Writing All Five Senses

I have to write a 500-750 word piece invoking all five senses, for my writing group next month.  Actually, I suggested this task.  Was I mad?

Primroses, yellow and pinkIt is considered good practice to reference all five senses in most pieces of writing, but it’s not easy.  Consider, for instance, the primroses in my garden.  I can wax lyrical about pale yellow and pale pink petals, but how do I get you to visualise them, Dear Reader? Giving you the photo is cheating on my part.  Whoever said a picture is worth a thousand words was all too right.  I could liken them to rhubarb and custard perhaps?   No, no, you’re laughing now.  Clearly,  I haven’t struck the right note.

Cup of teaLet’s start again.  Take my cup of tea.  I can do all five senses with my cup of tea:Cup of Tea With Bubbles Around the edge.

Sight –  The mid-brown colour shows that it’s a nice strong brew.  When I poured the milk into the cup, for a moment, it circled around in white swirls.  Also, do you see the bubbles around the edge of the mug?

Sound – Gurgling of the kettle, the clink-clink of crockery,  welcome and reassuring sounds.  Tea, in particular, has emotional connotations.  Tea and sympathy.  Everything stops for tea.  There’s nothing that can’t be solved with a cup of tea.

Feel – Hot, cold or luke-warm.  Wet.

Taste – Bitter, lingering on my tongue, or milky and insipid.

Smell – Although finer varieties of tea do have an aroma, bog-standard, red label, tea has hardly any fragrance, although the drinker will feel steam rising up around his/her face.

Not much to say about tea, then?  Actually, in my opinion, there’s enough – for a mere cup of tea.

I find it easier to describe something that’s been done badly, or inappropriately.  I could rant about tea made with not-quite-boiling water, drawing attention to its grey colour, and likening its feel to a dirty dishcloth.  Or make you sweat by making you read about tea being served on a beach during a heat wave.

For me, the terrible describer, a mental senses checklist is a helpful prompt.  The point of descriptions is to bring a scene, a setting or an object to life for the reader, so it makes sense to address all his/her faculties.

Have a good week.  Term starts tomorrow and I’m exhausted just thinking about it.  I could attempt to describe tiredness but I haven’t got the energy to do it.


Writing Life Cloudy and Filled with Rain? What then?

Tomorrow is the first Wednesday of the month and Insecure Writers’ Support Group day, where we members bring out all the insecurities we have been trying to suppress since the first Wednesday of last month.  Forgive me for being early;  I’ve got a moment now, so I’m getting on with it.

This month we are asked what we do to keep writing when our writing life is cloudy and filled with rain.

  • If I’m trying to write a piece and it’s just not working, I don’t keep writing.  I stop.  I go and do something else.  When I want to sort out a knotty plot hole or dialogue which won’t go right, I do a job in the house – and after a while fresh perspectives pop into my mind.  Even making a cup of tea or even going to the loo helps.
  • If the cloudiness and rain is due to lack of time… I don’t know.  The obvious thing would be to give up other activities so as to make more time for writing – but what?  Give up work and starve?  Many writers have.  Stop spending time with family?  Most writers get pretty grumpy when they are trying to write and husbands/wives/children insist of talking to them or, worse, want them to do things.  What is it?…  Oh.  You’ve made me a cup of tea.  Er… thanks.
  • If I’m getting rejections… well, of course, I’m totally professional, set the rejection aside and sub elsewhere immediately.  Yeah, right.  If I’m getting a lot of rejections, or more than I anticipate, yes, my life is indeed filled with rain and I do become depressed.  One way I deal with it is to comfort write, that is, write the piece I enjoy most, probably my novel.
  • Some authors write best when they’re in the throes of depression.  Some even write themselves out of depression.  If my (real) life becomes cloudy and filled with rain, I can’t write at all.

The Dreaded Lurgy (again)

I should’ve gone to finishing school and walked around with books on my head, rather than going to university.  Seriously, if I had learned good posture in my late teens, I would not have the health problems I have now.

I have been plagued by RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) for almost two decades, ever since I started using a computer seriously.  I have also suffered from headaches on waking for almost a decade.  Only in the last few weeks have I entertained the possibility that the two are connected.

