Monday 31 December 2012

Goodbye 2012....Hello 2013

A touch of madness....
It is the last day of 2012 and I have had a look back at my post for this time last year to see what I said. I had had such a momentous year in 2011 I was then feeling quite lost and wondering what 2012 could bring me to top it. Well no, it didn't top it, (I don't think anything ever will) but it was still pretty damn good.

What I could never of anticipated at the beginning of the year was that I would have a 'proper' job (or two). In September I was lucky enough to get a .5 lecturer's position at Winchester after several years of being an HPL. It is an amazing feeling and one that still, even now, doesn't feel quite real. I am still waiting for someone to wake me up and say 'Ha! Only joking...' But in the meantime I keep working hard at it and love it so much even through all the stress. I then also got the position of Skills Development Manager for all post graduate students at the uni - that is going to be very exciting and challenging as a position.

A year ago I had no idea either that I would be involved in a project with the gorgeous  Imogen Cooper - The Golden Egg Academy. Such an exciting experience and another chance to work with some incredible people. I cannot wait for the launch in January. I think GE is going to grow and grow next year beyond any of our thoughts or expectations. Bring it on. On the creative side I am still (yes I know) working on Trafficking and have also started a new story as well. I wonder what 2013 will bring for them?

I also had no idea I would have a new knee - a very shiny one according to the brochure that the very excited surgeon showed me before he inserted the contraption in my leg. It is apparently the 'best in the world'. I am sure in the long run it will be amazing but I am still battling through times of intense pain. I can't wait to be without crutches though. I did manage to ride the static bike the other day so can't wait to get it moving even more. I should add at this point that I will be eternally grateful to my children and Jen W and Nicky S who helped me get through some really dark times in the last few weeks. I owe you all.

That brings me neatly on to friends. I am lucky I have some amazing ones who have brought so much joy, laughter, writing, art and music into my life. Some are many miles away and some are very close. Friends are an important part of life and I treasure every single one of you. Thank you for being part of my life. I hope all your dreams comes true in 2013 and for many of you I know that would be a publishing contract.

There have been some low moments too of course. However, if you don't have those how could you appreciate the good. But I am not going to dwell on those. I had a chapter in a book published and I gave a couple of papers - one at Great Writing 2012 and one on technology in creative writing at a conference held at Winchester in July. Of course to start the new year I have been invited to co-write, with AM, a chapter for another book as well. What else shall I do next year? Well the aim is to get another book proposal out there based on my PhD and maybe a few more conferences. But we will see.

Oh yes next year....a momentous year for many reasons. Firstly I am going to be fabulous 50 in February and I fully intend to embrace the idea of fabulousness! Secondly, my beautiful daughter is getting married in September to a fantastic man and that is going to be one hell of a celebration. I know I am lucky with my family and how much of them I see. Watching N grow into a toddler is one of my greatest joys. Seeing my boys develop into men that I am proud of as well. I wondered what other excitement 2013 will bring me.

In the meantime, this is how I am going to approach 2013, I hope you will join me, let's dance....don't stop me now!

Saturday 22 December 2012

Morphine Blues!

Still trying to write...

I don't normally take photos of my legs and my laptop but there was a specific reason. A call went out by the Notes from the Slushpile lot of photos of us writing for their 12 Days of Christmas seemed a good idea at the time. Check it out here:

Anyway, in case you hadn't guessed, I have just undergone some surgery and because of the amount of pain I have been taking huge amounts of drugs including morphine. I kept thinking of all those amazing writers who produced incredible stuff whilst consuming vast amounts of laudanum and wondered when my moment was going to come. When were these amazing words going to fall out of my fingers onto the screen? They didn't, they have stayed resolutely buried within my grey matter, which has got greyier by the day.

I have been reading (and rereading as the drugs seem to make taking anything in an impossibility) an essay by Zadie Smith entitled 'Rereading Barthes and Nabokov.'  It is a good essay and I intended to write a highfaluting response - again mega fail on my part - one day I will but not yet. What I did keep getting attracted to was an idea of Milan Kundera's that she mentions: 'Great novels are always a little more intelligent than their authors.'And I believe this is no less the case with children's books when you write them. They should take the author beyond what they know and understand in the same way. My great friend Foucault talks about this too when he says 'it would probably not be worth the trouble of making books if they failed to teach the author something he hadn't known before.' This flies in the face slightly of 'write what you know' but if we only wrote what we knew a lot of books would never have been written - how may of you went to Wizard schools, have ridden on the back of polar bears or have fallen through the back of a wardrobe to find a Narnia....

Writing is in fact all about challenging everyone - not just the writer but the reader too. Taking them to all sorts of new places. Opening the reader's eyes and giving them a chance to dance in new worlds.  The point with children is they often understand far more than they can articulate so the books you write for them need to be a challenge too. 

...and that's as far as I can go with my response to the essay. And my dreams of amazing words dissolved in the morphine blues. Maybe next week will be better I will see the world clearly again and in the meantime something for me to escape into:

Sunday 16 December 2012

Lost moments...

In Awe...
I had a very different post planned for this blog but just couldn't bring myself to write it following the events in the States on Friday. I don't think there was one of us who didn't hug our children or grandchildren tighter that night. This photo is of my grandson when he woke up and found a Christmas tree had sprouted in his lounge on Saturday morning. Last year he was too young to take much notice but this year it was a little different as you can see.

It is those precious moments, a mere snapshot, that mean you can build a whole life time of memories. On Friday a young man decided to wipe out any future memories for so many families. They will be left with the ones they already have, which will be unbelievably precious and they will never let fade. But there are no new moments to be made. Their lives hit a sudden and cruel full stop. I cannot imagine how you handle that but there are many people all over the world dealing with just that. Wars, conflict and crime punctuate our lives.

There are, quite rightly, a lot of arguments and chest beating going on about the gun laws in the US but we all know it is so much more than that. What about mental health care provision? Where's that?  I was lucky enough to have a full knee replacement this week, fully funded by the NHS, I will be fighting fit in a very few weeks. If I was in the US I doubt I would have been able to afford it. Don't get me wrong, we are not perfect, there is a lot wrong with our country too. And I am not going to use this post as a political diatribe there are many who can do that way better than I can. There are times when we need to stop and look at ourselves and what we are doing to this world.

