Tag Archives: writing

At the Threshold

31 Dec

Tonight we say farewell, 2013…and hello 2014. It’s been a funny old year, hasn’t it?

The Good

I write this sitting next to my boyfriend of 7 1/2 years as he plays Pokemon emulator on his macbook. In August we finally took the plunge and got a place together. It’s small but pretty much ideal. I am incredibly lucky to have his support in everything I do. It has been a time of transition for both of us because he has just finished his PhD (yes, he’s very brainy) and is gradually moving into the world of work…

The Bad

As of midnight tonight I will no longer be an employee of my former school, and on January 6th I start at my new one. You will probably have gathered that work has been a big black cloud for me this year, mostly because of certain outside forces determined to crush the soul out of the education system. Yes, it’s been a dark time. But there is light at the end of the tunnel – as they say.

The Future

So, a new job, and a new vision. My new year’s resolution for as long as I can remember has been to write more – but this time I feel hopeful that I will make it happen. 

Onwards!

 

 

Undiscovered Voices Longlist

14 Dec

I had almost forgotten that I’d entered the SCBWI’s Undiscovered Voices contest earlier in the year, so it was a lovely surprise to find out I’d been longlisted (under my real name – they have a no pen-names policy). The longlist comprises 27 authors and 8 illustrators chosen from over 200 entries, chosen by a rather illustrious set of judges, which you can see on the UV website linked above. If I get through to the final, my extract will be published in the annual anthology.

This just confirms to me that The Twain‘s opening kicks ass and I can’t give up on my darling WIP of Doom ™ just yet. Five more days of my current job and then I officially Change My Life – honestly cannot wait!

Hey, What’s Going On?

24 Nov

(Title of this post a naked excuse to embed this video, which is one of my ‘I need a  cheer up’ youtube classics)

It is nearly a year since I started this blog – nearly a year since I made the shortlist of the YWP – nearly a year since I felt like maybe  had a real shot at ‘being a writer‘.

I put that in inverted commas because, as everyone will tell you, ‘being a writer’ requires nothing more than sitting down in the chair and writing. Yet I struggle to do even that at the moment. Days, weeks and months slip by and the word count at the bottom of the document barely shifts. Needless to say I am not making very good progress with my goals. I carry around a big potato sack of writer’s guilt that gradually forces me lower and lower.

The main reason why I’m failing? Work. I can’t really go into it yet, but my school has been going through some monumentous upheaval, such that my 12 hour day has now ballooned to 14, plus Saturday intervention, plus Sundays of endless marking. The week easily becomes 65 hours and often close to 70. I read endless articles telling me to ‘utilise the morning’, but I can’t bring myself to get out of bed any earlier than my current 5.30. Evenings are a dead loss of reheating some three-day-old leftovers, marking, falling asleep for an hour, marking again, emptying the dishwasher and rolling my carcass into bed at half midnight.

The good news is I am making some big changes to my life, starting in January, which will give me more time and hopefully more energy to put into my writing. I spoke to a job counsellor recently (long story) and he said it was a rare thing to really know one’s vocation – and I do. My current ms, ‘The Hunt’, has a lot of potential and I can’t wait to dive back into it. Till then…I try to keep my head above water.

So, that’s what’s going on with me. How about you?

p.s. need more cheer ups? some of my perennial faves:

Lois and ClarkYou Belong to Me    Lee Adama: I’m the Baby   Happy Life Day

Not-really-a-teaser-Tuesday

12 Nov

Since September I’ve been running a new writing club at school, in a desperate attempt to meld work with some of my outside passions. Today’s session was on creating character, for which we used games from Booktrust and Language is a Virus.

From a list of items including strawberries, a diary and a chandelier, I came up with Andrea:

Andrea drummed her heels into the tarmac, pushing herself relentlessly forward. The road stretched out before her, a river of grey shimmering in the L.A. heat that had swiftly grown fierce in the two hours since dawn.

“Father, father, father,” said the rhythm of her run.

Her mind skipped like a scratched disc from the palm trees ahead of her to the letter waiting on her dressing table at home. She’d recognised the handwriting immediately.

“Father, father, father.”

Where the hell had he been all these years? Couldn’t even be bothered to let her know he was still alive? Why now?

She pushed down a rising tide of angry bile. She had no idea what had gone on. Maybe he’d been in a flea-ridden foreign jail somewhere, busted for smuggling; maybe he’d been in a bad accident and developed amnesia and…

Why hadn’t she just read the letter before going out? Now she’d have to try and force down his likely apology with her usual strawberry, avocado and goji berry smoothie. The rest of her day would be ruined: her spray tan at ten, her yoga class at two and a long, silent dinner sitting at the other end of the dining table from Sachin, under twin chandeliers. Okay, that last one wasn’t exactly something to look forward to; her father’s confession might break up the monotony of her failing marriage at the very least.

Her hair tie slipped loose and her California-blonde waves fell in wafts of apple scented shampoo around her face. She was so busy scraping it back, she didn’t notice the car until it was too late.

