Monday, 27 October 2014

Second time struggles

Well, it's done. The 'More Granny Rainbow' stories are finished. The book is a step closer to being reality.

It was much harder second time round. Perhaps because I laid pressure on myself to do at least as well again? I've heard it said by novellists that the second novel's tough, but I'm only writing a little book of short stories. You'd think a repeat of that would be easier to achieve than a second full-length novel.

But it wasn't.

I had to make sure I didn't deviate too much from the pattern I used in the first book; the stories had to be sufficiently different to the first batch so it didn't look like I was reusing the storylines, yet they had to be sufficiently similar so that readers of the first book would recognise and feel comfortable with the format of a follow-up - assuming they want to read more, of course. I suppose you could say I've developed a Granny Rainbow Formula...

Sometimes, the writing's been great. The story idea came quickly, I could see where it was heading and everything flowed nicely through the set-up, the problem and finally on to Granny's solution.

Sometimes, the writing was a pig. I mean - I even held a competition because I couldn't think of a blue or yellow story idea... And even when I DID have an idea of the storyline, sometimes I just couldn't make it WORK. I ditched a couple of ideas because I couldn't solve the problem I was giving Granny in a suitably believable - if slightly bonkers - way.

Although the individual stories are finished, of course the book's not FINISHED finished. I have to let the stories rest for a while, then revisit them to edit and incorporate my beta readers' comments. The book itself needs formatting and proofreading. I need to organise a cover, get in touch with the printer and prime the bookshops who've been kind enough to stock Granny Rainbow, to see if they'd be interested in stocking the new one too. And there will be another launch...

Just not yet.

Early next year - that's when I'm aiming for More Granny Rainbow to be published.

I'm not sure there'll be a third book. Not without a huge dash of inspiration...

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Half term catch-up...

Sorry it's been a bit quiet on the Scribbles of late - it was half term last week (a week earlier than most folk, which is both good and bad) and we were away for part of it. Blogging wasn't a priority...

Anyhow, in case you were wondering what I've been doing since I last posted, here's my week in a nutshell:

1. Trip to Eberstadt in Germany to stay with friends. 
We'd been saying for ages that we'd go over, and finally the stars aligned and Lufthansa had their strike on a not too inconvenient date (!) and we did it. We visited a Transport Museum in Speyer, Frankfurt Zoo, spent a morning in Darmstadt at the artist's colony (founded there at the turn of the 20th century), had a BBQ (in mid-October!), visited a spa bath and spent time scrambling up and down rocks at the Felsenmeer.


Darmstadt's 'Five Finger' Wedding Tower and
the Russian Orthodox Chapel

Families Squidge and zB, BBQing!

2. Trips to the orthodontist.
Both my kids have got wonky teeth - from their dad, not me! As a result, they both need braces. T's were fitted over half term and J gets hers over the next week. Fortunately T has progressed beyong sucking a breadstick to death and eating chopped up spaghetti, but it's been an interesting few days...

3. Knitting.
Remember the Christmas balls book? It arrived - and I've already produced my first knitted bauble! More will be on the way...

Whilst in Germany, I found a fab chunky wool that I decided to knit into a cowl for myself. Only problem was that it was a bit too stiff and chunky when knitted up to drape properly. Instead, I spent a day knitting up and taking down and experimenting until I got this...

It looks daft, according to the rest of the Squidges, but I don't care! It's lovely and warm - this is doubled over, so I can just about pull it up over my head - and I put it to the test yesterday evening, at...

4. Loughborough's Children's Illustrated Literature Festival Announcement. 
That's a bit of a mouthful...but all during half term, there have been activities to promote reading in the town. (I did another storytelling session in the library on Friday afternoon to around 15 children, who then stayed to make Ladybird bookmarks and face masks. It was so nice to see some of the children I'd met over the summer again.) All the activities were building up to the announcement about the Literary Festival next October, held in part to celebrate the centenary of Ladybird Books which for many years was based in Loughborough.

The announcement was made at 7.30pm in Queen's Park, where we were promised we'd see the Carillon (our local war memorial and iconic landmark) in a whole new light.

You know this thing people do at the moment, where they project a moving image onto a building? (Like when Madness sang 'Our House' on the roof of Buckingham Palace and the palace became a row of terraced houses? ). Well they did THAT - to the Carillon.

