Tuesday, 21 November 2017

#sfh2 - Paperback release

Did you know that:

According to Shelter, 65,000 families will be homeless this Christmas.
* At least one more family becomes homeless in Britain EVERY TEN MINUTES.
* There are 250,000 homeless people in England. That's a quarter of a million!
* 300,000+ in Britain.
* In the worst hit areas, 1 in 25 people are homeless.
* Last year, the lowest number of socially rented homes were built in 71 years. 71 YEARS!
* Tory austerity is linked to 120,000 deaths, according to a study in BMJ Open (medical journal).

These figures are shocking and unacceptable. The numbers seem too big for us 'little people' to do anything about. We are left feeling helpless and hopeless in the face of such desperate need...

Except... Today, you CAN do something to make a difference. YOU can help Shelter, the charity which helps and supports people suffering from bad housing and homelessness. And all because a collective of wonderful people have given their time and skills for free to put together and publish a second anthology of short stories on the theme of home, with every penny of the profits going direct to Shelter. 

Today is Paperback Launch Day:

Stories for Homes, Volume 2 (#sfh2) contains over 50 stories in paperback for £12.99. Already out on kindle, (£5.99) the book has received nothing less than 5 stars in every review it has received so far. We - the folk who've been involved in both the book and the online anthology, as well as everyone who helped with the cover artworkblog tour, publicity, and line up of events to launch the book - are hoping it will be every bit the bestseller that the original Stories for Homes anthology was.

The paperback - looking good

And we'll achieve it, with your help. Please - buy the book. For yourself, or as a present. Tweet. Share. Retweet the tweets you see. Buy the ebook. Blog about it. Read it. Make a noise about it! Do all of it, knowing that you - yes, YOU - are making a difference and helping Shelter to ensure there's help for those caught up in bad housing or homelessness both now, and in the future. We already know they appreciate it: 

To finish, there's one other statistic I'd like to share with you. 
71 - the official number of deaths at Grenfell Tower; the anthology is dedicated to the victims of that tragedy.  
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Saturday, 11 November 2017

A sense of achievement

Remember I wrote recently about how my crafting had gone rather crazy?

Well, I've finished one project - hooray!! - and am pretty close to finishing a second.

The completed one is the rainbow lap quilt. I have to say that quilting experts would probably shake their heads over certain aspects of the manufacture of it, (I am not a quilting perfectionist, by any means; I cut corners, my cutting isn't 100% accurate, my stitching's a bit wonky sometimes...) but I like it, and it's just the right size for having over my knees when I'm typing in the lounge on a cold day.

Have to give a shout out to the fab staff at Quorn Country Crafts, who helped me to decide how to edge the rainbow square centre. If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't have ended up with the rather lovely rainbow batik strip border - even though they were a pig to sew, because they kept slipping on the machine and bits weren't 'caught' by the stitching on the right side. A nifty bit of hand stitching later, and any missed raw edges were hidden...

Loved that there were enough colours in the batik pack
for me to roughly match the border colours to the
central panel squares closest to them

They (the staff at QCC) are also a whizz at working out how much fabric you need to back the quilt, too, with only the minimum of excess material. I chose a teeny-tiny harlequin print in grey and white to give a neutral backing;

I have a few of the batik strips left over, so it's created a new project for me - a cushion cover, I think. Though I won't be starting it any time soon... And in the meantime, I might change my mind completely and do a scraps quilt - who knows?

The second project should be complete by the end of today: my socks.

I caught up on Strictly (Come Dancing) last night and managed to do all but the toe shaping on the second sock. I still think it's a really unusual colour combo - pinks, purples, orange and red - but you can never tell until you start knitting up what the self-pattern will look like. Once these are completely finished, my sister's asked me to knit her a pair, but as socks are much quicker to produce than a quilt, I might get those started.

So that's two crafty projects knocked off the list - and I'm afraid I added another one.

I know, I'm a glutton for punishment, but I was given a crocheted Christmas tree pattern by Knotty Knits and Kreative Krafts that I'd like to try. I bought glittery random wool in red, green, and white to have a go at it. Only problem is, I need Squidgeling J to teach me how to do the stitches before I can begin...

