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?

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Sunny!

What is it about the sun in the UK that makes everything feel so much better?

We've had a glorious recent Bank Holiday - a bit different to two years ago, when Mr Squidge insisted on a Bank Holiday Barbeque and ended up cooking under a gazebo in the pouring rain, while the thunder rumbled overhead... This year, we barbied with friends in the field we part-own, in blazing sunshine.

I love to feel the heat of the sun on my skin - it gets a certain 'holiday smell', have you noticed that? - but I am more careful nowadays than I used to be. Lots of high factor suntan lotion, or sit in the shade...but that makes writing - especially typing on a laptop - difficult because you get so much glare.

Not this year... I've been sitting on a bean bag, typing away in the garden room, with the doors wide open. It's been blissful.

Taken on not such a sunny day, but you get the gist...?

There's a blackbird who's laid claim to our garden. He sits up in the neighbour's silver birch tree, singing his heart out. If you listen carefully, you can hear him singing '1,2,3 - Rapido!' (Anyone else remember the TV show? Or am I just showing my age?)

I've been able to watch the blue and great tits picking insects off the ivy, and have been lucky enough to see a pair of bullfinches - the male with his bright pink-red chest - and a thrush. The pigeons strut round the lawn like they own the place, and Timmy, our cat, crouches next to me and 'wa-ows' at them. Add the collared doves, which nest in the holly tree over the road from our house, who sit on the roof and coodle-coo for hours...

Most of the spring flowers are over and the summer ones not yet out, but the lilac tree, supposed to be a miniature but about 8 feet tall now, was full of flower and kept wafting its beautiful scent over me as I wrote, so heady and sweet. It's now going over, and my lawn is covered in purple petals.

Distancing myself from the house (and all the jobs I know are waiting there for me), being able to enjoy my garden while staying safe from the sun AND still being able to write - productively; I'm about 10K into a new novel - is wonderful. I consider myself very lucky.

Now all I need to do is find a CD player that works, and I can have music to write to, too. Although sometimes, Squidgeling T pops down, bags another bean bag and plays his guitar, so maybe I've already got what I need...

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Getting started on your first book

This week, I received an email from a lad called Josh. It said;

I am a 14-yr-old boy who wants to write his first book. How do I start my first book?


I replied with some advice, but thought that actually, this would make a good blog post. So for any other young folk out there who are thinking of writing a book and wondering where to start, here's my advice. 

(Remember though, it's only advice. What works for me might not work for you. Read the advice of other authors too, and be wary of applying advice as 'rules'.)


1. The best advice I can give is...start writing! A writer writes - simple as. So pick up that pen and start putting words on the page, and see where it takes you. Keep a notebook to jot ideas into; write short stories; write scenes, dialogue, descriptions; play with words. Use prompt sites to give you ideas if you're stuck. The more you write, the better your writing will become. 

One of my notebooks and a story that has yet to be finished...

2. Read. A lot. By reading you get to see how the best authors structure their stories, and equally, how those that aren't so good make mistakes. Don't just get to the end of the book and say 'that was great!' or 'That was awful!' Try and analyse what made it good or bad for you - and then try and use or avoid similar things in your own writing.

3. Be aware of how you approach your writing. Are you a planner? Do you need to know exactly what the story's about before you begin to write it? Or are you a pantser? You get a whiff of an idea and you're off, seeing where it takes you? Are you a mix of the two (I certainly am!) Do you like to write every day, or only when the muse strikes? What works for you won't necessarily be the same for someone else...and it might take you some time to figure out how you work best.  

4. Don't worry if your story isn't perfect to start with. Tell yourself it's the s****y first draft, it's you working it out for yourself. The 'proper' story comes later, when you're writing it for your reader. And don't be surprised if you end up editing it again and again and again...

Tea...my fuel of choice when editing

5. Make sure the writing is as good as you can make it, especially if you reach the point of wanting to submit it anywhere. Check spellings, grammar, punctuation, and presentation etc. Ask for help if you need it - and be prepared to accept it.

6. Don't give up. If you really want to be a writer, then you have to be prepared for some serious knocks - and each time you get knocked, you have to get up again and keep on trying. If you believe there's a story in you which you have to tell, make sure you tell it. Persistence pays off, as long as you are learning and improving.



There's probably a lot more I could add, but I think that will do for starters. Picking up that pen is the first step in capturing the story ideas that are in your head. Once you've done that, well...who knows where you'll end up?

