Sunday, 28 July 2019

Always Something Else to Worry About

It seems to me that being a writer means spending an awful lot of time worrying about writing rather than actually writing.
The typos have been corrected in my manuscript, helpful and insightful comments received from my first reader. I have digested these suggestions and decided how I intend to act on them - they were most helpful so I'd be a fool to do otherwise. Now the worrying begins.

Do I add to the manuscript as it stands, including missing/misleading information, adding a chapter here and deleting one there to polish what I already have?
Or do I write the whole thing fresh, using what I now know to construct a new manuscript?

I have read accounts of both approaches but I have no idea which one will suit me best. I lay awake last night trying to construct a new story from the bones of the old one and feeling very dissatisfied by what my addled and tired brain came up with. 

It seems to me that there is no 'right' way to do this but I'm worried that I don't know the 'right' way for me. So again I start stressing and worrying rather than getting on and doing anything. Just more procrastination!

With my sensible writer head on I know that the solution is just to get on and write. Everything can be tidied up later after all.

But my worry-wart head isn't convinced that I have the tools or skills to amend or re-write and at the moment she is winning and I'm stuck, paralysed by indecision. If I don't get on and do something I fear I will lose all confidence in this manuscript and it will fade away on the hard drive of broken dreams.

Now if only I could make some sort of decision ...

Thursday, 18 July 2019

I Hope It Brings You Peace - A Short Story

I haven't put much of my writing up here lately so I thought I'd remedy that with a little something I wrote the other day. Feel free to comment and I hope you enjoy it.

I Hope It Brings You Peace

I stand in a plume of smoke watching you sip the bitterest of gin and bitter lemons, your squinty eyes watching him. He leans into the girl as they twirl around the dance floor, his hand resting on the rise of  young buttocks. You purse your lips, push the glass across the table and the last melting ice cubes clink together. The music ends, the trio take a bow and the dancers leave the floor. he escorts the girl to the bar, helps her onto a tall stool and nods at you. You grip the edge of the table, reach for the glass and drain it in one.

I glide across to join you, sit on the vinyl bench and stare closely at you. Time has not been kind. Close cropped iron grey hair, deep wrinkles around your eyes and mouth, complexion sallow. You look worn out, worn down, burnt out.

He approaches, leans in and a cloud of sickly aftershave engulfs you. I am pulled back to another party, Christmas and the same aftershave. A kiss beneath the mistletoe that lasted a heartbeat too long, a hand held behind a back, blushing and sweating over the whiskey and gin.

You blink away the tears, his hand clasps your elbow and he breathes in your ear. 'Contacts', 'business', 'jealousy'. You slump against the back of the bench and sigh. As he heads to the bar you tap your glass. Without a glance at you he gestures to the barman and your glass is refreshed.

I remember another you, a younger more vibrant woman in tailored suits with raven curls that tossed as you spoke. You laughed and everyone looked at you, alive and vivacious. Afternoons sprawled on sunny lawns as our children played and we chattered about everything and nothing. Chilled wine, brought back from your holidays in France where you recharged your batteries and spoke your native language, returning to sprinkle your conversations with 'd'accord' and 'peut etre'. Now you sit silently, a shade of that woman, monochrome and sad.

The band return, a slightly off-key piano, a skinny youth with bass guitar and an octogenarian who wheezes Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin standards. Some dancers fill the floor and you scan them. But he isn't there, neither is he at the bar. You clutch your drink, a cold tear teeters on your lashes and you grind it away. He is gone.

I smoke him out in the car park. leaning on a maroon Mercedes, cigar clamped between his teeth.
An angular man whose head juts out alarmingly is telling lewd jokes and he is laughing, slapping his thighs. He pulls the cigar from his mouth, a string of spittle joining them together for an instant. The angular man points towards the golf course where several pairs are plodding from tee to green tugging carts behind them. He stares at the taut linen backside of one woman who is pushing a plastic tee into the ground, a bead of sweat glistening on his brow. I notice how his hair is cut close to his pink scalp, smooth and shiny where the hair is long gone. I recall the younger man, raking his fingers through his hair, pushing it from his eyes, his wedding ring glinting in the sunshine. Nothing glints now as he runs a liver spotted claw across his sweating head. He pulls once more on the cigar, grunts at the angular man and moves through my smoke with an awkward, halting gait. When in the privacy of the club house he pulls the straining fabric from his crotch and rejoins you at the bar.

