Home Alone – the Best Place to Write

Insecure Writers Support Group logoFirst Wednesday of the month and Insecure Writers’ Support Group day.  This month our (optional) question is  If you could pick one place in the world to sit and write your next story, where would it be and why?

J K Rowling famously wrote Harry Potter in a coffee shop because she ‘couldn’t afford’ to heat her Council flat.  Surely the amount she spent on coffee was more than she would spend on heating?  But there you are.

I’ve attempted writing in various places:

  • Starbucks and Costa.  Mostly people will be on their laptops/tablets and leave you alone, but on one occasion I had two businessmen discussing Brexit very loudly at the next table.  (If you want to clear any space in the UK rapidly, just mention the B word once!)
  • On a train.  You do feel rather exposed.  Whilst travelling to Newcastle for an Association of Christian Writers event, the person sitting next to me peered over my shoulder and asked, “Are you writing a novel?  What’s it about?”  And no, he wasn’t a famous publisher or agent.
  • More recently, I’ve edited my novel whilst sitting in Departures, with my husband and brother-in-law sitting opposite.  The announcements, telling me  – alternately – that my plane was delayed again or on time were annoying, but I managed to get some work done.  I checked that chapter again afterwards though.  I suspected I might’ve been distracted..

My favourite place to write is in my own house and HOME ALONE.  No one to bother me, no one to distract me, although my cat sits on my knee and does both.  I’m very private about what I’m writing.  I don’t like anyone to see it until I’ve got it right.

I’m getting on with editing The Novel.  Only ten more chapters to edit now,.  I’m attempting to do two a day.  I’m aiming to enter two further comps by the end of the month.

I’m really interested to know how and where other writers write.  (Sorry about the overuse of ‘really’.  My Novel is set in the 1980s and my mc overuses ‘really’.)


IWSG Day – Writing Ever Taken You by Surprise?


Insecure Writers Support Group logoFirst Wednesday of the month and Insecure Writers Support Group day, where we write about our insecurities as writers. Here’s me, as insecure as ever.  On Monday I wrote a short story on the theme ‘Different Kinds of Gin’ and read it to my (face-to-face) writing group on Tuesday.  It had a gay slant, the first time ever I’d taken on this issue.  Throughout the time I was waiting and hearing other members read their pieces – I kept putting mine off.  ‘No.  Really.  After you’ –  I was sweating with nerves.

This month’s optional question is:

Has your writing ever taken you by surprise? For example, a positive and belated response to a submission you’d forgotten about or an ending you never saw coming?

Last week I received an email from (print) magazine Writers Forum informing me that one of my stories has been shortlisted for one of their rolling contests.  Getting into a prestigious mag like Writers Forum would be a massive achievement.  Fingers – and everything else – crossed.

I hadn’t exactly forgotten about the sub but, with all manner of other things going on and submitting The Novel for a comp, it was at the back of my mind.  Late responses should be no surprise at all to writers who ought to keep records of all subs.  If you sub a lot, or even just a little, you can’t possibly remember what went where.  I keep a database on Microsoft Access which records title of piece, destination, name of competition (if applicable), date of sub, response by (if applicable) and actual response… and lots of other useful information.  I’ve kept this database for years.  It’s a mine of information.

I also use Reminders on my iPhone to note closing dates of competitions and a lead-in period, so I have a chance to get my piece ready and enter.

How do other people manage their submissions?

…Not for Us, Mr Coetzee

Dear Mr Coetzee

Thank you for providing us with the opportunity to read your typescript, ‘Disgrace’, but I’m afraid it’s not for us.  We wish you every success in finding a publisher elsewhere.

Bottles of Spirits, mainly gin
Copyright Commons.  MaxPixel..
Bottles of Spirits, mainly gin

I have worked through just the first chapter of this depressing novel and I will need several glasses of what you see in the picture on the right to continue.   Publishers normally read less than the first page of unsolicited submissions, often only the first few sentences, before tossing them on to the slush pile.  So far, it’s all about a dreary academic, who clearly has a problem with his trousers, visiting a hooker and then chatting up one of his students.  Oh, and his research is going off-piste as well.  He was appointed to teach literature back in the apartheid era and now, in 1997, they’re making him teach communications and he’s writing an opera.  Tough.  I’ve taught communications before now.

