Friday, 19 June 2020

Black Lives Matter – Supporting in my own Subtle Way

So I have on my to-do-list for this week – write blog post – followed by a load of blog topics.

  • People misconceptions about dyslexia – mostly the view that it can remedy by spellcheck (bless!)
  • Keeping productive during chaos
  • Writing research tips.

And so the list goes on. But none of them seem appropriate at the moment. In fact with corona virus and the Black Lives Market, all of my topics seem well – unimportant –frivolous even. So instead I’m going to talk about my Little Free Market that I mentioned in my last blog post – which was all about how my village have used stories and generosity to raise community cheer.

So in my last post, I boosted about how my village was so supportive of each other in the current corona virus predicament, using the local Facebook group to communicate any Little Acts of Kindness, and how the how community was coming together. However recently a less pleasant side of the same community has raised its head. On the same Facebook group – any mention of Black Lives Matter, discussion or even just talking about Kneeling for BLM, has been deleted or comments muted. The admin, has stated it because ‘the group is for local matters NOT national or International’, forgetting that our community is multicultural, and that BLM is as local a matter as international.

This revelation, of the racism and ignorance that is ingrained in my community, really un-settled me, but what was worse, was that the chance to talk and discuss and promote learning was silenced. The fact that there are people who want to change, but the community FB page has made that so much harder. So I got to thinking, I already have The Little Free Market, so why not use that to provide to the more social conscious members of the community resources to help them learn.

To back track a little – The Little Free Market – my family set up at the start of lockdown. We made an old fashioned market stall out of an old pallet and put it on our driveway. On it was, books, games, craft kits, seedlings and other things that may make peoples time in isolation easier. All free to whoever wanted it. Pretty soon, people were donating things, and it took on a life of its own. People actually began planning their hour walks to pass the stall to pick up books.

starting to collect books.

So, my plan was simple, fill the stall with books by black authors and illustrators, everything form picture books to adults. Plus games, and puzzles, for children featuring black charters, and creating craft/activity packs.

I started to collect books, firstly seeing what books we had around the house that we were happy to donate. Then I managed to buy some second-hand collections off of Facebook market place. A few people have also let me know they have sent some donations via post –which I’m eagerly waiting for. But also approached the brilliant Knights Off, who passed me to Round Table Books, who have picked out a selection of books to the budget I gave them, that are also currently in transit. UPDATE - HAS JUST ARRIVED!

Exciting delivery for Round Table!

I started to think about the activity packs, so I looked at Empathy Lab UK, and printed out some of their free family activity sheets, and then found some BLM free colouring resources which I’ve printed out. I’ve combined these with colouring sheets of black charters from popular kid’s movies, and added in a selection of paper people of different skin tones, and colourful papers so children can dress them up.

So now I’m just compiling everything, ready and hoping that the weather will change from the constant rain and thunder so I can actually put the Little Free Market out, and hopefully subtly make a difference (no matter how small). Even if it only reaches one person, or one family, then this endeavour will be a success. 

So when the weather cooperates, and the Little Free Market is out – I promise I’ll update you and let you know how it goes.

Tuesday, 12 May 2020

One Village Spreading Cheer during Corona Virus Chaos with Stories.

After weeks of lockdown and uncertainty and for those with younger children – home-schooling and working from home, often in a confided space, spring 2020 is proving to be chaotic. During all the madness, and with so much darkness in the world, stories are more important than ever. Stories of hope. Stories of flight and fantasy. Stories form escapism. Stories that give us strength. Many of which come wrapped up in the exquisite form of books.

And to quote Mason Cooley...

 “Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.”

With high streets and libraries closed, distribution unsettled, getting access to books can be difficult. However I do have to do a shout out here to all the Indy bookshops that are providing great home delivery and postal services! So it is really soul-lifting to see individual’s and communities coming together to spread cheer through stories. From online communities, like the Our Corona Diary project, to smaller physical communities. Here is a little post, about how one small village is spreading the joy of stories.

The Village – (the aptly named) Penn in Buckinghamshire.

The community has like many others has risen to the emergency in multiple ways; displaying rainbows in their windows, making PPE for the local hospital and care homes, collecting donations for The One Can Trust, clapping for NHS and so on. But it has also embraced stories.

