Revisiting Children’s Favourites

One wonderful thing which has come from following my recent writing project, the Get Writing! Bootcamp is that the daily prompts opened up some wonderful memories of literature I read as a child.

As a child, I remember many happy afternoons spent at the local library choosing colourful books with stories which I can still picture today. (Mum, if you’re reading this, do you remember The Great Horse Chestnut Tree? We must have got that dozens of times!)

I also remember learning about Native Americans during my first year at primary school.  We learnt the wonderful poem The Song of Hiawatha by the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and there was an afternoon where we dressed up to recite a shortened version of the poem to our parents. I remember my poor mother trying in vain to plait my hair like an Indian squaw and losing her temper with my stubborn straight locks!

On a family trip down to London one winter, I remember going to see a recital of Captain Beaky and his Band at some theatre or other. I had the book for several years afterwards. Goodness knows what happened to that.

During my recent house move, I found a present my mother bought me for my 5th birthday: Little Grey Rabbit’s Storybook by Alison Uttley. Another charming little book with great illustrations brought back some more wonderful memories.

Well, all this reminiscing got me thinking: what if I read some of these books again, now I’m much older? Would the stories be as wonderful now as I remember? How much has adulthood changed my perspective? Will I even be drawn to writing some children’s stories myself?

So, I have a new mission folks. I’m going on a shopping spree for some of my childhood favourites. My objective is to try and answer these questions and maybe discover something about children’s literature along the way.

Feel free to add your own comments and memories of your childhood reading experiences. It’s nice to share!

Writing Bootcamp Progress

For those of you following my writing progress carefully, you will remember that after the completion of my college course, I subscribed to an online ‘Bootcamp’ called Get Writing!

Since we’re now fully entrenched in week two of the course, I thought I’d update you with some progress.

Each day, there are writing prompts. They started off at just 5 minutes; this week, we’ve progressed to 10 minute slots of time. On the whole, I’ve found them a great deal of fun, and I usually manage 300+ words of free writing, which is great.

There are also weekly exercises which consist of entering ideas into our Inspiration Notebooks and using the motivational tools that the tutor has introduced throughout the week.

Apparently, by the end of the 4-week course, we will have completed a short story, which I’m really excited about.

Aside from following the writing prompts on the course, I’m shaping ideas for some short stories in my head. I’m also thinking it’s about time I started getting some of these onto paper and getting them finished and ready for submission to magazines.

My subscription to Writing Magazine is helping hugely in this regard. My first edition arrived in the post towards the end of last week and I’ve been dipping into it now and then. Imagine my delight when I saw classified adverts asking for short story submissions into magazines and publishing houses.

Watch this space for news of my first acceptance.

Stephen King: On Writing

I was never a fan of Mr King until recently. I seem to have been under the impression that he only ever wrote horrific stories that would give me nightmares for months.

It would seem that this is just not true, as my previous post here will testify.

On Writing has almost spiritual significance for me. My partner bought me a copy as I first became interested in writing and instructed me to read it. Since I hold his advice in very high regard (usually!), I set aside a weekend and read it from cover to cover.

It has proved informative and entertaining in equal measure, telling the story of the author’s life and offering some wonderful advice about The Craft, as he calls it. In fact, it’s how I’ve come to refer to my writing too, and also where the inspiration for this blog came from (see my first post here).

For anyone even considering writing, or for anyone who enjoys Stephen King generally, I’d highly recommend this book. Actually, even if you’re not a fan of his, I’d get it anyway. It’s not his usual fare, although the writing is very much his own style.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say it changed my life!

Inspiring Oneself Part 1: Ettington Park Hotel

Tuesday was the final day of my Easter break from work. I felt it only fair, therefore, that I should celebrate with a treat for myself. So, I took myself off for a little drive to the Ettington Park Hotel in Warwickshire for lunch and a nosey around (click here for the hotel website).

Stratford-on-Avon-20130402-00157

It has the dubious accolade of Britain’s Most haunted Hotel, for those with an interest in the paranormal, which I have. Very much. In fact, I have now decided I want to write some ghost stories.

The waiter who served my lunch was extremely helpful. It’s amazing how much people want to help when you tell them you’re a writer!

The hotel have a prepared handout which he gave me. The property has an extraordinary history, and there are some marvellous characters haunting the house and grounds, by all accounts. From the monk who has been seen by the nearby chapel and the children who drowned in the River Stour, to the Victorian lady who haunts the conservatory and the flying book in the library. They really have covered all the available angles.

All in all, I had a fantastic time taking pages of notes in my book and pictures on my phone. I realise I’m very lucky to be able to spare this kind of time occasionally, and it helps having somewhere so close to home.

I would strongly recommend all you writers out there to treat yourself to a day out like this once in a while. I found it tremendously inspiring to be in a beautiful stately home where I could switch off completely from my mundane day to day life and just soak up the atmosphere.

Now then, I realise that stately homes may not be your thing, and that’s absolutely fine. Instead, choose something else. It might be you feel inspired by a day at the seaside or walking in the country. Or, perhaps you prefer the hustle and bustle of a coffee shop in a shopping mall.

