Thursday, 26 February 2015

A dedicated notebook (or two)

I have begun to rewrite Ani's story. I blogged about it previously in story shapes and highs and lows

Yep, I know it's about the third or fourth time I've restarted it.

But this time, to try to get me past that horrible half-way sticking point and bash out that first s****y draft, I have a beautiful purple notebook (given as a Christmas present by a friend) which I am filling with pages of longhand about Ani's world.


Working alongside this longhand story notebook is another; a ringbound notebook dedicated to all the structural bits of the story. By that, I mean this is where I thrashed out my MC's motivation, the real story-worthy problem, and the rough narrative arc. It's also now got pages of 'what if' scenarios, character descriptions, potential names of places... What I don't write in my ringbound book is any of the real story.

Structure and story notebooks...

The purple notebook contains only the story. I do not allow myself to write anything in there to distract me from the storyline or which causes me to become confused when I read back over my work. If something pops into my head as a possibility, I switch to the ringbound book and jot it down for future reference. That way, when the story draft is completed, I can see where some of my ideas might be applied to an edit. There are a few comments in the margins of the purple notebook, but I do not act on them; they are there purely for reference.

Ani's story coming to life on the page...

As a result, I don't worry about things like my characters changing name. Twin 1 and Twin 2 have finally morphed into Hamzah and Hakim, while Ani's brother has changed his name at least 3 times. It really doesn't matter. This stage - this purple notebook - is about shaping the story, moulding the lump of clay into a vaguely recognisable shape before I get to work on making it look really fit for purpose by adding all the refinements and extras.

Funnily enough, writing longhand seems to help me. It's far too easy to lose the thread of what changes you make to your story on a computer; I do use track changes, but only in the final stages of a manuscript when (hopefully) there are less things to pick up. To use it from the start of a project would drown me in a sea of comment boxes and alterations... Physically writing with a pen seems to make the story imprint itself on my brain better, which can only be a good thing as I get to know my characters and their world more intimately.

Having said that, I haven't ditched everything I wrote (on the computer) first time round - no writing is ever wasted and there may be a nugget or two I can use in this new version - but I shan't do that until later.

In the meantime, some bits of my first draft are pretty awesome. Some bits are completely naff, but they are all a part of the shape I'm starting to draw for Ani.

I just hope that this time, she'll let me finish it
...

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

I'm gonna be toasty!

Yesterday, the stove was fitted. Remember I told you about it a while back?

Ta-da! 

It was relatively painless, thank goodness. We'd been warned that if there was a problem getting the liner down the chimney, we might have to have a hole knocked through our loft bedroom wall to create access, but fortunately that was not needed. And the combination of two dormers and a Velux window in the roof didn't seem to cause too much difficulty in getting up to the chimney either.

The stove's been fitted just in time for the cold snap that's been forecast for the end of the week. We did have a test-firing, which filled the house with blue smoke and set the fire alarms off; apparently it's the paint and WD40 burning off... We had to have the windows open to let the smoke clear - and it was still warmer in that room than it's ever been! We have to let the plaster dry out a bit before we can fire up the beast properly, so I'll let you know how it feels after Thursday...

Of course, now, the hard work starts - decorating. There's some discussion in the Squidge house as to whether to keep the current wall colour (bright yellow, because it's a north facing room and I chose the colour according to the principles of Feng Shui to warm things up) or to go for something a bit different - perhaps a bold colour on the stove wall and lighter, more neutral other walls? Of course if we change the colour that will mean new curtains and new chair covers because we used the curtain fabric to cover our chair seats when we last decorated... And we definitely need a new carpet.

It's exciting, to feel that BIG things are happening in the house at last. Next job is the landing window to be double-glazed, then internal insulating plasterboard in the hall, then external repointing and finally, decorating the hall, stairs and landings.

Actually, if the decorating doesn't get done this year, it's not the end of the world - I can live with bare plaster for a while if I'm snug as a bug in a rug!

But before all that happens, I'd better set Mr Squidge to work on the woodpile; I think we're going to need it...

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Back into the swing of things

Our week in Obertauern, Austria, was pretty good. Mr Squidge had decided at reasonably short notice to go skiing again, and it was a whole lot of different to our experience last year in Reit im Winkl on the Austro-German border.