Since the lockdown began many people have started to put boxes of books outside their houses - free to whoever would like them, so people can pick them up on their daily walks.

We as a family were one of the first, making a market stall out of an old pallet, and offering free books, and toys and extra plants and seeds. It soon became popular and getting donations from locals, and the library. We are ideally located next to park, and close to a popular dog walking route, so on sunny days, there’s lots of foot traffic. From my writing desk, I often look out the window to see children and adults browsing and picking books.

What is lovely is many people are doing similar things, so wherever in the village you live there’s a little free book stall nearby.

Our village was also home to a world famous second hand bookshop, which is rumoured to have inspired Discworld’s Library. Sadly in 2018 it closed after 70 years – (Press here to read by post about it closing). But the building is still there and is apparently still full of books. During the recent weeks, it has been putting books outside – for donations which are going to support the NHS. It is lovely to see the bookshop open in any form, and there is always people social-distantly browsing the stock.

One lady in the village, is making story sacks, and selling them for really affordable prices on the local Facebook page, with all proceeds going to the Great Ormond Street Hospital Corvid Appeal. Thereby helping parents with providing fun educational tools for home-schooling and supporting a great cause. 

Also, out local town university of High Wycombe is running a project collecting local people short stories about Corona Virus and lockdown, and publishing them on their web-site. Both encouraging people to write, which is therapeutic, and great for maintaining mental health, and sharing stories that may help others to navigate through the chaos, by knowing they are not alone.

Lastly, the call out of people to put up bears in their windows for children to spot on their daily walks has been embraced my many, many people. As you walk around the village you see so many cheerful teddies smiling back at you, that it really does bring cheer to you heart. #NationalBearHunt

So here it is, one small village, an a whole load of stories about the gifting and giving of stories., in a time of struggle.

Thursday, 7 May 2020

Keeping Focused in Lockdown – Sketchpads and Spreadsheets

I’m finding that during lockdown keeping focused is both easier and more difficult.

It’s easier as there are fewer interruptions to the day. No school runs, no meetings, no coffee mornings, no other stuff – it’s just one long expanse of time.

But it’s more difficult because there are more distractions – physical ones like, kid’s bickering, dog’s pestering for a walk, and the noisy singing lessons and conference calls. But also internal ones, as my attention wonders down dark alleys in my mind, meandering into despair.

So keeping busy is actually good for my mental health, but keeping focused and on task is more challenging than ever.

In order to keep focused and productive I’m utilising tools. More specifically sketchpads and spreadsheets.

Sketchpads, to use to keep my creativity practised and fresh. It’s where I compile my world building and character profiles for new projects. I tend to draw mind maps and settings and doodle characters. There’s something about using a sketchpad, rather than a noticeboard, or mood board or notepad which is liberating. Firstly it seems less intimidating and more fun. Plus by its very nature, it’s somewhere to keep initial and rough concepts, sketchy images and notions of a world and story yet to be. Also as it being essentially art – it also severs as a therapeutic exercise.

I love spreadsheets. I use them for everything. I’m dyslexic and have an awful short term memory. I often ask my husband if he wants a cup of tea, upwards of half a dozen times in ten minutes, and still forget his answer or to actually make it! So my whole life is organised with spreadsheets.

Sometimes the spreadsheets are just lists…

  • Daily objectives and tasks
  • Weekly To-Do-List for writing
  • Weekly Family To-Do-List
  • Monthly goals
  • Yearly ‘Thing’s To Remember List’ – you know the boring ‘Adulting’ stuff like, tax returns, insurances, MOT’s, Passport renewals, Epi-pen replacement reminders, the list goes on and on and on.
  • Annual events list – birthdays anniversaries and alike.
  • Annual list of writing competitions so I don’t miss submitting to any!

But I also use them to keep me grounded, focused and positive.

For writing I plot using spreadsheets. For first drafts I do a target spreadsheet. It has a timeframe in which I want to finish the novel. The target final word count, and tells me how many words I need to achieve a day to meet the deadline. Much like NaNoWriMo it makes me write – even if it’s rubbish. But the thing is unless you have a finished first draft you can’t edit and improve it. Also seeing how many words I written a day, and how the word count is rising is really good for morale. 

