Google+ Followers

Saturday, 31 December 2011

Happy New Year!

I hope every hope and dream held by all my blog followers comes true in 2012. Thank you for reading and commenting on my posts. I treasure all your thoughts and advice and look forward to posting more often throughout the year to come.

2011 has brought some ups and downs and one of the things that has saved my sanity and brought me peace of mind during tougher days has been my writing. Without it I don't know how I would have coped. I love the way it soaks up hours that might otherwise have been spent in aimless despair and much hand-wringing. My favourite escape from reality is fiction. Reading helps enormously. But writing takes me far beyond that washing-machine in my head that scrambles problems round in circles. Sometimes I look up from the laptop at three o'clock in the afternoon and wonder where I've been. And magically, my head is clear and free.
I've reached about 55,000 words in the novel and have lots of new story ideas too. I'm looking forward to starting those and, in preparation, have actually tidied the drawer in my writing-table. I found a lot of Ryvita crumbs in there, even more than are wedged in the keyboard.
I'm going to see the Russian State Ballet perform Swan Lake on Monday and can't wait. The best thing about that day is that I shall be there with my three beautiful daughters. And there couldn't be a better way for me to start the New Year than that.

Wishing you all peace, joy and good health. x

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Am I Normal?

I'm now 37,000 words into the novel and enjoying it almost all of the time. I'm still getting to know the characters and letting the story develop as they do. I've realised this means I shall probably need to re-write a lot of the opening few thousand words, as the tentative start won't always match what comes next. Is this normal?

I've stopped myself from tweaking too much and lingering over one word here and one phrase there, reminding myself I can do all that at leisure when the whole story is finished, however rough it is. As long as there is an entire novel with a beginning, middle and end, I should be satisfied with that as a first draft. That's the theory.
However, in practice, I am still staring at odd bits that don't feel right or looking at yesterday's words and wondering why on earth I thought they were all right at the time when they seem appalling the next day. Is this normal?

I have characters that I can't give up, but I don't know yet exactly how they fit into the story. Only that they will and I haven't found out about all that yet. They all live in the same road and have an impact on each other's lives, even though some of them won't necessarily meet. I worry about these two or three people earning their place and having a reason for being there. Will it happen and should I chop them out (ouch) if it doesn't? And is it normal to have such doubts?
Also, what happens if you like a minor character more than a main one? At this stage, I'm concerned there isn't one who stands right out. Several seem to be jostling for the lead. And how normal is that?

And should I worry about what's normal or just write?

I may know the answer to that, but any advice would be welcomed. Thank you!

Friday, 25 November 2011

Loving The Bones

My novel is going well and that's thanks to the helpful advice from the last post. Thank you! I decided to start afresh and have now completed nearly 17,000 words. I do like this one and itch to get back to it whenever I finish for the day. It's flowing better and the characters are fleshier. I can actually see them and have got to know most of them. I still have moments of horrible doubt and think the entire thing is foolish and pretentious. But then I try to remember that it's still me writing. And I'm quite capable of being foolish and pretentious. So, just as with the short stories, if I don't like what I've written and feel it isn't adding to the telling of the tale or developing the characters, then it has to go.
The hard part of writing a novel is that if I keep going back to make changes, I don't make much progress. So I'll keep pressing on to get the first draft down. And then I can revisit it and start waving my green pen around. All I do now when I begin a session is re-read the last couple of paragraphs and make a few amendments that would, if left, keep bothering me too much. Then I move on, reassuring myself that this is only the bare bones and it's inevitable that they will be a bit clunky and clattery. But I need them before I pack in all the fat and meat and juicy bits. Did I say I have a fixation with butchers? They are in quite a few of my stories and there's one in my novel too.
Anyway, thank you from the heart for helping me make my mind up. The short stories are still coming out too. There's one in this week's People's Friend and Woman's Weekly Fiction Special. I love writing them and will never stop, but managed to spend two whole days this week on the novel, just to prise it off the starting blocks.
I get up early at the weekends now and write in my pyjamas. It's not a pretty sight, but a lovely peaceful time to write before the day starts. It's surprising how many words I can achieve on a quiet Saturday and Sunday. And the virtuous feeling afterwards makes it even more worthwhile.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Help!

I've had a much better, clearer idea for the novel. Well, more than an idea. It's a whole picture. There's a setting which is far less vague than the current one and more defined characters. Also, fewer of them. It has a darker side, which I usually enjoy. It still has secrets too.

Shall I leave the current one at nearly 6,000 words, set it aside, and start the exciting new one, which I am seriously burning to do? Or am I in danger of becoming a serial novel-starter? I am scared I will keep changing my mind and not finishing.

I remember when I sat exams with a choice of questions, we were advised to pick one after a few minutes of careful thought and then stick to it. Never go back and change your mind, they said, as it would waste time and you would never concentrate properly for thinking about the abandoned work and whether you'd made the right decision.

