Thursday, 27 August 2020

Flight is a bestseller!

Flight is a number one bestseller! Thanks to Books Council for Wales Flight was announced the number one selling children's book in Wales for July. First Wales, next the world. If you look at the picture there are a huge number of Firefly books in that list which lifted my heart enormously, proving what a fabulous publisher I am with and highlighting their ability to back great books. 


I confess, it took a little while for me to spot that Flight was number one. I looked at all the other books and then at the top and thought 'That looks like Flight.' I had to do a double-take. It was the best feeling ever. Knowing that people are buying and reading Flight. After all, that is why I write books in the hope that people read and enjoy them.


Wins like this might seem small in the big scheme of things and they are strictly speaking but when you are a writer sat on your own they are huge!


I know I said I was going to write posts based on #writingishard. I am afraid the pandemic won with that. I did not get COVID, for which I am very grateful. But general living and getting through each day became my priority. I am sure we all felt the same. The writing is hard became true and I focused on finishing my novel and my university work. I needed to live in the moment and appreciate what was around me. 



I focused on walks through the woods. Listening to the cacophony of sound as the wind moved through the trees. The echo of the children's laugher that bounced from tree to tree. Always soothing yet inspiring as we moved through the trees. Trees always focus in my stories. For me, the walks were research too...or that's what I kept telling myself. 


We know it has been strange times and we all have had to adapt to what everyone has called 'new norm'. We spend our lives online talking to our colleagues, family and friends. We have a whole new vocabulary. Zooming, talking on Teams, hybrid teaching, blended teaching - are they the same. Who knows. We walk around with masks around, yet no one complains 'You can only see their eyes!' anymore. Strange that isn't it?'


I will endeavour to be back more often. Remember to be resilient. We can do this. Live in the moment and, by the way, in case you forgot, I am a best selling author!!!


And I love this my McFly 'Those were the days'



 

Thursday, 23 April 2020

#Writingishard9 - procrastination

A deadline looms and you know you should be writing or doing edits but you suddenly find this insatiable desire to...

Clean,

Iron,

Paint

Garden...anything but do the thing you are supposed to do.

Social media is checked more frequently. You end up disappearing down a Twitter rabbit hole.

Get lost in Tik Tok (does anyone really understand that?)

Watch TED talks, Facebook Lives, check Instagram in case you've missed anything.

Update your website including recording those videos you've been promising yourself for ages.

Anything...but write or do those edits. You watch the clock, knowing the deadline is getting closer. But look there's a cobweb, you better get rid of it first. It'll only irritate you while you work.

Now you need a drink and something to eat. Perhaps you better have a wee before you sit down to
write so you can focus....oh what's that on daytime tv that looks interesting. It won't matter if you watch just for a minute...it's research...

Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock tick tock.

It's too late to start them today. Start them first thing tomorrow. You'll have a clear head then.

And repeat

A deadline looms and you know you should be writing or doing edits but you suddenly find this insatiable desire to...

The world according to procrastination

Thursday, 9 April 2020

#writingishard8 Anxious times


I am partly revisiting something that I have spoken about previously, but I felt it was important to do so again. I am going to talk about the pressures currently being faced. Damian Barr wrote an interesting article about this and also a fellow author had posted a status about the pressures he was feeling on Facebook the other day and these inspired me to explore the issue again.

It is very easy to feel daunted at the moment. There are all these online workouts, dance classes, choirs to name but a few. People are shouting about everything they are doing. Authors are producing incredible activities for their readers. This, in particular, was something the fellow author was talking about. They felt so pressurised to produce resources. They are not the only person I have spoken to that has felt anxious and overwhelmed by perceived expectations.

It was at this point I want to say to people, take a step back. Take a breath and think things through. I want to remind everyone of Matt Haig’s wise words from Notes on a Nervous Planet, which I know I have said to you before, but am going to say again:

How to be Happy

Do not compare yourself to other people
Do not compare yourself to other people
Do not compare yourself to other people
Do not compare yourself to other people
Do not compare yourself to other people
Do not compare yourself to other people
Do not compare yourself to other people

At the moment it is really important that you do what you can do and what makes you feel happy and comfortable. If this means not producing lots of videos, then don’t do it. You will find other ways to create resources. Life is hard enough without adding to the pressures.


