Saturday, 31 December 2016

#PoCoLo Blogging Showcase

In a shameless attempt to write a post despite having no inspiration I have stumbled across #PoCoLo hosted by Morgan at and Stephanie at so I decided to join in with their Blogger Showcase. Helpfully for those of us whose brains aren't working yet this morning they have supplied a list of questions to help me! So here goes...

Who are you?
I'm Johanne a fifty something aspiring writer. A Brummie by birth I now live in Oxfordshire with my hubby and grown up son. Three cats complete our family and they are the real bosses in our house.

How did you discover blogging?
I guess like most people I fell into it by accident. I spend far too long surfing the web and I stumbled on a blog called I enjoyed reading about what Jocelyn was up to and started reading regularly. This lead me to the blogs of people who commented on her blog and soon I wanted to be part of that community. And the first version of my blog was born!

When did you first start blogging?
I really can't remember! However I have been doing it for a few years now and it's hard to remember what life was like before I blogged.

What do you find most challenging?
I struggle to be consistent. I'm full of good intentions but sometimes life gets in the way and I forget to blog. Then I feel guilty and fall out of love with my blog and it snowballs. So one of my challenges for 2017 is to be more consistent with my posting.

What is your favourite topic to write about?
I love sharing my writing on the blog. I haven't done that recently because I have been busy with my novel and don't know whether to share any of that before it's finished. But I love hearing what people think about my stories.

Are you blogging for fun or do you have goals?
Until last month I would have said for fun but I am trying to take blogging more seriously in 2017n so I now have goals. I'm very motivated at the moment so let's hope I can keep it going over the next 12 months.

What is your favourite thing about blogging?
I love all the virtual friends I have made through my blog. I have been lucky enough to find a really supportive writing community and I rely on them to keep me motivated and grounded when I get down about my 'talent'. I hope to meet some of them in real life in 2017; I'm sure we can chat for England about all sort of stuff.

Have you ever attended a blogging conference?
No. Short answer! So far I've not taken blogging that seriously but maybe 2017 is the year I get round to checking out the conference scene.

What are your best 3 posts?
Gosh, that's a tough one to answer. I have enjoyed writing some short stories that I have shared on my blog so they must feature. The most viewed posts are ones where I've shared something about my writing like the post about winning at NaNoWriMo.

Describe yourself in 3 words.
Another tricky one. I always think that when you choose your own words folk who know you say 'Really? I've never though of you like that.' So I'm sticking my neck out by choosing anything. But here goes nothing: caring, funny, loyal. Now don't judge me too harshly, there are plenty of other facets to me.

Are you a tea and biscuit or a coffee and cake person?
To be honest I'm a tea and cake person! I'll always choose tea over coffee, I'm typically old school English and everything can be solved over a pot of tea. And yes, it needs to be leaf tea from a tea pot. Given the choice I would have a slice of cake with my tea, lemon drizzle or banana cake by preference.

What's you idea of a perfect night out?
A trip to the theatre will always please me. I'm far too old for clubbing and I'm not keen on the modern pub culture so a trip to see a play will suit me.

Your perfect night in?
Pop a DVD in, pour me a G&T and I'm a happy bunny! Something with Benedict Cumberbatch or Daniel Craig will be fine.

What would your best friend/Mum/OH or kids say is your best quality?
Wow! This sounds like a trumpet blowing moment and takes me right out of my comfort zone. If you force me to pick one I suppose it's my sense of loyalty and fairness. Makes me sound rather worthy but I had to pick something. I'm more fun than that really!

So there you are, something about me and my blogging life. Things will be hotting up on my blog next year so do pop by and see what I'm up to in 2017!

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Blog Goals for 2017

So Aby challenged us to post our goals for our blogs now we've completed her course So I'm putting my goals for 2017 here and hope that by doing so it will keep me accountable - feel free to help me with that!

1. My first goal is to blog at least once a day. This seems a lot for someone who is lazy at blogging *waves*. However I have noticed that people who have a successful blog do a lot of posting. If I am to use my blog to promote my novel then I need to improve the audience and the traffic. So I intend to blog more frequently. I have already scheduled some posts for the New Year and have decided on topics for many more posts.

2. I want to have a book review on the blog every month. I enjoy reading and also enjoy reviewing the books I have read. I'm already reviewing on Goodreads so what I need to do is remember to pop a review on the blog when I do one for Goodreads. It will also keep me on track with my reading which is very important for me as a writer. Call it research!

3. I also want to publish more poems on the blog. I tend to write poems in response to a writing prompt like this one but I want to write and publish a poem each month. Writing poetry is something that I enjoy but lately it has taken a back seat to my novel writing so I am challenging myself to write more poems this coming year.

4. Guest posts are something that I want to include. I have never hosted a guest post but I want to do so in 2017. I have a few people in mind to ask and I will do my research before I approach them. I would also like to write a few posts to include on other people's blogs but am unsure about the protocol for asking if I can guest post on someone else's blog. That is something I will check out during January so I can achieve that particular goal.

5. My major goal for 2017 isn't a blogging one. I want to complete, edit and publish my novel. However I want to use the blog to promote it so my goal is to make the blog a great platform for promoting my novel.

So there they are, my blogging goals for 2017. Please help me to stay on track by nagging and asking how I'm getting on.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

5 Things I Learned This Year

As 2016 winds slowly down (taking far too many lovely folk with it IMHO) I thought I'd look back and analyse the year from a learning perspective. Maybe that's the ex-teacher in me but I needed to do some reflection today and a post here seemed obvious somehow.

1. I learned that I am a writer. This came as a wonderful surprise to me at least. I always wanted to write and have written on and off for most of my life. But nothing made me think that I could call myself a writer. For far too many years I lurked around on the blog and social media, following people whose writing I admired and wishing I could be like them. This year I realised that I was like them! They supported me when I felt unsure and built up my confidence until the day came when I felt able to announce that I was a writer. It still doesn't trip off the tongue but with a deep breath and a following wind I can tell people that I am a writer. And it feels so good.

2. My blog is important to me. For far too many weeks this year I have neglected my blog. I have been too busy; I have lacked inspiration; I have forgotten about it. Excuses, excuses. Bad blogger. But recently I took an online course that helped me to re-focus and to plan for next year. I also realised that when my book is finished I will need to use my blog as a platform to promote it and that means consistency and hard work building my audience. So no more excuses, I will be a better blogger in 2017.

3. I need to grab life by the scruff and dive in. I have seen many friends have wonderful experiences and have loved hearing/reading about them. But I have remained a wallflower, sitting on the side-lines watching all the fun but never joining in. Slowly I realised that I want to join in, I want to look back on interesting and fun times. So I have decided that in 2017 I will try to overcome my reticence and get out there more, including meeting online friends when I get a chance.

4. This one stems from the others a little but I learned that things don't fall into the laps of people. They work hard to make stuff happen. For some weird reason I thought some people were just blessed and things happened to them, almost in a passive way. Like the universe was blessing them. But this year I read a lot about how people made things happen, how they worked to get those opportunities that I so envied. There may be an element of luck or fortune for some people but most folk work bloody hard to create opportunities and if I want things to happen for me, I have to work towards them rather than waiting for them to drop into my lap.