I don't think I'll ever be able to say I've got nothing crafty on the go, do you?

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Losing the plot - literally!

November already? How did that happen?

The last few weeks have been rather busy, writing wise. I finished the rewrite of Rurik-Reeka and it's out with readers at the moment. As a result, I began to write number 2 in the series, and it's going reasonably well. Particularly as I've also plotted out book 3 and most of book 4! Makes quite a change to be working with pen and paper again.

I've also given several author talks - two to social groups in the evening, and one as part of the 2017 Loogabarooga Festival. (I'll be blogging about that one separately in a couple of days time). It's meant a bit of a boost for book sales, which is rather lovely.

With all this going on, I lost the plot. No, not like that! Let me explain...

Since writing Kingstone, my writing 'process' for each new novel project is to buy an A4 ringbound notebook, with lined paper and preferably with a margin. This is where I begin to thrash out with pen and ink whatever idea I've had, shaping it into a real story. Inside is a chart, where I block out a square for every day on which I write. (And a square for every day that I don't, so I can keep a track of when procrastination takes over... )

(Apologies - the pics are quite dark as it was pouring with rain when I took them, and the camera didn't think it needed to use the flash...)

Inside, the pages are full of notes and scribbles and sketches and questions. It is by no means neat; some pages are obliterated with crossings out when something doesn't work.

There are often loose pages of pictures slipped inside or notes from other notebooks stuck to the pages as I see or think of something that would be useful, except I didn't have THE notebook to hand to capture it in.

The notebook becomes the foundation on which the actual story - the typed-up-on-the-computer version - is built. The entire plot is sandwiched between its covers. And by the end of typing up, the two look very different. Although you might recognise something in this photo that became an essential part of the cover of Kingstone...

The notebook ultimately becomes redundant, but I hang onto it. Am I sentimental? A hoarder? To some extent, yes - to both! The book represents hours of work and thought, and to me, it's a reminder of the struggles I went through to craft the book that ultimately (fingers crossed) was published.

But really, the reason I hang onto it is because that notebook has become a tool.

How so? Well, when I give an author talk, I take along the notebook in which I plotted Kingstone. (I do have others, but this is the only notebook so far which contains a single, unique story.) I find it's really useful to show - especially to children - the process I go through, and that it isn't neat, I spell things wrong, (ocassion and embaressment are my worst words), I do lots of crossings out and I work out of order. But because this is the ideas capturing stage, and there's only me that sees it, it really doesn't matter!

Anyway, as I said, I lost the (Kingstone) plot. Lost this incredibly valuable (to me) notebook. I knew I'd taken it to the school on my recent author visit. I knew I hadn't unpacked all my props because there was no point unpacking them all only to reassemble them a week later for the evening talks. It had to be in the house. Except when I got everything together for the evening talk, I couldn't find the notebook. Anywhere. An hour before I was due to give the talk, and there's me, Mr Squidge and Squidgeling T running up and down stairs, looking for it.

No joy. I had to take another notebook instead.

I must've left the Kingstone notebook at school - that was the last place I'd definitely had it with me. So I contacted the school - had any of the teachers found an A4 ring bound notebook filled with flowery post-it notes?

Apparently not. I was gutted; I simply didn't have anything else that I could hold up and say 'Look - this turned into this!'

I moaned to Mr Squidge about it, got cross with myself for losing the notebook, and then, as I turned to walk out of the dining room where we'd been talking (well, me talking, him listening with a rather pained expression)...I saw it.

The flippin' notebook.

Still in the bag I'd taken it to school in, which was tucked between a chair and the sideboard, and hidden behind a couple of boxes with kitchen stuff in (No, we're still not finished. Don't ask) that I and Mr Squidge had both missed in our frantic search of the previous evening.

The relief literally made my knees go weak.

So I may well have lost the plot - temporarily - but I'm now well and truly back on track and all geared up with my Kingstone notebook for any future author talks.


Monday, 23 October 2017

When crafting goes crazy...

