Tuesday, 30 August 2016

A Leap of Faith

I'm following a writing course called 52 Dates For Writers at the moment. It's an interesting take on writing, suggesting ways to approach characters from a different angle. So far it's been suggested that we think about food - what would our characters eat, what would that reveal about them and how would they behave in a situation involving a meal? We have been challenged to think about how they'd dance and in order to do this we were invited to dance like no-one was watching.

We've also been asked to take them to a fortune teller. This is where today's post comes in. I thought that I'd share the piece I wrote when one of my characters visited a fortune teller. This may or may not make it through the editing process (assuming I ever get that far!) but it was an interesting piece to write. Some background to set the scene: in the novel there is a man, George, who has relationships with two women, Sally and Jemma. These relationships are polar opposites - one fiery and passionate, one steady and calm. George has to decide which he wants and the rejected woman takes it very badly. No spoilers so I won't tell you what she does or even who she is but there's some lovely writing to come as she takes her revenge! So here's what happens when Sally popped in to see a fortune teller.



Sally opened the door and parted the curtain that was draped across the doorway. A few candles and tea lights were gamely trying to add atmosphere to what was, essentially, the back room of a pub. There was a table in one corner with the usual tools of the fortune tellers trade arranged neatly on it: crystal ball, two packs of cards, one standard and one tarot. The gin was warming through her and she stifled a giggle as she looked round the room. There were two chairs facing each other tucked under the table. Sally pulled one out. It scraped across the wooden floor and she sat down to wait for whatever was going to happen.
She imagined a stooped figure swathed in shawls, heavy gold jewellery and dangling earrings. She’d have a rich voice with a trace of an Eastern European accent. Madam Arcati from Blithe Spirit sprang to mind. Sally closed her eyes and imagined how the reading would go. The fortune teller would gaze into the crystal ball and reveal her future. She’d tell her all about her success as an actress, the awards she’d win and her love life, especially her love life. Sally had a romantic view of what the fortune teller would say and the emphasis was on ‘romance’. She sighed as she thought about what would be revealed about her and George, the way they were destined to be together despite his straying lately.
Her reveries were interrupted by a creaking door and she opened her eyes to see a tall rather gangly young man standing behind the chair opposite her. He smiled and sat down. Sally looked around the room to see if anyone else was there, maybe someone who would explain what was going on.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said, ’I think you may be in the wrong room. I’m waiting to have a reading and the fortune teller will be here soon. You’d better wait outside until we’re finished.’ She flashed her most brilliant smile and turned away from him.
‘Great! I’m Nigel, the fortune teller. I’ll be doing your reading today.’
Sally turned back towards him and forced her mouth to stay shut. This couldn’t be right. Who’d ever heard of a fortune teller called Nigel?   
‘Do you have a preference?’ Nigel asked, indicating the items on the table.
Sally shook her head. This was disappointing. Nothing about this filled her with hope and she felt herself sobering up rapidly.
‘I’m not sure. I’ve never done this before. Well, there was the school fete when I was 14 but I don’t think the Geography teacher had the gift, if you know what I mean.’
Nigel steepled his hands together and his head nodded enthusiastically as Sally spoke.
‘In that case, may I recommend having your palm read? I’m very skilled in that area and most first timers find it most revealing.’
Sally struggled not to giggle when he said he was skilled in that area. She nodded and held out her hand.
‘Both hands please.’ Nigel said, his voice lowering in tone and volume.
She reached across the table and he took her hands in his, turning them palms up and closing his eyes. A few moments of quiet and steady breathing followed and Sally waited patiently.
‘This one is the dominant hand,’ Nigel said lifting her right hand gently. She placed her left hand on the table and waited.
‘What do you want to know?’ he asked. ‘Work, health, love? The choice is yours.’
‘Love.’ Sally said firmly. ‘Tell me about love.’
Nigel stared at her palm with such intensity that Sally started to feel uncomfortably warm, then hot. As an actress she was used to people looking at her but this level of personal scrutiny was something she rarely encountered. She became acutely aware of ever sound in the room: the door creaking in the breeze, someone walking past, a distant clock. But above all their breathing. The only other time Sally recalled being aware of someone’s breathing was when she was having sex. This was different and made her uncomfortable. It was intimate in a different way and she had no idea how she felt about it.
‘You have a very complicated love line. It is long, twisted and broken in places. This indicates that nothing is simple when it comes to love for you. You have loved deeply, very deeply but I sense disappointment in love. There is someone who you loved more than they loved you. You have lost them recently. Not lost to death but lost to another.’
Sally felt her mouth swinging open as Nigel spoke. How did he know this? It was as if he’d peeped into her life. All she could do was nod and swallow.
‘He’s not for you. He’s moved on and is beyond your grasp. Forget him. That part of your life is over. You aren’t ready to move on yet but you will be soon. Broken hearts mend eventually.’
Sally snatched her hand away. This was not what she had come to hear. She needed to hear that George would return to her, that she was the love of his life and he would see the error of his ways.
‘No!’ she shouted, ‘That’s not true. Look again, you’re wrong. He needs me, loves me and will come back to me. Use the cards. They’ll tell you.’
Nigel looked sadly at her and shook his head.
‘I’m sorry that you don’t like the reading but I can only tell you what I see.’
‘No!’ she shouted at him again, ‘This is a set up, you’re in it with him, aren’t you? How could I have been so stupid? Of course this is all a joke to you. I can see you both laughing as you plotted to humiliate me. Well, it won’t work. I’ll find a way to get him back!’
She stood up suddenly and sent the chair clattering to the floor. Nigel remained seated, pale and worried as she ranted. He managed to save the crystal ball when she swept everything from the table but the cards scattered across the floor. Sally stormed towards the door, opened it then turned back towards him. He clutched the crystal ball to his chest and held his breath.
‘You can tell George that I saw through your little ruse. Tell him that I’ll never give him up. Especially not to that nonentity he’s seeing at the moment!’
The door slammed behind her and Nigel waited a few moments before he felt it was safe to breathe again. That was not how his readings usually ended. He popped the crystal ball into his jacket pocket and headed to the bar, shaking slightly.        

