Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Still learning... by Eloise Williams


This, I think, is the most important and exciting part of creativity.

I am always learning.

For me, this is also one of the best things about growing older. As I get older, I get better at my craft. It makes the wrinkles / laughter lines easy to deal with!

I got side-tracked as a Young Adult / Middle Aged Adult into all sorts of things. Shop work, bar work, acting, bingo calling, food packing, teaching, the list goes on. But now I have found what I want to do with my life at the tender age of *cough, cough* and it is the beginning of learning something new.

With an absolute heart full of joy, I am learning my craft bit by bit, every day.

There is so much freedom in admitting that you are still learning.

I can make as many mistakes as I want to! Yippee!

And another MASSIVE plus is that I can actually call reading - which is my favourite pastime - WORK! Hurrah!

I wanted to share with you three books I have read very recently that have been absolutely invaluable not only as gripping stories but as pieces of craft from which I have learned so much about the art of story-telling and the power of words. They are in no particular order other than the order in which I read them.

First up is the utterly stunning 'Eden Summer' by Liz Flanagan (David Fickling Books)

'Shy, gothy Jess and stunning and popular Eden are best friends. They've supported each other through some of the hardest things you can go through – death, bullying, love, heartbreak. They know everything about each other.

But then Eden goes missing and Jess knows she has to find her, and fast, because the longer someone is missing, the more likely it is they won't be found. So Jess starts exploring her memories, things Eden said and did in the last few months and she starts to realise that maybe they don't know each other as well as she thought.

Set in the beautifully described stunning countryside of West Yorkshire, an incredibly pacy page turner as the clock runs down on the likelihood of finding Eden alive.'

Gripping. Utterly gripping. I couldn’t put it down. Exquisite writing and description. Such brilliant story-telling. You care so much about the characters. You want to know what happened as if it is really happening to you personally. So much so I didn’t get out of bed until I finished it. Spent most of the day in my PJs. (Am not usually a slob).

Secondly is the scintillating ‘Strange Star’ by Emma Carroll (Faber & Faber)

'They were coming tonight to tell ghost stories. 'A tale to freeze the blood,' was the only rule.
Switzerland, 1816. On a stormy summer night, Lord Byron and his guests are gathered round the fire. Felix, their serving boy, can't wait to hear their creepy tales. Yet real life is about to take a chilling turn- more chilling than any tale. Frantic pounding at the front door reveals a stranger, a girl covered in the most unusual scars. She claims to be looking for her sister, supposedly snatched from England by a woman called Mary Shelley. Someone else has followed her here too, she says. And the girl is terrified...'

Atmospheric. Gothic. A ripping good yarn with hugely creepy elements and plenty of EEK moments but also a story of depth and relevance and such terrible sadness. I read it in the sunshine and felt I was at the centre of a storm.

Thirdly is the luscious ‘A Library of Lemons' by Jo Cotterill (Piccadilly Press)

'A poignant story about dealing with grief through the magic of reading and friendship. Calypso's mum died a few years ago and her emotionally incompetent Dad can't, or won't, talk about Mum at all. Instead he throws himself into writing his book A History of the Lemon. Meanwhile the house is dusty, there's never any food in the fridge, and Calypso retreats into her own world of books and fiction. When a new girl, Mae, arrives at school, the girls' shared love of reading and writing stories draws them together. Mae's friendship and her lively and chaotic home - where people argue and hug each other - make Calypso feel more normal than she has for a long time. But when Calypso finally plucks up the courage to invite Mae over to her own house, the girls discover the truth about her dad and his magnum opus - and Calypso's happiness starts to unravel.'

Poignant. Moving. Lots of young people I know NEED to read this book to understand they are not alone. The characters are so beautifully drawn and the subject matter is so tenderly dealt with. Expect weeping. Expect laughter. Expect to be charmed.

I just wanted to share these three with you because they all touched my heart and inspired me to be a better writer.

Image result for writer

And whilst I am in no way a reviewer and have only managed a few vaguely coherent words by way of review, if you are a newbie writer like me, I highly recommend getting your hands on these three beauties and marvelling at the very different ways these three authors write and at the squillions of things you can learn from them!

