17th December 2014

Diary of 2014

Abi Art leaflet - small picYes, I’m feeling in a bit of a reflective mood. It’s that end of the year feeling where you look back at what’s been and assess it… was it a good year? Was it a bad one? Globally, I think it’s been pretty rubbish, worrying and desperately sad. But this is not the place…

So instead, here’s my frivolous summary – a year in the life of this Burlingham woman who is currently sat in pjs being twinkled at by the fairy lights on her Xmas tree and wondering when she can open the Celebrations!

The most eventful thing that happened in January was that I got caught in a hail storm to end all hail storms in Matlock. It was so bad that it nearly dislodged one of my contact lenses! However (there’s always a however) I did buy some funky things from the wonderful and huge antique shop there, so it was worth almost having a hailstone embedded in my eye!

Went to a 50th do and had a good boogy and discovered that my joints weren’t quite as supple as they had once been. Also discovered that my cholesterol was higher than I wanted it to be. Definitely a month for feeling old and decrepit!

A birthday – mine – always something to celebrate in my opinion. I spent a good wedge of it in the Vintage Café (one of my very favourite places)
Me in Vintage Tea Rooms, ChesterfieldApril
I was forced to suffer a GCSE moderation meeting which made me want to stick pins in my eyes. The only thing that stopped me was that all pins had been removed from the premises beforehand!

I went to Southsea and Portsmouth for the first time and went on HMS Warrior which was absolutely amazing, so moving and like stepping into another world. There was a tangible presence of the lives who had inhabited it. Definitely one of my 2014 highlights.
HMS Warrior 1June
I had a pamper day at Eden Hall (highlight) I really needed it, especially given that I spent most of the rest of the month re-painting the kitchen units (lowlight) but they did look fab once finished (highlight) Crikey, life is such a rollercoaster! 😉

After years of dabbling with paints, I made the decision to start taking it all a bit more seriously. I spent the Summer painting with a vengeance and produced a couple of A2 sized canvases, one of which, ‘The Walk’, found a buyer the day I put it on my Facebook author/artist page here. Definitely a huge highlight to my year and one which kick-started my new venture.

The Walk

The Walk

Read Jessie Burton’s ‘The Miniaturist’ – a wonderful and captivating book that I heartily recommend. It has a stunning cover too! I also had a riding lesson – I hadn’t ridden since my teens on holiday. It was AMAZING and well worth walking round for a week afterwards as if I had an invisible fitness ball between my legs!

North Wales! Deserted beaches! A graffiti ship! Pub food! What more can I say? Oh, and I sold another painting – whoop whoop! Lowlight was a bunch of rejections for my last children’s novel and a near miss with an agent that made me weep big pear-drop tears.
Duke of Lancaster 3

Started my Etsy shop: AbiBurlinghamArtist – here. A hectic and brain-mashing time getting prints done and cards made and working out postage and the best ways to package stuff. The usual mix of excitement and anxiety that comes with a new venture, and a few tears and groans of ‘I can’t do it’ along the way. But guess what? I did! AND, I got a commission for a painting of flowers and butterflies, which was fab!

My tween became a teen and we celebrated with a pizza night and shopping and other tweens/teens taking over the Burlingham Residence for the night. I was laid up with a flipping awful bug for 2 weeks that became 3 weeks and nearly 4 weeks before I reclaimed my mojo! Ooh, and I got taken on as a tutor by the wonderful and very creative Straight Curves – creative writing and story-telling/activity workshops to commence in Jan 2015 – you can see more here soon. AND, they are also exhibiting some of my prints and paintings for sale here, which is fab and brill!

All things Christmassy – shopping, hot chocolate in front of the fire at the Vintage Café. Even managed to decorate the spare bedroom and clear out and re-organise my art cupboard. I also have more paintings at the printers about to be made into prints and cards.

So, what am I hoping for for 2015? Well, it would be lovely to sell more paintings and prints and get more commissions. I’m also hoping to get my cards into one or two card shops. It would also be fab if my children’s manuscript got taken up by an agent or publisher. But mainly, I’d love to see a more peaceful, harmonious world, one where people are kinder to each other (and to animals too) and one which is more tolerant, less bitter and angry, more willing to celebrate our differences. That really would be something to look forward to.

