Monday, 15 May 2017

What came out of the Dreamwriting session

I'm sharing what I wrote when I did a Dreamwriting session this weekend. We were invited to take one of our characters fro a walk and as we wrote were given prompts to move the writing in different directions. I chose to use Shalea from my WIP, Shalea is a healer, a wise woman and possible a witch. She is my favourite character in the story and is a feisty woman who takes no nonsense from anyone. Here is my description of what happens when she goes for a walk in a forest.


Shalea felt the dampness seep into her shawl as she wandered along the lane. The rain of last night had given the trees a thorough soaking and as the sun rose the mist dripped slowly onto her.
Through the trees she saw a figure walking towards her. A tall, slender man dressed in shades of orange and brown was leaving the forest. His pace slowed slightly as he caught sight of Shalea. Cursing her old eyes for their failing sight, she squinted at him but his features were unfamiliar. Yet something about him reminded her of childhood.

They continued to walk towards each other and Shalea became aware of the smell of resin and wood smoke. She was pulled back to her father’s workshop, standing watching as he carved the beautiful statues that were placed around The City. She breathed deeply and remembered the look of concentration on his face as he tapped gently with a wooden hammer, chiselling the features of whichever hero or citizen he was working on. She was only allowed to watch him work if she could remain still and quiet. Any noise or distraction and he would roar at her to get away home.

Shalea kicked at a pile of damp grass, nearly tripping and saw something shining. Again her eyesight failed her and she stooped down and brushed the blades of grass away. Nestled there was a silver chalice, embossed and chased with interlinking designs. The base was square and heavy, studded with jewels. She picked it up and felt its weight. But she also felt something else. Shalea felt great power tingling her fingers. This was not just a rich man’s trinket; this had been used for magic, for spells, for potions. Only once before had she felt this, many years ago when she was learning her trade. The  she had been permitted to cast a spell using a High Chalice, said once to belong to the founders of The City. The potion she had brewed had been one of the best she had ever made.
Shalea stood up, her old knees cracking and clutched the chalice to her chest. Ahead and to the right she saw a door had materialised. It was a heavy wooden door, iron studded and marked where staffs and fists had pounded on it. She reached out for the simple hinged latch and heard the squeak and click as it opened. The hinges squealed as she pulled the door open and she had to pull very hard to open the door enough to squeeze through.

On the other side was a track snaking off through the forest. A pony and cart stood tethered to a tree. Shalea petted the pony, untied the reins and began to lead it through the forest. If only she had learned how to drive a cart she might have saved her old legs a long walk. The warm breath of the pony tickled her cheek and she found that she was leaning into the animal, enjoying the warmth and companionship. As they walked on Shalea saw the market in the distance, heard the stallholders calling out their wares and she tucked the chalice further into the folds of her clothing, this was one treasure she would not be selling at market.

So, there it is. A little insight into my story. Just a teaser but I'll try to share more soon. Let me know what you think of Shalea and whether you want to hear more about her and her world.

Wriiting retreat - what happened and what I got out of it

So I've had a few hours and a sleep to think about this past weekend and gather my thoughts about the writing retreat I attended in sleepy, sunny Sussex.

To begin with I must say a huge thank you to everyone who was there. From Gilly and Jed who were superb hosts and wonderful facilitators - the food was wonderful, tea and wine flowed freely and there was never a moment without laughter and good conversation. They have a magical set-up in Sussex and it is impossible to imagine anyone not being inspired there.

Also a big thank you to all the lovely writers who attended - Penny, Katie, Antonia, Carolyn, Paula and Joan - you made it so special.  The support and kindness you all showed to everyone was wonderful. I only wish we could be together every weekend to help each other reach our full potential.

So, what did I personally get from the weekend? I got plenty of writing done which was great. The freedom to concentrate on writing without distractions was liberating and I think I've worked out where my story is going now. There even seems to be an end in sight, something I could not have said on Friday!

I learned some profound lessons about myself too. I was pulled up a few times for being overly negative, a trait I recognise all too well in myself. I made a promise to try not to be so down on myself but as I have 50 years of learning to unlearn that may be a work in progress for a while yet. I also learned that I do have a talent for writing. On the first day I shared my fear of being found out as a fraud who can't really write at all but this weekend has shown me that there is something there and I need to work hard and nurture it. I also learned that sharing my writing isn't always a scary thing so I intend to share a bit more here on my blog in future. In fact I have a post coming later which will do just that, so keep a look out for that.

