Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Goal setting for scribes

Like most parents who didn't have a ready supply of free babysitting we've had to be creative on New Years Eve. In the North West we use to invited friends round with children the same age or we went to their houses. Now we usually go the places we can take the children, bowling or to the cinema. I like this tradition. It's fun, relaxed and a lot easier than finding sitters. Tonight I have promised my daughters they could try a glass of champagne, of course I lied! I've got us bottles of Babycham, in memory of my Mother who loved the stuff.  But despite the relaxed holiday feeling, it wouldn't be New Years Eve without reflecting on the past and setting new goals.

2013 has been a year filled with highs and lows. All the highs have been with my writing career. I have had four educational resources published and a few more in the proposal stage. I've been included in several anthologies, including those by Chuffed Books and Dagda Press. My writing prize pot was £225 this year and, I also had a few prizes from live story and poetry evenings. 

Thanks to to excellent fellow scribes who have worked tirelessly to organise spoken word events I've had a successful year. The list include; Southsea Show, Victorious Festival, Pop up Dickens, Lammas Day, and The Alvers Art Festival. Wonderful events which I have learnt so much from.

I think writers are the absolute worse at remembering their achievements which makes it difficult to set new and achievable new goals. I know so many people who don't even keep a record of their publishing history!

I've got a very bad habit of setting myself goals that are unachievable. But here is my list - please notice that I haven't put down the dates I want them achieved by yet. I want to revisit this post in a couple of months to see how well I have done. This year I've decided to divide my goals into sections;

Social Media 
I want to tidy up my blog and webpages
Plus get the email address to work on my storytelling page
Make sure that I can update the Writers at Lovedean page myself
Get an events page up
Get the 2013 Writers at Lovedean anthology out.

Unfortunately I need help with these goals 

Writing
I want to send out my non fiction book proposal out to agents
Maybe get a few more educational resources out without sacrificing my degree work
Write my degree assignments up to my best standard including starting my 20000 word publishing project
Polish my early years book and send it out 
Start writing for Words and Picture SCWBI
Chase Will Sutton with the offer of free coffee to get the promised feedback

Networking
This year I want to go to the SCWBI conference again
I intend to go to the Winchester Conference
Start to regularly go to Portsmouth Writing Hub
Visit Rose's and Tongues and Grooves at least twice.

Storytelling and spoken word
I'm pleased that I've already secured four paid storytelling events for next year
Basically keep an hear out for other opportunities.

Health and well being
Sadly, go back to GP - stop ignoring things for months in the hope they will go away.
I've signed up to Janathon - which is to exercise and blog everyday - great start to the year
I need to go back to a house group at church
Find a good, energising self help recording to listen to while walking
Hopefully do at least 12 park runs - one a month - surely that's do able?
Save up for a new mattress, waking up to lower back pain is a - well a pain.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

If you can't have the Christmas you want....

My parents died while I was pregnant with my oldest child thirteen years ago. My sisters and I got together for a few years, but in a way the mother and the father is the lynch pin to a family. Often when you lose them, you lose the reason to all get together.

Unfortunately, my husband has a strained relationship with his family. He is the one to call them. Gradually his contact declined to a phone call to his siblings every Christmas and New Years Day. Then it was every Christmas Day. And this year he didn't make the call, and they didn't call him.

When we moved three hundred miles away from our home base, the visits became less. I mourned for large family Christmases for quite a few years. Christmas dinner at our home is for four. But gradually over time I realised how blessed I am. We have created our own Christmas traditions. The making of the gingerbread house. A pre Christmas craft activity, whether it is oranges and cloves or a making new tree decorations.

Christmas Eve usually involves the long dog walk, he gets over excited and we try to tire him out before the wrapping paper. And then the crib service at the local church, and my children usually have parts. Then one present to open Christmas Eve. On Christmas morning it is presents from Santa, then church, then presents from under the tree. We have the meal at lunch time and a few games. The rest of the day is usually spent with each of us with a tray on our lap doing a project or puzzle.

I like it.

I like the relaxed atmosphere and the feeling of love.

And I like the lie ins and the fact that I get lots of writing done.

Although we don't do a lot of visiting, the time between Christmas and New Year is a time of going to the sales, ice skating and inviting friends round.

I think often there is so much pressure to have the sort of Christmas you are suppose to have. We watch the Nigella and Delia's Christmases and our expectations grow. Many people don't have the TV idea. We have food, shelter and love. A nice relaxing break. Friends and activities to occupy us. So remember if you are disappointed that you can't have the Christmas you think you want.

Why not learn to love the Christmas you have?


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Character descriptions

For those of you who think I've been neglecting my blog, I have good reason. I've been thinking.

I've been rereading TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, and enjoying how the characters simply leap of the page.  Atticus believes that shielding his kids in the short term doesn't do them any favors in the long run. This becomes especially clear when he thinks Jem is the one who stabbed Bob Ewell. It tells us so much about the man. 

"Thank you from the bottom of my heart, but I don't want my boy starting out with something like this over his head. Best way to clear the air is to have it all out in the open. Let the county come and bring sandwiches. I don't want him growing up with a whisper about him, I don't want anybody saying, 'Jem Finch... his daddy paid a mint to get him out of that.' Sooner we get this over with the better." 

A fine example of how we learn about character from what they say.

