Look Out for the Shiny Things

After years of sticking rigidly to that long term goal, I started saying yes instead of no to those wonderful, fleeting opportunities on the periphery, and this is what happened…

I listened to Tim Minchin’s inspirational address, ‘Nine Life Lessons’, again a few weeks ago, and keep coming back to one thing in particular (and those of you who know me won’t be surprised that it wasn’t the ‘do more exercise’ one :-D)

It was concerning goals, and the realisation that his words didn’t strike a chord with me the first time I heard the speech, years ago. And that’s because of things that have happened between now and then to make me realise he’s absolutely right. Here’s what he said:

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A Tatty Book is a Lovely Thing

I admit it, I’m a page-corner turner-overer*. I know this crime is almost equivalent to murder in the eyes of dedicated bookmark users, but I have my reasons.

Books are such tactile things; they feel good in your hands and all those wonderful words you are holding up have a pleasing weight. I like my books to feel like they are being read. The books I read over and over again know they are loved because the edges of their pages don’t lie flat, and the spines are flexible and crooked with affection. There might be the ring of a tea-mug stain on the cover. Or a red circle from a wine glass. The crevices might be crackly with sand where I’ve read on the beach, or the pages warped with water where I’ve read in the bath.

My favourite books have a physical personality all of their own and bear the scars of my love. (The one shown above is my copy of ‘Northern Lights’ by Phillip Pullman.)

Which was why I felt truly happy to find Continue reading

Building up a History for ‘Foxfires’

When I’m writing a larger piece of work, one of the fun parts is the conjuring of odd snippets to add to the history or background of the story. Sometimes these snippets end up in the book (like the chapter headings in The Curtain Twitcher’s Handbook and the petitions in Blackwood), and sometimes they initiate a complete change of direction.

This snippet will be part of the book ‘Foxfires’. The protagonist, trapped in a snowbound farmhouse with strangers, will come across the thin volume of curious tales with this particular page corner turned down. He is already in fear of his life, so this’ll really make him freak out. Hee hee! (Sorry Jack!)

‘Curious Tales from Travels in Yorkshire’ by M.Nesbitt

Chapter 8: A Disturbance at an Inn on the Edge of the Moors

“In the autumn of 1905, the author was passing through a village on the edge of Saddleworth Moor when he decided to rest and take refreshment at a small inn. At first glance, the inn seemed peaceful and emanated a warm glow from a lit fireplace but, upon entering, I was alarmed to find several weeping women and angry men. A number of the gentlemen were arming themselves as if for battle, though the distressed ladies pleaded with them to reconsider. They made no allowance for a stranger in their midst and continued with their heated discussion.

I asked the innkeeper if I could partake of a brandy as the weather was inclement, and it appeared winter was arriving before its time. He poured me my drink with one ear on the growing dispute behind me. I wondered out loud what was happening and he shook his head with a grimace and told me that Mr Hawkins, a young farmer, had not returned from tending his sheep in the hills. His sheepdog, Bess, came home without him and in a dreadful state, covered nose to tail in mud and bleeding from numerous lacerations. Clearly agitated, she set off again after just a few hours rest, presumably to find her master, and she had not come back. Continue reading

One Great Photo: Skate Girls of Kabul

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‘Skate Girls of Kabul’ by Jessica Fulford-Dobson

I popped this photo in my Pictures folder a while ago now, and keep seeking it out because I love everything about it; the mix of colours, the cheeky grins, and the unexpected source of all the fun – the scribbled-on skateboards. Afghan Girl Power!

In her book, Jessica, the award-winning photographer, says: “It’s hard not to think of Afghan girls skateboarding as a remarkable and quirky clash of cultures. But when you see these girls in their beautiful, bright, flowing clothes tearing around the skate park, often yelping and shrieking with laughter, your preconceptions drop away. You realize that however unusual it may seem, they’re doing what comes naturally to them. As with girls anywhere in the world, once you give them the chance to do something they love, each one begins to discover her own personality, her sense of style and how to express it.”

Read more about Jessica Fulford-Dobson and ‘Skateistan’ here.

For the writers among you; it’s just begging for a great story to go with it 🙂

Writing and Cucumbers

Cucumber Fail

This is a picture of my cucumber crop so far. Impressed? In all my years on this planet, I have never seen such a curved cucumber. It’s a definite cucumber fail.

A while ago, I started to write a story that appeared, half-formed, in my head. And it was SO good. At least, the SEED of it was. I worked on it on and off for a few days and then it began to mutate into something that barely resembled the original idea. Suddenly I didn’t know where it was going, or even how to take it back. I was forced to abandon it.

But the thing is, you never need to throw writing away, because every piece of writing contains something useful. In the same way that the mutant cucumber can be turned into compost, I can add the disastrous story into the rich mix of practise and imagination that will nourish future stories.

As long as you keep on doing, nothing is wasted.

“Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.”Denis Waitley

What was your Oddest Job?

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I want to hear about it… the odder the better!

I’ll start you off…

Most odd jobs are summer holiday jobs. Students with a chocolate addiction, like me, had to make enough money to feed their habit with Cadbury’s Buttons, Mars Bars and Double-Deckers. They are generally not fussy about what they do because it’s only for six weeks, after all.

Funnily enough, I often get a bit nostalgic about my summer jobs simply because a few of them were so very odd, and odd things don’t happen quite as much any more.

Here are a couple of my oddest jobs:

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The Protest

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“Mummy, what’s that lady doing?”

