Friday, 27 November 2015

Thinking of Scrivener?

Bronchitis, compulsively early Christmas preparation, upcoming birthdays, work on the house, divorce proceedings... sometimes you can't find time for yourself however hard you try. But half an hour a week is better than nothing!
I've been working on editing one voice throughout my current work in progress. It's a teenage voice (because it's not that long since I was a should just have been a fun nostalgic stroll...ha!) and quite distinctive from my own. So I'm editing her sections as a single  narrative. I know they contain the information I need, but I want that consistency of expression and tone, so I'm going to get her polished first! It also feels like a manageable way to start the mammoth editing task.
Because I've used Scrivener, it's also easy to work this way. I'm very much a beginner when it comes to Scrivener - this is the first project I've done using it, and my steam-powered laptop doesn't always make it easy, especially since it's as prone to viruses as my kids are. However, I've just read this fabulous post for Scrivener beginners, and hope it might help you, too, if you fancy trying Scrivener out! (There is a free 30-day trial of Scrivener if you want to take it for a test drive.) I enjoyed this blog post so much that I've ordered Scrivener for Dummies...soon I, too, will be expert!

Friday, 23 October 2015

The Long Way Round

I've been 'trying' to lose weight for over a year now, with varied success, although I am still a stone lighter than when I began. However, I'm going through a definite phase of putting pounds on, then losing them again, without much real movement. The one thing I know for sure is: I'm not giving up. And one day, I'll have the determination to take some real strides in the right direction again. Perhaps this shows as much perseverance as someone who loses weight every week until they hit their's just that the level of my perseverance varies and wavers from week to week. My long-term goal doesn't change though, and I keep working towards it, however discouraged I am by myself, and however dogged I am by the spectre of failure.

My writing is exactly the same. I laid my manuscript down, now, months ago, and I've been utterly terrified of taking it up again. I've procrastinated, and used distraction techniques, and sometimes I've even been genuinely unable to make time, or had my plans to do writing classes thwarted.

But today I picked it up again, and realised that my goal hasn't changed - I'm just on the scenic route to completion. It's not the most accomplished or professional route, but you know what? I'm also holding down a very demanding part-time job, and raising four kids on my own, so I'm not going to beat myself up about it. And the other thing is - I remembered today just how much I enjoy it. I was having a bad day; feeling angry and tumultuous about several things that I thought were disastrous. Spending an hour writing turned my whole day around, and made me feel so upbeat.

A bit of a happy ending to the day, if you ask me.

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Desperately seeking other writers

Writing can be a lonely job, apparently. (I'm still at the point in mothering where it's hard to use the toilet without company, so it doesn't bother me, yet...) 

I want to meet more writers, though, and commit more to my writing - it's so easy to let your dreams slide when you're trying to juggle so many high-priority things that your own stuff feels a bit like selfishness. 

I've signed up to some creative writing classes which are being held locally, and which fit into my week perfectly, while Chickpea is at playgroup. I really had no excuse. I start tomorrow, so I've painted my nails in preparation (an important part of feeling confident enough to face a room full of strangers). I've also dug out my Swanwick Summer School notebook, to make me look like I'm taking my writing seriously, and a pen with a lovely smooth flow. 

I'm feeling a little nervous - only a little - and quite excited at the possibilities. It's another of those little moves outside my comfort zone that I keep trying to make, and which are generally quite rewarding even when they give me a knotted stomach. What if everyone else is incredibly talented? What if they all think I'm rubbish? What if the course isn't what I expect? What if it's just a displacement activity that takes me away from the real graft of editing and polishing my work-in-progress?

Worst of all though - what if I don't have to walk into a room full of strangers? What if I'm the only one who is free in our little village and its locality at 1pm on a Thursday afternoon in October? How awkward! And my nails would be wasted...

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Foggy night

Today is short-listing day. Every time my phone has pinged, I've checked my inbox, with unrealistic optimism. But now it's late, and I've got to accept I'm not getting an email.

I'd love to know how close I got - whether I was literally only long-listed because I avoided common faux-pas, or whether someone actually liked my story. When you get a silent rejection, the questions go unanswered.

I'm already brushing myself off though. Perseverence is my word of the day. Just because I didn't get through this time doesn't mean I won't, eventually.

(I just wish I could get more help finding some street signs, so that I'd feel a bit less like I'm trying to navigate through a foggy night with my satnav down.)