The following extract comes from James Lee Burke's PEGASUS DESCENDING, and describes a district attorney, Lonnie Marceaux. In just two paragraphs we find out about Lonnie's appearance, educational level, intelligence, ambition and personal habits:

After lunch, she and I met with our district attorney, Lonnie Marceaux. When I first met Lonnie a few years ago, I had thought he was one of those people whose attention span is limited either by an inability to absorb detailed information or a lack of interest in subject matter that isn't directly related to their well-being. I was wrong. At least partially. Lonnie was usually three or four jumps ahead in the conversation. He had been Phi Beta Kappa at Tulane and had published in the Stanford Law Review. But the real content of his thoughts on any particular issue remained a matter of conjecture.

Lonnie was blade-faced, six and one half feet tall, and had a body like whipcord from the marathons he ran in New Orleans, Dallas, and Boston. His scalp glistened through his crew cut; his energies were augmented rather than diminished by the two hours a day he spent on a StairMaster. When he turned down a position as United States Attorney in Baton Rouge, his peers were amazed at his sudden diffidence. But it didn't take us long to see the true nature of Lonnie's ambitious design. In spite of his own upscale background, he charmed blue-collar juries. The press always referred to Lonnie as "charismatic" and "clean-cut". No high-profile case in Iberia Parish ever went to an ADA, and God help the man or woman Lonnie got in his bomb sights. He was on his way up in the sweet sewer of Louisiana politics and I believe had long ago decided it was better to be first in Gaul rather than second in Rome.

Long descriptive paragraphs are out of style, but there is something to be said about being told about a character. 

Look at when long descriptions were the style, an example from the beginning of GONE WITH THE WIND: 


SCARLETT O'HARA was not beautiful, but men seldom realized it when caught by her charm as the Tarleton twins were. In her face were too sharply blended the delicate features of her mother, a Coast aristocrat of French descent, and the heavy ones of her florid Irish father. But it was an arresting face, pointed of chin, square of jaw. Her eyes were pale green without a touch of hazel, starred with bristly black lashes and slightly tilted at the ends. Above them, her thick black brows slanted upward, cutting a startling oblique line in her magnolia-white skin. 

It is a beautiful bit of writing, but I wonder, if all she needed was that first line.


Monday, December 2, 2013

Obligations

Woke up feeling tired, lethargic and depressed. 

I think it could it be connected to the fact that I did not do what I wanted to do at the weekend, which was exercise, write, spend fun time with my kids, and go to Church.

Instead I spent time doing things I felt guilty about and obliged to do. I think this is a common phenomenal to a lot of women over the Christmas period.  And I'm not talking about the little jobs you don't enjoy, but need to do, cleaning the floor and feeding the kids. I am talking about the things that would be a lot better for your mental health if you could just say 'no thanks.'

Let's face it, people say 'no thank you' to me without any further explanation, and I don't expect it.

I wasted valuable gifts of my time, my energy and peace of mind. I thought I was doing the right thing in the short term, but in the end I wasn't. 

I can't help wonder why I spend so much time doing things that make me feel bad, and not doing things that make me feel good afterwards!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Unpleasant feelings bubbling in the darkness

I'm not sure what I'm feeling at the moment - unsettled, envy, jealousy?

I have a niggling unpleasant feeling under the rib cage. Lots of wishful feeling for things I haven't got. And I'm not just taking about things - although finally getting the doors on the Ikea wardrobes would be nice. I think it's a desire to have things settled.

Feelings of envy don't always lead to jealousy. I remember seeing someone with an awesome pencil case of all things. It didn't lead me to jealously, instead, I went on a to the shopping trip to Paperchase. When I found out that a pal Denyse went running, I was envious. It pushed me to join her running group. 

Envy happens when you see somebody else experiencing something you’d like to have. You get a 'if only' feeling inside, like you want what they have. But this feeling does not necessarily lead to jealousy. Sometimes it can make you want to try things for yourself.

Jealousy is different. It's a negative state of mind. The jealous voice says “I want what you have, and until I have it, I don't want you to have it either.” 

This is very different from simple envy, because now the emphasis is not on you moving forward, but rather on keeping the other person back, or hoping they will fall flat on their faces. It certainly explains why jealousy can be so destructive and all-consuming.

I can't point the finger on exactly what is going on inside. I can't think of anyone that I want to fail, which is an unpleasant thought, but I have been in bad places before. So I think it rules out jealously. I am envious of the success of some of the authors I met at the weekend, but not more than usual.

So it must be a fear of some kind which is bubbling away in the darkness.  Fear of failure perhaps. Anyway, it is something I need to get under control and get back to work.





Saturday, November 23, 2013

Malorie Blackman writing tips from SCWBI Conference 2013

Malorie Blackman is a better speaker than writer - I know it's hard to believe, but the audience were cracking their sides at the SCWBI conference in Winchester yesterday.

She spent her time describing how her novels are based on real life events. She certainly isn't afraid of taking her characters to dark places. She likes to tackle subjects that are quite risky, but I personally thinks she deals with these subjects well. Here is a concise list of tips she gave;

The heart come first
Be a trend setter, not a trend follower
Do your research
Protect your work and rights
Register for PLR
Promote your work: school visit, festival, local libraries, local book shops
Put your books face out in book shops
Cherish good editors
No life experience is wasted. 


The quote from Malorie that really stands out in my mind is,

'Write from the heart - sell from the head'

I'm sure her story of a nightmare, being trapped outside in acid rain, while people watched her slowly die from inside a nice warm house. Which she translated as being stuck in a horrible job in computers, but being denied entry into the publishing world struck a cord with most people in the room. 




Malorie Blackman, OBE, is a British writer who holds the position of Children's Laureate for 2013 to 2015. She primarily writes literature and television drama for children and young adults.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Sarah Lean Guest Blog

There have been many jobs that I have managed to fulfil for a while: stencil maker, gardener, primary school teacher, amongst other things, but I prefer to be a writer above any other job.

