Saturday, 29 December 2012

My Top Twelve Books from 2012

I haven’t read as many books this year, but I think that may have something to do with the fact that I have been writing and editing more. Or is the fact I’ve been tired and only managed a few pages before going to sleep?

I record comments about the books I read and then I rate them on two scales – writing technique and plot. The scores out of five for each of these are combined to give an overall total.

As the final days of 2012 roll over and the book I am reading at the moment will be rated in 2013, I thought that I would share with you the twelve books I have read which scored 8 or over.

A Lifetime Burning – Linda Gillard
Rowley Regis: A History – Edward Chatham
Renovation, Renovation, Renovation – Nell Dixon
Kissing Mr Wrong – Sarah Duncan
The Ballroom Class – Lucy Dillon
Please Don’t Stop the Music – Jane Lovering
Peaches For Monsieur Le Cure – Joanne Harris (10 points)
The Silent Touch of Shadows – Christina Courtenay
Written in the Stars – Serenity Woods
Time’s Echo – Pamela Hartshorne
Thursdays in the Park – Hilary Boyd (10 points)
River of Destiny – Barbara Erskine (10 points)

Thought I'd also share The Kissing Patch. It was in one of the arcades in Birmingham. the patch was on the floor and hanging above was a piece of mistletoe. The poem around the edge is lovely. Let's hope someone got a special kiss.

 

Happy New Year to everyone. Let’s hope 2012 is a good one.

Please share your favourite book of 2012 below.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Sad Times



Sorry I’ve been quiet lately. Family events took over. My dear step-father went into hospital in October for a cancer operation. After three hospital stays and traumatic times at home, he finally died in hospital on 8 December. I was with him up until an hour before he died.

The funeral was yesterday. It was lovely. He would have loved meeting all of the people there. Along with his daughter, I stood and talked about my memories of him. He had been part of my life for twenty-two years. I’m still not quite sure how I did it, as I was very emotional.

Somehow in the middle of all this I managed to complete my NaNoWriMo challenge, writing 50,000 words in November. 


(The River Severn close to Mom and Step-dad's home - a view he would have seen daily)



Now it is time to turn my thoughts to Christmas and making sure that my mother is okay. It must be hard losing two husbands, but at least she had great men as her partners.

Sorry if this is a sad post, I’ll come back soon with some of my favourite books in 2012. I hope everyone is having a great run up to Christmas.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

In Nanoworld

I’m living in nanoworld at the moment. I’m working on my latest manuscript “Written in the Coffee” and taking part in the annual NaNoWriMo challenge – National Novel Writing Month 2012. This means that I need to find constant stimulation for my plot and novel content.
 
As I drive my son to school, I am paying particular attention to the season changes so that it can be recreated in my book. I might notice a distinctive car and wonder whether my hero or heroine could drive it. I squirrel away colours, shapes, smells and the feelings they produce, so that I can write them down, often whilst still parked outside school.

My coffee in the supermarket becomes a research trip. The whole book is based around a café and the coffee, so I study my latte and I watch out for characters. I notice how people move, the expressions which cross their faces. I may even record snippets of dialogue I overhear. All to feed Nano.

If I am stuck with my plot, I resort to picking up random magazines in the supermarket. Turning to a page, I find a headline I can write from and off I go writing today’s 1,670 target words.

These stimulants are particularly important as I reach the inevitable stage in the manuscript where I am convinced that it is all rubbish and that no one would ever want to read it. I valiantly attempt to write through the doubt, hoping for a breakthrough.

At just over 21,000 words written this month (I already have 30,000 words on this story), I love my characters – Tobias, the failed architect, turned chocolatier and Becky, the psychic barista, but my plot has huge holes and leaps of faith.

At least I made myself laugh today. When I re-read what I had just typed, I had spelled wellies with an “i” instead of the “e”.
 

A little snippet from “Written in the Coffee”:-


Tobias was sat up still wrapped in the blankets.

She smiled at him. ‘Did you sleep well?’

‘Not bad, but I think I’ve cricked my neck.’

He moved his head in a circle and winced.

Becky tried not to look at the hairs on his chest, revealed when the blankets fell away.

‘You should have slept in the spare bed upstairs. It would have been much more comfortable.’

‘I needed to be downstairs. Just in case you had any unwanted visitors in the night.

‘My guard dog?’

‘Knight in shining armour please.’

Becky giggled. As far as she could ascertain he was only wearing his underpants. Her mind wandered off to what knights actually wore under their armour.

 

See if you can help me keep typing by telling me how you get through the periods of doubt with your manuscript?

Sunday, 11 November 2012

A Poem for Remembrance Day


Remembrance Day

 
How would I feel if it were you?

My lovely healthy strong young son.

Yet if times were different

You would have no doubt gone

To foreign fields of death and pain.

Grown up quickly, become a man.

Seen things no sane person should have seen.

While I spent my time wondering if you were safe.

Knitting socks, raising funds,

Letting them melt my garden gate.

Dreading every letter or telegram.

I can cry at just the thought of it.

What if you had not come back?

No body to bury, no grave to tend.

Grieving but secretly not believing

My flesh and blood was really gone.

My precious one, my only son.
 
 
© Morton Gray

Saturday, 10 November 2012

United by Remembrance


Walking down the road today, it was lovely to see how many people were wearing poppies. There were a fair number of cars and lorries sporting them too. It struck me that so many people from so many different walks of life are united by the simple act of buying and wearing a poppy.

One of my main pastimes is tracing family trees. In my own tree, both of my grandfathers were in reserved occupations for the second world war, but my own personal roll of honour includes:-

First World War

Alfred Beddows born 1881. 14th Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers. Died 22 April 1918 the Somme. Buried Bouzincourt Ridge Cemetery, Somme, France.
 
