Sunday, 30 December 2012

Dreaming up stories

I've blogged before about the idea of using dreams in writing and stories, although it's a sad fact that with four children, I don't get to remember many dreams. The days of hitting the snooze button, or even having one of those long, lazy lie-ins are so far in my past that I can barely remember them.

However, I'm just suffering (not very bravely) through my third bout of tonsillitis in three weeks. Google tonsillitis, and you'll be informed that it's largely a childhood affliction, but never mind. I finished one course of  penicillin on Christmas Day, and here I am on the 30th, in day two of another bout. Last night my sleep was very disturbed, and tainted with the weirdness that comes with a high temperature.

I dreamt I was reading a story; it wasn't a genre that would usually appeal to me, and in the weird way that dreams work, I was watching it rather than scanning words on a page. There were many sets of characters, including an extremely sinister man called Nick (I wonder where that came from), and two lesbian couples, and it was set in the 30's, a period about which I know practically nothing. But  it was gripping and compulsive - I couldn't wait to see what would happen next. I woke up straddling dreamland and reality to the extent that I knew I had to write this dream down (though it was quite epic in length) but I was afraid it would be plagiarism because I was convinced that I had read it.

Of course, a few hours later, not only do I realise that it was rambling and confused in the way of all dreams, and that it wasn't the wonder I thought it was, but that most of it has faded. I'm not sure dreaming is the way to go for inspiration for me...but if you're lacking the creative spark, I can recommend a dose of tonsillitis to mess with your mind!

Saturday, 22 December 2012


What do books mean to you? Do you have any really precious ones? I have just picked up Birdsong again (Sebastian Faulks) and it's a treat in every way.

I love it so much, I can't lend it to anyone. I don't revisit it as often as some of my other favourites, such as Gone with the Wind, but the physical object itself means a lot to me. When I was a teenager, I saw it in a local bookshop (remember those?) and wanted it. For two years, I coveted it, and whenever we visited,  I would go to that shelf, take it off, read the reviews, fondle the beautiful cover (which I was judging it by, of course). When I began Saturday work (for a ridiculously small wage) I saved for the first month, then went to the bookshop. I bought myself an Oxford English Dictionary, which I also still love, and Birdsong.

It could so easily have been a different story. I was lucky that Birdsong was the book I had set my heart on, because it didn't disappoint.

This is the first time I have read it with a real 'writer's head' on. I am in awe, trying to watch how Faulks does it. The atmosphere, the sense of setting and time, the characterisations, the story....all magnificent. I read chunks and want to re-read because the words are beautiful.


Sunday, 16 December 2012

Writing off December

I'm having to come to terms with the idea that not much more work will be produced before the 25th. The five year old's birthday is looming, and we haven't yet finished shopping or bought a tree, so I have a feeling that this week will disappear in a puff of smoke. I have four out of my twelve stories for next year's challenge (a short story entered into a comp every month) in first draft form, and ideas for all twelve. I also have a 100 word story cooking for a Reader's Digest story.

One or two of my stories unsettle me - they feel lazy and underdeveloped, even though they are embryonic. I'm sure I'm learning something from every attempt, however, and hopefully it is all valuable experience.

I'm looking forward to the New Year, and new routines, and more sleep (ha!) which might enable me to get up earlier than the children and write in the mornings instead of the evenings when I am so jaded....

Wishing you a happy and productive Christmastime 2012, too!

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Feeling positive

It's been hard focusing on writing when such a lot else has been going on in family life - S being away for a week, my Uncle having lung cancer operated on, not to mention the looming of the unmentionable Christmas. (There's quite an art to living in denial that Christmas is around the corner while also panicking because there is so much shopping still to do and simultaneously pretending great excitement for the children. I'm pretty proud of my attempts, though my hair will probably whiten in the process).

Today, I had to force myself to sit and write - it's surprising how quickly the routines falter into nothing. I made life easy for myself and worked on a first draft of a story that's meant to be 750 words. It stood at about 1200, and I gave it a good old polish and edit, then read some of it aloud, which gave me goosebumps (it really seemed very good - but won't by tomorrow, so I can risk appearing arrogant, as I'll be humbled by morning). But it still was 1100. When I next go to it, I shall have to see if it has already found its perfect length, in which case I will submit it elsewhere. It's based on an experience my Grandad had during the Second World War, and it has a wonderful flavour of the period to it, which is entirely thanks to my Grandad, and the way he always told stories with vivid detail.

In a change of pace, I also went into school and met the children I will be teaching in a few weeks. (The countdown has begun...) They are all lovely, of course, and I wouldn't admit it if they weren't. It surprised me, how much I enjoyed being with them. I'd forgotten that I like teaching, a lot, and that I'm really quite good at it. (My, my, what a big head you have, Grandma. Ask me how I feel in a couple of months, when I've had a few bad days to tuck under my belt, and I might be feeling differently....but we all rush to embrace our negative thoughts - what's so bad about sharing the positives while they last?) I even had the slightly unbalancing thought that I might spend a lifetime striving to be a good writer, and never realise that in actual fact I had already found my vocation, and wasted the time I should have been spending on that on this futile writing dream instead.

So I walked home, took a couple of deep breaths, and reminded myself that the two don't have to be mutually exclusive, and that yes, writing really is IT for me, despite what traitorous little voices whisper. I think I was just intoxicated by the change of scene, even though the change isn't pronounced at first glance - there are giddy little people at work and at home.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Grandad's book - the everlasting project

It's been a while since I last blogged about this project, which was originally to type up the autobiography my Grandad had begun and never completed. I finished the typing some time ago, and had begun to compile some footnotes, and research some of the people and places that Grandad talked about.

It was all good practise for the meaty project of writing fiction, and what's more, it inspired me to pen the first draft of a short story (for the Year of Stories). Grandad had a big life in every way; he enlisted in the army, and passed out two days before war was declared in 1939. He travelled the world as a despatch rider, and had several near misses, even after the army years, such as when his lorry tipped up on him. He is a rich seam of stories, though he was a story-teller in the oral tradition.

My mum has now passed on two tatty boxes of photos and a broken-spined photo album to me, which I am scanning and saving to a flash-drive. I'm going to add a few of these to Grandad's book.

My hopes of self-publishing it as a gift for my Dad and sisters on in time for Christmas have already faded....I think that's two years in a row, but it might be more. One day I'll have it finished and ready to order, and I know the family will enjoy reading about Grandad's wartime and childhood exploits. Now I'm thinking of making a photo book for Grandma, too, with some of these photos. (She has dementia, and loves to look at photos, but they often disappear from albums. Her favourite album has more gaps than photographs these days).  So that's another distracting project to add to my list.

Looking at everything my Grandad saw and experienced, I was inspired by him again, to expand my own horizons. It's hard, with the delightful and unmissable clutter of four children, to do even half of what I might like to (and they are an adventure in their own right), but I must keep it as a longer term goal, when these days of having them draped around my knees has passed.

It's scary, though, how long it is taking to complete this job which Grandad had done the lion's share of; how much longer will one of my fiction books take to polish and refine for publication?

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Hitting a brick wall

Sometimes life conspires against aspiring writers, and that's the case this week. My uncle is having an operation tomorrow, which has repercussions on the family and our commitments; there are parties, hospital appointments, a podiatry appointment ("I'm going to see the toe-ist", says my daughter) and of course, the advent of Advent on Saturday. On top of all that, Steve is away for the week with SARAID, a search and rescue organisation he volunteers with.

His absence isn't felt the way you might imagine, with four children. There is actually less work, and I am a little too gleeful about being able to throw all his 'stuff' in his wardrobe and shut the door for a whole week....but I miss having him to talk to, and the bed is empty without him (even when the three-year old is in there instead, squirming and kicking and coughing).

As part of my Great Tidy Up today (in honour of Advent and also taking advantage of Ste not being around), I picked up the broken toilet roll holder that Steve has fixed twice. I figured out the problem, applied a screwdriver, and fixed it.

You wouldn't believe the flood of overconfidence it prompted. Merely half an hour later, I found myself wielding a borrowed drill, juggling rawlplugs, screws and a spirit level, while watching youtube videos of how to hang things. Steve has a whiteboard which has been waiting to go up for two years, and would no doubt wait another two if it were left up to him, so I decided that I would do it. After all, it's part of tidying the study, and it'll be a nice surprise when he gets home. Well, it will be a surprise.

I began to drill tentatively, waiting for the bang of an electrical cable, and a steady trickle of plaster dust streamed out from under the drillbit...and then stopped. I tried changing bits, changing settings, watching more youtube videos and googling similar problems, but no matter what I do, the drill just won't drill through whatever it has found under the plaster. I thought it was brick, but evidently it is some supernatural material that is impervious to human attempts on its integrity.

So now there is a single, large hole in the wall - I've discovered that the longer you drill, the wider the hole becomes - a generous sprinkling of plaster dust, and an unhung whiteboard. Calculate however you like; that's more mess than I started with, and I don't really know what move to make next, short of phoning my Dad to bail me out.

I think perhaps I've proved one point; Steve does have more uses than keeping the bed warm. I think he'll be less impressed by my other conclusion; I need to nag him to do the jobs before two years have passed so that I'm not tempted to pick up any more power tools which I'm unqualified to least driving a laptop falls into my skill set!

Wednesday, 14 November 2012


This aspiring writer has been knuckling down to her plan for 2013, to enter a short story competition every month. So far I have an idea for each month, and I have written three stories.