Our apartment is in there somewhere...
Haus Meilinger


For a start, in Obertauern you are surrounded by mountains. And snow.


Note the avalanche protection...

Looking from the lounge over to my favourite run... 

The view down into town...

And skiers. And snowboarders. From every window in our apartment, there was just this dazzling whiteness, spotted with trees or rocks, down which little black specks wove or hurtled or occasionally tumbled.

The first morning we were there, I woke early and found the mountain-tops backed by a rose-pink sky; I watched the sun kiss the highest of those peaks and move on to illuminate the rest.

Rose pink dawns do not just happen in books...

The first kiss of sun on the peaks

The view was equally as stunning in the evening. Venus appeared, ultra-bright, in the early evening and as the blueness turned ever darker, you could see the lights of the snowcats at work. I never got tired of watching their headlights travel up and down the various slopes - some of which I'd dared to try, others I knew I'd never be able to manage. I really, REALLY, wanted to sit in one of these huge vehicles and see what it was like to come down an almost vertical snowy slope in the dark...

The bright spots are the snowcats

We had wonderful weather. Bright sunshine, no fresh snow, reasonable temperatures around or just under freezing, with no real winds to speak of except when we ventured onto the high tops. And yet on the day we left it was -4 degrees with a bitter wind, and it has apparently been snowing today.

I'm not the most confident of skiers, and after a fall on the first day (too steep and narrow a track for my continuous snowplough), I wasn't sure I'd manage any of the blue slopes at all.

Just one of several over the week...I'm actually lying head first
down a rather steep slope after I hit a mogul.
And I'd been doing so well up to that point...

A private lesson with Clements later, and I was able to get down some of the steeper runs. It wasn't very elegant or particularly technically correct, but it was controlled and I began to understand where I'd been going wrong.

As was the case last year, the kids and Mr Squidge spent quite a bit of time sussing out the runs first, then taking me up on the chair lift to coax me down. And yes, they probably did two runs for each one of mine, but I did get better over the course of the week. They ended up doing maybe one and a half to each run of mine...

Always lunched together - the Weiner schnitzel and grostl were winners!

A rare trip to the tops for me.
And I seem to have snow pixies on my helmet...

A surprise during the week was the Winterfest, held on Shrove Tuesday. One of the local ski schools put on a bit of a free show and we went along. We arrived just as around a hundred instructors wove their way down the slope, flares in their hands, waving at the crowds. We had formation skiing, youth ski club demos, tricks, turns, fire shows, fireworks, mad rabbit mascots, snow motocross (say what?!) and to top it all, my personal highlight: a snowcat formation dancing team. I kid you not.

We had some lower points... the nine young men in the apartment next door had a thing about staying out rather late, imbibing copious shnapps and returning rather noisily in the wee small hours. 4am was the latest I think they returned. Not conducive to a good night's rest after a day spent on the other sort of piste. I went down with a rather heavy cold mid-week, which meant the last couple of days I didn't get quite so much skiing done as I'd like, and we also spent some time (and a fair number of euros) at the Unfallstation (Austrian equivalent of A&E) when T fell and hurt his wrist. Fortunately there was no fracture, unlike the others we saw in various stages of cast-sling-and-crutchness. (We had a bet between us, as to how many pairs of crutches/wheelchairs there would be on our flight home to Luton. I think it was two wheelchairs and a crutch in the end...) Oh - and our camera died, luckily the day after Mr Squidge had downloaded everything we'd taken to his netbook.

But on balance, a fabulous week. I have built my confidence so that next time I go (see - I'm talking about next time already, when once upon a time I'd have refused to consider it at all) I'll be even happier.



Oh - and writing-wise? I managed to plot Ani's story on the flight there and started to handwrite the ACTUAL story in a dedicated notebook in the evenings and on the flight back. It's a naff first draft, but the story is there and taking shape. Perhaps the mountain air is good for creativity? I'll let you know how it goes now I'm back in rainy Blighty...

But for now, I have to get back into the swing of things...prepare for two author events the week after next, get Granny to the printers, and prepare some writing exercises for a writer's weekend away in Oxford. Oh yeah - and get the holiday washing done. *sighs*

I'm definitely home...

Thursday, 19 February 2015

The Watch Box Project.

