Friday 31 December 2010

Happy New Year and Thank YOU!

This is the last day of 2010 and what a strange year it is has been. Some wonderful highs combined with moments of real sadness. It was a year where I completed the first draft of two novels. One for the PhD and one as an escapism from the PhD. 2011 will be the year where (hopefully) I finish my PhD and become Dr Harbour. Also the year I polish both novels so they are ready to be sent to publishers (I have interest from one publisher for HAM & JAM - the PhD novel and two publishers interested in THE BOOK PROTECTORS' DAUGHTER) so who knows what might happen there. It was also the year that I started this blog - am I going to continue - I think so with an aim to make it more focused but prior to that please excuse a bit of self indulgence as I look back at 2010. A momentous year in so many ways.

2010 was another year of conferences. I attended a NCRCL conference at Roehampton in May and met up with old friends there including Peter Hunt and Maria Nikoljeva. I also gave a paper at Maria's excellent conference 'The Emergent Adult' back in September at Homerton College, Cambridge University which was made even more enjoyable by the presence of Meg Rosoff,Lucy Christopher and Teri Terry. This was the first of a series of papers I gave. I also gave one at a Symposium in Winchester which included three visiting Australian academics, Prof Jen Webb, Prof Jeri Krall and Prof Donna O'Brien which was followed three days later with another paper at the NAWE conference in Cheltenham. The Australians came to NAWE too and there was a great deal of hilarity and support. I first met Jen Webb earlier in the year when she had come to visit Winchester. We very soon became good friends and I can safely say that new friendship was one of the highlights of the year. Talking of new friends, I have made an abundance this year, many through Facebook who have shared the highs and lows of the year with their constant support and messages. Back in April I went to the London Book Fair, courtesy of one ex husband, Rupert (thank you btw), where I went on a fb blind date. Suddenly all these people who I speak to on fb became real. In particular Tabitha Suzuma who I spent a wonderful few hours discussing writing and the world in general plus Teri Terry (who I then dragged along to The Emergent Adult) and Kathryn Evans to name but a few. Lucy Christopher is also part of this collection of new friends, her encouragement and support has been incredible. it is wonderful to see Lucy's books getting so much acclaim. She came and did a wonderful session with our MA Write for Children students. But also Lucy and I look as if we are going to finish our PhDs at the same time next year, it is good being able to talk to someone who is in the same stressed position.

On a personal note my gorgeous daughter, Charlie, got engaged at a surprise birthday party to the wonderful Greg which was one of those perfect days. I also had the opportunity to travel. I went to Normandy in order to undertake some research necessary for HAM & JAM. This was a thrilling opportunity and certainly added depth to the novel but then things got even better when I was awarded an Arvon Grant. This allowed me to attend a Tutored Retreat at Moniack Mhor which is near Loch Ness. This was the most amazing experience I think I have ever had. I went with trepidation but was surrounded by some truly inspirational people particularly the tutors Zoe Strachan and Kevin MacNeil. I came away with a complete first draft of HAM & JAM which was hugely satisfying in itself but I also came away remembering why I love writing. I also came away with a collection of new friends who I remain in contact with through fb. Throughout this time my sons have been there, maybe not necessarily singing and shouting or doing things like getting engaged, but they have been there whenever I needed them. Always willing to give me a hug and filling the house with, amongst other things, laughter. I am very lucky with my children and my family and I know it.

The sadness came about when my darling Mummy died back in April. It was her time and was best for her as she was in so much pain but for the rest of us it left a huge hole in our lives. I was her carer and suddenly had all this time to fill but more importantly I realised how much of a friend she was to me and how often we talked about everything. There isn't a day that goes by without me thinking of things I want to tell her. Her funeral, however, was everything she would have wanted, it was a very special day. The truly wonderful and elegant Sally Ballet (Stanyard) sang 'Make me a Channel of Your Peace' which was one of her favourite hymns. I wrote a poem which I read out, whilst Jacky, my number 3 sister, paid tribute to her and all the laughs we had had as a family over the years. Then Charlie read out a bare feet as her shoes were hurting...we did apologise to the coffin. The whole service was led by Prof Liz Stuart who summed up my mother beautifully. She has also been a rock and an inspiration to me this year. Mummy always wanted a wicker coffin and it did look so beautiful particularly at the end when everyone had placed a flower on and around it.

