Inspirational Quotes #mondayblogs #wisewords

Words of Wisdom

As writer I know what it is to get stuck – even more so in my real life.

As with my work-in-progress life sometimes flow along nicely, I know where events are heading and I just get on with it. But at other times I get discouraged, don’t know which decision is the right one or how to deal with a difficult situation.

And, at times like these, I have a stock of trusty quotes that although they don’t make the problem go away they do offer me good advice, or a wake-up call or simply some consolation.

Yes, some of them could be classed as clichés – but then clichés become so because they’re often apt and true.

So when I found myself a bit stuck as to what to write for this week’s blog post and was even considering skipping it for this week, I got a grip and had the bright idea of sharing my 10 favourite inspirational quotes. (Where possible I’ve credited the author of the quote, but where I haven’t please do let me know if you know who originally said it and I’ll amend the post).

Most are from literature and some are from greetings cards, and I even found one on a farmer’s field gate but, as a writer, took it metaphorically.

So here goes – My Top Ten Inspirational Quotes:

  • We worry about tomorrow like it’s promised. (Pinterest)
  • You only regret the things you don’t do. (Said to me by a friend when I was contemplating a life-changing decision)
  • I took the road less travelled by, and that has made all the difference. (Robert Frost in The Road Not Taken poem)
  • Angels can fly because they take themselves lightly. (Greetings card)
  • Follow your dreams wherever they may lead. (Greetings card)
  • Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in Begin it now. (Goethe)
  • Beyond right and wrong there is a field. I will meet you there. (Rumi)
  • Nothing can harm you as much as your own thoughts unguarded. (Buddha)
  • This too will pass. (Said to me by a friend during one of life’s challenging times)
  • Beware of the Bull (On a field gate, meant literally of course. But which I choose to take as good life advice to beware of all the bulls**t/ nonsense out there).

And I leave you with one extra special quote. It was said to me by an angry and upset parent when I was a deputy head teacher in a primary school. We were having a difficult conversation about an incident involving her child. She was shouting and swearing and I was trying to be Mrs Calm and Professional. Then when she’d had quite enough of me trying to be reasonable she advanced towards me, pointing at me and she said, ‘Take a f*****g shake to yourself, lady!’

I recall these words of wisdom whenever I lose sight of what’s reasonable and possible. And my family tell me they will be on my headstone.

Do you have any go-to quotes that help you out when needed? Please do share them below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Joy of Reading

Photo by Nicole Honeywill on Unsplash

I cannot imagine a world without books – it’s an unbearable thought. I love reading. I’ve loved it since I first learned to decode print.

In fact I think I remember pretending to read even before I’d actually learned the skill. I would look at the pictures in the books I was given before the age of five and then made up my own narrative which I read aloud to myself and anyone else who would listen.

And then – oh the magic of going to school and being taught to read. Back in the day, in my part of the world, it was the Janet and John books that were the learn-to-read-text books. And I still remember the thrill of progressing through the various levels.

The first novels that I remember reading were Enid Blyton’s Mallory Towers stories which I began when my granny gave me the first one when I was in hospital having my tonsils out aged eight. And I quickly moved on to Blyton’s other series.

From then on reading became as vital to my wellbeing as breathing.

It was also my privilege to teach young children to read during my thirty-six year career as a primary school teacher. And, latterly I was a learning support teacher and it was a joy to help pupils who were struggling with deciphering the written word become literate – including those with dyslexia.

And nowadays as a fiction writer myself, I still continue with my first passion of reading. And while I write the sort of books that I enjoy reading, my own reading choices include more than just those from the genre I write in.

I enjoy both non-fiction and fiction. Romantic fiction and crime fiction are my favourite genres but I also enjoy the occasional thriller or historical novel.

I always have a book that I’m currently reading. I read ebooks and print books. I read on the train, on the bus, on the couch and in bed. Reading takes me to so many amazing places and I meet so many fascinating characters with great stories to share. Reading is both stimulating and soothing, challenging and relaxing. It can educate, entertain and engross.

Last year I read 56 books. So far this year I’ve read 6. My two January favourites were A Brahminy Sunrise by Maggie Christensen and Inceptio by Alison Morton and I reviewed them here and here on the blog. They were very different but equally wonderful reads.

