Friday, 7 June 2019

Accepting Achievements and Celebrating the Small Things.

Lately there have been a lot of discussions about looking after yourself as a writer. From Kate Mallinder's SCBWI-BI’s Words and Pictures series on resilience, to The Golden Egg Academy’s Mental Health Month, (accessible to non-egg’s via twitter) it seems like everyone is talking about how keep yourself well… sane.

I like most writers find aspects of the process difficult. The bundles of ‘No’s’ when on submission is hard. But the thing that really knocks me is the nagging notion that I’m not progressing. I am hard on myself and looking at it objectively I know I’m getting ‘progress’ confused with ‘published.’

With the rest of the Short Pitchers at the Golden Egg Big Honk

Progress can be small and therefore can go easily unnoticed.

In my last crit group meeting, one of my writer friends showed me a scrapbook she is compiling, where she prints off all the feedback she gets, sticks it in and highlights all the positive remarks so she can read it when she need a boost. This got me thinking. I have every submission I’ve ever made logged in a spreadsheet, (I can produce statistics or graphs if I desired) and I have virtual copies of feedback, BUT nothing in hard copy. Nothing easy to access. Nothing that is a log of achievements, successes and progress.

Finishing a new WIP in the first time ins forever!

I remembered that I did once celebrate the small successes and see them as progression. I’d celebrate that long listing. Raise a glass of wine to a request for a full manuscript, maybe even mention it on my blog. I’d even be over the moon at feedback, even rejections as it were an endorsement that I was living the dream – that I was pursuing publication. But somewhere along the way I stopped.

My Treasured prize for winning the SCBWI Conference 10 Word Pitch! 

Maybe I was embarrassed that after almost a decade I’m still not in print. Maybe it was because I was paranoid I’d be perceived as being a bit boasty. But mostly it was because I’d forgotten the importance of accepting the small achievements as progress and cause for celebration

Special Mention in the Slushpile Challenge - Thanks to Rachel Mann for liking Snowballs!

So here are a few little things I have to celebrate for this year… so far…

  • I won the 10 word pitch at the SCBWI conference in November.
  • I was one of the runner-up'ers in the Golden Egg Academy Big Honk Sentence Pitch competition in January.
  • I completed my first new manuscript (in a very long time) this year.
  • I started writing out of my comfort zone, breaking out into Middle Grade.
  • I was one of the twenty short listed authors for the David Higham Open Day.
  • I’m on active submission for the first time in a long long time.
  • I got a special mention for my new book, ‘Snowballs from Hell’ in the SCBWI Words and Pictures April Slushpile Challenge judged my Rachel Mann, Agent at Jo Unwin Literary Agency
  • I’ve entered eight writing competitions already this year
  • I’m writing a new Middle Grade novel.

All little things, but put together it instantly makes me feel more confident about my writing.

So please remember. As a writer don’t forget to accept small achievements as progress and don’t be embarrassed to celebrate the small things, because without the small successes they’ll never be big successes.

Starting a new WIP

Friday, 5 April 2019

Brain Food - Unclaimed Babies, Violent Rabbits and a Dead Monkey!

As a follow up to my last post on inspiration and where it comes from, (if you missed it press here) this week I’m musing on some of the strange facts and bizarre trivia that I’ve discovered recently whilst ‘feeding my brain.’

As I said last week I spend some time every day feeding my brain, digesting non-fiction, or watching documentaries, or asking myself hypothesis and seeing if I can answer them, which often leads to inspiration and with a bit of luck, a lot of work and few tears - a manuscript. So I thought I share a few of my more recent discoveries…

Unclaimed Babies…

When it comes to things that make you smile, you can’t get much better than the sweets/candy Jelly Babies. Cute, colourful, chewy sweetness designed to make you happy. But recently I read an article which explains their history, and says that these sweets began life as a failure, they were supposed to be jelly bears but the ears didn’t work, so they were rebranded as Unclaimed Babies. At the time (late ninetieth century) abandon babies were rife, but calling something you eat after foundling infants is a trifle macabre, fascinating but macabre.

