Monday, 23 October 2017

When crafting goes crazy...

Not had a chance to blog recently. My dad had a - thankfully - minor stroke a week ago. Can I just say how wonderful and amazing and caring our NHS was? And how grateful I am that Dad's stroke has left him with barely any issues at all...apart from forgetting his PIN number when he next went to the bank!

Even without that, life has been rather busy.

Mr Squidge and I went to see Squidgeling J at Bristol for the day - gosh, but there are some BIG hills down that way! Had a late lunch in Clifton, saw THE bridge and some very posh houses on the other side of the river, and left a little earlier than planned because J was recovering from a nasty virus, so we didn't get to visit the Bag O' Nails, a pub with cats. Seriously. The landlord owns 15 cats which have the run of the bar. But you have to buy a drink if you want to stroke any of them...

I also had an evening author talk - to a group of 15 church ladies, who all threw themselves into the writing exercises and bought a fair few books between them. So much so, I am having Granny Rainbow reprinted!!

It's also been half term, so routine goes out of the window.

But to get to the real reason for writing this blog... Crafting.

I love making things. I know that if I go too long without making something - whether it's something floral, stitching, knitting, writing - I get grumpy. Problem is, I often see something and go 'yeah, I'll have a go at that!' and something comes up, I get distracted, and I end up finding a half-finished something months later.

Which is where I'm at.

Project 1: I started a granny square blanket for the garden room, to cover the cushions on the rocking chair that's down there. I've got about half a dozen more rows to add around the border, and it's taking ages. Lots of sideways growth, but not much depth. Hence I get bored working on it for long periods, because there's not a lot to show for my efforts. (And the eagle eyed among you will see that I was so eager to crack on with it, I didn't even bother to sew all the central squares together properly before I began adding the border...)

Project 2: I loved this little jackety cardy, and started knitting it in the summer. I have two sleeves and half a collar to add. But...

Project 3: The dark nights are drawing in, which is normally a signal for me to get sock knitting. I knit my own socks because proper woollen ones seem to keep my feet a lot warmer than nylon, and I treat myself to a new colour combo every year, then make odds-and-sods socks from what's left over. I've even used socks as a tool to help my writing in the past... I'm about at the toe of the first sock. If I get organised, I can probably knit the other in a little over a day, but there are other distractions to be found...

Project 4: Big quilt. I bought the jelly roll back in April of last year, because the colours in the fabrics are the colours I have in my bedroom. And, if I'm honest, I'm finding that my rainbow quilt keeps me toasty warm in bed even without a winter weight duvet, so adding another toasty warm layer to the bed can't be a bad thing, can it? So far, I have stitched the strips together, but have no idea how I'm going to edge it to make it big enough to fit my bed.

And then, Project 5: Wonder what I could possibly need all of these for...?

Yup, another rainbow quilt. A random one this time. Well, more random than I'm used to. I started thinking about it back in April and started piecing it together in the summer, when I wanted a break from the kitchen refit (which is, can you believe, still not finished yet?). I'm now hand quilting in the coloured squares, picking up the curved petal-shapes which appear on the patterned strips. I have to say I'm really pleased with it so far. It's only going to be a lap-quilt though - much smaller than the original rainbow quilt.

Working my way round the outside squares 

Picking up the petal detail in each square

So five projects. Now, bear in mind these are all projects I've begun. Don't even get me started on the Christmas tree mat thing I bought last year but haven't done anything with yet. Or the pack of squares I have which I want to make into something quilted - but no idea what. Or for who. Or my mum's fabric that she must've bought over a year ago that we were going to make into a quilt... Or the wool and patchwork kit I was bought for my birthday...

If only I didn't have anything else to do except craft!

Friday, 13 October 2017

Books that helped me write

As NaNoWriMo approaches (which I don't do...I've done NaNoEdMo previously!) I thought it might be a good time to share with you some of the books on writing I've used, which have made a difference in how I write.

The oldest one is this:

Seems a bit of a weird one, but my granny gave me it, to go with the typewriter I had as a child. The typewriter was a turquoise Petite Super International typewriter, just like this one, (image found on Adventures in Mattressland) and I spent many happy hours typing up little stories for myself on thin, cream paper.

