We’ve managed to get my mother-in-law booked into day care for two days a week. Mum lives with us and suffers from acute Alzheimer’s but anyone who is responsible for an ageing relative will understand what this turn of events really means. I have been presented with that most valuable of commodities – long, uninterrupted tracts of time. I can hardly believe it. Continue reading
Writing realistic dialogue is tricky. It’s a skill that comes naturally to those lucky people who have an ear for convincing dialogue and can produce it effortlessly, but most of us have to practice, listen, then practice some more. This is a common problem for new writers (and some more experienced ones, too) who want to produce natural and lifelike exchanges between characters without sounding clunky, over-dramatic or plain wooden. I’ve talked about this before but some things bear repetition, so a revisit might be useful. Continue reading
We’ve all got our special writing places in our homes, rented office space, local cafés and libraries, but how often do we take ourselves completely out of our comfort zones and spend time in different places with no one but ourselves for company? How far are we willing to go, and for how long? And does it work?
My first experience of a writing retreat, though that wasn’t the original idea, happened many years ago, after a difficult and painful split with my then husband. A good friend offered me her family’s apartment in Puerto del Carmen on Lanzarote and I took off for a week by myself, intending to do nothing but eat, sleep and sunbath. Actually, I’m not much of a sun worshipper, and I’d sort of lost my appetite, so that left sleeping…. and I did an awful lot of that. Mental exhaustion or something.
During the long, solitary days, I started jotting down my thoughts, initially as a means of clearing my head. It didn’t take long to exorcise my demons and I was soon onto different subject matter. Stuff that was in my head, waiting impatiently to be released. Who knew? Anyway, I sat under a parasol for five days and wrote. And wrote. It just poured out of me. I didn’t even read much, which was most unlike me.
I was totally unprepared, and when I ran out of notebooks I had to search for writing paper, scouring local shops and supermarkets until I found some pads of cheap, lined paper. This enterprise took a long afternoon, on foot, in blazing heat, but I was not to be deterred. I had caught the bug; I was hooked.
I still have those desperate scribbles; it was painful and embarrassing to re-read them when I got home. They’re so bad, full of all the mistakes a novice writer makes. Let’s just say they are better left at the bottom of the cupboard. But I could see a story developing. Even better, it wasn’t my story; it was the product of my imagination. Fiction. Much easier to deal with than real life, and I can change the outcome to suit.
Since that holiday, I have taken myself off on occasional retreats and residential writing courses and would definitely say I’d benefitted from these periods away from the daily routine. It’s like looking at life from a different angle; you see things you hadn’t noticed before. The enforced absence from the daily grind gives me a new perspective on lots of things and I find I’m much more productive as a result.
I hadn’t realised there was so much junk in my head that needed to get out and without that week away with nothing but my own company, who knows if it might still be in there?
Last week we attended a concert of classical music performed by the South East London Orchestra. We heard some stirring Mendelssohn, a very interesting piece by Fung Lam and Dvorak’s crowd pleaser, the New World Symphony. I get quite teary when listening to dramatic music like this and my husband squeezed my hand sympathetically as I dabbed my eyes. Afterwards he commented that the Dvorak had obviously gotten to me. No, I said, the tears sprang into my eyes while the orchestra was tuning up. Sadly it seems mine is a purely Pavlovian response to the ‘A’ note the musicians tune their instruments to, and little to do with the music itself, beautiful though it was. Continue reading
We’re all under time constraints these days – work, partners, kids, parents, exercise, social media; the list goes on – so it pays to be flexible in our approach to how we allocate the precious minutes we do have and grab writing opportunities whenever and wherever they arise. Here’s a short list of time consuming activities that I’ve had a rethink about and turned to my advantage. Continue reading
We had quite a heated debate at the writing group this week. The discussion was about a patently unreal scene in a piece of fiction. This wasn’t a story about another dimension or some magical kingdom where the usual rules don’t apply; the scene was set in the real world, but so unrealistic as to be absurd. The writer maintained that it’s fiction, so it doesn’t need to be realistic.
But does it?
I’ve just caught up with the twenty first century and bought a Kindle. It’s on the kitchen table looking very smart in its zebra-patterned coat, but I haven’t managed to download anything yet.
But I don’t want to get into a debate about electronic v paper. There’s room for both. No one complained that typewriters, then word processors, PCs and laptops would signal the end of hand writing, or that ballpoint pens would mean the end of ink. Though I remember arguments about how the humble biro was ruining the nation’s handwriting, when I was at school.
No, I want talk about the reasons for reading, not the delivery system. Continue reading