We Are Attracted to Evil – Aren’t We?

Wicked used to be the highest compliment a young person could pay to anything or any person.  We fiction-readers, of all ages, are also attracted to evil, aren’t we?

One of the most popular films of all time, The Godfather, concerns one of the most violent and evil organisations of all time, the Mafia.  (Don’t ask me for statistics – too late, and I’ve just arrived back, this evening, from a short break in Romania.)  Saddam Hussein watched The Godfather repeatedly.

bucharest_parlt_outsideYesterday, we were shown around the Parliament Building in Bucharest.  The original destiny of this massive edifice, the second-largest administrative building  in the world, constructed almost solely of marble, was to be a palace for the Communist dictator, Nicolae Ceaușescu.   Begun in 1978, he planned every minute detail, even the echo of the deputies’ applause for the room in which he intended to sign documents.  He included two grand staircases from which he and his wife, Elena, could descend when greeting dignitaries. Meanwhile, the Romanian people queued for their miserable food rations. bucharest_staircase

bucharest_room

We tourists hung on to our guide’s every word, begging him for more detail lapping up the wickedness, savouring the story of Ceausescu’s come-uppance in 1989, which involved helicopters and betrayal by his pilot, a two-hour show-trial and shooting, and his and his wife’s bodies being displayed on television.

You can’t write fiction about liberal democracy, can you?  Too boring.

By the way, I’m hoping to write more about Romania on my travel blog, Travel On, in the next few days.

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Spring? What Spring?

iwsg300Spring?  No spring here, but time for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group.

Spring is not a good time for writing.  There are too many distractions, the lure of sunshine, warm weather and the great outside.  As I sit at my computer, I see the weeds rising up through the window and, eventually, feel compelled to ‘do something about the garden’ or, on seeing cobwebs, spring cleaning.

Two weeks ago, we had a short, premature burst of summer, but winter has resumed at full blast.  I started writing this post on the last day of April, wearing my thick winter trousers and two t-shirts and a jumper.  Outside, a gale was howling and rain coming down in buckets.  That evening, we lit a log fire.  Aah!  That’s writing weather.

Over the winter I have made slow progress on The Novel, but at least I’ve made some progress.  When I start writing – anything – I’m very excited, quite certain that this must surely be a great work of literature, even though there may be… just one or two things to be ironed out.  Unfortunately, though, the more I write and edit my novel, the more insecure I become about it, the more glitches I can see, even though I’ve fixed many, many inconsistencies, plot-holes and character holes.   The story itself and the characters seemed great, until I started writing.  I could never compare myself and my writing to Michelangelo (the sculptor, not the Mutant Hero Turtle) but I love the quote below (thanks to Brainy Quote).

michelangelo1

 

 

 

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.

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.

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.

euphrates-river-valley
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.

Happy New Year… But Spare Me the New Year Target-Setting

I don’t do New Year resolutions.  I have had enough of target-setting at work.

So don’t expect me, today, on New Year’s Eve, when I’m full of mince pies and Christmas cake and busy with family and social activities, to vow to eat less/ do a dry January/ join a gym/ read more/ do more in the garden/ spend more time with the cat… or even to do more writing.

Most targets at work are just bits of paper for your manager to wave in front of his/her manager.  So are too many New Year Resolutions.  Most New Year resolutions would dissolve in the fountain in Trafalgar Square (if we could muster the energy to get off our sofas, take a train to London and jump in).  Come the second week of January, we’ve forgotten about them (unless anyone’s joined a gym, in which case he/she will get an unpleasant reminder every time  receive his/her monthly bank statement).

What’s special about a new year?  If we’re serious about what we do, we consider what we want to achieve carefully and over a longish period of time.  We set our proper goals whenever, in any month, any week.  Most importantly, we give ourselves the necessary tools, because our goals are real and we believe in them.

Cartoon writerI am definitely not doing enough writing.  I’ve posted on ‘From Story Idea to Reader’ Facebook group that I want to finish editing The Novel. Also,  I know I should also be submitting short stories to likely markets.  But, as you know, Dear Reader, I’m visiting The Novel every Thursday (in term-time, anyway) and not submitting any short stories at all.  The tool I need is time.  So… I have got to think about ways to make more time to write.  This is not easy to get my head around and will not come quickly, seeing as a girl has to live as well.   And I want to do my stuff for church and the Association of Christian Writers.  I’m accepting entries for the ACW Historical Fiction competition at the moment, but I’m not promoting it in this post as the deadline is midnight tomorrow.

No quick New Year fix, I’m afraid.  …Maybe I should give up blogging.  It is very time consuming.

When my husband worked in the City, he used to buy the Private Eye annual every year and get it signed by Ian Hislop, in Waterstones.  Says my husband, “Well, Ian, another year.”

