Thursday, 31 December 2009

Goodnight, beautiful

I've been away, on a different planet, in an unexpected and unwanted world. My Mum, my beautiful Mum, died on the 21st December. Leaving me and my 2 brothers in shock, but together, and with the rest of our loving family we are dealing with the loss of such a great woman.

My Mum was a writer, though never published. When I told her I wanted to be a writer, she took me to the library where she asked the librarian for a list of all the publishing houses in the UK so I could send them my book when it was ready. I was 8.

She was so supportive and thrilled with every bit of writing news I told her.

She wrote poetry. She wrote funny stories for me and my brothers when we were little. And when I couldn't sleep, she said, "Put your arms around yourself and tell yourself a story. You can go anywhere you want to go, be anyone you want to be."

I still can't believe I'll never see her again. She should be there, on the end of the phone, in her flat, telling me about the chinese dragon she could see in the trees.

Goodnight, beautiful x

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Tell me how you write - Part 1 - Jo Stanley

I have several modes: business stuff straight onto the machine; journals in 0.7 black gel pens; fiction and poems written on plain A4 with well-sharpened 2B pencils, written in mind-map form, often starting half-way down the page, for some reason.

Place and position matters. The main work is at the computer (too bloody endlessly), and it matters that I had an ergonomist set up the right arrangements for me: kneely chair, flat panel screen at the right height, raked keyboard, gel wrist rest, inspiring mouse mat (Virgina Woolf in sepia, actually). To mitigate the square, hard, plastic, boring insult that the screen is I’ve decorated with3-D objects that insist on my visceralness, my creativity. They round off the machine and give it texture. Mainly they’re the remnants of some art therapeutic work I did after losing a baby in 1993 but quickly rediscovering how much writing and painting are to me about giving birth. I had a vision of myself with spring onion knees, daffodil tits and sunflower shoulder blades, harvests whooshing down from my fanny; I’m the absolute epitome of creativity. These symbols are bluetacked onto the monitor’s border.

Alongside them is my chunk of rose quartz, to remind me that love is what matters in life. A yellow ‘well done’ sticker from my dear writing friend Maggie - to be applied with high-handed aplomb to any task I do, as appropriate - keeps my spirits up when I remember to notice it. The silver screen stands on 79" x 34" smoked green glass IKEA dining table that I keep as empty as possible, because the more space there is around me, the more I can think calmly and widely as I write. The desk is set to look out of a south-facing window, overlooking Soyland Hill in the Pennines. That wooded sweeping slope’s is a fine target for blank gawping.

Duration and intensity of writing is important. Mainly I just slog and slog. So maybe the most important writing tool is my kitchen timer. The current one (they break down) is fat, scarlet, apple-shaped, and from John Lewis in Southampton. It’s set to tell me to take a break from the computer. Which I ignore. I do too little stretching backwards and outwards. And I do a lot of leaning forward, elbows on the wrist-rest, saying ‘errm’ at the screen, gazing as if its blank areas are going to offer useful answers, as crystal balls do - of course.

The best writing (in terms of how it satisfies the deepest me) is in bed, by hand. I like to do it with all the phones unplugged AND turned to silent mode, the door locked, almost naked, and with a sense that I have an absolute right to put the world on hold for a few hours. Doing this sort of writing is almost the same as doing watercolour painting for art therapy. Indeed, often I’ll have the Bijou mini paint box in one hand and the pencil in the other. This sort of writing is absolutely not performative, not done with any audience in mind. It’s about encountering the Truth - the sort with a capital T. The process makes me cry good tears and get up whole. Back to the machine, where I might go on and shape that work if I can spare the time, or back to the dutiful work-writing. But that time-out always brings about the wonderful state of rasa. Right and left brain working together in harmony - the creator and the editor. Wotta luverly couple they make, bless em. How essential their unity is to my sanity.

About Jo:

I’m a writer. No, I’m an explorer of ideas and psyches and histories, who sometimes puts useful words down on paper. With serendipity the marks and ideas make something delightful together. Mainly I write accessible factual history books about off-centre subjects, e.g. women pirates. Really my heart’s in fiction, including plays. But it’s harder to get them published/staged. I’ve been writing since I was 15 - that’s 45 years. About 8 per cent is published, the rest is in filing drawers and inside a retinue of outgrown computers, some dead. Being an ex-journo is useful. It means I’m not precious about Cree- ay- tiv- it-eh; I can do short sentences without literary angst; and I feel absolutely entitled to begin sentences with ‘and’ and ‘but.’

And I want to change the world. And I’m sad. And I love my cat, and my mates. And I truly believe patisseries may be humankind’s best invention. But they should combined with arts cinemas, poetry readings spaces, massage rooms, moors and revolutionary rallies. The photo shows me dressing up as a pirate for a publicity shot, in Taranaki, New Zealand. Yeah, I love playing and showing off. And I like it when those sides of me get together with the writer. I’m very conscious of how constrained my upper body is, on the computer, by comparison to that swashbuckler out on the wide sea. It’s a reminder of what matters - exploration and fun, not niminy-piminy wordsmithing.