I'll be reading them all again very, very, very soon.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Imposter Syndrome by Tamsyn Murray

I've heard a lot about Imposter Syndrome over the years: the fear that you are not what everyone thinks you are. The fear that you will be found out and exposed as a ringer. The fear that your first/second/fourth/fifteenth book was a fluke - you don't really know what you're doing.


Students I've worked with have often been amazed that successful writers still get The Fear. My answer had always been, 'Of course they do.' With each new project they might worry that they have forgotten how to write, or they may be stuck by the solid gold certainty that what they are writing is a steaming pile of donkey doo. They may Google 'jobs for failed writers'.

I am no stranger to donkey doo but I never recognised my fears as being linked to Imposter Syndrome until recently. Oddly enough, my brush with it wasn't directly related to writing. Some of you might remember that I was on Sky News at the end of May, talking about getting kids reading. The interview itself passed in a blur and I was pleasantly surprised afterwards that I'd sounded knowledgeable and lucid. Almost like I knew what I was talking about...

'But you do know what you're talking about,' a friend pointed out. 'You've had fourteen books for children published, you're Patron of Reading at two schools. You know about this stuff.'

And when I came to think about it, I realised she was right - I did know about it. I wasn't an imposter.

My second brush with Imposter Syndrome happened last week, as I was sat in the audience of Les Miserables, in London. Every performer was breathtaking and I remember thinking in passing how much better at singing than me they were (I sing and act with an amateur dramatics group), how small they made me feel by comparison: was there any point in singing myself when I would never be as good as that? The next morning I was at home singing the same songs (sorry, neighbours) and I remembered a director once telling me, 'You don't know how good you are.' And I felt a bit better. Yes, I am not as accomplished as the professional performers whose job it is to sing and act every night, but that doesn't mean I am not good. It doesn't mean I should give up.

Me playing Gianetta in The Gondoliers

Writers often compare themselves to fellow writers, for all kinds of reasons, and the comparison often leaves us feeling bad about ourselves. It helps if you understand that this is all part of The Fear, masquerading as Imposter Syndrome. The truth is, no one can write your book like you. No one knows your story better than you. So the next time you recognise The Fear, whisper to yourself, 'You don't know how good you are.'

And then do something prove it.

(PS I can't tell you how many times I have considered editing this post to make it less boasty-sounding. Looks like I still have some battles to come with Imposter Syndrome...)

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Once I was Eleven Years Old, by Liz Kessler

I wrote this poem a couple of months ago, after listening to ‘7 Years’ by Lukas Graham. I wrote it shortly before the Orlando shootings in which 49 people were killed, shot dead for one reason only: they were in a gay club.

This blog is dedicated to the 49 people who lost their lives that night, and is posted in honour of the new Amnesty International book for young people, Here I Stand, a collection of stories by YA authors which I am immensely proud to be part of.

Once I was eleven years old,
I had a best friend.
We used to try kissing.
Told ourselves we were practising.
Once I was eleven years old.

I moved up to the big school, grew up kind of fast.
Left the girl behind as we took our separate paths.
Had a string of boyfriends, and never questioned why
None of them ever felt a hundred per cent right.

Once I was sixteen years old, and I had some new friends.
Two of them sat me down one day
Told me they were gay.
I knew right then they had a love I wanted too.
But I had to wait. They told me, ‘It’ll come to you.’

Once I was eighteen years old.
I’d started at college, moved away from home.
I met a girl one night and I knew what I’d been missing.
I’d never known a feeling like when we started kissing.
It only took one night
To know this was a hundred per cent right.

I always thought when I found love, things would work out fine,
Thought it would keep me safe from danger, keep me warm at night.
Didn’t expect the words that hit me like a brick.
‘Dyke, queer, disgusting, you make me feel sick.’

Once I was twenty years old.
And a law was brought in by bigots and fools
Said my sexuality had to be kept out of schools.
Told us we were dangerous, told us we weren’t wanted.
So we fought back…we marched, we sang, we chanted.

