Saturday, January 30, 2010

Confession time

Confession one
This month has seen not just the start of a new decade for the world, but also a big half-century birthday for me. I am now officially old, as son 1 charmingly put it (though my lovely friends do tell me I look younger). So you'll have to forgive me if I occasionally fall into grumpy old woman mode...

Confession two
The rapid approach of the big birthday was one of the motivators in completing my first draft. But there was also another one, which I haven't discussed on here before. Just over a year ago I signed up to a mentoring package with a literacy agency.

Those of you who've been around here for a long time will know that I had hoped to go on to do an MA in Creative Writing after I'd finished my OU studies. But, being a carer, there were huge practical barriers to accessing a course and eventually I had to reconsider.

After talking to lots of people who had taken an MA or taught on an MA, I realised that I wasn't too bothered about the academic side, it was the high level support to complete a novel which attracted me most. I had some funding, thanks to an inheritance, but perhaps there were other ways of using it to achieve my aim of actually completing a novel. I was inspired by fellow Novel Racer JJ and started to look at literary agencies' mentoring packages.

That was when my fairy godmother appeared, with the timely launch by Caroline and Gary Smailes of BubbleCow. Many of my readers will already know Caroline and her fiction and I immediately recognised that she would 'get' the structure and themes of the novel I was hoping to write. I begged her to personally mentor me and she has been quietly working with me ever since, editing each section as I wrote it.

I haven't written about this before because there were times, especially last year when my health collapsed in such a spectacular fashion, that I really wasn't sure I was ever going to make it to the end of the novel and all her work could have been in vain. But Caroline waited for me to return and now we're on the final editing stages. I'm even starting to think about my synopsis and submission letter.

For me the mentoring has been a huge success, it has sorted out the problems I already knew existed but hadn't known how to tackle, it has identified other aspects of writing longer work that I hadn't even thought about and it has left me with a first draft in pretty good shape, to now hone during my edit. Caroline has patiently put up with all my angst about where my book stood on the literary/commercial spectrum, something which has actually changed even during the writing. Most importantly of all, my writing has improved a lot.

I'm planning to have my full edit off to her by the end of March.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The mysteries of MS - 2

Do you remember that I wrote about how the cold weather seemed to affect my MS?

Well for the last few days I've been feeling worse. The feeling of heavy legs turned into an intermittent very painful stiffness down the side of my right leg. I could feel the knots of tension in the muscle.

I suffered for a few days before deciding what to do. A long hot bath seems to temporarily ease the pain, so the cold weather seemed to be a logical guess for the cause. I'm now wearing two pairs of socks to try and keep my feet and lower legs warm and increasing the heat at home. By this morning the pain seemed to have moved from my knee area to my ankle and at the moment it seems to have gone altogether.

The only other time I've had such severe spasmodic pain was last summer, during my first big relapse. So I'm left wondering if I'm in the throes of another relapse, if there is more to come? Or did I just physically overdo it during a very busy week last week?

Either way I took a couple of days off writing and editing and have just had a very gentle return to the novel today.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Poetry Live for Haiti

For anyone in or near London, who hasn't already heard about this event on 30th January, these are the details as sent out by The Poetry Society:

The Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy and Poetry Live have invited 20 of our leading poets to perform at Westminster Central Hall on Saturday January 30th 2010 at 2.30pm in a fundraising event for the people of Haiti.

Poets include Carol Ann Duffy, Roger McGough, Andrew Motion, John Agard, Dannie Abse, Brian Patten, Gillian Clarke, Imtiaz Dharker, Grace Nichols, Elaine Feinstein, Daljit Nagra, Ian Duhig, Lachlan Mackinnon, Owen Sheers, Glyn Maxwell, Jo Shapcott, Robin Robertson, Colette Bryce, Maura Dooley and Robert Minhinnick, along with the musicians John Sampson and Andy Roberts.

Tickets are £10. Telephone 01497 822629 or go to to book tickets.

Tickets will be available at the door on the day for cash only.

All proceeds will go to the Disasters Emergency Committee’s Haiti Earthquake Appeal.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Five things I have learnt...

...while writing my first draft.

1. It is far too easy to get very bogged down in a section you know isn't working as it should. Move on and come back to it at the editing stage. 80,000 words is an achievable target, but not if you constantly rewrite the same part.

2. Some of my best writing has come early in the morning, when nobody else is up. I've never followed Julia Cameron's idea of morning pages, mainly for practical reasons...I like my sleep and I have children to get off to school. There simply was never time. But recently I've been naturally waking early and switching on the laptop. Often the words have flowed and have been better than the sections over which I had laboured.

3. If a scene comes to you out of sequence, write it anyway. I woke up one morning with one scene very clear in my mind. I expanded and wrote it straight away in a separate document, then found it provided all the motivation I needed for my hero and powered the rest of the plot.

4. The characters really do tell you their story. I started off knowing the beginning and end of the plot and a couple of turning points in the middle. The rest came organically as the characters developed further.

5. It's good to fall in love with your main characters. It brings them alive.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Love is everything

I love, love, love this song.

I found this original Jane Siberry version by accident, when searching YouTube for the k.d.lang version which I have on my mp3 player. I've listened to it so many times since then, whilst writing the novel.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

More on Haiti

I've just read this and found it very moving.

When words are not enough...

Sometimes things happen which change our view of life.

They make us appreciate that the things which annoy us about this country are not so troublesome after all, that we have so much, when others have nothing. They make us appreciate our lives, whatever sadnesses we may have.

