Thursday, 7 August 2014

There's been a lot of catching up lately.

Family visiting us, friends who live far away stopping by.

Then my best friend, Claire, got married just this weekend (she's been preparing since she was 4 years old; the rest of us since Andrew proposed back in Feb 2013). It was a lovely day. Romantic, fun, exhausting, happy. Here we are.

 


A few days later I attended a funeral. My Aunt Audrey, who was my Dad's sister, died last week. She was the youngest of three. My Dad and his other sister, my Aunt Edith, have already passed. So Audrey was the last of those Stenson children, and in that way the last close link to my Dad. But I'd only seen her occasionally over the last ten years or so, and usually at other funerals unfortunately. Isn't that the way? You see people at funerals and vow to meet again soon at a less sad occasion. We didn't manage to.

My Dad died when I was 16. When I was just getting to know him, or appreciate him. The last time I saw him we were talking about music I think (we didn't have the same taste then, but there'd be some cross-over now) and he told me he was a mod in the 1960s. This was possibly the most exciting thing I had ever heard. He then went upstairs and rooted around his wardrobe, coming back down with a mint and cream paisley shirt he'd worn in the 70s. It was 1997 and I was all about flares and collared shirts and long beads and anything alternative - earning me two nicknames at school: 'Indie Girl' from the cool 6th-formers in the years above me, and 'Sweaty Betty' from the townies in my year group. I WAS Indie Girl. And after that I was extra-original-authentic Indie Girl with my mint and cream paisley shirt.


It always felt weird for me around my Aunts and my Grandma after Dad died. Because I knew I was their last link to him, and it made me feel uncomfortable, and odd, and scared in a way. I'm not sure why. Pressure, maybe. No one did anything wrong, just the circumstances. Just the way it felt back then. Overwhelming.  

There are just a few Stensons I know now, pretty much just Edith and Audrey's children, my older cousins. But I can count on one hand how many times I've seen them in the past ten years. Despite this I feel a sense of unity of when I do, and I hang on to them a little tighter when we hug, maybe because - it's back to links - they are my only physical link to Dad, their Uncle.

At the funeral I got to meet one of my Dad's younger cousins for the first time and I asked him for any stories, any memories of Dad from when he was younger. He remembered my Dad being tall with a deep and booming voice. It was enough to bring a little physicality to memories that can become still over time.

Some photos of photos, so not great quality. Here I am with my Aunt Audrey. It's 1984, I'm about 3 years old.



And here's my Dad, in the South of France with his girlfriend (not my Mum) sometime in the late 50s, or early 60s. He's around the age he was when his cousin remembered him as tall, with a deep booming voice. (Perfect for singing Elvis covers, which he did when I was a teenager, in a band with his friends. Sooo embarrassing, I thought. Not now.)





Friends, a wedding, families and memories. A week of connections, really.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Connecting Writers: The Writing Process Blog Tour


Thank you Rachel Fenton for nominating me to be part of this blog tour where writers talk about their writing process.

Here I am answering a few questions.



What am I working on?

Today: my novel

Few days ago: adapting a short piece of writing into a poem

The week ahead: has to be novel, novel, novel. A little short storying.




How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Tricky question! I generally don't write in a particular genre. But I’m not a genre snob (hate them), I just don’t happen to write in one. But people do ask what genre my work is and I answer with that slippery useless term ‘contemporary fiction’, then wince at myself. So I don’t know how it differs, I just write what I like writing. My novel is half written in lists, so maybe that makes it different. I’m not the first to do that, of course. You might say my short stories are literary fiction but only because of certain characteristics, mostly that they’re not always conventional stories. Not because of loftiness, or better-than-ness, just because that’s what I happen to write.



Why do I write what I do?

I write short stories because … gawd maybe I’m not cut out for this. I don’t know. Okay I’ll just go with it. I like short bursts of stuff. I like jigsaws. I like questions. I like the way people talk. I like it when people talk about nothing (they’re not).



I’m writing my novel because ... it's a challenge, a bigger jigsaw, I found a character I like, am interested in, find funny, and I want to write her story. I want to get it published, I want other people to read it. This all sounds very basic doesn’t it? But then I suppose it is.



How does my writing process work?