If I am honest my thoughts are with the survivors and with the families who have lost someone. They will be getting through each day at a time. Facing the world wondering how they can do it. As a writer of children's books I am aware that a lot of innocence will have been lost on Friday. It is my hope that these children can find ways to recover their childhood a bit by disappearing into good books that will take them by the hand and remind them how to live again.

Sending everyone who has lost someone strength and love as we head towards this holiday season

Sunday 9 December 2012

A tiny book full of tiny poems

A tiny book full of tiny poems...

I know two posts in as many days but sometimes things just have to be spoken about. Books don't have to be huge to have an impact. In the post a little book arrived by Rumi and called Whispers of the Beloved. It is full of quatrains, so a tiny book full of tiny poems. I sat and read some of them last night and I fell in love with this one, it speaks so much truth:

It's good to leave each day behind,
like flowing water, free of sadness.
Yesterday is gone and its tale told.
Today new seeds are growing.

Then there was this little nugget, which seemed suitably applicable as I know how important my friends are, particularly at the moment. 

With friends you grow wings.
you are a single feather in disgrace.
With them you master the wind,
but alone,
you are blown in all directions.

Enjoy these two little poems and now here's a bit of Kirsty McColl with The Pogues with a Fairytale of New York, just for a bit of Christmas spirit. I love Christmas. 

Saturday 8 December 2012

Learning and Re-learning how to write

The soon to be bionic woman....
There is something you will never hear a writer say and that is 'I know how to write.' Writing is an ongoing learning process which never stops. I find it really ironic that when you finish one book and you start on another you find yourself thinking, how did I do that? Where do I start and your life is full of panic as you sit and face another blank page or screen.

Gaylene Perry in her essay 'History Documents, Arts Reveals: Creative Writing as Research,' states 'I wrote as I learned and I learned as I wrote.' So true and it never stops. I heard of a student who at a workshopping session for their creative pieces handed their complete piece, including assignment cover sheet stapled to it, to the tutor for some feedback. The said tutor was slightly taken aback as this was the first of three workshopping sessions, aimed at allowing the students to polish their assignment. They asked the student why and the student responded, 'Well, I've finished it.' No one, other than the student, had looked at it and needless to say once it was workshopped and the tutor had looked through it, it was not finished. There was writing all over it, highlighting things that needed to be changed. I must admit it is a hard, but important, thing to learn that your first draft is never (or very rarely) your finished draft. My own pieces of work often go through a multitude of redrafting, which is rarely in the single figures and often heads towards three figures.

A friend, who is an accomplished writer, has recently taken part in a course and found it so useful as they re-learnt things they already knew but had forgotten. It appeared to me that they felt, with the input of the course leaders, revitalised about their writing. They found it to be a very positive experience. For me this highlighted how when writing you never stop learning, confirming Perry's quote above. You learn as you write, as you read, as you research, as you share your work. It all shapes you into the writer you are. I am lucky even working with students helps me to improve my writing as I listen to them and their ideas and how they improve their work. It can be really inspirational.  Never be ashamed of looking to learn more. It will never be wasted. Neither assume you have learnt it all because I can assure you, you haven't. There is always something out there that can help bring your writing to life even more.

Right, I am off to be made into a bionic woman, you will soon see me jumping from roof to roof with my new body that they have rebuilt for me.

In the meantime, here's a bit of one of my favourite men

Sunday 2 December 2012

Writing for children is hard....

The joy of reading
Writing for children is hard and don't let anyone tell you anything else. Many years ago I was convinced to do the MA in Writing for Children because 'if you can write for children you can write for anyone.' And this is actually something I believe to a certain extent, partly because. as I said above, it is hard to write for children and get it right.  But how many times am I asked: 'When are you going to write a proper book?' (meaning an adult book) Because of course the books our children read are not real, they not proper, not worthwhile. Yet these are the same books than can create the most wonderful memories. Allow children to escape into their own worlds and form their minds.

The people that I know that write for children do so because they are driven, then can't not write. They love what they do. They are also fully aware they are unlikely to make millions at it. Though if I had a pound for everytime someone said to me 'Oh you're going to be the next JK are you?' I might just be. But you can't be the next JK Rowling because there is only one JK. We are all totally different, we approach writing differently and write different stories. Who knows what the next big thing will be? I know a few publishers who would pay a huge amount to have that insight however. What we need to keep doing is writing the best stories we can to the best of our ability. Writing is a craft and something that can be honed, the more you write and the more you read the better you will become.

The other little gem is: 'I'm going to write a children's books when I have time, it must be so easy....' Well actually, as we already know, it is not. You have to contemplate your audience. Think about the language you are going to use and consider whether your story is age appropriate. And that's just the beginning...

I am lucky I am a lecturer in creative writing so am surrounded by like minded people. I have spent the whole weekend writing feedback on draft assignments for all my students, giving advice on how to make their piece better before they submit and marking assignments. We workshop it in groups and they have numerous chances to polish that piece of work. That is fine when you are at university, however, when you are writing on your own or away from this hothouse situation that sort of support is not always available. You can get a lot of encouragement and good advice from critiquing groups and I heartily recommend being part of one of those.

However, there is nothing like working with an editor and a professional. On that basis I am doubly lucky as since the end of my PhD I have been working with an editor. I cannot tell you what sort of a difference that makes to your writing. It helps you lift the writing off the page so the story can become one of those ones that just might stay with a child forever...she says hopefully!!

This is a fabulous way to work and now there is an opportunity for you to do that too. Imogen Cooper of The Chicken House has set up The Golden Egg Academy - check out the website. I am lucky enough to also be involved in this. Our latest news is that Beverley Birch will be working with us too.  There is to be an official launch in January, at which point I will give you lots more information. It is a very exciting project and one that I am thrilled to be involved in.

The important thing is, it doesn't matter how hard writing for children is, we will still keep doing it because then we can have moments like the photo above where I am sharing a book with my gorgeous grandson. Something we do on a regular basis.

Now this is Karine Polwart in concert on the 30th November. It is not the greatest recording but I love it because of the emotion behind it. She is singing the song 'Salters Road' directly to a member of the audience for whose mother she wrote the song. That is what being creative is all about, it is about connections and emotions. Enjoy!

Sunday 25 November 2012

Books that silently follow you....

The love of books
A colleague's Facebook status made me stop and think. They had been to see a play and they were saying how good it was it had been silently following her several days afterwards. How many times can you think of books that have done that to you? You finish reading them but yet several days later they still come back to haunt you - in a good way. They make you ask questions of yourself and your surroundings perhaps. Or have just wrapped their metaphoric arms around you making you feel warm and wonderful.

