Bookylicious to Relaunch as an E-Zine

BookyliciousWe are happy to announce that our zine Bookylicious will be relaunching in online form at the end of April!

For those of you who haven’t come across Bookylicious yet, here’s the blurb…

Bookylicious is a North Wales-based e-zine celebrating the wonders of books and reading. It grew out of the radio show, Calon Talks Books, which broadcasts every other Wednesday on our local community station Calon FM. The show is presented by Paul Jeorrett accompanied by the ‘Posse’, Gwyneth Marshman and Rob Taylor.

 

In 2016 we started to produce a paper zine as a spin-off project from the show. We initially saw it as a place where we could recap all the books we’d discussed on air, with the odd additional article written (by ourselves) when the mood took us. It quickly morphed into something much bigger, and we were soon featuring contributions from guest authors and any other literary types who crossed our path and expressed an interest.

 

Towards the end of 2016 we realised that producing a paper zine was quite a lot of work, not to mention geographically restricted in terms of who could read it. We therefore decided to embrace modern technology and go digital – and global. After taking a break in the first quarter of 2017, we resolved to relaunch Bookylicious as a website in April 2017, to coincide with our local literary festival, the Wrexham Carnival of Words.

 

We hope you enjoy our literary offerings!

 

We have several articles lined up for our inaugural online issue, but we are still taking contributions up to Easter: if you are interested in submitting a piece, please contact me for more information.

The website is still under development, but I’m very excited. Stay tuned for more updates nearer the time!

Why Writing is So Hard

Broken pencil

I started 2017 with the Big Plan of writing my supernatural novel. I’d never written a novel before, so I had no benchmark for how long it would take or how difficult it would be; but after toying with the idea for years, I knew I needed to get serious and set myself some firm targets.

First up: how many words could I expect to produce? I didn’t have a clue. So I started investigating the approximate word count of other books in the genre I wanted to write in (a fantasy/supernatural mystery/not-quite-thriller sort-of-thing): the range 70-80,000 words seemed to be a good starting point.

Second, how long would it take me to write that number of words? I’d already written about 3500 words in a couple of bursts prior to my official starting point, and they’d taken me about 3.5 hours in total: so I estimated I could get through 1000 words in an hour. Break that down by the amount of time I knew I could spare in each week, and I figured I’d have my first draft done and dusted by the end of March.

Allowing for time to set it aside to breathe, come back to it to edit and polish, send it out to beta readers, take in comments and edit further, I concluded that I would be happy if, by the end of the year, I was sending it out to agents. After self-publishing my first book, The Book Diaries Volume 1, I’d already decided that I wanted to try the traditional publishing route for my fiction.

It’s now the middle of February, and I’m two weeks in to my official writing routine. So far I’ve met (or slightly exceeded) my weekly targets, which is one of the most fabulous feelings I’ve had for a long time. To see a story gradually taking shape, mostly in the way I anticipated, but with some very unexpected twists and turns that have led the tale down even more intriguing routes than I’d imagined… it’s a very exciting sensation.

And yet it’s also hugely frustrating. Although the time I’ve set aside has been enough for me to reach my weekly targets, I have to admit I was hoping to have some time left at the end of each week. But no. So far, I’ve needed every minute of the time I’ve so diligently carved out for myself: contrary to what I’d hoped when I set out, I’ve been averaging 500 words an hour, not 1000.

Why is this? I think it’s because writing is really, really difficult.

There’s a romantic view of writers, sitting in garrets, beavering away at the latest work of genius, and emerging to plaudits and fame. Accompanying that image, there’s often a slightly envious feeling of ‘well, that sounds like a nice job!’ As if these favoured individuals simply put pen to paper and see the words flow out on to the page, with no real effort; as if the muse takes over; as if no work is involved.

There’s a temptation to think that writing must be easy: you sit down and words come out of your pen (or your keyboard), just like that. Not like a real job: managing people, making decisions, selling, serving, struggling. Just writing.

Well, my experience of the past two weeks is that writing is no easier than a ‘real job’. I have really struggled to get my words down on the page, and this is not because I’m short of ideas, nor is it because I can’t pull a sentence together. I am both creative and articulate, and I have a sense of where my story is headed. So why aren’t the words just flowing?

