Saturday, 8 December 2012

Composing Christmas

Christmas 2009
Mine's the second one in from the left with his lovely cousins
Recently, I have mostly been distracted from writing ... considering Christmas compositions. I haven't actually written any cards yet, I need the tree up, the lights twinkling and a glass of port to hand before I can even contemplate that one but there are lots of lists; LOTS of lists!

There's a present list and a revised present list; there's a list of who's going to be where and when; a baking list, a present baking/cooking list, a days-we've-got-visitors baking/cooking list; there's a list of which visitors we've got when .... there are MANY lists! There's also the (annoying) people-who-have-Christmas-time-birthdays list - I do wish friends and family would STOP producing offspring around Christmas time, it's SO important to get this one right but SO hard!

MrT assures me the tree will be here this weekend and, given that I am already getting cards through the post (who ARE there people?) and I get more anxious as each one arrives, I'll be spending much of the next few evenings writing our festive wishes.

But what to write?

Christmas 2010
Me and my lovely God son
I'm can't do the simple 'To ... From ...' it just seems so ... brief! So functional. I mean, it's Christmas for crying out loud; I feel the need to give it more than THAT! But WHAT? We don't do the 'round robin'. We do receive a couple, one in particular that I have to brace myself to read because every year the achievements narrated by various members of the family, including the dog, leave me feeling exhausted and terminally inadequate. I do like to write something though. A personal note, a brief, relevant update. I don't send cards to people if I can get away with wishing them a Merry Christmas in passing so, where I do send, I like them to mean something.

I'm just not quite sure what.

Christmas for me is about reconnecting with people, catching up with family and friends and reminding them, especially those we don't see very often, that they are loved.

That and port, obviously.

Merry Christmas!
To you,
From me - with love x

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

I write ... So I'm a writer ... Right?

This past few weeks I have not actually been too distracted from writing at all and this is mostly down to my notebook. My lovely writerly notebook that keeps me being a writer no matter what else I am doing...

I had something of an epiphany a couple of weeks ago when, challenged with unavoidable distractions, I realised that to say (even to myself) that I am too 'stressed' to write is like saying I am too tired to sleep or too hungry to eat. Quite simply no matter what is going on, I need to spend some time (even a couple of minutes in a day) with my notebook and I need to do this as much as I need any of life's other essentials.

It's taken years for me to get to this!
I've always enjoyed a good bit of stationery - Best Christmas present ever was the post-office, so many different bits of paper, so many possibilities! - My current notebook was a present from a colleague, a 'gentle' encouragement to keep on writing. In itself this is a marker for how far I have come, I no longer hide my writing like a 'dirty' embarrassing secret, I actually tell people it's what I do ... well some people anyway.

Successful writers tell aspiring writers to get a notebook and write in it and kind writers go on to say that once you have a notebook and you are writing in it, then you are a writer!

It sounds easy doesn't it!
So why has it taken me so long? Well I am very very slow to catch on and took me quite a time to work out WHAT to write...

Then a couple of years ago, when I really started trying to be a writer, studying about writing and really trying to write, I found this quote and it galvanized my relationship with my notebook.

Two years on, I can see that having this quote has helped me develop into a writer. It has liberated me to enjoy time with my notebook.

  • to reflect on memories (recent or distant or imagined)
  • to explore possibilities (for stories or characters or settings or conflicts)
  • to play with words and and phrases and ideas 
  • to make lists (about why I'm happy or sad or cross; about what I need to do next to stop being cross or sad; about what I need to do to my characters to make them happy or sad or cross)
Quite simply, this quotation gave me the freedom to pick up my notebook every day and spend time with it and by some freak of human brain magic this developed into a habit, a writerly habit; a disposition; a compulsion. 

How about you? 
What does your notebook mean to you and how does it help you be the writer you want to be?
Reply below or use #notebook on Twitter.

Oh and if you haven't got a notebook then GET ONE and write in it every day ... and if you're not sure what to write, write this quote and see where it takes you...

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Sulk sorted!

This past few monthsI have mostly been distracted from writing by a crisis of confidence. In short I started writing a novel (yeah ... me too!); got stuck (who'da thought?) and stuttered into a seismic sulk (because we all know THAT works). 

Thankfully I had, during more optimistic times, booked myself onto the Writers' Workshop Festival of Writing which I (bravely) attended this weekend. The strapline for the Writers Workshop is 'From Here to Publication' and the Festival presented a wealth of information, inspiration and expertise to help writers of all kinds towards that ultimate goal. 

