Saturday, 27 September 2014

Flowery Friday - Part 2

As promised yesterday : the second part of Flowery Friday. (Because by now, the wedding will be done and dusted!)

Six buttonholes using 'Kalahari' roses and small fatsia leaves for the gents - you can just see the little apricot rose we added to the groom's in the very top left hand corner. We also pushed a pearl pin into the centre of the larger rose. The corsages for the Mums are cream gerbera with white freesia and a couple of white spray rosebuds.

This is the long low arrangement for the top table - there are three blocks of oasis in a long tray. Again, pearls were added to some of the roses, but I took the photo before we did that!

Eight small, round table decorations - remembered to put the pins in BEFORE taking the photo this time. There's a small amount of greenery to plug the gaps, but these had a mix of all the flowers, similar to the top table arrangement. I think the only flower we didn't use was freesia...

And then we have the bouquets...Because they're supported in the box, you can't see the wrapped stems - we used a pale beige broad ribbon with an orange bow for the bridesmaids and a string of pearls wrapped around the bride's. They're not huge - the bridal bouquet is probably slightly smaller than a dinner plate in diameter and the bridesmaid's bouquets are smaller again.

Gemma's bouquet - the paler shades, with all the larger roses studded with pearl pins. 

A slightly closer view of one of the bridesmaid's bouquets, with much more deep orange. They'll look fantastic against the coffee-coloured dresses the girls are wearing.

And here's the full set, all laid out on my parent's front lawn!

Apparently the bride - as well as her Mum, Dad, brother and bridesmaids - were delighted when they were delivered this morning. (*phew!*)

Looking forward to seeing some snaps of the wedding now, to see what they looked like on the big day...

Friday, 26 September 2014

Flowery Friday

I spent most of today arranging flowers for a wedding with my Mum. I'm not going to post all the pics today, because I don't want to ruin the surprise for the bride on her big day...

But just to whet your appetite, take a look at these;

Buckets of flowers in Mum's garage - and this isn't all of them! White 'Vandela' roses, orange-yellow 'Kalahari', another dark peach rose (can't remember the name), bright orange and cream gerbera, white freesias and peach spray roses. 

Close up of 'Vandela' and 'Kalahari'. We've worked with Vandela lots of times - they are tinged with lime green on the outer petals and open into a beautiful full bloom. 

Central Operations - the pics we printed as inspiration after talking to the bride about bouquet styles and colours. You can see the pots for the table decorations at the back. 

And here's everything mixed together in an arrangement for the top table...gorgeous, gorgeous colours. 

I'll show you the finished bouquets, buttonholes and table decorations tomorrow, once I know the bride's in church...

To be continued...

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Workshop a novel in a Day (FOW14)

One of the mini-workshops on offer at the Festival of Writing was 'How to Workshop a novel in a day', with the author Allie Spencer.

Why pick this session? Well, I tend to be a pantser rather than a planner...that is, I get an idea for a story and happily set to writing it - without any real planning of its structure. I have a start point, I have an end in mind; I just need to get my main character from A to B: job done.

Ahem. Not so. This session reinforced the fact that actually, I do need to plan more - especially with respect to the characters.

It was a small group, only half a dozen ladies, but that meant there was plenty of opportunity to input to the discussions and ideas. Allie's method should 'be used as a support, not a cage', and aims to build a nicely proportioned and structured novel. Well, by the end of the session, we'd certainly mapped out a complete new story...whether any of us goes on to write it is another matter!

Let me take you through the technique. At each point, we were encouraged to input our own ideas, then the group as a whole picked the characteristics etc that we wanted to use in this new, emerging storyline.

Step 1: Define your leading character.

Memorable characters have strong, definable personality traits. They are complex and open to change - even if they choose not to. They have strong goals or perceived goals. They have a strong physical presence, though it's often not described. The reader reacts strongly to them and the situations the character faces challenge the reader with events beyond their normal experience. The character is conflicted. They are human enough for the reader to connect with them, and they dictate plot elements because of their characteristics.

Armed with that list, we each wrote a description of a leading character. Mine was based on Lord Baraat, who appears in the flash fiction prequel to Thread, (which you can read on the Random Writers site.) We shared our descriptions and amalgamated them into one character.

Now at this point, my brain started to turn to spaghetti. I never - NEVER - plan my characters out in this level of detail. Before long, our new character had his own backstory, a career, a family history, favourite food, goals, flaws... Mine usually just get 'a look' - I trawl the internet for a person who looks like my character. There may be an idea of where they fit into the story and how I want things to work out for them, but a whole history? Nah. Which brought me to Important Realisation No 1: Squidge concentrates on story, not character.