Lots of books used to do that to me when I was a child. I was an avid reader. I used to love escaping into their worlds and then creating my own. Books like Noel Streatfield's Ballet Shoes was one, Nina Bawden's Carrie's War, K.M.Peyton's Fly-by-night, Philippa Pearce's Tom's Midnight Garden and, of course, Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden, all had that sort of impact. And even now if I go back to them I can get that same feeling of being at home and being thrilled by the story as they silently follow me still decades later.

As you get older it seems that not quite so many books have that impact and silently follow you. I have read many, many books over the last few years as part of my academic career. Some books have left me cold (and probably unfinished) and others I have enjoyed but they haven't stayed with me. Some books have stuck out though, books like: Louis Sachar's Holes, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, Once by Morris Gleitzman, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson, Malorie Blackman's Noughts and Crosses, Meg Rosoff's How I live now, Tabitha Suzuma's A note of madness.and Sophia Bennett's The Look. This is not an exclusive list but they were the ones that first came to mind. I have just started reading David Massey's Torn and I get the feeling that is going to be another book that silently follows me.  

To a certain extent that is the disadvantage of leading an academic career. I can read so many books that even though they may be fantastic and do live with me silently for a few days they don't stick in the mind. I think it is T.S Eliot who said every time something new is written all the authors and writing beforehand have to shift along a bit to make room, it sounds like a huge bookshelf to me and it is something I find when I am having to read so much. Some things must inevitably fall off that metaphorical book shelf. I just need to remember to go and pick them up again and put them back on the shelf, ready to be read at a later date.

What are the books that follow you silently?

Seems appropriate to listen to Simon & Garfunkel's 'Sound of Silence' for all those books that follow you silently and, with regard to my previous post, allowing your brain to be silent so you can listen to the answers. I was lucky enough to see them perform back in the early 80s.

Tuesday 13 November 2012

Creativity is making connections

I have been reading a  book by Jonah Lehrer entitled Imagine How Creativity Works. (Canongate, 2012). It, as you can see by the title, explores creativity and some of the processes. It is about 'the ability to imagine what never existed.' I have since found out that it has been discredited as a book. Even so, one point that resonated with me was the idea that just before inspiration arrives we can have a crisis or hit a brick wall. It is at this stage, when we are giving up, that the solution will appear. The example that is used to explain this idea relates to Bob Dylan and his experience leading up to writing 'Like A Rolling Stone' (See below to listen to it). He had given up music because he felt burnt out and was planning on writing a novel, but the song took over and just had to be written. What a success it proved to be too! This may or may not be true but was an interesting example.

It is an intriguing story and one that I could empathise with on a basic level. I often see it happen with my students, particularly when working on their dissertations. On a personal basis though, in the summer when I was trying to rewrite Trafficking I had a real crisis. I couldn't work out how my story was going to end - what was the denouement? I got so frustrated and angry I was ready to throw my lap top across the room. Instead I decided my laptop needed to be saved so I 'walked away,' I decided to read a good book for a bit of escapism. It wasn't even a piece of young adult fiction. It was everything my story was not. But it was whilst reading this unrelated book that the answer came to me  in the form of a 'what if' question that answered all my problems.

I know I am not the only one to experience this and I am sure I have spoken about similar ideas in the past. I could probably fill several pages of examples and I am sure you can all recognise these moments in yourself. I actually believe it goes beyond this. You can have these answer moments but you have to be able to make the connections. Creativity is as much about connections as it is about inspiration. It is about making the links which allows the narrative to flow and to keep the readers' attention. These connections need to move from your brain to the page and then to the reader. They need to be able to understand what you are saying. Adam Phillips, the psychologist, believed that stories are all about making the connections and that these connections can help you understand the world. As a writer, therefore, you need to get them write [sic]. Happy writing everyone.

Here is Bob Dylan's 'Like A Rolling Stone.'

Saturday 10 November 2012

Graduation 2012

Sometimes when working in HE it is too easy to become swamped by all the pressure. We live in an atmosphere of government enforced financial cuts and ever increasing expectations. We are meant to be research active but finding the time can be incredibly difficult. Consequently it is too easy to lose sight of what we are actually doing.

Yesterday was graduation day for the students I taught last academic year. Unfortunately I wasn't able to go into the ceremony as I was teaching but I raced down afterwards. With another colleague we stood at the entrance to Winchester Cathedral and waited. Soon a long winding line of excited students, all dressed in black, purple and cream flowed out of the double doors to the applause of lecturers. It is the most wonderful pageant.

They were as excited to see me and Mel as I was to see them on their special day.  I was amazed and delighted that despite their excitement every single one of them said, 'thank you for teaching me, I had the best time ever.' Yes, I must confess that was a thrill to hear but what I didn't expect and what totally blew my mind was the number of their parents who came up to me and shook my hand saying 'Thank you for taking care of them.  I have heard so much about you. You supported them so much. Thank you.'

I apologise if this sounds like I am blowing my own trumpet but it made me realise how the little things can matter. The taking time to listen when things aren't going great. To share in their joy when they are. They are all simple things that I don't think we even think about as lecturers, its what all of us do. But it can make a huge difference. Thinking about it afterwards I thought that I should know  and understand this of all people. I wouldn't be a lecturer with a PhD if it hadn't been the fact that I too had had lecturers, who have now become friends, that supported me and encouraged me throughout my degrees. They gave me the world and I hope that I have passed that on to my students.

Congratulations to the 2012 Creative Writing graduates, you were  a fabulous lot and I am proud of every single one of you. Thank you also for reminding me how great it is to be a lecturer.

It just had to be - an oldie but a goody - 'Winchester Cathedral

Sunday 4 November 2012

Stories are never ending

One of the happiest days of my life!
It is a year ago since this photo was taken. Again it has been an amazing year. I have two jobs now that I didn't expect to have then. I am involved in a fantastic project which I also knew nothing about then - there will be more information about this in the next few weeks. I had my first independent article published. I have had a chapter in a book on teaching creative writing published. Plus I have given papers and I worked on collaborative paper/chapter with a great friend and colleague from the other side of the world - Skype is a wonderful thing. I have a book proposal in and I have been asked to write a chapter for a book with a colleague. On the creative side my novel is being read  by an editor - what more could anyone want. All potentially mind blowing experiences, particularly if they all come about. At the time of my graduation I wasn't sure anything could beat that feeling but life is pretty good, if exhausting these days.