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Flying high

In the midst of a difficult day last Friday, I opened an email in my inbox without noticing who it was from until it popped open with the wonderful news that I've been longlisted in the most recent competition I entered, the Dragonfly Tea short story competition.

It was like a shot of adrenalin; I flew high all day. It's hard to know exactly how big a compliment it is, and the short-listing won't be complete until the end of next week. I allowed myself to start to dream, though...if I could be short-listed, it would make my year.

See how afraid of disappointment I am? How lacking in confidence in my own skills? I think it would be ridiculous to aim for winning. I'm content to settle for short-listing! Perhaps it's time to make my expectations a bit higher and push myself a bit harder! Fear gives us lead boots, and I'm trying to unlace mine so I can leave them behind.

Fingers crossed...

Monday, 31 August 2015


I saw a short story competition in late July that I really wanted to enter. It is a dragonfly tea competition, and will be judged by Jojo Moyes, who is a favourite author of mine. Best of all, it was free to enter.

I knew it would be a challenge - I didn't find the choices of given titles at all inspiring - but the summer stretched ahead and the closing date was today - the last day of August.

I took the titles to Guernsey as we visited my sister. I imagined carefree days of children running along beaches while I sat and scribbled. Instead, we walked, climbed, played tennis and football on the beach, bodyboarded on the beach and kept the kids up late. By the time we came home, the best I'd done was to have a germ of an idea.

Then we had a couple of weeks of squeezing things in - parties, going in to work, and late night planning sessions. Somehow the time to write evaporated like a summer puddle. At the very end, I took them to a playcentre and wrote a draft, longhand.  Last week we went camping with the kids' dad. I took my laptop, which I'd typed the draft onto. We were going to have some time at his parents', and I thought they would appreciate me stepping back, and giving them time with the grandkids. I thought he would be able to do the parenting (for once!) while I wrote.

But that didn't work out either. We ended up camping for an extra night. We ended up putting the kids to bed at 10, and falling into sleeping bags ourselves. There were difficult family moments to navigate; there were children who wanted and needed me constantly. There were people who talked to me whenever I sat down to write. I didn't sleep well, so I felt constantly tired and uncreative. Then my laptop stopped working, and I gave up.

Which left one weekend. I spent Saturday unpacking and ringfenced some time on Sunday, but then Mum phoned and needed me. So it has become a last-minute race to the post, today. We had some family commitments, but in between, I've edited. I don't know how good it is - I came very close to giving in, but in the end, I reasoned that if you give in, you never achieve. And maybe, just maybe, my story is better than I think. Well, I can dream, can't I?! So it has been sent. The deed is done, the deadline met, by a whisker. Now to catch up on the laundry...

Monday, 10 August 2015

Swanwick Summer School

Swanwick Writing School has been running for forty years - only a little longer than I have been aliv! - but this is the first year I've made it, and then it was for a pitiful amount of time.

Despite my best attempts to plan a brief escape from home as a day visitor to the School, mum ended up having a hospital appointment, and no-one else could fill in babysitting. Steve (ex-husband) came to look after the children in the morning, but arrived ten minutes before I wanted to arrive at Swanwick, which is half an hour's drive away. It was not the relaxing, stress-free start to the day I'd hoped for!

The welcome was warm, though, and people were friendly and helpful, even in the short visit I had. I thoroughly enjoyed the lectures, too, though they only whetted my appetite. I wish I could have stayed longer.

Sue Moorcroft gave a great talk on Romantic Fiction - she is so knowledgeable about her subject and gave lots of fascinating information, including about the Romantic Novelist's Association. I hadn't realised before that it is possible to attend talks and events run by the RNA even if you're not a member. It usually means an extra cost, but not a prohibitive one. Up-to-date information can be found on the RNA website. I have heard good things about them from many sources, and will be checking them out again now, instead of waiting for my next crack of the whip at joining their New Writers' Scheme.

So, while it was frustrating putting my own dreams on the back-burner, the kids come first, and I gained a lot of benefit from a short amount of time at Swanwick. Hope I can afford the time and money to attend next year...and that nothing will get in the way.

I wonder what I will have achieved towards my writing dreams by then? Watch this space...

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Keeping the pilot light burning

Although I'm in a fallow period, I think about my book a lot. I feel a bit like a guilty mum who has left her child with someone else for far too long...

Reading writing magazines keeps my appetite whetted and I'm reading widely as well as revisiting old favourites, trying to feed my creativity. I will soon have to decide whether to take up precious packing space in my suitcase with my manuscript and notebooks, or whether to take a full break. I'm also trying to work out child-care and brace myself to spend the money to go to Swanwick Writing School for one day...