Granny reckoned I ought to learn how to type properly, so I tried to teach myself the right way to do it. My sister, who trained as a secretary, would probably say that what I do on a computer keyboard bears no resemblance to the proper way to touch-type, but I have got fingers that are speedier, I'm sure, than if I'd never read the book...

Next one:

This book is laugh out loud funny. As the blurb says; 

'There are many ways prospective authors routinely sabotage their own work. But why leave it ti guesswork? Misstep by misstep, How Not to Write a Novel shows how you can ensure that your manuscript never rises above the level of unpublishable drivel... Alternatively, you can use it to identify the most common mistakes, avoid them and actually write a book that works.'  

When I started reading it, I'd have a mental check list and be thinking 'I don't do that' and 'thank goodness I'm not this bad!' but then - uh-oh! I'd come to a section and feel squirmy because I recognised something I WAS doing...which I quickly put right. 

On my kindle:

My kindle has a section, dedication to writing books. Let me take you through the ones I found most useful...

Nicola Morgan's How to Write a Great Synopsis is essential. There are exercises you can do to really pinpoint what your book is about. (Her blog, Help! I Need a Publisher is also full of fantastic advice which I've dipped into now and again.)

Stephen King, On Writing. Nuff said. Though I have to say I'm not a fan of his writing, I do respect the advice he gives.

Les Edgerton. Finding Your Voice was an enormous breakthrough for me. Reading this book showed me my natural writing style, and it was the point at which I started to write the way that suited me, rather than trying to write how I thought I ought to. Equally, Hooked is a fabulous insight into how to get your reader...well, hooked! 

Chuck Wendig is full of writing advice - and the first bit of his advice for spending 30 Days in the Word Mines is - 'You can do this. Trust me.' It's written in typical Chuck style, which is often sweary and goes off at a tangent! (Just like his blog...)

Then there's THAT book. 
                                Image result for cartoon book images

No, I'm not going to post a picture of it or tell you what it is. Suffice to say that it is a book which, when I read it, was so full of rookie errors, it annoyed the heck out me. Yet it had been published. It wasn't the story itself that annoyed me - that was actually really original - but the writing. I can remember thinking, thank goodness I don't write that badly. (At that time, I still had a long way to go before I was published myself, so it was a bit 'pot-calling-the-kettle-black' if I'm honest. Not proud of that.) Yet it is still what I turn to and read a few pages of when the infamous doubt demons strike, to remind myself I can write. And not too badly, either. Sounds horrible of me, doesn't it? But in a strange way, it helps.

And last, but not least, there's Anne Lamott, gifted to me by a friend who is also a writer and Christian, like me and Anne.

I suppose I'd call this an holistic approach to writing. Because we don't write in isolation - it's part of our lives, and we have to wrap people, places, jobs, worries and everything else around the compulsion that drives many of us to write. It's a very honest account of a writer's life. It includes the things we don't talk about or admit to - like jealousy, pride, depression, deadlines and all sorts of things. You know the ones - they tend to be glossed over or hidden away when we're putting on the brave face that congratulates our friends who've had success, or we receive another rejection for our own beloved manuscript. It's a refreshing read. But that leads me on to this:

You're right, it's not a book. It's a picture, another gift from a friend. I've not put it up yet, because I wasn't sure where to put it...until I looked for my Anne Lamott book to be able to write this blog, and the picture was with it.

You know the saying 'How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.' Well, Anne says writing a book needs to be taken 'bird by bird', a saying based upon the time her brother had to complete a school project on birds; he was so overwhelmed by the prospect, their father told him to tackle it 'bird by bird'... ie step by step.

Look at the picture again. On the first branch is one bird, the next down has two, and so on and so on until there's a whole branch full of them. Suddenly, the picture isn't just something nice to look at, it's a visual reminder of Anne's writing advice, to take it all step by step.

So there you go - the books that have helped me most in my writing, and why.

What about you? What writing advice books made a difference to your writing? Do let me know, because it's never too late to pick up a few more hints and tips on how to improve!

Thursday, 12 October 2017

When NIBS met Trefoil Guild

Last night, I did an author talk - not at a school, but to  the local Trefoil Guild.