 

Second World War

Cyril Hall born 1923. Mess Room Boy, SS Empire Airman (Merchant Navy). Died 21 September 1940. The ship was torpedoed by a U boat and sank. Thirty-three of the thirty-seven crew died, including Cyril, who was just 17.

So I would ask you to wear your poppy with pride.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Writers’ Outing

Sue Johnson, Heather King and I visited Croome Court, a National Trust property in Worcestershire last Friday. Even the shuttle bus seemed to know that we were writers.

 
Shuttle Bus

We were blessed with a lovely day. Heather King writes Regency novels and kept scribbling madly in her notebook about things like fan etiquette! Heather has just sold two novels, so look out for news of these here in the future – well done Heather.
 
 
Croome Church

 
Heather King and Sue Johnson
walking to Croome Court
 
We wandered around the house and grounds, had lunch, bought books and talked loads. It was a lovely uplifting day with lots of inspiration for future writing projects.

View across the park to Croome Court
 
Where have you visited lately which gave you writing inspiration?

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Morton Gray – AWOL

I’ve been missing! My guilt at not posting on my blog is growing HUGE! Then I tell myself that everyone has times when everything seems a little overwhelming.

Step-Dad got through his cancer operation okay. My mother has found it hard, especially as she likes her space and my step-brother and step-sister have been staying with her. Why are the hospitals always so far away? No joke to be driving so far at nearly 80. Cue another guilt attack.

Hubbie is only having one evening meal a week at home at the moment with his punishing work schedule – which I suppose increases my work schedule too. Add in a few other family issues and my blog has not got written.
 

On the positive side, in a bid to avoid a couple of return journeys from school, last week I tried driving to the Park and Ride close to school and spent the day in The Hive at Worcester. This is the new library, archives and hub building in Worcester which has a strange gold roof. The Park and Ride was fantastic – I’d already written three character studies by the time they dropped me off. I found a table in The Hive with a view of the moon and the Malverns and edited non-stop for two hours. Lunch in one of my favourite cafés The Ginger Pig and then back for another two hours solid editing. A thoroughly successful day and one I hope to repeat often.

I have come to the conclusion that I will edit more successfully away from home as there are less distractions. Does this work for you too?

Monday, 17 September 2012

Making the most of every day

We had a wonderful weekend. Saturday morning found us striding around Attingham Park in Shropshire. We even had a close encounter with some deer. I’ve often seen them in the distance at Attingham, but never this close.


Hubbie then headed for Chirk Castle. I had forgotten the breath-taking view and the glorious gardens. This year I have seen much fewer bees and butterflies, now I know why – they were all at Chirk. Who can blame them, it is a wonderful place.


 
On Sunday morning we went walking in the Wyre Forest. The weekend weather was perfect and I enjoyed the simple days with my family.

It reminded me of some lines from one of my favourite poets David Whyte:-

“this is the good day
you could
meet your love,

this is the black day
someone close
to you could die.


This is the day
you realise
how easily the thread
is broken
between this world
and the next”


Extract from The House of Belonging by David Whyte.

My step-father is being investigated for a suspicious tumour. The church organist from my mother's church literally dropped dead last week. These events remind me of the importance of these family weekends and of “striding out” whenever we can.

Promise me that this week you will do something you have meant to do for a long time and then tell me about it in the comments below.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Why I attend a regular writing class.

I attend a term time writing class at No 8 Community Centre in Pershore, Worcestershire. It is run by Sue Johnson, who featured on my blog in August 2011. Her website can be found here.

Pershore is a lovely place to visit and shop, with its Abbey and large park. Ellie Swoop and I joke that we would like to retire to the town, as it is so flat, has good bus links and everything you need for day to day living in its streets.

Carved tree in Pershore Park

The regular class has several benefits for me. The attendees change regularly, apart from a few long term stalwarts (including me), and this means that the class and the content of the writing is forever changing too. Writing is such a solitary activity that it is great to spend a couple of hours in the company of like-minded people each week.

The discipline of making the commitment to attend seems to stimulate my brain to produce more writing during the rest of the week. Added to this the pieces I write in class usually lead to poems, flash fiction and longer stories.

Do you attend a regular writing class or group? Does it have the same effect on you?

Monday, 3 September 2012

Where Has The Summer Gone?

So what have I been up to?

Writing-wise, there was the wonderful RNA conference (I still have more sessions to share here), the return of my critiqued RNA New Writers’ Scheme manuscript and lots of fun writing. My critiqued novel made me think about my direction as a writer and I am now on a track that feels more like me. I shall be concentrating on time slip novels, so that I can indulge my love of history. I appear to have been writing three novels at once during the summer, with the odd poem thrown in!

Quilting-wise, I have branched out into bags and have started quilting my big quilt.


Family history-wise, I have researched several families for friends over the summer and begun writing up some of the lines I have already researched on my own tree.

It’s back to school on Wednesday – that is if I manage to sew on all my son’s name tapes in time. He’s starting a new school and that has meant even more sewing.

I have seen the change in little son this summer. At nine he is growing more independent, no longer my baby. We have done lots of fun things together and I have relished the time with him. We have painted pottery, visited RAF Cosford air museum (twice), made clay dinosaurs at Hartlebury Castle, taken daddy on holiday to County Durham for two weeks (he badly needed the break), eaten numerous pancakes at our favourite café. We spent a lot of time at the swimming pool, as D was training for a distance swim – he achieved 4 kilometres or 160 lengths in a two and three quarter hour continuous swim. One very proud Mom!

 
 
 

It has been a happy time. Pictures above - top Tunstall Reservoir, Wolsingham, middle taken on walk from Low Force to High Force, Middleton in Teesdale, bottom High Force Waterfall.