5. I still have ambitions. I never thought of myself as particularly ambitious. I didn't have a career or life plan and drifted from one thing to another, happy to let fate decide where I went and what I did. Yet this year I have realised that there is still much I want to do. I have come scarily close to writing a bucket list, something I always swore I'd never do, but I have thought about the things I still want to do. Top of the list is publishing my book and I want to do this by the end of 2017.  I won't list everything I want to accomplish this year here (there may be a post about it later!) but it has come as a shock to learn that I have more ambitions and more things to look forward to. Blimey, too much positivity here, most unlike me!

So there you have it, 5 things I learned this year. Not a bad haul, if I'm honest. But if 2017 is as positive as I hope to make it I should have much more to reflect on this time next year. Fingers crossed!

Monday, 26 December 2016

It's That Time of Year Again

I'm usually pretty rubbish at self-reflection. I'm far too critical, even hyper-critical, of myself that I struggle to find something positive to say or an achievement worth celebrating and the whole thing ends up as a wail of despair. I wear reverse blinkers so I can see everyone else's achievements but am blind to my own. Yet I know it is a skill I should have learned by now and something that I ought to be able to do as an adult.

This year however I feel as if there is something that I genuinely want to celebrate. This year I won at NaNoWriMo and that is a first for me. I have written about winning in an earlier post so I won't bore you with the same old stuff but I do feel the need to look back at that as a major achievement of 2016.

The point is though that I want to have many more of those achievements next year. I want to have lots to celebrate when 2017 draws to a close. So I have to make these things happen. I know that stuff doesn't fall into my lap, the gods don't shower things down on me so it is up to me to make it happen. I have made plans to improve my blog with more and varied posts; I have planned how I will bring the novel to publication next year; I want to embrace new opportunities rather than always saying 'no'.

All this is going to take me outside my comfort zone. I need to be brave - and that's not me at all! But if I want to have plenty to reflect on in 12 months I need to make it happen. I'm in control of how this next year pans out and nobody else will be to blame if it drifts past without much to get excited about. So for the first time in many years (if ever) I am looking forward to a packed and exciting year ahead. And if I'm honest that scares me a little. I'm one of life's plodders and I don't go out of my way to seek excitement.

I'm also aware that writing it all down isn't the same as doing it. I'm a past master at good intentions that amount to nothing. This is my default position - think about it, decide to do it, think again and put it off/cancel it. That's why I struggle to think of things worth celebrating or mentioning when I reflect on the past year. I need to push past my reluctance to get out and do stuff, my reluctance to grab chances and see them as opportunities to do interesting things rather than opportunities for the Universe to kick me in the teeth. I need to be braver and more accepting of the good things that may/will come my way if I seek them out.

Wish me luck as I try things out and go against my anxious nature.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

15 minute chunks of time

As the end of the year approaches I always start to think about what I can do to make next year better than last. This year I've accomplished something I never thought I would when I wrote 50,000 words to win at NaNo. So I feel that my writing is finally coming together and I look forward to 2017 with excitement as I try to build on this and get my first novel in some shape to be read or even published.

But sadly the blog has had to take a back seat and I'm afraid that it's been rather neglected of late. So I enrolled on a course to help me re-focus my blog and move it on a little. But as ever time and enthusiasm are my problem.

I also started reading a book about organisation by someone called The Flylady. Lots of useful tips about getting on top of household management (some of which I may put into practise!) But one thing that she said struck home. She said that you can manage to do anything for 15 minutes, talking about cleaning and tidying tasks mainly but it got me thinking.

15 minutes isn't much time to spend doing a task. Thinking about household tasks I don't enjoy, even I can manage to spend 15 minutes cleaning the bathroom or kitchen. Knowing that the timer will go off and I can stop is key. Yes, she advocates using a timer! You can commit to any task as long as you stop as soon as the timer goes off and then move on to another task.  No task has time to become overwhelming so you breeze through them. At least that's the theory...

So I wondered if it would work in other areas of my life. For example, I allocated 15 minutes to writing this blog post and here it is! It didn't feel like too much of a chore and I knew that if it took longer than 15 minutes I could leave it and come back later to finish it off. Winning at NaNo has shown me that I can sit at my computer and write for a couple of hours. But I think giving myself permission to write for just 15 minutes will help me fit writing into my life in a way that banishes the guilt I sometimes feel.

I also plan to spend some 15 minute chunks dealing with the blog - writing posts, promoting it, scheduling and all that stuff that I know I should do but never get round to.

So let's hear it for the 15 minute chunk of time and using it productively in 2017!

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

NaNo Winning

I try not to blow my own trumpet but sometimes it has to be done.
After several years of trying I finally won at NaNo! I wrote 50,000 words in November and that is so much more than I've ever managed before. I am mostly happy with what I've written - I know, there will be flaws to discover when I edit but so far, so good. I feel really proud of myself and that's not a feeling I have often.

So what have I learned from all this? The most important thing that I learned was that I can do it. I can sit and write for a few hours; I can put words on the computer and do it all again the next day; I can write and most of what I write is good. There, I said it, I can write well and it's something I enjoy doing. This is a big thing for me so it feels right to celebrate it here.

I also learned that I can write in a genre that is not the one I usually choose. The NaNo novel is a fantasy type novel which is something I have read before but never tried to write. I'm not sure I will write only fantasy from now on but it is interesting to do something different. And maybe that is why I won this time because I was doing something outside my comfort zone and it just seemed to flow.

The last thing I learned is that I want to get better and do more writing. I've always felt a little guilty at putting time aside to write - there's always something else I 'should' be doing, right?  Well now I've decided not to bother with the guilt! I'm a writer so I have to spend time writing. It's not a waste of time, it's what I have to do.

So as the year draws to a close I am still writing the NaNo novel and I intend to complete it. So at some stage I'll start worrying about whether it's any good, how do I edit it etc. Join me on that ride in 2017!

I'm sharing this on What I'm Writing.

Friday, 11 November 2016

Word of the Week - Words

It should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that words are very important to me. I have loved reading and writing for most of my life and spent many happy hours as a child making up and telling stories. More recently I have begun to take my writing more seriously and even dipped my toe into the dangerous waters of calling myself a writer. So words are the toolkit that I use everyday to tell the stories that crowd my mind. Words are also the vehicles I use to transport myself to other worlds through the writing of others.

I am once again taking part in NaNoWriMo this year and things have been going surprisingly well.
The words are flowing and I am really enjoying telling my story, even though it has sprung from a genre that I don't usually write. It's a bit of a fantasy novel - not The Hobbit but there are bits that have their feet firmly in the fantasy camp. I'm enjoying writing something so different and at times using words in a slightly different way - some of my characters have an idiosyncratic way of speaking!

But today I am thinking about words in the light of the death of Leonard Cohen. He used words in a way that I can only dream of. I was introduced to the music of Leonard Cohen by my friend Alison at college. I was into 1970's pop music and David Bowie, she was into Leonard Cohen and John Martyn, artists I had not heard of or listened to. As our friendship developed we listened to each others music and I learned to love Leonard Cohen for his poetry and the smoky quality of his voice. Today I am sad that he has left us but so happy that I have the wonderful songs and poems he left behind. On the radio someone compared his lyrics to Yeats and that pleased me greatly. I am a huge fan of Yeats and read his words regularly. Both Yeats and Leonard Cohen use language in a way that draws me in, challenges me and sometimes makes me weep.

