Monday, 4 February 2019

Catching up on quilting

Way back last autumn, I mentioned that I was trying to complete a quilt I started the year before that, and it was taking ages to hand quilt the spirals... Well, although I didn't blog about it at the time, I got it finished in time for Christmas, and it's been on my bed for quite a while.

Here's a couple of photos of some of the details I'm particularly pleased with. Please excuse the fluff on the first photo - the cat loves to sleep on the end of the bed, and I didn't realise quite how much fluff he'd left behind til I'd taken the photo!

Me? Leave fluff? Never!


Might actually be getting the hang of neat corners! And the spirals aren't too bad either.

The purple backing/border fabric went so well with the batik strips

Since completing that one, I've also completed a third large quilt - for Squidgeling T, when he goes off to uni later this year. (He's doing a degree in 'How to be a Rock Star', aka BA in Professional Musicianship on his bass guitar). I found a lovely layer cake in denim blues and greys, and Squidgeling T asked for bright red to set them off. Here's how it ended up:

Front of quilt - the red really makes it pop!

Some of the larger layer cake squares were cut into four and edged with the red, while the rest were kept whole - then a large square and an edged square were alternated. The backing fabric - which I used to edge the quilt as well - was a beautiful denim blue, and I found a matching variegated denim and grey thread to hand stitch the quilting pattern. After the free-form spirals on the last quilt, I went very geometric again; stitched in the ditch along the main join lines, then stitched inside both the small squares and the large squares, because otherwise there'd have been far too much unquilted area between stitched points.

Back - I used up the leftover layer cake squares to add a stripe.
You can just about make out the quilting pattern on the plain blue
if you look hard...

I have to say that the border on this one is probably the best I've ever done - proper right angles and everything! I finished it yesterday evening, and it was on T's bed last night.

Cracked it on the corners!

Next project? Well, I'm going to make Squidgeling J a quilt for her bed. We found a rather nice pattern to use with a blue batik jelly roll;

Working out how many strips from each design of fabric I'd need...
Blues, aquas and pinky-purples in the mix


Imagine this pattern, repeated over and over

I also have a charm pack of very bright coloured patterns which I'd like to use to make another lap quilt, using the same pattern as above. Lap quilts are so useful when I'm sitting typing...or having a snooze on the settee when a migraine or other illness hits.

Such zingy colours!

And yes, I have realised that this isn't getting much writing done. I will get there. Eventually.

Thursday, 24 January 2019

Finally! A story...

Over the last week, I've written a story. First one for about six months.

HOORAY!!!!

It felt, by turns:

1. Frustrating; I'm so out of practise at stringing words together on paper, everything felt rubbish.

2. Exciting; I'd had an idea, I did some research, and it came together with a fairytale yet tragic kind of feel to it.

3. Satisfying; I stuck with it, even when it wasn't working, and finally, had something to show for all the effort that holds together pretty well as a story.

I can't tell you too much more about the story itself, because it's in a competition over on the Den, where interested parties have to choose some objects, and the theme to fit them into is revealed at a later date. It's the Denizens' job to work it all together and weave magic, then we peer judge each other's stories to crown a winner.

Suffice to say I'm not convinced it's my best work, but it got me motivated again, and from next week I'm going to be planning some writing time into my routine and dusting off Tilda's story.

And just because it's my blog and I can say it again if I want to - I wrote a story! Hooray!!

Thursday, 10 January 2019

New Year, new hope.

Anyone popping into the Scribbles over the last few months could be forgiven for thinking I've dropped off the radar. To some extent, they'd be right; I've not had a lot of writing time because of a variety of things happening elsewhere in my life. And I admit, it's led to a downward spiral of feeling guilty for not writing, so not really wanting to write, and then when I push myself to write in a bit of snatched time, I'm out of practise and everything I do write reads dreadfully!

