I Met a Man…

Last week in the supermarket I had an encounter which inspired me to put ink on paper after a long hiatus. And for that I am grateful to the person who shared snatches of his life and philosophy.

My encounter was with a gentleman of indeterminate age. Although, from what he had to say, I guess he is in his eighties. We were pondering the small goods aisle. His opening line was how he was reminded of standing in long lines with his Mother at the local shop during war time. From his accent I assumed London, but he didn’t confirm. He could have been talking about anywhere in England during that time.

He told me how word would get out among the locals whenever one of the shops had a delivery of goods and there would be a rush to line up before it ran out. And how some people would come away with multiples of the same thing, even if they didn’t want it, because that was all that was left on the shelf. From the contents of his trolley I think the habit was ingrained.

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He went on to grumble about Winston (Churchill), raising his eyebrows as he spoke in a way that said volumes, and then in a few short minutes he gave me a picture of life as a child in England during the second World War.

Of shrapnel from local anti aircraft fire shredding bicycle tyres, bricks flying from walls rocked by bombs landing streets away. How his father had reinforced their ceiling with timber battens, but they had been lucky enough to never find out if that strategy would work. So many memories flying from his mouth, coherent, none fighting for attention. All good memories as he relayed them; a child’s perspective of living and surviving wartime.

We parted ways then but later at the checkout he gently placed his trolley behind mine and the chat continued. He was visibly disappointed when I declined his offer of help; I had almost emptied my trolley at that stage.

“Everyone is so independent these days,” he said. I smiled in agreement, my thoughts straying in the direction of whether independence is a skill or simple necessity.

“Boy Scouts,” he said. I couldn’t help laughing at the picture of boy scouts escorting reluctant elderly ladies across the road. But I caught his drift  and the chat became about charity; not so much the Red Cross variety, but charity towards others. He cited the current example of his charity to me – his chatter and friendship; my charity in listening to him, because it was mostly him talking and me listening.

On my part it was not charity but pleasure. We parted then each with our own trolley, mine filled with enough varied items for a week, his with multiple packs of long life milk and biscuits. I hope we meet again.

 

 

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For the Writer in your life…

Writers deserve Special attention

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When thinking about gifts few of us balk at flowers and chocolates, but your writer may be hoping for something a little more writerly, something that will push them a little closer to their goals. Here are a few ideas to tantalise the taste buds.

The ultimate gift for any writer is the time to write. An hour when the kids are safely occupied; a full day of peace and quiet; a whole weekend when the dishes are done, the phone doesn’t ring and the dog doesn’t bark. And many words on the page. Bliss.

Running a very close second to time is space to write. A tidy space in the corner of a room, to a purpose built studio in the garden. Or perhaps partitioning a space in the shed; somewhere with a dedicated desk and room for a notebook and pens. And a coffee mug, a comfy chair and maybe a view. Why not combine the two and gift your writer, or yourself, time at a Writers Retreat? These are optimised for writerly use and comfort.

A writer will never say no to a book. Book Her Mother's Secret by Natasha LesterA classic, a first edition. And before  you complain about the pile building at the side of the bed, how about that much needed shelf or even a bookcase? Say these words: “A writer can never have too many books.” Repeat as needed.

The same goes for notebooks, the prettier or more handsome the better. One for every nook and cranny; remember, ideas pop up any place, any time. Oh and don’t forget the waterproof notepad for the bathroom.

Subscriptions to literary magazines are a must have for writers everywhere. If the postman grumbles about the weight, there is usually an online version

A membership  to a Writers Society will keep the juices flowing, not to mention tickets to lectures or favourite author talks. How about travel and accommodation to a Writers Festival? Now you’re talking.

After a session of writing nothing quite suits as much as a soothing massage, or a soak in the bath – don’t skimp on the oils. Candle, bath balls, bath salts

Ok, now this is a big one. When your writer asks to share ideas, thoughts and writing, use honesty with your feedback. It’s not a case of “do I look fat in this?” when you are obliged to say “no, of course not.” Think carefully about your response. The best answer is constructive and honest.

Please feel free to add to my list, I love to hear new ideas.

 

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A writer simply writes. Right?

Someone hears you are a writer and they say “oh it must be great to sit down and write, so much fun.” Because that’s what we do; window-192242_1280sit at our desks watching our story play out on the page while sunlight through lacy curtains casts delicate patterns of dappled light and shade…right? No. No, no, no.

Why not? A writer must simply sit with pen and paper and the words will flow seamlessly onto the page. How I wish. Or maybe I don’t. That actually sounds a little boring. How about the struggling penniless writer in a loft in Paris, trying to keep fingers warm by candlelight. Romantic? Mmmm, a little too Dickensian.

