Category Archives: Imagination

The Very Inspiring Blogger Award 2014. And Seven Confessions about Me…

Woo Hoo!!! I’ve been nominated for the Very Inspiring Blogger Award. Amazing!

As you’ve probably noticed by my introductory sentences, I’m absolutely chuffed to bits to be chosen by novelist Sandra Danby. Please click here to learn more about Sandra and about her writing and her novel, Ignoring Gravity. I’ve visited her blog many times, and in my experience, there’s always plenty there to inspire you.

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I’m inspired all the time. By the things I see, hear, touch, read in books and magazines, and watch on television. I’m inspired by countryside, and cities, and beaches, and sunsets.

Inspiration is in everything we see and do.  It's a path to something better.

Inspiration is in everything we see and do. It’s a path to something better.

I’m inspired by humour, and bravery, compassion and kindness, by dedication and tenacity, the innocence of youth and the ravages of age, as well as the beautiful and, sometimes awful, random events around us. Inspiration is everywhere, rousing and firing imagination and emotions.

But the thing I find inspires me more than anything is other people’s talent.  I’m always astounded by their abilities, what their imagination creates and melds together. It motivates me to do the same. It triggers my memories and spurs my senses. It produces a need to channel those everyday experiences and sensations into something that others can share. You know that feeling when you encounter a piece of art or theatre or writing that moves you, or makes you think about something in a different way? That’s the effect I want my writing to have on others. To produce that ‘Ah yes’ moment. ‘That’s how it is.’

So, it was a real honour to get nominated for this – that somewhere along the way, I may have stimulated or motivated someone else to write, or simply given a person hope or ideas to work with. The most encouraging aspect of creativity is that everyone can have a go, and with time and practise we all get better. There’s nothing more inspirational than that, is there?

Before I divulge any further (more disturbing) information about myself, I’ll list the rules for the award:

As a nominee, you must:

1. Thank and link to the person who nominated you.

2. List the rules and display the award.

3. Share seven facts about yourself.

4. Nominate 15 other amazing blogs and comment on their posts to let them know they have been nominated. 

5. Optional: follow the blogger who nominated you, if you don’t already do so.

 

Okay, so here’s seven facts about myself. I hope you find them interesting.

1. Though I never originally had a desire to get married or be a mother, I now have a husband and two daughters (which just goes to show how life can take you on unexpected journeys.)

Who are these two children and why are they with me?

Who are these two children and why are they with me?

My daughters were born six years apart, and are very different in personality and outlook, though both are very single-minded. Sometimes being in the house with the two of them can be… er… tempestuous to say the least, but on the whole, I love that their characters and interests are so diverse. The eldest goes off to university in September 2014, the idea of which has left me slightly bereft. Though I have always encouraged her to be independent, I am now considering packing all of us into her suitcase before she goes, and seeing if we can get away with living in her room – in a box under her bed.

Lucy and Rosie and parrot

I wanted the parrot…

 

2. I grew up desperately in love with musicals and old films, as well as the actors in them.

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Doris Day, Cary Grant, Irene Dunne, Gene Kelly, Marilyn Munroe, Burt Lancaster, Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacClaine, Tony Curtis, James Stewart, Jack Fonda, John Wayne, and so many others (as you can see, it’s a long list). I had childhood crushes on them all. They captured my imagination, enchanted me, and absorbed me in a different – magical – universe. (My love affair with film still exists to this day, and yes, I still get a little obsessed with the likes of James McAvoy, Ryan Reynolds and Ryan Gosling). After I’d finished watching the shows, I’d re-enact them – alone – in the living room, with a burning desire to relive the magic moments over and over. I played out the individual characters, changed the intonations of my voice (in my mind, I could be man, woman or child, though if I’m honest, I was disappointed I didn’t have the gift to change my height, or the colour and style of my hair), stamping around the sofa gesticulating wildly, and using a cushion (cringe) for the more romantic moments. Sometimes I’d record the soundtrack of the movie on my cassette recorder, and woe betide anyone who scraped a chair, opened a door, or coughed while I reproduced the programme in its auditory form. After, I’d lie on my bed, listening intently, reassimilating the experience, allowing my imagination to relive the whole theatre of the thing over and over again. I’m sure it’s this obsession with re-creation that developed my obsession with writing today.

