Thursday, 31 January 2013

Guest Post - Jan Ruth: Locations & Inspirations

As a writer I am often asked where I find my ideas and inspiration; how do I start to build a whole new world full of make-believe people, and most importantly, just what are they going to do to make themselves so interesting?

I guess you could say I have around forty years experience of make believe. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t reading, and writing. After a period of false starts, I realised that the craft itself had to be learnt and that has taken perhaps half of my lifetime to date. I am still learning and evolving, and always looking for new inspiration. 

I am lucky to live in this part of the world. The Celtic history of North Wales is a powerful part of the landscape. Someone said that ‘the centuries of men’s hands on the same stones put the feeling into a place.’

My passion for the Welsh landscape and the day to day things that make me laugh, are just as important as the characters in my books, and I guess all of this is a part of me; and that is the part that the reader will hopefully connect to.

My mention of centuries and landscapes makes me sound as if I write historical fantasy! Far from it. Much as I admire many other genres I tend to be very rooted in truth and reality, and reflect a lot of my own life experiences. I am also a very slow writer; if I have an idea, I tend to incubate the germ over many months, and the characters always come first. During this period, I talk to myself a lot, but maybe that’s down to something else! 

I write contemporary romantic drama; my three titles are all set in the local area. White Horizon is centered around Lake Crafnant, Midnight Sky is rooted in Rowen and my first novel, Wild Water, hovers between Conwy and Cheshire. 

My main characters tend to be in the forty plus age group, and I write mostly about the complications of relationships. I guess they are love stories, quite romantic but never fluffy. There is always a touch of humour, quite often of the black type, and the odd murder, rape and manslaughter. So, not the average visit to North Wales!

If you cannot decide if these books are for you, you may want to try my FREE book: The Long And The Short Of It , which is a selection of short stories and includes the first chapter from all three novels. No promotional material. (It is also available through Amazon 77p/99c)

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Guest Post: Elizabeth Kay – Travel Broadens the Pen

My first trip abroad was when I was fourteen. My father hadn’t been back to Poland since he’d been deported to Siberia twenty-five years previously, so it was an emotional journey. The iron curtain was a border few people crossed in the sixties. I can remember it all so clearly; the queues of people we could see from the train when we passed through Berlin, waiting to cross from east to west for Christmas. The soldiers carrying sub-machine guns on the trams in Krakow, the strange and wonderful food, the horse-drawn sleighs that acted as taxis in Zakopane. Seeing real mountains for the first time. It was the sort of experience destined to have a permanent effect on me, and from then on foreign travel was an obsessive goal.

During my student days I hitch-hiked round Europe, getting as far as Istanbul and meeting interesting people, getting in and out of sticky situations, and becoming more and more hooked on other cultures, climates, scenery, wildlife. It’s only since my kids have grown up and gone that I’ve had the time and the money to pursue my addiction – the gathering of exotic material for my writing.

I re-use everything. The continental divide in the cloud forest of Costa Rica gave me the central idea for the Divide Trilogy, and I went to Iceland to research the setting for the final book in the series. My trips to Kenya, Zambia and the Ivory Coast led to a reluctant reader book about elephant poaching. A meeting with a feisty eleven-year-old girl in Mongolia presented me with a wonderful character for another children’s book.

I never know what I’m going to find – but the more far-flung the place is the better. It’s not just our plant and animal diversity that’s in trouble, it’s all those cultural heritages as well. Airports, coffee shops and jeans are the same the world over. When you’re creating a fictional character it’s their differences that are important, not the things that are common to everyone else. The same is true of fictional places.

I’ve only just climbed on the Kindle bandwagon – well, I was thrown onto it really, by a publisher who accepted a book, and then decided not to publish any more adult fiction.  Beware of Men with Moustaches is set in an imaginary ex-Soviet state, which is an amalgamation of my experiences in Poland, Ukraine, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria. Four British poets accept an invitation to make a cultural visit to a little-known country and find themselves in very foreign territory, with both hilarious and disturbing results. It’s a place where people have more to worry about than whether or not their next poetry collection is going to be published.