Step 2 : Define your secondary character(s).

The protagonist - your lead - needs someone to spar with and talk to. The secondary character is as much about revealing the protagonist as they are about revealing themselves. They can be good or bad, there may be more than one, and they often create a synthesis in the story; if the protagonist provides the themes and tone of the book, the secondary character provides light and shade...

So again, we devised a secondary character - but specifically for Zack, our 40 year old suspended cop who was fighting to get his son back after accusations of child abuse. Again, we amalgamated the results and came up with two: Miranda, a female lawyer who can't do emotions, and Quince, Zack's coloured partner on the force.

Each of them got their own back story. Important Realisation No 2 : Each character needs their own story!

Now - apart from the fact that I don't normally 'do' the real world in my writing so I had no real idea of how to approach a scenario that included child abuse and drug use, I don't 'do' backstory for supporting cast either. But when the goals and flaws of these secondary characters started to be described by others in the group, the potential for the storyline began to unfold in front of my eyes - because we moved onto conflict.

Step 3: Give each of your main characters conflict.

There's internal and external conflict; internal could be claustrophobia, external could be that your character has to escape through a tunnel. It's best to have the two linked so that the external works on the internal.

So we worked out the conflicts for our three characters. Which opened up a whole can of worms...

You could take Miranda's secret drug habit - which meant she needed her job but taking on Zack's case is a last ditch attempt to save her career - and tie it in with a drug-addled one night stand with Quince that becomes the guilty secret of a happily married man...which is how Zack sees his partner and feels he can never measure up to with child abuse allegations hanging over his head.

Trying to keep track of all the possibilities was like trying to hold a handful of those wriggling brain felt like it was about to explode. There was almost too much information to deal with. But I could see that by developing the characters in this way to start with, the storyline sort of developed itself BECAUSE of the way the characters were interacting.

Important Realisation No 3: You can't just slot characters into the story - they have to BE the story.

I started to wonder whether THIS was the problem in my writing? The 'something special' to make it sparkle? Particularly when we got onto character arc...

Step 4: Character arc.

A character arc serves to plot the change the hero goes through. It can be positive, leading to a happy ending, or negative, which leads to tragedy. (Interestingly, some characters are already 'good' - like James Bond.) The dark element nowadays is often supplied by the secondary character, but we often see the main character moving from a position of weakness to strength or immaturity to maturity. One way to plot this change is to use the following stages:

Starting point - conflict - goal - catalyst for change - resolution.

So Zack, our cop, is starting at the point where he's been suspended from his job and has lost his son.
His conflict is that he's exhausted the legal route to get his son back and he's angry, which was the cause of the child abuse allegations.
His goal is to get his son back.
The catalyst for change could be that he sees how Quince handled the one night stand and stayed with his family for the sake of his kids - the realisation that he has to put his son first.
The resolution could be that Zack finds his son but realises he's better off where he is, ie puts his son's needs before his own selfish desire.

Repeat for each character in turn...

Aha! Important Realisation No 4: I have totally missed out character arcs from everything I've ever written. 

In StarMark, I don't show how Irvana changes by what she's been through. I haven't given her a goal - she just gets carried along on a wave of events which happen to her and she is almost a passenger until she reaches the end. I haven't given her a flaw - unless it's being too nice. And the same problem occurs with Rurik too - I haven't shown much of a change in him, either. How much of that is down to the fact I don't think about it and plan it  beforehand, I wonder?

So now, I have a choice to make. Continue to work on what I know are essentially flawed stories, or try my hand at something new, forcing myself to plan it out first when I'm dying to just get writing.

Hmm. I'll think on that a bit longer...but Allie certainly gave me a lot of food for thought and a method that might just work if I try it.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

When is a chapter not a chapter? (FOW 14)

I enjoyed Hal's sentence workshop so much, I also sat in his chapter one too. Now I hope I'm going to remember most of it - this session was held Sunday afternoon, I was tired and feeling pretty poorly by that point, so I struggled to take in a lot of the technical stuff that Hal was sharing. Hopefully, there'll be enough here to be of use to you...

Again, it sounds simple - a chapter is a chapter. It starts with a new character, a new scene, and it finishes with something that keeps the reader turning the page, like a cliffhanger - doesn't it? But Hal pointed out that sometimes, a 'chapter' lacks the substance or structure to make it work.

