Thursday, 18 October 2018

When a picture paints (not quite) a thousand words...

Late posting this - life seems to be running away with me rather at the moment, but I'm working on the view that it's better late than never!

Last week's NIBS meeting was all about pictures. Each of us took a picture prompt to the meeting and when we'd seen all of them, chose one to write about. There was a magnified damsel fly's head, a monk-scribe, ladies at Ascot wearing fabulous hats, a fantasy castle, and a tray set out with a teapot and cups. Mine was a picture of a robot, surrounded by piles of books and reading a large book, which in spite of some other interesting pics, I decided to use. The piece isn't finished or very polished, but you can see the shape of it and what it might become;

The order came through to Z38's digi-brain at 26:03.1. 

CLEAR LEVEL MINUS THIRTY TWO.

ACKNOWLEDGED Z38 shot back to digicentral, before beginning its descent. By 28:13.2, it had reached its destination. Without hesitation, it pulled the incinibin towards the first pile to be destroyed.

Z38 worked methodically, selecting precisely a 3 span measurement to fit the incinibin's opening. Even if that meant taking a portion of a whole; the programme would not allow a deviation in thickness of more than 0.1 span.

Alone on the level, Z38 worked on, clearing pile after pile, until the inbuilt timescan hit 30:03.0.
Somewhere in the circuitry, a new connection was made. Z38 froze. And accepted a new order.
Then, it selected 0.765 span of material, a measurement precisely contained within two battered but still solid retaining boards. 

Z38 lowered itself onto a pile measuring 2.5 span and flipped the top retaining board open. Inside were thin sheets of material, covered in an unfamiliar code...which Z38 assimilated and sent to a computer system beyond digicentral's reach, where a printer began churning out the assimilated code.

'IT WAS THE BEST OF TIMES, IT WAS THE WORST OF TIMES...' 


Our second exercise was to write using the same picture for everybody. I'd chosen two along similar themes, and couldn't decide, so I asked the group 'black and white, or colour?' They chose black and white. Here it is:



We had all sorts of pieces resulting from just this image... A dark world, where the mask was used to suck juice - but if the juice touched your lips, the penalty was death; a dialogue between the crow and the man with eyes to the right and nose to the left; a museum of mannequins, with the murder victim hidden behind the mask; a devious plot which used the mechanical crow as a device; a masked fancy dress celebration, where the eyes gave away the identity of the person... And then I wrote something really dark! (With a nod to Rod Duncan, whose novel The Queen of All Crows gave me the idea for the title of the man...)

The Keeper of Crows surveyed the land from the same knoll where previously, the King had stood and watched too. Royalty had long since departed - round about the same time it became obvious that victory lay with The Elite, not the peasantry.

There would be few spoils of note on this field, for the peasants had had little. In fact - and a low chuckle sounded in The Keeper's throat at the thought - they had much less now, for even their lifeblood was leaving them, draining into the soil and turning it to red-brown mud.

Even so, The Keeper would send the automaton to lead the flock and find what petty pickings there might be. The royal side had not been completely unscathed; Sir Arndal had fallen, and Count D'Eakk. Their jewel studded armour would be stripped soon enough if the birds went in fast.

The battle was drawing to a close. The Keeper could sense it. If he waited much longer, the human scavengers would begin the crows' work, chancing their sight on plucking loot from the dead and dying before his feathered conspirators descended to snatch back the treasure...and maybe an eye or two while they were at it.

The Keeper scratched the place where the mask's edge always caught his cheek, thankful that his true identity was contained behind the golden beak. Then he flicked the switch on the automaton and threw it into the air, his heart leaping as it took flight. A million black birds responded, erupting from the tree tops behind him. 

It feels to me like there's more to this particular story...I may turn it into a longer piece, as I have a challenge coming up and I can sort of see where my tentative ideas for that might benefit from a character like this...

Monday, 8 October 2018

Workshopping!

This is just a quick update to let you know where I'm doing some workshops in the near future;

The first will be part of the Loogabarooga Festival 2018; I'll be in the Festival Den on Saturday 20th October, telling folk about the inspiration behind my books and sharing some of my favourite story prompts for those who'd like to have a go at writing or drawing their own stories. (Because storytelling doesn't have to rely on words...)


Then on the 22nd October, I'm off to Peterborough, to hold a couple of sessions for Potential Plus UK as part of their Big Weekend. We'll be making tigers and tea to go with The Tiger Who Came to Tea, and then finding out what's in my story bag...and making up a story or two about them.

I'll also be at NIBS this week, so I'm looking for suitable picture-based inspiration to use.

It's a bit too far off yet to plan World Book Day 2019 in Coventry at the Eden Girls' School (yes, I'm already booked for it!) but I'm thinking about it...

There's lots of church stuff going on alongside all of this - planning interviews for our new vicar, looking ahead to Harvest and Christmas services, helping to edit a book on the history of the church...

No wonder the WIP gets short shrift! My end of the year deadline for the first draft is slipping through my fingers.

But I wouldn't change a thing, if it meant I couldn't do workshops.

Monday, 1 October 2018

Wolves and Apples 2018

Wolves and Apples is a programme of support for aspiring children's writers, managed by Mantle Arts, which includes conferences, master classes and training events.



Have to be honest - I'd not heard of them before and caught sight of the 2018 conference details on facebook; I knew the venue (St Martin's conference centre in Leicester city centre), it didn't cost the earth (just over £30 for a day ticket), and I hadn't been to York for two years and I felt in need of some writerly contact. It also included the opportunity to have a 1-2-1 with an agent or a publisher by submitting your work early.

I bet some of you are thinking 'but Squidge isn't aspiring - she's already published.' But I reckon you can always go along to these events and get something out of it, so I booked on.

It was a really good day. There was a variety of panels, talks and workshops from a mixture of authors, agents and publishers, and I would think about fifty people attending.

First decision of the day - what to wear. Which sounds daft, but as I've attended church-related trainings at the centre (it's run by Leicester Diocese and linked to the Cathedral) and experienced the literal highs and lows of the aircon there, I knew I needed to layer up! Felt a bit boring in a grey jumper and black jeans, so I decided it was a sparkly shoe day... (It's also something you learn when you go into schools; wear something distinctive and the kids remember you for it.)