A great deal of the action is based on genuine events. I really did go to Ukraine on a cultural visit, and experienced many of the situations described in the book. It all came about thanks to a wonderful and eccentric poet by the name of Vera Rich (re-used as the cyclops Turpsik in Back to the Divide) My father had been at university in L’viv, and I’d always wanted to visit. Vera was the foremost translator of Shevchenko, the national poet of Ukraine, and she had contacts at the university. She died a couple of years ago, aged seventy-three, and is very much missed. A group of us went over and did a number of readings, and returned the following year for a conference. The hotel at which the fictional characters stayed was based on the ЖOРЖ – The George! It really was quite extraordinary, and I felt as though I’d been air-lifted there straight out of a book by Tolstoy. Writing from real experience is so different from researching something on the web, which is predominantly visual, with maybe a bit of sound here and there. You’re so much more aware when you’re somewhere new; you take in everything. When I look at the photo of the main staircase in the George, I remember the smell of coffee (L’viv is famous for it), the taste of caviar from breakfast, the feel of that smooth wooden banister. Who knows what hands had slid along it in days gone by?

There are quite a few places I haven’t used yet. A visit to the Angel Falls in Venezuela was memorable for the light plane that took us to Canaima, the nearest town, and landed on the road rather than the runway as there were fewer potholes. Sri Lanka, for the incomparable festival of Perahera, with its hundreds of elephants decorated with lights, and its outstanding curries. The Galapagos, and the sea lions that kipped on the seats on the promenade. Finland, watching baby brown bears shinning up trees from a hide near the Russian border. Madagascar, and everyone going down with salmonella… no, maybe not that one...

So what other places are on my list? I’d like to go to Komodo, and see the dragons for myself. Papua New Guinea, for the birds of paradise. Canada, for the polar bears. Despite the fact that I went to art school and I ought to give galleries a priority, I feel far more drawn to wilderness. The few places where mobile phones don’t get a signal, and internet access isn’t available. They’re becoming fewer and fewer. I think the wake-up call for me was being able to access my emails in the jungle in Borneo. How does anyone get lost these days? How do we isolate our characters, in order to put them in danger? We have to make sure they’ve dropped their smart phones down a well, or had their iPads nicked. Otherwise it’s historical fiction, or fantasy. Travel broadens the mind; can the same really be said for the internet? 

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Jane Austen didn't have a Kindle! by Hywela Lyn

Yesterday, 28th January 2013, was the 200th birthday of Jane Austen's most famous novel 'Pride & Prejudice'.

It was marked by a 'readathon' at the Jane Austin Centre in Bath, hooked up with a 12 hour broadcast with Jane Austen Societies in Australia and North America.

A conference has also been organised at Cambridge.The conference will explore the original historical context of the novel, as well as the numerous screen adaptations and literary spin-offs the book has inspired.

In the coming weeks the BBC will celebrate the anniversary of the book by recreating a Regency ball, like one featured in its pages, and there are several more events planned throughout the year, to celebrate the anniversary.

Many new books about the writer have been published, with examinations of the history of the novel, and there is also a new high-end hardback edition available.

First published by Thomas Egerton in 1813, Pride and Prejudice was Jane Austen's second novel. On receiving the first copy, she described it in a letter to her sister, as her 'own darling child.' (A term I think many authors can relate to when holding their first published copy..)

Time seems to have only increased the popularity of the book, so much so that in 2003 when the BBC held a poll to find the UK’s favourite novel it came second only to the Lord Of The Rings trilogy. It still sells in book form, even though, long being out of copyright, it can now be downloaded as an Ebook. (I can't help wondering what Jane would have made of that - or the 'zombie' version of 2009, I think she might well cringe at that!)

Mention of E-books brings me to the reason for my title. Watching a programme on BBC television last night,  which showed the table at which Jane Austen sat to write, in the cottage on the Chawton house estate where she lived during the last eight years of her life, I was struck by how small the table was. I'm not sure I could write at a table that small - I like to spread out. Not only that, she had to write all her books by hand. Not for her a modern computer or  i-pad. Not even an electric typewriter - not even a manual typewriter! Every word had to be painstakingly written by hand.