It became a huge stack of books. A young girl appeared, climbed the stack and pulled out a book. It fell to the floor, opened, and from between its pages emerged the stories... The little girl climbed a beanstalk which grew the height of the Carillon until the giant appeared, at which point the beanstalk collapsed and the girl picked another book from the pile...

Photo by Kev Ryan of Charnwood Arts - this is the Hickory Dickory Dock bit...

Each new book taken from the pile showed a different story; the girl climbed through a wardrobe into Narnia. Flew on a broomstick with Harry Potter and then again with Peter Pan and Tinkerbell. She rode on Aslan's back, visited Wonderland like Alice, caught the tail of the Hickory Dickory Dock mouse and was carried up the grandfather clock - she even went to the North Pole with a Golden Compass...

All around me, I could hear children and adults calling out what the stories were, and I was really moved that standing in the dark were so many people who read and enjoyed stories. (Apparently there were about a thousand people watching, though how you could tell in the dark...)

At the end of the presentation, the little girl sat down with a feather quill and wrote. Her letters tumbled out of her book to form the 'Love Loughborough Tales' logo, which became a balloon and flew her away into a shower of fireworks from the green dome at the top of the Carillon.

It was amazing. I'm really looking forward to the Festival next year - and I hope that there'll be opportunities for local authors and folk who used to work at Ladybird to get more involved. At the moment, it feels very much a corporate affair and out of the realm of us little people, but we'll see.

If this was the starting point, I can't wait to see what we're going to get next year...

But right now, it's back to school and routine and writing and editing, so I'll catch you later!

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Granny Rainbow in the classroom

Yesterday, I had a phone call from a friend.

We met at uni - well, poly as it was back then - and she has been a staunch supporter of my writing for several years. In fact, her children were testers for the Granny Rainbow stories, and are apparently eagerly waiting for Granny Rainbow 2 to do the same again! My friend was so pleased with Granny Rainbow when it was published, she sent copies the children's primary school with a view to getting Granny on their library shelves.

The school were very complimentary about the book - there were mutterings of an author visit, but all went quiet and to be honest, I thought they'd changed their mind. Not so... my friend phoned to say that St Michael's C of E Primary School in Pelsall would like 15 copies of Granny Rainbow for Year 6 children to use as a class reader! AND the teacher is going to plan some short story and biographical writing sessions around it! With a view to using it in Year 5 as well if it's successful!

When I took Granny into school...


What my friend then went on to say is that she will be donating these books to school, because at the moment she's in the process of moving her mum into a permanent care home. How is that relevant, you ask? Because her mum (when her mind was whole) loved books. So the proceeds of furniture sales from the flat she's vacating are going into a book fund for St Michael's, which will buy both the Granny Rainbow books for use in the classroom and, fingers crossed, some more general books for the library.

This, to me, seems a wonderful way to remember a lifelong love of books and pass it on to a new generation. I think I'd feel the same even if it wasn't my book that's being purchased.

But... it is MY book.

To say that I'm delighted is an understatement. When I started writing stories, it was primarily to get kids reading and enjoying reading. The fact that Granny is now going to be used as a teaching aid to get kids writing too! I know it's only in one primary school, but it feels like the world to me!

It's more than I ever imagined happening when I put pen to paper a couple of years ago to sketch the outline of a little story called Granny Rainbow and the Black Shadow to raise a few pounds for charity...

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Boosting the emotional power of plot. (FOW14)

Having been told in both my 1-2-1's at York that my opening chapter lacked emotion, it was probably a good job I went to this session...I haven't got everything down as I missed the end of the session for a 1-2-1, but if you are reading this and went to the same session, feel free to add anything else important that I didn't catch in the comments...

Craig Taylor explained a technique called 'The Golden Triangle', used by screenwriters to boost the emotional power of plot. At first sight, it looks very simple and contains a lot of common sense - but it's how you USE the triangle that makes all the difference.

A = 'Hard Plot', the external plot - the world, action, what happens and what it does to us. It can be interiorized too, as in what we do to ourselves...

B & C are 'Sub-plot' - what lies underneath the plot and gives the plot its meaning.

B represents the person - everything to do with the character...their problems, inspirations. Thing is, we naturally want to influence what the world throws at us, but it's impossible. Life ain't predictable.

Until C - which is CRUCIAL. It allows us to come back to the action, anchors the individual who mediates the world through relationships, which in turn impacts against the world and what it might have laid in our way, so that our characters CAN change things. In other words, any change a character makes needs to be mediated through relationships, which meaningfully affects the change in themselves so that they have some say in the world.