The story I was most excited about had to be written first, of course; it was the twist in the tale one, and needed some planning and some careful execution. The other two didn't grip me quite as well - one of them was tricky to get down, and ended up with many scribblings out and false starts.

Tonight I've typed them up (as I've been writing longhand for a while), even though they're in a state of rough draughtiness. And the mystery is that the worst story is the one I'd done most work on, and which had behaved itself when I tried to capture it. It needs some re-writing as well as serious polishing, whereas the other two are nearly there. How strange. Sometimes the harder you try, the further you travel from your goal.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Longhand magic

I've been reading a lot lately about how beneficial it is to write longhand.  I like the clack-clack of keys, and watching the words appear like magic on the screen...but I thought it might be refreshing to pick up a pen again.  So I've been writing some stories and fragments/scenes in longhand, and trying to ignore the finger cramp (it's probably character building).

I can't say that it's given me any sort of creative rush, although it is good to have a change. I did especially like the added freedom it gave me - I found myself writing at times and in places when I might have made excuses before, like sitting at the swimming pool waiting for two little people to finish splashing through their lesson.

The worst thing about writing longhand, though, is when you want to alter what you've written. There's a self-deception if you are working on a screen - if a paragraph goes wrong, or a plotline wriggles free from your grasp and goes meandering down peaceful (yet dull) lanes, it's a simple matter to delete your words with a click and drag, and then forget they ever existed. On paper, your scribblings out remind you of all you've done wrong. For me, they muddle my thinking - the discarded plot hovers in my vision and threatens to trip me up, and every time I look at the crossings out I get that sinking feeling of all that is going wrong rather than being uplifted by all that is going right...

What works for other writers?

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Note to Self

It's one of the most over-used pieces of advice for any aspiring or new writer: Carry a notebook!

As soon as I began to take my dreams seriously, I tucked a small notebook in my handbag, and a pen that worked (never mind that it frequently gets used by some mini-person who needs distracting). I kept one at home too, and regularly distilled the one into the other, although I think I have some remaining organisational issues.

So why, then, do I keep blinking and finding thoughts gone? Twice lately I've had ideas and failed to write them down, believing I would definitely remember this till I got home (to be fair to myself, once I was driving, and it is generally frowned upon to rummage for your notebook and take notes while hurtling along a dual carriageway). Do I need to even say that when I got home, my memory was bare? 

Then, I keep talking about my plan to write a short story each month in 2013 (all being well). I wrote the beginning of a story in the shower this morning. (The shower is a blissful little cubicle of peace in my house. The children follow me into the bathroom, but don't venture in the shower with me. They hop up and down outside the glass, begging me to wipe the steam, but it's surprising how that steamy glass can buffer you psychologically from the noise and demands of a three year old who wants to know if you're going to fetch him a banana soon; or the five year old who needs to complain with great indignation that his sister says she isn't afraid of money spiders, when for her whole life before this moment, right now, she has said she's scared of all spiders, so could you please come and tell her she's wrong about not minding little ones? I kid you not. If only all problems were so minor).

So I was enjoying my ten minutes of peace and almost-quiet, and the story was rolling along bee-yoo-tifully, the way stories in embryo form often do. Ideas sparked and fizzed, character motivations popped into my mind fully formed and perfectly fit. As soon as everyone was in bed, I sat down and started to scribble so fast that my fingers cramped. About three paragraphs in, I began to falter; I was losing that vision. The simple lines I'd come up with had somehow got knotted up, and I found myself lost.

How can I alter this? Is it simply that when a thing is nebulous as a thought, it appears (deceptively) to be wonderful? Or is it that the first idea gets a little choked by the new thoughts that occur at a later time? Would climbing out of the shower and committing it all to paper immediately have helped, or would that have caused the idea to abort in the first place?

Next time, I shall try writing it down sooner, and see what happens  - but if anyone wants to create a waterproof notebook so I can start to carry a notebook at ALL times, let me know...

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Keep on going

This week has been a week of tweaks and short bursts of writing. There were 2 days of writing, 2 days of a child with a vomiting bug, and 2 days of a paediatric first-aid course; not the most normal of weeks.

My triumphs, then, have been small-scale (but real all the same). I rewrote a rejected story and sent it back out. I continued work on a second story for next year's project (to write a story a month for competitions). And I added to my characterisations for my second novel.

 Two cheques also arrived for fillers, which give me encouragement, although it feels like cheating to count them as writing income.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Playing unsafe

I saw some of the Man Booker shortlisted authors talking about their work on TV this week. I haven't read any of them, and would like to. The extracts they read were all strikingly accomplished (which should be no surprise!) and my response was complicated.

There's that envy which is never far from the surface when I read something wonderful, and admiration too.  I had to examine my own ambition, too. Was this ever something I could do - write that well? Would I want to? One or two of the extracts, beautiful as they were, sounded dull.

There's always that struggle between literary and popular (and I'm judging without, as I said, having read any of the titles in question), and I considered that one or two of those books might stand the test of time, and be fodder for Eng Lit students for years to come, but not reach (or give as much pleasure) as many people as a Jodie Picoult or Katie Fforde.

I came to a comfortable sort of conclusion: I doubt I could ever be Man Booker material, and I don't mind. I want to write a different sort of book. But on my mission to do that, I don't want to close myself off, either, to improving my writing, and making it the best it can be. I needn't aspire to a prize; just to improve what I do, for myself. And that includes doing something I find tricky - scouring my imagination for original ideas; taking risks and making sure I'm not just sticking to a storyline because it feels 'safe'.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Write on...

Was a little despondent on Friday to have a story rejected which I had modest hopes for.  Thought again; is this the best way? To be dividing my attention between different genres? I've had an idea for a non-fiction article I could pitch to a magazine, if I had the literary balls, but then my meagre writing time is diverted into paths I'm less keen on.

If time were infinite, it wouldn't matter. But already I've jettisoned many things I quite enjoy. You have to accept at some point, you can really only pursue one or two interests in life, with any commitment. And writing books is the thing, for me, that I want to spend my stolen time on.

But perhaps other writing will help build a good foundation for that...I could go round in circular arguments with myself all day! Any advice would be appreciated!

On Saturday, I received a cheque from a magazine for a published letter - my second this month, and a total of £80 'earned' for them. (It somehow feels like cheating, to count a published letter as anything. But I was paid for my written words, so I shall count it....sort of).

And I'm thinking that this trickle of cheques ought to be put aside and spent on something a critique of my novel by a company such as Cornerstones. I wonder if Himself would notice if I diverted my little income..?

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Buying more books

Guilty pleasures in Sainsburys sounds plain wrong, doesn't it? But I was 'allowed' out to the supermarket last night sans children and it was intoxicating. I found myself browsing - I'd forgotten such a thing existed.

It's very sad, isn't it, that I can be excited about Sainsburys...anyway, I headed by circuitous routes to the book section, not intending for a second to buy anything, but wanting to see if the shelves had been refreshed. And there, staring me in the face, was Jojo Moyes' latest offering, The Girl You Left Behind. For £3.99!!! How could I resist?

I stuffed it furtively into the bottom of my trolley, hoping my other half wouldn't find out I'd been spending on books AGAIN, and trying to ignore the disquiet that comes when you know you're buying books in the Wrong Place. I get the guilts whenever I buy from Amazon or a supermarket, but the bottom line is about price. I'd rather buy two or three books somewhere cheaply, than one at a place where they hand a virtuous feeling to you along with the book. I can't help it; the addiction is stronger than my principles. I'll have principles again when I can afford them.

Then I noticed The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey. I wonder if you've ever had the experience where you meet someone, and then see them everywhere (or so it seems!), or learn a new word, and then see it several times in quick succession (this happened for me with 'hinterland' recently). We toyed with the idea of naming Chick-pea Eowyn, and decided against it because of the complications of pronunciation and spelling it to everyone for evermore, though I love it. And very shortly after that, I first saw this book reviewed, thought it sounded intriguing and enchanting, and then noticed the author's name. Since then I've wanted to read it, but been deterred by the cost, but Sainsburys were offering it for just £3.99... How could I resist?

I checked no-one was watching and nonchalantly dropped it into my trolley. Then my gaze ricocheted past a new Adriana Trigiani novel--I tore myself away, and marched into the meat aisle, away from temptation.

When I got to the checkout, smuggling my contraband (well, my husband would ban it if he had any sense, instead of just tutting disapprovingly) I watched it go through with satisfaction and then the cashier frowned at her screen.
"Oh," she said, "It's not done that before."
She continued to squint and poke at it, in a way that struck me as being experimental. I quickly shoved the books into an orange carrier, determined to keep them, whatever the problem.
"That's sorted it," she said with a self-conscious little giggle. "It was just asking me to ID you so you can buy the Cheddar."
If I'd known it was the cheese that was going to cause hiccups, perhaps I'd've added that Trigiani novel, too...Oh, well, I'm sure I'll be visiting the supermarket again soon...

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Bending language any which way

There is such charm in the speech of a three-year old. This week, my little horror has asked me to make 'fish biscuits again, please' when I think he really would prefer fish cakes, and in a continuation of the fishy theme, pored over a picture of seahorses with me and said 'Look at that sea-saw!'

Quick, pass a notebook: these little gems are bound to come in useful sometime...

