Thursday, 18 July 2013

The Boy who cried Wolf at Bristol Old Vic

A few weeks ago I went to my writer's group as usual in Bristol. After the meeting I walked past the set of Bristol Old Vic's #The Boy who cried Wolf which juts out in front of the Georgian building onto the cobbles of King Street.

The Michael Morpurgo adaption of Aesop's fables is directed by Sally Cookson.

Seeing the set took me back to my days as a researcher at Bristol Old Vic for the play 'A Town in the West Country' where we dressed the street with sandbags and had a tank parked outside for performances. We led the audience through backstage areas to the sound of sirens. That job, collecting stories from elderly people about their war experiences, and using these in the production is still one of the most enjoyable jobs I've had. Ordinary people acted, making the 'community play' vivid and real.

Scroll forward xxx years to a July evening on  King Street 2013. I heard accordian music and singing as the actors rehearsed.  White paper roses, a sun, a tree loomed out of the wrapped scaffolding that hid the stage.

I danced on the cobbles - as no one was looking - then crept close to catch a glimpse  of the actors, my eye pressed close to the drapes. Waistcoat waiter types with hats were in rehearsal. All I could see was a prominent belly and a side profile, but I was rumbled; an actor spotted me, glancing at me instead of towards the imagined audience. I was clearly a distraction. I did the decent thing and crept away over the cobbles, skipping to my car.

This week the writers' group were sitting outside Renarto's, discussing NP's novel, dripping in the heat. Distracted by the noises of the play in production I spent some time watching a seagull perched on the elegant triangle of the top of the old theatre.

All of a sudden a young seagull with mottled markings flew low above the street and with a swoop landed right into the set. Huge laughter from the audience, then nothing. I sat and watched, alongside a real waiter from Renarto's but no seagull flew out again.

Most distracting. The following day I tweeted @bristololdVIc from my @wordpoppy account and one of the actors explained that an audience member had placed the seagull outside.

Anyway, I've heard the show is very good. And there are tickets left.

Stranger than fiction - if you read this in a novel you wouldn't believe it.

I'm just back from my writer's night in King Street, Bristol where the novelists meet.

Before the meeting I went into the spar shop to get some cash for the meter.

Behind me a man said. I'm not gay you know, staring at the girl behind the till.

She blinked.

'No, I'm paranoid.' He said, 'I take tablets.'

He paid for his apple.

'I'm sorry I'm paranoid,' he said, It's because of a girl. She broke my heart.

On paths, choice and writing

Looking through old photos taken over the last few years I've noticed many of them are paths.

Here's my Australian collection: 

I used to worry over whether I'd chosen 'correctly' - career path, partner, houses, computer, bed, bread or board.

The agony of choice overwhelmed me, and I'd find equally interesting choices and not know which one to take. Perhaps that's why I find re-drafting my novel so hard. Have I thrown away a writing nugget?  For me the fun is in creation rather than shaping. As I type I'm surrounded by stacks of drafts of my novel, and centimetres of feedback from my writers group. I have many versions of my novel. 

Perhaps subconsciously my photos are telling me that I'm still working out the answer to the riddle of what I should be doing, or where I should be going. Maybe I think that once I'm on the 'right' path I'll be happy, or fulfilled, or content.
 Here are a few English paths that I've photographed over the last year.
Animal track

Cornwall, path from the beach

View from Welsh church

Looking at these images, it seems I'm still trying to work it out. I've always felt a 'little out of sorts', taking the role of observer on the edge of things, which is a good state to be in for a writer. Writing for me is far easier than speaking, it's the place where my thoughts live. It is the writing, or not doing the writing that has dominated so much of my life. There's been on-going frustration - as discussed in my very fist blog post about how I wasn't putting my work there, and so wasn't being 'heard'. 

Interestingly, at the end of my thirty day challenge to change things I wrote that I'd climbed the path. Now I'm feeling I'm still half way up - and that's good because at the top of the path, with a clear view the only way is down. And I want to keep on climbing and exploring choice in my writing and life.

The more I write, blog and practice being creative - then the happier I feel and my inner voice  that knows what to do and is instinctive rather than intellectual, is heard. 

The last word belongs to Robert Frost.