The students came up with some brilliant ideas including a frustrated businesswoman (with dreams of saving the world) and a girl bullied at school for being too posh. I think they like having time to just sit and write, without any pressure of grades or levels – just the freedom of a pen and a blank page.

I quite like it too.

Overcoming Hurdles

5 Aug

It’s that wonderful time of year known as The Summer Holiday (aka the only benefit of teaching aka what will make me quit if our Lord and Master takes it away). I’ve taken some time to work on writing projects, which has been wonderful. First up: another round of edits on The Twain, my YWP manuscript. Hot Key were kind enough to send me some very useful editorial notes following the competition and I’ve just finished adding their suggestions to the book.

This hasn’t been the easiest process, I’ll honest. In fact, when I looked at their three main recommendations, I was stumped.

Continue reading

Why Writing is a Lot Like Greek Dancing

3 Jun

Apart from writing, my other main hobby is dancing Greek paradosiaka, traditional folk dances, with my performance group Lyra. I started dancing when I lived in Greece and I’ve been doing it now for about three years. Originally I wanted this post just to be a flagrantly off topic one to showcase some of the dances I like, but the more I thought about it, the more I realised I could link my writing life with my dancing life:

1. It looks easier than it is

It’s always hard to describe Greek dancing to people who have never seen it. I tend to go for ‘Irish dancing meets the can-can’, but that’s hardly accurate; in fact, there are so many different styles of dance from all around Greece (and former Greek areas such as Cappadocia) that it’s impossible to find a catch-all description. Usually when I tell people I do Greek dancing every week they raise an eyebrow and say something like, ‘Oh. That’s…niche’. Then, if you show people a video or they watch a performance, they might say it looks easy…and it does – from the outside. When you factor in strage rhythms, endless variations and the necessity of perfect timing, it’s actually far from it.

Of course, if you are a writer you will be familiar with the types of conversation that follow ‘I’m writing a book’. Usually it’s ‘I’ve always wanted to write’. Like dancing, writing seems easy from the outside: think of a story, bash it out and Bob’s your uncle…a multi-million pound publishing deal will fall into your lap. The reality of publishing is a little trickier.

2. Practice makes perfect

I started dancing in Agios Stefanos just over 3 years ago, in a free class for residents of the town. The lowest level class was mainly attended by old people, who were really sweet in welcoming me to the group – although slightly confused as to why an English girl would possibly want to learn to folk dance. I’d never heard this kind of music before, but somehow I managed to learn the basic steps and even performed in a show (the story of which, starring Mystery Spyros, I will tell you later). Then, when I came home to London, I joined Lyra – and was thrown in at the deep end with dancers who have been performing for over 25 years. I was so out of my comfort zone to start with and I could have gone home and never danced again. However, I kept going. By dancing with the experts every week I have picked up so much and now I can hold my own in most dances.

Similarly, in writing, you can’t give up just because things get tough. First manuscript not quite right? Write another one. Still not ready to publish? Write another one. The more you write (and read and critique), the better you will become. There is no quick route to becoming a writer or a dancer. You must write and dance and write and dance and eventually you will be ready to perform!

3. Kefi

When we were getting ready for the dance show in Agios Stefanos, the instructor told me she had found a young man in the advanced group to be my partner – Spyros. Every week she mentioned him, but there was no sign of this guy anywhere…hence why he became known as ‘Mystery Spyros’.

Well, dress rehearsal came around and it was a blisteringly hot day in June. Being a ‘pale and interesting’ English girl, I don’t do so well in high temperatures, so I was flagging a bit by the time the dancing started. Furthermore, Mystery Spyros had finally turned up and I was feeling a bit shy about dancing as a couple with him after we’d only just met.

Spyros did not appreciate my English reserve.

“WHAT IS THIS?!” he growled. “You must look in my EYES! We are supposed to be IN LOVE! Where is your SPIRIT? Your KEFI?”

Needless to say I didn’t feel much like being ‘in love’ with Spyros after such a rude outburst. But come the performance I dug deep, summoned my kefi and danced my milk white stockings off – surprising Mystery Spyros in the process.

Although he expressed himself a little forcefully, Spyros was actually right. In order to make the performance great, I needed to put aside my reserve and bring out the kefi that would give the dance its sparkle. Writing is exactly the same. It can’t be mechanical. You have to find that inner passion, that inner joy, that makes your words sing.

4. Keeping it fresh

As  I said above, there’s a huge variety of dances from all over Greece. Island dances, like the Ikariotikos at the top of the page, are light and bouncy, whereas the Pontic (above) are stampy and scary. In a typical dance session we cover the whole range, moving from highly choreographed Cappadocian to sweet and simple kalamatiano. This is one of the best things about Greek dancing – you never get bored with one thing!

In writing, we can’t switch so easily from one type to another. But I like to keep things fresh by challenging myself to write a different sort of character, say, or using another point of view, or even switching sub-genres completely. In doing so I push myself to develop as a versatile author and usually learn something in the process.