I know there are still many writers out there who write their first drafts by hand, but many of us rely on the computer for speed, clarity of reading and automatic correction of typos, etc. etc. Cutting and pasting no longer involves physically cutting out a badly placed paragraph and sticking it elsewhere in the document with glue (I wonder did Jane Austen ever actually do that?).  She certainly couldn't check her formatting on a Kindle. Until the invention of the typewriter, every author had to write not only their first, but their final manuscript by hand.  Do you think that made a difference the the actual process of composing? Would Pride and Prejudice have been the same book if it had been written directly onto the screen?  Certainly modern word processing has made things a whole lot easier for writers.

There again, there were compensations for a woman writer back in Jane Austen's day. She didn't have to juggle a home, family and full time job with her writing, and she didn't have to spend precious hours 'networking' in order to get her name known, or battling with Facebook pages and Tweets! Once she'd sold her book to the Publisher, she could leave marketing the book to them and just get on and write the next one.

What do you think, would you have enjoyed writing in a slower, more relaxed age, with no modern writing conveniences, or would you refuse to trade your laptop and your Kindle even for Mr Darcy's wet shirt?

With thanks to the BBC entertainment page for some of the info above.

You can find out more about Lyn and her books on her  WEBSITE
She also blogs at her own BLOG, and THE AUTHOR ROAST AND TOAST

Monday, 28 January 2013


Amazon 0689836368
 Recently I've been asked to narrate one of the story-apps I'm doing with Flying Books. The last time I used a mic was at the launch of FOR MARITSA WITH LOVE and on that occasion I nearly wrecked it, so I regard the things with great caution. I don't have a mic on my computer, so we bought a tiny clip-on one. It was strange to be doing a reading without a visible audience. Now, don't misunderstand - I have always read aloud - for me, it's an essential part of working - but it's a private thing, and I hate having anyone around while I'm doing it. Reading finished work to an audience is something else. It's a special kind of sharing, and audience feedback is an essential part of it. A formal reading with a mic, pausing briefly for each page turn, has been a curious experience, and I still haven't got it right - I was told it had too much echo, so I may have to give up and hand over to one of their professional narrators (I wasn't too impressed by the sample narration they sent me, though).

Words spoken, words read aloud, words learnt and uttered, words read inside your head and words alfresco - they all feel astonishingly different. Work on the computer reads differently from work printed out; likewise handwritten work and word scribbles. The first stories ever told were oral, and probably sung, and the narrative would have been changed and embellished by each individual narrator. The physical act of writing slows things down and permits contemplation - and editing. I think the very best writing contains elements of both kinds of storytelling - the immediate and the crafted, which leads me to mention Kathleen Jones's recent fascinating blog about the life, and afterlife, of Katherine Mansfield. I hadn't read her for decades, but found a delightful little Bloomsbury Classics edition of her short stories in the Barbican library and began a re-acquaintance. She was an amazing writer.

I've spent about a month editing and updating my previously published (Walker Books) Young Adult novel, THE GAME, and yesterday I went public and put it on Kindle and KDP Select. It's always fascinating and challenging to go back to work that's already been out in print format (if not, recently, 'in print'). Updating usually involves dealing with political and technological changes, but actual editing can go on for ever - I even found a spelling mistake in the original hardback, and I had a meticulous editor at Walker. At the time of writing, this was a book I felt passionately about - it was one of Wendy Boase's favourites - but over the years I forgot about it, so re-working it felt like coming to a current work in progress. The extraordinary autistic child, Jennie, in the story, who was able to remember and sing (in tune) whole symphonies, but who refused to speak, was based on the very real child - a boy - I met when I was teaching in a Rudolf Steiner school. Please do take a look. Incidentally, I'm thinking of changing the title of this story. There are so many books with that title, and these days, it does, faintly, suggest computer games. My alternative title might be: 'SONG OF THE FURIES' - what do you think?

Sunday, 27 January 2013

A "Well Sick" Story - Andrew Crofts

This month the folk at Wattpad turned their attention to promoting “The Overnight Fame of Steffi McBride”, which had been pulling in a few readers on its own but was lagging a long way behind its prequel, (“The Fabulous Dreams of Maggie de Beer”, which has now had comfortably over 300,000 hits).
As well as putting Steffi on their “featured” page, which is pretty much like getting onto the front table at Waterstones, they also suggested we put up a contest, asking Wattpad readers to give one good reason why they would like to become famous overnight, and one good reason why they would not.
The contest is running for another couple of months but we have already had several hundred entries, all of which show a commendable grasp on the advantages and disadvantages of instant fame.
This month also saw a preview of the finished television pilot for Steffi from Emerald Films, which is going up on the internet in February with all the attendant social media hoo-ha.
The film is a beautiful piece of work or, as one of the more streetwise young cast members said, “that is well sick”, which apparently suggests there are considerable grounds for optimism.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Why be a writer when you could be normal? - by Rosalie Warren

First of all, my apologies to Jeanette Winterson (who is, incidentally, one of my favourite authors) for playing with the title of her wonderful book Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (If you'd like to read my review of this book, please see my blog, Rosalie Reviews.)