On a practical level, I set aside one day a week for writing, keeping that day clear of any plans. On top of that I write when I can between going to work and living the other parts of my life with my boyfriend and friends. That one day each week is essential and I work hard to protect it. But there must also be bits of writing going on in some of the other days or there’s too much pressure on that one day to be perfect. Often I'll be tired and I never do as much as I think I could have done.



I’m a mix of being disciplined and very easily distracted. Part of one of my jobs involves mentoring university students with huge workloads so I try to take my own advice. I look at deadlines I want to meet (even for publications and prizes these are all self-imposed, I’m never contracted to write) and see what time I have. I breakdown the time into chunks - weeks, days, hours, depends - and then I do it. Not always as easy as it sounds. The internet gets shut off if I have to (yeah, I have to) and I take myself out of the house usually, even if there’s just me in, for an hour or two.   



I write by hand for a bit, I type for a bit, I look into space a lot. I earwig. I think about what I’m cooking for tea. I think about crisps. I eat some crisps. I look at the time and wish I had more. I reassure myself. I daydream about a book deal. I write a bit more.



It’s easy to think I should be somewhere else by now. I've noticed lately that a lot of the people I know who have chosen a similar path to me (day job to pay the bills, make stuff in their spare time) are feeling downhearted because they haven’t got to where they want to be, or think they should be yet. I’m never far away from feeling like that, but when I do I pull myself around, because you know – I chose this, and it’s what I want. 

And I think it’s important to measure yourself only on what you do, what you’re making, producing, not where you think you ought to be, success-wise.

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Thanks, Rachel, for the baton.


I’m nominating ... the first person who comments and says they'd like to take the baton! If you do, you need to answer the same questions I have and then pass it on to another blogging writer. 
 

Thursday, 29 May 2014

right so

I know I've been quiet lately - it's been a mix of being busy and ... ok maybe it's not a mix, I've just been busy. I come here and think 'need to write a blog but I'll wait cos I'll have something better to say in a few days...' Time doesn't come, so what this is is a quick scawl, post entering The Bridport Novel Award and pre getting me tea ready.

So that's what I've just been doing, writing and getting my novel in progress ready for Bridport. It is a work in progress so I'll be working on it even while it's away seeing if it's good enough for the longlist.

I've been to the Dales with my writing group, that was fab, and I've been being (lovely language today) a dedicated Maid Of Honour for my friend's wedding (actually not til August, but organising a Hen Night is like a project in itself, a high pressured but exciting one).

When I'm back from Henning it's full guns on the novel.

Other stuff... hm, didn't get anywhere in all the comps I really hoped I'd get somewhere in these last few months - Mslexia, Bath, the BBC... Onwards yeah yeah.

The novel's the thing.


Sunday, 4 May 2014

Having a go at this

This year, for the first time, the Bridport Prize organisers are awarding a prize to a novelist - and a first time novelist to boot. I am one of those! I reckon.

I've been building (slowly, yes) a picture, a world, a person - maybe that's not the right order - but it's been building for a while and I'm going to build it faster and enter it into the Bridport Prize for a novel on or before May 31st.

What's really great about this prize is that it's a supported one so it includes mentoring and guidance from The Literacy Consultancy, as well as possible representation from agents A M Heath. It can be awarded to  to a completed or an uncompleted novel. The dates and time frame for the longlist and shortlist are given, so you know what's expected and when.

And if I don't get listed I will have built a bit faster. The guidelines are here.

I have to have 5000 words ready to submit on May 31st. If I'm longlisted a further 10,000 will be required by the end of July. I almost have those 5000 words ready, and plenty notes for the next few thousand. The plan is to just keep writing, which is an ok plan I think.

I know this character, I know some of the things she'll do. Mostly I like writing her, so with focus I reckon I can do this.

Will do updates! 

Thursday, 10 April 2014

and the winner is...(a photo story)

Thanks to everyone who entered the competition to win Karen Jones' book, Upside-down Jesus and other stories.

I said I'd post photos of me drawing names out the 'hat' and I said it would be amazing. That might not be true. But I did it, just now and in public. Here you go.

I'm in a well known coffee shop chain. I'd rather not reveal which one.