Here is a Youtube recording of Robert Frost reading The Road Less Travelled

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Guy Fawkes and Alice at Montacute

A few weeks ago some friends and I visited the National Trust property, Montacute House in Somerset in a converted ambulance called Bob. 

Alice in Wonderland

The day was the first hot day of summer, and the sun was high and still. As we walked up to the imposing Elizabethan Mansion an Alice in Wonderland type girl posed for a photo-shoot. Her face was chalk white and she wore a silk peacock gown. The young photographer. behind  a very large tripod wore a white cotton dress. They were both yin and yang, presumably students, but both looked as if they'd walked out of a film. 

We walked across Montacute's fabulously romantic grounds, with deep borders of roses and dreamy planting set against formal lawns. Pudding houses with beautiful mosque-like structures  stand at the corners of the lawn. This is where diners would retire to  eat quince perhaps ? On the other side of the lawns tall old yews are lopped into topiary, bending and twisting in a formal still life. 

The place is full of atmosphere,and on a whim I took this photo. When I looked at it at the end of the day I couldn't make any sense of the shape our shadows made. I am a petite size 10, but look wide. What was my friend holding? What is the hook that appears on my shoulder? 
The picture seems to hold significance beyond itself. Interesting to now discover that the house was built for Sir Edward Phelips who gave the opening speech at the prosecution of the trial of Guy Fawkes. 

The exterior is imposing and gargoyles and carved statues keep watch over the house.
Pudding House

Inside are some fascinating pieces such as a marriage bed with carvings of women with enormous breasts and bulging thighs. Upstairs  the Long gallery stretches the entire length of the house and contains  portraits from the National Portrait Gallery which include the 'eyebrow collection'  and the 'crossed eye collection' of princes and kings - crossed eyes to show that the monarchs aren't to be trusted. It is a house full of echoes and however much the guides talked the place has an eerie feel to it. This is a view from one of the windows.  

And this is one of the staircases, where it's easy to imagine walking down in the heavy petticoats and gowns depicted in the Long Gallery collection. Luckily trusty Bob was waiting for us at the end of the day.
Down, down

Sunday, 23 June 2013

How a writer created a National Day for Flash-Fiction

May, Mother's and Valentine's used to be the only significant national Days in my childhood calendar. (Back then Father's didn't need their own Day - pre-feminism it was Mother's who needed recognition.) Now there is a proliferation of Days in the UK from the worthy, 'NO SMOKING' to the silly, 'National Cleavage'. Rank commercialisation in the US has produced Days for  log cabins, sunglasses and chocolate eclairs. 

Writers now have National Poetry Day and National Short Story Day, and yesterday, 22nd June, was the second national Flash- Fiction Day. This is the story of how author and Creative Writing lecturer, Calum Kerr, turned his love of writing into a national event to celebrate flash-fiction writing and writers.   

Calum began with a writing challenge -  to publish a new flash-fiction every day for a year on a blog. After 100 short stories he wrote a press release (smart promotion), resulting in the coup of his stories - flash365 - being broadcast on iPM on Radio 4 in a Christmas Eve edition. Listen to his stories here,  read by Diana Rigg, Rory Kinnear and Emilia Fox. 

Yesterday, at the Bristol National Flash-Fiction event,  (reviewed here) he explained how he'd been inspired by his friend Jo Bell, national Canal Boat Laureate, and formerly Director of National Poetry Day. If Poetry had it's Day why shouldn't Flash-Fiction? He checked but there was no National Day for Flash, so he created one. 

Competitions were created and the stories published in a flash-flood on this website at ten minute intervals. Two anthologies of writing from the Flash-Fiction Days are available - Jawbreaker and Scraps. Yesterday events took place in Shrewsbury, Abergavenny, Bristol and probably many others - all created by volunteers without sponsorship. Calum also took a call from writer in the US who wanted to join in - so maybe next year this could go global. 

 If you want to write and place your flash-fiction here's a list of web-sites and competitions from the National Flash-Fiction site.  

After joining in Bristol's free workshops and evening readings for flash-fiction Day yesterday my conclusion is that a successful writer needs talent and graft to craft their words but must publish, give readings and showcase their work to create opportunities. These days, with blogs, open mics and supportive writers' groups it's easier than it was. But, following Calum's example, self-belief and acting on a bright idea can also achieve great things for writers.   