Can you imagine the response if you or I, Dear Reader, submitted a novel to a publisher featuring a sex pest?  About a main character about whom you can find no sympathy at all?  This book won the Man Booker Prize in 1999 and the Nobel Prize in 2003.  Apparently it’s a powerful novel about life in post-apartheid South Africa (New York Times, 1999).   Right.   We read on – unfortunately.

Disgrace is my book club book this month.   My husband recommended it.  (Yes, we have spoken.)  And another member of the book club whom I spoke to this morning told me he thought he was absolutely marvelous.  According to Google, 76% of their readers liked it.  So I’m in a minority?  It’s all a question of why you read.  I read to relax and enjoy.  Anything wrong with that?

On the writing front, I am plodding on with getting The Novel ready for submission to other novel competitions and (possibly) publishers.  I’m trying to fit in some short story/flash writing as well.  The priority at this very minute has got to be a piece on ‘Different Types of Gin’ for my writing group.  I’m about to research gin brands in the 1920s and 1930s.  Now, tell me, which writing group member suggested this theme?  You’re reading her blog right now.

Submitting a Novel to a Competition is So Exhausting

Pile of books
Copyright Commons, Pixabay

About 3 hours ago, I submitted The Novel to The Curtis Brown First Novel Prize.  If you’re thinking of subbing your novel, you’ve plenty of time as the deadline isn’t until Thursday 1 August.  So why did I get myself all in a stress doing mine this afternoon (Sunday, 21 July)?  Plenty of reasons, Dear Reader.

  • I have Other Things To Do over the next ten days.  I won’t bore you by listing them but my time will be occupied elsewhere.  My Leicester friends will know where I’ll be next Sunday.
  • I was in the zone.  Over the past few weeks I’d been honing my first 10,000 words, with the help of my wonderful beta-reader’s notes, and I’d reached that point where I had to finish the project.  (She’ll hate me for those commas, btw.)
  • Beloved husband was out for seven hours this afternoon singing Evensong a hundred miles away.

I still I can’t believe I got there.  It was close.  I had to finish a  substantial edit of Chapter 7 and then check through Chapters 1-6 and the synopsis.  I read them all aloud several times.  At last,  I’m logging on to the Curtis Brown website and clicking on the Enter Here link.  I fill in my name, email address and telephone number.  That’s only easy bit.  … Next.

It – my chapters.  I expected to upload Word files of my typescript, but to my alarm I find I have to copy and paste them 7 chapters (1200-2000 words at a time) into an area text window (to give it its technical name).  This is the really hairy bit, making sure that I have all the text in every chapter and in the right order.  All the spacing I adjusted between headings comes to nought, also the headers and footers I edited at the last minute.  … Next.

Suddenly I realise they want to know about my writing in general, what inspired me to write the novel, what authors influenced me and whether I’d been on a creative writing course.  Oooh???  Back to Word to write it.  In the middle of this, my friend calls round to tell me about her quite serious concerns about her son.  I hope I’m reasonably sympathetic.  I’m all on edge.  I finish the piece they want and paste it in.  ...Scroll down.

Synopsis.  An hour previously,  I was tearing my hair out about the synopsis.  Why is it so difficult to write about your own novel in a way that invites the editor to take a look.  In the end, I tell myself it will have to do, so it does.  ...Next.

Aaah!  Terms and Conditions, the end is in sight.  But why is the Terms and Conditions button is unresponsive?  The computer’s telling me there are errors in my submission and I can’t see them.  Well, not those sorts of errors anyway.  Seen lots of others in the previous hour – why is it do all typos and inconsistencies appear just as you are about to submit?

