Monday, 10 August 2015

Swanwick Summer School

Swanwick Writing School has been running for forty years - only a little longer than I have been aliv! - but this is the first year I've made it, and then it was for a pitiful amount of time.

Despite my best attempts to plan a brief escape from home as a day visitor to the School, mum ended up having a hospital appointment, and no-one else could fill in babysitting. Steve (ex-husband) came to look after the children in the morning, but arrived ten minutes before I wanted to arrive at Swanwick, which is half an hour's drive away. It was not the relaxing, stress-free start to the day I'd hoped for!

The welcome was warm, though, and people were friendly and helpful, even in the short visit I had. I thoroughly enjoyed the lectures, too, though they only whetted my appetite. I wish I could have stayed longer.

Sue Moorcroft gave a great talk on Romantic Fiction - she is so knowledgeable about her subject and gave lots of fascinating information, including about the Romantic Novelist's Association. I hadn't realised before that it is possible to attend talks and events run by the RNA even if you're not a member. It usually means an extra cost, but not a prohibitive one. Up-to-date information can be found on the RNA website. I have heard good things about them from many sources, and will be checking them out again now, instead of waiting for my next crack of the whip at joining their New Writers' Scheme.

So, while it was frustrating putting my own dreams on the back-burner, the kids come first, and I gained a lot of benefit from a short amount of time at Swanwick. Hope I can afford the time and money to attend next year...and that nothing will get in the way.

I wonder what I will have achieved towards my writing dreams by then? Watch this space...

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Keeping the pilot light burning

Although I'm in a fallow period, I think about my book a lot. I feel a bit like a guilty mum who has left her child with someone else for far too long...

Reading writing magazines keeps my appetite whetted and I'm reading widely as well as revisiting old favourites, trying to feed my creativity. I will soon have to decide whether to take up precious packing space in my suitcase with my manuscript and notebooks, or whether to take a full break. I'm also trying to work out child-care and brace myself to spend the money to go to Swanwick Writing School for one day...

Even when you're not writing, you can be working on self-improvement, and chasing those dreams. But I have to be careful not to use that as a safe excuse - a cosy comfort-zone that is an easier place than actually wrestling with plot and structure, how likeable characters are; staring into the face of the possibility that the whole thing has more holes than a sieve and is beyond redemption.

Perhaps that answers the question of whether I should take the manuscript on holiday. I'm pretty sure that it's not going to improve itself...

Friday, 26 June 2015

Tough love

Wow, it's been a bit of a time of lost focus as I've let my latest novel stew, and have got on with writing reports instead.

I've not yet reapplied to the womentoring project, as I think my work needs a bit more TLC (TLC here means: ripping apart and beginning again. The art of tough love..?)

I have, however, read through my first draft. I discovered quickly that for some reason Scrivener had missed out at least half the chapters. Doing battle with technology is one of my least favourite things, so I rather daftly read the half I'd got, made copious notes about how I need to fix the structure, tighten things up, cut things, and insert sub-plots...all based on half a book.

Anyway, the technical support at Scrivener enabled me to rescue my lost chapters, although I don't know how to reinsert them into the project. I think they have somehow been 'categorised' as something within the program - I can't be more technical than that - and though I now have a paper copy of everything (phew!) I now need to go back for more support and wrestle again.

Is it worth it? The extra stress and barrier to production? I'm not 100% sure yet. When I'm trying to sort out technical problems, the answer is no. But I did enjoy working with the program, and having my corkboard of notes, and the way it compiled (half of) the finished draft into something that was formatted well was exciting.

So I'm not going to judge, yet. Let's see how it goes when I try to fix the problem, which I've obviously inadvertently caused.

Next job on my list, then: read the book, the whole book and nothing but the book (till I've finished)...and keep mulling over a sub-plot for my lovely hero, who must be a little more rounded (without the application of doughnuts) and be a little more the kind of boy everyone will fall in love with...

It sounds so easy, and feels so difficult! I might have to try the tough love on myself to stop procrastinating!

Friday, 5 June 2015

Finding encouragement

I was feeling blue last time I posted, due to the way my work had sneakily transformed itself into something only fit for the bin while I've been looking the other way.

I'm still reluctant to read on - fearing more of the same. But one of my procastinating activities was to read a book which had won a prize in roughly the genre I write in.

I was told to expect a twist; I was told that this author is very skilled. So I bought the book, despite it costing more on the kindle than the usual books I buy.

And then I started to read. And it was bad. It was poorly written, inaccurate to the point of annoyance (certain aspects of the main character's life matched mine, and this then led to a lot of frustration when it was clear that the author had no idea what she was talking about). It was sketchily edited too - I was irritated by such small details as a day that seemed to skip to nighttime when it was lunchtime, and someone described by the POV character as having their back turned, and their face fuller than usual. Excuse me? How can you tell if they have their back to you? And how come no-one picked up on this before publication?