Why be a writer when you could be normal? Why be a writer when you could be happy? Why be happy when you could be a writer? Why be a writer...? OK, that's enough permutations for now. But all these questions are currently very much on my mind, and I'm going to try to make a few clunky stabs at answering them here.

For years and years I wanted to be a writer, but was, on the whole, too busy getting on with life to do very much about it. Six years ago I took early retirement for reasons of ill-health, and since then I've been, as they say, time-rich. I started (and continued) writing because I wanted to, and because it felt as though I had at least two-thirds of a lifetime's accumulation of stuff to write about. I discovered how hard it was, but also how much fun. I was rejected a million times and eventually managed, after a great deal of effort, to find publishers for some of my books. I dipped my feet into the waters of self-publication, where I'm still splashing, happily on the whole (think of me as an electric eel).

At the back of my mind lay a seaside cottage, either one in Cornwall or perhaps on the Yorkshire coast. I have never particularly wanted to be money-rich, but for the last eleven years, living in Coventry, I've  been pining for the sea. For family reasons, it has been difficult and would still be difficult to move. And anyway, I like it here, apart from the lack of sea (a few mountains would be good, too). My dream was a getaway cottage where I/we/those I love could escape for short breaks and longer holidays. It was beginning to seem a long way off, given the dire state of advances and royalties for many of us writers. But the hope burned somewhere deep inside and, I'm sure, helped to spark my writing.

I haven't written a bestseller (yet...), nor have I earned enough to pay for more than the first few bricks (OK, maybe half a wall?) But since November of last year, I've had my cottage or, as it turned out to be, a flat high on top of a cliff with wonderful views of the North Yorkshire coast. I still can't believe it's mine and not a dream...

The reason I was able to buy it was my dad, bless him, who saved all his life and very generously left me enough in his will to buy my 'cottage' by the sea. Thanks to mum, too, who was also a great saver. They could have spent much more on themselves, and I was always trying to persuade them to do so, but there you go. I had many happy holidays in Scarborough with them as a child, and it's a lovely place to remember them and my grandmother, who also loved Scarborough.

All this leaves me busy choosing furniture and elephants (don't ask). It also leaves me, at least for the moment, without my inner spark. Or that's the way it feels. Maybe I'm just distracted by all I have to do. Perhaps it's the shock of losing Dad. But I haven't, to be honest, done any 'new' writing for at least six months. I'm writing, of course; I'm editing, I'm working on the third (or is it the fourth?) draft of my adult sci-fi novel. But 'normally', I've always got something new on the go, and at the moment, I haven't.

I'm different, because of this, I know I am. I may even be kind of 'normal' (which is what made me think of Winterson's title). Normal seems to mean that I have lots of energy for other things. I can get up in a morning and start thinking about redecorating the living room if I want to, without having 'do some writing' first. I may even be a slightly nicer person, with more time for other people, though I'm not sure about that. I'm freer, that's for certain. There's a kind of holiday feeling, like the long summer break when I was a child.

Why be a writer when I could be happy? (Who dared whisper that?)

This can't be right, though. I wasn't writing purely to earn myself a cottage by the sea. I wrote (and, I hope, still write) because it's the way I'm made. Happy or unhappy, normal or abnormal, it's what I do; it's what I am. If I wasn't a writer in some sense, I'm not sure I'd be anything at all. OK, a mother, yes, a lover and a friend. A citizen, OK, OK... but I hope you know what I mean. Writing is a huge part of what I am and without it, I'd feel as though I'd lost half my brain.