And, as for the books I write, I want to leave my readers feeling they’ve had a wonderful read too. I hope to deliver the sort of story they’re expecting, but also to offer some surprises along the way. I hope to transport them away from their own lives and steep them in someone else’s. And I certainly hope they’re engrossed and entertained enough to want to read more of my books.

In what come sometimes feel like a mad, uncaring world where we’re bombarded by all sorts of transient online information, books provide a solid reference point and/or a comforting source of downtime.

Yes,it’s safe to say I love the world of books – I love writing my own books and reading other people’s. Books are a wonderful invention offering revelation, escape and infinite possibilities. Long live books – in whatever form – and long live reading.

How do you feel about the world of books and reading? What do you enjoy reading? Who are your favourite authors? As always, please do leave your comments below.

Reflections on 2018: A Year of Reading, Writing and Other Stuff

 

My previous two posts have been about the books I’ve read and enjoyed this year and about my own writing. And, in this my final post of the year, I thought I’d take a quick look back at how this writer’s life has been in general.

On a personal level, for me, 2018 – as it will have been for everyone – was a mix of ups and downs. And, out in the big wide world there has certainly been plenty to rant about. But I want to concentrate here on the smaller stuff and on the good stuff.

Here in the house, the 18 months of renovations finished earlier this month. Hurrah! It’s been stressful but worth it and our ‘new’ house at long last feels like ours. We have carpets! We have pictures on the walls! We have a home!

There have been parties to go to, music concerts and theatre trips enjoyed. There’s been quality time with family and friends – not least of which was the trip from our home in Scotland to Australia taken by me and the husband to visit our daughter, son-in-law and two grandchildren. We had such a wonderful time and have so many precious memories. It was very hard to leave, but I’m already saving up for my next trip.

I also particularly enjoyed my visits to the Borders Book festival and to that other one held in the big city – the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

2018 was also an important anniversary for me. It is now 20 years since I had cancer – 20 years that I realise I’m fortunate to have experienced – and for which I’m very grateful.

I’m also very grateful to be able to spend so much of my time doing something I love. I don’t know what I’d do without my writing. I certainly can’t see myself retiring any time soon. It was wonderful to have Settlement – my new book – published in September, wonderful too to have it so well received by my readers. And I must also express my gratitude to my editorial team, to all the book bloggers and reviewers who took the time and trouble to comment, and most of all my loyal readers.

Next year I plan to do lots more enjoyable things, to read lots more books, and just to treasure still being here. And of course there will be lots more writing…

And so it only remains for me to say thank you to everyone who has followed, read and or commented on my posts during 2018. I wish you all a very Happy New Year when it comes.

As always, do feel free to comment below on how 2018 was for you and what you hope for in 2019.

Reflections on a Writing Conference

I spent last weekend at the annual Scottish Association of Writers (SAW) Conference, and, as always it was an enjoyable couple of days.

It was held, as it has been for the last few years, in the lovely Westerwood Hotel in Cumbernauld near Glasgow. And the hotel staff along with the amazingly hard-working, volunteer members of the SAW council ensured the whole thing ran very smoothly.

There were a variety of workshops to choose from and I went to three:

SELF-PUBLISHED FROM MANUSCRIPT TO MARKET – this was led by the director of an assisted and highly reputable publishing company. It was a good overview of the process of self-publishing but understandably he took the view that an author going completely alone couldn’t do as good a job as would be done by a company like his. But although I didn’t agree with everything he said, I did find the part on marketing useful.

HOW TO WRITE A CRIME NOVEL – this workshop was led by novelist Simon Brett and was great fun. I don’t plan on writing a crime a novel but I was sure I’d learn some more general things. And I did. There were more than forty people in the workshop and with Simon leading us we collaborated on producing the outline of an entire novel in one hour. As I say, it was fun and I picked up some handy tips on plotting.

WHAT PUBLISHERS WANT – this one was led by the owner of a small independent publishing company. It was interesting and informative about the traditional publishing process. But nothing the workshop presenter said led me to believe I’d be any better off being published by her. I sell as many books using my own imprint as most of her authors, so it was worth attending the session just to learn that.

