Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Christmas Greetings!

A very happy Christmas to all my followers!

Yes, I realise that I haven't written in this blog since last September. Apologies. This has been a difficult time of major family illness and uncertainty. Also, doubts about my writing but I persist. My novella, 'The Alpha Male', came back after editing with a comment concerning the need to re-write it. A correct assessment I have to say and I have attempted to do all I can to do that to the best of my ability with the help of Louise Doughty's 'A Novel in a Year'. Thanks for the information and practical exercises, Louise, which have helped a little to get me back on track. I still need the confidence but am going to go ahead in the belief that the book may help a few people to get to grips with what an Alpha course is all about and perhaps enjoy a bit of romance along the way!

Enjoy the holidays and may 2016 bring all of us writers a little more success along the way. God bless.

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Why write?

Why do we write? I was at a writing workshop recently and several theories were put forward. Like Stephen King in my August post, you may write just for yourself because you have to and you enjoy the experience. Or another theory put forward at the workshop was that you can write in order to have a platform, in other words to be noticed and I guess, applauded in some way. I would like to think that I write in order to make a difference in the world. I would like my words to help people in some way e.g. comforting, affirming or even just sharing experiences. Ultimately, I would like my words to count for eternity.

I am also indebted to recent articles by Geoffrey Daniel and Pen Wilcock in a recent edition of ACW's Christian Writer magazine (summer edition 2015) about the need for all writers, especially Christian ones to not only write but to write well, indeed, excellently. There's no second best for any of us. I also personally believe that each thing we write should be given to God. In the light of that my novella, 'the Alpha Male' is God's and whether it's to be published or not that's his decision but it doesn't stop me trying to place it or trying to make it as good as it can be.

By the way, the young woman in the picture isn't me - I wish she was - I'm just a bit older etc!

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Time wasting and time wasters

I haven't written that much for the last month. Partly this is due to feeling down and discouraged after a certain (nameless) publisher mucked me around for two years promising publication after I came second in one of their competitions and then dropped me. Not straightaway, I hasten to add but after a bit of discussion over their contract, which I considered normal procedure and they considered 'angst'. The main problem being that they didn't want me to negotiate any of the contract just sign it at once without argument. Needless to say it went primarily in their favour. So I haven't found it in myself to write a lot for that reason.

The other problem the writer has to face is time wasters. Social media is a prime culprit here but also are the so called computer supporters or back-up help. How many times have you been kept hanging on the phone for hours after just requiring minimal help? I have wasted most of my day this way today. Ringing up just to gain access to my blog and recover my password, finding myself on a technical support line and two hours later... plus a lighter wallet! I think such organisations prey on the less technically minded writer and are maybe bored and need a little diversion. Frustrating or what? Well, I suppose I can at last post this blog but it has been a costly one.

The most important thing to remember is Stephen King's advice on writing in 22 points. Wish I'd bought his book when I last saw it, I will now. Only bit of advice I disagree with is writing for oneself. I write for my God and my audience. But thanks, Stephen. Hope this isn't plagiarism but the website link has disappeared!