Whatever you choose, try and resist the temptation to check your phone for emails or texts and just enjoy being completely in the moment and watching and observing what’s around you. Remember, your creativity will flourish in an environment where you feel relaxed and unhindered.

Happy writing!

Online Creative Writing Courses

There’s rather a lot going on in my life at the moment.

My partner and I have just moved house, so a lot of my possessions (including most of my books) are still in boxes and strewn in various locations about the new home.

There’s also been a change to my full-time job. I have moved departments so I’m working with a different bunch of people on a different project.

Far more relevant to my blog, however, is the small fact that my college course in Creative Writing will shortly be coming to an end, and I do feel a little sad about it if I’m honest.

There will be a gap in my life on Wednesday evenings when I would usually be driving to college to sit and discuss the finer points of writing. I shall miss our lively little bunch with all the variety of personalities and their contributions to the topics we have covered.

I have learnt a great deal during the short 10-week course, and I feel it would be a travesty to allow all that learning to go to waste.

So, the other day I decided to have a look at some of the courses on offer online to see if there was anything suitable. There is quite a bewildering selection available.

There are a number of freebies, even from reputable establishments such as the Open University. The OU has a free study arena named OpenLearn which offers modules to be studied in isolation rather than as part of a larger course. Unfortunately, nothing there really took my fancy but have a browse and see what you think: http://www.open.edu/openlearn/history-the-arts/culture/literature-and-creative-writing/creative-writing.

I have done a course from Writing Bliss before (see my previous post here) but I really want to go for something different, and preferably with some feedback, or at least some kind of interaction, rather than going it alone.

It seems this kind of service will have to paid for. (Who was I kidding that I’d get that kind of thing for free?!)

After a few days of perusing, I was down to a choice of two: The Writing Forge (http://writingforge.co.uk/moduleoutlines.asp) and the UK Writers’ College (http://www.ukwriterscollege.co.uk/shop.html). Then, out of the blue, my partner pointed me in the direction of the “Get Writing! Online Bootcamp” (http://www.urbanwritersretreat.co.uk/get-writing-online-bootcamp/) so I’ve decided to give that one a go.

According to the site it consist of small daily writing tasks, access to a private forum of fellow writers, access to online retreats (not sure yet how they’re going to work) and larger weekly exercises. By the end of the course, apparently, I should have completed a whole short story, which sounds great.

So, I’ve paid my dues and I’m really looking forward to it. In the meantime, I’ve decided to spend my Easter break reviewing some of my old material which I haven’t looked at in months. Standby for some posts about the joys of editing your own work…!

Goodreads.com

Calling all Social Networkers! If you like reading, this is for you…

I was directed towards this wonderful little site a few months ago by my partner. Basically, it’s like Facebook for people who are active readers.

Simply create yourself a profile, add a few of your favourite books, and away you go. You can share your reading preferences with friends, rate the books you read and even add full-scale reviews.

You can join groups, take quizzes, and there’s even a creative writing section where authors leave their stories.

Enjoy!

http://www.goodreads.com/

 

Creating a Plot

Something else we’ve covered in the Creative Writing class is plot structure.

I guess a good question to be asking ourselves as we write is: what happens next?

So far, this has tended to be my biggest problem. I love starting a new story and introducing the main character. For a while, the words will flow effortlessly and I begin to feel very proud of myself for my creation.

Then, I come to a stop.

Where do I go now? I ask myself. Where can I take the story next? How can I keep the reader involved?

I’ve learnt that it helps to write a brief plan for short stories. To do this,  I separate the piece into three acts, like a play.

The first act concentrates on setting the scene; I will introduce the main characters and some background, telling the reader what has brought them to the current situation. I will also leave a couple of subtle clues as to what happens in act two.

The second act will involve more of the conflict in the story. It will have some action or drama. I love to write in the first person, so this part of the story will often include some internal dialogue of the protagonist.

Obviously, the third act will conclude the story. There will be the moment where things ‘come to a head’. There may be an argument, for example, which forces our protagonist into a corner where they feel vulnerable. Sometimes there is a practical solution to a problem, as well as an emotional resolution.

Gradually, the plan becomes a list of activities or key scenes. Often, a small amount of research may be necessary. I’m writing a ghost story at the moment, for example, which requires some knowledge of Victorian burial customs. My general history knowledge is appalling (as my mother would be very glad to tell you) therefore I have had to call on the 21st century Oracle, the World Wide Web for small details to add weight to my story.

The planning can take a couple of days or several weeks, depending on how much I apply myself to the task. Then, once I’m happy, I then begin to write.

Writers School Booked!

I have finally taken the plunge and booked my very first writing retreat at Swanwick in Derbyshire (http://www.swanwickwritersschool.co.uk/index.asp).

There are courses every day for the week-long event, but my intention is not to cram my days with listening to everyone else. I want to learn, of course, but my main reason for going is to get away from my normal routine, to a place where I won’t be distracted by kitchen chores or pestered by a well-meaning but overly affectionate cat.

Basically, I want some ‘Me’ time.

