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26 January 2011


Never Say Never
Whilst thinking about what to write on my blog this morning, I turned to my desk diary to make a note of the things I needed to do today. It's a Collins diary and there is a note of significance written on each day. For instance yesterday it said 'A group of starlings is called a chattering'. What a useful word to know, especially when you want to describe the noise a group of these bird might make. 

Today's entry was even better and it brought a huge grin to my face. Did you know that the oldest début book published was by a lady called Bertha Wood, aged 100? I have stuck to my wall in front of me a similar story about a 93 year old début novelist but it looked like Bertha pipped this writer to the post. Bertha wrote her memoirs, 'Fresh Air and Fun' to coincide with reaching her grand age. So, if like me, you yearn for publication, don't worry you have plenty of time. Though of course I'd like to reach this particular goal before turning 50, my centenary year seems an age away!

Tomorrows entry is not so inspiring, did you know that you are taller in the morning than in the evening because of gravity? No? Well it doesn't inspire me, but I'm looking forward to the next three hundred and forty entries, who knows what they might bring...

Don't Think Just Write

19 January 2011


Which One are You?
'I take a certain amount of pride in not being a professional novelist, in apparently being a lifelong amateur. I don't want to be slick.' Jonathan Franzen

This quote touched a nerve this week. I've always believed and still do that I'm a 'Writer in Progress'. I doubt if I'll ever truly learn the full craft of writing, because a little like life, I think that there is always something to learn. Even in these dark winter months (for some of us anyway) when if feels like the muse will never return, if indeed it was ever present, I still learn about writing. Whether it be a tiny point, like when to use an apostrophe (though I  fear I will never get that one cracked) or writing that perfect synopsis, there is always another way. This week I have learnt the true value of dialogue for moving a story on. I experimented with writing a piece which was mainly monologue, inner thoughts, and it showed so clearly how difficult that is. The point of fact is we don't really live our lives through our thoughts, there has to be some interaction to move things on. If I were more literary, maybe it would be different. But I'm not, I'm just a jobbing writer, so I'll stick to what I know works and put what I've learnt into practice.
So I'm happy to be a lifelong amateur for what would there be for me if I knew it all?

Don't Think Just Write

14 January 2011

Book Review - The Little Stranger

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
This is a tale told by the author of Tipping the Velvet and Fingersmith, both of which were published as dramas on the TV sometime ago. The Little Stranger couldn't be any more different in terms of theme, pace and it has to be said, sex. The title really intrigued me and continued to do so throughout the book - more of which later. 

The Little Stranger, which is essentially a gothic, ghostly story, is set just after the Second World War. It takes place in Warwickshire, in the decaying country spoils of an upper class family. Hundreds House in fact, could be a character all in its own right, Waters managed to create a place which was so atmospheric that if I closed my eye I could believe I was there, watching the story as it unfolds. 
The main character is Dr Faraday and the theme evolves around his developing relationship with the Ayres family, Hundreds House and its' other 'inhabitant'. Dr Faraday narrates the tale in the first person, which is not an easy task, however, Waters pulls it off admirably and not once did I feel that is was choppy or inconsistent. It flowed well albeit if a little slowly, a criticism I have seen in other reviews. But for me, some stories are meant to be savoured slowly, rather like sucking a toffee until it's small enough to swallow. There is a sense of satisfaction as the delicate flavours are released, bit by bit, until they fill your taste buds, tempting yet just enough. I liked the pace of this book, it suited the unfolding mystery of the fears, misunderstandings and the secrets of a family seen from the outside as rather eccentric and behind the times. The Little Stranger shows the struggles that a nation suffered post war, how it touched not just those with nothing, it affected those who had everything - or so it seemed. 
My only criticism is that the ending is purported to be 'a revelation' by pundits on the cover. For me it wasn't and that was a little disappointing but I would suggest that you make your own mind up as many would disagree. 

Overall a good read with a hint of sinister, enough to make you look behind you every now and again and maybe startle at the odd, unexpected noise. 

Don't Think Just Write

12 January 2011


The First of the Year
I've decided to write a regular rant. I'm not sure why, I just think it might do some good to get these things of my chest. Keeping things bottled up inside surely can't be good for you and I for one am more inclined to let it all out! 
As many of you may know, I'm a writer(sounds like a confession but bear with me) but I'm also an ex-pat writer. I along with some other folk in similar positions am a member of a writing community where we write and amongst other things, enter competitions. Now there comes the rub. I am amazed at the number of competitions which exclude writers on two counts. 
Firstly if it is a UK competition (it could be another country but I don't come across others so much) and only UK residents can apply. So without telling some porky pies about my whereabouts I can't submit. I don't understand the reasoning for excluding writers who might not live on this tiny island, thought still are British. Surely it reduces the number of competitors and if a paying competition then also impacts on the profit made or the available prize?
My second niggle concerns those competitions wherever in the world, which only allow postal entries and which usually mean payment by cheque or postal order. These are more common, believe it or not, from my first observation and we are a decade into a new millennieum! All the writing press are talking about the advancement of technology and the impact of e books and here are competitions still working with snails and tablets of stone. Now I'm a Luddite as you know, I like the old pen and paper approach to writing but this is alongside the technology, not instead of it. I don't live in a distant corner of the world, hundreds of miles from civilisation. I don't have a cheque book and neither do I want one. I know the arguments about costs of printing stories and all that blarney but with the increasing costs of postal and bank services I think that excuse is old and invalid. 

So if you are going to run a competition, make it via email (using a Google account where the threat of spam and bulging in-box is eradicated), allow on-line payments (Pay Pal is by far the most secure and easiest) and extend the invite to include us struggling ex-pat writers who are looking (and will pay) for the opportunity to enter writing competitions. 

Don't Think Just Write

5 January 2011


Or Writing Strategy?
It's that time of year when many of us are thinking of the days and months ahead. For a writer this is a crucial time. Writing doesn't just happen as we all know, often at a cost, and a little time spent thinking about what you want to achieve in the next 12 months is time well spent. Many of you may have been caught up in the notion of making 'resolutions' only to let yourself down by the end of January. I've been reading a lot these past few days about why that just doesn't work. I used to be a resolution maker, thinking that the dreams I had on New Years Day were there for the taking. But the trouble was as with all dreams, is they don't just happen. A little like writing. There is nothing wrong with dreaming and if you're just happy with the thoughts then dream away. But if you want things to work, if you want writing success then there's a little bit of work to do and not just this week, for the other 51 weeks too. 

A couple of suggestions struck me when I was thinking about my writing plan this week. The first was about having a strategy, so having a means to an end, rather than thinking about the end. This of course means goals, some small chunks of action that will get you the big dream. I don't know why I'm surprised by this revelation, it's a method I used in my previous life, before I was a writer and it seemed to work then. The trouble is with us writers, we do tend to be a bit dreamy, sucking at the end of our pen, waiting for the muse... and if you're like me and a Pisces, then it's double trouble.
The second thing was about making the goals personal. So putting 'I will' in front of an action is much more active and personal to you that it makes it more obligatory. I know, I know. A lot of this is probably psycho-babble but if it works for you why not? Simon Whaley blogged this week on a similar subject of just getting on with the task in hand, for if you don't 'just do it' - it won't happen. And the results could be quite surprising. 

So whichever way you want to play it, repeat after me...
Don't Think Just Write!