I was a guider with the Guide Association for twenty years from the age of eighteen - in fact that's where the name Squidge came from. The Trefoil Guild began as a way of old guides keeping in contact with their units, and has grown and developed to become a section in its own right within the Guiding Movement.

The Trefoil Guild in our District meet at the same place we meet for NIBS (the writing group). NIBS often meets on the same date upstairs, while they meet downstairs.

Because I know many of the current Guild, I was asked to go a Trefoil meeting to tell them about my writing. It just so happened that the date they requested was also a NIBS night, so we combined the two...

It's the first time I've given a talk to a social group. I decided early on that it wasn't just going to be me, talking. I would make Trefoil work, too.

After the 'this is me and how I got to where I am' talk, we tried a few exercises.

Trefoil Guild in their red and beige uniforms

I started with 'I remember...' about school days. As most of the ladies are older, their memories included things like travelling on the utility bus with its wooden seats, but there were other memories that could have been set in any school today. Like being the model that the class painted on a 9th birthday, or going into assembly in alphabetical order. But it warmed everybody's pens and pencils up...

I demonstrated my story bag items, and shared a few of the ideas that the children I've worked with have come up with in the past; the flame-farting dragon who loved baked beans went down well.

There's always a rainbow sock in the bag...but only one!

And guessed it...paint colours! On one table we had a 'Cup of custard' to go with the raisinless 'Raisin Pudding'. On another, a spurned woman burnt the orchid (Burnt Orchid) sent by her lover. 'Benjamin's Buttons' were always green, but he hated green. And 'Bavarian Hops' was going to be developed into an Alpine dance...

Pens, pencils and brain cells hard at work!

The ladies certainly seemed to enjoy themselves, and it gave me the confidence that even in a shorter, evening social meeting, you can still share your writing journey and get people writing for themselves and having fun with words.

And look what they gave me as a thank you - a beautiful orchid, because they'd heard I liked them and mine were often in flower (unlike my mum, whose orchid flowers die back and from then on only send up leaves...)

Monday, 9 October 2017

Motivating characters

I've been working on Rurik since the summer. I think I might have mentioned in previous blogs that I'm changing 'he' to a 'she' and working through some quite major plot holes which I discovered.

Now, bearing in mind that this story was written way, way back (it went through major editing in 2012 after the self edit coursewhich took place after it (and me) had been rejected by an agent I was working with), there were bound to be some issues. I accept that. Since 2012, I have changed a lot in how I write and what I write. Of course Rurik was going to need a polish. Or another edit.

Or, actually, an almost complete rewrite in places.

I've been slowly working through and making the changes I think the writing needs to bring it all into line with how I write NOW.

Three chapters from the end, I've found an issue. A real biggie; my MC has no motivation. I need to motivate her.

No, I said I need to motivate her, not Mr Motivator. (remember him?) * face palm *

I suddenly realised that my MC has been forced into a situation not of her making. From there on, she is carried by a series of situations through to the climax - which is where I'm at in the edit. Problem is, the MC is a spectator, an onlooker, pretty much all the way through. She does not affect the action by her decisions. Weeeell, she does a bit. But not nearly enough to give her an over-riding motivation to drive the story forward.

It's a classic rookie error - probably because I was a rookie when I initially wrote the story. To make the story really zing, I need, as the lovely Julie Cohen would say, to 'Make Shit Happen!'

The only problem is, how can you put motivation into a story in retrospect?

I've tried sitting with my notebook to work it out. I've written pages and pages of questions to myself about my MC and why she would do the things she's doing in the story. 

But maybe it's not myself I need to be asking... Maybe...I need to ask Reeka, my MC.

You might think that sounds a bit barmy, but I've spoken to several authors who, when they get stuck, interrogate their characters. I know from experience that when I get to know my characters well, they start doing their own thing in the story, and I simply write it all out for them. (If you want to see what I'm talking about, check out this blog post at The Write Practise, and especially read the comments. That's where authors have posted the answers to the interrogation they gave some of their characters.)

So I think that me and Reeka are going to have to have a little chat to sort this motivation thing out...

Hope she's still speaking to me by the end of it all.

The School Inspector on tour...

Recently, I went to our town hall to spend an evening with Gervase Phinn.

For those who don't know him, he's an author and educator who writes a lot about his days as a schools inspector in Yorkshire, and about the things children say.