I have a first class BA in English and an MA in Creative and Critical Writing, both from UoW, and fairly recently at that.

I write middle grade contemporary fiction for children:

A Dog Called Homeless 2012

A Horse For Angel 2013

The Forever Whale 2013

Hero will be published Spring 2014

Jack Pepper, a short story, for World Book Day 2014

 

 

I always loved writing, putting my imagination to use. I used to stand over my mother’s shoulder as a child and dictate stories to her. My junior school headmaster said he hoped to see me in print one day but I forgot about that for a very long time, distracted as I was with other things that I believed to be important but were nonetheless temporary and ultimately dissatisfying.

 

There’s always the hope that readers will find something they identify with in the stories, something that makes them think more about who they are, because stories allow us to do that, grow in ways of understanding ourselves and other people, and I can’t think of anything more interesting. I am often surprised what people find that is meaningful to them. Readers read according to their own interests. Mostly I hope children will enjoy the stories.

I don’t intend a message. Usually there is something I want to talk about, like in the latest one about what it is to be a hero. I’m not trying to define things, it’s more a discussion, a conversation, a set of circumstances that allow me to explore and in which a character can shine.

 

I am a list writer, a mind-mapper. I like to think of themes and explore everything I can think of, even if it’s loosely associated, and that list will usually include opposites so I’ve covered the natural balance of things. I once wrote a list of everything I could think of that was yellow/gold for one of the stories. I only used some of the things, but it was important to me, having these bright golden images dotted around the story. I am often building the narrative around all sorts of themes linked to a central premise: so with this latest one about a hero there’s fame, loyalty and truth which all have a relevance to being a hero. But it’s a middle grade novel, so on the surface it’s about a boy who dreams of being a gladiator, a dog and a rescue, although I hope it’s not what anyone is expecting as a traditional story about heroism.

 

Usually I find stories start with characters. I loved the idea of a boy who was a dreamer, a double life of the imagined and the real. In a way that’s what it’s like as a writer too. I don’t remember what started this one off, I rarely do as it’s such an organic process, only that I wanted to know more about him and what he was made of.

 

When my son was young he had a story read to him every night. I love reading picture books aloud, but he’s 17 now and not that interested to be honest. I’d spend ages at the library picking books while he drove his toy cars around the edge of the shelves, so I suppose he had his own little narrative going on.

 

Schools, and government, often seem to be putting too much pressure on the need for reading. I don’t think it should be something you have to do, like tidying your room. We need to have found that enjoyment in reading ourselves and have enthusiasm for stories. There’s so much you can learn, and I don’t mean to pass tests. I think children pick up on your motives. If we are pushing them to fulfil what are, in the end, arbitrary exams (and perhaps only suited to some) they may have anxieties about reading and their ability, and shun being judged.

 

Mostly I want readers to find something universal in the individuals in the stories I write. They are what matters, people. Stories have always been a place to escape, to exercise my imagination. In the end, it is always the connection that you make with the characters that leaves a lasting impression to me.

 

I have a website sarahlean.co.uk where there’s a clicky thing to buy the books but they are also available at independent bookstores.

I tweet @sarahlean1, but lapse occasionally because of deadlines

I am scared of Facebook.

 

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” Theodore Roosevelt.



Thursday, November 21, 2013

My Favourite Opening Lines

I made a little cheerful list of my favourite first lines, and surprisingly it turns out they are all childrens books. 

THE SECRET GARDEN, FRANCES HODGSON BURNETT
"When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle everybody said she was the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen."

CHARLOTTE'S WEB, E.B. WHITE

"Where's Papa going with that axe?" said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.

THE BAD BEGINNING, LEMONY SNICKET

 “If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book.”



THE GRAVEYARD BOOK, NEIL GAIMAN

 “There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.”


OATH BREAKER, MICHELLE PAVER

 “Sometimes there’s no warning.”

A MONSTER CALLS, PATRICK NESS, Inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd

“The monster showed up after midnight. As they do.”


But my all-time favourite is still the opening to,

THE PEPPERMINT PIG, NINA BAWDEN


'Old Granny Greengrass had her finger chopped off in the butcher's when she was buying half a leg of lamb. She had pointed to the place where she wanted her joint to be cut but then she decided she needed a bigger piece and pointed again. Unfortunately, Mr Grummett, the butcher, was already bringing his sharp chopper down. He chopped straight through her finger and it flew like a snapped twig into a pile of sawdust in the corner of the shop. It was hard to tell who was more surprised, Granny Greengrass or the butcher. But she didn't blame him. She said, 'I could never make up my mind and stick to it Mr Grummett, that's always been my trouble.'' 

Blog to book, can it happen?

Blog to book, can it happen?

Well of course it can. Just like a lone parent writing a book in coffee shops, living of benefits can create the Harry Potter sensation.

Look at New Yorker Julie Powell, who aspired to cook all 524 recipes in Julia Child's cookbook in 365 days, a challenge she described on her popular blog that would make her a published author and eventually have a film made about her story.

We all know the rags to riches stories. Have mates who have been trying to get published for years, and then become an overnight success.

I started my blog and twitter account because I was told that's what the publishing world wanted. I tend not to grumble about the new hoops, but just jump right through them. I'm going to pitch to an editor on Saturday, and I have tried to increase my followers yesterday by pointing out on the local hubs Facebook page that I'm following loads of blogs - and I'm not being followed back. Cheeky scribes! 