Lovely to hear that Donna Douglas featured on my last blog is doing so well with her book, The Nightingale Girls.

What has been the highlight of your summer?

Monday, 13 August 2012

Guest Author – Donna Douglas

Today I am pleased to have an interview with author Donna Douglas. We met at the RNA conference in Penrith and I was fascinated by the background research she has been doing for her books. Donna’s novel The Nightingale Girls is published by Arrow on 16 August 2012.

 

Donna's blog can be found here She can also be found on Facebook here and on Twitter as @donnahay1.

I asked Donna a few questions.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Always! Even when I was really young, I used to escape out into our bank yard and hide myself away on top of the coal shed (the only place you could get any peace and quiet in our house!) to scribble stories. My idea of a treat was a brand new exercise book (I still love stationery to this day!)

Tell us about the fascinating research you have done for The Nightingale Girls.

The Nightingale Girls is set in an East London Hospital in the 1930s, so there was a lot of research to be done! I started by reading all the nursing biographies I could get my hands on to give me an idea of the day to day lives of nurses during that period.  I then did lots of interviews with retired nurses.

I had one really fun afternoon with half a dozen ladies who were amazing and brought some wonderful photos and memorabilia to show me. We had tea and cakes and there was lots of laughter (although some of the stories they told me were unprintable!). I was very lucky in that the Royal College of Nursing has an extensive archive of oral histories going back to the early 20th century, so I spent several days going through that, and through other archives held by various Leagues of Nurses.

Listening to the nurses’ stories really helped bring my own characters to life. I also trawled the internet for various medical books of that period, which are utterly fascinating. My husband says I must be the only person in the world whose bedside reading consists of illustrations of 1930s bedpans!

How do you put yourself into another era for your writing?

It’s difficult, because you really have to learn to think like someone from that period. Attitudes have changed so much over the generations, and things that we take for granted, like divorce and living together and having children outside marriage, would have been utterly shocking back in those days.

I did lots of reading to make sure all the historical details were correct and I visited the Bethnal Green Local History archives to read newspapers of that period. Research like that gives you an insight into people’s day to day lives that you wouldn’t get from a history book. For instance, I discovered dozens of reports of road accidents in that area during the 1930s.  It seemed odd, until it dawned on me that motor cars were relatively new on the streets of the East End and people just weren’t used to them! On a darker note, I also found many disturbing accounts of suicide. That’s because in the days before the welfare state, old or sick people would end their lives rather than be a burden to their families. That’s what I mean by a different attitude.

What would be your best tip for newbie writers?

When you’ve written something, put it away for a month and then look at it again. I guarantee you will be able to judge your work far better. And never be afraid to rewrite – I changed the ending of The Nightingale Girls at proof stage (much to the annoyance of my editor, no doubt!)

Have you got a writing routine and a favourite place to write?

I wish! My ideal is to start writing early in the morning and go on until lunchtime. In the afternoon my brain tends to melt and I’m not nearly so productive. But that’s only the ideal – most of the time other stuff gets in the way and I end up running errands when I should be writing. I work best in my office, which is a very grand term for the partitioned-off bit at the back of the garage. It suits me because the walls are blank and the window is tiny, so there are minimal distractions. I’m not very focused when I’m working, unfortunately!

Will there be a sequel to The Nightingale Girls?

Yes, there will. I’m currently working on The Nightingale Sisters, which is due to be published next spring. As well as featuring the three main characters from The Nightingale Girls, it also picks up the stories of some of the ward sisters who featured in the current book. I’m hoping to write more Nightingale stories in the future – I love that world and everyone in it!

Finally, could you tell us something about your new release:

The Nightingale Girls is set in an East End Hospital in the 1930s, and tells the stories of three girls from very different background who sign up as trainee nurses. There’s tough East End girl Dora, who wants to make a better life for herself and escape the clutches of her evil stepfather. At the other end of the social scale is reluctant debutante Millie, who sees nursing as her chance for independence. And finally there’s timid Helen, who’s only training as a nurse to please her domineering mother. The Nightingale Girls follows them through their first year as they get to grips with bedpans, broken hearts and the tough life of a trainee nurse. Like being a nurse, there is a lot  of drama and heartache, but I hope there are lots of laughs too. 



EXTRACT FROM The Nightingale Girls

Chapter One

“Tell me, Miss Doyle. What makes you think you could ever be a nurse here?”
After growing up in the slums of Bethnal Green, not much frightened Dora Doyle. But her stomach was fluttering with nerves as she faced the matron of the Nightingale Teaching Hospital in her office on that warm September afternoon. She sat tall and upright behind a heavy mahogany desk, an imposing figure in black, her face framed by an elaborate white headdress, grey eyes fixed expectantly on Dora.

Dora wiped her damp palms on her skirt. She was sweating inside her coat, but she didn’t dare take it off in case Matron noticed the frayed cuffs of her blouse.
“Well – “, she began, then stopped. Why did she think she could ever be a nurse? Living on the other side of Victoria Park from the Nightingale, she had often seen the young women coming and going through the gates, dressed in their red-lined cloaks. For as long as she could remember she’d dreamed of being one of them.

But dreams like that didn’t come true for the likes of Dora Doyle. Like any other East End girl, her destiny lay in the sweatshops or one of the factories that lined the overcrowded stretch of the Thames.
So she’d left school at fourteen to earn her living at Gold’s Garments, and tried to make the best of it. But the dream hadn’t gone away. It grew bigger and bigger inside her, until four years later she had taken her courage in her hands and written a letter of application.

