Sunday, 28 November 2010

I Did It!

I completed my Nanowrimo challenge to write 50,000 words in the month of November. I actually rather enjoyed it and am still continuing to write the story. Whether anyone will ever want to read it is another matter. It was good to allow myself to write whatever I fancied, rather than trying to conform to writing guidelines. I also allowed the plot to develop organically rather than planning. The starting points were a song on a Celtic CD I had in the car and a very short story I wrote two years ago.

It turned into a time slip murder mystery. I am beginning to wonder if this is my genre, as I have another half completed manuscript of a similar type but in a totally different setting.

2,000 words a day are very possible. My ironing pile suffered, hence the five hour ironing marathon yesterday. In general, however, my housework still got done, as it was useful thinking time.

I already had a good practice of being a “waiting” writer. By that I mean I write when I am waiting at the doctor’s, dentist, hairdressers, outside school, during Daniel’s piano and swimming lessons and even if a friend is getting a coffee in the cafĂ© and I am keeping the table. I think that Nano has focussed my mind and made me even more fastidious about this practice

The exercises at writing class could generally be adapted to be part of the plot of the Nano novel too. It will be interesting to see if my new word count regime continues. They say it takes 21 days of repetition to create a habit. (And yes I have written over a 1000 words today!)

I have to say that the word count could not have been achieved without the support of my family and friends. My husband was particularly helpful, showing an interest in my word count, cooking meals and even on occasion taking over my turn at reading the bedtime story to Daniel when I was in the flow.

My writing buddy, Ellie Swoop, was always there when I needed a moan or to talk through the plot. (I hope while I am writing this that she has written her last 2,000 words and achieved her Nano target too. I’m looking forward to the celebration!)

One of the best things has been the caring comments of my new friends on Facebook, many of whom were met because of the New Voices competition. You know who you are and thank you

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Writer’s Bottom

My friend Ellie Swoop and I have identified a problem with Nanowrimo. We are doing wonderfully well with our word count, keeping up to date and with lots of plot ideas, but we have both noticed an unforeseen consequence. Our bottoms are spreading with all this sitting down! In my case, at least, this is assisted with a higher than normal consumption of chocolate I'll admit. Something about writing makes me want to eat.

Now we have both tried to address this with walking. Yesterday, she went for a walk with her chocolate Labrador and my boys (husband and son) dragged me on a hike around the forest. I am beginning to wonder if this bottom effect could be an occupational hazard.

I can see that if I am going to continue being a serious writer, I am going to have to have some strategies to combat the spread. Suggestions please?

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Memory From Schooldays

There I was, sat on the bank at the back of the school. It was a sweltering hot day. I mean really, really hot. Rivulets of sweat ran down the back of my least favourite school dress. (I was always told that ladies don’t sweat. “Horses sweat, men perspire and ladies glow”, but rivulets of glow, doesn’t quite give you the picture.) I was wearing my cardigan too. Madness, I hear you shout.

Our summer school uniform was a cotton dress. In those days you couldn’t just buy them from M&S or Asda. My mother had to buy yards of the school fabric and make it up herself. It was horrible material, turquoise blue with something reminiscent of a Greek key in navy all over it. Much too busy.

I had two dresses, one with long sleeves and one with short. They were both so short in length that I couldn’t sit on the material and laddered my tights with great regularity as there was so much leg exposed. In those days we used to just put nail varnish on the end of the ladder and sew it up in a long stripe when we got home.

So why was I sat there on such a hot day in my cardigan? Well you see puffed sleeves were in, but I don’t know what on earth my mother had done to the pattern. I suspect that the sleeve pattern piece was the whole piece, but she had taken it to be half, as I had nothing short of balloons, barrage balloons at that, at the top of my arms under the cardigan. I was so ashamed, that I would rather have sweated until reduced to a stick than take off that horrid itchy cardigan and expose my mortification.

I sat there with everyone else in their cool short sleeves, trying not to faint. If I even thought about taking off my cardigan, I could see those pointing fingers and hear the name calling, just as if it was happening.

The joy of schooldays! Do you have a memory to share?