So today I shed a tear for the passing of a great poet, a weaver of words and a thoughtful human being. The world is a poorer place for his leaving it but there is a wonderful concert starting in heaven as he joins the other legends we lost this year.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Day 5 NaNoWriMo

Just thought I'd check in after a few days silence.

Yesterday I smashed through the 10,000 word barrier! I am so happy. This story is flowing so well that it's scary. I'm pantsing through the story but that isn't holding me back. I did work out the basis of the story, the world it was set in and the main characters so it isn't a total surprise what is happening but the ease with which I'm writing is stunning me.

Here's hoping I've not jinxed the thing and can carry on in this vein!

Thursday, 3 November 2016

NaNoWriMo Day 2

Well this is encouraging. I'm pantsing this novel and it's romping along at a giddy pace.
I'm still ahead of the word count which is great and almost unheard of - I'm usually playing catch up even at the beginning of NaNoWriMo!

I'm especially surprised at how well it's all going especially as I'm writing in a different genre to my usual one (whatever that may be) This new NaNo novel is a fantasy type which is something that I rarely write or read. But all is going well so far ...

So onwards and upwards heading for the finish line.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Day 1 NaNoWriMo

I don't usually use text speak, even when texting, but OMG! and WTF?
Day 1 of NaNoWriMo over and I'm 1,000 words ahead of schedule, I am totally rocking this writing thing.

Now I know that there will be tougher days ahead but I'm so chuffed with my progress. I went to Worcester to visit my MIL yesterday and got plenty of writing time on the train. If nothing else it has shown me that I can get a goodly number of words written if I'm away from distractions. So I now need to put that into practice when I'm doing the rest of NaNoWriMo - and that may mean turning the TV off! Which is something I hardly ever do as I'm a self confessed Telly Addict ...

I'm also planning on a trip into Oxford for a writing meeting with fellow NaNoers in a posh library that's part of Balliol College. I'm really excited to meet some fellow writers and seeing a part of the University that is usually closed to the public (must be my nosey gene kicking it!)

I hope I can keep reporting great progress this month and that I get a fully formed first draft out of this - I must confess to feeling rather excited at the moment!

Saturday, 29 October 2016

The Prompt - Trick

Fool Me Once

Bobby was a practical joker. He liked nothing more than playing a prank on an unsuspecting victim, reducing himself to hysterical laughter and his victim to red faced embarrassment. As a child he had spent all his  Saturday mornings and most of his pocket money in the joke shop on the High Street, filling his pockets with itching powder, rubber snakes and plastic flies. Throughout the week he would search out new victims, hunting them down with all the stealth and ruthlessness of a big game hunter, luring them in until he was ready to strike.
At school he had tormented his teachers with frogs in their desk drawer, rubber chalk, whoopee cushions and the like. He had spent more time in detention than any other child in his year and on one occasion had been suspended for putting a potato in a teacher’s exhaust pipe and causing several hundred pounds worth of damage to the car. His father had beaten him for that and threatened him with further beatings if he ever did anything that serious again. So Bobby learned to play less serious pranks, ones that would give him the thrill of fooling someone without the risk of causing any real damage.

As a teenager Bobby was often the centre of attention as he pranked the girls, reducing them to red faced screaming ninnies. He positioned a hairdryer under a desk and as they walked past he switched it on and blew their skirts up, affording the boys a flash of thigh and knicker. He put superglue in the keyhole of the head girls locker and watched as she wept with frustration when she couldn’t get her text books out for her lessons. He switched the soap in the girls’ cloakroom and shrieked with laughter when the prettiest girl in school emerged with a sooty black face. Not many people laughed with him when she was sent home in her father’s Bentley after becoming hysterical.

Bobby’s parents hoped that he would grow out of these tricks when he became an adult but they were disappointed. If anything the tricks got more cruel. He would play on the most vulnerable part of a person, finding just the prank that would sting them the most. A shy woman at his work was horrified to find a picture of her face pasted onto a naked body and displayed around all the offices one morning. She became hysterical and had to be calmed by the office manager before the paramedics arrived. He never saw her again. She was replaced by a fat woman who he tormented for three months with deliveries of pizzas and diet club application forms until she stormed out one day, throwing her letter of resignation in the manager’s face on her way out. The man with the stammer only lasted a day after Bobby gave him a list of customers to phone littered with names containing m’s and l’s. He had to retire to the toilet after that one, tears streaming down his face and unable to speak for laughing.

Bobby moved from the office job when he was outed as the one who put cling film across the gent’s toilet seat on the day the chairman of the board was visiting. He though he should quit before the internal enquiry began. He found a job in a warehouse and many fruitful opportunities to pull pranks. He stacked some empty boxes so that the next person through the door would make them topple. A few broken pots in the top one made a wonderful sound as they crashed to the floor. He’d never heard a man scream as loudly as John did. John was a wonderful victim, so gullible, so trusting. When he started work at the warehouse Bobby singled him out for special treatment. He sent him on wild goose chases for tartan paint, left handed screws and glass hammers. The look on John’s face when he came back empty handed and apologetic was priceless.

But it couldn’t last. John worked out what was going on and complained to the manager that he was being bullied by Bobby. The firm took a very serious view of bullying and sacked Bobby on the spot. All his pleading that it was all done in fun fell on deaf ears. There was a zero tolerance for bullying and he was to be made an example of. He was given such poor references that he found it hard to get another job, drifting in and out of dead end jobs like litter picking and collecting trollies in supermarket car parks. None of them lasted long as he was unable to curb his pranking ways and always fell out with his co-workers. On one memorable occasion he was sacked for surrounding the manager’s car with trollies so he couldn’t drive off. Bobby thought that was one of his finest but it cost him yet another job. Eventually the offers of jobs dried up and he settled into a life on benefits, living in one room in a bed and breakfast. He’d alienated all his friends and family so lived a lonely existence, drifting from one pub to another until he got barred for playing tricks on the regulars.

As an old man he liked to slump on chairs in cafes pretending to be dead. When a concerned customer or member of staff came to see how he was he’d open his eyes and wail at them, causing more than one young girl to burst into tears and getting himself barred from more establishments around town. He took to pulling the same trick in the park, slumping on a bench and lying very still until someone came up to him concerned for his welfare. Dogs would sniff him and he’d wait until the person was really close before he shouted in their face, making them scream or jump back in horror. He got a reputation in town and people would walk quickly past him or turn and head back the way they had come. None of the locals bothered with him and the trick was rarely played to its conclusion.

And that’s how Bobby the prankster, the master of the practical joke, the great trickster, came to be found stiff and cold on a park bench one Friday afternoon, having sat there, dead, for seven hours.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Losing confidence in my novel

So what do you do when you start to lose confidence in your novel?
I got some good feedback when I went to my local writer's group but as well as pointing out a few things that I hadn't thought of it put some doubt in my mind about the whole direction the novel was taking. The more I think about it, the more I'm not sure how this novel should pan out and it's not the way I planned it.

