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: Patricia M. Osborne

In 2015, two members on a writers’ forum, Corinne Lawrence and Shirley Cook, tried to convince me to attend Swanwick Writers’ Summer School.

Patricia celebrates her debut novel, House of Grace.

Although I loved the sound of joining them, I dismissed it due to the long train journey and a connection change at London. In 2016, they tried to persuade me again and suggested I enter a poem to the annual writing competition to try and win a place. I sent in a poem leaving fate to decide whether I should go to Swanwick or not. However once Corinne and Shirley booked their places, their excitement was too infectious and before I knew it my place in Lakeside accommodation was secure.

Once my booking was made I set about requesting my dietary needs and Pauline Mason the secretary was more than helpful. I was ready for my journey. I’d booked the early coach from Derby Station but unfortunately my train let me down. Once again Pauline looked after me and booked me onto the later one. Thankfully I arrived in time and was met by the lovely Lesley Deschner. Both Pauline and Lesley are great ambassadors for Swanwick.

Unfortunately, I missed the welcome meeting for White Badgers but my writer friend, Corinne Lawrence was waiting to greet me. Both Shirley and Corinne looked out for me all week. It was fabulous to finally meet these two lovely ladies after sharing work over the previous two years.

At Swanwick I was never lonely. I was concerned that I may find it a bit intimidating with around two to three hundred delegates but in fact it still has that intimate family feel and sense of belonging. Everyone is so friendly and when it’s time to go home, no one wants to leave.

Ahead of the course, a brochure is sent out that contains the week’s programme with so many fantastic courses offering choice and variety, something for everyone. In fact it’s hard to choose a favourite. Existing Swanwickers love this moment and get out their highlighting pens with excitement. For my specialist course, I chose Alison Chisholm’s poetry and booked a one to one session for feedback. I recommend this to anyone who writes poetry.

While at Swanwick, for the first time ever, I took part in an Open Mic and again those experienced in Open Mics supported and gave me confidence. The fancy dress disco isn’t to be missed either. Last year’s theme was ‘Heroes’. I went as Cleopatra and loved dressing up. This year the theme was The Wild West.

Food is included with the accommodation booking: breakfast, lunch and dinner along with coffee and tea throughout the day. It’s a real treat if you’re the person at home who does all the cooking. Mealtimes are another chance to meet new faces and chat about writing. I stayed in Lakeside and found the rooms a decent size with reliable wifi and I had a comfortable double bed. I was only a few yards away from the lovely lakes. Lakes are one of my favourite places to be and where I find most of my writing inspiration.

This year I managed to recruit a couple of my own writer friends as white badgers. I looked forward to becoming a trailblazer and I was ready to make the newcomers feel at home in this beautiful Derbyshire setting where writers come together.

And let’s not forget the famous Swanwick bookshop. I was inspired by the volume of books written by Swanwick writers. Those who had gone down the Indie route were more than happy to advise how they went about self-publishing. It was this encouragement that pushed me to come home and get my act together with my debut novel, a family saga, House of Grace.

My second visit to Swanwick in 2017 was even better than my first. This was helped by meeting an online writer friend for the first time after working together for over six years. Swanwick is a place you meet old friends and new, have fun, learn, grow in confidence and do as little or as much as you like. You will hear people talk about the Swanwick Magic, they are not wrong.

I managed to release my novel in March 2017 and I was proud to see it in the Swanwick book room this year amongst those of other Swanwick authors. You never know, by 2018 I may have two novels in there.

You can find Patricia on Facebook and Twitter. Alternatively, her online home is here.

 

 

 

 

More Swanwick Memories: Jennifer Wilson

Continuing the theme of sharing stories from my favourite writing event of the year, I am joined today by Jennifer C. Wilson.

I remember meeting her in 2016 when, as a fresh-faced White Badger, Jennifer told me her story over a drink in the bar. I am absolutely thrilled that she returned to Swanwick in 2017, and she has kindly agreed to tell us why.

Swanwick Memories, by Jennifer C. Wilson

I’d been thinking about going to Swanwick for about eight years. Each year since signing up for an adult education creative writing class back in Hexham, I’d download the programme and even pick out the courses I’d go along to, and yet, never quite got as far as booking. Now, I know that being published isn’t even remotely hinted at as being a requirement to go to Swanwick, but after my debut novel came out in October 2015, I decided that I had finally ‘earned my place’, and in January 2016, finally went ahead and booked up. I am so glad I did.

