Category Archives: Creattivity

Planner Hall of Shame

While undertaking some therapeutic displacement activity I discovered a whole new genre of planners.  Planners designed specifically for writers.  I felt that my heart should have leapt, but instead it sank.

Surely the planner junkie in me would be whooping (much like the way the Inner Goddess cartwheels through Fifty Shades).  But instead it sighed and clicked somewhat despondently on the link.  It was not disappointed.

What do writers need in a planner that engineers, dancers, doctors and flower arrangers do not?  Answers on a postcard please, or you could just write on the back of a stamp.  When was the last time you saw a planner dedicated to the needs of a butcher?  I rest my case.  We all have appointments, commitments both one off and regular.  We all have to do lists (even if those of my husband are always, without fail, on the back of an envelope) and some of us have goals and monthly targets both practical and emotional.

Most of us need planners.  Actually we all need planners, but sadly some people believe themselves to be exempt from this rule.  They are the ones whose necks have been wrung on a regular basis (in fact I could even schedule the neck wringing in my own planner).  What we do not need are twee quotes “to encourage you along your journey”.  I’d love to see what would be selected for a planner dedicated to an abattoir manager.  Okay so I am edging on the edge of facetiousness but I hope you get my point.

There are a lot of things that as a would be author I need to know.  I can find them all in the wonderful Writer’s Yearbook, or on any one of the excellent blogs and websites dedicated to the writing process.  I do not need them in my back pocket or taking up valuable space in my planner.

So here is a sample of the Hall of Shame.

 A working writer’s daily planner – your year in writing  I note this is the 2011 version ……

Mslexia Writer’s Diary   I love Mslexia but why oh why did you stoop so low and why does it have to have a twee yellow flower on the front ……

Writing World    Fortunately I suspect that most people would have lost the will to live just trying to find the link to the planner.

Personally I find it all bit condescending.


the power of small

badger“Four things on earth are small, yet they are exceedingly wise: the ants are a people without strength, yet they provide their food in the summer; the badgers are a people without power, yet they make their homes in the rocks; the locusts have no king, yet all of them march in rank; the lizard can be grasped in the hand, yet it is found in kings’ palaces.”  Proverbs 30:24-28

There are plenty of proverbs (both Biblical and otherwise) that point out the strength both physical and mental of something apparently tiny and weak.  In many cases it is through working together as a team that they make their achievements, in some they work alone but the point is that the appearance is deceptive. Just because something looks weak or its challenge looks impossible doesn’t mean that it is.

We all have the same words, granted some people invent their own, Edward Lear and Lewis Carroll were particularly prolific word generators and there is hardly a family in the land that doesn’t have its own shorthand for even the most everyday items.  We, for example, put our dirty dishes in the washdisher.  But on the whole we communicate using a prescribed set of mutually understood words.  There is nothing special about our words.  They have no innate power to change.  But change they do.

It is when they are placed together in a certain way that they power behind them is intensified.

I tried to think of some novels that had changed me, made me behave differently or changed my views or way of thinking.  It was very hard, I could think of a plethora of novels that I love, that I read again and again.  But had they changed me?  I didn’t know.  Then it occurred to me that perhaps I was not meant to know.  If I knew then the change would have been more superficial.  For the change to be fundamental, to really change me then I would not notice the change for the change would be of me.

But what about novels that change not just individuals but whole nations?  Can there be such novels.  Of course, essays and non-fiction can and do.  From Mein Kampf to The Age of Uncertainty writers have set out to change individuals and nations.  But do novelists aim to do the same?  Or do we just want to tell a story?


the sounds of silence

radioSilence.  I cannot write with the radio or television on, but I do like to write with other people around me so long as they are not talking to me.  I often work alongside my children as they do their homework.  Mutual encouragement perhaps.

I used to have Radio4 on pretty much all the time but recently I have taken to silence instead.  I wondered why.

As many of you will know I suffered from a sudden and severe bout of depression last year.  I have been on medication which is brilliant.  I also realised I had to slow down.  I have been practicing yoga for several years and recently have taken up meditation.  I make an active effort to be mindful of all that I do.  I don’t multitask, I do one job at a time and concentrate on what I am doing even if it is just putting the ironing away. I have a morning ritual that includes, prayer, Bible reading and meditation.  I have kept a gratitude journal for five years and write in it daily.

I am realising that I don’t need or want the background noise.  Previously it was my prop, or perhaps better described as my insulation.  Alone in the house with no radio I have to listen to myself, there is no insulation.  Sometimes, at first it was rather scary, I wasn’t sure I liked what I was hearing, who I was.  But I am getting to know me better, I know what makes me tick  (I’m nearly 50 so it really is about time).

When I think I am too busy to meditate, to write morning pages, to pray; when I skip a yoga class; it shows.  I tend to turn on the radio, I seek out noise and avoid silence.

I prefer the silence.  It tells me more.

fellow wordsmiths

As I file my latest rejection (actually quite a nice one, writing lovely don’t  like the book kind of one) I thought I would share with you some of the successes of my fellow travellers along the wordsmith’s path.