I have consulted more medical practitioners than you can shake a stick at for both conditions, and, apart from temporary relief from RSI when given cortisone injections (not a particularly safe procedure), neither have been resolved.  I have seen neurologists, ENT specialists and allergists, as well as my very helpful (and long suffering) GP.  I have had tests including CAT scan and MRI scan and lumbar puncture.  I have been prescribed all manner of drugs, with all manner of nasty contraindications, and the inevitable anti-depressants.  (‘Silly little menopausal woman.  What’s she wasting my time for?’)

A few weeks ago, I resolved to put up with it, because none of the treatments I was being offered did me one iota of good.  The headaches just go on and on, virtually every morning, clearing mid-morning but sometimes returning in the evening.  The evening ones are the worst because they prevent me sleeping.  My headaches are definitely not migraines because I encounter no nausea or disturbances of vision.

However, a few weeks later, in desperation, I consulted a physiotherapist, who says that my headaches may be caused by the strain and stiffness in my shoulders, upper back and chest affecting my neck and head.  My posture is all wrong, as is my position when using a computer.  I looking downwards too far, with the result that my chest muscles have become tense and shortened.  I have only seen her twice, and I’m going again next week, so it’s early days.  I hope and pray she’s right.  Whether or not physio relieves the headaches, it will certainly help the RSI and treatment will not involve nasty drugs.

In the meantime, I’m using my laptop on the dining table as much as possible, and, when I do use it on my lap, I’m balancing it on two cushions to raise the screen.  Previously, I had always believed that looking down wasn’t so bad but that looking upwards was deadly.   I’m also considering buying a lapdesk, to raise the laptop on my knee in a better way than using cushions.  I’m trying also to improve my posture, by thrusting my shoulders back and pointing my boobs in the air.

I have removed the advice about using laptops and tablets on the Dreaded Lurgy page on this blog, because, as I  now realise, it’s wrong.

I’m suffering for my art.

Btw, for those of you who love a bit of crime, I’ve reviewed three crime novels on my sister blog Dear Reader  (by Claire Douglas, Joy Ellis and Lucy Brazier.)

I’m Fantasising About Oil Tankers

Some people blame all the world’s problems on oil and oil companies.  Right now, I’m some people.

Snow, a few weeks ago.
Snow, a few weeks ago.

Maybe it’s an East Anglian thing.  There are many things that the rest of you take for granted that we can’t.  We live near Waitrose.  We can get deliveries from most supermarkets, Amazon and most other delivery companies.  I can walk to the station in the next village and catch a train which will get me to London Liverpool Street in just over an hour.  However, we have no mains drainage;  every time it rains more than a little, our septic tank fills up and we can’t use our toilets.  We had no gas supply when we moved into our house thirty years ago..  We now do have a gas main in our street but, as we have a oil-fired boiler, we don’t use it.  Such is country life.

On Thursday, 1 March (over a fortnight ago), my husband noted that our oil tank was running a bit low, so he rang the oil company, who told him that they would make a delivery within twelve working days.  As they normally produce the goods in two or three days, we went on as normal, but, last weekend, my husband realised our oil was very low indeed, so we had to stop using the central heating.  “It’s not cold anymore,” said my husband.  Right. 

On Monday we rang the oil company again, only to be told that they didn’t know when we would get heating oil.  In fact, as their deliveries are outsourced, they had no idea which of their customers was getting oil when.  “The delivery companies keep their schedules close to their chest,” the oil company call centre told my husband who pays them by standing order every month.   Meanwhile, we were hearing of other people, including the elderly,  in our part of north Essex, having no oil for their heating for two weeks or more.  We’ve heard of other people going to oil depots with plastic containers.

We rang the oil company again this afternoon.  Still no idea.

Open window
My son suggested opening a window.

My son suggested opening windows, as “It’s warmer outside.”  Again, right.  My son lives in London.

