On beginnings

Fear and trepidation, the first hesitant step.      shade-1499842-1280x960

Lost and bewildered, unsure, what’s next?

Walk with me; I may stumble or fall

On a road too long, a mountain too tall.

There may be no promised land

But the treasure is here, in your smile,  

The touch of your hand.

Walk with me a while, I could use the company. I don’t know where I’m going and have a track record of getting lost. Sometimes, as I  wrestle through the undergrowth in search of the path, I discover a beautiful glade. I would like to share it with you.

Ever felt the urge to walk somewhere, anywhere, but stood frozen with indecision at the crossroads? Ever sat with a head full of words screaming to be set free while the paper or screen in front of you remains blank?

I can’t plan your journey or write your words. I can give you glimpses of places you might like to visit. I can give you a thought or an idea around which your words can coalesce. I can walk with you a while and show you places I’ve been but I’m not a tour guide. I’m just a random encounter with a stranger who may be the catalyst for a whole new adventure.

~~~~~

Every post will include ways to play in the world of words. It might be a word prompt or an exercise, it might have rigid parameters or be free-form. It may be another step on your journey or an interesting diversion. There is no deadline, no pressure, no expectation except that which you set yourself. Have fun with them.

So let’s play:

From ‘In the beginning…’ to ‘Once upon a time…’ and ‘In a galaxy far, far away…’ every story has to start somewhere. Will yours begin at the dawn of history, in a fantasy land or on another planet? Will it begin at home or abroad? In the past, present or future?

Where would you like to explore?

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Winter Tales

My short story Sunday’s Child is in the Winter Tales anthology published by award winning Fox Spirit Books and is edited by the talented Margrét Helgadóttir. It’s a varied collection of unsettling, occasionally heart-warming, pieces bound together by the wintry theme.

Here’s a teaser:

The dark street was empty and silent. It was too late for night-time revellers to be returning home and not yet time for early shifts to begin. It was the hour when the human spirit was at its weakest, when the worried wakeful lay tossing and turning and the despairing sat fearing the sun would never rise again. For a rare moment, the city was completely still and Jake felt the desolation calling out to him, beckoning him…

Winter Tales is available to buy in paperback from Amazon and has a gorgeous cover designed by S L Johnson. There’s even a YouTube promo.

Winter Tales cover

Happy Christmas?

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I’m not going to wish you a Happy Christmas.

Scrooge. The Grinch. Me. Yes, I’m one of those people who scowl their way through December trying to deny the existence of Christmas. ‘It’s lost its meaning’ and ‘It’s too commercial’ I mutter as I plough my way through the month.

If you have encountered any of my cynicism over the last few weeks, I’m sorry if I have taken some shine from your seasonal enjoyment. It’s not personal, just self-defence. Throughout the year I cope fairly well with my mental health issues. I’ve learned to spot situations that might cause a problem, ways to mitigate the impact, ways of maintaining balance.

December disrupts that balance. There is so much about this time of year that exacerbates my symptoms. I retreat into a bubble to cope with my feelings of guilt and inadequacy and to protect myself from the spiral into self-destructive old habits.

Despite this, there are things I enjoy about Christmas and it is perhaps characteristic of the season that they are the least anticipated. Last week we had Christmas dinner at work. Sixty-plus meals shared by the staff, volunteers, friends and families associated with the Family Centre. It was hard work; noisy, crowded and somewhat chaotic. I ended up in the garden, damp with drizzle, perched on a child-sized chair with my foot in a puddle and eating a meal cobbled out of what was left over.

It sounds miserable, but I wasn’t. Much of the food had been generously donated and was a wonderful mix of traditional, halal and vegetarian, prepared by a great cook. I was surrounded by people from diverse backgrounds, cultures and circumstances who accepted the limitations of the occasion and who all mucked in to celebrate community. It bore little similarity to the media portrayal of Christmas or nostalgic lore, and was amazing.

I’m not going to wish you a happy Christmas, I don’t want to place that burden of expectation on you. Instead I wish for you to have a contented Christmas, an appreciative Christmas, and some hope for the New Year.

The biggest sandbox ever

I’ve been thinking a lot about play recently. I’m running a series of workshops teaching the theory and practical applications of play and I’m making sure everyone gets stuck in.

