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Writing in the Sunshine. Writing in the Shadows.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

A book of words

High on my list of things a writer cannot do without - like an endless supply of pens and a bottomless teapot, is my thesaurus. Good old Roget -lots of vocabulary, not a lot of plot - boom boom. Oh well, please yourself.

My little darling is 50 years old and cost me 12 shillings and six pence and worth every penny. I'm making a lot of use of it at the moment, writing up the PhD and trying to make what I want to say sound more academic. Said PhD is currently a messy pile of knitted fog, but at least it is a pile - and growing - slowly -  and the sooner it is done, the sooner there will be more books - hurrah!

But back to the thesaurus - I have been know to get lost between the covers, just reading it. Words - the tools of the trade. It seems almost impossible to work out how all those wonderful connections are put together - it must have been another job like a pile of fog. And my copy has a very distinctive scent - essence of bookshop - probably the paper. I could pick it off the shelf in the dark just by the smell. Is it weird, to get a buzz before you open a book, just from the aroma? Don't answer that!

Of course, having an actual paper version is the old fashioned way - when I'm typing I use the one that comes with Word, but it's not quite as much fun. You don't go from romance to ingratiate by way of sugar daddy and the goddess of love very often - 885 page 355 in the Penguin edition - oh heck, now I'm footnoting the blog.

I do use the thesaurus a lot, as I have a thing about repetitions - if I catch myself using the same word more than once on a page, I have to change one - and I've learnt that it's not always the second one that needs to be altered. I get stuck in a rut with words sometimes too. I suspect the word of the moment for the PhD is 'significant'. I'll need to keep an eye open when I type it up. Figuring out how to make changes is one of the technical challenges that for me make writing interesting - small but important.

But when it comes down to it, I just love words.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Thought for the day - or the month?

I have one of those calenders that have inspirational messages for each month, along with a picture of a fireside, or a bluebell wood, or something else with a feel good factor. This month it is a sunset and the message is - 'Do something today that your future self will thank you for.' 

Okay - so where do I start on this - is it something new every day, which means thirty one somethings? Or something that you do every day that will have long term effects - or with the pay off in the future?

Hum. Big decisions here. I started on the thirty one somethings by buying a tin of oranges. Every morning, for breakfast I have an orange. That's been happening since I was in school. Sometimes if I am away from home, at an hotel, it's orange juice, but the principle is the same. Only on Friday the last orange in the bowl had gone bad on me, so no orange - I had strawberries instead, which was nice, but not the same. I'm clearly a creature of habit. So- when I went to the supermarket I bought a tin of mandarins, so that if that should happen again, I get my oranges - which my future orange-less self, will thank me for.

I've bought some books - which my future self will enjoy reading - well some of them, some of them are research - day job and writing - which are sort of enjoyable, but not so much as a Jayne Ann Krentz that I haven't been able to track down in the library. I've booked some theatre tickets, which will be enjoyable later in the month. I intend to order some bulbs, which will cheer me up no end next spring, provided that they flower before the slugs start moving. I'm intending to defrost the freezer too - about time - and will be re-filling it, so my future self will be very pleased when she has something in there to eat. (Food seems to be looming large in this post.) I've sent off a cheque for a workshop that will be happening later in the year and told a friend I'll come to her book launch and put some other friends on notice about trips and celebrations that have yet to be organised. And at some stage I will probably get around to doing some ironing. Hmmm. Doing better than I though on the every day things.

In the long term - the day job is something for the future. When I finally graduate. Which will probably be summer of 2020. At the moment it's pushing treacle up hill with a salt spoon. Have you ever seen the size of a salt spoon? Not much used these days, but  they are tiny. I have a silver one inherited from somewhere - probably my grandmother, which is how I know. I'm also learning to meditate, which is supposed to help with all that catastophising and other stuff that writers are prone to - comes with the 'What if ...' mentality that goes with writing the books. On the days when I'm not doing something that would be part of thirty one, then those are filling in the gaps as the long term future self things.

Looks like my future self will have a lot more things to look forward to, and be thankful for, than I expected. Actually that little message is deeper than it first seems - all about looking forward, planning for the future, remembering the importance of gratitude and above all - hope. 

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Does your age really matter?

The clock is ticking ...

There has been a bit of discussion in the Society of Authors' magazine and elsewhere lately on the implications of age for authors. The latest edition highlighted a new prize for a debut novel by an author over the age of sixty - the  Paul Torday Memorial Prize. Paul Torday was sixty when he published Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and now his sons have endowed the prize in his memory. I think this is a fabulous thing, and deserves a round of applause. There are are awards for young debuts - so why not this too? Writers are writers, wherever they are on the age spectrum. 

Elsewhere, however, it is rumoured that agents and editors will not take on an older author, as they are not expected to have a long enough career to make it worth while. So, if you have plans for your retirement - maybe it's time to re-think them? 

Or should we be re-thinking the definition of 'old'?

With pension age ever rising and life expectancy increasing, is the idea of 'an encore career' as a writer really beyond reach? 

I have to say authors can be just as guilty of portraying age in a way that might no longer be realistic. I have read several books lately - and I'm not naming any names - where people in their sixties are portrayed as frail, decrepit old dears who need their afternoon nap, presumably while wearing their cosy slippers. It was reading these that got me thinking about this post in the first place. 

I mean sixty is old, right? Well, maybe once it was, but this year Madonna, Simon Le Bon, Viggo Mortensen and Michelle Pfieffer  all turn sixty. Not sure that any of them are ready for their slippers yet. The Rolling Stones are still filling stadiums, Liam Neeson is still filling cinemas as an action man, Jeremy Irons is still filling theatres and Cher is playing what might be the most glamerous grandmother on the planet in Mama Mia - and none of them are going to see sixty again.  