 

3. I live in Littleborough, which is a Lancashire town on the edge of the Pennines and the border of West Yorkshire.

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As far as I am concerned, it is the wettest place in the UK, unless, of course, you decide to relocate to the middle of the North Sea. I have lived here since 2003, which is the longest I have lived in any one town since I was a child, so I can only assume I like being permanently damp. As well as my husband, and two children, I live with a very smelly, drooling and toothless, grey-faced boxer dog, Fudge, and an arrogant tabby cat, Boris, in an old converted wool mill. It is possibly the coldest house known to mankind, and in winter, I live permanently in fleece pyjamas, gillet, dressing gown, thick socks, furry slippers, scarf and hat.

wrapped-up-warm

The entire ensemble is finished off with a brown blanket and sometimes a hot-water bottle. The postman is so used to me opening the front door in my eclectic (odd) costume, that he hasn’t blinked an eye in years. In the winter months, getting out of bed and dressing is an interesting experience, and the phrase ‘BRACE YOURSELF’ often comes to mind.

 

4. I spent two years as a holiday representative for a luxury camping company in France.

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Twice a week, I used to stand up in front of twenty families and lead a welcome meeting, and yet, I never got over my fear of public speaking. Later I became a primary school teacher, which bizarrely, is a job that also involves talking in public. In fact, that’s pretty much all you do. In the classroom, I never had a problem with this. However, my view on my sudden abandonment of my glossophobia is that kids don’t judge you in the same way as adults. Plus, they like it if you act like an idiot… and I do that a lot.

 

5. My first language as a child – despite being brought up in the UK – was not English, but Polish. For three years, I’d lived as an only child in a household of Polish speakers, in a wider community of Polish speakers. During this time, not one person thought to mention that we lived in England. Or that in this country, there was another language that everyone else used on a regular basis. They also forgot to mention that I might need it to function when performing ordinary day to day tasks in public. As it happened, I went to my first day at nursery unable to speak a word of the language of the country I was born into. Also, as my mother dropped me off that morning, she forgot to mention this fact to the staff. (To be honest, I don’t think she realised. When you’re bilingual, you slip in and out of languages so easily, you don’t realise you’re doing it. But anyway…) Obviously, when she picked me up later, she was met with consternation, and a genuine fear that I was deaf. Apparently, I hadn’t responded to anything that the assistants or children said to me that day, which was worryingly a sign of hearing impairment, or perhaps a learning difficulty. Yet, surely, this misunderstanding wasn’t the consequence of my mother’s oversight, but rather, a sign of their professional incompetance? I look back now and think: how did they not realise? Surely, in their line of work, an essential quality when working with children (both English speaking and not) is an ability to MIND READ? Pffft. Shocking. You just can’t get the staff.

(By the way, my lingual abilities were with me for life. By my twenties, I’d gone from being a fluent speaker of Polish in my early childhood, to pidgin Polish in my teens, to only being able to count to 20 and say a handful of random phrases in adulthood. Shameful.)

Strangely, on the same theme, some years later – by which time I was, thankfully, a fluent English speaker – there was another concern about my ability to hear; again in an educational establishment. This time I was sent for an auditory analysis because, as was my wont, I wasn’t responding as expected in class. As it turned out, my hearing was impeccable, but my propensity to day-dream meant I faded out the presence of the class teacher on a regular basis – usually for most of the day. What can I say? I was happy in my own world! And you won’t be surprised to hear, I’m still like that now.

