Monday, 23 October 2017

When crafting goes crazy...

Not had a chance to blog recently. My dad had a - thankfully - minor stroke a week ago. Can I just say how wonderful and amazing and caring our NHS was? And how grateful I am that Dad's stroke has left him with barely any issues at all...apart from forgetting his PIN number when he next went to the bank!

Even without that, life has been rather busy.

Mr Squidge and I went to see Squidgeling J at Bristol for the day - gosh, but there are some BIG hills down that way! Had a late lunch in Clifton, saw THE bridge and some very posh houses on the other side of the river, and left a little earlier than planned because J was recovering from a nasty virus, so we didn't get to visit the Bag O' Nails, a pub with cats. Seriously. The landlord owns 15 cats which have the run of the bar. But you have to buy a drink if you want to stroke any of them...

I also had an evening author talk - to a group of 15 church ladies, who all threw themselves into the writing exercises and bought a fair few books between them. So much so, I am having Granny Rainbow reprinted!!

It's also been half term, so routine goes out of the window.

But to get to the real reason for writing this blog... Crafting.

I love making things. I know that if I go too long without making something - whether it's something floral, stitching, knitting, writing - I get grumpy. Problem is, I often see something and go 'yeah, I'll have a go at that!' and something comes up, I get distracted, and I end up finding a half-finished something months later.

Which is where I'm at.

Project 1: I started a granny square blanket for the garden room, to cover the cushions on the rocking chair that's down there. I've got about half a dozen more rows to add around the border, and it's taking ages. Lots of sideways growth, but not much depth. Hence I get bored working on it for long periods, because there's not a lot to show for my efforts. (And the eagle eyed among you will see that I was so eager to crack on with it, I didn't even bother to sew all the central squares together properly before I began adding the border...)

Project 2: I loved this little jackety cardy, and started knitting it in the summer. I have two sleeves and half a collar to add. But...

Project 3: The dark nights are drawing in, which is normally a signal for me to get sock knitting. I knit my own socks because proper woollen ones seem to keep my feet a lot warmer than nylon, and I treat myself to a new colour combo every year, then make odds-and-sods socks from what's left over. I've even used socks as a tool to help my writing in the past... I'm about at the toe of the first sock. If I get organised, I can probably knit the other in a little over a day, but there are other distractions to be found...

Project 4: Big quilt. I bought the jelly roll back in April of last year, because the colours in the fabrics are the colours I have in my bedroom. And, if I'm honest, I'm finding that my rainbow quilt keeps me toasty warm in bed even without a winter weight duvet, so adding another toasty warm layer to the bed can't be a bad thing, can it? So far, I have stitched the strips together, but have no idea how I'm going to edge it to make it big enough to fit my bed.

And then, Project 5: Wonder what I could possibly need all of these for...?

Yup, another rainbow quilt. A random one this time. Well, more random than I'm used to. I started thinking about it back in April and started piecing it together in the summer, when I wanted a break from the kitchen refit (which is, can you believe, still not finished yet?). I'm now hand quilting in the coloured squares, picking up the curved petal-shapes which appear on the patterned strips. I have to say I'm really pleased with it so far. It's only going to be a lap-quilt though - much smaller than the original rainbow quilt.

Working my way round the outside squares 

Picking up the petal detail in each square

So five projects. Now, bear in mind these are all projects I've begun. Don't even get me started on the Christmas tree mat thing I bought last year but haven't done anything with yet. Or the pack of squares I have which I want to make into something quilted - but no idea what. Or for who. Or my mum's fabric that she must've bought over a year ago that we were going to make into a quilt... Or the wool and patchwork kit I was bought for my birthday...

If only I didn't have anything else to do except craft!

Friday, 13 October 2017

Books that helped me write

As NaNoWriMo approaches (which I don't do...I've done NaNoEdMo previously!) I thought it might be a good time to share with you some of the books on writing I've used, which have made a difference in how I write.

