Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Writing Retreats

I've recently signed up for a weekend writing retreat later this year and I have to confess that I'm really looking forward to it. Partly because I'll get to meet one of my writing pals, partly because it's a lovely weekend away to relax. But of course the main reason is to do some quality (?) writing and get some support and advice.

I have been on a writing retreat once before, many years ago, and it was wonderful.  The chance to spend time chatting about writing without having to keep an eye on the clock; the opportunity to read the work of other writers; the chance to share my writing in a supportive space; the chance to sit and muse, to write, to daydream with no guilt. These are the things that I am looking forward to.

I think being a writer can be a lonely pursuit. You sit at a desk with a cooling cup of tea and write. No-one can get inside your head and help you. You are alone with your thoughts and imagination. No matter how much you chat to fellow writers or attend writing groups and readings, at some stage it is just you and the page/screen. So the opportunity to spend some time with other writers is a welcome one in my book.

I've always been drawn to the Arvon courses and have heard good things about them. The only downside is that they are rather on the expensive side but I guess for a week away and professional guidance they're not outlandish. However I have yet to be able to justify the expense - maybe when Hollywood takes up an option on my first best seller, eh? So I have high hopes for my weekend away stretching my writing muscles and I'm hoping to come away with some new ideas and directions and some new writing to keep my busy. Who knows, I may even get the first draft of the novel finished/polished!

Monday, 27 February 2017

Book Review - The Mirror by Deborah A Stansil

I was sent a copy of this book by the author for review on my blog. It is the first thing by Deborah I have read so I have no idea if this is her usual genre.

This is the story of Amy, Scott and their daughter Lilly. An antique mirror brings terror and heartbreak to the family and there is a chilling supernatural element which I especially enjoyed. I found the story slow to get going and was rather frustrated by what I felt was too much build up to the action of the story. However, once the action began it was a stunning story. The tragic backstory to Amy's possessiveness around Lilly was truly heart-breaking and really well written. There was real tension in the scene with Amy's ex and a shocking conclusion to that encounter that had me gasping. The character of Martin, Amy's ex, is a classic sociopath/psychopath and although he appears only briefly his influence ripples through the whole novel.

I really enjoyed the supernatural element to the story. The contrasting reactions of Scott and Amy to what is happening to their daughter really rang true; Scott's scepticism was understandable; Amy's worry about her child felt true and the way her thoughts swirled around her head was extremely well written. I felt that the growing tension between Scott and Amy was well observed and felt accurate. Their relationship is tested in a way that I thought rang true.

I felt that the ending tied everything together. I wasn't totally convinced by it but it did pull all the threads together and conclude the story in a satisfactory fashion. There is scope for a sequel if Deborah wanted to write it and I for one would be interested in reading it. I will certainly look out for other books by this author. She writes interesting and believable characters and it was a pleasure to spend some time with them.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

How do I rescue my novel?

In November I enjoyed a month of NaNoWriMo and reached my 50,000 word target. I was sailing away towards completing a first draft of a novel for the first time and could hardly contain my excitement. So what went wrong?

Sitting quietly on my hard drive is the novel. It's hardly progressed since December 1st and I'm worried that I'm falling out of love with it. Part of the problem is that I'm a pantser at heart and I just went with the flow. While this gave me a win at NaNo it hasn't helped at all with the subsequent writing. As I had no plan I don't know where the story is going. I have lots of threads meandering along but I don't know how I'm going to pull them all together.

Is it possible to do retrospective planning? Can I rescue this story from the fog?

I don't want to give up on this story. There is so much about it that I love, the characters are among the best I've written and I genuinely believe that there is a good story here. But... it's a bit lost at the moment and I'm feeling, well I'm not sure how I'm feeling about it actually.

Perhaps all I need is to pull up my Big Girl Pants and write the darn thing. After all isn't a first draft just a chance to tell the story? The fashioning and polishing happens in the edit so I'm told.

So what to do. Yet another dilemma for me on my journey as a writer.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Book Review - Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh

Published in 1930 this novel satirises the world of the Bright Young Things, a group of 1920s socialites known for their outrageous parties and behaviour. They epitomised the Jazz Age in London and the Roaring Twenties vibe that followed World War 1.

This is the first novel by Evelyn Waugh I have read. I enjoyed watching Brideshead Revisited but to my shame I never got round to reading the book. So I wasn't sure what to expect from Vile Bodies. It was like a waspish Jeeves and Wooster at times and I loved it.

