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Monday, 27 August 2018

Juggling arts : /

I haven't posted for a while because I'm trying to juggle my arts

Not to be confused with juggling my arse, which I almost wrote in error

Like most writers, I struggle to keep my mind on the task. I procrastinate, get distracted. I don't like working for nothing. Life gets in the way. You know what I mean.

It took a long time for me to realise 'the arts' was the way for me, the pointlessness of me trying to understand statistical analysis

Being creative is hard because you have to motivate yourself, be creative in your 'spare' time. Creatives have a reputation for being self-destructive, self-absorbed, depressive hermits, who sometimes drink too much. (My interpretation)

All of this can interfere with the task in hand

I've failed to write my novel this year because I started painting again

Writing is hard. Writing and painting is harder. Writing is a time-gobbling, protracted habit that sucks at ones life like a leech 

Painting is different. It's not so intense. Your physicality is looser. I'm less crumpled-up and stiff when painting; I feel light and energetic, airy and free...

Even if I don't look it 😼

Painting is immediate compared to writing. Yielding tangible, visual results in seconds; which is highly seductive, especially after a lifetime of being holed-up in a chair, bleeding through the eyes to produce vaguely useful prose for nothing

  Don't get me wrong, I have a love-hate relationship with writing. We don't see eye-to-eye at times :)

So, to force myself to juggle arts, I started entering more literary things... 

Competitions, magazines, odd enterprises like De Montford Literature. I got a couple of snippets in Mslexia recently. I then applied to WriteNow - part of Penguin Random House 

And managed to jump their first hurdle

So I'll be attending a workshop in Nottingham in a month's time. I'm pretty chuffed :) :)

This made me write, as I had to polish 6,000 words from my novel-not-currently-in-progress

And this little success boosted my confidence because, apparently, I'm one of 150 writers to get through from over 1700 applicants :)

So maybe I'm doing something right?

Maybe I am juggling my arse after all...

Please keep in touch :)



Sunday, 4 March 2018

Writing East Midland's Writers’ Conference Nottingham 2018 :)

Yesterday was Writing East Midland's 5th Writers' Conference, held in the Newton and Arkwright building of Nottingham Trent University.

I've been to four of these events now and there's always something novel to learn, someone new to meet and fresh inspiration to be found. The shiny new venue made a difference too, and very pleasant it was.

This year, however, my writing buddy Cat Roberts-Young was unable to make it through the waves of snow. Perhaps the WEM team might be persuaded to push the event closer to summer next year :) 

But it was still good.
Writer, Richard House (Bruiser / Uninvited / The Kills) replaced snowed-in keynote speaker, Pat Barker, with a talk on his latest works MURMUR and CITIZEN. 

Richard's modus operandi is to engage with the world by "looking into something that I don't really get"...  in order to better understand / explore topics. He utilises written words, film and imagery.  

Quick, always embarrassing, selfie before the lecture theatre fills :)

The first session I attended was called Demystifying the Publishing Process, by The Society of Authors. 

Martin Reed from the Society of Authors talks to local author and SoA member Jonathan Emmett and the publisher Crystal Mahey-Morgan of the storytelling lifestyle brand OWN IT! about the modern publishing process and landscape, and about the relationships between the author, their books, and their ‘brand’.   

This was an interesting talk with lots of insights into publishing. I'll summarise (my) points of interest. Nowadays there are more (readily accessible) avenues open to writers, (think digital, self-publishing, small publishers, etc.) but consequently, more competition.

The market is therefore saturated. It's easy to get into print but harder to make a living, especially in children's writing, apparently. The quality of writing also suffers, nowadays, with high levels of self-publishing. Crystal (rightly) pointed out: "Just because you're able, doesn't mean you should." Everyone is keen to maintain quality in literature.

Indie publishers are on the rise. Crystal is a thinking-out-the-box publisher who seeks diversification (in its fullest sense.) It seems Indie publishers have acquired a (good) reputation for being flexible, risk-taking, more likely and able to promote their authors than bigger publishers.

"Don't assume that bigger is better" says architect-turned-prolific-children's writer Jonathan Emmett.    

Trying to look enquiring selfie :)

The panel also discussed how important it's become for writers to create solid digital platforms. The Industry demands we do but, whilst big publishers often shirk publicising duties, Indies are more supportive and likely to promote their authors.

A good piece of advice was therefore: writers need a sympathetic publisher to help promote their work. So do your homework, if you're on the look-out, and find the right one!

Speaking of diversification, and using different mediums to express yourself, something - I think Crystal said - helped me limp closer to modernity: Writers must view their books as the stories they simply are, and any method we employ to share them widely will serve us well. (i.e. think film, imagery and skype, alongside traditional/digital book forms). Be inventive, be innovative.

The second talk I heard was on Novellas, from author Nicola Monaghan: finding a fit in the shifting landscape of publishing.

