Monday, 15 January 2018

I Write, Therefore I Knit. By Jane Thornley

We are writers and yet we each have lives. Maybe we have families, spouses, jobs. Our bodies require fuelling and sometime we even have to get up from our computers or we'll literally bottom out. All that is understood.

But what else do you do that fuels your passions besides write? And I'm not talking about hobbies. I've always rebelled against that word. The term "hobby" can't be applied to activities which are so necessary to one's being that they are placed in priority slightly to the left of breathing. I'm speaking of activities which require full-frontal commitment, something so important to your well-being that you can't imagine going without.

I knit.

So, are you thinking socks, patterns, long pokey needles, or scratchy things you mom used to make? Fair enough, but that's not what I get up to these days. I prefer something more off-grid, something unpredictable, unfettered, even wild.

Just like writing, I knit as a way to unfold a story with multiple threads, colourful characters, and a distinctive beginning, middle, and end. Stitches are my words, yarn the story elements. The combination of stitch-plus-yarn creates character, with color adding the mood and shape adding the plot. The metaphors are so ripe for the picking here and I could pun away until you scream.

Instead, I'll tell you that I simply need to knit the same way I am compelled to write. Here's a counterbalance to the cerebral world in which I inhabit while writing. I crave something tactile with an almost physical hunger. My writing worlds come alive inside my head but my knitting can be manifested between my hands and fingers. Sometimes the two are so interconnected, the transition feels seamless.

Lately, I've taken to knitting plots, sometimes literally. I am a panster in knitting as well as writing--no outlines and no patterns. I create as I go, visualizing my story the way I do a fabric, totally within my imagination. I hold the big picture of both story and textile in my head, sensing what needs to be done where and when. It's a process I can't explain, much like writing. I even see weaving in characters in terms of colors--where to add a bright element, where to add something dark. Most of this is in no way plotted or even sketched. In fact, a plan for me is only something I can veer away from, leaving me feeling guilty for not sticking with it, what ever "it" was.

This was not always the case. Like most of us, I was taught to draft, plot, and plan but even as a child I'd write my stories and then do up a draft after the fact. Maybe I fooled my teachers, maybe not. As I grew older and plans were still required as part of grown up life, my knitting appeared much more visually regimented, too, but it was all a sham. I did not count, I did not follow a pattern. I did however have a picture in my brain, the idea of which I transcribed in stitches onto my fabric canvas. It was all visual. That's the point: writing and knitting for me are both visual processes translated by a different means.

As writers, we all find our own way and are probably wise enough by now to just do what works for us. Occasionally I still allow myself to be distracted by experts telling me how things should be done and I'll even give these alternate techniques a try. This may involve trying these prescribed methods for about two days until I inevitably slip back into my old raggedy default position. Maybe its time I just accept it. I write and knit in the same vein: I just tap into my creative artery and let it all flow, shaping as I go and weaving in my ends in the final stages.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Golden Rules of Writing that should be treated with extreme caution - Louise Boland

I’ve been into this writin’ malarkey for a while now. 
In my time I’ve been on writing courses, good and bad, and I've read at least a dozen books on how to write (the best actually being How NOT to write a Novel by Sandra Newman and Howard Mittlemark) - but as a consequence of crossing over to the dark side quite a few things I've held to be truisms over my 'writing' years have been thrown into a new light now that I'm on the other side of the fence.
So here are three Golden Rules of Writing that I now think new writers should treat with extreme caution...

1.  Read More

It’s easy for new writers to translate this to mean: ‘Read more books by historical literary greats, because if you could learn to write like them, you will become, de facto, a great writer.’
Once, on a diploma writing course, our class was asked to pick over that famous opening scene of Bleak House… the one with London in the fog.  For our little writing group, for many years after the course, that opening became the embodiment of all we aspired to for the first page of our novels.  We would hold each other’s opening paragraphs up to Dickens and find them lacking in comparison.

