be better, way better. In its current form, it is bulky and clumsy. Now compare it to this:
‘Anna ran across the car park, fear biting at her back’.
I ditched the adverbs, the result is a much punchier sentence. My 1% was staring me in the face with a wicked ‘I told you so’ grin.
Two days in and I am happy to report the editing is going well. I have settled into a new routine and I may even have time to go for a out for a bike ride!