Monday, 27 February 2012

Being Tagged

I have enjoyed being tagged by Teresa Ashby and thinking of answers to her eleven questions:

1. Do you wish you’d been born someone else?

No. I do like being me.

2. Who would you most like to have breakfast with?

Keith Richards of The Stones. Or the amazing writer, William Trevor.

3. Favourite subject at school?


4. Favourite television programme?

Twin Peaks. Also, 2000 Acres Of Sky.

5. Do you believe in ghosts?


6. What is your star sign?


7. Which Star Trek series was the best?

I must confess I have never seen a single episode of Star Trek.

8. If you could be a character from a book, who would you be?

Sophia in Our Spoons Came From Woolworth's by Barbara Comyns

9. What is your favourite animal?

The cat in all its forms.

10. Least favourite vegetable?

Corn on the cob.

11. Why?

All that gnawing and the ghastly smell of it.

I shall have to work out how to do the links-thing before thinking of eleven questions to pass on!

Many thanks in the meantime, Teresa! I enjoyed this very much and I'll do my questions in the next post.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Kreativ Blogger Award!

Grateful thanks go to Teresa Ashby, for her kindness in sending me this lovely award.

Here are some things you may not know about me:

1) When I was in the sixth-form, I was asked to help new girls in the First Year who were considered to be 'remedial readers'. One girl struggled with her reading so much that she had no confidence at all. She believed she would never learn to read and her parents were worried. I taught her in the dinner-hour once a week. I don't think anyone had ever told her that she could do it, but it was clear that she really wanted to.
The day before I left school, I was summoned to see the Head of English, a huge and terrifying woman. I thought she'd spotted me sneaking out early the day before to avoid P.E. I was shaking with fear.
But she told me the little girl's parents had contacted her to say how pleased they were with the reading progress she had made and they wanted her to pass on their thanks.
I can't think of any work I've done since that has proved more rewarding than that.

2) I am painfully, cripplingly shy. As an adult, I strive to conceal it, but as a child, I simply didn't talk to anyone and hid whenever the doorbell or telephone rang.

3) I love make-up. I put it all on every morning. I think it's the ritual I like. That and the fact that I am very vain. My husband has noticed that I even put it on before going into the garden to let the chickens out.

4) As a teenager, I wasn't allowed friends in my bedroom. And I wasn't allowed friends round at all when my parents were out at work. But one day when I was alone, my boyfriend appeared on the doorstep and, with fear and trepidation, I invited him to my room to see my guitar. Honestly!
I heard my father come home unexpectedly early and had to tell Pete to keep very still and quiet, while I went downstairs and pretended everything was normal. I couldn't sneak him out while my father was pottering around and cooking tea, so I went back up in a state of great tension. Pete was quaking in his Doc Martens.
"Keep playing," he urged, pointing at the guitar. "Then your Dad will think you're just up here acting normally."
All I knew was 'Whiter Shade Of Pale'. I played it about ninety times until my Dad disappeared into another room, clear of the staircase and escape route.
I made Pete take off his Doc Martens and creep downstairs, avoiding the step that creaked.
I pushed him out of the back door and then hared round to the front room where Dad was sitting to draw the curtains before he spotted Pete legging it down the road.
We got away with it. But never again!

5) On my first night at university, I stayed in my room in the hall of residence, too scared to emerge and go to eat in the dining hall with everyone else. I listened to them all walking along the corridor, talking away as if they'd already known each other for years, but couldn't bring myself to join them. I was so hungry I couldn't sleep.
In the morning I listened for the girl opposite me to come out of her door and crept out at the same moment. She was so friendly and sweet I almost cried with relief. And rage at myself for being so timid the night before.

6) The other reason for waiting for someone to walk with was that I have never possessed any sense of direction at all. Alone, I wouldn't have found the dining hall or my way back from it.
I am more likely to notice a particular blade of grass or the tilt of an unsteady litter-bin than I am to absorb which way I'm going.
The phrase, 'Retrace your steps', means nothing to me, since I take no notice of where I've planted them on the way to anywhere.