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Fifty!

Last weekend, we celebrated Mr Squidge's 50th birthday. He wanted a party. A Big Party.

So, we organised one. The caterers (Greens Catering Services) did us proud, with a great selection for a finger buffet. There was loads of food - probably because we catered for the number of people who said they were attending, but of course a few folk always drop out for various reasons so we were sent a few doggy bags home - and we're still eating honey and mustard glazed sausages...!

Just a few sarnies...

Sausages and samosas!

Quiche and cheese and chutney toasts
One of the funniest things about the buffet is that I'd bought loads of crisps, among them, bacon rashers (the Tesco equivalent of Frazzles). People remarked how long it was since they'd had Frazzles, and dived in!

The band was brilliant. (Superfuzz) I struggle a bit with live bands because they often seem too loud, but Superfuzz's set was pretty good. Couldn't fault their performance or the mix of songs. Some of Mr Squidge's uni friends came to the party - first time we'd seen Sparky, Jude and Cairnsy in about twenty years - and as soon as the band started, they got up and boogied! The famous 'Shoulder Shuffle' was in evidence - Mr Squidge's unique dance move. Squidgeling T also did a short set with his band, too - they were really good, considering that they've only ever done one open mic night together before.

And then there was The Cake.  Do you remember these?


These were the froggy cake pops Michelle made for the launch of More Granny Rainbow. Michelle is a talented cake maker, and so I asked if she would take on the challenge of a beer gravity cake for Mr Squidge. She now works in Barnett's, a small coffee shop in town; Chris makes the cakes and often Michelle decorates them. I am gutted to say that, in prepping this blog, I found I did not have a single photo of The Cake that I'd taken, so here's Michelle's photo of it;


How cool is that?! Mr Squidge loved it - and when we finally sliced it on his actual birthday (last Monday) it tasted every bit as good as it looked. Of course, the engineer was trying to work out all the mechanics...but I shan't give Michelle's secrets away!

Mr Squidge took this one as he was wrapping up half the cake to freeze

I didn't take many photos at all - I was too busy topping up the trays of food and boogie-ing, though I believe there is video footage of me and Mr Squidge dancing, thanks to the Squidgelings...

Family presents were opened on Sunday, before Squidgeling J returned to Bristol - we bought him a speedometer T-shirt (stuck at 50mph and with the mileage reading 019680!), some beer, and a hot air balloon ride; other presents and cards were saved 'til Monday, his actual birthday. I treated him to a pub lunch, a bottle of prosecco, and then some of his Round Table friends dropped by with a pillar drill (Mr Squidge is known as Mr Fixit in RT circles!), a brewing course and a driving experience at Silverstone.

I think it's safe to say I have one very happy 50 year old husband!

Monday, 23 April 2018

The Book Cover Challenge

Last week, a facebook friend nominated me for a challenge he'd been doing.

Basically, you posted a picture of a book you loved, every day for seven days, with no explanation and no review - just the picture of the cover. Oh, and nominate someone else to do it as well. (Which I didn't - I'd rather you made that choice for yourself...)

I said that at the end of the week, I'd post on here with my chosen books, and tell you a bit about why I loved them so much, so here goes.

Day 1: Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett


This was the first ever Discworld novel I read, and like Lady Sybil, I think I fell a little in love with Sam Vimes, the alcoholic guard who was doing his best to be a good copper. I also fell in love with the whole Discworld scenario and Terry's writing style - so much so that I think I possess every Discworld novel he's ever written, and there is a whole shelf in my house dedicated to his writing. The only piece of fan-fic I've ever written was based on Discworld - The Watchbox Project.

Day 2: Katherine by Anya Seton


I was 16 and in the school library when I saw this book for the first time. I only picked it up because it had my name, spelt my way, on the cover; although Katherine was a popular name when I was born, it was usually spelt with a K and an A or Y, or a C with an E. Not a K and an E. I loved the historical richness of the novel, even though the story focused more on character than pushing the historical facts. And I could also imagine myself as the heroine, because we did share a name, after all.

Day 3: Peepo by Janet and Allen Ahlberg


I can still recite this almost off by heart, we read it so many times to the Squidgelings at bedtime. I loved the illustrations, the music in the poetry, the repetitiveness... We even had two copies of it - hardback when they were very little, and paperback when they were older. 'Here's a little baby, 1,2,3, sit sin his cot. What does he see...?'

