Thursday 5 November 2020

Preparing for Lockdown

Last lockdown I was pretty productive. I finished the edits and polishing of one manuscript and finished the first draft of another. Both projects were however crucially already started – the momentum already built up and concepts formed and plots planned. 

However the impending lockdown has me worried, about my writing productivity. I’m struggling to settle into which of half a dozen projects to work on. All of which are first draft stage. I must confess, new projects are always tricky to start. The indecision of which of a draw full of concepts to pick, and getting into the voice and building the creative excitement and momentum takes time. Once I’ve actually picked a project and started the words flow easily and quickly, but getting to that point is tricky especially in lockdown. 

Junk & laundry & spare room - usually it was messier than depicted
Usually at the beginning of a first draft I write a lot in coffee shops, where the ambiance and lack of distractions (think ironing pile) help me to focus. I also go out a lot to museums, or libraries or other towns to get a change of scenery to be surrounded by exterior stimulation and feed my brain and give my imagination a boost, none of which are possible in lockdown. in short I’m struggling to work from home without getting distracted or losing my focus.  

Writing in coffee shops.

So, my husband came up with a plan. You see he’s been working successfully from home since March, his key was making an area that was easy to work in. He arrange the shed into his office, making it suit his purpose, a clam environment with everything he need to work, without getting distracted or disturbed. He pointed out, he has a work space – and so do the children, as we reconfigured their rooms to have desks, noticeboards and even dusted off our old family PC and found an old laptop so the kids each had everything they needed to work from home. However I don’t.

Displaying my writery badge Collection.

I’ve been working on the family pc, in the spare room which was …

Part Spare room complete with bed. 

Part gym (health necessity but barely used - me bad). 

Part laundry room. 

Part Junk room 

Part office with filing cabinet and printer and the aforementioned family computer. 

The room was busy, but not in a good way – in a disorganised and chaotic way. So my husband suggested I make it into my writing place. That if I did then he believed I would find it easier to write there. 

Framing my writery pictures at last

So I set about reclaiming the room. First to go was the bed, (currently no one can stay anyway and it only get used a few time a year), then some of the gym equipment (that was only ever used for drying clothes.) Then I set about buying some second hand furniture which allowed me to bring all my writing stuff into one place, rather than it being spread across bookshelves and cupboard and boxes, in different rooms, the shed and attic. As so I’ve created what is definitely a calmer space and I hope will be a creative place too. 

Putting all my writery stuff in one place

Of course it doesn’t solve the issues of not being able to meet up in person with my critique group, or writer friends or attend socials, which also really helps reignite my imagination and enthusiasm. But I also tea-leafed a speaker from one of the kids room, so I can play coffee shop sounds, and will be meeting up with my critique group virtually.

So preparing for this coming lockdown has taught me something; that I always tend to compromise when it comes to my needs and my writing. And that sometimes, you just need to carve out a bit space for both.

Fingers crossed I manage to actually get a first draft of my new project done during NaNoWriMo!

A writery room of one's own

Tuesday 6 October 2020

Future of Fiction; where do we go from here?

Today on the school run my kids were talking, the topic they were discussing was posed my daughter when she asked this question…

“Do you think our grandchildren will ask about 2020, like we asked our great-grandad and great-nanny about the war?”

The discussion went on with my son countering with…

“But if they don’t find a vaccine and life doesn’t return to normal, then they’ll probably ask; what was life like before 2020?”

For me the forgotten silent chauffeur this was fascinating, so I just listened.

For context, my daughter has just started her A-Levels and is studying English Literature, and her current subject is dystopian novels, and she added this nugget of wisdom…

“If someone from the past was to get a glimpse into the future and looked at 2020 – seeing our technology, our weapons, our surveillance and what we’ve already experienced this year; the threat of nuclear war, the world burning, and a global pandemic. They’d think it was a dystopian world. We are literally living our ancestor’s visions of dystopia. We are living through a dystopian novel.

So what will dystopia look like in the future?

Here I think I should put a shout out to my daughters English literature teacher, who is working very hard to support all her students mental health as they study the now ‘scarily similar to reality’ dystopia novels.

