Category Archives: Writing Courses and Tips

GUEST POST: Plotting A Novel, by Val Penny

Fellow Swanwick regular Val Penny shares her thoughts about how to go about that thing we call plotting…

Plotting is central to writing a novel, but it is a highly individual process. No two authors plot in the same way. Some plot organically while others plot in a very orderly fashion. Many writers even plot differently from one book to another.

Some write scenes: hundreds of scenes that interest and excite them and then they stitch the scenes together to from the novel. While others visualise the way the book will take shape using dozens of bits of paper laid out on their desk or even on the floor. It must be important to make sure the windows are closed if you plot this way! Some authors use tree diagrams, spreadsheets or mind-maps to plot and there is software available to download online for this.

However you plot your novel, the goal is the same, to allow the journey it is about take that will last several months on the road with a novel. It is important that you, as an author, choose between the ‘organic’ and ‘orderly’ methods of plotting so that you are comfortable that your choice works best for you and the book you are setting out to write.

I plotted my first novel Hunter’s Chase organically but, after attending a course run by Sue Moorcroft at last years’ Swanwick Writers’ Summer School, I plotted the sequel ‘Hunter’s Revenge’ using diagrams and spreadsheets. Neither is wrong. Both have strengths and weaknesses, and either can be successful for crafting a novel.

Writers who follow an organic way of plotting approach the outline largely as a form of awareness of the story, rather than as an actual document to be followed strictly. Many view the the outline not so much as a planning device but more of an analytical tool that helps strengthen the final draft by indicating the flaws in the story-line.

Some authors begin with an idea and just jump in to tell the story. They write steadily and regularly until they have written tens of thousands of words. Then they go through the organic draft and delete large chunks and add other pieces until the final manuscript is complete.

Other authors, like Sue Moorcroft, plot meticulously and there is no doubt that plotting an outline is hard work. However, having undertaken an outline on Hunter’s Revenge, I found myself into writing my novel with confidence. I was happy that one chapter followed another in a sensible sequence. My characters retained their identities. Of course, at the end of the first draft there were flaws, but I found I was able to repair those readily.

Whether you plot organically or in an orderly fashion, the important issue is that you can tell the story to your readers and that you, and they, are satisfied by your novel.

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You can find Val Penny in any of these online locations:

On her website here;

On Facebook here, and also to follow progress with her detective series here;

On Twitter here.

 

10 Highlights of Swanwick 2017

Goodness! Swanwick seems like such a long time ago now. It’s crazy how just six weeks ago today, I was sat in the foyer at The Hayes putting together welcome packs for all the delegates.

If, like me, you’re already excited for the 2018 school, here’s another story from fellow Swanwicker Elizabeth Hopkinson to help fill the darkening days of Autumn:

Swanwick Writers’ Summer School really is the week that keeps on giving.

I first attended twelve  years ago and every year something has happened there to change my writing life. 2017 has been the best year of all, with so many good things to take away and follow up at home. My writing year is already different because of Swanwick.

Here are 10 highlights:

1. Winning 2nd Prize in the Short Story Contest. Not only did I take home a fabulous (if heavy) framed certificate, but also a free critique from Writing Magazine. And during the week, I was able to chat to Jonathan Telfer of Writing Magazine about the best way to use it.

Congratulations to Elizabeth, who won second prize in the Swanwick Short Story Competition for 2017.

2. Running my own contest via the Swanwick Facebook group, to name the children’s’ novel that provided our cat Sootica’s name. (Sootica the Witch’s Cat by Ursula Moray Williams). The prize was a proof copy of my short story collection, Tales from the Hidden Grove, for which I now have an extra reviewer!

3. My 1-1 with John Lamont. Thanks to his advice, I have already begun to visualise the future I want. (Although I did get some funny looks photographing myself in Waterstones for the new Pinterest board!)

4. An invitation to join Yorkshire Writers’ Lunch in Huddersfield.

5. The tag line to my trilogy-in- progress brilliantly nailed by another Swanwicker over dinner: “The Magic Flute meets Farinelli Il Castrato”.

6. Getting a wheelchair-using beta reader for my trilogy. He read the first book in just a couple of days!

7. The opportunity to be part of Chasing Unicorns, a charity anthology in memory of former Swanwick chairman, Katy Clarke.

8. Procrastination-Free Day. I didn’t have the stamina to go past 2:30, but I got so many plot problems fixed. And I got stickers!

9. Learning how to be a journalist with Simon, on the Swanwick Standard. I wrote a piece for my local paper as soon as I got home.

10. Being able to revisit Swanwick whenever I want, thanks to Steve Barnett’s YouTube videos.

Thanks again, Swanwick! You’ve been amazing!

Elizabeth Hopkinson has had over 60 short stories published and won several prizes. Her first novel Silver Hands was published by Top Hat Books in 2013 and this year she has published an ebook of previously-published stories, Tales from the Hidden Grove. Elizabeth is a regular member of the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School, where she has led a number of workshops. She lives in Bradford, West Yorkshire, UK, with her husband, daughter and cat, in a tiny house that is being taken over by books and artwork.

Website: elizabethhopkinson.uk
Twitter: @hidden_grove
Facebook: ElizabethHopkinsonAuthor
Blog: hiddengroveextra.blogspot.co.uk
Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/author/show/3029262.Elizabeth_Hopkinson

Newsletter: tinyletter.com/hiddengrove
Patreon: patreon.com/elizabethhopkinson

Lizzie Borden Comes to Swanwick – Maggie Cobbett shares her fancy dress story from the 2017 school

Another stories from a fellow Swanwick alumnus. This week, it’s Maggie Cobbett’s turn, sharing with us her fantastic fancy dress outfit!

Shopping for fancy dress often turns up the unexpected. This year’s Wild Wild West theme seemed to call for Calamity Jane, Belle Starr or Minnehaha, but I fell in love straightaway with the axe murderess outfit based on the story of Lizzie Borden. (Yes, I know that she lived in Massachusetts. Surely some poetic licence is allowed at Swanwick discos?) The sleek black dress had long puffed sleeves and a high collar featuring a cameo brooch. It came with a voluminous net underskirt, lace-up waistcoat and mini hat with a half veil. The axe was an optional extra.