If you think in terms of scales of action, then a clause or sentence can provide an action. A paragraph often frames a set of actions, and a passage shows the development of the action. The way Hal described the process, it sounded very much like a dance of sorts...

We read a short passage, in which the narrator is in a tavern, observing the clientele and eyeing up an old man as a model for a painting. This represented the goal of the passage. The barkeeper interrupts the narrator to apologise for his room not being ready, producing a diversion. The narrator considers how he came to be in the situation he's in, reflecting on his circumstances. Then, as the old man stands to leave, our narrator makes his request, giving us the incident.

Goal - diversion - reflection - incident.


Step - sidestep - shuffle - strike!

For a complete story, we know we need a beginning, middle and end. Another way of describing it would be Exposition, Rising action, CLIMAX, Falling action, Denouement. Or even...

Story is the Triumph of Outcome! 

The beginning is why and how things didn't stay the same. The middle is why and how things could have gone elsewise. The end is why and how things ultimately came out this way.

But we need the same in our chapters too - they aren't just a series of events following in step; we need to add the twists and turns that provide the dance and drama. And nail the end beat if you want to nail the impact! A spur, turn, step, crunch combination (different terms for the step, sidestep, shuffle, strike!) will add that ingredient.

But beware... a 'crunch' is not always a  chapter ending. Neither are cliffhangers (though both can be used effectively providing you don't start the next chapter picking up where you left off!), or reflections where there is no incident. Be wary too of overchaptering - putting too many breaks in might mean you don't satisfy that useful combo of spur, turn, step, crunch. Unnatural breaks can lead to scene snaps rather than complete chapters.

To find your true chapters, ask yourself;

- Is there unity of time, place and event?
- Can you encapsulate the event - name it?
- Is there a major plot stride?
- Two major strides? Can one happen elsewhere?
- Can you describe it, beginning 'In which our hero...'?

I particularly like the thought of 'In which our hero...', because to me, that helps capture the essential essence of the chapter; a chapter synopsis, if you like. It reminds me of an exercise we did on the self-edit course, too. We had to think of the chapter as a triangle - action, reaction, result - which then has an impact on the next chapter because the result may well turn out the be the action that causes the next reaction, and so on. So thinking of StarMark, you'd get something like 'In which our heroine's grandmother orders our heroine to go to the city with a box of keepsakes and the name of a man who'll help her.'

How do YOU decide on your chapter breaks? Gut reaction? Cliffhanger? Because you don't know where else to put it? Feel free to share any hints and tips that work for you, too...

Sunday, 21 September 2014

How to write a sentence. (FOW 2014)

This year at the Festival of Writing, although there were some titles among the workshops I'd already attended in previous years, there were lots of new ones too.

One was Hal Duncan's 'How to Write a Sentence.'

Found at

Now it sounds simple, doesn't it? Most of us can write a complete sentence. I'm writing one now, and it makes perfect sense, doesn't it? Well, Hal's rapid-fire Scot-accented lecture got me thinking that perhaps I'm not as good at writing them as I thought...What follows is taken from my notes, so there's a strong flavour of 'Hal Duncan-ness rather than original Squidge!

We were told at the start of the session that 'Words are free and sentences are not precious; just write the sentence. Now throw it away. Repeat until you get it right.'

It's Hal's perception that the rules that are applied to sentences often try to rationalise an intuitive skill. So, for example, the 'Don't use adjectives' rule is more to do with mis-use than over-use...because sometimes, more IS better.

So rather than apply rules to sentences, Hal applies Principles. These Principles allow us to use words to conjure an illusion in the skull of the reader. They are Clarity, Economy, Specificity, Ingenuity, Acuity and Fluidity - and a lot of how effective they are relies on style. Not style (noun), which is a patina that can sometimes obscure the content, but style (verb), which is the act of shaping the words into tighter prose.

The following sentence was used as an example to work with - it had those of us sitting in the session cringing...

A sweeping blade of flashing steel riveted from the massive barbarian's hide enameled shield as his rippling right arm thrust forth, sending a steel shod blade up to the hilt into the soldier's vital organs. 

Hal applied the Principles...

CLARITY - Basically, decide between all the things you could say, the ways you could say it and the words you have; does the final sentence say what you want it to? Don't give in to garblage, ie garbling and garbage. Did the author really mean riveted?

ECONOMY - not everything is relevant. There are some qualities implicit in the noun or verb - you don't have to repeat yourself.