It’s an interesting question, and one my children discussed at length. But it’s encapsulates the question that been on my mind…

“What is the future of fiction?”

I’m contemplating this question a lot, especially with regard to Teen and YA novels, as this is what I write. What is the new dystopia? What is indeed is the new fiction? When life is so dark, mirroring dystopian fiction, what do you write for teens and YA? How dark can you go that’s still age appropriate but still seems fantastical and well…fictional?

Or do we go the other way completely and go fluffy and feel-good? That may work for some readers but others do have a darker palate. I have heard on talks and read on blog articles that many agents are not wanting to take pandemic novels which means I have three novels that have pandemic elements (all written before 2020 that aren’t dystopian but have a plague or pandemic element) that are benched for the moment. One of which is a funny fluffy MG fairy tale- superhero mashup, but all the same the pandemic element means it’s gone into a draw.

So what is the future of fiction for teens and Young Adults? I don’t know what the answer. But what I do know is I’ll keep writing what I love, and keep submitting and hope that I get it right.

Monday 14 September 2020

Am I getting worse? Or, is everyone else getting better? Or BOTH? A pre-published writer’s battle with self-confidence & imposter syndrome.

I love writing. I write most days, and when I’m not writing – I’m thinking about writing; mulling over stories in my mine – practising dialogue by talking to myself, observing life – soaking everything up as you never know what will one day be useful. 

Most of the time I’m an optimist – always thinking my writing is improving – celebrating every little achievement – and telling myself that if I keep going – keeping improving that with a bit of luck one day I’ll get published. But then occasionally my optimism is pushed aside by my darker pessimistic side. The one that tells me all is hopeless. That is highly competitive – and with my extra difficulties with dyslexia that I’ll never make it. 

Like many pre-published writers these bouts of lost-confidence and diminishing hope rears its head after competition long-lists have been announced – and I didn’t make the cut. What makes long-listing announcement bad for me is that when I was starting out – my hit rate was good. At one time I had made the long-list/short-list or won every competition I had submitted too. Now a few years later – after honing my craft with courses and writing academies, my hit rate has dwindled. So after every competition long-list I miss - my pessimistic size sizes control – and I spiral, asking myself questions… 

  • Am I getting worse?
  • Is everyone else getting better?
  •  Is my rougher first draft MS better than my polished ones?
  • Is my writing gone out of style?
  • Has my dyslexia gotten worse?
  • Is it yet another spectacular bad case of unfortunate timing?
  • That I’m an imposter – as one of the only members of the SCBWI Oxford Critique group I was in that is still activity writing and not be published or agented - that I’m not good enough to be here, 

In the past I’ve tried ignoring my pessimistic side – but it never works, instead it sits festering and feeding on my hope. So now I know I have to indulge it. Let it play its course. Lick my wounds, re-galvanise myself and carry on. 

At this point, my optimism bounces back in reassuring me that… 

  • I’m getting better
  • That more people are writing now – and getting support from MA’s, Manuscript appraisal schemes and writing academies.
  • That my dyslexia hasn’t got worse, it’s improving but there is just more competition out there.
  • That Time isn’t a thing I can control – and Time trips everybody up at one point or another.
  • As for imposter syndrome - I have to remind myself that many of my published friends having been writing far longer than me – and were writing much longer than I have been before landing a contract.
And so I pick myself up and carry on. After all I love writing and to quote someone far wiser than me...

Wednesday 8 July 2020

Debunking Dyslexia Myths

Recently when discussing with other writers about the difficulties of pursuit of publication, and me mentioning my dyslexia, as being an additional barrier I have been told, ‘but that’s what spellcheck is for’, like it is a magic cure. This is just one myth about dyslexia, that really is exactly that- a myth. Just as a wheelchair isn’t a cure for someone who can’t walk, spellcheck isn’t a cure for dyslexia. So I thought I’d do a little dyslexia myth busting post.

Myth One – Spellcheck cures all Dyslexia Ills….