On the 18th of November, despite having a couple of paid deadlines looming I dragged myself out into the cold to a Business of a Writing Seminar.  The tickets were rather expensive, but Tom Sykes gave a frank and useful run down of his experiences of travel journalism and creative non-fiction, as well as how to find writing opportunities abroad. He proffered some excellent links. 

I felt Sean Tyler, billed as 'an award-winning Hampshire-based playwright, who has had multiple plays performed in New York,' an interesting guy, but the unicorn in the room. His story had the magical element that many writers understand, he took a risk it paid off, but there was a good dollop of luck.

Although, I would have found Helen Wallen, a local professional copywriter, now mother and blogger of Just A Normal Mummy, interesting. I would have enjoyed seeing her at a social media event certainly. She's got over a thousand followers, bagged a few awards.  I was a little miffed.

I had paid to listen to paid writers. I'm currently not earning enough to live off, but the cheques are finally coming in. I'm focused on the next step, always looking for that next opportunity.

Helen did say something interesting though. She mentioned a magical three to four thousand following would then automatically lead to the book deal. Maybe it will. It certainly wouldn't hurt anyone's chances. If you can sweeten your attraction to an editor, offer a little extra that your fellow writer doesn't have perhaps it would swing things your way.

I personally think it comes back to the writing. Good writing, a unique voice, something different gets the publishing deal.

I now write my blog because I enjoy it. And because every day it forces me to think about my aim. 



Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A bit of motivation from Sarah Lean

Yesterday, Sarah Lean visited my MA class. What a treat! Despite the fact she had been stuck in traffic for hours, you could see the positive energy hum all around her body. Although she touched on her own personal journey, she did not yap on about how great she was. Instead, Sarah was full of real writing tips.

It soothed me to find another writer who could clearly hear her characters voices. I was particularly interested in the amount of rewrites she needed to do. She stressed the importance of only being able to write the beginning after you have finished the book. 

She offered some great advice on deconstructing sub plots, I might give it a try. When you come across an interesting sub plot, trace the thread of the story back to see how it worked. I'm digging out a few of my Darren Shan young adult novels to have a go. 

My youngest daughter adored Sarah's book, 'A Dog Called Homeless,' I bought two of her other books as presents for my girls. They were so excited at receiving signed copies.

I'm feeling up beat and motivated to get some serious writing done. And, I'm feeling rather smug at the fact that I've had a bit of a stab at my rationale for my assignment. In am in the mood for getting some homework finished. Yeah! 

Unfortunately, I suspect I may be having a day out at the hospital tomorrow. Soon I will have visited so often I will be on first names terms with everyone. But at least the time I should be safe from the prodding and poking. This time it's my youngest daughter. Is the sprained wrist a fracture? That is the question. 

If she's still in pain in the morning I will be spending a few hours in A & E.  Even if it isn't fractured and it does feel better in the cool light of day, I think I will be witnessing some awesome acting and spending a few hours at - you guessed it - A & E.

Never mind, J K Rowling is famous for her coffee shop stories. Best selling novel written while waiting for a camera to be shoved - hem - maybe not.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Four Little Changes - to make my needs important

I've invested money into a degree to help me fulfil my dream as a writer. I'm seven weeks into my course, and I'm sad to say that I have not given it as much effort as I wanted because I have allowed myself to be distracted by other things.

Yesterday, I phoned my younger sister to see how she was getting along. She is expecting her first child. In a clear and confident voice she explained that she no longer want me to buy the cot. When the baby is born, she will decide if she feels up to visitors, and if she wants to be alone with the baby so be it. If she doesn't feel up to Christmas Dinner with her in laws, she will stay at home. 

To be honest she was the same about her wedding. And why shouldn't she be? It was her day.

Once upon a time I would have been upset. I have always wanted to be closer, and would have liked to be involved. But when I put the phone down, I thought, what the hell. I bought my youngest sister a cot on the birth of her first child. I can just send my other sister a gift voucher for her to buy what she wants. I want to travel the path of the least hassle.

It's caused me to reflect on the birth of my first child. My parents had just died. I was desperate to please everyone around me. I was so ill during my pregnancy, frequently hospitalised due to the sickness. I can look back now and honestly say with a smile, that my mother and sister in law were complete bitches. But it was ME that went back for more. Desperately, trying to make them like me. What a idiot? Yes I really was that needy.  A couple of years later, I remember the suicide attempt after my mother in law told me that 'we would NEVER get on. Never, never, never. No matter what I did or how hard I tried.' I could feel her smiling down the phone as I cried, and went on to her 'we are very different people speech.' I am ashamed to admit that I apologised and sent my mother and sister in law flowers!

It wouldn't make me suicidal now. 

I remember the exact date years later when I saw my mother in law 'do a bit of behaviour' towards another member of family that made me decide I didn't want their approval. I realised that she was right, we were different people. Only this time I was glad.

I'm still the one who makes the effort with my in laws. People pleasing is a hard habit to break, even if it doesn't please them. Plus, I have this major hang up about treating elders with respect. I send pictures of my beautiful daughters, send letters to let them know what their amazing grandchildren are doing. I receive so much positive feedback from everyone who meet my girls. What joys they are missing out on! 

My husband phones his brother and sister every Christmas, a single call once a year, and he always points out that it's one call more than he receives from them. He use to ring his parents every week, now it's every six weeks.  They phone maybe twice a year. I can't remember when I stopped even being curious about the conversations.

Now, here is my clever little sister putting her needs first. And she is happier for it.  

