Thursday, 29 September 2016

The Value of a Writers Group Part 2

So I went to the 'trial' meeting of my local writing group on Tuesday and I thought I'd share my thoughts and impressions with all my lovely readers!

To say I was nervous is an understatement! I spent most of Tuesday trying to think of reasons not to go. That's how nervous I was. It was the reading out of a sample of my writing bit that got me. I'm not very good at sharing my writing yet. oh sure, I've submitted some pieces and shared some on the blog but this was different. I was going to read out and have others comment while I was there. Scary or what? I spent far too long obsessing about what i was going to read. I bothered my wonderful friends over at Facebook as I worried about what I was going to read and they were a tower of strength and wisdom as always. Finally I decided on an extract from my novel. Now all I had to do was screw my courage to the sticking place and I'd be fine ...

I walked into town and convinced myself that everything would be ok. I'm not sure I believed myself but by the time I got to the venue I had decided that even if it turned out to be the worst 2 hours of my life it would make a good blog post! I was the first to arrive which gave me time to decide that if no-one arrived by 7.30 I'd have a stiff gin in a local pub and go home, never to think about writing groups again. But of course someone turned up and I had to bite the bullet.

Now as it was a 'trial' meeting I'm not sure if I'm in or not but at the moment I'm not worried about that. I got something valuable from the meeting, I felt like a real writer for a while and have so many ideas that I can write something different each day for a week!

So I now know the value of a writing group; it's a really supportive space where you can get great feedback and where ideas are born. I hope they liked me enough to let me join but if they don't I got something from that one meeting and I can live with that.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

The Value of a Writers' Group

So I contacted the leader of my local writers' group a while ago with the idea of joining them and improving my writing with some feedback. So far so good. Months passed and I forgot all about it. This morning I got an email asking me along to one of their meetings for a 'trial'.

Which gives me a dilemma. I'm not terribly confident with my writing yet and they want me to read out an extract of about 1500 words! Help!

Several things leap to mind. Firstly: the thought of reading out something which I have written is really scary. It makes me feel really nervous just to think about it never mind how I'll feel when I actually have to do it. Secondly: how do I decide what to read? Do I go with a short story or an extract from the novel? I guess if I want some constructive criticism of my writing I should choose part of the novel as this would be most useful. But the novel is the roughest of first drafts and I'm not sure it's fir to see the light of day.

So what to do? There's a bit of me that wants to duck out altogether but that won't help to improve my writing one little bit. Also, if I can't bear to read out my own writing why should anyone else want to read it? I need to get over this silly reluctance to share. If anyone has the magic bullet that will give me tons of confidence, let me know!

So this week it's less about What I'm Writing and more about What I'll Be Reading (with luck).

Thursday, 15 September 2016

What I'm Writing - To Blog or Not To Blog...

My writing challenge is going well. Two weeks in and two short stories written. I'm worried that I may run out of ideas some time soon but I've decided that I need to complete the challenge more than I need to worry about the quality of what I write. Things can be tidied up later!

Now here's the question: do I publish my stories on my blog? I'm only recently feeling happier about sharing my work so part of me wants to take every opportunity to share what I've written. But here's the thing: if I do share here I can't submit the work elsewhere. Many publications and competitions won't consider anything that has been published on blog so by popping my story on here I take it out of circulation. It's something that I'm struggling with - to publish or not to publish.

As a fairly new writer (obviously not that new ;-) but new to considering myself a writer and sharing my work) I'm not sure how to decide whether a story is worth keeping for possible submission or whether it's ok to pop on the blog. I know there's no magic formula so I'm not looking for that but I'd like to know how other writers decide what to do with their work.

I've decided to keep the second of my short stories on the hard drive for the moment rather than share. It may have a life somewhere else and I don't want to lose that opportunity. But I'm also mindful that it may end up on the blog if I can't find an alternative home for it. So keep an eye out for it!

Friday, 9 September 2016

Startling Landscape

Another piece inspired by a date from 52 Dates for Writers. We were invited to visit a startling landscape and then write about it. As I had no time to go to a startling landscape I wrote about a landscape I saw on TV. Hope you enjoy it.