How Bristol celebrated National Flash Fiction Day

A heart found in the laundry, a senile parent digging with a knife and spoon in the garden for her lost husband and the telepathy of knees were some of the subjects covered in tonight's Flash Fiction readings in Bristol. (*all of the writers who read are listed below)

 Award winning writers, published novelists, creative writing lecturers, competition judges, poets and professional editors gathered in The Lansdown in Clifton, Bristol, to read and celebrate the second National Flash Fiction day.  Upstairs at the Bristol event there can't have been more than 30 people in the room, but there was serious form and talent.

Bristol's Flash events managed the coup of attracting writer and lecturer, Calum Kerr to visit, who founded the day last year. Events took place all over the UK and online flash fiction stories were published at ten minute intervals. The anthology 'Scraps' published flash fiction stories too.

So what is  Flash Fiction? According to Tania Hershman, author of 'My mother was an upright piano', and Calum, whose book, 'Lost Property' was launched today, there are as many definitions as flash fiction writers. But the writing is short, under 1,000 words.  It also has it's own quirky terminology and categories  - a drabble being 100 words and a dribble being 50 words. Lucky, then, that Margaret Drabble doesn't dabble.

Tania and Calum led a free workshop this afternoon in Bristol's central library which kicked off with an exercise called word cricket where we had to write for twelve minutes. We were given this sentence, 'It happened precisely at 8:07' and told to write for 12 minutes with the promise of a word prompts every minute. It was so reassuring - there was no need to make sense - although it seemed everybody's story did when it was time to read them out. Quickly the room fell silent, with only the sounds of pens pressing down hard on paper. Every minute Tania would call out a word - prompts included the words - purple, impossible, balloon, chicken, sparkling and teapot. 

In my writing this threw up  lines such as 

'purple were the tips of his fingers starting to decay beyond the moon-like fingernails,' or 'she hammered on the impossible door', ' iron sparkling against the road', or 'chicken stepping' and, 'the teapot fell behind her in an Alice in Wonderland moment'. The randomness of the words invigorated my story of being locked in a room with a dead body with no way out. (I know - pure melodrama!).

One thing that Callum said resonated with me: 'A story should have truth in it, even if it's a lie; it should be a true lie.' Normally I try and avoid 'shoulds' in my life as they are packed with guilt, control and perhaps pain. But it is something I strive for in my writing and whilst editing my novel. I feel an obligation to my characters, I don't want to sell them short, and without sounding pompous I want my writing to resonate with my readers. 

I'm drawn to flash fiction as it's quick, though as I know from my job writing press releases, short pieces are harder and require more skill to write than longer ones. Within the workshop we did a very interesting exercise where we had to edit a piece of deliberately woolly writing supplied by Calum and make it as short as possible. Stripping back the story to its 'essentials' is an individual choice though, with no right or wrong way to proceed, which is a useful reminder for any writing group critiquing work. Editing someone else's work is easier than editing your own work as you can be more objective and are not precious or egoistic about the words. But as I edit this piece of blog writing I find it easier to strike things out following today's exercise. 
What's clear was the huge amount of talent at tonight's Flash Fiction event with readings from *Anna Britten, Ken Elkes, Kevlin Henney, Tania Hershman, Sarah Hilary, Dan Holloway, Calum Kerr, Pauline Masurel, Paul McVeigh, Nick Parker, Jonathan Pinnock, Clare Reddaway and Deborah Rickard. 

In Bristol we are  lucky to have a thriving spoken word scene such as Word of Mouth at The Thunderbolt, Acoustic Night at Halo Cafe, Bristol Old Vic's Blahblahblah and Bristol's Festival of Literature at Unputdownable  in the autumn,  as well as Poetry Festivals organised by the excellent Poetry Can,

We're also lucky to have volunteers such as Kevlin Henney prepared to organise these events. As I sat listening to these stories I was itching to write more, and be part of the crowd on stage sharing my work. 

I'll leave a last thought from Calum Kerr, founder of National Flash Fiction Day, who quoted this wonderful line from Gustav Flaubert's Madame Bovary in the workshop:   

“Language is a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, while all the time we long to move the stars to pity.