I have taken two days off from the novel to concentrate on a short story and let my mind wander over the new idea. Tomorrow I must either start it or continue the with the first one. I can't wait to find out which I choose...

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Hoping For More Than Potatoes

Well, the novel is chugging along quite well. I have managed over 4,000 words and feel a lot better now than I did on the second and third days, when I had too many ideas and was trying to make it too complicated. I was so aware this was different from a short story, ie, a lot longer, that I was guilty of cramming far too much in. I was thinking of twists and turns that the characters were not ready for. As if I were trying to suggest a new-born baby write a Haiku.

One piece of advice applicable to short stories is valid for novels too. And that is to let the characters develop first and that will allow them to dictate the plot. Mine are already beginning to show me what should naturally evolve, rather than me deciding in advance without actually knowing them. After all, I can't expect to grow a sunflower from a tulip bulb. I have already changed the potential relationships between the characters a few times and feel very pleased when I reach that moment when light dawns and you think,"Oh, of course that's what happens!"

If I keep going at this pace, I shall finish the first draft in four months. That sounds like a long time when patience isn't one of my virtues, but now I've started, I really want to know what happens next.

In a previous post, I mentioned a story that changed setting from a hospital to a party in a railway canteen. I was pleased to have that one accepted by Woman's Weekly, particularly because it proved that making a drastic alteration is sometimes just what is needed. I'm glad I didn't abandon the first draft and start again. The basic story, the journey the characters had embarked on, was working for me. But they required a new direction. It felt daunting. I worried that I was veering off-course. But the final destination made it all worthwhile. So sometimes it can pay to make in-roads into unknown territory. You never know what the rewards might be.

I am still working hard on the short stories. I couldn't imagine being without them. But it is fun to have a novel to turn to as well. It feels very different from the short fiction. It's like a long soak in a bath. The short stories pour out like a quick shower; intense, invigorating and no waiting while the taps run.

When I feel unsure about what a character might do next, either in the stories or the novel, I imagine putting him into an extreme situation. I might blindfold him and make him teeter on the edge of a cliff. Or strap him to the wing of a plane and send him thousands of feet up in the air. Or offer him a million ponds to eat a raw elephant with a spoon. I imagine what he'll say, do, think, feel. Whether he will scream or try reasoning with me. What facial expression he will pull. Might he laugh? Cry? Distract me with words? Dance the hornpipe? It is quite useful. Also amusing. And it isn't the sort of thing you often have the opportunity to do in real life.

I wrote a novel a few years ago that I know is bad. It has its moments, but it is still bad. It is under the wardrobe, coated in fluff thick enough to be a small blanket. Or a bed for growing bad potatoes. I hope my new novel will be worthier and not have to be hidden away. And even if that's all it becomes, simply less dusty, less potatoey, then that's good enough for me.








Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Secrets

Monday will see me beginning to write a novel. Now I've posted this fact, I cannot change it. I aim to write between 500 and 1000 words a day, using the afternoons. Mornings are reserved for short stories. I'm usually all written out by evening, but I might consider burning the midnight oil sometimes.

I can imagine that, halfway through the novel, I shall find it hard to let it go to bed. It will have a human shape by then. It will be breathing. Asking questions. Having tantrums. Saying why? Maybe panting and sweating. Attempting to resume unfinished conversations with me. Making me laugh. Making me sing. Making me cry. (Hopefully.)

I know vaguely what it will be about and I know three characters and some of the setting. I know the kind of language I want to use. I know I want to be sparing with the vocabulary, less wordy and pompous than I can be. I like Susan Hill's style of writing. Fresh and clean, but with the occasional metaphor that takes your breath away. I would like parts of it to be poetic, delicate, beautiful, and for these to be threaded in. I want to write in my own voice, but for it to work at its best all the time, every word.

It's no wonder I've put this off. I might be far too lazy to achieve all that. I want rather a lot. But I know what I don't want. I don't want to go into it half-heartedly or treat it like an elongated short story. This is different and I hope I'm ready for it. I have the time and I definitely have the inclination.

I might need some stronger contact lenses (too much hunching and peering like an old crone again) and I might need to clean out the Ryvita crumbs from my keyboard. And then I'll be more than ready.

All last night, especially at around 4am, I kept seeing scenes, imagining the setting. It's about a family with secrets. And I love the fact that all the secrets are in my own imagination. I only know one of them. That unlocked itself yesterday on a train from Cardiff to Cheltenham, with my daughter and I sitting unlawfully in First Class. (There were only three carriages and it was vertical sardines everywhere. Didn't they realise it's half-term? We were very tired and wanted to read our new books. And there was this empty and rather nice First Class carriage and a very cross guard who shook his head at us, but let us stay put until some of the sardines peeled off at Newport and we hot-footed it into an empty pair of seats in the normal carriage - the one with the rain leaking through the ceiling panels...) The rest of the secrets will emerge today (even without the marvellously atmospheric Great Western train to inspire me) and tonight. I can feel it...