It wasn’t long after my arrival at The Hayes that certain drawbacks became apparent. The first of these was that I’d offered to co-host the Prose Open Mic, which was due to begin immediately after that evening’s speaker and would certainly overlap with the disco. With no time to change in between, I had to choose. The Lizzie Borden outfit won, of course, although I did get some odd looks in the Main Conference Hall during Cathy Cassidy’s talk on writing for children. Before that, though, there was the difficulty of actually getting into the dress with no one to help me. My room at the top end of Lakeside seemed curiously isolated. Having been told on several occasions that The Hayes was fully booked, I must have had neighbours, but I never saw or heard them. To add to the difficulty, the hearty nature of Swanwick food had started to have an effect on my already far from sylph-like figure. It took a series of painful contortions to squeeze myself into the dress and do up the long zip at the back. Fixated on the possibility of a ‘wardrobe malfunction’, I hardly dared to breathe out all evening.  The hat was a worry too. Held on with a wing, a prayer and a handful of hair grips, it obliged me to walk around like a Victorian schoolgirl in a deportment class. Did I mention that I was also wearing a pair of tight high heeled boots?

I hope that the writers who took part in the Prose Open Mic were not intimidated by the sight of me officiating with an axe in my hand as well as a borrowed egg timer and bell. Jennifer Wilson and I ran a tight ship and, by keeping to five minute slots, were just able to fit everyone in. The closest I got to the disco afterwards was the bar. I wouldn’t have dared to dance anyway, of course, but there was plenty of fun to be had admiring other people’s imaginative costumes and posing for photos

It’s just as well that I saved my energy for struggling out of the dress later on. Maybe I should have sought a volunteer to come to my room and unzip me but then again maybe not. We can’t all be as lucky as Poldark’s Demelza!

You can find Maggie at her online home here. She is also on Facebook.

A Swanwick Story: Julia Pattison

Regular visitors to this blog will be familiar with my frequent mention of a place called Swanwick, a village in Derbyshire, UK, and home to the longest-running (we believe) writing conference in the world.

It has been an integral part of my own writing journey and, since taking up the post of School Archivist last August, I was interested to learn how much the Writers’ School has influenced other delegates. So, I sent a request via the newsletter for people to share their stories.

The beautiful and inspirational Julia Pattison responded with this most unusual tale:

I first met Clifford Beck at Swanwick Writers’ Summer School back in 1999. He became a good friend, and over the years he’d tell me anecdotes of his time as a Far East Prisoner of War.

Julia with Clifford, Swanwick Writers’ Summer School, 2004

At Swanwick 2004 we were sat on our favourite bench enjoying a chat in the summer sunshine, when he mentioned that the following August 15th 2005, it would be the 60th Anniversary of VJ Day. With a deep sigh that touched my heart, he went on to say that it would be his dream to stand once again on the Bridge on the River Kwai, not as a prisoner this time, but as a free man.

He had planned to go with his wife Esther, but sadly she’d died some years previously, and his son Nick didn’t want to make the journey. On impulse, I said that we could make his special pilgrimage together the following Easter holiday, and the seeds for the journey were sown…

Not far short of his 90th birthday, his health had deteriorated considerably since our conversation that summer day at Swanwick, so although he had hoped to walk across the bridge, he was content to walk the few steps up to the entrance of the Bridge, where a kindly passing tourist took our photo to capture his dreamed- for moment. We then spent some time in the beautifully kept Kanchanaburi Cemetery where he said prayers over the graves of some of his fellow FEPOWs who had never made it home. Afterwards we were met by Rod Beattie, the founder of the Thailand-Burma Railway Centre ( honoured with the MBE for his research )  who gave us a private tour of the Centre. I recall that Clifford became particularly emotional when Rod took him into a reconstructed cattle truck, as it brought back vivid memories of his horrendous journey from Singapore.

The Bridge over the River Kwai

He never did get to Swanwick in 2005, or to go with me to the Beth Shalom Holocaust Memorial Centre near Laxton, Nottinghamshire, but died in June 2005. His son Nick comforted me by saying how much the trip had meant to his father, and that despite being so unwell, he had been determined to make the pilgrimage back to the Bridge on the River Kwai in March 20015 – probably with the same spirit that had stood him in such good stead during his time as a FEPOW. He had died a happy man, and had been looking forward to meeting everyone at his beloved Swanwick Writers’ Summer School.

Rest in Peace Clifford, a true officer and a gentleman, and an inspiration to all who knew him.

It was a privilege to help him fulfil his dream, and to record his story for the history archives.

Lest we forget.

Julia Pattison

You can purchase Clifford’s memoirs, written by Julia, at the Amazon UK store here.

To Walk Invisible: a Tribute to a Yorkshire family

Goodness! If you want heart-wrenching drama, you need look no further than the North York moors. Last night I watched To Walk Invisible, a BBC dramatisation of the life of the Bronte sisters.

To my shame, although both Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre are two of my most-loved ‘classic’ novels, I must confess I knew little of the struggles of their respective authors’ domestic lives.

I was introduced to these classic novels partly by my mother, but also due to reading lists for English Literature classes at school. I read Jane Austen many years ago (during my school days, in fact) and her novels enjoy legendary status across the world, even today. But she produced stories that examine the quest for a suitable matrimonial match among the genteel English society into which she was born. They are hardly life or death situations, per se.

Austen couldn’t possibly have imagined the frustration of three sisters, united only in their despair for their wayward brother as he succumbed to his demons doing his level best to tear the family apart as he did so.

Few women back then published novels. George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans), writing around the same time, wrote under a pseudonym in order to be taken seriously. The Brontes were a well-educated family for their position, being daughters of the widowed Reverend Bronte, but their education appears to have been somewhat haphazard, starting off at a school, but then being removed by their father and taught a little at home after their two older sisters (Maria and Elizabeth) had contracted tuberculosis.

It occurs to me that perhaps it is only in enduring the seemingly bottomless pit of such torment that we, as writers, find tales of such extraordinary passion. They do say that it is only by knowing sadness that we can identify happiness when we find such a thing.

I shall ponder on this thought as I begin compiling my Must Do list for 2017.

Item #1 – a visit to Haworth!

The Wild Writer Within Us All

So, here it is. A brief account of my final writing-related travel experience of 2016:

I don’t visit France anything like as often as I would like, and it’s been many years since I was in the south. Let me assure you, I will certainly not be waiting as long until my next visit.

I had been looking forward to a retreat with fellow Swanwick devotee Bridget Holding at her Wild Words nature retreat ever since the moment I returned from Swanwick back in August. (Goodness, that feels like such a long time ago!)

