The Joy of Creation – and the seventh day

Back in late June I had a whole bundle of good intentions for the summer. The most important of these was to complete the first draft of my WIP; I was 30k words in. Now, I have 35k. You don’t need to be good at maths (I’m rubbish) to see that I failed to meet my objective in spectacular style. 5,000 words? A figure I would commonly knock up in less than seven days.

The Family LineThings went pear-shaped from the off. The EU referendum result rocked me to an extent and depth I was utterly unprepared for. For weeks, I could think of nothing else and fed my addiction by reading everything I encountered on social media: articles, debates, the numerous passionate conversations between friends and colleagues, and, sadly, the trolls. Struggling with despair, a ‘what’s the point, we’re all going to hell in a handcart’ attitude, I did manage the edits on the revised edition of my debut, renamed The Family Line. Which was just as well: it had a July publication date.

Then Ginger1 went away. For a month. A whole month. One child lighter I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to catch up. Wrong. Instead I fretted about him constantly, using up precious emotional and mental energy. I couldn’t focus.

Late July and Ginger2 finished school for the summer. A week later and his older brother returned home safe and sound – if grubby; he’d been living in a tent for the duration. Now the long break has never been an easy time in which to write, as many mothers know, but I have plodded on in the past, albeit at a reduced pace: I worked in the mornings and we played in the afternoons. It didn’t pan out that way. I did try. Time and again I sat at my pc and typed a few measly sentences, before admitting that I wasn’t getting anywhere, fast. And for days, and weeks, one question plagued me: What on earth is going on? Have I lost my passion? Will I never complete a novel again?

In the past seven years I have written six (and a bit – there’s that third of the WIP) novels, a number of short stories, and a radio play. The shorts and five of the novels have been published – the sixth is scheduled for release in June 2017 – with all the attendant promotional activity. The radio play is almost ready for submission. Whether or not it is ever produced remains to be seen. On top of this I have continued to teach, mentor and work as an editor.

Prussia Cove, Cornwall

Prussia Cove, Cornwall

In August we went away for our family holiday. This year to Cornwall, to the most southerly point of Britain: the Lizard.  On this holiday, where we walked and sailed and mostly admired the stunning beauty of the Cornish coastline (though the Helford Passage is worth a visit too) I realised that I needed to stop beating myself up. That my sub-conscious had been at work. I’m tired. I needed to take stock, step back, refill the well.

So, aside from a stint as a writer-in-residence for Little Green Pig (that’s a story for another time…) August and this first two weeks of September has passed without writing and little social media activity and – shockingly to me – it’s been OK. Really, really OK. Great, even.

2016-08-30-09-20-40

The Little Green Pig pop-up in Brighton

I’ve read a lot – both fiction and non-fiction – rediscovering my love of writing from across the pond. American literature was a strand of my degree but in recent years I’ve read British works almost exclusively, feeling the need to keep up with trends.

I’ve swam almost every day, in the sea mostly – how lucky I am to live in Brighton; I’ve hung out with much neglected, and extremely tolerant, family and friends, realising in particular that my boys are growing up fast and it won’t be too long before they’re gone. Ten years from now, I won’t regret having written five rather than eight or nine novels, but I will regret not having spent more time with my children. A novelist friend said exactly the same thing.

At the weekend I was at a character masterclass run by The Beach Hut Writing Academy, tutored by clinical psychologist Dr Sam Fraser and thriller writer Rebecca Whitney. It was a fascinating and inspiring day. I came away buzzing with ideas and during one particular  exercise I discovered what the heart of my story was – and it wasn’t what I’d thought it was! The whole thing needs a re-write.

And here I am, ready to face the autumn, to enjoy reconnecting with my craft, a rewrite, my characters and their stories, to reconnect more fully with online friends (I am fortunate to have many astoundingly wonderful online mates) and I’ve learned the importance of taking a break, stepping away and reassessing.

A writing life is a marathon, not a sprint. We need to pace ourselves.

Creation is a marvellous thing and regardless of whether or not you believe in the Christian creation story (I don’t) the significance of the seventh day should not be underestimated.

Laura x

2015: A Writer’s Year

In a 12 month period during which I have seen no new publications of my own work, you’d be forgiven for questioning my post title. But with a new novel set for imminent release – Redemption Song on 28th January – and a new edition of my debut, Bloodmining, set for the summer, it’s been a writing year rammed with re-writing. And as we know, writing is rewriting.