Apparently, novellas are making a comeback because digitisation (e-formats, Kindle singles, etc.) removes production and pricing issues associated with paper books. I also think appetites for shorter reads, in these hectic times, gives aggrieved novellas a leg-up:)

In her session, Nicola set us an exercise (to the sound of writers falling off their chairs in shock.) We devised, and interrogated, a new character, before writing a short scene about them. This threw up some useful background ideas, interesting settings, and helped some of us with our works-in-progress too, lol. :)

Lunch :)

Pudding :)

The third slot was a Synopsis Surgery, where WEM's Alex Davis replaced A.M. Heath Literary Agent Oliver Munson. This talk covered the thing all sane writers despise. The surprising thing I learned here is that agents don't always bother reading the detested documents we've killed ourselves over. The reason for this, though irritating, is somewhat logical. They consider sample chapters more important, so will read these plus the query letter first. If they like what they read they'll turn to the nuts and bolts of the story.

Oliver Munson likens synopsis-writing to the first gym trip after Christmas, which sounds about right to me.

We also heard that, despite the torture of creating them, synopses can help writers reach the core of their books. Distilling the story crystallises ideas; and the hateful result can then be used for pitching and selling work. Yippee.

Summary: Synopses show the shape of the novel - like the Taj Mahal viewed from a distance.

The final slot was Literary Question Time. The panel consisted of Award Winning, Young Adult Fiction author Kim Slater,  crime writer Stephen Booth, WEM co-coordinator and Big White Shed publisher Anne Holloway, WEM's Alex Davis, the highly regarded literary agent Kate Barker and WEM's Henderson Mullin (as chair).   

This was an enjoyable session, so I failed to make any notes! But I did ask a question I've been harbouring for a while. Writers are constantly advised, when seeking a Literary Agent, to find one that is right for them. But how in hell do we novices know who is right for us?

It would appear the answer is pretty much what I expected. Go on gut instinct, to an extent. You need to like the person, (for it could be a long relationship.) Personally, I'd want my agent to be warm and human and supportive; to know their job whilst having my best interests at heart. Does such a person exist, lol?

There is only so far you can research this sort of thing. Personability might be (partially) gleaned from a first meet; but I suppose the chunky remainder will be down to luck... 

The lovely Kirsty Fox of NWS manning the stall all by her lonesome

Performance poet, Georgina Wilding, reciting a brilliantly inventive poem about writers rising up and taking full control of their careers. 

Finally, gorgeous, British-Caribbean poet, keynote speaker Malika Booker inspired us with her, sometimes difficult, writing journey. She focussed on how vital peer support is, as you develop your craft. She spoke of community, and how many millions of courses she attended whilst gaining confidence to rise to the top of her game. 

A swift, toilet-cubicle selfie. Well, it was a plainer background. Don't judge me ;)

I'm mainly writing this for the snow-scathed absentees. A fair few writers, speakers and panellists were gutted to miss this year's conference due to weather conditions. :(

Thanks to the friendly people I met yesterday. Cali Bird for supportive chatter, the lovely Eve Makis for sharing a panicked, lost, ten minutes whilst trying to find the venue, first thing in the morning :)

Now. Shit, I suppose I better start writing again...

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Less has got to be more...

I tend to overwrite.
I always have done.
But that doesn’t mean all the extraneous nonsense I spill onto the page stays in.
I edit and edit and rinse and swill till it’s all back out again;
Like deep-cleansing an ulcer.
But I always let the rot in first.
I’ve been writing forever, yet I still go through this painful convoluted process of writing down everything I’m thinking, with a clot of butter on top.
I trawl back over it on round two, dropping adverbs and adjectives like little smoking bombs, just in case I hadn’t blown it up already.
By round three, unsurprisingly, I discover that I’ve annihilated a sturdy piece of prose.

I do the reverse of what I should do.
When I know the rules well:

Thou shalt not overwrite
Thou shalt not clutter with adjectives and cling onto adverbs
Thou shall not waffle and slow the pace.

We all know all the rules, don’t we? Yet we still go through the motions.
Or is it just me?
Why do I do it?
Is it for a higher purpose hidden from my conscious mind?
Or part of a psychological limbering-up before the literary sprint?
Stockpiling ideas in the wrong place?
Perhaps I’m so confused, when I sit down to work, that I’m dementedly writing out, round or into what I really want to say?
I have no idea.
Perhaps I’m just stupid.
I'm wasting time.
I want to write good stiff prose – right off the bat - w
ithout prancing round the gardens first...

Does anyone else suffer from this affliction?

Let me know how you cured yourself, or whether you still have the post-it note shouting down at you

Less is always more!

Tell me, tell me.

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Friday, 18 March 2016

A Stroke of Misfortune

I haven't been doing too much writing of late, but am trying to get back into it. My brain wants to do it. The other day, I woke up at 6 am with a really good line of prose hanging in my head. I got up, went into the spare room to write it down in case it disappeared (as usually happens.) I'd snuggled back down into bed again when the other half of the idea dropped into my brain. So I had to get up again...