We will be meeting my in laws on the 1st of December. I use to become physically ill before every visit. At one point I didn't go to their house for several years. No one ever believes this story. We were contacted, and told that they wanted us to be like family and visit the house. Because I couldn't say no like little sis would have, we went. The visit had been arranged seven weeks in advance. Our car broke down outside their home. While at the house - and remember we hadn't visited for YEARS, my brother in law phoned and asked if my in laws wanted to come for tea. We were pushed into the car, driven back to our Premier Inn, at four in the afternoon on a Sunday. They wanted to see their grandchildren.  Their other grandchildren. There was nothing to do around the Premier Inn, no car to take the kids out and my youngest girl sobbed herself to sleep saying  'they are going to see their grandchildren! We are grandchildren too.' I had nothing left to say to defend them. I have forgiven them, but my daughters face, red eyes, hair plastered onto her sweaty cheeks has she cried herself to sleep stayed with me.

They don't bother me anymore. If I do have any feelings, it's sadness that things didn't work out better, and concern over who will look after them as they get older. 

 After my chat with my sister I had a discussion with my daughters and I've made four little changes.

If I'm busy on the 1st of December, or if I have work to do - I don't think I will be driving up to Banbury to see my parent in laws. And, if my husband tries to guilt me into it by saying if I don't go he won't go - he's in for a shock!  And I'm not going to worry about what they think. I will only make the decision on the day.

 Currently, I'm not giving lifts to anyone, I'm struggling to drive at all.  I'm in hospital test waiting land. I know that when I can help, I do. But as for my regular passengers, I haven't heard much since I'm no longer offering a taxi service. In fact I haven't had a call or email in over two weeks. In future if I feel like it I will offer a lift, if I don't I won't. Nothing nasty, but I will decide how I feel and if I'm well enough physically and mentally. 

I have a couple of fair weather friends who only phone when they need something, or something is happening in their lives. They will spend hours on the phone crying, and needing me to pick them up a bit. And then you don't hear anything for eight months. I'm putting the  caller ID on, if I'm writing, busy, or just watching a programme I'm enjoying I'm not answering unless I feel like it. Likewise for any calls that the ID says 'International!'

I'm eager to see my new niece or nephew, I love babies. I would have liked to be more a part of things. But if sister isn't up to visitors in January when we are up, my first cuddle will be the next time I'm up North. I'm not making the 700 miles round trip, and hotel and petrol costs unless it's something I want to do. I'm sure I will get lots of lovely updates via email and Facebook. 

Four little changes. But, I feel like something has changed inside me.

My sisters last words kept me up most of the night, 'it's me and the baby that are important.'

Well maybe it's time to make my needs important.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Plates

A writing career is rather like spinning plates. 

When you first begin writing, you quickly find it isn’t enough to keep one writing ‘plate’ in motion. If you want regular work, as soon as one piece is accepted, you need to send out more queries, then maintain the momentum while waiting for replies. 

Tonight, while sending my confirmation of ownership, I've just sent out a proposal for a new teaching resource. 

I do live performances. Yesterday, while chasing invoices for my last job, I was trying to get booking for summer 2015. 

Next you need to know about current trends and network like mad. On Monday I will be going to the 'Business of Writing' Seminar and then it's the SCBWI conference this weekend. More spinning. 

All I really want to do is sit, and write stories.  I'm keen to write the story I've chosen for my MA. I need to get my rational down, do more academic reading. Unfortunately, these activities become another spinning plate.

The only way to keep those plate spinning is to be as organised as possible, to be honest I feel surrounded by broken crockery at times. I worry that I get stressed and snappy with my family. I become frustrated with people who don't properly understand the pros and cons of the industry. 

I have ideas on how I can streamline, and become more organised. But I can't stop or the plates I'm spinning at the moment with crash at my feet. I think the best thing I can do is try hard, but invest in a bit of superglue. 












Saturday, November 16, 2013

Abbie Headon Guest Blog

After growing up near Portsmouth, I went to Oxford University to read for a BA and a Masters degree in Music, and then, after trying a few different jobs, found myself working in publishing at Oxford University Press. In 2005 I changed career again, and headed out to Cologne and then Berlin to teach English to businesspeople. When I came home to Portsmouth, I continued teaching for another year, and in 2010 moved back into publishing, at Summersdale Publishers in Chichester, where I work as Managing Editor.

At Summersdale we publish all sorts of non-fiction, with an acclaimed list of travel writing and memoirs. We also produce books in the genres of self-help, true crime, gift and humour – our motto is ‘something for everyone’, and I believe it’s true.

I came up with the idea for the Poetry First Aid Kit in the middle of 2012. I’d read articles on the healing power of poetry, and it struck me how satisfying it would be to compile a collection of poems that would help people out with specific problems, form heart-ache to Monday blues.

I pitched the idea to my colleagues and they all thought it could be a winner. The next stage was to draw up a plan for the book and to start looking for somebody to write it. I was so passionate about the project that our Editorial Director, Claire Plimmer, suggested that I should do it. So I did.

I grew up in a family where poetry was something fun, something pleasurable. Phrases such as ‘O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!’ and ‘Cats no less liquid than their shadows’ accompanied my childhood, and when I became a dark-souled adolescent, I found solace in the works of Wilfred Owen and Emily Dickinson – I admit right now that I was a very typical bookish teenager. I think poetry is so effective because it provides a sudden plunge into a new emotional world. Each poem is a universe where anything could happen, and yet the fact that most poems fit onto a single page provides an element of control, an element of safety. No matter how turbulent the emotions within, we know before we even begin to read that the space for their expression is bounded – we’re not plunging into unknown depths. For me, this combination of risk and safety is very powerful.