I promise the novel won't have any parentheses.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Bringing On The Extras

Sometimes, when things are going wrong and life is hurling a new dilemma at me, it is a relief to see a friendly face, even fleetingly. It can make all the difference to the day. It could be a chatty assistant in the supermarket. Or a kind driver who lets me out in front of him during rush-hour, when he's probably in just as much of a hurry as I am. Or, best of all, my eldest daughter's beautiful smile when she comes home from uni for a visit. These people can put life back on track again and make a major difference to the course of the day.

And it's the same with writing short stories. My latest one was veering towards a dead-end. I could see it coming and wanted to turn it round and head in the right direction again. But I didn't know how. I stopped, stared at the brick wall, then stared into space, then paced the room. Nothing came. I couldn't manoeuvre at all without the dead-end sign looming up at me again and again. I racked my brains for solutions. Curled up and went to sleep at the foot of the sign, tossing and turning, my brain still in overdrive.

And then it came. Bring in a new character. Ask for directions, opinions, a sweet smile of sympathy to spur me on. Let him show me the way out. Transfer my dilemma into his capable hands. It works every time.

Now I have this lovely young farmer in a tractor, who has driven into the first paragraph and breathed new life, and a strong waft of cow-pats, into my beleaguered story. He adds weight to both the other main characters in the way that a minor character does so efficiently. He has improved the plot and strengthened the structure. And the twist that seemed rather convoluted is now workable.

So I'm on the highway now and picking up speed again. Let's hope the dead-end stays behind me. It's amazing what a fresh face can do to help you on your way. It's like a fictional hitch-hiker adding a new dimension to your journey.

And, off on another tangent again, it also somehow reminds me of backing singers. I'm sure Frankie Valli would have flopped without his Four Seasons. And Smokey Robinson would have smouldered into ash without his Miracles.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Fish Out Of Water

My youngest daughter, my husband and I are hooked on the TV series, Pretty Little Liars. I can't believe my husband, not a fan of American TV, (particularly far-fetched, lip-gloss-coated, poorly-acted mystery dramas), has become hooked. And there are some scary bits which I thought might have proved too much for my thirteen-year-old. (Although she is the coolest and most stoical person we know.) I am slightly surprised that I take time out to watch it too, since I don't really have much interest in television and don't know how to work the remote control at all. I do watch good films and the occasional good series if the family are keen to watch too. But I would never think of turning on the TV when I'm on my own.

However, Pretty Little Liars has everything a good short story needs. Conflict, tension, movement, fascinating characters (and I'm not thinking at all of Toby or Caleb's six-packs here) and good settings. There is humour as well as tragedy, plus lots of those everyday 'kitchen-sink' moments speeding the plot along.

Quite simply, it hooks you from the first, The three of us are dangling on the line with no wish to be set free. We've given up being cynical about impossibly glamorous people (the sort who wake up with perfect hair and false eyelashes in place) and absurdly unrealistic life-styles. We just wriggle contentedly on those hooks and gaze, wide-eyed, at this pretty little fabricated realm.

We gasp from time to time and say "What?" at the twists and turns, then spend ages trying to unravel it all afterwards. We even hope that not all the loose ends are tied up when it finishes, so we can keep on pontificating and wondering forever.

So although TV is not my thing, and this kind of programme is far removed from my husband's kind of thing, it just shows how we all like to be a fish out of water sometimes, just for forty minutes here and there. Especially when there's a damn good story (underneath the lip-gloss) to follow.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Where To Start?

Searching for directions on Googlemaps, it makes sense to request a route that starts from the point at which you know you will flounder, rather than starting from home-base, from where you are familiar with the first few turnings. It seems to be the same with my recent stories too.

I set off with a degree of confidence. And then I find I'm steering along less familiar lanes. It is daunting, but much more thrilling. I feel slightly unsafe, yet exhilarated. And that is where the story really takes shape. That is the important moment upon which the rest will hinge.

If I then look back at the start, I find it has little relevance to the real journey. It was necessary to get me started, but it plays no role now that I'm on uncharted waters. (I may have crossed from land to sea here. Must have veered a little off course. Damn Googlemaps.)

What I might be saying here is that I am deleting my beginnings. I can't do it until I reach the end and know for sure I've arrived at the right destination. But by the time I'm getting close, I'm itching to cross it out and insert the right, true opening lines, the point where the meat is. (Actually, that might be connected with my butcher story.) That first paragraph grates away in my head and, when I finally delete it, it's like scratching the sole of an itchy foot at traffic lights when you've been desperate to do so along an entire carriageway.