It did of course help us improve our prose style and better our writing ability – but we did it regardless of the type of book we were reviewing and with no thought to today’s book purchaser.

And my question is - would an agent or commissioning editor today become excited at receiving an opening page with prose as dense and wordy and lengthy as that fog scene however beautifully written it is? Would they take a red pen to cut down Bleak House's 350,000 words? And... as is often asked, would Dickens today have actually abandoned novels and be writing for Netflix?? All highly debateable and any views welcome, but I guess my point is that the rule really should be…

Read brilliantly written books to improve your prose style, but also…

Read more of today’s bestsellers in your genre.

That way, new writers can know what it is that current readers like, what agents and commissioning editors are wanting (as they often want what they already know sells), and where current trends are heading.

2.  Write What you Know
This can sometimes be taken by new writers to mean: you should write about something that you do – so if you are a doctor, you should set your book in a hospital, if you are a Uni teacher you should write a campus novel, etc.

But of course if everyone stuck to this rule, we would be missing half of fiction – as most novelists are not murderers, detectives, alien hunters, eighteenth century prostitutes and the like.

The important thing is not to write what you know, but to know what you are writing about.

You can tell within a page or two whether a submission has been properly researched or not. When an author knows the world of their novel inside out, it sinks into the page - it becomes imbued in the writing. When you read a Hilary Mantel not one word, person, object, background, building seems out of place – it appears effortless, but of course it is not.
So this rule should really be:

Know about what you are writing.

3.  Write Drunk, Edit Sober
New writers beware.  This isn’t really a rule – more a cautionary note.  Trying to be a published writer is likely to turn you to drink...

Saturday, 13 January 2018

New Year Resolutions - yes or no? By Ann Evans

How are your New Year’s resolutions going? Fell by the wayside already? Mine have. Eat more healthily, do more exercise… yes, well! 

But I will start eating more healthily soon. Nearly all the Christmas chocolates, cake and biscuits have been eaten up. And as the weather starts to improve, I’ll be more inspired to go out for walks and get to the gym... honestly!

Writing aspirations and resolutions are always top of my list. And it helps when you can share with writing buddies. My Monday night writing class has been going for quite a few years now. The photo here shows our core members enjoying a post-Christmas/New Year party last Monday.

In between eating and drinking, we shared our plans and aspirations for 2018. And while lots of people poo-poo the idea of making promises to yourself you never keep, I honestly think it’s a good idea to set yourself new challenges at the beginning of the year. Only don’t beat yourself up if you fail to keep them.

Among the group pictured here, three of them plan on finishing the books they have started. I really hope they do. Two of the ladies, did the ‘novel in a month’ in November 2017, completing their 50,000 words in 30 days – an amazing achievement. Neither had written anything of that length before.

They all planned on sending work out more often. They all enjoy the writing, but sometimes shy away of submitting it anywhere for fear of rejection; or the terror of self publishing and not getting the public reaction you want will discourage them from even trying.

But if you don’t try you’ll never succeed. And so the start of a new year is the perfect time to gather that courage in both hands and go for it.

Margaret (pictured on the left) has been working on the craft of writing articles – particularly memory and nostalgia pieces.  She started to get things accepted in 2016, and at the end of 2017 made a bold new year’s resolution to get something published every month in 2017. Incredibly she achieved this and more, so my advice is go for it in 2018. Set a few challenges and see what you can achieve.

Here’s a few new year resolution thoughts from other authors:

“Whatever it is you're scared of doing, do it.”   Neil Garman.

“Let all the failures of your past year be your best guide in the New Year!” Mehmet Murat Ildan.

“Never fry bacon naked.”  Ray Palla.

“Just because the dates change, does not mean you have to change. The continuous path towards self-improvement is a timeless process.”  Brittany Burgunder.

Here's the best one:

Anyone else care to share their new year resolutions for 2018?


