Wednesday, 30 July 2008

On The Beach in Birmingham!

No, I haven’t gone mad. Yesterday afternoon the children and I were walking in the centre of Birmingham, having visited The Sea Life Centre, and came across a beach complete with deckchairs, buckets and spades and a beach bar. Megan was desperate to start making sandcastles while Matthew and I sat in deckchairs watching the world go by.

I wasn’t feeling too well yesterday. I think it was the result of a poor night’s sleep. I had a niggling headache most the day and the last thing I felt like doing was driving down the M6 and into the centre of Birmingham. But, I’d promised Megan a trip to the Sea Life Centre and she was so excited about it, I couldn’t let her down. She'd been swatting up the night before, reading her 'Animals Who Live in the Ocean' book. Once we were inside the Sea Life Centre, she took one look in the tanks and told me what the fish were. Very knowledgable. I was impressed!

Last night I did the final judging for the Novel Beginnings competition. It wasn’t too difficult in the end, as there was a clear winner. I knew as soon as I read the entry. A clear, concise writing style, a smattering of humour, creating a desire in the reader for more. Now I have to write the dreaded judge’s report!

Monday, 28 July 2008

Play to Your Strengths Part Two!

Why is it that I spend 30 minutes writing this blog only to lose the whole thing before it gets posted or it posts it before I’ve finished? I’ve come to the conclusion I’m some kind of technophobe. I should have listened to my husband, who told me only last week to write my blog in Word, then copy and paste. With our dodgy internet connection, it’s a necessity.

Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, playing to one’s strengths. Technology and computers certainly aren’t mine. Editing, reading critically and being creative are more in my line. I don’t see anything wrong with admitting one’s weaknesses and handing over to someone who knows better (see Part One above!).

I am currently judging a competition called Novel Beginnings. Entrants were asked to write a synopsis and first chapter of a novel. This is more difficult than it first appears. It’s so easy to find fault with other’s work and less so with one’s own. Most of the synopses I’ve been reading are flawed. They certainly wouldn’t make an editor want to buy the novel. They’re just not arresting or interesting enough. The plots sound clich├ęd and the characters nondescript. There’s no mention of a sub-plot. Good things like active verbs, thumbnail character sketches, flavour of the writing style, not too many characters, clarity of purpose are missing. Bad things like waffle, generalisations, not enough action and muddled/convoluted plot are in abundance. And the first chapters? They aren’t much better. There’s often a lack of narrative tension; lack of attention to detail; no hook; lack of arresting use of language. They’re all a bit too ordinary and banal. I’m struggling. I’ve read most of the entries now and I haven’t found anything worthy of a prize. It’s quite depressing! The optimist in me is hoping to find a gem in the last three or four entries.

Finally, a note to those who have submitted work to The Yellow Room. What with all this judging and kid-type stuff I haven’t had a chance to read or make decisions on the ever-growing pile of manuscripts I have here. I’m so sorry, as I know how frustrating it can be for writers who want to send their work out elsewhere if it isn’t suitable. Please be patient and I hope to clear the backlog before September.

Play to Your Strengths!

That's it. I've finally admitted defeat. I've handed over the typesetting of The Yellow Room to an expert. To the guy, in fact, who did the typesetting on QWF all those years! Dear old Andy Cox, who has come to my rescue once again. He wouldn't do this for just anybody, he assured me. I'm flattered! It's a load off my mind, because I'm snowed under here. The children broke up the week before last and I'm so busy what with days out, swimming lessons, friends to play, ferrying them around to assorted venues.. well, I'm sure most of us have been there!

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Cornwall.. a much needed break!

Okay, so it was a bit of a trek for a long weekend, but my trip to North Cornwall was worth every mile and every litre of petrol! I came back a changed woman. I had time and space to think and to just be. As you can see by the photos I had the perfect surroundings to do just that.

I stayed with my writer friend, Alison, who lives in a remote spot in a house she built with her lovely husband, Tristan. It's all very eco-friendly and so beautiful. This is part of their garden above left. They also planted their own wood many years ago and Alison has built her own little 'shed' to get away from it all. It made me long for a retreat of my own.

The whole point of the weekend was to workshop or write, but we did neither. Instead we spent a lot of time talking about life, relationships, books and sometimes writing, mainly while sipping chilled white wine in the garden, conservatory or kitchen. We took a lovely long walk (4-5miles?) over the cliffs near Harlyn Bay. I've never seen so many wild flowers.

