IWSG: How Has Your Creativity in Life Evolved Since You Began Writing?

Time for the Insecure Writers Support Group again.  In my last post, I was writing about my disappointment in not being ready to do NanoWriMo this year.  Over the last few weeks, I have casting my mind back to 2015, when I did take part in Nano, how much I enjoyed it, how absorbed I was in the novel I was writing and how confident I was about the result.  This novel was going to be the best thing ever… well, one or two things needed sorting but… still.   As regular followers of this blog will know (because I have moaned about this incessantly), those ‘one or two things’ have taken me three years to sort out (along with work, family and other commitments) and, now, as I’m about to send The Novel to beta readers, I’m a thousand times less confident than in 2015.

This month, we’re asked if our creativity in life has evolved.  Like most writers, I was ‘writing’ in my head since childhood.  In the very early days, my inspiration came from books, then – with precocity which stuns me – as I moved into teenage years, I made a decision to stop reading so much and find my inspiration from real life.  I have done this ever since.  What seems to set off my imagination are dramas in my everyday life and in current affairs.

It’s no accident that The Novel is about the Polish trade union Solidarity and events in Poland in the 1980s.  At the time they were ‘current affairs’ that I read about in the newspaper and felt very inspired by.   The issue which inflames me at the moment (although too serious and too disgusting for writing material) concerns Asia Bibi, the Christian mother in Pakistan, accused of blasphemy and acquitted by the court but still in prison and not allowed to leave the country.   Various organisations are on the case and asking for your support – please read this petition and consider signing it.

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Why I’m Not Doing NanoWriMo

Cat on cushions
My cat sitting on cushions, like Princess and the Pea. (I can’t think of a relevant image.)

Hel…lo.  You thought I’d disappeared off the blogosphere?  I know.  I haven’t been around for a while, too busy with Work (the four-letter-word) and attempting to finish The Novel.  Which brings me straight on to why I’m not doing NanoWriMo.

My fellow-writers will know all about NanoWriMo already, but, just in case you’re not one, it’s an annual online event whereby you can sign up to write a 50,000 word novel during the days of November, and post your words up on the NanoWriMo site.  All non-writers and sensible people are now crying ‘Whaaat?’ and ‘Stupid idea?’ and ‘That’s impossible’, but, Dear Reader, I’ve done it once.  In 2015, I managed to bang out my 50,000 words during the November, but the storyline was only half-done and I needed another three months to reach the end and, as you might expect, a lot of the text was not properly relevant to the storyline and/or badly written.   DR, I have only – in the last few weeks – finished editing that novel.  It needed two very thorough edits.  I’m now about to send it to beta readers.  Offers from more betas, prepared to read a modern historical novel, would be very welcome – please reply to this post.

Other reasons for not doing Nano:
  • Main one:  I have an idea for another novel, but I haven’t done enough planning yet.  I’m sure that I would produced a draft of my 2015 Nano novel requiring far fewer edits and restructures, if I had carried out more in depth planning, rather than listening to my gut absolutely all the time.
  • I have many short stories on my computer which would not be placed if I got involved in another novel.
  • Work, the four-letter word.   On 31 October, having done minimal planning (see above),  I thought I’d just prepare dinner, do the ironing, finish off some work and attend a church event… and then finish the planning.  Needless to say, I never got around to it.
  • On 1-2 November, I felt really ill.  OK, only a cold, but with a head fit to burst, burning sinuses and a throat full of rasor blades.  Good start, or what?  (Much better now, but not completely.)

I’m very disappointed not to be doing Nano.  In 2015, doing Nano was exhilarating, posting up the words every day and writing away, knowing  (and feeling) other writers working around me.  I’m missing it.

Does Writing Help You Through?

iwsg300Today is first Wednesday of the month and therefore Insecure Writers Support Group day.  This month our optional question is:  How do major life events affect your writing? Has writing ever helped you through something? (That’s two questions.)

Major life events, when they come, tend to take up all my time and prevent me from writing.  I recall, many decades ago, attempting to enter a novel for a major competition from the maternity ward, after having just given birth to my son.  My husband had to post it… and it didn’t win.   (I punched well above my weight in those days.)  Preoccupied with children, I didn’t write anything else for a long time.

The next question concerns writing through something, meaning (I guess) writing through pain or loss.  I know I’ve written on this blog that I can’t write when I’m upset or depressed, but I’ve been rethinking this recently.  During an acute crisis, I can’t write a thing, but, in the more prolonged difficult periods of my life, the ideas have come and writing has been my relief and release.   I don’t think I have written especially well at these times but I have written.