Work on Redemption Song followed a traditional publishing journey with a draft submitted to my editor Greg in February, followed by substantive comments after a London Book Fair meeting in April, the copy edit in the late summer, more copy-editing in September (naughty me) and proofs in October. And a sparkly new book very soon *an excitement/fear stomach flip combo*. 2016 promises to be a year of fabulous fiction – for starters Jo Cannon’s debut The Trouble with Goats and Sheep is published on the same day as mine – and who knows if my book will be remembered in amongst so much good work? I can only keep my fingers crossed and keep on keeping on.Redemption Song Final

Alongside the work on Redemption Song I redrafted my very first novel. Me-oh-my what an interesting (ahem) experience that was. Proof positive of how much I’ve learned in the past four years. I feel extremely privileged to have had this opportunity: to put right all that was lumpy and bumpy in the first edition. It still isn’t perfect – what is? – but I am much, much happier with it. I’ll keep you posted once I have an exact publication date.

Despite the absence of a new book, 2015 was full of appearances too. So many that I had to consult my diary to recall many of them! It began in January with a talk at the University of Hertfordshire literary festival, and another at the University of Kingston. In March there was a reading with other Brighton authors at the Oxfam bookshop to celebrate International Women’s Day, and more local readings at Together the People Festival, and in the Tinker Box at the Brighton Festival in May. To top it all I was invited to two events at the Shoreham WordFest; one running a short story workshop at Ropetackle and an in-conversation with organiser Morag Charlwood and fellow author, Ed Hogan. We spoke to a packed crowd on a wet and wild Monday evening and it was such a pleasure I get a lovely warm feeling thinking about it again now – in direct contrast to the hideous weather that night.

August was spent at the glorious Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden, North Wales, working on another novel with a working title of The Bad Buddhist and Me. I have blogged extensively about my time there so won’t repeat it. Suffice to say, it was a truly incredible experience. I love that place! I want to go back!

11705357_10153295090155817_6347792843615633973_nAnd then there were the talks to writers groups at libraries, and my mentoring and coaching work with emerging writers; work I enjoy enormously. It’s such a delight to journey with other writers, see their work develop. And I was lucky enough to edit some fantastic books, including Sarah Rayner’s Making Friends with the Menopause – a self-help book in the same family as her amazing bestselling Making Friends with Anxiety. I’ve read some incredible books too; you can read about my favourites here.

2015 has been a good year, for me, and right now it’s hard to believe 2016 could be better. But the great thing about the future is that we don’t know what it will bring, what plot twists, thrills and spills will be thrown our way. We can only endeavour to make the most of the ride, learn from the challenges and bad times, and appreciate the good. And remember those for whom life has not been so kind, and when possible, do something about it; extend the arm of friendship and support; money when necessary and if you can afford it. I’d love to know if 2015 has been kind or mean to you, and hear about your plans and dreams for 2016.

In the meantime: Happy New Year dear readers – journey on, loving and learning.
Laura x

8349-happy-new-year-1920x1200-holiday-wallpaper-1-1024x640

Back to school for the kids; what about you?

BHWA logo reverse outToday, my youngest, and thousands like him across the country, goes back to school. Although he says he’s not looking forward to it, I just know that once he’s there he’ll have a ball. Despite what he says he enjoys learning – most of us do.

What about you? New term, new goals? Are you looking to expand your writing skill-set, or develop new ones? If your answer is yes, then you might be as excited as me about a brand new venture launched in Brighton this week; one which I’ve the good fortune and pleasure of being involved in: The Beach Hut Writing Academy.

We’re a group of published authors, based in Brighton, who’d like to share our knowledge and experience with new and developing writers through a range of high-quality, affordable courses.

With experience across a wide range of genres in fiction – from crime to YA to short stories – non-fiction and script writing we know what it takes in the increasingly competitive world of publishing. We build confidence and writing skills, we offer support and expertise gained from professional experience. Amongst our number we boast bestselling author and all-round 5:2 guru, Kate Harrison; Richard & Judy Book Club author, Araminta Hall; acclaimed short story writers Bridget Whelan and Erinna Mettler (who is also a founding member of live lit organisation Rattle Tales) and award-winning script writers Sue Teddern and Hannah Vincent. So many talented writers at your disposal, ready to share top tips from their professional writers’ toolkits. What’s stopping you?!

Do check out our autumn programme and spread the word to writing chums in the south east and beyond.

If you live near Brighton you’ll see our leaflets all over the place and for further information please visit our Facebook page HERE. Below you’ll find images of our autumn flyer which will provide a flavour of what’s on the menu.

Our beautiful logo and the flyer were designed by children’s author and illustrator Jules Miller. Do visit her site for more examples of her fantastic work.