Not had a chance to blog recently. My dad had a - thankfully - minor stroke a week ago. Can I just say how wonderful and amazing and caring our NHS was? And how grateful I am that Dad's stroke has left him with barely any issues at all...apart from forgetting his PIN number when he next went to the bank!

Even without that, life has been rather busy.

Mr Squidge and I went to see Squidgeling J at Bristol for the day - gosh, but there are some BIG hills down that way! Had a late lunch in Clifton, saw THE bridge and some very posh houses on the other side of the river, and left a little earlier than planned because J was recovering from a nasty virus, so we didn't get to visit the Bag O' Nails, a pub with cats. Seriously. The landlord owns 15 cats which have the run of the bar. But you have to buy a drink if you want to stroke any of them...

I also had an evening author talk - to a group of 15 church ladies, who all threw themselves into the writing exercises and bought a fair few books between them. So much so, I am having Granny Rainbow reprinted!!

It's also been half term, so routine goes out of the window.

But to get to the real reason for writing this blog... Crafting.

I love making things. I know that if I go too long without making something - whether it's something floral, stitching, knitting, writing - I get grumpy. Problem is, I often see something and go 'yeah, I'll have a go at that!' and something comes up, I get distracted, and I end up finding a half-finished something months later.

Which is where I'm at.

Project 1: I started a granny square blanket for the garden room, to cover the cushions on the rocking chair that's down there. I've got about half a dozen more rows to add around the border, and it's taking ages. Lots of sideways growth, but not much depth. Hence I get bored working on it for long periods, because there's not a lot to show for my efforts. (And the eagle eyed among you will see that I was so eager to crack on with it, I didn't even bother to sew all the central squares together properly before I began adding the border...)

Project 2: I loved this little jackety cardy, and started knitting it in the summer. I have two sleeves and half a collar to add. But...

Project 3: The dark nights are drawing in, which is normally a signal for me to get sock knitting. I knit my own socks because proper woollen ones seem to keep my feet a lot warmer than nylon, and I treat myself to a new colour combo every year, then make odds-and-sods socks from what's left over. I've even used socks as a tool to help my writing in the past... I'm about at the toe of the first sock. If I get organised, I can probably knit the other in a little over a day, but there are other distractions to be found...

Project 4: Big quilt. I bought the jelly roll back in April of last year, because the colours in the fabrics are the colours I have in my bedroom. And, if I'm honest, I'm finding that my rainbow quilt keeps me toasty warm in bed even without a winter weight duvet, so adding another toasty warm layer to the bed can't be a bad thing, can it? So far, I have stitched the strips together, but have no idea how I'm going to edge it to make it big enough to fit my bed.

And then, Project 5: Wonder what I could possibly need all of these for...?

Yup, another rainbow quilt. A random one this time. Well, more random than I'm used to. I started thinking about it back in April and started piecing it together in the summer, when I wanted a break from the kitchen refit (which is, can you believe, still not finished yet?). I'm now hand quilting in the coloured squares, picking up the curved petal-shapes which appear on the patterned strips. I have to say I'm really pleased with it so far. It's only going to be a lap-quilt though - much smaller than the original rainbow quilt.

Working my way round the outside squares 

Picking up the petal detail in each square

So five projects. Now, bear in mind these are all projects I've begun. Don't even get me started on the Christmas tree mat thing I bought last year but haven't done anything with yet. Or the pack of squares I have which I want to make into something quilted - but no idea what. Or for who. Or my mum's fabric that she must've bought over a year ago that we were going to make into a quilt... Or the wool and patchwork kit I was bought for my birthday...

If only I didn't have anything else to do except craft!

Friday, 13 October 2017

Books that helped me write

As NaNoWriMo approaches (which I don't do...I've done NaNoEdMo previously!) I thought it might be a good time to share with you some of the books on writing I've used, which have made a difference in how I write.

The oldest one is this:

Seems a bit of a weird one, but my granny gave me it, to go with the typewriter I had as a child. The typewriter was a turquoise Petite Super International typewriter, just like this one, (image found on Adventures in Mattressland) and I spent many happy hours typing up little stories for myself on thin, cream paper.

