Saturday, 26 May 2012

Swan Lake, guilty pleasures and a dormouse

Morning folks – a fifth glorious day in Warwickshire, let’s hope it continues into the Summer. If you read last week’s blog, you’ll know that I am on the last leg of plan B, I now have just seven days till I qualify and, I can’t wait. This year’s juggling between work and home has been immense and then, trying to continue to write has pushed me to the limit. I’ve walked about in a permanent state of sleep deprivation, snatching every desperate hour available to me, have left events early, refused invites for numerous nights out - but all in all it will have been worth it, when I qualify.

A few weeks ago, I booked tickets for Agatha Christie’s ‘Mouse Trap’ which is celebrating 60 years, the longest running show ever. Agatha Christie is one of my guilty pleasures dating back to when I was a teenager and could devour one of her books in a weekend. I suppose now, many years since I was a teenager, reading her crime novels transports me back to those carefree days when I spent hours reading compared to the 15 minute snippets that I manage nowadays. Honestly, as a child/teenager I could easily spend hours sitting in a chair with a book, now I’m lucky to snatch time at lunchtime and bedtime, anything more is truly a bonus. Actually, I have a confession, which I did, do feel very guilty about, but…. here goes. A few months ago I purchased a bumper pack of sixty books of Christie’s work via a Kindle app and I feel very naughty saying the price was less than a grande hot chocolate with whipped cream at my favourite Starbucks. Is that so wrong? Yes, I agree that is so wrong. I do hang my head in shame, honest I do.

I am currently reading ‘The Paris Wife’ by McCain, which details the love story between Ernest Hemingway and Hadley, his first wife. It has been an eye opener for me, as I’ve always held a specific image of Hemingway, and yet this book shows a very different side to him. The novel portrays his determination to be published, so he tries to put ‘life’ on hold, without success. I am empathizing with him throughout, feeling his frustration as life cripples his creativity. I have a feeling that I am suppose to be siding with Hadley, the lonely young wife, sadly, as a writer I’m feeling Hemingway’s pain instead – well worth a read anyway.

My dog walks are still proving to be very creative – this week I have drafted poems about a tiny dormouse which the pup sniffed out, a heron perched high in a tree and early morning peace.

I missed my Grace Dieu Writers’ meeting on Thursday, due to work demands – but hey, I’m hoping that such cancellations will become a thing of the past – very soon.

Today, my plans include a visit to the Garrick theatre in Lichfield to see the ballet, Swan Lake. I bought the tickets eons ago, amazing how dates come about soooo quickly.  My intention is to catch the early train, spend some time writing in the beautiful library of Lichfield and have a bite to eat prior to the matinee showing. This evening will be spent at my laptop shaping the next chapter for ‘To honour…’, plus drafting an idea in preparation for Wednesday’s Mad Hatters’ meeting. Oh yeah, I think there could be a football match on as well.

Remember you can follow me on Twitter odwyer_author to receive random updates throughout the week. Enjoy!

Sunday, 20 May 2012

An apology, ear wigging and Plan B

Morning world – I’m still on a high from watching the football yesterday, yay Chelsea won! I could hardly watch the penalties, though peeking through my fingers helped – not quite sure why that makes me feel better during a drama. Which goes some way to explaining why my blog up-date is a day late.

Sorry, but yesterday I was busy from the moment I opened my eyes till I dropped into bed. I spent four hours in the morning at school – yes, you read that correctly; Saturday morning helping with a GCSE revision class in preparation for the pupils’ exam on Tuesday.  See you don’t hear about those extra details from parents or press, do you? No, but hey, that’s what my school do to support our pupils.

Of course, this put my entire day out of routine. I then had to complete all the other tasks, dog trekking, washing, cleaning and such like. I know don’t have to explain, but it makes me feel less guilty, if I’m honest. Which then all ran into the football excitement and so, it’s Sunday morning and I finally have time to up-date my followers.