So, here we are, shivering, dependent upon a log-burner and two convection heaters, and anticipating the return of the Beast from the East, with snow, tomorrow.  It takes me back to my childhood in Leicester.  My grandmother used to swear that a coal fire “Heats the whole house, me duck”.   I didn’t believe her even then.  I remember feeling that blast of icy air as you opened the living room door, the chill as you got out of bed.  It’s all coming back to me, in graphic detail, right now.

Celebrating Reaching Writing Goals

It’s the first Wednesday of the month, so it’s Insecure Writers Support Group day, where we writers write about those things which undermine our confidence as writers.

This month we’re asked to write about how we celebrate when we achieve a writing goal or finish a story.  This is a difficult one for we novelists.  It’s not unusual for a novel to take ten years to write (will be much longer in my case).   I have completed novels before, a long time ago, but I was writing them in my own time and in my own way and, although I went through the motions of submitting them to publishers, I didn’t  realistically expect anyone else to read them.  I’m very self-conscious about my writing.  The idea of publicising a book I’ve written is just mind-bogglingly appalling.

Last January, at the Association of Christian Writers retreat, we were each of us asked to talk about our wip.  I was determined to keep it cool, along the lines of ‘Nothing much’, but,  maybe,  I said too little because, when somebody asked me a question, something burst inside me.  Annie Try, our wonderful chair, had to stop me speaking, because otherwise everybody would’ve missed their coffee break.  I followed them to the coffee servery, shaking.  I felt like I’d been stripped naked amongst them.  But, afterwards, several people came up to me and said they would be happy to do a preliminary read.  I haven’t given it to any of them yet, because the novel’s still not finished, but I’m very grateful for all the offers.  It’s taken me some time to realise that being able to take myself out of my writing closet and talk about my novel has been my greatest success so far.

Getting the News… and Other Uses of Newspapers

Let’s skip the news boy (I’ll go and make some tea)
They get me confused boy (puts me off to sleep)
And the thing I hate–Oh Lord!
Is staying up late, to watch some debate, on some nation’s fate.

So sang Genesis in Blood on the Rooftops, in the album Wind and Wuthering in 1976.  The dots hide the racist bit.  (Well, it isn’t that racist, but it isn’t especially politically correct either.)

Man reading newspaper.  Cartoon.
Attrib http://www.publicdomainfiles.com

I believe it’s important to know what’s going on in The News.  I can get quite pompous about it and snooty with people who say things like ‘Politics is boring’ and ‘They’re all crooks, aren’t they?’  For years, since about 1980, actually, I’ve read The Daily Telegraph.  Ooh… I’ve just outed myself as a Torygraph reader.  I must anticipate being unfollowed and unfriended.

Now, having got that out of everybody’s system… even the most devout Leftie has to admit that there has to be a newspaper representing the views of moderate Conservatives.  The Telegraph is a well-researched and well-written paper, and, over the thirty-eight years I have flapped through its  broadsheet pages, I know that sometimes it follows the Conservative Party line and at other times is very critical of it.  For the last few years, the Telegraph has been very pro-Brexit, which has infuriated my husband, and taken to sensationalist headlines, which annoyed him even further.  We found we were reading it less and less.  Some days, the poor newspaper lay unfurled and unloved in the living room.

So, Dear Reader, we cancelled it.  We received our last edition on Christmas Eve.

You don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone (Joni Mitchell).  Instantly, I missed it.  It’s the sitting-down moment.  ‘I’ll just read the paper,’ you say, instantly justifying the sitting-down.  Of course, there are other news sources, which don’t involve flapping broadsheet pages about.  Broadsheet is a very inconvenient medium, impossible to peruse in a train or plane because of the acreage, or even in an armchair, and definitely not outside, in the garden or on the beach, or anywhere where there’s the breath of wind.  (Telegraph readers are the first to become aware of the slightest breeze.)

For a couple of months, I wasn’t following news at all, just popping into the BBC News in the evening, sometimes, but not always.  It doesn’t suit me.  I prefer to read.  I downloaded the BBC News app on my iPad ages ago, and, recently, I have started to use it, clicking on links which interest me.  I have found the range limited, just a handful of new news stories, whereas in a broadsheet there are hundreds.  Moreover, the articles are not all fresh, especially the features, which linger for days, even weeks.  Some features are very long indeed, providing far more detail than I need, for instance, on non-registered schools.  I’ve also obtained several other apps, which provide me with news bulletins, including Politico which sends me shock-horror stories about President Trump several times a day.  But I’m persevering.   I need a change.

