Thursday, 27 April 2017

News and musing

News item, the first.

Remember, back in 2013, I had a story accepted and published in Stories for Homes, the best-selling anthology which has raised over £3,000 to date for the housing and homelessness charity Shelter?

This year, the SfH community began to stir again. Was it time for a sequel, they wondered? A new batch of stories, a new anthology, another opportunity to fund raise for Shelter?

Yes. It was.

256 submissions were received for SfH2. 55 pieces were selected for the book, and another 29 for the website. Mine was one of the latter, so sometime between now and September, you'll be able to read Potato Soup online, in the company of some other flash fiction, short stories, poetry and real life stories about housing and homelessness.

I'll keep dropping links on my facebook page as the project progresses...

News item, the second.

I don't usually enter competitions, because they can be pricey. But the inaugural Leicester Writes Short Story Prize caught my eye - not least because I got a discount for living in Leicestershire!

This week I was delighted to discover - by chance, when the shortlist came out - that one of my stories, The Pink Feather Boa Incident, was longlisted for the prize! That means publication later in the year in the prize anthology...

Unfortunately I didn't make it onto the shortlist, but good luck to everyone who did.

News item, the third.

In an attempt to get a few reviews onto Goodreads in advance of publication of Kingstone, I offered a pdf ARC to a few folk I knew had read StarMark, in exchange for an honest review.

Within 24 hours I had the first one back. (You can read it in full here)

In summary; 'All in all, a highly recommended page-turner suitable for pre-teens upwards.'

*One happy Squidge*

News item, the fourth.

Effie Purse, the new story which has pushed Crystal Keeper's Daughter to the sidelines, is flowing well. I'm hoping to finish the first s***y handwritten draft (I've already used up two biros!) by the end of June, and first type by the autumn. 


For the SfH2 publication I needed to update my bio, so I looked to see what I'd written for SfH1. Back in 2013, I was apparently still fine tuning The Ring Seekers (shelved for the time being, having gone through many, many incarnations and edits but never quite making the grade...), had only just started writing these Scribbles, and had only just seen the publication of Granny Rainbow and the Black Shadow in a charity anthology.

It made me realise that most of the 'success' I've had so far in writing has been in the four years since then. In fact, there's so much that I can't really list it all in a bio - and if I did, it would sound like I'm bragging! Probably more accurate to say that most of the advancement in my writing has occurred since then.

This time round, I can include the publication of two Granny Rainbow books, StarMark and (by the time the bio goes live) Kingstone. I can also include the several short stories published in various anthologies (I think there were twelve or so when I added them up) and the visits I've been making to schools to run creative writing sessions. 

It seems almost unreal to think that all of that and more has happened in the last four years. It made me realise it's good to sit back and take stock sometimes, to give yourself a pat on the back for what you've achieved, and then determine to do more of the same. 

So today, I'd encourage each and every one of you to take a minute or two to see what you've achieved in the same time. Don't focus on what's not happened - life can be a pig sometimes and get in the way of our dreams and desires. Instead, look for where you've made progress - even if it seems like it's only baby steps forward - and if you'd like to, share it in the comments below. 

Let's celebrate progress!

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Giving up? Or going with my gut?

I've been writing The Crystal Keeper's Daughter for a while now - almost twelve months. I began writing it after a very busy and reasonably stressy time (my trip to India, Mr Squidge's back op) and the story didn't seem to come as easily as Kingstone had.

I tried to write more over the summer - but that was busy too, with Charnwood 2016 and a Flower Festival at church. I confess, I ignored CKD for long periods of time, trying to work out the finer details of  the plot, ending up feeling as though I was simply digging myself deeper into the mire.

Then I was poorly. The cough virus hit me in September and after the initial week in bed, left me six weeks later with a chest infection bordering on pneumonia that took two courses of strong antibiotics to shift. I didn't have the energy to stand up, let alone the brainpower to write. I only started to feel better around Christmas...

So far this year, I've plodded on with CKD, trying to tell the story I want to tell, but writing time has remained somewhat limited by the fact that I am on a course with church at the moment, and it needs a lot of reading preparation. Reading that takes up what would have been writing time.

But on last Thursday, 14th April, things changed. I was doing a book signing in Waterstones, and had taken a notebook in case inspiration struck.

It did.

Effie Purse introduced herself, and told me her story - what she'd found, and how it changed her life. I liked the idea, and went to bed for a few nights after that unable to sleep as I mulled over what she'd told me.

I was excited for the first time in a long while about writing. I asked a few folk what I should do; here was Effie's story, from start to finish. Should I give in to her and write it? Leave CKD on ice for a bit? I don't like to give up on anything I start, and I know that CKD will be a good tale - when (if?) everything clicks into place. And of course, part of me is wondering whether I've actually wasted the last year persisting with a stuck project. Will I be wasting more time if I stubbornly continue writing CKD just because it happens to be my WIP at the moment?

The common consensus seemed to be 'go with Effie if she's calling to you.' And my gut is telling me the same thing. So... I've left CKD where it is and have started to hand write Effie. It's flowing, it's relatively easy, and it feels a bit like Kingstone did when I began to write it.

