Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Tracing the Source

The six year old tells me she doesn't like writing.  She pulls a face in the morning sometimes, and complains that it's 'big writing' today. Is it just laziness?

I was thinking about when I first wanted to write.  I remember my Super Mum taking my sisters and I to the library for an author event.  I was five or six;  there was a grown-up lady alone in a room, with a table and some sheets of paper and pencils.  She seemed pleased to see us.  We made up a story together, and she scribed it for us.  With the patience of a saint, she allowed us to choose Will-o'-the-Wisp, our favourite TV character of the time, as our main character. Evil Edna figured highly, too.  She framed a story with a beginning, middle and end, guided our suggestions into something that vaguely resembled a real story, and autographed it for us. It wasn't quite as exciting as going to a farm park.

My first independent efforts were in a tiny spiral-bound notebook.  I was about seven, and fairy-tales were the clear inspiration, with wolves, goats and other marvellous elements included, along with the complete lack of money-sense that meant the wolf in one memorable tale stole ONE POUND!!!!! (sic).

It makes me smile to think of those early, staggering steps.  I wonder how to ignite Bean's passion;  she loves reading, but I want her to enjoy writing.  I want her to have better numeracy skills than her Mummy, as well.

Looking back, I'm grateful for that lonely author at the library, making us welcome and creating magic for us with someone else's characters.  I expect she was hoping we'd buy books, but this was in the bad old days when there was no money, and a pound really did seem a fortune.  Mum took us to the library because we couldn't afford books, but she believed that we couldn't afford not to have them. I might feel sorry for that author -  she gave much more than she received! But if I ever succeed with the writing dream, I hope I can make a difference in someone's life one day.  Surely that's worth more than a booksale.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

strolling through setting

Sunday mornings are all for me and the little one. But in my over-organised way, I have to spend the time achieving as many things as possible;  just being a mum isn't enough.  So we usually go for a walk, and then I can feel that I'm doing something towards my fitness level, and helping him to love the outdoors as well as being with him and chatting about anything and everything together.
(To be honest, that's quite one-sided anyway).

This Sunday I put him in the back carrier, and in between pulling my hair and patting my head, we did manage to talk about several things of interest including the cockerel which the baby seemed concerned I might have thought was him. ( 'Doodlerdoo not me, Mummy'.)  He has to call back my attention, because my mind wanders  - I take the breathtaking views for granted, having grown up with them, and my mind tends to wrestle with plotting, instead.  It's a shame, all that beauty wasted, but this, after all, is my setting.

It's my setting, and it's also the setting for my novel.  It made sense to me, to write about a place I know, especially for this first piece of work.  At the writing event I went to a couple of weeks ago, some writers suggested that rural writers had a tougher struggle to get published, and that some of the big name publishers were prejudiced against Northern novels. As if there weren't enough hurdles on the path to publication...but perhaps it's not true.

This Sunday I did something I'd never done before on one of these bimbles through the town and hills, and took my camera.  It seemed a bit odd, since I was alone (I can hardly count the baby on my back, as it was obvious I wasn't photographing him).  There are always so many things I want to remember, and it isn't feasible to keep stopping and pulling out a notebook, even though the chance to catch a breath might be welcome on some of these hills.  So, whenever  I saw an intriguing house name, or a striking building, I took a snap.  Certain details on the walk caught my attention, and I photographed those too.  I'm going to print these photos out, and use them to add realistic detail to my description of my setting. I think I know it like the back of my hand, but do I really know what's blooming in late March? Can I recall enough little details about the dessicated climbers clinging to house facades to bring a scene to life with just a few words? I think these photos will help - recapture the way the day felt, inspire new stories, enliven my settings.

I just need to convince the little one that multitasking our hour away is a good use of time...

Friday, 25 March 2011

Anti-conning Writers Day

It's one of those days when not much writing has been done, but lots of thinking and also the chance to read relevant things.  I picked up the new Writer's Forum, which will keep me motivated, and also caught up on some writers' blogs.  I followed a link to Sally Quilford's fascinating latest entry about the pitfalls of vanity publishing (amongst other things).  If you're an aspiring writer, read this blog! It might save you some heartache.