Currently I’m editing, so I have created a target spreadsheet for scheduling, planning and keeping track of my edits. Which is keeping me focused and means I’m achieving the tasks I want to each day. It also monitors how many words I’m cutting or adding. It means at the end of the day I feel like I’ve accomplished something, and I actually have a way monitoring progress, which keeps me motivated, and editing each day. It may seem daft but it really is a lifeline for me at the moment, keeping me working and sane.

In short if you are struggling to write in lockdown, why do having a dabble with a sketchpad, or spreadsheet, it may help.

Monday, 4 May 2020

May the 4th be with You – Star Wars and Me.

Stories and powerful and they can grow with you, for me the Grimm’s Fairy Tales have had a perennial appeal, with so many layers that I enjoy them a much now as I did a child. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, is another – every time I read Lord of the Rings, there’s something new, another dimension, which I hadn’t seen before.

Other stories, are fine for a certain time, like; The Neverending Story, it was perfect for me from the age of 6 until I was about 12, terrifying and absorbing, but now, watching or reading it just doesn’t affect me in the way it did when I was a child.

Star War is above and beyond any of the other stories with how it has stayed with not just me but millions of people, throughout or lives. Simple plotlines, high-concept and increate world building, in short – (or at least for the first films episode IV, V & VI) excellent storytelling. And of course being born in the late 70’s I was weaned on Star Wars.

My earliest memory of Star Wars is being mesmerised by it whilst watching it on our one TV – a massive wooden piece of furniture with no remote and a small screen, on Christmas day. Star Wars is synonymous with Christmas in my mind as it was on every Christmas day when I was young. But we only ever watched it at Christmas as VHS Videos were expensive, and we knew it would always be on over the festive season.

At Infants school, I was a tom-boy and played with almost exclusively boys, and we ALWAYS played Star Wars, my friend Luke – ALWAYS got to play Luke. The Twin’s (both boys) argued over who got to play Han Solo, and I was ALWAYS Leia as I was a girl. I do recall being quite annoyed at this, finding rather unjust. And at home, we had a second hand Millennium Falcon passed down from one of my older cousin, which we played with LOADs. 

When I was quite small I got to meet R2-D2 or at least the Model. The actual Model that was used in the films. This was due to the Star Wars props being stored locally, in a warehouse in Abingdon, and the R2-D2 was displayed in a tiny electrical shop in north Abingdon, so we (me and the Twins) went to visit it. This may not sound exciting now, but this was before Comic-Cons, and conventions, so it truly was very exciting! 

I remember the shock of finding out Darth Vader was Luke’s father, unfortunately a Saturday morning TV show, (I think the one with Roland Rat) revealed that spoiler. On the Monday everyone at school were excitably discussing if this could be true! Of course when we actually saw it – it was, and it was still a massive shock. It’s the first real story twist I can recollect. Mind you, I think the next twist – that Luke and Leia were twins – was more of a shock, as we were all convinced they were going to be come boy-friend and girl-friend! 

I LOVED the EWOKS - and both their spin of their films, and the animated TV serious. I can remember suddenly getting addicted to Dairy-Lea triangles, so we could collect enough tokens to get a VHS video of both the Ewok’s and R2-D2 and C3P0 animated series. Me and my sister watched them over and over until they were unwatchable. 

Then everything changed. Christmas day came, and there was no Star Wars. Instead there was Indiana Jones! And so Star Wars faded into the back of mind. Until I was 17. Having just passed my test I was designated driver – and drove my friends to a party in West Hanney – in rural Oxfordshire – only to find we were going watch A New Hope. Initially sceptical – why watch something so old? But then, as we all sat around drink cheap coke and eating crisps I realised - I loved it. I went straight out and brought the trilogy of VHS tape. 

Roll on a few years, and I’m at uni, and getting excited about the prospect of the new Star Wars movies being made. I lived with a girl who was Sci-Fi obsessed. She had massive collections of toys BNIB and new every episode of Star Trek by name and could almost recite every piece of dialogue. She also loved Star Wars. So, me and my friend were in a Chichester Comic book store, when the owner told us the news that Ewan McGregor, had been cast as Obi Wan – and we had a heated discussion on whether he was a good enough actor to fill Alec Guinness’s shoes, I said no. They said yes. 