The IWSG is the place where we insecure writers release our fears to the world – or, to put it another way, offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic.  If you write, whether you feel insecure or you’re bursting with confidence, do think of joining IWSG, as the group’s site contains a lot of useful information, hosts anthologies and lists competitions.   Taking part in the blog-hop every first Wednesday of the month also puts you in touch with other writers and gets your blog seen.

 

Commoners in the Royal Family

Pink dahlias
Pink dahlias in the Dahlia Garden at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridge.

Whilst watching the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markel last June, I became very irritated by sentimental comments about ‘breaths of fresh air’ and inferences that Meghan Markel was the first commoner to marry into our (British)  Royal Family.  How could they be so wrong and so ignorant?

Of course, the Duchess of Cambridge (formerly Kate Middleton) has no blue blood, but, then, she is discreet, restrained and sensible, so not of interest to tabloid newspapers.   But – for millennia – the Royal Family has attracted hangers on, social climbers and those with the eye to the main chance.   The Boleyns and the Woodvilles come to mind.   Also Wallis Simpson.

Elizabeth Woodville is generally regarded as being pushy and a bit of a slapper, but, being a widow without any means to support herself or her sons, it seems she was just dogged.  Legend has it that she sat under an oak tree, where she knew King Edward IV would pass, and pleaded for the return of her lands, confiscated in the Wars of the Roses.  Later, when she became queen, she obtained a papal indulgence for those who said the Angelus three times a day – the sorts of thing that all slappers always do.

Red dahlias
Red dahlias in the Dahlia Garden at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridge.

Anne Boleyn, on the other hand, came from a family on the make.  Her sister, Mary, was Henry VIII’s mistress for a short time and her father and brother were seeking out offices near the King.  In The Queen of Subtleties, by Susannah Dunn, we see Anne in super-bitch mode, a veritable Alexis Carrington, with an extra finger which she used, if necessary, to spook those who came across her.  He doesn’t understand what he’s up against.  When I’m good, I’m very good.  These are some of the remarks which Dunn has Anne say.  The author has all characters used modern parlance and modern idioms, so, as you can imagine, the dialogue is very punchy, and does not detract from the historical period.  She has drawn Anne Boleyn to perfection, an anti-heroine, breathlessly funny and clever, and her story is un-put-down-able..  (I haven’t finished Queen of Subtleties yet.)

Queen of Subtleties has two narrators, Anne Boleyn, and King Henry’s confectioner, Lucy Cornwallis, who is sweet and well-meaning.  Guess whose story carries me along?  As I’ve commented before, we are attracted to evil – aren’t we?

Yesterday, we went to Anglesey Abbey, near Cambridge, which has nothing to do with any of the above, but the dahlias were amazing – hence the photos.

Publishing? Don’t Shake the Boat

Time for the Insecure Writers’ Support Group.  This month’s optional question has mined my writerly insecurity.  The question is: What publishing path are you considering/did you take, and why?

  • Well, Dear Reader, as you know, apart from a few short stories, my breathtaking contributions to the world of literature are as yet unclaimed by publishers.  To be brutally frank, The Novel, which I would like to see in print or even in electronic form, is still unfinished.  I am getting through the editing slowly, but the word publishing brings me out into a cold sweat.  I will, however, try to answer.
  • When editing is done, I will ask people to read it.  One dear friend has already volunteered.  Anyone reading this who would like to read a bordering on historical novel based in the 1980s, featuring the Polish trade union Solidarity, is very welcome to contact me.  As I’m female and no spring chicken, I would particularly welcome younger readers and male readers.
  • After that, I will send the result of my endeavours to a professional editor.  Yes, I know, these cost, but I’m assured that it’s worth it.
  • I will attempt to persuade an established author to endorse my big work (having read it first, obviously).
  • I will try the traditional publishing route, having first obtained advice from my writer friends as to which ones are likely to work for me.
  • If I get no biters, I will try self-publishing, but the promotion work necessary for self-publishing terrifies me.

This evening, when I relax with Ian McEwan’s The Children Act, I shall attempt not to fall in despair.  McEwan writes so well, sets scenes and describe people’s actions so brilliantly.  My prose, my characters and my settings are nothing in comparison.

How Seriously Do You Really Take Your Research?

