Friday, 30 May 2014

That Pesky Psychic Distance...Again.


The time where you take your s****y first draft and start slicing into it like a surgeon, removing the maggot-ridden and infected flesh to leave only healthy tissue.

Two years ago, I 'attended' the online self-edit course, run by the Writer's Workshop. (Would recommend it in a heartbeat) It gave me many tools to use in my editing surgeon's kit...but I still feel as though I'm operating with boxing gloves on because I still can't seem to use some of the tools right! Which is nothing to do with the fabulous tutors, Debi and Emma, and everything to do with ME.

The tool I struggle most with is Psychic Distance. I wrote about it recently - you can check out the blog and various links to sources explaining what it is, here. I understand the theory, can recognise it in other people's writing and can go so far in putting it into my own...but I still can't seem to crack the really deep stuff.

Problem is, I realised recently that I don't actually like reading PD5. So I avoid writing it.

Let me explain...

I've just finished 'Talking to the Dead' by Harry Bingham. (Harry is also the face of Writer's Workshop, which we love him for!) I've also recently finished 'Prince of Thorns' by Mark Lawrence. I can heartily recommend both books - I couldn't put either of them down for very different reasons. Harry's thriller has a somewhat dysfunctional policewoman as his main character, Mark's fantasy has a murdering, pillaging teenage prince as his. Both books are written in first person, so you're pretty close to the main character throughout.

But - and this is no disrespect to Harry here, we're talking just about me and my reactions - I preferred Prince of Thorns, because it didn't go so deep into the MC's head. I actually felt uncomfortable with Fiona Griffiths' view of the world. That's not to say I was entirely comfortable with the murdering, pillaging teenager either, but I was able to observe his world from more of a distance...I wasn't inside his skin, experiencing everything like I did with Fiona. That, I found unsettling and uncomfortable.

I think this has reinforced my realisation that I'm first and foremost an observer when I write. I can't 'do' (maybe I avoid?) the touchy feely stuff, but I can tell the story. When others say 'you could go really deep into this character here', I simply can't. And it's not through lack of trying...

Is it a bad thing, that I can't do psychic distance to the extreme? Not necessarily. Look at Enid Blyton or Roald Dahl. I don't remember getting inside the heads of Charlie in the chocolate factory or the Saucepan Man in the Magic Faraway Tree...but I loved (and still remember) the stories. Course, I'm not for one moment suggesting that I'm anywhere near as good a writer as either of them; just that my personal writing style is similar. A bit outdated, maybe?

Oh, it's confusing! Do I accept myself as the writer I am, knowing that it doesn't tick 'modern' boxes? Or push myself to add something into my writing that I'm just not comfortable doing?

Maybe I'll just have to keep cutting up cadavers until I get good enough to try it on the real thing...

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

New Adventures for Granny Rainbow!

Been a bit quiet over the last few days - I've been working on the next batch of Granny Rainbow stories rather than blogging. As a result, the first of the new stories is complete, polished, and winging its way to Laura for the illustration.

I should be working on StarMark, trying to firm up the last few chapters in readiness for York. (Yes, I'm going to take Irvana along for the 1-2-1's, though I'll be keeping a very open mind about how she will be received and what to do with her afterwards) But the short stories in Granny Rainbow have given me a perfect opportunity to practice dictating to the dragon before using it on something as precious as StarMark. It'd be just my luck to say 'scratch that' and lose the file...

Anyway, back to Granny Rainbow. I've got a couple of problems with her that need your help.

The first is that I'm stuck for blue and yellow stories. A while back, I launched a competition to get readers of the first Granny Rainbow book to suggest new problems for Granny Rainbow to sort out with a blue or yellow theme. The prize was that I would write the story for inclusion in the next book - and the winner will be credited with the idea as well as receiving a copy of the finished book.

So far, zero entries. *sad face*

I'm going to publicise the competition again over the next few weeks. Hopefully, the fact that the search engines are finally picking up my website where the details are posted, (second page of Google when you search 'Katherine Hetzel') will increase traffic to the site. Please, if you've read Granny Rainbow with your little ones, encourage them to enter.