Friday, 12 January 2018

My Cheatin' Art -- Reb MacRath

It's never easy, putting an old love to pasture in order to romp with a new one. In fact, it's often ill-advised and sure to bring on a hailstorm of disapproval and contempt. We may be left with nothing when the new love walks or we wish that s/he would. I knew all this. But, even so, when the Muse whistled to me 'Time to change!' I said so long to my old love:

I'd used Moleskine notebooks for many years, in love with their various thoses:  those durable, finely bound covers...those handy back-end pouches...those premium quality pages...

I loved way the Moleskines fit in my coat pocket. And I loved the sense of belonging to a club of writers and artists who'd all been Moleskine lovers. In the course of writing a novel, I'd use one notebook for research and notes, then others for various parts of draft 1. I had no way of knowing my love would ever end.

And yet it did on 12/23 when I read Lev Butts' AE blog on last-minute Christmas gift ideas for writers. Included in the list were Arc Customizable Notebooks. 

Like the Day-Timer and Day-Planner binders, pages can be removed and/or added. So can a slew of accessories, including dividers with document slots, rulers, pen holders, etc. And, like the scheduling binders, Arc notebooks come in different sizes: 9x12 and 5-1/2 x8-1/2. So hats off to Day-Timer et al for coming first.

But for a number of reasons Arc is red-hot for those of us who still write longhand first drafts. These are the main reasons why I said goodbye to Moleskine:

     1) With the ring construction, the notebooks lie flat, unlike bulky Day-Timers. Not just flat, I can fold either side under for greater ease in typing my work.

     2) Better still, the expansion rings come in different sizes. My 5-1/2x8-1/2 Arc came with the smallest, 3/4", rings, holding up to 100 pages. I can buy 1" rings to hold 150 pages. Or the 1.5" rings will hold 200-plus pages.

     3) The covers and pages resist any tugging but can be removed easily with a steady peeling motion. If I like, I can detach the cover from my first notes and research binder...then load up bigger expansion rings with 150-200 pages. Then I can do this once again when my first draft requires more pages.

     4) When I remove the front and back covers, the pages are still snugly bound to the rings. I have two choices: Because of the relative low cost of the binders, I can buy a cheap poly cover to replace the leather one I like and still have a nicely done binder. Or: I can leave the finished pages, research or draft, attached to the rings. 

     5) The divider storage pockets are invaluable to me. Till now, I've had stuff everywhere--from newspaper clippings to index cards to notes made on the run. Now, though, I have spots to store the things I'll need through the first draft.

     6) I can add pages to chapters or in seconds move entire chapters around.

For those of you who work exclusively on computers, all this may seem like no big deal. But for Longhanders, a customizable notebook like Arc will bring many sighs of relief.

No matter how we do it, the big goal remains:

Please, share your tricks with us and tell us how you manage! As for me, it's time to go. I hear Hank Williams singing about his cheatin' art--er, heart. 

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Resolution for a new year : Misha Herwin

My New Year’s resolution has nothing to do with self-improvement - I’m not going to give up dairy, or gluten, or exercise more often, or take up yoga- but a great deal to do with enjoyment.
Simply: I am going to read more books. Last year was a bad year. I didn’t even managed a book a week, while the year before was golden with over one hundred read. Quite why I’ve denied myself the pleasure of becoming absorbed in a book I’m not sure, but I suspect there was too much watching not very good stuff on TV.
Hand in hand with the reading will come the reviewing. No more downloads from Amazon that will be enjoyed but not commented on. Every book by a new, self-published, or published by a small press writer will be reviewed, with the caveat that the truly dreadful will be consigned to the to-be-read pile where they will remain until they have been forgotten.
Good books, however, deserve a wider audience. There’s a meme currently on FB about sharing the love. You read, you review and make the writer happy.
Making people happy is good, it warms the cockles of the heart, makes you smile. It sounds crazy but posting a good review does make me feel better as for getting a good review that is the most amazing feeling.
It’s not only the feel good factor, however. The number of reviews make a difference to the way in which Amazon promotes the writer. Over twenty and you reach the point of being placed in the “customers who bought this item, also bought” category. 
Twenty reviews does not sound many, but people forget, or can’t be bothered, or don’t know how, so you may have many downloads but few reviews. 

