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!
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!
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.
So many books, so little time will always ring true for me. My Magpie tenancies are definitely of the bookish variety. I am reading more books now than ever before and it’s wonderful! I undertook the GoodReads reading challenge and am doing a rather smug happy dance as I have completed it. This year, I have read 40, yes that’s 40 books! Pop on over to Good Reads to see my complete list.
I’m reminded of that wonderful poem by Eleanor Farjeon, but rather than sleeping anywhere like the cats in the poem, I’m have done the equivalent with reading! Whether an inflight magazine, a thrilling novel, or just simply a set of instructions for a new mop (don’t ask…). Each has got me thinking in different ways – yes, even the mop instructions!
Reading so much does have a downside… I have fallen victim to the good, the bad, and the downright ugly! Luckily, for me, 2017 has been more about ‘the good’ than anything else. It is these books that I wish to highlight as we turn the last few pages of 2017. So, if you’re looking for a good read look no further. My taste is eclectic and broad, each one of my mentions has something different to offer, hopefully you will find something to spark your interest. My goal for 2018 is to challenge myself further, not only with the amount I read, but also the genres I choose. It will be an exciting year as I peer into those far flung, least visited corners of the library….
I have very thoughtfully listed my top reads for 2017 below …. with buy links…..my gift to you 🙂 You can thank me later:
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:
We have all been there haven’t we? You are merrily munching your way through the first few chapters of a book that has sat on your TBR pile for a while and then it hits you…. boredom! Yep, mind numbing ‘I’d rather be anywhere but here’ boredom. Like a beautiful car which has been filled with the wrong fuel, the story splutters and then comes to a grinding halt. I have kicked myself so many times for playing the martyr and plowing through to the bitter end only to kick myself a bit more for even bothering to finish it. On reflection what a lot of these books had in common was simple – a soggy middle. At the beginning I’m intrigued, the writing is good and has me turning the pages with glee and then, somewhere, somehow, the tension is lost and the story becomes like a slow moving stream, no I correct myself more like a stagnant pond! Nothing is moving, the characters are not under any sort of pressure to do anything or see anyone, they are just… well they are just there! I don’t know about you but I don’t want ‘just there’ when I’m reading a novel, I can watch TV for that. I want empathy and commitment, as much from the characters as from myself. Commitment comes from making decisions, if nothing is happening no commitments are being made. All of this equals boredom for me, the reader. Don’t get me wrong I am not proposing that there should be twists and turns on every page but the story does need to move forward. Sadly this vacation I have read two such books.
Sitting here in the Mallorcan sun (photos to follow), I am struck by how important and methodical the editing process needs to be. I don’t want my books to be considered boring and I definitely don’t want a soggy middle! I am the first to admit I write too many words sometimes. Which is why I need to be strong and robust (like a good cup of coffee) when it comes to editing my own work way before an editor gets sight of it.
I’m sitting poolside trawling my way through the draft of my next novel and three things strike me:
– Who the hell wrote this?
– Oh, that’s rather good
– What a load of tosh!
It’s the ‘what a load of tosh’ that is bothersome. These are the sections where I need to channel a high court judge and become harsh but fair! Sometime the ‘tosh’ can be salvaged, sometime not. If there is a meaningful reason for the words to be there I will play around with them. If, however, they are acting as fillers for the main act then they have to go. No ifs, no buts, they must be crossed through with a red pen never to be seen again.
I have asked myself the same question over and over today – what would happen if the words weren’t there? If I can not defend them then they have to go !
I am doing well arguing with myself, although the lure of the pool is proving powerful! One more chapter then time for a swim….
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…