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.


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. 


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.


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


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.

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

It's sloe time!

As you'll probably be aware if you're a regular reader of the Scribbles, Mr Squidge and I like to make wine. We also make flavoured gin - rhubarb, blackcurrant (my least favourite) and sloe.

Now my first introduction to sloe gin was at father-in-law's house when Mr Squidge and I had been going out for a while. It only ever got served at Christmas (alongside exploding mince pies - I'll tell you that story another time!) so I've always thought of it as a festive drink.

A few years ago, Mr Squidge found some lovely sloes in the hedge when we went for a family bike ride, and he expressed a burning desire to make sloe gin because his dad had moved away and access to sloe gin was limited to visits to Yorkshire at Christmas. So we did - make some, I mean. And it was absolutely gorgeous.

Nearly every year since, we've made at least a litre of the stuff. We have our favourite sloe-picking place (not going to tell you anything other than Quorn, or you'll all be there, stripping the hedge!) as well as a few spots in the field where Bob, our windmill, stands. Although windmill sloes aren't a patch on Quorn sloes...

Anyway, Mr Squidge went on a bike ride the other day and spotted that our favourite sloe hedge had recently been cut back by the farmer. Disaster! There were tons of sloes on the ground, going to waste...

Closer inspection revealed that there were still sloes there - but really high up.

So guess what we did today? Walked across the fields, armed with an aged window pole and a couple of ice cream tubs, to try to pick those high sloes. It was gorgeously sunny and sure enough, we found the sloes hanging like grapes, but too high for me to reach. Even a bit too high for Mr Squidge (who is 6'3" and long-armed!)

Nevertheless, we got almost two tubs full of fruit and set off home.

(Incidentally, I seem to remember last year that a gin company was offering people the opportunity to be given some sloe gin if they picked sloes for the company. The trade off was ridiculous - a teeny tiny bottle in exchange for pounds of sloes. When it's so easy to make yourself, why would you take the sloes to anyone else?)

We felt really awful for a chap we met on the way back. He was after sloes too - had only found a few and they were no bigger than blackberries. I took the lid off the tub to show him ours and his face fell. I mean, it's not a competition as to who gets the biggest sloes, but ours were definitely superior!

Now these sloes are humungous - some of them bigger 
than a 20 pence piece. Almost gobstoppers.

We felt so sorry for him, we told him where we'd picked ours. I'm hoping he managed to reach a few; he wasn't much taller than me!

Back home now and the sloes have been washed and pricked and dropped into a plastic cocktail dispenser.

Two litres of gin and 500g of golden caster sugar later, we're on...

Now all I have to do is find somewhere to put it for the next few weeks where it won't be in the way but I remember to give it a daily swirl... Roll on, Christmas!

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Den of Writers

A short while ago, I posted a brief mention of my new web-based writing community - Den of Writers - following the demise of the wonderful Cloud.

In the last week or so, many ex-cloudies and others have joined the Den, but we're aware that some cloudies are having problems finding us or logging on. (Advice from Admin:  "go to the register button top LH side of screen on a PC or laptop, on the black border outside the immediate forum screen. That should work." ) 

Because we know that a fair number of cloudies used to follow the Scribbles, consider this blog a call-out to them - and any other authors or would-be authors - who are a bit lost now in the internet ether. Especially if you are reading this and trying to find a place to be with writers where you can get help and advice from your peers, support each other and share celebrations and commiserations with writing friends.

The site itself is constantly being worked on at the moment, as the Admin team discover glitches or make improvements - one of them being that the site is now https rather http. (Which even this techno numpty knows, is a Good Thing, even if she doesn't know what it stands for.) So don't be surprised if things change. And like the cloud, it takes a while to be able to navigate around the different forums, but we're getting there...

To join, follow THIS LINK - there are a plethora of other Writers' Dens or Dens of Writers on the net, but THIS ONE is the one you need. (Yes, I have just posted the link twice. It never hurts to repeat yourself if you're sharing Good Stuff.)

And look out for https://twitter.com/denofwriters if you are a Twitterer - we've already had folks find us that way, too...

So if you fancy being a Denizen, come on over and join the rest of us... I can promise you won't regret it.

Squidge with her TBR pile... 

PS - Book statue is in the grounds of what used to be Newcastle Poly, taken on a weekend away with Mr Squidge a few years back. 

Friday, 14 September 2018

Writing prompts...what floats YOUR boat?