As I'm away at the mo, I thought I'd leave you a story to sink your teeth into. 

This one was created last year for a peer-judged competition over on The Word Cloud. We had to choose two places. Mine were Sardinia (my most favourite place to holiday) and Ankh-Morpork, from Pratchett's Discworld. Which was fine - until the challenge expanded; we had to get from A to B.

It was at this point I realised I'd put myself in a VERY difficult position. How the heck was I going to get from a real place to a fictional one? It took me ages and ages and ages to work it out, but in the end I came up with a solution. 

The following could be best be described as my first attempt at fan-fic, which I have since discovered that Sir Terry never reads and does not approve of particularly. That being so, I will probably never submit it for publication, so decided to post it here on the Scribbles instead. I hope Sir Terry will forgive me... and if you are a fan of Discworld, I hope you will, too. 

PS. With apologies to fans of a certain popular TV series too...

The Watch Box Project.

Commander Vimes stood in his usual spot in front of the desk, staring just a little to the left and slightly above the Patrician’s head.             
               
Lord Vetinari sighed and steepled his fingers. “It’s an experiment, Commander. To have refreshment and relief facilities stationed at intervals throughout the city. I’m sure you’re aware that it’ll save your men from having to return to the Watch houses quite so frequently.” He looked pointedly at the Commander. “Or the Mended Drum.”

“Yessir.” Vimes kept staring at the same spot. “Only problem is, sir, it’s a bloody stupid idea.”

The Oblong Office suddenly felt a lot colder.

“Do expand on that theory, Commander.”

Vimes took a deep breath and started ticking off on his fingers. “One. It’s going to cost a helluva lot to make the number of boxes you want. Two. The good folk of the city have taken a liking to the refreshments we stocked the first box with. And no, it didn’t matter whether the refreshments were rat-on-a-stick, slumpie or Mr Dibbler’s finest sausage-inna-bun. They broke in and nicked it all. Have you any idea, sir, how crabby a hungry Watchman can get? And three, certain bright sparks have cottoned on to the fact that you can lock a member of the Watch inside the box, tip it up and cover him in the relief.”

"Ah, yes. Perhaps it was a mistake to run the pilot scheme in the Shades.” Vetinari sniffed, almost imperceptibly. “Has Constable Goldhammer managed to get rid of the smell yet?”

“Not quite.” Vimes finally allowed himself to meet the Patrician’s eye. He’d made sure there was plenty of hot water available, but even after an hour in the bath - with the most aromatic of Lady Sybil’s floral oils to mask the unsavoury odours which had been introduced to the station house - the unfortunate dwarf had been banished to the basement. At least Igor wouldn’t mind either of the overpowering scents which now clung like treacle to Constable Goldhammer.

Vetinari picked up the newspaper he’d set aside when Vimes arrived. It looked as though he was only halfway through the crossword. “I’m sure the novelty – and the smell - will wear off, given time. Try a second box in a different location. Don’t let me detain you, Commander.”

*

Ankh-Morpork’s Finest eyed the box suspiciously. It had been painted a rather fetching shade of dark blue and had a blue glass lantern on the roof, currently unlit.

Corporal Nobbs shook his head. “It don’t seem right, sarge, the Commander making us stay put in one place for our whole shift.”

Fred Colon sighed heavily. “Things are changin’, Nobby. Gone are the days we ’ad to decide, all watchman-like, whether trouble was worth takin’ notice of or not and root it out.”

“So what do we do now? Sit here and wait for it to come to us?”

Fred thought hard for a moment. You could almost see the cogs turning. “I reckon so. If trouble’s happening somewhere else, it ain’t our fault if we’re not there to help. Instead, we can have a nice quiet cup of tea and some of Mrs Colon’s biscuits.” He rattled the cake tin to emphasise the point. “We’ll keep the peace on this patch and let the coppers in the other boxes look after the trouble on theirs.”

Nobby brightened. “Shall we go and ’ave a look inside then, sarge?”

“You go in, Nobby. I’ll keep an eye on things out here.” Fred prided himself on keeping an eye on things. That way, you saw trouble coming – and could run in the opposite direction. 

There was the sound of a door opening behind him. Then silence.

"Er, sarge? Did the wizards have anything to do with this box idea?” Nobby sounded decidedly worried.