With me so far? If not, here's an example we were given, using the main character, Jimmy, from The Van (written by Roddy Doyle).

A = Jimmy is unemployed. That's what the world has thrown at him. The simple solution would therefore be to get a new job, which removes the problem.
B = Jimmy is prevented from achieving this because he finds he rather likes not working, so he settles for what the world has thrown at him.
C = Jimmy breaks out of this lazyboy cycle thanks to his wife, who is practical and working and needs to renegotiate her relationship with Jimmy to restore her pride in him. Result? Jimmy sets up a kebab business with a friend.

Sorted. Except that at this point in the story a new triangle begins, because the relationship with the friend goes down the pan. In spite of this, Jimmy realises he doesn't really want to settle for the lazyboy approach, so by the end of the book his attitude and approach to life has been changed. This is an example of a 'Heroic ending', as opposed to a 'Tragic Ending', where the character stays the same as they were to begin with in spite of all that's happened.

Depending on which side of the triangle you focus on, you might find you're writing in a particular genre - more A space would be a thriller, perhaps? More B and C plot, more literary?

If you have multi-POV novels, you need to think in the same triangle terms for each character, although the main character's interaction takes precedence. These multiple characters often come together at C, especially when we change the A, B and C sides of our triangle to something a little more detailed...

You can apply the triangle to scenes too - think about what the scene needs. Does it involve something the world throws at the character (A), or does it need a relationship to move the character forward in the story (C)? Remember that A can be a person or a relationship too - but it must affect the character.

And that's about where I left...

I think what the session emphasised for me was that there has to be a constant cycle of events. In this instance, the cycle has straight sides (!) but the principle is the same. And it reinforced the fact that I really, REALLY have to focus more on changes to my character through the course of a novel - they are not puppets: they're people. In real life we don't stay the same...we learn, adapt, alter ourselves, depending on our experiences and the relationships we are part of.

Seems rather weird that something which happens so naturally in life, I have such problem in getting into my stories...

Sunday, 12 October 2014

We Plough the Fields and Scatter...And Don't Forget the Loo!

Today, we had our Harvest celebration at church.

When I was a kid, my mum would cover shoeboxes in paper, then stuff them with tissue poaper and an assortment of tins and fresh veg from the allotment. There were always three boxes - for myself, my sister and brother - and woe betide if one of us appeared to have more in their box than anyone else. I remember discussions about whether a bunch of carrots was worth two small tins of sardines, or if a tin of tomatoes was really equivalent to one filled with exotic fruit cocktail.

After the Harvest services, all the produce would be taken to local folk in need, whether it was homebaked cake, jam, potatoes still with the dirt on them from someone's back garden, tinned goods... I always felt sorry for the person who ended up with the ginormous marrow (there always was one, and I've no idea from where it came), as I think I envisaged the poor recipient eating it for a week afterwards. Curried marrow, marrow soup, fried marrow, fricaseed marrow...

'Traditional' Harvest in the porch
'Modern' vs 'Traditional' above the altar

Gorgeous autumn colours

As the years have gone by, our connection with the land and the 'true' Harvest has changed. Many people don't grow their own food, even though there is an upsurge of interest in allotments at the current time. We rely on other people to do the growing for us; we just do the purchasing bit. The gifts offered at church gradually became more tinned than fresh, and home-baked goods gradually disappeared.

Most recently, our church has focused on deliberately collecting dried goods at Harvest which are donated to local charities who offer food parcels to those in need. This year, it's Joseph's Storehouse who will benefit. We also choose not to decorate church with big floral arrangements - instead, we make anywhere up to forty-odd posies, which are taken out to people we know who've had a rough time, as a mark of the church's love for them. I received one myself last year, after my son had a ruptured appendix just before our Flower Festival.

This year was no exception; a team of volunteers made 28 posies.

But there was an additional twist to Harvest this year as we thanked God for his goodness to us.

Look at the next few pictures... there's something in our decorations that puzzled a few of our congregation - at least until the service started.

Did you spot it before you got to third one? I doubt there are many churches that include loo roll in the arrangements...

The reason was that the theme of both morning services was Toilet Twinning.

'Toilet Twinning is raising funds to enable people living in poor communities to have clean water, a decent toilet, and to learn about hygiene – a vital combination that prevents the spread of disease, reduces the number of deaths among children, and brings hope for the future.
For a £60 donation, you can twin your toilet at home, work, school or church with a latrine in a country where many people do not have access to a toilet.' 