The next bit of excitement was seeing the posters, of young Anakin Skywalker walking through the desert casting Darth Vader’s shadow.

Eventually the Episode I - The Phantom Menace was released I went to see it with my then boy-friend and his Dad. WE even splashed out to get the big arm-chair seat in the back of the cinema in Oxford. We were all excited, but I think my Boy-friend’s father was the most excited of all. We all liked it - with the exception of Jar Jar Binks - who - I really do believe is the most annoying character in any film ever. I also have to say here, that I think it also features the cheesiest piece of dialogue in a movie ever - when Liam Neeson utters – ‘There’s always a bigger Fish!’ Over all we came out having enjoyed it but with a bit of a sting of disappointment –after all it was a very different movie to the first three.

When episode II came out me and the same boy-friend - now husband -went to the tiny cinema in Wantage – but sadly without his Dad who had passed away. Maybe it was the lack of my father-in-law’s enthusiasm, maybe it was the wooden acting of certain cast members, or just that it wasn’t such a great movie, but it was a bit of a disappointment. So much so that when episode III came out we waited and hired it on DVD and watched at home.

I personally was so disappointed by episode 1-3 that when we started replacing our VHS collections with DVD’s I refused to let my husband get the boxed set of episodes 1-6 so instead we got the box set of the first trilogy. 

But Star Wars keeps coming, and when our kids got to school age they both became obsessed with Star Wars. Of course this was the age of the Clone Wars and when Lego made the inspire decision to make Star Wars sets –so e quickly had Lego Star wars models everywhere. My husband was keen to share the movies with the kids, so we borrowed the complete dvd collect from a friend and watched them in episode order. I will forever feel guilty for this, as the kids never experienced the ‘I am your father’ revolution.

But the kids quickly moved on to Harry Potter, and Marvel and Percy Jackson, and Star Wars was again pushed aside, until Disney made their move and the new movies started to be realised. We watched them when they came out, usually on DVD. But waited for the last in The Skywalker Sage episode IX to come out on DVD, and as we waited w used Lockdown to watch every Star Wars movie, including Rouge One and Solo in chronological order of the story. We all really enjoyed the experience, especially after we got through episode 1-3! I have to say, although I like episodes, Vii and VIII and wasn’t quite so taken with the episode XI.

We’re also just finished watching the season one of The Mandalorian, which I actually think is truer in storytelling style and simplicity to the original tree movies than any of the other films. We are very much looking forward to season two. 

Star War, has been there through my whole, life, and it’s interesting to look back to see how it’s shaped my idea of storytelling, I can see shadows of it in my writing form time to time. Despite being disappointed with some of the movies, I still love them all. They are a package - like family – some members you love, some you tolerate.

So May the 4th be with you. And BTW – I have actually now, permitted by husband to by the complete Skywalker sage on B-ray.

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Finishing the Labour of Love. Getting to the End of the Go-To-Manuscript.

Just some of the notepads filled with Go-To-Manuscript writing.

DO you have a ‘Go-to-Manuscript?’ That labour of love that takes forever, that you come back to in-between editing, or writing other projects? The one that’s a bit more of a challenge to write. The one that need that extra dedication and research to get right?

I have a ‘Go-To-Manuscript.’ A project I really believe in. A story that I’m passionate about, that has messages and themes which are really important. It’s a manuscript that I’ve been picking up in-between editing and writing my other works, so it’s been written in fits and starts. And it is a challenge. Both to get back into the voice after large expanse of time away from penning it, and in the sheer task of getting it right.

The concept came for my Go-To-Manuscript way back in 2013. I was working with an Indy-bookshop and was attending some author evens for World Book Day. In the same week I saw Paula Harrison talk about her Rescue Princess books, about princesses who secretly train to become ninjas to save animals form poachers, and I saw Charlie Higson, talk about his The Enemy series, set in London after a plague has killed all adults (turned them into zombies at least), leaving kids try to survive in the post-apocalyptic world. And it made me think…

If these two books had a baby, what would it be like? 

So I spent almost a year mulling over this question. And eventually in in March 2014, I typed by my initial thoughts on what the baby book would be like.