Have you ever tried to describe a dream to someone? It makes perfect sense in your head, but when you have to actively find words to explain it to someone else, you know that what they’ll hear won’t be an exact reflection of the image you’ve got in your mind. ‘I’m walking down a street, but it isn’t really a street; then I bump into the Dalai Lama, except we’re in a warehouse…

Writing is similar. I have pictures in my mind that make perfect sense to me, but I know that the words I choose to lay out the scene for my readers won’t necessarily convey what’s in my head. This is because I am familiar with the contents of my head and, over the course of 46 years, have learned a lot of the shortcuts to understanding what’s going on in there. When I experience a certain feeling, I know instinctively what that means for me; when I picture an image, I don’t have to find the words to describe it, because I can see it.

We are all the same. We have enormous universes inside our minds that only we, individually, can navigate coherently. But writing is about taking the contents of those minds and translating them into a form that is understandable to the outside world: we have to find concrete words, with finite meanings, to express the inexpressible. And not only do we have to translate our own thoughts and images, we also have to get into the minds of our characters and ensure that their massive internal universes are transcribed appropriately; they have to make sense, hang together, help the story flow. Most importantly, all of this then has to connect with the reader’s own personal internal universe. And not just ‘reader’ singular: ‘readers’ plural.

That’s a lot of universes.

No wonder it’s difficult. Communication is a great gift to our species, but it is extremely complex and nuanced, and very difficult to get exactly right. So it’s perhaps not unusual that I’m finding it slow going. I guess that the more I write, the easier it will become; that I will become practised at finding the right word to describe the particular mental image I’m working with – but for now, I’m feeling like a very rusty garden implement that’s been left out in the rain for too long (and even that might not be an image that resonates with you – see what I mean?).

The only way forward is to keep at it, day after day, week after week, month after month. There may be a muse of ideas, there may even be a muse of word flow, but, as so many writers have said before me, you can’t just wait for the muses to show up: you have to do the hard slog, the translation of the untranslatable. And then, just at the point where your words start to fail you, maybe the muse will come with coffee, and you will be revived, pick yourself up and keep going.

I’ve decided to post my ongoing word count on my Facebook page, so if you’re interested in keeping up with my weekly progress, just hop on over there and give my page a like.

What Would a Ghost Doctor Read?

Ghost book

This week I’ve been happily plotting my novel, particularly the story arcs of my main characters.

My protagonist is a ghost, who works as a doctor in the supernatural realm known as the Otherworld. In addition to treating patients she’s also running a couple of clinical trials – and her research becomes a key factor in the unravelling of the mystery!

I therefore decided to have a bit of fun by imagining what her bookcase might look like…

This is what I came up with.

(If you don’t want to crick your neck reading the titles, see below for the list in full.)

Supernatural medical bookcase

My ghost hasn’t arranged her books in any particular order, but I’ve alphabetised them for you (once a librarian, always a librarian):

  • Annals of Vampire Psychology
  • Archives of Clinical Zombie Pathology
  • Demon Case Reports
  • Demonic Pain Review
  • Ethics in Supernatural Medicine
  • Experimental Ghost Trials
  • Fae Management Review
  • Interdisciplinary Fae Studies
  • Journal of Lycanthrope Care
  • Journal of Revenant Studies
  • Journal of the Undead and Supernatural Medical Association
  • Lycanthropy and Humanity
  • Otherworld Medical Journal
  • Supernatural Infectious Diseases
  • Transitioning: the Journal of the Ghost Support Society
  • Undead Holistic Practitioner
  • Undead Toxicology
  • Vampire Dental Care
  • Vampire Haematology
  • Werewolf Anatomy
  • Zombie Administration
  • Zombie Brain Studies

My next little foray into world building may well involve going into more detail about the contents of some of these journals. Watch this space!

2017: It’s All About the Novel

New writing

As we’re now a week into the new year, it seems like a good time to tell you of my plans for 2017. There are going to be some changes around here!

I’ve been writing my Book Diaries blog for two years now and am about to embark on my third. This, however, will be the last. It’s been a rollercoaster ride: the book of Year 1 is due to be published very shortly (Kindle elves permitting), and I still intend to produce books of Years 2 and 3 in due course.

The purpose of the blog has been to get me to make changes in my life, taking inspiration from each title I read. These changes have been hugely varied, from the practical to the abstract, but the one thing I’ve always maintained is that the more frequently you make the small changes, the easier it becomes to make the big changes.

