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Saturday, 29 March 2014

Every Story is a Love Story

A little while ago I was reading out a piece of my work to some writer friends. It was a picture book text and I knew there was something missing. 'Think of it as a love story' one of my wise advisers said. And she was absolutely right, even though this book was obviously not a romance; it was about a boy and his bear.

One of the most regular comments I make when commenting on manuscripts on behalf of a literary agency is that the stories lack emotion. The writing is detached and however good the plot is, without emotion readers will find it difficult to connect with the characters and the trials and tribulations they go through. This is especially true of young readers. I don't believe that this occurs because the writers themselves don't care about their characters or their stories. I'm sure they do but what they also need to do is to delve a little deeper and to dive into the story themselves as if they were actually there, instead of standing outside as if observing through a window.

A few years ago my husband was given a beautiful book by a customer. It was about Parma in Italy.

It was a beautiful, glossy, 'take you to the heart of Italian life' book. The photographer talks about photographing not just what he sees, but what he feels. I think the same theory should apply to a writer, but it is too easy to allow the impetus to press on with the narrative to stifle the 'feeling' which should be imparted with each carefully selected word. The photographer, Franco, also talks about looking, observing and being curious without ever stopping. Sometimes events get in the way of curiosity which can take a degree of time and energy. Sometimes it is exhausting to dive into another world, especially if the story is tense and stressful, but that is what we must do in order to convey emotions which will engage our readers. As writers we must remember to put feelings on to the page; we must love our characters and, by imparting this knowledge, encourage our reader to love them too. Because at the end of the day, every story is a love story of one sort or another.

Thank you for reading. Have a good week.

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Reaching Out

Writing can be a solitary business, sitting at the keyboard or with a pad of paper in front of you, for long periods of time. For me one of the best things to do as an antidote to this hermit-like activity is to meet up with other writers. And I have been lucky enough to do this twice this week. The first time was at The Romantic Novelists' Awards in London and the second time was a lunch with local children's writers who have become good friends over the years.

The Romantic Novelists' Award Ceremony was held at The Gladstone Library in Whitehall and the prizes were handed out by the delightful Darcey Bussell. I would love to put some photos up but at the moment blogger won't let me upload (if anyone has the solution to this I would be grateful to hear from you). You can find a photo of myself and the five other short-listed authors in the young adult category on my Facebook page or there are more photos on the RNA website.

Despite the fact that I would hardly know anyone there I wasn't nervous about attending because writers tend to be a friendly bunch of people and amongst the delightful, talented authors I met were Liz Bankes, Imogen Howson (the winner in our category), Christina Courtenay, Marie-Louise Jensen and Beth Reekles. We talked about our writing history and openly about work in progress. This reminded me of a conversation I had a few years ago with one of my son's teachers.
"When I retire I plan to write a book," he said.
"Oh what's it going to be about?" I asked.
The shutters came down immediately.
"Oh I can't possibly tell you that," he replied. "It's a secret."
Now I may have got this wrong but the implication was that I might steal his idea. I had no intention of doing any such thing and, in my experience, the majority of writers don't steal other writers ideas. The ones I know admire someone who comes up with a great idea and we may think 'I wish that I'd thought of that,' but steal them, no. The writers I know have more than enough ideas of their own and not enough time to get them all on to paper without having to resort to stealing other people's.

Of course some people just like to keep their ideas to themselves and I respect that. But reaching out and talking things through with other writers, whether you are just starting out or more established, can be incredibly valuable. You gain support, inspiration, motivation and maybe that light-bulb moment which helps you see the way forward with a plot which has been thwarting you and hopefully you give the same in return. Those of us who have a trusted group of writer friends with whom we can meet up with on a regular basis are blessed indeed. For those of us who aren't so fortunate there are a plethora of classes out there where you will meet like-minded people and on-line forums where you can make contact. Writing may be something we do on our own but we don't have to be totally alone in the process. So if you've been thinking about joining a class or making contact with other writers over the internet I would encourage you to do so. I'm sure you won't regret it.