“Yes,” replies Ian Hislop.  “Another year, another pair of underpants.”

(And that’s a true story.)

Writing Over Christmas

Take a break from writing to spend time with family, meet friends and celebrate.  That’s what romantic novelist and womag writer, Patsy Collins, is recommending in the From Story Idea to Reader Facebook group.  Too late, Patsy, I’ve already started.

My third favourite occupation (after writing and reading) is cooking.  Below is some of the food no family can do without over Christmas.

Christmas pudding
Christmas pudding
Christmas cake
Christmas Cake, iced my son-in-law.
Home made mincepies, using my friend, Julie's, mincemeat
Mince pies using my friend’s mincemeat.

 

 

 

 

 

Stocking your blogger made for her granddaughter.
Granddaughter’s stocking.

Last week, I relearned all my needlework skills (from over twenty-five years ago) and made my granddaughter’s stocking.   By the way, ‘relearning my needlework skills’ included remembering how to re-thread my sewing machine.

Photo of your blogger.
Me, in author pose.

Two weeks ago I had to submit a modern author photo to accompany my article in Together  (trade magazine for Christian publishers). Presentation is everything these days.  Sitting at home in my own living room one evening, I took about ten selfies on my iPhone.  I always look terrible in photos.  I really am not America’s Next Best Model as I can’t smile to order.  I eventually chose this one.

Lesson plan for maths class
My lesson plan for my maths class.

Last weekend I was preparing for a learning observation – of a maths class.  Bear it in mind, Dear Reader, that I haven’t taught maths for ten years and only restarted after the October half-term.   I was going out of my mind with nerves.  Then the observation was cancelled due to snow.

So, I will do more writing after Christmas.  Really, honestly.   We all will, won’t we?  In that slack week between Boxing Day and New Year, whilst eating turkey sandwiches and left-over sprouts, you could have a go at the ACW (Association of Christian Writers) Historical Fiction Competition.  (I can’t.  I’m not allowed to because of being ACW Competitions Manager.)   You need to write a short story (word count 1200 words) set in or before 1970.  (This accords with the Historical Fiction Society’s definition of historical being anything fifty years ago or beyond.)  The deadline is 31 December 2017, so you really will have to write during mince pie time.  More information on the ACW website.

Happy Christmas.  I doubt if I will have time to post next week.  I’ll be making the trifle.

Why Do We Write? (999th Post on This Subject – Possibly)

It’s the mention we want, I think.

One of my nicer tasks as Competitions Manager for the Association of Christian Writers is to inform winners that they have won in our competitions.  First-place is awarded a book-token prize, and his/her story is published in Christian Writer, which is circulated to the ACW’s seven hundred members.  Second-place also receives a (smaller) book token, although third-place doesn’t, and the names of first-, second- and third-place are published in Christian Writer as winners.  What I find is, over and over again, that the most important thing to the winner is his/her story appearing in Christian Writer, not the book token, and, to the second and third-placed winners, seeing their name on the printed page.

This reflects the fact that very few of us can afford to write for a living.  Most of us have day-jobs or are retired,and this affects the amount of time, energy and head-space we can devote to writing.  Not a good thing.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to get some sort of grant to write?  Take a look at the Deborah Rogers Foundation Writer’s Award, worth £10,000, for an unpublished writer.  You have until 13 December to apply.  (Thanks to Patsy Collins for this one.)

By the way – I have to slip this in – we have another competition, for historical fiction, this time.   All you need to do is to write a short story, where action takes place in nineteen seventy or earlier, and with a Christian element (perhaps a major character who is a Christian or a Christian setting, such as a church).  1200 words, please, and the deadline is New Years Eve.  Free to ACW (Association of Christian Writers) members and, for everybody else, £3 for first entry and £2 for second entry.  More information on the ACW site.  The prizes are £25 book token (first-place) and £10 (second-place).  And the winner will be published in Christian Writer.

Can’t think of any suitable pics for this post, so I’ve included some random flowers.  At least they’re pretty and autumnal/wintry.

NaNoWriMo Week 1- The Writing Brain

i’ve always known that brain exercise is as energetic as sport. Thanks to Cheryl Fasset for this one.

Catching Fireflies

I am sad that life and juggling work projects has interfered with my chasing NaNoWriMo this year. But, I am still here for moral support for all the crazy writers who took the plunge. And for those of you who have never tried it… It is a roller coaster that I cannot recommend highly enough!

This is Your Brain on Writing

Last June, an article with the same title was written by Carl Zimmer and appeared in the NY Times. It started, “A novelist scrawling away in a notebook in seclusion may not seem to have much in common with an NBA player doing a reverse layup on a basketball court before a screaming crowd. But if you could peer inside their heads, you might see some striking similarities in how their brains were churning.” And I was hooked.

I have never been athletic so learning…

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