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The setting sun casts its pink glow on Bugarach Peak.
 Day One consisted of meeting and greeting my fellow retreaters, Susan and Catherine, and settling down to a delicious banquet, cooked by chef and host, Sander, and washed down by generous amounts of local wine, which is included in the price of your stay at the Le Presbytere.

The garden is beautifully well-kept by his partner Rommie, and they grow most of their own fruit and vegetables which are beautifully presented at every meal.

A hearty and healthy breakfast in the morning preceded some time spent with Bridget who gave us exercises to flex our writing muscles. In the afternoon, we went for a walk to the nearby lake, which sits directly at the foot of Bugarach Peak.

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I can vouch for this lake being as fresh and exciting to swim in as it looks. Honestly!

Braving the coolness of the water, we went for a dip. This was my first time swimming in ‘open water’ in recent years and it really was exhilarating. It was nice to emerge on the bank not smelling of chlorine and being able to bask in late afternoon sunshine to dry off. I might see if I can find anywhere local where I can relive the experience, albeit probably next Spring/Summer now!

On the Wednesday we visited a magical waterfall and sat around discussing movement, writing poetic descriptions of the thunderous phenomenon. I spent some time pondering our natural world, and how we fail to acknowledge so much of it in our day to day lives; the others decided to go for another open water dip. By all accounts it was way colder than the lake, so I was pleased to transfer to the thermal pond we found a little way down the road!

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Lunch at Le Presbytere is usually of the takeaway variety, but since we stayed close to the house most days, Sander concocted some terrific salads for us to enjoy.

Thursday’s weather was a challenge. The forecast said rain, and my injured foot told me a long walk would be unwise, so after a tremendous session on plotting and structure in the morning, I retreated to the solace of my room while the others went off into the wild.

Just a few moments later, the sky darkened. It felt like the mountains were closing in on us, huddling in a rugby scrum with the village underneath. Thunder rolled in the distance, advancing like an angry army across the sky.

I went downstairs to see whether my fellow guests had returned but instead found the pets unsettled so I chose to stay with them while the storm did battle above. As torrential rain battered the landscape and wild flashes of lightning lit up the sky we sat indoors, dry and safe. It must have looked strange. One human female, two dogs and two cats all trying to fit onto a sofa!

The ladies had a truly wild experience though. They eventually came back, soaked to the skin and having tramped through hailstone showers while trying not to get stuck underneath trees!

I was really sad to leave on Friday, especially since Susan and Catherine were staying another day, but unfortunately the flights were not favourable, and I had a date with Margaret Atwood at the RST to keep the following morning, so I had to say my goodbyes.

It’s been an amazing week in the Corbieres mountains at the foothills of the Pyrenees. I will certainly be back this way some time soon…

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Look at the laughter in our eyes! From L to R: Susan, Rommie, Sander, Catherine, me. Thanks to Bridget for taking this photo.

 

 

 

 

 

First Drafts – Getting The Story On The Page

2016 has been a great summer for writing activities, and it’s far from over.

Following the Dublin Writers’ Conference in June, I spent a blissful week at Swanwick in August and, in October, I shall be jetting off to the South of France for a retreat with the lovely Bridget Holding and her Wild Words, which I’m really looking forward to.

All in all, it promises to be a wholly creative period for me, especially as I am working on completing the next in the Lost Souls series, The Plain Truth.

But, here’s the thing. It’s sooooooo hard!

You see, in the short space of time that I have been writing (about four years), I have discovered something really important about the way I write books:

I’m really good at starting things, but I’m really rubbish at finishing them.

In fact, this applies to all sorts of things in my life, not just writing. So, my one single goal for 2016 has been to concentrate on finding ways of being able to finish my books, in the hopes that I can transfer these skills to other areas of my life too.

I was thrilled, therefore to meet Sheila Bugler in Dublin and attend her course on Getting Your First Draft Done.

I learned an enormous amount from this course. Two things in particular stood out for me:

Firstly, I don’t usually set myself a daily word count. This is probably because I don’t want the feeling of failure if I don’t hit it every day. To rectify this, Sheila gave us some simple exercises to help hit the count. I am now regularly hitting at least 500 words a day, and around 1500 at the weekends. Yay!

The second piece of advice I took away was to try not to listen to my inner editor. This is really difficult for me (especially as I am now a trained editor and proofreader!) so I decided to choose a different place in the house to do my writing, completely separate from my editing. Anywhere, in fact, other than my desk. Sometimes I’m sitting up in bed, sometimes I’m on the sofa. Last night, I scribbled a few sentences while perched on the kitchen table.

Fantastic, I thought. Armed with this new advice, I trotted off to Swanwick to see if I could learn more. One of the courses I had in mind was delivered by Michael Jecks and entitled Plotting and Stratagems.

From Michael’s course, I learned that my usual reason for getting stuck halfway into a novel is that I don’t plan well enough, so I took away some guidance for planning chapters. Hopefully, this will help with the problem as I make my way through book two in the Lost Souls series.

Speaking of which, I am eagerly anticipating my trip to South West France and being on retreat. I shall only be there for 3 full days, but I often surprise myself how much I can get through in a short space of time when I really get my head down and write with no distractions.

More news soon! Au revoir…

Swanwick 2016 – The Magic Continues…

The Hayes Conference Centre, Swanwick, Derbyshire
Swanwick Dinner
Communal dining room at the Hayes. Picture courtesy of Geoff Parkes (far left in the photo).

Sadly, I didn’t get to go to the Swanwick Writers’ Summer School in 2015. I had a very sick cat at home and no idea how long she had left on this mortal plane so, as heartbreaking as it was, I decided to stay with her in her final weeks. It was definitely the right decision.

No such emotional trauma this year, thankfully, and I couldn’t wait to bundle up the car and head off to Derbyshire for another memorable week of friendship nurturing and raucous laughter. I wasn’t disappointed.

After the initial settling in period, it was time to get my books across to the book room. This year was the first time I had my own book to sell, which was wonderful experience. So, too, for Mark Iveson and his non-fiction book Cursed Horror Stars.

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Mark Iveson and me, proudly displaying our own published books in the Swanwick Book Room for the first time.

The first full day saw me sat in a fascinating specialist course on Character Psychology with Steve Hartley. Such a great course, packed with interesting material for creating interesting characters for our stories.

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The incorrigible Phil Collins appreciating how I managed to pour myself into a corset!