Last Monday, saw me attend the short story debate where 12 entries were needed so the final judges could select competition winners. The evening started with an amalgamation of our results ‘yes, ‘no’ and ‘maybe’ created whilst reading each story. There were five stories that we’d awarded 3 ‘yes’, then came 2 ‘yes’ and 1 ‘maybe’ of which there were four – so nine out of the twelve were automatically selected. Then the difficulties began, we had to select another three from a group of 14 that had gained 1 ‘yes’ 1 ‘maybe and 1 ‘no’. Phase one had taken half an hour, but now phase two was going to be long and drawn out as we discussed each stories merits. After two hours we arrived at our final decision, and were able to hand over twelve stories for final judging. It has been a tough process and a huge time commitment but I am glad that I volunteered, and will do so again next year. I have seen for myself the quality of work submitted to competitions, the wide range of subjects and characters that are created and in some cases, a complete disregard for the rules.

On Wednesday evening, the Mad Hatters gathered to read our ‘monkey puzzle’ exercise, set by myself about a month or so ago. There were four offerings – as always each very different, though in a couple of case they shared a common theme. One member organised their work as a monologue from the tree’s point of view, the others all 3rd person narratives – each very different in their approach to why such a tree came to be growing from a grave. After the readings there was a lengthy discussion regards dialogue and how to write convincing conversations. My story was highlighted as having convincing dialogue, but then I’ve never experienced a problem writing dialogue. I ear wig on everyone’s conversation, always have done, probably always will. So, I suppose that has helped me to craft characters’ speech. The Mad Hatters discussed how to make dialogue convincing, but I feel that it comes from within, if you know your character inside and out you know if they’d swear, have favourite sayings or repeat inaccuracies with specific words. I compare it to real life, if I saw a line of speech I think I could name which of my friends had said it. Humans speak in a defined pattern, we each have our own mannerisms when talking, so I don’t expect my characters to be any different.

Whilst on the ear wigging situation – do it, try it. I have heard all sorts of conversations from strangers – some of which ignite a story. At the cinema a few weeks ago, I overheard one woman tell her friend how she was starting IVF tomorrow, a son tapping his father for a large loan where he didn’t even broach the subject of paying it back, and a young woman who was ‘following’ a guy she fancied, the only thing he said to her was ‘here hold my pint’ while he danced with another girl, arrrrrh. All could be the basis of a short story or a plot line within a novel. So much material passing by our ears, note it down, fictionalize it and use it.

Friday evening, I went to the hairdressers, and even that ignited creative ideas. I sat looking about at the various women seated beneath flowing gowns, the only difference was the shape of the draped gown and the face on top. I came straight home and jotted down a few ideas – which will germinate in my mind over the next few days.

O.K. down to novel talk – In ‘Her’ I introduced a group of characters which readers will one day get to know. I have taken the decision to link my subsequent books to a couple of minor characters. I know from experience that I enjoyed reading Marian Keyes’ books when she wrote about a family of sisters. My decision meant that I’ve had to change my planning and, of course, a couple of names in project two, ‘To honour…’ It became a little tricky at one point, as a couple of surnames had to change, but now that I’ve edited and drafted a section I am very happy. So, full steam ahead …..

For those that have followed from the very beginning and so, have read every post – (wow, thank you) you’ll know that for the past six years there has been ‘Plan A’ and ‘Plan B’. I have just two weeks before ‘Plan B’ becomes reality on 1st June 2012. I can’t quite believe that I will have secured one goal, enabling me to focus my time to pursue the other. I’m encouraged and motivated that having secured one career, my only aim is to secure another by getting my novel published. Boy, oh boy exciting times.

I now have to leave you and attend dog training class with the pup. He’s coming along a treat, the list of commands and tricks that he can perform grows each session. Each week, I attend for his training needs but also for an insight into the very different world of dog lovers – I’m convinced I have a short story germinating.

Remember you can follow me on Twitter odwyer_author to receive random updates throughout the week. Enjoy!

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Dahl, Hemingway and Thank you x

Morning world – it is a beautiful day here in the U.K. I’ve already been for an hour’s walk, through the country lanes, with the dog. It’s an absolute blessing to be out and about in gorgeous sunshine – which confirms how much it has rained lately.

This week, I managed to watch two documentaries dedicated to Roal Dahl and Kenneth Graeme – both programmes took a deeper look at the personality of each writer. I hadn’t realised that both writers had lost one or both parents during their early childhood. Both men, as always, had their specific quirks where ideas writing were concerned – though like all writers they predominately pulled details from their childhoods. Both programmes were a pleasure to watch and my mind kept returning to them at various points this week. As always, scratch the surface of a writer’s life and the true depth of their nature reflected in their work.