What was your highlight of 2014 and what do you most want for 2015? 

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24th November 2013

New Webby… New Blog!

wonky tree

Hi all!

This will be my final post on Mutterings and Musings as I am moving house! Oh yes! I have a new webby and a new blog site HERE. Hence, this site will be redundant in a few days time. So please hop across to the new one and take a look around. I’ll be posting my first blog post on the new blog in the coming week, but you can also peruse past posts on the new site too.

If you’re subscribed to my blog post here, please hop across to HERE and subscribe to my new one.

I shall be blogging randomly, and as time allows, on all things writerly and on other stuff that tickles my fancy and which I hope will tickle yours. I am also scheduling a new Writers’ Spaces post, and there will be an interview with the lovely children’s writer, Jenny Alexander, who you can find HERE.

Thanks very much for all your comments, feedback and support on this here webby and blog – makes my toes tingle just thinking about how fab you’ve all been. And many thanks to Nettie Thomson at Meldrum Media for designing the new webby and encouraging me to produce the artwork for it, which was a joy to do.

So, on that note, have a fab Sunday and see you on the other side x

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12th November 2013

Authors for the Philippines

Just one of the books donated.

Just one of the books donated.

Ooh, it’s been a wee while since I’ve bloggetty blogged and this is for a variety of reasons:
1) I needed a break.
2) The filing cabinet in my head overfloweth.
3) I will be launching a new blog via a new website very soonly *squeals*
4) I have been writing!

However, this is something very worth blogging about and has brought me out of hiding, as it were. You will, no doubt, all know about the Philippines typhoon – Typhoon Haiyan – one of the strongest storms ever recorded. At least 10,000 people are feared dead, and I suspect this number will rise.

There are many charities doing as much as they can to raise money to help, but I wanted to bring your attention to something that was brought to my attention… thank you Emma Pass… this morning.

Authors for the Philippines has been set up to encourage authors to donate books, critiques, school visits, which people can then bid for, in order to raise money for the Philippines. It’s a great and worthy cause and these people really do need our help. The storms we suffer here in the UK are nothing by comparison, and I can barely imagine how terrifying and devastating a storm of this magnitude would be.

So please hop over to the Authors for the Philippines site and see if there’s anything you can donate to help. Go to ‘Donate an item for auction’ towards the top of the page. I’ll be donating a signed set of the Ruby and Grub books, and many other authors have already made pledges – the more, the better!

Many thanks x

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26th July 2013

Mapping out my latest novel

Trees and MoonThere’s always plenty of chat in the writerly world  about whether we should plot or plan, which works best, which we prefer, or whether we do a bit of both. One of the wonderful things about any creative pursuit though, is that we can do it exactly the way we want. I like to tackle each project in a different way, or, should I say, in the way that most suits it. I wouldn’t say that I disregard most rules of writing (I am a complete grammar pedant) but I think that rules about how we should write and on structure box a person in creatively, so I prefer to ignore them. Of course, this could be why I’ve had more rejections than published works *cough*,  but I guess that when it comes to it, being published is less important to me than the process. What matters is the enjoyment of it and the scope for experimentation. It’s always important to know the foundations and building blocks of writing, but I think you find your voice by knocking a few of those down.

The other day, I saw this wee thing about the six types of writer:

Six types of writer

I knew straight away that I was ‘The Space Cadet’ – yep, that’s me. If I ever make a lot of money out of this writing malarkey it’ll be nothing short of a minor miracle, and will be a complete and utter fluke! I am, like The Space Cadet, someone whose head is full of daydreams that I think could potentially be entertaining to others.