Then the snow came.  On what am I supposed to put a pair of wet, snowy welly boots?  Or clean my shoes?  I can’t polish my shoes on Politico, now can I?

Boys’ Jobs and Girls’ Jobs

Fuse box
wikimedia commons

About a year ago, Theresa May, when discussing domestic arrangements at Number 10 Downing Street, mentioned that Philip (her husband) did the boys’ jobs, like taking out the rubbish.  In these emancipated times, there should be no boys’ jobs and girls’ jobs, but, as we all know, the reality is different.

My husband is currently away from home, visiting his mother, so, at midnight last night, I found out about one particular boys’ job I’ve always evaded.    I was on my way to bed.  I’m switching off the hall light downstairs and flicking the switch for the landing light, but, Dear Reader,  upstairs remains in darkness, however many times I press the switch up and down.  I grope my way up to the bedroom, where I observe the mains-powered alarm clock functioning normally.

Oh, I think.  Oh.

I can diagnose the problem, but my normal solution is to get my husband to deal with it.  The job involves a trip out into the Arctic (otherwise known as the garage), a stepladder and peering into a fuse box, with a torch.  A little girl like me can’t be expected to tackle such things.

But there’s no one but me.

I consider leaving the job until morning…

But, Dear Reader, if something’s got to be done, it might as well be done now.  I take a deep breath.  I pick up the big torch in the hall and press the button.  Nothing.  (Thank you, Grandson.  I suspect that’s you.  Switching on Grandpa’s torch and aiming the light face downwards on the desk seems to amuse you.  You forget about it and leave it like that.)  What sort of batteries do I need?  Where are the spare batteries?   I sort of know, but I can’t be bothered to start searching at twelve o five.  Hang on, he’s got another torch, on top of his hifi.  (Where else?)  It’s not as big, but it will do.

I unlock the garage door.  The blast of icy air can’t be good for me;  I’m nursing a chest infection.   I switch on the light.  Silly me!  Why all that bother over torches?  I can see perfectly well with the normal electric light.  I do have to find the stepladder and climb up it though.  I look into the fuse box.

One switch down…

Well, that’s one switch up now.  Suddenly the upstairs landing is bathed in yellow light.  Alleluia.  Anything you can do, dear, I can do too.

I can…

  • Put out the rubbish as well as any PM’s husband (black bin and recycling).
  • Prepare a log fire and even light it.
  • Hoover, even the bits which involve moving furniture.
  • I can do most of what I need to do on computers, iPads, iPhones or whatever, but I can’t manage television or DVD player.  This is not a problem for me, as I don’t watch television, although it can be when grandchildren are demanding Milkshake and we’ve got CeeBeebies on.

But, I must confess, I can’t change a wheel, or do any maintenance on my car.  For that, I have to go to the local garage and ask the GIRL who works there.

Nothing Much This Week

animated-frog-image-0015Over the last couple of evenings, I’ve just three book reviews for my Dear Reader blog.  I know some of my followers aren’t too bothered by book reviews, but I’d really appreciate it if you would take a look.  Just this once.   The books I reviewed are:

‘Katharina Luther Nun Rebel Wife’ by Anne Boileau.  As you’ve probably worked out from the name and the title, this is a biography of Martin Luther’s wife, but she was quite a girl.

‘American Notes for General Circulation’ by Charles Dickens (his research for Martin Chuzzlewit, btw, and… revealing the identity of the real Eden swamp.)

‘Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death’ by James Runcie.  The first of a series in cosy crime, and, apparently, appearing in a series on ITV.  (How do I miss this sort of thing?  Too busy writing (no, working) to watch telly, that’s what.)  Five more to read.  Bliss.  Plenty of dark winter evenings left.

What I’m saying is that, having written three book reviews, I think I’ve done my duty, and so I’m not posting on this – writing – blog this week.

Enjoy half-term week.



IWSG: What Do I Love About Historical Fiction Genre?