 

6. During my childhood, I believed I had an amazing singing voice, until my parents selfishly ruined it by buying me a cassette recorder for my ninth birthday (please see fact #2). One day, in a bedroom solo-performance extravaganza, I belted out a show tune from Cats – ‘MEMORIES’ – in the style of Barbra Streisand. I could barely contain myself once the song ended – rewinding the tape, smug in the knowledge I was going to wow audiences world wide, unable to wait for my journey of fame to begin – only to play it back and, upon hearing myself, sit there in wide-eyed shock with my mouth open. For the first time since aged three in nursery, I was silent. Let’s just say the whole experience left me mentally traumatised and disappointed. I wasn’t the singing aficionado I thought I was. To this day, though I still dream of being able to perform an aria on stage, with audiences applauding me with endless standing ovations, I would never purposely torture anyone with my singing voice. In private though, it doesn’t stop me belting out a … er… tune. Though, nowadays, I am very careful about the volumes I reach. A few years after my Babs Streisand reality-check, I was singing in the bath when there was a knock on the front door.

Girl guide serial killer

My girl guide serial killer stage

I went downstairs in my dressing gown, to answer the door to our neighbour. She asked if my mother was in, to which I answered, ‘No, sorry – she’s out.’ The neighbour looked puzzled. ‘Are you sure she’s not in?’ she said. She peered into the house, looking directly behind me, where there was nothing but an empty room. ‘I could swear I heard you both arguing.’ Arguing? Gah!

 

7. I’m horrified by my age, and have always believed that I am a female Peter Pan figure. Until recently, I truly believed that middle-age only impacts other people, never me. Even to this day, I don’t feel like a grown-up, but unfortunately, my mirror, and my aches and pains tell a different story. As a result, I feel betrayed by the world, and want to know the way back to Neverland. Anyone got the directions?

halloween

Growing up? Too scary to contemplate! DON’T DO IT!!!

 

Here are my nominated blogs:

I love novellist EL Lindley’s blog.  She writes about all things now, with humour, wisdom and insight: men, women, friendships, crushes, education, even Morrissey… Anything you want an opinion on, you’ll find it here: ellindley.weebly.com

Paul writes about his experiences with writing.  His writing itself, and his procrastination: http://misterphipps.com

Penny Shutt writes amazing poetry, and blogs about how her experiences with therapeutic writing.  http://pennyshutt.weebly.com

On A Woman’s Wisdom, you’ll find reviews of a variety of books.  http://awomanswisdom.wordpress.com

Experience Stephen Thom’s speculative and metaphysical fiction here: http://stephenthom.wordpress.com

Sonya reviews books and interviews writers: http://aloverofbooks.wordpress.com

Cheryl writes serialised fiction to which she adds intricately detailed illustrations on: http://cherylmoore.wordpress.com and here is her blog with further writing: http://cherylmoorestoriesandpoems.wordpress.com/about/

I love the humour in this blog – something I keep trying to introduce to my short story writing, but somehow my themes are persistently bleak and SERIOUS.  One day I am going to write a character in the Skinny and Single vein: http://skinnyandsingle.wordpress.com

 

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Confessions of a First Time Novellist – Part One

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Remember, remember, it’s NaNoWriMo

Yay!  It’s November.  The month when writers globally take part in NaNoWriMo.  And no, I’ve not lost my mind.  Or talking utter gibberish.

For those of you who don’t know – it’s National Novel Writing Month, where writers get their teeth into a story idea and bash out a novel in a month.  Although I’m not taking part in the challenge, I have now surpassed the mid-point of the first draft of my first novel – that’s 54,000 words to you.

In terms of writing endurance, it’s not been such a long journey – I started the first chapter on the 16th September 2013 and I’ve been writing virtually every day since.  If I keep up at this rate, I’m hoping to complete the entire first draft by the beginning of December (unless it ends up longer than I expected).  By posting this, it means I can’t back out.  It’s a challenge I’ve set myself, and you are all witness to it.

Now, you might say that, by pounding away at a keyboard every day, with no real regard to quality, my novel’s not going to be up to much.  And you’d be right.   You can be certain there’s no way I’d show anyone anything I’ve written up to now.  However, as I’ve been far more productive this time than during my first attempt at writing a novel – halting abruptly to an end at 14,000 words – I’m not in any rush to alter my method.  I still weep when I think about the energy expended on those  words – back in 2011 – for them to be simply locked away, abandoned and unread.