With my current Work in Progress I have taken, yet again, a different approach to anything else I’ve written.  To begin, two scenes came to me as incredibly vivid and visual dreams, dreamt two months apart. One of these has formed the setting and part of Chapter One, the other has formed the beginning and also the climax of the novel.  This isn’t unusual for me to dream something which is clearly a story, and one that I need to tell.  The same thing happened with Buttercup Magic: A Mystery for Megan. Sometimes I will just run with a story from this point and see where it goes – when this happens though I find I have to re-draft over and over and the ravelling and unravelling is harder.  For one novel, I used locations and real people to inspire each chapter, for another I plotted in detail before starting the writing proper (see plot planner blog post here).

25.7.13 Mapping H of DIt’s wonderful to experiment and see what works and what doesn’t. I don’t have any preconceived ideas. By reading, by chance, a blog post about Pinterest, I began to collect a whole load of visual images. I then selected those which resonated with the dreams and ideas in my head and used these to inspire incidents, characters and action points within the story. At this point, it seemed to make sense to order these as a map – not a map of another world as such, but a map of the characters’ journey.  This has appealed to me on many levels – it’s a sort of structure, but any other ideas can branch off and be added at any point. It’s incredibly visual. It’s allowed me to think ahead to the climax and the resolution, which has given me an entrance into a second book, and it’s allowed me to do colouring in stuff with coloured pencils (whoopee!)

The other wonderful thing about this is that I have always wanted to write a book that required a map. Ever since reading The Lord of the Rings (I confess, this wasn’t until my 20s) I have wanted to write a book with the same breadth and otherworldliness, a book that needed a map! I had always believed I wasn’t capable of this, that I wouldn’t know where to start, that I didn’t have enough ideas. Twenty years later, I appear to have stumbled upon something quite by chance.

I am only 4,600 words in (and a map… don’t forget the map… and a whole load of images… don’t forget those too… and a very important notebook full of ideas) but I am very excited about this book and am hoping that by the end of the August I will have a completed manuscript and that JRR Tolkien might give a wink of approval.

How do you approach your new WIP? Do you alter your approach according to the type of book you are writing?

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3rd July 2013

Using Pinterest as a Writing Tool

Until a couple of weeks ago Pinterest was Puninterest as far as I was concerned.  Feeling swamped by social media, I have avoided it, fervently sticking to Twitter (you can follow me here) or Facebook (I have an author page here) and closing my eyes and ears to every other social network thingy.

However, that was before I read a blogpost on Picture Book Den by children’s writer Abie Longstaff about getting in the right frame of mind for writing a new book and where she says how she uses Pinterest to help her writing.  The idea that you can ‘collect all the pictures in one place’ really appealed to me.  The post also inspired me as I, too, am in the early stages of writing a new book.  In addition to this, it isn’t really like anything I’ve written before.  It’s the book I have wanted to write for years but always thought I couldn’t because it involves a lot of plotting and a whole load of ideas – I didn’t think I had enough of these to make it work.  So Pinterest, I suddenly realised, would suit the concept of the book perfectly – a place I could find images to kick-start ideas, and a place to find images to visually reinforce the ideas already in my head.

The idea for the book, which will be for 9-12yrs and which I’m calling ‘H of D’ for now, came to me in a dream.  I saw this:
H of D dream picI also felt it (the bits of paper are covering over characters’ names – all top secret stuff, you know!) In addition, I overheard a conversation between the two men – it was quite specific and fundamental to the plot.  I woke up, drew the picture and wrote down the H of D notebookconversation.  I’ve been using this notebook since to put down ideas, ask questions, and plot a good chunk of the novel.  In addition, I now have my Pinterest board here.  I’ve really loved putting this together and it’s already added a whole new dimension to the story, as well as providing me with some scrummy ideas.  In case you are unfamiliar with Pinterest, you can search through different people’s boards and re-pin photos to your board, AND you can have more than one board.  You can even have ‘secret’ boards for your eyes only.  AND, I’m a complete I.T. numpty and I managed it! It’s great fun looking at all the fab images – really inspiring – and I would definitely recommend it as a writing tool. Go out there and PIN!

Do you use Pinterest to help with your writing?

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19th June 2013

Piccadilly, Puppies and a School Visit Tool Kit.