Catherine Johnson
Don’t feel you’ve got to learn something new or do all the workouts. I tried them, but I walk with crutches and can’t kneel, it becomes incredibly frustrating when your body won’t behave, and everyone is lecturing you on what you should and shouldn’t do. Do what you can and what makes you feel good. Catherine Johnson has made me smile so much; she is posting videos of her dancing to songs she loves on social media. Philippa Francis post shorts videos of the sea near where she lives when she goes for a walk also on social media. The sound of the sea is glorious. They are both wonderful for making you feel good and I am sure both make Catherine and Philippa smile when they film them.

I am also aware the pressure for the aspiring writer, who have spent years working on their novel only to see articles about how those who have always thought of writing a novel will now have the time to write it as if you can suddenly knock out an award-winning novel in a few weeks. Don’t despair, remember you are way ahead of them. You’ve been honing your craft, polishing your manuscript
All about the rewriting

until it is in a fit state for submission. Hopefully, yours will be the golden nugget shinning out among a pile of rushed manuscripts thrown together during the lockdown and submitted before their time. Be patient and get it to be the best it can possibly be before submission. Focus on honing that writing craft. Remember writing is a muscle, the more you do it the stronger it gets. Writing is all about the rewriting. Do you want any more clich├ęd phrases thrown at you to encourage you?! Just remember you can do this. It is your journey, not anyone else’s.

The same applies to lockdown. What you do at this time is for you to decide. Do what makes you happy – if it is standing in the garden listening to the birds singing as I did yesterday, then do it. If it is producing incredible resources because you are a whizz with IT then go for it. This is your life, don’t let anyone tell you how to live it. Me? You'll find me getting lost in World War Two with two of my favourite characters, Kizzy and Jakob, writing a sequel.




Thursday, 2 April 2020

Lockdown thoughts and a tribute to a lost friend


Today’s blog post is not a #writingishard post. Instead, I decided to write one from the heart. It is something I felt I needed to say. To say it is strange times is an understatement, isn’t it. We are living through history. In years to come people will ‘What was it like during Covid-19?’ and we will say we were there. People will write about this period in time. I find that concept quite surreal.

I know talking to friends that we are all going through similar emotions. A lot of the time we feel we are coping. Getting on with life doing a variety of things but then suddenly for no reason, we become
NANNY!
emotional and tearful. As I was talking to a friend on FB (Social media has never become so important as it is now) I think it is vital to acknowledge these moments of feeling overwhelmed. You shouldn’t be feeling ashamed of them. We are all feeling like it at times. My way of coping them is to do something mindless like colouring in a picture, doing some drawing (I’m a really bad artist but I know no one will ever see them), or dance crazily to my favourite music – it is the old adage, dance as if no one is watching – that is me. I live alone but I am lucky, and I know it, I have family very close, and I am mean very close. I was working yesterday and in the middle of a workshop, I heard this ‘NANNY’ being shouted. I opened my door and there was my youngest grandson at his fence wanting me to catch bubbles with him. There is a house between us, but Emily didn’t mind bubbles flying across her garden. I sneaked out for a couple of minutes to do just that. It makes all the difference for my sanity.

Family quiz
Checking in on people is vital at the moment. A quick message on text, Twitter, Instagram, WhatsApp or Messenger, whatever is your favourite method can make all the difference. It can bring a smile or even a giggle. My social life has taken a real upturn. We even have a family quiz night now. I went to the virtual village pub via Zoon last Friday night and have caught up with friends and siblings too. It can make a huge difference when you live alone just to hear someone’s voice. But the things I miss the most is a hug. Is human contact. Is my grandchildren wrapping their arms around me. Is holding my brand-new granddaughter and watching her newly learnt smile. The bear hugs from my sons and the all-enveloping hug from my daughter. The ache for those is physical. It really hurts. Those are the things I am going to do first when this lockdown is over.