Once I was twenty years old.
I poured my heart into the world.
Demanded that it listen. Demanded we be heard.
Went out there and fell in love a hundred times or more.
Nothing would stop me, no bigot, no law.

Once I was thirty years old
I knew who I was by then.
I had a life, a job, good friends.
I looked back on the times I’d grown up in, the things we’d lived through,
And gave thanks that the world was growing up too.

Once I was forty years old
I met the love of my life.
Society had changed so much
That this girl is now my wife.

I only see the future now, and this is what I say:
Those dykes and faggots of the past have led us to this day.
The ones who fought, who bravely stood and let themselves be counted
Their gifts have brought us where we are. Their lives should be saluted.

Once I was forty years old.
I looked at what I’d done.
Published books for the young.
But there was still one left to write, still one thing I had to say,
And the need to tell this story had never gone away.

I went back to the book that I had written years before.
Gave it everything I had, and then a little more.
I owed it to that girl in there to stand up, face the crowd.
To tell them, ‘This is who I am’.
I hope that girl is proud.

Soon I’ll be fifty years old.
The world is still evolving, still turning.
We’re still growing, still learning.
My country is a place where two people can hold hands, embrace
Without fearing abuse and disgrace.

But we’re not there yet.
Not even nearly, so it seems.
You only have to watch the news on your television screens.
Every day another story
Tells us progress can be slow.
It’s one world and we still have a long way to go.

Maybe soon. Maybe one day.
Maybe when we’re eighty.
But at least now I can hold my head up and say to the girl of twenty,
‘Look, I did it, I stood up, told the world who I am. Come stand with me.’

Once I was eleven years old,
I had a best friend.
We used to try kissing.
Told ourselves we were practising.

Once I was eleven years old.

Pre-order Here I Stand
Visit Liz's Website
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Saturday, 23 July 2016

A Whole Childhood World of Adventure by Steve Gladwin

Several months ago I mentioned the bedroom of my childhood which I had been magically drawn back to while on a psycho-synthesis course in 1998. As well as my thunderbird wallpaper and gaily striped curtains, there were the bookshelves behind my bed, (what if they'd fallen on me one night and brained me!) It would be nice, I thought, to pick one much loved childhood author and use the excuse of this blog to re-visit them. There were so many choices  and they’re only the ones I can remember! Would it be Billy Bunter, the Fat Owl of The Remove of Greyfriars School, who said ‘Yarooh’, several times a chapter and was constantly awaiting the arrival of that fabled postal order. Or maybe another school favourite, Jennings and his friend Derbyshire and their many larks at Linbury Court Preparatory School. I will always remember how Jennings diary entries always ended ‘Weather not so good toddy.’

There were other choices, like the legions of Blytons still lurking on the upper shelves, of which – the ‘of Adventure’ series were always my favourites). Or I could pick Alfred Hitchcock’s Three Investigators, Jupiter Jones, Bob Andrews and Pete Crenshaw, or The Hardy Boys books by Franklin W Dixon. Or there was always Tom Swift?.

Wait a minute! I was missing the most obvious ‘Adventure’ series of all – the Hal and Roger Hunt books by Willard Price which began, (I soon learnt) with Amazon Adventure in 1951 and ended with Arctic Adventure in 1980. But surely - I imagined - the books would be dated and colonial and I’d be wincing at the racism and the gratuitous slaughter or capture of animals by our two he men heroes.They might be zoologists and work for their father - who sent them out to capture animals for the world’s zoos - but there was hardly likely to have been much of a conservation message in the 1950’s.

One of my birthday presents had been a book by one of the great conservationists, Gerald Durrell – a lovely fiftieth anniversary edition of My Family and Other Animals, which I had first seen many years ago in a book club edition on both my parents and grandparents shelves. Surely it would be nice to compare two very different series with very different attitudes to conservation, both of which began in the 1950’s when I was born, (for alas dear reader – I am that old!).