Ill Children

We are harbouring a few germs (or a few million) at the moment, as the children are tag-teaming illnesses. The seven-year old has an on/off temperature, the three-year old and the baby are both intermittently sick, and the five-year old has a bad case of wishful thinking. (It goes something like this: My tummy feels squirly, so can I stay at home and watch a film, too?)

If mopping up vomit, anticipating toilet trips and administering Calpol weren't enough, there's the lost sleep to contend with. I'm so tired I feel like there's ground glass in my eyes, and I keep falling asleep at odd moments of the day. I'm fairly sure my immune system is revolting, too ... not in the urgh way you might assume, given the bodily fluids I'm surrounded by, but by succumbing to a force 10 cold.

So I can't even muster the energy right now to feel guilty that all my writing this week has been as wishful in execution as the five-year old's illness.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

The Pitfall of Reading

You'd think that, since an addiction to reading is such a vital element for anyone of a writerly persuasion, I shouldn't complain about it. After all, author after author advises, "Read, read and read some more!"

I'm happy to oblige. You might as well urge me at gunpoint to 'breathe'. But, assuming you escape the discouragement of realising  that  a/ you'll never be that good, b/ you'll never come up with any original idea, or c/ you'll never please all your readers, all the time, there's another pitfall for the reading writer.


This week I have written approximately 1, 000 words.

This week I have read approximately 20 gazillion words (mostly during my timetabled writing times. Refer to low wordcount above).

Oh, dear. I'm going to have to refrain from picking up a book for a bit...after I've read the two by my bed, that is.

Friday, 14 September 2012

The fear of a non-story

Amongst all the other ongoing projects, I was pondering my completed novel as I showered away the day yesterday. I say completed, but truthfully it's only on the third draft or so, and I lack confidence in what I've done.  At this distance, having stewed for a few months, I'm concerned about it in a few areas. The pace and strength of the storyline are issues for me.

It's so easy to pull your punches with your beloved characters. For instance, in this novel, my protaganist abducts a child. At the moment, her plans are quite vague (perhaps a reflection of my certainty in plotting?), but her intention appears to be more to draw attention than to 'get away with it'. The more I consider it, the more I think her intention should be darker, more decisive.

I'm afraid I'm creating a non-story, like the ones you find in local newspapers - "Bridge nearly closed on Thursday" - that kind of thing. I suspect that my protagonist and I both need to put some more effort into getting away with the abduction; without the courage of our convictions, she and I will not create a story that grips.

How to do this is another matter...and the thought of going back to chapter 1, page 1 and beginning rewrite number 345 (I exaggerate) makes me feel like turning my back on my poor little novel, and focusing on my new creation, instead. What a traitor!

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Scattergun approach

I'm in a content little writing routine at the moment. Having the 3 year old at pre-school for three mornings is lovely, although I feel guilty about all the other things I'm shelving in favour of writing. It's not a long session, by the time I've fed Chick-pea, and tried to persuade her to sleep so that I can write, but it is something.

Meanwhile, an old opportunity to write a column regularly has resurfaced. The governors at school weren't too keen, to my deep disappointment, but there is a flicker of hope. Flatteringly, the newspaper are enthusiastic...although if I go ahead with it, I don't want to end up using all my writing time on that. But it would be good training, and improve my writing skills...not to mention helping me to produce more effective, pared down prose rather than my usual wordiness.

This week, I bought the latest Writing Magazine, which has the annual competition calendar with it. There were a couple of articles about planning your comp entries for the year, and I was intrigued by the idea of entering one competition a month.  Sounds hard, doesn't it? But I thought back to the days at school, when I used to be endlessly excited by my English homework, and realised that if I tackled a project a month as if it were an assignment, I might be able to do it. It would force me to write things that I don't, normally; it would force me to widen my writing experience; most importantly, out of my comfort zone, I would be forced to explore my creativity more fully.

As with the column opportunity, my deepest concern is whether it would dilute my energies, when I'd rather be using them on my older Work In Progress (which I can't find a name for) and the book I'm currently conceiving, which has the working title 'The Web'.

 It's just occurred to me that I've rather inaccurately used the word 'energies' as if the plural applies. I don't think I can scrape together enough energy after the school run or the teatime tantrums to make one whole energy, let alone a collective of them...

Thursday, 6 September 2012

The Greenest Grass

So: the children are back at school and pre-school. The delightful hassle of having them all under my feet all week are over. For two mornings, there was just me and the baby in our little castle. Surely I had a productive and happy time, typing with one hand and casually running the vac round with the other, while rocking the baby in her chair with my foot..? Not so. I hate to burst the bubble of my own little fantasy, but it's been a tough few days.

I have done some writing on two evenings, after the blessed relief of bedtime, but generally the uncompromising routine of school has taken over my life.

The school run is more like a commute; our home lies midway between the infant school which the 5 year old goes to, and the junior school which the 7 year old just started at. The three year old is now going to pre-school for three mornings a week, and his pre-school is near the infant school, so we have to organise our route to encompass all three locations, dropping children at the right place at the right time. It's a forty minute round trip, which we're doing at least twice a day - fabulous for my weight-loss aspirations, but difficult on the three year old, especially in the afternoon when his legs 'get out of breath'.

By the time I get home, I'm about ready to collapse - I probably would, if I weren't trying to ring-fence my sleep. I'm forcing myself to go to bed at 10pm (a quick check of the clock now says I'm lying; it's ten-thirty, so I must hurry...) so I can get up at 6am - how can I squeeze writing into this day? Usually clearing up from the bedtime/teatime chaos takes until 9 or so, and then there might be ironing or emails or the need to just sit down and refrain from hyperventilating...

I've had a few panicked moments, wondering what I can cut in my life, but I'm convinced that shortly the routine will fall into place, and I'll be wandering through it with my eyes shut (especially if I keep neglecting my bedtime)....when that happens, I'll be able to get back on track with the things that are important to me. I'll be able to write in the day when the older children are out, and maybe for an hour or so a night after the sandwiches are packed and the towels picked up from the bathroom floor.

Apparently my fantasy bubble is still intact.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Making characters live

The problem with writing while the children are sleeping, which is exactly what has happened this summer, is that I'm shattered most of the time. It's classic burning the candle at both ends and I'm nearly burnt out...but happy.

I'm really enjoying working on my character biogs, with the hard work and disillusionment still ahead. Jurgen Wolff's excellent book, "Your Writing Coach" has a lot of helpful guidance at this stage of creating, and I'd recommend it if you're in need of any advice.

For me, this stage is a bit like being in love. My main character is in my mind nearly all the time; she came with me today to hang my washing out with me, and we had an interesting discussion about euthanasia (which is funny, as it's not an issue that will arise in the book, I don't think). I find myself dwelling on incidents in her past that will probably never come to light; I'm tempted to write episodes from her backstory, just to ground her in my mind. I think I dreamt of her last night. I feel like a a fictional character's life. And now it's time to move onto her husband...ha ha ha.

Love this writing lark....don't you?

Monday, 27 August 2012

Fleshing out characters

I remember reading an author's comment that in their stories, they always have to check that children age. I suppose we all have our own weaknesses or tendencies.

I am creating characters at the moment, and having lots of fun doing so. I have to check that I don't create families that are too similar - two parents, two point four children -  but on the whole it's going well. I know I tend towards stereotyping, and I have to consciously stop and check for that, and sometimes insert interesting quirks, such as a phobia, to make a character more memorable.

During a rare time alone today (in the car, trying to source cereal and milk at 9pm on a bank holiday Monday, while S was at home with the littlies) I thought about two things I often forget: facial hair and pets. None of my characters  seem to have either. Beards are funny old beasties, though, aren't they? The consensus is that they're not really sexy, though you might see a photo of a bearded man and think otherwise; but the word 'beard' is more likely to conjure a picture of Santa or  Great-Uncle Victor than the gorgeous mystery man you saw squeezing tomatoes at Sainsburys. Of course, I could just give Great-Uncle Maurice a beard in my novel, but then I'd be falling into a stereotype again.

 As for pets, I suppose the lack of them in my writing reflects the lack of them in our home (we have children instead of pets at the moment. In a few years, when the children require less hands-on input, we may have time to remember to feed, walk and toilet a four-legged creature, but for now I can't even keep a cactus alive as well as the children).

Anyway, I shall be going through my characters at some point and seeing if there is anyone deserving of a beard or a three-legged hamster. Perhaps the one might even be mistaken for the other...but no, it's not that sort of story.

What do you forget to include in your character's backgrounds/appearance when you are inventing?

Friday, 24 August 2012

What's in a name?

I'm naming characters at the moment. Some spring, already named, into being, while, for others, I've dug out the baby name book. There was a bit of an awkward moment earlier when my husband came home and found it slung on the sofa; but he seems to be breathing normally again now, and the funny maroon shade has faded from his face.

With my first book I don't remember it taking much effort at all to think of names, but this time I have extra criteria. Because some of the characters aren't very pleasant in this story, I want to be as careful as possible to avoid 'real' names, while making them sound realistic. I've scoured the phone book for unusual surnames, and asked my husband to report back on any striking names he comes across through work.

Obviously, I'm aiming for names that suit the age and social standing of characters, too - it goes without saying that I'm not just plucking out the weirdest names possible from the book. Although, wouldn't it be fun to write a story where every character had some outlandish name?

A quick google on each name I settle on gives me an idea of whether it is already in use, although a tweak to the spelling can keep a name in the running even if the first version is no good.

What methods do you use to find great names for your characters?