Then back in October the small pain in my side that got increasingly worse was in fact an infected gall bladder and I suddenly found myself in hospital attached to intravenous antibiotics and a morphine pump. Not something I had planned but yet again I was surrounded by family and friends reminding me of how much I am loved. One particular, and treasured, moment was when Prof Liz Stuart came to see me outside of visiting hours. She informed them when they said she couldn't come in that she was my priest and therefore had to be let in!

I have spoken about the new friends I have met during 2010 but there are so many old friends that have just been there whenever needed. Prof Andrew Melrose maybe my Director of Studies but he is also a great friend who has shared the good times and supported me through the bad. But then of course there is Tina and her shoes, Denise and her gorgeous daughter Rebecca (and a mutual love of Audrey Hepburn), Jen, who is just Jen, Leonie who provides the calm in my life (though I think she will deny that), Debbie and Mel who started their PhDs at the same time as me, Steph and Nancy who are just great people, Cal and Kath who are people that are just made to be together and Eyelem who I still miss. All of whom, like Andy, have shared the good times and been there for me in the bad times. But also there is Michael and Karen who are dear friends that I know I haven't spent enough time with - I'm sorry. The list could go on forever and if I missed anyone I am sorry.

Tonight I will say goodbye to 2010 with mixed emotions but will look forward to 2011 as there are so many exciting things happening then already. So to everyone I wish you all a very happy new year that is full of laughter and happiness without too much stress. And a final thank you for just being you.

See you next year!

Wednesday 29 December 2010


Two posts ago I talked about how difficult I was finding the rewrites. Many of my friends came forward with solutions and advice. I thought I would share some of them with you as I tried these and they worked.

Firstly I left it alone for 24 hours, trying not to think about it or look at it and then before I started to work on it again I went for a walk. Thinking through my ideas as I walked, letting them slowly form and take shape so that by the time I was back home I knew what I was doing next.

The next bit of advice referred to my work methods. I started working on a hard copy which ensured I didn't miss any tweaks I wanted to make but also as was suggested with a notepad by the side to make notes for bigger changes. I also only worked for an hour at a time then had a break then went back to it.

These all worked so thank you to Helen, Kathryn and Mariam in particular. Though the irony is that these suggestions are all things that I tell my students to do. A question of physician heal thyself maybe - not!

I managed to achieve a lot yesterday with my rewrites. They are still not 100% right but I am getting there. I think what helped more than anything is that I was able to acknowledge there was a problem and that I was daunted by the enormity and importance of the rewrites. Then knowing I had the support of a huge number of friends I gave myself permission to accept this concern and to deal with it in small chunks. It suddenly became manageable and approachable.

It is a rare thing for a first draft to be complete and not require any editing. Rewrites are important as they give you a chance to hone your craft and polish your narrative. They should not be avoided and they need to be approached bravely. Sometimes you need to get rid of your favourite bits just because they don't work. That can be very hard if you have spent hours agonising over a perfect sentence only to remove it during the rewriting process.

Once the rewriting is done then comes the editing. Looking for anomalies of tense (of which I think there may be many in my case), inconsistencies (people called George at the beginning and Fred at the end) and of course punctuation and spelling. These are all vital processes of writing which cannot be avoided.

So am off to complete the rewrites including a new sex scene....think of me.

But also a huge thank you to all my friends who provided the solutions to my brain block. My PhD is all the better for you x

Tuesday 28 December 2010

Influential Books

Candy Gourlay wrote on her blog yesterday about the books that have most influenced her over the last ten years. Kathryn Evans followed suit and it started me thinking about the books that have influenced me over the last ten years. For a start the last ten years have been fairly momentous for me. I stopped being able to eat, had a tube stuck in my stomach to keep me alive, lost a business and moved 5 times but I also got a BA(hons) in English, an MA in Writing for Children and am about to finish a PhD in the issues of representing/representation of sex, drugs and alcohol in British contemporary young adult fiction (what a mouthful!). I have given papers internationally on my subject and been published academically. I started and co-edit the ejournal Write4Children. Consequently, as you can imagine, books have had a major impact on my life.