With my usual lack of punctuality, I got to Derby station three hours before the coach to Swanwick was due, and still remember the blind fear on receiving the email advising that the bus was now going to be round the back of the station, not the front, and “to let people know” if we saw them at the station. Cue a very awkward half hour trying to work out who might be going to Swanwick, and who might just think I was weird for approaching them and talking about buses… Luckily, I found some fellow Swanwickers, and next thing I know, we’re nattering over a cuppa in the Pumpkin Café. Not only did they show me where the bus was, I was also escorted to the Lakeside Reception, shown how to find my room, then taken back across to the main house to find where the other White Badgers were being welcomed with a (by now much-welcomed) glass of wine.

The rumours were true then – Swanwick really was full of friendly, helpful people. Less than an hour after arriving, I definitely felt I belonged.

That feeling didn’t leave me throughout the week, as I met friends I’m still happy to be in touch with (and already looking forward to seeing them again in August 2018!), and enjoyed even the passing five minute conversations which seemed to happen every time you looked slightly confused or lost.

As for the courses and talks – I came away from each and every one feeling so inspired. Either to try something new, with a new idea to play with, or an increased understanding in how to improve what I was already working on. For my first year, I chose ‘creative non-fiction’ as my specialist course for the week, and have since produced a book proposal which I intend to keep working on, and thanks to Sue Moorcroft and Michael Jecks’ courses, the manuscript for my second novel felt so much tighter and improved, ready for submission. In my second year, I returned to Sue’s course, this time on popular fiction, and also enjoyed this blog owner’s fun and informative course on writing intimate scenes.

I think the biggest thing about Swanwick though is simply spending a whole week in the company of other writers. I’m lucky that my friends and family are really supportive of my writing, but there’s a limit to how much even the most supportive person can take! At Swanwick, everyone is more than happy to discuss (at length) the books they love and loathe, the writing techniques they use, and how they are getting on (or otherwise) with their latest project. I got as much from chatting over lunch and in the bar after workshops as I did from the courses themselves. The subsequent online chatter and support via the Facebook group is great too, keeping the community spirit going throughout the rest of the year.

After booking for August 2017, I had started thinking I would skip a year, try somewhere new, do something different. I won’t be. This year, bringing two writing friends along made the whole thing feel even more like a community, and by Sunday lunchtime, we’d agreed that it could become ‘our annual thing’. Seeing them be as excited as I had been last year was just brilliant. I even volunteered with one of the open-mic nights, so felt even more a part of things.

Yes, I’ve come away exhausted again, but hey, at least we have Saturday and Sunday to catch up on all that sleep we miss when our brains are too busy plotting…

About Jennifer

Jennifer is a marine biologist by training, who spent much of her childhood stalking Mary, Queen of Scots (initially accidentally, but then with intention). She completed her BSc and MSc at the University of Hull, and has worked as a marine environmental consultant since graduating. Enrolling on an adult education workshop on her return to the north-east reignited Jennifer’s pastime of creative writing, and she has been filling notebooks ever since. In 2014, Jennifer won the Story Tyne short story competition, and also continues to develop her poetic voice, reading at a number of events, and with several pieces available online. She is also part of The Next Page, running workshops and other literary events in North Tyneside.

Jennifer’s debut novel, Kindred Spirits: Tower of London, was released by Crooked Cat Books in October 2015, and Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile was released in June 2017. She can be found online at her blog, on Twitter and Facebook, as well as at The Next Page’s blog. She’s currently working on her first self-published effort, a timeslip romance featuring Richard III (of course).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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!

Interview with Peter Jones, on the release of his novel: The Truth About This Charming Man

29103615Author Peter Jones has been a significant part of my writing journey. He was the guy I went to for help with formatting and uploading my very first offerings to the global phenomenon known as Amazon, which I did under my pseudonym.

Therefore, I am truly delighted that he has agreed to be interviewed for this blog and to talk about his new book The Truth about this Charming Man.