“What have you got to lose?” Mr Gold’s daughter Esther had said. “You’ll never know if you don’t try, bubele.” She’d even lent Dora her lucky necklace charm to wear for the interview. She could feel the warm metal sticking to her damp skin beneath her blouse.
“It’s a hamsa,” Esther had explained, as Dora admired the exquisite little silver hand on its delicate chain. “My people believe it brings good fortune.”

Dora hoped the hamsa’s powers weren’t just extended to Jews. She needed all the help she could get.
“I’m keen and I’m very hard working,” she found the words at last. “And I’m a quick learner. I don’t need telling twice.”

“So your reference says.” Matron looked down at the letter in front of her. “This Miss Gold clearly thinks a lot of you.”
Dora blushed at the compliment. Esther had taken a real chance, writing that reference behind her father’s back; old Jacob would go mad if he found out his daughter was helping one of his employees to find another job. “Miss Esther reckons I’m one of her best girls on the machines. I’ve got the hands, she says.”

She saw Matron looking at her hands and quickly knotted them in her lap so the woman wouldn’t see her bitten down nails, or the calluses the size of mothballs that covered her fingers. ‘Grafter’s hands’, her mother called them. But they didn’t look like the right kind of hands to soothe a fevered brow.
“I have no doubt you’re a hard worker, Miss Doyle,” Matron said. “But then so is every girl who comes in here. And most of them are far better qualified than you.”

Dora’s chin lifted. “I’ve got my certificates. I went back to night school to get them.”
“So I see.” Matron’s voice was soft, with an underlying note of steel. “But, as you know, the Nightingale is one of the best teaching hospitals in London. We have girls from all over the country wanting to train here.” She met Dora’s eyes steadily across the desk. “So why should we accept you and not them? What makes you so special, Miss Doyle?”

Dora dropped her gaze to stare at the herringbone pattern of the polished parquet. She wanted to tell this woman how she took care of her younger brothers and sisters, and had even helped bring the youngest, Little Alfie, into the world two years ago. She wanted to explain how she’d nursed Nanna Winnie through a bad bout of bronchitis last winter when everyone thought she’d had it for sure.
Most of all, she wanted to talk about Maggie, her beautiful sister who’d died when Dora was twelve years old. She’d sat beside her bed for three days, watching her slip away. It was Maggie’s death more than anything that had made her want to become a nurse and to stop other families suffering the way hers had.

But her mother didn’t like them talking about their personal business to anyone. And it probably wasn’t the clever answer Matron was looking for anyway. 
“Nothing,” she said, defeated. “I’m nothing special.” Just plain Dora Doyle, the ginger haired girl from Griffin Street.

She wasn’t even special in her family. Peter was the eldest, Little Alfie the youngest. Josie was the prettiest and Bea was the naughtiest. And then there was Dora, stuck in the middle.
“I see.” Matron paused. She seemed almost disappointed, Dora thought. “Well, in that case I don’t think there’s much more to say.” She began gathering up her notes. “We will write to you and let you know our decision in due course. Thank you, Miss Doyle…”

Dora felt a surge of panic. She’d let herself down. She could feel the moment ebbing away, and with it all her hopes.  She would never wear the red-lined cloak and walk with pride like those other girls. It would be back to the machines at Gold’s Garments for her until her eyes went or her fingers became so bent with rheumatism she couldn’t work any more.
Esther Gold’s words came back to her. What have you got to lose?

“Give me a chance,” she blurted out.
Matron looked askance at her. “I beg your pardon?”

Dora could feel her face flaming to the roots of her hair, but she had to speak up. “I know I don’t have as much proper schooling as the other girls, but I’ll work really hard, I promise.” The words were falling over themselves as she tried to get them out before she lost her nerve.
“Really, Miss Doyle, I hardly think – “

“You won’t regret it, I swear.  I’ll be the best nurse this place has ever seen. Just give me the chance. Please?” she begged.
Matron’s brows lifted towards the starched edge of her headdress. “And if I don’t?”

 “I’ll apply again, here or somewhere else. And I’ll keep on applying until someone says yes,” Dora declared defiantly. “I’ll be a nurse one day. And I’ll be a good one, too.”
Matron stared at her so hard Dora felt her heart sink to her borrowed shoes.

“Thank you, Miss Doyle,” she said. “I think I’ve heard enough.”

Thank you for the interview Donna. The Nightingale Girls can be found on Amazon here. I can’t wait to read the book and wish you every success with it. If you have any questions for Donna then please comment below.

Friday, 3 August 2012

RNA Conference 2012 – Talli Roland

The lovely Talli Roland, who always seems to have a smile, was talking about social networking. The crux of her talk was that she believes that your blog, Facebook, Twitter, etc., should be viewed as a way of building relationships with people who may buy or recommend your books, rather than as a direct sales method.

I’m sure we’ve all befriended someone on these forums and immediately been bombarded with sales patter. I found Talli’s approach helpful, as it shows that as an unpublished writer there is still something I can be working on, and have fun with, which will, hopefully, lead to sales when I am eventually published. Goodness that sounded positive!

Check out a full report on Talli’s RNA talk here and her blog here.

As I mentioned on my previous blog, I went through a very strange phase after the conference, but I now have my writing mojo back. Actually I seem to be writing two novels at once in two different notebooks. Help! Has this happened to you? Can it work?

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Conference News

I attended the 2012 RNA conference at Penrith on the weekend of 13-15 July. It was a full, exciting and exhilarating weekend which has taken a full fortnight to recover from (and I hardly drank anything). I have been in a strange contemplative mood, have hardly used social media and haven’t blogged.