1. Stop watching television. Instead, read as much as possible.
If you're just starting out as a writer, your television should be the first thing to go. It's "poisonous to creativity," he says. Writers need to look into themselves and turn toward the life of the imagination.
To do so, they should read as much as they can. King takes a book with him everywhere he goes, and even reads during meals. "If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot," he says. Read widely, and constantly work to refine and redefine your own work as you do so.
2. Prepare for more failure and criticism than you think you can deal with.
King compares writing fiction to crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub, because in both, "there's plenty of opportunity for self-doubt." Not only will you doubt yourself, but other people will doubt you, too. "If you write (or paint or dance or sculpt or sing, I suppose), someone will try to make you feel lousy about it, that's all," writes King.
Often times, you have to continue writing even when you don't feel like it. "Stopping a piece of work just because it's hard, either emotionally or imaginatively, is a bad idea," he writes. And when you fail, King suggests that you remain positive. "Optimism is a perfectly legitimate response to failure." 
3. Don't waste time trying to please people.
According to King, rudeness should be the least of your concerns. "If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered anyway," he writes. King used to be ashamed of what he wrote, especially after receiving angry letters accusing him of being bigoted, homophobic, murderous, and even psychopathic.
By the age of 40, he realized that every decent writer has been accused of being a waste of talent. King has definitely come to terms with it. He writes, "If you disapprove, I can only shrug my shoulders. It's what I have." You can't please all of your readers all the time, so King advises that you stop worrying. 
4. Write primarily for yourself.
You should write because it brings you happiness and fulfillment. As King says, "I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for joy, you can do it forever."
5. Tackle the things that are hardest to write.
"The most important things are the hardest things to say," writes King. "They are the things you get ashamed of because words diminish your feelings." Most great pieces of writing are preceded with hours of thought. In King's mind, "Writing is refined thinking."
When tackling difficult issues, make sure you dig deeply. King says, "Stories are found things, like fossils in the ground ... Stories are relics, part of an undiscovered pre-existing world." Writers should be like archaeologists, excavating for as much of the story as they can find.
6. When writing, disconnect from the rest of the world.
Writing should be a fully intimate activity. Put your desk in the corner of the room, and eliminate all possible distractions, from phones to open windows. King advises, "Write with the door closed; rewrite with the door open."
You should maintain total privacy between you and your work. Writing a first draft is "completely raw, the sort of thing I feel free to do with the door shut — it's the story undressed, standing up in nothing but its socks and undershorts."
7. Don't be pretentious.
"One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you're maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones," says King. He compares this mistake to dressing up a household pet in evening clothes — both the pet and the owner are embarrassed, because it's completely excessive.
8. Avoid adverbs and long paragraphs.
As King emphasizes several times in his memoir, "the adverb is not your friend." In fact, he believes that "the road to hell is paved with adverbs" and compares them to dandelions that ruin your lawn. Adverbs are worst after "he said" and "she said" — those phrases are best left unadorned.
You should also pay attention to your paragraphs, so that they flow with the turns and rhythms of your story. "Paragraphs are almost always as important for how they look as for what they say," says King. 
9. Don't get overly caught up in grammar.
According to King, writing is primarily about seduction, not precision. "Language does not always have to wear a tie and lace-up shoes," writes King. "The object of fiction isn't grammatical correctness but to make the reader welcome and then tell a story." You should strive to make the reader forget that he or she is reading a story at all.
10. Master the art of description.
"Description begins in the writer's imagination, but should finish in the reader's," writes King. The important part isn't writing enough, but limiting how much you say. Visualize what you want your reader to experience, and then translate what you see in your mind into words on the page. You need to describe things "in a way that will cause your reader to prickle with recognition," he says.
The key to good description is clarity, both in observation and in writing. Use fresh images and simple vocabulary to avoid exhausting your reader. "In many cases when a reader puts a story aside because it 'got boring,' the boredom arose because the writer grew enchanted with his powers of description and lost sight of his priority, which is to keep the ball rolling," notes King.
11. Don't give too much background information.
"What you need to remember is that there's a difference between lecturing about what you know and using it to enrich the story," writes King. "The latter is good. The former is not." Make sure you only include details that move your story forward and that persuade your reader to continue reading.
If you need to do research, make sure it doesn't overshadow the story. Research belongs "as far in the background and the back story as you can get it," says King. You may be entranced by what you're learning, but your readers are going to care a lot more about your characters and your story.
12. Tell stories about what people actually do.
"Bad writing is more than a matter of shit syntax and faulty observation; bad writing usually arises from a stubborn refusal to tell stories about what people actually do — to face the fact, let us say, that murderers sometimes help old ladies cross the street," writes King. The people in your stories are what readers care about the most, so make sure you acknowledge all the dimensions your characters may have.
13. Take risks; don't play it safe.
First and foremost, stop using the passive voice. It's the biggest indicator of fear. "I'm convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing," King says. Writers should throw back their shoulders, stick out their chins, and put their writing in charge. 
14. Realize that you don't need drugs to be a good writer.
"The idea that the creative endeavor and mind-altering substances are entwined is one of the great pop-intellectual myths of our time," says King. In his eyes, substance-abusing writers are just substance-abusers.
15. Don't try to steal someone else's voice.
As King says, "You can't aim a book like a cruise missile." When you try to mimic another writer's style for any reason other than practice, you'll produce nothing but "pale imitations." This is because you can never try to replicate the way someone feels and experiences truth, especially not through a surface-level glance at vocabulary and plot.
16. Understand that writing is a form of telepathy.
"All the arts depend upon telepathy to some degree, but I believe that writing is the purest distillation," says King. An important element of writing is transference. Your job isn't to write words on the page, but rather to transfer the ideas inside your head into the heads of your readers.
"Words are just the medium through which the transfer happens," says King. 
17. Take your writing seriously.
"You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or despair," says King. "Come to it any way but lightly." If you don't want to take your writing seriously, he suggests that you close the book and do something else. 
18. Write every single day.
"Once I start work on a project, I don't stop, and I don't slow down unless I absolutely have to," says King. "If I don't write every day, the characters begin to stale off in my mind ... I begin to lose my hold on the story's plot and pace."
If you fail to write consistently, the excitement for your idea may begin to fade. When the work starts to feel like work, King describes the moment as "the smooch of death." His best advice is to just take it "one word at a time."
19. Finish your first draft in three months. 
King likes to write 10 pages a day. Over a three-month span, that amounts to around 180,000 words. "The first draft of a book — even a long one — should take no more than three months, the length of a season," he says. If you spend too long on your piece, King believes the story begins to take on an odd foreign feel.
20. When you're finished writing, take a long step back.
King suggests six weeks of "recuperation time" after you're done writing, so you can have a clear mind to spot any glaring holes in the plot or character development. He asserts that a writer's original perception of a character could be just as faulty as the reader's.
King compares the writing and revision process to nature. "When you write a book, you spend day after day scanning and identifying the trees," he writes. "When you're done, you have to step back and look at the forest." When you do find your mistakes, he says that "you are forbidden to feel depressed about them or to beat up on yourself. Screw-ups happen to the best of us."
21. Have the guts to cut.
When revising, writers often have a difficult time letting go of words they spent so much time writing. But, as King advises, "Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler's heart, kill your darlings."
Although revision is one of the most difficult parts of writing, you need to leave out the boring parts in order to move the story along.
22. Stay married, be healthy, and live a good life.
King attributes his success to two things: his physical health and his marriage. "The combination of a healthy body and a stable relationship with a self-reliant woman who takes zero shit from me or anyone else has made the continuity of my working life possible," he writes.
It's important to have a strong balance in your life, so writing doesn't consume all of it. 