Shortly afterwards I entered a Pitch Mad with the concept and several commissioning editors requested I write the book.

So in June 2014 I started writing the book, however 2014 was a great year for me as I signed with an agent and got a contact, so I ended by putting the Go-To-Manuscript in a draw as I was editing two other projects. I would get it out and work on in when the other two projects were back with my agent and editor.

A cartoon my daughter did of me circa 2014

Sadly 2015 was a really bad year for me. My contract was stopped, (nothing to do with me I hasten to add), and my agent shut up shop and stopped agenting. So I started writing the GO-To-Manuscript again, until I began working with the Golden Egg Academy on my previously contracted book. So back in the draw my GO-To-Manuscript went.

During 2016 -2017 and 2018, my poor beloved Go-To-Manuscript was in and out that draw like a Jack-in-the-Box! Largely due to multiple edits on other projects and completing numerous other manuscripts. I did however spend a lot of time researching for my Go-To-Manuscript, reading lots of articles, and books, and going to locations. 

But in December 2019, I decided I was going to actually have a push and concentrate on my Go-To-Manuscript to finish it. Bizarrely as I worked on it, the more relevant it became, making it more in-tune with today’s world than when I began in it in 2014. 

It’s been a challenge, but my Go-To-Manuscript is finally finished. I am so so so pleased. It’s been the hardest book I’ve ever written, but certainly worth it, and loved every minute of research and toil. But now comes the editing, and I sincerely hope it doesn’t take quite so long!

Tuesday, 28 April 2020

Keeping the Faith – Creating Little Inspirational Books of Writery Hope

Keeping the faith can be difficult times, and especially presently whilst the world in in chaos and we are all in lockdown, looking at the same four walls, and inspiration being hard to come by. 

I think most writers and illustrators, who are pre-published, get low points even when the world is normal (or as normal as it gets anyway). We have the moments of despair when our confidence dips, and we wonder; will I ever catch a break? Am I good enough? Will I EVER get PUBLISHED! Is there any point?

It normal to have these times, after all we’re in a business where there a whole lot of NO. NO’s are always hard, no matter how experienced you may be at rejection.

I often take great comfort from quotes. Things people have said or stories about writers who resilience has paid off. Often on social media other writers share these inspirational quotes, I print them off and stick them to my notice board.

However a few months ago the whole of critique group were all having trouble with keep up the faith. So I decided to share with them all the little inspirational quotes that help encourage me. I made a book full of these quotes, for each member of the group (and one for me too). 

It was simple and inexpensive to do; I found some notepads, and printed out all the quotes, and cut them and glued them in to create a little positive book of writer good cheer, encouragement and inspiration, that we can all refer to when we need a dose of reassurance. 

I’ve also left pages, so when we each find more inspirational quotes or article, we can share them and add them to our books. 


Maybe it’s a little sill, or even just another form of procrastination. But if it is, it is a bit of silly positive procrastination, and in these times, that is no bad thing!

Tuesday, 7 April 2020

Surviving Lockdown - What Fresh new Procrastination is This?

So everyone’s facing the third week of compulsory Lockdown, and the signs of personal or family meltdowns are probably starting to show.

Unlike my husband and children who still have their structure – still working and schooling just from home, all my structure has gone. As my structure was all based around the school runs and getting the children to various after school clubs -  and fitting my writing and business work around them -has disappeared. So it's me who's getting the cabin fever.

I’m lucky, we are all healthy and my kids are older and more independent, and they don’t need me to home-educate and entertain them, and we’re also very fortunate to have space that we are not in each other’s faces the whole time. But I still have no structure and being at home all apart from one hour of exercise a day is a lot of time to fill.

I have been writing, but we have the issue of not enough computers to go around, my husband has his work laptop, my daughter on her school laptop- it has left my son working on the family PC, so writing all hours is tricky. I do write long hand and try and type it up when my son is on is lunch break, but isn’t exactly perfect.

So in short; long days + little structure + limited access to a computer has resulted in me getting cabin fever.

The one thing that has really helped me combat cabin fever and keep me sane, is the one thing that is usually the enemy of any creatives that work from home: Procrastination. And of course following lots of kid lit folks on social media have meant there has been lot of fresh new procrastination projects to keep me busy and stop my mind for spiralling into dark palaces.