Gerald Durrell and friend

All this sounded well and good as a project, but surely a modern perspective was needed with which to contrast these. So remembering our great love of The Lost Land, (Jaguar/Volcano/Tiger) series and documenting of the efforts of modern day conservation heroes Dr George McGavin, Gordon Buchanan, Justine Evans, Alan Rabinowitz and Steve Backshall, to observe and record wild life in some of the last pristine wildernesses on earth, (Guyana, New Guinea, and Bhutan), maybe I could find a connection here.And hadn't Steve Backshall himself written a series of wildlife adventure books for children, and named Gerald Durrell and Willard Price among his boyhood influences?

Making my own exploration in the slightIy less adventurous lands online I discovered that the first and last Willard Price books have been published in duo form by Red Fox. I obtained not only Amazon Adventure but Diving Adventure, not just Arctic Adventure, (which I didn't even know existed !) but Safari Adventure as well. Adding to my four for the Price of two, (sorry!), I was a copy of Steve’s own first children’s book Tiger Wars, I settled down to read my choices and use them as inspiration for this blog - er two blogs actually, as I’ve spent so long in this one assembling the team they've now nowhere enough time to come and save the village. So gentle reader, pray join me on a two part adventure with some true heroes of wildlife awareness, conservation and above all adventure.

Part One – Hal and Roger Ride Again
I can’t remember much about these books, but there was that one bit with Roger and his cheetah. Happily I managed to meet both in Safari Adventure, which is in one of my BOGOF’s. But we need to begin at the beginning.
Deliberately I decided to read before trying to research anything. I settled down in my attempt to reconnect with my childhood with Amazon Adventure, the first of Willard Price’s fourteen book series. Hal and Roger Hunt are accompanying their animal collector/zoo keeper father on a trip along a little known tributary of the Amazon on a mission to collect animals for the world’s zoos. All too soon the mood turns dark as John Hunt is forced to return home after a telegram from the boy’s mother informs them that his entire animal collection has been set alight by vandals/rivals and everything destroyed. Dad will be ruined unless this latest trip can bring him in a whole host of new collectibles, but he himself has to return home. Can he risk leaving his young 19 year old zookeeper son Hal, and his mischief loving younger brother Roger in charge of the mission? Oh of course he can!

Finding myself deep in the Amazon some hundred pages on, gave me the ideal chance to reappraise my childhood love of these books in the light of my bi-focal adult lenses, (never buy them!). The one criticism I found with the first book was a somewhat cursory approach to the exciting bits. Don’t get me wrong – Willard Price is never boring, but I do feel that he has so much adventure to throw us into that he can let off on the tension a bit. Before you know it, the latest extraordinary action is over hardly before it’s begun. And Hal and Roger’s first adventure is extraordinary. It involves them assembling a whole ark of creatures great and small from pygmy marmoset to rare black jaguar, from vampire bat to giant anteater, (which Roger wrestles!) and from tapir to anaconda with even a mascot shrunken head thrown in. Willard Price never sells the reader short. Not content with having just a boa constrictor as the big snake warm-up to the deadly giant anaconda, he makes it a mother which promptly gives birth to at least sixty babies, These soon become a handy weapon to throw at the villains!

You’d think that this teenage zoo keeper business would too often come over ridiculously far -fetched, ( and now and then it does, such as the rather too Scooby Doo ending/revelation of the poacher Blackbeard in Safari Adventure) but mostly it works. What helps apart from the author’s sheer energy, is his knowledge and attention to detail. In the company of Hal and Roger Hunt you really do learn all you seem to need to know about the teeming varied mass of the world’s wildlife and with Willard Price as a guide you are never short of stories within stories and the sort of survival anecdotes Ray Mears makes whole programmes about nowadays. In one quite phenomenal sequence, Hal, having been abandoned by his native team and then robbed of the animal ark by the villain, who he’s christened Croc, manages to commandeer one of the few floating islands that are actually stable and allow it to take him and a malaria stricken Roger along the river. Then, having failed to find either berries or spear fish, he fashions a tea kettle from a joint of bamboo, tries several methods of fire making including kapok and the rattan fire-thong method, ( no I didn’t know that one either!), before settling on the South Sea islander’s fire plough method where you stand a forked stick in the earth or sand and rub another stick through it vigorously to catch a flame. When he’s rubbed away with no result, Hal suddenly remembers the camera lens in his pocket and finally makes a fire using the old ‘using the awesome power of the sun to nearly set your trousers alight’ method beloved of over grown boys and girls everywhere.

