Wednesday, 30 January 2008

Off to that London

Very excited about my trip to the big city tomorrow for the Messages / Your Messages launch. I have a to-do-list a mile long which has worrying things on it like - 'Pay Tax Bill' and 'Find out where this Covent Garden place is'.

I found this lovely picture of The Book on Sarah Salway's page - it's so very beautiful and so very purple.

It's available from Amazon and all proceeds go to the charity Kids Company

It's too late for me to take up the suggestion of wearing purple to match the book, I always plan well in advance what I am going to wear and cannot be moved on the subject (unless I discover a big stain down the front / can't do up the zip/ realise it makes me look like a frog).

I am reading my 'message' at the do and am third on - after published author Caroline Smailes!! I'm a wee bit nervous but I'm taking my step-sister along for support and she is going to make sure I don't succumb to the vodkas beforehand. Talking of which, it is the last day of my not-drinking month tomorrow but I think I may permit myself a premature tipple (or two) after I have read my piece, rather than waiting 'til midnight.

OK I've got a to-do list to deal with and it seems to have 'Polish boots and buy some nice tights' on it which both seem unlikely before I catch my train in the morning.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

A carpet of books

The books are off the shelves and I can't see the living room floor anymore.

We had a lovely time last night making piles of As, Bs, Cs etc . So many 'H's (a shared student obsession with Robert Heinlein) and 'P's (Still love Terry Pratchett) and only one U (Barry Unsworth - Sacred Hunger which I read lying in a river in the Sumatran jungle while My Man was in bed being horribly ill for three days (I know this because while clearing the shelves I found my Indonesia holiday diary)).

Lots of the books sparked off memories of what we were doing when we read them and how obsessed we were with particular authors at certain times in our lives but would we ever read them again (see Heinlein).

The fiction was pretty easy to sort - alphabetical by author (although we got a bit tired towards the end and I've just found Charlotte Gray by Sebastian Faulks filed under 'G'.)

There was some debate over the definition of a 'classic' - We have a bookshelf that only fits Penguin Classics and I made a separate pile of these to which My Man added several other books which he also deemed to be classics (yes I too loved Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Graham Swift's Waterland - but they don't physically fit on the shelf!)

Biggest cause of discussion was the non-fiction. I have an extensive collection of Reference books, for my work, on the shelves above my desk. They are arranged in 'most used ones nearest to hand' order. The rest of the non-fiction is scattered haphazardly around the house.

In an attempt at order I made 3 broadly grouped piles of 'Arts and Social Sciencey stuff', 'Science and Nature and Machines' and 'Everything Else'. I went to make a cup of tea and came back to find thirty-six separate piles, labelled 'Environmental Ecology', 'Political Science', 'History-Modern', 'History-Medieval', 'Meteorology', 'Popular Science', 'Travel-Britiain', Travel-Abroad, 'Maps' etc, etc.

I trained and worked as a librarian years ago but never really got into the whole fine tuning of cataloguing (tending instead towards the, admittedly frustrating, 'it's a big blue book with silver writing on the spine - you know the one', approach.) It was one of the reasons for my career change (that and an offer to work as a gardener in Tuscany). Anyway, I think My Man missed his true vocation. I'll be getting him some Dewey Decimal stickers for his birthday.

Didn't find that missing library book but have tagged seven books that I am prepared to part with via Bookmooch. If you haven't already discovered this site its worth a look. Its seems a great way of exchanging books (and cheaper in the long run than Amazon Marketplace).

Now, where has he put Worms Eat My Garbage? I'm sure it should be at 631.875 (Composting), but as he is very fond of our friends in the wormery I had better check under 636.08 (Pets), where I have a horrible feeling I might also find Hugh Fearlessly Eats it All

(only joking Hugh we love you really).

Sunday, 27 January 2008

This is MeMe

Just got back from a lovely weekend in Scarborough to find I had been tagged for my first ever meme, appropriately enough by Scarborough lass Karen.