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Burned at the Stake

My latest production, Pendle Cottage, which is the working title for my Nanowrimo novel, involves a fair amount of witchcraft, herbal remedies and poison. I was a bit disconcerted to find the research books I wanted to buy filed under a big notice ‘Witchcraft’ in Waterstones. I stood there hoping no one would recognise me. I only wanted to identify a couple of herbs and poisons!

I eventually bought ‘Hedgerow Medicine' by Julie Bruton-Seal and Matthew Seal, Merlin Unwin Books, 2008, ISBN 9781873674994. It has been very helpful. We already had a copy of 'Herbs and Healing Plants of Britain and Europe' by Dieter Podlech, Bestsellers, 2001, ISBN 9780261674059 on the bookshelf. I was then lucky enough to come across another book ‘The Women’s Guide to Herbal Medicine’ by Carol Rogers, BCA, 1995, ISBN 9780241133477 in pristine condition for £2 in a charity shop.

This isn’t my first brush with herbs. When I was in my early teens I asked for a patch of my parents’ garden and grew them. I had a little herbal book then, but I lent it to someone and never got it back. I can remember putting lavender seeds into almond oil for my mother to massage onto her arthritic knees and insisting that my father had lemon balm in his tea.

Strange how when you research something, you suddenly notice things which were invisible before. On my walk into town the other day, I saw several ‘weeds’, which could be used in herbal remedies, growing out of the pavement and walls on the way.

I think my fate would have been sealed years ago; I would have been burned at the stake. Maybe I have been several times in past lives. After all I can imagine it very clearly with all of my senses! Or is that just my writer’s imagination?

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Discovering David Whyte

Has anyone else discovered David Whyte? Ellie Swoop and I first met him at Ledbury Poetry Festival in 2008. He is an inspirational poet. During his performance, in which he read his poetry in a very different way, he captivated us both.

He reads his poems very slowly to give you time to digest them and he repeats lines which he wants to emphasise. He's also very charismatic and has a wonderful voice. He must have impressed me for me to shell out £20 on his book ‘River Flow – New and Selected Poems 1984-2007’, Many Rivers Press, 2007, ISBN 1932887172, which he signed for me. I have read this large volume word for word and highlighted my favourites with tabs.

In fact, I was so impressed I also purchased one of his audio books, ‘Midlife and the Great Unknown’ and I listen to it at the gym. His voice is so soothing and his words ring the right bells for me and leave me feeling uplifted. He does poetry workshops for businesses all over the world.

My favourite lines have to be:
                                               ‘anything or anyone
                                                that does not bring you alive
                                                is too small for you.’
Extract from Sweet Darkness.

You can read a selection of his poems at

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

The Big Question

I think that I have now proved to myself, by taking part in Nanowrimo, that I can write around 2000 words a day towards a novel fairly easily. My big question is – how do I do all of the other things I need to do in the day too?

Serious writers must be superhuman or else need little sleep. Focus on my Nano novel has meant that housework has all but ceased. Standards have definitely dropped. My husband has to keep reminding me about the things he needs ironing (like work trousers at 5.15 am this morning!). My ironing pile is huge. My ironing room, aka spare bedroom, is full. I just hope that we don’t have visitors soon, unless they are champion ironers.

I keep forgetting to get things out of the freezer for tea, resulting in last minute dashes to the supermarket or beans on toast. Luckily here, beans on toast are my hubbie’s favourite boiler fuel.

My hobbies are sadly neglected. Un-knitted wool glares at me from under the table. My family tree is wilting. The massive pile of unread magazines is threatening to take over one side of my study. I’ve bought my Christmas cards, despite having craft materials enough to stock Hobbycraft.

All I keep hoping is that I get faster at writing or else become desensitised to my to do list. Or of course earn a fortune from writing. So how do you do it all?