Even when you're not writing, you can be working on self-improvement, and chasing those dreams. But I have to be careful not to use that as a safe excuse - a cosy comfort-zone that is an easier place than actually wrestling with plot and structure, how likeable characters are; staring into the face of the possibility that the whole thing has more holes than a sieve and is beyond redemption.

Perhaps that answers the question of whether I should take the manuscript on holiday. I'm pretty sure that it's not going to improve itself...

Friday, 26 June 2015

Tough love

Wow, it's been a bit of a time of lost focus as I've let my latest novel stew, and have got on with writing reports instead.

I've not yet reapplied to the womentoring project, as I think my work needs a bit more TLC (TLC here means: ripping apart and beginning again. The art of tough love..?)

I have, however, read through my first draft. I discovered quickly that for some reason Scrivener had missed out at least half the chapters. Doing battle with technology is one of my least favourite things, so I rather daftly read the half I'd got, made copious notes about how I need to fix the structure, tighten things up, cut things, and insert sub-plots...all based on half a book.

Anyway, the technical support at Scrivener enabled me to rescue my lost chapters, although I don't know how to reinsert them into the project. I think they have somehow been 'categorised' as something within the program - I can't be more technical than that - and though I now have a paper copy of everything (phew!) I now need to go back for more support and wrestle again.

Is it worth it? The extra stress and barrier to production? I'm not 100% sure yet. When I'm trying to sort out technical problems, the answer is no. But I did enjoy working with the program, and having my corkboard of notes, and the way it compiled (half of) the finished draft into something that was formatted well was exciting.

So I'm not going to judge, yet. Let's see how it goes when I try to fix the problem, which I've obviously inadvertently caused.

Next job on my list, then: read the book, the whole book and nothing but the book (till I've finished)...and keep mulling over a sub-plot for my lovely hero, who must be a little more rounded (without the application of doughnuts) and be a little more the kind of boy everyone will fall in love with...

It sounds so easy, and feels so difficult! I might have to try the tough love on myself to stop procrastinating!

Friday, 5 June 2015

Finding encouragement

I was feeling blue last time I posted, due to the way my work had sneakily transformed itself into something only fit for the bin while I've been looking the other way.

I'm still reluctant to read on - fearing more of the same. But one of my procastinating activities was to read a book which had won a prize in roughly the genre I write in.

I was told to expect a twist; I was told that this author is very skilled. So I bought the book, despite it costing more on the kindle than the usual books I buy.

And then I started to read. And it was bad. It was poorly written, inaccurate to the point of annoyance (certain aspects of the main character's life matched mine, and this then led to a lot of frustration when it was clear that the author had no idea what she was talking about). It was sketchily edited too - I was irritated by such small details as a day that seemed to skip to nighttime when it was lunchtime, and someone described by the POV character as having their back turned, and their face fuller than usual. Excuse me? How can you tell if they have their back to you? And how come no-one picked up on this before publication?

This book has good reviews; author endorsements from writers whose books I admire; and it's a high seller. So perhaps I'm the one who is wrong, when I think the characters are very cliched and two dimensional, and the dialogue unrealistic and aggravating...?

Obviously, I've no room to talk, with my current difficulties. But actually, this average book gave me a confidence boost.

For a start, I could identify - quite clearly - many of the things that broke my trust as a reader. If I can identify them in someone else's work, I'm getting closer to knowing what is wrong with my work, and when I see that, I'm closer to fixing it.

Then I saw that there is hope for me. Hope that with polishing, I can be better than that. Hope that I might find a readership - people who appreciate my writing, even if I'll never be a Keyes or Moriarty (both of whom I think are excellent writers).

What gives you encouragement when you're frustrated? And have you found any 'poor' books recently? If not, I'd heartily recommend it to make you feel better!

Sunday, 31 May 2015


I've not heard back from the womentoring project I approached for a mentor with such hope back in October. I contacted them again to ask if I should reapply, and was told to.

So it's time to dust off my application, choose a new mentor and apply again.

The only problem is, I looked at the first chapter of my novel - you know, the one I'd submitted before. And it's rubbish. I think the whole 'hook' is probably way too predictable. The voice is stilted and self-conscious; it made me feel on edge, reading it.

It made my stomach feel all curdled with disappointment.

Obviously, rewriting that is job #1...but what if the whole thing is predictable, riddled with pretension and basically only fit for the recycling bin?