I'm aiming to get first s****y draft finished by the end of the summer...and edited by the autumn.

Fingers crossed my gut is giving me good advice, and I'm not using the excitement of a new story as a cover to give up... I don't suppose I'll know until the first draft is finished.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Got an urge to quilt

Remember last year, I did a fair bit of quilting? I ended up making a baby's cot quilt that was sold in aid of charity, and then went on a course to make a rainbow quilt for my bed.

I got a bit carried away too, last year. I have to admit I bought quite a lot of fabric for quilting projects that haven't yet seen the light of I'm trying to get motivated to get a smaller project made up and reduce the stash of material and 'things I want to make'!

I bought a pack of rainbow squares - lovely, bold colours, no two alike - and matched it with a piece of busy-patterned, highly coloured fabric, with the aim of making a smaller lap-quilt to keep in the living room. However, with the garden room progressing, I did wonder whether it would be good to have in there instead? It will disguise the faded cover on the rocking chair - which was my nursing chair when the Squidgelings were babies - that we plan to move into the new space at the bottom of the garden.

I have played and played with the squares to find a pattern I like. I realise I'm quite anal about the colour sequence of rainbows - it has to be in order, I can't cope with a higgledy-piggledy approach to colours though I love to see it in other people's work. But I'm not having much luck with straight lines either! The colour blocks aren't a true graded palette, so some of them I'm trying to find a 'best fit' within a line and it doesn't always work...

Long lines in following colours with patterned strip between...

...or shorter ones? 

And what about the patterned fabric? Should I cut strips to go between the rows? Do I have enough to add a border around the edges instead? Should I cut squares and dot them haphazardly between the bold ones?

One thing I can say, is that I love this selvedge pattern and am definitely going to use this rainbow of hearts somewhere on the quilt, rather than discard it...

Course, I can't do anything until I've decided on the layout, because if I cut the patterned piece wrong...


Wish me luck.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Book a bookshop

In my last post I said that I was going to be doing a book signing in my local Waterstones branch...well, yesterday WAS that day!

Here's my little table in the corner of the children's section, with plenty of books ready to sign.

Books, bookmarks, cloud notebook and pens at the ready...

I'd been given the manager's office chair - which looked very much like an office chair. So Louise, (the manager) popped out to the market and bought a scarf to cover it and make it look prettier. It was almost the colour of StarMark's cover...

I was going to be in the shop for four hours, and previous experience has taught me that, unless it's a launch event, these kind of days can go very slowly. So I decided that, rather than take my knitting (!) I'd take a notebook to record impressions of the day as well as work on an idea that had begun to take shape for another novel. (More of that in another blog post!)

I loved sitting among the books. On the shelf I spotted old favourites that I'd read as a child, titles that my children had read and enjoyed (me too, if I'm honest - I do love a good children's story) and piles of new titles that I was itching to dive into!

It was a day of fits and starts - it would go so quiet at times, the shop would be empty apart from Louise and the other assistant (apologies to her - I didn't ask her name) sorting stock and stacking shelves. Then it'd get busy and there'd be children coming down with parents and grandparents to choose books (instead of Easter eggs - hooray!). One little girl spotted the new Tom Gates book; she literally clasped it to her chest, squealed with delight and jumped up and down on the spot. Then she spent half an hour with her sister, trying to decide which books to actually buy...before going back to Tom Gates... Made me smile.

Had an unexpected chat with a 16 year old lass who'd come in looking for a Macbeth revision guide got rather distracted by the Harry Potter display. It was her mum who said; "Look - an author! Tell her what you write." Apparently this young lady writes Harry Potter fan fiction...I've had a look at her work online and she's got some really good ideas. If she's reading this, I hope she sticks at it!

Quite a few folk dropped by just to say hello. They'd already bought StarMark, but it was lovely to feel so supported.

Then Mia bounded up to me. "You came to my school!" she announced. "I saw the book in the window and told my dad I had to come today." She'd been one of the pupils at Sacred Heart School, who I'd worked with as part of the Loogabarooga Festival last year, and it gave me a real glow to think that I'd made such an impression.

The day was apparently quieter than a normal Thursday, but we decided that was because some folk might have gone to Leicester to see The Queen (she was at the cathedral for a Maundy Thursday service). Even so, I sold 8 copies of the book in my four hours... And yes, some of them were sold to people I didn't know! To be honest, that was much better than I expected, considering how many people in Loughborough already have a copy of StarMark.

Only three left...

If you're passing the Loughborough Waterstones...there are three copies still in the shop, and I also discovered that StarMark is officially on Waterstones' ordering system, so in theory, you can go into any branch and order a copy...

The event was a good experience, and one that may well be repeated after Kingstone is published in June - which would be awesome! Watch this space...

Saturday, 8 April 2017

What? In Waterstones?!

Excited to say that copies of StarMark are now available in my local Waterstones branch!