As I had a very clear conception of what I wanted to achieve with this book, I didn’t find it as difficult to write as I would a novel or a non-fiction narrative. I already had some poems in mind that I wanted to include, such as ‘Pied Beauty’ by Gerard Manley Hopkins (which celebrates ‘All things counter, original, spare, strange’ – and to be honest, I often feel that I’m one of those things myself) and ‘He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven’ by W. B. Yeats (in which we read of love unaccompanied by riches – but who would wish for the stars if they were offered such beautiful dreams instead?), so my challenge was to search through lots of poetry sources to find enough poems to make a complete book.

My approach to the project was to start by assembling all the poems that I felt would either provide an answer to a particular problem or allow a person in a difficult situation to feel less alone in their suffering – because when something’s wrong, I think it’s often as important to realise that somebody else knows what you’re going through as it is to have somebody make the problem go away. I deliberately chose poems ranging from the very serious, such as ‘Happy the Man’, a translation by John Dryden form Horace’s Odes, to the utterly ridiculous, such as the poem ‘The Bath’ by Harry Graham, which provides important advice on whether one should bathe with the bathroom door locked or unlocked. (Graham’s poem leaves us in no doubt that locked is the way to go here.)

It was fascinating for me to find myself on the other side of the publisher–author relationship after so many years of working with books. It was so useful to receive editing feedback from Claire, as she helped me to see opportunities I’d missed and assumptions I’d made – I can’t emphasise enough how valuable the editing process can be. The other big discovery was just how exciting it is to open a box and find it full of books with one’s own name on the cover. As a publisher, it’s always a treat when new books arrive each month, but when I saw my own name in cheerful green capitals on the cover, the feeling was quite different: this is mine; I made it; I wonder if anybody will like it?

Putting a book out there in the world is a little bit like baring your soul: it’s putting a little piece of yourself on a shelf and hoping against hope that somebody will find it worthy enough to spend some of their hard-earned money on it. It really is a case of whether somebody wants to invest in you, whether somebody thinks that what you have made is good enough – and by extension, whether you are good enough.

I think I will stop writing now before I make myself any more nervous than I already am!

You can read more about my book at http://www.summersdale.com/book/1/777/poetry-first-aid-kit/ and you can find me on Twitter (far too often, and most especially when I should be doing something more creative) at https://twitter.com/AbbieHeadon.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Taking off the Super Mum Cape

Work up to no electricity. This time we did have a warning, but I forgot! Why? Because I'm tired. And for the first time in a decade a little hung over. 

If a good night's rest seems like a faraway dream, welcome to motherhood. The season of having children sometimes seem to require more of us than we have to give. I get the feeling of desperation that sometimes overwhelms tired mums. This morning I needed to think how to survive--and thrive--when you're one tired mama.

My girls are frantically Ebaying, doing homework which requires every available counter space, and now making their our gift wrapping paper! I sometimes wonder if these schemes are thought up for no other reason than to annoy me. I have washing that I'm trying to dry draping off every available inch of space, and a dog who likes to bring his 'kills' into the house.

I've decided to take off the cape. You know, the Super Mum cape. I am human. I cannot do it all. The years of caring for children (and that includes teenagers) are demanding, but they are not forever. I don't want to miss them by trying to impress people or prove something, thereby working yourself into the ground.

I have decided to simplify. We're in an extra-tiring season of life, I am looking at what I can do-or not do-or change to simplify. So for the moment I'm planing very simple meals, saying no to outside activities for a time, and trying to at stay home more and commit to less.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Important lessons

It's nearly a year since my husband moved to work in Stevenage. 

This is probably the biggest challenge I have ever experienced. It’s very easy to feel overwhelmed and resentful about my situation, particularly because 
I didn’t choose it. I struggled, I had less personal time, I was frightened of being solely responsible for my children’s needs, and the extra financial stress also added pressure. These were all things that were dealt with – and they did get easier as I adapted. The loneliness, feelings of rejection and hurt lingered. 

The most important lesson I learnt was resenting my situation made it harder to cope with it, and didn't help me or my children come to terms with our new lives.

I am lucky in the fact that my partner and I were friends before we married. We still have a lot in common, mainly the fact we both adore our children. Weekends are used not to argue, but to spend time with the children. In the past year he has phoned the children every night to see how their day was, and then asked to speak to me to see if we needed anything. When my car broke down he was the first person I thought to phone. And when things have hit the fan for him, he's rang me.

He's a great father. I was listening to some members of my university class talking about their absent fathers, it made me count my blessings! He has done his best to maintain the girls, and if I'm honest me financially. And, I was grateful that he came back when I was in hospital and France.

But it's hard, especially when the kids are in bed, you're exhausted and the house feels empty.  I suppose it is the feelings of failure, depression and low self-esteem which is the real enemy. I've gradually fell into a new routine, and with the support of those wonderful friends of mine who have been so encouraging, my new life has started to feel 'normal'. Like all stressful events in life, time can heal painful scars.

However, now Christmas is approaching which is a regular minefield for all families. But rather than worry, which would be a little wry after yesterday's post. I have decided to focus on this quote:

“And when we give each other Christmas gifts in His name, let us remember that He has given us the sun and the moon and the stars, and the earth with its forests and mountains and oceans--and all that lives and move upon them. He has given us all green things and everything that blossoms and bears fruit and all that we quarrel about and all that we have misused--and to save us from our foolishness, from all our sins, He came down to earth and gave us Himself.” 
― Sigrid Undset

Help for my worry wart friends

I'm exhausted this morning.

My beautiful girls are down with a sickness bug sweeping their school.

There is something strange about having to move round the house in the pre dawn hours. It is as if your own kitchen resents you flicking the electric light on. While I was wiping foreheads, and waiting for the girls to finally go to sleep, I thought about all the families in Portsmouth waiting for news of whether they still have a job at BAE.