I was interested to go because I think it's always good to hear what other authors have to say, although I admit that my only Gervase Phinn book is 'A Wayne in a Manger' - a collection of very funny moments relating to school Nativity plays and Christmas events.

Mr Phinn himself is a larger than life, colourful character who certainly knows how to engage with an audience; said audience was very much older in the main, and appreciated the double entendres and innuendo a lot more than me and Mr Squidge perhaps did at times!

At times though, we were in stitches.

Like when Gervase told us about the little girl who was going to sing a song for him, called 'Damp Settee'. He then proceeded to sing it... 'Dance then, wherever you may be...I am the Lord of the damp settee...!'

And when he explained how he'd tried to show another little girl how to make sandcastles by adding water from the water tray into the dry sand tray, using his fingers to mix them together.... She still could not be persuaded though, and when Gervase asked why not, she told him that a classmate had just wee'd into the water tray...

You get the gist.

But what also came across is that Gervase is passionate about education, particularly getting children reading, and building society through literacy. He recounted some of his own school experiences, as well as family anecdotes that helped to shape him into the writer he is today.

So we chuckled and chortled, and afterwards, I went to buy a book from his signing table.

I have to say - the children I meet in schools know how to behave better than some of the adults in that signing queue. Not only had the adults uncovered the book table and started helping themselves to copies before Gervase had even appeared, they just sort of crowded round the table and pushed and shoved. There was no queue. And when Gervase finally sat down (having changed from his multicoloured jacket into a Penguin (as in the publisher) T-shirt) a queue did form. At the opposite end to where I'd been waiting patiently since I was the fourth person out.

Miffed, I stepped out of the scrum and stood back until the end, chose a book and waited for a signature. One minute, Gervase was writing in my book and talking to me, the next minute he spots someone else. Introductions were made, plans discussed...and I'm still standing there like a lemon. In the end, he handed me the book I'd bought, (while still talking to the other person) and I was left to sort of slink away...a bit disappointed, if I'm honest.

It made me determined to be more like Chris Riddell, at my own signings... He took time to talk to every single person who wanted a book signing. Admittedly, the event I attended with Chris was an afternoon, not an evening after several other evenings - Gervase was obviously tired by the time he got to me after an hour and three quarters of entertaining, followed by a half hour of signings. So I can sort of make allowances, but it did take a bit of the shine off the evening for me.

I am now looking forward to reading 'Mangled English', which describes all sorts of ways that our rich language is used and abused in comedic ways. And to some more chuckles...

But speaking of author talks and the like - I shall be doing several talks to social groups over the next couple of months, as well as spending a day with Year 3, 4 and 5 children at Outwoods Edge School as part of this year's Loogabarooga Festival. Check out the programme - there are some amazing authors and illustrators coming! Including the current Children's Laureate, Lauren Child!

I shall expect any signing queues to be well behaved... *winks*

Thursday, 28 September 2017


I was involved first time round in Stories for Homes - you can find out all about the project at the website.

I'm also involved in the second volume - my online anthology story, Potato Soup, as well as some other stonkingly good reads - can be found here.

But the real reason for blogging? The ebook is published TODAY!! (Follow this shortlink to find it on Amazon in any territory. The paperback will follow in November.)

You will not regret purchasing this anthology. I was privileged to proofread it and, dare I say it? I think volume 2 is even better than volume 1. And I'm not the only one who thinks it's a fabulous read. Here's what some other folk have to say about it:

Emma Darwin, author of The Mathematics of Love, commented on the quality of writing in the anthology as: “A cornucopia of witty, tragic, elegant, raw, heart-warming and terrifying stories that take the idea of Home, play with it as only truly talented writers can, and all to help those who have no home at all."

Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat, said: “Stories give our imaginations a home. It's good to see them helping to give people shelter in the real world, too...” reflecting the connection between the immediacy of housing crisis and the stories people tell about their lives around and within it.

Cally Taylor, author of Home for Christmas, said: "A home is more than just a house. It's the people within it, the lives they lead and the stories they tell. Everyone deserves a home."

Julie Cohen, author of Dear Thing and Together, wrote that "Stories for Homes is proof of the power of literature and stories to make a positive difference in people's lives. This collection has heart and soul."

