Thursday, 30 July 2015

Aaand...back to writing

The King Stone. My latest WIP.

It's coming on...slowly. I'm test-running the first draft by a few cloudie friends at the moment, trying to see whether the story's holding together. They seem to think so...

(It's also helping me to keep busy before I receive the edits of both StarMark and a second Random Writer's anthology. Had I told you that there's going to be another Random anthology, by the way? And that I've got another story in it? No? Oops... well, there is. Soon. Stories about what happened after the 'happily ever after' of the fairytale/myth/legend. And being a Random project, they all had to have a twist, so they're set in a historical time and event that is significantly different to the original...)

Anyway - back to King Stone.

What I'm finding interesting in the editing process at the moment is that I had a really naff first draft. Yes, I'd thrashed the story out, knew where it was going, but in itself, it's a pretty dire example of a novel. But allowing myself the luxury of a naff first draft gave me the chance to identify where I needed to tweak the start of the story to backfill some gaping holes that only became apparent as the story developed.

The officially-draft-two chapters are looking more like officially-draft-one-and-a-half in some cases. They're still incredibly rough and the readers are picking up, for example, that Katia (my MC) is not coming across very strongly in them. Yet in some of the earlier chapters where there weren't so many plot holes, the testers could tell I was in my stride and the writing was more confident.

At this stage, the chapters are also very fluid; it's good to be able to test where I feel the chapter break should be with the readers, even if it's actually sitting somewhere slightly different when I present the chapter to them.

And I'm skipping around as I deal with draft 2. I missed out chapter 4 as that needed building from scratch, presented chapter 5, went back to make notes for chap 4, posted chap 6... Next stop will probably be to tighten the notes and make Chap 4 something that actually looks a bit more like a chapter than my deranged thoughts for an outline. It's quite liberating, actually!

What's really good about this whole process is that it's still within my 100 days of writing challenge. I'm up to 87 days now - not all of them consecutive - but it's a great way to track my progress and remind myself to write. In fact, due to visitors recently, I've had the longest non-writing period (three days) since I started! I was itching to get back to the WIP and colour in another box...

I'd like to be able to put stats to this novel - to show myself exactly how long it took to produce a first draft (74 writing days), how long to do a second, a third...and so on.

But in the meantime, draft one-and-a-half-and-sometimes-two beckons...

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

A bit of a rant about grey hair

I apologize for today's post, in advance. I don't usually do rants. But...

A friend on facebook drew my attention to comments reportedly made by the hairdresser Nicky Clarke. The original post can be found here, but to summarise...

He's reported to have said at a party at his Mayfair salon:

'Kate (Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge) needs to get rid of her grey hair - it's not a good look... She does have amazing things done to her hair and it can look great, but unfortunately it's the case for women - all women - that until you're really old, you can't be seen to have any grey hairs.'

Say what?

He's also quoted as saying:

'It's different for men... Men can go grey in their mid-50's and still be considered attractive - it's the whole silver fox thing - but it's not the same for women.'

Excuse me? So he's saying that unless a woman is 'really old', she must avoid grey hair at all costs? (Usually blinkin' expensive costs too, according to those I know who do choose to colour their grey). That if she has grey hair, she can't be attractive? Or that if you have got grey hair, it automatically makes you look older than you are?

*blows very loud and very long raspberry whilst pointing to the Naturalistas website*

Please note - this is not a have-a-go-at-a-famous-hairdresser' post (I couldn't afford the lawyer's fees), but it is a 'why-the-heck-does-anyone-think-they-have-the-right-to-judge' post. 

Why? Why is it OK for men to have grey hair, but not women? I notice from the Nicky Clarke twitter feed that the salons are not averse to bigging up the young (I repeat - young) celebs who have embraced the trend for grey dye recently. It seems it's OK for them to have grey hair, even if it isn't natural...

Most folk who know me also know that I'm proud to be silver - I embrace my grey. And that's a choice I've made. It's no different to someone who chooses to colour their hair, whether in 'natural' shades or brighter 'unnatural' hues.

I will always be encouraging of those women who, for whatever reason, decide to ditch the dye. Most of the time it takes guts to do so - especially if they've left it so long, they go from colour to very silver. I will always respect those who choose to keep colouring too.

It's a choice! But you know what, when people say these kind of things, it makes the choice more difficult; these kinds of sweeping statements perhaps force those on the cusp of a decision back to the (dye) bottle.