Day 4: The Message by Eugene Peterson.


It was only relatively recently that I understood the difference between a translation and an interpretation when it came to bibles. The Message is an interpretation, but it speaks to me more clearly than some of the translations I've read. As my faith is an important part of my life, how can I not love the scripture I use to help guide my life as a Christian?

Day 5: Goth Girl by Chris Riddell.


If I'm honest, I've never read this story. I bought the book simply because it was an object of great beauty. The illustrations are wonderful, there are silver foiled skulls along the spine and the edges of the pages are coloured metallic purple. Best of all, it's signed by Chris Riddell himself, from when I went to see him speak at one of his 'Ask the Laureate' events. And there's a teeny tiny book within the book, too...

Day 6: Lookalikes by Joan Steiner



This book (and another in the same series) kept my children quiet on so many car journeys! Every picture is made up of everyday objects, and you can spend ages on just one picture, trying to spot all the components.

Day 7: Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by J K Rowling


If I'm honest, I wasn't too fussed about the HP series when it first came out. It all passed me by, so that I didn't begin reading until I think the third book was published. By then, Harry Potter was really causing a stir and I thought I ought to see what all the fuss was about. I loved reading all the books for myself - but enjoyed them even more when I read them, aloud, to the Squidgelings. We tended to read them on car journeys, and there were several times when, having reached our destination, we were not allowed to get out of the car until we'd finished the chapter.

So there you go. Why I picked the books I did, although there were so many others I could've chosen... Maybe I'll have another go at the challenge soon, squeeze in a few more favourites?

Monday, 16 April 2018

Dairy of a Rookie Silversmith - Part 5.

You might remember that, in the last week of my ten week course, I wanted to make a bangle. 

I had soldered a ring of 2mm wire in week 9, and twisted it into an infinity symbol at home. (Basically, grab both sides of the ring and twist in opposite directions until you have a figure of eight.) In week 10, that final week, I evened the shape up and soldered the crossing point together. Although in hindsight, I'd have been better NOT putting the original solder point from the ring at the point where I was going to solder again...I managed to un-solder the original join. I also soldered two cut rings onto either end of the infinity symbol.

Then it was a case of forming the base bangle (3mm wire) on an oval bangle mandrel (try saying that one fast!) and turning the ends over to provide a loop and a hook; one end of the symbol would be fixed into the loop, the other would catch on the hook, providing a 'hinge'.

As you can imagine, I was working to a deadline, so I didn't stop to take any photos, even though I had my camera with me.

Just this afternoon, I popped down to the gallery to finish it - filed a little off the 'hook' end to make the bangle easier to fasten - tensioned (by hitting gently all over the bangle) and polished.

Here's what I ended up with;


Here's what it looks like on;


And here's the 'hinge' clasp;


I'm pleased with it, although as per the other items I've made, I still think there are things I haven't got quite right. For example, I don't seem to be able to do the polishing very well. Perhaps I'm too impatient, but all my finished items seem to have a slightly matt finish. Which is fine, but I'd like to crack the knack of how to make silver really, REALLY shiny! I think the bangle could do with a really high shine.

I'm also not sure that the bangle is tensioned properly. Each time I thought I'd done it and put it on to check, the bangle would deform as I took it off - to the extent that I had to reshape on the oval bangle mandrel several times. That can't be right.

Oh, and remember the ring that wasn't yet polished? Here I am, wearing it after I polished it, to try it out (Not going to be wearing it all the time until our Silver Wedding next month) 



You might have noticed that I'm wearing the pinky ring on my left hand now, although it was made for my right little finger. Reason being, I found that it was making my finger swell at night, so I'm assuming it's a tad too tight. Either way, it sits fine on the left hand, and doesn't interfere with the sapphire ring I've made.Maybe one day, I'll make another for the right hand and size it up a bit!

I've loved being able to make my own jewellery. Even if none of it is 100% perfect, it's all mine and unique, as well as two of the pieces being symbolic for me and Mr Squidge.

Would I do a silversmithing course or workshop again? In a heartbeat, though I think I would have to pick a really simple project to make the most of the lesson/workshop time, and make sure I really took my time over each stage to get that smooth, high shine finish that looks so beautiful on silver. 

