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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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.

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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If Anthony Trollope can do it, or 117,000 words 15 mins at a time.

In my last post I told you that I was easily distracted from writing, in reality suffering from the chronic malaise of procrastination. Then how did I manage to write more than 117,000 words in eight months you ask? Glad you asked.

When I began my draft last year, I set myself a goal of 1000 words a day in order to achieve at least 80,000 words. This was also dependent on writing every day. What could possibly go wrong? Four months in and I was way behind. I was lucky to write 1000 words in 1 week at times.

Let me explain my procrastination problem. My overlying issue is that I do not put my writing before all else; before the housework, a good book, the dog, friends, family, social media, the new adult colouring fad… you get the picture. And then the guilt sets in and the self chastising and before you know it another day has gone by and no writing. (And probably no housework either, but I didn’t tell you that.)

This old dog is not good at learning new tricks, so the problem is not going to go away any time soon. What to do? By chance I came across a post about this very issue. (Surprise surprise, again with the procrastination.)

Apparently, prolific author, Anthony Trollope, managed to churn out so many books because he made himself write 250 words in 15 minute time slots for 3 hours every day. I am no Trollope and there is no way I would find 3 hours in my day. But this piqued my interest.

Anyway long story short, I said to myself, ‘Self, it is only 15 minutes, you don’t have to find an hour or more in one sitting.’ So I set the timer for 15 minutes and wrote. Or typed. For 15 minutes non stop. Of course it would need editing, it was a draft for goodness sake. BUT I always managed more than 250 words in each sitting. Sometimes I would leave it and set aside another 15 minutes later in the day, or I would immediately set the timer again and go for it.

Because I realised I would still not manage to write every day, this method was perfect and worked wonders. My self esteem, my sense of achievement, raised itself a notch as my goal of 1000 words was easily met, and often beaten, in up to four sessions on any given writing day.  And my goal of 80,000 words? See for yourself.

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If I can do it, anyone can. Enjoy and happy writing.

 

When My Muse Procrastinates

Finding the muse, struggling for new ideas, fighting distraction, inspiration lost, writer’s block. We have all been there, that place where we fear we have lost our mojo. There is much written on this subject and many accomplished writers have prepared lists of what they find most useful for breaking the cycle and boosting their own creativity.

Not everything on these lists appeals to me – this body is not built for yoga, for example – so I was compelled to look at the ways I deal with distraction, to solve a character or plot problem, to even actually getting started some days. My list is in no particular order because I find my emotional and physical energy levels will affect which one/s works for me. (In other words which one I can be bothered doing).

1. Escape to a cafe, a museum, a gallery

One of my favourites. This morning I sat in a cafe to prepare notes for this post. I watched people pass, sit and move on. The red haired man covered in tattoos scratching his leg ferociously; a recent tat gone wrong? The shabbily dressed, proud elderly man with a slow limping gait. He Western Australian Museummay have survived a POW camp. The 2 young mums chatting over coffee. One dressed simply and expensively with immaculate hair and makeup, her child quiet and happy; the other frazzled but trying to hide it, her clothes thrown on at the last minute, hair falling out of it’s clip, child throwing his cake at her. Sisters? Old school friends? What choices led to their different journeys?

I might visit an art gallery, an exhibition, even weekend markets. Somewhere I am exposed to different areas of creativity which help get me into the mood and to feel at my most inspired and creative.

2. Take a walk

Walking has solved many a problem for me, I’m just not that great at it. While I know that walking is good for mind and body, walking shoesI often have a pretty good argument against it. I am also one of those people who gets bored on a walk around the neighbourhood, so my smart phone is my best companion. Music, radio or a podcast and by the time I am home again I have solved the issue of whether Miranda should meet Jean Louis in Paris or Sebastion in London. It is also a great way to smell the roses from time to time. Or the seaweed and salt if a beach walk is more the thing.

3. Morning Shower (or whenever)

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This might sound odd but for some reason my mind unleashes when I am in the shower. It’s a bit like being in an enclosure with the outside world shut out for a while. When I found these waterproof notebooks I was in seventh heaven. Because I lose ideas quickly if I don’t write them down. The downside is I can emerge a lot more wrinkled than when I started.

4. Enjoy Nature

Winding down, relaxing, getting my thoughts together is easier, and all the more enjoyable, if I can sit under the shade of a big tree and listen to the birds chat and Looking up into a treethe leaves mingle. Watching the canopy move against the sky can mesmerise and clear my mind, giving me room to start again and fill it with ideas on how to begin the next part of my story, or just start.

5. Write everyday – even if it is junk.

“Start writing no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” Louis L’Amour. (I admit I had to look him up.) but he is right. I just pick up the pen and write. Anything. What I am seeing through the window, what scents waft in. I can hear the sound of a lawn mower fighting the cries of the galahs in the trees. How does the pen feel on the paper. Why does the buttery croissant taste so good right now?

6. Read – Anything

As writers we are encouraged to read widely, especially in the genre we hope to be published. I need no excuse to do this, usually with two books on the go at once. This is therapy, enabling me to travel to different places, inhabit other minds and often inspires me to put the book down and put my imagination to use on my own project. I also love to read what other writers have to say. McSweeneys.net is a good place to get lost in.

7. Mind Mapping

I keep a scrap book and markers handy. This is a fun activity and I am often surprised at where I end up. Basically, start with a question or an idea in the mindmapmiddle of the page and branch out from there with associated thoughts and ideas. A bit like a tree or a spider. Let your mind go and write whatever comes to mind. Try this website,  Mindmapping,  for help if you haven’t tried it.

8. Try just one thing from this list or a different list.

Then share it. I would love to know what works for you.

Oh, and 9. TURN OFF THE INTERNET FOR AN HOUR.

Self explanatory.

Perth Writers Festival 2015

The Perth Writers Festival is over for another year and for me it abounded with inspiration, warmth, fun and fantastic weather. It is one of the highlights of my year, I anticipate the next one for months before it occurs and live off the memories for months after. Yes I am a ‘tragic’.

Australian writers and illustrators from all genres mixed, mingled and debated with equally illustrious writers from overseas to bring their expertise to packed audiences. Tropical garden to airconditioned tents to theatres, the venues were as diverse as the guests. Kudos to the hosts, the University of Western Australia, whose grounds and beautiful buildings, as ever, proved the perfect venue for such an event. PeacockTo the left is one of the resident peacocks who kept me company for much of my downtime between sessions.

So many writers, so hard to choose a favourite. Elizabeth Gilbert oozed warmth and insight while Graham Simsion greeted his audiences on entry with chocolates; his wit, charm and intellect held us spellbound during sessions which passed too quickly. Liane Moriarty, Peter Docker, Inga Simpson to literally name just a few among such an exciting group of Australian writers.

I sometimes wonder what draws others to Writers Festivals. The demographic is predominantly female seniors, strongly Caucasian. But the multicultural mix is improving which is great to see. And family day is a joy to observe. There is a minority, however, who test my patience. The self promoters in the audiences who, at question time, purport to know more about the writer and why they wrote the book than the writer themselves. To the frustration of the rest of the audience and perhaps even the author. I swear there is at least one of these in every session. (end of rant).

I know why I am there. To learn, to be inspired, to be awed; to soak up the ambiance and float home afterwards, my mind full.

(originally written earlier in the year for my own personal use)

#pwf15 @paulinewrites