So far I spent a few hours rearranging and photographing my book shelves for fellow Gold Egg, Becky Hamilton’s call out for ‘SHELFIES’ for an exhibition she’s organising for the Bath Fringe festival.

As a family we spent an afternoon, packing up the Easter Craft stuff that my son has brought to do fundraising for his expedition (now cancelled sue to corona virus), in to packages, and then randomly delivering them to neighbours houses that have children to help entertain during the lockdown. 

I spent a good twenty minutes taking photographs of the art that’s displayed around the house for Chitra Soundar’s #ARTonWalls over on twitter. 

A whole morning has been spent finding suitable reading material and photographing our sizeable menagerie after Paula Harrison nominated me to participate in Gareth P Jones #PetsGetReading

We are also taking part in the #NationalBearHunt, setting up changing scenes of teddies in our front window for the local children to spot when they are on their hours exercise. 

I know all these things may sound mundane, and daft, but taking part in these ever more creative Procrastination Projects, has really helped me combat cabin fever and stay sane, by breaking up the monotony of long structure-less days.

So thanks to everyone's inspires fresh new procrastination projects for they have really been keeping me sane!

Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Blogging – Musings & Thank You

I love my blog. It’s a record of my sometimes turbulent but most joyful writing journey. Sharing my experiences, in the hope that they may help others stay positive in a world full of ‘No’s’, and celebrating the positivity of the writing community, makes me feel like I’m giving something back.

I’m always amazed that people take the time to stop and read my posts, (as after all I’m not published) and it’s gives me so much validation when I’ve lucky enough to be included in Nick Cross’s ‘SCBWI’ ‘Words and Pictures’ ‘Blog Break’, each time temporarily alleviating my feeling of Imposter Syndrome.

Sometimes I don’t blog for months, other times I have a flurry of posts as inspiration hits. But I write many more blog articles than I actually post. I only post the ones that I think maybe of interest or use to others. Whereas I write lots if post that are too personal, but they help me. These posts help keep me grounded and passionate about my writing. They help me to straighten out the mangled threads of thoughts in my head, de-tangling them and organising them. Helping me to make decisions about what concepts to work on, which first draft to start editing, or when and how to submit a project. 

For me blogging is an integral part of my writing journey, it’s a log. A way to keep in touch with the wider writer community. Plus it's a therapeutic way to keep my brain uncluttered and keep me positive. 

So, if you are struggling with the journey to publication and don’t blog, I encourage you to pen some blog posts. You don’t need to share them; they are just a good way of staying positive and working through complex thought processes. 

Also, I’d like to say a massive THANK YOU to everyone who has supported my blog over the years (8 so far), by reading, commenting, contributing and sharing. Thank you for helping me say focused and positive.

Thursday, 6 February 2020

Writing; the lonely Art – Part Two – a Solution of Sorts

Back in November I wrote a post, Writing; the lonely Art, about how writing: unlike all the other artistic disciplines, isn’t one that can be displayed, exhibited, or performed for quick and easy consumption, and therefore how it can be difficult for the non-writery folks in your life, to comprehend how you’re doing or see your progress. 

Obviously this is why having writer friends around you that help support you and vice versa is so imperative, but sometimes you still want to show/explain to a non-writery friends or relatives when they’re interested.

So after a lot of thinking I came up with a solution of sorts. A way of visually displaying and recording my writer’s journey in a way that can be easily shared. Making the most of the pre-Christmas photo printing website sales, I designed a photobook of my writing journey from 2010 until 2019.

In the book I’ve put photos of competition long-listings, short-listing’s, honorary mentions and wins, either certificates, web-site announcements, screen shots from twitter, to show my small achievements. I’ve also put in photos’ of my volunteering for SCBWI, work in Book Shops and time with Book Bound and The Golden Egg Academy. Along with photos of the many friends I’ve made along the way. 

It’s not quite a ‘record of achievement’ nor is it a ‘portfolio’, it is more of a record of my journey to share with people who are interested and for me to look through in those times where rejections are coming in thick and fast and I start to doubt my ability and progress. A small thing to reminding me how far I’ve come, and that although I may not be published, that I have had small successes and that I have gained a wealth of writery friends.