Sunday, 10 December 2017

The Honourable Mention

I enjoy entering writing contests. I like the discipline of a deadline, the germ of an idea that is sparked when given a theme. I enter a few each year, not with any intention of winning but just to stretch my writing muscles and to get some feedback.

So imagine my joy when I entered The Write Practice Winter Writing Contest and got an Honourable Mention!

Thrilled isn't the word, I was gobsmacked. There is no prize, they go to the winner and two runners up, but I do get my story published in Short Fiction Break on December 27th.

I have been trying to submit more work lately, not something that I find easy but something that I know I must do if I am to progress and improve as a writer. Sending my babies out into the big, wide world on their own is scary but so far no-one has died! I now need to get working on my first draft manuscript in order to have it ready for the world. I am a little shaky on the process to get closer to publication but I think in the New Year I will start putting out feelers and see if I can make some useful connections.

In the meantime I'm going to bask a little in the Honourable Mention light.
So proud, so happy, so surprised. Do drop by and read it on December 27th, any comments gratefully received. And somebody peel me off the ceiling ... 

Plotting versus Pantsing

I spend far too much time wool gathering rather than actually writing and something that has been occupying my mind recently is whether I should plan my next project or just sit down and write in my usual pantser fashion.

The reason I have been thinking about this is that in the past month I completed my first draft of a manuscript which is now relaxing quietly on my hard drive. I started this manuscript during last year's NaNoWriMo and it was a tiny idea which I began to write and it grew like Topsy. There was no real planning, just a vague idea and a couple of characters. I really enjoyed writing this way, it's the way I have always written so feels natural. The problem is that at times I literally lost the plot! The thing took off in unexpected directions and I now know that part of the re-writing and editing process will be to find a thread that runs through it and follow that thread rather than wandering off on branch lines.

So here is the issue. I now want to begin another manuscript. I have a vague idea, just as I had a year ago. I have my characters, familiar ones from the first manuscript and I have an idea of the journey I want them to take. so do I plan or do I fly?

Pros and Cons
  • I will know where I am going and where I want to end up.
  • However I'm not very good at making a coherent plan and tend to abandon it at some stage as too prescriptive.
  • It's not the way I naturally write so always feels false to me.
  • It feels natural and I know how to do it.
  • I get lost down side roads and up interesting trees!
  • There is little cohesion in a long manuscript.
  • I wonder if it leaves me with a huge editing job because there is no continuity.
So here I am, sitting at the laptop, wondering how to start. This is a familiar place for me over the years. But it is mid December, I may ponder some more over the festive period and see where I end up.  Maybe there is a combination that I can find, some compromise that will let me plan and fly free at the same time. Or maybe I just embrace the inner pantser and go with the flow. Who knows. Certainly not me at the moment!

Monday, 23 October 2017

#MeToo - Why is it important?

The #MeToo thing has been sweeping the internet recently; women standing up and declaring that they have suffered sexual assault or harassment and that the time has come to say 'enough is enough, no more suffering in silence'. And I know that many women have found it hard to stand up and join in. I have thought long and hard about whether to write this post and even harder about whether to press 'publish' and send it out into the world. I guess I decided that if this was important to so many women then I couldn't stand on the sidelines and remain silent.

Like almost every woman I know I have experienced sexual harassment to some degree, less so now I'm older but that's not the point here. From the older brother of a friend who thought it was ok to get us to lift our skirts and drop our knickers to the man on the bus who thought it was ok to run his hand up my thigh; from the work colleague who thought he could just reach out and grab a breast to the cold caller who thought he could call me 'love' or 'darling'. We've all known what it was like to be objectified, to be grabbed against our will, to be made to feel dirty.

I grew up in the 70s and as they say times were different then. Casual racism and sexism were facts of everyday life. Try going upstairs on the bus in a mini skirt and listen to the comments. But there was more subtle harassment going on and it didn't always come from the boys. 'You'll never get a boyfriend if you won't let them touch you', 'You'll never keep a boyfriend if you won't let him cop a feel', 'If you won't let him grope you he'll think you're frigid/a lesbian/a feminist'. All things my girlfriends told me as I was growing up. No wonder the boys thought they could do as they pleased with their hands!

But there is a more sinister side to all this. If men grow up thinking they can do whatever they want to with a woman's body then it comes as no surprise that some men don't develop a filter. They don't hear 'No' they hear 'Try harder/be firmer/force it'. For many years I heard stories from girlfriends of the times they'd had to fight off the unwanted attentions of a man, sometimes with little success. I've had many tearful conversations with girlfriends who ended up having sex with a man just to get rid of him. How terrible does that sound?

And some men take things further. I have been assaulted by a man who took no notice when I said 'No'. For years I thought it was my fault: I had fancied him, flirted with him, found myself alone with him. So it was my fault for putting myself in that position, wasn't it? No! It has taken me many years to know that, to know that it was his fault not mine, to know that I was a victim not a co-conspirator of some sort.

Of course it's all about power. The power men feel they have over women. That a woman's voice is less important, that a woman's body is not truly her own, that woman just need 'persuading' when they say 'No'. That is why it is so good to hear women across the world taking power back, saying that although these things have happened to us it's not ok and it's not cool and we won't be silent anymore.

Because that's how it all thrives, in our silence and passivity. We warn each other about the office letch, the man you never stay in a room alone with, the octopus at the office party, the dirty old man with wandering hands. We need to shout out, to confront the men who make us feel uncomfortable with their attentions, to tell the world that it's not ok and we won't stay silent anymore.

So I say these things have happened to me, they were not ok and I stand with all the women who are posting #MeToo. Together we may be able to save other women from feeling silenced and passive and powerless. 

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Book Review - Making Winter by Emma Mitchell

'Banish winter blues and embrace the frosty months by cosying up with Emma Mitchell's nature-inspired collection of crafts'

As someone who has followed Emma on Twitter for a few years I know how passionate she is about crafts, making and the life affirming benefits to be gleaned from doing something soothing and productive like crochet or baking. She is a successful crafter, running workshops to promote the joys of making. So I cheered when she said she was writing a book. I knew it would be beautiful and witty, like the lady herself, and I was not disappointed.

This is so much more than just a craft book. There are yummy recipes which are destined to become firm family favourites, there are things to do with twigs and twine so there is an unashamed crafty element to the book. But what Emma does so beautifully is invite you through her words to pull up a chair, sip a warming cuppa and relax into winter. A Fenland hyyge if you like with added cake and doggy cuddles.

The illustrations are beautiful. Emma has photographed the area where she lives and its beauty is breath-taking. Lots of pictures of the crafts being done aid her clear and often witty instructions. However the real joy is the simple, stunning line drawings by Emma, who is truly talented and gifted with a pen or a brush.

The crafts and recipes are really tempting - I am looking forward to making the Chelsea buns and the streusel cake - so there should be something to tempt most folk. My only issue is the lack of knitting projects. As a non crochet person I was longing to knit some of the creations so would have liked similar patterns for the knitter. But I know Emma is all about the hook and yarn so I will forgive her.

So if you fancy popping out for a ramble and picking some leaves and twigs you could do worse than grab a copy of Emma's book and find ways to transform your finds into lovely home decorations. As Emma says, you may even 'replace the feel-good brain chemicals that may falter during these dingier months'. And that must be a good thing.