The story I'm writing started originally with a journey to hospital. But instead we go to a party in a railway canteen on VE Day. The hospital became invalid once I knew where I was going. It was a convoluted trip to that party, but I'm glad I began there in the end. In the end? Ah, that's another strange journey for another time.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Stylish Blogger Award!

Many thanks to Jo Derrick of The Yellow Room, http://www.theyellowroom-magazine.co.uk, who has nominated me for the above award. And accordingly here are seven things about me/my writing that you may not already know:

1) I have a cousin with an unusual name. She said she would love to see it featured in one of my stories, so I used it in my next story for Woman's Weekly and I have just heard that they are publishing it. I can't wait to send her a copy. I wonder if the desire to make her wish come true gave me extra reason to make sure the story worked.

2) Yesterday I drove to Cornwall and back from Gloucestershire (long story). The journey gave me lots of ideas for new stories, although tiredness prevented me writing them all down at home later. However, one has stuck and I hope to develop it today. Driving is good for inspiration, especially as you see things/people/places in flashes as they pass by. Those moments are vivid and I can only write a good story if something very intense, fleeting and striking sets it in motion.

3) I loathe it when people ask if I'm going to be the next JK Rowling. I might start giving them pitying looks instead of gushing.

4) I love William Trevor's stories and nothing gives me greater writing impetus than to read his collections, some of them over and over again. If ever I need fresh ideas when I'm thinking about writing a new story, I sit down with one of his books and choose a story at random. As I read, I dissect it, asking myself why a particular word or sentence works so well and how he deploys the technique so successfully. This dissection doesn't spoil my enjoyment of the story. In fact, it enhances it in much the same way as flaking fish from its skeleton before eating it and savouring its succulence without fretting about bones.

5) I don't eat meat, but it features often in my darker stories. As do butchers.

6) I sometimes pretend to phone a character and ask 'What are you doing right at this moment?' I don't allow anything banal, but it must be in keeping with the character. It has to be a shock or amusing in some way. And it has to be instant. No scratching of heads first. The answer will give the story a sharper edge.

7) I do not allow my mother to read some of my stories.

Thank you so much Jo!

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Visitors

For the last week I have been living with a new man. He is called Ian Green and he owns a bed-shop he inherited from his father. He breathes in the aroma of plastic-wrapped mattresses all day while his customers dwindle in number, seduced by the sweeter prices and faster service of the Internet. His sales are insufficient for a profit and he hasn't paid his mortgage for a few months. He's afraid to tell his sour wife and greedy child that they may lose the roof over their heads and their smoked-salmon breakfasts. No wonder he's moved in with me.
I think he should tell his wife everything, but I don't want to force him in that direction. I'm happy to wait on him hand and foot and let him choose whichever path seems natural for him. Besides, it's only been a week. I need to get to know him better before I can give him any advice. I have shared a lot of time and meals and coffees and conversations in the car with him. He had a bowl of cereal with me this morning (or was it that I ate two bowls while listening to him?) and he was vociferous when I was out in the car yesterday. I couldn't shut him up.
But I don't tire of him. He has hidden depths. There is far more to him than pocket-springing or memory-foam. He has an imaginary mistress called Miss Dangerfield and a secret yearning to be a farmer. He takes lentil soup to work in a flask.
I like having him around, but I shall finish with him soon. His connection to me is a solid one, nearly 3000 words have blossomed between us and I shall soon begin to nurture those into a good shape, with plenty of colour and interest. I hope.
Then he has to go. But I shan't forget him. I shall worry about him, knowing already how his future is going to turn out.
But it was fun while it lasted.
Am I still with my husband? Of course. He has a very understanding nature. But Graham and Harry have moved in now and I'm just about to get to know them quite well. And they might be around for quite a few weeks.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

A Steep Hill

I'm finding the eighty thousand words in eighty days challenge a bit of a steep hill. I keep stopping to have a look at what I've achieved and to think about it, but the view isn't very satisfying. Some days it looks bright and promising. But on most of the others, I look at it and feel empty. There's no substance there. The settings seem insignificant. The characters don't touch me at all. So it's quite a lonely hill, just me standing there with a 'So what?' feeling.

When I used to take part in the online flash fiction competition, Write-Invite, I was almost always pleased with the result. It was the same idea, writing to a deadline of thirty minutes, and therefore a case of pouring out words from the soul. But I can't seem to do it any more. I have tried setting a deadline in much the same way, writing for an hour or so, which yields roughly the thousand words I need for the challenge. But the impetus just isn't there. I don't write with the same charge of adrenaline.

I have set myself themes, so that I have a purpose with each story. But they don't unfold. They trickle in odd tangents and therefore never really gel. I have few decent endings.