So… back to the beginning and start all over again.  Name etc – The text, pasting seven chapters into the text area all over again – My writing in general.  (Good thing I saved it in Word, rather than entering it straight on to window.) –  Synopsis.  This time when I click Terms and Conditions it changes colour.  Alleluia.

SUBMIT.  Hurray.  Alleluia.  Phew.  Sink back in chair.  Phew.  Where is Beloved Husband?  I’m missing him.  I could do with a drink.  Oh, water garden.  Put out rubbish.  A day in the life of your everyday writer.

The Way We Speak Now (in 2019)

@Copyright Commons. Pixabay.

Have you thought about those phrases we use which mean the complete opposite to what they seem?

If you don’t mind me saying this...  In other words, ‘I’m going to say this anyway, whether you like it or not.’

With all due respect…  In other words, ‘No Respect At All.’

Even Thank you very much can sound very rude if said in a particular tone, as in.  “I’ll let you know thank you very much.”

The American expression Have a nice day can, in some situations, means ‘Just go away.  I don’t want to talk to you anymore.’

In addition, some words have adopted meanings which Dr Johnson, OED and all the other dictionaries never intended.

Sad – Outside what most teenagers do and wear.  See also weird.

Cool – How teenagers would like to be.

Sick – Very much how teenagers would like to be.

Well ill – what other generations termed ‘sick’.

Also consider some common contemporary greetings.  ‘You all right?’  ‘I’m good, yeah.’

If you write historical fiction, you carry out a lot of research, clothes, buildings, politics, social history… and how people speak.  If you’re writing about a period in the distant past, you can’t use contemporary language in conversation, because the modern reader can’t cope with it, although you can pepper your dialogue with a few well-chosen period words.  In Queen of the North by Anne O’Brien, set in turn of fourteenth and fifteen centuries, which I read recently, the characters spoke in modern idiom, with the odd late medieval word dropped in.

However, if you’re writing about the recent past, you can indulge in as much contemporary language as you like, but it’s difficult to remember what people were saying when… and where.  Records of ways of speaking either don’t exist, are American or just don’t fit the situation you need.  What all not-so-historical novelists require are records of what people said when, and where.

So here it is, then, my little record of modes of speech in England in 2019.

What personal traits have you written into your character(s)?

Insecure Writers Support Group logoDear Reader, let me share with you my secret fear?  That all my characters, whatever character traits I award them at the start, will roll into me?  There, I’ve said it.  Getting into a character is one of the more difficult things writers do.  Keeping the character in character is about the most difficult thing.

When I wrote my last novel, set largely during the Solidarity period in Poland, I created Marya who was – quite deliberately – as unlike me as possible.  She was forceful.  She didn’t take no for an answer.  She was so used to getting her own way that she didn’t really bother about what people thought about her.  And she was motor-mouth.  Whereas I have no self-confidence.  I’m always worrying about being fair, getting things right and what people will think about me, so I usually end up just steaming when someone upsets me.  Occasionally, I burst, though.  I can do motor-mouth, and I know all about  bitter regrets afterwards.   Yet I did have to watch ‘character creep’ as the chapters rolled on.  Was Marya becoming too emollient?

My next books are going to be about milder characters.  Yes, definitely.  It wasn’t a strain keeping sparky Marya going, actually quite fun writing someone doing things I would never dare to attempt, but I must move on.

For my (face-to-face) writing group, I wrote a piece about Prince Charles and Princess Diana during the period their marriage was breaking down, in the form of letters (supposedly) written by Prince Charles to Camilla (now his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall).  It was exciting and illuminating getting inside real characters, but still I felt that character creep.  (I would never attempt to place this piece, in either a print publication or ezine by the way.)

Yes, it’s the first Wednesday of the month and Insecure Writers Support Group day for July.  If you write, do join us.  We post every month, read each other’s posts and  generally support each other.  What writer does NOT feel insecure?  (Actually, I can think of a few, but not ones whose books you’d want to read.)