As someone who is fortunate to have not one, but two, toilets at home, (and who is currently in the process of refurbishing a bathroom) it made me realise how much I take my loos for granted. What must it be like, to have to brave wild animals and snakes - possibly of the human variety sometimes - if I wanted to go the loo in the dark? How much diarrhoea would my family suffer if we had no access to water to wash our hands? Would either of my children have survived their first five years without? So I'm going to twin both my loos. After all, what's sixty quid when I'm paying out thousands to have a shower room fitted?

And for those who wondered what on earth toilets really had to do with Harvest? You know all that food we eat? Guess what makes it grow? The stuff you flush down your loo.

So maybe out toilets DO have a place in a Harvest celebration after all.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Books are my Bag...

Thursday 9th saw the start of the three day 'Books Are My Bag' campaign in bookshops all over the country.

I popped into my local branch of Waterstones, as my closest indie bookshops are some distance away (and I spent the morning at church, decorating for Harvest, so a bit time-limited today).

Here's what I treated myself to...

Make sure you pop into your bookshop some time this week, and make books YOUR bag too.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Knitting Nora.

You might have gathered that I'm generally a creative person. I've tried my hand at many different crafts over the years - some are lifelong skills that I still dust off and use, others are things I've dabbled with for a while and set aside.

As a 'crafter-who-dabbles', I enjoy looking through catalogues like Hobbycraft or Panduro or Search Press for inspiration, but I'm always drawn to the knitting sections.

Knitting is probably the craft I most consistently enjoy. My mum taught me to knit when I was 7, and I can remember many Sunday afternoons where we sat watching an old black and white musical on the telly, with three sets of pins clacking away (myself, Mum and Helen). In fact, at one stage there were four sets going, because my brother wanted to knit a jumper for his Chief Scout's Challenge...

Over the years, knitting fell out of fashion. Wool shops disappeared - Mrs Matthews' shop in town, with cubbyholes crammed with woolly wonder, lived on in my memory while market stalls filled with nothing except vividly coloured acrylic double knit stepped in to plug the gap.

The rainbow jumper I knitted in the 80's when mohair was
fashionable (if a pig to knit with!) 

In recent years, knitting has become fashionable again - so much so that today, there are at least three market stalls selling wool and patterns, plus a lovely craft shop with a good selection of more unusual yarns.

I have, for the first time in many years, had a go at something other than socks, I knitted myself a gorgeous patterned tunic top in silky cotton...

My odds-and-ends socks, from leftover sock wool

Anyway, today the Search Press catalogue arrived. It appears knitting is definitely very popular - crochet too - as there were ten pages of knitting and crochet books. Ten! There were shawl, scarf and sock patterns... flowers and animals galore... stitch dictionaries... vintage patterns... Granny squares... even boot cuffs and tea cosies. And then there were some weirder things to knit...

'Woolly Woofers... no self-respecting dog is seen in the park without the latest cashmere cable knit...'

'Knitted Meerkats... twenty fun characters...such as a bikini-clad babe, a rock star complete with guitar...'

'Knit the Alphabet... great for jewellery, gift wrapping and home decor...'

'55 Christmas Balls... Arne and Carlos crafting...with their Norwegian-inspired ornamental balls...'

Actually, I quite like the sound of the last one, (stop sniggering!) because I LOVE making Christmas decorations. And it'll make a change from socks.

Right, where's the order form?

Taken at my last guide camp in 2011; we knitted squares as a camp challenge, which were made into blankets and donated to Age Concern. From memory, they ended up with thousands of squares and hundreds of blankets... 

Monday, 6 October 2014

Blogging - and the real me

The other day, Chuck Wendig posted about why and how he blogs over on terribleminds. He'd effectively been accused of putting on a false front in writing his blog the way he does, so Chuck was setting the record straight. You can read the post here, but be warned - he doesn't hold back on the language.

It got me thinking, though. How much of my blog shows the real me? How much of it is constructed as a writer trying to connect with her readership? And do I, subconsciously or not, change how I write my blog posts to serve a particular purpose?

I'd like to think that the way I write is how I'd speak to you if we met in the flesh. Friends and family who have known the real me for years say that's the case, which is why they enjoy dropping by to see what I've got to say; 'It's just like listening to you,' they tell me.