The oldest one is this:

Seems a bit of a weird one, but my granny gave me it, to go with the typewriter I had as a child. The typewriter was a turquoise Petite Super International typewriter, just like this one, (image found on Adventures in Mattressland) and I spent many happy hours typing up little stories for myself on thin, cream paper.

Granny reckoned I ought to learn how to type properly, so I tried to teach myself the right way to do it. My sister, who trained as a secretary, would probably say that what I do on a computer keyboard bears no resemblance to the proper way to touch-type, but I have got fingers that are speedier, I'm sure, than if I'd never read the book...

Next one:

This book is laugh out loud funny. As the blurb says; 

'There are many ways prospective authors routinely sabotage their own work. But why leave it ti guesswork? Misstep by misstep, How Not to Write a Novel shows how you can ensure that your manuscript never rises above the level of unpublishable drivel... Alternatively, you can use it to identify the most common mistakes, avoid them and actually write a book that works.'  

When I started reading it, I'd have a mental check list and be thinking 'I don't do that' and 'thank goodness I'm not this bad!' but then - uh-oh! I'd come to a section and feel squirmy because I recognised something I WAS doing...which I quickly put right. 

On my kindle:

My kindle has a section, dedication to writing books. Let me take you through the ones I found most useful...

Nicola Morgan's How to Write a Great Synopsis is essential. There are exercises you can do to really pinpoint what your book is about. (Her blog, Help! I Need a Publisher is also full of fantastic advice which I've dipped into now and again.)

Stephen King, On Writing. Nuff said. Though I have to say I'm not a fan of his writing, I do respect the advice he gives.

Les Edgerton. Finding Your Voice was an enormous breakthrough for me. Reading this book showed me my natural writing style, and it was the point at which I started to write the way that suited me, rather than trying to write how I thought I ought to. Equally, Hooked is a fabulous insight into how to get your reader...well, hooked! 

Chuck Wendig is full of writing advice - and the first bit of his advice for spending 30 Days in the Word Mines is - 'You can do this. Trust me.' It's written in typical Chuck style, which is often sweary and goes off at a tangent! (Just like his blog...)

Then there's THAT book. 
                                Image result for cartoon book images

No, I'm not going to post a picture of it or tell you what it is. Suffice to say that it is a book which, when I read it, was so full of rookie errors, it annoyed the heck out me. Yet it had been published. It wasn't the story itself that annoyed me - that was actually really original - but the writing. I can remember thinking, thank goodness I don't write that badly. (At that time, I still had a long way to go before I was published myself, so it was a bit 'pot-calling-the-kettle-black' if I'm honest. Not proud of that.) Yet it is still what I turn to and read a few pages of when the infamous doubt demons strike, to remind myself I can write. And not too badly, either. Sounds horrible of me, doesn't it? But in a strange way, it helps.

And last, but not least, there's Anne Lamott, gifted to me by a friend who is also a writer and Christian, like me and Anne.

I suppose I'd call this an holistic approach to writing. Because we don't write in isolation - it's part of our lives, and we have to wrap people, places, jobs, worries and everything else around the compulsion that drives many of us to write. It's a very honest account of a writer's life. It includes the things we don't talk about or admit to - like jealousy, pride, depression, deadlines and all sorts of things. You know the ones - they tend to be glossed over or hidden away when we're putting on the brave face that congratulates our friends who've had success, or we receive another rejection for our own beloved manuscript. It's a refreshing read. But that leads me on to this:

You're right, it's not a book. It's a picture, another gift from a friend. I've not put it up yet, because I wasn't sure where to put it...until I looked for my Anne Lamott book to be able to write this blog, and the picture was with it.

You know the saying 'How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.' Well, Anne says writing a book needs to be taken 'bird by bird', a saying based upon the time her brother had to complete a school project on birds; he was so overwhelmed by the prospect, their father told him to tackle it 'bird by bird'... ie step by step.