The second is that I don't know what to call the second book. More Granny Rainbow? Granny Rainbow 2? Granny Rainbow Again?

Do mail me your competition entries or feel free to comment below with title suggestions...

Right - I'm off to dictate the next new Granny Rainbow story.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Taming the dragon

Today, I managed to dictate the first of seven new Granny Rainbow stories using the Dragon NaturallySpeaking programme we set up yesterday.

Apparently it's very funny to listen to me dictate. According to the rest of the family, most of the time I just seem to say 'scratch that' or 'spell' or the same word over and over and over again...

The dragon's learning though. It now 'knows' I mean wool, not wall, in this particular Granny Rainbow story. It's 'learnt' how to spell Atchoo (as in sneeze), via 'at you', 'that you' and 'a chew'. It's even learnt to swear - because the screen froze temporarily and I told the computer that it 'was a b****y stupid thing'.

Which it promptly wrote into my children's story once the screen unfroze...because the microphone was still switched on.

(Scratch that!)

I'm not so keen on the 'open quote/close quote' command for dialogue, mainly because when you come to the end of the dialogue and say 'said Katherine', 'said' always appears with a capital 'S'. I was copy-dictating something written by a 10 yr-old yesterday, (lots of 'said Rob', 'said Jane') and only after I'd changed 'said' about a dozen times for the same name did Dragon finally realise that maybe that's what I wanted after each bit of dialogue. In fact, I admit - I got lazy today and focused on getting the outline of the story down, so I didn't add any quote marks at all by dictation. I'll probably do them all by hand, later.

The dictation itself is the relatively easy part. I'm still getting to grips with opening files and using the internet. But I'm getting there. Slowly.

In spite of my initial reluctance (you know I'm not at all teccy) it's a tool I'm glad I've got. Not just because it's helpful with the tendonitis at the moment, but I can see that it'll be a huge bonus in getting that s****y first draft captured for future stories.

It certainly captured the outline of Granny Rainbow and Marmaduke's Mischief .

(And now you know the title of one of the new stories! Don't forget there's a competition running to use one of YOUR ideas in the next Granny Rainbow book. Click this link for details - you might see YOUR story idea in print!)

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Voice. Another way of doing it.

Today's blog post is being brought to you by the power of dragons.

No, not the firebreathing flying kind: the voice activated version.

Although my arm is healing and it's nowhere near as achey as it has been, I'm still conscious that doing too much sets me back. Something as simple as typing an email or a Facebook post can make the back of my hand cramp and leave my elbow feeling stiff.

So Mr Squidge looked at voice recognition software. We were recommended Dragon Naturally Speaking (Nuance) by a friend who uses it with her university work. I picked up the order yesterday, and today have begun training the programme to recognise my voice.

To say that it weird is an understatement. For some reason I can't seem to think as quickly. Normally, my fingers can keep up with what I'm thinking but now, I'm having to stop and think before I say what I want to write, if that makes sense? Perhaps it'll get easier with time, but at the minute I'm still trying to remember the key commands. For example, I've just sent the microphone to sleep to answer a question from Mr Squidge, and tried to turn it on again using the command 'microphone on', and my son had to remind me that the correct command was 'wake up'. And I've just let another lesson; you can't actually ask the machine to type the command because it does that command instead of writing it. Doh!

I've no idea how long it's going to take until I'm not constantly going back over things, but at least my wrist's getting the rest it needs. (Apart from the fact that once loaded into the blog, I have to do any final alteration by I've just discovered.)

Maybe it'll feel more natural after a bit more practice.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

Lighting up my characters...

If you're a regular reader of the Scribbles, you'll know I've been working on the first novel I wrote, StarMark, rewriting large chunks in what I now feel is 'Genuine Squidge's Voice'.

