Monday, 31 January 2011

Cucumber Writing Method

I’ve been trying the ‘cucumber writing method’. Don’t get too excited. It’s not a new craze that will sweep the writing world (but you never know!)

For the past year I’ve been suffering with very dry eyes, to the extent I’ve had to give up my contact lenses. Last week they were so bad, they looked like red hot coals and I didn’t want to face the computer screen or a book. Hungry for writing as always, I developed the cucumber method.

Lying on the settee with soothing discs of cucumber over my eyes, I began to have scenes from my WIP flash through my mind. Amazing how real your characters can feel when they act out the scenes from your book on the back of your eyelids. If only I could write it as I see it.

I began alternating cucumber thinking time with actual writing time. Good for my eyes and it is amazing how much more productive I can be. Try it.

P.S. I’ve now discovered some fantastic Optrex stuff that you spray onto closed eyelids. It can even be used when wearing contact lenses or make up. My eyes have been much better since using it, but I don’t think I shall give up my cucumber thinking time.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Lunchtime Boost

I had lunch with Ellie Swoop in our favourite café (again I hear you say – yes we do have a lot of lunches). As usual we put the world to rights, whilst enjoying a skinny latte and delicious food. Today I had carrot soup and Ellie had scrambled egg on toast.

Ellie and I were pondering what the name for a male harem would be (not that she’s got one you understand or at least not since she recently declared exclusivity!) We discussed lots of writing things, including our visit to the office (Sainsbury’s café) tomorrow morning. We are going to get much more serious about editing our novels. We brainstormed my blog and the sort of subjects I could cover over the next few weeks. Ellie is an ideas person, so it was really useful. Hopefully you can enjoy the fruits of our deliberations shortly.

The café has a second hand bookshelf with proceeds going to charity and of course I came home with three titles; Charlotte Bingham’s Daughters of Eden, Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes (which is recommended for my course) and Zoe Heller’s The Believers.

I wanted to get out this lunchtime as I was feeling strange. Hubbie has been home for a while and I’ve got used to having him around, but he started a new deal in Paris today. He’ll be working Monday to Friday in France for a while and once I settle down this will mean more writing time, but for now I am just missing him.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Support Systems

Today I want to focus on support and how it oils the wheels of life.

Like many at this time of year, I want to shed a few pounds and increase my fitness. This year is, however, different, as my husband is joining me in my campaign. I can’t tell you how valuable his support has been in keeping me on track. We are walking together most days, which also gives us time to talk. We are recording our food intake and exercise on I can wholeheartedly recommend this site for ease of use and keeping track of your calories.

My husband is a computer whizz and has designed a spread sheet to calculate the calorie count of our home cooked meals. In previous years when I have been dieting he would often forget and serve me the same portion size as his own (and of course I would eat it!). Now he is the one watching the portion size. It is great and we have both lost 5lbs so far. Amazing how the shopping bill has reduced too!

Writing is one of those occupations that has tremendous highs and lows. I was reading the post of Susie Nott-Bower on the Strictly Writing blog at, it bought a tear to my eye. I think myself lucky to have the support of writer friend Ellie Swoop, my writing class and my on line buddies. Mustn’t forget hubbie here too, he was great during Nanowrimo and the other day he was saying that he couldn’t wait to see books in my study with Morton S Gray on the spine. Yes please!

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Sensational Memory

I have been writing an autobiographical piece for my coursework. Having chosen a rather difficult period in my life it was a rollercoaster of emotions. It started me thinking about how amazing the brain is and how many layers of sensation and feeling are stored in the human memory banks.

There was, of course, the basic snapshot of the event, but this was overlaid with moving images, which meant that I could play it and replay it like a film, watching the expressions on peoples’ faces. Then there were the sounds, in this case mainly voices and actual phrases that were spoken.

I found that once I had tapped into the time, I could sense the clothing I was wearing against my skin. If there had been foods or smells associated with this period, I am sure that I would have been able to recall these too.

The strongest part of the memory was how, at a twenty year distance, I could remember the emotions I felt then and not only that, but could actually feel them again. Anger re-emerged and tears that had been shed originally surfaced to fall again.

It was a very powerful experience and did not abate even during the editing of the piece.

I’ve heard people say that they “blank out” uncomfortable memories, but I seem to recall them in vivid detail. Is this what makes a writer?

Monday, 10 January 2011

The Value of a Writing Class

For almost two years now I have been going to a weekly writing class. I just thought it was worth blogging about the value of a weekly input such as this.
I find that if I go to class, it focuses my mind for the rest of the week and gets me into a good writing habit. Pieces started at writing class have gone on to be developed into much longer manuscripts. The homework given is also stimulating. I’m sure Sue Johnson won’t mind me saying that this week’s was a starter. “A trail of footprints in the snow led to…” The idea was to write a story from this. Instead, I’ve written ten possible starting paragraphs with this theme. Have a go yourself.