And so I begin the process of selecting a winner. Step one, page torn out of my cliched writer's notebook (MOLESKINE)



Rippety rip


Writey writey


I had the exact amount of pieces of paper I needed for names! Things like this make me glad, like the universe is saying EVERYTHING IS GOING WELL


Now try to look normal again.


Foldy foldy


This is not a hat.


Woop - WELL DONE...


... JEN HARVEY!  



So yes, well done, Jen. Karen will post your prize out to you, so it's probably easiest for you to send Karen a DM via Twitter with your postal address.

Thank you again to everyone who supported this endeavour, and sorry you couldn't all win a copy. If you'd like to buy Upside-down Jesus and other stories it's available on lulu and Amazon.

I'm sure you all feel like winners though, just for seeing my riveting photo story. Yes. 

Monday, 31 March 2014

Karen Jones writes a letter to herself

I'm delighted to welcome Karen Jones to the blog, here to celebrate the launch of her first collection, Upside Down Jesus and other stories. These stories have made it to the top in loads of big-name big-deal writing prizes - the title itself is from a Mslexia prize winner. (Tracy Chevalier loved it). 

I asked Karen if she'd like to write a letter to her younger self, just like Vanessa Gebbie, Kerry Hudson and Andrew David Barker have done for us in the past. You're in for a treat. A double treat, in fact - because there's a copy of Upside Down Jesus and other stories for one lucky reader - all you have to do is leave a comment on this post and your name will go into a hat (I'll take photos, it'll be amazing) and if I pick you Karen will mail the book out your way. 

Over to Karen now, writing to Karen then.




A letter to me in 2001

Hello You,

It’s 2001 and for some reason your fashion choice for hair and clothes is ‘looks like she’s from the future or Star Trek’. There you are, in a holiday apartment in Blackpool with the two most important people in your life, and in a way it’s thanks to them that you’ll start to take the idea of writing more seriously. You’re watching Cartoon Network because it’s a British seaside family summer holiday, so the wind and rain is keeping you indoors. That advert between cartoons for the writing course, cleverly placed to attract all those stay-at-home-feeling-slightly-trapped mums like you, it’ll catch your attention.
          
          You’ve already written a novel – and I hate to be the one to tell you this, but it’s truly awful. It’s possibly the worst novel ever written. If anyone ever wants to give an example of how not to write a novel, of why all tell and no show is so relentlessly dull, they could use your first novel as a perfect example – but you’ve never had the courage to let anyone see your work. You think this course might be the thing to help, to give you a push, to give you confidence. (Incidentally, that there was ‘the rule of three’. You haven’t learnt about that yet but when you do it will become something of a feature in your writing – as will these pesky dashes.)

           Your youngest son will start school next year, you don’t work since becoming Mum’s carer after she had the stroke in 1991, so you know you’ll have the time to dedicate to the course, the time to really make a go of this writing thing. When you get back from holiday you’ll contact the course organisers. You’ll have to send samples of your writing so they can decide if you have any talent worth nurturing. Later you’ll realise that this is nothing more than an exercise in massaging your ego – they’re not going to turn away anyone who’s willing to pay for the course. They’ll accept you, praise your writing abilities, you’ll believe them.

The course will turn out to be a bit of a letdown and your tutor’s comments are often unhelpful and vague but it will give you that confidence and willingness to share your work.  In 2002 you’ll send out a couple of stories to writing competitions. You’ll win one and come third in the other earning £750 from your first two efforts. Sounds great, eh? Ah, well, not so great. You see, after these two immediate successes, you’ll think that’s it, you’ve done it – you’re a writer now. The crushing blow of rejection is yet to come.

And there will be rejections – a lot of rejections – but you’ll be surprised at how quickly they stop hurting (well, okay, the pain will lessen and having a self-pitying tantrum on the living room floor will eventually become a thing of the past).

You’ll join a fantastic creative writing site run by the BBC called Get Writing and this is where you will really start to learn, by reading and reviewing other people’s stories, by paying heed to their reviews and by reading the free advice posted by published writers and creative writing tutors. You’ll also discover that the internet is a terrifying place and that people are often not what they seem or claim to be. The internet will remain a terrifying but incredibly useful place.