But by far, the best part of the conference for me this year was the time spent talking to fellow writers, some of whom I’ve known for many years, and others who I met for the first time. Writing can be a rather lonely activity so it’s always good to spend time with colleagues and to share experiences. I was able to pass on tips to others and also to pick up new and useful information myself.

And so that’s it for another year. Thanks again to all who organised the conference for a very reasonably priced, well run conference in a perfect setting.

Question for writers: Have you attended any conferences aimed specifically at writers? If so what did you enjoy the most?

 

No Resolutions but Good Intentions: Writing, Reading and Reflecting in 2018

In spite of the time of year this is not a post about resolutions. I think the other 3Rs that this blog is based on ­- Writing, Reading and Reflecting are quite sufficient.

However, I do want to share with you some of my ongoing plans and intentions for the blog and my writing in general during 2018.

Writing:

The manuscript of my new novel Settlement is almost ready to go off to the editor and is planned for release in the first half of the year.

Settlement is the sequel to Displacement and, as I’ve never written a sequel before, I’ve enjoyed the challenge. It’s been quite a balancing act judging just how much of the back story to include from the original book. I don’t want the new book to seem repetitive to those who’ve read the first one, but neither do I want it to be necessary to have read the first one in order to enjoy the second.

And, as far as writing about my writing here on the blog goes, I plan to continue doing occasional posts on the process of writing, on my works-in-progress, and on my wider writing life.

 

Reading:

I certainly intend to keep reading throughout 2018. I believe it’s vital for writers to be readers too, but even if I gave up writing tomorrow – can’t imagine that happening – I’ll still be reading on my deathbed.

I will also continue to post reviews of books I’ve particularly enjoyed as, apart from wanting to share the love of good books, I also like to do my bit to help my writing colleagues get their work in front of readers. And I find that putting together a review – figuring out what worked in a book and why – helps me improve my own writing skills.

 

Reflecting:

And finally, I also intend to continue to do the occasional reflective post on topics I find myself thinking about and want to explore with readers of the blog. These topics may or may not be directly related to books – but will of course involve writing.

 

Question Time:

I also plan in 2018 to do a bit of a content/function audit of this blog and of my two author websites. As part of that I’d like to seek your much valued and appreciated opinions on various writing/blog related things.

And, as there’s no time like the present I’ll get started on that right away –

Question: I’d be interested to know your opinion on author newsletters. Do you sign up to them and if you do, do you read them? Are you prompted to buy an author’s latest book when you read about it in their newsletter or to respond to offers – such as free short story?

And finally I’d like to wish all readers a happy and healthy 2018.

Book Review: Maria in the Moon by Louise Beech @LouiseWriter @OrendaBooks #bookreview #MondayBlogs

A midwinter tale where light battles to overcome the dark, exquisite storytelling…

This is a wonderful and moving novel. The main character, Catherine, is a damaged, vulnerable but endearing character. Forced out of her home after a devastating flood hits her town, she is left adrift in a literal and metaphorical limbo.

Catherine hopes that by helping others also affected by the flood she will somehow be able to help herself.

The other characters, her family, her colleagues at the flood crisis helpline, and her friends – Fern and Christopher – are all convincingly portrayed. They too are flawed, some likeable, some not. But even the most unlikeable are presented in a humane and non-caricatured way.

Maria in the Moon is raw, it’s shocking, but it’s also full of hope, humour and delight.

It’s exquisite storytelling and I recommend it as an ideal winter read.

Back Cover Blurb:

Long ago my beloved Nanny Eve chose my name. Then one day she stopped calling me it. I try now to remember why, but I just can’t.’

Thirty-two-year-old Catherine Hope has a great memory. But she can’t remember everything. She can’t remember her ninth year. She can’t remember when her insomnia started. And she can’t remember why everyone stopped calling her Catherine-Maria.

With a promiscuous past, and licking her wounds after a painful breakup, Catherine wonders why she resists anything approaching real love. But when she loses her home to the devastating deluge of 2007 and volunteers at Flood Crisis, a devastating memory emerges… and changes everything.

Dark, poignant and deeply moving, Maria in the Moon is an examination of the nature of memory and truth, and the defenses we build to protect ourselves, when we can no longer hide…

Genre: Contemporary fiction

Maria in the Moon is published by Orenda Books and is available as a paperback, an ebook and as an audio book.