Thursday, 24 March 2011


Although I can't dare hope that anything comes of my competition entry or the piece I submitted to a magazine, it's funny how often in a day at home they cross my mind. I keep trying to remember how many weeks they've been gone now, and how long till I find out their fate.  And thinking of ways I could have improved them, and wondering if I made a fool of myself sending out something sickeningly substandard....I hate waiting.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011


I have done a particularly uninspired piece of editing this morning, in my child-free slot while the little one slept and the others were busy.  I don't think I'm going to be one of those writers who loves the editing process.  The original writing is the part I really enjoy.  And because I'm patching together new scenes with old scenes, I've lost the view of the 'big picture' that I had at first when I re-read my draft. But as a fabulous Southern flirt once said, Tomorrow is another day.

While I was writing, the four-year old was plumbing.  He was in the home corner at nursery and decided the sink needed some work, so he climbed into the play cupboard, and fiddled with imaginary pipes until he'd had which point he discovered he was stuck. He cried for help, and Mrs N, ever professional in the face of pre-schooler disaster, encouraged him to get out the way he got in.  Then she went to help, and found he really was stuck.  He thought he would never get out.  
'So did I, for a while,' said Mrs N.  

But the joy of a visit from hunky firemen was denied;  Mrs N, resourceful as well as professional, found her tool kit, and dismantled the cupboard, freeing my small boy.  

He certainly seemed fine when I took him swimming.  And, in the true nature of boys who never learn, he thought it would be fun to hide from me in a locker, and pull the door shut behind him...

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Park Life

Today has been an outdoor kind of day - in other words, so bright that if we'd stayed in, I'd have had to notice the film of dust on everything, and ended up wasting the day in housework.

The children can't get in the garden because of the extension in progress.  It's going to become more and more of a nuisance as Spring finds a toe-hold, I think.  Certainly it's not so much fun having the boys clambering all over the sofas and wrestling on the front room rug. We need more room......oh, that's right, that's what the extension is for. Hope it's done soon!

We ended up at the park on bikes, with my Super-Mum and Super-Dad.  We're working on getting the six-year old weaned off stabilisers, quite a bit later than most of the children in her class.  The four-year old, having slightly better balance already, is having a go, too.

By a series of slightly mis-timed bike purchases, we have two bikes;  a tiny pink one for 2-4 year olds, and then the four-year old boy had a real boys' bike for his fourth birthday.  He is still fighting the pull of gravity, though, and is shorter than average, so it's a touch big for him yet.  It's perfect for the six-year old though.  So we usually swap; neither of them minds, and they swap backwards and forwards quite happily.

Until today, that is.  By the time we made it to the park, Bean was in tears, then subsided into a brooding sulk, because she wanted to be on the pink bike.  The whinges are a highly contagious condition, and the four year old began the second I took the stabilisers off the tiny bike for him to have a ride.  He whined and grumbled and wobbled.

 "He did better than this on Wednesday," Mum said, perplexed, "He rode for an hour and he was getting pretty good."
 "But I want MY bike!" he said.

 I put the stabilisers back on, and retrieved Bean from where she was glowering behind a tree. Then we had to find where she had abandoned the boys' bike, and strip it of its stabilisers.  Luckily, her bad mood lifted;  she really tried to ride the bike.  She kept leaning towards me though; I may be permanently hunch-backed now.  She wobbled this way and that, and clipped my ankles several times.  I hung grimly onto her shoulders, which someone assured me is the best way to steady them while they learn. At first, she was utterly hopeless, though I didn't tell her so.

"I can't do it! I can't!" she said.  You could hear the frustration in her voice.  She was so annoyed with herself.
"It doesn't matter," I said, "That's what practise is for.  We'll get there, and I'm here to help."
"I'm trying!" she said, "I keep trying to sit up, but it still wobbles! And I can't steer when I'm trying to balance. I can't do everything at once."
Then, suddenly, she did, just for a few seconds. On the way back, she got some speed up; I had to jog alongside her, and she balanced for longer.  She started to laugh.
"I'm doing it! I'm doing it!"
"You are!" (It was hard to be enthusiastic, jogging while bent in half at the waist. I'm sure there should be some health and safety rule against it. But I was proud, too).

I could tell she was tired; we left it at that, a small taste of success, an inkling of what riding a bike will be like, one day.  Soon.