“Not as far as I know,” Fred rumbled. “Lord Vetinari wouldn’t hold with that.”

“Only…” Nobby gestured towards the open door, “it’s bigger on the inside than the outside, sarge!”

Fred looked inside. He rubbed his eyes and looked again. Then he walked slowly around the blue box, pausing in front of the open door.

“Ah, well… that’ll be an ill-oooshun, Nobby. You know, like when they got the conjuror in at the Pink Pussycat Club.”

“Oh yeah…I remember that riot,” Nobby said fondly, his eyes glazing over. The clients of the Pink Pussycat had become understandably agitated when their favourite performer, Dilys Twirlee, vanished from a cabinet on stage. Demands for her immediate return had meant that the conjuror had been forced to reveal his secrets. And then leave the magic circle in shame a week later.

Fred squeezed his massive girth through the doorway. “There’ll be a kettle somewhere in this ill-oooshun, Nobby. Fancy a cuppa?”

While his sergeant hunted the equipment, Nobby inspected a large hexagonal table in the centre of the room. From it, a lighted column rose almost to the ceiling.  

“I’m stumped, Nobby,” Fred said eventually. “Can’t find a kettle anywhere.”

“What’s the point of havin’ all this fancy stuff then, sarge? All these knobs and lights and things?” Nobby waved a hand over the console. “What good are these to a copper when he wants a decent cup of tea?”

“Per’aps there’s an instruction manual, Nobby. We’ve jus’ got to…”

“Hullo? Hullo? Is someone there?” A flat square, suspended above the table, suddenly lit up with the image of a long-faced young man. “Oh good-o! You got in!”

Fred and Nobby froze.

The young man frowned. “Good Lord! Where in the universe did the Tardis take herself off to?” His face enlarged in the square until only a single eye was visible, hugely magnified. “I’ve seen some species in my time, but you’re a new one on me. What are you?”

Nobby, realising he was the object of the eye’s attention, pulled off the smartest salute he could muster. “Corporal Nobby Nobbs of the Ankh-Morpork Watch, sir! Certified human, sir!”

"Human. Are you sure?” The eye shrank back to normal size as the rest of the face reappeared. “If you say so…I wonder… can you do me a favour? I’m in a spot of trouble.”

Nobby pulled off another salute, so sharp, he nearly cut himself. “Trouble’s what we’re good at. Ain’t that right, sarge?”

“Er…yeah, but…” Fred visibly expanded with self-importance and puffed his chest out. It almost achieved the same girth as his stomach. “We need to know who we’re dealing with first.”

“Oh – you mean me? Well, I’m The Doctor.”

“One of Doctor Lawn’s doctors? From the Lady Sybil?”

“Lady Syb-? No, no, no. I’m The Doctor. The Doctor.” The face beamed down at the bemused coppers. “But I’m on holiday at the moment, so I’m not doctoring. Problem is, the Tardis decided she didn’t want a vacation. She upped and offed without me. I can’t bring her back from here, so I need someone to do it for me. Looks like it’ll have to be you.”

A look was exchanged between the coppers. A look that passed judgement on the young man’s mental acuity and found it wanting.

Fred cleared his throat. “This…Tardis. Can you give me a description of the lady, sir?”

“She’s no lady! Well, not in the way I think you mean, though I suppose she is normally perfectly well behaved… You’re inside her, man! She’s my ship.”

“Ship?” Fred stared at face beaming at him from the screen. “But there are no sails.”

“She doesn’t need them. All you have to do is twiddle a few dials and flick a few switches and she’ll end up here with me. Well, you will if she’ll let you,” the Doctor added in an undertone.

Nobby tugged Fred’s sleeve. “I’m not so sure about this, sarge," he whispered. "I reckon he’s a bit…” The corporal’s finger twirled next to his temple.

“Let’s find out,” Fred whispered back. Straightening his helmet, he addressed the screen in his best sergeant’s voice. “Of course we’ll bring the Tardis to you.”  

The Doctor flicked his hair out of his eyes, grinned and slapped a peculiar red hat with a tassel onto his head. “Right – here’s what you do…”

*

Foul Ole Ron had seen and heard many things in his time, but the strange thrumming noise was a new one on him. It seemed to be coming from the blue box standing at the end of the street. As he watched, the lamp on the roof started to flash and the box faded in and out of his vision until it disappeared completely.