Pen on a page.
Attrib Flickr

Writing fiction, as we all know, involves an enormous amount of research.  You pick your setting, your place, your characters’ occupations and some events around which your story will be based. You research them.  Then you find, as you start writing, that you don’t know this and you don’t know that, so you have to keep breaking off from writing to research the bits and pieces you hadn’t anticipated, but it’s annoying to have to keep doing it and you need to know so much detail.

Unfortunately, there are three areas where writers are most likely to succumb to the temptation to… er… gloss over.

The church and anything to do with religion.  Many writers are unclear as to the differences between Roman Catholic and Protestant customs, the services held in each church, how priests are addressed, and the language used.  Catholic congregations hear Mass and the priest says or celebrates Mass.  An Anglican priest, in modern times, is always addressed by his or her first name by his congregation.   In the Victorian era, he would be called a parson and be called Mr [Surname]; in Elizabethan times, he would be styled Sir [First Name Second Name]..  Evangelicals describe themselves as Christians – not as evangelicals or evis, definitely not as happy-clappies (a very derogatory term).  I could go on!

The characters in the television programme, The Vicar of Dibley , bear no resemblance to any church I’ve ever attended.  The American author, Brenda Bevan Remmes, however, writes knowledgeably and with insight about Quakers.  Sometimes, I think the writer’s ignorance is willful.  A gentle, liberal church, it is thought, does not make for an exciting story – although Brenda Bevan Remmes manages it very well in  The Quaker Cafe and Home to Cedar Ranch.  So does Fiona Lloyd in The Diary of a (Trying to be Holy) Mum.

Local government – Local authorities have not had Town Clerks since the 1974 Local Government Act – not a lot of writers know that.

Babies and children – A very advanced toddler will start saying a few recognisable words by about 18 months, but most start much later, and even then a lot of their speech will be baby babble.  Children start to put words together at about two and a half, and form sentences and use tenses after three years old.  Again, not a lot of writers know this either.

In short, writers should write about what they know, or what they have researched properly.  And, as for sloppy historical research, well, there’s more than enough there for another post.  I am currently reading Dissolution by C J Sansom, which, like Hilary Mantel’s books, touches upon Thomas Cromwell, and which has greater impact for being very well researched.

A quick reminder about the Association of Christian Writers  Journalism Competition.  The deadline is approaching fast – Friday, 31 August.  The winner’s article will appear in Christian Writer magazine, which has a readership of over 700,  and, if you don’t win, you have a piece you can pitch somewhere else.  More information on the ACW website.

Pitfalls For New Writers

First Wednesday of the month and it’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group day again.  iwsg300

I had an article published in the (British) Association of Christian Writers’ magazine, Christian Writer, this month.    Really bucked to see it there, even though I was writing about rejection.  I have submitted shedloads of stories and articles over the years (although not so much recently) so I am an expert on the subject of my article.  Writers should write about what they know, shouldn’t they?

This month, our optional topic is What pitfalls would you warn other writers to avoid on their publication journey?  These are mine:

  • Don’t be discouraged by rejection.  In fact, be gobsmacked every time you place a piece.  It’s a nasty (writing) world out there.  Most editors and publishers are deluged with submissions.  They don’t need we writers; we need them.
  • On the other hand, don’t assume that x number of rejections = an acceptance.  It doesn’t.  Some writers will place their first or second pieces, whereas others will never do so.  Get informed feedback on what you have written already, from online writing sites or face-to-face writing groups (not friends and relatives afraid to offend you).   Also dig deep in yourself, asking yourself how you could develop and improve your writing.
  • Don’t feel obliged to act upon every bit feedback you receive.  When obtaining feedback from writing sites or writing groups, you will receive both good advice, and also advice from people who don’t know any better than you and those with bees in their bonnets.  Work out whose advice is good and whose is not.  Clue: who has work published and who doesn’t?
  • Reading is important.  Don’t neglect your reading in order to make time to write.  Make careful choices in your reading.  Read around your own genre.
  • Your childhood and adolescence is only (broadly) interesting to you.  Don’t include too much of it in your writing.
  • Expect no favours, from anyone.  If you do have friends/contacts in publishing, don’t embarrass them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t overly invest in one piece.  Write as much stuff as you can.

 

 

 

You will have worked out by now that I’m useless at promoting anything.  I was of the generation to whom ‘showing off’ was the worst thing anyone could do, but… deep breath… I’m the Competitions Manager for the Association of Christian Writers (ACW), so I ought to be able to do this.