Favourite Genres for Reading and Writing

Insecure Writers Support Group logoFirst Wednesday of the month and Insecure Writers Support Group day.  Not a good couple of months for me, because, as regular readers will know, I broke my arm before Easter, which meant, for a time, I couldn’t type.  The plaster came off eight days ago, but it’s still very sore (actually sore-er than when the plaster was on).  On the plus side, I can have a bath/shower without wearing a surgical bag/cover over it, but typing is still uncomfortable and I really CANNOT drive my car.  I tried, Dear Reader, I tried,  but (I think) the repetitive action of changing the gears  has made wrist very painful again.

Ford Fiesta, red.
Blogger’s poor, lonely car.

This month, we IWSG-ers are asked Of all the genres you read and write, which is your favorite to write in and why?  I read crime fiction avidly.  Currently, I’m into Ann Cleeves’ Shetland series.  Wonderful stuff.  I love warm and caring and intuitively curious Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez , so different from your average hard-nosed TV cop, and now I want to visit the Shetland Islands.  I love crime fiction because I enjoy working out the puzzle, but I could never write it.  I could never devise a crime plot that worked and never get my head around all that police procedure.

Another genre I really enjoy is Christian fiction, Catherine Fox, in particular.   I would consider writing Christian fiction.  The trick, I understand, is not to lay on the religion with a trowel.

My favourite genre to write in is – definitely – historical, although I’m  ashamed of how little historical fiction I read.  My excuse is I’m a history graduate.  I like writing historical because I want to inhabit the period of my story, out of myself and my world.  The period I find myself focusing on most frequently is on the very edge of historical and contemporary.   My novel is set in 1980s Poland and, most recently, I’ve written for my writing group about a shorthand and typing teacher in 1970.  Has anyone branded a fiction genre called nostalgia? 



Early Experiences of the Power of Language

Insecure Writers Support Group logoFirst Wednesday of the month and Insecure Writers’ Support Group day.

Regular readers of this blog will be aware that this writer is struggling with a broken arm, which makes typing very difficult, so she is not doing very much. Yesterday, at the hospital, I was given a new plaster, which is lighter than the old one, but unfortunately it has to remain in place for another four weeks.  I am dictating this post using speech recognition software – hopefully the words won’t come out too strange.

This month the IWSG optional question is: what was an early experience where you learned that language had power? My very first experiences of the power of language were, when I was very small, having Winnie the Pooh stories read to me by my parents. (You expected to hear about Keats or Wordsworth? Sorry. I was asked about my early experiences, so I’m telling you. )  I loved hearing the rhythm and the metre, in A A Milne’s poems and stories. Nowadays I read aloud to my grandchildren, stories such as the Gruffalo (by Julia Donaldson), and we all of us feel the rhythm in the repetitions in modern children’s stories too.   Reading aloud, and being read aloud to, brings words alive in a way that reading silently that can never do.

Later, my father would read to me Stanley Holloway monologues, such as these:

'Sam, Sam, pick oop tha' musket,'
The Sergeant exclaimed with a roar,
Sam said 'Tha' knocked it doon, reet! then tha'll pick it oop,
Or it'll stay where it is on't floor


What made the monologues even funnier was that my dad was very good at mimicking a north country accent. I love the power of language to make me laugh. A howler or typo can have me chuckling for days.

As a child, words of pop songs probably had a greater impact on me than they should’ve done. Music always enhances the impact of mere words. Listen to the way Julie Covvington wrings every drop of emotion out of her lyrics, by raising and lowering her voice, in Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina.  Watch teenagers singing away to the music on their headphones and see the expressions pass through their faces as they get in touch with the words they’re hearing.

I have never been much of a one for poetry or fine words. The reason I read fiction is to get into a scene and to follow the story, and I suppose I write in the same way.

From The Broken Arm

cherry_blossom300It’s now ten days since my accident, and, ever since, I’ve been trying to convince myself that today is the day when things get back to normal, except that they don’t.