As they climbed the last few feet the wind dropped and there was a slight warming in the air. They felt the loose rock shift under their feet as they made it to the top of the ridge. The low clouds parted  and a shaft of sunlight illuminated the most perfect sight. Below them, obscured from view from most angles was a tarn, a mountain lake glistening in the sunlight. It looked like a perfect circle, nestling between the outcrops of rock. The sides curved round gently, framing the water that sparkled as the sun shone on the surface. As quickly as it had appeared the sun was obscured by the clouds again and the water changed. It was suddenly dark and menacing, looking like a bottomless pool from Anglo Saxon sagas. They had no problem imagining monsters living in the depths, creatures from the dawn of time who had slumbered there unmolested for centuries.
The temperature began to fall and the cloud cover threatened rain. They took out cameras to immortalise the scene then began their descent. As they disappeared from view a ripple skittered across the surface of the tarn, breaking silently against the shore. Darkness started to fall and the tarn returned to its slumber.

The Prompt - Return

Hooray! The Prompt is back from its summer break, all tanned and relaxed. So it's time to stretch out those writing muscles and get creating. So here's my take on 'Return'.


I'm going back, back in time.
Back to my roots.
Taking the train to my home town.
The city that shaped me, made me,
Turned me out into the world.
Fully grown I return to the place
I left when young and green.
Memories flood through me as the train
Chugs northwards, heading back.
Mixed feelings assault me,
Nostalgia for happy, carefree times,
Sadness for those lost and gone.
Everything has changed, new and shiny
Replacing old and familiar.
Returning here has left me bothered,
Unsure how I feel about this place,
Once so familiar, now so alien.
The young me loved the noise, the busy-ness,
The life of the city.
Older me feels overwhelmed, disturbed
Not at all relaxed here.
Was it a mistake to return?
Should memories stay firmly in the past?

I take my leave of my old home town
And return to my now hometown.
Glad I did yet not keen to do so again.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Week 1: Write a Short Story Every Week

So I've managed to complete the first short story of my challenge. It didn't turn out to be the story I planned on writing, that one died in paragraph two of boredom! So after much deliberation I decided that I'd publish it here despite the fact that it might not be eligible for publication elsewhere. So do let me know what you think and enjoy!

Storm Warning

Whenever I hear thunder or see lightening flash across the sky I’m transported back to the kitchen in my grandmother’s house. At the first hint of a storm she’d rush about opening doors so the lightening could find a way out if it came into the house. There was also something to be done with knives but I can’t remember what that was. Then we’d all sit under the kitchen table holding hands until the storm passed. For a while I was terrified of thunder storms but now I enjoy watching the lightening blazing through the heavy clouds and listening to the rain pounding down onto the patio. Thunder still makes me jump but I no longer have the need to fling the doors open.

My mother’s side of the family seemed to have many superstitions and rituals that other families didn’t. As a city child I was fascinated by the country lore of my grandmother. She told me that when cows all sit down together in a field it meant rain was coming. If she caught sight of the cows in the water meadow opposite her house lying down she’d rush to fetch the washing in and hang it around the house on wooden clothes horses, even if it was a warm sunny day. As soon as the cows stood up the washing would go back out on the line. She also told me that horses couldn’t lie down or they’d die. I was heart broken when I saw the lovely brown and white foal that had been born on the farm down the lane lying down. Convinced it was dead I cried for an hour solid and picked a bunch of flowers to put next to the fence of its field. Imagine my surprise when it was running about the field swishing its tail when I got back there! My grandmother said I must have been mistaken about it lying down but I was sure of what I had seen. My father laughed so long and loud when I told him that he had to wipe his eyes with his hankie.

Grandmother thought that things were very strange and wrong in the city where I lived. She visited once a year and criticised everything. I copied my mother when she rolled her eyes as grandmother picked a fault with something else about city life. She distrusted everything: there were too many buses, yet she moaned that her village had a poor bus service; there were too many cars, yet she moaned when the Rag and Bone man came past with his horse and cart; it was too hot in her room, yet she moaned about the smell of the city air when we opened a window. Everything was wrong even down to the pegs my mother used on the washing line. We had wooden spring pegs which flew across the garden if the spring got twisted. Grandmother used the old fashioned one piece pegs that could be covered in scraps of fabric and turned into little dolls. We loved to play with the pegs and her fabric bag when we visited. We turned all the pegs into little people, imagined a village for them to live in and told stories about their lives until it was time to go home. When I was grown up and helped grandmother to peg out the washing there were still faded faces on some of the pegs from my childhood.