And Tor Udall, author of A Thousand Paper Birds, observed that: "Many of our greatest stories pivot around the idea of home. From Honer's Odyssey to the Wizard of Oz, we will always tell tales of losing and finding 'home' - be that our childhood, a place, a lover, or our core self. These stories tap into our need to belong, to feel, simply, that we have a right to be here. Today, when Brexit threatens to divide families - and refugees, the homeless and the poor are denied a place in this world - this luminous collectionof stories is searingly relevant."

And a few more folk will be telling you what they think too, as SfH2 has begun and will continue to do, a blog tour over the coming days.

Why? Why did so many people come together to create another anthology to raise funds (volume 1 raised £3,000) for the housing and homelessness charity, Shelter?

Anthology co-editor Debi Alper put it like this: “Access to a safe and secure home is a human right - one that thousands of people are denied in 21st century Britain. This world class anthology is a good deed in a very naughty world.”

And Sally Swingewood, who also edited the collections, commented: “The Stories for Homes collections would not be possible without the generosity of a huge number of volunteers. By working together we have produced a book which will not only delight but also help address one of the biggest humanitarian crises facing modern society. In a world where migration, identity and belonging are in the news daily we have a duty to help everyone have a home in which they feel safe and settled. Stories for Homes is one way we can be part of the solution”

Jacqueline Ward, one of the contributors, explained her reasons for getting involved in this Huffington Post article.

And me? Why did I do it? I've never been homeless - I've always been lucky enough to have a roof over my head. I could easily sit in Maison Squidge and ignore what's going on in the rest of the world. But I can't. I hurt when I see people living on the streets, or forced to live in unsuitable accommodation. I cry when I see tragedies like Grenfell Towers, to whom the victims and survivors of which the anthology is dedicated...

I'm human. I want to make a difference. So when I've been blessed with the means to help, I will, whether that means physically (buying a pasty and a coffee), financially (through donating to charities), or through my writing.

That's why I do it. Because I'm a tiny drop in a massive ocean of good that WILL make a difference - this time, through the work of Shelter who help those affected by the housing crisis in the UK.

Please, if you are concerned about those who struggle to find somewhere to call 'home', buy the book. Spread the word. And know that with every page you turn, every story about 'home' you read in this amazing collection, you're adding another drop to that ocean, because all proceeds go to Shelter.

Thank you xx  

Monday, 25 September 2017

Bookcrossing and the UK Unconvention 2017

I'd not heard of Bookcrossing.

Well, not until a few months ago, when someone tagged me in a facebook post asking for local authors who'd be willing to speak at a Bookcrossing convention being held in Loughborough later in the year.

I got in touch, we had some discussions, and as a result I was booked to do a creative writing workshop on the Saturday morning for folks who'd like to have a go at it.

Now, put simply, Bookcrossing is a bit like an adventure for books. They are released into the wild, or left in designated bookcrossing places, and each book released has a unique number that means you can track its journey throughout the world. I suppose it's like the biggest book swap ever, or a large scale free library.

The Unconvention ran from Friday through to Sunday. I had various other commitments over the weekend, but decided to spend the better part of Saturday with the bookcrossers. Mainly because I don't feel it's right to turn up, do your talk/workshop, and beetle off again after a few book sales. Being an author is also about creating relationships with readers, and showing yourself to be human, approachable, and professional.

Anyway, after a slight detour to find the RNIB College (Mr Squidge and I have lived in Loughborough most of our lives, and he STILL took me to the accommodation block instead of the vocational part!) I unloaded my books and props for the workshop and had a wander to see what was going on.

The shop was selling bookplates, stickers, bookmarks and other bookcrossing related items. The raffle - full of chocolate, books, tea, alcohol, books, souvenirs from local cities, more books, and a range of other goodies - was done in the US style, where you bought your raffle tickets, then put them in the pot corresponding to the goodies you wanted to try winning. (A good way of not ending up with something you didn't want!)

Raffle goodies! No, I didn't win any...

I was given a goodie bag, with lots of lovely things in it. (Note this year's Loogabaroga Festival leaflet - have I told you I'm doing a school visit again?)