Monday evening during Swanwick week features the infamous Fancy Dress Disco.

I do like this photo of me with dear friend Phil Collins. I can’t remember how much I had to drink by this point. I certainly wasn’t sober!

This year’s theme was Heroes and Villains. I chose Maleficent (any excuse to get out my corset); Phil’s pirate outfit turned a few heads too!

 

I set out to make sure I attended short courses which I felt would be of direct use to my own writing experience. This year, Michael Jecks gave phenomenal instructions about plotting and tips for bulldozing through writers’ block. I came away refreshed with lots of ideas for my novel.

Similarly, lovely Sue Moorcroft‘s course gave invaluable insight into the finer points of writing fiction. All in all, it was an exhilarating, if not exhausting, week of learning.

On the last day, after the AGM and the raffle to win a free place at Swanwick the following year, everyone disappeared back to their rooms to dress up for the Dregs Party. It’s a great excuse to bring out those cocktail dresses and a few of the guys even brought their tuxedos for the occasion.

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Dregs Party on the hallowed Swanwick lawn. Thankfully, the rain stayed away!

Some exciting things to note for me personally this year: I made my acting debut! A very small part during the renowned Page to Stage extravaganza was quickly followed on the last night by the Final Night Pantomime.

Written by Simon Hall, The Battle of Writers’ Block tells a humorous tale of an aspiring but self-conscious writer, Trevor, who is trying to write a novel. Haunted by the twin sisters of Doubt and Success, he is persuaded to take a trip to Swanwick Writers’ Summer School, where he receives the inspiration to finish his story. Lots of gags and a healthy dose of innuendo had the audience howling with laughter, thankfully!

Cast of this year’s pantomime, The Battle of Writers’ Block, written by Simon Hall. L-R: Lesley Deschener, Phil Collins, me, Simon Hall, Cathy Grimmer, Marion Hough, John Lamont. Photo courtesy of Louise Cahill.

Finally, the opportunity came along for me to play a part in helping the school. The archivist was wanting to step down, and so a vacancy popped up for someone organised who can help collate all the various documents that Swanwick has amassed over its 68-year history. I am looking forward to taking on this challenge and I’m hoping to start getting it into some kind of electronic format soon.

Swanwick Lawn
Chatting on the lawn. Picture courtesy of Geoff Parkes

All in all, it was another fantastic Swanwick experience, full of friendships. Special thank you to Geoff Parkes for the use of a couple of his photographs in this post.

Hope to see you all next year for another week of writing mayhem!

Happy New Year for 2016! My plans for the coming months…

Howdy folks!

Well, it’s been quite a hectic start to the year, not least because I am now the proud owner of two beautiful kittens!

Freya & Marlowe
Freya & Marlowe

Here they are, sitting side by side, as they often do, posing for the camera. Freya is the long-haired one. She’s an absolute sweetheart and adores being brushed, lying on her back in my arms, purring away. Marlowe is her stepbrother and he’s not quite so affectionate just yet. He prefers chasing all manner of things, including his own tail, round and round in circles until he gets dizzy and flops into a heap on the carpet.

They actually have different mums, but they were brought up in a communal feral setting. Thankfully, the foster mum has done a spectacular job at making sure they were handled  and well socialised before they came to me. They’ve been here nearly two weeks, and they’ve settled really well so I’m very pleased. Stay tuned over the coming months for news on their progress. In the meantime, see here for a short video.

sfep_straplineTowards the very end of 2015, I made a very important step towards my goal of quitting the day job. I took, and passed, a course in proofreading. If you, or anyone you know, is looking for a final proofread of an already polished manuscript, please do get in touch at lizhurstauthor@gmail.com for further information.

Recipients of my newsletter will know that work on the second novel in the Lost Souls series is progressing well, albeit slowly. I write in fits and starts sometimes. There will be an inspiration of some sort, and I can get two of three chapters done in one go, then I run out of steam and it sits there, neglected and collecting dust, until the next flurry of activity. I am pleased with what has made it onto the page so far, though, and my characters are developing nicely. Keep reading my newsletter for progress on the book and a cover reveal some time in late Spring.

Like so many people at this time of year, January heralds the start of the holiday booking season. I have booked two trips so far this year: Dublin and Swanwick, both writing conferences. This year’s Dublin trip in June is for a whole week this time, so I can take advantage of more of what the city has to offer. (I’m particularly intrigued by the National Leprechaun Museum!) Having missed Swanwick last year due to Lily’s illness, I’m looking forward to catching up with my wonderful writing family in August too.

So, there will be a lot going on, and a lot to keep you informed about as the year progresses. Goodness! I don’t know how I shall have the time for work…

 

op99lj 4de[p;,i8kkn ygv rfdxwsl[p0[kjt5h e (NO FREYA! Keep off the keyboard when Mummy’s writing!)

 

 

 

All Night At The Coffin Works: How do you stay up all night to write?

I had very mixed feelings about this event, I’ll be honest.

It seemed like a good idea, back in the summer when I bought the tickets. The nights were warm and stretched out way beyond teatime. Now, it was early October and, while not exactly cold, it was darker and Halloween was approaching with some determination.

Imposing door front. It was now or never!
Imposing door front. It was now or never!

I have always been someone who gets spooked easily, and right until the moment the event started, I had some misgivings about whether or not I would ever sleep again.

A coffin works. All night. What the hell was I thinking…?!

We settled in, eyeing each other with wariness. Twenty writers, most of whom had clearly never met each other, snugly fit into the room. I was very glad I had invited a fellow Swanwicker, Lol Barnes, along to join me. At least I would have someone to hold my hand, I thought, if it got spooky later on Like, in the dead of night. If the lights went out. Or something…

First thing’s first though, a tour round the museum.

Well, Newman Brothers’ coffin works didn’t actually make coffins, as it happens. They were essentially a brass foundry, so they produced all the accessories to go with coffins. Brass plaques, plates, crucifixes and handles were stamped and polished before being shipped out to the undertakers, where they would fit them to the coffins, ready for the deceased to be laid to rest.

Example os brass stamping machinery, still in working order.
Example of brass stamping machinery, still in working order.

Our guide, Owen Edmunds, was hugely enthusiastic about the place. Despite the music thumping from a neighbouring nightclub, we could still appreciate the ambience of this strange monument to Birmingham’s industrial heyday.

