Friday, 20 April 2018

Book Review - Undressing Stone (Hazel Manuel)

I recently finished reading Undressing Stone which was my lucky dip book from Cinnamon Press. I fell in love with Hazel Manuel's way of writing and absolutely adored this book.  The question If you were able, how would you redesign your life is posed by Sian's shrink. Unable to wangle any leave from work she resigns from the call centre in Wales and moves to rural France to take up residence in a cottage owned by her aunt and uncle. The terms are for one year in which time Sian must bring the cottage to a point where it is salable. Her ex husband tries to dissuade her but with her son working in India she feels there is nothing to stay for.

There are vivid descriptions of the cottage and the work Sian sets to doing. I love the conversations she has with herself (the resident ghost is what Sian calls this other voice). Sian has lots to reconcile from her old life while getting to know her new neighbours, including the odd encounters with a mysterious sculptor who likes to work in the nude.

The blurb on the back of the book doesn't reveal how much humour is within the pages. I couldn't put this down. I like the way there are hints of a secret, something Sian finds it hard to think about let alone explain to her ex husband and son. She carries a lot of guilt and sadness too. Then just as Sian comes to a decision something happens that blows things apart.

Wonderfully written. A thoroughly absorbing and enjoyable book. You can buy ta copy from Amazon or direct from the Cinnamon Press website.

Monday, 9 April 2018

NaPoWriMo - The first week and other stuff

I've survived the first week of NaPoWriMo and we are now into the second. There is a great group of people posting on the The Poetry School Campus site and feedback on my work helps to reassure me that people do like what I write!

I've only missed one day. I didn't really understand the prompt that day (I wasn't the only one). The prompts have been tough at times yet somehow I've found something, either from scratch or delving into the folder of very bad poems on my computer and re-writing pieces. I do find the website of The Poetry School a bit tricky to navigate around. Again, I'm not the only one. Often I'm going round in circles trying to find someone's poem again when I've accidentally logged myself out!

Another move I have made is to join the Retreat West Silver Author Membership. There are three categories of membership. Mine is the middle one. For that I get prompts, articles and some free entries to competitions and a free book (mine to choose). The prompts have helped me get back into writing short pieces of fiction (under 2,000) words. I think I needed this. Often I need a push. It's been a long time since I've written so much.

Cinnamon Press  has a great offer on - send them a fiver and they send you a lucky dip book. I received Undressing Stone by Hazel Manuel. I look forward to reading it soon as my fiction pile is almost at rock bottom, though I have a stack of non fiction and poetry books still to read. I've got to that point where I feel I can borrow books from the library once more and maybe buy a few things on my wish list!

Monday, 2 April 2018

NaPoWriMo 2018

Well, after signing up for NaPoWriMo last year with The Poetry School I don't think I submitted a single poem. So what am I doing? I've signed up again and this time I've found something to say. The first prompt was to write something that teaches. Already a day late I dug out one of the recent 'tree' poems I've been writing. This one really wasn't working but I liked the idea of it. I changed the viewpoint and gave it a good edit, even cutting one whole stanza. I submitted it and have had some very positive feedback already.

Today's prompt is a poem that says sorry. I delved into my murky past and found something I could work with. It's written but I might let it marinate for a few hours to see if I can improve on it.

I don't think I can make promises about writing a poem every day during April but maybe it is the push and the challenge I need now. Let's see. Anyone else taking part this year?

Friday, 16 March 2018

Inspiration from the trees!

This is the book I am currently reading and I am finding it totally inspiring. Not only am I learning a lot about the life of trees but I found I was soon jotting down notes and have even  managed a whole poem. As I read I am writing a few words, a line here and there, sometimes a title for a potential poem, and I am making references to the chapters so I can go back later when I write and need clarification.

Over Christmas there was a programme on TV about Judi Dench's love of trees. I found that fascinating, especially when they could hear the trees using a listening device against the trunk. But there is more that trees do, as do plants. They are a clever bunch. I'll never look at a tree in quite the same way again.