BHWA A5 Flyer FrontBHWA A5 Flyer Back

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

10500339_850556648310411_4468794841131379224_n

Gladstone Library Retreat: Day Ten

11058666_10153295080275817_3431906838164195866_nThis is the end, the end … and I’m overwhelmed, feeling a tad emotional, sitting in the library before I say goodbye, absorbing the atmosphere.

In summary:
• Inspiring, Creative, Tranquil, Nourishing, Open-minded, Open-hearted.
• The ideas and subsequent words have come – just nudging 13,000; and as ever the story isn’t quite what I thought it might be – a good sign as far as I’m concerned
• I’ve read three smashing novels during my stay: The Island Escape, Blackmoor and Wide Sargasso Sea
• I’ve eaten delicious food, taken some beautiful walks and snapped away like mad on Instagram
• I’ve met some incredible people: authors, journalists, writers, academics, theologians, minsters, interns and other members of the staff team. Special thanks to warden Peter Francis and interns Sophie and Sian and all the cooks and cleaners

11705357_10153295090155817_6347792843615633973_nIT’S BEEN AMAZING

THANK YOU EVERYONE AT GLADSTONE’S FOR HELPING TO MAKE IT SUCH A MAGICAL COUPLE OF WEEKS

To quote Arnie, ‘I’ll be back.’

Gladstone Library Retreat: Day Four

Gladstone's Library in north Wales

Gladstone’s Library in north Wales

The Good News: Another morning in the peace and splendour of the Theology room. I have completed a second chapter and the word count has tipped 5k. These chapters – and a section, which might become a Prologue, and another section which I kind of like but am not sure what to do with just yet – are OK. Reading after lunch, very pleasant.
The Bad News: During reading time – in which I was also thinking ‘where next’ for my character and story – I was struck by the ‘I don’t know what the hell I’m doing; I don’t know if this is the best way to tell this story; what the f**k is the story; hasn’t it all been done before’ stick. I lay on my bed and stared at the ceiling. Fell asleep.
There was also a minor drama with the Gingers. They have been staying with my mum for the past four days (she lives just down the road from here and we all travelled up here together) and were due to travel back to Brighton today, alone for the first time. They were cool about this – especially Ginger1, who was ‘in charge’ – the only minor worry was crossing London on the tube for the connecting train to Brighton. And then there was a strike … luckily, my mum got wind of this before popping them on the train at Chester. My parents are so lovely and my boys are very, very lucky – they will be driven back home tomorrow; train tickets in the bin. So all will be well and thank goodness they didn’t find themselves in London trying to navigate the buses from Euston to Victoria.
More Good News (because you should never close on a bad note): I have made contact with other writers! Lovely writers: an Irish woman from London working on her first novel; a Norwegian novelist with a deadline from her editor and a PhD student from Alabama, currently living in Edinburgh (when not here at Gladstone, natch). We have broken bread together twice and shared writerly woes and triumphs. I told them about my afternoon and the silent nods made me feel 100% better. No words required. After a couple more hours work, we’re meeting in the reading room to enjoy a glass or two of wine together.

I’ll end with gratitude to have happened upon such a smashing bunch, and noting how wonderful the staff here at the library are too.

Gladstone Library Retreat: Day Three

It’s been a good day, I think. It’s certainly been good, wordage-wise, at *whispers in case it doesn’t last * 2,000 plus. Scratch the whispering, it definitely won’t last and that’s OK.
Today, I took a road well-travelled; a safe option, after the experimentation of yesterday, and though I am not 100% convinced this is the way forward, it’s the right way for now and it’s allowed me to get a sense of the story, the event that sets the story in motion. I’ve written a chapter and a bit in the past tense and I’m getting to know my lead, which is comforting. And a way to blend the present tense section I wrote yesterday into the fabric of the narrative has emerged. It may well form the structure for the book. I’m surprised I didn’t think of this earlier given that I have written a novel which switches between past and present tense. The difference here is that the past and present sections are told from the same view point, that of my protagonist Flo. In Skin Deep there are two viewpoints: Diana and Cal’s.
11811577_10153279356965817_2095380639656622278_nWhat else have I done today? I’ve read a lot. A major character in my WIP is elderly and I’m looking at how other writers portray older people as well as mining my own memories and observations of my grandmothers. I loved Harold Fry and his wife, both of whom are rich, believable characters and Emma Healey’s Elizabeth is Missing is a fantastic read. Here’s the man himself, William Gladstone. Well, a bust of him.
Tomorrow? I’ll aim to finish the chapter I began this afternoon and then review …

Imposter syndrome

One of the more interesting responses to the Chris Bryant v James Blunt brouhaha comes from novelist Sarah Perry in the Independent. She argues, convincingly, that Blunt misunderstands the relationship between wealth and privilege and artistic success. You can read her article here.