On Tuesday 25th I am a guest on Lizzie Lamb's website. Lizzie is the author of two hugely popular books, Tall, Dark and Kilted and Boot Camp Bridge. She is a great supporter of other writers and I am very honoured to be on her blog.

Thank-you for reading this week. Have a good one.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

A Gentler Life

Gosh, it's been busy lately. I seem to be running at full pelt just to stand still. I know it isn't just me who feel that time really does seem to be speeding up. 'If you want something done, ask a busy person', so the saying goes. That's true up to a point and Parkinson's Law does state that we stretch out jobs to fill the time available. But too much busyness, for me anyway, is not good for creativity. My creativity flourishes in the shadows, in quiet time, in space. There doesn't have to be acres of it, just pockets without pressure, and in addition a gentle rhythm to my days where I can nurture my soul with variety; some cooking, tidying (I can't work in a messy house), reading, walking, gardening, thinking.

As I write this post, sitting at my kitchen table, broccoli soup simmering on the range, outside the window the sun is shining and the birds are singing. Humphrey the guinea pig rests in the doorway to his house, a shaft of sunlight warming the top of his head. Someone looking down from space would probably view it as a harmonious scene but inside I am stressed. There seem to be so many things to do and not enough time to do them.  I have a desire for my life to be easier, gentler so that I may sink back into my creativity. I know this requires certain chores to be 'penned' like a flock of sheep and I am not good at that domestic discipline.

We are promised good weather this weekend and I plan to get out in the garden. Last week I planted some seeds and the cosmos are already sprouting, as is my parsley. This week I may plant out my seed potatoes (Arran Pilot - first earlies) and put broad bean seeds (Meteor again as they were so good last year), in individual pots. Working in the garden is grounding, calming. It is a form of meditation and a good place to think about plotting and characters. It is a good place to re-assess, to pause and to plan so that next week I can create more balance.

Whatever you are doing and wherever you are I hope you have a lovely weekend.
Thank-you for reading.

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Writing a Diary

Recently I have been going back in time and re-reading one of my diaries from 2007. It is not always a good thing to return to the past but it can be cathartic. It can show you how far you have come in the intervening years.

I have written a diary on and off since being sent to boarding school at eleven. My godmother gave me a five year diary; that little black book, along with letters to and from family, as well as good friends made, are what got me through those years. My parents believed they were doing the best for me. In fact they were doing their worst. Already a shy child, the only way to survive being deposited with eight hundred plus strangers was to shrink into myself. Only a very few people were able to know the real me. By the end of those seven years I wasn't even sure who the real me was. It has taken many years and the love of my husband, children and friends for me to emerge from that chrysalis. So back to 2007 when I was coming out of another dark period. My parents, who were separated, had both died eighteen months previously and left a myriad of problems behind. My husband had received several blows to his business. I had health problems, recurrent shingles and an outbreak of acne rosacea which badly affected my confidence; my daughter was also unhappy at school. But there were good bits too; my son and his partner received a silver medal for their garden at the RHS Show at the NEC in Birmingham; I had a meeting with a well respected publisher with a view to writing some young fiction and throughout it all I was surrounded by the love of people who are precious to me.

In times of great difficulty, writing a diary has been like confiding in a friend. It comprises lists, prayers, thankfulness and bewilderment. By putting my thoughts and feelings down on the page it has helped me to make sense of my world and to find a way forwards when the path in front of me seemed too hard and painful to traverse. It has prompted me look for other paths, some taken, some rejected. In this diary from 2007 I had written the following quotation from Mother Teresa:-

'Spread love everywhere you go; first of all in your own house.
Give love to your children, to your wife or husband, to a next door neighbour.
...Let no-one ever come to you without leaving better and happier.
Be the living expression of God's kindness, kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes,
kindness in your smile, kindness in your warm greeting.'

Thank-you for your kindness in taking the time to read this blog and if you write a diary I would love to know if it helps you too.