At the beginning of this week, I thought I knew what I was doing during the rest of it. We had the grandchildren until Wednesday morning, then, after one frantic day of washing and clearing up, we would set off for a short break in Amsterdam. I was thinking about adding some more posts to this one’s sister-blog, Travel On. (As you can see, it needs sprucing up a bit.) So, we were driving down the A12, on Thursday morning, when my sister-in-law called my husband’s mobile, to tell us that my mother-in-law had died. The car did an about turn at Ingatestone and, now, on Saturday, I’m at home and my husband is on the Isle of Man, comforting father-in-law.
I have taken on the business of cancelling the holiday and seeking reimbursement from our travel insurers, unpacking cases, standing down cat-sitters, and shopping for food (which I hadn’t expect to need). In one of our first conversations with him after it happened, father-in-law said to my husband, “Life must go on.”
My post, for the Association of Christian Writers More Than Writers blog, on writing descriptions and how we writers can learn from visual artists, which I had composed last weekend and scheduled on the Blogger schedule, appeared today. It seems to have touched a nerve, with ACW members discussing, on the ACW Facebook page, the value of descriptions in fiction-writing.
A flash story, Water in Exam Room, which I wrote some time ago and which I knew was going to be published soon, suddenly appeared on 101 Words yesterday (Friday) and today (Saturday). Do read it. It’s not long – just 101 words. It required a lot of intense editing. Writing to that exact length is not easy.
Today, I have been using my time to edit – for which understand, almost completely rewrite – a story about the fall of Ceausescu in Romania in 1989. I’m sure that all types of fiction bring their own challenges, but writing historical fiction – sticking to what actually happened, tuning into the real emotions of excitement and horror at that time, then expressing them in words on the page – can be bloody hard. Hopefully, it will be worth it. I’m looking for new markets for historical fiction all the time.
First Wednesday of the month and Insecure Writers Support Group day. And here I am as insecure as ever. My novel is being beta-read – well scary! My short story, Not a Proper Evacuee appeared on The Copperfield Review on Monday, but I missed my writers’ group – again – on Tuesday, because I was at work. Sorry, sorry, sorry… Naomi, Carol and Geraldine.
This month we IWSG members are asked to write about is: If you could use a wish to help you write just ONE scene/chapter of your book, which one would it be? IWSG prompts are always challenging (which is fine) but this one I’m not sure about at all.
My one wish to help me write one scene/chapter? I wish I had had the opportunity to return to Poland to check up on things last year, as I was editing The Novel (which is about Poland during the Solidarity period). New novelists like me find it difficult to predict what we need to know about when we’re site-visiting. As an alternative, I wish I had read The Oaken Heart by Margery Allingham (or even known it existed) while I was editing Not a Proper Evacuee. There was I writing about evacuees in Essex and there was she writing about evacuees, and her village’s response to war in general, describing it as it happened.
You knew, of course, that Winston Churchill won the Nobel Prize? Well, if you didn’t exactly know it, you probably suspected that he might have. But were you aware that he won it for literature in 1953? To quote the citation, he attained it for “for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values.” I didn’t know it either, until we visited Blenheim Palace today. I actually learned a lot of new things about our greatest Prime Minister (probably), even though children of my generation grew up with second-hand stories of wartime and I remember his funeral being broadcast on television.
Blenheim Palace is, of course, the stately pile of the Dukes of Marlborough. Winston, although born at Blenheim (in a ladies’ cloakroom, so the legend goes), was born to a younger son of the Marlborough family and therefore not destined to inherit. He may have had wealthy relatives, but he himself was broke, and many of the society beauties he fell in love with turned him down because of it. After having fought in the Boer War, he left the army to write, because, he explained in a letter, he would be able to live more cheaply as a writer and have more money at his disposal. Oh, those were the days, my friend!