He showed us first into the stamping room, the presses still functioning after all these years (since 1882 to be precise) and making a dreadful racket as they stamped the thin brass plates into shapes, ready to be nailed onto someone’s coffin.

After the stamping room, we were ushered into the main building to see the warehouse. Here we learned the difference between a coffin as a casket:

Caskets are seen mostly in the US and are rectangular-shaped, exactly the same width at the top and bottom. You’ll see a single long handle fitted down the entire length of the casket which can be used to carry the deceased to their final resting place. A coffin, however, is tapered to fit the size of a human body as it lies facing upwards. Typically, you’ll have several smaller handles running down the side of a coffin which people can use to carry their loved one.

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Unbelievable variety of accoutrements you can have fitted to your coffin these days. Who knew???

The factory also has a sewing room, where ladies carefully stitched the shrouds for the deceased, in a range of colours. You could even have one made in the colours of your favourite football team, if you so desired.

Finally, we arrived in the factory office, left exactly as it was approximately seventeen years ago, as if it had just been abandoned for an untimely fire drill. The late Joyce Green who was the Managing Director at the time, had even left her reading glasses on her desk. (Slightly unnerving!)

I have to say, as a writing event it is definitely the most unusual I have ever attended. The tutors were friendly and gave us plenty of exercises to complete, along with encouragement into the wee small hours and beyond.

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Despite being dog-tired, there was something about the accommodation which didn’t seem appealing…

I was really pleased that I finally got to try my hand at some poetry, something I’ve been rather reluctant to try before. I don’t know whether it was as a result of sleep-deprivation but at 5.30am I even managed to produce some half-decent haiku. Watch out for some more of that to come perhaps…!

Many thanks to the wonderful team at Newman Brothers for letting us come to your fabulous museum.

“But first, this….” Procrastination and How Writers Deal With It (Or Don’t)

This coming weekend is a bank holiday in England and Wales. I’ve taken time off from my full-time job today and tomorrow, with the sole purpose of getting some serious writing done over the break.

I have about six projects on the go at the moment, all at various stages of completion. Some have barely been started, with notes strewn about all over the place, so it’s not like I’m struggling to find things to do.

I woke around 7am this morning, and between then and the six hours until lunch, I have

  • cleaned my car (it was absolutely filthy, it has to be said);
  • been to the shop for breakfast materials (no milk in fridge);
  • made and eaten said breakfast;
  • tidied up the kitchen;
  • cleaned the inside of the dishwasher (OK, I just inserted some device into the machine and set it on the highest programme, but still…);
  • had a bubble bath (by this time, I needed it);
  • put a load of laundry into the washing machine;
  • painted my nails.

In short, I have procrastinated.

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Courtesy of TheFreeDictionary.com

Now I have covered this topic here before, but this is not an affliction which resolves itself overnight. One has to work hard to overcome this particular bane.

Friends on Facebook have provided a selection of responses. Writers in particular though, seem to be bothered by this condition more than most, and have responded more than everyone else too.

“Amateur! Come back when your hair’s in cornrows,” said one friend. She’s a talented screenwriter (and Master Procrastinator, clearly).

But the procrastination sufferer does not need this kind of idea placing into their head. I am now seriously considering taking a couple of hours out to plait my hair, having surfed the web to discover that cornrows are far too difficult to do on my own. That killed another half an hour, mind you.

I need to know that I’m not alone here. I want to hear your procrastination techniques, large and small. Nothing is too crazy here. Feel free to spill all. I’m a nice, kind person and you’re guaranteed a virtual hug at the end.

In the meantime, I’m off to bake some muffins, or something…

 

Magical Writing Retreat: Kerivoa

I can’t believe it’s only three weeks since I returned from The Write Retreat. It feels like such a long time ago now.

It was the first time I’d ever driven abroad, having previously always been on city break holidays where you walk around everywhere, or beach holidays which involve far too much alcohol to even consider driving. So, a new adventure awaited me as soon as I trundled off the ferry at Roscoff.

The journey to Katherine’s was very straightforward. I knew in advance that the French tend not to label their signs with road numbers as we do, so instead I chose to navigate by towns. The journey from Roscoff therefore, involved following signs first to Morlaix, then Guingamp, then Bourbriac, where Katherine met me and we drove up to the farmhouse.

Sipping bubbles on arrival. Katherine is such a wonderful hostess!
Sipping bubbles on arrival. Katherine is such a wonderful hostess!

The site of the farmhouse is an old Bronze Age settlement (the old bread oven still stands a little way off the main track) and I got a sense of something very special about the place as soon as I arrived. The tranquility is almost palpable.

As regular followers of this blog will be only too aware, I adore animals, so I was overjoyed when Katherine’s Westie, Kerrig, put in an appearance, closely followed by Merlin, the gorgeous black Labrador and finally, the wonderful cat, Fifi, who took a particular shine to me for the entire week. I fancy he sensed I was missing Lily so made it his mission to fulfil surrogate pet duty!

Easter Saturday meant a trip to Guingamp to sample a little shopping and practice my very rusty French. Luckily, I got by rather well and purchased gifts for family and friends before setting off back to the farmhouse for Katherine’s delicious cooking and my writing. (Well, that was the reason I was there, after all!)

Guingamp Market square, Easter Saturday. The obligatory visit to the chocolaterie!
Guingamp Market square, Easter Saturday. The obligatory visit to the chocolaterie!

Sadly, that was the last we saw of sunshine for a good few days. However, I was there to write so it didn’t matter a jot. And, write I did. Lots. Over the course of the week, I wrote no less than seven chapters of my new book.

When I arrived at Kerivoa, I had three chapters completed for what I thought was going to be a short erotic novella. This has now morphed into a larger work, incorporating more characters and venturing off into a paranormal romance direction with just a couple of erotic scenes. Funny how that happens!

Beautiful Fifi - just the most perfect muse one could possibly wish for!
Beautiful Fifi – just the most perfect muse one could possibly wish for!

I achieved so much during that week, that I am now afflicted with trying to recreate that atmosphere here at home, which is easier said than done. I have the cat, yes, but I also have a full-time job, laundry, cleaning, tidying and other procrastinating, which is driving me mad.

On top of those things, I also have some wonderful friends who are writing and publishing new books which I want to read, so I do feel as though I’m spinning lots of plates right now. Having said that, it’s a fantastic feeling to have, as I know I shall never suffer from boredom ever again!