It is time to share what I did and learned at the conference. I shall be doing this as a series of blog posts. As a taster, my weekend included the following:-
  • Meeting lots of fantastic writers, both published and unpublished.
  • Individual chats with two publishers.
  • A Gala dinner and a kitchen party gate-crash.
  • Conference sessions:-
    • Talli Roland – On-line marketing.
    • Nell Dixon – Self-editing.
    • Melanie Hilton – RNA New Writers’ Scheme.
    • MIRA Women’s’ Fiction.
    • Jane Wenham-Jones – What a way to earn a living.
    • Annie Ashurst – Towards Zero – Backstory.
    • Sonia Duggan – Motivation for Writers.
    • Pia Fenton – Dead good ideas – using your family tree for inspiration.
    • Cathy Wade – Packing that punch.
Come back soon for more detail on the above. If you were there please say hello and if you weren’t and are particularly interested in any of the above, let me know.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Jodi Picoult Talk

Ellie Swoop and I went to Birmingham yesterday to see Jodi Picoult. She is on a promotional tour for a new book for young adults written in collaboration with her daughter. We braved the rain. There were only fifty places for adults and the rest were for school children. It was a free event.


Jodi explained how the book was conceived. It was her daughter, Samantha’s idea and they took three years to complete it. Throughout the talk Jodi’s love and pride in her daughter shone from her eyes, which was lovely.

The concept of the book, "Between the Lines", (Amazon link here) is that the characters in a fairytale have their own lives when the book is closed and only have to take up their roles when someone is reading. The handsome prince decides he has had enough of the endless happy ever after and having to kiss the princess so often and wants to escape.

The book is amazingly presented with three different text colours, one for each narrative voice. There are beautiful illustrations and silhouettes. The idea behind the coloured text is to make it easier for younger readers to recognise the changes in voice.

Jodi read a passage in the Prince’s voice and Samantha a passage as the reader of the book. It was very entertaining and so well written.

The pair spent a period developing their characters and then talked the book aloud as they typed. A further period was spent editing. Samantha is only sixteen, but seemed very mature for her age.

They were very generous in answering questions from the audience and had lots of lovely comments about this book and Jodi’s adult novels. The book is currently being pitched as a film script.

There were various questions about Jodi’s adult books and she explained how she likes to tackle moral issues about which people will have differing views. She was annoyed that film producers had changed the ending to the dramatization of her book “My Sister’s Keeper”, but she explained that once you have sold the book rights you have no control over what they do with the story. Nonetheless, the film had made a much wider audience aware of her writing.

The queue to have books signed was huge, but Jodi and Samantha took their time with everyone. A thoroughly enjoyable morning and very inspirational.

Other news ….I’ve posted off my RNA New Writers’ Scheme novel for critique! Off to the RNA conference in Penrith this weekend.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Spiritual Revival

My spirits are in need of revival! Weeks of editing, friends with health and parent problems, the hamster wheel of life and hubbie being away intensively have combined to make me feel flat. I’m usually bubbly and full of life, so it doesn’t feel good – I need a holiday.

I took time out last week to take some photographs of my garden in the rain, some of you might have seen them on Facebook, and it struck me I am not making enough time ‘to smell the roses.’




So a challenge to you all. Please give below suggestions for raising my spirits and/or, if you are a writer or self-employed, how you achieve that work/life balance. Who knows the suggestions might cheer us all up.

P.S. Three quarters of the way through the edits and I can see a light at the end of the tunnel!

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Union Jack

Haven’t blogged for a while as I’ve been deep into my edits, to the extent I now have eye strain! I can visualise the end, but a little while to go yet.

Meanwhile patriotic fever has overtaken the country. We have a “Last Night of the Proms” event at school this afternoon and the children had to go in red, white and blue. I shall be wearing my union jack scarf.

We went to see the torch relay in Bewdley last week and I was surprised to feel a great big rush of emotion as the torch went past me. The children were asked to interview people around them for a school magazine article, so we soon made friends with strangers around us. I have never seen the town so busy - people were eight deep on the pavements.

Big son has fledged! He moved out last weekend to a flat nearby with his girlfriend. I asked my nine year old how he felt about it. ‘Sad and happy,’ he replied. ‘Sad because he won’t be here to play football and PlayStation, but happy because I can have his bedroom.’ Cue another distraction from writing – decorating said bedroom.

Not sure what we are doing next Tuesday yet. Hubbie will be abroad, which is sad, but hopefully we will have a family gathering. What are you up to for the Jubilee?

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Poetic Diarrhoea

Thirty poems written! My poem a day in April challenge is complete. Admittedly, some of the poems are a little rough round the edges, but some I am really pleased with. Now I need to polish a few and send them off to competitions, etc.

The challenge taught me a lot about my writing and the habits I need to cultivate. I am definitely happier if I write regularly. The poems have sort of anchored my writing and I have written lots of other things too. The key seems to be this internal quiet trigger which says that I am going to write today. It is difficult to describe, but it is working.

I had fun on World Book Night with 24 copies of Pride and Prejudice to give away. Two were given without leaving home – son’s girlfriend and next door neighbour.

We were meeting friends that day at Witley Court in Worcestershire. I loaded my rucksack with waterproofs and copies of P&P. I’d given away three on the car park before our friends arrived. We had lunch at the church café and a lady who worked there was giving away A Tale of Two Cities.


Morton Gray above - Ellie Swoop below


In the afternoon, Ellie Swoop and I did readings from P&P (competing with the refrigerator) in the local cafe. The next morning I took my remaining eight copies to Sainsbury’s and walked away with an empty bag – apart from the shopping of course. It was amazing how suspicious people are of you giving them something for free. I managed to give away 24 books in less than 24 hours. Result!