According to the International Churchill Society, he went on to write 72 books in all – as well as being a good painter and one of the greatest orators ever lived – and he continued to regard his writing as a source of income all his life. I have also visited Chartwell (National Trust property), where he lived his adult life, with his wife Clementine, and seen his reference books laid out across his study, from when he wrote The History of the English Speaking Peoples. His technique in those later days was to dictate to an amanuensis, but his earlier works he wrote by hand. It was so reinforcing to see, on one of his manuscripts on display at Blenheim today, the crossings out and rewritten bits on his drafts. My techie side was also thrilled to observe the animation for turning the page virtually, using a finger on the touchscreen – see photo. (The finger is my husband’s, by the way.)
I love seeing stately homes and other places of historic interest. At the moment, I’m reading The Oaken Heart by Margery Allingham, in which she documents how her village (in Essex, quite close to where I live) coped with the first couple of years in the Second World War. Intimate, honest and revealing. Ironically, I had just reached the point where Churchill took over as PM; Margery is all in favour of Winnie, although, as a Tory, sad and disappointed at the failure of Neville Chamberlain to come to grips with the situation. I wish I had read The Oaken Heart before I wrote my story Not a Proper Evacuee – inspired by photos of red London Routemaster buses rolling the high street in a town even closer to my home – which is coming up in The Copperfield Review next week.
Never, never, never give up is one of Churchill’s most famous sayings. He must have been speaking to us writers.
Not a bad week, last week. I managed to place two stories, ‘Not a Proper Evacuee’ with The Copperfield Review, a ‘Water Bottles in the Exam Room’ with 101 Words. Both will go live in April. Right now, I’m feeling quite chuffed with myself, but not complacent. Oh yes, Dear Reader, I know there will be rejections soon.
At the weekend, I attended the Association of Christian Writers Bath Writers Day. Serving tea and coffee in the foyer, I found myself standing next to the members’ bookstall. They started off with one table… then two… then three… church trestle tables, groaning with novels, devotionals and children’s books written by ACW members. This was making feel me very small, not a proper writer, but then a friend knocked some sense into me. I’ve had stories published in ezines and anthologies, and in Christian Writer and Together, and in other places. I would love to have a novel published, but the novel is not the only holy grail.
One good way of getting your work out there is to enter competitions. The Association of Christian Writers’ Any Short Story Competition is still open, and will be until Sunday, 31 March 2019 (Mothering Sunday). 1000 words, please – more information on the ACW website. Do consider it. A Christian slant is not a requirement, but do bear it in mind that the winning entry must be suitable for a magazine for gentle, well-meaning souls like Christian writers.
First Wednesday of the month and Insecure Writers’ Support Group day. I blogged – roundly – about my general insecurity a few days ago, but, since then, one of my subs has found a home. My story, Not a Proper Evacuee will appear in The Copperfield Review on 1 April 2019. I am surprised and delighted… and slightly less insecure.
Our (optional) question this month is Whose perspective do you like to write from best, the hero (protagonist) or the villain (antagonist)? And why?
My first reaction is the hero/ heroine (protagonist) every time. In order to write a character, you have to emphasise with, share their values. I could not write a novel from the point of view of the villain (antagonist), someone whose character was unpleasant and nasty. Dickens, when he wrote bad characters, (such as the Pecksmiths in Martin Chuzzlewit), he included them as a few out of many, so that the reader didn’t become disheartened. Other more recent authors have not been so kind.
However, some of my short stories have majored some unpleasant people. The piece I’m about to edit in a minute features Nicolae and Elena Ceaușescu (undoubtedly evil, president, and president’s wife, of Romania) and is to do with their come-uppance. As a reader, I could tolerate taking the point of view of someone with an unpleasant personality, and hurting others in the story, for a few thousand words only (although I know that my view is not universal).
What do you think? How do you feel about writing scenes in which the antagonist triumphs over the protagonist, or harms him or her?
