I don’t want to do my homework, Miss.

It’s been a while since I posted anything on this blog.  I’ve been so busy having a nice time that sitting at the keyboard has drifted down my list of priorities.  Now I feel I should get back into a sensible routine, but I’m finding it hard to convince my inner child that it’s time to settle down and do some work.  It feels like that first week back at primary school after the long break when you have to write “What I Did On My Holidays” by Kim A Howard aged 56 and a bit.  I promise, I won’t give you a blow-by-blow account of what I’ve been doing, even though it’s been very exciting.  I’ll just show you a few pictures, share a couple of highlights and promise to do better try harder from now on.

Book CoverThings started with the thrilling news that I had won a Twitter give-away.  When my parcel arrived, I don’t know what made me more excited – getting a book (for free) by a debut writer or getting an envelope with an honest to goodness Chicken House label on the front!  The book won.  Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley is now tottering on the top of my To Be Read heap in the bedroom.  The envelope went into the rubbish.

Winchester Writers Festival was the first big event.  I spent two days as a student host, looking after an agent, an author and a digital whizz.  On the third day I was a fully fledged delegate, working on plotting stories with the wonderful Sarah Mussi, and I really didn’t feel the day was long enough.  It would have been great to have another hour or so to go into everything in a little more depth, but I’m not complaining.  She was extraordinarily generous with the documentation she gave us and with her offers of support afterwards.  There has been a flurry of tweets and emails over the last few weeks between those of us in her group – responding to them is another thing on my ever-growing ‘to do’ list.

In a quiet moment at the Festival I was browsing the internet and found this website.  I spent quite a lot of that day showing this page to anyone who would take a look.   On 30th July 1952, at 21.20, in a programme entitled Community Theatre, is a performance of The Deluge by the Southampton Student players.  Run your eyes down the cast list and you will find Japhet, played by Patrick Garland (actor, writer, director of Chichester Festival Theatre, etc).  Now look at the line underneath.  His Wife is played by Margaret Mansbridge – that’s my mum!  I can’t tell you how excited and proud seeing her name in print made me. The internet is wonderful at preserving old records like this for future generations.

NYC rooftop viewNext stop – New York City.  Who knew you could fit so much into seven days?  We saw two concerts, two Broadway shows, went on a half-day cruise, walked the Brooklyn Bridge, watched part of the Pride parade, visited the 9/11 memorial garden and museum, went to the top of One World Trade Centre, ate, drank, shopped… and, yes, I did come back to England with more books in my case than on the outward flight.  We had an amazing time – it would take another post or two to tell of all the joyous happenings so I won’t say more here.  Just let me know if you want details.

We flew back overnight, leaving NY on Thursday evening and arriving at Heathrow at 8.00 on Friday morning, so we were more than a little jet-lagged when the alarm went off at 7.00 on Saturday.  We had a train to catch!  We missed it by about 90 seconds and had to wait for the next one.  It was quite pleasant just sitting on a bench on the platform for half an hour and gave us chance to build up our energy reserves for the day at Wimbledon.  We had tickets for Centre Court and were nine rows from the back, up on the fifth floor – a long way from the nearest Pimms seller.  We watched three brilliant matches and didn’t fall asleep once.  I won’t give you a point-by-point account of the tennis – that’s what the iPlayer is for!.

Sunday was a day for laundry, lunch and lounging around on the sofa and it seemed like no time at all before we were back into the working week, added to which I went to two different crit groups on Tuesday evening with my current favourite work-in-progress.

Three book coversFive Book CoversAnd, of course, I’ve been reading and listening to stories.

Sunday Snapshot and a Confession

Three books and a magazineIf you just look at the pictures, it doesn’t seem that I have done much reading this week, but that’s not the case.  I have finished two cracking YA novels, a beautiful version of a traditional tale, an early reader and a magazine about writing.  The latter always takes me off onto researches and explorations inspired by the articles and news features.  That takes up a lot of time!  I’ve also been reading profiles of people who were speaking at Wonderlands, a symposium organised by the Sussex Centre for Folklore, Fairy Tales and Fantasy that I attended this weekend.  I shall post more about that later in the week.