Recently, I asked a couple of trusted beta readers for their opinion on the 'new' version. One had seen the version that won me an agent (for a while), the other had not read it before. Their feedback was very timely, very honest, and resulted in one of the biggest light-bulb moments I've had for ages. Well, since I did the self-edit course, anyway...

Both of my wonderful readers said the same thing - my author's voice is distinctive and tells the story well, BUT (and it's quite important, this) I sometimes needed more of the character's voice, a closer Psychic Distance, more showing of the character's emotions through their own eyes rather than through mine.

And that's when I realised.

I might well be a good storyteller, but I write my stories by watching my characters, rather than being my characters. Which, as one of my beta readers remarked, was 'a nail on the head observation.'

In a nutshell, I'm not getting into my character's heads.

Now for someone who used to love being in am-dram musicals, who still loves dressing up and becoming other people for a short while in fancy dress, who loves to put on voices when reading stories wouldn't think I'd find it a difficult thing to do.

But I find it SO hard.

I try when I'm writing - I do, really - and I am getting closer to the characters I've written. Problem is, whenever there's a bit of raw emotion coming up, like...someone dying, a chase, a fight... I think I subconsciously distance myself from the emotion.

Others who know me might disagree, but I don't think that I am a strongly or outwardly emotional person; I do the British thing and keep what I'm really feeling under wraps. So, apparently, do my characters. I need to begin tapping into my feelings so that I can pass them on to Irvana and Mikal...

The lightbulb has been well and truly lit - and I will be shining it on StarMark from here on in.

If this is something you're struggling with in your own writing, here are a few links I've found useful;
Emma Darwin wrote a great explanation of Psychic Distance -  what it is and how to use it, Debi Alper shared a comic version of Psychic Distance, drawn by the lovely Jody-Klaire (fellow graduate of the self-edit course I attended), and Sophie Jonas-Hill wrote a fabulous post about how she got under the skin of one of characters.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Another dose of Zappling!

After being interviewed by Elias Zapple the other week, I thought it only right to return the favour and interview him on the Scribbles...

So, we had a bit of Friday fun to find out more about him, his army of slugs and Mr Snazzy (his moustache).

Me: You’re almost 100 years old if certain folk are to be believed. What’s your secret to looking so young?

EZ: Don’t believe certain folk. According to ‘certain folk’, I’m over a hundred years old and yet other ‘certain folk’ say that I’m at least 140 years old. There’s even ‘certain folk’ that think I’m over 140 years old. I would believe certain ‘certain folk’ such as the certain folk I just mentioned.

However, regardless of how old I am (142), I eat plenty of cabbages, drink plenty of cabbage juice and allow myself to be experimented on by those certain folks at L’Oreal to maintain my youthfulness.

Me: Michel and Duke is about a skateboarder and a bassett hound. Can you do any skateboarding tricks yourself?

EZ: Yes.

Me: You’ve written a book about a dragon called Jellybean – what’s your favourite jellybean flavour? And does Jellybean the dragon eat jelly beans too?

EZ: Cabbage flavour and slug flavour. I make my own jellybeans, though I prefer jelly babies as my teeth aren’t what they were. Jellybean prefers roast knight.

Me: You have an army of slugs at your beck and call. Why slugs? Why not snails – they’ve got their own armoured shell, after all.

EZ: Snails are wimps, hiding behind their shells to withstand attack after attack. Slugs don’t need shells they’re tough and have become resistant to most forms of slander. Don’t forget that a lot of my slugs are genetically modified and are no ordinary slugs… For the answer to why slugs, check out the rhyme ‘Why Slugs?” from my book, Elias Zapple’s Rhymes from the Cabbage Patch.

Me: How easy have you found the whole self-publishing process? How important is the support of other self-pubbers and authors to you?

EZ: I’ve found the self-publishing process exceedingly easy. That’s why I’m already an international bestseller and able to purchase the very best cabbages.

Self-pubbers/authors - none of those are important. What are important are my slugs. When you have an army of slugs, you don’t need other authors.

Me: Mr Snazzy (your moustache) must be pretty famous by now. Have you ever had any other moustaches, and what were they called?