Don't EVER say anything like this to my face. I will not take kindly to it.

The world would be a much happier place if we respected each other's choices and looked beneath the outer appearance to what lies within. The colour of your hair won't matter then...

Rant over.

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Why I write

I've done a couple or so of Chuck Wendig's terribleminds blog challenges in the past - like when I wrote The Forgotten Library - but I've not done one for a while. This week, he's set a non-fiction essay challenge; up to 1000 words on 'Why I Write.' Here goes...

To understand why I write NOW, I had to look back at what I've written in the past.

When I was a kid, I wrote stories. That way, I could control my world. In my stories - written (and illustrated) by hand on the back of cut-down blueprint paper my dad brought home from the drawing office - I wasn't a short, bespectacled brainbox who didn't have many friends. I could be a princess, a wizard, a beautiful mermaid, a spectator at a gladiator combat (history homework, aged 12). I could be whatever I wanted to be.

As a teenager, I wrote in diaries - something that continued well into my early twenties. That's where I told the page exactly how hard my life was, how I could never get a boy's attention, how much I hated not being tall and pretty. In my diary, I could put the world to rights. (They're are all still in the loft. I'd probably cringe if I read them now: sensible, balanced, mature person that I am.)

During the uni years, I wrote assignments. And love letters. Such a contrast. On the one hand, cold, impersonal lab reports about the microorganisms I wanted to make my career. On the other, hugely personal and private letters to the one I wanted to be with the most, full of daily trivia and angst and longing, filling the time between physical visits with words as though they would fill the aching void in my heart. (There's a box full of them in the loft, too...)

Almost ten years as a pharmaceutical microbiologist saw me writing operating procedures and training courses. Technical stuff; I had to get the facts right, leave no room for error. It felt sometimes as though I was fighting a straitjacket. Training course material was a bit different - opened up the scope for personalising what could have been dry facts, presenting them with humour and real-life examples. Thinking about it now, it relied on storytelling - about the time the engineers took the roof down in the clean room and covered the monitoring plates with mould spores. Or when a fly got trapped in a plate and we incubated it (unknowingly) until we could see its teeny-tiny footsteps tracking across the agar surface...

Followed by kids. Writing stopped. At least, until they started school. Then I started making up stories to entertain on sick days, jotting down both them and the silly poems that poured out of my head.

That's when it started getting serious.


I had to write - had to capture a story so if I was asked, I could 'tell it again!' Which led to wondering whether children other than my own would enjoy the same stories? Could I write something for an adult audience? Could I write a novel instead of a short?

I've never smoked (two ciggies in my entire life), taken no drugs except what the doctor ordered or the chemist sold, and I only partake in a weekend bottle of wine and occasional weeknight short... Not exactly what you'd describe as an addictive personality.

But I am hooked on words. I realise now they've always been there in one form or another - it's just taken me almost forty years to learn how to do it well enough to get published.

And boy, does being published feel good to this word junkie. One shot, and you want more. Oh, I recognise my own limitations - someone whose stories for children have been likened to Enid Blyton will never write a bestseller for these times - but I don't care.

Once the words are 'out there', just bring me a kid who'll stop me in the corridor at school to tell me what their favourite Granny Rainbow story is, because they'd actually love to find a little green man in the garden whose spaceship runs on sugar lumps. Or an adult who'll drop me a line to say how surprised they are by my gory yet glorious short, because I'm actually quite a nice person and how on earth did I come up with that idea?

Take a second or two to re-read the first para of this blog post again, about when I was a kid. What did I say? I wrote stories because 'I could control my world' and 'I could be whoever I wanted to be.'

Perhaps that's still the reason why I write; because I can change my ordinary world into something a little more extraordinary, just using words.

And it feels good when someone else likes it too.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

A brief catch-up

Lots of happenings at this end since my last proper blog post! Blame it on the holidays - routine goes out of the window, kids are at home to commandeer the lap top (my writing instrument of choice) and things happen unexpectedly...

Mr Squidge and I managed to get a day and a half in London last week; we visited Apsley House (home of the Duke of Wellington) before going to visit Mr Squidge's aunt, uncle and cousin. We discovered that not every bus stop goes in the direction we needed it to and that London buses don't take cash, which resulted in much walking around to find the right bus stop, and somewhere that sold tickets before we got on the Tube.
Whilst at said family get-together, Mr Squidge received a phone call from the mini-Squidges' scout leader. (They were camping down near Bournemouth, remember?) It began "Both your children are fine...but one of them IS in hospital." T had had an axe-ident; the axe glanced off the log he was chopping and sliced through his boot into his instep. Some glue, steristrips and a tetanus shot later, T was back at camp...