This week I have done something I thought I would never do.  I have given myself permission NOT to finish every book I start.  It has always been a matter of pride that, no matter how dull, annoying or frustrating, I always plough through to the very end.  There have only been one or two exceptions over the last fifty years.  At the moment, the books in my TBR heap would reach the bedroom ceiling twice over if they were gathered into one place.  The books I’m reading for work still get the full treatment, as do most of the books I’m reading for college.  However, if it’s a book that I’ve picked up just because it might be useful, or I liked the sound of the blurb, or it’s had a lot of attention on social media – the rules have changed.  Those books get thirty pages or so to grab my attention.  If by that stage I’m not looking forward to my next opportunity to read a chapter or two, I can choose whether or not to persevere.  As someone pointed out, the early pages of most books have received a disproportionate amount of attention from writers, agents and editors.  That being the case, how likely is it that my reading experience will improve as the book progresses?

Over the last seven days I have started and abandoned two books and returned a third to the library as it was a sequel to one of those two.  I won’t name the books or the authors – it is, after all, just my opinion and it would be unfair of me to cast aspersions on something I didn’t finish.  After all, it could be that my head was just not in the right place to read those stories on that day.  I have to say – seeing my TBR heap shrink as a result is strangely liberating.  Every time I put an unread book in the library returns bag it makes me giggle like a naughty little girl.

Book CoverNot reading books I didn’t enjoy gave me space to read books that I really did.  East of the Sun, West of the Moon is Jackie Morris’s beautifully illustrated adaptation of a traditional story.  I was going to say it had been a long time since I read the original, but I’m sure you know what I mean.  I haven’t read any other versions of this story for a while so I can’t remember how they end.  I think Ms Morris got it just right.  The girl grew up and changed during her travels and accepted that she was not the same person who had fallen in love with the bear/prince.  Each of the illustrations is a little jewel and I was very sad to give it back to Hampshire libraries.

Vortex by S J Kincaid is the sequel to Insignia. This series has children with processors implanted in their brains competing in games in preparation to defend the world against enemies from beyond.  In reality they are engaged in a constant battle between the mega-rich corporations who control the wealth of the world.  It is full of technology, intrigue, action, politics and teenage friendships and I think I might buy them for my nephew for his 14th birthday – if he doesn’t have them already.

Before July last year I knew nothing about Rainbow Rowell.  Then I went to YALC and saw the rapturous attention she received from her many fans.  I’d been seeing a lot of chatter about her book Eleanor & Park on social media so I decided to read it.  I fell instantly in love with the characters, the story and her writing.  It’s taken me nine months to move another of her books up my reading heap – and it was worth the wait.  Fangirl could, at first glance, be just another story about twin sisters going to University, leaving their bipolar father home alone.  The mother who abandoned them tries to build bridges, there are new friendships, parties, boys and worries over studies.  But this story was written by a master (sorry, mistress) of her craft and has the added bonus of a sub-story; a piece of fanfiction written by the protagonist, Cath.  It was one of those stories that made me sad when the book was over, but happy because I was certain the characters were still carrying on their lives without my watching them.  The library catalogue has two more of her titles listed, but I am being very brave and not placing a reservation at the moment.  Anyone want to take bets on how long I can hold out?

 

Where are our manners?

It’s now nearly two weeks since we launched Litmus 2015 and I am still bubbly with happiness at seeing my name in print. Celebrating our achievements with colleagues, family and friends and strutting our stuff in front of guests from the publishing industry was thrilling – and the cake tasted as delicious as it was beautiful.

It may be time to shove the rainbows and glitter out of my head and get back to the black and white business of writing. I have three works in process, two with deadlines attached and I’m looking forward to finally finishing a full book of story rather than just an assignment’s worth. Happy, happy!

Litmus 2015

A copy of Litmus 2015 next to the celebration cakeThe Litmus 2015 launch party was on Tuesday night.  Today is Sunday and we have yet to tell you anything about it.  Please accept our apologies.  It’s not that we didn’t want to share, we’ve just been a bit busy.  We’ve been feeding the hungry Twitter bird, sending thank you emails and continuing with the business of obtaining our masters degrees.  OK, most of the time we’ve been sat rocking in a corner, gently stroking the shiny cover of our very own copies of Litmus 2015; turning the pages to make sure our names are still in the table of contents, our stories in the body of the book and our bios on the back pages.