How hard can it be?

Looking back at my original attempt, there were a number of flaws in the methodology of my writing, which meant I was doomed from the beginning:

1.       No plotline – I was starting off without any real thought as to where I was heading.

2.       No character planning – I wasn’t thinking deeply enough about the characters in my story.  I also hadn’t considered how these things would impact events within the story, which led to confusion as I tried to untangle the jumbled mess.

3.       Too much exposition – I was constantly explaining instead of showing characters behaviours and motivations, which I was aware would lead to inevitable reader boredom.   This was because I didn’t know my characters well enough.

4.       Constantly seeking writing perfection – ie. going back to edit and re-edit instead of focusing on the story ahead.

5.       Forgetting what I’d already written – as a result, expending time and energy having to check and re-check the story.

6.       Failing to set a specific writing time – I was either constantly interrupted or found excuses not to write.  I could always ‘do it tomorrow.’

7.       Failing to set a specific writing target – if I had writer’s block that day, it gave me an excuse to stop.

8.       Getting too involved in a minor character’s story or point of view – sometimes the internal dialogue of my characters were extraneous to the plot.  I was constantly veering off at tangents, unsure of what was important (or not) to my story.

 

Practise makes… er… it better

The hit-and-miss/write it-as-it-comes method is probably why many of us, as novel writers, fail, unless we have particularly amazing memories, imagination and skill.  Some people are that lucky.  But not me.

After attempting a novel once, it took a long of energy for me to try again. In all honesty, I was disappointed with the way I handled it – I’m a perfectionist, and hate it when things aren’t right. So, basically, I gave up.  This time, however, the more pragmatic side of me knows that my first complete book is likely to be less than I want it to be.

Remember when you first wrote a short story?  It wasn’t that great, was it?  Oh alright, show off.  Yours might have been, but mine wasn’t.  I had to practise over and over to improve.  And I’m still improving now.

If I’m really lucky, my completed novel will be of a publishable standard, but it’s much more likely that it won’t be.  Is this a reason to stop?  No.  The next time I attempt to write a full length book, it will be a much improved experience, because I should have learned from my mistakes.

Not that I’m being negative – I’d love to be published.  But if I’m not, I’ll be following that age old adage… If at first you don’t succeed.

Writing a novel isn’t about half measures.  It’s about motivation, energy and commitment.

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Creative Outpourings… Or Not?

Oh, hello idea.  Welcome

You know how it is.  You’re not doing anything particularly exciting.  Maybe you’re having a shower, or watching TV?  Most likely, you’re fast asleep.  When KER-CHING!  IT happens.  An idea strikes.  If you’re lucky, it might be the full shebang – beginning, middle, end, characters, plot, imagery.  But usually, it tends to be nothing more than a scrap of information.  In my humble opinion, this doesn’t matter.  However tenuous or vague the concept is, you can be certain there’s something bigger ready to unfold from it.   All you need to do is chip away, and eventually, what might seem like a lifeless speck, flashes gloriously in the light.  You pick away at the edges, and before your eyes, the core of your idea transforms into gold.

Sahara

Sahara (Photo credit: tonynetone)

Crawling dry-mouthed through the Sahara of your imagination

It’s hard to explain why sometimes, ideas present themselves in abundance, and at the most unexpected moments.  And then, there’s the opposite effect, when your imagination is sparse and you’re desperately scratching around in the dust for things to write about.  Most likely, this occurs when you’ve just completed a piece of writing, and you’re primed and eager to throw yourself into the next.   There’s fresh paper and ink in the printer, the keyboard’s ready, and you suddenly realise…  there’s nothing in your head.  Your muse, who’s not left you alone for weeks, not even allowing you to wash up or watch television, has abandoned you.  Unless you’ve already got something written down in your handy little notebook (which I advise you to do, in preparation for the many dry times – but more on that later) ideas can be cagey little devils.  For me, anyway.  I know some writers’ minds are brimming with creative spoils, but my imagination only seems to connect with certain situations, objects or feelings, and then, only when the moon is full.  I think it’s the werewolf in me.