Monday, 10 June 2013

A video poem created from my daily tweets @wordpoppy #traintweets

I'm working on a new piece of work - in a genre I've only just discovered - video poetry.  Not the same as a podcast, or just a poet speaking to camera, but the fusion of words and images ( I think!).  I was a bit sceptical at first.  I mean if you're a poet don't you paint with words? Won't the visual aspect of the film overpower the language? But I've found some beautiful examples of words and images working together to create a powerful effect. See for some lovely examples of film makers and poets coming together to create  something new.

I decided to use my traintweets project on twitter. Briefly, at the start of May I set myself the task of writing a line of poetry in 140 characters a day on my daily train commute to work. You can follow me on @wordpoppy or find my tweets by using the hashtag #traintweets.

Once I had all these little gems I wondered if I could make something out of them, so this videopoem consists of my daily tweets. It's a type of poetic journalism I suppose. I've made myself respond to the landscape daily. In some ways being limited by the daily journey has been liberating. The train window has become my frame

Finally I've finished the video  - there were lots of technical difficulties - and it took ages to sync the visuals and audio together. Then I wondered if syncing is desirable as the visual will usually overpower the language, and make the language more redundant. But I'm quite pleased with the result.

So, here it is. My first videopoem.

#traintweets by @wordpoppy. A poem devised from daily tweets as I commute to work

Please let me know what you think - I'd love to know, especially as I'm entering a competition with this, and this is very much, a first attempt.

Thanks for reading and watching.


Monday, 3 June 2013

Writing tips from A Guardian Masterclass

This week I was privileged to venture inside The Guardian offices, courtesy of attending the Guardian Masterclass on 'What sub editors wish you knew.'

The modern glass fronted building  had a reception line-up that reminded this country hick of the set from Ugly Betty. The women behind the desk were groomed, sleek and responsive with their smiles. A huge flat-screen monitor relayed the news on the wall. 
I was invited to 'sit' and wait  in a lip shaped chair. I fell into it and had some difficulty escaping its open mouth when being ushered away to deposit my coat. The pigs, to my left watched over me as I hung my coat up. Bless them, they're about the same size as me and have real bristles on their faces.  I stroked a synthetic trotter and regretted it as it was squeaky to the touch. Presumably these pigs began life on Spitting Image. I wish someone would bring that programme back. It so suits the Conservative age.

 As we walked upstairs we passed portraits on the wall, like these of Jagger and Sinead O Connor, taken by the famous Guardian photographer, Jane Brown.

The talk by Chief Sub editor of Time Out, Chris Waywell and the Guardian's James Callow, was designed to teach freelancers how to avoid obvious mistakes when submitting work. I'm not a freelance writer (yet), but I do work in PR, so it was great to hear from a national publication tips for writers submitting work.

I was interested to hear that bloggers sometimes get invited to submit articles. The thing to remember is that it's a professional relationship and you're on trial. The key to being asked again to submit an article is to be professional in your writing and dealings with the paper.

Rule number one is to understand the publication you're writing for and to understand the audience of the paper or magazine. Getting the tone right is important.  Phone up and get a style guide if you want to impress them. This also applies to writers submitting work to magazines or agents. Don't send your work to a publication or agent who is not likely to be interested in your genre or subject matter. Research is the key.
Break out space at The Guardian HQ
 Never submit late to a publication. You don't want to be unpopular with the sub editors do you? And you want to write for them again, presumably. If your submission is late that will impact on the chain of people and events at the other end.

Word limits: aim to keep to the brief. Submitting under the word limit creates problems as they have to fill the missing space with additional copy, creating extra work. If you submit over the word limit then that can be acceptable as they can cut, but a rule of thumb is to only submit up to 10 % over the agreed word count.

Name check, fact check, spell check and carefully proof-read before submitting copy. Let them know of any potential legal issues with your piece. Be concise in your writing and before you click on the send button, check, check and check again. If they change your work, pay attention, analyse those changes and ask yourself why so you can learn from it.

A tip for bloggers - it's easy to self-publish these days, but once your work and words are out there they will be judged, so go through a period of reflection and checking before you post a blog. Make the writing on your blog your best work.