I know myself well enough to predict that this strange non-writing (or rather non-first-draft-writing) phase will reach a natural end. There'll come a day when a new story bursts out of me. Perhaps there's one already there but I'm not yet listening. Maybe it's still in gestation, not ready to be seen. Or perhaps I'm being downright lazy and it's time to sit down again every morning at nine o'clock and simply write. 

We'll see. I'm getting a lot done, with all the energy that comes from not being very creative on the writing front. I'm taking more exercise and getting fitter. I'm dieting, I'm choosing colours for walls and I'm catching up on a lot of reading. I may even get my hair cut, you never know. I'm quite enjoying being normal for a while, and even finding that it makes me happy, in a sort of bland, contented way.

But I miss the highs and lows. I miss the dreadful days when the words won't come or, if they do, they're wrong. I miss the glorious times when I just can't stop. I miss staggering out to the shops, half-drunk with writing bliss, not quite believing the supermarket around me, still immersed in a treacly writing dream. I miss those times when my characters take flight, take over, jabber away so fast I can't keep up with them. I miss it all - in the same way, I suppose, that I miss the sea.

So I come full circle and start to hope that my flat, once decorated, furnished and full of elephants, will be a writing haven as well as simply a place to remember my beloved parents. Watch this space.

Happily abnormal and electrically yours,

My blog
My website
My Facebook author page
My alter ego, Dr Sheila Glasbey 
Follow me on Twitter @Ros_Warren   

PS: Those lyricists among you waiting for the 'Alexa's Song' competition - it's coming soon! If you don't know what I'm talking about, you'll soon find out.

Friday, 25 January 2013

What's Your Kindle-book's Name?

           I can use about 1% of my computer's functions, and about the same on my camera. Our lives these days are filled with gadgets that can do far more than we ever have the time or inclination to figure out.
          So in the helpful spirit that sparks and crackles from Authors Electric, I thought I'd pass on a few of the things I've learned about my Kindle. I daresay you already know many, but I hope there may be just one little wrinkle that's new to you.   

          Kindles are wonderful tools for writers.  Not only can you use them to check the appearance of any e-books you’re creating, but you can use them for proof-reading. 
          If you give talks, you can put your notes on the kindle and read them from there (which still strikes many people as 'cool'.)
          If your Kindle has a wi-fi connection, you can email documents directly to it, because your Kindle has its own unique email address.  To find yours, go to the ‘Home’ screen on your Kindle and press ‘Menu’.  Go to ‘settings’ and you’ll find a lot of information, including your Kindle’s name and its email address.  If you attach a document to an email, and send it to this address, it will arrive on your Kindle.
          If you don’t have a wi-fi connection, Amazon will send your document to your mailbox, or you can download from the 'Manage Your Kindle' section of your Amazon account.  Download to your computer and drag and drop it to your kindle via a connecting cable.
          Other people can email documents to your kindle in this way too – and can loan you Kindle books (though Amazon takes the loan back after a fortnight.)  However, this will cost you 20p per MB, though you can set a limit by going to the ‘Manage Your Kindle’ section of your Amazon account.
                   When I’m proof-reading my ebooks, I like to have the master-copy open on my laptop while I read on the Kindle. Each time I spot a typo, I correct the master – but I know that Kath Roberts, erstwhile of this blog, likes to use her Kindle to proof-read away from her computer. She does it by using the ‘Add a Note or Highlight’ tool.
          To find this, have the book or document you want to annotate open on your Kindle.  Click Menu. Using the edges of the navigation square, move to ‘View Notes and Highlights’, and click. Then either add a note, using the Kindle’s rather clumsy key-board, or highlight  whatever it is you want to find.
          You can access ‘Add a Bookmark’ in the same way. Click on this and Kindle  ‘folds down’ a corner of a page, to remind you that a mark is there – but you find them again by using ‘View Notes and Highlights’, as before. I’ve found this extremely useful with reference books, as I can mark any passage I think I might find useful. It’s very quick and easy to find them again. Once located in ‘View Notes and Highlights’, you click on the marked passages and jump straight to them. (I recently read a piece complaining that e-readers couldn't replace paper books because you 'couldn't make notes in the margins.' Well, ha! Not only can you make notes in your e-books, you can jump straight to them without having to rely on bookmarks whichfall out.)
          You can highlight any passage you especially liked in any book, and want to find again quickly.  If you have wi-fi, you can share these with the wider Kindle-reading public, and discover what annotates their Kindle.
          These notes are automatically backed up to Amazon, where all your purchased e-books are stored – as, indeed, are any personal documents you’ve emailed to your Kindle.
          Anything you delete from your Kindle, deliberately or accidentally, is stored in your Amazon Archive, and can be downloaded again whenever you like, either to your Kindle or to your computer.  Click Home, click Menu, and the third item down is ‘View Archived Items’. I’ve just noticed that I have ‘The Crimson Petal and the White’ in there, which I loved. I must download it again.