I'm currently going through my (MANY) notes from the weekend but wanted to capture the essence of my learning - something to turn to should the sulk kick in again.

P is for adopting a Professional approach...
Not in the sense of wearing a suit and board (in) meetings but by being systematic; when I hit a sticking point in my ‘other work’, I take a step back, reflect and adjust my route forward. 
Use whatever tools and strategies you use to get you through your ‘real’ life to support you in your writing life.
Well I KNOW it sounds simple now!

U is for Understanding yourself as well as your characters...
The more you know your characters the better but it’s important to remind yourself what you’re trying to achieve when you're writing about them and to make sure you only expose the bits the reader needs to follow the narrative.
I do fabulous character profiles because making up people is my very favourite thing about writing fiction but I am absolutely rubbish at getting them DOING THINGS that move a narrative forward so I need to be strict with myself about WHAT I am trying to SHOW my reader through my characters.

B is for Building tension on every page ...
The narrative needs to bubble and burst across the page regardless of genre. THIS is what keeps the reader reading on; keeps the characters dynamic; keeps them DOING something.
Building for me needs to start at the foundations of plotting. I need to be clear about how WHAT characters DO in each scene moves them forward towards the destination point of their internal and external journeys.

L is for Listen and Learn...
Listen to anyone who has anything to say about their writing; listen to how the words on a page you are reading work to convey meaning (or not!). Listen to the world around you, especially the people – ALWAYS listen to the people and hear their stories, their voice. Most importantly, listen to yourself because only you know the kind of book you want to write. Listening to other people talk about their writing was easy at the Festival but we can do this at home too. Twitter, blogs, writing forums all offer opportunities to listen to others and learn from them but I ALSO need to make sure I listen to myself and stay focussed on my own writing. As for listening to the world around me? Oh I’m good at this; writing is my way of legitimising my snooping instinct!

I is for imagine...
There were so many great people at the Festival but my epiphany moment came in a workshop with Emma Darwin where I realised that I really am not doing it wrong. In her workshop How To Tame Your Novel, Emma Darwin started by asking if we were planners or ‘pantsers’, went onto show how unhelpful it is to think in this way, and explored a range of strategies we could use to help develop our writing in a manageable way.
I hit my big sulk when I had to stop drafting and return to planning – I sulked because I thought, having spent so much time planning in the first place the need to return to it PROVED I’m no good at writing. Emma Darwin urged us to think less about ‘planning’ and more about imagining on paper and whatever stage I am at with my drafting I realise that going back to imagining on paper is a useful way to proceed not a sign of failure.

S is for Sulking...
It doesn’t work! Search for answers, sip wine, slouch and dream but SULK NO MORE.

H is for Hope in Hells Chance of Making it Happen...
Getting published is hard, making good sales even harder. Write the book you want to write; write from your heart and make it the absolute best it can possibly be. 

What’s the worst that could happen?

Thank you to everyone at the Festival of York (#fow12 on Twitter) who helped to make it such an amazing learning experience and great fun too. 

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Novel Party Planning

This past few days I have mostly been distracted from writing thinking about how planning a novel is a little bit like planning a party...

First there's the guest list. I always want to invite everyone (just like I have lots of characters I'd like to include in my novel) but there are limits to what one modest house or narrative can take and it's important to have a little order at this point! Invites are usually based on why we're having a party in the first place. For us, this is usually about an opportunity to get people together but which people? 

Who to leave out of a party or a novel is a tough decision!

We usually have 'key characters'; visiting relatives, friends we haven't seen for a long time; an older family member who's feeling a little cut off from people, younger family members who we haven't seen in a while, (any excuse!) and once this is clear we know who else we can invite which makes leaving some people out more bearable. 

Remembering details about people and how they interact with others helps. An aunt who is uncomfortable around small children won't thank you for gathering the great nieces and nephews in her honour! A balance is required to secure a successful narrative!

Setting is crucial of course. For most of the parties we have planned the venue has been our home (we don't really do 'formal') but the setting has changed as we've moved house and the 'setting' can be different depending on the time of year. Although we'd have to be VERY optimistic to think we can get away with having a complete party outside, we often find it useful to plan some outside activities; a walk in the woods, build a snow man competition, a huddle round the chimenea with a hot toddy. 

In this way the setting and the atmosphere take shape and then it's time to consider the way the plot might unfold.

