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Monday, 23 June 2014

Less is More

I love reading articles about other writers and how they work. But when some of them say that they go to their writing space at about nine o'clock in the morning and finish work at six, I always feel a mixture of awe and inadequacy. For me, two hours of 'proper' writing is enough. Any more than that and my head starts to feel fuzzy and my body wilts. It has always made me feel rather a lightweight. After all sitting at a laptop or writing in a notebook are never going to make it on to a list of most strenuous jobs in the world. However I am constantly looking for ways to increase my productivity without compromising my well-being. And, thanks to another writer, the lovely Kathy Garbera, I seem to have found it.

"Does writing make you tired?" was a question asked of me by another children's writer at The Hull Book Awards. No-one has ever asked me that before but this particular writer also found writing tiring. So I told her about Kathy Garbera's simple secret and she was going away to try it out. I really hope it works as well for her as it has for me and may do for you. Here it is!

Basically Kathy writes in fifteen minute stints. Then she does something else for fifteen minutes. Then she returns to her story. In this way she writes a considerable number of words each day. I have tried it and for me, it works wonderfully on several levels.

1. Life's Stuff - 'Come on,' I say to myself on those difficult jam-packed with 101 other things to do days. 'You can manage just fifteen minutes. That's no time at all. Then at least you'll feel you've achieved something writing-wise.'

2. Breath Holding -I am aware that, at certain times, I hold my breath when writing. By setting a timer, getting up and walking around every fifteen minutes, I bring more oxygen back into my body which I'm sure is a huge contributor to combating the tiredness.

3. Procrastination - If I am not looking forward to the passage I'm about to write, fifteen minutes is a small amount of time to endure - and usually after that quarter of an hour I am right back into the story.

4. Getting Stuck - If I get stuck when writing a scene and am not sure what is going to happen next, when the timer pings I can wander off, hang the washing out and think about my dilemma without any feeling of guilt. Usually just leaving the keyboard and doing something different will bring clarity to my mind.

When the timer pings, sometimes I carry on to the end of the sentence or sometimes I leave it half-way through. That way there's no trouble getting back into the flow when you return to the story fifteen minutes later.

I actually feel that, by using this method, my writing has improved. It feels fresher and so do I.

I've actually applied this fifteen minute rule to other areas of my life, sorting paperwork, tidying out a cupboard, doing the ironing. It's great for all sorts of jobs you have been putting off for ages.

A word of warning! I've tried to increase the time to twenty minutes and for some reason it doesn't work nearly as well. Whereas with meditation that extra five minutes can have hugely positive benefits, in this instance, the extra five minutes, for me, were definitely detrimental.

So by writing in fifteen minute stints I can actually achieve more but it feels as if I am doing less. What could be better than that. So a big thank-you to Kathy and if any of you have got jobs that need doing but keep putting them off, just set the timer for fifteen minutes. It's amazing what you can achieve.

Thank-you for reading and have a lovely week whatever you are doing.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Three Little Foxes

Even though we live in the city we have had a lot of foxes in our garden over the years. At the moment we are being visited, morning and evening, by a vixen and her three cubs. The cubs are muddy in colour and haven't yet developed the rich red coat of their mother. Their pointy ears look far too big for their heads and their long, white-tipped tails brush the ground as they explore, diving in and out of the flower borders. Two of the cubs are fairly cautious. They never stray far from Mum, who is usually sunning herself on the lawn. One of the cubs feels the need to touch base from time to time which she doesn't always appreciate. Occasionally the little one is rewarded with a snarl or a nip. The vixen is obviously finding the whole motherhood thing a bit trying! And I don't blame her because the third cub is much more adventurous. He's a wanderer and I sense her anxiety (I had a child like that!), as she tries to keep track of him. I watch these foxes with a mixture of fascination and trepidation, especially as the bravest of the cubs is often to be seen in our garden on his own and I wonder if he has become separated from the family. Also he (I am assuming it is a he), has taken a particular interest in our guinea pig.

Humphrey, bless him, thinks that everyone in the whole world has his best interests at heart and presses his little pink nose to the wire of his run as if to say hello to his new foxy friend. If I knock on the window the fox cub looks up but he doesn't run off. That takes a trek into the garden clapping my hands and shooing him away. But still he often doesn't go far and within minutes of my returning inside is often back. This is not conducive to concentrating on my writing!

These little foxes have reminded me of a rhyme which my grandmother used to recite to me when I was very small. It is from When We Were Very Young by A.A. Milne and this is the first verse.

Once upon a time there were three little foxes
Who didn't wear stockings, and they didn't wear sockses,
But they all had handkerchiefs to blow their noses,
And they kept their handkerchiefs in cardboard boxes.

I had actually forgotten all about this rhyme until I was watching these fox cubs the other day. But nursery rhymes are powerful things and there are many I do remember from my childhood. When visiting schools last year, for the launch of Last Chance Angel, one of the teachers said that, when asked, most of her class didn't even know what a nursery rhyme was. I found that absolutely shocking.

I don't remember being read these rhymes - my parents and grandparents knew them by heart and that is how I learnt them, by listening, absorbing and remembering. They taught me words I didn't know and they taught me about rhythm and rhyme, about pattern and structure and they helped the development of my imagination. The best thing about them was that I didn't even know that I was learning these things at the time. All I knew was that nursery rhymes were fun and funny. It is a tragedy that a whole generation has been raised without knowing the joy and value to be had from experiencing this. Most of us over a certain age will remember a handful of nursery rhymes without prompting. We have a duty to pass these down to those small people we love and care for. In doing so we are giving them a gift which will last them a lifetime.

Thank-you for reading and if there are any particularly favourite rhymes which you remember I would love to hear them.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

A Special Chair

When I was very small I used to sit in this chair a lot.

Sometimes I would sit in it to watch television. Sometimes my Mother would pull it up to a small oak table, (which I still have), and serve my tea. I remember soft, golden scrambled egg with bread and butter or a small piece of fish with some parsley sauce or, one of my favourites, ravioli by a company called Hero. You can still get Hero ravioli in a tin if you go to Spain but I can't find it in the U.K. any more. Sometimes I would sit in the chair and draw. Maybe I might even have practised writing my first words while sitting in this chair.

When I grew too big for it the chair was put in a spare bedroom and then, when my own children were small, my Mother got it out again. She made a loose cover out of some spare dark green and pink Sanderson fabric and the chair was put to use again. One by one, my own children sat in it, doing the same things which I used to do.

For the last few years the chair has been in our loft but, recently, I brought it downstairs and placed it by the front door. The original red upholstery is looking a bit tatty now and the varnished wood is worse for wear.  My small grand-daughter sits  on the chair when I take her shoes off or put them back on again. Soon I will be able to pull it up to the little oak table for her but first it needs a bit of a makeover. So I have bought some sandpaper and some nice green upholstery fabric and set myself a project. When we were first married I re-upholstered a three piece suite, albeit not very well, so this chair shouldn't be too much of a challenge. I'm going to take my time with it though, not rush it. In the U.K. upcycyling is a big thing at the moment, taking old furniture or clothes and giving them a new lease of life. Old things have a history to them, whether they have belonged to you for ages, or whether they have recently joined you. I hope this chair will stay in the family for many years to come and future generations will use it and love it as much as I do.

Thank-you for reading and, once I've finished the chair, I'll post a photo so you can see whether I've made a good job of it or not but of course the ultimate approval will have to come from my grand-daughter!