Yesterday I bought the little man in the picture his first shoes. He seems to be growing up so quickly.  His idea of bliss is to sit and take every one of his books off the bookshelf so they all surround him. He then spends hours 'reading' each and every one of them. (there are a lot and those are just the ones downstairs). Some are old traditional ones, others are brand new and innovative, all are respected and loved by him. One of his all time favourites at the moment is Old MacDonald Had a Farm. My daughter and I would love to know why because the actual illustrations are not the best I've seen. It intrigues us. Perhaps it is in part because he loves the actions we all do when we read it to him. The most important point is he loves books - what more could a grandmother ask for.

I believe I have said this before, but as children's writers we are lucky, there is a perceived ever growing market for us. At the moment people still love giving books to children. They love the tangible feel of a book. I am also aware as I watch my grandson work my phone and my daughter's tablet that the current generation will probably get as much out of ebooks as they do 'traditional' books. Is this really a problem as long as they are reading and we (children's writers) are writing these stories? Does it matter what media it comes in? Not really I suppose but I confess I do love a good book to hold in my hand - showing my age I imagine. I will just keep writing my stories and not worry about what format they will be produced in. Having said that I do sometimes look at my stories and think, would this make a film? Does anyone else do that?

I was reading a bit of Al Alvarez's The Writer's Voice and this one phrase struck home: '...prose is never quite finished.' (London: Bloomsbury, 2006 p.44) How true is that? For me it goes along with the idea, which I know I have mentioned before, of Blanchot who suggest that the writer leaves questions on the page for the reader to pick up.  Thinking of both these ideas seemed to highlight that a story is never ours alone, it belongs to everyone. Every reader will interpret it differently, influenced by their own cultural space and experience. In the same way, and we tried this in class the other day, if we gave every one the same sentence to start with or sat them in the same place and asked them to write about it, every story would be different. (And it was, some brilliant pieces came out of the exercise) That is what is glorious about creativity. We all have different stories to tell even if we start in the same place.

A TED talk worth listening too is by Chimamanda Adichie and the danger of the single story.

Cathy Cassidy put this up the other day and I feel it is quite appropriate. It is Elvis Costello's 'Everyday I write the book'

Saturday 27 October 2012

Writing in layers

I had a wander round the city today. It has been a while and first of  all I ended up buying these shoes - bad woman - but I also had a little potter round my favourite art gallery where there were some amazing paintings (check these out: and It was positively restorative for a shattered mind and body.

But wandering around Winchester also allowed me time to think about my new work in progress. I had had some great feedback from my critique group, which I was delighted about, but it definitely needed work. I had already decided earlier in the week to kill off one of the characters. She was surplus and had nothing to say so there was no point having her there. Whilst I spent the morning people watching as I walked around another new idea came to mind. It was one of those surprise moments I mentioned in the post before last. I realised I wanted to start the story earlier and there needed to be a heightened sense of risk and tension. These kids were in danger and up until now I hadn't let the reader know that. I was the only one who knew.

It is a problem I often see with students and something I think we can all be guilty of at times. You read the story and it feels a bit flat and one dimensional because the important bits of the story are still be in the writer's head. We, the writers, know exactly what is going on in our story but have failed to put those hints on the page to enable a reader to work it out as well. It is all about layers. Creating characters that are fully rounded, settings that lift off the page and a plot that engages the reader - making them want to keep reading.

There is an art to going back over your work and making the links, developing those layers so that they all make sense. There is no easy route, it takes time and effort and is all part of the editing/rewriting as well as the actual writing process. But it is worth it. A good idea, when you are rewriting/editing, is to analyse your chapters and break them down ensuring that plots and sub plots are supported throughout and don't just drift off somewhere without conclusion. Also checking that your characters' behaviour and attitude is consistent and appropriate throughout. It is all in the small details that can ensure that the reader willingly suspends disbelief (check out Samuel Taylor Coleridge for this idea) and embraces the story.

Here is Zoe Keating playing Optimist. Watch how she creates the piece of music by creating layers - just like writing.

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Too many good people lost this year....

Feeling sad
This is just a very brief post to celebrate a life and many others as too many wonderful writers and musicians have disappeared off our world this year. In particular it seems to have been a large number of children's authors - or perhaps I am just conscious of them as emails go around announcing the latest death and we all start remembering the first time we read one of their books.

Music is the same. I am certain I have a soundtrack to my life. There are so many songs which relate to particular moments in my life, it is always sad when one of those musicians are taken. It seem to make the memory fade just slightly.

This is actually for Michael Marra who I have just heard has died. He is someone that sadly I have only recently come across and for me, therefore, has definitely been taken too soon.

RIP Michael Marra

Sunday 14 October 2012

Writerly moments

This sign has suddenly appeared in the fields just outside our village and following a large explosion last week. (Thank you Debbie Found for allowing me to use her picture) We have all been walking through these fields for years and we had no idea. What a surprise that could have been!

Anyway in this blog I have previously spoken about Meg Rosoff and her idea of 'throughness' when writing - that moment when you feel totally connected. (If you are interested she wrote a brilliant article about it in Write4Children)  It is the most wonderful feeling when it happens, though I am sure we all know as writers, it doesn't happen that often unfortunately. Further to this I was talking with a good friend this week about how our respective writing projects were going. He told me about a moment when a character just suddenly appeared complete with name. It took him totally by surprise. He had no idea where they had come from. And it certainly is a very different character but I am not going to tell you about them, that is his story to tell.

What I am interested in is this idea of our writing taking us by surprise. We think we plan it, sometimes to the nth degree and that we know exactly where any story is going. But then suddenly it takes this about turn. It can be a new, unexpected character appearing, or even, and this has happened to me, a character turning round and saying 'But that's not what I would do!' Or they go to a place you had never thought about. Or do something you had never considered. Often all of them making the story better and stronger.  I find these moments can happen when you are so engrossed in your writing and I do wonder if it is our unconscious selves stepping in with ideas we didn't know we had because we hadn't taken the time to think about them.

There are other times when these surprise turns can happen. They are moments when you are doing something totally unrelated to writing. I have been stuck before now, not sure quite how to solve a plot problem or a character issue and I can almost guarantee that the answer will appear in the shower, when I am driving, doing the ironing or anything that means my brain is not really thinking and I have nothing to write with! There is a wonderful story, that I may have told before, of Tom Waits, the American singer-songwriter, who was driving along and ideas for songs kept coming. He apparently shouted to the sky, 'can't you see I am driving!' I think we have to have these moments in order to allow space in our over-active brains to let those ideas in. Unfortunately it is not that easy to contrive these situations, they just have to happen.