18.6.13 Me and the Yr 2s 1 - CopyYesterday, I was in Burton on Trent at William Shrewsbury School doing school visitty stuff.  My publisher, Piccadilly Press, are now part of Templar Publishing and had put together a lovely promo poster here… Abi School Event_Poster Template  I love it, and it was great to see it displayed around the school.

Pre the school visit, which was for Key Stage 1 children, I spent an evening cutting out puppies, about 200 of them actuatlly. It was quite therapeutic, although ‘Squeak’ did get decapitated when I had a moment’s distraction – not my fault, there was a brilliant programme about The Scottish Highlands on the telly… who wouldn’t get distracted?

The puppies (all five of them from Grub’s Pups) are a regular part of my School Visit Tool Kit. Every writer needs a School Visit Tool Kit, and this takes some thinking about.  The puppies: Pepper, Murph, Rosie, Tyke and Squeak, are magically transformed into puppy puppets by the children. I have a pre-made set that the children have while I read the stories – every time they see their character in the book they get to wave their puppet.  Then, they get to make them. I doubt I’d get my set back if I didn’t tempt them with the promise that they’d each get to make, and take, their own home!

My School Visit Tool Kit comprises the following:
– copies of the Ruby and Grub books and ‘Buttercup Magic: A Mystery for Megan
– puppy puppets
– hundreds of cut out puppies
– straws and card (for making Puppy Puppets)
– Grub Ears template and instructions (for making Grub Ears)
– Black and white and colour pictures from ‘Ruby and Grub’ for cut ‘n’ stick activity
– Black and white pictures from the books to colour in
– USB stick for ‘About Me’ powerpoint
– Laminate pictures for memory recall activity after reading the books
– Book signing pen.

I also have a whole host of Buttercup Magic resources that I take with me for work with Key Stage 2, plus some of my writing notebooks. Making resources age specific is really important, and something that took me quite a few goes to get right.  Having said that, sometimes I see year sixes looking longingly at the Grub Ears, and, for a moment, I wonder.

18.6.13 Busy bees 2The visit yesterday was one of my fave school visits to date. It was a lovely school, and one which was actively encouraging reading, so much so that they had set up reading corners for the children, incredibly imaginative ones too.  The staff were warm and welcoming and the children were a delight.  The children in Year 2 came up with a whole host of ideas for another Ruby and Grub book, which was incredibly sweet.  In one year group (and this is a first) there was a real live Ruby, Megan and Freya!  Had my characters really come alive?

Lots of fun was had making Grub Ears and Puppy Puppets, and we all managed to get 18.6.13 Busy bees 3covered in glue and glitter.  I even got to make tissue paper flowers out of those cute little circles of coloured tissue paper – remember those?

So a big THANK YOU to William Shrewsbury School for making my day one to remember.

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29th May 2013

A Writing Routine

DSCN2625A writing routine – three little words… it sounds so easy, doesn’t it?  And sometimes it is – for a while it can be.   But there’s the rub.  A writing routine is not always easy to stick at unless it is your day job and you have solitude and time in which to do it, and, even then, I wouldn’t describe it as ‘easy’.  There are always distractions, and for some reason, we writers do have a tendency to get distracted, don’t we? (Or is that just me?… SQUIRREL!)

Two years ago, I cut down my day job to create more time for my writing.  For a couple of years, it was wonderful.  I wrote a lot.  I wrote ‘Grub’s Pups’ and ‘Buttercup Magic’.  I was able to explore a whole host of ideas.  I wrote a 90,000 word novel, for goodness sake!  I felt like a ‘proper writer’.  But, as I’m sure is the case for many writers, it is not always possible to sustain this.  Needless to say, my day job has taken hold again. Not only that, but life has been a tad challenging of late, and one thing a writer has to have is space in that bonce of theirs.  Without that, there is no room to dream, to let the ideas twist and turn, no space to observe, to think, to philosophise, to ask questions, to develop character.  It all goes out the window.  The result of which is that those black swirly patterns in front of my eyes that bring me such joy, have, sadly, floated off into the ether.  Time has been dedicated to other things, and much as I am the first to say ‘you can only write by writing’, lately this just hasn’t been possible.