SPECIFICITY - Use exact terms. Do you need thrust? Is buried better? Is it a shield or a targe (the proper name for a hide-wrapped shield, apparently).

INGENUITY - Use a verb to conjure the qualities of a noun. Seek words that make others redundant.

ACUITY - Cut to the quick of what things mean. Make your phrases loaded - is the dog a cur or a pooch? Our barbarian is massive - as in a ripped hulk or a couch potato?

Up to this point, we've chosen to focus on the words and substance - now we get to the meaty bit: narrative, the process that makes our story flow...

FLUIDITY - Think of the dynamics of the piece. Yes, it could be written grammatically correctly, but that can interfere with the flow. Use punctuation to provide stress points.

Hal's final version ended up as

From behind the targe, steel flashed, brawn rippled, and the barbarian sank his blade, thrust it up to the hilt in the soldier's guts.

Applying each of these principles in turn, Hal then challenged us to rewrite the original sentence. After several false starts that either upped the word count or made the perpetrator of the action ambiguous, we settled on the following:

The soldier's blade flashed, glancing off the leathered targe as the barbarian buried his sword in the b*****d's guts.

Much improved, don't you think?

Remember - Work with the essential substance of your sentence...and make it sing!

Saturday, 20 September 2014

A meeting of minds and a reading.

The lurgy is persisting...but I'm gradually feeling better. I've been left with a chest that sounds like a snare drum whenever I cough and a really husky voice, which didn't help on Thursday...

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Wednesday, I attended a Local Author Event at my local Waterstones - a chance to meet up and chat to fellow authors. I met... Kerry Young, author of Costa shortlisted Pao and the sequel Gloria. M.P. Wright, author of Heartman, due to be televised next year. Jake, the 7 year old Blue Peter silver badge winner, who'd produced a book about his Granddad's death to raise money for charity. Mohammed, the 13 year old whose book I'd helped to edit and illustrate. A lady in a fabulous red top hat, who'd written a half-and-half fiction/non-fiction book about Rochester. A neighbour from my street, who'd written about Cottons, a local mill. Peter Skillen and Amit Kainth, who'd each written self-help/secrets to success books. A student who'd brought his work on Kindle to share. The family who'd produced a series of children's adventures about a doggy MI6 agent...

Me, my neighbour, the top hat lady and Amit Kainth, who
kindly allowed us to use his photos

The 'Local Author' table...Granny was in good company!

Just some of the authors, towards the end of the event.

There were others too - I didn't get round to speak to all of them - but what I found really amazing was how many writers you can discover in a relatively small locality. Makes me wonder how many more you'd find, hiding in studies or sheds or at coffee house tables if you were to really look...

At times, it felt a bit like preaching to the converted; writers love books already. We especially like telling people about our own books - but the timing of the event didn't really allow us to talk to many members of the public. And of course, there are issues around selling books - especially if you're a relative unknown - in Waterstones. But. The fact that the local branch was willing to even offer such an opportunity is a huge boost to writers in and around Loughborough, and I applaud Neil and his team for hosting us. Fingers crossed it may spark a few more literary events in the area...

Thursday saw me in Leicester for the second launch of KLiCBait vol 1. About 30 people took their seats in the back room of the Parcel Yard to hear four extracts and the whole of the story that was set in the pub we were in. When the hand-held mike failed, it got a bit more difficult to hear over the normal pub convo - the Parcel Yard is a huge warehouse of a place, with echoing ceilings and wooden floors - but we managed. There was a rather interesting shuffle forward when it was my turn to read, because my voice is suffering at the moment and if I try to speak loudly, I end up having a coughing fit. Fortunately I got through my (egg-timed at home to practise) 5 minutes without a hitch...and a very up-close-and-personal audience!

Think I'd just done my reading when this was taken -
hence glass of wine in my hand!
Now, I may have mentioned this before - but I don't half pull some funny faces when I'm reading. Perhaps it's 'cos I'm concentrating so much, but I do seem to be a frowny reader!

There are more pics of the event and the other authors over on the KLiCBait facebook page...

Friday, I wrote some more for Granny Rainbow. I've decided to give myself a break from StarMark while I grapple with a way forward, so I'm concentrating on Granny 2. Short pieces, easy(er) to complete and get into a format for publishing, while my head muddles through how I can address the issues that've been raised about the opening of StarMark. I've a couple of things I want to try, but I think doing it now might be more of a knee-jerk reaction than a considered, writerly approach.