It struck me that, as a writer, I’m very lucky. My passion is not restricted by the availability of equipment, materials or resources. I write on my laptop, my phone, in a notebook or on the back of an old receipt. I don’t even need any of those things. I can conjure characters and scenes in my head, work through plot issues as I drive and create new worlds as I lie in the dark.

I have all of history to play with, all of Man’s accumulated knowledge. I am not limited by geography or even science. I can explore this world and the next, a multitude of alternate timelines, parallel universes and possible futures.

Every waking moment brings an experience that can add rich detail to a story, every half-remembered dream brings new ideas. Even the trivial things, the most mundane moments and boring routines, provide fertile soil for my writer’s mind. If I pay attention.

A key aspect to play is that the participant is fully engaged and utterly absorbed in the experience. I hope I managed to demonstrate this in my workshop. I certainly need reminding of it in my daily life because I’m really lucky. I have the biggest sandbox ever to play in.

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So let’s play.

Think of a recent event. Change one aspect of it. Introduce a new person, alter the time period, set it in a different location. Explore how the change you made plays out.

 

WriMo reflections

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Well, I did it. I’m a NaNoWriMo winner. I’m not entirely sure how I feel about that. Yes, it’s a great achievement but the real work is yet to come with the revising and editing. I’ve had a few days to get some distance from the experience so here are some of my thoughts.

I’ve never written anything of this length before. I’m a writing sprinter and NaNoWriMo is a marathon so stamina was a real issue. I am easily distracted by fresh ideas and often have several projects on the go. To focus on just one for a month was the hardest part.

I realised that I often use research and revision as forms of procrastination. During November I wrote on a ‘clutter free’ application that doesn’t allow editing and hides all other tabs. It was very liberating to keep writing on without pausing to look things up or refer back for continuity purposes. I just made a note in the text and ploughed on.

Music is part of my writing ritual. Every story has a soundtrack and when it plays it signals my brain it is time to write and helps me to switch between projects. I tried a few new things during NaNoWriMo with varying success. I found the concentration playlists on various music apps largely irritating but Death Metal provided a great wall of sound and I wasn’t distracted by intricate melodies or the subtle poetry of lyrics. I also discovered ambient noise generators so much of November was spent listening to a train travelling through a thunderstorm, apt because railways and turbulent emotions were a large part of my story.

I’ve parked the story I wrote and plan to revisit it in the cold grey light of January. I hope what I’ve written will be worth further work but even if it isn’t, it has some great characters and scenes that can be used elsewhere.

Now I must attend to the chores, and more importantly, the people I’ve neglected during November. And I’ve already had an idea for the story I want to write for NaNoWriMo 2016 so it can’t have been too bad.

————-

Let’s play.

Just play. Kick about in any leftover leaves, poke a fire with a stick and watch the flames dance, jump in a puddle. Your mind will thank you.

 

I’ve been rather quiet …

I’ve been busy with preparations for the NaNoWriMo challenge this year. I’ve had this story burning my brain for a while and I need to get it out. It may never reach the printed page but it is cluttering up my head. So before I enter radio silence while I try to write roughly 2000 words a day here’s a quick update about some people and things that are important to me:

My writery friends have been busy. Mike Evis has his first short story ‘Whoo-ooh’ out in a suitably spooky collection. Mark Lewis has been exploring the the effects of an environmental apocalypse on the retail industry as well as other things – catch up on his blog and Luke Sims has gone into poetry overdrive this month.

I’ve been to the Isle of Wight, in part for a break, but also to support Anton Dorozhenko in his latest venture. He announced the opening of a new museum to celebrate Isle of Wight Studio Glass next March. Studio Glass is glorious and I’ll be writing more on it in the future as I’m creating and running the education programme for the museum.

My big news is that I haven’t had a cigarette for 31 days! My nicotine addiction remains as strong as my caffeine addiction (thirty-five years of heavy smoking is a tough habit to break) so I’ve been vaping instead. I rather like the word ‘vape’ – it brings to mind flappers and improbably long cigarette holders and is certainly helping me to clean up my act and the air around me.