Violent Rabbits…

In my WIP, I have a character BOB, who is a cute big eyed, floppy eared bunny – from Hell. Hell Bunnies in my books are one of very few living creatures that can go between the underworld and earth, and therefore are the equivalent of homing pigeons. But they have a dark side and crave raw meat. Whilst researching I found that Hell Bunnies are indeed a staple of medieval literature, and feature heavily in the illustrations of scripture known as drollery and often depicted hunting humans. It is strange because I found this after I had written BOB, but I am pretty sure, I’d read about these before and that it sowed a seed in my brain and gradually grew and therefore Bob was ready when I needed him.

Dead Monkey…

YES I said a dead monkey. I often have cause to drive through Henley on Thames, and I have often driven past an old oak tree which has an aging grave stone beneath it, although never had time to stop and read it, to find out why a grave would be by the side of a busy stretch of road. Then one day whilst ‘feed my Brain’ I decided to watch a random BBC Archive documentary about architecture for animals, which was quintessentially English and therefore quite bonkers, but truly fascinating. At one point the presenter was stood on a stretch of road I recognised, under an oak tree, and she was telling the tale behind the mysterious grave stone. It is to mark the burial place of Jimmy, a rather naughty marmoset monkey who belonged to one of the residents who wore him as a living fur scarf. Jimmy was well known in the town (or probably infamous, as he regularly bit people) and died in august 1937. This slightly strange piece of local history intrigued me, and Jimmy has therefore ended up as a character in my current WIP. Rest assured he is still naughty.

So, as far as random brain food, these are as good examples of rather eccentric, trivial and strange historical facts that make you look at things in a new light, and sometimes making you wonder; what if?

Friday, 22 March 2019

The Inspiration Question

Graffiti in Barcelona 

So when I was brainstorming blog ideas, my 14 year old overheard and suggested I post about inspiration and where it comes from, so here are my musings on Inspiration.

It’s a great question: where does inspiration come from? For me the answer is also a question. My writings (and so far this amounts to four completed novels, one novella, half a dozen part finished manuscripts, a dozen picture book texts and draw full of book ideas and plot outlines) all start with a question.

But what question you may ask? The answer is depends on the project, but they all have one thing in common, that it is an obscure question which springboards into a hypothesis to which the quest for an answer evolves into the story. 

Questions like…
What happens if Fairy Tales are real? 

What would happen if every time you sleep, your soul was transported into someone else’s body at the point of their death? 

How would you catch a kangaroo? 

What would the movie Elf be like, if the baby didn’t crawl into Santa’s sack, but The Grimm Reapers cloak? 

What would Rag n Bone men be like in space? 

What would happen to all the domesticated and incarcerated animals if human kind was to suddenly die out? 

If Heaven and Hell are real, are there more souls in the afterlife that have seen a flushing toilet than have not? 

The questions all come from my brain, but why I create such bizarre questions?

The answer is I feed my brain. Creativity is, in my opinion, a living thing and like all living things it needs to be fed. So I feed it a varied and eccentric diet. Often while I eat my lunch, I will watch a random documentary, it really doesn’t matter what, I just pick something a random from the BBC I Player Archive. This week I’ve watched a program about Tom Thumb, not the English Fairy Tale Charter but the nineteenth century international superstar with diminutive stature, Charles Stratton. An Attenborough led film about Jumbo the elephant and a documentary about architecture of animals. I also spend ten minutes a day reading the news, the more obscure the better, plus I read random and bizarre non-fiction books, harvesting a wealth of useless snippets of trivia. 

When I was kid, I would tell my parents facts like… 

The Romans had central heating. 

The Incas invented bulldozers (in spite of not inventing the wheel) they had a man powered machines for demolition purposes. 

The ancient Egyptians had a crude version of a television that was electrical, they used monkey and baboons as conductors, cue lots of dead primates. 

This lead to much ridicule from my parents, but I was fascinated by these bizarre facts that I found in genuine History text books.

This type of food for the brain set seeds in your creativity and eventually surface as a question, which leads to inspiration and a story. Well, at least for me.

So back to the original question: where does inspiration come from?

Answer: The questions of an inquisitive mind.

Art Installation in Shop window in Barcelona