A slightly longer post than I ususally do but I hope you enjoyed reading it. Do let me know what you think!
Also let me know if you'd like me to post anymore little bits like this from the course.

Here's a link to the course if you want to know more:

https://thepigeonhole.com/books/52-dates-for-writers

Monday, 29 August 2016

Stop Thinking About It And Do It!

Sometimes I think I tend to over analyse things. I'm a worrier, like a dog with a bone I bother things until I've got myself into a real froth about whatever it is. This is often not conductive to a quiet, contemplative life and if I was that way inclined might lead me to drink or a nervous ulcer!

This naturally bleeds into my writing. I over think the whole process, picking away at it, destroying it and raking through the wreckage. It's no wonder I spend so much time doubting myself and my abilities. Once I've peered into the entrails of the writing process it's never going to look the same again, is it?

But this is all most unhelpful. It stops me from writing. It makes me doubt and question everything about what I write and what I want to write. I write a little, read it back, find it wanting and despair. My inner critic is constantly shouting 'You're not good enough!' or 'Who do you think you're fooling?' and I confess that I spend too long listening to her - there's another thing, why is my inner critic a woman? Shouldn't it be a man? Scary to think that I imagine a woman putting me down; must analyse that ...

I think it's part of my character to over think stuff. I do think I spend too much time musing over things rather than doing stuff. So my challenge to myself is to stop thinking about it and just do it. I've set myself a challenge of writing a short story every week for a year; that's not doable if I spend hours worrying about writing rather than writing. So I'm making a promise to myself - I don't need to analyse the process or the talent or the plot or the characters, I just need to write it down. I can look again later and analyse but if I worry too much about it there will be nothing to analyse! 

So now I have to put that into practise, to go against years of habit. To trust in my own abilities in a way I find really difficult. To trust that I have the skills to write and don't need to question them every five minutes. All very scary but necessary if I'm to progress as a writer. So wish me luck as I attempt to do the impossible; to have faith in myself and trust my own abilities.

Friday, 26 August 2016

WOTW - Challenge

I recently wrote about a challenge I had come across which involved writing a short story every week for a year. The basic premise was that it is virtually impossible to write 52 disappointing stories so there is bound to be something that is good or that you can work with.

I wondered aloud if it was a good challenge and if it was something that I should go for. The response was a resounding YES! so I have decided that I am going to 'go for it'. Starting in Septemeber I will write a short story every week for a year. Good Grief! Sounds daunting when you write it down like that...