 

Clubbing for Writers: Competitions, Conferences and Connections

Photo by Simon Hattinga Verschure on Unsplash 

Listening, Linking and Learning

Writing can be a lonely job.There are times when it can feel as if your only friends are your imaginary ones.

Most of us work alone. There are no colleagues to chat to over coffee or to share lunch breaks with. There’s nobody on hand to help if you hit a problem, to discuss ideas with, or just to offer encouragement when your motivation levels are low.

Or so it can seem.

But it needn’t be this way. Writers do have colleagues – even if they don’t share a physical office space.

And one of the easiest ways to find them is to join a writing club.

Writing Clubs  

I recently attended the 70th anniversary party of the Edinburgh Writers Club. It was a very pleasant evening. There was cake, cut by Ian Rankin (I know! I came over all fangirl and couldn’t string a coherent sentence together when he said hallo), there were glasses of bubbly, but best of all there was the company of other writers.

I joined the Edinburgh Writers Club (EWC) back in 2000 when I lived in the city. It was at the time when I was just beginning to take my writing seriously and being a member of this most welcoming club helped me to get started. Indeed, I got so much out of my membership that even after I moved to the Isle of Skye in 2004, I kept up my membership and attended meetings whenever I could.

I’m still a member today – even after my recent move to the Scottish Borders. And, yes, I’ve joined a local writing group too. So I’m a new member of the Borders Writing Forum (BWF) – another club where I’ve been made very welcome and with lots of new writing opportunities to explore.

The members at both the EWC and the BWF, range from those taking their first tentative steps to those who are successful, published authors, and everything in-between. The meetings include writing activities and guest speakers. The atmosphere is positive and encouraging and I always feel I learn something useful which could help improve my writing.

Competitions

Like many clubs, EWC offers a series of annual competitions. These cover all the genres including poetry, short stories, drama, non-fiction and novels and entering them give writers invaluable opportunities to learn more about the craft and to extend their skills. They provide deadlines – always good for the procrastinating writer. They tempt participants to step out of their comfort zones and try writing genres other than their usual ones. And most valuable of all they give the writers taking part the chance to get constructive feedback from the adjudicators.

Of course there are hundreds of other competitions for writers where no membership of a club is required. They’re available online, in magazines and through large literary organisations. But the advantage of club based competitions is that (other than a modest annual membership fee) they are free to enter and the pool of competitors is relatively small. And very few of these wider competitions offer any useful feedback.

Conferences

Competitions with similar benefits to the club ones stated above are also open to those eligible to attend the annual weekend conference of the Scottish Association of Writers (SAW) held every March. Being a member of an affiliated writing club such as EWC or BWF entitles you to go to the conference. I’ve gone to several of these conferences now and I love them.

Winners (and other placed entrants) of the SAW competitions are announced during the weekend conference, usually by the adjudicator of the particular competition, and in front of all the delegates. This provides a good buzz of anticipation and a healthy rivalry between clubs. Besides the competition announcements, there is lots of other stuff going on. There is always an excellent keynote speaker. There are workshops run by established authors and by agents and publishers on a wide variety of writing related topics. There are opportunities to pitch your work to publishing professionals and there’s even a book shop where you can both sell your own books and buy those written by fellow delegates. And then there are all the networking opportunities over drinks in the bar or at mealtimes.

Connections

But by far the biggest advantage to being a club member, and going to conferences such as the SAW one, is the chance to connect with colleagues. It is wonderful to be with people who not only understand the frustrations of the writing process –  the perils of procrastination, and the periodic absences of inspiration, but who also understand the rewards –  the satisfaction of completing a piece of work, the joy of having your work appreciated by a reader, and the obsessive compulsion to write. Peer group support in any endeavour is useful, but for the solitary writer I reckon it’s priceless.

And although I’m also part of an amazing network of supportive and helpful fellow authors in the virtual, online world, I don’t think you can beat the real world connection with kindred spirits.

Over to you

I’d be interested to hear other writers’ thoughts on the usefulness, or otherwise, of clubs and conferences and the like. Do you value being part of a writing community? Do you connect with other writers, if so how? Please do leave comments below.

Procrastinating to Perfection

My name is Anne and I’m a procrastinator.