Arrived in brilliant but cold sunshine to sign in and got the Best Conference Badge EVER!

Fab badge with *wipes away lone tear* my
'Cloudie notebook...

My first session was Dramatic Screenwriting for the Younger Audience with Jonathan Wolfman. He went through his top ten tips rather than a complete intro to the craft - I've written a few short scripts in my time, but nothing huge - and lots of them could be applied to novel writing too. And I have to say that, having watched much CBBC with the Squidgelings when they were little, I had a bit of a fangirl moment when I realised Jonathan was the person behind Tracey Beaker's Dumping Ground and Wolfblood! Here's his top ten...

1. Write with your heart. Rewrite with your head. Scripts take as many edits as novels, and they need to breathe, too. Apparently Jonathan knew Tracey Beaker had got where it needed to be when he made himself cry...
2. Everything is a metaphor. But for what? You need to discover the universal within your characters or situations - Children of the New Forest and Tracey Beaker are both essentially about loss of family for example. And that metaphor must resonate intuitively and instinctively with your audience. You could say it's like a theme in a novel.
3. Arcs within arcs within arcs. Each story has an arc, each act has an arc, each scene has an arc...just like in a novel.
4. Don't tread water, turn the story. In other words, keep the action gong!
5. Don't be subtle, be subtextual. Add depth, not obviousness.
6. Create characters within a moral architecture, not role models. Write for entertainment, not education - yes, Tracey Beaker didn't behave well all the time (and Jonathan had had many a discussion with parents who wouldn't let their kids watch the programme because her behaviour wasn't what they wanted to see in their own children) but she was brave and loyal and did things for the right reasons.
7. Make your characters EARN the resolution. How much pressure do you put them under and where are the big moments where they have to make a choice?
8. Don't do set-up scenes. Start within the story. Or - don't info dump!
9. Precinct dramas are the norm in TV. Mainly because nothing to do with children will ever have big money thrown at it, and setting the script in one main setting is cheaper, ultimately, to film than a globe-trotting extravaganza...
10. What to do when you're stuck. Go back to a moment of choice or a turning point and make the complete opposite happen.

The next session was Creative Collage-Making for Writers, with Jenny Alexander. It appealed because it offered the promise of more than just words, and as I'm a creative person in lots of different ways, I thought I'd pop along.

The premise is that as writers, we have two parts - the child and the adult, the playful and serious. The child is the creator, the adult is the one who pulls that creation into a useable form. But all too often in the creative process the 'adult' in us pokes their nose in too soon and stifles the 'child'. Jenny does a lot of work with writers to try to keep the adult out of the way - to allow the child in us to come up with solutions by allowing our subconscious to play. I've done a session like this before, with Shelley Harris at York, but that was all word based. With Jenny, we'd be using pictures.

We started with a question about our current WIP - I wrote 'What's the title of Tilda's first story?', because the working title is too obvious. And then we set that aside and tore text and pictures out of magazines. They just had to appeal to us... I found myself recognising scenes from the WIP in certain pictures, and tore away quite happily. Then we stuck them on a big sheet of paper...



With the finished collages in front of us, we started to write. Just 90 seconds each time, on the following:
1. Describe what you see in your collage.
2. Pick out five striking things.
3. Choose one of them and imagine yourself to be it. Describe yourself.
4. As that same object, write how you feel
5. Now write what you want.
6. And finally, what you fear...

It wasn't an easy thing to do - at stage 5, my adult brain kicked in, and I wrote 'how can I imagine what water wants, except to flow along the path of least resistance back to the sea from which I sprang - to my source? It's a bit ridic...'

But what seemed amazing was that everything linked back to that initial question - an initial conscious intention, a subconscious exercise, reflecting back on the conscious mind and possibly providing an answer. For me, I discovered through this that the Power in the story is central, not a particular person, so perhaps my new title needs to go down that route?

Other collages made by the group gave new insights into characters, or new angles to the stories they were telling, and Jenny shared some of her examples with us too. They were all very personal, unique, and useful. I was so impressed the technique, I bought one of Jenny's books, and will perhaps be trying out a few other exercises the next time I have  a burning question on the WIP!

The other book's from the cathedral bookshop,
and is still writing in a way; it's about writing prayers

Keeping with the non-wordy theme, I opted for Writing from Images with Pam Smy next. You've probably seen Pam's work without realising it, because she is an illustrator with lots of book covers under her belt - but she is also the author of Thornhill, a mould-breaking illustrated YA novel.

The crux of Pam's talk was that as a creative person, you need to be self-aware and confident, and our lives and experiences shape us until we are a mix of so many things that ultimately blend together to create the work we want to create. Which is something that applies to any creative field, not just writing or drawing. It was fascinating to see how Pam's love of illustration, of particular books, of landscape, of walking, of creating atmosphere, had all gone into the blender and produced this beautiful book. Incidentally, it took 4 years, 165 paintings and lots of hard work to put it all together.

Just some of the things that make Pam, Pam and add to her work

Oh - and remember Jonathan talking about metaphor? Thornhill is about bullying, and if you know where to look, there are hints from the very first picture in the book. (Hint: look for the cat, although he's not the only one)

I had a 1-2-1 over lunch with Ruth Huddleston of Old Barn Books. She was very complimentary about the sample I'd sent ("beautiful opening, great world building, you can certainly write,") but felt that I needed to really hone in on the theme of the book. I think I'm aware of that - just not sure how to find it in retrospect, because I wrote an adventure story ten years ago when I was less experienced and didn't even know you should have a theme... What was also rather lovely is that Ruth said my writing had a bit of a feel of Kiran Millwood Hargreaves (Girl of Ink and Stars), a book I read and enjoyed very much.

My view while munching on a tune mayo pannini...