This book has good reviews; author endorsements from writers whose books I admire; and it's a high seller. So perhaps I'm the one who is wrong, when I think the characters are very cliched and two dimensional, and the dialogue unrealistic and aggravating...?

Obviously, I've no room to talk, with my current difficulties. But actually, this average book gave me a confidence boost.

For a start, I could identify - quite clearly - many of the things that broke my trust as a reader. If I can identify them in someone else's work, I'm getting closer to knowing what is wrong with my work, and when I see that, I'm closer to fixing it.

Then I saw that there is hope for me. Hope that with polishing, I can be better than that. Hope that I might find a readership - people who appreciate my writing, even if I'll never be a Keyes or Moriarty (both of whom I think are excellent writers).

What gives you encouragement when you're frustrated? And have you found any 'poor' books recently? If not, I'd heartily recommend it to make you feel better!

Sunday, 31 May 2015


I've not heard back from the womentoring project I approached for a mentor with such hope back in October. I contacted them again to ask if I should reapply, and was told to.

So it's time to dust off my application, choose a new mentor and apply again.

The only problem is, I looked at the first chapter of my novel - you know, the one I'd submitted before. And it's rubbish. I think the whole 'hook' is probably way too predictable. The voice is stilted and self-conscious; it made me feel on edge, reading it.

It made my stomach feel all curdled with disappointment.

Obviously, rewriting that is job #1...but what if the whole thing is predictable, riddled with pretension and basically only fit for the recycling bin?


Monday, 27 April 2015

Taking a Break

This has been a frantic couple of weeks. The most contact I've had with my writing life is reading articles in Writing Magazine, and stroking my printed out manuscript, like some warped Bond villain who can't even care for a cat.

Work is hectic: I've been completing and producing paperwork until midnight most nights, and then dragging myself through the days like a zombie on sedatives.

On top of that, the children have been their usual lovely selves, creating laundry as if they're determined to collect prizes for it.

Then on Saturday we heard that my husband (we've been separated for nearly two years) was flying out to Nepal to help with the rescue efforts there. He volunteers for an urban search and rescue group, but is also a paramedic, and is fantastic in a crisis. He will thrive on the adrenaline, and we hope he will save some lives. The kids and I are very proud of him...but I've added twitter-tracking him to my list of things to do. It's like another hobby, and kind of time-consuming at that.

It seems like this isn't a good time to fit in writing, but I'm hoping that this little sabbatical will bring me back to my novel with a clear head. Meanwhile, the next idea is stirring and needs to put on a lot of weight, still, but I've begun the ruminating. Maybe this will be The One...?!

Saturday, 18 April 2015

The tricky age

My daughter turned 10 a few weeks ago, which is a milestone, isn't it? I still remember the way I felt at hitting double figures.

So I'm posting in honour of her and the literacy-based issues she and I have been grappling with lately.

She's a fabulous, intuitive little reader, who is probably even more compulsive than me (and I always thought I could win every award going when it came to compulsive reading). She has a reading age between 13 and 14, but couples it with a sensitive soul and a healthy dollop of naivety, which I'm not keen to lose.

It's very hard to challenge her with her reading. She adores Enid Blyton, still, and seems to like pacy mystery stories. Sometimes my choices for her go down very badly, and she discards books half-read. I've been borrowing books from the library and having to read them first, to check if the content is innocent enough.

Today I finished reading 'The Great Unexpected', which was beautiful and lyrical, though I would have liked things a little more explicitly explained in it...there was a bit of boy-girl interest which I think she'll skim, but it wasn't inappropriate for a 10 year old. However, I'm not sure if she will enjoy it. She began it tonight, so the jury is out.

The teachers gave her 'Northern Lights', which she read with fierce interest, and it actually kept her busy for three days as opposed to one, but I felt it was pushing the limits of what I'm comfortable for her to be reading.

So - anyone got any much-loved suggestions that she might enjoy? Any help will be gratefully received.

The other thing that happened this week is that I had a letter from an organisation called 'Young Writers' saying that her short saga on 'Paradise' was entered into a competition by her school, and her entry has been selected to go into the East Midlands anthology (which I can buy for the meagre sum of £18).

I have so many problems with this, from the fact I've been exposed to this exploitation by the school, to my daughter's face when I told her I didn't think I'd be buying one. (Her dad says he'll buy it...but £18! For 100 words written by Bean, that none of us will ever read anything else in it! And, with all the motherly love and pride in the world, for a story she has written which is OK, but not amazing.)

Of course, it goes without saying that the contest Bean 'won' was also won by every other child in her class...

How can this kind of grasping money-making go on, exploiting parents and children - and supported by schools, at that? Have schools not realised it would be better to self-publish their own books and keep the profits for their own PTFA?