Saturday, 31 August 2013

In Retreat, by Jenny Harper

I've got a study of my own.

I can work in my dining room, which is lovely – there's a door to a balcony, which leads down to my garden.

I can work in my living room, curled up on the sofa (in front of a fire in winter), and I can work in my kitchen, which is homely and cosy, and in winter the Aga keeps me warm.

So why do I write SO much better when I come away on a retreat?

I've been asking myself this question for the past couple of days. I'm here, in a gorgeous cottage, with two writing friends and our host, and although it would be easy enough to sit around and pass the day in idle chitchat, none of us do – we all do what we came here to do, which is TO WRITE!

I've been here before. I like (if at all possible) to get to the stage in my work where I'm at least three quarters through the book, with around 25,000 words to go, and where I know more or less what needs to be done. That's what's happened this time. I've spent all year struggling with this novel. The title has changed I don't know how many times. The main characters have changed. The hero has changed and the heroine has changed character. I've changed the plot. I've changed the sex of one of the support characters. In short, I've struggled. But I worked very hard in the past few weeks, in the knowledge that I was coming here, to get myself to the point where I felt I'd be able to 'knock out words' – and my goodness, that's what I've been doing. In fact, I've written 14,700 since I got here, two and a half days ago.

I know I'm finally at the point where I've got it firmly fixed in my head who is who and what it's all about, but is that the only reason I'm able to settle down and just get on with it here?

The truth is, there are a million distractions at home. There's housework to do and bills to pay, holiday arrangements to make and shopping, cooking and washing to do. There's a stream of appointments – dentists, doctors, hairdressers, physios, chiropodists. All the guff that makes up life, in fact. Here, there's none of that. I have winkled out a few precious days where it's the writing that takes priority and the distractions are few. And, most important of all, I have space and time to immerse myself completely in my story. I can live inside it, give it space to flow from my fingertips.

It's very precious time, and all of us here give grateful thanks to the special lady who has made it all possible.

Monday, 26 August 2013


We all know what word comes next in the sequence - GO! Starting what they do is easy for runners and hurdlers - they have their mark, behind which their fingers have to stay until the starting gun goes off. Jockeys and their horses have the starting frame in which they are held before all are released at the same moment. Grand prix drivers wait for the drop of the flag - or they used's a while since I've watched the start of a Grand prix - before they let their clutches out and are off from behind whichever mark it is on the grid they have been placed according to their practice times. Swimmers stand, toes gripping the edge of the pool, heads down, ears primed to hear the starting gun. But writers? What of they? Where do writers start? I'm often asked this question and I remember, once, saying - perhaps rather facetiously I now realise - 'Oh, there's a little shop in Serendipity Street in London - don't you know it? I always pop in for half a dozen ideas when I'm up in the city.' So I asked myself this question for this blog post - where do I start? And the answer is 'from all sorts of different points - even the end sometimes'. I have two stories in MY WEEKLY ANNUAL 2014, a short one and a much longer one. The longer story began when my husband and I were going through the thousands of photographs we own between us, trying to sort them, date them, name other people in them besides ourselves so that when the day comes and our children have to deal with them, they won't be standing there saying,'That's Mum and Dad but who the heck are these other peeople, and where was it?' And one particular photo caught my eye. It is of me, aged fivc or thereabouts (Mother, why didn't you put the dates on the backs of photos????)and I'm standing on the bars of a climbing frame in the children's play area of Pontin's Holiday Camp in Paignton. I wasn't on holiday because I was born in Paignton and I still live here, but my mother was a dressmaker and for pin money she used to do sewing jobs (curtains and bedlinens ripped from some wild party or other mostly) on a Saturday up at Pontins. And while she sewed, I got the run of the children's area. And in this particular photo I'm wearing a dress my mother made me from an off-cut of some material a customer bought to make a summer dress and bolero. And it was while I was looking at this photo that I remembered how, a few years later - when I was in my teens - I was forever questioning my parentage; surely I must have been adopted because I'm not like either of my parents? I wasn't adopted, but simply remembering that sewed the seeds (if you'll forgive the dressmaking analogy here)of this story, SHADOW OF DOUBT.
I've started short stories after seeing a certain dress, or a pair of shoes, or seeing a wedding party come out of a church while I've been looking out the window on the top deck of a bus. And then there was the one sparked off when a friend got herself in a right old state about turning 40......'Wait until it's your turn!' she snapped at me when I said that age was just a number, and I didn't have the heart to tell her I'd passed that milestone a few years or so back. And JUST A NUMBER became the title of my second story in MY WEEKLY ANNUAL 2014. When I started my trilogy for Choc Lit,the story hung on the thinnest of threads - what if you woke up one morning to find you had absolutely not a single family member left in the world, and what little money you had had gone too? And then, what if you made yourself a fortune....only to lose it all again, what then? Thinking that got me remembering when my father bought me a pair of pearl earrings for my birthday the year my mother was in Canada and wasn't here to buy me one. Such an unexpected gift from him - and goodness, how I'd hate to lose them, even though they aren't the real thing. So, loss of a different sort...or the fear of it. I've told you a few starting parts of my own and if you're stuck feel free to use them. You see, I'm just back from London, and while there is no Serendipity Street, the place is awash with ideas and I feel an idea or three coming on ....

Saturday, 17 August 2013

TIME by Gill Stewart

I’m going to do some serious writing once I have the time.  First I need to sort out the house and the children and catch up at work.  Oh and see my friends and walk the dogs.  And…

Which makes me realise that if I wait until I have time to write, I’ll never do it.  I need to write now, whether I have time or not.  You know what they say about asking a busy person if you want something done?  Maybe that’s the way to look at this.  The busier you are, the more chance you’ll write!
But this writing isn’t just going to happen.  What I’ve realised is that you also need discipline.
Glimpse of secret garden - a prompt for my current novel

I’ve had advice from a few writers in the past:
·         Get up an hour earlier and write then, it’s the only way
·         Take a few pages of edits to work with you and do them in your coffee or lunch break
·         As soon as the evening meal is over, shut yourself away.  This is your writing time
·         Make a special place for writing, knowing that when you’re there you’ll write
·         Don’t make a special place for writing.  Have your laptop or notebook with you at all times and use it in those snatched minutes where you aren’t doing anything else
·         Use prompts to inspire you, pictures of settings or people
·         Write from within, the stories are there, you just need to let them out.

What these made me think was a) I don’t have the energy! And b) aren’t they a bit contradictory?

Leaving the energy thing aside, I’ve decided that the contradictoriness of the advice a kind of advice in itself.  Some things work for one person, some for another.  What you need to do is find the thing that works for you.

And as I’ve said before (and I need to listen to myself):  If you’re a writer, write.

How do other people organise their time?