Each night I have worked on my current project ‘ To honour…’ though, I haven’t read any to my husband or writing groups. I have made a conscious decision not to share my work until I have completed a considerable chunk of the work. I feel that one of my downfalls when writing ‘Her’ was talking to others about it, it took away the urgency to write it, which didn’t help carry the momentum.

I managed to polish, and read to hubby, my writers’ group exercise relating to the monkey puzzle tree and grave. I seems a long time since I sat and read my work to hubby, and yes, it was great hearing his feedback, like the good old days when life wasn’t so busy. Though, I do always take it with a pinch of salt, family always think that your work is great – that’s their love coming through and they can’t be objective about it.

During my lunchtimes I have been reading ‘A Paris Wife’ by McClain, which is about Ernest Hemingway’s first wife Hadley - it is beautifully written and so romantic. I think it shows Hemingway in a new light, he is so ambitious and yet lacks confidence as a writer. I’d recommend it as a decent read for anyone, writer or not.

Life dealt me another nudge of contemplation this week, the funeral of a precious little boy, whose passing has reminded me just how precious this life is - we are so complacent about time, when really we should be carefully selecting how to spend our time. I wrote a poem in his honour, I won’t be sharing it, as it was my thank you to him for the gentle reminder on how to breathe. It can’t be a coincidence that I have laughed louder and heartier this week.

And so, to the week ahead. I have a special writers’ meeting on Monday night – where I shall be providing feedback on a short story competition that I’ve been involved in. I am eager to see what the others on the panel thought - it could be a long night!

Today, and maybe tomorrow, I have school work to do in preparation of a ‘big’ lesson and meeting which is part of qualifications. But, that is no excuse to lose the writing momentum that I’ve currently created. I plan to spend most of the day at the laptop working on ‘To honour…’
Wednesday night will be spent at the Mad Hatter’s meeting reading our monkey puzzle stories – I am expecting that each member will have produced a unique slant on the story.

Remember that you can follow me of Twitter odwyer_author – last night you’d have been able to view the best insult I’ve seen in ages – I cried from laughing, before I retweeted it.


Saturday, 5 May 2012

Writing groups, project plans and a monkey puzzle tree

Good afternoon folks, I’m a little late getting down the ‘To-Do’ list this morning, but at last, I’m here. So, how the devil are you? I’ve had a decent week writing wise.
Last weekend, I mentioned that life had been somewhat chaotic but thankfully that has settled down and so, I’m back to my usual routines.

I have continued to work on draft one of my new project ‘To honour…’, though I have begun planning for the third idea I had which I mentioned last week had sprung from hibernation.  I’ve decided to give it a go, as a method of write one and plan one. But, listen, hear me out here, it may go completely wrong, but unless I try I won’t ever know. The decks are clearing regards the day job – come 1st June when I officially qualify I shall have less pressure on me and my Open University course is nearing the end, too. See, I have thought this through, honest. So, the writing plan at the minute is, draft one of ‘To honour…’ whilst planning ‘Freedom’ – which will allow me to alternate between the two projects. Anyway, it has worked so far, I’ll let you know how this second week goes.

Last Wednesday, I attended a Mad Hatter’s writers’ group where we performed a play ‘One day’ that I’d written as an exercise a while back. I don’t know how much involvement you’ve had regards writing groups but Mad Hatters is a pretty relax bunch, who occasionally set exercise for completion by the group. I think I’ve spoken of these before. My play was written for an exercise set at least a year ago, the instructions were to write a play with four characters, two from the modern era, two from history. Well, the possibilities are endless. I chose George Eliot and Laurie Lee, along with two members of the actual Mad Hatters’ writing group, one current, one long gone. I had set the play in the actual hotel where we meet, which feels quite strange when I read aloud the setting and the members look about at the decoration and surroundings. Anyway, the play is a bit of a giggle, as it imagines that George Eliot and Laurie Lee are aspiring writers desperate to be published and that one of the members is the glorious published writer with all the local landmarks named after him. As a side note, I recently set the current exercise, relating to a local grave that has a massive monkey puzzle tree growing from it – the group have to create a short story in two thousand words – the results will be read aloud next meeting 16th May. I’ll tell you about my entry further down.