Look at the picture again. On the first branch is one bird, the next down has two, and so on and so on until there's a whole branch full of them. Suddenly, the picture isn't just something nice to look at, it's a visual reminder of Anne's writing advice, to take it all step by step.

So there you go - the books that have helped me most in my writing, and why.

What about you? What writing advice books made a difference to your writing? Do let me know, because it's never too late to pick up a few more hints and tips on how to improve!

Thursday, 12 October 2017

When NIBS met Trefoil Guild

Last night, I did an author talk - not at a school, but to  the local Trefoil Guild.

I was a guider with the Guide Association for twenty years from the age of eighteen - in fact that's where the name Squidge came from. The Trefoil Guild began as a way of old guides keeping in contact with their units, and has grown and developed to become a section in its own right within the Guiding Movement.

The Trefoil Guild in our District meet at the same place we meet for NIBS (the writing group). NIBS often meets on the same date upstairs, while they meet downstairs.

Because I know many of the current Guild, I was asked to go a Trefoil meeting to tell them about my writing. It just so happened that the date they requested was also a NIBS night, so we combined the two...

It's the first time I've given a talk to a social group. I decided early on that it wasn't just going to be me, talking. I would make Trefoil work, too.

After the 'this is me and how I got to where I am' talk, we tried a few exercises.

Trefoil Guild in their red and beige uniforms

I started with 'I remember...' about school days. As most of the ladies are older, their memories included things like travelling on the utility bus with its wooden seats, but there were other memories that could have been set in any school today. Like being the model that the class painted on a 9th birthday, or going into assembly in alphabetical order. But it warmed everybody's pens and pencils up...

I demonstrated my story bag items, and shared a few of the ideas that the children I've worked with have come up with in the past; the flame-farting dragon who loved baked beans went down well.

There's always a rainbow sock in the bag...but only one!

And guessed it...paint colours! On one table we had a 'Cup of custard' to go with the raisinless 'Raisin Pudding'. On another, a spurned woman burnt the orchid (Burnt Orchid) sent by her lover. 'Benjamin's Buttons' were always green, but he hated green. And 'Bavarian Hops' was going to be developed into an Alpine dance...

Pens, pencils and brain cells hard at work!

The ladies certainly seemed to enjoy themselves, and it gave me the confidence that even in a shorter, evening social meeting, you can still share your writing journey and get people writing for themselves and having fun with words.

And look what they gave me as a thank you - a beautiful orchid, because they'd heard I liked them and mine were often in flower (unlike my mum, whose orchid flowers die back and from then on only send up leaves...)

Monday, 9 October 2017

Motivating characters

I've been working on Rurik since the summer. I think I might have mentioned in previous blogs that I'm changing 'he' to a 'she' and working through some quite major plot holes which I discovered.

Now, bearing in mind that this story was written way, way back (it went through major editing in 2012 after the self edit coursewhich took place after it (and me) had been rejected by an agent I was working with), there were bound to be some issues. I accept that. Since 2012, I have changed a lot in how I write and what I write. Of course Rurik was going to need a polish. Or another edit.

Or, actually, an almost complete rewrite in places.

I've been slowly working through and making the changes I think the writing needs to bring it all into line with how I write NOW.

Three chapters from the end, I've found an issue. A real biggie; my MC has no motivation. I need to motivate her.

No, I said I need to motivate her, not Mr Motivator. (remember him?) * face palm *

I suddenly realised that my MC has been forced into a situation not of her making. From there on, she is carried by a series of situations through to the climax - which is where I'm at in the edit. Problem is, the MC is a spectator, an onlooker, pretty much all the way through. She does not affect the action by her decisions. Weeeell, she does a bit. But not nearly enough to give her an over-riding motivation to drive the story forward.

It's a classic rookie error - probably because I was a rookie when I initially wrote the story. To make the story really zing, I need, as the lovely Julie Cohen would say, to 'Make Shit Happen!'