The small print: Link to the person that tagged you. Post the rules on your blog. Share six non-important things/habits/quirks about yourself. Tag six random people at the end of your post by linking to their blogs. Let each random person know they have been tagged by leaving a comment on his/her website.

1. I was once a security guard on the Royal Yacht Britannia and had to search the Governor of the Bank of England’s briefcase. I wasn't allowed to step out from behind my desk because I was wearing Doc Martens boots, the only black shoes I owned

2. The eaves of our house are stacked with boxes of wool and felting fleece. I have two linen baskets and six bin liners filled with fabric and items of clothing that 'just need a bit of alteration'. Behind my desk there is a rag rug that I began two years ago. I sometimes feel haunted by my unfinished projects.

3. Whenever I write anything autobiographical my Nana turns up in it. She even features, thinly disguised, in my novel. She was an artist rather than a writer but she was a big influence on my creativity

4. I am overexcited by the prospect of spending the next couple of evenings with My Man taking all the books off our bookshelves and then putting them back again. The idea is to remind ourselves of which books we've got and where they are, find all those books that belong to other people and should really be returned, track down a couple of long overdue missing library books and eventually create some kind of order on the shelves so we won't have to go through the whole process again in the near future (I used to be a librarian and while I normally welcome randomness into my life I get very frustrated when I know I've got a particular book but just can't find it.)

5. I live in the hills miles away from both the east and west coast, but would love to live by the sea and eat fresh fish every day

6. I used to hold the record at school for the 100m sprint and raced at county level. I now run much more slowly over much longer distances, don't take part in races and hold no records whatsoever.

I've checked through all the blogs I read regularly and I don't think you've had this one Spiral Skies, so consider yourself tagged.

Thursday, 24 January 2008



He's my Pixie of Self Doubt (yes I know he looks friendly but there's a water pistol lurking in that bouquet). He lives under my desk and sometimes under my bed, he has even been known to lurk in the library (in the 'How to Write Properly' books section) and on trains (talking loudly into his mobile phone about 'wannabe writers who haven't got any original ideas and over use semi colons ;)

I had him locked in his box on Tuesday and had a blinder of a writing day. This included completing and sending off my first ever submission to Mslexia. Whether they like it or not it feels like an achievement to have done it.

Our writing group met in the evening and we had a guest writer, the playwright Linda Marshall-Griffiths (listen to her play broadcast on Radio Four last Friday under the name Jude Hughes). It was very generous of her to share her wealth of experience with us. She has such an obvious passion for writing that we couldn't help but be inspired. She did some workshop stuff with us that worked really well. So well that the next day I revisited what I had written, edited, tweaked etc and found I had - a poem! I'm not a great one for writing poetry, I tend to go all slushy and limp. But this one is different, it's actually quite edgy and creepy.

Eric managed to escape yesterday afternoon and told me with glee that my writing was irrelevant nonsensical chatter with no meaning or purpose. Not wanting to wallow in such feelings I distracted Eric with my poem (I have no expectations of being a poet so he can say what he likes about it) and did some sewing instead. I found a dress at the secondhand market in town that was so gorgeous - and only cost £4 -that I bought it even though it was two sizes too big. I spent last night tucking and turning, and voila! - a dress fit for a trip to the wine bar with my mates tonight. (Eric knows nothing of the cunning art of dressmaking so has no say in the matter).

Right Eric back in your box, I've just remembered some good things about my novel and need to get back to them before I forget.

Monday, 21 January 2008

A bridge too far

Lots of excitement this morning as the rivers that run through our little town threatened to overflow their banks. Much squealing in the coffee shop as we watched the water rise outside, followed by a race to the river to see it in close-up.

When we arrived we found policemen guarding the bridge, which was being washed by three foot high waves and had been declared unsafe. There were flashing lights and machinery on the other side, where in a an unflood-related incident a big blue lorry had managed to reverse itself into the river.

The local press were there of course interviewing all the key players, well me and my coffee mates actually.

