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Slog through Snow, Blog into Spring.

This time last week it snowed.  Snow can be a big problem for elderly isolated people and stranded motorists but I defy anyone, when they open the curtains on the first morning after snow has fallen, not to gasp with wonder at the purity and beauty of the white blanket and the soft blotting out of normal sounds as if the volume of the world has been turned down. Magical!  Roald Dahl wrote in one of his final books, ‘The Minpins’, published posthumously : “Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”  I celebrate other marvellous things in my life at this time – books, snowdrops, chocolate, poetry, wine and a loving man.

Whilst trawling back through my archives in this blog, I realise that my first post was in November 2008 – so I’ve been writing blogs about every other month for over ten years.  What was I up to at that time?  It seems that I was doing book signings for my collection of short stories called ‘Madness Lies and Other Stories’ which had been published in the summer. It was my first book and it took a couple of years to create the stories, so clearly I have been writing fiction for at least twelve years.  Though for much of my life I’ve been scribbling stories,  doing magazine articles, writing letters and keeping diaries.

So what am I doing now? My fourth book, ‘Dear Magpies’ is completely finished after many edits, which took over a year because I work in the property business. (I have to find time for creativity in between dealing with leaking roofs and blocked drains.) The novel, which is a story about a woman with a tragic past searching for her lost grandchildren, has been sent out to a number of publishers and agents, who take forever to respond – if at all. It is a waiting game, full of hope and disappointment, but I will get it published – because it’s good. Various editors and friends of mine have read it and tell me so.

Yesterday’s weather was dire – poor visibility, depressing rain and a chill wind.  But today the sun is shining – and my spirits lift. How simple and irrational humans are! With our elevated intellect that lifts us above instinctual animals and mere plants we wilt in the cold and dark but become optimistic and energised in the sunlight.  Creative talents, buried in the winter gloom, are beginning to stir and send up green shoots through the damp grass. Nature stirs. The urge to write is rising, inspiration lifts up her head, ideas sprout, words will uncurl. As Robert Frost says in his poem ‘Prayer in Spring’, we are “in the springing of the year.”


	

Role Reversal

A year ago I retired from a long-term part-time job, which gave me plenty of time for writing. I intended to transform my life and re-brand myself as a full-time professional writer.  So why have I written so little and had no time to edit my fourth book, the first draft of which was completed over six months ago?  Much essential PEP (pruning, editing, polishing) is still to be done.  The reason for the delay is that during the summer there’s been a significant change in my role and occupation.

After a working life of several decades, and some years later than normal people, my DBH (dearly beloved husband) is to take AIR (active inspirational retirement).  The DBH has decided to ‘boot himself upstairs’ and become Non-Executive Chairman (NEC) of the family business, whilst I have been promoted to the position of New Executive Director (NED). Board meetings will no longer be held in our bathroom at 0630 every weekday morning, but will now happen on 29th February.  AGM’s will become DGM’s (Decadal General Meetings). Junior directors are invited to be present but discouraged from participation. The NED knows that discussions with the NEC about business will be limited to the hours of 1045-1115 and this only on the third Wednesday of each month.

This means that the POL (pattern of life) had changed here at home in Dorset.  We endeavour to be more organised and yet more relaxed.  To clarify how this is achieved, one asks:  what does the DBH mean by ‘active’ retirement?  This DOS (daily operational schedule) will give you some idea:

0630-0730 The NED gets up, does household tasks, eats breakfast and is at her desk by 0800.

0830-1000 The NEC wakes up, listens to Radio 4, drinks tea, reads, rises, showers, and descends.

1010 The NEC has his breakfast, reads the paper, and prepares for the day.  At 1120, he goes outside to the rear lawn to practice his putting with the aim of improving his handicap at clockwork golf. The cats, Oscar and Ella, (O&E) are banished from the rear garden at this time as they have a habit of racing after his golf ball and batting it away from the hole.  Family and friends (F&F) are allowed to observe but not permitted to make comments. (If weather is inclement, the DBH practices snooker in the games room, to improve his chance of winning against his son).

1130 NED has finished with responding to the day’s batch of emails and opens the post, including a letter from NAS (the Non-Abbreviation Society), which informs her that she and DBH have been expelled from membership. This causes her no regret and she moves on to deal with more significant matters.

1315 DBH prepares his own lunch, pours himself a single glass of wine and at 1330 commences eating.

1333 approx. NED dashes in from the office, throws some food on a plate, wolfs it down and returns to work at 1400.

1430-1530 The DBH has his PLD (post lunch doze) in situ (in his kitchen chair) or, if fine, outside on the swing chair, during which time birds are forbidden to cheep. Guests and Grandchildren (G&G) are requested to keep silent during PLD.

1545-1715 Three times a week, the NEC works out on the rower, jogger and bike at his Weight Reduction Programme (WRP). On other days he takes a hike round the land. The NED is exempted from this activity but any G&G are encouraged to accompany him. On Saturdays this is obligatory.