Anyway, where was I?  Oh yes, the perplexities of why sometimes you’re showered with inspiration, and other times, it’s like tramping your way around an imaginative dessert.  To be honest, from my own perspective, I can’t give a reason.  I try to be open to the many experiences that life throws at me – picking up on fragments of conversation, interesting looking people, and peculiar situations – but my creative soul is a stubborn, elusive type, and sometimes, no amount of visual or auditory foreplay will get it in the mood.

Speeding down the open road of inspiration

But those joyful times, when your synapses are clear, your neurons are firing on all cylinders, and your brain is oiled and ready to go, it’s like driving to work when the kids are on half term – the roads are empty and the journey is done in half the time.  In fact, you can’t get your ideas down quickly enough.  If you really were driving, the police would pull you up for driving too fast, and you’d have to go on a speed awareness course.

On these bountiful occasions, your creativity’s on fire.  Metaphorically, at least.  I wouldn’t want you to get burned.  Every question you ask, every thought you process, adds another answer to the many what ifs of your storyline.  When you’re walking the dog, you think of the resolution; in the middle of the night, you build the perfect first sentence; on the train, you bring together the climax, a conflict, a key character’s motivation.  You’re so excited, that if you’re in a public place, you might have to restrain yourself from telling a complete stranger what you’re thinking.  I mean, they don’t know you.  How is the customer in the local cafe expected to understand that the buried knife you’re babbling about is nothing more than the twist in your next story?  Sometimes, it’s best to keep things to yourself.

Note it down.  Yeah, blah, blah, blah

The hardest part, I think, is getting the ideas onto paper before they evaporate.  I find that if I let a thought drift for ten minutes, the distractions of the world flood my mind, and the tide of ordinary life sweeps it away like flotsam on the waves.  I mean we’ve all done it.  (Nah, don’t kid me, I know you’ve done it too.)   You’re convinced you’ll remember it – that amazing solution to how Jemima managed to break into the office building without being picked up on CCTV.  It’s so clear, you don’t even consider that it will get lost, lodged forever between the lists of mindless chores you have to do that week.

But the time I’m most likely to resist noting down a brain-wave, is when creativity visits in the middle of the night.  Rolling over in bed, I block out the sound of my conscience nagging (in a tone of self-righteous certainty) that if I don’t write my idea down this very minute, it will disperse like the mist in the morning sun.  The trouble is, it’s three in the morning, my eyes are stuck together, it’s freezing, and Mr W is snoring away beside me.  I really don’t want to get up and sit on the toilet seat to scribble away, and I know I can’t turn on the light again.  Not after last time.  So instead, I snuggle further into the covers, assured that my thought process is so obvious, so relevant, there is no way I can forget it.

So, I thought you weren’t forgetful…

Planets of the Solar System

Planets of the Solar System (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The next day I wake – perky, vibrant, and maybe a little confident.  Confident, that is, until I come to scribble down my eureka moment from the night before.   Errr… not so clear now, is it, cleverclogs?  My brain primps up its bosoms saying, ‘You had your chance – now you’ve blown it’.   Of course, it’s not gone so far as to cast the idea away.   No.  It’s simply making me suffer.  My literary overture is still present, but now, it’s locked in the little box marked ‘ideas that weren’t written down in the middle of the night’.   I might get another chance to get my hands on it, when the situation is right.  Maybe Venus has to be in Capricorn, or the planets of the Solar System have to be in perfect alignment with the Sun.  Whatever.  I’m going to have to accept, maybe a little tearfully, that for now, and possibly forever, the idea is gone.

Inspiration in its many forms

Everyone’s creativity is influenced by different things.  I find that my imagination is often sparked into action by simple things, such as memories, or by something seen on a walk – maybe a person, or frost-covered grass.  It might be an event (whether it be on the news, or linked with someone I know, or in my own life) that preys on my mind.   Occasionally, an interesting bit of dialogue could start up a story.  But, for some reason, my best ideas seem to come directly from chatting to someone, or reading an article, about writing.  It’s almost as if the notion of writing itself is what sets my brain’s motor running.  It’s like the times when you smell a barbeque, or bacon, or chips.  Even when you’re not hungry, they whet your appetite.

