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.

 

 

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.

Are your characters loveable?

Should we always write loveable characters? Or even likeable?

I recently received constructive feedback on a short story I entered into a competition. One of the comments “…this successfully built empathy for her situation whilst allowing one to dislike her for…” led me to wonder how many times a character I have had empathy for, or even a person I have met, I have disliked despite that empathy.’Empathy’ and ‘like’ don’t necessarily go hand in hand.

Not long after this I listened to a great interview with Dutch writer Hermann Koch who has written best selling novels with distinctly unlikeable characters and was thereafter involved in an impromptu discussion about the emotions raised during and after reading the Neapolitan series by Elena Ferrante. How cross one reader was with the protagonist despite empathy for her situation.

That really is what writing a good story is about, isn’t it? Raised emotions and reactions, for the story to remain with us after we finish reading it?

Who are likeable characters and what makes them so? Anne of Green Gables?A rascallyClark Gablerogue with a handsome face and twinkle in his eye, a smile that sweeps you off your feet? A beautiful femme fatale who takes the bullet for the hero? I seem to be channeling 50s gangster movies. Bridget Jones? How about the Artful Dodger or Nancy, from Oliver Twist? Oliver goes without saying.

Our characters ought to have some redeeming features, or we would all put the story away pretty quickly.These will be in the eye of the reader and the skill of the writer. How differently is a character seen or interpreted between the mind and words of the writer and the eyes of the reader? A lot I think. Our readers are individuals and as such react, well, individually. They may not appreciate the depth of the character we as writers have slaved over.

So, must we always write likeable characters? Obviously not as the best selling status of the above mentioned authors attest. We must write flawed characters, but how deeply do we portray these flaws? We don’t want to turn our readers away. Should the protagonist be likeable and the antagonist not, because by the meaning of the word they are there to be Harper Lee booksdisliked. In one of my favourite books, To Kill  A Mocking Bird, Atticus is a warm, loveable character. However, in the recently released Go Set A Watchman, he is the antagonist; but so cleverly written by Harper Lee I am still a big fan.

What type of characters do you prefer to read? Maybe it depends on your mood at the time. After an exhausting day you might look forward to something warm and cosy with a happy ending. Or on a bleak wintry day you might want to fire yourself up with a deeply flawed character set on saving the world the hard way.

And do we write the sort of characters we like to read? After all we are in their heads a long time; we can even become them.

Back where all this began -did I like my character in the short story, do I like her now?  I’m not going to tell you, but if you would like to find out for yourself whether you might like her, I have attached a link here.

A quick note – this story, Invisible,  was placed 34th out of 251 entries; the first 31 were published. I am happy with that, and have chosen not to rewrite that story, yet; instead to move on and use their feedback on a current WIP. So the story you may be about to read is there warts and all.

 

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To write distraction free. Bliss.

There is much to be said for having your own personal writing space. Some of us have managed to carve out a spot; a corner of the bedroom or lounge, the end of the dining table, even a room to ourselves. However, unless that space has a lock on the door or a cone of silence, chances are we still suffer the distractions of the everyday – the neighbour’s new motor bike, the sink full of dishes, the telemarketers who don’t understand your blunt voicemail message, the child who is bored – they don’t go away.

So what do we do? We might seek the ambience of a cafe or library, IMG_1965even a park on a sunny day. But what of the distractions of the other patrons; the laughter, the tinkle of spoons, the almost canned chatter? It may seem odd to choose to write in these areas of raised noise and movement. But for many of us they work. My theory is that we can ignore such distractions because they have nothing to do with us, they don’t demand our immediate attention.  And on the upside, if we are inclined to eavesdrop, the perceived lives of others in these public places may just be the basis of that next story we have been looking for.

However. There is another option for finding the peace and quiet we crave. A Writers Retreat. A chance to withdraw from the everyday. A place to spend literally hours at a time with nothing else to do but focus on writing, research, reading and coffee. Hot coffee. How do I know this?

Recently I was spoiled with the gift of two days at the Katherine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre. In a very pretty setting in the  hills above Perth, they have three cabins perfectly set up for such a retreat. And the only distraction is the view. And perhaps the birdsong.

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I highly recommend this option. Hours to yourself. Nothing but words on a page. Someone deserves the Nobel Prize for the idea.

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Everything I write is s**t

I am currently going through the ‘everything I write is s**t’ phase, and that includes stories I have had published. I mean, what would they know?

This phase leads to the ‘why am I even bothering’ stage, hand in hand with the ‘I am wasting my time’ phase. Sound familiar?

What sets this in motion? Procrastination? Reading something awesome and profound by a fellow writer that we know we will never emulate? The phases of the moon? Or just a general dip in our biorhythms; a funk? If I had the answer I could probably write a book on it.

So what to do?

pexels-photo-47444For starters, get up and stop sulking. Next, move away from that computer and note book! Now, set yourself a task you know is achievable and /or short. Like doing the dishes, or going for a walk. Load the washing  machine or read a chapter of your favourite book. Weed the path. Whatever it is finish it. Achievement!

Now, tell yourself you can write. You are a writer. I. CAN’T. HEAR. YOU. That’s better. You are one of a big wonderful group of writers who go through this same phase over and over again.

Self doubt is a kicker. It sneaks up on  us when we least expect it and we let it in. And it wants to stay. Don’t let it. Kick it back. In fact, kick it out. It will come back, like the proverbial bad penny, but next time you will be prepared; you will shut the door in it’s face before it gets the whole foot in.

In a timely moment before I was ready to post this, I read Charlotte Wood’s article in The Australian, written after she was awarded the Stella Prize 2016 for her novel The Natural Way of Things. She writes of almost giving up because no one would want to read it. And why and how she didn’t give up. So glad she didn’t.