When the BBC closes the site down you’ll move to another, More Writing, and there you’ll join a small critiquing group. This is where your writing will move to a different level. These seven or eight writers will rip apart every aspect of your stories, will catch every error, home in on every detail. By then you will have the confidence to do the same for them. With their help you will garner more success, winning or being placed in competitions, gathering publishing credits in places like Mslexia, The New Writer, Writers Forum and Flash 500.

You’ll start to meet up with your writing group once or twice a year at a cottage in the Yorkshire Dales for writing weekends. You’re reading this and thinking, “Spend a weekend in a cottage with people I’ve never met before? Are you mental?” Don’t panic, thankfully they’ll all turn out to be just as they are online – clever, funny, helpful and encouraging. Each time you meet you’ll come home with a story that has been so improved by their critiques, it will go on to be published or win a competition. You’ll also have a stinking hangover, have gained 3lbs of mainly cake-based fat and have a hankering to play Articulate every night after dinner.

Between 2004 and 2008, you’ll write another novel and it will be better than that first effort because now you’ll actually know how to plan, how to create interesting characters and give those characters authentic dialogue. You’ll still stint on description – that hasn’t changed here in 2014 – but you won’t bore the backside off people with tell, tell, tell any more. That novel won’t see the light of day either. At heart you’ll always feel that you’re a short story writer and this is where you will continue to have success. Don’t beat yourself up about mainly writing short stories – it’s okay. An idea will be what it’s supposed to be, and if it’s supposed to be micro or flash or short or long, just let it end when it should. And, believe it or not, you’ll even write poetry now and then. What’s even more unbelievable is that it’ll get published. No, I’m not joking.

In 2014 you’ll decide to gather some of your favourite stories into an anthology and publish them. Like many people, your attitude to self-publishing has changed but you’ll still be apprehensive. Don’t worry – it’ll all go okay and people will be very supportive.

Oh, and you’ll also be about half way through writing another thing – a long thing – a thing you refuse to call a novel in case the word scares it away.

You’ll never be a millionaire, you’ll probably never even make a proper wage from writing, but you will love it and you will get better at it and you will always find time to do it, no matter how many other things are deemed more important.


Remember that when those first rejections hit the doormat. When those envelopes scrawled with your own handwriting tell you all you need to know before you even tear open the flap. When you read competition winning stories and think, “What? Seriously? This won?” Remember that you do this because you love it and because you can. That’s all that matters in the end. Though money is always lovely.

With love,



Me. x






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Thanks so much for sharing your journey to here with us, Karen. I know the anthology is already selling well - may it continue to - and may your 'thing' get its other half writ soon.

Oh and I love how the Karen from now is looking up at the Karen from Star Trek like she's about to get beamed-up.

So, to WIN a copy of Upside-down Jesus and other stories, all you have to do is:

- comment on the end of this post
- or retweet the daily tweet I'll do on Twitter saying something like "RT this to be put into the draw to win Upside-Down Jesus.." only (maybe) more well written
- do either of these (or both!*) before 5pm next Monday (6th April) and you'll go into the hat 


*each person will only go into the draw once, but we appreciate all your comments, RTs and sharing of information.



About the collection:

A child struggles to overcome her fear of the upside-down Jesus, a man dons his 'egg-stealing coat' once a week, a teenager becomes obsessed with the colour purple, an old man keeps his wife closer than others would like, a psychiatrist considers the folly of his patients, and a little girl watches her neighbour slowly disappear.

Click -

To buy from Lulu

To buy from Amazon

To follow Karen on Twitter

To get to Karen's blog


Thursday, 27 March 2014

Hello so and on Monday

Hello so...

This past month I've been

- sending short stories out to writing competitions remarkably early, sometimes 6 weeks before the deadline (which makes me think the results should be out already, even though some, like BATH are still open). I've got stories at the BBC, Bath and Mslexia.

- sending short stories to publications, well - one. PANK is a magazine I've had my eye for a while, so I thought I'd try my luck and send them a story. This got a 'Not this story, thanks, but send us another, we like your style' kind of rejection. So I did - and that one got a 'Not this story, thanks, and please don't send anything else for at least a month'. Haha. Ok.

- stepping further into my role as 'Maid of Honour' for my best friend's wedding, which isn't until August but things have to be worked out in advance, like what I'm wearing (a lovely blue dress), what she's wearing (an amazing white dress), what we're doing for the hen weekend (FUN) and what I'm reading at the service (a poem, not set in stone yet).