If you think that’s it, you’d be mistaken, for having prepared an improvised fish line for another stab at the old fish game, Hal happily spears a monkey, (obviously not so happily for the monkey but hey they’ve got to eat) and ends up using every bit of it for a whole variety of purposes apart from eating it.

In case you think I’m mocking the writing here, I can assure you that it’s quite the opposite, for instead of the ‘blah blah.Secret plans’ school of children's book of the fifties, the action seems to come directly from the knowledge and sheer animal nous, even if the protagonists may seem a little on the youthful side.

In my next visit with Hal and Roger, Safari Adventure (1966), we are about halfway through the sequence and the Hunt boys are right in the thick of it in a manner which couldn’t contrast more with their Amazonian wanderings. Here, in the fourth in a whole sequence of African adventures, they are no longer collecting animals but dealing with  the problem of poaching, having been brought in by game warden Mark Crosby of Tsavo National Park, to put a stop to the activities of a particularly vicious gang of native poachers and their leader Black Beard. Before Hal and Roger ever get to set off on a mercy mission to emergency re-house a displaced colobus monkey and an okapi, away from the attentions of poachers, they are brought face to face with the harrowingly dreadful results of the poacher’s activities. Here both we and they are made aware of the sheer scale of the mass slaughter and its vast market in the ivory, fur and sundry other sickening trades.  As Hal. Roger and Warden Crosby free or put the trapped hundreds of animals out of their misery, you can’ help both applauding the uncompromising message and giving a shiver of relief that conditions in East Africa and elsewhere in poaching hot spots at least can’t be that bad nowadays.

Old Safari

One of the few criticisms made of Willard Price is that although he mentions the colonisation of native lands, he buys into the traditional tropes of such literature too much. For me this is a small price to pay for a series of books begun at the start of the fifties where native peoples are treated with honour and respect and our heroes follow their ways rather than trying to force their own on them. The only thing anywhere near to racism I have so far encountered is a phrase uttered by one of the villains, who seems clearly to be saying it so that we see just what an ignorant moron he is.

And the reason for this is surely that Willard Price himself appears to have been a fairly extraordinary and entirely honourable man, part journalist, part ground breaking social historian, and later a sort of roving correspondent and adventurer. He himself said of the series.

My aim in writing the Adventure series for young people was to lead them to read by making reading exciting and full of adventure. At the same time I want to inspire an interest in wild animals and their behavior. Judging from the letters I have received from boys and girls around the world, I believe I have helped open to them the worlds of books and natural history.

As for the conservation v zoos element, well the days of my childhood were clearly old fashioned ones in many such respects, when even David Attenborough was doing something similar to Hal and Roger in Zoo Quest. And as a flash forward to Part Two next month, for all the time that young Gerry Durrell spent on Corfu exploring and observing wildlife, he was also a collector and not all of what he collected lived long enough to tell the tale! As for his older brother Leslie, (at 19 exactly the same age as Hal Hunt) he was quite happy, as ITV’s recent adaptation of the books shows, to blast away at anything on sight. Give me the Hunt boys any day.

A newer Amazon

Did I enjoy catching up with these two boyhood heroes? You bet I did, and I can’t wait to tell you about the rest of it either, or to continue re-reading them. And I didn’t even get the chance to tell you about Roger and the cheetah.

Next time on 'A Whole Childhood World of Adventure'

Young Gerry Durrell attempts to referee and awesome contest between a gecko and a gigantic pregnant mantid.

Steve Backshall saves tigers and takes off his shirt (again)

Hal and Roger's last adventure in the arctic.

And if you want to catch up with the Hunt boys in print yourself you'll find them in three red Fox Doubles from Random House.