Sunday, 19 August 2012

More Bedtime Stories

After I'd finished reading Lassie Come-Home to the older two children (and we'd watched the recent film version too, with me coughing over a couple of rude words!) I launched with excitement into Anne of Green Gables. It may be a bit premature; some of the language in it, especially because it's dated, is difficult for a seven year old to grasp.

The five year old gave up after one chapter, and has been having earlier nights, while I get to snuggle with my girl. I love this book, heartily. It's another that has handled several re-readings, and not just in childhood. So, how am I finding it this time? Well, I'm paraphrasing certain things, because my audience is so young, although that then trips me up if I'm not careful. And the descriptive passages are very dull to read aloud, and also add very little. I missed out half a page last night, and it made no difference to the plot, and improved my daughter's enjoyment. I know this floweriness is just what was in vogue 'back then', but there's nothing quite like learning by seeing things that work, or don't.

And speaking of that, my cynical, non-reading husband has been listening, too. He accidentally sat in on Chapter One, and I expected him to mock, but instead he laughed aloud a couple of times. LM Montgomery's sly style won him over; the sarcasm suited him down to the ground. He happened to eat dinner as we read Chapter Two and then Chapter Three; Chapter Four and Five, he hurried upstairs on an excuse, and sat and listened. I daren't mention to him that I've noticed he's enjoying it. He'd deny it to his last breath, despite the times he laughs; but I'm so gratified that he is. It's always lovely when someone hurdles a prejudice and finds that they've been missing out on things because of it.

But I'm not going to mention that, or he'll expect me to hurdle one of my prejudices, such as the one I have against flying - which, let's face it, should be firmly restricted to birds and bats and other winged things.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Ready to write

My fingers are itchy again today. Such a lovely feeling...My focus is divided however. My 'almost-completed' novel - the one which is on Draft Forty-Nine (I exaggerate) - is still nagging at the corners of my mind. I haven't yet ironed out all the police procedure issues in it, and now I'm thinking of parts that need rewriting to increase the pace.

(I am reading a book at the moment which is self-published, and so nearly good...noticing how close it is is a bit of a wake-up call for me. It's reminded me that nearly good isn't enough. The smallest blips are noticeable.)

So, here I am, scribbling notes and suggestions to myself and posting them into the box that contains my beloved manuscript, and wondering whether to return to it...What I'm meant to be doing is the early plotting for my next novel. (How pretentious that sounds! I wonder at what point in a writing career you can begin to get away with saying it without squirming?) As this is a fairly effortless and exciting part of writing - the possibilities are endless! And the plot is, of course, perfect, because it's not been diluted yet by contact with me and my writing - I was looking forward to it.

Time to decide which piece of work to point those itchy fingers at...

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Delicious Reading

I've come to it late, I suppose, as an obsessive reader, but a friend on Facebook sent me the link to Goodreads. What fun....I've only dipped my toe in, but had a particular thrill or two to see some really old fashioned covers of books I adored as a child, such as The Black Stallion (oh, yes, I was a horse-mad girl).

I will have a longer session rating books soon, but can imagine it being lots of fun. I have fairly eclectic taste, so I was interested to see what suggestions the site would make for me, based on the books I'd rated...but they were way off. I tried reading the blurbs, thinking perhaps their titles and covers were misleading, but how it thought I might like science fiction, I don't know...perhaps because I like The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - but doesn't everyone?

Now my latest deadline has been hit, I'm in the plotting phase of my next book, which I can pick up and put down easily, and I'm going to saturate myself in some delicious reading, I think.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012


I have finished a short story for a competition, deadline: tomorrow. It was hard, hard work. It never flowed, and at the last moment I did a final read-through, and was deeply disappointed by the chasm between what I aimed for and what I achieved. But....

I set myself this task, and achieved it. I felt like giving up several times, and thought it was hopeless (which it probably was)...but I persevered. And that gives me a perverse little sense of delight. I certainly put a lot of myself into it; I did my best.

I think writing has felt hard lately because I know I'm doing my best, and am aware that's not enough. I have to learn to be even better.

And, while I am convinced I don't stand a chance in this competition, which will, I'm sure, attract high standard entries....there's always that little fizz of hope, inextinguishable.

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Slack sails

Last week I ran the gamut of emotions (well, nearly) when a fat envelope plopped through the door. First thought was that it was another rejection, then I realised it was a story I'd sent to a comp, and it had feedback! (I paid for the feedback). I read it avidly, glad of the encouragement and many positives, and then disheartened by the negatives.

All day, I was discombobulated. I couldn't lift myself, and I don't know why. There was more than enough encouragement to live on, and I agree wholeheartedly with the constructive criticism.

If I had to hazard a guess, I suppose it's difficult to accept you can't see your own flaws. Even if your head accepts you need to improve, and appreciates support to do that, your heart aches that you can't read your own work and see what's wrong and fix it.  I suppose that's what left me so flat.

For a week now, the wind has been gone from my sails, though. I've been unable to get going again. I'm certainly not ready to work on the story that had the feedback, and another story I need to get edited for a comp is lying neglected on dropbox. At some point, I'm going to have to motivate myself to work even though I don't feel like it.

In desperation today I opened a notebook of the beginnings of my next novel - plot lines, characters and so on - and was heartened and excited by what I read, and even added a few jottings. And here's my advice to myself; if it is proving too difficult to address a piece of work, or even a genre, such as short stories, that you've lost heart over, try something completely different, and then come back with a refreshed attitude and a clear mind to the first project. Eventually the wind will fill my sails again...

Monday, 30 July 2012

Children's Classics

One of my favourite parts of the day is snuggling the children and reading them a story. I still enjoy reading picture books like Harry and the Dinosaurs with the three year old, but I love, most of all, reading my own childhood favourites to the older two.

We finished Charlotte's Web last weekend, in a fog of disappointment. I remember it being moving; I remember crying. I remember loving it. Reading it to the children, it seemed a trifle slow, and I was tempted to skip parts. I didn't find the characters half so enchanting. I wonder how the children will remember it - perhaps it is only magical if you are the right age, and not some middle-aged woman attempting to fake it a seven year old's mindset.

We're reading  Eric Knight's Lassie Come Home now. If your only experience of Lassie is TV, you're missing out. This children's book, although sentimental in places, is fantastic and powerful and moving, and has lost none of its beauty.  I remember my mother reading this aloud to my sisters and I in front of the three-bar fire, struggling to read through her tears. I remember re-reading it (over and over again) as a child, and the way the hairs on my arms would lift when I got to the climax.

I'm enjoying it just as much this time, although I'm glad no-one is eavesdropping on my Yorkshire accent (which is quite good in comparison to the vague attempts I'm making at the Scottish accent). I clearly haven't missed a career on the stage.  A couple of times I've had to swallow hard to collect myself enough to read on...I'm loving it, and will have the tissues ready for the pay off moment at the end. Some books can bear endless re-reading, and this is one. Classic.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Read, digest, grow

I might not be writing as much as I'd like, but I've sneaked in a fair bit of reading - lately 'The Last Letter From Your Lover' by Jojo Moyes. Must confess to shedding a tear or two - was a really touching story, beautifully written.

Jojo Moyes is such a skilful writer in every way, but I was especially struck in this book by her delicate and exquisite writing of sex scenes - which she renders beautiful.

All these women raving about 50 Shades of Grey, with all those repetitive, cringe-worthy sex scenes that made me shudder - this is what they should be reading! This is the way to strike chords (sorry for the cliche). I put the book down hours ago, and am still thinking about the characters, and how real they seem. I need to learn so much... and now I need to go and buy a new book to read as I gobbled that one a bit fast.

Pirates and Puppies

This week isn't really going to plan, unless picking up children who have fallen downstairs and sunburning my ears on a beach on the East Coast (quite an achievement, let me tell you) count as being part of my writing plan.

There's really no room in my head or house for writing this week - a story I'm trying to complete for a comp is languishing untouched, because I'm too tired to dredge an original thought up when I come to it each evening. But the children are different this year to last. (They've changed since Whit Week, even).

The 3 year old might spoil some games, and the older two shout at him so often that the baby has begun to babble something that sounds unbelievably like his name; but they all play together. He isn't so bored as on a 'normal' day; he'll play in parallel with them, or if the 7 year old is in the grip of the right mood she will organise a game of pirates, captains, puppies or Octonauts and drag both boys along in the slip-stream of her imagination. (They have plenty of imagination of their own, to be fair, but lack the sustained focus to keep role-play going for long without her bossy input. When they have had enough, or don't play by her rules, she is heart-broken. I think I'm raising a control-freak).

 When they play like this, and occupy the 3 year old, I actually have more slices of time to write than usual, if only I can leap on each opportunity. Having appeased my guilty conscience this week by scrubbing the dining room to within an inch of its life and washing, washing, washing (who could waste that sunshine?) I'm going to prioritise writing. By this time tomorrow, I want to have that first draft pinned down in long as I'm not called in to fight pirates, build Lego cities or rescue a beached whale in the Gup-C.

Friday, 20 July 2012

Summer Holidays

The days have been accelerating fast as we've neared the end of the term, but today is the last day. I'm not sure how I feel about the summer - whether being out of routine will allow me time to recharge, and  whether the older children will amuse the three year old to give me more time to myself  - or whether I will be too cluttered up by children to write.

Either way, I will make the most of it. I'm going to have a delicious time enjoying the children, and when we go out, there will be fodder for the imagination all around. So if it turns out to be a fallow period for actual bum-on-seat writing, I'm going to be accepting.