During this time my colleagues and I have had to deal at a distance with the loss of a great friend. We
RIP Prof Neil McCaw
haven’t been able to come together to share our grief. Prof Neil McCaw was a larger than life character. He wore the best shirts. He so kind, but never suffered fools gladly. I have sat opposite him in meetings and he’d give me a look, just slightly raising an eyebrow, with a slight twitch of a grin. I’d know that I’d get an email later with his ‘thoughts’ on the meeting. His emails were the best. I’d quite often get an email from him because he’d found something that he knew would interest me because that’s what he was like. We’d talk about tv programmes, theory of creativity, life, dealing with illness and dogs. I knew if I had a worry, I could ask him, and he would give me an honest answer. It wasn’t always necessarily the answer I wanted to hear, but I knew it was always the best answer. Neil was a great support. He always had my back. He mentored me in my career and celebrated my successes. He was a truly gentle man and a gentleman, so kind and generous of heart. He knew so much and was so interesting to talk to. Passionate about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and George Eliot. You could have a fascinating and challenging conversation with him.

He started, with Andy Melrose, the Creative Writing Undergraduate Programme at Winchester. He always strove to make it the best it could possibly be. His leadership was such that we all wanted the same. He showed us how to be the best academic you could be. It made you push to ensure your teaching was at the top of your game. Neil achieved his aim too. The programme was number one in the country and renowned for what it offered. We were proud to be part of it and what he was creating.

My heart goes out to all my colleagues and to his family. Neil, go shine brightly for us.

This seems appropriate a bit of Paul Buchanan



Thursday, 26 March 2020

#writingishard7 - characters


So much has changed in two weeks. When I wrote my blog two weeks ago, we were not in lockdown. People weren’t fighting over loo rolls. How quickly life can change as we start living in
our dystopian fiction. I could imagine telling a student their story was too far fetched if they’d presented me with this idea!

I thought this week we’d talk about characters. Characters inhabit your story and need to be fully rounded so that your reader can empathise with them. You will have protagonists and antagonists. All of whom will need to have flaws, wants and needs. It is important to remember that any decision that the antagonist makes will be the right decision for them to make at that particular moment even if it is going to cause problems for the protagonist.

When you create characters you automatically think about the basics. You think about hair colour, eye colour etc etc. I often search for images of people that I think look like my character. I then keep
writing letters
them in a closed Pinterest board that only I can access. It helps me visualise them and as a reminder. I also write a letter from my character to me introducing themselves. It is a way of getting inside their heads.

When writing Flight, I learnt to look at the relationships surrounding the main character and for me, I suddenly realised that Jakob was only surrounded by males including the horses, which were stallions. It was only when Kizzy came on the scene that he had anything to do with women. This was really important as I needed him to be unsure how to behave in front of a girl, clumsy and almost threatened by the situation. It was one of his flaws. You need to be aware of the flaws as it those that make them fully rounded characters and not flat, two-dimensional characters.

Getting to know your characters inside out means you will know how your character will react in any given situation. It needs to be a realistic and appropriate reaction. In an extreme situation (and you do have to be brave to do this) I have gone out pretending to be my character to see what it would feel like. How would they view the world? It is about writing the height. How would the world appear to them? Important if you are writing a ten-year-old character or a fourteen-year-old character. The world is going to feel very different from the world that you see. The other thing you can think about is what would be in their pocket always? Their phone? A pebble? Sweets? Intriguing idea.

During this lockdown perhaps take this time to get to your know all your characters intimately so you
Social distancing
will know automatically know how they would react in any situation without having to think about it. Have some fun with it.

Stay at home. Stay Safe.

Thursday, 12 March 2020

#writingishard6 - right way to write...


The right way to write. In my various roles I’ve been asked for formulas for how to write; where’s the ultimate place to write or the perfect time. I am afraid I have no magic answers to any of these – other than maybe you need a beginning, a middle and an end. It is all about finding out what works for you and your writing style.