A group shot of people at the Litmus 2015 launch partySorry, we’re still not telling you anything about the launch, and we should.  It was a wonderful evening.  The room was full of students (aka, Litmus 2015 authors), literary agents, editors, lecturers, journalists, bloggers, family, friends and…

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The end is nigh

Rebecca has done such a great job of summing up all the hard work that has gone into preparing Litmus 2015 for publication and of the doubt so many of us carry about our own abilities as writers. The launch on Tuesday evening marks not just the end of another module but also our own personal successes. Hopefully seeing our names in print will give us all that boost to our confidence we all need. Good luck, everyone

Litmus 2015

Book CoverIf you have been following this blog for a while, or can see the counter on the right of this page, you will know that it is only a few short days until our publication is released to the wide world on May 12th. This has been a long time coming for all involved but, I can personally say, I’m delighted it’s finally here.

We have been planning the Litmus 2015 anthology since January, carefully selecting which piece of writing we think best represents us as writers, refining the details, editing and reading in class, and finally pressing that send button a few short weeks ago. Four months to achieve that doesn’t seem like a long time, but the planning and blogging and scheduling will all be over in a matter of days.

And then what are each of us left with? A publication which we have individually contributed to…

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Litmus Launch and why Writers are like Hummingbirds

It is so lovely to see that I am not the only person to be getting excited about the Litmus launch. Thanks for the lovely article, Kath.

Litmus 2015

Book Cover
As well as promoting our book, the Litmus launch is a celebration of the end of the taught component of our MAs in Creative & Critical Writing and Writing for Children at the University of Winchester. It is the end of a very intense creative experience. A time for goodbyes and good lucks and thank yous. Of course, there will be graduation but that won’t be until next October, or even 2017 for some part-time students, so the 12 May will be our last communal hurrah.

I’m really looking forward to reading Litmus 2015; it promises to be an eclectic mix from a talented group of writers. People have worked really hard on this project; promoting, editing, organising and galvanising.

The hummingbird cover is beautiful and appropriate. Hummingbirds are relentless, tireless and always seeking nectar. We’ve learnt on our final module, in order to be successful, to find agents or to…

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Another Sunday Snapshot

Magazines and booksFor someone who writes middle grade fiction and reads more children’s books than anything else, this week’s pool may come as a bit of a surprise.  At first glance there’s not a lot of ‘happy’ in this heap and certainly nothing for younger children.

I was really pleased to get three issues of Writing Magazine from the library.  They get it in every month and it is available to borrow but, as there is a Creative Writing group that meets in the library, the magazines are in high demand.  You can’t reserve magazines, so it’s a case of first come, first served.  It’s taken me until this week to get hold of the February, March and April editions.  I’m really chuffed to have got hold of the April copy so quickly.  I’m loathe to buy a subscription for something I can get for free but, by the time I see them, the competition deadlines have often passed.  Perhaps I could suggest it as a birthday present?

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? by Henry Farrell is the story on which the famous film starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford was based.  I kept hearing their voices in the dialogue, with occasional hints of Bette Midler.  It was creepy and atmospheric but I don’t know if I would had enjoyed it as much without the voices in my head.

I read Minty by Christina Banach for one of the book groups I’m a member of.  The premise was intriguing and the story had some really interesting themes and ideas – the death of a twin, what happens after death, an obsession with Roman history and mythology.  Unfortunately, I didn’t feel the structure of the book was quite right and so the story suffered.  I needed to know more about the twins and the Roman stuff at the beginning of the story, and I could have done with a lot less middle – but that’s probably just me.

The biggest surprise for me was Watchers by Dean Koontz.  This had been recommended by someone at our Sci-Fi book group, so I put in a request at the library.  I was a bit put off when I saw the spine label was for horror – not something I generally enjoy (although I do read Stephen King).  I ABSOLUTELY LOVE this book.  I’m adding it to my birthday wish list so I might be able to have my own copy and stroke it at regular intervals.  Yes, there are some very sad and lonely people; yes, there are murders; yes, there is a monstrous creature; yes, it gets very tense.  But there is love and friendship and happiness and hope and a heroic dog.  It’s the sort of book I want to go back and read again, especially the afterword by the author.  He sounds like a really decent bloke who I might like to share a beer with.