I've said before that I often feel I have only so much creative energy, and when my life is busy or stressful, that's the first thing to suffer. It's certainly been the case over the last six months. However, by the end of this month I'm hopeful that certain situations will ease and I will be able to focus a little more on myself and my writing.

Already, I have some writing events to look forward to; I'm visiting a local school next Monday, as they are officially opening a new school library. I'm not cutting the ribbon - that'll be the local MP - but I will be talking to Years 5 & 6 and doing my best to encourage them in their own writing. I'm also booked for an event on World Book Day in an all-girl's school in Coventry, which I'm looking forward to very much.

I am planning to pick up Tilda's story again. I think I left her down a mine last September, so she'll be a bit fed up of the dark by now. It will be good to reconnect with her and her world, and continue her adventure.

So... I'm approaching the writing with new hope - hope that life in general settles down a little; that I can make more time to write; and more importantly, that I can fall back in love with writing.

This blog post is a start, right?

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

A tumbleweed moment...



No, I've not disappeared off the face of the earth. I've been super busy, and as a result I know I've been neglecting the Scribbles.

If I'm honest, I'm not writing much at the moment. Hardly anything.

And yet I have lots to tell you. I just don't have the time or energy to write it down.

I will though, I promise... The Scribbles will be back.

Soon.










Thursday, 18 October 2018

When a picture paints (not quite) a thousand words...

Late posting this - life seems to be running away with me rather at the moment, but I'm working on the view that it's better late than never!

Last week's NIBS meeting was all about pictures. Each of us took a picture prompt to the meeting and when we'd seen all of them, chose one to write about. There was a magnified damsel fly's head, a monk-scribe, ladies at Ascot wearing fabulous hats, a fantasy castle, and a tray set out with a teapot and cups. Mine was a picture of a robot, surrounded by piles of books and reading a large book, which in spite of some other interesting pics, I decided to use. The piece isn't finished or very polished, but you can see the shape of it and what it might become;

The order came through to Z38's digi-brain at 26:03.1. 

CLEAR LEVEL MINUS THIRTY TWO.

ACKNOWLEDGED Z38 shot back to digicentral, before beginning its descent. By 28:13.2, it had reached its destination. Without hesitation, it pulled the incinibin towards the first pile to be destroyed.

Z38 worked methodically, selecting precisely a 3 span measurement to fit the incinibin's opening. Even if that meant taking a portion of a whole; the programme would not allow a deviation in thickness of more than 0.1 span.

Alone on the level, Z38 worked on, clearing pile after pile, until the inbuilt timescan hit 30:03.0.
Somewhere in the circuitry, a new connection was made. Z38 froze. And accepted a new order.
Then, it selected 0.765 span of material, a measurement precisely contained within two battered but still solid retaining boards. 

Z38 lowered itself onto a pile measuring 2.5 span and flipped the top retaining board open. Inside were thin sheets of material, covered in an unfamiliar code...which Z38 assimilated and sent to a computer system beyond digicentral's reach, where a printer began churning out the assimilated code.

'IT WAS THE BEST OF TIMES, IT WAS THE WORST OF TIMES...' 


Our second exercise was to write using the same picture for everybody. I'd chosen two along similar themes, and couldn't decide, so I asked the group 'black and white, or colour?' They chose black and white. Here it is:



We had all sorts of pieces resulting from just this image... A dark world, where the mask was used to suck juice - but if the juice touched your lips, the penalty was death; a dialogue between the crow and the man with eyes to the right and nose to the left; a museum of mannequins, with the murder victim hidden behind the mask; a devious plot which used the mechanical crow as a device; a masked fancy dress celebration, where the eyes gave away the identity of the person... And then I wrote something really dark! (With a nod to Rod Duncan, whose novel The Queen of All Crows gave me the idea for the title of the man...)

The Keeper of Crows surveyed the land from the same knoll where previously, the King had stood and watched too. Royalty had long since departed - round about the same time it became obvious that victory lay with The Elite, not the peasantry.