Thursday, 12 April 2018

I'm NOT a poet...

We're lucky enough to have some poets in NIBS, our writing group. I'm always in awe of people who can write poetry - especially the stuff that doesn't rhyme!

Personally, I have a strange relationship with poetry. I can do it if I rhyme, but the non-rhyming stuff just ends up like prose to me, and I've always struggled to see what makes poetry, poetry.

We decided to challenge ourselves last night, and write poetry. Due to circumstances beyond their control, our two poets couldn't attend, so I spent a couple of hours on the computer, looking up poetry activities for the session.

Bear in mind that my own previous experience of poetry consists of;

1. A £50 prize winning limerick:
    A young lady who felt fashion keenly
    tried on a new-fangled bikini. 
    With two bits of string, 
    some cloth and a ring, 
    the thing would've baffled Houdini!

2. Putting new words to hymn music for Christmas carols
    (to the tune of 'All things bright and beautiful')
    Once upon a starry night
    Two thousand years ago
    Shone a star especially bright
    To show the way to go...

3. Silly rhymes for the children when they were much, much younger.

So I'm not exactly qualified to teach anyone, but I was prepared to muddle through and have a go.

Who knew there were so many forms of poem? One site listed 86 - 86! - different forms, so I spent a while rooting through them to find fairly simple ones we could have a go at.

I also discovered is that poetry emphasizes language's musical quality, uses condensed language (some forms are so concise, every word has to count) and often portrays intense feelings, which, interestingly, is a dead giveaway about robot-written poetry, because robots can't put emotion into poems. There are also lots of techniques used in poetry - rhyming words, alliteration, repetitiveness, metaphors, imagery, rhythm...

I put together an outline for the evening, based on some fab poetry prompts and a few forms.

First, are songs actually poems if you take the music out? We tried it, using 'Twinkle, twinkle little star' as our base. For most, it seemed to work well - and nobody was forced to sing their poem to prove it fitted the music. Here's what I wrote, and I bet you can't read it without singing it in your head!

Flippin' heck! It's ten to eight!
Get up quick, we'll all be late.
Alarm not set - whose fault was that?
Never mind, we'll blame the cat.
Eight o'clock - get up, I say!

Why Mum, when it's Saturday?

Having warmed up, we tried a tricube form after that. These poems have three stanzas, each consisting of three lines, with each line consisting of three syllables. Sounds easy, but it's harder than it looks. Every word had to count - there were some very good end results, even after some misunderstandings about what the form consisted of (down to my poor explanation, I'm afraid.) We took the weather as our theme, and most of the group took the horrible damp fog that had fallen and thickened, the closer you got to our meeting place...

I didn't. I had a go at 'Storm' and 'Snow'. Not sure which I prefer...

Storm.                                                    Snow

Dark clouds build                                  First one flake
and fill up                                              which melts fast
the wide sky                                           on the grass.

after days                                               Then more fall
of hot sun                                               and settle
and clear blue                                       on the ground 

lightning flash                                         until all
thunder loud                                          is soft white
world washed clean.                             and blurred edges.

The final exercise was to write something freeform. Now, I'm still not sure whether free form poetry should rhyme or not. I found myself slipping into rhyme almost straight away, so I might have to take some time to rewrite it, challenging myself to step away from rhyme. The poem could either start with an instruction, or had to include the same or similar phrase, repeated at least three times throughout the poem.

I finished mine this morning:

Will World War 3 start today?

An orange-faced man sits in a white house
With intolerance, ignorance, greed.
A tweeter impressive
Stirring the hate.
Will World War 3 start today?

'We're going to hell in a handcart!'
That's what they used to say,
and the wheels the politicians are turning
are sending us well on the way.
Will World War 3 start today?

Once it was only the soldiers who fought
And others would stay home and pray.
But modern day battles are not so distinct
and the bombs kill more,
day after day.
Will World War 3 start today?

Now chemicals ravage the lungs and the nerves among children just wanting to play.
Politicians deny;
"It's untrue!" they lie
while in basements the bodies remain.
Will World War 3 start today?

Reprisals are sought,
and red buttons are primed for more death to be sent on its way
"It's justified!"
Mortified, we watch the news
and helpless, we all look away.
Will World War 3 start today...?

Where is compassion? 
Where is the peace that survivors and onlookers crave?
Where is humanity?
Oh, I forgot.
It's right there. 
Look - deep in the graves.
World War 3 is in Syria today.