This is the story of Adam Fenwick-Symes love of and pursuit of Nina Blount. They are part of the bohemian set that parties around London, lurching from one financial crisis to another. They seem resigned to the fact that they will marry but lack of funds always stops them. There is a sometimes bewildering cast of characters. The older generation are Edwardians who lived through World War 1 and adhere to the old standards. They watch with despair the younger generation who live for parties and pleasure, rushing around the country, living beyond their means and filling the gossip columns.

There were echoes of recent times in Vile Bodies. At one point Adam becomes a gossip columnist and to pep things up when he runs out of things to write he invents people and events to fill his column. Readers believe in these people and they take on lives of their own so he has to send his creations abroad. This reminded me of the fake news/alternative facts that have been swilling around the media recently. An opportune time to read this novel I think.

 Not all the characters are sympathetic and some of them seem to flit in and out and leave little impression. I enjoyed reading about the exploits of Agatha Runcible who is struggling with her sexuality and who embraces the lifestyle of the bohemian set to its ultimate and tragic end. Lottie Crump is divine, running a hotel for misfits who have nowhere else to go. She is both clueless and savvy at the same time - she understands her clientele and allows them to be who they are, no questions asked.

The novel turns from a romantic romp through fashionable society into a bleak view of the future. Waugh predicts that there will be another war and this will bring about the end of the Bright Young Things and their like. The novel ends with Adam, the Major and a prostitute sitting in a car in the heart of a battle - two worlds colliding in the most brutal way imaginable. I enjoyed this first encounter with Evelyn Waugh very much and will certainly read some more in the future.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Omen of Seven

In a clearing The Seven waited. The moon was rising and soon it would be time for the conclave. Prodigy paced around the circle, wearing a path through the grass. She was impatient to begin. As the eldest it was her role to start and end the conclave. She had the power to overrule any one of The Seven and she had used her power only once in her long life. She wrapped her cloak more closely around her thin frame and ran her fingers through her greying hair. Auspice sat on a three legged stool and stared glassy eyed before him. It was many years since his sight had been taken from him and he had finally accepted his blindness after many years of anger and bitterness. He now saw the wisdom that had been granted him when his vision was lost. The ropey veins stood out on his arthritic hands and he rubbed them together against the cold.

Sign lounged against a tree with his arms folded, observing The Seven. He was bored and wished this evening was over soon. There were things he needed to attend to and he had no time to waste hanging around in this ancient wood with the others. He scowled at the others with contempt in his ice cold blue eyes. These were not the powerful mages he had expected when joining The Seven and he had little time for any of them.

In the centre of the clearing stood Portent rubbing her swollen belly. She felt serene and calm despite the bad vibes pouring from Sign. She smiled at him and he turned away. He was an angry soul and Portent sighed. There had been a time when they had been close but he had withdrawn into the company of thieves and vagabonds. She hoped that they might be close again soon but even the impending birth of her child had failed to touch his cold heart. The child quickened and she rubbed more slowly, calming the life within her and singing to it. Augury drew close to her and took her hand. He felt her pulse and stroked along the length of her fingers. He smiled and nodded at Portent. The healer within him tapped into the life force of her child and told him that all was well, the child was strong. He closed his kindly hazel eyes and listened to the life-force of Portent’s daughter. This one was strong and Augury could feel the old magic surging through the child.  

Presage sat cross legged on the ground plucking and weaving flowers into a braid.  She hummed an ancient tune and watched as her fingers twisted the stems into a plait and saw it grow. When it was the right length she twisted the ends together and formed a circlet. She rose effortlessly and placed the garland on Auspice’s head. He smiled and reached for her hand. Presage held his hand and lifted it to her lips. The old man smiled and pulled her hand to his cheek, savouring the cool smooth flesh against his wrinkled skin. Presage tossed her golden curls and threw her head back to stare at the rising moon. She felt great peace in this place, a sense of well-being despite the sneering of Sign.

‘We are only six, ‘ said Prodigy. ‘We cannot begin until we are seven and the moon is nearing its zenith. We must begin soon or lose the perfect time for another year. Where can he be?’

Sign snorted and strode across the circle to join her.

‘If I have wasted my time here I will not come again next year. Many plans were cancelled so I could be here and my time is precious, even if yours is not.’