I thought of the parallels with my writing; the support you need till you build confidence; the frustration that you can't achieve what you want; how easy it would be to give up; the difficulty in juggling plot, pace, characters, good writing....there are lessons everywhere, if you look for them.

We put the stabilisers back on the boys' bike.
"Right," I said, "You can swap now. Have your pink one, Bean, and let your brother have his."

They climbed on their respective bikes, Bean hunched like a chimp over the handlebars, the four-year old looking as though he were astride a penny-farthing, cycling through the sky.   They went round a corner, stopped and put their heads together.  They slid off their bikes and climbed on each other's.
"What's going on?"
"My bike's a bit too small for me," Bean said, "So we thought we'd swap."

Important reminder:  you learn best through experience, not by having things explained to you...

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Diving in and driving on

Have managed two writing sessions this week.  It was surprisingly hard to get started on the first day, like getting ready to dive into a cold swimming pool, but once I was in, I wondered what I'd been reluctant for. It was like coming home.

The problem now is that the enforced break has given me too much thinking time.  I've read reams of valuable advice over the past year, and one thing that's just filtering through is how I need to put my protagonist through the mill.  I've got to make her life as miserable as I can, and refuse to rescue her too soon.  This is hard when I like her (she is my creation, after all), and it makes me uncomfortable to imagine such difficulties on her.  It almost feels cruel, fictional though she is.  But I'm going to do my best;  I'm going to improve my writing and strengthen my story.  So I drove home tonight (forty minutes) planning what evil I could visit on the poor innocent.  Of course, to plague her with everything I thought of would be poor writing too.  But I can see that I need to add at least some of the extra conflict to my story...which means that my current rewrite is going to be an even greater task than I have been experiencing and anticipating.  My woolly self-imposed deadline is already being postponed;  I'm trying to convince myself that a half hour a day has a merit all of its own, and I'm wondering if the children would really miss me that much if I locked myself in the study for the next month or two.

Thank goodness the break gave me time to remotivate, and to find enthusiasm for a project that I've already put so much into.  I have the energy and determination to tackle this, and to do my best, where two weeks ago, I might have felt I'd already given the novel my all, and it would have to stand or fall in its present incarnation.   I'm going to see it through, so I'm going to have to push myself when my drive fades.  But in the meantime, it's getting late, so I'm going to go to bed with a good book, and call it 'researching the craft'.  There's so much to love about this work.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Feeling the Heat

Today at school during tidy-up time I was trying to work out who was the monitor for my colleague's half of the room. Fortunately it was quickly resolved (if only the tidying were so efficiently completed...).  Then a sweet little girl who knows far too much about everything came over to me.  "You know," she said, "Last week, I was the thermometer for Mrs Woodward."  Some days, I love my job.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Back on track

Yesterday was the independent publisher's event that I'd signed up for.  It was strange being out all day without the children in tow, and the two year old went and developed a fever the night before, so I felt guilty all day, in bursts.

It had been a little misadvertised, as it turned out to be as much a reader's day as a writer's day, but that didn't mar my enjoyment, since I'm a reader, too! I felt a bit starstruck, listening to Berlie Doherty talking about her latest offering.  Also got to hear Trilby Kent read some of Smoke Portrait, too.  She looked, at first glance, like a teenager, but she was so articulate - intelligence in every uttering! - and so well travelled and confident.  I've added her book to my list of books to read.

Age was a bit of a theme for me.  I was startled by the overwhelming number of people attending the event who were female, and of retirement age.  I sat behind a row of content ladies who had to fiddle almost constantly with their hearing aids to hear anything.  It was almost funny seeing them all recoil in horror when the discussion came around, briefly but controversially, to the importance of social media in self-promotion for writers.  It made me sad, too. Of course, you can't see inside these lovely ladies' minds.  I'm assuming a lot when I say, perhaps they've missed the boat.  But I was glad that I'm doing this now, and not waiting till I have time.  I'll still enjoy it as much when I'm sixty, seventy or eighty, I'm sure.  But it's no good waiting for your dreams to come to you; I'm rolling up my sleeves and pursuing mine.