The novel charts the antics of one William Lewis, an aspiring actor, who has dreamed of treading the boards for about as long as he can remember. He has yet to be involved with the theatre, but he still manages to get to do something of what he loves by pretending to be people that he’s not in the real world.

It’s hilarious, well-written and kept me hooked until the very last page. A very solid 10/10 from me. Here’s what Peter had to say:

 

Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

Where do I begin?!

I started professional life as a particularly rubbish graphic designer, and followed that with a stint as a mediocre petrol pump attendant. After that I got embroiled in the murky world of credit card banking as a ‘fix-it’ man. Fun times.

For the past 6 years I’ve been a full time author, with three and a half self-help books under my belt (if you’re unhappy, lonely or overweight I might just be your guy), and more recently two hilarious rom-com novels.

I don’t own a large departmental store and I’m not a dragon of any description.

 

Can you describe a typical day for you?

Most days I’m writing. I like to be at my desk, working, by 7am. By midday I’m usually beat (creatively speaking). Afternoons are reserved for post, admin, social media, that kinda thing.

Once or twice a week I’m out giving a talk at a WI, or a U3A, or a writing group somewhere – entertaining people with tales of this writing life.

 

You wrote a few non-fiction self-help books before your move into the fiction market? What made you change? Was it a difficult transition?

It’s ironic. I never wanted to write self-help. That kind of happened by accident.

I was in the middle of writing my first novel (in the evenings, after work) when I lost my wife. As you can imagine that event turned my world upside down. Made me question what I wanted in life. Made me question everything.

I decided to take those fix-it man skills and apply them to my own life – to build the happier future that I so wished I’d given my wife. When some of the changes I came up with started to make an obvious difference to my demeanour a colleague suggested I ought to write those ideas down. Six months later I’d accidentally written How To Do Everything And be Happy. I self-published it (because I couldn’t be bothered with the effort of sending it to agents and publishers), and it did well. Really well. Really, really well. So much so that Audible and Harper Collins came knocking, as did an agent.

However, after three and a half non-fiction books I was keen to get back to the still unfinished novel. Naively I thought my non-fiction readers would pick up my novel out of curiosity, but I soon realised I was effectively starting again from scratch. My then agent was only interested in my non-fiction, as were HC and audible. It took me a while to find a new agent, and land a new book deal.

 

In your latest novel The Truth About This Charming Man Will comes across as a sound character with a good dollop of common sense, despite his unluckiness in love. How much is he like you? 

I like Will a lot, and yes, I suppose we do have a lot in common, although I don’t really see him as ‘unlucky in love’. He’s quite upfront about the fact that theatre is his first love – and I totally get that. If you told me I could be happily married to Kylie Minogue for the rest of my life, OR have a 50/50 chance of three book deal with penguin… I’d take the latter every time. Is that mad? I think it might be.

 

Will plays a number of different ‘parts’ in the book, to great comedic effect at times. To what extent do you think this mirrors the parts we all play in our own lives? (i.e. husband/wife, child/parent, boss/employee)

Blimey. That’s a deep question. Let me side step it.

Initially, The Truth About This Charming Man was never intended to be a novel. It was a five part short-story about an actor, who acts in the ‘real world’ (rather than ‘on stage’), and what happens when he’s asked to play two characters at the same meeting. But the more I wrote, the more intrigued I became by the duality of the other characters, and how – as you say – people often play different roles in their own lives. Roles that might, sometimes, require a little bending of the truth.

When my (new) agent suggested I turn the short story into a novel, I looked to that duality for my inspiration. The book then wrote itself.

 

Could you tell us your favorite book from 2015?

I read a lot of non-fiction in 2015. My favourite was Excuse Me Your Life Is Waiting by Lynn Grabhorn.

 

Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?

Stop aspiring and get writing.

 

What can we expect from you in the future?

I’m juggling a couple of projects at the moment. There’s some exciting talk about a Truth About This Charming Man film or TV series (can’t say more than that at this stage), but regardless of whether that happens or not, a third novel should be out in the not too distant future.

 

Where can we find you?

http://facebook.com/peterjonesauthor

http://twitter.com/peterjonesauth

http://peterjonesauthor.com

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.

Siren Spirit Goes Live on Amazon!

It’s so exciting to have my very first novella released and available to buy on Amazon!