Planning the food and drink of a party are a bit like planning the main plot of a novel. The kind of food and drink we serve and the way in which we serve it will, to an extent, determine the ways in which the characters will interact with each other and the story unfold. A sit down dinner with the adults in the dining room, the kids in the study and those unfortunate not enough to grab a seat quickly enough perched in the kitchen will give different opportunities for interaction than a free for all buffet! Wine, beer, cocktails, champagne? All add their own flavour and of course we shouldn't forget the soft drink option (this is always my downfall and usually involves somebody being dispatched for supplies at some point!).

As much as I absolutely love having a house full of guests eating and drinking and making memories, I also always like to have something of an exit strategy. It's important to anticipate how things might come to an end; when and how people will take their leave going away fuller, happier and a little bit changed by the experience?

Party or novel, careful planning is important. We don't want to leave anyone out or, worse still, lose them once they're here. Ultimately though the planned elements have to be flexible and allow the narrative to unfold, it's the unexpected happenings that people will remember most. 

I'm very new to this novel planning business but I am good at planning parties - we've had some great ones over at ours. I love the bit in the party where you step back and watch it all happening. I think that's where I'm coming unstuck with my writing - I've made LOTS of plans and I think I keep hoping they'll all just get on with it now!

Monday, 7 May 2012

confounded by conflict...

This past few days I have mostly been distracted from writing thinking about conflict ...

I'm VERY new to this writing 'thing'... I do know that, in order to develop myself as a writer, I need to read a lot (which is the BEST bit) and write everyday (which is sometimes more of a challenge). By way of combining the two I have established 'advanced study' bursts where I read about writing and make notes about what I read which is how I came to realise what has been blocking the development of my work in progress. 


I now realise that establishing and developing conflict are absolutely essential to developing an engaging narrative (I did say I am VERY new to this). I also realise that this absolutely goes against the grain of my essential nature. 

My day job (and my life's mission) is to prevent conflict. Anticipating conflict and defusing it before it grabs a hold is basically what the 'real' world pay me to do. 

I'm very much a 'prevention is better than cure' person. This mean that much of my 'work' is invisible, it's based on what doesn't happen but I'm quite good at it and it saves a lot of time and energy for everyone in which the real work (that other people do) can happen. It ensures a (relatively) peaceful existence but it does not make a gripping narrative. 

Clearly I need to adopt a very different approach in my writing. 

I need to establish conflict for my characters and run with it. My default strategy to intercept and deactivate at the earliest opportunity with the minimum fuss is really not going to help me. 

This is SO obvious now, I really do wonder what else I'm missing!

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Perception is nine tenths of the truth...

This past few days (weeks/months/years) I have mostly been distracted from writing ... trying to improve my leadership skills. I'd rather be writing, obviously, but this pays (some of) the bills and the two things do complement each other. 

The key to leading well is understanding people and the key to understanding people lies in understanding yourself. Recognising your weaknesses as well as your strengths, allows you to make the most of both.

 Good leaders learn their specific personal strengths and weaknesses, especially in dealing with other people, then build on the strengths and correct the weaknesses.
Larry Bossidy and Ram Charan
Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done

We've done lots of questionnaires to categorise ourselves with varying levels of insight but most recently we did a personality test. The Enneagram Institute test. If you ever get the chance to do it then I'd advise you to have a go but be prepared to deal with the consequences of the report it throws at you! 

The very purpose of existence is to reconcile the glowing opinion we hold of ourselves with the appalling things that other people think about us.
Quentin Crisp

Delving into your hidden depths to recognise what makes you tick equips you to acknowledge your prejudices and better appreciate the perspective of others. Which kind of makes sense but not always comfortable reading!

I came out as a Type 2. The Helper - generally caring, empathetic, thoughtful .... All quite lovely! Indeed, listening to the first couple of minutes of the audio streamed feedback I was really quite taken with myself. Then ... 'Twos get into conflict by being people-pleasing, ingratiating, clingy' CLINGY! POSSESSIVE? SELF IMPORTANT!!! Not all good then... There follows nine pages of in-depth analysis to (weep over) read in order to gain insight into your type and learn how to grow and develop. It is absolutely critical to remember, throughout all of this, that there is no 'right' type YEAH RIGHT! Seriously, the most basic and the most difficult thing about all this lies in accepting there is no right or wrong, just different perspectives. 

I'm not the only one who has struggled with this. As if it needed any further emphasis our leader asked us all to close our eyes and instructed us to point north. Obviously I pointed up. We then had to hold our points and open our eyes - you wouldn't believe the pointing of some people! 