So I'm now left with a stranded novel and no idea if I can finish it. If the plan isn't working anymore should I write a new plan? Or should I dump the whole thing? This is worse than writer's block, it's paralysing my thoughts rather than my writing.

I've got a small plan for something I want to write for NaNoWriMo and part of me just wants to plough on with that and forget the troublesome novel for a while. But that feels like defeatism and not the way a proper writer behaves. A proper writer would beat that darn novel into shape and make it submit to my powerful will. But I'm struggling to feel like a proper writer over this. I feel out of my depth, confused and troubled.

So I face a weekend of worrying about what to do and probably doing nothing but worry. I can't even bear to look at what I've written or the plan. That's how much I feel disconnected with this whole novel at the moment. Here's hoping some distance and deep thought will give me much needed perspective ... and maybe a bolt of lightening will strike and the solution will present itself.

The Prompt - Red

Today is the 50th anniversary of the disaster at Aberfan. I was a primary school pupil when this happened and the same age as some of the children who lost their lives that terrible day. It is sobering to think that all the experiences I have had, all the things I have done, all the life I have lived never happened for those young lives.

The prompt 'Red' reminded me of the red Welsh flag, the red shirts worn by Welsh sports stars, the red dragon which represents Wales around the world. So I decided to try a tribute to the people of Aberfan on this most difficult day.


Another school day, classes settle to learn.
Teachers take registers and young voices answer,
'Here, Miss', 'Present' and 'Yma'.

Proud red dragon nation,
Celtic heritage, land of song
And poets, your life is about to change.

A rumble, a rush then darkness.
The blackness engulfs all
And the silence descends.

Blackness covers the red.
Light and hope extinguished,
Buried beneath the waste of your lifeblood industry.

Many rush to the school.
Hands grab at the spoil, digging, pulling,
Frantic rescue and a few are saved.

Red faces, flushed with effort.
Bodies found and hope is fading,
Black eclipses the red dragon's future.

Late morning and only the dead emerge.
One hundred and forty four souls lost,
Half of the children at Pantglas School dead.

Red flags at half mast.
The red dragon weeps as the horror unfolds,
A generation snatched away one Friday morning.

A young girl hears the horror in the Midlands.
The scale too large for her to comprehend,
Yet fifty years on I still remember my mother's tears.

Red roses and flags, tributes to those lost.
We remember those young lives lost,
The promise gone and many hearts broken.

Monday, 17 October 2016

To Plan or Not To Plan

I've signed up to do NaNoWriMo again this year and that's set me thinking about planning.

I've had a few goes at NaNo before but have yet to win. I've enjoyed the experience but have struggled to sustain the writing. This year I thought I'd be more organised and plan my novel properly before I started. However I've been struck down with some ill health and have left things hanging. I've managed to do a little planning - character types, basic idea for story, setting - but not a proper plan.

Now here's my dilemma. I have done a proper plan for a novel that is sitting on the hard drive. It stands at 18,000 words but is not feeling the love at the moment. Since I went to the writer's group and got some feedback I'm not sure that it's going the right way and I need to think it out. This means I'm wondering whether to plan my NaNo novel or 'pants' the thing. I'm quite happy to write this way so it holds no fear. I'll make my mind up at some stage but again this has got me thinking about whether I'm a planner or a pantser.

I know that there are positives on both sides. With a proper plan I know where my story is going and can write any part at any time. I can write the ending first if I want to - rebellious or what? But the novel with the plan is stalling and I'm not sure I believe in it anymore. If I write with no plan I feel freer and the story seems to flow. I can let the story develop as it wants to and I can change things as I go along.

So what should I do for NaNo? Do I force my tired cold-ridden brain to do a proper plan for the novel or do I just start writing on November 1st?

Sharing this on What I'm Writing

Writing Bubble

Friday, 14 October 2016

Word of the Week - Fluffy

After a week away I'm trying to get back into the swing of things and WOTW seemed like an appropriate place to start. Thinking of the word for the past week has forced me to sit down and assess where I am at the moment.

This week I have chosen 'Fluffy' as my word. Let me explain: we had a holiday in the sun, a last chance to warm our old bones before hunkering down for the colder months. It was a lovely week in a super resort and I think we both benefitted from the break (even if OH rushed around trying all the fitness classes on offer!) However on the day we went I was ill. Not just a cold but a proper viral collapse, involving passing out at various stages around Gatwick Airport! I was in and out of consciousness for two days and weak and tired for another two - great way to spend the majority of a 7 day holiday! It was ok as I got to sit quietly and read which is one of the main points of a holiday, even if I didn't get to lie in the sun this time around so have very little in the way of a tan.

How does that involve the 'Fluffy' that I have chosen to sum up my week? Well, since we got back I've struggled to get back into the swing of things. My whole brain has felt as if it is made of fluff and my thinking has been fluffy too. The fact that a cold has popped up this morning might explain what is happening - I'm not sure I'm totally over the whatever-it-was I had and the fluffy feeling that has plagued me all week. I've not even managed to get started on a new book, that's how off centre I am!

So here's to clearing the fluff next week, getting back to some sort of routine and feeling more like myself again.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

The Value of a Writers Group Part 2

So I went to the 'trial' meeting of my local writing group on Tuesday and I thought I'd share my thoughts and impressions with all my lovely readers!

To say I was nervous is an understatement! I spent most of Tuesday trying to think of reasons not to go. That's how nervous I was. It was the reading out of a sample of my writing bit that got me. I'm not very good at sharing my writing yet. oh sure, I've submitted some pieces and shared some on the blog but this was different. I was going to read out and have others comment while I was there. Scary or what? I spent far too long obsessing about what i was going to read. I bothered my wonderful friends over at Facebook as I worried about what I was going to read and they were a tower of strength and wisdom as always. Finally I decided on an extract from my novel. Now all I had to do was screw my courage to the sticking place and I'd be fine ...

I walked into town and convinced myself that everything would be ok. I'm not sure I believed myself but by the time I got to the venue I had decided that even if it turned out to be the worst 2 hours of my life it would make a good blog post! I was the first to arrive which gave me time to decide that if no-one arrived by 7.30 I'd have a stiff gin in a local pub and go home, never to think about writing groups again. But of course someone turned up and I had to bite the bullet.

Now as it was a 'trial' meeting I'm not sure if I'm in or not but at the moment I'm not worried about that. I got something valuable from the meeting, I felt like a real writer for a while and have so many ideas that I can write something different each day for a week!

So I now know the value of a writing group; it's a really supportive space where you can get great feedback and where ideas are born. I hope they liked me enough to let me join but if they don't I got something from that one meeting and I can live with that.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

The Value of a Writers' Group

So I contacted the leader of my local writers' group a while ago with the idea of joining them and improving my writing with some feedback. So far so good. Months passed and I forgot all about it. This morning I got an email asking me along to one of their meetings for a 'trial'.

Which gives me a dilemma. I'm not terribly confident with my writing yet and they want me to read out an extract of about 1500 words! Help!

Several things leap to mind. Firstly: the thought of reading out something which I have written is really scary. It makes me feel really nervous just to think about it never mind how I'll feel when I actually have to do it. Secondly: how do I decide what to read? Do I go with a short story or an extract from the novel? I guess if I want some constructive criticism of my writing I should choose part of the novel as this would be most useful. But the novel is the roughest of first drafts and I'm not sure it's fir to see the light of day.

