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.