I'd highly recommend this Guardian masterclass. The speakers were knowledgeable, friendly and cared deeply about good writing.  Chris surprised me by suggesting a technique I'm familiar with for creative writing - when you wake up in the morning write three pages of A4. Doesn't matter what it is, just write, then when you start work your first words won't be the first of the day. He also recommended The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. Up until a month ago I'd never heard of this book, but this is the third endorsement I've had for it. I shall investigate.

For more information visit Guardian Masterclasses  or connect on twitter @guardianclasses

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Dressing up for Wig Wednesday - transformations

Today was Wig Wednesday, and I joined in the CLIC Sargent campaign,a great charity who support  kids and young people with cancer.

I wore the wig on the long commute to work via train, in the corporate environment (civil service) where I work, then home again on the train.

It felt nerve wracking to walk on the streets looking 'strange and different'. Young children turned around and pointed, some strangers smiled, but commuters to London studiously ignored me, and I found myself feeling disappointed that I wasn't being looked at. Still, I imagine they see far more exotic sights in the big bad smoke.

I became very self conscious about how I looked - a feeling I've not experienced that deeply since I was a teenager. Wearing a wig transforms and hides. A close family member lost her hair through cancer treatment as a young teenager, and seeing her lose her hair and becoming bald hit home what 'cancer' means and how ill she was. I thought of her bravery and courage through the long 3 1/2 years of treatment.

She wore a wig to school and one day a teacher told her off for having long hair, and to tie her 'hair' back in line with school regs. She couldn't tie it back as the wig would fall off but was too embarrassed to tell the teacher and so burst into tears. For her the wig was a disguise not a choice at that time. And it was a CLIC Sargent nurse and social workers who supported her emotionally and practically during those years.

As I walked around I thought about all those you look 'different' because they are ill, disfigured, or just don't conform to the norm. I wondered how they manage other peoples' expectations, and stares. The best response seemed to be a smile, or a chin-up, straight backbone approach, to calmly accept that this is who you are and to out-stare the gawpers or smile at the curious.

At work I was greeted with laughter and a number of others borrowed the extra wigs I'd bought in. What intrigued me was how I was able to become more 'me' when wearing my costume. It helped that I dressed up to look as if I was a 1960's glam girl. Colleagues became skittish, playful.

It made me think how powerful it is to dress differently, to defy stereotypes. In the wig I laughed more, was lighter, more authentically me, because I was showing a side of my character normally hidden at work. But if we hide ourselves from others - don't we also hide ourselves from ourselves?

I plan to adopt dressing up more - I love it anyway - but doing this at work allowed me to become more 'me' and people today seemed delighted I'd dared to different, and wanted to know what I was up to.

As Oscar Wilde said, "Be yourself, everyone else is taken."
Embedded image permalink

Saturday, 11 May 2013

When in doubt, read

If you're stuck for inspiration, read, 
If you're struggling with a problem then read
If you're upset, depressed, bored, blocked, or heartbroken; then read.

A Bristol planter on wheels.

Reading is the partner of writing. Readers, of course, need writers.
Before people made marks on paper, they told stories, sang or danced
an audience needs storytellers. I'm telling myself this because I'm feeling stuck, muddled, weepy even.

Over the last few weeks I've been struggling over what to write  in the novel, and on this blog.
I feel like I've been stopped.
BUT - I've been using twitter on an undercover project.
The writer at work could be the subtitle - every weekday on my daily commute
I collect dialogue, describe characters and practice writing via #traintweets. Find me @wordpoppy if you wish.
One of my rules of @wordpoppy is that the sentences have to have impact, rhythm and must shine, so I am practising my craft. I don't know if traintweets will go anywhere but it's fun, and I may be able to use it  as  a performance piece.
I could be writing short stories on the train, and I should be editing the novel, but there's a lot of resistance to the editing. I am working out which bits to scrap in the novel, and how to rewrite the last sections. At the moment I only see mistakes.

So I've turned to reading to unblock myself and I've found a wonderful book which inspires, thrills and lays a breadcrumb trail of hope for me.
Why I write is because I want to produce work of great quality for the reader, that tells a story truthfully that touches the reader, that breathes, that becomes larger than myself.