EZ: Mr Snazzy’s fame knows no bounds. Why, he’s even been offered his own radio show! I’ve had Mr Snazzy ever since he was a glint in my eye. There was a predecessor to Mr Snazzy, a fellow called Mr Bristle - however, he died quite unexpectedly. Later I discovered an empty bottle of Noggin Rocker and a receipt from the local barbers.

Me: I love making homemade wine – pink gooseberry is my favourite. Recently, you’ve created Noggin Rocker, a sluggy homebrew. Is this going to be your only alcofrolic beverage, or will we see others in the future?

EZ: Yes, I plan on making a homemade, pink gooseberry wine. If I should discover any competitors then you can be sure that they’ll be slimed and have their batch contaminated by my slugs. I might even throw a cabbage or two.

Me: Eeek!  Er... new topic...You’ve just published Rhymes from the Cabbage Patch. What do you enjoy writing more – rhymes or stories?

EZ: Neither. I enjoy creating elaborate battle plans for my slugs to undertake.

Me: What’s your favourite late night snack?

EZ: Grilled slug. My slugs don’t like it when I go to bed late. Perhaps that’s why they keep contaminating my herbal tea with sleeping pills.

So, there you have it! If you want to find out more about Elias, check out his site here, his blog here and his books on Amazon here

Thursday, 15 May 2014

The Priory Penpushers

No, it's not really the name of our writing group - but 'First Meeting of a Writing Group' wasn't a very interesting title for a blog post.

(In time, we're hoping to set up a blog for the group so that anyone who can't make the meetings will still be able to have a go at the exercises and share useful links etc. In fact, that was part of our homework - to come up with a name for ourselves... )

Eight budding authors met at a local pub (The Priory) last night, all with a love of writing and all with various reasons for joining this little group. For some, it was to reconnect with something they had enjoyed in the past but had stopped doing. For others, it was to provide discipline and organisation to get the novel written. And then there were those, like myself, who belonged to online writing communities (yay for cloudies!) but wanted face-to-face contact more than just once a year at York.

We introduced ourselves and decided some ground rules in how we wanted to proceed (confidentiality, honesty, use accept-adapt-reject for example) before moving on to writing exercises to break the ice.

Needless to say, we had come prepared. Most of us were pen and paper types, but there was one electronic version. As in the writing tools. Not the author himself. I had a notebook from my school leaving present which I have decided to dedicate to writing group 'stuff'. It set me wondering whether anyone has ever looked at the psychology of notebooks and what it says about their owners...

Anyway, back to the point. I'm going to share the results of my efforts.

Exercise 1. I remember when...

3 minutes, writing things you remembered. Didn't matter what.

I first tried this as a stream of consciousness exercise at York last year with Andrew Willie and later used it to blog about my uni years. Last night we had recent memories, memories dredged up from years ago, emotional memories...and I was struck by how trusting everyone was to share some of the things they did. Here are mine - with apologies to my sister!

I remember when my pocket money was 20p a week.
I remember when the Icebox sold sweets in jars and would split a quarter pound between two types for you.
I remember when the knife stuck in my foot behind the Co-op deli counter.
I remember when I pushed my sister into the rose bush and Mum had to pick thorns out of her bum!
I remember when I found out that Beacon Hill used to be a volcano and I got scared it would erupt.

Exercise 2. Dictionary dipping.

Dive into a dictionary, find a word you don't know and write a hypothetical definition for it.

I'd taken a couple of ordinary dictionaries, but found it hard to pick a word without looking at the definition. Fortunately, we had a dictionary of nursing terminology, which threw up all sorts of interesting possibilities. I seemed to go down a sci-fi/fantasy route with mine...

Pentosuria: A large, forest-dwelling animal with five legs.
Demulcent: The festival where 100 turban-wearing women plant Demul bulbs in the swamps of Arcan.
Gaucher's Disease: The slow rotting of the feet of gauch farmers. (Gauch is farmed in mild acid fields between the Arcanian swamps and the Baratha Mountains.)