So what is the reality? If  writing is not like this, what is in the Writer’s Job Description?

 

  • Reading copiously – yes this is in the job description. IMG_2055Read in your genre, read the classics, read not in your genre, read whatever interests you. Read.
  • Research. Where is the story set? When? Is fashion a factor?
  • Snatching moments to write while working the day job and juggling family commitments.
  • Editing – because no one else does that for free.
  • Editing again and again and again…
  • Struggling with Imposter Syndrome. Ok this isn’t exclusive to writers but it is real.
  • Fielding questions from friends and foe like, “Have you written anything I have read?”
  • Keeping up with social media connections. Someone out there will want to read your words.
  • Looking for those notes you scribbled at 3am and maybe that is what the cat is now throwing up under the bed.
  • Making the time to write.
  • Finding somewhere to write.
  • Trying to keep those ideas in your head while negotiating peak hour traffic.
  • Making yourself accept that though you haven’t written a word on your Work In Progress for days, you are a writer because of the above and more.
  • Reciting this mantra daily –

I am a Writer

I am a Writer

I am a Writer

I could add more to the list, but if you can relate to a few of the points above, guess what? Yep. You are a writer.

 

 

Writin’ 9 to 5…

A recent article in a national newspaper bemoaned the fact that the working day has gone beyond the 9-5, Monday to Friday realm with the advent of the much maligned digital age.

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I understand the journalist’s point that emails and texts from the boss or client or even the colleague, can and do invade the weekend junior footy match…if we allow them to. These pieces of digital masterpieces have an off button. But what about those of us who write? And do not try to tell me that writing is not a job. Let’s ponder this from a creative writer’s point of view; to wonder how many writers have ever or do stick to that Mon-Fri rule? With no consequences.

Notwithstanding the absolute necessity of social media, how many of us are able or willing to turn off our writing for the weekend? The whole weekend, every weekend.

A full time writer may be able to; those who work to a writing schedule on a daily basis (please sprinkle some of your discipline laced fairy dust in my direction), might be able to put the pen down to have a life for the rest of the day or week. But how do they stop the ideas from popping into their mind? Ah ha. No. They can’t, just like the rest of us they are unable to put them aside because it is Saturday and hope to pick them up again Monday at 9am.fullsizeoutput_5ed

This is not a new problem for writers; something which happened with the advent of emails, texts and twitter. There are ways to manage those, but if anyone has managed to stop the ideas and the manic rush for a scrap of paper at 3am on a Sunday, or even a crayon for the bathroom wall at shower time, I would like to hear from them.

What’s in a name…

Can the name of a character make or break how we react to or even write them? We all know the Rose reference in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, but do names have an effect on how we see people, read characters or even write them?

In a recent post, a well known author mentioned that she now had the name of her character; she could begin to write her on the page. She was now real to her.

This struck a chord with me, or more correctly jolted a light bulb moment. I am in the process of editing my WIP but during the actual writing process up to and including this point I have not felt I know my protagonist well. As well as I should; I mean I know her story and her emotional journey, I know what she looks like and I can hear the sound of her voice, but I don’t feel a closeness that I experience with the other characters. Now I feel I know why. I haven’t chosen her forever name.

My protagonist’s name is Victoria. Before that she was Kate. But she isn’t either one of those and in the back of my mind I have known that I will change her name. When the time comes. I realise now that time was at the beginning. The relationship between myself and this character is crucial to her story and I have been keeping her at bay, at arms length by not giving her her ‘real’ name.

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Not to get all Shakespearian but a rose by any  other name is still a rose, right? Still as beautiful and fragrant? This might be true for the rose but to hark back to my original question – do names have an effect on how we see people, read characters or even write them? I believe so.

Look at the names of past fictional heroines – Emma, Elizabeth, Jane, Anna…these names still invoke ideas of old fashioned feminine strength and at least internal beauty. So how to choose the right name for my character? A baby name book? Go through the alphabet? Is she like someone I know? I haven’t had this problem in the past but I know that this time round I have to get it right.

Let me know if you suffer the same problem, or maybe you find it easy? Well, I am off to find my protagonist’s forever name. Wish me luck.

Hot and Steamy in the Laundry

Snippets of an Aussie childhood

As a young child, the laundry in our mid 50s  State Housing Commission home was a fascinating mix of smells, and a place of hot, urgent activity at least once a week. I remember my Mum, red faced and damp, plunging everything from socks to overalls to bed sheets into the copper boiler, which seemed to take up most of the room. It would all disappear in clouds of suds and steam. Then she would stir it like soup in a massive cauldron, weilding a purpose made pole, clearly ravaged from a life of long use. I was too short to see inside unless I stood on a stool, but that was not pexels-photo-26304allowed. Probably just as well. Everything from Dad’s work clothes and my brothers’ muddy school and scout clothes to the piles of sheets and towels would be agitated through the mix (not all at once) until my Mum decided she could do no more. These boilers, or the copper as it was called in our house, were heated by a fire underneath and sometimes the water was literally boiling.