The book that I spent the morning reading is The Detour by Gerbrand Bakker.
It is haunting, told in a quiet unassuming style. There is no interior monologue. Characters never explain themselves to the reader, we have to infer everything. It hooks you from the beginning and has a cracking denouement, with simple, powerful prose.

Now I am going to write. 

Monday, 29 April 2013

Poem from the Credit crunch series


Glinting, in the glass cabinet,
a silversmith's ring -
well crafted, clever
like a frou frou skirt

the  silver slices 
remind of waves,
 or the petals of a rose 

It catches the light, transforms -
wants a hot dress date 
wants to join up with jeans
It's my leaving present.

The vouchers sat in a draw for nearly a year
redundant, like me
but I found the ring without trying
as if it was meant to be.

Idly tried it  like Cinderella
amazed by the fit as if
only made for my finger

Now the ring wears me,
Reminds, with its weight
leaving has
beautiful compensations

I've moved on.
Stunning, not stunned. 

Train tweets @wordpoppy

  1. Train tweet 6: Bath Ales gaze over honeyed stone, a woman pushes a bicycle garlanded with flowers on the platform
  2. Train tweet 5: A sleeping tomb zooms on; pockets of poetry, a lambing shed, a flick of mobiles, dampened voices.
  3. Train tweet4: "When I lived in Malawi I got malaria and I couldn't give blood for years" Overheard

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Writers - self-editing, writing prompts and tweets

Whilst surfing around the web indulging my passion for writing I've been collecting examples of things I've found interesting: There's an blog I've found about self-editing. It seems full of useful advice, including this about interior monologue - using Lord of The Flies as an example see

22nd June is National Flash Fiction Day and on the official website are examples of short stories that have won this year's competition, as well as some writing prompts for story ideas. 

Then I found the service of people willing to review your book, so an opportunity for readers and writers -

Using writing and social media for charities seems a fabulous idea - I came across this project which created a graphic novel with collaborative tweeting every day for a year,  for the Teenage Cancer Trust at  - they raised a huge amount of money. Seems like an inspired use of social media for a really good cause. 

Follow me on @wordpoppy
Broadcasting daily between 08:05 - 08:40
I've been developing a twitter project - writing daily train tweets on twitter of interesting lines, or overheard dialogue, inspired by my daily commute. You can connect with me on twitter @wordpoppy. I intend to weave these tweets into a longer story at the end of 30 days, or 30 tweets, depending on what comes first. 
Departing from Platform 15

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Train Tweets: broadcasting on @wordpoppy

Follow me on the daily commute. 

Broadcasting daily between 08:05 - 08:40 
on twitter @wordpoppy

Here's a little example;

Train Tweets 1 - 3 

Train tweet 1: The recycling plant spills paper, ink and tears. Other work at

Train tweet 2: Square jawed and purple braces; faux fur and 50's hair. Stealing characters for my art.

Train tweet 3: There's no escape from the natterer, on and on he dribbles, a diarrhoea of sound.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Quote: When I loved myself enough by Kim McMillen

Outside Melbourne Tourist Information Centre

When I loved myself enough 
I began leaving whatever wasn't healthy. 

This meant people, jobs,my own beliefs and habits - anything that 
made me feel small.My judgement called it disloyal.Now I see it as self-loving.

 by Kim McMillen
from her book, 'When I loved myself enough' -

Kim McMillen's little book is one I sometimes turn to - opening pages at random for inspiration. This is the page I found yesterday.
Having not been loved myself enough for most of my life it reminds me to trust myself, and to be courageous. 

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Writers - but is it any good? The next time I write a novel ...

How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

How do you write a novel? By redrafting until you want to hurl it at the wall. Writing the Wish Bone is one of the hardest things I've ever done. Compared to childbirth or nursing my daughter through cancer this may seem ridiculous, but at the moment it feels like I'm wrestling with daemons inside myself, an inner psychic drama. 

Like Caroline in my book who shreds her husband's trousers I want to attack it with a large pair of scissors. Why this anger?

I endured a major critique on my novel today, from a writer I respect, and I'm still reeling from the implications, hence why I feel so violent towards it, (or should I say I feel violent towards my lack of ability to be as good a writer as I aspire to be.) Like stamping my feet in the playground I feel like shouting 'f off' and marching away defiantly. But ripping the whole thing up would be self-harm and petulance. The alternative is more hard slog. The patient nuturing of the thing until it breathes with a steady, powerful heart, that it lives as fully as it can. 

|I was aiming to finish editing this year. If I have to do another major redraft it will take another age to reach the end. I want to move on to other writing projects. But when you're redrafting 80,000 words that's not going to happen quickly. 