After lunch, we listened to Anne Fine - yes, Anne Fine! - talk about What I Wish I'd Known From the Start. I have to be honest. I know Anne only through the shelves of the school library; she has written a lot of books, *whispers* but I've never read any of them, a fact that will be remedied ASAP. Now in her seventies, Anne is a lively and entertaining speaker, and lots of what she said would have applied to very many of us in the room. Like - work out how many hours you want to put in, and how many life allows you. Keep track of progress with your book, or it's easy to become disillusioned. Work on a physical copy when editing - it's easy to rearrange bits if you literally cut and paste. There's no one way to write a book - it's a product, not a process. Read your work over and over in lots of moods - that way, it'll appeal to more readers!

She also had some notes of caution, like 'your grandchildren will love anything you do, but not everyone is a writer!' And admitted that nowadays, she would probably not have had the career she has had, because she didn't know how publishing worked back in the day, and nowadays the 'bean counters' seem to have more of a say in what gets published and how authors are promoted than readers.

The last session was You Can't Take the Editor out of the Author... with Non Pratt. Non writes edgy contemporary YA novels, and she described how she became an author via becoming an editor. She writes for 14 year old Non - the Non who wanted to read stories that simply weren't being written at that time, so she wrote them herself.

She took us through her own writing process (lots of post it notes, notebooks, and coloured pens!) and how she approaches editing.



Now, Non said she wasn't a big planner - she knows the start and the end, and then fills in the middle exciting bits before she links them all together - but her editing is definitely planned! First stage is to Read (no pens allowed), Ruminate and React. Then she makes pace notes for every chapter before preparing a synopsis. The she sets to work, aiming to cut at least 20% from a first draft (aims for 80K...first drafts have been up to 500K!); review the timelines and seasons, reviews each character outline and check that your heart is in the book.

She was a great presenter and I can see exactly why she is such a hit with her teenage audience. She said in a later panel session that YA writing has to involve hope - teenagers will look for hope even in the bleakest of books - and they need to end the book knowing that they have the tools to survive and face life. I admire her for being able to write novels that achieve such a major result for their readers.

And that was it - a short panel session at the end to allow Q&A's to be put to many of the session leaders, and I was back on the bus in my sparkly shoes (one attendee admitted to shoe envy and I had quite a few other comments) and home to mull over everything I'd heard...and to write this blog.

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

It's sloe time!

As you'll probably be aware if you're a regular reader of the Scribbles, Mr Squidge and I like to make wine. We also make flavoured gin - rhubarb, blackcurrant (my least favourite) and sloe.

Now my first introduction to sloe gin was at father-in-law's house when Mr Squidge and I had been going out for a while. It only ever got served at Christmas (alongside exploding mince pies - I'll tell you that story another time!) so I've always thought of it as a festive drink.

A few years ago, Mr Squidge found some lovely sloes in the hedge when we went for a family bike ride, and he expressed a burning desire to make sloe gin because his dad had moved away and access to sloe gin was limited to visits to Yorkshire at Christmas. So we did - make some, I mean. And it was absolutely gorgeous.

Nearly every year since, we've made at least a litre of the stuff. We have our favourite sloe-picking place (not going to tell you anything other than Quorn, or you'll all be there, stripping the hedge!) as well as a few spots in the field where Bob, our windmill, stands. Although windmill sloes aren't a patch on Quorn sloes...

Anyway, Mr Squidge went on a bike ride the other day and spotted that our favourite sloe hedge had recently been cut back by the farmer. Disaster! There were tons of sloes on the ground, going to waste...


Closer inspection revealed that there were still sloes there - but really high up.


So guess what we did today? Walked across the fields, armed with an aged window pole and a couple of ice cream tubs, to try to pick those high sloes. It was gorgeously sunny and sure enough, we found the sloes hanging like grapes, but too high for me to reach. Even a bit too high for Mr Squidge (who is 6'3" and long-armed!)


Nevertheless, we got almost two tubs full of fruit and set off home.

(Incidentally, I seem to remember last year that a gin company was offering people the opportunity to be given some sloe gin if they picked sloes for the company. The trade off was ridiculous - a teeny tiny bottle in exchange for pounds of sloes. When it's so easy to make yourself, why would you take the sloes to anyone else?)

We felt really awful for a chap we met on the way back. He was after sloes too - had only found a few and they were no bigger than blackberries. I took the lid off the tub to show him ours and his face fell. I mean, it's not a competition as to who gets the biggest sloes, but ours were definitely superior!

Now these sloes are humungous - some of them bigger 
than a 20 pence piece. Almost gobstoppers.

We felt so sorry for him, we told him where we'd picked ours. I'm hoping he managed to reach a few; he wasn't much taller than me!

Back home now and the sloes have been washed and pricked and dropped into a plastic cocktail dispenser.

T
Two litres of gin and 500g of golden caster sugar later, we're on...


Now all I have to do is find somewhere to put it for the next few weeks where it won't be in the way but I remember to give it a daily swirl... Roll on, Christmas!

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Den of Writers

A short while ago, I posted a brief mention of my new web-based writing community - Den of Writers - following the demise of the wonderful Cloud.

In the last week or so, many ex-cloudies and others have joined the Den, but we're aware that some cloudies are having problems finding us or logging on. (Advice from Admin:  "go to the register button top LH side of screen on a PC or laptop, on the black border outside the immediate forum screen. That should work." ) 

Because we know that a fair number of cloudies used to follow the Scribbles, consider this blog a call-out to them - and any other authors or would-be authors - who are a bit lost now in the internet ether. Especially if you are reading this and trying to find a place to be with writers where you can get help and advice from your peers, support each other and share celebrations and commiserations with writing friends.

The site itself is constantly being worked on at the moment, as the Admin team discover glitches or make improvements - one of them being that the site is now https rather http. (Which even this techno numpty knows, is a Good Thing, even if she doesn't know what it stands for.) So don't be surprised if things change. And like the cloud, it takes a while to be able to navigate around the different forums, but we're getting there...

To join, follow THIS LINK - there are a plethora of other Writers' Dens or Dens of Writers on the net, but THIS ONE is the one you need. (Yes, I have just posted the link twice. It never hurts to repeat yourself if you're sharing Good Stuff.)

And look out for https://twitter.com/denofwriters if you are a Twitterer - we've already had folks find us that way, too...