“She’s protesting.”

Jenny pushed Tom before her, guiding him past the other shoppers with a gentle, but insistent, hand on his shoulder. The sports shop closed in five minutes, and she had to make sure she got the right golf balls. She bought the wrong ones last time, and Mark had not been happy.

Tom craned his neck to look at the woman as they passed her by. She was holding a sign he couldn’t read, and shouting, her face determined.

“What does… ‘por-testing’ mean?”

The first spots of rain fell, and one landed on Jenny’s nose and made her jump. She reached out and pulled Tom’s hood over his head. Why hadn’t she brought the pushchair? At three and a half he was getting too old for it, but it sure made shopping trips quicker.

Pro-testing,” Jenny corrected. “When you’re annoyed about something, you can tell everyone why and ask them to help you change it.”

“Like when Daddy is annoyed with you?”

Jenny smiled and shook her head. “Not quite, Tom. Bigger things than that. Come on, we need to hurry.”

The shop was in sight now, in the distance. As she herded Tom towards it, she saw a fit-looking guy in a polo shirt come to the door and flip the sign from Open to Closed.

“Shit!” Jenny couldn’t help herself.

“Mummy!”

“Sorry Tom.”

She picked him up now and swung him into her arms, ignoring the sharp pain in her back from her fall down the stairs the week before. Mark didn’t want her to go to the doctors, but she might have to, because it was getting worse. Tom gave a cry of surprise as she began to run towards the shop, every step making her gasp.

The guy was outside the sports shop locking the door now.

“Wait!” called Jenny, “Please…”

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‘Write What You Know is the Stupidest Thing I Ever Heard’

And when it’s someone like Kazuo Ishiguro who’s telling you that, it’s definitely worth listening.

Kazuo

There was a great article on LitHub this week, with writing tips from the Nobel prize-winning author. Not only does he stick two fingers up at writing what you know – yay! – but he also tells of the CRASH approach to writing, which enabled him to write ‘Remains of the Day’ in just four weeks!

Many years ago, I took a writing night-class. I was about twenty years old and had a lot to learn about writing. Unfortunately, the people in the class were not the sort to learn lessons from. We were given a story prompt. Something innocuous like ‘The best day of my life’.

After listening to one elderly ladies story (the average age of the class was about sixty-five) about her trip to a sweet shop when she was a little girl, it was my turn. I stood up, absolutely petrified about reading out loud, and immersed them in a story of a first world war aeroplane designer who suddenly realised he was in love with his (male) mechanic.

When I finished, there was silence in the room. I balked and sat down, thinking I must have done it all wrong. And then one of the ladies coughed and said:

“It’s better to write about what you know, dear.”

 


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Creatives with Claws.. Gggrrr!

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PublishThe ‘Publish My Book’ button seems to be a multitasking piece of HTML. Not only does it somehow transfer all your words and pages into a proper book that people can buy on the other side of the world – wow! – BUT it also opens some kind of hidden tap in your brain through which all your creativity magically begins to drain away.

There you are thinking, ‘right then, onto the next book’… You have so many awesome ideas, all written down in a pile of ragged notebooks. There is even the odd chapter or three of a shiny, new project hidden away in your computer. It’s calling to you in a polite ‘excuse me’ kind of voice. You look at it. It doesn’t look quite as good as you thought it did, but you read to the end. You raise your fingers above the keyboard, ready to carry on. And…

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How long does a book take to cook?

The previous post – ‘First Day Nerves’ is connected to this one. Both come from the same story, which will probably be called APPLEHEART.

It will be a long time before I can call it a book, and, to be honest, it’s already been stewing for a good number of years. Checking back, I wrote the Appleheart excerpt in 2014, and First Day Nerves is from 2016. It’s now almost 2018 and I have the best part of four chapters. Four years to write four chapters!?

This is what I like to call a ‘slow-cook book’, and they’re often the best. I’ll keep adding to it, and all sorts of ideas will get mixed in along the way. It should make for lots of flavour, just like a long-simmered stew!

Appleheart

APPLEHEART

My mother said I would regret choosing art as a career. My father couldn’t care less what I chose. He was, however, worried about Ned and drama. If he’d ever seen any of Ned’s acting; if he’d bothered to go to the school plays or the drama group productions like I had, he wouldn’t have been so worried. My brother was a natural. We were still in nappies when he began to people his world with characters from his imagination. They occasionally took him over so that he became someone else entirely. Many times, over the years, his acting made me laugh so hard I was sick, or cry until I had a headache.

As kids, we would sit together in a tent pitched in the middle of the room we shared. It was like a wigwam, but one we’d made by haphazardly stitching old sheets together and stealing bamboo canes out of the garden. Only we two were allowed in. No family. No friends. Because, inside that tent, was our own little world. A stage for Ned, a studio for me. We would sit together for hours, forgetting empty tummies and full bladders and all the boring routines of life. I had my drawing pad and my coloured pencils on my knee. Ned told me all about the people in his world. I drew them for him.

“Draw an apple for Murphy. He loves apples more than anything.”

I drew an apple for Murphy and tilted the pad.

“No. He only likes red apples. Not green ones.”

I rubbed out the apple, picked up the red pencil, and started again. “What about Mia Emilia? What does she like best?”

“Mia Emilia doesn’t like anything anymore. She’s always sad. She has a face like this.” He pulled the saddest face I’d ever seen. “And she only ever talks in a whisper.” Continue reading