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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13th March 2013

The journey forwards

DSCN1884It’s been a rather frantic few weeks for me as I now have numerous jobs and have, to term a well-known phrase, not always been able to see the wood for the trees.  There has been little time to write lately, and much as I love my ‘other’ jobs, all of which are wordy to some extent, and many of which are writing related, I do become a bit of a grumpy, grouchy old bear when I can’t actually write.  I begin to stomp around and rub at my eyes with my paws… I mean, hands.

The other day, I was driving to one of my teaching jobs, a lovely drive through the countryside, fast roads, lots of crows overhead and very often a kestrel or buzzard about, when I suddenly became aware of how much I looked in my rear view mirror and was conscious of the car behind, and how often that spoiled my journey.   I made a conscious effort not to do so and to focus on the winding road ahead and the other cars dotted at intervals, some creeping up the hill, some in the dip, some bending at the top.  For a few moments I felt overwhelmed with a complete sense of joy, that feeling you get when you accept where you are and look with an almost childlike sense of anticipation towards the future.

It occurred to me then, how much that journey paralleled my writing.  It is easy to get distracted from our purpose by the many faces of life, to become frustrated by rejections, cross at never having quite enough time to explore this idea… to edit this book… to finish this project, and to become absorbed with looking back at what we didn’t do and didn’t achieve.  But stomping around and being a grouch doesn’t help, does it?  And focussing on the annoying turnip on your bumper just hinders progress.

So, I decided, it is time to look forwards, to dust off the frustration of the past few weeks, to put my foot down and take those windy roads with my music playing loud and the windows down, to anticipate good things and to make sure good things happen…

So, as if by magic, I have a couple of things to report –
– I am part of a secret project *Shh!* (more to follow very soon) and am really excited about it.
– Myself and my co-writer have decided to self-publish ‘The Story Maker’ – I’ve never self-published before so this is a bit of an adventure!
– I am in the process of setting up a new facebook page for ‘The Story Maker’
– I am going to recruit someone to help design my own writerly bookmarks to take into schools etc.

I am beginning to enjoy this writing journey once more and I hope all you writers out there are too.  Crank that music up and enjoy the ride, even if it’s a bumpy one!

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27th February 2013


The Books!

The Books!

Oh yes, it’s that time of year again, and I LOVE IT!  World Book Day this year is on 7th March.  There are games, resources and a book review competition on their official website (see link above) and you can also follow them on Twitter here.

World Book Day, which sees events all over the world, has been going for almost twenty years and is organized by UNESCO to promote reading and publishing, the first events being held in 1995.

The Resources!

The Resources!

Usually, I have one or two events planned in celebration of this special day.  This year, I have five, four school events and one library event (You can see details of these via the Workshops/School Visits tab of this website under ‘Events for 2013’) This is causing me mucho excitemento and a little bit of hyperventilation.  As some of you may know, I love these events when I’m at them, but I get a tad nervous beforehand.  This is compounded by a constant anxiety about my resources… Have I got enough?  Have I planned the sessions properly?  Did I remember to ask if the school has card?  Do I have enough books?  Do I have too many books?  And then… Will they get glue in their hair?  Will they fight over the puppets?  Will they stick the straws up their noses?  Will they stick the glue up their noses…?

My first visit is tomorrow at Hilltop Infant and Nursery school in Ashbourne working with 125 children… nerves, excitement, moments of sheer panic… yes, all of that!  Fortunately, on the day, things normally come together quite well and if I blunder, we work our way through it, and I always try to remember that the kids have no idea what is supposed to happen, so as long as fun stuff is happening it’s all good.  This year too, is the first World Book Day since Buttercup Magic: A Mystery for Megan was published, which means I’ve been developing a whole load of new resources that are Buttercup Magic related.  My fave is the ‘What would you put in your treehouse?’ activity, which looks like this…
Treehouseand is based on this part of the book, from the chapter entitled ‘The Treehouse’:
‘It was the best treehouse (Megan) had ever seen! It looked around the same size as her old bedroom, about five steps by six, Megan thought.  Megan leaned back against one of the walls.  She could see Freya’s garden and if she looked out of the window she could see the stream at the bottom of the garden.  Then she saw Dorothy again, dashing in and out of the trees.’

and this, from ‘Some Extra Things for the Treehouse’:
‘She also wanted to take some more things to the treehouse.  Megan had been saving up things that she thought might be useful, and some less useful things too.

I also updated my powerpoint thingamajig which now includes a ‘Where is Grub’ activity, where Grub magically appears in mysterious places… here’s one of them:

Glastonbury 3 pup
Any idea where this is?

Thanks to Anna-Lena Olsson for putting these pics together for me.  So am I ready? Well, having spent the morning with dort making Grub Ears templates and attaching new handles (straws) to the Puppy Puppets… I think I am!

Happy World Book Day, whatever you’re doing!

