Saturday, 27 September 2014

A lifetime of ideas

Ever wondered where writers get their ideas? It's a simple answer - life. I'm blessed for an active imagination but my primary source still remains life: mine, family/friends and complete strangers that I read or hear about on a daily basis. Admittedly I cherry pick experiences, twist and view from various slants, add a humungous dollop of imagination and stretch my artistic licence as far as humanly possible but the fact remains, I'm inspired by life.

Last Sunday, I took my seventy year old mother up in a hot air balloon, she's always wanted the power to fly like a bird so I thought it a fitting treat to celebrate her big birthday. I'd already flown in a balloon as part of my fortieth celebration so knew what to expect. At 3000 feet, high in the sky over Staffordshire, suspended within a huge wicker basket amongst twelve strangers I witnessed life's reactions. I might never write about ballooning but I will need to write about the cheesy grin of happiness, the white knuckle grip of fear, the phobia panic of heights, the confidence shown by any expert - even the admiration of a daughter watching her mum enjoy herself - all these emotions/behaviours/remarks are captured within my memory bank for future works. It goes without saying that certain details need to be captured on paper to ensure I don't forget but my memory is like a huge slide show based on the events of my life.

In my forty odd years, and believe me some have been very odd, I have:

  • swum with dolphins... twice
  • been struck by lightening whilst sitting in a car
  • hot air ballooned... twice
  • been engaged, married and divorced in sequence order of three times, two and thankfully just once!
  • worked as a bank clerk, gym instructor, aerobics teacher, landlord, office girl and teacher.
  • holidayed worldwide - far too many places to mention, I'm pleased to say.
  • been chased by a group of baboons, stampeded by an angry elephant and held birds of prey.
  • owned cats, dogs, rabbits and numerous tortoises while husband kept bees, chickens and ducks.
  • attended numerous theatres, plays, concerts, church gatherings, promo events to fill anyone's diary.
  • taken numerous day trip with family, school and holidays that flood the mind with settings.

That's just a snippet of my life but each experience has given me a little something that I can draw upon when I need an idea, a setting, a face, an event or emotion. Add to this list my innate gene for nosiness, an incredible memory and my ability to hear a conversation three miles away... and you too would have all you need to write.

Still unsure where writer's get their ideas? Look inside for those memories, the ones you laughed, loved and cried about - there's a lifetime to muse about.

Me and my mum - 21.09.14  

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Writing groups - essential part of my tool kit

Ever sat at your desk and felt the loneliness of writing taking a grip? I think we all have at one time or another. For me it was the early days, way back when I was shy about my writing. I was happy to spend hours writing alone but knew that I wanted, and possibly needed, the interaction and chat of other writers in order to achieve my goals. That's when I joined my first writers' group. I didn't stay for long as the members were very 'clicky' so didn't embrace new folk joining. I stayed for just six months, but hey, it gave me a taste of what I was searching for.

I have to say, there as many different types of writing groups as there are types of writers. The formal group with minutes, subscriptions and constitutions or the informal groups who meet at an agreed time and place - the go with the flow groups. There's pro and cons to both, one size doesn't fit all; I benefited by attending two groups: one formal, one informal.

The formal groups are more focussed upon writing as there's usually a narrow time slot of two hours for each meeting. The formalities helps to discipline the routine of the attending members and focus purely on the business in hand: writing - off topic chatter occurs at the mid-meeting break. The informal groups do as they please, no one person runs or manages the group so each meeting simple happens depending on what essence each member brings to the session. Off topic chatter can go anywhere, the focus can go anywhere too - which can be great or frustrating depending on your specific needs. One huge bonus with the informal group is its free, no subscriptions but the disadvantage is people can drop in and out when it suits.

For the last six years I've attended a local informal group and three years ago choose to travel to a formal group as well, getting the best of both worlds. This week that all changed.  Actually a few weeks ago that all changed.      

For me the greatest part of attending my groups is the interaction and support that is offered. I may not have work to share at sessions, I'll explain why later, but I always look forward to attending to hear what others have produced and hear their news. After a busy day at the 'day job' there's nothing better than kicking back to chat about writing. You have to support each other otherwise what's the point? I know I've spent hours listening to other peoples' work, giving feedback, buying their book and taking time out of my busy life to read and review, attend their spoken word projects taking notes then writing web reviews without charging for my time, even having to research genres that I don't read purely to understand their work and give constructive feedback. You do it willingly, if you believe in your group.

There are a couple of drawback with writing groups - not everyone reads or knows your genre but will freely give you feedback and their opinion. I made an enormous error with my first book, I edited based on feedback then later found my original writing was spot on, so had to undo and rewrite huge sections. I had viewed my fellow members as a reading sample, so felt their view was important - that was another huge lesson learnt.  I simply forgot that none of them write my genre so don't necessarily understand the essential structure. It was my na├»ve error not theirs. Which is one reason I don't read out current projects, plus the informal group meets in an open bar/lounge so I've been warned about sharing my commercial ideas so openly.  Industry professionals know what is essential to your genre, so follow their advice to the letter.

So why the recent change? Why this indepth reflection? Having spent six years giving of my time and effort I asked one favour of the informal group, which would have taken each member two minutes out of their week. No one could give me those precious minutes. It doesn't sound a lot does it? But to me, as an emerging writer who values their support it was a clear and simple message: my support wasn't there. I know that the next few years are vital to my progress; I know that I need support from others to achieve my dreams. My RNA friends knew I was gutted; they flooded me with similar stories of their own experiences before taking the time to complete the two minute task for me, many of whom I've never even met in real life. As for the informal group - just one person has since contacted me to apologise for being so thoughtless - the rest remain silent. It goes without saying, I've left. I'll still support them, wishing them all well but from afar.