Tomorrow we are off for a day to the seaside - hope  the sun shines, and when I get back, hope to write a story with a beachy setting.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Not my day

The governors of 'my school' have vetoed the idea of me writing a column in the local newspaper. I'm more crushed than I expected  - amongst the gruelling hours of parenting, my writing life is precious relief and escapism, and this dead-end was more overwhelming for me than recent rejections.

But this too shall pass. I'm going to go and work on a story for another competition now, in long hand for a treat.

Treading Water

The post brought a rejection....that story was submitted months ago, so I had hopes. I wonder what part of it wasn't right. I'm feeling glad that I've sent one to a competition with feedback, although the genre is different.
As always, I wonder if even trying to break into short story writing is the thing to do. I can tell myself all the practical reasons why, but it's not what I read most of, and I wonder if my heart is in it, and if editors can tell.
But then, I put my heart and soul into this poor little one that thudded to the mat. I suppose one day I'll look back and see more clearly; meanwhile I've a day of busy life with no writing time, and it looks as though the governors are going to say 'No' to my request to write a column, so I'm having a discouraging day. 
When I feel discouraged, I try to look back over a longer period. I think of the personal progress I've made (get me. I should be conducting professional development interviews) and the little nuggets of joy when something I've done has had the tiniest jot of recognition. I've done more writing in the last two years than the previous ten, I'm taking myself seriously, I'm daring to expose myself and my writing...what's a day of discouragement compared to that? 
Deep breath, relax shoulders, and prepare to move on.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Saying Yes

I'm so proud of myself. (It doesn't happen often - let me have my moment!)
I'm learning to say yes to opportunities, even if they scare me witless (not a difficult thing to do, as my wits have mostly deserted me since Baby 4 anyway). The people who achieve well, or seem 'lucky' are the people who are brave, and put themselves out there, and handle the knocks, aren't they? And that's not usually me. But I'm putting aside my fear of failure, and also my fear of success (because that's just as real) and marching on merrily.

I said I'd got an opportunity in the pipeline, and I'm going to blog about it, even if it never happens. Our local newspaper advertised for columnists, and I responded, and they seem keen to have me. I'm fizzing with excitement - I already have several columns written or ready for editing in anticipation. There is a spanner in the works. Because of my work as a teacher, and the need to keep some professional distance, I had hoped to write anonymously, and that's not an option. So I'm waiting to hear from the head-teacher and governor about whether I can go ahead. Exciting times...and much more 'me' than the short stories I am trying to write.

Then today something else exciting happened. I've read two gorgeous, moving novels by Jojo Moyes lately  - Me Before You and The Horse Dancer. I only finished the latter yesterday, in a glorious scramble to the end before bed (I didn't want to put it down). I enjoyed them both immensely, and admired her style enormously - this is what I want to achieve. (If only. But it's good to dream...) It even crossed my mind that one day her agent might be a good one to approach, knowing that I want to aim for the same genre.

This morning, when I ought to have been writing (I did get to it eventually!) I looked at the satisfyingly full back catalogue of hers, and I know what I'll be buying on my Kindle next. It's such a thrill to find an author you've not read before, and discover you love her work, and there's lots of it to enjoy...instant gratification. I had a look at her impressive website, and blog and was lured on (is it called the web because it's so hard to escape?) until I read that she is offering mentoring through Marie Claire. I fought my natural inclination to say I don't have a hope, and applied. I know it probably won't come to anything, but I'm star-struck by the mere possibility. Someone, somewhere is going to be  lucky to be mentored by her...and at least, if it's not me, it won't be because I didn't bother trying.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012


After editing (and no, the gold wasn't too straw-like) I managed to cut 3000 words to 2543. A good edit, I feel. I must be learning!


I feel prolific today! I wrote a 3,000 word story yesterday, and then re-drafted it, once for sense and flow, then a second time to add in some punch. It is for a competition, and I'm really pleased with it, although, of course, how it does will depend on how strong the comp is. (Such a positive thinker...!)

The problem is, I'm sitting at my desk, intending to read a paper copy and mark mistakes/things that don't work and perhaps cut 10% or so on principle, and I daren't pick it up. That's why I'm procrastinating by blogging.

I have a reverse Rumplestiltskin in my life, and overnight he will have turned my gold to straw. (He keeps me supplied with babies to interfere with my work, too, instead of threatening to take them away.)  I wonder how to banish him...?

Saturday, 7 July 2012


Two more stories fired hopefully into the void... I suppose it hasn't been many, yet - only six, I think, so hoping for success might be a bit much.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Second pair of hands required

My head is buzzing with writing ideas today - far more than I have time to explore. It's too tantalising - I want to be working on some short opinion pieces, and a love story idea I've had for a competition....

The thing is, I know it's easy for me to go off half-cocked, caught up in the excitement of an idea.  When I don't spend lots of time getting into the character, and plotting a bit more tightly, that's when things go wrong and I run out of steam, or stop because I know it's all wrong. Then I have to go back and begin again.  So I'm trying to curb myself, and focus on making what I write the best I can. I'm afraid this blog doesn't count yet - I have no time to polish it with everything else I want to do to build a writing career.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

It's not going much better, yet. One of the short stories is complete, but the printer isn't working, so I can't submit it. Yet.

I haven't seen my neighbour, nor done any other writing, really, in the last few days. Somehow mothering has swallowed up all else, and yet I've not done a good job at that, either. My life (and perhaps the life of all mothers?) seems to vacillate between a/ me feeling I can handle anything, and consequently getting an hour's housework done, and an hour's writing, and still finding time to cook and play, and b/ me feeling that the world is caving in, and I don't have time for anything but gritting my teeth and hanging on. So sometimes I'm uber-productive (and this has a positive effect) and sometimes all the life seems to have been sucked from me by these adorable and exhausting children of mine and nothing gets done at all. It would be nice to find a middle road.

Perhaps a good night's sleep will make a difference, although, right now, two of the children are talking in their sleep, which will probably keep me awake!

Sunday, 1 July 2012

The Week Ahead

Stuff the housework; I've got writing to do. I've stayed up till gone midnight for the last two nights, working on something that is in the pipeline, but which will hopefully make me look and feel like a 'real' writer. I'm half excited and half terrified.

Meanwhile, there are the two stories I'd like to edit and send off this week, as well as a few other minor things.

I still also need to take time with my neighbour finding out about police procedure for my book. Last time I went round to pick his brain, he told me that another officer had had an email from someone very local asking for information, and he thought it was me. I was delighted that there's another aspiring writer within a stone's throw.

More worryingly, the longer my book stews, the more I am losing faith in the plot, and keep wondering if I need to change huge bits of it. I'm not sure if this if just cold feet, or if it really does still need major reworking.  However, I'm going to get the information I need from my neighbour, tweak all the parts I need to, then look at it again from the plotting point of view. I'm not sure I'm very good at this editing lark. I'm in a bit of a tangle.

Friday, 29 June 2012


The story I was wrestling with last time came to heel in the end. I decided that I'd been rushing it, and not giving it my full attention. With that in mind, I sat and plotted it more; I spent more time on and with the characters and then I chose to use the first person, which freshened it immensely. Feeling quite pleased with the result, I intended to come back to it, and the other story I'd recently typed, for a good edit or tow, hoping to send them off.

Instead, my 3 year old was taken ill, and the doctor took one look at him and sent for an ambulance. The good news is, he's home now with a short-term inhaler, but of course it was immensely disruptive in every other area. This week I feel as if I haven't seen any of the children much, and haven't been at home for long enough to do the laundry, even.

I've managed a little writing, which I will post about soon, if possible. But the stories will have to wait again now, till next week, and may have to take a reduced priority while I catch up on other things. Sigh.

Friday, 22 June 2012

A brick wall

I've been attempting to work on some short stories this week, despite the record-breaking rejection time of the last one. I've sent one to a magazine competition, and paid to get feedback, which will be valuable, I know.

Then I had two ideas I thought were great. Well, they had promise, at least. I got a rough draft of one down fairly quickly, but the other is eluding me. It hasn't helped that the 3-year old had a bout of something contagious and yukky that meant he wasn't allowed to go to playgroup this week. It was quite blow to lose two mornings of writing time, even though it was entirely my fault for crowing on Sunday night that I was about to have some time to myself. I should have known better.

Being determined, I ploughed on with writing in the evening, but every time I try to get this second story down, it doesn't seem to work, and I end up starting it again the next night. I wonder why it is proving so temperamental. Is there a flaw in the plotting that I haven't identified, or another reason my sub-conscious isn't letting me get on with it? Either way, it's not going to beat me - inspiration being mostly perspiration and all that.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

The rejection routine

On Tuesday I was so energised to finish editing a short story and I sent it off hopefully to a high-circulation magazine.  Another story I sent off two or three months ago is also still 'out there'.  This morning a fat white SAE plopped onto the doormat and I assumed it was the story from two or three months ago, but it turned out it was the one I sent on Tuesday.  Is a four day turn around a record? Just how dreadful must my story have been! I'm able to laugh about it, but it is surprising to me how it soured part of my day. 