"How has the flooding affected you today?"
"Well I was rather hoping to get to the library but the bridge has been closed off."
"Can I quote you on that?"

It was only afterwards that I had a chilling premonition of this week's front page: an apocalyptic photo of cars, beloved possessions and bedraggled kittens being washed downstream and the caption: "Local resident Sarah Dunnakey is cross that she couldn't get to the library."

And knowing my luck they'll spell my name right this time.

On a more literary note, I am enjoying dipping into The Assassins Cloak: an anthology of the world's greatest diarists. It was a present from my brother a couple of Christmas's ago and I've just got round to discovering how fab it is. For each day there are four or five brief entries from the diaries of all sorts of people - Pepys (of course), Andy Warhol, Kafka, Che Guevara, Adrian Mole (yes I know he's not real) and Mary Shelley, to name a few. Its fascinating stuff. Thanks bruv.

Also verdict is in from My Man on chapters 1 and 2 of omg - it's funny, makes complete sense and left him wanting more (a bit like me then!)

What a sweetheart, hem-hem I mean completely objective editor person. He also said there were too many names at one point, but "that was typical of a woman's book and men aren't interested in that sort of thing." I re-read, he was right (about the too many names), so I cut some of them out (some of them even started with the same letter - curses!), just in case women aren't interested in that sort of thing either.

Friday, 18 January 2008

Editing like a reader who wants to be a writer

Gosh this editing lark is hard work. I especially don't like it when I get to a paragraph that I have circled in red, with the words 'completely rewrite' in the margin. Not particularly helpful. I am feeling inspired however by Reading like a Writer by Francine Prose. She encourages you to read one word at a time, to appreciate the effort that has gone into choosing the right word. I am trying to apply this to my editing, which is possibly why it's taking me so bloomin' long.

What am I editing at this stage? (well I'm trying to reduce the number of times my heroine throws questions into the air for one.) I'm working on the first three chapters of my novel ,as yet untitled but with a crappy working title that I shall reduce for blogging purposes to omg. They are drafted but need to be seriously edited before I submit them to My Man for an early critique. I just want him to give me the answers to a few basic questions such as 'Does this make any sense at all? Have you got a clue what is going on? Have I lit the fuse yet? Have you already sussed the how, what and when of the 'bomb'? Is she still asking too many questions? Is this a really bad idea?

I want him to be totally honest (while bearing mind that I have PMT, a rotten cold and another 14 days to go before I can have a drink). Is this a worse idea than asking your partner to teach you to drive?

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

A new leaf

Or rather, a newsletter from Leaf Books. As cheery as ever it really brightened up this rainy morning. I really would recommend subscribing, for its sheer jolliness as well as its informative content.

Amongst other things it announced the new Leaf Microfiction comp, with a deadline of 31st May which leaves plenty of time to come up with some ideas.

After the initial joy of the above newsletter, a perusal of my favourite blogs and a new post on my own blog my day went all slow and sluggish. I spent nearly four hours not doing very much at all and not significantly adding to my word count. My Man responded to my post-lunchtime moan with one of his favourite solutions to most things -'Well go for a run then’. I knew it made sense and the rain had stopped, so go for a run I did. By the time I had reached the end of the street I had remembered that the central idea for my novel was ‘pretty damn good’(actually I think I used the less modest phrase ‘bloody brilliant’) and that yes I could carry it off, after half a mile my characters were spouting reams of dialogue in my head and by the time I got back I had to use my last few bars of energy to race to the computer and type it all in before it disappeared back into the running ether. Result - over 1,000 new words. I think there is a moral in there somewhere- something along the lines of ‘get the running bit done earlier in the day.’

I was thinking about the lovely Sylvia’s observation (see ‘quote of the week’) about self doubt. There is something about running that makes you believe in yourself again, as if by getting off your bum and moving your legs a bit more quickly than normal you have proved you are not a complete physical loss and it then transfers in your head to other aspects of your life. That’s how it works for me anyway. Anyone got any other examples of what works for you??