So what to do? There's a bit of me that wants to duck out altogether but that won't help to improve my writing one little bit. Also, if I can't bear to read out my own writing why should anyone else want to read it? I need to get over this silly reluctance to share. If anyone has the magic bullet that will give me tons of confidence, let me know!

So this week it's less about What I'm Writing and more about What I'll Be Reading (with luck).

Thursday, 15 September 2016

What I'm Writing - To Blog or Not To Blog...

My writing challenge is going well. Two weeks in and two short stories written. I'm worried that I may run out of ideas some time soon but I've decided that I need to complete the challenge more than I need to worry about the quality of what I write. Things can be tidied up later!

Now here's the question: do I publish my stories on my blog? I'm only recently feeling happier about sharing my work so part of me wants to take every opportunity to share what I've written. But here's the thing: if I do share here I can't submit the work elsewhere. Many publications and competitions won't consider anything that has been published on blog so by popping my story on here I take it out of circulation. It's something that I'm struggling with - to publish or not to publish.

As a fairly new writer (obviously not that new ;-) but new to considering myself a writer and sharing my work) I'm not sure how to decide whether a story is worth keeping for possible submission or whether it's ok to pop on the blog. I know there's no magic formula so I'm not looking for that but I'd like to know how other writers decide what to do with their work.

I've decided to keep the second of my short stories on the hard drive for the moment rather than share. It may have a life somewhere else and I don't want to lose that opportunity. But I'm also mindful that it may end up on the blog if I can't find an alternative home for it. So keep an eye out for it!

Friday, 9 September 2016

Startling Landscape

Another piece inspired by a date from 52 Dates for Writers. We were invited to visit a startling landscape and then write about it. As I had no time to go to a startling landscape I wrote about a landscape I saw on TV. Hope you enjoy it.

As they climbed the last few feet the wind dropped and there was a slight warming in the air. They felt the loose rock shift under their feet as they made it to the top of the ridge. The low clouds parted  and a shaft of sunlight illuminated the most perfect sight. Below them, obscured from view from most angles was a tarn, a mountain lake glistening in the sunlight. It looked like a perfect circle, nestling between the outcrops of rock. The sides curved round gently, framing the water that sparkled as the sun shone on the surface. As quickly as it had appeared the sun was obscured by the clouds again and the water changed. It was suddenly dark and menacing, looking like a bottomless pool from Anglo Saxon sagas. They had no problem imagining monsters living in the depths, creatures from the dawn of time who had slumbered there unmolested for centuries.
The temperature began to fall and the cloud cover threatened rain. They took out cameras to immortalise the scene then began their descent. As they disappeared from view a ripple skittered across the surface of the tarn, breaking silently against the shore. Darkness started to fall and the tarn returned to its slumber.

The Prompt - Return

Hooray! The Prompt is back from its summer break, all tanned and relaxed. So it's time to stretch out those writing muscles and get creating. So here's my take on 'Return'.


I'm going back, back in time.
Back to my roots.
Taking the train to my home town.
The city that shaped me, made me,
Turned me out into the world.
Fully grown I return to the place
I left when young and green.
Memories flood through me as the train
Chugs northwards, heading back.
Mixed feelings assault me,
Nostalgia for happy, carefree times,
Sadness for those lost and gone.
Everything has changed, new and shiny
Replacing old and familiar.
Returning here has left me bothered,
Unsure how I feel about this place,
Once so familiar, now so alien.
The young me loved the noise, the busy-ness,
The life of the city.
Older me feels overwhelmed, disturbed
Not at all relaxed here.
Was it a mistake to return?
Should memories stay firmly in the past?

I take my leave of my old home town
And return to my now hometown.
Glad I did yet not keen to do so again.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Week 1: Write a Short Story Every Week

So I've managed to complete the first short story of my challenge. It didn't turn out to be the story I planned on writing, that one died in paragraph two of boredom! So after much deliberation I decided that I'd publish it here despite the fact that it might not be eligible for publication elsewhere. So do let me know what you think and enjoy!

Storm Warning

Whenever I hear thunder or see lightening flash across the sky I’m transported back to the kitchen in my grandmother’s house. At the first hint of a storm she’d rush about opening doors so the lightening could find a way out if it came into the house. There was also something to be done with knives but I can’t remember what that was. Then we’d all sit under the kitchen table holding hands until the storm passed. For a while I was terrified of thunder storms but now I enjoy watching the lightening blazing through the heavy clouds and listening to the rain pounding down onto the patio. Thunder still makes me jump but I no longer have the need to fling the doors open.

My mother’s side of the family seemed to have many superstitions and rituals that other families didn’t. As a city child I was fascinated by the country lore of my grandmother. She told me that when cows all sit down together in a field it meant rain was coming. If she caught sight of the cows in the water meadow opposite her house lying down she’d rush to fetch the washing in and hang it around the house on wooden clothes horses, even if it was a warm sunny day. As soon as the cows stood up the washing would go back out on the line. She also told me that horses couldn’t lie down or they’d die. I was heart broken when I saw the lovely brown and white foal that had been born on the farm down the lane lying down. Convinced it was dead I cried for an hour solid and picked a bunch of flowers to put next to the fence of its field. Imagine my surprise when it was running about the field swishing its tail when I got back there! My grandmother said I must have been mistaken about it lying down but I was sure of what I had seen. My father laughed so long and loud when I told him that he had to wipe his eyes with his hankie.

Grandmother thought that things were very strange and wrong in the city where I lived. She visited once a year and criticised everything. I copied my mother when she rolled her eyes as grandmother picked a fault with something else about city life. She distrusted everything: there were too many buses, yet she moaned that her village had a poor bus service; there were too many cars, yet she moaned when the Rag and Bone man came past with his horse and cart; it was too hot in her room, yet she moaned about the smell of the city air when we opened a window. Everything was wrong even down to the pegs my mother used on the washing line. We had wooden spring pegs which flew across the garden if the spring got twisted. Grandmother used the old fashioned one piece pegs that could be covered in scraps of fabric and turned into little dolls. We loved to play with the pegs and her fabric bag when we visited. We turned all the pegs into little people, imagined a village for them to live in and told stories about their lives until it was time to go home. When I was grown up and helped grandmother to peg out the washing there were still faded faces on some of the pegs from my childhood.

Some of the superstitions seemed harmless enough, such as not putting new shoes on the table. If you did the shoes would pinch and never be comfortable. Others were darker, more grown up and a bit frightening. Every Halloween we made tiny figures out of twigs, wool and fabric scraps. We’d hide them among the shrubs and trees in the garden to guard the home over the coming year. Sometimes we’d search for these little people later on in the year, moving branches and dead leaves in the places where we’d hidden them. Sometimes we’d find them, toppled over by animals or the wind. But sometimes they had vanished leaving no trace. Grandmother said these figures had been killed fighting goblins or demons and had been burned in a cold terrible fire. This frightened us more than the imagined evil we’d been trying to keep away, the thought of demons and goblins roaming around our peaceful city garden. As we got older we weren’t so keen to carry on with that particular tradition, it seemed a bit silly. Once I’d studied The Crucible I warned grandmother that a few hundred years ago she’d have been burned as a witch. She smiled and said that people were entitled to there beliefs and traditions. But I know that my grandmother still hid the twig people around her garden until her death. 