There would be few spoils of note on this field, for the peasants had had little. In fact - and a low chuckle sounded in The Keeper's throat at the thought - they had much less now, for even their lifeblood was leaving them, draining into the soil and turning it to red-brown mud.

Even so, The Keeper would send the automaton to lead the flock and find what petty pickings there might be. The royal side had not been completely unscathed; Sir Arndal had fallen, and Count D'Eakk. Their jewel studded armour would be stripped soon enough if the birds went in fast.

The battle was drawing to a close. The Keeper could sense it. If he waited much longer, the human scavengers would begin the crows' work, chancing their sight on plucking loot from the dead and dying before his feathered conspirators descended to snatch back the treasure...and maybe an eye or two while they were at it.

The Keeper scratched the place where the mask's edge always caught his cheek, thankful that his true identity was contained behind the golden beak. Then he flicked the switch on the automaton and threw it into the air, his heart leaping as it took flight. A million black birds responded, erupting from the tree tops behind him. 

It feels to me like there's more to this particular story...I may turn it into a longer piece, as I have a challenge coming up and I can sort of see where my tentative ideas for that might benefit from a character like this...

Monday, 8 October 2018

Workshopping!

This is just a quick update to let you know where I'm doing some workshops in the near future;

The first will be part of the Loogabarooga Festival 2018; I'll be in the Festival Den on Saturday 20th October, telling folk about the inspiration behind my books and sharing some of my favourite story prompts for those who'd like to have a go at writing or drawing their own stories. (Because storytelling doesn't have to rely on words...)


Then on the 22nd October, I'm off to Peterborough, to hold a couple of sessions for Potential Plus UK as part of their Big Weekend. We'll be making tigers and tea to go with The Tiger Who Came to Tea, and then finding out what's in my story bag...and making up a story or two about them.

I'll also be at NIBS this week, so I'm looking for suitable picture-based inspiration to use.

It's a bit too far off yet to plan World Book Day 2019 in Coventry at the Eden Girls' School (yes, I'm already booked for it!) but I'm thinking about it...

There's lots of church stuff going on alongside all of this - planning interviews for our new vicar, looking ahead to Harvest and Christmas services, helping to edit a book on the history of the church...

No wonder the WIP gets short shrift! My end of the year deadline for the first draft is slipping through my fingers.

But I wouldn't change a thing, if it meant I couldn't do workshops.

Monday, 1 October 2018

Wolves and Apples 2018

Wolves and Apples is a programme of support for aspiring children's writers, managed by Mantle Arts, which includes conferences, master classes and training events.



Have to be honest - I'd not heard of them before and caught sight of the 2018 conference details on facebook; I knew the venue (St Martin's conference centre in Leicester city centre), it didn't cost the earth (just over £30 for a day ticket), and I hadn't been to York for two years and I felt in need of some writerly contact. It also included the opportunity to have a 1-2-1 with an agent or a publisher by submitting your work early.

I bet some of you are thinking 'but Squidge isn't aspiring - she's already published.' But I reckon you can always go along to these events and get something out of it, so I booked on.

It was a really good day. There was a variety of panels, talks and workshops from a mixture of authors, agents and publishers, and I would think about fifty people attending.

First decision of the day - what to wear. Which sounds daft, but as I've attended church-related trainings at the centre (it's run by Leicester Diocese and linked to the Cathedral) and experienced the literal highs and lows of the aircon there, I knew I needed to layer up! Felt a bit boring in a grey jumper and black jeans, so I decided it was a sparkly shoe day... (It's also something you learn when you go into schools; wear something distinctive and the kids remember you for it.)



Arrived in brilliant but cold sunshine to sign in and got the Best Conference Badge EVER!

Fab badge with *wipes away lone tear* my
'Cloudie notebook...