“Buggrit! Millenium hand and shrimp, I told ’em,” Ron muttered.

*

“And here you are!” The Doctor’s face had disappeared from the screen, appearing instead at the open door of the Tardis. He leapt inside and ran straight to where Nobby had just released the particle gravitator lever and Fred was winding down the distance dial. “Oh, you beauties! You’ve brought her back to me!” He spun round, pausing as the lights dimmed. “Now then, I know you were sulking, but I needed a holiday.”

To the watchmen, he appeared to be addressing thin air.

“I think you’ll like it here, I really do,” the young man continued, patting the console. “Sand, sea and sun…just what the Doctor ordered.” He grinned as the lights brightened again. “That’s my girl. Now – where are my helpers?”

A green light shone in Nobby’s face; the Doctor was pointing a long thin cylinder at him. “Hmm. Definitely human.” The green light vanished and the object that made it disappeared back into the pocket from whence it came. “Now…gentlemen. Care to join me on the beach?” The Doctor almost danced through the door.

As soon as Fred stepped outside, his feet sank into golden sand and sweat broke out on his forehead from the sun which beat down on his helmet. Stretching out in front of him was an endless expanse of clear blue sky which met a curve – definitely a curve - of turquoise water. He looked at Nobby, who was grinning like a monkey. “Where are we? Quirm? How did we get to Quirm?”

“Quirm? Never heard of it.” The Doctor whipped off his hat. “We’re in Sardinia!” He kicked off his shoes and began to roll his trouser legs up. “Last one in’s a…”

Whatever the last one was going to be, they never found out.

“Sarge – look!”

Fred glanced in the direction of the corporal’s pointing finger. “Good gods,” he muttered weakly.

To be fair, he’d seen Mrs Colon without her stockings on once or twice. He’d also witnessed the young ladies in their working clothes at the Pink Pussycat Club, though he’d spent most of the visit trying not to look. But the ladies here…well. Fred had never seen quite so much of the opposite sex before.

“I’m goin’ in for a dip, sarge. You coming?” Nobby – who’d divested himself of his uniform and was now dressed only in his unmentionables – sprinted towards the water. There was a splash and the corporal disappeared.

Fred took a deep breath.

“Corporal Nobbs!” he bellowed as soon as Nobby resurfaced, glistening and grinning. “You are an officer of the Ankh-Morpork Watch and still on duty, wherever we are! Get your uniform back on this instant!”

“Aw, sarge…”

“We can’t be ’aving a holiday, Nobby.” Fred frowned “Ankh-Morpork needs us. We’ve got the Doctor his box back and we ought to be getting home.”

“You don’t have to, you know.” The Doctor looked up from the sandcastle he was making. “You can spend as long as you like here, then I’ll take you back and no-one will even know you’ve been gone.” He turned his attention back to the bright yellow bucket he’d packed with sand, upended it and proceeded to smack it with a small blue spade. “By the way, I never asked – which planet do you come from?”

“Planet? Discworld o’ course,” Fred said. “Where did you think we were from?”

“Weeell, I did wonder if you were from the Dungeon Dimensions when I saw your friend. But Discworld…isn’t that the one on the back of the giant turtle and the elephants? Think I visited a few aeons ago. Nice place. You’re on Earth at the moment.”

“But how…”

“The Tardis is a clever old girl – travels in space and time.” The Doctor gave the bucket a twist and lifted it away, revealing a compact mound of sand. Then he stuck a small green flag in the top of it and looked up at the sergeant. “Kick your sandals off and feel the sand between your toes for a bit. It’ll be alright.”

*

Foul Ole Ron had just reached the corner of the street when the thrumming sound began again. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw the blue box fade in and out before reappearing, more solidly it seemed, than before. A door opened in its side and two members of the Watch stepped out.

“Buggrit,” Ron muttered darkly and hurried off to catch up with his Smell.

*

The Doctor was grinning at the watchmen from the door.

“There you go! Back where and when you started from, give or take a couple of minutes, after a lovely day at the seaside. Thanks again for getting me out of a pickle – it’s good to be back with the Tardis. Isn’t it, old girl?” He patted the door affectionately. “Right! Must be off. Daleks to sort out and fishfingers to fry!”