Well, as any writer in this position will know, it’s only a matter of time before you start pacing the carpet, climbing the walls, pulling your hair out, wringing your hands, because you AREN’T WRITING… even though, when you ARE WRITING, you spend much of your time pacing the carpet, climbing the walls, pulling your hair out… etc.  So, what’s the answer?

Well, thankfully, for me it has come in the form of a few words of flipping good common sense from Dorothea Brande.  I wrote about her book, ‘Becoming a Writer’, a couple of posts ago.  She has a way of saying things that hone in on the very heart of the problem.  The answer came in her chapter, ‘Harnessing the Unconscious’.  Brande explains how you must ‘teach the unconscious to flow into the channel of writing’.  To summarise, she maintains that, if you take yourself seriously as a writer, you must do two things:
– rise half an hour or an hour early in the morning to write, before you do anything else.
– look ahead at how your days are formed, and work out a time every day when you can write, even if it is only for 15 minutes a day, at the same time every day.

DSCN2623To be honest, when I first read this, I took one look at the first suggestion and thought, ‘You have no chance’.  I am the wearer of an Eeyore nightshirt that states: ‘Do I look like a morning person?’… there is a reason for this!  However, if I didn’t do it, then that would mean that I didn’t take myself seriously as a writer… Oh my god!  Well, that was not an option.  So I tackled the second idea first.  I examined my days, and when I did this I worked out that by about 8pm I had usually cooked teas, walked the hound, washed the pots and done most of my teaching paperwork.  So that was it then!  And, I realised, I could have a WHOLE HOUR until 9pm.  Then, if anything else needed seeing to, I still had a bit of time to do it after 9pm.

A year ago, a paltry hour’s writing a day would have seemed hardly worth the effort.  Suddenly, it seemed far from it.  Having struggled recently to find an hour a week, the thought of a whole hour a day doing what I love seemed fabulous!  Having received this sudden boost, I figured that maybe I could tackle the bigger obstacle…. mornings!  But I am still an Eeyore at heart, so I am going at it gently.   I now set my alarm ten minutes earlier than normal.  I have a notebook and pen by my bed, and I write for ten minutes in the morning, just as Brande says: ‘… begin to write.  Write anything that comes into your head…’

I confess, I have struggled with this and have missed some days.  The first day I wrote about how crazy the whole thing was and how I had no idea what to say and would much prefer to be asleep – but I spent ten minutes saying it and didn’t stop until my time was up.  The same evening, I sat down at 8pm.  I wrote for double my planned time – two whole hours!  I’ve now started to re-work a couple of picture book ideas and have begun two new adult novels, one which will be in note form for the time being – ideas, character outlines, and a title, of course!  The other is in the process of being written, and today I passed the 5,000 word mark.  I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to get my teeth into it again.

So, thank you Dorothea Brande for making me see that you have to make time to write, even when it appears you have none, and thank you to whoever invented half-term holidays, to allow me to create a little space in my head!

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16th May 2013

Through the keyhole ~ Writing Spaces

My working space

My working space

About a year or so ago, I put together a post on writer’s spaces (this is mine by the way, also operating as a planning literacy sessions, eating lunch, marking, editing, watching ‘Pointless’ and ‘Grand Designs’, dreaming and painting space… oh, and napping!) The cushion really has taken on the shape of my rear.  It is almost art!

Anyway… I had intended to do a follow up post a few months later, but, well, you know how it is.  So now, here it is, a little late but worth the wait methinks.  I, for one, love to see where other writers work and what their prerequisites are.  I think a lot of us just write where we can and that actually does the job!  Thank you to Rachel Dove, Teresa Hamilton, Lil Chase, Kelly McCaughrain, Jane Howard and Philippa Francis, for letting me (and you) step into your world.  All of these lovely writerly peeps can be followed on Twitter (see links below) and some have websites or blogs, details of which can be found on their Twitter bios.  Enjoy!

mrs doveRachel Dove

I would like to say that my writing desk is all clean lines, flowers and bookcases, but the truth is that I work from a corner of my bedroom, and often with a child or dog sat on my lap! I even have a linen basken doubling up as a small extra surface!