There are twelve of us in the group and we are all senior leaders in education. I knew and respected most members of the group before starting the course and have got to know and respect the others during it. We have grown into an open, trusting, trustworthy group. We are supportive of each other, patient with each other and (usually) kind to each other. We have been known to gang up on the Course Leader when we disagree with her - she is not 'in education'; she is very patient with us. Despite this cohesion, we all think we're right and we have all struggled to reconcile this when we have explored and clarified how we are different. Most of the tests have categorised us into one of three or four groups - it's been easy to find the people in the group you're aligned with and sympathise with all the others who got it wrong! The Enneagram is much more complex and in-depth, and although there are a couple of categories that are not represented in our group the range is wide and the complexities within each leave no room for anyone to walk away thinking they're right and what a shame for everyone else! 

There's a WHOLE load more for me to learn about this but my summary thus far:
Perception is nine tenths of the truth; the version of the truth we each formulate which determines how we think and behave. Lets hope the other tenth is the cracks through which we can escape from ourselves to begin to understand the perceptions and perspectives of others...

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Sowing optimism

This past few days (weeks/months/years) I 
have mostly been distracted from writing ... being optimistic in the garden.

Seeds of optimism
Gardening needs optimism. Sowing tiny dust like seeds into mud and hoping for big, strong, fruitful plants - how's THAT ever going to work?

visualising success!

The weather is terrible but the occasional exclamation of sun to punctuate the sleet and wind, and the calendar confirmation that it is NOW APRIL and I'm ready to go. I am compelled to act. The shelter of my greenhouse secures a spring in my step and my heart fills with hope, enthusiasm and optimism.

Nothing will grow if its not at least given the opportunity. Time invested now has the potential to reap rewards later. Attention to detail is required to secure the maximum opportunity for success but too much attention to detail at this stage can be inhibiting. All seeds come with instructions for perfect conditions - sowing medium, temperature, circumstances in which the seed most likely to establish itself as a healthy plant and go on to produce a bountiful harvest, but there's a healthy chuck it in and give it a go approach to which I subscribe - I have to, I live in the North!

Gardening is not unlike writing then. Chuck it in (or out on to the page) and see what happens, it has to be the healthiest approach. I have many ideas, too many to secure the most fruitful harvest for all. There are optimum conditions for writing but sometimes you just have to do the best you can with what you've got. And if you don't try, don't summon the optimism to act then there is absolutely no chance any idea will flower wholesomely! 

Have I convinced you? I think I've almost convinced myself ... now where is my note book?

I've started so I'll finish ... probably.

This past few days (weeks/months/years) I have mostly been distracted from writing ... absorbed in the art of painting. I say 'art' but this is not some artistic pursuit, this is very much a practical endeavour.
The gateway to our inner sanctum of our home is our dining room. It was grubby and, really, all it needed was a lick of paint. A slap of emulsion of some pretentious off white variety to brighten it up. Right?
Being inherently lazy, in order to actually embark on such a project takes a lot of tough self talk and a lot of declarations to anyone who might (or not) be listening to validate my plans. It's not so much the wielding of a paint brush as the chaos and disruption required, and the fact that the preparation and clearing up takes so much longer than the actual painting bit (is it me?). Moving furniture always means finding dust and dirt in health threatening quantities that have previously lay dormant (I do hope this isn't just me?) and this was far worse than other rooms I have bravely tackled. Our lounge is relatively sparsely furnished, the nudge of a sofa here and there (with a mask to guard against the inevitable inhalation of enough dust to drown your lungs) was pretty much all it took. Here, in the dining room, there is the domestic abyss of the side board. The cupboards take animal food and related paraphernalia, in one and an assortment of alcohol and soft drinks in the other - 10 year old Bucks Fizz anyone?
Then there are THE DRAWERS. The top one holds keys, most of which have not opened anything of relevance in the past five years; money, most of which is bits of foreign currency (You never know when you might need French Francs again) and all manner of potentially critical salvage that doesn't have a place to live in the rest of the house.
The second drawer holds everything demoted from the first. Imagine just how useless you have to be to be lower than outdated currency and a key to a house that was demolished at the turn of the century! it's a (very little bit like) 'potentially important but not critical at this moment in time' storage facility. Upon emptying, I piled various scrap bits of paper and booklets together which I hope MrT will sort through, I am also hopeful that some may be demoted further to the recycle bin; I did spot a manual for a vacuum cleaner we retired a couple of years ago. I should clarify that I am absolutely banned from assigning anything to the recycling facility, too often have I 'just chucked the lot' including the very piece of paper MrT requires to corroborate the terms and conditions of ... WHATEVER!
There's a bottom drawer too. It's bigger than the others and I think you can probably guess what purpose that serves.
Meanwhile, back at the painting (and trying to ignore the fact of it being the most beautiful weather we've had for some years), all is well. I'm in 'the zone' - strong hypnotic strokes transfer the promise of 'natural understated warmth' from the tin to the walls around me.
I'd rather be gardening! I try to ignore the glorious spring sprawling into summer beyond the window. Out in the garden I could be doing all manner of pottering. I could busy myself endlessly doing absolutely nothing. For me gardening is mostly about contemplating and considering and very little about actual tangible output. The great thing about gardening is that output is so difficult to monitor. Not like painting. I've declared I WILL paint the dining room, started painting the (bloody) dining room and now I absolutely must FINISH it but despite the chaos, there is something to be said for the discernible accomplishment of completing a task.
As for writing, the chaos is not so easily sorted... Words in piles stuffed into various holding bays waiting to be sorted and sifted. Rather than taking the time to tabulate, the drawers of my brain are wedged full of fragments. Some of this is essential, some not, I certainly don't feel nearly qualified to evaluate it. The dining room's looking lovely though!