The day did what I wanted on the whole. It made me feel like a seriously aspiring writer.  I met like-minded people.  (Funny, how many wannabe writers are clearly uncomfortable in social situations). I got to listen to some inspirational stories about the journeys some published writers have taken. I learnt a lot about the way independent presses work, and the pros and cons regarding independent publishers and the large commercial publishers (some of which was daunting learning).  I came home with three new books to read, and one of them was free (always a major bonus). I have some pencilled notes on the back of a scrap of paper of recommended websites, and a publisher who will be looking for short story submissions in the next few months.  I found out about a very local creative writing workshop that is starting up next month (sadly, while I'm on holiday with the in-laws, but there are other dates).

I think that's what you call a successful day.  Now if the two year old can just recover, I'm ready to leap into a new week, keyboard at the ready...

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Princess for the day

Today is the five year old's birthday.  This time six years ago, she was an hour old, and I was bemused and wrung out and terrified.  I wish I had known what fun it would be, and how much laughter she'd bring. Sometimes I can hardly breathe, I'm so proud of the girl she is growing into.

 She had her Princess Party last Saturday.  She chose exactly who to invite, and they were all so lovely.  It was an unnaturally calm party, they were so well-behaved  - really easy for me, in the end! I can imagine her keeping these friends through the teenage roller-coaster years. With such kind, sweet friends, she'll be fine, I think. 

My writing energies have had to go into cakes fit for a princess...
The girls all looked so wonderfully tacky-princessy in their pink and yellow dresses. They talk about the Disney princesses as if they are classmates. The boys turned up as knights, though they soon got fed up of their costumes.  As for my boys, who would both happily have donned dresses and plastic high heels if I'd let them, Steve stopped me from buying them tunics online, and promised he'd fashion them a costume from cardboard, double-sided sticky tape, and sticky-backed plastic. (Too much Blue Peter in the formative years?)  The day arrived; Steve was away for the weekend, and the costumes only existed in his highly unrealistic imagination.  I had to ply the boys with extra pink sparkly birthday cake to make up for it.  I have a feeling that was just fine with them.

As for Bean, she floated on air the whole day, and on her birthday today she has been fizzy as shaken cola.  There's something about those shining eyes that makes my heart skip a beat.  These have been the best six years of my life.  I wish I could go back and tell that worried new mum I once was that it was going to be better than all right.  I wish I could tell her to ride out the colicky days and nights, the black panics, the hopelessness and tell her how it feels when her daughter slides a card into her hand that says 'I made this lait valntains card for you. I love you Mum.' I wish I could tell her that you don't get your old life back, ever, but you get a better one, and that one day there'll even be time to start chasing those dreams again.  

In fact, the six year old had so much fun being princess for the day, I'm thinking of trying it myself one day soon.  I'll put on the most ridiculously fancy dress I can find, accessorise it with every piece of jewellery I own, add generous helpings of glitter and then spend the day locked in my own personal tower, writing.  I'll wave regally from the window when I need to have a stretch, and I'll ring a bell when I need Steve to make a cup of tea or supply me with chocolate.  
I might leave off the pink plastic shoes, though.

Walking in heels

I have to stick my tongue out to walk in heels, too.  I hope the little one has a sense of humour when he gets to eighteen, because this photo is going to be everywhere. In fact, both the boys seem quite fond of their sister's shoes at the moment.

My manic fortnight is nearly over  - I've been writing a newsletter for the local pre-school tonight, otherwise I might have fitted in some real writing time.  I contemplated starting now, but it's half past midnight, and I need some matchsticks to prop open my eyelids as it is.  Maybe tomorrow? I can dream...

Tuesday, 8 March 2011


 By happy accident I bumped into another aspiring writer, Emma Woodcock, through a mutual facebook friend - see, technology isn't all bad.  I've not made it to a writing group yet (there aren't any very close to where I live - about fifteen minutes away to the nearest),  and I've heard very mixed things about online forums and groups, so it's been a real delight to find someone to talk to who is nearly at the same stage in her writing career as me.  Well, that's not quite true.  In fact she's way ahead of me, in terms of craft and also having her first novel (which is for young adults) already up to submission standard.  Having read it, I was in awe - it was really original and she kept the pace going and the story twisting at a fantastic rate.  You can read the first chapter here
  I'm looking forward to hearing she has an agent, soon!