The reason I've not been writing is that I had a stroke. And the main reason it's taken me so long to share this news is that I couldn't believe or accept it. I still can't, really. I flinch on writing or saying the word; it feels surreal and embarrassing - like swearing in front of your nan.

                                                                                                            Beautiful flowers from my mum

But I'm much improved already (five months on). I was lucky to survive, but unlucky it happened at all. For me this means a daily mental tug of war. Happy versus angry. I'll try not to rant about misdiagnoses and clinical incompetence on this post.

I'll try.

I escaped with no seriously disabling features and few outwardly obvious signs. A bonus, for vanity's sake. But I'm not mended yet. I have residual vertigo (constantly improving), partial numbness down my right side (like frostbite crossed with dead-leg) and recent burning nerve pain that makes it hard to rest the laptop on my knee. But the worst symptom right now is sciatic bum pain when sitting. Great problems for a writer.

In hospital. Droopy eye thing 

I have some horrible pictures that I can't quite bear to put up here, so I'm going to post the best of a bad bunch. My left eye was visibly droopy for months afterwards, worse in the early stages. This is due to something called 'Horner's Syndrome' - caused by cranial nerve damage . Thankfully this has pretty much resolved now.

View from my hospital bed

I was admitted to B3 of the QMC in Nottingham before being transferred to the crazy Neurology ward once they finally worked out what was wrong with me. I can't remember which ward this is above. Overall I was in hospital for five horridly fascinating days.

         Pureed hospital food whilst I couldn't swallow properly

But I'm jumping ahead. My stroke hit on 8th October 2015 at four in the morning. I awoke with a numb right leg and a problem with my swallowing. I rolled out of bed to find I couldn't walk properly. Funnily enough, I thought I might have had a stroke because I know the symptoms (from working in a hospital.) However, when I asked Rick if my face looked wonky he said "No" - adding on closer inspection - "but I haven't got my eyes in yet."

Even with his contact lenses in I didn't look any different, so we dismissed the stroke theory. And, anyway, it seemed preposterous that I would have had a stroke. I'm under fifty and relatively fit. My blood pressure is okay and I regularly exercise. I eat healthily. I no longer smoke. I still drink a bit too much at times but who doesn't? People far worse than me haven't 'stroked out.' It was the last thing I ever expected to happen to me and, once in hospital, I discovered I was right and wrong.

I had had a stroke, but my risk factors were very low. So, in effect, I shouldn't have had one - as I'd first assumed.

Frog's legs with sexy compression stockings on

The story of that day is so painfully long that I'll try to cut it short. I ended up in AMRU at QMC - which is like a referral A&E, where we spent 12 miserable, anxious hours. Nobody could diagnose me. All the clinicians, doctors and consultants we saw were baffled by my symptoms. I ended up on a drip because I couldn't eat or drink; I was shivering, sitting in a fucking waiting room chair. I was in agony.

        Can you tell what it is yet?

I now know just about everything about my condition. I have researched extensively since it happened. I know that strokes in 'younger adults' are pretty rare, and the cause of mine yet rarer still. However, I am still bitter about the fact that medical experts failed to spot this unfurling disaster, on numerous occasions before it happened then once it had happened and was staring them in the face. Breathe. Calm.

    The puddings were actually quite nice :)

So. Yes, I'd had symptoms leading up to this. Six weeks of headaches and neck-ache which became so excruciating I was signed off work. I'd had a visit to A&E, one month before the stroke, with disabling vertigo and vomiting. The problem was diagnosed as positional vertigo and neuralgia and I was put on painkillers. But what had actually happened was that my vertebral artery had split, probably due to minor trauma (hyper-extended neck at the hairdresser's, neck cracking adjustment at the osteopaths, practising yoga, lifting weights, etc - I'd done all of these things in the months leading up to my star turn.)

This type of arterial damage is called a dissection. And once it's happened, the inner wall of the artery tears further and blood clots start to form. These clots readily break off, lodging further up inside the smaller arteries of the brain - causing a stroke (if you are unlucky enough.) Goodo.

                                                                             Struggling to find a flattering angle. Ha!

I was finally diagnosed on symptoms and circumstances rather than from the inconclusive MRI/MRA. But a repeat scan recently confirmed the dissection (now healed) plus damning evidence of the small stroke in the left brain-stem (Medulla). I'm therefore official. And now left with another rarity called Wallenberg Syndrome - a collection of ongoing symptoms due to the damage in that particular area of the brain. These issues will gradually improve; my swallow is significantly better already though I still struggle with dry foods and have to be constantly attentive with fluids. I don't know if the pain will resolve, or whether I'll ever be able to sense temperature on my right side again :( Oh yeah, I also have a faster pulse and dry eye syndrome...

But I "mustn't grumble" - as my Granddad used to say. At least I'm still alive :)

                                                                                   Home from hospital. Cat helped :)  

Famous dissection cases: Sharon Stone, Andrew Marr, and the deceased Aussie cricketer Phillip Hughes. R.I.P

Other links: Strokes in Younger Women.

Thanks for reading. Hopefully my next blog post will be all about the bloody novel, lol. :)