Back in 2000 none of this was on my radar. I loved to write and had previously written for newspapers and obviously as part of my job within my PR company. I had aspirations to be a writer but never thought I could really do it. I can safely say I dabbled with it. In 2002 a flyer came through the door about an Open Day at Winchester University. Didn't think anything of it until the Saturday morning when I drove my youngest son into Winchester and found myself driving into the University and that was the moment my new life started and the moment books became an even more vital part of my life.

It had never occurred to me to write for children until I met Professor Andrew Melrose and Judy Waite. They were my beginning. But as for my books, it is knowing where to start and what to include. Candy Gourlay pointed out that if you go on Amazon you can look back at your order history. This was a revelation as it tracked the whole of my academic career in books!

OK so enough to the waffle, down to the books (unfortunately for some reason my blog won't let the picture of the books appear near to the write up so I will just add links) and this is in no particular order (as they say on Strictly):

Melvin Burgess's JUNK. I have included this because it is the starting point of my thesis as it is the first book written for young adults that deals graphically with drug use.

Aidan Chamber's BREAKTIME and POSTCARD'S FROM NO MAN'S LAND. I love the way both of these books were written. In particular with BREAKTIME the way Chamber's played with the narrative was inspirational and challenging.

HOLES by Louis Sachar because I love the story. It is full of circles and it is a great book to pull to pieces, dissect each chapter to see how it works and what it consists of.

ROLL OF THUNDER HEAR MY CRY by Mildred D Taylor. This is a book that actually made me hold my breath in fear as I wondered what was going to happen next.

NOUGHTS AND CROSSES by Malorie Blackman, ONCE by Morris Gleitzman, THE BOOK THIEF by Markus Zusak and WARHORSE by Michael Morpurgo are all books that have inspired and enthralled.

And I know this is way over the seven that the others wrote about but there are six more which I must highlight. They are STOLEN and FLYAWAY by Lucy Christopher, A NOTE OF MADNESS and FORBIDDEN by Tabitha Suzuma, HOW I LIVE NOW by Meg Rosoff and of course, TALL STORY by Candy Gourlay. These are books and authors that have touched my life and have reminded me of the importance of books and their influence but also how much I love writing for children/teenagers as these authors have truly inspired me.

Monday 27 December 2010

Rewriting or not....

As Ernest Hemingway once said 'The first draft of anything is shit.' So I have a complete first draft of a novel and parts of it are shit and I need to do rewrites. This novel is the creative part of my PhD thesis which is to be examined at some point in 2011 by an esteemed academic, it has also got some interest by a publishing company who wish to see it when it is PhD submission ready. And therein lies the problem. I know how important it is that I get these rewrites right and it seems to be this knowledge has put so much pressure on my creativity that it is now frozen in time. I can vaguely see those bright ideas that I had but they are now sealed within a perfect, glinting icicle, just out of reach. The harder I try to get to them the further away they become.

Logically, I know I should walk away and not worry as they will happen. But that is the other problem, I have a time limit on this. I had a bright idea that I would do the rewrites over the Christmas break and then do the huge pile of marking and planning for next semester. So each day I can't write just seems to add to the pressure.

Whoever said writing a novel was easy were partly right. Getting the first draft was hard work but achievable but then doing the rewrites....well...what can I say! Almost impossible, which of course is rubbish as there wouldn't be any books published if people never managed the rewrites so I just need to get on with it.

If you have any thoughts or approaches to rewrites I would love to hear them and maybe then I can defrost this icicle and get on with doing what I want to do and that is to make this story a special one.

Wednesday 22 December 2010


Christmas is such an emotional time and has so many expectations attributed to it. You are not meant to feel lonely at this time of year and you are supposed to be overflowing with the joys of the world. But for some that is too much to ask at the moment and for those of you where that might be the case my thoughts are with you.