I also surprised myself by being able to accept all the advice I've read about rejection.
*I recognise that a rejection is a positive thing, because it shows I'm submitting material, and not just dreaming.
*I know that I'm learning, and I can learn from rejection.
*I know that the rejection might not be about my writing or ideas, but might be about the market being wrong, or personal preference.
*I'm glad that I have other irons in the fire - the story from two or three months ago, and my novel.
*I decided this evening to tackle my residual disappointment by starting to plan two new short stories. The resulting absorption and excitement have taken my focus off the rejection, and I think they both have a lot of potential.  In terms of having learnt something, I'm plotting the stories far more tightly, rather than writing with only a woolly idea of where I'm going, as I sometimes do. I think I have been guilty of skimping on preparation time with short stories, because they are not my first love...but I'm not prepared to give up on them yet, nor on the lessons I can learn from trying to get published.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Trying to surf Amazon

As an aspiring writer, I've been through a few phases of hope and despondency.  I was seventeen, naive and with the world at my feet when someone I respected pointed out that my dreams of becoming an author were unrealistic.  It's been a long journey back, but my novel is nearly complete... 

The sense of achievement is immense, even though these last few hurdles sometimes seem so challenging. And, while the difficult hunt for agent and publisher lies ahead,  the e-book revolution peeks from the side-lines, alluring.  With my new kindle in hand, and twiddling my thumbs at my in-laws' house at the weekend, I decided to try to find a kindle book written by an unknown author.  I supposed that I would learn something, whether the book was good or terrible. 

What I discovered was that trying to find what I wanted was like looking for a needle in a haystack.    I scrolled painstakingly past countless erotic novels, German books, fantasy...I tried different search terms; I tried to look for e-books priced at 99p. Amongst the tens of thousands of books on there, how can any author be noticed? How can anyone attract the target audience they have written for? After an hour I was thoroughly discouraged, and still hadn't found what I was looking for. (I think there's a song in there, somewhere...!)

 In the end, I settled for a book with hundreds of five-star reviews which Amazon had been recommending pointedly for a few weeks. (It was a good book. I did enjoy it, and it was my kind of story. But it wasn't the unknown author I was after).

So now I feel less secure in e-publishing as a back-up plan, and I'm wondering what on earth an unknown author can do to market their work successfully.  I suppose the first thing is to make sure my novel is the best it can be.  With that in mind, this week I must make time to meet up with my police detective friend and exploit his experiences.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Time Poor

It's all very well writing while the kids sleep; if only they did all sleep simultaneously!

Friday, 1 June 2012

Writing better

The last few nights, I've been sitting up late, working on my book. At last I finished reading it, and then I went through highlighting passages, and then compiling a lo-o-ong list of questions for my detective neighbour.

So I'm far too tired tonight to do more than write a quick blog to say: amongst all the observations I could make about my own work (and probably will), one of the most encouraging is: the later chapters were much better than the earlier ones. 

I'm taking this as proof that I am learning and improving, even without any critiques or feedback.  And that means my potential for  further improvement need only be limited by how willing I am to learn and to practise.

Friday, 25 May 2012


I shouldn't be blogging before I've finished reading my book through...yet here I am.

Reading what I have written is such a strange experience, full of encouragement and excitement, alongside disappointment.  I'm not sure I'll ever be able to be truly objective, which is where a writing group would be so useful.

The first chapter was a low point for me - it didn't at all achieve what I hoped, and I was afraid it set the tone for the whole book. I was then relieved and buoyed up to find passages that sparkle, some dialogue that I'm proud of, and a few paragraphs that fill me with joy.  These positive points make me sure that with practise and by working hard to improve my skills, I can achieve what I want to...

And then there are the doubts. I'm not too discouraged by the poor prose - I can see that with some editing and rewriting I can improve that.  I'm more worried that the plot might have holes, or sections that will push credibility too far - and this is really hard to discern.  There are various plotlines that have continuity issues, but that is what this read-through is all about, and I feel confident that  I can solve that too.

What is so difficult to judge is: Is it really any good? Would it hold a reader's attention? Is it interesting enough....or is it self-indulgent rubbish that only appeals to me because I'm on fairly good terms with the author?

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Reading the Manuscript

I took the plunge, and began reading the latest draft of my book.  It has been a while, and I've been daunted by the prospect, but I knew that once I began reading,  I had to plough on.

I'm reading through as quickly as I can, this time, just making a few notes as I go, and trying not to get bogged down in detail.  At first I was stealing moments to read, but it wasn't easy; I had to balance the manuscript on my lap, or a table, and wait for the breeze or passing child to create an avalanche of papers.      Lifting it felt like a trip to the gym.  But I was enjoying it.  One night I stayed up till midnight, reading (though I must confess that I think I fell asleep for a little while in them middle).

Then I had a moment of inspiration, that would have occurred to someone else much sooner, no doubt.  I decided to read it on my Kindle. It seemed a simple solution at first, but our main computer is a Mac, and when I realised that the Kindle couldn't read the novel in its usual format, I couldn't find a way to convert it.

Luckily, I have a laptop too, and was able to use Mobipocket Creator on that to create a document that my Kindle could read.  It's so much easier to read my manuscript on the go now - it's been to a hospital appointment, and to the local soft-play centre this afternoon, too.  I love the feeling that it's just like a 'real' book, already, and I love being able to make notes on the Kindle too.  However,  I have a touch-screen Kindle, and I'm not having as much fun when I try to highlight a word or passage and the page flips over. It took me five attempts to 'catch' one phrase this afternoon. In the end, I resorted to making the font larger, which I then disliked reading.  Oh, well.

The other thing about my Kindle is, I know I am officially 65% of the way through...

Monday, 21 May 2012

Creating mess

  Mondays are meant to be a good writing day for me, as they are playgroup day for the 3-year old, but today I had to do the weekly shop at Sainsburys, then my sister-in-law visited with her husband and my 9 month old nephew.  So it was a good day, but not productive...until the afternoon. 

I set the 3 year old up on the patio with one of his favourite arty activities - a paintbrush and water. I demonstrated how he could paint a picture, but he decided to tip up the water and rub at it with a brush instead.  (Boys' creativity is so different to girls', whatever people say). It kept him busy for quite a while, and meanwhile I curled up on the sofa in the family room, and began to
                                                        read my book. 

And that's all I'm going to say about that, for now.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Thinking the inner critic should work harder....

It's so easy to focus on your own insecurities, and spend so long agonising over the quality of your writing that you never finish that article, or submit that novel...there are days when I'm paralysed by my inner critic, though I'm trying hard to thicken my skin against it.  

Writing Magazine has a regular feature by James McCreet, where the first 300 words of a novel are treated to 'forensic criticism'.  I always enjoy this - Mr McCreet identifies so much of what isn't working, where I only know that something non-specific and vague is amiss.  I've learnt a lot from it, and admire his attention to detail. 

However, this month he was dismembering the first few words of'What the Moon Remembered' by Andrea Wotherspoon.  As usual, I read through the 300 words before I allowed myself to read the comments, and I enjoyed it.  I thought it was a cut above the usual excerpts, and wondered to myself if, this month, there might be quite a lot more praise than usual.  Then I read James McCreet's comments.  I can't say any of them were unfair.  But I was astounded that I hadn't anticipated any of them- not one.  I had thought it was a perfectly reasonable few paragraphs, until  I was forced to look again. By the time I had finished the article, not only was my inner critic yelping triumphantly about how useless I am, but my confidence in my own judgement was in question. After all, I hadn't spotted most of the weakness or errors, and would be likely to make the same mistakes myself.  How can I avoid errors in my work if I can't identify them easily in someone else's? Time to abandon hope...? 

Monday, 14 May 2012

Letter's pages

On my whiteboard in the study are some Rules gleaned from a website on writing, some years ago, now. One of the rules says, Make a career for yourself. Get anything published.

I think 'anything' might be pushing it - no-one wants to write something they're ashamed of, or that makes them uncomfortable, surely? There is more to being a writer, and a fulfilled writer at that, than the end result of being published.

But, while my novel awaits a read-through which I am increasingly afraid of engaging in, I'm working on other things.  I'm part-way through several short stories, and I'm being brave by actually submitting them.  Tackling this hurdle for short stories, which have less of 'me' invested in them, seems a good way of building up the courage to send off my novel, one day.

After a couple of successful letters to Reader's Digest magazine, I've hurled a few more letters off to various magazines, and one funny story, too. I'm waiting to hear if any of these get 'published' but even £10 here and £30 there make me feel more like a writer, and also top up the meagre maternity pay I'm on. 

I wonder what other outlets there are for writers wanting to hone their skills and make a few pounds at the same time?

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Deadline Grumps

Setting myself a deadline to finish editing some short stories has backfired a little. 

I'm sure there is nothing wrong with the principle, and that this is a good way to motivate myself.  But (excuses, excuses) the baby has been having an unsettled week.  She is not putting on weight as quickly as she was before (a subject which is endlessly fascinating only to a mother, poring over weight charts, and plotting centiles), so perhaps she has been feeling hungry.  Whatever the reason, she has needed a lot of cuddling.  When she wasn't being cuddled, she was crying.  Neither of these states was conducive to writing, or even being inwardly creative.

Things are back on an even keel now, although I'm wrung out. But other must-do things are jostling me (such as baking for school and playgroup fayres), and I've already watched two of my self-imposed deadlines skate by. Is there any way back? Perhaps next time I'll write the deadlines in pencil...!

Thursday, 10 May 2012

Getting arty

This week I'm trying out a few different things to keep the children busy while I write.  I say 'children', but really it's the 3 year old.  The older two are at school, and the baby isn't much trouble.  I've been inspired by the fabulous blog, The Imagination Tree - a lot of the ideas are ones I might have had or used myself at school (though not all - check out the black glitter playdough!) but I've never organised myself to do things regularly with my children at home.  (Bad mother).  So I've been inspired.  First we re-organised our creative stuff, as it was shoved in a box, and was so difficult to get out and put away that it was putting me off.

