Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Quick update, quick writing sessions...

My plan to write today was blown to smithereens by the baby who refused to sleep while her siblings and I were doing an hour's writing (the problem with having a teacher-mother is that strike days aren't non-stop fun. The five year-old had to go to school and we agreed we'd work for the morning, too, so he didn't feel so bad). In the end, I cobbled together about twenty minutes, and wrote 198 words, most of which will be rubbish when I look at them tomorrow.

I won't feel bad about it.

At least I wrote! At least I'm writing nearly every day. I'm loving having plotted a bit more this time, as I find it easier to dip in and out. It's much easier to write a scene when you know exactly where you're going. However, I'm reserving judgment on whether this level of plotting is better than winging it until I finish the first draft and see if the overall effect is a bit patchwork.

Chapter 2 is under my belt, though, and I'm so excited each time I sit down to write. This is what writing is all about. Success is secondary when you love something as much as this....but I still want to get better at it.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Handling Jealousy

My sister has never been interested in being a writer. She's a very creative person - she likes to make her own cards, which are beautiful, and has begun to make felt accessories since she's moved to the Channel Islands for a few years, and given up teaching.

She's one of the cleverest people I know. Her mind is like a computer. If you need to remember an event from childhood, or figure out how to piece together where a certain relative fits into the family, or are trying to work out why a name you just heard is familiar, you phone my sister. And she'll know.

A couple of weeks ago she told me she was entering a writing competition to win some airline tickets. The competition means she has to write a children's story, so she's been sending them to me to try out on my children (who love to be guinea-pigs, and don't pull their punches when it comes to critiquing, either). I was able to pass on lots of advice, and was quite amazed myself at how much I know now, and how much of that I've learnt in the last three years. I've been able to help with editing.

But I was really blown away by one of her ideas, which was original and intriguing and made an interactive leap that could be used by the competition organisers if they wished to promote their organisation in that way. I had a moment of shock when she mentioned it, because it was so innovative that I just know I couldn't have come up with it. And that was when I thought to myself, "What if she wins? Will I be glad, or will I feel like she's swooped in and stolen, with ease, something that is mine? I'm the One in the family who wants to write, not her!"

It surprised me that I could think in such a childish and selfish way. Since then she's sent me three stories to look at, and I've realised that I have no idea if they have been well enough executed to stand a chance. As with all competitions, you're never one hundred per cent sure what judges will like or look for. But I'm facing the fact that she's entering (fearless sister of mine!) and so there's a chance she will win. And that I have to be ready to handle that, and not take it personally if she becomes successful so easily.

And I must be more mature than I think, because I really don't want her to feel rejected. And I really, really want her to win those tickets and come to visit me...but for now I need to follow in her footsteps and keep being brave about trying, and keep taking the time to write.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Disappointing reads

I imagine it won't be a surprise if I confess that I'm a compulsive reader. After all, isn't it a prerequisite for the writer?

In the last year, I've joined a book club, which is great fun, although I do have a guilty secret - I really do go for the books, not the wine and company. They're the cherry on the cake -but it's the books I'm addicted to. There's something wickedly indulgent about 'having' to read a book for this pseudo-intellectual pastime called 'book club'. My mother is surprisingly supportive about babysitting while I go out - I think she's under the impression that book club is very worthy and must be improving my mind. I haven't mentioned the wine to her - Old Methodism runs in her veins.

Anyway, this month's book is The Behaviour of Moths, and I had a stack of hand-me-down books from my sister-in-law that I thought I might tackle first. And then something awful happened. It skewed my whole perspective; there was cosmic misalignment. Let me tell you about it.

I read the first book(not something I would have picked up in a shop, but it had won an award, for goodness' sake!) and it was an all right story with a quirky voice, which ran on a bit too long and left me feeling a bit 'meh'. (I know. I'm meant to love words, and I just described something as 'meh'. But I quite like the word 'meh'. I'm leaving it there, anyway!)

I tackled the next book with enthusiasm, ready for a change. It was a real chick-lit book, the kind I expected to be enjoyable, at least. It wasn't. The protaganist was a shallow, selfish drama-queen. I didn't understand  her motivations, and, worse, I didn't like her. But I held on (I hate to leave a book unfinished - I really am compulsive) hoping there'd be an ending that would make it all worthwhile. To my disgust, it ended with a whimper - an inconclusive conclusion that left me feeling conned. The only reason I'd held on was to see how things ended, and the author finished in the laziest way. I felt cheated, and picked up the next in the pile.

This one was women's fiction, but the cover looked more serious, and the blurb sounded OK. Again, I wouldn't have chosen it in a shop, but who looks a gift book between the covers? Well, I did, of course. I read the whole blinkin' thing from page 1 to page I-don't-care-anymore. It was the dullest, most uninspiring book I've ever read, filled with characters I'd have liked to drown. If you asked me, "So, what happened in this book?" I don't know. Perhaps that it was about two women, facing decisions and thinking about them. Sounds boring? It was. Again, one of them didn't even come to a conclusion, and the other one did, but it was so morally questionable I took a real dislike to her.

You might be thinking how judgmental I am, but honestly, it wasn't me, it was the books! I've never read such a run of duds. And that's the scary thing. Half way through that last one, I realised that I was dreading picking it up. I realised that the last few weeks of reading felt like I'd wasted hours of my life. I saw for the first time how easy it would be to hate reading, or to not see the point. If I hadn't had nearly 40 years of love to succour me, I might've given up on reading after this experience. How awful is that?

Being the person I am, I put my writer hat on and tried to think about why these books didn't work for me, so that I could learn from them. It made me feel better, that the time wasn't entirely wasted.

Then, with my faith in books battered but not destroyed, I turned to The Behaviour of Moths. After all, I had to read it, and before Wednesday. If it turned out to be hard labour like the last one, I'd better start sooner rather than later.

And my faith has been restored. It's a triumph of a story, utterly believable, haunting, dark and yet somehow not too heavy. I was captivated and devoured it in a couple of days. Thank goodness for book club. It just goes to show the power that writers wield - not just to offer pleasure and enjoyment to fans, but to put people off reading with a bodged effort (and the books I've mentioned above were all traditionally published). We owe it to our readers to put in our best work, to create likeable, memorable characters, gripping, believable plots that are well paced, and writing that zings on the page. When I've cracked it, I'll let you know...

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Short story fail

Wow, the last few weeks have been intense. Family stuff has taken over - I'm definitely missing having deadlines like last year. We've had two funerals and five birthdays in the last six weeks...despite which I have managed to do some work on my new novel.

But I've been feeling seriously discouraged. My latest competition offering, which I was very proud of, didn't even make the short list. I could taste the disappointment; I haven't been able to read the winning entry yet.  How childish is that? I need to take rejection on the chin, but I've felt more like abandoning my dreams than ever before...yet I know I'm tired, spread thin, and such a lot has been going on in my life that this feeling of pointlessness isn't to be trusted. I know I'll bounce back sometime, and there's no point bouncing back in a year's time, having wasted twelve months. I need to keep working, keep writing, and remembering to suck the joy from the creation, regardless of outcome.

And today I received a cheque in the mail for a letter that's been accepted in a's not the same, but it was a small encouragement, and it's nice to have some pocket money, too. (I'm just trying to ignore that little voice that whispers, Know your limits!)