First up is The Drowning of Arthur Braxton by Caroline Smailes  which is currently waiting for me behind the till at my local (independent) bookshop.  This is Caroline’s sixth book and was published only last week.  So get your first edition now!

Arthur Braxton runs away from school. He hides out in an abandoned building, an Edwardian public baths. He finds a naked woman swimming in the pool. From this point on, nothing will ever be the same. The Drowning of Arthur Braxton is an unflinching account of the pain and trauma of adolescence, of how first love can transform the most unhappy of lives into something miraculous.

Then we come to The Night Rainbow by Claire King.  This is Claire’s first book and I can’t wait to read the rest.  Beautifully written, touching and very evocative.

During one long, hot summer, five-year-old Pea and her little sister Margot play alone in the meadow behind their house, on the edge of a small village in Southern France. Her mother is too sad to take care of them; she left her happiness in the hospital, along with the baby. Pea’s father has died in an accident and Maman, burdened by her double grief and isolated from the village by her Englishness, has retreated to a place where Pea cannot reach her – although she tries desperately to do so.

 Then Pea meets Claude, a man who seems to love the meadow as she does and who always has time to play. Pea believes that she and Margot have found a friend, and maybe even a new papa. But why do the villagers view Claude with suspicion? And what secret is he keeping in his strange, empty house?

And what about Rook by Jane Rushbridge which brings to life the Sussex coast I remember so well from my childhood.

Nora has come home to the Sussex coast where, every dawn, she runs along the creek path to the sea. In the half-light, fragments of cello music crash around in her mind, but she casts them out – it’s more than a year since she performed in public. There are memories she must banish in order to survive: a charismatic teacher with gold-flecked eyes, a mistake she cannot unmake. At home her mother Ada is waiting: a fragile, bitter woman who distils for herself a glamorous past as she smokes French cigarettes in her unkempt garden.

In the village of Bosham the future is invading. A charming young documentary maker has arrived to shoot a film about King Cnut and his cherished but illegitimate daughter, whose body is buried under the flagstones of the local church. As Jonny disturbs the fabric of the village, digging up tales of ancient battles and burials, the threads lead back to home, and Ada and Nora find themselves face to face with the shameful secrets they had so carefully buried.

One day, Nora finds a half-dead fledgeling in a ditch. She brings him home and, over the hot summer months, cradles Rook back to life.

Finally, though not a novel, this is the first book I bought by a fellow blogger and twitter friend.  I have cooked almost all the recipes and not one single one has been duff (something that in my experience thus far only Good Housekeeping, Delia Smith and a handful of other cookery writers can claim).Prepped by Vanessa Kimbell is one of those rare cookery books that is a delight to read and a pleasure to use.  I also love the way that it is divided up by flavour.  My copy is divided up by bookmarks for our favourite recipes!

To all the others, like me, collecting rejection slips I hope to be able to include you in the next list 🙂

inky keyboards

I am a fountain pen user.  It isn’t snobbery or a desire to show off.  I can’t write with a biro or roller ball.  My writing becomes squashed and flat and the loops of my bastardised copperplate resemble the squashed flies of a garibaldi biscuit.  In the absence of a fountain pen I use pencil, always.

When I write notes and ideas for books, stories, blogs, in fact anything at all including weekly menu plans, shopping lists and instructions to my children about feeding animals, watering veg. seedlings and waiting in for the electrician so that we don’t have to eat in the dark, I always write by hand.

When I write stories, novels or blog posts, anything that is going to leave my house, I type.  I am fortunate in that my mother was a very forward thinking woman.  I wanted to be an actress; my first job was with a small touring theatre company set up by an exiled black South African Alton Kumalo.  It was clear I was not going to make much of a living wage and wisely noticing that temps earned more than waitresses my mother paid for me to go on a shorthand and typing course.

I loved shorthand; I had speeds of around 90-95wpm.  Typing was less attractive.  We were made to copy type a foreign language we couldn’t speak (to avoid make assumptions about the letters that came next).  I typed in German and the girl next to me typed in Spanish.  Occasionally we swapped so that we could be out in time for an extended break in the Italian coffee shop next door.  The coffee was great, the waiters were better.

It never occurred to me that the ability to touch type would be so useful; this was an era long before computers.  Heck in my first job I had an electronic typewriter; I thought I had died and gone to heaven.  Shorthand remained incredibly useful, for taking notes, for writing things down I didn’t want anybody else to read and for generally showing off.  Then in 1991 we bought a pc.  Our translation business was taking off and we needed to be able to communicate directly with our clients in France.  We were the proud possessors of a CompuServe email address and I learned to send files by direct modem transfer (anyone else remember TTY?)  And so I typed more and more.

I have no idea what my speed is now.  I am long past the days when I have to go into an agency and do shorthand and typing test in order to garner a job to keep the wolf from the door until the next acting job comes along. Typing is second nature to me.  I do it all the time.

I cannot imagine handwriting a story or a novel, yet I cannot imagine typing the notes that I need for that story.  I don’t wonder why, I have stopped questioning.  Now I go with the flow, if it works then don’t fix it.

cooking the books

I love to cook.  It’s not just about the process of creating a meal it is also about feeding and providing succour to others.  It is about service, it is about love.