Some of the superstitions seemed harmless enough, such as not putting new shoes on the table. If you did the shoes would pinch and never be comfortable. Others were darker, more grown up and a bit frightening. Every Halloween we made tiny figures out of twigs, wool and fabric scraps. We’d hide them among the shrubs and trees in the garden to guard the home over the coming year. Sometimes we’d search for these little people later on in the year, moving branches and dead leaves in the places where we’d hidden them. Sometimes we’d find them, toppled over by animals or the wind. But sometimes they had vanished leaving no trace. Grandmother said these figures had been killed fighting goblins or demons and had been burned in a cold terrible fire. This frightened us more than the imagined evil we’d been trying to keep away, the thought of demons and goblins roaming around our peaceful city garden. As we got older we weren’t so keen to carry on with that particular tradition, it seemed a bit silly. Once I’d studied The Crucible I warned grandmother that a few hundred years ago she’d have been burned as a witch. She smiled and said that people were entitled to there beliefs and traditions. But I know that my grandmother still hid the twig people around her garden until her death. 

As the thunder storm passes over I am reminded of a terrible storm when I was a child. I was staying with my grandmother and it had been a hot, humid day. Everyone was feeling really grumpy and cross with each other, clothes sticking to our bodies and nowhere cool to take refuge. My grandfather was in his workshop, a vast barn of a building which fascinated us but was forbidden to us. We were not allowed in there unless grandfather invited us in and under no circumstances were we to touch anything. It was an Aladdin’s cave to us, filled with things we longed to ask about or touch. Hanging from the rafters were several rusted bicycles, one with no tyres and one with an old wicker basket on the front. That one was the one my uncle had ridden into a lamppost when he’d been dared to do a wheelie by my Dad. There were strings of pungent onions from the garden, woven together by grandfather into beautiful plaits. There were seed trays waiting to be filled in the spring, an enormous lawn mower with a spare grass collector, oiled tools hanging from a board, ladders, plant pots, three carpet beaters, buckets with holes in or no handles, coils of rope, stacked paint tins dribbling yellow or blue or green dried paint down the sides, fishing rods, a broken down motor cycle in pieces in one corner. It was a magical place and we wished we were allowed in, especially on this hot day as it was gloriously cool inside. But we were denied that refuge and had to make do with standing on tiptoes and peering through the cobwebby windows.

I got bored staring through the window and wandered off on my own. I skirted the herb garden, running my fingers through the lavender and rosemary, sending a glorious scent into the heavy air. I weaved my way between the rows of runner beans feeling the cool green leaves rub my cheeks and forehead. In the distance I could see the back of the neighbouring cottages with their off set square windows looking out at me as I strode through the grass in the orchard. There was a tiny passage between the cottages and the wall of my grandparent’s garden which promised a cool refuge from the heat. Seed heads stuck to my socks and skirt as I pushed my way through thigh high grass, ducking below the overhanging branches of apple, pear and plum trees.  

When I reached the end of the garden I turned left towards the dark passage. Usually I was too scared to go in alone but I knew that it was cool and dark and the sweat was running between my shoulder blades and sticking my hair to my scalp. I wanted to sit quietly for a while in the cool, not to feel the sun beating down on my head. I squeezed myself between the two walls and shuffled forwards. There was no vegetation here, it was too dry and dark for anything to grow yet in the winter there were strange fungus things that smelled of rot and death which grew here. I wondered if they were hiding underground or inside the walls during summertime but there was no sign of anything like that. As I pushed further into the passage it got darker and harder to see. If I looked up I could make out a thin sliver of sky, blue and cloudless. It looked hot and sticky from this shaded place. The cottage walls were uneven and in places the passageway got wide enough for me to stand square on and in one of these wider places I slid down the wall and sat on the dirt floor. I knew I was getting my dress filthy and I’d be in trouble when I went back but I didn’t care, I was cool and away from the sun, that was all that mattered. I stretched my legs out and my foot brushed against something. In the dark it was hard to see what was there; I knelt up and reached out to find what it was. My fingers brushed against something hard and sharp. I closed my fingers around it and pulled it towards me.