So if you fancy being a Denizen, come on over and join the rest of us... I can promise you won't regret it.

Squidge with her TBR pile... 

PS - Book statue is in the grounds of what used to be Newcastle Poly, taken on a weekend away with Mr Squidge a few years back. 

Friday, 14 September 2018

Writing prompts...what floats YOUR boat?

This week was our monthly NIBS meeting, and it was great. I love being the facilitator for this group, because it gives me a chance to trawl through lots of different writing prompt ideas which challenge us and often produce some excellent pieces of work. Although I do have to be careful not to choose only the prompts which appeal to me...

Autumn hues - got to love conkers!

Whenever you look for a prompt - especially if you're choosing it for a group to work from - there are several things you probably need to take into account.

How well do you know the group you're working with? If you know them well, you can look for something suited to their abilities or preferred genres. If you have only a general idea - like when you go into a school, for example, and know only that there will be a wide range of abilities - you might have to have a mixture of prompts, or a prompt with a few extra pointers for those who need a little more direction or lack a wild imagination.

Three things - taken from a bag of many, the weird and wonderful combos
always get younger children fired up 

Are you working with visual or wordy people? Is a picture going to be better than a written starter sentence? (I've found that children work best with visual prompts for example, because not all of them have the same writing or reading ability, but they do still have damn fine story ideas!) Is it worth trying a tactile prompt, using physical objects to awaken the senses?

Paint charts - as good for the pictures of rooms as for the paint names

As someone with a very vivid and visual imagination, I get rather twitchy when I find something that feels too restrictive to use as a prompt. For example, I found a smashing picture prompt on a website, but my interest waned when I saw that the prompt wasn't actually the picture as such, it was the half-page story starter written to go with it. I didn't want to finish off someone else's story, especially not a detective story. I wanted to write my own. I didn't want what I was being offered - and of course, I don't have to use it as given. You can apply the self-edit mantra of 'Accept, Adapt, Reject' just as easily to writing prompts as to a WIP - but straightaway I felt tied to one direction only with this particular prompt (and many others on the same site). I much prefer more open prompts to give myself, and those I'm helping to write, the best possible chance to come up with something they want to write.

My absolute favourite prompt - paint samples.
Be inspired by the colour or their names

You'll know from past blogs that my previous NIBS prompts have included baskets of autumn leaves and seeds; random objects taken from my shelves; CD playlists; photos; Victorian photographs; paint samples... I think you really are only limited by your imagination as to what you can use as a prompt. But the secret in group working is to keep the prompt as big as possible so it's accessible for pretty much.

This particular month, we had two starter exercises, which created a lot of laughter with some really off the wall scenarios. (Wotsit bikini, anyone? Or a war between Wotsits and Pringles?)

NIBS Task 1.
'Due to the incident on November 14th, Wotsits are no longer allowed in the canteen. Thank you for your consideration.'

We had to describe the incident in question - I envisaged a new starter being told to "Stick those Wotsits in the canteen", and the manager coming in later to find them literally stuck to the walls with mayo and ketchup and brown sauce...!

NIBS Task 2.
'There was a list of things that could have gone wrong that day, but ........... was not on it.'

What went wrong? I had finding a pirahna in the bath. Or Hairy Harold coming in for a back wax. *shudder*

NIBS Task 3 - the main event.
We all had to bring a writing prompt taken from the website of Tomi Adeyemi, author of YA fantasy Children of Blood and Bone. A lot of the prompts were quite dark, and not everyone in the group is used to writing dark, but there were some inspired and unsettling pieces. Most startling was that two people used the same prompt and came up with the similar scenario of a childhood memory replaying in the narrator's head - one based on personal experience - and yet they couldn't have been more different in style and approach. (Which is another good thing to do with a prompt - give everyone the same prompt, and see how many different directions it can go to, or not, as the case may be)

Anyway, I chose this one: 'Every night you visit me. Sometimes in dreams. Sometimes in nightmares.' Here's what I ended up with...I think it's more of a poem than a story?

Every night you visit me.
Sometimes in dreams.
Sometimes in nightmares.
My subconscious sees you, my love,
   sees the light and the dark.

I leave the dreams reluctantly,
the ghost of your arms wrapped around me,
the gentlest of kisses weighing heavy on my lips, 
my heart beating a lover's tattoo.

But the nightmares I fight to escape, 
struggling to reach consciousness.
To lie in the darkness panting 
   as though I have run from you for real,
skin tingling from lines you carved in it,
throat tight from the squeeze of your fingers.

Every night you visit me, sometimes in dreams,
   sometimes in nightmares.
Which is our truth, my love?

What kind of prompts do YOU prefer as a writer? Which do you struggle with? And do you have a favourite you'd like to share? You never know, you might have found something that the NIBSers could use!

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

On a happier note...

Decided that today's blog post is going to be a lot more upbeat than the last one.

For a start, now that it's getting a bit cooler, I can stand to do some hand quilting. There was no way I was going to sit with a quilt over my knee in 30 degrees plus over the summer! Back in October last year, I began to work on a second large quilt - one that reflected the colours of my bedroom. Earlier this year, I bought the wadding and backing fabric for it, and decided to challenge myself NOT to quilt in straight lines, but to do something more random.

Now, my old sewing machine and I did not think we would get on very well with 'free style' quilting, so as on previous quilting projects, I decided to hand quilt - spirals, for a complete contrast to the straight lines of fabric in the quilt top.

In principle, that was fine. Except that I couldn't work on the 'top' side of the quilt because the gorgeous batik fabrics meant I couldn't see to draw properly circular spirals - the first few went decidedly off piste. Added to which, the lovely greeny-turquoise cotton I chose to match the colours didn't always show up against the patterns, making it even harder to see the line and keep things even. So I realised I had to draw and stitch with the plainer underneath fabric facing me to ensure my spirals kept their circularness. (Is that a word? Perhaps not, but you get the gist!)

It's taking flipping ages. Not only is there a double bed sized expanse of fabric to quilt, but I didn't think about how when you stitch a spiral, you start - well, I do - at the outside and work inwards. So effectively, you're not making any more progress than the outermost edge of your spiral each time, but there can still be a lot of stitching within that boundary. And of course you HAVE to fill in the gaps with smaller spirals so there's not lots of empty space...