So I am more happy than I can express that I went along, despite the last minute wobbles that are my trade mark. I am so glad to have made some new writing friends and I look forward to reading their work and sharing more of mine. They have given me the confidence to shout out 'I'm Jo and I'm a writer!'

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Writing retreat - what am I hoping for?

Tomorrow I'm heading off to East Sussex for a weekend writing retreat. Now, once I've given my anxiety monster a good talking to, I'm rather looking forward to it. Admittedly there's the usual guilt about leaving the boys to fend for themselves for a couple of days but I'm sure I'll get over that! So what am I hoping to get from the weekend?

I have only been on one writing retreat before and that was many, many years ago. So I'm not an expert and I don't have anything to compare it to but I am hoping to get some time to write (obviously!) in both a structured way and in a free way. It's one of the banes of my writer's life that sitting down to write comes with a whole bucket full of guilt - should I be spending this time more productively? Am I being selfish sitting and indulging in a bit of writing? I must stress that neither of these are things that anyone has ever said to me but they are things I say to myself each time I start to write. So having a whole weekend dedicated to nothing but writing and thinking and chatting to other writers is a real treat.

I'm also hoping that by sharing experiences, hopes and frustrations with others I will find a way to improve my writing experiences. The structure of the weekend will determine how much I get to look at my writing schedule and habit but I think some time to reflect on this will do me good.

I'm expecting there to be time to share our writing. Now I can be a little shy about doing this. Let's be honest, everyone else's writing sounds much better than mine so I'm often the last to put her hand up when it comes to sharing.  But having the time to get to know people before I have to share should help with my confidence. I know that only by sharing my writing and getting it out into the world will I improve but sometimes that's easier said than done. Maybe the supportive surroundings of other writers will make the process a little less stressful for me.

I'm also looking forward to hearing about everyone's writing journey. We should be a mixed bunch so there will be many experiences to learn about and hopefully tips and contacts as well. Writing can be a solitary pursuit so the chance to hear how other people go about things should be enlightening and perhaps even fun!

Most of all I'm hoping to spend a pleasant weekend with some good company, to do some serious writing and to focus more on what I want to write and what I want to achieve through my writing. So wish me luck as I embark on a voyage of discovery and come back next week to find out how it went and what I learned.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Book Review - Oy Yew by Ana Salote



'Lay low and grow' is the motto of the waifs of Duldred Hall. The only way to escape their life of drudgery is to reach the magical height of 5 thighs 10 oggits, yet Master Jeopardine is determined to feed them little and keep them small. When the Master's methods grow more sinister the waifs must face their doubts. What is kept in the Bone Room? Why is Rook's Parlour locked? A new waif arrives and the fight for survival begins. But this child brings another mystery: who is Oy?


I devoured this in two sittings and was left breathless by the beauty of it. As a young adult I read Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy and fell in love with the dark world he created. The world of Oy Yew felt very similar to me and I longed to linger there and follow the waifs through the hatches and down to the bottomest basement. Everything that Ana Salote has created feels real and tangible, this is a world that can be imagined and moved through with ease.

The waifs are adorable characters, each with their own personality. Oy is the most mysterious; he seems to be other-worldly compared to the other waifs and I felt that there was still much to learn about him when the book ended - thank heavens for sequels! Alas and Lucinda are the leaders and they organise and protect the waifs as they go about their arduous labours. I loved Gertie and Gritty, sisters who had a lovely relationship and came into their own at the end of the story.

The adults in the story fall into two categories. There are the mean ones like Master Jeopardine and Mrs Rutheday and there are the kind ones like Molly cook. Even in the darkest times there are tender moments between Molly and the waifs when she gives them jam on their bread or finds a little milk for them to share. Because the treatment of the waifs is so cruel and bleak I found these moments especially poignant.

Ana Salote handles the pace of the narrative extremely well. We creep about Duldred Hall with the waifs being quick and silent; we feel the fast passage of time when they are exhausted and get little sleep; and at the end there is an escape scene which rattles along with  such a breathless pace that I was nearly out of breath when I finished reading it.

I am not the target audience for this novel but I was swept away by the story and can hardly wait for the sequel. There is plenty to entrance a child in this book and much to delight an adult. This is a book which I wish I could have written and I salute the talent that created this magical world and these wonderful characters.  I will remember Oy and his friends for a long time.