Although I'd obviously heard of Haiti, I have to admit that until last week I knew nothing about it, geography never having been my strong point at school. Now I feel I know almost more than I want to about a nation which is suffering so badly. For every triumphant rescue of a child, there are countless losses of life and unless food, water and shelter are urgently provided, there will be many, many more.

Please, if you can, donate something to help the survivors of the devastating earthquake in Haiti.

Friday, January 15, 2010

I have news

I have finished my first draft today.

It has come in fractionally under the 80,000 words I was aiming for, but I am not concerned, as my editing processes almost always require the addition rather than subtraction of words.

The hard work of polishing it begins now.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Should have kept my mouth shut

Right, so my post yesterday jinxed the weather and now we are back to this.

No school transport, cars sliding in the road outside, the garden inches deep in the white stuff again.

I had a good writing day yesterday, but after writing 500 words early this morning I have reached something of a standstill. I need my characters to tell me what they do next, so I can rejoin the race towards the finish line.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The slow thaw

The snow is disappearing, a little more each day. Green grass is showing through in places on our lawn, the snow which lay on the leaves of bushes and trees is gone.

Son 2's school transport recommenced yesterday. He was pleased to return to school, even though the bus was thirty minutes late arriving, due to the fact that some hilly side roads are still very difficult to negotiate. Our own mostly flat road is still covered with compacted snow, the pavements are icy and great care needs to be taken.

I was working in London yesterday. I was greatly surprised to emerge from Angel tube station and find the pavements wet rather than snowy. I was with a friend and we had both been dreading the downhill walk to our place of work, but we needn't have. In that part of London only occasional tiny patches of white or slush gave away the fact that snow had ever been there.

Talking to others who had travelled from various suburbs, it became clear that we were not alone in still having snowy conditions at home. Central London, as always, had its own micro-climate.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Snow - day three

The snow started on Tuesday evening and it snowed for most of yesterday. This is the scene outside our house this morning. The road contains tracks of solid ice where some brave drivers have departed. The pavements are covered in deep, crispy snow, not yet too compacted as most people are not venturing out. According to the BBC, early this morning, the temperature in this area was -7c. Son 1's college is shut. Son 2's school, in another borough, is open but our council are running no transport for safety reasons.

We are huddling at home, trying to keep warm and hoping the Tesco delivery driver will be able to reach us tomorrow. I'm off to finish the food order now!

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Marian Keyes

I was sorry to read that best-selling author Marian Keyes is suffering from severe depression.

I've been lucky enough never to have suffered from clinical 'black dog' depression myself. I have, however, cared for someone who did suffer for several years and I know how devastating an illness it can be. It is far, far more debilitating than the reactive variety, following perhaps a difficult life event, which is suffered by many people with a diagnosis of depression.

Marian has always been brave enough to raise awareness by talking publicly about her alcoholism and other mental health issues. I hope that she is receiving the medical treatment and therapy that she clearly needs at present.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Another goal

There was a third goal I should have added to my last post. Sort out my online presence.

I know I've not been the best blogger in the last couple of years, though I think I did a little better in December. I want to get back to posting several times a week as I used to and finding those entertaining videos, pictures and links again. I need to prune my blog roll, as I know some of the blogs are now dormant and I want to make room for more recent favourites. So if you find your blog disappears from my list, I do apologise, though I will be adding all those I remove to my Google Reader, just in case.

Then there is my website, where I have a page headed links, which is 'coming soon'. I want to put up links to a few websites and blogs which I have found particularly useful in my journey as a writer so far. First I have to choose which, of the many I have bookmarked, to include.

Finally, I need to be a little more proactive on Twitter and Facebook. You know, actually post updates rather than just popping in to read about what everyone else is doing. Of course to make my updates interesting, I may just need to get a life...

Hmm, I think all that should keep me busy this week while I'm plotting the final section of my novel.

(PS Have you seen my word count meter in the side bar. It now says 87%!)

Saturday, January 02, 2010

New Year Resolutions

So, did you make any?

I'm not a huge fan of New Year Resolutions. Some, such as starting a diet, are just so obvious and should really be long term lifestyle choices. Others may be so unachievable that they just set you up for failure, which is not psychologically healthy.

So this year I'm just setting two goals (not resolutions):

1. Finish the novel

It's been a long time coming but at the time of writing it's 83% complete and the end is within my grasp. I had a huge burst of inspiration between Christmas and New Year, when the word count rose rapidly. This wasn't planned, but I woke up one morning with one scene so clear in my mind that I had to write it down, even though it was out of sequence. From there, other pieces of the puzzle started to fall neatly into place and I knew how the story would progress up to and beyond that scene. It all got written in an intense burst over two days. This is how writing should be.

2. Find more 'me time'.

I'm on doctor's orders with this one. Some members of my family (no names mentioned) think I have a lot of time to myself. But it isn't proper 'me time'. Some of it is supporting and helping other people, through charities I'm (now unofficially) involved with. Often enjoyable, it gets me out of the house and meeting good friends, but really it's a form of unpaid work. The rest of the time is largely writing related. I've decided that I need to treat the writing as proper work rather than a hobby, in order to be able to maintain my focus and up my productivity now Hubby is home all the time. So, at least whilst I'm currently not in any regular paid employment, I'm going to try to focus on these two things primarily in working hours. Hopefully this will leave more time for reading, relaxation and, dare I hope, fun at other times.

Of course, the best laid plans...