They're all still doing what they love - and shouldn't writers be able to do the same - whether this is a longstanding or a new career? 

Maybe it's up to authors themselves to start readjusting the clock? One of the books I have floating in my head, for when the day job is done,  has a character who is one hundred years old. He's not so much of an action man now as he was, but he's not ready for the cosy slipper either. I'm really looking forward to writing him. 

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Conversations you never had

Everyone who has ever lost someone they love will probably know what I mean when I talk about those conversations you wished you could have had. Sometimes these are really big things - like saying you're sorry, when your last words were spoken in anger - or 'I love you.' when it wasn't put into words. Those are the ones that can haunt people and, I have to say, the ones that books are often built around.

Some conversations are not so momentous, but still bring an ache to the heart. At the moment a Hydrangea is flowering - magnificently - in my garden, and every time I look at it I think of my mother. And wish I could show her how well it is doing. 

I bought it as a small plant about five years ago. I don't remember where, but from the colour, I'm guessing it was from an RHS Flower Show. I kept it in the garden for two years and both years it struggled- the new fresh leaves being eaten by slugs and snails before they could develop. It hung on, as a set of stalks, and broke my heart every time I looked at it. In desperation I asked Mum if she would give it a temporary home for the summer on the window cill outside her flat, in the hope that it might grow enough there to defeat the predators. She did, and it thrived. She died that September, but the plant had done what I hoped and beaten the slimy, hungry bullies. It's beautiful now, and I wish so much that she knew that our plan worked. Every time I look at it, I think of her.

The conversation I never had with my Dad is more complicated. Like many of his generation he never spoke much about his war experiences, but I knew he had been in Dunkirk, then North Africa and finally Italy. He died before I ever traveled to Italy, so I never got to ask him about the places that he might have seen that I had now visited. All I have is a handful of old photos. I'm trying to piece together his war record, as I want to use it in a book - and give a second life to those old photos. It's coming together, but it's a slow process. It would have been so much easier to ask him. 

Neither of those conversations is momentous, but they are still a source of a small ache of regret.  You can never say everything you want to and I have no regrets over the big things. But if it's in your mind then say it, or ask it, if you can - you might not get another chance.

Monday, 23 July 2018

Stop press

Kobo has a 'Read on the Beach' sale on now - Summer in San Remo for your e-reader at 99p.

Check it out here

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Writing outside the comfort zone.

Writing short stories is not my medium of choice - I tend to write long and have trouble sticking to a word count - but I do have a go from time to time, because it's good to have a little stretch now and again. I'm telling myself that about the PhD too - I think I may  be deluding myself - that one is a Very Big Stretch. Anyway, back to the short stories - I'm OK if I have an idea that I think will work in a smaller space, so when I had an invitation to write a story for Your Cat magazine and an idea came to me - well, I won't say it was easy, but I wanted to have a try. I'm happy to say that the story worked out fine and was almost bang on the word count, once I had finished it, so I was very pleased with myself. Set on the Riviera, it features a black kitten and a heroine recovering from a failed love affair. It was fun to write and I hope it's fun to read. It's in this month's edition of the magazine and I was thrilled with the quirky illustration they have used, which exactly fits the tone of the story. You'll have to judge whether the thing works for you - I'm biased.  

The other thing outside my 'comfort zone' that I've been thinking about lately, is the tear-jerk moment. There's an old saying that is something on the lines of  - if you can make your reader laugh, that's good, but if you can make them cry, that's better. Now this I am not too good at. I might do it unintentionally, but when I'm actually thinking about it, I would rather scare my reader with the creepy stuff than make them weep buckets. But I do like to please my readers, so I am going to give it some thought. I don't imagine it is going to happen overnight - it took a while to get the hang of the short story thing, but it will be on the agenda. Of course at the moment I'm not writing a lot - see PhD, above, so this will give me more time for the idea to marinate. 

That's what I'm telling myself, anyway,       

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

A Red Letter Week

I had a lot of fun last week, beginning with the launch of a paperback book for the first time in  five years. Launch day - on Tuesday - was all about social media and in the course of the week I was also the Choc-lit Treat and featured on the publishers' blog, talking about my criminal tendencies. You can probably still catch that, if you're quick. There's a link at the bottom of the page. The Choc-lit Treat is a piece of flash fiction that arrives on a Friday, around coffee time. You have to be signed on to receive them - if you haven't done that already, why not? The treat was little introduction to the hero of the book I'm working on at the moment - the one that is going slower than a sloth - it's a Christmas story, although it is going to be Christmas 2019, not 2018! At the moment I'm blaming the weather - not conducive to thinking wintery thoughts. When the heatwave is finally over, I shall have to think of something else. Before Michael/Mickey gets his story though, we have Nadine and Ryan in what is currently going under the title of A Wedding on the Riviera. That's if the Choc-lit Panel like it of course. Fingers crossed on that.

With Laura and Mel at Griffin Books. 

If you happen to be a cat lover and read Your Cat Magazine then you'll find that there is a feline themed short story in there from me this month. Set on the Riviera - where else - it features a small black kitten with a very distinct personality. It was fun to write, so I hope it is also fun to read.

On Saturday I spent the morning at the fabulous Griffin Books, in Penarth, with fellow author Laura Kemp in a 'Meet the Author' morning, as part of the Penarth Literature festival. To say we both had a great time might be a bit of an understatement. The shop was buzzing and we got to chat about books to a lot of interesting people. The scent alone - new books - was like catnip. Two hours flew by. Many thanks to Mel, the owner, and her staff, for making the thing happen and for being so welcoming. It would be really lovely to do it again some time.

The Link for the Choc-lit Blog is HERE

If you want to sign on for the Choc-lit (and Ruby) Treats, you can do it HERE