The time has now come for me to make a big change.

For years now I’ve been planning and plotting a novel. I’ve mentioned it occasionally in the Book Diaries, and I have a teaser page on my website that gives a sneak preview of the plot (note: this may change!). Since my big holiday in September (which gifted me a month away from the daily grind) and, more recently, the Christmas break (when I had time to stop and reflect), it’s become inescapably clear to me that this is the work I need to focus on.

The Book Diaries have been incredibly illuminating, and I will continue to read new books on a regular basis even when I stop writing the blog – but I’ve realised that what it has all been leading to is this: the novel; the work that is deep inside me begging to be let out. And I need to honour it and give it the attention it deserves. It may even be that the novel is merely the starting point: I really have no idea exactly where this will lead, but it’s thrilling to have a blank map waiting to be filled in…

This means that I will be changing the focus of what I post on (a) my website and (b) social media. Specifically, you can expect the following:

  • I’ll be publishing more blog posts/status updates on my writing process and progress.
  • I’ll also be writing posts/updates on elements of my subject matter: what I’m tentatively calling ‘supernatural medical fiction’.
  • The Book Diaries will continue throughout 2017, but instead of being inspired in a random fashion, I’ll be looking for inspiration that I can take to my writing.
  • I’ll be reinstating my monthly newsletter, which will contain general news, updates on the novel, and exclusive insights into where my ideas come from.
  • I may even try out other pieces of writing, e.g. short stories, to polish my technique and get some of my non-novel-related ideas on to the page.

In short, expect the unexpected. I may not post frequently, as my time will primarily be spent on writing the actual novel, but I anticipate being too excited about it to keep all my thoughts to myself!

The first of my new monthly newsletters will be out at the beginning of February, so if you’d like to keep up to date with my progress, sign up here.

If this new direction doesn’t sound like your kind of thing, then you can of course unsubscribe/unfollow me, and there will be absolutely no hard feelings. Thank you for your support so far.

If, however, you’re intrigued by what ‘supernatural medical fiction’ might mean, and want to find out more, then hang on to your hats and enjoy the ride…

In Defence of Fantasy

Fantasy lamp post and moons

Fantasy writing often gets a bad press. It’s accused of not being serious literature, providing nothing but escapism, and encouraging us to sit around waiting for a magic resolution to all our problems.

I disagree with all of the above. I will declare an interest in the matter: speculative fiction (SF; encompassing many sub-genres including fantasy, sci-fi and, yes, the supernatural) is my favourite genre, and I feel honour bound to defend it against these accusations.

Where to start? SF is very much a personal taste – you either like it or you don’t – and trying to persuade non-fans to pick it up and give it a go seems a waste of energy. However, I can at least tell you why I read it, why I don’t think it makes me a person of little brain, and why I think it has a great deal to offer us in our journey through life.

Fantasy writing, perhaps more than any other genre, is closely related to age-old methods of storytelling, recognising that stories are our way of making sense of the world. The structure, development and characterisation of many fantasy novels would be familiar to anyone from ancient times.

Wikipedia says:

Homer’s Odyssey satisfies the definition of the fantasy genre with its magic, gods, heroes, adventures and monsters.

and

[JRR] Tolkien was largely influenced by an ancient body of Anglo-Saxon myths, particularly Beowulf.

 

Placing contemporary issues within the confines of a fantastical storyline enables the writer to take a much more imaginative view of what might be. We cast off the shackles of our current limitations and ask ‘what if?’

  • What if there was a magic ring with the power to control the world?
  • What if ghosts existed?
  • What if monsters from the void were on the verge of breaking through?

What would you do? And why? What priorities would you have? What qualities would you bring to the situation? Who could you rely on to help? What would be a distraction, and what would it be vital to hang on to?

SF allows us to picture a world in which we don’t have to worry about paying the mortgage, getting an appointment with a doctor or sitting on a train for two hours simply to get to a workplace we hate. Freed from these mundane worries, we can start to imagine what the world might look like if other, bigger problems were fixed.

  • Where does our food come from, and is it sustainable?
  • Why do we go to war, and what other choices do we have?
  • Who has access to the world’s knowledge, and is it fairly distributed?

You’ll notice that I’ve asked a lot of questions. That’s because, at its best, SF encourages us to take a broader view and ask ourselves how the world could be improved. It feeds us wild and wonderful suggestions for how things could be, and we are left to ponder whether any of the incredible experiences undergone by the books’ characters might be something we could learn from – or even put into practice – in real life.