I guess that when I finish, I shall edit drastically and rip out the rubbish. But I'm wondering if there will be much left over. It's a bit like a cake my youngest daughter baked the other day. The top, bottom and sides burnt. We sliced them off and then discovered the centre was raw. So we discarded that too. The remainder was delicious - light, fluffy and totally edible. But there wasn't very much of it and it looked a bit messy!

So I hope I shall have something at the end, but it may not be anywhere near the eighty thousand words I need. And whether it is worthwhile or not, I shall have to wait and see. The experience so far is making me feel I ought to cut my losses and give up. At first, I was just pleased to write the required amount, but perhaps that is what is hampering the creative flow. I'm just too interested in completing the daily task, rather than really writing from the heart. But if I could do it with the flash fiction, why can't I do this? Should I keep climbing to the top or accept that the view from there will be foggy and pointless?

Friday, 29 April 2011

Beginnings And Endings

Yesterday I visited my mother in Dorset to take her to my brother's grave on the tenth anniversary of his death. We tidied the grass and added spring flowers. We cleaned the headstone and then stood there in this beautiful setting, a village tucked into the soft, watchful hills. The sun illuminated the church, but our corner was in shadow and cooled by the breeze. I didn't want to leave, but my mother was chilled by the thought of his bones lying there in the dark. But I felt at least there was something of him left.

My mother spoke to him before she turned away, leaving me humbled by the strength in her voice, by the courage of the human spirit that allows a frail mother of eighty-five to speak to her cherished dead son as if he were still there.

We miss him more each year, the reality that he is never coming back more brutal at each anniversary of his death. She told me yesterday that he once said he would never be old. He would be content to skip the option of life beyond the middle years. And she said she would hate to go on much longer now. Ageing is harsh and she can feel herself decaying. The last ten years have made her life a waiting game. No mother wants to outlive her child. She wants to join her husband and her son now and the thought that she will be with them at last blocks any fear of dying. Her life will be complete once she has gone. And I will have my wonderful memories of them all and be able to think of them together in peace.

We left that tranquil place and drove on through the narrow lanes dappled with shadows of fresh leaves, skirting round young pheasants exploring their new world, trying to make sense of it all and excited by its promise for as long as it lasts.

Then as I went home along the main roads, I saw a mature pheasant lying dead on the verge, but still with his glorious plumage being ruffled by the wind and shining vibrant in the sun.


Sunday, 17 April 2011

A Challenge For The Summer

My Spring/Summer challenge is going to be writing 80,000 words in eighty days, as proposed by Sally Quilford at http://80kwords80days.blogspot.com/. It might be what I need to produce a themed collection of short stories at last, although other writers will write their novel or continue their work-in-progress. It doesn't matter how you choose to shape the words. It's important only that you write them. I'll aim for an average of a thousand a day of course, but undoubtedly there will be the odd day when I can't achieve any. And with luck, the occasional day when I manage more.

I feel excited about it, but as usual I don't know what will happen. I don't plot. But I daydream. Fragments of those muddled visions are stored in my head somehow and eventually translate into words on the screen. I think my theme is going to be: striving for the impossible. But I don't know for sure. And that's as much planning as I can do. On May 1st, I shall launch in and can't wait to see where it takes me. I'll feel inspired by the thought that others are doing the same and probably finding some days harder than others.

Now the days are longer and brighter, I fit in a little more writing than usual. And with my middle daughter soon on study leave for her GCSEs, I hope that my dedication to the 80k/80days challenge will assist with her revision! It worked when my eldest daughter was revising for A Levels. We both sat at the kitchen table and she beavered away with her books while I wrote. I have to say that I was the one always begging for it to be time to stop for lunch. But she would keep my nose to the grindstone until a more suitable time than 11.30! One memorable time, she asked me to help with her Statistics revision. She must have been desperate because no one in the world is less mathematically minded than I am. But, incredibly, between us, we managed to make sense of the problems, taking it bit by bit and getting more and more into the thrill of puzzling it out, and felt fantastic afterwards.

So if I could meet that challenge, then I'll definitely be able to do this one! Especially now I've told you all that I'm going to!



Sunday, 3 April 2011

Sad Post

I have been thinking about how fictional characters can behave however the writer chooses. And how that makes them so special to us. We send them off on their wrong path, safe in the knowledge we can help them turn round and find the right way again. Not by a chance event or a magic wand wafting conveniently around their bewildered heads, but all by themselves. They see their problem and realise how to set themselves right again. It makes a good story and writers sit back in satisfaction ( hopefully) just for a moment and feel relieved their special person has made it. Or that at least there's a shred of hope for them after the conclusion.