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Treats and Challenges

It's lovely when we receive treats isn't it? My recent holiday in Crete started with a massive treat, one of the nicest things my husband, Angus has ever done. We arrived in our hotel to an upgrade, look how happy it made me!

Not only the vase of roses and  bottle of champagne pictured but also a bowl of fresh fruit, sweets and a bottle of wine. We'd probably consumed most of them by the time we took this picture.

Sometimes we think golden days of sunshine, beaches and leisure will last forever but sadly we have to go home and reality sets in again. This time it's cold UK rainy weather to boot. Although we can't change the weather, we can change some things.

I'm currently feeling pretty discouraged about my writing. Waiting on one article, unable to place another amazing charity topic and trying to negotiate my way through a pretty 'sticky' contract for my novella. Well, I say, negotiate, it's not even really that, it's 'do it my way or not at all' when 'my way' is going mostly 'their way'. However, the alternatives seem even bleaker with self-publishing an expensive option when you need a good proof reader which has recently been acknowledged on my writing group on Facebook Is it a case of 'publish and be damned' or not publish at all. 'To be or not to be', that is Hamlet's question and at this moment in time mine also. Thanks for reading.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Contracts and Agreements

Every day people enter into contracts and agreements with each other. I have entered into many in my time both with banks and building societies and with publishers.