When the thrumming stopped, silence fell. There was nothing to show the box had ever stood on the cobbles.
    
“Did we just dream all that, Nobby?” Fred asked slowly.

“Dunno. S’pose we could have. But if we dreamt it, your nose wouldn’t be sunburnt and I wouldn’t ’ave sand in my unmentionables.”

"What the wizards wouldn’t give for that box,” Fred said thoughtfully. “I reckon it was a good job it was us what found it, Nobby, or else-”

A heavy rumbling drowned out the rest of his words. Rolling down the street on the back of a cart was a blue box, accompanied by the shining Captain Carrot and the lumbering form of Corporal Detritus.

“You’re here already? Good. Keen to try out your Watch box, Fred?” Carrot said, jumping down. “Let’s get it down and you can try it out for size.”

Five minutes later, Detritus had troll-handled the box to its final resting place and Carrot dropped the keys into Fred’s sweaty palm. 
  
“Open it up, then.” 

Sergeant Colon couldn’t get rid of the keys quick enough. “You do it, Nobby.” 

“Fair bit smaller than the other one, sarge. Def’nately a kettle inside. No knobs or levers. And no Doctor.”

“What ‘other one’? And why would you need a doctor, Nobby?” Carrot said.

“Er…sarge…not sure you’re goin’ to fit in ’ere…it’s a bit tight even for me.”

*

The Patrician waved a copy of the Ankh-Morpork Times at Vimes, who was trying very hard to suppress his feelings.

“And Mr de Worde just happened to walk along at the precise moment that Sergeant Colon got stuck in the door of the Watch box?”

“He was taking a constitutional, I believe.”

There was the hint of a raised eyebrow from the Patrician. “Indeed. Along with Mr Chriek the iconographer, and a notebook. I suppose that to build the boxes large enough to accommodate the sergeant or any of our trollish Watch members would be a waste of civic monies and take up too much room on the streets?”

“I’ve heard discussions to that effect, sir. Be much cheaper to keep sending them to the Drum. Sir.” The grin was much too close to the surface now – it was threatening to break free.

The newspaper slapped onto the desk. “Very well. Do away with the boxes then, and keep your watchmen moving, Commander. In the interests of law-abiding citizens throughout the city.”

“Thank you, sir.” Vimes turned and marched towards the door. As he reached for the handle, the Patrician called out to him.

“Oh – and Commander? If ever a police box appears on the streets of the city again – do make sure to send The Doctor my best wishes.”

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

FREE FICTION!

The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed that I've recently added an extra page to the Scribbles. It's called, unoriginally, free fiction.

(On the right hand side of the screen if you've missed it.)

As I sometimes post bits and pieces of my writing, I decided that to allow visitors to enjoy my writing without looking back through years' worth of posts to find them, I'd collect all the links in one place for your convenience. No doubt the list will grow as time moves on...

So, if you fancy a read, head on over and take a peek. They are there for your pleasure.

Squidge x

Just one word of caution - I often write for children, but not all of these pieces will be suitable for younger readers. If in doubt, please read them through before sharing.



Saturday, 14 February 2015

On the Piste

You might remember that, around this time last year, I admitted to being wrong.

I discovered that actually, I loved skiing. I'm not very good at it, and you won't see me hurtling down the mountain at a hundred miles an hour like the pros, but I did enjoy it.

So we're doing it again. This time, we're going to be in Austria, in Obertauern, and having looked online at the live webcams (alternately grey with falling snow or brilliantly dazzling sunshine) I have to say I'm looking forward to it. I just need to get some new thermals, as daytime temps are around -5 degrees, and night-times around -14!

If I'm not around too much on the Scribbles over the next few days, you'll know why. I have scheduled a couple of posts to go up in my absence, and I promise I'll tell you all about Austria when I get back.

In the meantime, take care, have a fabulous half-term for those to whom it applies, and I'll see you in a week...

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Inspiring writers



Yesterday, I visited St Michael's C of E Primary School in Pelsall, to talk to Year 6 pupils about Granny Rainbow, being an author, and to read some of the stories the children had written, based on Granny Rainbow story structure.

Reading the first of the children's stories...