The only problem is, how can you put motivation into a story in retrospect?

I've tried sitting with my notebook to work it out. I've written pages and pages of questions to myself about my MC and why she would do the things she's doing in the story. 

But maybe it's not myself I need to be asking... Maybe...I need to ask Reeka, my MC.

You might think that sounds a bit barmy, but I've spoken to several authors who, when they get stuck, interrogate their characters. I know from experience that when I get to know my characters well, they start doing their own thing in the story, and I simply write it all out for them. (If you want to see what I'm talking about, check out this blog post at The Write Practise, and especially read the comments. That's where authors have posted the answers to the interrogation they gave some of their characters.)

So I think that me and Reeka are going to have to have a little chat to sort this motivation thing out...

Hope she's still speaking to me by the end of it all.

The School Inspector on tour...

Recently, I went to our town hall to spend an evening with Gervase Phinn.

For those who don't know him, he's an author and educator who writes a lot about his days as a schools inspector in Yorkshire, and about the things children say.

I was interested to go because I think it's always good to hear what other authors have to say, although I admit that my only Gervase Phinn book is 'A Wayne in a Manger' - a collection of very funny moments relating to school Nativity plays and Christmas events.

Mr Phinn himself is a larger than life, colourful character who certainly knows how to engage with an audience; said audience was very much older in the main, and appreciated the double entendres and innuendo a lot more than me and Mr Squidge perhaps did at times!

At times though, we were in stitches.

Like when Gervase told us about the little girl who was going to sing a song for him, called 'Damp Settee'. He then proceeded to sing it... 'Dance then, wherever you may be...I am the Lord of the damp settee...!'

And when he explained how he'd tried to show another little girl how to make sandcastles by adding water from the water tray into the dry sand tray, using his fingers to mix them together.... She still could not be persuaded though, and when Gervase asked why not, she told him that a classmate had just wee'd into the water tray...

You get the gist.

But what also came across is that Gervase is passionate about education, particularly getting children reading, and building society through literacy. He recounted some of his own school experiences, as well as family anecdotes that helped to shape him into the writer he is today.

So we chuckled and chortled, and afterwards, I went to buy a book from his signing table.

I have to say - the children I meet in schools know how to behave better than some of the adults in that signing queue. Not only had the adults uncovered the book table and started helping themselves to copies before Gervase had even appeared, they just sort of crowded round the table and pushed and shoved. There was no queue. And when Gervase finally sat down (having changed from his multicoloured jacket into a Penguin (as in the publisher) T-shirt) a queue did form. At the opposite end to where I'd been waiting patiently since I was the fourth person out.

Miffed, I stepped out of the scrum and stood back until the end, chose a book and waited for a signature. One minute, Gervase was writing in my book and talking to me, the next minute he spots someone else. Introductions were made, plans discussed...and I'm still standing there like a lemon. In the end, he handed me the book I'd bought, (while still talking to the other person) and I was left to sort of slink away...a bit disappointed, if I'm honest.

It made me determined to be more like Chris Riddell, at my own signings... He took time to talk to every single person who wanted a book signing. Admittedly, the event I attended with Chris was an afternoon, not an evening after several other evenings - Gervase was obviously tired by the time he got to me after an hour and three quarters of entertaining, followed by a half hour of signings. So I can sort of make allowances, but it did take a bit of the shine off the evening for me.

I am now looking forward to reading 'Mangled English', which describes all sorts of ways that our rich language is used and abused in comedic ways. And to some more chuckles...

But speaking of author talks and the like - I shall be doing several talks to social groups over the next couple of months, as well as spending a day with Year 3, 4 and 5 children at Outwoods Edge School as part of this year's Loogabarooga Festival. Check out the programme - there are some amazing authors and illustrators coming! Including the current Children's Laureate, Lauren Child!

I shall expect any signing queues to be well behaved... *winks*