‘Heaven forbid you should miss a chance to make another soul’s life unhappy!’

Sign turned towards Auspice and scowled at the old man.

‘Please, think of the child,’ whispered Portent. ‘She deserves peace and good will, not negative thoughts and words.’

A chill wind blew through the clearing and ruffled the robes of The Seven.  The moon shone brightly through a gap in the clouds and a hooded figure walked slowly from between the trees.

‘Welcome to conclave. Make yourself known.’ Prodigy spread her arms and all eyes turned to the hooded figure. Auspice leaned forward and listened to the breathing and the rustling of the robe. The figure stood tall and still.

Augury shivered as the temperature dropped. The figure dropped the hood from his head. A gentle face, shaved head like a monk and a smile. Augury moved towards him, circled and nodded.

‘A gentle soul, well worthy to join The Seven. Welcome!’

One by one the others approached and examined the stranger. Presage guided Auspice and the old man ran his hands lightly over his features. He also nodded. Prodigy was the last to face him and he raised his eyes to meet hers. They looked deeply into each others eyes and eventually Prodigy nodded too.

‘We are seven and may begin. The moon has risen, the time has come. Join us.’

They stood in a circle, joined hands and waited. In the distance a wolf howled and a bell tolled. Prodigy dropped the hands she held and raised hers to the moon.

‘We welcome the seventh, to take the place of Foretoken. Share your name with us and become one of The Seven.’

‘My name is Omen. I join The Seven with joy, with humility and with gratitude. Accept me, make use of my gifts.’

They began to walk slowly widdershins and chanted.

‘Welcome to The Seven! Welcome Omen of Seven!’

The conclave of The Seven had begun.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Phoney Valentine

You sent me flowers,
I thought of funerals.
You sent me chocolates,
I thought of the calories.
You sent me champagne,
I thought of false celebration.
You sent me a card,
I thought of the ruined rain forest.

You took me for dinner,
I had no appetite.
You gave me jewellery,
I saw a guilty conscience.
You played romantic music,
I heard silly, soppy tunes.
You tried to romance me,
I felt cold and betrayed.

You rushed off early to meet up with her,
I went home to shred your clothes,
Key your car, destroy your CDs
And leave you..
Happy Valentine's Day!

Saturday, 11 February 2017

The Prompt - Be

Be present in the moment,
Let all things quiet and settle.
Be still and notice
What surrounds you.

I am bad at being still,
i am bad at being quiet.
My minds chatters on and on,
Thoughts rush at me unbidden.

Be still and feel your body,
Sense and feel your breathing.
Be quiet and listen to the Universe.
Appreciate the moment.

My mind whirls, refuses to listen.
The Universe can't get a word in.
I twitch and fidget,
Unable to just 'Be'.

Be quiet and listen for wisdom,
Breathe deeply and just be.
Be present in your body,
Be aware of what you are.

I'm trying, Universe, really trying,
But I'm having difficulty.
How can I listen and breathe deeply
When there is so much more to me?

I don't do meditation.
I don't do sitting still.
I don't do yoga or zen.
I can't just 'be'.
I need to chatter, to interact,
To connect with those around me.
So thank you for the wisdom
But I'll pass on serenity,
Say 'no' to tranquillity,
Ignore just 'being'
And enjoy just being me.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

The Prompt - Yellow

This is a continuation of my last The Prompt post, prompted (excuse the pun!) by all the kind words and wanting to know more. So buckle up, here we go!

As Tom stepped into the lounge he was aware of a chilling cold. The room felt as if the window had been left open on the coldest night of the year; it cut him to the bone and he wrapped his arms around his torso. The darkness seemed solid here, far darker than it ought to have been with a lamp burning in the hall behind. Tom stared hard into the darkness but couldn't make out anything in the room. The drum beat was still here although it seemed to be coming from far away.

Suddenly the door slammed shut behind Tom and he spun round in surprise. He reached out for the handle but it was no longer there. There was nothing solid for his fingers to touch, no handle, no door, no wall. Tom knew that he'd only taken a small step into the room so the door should have been right behind him. But it wasn't. How was this possible? Tom moved forward one step, expecting to bump into the door but he didn't; another step, still nothing. Even though it was impossible to do, he walked forward by five or six steps. He should definitely have banged into the door or wall by now.