Also, by using ancient archetypes and familiar plotlines, SF connects us to every reader and listener from centuries gone by; we realise that we are all one human race, with ongoing struggles, trials and challenges; and we can start to see the common ground between us. And when we can think of ourselves as part of a greater whole, and not just individuals fighting for our own little spot on this planet, that’s when we can really come up with the ground-breaking, world-changing ideas.

I am not suggesting that, when I pick up a SF novel, the above arguments are at the forefront of my brain. I too enjoy a bit of escapism as much as the next person. But I want to counter the view that such escapism equates to abdicating from responsibility to society: it does not – or at least it need not.

To return to Tolkien, he refers to the subject of escapism in his essay On Fairy-Stories:

In what the misusers are fond of calling Real Life, Escape is evidently as a rule very practical, and may even be heroic… Why should a man be scorned if, finding himself in prison, he tries to get out and go home? Or if, when he cannot do so, he thinks and talks about other topics than jailers and prison-walls?

 

In other words – or, at least, this is my interpretation – it is vital that we don’t limit ourselves to thinking about the world as it stands. We also need to envisage what it could become, because it is only by imagining it that we can make it real. SF can equip us with the tools to make that journey.

Interested in pursuing this line of thought further? Check out my new blog series: Be Your Own Superhero.

This article was first published in our zine Bookylicious, volume 1 issue 4.

Book Diaries Receives the Liebster Award!

Liebster AwardI’m very excited today to announce that my Book Diaries blog has received the Liebster Award!

The Award is presented to blogs by other bloggers and is a great way to discover new voices and fresh topics. I was happy to be nominated by Marie Anne Cope (thank you Marie!), who is a horror and dark fantasy author; her books include the novels Bonds and Broken Bonds and the collection of short stories Tales from a Scarygirl. If witches and vampires are your thing, you can find lots of great stuff on her blog Scary Ramblings.

In accordance with the rules of the Award, I have to write several things. Read on!

Ten random facts about myself…

  1. I am a professionally qualified librarian.
  2. I once posed in a ‘Calendar Girls’-style calendar for my old amateur dramatics group.
  3. I went to the same Oxford college as the Rev. W. Awdry, creator of Thomas the Tank Engine.
  4. I am half Welsh, half English.
  5. In the Myers Briggs personality test I am an INTJ.
  6. My favourite book of all time is The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham.
  7. I have travelled on the Trans-Siberian Railway.
  8. I passed my Grade 7 piano exam.
  9. The tables at my wedding were named after all the actors who have played Doctor Who.
  10. I played Olivia in a school production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.

Answers to the questions posed by Marie…

1. When and why did you start to write?

I used to write a lot as a child, but haven’t done so for years. The Book Diaries is kind of my way back into writing (as well as reading), and it has been quite inspirational in that regard: instead of writing about other people’s novels, I now want to write one of my own! I have a story in my head that wants to get out, and, being a fan of fantasy, the idea of creating my own world has a huge appeal. I’ve started making copious notes about the plot and characters, and have determined that next year will be the year I finally do it!

2. What is your chosen genre and what was your motivation for choosing it?

My novel will be a fantasy novel, specifically a supernatural novel, and most of the other ideas that I have in my head for further creative projects are also sci-fi and fantasy (SFF). I’ve always enjoyed those sorts of stories myself, I think because it enables me to escape from the mundane worries of daily life and imagine how the world could be improved – or at least made more interesting – on a much larger scale. I also find myself asking ‘what if?’ quite frequently: what if some aspect of nature or civilisation was different in some key way? How would that affect the way we live? I guess I’d like to explore those thoughts further and see what develops; and SFF is the perfect place to do it.

3. Is your blog in the same genre as your writing and, if not, why did you decide to make it different?

My two responses above probably answer that. Although I want to write creatively in SFF, I also want to write about books (and the joy of reading) more generally. I’m interested in having ideas and pursuing them, and while SFF certainly offers a great deal of space for that, I also firmly believe that any book (or any story in any medium, come to that) can inspire you to think differently and create change in your life. So what I’m trying to do on this website is both indulge my own need for speculative storytelling, and offer support and encouragement to people who want to use books to pursue their dreams.