Exercise 3. Nouns and Verbs.

Write two lists - one of ten nouns, one of ten verbs. Randomly pair them up and write a sentence to include both. Then create a story using all the sentences.

We decided to swop lists, because we found we were trying to consciously pick words that would 'fit' into a cohesive story - it worked much better. I got my sentences written, but not my are a few, with the noun and verb highlighted.

Sprinting with a knife would've been fine if he'd not tripped over the dog.
When Scott collided with the blonde in the pink sequinned hotpants, his first thought wasn't for his spilt beer.
He'd done his best, but realised he'd probably never win the Great British Bake-off when the judges spat out his Victoria sponge.

And then there was homework...

After our dictionary dipping, it was suggested that we all took the same word and wrote our own definition of it, to see how different they all were, and if we wanted to, we could finish off our nouns and verbs piece too. But we also had a couple of other things to try.

7x7x7 - Grab the 7th book from your bookshelf. Open to page 7. Find the 7th sentence on the page. Begin a poem with that sentence - limit it to 7 lines.

Noticing - Take time to notice what goes on around you. Take notes/pictures to remind you. Use one of these interesting things to write a short story or poem and bring it to the next meeting.

There you go -  that was our first, very productive meeting. Looking forward to the next one already.

In the meantime, I'm going to throw down the gauntlet for all you Scribbles readers! Remember the dictionary dipping? The one word we all took away to write a definition for? It was Tarsalgia; I challenge you to post your own definition in the comments below! As wacky or wonderful as you like - but please keep it (relatively) clean. Have fun!

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Creativity of a computing kind - Rep Rap 3D printing!

Mr Squidge is an engineer.

Over the years, I've gotten used to the greasy trousers, smell of Swarfega, and the hours he spends in the garage on our lovely Moggy Traveller.

There have been other projects too...his latest is a rep-rap 3-D printer.

Now, for those in the know, this is a printer that extrudes warm plastic into 3-D shapes...although certain entrepeneurial types have also 3-D printed chocolate, cement, precious metals...

For the last few months, Mr Squidge has been building his printer. It's not pretty to look at, being cobbled together from bits of wood and various bits which have been 3-D printed on another printer. My lounge had, for quite a while, cogs and screws and wires and circuit boards; they all moved into the dining room for a bit, then back to the lounge.

After a couple of hitches with the z-stop (the up-and-down control to you and me) this afternoon saw the inaugural printing of a 3-D object on the homemade printer.

*party poppers* *champagne corks*
*general flag waving and much merriment*

It's quite fascinating to see the thing working - just look at family Squidge! They're transfixed! - because a solid object actually isn't; the interior is filled with a honeycomb mesh to save on material. The nozzle on the print head whizzes back and forth and then lifts up about half a mill to the next layer, and it's off again.


By this evening, we had three small items manufactured - the largest is only 20mm square, but it was cause for a huge celebration.

Me - well, I'm a little more restrained in my response, because I know that now we've got to find a home for the printer... Once upon a time, I had a spare bedroom, y'know.

Having said that, I'm really proud of Mr Squidge - just don't tell him I said so. *winks*

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Storytelling at its best.

We all do it, y'know - tell stories.

Oh, you might think you don't, because you're not a writer. But you tell stories every day.

It might be about something which seems quite ordinary, like your trip to the supermarket or a visit to a friend.

Or you might be telling someone about the time one leg disappeared down a broken man-hole cover and you were so slight that if you'd been walking a foot more to the right, you'd have gone right down it and been sucked into the nearby canal. Or the time you and your friends turned up to a 70's night and were mistaken for the tribute band because you were the only ones in  fancy dress. Or the time you tried to give a baby hedgehog the kiss of life 'cos it had unfortunately drowned in your pond. (All  true, folks!)

Sometimes we might be desperate for the story to be finished, it's so convoluted and - frankly - boring. My kids roll their eyes at Mr Squidge whenever he says 'when I were a lad...'