I wish we could do that in real life too. You may remember my middle daughter's pneumonia last winter and the amazing boyfriend who carried her to the car in the snow, cleared our path out of the garage and stayed with us for hours in the hospital. This same boyfriend now tells her he wasted his time with her and that his new life smoking weed, drinking to excess and collapsing on pavements is a much happier existence. She cares and worries about him. She forgives this massive insult to their time together, as long as he is all right and is truly happy. She remembers the happy times and all the love they had. And she always will. This says so much about my incredible Olivia. I hope she never changes.

But I wish I could believe he has found the right way. And I wish real life empowered us as much as fiction-writing does. But there's truly no more to be done than hope for the best.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

And Again!

Enormous thank yous to penandpaints at http://penandpaintswriting.blogspot.com/ for another Stylish Blogger Award. It's a lovely compliment to be stylish twice over! Here are seven more things about myself. I haven't thought about them yet. I'll just see what spills out of my head on Sunday morning.

1) As a small child, I was obsessed with limping. I would limp round and round the garden with a bamboo cane, pretending to be a little old man.

2) I am a slow, slow reader. I re-read sentences I like, savouring the words like that first sip of a gin and tonic. Ages pass before I turn the page. My husband whizzes through books, but I worry that he is missing something.

3) I insisted on wearing my stilettos when I worked in a toy factory during school holidays. One day they took me off my seat on the assembly line to work on a machine that punched rivets into plastic parts. It was a standing-up job. After the long walk home, my feet were so painful my mother had to make a mustard bath for them. But I still wore the heels the next day. I was utterly faithful to high heels and I still am, despite the torture. I don't understand the flat pumps my daughters wear.

4) When I visited my husband in hospital following his five-hour operation to remove a facial tumour, I had forgotten my handbag and ran out of petrol. The first thing I said was, "Have you got any cash on you?"

5) I eat mint-sauce sandwiches.

6) When a story I'm writing is going well, my heart beats very quickly. I feel it might jump out of my body. I get the same sensation just before a good story idea forms in my head. As though my body knows what is about to happen before my mind sees it.

7) A story came into my mind recently, fully-formed, with the main character complete and real. I felt he was mine to know and love and worry about. I sent him to a competition and know that if it isn't shortlisted, I shall be utterly devastated. I have been scared to read it again since, in case it's actually rubbish.

Thank you to penandpaints for giving me carte-blanche to bear my soul once more.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Stylish Blogger Award!

I'm so delighted to receive the Stylish Blogger Award from Rosemary, whose own blog, http://ros-readingandwriting.blogspot.com/, I love reading. I am now in the happy position of listing seven things about me, so here I go:

1) I was thrown out of Girl Guides for refusing to remove my bright red nail varnish.

2) I am not at all rebellious by nature; the above is the most appalling thing I have ever done.

3) I have had three operations on my nose to repair damage caused by falling crockery (definitely falling, not flung at me), which joyfully resulted in my nose becoming much neater in size and less bulbous. In effect, a free nose-job. It no longer casts a shadow over my moustache.

4) I enjoy having a general anaesthetic.

5) I began to learn to play the piano in my mid-forties, without any prior knowledge of how to read music, and am now coming up to Grade Five. I am a plodder and have no natural ability. I drive everyone mad by playing the same three bars over and over again until I have mastered them. I am the same when I write. If a word doesn't seem right, I stare into space until the perfect solution arrives. I can't continue until I feel satisfied. I can't leave errors. I have to correct as I go. I love finding things to circle with red pen, from my days studying to qualify as a proof-reader. (I achieved Merit, but they sent me a Distinction certificate by mistake. I was tempted to keep it, but decided to do the right thing and send it back.)

6) I was supposed to spend the summer after A Levels working at Butlins in Bognor with my best friend. She had to go on her own while I stayed at home and stole her boyfriend. I will never forgive myself for this. But it might make a good story.

7) My middle daughter tells me I show off with my dictaphone, waving it around with a hideous flourish in the car as I finish recording random ideas. I also gush at her friends, flirt with her boyfriend and embarrass her at check-outs by saying, "No thanks" to help with packing, then adding, "I've got my little helper with me."

Thank you so much, Rosemary, I've enjoyed this!

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Pass The Brandy!

I attended the launch of Ways Of Falling on Saturday. This is an anthology by Earlyworks Press and one of my stories is in it. The launch was at the Calder Theatre Bookshop in Southwark and was a lovely, happy event with lots of nice writerly people. My husband, an avid reader of either very long novels or non-fiction (the total opposite of what I read and write), really enjoyed himself. He couldn't wait to get home and finish reading one of the stories, an excerpt of which was read out at the launch, pausing at a cliffhanger moment.

Several of the authors elected to read. I loved listening to them. Since these stories come from the soul, they all read from there. They knew the perfect times to pause, to soften or raise the volume, to accelerate or calm the pace. It was such a pleasure to sit there and soak it all in, especially after the hellishly long drive through thick traffic in the pouring rain.