          I quickly grew tired of clicking through page after page of books on my kindle in order to find the one I wanted.  I have 97 books on my Kindle, and I know some people have a lot more.
          I discovered that the Kindle lets you sort your books and documents in several ways.
          Go to the Home screen and, along the top you’ll see: Most Recent First, Title, Author, Collections.
          Click on any of these, and the Kindle instantly re-sorts your books and documents.  Most Recent First puts the last thing you downloaded, or were reading, at the top.
          Title obviously sorts them by title, in alphabetical order, and Author sorts them alphabetically by author.
          Collections is a little more complicated, but I find it useful. It sorts your books into folders.  What’s more, it allows you to put the same book into several folders – so, for instance, my Complete M R James could go into the ‘M R James’ folder and the ‘Ghost Stories’ folder.
Georgette Heyer
          Georgette Heyer could go into ‘History, fiction’ and ‘Romance.’  Moffat’s ‘Story of the Border Reivers’ could go into ‘History, fact’ and ‘Research.’  I find this makes it easier to find the book I want, or the one that matches my mood.
          To make a Collection, go to the Home screen, and click Menu.  Click the option Create New Collection. Enter and save your chosen Collection name.
          (Should you ever want to disband a collection, highlight it on Home screen, click Menu, and choose Rename Collection, or Delete Collection. This will NOT delete your books, magazines or documents – it will only remove the, if you like, virtual elastic band which has bundled them together under the Collection name.
          To add books to your new collection: first find the collection on your Home screen.
          Move the 5-way navigator (the little square) to the right. This brings you to a menu, with an icon displaying one of the book jackets in the collection. The  Menu choices are:  
          Open Collection – which displays all the books in it.
          Add/Remove Items – This takes you back to the Home Screen. You will see that the first book now has a thick, dark line beneath it, with a label ‘Add to this collection.’
          This book may or may not be one that you want to add to your new collection.  If it is, click the centre of the square (OK) and it will be added.  (Or Removed, if it’s already in the collection.)
          If the book isn’t one you want to either Add or Remove, then go on down the page as you would normally.  If none of the books on that page are ones you want to Add or Remove, then click to turn the page, as normal.
          Books already in the Collection will have a tick to the right of them. When you find a book you want to add or remove, click on it with the central square. If it’s in the Collection, it will be removed. If it's not already in the Collection, it will be added.
          When you’ve added all the books you want, go to the bottom of the screen, and click Done.
          Amazon say you can’t build Collections unless your Kindle has been connected by wi-fi at least once; and you cannot, as yet, add magazines to Collections on Kindle keyboard.  You can, however, sort personal documents and audio-books in this way.
          Adding a book to a collection doesn’t alter the book in anyway, but Amazon ‘tags’ it.  This tag is preserved until you remove it. Archived items will retain their tag, and if you download them again, they will return to the Collection you associated with them.
         I hope this helps you organise all those new books you've added after Christmas, with your Amazon gift-token.

          Susan Price is the award-winning author of The Ghost Drum and The Sterkarm Handshake.
          Her website is here.
          And her blog is here.  

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Writing About Writing - Stephanie Zia

I've just been tagged in a Blog Hop meme by Susie Kelly via Victoria Corby called The Next Big Thing - French Twist. A Q&A about current work in progress. It looks great and I want to participate, I will participate. But it's a long time since I wrote about writing. Problem is, it's a long time since I wrote at all despite all recent good intentions. I have 3 WIPs to complete, selecting one to revisit will, I'm sure, help in the mission to get back to writing. It brings it all back, in a good way, as to what it's all about. My happiest writing times were the pre-publishing hoo ha years of creative writing classes, mostly short stories, a bit of poetry. No pressure beyond getting the words right enough to read out loud, listening to others and entering a few competitions. Like many of those who were to become my friends on the courses, I dreamt of one day being able to write what I wanted to write, publish how I wanted to publish - .....oh hang on?