A lovely lady I know is currently going through the emotionally draining and physically painful process of waiting for medical test results to come through. Another friend is doing the same for her husbands health checks. One of the kindest gentlemen I know at my writing group, is waiting to see if his wife's health will improve.

It's a strange thought, of how many people's lives are on hold because they are waiting for news, good and bad. It certainly puts waiting for feedback on a manuscript into perspective. 

I spoke to one of the ladies who attends my writers group last night who is a self confessed worrier. Her husband, thankfully, believes that he won't be affected by the redundancies. But with one child at university and two in college, she is worried. I tried to gently explain that in the years that I have known her she has been frequently worried by the possibility of her husband losing her job. 

In that same time period, my husband has been made redundant twice. It was horrible, stressful both emotionally and financially. But we got through it. I did not tell her that to dismiss her worries, but to try and illustrate the waste of worrying about something we can't change and don't have power over. Especially, when others around us are in the midst of dealing with the realities of bad news now.

The girls godfather, phoned last night worried and tearful about how he would cope when his parents died. Nothing dramatic has happened to their health problems, he is just noticing them ageing. So why worry about it now? It is souring the good times he could be enjoying in the present.

We all worry to some extent. But like any negative behaviour we need to think 'do we have to give in to it?'

Some of the people I love are at this moment fighting personal battles. All I can do is let them know that I will support them any way I can, and pray for them. If feels such a little thing. But it also makes me more determined to fight the depression, panic attacks and my other demons.

I have made a list of things that help me when negative behaviours creep into my life, in the hope it will help my worry wart friends;

Eating well - I tend to miss meal and over eat junk food

Exercise

Helping others - the food bank and church are my favourites.

Prayer

Writing

Distraction with something you find absorbing and pleasant. Eg, sitcoms, books on tape, old-time radio dramas on CD. 

When I catch myself in a spiral like this, I'll just tell myself, "I can't do anything about this now. I'm going to go do something I CAN do something about." Then I clean the house or something. It doesn't always help, but at least my house will be nice and clean to enjoy when I'm feeling better.

Knit. Preferably something complicated. It will occupy enough of your brain to keep you from a full out panic. 

Reminding myself that no matter what happens, I can handle it. Even my worse case scenario situations, many of which I know I can't avoid. Whatever my mind flashes on the most terrible thing, I stop, just take a deep breath and tell myself: Yes, that might happen, and I can survive it. Others have before me who were no smarter or luckier than I.




Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Am I the only one who hates....

Am I the only person who hates workmen coming into their home?

The flood was in March 2013.
I was told last week they have finished, but no, they have come back today the 5th of November 2013.

For months I haven't had the use of kitchen cupboards. Pans, tins and an excess of Tupperware have been sitting on every work surface. The floor has been up, but I've sort of coped with that.

Now don't get me wrong. The workmen have been the friendly chatty type, and I don't feel threatened.

But I hate it.

I hate waiting in.

I hate the chirpy comments about 'it's looking like you're behind on your washing, love...' 
When you have deliberately not washed because you don't want the clothes airers to be in the men's way.

I hate the conversation every writer has to come across occasionally IN MY OWN HOME!

'It must be lovely working from home.'

'So what is it you actually do?'

'I've got a great idea for a novel, but I haven't got the time to write it.'

I hate the way they turn up at 8:30 and disappear at 9 because they need a saw.

The fact the front door always left open.

The way it causes the dog to freak out.

How my productivity all an all time low, while my workload is at an all time high.

And then - this morning the water being turned off without me knowing in the middle of brushing my teeth. 

But what I hate most of all the way it plunges me into a depression.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Addicted to love - computer love!

I've heard that many addicts don't realise they have a problem until someone or something points it out.

I'm shocked and ashamed to admit my dependence on WiFi. I'm still having cold sweats over my week of no Internet connection AND no printer. 

Not being able to email - awful. 
Not being able to access the information from university - stressful. 

But I'm ashamed when I think of all the big issues in the world, such as the fact that many people in the UK are homeless and living on the streets, that I'm feeling out of sorts because for one week I've had to drive round getting free Internet connection in cafes. 

It's like always wearing a watch, and then one day forgetting to put it on. You check your wrist constantly. 

And it's not just checking emails that I use it for. I didn't realise how often I looked strange and bizarre things. Most of the time if I stopped to think I would realise I know the information that I'm looking for. But at some point in my life I have made a realisation that I don't have to remember anything, I can always check.

What's the past tense of the word sew? I reach for the iPad.
Weather...
The name of the song going around my head....
What was Jamie's dog called in Jamie and The Magic Torch?

All these insane things I look up, and then instantly forget, because if I need the information again, I can just search it again.

So do I have another addiction to go alongside overeating? Probably, but I'm glad to have my regular WiFi fix back.





THE EMISSARY by Greg Klerkx

Readers of my blog must remember my attempts to get on to a Reauthoring Event. The closest I came  was when I was included into the Portsmouth's 20 x 12 project. I LOVED the workshops. It changed the way I thought about my work. And it also helped to get a couple of non fiction publishing deals! 

I was extremely excited to receive this email from Greg today for two reasons. One, my email is finally working again. And two, I felt I finally had an opportunity to help a great guy back. 

Greg has just published a novel, and the details on how to get it are below. I do hope people will check it out.  