Every journalist in accepting a commission from a newspaper or magazine enters into some sort of agreement as to deadlines and fee. Negotiations have to be made as to  whether the fee is to be paid on delivery of the article or on the publication of the article. Such negotiations have been and still are very familiar to me over the last decade and a bit.

For example, I have two articles currently awaiting publication one in a small Christian newspaper that has limited space and therefore has to wait until it can publish my article when it fits in with the theme of the month. The other was promised to be in next month but now due to advertising revenue being cut it is currently on hold. Another article is due to be published at any moment. We all have to wait on contracts to be made good for us but for different reasons. To the writer the period of waiting can be hard as his or her income can depend on it, especially if the contract or commission states 'payment on publication'.

However, I am currently negotiating signing my first book contract. Exciting yes, but also daunting. Signing something without reading all the small print can be devastating, especially as book contracts aren't just for the period of the month or so before the article appears but can last for years. It's so important to get it correct and not have your rights taken from you.

I am indebted to another writer who kindly sent me a link to a document produced by the Society of Authors

Useful stuff indeed but it has still led me to consider that I need the advice the Society of Authors gives first hand by joining them myself. The advice is brilliant but I still need them to look at my specific contract and assess that. General advice is helpful but specific advice can be invaluable.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Writing Articles

This Sunday (17 May) is a chance for us all to think about the media.

With all the phone hacking scandals the media hasn't made a good name for itself recently. But on the more positive side, journalists and broadcasters risk their lives in war zones and disaster areas to bring us the most up to date news. If they didn't I'm sure we would all miss their input. As Christians, this information can be invaluable for helping us to know how to pray.

Paul Arnold of media net, implores us to pray for the media in church this weekend Think about supporting them. They want 100 people to sign up to pray.

I hope to have my novella published later this year but the writing I've really cut my teeth on and that's given me the most success, is article writing. From news stories to interviews, features and advertorials, God has opened up a way for me to shine. What a great forum for Christians too. If you become a trusted, established writer there is even a chance that you might be given the honour of a column where you might be able to show a more personal viewpoint. A fantastic opportunity to show a more positive side to the media.

Although I have had hundreds of articles published since qualifying as a journalist in 2002, this year has been the first in which I have been commissioned to write a feature article for Cotswold Life magazine, part of the archant group. The article to be published this July is about the youngest brother of Antarctic explorer, Edward Wilson, Jim Wilson, a priest and a communist! Exciting and interesting stuff. Exciting too to appear in a magazine alongside broadcaster Monty Don and local chef, Robert Rees.I thank God for the opportunity.

So do spare a thought and prayer for the press and broadcasting journalists this weekend. There are many Christians in the media all striving to make a difference and make their positive voices heard. Thank you. 

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Immeasurably More.

Immeasurably more was the title of this year's Spring Harvest celebration at Butlin's,Minehead.

Immeasurably more of what? Of God. We can never have too much of his majesty, glory or awesome power. The God most people don't want to believe in, is too small. No wonder they don't want to believe in the organised God of religion, the God who has lost our sense of wonder. Yet, in fact, he is really greater, bigger, stronger than we could ever imagine.

Creation itself shouts out the evidence of a creator. Even if we think that creation started with a big bang, what could have made the bang, set everything in motion, especially with the complexity and complete pattern of everything slotting in together?

Then the human body, who can explain the complexities of that, how everything has a place, a purpose etc? And yet the Bible gives us to believe that such a great God cares about each and everyone of us.

"When I consider the heavens, the work of your hands,
The moon and the stars, which you have created;
What is man that you should care for him?"

(Psalm 8 verses 3,4)

I felt so inspired by this and the week away that after reading an article in the paper one day, I wrote this poem -:

Embraced by Love
I read the paper today about a couple
who lay dying, locked in one another’s arms
shot by intruder’s gun but connected by embrace
feeling the strength of their love.