This was silly. The room was the darkest place he had ever been. He closed his eyes, then opened them and the effect was the same. Not a glimmer of light anywhere. He turned slowly round but there was no light, nothing he could see which gave him a focal point. Tom felt totally disorientated, he had no idea where he was in the room or where the door was to get out. Why hadn't he flipped the light switch when he opened the door?  And still the drum beat on.

Tom spun round, groping around him for anything solid, anything that would help him work out where he was. The drum was beating in time with his heart, just half a beat behind his heartbeat. The faster Tom's heart went the faster the drum beat, as if it was synchronised to his heart. His breathing became faster and shallower and Tom realised he was on the verge of a full blown panic attack. He'd never had one before but he had seen it after an ill-advised visit to the reptile house at London Zoo with a snake phobic girlfriend. He made a conscious effort to slow his breathing and his panic soon began to die down.

The drum continued to beat in tandem with Tom's heart. It seemed to be coming from behind him but Tom knew from experience that this wasn't reliable. As slowly as he could he began to turn to his right ; the drum beat moved with him. He stopped and slowly turned left; the same happened, the drum beat moved to the left too. Tom was chilled through, blind as a bat and disorientated. It was time to take control. He had to get out of the room.

Tom knew that the room wasn't that big, he should be able to cross it in no more than ten paces. If he could stride out confidently he would hit a wall in a few steps and then he could follow it round the room until he found the door frame. Then he could turn the light on, see what was making that awful drumming and put a stop to this nonsense. Taking a deep breath he strode out into the darkness, one step at a time, arms extended in front of him. He was reminded of childhood birthday parties playing Blind Man's Bluff with his friends. This time, however, there was no childish laughter and no prize at the end.

After twenty paces Tom stopped. This was silly. The room wasn't big enough for him to have done what he had just done. Standing completely still, Tom strained his ears to listen once more to the drum beat. It was steady, just like a heart beat. Just like his heart beat. All the time it seemed to be behind him, as if it was following him across the room. Tom could think of nothing in his house that could make a sound like that. In fact, he couldn't think of anything at all that would sound or behave like it.

More worrying was the lack of any other sound. No traffic, although he lived close to a busy road; no household noise; no voices of passers-by. All he could hear was the drum beat, his ragged breathing and the blood pulsing in his ears. No sound, no vision. Tom felt alone and frightened.

In the corner of his eye Tom saw a faint yellow light. He closed his eyes, the light was gone. Opened his eyes, the light was there. He repeated this several times and each time the light was still there when he opened his eyes. Tom realised that he'd been holding his breath so took a few deep breaths to steady himself.  He turned his head towards the light and it was still there, front and centre. Hardly daring to believe what he was seeing, Tom slowly moved towards the faint yellow light. It remained steady, it got closer as he walked but stayed faint and fragile.

Tom hoped that it was the light seeping round the edge of the door but as he got closer he saw that it wasn't like the edge of a door. The light was hovering at eye level and seemed to be floating above the floor. As he drew nearer Tom could see that the light was splitting into several parts, two, three, four distinct lights hovering in front of him.

Tom gasped as he realised what he was seeing. Picked out in pale, flickering yellow light was the word 'HELP'. 

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Re-vamping my writing process

As regular readers will know, I suffer from self-doubt about my writing. It took me a long time to embrace the name of writer and I still have to steel myself to introduce myself as a writer. Maybe that will get easier over time but I'm not holding my breath. However I know that I have this desire to write and it won't leave me alone until I do. But getting into good writing habits is something I have struggled with.

As if fated I saw a tweet about a webinar hosted by Michael Hyatt. He was promising to share tips for writing a book quickly and efficiently. Now I like a bit of instant gratification as much as the next girl so I was attracted and signed up. I even put the time in my planner! Which is unusual; I'm a great one for signing up for stuff and then forgetting it. So there I was yesterday, sitting at my laptop, earphones in, notebook and pen ready. And guess what? It was great! Admittedly some of the things covered were things I knew anyway - such as scheduling time for writing - but for some reason everything seemed to gel this time round. There was lots of useful information about planning that I hope to implement.

The upshot of all this is I'm going to try to re-vamp my writing process and see what happens. If it speeds things up and gets my creative juices flowing it'll be worth it. Watch this space ... 