Who would have ever thought that a small thing like having part of my arm (wrist to elbow) encased in plaster could affect the way I live so much? There is some progress: my fingers are no longer dark blue and I can move them without pain. I can also wriggle the forearm itself inside the plaster, although I’m due to have it new, tighter, plaster next Tuesday.    I no longer have constant indigestion—this was caused by the codeine, prescribed by the hospital. When I stopped taking it, my stomach settled down and I could eat again. The chest infection, which I acquired at the same time and which sat on my chest like superglue, has been subdued, but not totally vanquished, by antibiotics, so I can sleep again.

The temptation is to use the fingers and, to an extent, the arm as if nothing had happened, but then you pay for it, because it starts to ache and hurt.  The other temptation is to attempt to do everything with your good hand – I have managed to strain a muscle under my right arm, and this is almost as painful as the bad arm.

It’s amazing what you struggle with when you don’t have two working upper limbs.

  • Bathing – as you can’t get the plaster wet, you have to buy a special plastic cover, with a very strong seal, which you need someone else to help you with. If you live alone, or if your husband is away attending his mother’s funeral (as mine is), you are reduced to plastic Sainsbury’s bags and rubber bands.
  • You can’t drive – obviously.
  • You can’t open tops and jars in the kitchen, which is very irritating, so you’re tempted to give them that little extra twist which does all the damage.
  • Typing is a problem. I’m dictating all this using speech recognition software, which seems to have a mind of its own. I apologise for any typos and strange turns of phrase.  I don’t think I could write fiction using it, as it doesn’t ‘hear’ accurately enough, and I’d spend all my time correcting the speech recognition software’s mistakes, and lose my flow. The alternatives are to type one-handed, or to wreck the broken wrist completely by trying to use it normally with the keyboard… or I could write longhand, I suppose. Now there’s a thought.

Meanwhile my phone keeps pinging with tasks and appointments which I cannot do or keep. The cherry blossom outside is laden with a heavy pink flowers, something I always used to miss when I was working full time. The spring has come very early to the UK this year, and I’m able to enjoy it.

And Things Just Got A Whole Lot Worse

Last Tuesday I set off on a country walk with two friends/ex-colleagues. Lovely day. Wearing walking boots. What could be more innocent? We had walked less than a quarter of a mile when I fell over something (not sure what) and fell forwards, my left wrist taking all of my weight. I knew that I had done serious damage because of the intense pain, like a band around my lower arm. It turned out that I had broken several bones and my arm is now inside a heavy plaster cast and a sling. I’m signed off work for four weeks (which is ok if you’re working full-time and entitled to your full salary, but not if, like me, you work a few hours here for this organisation, a few hours for another and so on). I can’t drive (and I live in a village with just one bus per week).

I have also had the worst possible reaction to the anaesthetic, feeling lethargic, nauseous and gagging on my food. I’m mentioning this because it’s not what’s supposed to happen, according to Google, and I’m wondering if anyone has suffered in the same way. Additionally, although I can now move the fingers on my left hand without pain, they are unsightly dark blue through bruising.

I am so bored. All these years I’ve wished for free time, now I have nothing to do. I have spent a lot of time reading, but you can’t read all the time. I feel as if my life has stalled and my world has suddenly shrunk. The house is a mess, and that is very annoying when you have to sit in it, day in and day out. Writing is difficult because my concentration is so poor and typing is a problem. I can’t take walks. I’m very cross with myself, bitterly regretting taking the walk last Tuesday, which was only fixed up at the last minute.

When I take a bath, I have to put a plastic protector over my plaster cast, which works fine, but, as it’s difficult to force the seal open to get my arm into it, my husband has to do this for me. Currently, I’m learning to get dressed one-handed, prepare food and clear it away one-handed, eat one-handed, iron one-handed, and type one-handed, etc, etc.

I know this is only temporary, that I’ll be out the cast soon, and other people have far worse problems… so Happy Easter. Hope your Easter has been better.

(No photos. I don’t have the dexterity. )