This is our first Christmas without Nanny - the photo of her above is in her usual pose at Christmas time! At times it feels very strange and the tears flow at the most inconvenient moments - I wish Tescos didn't play her favourite carols - But I know it was her time to go and she would have been so unhappy with a life full of pain if she had survived. I know she and my father still watch over us. This Christmas Day I will with the three people that I love more than I can say. My children. They are my heroes and I hope 2011 brings them and Greg and the children lots of happiness.

Over the last year I have made some wonderful new friends and thanks to facebook can remain in contact with them where ever they are. I hope they all have a wonderful Christmas and would like to say thank you for coming into my life and making it richer. These new friends are added to the collection of wonderful friends I already had who have been like a rock this year supporting me and encouraging me all the way. I am lucky and I know it to be surrounded (metaphorically and literally) by such great and inspirational people.

Though my Christmas will be strange I know it will be good. My thoughts are with all those who may have had their Christmas plans ruined by the weather but in particular my thoughts are with those who have very poorly loved ones. And for all those who, like me, lost someone special this year remember them at Christmas time with love and happiness and try not to be too sad as I am sure they wouldn't want you to be.

Happy Christmas everyone and have an amazing 2011

Saturday 18 December 2010

End of the year and rewrites

I haven't written much recently on this blog but with the end of term and snow and stressed students there hasn't been much time. Teaching finished yesterday. The forms have gone in stating I will be submitting soon. So today I am finishing two book reviews I need to get done but then it is down to the rewrites.

I am looking forward to these as I have some exciting ideas bubbling away and waiting to reek havoc within the novel. The glorious and extremely talented Lucy Christopher came to talk to our MA students this week. I have met Lucy a few times at conferences and as those of you who read my blog will know we had a fantastic time together at the Emergent Adult Conference in Cambridge back in September. She is a star and an inspiration. Her session with the students was wonderful as she shared some of her writing tools with them. One of which was fantastic as it re-vitalised my own creativity which had become clogged with the critical aspects of the thesis that I had been writing recently thus allowing me to approach these rewrites with renewed energy.

It transpires that both Lucy and I will be submitting our PhDs at similar times. At least this means we can share the stress. We have both just been working on our critical part of the thesis. I have found this difficult only because I have so much to say and so few words to say it in. I feel a bit like I have barely touched several subjects which to me seem vital and deserve more attention. However, it has been pointed out by another of my supervisors, Dr Paul Manning, that whatever research doesn't make it into the final piece can be used for articles, chapters for books etc. This is something I endeavour to do in 2011 as I aim to raise my profile through publication. Talking to people from other establishments I realise that Creative Writing PhDs come in all sorts of formats with a widely ranging word count for the critical part. But whatever format it comes in we all face the same stresses! I will wait with baited breath for the first lot of feedback from the DoS on my critical stuff, though yesterday he seemed quite positive about it. Fingers crossed.

I am also intending to focus on Ham and Jam with an ambition to get it published as well. It is a book I have loved writing and still love. I am really looking forward to the next few weeks of rewrites. I have left it alone for several months whilst I worked on the critical piece. I am now ready to return. Sometimes that is how it has to be. I was struggling with the idea of rewrites a few weeks ago but as my DoS pointed out it was because I was not ready to do them. Now I am.

2010 has been a strange year. There have been some wonderful highs but also some unbelievable lows. All of which will set me up for 2011 which, as my DoS has also pointed out, is going to be a BIG year for me.

Thursday 2 December 2010

Snow Day

Well this is what faced me this morning when I woke up. Over 20cms of snow. In fact so deep that it is over the knees of the twins Seb and Bea. The schools are closed as it the uni. One son's work is throwing a wobbly because he can't get out of the village which seems ironic when the police are saying do not travel unless it is for an emergency!
Apparently it is the wrong sort of snow for those in my family who like to build snowmen (any of you who know me and know of their previous endeavours will understand my relief)
It has given me a day I hadn't planned for to work on my marking and to do some more for the PhD. A good snow day. I am also going to plan sessions to be done via email for classes tomorrow just in case.
Stay warm and write lots everyone