50 go off to the Dales

Well that was fun. A weekend in a Youth Hostel with some of my favourite people. We booked the whole of the hostel at Hawes and filled it with twelve families, about half and half kids and adults. It worked really well. The kids had a fantastic time and seemed to particularly enjoy the fact that they had their own 'dormitories'. We had lots of lovely food and some great waterfall walks. Also managed to fit in trip to a fab pub at Hardraw, a run up a hill and down again, and a music session late into the night using guitars, penny whistles, spoons and Jenga blocks.

I even did a couple of hours of writing. The change in environment (hmmm hills, rain, OK not that different from home, maybe it was the bunkbeds) seemed to stimulate something and I managed to polish off a couple of crucial scenes (and resolve my heroine's dilemma when faced with a savage dog). I also wrote a bizarre short story which I have yet to re-read.

My WEA Creative Writing class starts up again this week. I'm really looking forward to it, the class is made up of such interesting, creative and supportive writers and our tutor is a star (and no I'm not after extra points there miss). I also find the weekly assignments really useful for story ideas, and some of my most successful stories have sprung from there. The assignment for this week is particularly pertinent to my novel writing. Its about the concept of 'plot bombs'. Apologies to all you more experienced writers out there who know all this already. I was aware of the idea and I know it's something that should build into a storyline naturally, but I found it really helpful to apply it to my novel and see how my plotting fared. So here's how it goes.

Break your story down into a bare description of six major scenes. Arrange them for the maximum degree of suspense by using a 'slow burning fuse' and delaying the explosion. Include a few hidden danger spots that characters nearly step on time and time again.

It has woken me up to some weak spots in my plotting and has highlighted bits that need sparking up a bit.

While rummaging through my folder from last term I also found a hastily scribbled note "Each scene has a beginning, a middle and an end'." Basic stuff, shouldn't really need saying, but I decided it was worth reminding myself occasionally so I have written that one on a post-it and stuck it to my screen.

All this nuts and bolts stuff often just happens anyway when the writing is flowing well, but one thing I love about going to a writing class is that regular reminder of what lies beneath. It mops up the sloppiness in my writing and I am very grateful for it.

OK enough, back to the novel, time to relight that fuse.

Friday, 11 January 2008

Wild dreams and savage dogs

A lovely item in the post this morning - the Arvon Foundation courses brochure for 2008. An object of beauty in itself and full of wonderful inspiring possibilities for the year ahead - such as a week in Inverness-shire with Ali Smith exploring short-stories, or in the hills of West Yorkshire with Kate Pullinger "collaborating on scripting a piece of new media literature." -I'm unlikely to be able to attend any of the courses this year but a writer can dream can't she?

If this wets you appetite at all, then the full brochure is available at the Arvon Foundation website.

OK back to Ywriter, I left my heroine alone in a field facing a savage dog. We need to do some quick thinking.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

A good writing day

Preceded by a good writing night. I wrote a short story last night for the first time in ages, inspired by the National Galleries of Scotland Creative Writing comp. It felt great to be working on something not connected with my novel for a change, and that's perhaps why I returned to the novel with fresh enthusiasm this morning. I really feel like I'm making headway with it especially since I started using Ywriter, which Cally Taylor recommended recently. This free software is basically a way of organising all of your novel related documents into a coherent scene by scene format. I've found this particularly useful as otherwise I get myself lost in one huge Word document or lose track of my scenes when they are saved separately. I've found it simple to use and very flexible.

I went for a run this afternoon and tried to combine it with picking up some books that had been offed on Freecycle. I've never tried running with a full rucksack before and its wasn't a total success but I did have one of those lovely 'breakthrough moments' as I was bumbling along bent half double. I was mulling over a crucial scene in my novel and suddenly realised what it was that was bothering me about it and how I could turn it around. Just need to fire up YWriter now and get it all down before I forget.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Chicken out campaign

Three non-writing posts on the trot isn't ideal on a writing blog but I think this is really important so I want to highlight it here, just in case anyone has managed to miss all the publicity on Channel 4 and in the press.