The next day, we managed to get to grips with the buses - there was a fabulous shop we spotted from the top of a double-decker, founded in 18-something, whose shop front advertised swordsticks! - and went to the V&A, mainly because I remembered it as being a museum mainly about fashion.

Not so.

I was a bit disappointed to find only a small section dedicated to fashion, compared to a very extensive ironwork gallery. (There's only so much interest you can create in wrought iron railings) Mind you, we were lucky enough to get tickets to the Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty exhibition (Tip - wait till lunchtime, when the queue for tickets is probably twenty minutes long rather than a couple of hours. When we arrived at 10.30, it snaked right the way down the corridor to a room with someone's cartoons in it - can't remember the artist's name!) The exhibition was A-MAZE-ING. I didn't know much about Mr McQueen, other than the fact that he was pretty outrageous in his designs - I was blown away. My favourite collection was the girl who lived in an elm tree, but the cabinet of curiosities came a close second.

Some of the designs were totally unrealistic - like the dress made entirely of razor clam shells. But others were utterly wearable - like the embroidered jute dresses and the tartan jackets. It was certainly an experience to be able to get so close to designer clothing and study the intricacies of them, rather than see them being paraded down a catwalk.

(And strangely enough, I got a writing analogy out of seeing his work; Alexander McQueen first trained as a tailor, which gave him the basic skills and rules of clothing manufacture. He used these so spectacularly in his later career; you could see the meticulous cut of the clothing, the sound base on which to build something unique. And so it is with writing... you need to have the skills, know the rules, in order to mould them into something special and unique.)

We had a lovely lunch in the refectory, then popped along to look at the jewellery, where I found a rainbow of gem-studded rings.

We took a river boat back to the Tube ( first time I've ever seen them refuse to take passengers on board, we were that full) and after a yummy pie and mash on St. Pancras station, caught the train home. Which was eventful, as we had to detour via a country scenic route very slowly on an intercity train, thanks to an incident south of Leicester that closed the northbound track.

What else? J passed her Grade 5 Music Theory with a high distinction, T passed Grade 3 double bass with merit. T's birthday was yesterday so there is chocolate cake, and I'm trying to crack on with King Stone in between keeping up with the post-camp washing and keeping everyone fed.

And that's about where we are at the moment...

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Inky Inspirations

Sorry - not posted for a few days as I've been away!

To make up for it, here's me, guest-blogging, over on the lovely Jody Klaire's Inky Inspirations, talking about all things writing-y and a few bits and pieces on top.

Enjoy - oh, and normal service will resume on the Scribbles as soon as I can wrest the laptop from the kids...

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

My very own StarMark

The StarMark - the main feature of my soon-to-be-published debut novel (and boy, does that feel good to write!) - is a seven-pointed star birthmark. Black on the skin initially, it changes to gold when the StarChain is worn at the point of succession for the overlords of Koltarn.

To celebrate the fact that StarMark is being published, I started looking for a small star charm to add to my charm bracelet. I've got all sorts of charms on it already - it's my life story in silver! I've already got a pencil to indicate my writing, but something as momentous as a first novel deserved its own special charm.

So I did a bit of digging, starting with images of seven-pointed stars. I hadn't realised that it's a symbol with a lot of meaning; it was apparently 'a familiar motif during Hellenistic times when the seven-day week was first adopted. Each point refers to a day of the week and a celestial body... Seven is a dynamic number of magickal significance in most cultures.' And there was me, using a seven-pointed star just because a five-pointed one seemed ordinary!

With a bit of digging, I found the website of Mark Defrates in the US, (which is where the above information came from). There were stars aplenty on his site - all custom-made, with an option for silver and a variety of sizes. Perfect!

And so, after a bit of discussion with Mark, I ordered not one, but two 'StarMarks' from him; one for my charm bracelet and one to wear as a pendant at the launch party I will most probably have for StarMark, the book!

They arrived this morning...

Gorgeous, or what? They are both sterling silver and set with a black diopside stone, which is peculiar in that when the light reflects on it, there's a 4-pointed star visible actually in the stone. Mark had suggested other black or silvery-grey stones at my request, but we decided on diopside because there's another level of significance here for the novel; one of the characters, Lord Terenz, is known as The Black Star - and given that this black stone has a star inside it, it seemed doubly appropriate.