Friday, 24 February 2012

Representation and Conflict

This past few days, I have mostly been distracted from writing ... thinking about how people represent the world...
It's clear we all see the world in different ways and although I (obviously) often think my way is best, even I admit this might limit me. Apart from blinding me to the possibilities of alternative perspectives which might help me through when I'm stuck, I also think I need to consider the idea of alternative perspectives when I am crafting characters. If the key to good fiction is conflict and I know conflict generally arises from people understanding things differently (personal conflict from people not seeing things the way I do!) then, when I'm crafting my characters, I need to think carefully about how they see the world and make sure they understand the world in different ways in order to establish points of conflict?
PLEASE do get back to me if you think I am seriously on the wrong track with this!
I was recently at an NLP training thing, (Neuro Linguistic Programming anyone?) It's the 'linguistic' bit that gets my attention, of course. It's all ALWAYS about the language!
Have you ever said started a sentence with 'don't' to a child only to have them do the exact thing you were trying to ensure they didn't? NLP explains this by reminding us that people (and children in particular) are unable to process a negative at the beginning of a sentence. Who knew?!!
Apart from having the potential to help us phrase things in such a way as to increase the possibility of people listening and acting in the ways in which we want them to, NLP also classifies a range of representational systems which, it argues, are evident in people to a greater or lesser extent in some of the key phrases they use.
NLP is not without it's critics but for the purposes of my thinking here I'm going to work with it...
Basically, we are all predisposed to represent the world in particular ways, its NOT fixed but we can say that someone who uses the phase 'I see' to concur agreement is evidencing a predisposition for a visual representation preference.
There are four main categories:
* Visual or Seeing and likely to use phrases like; 'I see what you're saying' or 'I get the picture.'
* Auditory or Hearing and likely to use phrases like; 'I like the sound of that' or 'That rings a bell.'
* Kinaesthetic or Feeling and likely to use phrases like; 'I follow my gut instinct' or 'There are obstacles to overcome.'
* Auditory Digital = Self Talk and likely to use phrases like; 'That makes sense.' or 'I'd like to consider how that works.'
When dealing with someone is difficult and you just don't seem to be able to understand where they're coming from, it's very likely you have opposing representational preferences.
I don't 'get' high heels - they are impractical, painful, narrow casing for my wide feet is never going to be the comfortable option and I wear shoes to walk - to get from one place to another. How can I do that teetering on spikes? I accept they elongate the figure, enhance shapely legs, which is why I have a couple of pristine pairs in my shoe collection that are rarely worn. I wear slippers around the house and for the most part I wear Wellies when I step outside. Sometimes Wellies won't do; work, a meeting, lunch with friends, going out for dinner - in all these cases I have to wear something else. But I am all too aware that there will always be walking involved, possibly with a little less control and decorum as a result of too many glasses of wine. I need shoes that are comfortable and able, with minimum fuss, to get me from where I am to where I need to be. High heels just won't do it! I'd like to look nice too, a bit of a heel is useful to add a bit of height and makes me stand better but when I am thinking about getting dressed, I am mainly doing so with what's in store for the day/evening in the forefront of my mind and decisions are made on the capacity my clothes and shoes have to get me through it.
Kinaesthetic representation dominates for me, its all about how it feels and how I will feel with decisions I make and have to live with. Thus, I find it difficult to connect with people whose perspective is dominated from a visual representation - they are far less interested in how something feels, for them it's about how things look. I know these people, they're the ones who have the capacity to make me feel scruffy and inferior by just looking at me!
I wonder to what extent our dominating representational systems impact on us as readers and writers...
Do I feel more comfortable with writers who are predisposed to represent the world in ways that are similar to my own? I think I probably do...
When I am writing, am I more likely to represent characters in ways which reflect how I internally represent the world? I think I probably am...
I did a test to 'assess' how I tend to represent the world, kinaesthetic scored equally high with Auditory Digital. I give my characters a lot of self talk, this is typical of the auditory/digital - LOTS of self talk, maybe all writers have this as a dominating system???
In order to build a range of complex characters I need to be able to engage with the world in different ways to allow them to do so... Although I know my way of seeing the world is right and high heels just plain wrong! I do concede that the world would be a far poorer landscape if it were only populated by people who appreciate the world as I do - where would the conflict come from? And without the conflict where would the good stories come from???
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Cold Comfort Chicken