I’m also a writer and procrastination is in the job description. It’s the supreme avoidance tactic that many of us – writers or not – use when we really don’t want to tackle something. But writers seem to take the P word to professional levels.

Procrastination feeds on a writer’s fear and insecurities and I’m susceptible.

Yes, I mostly believe in my writing self. And, no, I can’t imagine my life without writing. I work hard at it, I take it seriously and do my very best. I know and accept my writing’s not perfect, but my fear is that it’s so imperfect nobody will want to read it.

And when the fear gets out of control, writer’s block can set in. It can be that I’m scared I’ve literally lost the plot and I don’t know where my story is going, or because there’s that inner voice that says I’m just an impostor – not a ‘real’ writer at all. And then when I’m stalled at the writer’s block red light, then procrastination can just jump in the car beside me and turn off the engine. (Sorry, bit of a dodgy metaphor right there – occupational hazard. Did I say I’m a writer?)

However, I do seem to have got the procrastinating thing down to manageable levels. When I’m writing my novels I follow Stephen King’s wise words: ‘Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work’.  Writing is my job. When my job was primary school teacher, I got up and went to work whether I was in the mood or not. Similarly with writing – I don’t wait for the muse. I just go to the desk and write. Mostly…

I can’t deny that procrastination does sometimes still stalk me.  And, occasionally, it catches up with me, overtakes me and stands in my way. Then, because I’m now only answerable to myself, and not to a boss, I do sometimes give in to it, let it take me by the hand, and let it lead me down the path to where the non-urgent tasks lie.

But you know what, sometimes giving into procrastination works in my favour. Yes, it could wreck my writing life if I let it, but a little bit now and then can be quite reviving and invigorating. Think of it as like being an alcoholic versus just an occasional drinker. (And yes, there goes another metaphor)

There are actually times when I find procrastination quite helpful. By giving into it, by going for a walk, or doing some gardening, or just tidying a cupboard, I often find that whatever is blocking my writing progress disappears. It’s as if by doing something else, by getting away from the screen or notebook, my mind is freed to go off on a ramble of its own. I then return to my desk ready, maybe even inspired, to write.

I think procrastination is part of the writing process. I think it’s probably right that it’s part of the job description. It lets me step away from the manuscript, lets me take time out to mull things over, to allow fresh ideas to form and, yes, maybe to make my writing a little bit closer to perfection.

Do you sometimes succumb to procrastination? What sort of tasks cause it and how do you get round it? Do you think it serves a positive purpose? Please do feel free to comment below.

Writing the Story: It’s all about the Characters

 

The world of storytelling: it’s all about the people

Telling Imaginative Histories

I prefer to read and write character driven fiction. Don’t get me wrong both plot and setting are important to me, but they don’t excite me, either as an author or reader in the same way that characters do. Characters bring stories to life.

The novelist, Dame Hilary Mantel, gave the five lectures in this year’s run of the annual Reith lectures on BBC radio 4. Mantel, the author of best-selling, historical novels Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies (to name only two of her many books) spoke inspiringly on how she views writing in general and writing historical fiction in particular.

She talked about what history is, about how it can only ever be an interpretation rather than irrefutable truth. She didn’t deny there are historical facts. Certain things happened on certain dates, certain decisions were made, certain outcomes happened. And from these facts we construct a possible impression of the past.

Mantel said that she did detailed research before writing her Tudor novels and that she saw her fiction writing as bringing the past and the dead back to life, as taking the events and creating a picture of how things possibly were for the people living through them.

Although I write mainly contemporary fiction, much of what Mantel said about the writing process resonated with me.

I had to research a wide range of topics––from Scottish crofting law and the care of sheep, to the politics of the Middle East­–– while writing my novel, Displacement and this continues currently as I write its sequel Settlement. The geographical settings of the Isle of Skye and Israel-Palestine are real, certain historical, political and cultural events that give background to the plot did actually happen.

But for me the magic, the alchemy of writing the novels, comes from creating credible, interesting and engaging characters. My characters are imaginary, but they must be brought to life in the same way as any ‘real’ historical characters must. I must inhabit and get into the head of my characters––and by doing so present a credible picture for my readers of the events and the realities my characters are living through.