As the thunder storm passes over I am reminded of a terrible storm when I was a child. I was staying with my grandmother and it had been a hot, humid day. Everyone was feeling really grumpy and cross with each other, clothes sticking to our bodies and nowhere cool to take refuge. My grandfather was in his workshop, a vast barn of a building which fascinated us but was forbidden to us. We were not allowed in there unless grandfather invited us in and under no circumstances were we to touch anything. It was an Aladdin’s cave to us, filled with things we longed to ask about or touch. Hanging from the rafters were several rusted bicycles, one with no tyres and one with an old wicker basket on the front. That one was the one my uncle had ridden into a lamppost when he’d been dared to do a wheelie by my Dad. There were strings of pungent onions from the garden, woven together by grandfather into beautiful plaits. There were seed trays waiting to be filled in the spring, an enormous lawn mower with a spare grass collector, oiled tools hanging from a board, ladders, plant pots, three carpet beaters, buckets with holes in or no handles, coils of rope, stacked paint tins dribbling yellow or blue or green dried paint down the sides, fishing rods, a broken down motor cycle in pieces in one corner. It was a magical place and we wished we were allowed in, especially on this hot day as it was gloriously cool inside. But we were denied that refuge and had to make do with standing on tiptoes and peering through the cobwebby windows.

I got bored staring through the window and wandered off on my own. I skirted the herb garden, running my fingers through the lavender and rosemary, sending a glorious scent into the heavy air. I weaved my way between the rows of runner beans feeling the cool green leaves rub my cheeks and forehead. In the distance I could see the back of the neighbouring cottages with their off set square windows looking out at me as I strode through the grass in the orchard. There was a tiny passage between the cottages and the wall of my grandparent’s garden which promised a cool refuge from the heat. Seed heads stuck to my socks and skirt as I pushed my way through thigh high grass, ducking below the overhanging branches of apple, pear and plum trees.  

When I reached the end of the garden I turned left towards the dark passage. Usually I was too scared to go in alone but I knew that it was cool and dark and the sweat was running between my shoulder blades and sticking my hair to my scalp. I wanted to sit quietly for a while in the cool, not to feel the sun beating down on my head. I squeezed myself between the two walls and shuffled forwards. There was no vegetation here, it was too dry and dark for anything to grow yet in the winter there were strange fungus things that smelled of rot and death which grew here. I wondered if they were hiding underground or inside the walls during summertime but there was no sign of anything like that. As I pushed further into the passage it got darker and harder to see. If I looked up I could make out a thin sliver of sky, blue and cloudless. It looked hot and sticky from this shaded place. The cottage walls were uneven and in places the passageway got wide enough for me to stand square on and in one of these wider places I slid down the wall and sat on the dirt floor. I knew I was getting my dress filthy and I’d be in trouble when I went back but I didn’t care, I was cool and away from the sun, that was all that mattered. I stretched my legs out and my foot brushed against something. In the dark it was hard to see what was there; I knelt up and reached out to find what it was. My fingers brushed against something hard and sharp. I closed my fingers around it and pulled it towards me.

When I saw what it was I dropped it into my lap with a gasp. It was one of the poppets that we made every Halloween. What was it doing here? I only remembered putting them under trees and shrubs not up against walls. Who had put it here? The passage was so narrow it couldn’t have been a grown up, they’d never squeeze through. But if it was a child and it wasn’t me or my sister then who? I picked the poppet up and looked more closely. The twigs were very brittle, one had snapped when I’d kicked it and hung limply by a tread of bark. The fabric was very dirty, fraying and the pattern hard to see. One piece looked as if it had flowers and there was a scrap of lace tucked in. Tiny stitches held the costume together and there was a scrap of wool tied on top as if it were hair. This poppet had been made with more care than the ones we made. I rested it against the wall and looked down the passageway where it had been hidden. There was a whole crowd of them! As far as I could see there were poppets, standing against the wall, lying in the dirt, piled up against each other. It was as if a village of tiny dolls was hiding between these walls in my grandparent’s garden.

I felt strange, uneasy as I looked at the poppets. They seemed to be watching and waiting which I knew was nonsense. They were dolls made from sticks and fabric, they had no eyes and they weren’t alive. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being watched. I felt very cold and my breathing quickened. The wall against my back seemed to be pushing me further into the passage and the little light that spilled down was fading away. The sweat between my shoulders was icy cold, chilling me until I felt myself start to shiver. A sense of panic was rising within me and I wanted to be away from here very quickly. I pushed against the dirt floor, scrambling against the crumbling walls until I was standing. The poppet fell to the ground and I backed away from it, never taking my eyes from it almost as if I expected it to move towards me. I edged towards the garden as fast as I could, hardly feeling the rough brickwork scraping my arms. As I popped out from between the walls I dared to glance back. I could see the poppets arranged in rows three or four deep going back as far as I could see. A smell of damp fungus wafted through the air and I turned and ran back to the house as fast as I could.

I burst into the kitchen just as the storm broke. A clap of thunder made me scream and as soon as I had let that first scream out I was unable to stop. Mother grabbed me and shook me until I stopped screaming, the tears started to flow and I sobbed in her arms. Grandmother was flapping about opening doors and muttering about lightening bolts and fires. She dragged my sister under the table leaving mother and me clinging to each other in front of the fireplace. The rain began to pound down and lightening flashed across the sky. It lit up the clouds from within, a dazzling lightshow that was enjoyed by my grandfather leaning on the door frame of his workshop, mug of tea in hand.              

Sunday, 4 September 2016

The Graveyard

This piece is another one prompted by the 52 Dates for Writers course. We were invited to visit a graveyard and write our impressions of the visit. As this didn't fit in my novel at the moment I'm sharing it here as a stand alone piece of writing. I may find that I need a graveyard scene later so it's a useful exercise in its own right. See what you think!

If this was Yorkshire or the depths of Dartmoor then there would be mist rolling between the headstones and a strange eerie moaning would drift across the landscape. Images of large dogs and ghosts would flit through my mind and I'd quicken my paces to get to the other side. But this is neither of those places and this graveyard is bathed in bright sunshine on a warm summer's day. It is a municipal graveyard, ordered and neatly kept. As I wander down the pathways I see names which are modern and remind me of people I have known; Kevin, Darren, Carol and Sharon. Not the names I'm used to seeing in graveyards and a stark reminder of my own mortality. The dates are mostly within my lifetime too - 1972, 1968, 1983 - and this again makes me think about my own life.

The old Victorian churchyards I wandered through as a young woman are starkly different to this burial ground. They were properly atmospheric and it was easy to imagine moustache twirling villains chasing chaste maidens through them. Or slightly hysterical young girls swooning across the tombstones as they followed superstitions about spending time in churchyards conjuring up spirits. The slightly neglected air in those churchyards only made them more attractive in my view. The rambling undergrowth obscuring some of the inscriptions, the thick moss dripping from the stones, the overhanging trees keeping parts of the churchyard in almost permanent shade; all adding to the atmosphere, the spooky feeling and a tingle up the spine.