Yep, teeny tiny stitches in my spirals...

It looks good, but I don't think I'll be finished by this winter. Not with a novel to try and finish as well, vicar interviews to hold, Christmas services to plan (yes, already!) and everything else that my life holds!

The base fabric on the quilt is the exact same colour as the four gallons of blackberry wine we put up this week. We had to bottle the four gallons of gooseberry wine first, to free up the demi johns, and the 'Mighty Fine Blackberry Wine 2018' is blipping away merrily in the kitchen. Which now smells like a brewery...


Blip...blip...blip...

But the best thing to have happened recently is that, after the demise of the Cloud, I have a new writing home. Hooray!

A few cloudies, having heard the rumours about SocialGo, decided to set up a new writing forum. Run by writers, for writers, it would keep all the good things that we loved about the cloud - particularly the community feel - and aim to provide a place for writers to practise their craft, find friends, offer critique, and generally just hang out with other peeps who understand how difficult a writer's life can be. And by complete coincidence, it went live just before the cloud went down...

So that means I am no longer a cloudie. I am, instead, a Denizen, in the Den of Writers. It's taking a while to find my way round, especially as the site is still developing and being tweaked, but already it is buzzing with activity and home to faces both old and new, many of them cloudies. It has certainly taken the edge off the loss of the cloud, and fills me with hope for the future.

So if you fancy joining me in the Den (when I'm not writing or wine making or quilting or doing any of the other things I listed above!), pop on over and register. I'll see you there.



Friday, 7 September 2018

The end of an era

No, I'm not quitting blogging. Although I admit, I have been very lax at getting blogs written recently. I will endeavour to do better!

The title of this blog refers to the Word Cloud. Many of you know that I have been a member of this online writing community for a number of years. It was a fabulous place, where writers could find other writers to talk through the technical stuff, get feedback on their writing, make wonderful writing friends, and ultimately celebrate and commiserate with each other on their writing journeys.

You'll notice, perhaps, that I wrote 'was a fabulous place'.

Because the Cloud is no more.

SocialGo have removed support for whichever version of their software the cloud used, and two or three days ago, the cloud disappeared. There were rumours about SocialGo pulling the plug, but no firm dates. I managed to save some of the lovely comments I'd received about some short stories I'd written, but other than that... I couldn't face trawling through years' worth of written material. So I left everything. And hoped.

But to no avail. There is now only a blank screen - and no cloud.

It's disappearance takes with it probably hundreds of blogs. Some which made me laugh, some which made me cry. Some recounted the long, hard road to publication. Some existed to provoke heated discussion about all manner of topics. Some told deeply personal experiences. And others were written purely for fun.

Also lost in the digital ether are the seeds of several published and best selling novels. There are even competition winning short stories, or opening chapters, or flash fiction.

There were conversations between friends. Photographs of memorable moments. Links to useful writing related sites.


All of it has gone - in the blink of an eye.

There is a glimmer of hope... But at the moment, I'm feeling too sad about the cloud. I'll tell you about the new place tomorrow.

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Getting reaquainted

I've been having some issues with the plot of my WIP - working title Black Diamond - recently. Even given that it's been too hot to really think, and I know I'm more of a pantser than a planner, all the threads just weren't coming together.

I blogged about it on the Word Cloud, and received some really helpful suggestions. (You can read about them here, in Plotting Panic)

As you'll see if you read the blog, I finally recognised that I'd had a similar problem before; I caught myself writing 'I know what happens...I know what my characters will do.' The important bit there is 'I' knew. I wasn't giving my characters enough room to breathe and do their own thing, tell their own story. I was trying to force my version of the story upon them.

Once I'd realised that, I apologized to my MC, Tilda, and decided to reaquaint myself with her by doing something really simple.

I read the book I'd already written about her.

Now, Mage of Merjan isn't polished. In fact, I saw lots of things that still need to be addressed before it's published. But I forced myself to read it without a pen in my hand - vital to do, I've found, if you want to read as a reader rather than as a writer. It's all too easy to take your focus from the story to how you've used the words that tell it, if you see what I mean?

Anyway. I re-read Tilda's first adventure. And it was like connecting with an old friend. I reminded myself of her courage, of her questioning mind, of how in all things she is seeking to be and do the best she can, while learning about the Power that her homeland relies on.

I picked up Black Diamond and re-read what I'd written so far. I added comments in capitals in places where I knew I'd have to address issues Tilda's way - not mine - and then I carried on writing from where I'd left off.

Yesterday, I added another 5000 words, and revealed a major plot point - all because I allowed Tilda to tell it from her point of view.

So. If you're stuck in your writing, whether it's a series or a standalone, perhaps you need to ask yourself if you're forgetting whose story it really is...

Friday, 20 July 2018

When life gives you lemons...

There's a saying 'When life gives you lemons, make lemonade', but sometimes it's difficult to focus on the lemonade rather than the lemons...especially as this heatwave continues.

My lawn is scorched to a crisp. I'm inside more than out as it's (marginally) cooler in the house. I've a line of plastic milk bottles by the kitchen sink to save all the run-off water (we have to wait for the combi boiler to heat up) for my few flower pots, as my water butts are almost run dry.

And yes, I do remember the stand pipes of summer 1976...

(There have also been some health issues chez Squidge recently which have taken up some time and caused a fair bit of worry, but fingers crossed we're coming out of the other side of that. And with my New Churchwarden's hat on, I've been rather busy with all things interregnum. (We are in the process of looking for a new priest, and it's not necessarily an easy, quick, or smooth process).)

So it feels like there are lots of lemons around at the moment.

Mind you, I do have four gallons of pic-your-own gooseberry wine 'blooping' away in the kitchen; two litres of rhubarb gin settling in a demi john; huge juicy blackberries just beginning to appear on the bramble that always takes over my garden; and when we finally do go on holiday, I won't blind everyone on the beach with my limpet-pale flesh.