And today - well, son's at Splash Camp with the Scouts, hubby and daughter are on a hiking day in Derbyshire, so I have the joy of the washing up, hoovering and getting school shirts ironed ahead. 

Or maybe I'll just write...

Have a good weekend, all, whatever you're up to! 

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

#FOW14 - What a weekend!

*This blog post has been thoroughly disinfected and debugged*

Advice for anyone thinking about spending a weekend away on a writing conference - don't go if you've got the lurgy.

To be honest, I'd had a couple of 'meh' days before I went, but I'd had such a busy run-up to York, I put it down to being tired and told myself it would pass. And of course, on Friday, I was so pumped, I felt heaps better and went.

In hindsight, that was probably not such a good idea; I spent two days full of a cocktail of paracetamol and ibrufen, stole copious amounts of loo roll from York Uni to stem the flow from my nose, tried not to hug/breathe on too many friends for fear of passing said lurgy on, and almost did myself an injury attempting to cough quietly in every session I attended.

At least I didn't get a migraine.

Anyway. York. Where to start?

With friends I've met before and those I'd only met in a virtual landscape? Or maybe those I've made during the weekend? It is always lovely and very special to meet up with Cloudies, however fleeting the encounter, but there's also something to be said for the writers you probably would never have met at all, if it weren't for the conference.

What the cloudies do best - support other cloudies in their ventures!

Or maybe meeting with agents and authors? Feeling just a little tingle of pleasure when your face is recognised and they say hello or ask how your day's gone or pass comment on something you said in a session (see - you're not just an anonymous writer - you said something they remembered!) or even tell you that you look gorgeous in your gala frock!

Me having a chat with the lovely Allie Spencer

Perhaps I need to tell you about the 1-2-1, that all important and absolutely terrifying moment when you hear what someone in the business thinks about what you've written; the hard truth about what might need fixing to make the piece sing - or the unbelievable news that the agent wants to see more. This year, my 1-2-1's were not particularly high points, but there were plenty for whom it was and I'm celebrating their success whilst at the same time trying to suss out my own future direction.

How about sharing the moment where I heard the wobble in Matt Haig's voice that spoke of the deeply personal nature of 'Reasons to Stay Alive' when he shared an extract at the keynote closing speech - a wobble I have encountered myself when sharing deeply personal faith experiences with an audience. Matt, you will never now how much I felt for you then: I am so glad you powered on.

Maybe I ought to tell you about the copies of Granny Rainbow I sold and signed alongside the lovely Jody Klaire and her book, The Empath? And stopping Dave Gaughran as he walked past the table on his way to lunch, just to tell him that self-pubbing Granny was entirely down to his workshop last year, when I decided that it wasn't so impossible to get her into print...

The walking advertisement that was Em...

And musn't forget the workshops. They'll probably get posts of their own over the next few days, but suffice to say that I have not come away empty-handed from any of them. They might even have pointed to a major flaw in my approach to writing a novel...but I need to brood on that one a bit more before I share.

Or the work-in-progress you hear about. Why WAS there a red-headed girl in the attic? What will happen to the man who had his toes eaten by leprechauns? Why did the Vikings disappear from Greenland? How does the story end for the mother who has lost her child to a religion there is no turning back from? There are so many 'I'd love to read that!' moments. Especially when you share a table with not one, but three Friday Night Live shortlisters, the lovely Susan Franklin and her 1-2-1 team, AND the author Nick Sheridan!

How about moments of shared experience, like the photoshoot of fellow self-edit graduates? There were plenty of us there, and many others who weren't...but I would highly recommend doing the course. You'll never look at your writing in quite the same way again...

Some of the self-edit graduates with the wonderful Debi and Emma, out tutors.
(Note my flashy silver shoes...!)
And the food. I had no complaints at all - other than I didn't feel like eating much. No-one needed to go hungry, as proven by this photo of lunchtime cake!

Writing fuel
I could go on, but I'm feeling pretty cream-crackered now. I'll post more over the next few days, but for now, I'm all Yorked out, and I need to rest up if I'm going to be fit for the local author event at Loughborough Waterstones tomorrow (4-6pm - you can order copies of Granny if you haven't already got one, plus chat to around 30 authors from the area) as well as attending the second launch party for KLiCbait vol 1 on Thursday evening in Leicester (7pm onwards in the Parcel Yard, next door to Leicester Station).

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Launching KLiCbait Volume 1

Today is the official launch of KLiCbait Volume 1 - hooray!