So, after much encouragement by hubby, my next step has been to find a replacement group, a much bigger group in a city centre where I'm hoping the spectrum of publishing experience knows how to support. It's an ultra modern type of writing group with additional web forums and member page log-ins - all very different to me, but fresh and exciting.

The light bulb moment for me has been the realisation of how much I value my writing groups. My advice to any writer is to go and seek; find a local group - chat, enjoy and test the waters - you may find you're missing an essential tool in your writer's tool kit.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Festival of Romance 2014, Leighton Buzzard

Have you ever shyed away from attending a literary or writers' festival? Ever wanted to go but backed out thinking I won't know anyone? Yep, me too in previous years, but this year I have finally made it to the Festival of Romance in Leighton Buzzard. I arrived last night eager to collect my tickets and spot the faces, many of whom I know, some which I don't. But, and here's the beautiful thing about romance writers, you don't have to know anyone, honestly you don't. At times, we may be introvert creatures but we always chat to a friendly face, include another in the crowd and willingly share a bottle of rose!

Last night, I attended an author panel 'Girls' Night In' comprising of Rowen Coleman, Jane Lovering, Mandy Baggot and Jill Steeples - the session was filled with much laughter and humour. Each author spoke openly about their routines, novels, writing desires and next project. The audience welcomed their honesty when answering questions and their encouragement to the unpublished.

I have tickets for:

'Meet the publishers and pitch your novel' at 11am in the library theatre.
A session packed with questions for the panel of publishers - a dozen brave folks pitched their novels and received immediate feedback from the panel. Kate Nash did a superb job of balancing the timings giving everyone chance to be heard.

'An afternoon with award winning authors' at 2:30pm in the library theatre. Liz Fenwick hosted the author panel: Katie Fforde, Carmel Harrington, Tracey Bloom and Fiona Harper - who answered questions regards their writing having each given a reading from their latest book. Sadly, the one hour session simply flew by.

'Romance Readers awards 2014' at 8pm in the library theatre were as follows:

Best Romantic Read - One Step Closer to You by Alice Peterson
Best Historical Read - The Dress Thief by Natalie Meg Evans
Best Short Romance - Taming Her Italian Boss by Fiona Harper
Best Ebook - The Oyster Catcher by Jo Thomas
Best Author Published Romance - Christmas Yves by Nicola May

A huge congratulations to anyone who was short-listed - that alone is a massive achievement.

Alongside these events there is an open air authors' book stall in the Main Street, so fingers crossed it stays dry and each author sells every book.

I arrived home on Sunday filled with a renewed vigor and lot of memories filled with laughter. Who couldn't laugh when a certain group of ladies are taking photos of non-tattooed arms, some are doing their rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody to accompany the barman playing the piano and finally, guessing the weight of firemans' equipment raises the roof! Thank you for a fab weekend, I'll see you all next year x  

Saturday, 6 September 2014

New routines, sharing and lessons learnt

September has finally arrived amidst a flurry of golden leaves and darkening evenings. More importantly for me, the month signals a period of annual change and reflection. First and foremost, the return of the 'day job' after the long summer holidays - this has an enormous impact upon my writing routines and creativity. From this month onwards my routine will revert to weekend writing supported by the slithers of time snatched during each day. It isn't an ideal routine but it's one I can manage alongside the 'day job', enabling me to dedicate a large amount of time and effort during the weekends whilst supporting the momentum with smaller daily sessions. It's essential that I write every day, large or small, it is a must for me.  

Secondly, with the dark evenings fast approaching my hibernating gene kicks in welcoming the long cosy evenings; perfect for additional reading or plotting a new novel. Better still are the weeks leading up to November where I can muse and dream freely in preparation for NaNoWriMo 2014 - this year which I'll be participating in for the third consecutive year.

Thirdly, I usually undertake an inventory of my work for the year so far. A simple spreadsheet that details what I've written, submissions and a general reflection regards the highs and lows of my creativity. Each year I'm surprised by the things I'd created and yet forgotten about - letters, competition pieces and short stories that I meant to edit, rewrite and resubmit but didn't.

This week I took the snap decision to share my writing with another work colleague, I'm always dubious about who I tell due to a previous bad experience, some readers may remember this blog was originally called secret writer for that exact reason. Anyway, a conversation on writing occurred and I just simply couldn't lie or hold back. So I outlined my progress and current project. I was delighted that the news was greeted with genuine enthusiasm and support, which in the long run will help me to succeed by easing the pathway at the 'day job'. It made me smile that secret writer is slowly disappearing and fading into oblivion :-)

Sadly, there are always lesson to the learnt with this writing malarkey. I've always promised to be honest about my writing journey, rarely does this blog contain a negative aspect but today it does. I've had a huge lesson this weekend that I should never assume. What's the saying? Assume makes an ass of you and me - well, it didn't make an ass of me but has left me feeling let down. In our writing worlds we create little networks of writing friends who we assume will assist and support - this week I've found that one tiny group isn't as supportive of me as I have been towards them over the years. It's a realisation that comes out of the blue but hey, it makes you so grateful to those that take a genuine interest in my writing and progress. My RNA friends picked me up, brushed me down and sat me at my laptop to write. I'm sure Helen Phifer, my writing buddy, would have feed me wine and chocolates to aid recovery - sadly, I didn't need the emergency treatment for romance writers! Very rarely do I let others' effect me but today I've been saddened by the realisation, but hey, onwards and upwards.

And finally, I am currently reading Rowan Coleman's 'The Memory Book', which has recently been chosen by the Richard and Judy Book club - I have to say, it is such a beautiful read and I can't stop telling people about it. If you have the chance to read it, especially during these dark autumnal evenings, I promise you won't regret it.