1845-1930 The NED metamorphoses into Loving & Sympathetic Spouse (LASS) and prepares dinner. 1900 The NEC now becomes Amazingly Genial Husband (AGH) and pours drinks for her and F&F.  Important: White wine must be no more than 12˚ in temperature and no less than 13% in alcoholic content.  LASS frantically tries to serve dinner on time.

1930-2130 Dinner.  Red wine, which was opened at 1800 to allow it to breathe, is served by AGH.

2140 AGH retires to sofa in Monks Room for PPN (post prandial nap) which may involve sleeping in front of the TV, when O&E are discouraged from jumping onto his lap and flexing their claws into his thigh.

2150-2230 LASS retires to bed, sliding swiftly into sleep.

Anytime from 23.10 until 0140 AGH wakes and goes into PAD mode (perambulation around drive) where, unobserved (except by nocturnal O&E), he muses on life, gazes at stars and hugs trees. Sometimes owls hoot. AGH then quietly locks house and goes upstairs to bed without disturbing sleeping LASS, G&G and F&F.

It is important to remember that timings are rigidly adhered to. The ROOL (rhythm of our life) must be carefully preserved. We have shared this schedule with F&F so that when they come and visit, they will be able to slot in snugly with the new arrangements. My plan to become a full-time DPW (dedicated professional writer) has been placed on hold.  But I live in hope.

 

PEP Talk

It’s been over 4 weeks since I finished my book.  I felt elated even though I knew it was only the first draft.  After 10 months and some 95,000 words, I needed a break from it, and decided not to look at the book for at least a month. The plan was that I would come back refreshed and be more clear headed and prepared for the ‘PEP’ work. PEP = Pruning, Editing, Polishing.  As all writers know this can be a long procedure and a lot of work.  Self-criticism is always difficult but it’s essential. But first I needed some relaxation and time away from my study. Needless to say, I became involved in other work, which has been all-consuming, and I don’t feel as if I have had much respite. It’s said that a change is as good as a rest, but I’m not so sure. I like writing and I can do it at my own pace and in my own space.  I don’t take telephone calls, I ignore the untidy house and I can eat chocolate as often as I like with no one to witness my greed.  Working with others seems quite stressful by comparison. Anyhow, I must soon re-focus on “Dear Magpies” and start the edit.  This week, I went to a lunch in a New Forest Pub with other members of the Society of Women Writers and Journalists and gained interesting insights about other writers’ ways of undertaking the editing process. It’s so helpful to feel I’m not alone in finding the task so daunting. Cutting out the flab in one’s prose is vital, but it does feel like discarding weeks of work and jettisoning beguiling words that seemed so good at the time they were composed.  It has to be done and I must get down to it. Perhaps next week!

Downhill Run

You need to put words on pages to make books. It’s more about quality than quantity but you must have both. And it takes time and hard work. Right now I’m focused on writing a new novel – my fourth book.  It’s zipping along but there have been moments of despondency – and doubt that I’d ever get it done.

Cartoon 1In the early part of 2016 I did planning and research, and began to write in May.  The actual writing is always exciting but it can be daunting when you realize what a long slog it’s going to be and how much there is to do.  It was like being at the bottom of tall wooded hill, gazing upwards. So I bolstered up my confidence and commitment. I galvanized the enthusiasm and energy needed to climb to the top and get back down successfully.  Inevitably I took a few wrong paths, stumbled, was unable to see my way and lost the thread. I wrote for three months until the end of July, when I felt rather bogged down with the large cast of characters and a complex plot. Words became tangled in thickets, blocked by obstacles, and there were moments when I floundered in the quagmire of confusion. I took three months off in the summer to spend time with family and to rethink the work in progress. During the break my only achievement was finding a title: ‘Dear Magpies’.

I recommenced work with a clear head and renewed zeal in October and finished about a third of the book by the end of the year. By this time some of the clouds had cleared and I could see the top of the hill.  When 2017 arrived, I set myself the goal of getting the rest of  the book finished by 31st March. Quite some undertaking!  I should state that the end of the book is not when you scale the summit of the hill but when you get back down to the bottom on the other side. I hit the top – the halfway point – in January and that was good.  By then I had much of the story told and many words had flowed from head onto page. The horizon was visible so I had a better perspective on how I was doing.  I could now see the ground far below and it looked easy enough to find my way back down to the end of the trek and the finish. So I set off down and disappeared among the trees and pitfalls of creativity.

Finishing postsIn February I discovered I was no longer footsore. On 1st March I found myself at the wheel of a little car which gathers momentum as I head downhill.  I had a month to go and about quarter of the book to write but I’ve worked out how to resolve the various plot lines and bring everything to a conclusion which will surprise and satisfy the reader.  But the going’s still hard and at times the book can be a real pain. Some days the words gush out like water from a tap and other days writing feels like wading through treacle.  Though I still have many thousands of words to compose, the end is in sight, although sometimes I have the illusion that the finishing posts are being moved further away.  So we drive faster, me and my car.  It’s going to be glorious to accelerate through the final paragraphs and sentences. Then the screech of brakes to the final words – and a sigh of relief. The story will be told. My book will be done.