When I was a little older, a not-quite-so-back-breaking, single tub electric washing machine materialised in the laundry, complete with rubber mangles which jumped apart at too much sheet, or threatened to squeeze weary fingers without a laundry-666487_640moment’s notice. Literally named.

The laundry itself must have been the last item on the list to be finished in this state of the art timber and asbestos rental. Except they forgot to finish it. This important work room was not lined, leaving the jarrah timber framework exposed. So too with the toilet. However the horizontal frames were perfect for storing the soap flakes, borax, water softener, and the oddly named Blue, which apparently was wonderful for making your whites white.

And when did we stop the sizzling Sunday roast? – potatoes, pumpkin, peas and lashings of abstract-1239041_640gravy, followed by the best desserts. Somehow my Mum managed the temperature in the old combustion stove to produce perfect sponges; icing, jam, whipped cream and groans of a full belly.

That combustion stove was lit all year round, even in the stifling heat of summer until it was upgraded it to a new white gas cooker, which took up less room but failed to warm the kitchen in winter in quite the same way. Never the less it still produced the best roasts and sponges. No, that was my Mum.

I smile now to remember the ‘chip’ heater which sat at the end of our bath. It was shaped like a rocket, a fire was lit at the bottom to heat water in the small tank above, which then spat and sputtered into the bath through a skinny copper pipe. Ours was cream. The copper pipe was turning green. Safety? I don’t remember any of us being burned. We just knew to respect it I think. I can still smell the jarrah chips as they caught alight; there was skill in laying them just right and that was the difference between a hot or cold bath. When this was removed and replaced with a hot water system in the laundry – still solid fuel – my handy Dad made a decorative windmill out of it. It graced the back garden for many a year.

Along our fence tidy pyramids of long necked brown bottles waited for the bottle-o to stop by in his truck, load them up, drop in some change, before returning them to the factory to be cleaned, refilled with that most Aussie of amber fluid and sold once more.

Our milk too came in glass bottles capped in coloured foil. Oh how we fought over the cream on top. I remember banana flavoured milk which had a different coloured cap.  Delivered by horse and cart ( fresh manure for the garden if you were quick enough), the empties were collected, cleaned, refilled and redelivered.

Was life simpler then? Maybe, the jury is still out. Easier? Well, I don’t know about that either. Perhaps less complicated is the way to describe the days of my early childhood. I think for us kids it was easier and simpler; free to roamsun-glass-game-colors between friends’ houses on foot or by bike, grabbing a snack here and there, home for dinner, dirty and full of tales of books read, trees climbed, marbles played, knees and elbows scraped. Less complicated.

Would I have that childhood over again? Definitely.

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Bookshop Addiction-there is no cure.

Do you admit to bookshop addiction? I do. Openly, blissfully I admit to my affliction.

And there is no cure. I know; I have done the studies. No. Cure.

When you enter those hallowed walls, how do you browse the shelves? What is your process? Do you head straight for your genre, despite looking for a gift for someone else? Do you start at the back and work forward? Or do you mix it up a little?

I start at the beginning. At the very front. Those tables piled with temptation; the specials tables, then the new releases. Oh… the joy of picking the latest by a favourite author. Beyond these to the crime, romance, literature. There is the classic I have been looking for. On to the self help which does nothing to salve my addiction.

The children’s section, cooking and wine. Art and memoir. My pulse quickened back at Australian Classics and my doctor would seriously disapprove of the level my blood pressure has reached. I have enough to feed my addiction for the moment. It is time to go.

Have you noticed most registers are never quite at the front of the store? Nor in the middle or the back? No. So as not to impede your progress, they know their best spot is to the side, set back a little; not too obvious but where you will see them, ready to transfer your treasures into a brown paper bag while they feed their spoils of your addiction into the till.

I confess to something a little peculiar; I pick the book behind the first one. So I buy a pristine copy. It’s like the top one is sacrificed for the good of the rest. Unless I am browsing a second hand bookshop. That’s a whole other story.

My habit is out of control; I have browsed many a bookshop and below are a few of my favourites. There’s a common thread in these; heritage buildings, high timber shelves, careful lighting. And those library ladders!

New modern shops with their bright lights and garish posters – not for the seriously addicted, clearly. No, the serious addict doesn’t want their affliction flaunted in places such as these. Give us the low light, soft murmurs, and that smell. You know what I mean. Breathe it in and exhale slowly.