7) My father and I were once so absorbed in reading at the kitchen table (he was studying the racing page in the newspaper and I was glued to 'Mandy'), that we just lifted our feet up and tucked them under us when the floor flooded.
My mother had opened the fridge to defrost it and then disappeared to do other things. It must have gone into a sudden meltdown, but we were too engrossed to worry about it. I did spot a small puddle initially and my father suggested we point it out to my mother upon her return. After that, we just kept turning our pages and made sure we kept our socks dry.
She was not impressed when she had to paddle her way back in.

Thank you for this trip down Memory Lane, Teresa! I've enjoyed reminiscing!

Saturday, 18 February 2012

On Staring

I have always tended to look at things quite hard. Not necessarily the obvious things worthy of being looked at, such as the Grand Canyon or an amazing birthday cake or tiny new-born rabbits. I am fortunate enough to have seen all of these, but I find everything somehow significant.
As a result, I am not very quick on the uptake, my mind always distracted and drifting. Acquaintances complain that I don't see them in shops, even when they wave madly at me. And when I'm in the car, apparently I do not return the greetings people give me as they drive past.
I have always been this way inclined, always in a daydream, always finding a different angle from which to consider something or making up stories in my head. As a student, I was teased for being very quiet throughout a picnic to celebrate the end of exams and then suddenly saying, "I wonder what an ant thinks?"
I had been watching ants crawling through long grass, stumbling and struggling and never giving up, and I am ashamed to admit I found this more intriguing than the cider-sodden conversation around me.
Well, now I know why I am like this. According to the amazing writer, Flannery O'Connor:

'...there is a certain grain of stupidity that the writer of fiction can hardly do without, and this is the quality of having to stare, of not getting the point at once.'

She feels that writers watch constantly for the amazing magic within everyday things. This is the imagination at work.
Writers are always writing, even when they are at work, asleep or socialising. Our eyes are open all the time, despite everyone I know thinking the exact opposite of me!
We are letting in ideas, looking for the sense of all that we observe. We open ourselves to the world and, because it's instinctive, we never take a day off. And that is a comforting thought. If our lives become busy and sometimes don't allow for much actual writing-time, we are nevertheless still at work on it, storing the magic for later.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Taking Criticism

I have recently begun asking more often for critiques when entering those competitions that offer them.
I used to be afraid of critiques, even though they are always constructive and helpful. But I have learnt to stop being so cowardly and I welcome them now, taking on board the useful responses and suggestions they provide.
My English teacher for A Level taught us Practical Criticism and one of the things I remember her saying is that the word 'criticism' doesn't just mean pointing out negatives. It means a fair and comprehensive assessment, highlighting all that you have done well, along with those areas which could be improved.
I think I have found it hard to face critiques in the past because of the 'if only' feeling.
'If only I'd worked on that story a bit longer/a bit harder/spotted the less successful moments which, now they've been pointed out, appear obvious.'
But now, after feeling a little annoyed with myself and vowing to try harder in future, I nod sagely at the advice given and return to work on the story with a new sense of purpose.
I really like being asked to do a re-write for a magazine. In fact, I absolutely love those.
First of all, this marvellous feedback is free.
Secondly, the 'if only' problem is averted. This is a chance to actually work on the snags and iron them all out, allowing the possibility (though not, of course, the guarantee) that this story could still be accepted.
My mistakes and weaknesses within that story are aired for me, but without the door to a sale already being closed. That is perfect for someone like me, who can take criticism well enough, provided it is given while I'm still able to seize it and make full use of it.
Having said that, it is still helpful to be given the reason why a story has not succeeded and a rewrite is not being offered. Then I can sink my teeth into it all over again and make lots of changes, usually tearing things out and trimming off the gristle. After all, lots of stories find a home after three or four attempts. Maybe the initial rejection fires a spark that relights and relaunches it.
Being long-or short-listed also helps. It shows that the story, while not placed in the top three or whatever, is still worthy of further work and more outings.
So I feel I can take criticism quite well, as long as it is well-intentioned and can be put to good use. If it saves a story from being set aside or turns a mediocre attempt into a worthwhile read, then I am very happy to listen to advice.
The only time I can't take negative remarks is when people make them directly to me, unsolicited, after a story has been published!
Maybe I'm much too sensitive, but I always work on the basis that if I can't say something positive to the delighted author whose work has successfully reached the printed page, then it's best to say nothing.