Gosh I so wish this was true. I know a lot of people believe it to be true. But spell check is just a tool, one that can help minimise dyslexia associated spelling and grammar issues, but it can also be as much as a hindrance as a help.

Spellcheck gets it wrong!

Spellcheck often helpfully corrects my spelling as I type. Oh this would be great, I mean properly great if it worked. But unfortunately my spelling is so bad, that I’m often nowhere near what the correct spelling should be and so Spellcheck picks a totally wrong word to replace it with. This is bad because the wrong word is correctly spelt – BUT IT IS THE WRONG WORD. Why, you may ask is this a problem? Well, as it is now no-longer a miss-spelt word, it no longer has a red-squiggly line underneath – so I can’t tell it’s a wrong word and find out the correct spelling to put it right. This means that I sometimes have some hilarious incorrect but correctly spelt words in my manuscript like…

Also, to further illustrate my point, here’s a poem by Norman Vandal which demonstrates my point much better than I can ever do...

Spellcheck is a Diva!

Oh yes, Spellcheck is the equivalent of a diva movie star who, if thing aren’t going their way, storms off set to their trailer and refuses to work. Seriously it is true. I once was 20,000 words through a 80,000 word manuscript when this a message came up from spellcheck saying that due to there being too many mistakes, it was turning its self-off. But unfortunately I didn’t realise that this wasn’t just an idol threat. And it did – it had a diva strop and stopped working. Resulting in the first 20k of my MS being readable and the other 60K being in such a dyslexic redden form of English no one could read it. I actually thought this was a phenomenon unique to me, but recently another published best-selling author tweeted the same error message. Which I have to say meant I felt better - but further demonstrates my point, that Spellcheck is a diva.

And don’t get me started on Autocorrect!

Myth Two - There a loads of Dyslexic Children’s Authors 

Loads of people tell me this and they can then probably name two – three at most. According to the British Dyslexia Association 10% of the British population is dyslexic. And according to world statics is more like 16% globally. Dyslexia doesn’t discriminate – that is 10-16% of the world wide population no matter of class, culture or colour. So I have created a list of dyslexic published children’s authors on twitter and I have 6 members – six authors out of the hundreds of the published authors that I know personally or follow on twitter and Facebook – only 6 of them I know to be dyslexic. I’m sure there are more, but I am pretty sure that it is nowhere near 10 -16% of all the published authors working currently.

Myth Three Dyslexia  isn’t Barrier to Publication

'...and about the spelling and grammar...'

Every piece of feedback I have from critique groups to from editors and agents – ALWAYS mentions my dyslexic issues. Sometimes everything is really positive BUT the Spelling and Grammar – and it is really difficult to not wonder if that is the reason why the answer isn’t a yes.

Earlier on in the year I entered a competition, which was judged by a panel of four judges. All four liked my manuscript and said yes to giving it a place it on the longlist. In fact it was actually one of the judge’s favourite submissions. However one of the adult judges said a load of glowing positive AS GOOD AS IT GETS feedback. But then was unprofessional and scathing about my spelling and grammar. And so when I didn’t make the long-list it is difficult to not think that I was marked down on the point system for my spelling. 

This is made particularly painful as the competition especially asked – in a whole tick-box special section –if you have any disabilities and I said yes and explained about my severe dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia. So if you are going to actually promote yourself as a competition that encourages neuro-diverse authors to submit, then maybe you should consider not being –  really unpleasant about their issues in feedback and also, not mark them down for their issues.

Don't forget the Cover Letter

Of course you may get your MS as dyslexia free as humanly (well - non-professionally copy edited) possible. But then there is the COVER LETTER. Oh yes, I get people to check that too, but then that just the generic copy. I then personalise it or adapt it for every submission. There is only so much goodwill or time others can devote to correcting my spelling. I can’t tell you how many times I have checked-re-checked- and recheck my over letter before hitting send – only to find an error I hadn’t spotted after it’s gone.