Writing outdoors, with Fifi and Merlin.
Writing outdoors, with Fifi and Merlin.

The best single thing about my week was Katherine’s support and encouragement to follow the story and her gift for creating a truly magical and inspiring setting, even when the heavens opened and I was mooching around in my PJs and slippers!

So, back to the retreat I shall have to go. Probably not this year, what with Swanwick looming and not being able to take any more time off work than I already have planned. I believe I shall make it a priority for 2015 though.

Watch this space!

 

 

Writers with Pets: Heather Cook

Some of our favourite authors, past and present, are famous for their love of animals.

Ernest Hemingway is renowned for keeping polydactyl felines and his home in Key West, Florida, is inhabited by their descendants to this day.

Mark Twain, Doris Lessing, Edgar Allen Poe, Jack Kerouac and George Bernard Shaw all had cats too. Stephen King has both cats and dogs in his Maine home, and the French novelist Colette has been famously described as the original Mad Cat Woman.

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Mark Twain

 

In a new series of articles, I am talking to writers with pets and asking them about their beloved companions and how they inspire their creativity.

Heather Cook used to write a regular column in Your Cat magazine to which I subscribed during my petsitting days. She was a Homing Officer for the Woking and District Branch of Cats Protection before she retired a couple of years ago and continues to write books about cats.

Heather Cook, author and cat-lover
Heather Cook, author and cat-lover

Which came first, the writing or the cats?

I’ve always loved all animals and remember writing about dogs and ponies, lions and elephants as a small child. I didn’t have pets as a child because we lived in a flat in London, but I used to love my grandmother’s cats. As soon as I was able to, I had cats and because I always worked full-time it wasn’t sensible to have animals that needed constant company. Cats were the perfect companions and were I think slightly irritated to have me around more when I retired!

How many cats do you have at present?

I have 12 cats at present. 3 of them are feral cats that live outside, but they have deluxe cat cabins in the garden and at least 3 meals a day, so they’re about as feral as a suet pudding. The other 9 spend a lot of time indoors as they are mainly Special Needs cats. One was born without hind paws, two have brain damage and the others have various problems like heart trouble, missing limbs and dementia.

The aptly-named Stumpy Malone, who was born without his hind paws
The aptly-named Stumpy Malone, who was born without his hind paws

Describe your writing day.

Most mornings I sit down at the laptop as soon as I’ve sorted all the cats out with feeding, room service and medication. I deal with emails first, then look over the previous day’s writing. I do two quite different sorts of writing: the light-hearted cat stuff and poetry of all varieties, so mood comes into the equation as to what I will spend my time on that day. Depending on other commitments, I will usually spend at least 2 hours in the morning writing and a further 2 or 3 hours in the afternoon. Occasionally, I’ll have a sudden inspiration – particularly with a poem that’s been in my head for a while – and work on it very late at night.

How do the cats help or hinder the writing process?

My cats are my main source of inspiration, so they are an enormous help to me! The cat rescue work has also brought me so many lovely friends. Although sad things inevitably happen, I think that cats are very amusing animals and they insist on being written about.
On a practical level, one of my cats – Miss Tiny Trixie-Tribble – is obsessed with the laptop and loves to leap about on the keyboard. I have to save my work constantly because she is always deleting things or pinging off emails before I’ve finished. She also likes to add her own little flourishes: the word ‘ehwk’ is a particular favourite and I dread to think what it means in catspeak!

Heather Cook is the author of Evie’s Diary: A Bad Cat’s View of Life which can be purchased here.

The Cat Who Writes: Lily’s Story

It occurred to me the other day that it’s almost a whole year since I started writing this blog and I have not yet shared with you much about Lily, my cat. This, despite the fact that the blog is entitled A Girl and her Cat Write. It seemed strange so please allow me to introduce her to you.

This is my favourite photo of Lily. I think it captures her playful nature and her beauty, all in one beautiful shot.

Lily

I often write while sitting up in bed, last thing at night. Lily likes to come and sit with me, checking my spelling. If she spots something she’s not happy about, she takes a swipe at my pen to interrupt me. Needless to say, this can prove detrimental to productivity!

This led me to think about how different my writing might be, if at all, if she weren’t there.

The benefits of owning pets are well-documented. Companionship for the lonely and reducing depression and high blood pressure for the afflicted are just some reasons why millions of us in the UK keep cats, dogs and other animals around us. For most of us, they are irreplaceable members of the family.

I used to be a petsitter in a previous life. It was hard work and extremely challenging at times, but it taught me much about the nature of people and how they interact with their pets.

In August 2006, I spent an fascinating week in the home of a lady who breeds Burmese and Egyptian Mau cats. She was away on her first holiday in fourteen years, leaving me in charge of her brood – seven females and four males altogether, including her Grand Champion stud who lived in an outhouse.

It was as I popped out to feed him one particularly gloomy British summer morning that I saw a little black and white bundle under a tree in the garden. It had been raining all night and this poor kitten was in the latter stages of hypothermia. I took her into the house and tried to give her some warm milk. Her tiny eyes remained closed and there was a half-hearted attempted to open her mouth but that was all. Without a second thought, I rushed her to the nearest vet.

The vet’s brow furrowed. He took her temperature then quickly passed her to the nurse, instructin her to set up an intravenous drip and get the patient warm. He then turned back to me. “Look, you’ve done your best but it doesn’t look good. She’s barely four weeks old and too young to be so far from mum. Just to warn you.”

The mood with which I left the surgery that day matched the dark gloomy skies. For the next few hours, I could concentrate on nothing else. I had never had the opportunity to save an animal’s life until that moment. I didn’t want my desperate efforts to be in vain.

Back at the house, the brood took my mind off her a little until the call came from the surgery.

“Good news!” the nurse cried. “Your kitten’s going to be okay!”

She was still weak when I took her home and couldn’t eat solids for a few days but she was tiny, gorgeous and mine. I was completely smitten.

These days, her life is less dramatic. She’s approaching middle age much more gracefully than I am, for sure! However, after every meal, she still comes to my lap, rubs her head against my chin and gazes up at me as if to say “Thanks for everything, Mum”.

New Year Resolutions: Top 10 Advice for Writers

Happy New Year All!

I’m not normally one for resolutions. “The way to Hell is paved with good intentions,” my mother used to say. So I figured there wasn’t much point, since I am pretty rubbish at the whole self-discipline thing.