4. What came first – blogging or novel/short story writing?

I wrote short stories as a child, I’m now blogging, and I have at least one novel lined up for the future!

5. Do you think a blog is a must for a writer and, if so, why?

I think it’s a great way of (a) honing your writing and editing skills and (b) building up a relationship with your readers. People are always keen to know about the person behind the book cover, and blogging is a fab opportunity to talk about the things that make you tick. You can go into more detail about elements of your books that readers might find interesting, give them sneak previews or behind-the-scenes reports of projects and events, ask for feedback on work in progress, or just chat about your daily life. Of course, if you hate the very thought of it, then don’t force yourself! But it’s definitely worth trying: set yourself a manageable schedule and you may even end up enjoying it…

6. Describe your writing routine and why it works for you.

At the moment I write a blog post every fortnight. I try not to set specific dates for posting, as it makes me feel too tied down, but I do try to get the posts published by the Wednesday of each week in which they’re due, so that I’m ready to talk about them on our community radio show, Calon Talks Books! While I can fit in a blog post around other tasks in a day, when it comes to writing my novel I think I’ll need to set aside larger chunks of time: half days or whole days, depending on my schedule. My freelance work tends to be busier in the summer, so I may end up doing my writing during the winter and earning money during the summer! Time will tell, though.

7. Do you have a special place to write and, if so, where is it and why?

Not really! I have a back bedroom that functions as a study, and that’s where I do all my work. It’s comfortable and free from distractions, which is all I really need. Having said that, I have taken myself off once or twice to Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden, so when next year rolls around and I want to dedicate more time to my novel, I may just use that as my ‘special place’. It’s got a magical vibe for anyone wanting to settle down and concentrate on writing – and being surrounded by all those books is certainly inspiring!

8. If you could go back in time, what piece of advice would you give yourself as you embark on your writing journey?

Just do it! Make time for writing, and keep at it: the more you do, the better you will get and the more you will develop. You also don’t know what you’re capable of before you start, but there’s only one way to find out…

9. What is your favourite genre and is this the same as the one you write?

See above – I love reading sci-fi and fantasy, and am looking forward to writing my own stories in this genre. The Book Diaries introduces me to a variety of books across genres, and this is both interesting and hugely valuable, but it’s SFF I’ll turn to when I want to indulge myself or take it easy. I’m currently trying to finish Shadowmancer by GP Taylor, which I’ve been struggling to fit in amongst Book Diaries reading and a busy work season – but when that’s done, I have plenty more to choose from!

10. What do you feel the advantages and disadvantages of blogging are?

The advantages I’ve mentioned above, but there are admittedly downsides. Firstly, it can take up a fair amount of time, and if you’re already struggling to find time for your creative writing, it may not seem very sensible to eat into that time further by blogging. I guess blogging should come once you’ve got a regular writing routine up and running, or when you want to start reaching out to your readers a little more. The other downside is that it can sometimes be difficult to know what to say in a blog post. Particularly if you’re an introvert, talking about yourself, your thoughts and your feelings can be quite challenging. Ultimately it’s a matter of striking a balance, finding what you’re comfortable with and ensuring that the blog supplements your creative writing rather than detracts from it.

11. What was the best piece of advice you have ever received?

I’m going to quote Polonius from Hamlet here: ‘To thine own self be true’. We are surrounded by advice both good and bad; but bear in mind that what works for someone else won’t necessarily work for you. I have realised that I would rather fail in my own way than succeed by imitating someone else. It’s not that I don’t listen to words of wisdom or take on board practical suggestions, but if something feels wrong for me, the biggest lesson I’ve learned is to heed my own intuition and figure out how *I* would do something.

My own nominations for the Award…

My 11 questions for my nominees…

  1. What book would you take to a desert island, and why?
  2. Tell us about a favourite book-related memory from your childhood/youth.
  3. Has a book ever changed the course of your life?
  4. Pick a favourite quote from a book and tell us what it means to you.
  5. If your life was a book, what genre would it be?
  6. Who is your favourite fictional character, and why?
  7. What is the best film adaptation of a book you’ve seen?
  8. What is your favourite place to read?
  9. Which book is next on your ‘to-read’ list, and why?
  10. What is your favourite medium for consuming stories: books, film, TV, theatre, other?
  11. If you could only read one author for the rest of your life, who would you pick?