There are up to about ten of us with the tutor, Sue Johnson. Sue tutors for Writing Magazine. She has had numerous short stories and poems published, and has just gained her own publishing contract for a novel. The group is of widely differing abilities and experience. We have a great laugh, good biscuits and I feel relaxed there and able to read my work aloud. New people join all the time and it is great to be with like-minded people.

Sue puts out lots of books, writing competitions, magazines and her own publications on the tables. We have a warm up exercise and then at least two other writing tasks during the morning stimulated by phrases, memories, poems, a word box, pictures or sensory stimuli. We chat about writing, publication and our work. It is amazing the variety of different themes and styles that are produced from the writing challenges. I also find that if I am working on a particular WIP I can channel my writing in the exercises around it, which means that I have increased my word count almost without trying.

I drive 40 minutes to get to this class, as many others who come to it do, but I think it is well worth it. It is in Pershore in Worcestershire. Sue also runs courses at the wonderful Farncombe Centre. I have included links below. Well done Sue, you have certainly helped my writing develop.

Do you go to anything similar?

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

I Need Coffee and Chocolate!

First day back to “normal” routine and I thought it was worth reflecting on what makes me productive or otherwise as a writer.

I am definitely less productive when I’m out of routine or have something on my mind. Having said that, I am getting better at giving my current feelings to a character and writing up a case study for future use. For example:-

"Tanner paced unseeing around his office. Picking up the same piece of paper he read the first paragraph again without taking anything in. His head felt full of cotton wool and maybe he was developing a headache.
          He sat on the edge of his seat and stared out of the window without seeing the view and when he looked down a while later, he had unravelled the cotton at the hem of his shirt. Moaning he hid his head in his hands before heading to the kitchen for yet another cup of tea.
          Once in the kitchen, he switched on the kettle. He stared out of the window while it was boiling and didn’t hear it click off. He suddenly couldn’t remember why he was there and wandered back to his office."

What does make me productive?

1. Good coffee.

2. Chocolate (doesn’t do much for my figure though).

3. A tidy house and study (I don’t need to feel guilty then).

4. A target.

5. Visits to local cafes to write.

6. Writing whilst waiting – appointments, son’s swimming and piano lessons.

7. Successes and praise.

8. A story and characters that won’t go away.

I visited Sainsbury’s café this morning and was more productive than I have been for most of the Christmas holiday. What makes you write more?

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Favourite Books of 2010

I read 26 books during last year. The ones which rated highly with me are given below:-

The Chocolate Lovers’ Diet by Carole Matthews, Headline, 2007, ISBN 9780755335879 – A light easy read, but immensely enjoyable with lots of twists and turns. The writing style included some first person chapters. (This is the sequel of 'The Chocolate Lovers' Club' which I also read this year but did not rate as highly.)

The Glass Painter’s Daughter by Rachel Hore, Pocket Books UK, 2009, ISBN 9781847391407 – I read this in three days as I kept wanting to read more. I do wish I could write like this. Unputdownable.

The Dream House by Rachel Hore, Pocket Books UK, 2006, ISBN 9781416510994 – Really enjoyed this one. Sufficient intrigue, red herrings and sub plot to keep my interest. My mother really enjoyed this too!

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, STSS Publications, 2007, ISBN 9780747582977 – A compelling if harrowing and at times brutal story. I cried buckets at the end.

Reading in Bed by Sue Gee, Headline, 2007, ISBN 9780755339983 – I felt bereaved when I had finished this one. Slightly annoyed by the use of dashes instead of speech marks.

The Mysteries of Glass by Sue Gee, Headline, 2004, ISBN 9780755303106 – a very good book. The author has great descriptive powers. I think there should be a sequel to this book.

Writing From Life by Lynne Hackles, How To Books, 2010, ISBN 9781845284190 – I won this book on a blog competition. (Thank you Lynne Hackles.) A very useful, inspiring book for those considering writing about their own lives or using their life stories as a basis for other writing.

A Place of Secrets by Rachel Hore, Pocket Books, 2010, ISBN 9781847391421 – When I started reading this I was worried that it would not be as good as her other books, but it was actually the best yet.

Lost Dogs and Lonely Hearts by Lucy Dillon, Hodder and Stoughton, 2009, ISBN 9780340919200 – After the first few chapters I was hooked. Loved it, as did my mother.

The Buried Circle by Jenni Mills, Harper Press, 2010, ISBN 9780007251230 – Very good, very scary, but compelling read.

Starting Over by Sue Moorcroft, Choc Lit, 2009, ISBN 9781906931123 – Light-hearted read with lots of twists and turns. Enjoyed it very much.

Kidnapped by Nicola Cornick, Mills and Boon Harlequin Historicals, 2009, ISBN 9780263875362 – Another blog competition win. (Thank you Nicola.) Written entirely in the first person in an admirable no nonsense style. I devoured it in a couple of days.

I look forward to many more favourite reads in 2011. My ‘to be read’ pile is huge already.