The IWSG is online group which exists to support and encourage those writers who are insecure – that is, most of us. We blog about our insecurities and the optional question on the first Wednesday of every month, then – most importantly – read what our ISWG colleagues have posted on their blogs.
I’m hardly writing anything. There are pundits out there who say you MUST write every day, but I would like to ask them how.
I. Don’t. Have. Time… I hardly have the time to write this blog post… bye-ee.
Three years ago, I retired from full-time teaching because I was overloaded with work, arriving early, leaving late and marking all weekend. And now I’m doing three part-time jobs, once of them carried out remotely, and, with the preparation and travelling, and juggling between them – and the voluntary stuff I took on after retiring because, I thought, I’d have ‘PLENTY of time’, I’m still overloaded. Am I a mug, or what?
The problem is that the write-every-day people are right, because, once you get out of the habit of writing, your skills wither on the vine. It really is use it or lose it. Your stories and your writing get squashed out of your mind and, in their place, work, work, work, and, when you do get the odd opportunity, you’re too tired to write anything good. Over the last few weeks, all I have done is to sub a couple of old stories. (My New Year Resolution was to submit LOTS of stuff! Sigh!) I am furious with myself.
Sorry to whinge. But, to paraphrase, it’s my blog and I’ll whinge if I want to.
A few days ago, my Kindle, which I purchased ten years ago and is so old-fashioned it even had an extremely difficult-to-use keyboard, gave up the ghost. Well, I dropped it -about 6 inches – and that was enough to snuff it out. Now it will display only half the screen, so is effectively useless. A couple of weeks ago, my daughter reported that her Kindle, a Paperwhite, which she purchased several years later, had developed exactly the same fault, so we passed on to her my husband’s Kindle, which was bought at almost exactly the same time and which he never really got into. (He prefers old-fashioned books which necessitate cutting down a tree and which fill up bookcases and gather
dust.) For a piece of technology to last so long is pretty amazing, these days, when every device packs up almost as soon as the manufacturer’s warranty has expired. Kindles (not Kindle Fires, which are in reality tablets, like iPads) are amazing beasts, built with only one user requirement – to display text, and a few images, for reading.
I do not intend to replace it. Dear Reader asks why not, especially after that eulogy. Is it for sentimental reasons, that I could not possibly bear to replace it, like a much-loved pet? Is it because, having just purchased an iPad Pro and magnetic keyboard, I can’t afford to? Well, yes, Dear Reader, I have to confess that that is a factor. Is it because I can download all Kindle books on to my Kindle Reader on said iPad Pro (also on my old bog-standard iPad and on my Windows laptop)? Well, yes, once again, Apple have won in the commercial wars which rack the computer industry: Microsoft v Apple v Amazon v Adobe.
To me, the advantages of eBooks over printed are overwhelming:
Environmental 1. eBooks don’t require paper and all the power that goes into making paper, printing and binding, or transportation (all those couriers delivering your Amazon books).
Environmental 2: eBooks don’t require storage. How many households build extensions or live in houses larger than they need… because they’ve got too many books (and CDs and gramophone records)?
Once you’ve read a book, you don’t need it, but you tend to cling on to it out of sentimentality. “I couldn’t possibly get rid of a book.” Right. Where classics are concerned, this, I can understand – to a point. How many copies of Jane Eyre does every family really need? And how do you define a classic? Today’s seminal novel (think Da Vinci Code and Spycatcher), everyone’s turning up their noses at in a few years’ time. Ask the volunteers who run book stalls at fetes and second-hand bookshops! And, don’t expect the charity shops to lighten your load of unwanted tomes. “Books? Don’t give us too many,” we were told when we were decluttering last week.
Economics: eBooks are cheaper than paperbacks (normally), even though they attract VAT (whereas printed books don’t).
Health. Backlighting from computers causes eye-strain and interferes with the chemicals which allow us to sleep. All computers are backlit, apart from the Kindle. However, as I have discovered recently, it is possible to adjust the blue-lighting on iPads to More Warm colours (a golden glow) which are less likely to stop you sleeping.