However, I do feel somewhat obliged to make some changes, regardless. Naturally, the gym will have to feature, following the eating, drinking and generally being far too merry over the festive period.

The main feature of my resolutions will be writing-related though. I am on the brink of self-publishing some adult material for the kindle which is very exciting. I’d also like to make some significant progress with my novel over the course of this year.

It strikes me that many of you will be in the same position and therefore, some advice wouldn’t go amiss at this point, but rather than expect you to listen to me, I have sought snippets of wisdom from some of the greatest writers to help us. Read on…

 

1. Stephen King (Grammar and Composition)

Stephen has written a whole book about writing here but there are a few more tips specifically on a more technical note on this wonderful website: http://grammar.about.com/od/advicefromthepros/a/StephenKingWriting.htm. I particularly like the paragraph about avoiding adverbs. If you need to describe a verb, you’re not using the correct one.

2. Elizabeth Gilbert

Having had the privilege of meeting this lovely lady and one of my favourite authors right now, I am thrilled that Liz offers her own advice to aspiring authors here. She has been dedicated to her craft from a very young age, much younger than me. She also tells us that self-forgiveness is more important for a writer than discipline: “Because your writing will always disappoint you. Your laziness will always disappoint you. You will make vows: “I’m going to write for an hour every day,” and then you won’t do it.” I am constantly setting myself ridiculously low targets that I still seem to fail to achieve. Liz’s advice is that this really doesn’t matter. You’ll get there in the end. I like that.

3. Ernest Hemingway

In this article about Hemingway, he talks more about the actual practice of writing. As I start writing my novel this year, I plan to use his tactic of only stopping when I know what will happen next. I have found while writing my short stories that it seems to work best to write it all in one go, but this won’t be possible with a novel for obvious reasons.

4. Mark Twain

Quotations by Mark Twain seem to litter the internet like cigarette stubs in an overflowing ashtray (although altogether more appealing). This article picks out the ones related to writing so you don’t have to wade through the mire. Point number 8 about avoiding verbosity is one which I will remember. It is tempting to use grandiose language in the false belief that it will enhance your work. In fact, it makes the prose sound less authentic so should be avoided. I guess the exception would be if this was a particular trait in one of your characters. The wonderful example of Mrs Malaprop in Sheridan’s The Rivals springs to mind!