My regret was that I chose not to read and wished that I had. It was just like all those times at school, when I longed to raise my hand and volunteer to read aloud in class. But something always held me back. I knew I could read well. I had a loud and clear voice. I didn't stumble over difficult words. English was my passion. Reading was my main interest. I knew I could read better than the girls who always chose to do it. I read aloud in my bedroom all the time. I read to my mother while she did the housework at weekends. I read her every Malory Towers book and a couple of John Wyndham, one of which reduced her to tears.

So why wouldn't I read in class? I guess it was pure shyness. But it was a shame. I came out of those lessons feeling disappointed in myself. I felt the same on Saturday. It wasn't a case of not wanting to read. I just let myself back out of it. Maybe it was because my narrator in this story has an accent. But I can do that accent, because I've read the story aloud at home. Millions of times.

I was once interviewed for radio and was very happy to read some stories then. I didn't want to stop, in fact. I could have rambled on all day. So maybe it's having people in the room watching, as well as listening, that I find difficult. Not being able to see the audience, I could pretend to be speaking just to myself, I suppose.

When I took my finals at uni, the prospect of the oral exam, conducted entirely in German and lasting a thousand years, worried me enormously. There was to be a panel of three external examiners. I pictured them all staring without smiling. And I envisaged myself, shaking and stammering. I have to confess that, come the day, I allowed a fellow-student to talk me into drinking three glasses of brandy (I didn't need much convincing) just before I went in.

I stumbled through the door, catching the loop of my tie-belt on the handle. This pinged me back out of the room again. After extricating myself, which took some time, I made a second entrance. I was smiling so broadly by then that I'd stopped feeling nervous. It's impossible to be too hard on yourself if you're smiling. And, wonder of wonders, the panel was smiling back at me! I don't know if they could see me that well through the brandy fumes. I expect I smelt quite memorable though.

I sailed through the oral after that. They couldn't shut me up. I prattled about the year I spent in Germany, answered questions with gushing enthusiasm, virtually had to be prised from my seat and shown the door at the end.

Remembering that, I'm determined to read if I ever get the chance again. I know I can do it really. Even without the brandy.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Being Yourself

I visited my aunt and cousins on Saturday, having not seen them properly for many years, except at weddings and funerals. This was a proper old-fashioned visit, with high tea and shared memories and old photographs being passed around. Their clearest recollection of me as a child was significant. They remember me with books.

I brought books with me whenever we went to their house, sat and read during the conversations. I only talked animatedly about the latest Enid Blyton. I was shy and quiet all the rest of the time. But their memory of me, this dull, solid little bookworm wearing impossibly thick glasses, was clearly a fond one. And that was the real me. And so was the young language-student I became later, head still in a book, loving words more than anything else in the world.

Why I don't know, but I drifted away from all that I was passionate about and took jobs that I couldn't really excel at. I was hopeless, although I kept on trying. A colleague once asked why I had chosen a path I clearly was not destined to tread happily. I suppose it comes down to money. It has to be earned. But I wish I could have discovered writing sooner and clung to what I understood best. It suits me to be cloistered in a room with nothing but my imagination. But I guess it wouldn't have paid all the bills. It still doesn't. But I am me again now. But to my aunt and cousins, I had never changed from the child who loved the company of words more than anything else. So they were delighted and not at all surprised to learn I had become a writer.

Apart from during games of Let's Pretend, we are more likely to be natural and honest about who we are when we are very young. The adult years muddy our waters, often from necessity. We have to go out into the world and make our mark, pay our way. We are also expected to be more sociable than we can get away with as children.

So I feel very lucky to have come full circle and be in a position to be me again. A loner with my head in another realm a lot of the time. And confident enough not to care what other people think of that. Even when the lady in our village shop said with a sort of sneer, "So you just sit at home writing little stories, do you?", I agreed, joyfully, that she was absolutely right.

I think my aunt and cousins helped me realise how good it is to be yourself.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Looking Up

A lovely visit from my eldest daughter, taking a break from uni, opened my eyes. I realised that I rarely look up from my laptop during the day while the other girls are at school. Grudgingly I see to the needs of the washing machine and sometimes I'll remember that a bed has to be changed or the surly upstairs toilet is waiting for me to unblock it again. But I rush back to my little table covered in books and notes and, oddly, the salt and pepper, and get back to what I love doing best when I'm alone. All the writing stops as soon as the family arrive home and it feels like the perfect time to put it aside. By then, I'm all written out.