And to celebrate it, there's not one, but TWO launch parties, complete with KLiC beer brewed especially for us by the Steamin' Billy brewery. How cool is that?

Today is the day the first commercial space flight leaves Earth for the Moon. Around Leicester, people are glued to TVs and phone screens in pubs and bars. Whilst a single adventure unravels overhead, 10 smaller tales play out amongst the beer and crisps of the local watering holes. The first short story collection by KLiC, a creative company producing new work in theatre, film, music, and the written word. The 10 stories by 10 different writers were all based on the above brief along with the rule that they all needed to be set in pubs in Leicestershire.

The fun starts TONIGHT at 7pm in The Western in Leicester. There will be readings and extracts from the stories written by Katie Sone, Maxinne Linnell, David Parkin, Honor Flaherty and Nathan Human.

Then you can have even MORE fun next week - the second launch party is on Thursday 18th September in The Parcel Yard, right next door to Leicester train station. Readings and extracts will be given this time from the stories of Mahsuda Snaith, Avnesh Pandya, Diani Gatenby Davies, Steve Carroll and yours truly. 

But what if you can't get to the parties? Well, the book's available from the KLiC website - click the PayPal button and a digital copy will be emailed to you for the HUGE price of £1. Yep - £1. That's just 10p a story! And if you prefer your stories on paper, there's a paperback available via lulu for £6 plus p&p. 

You won't believe some of the things that happen down the's a taster of what happens in my local. Enjoy.

An extract from 'Moon Rocks'.

Propped up at one end of the bar was a large plush gorilla, the kind you might win at the fair and had to lug round with you all night ’til you went home. This particular stuffed animal had its head firmly wedged inside one of those old-fashioned glass goldfish bowls.
            “Bloody hell! Not you too?” Pete shook his head.
            “Of course! First commercial flight to the moon?” The barman, all youth and stubble and trendy spacer ear-ring, patted the gorilla’s improvised helmet. “We’d be mad not to ride on the back of that. We’ve brewed something special to celebrate – Space Monkey. Fancy trying it?”
            He wasn’t kidding either. Nestled among the pumps labelled up with Mild Mannered Monkey, BG Sips, Gorilla Stout and Ape Ale, was one with a picture of a monkey in a space suit.
            “What kind of beer-?”
            “No, ta. Pint of the apple and pear Charnwood Cider, please.” Pete glanced over his shoulder while he waited. The blokes were making a move by the look of things. If the women went too, he’d have the place virtually to himself…
            “So you’re not keen on this moon malarkey then?” the barman asked as pint and pennies exchanged ownership. “Don’t fancy going up yourself?”
            “You what? Do I look like I’ve got quarter of a million quid to burn?” He was sharper in his reply than he’d meant to be, but it still rankled. When had a pint of something really decent gone up to three quid fifty? He’d already had to filch a tenner from the kid’s piggybank to top up what was left in his wallet, ’cos since the factory let him go… His eyes flicked to the food board. Pork and Stilton pie. Sounded good, but best not. He’d got enough for a couple more pints or a pint and a pie. And he could probably do without the pie. He’d put on a few pounds since he stopped working. Actually, that was probably the one good thing about a space trip; at least you’d be weightless for a bit. Wonder whether lack of gravity worked on the weight of worry too?
            Pete shivered. He wished the gorilla would stop staring at him. 

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

A mild dose of the panics...

I'm going to the Festival of Writing at York again; it starts on Friday.


THIS Friday? As in, just three more sleeps 'til I'm there?

Oh my giddy aunt!

Excuse me while I have a minor case of the heebie-jeebies and hyperventilate.

*breathes into a brown paper bag*

York has crept up on me this year. Today, it jumped out from behind the sofa shouting 'BOO!'

September's always a busy month - new school year, getting to grips with different timetables and the early morning alarm call again. But it's been made even busier than normal with two book launches, a local author event at Waterstones, a four-day church conference, a week-long visit by a German penfriend, preparations for arranging wedding flowers and facilitating a critiquing session at Nibs, as well as (hooray - finally!) taking delivery of a new bathroom. (Just delivery, mind you. Installation: October.)

The good thing is that because it's busy, I've not had time to worry about York; I haven't been hovering over the inbox waiting for notification of shortlisting in the competitions. In fact, my glaringly empty inbox meant I didn't have to colour my hair in rainbow stripes as I had promised to do in the unlikely event I ended up on either of the said shortlists. Neither have I been reading and re-reading my agent submissions and finding things I could've written better.