Anyway, back to the writers’ meetings – I’m a member at two, Mad Hatters in Atherstone and Grace Dieu Writers’ Circle in Coalville. They are both very different, and yet both very necessary for me. As I said before, Mad Hatters is very informal, we don’t have subscriptions or minutes, chairpersons and that malarkey – we simply turn up and meet in a local hotel. The Grace Dieu group is quite formal with designated roles for chairperson, secretary and treasurer – plus a long history of writer and poets. I think the mix between the two groups helps me to stay focused, as if they feed me a vibe, which is so important for a writer or poet. Sorry, if I only say writers but I do mean poets, too. It took me a long time to find groups that I felt comfortable with. I had previously belonged to another local group but found that my needs weren’t addressed. The members were very nice, don’t get me wrong, but they were established and new comers, though welcome, were pushed to the side lines. I remember reading aloud a short story - everyone praised it, nodded politely and then basically said ‘next’. It just didn’t feel right for me, so I left after about six months and sought another. I’m grateful I did, otherwise I’d never have found the two that I do enjoy attending. So, it is very hit or miss, the other members are vital in making a group work. Even if they don’t write the same genre as yourself, their input and creative flow does rub off onto you and boosts your motivations. I have to say, there is also a great rapport that builds up where we each try to encourage and support each other in our various ventures. I simply entered ‘writers groups’ and my area postcode into Google search when I was searching – you’ll be surprised by the number that will appear. Or, decide to start up a group yourself – a few well placed adverts in libraries and book shops - stating a time and place in a local hotel or restaurant, who knows where it might lead!

As mentioned earlier, I’ve set the exercise about a local grave and a monkey puzzle tree. It is something that I see on dog walks and gets my mind wandering each time. I have written and edited my story, though I know other members are struggling to complete. I know from experience that each members work will be so different it is quite staggering that they all originate from the same source. I outline for those who aren’t writers how I begin a story, forgive me if I’m teaching you how to suck eggs, but I don’t know the experience of my followers. You might be a writer, but here’s how I begin tackling a story. I have to an initial inspiration, in this case the local grave with a large tree sprouting from it. I noted down the name and dates from the grave stone – I  now need to build from these piece of information. My mind immediately begins wondering who they were and what their life was about, so I visited a genealogy site and searched for basic details of that person’s life via the census records. I discovered he was a farm labourer back in 1851, his wife was a kitchen hand, a maid in other words, they had two children, a boy and a girl.  I shared my findings with the writing group so they also had the basic regards his life. It is from this point that we each go our separate ways regards story line. I walked about with these details germinating in my mind. I don’t write anything at this point. Ideas come and go during this process - certain ones grow and strengthen, a bit like green shots from as seed. Anyway, I have a bit of a thing about dates, and the year 1851 is quite significant to me, so I completed more research enabling me to link together the event and the life. Anyway, at that point I have jigsaw pieces that need connecting, the more my mind thinks about it the more it connects to create a basic plot. That is the point at which I sit at the laptop and actually write the first draft.  Some details get introduced as I write but my main focus is writing the basics that I’ve been mulling over for a few days. My first draft had a word count of 1988 – which is quite a lot given that the finished piece can’t exceed 2000. Once draft one is written I leave it for a few days – then re-read with fresh eyes, this is when I’ll edit out bits that aren’t necessary and re-arrange the paragraphs so the plot flows. For this story I had to add in a few details at the beginning of the story that come to fruition by the end. Again, I saved the draft and then left it for a few days and then last night in fact, I re-read aloud and decided it was finished. I’d told the story in the desired number of words and I feel have done justice to the task. I’ve now got to wait until Wednesday, 16th May to read it to the other members and receive their feedback.

And so, to today. Before I wrote this blog, I had spent an hour creating a piece for my scrap book relating to the installation of my poem ‘Jutt’ in Pooley Heritage Park. So, my first job is to stick that into my keep sake book, then I’ll be heading towards my desk to increase the word count of ‘To honour…’. We are enjoying a Bank Holiday weekend here in the UK, which gives me an extra day to the weekend, which I intend to spend writing.

Remember you can follow me on ‘Twitter’ by searching and following odwyer_author. Give me a nudge, ask me a question or simply make sure that I am doing as I promised.   Enjoy!