This blog and details of the group are moving! You may have noticed updates are few and far between on this one and it’s mainly as I’m struggling to maintain it. So I’m moving it to my book blog: Books from Basford. This blog covers book reviews, scrawls about writing, and tools I’ve been using for writing. Feel free to join me there.
March’s meeting was a bumper critiquing session – of our tea stories, of Victoria’s gun story and of The Hours. The tea stories are nearly there – just a few edits from Chris and Nick and we’re ready to talk publication and distribution so bring all ideas and abilities to the next meeting and we can get this baby on the road. So to speak.
The next meeting is on 9 April, 7pm, Lee Rosy’s Tea Room, Broad Street, Nottingham. Your homework is to have a good look through the Seed Packets that I sent round a few weeks ago and to bring your thoughts about the plot vs premise one (and possibly copies of your three favourite books if you’ve got them easily to hand) (that’s favourite books, not ones you think will make you look good. Thought somehow I doubt we’re all secretly reading The Da Vinci Code…) for us to talk about and then review for the blog. If you happen to be a new person hoping to come long, please leave a comment below and I can email you the seed packets OR just think about your three favourite novels and decide what it is that you like about them.
So the group’s homework this month caused us some trouble. We’d been looking at Writing Maps for a source of inspiration and I’d brought along the character map this time. (The previous month’s homework had used the My Writing Life map which had resulted in several stories that could all have been set in the same tropical hotel – weird.) We picked the challenge ‘Sit with your character on a park bench and talk about love’. The idea is to use a character that you’ve found for a piece of work – a novel, short story or whatever – and use the exercises to delve deeper and get to know that person. One of us actually did this and found it hard, partly because of that thing that makes your characters an extension of yourself. How much will you actually discuss with them. Another group member went the other way and told a rather sweet story about two characters, one strangely silent, in the park and a monologue about love. It’s only at the end she revealed the other character was a Labrador. For my story, I wasn’t ready to use my existing character, Valerie. So I invented a scenario based on some work I’d done in the day job about a children’s bereavement charity and turned it into a stand alone story. Here’s my effort:
We usually came to the park, the two of us. It had become a regular trip, while his aunt took her daughter to dance lessons.
“He’ll just be bored,” Jo, his aunt and my friend, had said, “and it gives him a chance to talk to someone new, someone who isn’t family. Are you sure you don’t mind?”
“I’d like to help,” I said. “And give you a hand. He’s a nice kid.”
We’d come to the park the first time, I’d brought a football with me in case Alex had wanted a kickabout. He hadn’t. We watched the ducks and the people, casual, no pressure. I left my own daughter with her dad, wanting Alex to feel like this was his time.
“I want to spend more time with him,” Jo had said to me when I first ventured to take him out. “I talk a bit at bedtime but you know what it’s like the rest of the time here – work, school, Brownies, golf, zumba, football…” she looked a bit despairing. I knew she’d been happy to take her sister’s son in after Jessica died but to go from being an only son to competing with your cousins for affection and time at the same time as dealing with the death of your mum, well, it would be hard on anyone wouldn’t it? And he was only ten. Jo couldn’t put everyone else’s life on hold while she sorted him out. So I stepped in. It was only six weeks since Jessica had died. He’d been quiet and polite. Hardly said anything. It was understandable. There was a lot on his mind.
This was our third trip out. He was getting used to me. Today we had an ice cream from the van and sat on a bench licking. I decided not to say anything. He sat and stared at the pond, thinking hard. Eventually he raised his head and spoke.
“The nurses said she was glad to die,” he said. “One nurse. She said it was a blessing that it was over.” He spoke quietly, but the pain was written all over his face. He must have been living with this ever since.
“Do you think that’s true?” he asked. He turned to me. I couldn’t bullshit him. There was no comforting platitudes that would work here. Only the truth.
“No, I don’t,” I said. I sat for a moment. How best to explain this?
“I think the nurse said that because your mum would have been in pain near the end and that this was the only way the pain would end. I think she meant it to be comforting – you wouldn’t want your mum to be constantly in pain would you?” He shook his head but waited for me to go on.
“I don’t think she wanted to die. If it was me, I know I wouldn’t. She wouldn’t ever have wanted to leave you.” We were sitting, both very still, only our hair moving with the breeze.
“Since I became a mum I’ve been very aware that at some point I will die. You read all these articles and books and they tell you how you can make sure your baby is looked after, that you worry about the baby dying but no one ever tells you that you look at your own death in a different way too. I don’t ever want to die and leave my baby behind. I don’t want to miss anything about her life. I think that’s what your mum felt too. She didn’t want to leave you, to miss seeing you grow up.”
He sat with his head down, staring at the grass. His ice cream cone hung from his hand.
“If it was me, I’d be furious. I bet she lay in her hospital bed raging against the disease, against the doctors, against the drugs, screwing up all her energy in hating the illness that was going to take her away from you. I think she might have been glad to get past the illness, to get past the pain and the inconvenience and the fear but I know she’d never be glad to die and to be away from you. I think she was furious about that. I know I would be. It’s so fucking unfair.”
A passing older couple looked at me sharply for swearing in front of a child. I stared back. This was one occasion where I felt it was appropriate. I looked back at Alex. He was crying.
“Oh sweetheart,” I said and took him in my arms. He sobbed for a long time and all I could do was hold him.
Eventually he pulled away, snot and tears mixing in a gloop that stuck to my coat.