So now I'm off to buy a chain to hang the pendant from - look out for me wearing it in a few months time!

Monday, 13 July 2015

Stopping the gaps - plot holes!

The first draft of King Stone (working title!) is in the bag.

Finito. Complet. Done.

Except it doesn't hold water - yet.

It looks like macrame at this stage; there's a rough shape and it's got a purpose, but it's not very pretty and there are some huge holes.

(Photo used for analogy purposes only - I've got nothing against macrame, honest! There are some amazing creations out there...)

Part of the reason for the state of my first draft is because I've approached KS (King Stone) differently - one chapter at a time. I've ignored word count until now (approx 35K - way too short yet) and the MS is full of 'notes to self' for improvement/development. Such as.. the priest whose name I couldn't remember - Father XXX. That'll make for an interesting 'find and replace'. Oh, and Prince fgjhdfkgjhdf, because I couldn't remember his name either. And 'how can she see this if she's lying on the floor?' Or 'description of temple required here.'

Why didn't I go back and check names? Alter scenes to take account of changes when I thought about them?

Because if I'd gone back, I'd have tinkered.

It was much better to write myself a note in the book of rough I've been using than get caught up in editing before the story was even properly shaped. Not going back kept the momentum going, so that after 74 days of writing (not all of it focused on KS, I have to admit), I have a concrete storyline, albeit a storyline with holes.

It's exciting. After the disappointment of Ani's story stalling earlier this year, this one is flying by comparison. I mean, it's got to the end! And maybe, just maybe, I'll have a couple of chapters ready by September to share with the book doctors in York...

Draft two, here I come!

Saturday, 11 July 2015

And the summer hols begin...

Waved the kids off this morning for Scout camp. They're off to Bournemouth for a week, and as an ex-Guider, I fully appreciate the work and planning that goes into such a venture; I did it myself for many years!

Mega thumbs up to Scouters and Guiders everywhere for the time and commitment they give willingly to our young people!

So...what to do without the kids?

Well for a start, I won't have to wait for the computer. Just imagine, I can write whenever I want to! I've only got one more, possibly two, chapters on King Stone to complete before I have the story. Then it's a case of filling in those macrame-like holes... But I'll be able to do it without having to stop to cook tea, iron shirts, find lost PE kits etc, etc, etc.

Mr Squidge and I might treat ourselves to a few meals out, maybe an overnighter in London?

When the kids come back, it'll be 'proper' summer hols for us all - until September.

Everyone else in the family seems to have projects in mind - J wants to build an electric violin; T has several Airfix kits he'll be working on; Mr Squidge wants to go hiking. Me? Dunno. Ought to do some gardening, ought to paint the lounge, ought to sort out a new carpet...

What we don't have is any idea of a plan for going away together. We've left it a bit late to book anything abroad and from the end of July, everywhere will be seething here. The danger with staying at home is that time gets eaten up doing ordinary stuff, and it never feels like a holiday - just unstructured time.

I'm sure we'll get something sorted. And if the worst comes to the worst, I can sunbathe just as effectively in my back garden as on a beach...

Whatever you're building up to over the summer, I hope you have tremendous fun and get a chance to rest and recuperate. Right now, I'm enjoying the peace and quiet and off to draft another chapter...

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Playing with dialogue

It's been a bit busy off-Scribbles recently - hence the lack of posts in the last week!

I've been in the school library, doing a stocktake of all the books every morning this week; been trying to make sure everything's washed and ironed (though I don't know why I bother with the ironing bit) ready for the kids to go to camp on Saturday; and I've been writing.

'The King Stone' (working title) is just one chapter away from being finished. It doesn't look like a proper novel yet - 'macrame' is more how I'd describe it at present, there are so many holes to be filled! But the story is there, my characters have their motivations, I have a killer twist...and it'll be complete as a first draft by the time I'm editing StarMark ready for publication.

But that's not what this blog post's about today; I want to tell you about a writing exercise based on dialogue. At our NIBS meeting last night, the lovely Kate (creative writing student at Winchester Uni) suggested the following for us to try...

Take several lines of dialogue - pure, undiluted dialogue. Nothing else at all. Then your job as the creative writer is to fill in the details; who is talking? Where are they? What situation are they in to result in the dialogue? (The trickiest part of the exercise is actually writing the lines of dialogue in the first place, because you have to keep it open enough to allow interpretation of a wide range of possibilities.)