I’m thrilled at the way the cover turned out (doffs cap to Andrew Brown at Design4Writers for an amazing job).

Cover design by Design4Writers
Cover design by Design4Writers

I can’t tell you what a fantastic journey it has been to get this far, to have my very own book in my hands.

Yes, I can actually say that because, even though the paperback copy is not yet available to purchase on Amazon, I am holding the proof copy in my hands as we speak. EEK!

Stay tuned to social media for more news on the launch: Facebook and Twitter are your best ways of contacting me.

“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…

 

BooksGoSocial Writers’ Conference: Dublin, June 26th-28th 2015

NB: Apologies for the quality of these photos folks. My iPhone does its best, but it also relies on my (un)steady hand…

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Cocktail, retro-style – French 75 at Blanc et Noir, Birmingham Airport

It’s become traditional for me to treat myself to a champagne cocktail at the airport when I fly solo.

If I’m honest, I’ve always liked a bit of the high life. Unfortunately, I’ve yet to find the billionaire to go with it but never mind. This is not the time or place for lamentations on the topic of my non-existent love life.

It occurred to me (whilst sipping said cocktail) that I hadn’t packed an umbrella. Yes, that’s right. On a trip to Ireland! Luckily, I didn’t need it. Save for an unwelcome but not inconvenient downpour on the Saturday night, it was remarkably warm and dry all weekend.

I had chosen my courses carefully, based on addressing the one weakness I have found in my writing so far – writing dialogue – and the elephant in the room, my lack of business acumen and, particularly, marketing know-how.

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Saturday morning dawned bright and very early. My apartment in the Smithfield area overlooked the famous Old Jameson Distillery so I decided to take a deliberate walk past on my way to the Irish Writers’ Centre.

Following a cheeky McDonalds breakfast, I arrived at the centre in good time for my first Course, Dialogue in Fiction. It was a wonderful couple of hours spent talking about the importance of good dialogue and how it should be significant to the plot.

It was, however, also the day for Dublin Gay Pride. Not only that – they had organised to congregate right outside the centre in Parnell Square before setting off on their march around the city.

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Rainbow crocodile!

Margaret Murphy, our tutor, performed admirably to be heard above the noise of the pumping dance music. In one particular episode, we were discussing how the use of silence in a conversation can create tension, just as an enormous cheer from outside the window rang through our ears, to much hilarity from the class.

After a brief buffet lunch, Nicola Cassidy and I escaped into the street to join the throng of revellers gathering to see of the Pride Parade. Having been an attendee at Birmingham Pride for many years, it was refreshing to be treated to the Irish version.

The afternoon session was spent listening to the fabulous Catherine Ryan Howard talk about treating our writing as a business venture. This is a skill I need to work on very much, and it requires one to separate emotion from the creativity which is easier said than done.

Dinner on Saturday evening allowed us to socialise with one another, and also to listen to the inspirational Paul O’Brien talk about his dedication to his day job while juggling his passion for writing and a young family.

It was a pleasure to bump into the lovely Krissy V and chat about all things erotic until the wee small hours along with new friends such as John Pitts.

All in all, it was a fantastic weekend, packed with opportunities to all help each other along the self-publishing journey, and offering guidance, support and a helping hand among the group.

BooksGoSocial founder Laurence O’Bryan has built an empire of readers, eager to get their paws on good quality self-published books, and authors willing to provide such material. If you’re interested in self-publishing your work, these guys are essential. Hundreds of thousands of Twitter and Facebook followers, all tuning in for a dose of who’s got what coming out next.

I now have a To-Do list as long as my arm and I’m busy putting it all into practice.

Join the Authors’ Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/booksgosocialauthors/?fref=ts

And, while you’re at it, the Readers’ Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/booksgosocialreaders/?fref=ts

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Blimey! The Bard sure did get around…

 

 

 

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!

 

 

Writer With Pets: Madalyn Morgan

I met actress, writer and radio presenter Madalyn Morgan at my first Swanwick in 2013. She was one of many people I met there who inspired me early on in my own writing journey and I’m thrilled that she has contributed to my blog.

Maddie has reminded me that it’s not just the cats and dogs which share our homes which we can consider pets. Those of us lucky enough to have gardens know that the great outdoors plays host to any number of wild creatures and they too can be an inspiration.