Friday, 22 July 2016

The Burden of the Educator, by Dan Metcalf

Education is a scary word, isn't it? It practically reeks of authority and grown-upness. It is particularly scary when you find yourself in the job of actually providing any sort of education related services or materials, as I accidentally did recently.

With two older sisters as teachers and seeing the sheer amount of work they came home with, I was dead set that I would have nothing to do with teaching. I always saw it as a grown-up profession, something that you have to wear a tie for and in my teens I was adamant that I didn't want that sort of career. Indeed, the only sort of career I liked was the one defined as “to move swiftly and in an uncontrolled way”. I went to university after being encouraged by my extremely patient careers guidance officer to apply, on the understanding that 'you can always drop out if you find something else you want to do'. Somewhere along the way I forgot this bit of advice and just carried on with the degree, although I never did find something else I wanted to do, apart from drink cans of Fosters from 10am and watch The Simpsons.

On emerging from the confines of University with a degree in writing, I had a on/off relationship with a career in the film industry and then ended up in retail before embarking on a 'proper' job, that of a librarian. Curiously I never equated my role as the organiser and curator of information as that of an educator (which I had vowed never to be), but many would argue that the position of librarian is firmly entrenched in the education sector. I encountered mature students, home learners and every summer would help to keep children's reading skills up to scratch by way of the Summer Reading Challenge. I even jumped ship towards academic libraries for a long period but it never occurred to me that I was becoming that which I feared most: an Educator.

When I was laid off due to cut-backs (Thanks Coalition Government!), I seized the opportunity to take my side-career of writing more seriously. I had already been ghost-writing for a while and it seemed possible. Amazingly I secured a contract to write a series for a – gasp! - education publisher! I took to taking deep breaths and began whispering to myself 'Don't panic, Dan. Just make up the stories like you always do...'

But my Lottie Lipton books were based in the British Museum and so required a fair amount of research on the historic artefacts there. I had included fun puzzles at the end of each chapter to engage the reader. My themes covered the ancient Egyptians, Romans and Greeks. The editorial team even started to bombard me with questions: 'Is this object really in the British Museum?' or 'Could we change this part for accuracy?'.

“I don't know!” I wanted to shout. “I made it up – that's what I do!”. With a few stiff drinks and the application of bum-to-seat to do some actual work, I got through it.

Then the school visits began. I found myself facing classes or even whole schools, each pair of eyes looking at me to teach them about how to write, and what I write about. Hands started to go up; questions were asked. Then I found the most amazing thing; it's cool to be a teacher. The students look up to you, they repay you for your imparting of information in ways I never knew possible. On a recent schools tour to promote my newest books, The Eagle of Rome and The Catacombs of Chaos, I was handed pictures and thank you cards, complete with suggestions for future Lottie Lipton Adventures (Vampires vs Zombies, anyone?)

Being an educator is a terrific burden, which I why I take my metaphorical hat off to teachers, teaching assistants and librarians everywhere (not that you're reading this. By the time this is posted you'll be on your summer hols, prancing in a meadow of poppies singing 'I'm free! I'm free!'. Or sleeping for a month, whichever you feel you need to do most). But I think I know now why so many do it; it's rewarding and fun. I now go into schools as much as possible and enjoy every second. It's not like teaching everyday of course; I get to be the cool/weird guy who infects the students with ideas and then leaves the teacher to deal with them and calm them down. I'm kind of like an uncle who baby-sits for a day, feeds your kids three tubes of smarties and then hands them back at the peak of their sugar high. Only, y'know, in a creative way...

So I have now made my peace with being an 'educator' (of sorts) and embrace the role wholeheartedly, rejecting the fear that comes with the burden. But I still won't wear a tie...

Dan Metcalf is the writer of The Lottie Lipton Adventures. The Eagle of Rome and The Catacombs of Chaos are published on 28th July by Bloomsbury Education. See danmetcalf.co.uk for more info on Dan and his books.

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Remembering things

Today I was reminded of a happy event - when I first presented 'The Fairest Fairy' and was paid for it!  It also reminded me that today was the 21st and I hadn't done my blog post! Sorry this is late going up.