I was watching a glorious TED talk (I do love them) by Amy Tan on 'where does creativity hide?' She was talking about how she found when she was writing she would see hints everywhere. And this is something I also find. When I have an idea for a story I will often suddenly start seeing things that are related to it and that I have never noticed before. I always thought it was chance and it was a secret message to me that I was right to write the story. She, more logically and, I think probably rightly so, believes that it is because we are more focused. I do love the romance of chance though....

I am struggling to find the time to write at the moment let alone have wonderful surprise moments but maybe this week will be the week again. There are so many ideas buzzing around that need to be dealt with. I hope you have some wonderful writerly moments.

I heard this and fell in love with it. And it does what it says on the tin, it makes you feel like you are 'Wrapped in your arms' by Fireflight.

Friday 28 September 2012

Copyright, plagiarism and all that stuff....

Tired-ness and Elated-ness
We have just come to the end of the first week of teaching in Semester 1 and I have to confess to being a little tired. However prepared you are it still takes you by surprise. One of the delights of this week for me has been that every group of students I have had have been enthusiastic and engaged. It has been an absolute thrill to teach them. Add to that that yesterday we found out that Creative Writing at the University of Winchester had been voted number one in England for overall satisfaction by the students in the National Student Survey. This is a big deal for us. And, I admit, we are elated.

As lecturers we are always told to keep an eye out for plagiarism, luckily in creative writing examples of it seem very rare. In fact, in the five years that I have been lecturing I have not come across any but I know others who have and we do come down hard on them. Do they really think we don't spot it? But I have been watching with interest an email conversation that has been going on in one of the elists. I am not going to be specific and you will see why. It has been about a book that was self published and reviewed by what appears to be a very reputable source. What apparently has come to light is that this book bears more than a slight likeness to another book published many years ago (but still within copyright).To the extent that some of the same phrases, plots and themes etc have been used and are definitely recognisable. Plagiarism and copyright infringement- who knows?

The person who wrote the self published book does not appear to be being malicious, it was more a case of naivety. They wanted to produce the book so that they could share the story with others and apparently also thought it was a fable not an actual book. This made me ask myself several questions - if we are contemplating self publishing do we also need to do a quick Google check to make sure our perceived original idea is not a direct copy of a book we loved as a child? I have not self published anything so am not sure of the processes. Do the organisations that self publish assume you have checked all copyright issues? Where does the responsibility lie? The other thing that came out of this was it was suggested that reviewers should consider checking books to make sure they are not infringements. It seems to me that something quite  apparently innocent has taken on all new proportions and to  a certain extent quite rightly so. It took me back to some discussions held on facebook recently about images that are used on blogs if you don't own them, what actually gives you the right to use them if you have not sought permission?There was in fact a legal case about it. Someone also quite rightly pointed out would we be so dismissive if it was our writing that someone had taken and used without permission.

I have no answers to any of this, am just really thinking out loud.

And just because I am in a Paul Buchanan type of mood....

Sunday 23 September 2012

Starting Over.....

Starting over....
Last week was full of new beginnings. On Friday I spent a glorious morning with our new students for a couple of induction sessions at the University of Winchester. It was wonderful, the room was absolutely buzzing. Their faces were so full of hope and happiness. There was a good dose of laughter too, which is always important. I can't wait to work with them.

This week I actually wrote the first chapter of my new story. I have been mulling it over for a while but I decided to get the first chapter down and see what happens. Luckily the words flowed and seemed (at the moment) to be in the right order. It doesn't mean they will stay like that but it is a start.

This is the first story I have written for a long time that is not tied into some form of academic achievement. Quite a strange feeling. I have been very lucky, however, to be invited to join a particular YA Critique group. I am delighted to be part of it because the writers who are already members are very strong writers and am sure I am going to get a huge amount out of it. It is quite terrifying though. I posted my first chapter this morning and this in itself is unusual for me as I usually tinker for ages before I let people see it. But I decided I would be interested in seeing what their thoughts are on a very early version. It was a real GULP moment for me putting something so new and precious out there, particularly when you know deep down that it isn't perfect. I am looking forward to their comments though as I am certain they will help keep me on my toes when I am writing this new story - it has a tentative title 'Persephone's Pegasus' - which may well change but I always have to name my stories so that I 'own' them. They become mine and it is something I encourage my students to do, even for their assignments.

I have spent the last two and bit years working on Trafficking (that which was Ham and Jam) so it is quite strange to start over again with a totally new story,new voice and new characters. I am busy getting to know them, getting to understand their idiosyncrasies and knowing what they look like. All good fun. They will become my friends in the same way Saba and Amina became my friends before and who are hopefully going to embark on their own journey soon.

I am also involved in a new project which I can't quite reveal yet but it certainly will be hatching in the very near future. I will share all the details with you very soon. I am very excited about it and what it will offer, plus I am working with some fantastic people on it.

You see I am definitely 'starting over....'

Monday 17 September 2012

Writing Britain

British Library
Yesterday I met up with a great friend who had done her MA in Writing for Children at the same time as me. We don't often get together as she lives in Cambridge but when we do there is an awful lot of talking going on. The reason for our latest get together was because a few weeks ago I won tickets for the Writing Britain Wastelands to Wonderlands exhibition at the British Library. (Many thanks to the Tall Tales & Short Stories blog).

It was a joyous exhibition, there were some wonderful books, in particular a beautifully illustrated manuscript of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (c. 1410), which was just incredible to look at it.....the work - it must have taken hours. But for me, as a writer, the best parts were the handwritten manuscripts whether in books or loose leaf paper. It was seeing how they wrote, how they edited, what their processes were. It was all about the creative practice for me. There were manuscripts from Austen, Emily Bronte, James Joyce (how he reads his edits goodness knows), Dickens, J.G.Ballard (he uses a fascinating method of different coloued pens, writes in black, then edits first in red then in blue), Katherine Mansfield, Angela Carter (a personal hero), Philip Larkin, Virginia Woolf (another hero), William Blake, to name but a few. But I have to say I was delighted to see so many children's books too - Lewis Carrol's handwritten and illustrated book that he gave to Alice, Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows, right up to a JK Rowlings hand written 'The Journey from Platform Nine and Three Quarters' chapter from Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone. I was previously lucky enough to see a handwritten manuscript by Philip Pullman, which is held at Seven Stories in Newcastle.As I said as a writer it is a real thrill to see these things. It is not only good to see how they do things and how they approach the process but also it might give you new ideas and it might even mean you have your methods affirmed as their approach to editing is the same as yours.