Oh, and there's an interview with me, over on Everybody's Reviewing. The interviewer, Evie, (who wants to be an author and was on work experience with the blog) asked some really good questions about the inspiration behind Kingstone. 

Perhaps the lemons aren't as sour as I thought. Maybe there's a chance of lemonade after all...


Saturday, 30 June 2018

A day out and other doings...

Boy, has it been hot recently! We're struggling to keep ourselves from wilting - let alone the pot plants and lawn. (Especially since the kitchen was done - we discovered that the outside tap has stuck 'off' and we can't access the connection in the kitchen because the fitter fitted a cupboard in front of it. *sigh* Negotiations are ongoing...now with the small claims court. But that's another story.)

It's been awful to see the huge moor fires around Saddleworth - and even worse to think that some of them were started deliberately. And yet it doesn't look as though we're in for rain any time soon to help the firefighters...

It's been quiet on the Scribbles, but you know me. I'm beavering away behind the scenes, up to all sorts of things, so here's a catch up for you.

Gin Trip!
For my 50th and Squidgeling J's 18th last year, we were bought an Experience; an open top London bus pass, and gin and cakes at Mr Fogg's Gin Parlour. Now, have to say I'm not a huge fan of gin per se. It's far too dry on its own for me. But I don't mind the odd one when it's flavoured with something other than gin, if you see what I mean?

Anyway, we headed off to London on the Megabus - we arrived around lunchtime (neither of us could face the 6.30am pick up, so opted for a later one) and found a rather good picnic spot;


The bus tour was great - we sat up top (well, you have to, don't you?) and listened to Dave tell us all about the London landmarks. The only problem was that the traffic was really heavy, so our initial plan to go all the way to Tower Hill, get the boat back down the Thames and THEN go on to Mr Fogg's didn't happen...we had to get off much sooner to make our designated Gin Time. Think we'll have to go back another day, do the whole bus route. The highlight was seeing Big Ben. Well, not really 'seeing' it;



We had a mooch around Covent Garden, found the gin parlour and - oh my! It was literally the upstairs room of a pub, decked out like a Victorian lady's parlour, and we were waited on by girls in saloon-style outfits and gents in waistcoats and top hats. There was a very steampunk vibe about the outfits, which I loved. We had two hours to enjoy ourselves - which we did!


Cakes, with Showtime and Chorus Line cocktails

Oh, and a couple more complimentary Showtimes,
because we were both celebrating birthdays!

Only slightly tipsy, we had a wander through Chinatown, Leicester Square - and there we found The Lego Shop! And finally saw Big Ben.


It's not a very big shop at all, but it's got some fabulous models built into it - you could've had your photo taken in a life-size red telephone box, but the queue was so long, we didn't bother. The mural on the stairs was amazing - the London landscape, built in 3D.

And on a staircase - difficult to take without any random tourists!

We had a leisurely walk down to Trafalgar Square, along the mall and through Hyde Park, taking in the sights and watching the teeniest ducklings on the lake on the way. 

We got the Megabus back home - eventually. Who knew that Victoria Bus Station departures was in a totally different building to Victoria Bus Station arrivals? Not us...we had to ask the mechanics at the arrivals depot where the outgoing buses were...

Got back late and tired, but it was a lovely day.

Flowers!
We helped to do the flowers for a wedding at church - I knew the bride when she used to come to the church mums and toddlers group I helped to run some years ago, so it was lovely to be able to help out for her big day. The look was country-casual, and we had the most wonderful flowers to work with, courtesy of Fleurs en Fleur. The church smelt gorgeous on the Saturday morning, when - as a new church warden - I went up to see what had to be done specifically for a wedding as opposed to a normal Sunday service. The bride was radiant, and the flowers weren't bad either!

The peonies had the most delicious scent...



Faith.
The lovely Jody Klaire recently posted a picture of a cross that her partner had made for her, and I commented how lovely I thought it was. Em offered to make me one too, and earlier this week, a parcel arrived... Inside was my own beautiful cross, made by hand 'with joy, love and focus'. I was moved to tears.

My gorgeous cross, alongside my Anne Lamott 'bird by bird' reminder

Things have been very busy and a little difficult at this end faithwise recently, and this particular cross reminds me that the way of faith isn't smooth - it has its winding ways, but ultimately, it's still the way of the cross. And you know what, I think I can see the word 'love' written into the loops and swirls when I look at the cross sideways on - the absolute core of my belief.

Review and Interview.
Kingstone has recently been reviewed on Everybody's Reviewing, a blog site run in conjunction with Leicester's Everybody's Reading Festival. Of course I'm biased about my own book (though I try to be objective!) but I thought it was an excellent review, written by Evie who I know wants to be an author herself and was managing the blog as part of her work experience. Evie was also prepping an interview with me for the blog - lots of questions about Kingstone that really made me think about why I'd written certain things into the novel. I'll post a link to that, too, when it appears.

And finally...Writing.
The WIP's progressing - slow but sure. The hot weather isn't really conducive to lots of brain powery stuff, but I've been taking myself off to the garden room where I'm shaded and getting a few more hundred words down every time. It's been lovely to discover a blackbird's nest in a bush beside the garden room, so I keep nipping over to watch the babies through the branches whenever I hear the chirping that means mum or dad blackbird has returned. Those babies grow fast!

And that's probably caught you up with everything... I'm off to enjoy a bit more sun, and I hope you are too - but do take care of yourselves and those around you. 

Bye for now!

Thursday, 14 June 2018

News!!

Well, unfortunately Kingstone didn't make the shortlist for the Leicester Book Prize; I always knew it would be a tough call when I saw the other books longlisted with it!

Congratulations to Rod Duncan, whose novel Queen of All Crows, was crowned Leicester Book of the Year 2018.

However, I do have a little bit of good news to share...



Yup. 

I'm going to be publishing a third novel with Bink under their Dragonfeather imprint. 

The Mage of Merjan is the first in a series of - hopefully - five novels about Tilda and her adventures on the island of Issraya. (I'm already half way through drafting the second...) 

So I can't be too sad about the Book Prize, can I?

Looking forward very much to introducing you to Tilda sometime in the future. 