However. The bad thing is I've not prepared a pitch about my novel. (Um...'What happens when your destiny is written on your skin? And you don't discover it before the man that's taken your place does?' How does that sound?) I've not printed out the weekend programme. I've not printed out the copies of work needed for the workshops. I've not packed, and I have no idea what the heck to wear for the gala dinner, especially as I've just discovered another cloudie is planning to wear a dress that sounds remarkably similar to the one I was thinking of taking... (Mind you, I always pack two frocks, just to keep my options open.)

And now there's only a couple of days left to do all that AND get my head into writer mode.

Tell you what though - I can't flippin' wait! The Scribbles will be quiet over the weekend, but there'll be plenty to share with you afterwards so watch this space. There WILL be pictures...

Right - I'm off to throw a few things in a case. Catch you Monday!

Saturday, 6 September 2014

A little bit of flash - 'Puzzle Piece'

This little bit of flash is my 'homework' for NIBS next week: we were challenged to find a painting with at least one person in it and write either a conversation between the characters in the painting or between the character and yourself.

And then a friend, Sophie Jonas-Hill (amazingly talented artist, dressmaker and author, among other things) posted this picture on facebook.

It's called 'Puzzle Piece' and is a digitally painted creation of Charlie Terrell. (Mr Terrell, if you see this - I did try to track you down to ask if I could post this in the Scribbles, 'cos you can't understand the flash without the picture... Hope you don't mind that I have.) The original is even better than this little pic - click here to go to Charlie's website, where there are more amazing characters to be found. Anyway, it reminded me of how Sophie looked the first time I met her in York. Not nude, obviously... but see what I mean?


I decided that the woman in 'Puzzle Piece' was the character I was going to have a conversation with. Except it morphed and grew and wasn't ME having the convo, but a whole new character. What you're about to read may just be the seed of an idea for a new book...


'Puzzle Piece'

"Please, won't you cover yourself?" I'm trying hard not to see, but I can see everything. I am used to strangers in my father's house and have seen many things in my time, but this...

My father's latest guest leans against the table, testing the effect of her nakedness. "Why?" she asks.

" is not our custom to expose ourselves." I indicate my own, shapeless gown. Worn by every respectable young woman on my homeworld.

"I have nothing to hide."

Gods, but I wish that were true. My eyes drop to the floor. Calm, Katia. You have dealt with worse. Remember the four-armed Gradat diplomat Father brought home when you were ten? This guest isn't anywhere near as frightening as that. She's humanoid for a start. Just like you.

She's nothing like you! my brain screams. If you had her courage, her self-assurance, her beauty...your life would be so different.

When I find the courage to lift my gaze, she's watching me with eyes as green as the jewels resting on her forehead. Is she measuring me? Against what standard? A spark of anger flares briefly in my chest before it dies. Will she find me lacking? Like so many others?

Her eyes look deep into me, probing, seeking... Blink, Katia! Break the spell! Focus instead on the lines drawn across her golden skin, on the coloured fragments dotted randomly between them. My fingers twitch. Keen, it seems, to trace those myriad patterns.

"Are they...painted?" I ask.

A shake of her head, which sets the black-green feathers at her throat and in her hair fluttering.

"Inked, then?" A ripple of imagined pain runs through me at the thought of hours spent suffering at the hands of the tattooist.

Another shake. I could swear those feathers are alive.

She runs a finger along her flank. "We are created this way. At birth, our skins are empty, like yours."
Is that a statement of fact, or condemnation? I'm not sure. Before I can respond, she continues. "They develop over time, writing our destinies in their patterns. The reading of the destinies is a privilege granted to very few of my people."

"Can you? Read them, I mean?"

This time she nods and almost smiles. "I can."

I feel myself frowning and make a conscious effort to smooth out the lines. It's a habit borne from years of Father snapping 'Katia! You look like an old woman. Smile!' But I am puzzled. And suddenly, inexplicably, afraid. "Why has my father invited you here? We don't have lines for you to read."

Again that look: measuring me. "Because I can read futures without lines."

"You're going to read my father's future?" The tears that never seem to be far away nowadays stick in my throat. Does he really need an off-worlder to tell us what we already know? That he is going to die - soon - of the creeping weakness? How many more times will he need to hear it before he accepts it?

"No," this guest with the patterned skin whispers. "Katia, I have come to read yours."

Friday, 5 September 2014

'They cannot even pick flowers...'