- keeping my notebook with me so I can keep my novel going wherever I am - usually this is just a few scribbles here and there, a note of something to look out for, a thought to follow up, questions about plot points etc. But it helps to, well - keep it going, though I haven't got much content written for a few weeks. So I'd like to get some momentum with the word count in the next few weeks.

-and you know, working, walking, eating, drinking wine.



On Monday...

Karen Jones will be here with a brilliant addition to the 'Letters to my younger self' guest blogs I have from time to time. Karen's short story collection 'The Upside-Down Jesus and other stories' has just come out - and lucky lucky lucky for us - she is kindly going to give one copy away to one of you lucky lucky lucky* readers! Come back on Monday to read Karen's letter and be in with a chance of winning.



* too much Kylie lately, I think.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Shit job, crap-backpacking and a weird laugh

Thank you to Rebecca Stanley (aka Betty McFab) who has given me one of those odd bit-like-a-chain-letter blog awards. I've had one or two of these before and haven't always gone beyond thanking the person who gave it to me, but seeing as it's been a while since I did a meaty blog post I thought I'd do it. It's a nice opportunity to recommend some fellow bloggers and have a little chat with myself, which I do further down in the post when I answer Rebecca's questions.

So here is the AWARD






And here are the creative folks I'd like to pass it on to, if they so wish to take it up:


  • Mario Gregoriou - Things Found and Made - a treasure trove of writing, art and music. Imagination is key - go there to read about a newly discovered spider who pranks his prey, to see how The Wicker Man ought to have ended, and to listen to a recording of David Bowie mashing up China Girl with the theme from Steptoe and Son.
  • Anna Cathenka - Anna Cathenka's guide to life - she describes herself as a "29-year old writer, cat-person, adventurer, cake-eater and woman". I know these things to be true. Anna writes about her life, short punchy personal essays, there's usually a lesson learned or she's learning that she doesn't need the lesson. Always insightful and funny.
  • Rebecca Alexander at Witchway - Rebecca nabbed an agent and a publishing contract after being a runner-up in the Mslexia novel competition, and her novel is just out in paperback. Rebecca writes honestly about the whole publishing process, her family life and personal struggles too. 
  • Rachel Fenton at snow like thought - she's a North Yorks girl in a southern hemisphere world - Rachel the poet, the short storyist, the graphic artist, writes and shares her creative pieces and news on her blog - and they're often prize-winning. 
  •  Dan Purdue at Lies, Ink - thoughtful and engaging posts about the writing process and the publishing world. Recent posts have included a weighing up of writing for print vs writing for an online audience, and tips on how (and how not) to promote your short story collection.
  • Ric Carter at Digestive Press - Ric shares not only his own short stories and news of their successes, but also info and links on interesting and useful happenings in the writing world.
  • Andrew David Barker - you may recall Andrew stopped by the blog a few posts ago to talk about his writing journey (how turbulent it twas) - check out his blog for interviews, writing thoughts, and the exciting news that he has recently found a publisher for his novel, The Electric.


So if you don't already follow those blogs, take a look and maybe make a new friend or two.

Now it's time for me to have a little chat with myself. I'm answering the 11 questions set by Rebecca.




How often do you manage to write and how long for?

At the moment I tend to have short bursts of time a couple of times a week. Like a lot of writers, I have to fit it in around the job/s I do to pay the bills. But I do try to use the time I have as best I can. This means staying away from the internet and not taking part in any indulgent blog award interviews with self. Oh.



What’s the worst job you’ve ever done?

Selling double glazing over the telephone in a windowless room at a bare desk with just a phone, a biro and a few pages ripped out of a phonebook by the supervisor at the start of the shift. I lasted a day.



How much research do you do before starting a new writing project?

None! Not really. Maybe it’s because the kind of writing I do doesn’t call for it. The main character in the novel I’m writing uses a lot of self-help type websites, so I’ve been looking at one in particular which is fascinating and horrible in equal measure. It has tips like ‘How To Talk To A Guy and Make Him Like You’, and my favourite: ‘How To Look Sexy Without Trying To Look Sexy’.