I think we saw glimpses of what we might achieve through poetry, but we're going to need some more practise before most of us are truly comfortable with it. I can certainly see why I'm a novellist, not a poet!

For now, I'll keep a lookout for the poems of Brian Bilston which pop up on my facebook feed every now and again, and try to learn from those who wrote poetry far, far better than me...

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

It's Sequel Time!

Actually, I'm not sure if that's strictly true - is it a sequel if you're writing book two in a planned series of five?

I had a quick look round the web for clarification, and it appears that actually, I am writing a series, not a sequel. I found some pretty useful information, like this - how to write a great series - from NY Book Editors. And this - mistakes to avoid - from Now Novel.

I suppose I wrote the first book of the series - working title The Mage of Merjan - so it could be read as a stand alone title, because I had no idea when I began to write it whether I or it was ever going to be published. (Fun fact: by comparison, StarMark started of as a series of three books but came together as one complete story.)

But in my head, the original story of this particular series was always much bigger than one book. There were five regions on the island where the story's set, and I wanted my main character to visit each of them in turn. Each visit to a new region would present a fresh adventure for the main character while continuing to expose them to a formidable enemy.

Incidentally, I was told by an agent in a 1-2-1 once that there was no point in writing this series as five books. I should just have three, because he said so. I smiled sweetly, bit my tongue (Harry Potter has seven, books, so what's wrong with longer series?) and carried on anyway.

When I read the articles on series writing, I was relieved to see that my approach - to plan the whole series pretty much up front - was actually a Good Thing to do, especially for fantasy. It means there's one BIG story arc which overlays however many books, but underneath are multiple smaller story arcs, with each book finishing off at least one. This is different to the kind of series where each book presents a complete and separate incident for the same central character - something like Agatha Christie's Poirot, for example.

So where am I up to with book number two of five? The outline is planned - I know what's going to happen and to who, and where the story finishes ready to move on into book three - and I've begun to type it up.

Already, one difficulty is deciding how much book one story to repeat in book two, so that readers new to the series are informed, but those who've read book one won't be going over too much old ground. It's a fine balance, and will probably have to be tested at the beta reading stage by those who have read The Mage of Merjan and by some who haven't.

I've also noticed a new addition to the Doubt Demon family since I've begun the typing up. It's only a little fella, but he keeps whispering 'what's the point of writing the second book if you don't know whether the first will ever be published?'
? ?  ? ? ? ?  

I can't give him the answer, so I'll ignore him as much as I can at the moment. And in the meantime, I'll carry on writing the continuation of Tilda's story in the hope that someone, somewhere, will like the concept enough to publish the entire series.

Friday, 6 April 2018

Going Deep...

Point of View. It's the view that you , as the writer, choose to tell your reader the story from. (If you've got this far and have no idea what I'm on about, check out this post on The Itch of Writing for the basics about point of view).

When I wrote Granny Rainbow, one of my first readers said they reminded her of Enid Blyton. (Which I like to think was a compliment). And bearing in mind how many Enid Blyton stories I read as a child, then it makes sense that I would stick to what I knew.

'Deep' POV is something rather modern by comparison. This article 'What is Deep Point of View?'  describes how the reader is immersed in the character - seeing only what the character sees, knows only what they know, feels only what they feel...

Now, I thought that this was pretty much the same as 'showing' rather than 'telling' in a story. Which, I am pleased to note, I do a lot of already. For me, finding the deep point of view is a staged process. I often find myself drafting a 'told' story until there is sufficient shape to it that I can see the whole course of the novel. Then - and only then - do I jump into my MC's head and 'go deep' into their POV, rewriting the story as my character would be experiencing it.

It makes me wonder whether there is a crossover with psychic distance, too - or if, in fact, the deep POV which the author of the original article refers to IS, in fact, psychic distance and not POV at all... Have a look at this second blog of Emma Darwin's, see what you think. I reckon deep POV is about level 4 or 5 on the psychic distance scale?

When you're writing like that though, it's a fine balance between immersing your reader deep in your character's experience, and not overwhelming them with a character so alien to themselves, they can't relate to the (possible) brain-dump you're inflicting on them on behalf of your character. It can take a while for that deep character to 'click' with the reader - and some readers may be so alienated by the way the story is presented, they don't read on. I know - I've stopped reading certain books myself because I couldn't get to grips with how deeply I was expected to be in the characters' world view. Trainspotting was one...