Open email from Greg;

'I've just published my first novel, titled THE EMISSARY. It's available as an e-book on Amazon via their Kindle Select programme, which means that Amazon is the only place you can get it (for now). You can get it here:


If you don't have a Kindle (I don't) you can still read it via a free, downloadable Kindle Reader that works on iPad, any smartphone, etc. That's available herehttp://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/feature.html?ie=UTF8&docId=1000425503&ref=kcp_ipad_mkt_lnd

It's best to read the blurb on Amazon for a semi-detailed book description. I'll add that THE EMISSARY isn't for the easily offended, but it does tell a cracking story. Do pass this along to anyone who likes their dystopian fiction packed with inter-species genetic tinkering, militant polygamist cults, and just a touch of very black comedy.

Though you may get some duplication of this message via Facebook and Twitter - and I'll run a couple of Kindle promotions later in the year - I won't be endlessly flogging the novel at you...not because I don't want you to read it, but because I get annoyed at such relentless self-hype and figure you will, too. I will be blogging about how it feels to venture into self-publishing - from the perspective of someone who's only previously been published by a big publishing house - atwww.gregklerkx.com. I'll be commenting more obliquely on the novel via a bespoke Pinterest board, http://www.pinterest.com/gregklerkx/the-emissary/. '


greg2

Greg Klerkx

Greg is a writer and producer who began his career as a journalist in Southern California, where he won more than a dozen awards for commentary, feature and investigative writing.

A regular features contributor to New Scientistmagazine, Greg’s writing has also appeared in the Sunday Telegraph Magazine, Evening Standard,publications by DEMOS, and the New York Times. His first book, Lost in Space (Pantheon/Secker & Warburg was named among the best books of 2004 by the Independent and the San Francisco Chronicle.

In addition to co-leading the award-winning cultural producing company, Nimble Fish, Greg teaches writing craft and narrative development in schools and business settings and frequently conducts workshops for London-based writing charity, Spread The Word. More atwww.gregklerkx.com.

http://www.reauthoring.co.uk


Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Country and Western Blues

My WiFi is not working.
I can't get my emails.
When I press print - nothing happens.
The only reason I am able to blog today is because I'm in a place with free WiFi. 
The 379 emails waiting to download feels a little intimidating.

In the background a Kenny Rodgers song from the 1970s is playing. It feels like a message from my late father - it was of his favourites.

'You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run.
You never count your money when you're sittin' at the table.
There'll be time enough for countin' when the dealin's done.

Now Ev'ry gambler knows that the secret to survivin'
Is knowin' what to throw away and knowing what to keep.
'Cause ev'ry hand's a winner and ev'ry hand's a loser,
And the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep."'

   
(Kenny Rogers The Gambler Lyrics)

It's amazing how these sort of songs are like the words from fortune tellers, some days they seem to hold a secret message just for you.  But I'm refusing to let my mind stray to career, marriage, family and friendships!

On Sunday I felt on top of the world. I got my university email to work. I managed to navigate the learning network. I printed out important articles. Yet on Monday I was unable to email my tutor my assignment. 

We’ve all felt it. The frustration that comes with computers and other technology. It seems to be just a part of life. But why? We spend a fortune on all these bits and bobs, is it really too much to ask for them to work consistently?

It seems to me that technology changes and grows in a way that unless you spend a tremendous amount of time studying and training, it’s almost impossible to stay up to date. We are left with constant learning. We all get frustrated when we learn new things because they feel foreign. You could almost say that if you could just get that document open, everything in your life would be better.

I could use this time to get the house and garden sorted, but after 3 months, the landlord has finally set a work man to fix the damage from the flood.  He is in the way of me, and I'm in his way. But at least the dog likes the new guy!

Daughter one is on a school trip, but daughter two is at home because of the teacher strike.

So with 'The Country and Western Blues,' we have decided to walk away. To have a coffee together, and then to retreat to the cinema away from the paint fumes.






Monday, October 14, 2013

Margaret Jennings & Lynne Stone on Wattpad

Wattpad is the world's largest community for discovering and sharing stories. It's a new form of entertainment connecting readers and writers through storytelling, and best of all, it's entirely free. With thousands of new stories added every day, an incredibly active community of readers, and the ability to read on your computer, phone, or tablet, Wattpad is the only place that offers a truly social, and entirely mobile reading experience.

A few members of The Writers at Lovedean have decided to embrace the new technology and have a go at posting their stories. However, their self promotion skills are terrible so I decided to try and give an helping hand.

Margaret Jennings is a local writer who regularly performs and wins at live story events. She's has had her work published in several anthologies, and won competitions for her haunting poetry. She's performed at the Southsea Show and Tongues and Grooves. And also runs writing retreats in the South of France. 

You can sample some of her writing here;

http://www.wattpad.com/27532988-title-of-your-story

Lynne Stone is an ex radio script writer for Conway Street, a soap airing three times a week for Express FM. She has had her works published in several anthologies, and has performed at The Umbrella Festival at the Groundlings Theatre. She has also won several writing competitions in her local writers group. I do hope after she's finished posting her novel on Wattpad she will think about another publishing option.

http://www.wattpad.com/27536655-its-all-about-dave-chapter-5-never-had-a-dream





Saturday, October 12, 2013

Blackwell's the friend of local writers

 Jack Hughes and Joanna West put on a great event this morning to showcase the work of Portsmouth writers,

Local writers such as; Christine Lawrence, Diana Bretherick, Tom Harris, Maggie Sawkins, Denyse Kirby, James Schillemore and William Sutton books held pride of place on the shop floor. While other writers such as Lynne Blackwood were invited to read.

How wonderful to live near to a city which is willing to help local artists! And know wonderful individuals willing to give up their precious time to help others in the business.

Feeling blessed.