I posted a link on Facebook and Twitter and had such interesting conversations I wanted to blog about it. You can read the dialogue here.

2015-01-21 15.30.22Like Perry, my origins are not discernible in my accent (I don’t have one, pretty much) and like her, I find publishing events ‘alarming’ and bluntly – pun intended – scary. My shadow self is terrified that I’m about to be found out – imposter in these posh circles that I am. My stepfather was a steel worker and a mechanic and my mother has held a variety of jobs, all low-paid and low-skilled, and I went to Manchester Metropolitan University, so like Perry, I’m never in danger of bumping into friends of the family in the industry I now work in.

However, I recognise how fortunate I have been. I’m tenacious – irritatingly so, some would say – I’ve worked hard, I have some talent (or so I’m told) and I have also had some luck. Without this, it unlikely that I would have ‘made it’ *hear me snorting*

Of course, the core of the debate surrounds funding for the arts and without such support there are voices that will simply go unheard. The same is true of further education. Over the past fortnight, I have spoken at events at the University of Hertfordshire and at Kingston University.  At both, the students were warm and receptive – an absolute pleasure to speak with. At Kingston, I appeared with author Sharon Zink, a fellow resident of Brighton, and it was reassuring to take to the lectern with someone I knew, because, guess what, I was very nervous. Imposter syndrome again.

During the Q & A, an audience member pointed out that neither of us had studied creative writing, that neither of us had an MA, nor a BA, in the discipline. (I’ve not got an MA in anything; Sharon has a PhD – she’s a clever clogs J) The observation wasn’t meant in a derogatory manner and it led to an interesting discussion on the value of degrees in creative writing, but it reminded me that once upon a time I had wanted to study for a creative writing MA, and guess what, I couldn’t afford it. Going to my parents for help wasn’t an option. Instead, and this is what I told our audience, I read everything I could about craft – books, articles, magazines, anything and everything. I continued to read voraciously and I wrote. A lot. And, as I’ve said, I got lucky. However, I know a couple of writers for whom an MA was invaluable, priceless, 100% necessary in building confidence as much as working on craft and without it, they doubt they would ever have had the confidence to submit work. And what a shame that would have been.

Life is unfair, no doubt. But I believe in equality of opportunity and believe that as an advanced, civilised society we must do everything within our power to at least attempt to level the playing field, in the arts, as in other areas of society. Diversity is enriching – for all.

Here endeth the rant.

The Healing Properties of Writing by Claire Hutton

One of the early skills we learn is how to write, and writing can be used as a means of self-expression. Writing can release emotion, allow us to explore it in a variety of situations, creating distance, freedom and clarity. People find that by tapping into their inner creativity through writing, whether it be completely escapism based, or working through events from their past, it can help with self-development. All over the world, there are movements that champion this method of self-exploration, groups that facilitate creative writing. Projects such as My Heroines (of which Laura is a founding member and workshop leader) which provides an outlet for self-development for women in which they can explore their creativity through storytelling, creative writing and drama.

Art and Literature as means of Therapy

Many of us have heard of Art Therapy – where patients use art, drawings and sculpting to express themselves and heal. This contemporary form of recovery has been recognised as a form of alternative and holistic therapy. People have long kept diaries and journals and found that writing things down does alleviate pain and suffering in some way. Now, there is exploration into the prospects of writing as a form of therapy too. In the 1960s a psychologist from New York called Dr. Ira Progoff offered workshops integrating the use of journals to record thoughts and feelings, and found this helped patients to better understand themselves.

Writing in Order To Heal

A recent review from Psychology Today agreed that writing could also be used as an excellent therapeutic tool. The article by Adrian Furnham, Ph.D discussed how memoirs have been written and shared as a way of healing a traumatic past and entertaining people in the process. And memoirs can inspire others. Through literature, a healing experience for others is passed on. Writing can help people struggling with all kinds of issues. People with addiction issues who attend twelve-step programs find that writing is a huge part of the healing experience throughout. Drugabuse.com details how “Twelve-step programs have been around the longest and have demonstrated a great deal of success”. Here writing is used is as a way of working through the steps and seeing in black and white the issues that have contributed to abusive behaviours.

The Importance of Writing for Learning

Some of the best literature has stemmed from diary writing, autobiography and memoirs. The Diary of Anne Frank is a striking account and a prominent and crucial piece of historical literature. There have been other famous memoirs, such as Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes and Augusten Burroughs’ Running With Scissors, which have shaped many people’s lives and provided catharsis for the authors.