This past few days I have mostly been distracted from writing ... comforting cold chickens ...

Like party debris strew indiscriminately across surfaces, the snow is redundant now and difficult to shift..

Taking morning coffee with the girls Saturuday morning, basking under the blue sky to the soundtrack of the busy birds bustling, the weather warnings seemed like the workings of an over anxious new mother - a sneeze in the night signalling pneumonia. Mountains/Molehills... Such a glorious day! 'window cleaning, that's what's needed girls!' the sun, for all its welcome warmth was exposing poor cleaning habits of the slovenly woman within, they seemed to agree, as they usually do, which makes our morning conferences so comforting.

Thankfully I didn't rush to clean windows, imagine what a waste of time THAT would have been and I have many ways to waste time ...

With another coffee and still very much 'relaxing at home' (or still with fluffy pink dressing gown covering pyjamas) I stepped out again, about 11.40 (I work hard at my relaxing at home) and noticed the wooly clouds beginning to knit together. Quiet contemplation transformed into cold expectation with every tiny tight orb that drifted assertively into the reality of the weather forecasters' verification.

Thus Sunday morning's summit had quite a different atmosphere.

Ed proved the pluckiest. Stepping speculatively from the safety of the coop, only moderately dismayed by the terra firma slumping unexpectedly under her feet. The morning corn and coffee call was as compulsive as ever. Veronica-Jean's voice stuttered in the background urging Ed to plough through and as Ed, step by careful step, established the lay of the land Veronica-Jean looked to follow but stumbled with uncertainty.

Evelyn peered from the shelter, deciding to risk corn for more certitude and Doris remained inside; comfort over consumption was her conviction.

Ed's courage was rewarded with breakfast and the white mantle of snow the perfect backdrop for her beauty.

Veronica-Jean's stutterings became more urgent. Not only is Ed the prettiest, there was danger that she would become the best fed. Envy fuelled her inventive spirit and she remembered her winged power. The corn, she realised, was just a hop, skip and a flap away.

This jogged the memories of Evelyn and out she flapped to frolic with friends.

Doris made the flight too, staying only briefly before coop comfort won out over corn consumption.

On this the third morning of snow-sumption, the girls are fully adapted and my melodramatic morning sighs are met with their customary nonchalance. They're keeping calm and cracking on ... I should probably do the same?

Sunday, 29 January 2012

Challenge, Curse or Comfort?

This past few days (weeks!), I have mostly been distracted from writing ... thinking about Twitter. Ironic really, given that my reason for joining Twitter in the first place was to boost my writing!

My relationship with Twitter is fraught with ambivalence so I've decided to spend this blog post exploring it and asking you to consider (and tell me) about your own relationship with the big T.

I find Twitter a challenge because it is full of rules I still don't completely understand or more accurately, I think, the rules are still being worked out. The word limit rule gives a false sense of it being a restricted form but human imagination, creativity and the sheer urge to communicate finds new and inventive ways around this. And therein lies the challenge. The uninitiated amongst us (or is it JUST me?) are still trying to work it out. I just about get the whole #hashtag, and incredibly useful it is too. There's the *written between the stars* that I remain unsure of though? Then there's links, genuine brilliant links linking to genuinely brilliant 'stuff' - newspaper articles, blogs (SO many brilliant blogs), websites, information, poems - all life is there. I LOVE IT! And pictures and video, music, books ... The key thing achieved, I think, by the restricted word count is extended engagement. 'I'll just have a quick look on Twitter' ... An hour or two later and there I am, STILL looking - sound familiar?