He plonks himself next to you, your gazes never meeting as the band crash their way through 'It's Not Unusual'. Together you watch the last few dancers stagger around the floor, the barman laughing as he polishes a wine glass, leaning in to the young girl and nodding in your direction. He waves at the barman, gesticulating drinking and grunts as he pulls a tatty leather wallet from his hip pocket. You move away a fraction, lips bloodless, a gin soaked sweat on your upper lip. Together yet alone.

I watch you during the afternoon, you drinking and judging, he wheeling and dealing, neither acknowledging the coldness that surrounds you. He pulls a picture from his wallet and shows it to a couple standing at the bar, You catch the mumbled phrases 'My children', 'very proud', 'doing well'. I know that you don't see them anymore, that they are embarrassed by what you have become. I smile knowing that for all you  have and all you both took from us you are lonely, tethered to a man and lifestyle you now despise. You took it all, you and him, left us with nothing but poisoned memories. Yet it is you who have nothing, while I have it all. And now I pull the smoke closer to me, wrap myself up ready to depart. I brush my fingers across your face, watch you shiver and grow pale. My short time here is over and I leave you both behind. Leave you to your sadness, your regret. I hope it brings you peace but I think it only brought you pain and loneliness.

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Book Review - The Salt Path by Raynor Winn

I realised the other day that I hadn't posted a book review for a while. I suppose that this must mean that most of the books I have read recently haven't sparked enough enthusiasm to get reviewed.
However, I have just finished a wonderful read and felt that I had to put down my thoughts here.

I confess that this book has languished on my desk for a while, being passed over as I picked up other books, always thinking that I would get round to it. And eventually I did pick it up and settle down to read. Thank goodness I did for it is a wonderful, inspiring uplifting story of love, fortitude and the endless power of the human spirit. I confess to being in tears at the end of the second chapter and was worried that I would be unable to carry on. But this is not a sad or weepy book. So don't let my emotional response put you off!

Raynor Winn and her husband Moth find themselves homeless after a business deal goes bad and they fail to save it through the courts. The decide to use this 'freedom' to walk the South West Coast Path, initially from Minehead to Land's End but with the option to walk on. This book chronicles their journey, sharing the wonderous wildlife they see, the landscape they pass through and the interesting characters they meet.

Underplaying this travelogue is Moth's terminal diagnosis, delivered just as they decided to set off on their epic walk. The love that binds Moth and Raynor together is beautiful and strong. Without each other I think they would have soon fell apart as their safe lives unravelled. Moth finds the walk arduous at first but as the miles tick off he begins to gain strength and we are left optimistic about his fate. No spoilers here!

I loved getting to know Moth and Raynor, a pair of 'old walkers' who embrace an opportunity and learn so much about themselves through adversity. I was reminded of the saying 'What doesn't kill you makes you stronger'. This journey in this book is a living illustration of this and I loved ever bit of it.

Friday, 31 May 2019

It Can't Just Be Me

I wonder if I over-think these things sometimes, unable to switch my brain off and worrying away at things until I'm not sure which way is up. I seem incapable of making a decision and being content that I have made the correct one, going over and over things until I feel really despondent about everything.

Having decided what I was going to do with my manuscript I have had a few discussions with people and changed my mind about self publishing. So, traditional publishing it is then. Yes?

Well, if only it was that easy. I finally plucked up the courage to enter the Curtis Brown First Novel Contest and with only a few hours of procrastination I pressed 'Submit' and took a deep breath. Seconds later I was sure it was a mistake but it was done so no point worrying about it. Advice I failed to take and spent too much time obsessing about what I had done.

What was the problem? Imposter Syndrome of course!

I managed to convince myself that I had made a dreadful mistake, my manuscript was going to be laughed at and passed around at secret publishers meetings so everyone would know what a terrible writer I was and how dare I presume to submit that drivel to anyone. Coz that's how it works, right? There's a secret publishers cabal who spend their evenings cackling at the cheek of us deluded writers.