A question to all you budding writers out there: Do you struggle to make time for writing? Does life interfere with your desire to get on and write?

I’m really looking forward to my week of writing. By then, I’m hoping to have three short stories completed and ready to publish on the Kindle. Watch this space!

Writing Competition Entry

I have great ideas and I can imagine them in my head. I am even good at putting pen to paper and making a captivating start to a story.

My problem lies in continuing the plot and seeing it through until the end. Often I get an idea and I struggle to get even a plan onto paper before it vanishes out of my head.

Is it possible the problem is my memory? It is true that now I am 40, some less tactful friends have made comments about early onset dementia.

Perhaps my mind is in chaos? My demanding job can be stressful at times and this does not help.

What I crave is time to unwind and relax prior to a writing session. A quiet place in my head is all I need. A room of one’s own, so to speak.

 

(This is my entry to win an online writing bootcamp from Urban Writers’ Retreat – http://tinyurl.com/bootcomp.)

Building a Character

Characters are essential to every story.

Sounds obvious, doesn’t it? But how many times have you heard the phrase ‘wooden characters’ when someone referred to a book they didn’t like? Personally, I can think of several books I’ve read to which I could attribute that phrase.

I have a top tip for all you budding writers out there: get yourself a character template. They are available from various sources. Try Google for starters and see how you get on.

The format is not really important. The key thing is to give you, the writer, a method of recording details about your character.

You’ll need to know basic things like name, age and appearance, of course. But you’ll create a much more realistic person if you think about the deeper aspects of their personality.

For example, your John Doe may well be a tall, dark and handsome eligible bachelor, but does he have a dark side? How does he deal with conflict in a relationship? Is he argumentative by nature? Does he have demons from his past that haunt him?

You may well choose to model a character on a real person you already know. If so, make sure you change the name to something completely different. Some people would be flattered if they appeared in your novel; others might take it in an entirely different light. No one needs a libel case when they’re trying to publish their debut novel!

Have fun creating!

Creative Writing Nightclass – Free Writing

After some thought and deliberation, I joined a creative writing course in January at a local college.

A brave move, some would say, to be going back to college after all these years to learn something new, but I am loving it.

There are eleven students enrolled on the course, both men and women and from all walks of life. It’s what you might call “a good mix”.

The tutor is a writer, naturally, and each week we cover a different topic associated with writing.

I’d like to convey some of my learning, if I may, onto you, Dear Readers. So, off we go…

In our first week, the main lesson I learnt was about the practice of free writing, and the importance of learning this craft by practice.

Stephen King said in his book On Writing, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.” Good advice, I think; but easier said than done.

Both as a result of reading those words, and of the first night of my course, I am now in the habit of writing almost every single day. If I climb into bed at night without having written at least a few lines in my journal, I feel there’s something missing from my day.

Also on that first night, our tutor introduced us to the discipline of Free Writing. Every week now, we spend a few moments in silence at the beginning to centre the mind and relax a little. Then, after a prompt of some kind, we are encouraged to write. Not a great deal, just for about ten to fifteen minutes. Just to allow the creative juices to flow, as they say.

It certainly seems to have unlocked something inside of me, and long may it continue!

Online Writing Prompts

I enrolled on an online writing course a little while ago via a website called www.writingbliss.com.

The course is called Daily Writes and cost me $5 (about £3). You receive an email every day for 31 days which sets you different writing tasks. It’s proved very useful in a number of ways.

Firstly, and most importantly, it has got me into the habit of writing on a regular basis. Previously, I would just pick up my pen and paper when I felt like it. The problem with this strategy is that there would never be a good time when I just ‘felt like it’.

Admittedly, I haven’t written every day. I do still have quite a demanding full-time job, after all. However, I am beginning to discipline myself. I have created some time, most evenings, when I sit down with my journal and my pen and I complete the next activity. At the weekends, I might do 2 or 3 activities in a day, or I may do none, if I’m particularly busy.

Secondly, I’ve found it’s given me some much-needed focus. Often, I would just sit there, pen in hand, and not have to clue where to start. The prompts are invaluable and well thought out. I have written small poems for example, something which I was never attracted to when I started. There is an activity where you are encouraged to write a classified personal ad for yourself too which is great fun.

Thirdly, there’s a wide variety of tasks within the course. This is helping me to discover my natural writing style and what forms of writing I enjoy or dislike. I guess I always just presumed I’d be a novelist but I hadn’t properly considered the alternatives. Now, I may give them some more thought.

Finally, it has given me the confidence to know that I am definitely becoming a writer! I still allow my partner to read most of my work so far, and I hang on his every word when he gives me his constructive criticism. His most recent compliment is that I ‘have prodigious talent’. Wow.

I should point out that I haven’t yet reached the end of the course. I’m currently on day 22. However, a few days of hard work should see me get it finished off. I’m looking forward to the sense of achievement.

Incidentally, if you feel that receiving an email every day seems like a bit too much for you, there are plenty of other courses available on the site. Feel free to browse and see what suits you.

I am truly enjoying my journey so much. I sincerely hope you guys are too!