Granny reckoned I ought to learn how to type properly, so I tried to teach myself the right way to do it. My sister, who trained as a secretary, would probably say that what I do on a computer keyboard bears no resemblance to the proper way to touch-type, but I have got fingers that are speedier, I'm sure, than if I'd never read the book...

Next one:

This book is laugh out loud funny. As the blurb says; 

'There are many ways prospective authors routinely sabotage their own work. But why leave it ti guesswork? Misstep by misstep, How Not to Write a Novel shows how you can ensure that your manuscript never rises above the level of unpublishable drivel... Alternatively, you can use it to identify the most common mistakes, avoid them and actually write a book that works.'  

When I started reading it, I'd have a mental check list and be thinking 'I don't do that' and 'thank goodness I'm not this bad!' but then - uh-oh! I'd come to a section and feel squirmy because I recognised something I WAS doing...which I quickly put right. 

On my kindle:

My kindle has a section, dedication to writing books. Let me take you through the ones I found most useful...

Nicola Morgan's How to Write a Great Synopsis is essential. There are exercises you can do to really pinpoint what your book is about. (Her blog, Help! I Need a Publisher is also full of fantastic advice which I've dipped into now and again.)

Stephen King, On Writing. Nuff said. Though I have to say I'm not a fan of his writing, I do respect the advice he gives.

Les Edgerton. Finding Your Voice was an enormous breakthrough for me. Reading this book showed me my natural writing style, and it was the point at which I started to write the way that suited me, rather than trying to write how I thought I ought to. Equally, Hooked is a fabulous insight into how to get your reader...well, hooked! 

Chuck Wendig is full of writing advice - and the first bit of his advice for spending 30 Days in the Word Mines is - 'You can do this. Trust me.' It's written in typical Chuck style, which is often sweary and goes off at a tangent! (Just like his blog...)

Then there's THAT book. 
                                Image result for cartoon book images

No, I'm not going to post a picture of it or tell you what it is. Suffice to say that it is a book which, when I read it, was so full of rookie errors, it annoyed the heck out me. Yet it had been published. It wasn't the story itself that annoyed me - that was actually really original - but the writing. I can remember thinking, thank goodness I don't write that badly. (At that time, I still had a long way to go before I was published myself, so it was a bit 'pot-calling-the-kettle-black' if I'm honest. Not proud of that.) Yet it is still what I turn to and read a few pages of when the infamous doubt demons strike, to remind myself I can write. And not too badly, either. Sounds horrible of me, doesn't it? But in a strange way, it helps.

And last, but not least, there's Anne Lamott, gifted to me by a friend who is also a writer and Christian, like me and Anne.

I suppose I'd call this an holistic approach to writing. Because we don't write in isolation - it's part of our lives, and we have to wrap people, places, jobs, worries and everything else around the compulsion that drives many of us to write. It's a very honest account of a writer's life. It includes the things we don't talk about or admit to - like jealousy, pride, depression, deadlines and all sorts of things. You know the ones - they tend to be glossed over or hidden away when we're putting on the brave face that congratulates our friends who've had success, or we receive another rejection for our own beloved manuscript. It's a refreshing read. But that leads me on to this:

You're right, it's not a book. It's a picture, another gift from a friend. I've not put it up yet, because I wasn't sure where to put it...until I looked for my Anne Lamott book to be able to write this blog, and the picture was with it.

You know the saying 'How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.' Well, Anne says writing a book needs to be taken 'bird by bird', a saying based upon the time her brother had to complete a school project on birds; he was so overwhelmed by the prospect, their father told him to tackle it 'bird by bird'... ie step by step.

Look at the picture again. On the first branch is one bird, the next down has two, and so on and so on until there's a whole branch full of them. Suddenly, the picture isn't just something nice to look at, it's a visual reminder of Anne's writing advice, to take it all step by step.

So there you go - the books that have helped me most in my writing, and why.

What about you? What writing advice books made a difference to your writing? Do let me know, because it's never too late to pick up a few more hints and tips on how to improve!

Thursday, 12 October 2017

When NIBS met Trefoil Guild

Last night, I did an author talk - not at a school, but to  the local Trefoil Guild.