The modern graveyard is peaceful too. There are places to sit and contemplate, neatly trimmed shrubs and an air of tranquillity. If my family were buried here it would be a pleasant place to visit and remember. Yet I still can't shake the feeling that this isn't how a burial place should be. It's too neat and tidy, too many straight lines and edges. It feels like strolling through a shopping mall rather than visiting the dead.

As an antidote to the modernity and corporate feel I visited the churchyard of my local church and found things more to my liking. Here the graves were from the distant past - 1569, 1719, 1601 - and they fitted more my idea of a graveyard. The names were older too - Katherine, Richard, Thomasine - and the headstones were weathered and toppling. This had the silent, haunting atmosphere that I expect from a churchyard. This is the kind of place I'd like to rest for all eternity.

So what does this say about me and my attitude to death and burial? I think I have a rather Romantic even Gothic view of death. My ideal funeral would be a Victorian one with plenty of black crepe and wailing, a coffin with proper brass handles dripping with white lilies, a horse drawn hearse with glass side, mourning jewellery and lace hemmed handkerchiefs. I suspect that I'll end up with a cremation and a scattering rather than a burial but I do hope the funeral itself is a grand affair. Not expecting much, am I?


Forgotten Child by Emily Organ - A Book Review

There is always the fear when reading a sequel to a much loved book that it won't live up to the previous one. No danger of that here! Emily Organ re-animates the wonderful characters from Runaway Girl and sends them off on another medieaval adventure.

I was pleased that my favourite character from Runaway Girl had a more prominent part this time. Millicent is a joy; feisty, wise and down to earth, I'd like her to be a much loved aunt of mine. New characters enchanted too - I'd love to be swept off my feet by the dashing Moris de Grey. I imagine him like Clive Mantle in Robin of Sherwood! The whole de Grey family have a more prominent part in this book and they are beautifully drawn and well rounded characters. My benchmark is always 'Can I visualise this character?' and there is no trouble doing that with Emily's writing. She includes enough deatil for me to see them all in my mind's eye. Her ability to describe a part of history I am not very familiar with in such vivid detail that I felt I was there is a rare gift. I was left wanting to know more about Britain in the 14th century and especially the lives of women at that time.

The plot has all the elements of a traditional thriller; a mystery, a secret, a pursuit and a conflict. The determination of Alice Wescott to find out what the secret her husband hid from her and her need to do the right thing even if it puts her in danger make her a compelling heroine. At times I got frustrated with her for being stubborn and leading others into difficult situations but I was always rooting for her. The thrills in this are wonderful. I particularly liked the scene where the party are caught by the tide when crossing to Holy Island - my heart was in my mouth throughout and I worried for them. Beautifully taut and well written, it was impossible not to hold my breath as the water rose around them. I also want to re-visit Holy Island and imagine all Emily's characters around me, striding across the sand dunes or chatting in the cloisters.

At the end of the novel we are teased with the subject of book three - the hunt for the wicked Sir Walter from book one. I for one cannot wait to see how Emily rounds off the trilogy. I just hope Sir Walter gets his just desserts!

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Hello September!

So here it is, September. Arrived at last. I knew it would but even so ...

I have challenged myself to write a short story a week for a year and today is the start of the challenge. I've already decided what I'm going to write about for the first short story so that's one less thing to worry about!

What I need to decide now is what to do with the stories once they're written. Should I keep them safely on the hard drive waiting until I find somewhere to submit them? Should I put them on the blog? What would that mean if I want to submit them? Many things to think about and decide. I don't like making decisions at the best of times so I'm hoping that I can swerve this one for a while.

Again I'm deciding to be more focused and disciplined in my writing. This is an old coat that I'm putting on again but when I do focus and concentrate I surprise myself with what I can produce. So again I promise myself that I'll be more professional and focused and I know that by the beginning of next week I'll be moaning about writers block and scoffing cake!

 So here's to a productive first week of September! And to focus ... and discipline ... and cake ...

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:

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:

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 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...

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Which way is the best way?

I've recently subscribed to Mslexia, a lovely magazine for and about women writers. Such a wonderful read and so inspiring. But it's got me thinking and here's where I hope the friendly writing blogger community can help me.

Which is best? To write something specifically for submission or to write loads of things and pick the one that fits? I'm thinking of the competitions and invitations for submission in the back of writing magazines. I'm feeling confident enough to want to submit something but I'm not sure which approach is the best.

It feels that writing something that really fits the criteria for the competition is the way to go but then what if I have something on the old hard drive that may fit the bill: do I give it a polish up and submit it?

So I'm now wondering whether going through the various magazines and plotting my attack is the way to go. I feel like I'm answering my own question here but do feel free to contradict me!  


Friday, 15 July 2016

Word of the Week - Companionship

As usual I started to think about WOTW yesterday. Some weeks are harder to pin down and I need to worry away at the week past to find a word that fits. So I like to give some time for musing and see what pops up. This week I'd decided that my word would be companionship.

Then, as I lay in bed I heard the news of the terrible events in Nice on the radio. Suddenly I was filled with sadness and confusion. I feel increasingly that I don't understand the world anymore. Things like this don't make sense to me and I can't get my head round what is happening to the world. I have no comprehension of the mind set of people who want to harm others, to kill and maim people going about their ordinary lives. I feel numb at the senselessness of it and so, so sad that it happens again and again, in all parts of the world.

The politics of it baffle me. I don't understand how terrorising others gets anyone what they want/demand. I worry that more and more people think that violence and terror are the only ways to get your point across. As an ordinary woman I struggle to understand how hearts and minds can be turned to hate for other ordinary people.

The sense of sadness is almost overwhelming. I am sadly getting used to feeling sad for the world, for people I do not know and will never know, for those affected and left devastated by loss. My heart aches for the people of Nice today and it saddens me to think that this probably won't be the last time I feel this way.

So I thought long and hard about changing my WOTW. I wondered if I should change it to reflect how I am feeling in the immediate aftermath of this atrocity. Yet this is one incident on one day and it doesn't reflect my week or indeed anyone else's week. So I will stick with my original word: companionship.

I have spent a lovely week with my son. We have had a very companionable time together including a trip to Oxford. I reflected on how our relationship has changed over the years. Now he's fully grown (is there a song there?) we have a different relationship, less 'parenting' more companions and friends. I'm still his Mum and expect to be listened to and respected but he's an adult and responsible for himself. I look back nostalgically to the days when he was little, skipping down the hill to school. Nostalgia is a wonderful way to spend some time - I can get nostalgic for hours! Naturally all this nostalgia can mean I put my rose coloured glasses on and at times like today when we hear about acts of terror - 'None of this would have happened when I was younger' etc - and it's certainly true that some things are different and potentially scary in the world today that weren't around when I was younger. The world may have been simpler and it certainly seemed less scary. Or was it? As a young child I probably didn't pay much attention to the scary news so it may well have been a scarier world than I remember.

But I digress. This week has been a lovely one filled with companionable, happy time with my son. We had a nice trip to Oxford, indulged in some Magic the Gathering - I know, I'm learning! - and had some interesting conversations. In the light of what is happening in the world it was a good way to spend my week.   

