Autumn Ramblings

The strangest of years is almost at an end and I’m left wondering where the year went?

It’s hard to believe we’ve been locked down since March! OK, so I’m stretching the truth just a little, but it certainly feels that way. There was a glimpse of normality over the Summer before the hatches were firmly battened down again. I’m not sure what normal is anymore, but whatever it is I’d like it back thanks very much!

Like a lot of people my refuge has been nature. I’ve found beauty in the smallest wonders and it’s given me a welcome boost. I’ve stayed connected because of it – thank you nature!

During Lockdown V.1 we were all working from home. Different rooms of our house became makeshift offices where four diverse companies came together under one roof. My kitchen became our work social space and we would meet occasionally during coffee breaks, or lunchtimes. Chatter revolved around ‘how’s your day going?’ and ‘What time you finishing?’ We functioned, we worked, but live? Not much. Evenings were spent trawling Netflix, reading books, silently wondering when we’d be released from the holding pattern our lives had become.

With the appearance of Summer restrictions eased, and for a while we did ‘normal’ – meals out, meet ups with friends, shopping for things other than food, but that came to an abrupt end as numbers of Covid cases once again rose, and we prepared ourselves for Lockdown V.2.

There are some differences this time around. Now there are just two of us working from home, the nights have drawn in and there is less time to be outside. My writing has begun to increase again, as has my crocheting and sewing – I’ve become a dab hand at running up a quick face mask! My tbr pile has increased ten fold and I don’t think I need to buy anymore books until 2025! Although, you can never have too many books 🙂

We are almost out the other side now, and I am hesitant. I’ve gotten used to my new small world, it’s a routine of sorts and whilst I look back on the freedoms of previous years with longing, change is never easy.

As we move into another period of uncertainty I shall endeavour to write more, and eat less (seriously – it needs to happen), everything else is up for negotiation. The one constant throughout has been the small world at my doorstop. It has carried on regardless. Buds have blossomed, and leaves have fallen, and for the first time in a while I’ve been lucky enough to see and really appreciate every single season. Whatever happens next remains unknown. Me? I’ll be opening my front door and taking in a deep breath. I’ve even brought a bike!

I leave you with a few pics from my recent adventures – oo’s and ah’s are optional!

I looked back on my walk to the Tor and my breath was taken away…
At the top of the Tor a beautiful view and a wild pony greeted us.
One of the many mystical stone circles of Dartmoor – such beautiful Autumn colours.
Pebbles on the beach
Extreme social distancing!

A Rising Tide

It was just another Friday afternoon when I checked my emails. Nothing about the day gave any hint of extraordinary. I had begun my weekend wind down and was thinking about squeezing my ambitious writing plans into the limited time I had available. Most writers still have day jobs, me included. We cram ‘normal’ into space we’d prefer to use for writing and dream that one day we’ll be able to unshackle ourselves from being beholden to ‘the man’. But this Friday was not that day; this Friday was about planning and sorting and organising in anticipation of my carved out two-hour window on Saturday. I checked my email and my world lit up…

A quick back track – about 18 months ago I entered a short story competition, I didn’t win or get placed but my short story did make the anthology, and for that I was grateful.

OK, back to Friday. The email was from the chair of the short story competition. He wanted me to know he’d felt that my story was by far the best both then and now, and he wanted me to see the comments he’d made at the time which had not been forwarded –

A superb and sensitive piece of writing. I loved the gentle way in which the story unfolded. By far my chosen best entry.  Such a caring piece of well-observed storytelling. A delightful, fabulous story. Full of sensitive humour; warm, insightful descriptions and heart-warming, painful truths. I cried.  A winner!

Please write again Nicole… more and more…

I was blown away, literally blown away. I have never ever received such an email. My flushed cheeks reddened further, and I felt a little overwhelmed. Here was someone who did not know me, who had nothing to gain by contacting me, yet his email’s effects are still positively reverberating. I do not write to be validated, my words order better on paper than in my head, and through them, I can explore diamond truths hidden just beneath the surface. Most of the time, I do not know why I write; I just know that I must. But writing is a lonely pursuit and feelings of inadequacy, of being a fraud are never far away. Receiving this feedback was bloody marvelous! Whenever things get covered in mire or my work gets rejected for the umpteenth time, I will look at this email – hell, I might even frame it!

I have shared my experience to encourage you. You may never know the affect of your words, but know that kindness is a gift to pay forward, and it matters! If you have read something that has touched you, tell the author – no matter how long it’s been. Your words will always have an impact and kindness and encouragement are what we all need.

These are the Days

These are the days that seem to vanish into clouds. Days when each past moment is forgotten and only now remains. Am I talking nonsense? Quite possibly, but as fellow writers will affirm the moment really is ‘the moment’ and on a good day it lasts forever.

I apologise if I have lost you, I am of course talking about writing. It has been the best of days, it has been the busiest of days and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Now time is precious so I won’t spend hours talking about writing, because the more I spend chatting the less time I can devote to actually writing or reading or doing whatever I’m supposed to be doing which is embarking on another adventure… So here’s a re cap…

Imagine – you have 1 day to go until your holiday, a holiday you have looked forward to, planned for, I mean really planned for. It involves the whole family, boats, lists, internet searches.

You finish work (your day job), you pack the dogs off to their holiday home, you pick up dinner and now its time to pack. But wait, what’s that? A thought, an idea? You shake it off because you don’t have time, not now, not today. Today is all about planning, being organised. The idea refuses to leave and renders you incapable of rational thought. OK, so it will only take 10 minutes to write down, then you can pack and feel smug. You won’t be the one holding everyone up, you’ll be ready…

The reality…

Six hours later, you crawl into bed. You’ve have 4 hours sleep and still haven’t packed. If you could go back and change things would you? Hell no! Because that’s what it’s all about, that’s what’s so glorious about writing and I love it!

So that was my day – how was yours?

Hey Shorty!

This week I received an exciting piece of news. A short story I entered into a competition made the Short List. As a writer it is the sort of news that sends tingles down your spine and puts a smile on your face.

Rejection is part and parcel of the everyday when you write, it comes with the territory. So when you get a short list or long list placing you can be assured that your story has had an impact – it is a wonderful feeling. Some days writing is thankless and hard, it can feel as if you are wading through treacle. You try your hardest to make your story sing only to have it land flat. Moments that make you fly are so important. They serve as a reminder that sometimes, just sometimes you can hold a tune!

Thankfully I do not have to wait too long for the results.

Read & Vote

This week I have a piece of flash fiction in AdHoc Fictions ebook. Issue 170, the theme is ‘need’. Try and guess which is mine – sorry, I’m not allowed to tell you! Why not pop on over and take a peak? Read and vote for the piece that you like., it really is that easy! Enjoy.

The Journey…

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!

To Be a Good Writer…

Sage advice from the man himself –

To be a good writer, I believe that one has to read a lot of books. Fifty a year would be a good place to start, but twenty five would work... Stephen King.

I shall be putting this good advice into practice over the holiday season.

Merry Christmas everyone x

As Fast As I Can…

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!

Feed Your Soul ~ Ramblings of a Writer

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!

‘Ever Tried. Ever failed. No Matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better’.

Samuel Beckett

Movin on Up ~ Driving Your Story Forward

    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….