I had a FABULOUS afternoon! The visit was a bit different to others I'd done - I wasn't leading any workshops for a start! The time we had was spent alternating between Q&A sessions and readings (mainly the children's stories, but I took along 'Froggy Fiasco', one of the as-yet-to-be-published stories from More Granny Rainbow) with a short book-signing session at the end.

I loved reading the children's stories. Their teacher had studied Granny Rainbow's story structure and encouraged the kids to take certain characters - Granny, Old Tom, the cats - and introduce both a problem and a new character to the plot. The resulting stories (and how I wish I'd had time to read them all out!) were wonderful.

We had the appearance of the Grey Shadow (the Black Shadow's son) seeking revenge. We had rainbow chickens attacking the teacher. We had a yeti called Betty. We nearly had another little green man story - but the title was changed to the little man in green, which fitted the leprechaun in it much better! What was really spooky, though, was how close some of the children's ideas are to some of the stories in the next book!

The Q&A sessions were interesting too - they were all very intelligent questions, by which I mean I wasn't asked how I write a book, or what's my favourite food or how long does it take you to write a book. The children had obviously really thought about what they wanted to ask about me and the process of being a writer:

Which author did I look up to? Terry Pratchett and anyone who sticks at it when the going gets tough. How did I get to swim with dolphins? Holidaying in New Zealand.
Why were rainbows important to me - and which was my favourite colour? Because I love colour, rainbows help me remember God's promise, and I can't pick one! I like them all.
Had I met any famous authors? Yep - Andy Cope and Lara, (THE Spy Dog) and Jeremy Strong.
Why Granny Rainbow - why not Boy Rainbow or Princess Rainbow? And how did the world of Granny get created? Because there are elements of my own Granny in there and everyone has/had a Granny. And the more I get to know her, the bigger her world grows.

It served to reinforce that being an author isn't about book sales or rankings for me. It's interacting with the readers and enthusing kids to read and write - and enjoy it! In fact, I left them with some homework - a 'Three Things' story, to include a tin of baked beans, a dragon and a police car. After hearing their Granny stories, I don't reckon they'll have any problems coming up with some super ideas again!

And as to the highlight of my afternoon... Am I allowed two?

The first was when I was asked to go back to the school later in the year, to run a creative writing workshop.
The second was when I overheard one of the children say "I have GOT to get the new Granny Rainbow book when it's out. And StarMark."

I've two more school visits booked for March, both during World Book Week. If they go anywhere near as well as this visit, I'll be very happy indeed. And next time, I'll remember to ask someone to take photos...

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Story Shapes - according to Chuck Wendig

Today, I'm posting a link to the latest post on Chuck Wendig's terrible minds blog.

Basically, it's about story shapes. It's written in typical Chuck style (which means language!), and I could never hope to paraphrase what he's written so I'll send you over to his site to read it for yourself. It's an incredibly good description of some methods you can use to build your own story shape and I know I shall be coming back to it frequently over the next few weeks as I start to work on Ani's story.

Er...yes... I know I started working on Ani's story a while back, but I have gone back to grass roots with it and started all over again. I wasn't happy with it, y'see. Couldn't find the right motivation for some of the characters and I'd stalled at the half-way point.

To get me going again, I re-read Les Edgerton's Hooked about openings, and tried to get to grips with Ani's story-worthy problem because what I had as an opening was a bit...boring, if I'm honest.
I also read Nicola Morgan's How to Write a Great Synopsis, which helped me to discover what the true heart of the story was.

As a result of reading both, the story has been simplified yet keeps many of the elements I'd written in before. And it actually has a story-worthy problem that wasn't what I first thought it was...

And now, I have Chuck's post as well.

I feel a story coming on... *scuttles off to grab a notebook and pen*

Sunday, 8 February 2015

The stove cometh...

Or rather, the stove cometh...soon. It hasn't. Yet.

Instead, we have a lovely big hole in the front room chimney breast, with a couple of edging bricks looking a bit looser than we'd like them to be (apparently the backplate will shore them up...), but no actual stove yet.

Some dodgy plaster too, from someone else's DIY 

However, Mr Squidge has been taking the issue of keeping the stove fed - when it does arrive - most seriously. A farmer friend had taken down a rather large ash tree on his land; it needed clearing from the roadside verge. Mr Squidge and another friend (who had the foresight to get his stove fitted in the autumn) the opportunity to take all the wood, providing they chopped and cleared it themselves.