This week was our monthly NIBS meeting, and it was great. I love being the facilitator for this group, because it gives me a chance to trawl through lots of different writing prompt ideas which challenge us and often produce some excellent pieces of work. Although I do have to be careful not to choose only the prompts which appeal to me...

Autumn hues - got to love conkers!

Whenever you look for a prompt - especially if you're choosing it for a group to work from - there are several things you probably need to take into account.

How well do you know the group you're working with? If you know them well, you can look for something suited to their abilities or preferred genres. If you have only a general idea - like when you go into a school, for example, and know only that there will be a wide range of abilities - you might have to have a mixture of prompts, or a prompt with a few extra pointers for those who need a little more direction or lack a wild imagination.

Three things - taken from a bag of many, the weird and wonderful combos
always get younger children fired up 

Are you working with visual or wordy people? Is a picture going to be better than a written starter sentence? (I've found that children work best with visual prompts for example, because not all of them have the same writing or reading ability, but they do still have damn fine story ideas!) Is it worth trying a tactile prompt, using physical objects to awaken the senses?

Paint charts - as good for the pictures of rooms as for the paint names

As someone with a very vivid and visual imagination, I get rather twitchy when I find something that feels too restrictive to use as a prompt. For example, I found a smashing picture prompt on a website, but my interest waned when I saw that the prompt wasn't actually the picture as such, it was the half-page story starter written to go with it. I didn't want to finish off someone else's story, especially not a detective story. I wanted to write my own. I didn't want what I was being offered - and of course, I don't have to use it as given. You can apply the self-edit mantra of 'Accept, Adapt, Reject' just as easily to writing prompts as to a WIP - but straightaway I felt tied to one direction only with this particular prompt (and many others on the same site). I much prefer more open prompts to give myself, and those I'm helping to write, the best possible chance to come up with something they want to write.

My absolute favourite prompt - paint samples.
Be inspired by the colour or their names

You'll know from past blogs that my previous NIBS prompts have included baskets of autumn leaves and seeds; random objects taken from my shelves; CD playlists; photos; Victorian photographs; paint samples... I think you really are only limited by your imagination as to what you can use as a prompt. But the secret in group working is to keep the prompt as big as possible so it's accessible for pretty much.

This particular month, we had two starter exercises, which created a lot of laughter with some really off the wall scenarios. (Wotsit bikini, anyone? Or a war between Wotsits and Pringles?)

NIBS Task 1.
'Due to the incident on November 14th, Wotsits are no longer allowed in the canteen. Thank you for your consideration.'

We had to describe the incident in question - I envisaged a new starter being told to "Stick those Wotsits in the canteen", and the manager coming in later to find them literally stuck to the walls with mayo and ketchup and brown sauce...!

NIBS Task 2.
'There was a list of things that could have gone wrong that day, but ........... was not on it.'

What went wrong? I had finding a pirahna in the bath. Or Hairy Harold coming in for a back wax. *shudder*

NIBS Task 3 - the main event.
We all had to bring a writing prompt taken from the website of Tomi Adeyemi, author of YA fantasy Children of Blood and Bone. A lot of the prompts were quite dark, and not everyone in the group is used to writing dark, but there were some inspired and unsettling pieces. Most startling was that two people used the same prompt and came up with the similar scenario of a childhood memory replaying in the narrator's head - one based on personal experience - and yet they couldn't have been more different in style and approach. (Which is another good thing to do with a prompt - give everyone the same prompt, and see how many different directions it can go to, or not, as the case may be)

Anyway, I chose this one: 'Every night you visit me. Sometimes in dreams. Sometimes in nightmares.' Here's what I ended up with...I think it's more of a poem than a story?

Every night you visit me.
Sometimes in dreams.
Sometimes in nightmares.
My subconscious sees you, my love,
   sees the light and the dark.

I leave the dreams reluctantly,
the ghost of your arms wrapped around me,
the gentlest of kisses weighing heavy on my lips, 
my heart beating a lover's tattoo.

But the nightmares I fight to escape, 
struggling to reach consciousness.
To lie in the darkness panting 
   as though I have run from you for real,
skin tingling from lines you carved in it,
throat tight from the squeeze of your fingers.

Every night you visit me, sometimes in dreams,
   sometimes in nightmares.
Which is our truth, my love?

What kind of prompts do YOU prefer as a writer? Which do you struggle with? And do you have a favourite you'd like to share? You never know, you might have found something that the NIBSers could use!