So, I resolve to do my bit for my fellow authors in 2018. And if you would like to do the same for me, “Shadows on the Grass” is now available on Kindle. HERE


Wednesday, 10 January 2018

A nice device - Karen Bush

Sometimes only pen and ink will do ...

Boswell, Johnson, Pepys, Anne Frank, Captain Scott, Nella Last - not to mention the fictional Adrian Mole, Charles Pooter and Bridget Jones ... Yes, the link between them all as you've probably guessed, is diaries, which seems rather appropriate considering the time of year. A new diary used to be a regular gift item each Christmas, with all the promise of the year ahead waiting to be filled in on those inviting blank pages. 

Diary entries are of course a wonderful device for novelists, allowing you to skip over the boring bits and get straight into the action on every page, as well as into the mind of the protagonist; and if you aren't great at description, it neatly lets you off that particular hook too. 

Where real people are concerned though, they provide an insight into the lives not just of both ordinary and extraordinary people caught up in the events of their age, but a glimpse of the mundane, every day existence which with the distance of time can be every bit as fascinating as the more dramatic stuff. Reading a diary is like opening a little time capsule, which will transport you through the years as well as directly into someone else's head.

But who keeps a diary these days? Facebook, blogs and other social media seem to have taken over ... which is sad as not only will memorable entries be consigned to oblivion in the ether, but let's face it - most people are unlikely to write their deepest, most private thoughts on posts that will be shared with others. What is written will be skewed by the way you'd like to be perceived, so not as honest and truthful ... A good thing, then, that social media is a relatively recent invention: and lets not allow it to take over completely in the day-to-day recording of our lives. No matter how humdrum it may seem to you now, it might be of help to the historians of the future.

Besides, sometimes it's good to get things off your chest. You can say things in your diary you couldn't tell your best friend ...

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

"To be left someone's books is a wonderful thing." A Statement by Julia Jones

Mum's Arden Shakespeare,
coveted since I was a child.
Out of their box and onto my shelf
To be left someone’s books is a wonderful thing.
It's possible that as we emerge from Christmas holiday excesses and make earnest NY resolutions about de-toxing, de-cluttering, de-fragmenting (or waddever) some readers may already be clutching their frontal lobes and wailing  "No Space…!"  "No Time…!" I don't care. This is a statement. Not a assertion or a thesis. The only qualification I'll allow is that the books may need to have belonged to someone you love...

Our house is Cluttersville Central. My daughter found me sitting on the back kitchen floor a year or two ago, weeping helplessly “Why, oh why do we have 38 pairs of Wellington boots?” Her immediate solution was to order a skip. Yet we still possess 13* guitars, 92 tea towels and a quantity of yellowing sheet music which stretches back to the collection that had been abandoned in the stool of the piano my mother brought when I was six years old (that’s 1960, if you need to do the maths). I set myself to rationalise our music shelves in a pre-Christmas burst this year and found myself unable even to throw away five different sets of ABRSM Grade One Scales and Broken Chords (though I did successfully demote them to a storage box).

Compiled from forgotten diaries,
letters, photo, memorabilia
found in an unfrequented corner of our attic
“No thanks Mum, I don’t want my house to get like yours,” would be any of my older children’s response if I suggested they might like to re-possess some of their out-grown stuff (books included).  It’s a standing joke that my beloved Francis finds himself unable to forgive his mother (veteran of constant military house-moves) for disposing of his Hornby Dublo railway set when he was a metropolitan sophisticate of the 1980s. “Well, I’d offered it back to him and it had been years in the garage roof,” she said in her own defence – and I was awed by her intrepidity but knew I could never emulate such ruthlessness.