"Righto!" said Mr Squidge. "Thanks very much. We will."

It took two Fridays to cut the tree into rings and split the rings into chunks. At its base, the tree measured about four foot in diameter - the chainsaw wasn't long enough to reach the centre of the trunk at its widest point...

Dave - chainsawing the rounds off

Mr Squidge splitting the rounds into manageable chunks
 
I'm the king of the castle! 

On the Saturdays following chopping Fridays, the farmer's sheep trailer delivered half of what had been cut to us, and the other half to Mr Squidge's cutting buddy.

We now have half a flippin' tree - in bits of various sizes - on my patio. Don't believe me? Take a dekko at this:

And there's more you can't see in a wheelbarrow...

The wood is in good company - it's joined the cast iron bath that got taken out last March when we started to organise refitting the bathroom. No-one wants cast iron baths these days...we can't sell it or give it away, so it'll be off to the scrappy's with it.

The start of our chopped wood pile

Mr Squidge even taught our daughter how to wield an axe - partly to hone up her axe skills for Explorer Scouts, but mainly, I reckon, to give himself a rest! Even so, the pile doesn't look like it's gone down any.

Choppin' - it's in the genes!
I reckon we're going to be rather toasty, but not until next winter, when the stove is eventually fitted!

Friday, 6 February 2015

A little bit of flash...A Desperate Wish

Haven't posted much fiction for a while but last month, I had a go at The Word Cloud monthly competition for the first time in months. The theme was 'once upon a time...' and the story had to open with those words, include something magical, and be a 'told' story. It appealed to my storytelling nature - after all, Granny Rainbow is full of 'told' stories - so I thought I'd share what I wrote with you. Enjoy!


Once upon a time…but which time, exactly? There are times of then, of now, and of yet to come…

Then there are other times.

In such an other time, when the ganderbuss trees were in blossom and the river rushed green from snowmelt, a sickly babe’s incessant wailing sent her mother, the Queen, half-mad.

“How I wish the child was mute!” the Queen cried.

Which would have been as effective as a prample-juice poultice for a pimple, had not the western wind been blowing northwards that evening. And when THAT happens, wishes come true…

The baby was struck dumb.

Wracked with guilt, the Queen sought out the finest of fairies, the whitest of witches -sometimes the blackest of them, too - to undo the damage. Until…

“She will speak only when she must,” the Hag of Hogarth croaked. “The wish was made in desperation. Only in desperation can it be broken.”

The princess grew. When she was hurt, she sobbed: silently. When happy, her body shook with laughter: silently. When angry, she stamped her foot and frowned, but could not give vent to her feelings with the words she wanted to speak.

Until she learned her letters. Then, her pencil fair flew across the page, the previously unvoiced conversations pouring out onto paper.

Happy that - at last - her daughter could communicate, the Queen stopped searching for a way to break the bindings of her wish.

One autumn morn, when a waterfall of russet leaves was falling and the princess had reached her sixteenth silent year, a traveller arrived at the palace.

“My gift will make the princess speak,” he told the Queen. “All I ask is for her hand in marriage when she does.”

The Queen studied the young man with the long black beard. He stood as much chance of succeeding as the others before him, which was none. 

And so the young man handed over his gift: a pen.

The princess took it up with a smile and wrote her thanks.  

What appeared on the page was not ‘Thank you’, but 'Buggity plopbasket.'

The princess’s eyes widened. She tried again.

Plippetty stinkrabbit.

And again.

Noddlebum twiddletty.

The mountain of discarded paper grew, covered in flackery muppetburger…jubeelious mickettyflop…pustulous creppittyho…

The pen was bewitched! But when the princess tried to throw it away - horror of horrors - it was stuck fast to her hand! No amount of tugging or pulling could release it. Her only means of communication had been snatched away - what cruelty was this?

Without thought, the princess opened her mouth. “Help!” she whispered.

The pen disappeared with a bang and a flash of green flame as the wish was broken. The princess found her voice, married the young man and if, sometimes, he wished for a moment’s peace from her chatter thereafter, he never showed it.

Least of all when his wife whispered ‘I love you’ in his ear.