Similarly, when I wrote my children’s novel The Silver Locket which involves three contemporary children travelling back to the time of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites in eighteenth century Scotland, I had to research key historical events such as the Battle of Culloden, but also what life is like for today’s eleven-year-olds. But again the real magic and thrill for me came when I breathed life into my protagonists.

My characters shape the story, their actions and reactions, their motivations, strengths and weaknesses are the story.

My fictional characters, in the same way as long-dead historical ones, come to life on the page. As an author this can seriously mess with your head. Sometimes characters surprise me. They can go off in directions I hadn’t predicted. I talk to my characters, even interview them, when I’m not sure how they feel about something or how they might react in a given situation. I live inside my character’s heads as I write–– much as I imagine an actor does when playing a role. I sometimes expect to see my characters in a real life setting such as when I’m on a real life beach, or up a real life hill that happens to feature in one of my stories.

Characters, historical or invented, have a story to tell. They are living and real for the duration of the book––and perhaps beyond.

All authors need to be imaginative historians and to let the characters bring the story to life and bring life to the story.

What do you think? Is it the characters that make a story for you?

Breaking Down the Barriers Between Science and the Arts with @SAWTrust

Just before I started to write this post, I was listening to the Andrew Marr Show on BBC Radio 4. The panel of expert guests had been invited to discuss science. Specifically, in a programme entitled From Darwin to Big Data, they were asked to consider whether scientists have failed to communicate their work to the wider public, including specifically to children. And along with that, they were also asked to consider how science is not just a set of logical and rational facts, but that it also links into ‘real’ life. One of the panellists was Richard Dawkins, and he said he’d like to see a more integrated approach to science education and education in general. He said that science should be seen as poetic, soulful and spiritual and as something that’s aesthetically pleasing.  I agree with him.

By one of life’s weird coincidences I recently had the chance to work with the SAW Trust. This amazing charitable organisation shows children, not only the wonders and practicalities of science, but also its connection with the emotional and artistic parts of life. And it does this by bringing together teams of scientists, artists and writers.

Here’s how the SAW (Scientists, Artists &Writers) Trust describes itself on itself on its website

The science, art and writing initiative breaks down traditional barriers between the arts and sciences.

Through creative use of science in the classroom, SAW inspires artistic and scientific endeavour. Children realise that science and the arts are interconnected – and they discover new and exciting ways of looking at the world.

SAW projects are accessible to all ages and abilities. They stimulate exploration, enquiry and creativity.

And they are fun!

And so it was that one day in June, I found myself back at primary school. I was there as part of team along with a scientist and an artist.

I spent the day in the primary six class (eleven-year-olds) at Canal View Primary school in Edinburgh. I was there as a writer, but as a writing tutor rather than as a novelist, and I was there because of an opportunity provided by the SAW Trust and Edinburgh University.

Before the SAW day itself, I’d already attended a training day at the university, followed by a planning meeting with the artist, scientist and class teacher I’d be working with.

The SAW way is that each team chooses a scientific topic, concept or idea on which to base the day. The scientist starts the day off by introducing the chosen topic via a set of activities that all the children in the class take part in. The artist then picks up the topic and uses it to allow the children to create topic-related artwork and finally the writer completes the day by getting the children to respond in writing to what has been experienced and learned throughout the day.

The topic our team decided on was DNA.

First, having been introduced to the concept of DNA via a short, concise and accessible video clip, the children extracted DNA from strawberries. The children were completely engaged throughout and seemed impressed by the foamy, stringy goo that is strawberry DNA. I was equally (if not more) impressed.

Then it was the artist’s turn to lead the activities. The class worked in small groups and each group produced a model of a section of DNA. The sections were then joined together in the double-helix formation of DNA and the long string was hung up across the classroom ceiling.

And finally, it was my turn. After a brief and stimulating discussion with the children about what we’d done so far and some examples from me, the children worked in pairs to produce poems – some rhyming, some not – that expressed their reflections on what they’d learned and how they’d learned it.

At the end of the day, the children applauded and thanked all three of us visiting practitioners and told us they’d ‘had the best day ever’.

I certainly shared that sentiment – also having had an exhausting, but brilliant day.

So thank you SAW Trust and Edinburgh University, and thanks too to Graham the artist, and Daniel the scientist – but most of all – thanks to Mrs M and her wonderful P6 class.

It was a wonderful opportunity and a great day.