Maybe I'll get one or two stories out of this too. There is so much potential that I am quite excited. So it seems I am on Project Trees! Perhaps something will indeed set seed and grow (sorry!).

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Not writing but resting!

I suppose, like an actor, I am resting right now. Unlike the last few years when I was pounding the keys daily and my life revolved around writing I am taking a sort of break. Yes, still! However, while not actively writing anything new I have been submitting the odd thing since the beginning of February - four short stories and a smattering of poems. The stories have been edited from previous work, and I now have a friend who often looks over my pieces for errors and tells me if she doesn't understand something. It helps to know that technically there are no stupid missing words or misplaced commas. However many times I read my work I don't spot them all.

I have also been mulling over where I stand with the various novels I have written. Currently they are festering in stages on my laptop. I have five of them. Sounds a lot but two are in real rough draft form while two are complete but need some major editing to the beginnings. I feel there is too much backstory so I need to strip it out and feed it in somewhere else (some might not even been needed at all). I am still not ready to tackle this but at least I know which one will receive the treatment when I do start.

At present I am juggling too many other things in my life to give the time needed for writing and big reworks. With so many pieces rolling around I feel I should concentrate on getting them up to a publishing standard even if in the end I self-publish. This is looking a lot like the right option right now but I will explore all avenues.

I've just started reading a book about trees. For a while I have felt drawn to trees and writing about them. I have a few completed pieces from last year and I today I came across a great title for a poem, as yet unwritten! I shall see where it leads me.

Thursday, 22 February 2018

A nice surprise and the problem of endings

I am really happy because today I received my copy of The Dark Angel, the latest novel by one of my favourite authors, Elly Griffiths. I entered a prize draw on her Facebook page and was one of the lucky winners. When it arrived I hugged it!

I am sure I've spoken about Elly Griffiths' books before but for me they tick a lot of boxes. This series (the Ruth Galloway series) is set in Norfolk (the land of my ancestors), includes archaeology, crime and paganism, all of interest to me. There is also humour. I cannot wait to read this one but as I started reading a new book two days ago it will have to for wait a few days.

Back into the world of writing I have been busy editing and have put in a couple of submissions. A friend who reads some of my stories mentioned that she likes ends tied up when she reads and she mentioned one story of mine she'd read that she felt ended too quickly, so I've been thinking about endings a lot. I sometimes do like to leave the reader with questions - room to imagine an ending for themselves. Maybe some readers just have preferences for neat endings. I would say that  I do struggle with endings at times and I wonder if leaving some loose ends is a cop out. What do you think? Do you like to a concrete ending or do you like working out what could happen to the main character after you finish a story?

A similar comment came from a lady at my writing group about one of my stories. The lady wanted to know what happened next, but there was no next in that story because going on would have spoiled it for me - too neat and would have dragged things out. I know you shouldn't end a story too quickly. I think maybe that is the problem and this is an area I need to work on with some of my stories. Obviously the more feedback I get the better idea I will have if this is a problem or just that some readers prefer everything neatly tied up.

Do you find endings difficult? Please do comment. I'd love to hear from you.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Staying sane in the world of writing

I have the magazine Mslexia to thank for what I am about to write. Firstly, for their article in Issue 76 entitled What's the Point and secondly for mentioning a workshop in their email little ms which, when I clicked on it, I knew was just what I needed. I signed up for the workshop, the title of which is the heading to this post!

Since the New Year I have been rather at sea in my direction as a writer and the article What's the Point spouted all the things I'd been spouting recently. It made me feel better to know I'm not the only one (even though I already knew that). This article was a move in the right direction for me and offered some good tips. Even though I am not writing anything new and have felt a little half-hearted about things I have started editing some of the stories I wrote in November during NaNoWriMo.

I have been looking forward to the upcoming workshop (even rather excited!) over the last few weeks and on Saturday I set off to City Lit in London hoping to leave rather saner! I did.