So what's missing now?

Time of course. But if Alan Rusbridger can steer The Guardian through a tricky year whilst learning Chopin's most difficult concerto on the side, there's really no excuse. I did a little corporate freelance work this month, basic research from home. I wondered how on earth I was going to be able to do proper grown-up internet research and not stray into my own territories of email, FB, Amazon, cute cat pictures (for work, honest) etc etc. So I set the kitchen timer in hourly chunks and did my fiddles and dealt with the inevitable interruptions in between. It worked well and does seem like a habit I may try to get going with my own multi-tasking duties. One day. When I've got time to split my day into chunks.

Back to writing: I found an old piece I wrote a long time ago for John Baker's Blog. There's lots on John's lovely blog On Writing & have bookmarked for a catch-up read when I need some inspiration. Meantime here's the piece below. So: onwards with writing. I have to forward tag two authors, I have one - if anybody fancies the other slot, please let me know.

Some of my short stories, avail on Amazon UK 77p Amazon US 99c

John Baker: "What phases are involved in the creation of a text?" 

When I started writing (short stories) I used to carry a notebook around and make endless notes:  ideas for current works in progress; ideas for new stories; overheard conversations. I still carry a notebook but rarely make notes. They tend now to be from books I am reading, a particular word I like, or a style element. Whilst research can trigger story development ideas, I discovered fairly early on that too much research and too many notes can become more of a time-wasting procrastination exercise than a contribution to progress. For me it’s not so much the characters who take on a life of their own as the story itself. Like many writers, I have far more ideas than I could ever work up into stories. It’s when an idea refuses to go away; when the story itself takes on an embryonic life and nags to be written that I have do something about it. It’s one of the most fascinating and intriguing things about being involved in the creative process. My first piece of creative work was a film. Situations arose that weren’t ordered by me or thought up by me. They simply arrived, looking for all the world like I’d been smart enough to consciously think of them. Writing is far more of an individual journey and these connections, coincidences, signals that I’m on the right track, never fail to fascinate me and are a huge part of the addiction.

Getting the story flowing isn’t straightforward, especially when writing has to be fitted in with work, family and the rest of life. Martin Amis said recently ‘your unconscious does it. Your unconscious does it all.’ I completely agree. When a story is in full flow I find myself in the happy state of waking up with the next scene in my head waiting to be written down. All I have to do is get up and write it out with little, if any, conscious effort at all.  Before I get to that stage it’s a matter of turning up. Experience has taught me that there will be bad days, bad weeks, but so long as I keep going the words will, one day, flow again. When I’ve left the desk to do something completely different, the subconscious, churns away behind the scenes. The sound of a voice, a piece of dialogue, the opening line of the whole book, a resolution, a need to cut out a whole scene will pop up as if from nowhere. I have never been able to go out for a walk, say, to think over a scene. I either have to be writing down words or thinking I’m thinking about something entirely unrelated.

The best way for me to start is to get my characters up and speaking. No lengthy character profiles, often using random names that might stick or be changed later. I’ll do several chapters trying to keep to dialogue. Snippets of description will creep in, to be enhanced or deleted later. Chunks of plodding exposition will always get through. I see them more as notes to self rather than part of the finished story, to be deleted later or changed into dialogue. In the first quarter of the first draft I’m finding out what it’s about as I go. The only thing I have to do is keep going. My writing methods are constantly evolving. My first published novel was written using few of the craft techniques and little plotting, but with detailed character profiles and piles and piles of research notes. It went through at least 6 full rewrites. As I’ve become more experienced I want to cut down the rewrites.  For my latest novel it would be possible to spend months and months on lovely research but I’m holding back as best I can. For the first time I’ve diagrammed out 12 or so scenes with the opening, the point of no return, the big complication, the climax and the end. These have already evolved in some places but the bigger structure remains in place.  At the final rewrite I’ll check for colour, light and wind (any breath of movement I find very effective at bringing scenes to life).  As for the completed novel, I agree with Susan Hill, who said recently that she sees hers as a creature apart which goes off on its own journey to make its way in the world.