The official rules of the Liebster Award 2016

If your blog has been nominated for the Award, and you have chosen to accept it, you need to do the following:

  1. Thank the person who nominated you, and post a link to their blog on your blog. Try to include a little promotion for the person who nominated you.
  2. Display the award on your blog — by including it in your post and/or displaying it using a ‘widget’ or a ‘gadget’. Images you can use for your 2016 Liebster Award can be found at http://theglobalaussie.com/the-official-rules-of-the-liebster-award-2016/
  3. List these rules in your post.
  4. Answer your nominator’s questions.
  5. Give 10 random facts about yourself.
  6. Nominate 5–11 small blogs (preferably below 200 followers) that you feel deserve the award.
  7. Create 11 questions for your own nominees to answer.
  8. Once you have written and published it, you then have to inform the people/blogs that you nominated that they have been nominated for the Liebster Award and provide a link for them to your post so that they can learn about it.

Happy reading (and writing)!

The Walking Dead vs William Shakespeare

Good writing is good writing, whatever the century. And, as we approach the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, it’s interesting to wonder what Will would be working on if he were alive today.

As he had an eye for what was popular, I can’t help but think he’d be working in TV; in particular, I can picture him writing one of my favourite shows: The Walking Dead. Heroes and villains, battles and introspection, blood and guts a-plenty – it’s surely right up his street.

And so, to commemorate not only Will’s forthcoming anniversary but also the recent season 6 finale of The Walking Dead, I present eight scenes that could have leaped straight from Shakespeare’s quill…

[SPOILER WARNING: If you have not yet caught up with season 6 of The Walking Dead, you may see some images below of scenes you have not yet witnessed!]

#1 – Rick vs Henry V

Rick vs Henry V

#2 – Michonne vs Macbeth

Michonne vs Macbeth

#3 – Morgan vs Richard III

Morgan vs Richard III

#4 – Glenn vs Hamlet

Glenn vs Hamlet

#5 – The Governor’s Daughter vs Shylock

Governor's Daughter vs Shylock

#6 – Random Heads vs Titus Andronicus

Random Heads vs Titus Andronicus

#7 – Carl vs Goneril

Carl vs Goneril

#8 – Maggie and Carol vs Romeo and Juliet

Maggie and Carol vs Romeo and Juliet

A Carnival of Words

Typewriter

I feel I’ve stepped into new territory this past week. My home town, Wrexham, hosted its very own literary festival, the Carnival of Words, and I signed up to as many events as it was humanly possible for me to attend.

As an introvert I should stress that this wasn’t very many! I’ve come to realise, through trial and error, that going out too much severely depletes my resources, even when the events are enjoyable and inspiring – perhaps because they’re enjoyable and inspiring. I put myself out there, talk to lots of people, engage with the topic, and generally throw myself into the moment.

And then I get home and collapse on the sofa.

This was certainly the case last week. On Tuesday I attended a Poems and Pints night at our local Welsh pub, Saith Seren. The evening was ostensibly to celebrate 150 years of Wrexham Football Club, but the poems weren’t limited to the football theme. A range of poets with very different styles, writing in both Welsh and English, gave readings of their work, and I happily sat back and took it all in.

I don’t write much poetry myself, but I love going to the open mic nights in my town, as it’s a great way of meeting up with fellow creators. If you’re a struggling writer, sitting at home wondering why no-one understands you, then you could do worse than hunt down any such events taking place near you. It’s wonderfully refreshing to go out and talk to others in the same situation; it certainly makes me feel part of a community rather than feeling I’m trying to do everything in a vacuum.

This was, essentially, the best thing about the week for me: meeting up with other writers, not just to appreciate and learn about their work, but to join that community and be reminded that writing is a valid life choice. It’s a difficult, often lonely, pursuit, but knowing that others ‘get it’ makes a huge difference.

Thursday saw me attend some writers’ workshops at our public library. Sadly, the one on graphic novels I’d been looking forward to was cancelled. I don’t draw, but the idea of teaming up with an illustrator to create a graphic novel is one that really excites me. I love the concept of words and pictures working together to form a whole – so much potential, so many different options to play with…

So I was very pleased that the workshop on writing for children went ahead as planned! As with graphic novels, what appeals to me about writing a children’s book is the idea of mixing words and pictures to form something greater than either can do on their own. I have the grain of an idea for a book; and, rather wonderfully, while I was sitting in the workshop I started imagining how I could grow it further. I’m in my happy place when I’m just beginning to develop an idea, so this workshop was time very well spent for me.