An article earlier this year from the Huffington Post detailed how writing a memoir could actually make you happier. The article went on to suggest that although the author didn’t like to admit it, she did find writing therapeutic. Memoir writing, she discussed, became a process that allowed her to connect with her authentic, true self and get in touch with her own vulnerability.

The fantastic thing about writing is that anyone can do it. Most people have had very interesting lives and when recounting experiences, it becomes evident how these experiences have shaped them into the person they are. It does not matter f this material is only destined for the author’s eyes only.

Therefore, it seems that both writing and reading literature demonstrates healing properties.  It is helpful to acknowledge what a great source of help memoir can be in overcoming trauma, aiding self-development and providing information and enjoyment for people from all walks of life.

 

 

Perspective

Books, including some of my own

Books, including some of my own

Over the past month or so, especially with a new book out (the other writer in me), I have been fretting about reception, reviews and sales. And plot points and character motivation in my current WIP. I’ll add that along with the worrying I have been working to improve my chances of success in the areas I have a modicum of control over. But last night I had a salutary reminder of how lucky I am; not as a writer per se, although I do consider myself fortunate, but in life.

14-year-old Ginger1 is doing his bronze Duke of Edinburgh award and for the community/ volunteering aspect he was clear from the outset that he wanted to work with homeless people. This wasn’t going to be easy to arrange, especially given his age, but we are fortunate in that I have a loose connection to a charity that runs a soup kitchen, Safe Haven. After some time away – weeks without a babysitter to care for Ginger2 while we’re out, followed by a holiday in Italy – last night we went into the centre of town to offer our services once again.

During the summer months a charity linked with Safe Haven prepares and distributes hot meals from a food van on the car park outside St Peter’s Church in Brighton. Throughout the rest of the year, during term time, Safe Haven provide a two-course sit-down meal inside the church. Between the two organisations, on average 100 guests are fed every Saturday evening, 52 weeks a year, and last night was no exception. We prepared a supper of potato salad and a BLT (with a veggie option) followed by cake and as many cups of tea, coffee or hot chocolate as guests can drink. At one point the queue was enormous – bacon can’t be rushed – and one guest became very agitated. He tried to jump the queue and in so doing upset others. He shouted and yelled and waved his arms about; he’d been drinking, as had many others. Ginger1 looked alarmed. A charity staple went over to calm the man who was now on the verge of crying. It became apparent that he was street homeless – most are poorly housed, in insecure homes or trapped in a cycle of addiction and poverty – and he’d not eaten for three days. Three days.

Our well-stocked fridge

Our well-stocked fridge

Once he was relaxed, we gave him his supper and all was well. After a couple of hours Ginger1 and I returned to our comfortable home, with our well stocked fridge and cupboards. And we talked about how it must feel not to eat for days; how confused you might feel, how desperate, how grumpy; why you might drink alcohol or take drugs to ease and numb the pain. How lonely and isolating it can be living on the streets. Barely three hours pass without nourishment of some description passing my boys’s (and my own) mouths.

I reflected on my own worries and concerns. How small and insignificant they are in the scale of things, by comparison to the daily struggles of so many people. Ginger1 is getting such a lot out of volunteering, helping and talking with people whose life experience is far removed from his own. And though I began as chaperone, I am getting as much out of the experience as he is. Books might nourish the mind and soul, but without food in your belly you’re receptive to little.

I am lucky and I am grateful for my good fortune. Enough said.

If you’d like to donate to Safe Haven, please click here.

Writing sheds, learning and inspiring

Brighton Beach Huts by author Sarah Rayner

Brighton Beach Huts by author Sarah Rayner

As some of you will know, alongside my writing and editing I work part-time with KS2 children, supporting literacy across a broad range of abilities. I also run workshops with young adults and lifelong learners. Last week I was introduced to a resource which I think is so wonderful that I wanted to share it.

The Literacy Shed has been developed by a former primary school teacher and has been used to great effect where I work. The site has a menu of sheds to choose from, including the Fairy Tale Shed, the History Shed and the Poetry Shed, each with exercises, ideas and resources. Children love the visual elements: the film clips, adverts and book pages, and I’ve seen some  fabulous stories develop from the exercises.

But it is just for children? For any of you who run workshops or projects with adults and young people it might be worth a look.

The photograph of beach huts (or sheds?) on the Brighton seafront was taken by Sarah Rayner. Sarah’s real job is an author – you can out check out her novels here – though as you can see she takes a mean pic too.