Then we had a go at using chalks on coloured paper.  The 3-year old is allergic to mark making, usually, but he was attracted by the novelty and colour, I think.

Apparently, this is a rocket, stars and moon.

The only problem is, I sat and watched him, and chatted to him, and enjoyed his no writing done there! It occupied him for about fifteen minutes and he might have stayed longer, but we had to go out.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Plan of Attack

I have already written two letters to magazines, which was my first, baby-step deadline.  Now I need to find ways to make time to get on with the other pieces of writing, as my free time 'while the kids sleep' is narrowed to a sliver at the moment.

I'm loving the blog 'The Imagination Tree', which is full of wonderful, creative ideas for children.  The 3 year old hasn't had as much access to this kind of thing as the others. That's partly because he's a genius at turning items from their intended use to something completely inappropriate. I'd like to rectify it, though, and give him more exploring opportunities, as well as improving his fine-motor skills ready for writing his name, eventually.

I'm going to try some activities with him to see if he will concentrate for long enough to give me a half hour to myself here and there. If not, then at least I will get to feel as though I've been a good Mum, and encouraged his creativity!

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Setting deadlines

In an aspirational move, I've written some deadlines into my diary for the next three weeks - beautifully staggered in the hope that I might meet them  - for completing and sending off three short stories to magazines or competitions.  I'm hoping that this will help me to be focused and to achieve what I want to in the next few weeks. Do deadlines work for most writers? I suspect that without them I could float on forever, polishing and tweaking and procrastinating.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Yawning in a good cause

Yesterday was a good day, and I ended up spending the evening rewriting my latest short story, and when that was done, I still had some oomph left (I know, how did that happen?) so I carried on with my Grandad's life story, and finished it, at last.

 'Finished' may be an exaggeration.  There are a few points to clarify with my family, and then, in an ideal world, I would like to publish it with so that I can have a 'real' copy for my sisters and parents and Grandma (that's Christmas sorted then - and it's only just May!). I'm not yet 100% sure that I'll handle the challenges of formatting it, and fiddling with it, though. 

But, five years after he died, it's as complete as I can make it at this second in time.  Big fat tick on my to-do list, I think.  Does it matter that I didn't finish until 1am, and then the baby woke at 3.15, and stayed up until nearly 5am? Apparently not.  I'm existing on adrenaline today, and will catch up on sleep tonight. If I could make it a habit, just think what I could achieve in writing...but I'm afraid I'd be a pretty unpleasant Mum.

Monday, 30 April 2012


For my birthday I jumped on the e-reader bandwagon and bought a Kindle Touch.  I was quite excited when it arrived - a new gadget to play with is always fun - and it turned out to be very easy to set up. 

 I love books, and always have.  I feel a great sense of loyalty to real, printed books, and have been sceptical about having an e-reader. I was attracted, though, by the idea of not having to store books I know I won't revisit, and by the ability to access self-published books, whether mediocre or not. (I'm told you can learn a lot from a badly written book, too).

So I held my shiny new Kindle in my hands, and deliberated on what to buy. With my first ever wage from a Saturday job, I bought two books, which I still have and treasure - a dictionary and Birdsong, which I had coveted for months. (If only I had known what a beautiful book Birdsong was, it would have only increased my anticipation). In the end I bought a famous book I've never had the slightest inclination to read before, which was only 49p.  And then I began.

And instantly fell out of love with my Kindle. For all the times I'd worried I'd miss the physicality of a real book, I hadn't fully appreciated what I would miss until it wasn't there.

I missed seeing the cover. I missed hefting it in my hands, and feeling how slim or thick it was. I missed being able to savour the moment before you begin, when you read the blurb, and drink in the individuality of the thing. (Every book has its own identity.  Even different editions of the same book 'feel' different. But I hadn't realised that without a hands-on experience, I wouldn't be able to discern any identity. It was like trying to strike up a relationship with a robot). I tried fiddling with the font size, but it messed up my sense of the page.  I felt cramped trying to read, as if I was being forced to take in a panorama by peering through a letterbox. I hadn't realised before how much of my reading is not word by word, or even sentence by sentence, but is page by page - how I like finding my way through paragraphs I can see, and being able to chart my own progress across a two page spread, instead of hopping disfluently across a fragment of a page. And you can't tell how far through the book you are. Or flick back to check on a fact you didn't take in as well as you ought, finding your way through knowing what the page looked like, and which side the information was on.

I was sorely disappointed.  I mentioned it to two friends on the school playground as we waited for our children, and one, a convert to the e-reader, suggested that I read a familiar book first, and give the one I had bought a miss, for now.  It seemed like a helpful suggestion, to lessen the unfamiliarity of the medium, so I'm now reading Pride and Prejudice.

It is better than my first experience. It isn't, somehow, as satisfying as holding a book (give it a bit longer). I especially dislike the way that words which ought to be italicised are capitalised instead - it feels like being shouted at. Do all e-books do this? And the proof-reading hasn't been done as well as you usually find in printed books. But it's easy on the eye, and, as my converted friend says, no-one will ever know if I'm reading trash.

I'm going to withold my judgement for now.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Selling Out

I'm working on a short story at the moment, and squirming.  I'm aiming it at a particular audience, which means I'm having to adjust the way I would naturally write it, and this goes against so much advice about being true to your voice, and writing what you want, not for a market.

But money doesn't grow on trees, and I'm trying to establish myself as a writer.  This is a route to publication that I'm keen to explore.  And it takes a certain amount of skill to write for a particular audience, surely?  Copy-writers, for instance, get on and write what they need to to bring the pennies in, and are just as skilled with words and what they do as the next writer.

This is all theoretical.  Writing short stories is pretty tricky stuff, and getting published just as tricky.  Getting a story that's interesting - or even gripping! - into such a tight form is an art in itself.  I'm nowhere near getting it right, but I'll be nearer if I can keep writing them, and keep sending them out during this time when I can't focus on my novel the way I'd like to.

And that's the other thing, I suppose.  I love working on my novel.  I get lost doing it.  On the other hand, I'm very conscious of myself as I write short stories, trying to manipulate my words and the story. (Not a bad skill to hone).  I'm not as happy with what I'm producing.

So am I doing the right thing, or not?

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Saying is believing

Friday felt like a good day. I had a self-satisfied feeling at the end of the day, which I thought was a vague, fuzzy sense of well-being following a day when I had achieved a few ticks on my to-do list. It took me an hour or more of smugness before I recognised it was mostly down to one item on my list: at last, two weeks past my self-imposed deadline, I had posted off a submission. I wasn't sure how good it was; I chided myself for hoping too much...but! I had kept the promise to myself.

And it makes me feel like a writer, even though I am typing this post one-handed with a small, warm baby snoring against my chest. I am a writer, I am a writer....

Monday, 16 April 2012

Singing the praises of touch-typing

When I was eighteen, and dragging my heels about going to University, I ended up with glandular fever (courtesy of a boy who broke my heart).  I had a year at home with my Mum and Dad, being ill and recovering, and living on waitress wages and benefits.

During that strange, fallow time, Mum told me I was going to go to night school.  Paralysed, at the time, by socialising, I resisted as long as I could, but she was determined and persuasive. So off I went to touch-typing classes, and Mum dug out some leviathon of a type-writer from the dusty back of her wardrobe. It had perfectly circular and quite delicious keys, a decisive return action and reassuringly loud clacks when used. I practised and practised on Mum's dinosaur ('the quick brown fox...') as well as on the smug electric models at class.  I was brave enough to talk to a couple of the other students, and gained confidence that helped propel me towards University. But most importantly, I came away able to touch-type.

 This class isn't offered by our adult education department anymore.  But I feel grateful to my Mum every time I watch someone else tapping away with two fingers, or when I'm typing up teaching plans at top speed. But most of all I appreciate it when I'm writing, and my fingers fly nearly as fast as my thoughts.  The letters appear onscreen with accuracy that still amazes me, requiring no conscious thought now; and, even more astoundingly, my fingers correct typos and stumbles before my brain fully registers they have been made. I think this is a skill I appreicate having gained more than any other in my life (barring the obvious early skills such as reading and making friends); perhaps even more than driving. Why don't we teach every child to type in this digital age?

It's never too late.  I'd highly recommend learning to every aspiring writer out there, even if you write with pen and paper first.

Murdering my darlings

Today an hour's session of writing turned into two, the way it does when you become absorbed.  I worked and worked on the story I'm trying to submit; first getting rid of kinks and weaknesses, then polishing the language, and finally I had to cut until it hurt to fit the word count guidelines.

As before when editing short stories, I felt overwhelmed by the time it took to do that for a little scrap of 1, 200 words; how on earth am I going to thoroughly edit and cut my enormous manuscript?

I've now printed the story off to read tomorrow, in case the drastic cutting has led to any unsightly amputations of thought or muddles of plot.  After that, I must send it as it is, or miss my self-imposed deadline just to keep tweaking; and then I have another story to give the same treatment to.

Trying to keep positive and have taped the mouth of the inner critic so I can only hear her mumbling...

