Good times, bad times, good memories, good lessons

This post’s title paraphrases an anonymous quote: Good times become good memories and bad times become good lessons

Across the media there’s been much talk of the terrible events of 2016 – and the terribleness of some depends upon which way you voted, though it’s fair to say most people I know, myself included, were crushed by the June result here and the November one across the pond.

Today as I dragged out my new diary – sniffed it, enjoyed the crisp, as yet unsullied pages – and transferred important information across (like all those passwords we’re not supposed to write down!) my Facebook timeline was dotted with posts celebrating Good Things of the past twelve months.

Traditionally, I have penned a review of my year here but had not felt inclined to do so for 2016 till now. The positivity on social media reminded me that I, too, have had as many good moments as difficult, if not more, and in the spirit of #lovenothate #beattheblues #hopenothate here’s my list:

Giinger2's fabulous locks

Giinger2’s fabulous locks

Ginger1 turned 18 and what a fine young man he is. Some might say my job is done, though I can’t agree. Parenting is for life.

Ginger2 turned 13 and he is shaping up nicely. And growing the finest head of hair I can think of.

I published my third novel – thanks are due to my publisher Accent Press and to all the book shops, bloggers, readers and fellow authors who supported it along its way. Bless you all.

I wrote a radio play after attending a script writing course led by Sue Teddern. It was brilliant to take on a fresh challenge and make new friends along the way. Whether or not the play is ever produced doesn’t matter (much!); the process was priceless.

I began a new novel – abandoned it and began again. Another lesson and reminder that no matter where you are in the journey there’s always something new to be learnt or discovered.Redemption Song Final

A conference I helped to organise and run – The Beach Hut Writing Academy’s From Inspiration to Publication – was a sell-out success. So much so that we’re running another in 2017.

I took part in a number of fantastic literary events – including City Reads, part of the Brighton Festival.

I was a writer-in-residence for Little Green Pig’s pop-up gallery in the summer and subsequently have been running workshops for the organisation which offers creative writing and storytelling workshops to children and young people in Brighton & Hove. A fabulous charity.

2016-08-30-09-20-40The BigFella and I made it through another year together – that’s 25 in total since we first met – and we love each other as much, perhaps more, than we ever have.

We enjoyed a great holiday in Cornwall with my lovely sister-in-law in August.

My parents are healthy and living well at a time when so many friends are facing/have faced the loss of theirs.

I witnessed friends fall in love, marry, have children, be published for the first time.

There is more love and hope in the world than hate and despair. The bad shit is given so much more air time because it is rare – at least here. We are truly blessed. Winners of the lottery of life.

Be thankful, be content. Know that every small act of compassion and kindness is meaningful. As my lovely grandma used to say: From small acorns…

Happy New Year!

 

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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.

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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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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: Days One and Two

11846782_10153275113120817_8775297613763990423_nAt the weekend, as I prepared for the journey to north Wales and my stay at the divine Gladstone Library, I decided that I wouldn’t blog about the experience; it would be all about starting a new novel; time and space to think; to write. However, now that I’m here and as is obvious, I’ve decided that I must. It’s the first time I’ve ever done a residential and it would be crazy not to journal my experience.
Having spoken at an event for the annual literary festival, GladFest, I knew what to expect from my surroundings but, truth is, I’d forgotten quite how magnificent Gladstone is and what an incredible space it is to write in. I am indeed blessed.
I arrived late yesterday afternoon and was shown to my double (!) bedroom, complete with desk, washing area, wardrobe, tea and coffee-making facilities and freshly laundered white towels. There’s no slumming it here, let me tell you. Mine is the Lindisfarne room, named after the Holy Island off the northeast coast, I presume – here’s the view from my window. I could easily write in my room.
In the evening, I ate a delicious dinner at the library’s restaurant, Food for Thought, and chatted to a group of scholars and ministers of various non-conformist faiths who are on a course here – Greek in a Week. Phew. Apparently, the New Testament was written in Greek (who knew? I thought it was Hebrew but that’s the Old Testament) and in order to understand and interpret the Gospels it helps to have a basic understanding of the language. The rest of the evening was spent reading and gazing at the clouds. Very writerly. And guzzling red wine. Not so writerly, or maybe it is?
Day Two: Despite loving my room, after breakfast I headed for the library and found a desk on the upper gallery of the Theology area. I opened a new document and began work. Although I’m not quite as tortured over openings as Beryl Bainbridge allegedly was (taking up to six months to nail the first chapter), I don’t find them easy; *ahem* I find them bloody tricky, so I was pleased to have nailed 1,000 words by noon. I took a walk after lunch and by suppertime I’d almost hit the 2k mark.CLliB5zWEAAHB3z
Many of these words are bad. I know that, but before the good, the bad must come. Tomorrow I want to experiment with a different beginning altogether. I left the library troubled, knowing that the chapter I’d played with after the Prologue wasn’t right. Playing with voice, I’d written in the present tense and I’m not sure if I want to sustain that throughout, or whether the story might best be served bouncing between past and present. Given that I’m not even sure what the real story is yet, no wonder I’m uncertain. What I am certain of, is that it’s OK to play, to mess around, experiment. Write words, bin words. Start over.
If I were mid-project, I’d want this stay to be all about knocking out chapters, making serious headway with wordage. But I’m right at the start of this journey; I don’t even know my destination; I’m winding my way along a lane, taking in the scenery, possibly going nowhere, but possibly travelling towards somewhere beautiful and surprising.
And now, I read, and dream. The view from my window now.11811414_10153277415955817_125220476229898542_n

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.

 

 

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.