When I bought the old Kindle in 2009, eReaders equalled Kindles and Kindles equalled eReaders. Now the market is more open – Kobo, Apple iBooks and many others. Now, public libraries offer an electronic stock: Overdrive and Libby operate internationally. All you need is a library card at your local library. For a few months, I also joined Kindle Unlimited (£12.99 per month) but their stock was limited and I found I was spending an equivalent sum each month on books I really wanted. To be fair, you can’t borrow absolutely anything through Overdrive or Libby but you can request they stock new titles.
So this is my pitch, even though I understand that printed is on the way back, and is on the up and up. Charity shops, look out!
When did clearing out and tidying up become so popular? At the moment, I’m decluttering threefold: our house; my computer; my life.
When you move house, you declutter, but we started living in our present house in 1988, with two pre-school children, who are now in their thirties and our daughter with children of her own (older than she and her brother were in 1988). We’ve moved our chattels from room to room, and loaded them into the attic (which is crammed full). Last month, we had our spare room decorated, which necessitated stuff being moved around again, mostly into the other bedrooms (including ours). Now, with the prospect of the grandchildren coming to stay at half-term, and (this, only today) our son visiting too, we’ve had to set to. Some hard decisions have had to be made this weekend.
The biggest bugbear is books. I’ve never been one of those people who could never get rid of a book. I’ve let go of a series of Cadfael books by Ellis Peters and a set of Agatha Christie, although, I have to confess, that I’ve retained a set of Georgette Heyer which belonged to my mother (with her signature at the front), some paperback, some cloth-bound. My husband lingered over his marked PGCE (PostGraduate Certificate in Education) assignments. However, after several attempts (by me, to move them into the waste paper pile) he killed the darlings himself. Oh, for the online marking we do nowadays.
Easier to part with was the empty Habitat bookcase, which he had ‘never liked anyway’. (He’s a vintage, antique sort of bloke, not into – what used to be – commercial and trendy.) After maneuvering it through three hundred and sixty degrees and under two narrow door lintels, we hesitated at the top of the stairs. We thought about it. We talked about it. We held it different ways, edged it to the left and to the right. My husband posited different strategies for its descent. He was concerned about damaging the paintwork on the wall and me of the bookcase falling on top of him and killing him. We prayed about it (well, I did). At last, he agreed to bring his axe upstairs, break up the bookcase on the landing and carry it downstairs in pieces. It made a mess, which he had to hoover up afterwards, but at least he’s alive.
So grandchildren now have somewhere to sleep. On Wednesday we will tackle son’s room and, in the summer, the attic. Up there lie copies of my son’s football magazines, Shoot and Match, one of which features Dennis Bergkamp joining Arsenal in 1995.
Last Sunday, Dropbox said it had enough, long-suffering Dropbox, with its wide deep pockets, swollen by the number of students I invited to join it. (My colleagues never understood why I was so keen to do the cloud induction for the whole department.) I deleted what I could delete (which was not very much) and then decided upon a rationalisation. I moved all photos (as we travel, and have grandchildren, we have loads) on to OneDrive. Drag and drop. Off they went in a matter of minutes – but not really.
Cloud applications (such as Dropbox and OneDrive) make two copies of every file you store on them, one on their cloud server in cyberspace and one on your own computer. All I had done was to move files around on my own computer, and, if my device had gone pop that day, I would have lost all my photos. With a deep breath, I double-clicked the usually ‘sleeping’ OneDrive icon and began uploading the photo files on to OneDrive proper. All 9.6GB of them. This took a whole week, Dear Reader, but it’s done now, finished this morning. My computer, of course, slowed to snail’s pace for the entire seven days.
Techie-readers, bye and bye, during my rationalisation, I had problems deleting files and folders which had been shared with me by someone else. These were work folders which included names of learners for previous years and, as I no longer have a need for this data, GDPR requires that I clear them off my device. After a lot of trial and error, I managed to delete said folders using Dropbox Online.