When your writing turns to soup

Unfortunately, there are times when even the most prolific writer despairs.  Yes, you know what I’m talking about.  Those desolate, grey days , when your creative landscape is arid, and the Word document taunts with its blankness.  You can’t understand it – two weeks ago, you were a conveyor belt of inspiration.  Not all your ideas were workable, but they were ideas nonetheless.  Fortunately, you think to yourself, you noted most of them down – apart from that really good one that prodded you awake at three in the morning.  But, the less said about that, the better.

Your emergency plan of action is to use that… um… unusual storyline you wrote down that time, about the girl that finds herself locked in a snow-dome.  You’re pleased with yourself – nothing can stop you – and eagerly, you start on the opening.  But for some reason, the concept, the words, the journey of the characters, don’t gel.  You know you’re not getting your point across – or at least, not as well as you’d like to.  However you describe it, you think no-one will understand what you’re trying to portray.  It’s like you’re a native of Babel. You speak, but no-one understands.

On a positive note, you know from past experience that your language issues will pass.  One day.  Hopefully soon.

Keep on with the bear hunt – squelch squerch, squelch squerch

In the most difficult times, the important thing is simply to write.   Even if it’s gibberish.   If you’ve already got a storyline – keep at it.  You can always edit it afterwards.  No-one will ever know what you went through to make it seem so effortless – the cold tins of soup you ate; the three weeks that passed without a wash.  Or the five o’ clock early rises in winter, dressed in fifteen layers of clothing. Obviously, on the days where you simply can’t get into the zone, it’s useful to distract yourself with other things.  That way, you’re not obsessing about your writer’s block (you don’t want to build that block into a wall).  Cleaning, or ironing, or scrubbing the oven might help.  And, don’t roll your eyes at me.   I, too, despise these activities with a vengeance.  But it is this alone, that inevitably leads me back to the PC.  Often with unbelievably limber fingers and mind.

If the ideas still aren’t knocking at your door, you might try speedwriting.  Especially to music.  Some people swear by it, claiming the stream-of-consciousness style brings them a whole barrage of inspiration.  As an idea-processor, it doesn’t work for me, but it does send me into a therapeutic space, which is beneficial.  Also, as I see it, I’m still writing, rather than just staring at a blank screen.  And if you put on some really fast classical music, you might amaze yourself with the speed at which you can type.

(With a final note on that topic, I’d recommend staying away from dirges – especially if you’re in a real creative slump.)

Clear out your brain, then take it for a run

If you can’t get any inspiration from the outside world, try rummaging around inside yourself, and see what you come up with.   This is not as alarming as it sounds.  For instance, everyone has a past, and though you might think it’s not worth talking about, (or perhaps it’s one you don’t want to highlight to the public at large) it’s amazing what can be formed from it.  Noting down memories can lead to some great storylines, and I’ve created a few short fiction based on the most insignificant recollections (though being trapped inside a snow-dome wasn’t one of them).

If that doesn’t work, try to write outside your comfort zone.  For instance, if you only write fiction, try a poem, or writing to form.  A haiku or a sonnet.  It’s tough, but it’s a puzzle that makes your brain work hard.  Give your grey matter some exercise; make it supple.

And then, there’s the notion of blogging.   As you know, I’m pretty new to this (and the prospect of putting my thoughts on the internet terrifies me) but every type of writing is still writing.  You’re giving an opinion, writing from your personal voice, and it’s something that reflects another aspect of you.  It might not involve a character or a plot, but you are practising your art, forming ideas, and offering something to readers who might appreciate what you have to say.

English: typewriter

English: typewriter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s a hard slog, but somebody’s got to do it

Whatever you do – make space to sit and create a story; a poem; whatever.  As a writer, it’s the most important rule.  If you want to develop your ideas and your skill, you’ve got to keep at it.  Don’t be put off by the slow times.

No-one said it would be easy, and no-one can make you do it, but you.


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