My first session was Dramatic Screenwriting for the Younger Audience with Jonathan Wolfman. He went through his top ten tips rather than a complete intro to the craft - I've written a few short scripts in my time, but nothing huge - and lots of them could be applied to novel writing too. And I have to say that, having watched much CBBC with the Squidgelings when they were little, I had a bit of a fangirl moment when I realised Jonathan was the person behind Tracey Beaker's Dumping Ground and Wolfblood! Here's his top ten...

1. Write with your heart. Rewrite with your head. Scripts take as many edits as novels, and they need to breathe, too. Apparently Jonathan knew Tracey Beaker had got where it needed to be when he made himself cry...
2. Everything is a metaphor. But for what? You need to discover the universal within your characters or situations - Children of the New Forest and Tracey Beaker are both essentially about loss of family for example. And that metaphor must resonate intuitively and instinctively with your audience. You could say it's like a theme in a novel.
3. Arcs within arcs within arcs. Each story has an arc, each act has an arc, each scene has an arc...just like in a novel.
4. Don't tread water, turn the story. In other words, keep the action gong!
5. Don't be subtle, be subtextual. Add depth, not obviousness.
6. Create characters within a moral architecture, not role models. Write for entertainment, not education - yes, Tracey Beaker didn't behave well all the time (and Jonathan had had many a discussion with parents who wouldn't let their kids watch the programme because her behaviour wasn't what they wanted to see in their own children) but she was brave and loyal and did things for the right reasons.
7. Make your characters EARN the resolution. How much pressure do you put them under and where are the big moments where they have to make a choice?
8. Don't do set-up scenes. Start within the story. Or - don't info dump!
9. Precinct dramas are the norm in TV. Mainly because nothing to do with children will ever have big money thrown at it, and setting the script in one main setting is cheaper, ultimately, to film than a globe-trotting extravaganza...
10. What to do when you're stuck. Go back to a moment of choice or a turning point and make the complete opposite happen.

The next session was Creative Collage-Making for Writers, with Jenny Alexander. It appealed because it offered the promise of more than just words, and as I'm a creative person in lots of different ways, I thought I'd pop along.

The premise is that as writers, we have two parts - the child and the adult, the playful and serious. The child is the creator, the adult is the one who pulls that creation into a useable form. But all too often in the creative process the 'adult' in us pokes their nose in too soon and stifles the 'child'. Jenny does a lot of work with writers to try to keep the adult out of the way - to allow the child in us to come up with solutions by allowing our subconscious to play. I've done a session like this before, with Shelley Harris at York, but that was all word based. With Jenny, we'd be using pictures.

We started with a question about our current WIP - I wrote 'What's the title of Tilda's first story?', because the working title is too obvious. And then we set that aside and tore text and pictures out of magazines. They just had to appeal to us... I found myself recognising scenes from the WIP in certain pictures, and tore away quite happily. Then we stuck them on a big sheet of paper...



With the finished collages in front of us, we started to write. Just 90 seconds each time, on the following:
1. Describe what you see in your collage.
2. Pick out five striking things.
3. Choose one of them and imagine yourself to be it. Describe yourself.
4. As that same object, write how you feel
5. Now write what you want.
6. And finally, what you fear...

It wasn't an easy thing to do - at stage 5, my adult brain kicked in, and I wrote 'how can I imagine what water wants, except to flow along the path of least resistance back to the sea from which I sprang - to my source? It's a bit ridic...'

But what seemed amazing was that everything linked back to that initial question - an initial conscious intention, a subconscious exercise, reflecting back on the conscious mind and possibly providing an answer. For me, I discovered through this that the Power in the story is central, not a particular person, so perhaps my new title needs to go down that route?

Other collages made by the group gave new insights into characters, or new angles to the stories they were telling, and Jenny shared some of her examples with us too. They were all very personal, unique, and useful. I was so impressed the technique, I bought one of Jenny's books, and will perhaps be trying out a few other exercises the next time I have  a burning question on the WIP!