Friday, 5 November 2010

Writing Class Exercise

I went to my writing class today. The tutor passed round three envelopes and we had to take a piece of paper from each. I got ‘milkman’, ‘hotel’ and ‘bottle of perfume’. It never ceases to amaze me what my brain makes of some of these exercises. Here I was trying to write everything in the vein of my Nanowrimo project to save time, but this exercise refused. For a laugh, I share what I wrote below:-

Slow Burn

I was in love with the milkman. He wasn’t your average hero with his bald head (usually covered with a tweed cap), ruddy face and bow legs. Then, I wasn’t your average heroine, being the wrong side of fifty and rather plump to put it mildly. I worked as a cook in the little Barry Hotel in Broad Street and so, I had every excuse to talk to Alfred (the milkman). He arrived every morning wearing his white apron, breathing a little too heavily due to the weight of the crates.

I don’t know when I realised I was in love with him, but I’d been trying to move our relationship on from ‘Morning, Martha’, ‘Good Morning Alfred’, for a year now. He seemed to resist all of my attempts to be noticed. He didn’t say anything when I began to sleep in curling papers so that even at 6am I had tumbling curls under my cook’s hat, admittedly sugared with grey hairs. He didn’t notice when I began to wear more and more layers of make up or when my skirts got shorter. Maybe he just wasn’t interested.

Still living in hope, I continued with my beauty regime and always made sure I had a clean bright tent under my spruce white apron. Lovesick that is what my mother, God rest her soul, would have called me.

I’d all but given up, but one day as Alfred turned to leave, he said, ‘There be something for you in the bottom crate Martha. Be sure you find it.’ He winked and was gone before he saw I had turned puce.

Wrestling with the crates, I moved them until the last one was exposed. There nestling in amongst the white bottles with silver foil lids was a bottle of perfume.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

What Fun

I finally gave in to some new characters. They appeared in my head and demanded that I try Nanowrimo. For those who don’t know, Nanowrimo is an annual writing challenge held in November. The idea is that participants write a 50,000 word novel during the month. It isn’t a competition, rather a personal achievement. See for details.

If I am honest, I was dreading it, as I saw only the pressure to perform and the fear of failure. Three days in and I am loving it. The story is literally coming out of my ears. I think I am channelling! I had completed today’s target by 10am and have made numerous quick notes during the day to point me in the right direction for tomorrow's writing. I expect things might get a bit harder further in, but I’m not allowing myself to think of that for now. The great thing is that loads of my friends are taking part too, so there is plenty support and encouragement around.

The Nanowrimo website is rather annoying, as it does not seem to be able to cope with the volume of users and crashes frequently. It also seems to take forever to change something on your account.

The main thing for me is that I am having so much fun with the writing. Maybe my true voice is emerging at last. I am busy researching in between writing – ancient curses, talismans and herbal medicine. I’m going to pace myself, so I am aiming for 1,700 words a day. Giving myself a gold star for today’s performance.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010


We had seven days in Rome over half term. It wasn’t exactly planned, as little one’s passport only arrived on the Monday before! He loved flying. There was me with usual nerves, he was sat cross-legged on his seat and talking non-stop. It helped that hubbie used his air miles and we had Club class seats (real crockery and a lovely meal!)

I wasn’t quite prepared for how exhausting Rome is. The streets teem with traffic, including loads of mopeds. Crossing the road was a case of walking out with your eyes closed and praying, as the traffic dodged around you. We reckoned that we walked further than on our Lake District walking holiday earlier in the year. I have never seen so much graffiti, it was even on some monuments.

The sights are quite widely spread, with lots of modern-day Rome surrounding them. Queues to get into some sights such as the Colosseum were huge, to the extent we didn’t always wait. D got to throw his coin in the Trevi fountain and I got to eat some lovely ice cream – pistachio, coffee and tiramisu. Yum.


Ancient ruins

Constantine's Arch

Trevi Fountain

On the day we went to the Vatican, we got to St Peter’s Square to find the Pope on the dais outside St Peter's Basilica. Daniel was thrilled to see the Popemobile when he had finished his address. We then went inside St Peter's Basilica and I loved the different coloured marbles and the window above St Peter’s tomb.
St Peter's Square
Window above St Peter's Tomb

The weather was very kind, I even got sunburned a couple of times. I could get used to sitting in one of the many street side cafes with my coffee and writing. I did write quite a bit, mainly character sketches for future use.

Piazza del Popolo
Beautiful blue sky