“Sorry,” he said and tried to brush it off before realising that might look odd. He pulled his hand away quickly.
“It’s ok.” He nodded.
I picked up our discarded cone pieces that had fallen to the floor. Once I’d placed them in a bin I looked at him.
“Race you to that tree,” I said. He smiled. A bit of pounding exercise should be just the thing. We went.
Where do you write? When do you write? Why are these always the most interesting questions to ask of a writer? Do you have a room of your own, as Virginia Woolf put it? I don’t. I’d love one. I write best on trains, so my ideal room would be a converted carriage or a shed made out to look like a train. Perhaps with some film of rolling countryside outside. And on a track to make the noises. OK, maybe I’m taking it too far.
But seriously, I’m typing this at the dining room table with a pile of folders and notebooks to one side. I don’t have anywhere to store them in order and, as much as I like to create in disarray, this way leads to disaster. Just one lost page, a notebook ripped by sticky little fingers, one bent USB stick… Forget a room, I’d kill for just a desk.
Making time to write is one of the most common blog posts on those writing top tips sites. Making time, giving it the same attention and care as you give your family and paid work. My time is usually in the evenings after I’m home from work with my daughter in bed. But I worry. I’m tired, you see. I make myself sit down, there’s no shirking, but the quality is an issue.
As I have a serious writing project now with deadlines and the like, this is something I’m suddenly concerned about. It’s one thing churning out stuff for competitions, and taking a long time to write a novel of my own but now I’m part of a team. I don’t want to let anyone down. What if I’m not good enough?
I think the doubt is normal. And the pieces I’ve submitted for the application process were all written during periods of tiredness and stress. They passed. And yet.
I need to be creative. A routine is good but I think once in a while I need to do something different to make sure I’m writing as fresh as possible. A break from work in the middle of the day? Me, a coffee, an art gallery and a notebook? It’s possible. Can I engineer meetings in towns where I need to take the train?
I’d be interested in what you think. How do you get round this?
I’ve had a stern tweet pointing out that the site I’ve been linking to in tweets is not the same as this one, which features in the Twitter profile. This is because I have been tweeting the mailout to subscribers rather than updating this blog. Out of sheer laziness and incompetence. So I apologise for the confusion and I resolve to do better in the future.
The next meeting of the writing group is on Wednesday 12 June at 7pm in Rosy’s as usual. Since we didn’t make the last group, the homework for this month is the same as before:
Sit on a park bench with a character and talk about love. In 500-1,000 words please. Thanks!
What’s the point of running a writing group and doing their blog if you can’t use it for a bit of the above once in a while eh?
I thought I’d tell you about my new writing project. It’s a collaborative novel. You may have head of these in the past: sometimes they’re husband and wife teams – Sjowall and Wahloo’s Martin Beck series, Nikki French – and other times they’re more of a collective – like the Wu Ming team. This is a collective. It’s called Ten to One so you may be able to guess there are ten of us.
There are more details at the website so I won’t repeat them here. What I will do is tell you about my involvement so far.
At the Nottingham Festival of Words this February I went to a workshop about collaborative writing. I’d never done it before but decided that I should try something new as an experiment – it’s what workshops are for right? You can read my review of the workshop for Left Lion here but in short, it was a fun experience and I decided to try more. The workshop was run by Pigeon Park Press who were advertising for people to apply to Ten to One. I did.
I sent in two samples of writing and an application form and was whittled down to a shortlist of 20 writers (from 65, I think, applicants). From there we started to work on a plotline that would allow ten characters to interact and an appropriate setting before we worked on our own characters. It’s been one long shared Dropbox folder at times and this is just the beginning.
The final list were chosen from their character sketches, a piece we’d each written with our character and someone else’s, and how best each character fitted into the story. And now we’re down to the ten, prepping and thinking about what happens next.
Writing proper starts on 24 June. Until then, I’m putting together some character sketches, thanks in part to Write Around Town’s character map (check them out here) and emailing other writers to discuss how we interact.
All this activity has, however, planted all kinds of seeds in my head about other characters and stories I don’t possibly have time to write, so I’m scribbling down everything for future use. Notebooks everywhere.
February saw us desperately trying to make sense of my notes from the Festival of Words and eventually giving up while also earwigging a conversation on the next table. A first date – we can only wonder how it turned out. I can’t imagine she was too impressed by his cardigan though. The geek look was not for him. (puts claws away, resumes)
And excitingly we welcomed a new member who bravely approached us mid-session. If anyone has any ideas about how people who are new can find us (beyond the felt burger0 please do let me know. So welcome to Chris and let’s hope we didn’t scare him off too much. Please come again!
The exercise we chose managed to divide the group neatly into people who wrote charming and touching stories about lost love and those of us who wrote grisly stories about hacking your wife’s head off.
Anyway, we decided on a date for next month and bravely went ahead with some homework. So, here it is:
Wednesday 13 March at 7pm in Lee Rosy’s (upstairs, not in the basement) with a felt hamburger on the table until we think of something better.
Your homework: to write a story, of up to 1,000 words (but we’re happy to have much shorter, don’t panic) that ends with these words. “Thanks for marrying me. Two words always.”
The homework is a lesson to all of us in final lines of a novel as the book we chose this from had a terrible closing line and this is the last 2 sentences of the acknowledgements. Much more interesting.
Also, what I’ll do is send out an email a few days before the group and it would be just splendid if you could then send your story round to all of us so that we get a chance to read it before the group.
See you next month!