 

Winterborne Slepe

Winterborne Slepe is the name of an imaginary village in Dorset, where much of the action in my new book takes place. Whilst I was searching for an appropriate name, I drove through a small village in the eastern part of the county called Slepe. The name appealed to me, and I hope that the residents of that village don’t mind if I borrow the name, but alter it slightly.  I have also discovered that there are a number of villages and hamlets in Dorset, which are prefixed by the word Winterborne, sometimes spelled Winterbourne. So what does it mean?

A ‘bourne’ is an Anglo-Saxon word for a stream which flows from a spring.  So a ‘winter’ bourne is a stream that flows only in the winter and often dries out in the summer, leaving dry beds or stagnant pools with green marshy grass. Much of Dorset is chalk downland with clay valleys, and in the winter the porous chalk is saturated with rainfall, but in dry summers, the water table falls below the level of  a stream’s bed so it dries out. This is what happens with the water courses in many of the Winterbornes,  but not with all of them and not every year. It rather depends on how much rain there has been.

Bridge_across_a_small_chalk_stream,_Winfrith_Newburgh._I live in a village with the word ‘bourne’ incorporated into the name, but our stream is not a ‘winter’ borne, but runs the whole year round, flowing through many gardens and along the main village road.  It might be a low trickle in the height of the summer but it gathers strength in the autumn, and in the winter I am always surprised how much water hurtles down.  It occasionally floods, when there has been torrential rain.  Now, in glorious May, the stream is in docile mood, dancing past our house chortling to all  the grasses and plants along its banks.

I have been doing research for my new novel all winter and creating characters and thinking about the plot. I have been longing to start the writing process. Earlier this month with the advent of spring,  I began putting words on the page. I set the scene in Winterborne Slepe. It takes time to write a book and I probably won’t finish it before the winter comes, or perhaps not until next spring. But however long it takes me, I’m going to enjoy it because I love writing and telling a story.

And I’ve still got to dream up a title for my book!

 

Moving on to new Work

I woke up the other morning with a bunch of plot ideas in connection with my next book, a novel to be set in Dorset. In the earlier part of the year, I was doing research on the locations and working on the back history of my main characters, but I’ve only mapped out an outline of the story and need to work on this.   The new project was inevitably put on the back-burner whilst I wrestled with the editing process, corrected proofs and worked with the publishers of ‘The Lost Journey Homeward’.  Then I’ve had to get involved in the promotion of the novel, now that it’s published, and I’ve had a number of book signings and events already with quite a few coming up soon. But bubbling up from within my head, like a spring of water that won’t stay below the surface, are ideas and enthusiasm for the book I now want to write.   Get out the notebook.  I’ve another story and it’s a work in progress.

4xF#0 – what does this mean?

Today is the first Friday of September. I plan to write a Flash Fiction and post it on the first Friday of each month, starting in October. What is flash fiction, you may ask? It is sometimes known as micro-fiction and is generally a term used to describe a short story of less than 500 words. I love this pithy, pared-down form of story-telling – where every word must count and there’s no room for flab! I often try for a story in under 250 words – and I’ve heard this referred to as ‘nano- fiction’! Each story has a title and “Travelling with Rats” will be ‘4xF#1′. You will be able to read it here on Friday 4th October. So 4xF = FFFF = First Friday Flash Fiction & #1 = Number One. Got it?

Breakfast Show on Radio Solent

I have to get up really early this Saturday 26th November as I need to be at BBC Radio Solent in Southampton by 7am to read a pile of newspapers and be ready to talk live about what I find interesting in them in the Saturday Breakfast Show with Sasha Twining and others from 0810 – 0900.  This is on 96.1 FM  and online.  That sounds fun – I like spontaneity and a challenge.  The other challenge is to write a couple of witty seasonal Limericks for the Society of Women Writers and Journalists lunch in early December. I have until 1st December to submit some uproarious rhyming rubbish!

The Rest is Silence

I’ve been taking some time out from working on my new book to finish a short story.  The original idea came from a short-lived attempt by me to give up speaking for Lent! It was hilarious – I had to resort to whispering.  I got very hoarse and abandoned the foolish plan within a week.  It set me thinking that it might make an amusing story – and ‘The Rest is Silence’ was the result. I’m happy with it and may submit it to a Short Story Competition, the deadline for which is the end of this month.  And now, back to my book which makes steady if slow progress.

MS Sent Off

On 5th May I sent off the Manuscript of my novel “Fast Track” to a number of publishers that I met at the London Book Fair last month and who showed interest.  It felt a bit like sending my child off into the outside world to fend for itself.