Sunday, 6 March 2011


It's been a week without writing, and I'm missing it. I hope the habits I had begun aren't eroded in this two week break, but at least I'm at the half way point, and at the end of it I'm attending an independent publishing event, which I'm pretty nervous about going to alone. I made myself a promise I was going to take my writing seriously, though, and I booked myself in for the event as a way of keeping faith with myself.  Now I'm glad; it will punctuate this enforced absence from writing, and hopefully inspire me to jump right back into my routines!

Which brings me to another thorny issue, which may never materialise.  I'm potentially going to be offered two extra days teaching work, as supply in a very local school. It would be a totally different experience to where I am now; 18 children in a mixed age (Reception, Year 1 and Year 2) class in a village primary, as opposed to 54 Reception children being team-taught in a town-based infant school.  When I'd stopped laughing about the ratio of adults to children (apparently there's a full time TA, so nine children to one adult) I felt quite excited about the opportunity - the first time I've felt fizzy about teaching in quite a while.

Don't misunderstand - I love my work.  But the admin side gets me down, and there are some dynamics in my current school which sometimes make the part I love - teaching - very stressful and not so much fun.  So I think this could boost my confidence; give me chance to develop professionally.  It would bring in a little extra cash for the extension (or the new car - Ste's has begun to sound like it swallowed a hammer), just at the right time - the supply work would be regular but only for five weeks.  Most importantly, it would get me known as a teacher in another local school.  I work forty-five minutes from home at the moment, which seemed like nothing once, but ten years on there are three little children clock-watching for me to get home, evening meetings that seem like a burden because of the drive, and prices at the petrol station that sound like a bad joke, till you actually have to pay them.  So the idea of moving to a school nearer home is appealing, and this could be a way in.

So what's the problem? I don't know what to do about childcare - Mum can't do any more, and other people have volunteered, but I'm not sure it's fair, and there isn't time to find a child-minder.  And after all, it may be only for five weeks, but they are five weeks of my children growing that I will never get back, and it's my last year with the four year old before he goes to school.  I'm already so busy - I don't know where I'd fit it in - though it is temporary.  And... it might be great for my teaching career, but do I want a teaching career?  I know writers are told a day job is a good idea even if you have some success. And my current novel is about a teaching related issue - my work can be exploited for some great stories.  But it comes back to that promise.  If I take this supply work on, it's money in the bank, but there'll be no words added to the book for five more weeks.  It feels like a test of how serious I am about writing! Yet, a break wouldn't kill my story, and would give me fresh eyes - if it had come at the end of the revision I'm in the middle of, it might even have been a welcome distraction while the whole thing cooked some more.

What a dilemma...and I may not even be offered it, then all this wondering will have wasted mental energy that could have been directed elsewhere!

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Birthday One - Turning Two

Today the one year old became a two year old, and I did manage to enjoy it and smile (even if the smile crumbled a little at times!) in between frantic shopping for the OFSTED inspection and icing a cake  to look like a ladybird. We had a family birthday tea at my sister's house; I prepared all the food and got it there, and she provided space and chairs.  Exciting to think that soon we will have the extension done and will be able to fit people around our own table.

In the midst of all the rushing and dashing and pressure to make it fun, I think the two year old had a lovely day, and there was something special about having lots of family to share the fun.

And now a half hour lull before I need to get ready for tomorrow.  It might be a rough fortnight, but it's speeding past, and I'm still aiming to wring some enjoyment out of each hectic day.

As I thought, no time for writing, and barely any for even mental wrangling of plotlines and characters.  However, my £30 cheque arrived for the published letter. It made my throat go tight and my vision cloud over, just for a moment.  I know I want to see more of my writing in print;  I just hope I can learn to be good enough.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011


I already talked at some length in this blog about my frustrations with technology, but this one made me smile.  I have a shiny, new touch-screen phone (though it refuses to do half the things I ask it to). Last week we travelled to the Midlands to visit Ste's gorgeous sister. When we were approaching her house, he asked me to text and ask her to put the kettle on.  You may not believe it, but we'd actually had to go nearly an hour and a half without tea at that point - I know, but we were brave about it.  After I'd sat beside him in the passenger seat tapping futilely on his phone screen for a full minute, he pointed out that his phone doesn't have a touch screen.....d'oh.