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So this is the smoke-free purplecleric signing off for a month – I’ll see you all in December but you can cheer me along on Twitter where I’ll be posting my progress. Your encouragement will be much appreciated.


Let’s play…

The nights are drawing in and darkness looms. Monsters lurk in the shadows cast by the fires we light in an attempt to ward off fear. So let’s play with fire, and monsters, this month.

Why I’m shouting about my Winter Tale

I know it’s unseemly. To many, it won’t even seem that important but to me, it’s Neil Armstrong’s “One small step…”

I’ve been playing in the world of words for thirty years. My head has been full of fantasies and my notebooks have filled up with intriguing but useless scraps. I dreamed of the Moon and clung to the Earth. I’ve made do with secret scribbles and forays into fan-fiction while the Moon hung overhead, taunting me.

I could look back and say I wasted that time, that maybe I could have got to the Moon by now. That’s not true. The reality is that my disordered mind had fractured my thought processes, damaged my ability to relate to people and created chaos in my life and my writing. Suddenly consumed by inspiration, I’d wield my pencil with flamboyance or fury, intoxicated by the visions I wrought with no thought of planning or plot. When the fugue passed I had no energy or inclination to even read what I had created let alone edit, revise or rewrite.

I’ve changed. How and why are stories for another day, let’s just say it’s been a long and painful journey and it’s not over yet. I’m not fixed, but I no longer repeat the same actions expecting a different outcome. This year I felt confident enough to subject my writing life to a similar journey. I learned some of the theory and techniques, introduced routines and discipline. I joined a writers group and opened myself up to scrutiny. I’ve sought critique, absorbed the feedback then rolled up my sleeves and dealt with the problems.

I no longer dream of the Moon. It remains my inspiration but I have more earthly goals and I’m working bloody hard to achieve them. That is why when I see my story Sunday’s Child listed in the upcoming Fox Spirit Anthology of Winter Tales http://www.foxspirit.co.uk/fox-blog/ I want to shout about it. It’s my first story to be published and I feel like I’ve stood on tiptoes and touched the Moon.

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Let’s play:

Try a different approach. Write from another point of view or in a genre you don’t usually favour. Try poetry instead of prose. Write in the morning not the evening, write standing up or outside. Shake it up a little, experiment – you might touch the Moon.

Help! I’ve lost my little boy.

person-cute-vintage-playingI don’t know when it happened, I wasn’t paying attention. I just know this morning there was a tall stranger across from me at the breakfast table, with a shadow on his top lip and a crack in his voice.

I suppose I finally noticed because today I’m making preparations to celebrate my little boy’s thirteenth birthday. I’m about to become mother to a teenager and I don’t think I’m ready. He is. After all, he’s been practising for a while and has become adept at the various teenage traits like the sulk and the strop and shutting me out.

Being excluded from his life is the hardest thing. There has been just the two of us for a long time and we’ve made quite a team. Together we created dinosaurs and let them loose on the Earth, we took on the Decepticons and the Daleks and we were mighty. We built worlds in Lego and Minecraft then spectacularly destroyed them only to build better worlds. We fought with wooden swords and plastic light-sabres, there were the Great Nerf Wars of 2011 and battles over bedtime and homework. I taught him to tie his shoe laces and bake a cake, he taught me how to craft golden armour and that the cake was a lie.

This stranger in front of me can now beat me at chess and doesn’t want me on his fire team as I can’t keep up with the game play. His conversation is full of references I don’t understand and he asks Google instead of me for explanations. He smells of Lynx instead of No More Tears and that makes me want to cry.

As usual I take refuge in the world of words, writing down my feelings and thoughts so I can make sense of them. As I type I realise I have not lost my little boy. He is changing, developing – like all good characters should.


Let’s play…

Create a character profile of an adolescent. Think about what distinguishes this part of a person’s life – the motivations and conflict, the struggles and the revelations – as opposed to the physical trappings. After all, your character may appear in a historical novel or a science-fiction short story but there will be some common denominators. And it may just help you understand the stranger you encounter in your life.