I have bookcases in my dining room, but myRachel Dove 1 writing desk is tiny.  It is often littered with uni textbooks, scraps of paper with ideas on, and pictures of characters (the wolf picture on the wall is Ryker, a character from a series of stories I am currently working on).

Recently, on a trip to Haworth, I stood in the actual dining room where the Bronte sisters created their masterpieces, and realised, it’s not the space that counts, it’s the people in it.  I love working inches from my family, and although I would love a bigger space, it’s a very much loved and heavily used little area, where I can work whilst my children sleep.  Better than an office block any day.

(BUT… if my husband is reading this… I would like more bookshelves! 😉

(Rachel has written ‘Crossing Life Lines’, published March 2013 and available from Amazon.  You can find her on Twitter at WriterDove).

Teresa Hamilton

Teresa 1I used to write in the study but when my OH, Nick, started working from home and moved his computer in beside me, it only took one day for me to realise that marital bonding had been taken to a whole new level. It was either him or me. So I scoured the antique shops in Lewes for a table and found myself a new writing position in the corner of our conservatory. It is part of the kitchen so there can be a lot of traffic but it seems to work. I have perfected the art of ignoring requests from the family; they know I will only grunt in answer to their questions when I am engrossed.

I’d like to say I’m tidy. It always starts off that way but usually the paperwork from my e-store business, East is East, piles up on the window ledge beside me along with notes, reference books, mail, camera, pens, coffee cup and cat. Thank goodness the dog manages to stay on the floor.

Teresa 2In all weathers I look out at the garden and South Downs in the distance and know that I am one lucky bunny to be able to do what I love the most in such a beautiful place. Oh, and talking of bunnies… they get more than a grunt if I look up and see them sneaking onto the vegetable patch.

(Teresa has written ‘Choices’, published May 2012 and available from Amazon and  ‘Love, Suzi x’ which is out in May 2013 and will also be available on Amazon. You can find her on Twitter at THamiltonwriter).

Lil ChaseLil Chase

If my writing space looks like a storage room to you, that’s because it is.   But, with space such a premium, I feel incredibly lucky to have this tiny area; enough for my desk, my printer, a very small bookcase, and tons and tons of natural light! I’m spoilt, I know.

So, the essentials:

Notebook. I write straight onto the computer, but make a lot of notes as I go – asking questions, making character observations, things to come back to, etc. I should confess that I have an addiction to pretty notepads, once spending £18 on a single book!

To-do lists. Two of them. There are so many things I need to get done – contact schools/bookshops, meet up with editors/agents, write blog posts (!) – and they all have different timescales and deadlines. I create a long-term to-do list, of things I have to do soon… but not necessarily now. Then every morning I list the things I need to do today.

Calendar. (See above re: deadlines and timescales)

Coffee. Lots and lots of coffee. (Can be replaced with wine, if working in the evening.)

But the most important part of my writing space is the wall next to the desk. I need it for Lil Chase writing spacepost-it memos. These are the things I must remember throughout my writing, while I’m writing. Things like, ‘Candy always asks questions.’ ‘Mum needs to feature more.’ They keep me in check as I go.

Note the hanging in the back. It reads, ‘…and they lived happily ever after’. It’s not essential to my writing, and it’s not even a motto I stick to in my novels (neither book has a super happy ending), but it keeps me positive as I’m working.

(Lil Chase is the author of ‘Boys For Beginners’ and ‘Secrets, Lies & Locker 62’, both published by Quercus and available from Amazon.  Her new series – ‘The Boys’ School Girls’ – will be released in 2014.  You can find her on Twitter at lilchasewriter).

Kelly and GerdaKelly McCaughrain

I have a fantasy writing room that I’ve been embellishing for years (I’ve been known to draw diagrams).  By now it has bookcase-lined walls, leather sofa, bay windows overlooking the beach… I even know what’s hanging over the fireplace (poster of To the Lighthouse cover).  But even in my fantasies I know this room is also empty 95% of the time – because I’m outside on the overlooked beach.