However, it was inspiring to look up from the screen for a couple of days to enjoy my daughter's company. She and her beautiful new boyfriend entertained me with their news and views, their funny banter, their wicked impressions of people and their obvious love for each other. They sat on the pew in the kitchen with a never-ending pot of tea, while I sat opposite and just drank it all in. (The entertainment rather than the tea.) It was a realisation for me. Firstly, they are an exquisite couple. But secondly, I don't sit down and look/listen enough any more. Their visit showed that I have cut myself off perhaps a little too much from the world. I gleaned so many ideas for stories from looking/listening to them.

Now, I am still not going to change myself much. I am a loner by nature, except when family are here. Then all my attention is happily focused on the people I'm with. But I shall make an effort to leave the house and sit in coffee shops more, observing people and picking up a few strands of ideas to weave into stories. Time to look up from the writing occasionally and just tune in to the world outside my kitchen.

However, I shall keep my eyes peeled while I sit in Costa. And if I spot anyone I'm acquainted with, I might duck under the table. I'm not that sociable yet. Besides, I'll be too busy making notes.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Enjoying My Ginger Nuts

I have begun a new story today to the strains of Vivaldi's Four Seasons. My typing was more ponderous during the slow, thoughtful sections. But the pace of it accelerated so much during the crescendos that I started laughing and had to take a break. Besides, I can't actually type that fast and discovered all the words were nonsense.

I have a CD called Gypsy Creams And Ginger Nuts. The tracks are very sixties-supermarket background music. I am writing a lightly-shaded story, which has, hopefully and allegedly, some hilarity content within it, with my Ginger Nuts trilling alongside me. Another story, which I'm planning to revise this afternoon, is rather dark. The music I listen to for that is the theme from Twin Peaks. Sinister, haunting and overhung with menace. I am convinced the music sets the mood and helps me to lose myself in the atmosphere of the story. And I enjoy the transformation from light to dark within the space of a day.

I'm feeling pleased today to have received copies of the latest anthology from Biscuit, in which one of my stories appears. I have had two acceptances from People's Friend as well. So the year is panning out rather well. Let's hope that's not a flash in the pan.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Silver Linings Last Longer Than Clouds

I'm finally surfacing after flu has stamped its insidious footprints through our Christmas and New Year. My middle daughter has been hospitalised twice with pneumonia. She and I both rattle with antibiotics. The muscles between our ribs are in agony from being stretched by coughing. And my husband is suffering terribly from exhaustion, having made a thousand glasses of squash, dispensed a million painkillers and scraped countless uneaten meals into the bin. My daughter is tentatively trying a day at school today and I am hoping to write. I have missed it so much. I wrote a little last week whenever I had enough energy to sit upright. The week before that, I couldn't face my laptop at all. In fact, I couldn't believe I had ever really been a writer. My normal world felt alien. All I had was this horrible grey existence. I hate feeling weak, hate doing nothing. Some days I have been almost in tears pushing the Hoover around just to rediscover some sort of familiar routine, just to be vaguely active. But in the end, all anyone can do is wait until they feel better. That takes patience. And I am criminally impatient. I was never blessed with that virtue, so I am ecstatic that I finally feel I'm emerging.

There are highlights though. My daughter and I felt so emotional when the flu had us in its clutches that we cried at everything, including Jeremy Kyle and most adverts. I cried when my husband and eldest daughter cooked a roast for Boxing Day even though they'd never done it before. They worked as a team and produced a perfect meal. aided by several gin and tonics. I shall never forget the look of pride and pleasure on their faces. They are now planning to be the Boxing Day cooks every year. The most tears I shed were when the boyfriend of the daughter with flu carried her down the icy lane to our garage so that we could take her to hospital the first time, two days before Christmas. Her little white face resting on his shoulder is an image that will stay with me forever. He shovelled the snow away from the garage door so I could get the car out. He came with us, waited there for six hours with nothing to eat while she was assessed and kept our spirits up the whole time. He assured me she would be discharged in time for Christmas. He is only fifteen.

I also have a guardian angel. When we were driving to the hospital, my car slid on an icy hill and refused to go anywhere other than towards stone walls and other cars. A huge Land Rover appeared out of the greyness and smilingly towed us until we were on safer, flatter roads. This kind of thing has happened to me before, which is why I think I have an angel watching me. I have got into several difficulties on the roads (my own fault, owing to my head always being engaged in fictional matters, I think). As you can imagine, I cried further tears at this act of heavenly kindness that helped us on our way to hospital. The boyfriend then had to read all the road signs for me as I didn't even know where this particular hospital was. He remained calm and patient throughout and there was nothing a panicking flu-struck mother with a very ill daughter could have needed more.

It all goes to show that, even in miserable times, there are amazing surprises that will never be forgotten.

So all this is why I have been behind with writing my blog and reading your lovely blogs. It's lovely to be back and I'm ready now to catch up. In the middle of the dark days, I found out that Woman's Weekly are taking two more of my stories, which was another beam of light shining through the murk. We're definitely having flu jabs this year!