Anyway, back in the real world I worried that I had been premature sending the manuscript out when I had yet to hear back from my beta readers. But it is too late to worry about that so now I'm worrying about whether to send it out to agents before I hear from Curtis Brown. And down another rabbit hole I vanish …

So I'm trying to stay sane and balanced while my reptilian hind brain has kittens and gives me sleepless nights! Back to the short story I am writing for another contest and let the manuscript alone for a while or I'll scratch the scab off it.

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Nominative Determinism

I've yet to meet a Miss Baker who turns out splendid cakes or a Mr Plummer who can fix a leak in a trice but I have always been fascinated by nominative determinism. You know, the phenomenon whereby a person's name fits their chosen path in life. So when a perfectly fabulous name crossed my path yesterday I knew he had to be the subject of a piece of fiction.

So here is a short piece about a character named Dangerous!

I tried so hard not to roll my eyes as the five millionth person asked the same question.
'So, are you strong and dangerous?'
This was the question everyone I had ever met had asked me and as I had done every time I was asked it I cursed my stupid family for landing me with the name Armstrong Dangerous.
If you're being picky about it I'm Armstrong Dangerous III but as I'm not from Miami I don't use the numbers. In the Midlands if you were to use numbers at the end of your name you'd spend the whole time explaining away the Chinese Burn marks or pulling your underwear from your arse. So I leave that part out until I know someone well enough for them not to snigger when saying my name.
Why my father decided to stick me with a name that had cursed his childhood years I have no idea. Maybe he thought as he'd had to suffer so should his eldest child. Yes, that's right. Even if I'd had the good fortune to be born a girl he was planning to land me with Armstrong. Possibly as a middle name according to my mother but I'm not sure I believe her. After all, she didn't stand up to him when he decided that I was to be called Armstrong without even a middle name to fall back on.
Anyway, back to the story.
I failed to avoid rolling my eyes and I think I even sighed dramatically when the hulking new boy asked if my name really was Armstrong Dangerous. I managed to get the first two syllables of my standard explanation out before his massive right fist forced all  the air out of my lungs and dropped me to my knees. I sucked air in, wiped the tears from my eyes and looked up into his lard face.
'Loser! My baby sister is more dangerous than you.'
He pushed an open ham hand onto my forehead and applied enough pressure to knock me onto my back. I lay on the grass, winded and humiliated and listened to the laughter. Another day, another set of bruises. Being called Dangerous is no fun when you aren't.

So there he is, my new friend Armstrong Dangerous, laying in the dirt and wishing he was called John Smith. I wonder is there are other adventures I can take him on?

Monday, 11 March 2019

Planning, planning, planning

Over the last week I took part in a 5 day challenge to look at how you approached writing and how you could move on to the next level (whatever that means) with your writing. We had to identify who our reader was - interesting in itself as I think it's something that many of us don't give too much thought to when we're writing. Secondly we had to think about why we are writing our particular novel/story and why it is important to us now - again not something that I had given much thought to. Thirdly we were asked to do some blue sky thinking about where we wanted to be in 3 or 5 years time if our writing really took off and we could accomplish anything. This was particularly valuable as it gave real focus to why writing is important and how we value it. Lastly we did some free writing, focusing on our WIP but not thinking too hard about what we wrote - disengaging the conscious brain and letting the unconscious have a go if you like. For five minutes we just wrote anything that came into our heads without stopping - filling the blank spots with a string of umms if we had to.

Now it was the last exercise that really revealed something to me. As I wrote a whole new idea for a sequel to the novel I have just finished in first draft came to me. I hadn't thought of continuing the story but the idea is so strong that I feel I have to write it. This again opened up a train of thought which was touched on by the last part of the challenge. Our final task was to look at whether we wanted to publish our work and if we did how would we do it, which method would best suit each of us individually. I have always worried that the traditional route isn't for me. I baulk at the idea of getting an agent and pitching ideas to a publisher only to end up disheartened and disappointed. Self publishing isn't an area I'd thought about - it bought to mind sad series of books about spirituality and finding yourself! Not my thing at all I thought.

However, I have been looking into publishing through Amazon and, while I know some people think they are the devil in corporate clothing, I think I may have found the solution for me. To reinforce my sense of commitment I sat down last night and planned out how I can revise, edit and publish my novel by August! And I plan to write the first draft of the sequel this year too. Sounds too good to be true? Maybe. But I have such enthusiasm for it that I need to give it a go. And if August turns out to be too soon then I'll revise my dates and publish it another month. Not forgetting that I still hope to get the podcast up and running this spring!