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

What I'm Writing - Too Much Advice?

Is it possible to have too much advice? In the long dark days when I refused to consider myself a writer I read a lot of advice about being/becoming a writer. In my mind there was some magical formula to being a writer and all I needed to do was unlock the secret, follow the advice and I'd magically transform into a writer. Of course that's not true but I became aware of all the advice that is out there and how contradictory it can be.

The most prominent advice I've come across is that in order to be a writer you need to write. Seems obvious when put as bluntly as that but this advice says that you should aim to write every day. Stephen King writes at least 1000 words every day and it doesn't seem to have done him any harm! His advice is that to become a writer and to improve as a writer you must write each day. Many friends have told me that the main thing I need to do is write every day, this is the secret to becoming a writer.

Then yesterday I was sent a link to an article in which the author said writing every day was a bad thing, it didn't help your writing and could even harm your creativity. Here's the link if you want to read it As someone who is struggling to get into a writing habit this was contrary to everything I'd been told about writing. He even goes as far as to say that NaNoWriMo is a bad thing for a writer to attempt - this as I'm taking part in Camp NaNoWriMo! What is a girl to think?

Perhaps the thing that I need to take from all this is that there is no right and wrong way to tackle being a writer. What works for one person may not work for another. We all need to find what works for us. If only it was as easy as sitting down when the muse struck and letting it all flow. What about those days when the muse is taking a duvet day? We all know about those, frustrating as they are. What about those agonising times when we get blocked, when words refuse to come and when the page/screen glows blankly at us? Those are tough times and that's when I feel the pressure of the 'write every day' advice. It's so hard to write when words are fighting you and pulling away. Equally it's tough to put the pen/mouse down and have a day when you don't write. Sometimes it feels like you'll never write anything again.

So which advice should I follow? Do I attempt to write every day and enjoy the structure of following a NaNoWrMo challenge? Or should I write when the muse is tugging at my sleeve and pushing a pen into my hand?

I think for me the discipline of writing each day is more important. I have a tendency to be lazy if left to my own devices and days can go by when I accomplish little. So I need the push of knowing that I have to sit down and write something each day. It's not always quality, it's not always saved but it has been written. And that seems to be the most important thing for me at the moment.

So I'll carry on sitting down each afternoon and writing my 500 words until I win at this NaNoWriMo thing. And I'll keep my fingers crossed that I can keep it going once July is over. Because that's what a real writer does, isn't it? She writes.  

Friday, 8 July 2016

Word of the Week - Writing!

So this week's word was a no-brainer. I've signed up to do Camp NaNoWriMo and so I have been getting into my groove with the novel after a long time leaving it on its own.

I passed the 10,000 word point and that felt really good. I'm not sure how many words the average novel contains but I'm happy to have cracked a major number.

I think I've found my peak writing time as well. I write the best in the afternoon apparently. This came as a surprise to me as I thought I could write at any time. And of course I can but I'm finding that the words seem to flow best in the afternoon. So I've started to get other stuff done in the morning - shopping, ironing etc - then I can write without guilt in the afternoon. 

So that's my week in a word; full of writing! 

Monday, 4 July 2016

Camp NaNoWriMo Day 4

Well so far so good.  Everything is on track and I've really enjoyed getting into a good writing habit. I've struggled to sit down and write on a regular basis as I'm forever finding things to do instead - mostly faffing about if truth be told but hey, it's what I do!

I'm also enjoying getting back in the swing with the novel. I had left it for a while as I was struggling to love it. It was all planned out and ready to go yet something about it was not right. I tried to follow all the advice to just write the first draft and then fix the problems but it was like wading through treacle. I hoped that the rest would do us both good and I could attack it with gusto.

I have to report that it's not really been like that. I've been following the plan to an extent but something strange has happened. The novel seems to have a mind of its own and is pulling me in a different direction. Something about the story I was planning to tell isn't right and I'm fighting it every step of the way. Now here's the thing: do I fight for the story I planned, even though it doesn't seem to 'feel' right anymore? Or do I let the story that wants to be told have its head?

I've read about writers who have had characters misbehave and refuse to do what they are told. I always smiled at this; after all, the writer is in control, right? Well now I'm starting to understand - my novel isn't behaving and I have to make a big decision about its future. So what to do, what to do ...

But before that I will keep plugging away at the NaNoWriMo and aiming for a win at last.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Review - Baby X by Rebecca Ann Smith

I read this book in one day, something that rarely happens these days. I was gripped from the first chapter and wanted/needed to find out what happened to Alex and Baby X.

I struggled to decide which genre I though Baby X fitted into. There are many elements of thrillers in it but it is so much more than that. It is the most thought provoking book I have read for a long time. I found myself pondering the themes in the book long after I closed it. There is a strong scientific thread running through the novel but as a non scientist I never felt that I didn't understand what was going on. I cannot speak about the accuracy of the science in the book but it seemed believable to me. I was forced to confront my thoughts about motherhood, artificial fertility and scientific ethics. These are serious and weighty themes so please don't think that this is a heavy tome; it has serious themes but it is a lively, lovely read. I considered what I think a mother is - is it only the biological mother, someone genetically linked to a child, or is motherhood more complex than that? I also wondered how far I thought science and technology should be part of  the process of bringing a child into the world - I was lucky in that I conceived my son naturally; but how would I have felt if I needed intervention? How far would I have been prepared to go to have the child we both wanted? But I also enjoyed some stunning writing about motherhood. Mother's Milk Books who published Baby X are concerned with all aspects of motherhood, especially breastfeeding, so was a perfect fit with this story. The descriptions of looking after a newborn and experience's of breastfeeding brought back wonderful memories of my son's first weeks and months. I especially loved the description of Baby X swooning after a feed - so vivid and exactly how I son behaved.   

The story follows the narrative of three women - Alex, the research scientist developing the Artificial Uterus technology; Karen, a woman with a history of miscarriage and failed IVF; and Dolly, a research assistant working closely with Alex. The story of Baby X is told through their interactions with him and their involvement in his short life. My feelings about these women changed as their narrative arcs played out. Alex was the most complex in that we first meet her towards the end of her narrative arc. The Alex at the start of her narrative is a rather cold, austere scientist and I found her difficult to like. However as her story unfolds I warmed to her considerably and was really rooting for her to get her happy ending. Karen was immediately a sympathetic character; it would be a hard hearted reader who didn't feel for her as she went through multiple failed pregnancies. She grew as a character towards the end of her narrative arc and became a stronger woman because of her experiences. Dolly seemed to me to be a little light relief among the serious characters. She's younger, more free spirited and a little naive. Her actions help to drive the narrative and she is pivotal in bringing the story to a satisfactory conclusion. I was rather torn at the end as I wanted two endings but was only allowed one. The very end of the novel brought tears to my eyes with its touching description of the newborn Baby X, beautifully written from a mother's viewpoint. 

I look forward to passing this book on to my sister. I think she will enjoy it and get as much from it as I have. I also hope that she will pass it on to a friend and it will begin a journey, enlightening and entertaining many other readers. A stunning debut from Becky, I look forward to reading more from her in the future.