I also attended a playwriting session, which was interesting as I’ve just co-written a stage version of Pride and Prejudice. Clearly, writing an adaptation is very different to writing an original script, but I came away with lots of ideas for new work – my only problem will be finding the time to fit them in around my other ongoing projects! Maybe a new play will have to wait a while…

The day was rounded off by an author networking event, and this was one of the highlights of the week for me. As I mentioned earlier, I got to meet up with other local writers and chat about their experiences of anything from finding collaborators to self publishing. We also discussed the possibility of seting up local writers’ groups in different genres, and organising another general writers’ event later in the year. I’m in touch with the organisers so I’ll be kept posted of any plans, and I’m looking forward to this very much.

On to the last day of the Carnival, and I attended not one but two events: ‘Whovian Happenings‘ on Saturday morning, and ‘Romans to Redcoats‘ in the afternoon. The former featured two writers of Doctor Who spin-off novels, and fired my imagination so much that I wanted to go away and start writing my own fan fiction there and then! I’m a massive Doctor Who fan, and have more ideas than I know what to do with – actually transforming any of them into a workable story will be the biggest challenge, but one I probably do need to set myself at some point…

The afternoon’s event was a 3½-hour historical fiction fest. Now, historical fiction isn’t something I’ve read a great deal of, but every time I hear about a book in this genre I want to pick it up and get stuck right in: the issue, as always, is one of time. However, as you’ll know if you read my book challenge, making time for reading is something I’m actively trying to get a grip on, so I treated myself to a few books from the Waterstones stall in the foyer, and will be scheduling in time for them in the near future!

And it was this last session that made perhaps the biggest difference to me as a writer. It was a fairly small-scale event, so I got to chat to some of the writers about their work, which meant that I got to know them as people rather than just ‘names’. And so, afterwards, when I was reviewing Facebook comments about the event, I saw that some of the authors were ‘friends’ with a mutual friend… and I took the brave step of sending them friend requests myself. And they accepted!

This may not seem like much, but it means that in my newsfeed I now see updates, not from people who are merely thinking about writing, or (like me) talking about the difficulties of making time for it, but from people who are actually getting on and doing it. And that is incredibly inspiring. To follow people who are talking about things that enthuse me, and to be able to interact with them on a normal human level… it makes everything seem possible, if only I work hard enough and dedicate myself to my projects and my dreams.

And that is what the Carnival of Words has done for me. It has changed my attitude from that of ‘aspiring writer’ to that of ‘writer’.

It all begins here…!

Why Having Ideas Is Like Chasing Butterflies

ButterflyI’m making good progress on my book challenge. Three months into the project means I’m a quarter of the way through, which is slightly scary: I’ve gone through 50 years of literature in what seems like no time.

It’s been incredibly illuminating. As I mention in my rationale for the challenge, my aim is not to write standard book reviews; it’s to see what immediate, practical changes I can make to my life as a direct result of reading each book. I’m trying to catch myself right at ‘The End’ and reflect on what has stayed with me; to ask myself each time, “in what way am I now a different person?”

I’m finding that, for every thought that stays with me, there are hundreds more that simply fizzle out. By the time I reach that final page, I know that, drifting out there in the universe of unfinished things and unformed plans, are the wraith-like remnants of once-important flashes of meaning that, ultimately, didn’t have the stamina to make it through and fix themselves in my brain.

For me, this is part of the fascination of my project. I’m aware, as I’m reading, that every page holds some new wonder, some new connection, some new insight into life – and yet, I also know that the human brain is only capable of retaining a certain amount of information at any one time.

I’ve deliberately set out to make this a ‘real-life’ rather than an academic scenario. No matter what crops up that I might want to remember in future, I’m not making notes; I did enough of that at university, and the point of this challenge is to get me up to speed with simply reading again. Not over-thinking, not sucking every last nuance out of a sentence before moving on to the next: just reading, enjoying the story, and moving on.

And yet this isn’t proving to be as easy as I’d hoped.

The problem is rather unexpected. It isn’t that I spend time mulling over the meaning of a bunch of words. It’s the fact that practically every paragraph gives me a gaggle of new ideas of my own that I want to run off and pursue.