Lucy Christopher
Some people like to work in silence, others in noisy coffee shops. Some like Lucy Christopher has sometimes talked about a playlist linked with their novel. This can be the music they listened to while writing. Annaliese Avery posted a track of ‘white noise’ that she likes to listen to when concentrating. People like to write first thing in the morning before everyone is up or late at night after everyone has gone to sleep. Others might take snatched moments. There are those that aim to write every day and those, like me, who might write every few days, fitting it in around other jobs. I have written about this elsewhere. Writing is like a muscle the more you do it, the stronger it gets.


Some people love to handwrite first using a pencil (Blackwing), pen, fountain pen (oh the choices are numerous but I am definitely a Lamy fan) in to an equally glorious number of wonderful of notebooks – A4, A5, lined, blank, squared, Moleskine, Lechtturn etc. I confess I tend to use my notepads to write scenes in and all my research but always have to have a new notebook for each novel. Others, like me, will write straight onto the laptop. I do it because I can type faster than I can write plus I can read it! Again, there is no right or wrong way. It is what is right for you, and what is right for you at a particular time. It doesn’t matter if it changes.

As a writer you find that people will be very quick to tell you what their writing practices are and some may even insist that their way is the ‘ONLY’ way to write. You can’t be doing it right unless you are doing it their way. Wrong. (Unless of course, their way does work for you!) It is like having children, everyone has an opinion as to how you should do it. You need to filter it just like you do when you have children when you decide who to listen to. There are the experts who you work with that you know you can trust pretty well plus there are those friends whose advice is always sound such as maybe your crit group (find your tribe – I’ve written about that before too). From the rest, you pick out those golden nuggets that make sense to you. The rest you nod and smile sweetly at them and say thank you. Remembering always, this is your story, not theirs.

The other important thing to remember though is to be adaptable. As a writer, you will change and evolve. Sometimes this is forced because of the needs of an agent or publisher. Other times it is just as you become more and more experienced as a writer, your writing style develops. I found this myself recently. The publisher wanted a chapter breakdown for the contemporary novel I was writing. I struggled with this for a bit because I am a bit of a ‘Planster’. Let me explain. I am definitely not a detailed plotter/planner when it comes to writing. Neither am a ‘pantser’ in that I don’t just write it and see what happens…or not totally. I usually know my beginning and know my ending; I might have a couple of scenes in the middle, but the rest is definitely written by the seat of my pants. Therefore, coming up with a chapter breakdown really challenged my creative processes. 



I could do it because I was able to use all the theories and skills, I had gained from writing Flight with Imogen. It worked well but it took me outside of my comfort zone. I completed that novel and sent it off to my agent last week. Interestingly, on the same day, a complete chapter breakdown for the next novel fell out of my head. This had never happened to me before. It seems my writing style has adapted. But these are my ways of writing. You will often hear how I ‘write cold, edit hot.’ I get a basic story down, so I know structure works then go back in a fill in the colour. I know plenty of people who do it the other way around: ‘write hot, edit cold,’ needing to cut out masses of words. As a writer, you have to find what works for you and don’t be afraid to try different ways until you find ‘your fit.’ This follows on from the last post where I said you never stop learning. 

What I will assure you is even if you have written a book, when you are sat facing the blank screen, white piece of paper because you are starting a new project, the chances are for the briefest moment you will think ‘can I remember how to do this? Do I know how to write a book?’ We all do it. It never gets easier. Just try to enjoy the process as much as you can. However hard it is, it is still the best job in the world.



Thursday, 27 February 2020

#writingishard5 - you never stop learning

Imogen Cooper & my best friend
It doesn’t matter where you are in this writing malarkey you never stop learning. I have an MA in Writing for Children, a creative writing PhD which looked at the representation of sex, drugs and alcohol in young adult fiction and included writing a piece of young adult fiction; I was lucky enough to be mentored by Imogen Cooper while I worked for the Golden Egg Academy. Yet I still learn something new about writing on a regular basis and can look at a blank screen starting a new novel, thinking: ‘How do I do this again?’ I have also heard of many a famous and successful author say they feel a similar thing when faced with that blank paper or screen.


You never stop learning. It is important that you keep reading about writing. Not only do you need to keep reading fiction, watching films, going to art galleries and the theatre but continue to research into the subject. Understand what it means to write. 