There is much written about how to write, how to look for opportunities, draw up your perfect pitch. Follow the rules of the trade and when you get rejected just keep going. I know how difficult it is and I know everyone suffers in the aftermath of rejection but little is said about how to deal with that rejection, how to cope with those feelings that eat away at you until you feel worthless as a writers. Of course there are those who bounce back time and time again and carry on once a short period of anger and reflection pass. I thought I'd become that person. I thought I'd learned to deal with it and then last year I hit rock bottom. I know I've talked about this before and I think it is important because sometimes (as I learned) these feelings are deeper than we may realise and come from way back in our life.

Our tutor for the day was Helen Cox, a writer traditionally published as well as self publishing her books. She's been through this stuff herself and she had lots of good advice to offer. We were a small group - just five - so lots of things specific to each of us was covered. We began with a short exercise working in pairs (I worked in a three). Each group was given a small piece of sea washed glass and we had to discuss what it might have been originally and where it might have come from. Then we were given two sheets with ideas and background to the North Sea and the River Thames and a poem by E.E. Cummings. With a set of questions to work through we began to write together the journey of the piece of glass. We could use our own location (rather than from the sheets) which my group did. Afterwards we fed back what we had written. Helen then asked us what we got out of the exercise of working together and wrote on the white board what she had heard come out of it like collaboration, ideas, planning, using our experience etc. She advised us to always start with something comfortable to us and then branch out - do research, break the rules. Writing, she said was a joint effort between yourself and the universe (or world). She also said that it was best not to return to new writing before two weeks, then edit. To always write playfully and not to keep reading back and editing as we went as that holds up the writing process and imagination.

We talked about validation of our writing. Why was important to be published? Everyone agreed that it was an approval of our writing ability. We had long discussions about this! It seemed all five of us had similar feelings with not being good enough, that what we wrote might be rubbish and the only way we would think otherwise was to be published. I know it sounds silly and I know this is wrong but deep inside us those negatives feed and that little voice in your head tells you this time and time again when you work get rejected.

Helen took us through a few writing ideas to help us with some recommendations and then asked us to write a sort of autobiography of our writing life after which we either shared the whole piece or a part of it with the group. I have to say it was revealing and quite emotional. Helen also read hers and admitted that what came out was quite different to what she thought she would write. In a small group we bared our souls. We were given three headings - fears, villains and commitments. We had a few minutes to write things under those headings. These were not for sharing. Helen recommended reading author's biographies and particularly Sylvia Plath's Journals.

Tips for writing were similar to those I'd come across before but her advice on backstory I found really useful as one of my novels desperately needs the backstory sorting out, or as Helen says, drip fed into the story through dialogue and/or internal thought.

Getting out of the negative feedback hole was next. This was so helpful as Helen gave us specific ways to deal with this through something she calls Mind Talk which includes acknowledgement, questioning, walking away for a few minutes and talking it through with a trusted friend. One of the great pieces of advice was to write a timeline of all the things you have done to get you where you are today and even to chronicle that rejection in a story using those feelings and experience in a positive way.

We were close to the end of the day as the last long writing session was given. We had twenty-five  minutes to write a letter to ourselves answering the specific questions Helen had written up. The letter was not be opened for six months! In our pairs we talked about the friendly advice to ourselves (the last question on the list). Earlier we had each made a commitment to our writing (during the writing time using the three headings) and we now told the class what that was.

There was a final summing up with ideas of places to find public readings, social media etc. and a short film from YouTube featuring a talk by the author Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat Pray Love) which was both amusing, insightful and positive.

There were two other texts we looked at - one Helen had written herself. It's tongue-in-cheek, very amusing about the world of rejection. The other was an extract from Confessions of a Story-teller by Paul Gallico. Asked afterwards what we thought of what he said we all agreed that it was comforting to know that even a famous author still had all the same fears we had. So, if he had them it was something that never went away however successful you are.

This was a wonderful workshop and indeed it lived up to everything I hoped for. It was soul searching, emotional but having strategies to fight against the negatives is a great tool to possess. I think it should be taught in every creative writing course! I am very grateful to Helen for helping me get back my sanity in the writing world.