On Sunday morning I set off for a little adventure of my own and to revisit Bude, where I spent a blissful couple of days with my first husband fifteen years ago. I stopped off at Tintagel for a ploughman's lunch and a walk down to the castle ruins. It was a gorgeous sunny day and people were swimming in the sea. It made me feel slightly guilty that my family weren't with me, but no, this was precious 'me' time.
A few hours later saw me sitting on a rock on Crooklets Beach in Bude. I was pretty sure it was the same beach where Phill and I had some lovely photos taken of each other (now framed and on my mother-in-law's wall), but I'd remembered it so differently. After exploring the town further I realised how flawed our memories are. We compress them into smaller files without knowing it. This led to me writing several paragraphs of notes, which will be very useful when it comes to writing my novel. I then had a refreshing pint of Scrumpy Jack in the same pub Phill and I had frequented all those years ago and sat watching the locals sitting outside on picnic benches opposite the river, just as we had then. Again I did lots of copious note taking!
All in all, it was a fantastic weekend and I came home feeling so refreshed.. like a new woman, in fact. It enabled me to get things into perspective (particularly the past) and I saw myself and my relationships in a whole new light. I'm a happy lady!

Monday, 7 July 2008


I've been on a bit of a book buying spree recently. I promised myself I wouldn't do this, because I have so many books at home, which I still haven't read. Some of them I've had for several years. You see, I have a bit of a book buying obsession and I always buy more than I have time to read. I was doing so well only purchasing books when I'd been given book tokens for birthdays or Christmas, then I had a relapse a few months ago.

So what have I bought recently? I guess it's always interesting for magazine subscribers and contributors to find out what the editor enjoys reading for pleasure. I'm ashamed to say I've been sucked into the Richard and Judy Summer Read hype this year and have purchased several books from the list. I have The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton(I enjoyed The House at Riverton so much last year); The Outcast by Sadie Jones (mainly because it was recommended by Lynne Barrett-Lee, a friend of mine on a writers' forum); No Time For Goodbye by Linwood Barclay (liked the sound of it after seeing it reviewed on Richard and Judy); East of the Sun by Julia Gregson (because I was buying books on amazon and wanted to qualify for free delivery and it was only £3.86 and it is another R&J Summer Read with great reviews on amazon); Dieting Makes You Fat by Geoffrey Cannon (because I read an article about it in yesterday's Sunday Times and I'm always looking for ways to lose weight without dieting... suspect it's impossible!); and The Road Home by Rose Tremain (loved The Colour and this one was on prominent display in Smith's and sounded just up my street ie. slightly edgy).

I'm saving most of my new purchases for my holiday in August. I'm just about to start reading Iris Murdoch As I Knew Her by A.N. Wilson. I bought this about 2-3 years ago and it's been sitting on the shelf unopened ever since. I had an Iris Murdoch phase as a student and keep promising myself I'll re-read her novels, but haven't got round to it! I also loved the film about her life starring Kate Winslet. I particularly enjoyed the scenes showing Iris's dirty house with leaves all blown in from the front door and just left in the hall. That's how strange I am!

I've just finished reading The Long Afternoon by Giles Waterfield. Again, this was purchased some time ago and was sitting on the bookshelf for about 2 years. It was recommended by another writer friend. It's about a couple's life on the Riviera in the 1930s and what happens after war breaks out. It isn't exactly a gripping novel, but it definitely has that certain something which makes you just have to read till the end.

I must recommend a book I finished a few days ago. Our Spoons Came From Woolworths by Barbara Comyns. It's about a Bohemian couple living in the 1930s with very little money. The focus is on Sophia, who marries at 21 and lives to regret it. It reads very much like a memoir, but it is, in fact, a novel. A slim volume which could be read in one sitting.

Now I really must finish that typesetting. Crisis in that I can't fit in all the stories I wanted to publish this issue!

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Can't Sit Still!

I was poised to pen some profound thoughts here yesterday when the PC crashed and the Internet was down. Then it was hectic and a social life intervened. And somehow I don't feel quite as 'writerly' today.

I recently conducted a mini poll on a writers' forum I belong to and asked how many hours per day people spent sitting writing. I was astounded to learn that the average was 4-5 hours per day. So that's how novels get written! I've since realised that the longest I can sit still is about an hour. I feel this need to be constantly 'on the go' and 'doing things'. Things which involve a lot of moving around and getting practical things done. I feel restless if I sit at the PC for more than forty-five minutes. I just can't sit still for long enough to be a proper writer. Oh dear! What is the remedy?

Celia Brayfield in her book, Bestseller, recommends that we get up from our computers and take a break by walking around the garden, letting our minds roam free. This allows our right brain to start working again. Nice if you have the time. Today, for example, I feel compelled to do housework as my son has a new friend visiting after school. I also feel obliged to make cakes for the occasion. And I have to fit in my forty-five minute exercise session. See what I mean?

I've recently purchased more books on 'how to write a novel', because I need all the help I can get. The aforementioned Bestseller isn't cutting it for me, although I quite like Celia Brayfield's 'ten stages' - the heroic journey of mythology and have made notes. I'm finding Sol Stein's How To Grow A Novel much more readable and useful. I've only just started it, but the section on openings is great, although I'm not sure I learnt anything new. As a voracious reader of novels I think I've picked up a lot of tips subconsciously. Putting them into practice is another matter, of course.

Another bright and sunny day here and what am I doing? I'm off to clean the bathroom.