Congratulations to all those achieving writing success at the moment. I’m rooting for Teresa Morgan, who has had a request from two publishers for her full manuscript. Doris O’Connor and Serenity Woods seem to be selling books like crazy – go girls. A special mention goes to Sue Johnson, my writing tutor, who has just announced her third publishing success. Best wishes to one of my favourite authors Linda Gillard who is in hospital at the moment.

So, if you weren’t suspicious of being given something for free, what one thing would make a difference to your life that doesn’t cost a fortune? Feel free to mention any publishing success below or your experience of World book Night..

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Wow!

Day 21 of my ‘Poem a Day’ challenge and yes I have 21 poems written, plus a few extras that didn’t quite get finished. I am not normally one to praise myself, but feel pretty pleased with myself over this. I just need to find some way of challenging myself to finish my novels. I have five in various stages of writing and editing. Now if I could only finish them….

April has included little son’s Easter school holiday. I shall be sad to see him return to school on Tuesday, but glad to regain my writing and housework routines. Hubbie is abroad at the moment (Saudi Arabia), so we went away earlier in the week to Wales with Ellie Swoop. Good fun was had by all. I’ve included a couple of photos below.





I’m typing now to try and keep warm as the boiler has decided not to work. Why do things like this always happen when hubbie is away? I remember once Dad went away and Mom’s hot water bottle burst in the middle of the night! Lol.

I have plenty poetic subjects to go at for the rest of the month, but if you would like to give me a theme to work on, please do so in a comment.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

My Poetry Muscle

As if I didn’t have enough to do, I’ve agreed to take part in a version of NaPoWriMo. I am writing a poem a day for the month of April. It is going very well so far and I’m enjoying the light relief from editing. The poems are by no means masterpieces, but they are amusing me and exercising my poetry muscle. I may share a few poems as the month progresses.

Editing of my novel Rosie and Tanner is going well. I calculated yesterday that I am 38% through the penultimate pass. It doesn’t stop me going into panic tailspin every time I hear that a member of the RNA NWS has sent off their manuscript. I will get there. In the infamous words of Thomas the Tank Engine, ‘I can do it, I can do it….’

Little son is now on his Easter holiday, which carries its own distractions from writing. Big son and girlfriend both have jobs now and while they house hunt, it looks as if they will be living here. Ellie Swoop had a crisis with her water supply earlier in the week and had to come and stay. Hubbie is on holiday. I have made a big vat of ragout, as I have no idea how many people I am feeding day to day! Fun though.


Homemade Hot Cross Buns (spot the smiley face one for little son)

Today I had a go at hot cross buns and very yummy they are too. Hubbie bought the book ‘Women’s Institute Bread’ by Liz Herbert and we have been very pleased with all of the recipes we have tried so far. I loved the brie and redcurrant tear and share bread. My new relaxation method is kneading – with a favourite CD on and bread dough in your hands you feel so much better after ten minutes of pummelling.


Brie and redcurrant jelly tear and share bread

What is your favourite method of relaxation at the moment?

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Lucky Seven

Faye Robertson tagged me in this fun little thing making the rounds on the writing circuit.


Here are the rules:


1. Go to page 77 of your current MS


2. Go to line 7


3. Copy down the next 7 lines – sentences or paragraphs – and post them as they’re written. No cheating.


4. Tag 7 other authors


 


Okay, so this is from the WIP I am struggling to edit, currently titled Rosie and Tanner:-



‘Rosie there are certain things you don’t discuss with a daughter.’


‘Things you don’t discuss with a daughter. I’ll say. You’ve let me go to my own father’s funeral without telling me I was related. I think I am owed some explanations.’


‘He was never your father really. He just supplied the sperm.’




I tag :


1. Sue Johnson
2. Teresa Morgan
3. Sue Watson
4. Jessica Thompson
5. Sarah Pearson
6. Karina Buchanan
7. Sally Jenkins


It is just for fun so it doesn't matter if you don't want to do it.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

And the winners are.

The winners of my blog picture competition are....pause for drum roll...

Caption: When Eskimos watch 'The Wizard of Oz' by Sarah Pearson.

Book Title: Bound by Laces by Gwen


It was a difficult choice as Ellie and I loved them all.

Sarah and Gwen - please direct message me on morton.s.gray@btinternet.com with your addresses and I'll send your prizes.

Congratulations.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Competition Time

Take a look at the picture below. In case you are wondering Ellie Swoop and I ended up buying the same boots! We thought we would celebrate with some competition fun.


The competition is free to enter, but you must be a follower of my blog. Either

1. Give me a caption for the photo, or

2. If this was the cover of a book give me the title.

A prize will be given for each category. The competition will be judged by myself and Ellie Swoop and our decision is final. Closing date 16 March 2012 at midnight. Please post your entry as a comment.

Prizes are shown in the photograph below - some dinky moleskin notebooks and soaps.



Good luck.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Good News

Thought I’d share some good news today -

1. My editing of the story I shall submit to my RNA New Writers’ Scheme is going well.

2. Attended my first RNA Birmingham Chapter group on Saturday. Haven’t been into central Birmingham on my own for many years, but I made some new friends and thoroughly enjoyed the meeting and lunch. Jean Fullerton came all the way from London to join us and shared some helpful insights about marketing and characterisation. Thanks to Marilyn Rodwell for organising the event.

3. I have been chosen to give away copies of Pride and Prejudice to people who would not normally read it on World Book Night. I am looking forward to lurking in the High Street and cafes giving away my books.

4. My big son got a job!!!!! Yay. Those who have read my previous post about The Lucky Button will understand. He graduated in Summer 2011 and has managed to get down to the last few in several selection processes, but this time he got it. I am so pleased and proud.