The manager has been so supportive and was prepared to let me do a book signing - so that's exactly what I'm doing on the 13th April, between 10am and 2pm. I've no idea how many folk will come, or whether we'll sell any books - most folk in Loughborough who know me have probably already bought a copy by now! - but being exposed to a much wider audience is a fabulous opportunity.

When I dropped into town earlier this week, I was gobsmacked to see MY novel in the window, (and in some very illustrious company!) over a week before the signing.

And inside, a little table with just my books on it.

Highly excited author alert!
I've had a couple of folk stop me in the street, saying they've seen it...

Was it easy to get my book into Waterstones? No. For a long time it's been almost impossible for a small indie-pubbed author, especially with respect to costs. But things are changing. The 'one-size-fits-all' approach is being encouraged from the top (as noted on Waterstones' own website) to alter, to be more open to the needs of the local communities which the branches serve. Combined with this approach and the local manager's openness to supporting local authors (and we have quite a few well known ones in this area) I've been able to start a conversation, take in a copy of the book (quality matters) and pass on information about which distributor StarMark's available from in the UK. (It's a US publisher, remember) It's not a one-sided relationship, I might add; I buy a fair few books from Waterstones - probably spend most of my royalties in there - so I'm a familiar face to the regular staff.

It's another example, I think, of how persistence pays off for an author. You can't expect the world to come to you. You have to get out there and find your opportunities, feel your way through the possibilities. Will my books sell on the day? Will someone pay the higher-than-a-book-from-a-big-publisher-or-famous-author price for it? I don't know.

But at least we can say we tried.

And who knows, if it goes well, maybe I'll be allowed another session for Kingstone...?

Friday, 7 April 2017

'Spring'-ing into action with NIBS

Our April meeting had a Spring theme to it.

Our warm up was an Eggs-traordinary piece, where we imagined we had an egg - but WHAT would hatch out of it? Mine had a baby mermaid, but there was a multi-coloured dragon, a one-legged chick, a river of golden light...

Our second exercise used story telling dice. If you've not seen them before, they look a little bit like this:

Instead of numbers, there are simple pictures on each face, which you can interpret any way you like. So, for example, in the picture above there is an image of a house. That could be taken as a literal house, as home, a roof over your head, security, a hotel... Nothing is off-limits.

There were six of us, so to begin with we each took one dice ( there were six in our set - other sets have up to nine or you can add 'booster' sets.) and rolled it. We then listed as many things for that single image as we could. Then we rolled all six together and tried to plot out a storyline using all six pictures. I have to confess, I was alright with one dice, but got overwhelmed using all six - there was almost too much choice for me; I couldn't pin it down. Others faired really well though, including all six images in their outlines. What was weirdest was that the first story read out involved a trip to the opticians; the second, an optician who joined a dating site; the third, an online date that went wrong! Strange how the ideas sort of ran on as we went round the table - and yet there had been no discussion about how each of us were going to use the six different images...

Our final activity was in honour of The Bard. April is the month in which Shakespeare was born and also died, so I looked up how to write a sonnet and we had a go. It wasn't to everyone's taste...some of us are not keen on poetry of this type because 'it's HARD!' I've never done any Shakespeare, apart from The Merchant of Venice for CSE English Lit, so I was up for the challenge, but yes - it was hard!

We worked as a group, and managed to get the first quatrain (sounds posh - just means verse!) finished before the end of the meeting. Here it is...I might be tempted to complete it, later!

A (bit of a ) Sonnet for Spring.

From Winter's death a Spring is newly sprung
As first new shoots of green from ground emerge.
The day begins as liquid notes are sung
At Equinox, as day and night converge.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

There's a house at the bottom of my garden...

Well, life did it again. Yet another virus. I've come to the conclusion it's just one of those phases in life where I'm not going to be at my healthiest, even though I'm doing my best to rest up, eat well, not get too busy...Hence the lack of blogging.

Have to say I'm feeling much better - which has been helped enormously by the glorious spring weather we've had recently. There's yellow and blue and red all over the garden, supplemented with the pale blossom which appeared almost overnight on the pear tree. It means the tree house, which Mr Squidge and Squidgeling T rebuilt last year, looks fabulous, hidden as it is in the blossom-filled branches. In fact, there could well be a story in this picture somewhere...

And there are bunk beds inside, too!

There's also another 'house' going up in our garden; last year, Mr Squidge began talking about building a garden room. Apparently he was going to have a pool table in it; Squidgeling T was going to use it as a band practise space; Squidgeling J reckoned it was going to be a party shed...and I was allowed to use it as a writing den.

My own writing space? Wowser.

To begin with, we had to dig out The Mound, a ramp of earth left as a feature in the bottom of the garden when it was landscaped some fifteen years ago. I spent two days in a skip, stamping down the earth that was removed...

Over the last few months, Mr Squidge has been working hard. With the help of a friend (and in exchange for some work on a broken vehicle or two), he laid the blue brick and cement foundation. A couple of trips to the woodyard, and the frame is starting to take shape...

He's hoping to do a fair bit more over the Easter holidays, so I'll keep you posted on progress. At the moment, it looks more like a writing palace than a writing seems enormous!