Monday, 4 June 2018

Longlisted!




Delighted to say that Kingstone has been longlisted for the Leicester Book Prize. 


It therefore stands a chance (a slim one, maybe, as the other books on the list are awesome; I've read half of them!) of making the shortlist and, ultimately, coming away with the title of 
Leicester Book of the Year 2018. 

Squeeee!

Sunday, 3 June 2018

This is what drafting a novel REALLY looks like...

I've been working on the second book of a series - working title The Black Diamond - and I suddenly realised how much I'm editing myself now as I write.

Perhaps it's just something that comes with experience, but I thought I would take the opportunity, before I get too deep into the editing, to show you the actual versions of what I recognise as my s****y first hand draft, my slightly less s****y first computer draft, and my first polish draft.

It might also serve to remind myself at some point in the future, when I'm writing book 3, that great writing doesn't just appear on the first go, especially when you begin a new project. I found myself getting really disheartened when I began this novel, because it had been a long time since I started anything genuinely new. (The first book in the series is a rework of an old story, so it needed less work than a real first draft...) It's hard to remember, when you're polishing and editing and making something read well, that it started life as something very, very different.

So to anyone who thinks they aren't writing well at the moment, take a look at this little section and the stages it's gone through - and tell yourself that there IS hope! Just stick at it.

Of course, other authors approach their draft stages very differently to me. I am not showing you my drafting because I'm saying it's how it SHOULD be done. I'm trying to demonstrate how a draft can be improved. 

Here goes. Don't expect to follow the story - I've selected a scene at random.

1. Hand drafted, in a notebook. 
Lots of scribbles, but the bones of the scene are there. No proper formatting, though strangely, there's more than is evident in the first computer draft; I've at least got paragraphs...


2. First write up on the computer.
There's no formatting, as I tend to just get the stuff down. I'm surprised I've even got a few speech marks... There's still some editing going on at this point, so it doesn't sound bad, but it doesn't read well. Yet.

 “It’ll be me first in the tub, Sparkles!” someone shouted, running past.
Startled, Tilda spun round, right into the middle of the walkway. 
“Watch out!”
Before she could move, someone else crashed into Tilda and she went sprawling.
She lay where she’d fallen, too choked on red dust to move, as a filthy young miner jumped quickly to his feet.
Dammit, Yan, he yelled. It was my turn tonight!
A whoop of triumph came from further down the road. Tilda rolled onto all fours and got shakily to her feet. I’m fine. Thanks for asking.
The miner rounded on her with a frown. You should look where you’re going. He snatched up a bag which must’ve fallen to the floor with him.
Anger heated Tilda’s cheeks. And you should walk on the pavement, she snapped, glaring at him.
You’d run too, believe me, he snarled. And set off at a jog after the disappearing Yan.  
Tilda, are you alright? I saw what happened. Duska hurried out of the shop.
Yes. Just dusty. Tilda tried to brush the owrst of it off. He barged straight into me, and all for some hot water.
Ah… To Tilda’s surprise, Duska laughed. You don’t want to get between a miner and his after shift bath. I’ve seen grown men fight over who’s next into the tub. They have races, you know, see who can get down and cleaned up the quickest.
I’ll make sure I’m out of the way for that, then. To Tilda’s horror, she felt her bottom lip tremble.
Duska must’ve noticed; she put a hand on Tilda’s shoulder. I think it might be best if we leave finding Feliks until tomorrow. Shall we go back? See if Sasha’s finished that floor yet?

Tilda nodded gratefully. Yes, please. She glanced down the road. She could still see the miner who’d crashed into her. I hope your bath water’s cold when you get in it, she muttered under her breath.

3. My first attempt at a polish up... 
It's formatted, I've played around with it a bit, but I won't do a proper edit on it until I've got to the end of the novel and all of it is to this standard.

            “It’ll be me first in the tub, Sparkles!” someone shouted, running past.

          Startled, Tilda spun round, right into the middle of the walkway. 
          “Watch out!”
          Before she could move, someone crashed into her and she went sprawling. She lay where she’d fallen, too choked on red dust to move, while a filthy young miner jumped quickly to his feet.
          “Dammit, Yan,” he yelled. “It was my turn tonight!”
          A whoop of triumph came from further down the road. Tilda rolled onto all fours and got shakily to her feet. “I’m fine. Thanks for asking.”
          The miner rounded on her with a frown. “You should look where you’re going.” He snatched up a bag which must’ve fallen to the floor with him.
          Anger heated Tilda’s cheeks. “And you should walk on the pavement, not run,” she snapped, glaring at him.
          “You’d run too, if you were me,” he snarled back, before jogging after the disappearing Yan.  
          “Tilda, are you alright? I saw what happened.” Duska hurried out of the shop.
          “Yes.” Tilda tried to brush the worst of the dust off. “He barged straight into me, and all for some hot water.”
          “Ah…” To Tilda’s surprise, Duska laughed. “You don’t want to get between a miner and his after shift bath. I’ve seen grown men fight over who’s next into the tub. They have races, you know, see who can get down and cleaned up the quickest.”
          “I’ll make sure I’m out of their way next time.” To Tilda’s horror, she felt her bottom lip tremble.
          Duska must’ve noticed; she put a hand on Tilda’s shoulder. “I think it might be best if we leave finding Feliks until tomorrow. Shall we go back? See if Sasha’s finished washing that floor yet?”
          Tilda nodded gratefully. “Yes, please.” She looked down the road; the miner who’d crashed into her was just turning a corner. “I hope your bath water’s cold when you get in it,” she told him, under her breath.


So there you go. That's my drafting process. I am finding too, that as I'm working on the first computer draft of this book, I get so far, then go back to do a section of polishing - but never so much that I haven't got a fair bit of the really naff, unformatted version to pick up from when I move the story forwards again. I suppose it's my built-in reminder of how I'm allowed to write 'badly' in the first pass...

Saturday, 2 June 2018

Like a Bat out of Hell...

Squidgeling J bought Squidgeling T and me tickets to see the musical Bat out of Hell as early birthday presents. Mr Squidge got himself a ticket, too - and we went to see it yesterday.