ACW Journalism Competition graphic
(c) Wendy H Jones

Anyone fancy trying their hand at a bit of journalism?  The ACW Journalism Competition provides a great opportunity to get writing about the issues you care about, and have your piece read by a real journalist.  Our judge is Sheila Johnson (JournoJohnson), an experienced journalist.  Christian slant optional.  For more information, visit  http://www.christianwriters.org.uk/competitions  You would send your entry to ME at competitions@christianwriters.org.uk .  Do give it a go.

What I do know,  from being ACW Competitions Manager for three years, is that entering competitions is a great way to get your work out there and read by professionals.  An optional critique is also available to ACW Journalism Competition entrants (for an additional £7 fee).  Competition managers want to hear from you.  They are not going to give you the ‘not right for us’ brush off.

If ever  (my Dear Reader is telling me to try saying ‘When’) I have a book to promote, it won’t come naturally, but I shall read my friend, Wendy H Jones’s, book Power Packed Book Marketing.  (She is also the author of the DI Shona McKenzie crime series.)  I’ll let you into a secret.  Wendy created the graphic you see above and wrote the Facebook/Twitter posts for this comp.   Thank you very much, Wendy.

Ultimate Writing Goals

Time for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group again.  We are a day early this month because some country across the pond is celebrating their independence from us on Wednesday, which is our usual day.

This month we’re asked  What are our ultimate writing goals, and how have they changed over time (if at all)?

Football (soccer) goal
Let’s hope England get a few in the net today, against Colombia.

Having a novel published has been my ultimate writing goal since I was a child, actually a quite small child reading Enid Blyton, and it hasn’t changed at all.  Have I achieved it?  No.  Am I getting close to it?  Well, that’s the scary thing.  I’m coming close to finishing my first edit of my novel and I suppose that’s one step along the way.  Ahead – long before my book goes on the table at Association of Christian Writers events – I have to persuade a publisher to take it on, or self-publish it, and… deep breath… publicise and market it.  Very scary!

If you’re wondering what the IWSG is and why I keep referring to it, it’s a blog hop for writers.  We post on the first Wednesday every month our own blog. We talk about our doubts and the fears we have conquered. We discuss our struggles and triumphs, offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. We also visit others in the group and connect with our fellow writers, aiming for a dozen new people each time – and return comments.

Football (soccer) goal
As it’s the World Cup, here’s a goal.

Wider Still and Wider [Cars]… in Land of Hope and Glory

Why are cars getting wider and wider in the UK, especially on narrow roads with passing places?

Path and river
This is a footpath in my village, close to the road in question, which is too narrow for taking photos, safely.

Driving my little Ford Fiesta up a hill in a narrow lane this afternoon, I encountered, first, a Range Rover whose driver squeezed past me with a pained expression on her face, and, immediately behind that, an even wider SUV.  At first its driver refused to move at all, looking ahead with a bored expression while I attempted to maneouvre further to the side – into the hedge, actually, my wheel sinking into a pothole.  Eventually, probably cursing my incompetence, he reversed up the hill into a layby.  Well, Dear Reader, being a polite person, I raised my hand to thank him, then continued on my way… for about two hundred yards, before realising I had the mother of all punctures on my front wheel…on a tyre I purchased only five months ago.  Rude words indeed.

Leaving aside damage to the environment, there are many good reasons for not driving massive crates on wheels, not least (or rather the greatest) being the price of Diesel (which they mostly run on).   And, having bought the heap, why do they have to use it on rural roads leading to villages they likely have no reason to visit?  To travel around rural British roads, you need a small vehicle, confidence – as your reverse gears whine in protest – that there will be a passing place somewheerrre… sooooon… and good manners.

Kettlewell, Yorkshire
Kettlewell, Yorkshire

Roads are also narrow, with passing places, in Wharfedale, Yorkshire, where I was last weekend,  attending the Association of Christian Writers‘ annual Writing Weekend at Scargill House.  On our way we had to wait ten minutes for a herd of sheep to cross the road.   As always, our speakers were the amazing Adrian and Bridget Plass. It was great immerse myself in writing for forty-eight hours and to be alongside so many other wonderful writers, some published and well-known, and some not (like me).  One day, I WILL have my novel on the table at the back of the seminar room, with the others.  I came away feeling very enthused, wanting to write this and to try that… only to be engulfed, immediately, by work and ordinary life on my return.  Sad!