Myth Four – It’s Easy to get your Dyslexia-isums removed from your Manuscript

Getting rid of the  Dyslexia-isums

I try really hard to eliminate all my Dyslexia-isums by…
  1. Utilising Spell Check -[ Insert laughter here ]
  2. Reading through and marking anything I can spot up on a print out and then correcting in the document. – ALTHOUGH – my tracking when reading is poor – due to dyslexia – and tracking from one document to another is even worse, so often when correcting mistakes, I make more. 
  3. My husband reads through everything I write and dose a copy edit –correcting my wobbly spelling and haphazard grammar.
  4. My lovely critique group buddies, correct my spelling and grammar on my submission which I then input into the document – but with my tracking issues I often as said before input shiny new errors!
  5. I am lucky to have some lovely friends who do a beat reads – who correct my issues as they read. 

And after all that I still have spelling issues in the manuscript

Just pay a copy-editor

I write YA – that between 50 -80 THOUSAND WORDS. You have a look at the cost of a copy-editor of a book that size, and I’ll let you work out the barrier!

Myth Five- If you Read you’ll be good at Spelling and Grammar

Oh you would think so right? But NOPE.

Dyslexia is an issue with the way the brain processes information – also sometimes it can be about how the eye work too. The issue is that you can read loads, but as what you see or what your brain processes isn’t the correct spelling (or even grammar as you can change where all the punctuation marks and stuff goes), so you don’t build up a database in your mind of spellings – and if you did that’d probably be spelt wrong.

Ok you are right dyslexia doesn’t officially affect grammar – but if at school in say year 9 and you’re still on Biff and Chip books, or in my case Roger Red Hat and Ladybird Peter and Jane books, you kind of miss out on all of the grammar lessons.

Oh but you can just learn grammar now – believe me I’m trying and I’m infinitely better at it that I was – but I’m learning form feedback form my critique group and after a timely lesson form my friend, neighbour who happened to be an editor – thanks Lou John. But I keep looking for an adult’s dyslexia friendly grammar course and can’t find anything suitable. Plus of course there’s the ££££ issue again.

Myth Six- Dyslexia ONLY affects your writing and reading it doesn’t impact everyday life

Ok, again – I so wish this were true. And actually I’m going to cheat it a bit here as I’m going to include my other Dys’s - dyspraxia and dyscalculia.

  • EVERYDAY - I walk into doors as I read the ‘PUSH’ signs on the other side of glass doors as if it’s on this side.
  • I often go out with my clothes on back to front/inside out or buttoned up wrong. All I can say is that I’m very glad I no longer have to worry about wearing a tie - the knot in my school one lasted 5 years.
  • I also have dyscalculia – DYSLEXIA WITH NUMBERS – oh yes; I can’t dial a phone number as I get it wrong multiple times. And don’t get me started on credit/debit card PIN codes – nightmare.
  • I have a dreadful short term memory – I often ask my husband if he wants a cup of tea multiple times in ten minutes and forget the answer or just forget to make it. 
  • I am SOOO clumsy – I fall down stairs – I fall up stairs - I even fall over thin air. I walk into things. I bump my head. I’m really an accident looking for something to happen. 
  • I say words wrong all the time. Why – because I have learnt them by reading them – and my brain doesn’t always see them the way they are - (the whole letters moving thing) – so I pronounce them wrong. Like Neapolitan Ice cream - that I thought was Napoleon – which caused quite a bit of embarrassment when I asked a guest if they wanted some Napoleon ice-cream with their desert (aged 31!) 

So the myth busting is over (promise), and I would like to quickly say, that this isn’t a whinging post but one to highlight some of the extra hurdles that people with dyslexia face when writing with the dream of publication. I am constantly looking for new ways, tools and coping mechanism trying to minimise the impact of my dyslexia on my writing, but it tends to have a time and cost impact, which add yet another hurdle – one that many other dyslexic writers can’t circumnavigate. One of my dreams - other than getting published and the book selling of course - is that if/when that happens, I will endeavour to set up a competition or fund for dyslexic authors where the prize is for their submission package to be professionally copy-sited – to increase their chance of not- being dismissed on the slushpile.

Lastly if you are an editor or agent reading this -PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE don’t let this scare you away.

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!