The exhibition is only on until the 25th September, but if you get a chance to go, do so. It is well worth it.

On a different matter it was ten years ago that I started as a very tentative mature student at the University of Winchester. Little did I know all these years later I would be teaching at the same place. If I am honest at that stage it was the last thing on my mind but am so glad I was brave enough to do it because it changed my life in so many ways. But that is history and now I am looking forward so here is 'History's Door' by Husky to celebrate the fact:

Sunday 9 September 2012

New Beginnings...


It is all about new beginnings at the moment. Yesterday I was doing an Open Day at the University of Winchester. Two weeks tomorrow is the start of a new academic year and, lastly, I have two brand new stories buzzing around in my head.

Open Days are always fun to do particularly if you are part of a double act. You have a room full of beaming potential students with their slightly less beaming parents. It is always a relief to see at the end of the talk to see that the parents smiles are just as wide as their children when they realise how useful a creative writing degree can be. Also I have to say it is hugely satisfying when at the end of the talk the parents and prospective students clap and cheer. We had lots of students come through our four sessions yesterday and it was a joy if a bit exhausting. Hopefully we will see many of them next September.

Talking of which, as I said, two weeks tomorrow will be the start of the new academic year. An exciting time but also a time of fear even for the lecturers. I am in the midst of lesson planning and ensuring that all my work is up to date so I can hit the ground running when the teaching starts....hmmm...that's the plan, will it be the reality remains to be seen!

The most exciting new beginning for me is the fact I have two new stories buzzing around. Trafficking is off with the editor and I decided it was time to start something new. But then it was like buses, two stories came along at the same time. Both pretty well formed but one requires a huge amount of research (including travelling abroad in order to do it) so I think that one is going to have to sit and wait on the back burner until I have the time and the money to do it justice. Luckily, I love the other story, it is another thriller for YA but quite different from Trafficking. The ideas for it are just dancing around my mind. I can see the plot and as always it is basic but I know I can build it up with some thrilling twists and turns. I am going to try and get a bit of it written before the start of term because once it starts the writing will have to take a back step, which to be honest is quite frustrating, but I might take a leaf out of Marcus Sedgwick's book (excuse the pun) who used to write every other Saturday when he was working for publishers and writing his books at the same time. I will set a day aside a week dedicated to writing. I know some people would sit back and wait for the feedback on Trafficking but I want to move forward. I never feel complete unless I am writing and I have a story flowing through my head that needs to be put on the page. Definitely a case of Happi-Ness!!

This is irrelevant to this post but I think it is beautiful, I have no idea how it is done but I thought you would enjoy it too.

Saturday 1 September 2012

Foucault and teaching

Just a few of my Foucault books
'I'm no prophet. My job is making windows where there were once walls.' This quote is attributed to my friend (and nemesis), Michel Foucault. It has not appeared in print but apparently was said by him and overheard by Hubert Dreyfus who then used it in a talk that was heard by Lewis Hyde. He then used it in his book Trickster Makes This World: How Disruption Imagination Creates Culture.(2008) A long winded way of saying I am not positive whether Foucault did say it or not, but it is a quote I find very inspiring particularly when thinking about teaching.

Today is the 1st September and my personal deadline for when I can no longer focus solely on my own work/research, now it is time to start all the planning for next semester. I am hoping that by doing 12 weeks of lesson plans and writing lectures now I will have time to continue with my own work even whilst teaching. Otherwise it is too easy to have the life sucked out of you as the academic whirlwind, that is all encompassing, consumes you then spits you out lifeless and exhausted at the end. Plus there is a new job in a different area to apply for, which if I get will take even more of my time, and a wonderful new project that I am involved in that, excitingly, is right away from academia. Then of course there is the new story idea I have which will need lots of research before I can start it. Lots of positives but all will need my time. Time is such a precious commodity that we rarely appreciate until we have none left.

Oops went off on a tangent there, anyway back to the quote, as I said it made me think of teaching and, no, I am not claiming to be a prophet but I did think that teaching is all about 'creating windows where there were once walls.' Particularly in creative writing where we are giving students the chance to try on and fall in love with different voices. As well as exploring their writing styles and techniques whilst finding out who they are as writers. They learn to hone their craft and knock through their own walls to create those windows on the world which welcome the light in. It is a privilege to watch students develop through their degree and become confident in who they are as writers.

I think this week might also contain a trip to get new pens and pencils and notepads. Who says you have to be a student to experience that bit of excitement? For me it is just another excuse, but so many writers I know are  stationery addicts too - comes with the territory I think.

This seemed appropriate for knocking windows in walls and the forthcoming start of a new semester. Pink Floyd's ' 'Another Brick in the Wall'. Good luck to all teachers and lecturers for the forthcoming onslaught, particularly those of us in Higher Education who are facing our first year of 'those fees'.

Wednesday 29 August 2012

Guilty confessions and the art of critiquing and writing good stories

The Shop Around The Corner
I have a guilty secret....I watch the X Factor auditions....there it is out there now. I love seeing the moments when unexpected beauty falls out of a contestant's mouth and those other cringe worthy times where you wonder why hasn't anyone told them they can't sing. It was whilst watching it this weekend that got me thinking, a contestant was singing her heart out and in the total belief she could sing. You could see it her face, she had no doubts in her ability. She couldn't, not even close. Off stage her mother and aunt (I assume) were swaying happily, saying how wonderfully she was doing. She wasn't but she had obviously been told for a very long time how brilliantly she sang. It was a brutal way for her to find out that her singing wasn't quite as good as she thought. I admire her guts totally, I could not go on stage and do what she did. But there again I won't sing anywhere in public because my mother told both my sister and  I that we cannot sing at all and therefore mustn't ever. It must be possible to achieve a balance between these two extremes.