Imagine doing the gardening: pruning, weeding, planting, all according to plan, all in tune with the seasons. Now imagine being distracted, every time you bow your head to the soil, by a flight of rare butterflies, colours blazing, wings a-shimmering, sailing past your head and somehow, all as one, breathing a tantalising melody that hints at the strange, far-off places they inhabit – and which you too, if only you put down your tools, can find if you follow them into the wild blue yonder…

Yes. This is what it’s like inside my head when I’m reading. And I can’t believe I’d forgotten that this is what books do to me. They transport me to all sorts of strange places by means of my own creativity, which takes what I’ve just read, feeds on it, and rebirths it in my mind as something new and totally unique to me.

And these newborn babes of my imagination, they scream and they cry and they wail for my attention – and how can I not give it to them? I may not write down notes on what I’ve learned, for I can always read the book again to pick up the sense of it. But I can’t ignore the calling of my inspiration, for she is an erratic little madam and, if neglected, may well choose not to grace me with her unique revelations again.

And so I am not making the progress with my reading speed that I’d hoped – but it is not for the reasons I might have assumed. I am giving in to the lure of the ideas and letting them take wing – much like those imaginary butterflies – and I am following them wherever they might lead.

The last ‘practical change’ I made to my life as a result of reading a book was not something serious or worthy. It was to open a new vein of creativity, specifically with regard to my cat’s blog. It wasn’t what I was expecting, and I’m certain it won’t be what others were expecting either.

That’s the joy of reading. Books can take us to places we never even dreamed of. I’m only three months in to my book challenge, and already I’m beginning to notice a difference, to see the world that is opening up both within my head and without. I can’t begin to envisage where I might find myself come December.

But I am feeling very excited at the prospect.

Four Characters

Four charactersI’m currently attending a Writers’ Workshop at my local library on Thursday nights. We’re only just getting started, but so far have looked at aspects of writing such as ideas, characterisation, location, dialogue, and plot.

Last week, almost in passing, my writing tutor mentioned something about ‘four character types’ that are often to be found forming a fictional group:

  • The one who’s top dog
  • The one who wants to be top dog
  • The one who’ll never be top dog
  • The one who doesn’t care

This reminded me of a thought I’d had ages ago, about four different character types, which I’ve noticed cropping up with enough regularity for me to consider it a ‘thing’. Some groups fit the paradigm quite neatly, others are a bit more of a stretch.

To be fair, I suspect each of my types could be aligned to one on the above list – so it’s possible I’ve not come up with anything new, just come to the same conclusion but with slightly different descriptions.

Anyway, as I was walking home from the workshop, I couldn’t stop thinking about this theory, and even came up with a new example. So I decided to share my thoughts here, to see if it sparks any recognition with anyone else.

Here are my ‘four characters’:

  • The central one
  • The angsty/lovelorn one
  • The one who’s a bit dim / away with the fairies
  • The loud, brash one

To illustrate this, here are a few examples that I’ve spotted (from TV, film, and theatre rather than literature, but I think the theory still holds):

Show Central Angsty Dim Brash
The Inbetweeners Will Simon Neil Jay
Ladies' Day Pearl Jan Linda Shelley
Neville's Island Neville Angus Roy Gordon
The Big Bang Theory Sheldon Leonard Raj Howard
Red Dwarf Lister Rimmer Kryten Cat
Blackadder IV Edmund Darling Baldrick George
The Wizard of Oz Dorothy Tin Man Scarecrow Lion

OK, so some of those are a stretch. The Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz most definitely isn’t ‘dim’ – but he’s the one who feels he’s lacking brains. Likewise, Raj in The Big Bang Theory, with a PhD in Astrophysics, clearly isn’t dim either – but he’s certainly a little ‘away with the fairies’ at times!

I guess if you were mapping these types on to the earlier types, it would go something like this:

  • Central = top dog
  • Angsty = wants to be top dog
  • Dim = will never be top dog
  • Brash = doesn’t care

Or does the brash one want to be top dog? I reckon Gordon from Neville’s Island would fit that description. Maybe the angsty one is the one who doesn’t care? Jan in Ladies’ Day is nothing like Rimmer in Red Dwarf, so maybe that characterisation falls down completely?

What do you think? Is there something in this that rings bells with you, or have I pushed an occasional grouping of types too far?

Let me know in the comments below!