5. Anais Nin

The final piece I have chosen is a little more abstract. As a deeply emotional person myself, this article struck a chord. I firmly believe that writing should move people, regardless of the genre. Horror stories seek to frighten, to shock and horrify, for example. I always try and show emotion in my writing because for me, when I read a book, I want to be swept up and carried along on a tidal wave. If I have to reach for  a tissue when I’m reading a book, I consider the author to have been successful. I only hope I can do the same.

 ~~~

Whether you are a writer or not, I wish you all the best of luck for your endeavours in 2014. Onwards and upwards!

 

Merry Christmas Everyone!

So, here we are. I’ve arrived in West Cumbria, chez Mama and Papa, amid severe gales and showers of both sleet and hail. To make matters worse,  the distraught feline on the back seat made her displeasure all too obvious by howling for most of the journey.

So tempers were frayed to start with, before I learned that my father’s broadband connection has been reset and so the network and password data on the back of his router is useless. Cue a phone call to TALKTALK to get it all sorted.

Now, I am not the most patient person in the world as it is. So, I consider today to have been a triumph, since I have not lost my temper with anyone yet. However, it’s only just gone dark. There’s plenty of time before bed!

So, as I settle into a Christmas with my family, as I’m sure many of you will be doing, it’s time to reflect on a year of success for my fledgling writing career. And also to look forward to how it will likely leap forward in 2014.

By far, one of the most wonderful experiences was my first week at Swanwick which I shall treasure forever. Meeting so many talented writers and being immersed in a literary world was such an inspiration. Certainly, it gave me confidence and courage to write more than before and with a more determined purpose.

Visiting authors at book tours has also become an inspirational pastime which I look forward to doing much more of in 2014. Both Elizabeth Gilbert and Mark Forsyth have given me food for thought about my next steps into the world of authoring.

I have been writing my short stories which, as many of you know, will be published under my pseudonym sometime in January. One of my tasks over the holidays is to browse through thousands of book covers to choose just the right ones for my stories.

All very exciting stuff for someone who, less than twelve months ago, didn’t know whether this was just a passing phase that I would get bored of eventually. Although I do still get moments of self-doubt, as I believe most writers do from time to time, I believe I’ve made great progress this year.

So, if you’re a dedicated follower of this blog, first of all I’d like to say a huge “Thank you!” and also give you a taster of what’s to come in the next few months.

Short stories published for the kindle and available through Amazon only to start with. Watch this space or check my Facebook page () for details.

I’m off to Brittany in France for a writing retreat at Easter, another in Rome in June and then Swanwick again in August to top up on inspiration and meet up with my writing friends.

I also plan to be developing a website for my alter ego to help promote my kindle stories so look out for more on that. So, with that and continuing this blog, I shall be a very busy lady.

Finally, I have this novel which has been swimming around in my head for a while and really needs to get onto the page. So, there’ll be more work on that from to time.

So, all that remains is for me to wish you and all your loved ones a very Merry Christmas and a wonderful New Year 2014!

Swanwick Writers’ Summer School: Reflections

What an amazing week!

I am thrilled to report that my first Swanwick Summer School was a magnificent success. It was truly wonderful to be a part of such a lively community of fellow wordsmiths. The term networking doesn’t really apply, not least because it doesn’t feel as though I’ve made new contacts; instead, I have made new friends. It’s a unique and inspirational environment. To hear everyone’s stories about what they write and their lives in general was delightful. I was particularly touched that the fact that I am not yet published mattered not one jot to anyone I spoke to. Some of these characters deserve a particular mention.

I had some expert guidance and advice from Roy Devereux about writing magazine articles and, more importantly, getting paid for it. I also had a one-to-one session with Roy where we discussed an article I had already written and talked about the next steps to getting it published. I’ll let you know my progress with that one.

Special thanks must also go to Autumn Barlow for her course on self-publishing. She gave many hints and tips which I shall be following very soon. Thank you Autumn!

Thanks must also go to Alison Chisholm for her course on writing autobiographies. She has opened my eyes to the fact that autobiographical writing can be done using fixed periods in your life, something which had never occurred to me before. I now have a couple of ideas to explore in this genre too.

Tarja Moles provided some superb information about creating and managing a blog. Look out for some great new content and improvements to this site over the coming weeks.

I even met a fellow ailurophile, the multi-talented Stella Whitelaw and learned of a local writers group, the Bardstown Writers, which I hope to visit very soon.

The highlight, however, would have to be winning an original signed Curtis Jobling cartoon at the AGM auction on the final evening. I will admit to being just a little starstruck as I asked him if I could get his picture in the bar!

IMG-20130815-00181

In short, I have come away from Swanwick with many more friends and a certain magic coursing through my veins. I am more inspired to write and more determined than ever to be a success. I cannot thank you all enough…

Swanwick Eve

Tomorrow I’m off to my very first residential writing event in Swanwick, Derbyshire (see link here).

I’m really very excited. My college course was only once a week for a couple of hours and there was the online writing course that I went on in April. While both informative and interesting, and despite the fact that I learnt a great deal from both these endeavours, the writers school in Swanwick will be a wonderful opportunity to immerse myself in the writing world for a whole week.

I’ve connected with a few people on Facebook already, so it’ll be nice to meet up with some of these people when I arrive. I’ve also been in touch with an author with whom I have a one to one session arranged. He has already given very positive feedback on a piece which I sent him earlier, so I’ll be thrilled to get his advice on how to get published.

There’s a pretty hefty schedule arranged for us throughout the week, judging by the programme which arrived in the mail a couple of weeks ago. However, my goal is not to fill my week entirely by listening to others talk. I also want to get some serious writing done.

As regular readers will know, I am a sufferer of Procrastination from time to time. How thoughtful, then, that the organisers have arranged for the whole of Tuesday to be a “Procrastination-Free Day”. Perfect!

So, look out for perhaps an update during the week, and definitely a selection of post-writing school reflective thoughts around the 18th/19th August.

Right folks! I’m off to pack my pens and notebooks. See you next week…

Procrastination – The Writer’s Enemy

Something I have found worthy of note since I started writing is the effect that my mood can have on both the quality and quantity of material I can produce.

Since I have recently become single again, I have spent a great deal of time tidying up what was the office and which I now refer to as ‘My Writing Room’. So much time, in fact, that I have pondered whether I am subconsciously using this as a procrastination tactic.

This is a familiar problem among writers and when mood is low or distracted, it creeps into your soul like damp in an old house. There are numerous websites offering a wealth of guidance in overcoming the problem but to research them in any detail becomes yet another way to avoid tackling the problem. Therefore, I have taken this onerous task from you.

I know what my problem is: I really need to just sit down and write. However, I work full time and often quite long hours. When I come home in the evening, I do some keep fit, I make a meal and then shortly afterwards it’s time for bed so I have to choose whether to take some time reading to relax, or do I get out my notebook and write.

Gail Brenner advises in her article for the Write To Done website that the first step is to work out why you procrastinate. Rather like a variety of medical conditions, there are different cures for each kind, it seems.

Sometimes we procrastinate due to boredom or fear; sometimes it’s down to our own thoughts which are limiting our abilities to perform.

Yourwritelife.com offers advice about breaking a project down into bitesize chunks which are manageable. This I have found to work as I become demotivated if I can’t see that I’ve made progress. There are some days when I break down tasks into such minute levels of detail that it seems silly but it all goes towards rewarding myself with a sense of achievement, so I figure it’s worth it.

It’s a great comfort to know that some of the best literary figures in the world have suffered from this debilitating affliction and gone to extraordinary lengths, in some cases, to fight it.

Ernest Hemingway famously preferred to stand while writing. One can only presume he had his desk raised a couple of feet from the floor, otherwise he would have sustained severe back trouble in no time at all.

Victor Hugo used to write in the nude. His logic was that if was naked, he couldn’t leave the house. He even had his valet hide his clothes until he was done writing for the day.

Somewhat less eccentric, Douglas Adams asked his editor to intervene during the writing of Hitchikers’ Guide to the Galaxy. It is said that the book would not have been completed without Meretzky staying in the author’s house until it was done.

Dr Bill Knaus in his article for Psychology Today give ten tips for writers. Among them, my favourites are:

  • Mapping your cognitive-emotive process. It’s worth spending some time thinking about the writing before you start. Allow yourself a few moments to gather your thoughts and work out what your feelings are towards writing.
  • Reward and penalty system. I have a page of gold stickers by my calendar. Every day I write, I put a gold sticker on the date. At the end of the week, if I’ve written every day, I can reward myself with something nice. I might watch a film or go shopping for shoes.
  • Expect inertia. It’s unrealistic to expect this will go away on it’s own. It needs work to make it stick. It’s also unrealistic to think you will ‘cure yourself’ and it will never happen again. It will happen. The key is to see it coming and be prepared for it.

Good luck with your writing!

Exeter Writing Retreat

One of the most wonderful things I have gained by joining the Urban Writers’ website (http://www.urbanwritersretreat.co.uk/) is a community of fellow writers, all experiencing the same problems and insecurities as me.

This is very important, since writers by their very nature, tend to be rather solitary. When I sit down to write, I must have no distractions. No TV or music and, especially, no chatter. Almost any noise (including hungry cat meows) is enough to put me off my pen strokes.

However, it’s surprising how easy it is to become distracted by all sorts of things. One can quickly gain experience in the Black Art of Procrastination, suddenly getting an urge to grab the hoover and do a bit of tidying round the house. And I am not a tidy person, trust me. All this home-making lark does not come naturally to me.

So, imagine my excitement when I spotted a retreat in Exeter where I could escape the house for a day. I packed my laptop, my fountain pen, spare cartidges, my notebooks and off I went. (Click here for more info.)

The weather was gorgeous when I got there. It was easily the sunniest day of the year so far. I found my way around the city, parked up and went to the venue to meet my fellow writers.

There were five of us altogether, including the lady who runs these things. We kicked off at around 10.30 and I left around 5pm. We had a half hour or so for a lunch break where we discussed our projects. One lady turned up all excited as she had just had her story accepted for publication. We were all thrilled for her.

In that time, I managed to create 3 characters for my novel and write an entire 3000-word short story, albeit a first draft. In short, I managed to accomplish more in that day, than I had done previously in perhaps two weeks.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m going to be able to drive down to Exeter every month. It’s a fair old distance from my place and therefore quite a long drive.

However, they do offer online retreats too, which I may well partake of in the near future. I look forward to catching up with my new-found writing friends.