Other times, we get drawn in so deep, we're gasping and our eyes are wide with surprise, we're hanging so tightly onto every word.

Those kind of stories are the best. To quote the late, great, Frank Carson: 'It's the way I tell 'em!'

Personally, I enjoy telling stories. I would always read to my kids, even when they were perfectly able to read for themselves. In fact, one particular holiday we took a Harry Potter book with us, reading it in the car as we drove round Sardinia. I seem to remember having to sit in the car in almost 40 degrees, as we weren't allowed to go to the beach before we finished the chapter. I'd always offer to do storytime when I was helping out in classes at school - not just 'cos it gave the teacher a break, but because I loved doing the voices. I'm sure there's a closet actor in me who's desperate to get out...

Well, hopefully I'm going to be doing a fair bit more storytelling in the near future.

I approached my local library and just this morning have had some very encouraging discussions about becoming an official library volunteer for storytelling sessions with 6-9 year olds! How cool is that? I need to talk to Mr Squidge first as we've not finalised our summer holiday plans, but the idea is that we'll give the storytelling sessions a go from early July, which coincides with the launch of this year's Reading Challenge (a mythical theme this summer). Then we'll see whether there's any interest in continuing sessions in the autumn term, perhaps on a fortnightly or monthly basis.

(Incidentally - as our library services experience further deep cuts to resources, do please consider helping out as a volunteer. Contact your local library to see what you can do for them. Who knows - it might be the difference between having a local library or losing it.)

Anyway, I'm really excited by the whole thing. Yes, I write. Yes, I've been published and yes, it would be great to sell a few more copies of Granny Rainbow.

But first and foremost - as my strapline says - I'm the short author who tells tall tales. Not 'the little lady who sells books'.

I am first and foremost a storyteller. And delighted to be able to share it with children.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

I've been Zappled!

I'm a member of 'Fun-tastic Children's Books', a group on facebook created by children's author Elias Zapple, where children's or YA authors can mingle, support each other, offer advice or tips AND share cabbages.

Today, I was 'Zappled', and it was great fun!

You can read the full interview here.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

My book - in a real bookshop!

Yesterday, Granny Rainbow made her debut appearance on the bookshelves of not one, but TWO independent bookshops.

The first was The Reading Shop in Oadby, which not only sells books but offers reading classes and advice for children who struggle with reading. Had a super chat to the owner and she had lots of useful advice for my next centrally justifying the text on the page (it's currently justified left and all wiggly down the right. Classic 'self-pubbed book' mistake, apparently) and adding the price to the back cover. I was pleased that a lot of her suggestions - like going into schools etc - I'm already doing. I'm hoping to be able to get involved in some summer storytelling there, as the shop has a large floorspace and is lovely and light. The ethos here is reading for pleasure - there are plenty of fantastic stories for all ages which should encourage and enthuse even the most reluctant of readers.

The second was The Bookshop, Kibworth. Now just finding this teeny bookshop was an issue to start with; Google maps unhelpfully lumps the villages of Kibworth Harcourt and Kibworth Beauchamp together, under the title of 'Kibworth'. So we drove around KH for a while before Mr Squidge (acting as chauffeur, thanks to the afore-mentioned splint) accosted a grown-up to ask for directions and subsequently found the right road in KB... Anyway, teeny this shop might be, but it is rammed with books of every description to suit all tastes. A real, proper bookshop. The owner, Debbie, recognised me from facebook (!) and was happy to try out Granny on the 7+ age shelf. Her willingness to try new things for the love of books is amazing - so many events and booksignings! (Details often on their facebook page). As Giles Brandreth said: "You've sold more of my books than Harrods! This must be the best bookshop in England!" It's certainly an award-winning one...

Course - I'd forgotten to take my camera, so couldn't snap a pic of Granny sitting next to some very esteemed company...

Both shops do mail order, so if you want to buy a copy of Granny Rainbow and would like to support independent bookshops as well as an indie author, do please contact them!

They (and me) will be delighted to have your custom.