Tuesday, 7 February 2017


‘But I asked you not to bring him today! Mum didn’t like him and I think it’s disrespectful to have him here today.’
Sara sighed and mentally prepared for another hissing argument with her sister. This tension was taking it’s toll on both of them and they seemed to have been at each other’s throats ever since their mother had died. Everything Sara did was wrong and Marsha never wasted an opportunity to tell her that. Things had come to a head two days ago when Sara mentioned casually that she was bringing Dale to the funeral. The frost had passed down the phone line and Sara knew that this was to be the line in the sand for Marsha.
‘Marsha, he’s my husband, of course I want him here to support me. Why should everyone else be allowed to come and Dale gets singled out? I know he wasn’t Mum’s choice for me but he’s my choice. Please don’t make a scene, today of all days.’
Sara turned and walked out of the house. She needed some fresh air so she wandered to the end of the road and sat on the wall. Many years ago this had been their wall, the place they had sat and poured out their hearts to each  other, sisters united against the world. Marsha had cried on her shoulder about many of her boyfriends; Sara had shared her latest love with Marsha on this corner; they had both shared the news of engagements and pregnancies here. It was a special place, their special place. Now she sat there and felt the tears well up as she remembered how close they had once been and how frosty their relationship had become.
After a while Sara returned to the house and busied herself greeting relatives and making tea. As much as possible she kept out of her sister’s way and the time arrived to leave for the church. It had been arranged that the sisters would travel together but Marsha had other ideas. As soon as the funeral cars arrived she grabbed her family and piled them all into the lead car, leaving no room for Sara. Sighing deeply Sara grabbed Dale’s arm and lead him to their car. They followed the hearse and undertaker’s car, neither speaking. She could see that Dale was angry but keeping control of his temper for her sake. She just felt sad. Sad at the loss of her mother, sad at the loss of her sister too.
At the church Sara saw Marsha sitting in the front pew. Dale walked down the aisle and began to shuffle into the second pew. Sara was about to join him when she paused. Today of all days she needed her sister rather than her husband. She slid into the pew next to Marsha, shuffled up and reached for her sister’s hand. For a fraction of a second Marsha froze. Then she squeezed Sara’s hand and they felt that sisterly connection that they both remembered from many years ago. And the tears began to flow.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Book Review - On The Day Of The Dead

This is an interesting anthology of short stories submitted to Black Pear Press for their 2016 Short Story Competition. As is usually the case with these sort of anthologies there are stories that I loved and stories that didn't connect with me. However, in the spirit of being encouraging to my fellow writers, I will concentrate on the positive in my review.

I must start with the winning story after which the anthology is named. On The Day Of The Dead by Anne Wilson is a bitter sweet tale of love and loss. I loved the character of Mathias Mori who has lost his wife and longs for her to return to him on the Day of the Dead. The setting is beautifully drawn, evoking a Mexican village with its dust and heat.

The Photographer by Graeme Hall is a study of obsession. I got a feeling of deep sadness as I followed Ted around his home photographing his possessions. The ending is poignant and in a way  the only way the story could have ended.

The Scent of Apples by Natasha Bland took me back to my days as a new mother and the sense of isolation that being at home with a young baby brought. The relationship between Olivia and Mrs White is touching and the growing confidence Olivia feels leaves the story on a positive note.

Cromwell and The Fools by Elizabeth Hopkinson is a curious story which imagines Oliver Cromwell visiting a village of fools. While there he is sentenced to complete three strange tasks during his life, including having his famously unflattering portrait painted. I was drawn to this strange story as where I live there is a tradition of electing a street mayor which has its origins in the Medieval fools. I loved the depiction of the Fool's village, it seemed such a happy place, a real contrast to the Puritan society ushered in under Cromwell.

Until Four by Graeme Hall speaks of lost opportunities and missed chances. The narrator remembers an encounter with Kate, whom he loves but never really gets together with. He wonders what would have happened if events had turned out differently. I'm sure we've all wondered how our lives would have been if we had made different decisions or if we'd chosen another love.

The Flower Shop by Christine Wallah also touched me. I really felt for Myra who longs to fill her life with something other than being a housewife. She feels tied to the home by Allan who thinks her place is in the home. The twist at the end is delicious and had me cheering for Myra.

All in all this is an enjoyable anthology with some little gems within its pages. I shall look out for the 2017n  competition and may even submit something myself.