What has this got to do with writing? Well, it goes back to having your work critiqued. Don't give it to family. I would be a rich woman if I had a pound for everytime someone has said to me 'I have written a brilliant story. I know it is good, my children (grandchidren/niece/nephew - delete as appropriate) have told me.' Of course they have, they're your children, very few children are going to tell a relative their story is not working. You need to find a group of people that you can trust and will be honest with you. (the SCBWI has great critique groups) Critiquing is not about someone patting you on the head and saying 'that's very nice dear.' It is about offering constructive criticism, working out together what works and what doesn't and it is mutual thing. You can learn so much from critiquing other people's work too. It is where I learnt to trust myself, if my gut says something is not working invariably it will be picked up by others. I now change anything that the gut gives the slightest hint of a grumble at.

I can also hear you ask why is there a picture of the Shop Around the Corner from You've Got Mail in the corner. I was watching this at the weekend too - a prevarication technique to avoid doing the final bits on the review essay and also I was shunted in my car and was feeling very sore and sorry for myself. It is a feel good film by Nora Ephron. But there was a point when Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) said something to Joe Fox (Tom Hanks) that really struck home. She was talking about how her mother 'wasn't just selling books, she was helping people become who they were going to be...Reading books as a child becomes part of your identity unlike any other form of reading in your life.' For me this summed up the importance of children's books and something that I worry I lose sight of sometimes amongst all the academia.  As a writer I need to remember I am providing a vicarious experience for my child/teenager reader and something I write might just have an impact on a decision they make. My stories have got to be good and strong so the readers can get lost in the narrative. I am sure we can all remember those times as a child when you got so involved in a book  that you read continuously from cover to cover because you couldn't bear to stop. You were so totally engrossed in that world that everything around you appears to stop. I want to write stories like that.

Ok enough of my witterings, I have unashamedly pilfered this from a friend's blog because I have fallen in love with it and its sentiments:

Thursday 23 August 2012

Prevarication and short stories.....

You may remember I am supposed to be writing a review essay but I have found myself prevaricating over the last few days. All my pencils are sharpened, every shirt is ironed within an inch of its life and my CD collection is now in alphabetical order. Anything to avoid getting down to this essay....bad Vanessa!

But another form of my prevaricating has been very productive. A few months ago I wrote my first adult short story for a while. I had left it alone whilst I got on with finishing Trafficking. However, I have been back to it and tinkered with it loads and am now very pleased with the outcome. It was very interesting writing something for adults making a total change from writing for children. .

The story is based on an image I had years ago that I wanted to use for a story - just a little black dress. It has since morphed and evolved until it became its latest version entitled 'Dance Under a Perigee Moon.' It has been a joy to write and has elements of family history in that I wanted to keep alive. It has also been a really useful way to keep my creative brain working. It has left it open for new ideas and thoughts as I start thinking about my next novel. I am on the constant look out for images as that is often the trigger for my stories. Trafficking, for example and which I may have already mentioned, was inspired by a photo of a terrified girl from Afghanistan.

The short story is a format I haven't used for a while and I was certain I had lost the 'touch' until I found Vanessa Gebbie's excellent book Short Circuit: A guide to the art of the short story.  This is an edited collection of essays by published short story writers and it is invaluable. I have found it useful because I tend to consider that each chapter in a book is a short story in itself so have been able to apply some of the guidance in Short Circuit to all areas of my writing. I highly recommend getting this book if you haven't already.

'Dance Under a Perigee Moon' is virtually ready to submit therefore the next bit of prevarication will be looking for a suitable place to send it....I will get this essay done soon...promise! In the meantime I will be looking for the crack that lets the light in (and maybe the essay)

Monday 20 August 2012

Different countries, different books

My brain
Those of you who read my blog on a regular basis maybe aware that I am an academic as well as a writer. And it was as an academic that a few months ago I was approached by a journal who asked me to write a review essay for them. They very kindly sent me a collection of six YA books which I had to read and they wanted me to compare them with UK YA fiction.

For part of my PhD I explored the representation of drugs in British contemporary realist fiction and how it had changed since Melvin Burgess's Junk. The idea for this review essay was that I would look at these new books from a foreign land and see how they represent drugs in their YA books.

It has been an interesting experience as I was surprised how different they were. The drugs they use to illustrate drug use tend to be different to ours and some of them were far more didactic. You could almost feel the author wagging their finger at you and shouting 'DO NOT TAKE DRUGS' as they lurched from one episode of drug taking to the next. It seemed to me that some didn't follow Blanchot's idea of leaving questions on the page ready for the reader to pick up and explore. These weren't questions they were statements/directions.

But it also made me think about my own writing and how 'international' it could be and should that be something I even thought about as I wrote. Is it something you planned or it just happened?  I have moved the setting of my story from France to  a non specific city in the UK. I am assured this is a good move but we will see. I would love to hear what the rest of you think about this and whether you consider it when writing?

The picture above is mine but it also represents my brain at the moment as I try and flit between the academic/critical writer and my creative brain as I am thinking of a new story.Wish my luck, it is a bit like pulling teeth.

And in the spirit of things here is Karima Francis playing The Author, which seemed appropriate today:

Friday 10 August 2012

Synopses and Letters to Agents

You put the final full stop on your manuscript that you are sure you have polished and polished to within an inch of its life and, therefore, you are now ready to send it out to prospective agents and publishers, when it hits you - BAM! You have to go through that tortuous process of writing the synopsis and the all important agent/publisher's letter. We all know how important it is to get these right because they are both things that can encourage said publisher or agent to look at your manuscript. The pressure is on.

However, help is at hand, Nicola Morgan has recently publishes her latest book Dear Agent. It is available for download in various places including Amazon. This is the latest in Nicola's collection of books aimed at helping the aspiring writer. She has also written Write to Be Published  and Write a Great Synopsis. I would recommend every single one of them and do so quite frequently. She offers sensible advice that is easy to follow. You still have to do the writing but Nicola, very cleverly, makes you feel like she is holding your hand as you go through the process. She makes you stop and think, asking questions of yourself and your writing. She is reassuring yet realistic in her approach. In Dear Agent Nicola gets down to specifics, for example there are chapters on your introductory paragraph, the hook paragraph, the wonderfully named cook paragraph - which is where your self - and then the final paragraph. All of which make you think very carefully about you and your manuscript and what information you want to get across. This along with Write a Great Synopsis backs up what she said in Write to Be Published but they also go into more detail. Using Nicola's books all together and following her advice means that you are well prepared when it comes to sending out that precious manuscript. It is well worth following her blog too, which is full of useful tips and ideas:

Why should we believe what Nicola Morgan says I can hear you ask? It is quite simple, because she knows what she is talking about. As well as her non fiction, Nicola has written numerous excellent pieces of fiction. Her book, Wasted, is a perfect example and a book I used in my PhD research. It was also a book I used in one of my modules where the students where expected to do an author study. Nicola was incredibly generous with her time and willingly gave the students so much information. They were absolutely thrilled and took so much away from the encounter. I have recently downloaded her book Mondays are Red and am looking forward to getting into that too.