All I know is that the book needs to get finished. It's been four years. Four years of ignoring my friends inviations on walks, gatherings, four years of solitude, the persuit of this thing rather than relationships. I've nurtured, re-written, re-drafted,  worried at it, it's been cossetted, debated and kicked, by myself and generous souls in writing groups, until I'm sick of the doing of it. 

The issue now is gathering the strength for another major edit, and once that's done I need to know when to abandon it and when it's ready to be sent off into the world.  You, lucky readers, can see some of my draft novel, and so far, I've been getting very good comments, so I could just ignore my friend's advice, which could be wrong, after all. 

My next novel won't be workshopped chapter by chapter by my writers group. It will be written fast, day after day so the momentum is kept up, with no long gaps where the ideas or narrative thrust have a chance to fade. It will be done at speed so it is one coherent whole. Like Stephen King suggets, in his excellent book, 'On Writing', the next book will be written with the door closed at first, written just for myself, and only once the first draft is down will I let others see it.   

But back to my dilemma and disappointment. I am committing to writing the best novel I can, and like someone said on Radio 4 this week, you have to fall in love with your own book. I need to work out which of my friend's critique I agree with and then approach it again, edit it again, until I am satisfied with it, then I can rest easy sending it to an agent knowing that it is the very best I can do. 

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Video: Chapter 2 of The Wish Bone: WILL

The novel tells the stories of a Bristol family. Chapter 2 is told from Will's point of view. He's the Dad. 

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

The kindness of strangers

Anchor in a storm

Cycling to the train station this morning, going hell for leather in the bus lane something unexpected came up. A small boy ran straight into my path.  

Cue: spectacular bike dive then palms and knees smacking tarmac. Boy unhurt, but I was left spreadeagled unable to move after the introduction to the floor. Thank God Bristol buses are so unreliable and one wasn't lumbering its way behind me.  Luckily two kind samaritans picked me up, plonked me on the pavement,  offering water and tissues to mop up the blood and untangle the bike. 

After some minutes on the pavement I rang my kids, both in bed, at the ungodly hour of 8.00am.  Apparently it took seven minutes for my son to get from horizontal sleeping mode in bed to arrive by my side, also by bike. I love the fact he timed the rescue mission. My daughter, ever practical, came with paracetamol and the promise of cups of tea back home. 

 Fortunately no major harm was done other than nasty scrapes, bruises and a pulled muscle.  

So, thank you for the kindness of those strangers who stopped to help and who made themselves late for work,  and for my lovely family.    

Monday, 15 April 2013

1980's roadtrip poem - the Australia series

At the terminal the coach heaves,
swallows me and my every possession
You said "goodnight, not goodbye."

We thunder down the highway -
three days to Ayers Rock

I begin to unravel you and me;
unpick the horrors of what we did
and I see nothing but an emotional landscape
and when I reach Adelaide
angular, flowered, calm city
my accent still marks me out 
and nobody shares these harsh pillows. 

We skirt the Flinders Ranges.
Grey bushes break up the red stony soil
and lone houses break up the hours.

The water pipeline follows the road for hundreds of miles
and far away at Stony Point where you worked
a fire is burning

No doubt the sharks are breeding now. 

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Green ink, purple prose and pens

I'm feeling reather antiquated. I visited WH Smiths and Rymans with the intention of buying a fountain pen. My last fountain pen used green ink, had a broad nib and was used for writing countless letters.  

Letters are sadly old fashioned, but the feel of a fountain pen in your hand opens new possiblities when writing. The look of the ink on the page is far more satisfying and has personality, unlike the humdrum of arial or the crotetchy Times New Roman fonts. 

In my writing playbook a fountain pen would be the perfect instrument, adding weight to crossings out or scribblings of my short stories and poems. The flow of ideas through the pen has a different feel from the scratchy tap tap on a keyboard, with its myriads of typos or instant deletions. A fountain pen, I decided, is essential to my writing experiments of getting into the flow - and it would be fun to play with the physicality of writing, so long as purple prose doesn't emerge of course, but even then as an expression of thought it could be a relief after the intensity of my daily rigour of the taut press releases I write for work. 