I am connected to you the same,
feeling the strength of your love, not fearing
the violation, intrusion, or thief breaking in to steal,
he only reveals to me that you are the only place
to come when heat breaks in and burns
threatens to overturn my world, then I turn to you.
My roots go down deep into the soil of your love
marinated and sustained in you, both now

and forever more.

Thank you, God, that you are immeasurably more than we can ever think or imagine (Romans 3 verse 20) and that you can set us free to create more than we could ever think or imagine possible because we have been created in your image. It's worth pondering on this truth in our writing.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Fresh shoots of inspiration

March brings with it fresh shoots of green and new life and it has felt the same with my writing.

Last weekend, after re-joining the Christian Writers Association, I went to one of the first days of their meetings I have been to in a while. I found it very inspiring.

Firstly the location was good for me. Not London all the time, this one was in the Midlands, Birmingham to be precise - a short train journey for me and the shopping is as good as London - well nearly anyway. Also, one of the main writers to feature on the day was Fiona Harper (Loakes) How strange that she should also be a member of the Romantic Novelists Association, a writing association that I have recently decided to leave, unfortunately. But I found it so inspiring to hear from a writer who could write for romance publisher, Mills and Boon, and still manage to do so as a Christian keeping the bedroom door very firmly shut. I believe that romance thrives all the more with this more Christian and respectful take on it. It certainly worked for Jane Austen who has a following of millions the world over.The RNA is a fantastic organisation that helps many new writers find publication but what a pity that they fail to get the 'Christian' idea of romance, almost aka 'Barbara Cartland' but it does still work for many, as Fiona was able to show. Well done Fiona, I feel inspired to continue to write Christian romance, be it contemporary or historical. On that front, I await the exciting news that my novella 'the Alpha Male' is due to be published this summer. I look forward to that with anticipation.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

The Dream dies

I don't want to sound morbid or depressing in this post. Goodness knows these long, cold months of winter with illness and death rife, aren't the happiest of months anyway. But I need to grieve, not only the passing of a couple of young people at the peak of their lives, or my Aunty Marge, the passing of the last of my parents families but also the passing of a dream. My dream to write a novel.

My book 'Tarureka' has now been read by two different people, a professional writer who has written many historical novels and an editor who has cast her experienced eye over my work which now stands at 60,000 words. Sadly, both have reached the same conclusion - it doesn't work as a novel. A memoir or a history but not a novel.

Both have suggested changes. One that there should be a rape scene with the minister which forces the heroine into an unhappy marriage. The other has stressed that there must be a resolution, a happy ending. Both are impossible. I am trying to write a Christian novel honouring commitment and fidelity. Although my hero and heroine are both married (fairly unhappily) they fall in love with each other. But unlike so many current novels they don't gratify their desires and have an affair but instead choose the path of commitment, commitment to their partners, in one case, an invalid wife, and in the other, a large family also. The ending will not write itself as happy. I have tried but it doesn't work. If I make all the changes as instructed I would be writing an entirely different book. But this isn't the book I chose to write. Far better to put it away and let the dream die. After all, I have my articles and have been successful with them. For now I must move on and commit myself to the future and not look back like Lot's wife (Gen 19 v 26) and become a pillar of salt. Please God don't let my writing fossilise like that but grow the little I have. Amen.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Life is short, mind the minutes

As the New Year begins I am painfully aware of the words in the image - Life is short - having just attended the funeral of a young man aged just 22-years, killed while out on his bicycle just before Christmas. A young man who was a marvellous singer and composer and had produced a CD of his music aged just thirteen years and a book about his cycling trip a few years later. As one of the clergy said: 'the brightest lights often burn out the quickest.'

How true that is and yet his life, his potential were cut short. We may not all be as gifted as James was but we can all mind the minutes this year and try to live to achieve our full potential be our life short or long.

I want to use this year well. To write well, work well and most importantly love well, even if, as we were reminded to love is often painful. Jesus' love took him all the way to the cross but his life was a life fulfilled even though he only had thirty or so years.

God help me this year to try and fulfil all that you have in mind for me to do. Amen.