I hate writing indoors.  Whenever possible I sit in my garden, beneath the dappled shade of hammock (Kelly)some unexpectedly rampant bamboo (which may have been a huge gardening mistake and is now taking over my shed).  When I hit my afternoon slump, I roll over into my hammock and read beneath an enormous sunhat.  Having been born in completely the wrong hemisphere, I’m more often found sitting out there under a parasol sheltering from the rain.

I work entirely on my netbook, so I’m rarely surrounded by paper and pens, but my necessaries include a mug with a lid (to keep flies out) and a floppy sunhat.

This summer I’m solving the weather problem by heading to France in my 1967 Campervan, Gerda.  So for all you people moaning that your ‘office’ doubles as a living room/dining room/bedroom/kitchen – my office will be five square metres and comprise ALL OF THESE things.

Ok, I won’t have the wall-sized notice-board my fantasy office contains, but I will have a 1960s Formica table, my kettle within arm’s reach, peace, quiet…and the knowledge that it’s raining at home.

(Kelly is a YA writer from Belfast, Northern Ireland.  She was shortlisted for the 2013 Times/Chicken House Children’s Fiction Competition and is represented by Kirsty McLachlan at DGA.  You can find her on Twitter at KMcCaughrain).

Jane HowardJane Howard

I have roamed my cottage looking for somewhere where I’m not distracted. I used to write in my study, but it overlooks the South Downs and so, rather than writing, I found myself gazing out of the window.

In the end, I opted for the kitchen table. The kitchen is my favourite room in the house. It has three windows and a skylight, so it’s bright and airy, and everything I need is within reach. The dogs lie at my feet, the coffee bubbles away on the stove, and I’m only a few steps from the garden and the garden gate. Dead heading and walking are my thinking activities.

I work at my laptop, although I do sometimes write by hand. I spread everything out Jane space 2around me, and sweep it all away when someone comes over. Not an easy job because I often have teetering towers of paper and books balanced everywhere.

When I’m ‘pre-writing’, I might sit in one of two places and daydream; on a sunny day, this is in my specially created corner of the garden. When it’s raining, I sit in my old chair, back door open, and listen to the rain on the decking.

(Jane writes children’s comedy and is working on a middle grade novel and a young reader novel, which she hopes will be the first in a series. She has just completed her first picture book. You can find her on twitter at JaneHoward).

KMLockwoodPhilippa Francis

I really am incredibly fortunate.  Now the children have left home, I have an entire ex-bedroom to myself – with its own loo. I have stuffed two large book cases – one bulging with How-to guides, dictionaries, thesauri and notebooks; the other with reference material. To give you a flavour – Rogues; Villains and Eccentrics is on the same shelf as the Smarties Joke Book; The Diary of a Farmer’s Wife 1796-1797 and A Field Guide to Demons rub shoulders further down.

I write on a netbook which I plug into a large screen. That stands on an old attaché case so KMLockwood roomit’s just at eye-level. It’s a grotty old thing but it holds some poetry that was published years ago of which I am ridiculously proud – and rather hope will bring me luck.

Two speakers act as bookends and general putting-things-on surfaces. Mostly I work with the sound of birdsong and the waves on the shingle outside. Gulls and air-sea rescue helicopters sometimes interrupt – or building work from neighbours. Then I deploy my CD of sea sounds.

I have to unplug my ethernet cable to concentrate. There’s also a phone networked to my husband’s office in the garage. I often unplug that but the intercom’s handy if I want a coffee. He is a talented amateur barista.  How lucky am I?

(Philippa R. Francis writes as K. M. Lockwood.  You can find her on Twitter at KMLockwood).

Thanks again to all of the contributors.  You may (or may not) have noticed, that all of these writers have a table on which to put their laptop… I have clearly taken the name ‘laptop’ literally.  The coffee table by the side of my chair houses books, notebooks, a pen, water and my pen drive, and sometimes food!  So, not only do I have a chair that is rear end-shaped, but I think I may have a lap that is laptop-shaped… and on that note… TA RA!