What I don't know is whether I will keep them all safely on the old hard drive or whether I should share them on the blog. I know that if I do share them then there are some publications which won't accept them as they have already been published online but I don't know whether that is enough of a reason to not pop them up here for your perusal.

So this week, in the interest of getting it all out there, I'm linking with Jocelyn again after a summer break and making my Word of the Week 'Challenge'

Sunday, 21 August 2016

A Writing Challenge - Should I Accept?

Sometimes Twitter is a nuisance, a real pain, getting in the way of doing anything productive. Maybe that's just me? Anyway, I have wasted more hours than I care to remember wandering aimlessly around Twitter, finding more pictures of kittens to retweet (sorry!). But sometimes you stumble across a piece of gold. This happened to me the other day so I though I'd share it with you.

Someone I've recently started to follow is Jamie Hoang who tweeted a piece of advice from Ray Bradbury. Here's the link:

https://twitter.com/HeyJamie/status/766663625033515008

I love the idea of doing this! I sometimes/frequently have doubts about how good I am as a writer. I think that everything I write is terrible, not worthy of reading, pants etc. I shy away from sharing too much in case all my fears are realised. I've started to dip my toe in the submission process and so far it's been painless. However as most of these places don't give any feedback I avoid the pain of being told I'm no good. I also avoid being given any constructive criticism but you can't have it all, so I'm told.

Back to the point! I love the idea of writing a short story every week. It seems like such a great challenge - so much better than tipping cold water over yourself or shaving your head (I've actually contemplated this!). And I think I agree that it's not possible to be terrible over a whole year, you must end up with something of merit or something that you can work with.

So the question is, should I do it? Should I pick up that baton and run with it? Will I discover some gold or trail in last with a pulled hamstring? (Gosh I'm going to miss the Olympics!)  

Watch this space ...

Friday, 19 August 2016

Some Random Things

Renee over at http://www.mummytries.com/ challenged some of us to share some random facts about ourselves. She shared some very personal and poignant things about herself in the spirit of getting to know her better. I thought I'd have a go but I don't think my life has been as interesting or troubled as Renee's. So forgive me if this is frivolous but then sometimes I am like that...

I'm a proud Brummie exile, living in the softy south (well, Oxfordshire) who has ended up living only a few miles from the village where my mother was born. I've spent some time looking into my family history and found plenty of agricultural labourers but no serial killers or nutters. Must look harder.    

I have no boundaries when it comes to my greed. I have been known to sit on the bus and eat a whole packet of Thornton's coffee chocolates rather than share them when I get home. I also hide chocolates so no-one else knows they are in the house then scoff them all and make myself feel sick. Crisps are a real problem - I will sit and binge on several 'sharing' bags then feel bloated and cross. I shudder to think what the psychology of it is but I'm a greedy cat.

I have several claims to fame. I kissed Gary Shaw in Birmingham City Centre - ok it was as part of the European Cup Winning celebrations and there were several thousand other people there queueing to kiss him or shake his hand. I went to college with Justin Hayward's cousin. And Andrew Castle mentioned a tweet of mine on BBCOne during coverage of Queen's Club. Bet you're all jealous...

I was scared stupid by a Dalek as a small child at Bingley Hall in Birmingham.

I find it hard to act my age. I still get giddy about beautiful men - I'm looking at you Lawrence and Benedict - in the same way I was about David Cassidy and Steve McQueen. I love girly pink, glitter, nail polish, all the things I should have grown out of by now. I enjoy silly things like Pokemon, Hello Kitty and Miffy - I don't even have the excuse of 'It's for my kids' anymore. I worry that I'll be one of those dotty old ladies that everyone jokes about yet I secretly long to be just like that.

I'm a bit of a snob about music, films and books. I have definite ideas about what is 'good' and 'bad' and can be rather dismissive of things that I think are 'bad'. I blame my mother for this - she thought duffle coats and coloured socks were 'common' and some of this rubbed off on me.

Family is really important to me. My sister is my BFF and my husband is my rock. I lost my parents in 2000 and miss them both every day. I still hear my mother's disapproving voice in my head when I do something I think she'd hate - usually revolving around what I'm wearing or eating. I want only the best for my family and will always put my wants and needs behind theirs. In my mind I'm a bread baking, basket weaving, serene Earth Mother; in reality I'm just doing my best! 