So, suddenly it all seems possible. I may actually have a novel out there for real people to read later this year. Who would have thought it?

Tuesday, 12 February 2019

A Soppy Poem About Love

A Soppy Poem About Love

All you need is love.
Listen to what the man said.
Tell me why,
What's love got to do with it?

Too much love will kill you,
Crazy little thing called love.
I need your love tonight,
Love me two times.

Love is a battlefield,
You've got to hide your love away.
I'd love to teach the world to sing,
Love me tender,  I want to know what love is.

I think I love you,
Will you still love me tomorrow?
Now that we found love,
I believe in a thing called love.

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Contests or Submissions?

Someone posed the question whether I thought entering writing contests was as valuable as submitting my writing to magazines. I have to confess that I'd never really given it much thought. But it did pique my interest so I'm going to pop some thoughts down.

I have entered a few writing contests and competitions. I have viewed them as simple ways to share my writing. They are non threatening, easy to enter and I've not yet been too disappointed to not be a winner. However I can see that the audience is very limited. Apart from the judges there is no audience. So if my goal is to share my writing I need to consider if this is the best way to do it.

I have never submitted any of my writing to a magazine or publication. I guess the reason is that this seems to be something a real, proper writer would do and there is still a tiny part of me that doesn't see myself as a 'real' writer, whatever one of those is. But if I want to share my writing with a larger audience then I have to reach out to a large audience. And that is likely to mean magazines.

I've made one of my goals for the year to get my WIP ready to submit to agents. I know there is a long way to go yet - I'm only on my second draft and I already know there is plenty to fix before it is anywhere near ready to share with a professional. But it is an aim and so far I'm happy with progress. I should have the draft finished before I go on retreat later this month and that should be an opportunity to read the manuscript and find areas that need fixing.

So, do I have a conclusion? Not yet. The idea of submitting my work to the scrutiny of a professional is scary but it's one I need to embrace if I am to progress as a writer. But I will make an effort to submit something to a magazine this year. I have already been offered some advice about where I might do this so watch this space. Anything could happen ...

Sunday, 27 January 2019

Remembering - a poem for Holocaust Memorial Day


small and round, weathered by wind and water
i hold a pebble in my hand, smooth and cool.
its weight is slight, it takes no space,
it sits in my palm, cradled and safe.
imagine the beach, pebble strewn, water lapped,
salty tang on lips, wind blown tears on lashes.
see the pebbles tumble in the waves, million upon million.
feel the pebble in my hand, taste salt on my lips,
see the millions marching, stumbling, tumbling, 
onwards to the unknown.
place a pebble on stone, hot wind upon my cheek,
salty tears on lashes, weeping for the millions lost.
six million pebbles, a towering cairn, each placed with love.
whisper a name, one for every pebble.

always remember.
keep them in your heart.
every one of the six million loved,
as you do,
as you do, 
as you do.
every one of the six million left a mark, 
a hole in the heart of the world.
always remember. 

Sunday, 6 January 2019

The Wisdom of Women

I am in awe of the depth of wisdom displayed by my lovely group of writer friends, most of whom are women. They cut through my bluster and waffle and procrastinating nonsense with their razor like wisdom and set me off on the right track with a song in  my heart.

I posted about my dilemmas surrounding naming my podcast on our Facebook page. In the blink of an eye they were back with hard and insightful questions that really got me thinking about what this podcast is about and why I want to make it. They stopped me from paralysing myself with indecision to the point where I give up on the project. They made me feel supported, valued and loved.

What a bunch!

So, I am still determined to get the podcast off the ground and I'm not going to wait until I have a suitable name. If I do the chances are I will never be happy with anything I come up with and the whole project will die a quiet and lonely death.

I have decided that the way to go is to make a pilot episode, test the waters, see how I sound when chatting away. This may or may not get sent out into the world but I'm determined to at least try. I'm almost finished planning what I want to say and if I can summon up the courage I hope to have something recorded by the end of the month.

Deep breath...

So that's where I'm at, plotting and planning, trying out something new. If this venture ever sees the light of day and stops being a secret vanity project I'll post details here and you can have a listen and laugh at my Brummie accent.