Remembering things can be painful, of course. I was reminded of my Fairiest Fairy event by Facebook. I haven't worked out how to stop Facebook randomly  reminding me of past posts, and it isn't always pleasant. In May this year I had a week where Facebook kept reminding me of my mum's last illness and death two years ago. So today being reminded of things - being made to remember -worked out well, but other times it can be more difficult.

I think that our work as fiction writers is often about re-membering, re- assembling all the glimpsed and whispered creative prompts which we have accumulated in our lives through living and entering Art, and using them to make into a novel - we remember snatches of inspiration and insight - narratives we have noticed others experiencing or we have read about or seen in films etc or lived through ourselves, lessons we have learnt in our personal histories. How can we re-mind people of things without unnecessarily causing pain? It didn't really help me to unexpectedly read my hopeful posts from the hospital or my post that my mother had died. I wasn't prepared to be exposed to them. Somehow, when we write, if we do include difficult things, we have to prepare the way for the reader to meet them, and support them when they do, through our stories' narrative arcs, through our characterisation, the beauty and/or humour and rightness of our words - the kind truth of good writing. We have to write as well as we can and then gratefully accept editing to make it even better!

When we use more general historical events and characters in our novels we  have a new challenge. We are re-membering events we haven't lived through ourselves. We have to be scrupulous in our research and fair in our telling - whilst harnessing our passion so that the stories live. We are re-membering for communities and countries - not giving back individual histories to readers so much as re-membering the often painful experiences of communities and nations - and hopefully, then helping readers to understand the past more, its effects on their present lives, and so be better able to cope with their futures.

I'm working through a book by Julia Cameron at the moment. I found her 'The Artist's Way' really helpful ten years ago, and now I am working through 'The Prosperous Heart'. Today I am beginning Week Three, and I have been encouraged to remember good things and be grateful for them. For Julia Cameron, that sense of gratitude brought on by remembering good things is really good for creativity.

So I hope that for all of us as writers, any painful or happy past memories - individual or cultural - can be woven into great narratives, written as skilfully and as care-fully as possible, to make wonderful stories to delight and help our readers - and maybe even ourselves!

I'd better get on with my own book!

Oh yes- and this is the picture Facebook gave me today!

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Patience is a Virtue - Joan Lennon

To all appearances, I am a mild-mannered, reasonable person who understands that editors and publishers have many calls on their time.  So, when I send out my words to be read by them, it is of course in a gentle, fluffy-feathered fashion, like these auspicious cranes, who will perch politely on the recipient's roof, and wait their turn.

Auspicious Cranes by Huizong of Song (1082-1135)

But, if truth be known, I am neither mild-mannered nor reasonable.  I am a green-skinned harpy witch woman.  THIS is how I would like my submissions to go out into the world - like terrifying flying monkeys who grab the editor or publisher away from whatever else they might be doing and whisk them, shrieking, to the castle of Reading My Stuff NOW from which there is no escape.  (Until, you know, they've read it.  And, well, really, really liked it.  And don't suddenly become possessed by any desire to get silly with buckets.)  

Fly, my pretties, fly!*

I could be getting other things done as I (patiently) wait.  But, alas, I am Grace of the poem, that one my mother recited at me in moments of impatience/inadequate ablution:

Patience is a virtue 
Virtue is a grace 
Grace was a little girl 
Who would not wash her face

It isn't as if I weren't SURROUNDED by metaphorical face-washing needing to be done, but no, I am not making use of my waiting time in any useful fashion whatsoever.**  Just dreaming of a world of flying monkeys and instantaneous response.


* Yes, I know, the Wicked Witch never actually said this.  But it's such a great line, and she's such a great witch, that if the world were organised as it should be, she would have.

** It is always reassuring to know we are not alone.  For evidence of this, see:

Savita Khan's Angst

Jess Vallance's Things I used to think about publishing

Liz Kessler's Waiting Game

Joan Lennon's website.
Joan Lennon's blog.
Silver Skin website.