People often ask me whether it is worth taking a degree in creative writing or undertaking a course. My answer is simple, it depends on what you want. You will hear plenty of people saying that they
got published without them. But taking them shows you are serious about your writing. A degree allows you to experiment with a variety of different voices and enables you to find your voice. To work out who you are as a writer. That is certainly what happened to me. I was doing a degree in English, but it had strands of Creative Writing, which is why I did it. I had a very set idea of what sort of writer I thought I was and that was certainly not a children's writer. I'd never even considered it. One of the modules gave me the opportunity to have a go at writing for children with Judy Waite. It felt like coming home. My voice felt natural and my writing flowed. If I hadn’t taken that degree, I’d never have experimented like that. You hone your craft in an academic situation.

Working with organisations like the Golden Egg Academy means you can hone your manuscript and your craft while working with professionals, who have their finger on the publishing pulse. By the end of it, you really understand the editing process and how to apply that to any future projects. It also means you are not daunted by any potential editing undertaken by an agent or publisher.


By taking either an MA or working with an organisation such as GEA you learn not to too precious about your work. I’ve heard stories of writers who’ve refused to make any changes to their work because it is their ‘baby’ and it is perfect. I can’t imagine feeling like that about my work. I know a lot of writers, including myself, who won’t look at their work once it is published as they will see areas they want to improve as they don’t consider it good enough. All that happens to those who won’t make any changes is that they don’t get a publishing contract as they are deemed impossible to work with.

Personally, I love listening to writers talking about their writing processes. I always learn something or find an affirmation because they write the same way as me – such a good feeling. As a lecturer and workshop leader, I always find these inspirational as it is so good to hear the students and writers talking about their work. Again, I quite often learn something from these sessions.  The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators is a great organisation where you can meet like-minded people. They run socials, masterclasses and wonderful conferences. 


Writers are invariably generous of heart and very willing to share. They are happy to talk to a certain extent BUT don’t take advantage. Don’t keep asking them to read your work. They are busy people. They have their own writing to do. Don’t assume you are the only person that asks them to look at their work. Don’t keep asking for tips. Also, if you don’t have anything nice to say about their book, don’t say anything. Writers have feelings you know.

I’ve listed some resources that I’ve found useful but there are many, many more. Feel free to add to them in the comments. This is not an exhaustive list and this is a personal list.


Podcasts










Books


Janelle Adsit ed. Critical Creative Writing: Essential Readings on the Writer’s Craft

Amanda Boulter, Writing Fiction

Dorothea Brande, Becoming a Writer

Kevin Brophy, Explorations in Creative Writing

Andrew Cowan, The Art of Writing Fiction

E. M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel

James Frey, How to Write a Damn Good Novel

John Gardner, On Becoming a Novelist

John Gardner, The Art of Fiction

Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within

Ernest Hemingway, Ernest Hemingway on Writing 

Henry James, ‘The Art of Fiction’, Longman’s Magazine

Colum McCann, Letters to A Young Writer

Robert McKee Dialogue

Robert McKee, Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting

Andrew Melrose, Writing for Children

Orson Scott Card, Characters and Viewpoint

Sol Stein, Stein on Writing

William Storr The Science of Storytelling

Writing/Philosophy/Creativity

Anne Bernays & Pamela Painter, What If Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers

Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millennium

Joseph Campbell, The Hero with a Thousand Faces

Neil Gaiman, The View from the Cheap Seats

Martin Griffith & Jon Mayhew, Storycraft: How to teach Creative Writing

Arthur Koestler, The Act of Creation

Milan Kundera, The Art of the Novel

David Mamet, Three Uses of the Knife

Philip Pullman, Daemon Voices: Essays on Storytelling

Katherine Rundell, Why you should read Children’s Books

Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit

Judy Waite, Wordtamer: Activities to Inspire Creative Thinking and Writing

Jen Webb, Researching Creative Writing

J. Webb Young, A Technique for Producing Ideas

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

John Yorke, Into the Woods

Journals







Media & Organisations





Society of Children’s Book Writers and illustrators (including Words & Pictures)

Golden Egg Academy (Sign up to receive their free newsletter) also follow them on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to see their writing tips and prompts.