Monday, 27 April 2015

Taking a Break

This has been a frantic couple of weeks. The most contact I've had with my writing life is reading articles in Writing Magazine, and stroking my printed out manuscript, like some warped Bond villain who can't even care for a cat.

Work is hectic: I've been completing and producing paperwork until midnight most nights, and then dragging myself through the days like a zombie on sedatives.

On top of that, the children have been their usual lovely selves, creating laundry as if they're determined to collect prizes for it.

Then on Saturday we heard that my husband (we've been separated for nearly two years) was flying out to Nepal to help with the rescue efforts there. He volunteers for an urban search and rescue group, but is also a paramedic, and is fantastic in a crisis. He will thrive on the adrenaline, and we hope he will save some lives. The kids and I are very proud of him...but I've added twitter-tracking him to my list of things to do. It's like another hobby, and kind of time-consuming at that.

It seems like this isn't a good time to fit in writing, but I'm hoping that this little sabbatical will bring me back to my novel with a clear head. Meanwhile, the next idea is stirring and needs to put on a lot of weight, still, but I've begun the ruminating. Maybe this will be The One...?!

Saturday, 18 April 2015

The tricky age

My daughter turned 10 a few weeks ago, which is a milestone, isn't it? I still remember the way I felt at hitting double figures.

So I'm posting in honour of her and the literacy-based issues she and I have been grappling with lately.

She's a fabulous, intuitive little reader, who is probably even more compulsive than me (and I always thought I could win every award going when it came to compulsive reading). She has a reading age between 13 and 14, but couples it with a sensitive soul and a healthy dollop of naivety, which I'm not keen to lose.

It's very hard to challenge her with her reading. She adores Enid Blyton, still, and seems to like pacy mystery stories. Sometimes my choices for her go down very badly, and she discards books half-read. I've been borrowing books from the library and having to read them first, to check if the content is innocent enough.

Today I finished reading 'The Great Unexpected', which was beautiful and lyrical, though I would have liked things a little more explicitly explained in it...there was a bit of boy-girl interest which I think she'll skim, but it wasn't inappropriate for a 10 year old. However, I'm not sure if she will enjoy it. She began it tonight, so the jury is out.

The teachers gave her 'Northern Lights', which she read with fierce interest, and it actually kept her busy for three days as opposed to one, but I felt it was pushing the limits of what I'm comfortable for her to be reading.

So - anyone got any much-loved suggestions that she might enjoy? Any help will be gratefully received.

The other thing that happened this week is that I had a letter from an organisation called 'Young Writers' saying that her short saga on 'Paradise' was entered into a competition by her school, and her entry has been selected to go into the East Midlands anthology (which I can buy for the meagre sum of £18).

I have so many problems with this, from the fact I've been exposed to this exploitation by the school, to my daughter's face when I told her I didn't think I'd be buying one. (Her dad says he'll buy it...but £18! For 100 words written by Bean, that none of us will ever read anything else in it! And, with all the motherly love and pride in the world, for a story she has written which is OK, but not amazing.)

Of course, it goes without saying that the contest Bean 'won' was also won by every other child in her class...

How can this kind of grasping money-making go on, exploiting parents and children - and supported by schools, at that? Have schools not realised it would be better to self-publish their own books and keep the profits for their own PTFA?

Saturday, 28 March 2015

The science of Scrivener

The word-count remains elusive...I tried to use Scrivener to check it, and it said the word count was 89 000, which sounded right and made my spirits rise...but now I'm wondering exactly what is being included in that. 
I've realised I need to take a little more time now to get to know new things about Scrivener before I get back to the editing. I may add a little more in the way of subplots, anyway, but I need to understand how to do certain things with the software, and this break will be a good time to do that. 
If only my Mac hadn't just started to kick me off youtube...things are never simple!

Tuesday, 24 March 2015


I printed my finished novel out! It was so exciting. Then, the next day I looked at the word-count on the front sheet, and my stomach felt like it had swan-dived from the top board. It's only 50, 000 words!

I'm genuinely shocked, and hoping that it's a miscount, otherwise I've got to find a few more. As an over-writer/blatherer, I usually need to word-cull whenever I write anything. I was expecting to do so with this book (although, I have tentative hopes that there is less to edit this time....). Instead, I'm wondering where I can conjure 30,000 more words from. Do I need a whole new sub-plot?