Jo's website
Jo's Blog on Gender and the sea

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

darn virus, and a 'coming soon'

Have been a little absent this week - my laptop got a destructive virus that I have - thankfully - managed to get rid of. I'm really bad at remembering to back my work up so had a bit of a panic, but luckily I know people who know more than I do about computers so we managed to save what I needed.

I mentionned a couple of blogs ago that I'm starting a series of guest posts by other writers on the subject of the way they write, particularly what they write with - pens, keys, paint brushes; what they write on; how this affects the work produced; how this satisfies the writer.

Here's the prompt:

Tell me how you write. The instruments you use. What you write with, what you write on. How you feel when your hand is holding a pen, or hovering over keys. Do you have different instruments for your different moods? Or for different 'types' of writing? Tell me about when the connection between your writing self and your hand is the strongest - what do you use to write with then? What kind of writing satisfies you, the deepest you, the most?

The first response will go up tomorrow from Jo Stanley who writes books, plays, articles and everything in between. And she's a female pirate. I'm sure of it.

Alex Thornber, editor of Tomlit, will share his response with us a few later, then we'll have Nik Perring along in the New Year.

If you'd like to participate, send me an email at (I know it's a hideous email address - I got it back in '99 when I was a youngling) and I'll send you some info.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Reminder - Tomlit Comp Closes Monday

If you'd like to enter the Tomlit competition you have a few days left. Alex has forwarded the fiction entries my way but it would be great to have some more to read and consider. I'm waiting until all entries are in before starting the judging process.

Word limit: 500
Theme: Reunion
Winner: Published in the next issue of Tomlit Magazine, in mid-January
Deadline: Monday 14th December

Full terms can be found here.

Good luck!

Monday, 7 December 2009

What's the shape of your novel?

I got this idea from Nik's Blog a couple of weeks ago. He was thinking what the shape of one of his stories would be, and he shared his vision of the story shape on his blog. It got me thinking what shape my novel-in-very-early-embryonic-progress* is.

I've recently bought a plain unruled notebook to scrawl in, just for doodles and sketches and free wheeling thoughts written in pencil. (This is a new thing for me, this writing in pencil thing. Thanks to Tania for the pencil I'm pencilling with - it was part of my pay-it-forward gift.)

Anyway, here's the shape of my *NIVEEP

At least right now, that's the shape of it. It will no doubt change, I might post its changing shape.

Anyone else want to share their shapes, if working on a novel? I know you can't post images in the comments, but you could put it on your blog and leave a link to it in the comments here, maybe, or over on Nik's blog. (Is it even okay to tell people to leave comments on a blog that's not yours??? I realise maybe not, but as it was Nik's blog where the idea started I don't want to hijack it. Hijacking his blog with comments is better..?)

I've also started keeping a note of how much time I spend writing each day. This, I hope, will keep my head in perspective when I think I'm not doing enough, and give me a kick up the bum when I'm actually not doing enough. And it'll help me see how I'm dividing my time between shorts, the novel, research, subbing and the blog, and I can make improvements if I need to.

A series of guest blogs on the way writers write - but in particular what they write with. (Don't say hands.)

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Kreativ Blogger Award

Thank you, Jessica, of Writer's Little Helper fame, for nominating me for this chintzy award:

To honour this award I must do the following 7 things:
-thank Jessica (tick)
-link to her blog (tick)
-copy 'Kreativ Blogger' image to my blog (tick)

-tell you 7 interesting things about me. Oh-kay, this is hard. Just 7? I don't mean that. I mean, aagh, this is a bit painful but here goes:
  • I don't like cheese (you: what??? really??? but why??? and how???)
  • I can play songs on my teeth, just using my teeth, no instruments, just teeth and my mouth opening and closing at various intricate levels to create notes.
  • I like pickled onion sandwiches a lot.
  • I fell down 2 flights of stairs when I was a baby and didn't cry.
  • I would love a kitten. When I lived in Australia they had kittens in pet shops. Many hours were spent staring in pet shop windows.
  • I used to teach English to non-english speakers and on my first day a class of 8 year old Korean children made me cry.
  • I backpacked around Europe on my own when I was 20.

- nominate 7 Kreativ Blogger and link to their blogs:

  • Monda at No Telling - there's something about the way Monda writes, even about the everyday, that pulls me in.
  • Elle is one of my real-life friends. She's an artist whose blog the happy kimono is mostly a place where she showcases the work of other artists and interesting things that have caught her artist's eye. I love Elle's designs - go to her etsy shop to see.
  • Tania Hershman's blog was one of the first writing blogs I found. It's a great mix of useful and interesting. Inspiring too. And Tania, being a very successful short story writer, is a big supporter of the short story form too.
  • Alex writes short stories, makes music, studies for his degree, reads a lot, and gets his work accepted in various places. And he runs Tomlit Magazine.
  • Andrea's blog - a cat of impossible colour - not only the best ever blog name, but an interesting account of someone further along her writing path - Andrea's first novel, The Cry of the Go Away Bird will be published by an imprint of Random House in 2011.
  • Miles - another real life friend - whose commitment to making films and being constantly productive while holding down a non-creative job has been an inspiration to me.

- now go and tell those 7 people that they are Kreativs.

To it!