The assistant looked me up and down. I'd asked, politely, if I could try the pens out so I could test out the nib and the thickness of the instrument in my hand. Back in my day this was how it was done -  Smiths had a special counter for the purpose. 

"Of course not. Sealed packets," she said, staring at me and speaking louder than was strictly necessary to get her point across. 

"She was probably looking for the owl on your shoulder." my colleague replied when I returned to the office grumpy and aggrieved.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Controlling creativity and negativity in the writer

Controlling creativity is something that feels deeply unnatural to me. Surely cretivity is about playing, experimentation and being free? Isn't it an oxymoron? 

As I sat down on Sunday morning to begin editing 'The Wish Bone,' all sorts of negativity crept in - it's no good, you aren't as good as you were back then, it's too long since you wrote anything. Fear. 

Path in Austrailia

With my novel it's like endlessly climbing the same  mountain. Each time you re-start you seem to be at the bottom of the pile.

Hemingway said," Writing's easy - you just sit over your typewriter and bleed."

So on Sunday I fiddled around with facebook, couldn't resist checking my emails, and kept reading over and over Caroline's words, worrying about how the plot fitted together. Then I tired meditation, something new to me, which for me just means sitting in a room on the floor and trying not to think about thinking. There is no rest from the busy mind, it keeps me awake at night, inhabits my dreams, leaves me exhausted. 

So, in the end I forced myself to sit there and focus on the text and the words, and I gave myself an end time - one o'clock. As the deadline approached I suddenly entered the 'zone' and I was away. I edited 5 pages - it's slow but then it was re-writing, as it really wasn't as polished or meaningful as it should be. Stephen King in his book 'On Writing' which I can recommend says you need to get closer to the truth, and that's what I was aiming at. 

In the afternoon I had a much more productive day with my  family than usual. Becuase I'd only allowed myself to be creative in a time frame, I could then be free to really be with my family when I wasn't writing. And I promised myself I'd write the novel everyday. Have I? Well yesterday I was just too busy checking out instructional video's from the 30 DC project, and tonight it's my writing group, so no, not yet!

Happy writing and reading everyone. 

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Editing Chapter 24 - how to avoid cheap sentiment in writing

I'm feeling very chuffed with myself as I have finally finished editing Chapter 24 which tells the story of Freddie at Bristol Kite Festival. I had to write in a whole new character into the scene and increase the pathos. But it's done and the word count for the edited novel now stands at 75,698 words. I have a childish pleasure in knowing how many words I've edited. Though as Mark Twain says in The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain, "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug." 

Freddie flies a Black angel kite like this 
Chapter 24 has always been a favourite of mine - it's got emotion and power, it's a high point in the book, and it's got a bit of magical writing about kites that uses extended metaphor to mirror what's going on in Freddie's world. Freddie doesn't normally do sentiment being a 14 year old boy, but here I let him have a bit of fun linguistically. 

A few weeks ago I took Chapter 24 to my writing group and P, (he likes to be anonymous) said, 'Grace, you've got a puppy moment in the scene. I don't like it. Too obvious.'

I considered, and I knew he was absolutely right. I'd written this chapter as if it was a film scene. Queue: tears, soppy music, and heightened emotion. I was cheating. I was giving the reader a scene which wasn't deserved. It was too predictable, too expected, too easy. 

"No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader." - Robert Frost.   

I've gone back and made it sharper, edgier. Now Freddie has a mix of emotions and the high points are counterbalanced with rougher edges and dark humour. 

One writing technique I'm using which is very useful is to read my work out loud when editing. In a novel like this which has three first person narrators the voice is all. It won't work if I get the voice even slightly off. It will stand out. 

Getting the specifics right is also really important - what references does Freddie use, or any 14 year old boy? Am I being consistent across the novel? The more I read it out loud, the more I can hear if my own voice, or  use of language, is getting in the way of my character's voice, and the more I can hear Freddie's voice. Reading aloud helps as I can hear the duff note and when the rhythm falters.

 For now, it's done.