“The qualities that make Twitter seem inane and half-baked are what makes it so powerful” – Jonathan Zittrain, Harvard law professor and Internet expert

And here lies the the 'curse' of Twitter .... there's just TOO MUCH! I know there's rubbish but I'm very careful who I follow and I'm quite careful about who I allow to follow me too - I tend to block marketing unless it's businesses in my area or things I think I have some vague connection with (I have no need to be in-Twitter-touch with the marketers of sexy underwear, I live in the North, warm pants are essential here) but the bad stuff is far far outweighed by the good, the interesting, the surprising (in a good way - poetry not porn), the inspirational, the informative, the encouraging.

And here lies the 'comfort' of Twitter. I joined up to give myself the opportunity to keep up with what's going on in the world and to engage with the world as a writer. It allows me to engage with other writers and other people interested in writing and they are, on the whole, a lovely, kind and generous bunch. Although I worry (often about the possibility of the teenager burning the house down) I don't always get it right - a witty response in my head could be interpreted quite differently by somebody picking it up on the other side of the web-a-sphere and this does make me a little shy (relatively speaking anyway), I thoroughly enjoy the opportunities for engagement Twitter does permit me and (mostly) when I do opt to tweet or respond to someone's it's fun!

So how about you then? Is Twitter a challenge, a curse or a comfort for you? 

Monday, 16 January 2012

Crafting The Dash

This past few days, I have mostly been distracted from writing ... thinking about my 'dash' ...

In her 'Dash Poem' Linda Ellis (follow this to read the full version - offers reassurance to grieving family and friends which places them and their memories of a deceased loved one at the heart of what is important to life. The poem offers a way to see beyond the blinding fog of grief to reflect on the life that has been lived. The reader is urged to look within the dates that are the markings of a life (the birth and death dates inscribed on a tomb stone) into the detail of the dash that separates them.

'For that dash represents all the time

That she spent alive on earth

And now only those who love her

Know what that little line is worth

I came across this listening to Chris Evans' breakfast show, it had featured in the previous day's Thought For The Day by the Reverand Ruth. Inspiring stuff, who'da thought?! (ok I admit, I was a dedicated TOG - a young one, I might add).

Apart from its potential to offer solace in grief, the poem got me reflecting on the dash I have thus far constructed and how I might craft what ever remains.

Small thing a dash - hope I haven't left it too late?!!!

The brevity of the dash symbolises of the brevity of our existence where, in the grand scheme of things, we amount to little more than a mark on a stone. Reasonable to surmise then that it is important to craft the dash (or what's left of it) well. Resisting my default reaction to spin into oh-it's-too-late, I decided to go with the optimistic starting point of, I'm quite probably (with less wine, fags, chocolate and more exercise) about half way through and therefore still able to make a difference.

'For it matters not, how much we own,

The cars…the house…the cash.

What matters is how we live and love

And how we spend our dash.

At the end of it all, we leave a whisper in the hearts of our family and friends and, if we are really lucky we have managed to reach out to a wider audience. This brought to mind a picture I had found to use for some training I delivered (on using questions in the classroom to maximise students learning - in cases you're wondering).

I LOVE this picture, it illustrates how the neurons in the brain fire together (an idea explored by Donald Ebb) and supports the theory that what we learn (and experience) and how that makes us feel, physically alters our brain and therefore who we are.

Thus, being a good, reliable family member, a good friend and colleague, even a good customer in the Supermarket (I need to work harder at this) we can have a positive impact in the minds of others. As for my writing, I reason, if I can write something that makes somebody feel positive then I will be able to claim success. In any case, the fact that my writing makes ME feel positive (mostly) makes me better able to be a more positive person - which can only be a good starting point in my interactions with those around me (even those in the Supermarket).

Enjoy your dash!

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Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Being ...

This past few days (weeks/months/years) I have mostly been distracted from writing ... thinking about 'being'.

I am much indebted to Caitlin Moran for this insight! The few evenings and (stolen) mornings I have spent reading her text have been far more enlightening than years of therapy (cheaper too). For a long time I have accepted that I am something of a dreamer, as well as an expert procrastinator but it wasn't until I got to the end of Moran's brilliant, somewhat confrontational and incredibly humorous book, 'How To Be A Woman' that I was able to really understand how my infinite capacity to think about BEING rather than actually getting on and DOING is the thing that most categorically holds me trapped in a world of underachievement.