The Chicken Out campaign led by Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall addresses the fact that conditions in which most chickens in the UK are reared are unacceptable. It aims to see the industry 'de-intensify' by lowering stocking densities and including environmental enrichment programmes in all its chicken sheds and set a new minimum welfare standard for indoor-reared broiler chickens.It is also wants to see more birds reared outdoors, on assured free range and organic systems. Part of the campaign also deals with the role of supermarkets.

Consumer pressure has already had a huge impact on battery-chicken farming for eggs. The EC are set to ban it in 2011. This campaign could lead directly to better welfare conditions for chickens reared for meat. If you want to add your name to the campaign or just want more information follow this link. If you have't seen any of the Chicken Out programmes the last one is on Channel 4 at 9pm tonight.

Normal writing-relating service will be resumed tomorrow.

A win!

Sadly not for my writing but for my kissing! Yes My Man and I won a snogging competition. The owner of one of our local shops, which specialises in beautiful handcrafted lampshades, took photos of her customers kissing under the mistletoe, then picked a winner. Not sure how the winners were chosen (probably pulled out of a hat, but we prefer to think we were judged on our romantic style and breathtaking technique)

Here is the winning photo so you can judge for yourselves.

The prize is a meal for two at a local restaurant - Hurrah just the thing for a cold January night.

Friday, 4 January 2008


In a previous post I mentioned the fab Man in Seat 61 website and my dreams of travelling the world by train. Well, I think I need a navigator. I've just discovered I have a Travel IQ of 80, which isn't very good and means that if I set foot out of the UK on my own I will most likely never find my way back.

To find out your own Travel IQ visit the Traveler IQ Challenge - best viewed on Full Screen (makes the map bigger and so increases your chances I reckon)

Good news is My Man has a Travel IQ of 120 so as long as I stick with him I should be fine (maybe this is why he proposed on top of a mountain - he knew I needed him to find the way back down!)

Thursday, 3 January 2008

An 'oh what the hell here are my stats anyway' post

In between writing my last post and this I have made a spaghetti bolognese and had a think. While reflecting on my writing year I suddenly realised that it was the first time that I could ever say I'd had a writing year. Last year was amazing for me writing-wise. For the first time since school I not only started but finished a story, and then another, and then another. I won my first writing competition and had my first pieces accepted for publication. I discovered the joys of micro-fiction and started this blog. So for what they are worth - which to me is a hell of a lot - here are my stats:

Stories written: 7
Microfiction (300-500 words) written: 16
Competitions entered: 8
Competitions won: 2
Competitions placed but not won: 2
Pieces accepted for anthology publication: 3
Stories submitted to magazines (inc online): 2
Rejections from magazines(so far): 1
Novels started: 2
Residential writing weeks: 1

I want to concentrate on my novel this year, but thinking back over last year's writing made me realise how much I enjoy short story writing, so I'm hoping to keep that up too. With that in my mind I would like to heartily recommend Sally Quilford's Writing Competition's Calendar. I am going to remove my own 'competitions' section from below and replace it with a 'Blogs-I-Like' which will include Sally.

A no stats stats post

Happy New Year everyone. Still eking out the festive season here, at least until all the After Eight mints have gone. The snow and an ice skating session helped to prolong the warm glowing feeling today.

I have been very impressed with the writing stats on other people's blogs - stories written, submitted, accepted, rejected etc. I was tempted to do the same here but then was dishearted by my relatively paltry output. The only solution I decided was just to write more, so that's my New Year's Resolution - I will write more and have some stats to be proud of this time next year.

I have also rashly pledged not to drink (alcohol) in January. December was particularly boozy this year, so much so that I now don't even fancy a nice glass of wine. So it seemed a good opportunity to have 31 days off (only 28 to go!). Anyone got any good soft drinks ideas?

Also intending to make great headway with my novel this month. I've been scribbling away all over the holidays, taking my chances while the rest of the family snoozed after feasting. And I've now got lots more words. Just hope they are the right ones.