5. Watch out for a competition on my blog in the next few days.

Hope you are all having a great time too, please share lots of good news in your comments.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Starting in the Middle

Sorry I’ve been quiet, but to be honest that sums up how I’ve felt lately. I’ve been battling with editing and I don’t enjoy it as much as the luxurious free writing of a first draft.

Having said that, I seem, fingers crossed, to be getting somewhere. I switched the manuscript I was working on for my RNA New Writers’ Scheme back to my favourite Rosie and Tanner story. As I appear to be scared of getting the beginning or the ending wrong, I made the decision to start in the middle and it seems to be paying off. Anyone else use this method?

I picked a pivotal moment in the story and edited and embellished that chapter. This included a look at overused words. Oh dear, my list is long. It is quite telling when you ask for a search of “just” or “that” and get hundreds!

After this chapter, I worked on the ones either side of it. This seems to be focussing my mind on the story. I realise that at least another pass will be required, but the completed pages are mounting up and it feels achievable. Stilling the panic seems to be one of the key factors for me.

What is your most repeated word? I can then add it to my editing list!

Watch out for a competition on my blog soon.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

The Mysteries of a First Draft

Ploughing on with my editing of Wickenham Court. Inspiration photo below.



Observations on my first draft include:-
  • Did I write this? I can’t remember half of it!
  • If it reduces me to gales of laughter, will it do the same for my reader? I hasten to add it isn’t a comedy!
  • Note to self: Don’t do blanket Find and Replace – I had put “Name” for one character, awaiting inspiration for his title – I now have lots of sentences such as ‘The mention of the Timothy of his dead wife was like throwing cold water over him.’ Timothy was of course the name I settled on for my formerly nameless character.
I will admit to feeling a little overwhelmed at present. Any tips for stitching together the patchwork of a first draft please?

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

An Interview with Linda Gillard

I have been an admirer of Linda Gillard’s work for a while and am honoured to host an interview with her on the occasion of the launch of her e-book A LIFETIME BURNING.

Linda Gillard is the author of five novels, including STAR GAZING, short-listed in 2009 for Romantic Novel of the Year and the Robin Jenkins Literary Award. STAR GAZING was also voted Favourite Romantic Novel 1960 - 2010 by Woman's Weekly readers.


Linda's fourth novel, HOUSE OF SILENCE was published in April 2011 and has become a Kindle bestseller, selling over 15,000 copies in 9 months. She recently e-published her 5th novel UNTYING THE KNOT on Kindle and has completed a sixth - a supernatural love story set on the Isle of Skye.

Linda lives in the Highlands of Scotland, on the Black Isle (which isn't an island!) and she writes full time.

I asked Linda to answer the following questions.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

I've always written - stories as a child, copious letters, 12 years freelance journalism - but I became a novelist by accident. I’d been working as a teacher before I took up writing fiction and I’d had a mental breakdown as a result of stress and overwork. When I was convalescing I did a lot of reading. I was disappointed that I couldn’t find any commercial fiction that reflected my life and interests. This was 1999, I was 47 and I wasn’t interested in chick lit which was big at the time. I couldn’t find any heroines who were over 40. Older women were always somebody’s mother or somebody’s wife and they never featured as romantic heroines.

So I started writing the sort of book I wanted to read, but couldn’t find: a thinking woman’s love story that dealt with real issues, had believable characters, a gorgeous hero, but no easy answers. As a matter of principle I made my heroine 47 - my own age. This was suicide in terms of finding a publisher, but I didn’t care - I was just writing to amuse myself.

I got the writing bug pretty badly and joined a writer’s e-group. The group was encouraging and said I should try to get my novel published. I didn’t think I stood a chance because apart from being 47, my heroine also suffered from bipolar affective disorder (manic depression). But I found an agent who loved the book (especially the hero!) and eventually we found a publisher. That book became my first novel, EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY, first published in 2005 and now out of print, but I re-published it on Kindle last year.


Even before I'd finished writing EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY, I was panicking, wondering how I was going to cope with no book to write, so I started planning another (which became A LIFETIME BURNING.) By then I was convinced that writing fiction was what I had to do. It was the only thing I wanted to do.

A LIFETIME BURNING darts around chronologically, did you write it as a time line first and then mix it up or is this how the book came out onto the page?

I doubt many readers realise why ALB is constructed the way it is. Some reviewers described it as "random" or "chaotic", but it's the most meticulously constructed book I've written.

The "scrapbook" structure enabled me to cover 58 years of the twins' lives in depth, in 410pp. (I'd been inspired by Elizabeth Jane Howard's Cazalet Chronicles and wanted to attempt something similar, but EJH takes 4 long books to cover just 6 years - 1939-1945.) If I'd written chronologically there would be years where nothing much happened. No ones life is eventful year after year. So I followed Elmore Leonard's excellent advice to writers ("Try to leave out the boring bits") and focused on key events.

By juxtaposing scenes from different years I was able to reinforce themes, show how history often repeated itself. For example, a scene in 1964 where the matriarch, Dora Dunbar prepares for Christmas with her adult children is followed immediately by a scene from another Christmas, in 1952, when those children were 10. That juxtaposition gives the reader a sense of the generations growing up and the continuity of family life. It also brings home the way memory works: something in the present will bring back - quite vividly - a scene from the past. (In ALB I was exploring the workings of memory,, something I'd started in EMOTIONAL GEOLOGY. I think all my books are about memory in some way. It fascinates me.)

So ALB was written as a sort of patchwork. (I used to make a lot of quilts before I took up writing full-time!) I wrote the bits I knew, the scenes I could "see" and I built the book up bit by bit.