I’m also decluttering my life. I’m no longer driving to Basildon. Enjoyed the classes. Lovely students. But traffic on the A12 added years to my life and took five hours out of every week. Five more hours for writing… perhaps. Probably not, with more books and other junk to clear out. The best thing about e-books is that you never to take them to the charity shop.
It’s the first Wednesday of the month, the day of the Insecure Writers’ Support Group, where we share our feelings and inadequacy and insecurity about our writing. This month, the optional question is about our other creative outlets. Weeeelll… where do I begin?
My creative outlets in order of time spent doing them:
Cooking. Vegetarian meals. Simple stuff, with attention to detail. I knock up a half-decent pizza, many different soups and a pretty good veggie curry. I’m not so good at cakes or biscuits, which unfortunate seeing as these are what I’m always being asked to produce for church events. I enjoy cooking what I like eating, and cakes inch deep in icing don’t do it for me.
Knitting. Not so much as I should do. (I mentioned my poor daughter’s jumper in the last post.)
Doodling… Can’t call it art, can you? I doodle particularly during meetings. If I doodle, I’m listening. Don’t disturb me. Some of my doodles litter this page.
Web development. Building websites. I’m hardly doing this at all at the moment.
Right now, I’m not feeling too insecure, having just placed a flash story in CafeLit. Entitled Running Away, it will appear tomorrow (7 February). Whoopee! I subbed another story today (also flash).
I must admit I get daunted by authors who write in their blogs, “I’ve got a piece here… and there… and I’m shortlisted for this prestigious prize.” Me, I am not in that position. Promise me, Dear Reader, that you’ll never let me get away with being one of those sorts of writers. You know I’ll crash back to earth soon enough when I receive rejections. Even successful writers are rejected.
Yes, I am. I’ve got a sore throat and the beginnings of a cold and I’m exhausted, but still alive and online. What I’d like to be doing is sleeping, but I’ve always been an insomniac.
Whatever have I been doing with myself during January?
Working (by far the largest part).
Driving (up and down the A12 – as in my TravelOn blog – and also up to Northampton, for ACW Committee retreat – see below).
Attending Association of Christian Writers Committee retreat.
Collating entries to the ACW Any Short Story Competition. Okay, this is a shameless plug. Do you have a story sitting around doing nothing on your hard drive? Get it in quick. Beat the queue. Seriously, we’re receiving a lot of entries.
Writing and delivering a sermon, delivered last Sunday. The nearest I’ve got to actually writing! (Sorry about split infinite, but writing actually would have a difference meaning.)
Rewriting every sentence in work emails to get avoid reps, adverbs, split infinitives and passive voice and – a new bugbear of mine – to make sure verbs, clauses and phrases are positioned in the right places in sentences. I can’t help it. My colleagues have had to suffer a surfeit of grammar.
Thinking about what to do next with The Novel.
Having eaten too much over Christmas, considering a diet. Only considering it, mind.
Visiting dentist. To sort out toothache. Not connected with above. This particular toothache has dogged me, on and off, for decades.
Buying an iPad Pro with magnetic keyboard. As well as costing the mint, this took up time, because the magnetic keyboard for the 9.7″ iPad seems to be going out of production, necessitating a serious web hunt.
Reading. Especially Catherine Fox (Love for the Lost and Wolf Tide). Who says you can’t write raunchy Christian fiction?
Knitting. The jumper I’m working on for my poor daughter will never be finished.
Thinking about growing more vegetables. Not going out into the garden in January, obviously. It’s really cold out there.
Submitting a story to an ezine. Just one, this morning.
No wonder I’m tired. (I am, really.)
(All pictures drawn by me. My colleague, Kathy, tells me I was doodling because I was bored, and threw the piece of scrap paper with my drawings on into the bin. But I filched it out again.)