When I saw what it was I dropped it into my lap with a gasp. It was one of the poppets that we made every Halloween. What was it doing here? I only remembered putting them under trees and shrubs not up against walls. Who had put it here? The passage was so narrow it couldn’t have been a grown up, they’d never squeeze through. But if it was a child and it wasn’t me or my sister then who? I picked the poppet up and looked more closely. The twigs were very brittle, one had snapped when I’d kicked it and hung limply by a tread of bark. The fabric was very dirty, fraying and the pattern hard to see. One piece looked as if it had flowers and there was a scrap of lace tucked in. Tiny stitches held the costume together and there was a scrap of wool tied on top as if it were hair. This poppet had been made with more care than the ones we made. I rested it against the wall and looked down the passageway where it had been hidden. There was a whole crowd of them! As far as I could see there were poppets, standing against the wall, lying in the dirt, piled up against each other. It was as if a village of tiny dolls was hiding between these walls in my grandparent’s garden.

I felt strange, uneasy as I looked at the poppets. They seemed to be watching and waiting which I knew was nonsense. They were dolls made from sticks and fabric, they had no eyes and they weren’t alive. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being watched. I felt very cold and my breathing quickened. The wall against my back seemed to be pushing me further into the passage and the little light that spilled down was fading away. The sweat between my shoulders was icy cold, chilling me until I felt myself start to shiver. A sense of panic was rising within me and I wanted to be away from here very quickly. I pushed against the dirt floor, scrambling against the crumbling walls until I was standing. The poppet fell to the ground and I backed away from it, never taking my eyes from it almost as if I expected it to move towards me. I edged towards the garden as fast as I could, hardly feeling the rough brickwork scraping my arms. As I popped out from between the walls I dared to glance back. I could see the poppets arranged in rows three or four deep going back as far as I could see. A smell of damp fungus wafted through the air and I turned and ran back to the house as fast as I could.

I burst into the kitchen just as the storm broke. A clap of thunder made me scream and as soon as I had let that first scream out I was unable to stop. Mother grabbed me and shook me until I stopped screaming, the tears started to flow and I sobbed in her arms. Grandmother was flapping about opening doors and muttering about lightening bolts and fires. She dragged my sister under the table leaving mother and me clinging to each other in front of the fireplace. The rain began to pound down and lightening flashed across the sky. It lit up the clouds from within, a dazzling lightshow that was enjoyed by my grandfather leaning on the door frame of his workshop, mug of tea in hand.              

Sunday, 4 September 2016

The Graveyard

This piece is another one prompted by the 52 Dates for Writers course. We were invited to visit a graveyard and write our impressions of the visit. As this didn't fit in my novel at the moment I'm sharing it here as a stand alone piece of writing. I may find that I need a graveyard scene later so it's a useful exercise in its own right. See what you think!

If this was Yorkshire or the depths of Dartmoor then there would be mist rolling between the headstones and a strange eerie moaning would drift across the landscape. Images of large dogs and ghosts would flit through my mind and I'd quicken my paces to get to the other side. But this is neither of those places and this graveyard is bathed in bright sunshine on a warm summer's day. It is a municipal graveyard, ordered and neatly kept. As I wander down the pathways I see names which are modern and remind me of people I have known; Kevin, Darren, Carol and Sharon. Not the names I'm used to seeing in graveyards and a stark reminder of my own mortality. The dates are mostly within my lifetime too - 1972, 1968, 1983 - and this again makes me think about my own life.

The old Victorian churchyards I wandered through as a young woman are starkly different to this burial ground. They were properly atmospheric and it was easy to imagine moustache twirling villains chasing chaste maidens through them. Or slightly hysterical young girls swooning across the tombstones as they followed superstitions about spending time in churchyards conjuring up spirits. The slightly neglected air in those churchyards only made them more attractive in my view. The rambling undergrowth obscuring some of the inscriptions, the thick moss dripping from the stones, the overhanging trees keeping parts of the churchyard in almost permanent shade; all adding to the atmosphere, the spooky feeling and a tingle up the spine.