I was introduced to Meatloaf's Bat out of Hell album on a dodgy pirate tape that my dad brought back from a trip working abroad in the Oman. We used to write and ask him to bring back tapes of some of the best albums of the time - I have all sorts still in my tape drawer. And back then, in the late 80's, there wasn't such a big thing about piracy. In fact, I don't think I even thought about the legality of it. Dad was just pleased to be able to enjoy lots of his favourite music while he was working away from home for extended periods, and bring us home some of ours...

I digress.

Bat out of Hell. I loved the album - dramatic, sing-along, storytelling...it had a bit of everything, and I felt like a bit of a rebel for having it in my record (tape!) collection when I usually listened to the Eurythmics or Duran Duran or Soft Cell...

We drove down to Watford Junction in the afternoon, parked at the station, and got the train into London. We literally came out of Tottenham Court Road and there it was - The Dominion Theatre, with BOOH all over it.



We wandered down Oxford Street to get a bite to eat (BRGR Co - lovely food, and not too pricey considering we were in central London.) and then sauntered back through Soho Gardens to find the Phoenix Theatre so Squidgeling T could take a pic. (His 'house' for the theatre club he belongs to is Phoenix, so it had to be done)

Back to the Dominion. A quick photo opportunity..



..and we took our seats.

We sat somewhere up the top, out of shot, on the RHS

I'll try to give you a flavour of the show, but without too many spoilers!

The set is amazing - built to come right out into the theatre. This is obviously not a show that going to be moving on fast! There's a solidity to it, a play on perspective, that directs the eye into the centre of the stage. It makes the most of the space, too, with retracting walls and raised stages and a video screen for the live action footage being filmed during the performance. At times, you didn't know quite where to look, because the performers were acting there, but the video was showing THERE. There are some real 'oooh!' clever moments in set manipulation too, and we were trying to work out how they were done.

As you'd expect from a West End show, the performers were incredible. The energy that goes into it all... I didn't recognise all of the songs, because apparently some are taken from the follow-up album Bat out of Hell; Back into Hell, which I don't have. But the ones I did know...I sang, much to the amusement of Squidgeling T. (I did apologise to the lady on my other side in advance for any singing, but I simply couldn't not join in. Quietly, of course.)

I hadn't realised that the story of this musical - conceived so many years ago - is based around Barrie's Peter Pan, and when you know that, you can see references to it all the way through. Let's just say the 'Captain Hook' character was probably my favourite...

Can I just give a shout out too, to the crew who came out in the interval to clean the stage? There were folks with hoovers and a chap with a fishing net to get all the silver glitter off the stage and out of the pond, and kudos to the fake blood clearer-upper. That splatter got everywhere...

The cast and orchestra got a deserved standing ovation at the end, and once again Squidgeling T had a laugh at his mum because I was punching the air and singing along...

I was buzzing when we came out. Even the fact that we ended up on a slow train back to Watford, sitting opposite a young lady who was speaking very loudly and frankly to a friend in less than complimentary terms about her work colleagues (she was so rude, Mr Squidge got up and moved two carriages down so he didn't have to hear her) and we didn't get home until about 1.30am, couldn't take the shine off.

Best. Birthday. Present. EVER!! Thank you, Squidgeling J!

And don't take my word for it - go, see it yourself, even if it's not your birthday! You won't be disappointed.

Saturday, 26 May 2018

A Special Anniversary

Mr Squidge and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary earlier this week - our Silver Wedding.

I wrote about our wedding a little bit three years ago, when I was struck by the passage of time. Somehow, having reached twenty five years, it seems like a Very Significant Point has been reached. Still not a reason to splurge on pressies - though I did buy Mr Squidge some silver infinity cuff links. I have my ring - the one I made in my silversmithing classes - which I asked the curate at church to bless, and I'm now wearing that.



Instead, to mark the day, we decided we'd spend some time together. We visited Calke Abbey, our local National Trust house. It used to be called 'The house that time forgot', and has been kept pretty much as it was found when it was donated to the NT back in the 1980's, to represent the decline of many of the grand country houses. It's unusual in that everything in the property pretty much was there at the handing over - everything from a state bed, given as a wedding present in the 1700's and never used, to a room full of broken chairs and peeling wallpaper.

The grounds are lovely, too - the cow parsley was almost as tall as me, and the lawns were full of buttercups, pink clover, faded cowslips and others I couldn't identify.

Gorgeous wisteria in the kitchen garden

Shame - my sparkly silver shoes don't show up!

The path through the cow parsley

Later we went out for a lovely meal in the evening at the Thai Grand. I don't usually take photos of my food, but the vegetable rose on the mixed platter of starters deserved one!



The only sore point - literally - of the evening was that after rejecting a good half dozen outfits and finally deciding on a dress (as one does, sometimes), I couldn't wear the shoes I usually wear with the dress, because we were walking into town and they had four inch heels. Then I spotted my twenty five year old wedding shoes and tried them on. They'll do, I thought. Still fit, feel fine.

Except by the time we got to the restaurant, I had some very bad torn blisters on my heels. And the very bottom of the shoe heels had dropped off! We assumed the glue had gone brittle with time and somewhere along our route are two little bits of plastic...

But going back to the wedding, it was strange to look through the official photo album again. There are many in those photos who are no longer with us. There are children who have grown up. Heads which have turned a lot greyer - including my own. But equally there are a lot of family and friends still with us - and seeing the joy on their faces as they celebrated with us on our big day made me smile all over again. In fact, I remember my cheeks aching the day after, from smiling so much...



I had a look at the flowers in my bouquet, too - lots of orchids... I remember really wanting lily of the valley, but it was too late in the season.



We started to think about what we've achieved in the last twenty five years. Two kids are probably the biggest thing, though putting up Bob, our windmill, and being published come a close second - they're our other 'babies'! We've enjoyed holidays where we've been skiing, sunbathing, and sailing. (Not all at the same time, I hasten to add!) We've worked on our house and garden to turn them into a home. We've celebrated milestones for ourselves and others.

Wears you out, thinking about it all. I wonder what'll be in store over the next - God-willing - twenty five years?