Some of my favourite recent reads written with - I think - this deep POV or close psychic distance, are Home by Amanda Berriman, The Night Rainbow by Claire King, Red Sister by Mark Lawrence, and Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracey Chevalier.

Oh - and if you want to try one of mine which has a deeper POV, opt for Kingstone.


Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Diary of a Rookie Silversmith - Definitely Part 4

Well, if you've kept up with my rookie silversmithing so far, you'll have covered Parts 1, 2, 3, and almost-4, and are probably wondering how I'm getting on, because I was this close *holds finger and thumb a hairs breadth apart* to getting my pendant finished.

Well...

All I had left to do was the setting of the cubic zirconia - but boy, is stone setting HARD. D'you remember this picture?


Well, that empty little circle - the bezel - is where the stone was going to sit. What I did not realise is that the outer walls had to be thinned to a 'knife edge' thickness before I could put the stone in. I was terrified of taking too much off and ending up with a portion of no wall at all, so it took me ages to get it right.

When I did, the faceted crystal sat inside, and it was then a simple case (!) of pushing the thinned walls inwards with a bezel pusher until the stone was secure, then push over the top a little bit. It takes an awful lot of strength to do this well - and I'd not helped myself (of course) by doing all of this on a domed base, because it didn't sit flat on the workbench. Lex came to my rescue to help secure the stone, (with a rather worrying moment when the domed base deformed under the pressure - eek! But she managed to reshape it again - phew.) Then I just had to finish off.

I didn't manage to stop the stone rattling, though, because it wasn't a tight enough fit... Lex said it was secure - no risk of it dropping out - so I decided to leave it as it was.

Next - burnishing. This uses a lovely smooth tool that you run round the outside edge of the bezel to smooth away any slight imperfections. From this close up, you can see my setting's not entirely smooth, but I am happy with it.




And  - ta-da! - here is the absolutely finished pendant...



There's a couple of things I would perhaps have done differently - I think I should have made the central tree trunk smoother, so there was more of a contrast between it and the textured background. Or maybe given it a satin finish... And I would have left such an ambitious project until I was a bit more familiar with all the techniques I've been learning, instead of jumping straight in with something so technically difficult!

But it is finished, I love it, and I need to find a length of thong now to hang it on.

As to my other project... remember my ring?


It was a proper circle when I soldered it (look back at part 1 if you want to see how uncircular my first pinkie ring attempt was!) and last week I added the tube setting for the sapphire cabachon. 

It sounded simple enough - cut a short length of 3.8mm tube, and solder to the ring. Except...you have to cut a longer length of tube than you think, because you of course you saw the tube in a (hopefully) straight line, which won't sit well on the curve of the ring. So there's a bit of filing involved, with a rounded file of a similar diameter to the finished ring, until the tube sits without any gaps on your ring. THEN you can solder. Which I did, successfully. (Hooray - finally getting the hang of it!)

Needs pickling - hence the matt and brown-black areas

The next step is to file the tube down until it's a depth that comes about two thirds of the way up the cabachon. I had to be careful to work from a side view here, to avoid taking off too much.

After that, I had to open out the tube by 0.2mm so the cabachon sat comfortably inside, before carefully filing the outside of the tube back to that same knife edge I'd done before. (I realised while doing this that one of the issues I had setting the pendant stone was that I hadn't reduced the thickness of the entire bezel wall - just the top part - because I misguidedly thought that as it was just the top I was pushing in towards the stone, that was the only bit which needed thinning. This time, I did the depth of the bezel, and it made the setting SO much easier.)

Anyhow, to cut a long story short - the cabachon was set, and then I started to sand and file around the shoulders of the stone to remove a few solder marks and make everything smooth and lovely. I didn't get it completely finished; I have some sanding homework to do this week so I can polish next...

See those saw marks? Need to sand them out.

And that big blob of internal solder will have to be sorted, too

Couldn't resist trying the ring on though! You can see that it needs polishing still, and I'm wearing it here on my right hand, but ultimately will wear it on my left from May onwards, because that's when Mr Squidge and I celebrate our silver wedding anniversary... 


And for the last week of my course? I have an idea for a very simple bangle bracelet which mainly involves forming and soldering, so I might just get the ring polished and a bangle made...