The modern graveyard is peaceful too. There are places to sit and contemplate, neatly trimmed shrubs and an air of tranquillity. If my family were buried here it would be a pleasant place to visit and remember. Yet I still can't shake the feeling that this isn't how a burial place should be. It's too neat and tidy, too many straight lines and edges. It feels like strolling through a shopping mall rather than visiting the dead.

As an antidote to the modernity and corporate feel I visited the churchyard of my local church and found things more to my liking. Here the graves were from the distant past - 1569, 1719, 1601 - and they fitted more my idea of a graveyard. The names were older too - Katherine, Richard, Thomasine - and the headstones were weathered and toppling. This had the silent, haunting atmosphere that I expect from a churchyard. This is the kind of place I'd like to rest for all eternity.

So what does this say about me and my attitude to death and burial? I think I have a rather Romantic even Gothic view of death. My ideal funeral would be a Victorian one with plenty of black crepe and wailing, a coffin with proper brass handles dripping with white lilies, a horse drawn hearse with glass side, mourning jewellery and lace hemmed handkerchiefs. I suspect that I'll end up with a cremation and a scattering rather than a burial but I do hope the funeral itself is a grand affair. Not expecting much, am I?


Forgotten Child by Emily Organ - A Book Review

There is always the fear when reading a sequel to a much loved book that it won't live up to the previous one. No danger of that here! Emily Organ re-animates the wonderful characters from Runaway Girl and sends them off on another medieaval adventure.

I was pleased that my favourite character from Runaway Girl had a more prominent part this time. Millicent is a joy; feisty, wise and down to earth, I'd like her to be a much loved aunt of mine. New characters enchanted too - I'd love to be swept off my feet by the dashing Moris de Grey. I imagine him like Clive Mantle in Robin of Sherwood! The whole de Grey family have a more prominent part in this book and they are beautifully drawn and well rounded characters. My benchmark is always 'Can I visualise this character?' and there is no trouble doing that with Emily's writing. She includes enough deatil for me to see them all in my mind's eye. Her ability to describe a part of history I am not very familiar with in such vivid detail that I felt I was there is a rare gift. I was left wanting to know more about Britain in the 14th century and especially the lives of women at that time.

The plot has all the elements of a traditional thriller; a mystery, a secret, a pursuit and a conflict. The determination of Alice Wescott to find out what the secret her husband hid from her and her need to do the right thing even if it puts her in danger make her a compelling heroine. At times I got frustrated with her for being stubborn and leading others into difficult situations but I was always rooting for her. The thrills in this are wonderful. I particularly liked the scene where the party are caught by the tide when crossing to Holy Island - my heart was in my mouth throughout and I worried for them. Beautifully taut and well written, it was impossible not to hold my breath as the water rose around them. I also want to re-visit Holy Island and imagine all Emily's characters around me, striding across the sand dunes or chatting in the cloisters.

At the end of the novel we are teased with the subject of book three - the hunt for the wicked Sir Walter from book one. I for one cannot wait to see how Emily rounds off the trilogy. I just hope Sir Walter gets his just desserts!

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Hello September!

So here it is, September. Arrived at last. I knew it would but even so ...

I have challenged myself to write a short story a week for a year and today is the start of the challenge. I've already decided what I'm going to write about for the first short story so that's one less thing to worry about!

What I need to decide now is what to do with the stories once they're written. Should I keep them safely on the hard drive waiting until I find somewhere to submit them? Should I put them on the blog? What would that mean if I want to submit them? Many things to think about and decide. I don't like making decisions at the best of times so I'm hoping that I can swerve this one for a while.

Again I'm deciding to be more focused and disciplined in my writing. This is an old coat that I'm putting on again but when I do focus and concentrate I surprise myself with what I can produce. So again I promise myself that I'll be more professional and focused and I know that by the beginning of next week I'll be moaning about writers block and scoffing cake!

 So here's to a productive first week of September! And to focus ... and discipline ... and cake ...