All the essentials - map, tea bags, notebook, Uncon logo stickers,
bookcrossing goodies, Loogabarooga info and even a pair of ear-rings!

Then there was the book buffet... It was amazing. Basically, there were loads of books - all labelled uniquely, and ready to be taken by the bookcrossers for themselves or to be set free. I picked up quite a few, as you can see from the pics! Loved how the books were categorised. None of this A to Z author name rubbish! It was things like 'Covers with people wearing hats'. 'Plants and gardens'. 'Rockets and space ships and cars and aliens.' It certainly made you root through the titles, because there was no telling what you might uncover.

'Number books'

'Orange and red covers/titles'

My bookcrossing stash... All very different genres.

There was also a not-so-secret-santa, a way of giving a gift to a fellow bookcrosser. Throughout the day, folks kept unwrapping their boxes and finding all sorts of bookish and sweet treats.

Anyway, the first author was due to kick things off at ten. They didn't show up; unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond their control, they couldn't attend, but the organisers weren't informed until too late to find a replacement. Except...

As I was there, I was asked if I could do a short talk instead! So I did. An off-the-cuff, totally impromptu brief history of how I got to be an author and a peek at how I work when I'm planning a novel. They seemed to enjoy it, even though I wasn't who they were expecting!

A brief stop for coffee and book signings, then it was my creative writing session. A small but select band decided to give it a go, and I offered a few of my favourite writing prompts for them to try. I think my colour charts were the favourite! And we even had some time to feedback the ideas and some very short pieces before lunch.

Hard at work...

Spoilt for choice on the colour front!

Lovely mix of colours - and the writing wasn't bad, either!

After lunch, a few more folk turned up (adding to the book buffet! I was very strict with myself and didn't pick up too many more) and there were some interesting conversations.

I had taken books to sell, because I'd have been daft to pass up an opportunity to sell a couple of books (as it happened, I sold lots more than I expected to - hooray!). And the subject of author sales came up; I think some of the bookcrossers were defending the 'passing on free books even though authors lose sales' comment that it sounded as though they've had thrown at them in the past. But d'you know what? I don't mind at all. Bookcrossers are obviously very keen readers, and they buy a lot of books. So authors DO benefit. You wouldn't expect every member of one family to buy their own copy of a book they all love, would you? Well, using that example, bookcrossers are simply part of a big family who share what they've loved reading...but one of them still has to buy the book!

I don't sell thousands of books - I don't even know whether I sell hundreds - but if someone decides to bookcross something I've written, and as a result someone enjoys a book they might not have otherwise been exposed to, I reckon that's a win, both for me and the reader. Especially if they look up what else I've written and decide to try something else...

For the first part of the afternoon, we settled into either a bookfolding workshop or a talk by Nicola Tallis, author of Crown of Blood; the Deadly Inheritance of Lady Jane Grey.

Now, I've lived in Leicestershire pretty much all of my life. I love Bradgate Park, where Lady Jane Grey used to live. I knew of her as the nine day queen who eventually lost her head - even did a school project on her once - but I hadn't realised just how clever she was or how determined a young woman she seemed to be. Definitely not the weak and feeble victim she's often portrayed as being in the history books. The talk was fascinating, and I bought the book so I can learn even more about Lady Jane Grey.

The whole day was great. To be in the company of so many people who love reading and do everything they can to share their love of books with a wider community was a real privilege. I was made, as a bookcrossing virgin, so welcome, and was inspired to join the bookcrossing community. When I tried, I discovered that, at some point in 2015, apparently I did! I can't remember doing that at all...

Anyway, if you are a bookcrosser and fancy finding me, I'm StarMark (!) of Loughborough. I have logged my book buffet books, and although it's going to take me some time to read them, I WILL send them out into the world at a later point. Probably via The Purple Pumpkin's bookshelf...

On the Sunday, lots of books were released into the wild in Loughborough; here's the Sock Man, draped in reading material! I understand Queen's Park and the bandstand were targeted too, so if you found one of the books and are enjoying it, let me know! Better still, log onto bookcrossing - you can do this anonymously and don't have to join - to say where you found it, what you thought, and where you're leaving it for someone else to enjoy...

Oh, and to finish, this made me smile. It was on the wall in the ladies loos at the college...