When you put yourself online, you are open to judgement and ridicule on the one hand, and to public interest on the other. (Although Squidge's Scribbles only generates a teeny-weeny bit of public interest - I get tens of hits per day rather than hundreds or thousands!) You can't take any of it back, either - once it's out there, it's out there, to be used and abused by anyone with access to the world wide web. It's a scary prospect.

So I try to be interesting and honest in my blog. I never intentionally go out of my way to be controversial (though some blogs seem to thrive on that!). I always ask before posting photos of, or writing about, other people. I share aspects of my life that I'm happy sharing, and keep a lot more private - not everyone wants to be in the public eye, and there are some things I might not want you to know! But it seems to be enough for you who are reading...because you keep coming back.

Is it the real me, though? In the same way that I am a different Katherine Hetzel when I'm being a mum, a daughter, a wife, a sister, a Christian, a writing group member, a supermarket shopper...Add to that list all the other 'faces' I show to the world. Yet here, I am Squidge - the short author who tells tall tales.

For those who only know this internet version of Katherine Hetzel, I wonder what you'd think if ever we met? Have I built up a persona here that you would recognise and feel at ease with in the flesh, or would you be disappointed with what you were faced with?

All I know is that, to quote Chuck:

"This is it.
This is me.
I hope you like it.
If you don’t, that’s okay.
But this is still gonna be it, and this is still gonna be me."

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Bathroom blues

I can't remember whether I've mentioned this before on the Scribbles - but we're having a new bathroom fitted. Hooray!

It's taken us a fair few years to get round to doing it, as a loft extension and business venture (Big Bob, our wind turbine!) got in the way rather in terms of time and money... But finally, we are in a position to consider generally 'doing up the house'.

Now I have to say that I've been wanting to get on with this for some time. We've lived here for over twenty years and although most rooms have been redecorated at least once in that time, the house is beginning to look a bit shabby - it needs some serious TLC. Add to that the need for a second shower (anyone who's got/had teenagers will probably be nodding their heads at this point), insulation on the gable end wall (remember my saga of the underfloor insulation?) and probably a new cooker, (which means we are considering a new kitchen at some point) and I'm faced with the prospect of lots of disruption until my house looks a bit more loved. And as these things go, you can't start one job until you've done something else, which has a knock-on effect when you find something else that needs doing too...

But back to the bathroom - where this current round of 'doing up' will be starting. It's a bit of a saga...

Earlier this year - around Easter if my memory's correct - we started looking at catalogues from a reputable chain of bathroom specialists and went in to discuss our plans for turning our 'main' bathroom into a shower room for the kids (to stop them using what was supposed to have been my sanctuary in the loft). Part of the planning process is of course to have the bathroom measured and assessed to be able to quote the installation fee.

At this point, Mr Squidge ripped out the 1930's cast iron bath 'to make it easier for the guys to measure up.' Fortunately, as our loft extension included a bathroom, we weren't completely without washing facilities.

The quote came in from the bathroom specialists. Mr Squidge decided (in words of one syllable, mostly) that it was far too expensive, and there must be someone who could do it cheaper. I did at least manage to put him off doing it himself... Anyhow, after many weeks of chasing a variety of builders and plumbers, we finally got a quote - IN AUGUST. For exactly the same price as that quoted by the store. (It might be worth pointing out here that if we'd gone with the store price back in May, we'd have had the bathroom fitted for ages by now...Just sayin'.)

Somewhat sheepishly, Mr Squidge decided on the indie builder/plumber, and added into the plan the complete reboarding and replastering of the bathroom because the old plaster was falling off the walls where he'd taken the tiles off.

Work started yesterday to remove the rest of the old plaster; we spent most of the day leaving tracks in the dust. But that's the messy bit over and done with, at least. Um...nope. The builder announced he could see daylight through our bathroom wall.

*Squidge panics as thoughts of even more subsidence fill her head*

Today, we've had to send pics to the company that tied the walls in for us two years ago, and they are coming out to tie in the end wall tomorrow...

Before the sink and pipework came out
Not even my ceiling was safe...

You might have to squint - but there's daylight,
just above the corner of the window frame...

You know I said that thing - about one job leading onto another? Yeah.

It'll all be worth it in the end. I'll have a gleaming new bathroom for the kids, and my lovely loft bathroom all to myself. I might let Mr Squidge use it too. If he's good.

I'll be doing this soon...