Saturday, 16 March 2019

On being forced to write

I spent this morning with a group of fellow 3P Publishing authors. We got together to compare notes on overcoming writer's block, what we're reading and writing at the moment, and to have a good old natter about words. It was a very useful way to pass a couple of hours.

Andy, who facilitated the session, gave us an exercise to get our brains working. He gave us three words - suicide, prostitute, Brexit - and asked us to write a  sentence that included one of those words. I wrote:

I'm not a prostitute, it's just the way the light plays on my cleavage.'

Then we had to pass that sentence to the person on our right, so we each had a new sentence to develop into a paragraph or two. I was given:

Brexit drives one to consider suicide.

I continued as follows:

Doris, though, thought she'd rather someone else took responsibility. So she put on her best hat, bought a National Express ticket to London, put a small pistol in her handbag and set off. Quite what she expected to achieve wasn't clear, but someone had to pay and she didn't think it should be her.

It was surprisingly easy to get into the House of Commons. Playing the role of the dizzy old lady, she charmed her way past the security guard and into the lobby, then set off in search of her first quarry. She found the office of Septimus Nobworthy (Con), knocked on the door and walked in without waiting for permission.

He looked up in annoyance at the interruption: 'Who the hell are you?' Then he saw the gun in Doris's hand. 'Look, if this is about that shares business...'

'No,' she said. 'This is about Brexit. It's time to settle up.'

Now, I'm not saying this is a great piece of work, but given that we had no warning and about five minutes to write, I don't think it's too bad. The point is that sometimes you just need a little push to get started.

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Be a pal

 A true friend is someone who is there for you when he'd 
rather be somewhere else. Len Wein

Isn't it easy to get caught  up in the stuff of life? When someone asks how we are, we say, 'Oh, you know, busy.' I get that. We're all busy, with work, family, hobbies, volunteering, et cetera, et cetera. I suggest, though, that if you're too busy to meet up with your friends, then something has gone wrong.

Those of us who have had children well remember the days of coffee mornings with other parents, comparing notes on sleep patterns and weaning, on toddler activities and registering for a school. We were busy, but those meet-ups with others in the same boat were vital, especially when that boat was sinking!

Now my friends and I have moved into a different bracket and can find ourselves pulled not only from below by children - albeit adult children - who still need attention and perhaps by grandchildren, but also from above by elderly relatives who also need care and help. Maybe we have money worries or concerns about our own health. It's a different vessel, but we're all still tryng to navigate choppy waters.

Are we busier now than we were then? I doubt it, but why is it so hard to get a group of pals together for a catchup? What can be more important than supporting each other through this stage of life? If a friend asks if you have time for a cuppa, maybe it's because he or she simply needs to connect with someone who understands.

Say yes to the invitation. Work will still be there tomorrow and that pile of ironing can wait. See your friends. It matters.

Friday, 1 March 2019

Sitting tight

I'd be interested to know if any of my writer friends ever take a stall at a craft fair, village fete or somesuch with a view to selling books. I'm part of Northants Authors, which is a group of local writers with physical books to sell, so we often get asked to take part in such events.

Now, obviously I'm all for supporting good causes, but from a hard-headed business angle I'm not sure it's worth it. I have sat in the chilly foyer of a garden centre and sold precisely nothing; but then at other events I've met some lovely people and shifted quite a few copies. I suppose if you've got nothing else on, you might as well give it a go, but I always sit there thinking how much work I could be doing at home.

Perhaps it's the control freak in me that objects to the 'unknown quantity' element. I don't mind doing things for nothing, but I don't like to sign myself up to making a loss, even if it's just the cost of the petrol to get me there. What do you think?

Monday, 18 February 2019

Stand up, speak up, sit down

I went to a Corby Collective Poets session recently, where poet Spike gave us some pointers on how to move from reading aloud to performing. Here are the notes I took.
  • Props: use them if you feel comfortable, but don't let them become a distraction for either you or the audience. Ask yourself if you are hiding behind your props; can the audience see your eyes?
  • A hand-held mic is better than a fixed one, because you have more freedom; hold it close to your chin to avoid popping your Ps. 
  • An obvious point, but tailor your material to your audience; be prepared to adjust your programme if you think you're losing them.
  • Don't be afraid to mix things up a bit - a fast-paced piece followed by something a bit more thoughtful, sad followed by happy, and so on.
  • Link your pieces with a bit of explanation, as though you were in conversation with your audience.
  • Ignore people who aren't listening and perform for those who are.
  • It's OK to read rather than work from memory; even if you think you can learn the whole thing, having the script on a stand nearby can be a comfort, just in case you need it.
  • If you do read, use the layout to help your performance - for instance, use bold or colour to highlight words you want to emphasise or leave bigger gaps between some words to remind yourself to breathe or pause for effect.
  • Read more slowly than you think you need to.
  • Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse.
Do you have any tips to share?

Monday, 11 February 2019

Let thy speech be better than silence...*

I was in Northampton on Thursday evening for the presentation of the H E Bates Short Story Competition prizes. It was a lovely evening, but unfortunately only one of the four winners was there, which meant the other three top stories were read out by members of the organising committee. They did a fine job, but I couldn't help wondering how much better it would have been to hear from the writers themselves.

It's not easy to read someone else's words (unless you're a proper actor, of course); nor is it easy to hear someone else read yours. In the introduction to Nine Lives, my book of monologues, I invite people to perform them wherever they like and say: 'You will see I have included a note with each to describe the person I had in mind as I wrote the story; but if you hear a different voice, that's fine with me.' As it turns out, I find it quite hard to sit and watch someone perform as one of 'my' characters in the 'wrong' voice!

What do you think? Have you ever had your words performed by someone else? If so, how did it feel? Do you guard your characters jealously?

*... or be silent (Dionysius of Halicarnassus)

Friday, 1 February 2019

Bad news for some writers; good news for me!

This is just a quick post, because today has been set aside to get on with writing that book.

Many of my writer friends will have seen that Spirit & Destiny mag is now taking all rights from its fiction contributors. There are, of course, plenty of people who will still submit and be happy with a one-off reward, whether this be through naivety or conscious decision-making. The only story I ever submitted to S&D was rejected, but I'm still sad that it's following Woman's Weekly down this path. Who's next, I wonder.

A bit of good news for me (she says, full of her own importance) is that my winning entry in the Senior Travel Expert 'heritage' competition is now online here. Do take a look, if you have a mo.

Stay warm, folks!

Friday, 25 January 2019

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the bookshop...

Cinderella, as portrayed by Disney in 1950
... E L James has a new book coming out, The Mister, which she describes as a '21st-century Cinderella - a passionate, erotic love story'. The lead characters are aristocrat Maxim Trevelyan and and young Englishwoman Alessia Demachi. Of course they are.

I read a bit of 50 Shades: enough to know it wasn't for me. I saw a bit of the film, too: again, enough to know it wasn't for me - but oh, how it made me laugh. I don't get it. Who buys this stuff? I can understand buying the first one out of curiosity, but to go back for the other two? Like I said: I don't get it.

You've got to hand it to ELJ, though. She had an idea and ran with it. She timed it right, got lucky and hasn't let up since. She's probably a perfectly nice woman - and she certainly won't give a damn what I think.

I'm just envious of her success, aren't I?