Francis phoned from Australia while I was writing this and gladly contributed his late father’s moment of glory when the spout of the current Teasmade (“once common in the United Kingdom and some of her former colonies” explains Wikipedia) broke and he was able to replace it from defunct version that his mother had been led to believe he’d thrown away some five years earlier. Although this hasn't made life easy for his executors I'm sure they feel fully repaid by their admiration for the sheer quantity of obsolete junk he so assiduously squirreled away. 

Unearthed while establishing
the Ingatestone Bookshop.
Pride of place in our entrance hall now.
I cherish the long established boatyards that have no need to search the internet for classic fittings of yesterday but merely dig down through archaeological layers until they emerge with the precise shackle (imperial gauge) that they reckoned they’d laid down some fifty year ago. I am forever grateful to the late Frank Knights of Woodbridge who salted away the last half dozen tins of "Peter Duck green" when he heard that the manufacturer was discontinuing it -- although the yacht herself was in Russia and not expected to return. The village bookshop I opened in 1979 was on the site of a diary supply and domestic hardware shop that had been managed on similar principles and, although I felt it was a little harsh of Francis to point out via Facebook last year that we still appeared to be using the same tin of wax polish that I'd gleaned then, I can't deny that there was considerable scope for salvage.

Nevertheless, such was the trauma Francis suffered when he lost 4000-5000 books and all the articles, clippings, memorabilia of a pre-dropbox writer’s life in a fire in annus horribilis 2012 that I can solemnly promise that I have NOT taken advantage of his Australian absence to dispose of as much as a jam-jar during these last weeks (well, almost …). What I have been doing is re-organising the music room, which is also my office (yes, absent Archie, we still have 13* guitars, only 4 which are playable + 2 broken but resplendent accordions belonging to my former husband who bade me farewell more than thirty years ago). I've had a blissful time getting years of inherited books out of boxes and knocking decades of dust off the rest.  The moth-eaten, cat-peed, flat-as-a-pancake Wilton carpet that has followed me around since my parents left Woodbridge in the 1960s has not gone, you understand, but has been demoted to underlay.

The true joy is not the new wool-acrylic beige mix that the fitter assures me should last "at least 15 years" (pshaw!) but the time that I’ve been spending with some of my inherited books. Nothing will ever surpass the moment last year when I discovered my father’s 1939 diary, a suitcase of RNVR papers and the typescript that became The Cruise of Naromis: August in the Baltic 1939 but here are some grace notes, unintended, corroborating evidence from my father's life, that have touched me once again.

First a copy of The Jongleur (spring 1939), the privately printed poetry magazine that gave Dad his first moment in print.
HMS Forth
Then a copy of The Bedside Book  (first cheap edition November 1939)
with the pencilled inscription HMS Forth.

And finally a copy of Walter de la Mare’s Collected Rhymes and Verses, annotated "Waldringfield 1948".  If he’d scribbled in red felt tip HUZZAH, I MADE IT! the message could not have been more welcome. The experience of war for this Suffolk farmer’s lad had enabled him to discover who he was and where he wanted to be. Naromis ends
So, last week, on January 5th 2018, when Dad would have been 100, if he'd lived, I left my polishing and my re-arranging and spent some time in the place that meant so much to him, always. 

Looking across the River Deben to Stonor Point and the Tips

* Guitar figure revised after a recount which established that there were empty cases (empty apart from Archie's jury service papers that is.)  Two outgrown violins, a viola, a saxophone, two flutes and 10 recorders have asked that their existence be taken into consideration. Most are now re-stacked under the piano for the next umpteen years or so in the congenial company of three amplifiers (only one working) and a box of broken music stands which I keep in the hopes that I might put enough bits together to make one that is reliable.  Francis's father would understand.