We IWSG-ers are asked, this month, about what we love about the genre we write in most often.  I write modern-historical, what some publishers would call contemporary, stories set in 1970s and 1980s.  According to the Historical Novel Society, a proper historical novel ‘must have been written at least fifty years after the events described’.
You’re expecting me to say the research is the thing I love most, aren’t you, Dear Reader?  But you’d be wrong.  As a history student (a long time ago), I spend three years with my bum on a seat in various libraries around Manchester, researching.  I would often find myself sitting next to one or more of my history honours colleagues, most frequently, next to Anne, who is now a professor of medieval history.  In those days, libraries were supposed to be silent, but we used to chat and giggle… about boys mostly.  So, nowadays, I do my initial research impatiently, wanting to get on with writing the story, and then further research, as required, as I go along.
What I really love about historical fiction is immersing myself in another era.  I love the challenge of writing about people who don’t have all the mod cons we have, how they communicated without computers, for instance.  My lot had telephones… some of the time, when their telecommunications weren’t cut off for political reasons.   I like using contemporary language, referring to contemporary issues and, especially, pop music.  I suppose there is an element of nostalgia in it… which brings me on to another point.  What I have found is that, in writing modern historical, I need a lot of background information about how ordinary people lived their lives.  This is more necessary for me in my modern historical sub-genre than for writers in the proper historical genre, because there are people still alive who lived that life and who would know if I get it wrong.  What I really would like is a library of personal reminisces, written by those people.  Couldn’t we writers write one?
The first Wednesday of every month is Insecure Writer’s Support Group day, when we post on our own blogs, about our doubts and the fears, which we may (or may not) have conquered, our struggles and triumphs.  We also give support and encouragement to each other.

Competition Tips

sad_100Apologies for the many re-blogs over the last few weeks.  Due to work and other commitments, I haven’t had time to compose my own posts.   Since the beginning of January,  I’ve probably written more words than anyone, Dear Reader, but the not right sort of writing.  Together with a lot of other things, I’ve actually produced four worksheets on how to use WordPress to build a website.  I completed the last worksheet last night.   They are for the web development class I’m teaching, but I’m happy to share.

Two weeks ago, I attended the Association of Christian Writers Committee Retreat in Northampton.  The ACW Historical Fiction comp closed to entries on New Year’s Eve and winners have been notified.  We are now working towards the next ACW comp, which will be for journalism.  The launch date is Saturday 10 March, so look out the ACW Competitions page at around that time.  ACW comps are free to ACW members and, for non-members, the fees are only £3 for the first entry and £2 for the second.  Almost free!  We do good prizes too, £25 book token for first prize and £10 for second prize.

If you’re wondering what on earth Psalm 137 is about, look closely at this map!

After the journalism comp, the ACW comps that follow will be:  a piece in any format based upon the first verses of Psalm 137 and then a comp for writing for children.  I understand that some writers are put off entering ACW comps because they don’t feel confident about writing Christian bits.  What I would say is you don’t have to lay it on with a trowel.  Contemporary Christian fiction isn’t like that.

I  thoroughly enjoy being involved in ACW competitions, although my role is organising and administering them, not judging.  I have to find suitable judges, sometimes, although, mostly, my ACW colleagues are good at making suggestions.  The other day, I read a very interesting post on Patsy Collins blog, Words about writing and writing about words, in which another writer, Sheila Crosby, was talking about being a judge of writing comps.  I endorse every bit of advice Sheila gives, with two additions:

  • Check the format required. If the comp asks for play-script or poem, don’t enter a short story on default, as, I’m afraid, a lot of entrants do.
  • Check the file type required. Most comps ask for .doc or .docx (ie Word formats). Me, I’m a nice helpful competition manager, and I will try and rescue works in other formats, but not every comp manager is like me. It is possible to convert from Mac formats and OpenOffice formats to Word format, but this is not always straightforward. If you can’t work it out, query the person running the comp.

Hope to be writing proper posts on schedule from now on.  I’m off now to attempt to finish an article I’ve been trying to write for about three weeks, then to review a couple of books on my Dear Reader blog.