Here's what I ended up with; the dialogue is exactly what was given to us, with one slight exception...

"Did you find it?" Hamish blew into his cupped hands in a vain attempt to unfreeze his fingers.


Proctor was well wrapped, Hamish noted. Nice scarf. And he'd had the sense to wear a hat. It even had ear-flaps. "Where was it?" The words hung between the two men as a cloud in the frosty air.

The boss shrugged. "It doesn't matter. Let's go." He turned away.

Hamish caught Proctor's arm. "Where was it?"

Proctor shook him off. "I said it doesn't matter. Come on, or we'll be late."

Limping along behind, Hamish cursed his numb toes. Been waiting an hour, he had, in freeze-your-balls-off temperatures, and now Proctor wouldn't tell him. That's gratitude for you. "Still," he panted as he tried to keep up, "we searched the whole house! Where was it?"

"A chest of drawers," Proctor threw over his shoulder.

Hamish stopped dead. "Chest of drawers? A chest of drawers? I looked in all of them twice!"

Proctor halted and slowly turned back round. "Well, clearly you didn't look hard enough."

"I took all of the clothes out and everything." Hamish shuddered, remembering. "Trust me, there were some things I didn't want to see." The furry handcuffs...the neon pink gimp mask...

"You were clearly distracted then," Proctor sneered.

"I was not!" This wasn't getting him anywhere, so Hamish changed his tune, tried coaxing. "Come on, where was it?"

Proctor looked him straight in the eye. "In a tampon box."

"What?" Hamish snorted. "D'you really expect me to believe that?"

"It's true." Proctor didn't even blink.

"Who puts stuff in a tampon box?" Hamish's brow wrinkled as he tried to figure it out.

Proctor shrugged. "It's a safe place. No-one really wants to look there."

"You seriously found it in a tampon box?"


Hamish shook his head in disbelief...

Our homework was to have a go at writing at least ten lines of dialogue to take to our next meeting. I'm quite looking forward to it; I'll let you know how I get on.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Forgot an important birthday...

The big day completely passed me by... no card, co cake, no celebration of any kind.

Ooops. Poor Scribbles.

Because - can you believe it? - Squidge's Scribbles has been up and running for 2 whole years as of last weekend! Two years!

Happy Belated Birthday, Squidge's Scribbles!

And what a year it's been... all 135 posts of it!

As regular readers will know, this blog was set up first and foremost because I'm an author.

The last twelve months have seen the publication of several short stories in KlicBait Volume 1 and A Seeming Glass, as well as the second book of Granny Rainbow stories - More Granny Rainbow. I've been on author visits, held reading sessions at the library and helped to set up a local creative writing group, NIBS (otherwise known as the Nanpantan Improving Body of Scribblers!) I went to the Festival of Writing in York again, and raised money for charity through auctioning my books for Comic Relief and Authors for Nepal. I continued to write bits of flash fiction and shorts, posting them here on the blog for you to enjoy.

The highlight of my authorly year was the news that, after spending last November editing StarMark (I did NaNoEdMo instead of NaNoWriMo), the novel was picked up by Bedazzled Ink in the US and will be published this autumn.

I discovered that I like writing 'nasty' and after a setback on Ani's story, I began a brand new story as part of my 100 days of writing challenge I set myself (working title - The King Stone) and I'm delighted to say that after 65 days (out of 76 days since I began) the s****y first draft is almost finished!

Oh - and the Scribbles won their first award!

But it's not just writing that I blog about. You're just as likely to find me writing about home and family. Like the problems we had with the new bathroom, or when the stove was fitted. Or I'll tell you about flower arranging with toilet rolls, or wedding bouquets or the Miss Piggy rose... Being a photographer's model... Relaxing with some colouring in... My skiing holiday... Perhaps even what Mr Squidge has been up to...

And you - lovely reader of the Scribbles - you've probably been with me for a goodly chunk of the past year, haven't you? There are over 50 of you officially following this blog, but I know many more dip in and out to see what's going on in my life. It's still a surprise to me when someone says they've seen my latest blog post, especially if I don't know they 'follow' me - it can feel sometimes like I'm just writing this for my own pleasure. (Which I probably am because it's my on-line diary!) I forget that I've invited you in to share it as well...but I love the fact you're here! Thank you for still being interested.

So - Happy Birthday to the Scribbles, and let's see what this next year brings to celebrate around the time of a third birthday...