Here's Newton Faulkner's Pulling Teeth because sometimes writing feels like that, plus it comes from a new favourite cd:

Wednesday 8 August 2012

You never forget...

Devizes Book Shop
This week I have been caught up in Olympic fever, in particular, the three-day eventing, the dressage and the  show jumping. Unfortunately I didn't manage to get tickets but as I watched it on tv it took me back years to when I was way younger than I am now but to a time when I was passionate, no obsessed, with riding. The weirdest thing was that as I sat watching I found myself clenching my knees and calves just as I would if it was me on the horse and I was about to jump. It was exactly what I used to do when I was riding and also I used to do it when watching the Horse of the Year show. I lived it and it was still there. It was a totally unconscious action. My body just did it automatically. It had remembered.

When I noticed what my body was doing it triggered a whole load more memories. I was never lucky enough to own my horse. My parents kept telling me I would get one when we moved to a house big enough - we never did, we just kept looking at them. But I had a great friend Jojo who I used to ride with, plus I had regular lessons and took part in gymkhanas etc. At that time it was my life. The chance to escape into the countryside and experience the total freedom. There is, and was, nothing like it. I also spent a lot of my very young life riding 'pretend' horses in the garden and jumping numerous bushes, convinced in my head I was on this beautiful, brave pony. I could really see it, feel it, hear it. Oh the joys of imagination. Perhaps it is this strong imagination that I still use when I write because I live my story in my head as I write it.

I am still in contact with Jojo and our lives have continued to touch though not via horses so much. To be honest I don't think Jojo is known as that by anyone else but me these days. She is a proper grown up now but still rides! She owns the amazing Devizes Bookshop (see photo above provided by Jojo). Go and visit it,  it is a wonderful independent book store, which includes a gallery space.  It is a place you can get lost in....think of all those books and stories that you can delve into!

What has this got to do with writing I hear you ask, well, I was also reading Candy Gourlay's latest blog post, where she is talking about 'writing who you are'.  When you write there will always be a bit of you in there, sometimes you need to let in a little bit more but, as with all writing, there has to be a balance to it all. You must also watch that you haven't put too much of yourself in a story. It can stultify the narrative. It needs to be hints and understanding whilst also realising that being a child now is very different to when you as the author was a child.

Candy says  'It is not just writing about what you know, it's about writing who you are.' Maybe it is time for that pony story to make its way onto my screen instead of it hiding in the corner all the time. And perhaps that pony will need to be called Kelly, eh Jojo?

Just to take a few people even further back including my sister Jacky....this is just for you as you celebrated a special birthday last week ;-)

Tuesday 31 July 2012

A new book on teaching creative writing

I'm in this!
Teaching Creative Writing - Practical Approaches is edited by Elaine Walker and published by Creative Writing Studies, an inprint of The Professional and Higher Partnership Ltd. It is full of chapters written by the likes of Philip Gross, Steve May, Craig Batty, Donna Lee Brien, Gill James to name but a few. The idea behind the book is to showcase practical approaches to teaching creative writing in higher education. All the chapters are written by practitioners. Each innovative chapter is based on an exercise that can be borrowed or adapted. Also, I have to say this, the cover is absolutely beautiful - such a girl I know!

Chapter titles include such exercises as: 'Who I am' icebreaker: establishing a group dynamic, by Elaine Walker; Gift Wraps: a collaborative poetry game, by Philip Gross and Steve May's: Paperless workshop: save trees, increase interaction, reduce preciousness. I have gone through the book and it gave me so many ideas. It is always interesting to see how other people do things. I can't wait to be back teaching in September and using many of these exercises in my workshops.

The current edition is really aimed at libraries but a lower priced paperback edition will be coming out later. In the meantime there is also an e-edition if you are interested. Check it out here:

I cannot deny I am still new enough to this game to be thrilled to see my name in print. Does that ever get tiresome? I wonder what will have my name attached to it next...a book on writing YAF or a piece of fiction - who knows but watch this space.

And for all those dreams here is Newton Faulkner's Dream Catch Me

Saturday 28 July 2012

Editing and polishing my manuscript

Trafficking that was.....

This photo shows the first complete version of Ham and Jam that was completed two years ago on the Arvon Tutored Retreat that I was awarded. It has now undergone several reincarnations including two total rewrites. One where I took the number of points of view down from four to two and the latest one where I moved the setting of the whole story from France to the UK. At times it has been like pulling teeth, at other times it has flowed, totally unstoppable, like lava down a volcano.

The original story had sex, drugs and alcohol in it - after all that was my PhD. The latest version has none of these but does have a bit of violence and a shooting. I am pleased with this version and am confident that the rewrites have definitely improved the story. I realised I was writing  a thriller, something that never occurred to me I would ever write. But I loved doing it and look forward to doing more.

Having done the rewriting, I am now in the position of editing, editing, editing and polishing. It can be quite painful and tortuous as you try and make the manuscript as perfect as possible. This weekend I will find myself asking questions of the MS such as:

Am I telling anything I have already shown?

Is the dialogue relevant the story and moving it on or is it a bit 'talking heads'? (talking heads is where characters are doing a lot of talking but not moving the story forward)

Have I just info-dumped? Instead I need to drip-feed this information in. Resist the urge to explain.

Have I remembered to use the setting as a character? It can create moods etc - think the moor in Wuthering Heights.

Have I left some stuff to the reader's imagination?

After that, and using the 'Find' tool, I will search for the following words and try and replace them: 'as', 'very', 'then' and 'suddenly' - plus any other 'ing' and 'ly' phrases. I may not get rid of all of them but I will check that  there is no better way of saying it.

The slightly disheartening part of this is that you know if, and when, you show your completed manuscript, which you have lovingly crafted and can't see how it could possible be improved, they will promptly spot holes, mistakes and ways of making it better. Don't give up, listen and see what works for you, but most importantly don't ever be precious about your manuscript.

Right I am off to pull a few teeth ;-)

This song, Paper Birds,  is written and performed by one of my ex-students, Meg Burrows: