Monday, 19 July 2021

Maptastic World Building.




I love a good map. The first map I ever saw in a book, was Tolkien’s map of Middle Earth in The Hobbit, when my mother red it to us when I was a child. I loved the map, and would study it for hours. You see I couldn’t re-read the book myself due to my low-reading age due to my undiagnosed dyslexia, BUT I could stare at the map and imagine myself going on the journey and experiencing Bilbo’s adventures. It was a visual tool that allowed me entrance back into the story.



 
The next map I saw was when I was in my mid-teens was of One Hundred Acre Wood by E.H. Shepard. I loved it for its intricacy and pen-man ship, but it was a bit of a shock, as I already had seen it in bright Disney animation, with Poo jumping between the pages, the original is however much more intriguing and inviting, which is probably why the original fetched £430,000 at auction in 2018!

When I was at school I was good at both geography and art (both of which I went on to study at degree) so of course everyone put two and two together and thought I should pursue a career in cartography of course none one took into account my bad sense of direction, or the fact I didn’t know (and still don’t) my left from my right. However how that I’m writing and world building, I find map-making hugely helpful.

‘I wisely started with a map and made the story fit,’

 

J. R. R. Tolkien, 1954


Unlike the very wise Mr Tolkien, I usually start with a story, then when it all starts to get complicated, I put pen to paper and draw a map, (and characters and landscapes). But the map is probably the most helpful, and the only thing you can’t get anywhere else, unlike characters, where you can get photographs from the internet (or like Roald Dahl did, keep a stock of photos cut out from magazines and newspapers.)


 

I have tried my hand at cartography for a few of my books, one a sci-fi fantasy YA, it was more of a drawing of planets and more recently I have tried my hand at a more traditional map for my WIP mammoth book, of both the geographical area and the main complex. It is so helpful to actually see where everything is in realisation to each other, and for unlocking key aspects of plot. Of course some writers like Terry Pratchett can keep it all in their heads, and never make a mistake, but for me I need to see it to really write it.




One thing I have discovered is that although I’m an artist by training (one thing I can do is draw!) Sadly my maps aren’t spectacular. In comparison however my 15 year old son, is a very talented map-maker. He had previously been commissioned to draw maps for peoples Dungeons and Dragons quests, and his world building is fantastic. He starts with maps, and then works on the biomes, eco-systems, faunas, flora, cultures, histories, cuisine, fashion, languages and mythologies. All these things are rooted and inspired by the original map and type of biome he’s created. I am in no way envious of his commitment or talent honest!

My son's world building & Map making

 

In fact I think maps are an essential part of world building – just as much as mind-maps as an essential part of plotting. Like Tolkien’s map of Bilbo journey ‘there and back again’ in The Hobbit helped me enter Middle Earth, creating map helps me enter the world and experience it, and even envision the environment , making it easier to describe but crucially see how the biome will influence the plot .


 

So if you haven’t tried drawing a map yet, I totally encourage you to do so, it really doesn’t matter about how well you draw (after all Tolkien wasn’t a great artist and his maps are possibly the most famous in fiction!) If you need any more encouragement I suggest you have a look at the beautiful celebration of fictional maps, in the lovely book The Writers Map edited by Huw Lewis-Jones, that explores fictional maps, and how to create them.





Thursday, 15 July 2021

The Rubber Ball of Doubt






This week I had a serious dose of the Doubts. It’s a feeling I and many writers (especially pre-published) know well, as it happens again and again. In my mind doubt is made of rubber and like the song says, ‘Rubber ball keeps on bouncing back to me.’

One day I’m full of confidence, sure that I’m a good writer, convinced that my latest WIP has commercial appeal, a unique concept and a strong voice and plot. Optimistic that if I keep honing my craft and keep submitting that one day it’ll happen, I’ll get picked up and get my book in print.


 

The next day I’m anxious and depressed mess as doubt crashes my positive party. Suddenly it’s, ‘My writing isn’t good enough.’ ‘My writing will never be good enough.’ ‘My extra issues that my dyslexia pose are getting worse raising the hurdles higher and unsurmountable.’ The universe and time are conspiring to make sure that my dream of becoming a published author is never happens’.

So why is it that one day I’m so optimistic and the next I’m full of pessimism? 

It only takes one thing, like a…

  • A rejection that I’ve not indigested the feedback. (Once I read the comments and understand them, usually I can throw thee rubber ball away again.)

  • A long-list missed.

  • A spelling or grammar mistakes which I have found after I have pressed send on the submission.


So why does it get me so down with doubt?


  • All the voices of all the people that have told me am not allowed to write because of my dyslexia comes flooding back into my write telling me ‘ I can’t write.’ Then all the other voices telling me what I can’t do because of my dyslexia join the party too.

  • Knowing that NO MATTER HOW HARD I TRY, my spelling isn’t getting better, and I will never be able to get my manuscript void of all dyslexia-isums. And despite being far away from the bread line that I can’t afford to get every submission copyedited.

  • The niggling worry that despite the current move of inclusivity within the industry for diverse authors, including neuro-diverse writers, that although there are other dyslexic writers that are successfully published, that my dyslexia is pretty bad and maybe I’m just too far up the spectrum to get published.





So when all these doubts pile up, I have to pull myself up. I look at things logically, and see that the facts haven’t changed. I’ve have still had competition long-listings, short-listings and wins, which seems to confirm I’m not totally bad at writing. I still get more bespoke responses from submission that standard ones. I’m still working and improving my craft. I’m still dyslexic, but the industry is make positive steps to try and make it easier for people like me to get published.


 

So why when I tell myself all of these things and throw that ball of doubt away, does it always come bouncing back with more velocity?




I don’t know why the rubber ball of doubt seems to hit harder each time, but I do know this; The children’s writing & illustrating community is so supportive of each other, that when I get too tried to throw that rubber ball away, someone, will say, ‘hay, take a break,’ and they throw the ball away for me instead.

So sometimes I get down, but I love writing, and I’m surrounded by wonderful supportive people, and we all help one another when that ball of doubt land in our court. So writing onwards I go…










Tuesday, 6 July 2021

Clearing the Cotton Wool (in a vain hope to boost my creativity)







Lately I’ve been struggling to get my brain in gear and enable me to be productive. I can’t seem to stick to task, or achieve the momentum of creative flow, even decide on a course of action or remember anything. Many of you will know the feeling - the feeling that your brain is clogged up with cotton wool.

This is me presently – struggling with cotton wool brain and it is SOOOOOOO frustrating. The issue is made worse as my POTS (Postal Tachycardia Syndrome) making me tired, light headed, giving tummy issues and BRAIN FOG (which is another way of describing Cotton Wool Brain.) Add to this my dyslexia, causing me difficulties with my short term memory and concentration it all adds up to one thing, a bad case of cotton wool brain and reduced creativity.

This results in my confidence taking a hit which causes my mood to plunge which means I get anxious about not being creative enough. This then makes me doubt my ability to write and to navigate around the substantial extra hurdles my health issues and neuro diversity place on the path to publication. All of this of course makes my cotton wool brain to get worse.

So How to Clear the Cotton Wool from my Brain?


  • Exercise is one of the best ways to relive POTS related symptoms including brain fog. However POTS also makes me medically exercise intolerant as my heart is already strained by just keeping me upright. Add to this my dodgy hips making most exercise impossible, and hyper flexibility which mean I can and have broken bones and dislocated joints my standing still - let alone moving or exercising. This makes exercise a challenge. Despite all the challenges my health issue present on my ability to exercise, I do walk everyday - as long as it’s on flat ground and good terrain. Of course some days it my hips are bad I can’t walk at all.




  • Lists and Post-its. I have to-do lists and post-its everywhere. this is to try and focus my brain on the most important tasks and to combat my bad short term memory - to try and reduce the possibility of me forgetting anything.




  • Eating better. Eating better, can help ease my POTS symptoms including the cotton wool brain. This of course takes time to plan and prepare, but the benefits are worth it. Just look at Deliciously Ella, who had really debilitating POTS which she managed through diet.



  • Better Sleep. This is obvious, but when I have a bad case of cotton wool brain, it usually comes with a bad bout of POTS and hyper flexibility - which means more pain. Joints, Hips, and a bad tummy which makes sleeping difficult. Also due to my hyper flexibility I can’t take any sleeping aids, as these relax the muscles, and if I do, I can’t walk in the morning. So this is difficult, and any tip gratefully received.




  • Getting Out. Sometimes the best was to clear the cotton wool is to force its out. If I change the environment, by going anywhere that isn’t home, there are fewer distractions. This means if I take a note pad and pen, and put that pen to the paper, I actually write. It may be BAD writing, but l think of it like panning for gold; you have to work through a lot of dirt to get the nougat. This forces the rain to cast aside the cotton wool enough to stick to task. Even if the output isn’t the best quality, it is a start and the next time I try and write it is easier.




All in all cotton wool brain is frustrating. Sometimes it is a massive challenge to clear it all. But then I’m a dyslexic trying to make a career in writing, so challenge is something I rise too – although slightly slowly and wobbly , I do rise.




Monday, 1 March 2021

A Year of Lockdown Reading - ( ALMOST!)



The pandemic has changed reading habits. I have some friends who’ve expressed concerns that during the Covid19 chaos and subsequent Lockdowns, that they’ve stopped reading. Others seem to be overjoyed at rediscovering books and the places they take you, that if only temporally, it gives you an escape from reality (press here to see more).

Book sales are up and according to reports its mostly classic titles or books by establish authors that people are purchasing, (press here to find out more). As people use the extra time to catch up on the reading they’ve always meant to do, or crave the familiar and revisit old favourites.

There, been some big stories, from celebrities learning to love reading again, (press here) to illiterate adults who have spent lockdown learning to read (press here).

One thing is certain, for better or for worse the pandemic and lockdown has changed peoples reading habits. I’ve bucked the trend. I am not reading less, or more. I’ve also not returned to old favourites, or embarked on devouring classics. But my reading habits have changed.

Usually I exclusively read kids and YA fiction, however I’ve found that I’m reading less children’s books, I just can’t seem to finish them (don’t worry I’m passionate about kids lit, so I’m sure it's temporary), and I have opted for an eclectic mix of books which is actually a balance  of adults fiction and non-fiction.

So the books that have got me through the pandemic so far are …



 
The Smart Neanderthal, Clive Finlayson – A non-fiction book about the authors research into Neanderthal, and primarily their relationships with birds, from the evidence found within the caves of the Gibraltar Rock, and how’s it challenged and changed the way Neanderthal, are viewed.

How to Think like a Neanderthal – Thomas Wynn and Frederick L. Coolidge – a non-fiction book that examines the anthropological evidence about Neanderthals and how this can be assembled to give us a greater understanding about how they lived and possibly how they thought.


 

How to Clone a Mammoth, The Science of De-Extinction - Beth Shapiro – A non-fiction exploration about genetic and cloning and how it can be applied to help endangered animals and combat global warming.

Mammoths, Ice age Giants- Adam Lister – non Fiction beautifully illustrated book crammed full of facts about this ice-age mega-fauna.

Get a Grip on Genetics
– Martin Brookes - A beginner’s guide to genetics in easy to consume bitesize chunks.

The Hedgehog Handbook – Sally Coulthard – A beautiful charming non-fiction book, with a month by month account of a hedgehog’s life in the wild. Juxtaposed with facts about their dwindling numbers, challenges, and what we can do to help, paired with exquisite illustrations.




Jumbo , This being the True Story of The Greatest Elephant in the World – Paul Chambers – A nonfiction biography about the world most famous ever elephant.



 

The American Gods Quintet  - Neil Gainman – finally getting around to reading the two novels and two novella, that have been recommended to me by so many friends. Loved being immersed in the deliciously dark and bonkers world of forgotten deities

There is only three books here because one of the novella's is in the back of American Gods novel.

 

The Constant Rabbit – Jasper Fforde – A trippy trip to an alternative version of the UK, with talking animorphised rabbits. Bonkers and brilliant.


 

Mammoth – Chris Flynn; A creative non-fiction/ fiction (I’m not sure) biographical account of one American Mastodon’s existence in life and after death when his soul is woken as his fossilised remains are unearthed. Recounted by the creature himself, to other artefacts as they await the action where they'll be sold off. This is charming, original and such a breath of fresh air. A true masterpiece.


 

The Library of the Unwritten – A. J. Hackwith; Step in into the library in Hell where all unwritten books are stored, sometimes waking up, manifested into one of the characters and are restless (or mad) as their story arch's haven't been finished. Plus a war brewing between Heaven and Hell that only a Librarian, a muse, a woken book and a demonized soul of a teenage boy can prevent.


 

If you need any motivation to crack on and get an unfinished manuscript completed, then read this. After reading this, I picked up a story I started in 2013 and finished it, as so not to torment my characters!

The Boy the Horse the Fox and the Mole: I was so late discovering this book, but it is so beautiful, and the perfect antidote to the pandemic, which the whole family fell in love with it, so we brought copied an got them sent to friends and family.


 


These books really helped me get through the pandemic so far , I don’t know exactly why my reading habits during these strange times has changed, or why I’ve changed the ratio of my reading to be more non-fiction, but it has indeed changed. One thing I’m grateful for, is that I am still reading. As Mason Cooley said, ‘Reading gives us someplace to go when we have to stay where we are.”

Also, I know this may not look like much reading, but I am dyslexic and my reading is painfully slow!






Friday, 5 February 2021

Decluttering the Creative Mind





My last blog was about de-cluttering my work space in order to create an environment with the physical space and calm to be creative. This post is about the much more difficult task of decluttering the mind, in order to give you the headspace and clarity of mind to allow your mind to wonder and imagine, and be creative.


After I had decluttered and created a clam creatively freeing workspace, my productivity went up. I was able to concentre and not get distracted by the chaos around me, and actually sit down and create and write. It quickly became my heaven away from the uncertainty and madness of the outside world. This allowed me to develop, research and write the first draft of my new WIP.



However, increasingly despite my lovely workspace, I’ve been finding it difficult to focus, my mind wonders off, from the task in hand, to what’s on the to-do—list, to ‘I really must do the meter readings’ to ‘it’s soing-so’s Birthday coming up, I must get a gift sent’, to ‘ophs! Better clean out and freeze the snail eggs.’ But it’s not all mundane adulating stuff. But its book stuff too, like; ‘which cloning technique should I choose for the cloning of the mammoths in my books’, ‘what should an elephant-mammoth hybrid be called?’, ‘Oh NO I need to learn about permafrost’ and ‘what was that character’s name again?’

So my brain is whirling and getting distracted, plus my dyslexia means I have a terrible short term memory, so sometimes I start a task and instantly forget what I’m supposed to be doing. This phenomena, is much worse when my brain is busy and chaotic.

There was only one clear course of action to remedy but busy brain, and that was to declutter it. This means mostly being organised, and recording all the information somewhere so, that I can relax because I know it is safe.

MUNDANE ADULTING STUFF


Annual Stuff


To get all this boarding but essential stuff out my brain, I set about creating to-do-lists. I have annual (and longer intervals) recurring things to remember list – with all the yearly things, like taxes and insurances ,epi-pen renewals, passport renewals noted down. So this done of excel and all printed on one page, so it’s easy to check.

To-Do-Lists


I have seral to-do-lists, my main one covers everything personal and family related and is in the form of an excel spreadsheet, which I update and print out weekly. I then at the beginning of each day mark out which tasks off the to-do-list I’m going to do that day.

These things ensure that mostly I keep on top of the boarding day-to-day tasks and means they are not all clambering about in my mind shouting for attention.


WRITING STUFF


General Writing Tasks


For my general writing tasks, I have a specific writing to-do-list, which use in the manage competitions, submissions, blog posts, meeting and alike.


Keeping to task




I have an another spreadsheet called ‘Keeping to task’ this where I plan my daily tasks for my project, like the amount of words I’m going to write, or the chapters I’m going edit or what research I’m going to do, and where I can mentor if I’m track to get the tasks done and project finished by the deadline. This helps my brain from panicking about if I’m doing enough work and whether I can complete the project in time.


Research & World Building



Research and world building is imperative for writing, especially fantasy of science fiction, or STEM based books. You ned to ensure the rules of your world work, and that any facts are correct – they’ll always be someone who notices and get annoyed with you if they’re not correct!

One of my favourite parts of writing is feeding my brain, and nourishing my creativity with research. However sometime it overwhelms my mind and it becomes too full to work.

So in order to de-cutter my brain of all the details of my world, and all the research facts, I do three things.

Draw

I visualise characters and places my doodling them.





Visual display

So it is easy to access while I’m working I create a visual display of my WIP. I know many other writers use notice boards, but as we are in lockdown, and I don’t have a noticeboard, I was forced to be innovative, and I fashioned a display with paper and poster hangers (stolen from my teens room shush don’t tell!) and keep adding essential information to the board as I go along.






The Notebook


My current project probably has the most research of all my writing to date. This is largely as it is a stem book based on real science, which means I have to get it right! It also meant my brain was very quickly full to brim and having issues processing the information, and having enough space of latent thinking and actually committing words to paper. So I decided to create a book, a bible or encyclopaedia of my WIP.




In the book, I have the pitch, the note of where the inspiration came from for the story, and character profiles, reach and world building. I’ve also typed out everything and printed and then stuck it in, this is largely so I can read it , and much of the time I can’t read my own writing due to my dyslexia and dyspraxia

This has been a really positive activity. It’s meant that by organising the information, it has also filed it away nicely within my mind. Plus I’m reassured that all the information is safe, and I won’t forget anything, (quieting my brain) and also serves as a point of reference whenever I need to check anything about the world of my book.


All in all, downloading the information that was whirling in my brain screaming for attention, and therefore de-cluttering mu mind, has really helped. I’m much more relaxed, and I feel I have the mental space and capacity to think freely, be creative and crucially productive. I’m no longer so exhausted, or ending the day feeling that I’ve not achieved anything, as I can plan my actives and keep track of what I’m actually achieving.

So although the process of de-cluttering my brain as long and tiring, I feel invigorated as a result, as I’m back to writing which is what I love.