Wednesday, 11 April 2012


I felt like a 'proper' writer two evenings ago.  The baby went to sleep like a ...well, like a baby, so I decided to tweak the ghost story I was talking about in my last post. Then I looked up submission guidelines for a couple of the women's mags that carry fiction, and, feeling inspired, began to sketch out a new short story.

A couple of hours later, and one brief doze in front of the laptop, it was complete, and when I read the rough draft yesterday, I can see the potential in it.  I'm just struggling to find time to keep going while my motivation is high. 

And I'm still struggling to keep my eyes open. 

Thursday, 5 April 2012


I just returned to the ghost story that was shortlisted in a writing magazine's competition.  I worked so hard on that, and felt quite proud of it, which is why I'd pencilled into my diary that I needed to send it to a magazine this weekend for consideration for Hallowe'en issues.

But what do I find when I re-read it? That it's pretentious, and all the careful crafting that went into it just looks try-hard-y instead of clever. There seem to be too many characters. It jolts along.

I can't really describe how disappointed I am.  Is it worth re-working and sending anyway? I don't know. It doesn't seem like typical magazine fare. But it says on my whiteboard of advice that I need to keep sending work out.  I suppose I should bite the bullet and feel the fear and all those other cliches. 

But the discouragement is deadening.

Friday, 30 March 2012

best laid plans

 My life is on hold at the moment: my writing life very much so.  Or, rather, I'm on holiday, enjoying a precious, never to be repeated time. And typing one handed while cradling my five week old. I look a mess, I'm still overweight, my book is unedited on the coffee table, the laundry threatens to overwhelm me and the pinnacle of my achievement day by day is to have fed everyone and listened to the five year old read. I'm not being hard on myself about this. It will be over all too soon, and I'd rather be hampered from writing by a baby than by the housework!

Just read The Interpretation of Murder, and found myself analysing what kept me reading, and how it was all orchestrated. This was just about achievable while feeding the baby, but it did take me the unprecedented time of nearly a week...

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Cheat's guide to writing when life is in the way

As an unpublished writer just stepping out on the writing pathway, having a newborn baby is a bit of a barrier to my productivity. How do you keep writing when you have a family? If anyone has any great tips on keeping the flow going, please share them...These first few weeks are definitely going to be the hardest, so here are a few ideas I've had for convincing myself and those around me that I am still writing, honestly, even while I'm slumped on the sofa, breast-feeding - again.

1. Keep a journal of your baby's development. 
It's still writing, right? And it keeps your hand in.

2. Read.  Every good writer is first a good reader, and even baby magazines can be passed off as research for when you get round to pitching some parenting articles to them.

3. Daydream. Stare out of the window. You never know, the sleep deprivation might add a random element that sparks new, weird and wonderful ideas.

4. Find le mot juste.  Enforced sitting for long periods of time can lend itself to some writing or word exercises.  While you're sitting, your mind can be doing anything you like.

5. Keep your notebook of ideas going.  It only takes a couple of moments to scribble a phrase, or idea or observation down.  One day soon, you'll be able to polish one of those ideas into something worthwhile.

6. Exploit the new people you'll meet through your new baby as sources of ideas for characters.  Midwives, health visitors, other'll be thrown together with all sorts of people you might not normally have met - don't waste it!

7. Enjoy a writing magazine (or two). Hopefully you'll be inspired, or learn something new. At least it will keep you partially focused on your long term goals, even if you're taking a brief baby break right now.

8. Look for the magic in the everyday.  It's easy to overlook things, especially when you're swamped by the laundry mountain, or have burnt the dinner (again). But everything is material, and if you look at a situation from the right angle, or squint just a tiny bit, you might find something special going on in your life. You only get to be a new mother a few times in life.  Enjoy it and treasure it up to use.

9. Watch daytime TV.  And evening TV. And middle of the night TV. You never know what person or situation on a television programme might just trigger an idea or advance a plotline or subplot in a project you have begun. And you'll soon be so sick of television shows that when your baby starts sleeping through, and you've begun to get your life back, you'll be glad to switch it off, and spend the time writing instead.

10. Call yourself a writer.  It takes guts, this one, if you're unpublished (and perhaps if you're not). Make your commitment clear to yourself though - you are more likely to stick with it and succeed if you have a clear self-image of yourself as a writer.

I'm off to take my own  advice now...with a pinch of salt, of course.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

A whole load of trouble...

It is a blessing, having a new baby. She might cry so loudly that environmental health would slap a warning on her, but you can't overlook the fact that you'd rather that than have a sick, silent baby.  You have to be grateful (through gritted teeth) for a healthy, loud newborn.

But I'm struggling with the laundry mountain.  My other half is at home on paternity leave, and he likes doing the laundry. Or at least, he will put it in the machine and turn it on.  He is quite happy to hang it on the line, after a day or two, and even gets irritable if someone else does it, 'wrong'. It's just a shame that that's as far as he'll go.  When it comes to folding it into the basket and putting it away in the right person's wardrobe, that's my department, apparently.  And even that is too much for me, right now.

And the laundry has always been the sort of thing you mustn't take your eyes off.  If you turn your back on the laundry pile, or blink, even, you look back and it's doubled or tripled in size. And now there's a newborn....

I'd forgotten (blissful ignorance!) how much washing a baby generates. It's not just the leaky nappies doing their worst to vests, or the 'posseting' (vomiting to you and me) all over outfits you've just changed her into.  It's the way she waits till you're changing her nappy, and have lifted her bottom in the air, and then wees, so that the urine runs back over her tummy and onto her clothes. It's the way she jerks back when she possets in order to aim the sick away from her muslin and onto your fresh-on outfit.  When you've changed her two or three times a day, and yourself as well, you're well on the way to a full washing basket every day.

Sometimes I think it will defeat me.  The laundry will be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel's spine. (And hurray for washing machines and tumble dryers; and respect for the great-grandparents who raised seventeen children without modern technology).

But there is something worse; something to make me appreciate my lot.  I went to takea dark load out of the machine this week, and out came an unrecognisable grey item. On closer investigation I was able to identify it as a pair of leggings. Next came the three year old's jumper, covered in snow. I pulled more out of the machine; everything was dull and covered in something white.  I thought at first that a rogue tissue bent on mischief had sneaked into the machine, but this was devastation on a catastrophic scale.  Whatever had happened was far worse than a tissue's suicide mission. 

At last, out came the culprit; a disposable nappy.  I'm blaming the three year old for its appearance in the laundry pile, but I was the one who put it in the machine.  The gel crystals had burst everywhere; I've never seen anything like it.  They lay in every crevice of the drum, and freckled and dusted every item of clothing.  The man of the house and I shook the laundry out, and took the machine and its filter apart to try to clean it.  It took hours.  And the clothes still look off-colour.

Suddenly a normal pile of washing (or four) doesn't seem such a chore, after all.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Positive thinking

It's a busy time in our household.  The two year old turned three a couple of days ago, and I actually was showered and dressed by 8am on the day in question.  The six year old turns seven next week, so I have to make sure I'm on the ball for that, too.

It's so hard to do anything but feed, and wind and snatch a shower or a nap between.  I had forgotten so much: how many nappies a newborn can generate. How much washing she can create. How you stare at her face, thinking you'll remember it like this forever, and before you know it, it's overlaid by an older child's face, and you can't quite untangle the two. How it's possible to fall asleep in the most incredible positions, including upright while feeding, and even while writing a note to yourself that no longer makes any sense when you jerk awake and try to read it.  How my husband can pull out all the stops and surprise me by shouldering responsibilities he's avoided for nearly seven years, and do it well.

I haven't begun to read my novel yet, nor do anything new - what a good job I did a little while I was waiting. My Grandad's book, which I felt so glad to be working on again, is languishing, uncared for, on my laptop once more.  But I am managing to keep up with the writing magazines I subscribe to, and I know one day I'll have some time to myself again - surely? - and if I keep my dreams in the front of my mind, and the top of my 'wish I had time to do' list, I know I'll be able to tackle them again soon.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

My latest creation

Little Chick-pea arrived on the 22nd February - a baby sister for the other three to dote on. Turns out I can create something even more perfect than I can envisage.  She is a delightful little chubster - 8lb 6 and a half oz - and we are all in love, as we should be.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Project hopping

Half-term is over, and I'm on maternity leave, playing the waiting game.  What a gorgeous amount of time to spend on writing projects to pass the time....but of course not.  The two-year old is at home, and finding it risible that I suggested he amuse himself, even for half an hour. (He's helping me type now, with sticky fingers on my laptop keys).

Fortunately, in trying to keep a little writing routine going as much as possible -for as long as I can - I have things that I can tackle in ten minute slots. I dug out my Grandad's life-story this week; I had typed it up a year or more ago, but it needs lots of footnotes.  One day I hope to use a POD service so I can give my sisters and Dad a copy.  It's a very personal project, which I'm trying to edit and interfere with as little as possible - it's about Grandad, not my writing, and I only wish I'd asked him to write it earlier, as he might have got further along before he died. It's a completely different project, and the change is good. It also has intriguing little stories in that I would love to use sometime; he was a dispatch rider in the Royal Signals during WW2, and had a fascinating wealth of life experience by the time he was in his early twenties. It turns out that this project, at a very uncreative point, fits well into ten minute slots.

In direct contrast, my next book-to-be is still at the planning and plotting stage, and I can pour gallons of creativity over it to help it to flare into life.  Yet it also fits into short sessions. 

There's a definite benefit to having a range of projects, of wildly different kinds, on the go at the same time.  I wonder if you work like this, and if it suits you?