The other book's from the cathedral bookshop,
and is still writing in a way; it's about writing prayers

Keeping with the non-wordy theme, I opted for Writing from Images with Pam Smy next. You've probably seen Pam's work without realising it, because she is an illustrator with lots of book covers under her belt - but she is also the author of Thornhill, a mould-breaking illustrated YA novel.

The crux of Pam's talk was that as a creative person, you need to be self-aware and confident, and our lives and experiences shape us until we are a mix of so many things that ultimately blend together to create the work we want to create. Which is something that applies to any creative field, not just writing or drawing. It was fascinating to see how Pam's love of illustration, of particular books, of landscape, of walking, of creating atmosphere, had all gone into the blender and produced this beautiful book. Incidentally, it took 4 years, 165 paintings and lots of hard work to put it all together.

Just some of the things that make Pam, Pam and add to her work

Oh - and remember Jonathan talking about metaphor? Thornhill is about bullying, and if you know where to look, there are hints from the very first picture in the book. (Hint: look for the cat, although he's not the only one)

I had a 1-2-1 over lunch with Ruth Huddleston of Old Barn Books. She was very complimentary about the sample I'd sent ("beautiful opening, great world building, you can certainly write,") but felt that I needed to really hone in on the theme of the book. I think I'm aware of that - just not sure how to find it in retrospect, because I wrote an adventure story ten years ago when I was less experienced and didn't even know you should have a theme... What was also rather lovely is that Ruth said my writing had a bit of a feel of Kiran Millwood Hargreaves (Girl of Ink and Stars), a book I read and enjoyed very much.

My view while munching on a tune mayo pannini...

After lunch, we listened to Anne Fine - yes, Anne Fine! - talk about What I Wish I'd Known From the Start. I have to be honest. I know Anne only through the shelves of the school library; she has written a lot of books, *whispers* but I've never read any of them, a fact that will be remedied ASAP. Now in her seventies, Anne is a lively and entertaining speaker, and lots of what she said would have applied to very many of us in the room. Like - work out how many hours you want to put in, and how many life allows you. Keep track of progress with your book, or it's easy to become disillusioned. Work on a physical copy when editing - it's easy to rearrange bits if you literally cut and paste. There's no one way to write a book - it's a product, not a process. Read your work over and over in lots of moods - that way, it'll appeal to more readers!

She also had some notes of caution, like 'your grandchildren will love anything you do, but not everyone is a writer!' And admitted that nowadays, she would probably not have had the career she has had, because she didn't know how publishing worked back in the day, and nowadays the 'bean counters' seem to have more of a say in what gets published and how authors are promoted than readers.

The last session was You Can't Take the Editor out of the Author... with Non Pratt. Non writes edgy contemporary YA novels, and she described how she became an author via becoming an editor. She writes for 14 year old Non - the Non who wanted to read stories that simply weren't being written at that time, so she wrote them herself.

She took us through her own writing process (lots of post it notes, notebooks, and coloured pens!) and how she approaches editing.



Now, Non said she wasn't a big planner - she knows the start and the end, and then fills in the middle exciting bits before she links them all together - but her editing is definitely planned! First stage is to Read (no pens allowed), Ruminate and React. Then she makes pace notes for every chapter before preparing a synopsis. The she sets to work, aiming to cut at least 20% from a first draft (aims for 80K...first drafts have been up to 500K!); review the timelines and seasons, reviews each character outline and check that your heart is in the book.

She was a great presenter and I can see exactly why she is such a hit with her teenage audience. She said in a later panel session that YA writing has to involve hope - teenagers will look for hope even in the bleakest of books - and they need to end the book knowing that they have the tools to survive and face life. I admire her for being able to write novels that achieve such a major result for their readers.

And that was it - a short panel session at the end to allow Q&A's to be put to many of the session leaders, and I was back on the bus in my sparkly shoes (one attendee admitted to shoe envy and I had quite a few other comments) and home to mull over everything I'd heard...and to write this blog.