Which came first, a love of writing, or a love of animals?

Animals came before writing, but not before acting.  Let me explain.  My first cat adopted me just before I went to Drama College in London.  I had a hairdressing salon in Rugby and the girls who worked for me insisted I took in a scruffy little stray.  I said no, but by the time the girls had fed him for a couple of weeks, they had fallen in love with him and he had taken over my flat.  Toby Two-Shoes ended up living with my parents at the pub I grew up in, when I went off to London in 1974.

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Susie Kit-Kat adopted Maddie when she was an actress living in London

My second cat, Susie Kit-Kat, was fifteen when she came to live with me.  I was an out-of-work actress and she had been orphaned when her mum of ninety-three died.  The lady was famous in South London after a court appearance for not paying her TV license.  She told the magistrates that she had enough money to pay the TV license, or feed her cats, but not both.  She chose to feed her cats.  Susie travelled with me to several repertory theatres.  She wasn’t much help when I was leaning lines though, she used to fall asleep.

Describe your pets.

My first cat, Toby, was jet black with white front paws – hence the name Toby Two-shoes.  Susie was a tabby, very soft and very pretty with big eyes.  Her lips were strange.  Most of the time she looked as if she was smiling.  A regular feline visitor to my garden is, Blanca.  She disturbs my writing so much…  She stalks the fish in my pond, so I run out and shoo her off.  She is pure white with piercing blue eyes – and she is very cheeky.  She knows I would never hurt her, so she sits and stares me out.  Only when she decides to leave, does she slink off.

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Blanca, hiding in Maddie’s wildflower garden under the apple trees

Take me through your writing day.

My day starts early.  I wake as soon as it is light, which is not so bad in the winter but in the summer, it can be too early.  However, it is as I’m waking up that I have my best ideas.  I have to write them down immediately.  Like dreams, they are very real at the time, but they quickly go out of your mind once you’re awake.

Sometimes I’m bombarded with ideas for my next book before I’ve finished writing the current one.  I was line editing my second novel, Applause, for twelve hours a day.  Stupid I know, sitting at the computer for that long is bad for your legs.  However, two nights running I was kept awake by the plot of China Blue, the third book in the Dudley sisters saga,  which I haven’t started writing yet.

“Editing Foxden Acres, I had Applause wake me up. Editing Applause, I had China Blue wake me up.”

 

In the spring and summer, I make a cup of tea and switch on the computer.  While it warms up, I take my tea and walk round the garden.  I fill the birdbaths from the water butt, put down seeds for the birds and look at the fish.  One my garden creatures are happy I go back to the computer and, with a second cup of tea, check my emails, Facebook and Tweets, before opening my writing file.  Once I start writing it’s a cup of tea and a chat to the fish and frogs every couple of hours.

 

How do your pets help or hinder the writing process, and/or inspire you?

That is a good question.  They hinder and inspire in equal measure.  I was prone to being stressed, but my pets calm me.  Fish and frogs are fascinating to watch, which is relaxing.  On the other hand, if the weather is good, I am in and out of the garden all day, which is a hindrance.  In the summer, I eat my lunch outside so I can watch them.  By then the frogs are used to my voice and will sit and watch me as I am watching them.

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Frog sunbathing on a lily pad

The fish too are used to my shape and come for food.  But my favourite time is the end of my writing day.  Around six o’clock I sit and relax by the pond with a dish of olives and a glass of wine.  Perfect.

 

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Shubunkin, goldfish, yellow and black tench

Summer is the best time for man and fish, except when you lose one.  I was heartbroken when I returned from Swanwick in August 2012 and found a beautiful red, silver and black, Shubunkin and two red goldfish were missing.  My neighbours saw a bird of prey in my garden and I guess it took them.  However, the good news is, last year I saw two tiny baby ‘black’ goldfish.  I can’t wait to see how much they have grown, if they survived the winter, which I’m sure they did.

In the winter, my workstation faces the garden and I spend far too much time gazing out the window at the birds.  I hang suet balls, seed, and nut feeders in the trees for the tits and sparrows, throw seeds on the steps for the ground eaters like Robins and other small birds, and put currents and apples out for the blackbirds.  Two beautiful little doves visit every day and what they don’t eat the pigeons see off.  I love my garden, my birds and my fish and frogs.  I never tire of watching them – and I never tire of writing.