I was a guider with the Guide Association for twenty years from the age of eighteen - in fact that's where the name Squidge came from. The Trefoil Guild began as a way of old guides keeping in contact with their units, and has grown and developed to become a section in its own right within the Guiding Movement.

The Trefoil Guild in our District meet at the same place we meet for NIBS (the writing group). NIBS often meets on the same date upstairs, while they meet downstairs.

Because I know many of the current Guild, I was asked to go a Trefoil meeting to tell them about my writing. It just so happened that the date they requested was also a NIBS night, so we combined the two...

It's the first time I've given a talk to a social group. I decided early on that it wasn't just going to be me, talking. I would make Trefoil work, too.

After the 'this is me and how I got to where I am' talk, we tried a few exercises.

Trefoil Guild in their red and beige uniforms

I started with 'I remember...' about school days. As most of the ladies are older, their memories included things like travelling on the utility bus with its wooden seats, but there were other memories that could have been set in any school today. Like being the model that the class painted on a 9th birthday, or going into assembly in alphabetical order. But it warmed everybody's pens and pencils up...

I demonstrated my story bag items, and shared a few of the ideas that the children I've worked with have come up with in the past; the flame-farting dragon who loved baked beans went down well.

There's always a rainbow sock in the bag...but only one!

And then...you guessed it...paint colours! On one table we had a 'Cup of custard' to go with the raisinless 'Raisin Pudding'. On another, a spurned woman burnt the orchid (Burnt Orchid) sent by her lover. 'Benjamin's Buttons' were always green, but he hated green. And 'Bavarian Hops' was going to be developed into an Alpine dance...

Pens, pencils and brain cells hard at work!

The ladies certainly seemed to enjoy themselves, and it gave me the confidence that even in a shorter, evening social meeting, you can still share your writing journey and get people writing for themselves and having fun with words.

And look what they gave me as a thank you - a beautiful orchid, because they'd heard I liked them and mine were often in flower (unlike my mum, whose orchid flowers die back and from then on only send up leaves...)

Monday, 9 October 2017

Motivating characters

I've been working on Rurik since the summer. I think I might have mentioned in previous blogs that I'm changing 'he' to a 'she' and working through some quite major plot holes which I discovered.

Now, bearing in mind that this story was written way, way back (it went through major editing in 2012 after the self edit coursewhich took place after it (and me) had been rejected by an agent I was working with), there were bound to be some issues. I accept that. Since 2012, I have changed a lot in how I write and what I write. Of course Rurik was going to need a polish. Or another edit.

Or, actually, an almost complete rewrite in places.

I've been slowly working through and making the changes I think the writing needs to bring it all into line with how I write NOW.

Three chapters from the end, I've found an issue. A real biggie; my MC has no motivation. I need to motivate her.

No, I said I need to motivate her, not Mr Motivator. (remember him?) * face palm *

I suddenly realised that my MC has been forced into a situation not of her making. From there on, she is carried by a series of situations through to the climax - which is where I'm at in the edit. Problem is, the MC is a spectator, an onlooker, pretty much all the way through. She does not affect the action by her decisions. Weeeell, she does a bit. But not nearly enough to give her an over-riding motivation to drive the story forward.

It's a classic rookie error - probably because I was a rookie when I initially wrote the story. To make the story really zing, I need, as the lovely Julie Cohen would say, to 'Make Shit Happen!'

The only problem is, how can you put motivation into a story in retrospect?

I've tried sitting with my notebook to work it out. I've written pages and pages of questions to myself about my MC and why she would do the things she's doing in the story. 

But maybe it's not myself I need to be asking... Maybe...I need to ask Reeka, my MC.

You might think that sounds a bit barmy, but I've spoken to several authors who, when they get stuck, interrogate their characters. I know from experience that when I get to know my characters well, they start doing their own thing in the story, and I simply write it all out for them. (If you want to see what I'm talking about, check out this blog post at The Write Practise, and especially read the comments. That's where authors have posted the answers to the interrogation they gave some of their characters.)

So I think that me and Reeka are going to have to have a little chat to sort this motivation thing out...

Hope she's still speaking to me by the end of it all.