Monday, 11 August 2014


Victor Hugo was exiled to Guernsey, and while there produced some wonderful writing. Tomorrow we fly there for a ten day visit with my sister and her husband; let's hope the break and the peace are inspiring and that I can get some decent day-dreaming done while the children build sand-castles....

Mustn't miss life while I'm dreaming, either, though. Happy holidays!

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Studying Story

During a recent workshop with the YA author Emma Pass she recommended that wannabe writers try Story by Robert McKee.
She did warn that she'd read it with a notebook to hand - and it does require some serious concentration. But she also said that it had revolutionised the way she wrote - changed her life, in fact. So I bought it, and am making slow but steady progress through it. It is primarily written for scriptwriters, but there is lots of useful information for all writers.
Anyway, in the summer holidays, which are frequently a bit of an involuntary sabbatical in my house, I have to find other ways to work. One of the things I'm doing is studying this book. Already some of the insights have affected the way I'm thinking about my work in progress, to the degree that, when I get five minutes, I'm not rushing to write, but hurrying to read the next part of this book.
There is, of course, always a danger that you spend so long reading about writing that you never write; but I'm also afraid of then discovering huge problems with my plot and having to go back and unpick things that could easily be put right now.
So, here are two thoughts from McKee's book.
 He talks about the 'craft' of writing, and its loss. "If your dream were to compose music, would you say to yourself: "I've heard a lot of symphonies....I can also play the piano...I think I'll knock one out this weekend"?'d head for music school to study both theory and practice...Too many struggling writers never suspect that the creation of a fine screenplay is as difficult as the creation of a symphony." I find it very encouraging, to know I'm not the finished article yet, never mind my work! And I also need the encouragement to push myself harder in order to be the best I can. It's easy to shrug and say, "That's the best I can do, so it'll have to do" when what I really need to do is say, "It's the best I can do at the moment, so I must get better"...
The other thing I've found fascinating is what he has to say about cliche (especially cliched ideas, rather than hackneyed phrases). This is something I worry about in my own work, and McKee suggests that the antidote is to know your characters and world inside out, and to explore those through memory, imagination and research. He says that those who don't know their world well enough, when they try to write about it,  'come up empty' and so they fill the void with experiences from TV, stories and movies, therefore coming up with familiar, cliched ideas. Some of his tips to combat that are really interesting, too, and I need to apply this to my work in progress and see what magic I can work, and if I can strengthen this weak area of mine.
I'm glad for this chance to improve myself, even though I'm not managing much writing time.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Surviving Summer

I'm sitting on my Aunt's patio on her weathered bench, balancing a cup of tea on the curved arm, and writing on a see-sawing notebook. The children are wreaking havoc in the garden. (The washing line has already fallen victim to the 7 year old experimenting with a pair of shears.)
Of course, I'll type my post up later, but a notebook is so much more portable than a laptop. (It's bad enough trying to carry three scooters and a skateboard.)
I'm not sure how well the technique - of writing long-hand, then typing up - will work for me, especially when writing sections of my novel, but the time has come to rethink my routines and writing habits. It is summer; traditionally a time of great stress and little work in my home. It is equal parts glorying in relaxing, precious family time and constant squabbling under my feet.
Writing long-hand in the garden is working well so far; all four are currently exploring a woodlouse at sticks' length, and I've had ten minutes peace. In fact, except for the two year old, the children are markedly more independent and trustworthy this year. I can physically take a small step away, and withdraw my attention a little, too, when they are all content like this.
On the downside, they're awake longer these days. In the stifling heat of the past few days, the 5 year old has been awake until 9 o'clock, or nearly 10. Even on the cooler nights, his big sister is always now still up until 9 o'clock, and my treasured evenings are shrinking. By the time 9 o'clock arrives, I'm past my creative best. (Past my best in every respect, to be fair.)
So I'm going to need to think more inventively if I'm going to get any work done in the next six weeks...and beyond. And if that involves writing at the park, then I'd better get used to it.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Feeding your writing

It's been a funny couple of weeks, with my sister visiting  for a few days and various other commitments tripping me at every turn. I've written thousands of words in reports as part of my teaching job, and still squeezed in the very occasional and disjointed session on my work in progress. Blogging has had to take a back seat.

I'm very aware, however, that little gets done in the summer holidays. I feel anxious about that, but can only make plans to try to write.

Today I had a little boost; an article I wrote (for no fee) for a tiny, local paper has been published and a copy of the magazine was posted through my door. I felt quite proud of what I'd written, and I've been asked to write more for the next issue - I might even ask for payment now I've provided two articles to the magazine on goodwill.

