Saturday, 28 January 2012

Writing, Not Reading...

Last year I read a lot of books, mainly novels, as you'll see by glancing at the list to your left. This year I haven't read one book. This was a conscious decision, as I found reading others' work off-putting. I was constantly plagued by negative thoughts such as, I'll never be able to write as well as so-and-so. I'm not half as talented as him/her. Why am I bothering? You get the idea.

I have written a lot this year. A new short story almost every day. I've also edited old stories and worked on my novel. I've entered lots of competitions and submitted several stories to the women's magazines, mainly Woman's Weekly, as it's my favourite (and I think my stories are more suited to this publication). I've become addicted to the high of anticipation.

I've resubscribed to a few of my favourite writers' magazines such as Writers' Forum, Writing Magazine/Writers' News and The New Writer, devouring their contents at every opportunity. I've sent off fillers to a lot of the women's magazines and one of my 'funny animal' photos is due to appear in Full House Issue 8 (out in a couple of weeks). It's all money in the pot.

I was thrilled to hear that I'd won third prize in the Meridian Writing Competition. You can read my story here, if you wish (you'll need to scroll down a little. My story is called No Oil For Hogmanay).

I love being so proactive and busy. Once I've entered as many of the competitions closing at the end of January as I can, I'll finish my pocket novel set during The Blitz and get the first three chapters and a synopsis sent off. Oh, and talking of synopses, do take a look at Nicola Morgan's How To Write A Great Synopsis. It's only a £1 to download onto Kindle, but the offer finishes at the end of the month.

The Yellow Room Issue 7 is now with the typesetter and I'm a little further forward with finding a new print company. Many apologies to those loyal subscribers who have been waiting so long for a new issue to appear.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Call The Midwife

Back in 2002 when I was editing and publishing QWF (Quality Women's Fiction Magazine), I got a phone call from a very nicely spoken lady asking if I was interested in reviewing the book she'd just published. She told me a bit about it and I remember thinking, here we go again! Since the first issue of QWF in 1994, I'd been sent many self-published books to review, most of which were pretty dire, both in content and presentation. However, Jennifer Worth sounded like an interesting woman, and I thought her memoirs might be a good read, so I told her to send me a copy. You can read the review, which appeared in Issue 39 of QWF in early 2003 (and reading it now, I'm dying to get my red editing pen to it. I think my writing style has improved since then!) below.

Imagine how surprised I was when I saw a couple of years ago that Jennifer's book, Call The Midwife had reached The Sunday Times Bestseller List, as did the two follow-up books. I was even more surprised when, reading through the TV listings recently, that a TV adaptation of Call The Midwife was going to be shown on BBC1. I thoroughly enjoyed the drama and thought it was very true to the book, as well as featuring some very talented actresses. It was with sadness, however, that after the closing credits, I noticed that it had been dedicated to Jennifer who died in 2011. I had so wanted to contact her again to congratulate her on the book's success.

I guess the moral of the tale is that self-published books, even if they are a little rough around the edges, can go on to be published by a mainstream publisher and reach dizzy heights.

Here is my review (written in 2002) as it actually appeared in Issue 39 of QWF:

Jennifer Worth was a district midwife working in an order of nuns, going around Poplar on a bicycle in the 1950s, when the East End of London was still ravaged by wartime bombs. This book describes with humour and poignancy the experiences of Jennifer, assisting women giving birth in grimly impoverished surroundings.

My first impressions of this book weren't good. The presentation is poor, and I found loads of typos and spelling errors in the first few pages, as well as many exclamation marks. I felt the book would benefit from a good edit. I almost put it to one side, thinking it an amateurish self-publishing venture. However, I was enthralled by the narrative and Jennifer Worth's skilful storytelling technique compelled me to read on. I'm glad I did.

When I first read Call The Midwife it wasn't too long since I'd given birth myself and it made me grateful for all the new technology and sterile surroundings the hospital provided for a rather long and complicated labour, resulting in an emergency caesarean. I don't know how Megan and I would have fared had we lived in Poplar in 1950-something. I'm pretty sure neither Megan nor I would be here now.

This book isn't for the faint-hearted. There are some pretty gory descriptions of childbirth, as well as the general filth some of these women lived in on a day-to-day basis.

Call The Midwife is crammed with delightful characters, however, and you can't help but feel total admiration for the midwives. Once you've read the book I don't think you'd dare complain about giving birth on the NHS again.

There are also some interesting medical and sociological facts in the book. For example, the women of the East End were encouraged to breastfeed, mainly for practical reasons. For example, many found it hard to cope with everyday cleaning, and wouldn't have thought about sterilising baby's bottles for milk. 

Jennifer Worth devotes three chapters of her book to stories about the influx of immigrants from the West Indies around that time. Many white women, married to white men, were giving birth to black babies, the consequences of which were heartbreaking in some cases.

All in all, this is an enjoyable and highly informative read, but the book would have been much better had a top publisher's editor worked with Jennifer to make her story the best it could be.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to you all! I hope you enjoyed the festive celebrations. We had a quiet time, as usual, but did have a couple more visitors than last year, which was a lovely surprise. I have an inkling that 2012 is going to be a more sociable year for us. Let's hope so!

I don't usually make new year's resolutions, but as the old year draws to a close, my thoughts turn to what has happened in the past year and what I'd like to improve or do differently in the year ahead.

My main focus will be my writing. I realise that I enjoy writing to a set time limit, typing fast and furiously, writing from the heart. Write-Invite is brilliant for this and I shall continue to enter their weekly competitions:
I've recently been working with Sharon Birch, a writer I discovered through The Yellow Room. We set each other writing exercises a few times a week, agreeing on a time of day to send each other a list of prompts or themes and to spend half an hour (or less) writing. We then send each other our pieces (although there's no pressure for either of us to do so, if we don't want to) and offer an opinion, if we feel like it. It's quite a casual arrangement, but seems to be working well for both of us. It certainly makes me write something without interruption for at least 20 minutes. I always try to write a complete piece. I know I can then go back and edit or expand whatever I've written. I'm so grateful to Sharon for sharing this experience. It's proving invaluable to me.

I don't really want to write about my novel here, as I'm struggling with it. I had a brainwave today, however. Having discovered I love writing to a list of prompts and can easily produce something half decent of about 500 words in half an hour or less, I've decided to incorporate my novel characters into whatever I write. Hopefully, this will help me to get back into the story and move it forward. We'll see!

Biddles, who printed QWF for many years and have printed all of The Yellow Room issues, have said they're no longer willing to do so. This is after problems with two recent issues when some characters appeared in bold type for no apparent reason. It is going to take a long time to find a replacement printer at a reasonable price. I'm not sure when the next issue of the magazine will appear. All quite depressing, but I'll soldier on!

A resolution I'm determined to stick to is not to diet this year. At all. That's another long story, which I won't bore you with here. However, after being on and off diets since I was 14, I'm living proof they don't work and you end up bigger than when you started!

I plan to keep running, but at my own pace. My foot injury won't allow me to do a huge amount, but little and often will be my new running mantra. I also plan to take baby steps to get our house in order, for example: cleaning out just one cupboard a week. Hopefully, by December 2012 the place should end up looking more presentable.