I used to be outgoing and confident but several bouts of anxiety related illness have made me more cautious and inward looking. I suffer from anxiety before a trip or event and would rather cancel than attend. However I make myself face these anxieties and usually find that I enjoy myself once I get there. But the little voice can be powerful; she insists that it will all go wrong, I will have a dreadful time, I can't do it etc. She's hard to drown out even though she's small. She morphs into my inner critic when I write and she's a noisy soul when wearing that hat.

I have a shadow identity, an invented 'me' who lives an alternative life to the one I live. She is tall and slim, fit and healthy, successful and content. I should hate her but she stands as a testiment to how my life might have turned out if I had taken different turns and decisions to the ones I did. I might use her as the basis of a story one day...

So there we are, a few things about me. Told you I wasn't very interesting.      

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

How important are images on a blog?

In the spirit of procrastination - I should be getting on with that first draft - I've been wandering around the Internet aimlessly. I stumbled upon an article talking about the importance of updating your blog and including images. It got me thinking: how important are images on a blog?

I confess that I like looking at people's pictures on their blog. It's nice to see where they've been, how their kids are growing, what they've been baking. Maybe I'm just nosey... Anyway, I do enjoy a nice picture. So why don't I put any on my blog?


I used to put pictures on my blog but then I was made aware that by including images I found on the Internet I might be infringing the copyright of the person who took the picture so they were all deleted. Having to use images that I had generated seemed too much effort as I'm not a competent or confident photographer (despite having taken rolls and rolls of film while at college and even developed and printed my own pictures). Maybe if I had a funky new camera to use I'd get into it more but our old camera is bulky so tends to be ignored.  

I'm really bad at remembering to take my phone with me when I'm out and about. I often joke that I have the least mobile mobile phone, it spends all its time sitting on the coffee table! So if something catches my eye I have no way of recording it. I also think that when I'm out and about I should be enjoying the experience not pulling out my phone every 5 minutes, living in the moment and all that. Plus it's a faff to get my glasses out, find my phone, try to remember how the blooming camera phone works - you get the picture. So opportunities to take pictures pass me by and the blog stays image less.


But does that matter? Would my blog be enhanced by some pictures? As I'm trying to keep it as a blog about writing what images would enhance it?  So many questions and I'm not sure I know the answers.  

Friday, 29 July 2016

I've been rejected - and I'm so happy!

Yesterday I received an email from a publication I'd sent a short story to way back in May. I'd forgotten all about it to be honest but that's another story. The email said thanks for sending your story in, we've read it and it's not for us but good luck submitting it somewhere else.

Now those of you with sensible heads will think that I should have been upset with the rejection, yes? But no, I was so chuffed. My son and husband can't understand it, they think I'm a mad woman. Yet I couldn't take the smile off my face all day yesterday.

Now I'm not normally a fan of rejection. Like anyone else it upsets me if folk don't like me or want me, I'm only human after all. Being rejected isn't good for my self esteem, never high at the best of times, so my reaction is surprising. And if I'm honest I'd have been even happier if they had accepted my story - that would have been another post entirely!

So why was I so happy to have been rejected? Because it made me feel like a real writer. Real writers get rejected, they get rejected a lot. JK Rowling was rejected by 12 publishers before she found someone to take on Harry Potter; Agatha Christie took 5 years to get published. Rejection is the badge of honour for any writer. Some people have started challenging themselves to get a set number of rejections in a year! The point about rejection is that in order to get rejected you have to submit your writing to the scrutiny of others. It took me a long time to feel confident enough to submit my story. Letting someone other than my loved ones read my work seemed like a really big step. The fact that the publishers of the online magazine read my work, considered it and let me know they had done so is hugely important to me. I hope my loved ones wouldn't tell me I could write well if it wasn't true but you never know. Maybe they don't want to upset me. I know that the publishers didn't give me feedback but the fact that they bothered to respond means a lot to me. I had the courage to submit, they read it and it wasn't for them. But it was read, it was considered and that counts. In my mind that makes me a real writer.

That's not something I've felt able to say very often or very loudly. So thank you for rejecting my story, I love you for doing it. My story will be re-read, edited and submitted somewhere else soon. The real writer in me will see to that...