However, I also have a mountain of reading to do, from the pleasure of The Girl Who Saved The King of Sweden to a recommended book on plotting, which I will blog about in due course, and a stack of writing magazines that have been piling up by the door. A few hours spent on these will help feed my writing, too, I hope, and might be something I can still do with ease, even while we are away on holiday.

Finally, I've also just finished watching Breaking Bad, which was a lesson in suspense and pace, and hooks and tight plotting...or that's my excuse for watching it, anyway!

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Writing Workshops

Yesterday I had the privilege of going to a writer's workshop. It's rare for the stars to align so that I can attend things like that - finding a babysitter for a whole day for four young children is hard enough in itself, plus it has to be local and affordable. This day was organised in a local library by Derbyshire's literature Development Officer, who sends out monthly newsletters by email to writers in Derbyshire, letting them know about opportunities like this one. If you want to receive her newsletter, her address is I'd recommend it - she also has details of writing groups, competitions and so on.

The writing exercises we took on were similar to ones I've done before at workshops, but that doesn't take away from how useful it is to focus your mind for a whole day on your ambitions, nor how fascinating it is to discuss what you've produced with others. For one exercise we wrote about a small selection of objects; the breadth of ideas was surprising - it's wonderful how differently minds work (and what a good job, too).

So here are the three biggest things I've brought away from it.

Firstly, the author who led the workshop, Emma Pass (who writes YA novels) talked about the structure of our plot and making sure that the obstacles our characters meet escalate in size. I was struck by this, as I think I may have failed at this in my current work in progress, so I'm going to be heading back to the post-its on that.

Secondly, when Emma talked about her journey to publication, I was astounded at the extent of rewriting required by agents and publishers, even after a manuscript has been accepted for publication. I knew that writers have to be prepared to rewrite and rework right up to the wire, but I didn't know that sometimes this involves major structural changes, such as changing endings or middles or getting rid of whole sub-plots. I'm chewing on this one. I'm not sure if it reassures me, that when I've done my absolute best, gone through rigorous rewrites and edits, had outside feedback, and finally have done all I can, that others will still help batter it into even better shape (which essentially I'd then have credit for!) or if the thought of all that rewriting, and the implication that you've not got it right even when you've done well is quite soul-destroying.

I'm going to take it as positive, actually. Anything that makes your writing better has got to be worth it, however painful and personally discouraging.

Thirdly, I brought away renewed commitment to those dreams of mine. It was a reminder to persevere, to make time for what I want; to keep on keeping on.

Oh, there was one other thing I brought away. I brought away copies of Emma Pass's intriguing novels. I'm looking forward to reading them - maybe you should buy one too!

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Commitment to Writing

I just listened to this very interesting interview about writing with author AL Kennedy.

During the interview she talks about the need to commit one hundred per cent to the process, putting aside the fear of a broken heart when your work is rejected or 'not that good'.

It's an interesting insight into the mind of a successful and dedicated writer, and challenging, too. Do you really put sweat and effort into all your writing sessions, however short?

I remember writing one of my short stories for last year's challenge, and being gutted when it wasn't shortlisted because of the hours of polishing and the work put into crafting. Can I honestly say I'm working so hard on my current project, or am I dabbling in my comfort zone? Lots to think about!

Monday, 2 June 2014

Recipe for Trouble

I've read a lot lately about the use of photographs to inspire settings or characters. While writing my last story, I used to occasionally whip out my camera and take a few photos of places that seemed like they belonged in my story. So I was intending to do the same thing this time, aided and abetted by a fancy phone (much more subtle than the camera).

As with so many good ideas, it hadn't happened, and then we were in the park this week, and I saw a lady who struck me as being similar to a character of mine in looks. I wondered whether to snap a photo of her, and use aspects of her dress, especially, as inspiration. Luckily for me, with kids in tow, it was relatively simple to take a snap of her in the background of the 5 year old hanging upside down from the monkey bars.

I haven't decided yet whether to edit him out...!

The thing is, I did feel guilty doing it. It felt wrong because she didn't know (even though I will delete the photo when I've finished with it). I feel faintly guilty too that I'm not 'just' using my imagination...even though far more accomplished writers than I am have admitted using real people, in part, as inspiration.

I had visions of the woman in question (who did cast me one suspicious glance) storming over and accusing me of photographing her; wouldn't look good in court, would it? Though I'm pretty sure no laws were broken...!

I wonder if anyone else has used visual aids to plotting/writing? And what you think of snapping photographs of inspiring-looking strangers? Is that any more morally dubious than noting down their conversation in a notebook?