I have the privilege of being a delegate at a church conference at the moment, attending as a lay person alongside priests and other lay people from the UK, US, India and Tanzania. We spent today with staff from Christian Aid, looking at gender issues and poverty from a theological point of view.

These are huge issues, and I am not going to attempt to share everything we covered with you. For a start, I do not have the words or emotion to deal with it after what has been a personally very challenging day! A blog post cannot capture the experience of hearing about real situations experienced by those present... 'Statistics (about poverty) are people with the tears wiped away' we were told; today, those statistics have names and I have shaken their hands.

One issue struck me very forcibly; affected me so deeply it brought me to tears. Apologies to those who might be a bit squeamish about this, but it was the subject of menstruation. I was already aware that in some cultures and religions, women who are menstruating are seen as being impure, and can pass that impurity on to others. Today, I heard first-hand about how women are not allowed to prepare attend the sometimes even be with their families at this time. 'They cannot even pick flowers', I was told. 'If they take a flower or a leaf, the plant will die.'

Now for me, who remembers the 'Oh, Bodyform!' ads, who is able to walk into her local chemist to buy sanitary towels without shame, who does not have to change her entire routine or separate herself purely because she happens to have her period... well, I found that incredibly hard to get my head round. And I wrote the following...

How can something that is so essential for life be treated as the touch of death?

I'm not asking you to answer. I'm not intending to start a debate on the subject. I just wanted - needed, maybe - to share an issue which affects millions of women globally and I need to deal with.

Hope you don't mind. x

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

What if...

Don't know about you, but I often think 'What if...'

What if...I'd not been told by Mrs Ellis, my chemistry teacher, that as I had a June birthday (which meant I was one of the youngest in the year) I was likely to fail my O levels and have to retake - so don't bother thinking about A levels? I'd never have got stuck in and proved the old bat wrong with 7 passes.

What if...I'd gone off to university when I first took my A levels, rather than resitting to improve my grades? I'd never have met my wonderful friends : the Wolves crowd.

What if...Mr Squidge and I HAD broken up after my parent's silver wedding party? (That one doesn't bear thinking about.)

What son had been correctly diagnosed with appendicitis when we first went into hospital? He wouldn't have ended up with severe peritonitis almost three weeks later.

What if...I hadn't supported Mr Squidge in putting up Big Bob, our wind turbine? He'd have always been left wondering whether he could make a success of it and we'd have bitterness between us.

What if... 

I'm sure you've done the same. I've found over the years, it doesn't do to dwell on the what ifs too much; it's quite depressing and draining. I prefer to look back on the situation afterwards, because it's only ever in hindsight that we see the bigger picture and the blessings and benefits that we gained from a particular event.  

As writers, we can turn 'What if' to our advantage. It's the root of our creativity a lot of the time. You start asking yourself questions like 'what if...your destiny could be written on your skin?' What if...someone could steal colour from the world? What if...someone wanted to set up a scam in a pub?

It's particularly important to ask the question when you take something that already exists, with the aim of putting a spin on it. And that's EXACTLY what happened when myself and the other authors wrote our stories for A Seeming Glass. 

In my case, I asked what if Sleeping Beauty would have been better left asleep? What if, once woken, she had a voracious appetite and ate her prince out of house and home? Or she turned out to be a flesh-eating zombie, cast into a state of suspended animation for humanity's protection?  

I also asked what if Salome had asked for a different prize after she danced for King Herod? What if she'd gone against her mother's wishes and asked for a kingdom of her own? A husband? Or a lifetime's supply of chocolate? 

Of course, none of the above are what actually ended up happening in my stories Thread and You Should Have Let Me Sleep...

But we all did it; all ten of us asked 'what if...' and carried on asking the question until the stories that we thought were familiar to us morphed and twisted and reflected their core into an entirely different shape. A bit like one of those fairground mirrors that distort your image. You know what you should look like, and you can see enough of the original to know that it's you, but what you see is totally different to what you're expecting... It's an exciting process, one that can take you in all sorts of directions and pull things out of your head that afterwards, you wonder where did all THAT come from? Did I really think those (in my case) dark thoughts?

So the next time you're stuck for an idea for your writing, ask 'What if...' And if you're stuck for reading material, ask 'What if...I read A Seeming Glass?'

I promise - you will not be disappointed.

(2nd September ONLY: Your chance to win a copy of the anthology either on The Random Writers facebook page or via Twitter, @Random_Lands. Between 6.30pm and 8.30pm UK time, you can join a typical surreal convo on facebook with us OR 'Ask the Author'...Hope to see you there!)