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25th April 2013

Stilling the mind

pillow_brande2I sat in my car the other day – one of those school run moments, waiting to pick up my son, and sometimes the first time in the day when I get time to just sit – and I thought ~ I just want my head to be still, to stop chattering and looping and turning things over… I just want some space.

When I got home, there was a package in the letter box.  It was a book I had ordered having read a blog recommendation about it from another writer.  The writer (apologies… I can’t remember who it was) had said something to the effect of… if you read one book about writing, read this.  Enough said!  I ordered it.

As a rule, I don’t do books about writing.  I think to learn how to write you must write and you must read, you must experience things, observe, listen, remember and feel, you must live – these things will furnish you with enough.  But, after many years of writing, I thought ~ why not?  When I pulled the book from the envelope and read the back, the following words hit me:
‘Brande (taught) students how to see again, how to hold their minds still, how to call forth the inner writer.’
I had one of those hairs on the back of the neck moments… how odd, how apt.

Dorothea Brand new bookThe book is ‘Becoming a Writer’ by Dorothea Brande, published originally in 1934 (this version, 1981).  I read the first third of the book in one sitting, and then put it aside, as she suggests, to do the exercises that she gives you… not written exercises, but exercises in thinking.   What jumped out at me most is that becoming a writer doesn’t happen before you begin, but happens during the journey.  I have written for over 30 years, and I am now reading a book entitled ‘Becoming a Writer’!   Doesn’t that seem a little odd?  But had I read it before now, would it have made sense to me?  Would I have really appreciated its intentions and sentiments?  No, I wouldn’t.  Having read the first third and completed the first exercise, which involves using ‘the fiction maker’s eye on yourself’, I sat down to write a new novel and, from somewhere, pulled out a title, two main characters and 1,500 words – my mind, indeed, had been stilled, and inspired, enough, to allow this to happen.

There is so much to say about this book, about the author’s sentiments and insight, that it is difficult to know where to start.  So I shall give you a few titbits that I hope will get you thinking:

‘As soon as possible he must learn to trust his own feeling for the story, and to relax in the telling, until he has learned to use the sure, deft stroke of the man who is master of his medium.’

‘The author of genius does keep until his last breath the spontaneity, the ready sensitiveness, of a child, the “innocence of eye” that means so much to the painter, the ability to respond freshly and quickly to new scenes, and to old scenes as though they were new…’

‘Because of the tendency of the unconscious to see things in types, it is the unconscious, in the long run, which dictates the form of the story.’

And so it goes on…  full of these enlightened insights that take your mind to another place entirely and that seem to hit at the root of what writing, of what creating story, is really all about.  You can find this treasure on Amazon here.  Go buy it!

Have you read, and can you recommend, any books on writing that have really helped you as a writer?

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16th March 2013

Donating books to help children

Ystruth Primary School

Ystruth Primary School

A very lovely lady called Rachel has recently contacted me.  She is a mum and volunteer librarian at Ystruth Primary School in Blaina, South Wales. The school is located in a deprived area where many children have never had the experience of visiting a library.  The school have started a project to set up a library to encourage their pupils to read and enjoy books, but have very few resources to do so.

They would be hugely grateful if any authors could donate a copy of their book/books.  The children are aged between 4-11 years, so any books that cover this age range would be fantastic!  They can be fiction or non-fiction.  If they could be signed by the author that would be even better, and, from my own school visits, seeing children’s reactions to a ‘real’ author, I am sure this would help encourage and inspire the children at this school.

I shall be donating and dedicating a copy of each of my books to the school.  If anyone else would like to donate a book, please contact me via the comments section below, or email me at my hotmail address if you have it, or via the ‘Contact Me’ tab on my website, leaving your email address.  I can then pass your details on to Rachel and she will contact you.

My memories of early library visits ignited a love of books and reading that will never fade.  Please donate.  These little things make such a huge difference to children.

Thank you!

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