Popping in and out several times, a day is good for a writer.  I spent far too many hours at the computer without taking a break, while I edited Foxden Acres and then Applause, and had extremely painful legs as a consequence.  Writers need to get up every hour or so and move about.

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”.

Elizabeth Gilbert: A Signature of All Things

Some months ago, I was lucky enough to get a ticket to Bloomsbury Publishing, London, for the London leg of Elizabeth Gilbert’s book tour to promote her wonderful new novel, A Signature of All Things.

Ar 201uthor Elizabeth Gilbert (l) and me at Bloomsbury Publishing in October 2013
Author Liz Gilbert (left) and me at Bloomsbury Publishing in October 2013

Over the Christmas break I finished reading the book and, I have to say, what a wonderful read it is.

Liz has created such a great character in Alma Whittaker. She is an incredibly intelligent woman who excels in her chosen field of botany. She is not, however, an attractive heroine who meets the love of her life and lives happily ever after. Instead, her story is one of immense personal strength, an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and, ultimately, heartbreak.

I am a huge fan of Liz’s work and it was a pleasure to meet her at the event. A friend pointed me in the direction of Eat, Pray Love a couple of years ago and I have never looked back. She writes with a rare eloquence which reads as though she herself is speaking from the page. It makes her stories sound deeply personal and all the more believable. I have since gone on to purchase more of her books and shall read them with great pleasure!

 

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!

Triskaidekaphobia, friggatriskaidekaphobia and an Etymologist comes to Warwickshire!

As 2013 draws to a close and we look forward to a brand new year, we begin to think about resolutions we may or may not stick to and changes we will make to improve our lives. It may also be a time when we choose to overcome certain fears, which brings me onto this marvellous word: triskaidekaphobia.

It’s a word that comes from the Greek tris meaning “three”, kai meaning “and”, deka meaning “ten” and phobos meaning “fear” or “morbid fear”. So, it means “a fear of the number thirteen”. I’ve stayed in hotels myself where there is no room thirteen. They tend to be smaller, private hotels rather than the big chains, but nonetheless, it’s a very real fear for some.

There is also a related word: friggatriskaidekaphobia, which is the fear of, specifically, Friday the 13th.

For some, just hearing the phrase “Friday the 13th” brings them out in a cold sweat. Presumably, these are the same folks who make a habit of avoiding walking underneath ladders, throw salt over their shoulders and make themselves a recluse on that fateful day.

If that’s you, I have some advice. When you wake up on Friday, think of something positive and keep it in your mind all day. Maybe it’s a holiday you’ve planned for 2014. or maybe you’re going somewhere for Christmas, visiting family and friends. Get excited about it (if you’re not already) and hold that feeling of excitement. Before you know it, the day will have passed, for the most part, without incident. Then, it’s all over until the next one (my calendar reliably informs me this will be next June).

I am not especially superstitious myself. Life is unfair enough at times without adding the inevitable problems of an unseen force over which we can have no control. Still, I will no doubt buy a lottery ticket over Christmas, and cross my fingers at some point in the hopes that it makes a difference to whether or not I win. Touch wood, and all that…

 ~~~

Speaking of etymology, I went to a book signing this week.

Mark Forsyth (aka The Inky Fool) visited Warwick to promote his new book The Elements of Eloquence so I managed to bag myself a seat. I also managed to be first in the queue for him to sign all three of his books for me which was a real treat. He wished me well with my writing journey too.

I found him to be a most engaging speaker. He is just as eloquent and articulate as you would expect if you’ve read his books. He recited all sorts of long-forgotten yet wonderful words in the English language with a distinguished wit and charm.

Etymology is a fascinating topic for writers and in The EtymologiconMark writes about it most beautifully. It is wordsmithery in its finest form, creating powerful images for each word and a small lesson in history in every paragraph.

I’ve not yet read The Horologicon, though it promises to be just as entertaining as the previous book. It goes without saying that I expect The Elements of Eloquence to be no different. Stay tuned for reviews of all three books in the new year!

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!

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!