I could do with shifting a few pounds.  Actually if I am going to Turkey with three teenage daughters and meeting up with my sister in law and her two gorgeous daughters and I don’t want to wear a burka I will need to shift something akin to the lower reaches of Mount Everest.  In the pursuit of the summer body (which according to Singer 1 is earned in winter – a bit of a cheek from a lithe size 6 -8) I have been following the 5:2 diet.  It suits me perfectly.  My Protestant background approves of a spot of fast and denial and my Catholic background looks forward to healthy feasting on the other days.

Tuesday was a fast day.  This was supper.


Not bad for 240 calories, a slice of fish and some chilli and ginger?  It’s not about the ingredients but what you do with them.  Not unlike writing.  We all have the same words but not all of us can produce A Sense of an Ending or The Poisonwood Bible.

As I cooked, and listened to the news I thought of all the people I have cooked for:

  • My family – my first ever roast dinner aged 9, preceded by jam tarts, mince and onions, stovies and once and never again, tripe.
  • My friends – endless variations of Bolognese and chocolate fudge during my sixth form years.  Graduated to curries and slow cookers in my university years.
  • People I admired for their courage and their humility in letting me feed them –  Soup kitchens
  • My children – purees, boobs and bottles
  • My animals – post operative scrambled egg.

Cooking is not unlike writing.  Only you can make it.  My mother and I have the same recipe for baked beans but the results taste completely different.  Cooking and writing are also labours of love.  Special occasions aside, my family expect a meal every night.  They thank me for it (I dragged them up well, they clear the table and help wash up too) but they would be perturbed and somewhat put out if there was nothing.

People I have written for:

  • My teachers – all those weekends doing my creative writing for Monday morning English lessons.
  • My father – who loved to read anything I wrote and is still my biggest fan.
  • My children – written and oral stories, in the tradition of my grandmother, in that they are the heroines and the stories go on for years.
  • Me – there are so many stories I want to set free.  When I am asked where my inspiration comes from I am always slightly taken aback.  My problem is to stop the inspiration, the ideas.  I cannot keep up

So I cook and I write and I hope that both are appreciated.

advice from a fellow traveller …

DSCF1016Please excuse any odd spellings.  Most of this post went down the drain first time around when WordPress threw a wobbly and I then (unintentionally) slammed my finger in the door.  I am typing with one digit less than usual and considerably fewer marbles.   I am not entirely convinced that the digital world is my friend.  I am beginning to wonder if it is one of those baddies in Sci Fi stories like V or The Kraken Wakes who comes across all nice and friendly and helpful and then stabs you in the back whilst you are lulling in a nice comfy sense of false security.

The arrival of the new laptop has caused no end of problems with the transfer and subsequent loss of essential emails.  I have a full complement of Viagra/online business opportunities/website promotion deals.  But the helpful ones with offers of work and so forth disappeared faster up their own backsides than Daniel Day Lewis at the Oscars.  Attempting to transfer my iTunes library has resulted in several broken nails, five terrified cats and dogs that can now swear in several languages.

Thus it is, I feel, a little ironic that the post I intended to write was about online resources.  Those that I have found helpful as I string word to word, creating sentences and paragraphs in the hope that somebody, somewhere will offer me a reasonable income if I continue along the same lines.

So, in the spirit of triumph of hope over experience I offer you the following:

  •  The Writers’ Workshop – Critiques, rich seams of advice and information and the excellent Agent Hunter (see my review here).  They also run the annual Festival of Writing in York every September.  I told it is superb, I am hoping to go this year.  If you are going and want to hold my hand because I am a pathetic wimp please let me know.
  •  Nicola Morgan – I wish I was on commission.  I have recommended her books and her website to everyone, even people who don’t write (well they might one day).  She is the ex-Crabbit Old Bat.  I don’t mean she is no longer crabbit or and old bat (for all I know she was never actually either), but she has moved her website to here.  However, the old site is still up and is a treasure trove.  She has also written several excellent books and I swear by her book on how to write a synopsis.  If anyone can make a trial of Hercules into a Brownie Badge it is she.
  •  Authonomy – personally I can’t stand it which I suppose makes it odd that I have included it.  But I know that thousands of people think it is the bees knees, and what makes me tick might send you into paroxysms of rage.  I leave you to make your own decision.
  •  Slush Pile Hell – every time you think you cannot string two words together go here.  Read. Relax
  •  The Word Den – I like words.  If you write I presume you do too.
  •  The Queen’s English Society – if you don’t have your copies of  The Elements of Style  (mine is a much nicer hardback copy btw) and The Complete Plain Words  (mine is a much older, more battered edition that saw me through two degrees and a thesis now incomprehensible to me) to hand then this is a reasonable online alternative.
  •  Myslexia – the online home of the excellent magazine.

There is much more out there, I have plenty of other sites saved in my bookmarks.  But these are the ones to which I return.  Even Authonomy but only for a laugh.

The picture at the top?  I took it at The Wave, before the Copenhagen summit.  It’s what I look at before I write, every time.