Not only did I not write it chronologically, it wasn't planned in any great detail. Such plans as I had were jettisoned in some cases when characters wouldn't co-operate! ALB is the book I'd cite to support my belief that if you let it, the subconscious will write a much better book than the conscious mind. I didn't know when I was writing it how things would turn out or why. I focussed on character, feeling and mood while I was writing it and I let the (very complex) plot sort itself out. (I believe character is plot. If you write complex characters, put them in interesting, stressful situations, then pay attention to their motivation, you end up with plot.)

Another reason why I chose to write non-chronologically is that novels have to have a fairly standard structure with climaxes at 1/3 and 2/3 of the way through and a satisfying resolution at the end. Human lives don't necessarily have that structure. By ignoring the march of time, I could structure the novel so that climactic events were revealed to the reader at the point where they'd serve the story best. I was able to manipulate the story and the reader's emotions by keeping them waiting for the missing piece of jigsaw. I think this might be why readers have found ALB such a page-turner. They are aware there are important things they don't know yet and they read on, hoping for revelations.

Having read most of your novels now (my favourite is still STAR GAZING, but loved them all) I notice that you explore some really big issues in your books, do you use an issue, e.g. blindness (STAR GAZING), post-traumatic stress disorder (UNTYING THE KNOT) as the inspiration for your books?

I don't shy away from big stuff! ;-) I think perhaps the key thing about me as a writer is that I have a really low boredom threshhold. I like plotty books and films. I relish complexity - of plot and character. (But I never cheat. It's always possible for an observant reader to guess my big twists. I put in plenty of clues.) It takes me 1 or 2 years to write a novel, so it has to be meaty, otherwise I soon get bored.

But I do find "issues" interesting. I like to write about challenging situations and I like to write books that stretch both me and my readers. Anyone who reads STAR GAZING will have rather more idea about what it's like to be blind - emotionally and practically - than they did before they read the book. If you read UNTYING THE KNOT you'll discover something about the hell army wives go through if their husbands come home from a tour of duty suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (known as "the enemy within".)




But this is an old tradition of novel-writing. Dickens was the ultimate "big issue" novelist! I hope it's not too arrogant of me to say that my novels pay homage to the classics. JANE EYRE deals with the moral dilemma of having a mentally ill wife and the conflict between love and duty. THE TENANT OF WILDFELL HALL is about a marriage wrecked by alcoholism and domestic violence. When I was writing ALB I was consciously setting out to write a 21stC version of WUTHERING HEIGHTS, complete with echoes of Cathy's "I am Heathcliff!". (Emily Bronte doesn't make it explicit, but it's widely assumed that Cathy and Heathcliff are half-brother and -sister and that this is why the child Heathcliff is brought back to WUTHERING HEIGHTS.)

But I don't set out to write about "big issues". I passed a bomb disposal van in Glasgow and started thinking, "What kind of man does that job?... And what would it be like to be married to a man who does that job?..." Those questions formed the basis of UNTYING THE KNOT and I had a very interesting time answering them.

As a lot of writers read my blog and you are launching ALB as an e-book, could you tell us a little of your experience of e-publishing?

It's wonderful! After a few years in the "dropped mid-list novelist" wilderness, I've become a Kindle bestseller. (HOUSE OF SILENCE has sold over 15,000 copies in 9 months.) I keep my prices very cheap, but I make far more money from my e-book sales than I ever made from my pbs. Out-of-print books like ALB are now enjoying a new lease of life and I'm finding thousands of new readers. I've even sold translation rights to Turkey for two of my indie e-books.


I now have total artistic control and a designer who does brilliant covers for me, so it's hard to see what a tree book publisher could offer me now. Publishers say they'll promote you and get your book reviewed, but most authors complain about how little their publishers do to promote their books and that was my experience. It's true that promoting your e-books, marketing them, doing interviews like this one, takes up valuable writing time, but I'm not doing much more PR now than I used to when I had a publisher.

I've always worked hard to promote my books and build up a following. The difference now is that I'm in control, I know what's been done and what hasn't, and almost all the profit come to me. I still love tree books (and I still buy a large number) but e-books are the best thing that has happened for authors & readers since Allen Lane's Penguins.

Finally, have you any advice for newbie writers?
  1. Write for yourself. Write the book you want to read. You can't second-guess trends and it's highly unlikely you'll find a publisher anyway, so you might as well write the book you want to write. (That's my definition of good writing: saying what you want to say in the way you want to say it.)
  2. Be careful who you listen to when it comes to sharing your work. Writing groups can be supportive, they can be gladiatorial. If your group doesn't make you want to rush home and get writing, it's the wrong group. Leave and find another or work alone.
  3. Read Stephen King's ON WRITING.
  4. Write every day if you can. It doesn't matter what you write, but you need to build up writing stamina and get past the stage where you fret about a blank page or an empty screen. Trying to "write well" is a great inhibitor so I aim to just "spread ink". Once you have a draft page or chapter, you can go to work on it and turn it into a good piece of writing by editing, again and again. But first you have to spread the ink.
  5. Learn to edit your work. Ruthlessly. I cut everything that can be cut, every word that isn't earning its keep. Strip your work down to its essence and don't pad or waffle. As Stephen King says, "The road to Hell is paved with adverbs."
  6. Read other people's books and read analytically. Work out why a book is good or bad. (You can learn a lot from bad books.) Take your favourite book apart and find out how it was done. (The Classics are classics for a reason.) Then emulate that. No one will notice because you'll do it in your own way, in your own voice.
  7. Make sure you're enjoying what you're writing. If you don't want to write it, who's going to want to read it?
Thank you so much for your insights Linda. I wish you well with A LIFETIME BURNING. I definitely rated it as a 5 star plus read.

To order your copy of A LIFETIME BURNING for £0.88 click here

Linda Gillard's website can be found at http://www.lindagillard.co.uk/

If you have any comments or questions about this interview please post them below.

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