My immediate thought is that one of the main characters could be  fleshed out more, and given more of his own problems to run alongside the main ones. That would ensure he wasn't a cardboard cut-out standing on the side-lines (I have worried that he's a little passive). But I don't know what that will be. And when you've typed 'The End' and then begin to realise you've done so prematurely, it is a little bit of a blow.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

It's Such a Perfect Day

I'm so tired my brain is shrivelled to nothing, so I'm probably not up to a proper post. Even if I were, I'm nursing a poorly toddler, who is determined to talk to me about Spiderman as I type, and quite likes pressing keys to be helpful. She may have been a cat in a previous life.

But tonight, I finished my latest novel. It's still a work in progress, because that's only the first draft, but I printed it out, and it's sitting next to me now. That makes it a good day.

Tomorrow there will be things to look at and puzzle why Scrivener has compiled it like THAT, and how to change the other, and then in a few weeks the editing and rewriting, but tonight it's enough.

Yay! I think I deserve to celebrate in a way that hits all my current fantasies- by getting some sleep....but only if I can persuade a poorly girl to go back to bed first.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Gathering pace

I'm reaching the climax of my current work in progress, and finding it harder and harder to leave it. I was nearly late picking Chick-pea up from pre-school this morning, because I was so busy with imaginary people...not a sign of a responsible mother, I suppose!
The story has a momentum of its own now, which I'm loving. The fact that I can't wait to return to it each time I can is reassuring too - I hope that one day someone else might be hooked, reading it, too.
Meanwhile, I've had a filler published in Readers' Digest for £50, and another article accepted (for no fee) for a tiny local magazine. (I went out of my comfort zone for this one, and sought professional quotes to add in). I've been researching parenting magazines that I could send some of my tweaked articles to, but there seems to be a dearth in this market. There are baby magazines, but not much demand for articles about parenting school-age children. Perhaps it's time I researched and explored getting articles published online - but it's another step out of my comfort zone!
I also haven't yet heard anything from the womentoring project that I applied to in October. I'd better re-read the website, but I thought it said that you would hear if you were unsuccessful so that you could approach a different mentor, and the original project was due to close in April, so I'm running out of time there...Plenty of positives to celebrate but still much to aim for!

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Writing a book a word at a time

My work in progress is skidding along. It's providing me with a much needed escape from the turmoils of home life and half-term, and I can feel it gathering pace now the end is in view. 

So easy to be clever with hindsight. With each 'book' I've written, I've learnt so much. With this one, the thing I'm learning most is that writing little and often is far more important than a good long stretch infrequently. It's the sum of those half hours at a time that adds up to something. And when writing matters, and there's a deadline (or a finish line) in sight, you suddenly find that you can sacrifice that hour in front of the tv, or put the ironing on one side for another night and before you know it, the words are stacking up into chapters, and the chapters into 'acts' and the book is more than half done. 

If only I could bear that in mind all the time, my productivity would be immense...

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Greased Lightning

No, I'm not thinking about Grease today (though it must be in my mind somewhere) but about writing  time. I've posted before about trying to find time to write - a puzzle for every wannabe writer. I've read plenty of articles about how to make the most of your time, and how to prioritise, work to deadlines, conquer the demons of procrastination....

But lately I've been thinking about it from another point of view. When I write, I lose time. I lose myself. I come back to reality and find that an hour, two, or three have disappeared, while I have been unconscious of them. I've always taken it as a sign that I was utterly absorbed, and doing something I loved, but I'd never realised before that the hours and days could slide away, slippery as spaghetti. When it's just an hour here and there, it's a stolen pleasure, but when you start to write regularly, and lost time regularly, you begin to realise that one day you'll find that years are passing in a blur...and it's a bit scary!

I suppose this is why it's important to change pace in your writing life as well as throughout a story. When a novel is done, some marketing, editing or beginning to structure the next novel gives you a break from the all-consuming joy and absorption of writing. And meanwhile, my word count is rising, so who am I to complain even if the time is going like greased lightning?

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Watching the word count rise

We're back into the swing of school runs and pre-school mornings in our home, and despite the annoyance of sandwich-making, bag packing and homework, it's a joy! It's true that I have more work to keep up with in my evenings, but I also have some more time to myself again, and can begin to write regularly after the upheaval of Christmas.

It was so exciting to be back at my keyboard, and it was also a useful reminder that the longer you stay away, the more distracted you have to be by re-reading and editing before you can start again.

And with that in mind, I'm going to waste no more time here just now, but I'm going to try to squeeze in half an hour with my novel!