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19th February 2013

Yellow Roses

yellow-rosesIt’s been a while since I’ve blogged, in fact, I hadn’t even checked in to this wordpress site, so I was really pleased to see that some of you have still been dropping by to read my old posts… a big thank you to you!

Today, a poem, written last night, straight out, as it appears, through very sleepy eyes.  I hope you like it.

Yellow Roses

Today, I bought yellow roses
for three quid from Tesco.
The ones I ordered for Grandma’s funeral
cost twelve times as much.

I put them on the mantelpiece
and watched as they lit up the room,
their blooms beginning to smile,
a little hesitant, maybe,
a little unsure if they should.

I kept myself busy, washing and scrubbing,
cleaning and ironing,
sewing, you know, the kind of things you do
when you don’t want to think.

But, when it came to the end of the day
and tiredness waved her wand and made me sit,
I wrote three poems

about how the past becomes caught up in the present
and how memories are captured
in yellow blooms
as they begin to smile.

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21st December 2012

A Very Sunny Blog Post

I’m delighted to say that my wee Musings & Mutterings (Previously known as my BOF – Blog on Friday) has been nominated for the ‘Sunshine Award’ (YAY!) and as I like sunshine and sunflowers, I am doubly happy to accept it.


The Sunshine Award isgiven and passed on to bloggers who positively and creatively inspire others in the blogosphere,’ and that makes me even happier.  The thought that my wee blog could inspire anyone creatively makes me get goosebumps on my goosebumps.

Acceptance of the award comes with the following instructions:

  1. Acknowledge the person who gave this award in a blog post.
  2. Do the Q&A below.
  3. Pass on the award to 10 deserving and inspiring bloggers, inform them and link to their blogs.

So, first of all, oodles of thanks to Jenny Alexander, @jennyalexander4 on Twitter, who blogs at Writing in the House of Dreams, for nominating me for this award, and for all her support over the last year and a half (my Twitter and blogging life so far.)

Secondly, here are the Questions and my Answers…

1.Who is your favourite philosopher? I don’t have one.  I like the random things that people say that surprise and enlighten me.  Having said that, much of what Zen teacher, Shunryu Suzuki, says, and much about his life and teachings, really resonate with me and my own thoughts on life.  David Chadwick’s ‘Crooked Cucumber: The Life and Zen Teaching of Shunryu Suzuki’ is a fascinating book.

2. What is your favourite number? 6 – it is my birthday date and I’ve always thought of it as my lucky number.

3. What is your favourite animal? The elephant.  All their wisdom and gentleness is held in their eyes.

4. What is your favourite time of day? All of it!  From Spring through to Summer, I particularly love the early mornings and dusk because I love to hear birdsong and watch the bats fly around our house at dusk.

5. What are your Facebook and Twitter accounts? Facebook: Abi Burlingham Twitter @AbiBurlingham

6. What is your favourite holiday? Every holiday I have had has been my favourite at the time I am taking it.  I find it impossible to choose.  I do love Wales though and have been there for the last three years.  The Welsh mountains around Beddgelert are one of my favourite places on the planet!

DSCN06237. What is your favourite physical activity? Walking through fields and woods and sleeping ;o)

8. What is your favourite non-alcoholic drink? Water.  I don’t do caffeine but I do like a cup or two of de-caf tea most days ~ it’s a writer’s prerogative.

9. What is your passion? Life and living it… if I had to choose… my friends, my children, my hound, writing, drawing and painting, reading, teaching, drinking wine, eating cheesecake, music, dancing, walking though woods, burying my face in a lavendar bush, lying under trees… you see how hard it is?

10. What is your favourite flower? The hellebore.  I have loads in the garden and would be quite happy to have a garden full of them.  I also love snakeshead fritillary and lavendar.

April 2012Now, I’m going to cheat here because I don’t have 10 blogs that I regularly read and want my choices to be genuine.  So, I am going to award the Sunshine Award to 5 people who I feel really do inspire others and whose blog posts I read without fail and always enjoy.

1) Julia Munroe Martin: Julia’s blog posts are a joy. Funny, original, downright hilarious at times, thoughtful and profound.  They are like a box of Quality Street – you never quite know what you’re going to get but it is always yummy!

2) Emma Pass: Emma is one of the most supportive people on twitter and supportive of others’ blog posts.  She is also open and honest about her writing journey, which I know inspires a lot of other writers.

3) Nadine Tomlinson: Nadine is also incredibly supportive of other writers and of her fellow Jamaicans.  She regularly gives blog space to others and celebrates with them.

4) Nettie Thomson: Nettie’s posts are funny, honest, well-written and heartfelt.  They are always a pleasure to read.

5) Jo Carroll: Jo’s posts are often inspired by her travels – of which there are many – and are inspiring in themselves, often looking, not only at the places she has visited, but the people she meets along the way.

So… many thanks, again, to Jenny.  This will probably be my final 2012 post ~ where did the year go?  Thanks to all for accompanying me in my musings and wishing you all a fun and food filled Xmas and loads of writerly lucky for 2013!


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