Moran manages to balance a brutal honesty with a gentle compassion for her younger self and every other woman of the western world who has ever, even once, been confused about how to negotiate the contradictory demands and subtly coded confusions of being female; concluding that the fundamental barrier to success for us all is in our distraction with worrying about BEING when we really need to just get on and DO IT!

Just as I did as a teenager, I daydream, debate and deliberate regularly on what kind of a person I want to be; what kind of a wife, mother, daughter, friend, colleague and, increasingly, what kind of a writer I want to be.

I'd quite like to be the kind of wife Jerry Hall's mother advocated: 'you must be a maid in the living room, a cook in the kitchen and a whore in the bedroom'. I think this sounds fun and although Hall said she would take care of the bedroom bit herself and pay someone to take care of the other two, I do quite enjoy a bit of cooking. I'd like to be a 'good' mother but it seems to me there is little agreement of what this actually constitutes. We didn't have a 'naughty step' in the early years because we lived in a bungalow but I do have a relatively short fuse which, I believe, can't be wholly ignored when we consider (fingers crossed) that the 15 year old can be honestly referred to as a 'good lad'! As for being a good daughter, I have to admit I am still trying and the older I get the more effort this seems to require and the relationship maintains its inherent capacity to confuse me. I'm quite a good friend, it's probably the role I understand most and, as a woman of a certain age, anybody who doesn't agree has gone now. The colleague aspect of my being is complicated. When I worked full time as a teacher, I was much clearer about my roles and responsibilities and, physically, emotionally and intellectually draining though they were, they were quite clear cut. I am now something of a 'leader' but I work part time with an amazing group of (mostly) women who are more than capable of leading themselves and everybody else around them.

As for being a writer, well ... this is the critical bit. This, for me, is about nurturing the potential for me to forge future achievement and success. I have wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. It is a dream, an ambition, that has distracted me from my 'real' life for the last twenty years. I have slowly (ok VERY slowly) begun to explore and come to terms with what BEING a writer means. Could it be that if I had spent as much time actually getting on with it as I have pondering what I will wear and say at the 'awards', I might have actually written something worth reading by now? Moran's right, I need to stop worrying about being a writer and just get on and do it!

Monday, 2 January 2012


This past few days, I have mostly been distracted from writing ... thinking about the idea 'settlement'. 

In her fantastically honest, sometimes brutal but ultimately uplifting book 'Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal', Jeanette Winterson describes how she finds 'settlement' following her search and ultimate reunion with her birth mother. It is less the fact of actually meeting her birth mother and more the understanding she gains from it, most importantly the knowledge that she was always wanted, that is pivotal in Winterson's self acceptance and celebration. Critically, the idea of having found a 'settlement' is most definitely NOT the same as having found a compromise, it is much more dynamic, active, much less conciliatory. 

This struck a chord with me or (in keeping with my writing exercises to challenge all cliches) this detonated neural pathways in my mind previously gridlocked with domestic traffic. It forced me to THINK, to reflects and to reevaluate. As good a topic as any to open my new (year) blog. 

I'm very definitely a glass-half-full woman, often describing myself as having the (proverbial) life of Riley I live in a loving and supportive marriage with our teenage son who, despite the occasional lapse, is not the demon the word has come to evoke. We live a relatively quiet but comfortable existence. We keep two cats, a small and very cute dog and four chickens. When I think about this life that I am able to claim as my own I feel very fortunate. It is not the life I thought I might ever actually have, although elements of it are very much fragments of the life I fantasised about as an emerging and somewhat emotionally erratic adult. I think of myself as content, happy, settled. But (and this is the crux of it) I also (usually during hormonally challenged days in the month) wonder if I'm not letting myself off the hook too early. 

I 'used' to be ambitious, I 'used' to feel more vital, I 'used' to have to fight much harder to make it through each day in one piece! It's the 'settled' that's the problem, when we describe ourselves as 'settled' it sounds so 'over', 'done'. Concluded! Whereas understanding we have arrived at a 'settlement' is positive, dynamic even, offering opportunities for the future. Suddenly, I feel energised, empowered, ready!

I very much want to be a writer, that's what all this is about, me (not) writing and I very much hope I can do so from my (mostly clement) 'settlement'.