What little things do you get really cross about?

Things like people walking slowly in front of me when I’m walking quickly behind them. But if I’m getting irritated by that sort of thing it’s usually a sign to slow down. Oh and it’s not a small thing but I shouted at some men in the street the other day because of something they said to a guy who was begging. It wasn’t like I was ready to get into a debate with them, I just shouted ‘BASTARDS!’ They were bloody smug and rude and eugh. Aagh I feel angry again thinking about them! 



What are you reading for pleasure at the moment?

I go through phases of not reading much and I’m in one of those now. I am watching a lot of TV though, is that the same?



Do you ever give up on a novel you’re reading or do you have to stick with it to the end, however bad it is?

Give it up. There are too many books to read ones you’re not enjoying. I do get a sense that with some books it’s just the wrong time to read it. So after 50 or 100 pages if I’m not into a book I’ll abandon it, but maybe come back to it a few years down the line. I did that with Wuthering Heights, and second time was a charm. But yeah, read what you like reading, not what you think you should read.



What was your New Year resolution and are you keeping to it?

I didn’t make any resolutions at New Year, but through January I’ve been trying to be more relaxed generally and to enjoy life’s smaller moments.



What was the last film you saw at the cinema?

I work in a cinema yet don’t go to see films nearly as often as I should. So the last film I saw was, I think, Aint them bodies saints. Or was it Philomena? Both  are very good.



Who are your favourite writers?

I’ve loved books by Ali Smith, Sarah Waters, Tim Winton, Dodie Smith, Maggie O’Farrell, Kate Atkinson, Alice Munro. Not many men on that list, so I’ll add Richard Brautigan who I’ve recently discovered.



What has been the biggest adventure in your life so far?

Oh crap. I hate this question. It makes me feel like I have led an adventure-less life. I did go back-packing around Europe on my own when I was 20. It was shit.



When was the last time you got the uncontrollable giggles?

This happens when you shouldn’t be laughing, doesn’t it. In a meeting at work I can get a bit giddy. I think I’m at school. And I’ve realised recently that there’s a type of laugh I do, not intentionally, and I only do at certain times, with certain people, when something has really made me laugh. It’s doesn’t go on for ages, it’s quite short, quite guttural. It sounds hideous now doesn’t it. It’s very natural. It’s the opposite of the laugh I find myself doing with people who make jokes I don’t find funny but I don’t want to offend them. I hear that laugh and feel bad inside, mainly for myself. I should try to fake the weird guttural one.   


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I'm s'posed to give you 11 random facts about myself now but I can't bring myself to do that bit, soz. (They wouldn't be that random would they? They'd be selected by me to make me sound like the best version of me.)


For those writers up there who I've nominated, here are the 11 questions I'd like you to answer, if you decide to do it.

- Where do you usually write/create?
- Describe your ideal writing/making day.
- What are you really enjoying working on at the moment?
- What, if anything, stops you from writing?
- If you could choose a writer to be your mentor (share work with, chat about the process) who would it be? 
- Do you believe in writer's block? If you get it, how do you overcome it?
- Tell us a good thing that happened to you today.
- What's the first thing you do in the morning?
- What's your most listened to song?
- Who would play you in the movie of your life? 
- What would the title of your autobiography be?

So - if you choose to accept the award, here's what you need to do:


  1. Thank the person who nominated you, and post a link to their blog on your blog.
  2. Display the award on your blog — by including it in your post and/or displaying it using a “widget” or a “gadget”. (Note that the best way to do this is to save the image to your own computer and then upload it to your blog post.)
  3. Answer 11 questions about yourself, which will be provided to you by the person who nominated you.
  4. Provide 11 random facts about yourself.
  5. Nominate 5 – 11 blogs that you feel deserve the award, who have a less than 1000 followers. (Note that you can always ask the blog owner this since not all blogs display a widget that lets the readers know this information!)
  6. Create a new list of questions for the blogger to answer.
  7. List these rules in your post (You can copy and paste from here.) Once you have written and published it, you then have to:
  8. Inform the people/blogs that you nominated that they have been nominated for the Liebster award and provide a link for them to your post so that they can learn about it (they might not have ever heard of it!)


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So there you go - a bit of fun and a blog post with meat on it. 

Back soon.