5. Escapism

You can’t dance OR write and be worrying about something else at the same time!!!

I hope you’ve learned something about Greek dancing in this post, if not about writing 🙂 Do you have a passion for something outside writing? Does it help you understand the writing process?

A very late postscript to the YWP

30 May

I’m so late in posting this. Like, two months late. I could bore you with my school-based excuses, but suffice to say GCSEs and trying desperately to get my students their C grades (such is the dire state of education) has taken up a lot of my time.

Anyway.

What I wanted to write up was a little postscript to the Guardian Hot Key Books Young Writers Prize. You might remember that I was a finalist a little while ago, and if you have been following the competition you’ll have seen that the prizes went to the very deserving Katie Coyle and Joe Ducie. You can read their opening chapters at the Guardian website here (Katie) and here (Joe) – absolutely fab and I can’t wait to read the rest.

Kate Herrell, a fellow finalist, has written a lovely reflection on the process at her blog. I wanted to add my side of the story to that, but also to express how much this competition has changed things for me.

Continue reading

Newbie Mistakes #3: Getting the Message

17 Mar

If you grew up watching kids’/teen TV in the 80s-90s, you will be familiar with the concept of the ‘very special episode’. In these one-off episodes, the young cast would get themselves into problems with drugs, alcohol or sex, and what might normally be a light-hearted show would become serious, sombre and moral-laden. For example, in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, where the relationship between Will and Carlton was a constant riff, Will’s drug use in one episode led to Carlton going to hospital after accidentally taking some ‘pills’ from his cousin’s locker. The episode ended with a penitent Will having to own up to having the drugs in the first place, and apologising to his cousin for nearly killing him. The message is clear: DRUGS ARE BAD.

Having imbibed these messages from an early age, it’s therefore not surprising to find that lots of new writers feel like their work needs to present a moral message to the teen audience.

Continue reading

A Day in the Life

21 Feb

There are many of us teacher-writers out there – for some reason it is a popular choice. But what does the average teacher-writer day look like? Maybe a little something like this…

  • 5.45: Alarm rings. Groan. I can have five more minutes, right? Pleeease? Alright then. Five minutes later, haul carcass out of bed and pull on work clothes.
  • 6.10: Eat breakfast while catching up on twitter or reading the week-old copy of the Evening Standard on the kitchen table that I’ve already read four times.
  • 6.40: Realise I still need to make my lunch, pack my bag, find my shoes and put on some make-up…all in the next five minutes Continue reading

Teaser Tuesday ~ WIP

12 Feb

It’s weird to have a website/blog about my writing when you haven’t even read any of it yet, hmm?

Here’s a little snippet from the opening of my current Work In Progress. It’s a contemporary thriller in first person present, with a male protag – completely new territory for me! *wibble*. It’s also pretty rough around the edges at the moment. But I like the style so far and I love writing this bad boy main character!

***

In the heart of the chase, I am alive.

I’m just a few metres ahead of the cop. His breath rasps. Old man will get tired soon; I can keep running all afternoon.

I smile to myself. You’re dealing with Boy Wonder now, I think.

I glance round for Nat, but she’s already out of sight. Good girl. I need to keep his attention now, in case he wonders where the other one’s gone, so I weave between two cars and into the road, then cross to the other side. He follows, of course, red-faced but determined.

The soles of my feet kiss the pavement again and again. My lungs burn. My rucksack, holding the stash of games I swiped from the shop, slams into the base of my spine with every step I take – but I’m alight with the thrill of it all. The entrance to the Meade Estate – my home – is just round the corner. If I can get a bit more of a lead on him, I might make it in there – and he’s unlikely to follow me in alone, not with Meade’s reputation. By the time he gets back-up, I’ll be well hidden.

I put on a burst of speed and vault over a ramshackle fence into the garden at the end of the street to make a diagonal route across. I have to dodge a rusting shopping trolley and a grungy mattress lying in the middle of the lawn. South London life. Real.

Copper takes the long route, so I’m round the corner way before him. The stark blocks of the estate rise before me, finally. I skid into the main driveway. The kids are sitting out on the scabby, patchy ‘green’, probably skinning up ‘cause they just got home from school. I feel their eyes on me as I zoom past. Then, so I can take stock of the situation, I make a sharp right and take the steps up to the first level of Nat’s building.

From there I can see the entrance. As predicted, cop’s leaning on his knees, wondering if he should dare to come in unaccompanied. He lifts the radio at his shoulder and mouths something into it. I don’t think he’s gonna come after me. Haha! Boy Wonder wins again. I take a second to bask in my victory, but I know I’ve gotta get moving again before a panda car rocks up and spoils my fun.

I slide down the railing of the stairs and jog off towards the estate’s back exit. I’ll meet Nat in the corner of the park, like always. Then we can divide up the swag. I’ve got my eye on one of those sweet shoot-em-ups, the latest edition. Since I left school last year, those babies have been almost my sole occupation. That, and getting my hands on more.

I’m so caught up in my own thoughts I don’t see what’s coming towards me from my left-hand side…