Saturday, 3 December 2016

Round up of November delights

Fallen leaves are like words; each have their own story to tell
I haven't been here for a month. Sorry about that. I have been rather caught up in things. I've been writing the first draft of a novel as well as editing flash fiction and short stories. I had a new 75 word flash fiction published on Paragraph Planet in November but I didn't get round to writing here about it. The piece will now be in the archive if you'd like to read it.

I'm also doing an online course with Faber Academy entitled Read Like a Writer. We've been examining extracts of stories to see the elements authors use in their novels and now we are coming to that point of submitting our own work (a 1,000-2,000 word piece) Mine is about done. The course ends in a week's time.

Submissions slowed down after the October splurge but I have submitted three stories this month. I also took one of my stories to the writer's group I belong to. I had a query about it. As a writer it isn't always easy to take a back seat and read it differently but I did know what might be wrong with it. It was too long to get feedback on the whole thing, so I read half and emailed the total script to members later. I was amazed to find they didn't think I should change anything and the part that worried me was okay. We also discussed the age group for the piece. I didn't feel it was for adults but it wasn't children's. Someone said they thought it was Young Adult. A first for me!

Feedback is so important. That is what I'm lacking with the longer pieces of work, novels in particular. I have drafts of  many different length stories. Where to go for help is the thing. I've looked at different online community writing websites and signed up for a couple but I'm still not happy with them, Most are based in the USA and some of my work is very English. Not sure Americans will get me. So I've come to a standstill for the moment.

As for poetry I've more or less given that up. I had another rejection today. I send out less and less poetry and I write even less new poems. I honestly don't think I'm going to get published in any 'good' magazine. I've been trying a long time and now my heart isn't in it. I now write poetry for my own pleasure and may think about self-publishing at some time. People I read my poetry to love it but it obviously doesn't fit in with what small press magazines want. There comes a point when you just have to accept that. And the thing is it doesn't bother me as much as it once did. I think that says it all. It seems to be one of a few things I'm shedding this year!

I've had far more success with my fiction. I love writing stories, living in other worlds, fleshing out my characters. The need to write poetry is dwindling but I still enjoy reading it and hearing new poets read.

I had a very interesting conversation with the lady who runs the writing group. She'd doing an MA, I think, in Creative Writing and she's really struggling with experimental writing. She has to write an essay on it and she doesn't understand it. Her tutor is mad about it. She explained what this experimental writing is and I agreed. I've seen it in poetry and it leaves me cold. I don't get it. I didn't even know that stories were written this way with words missing and set out weirdly. I read for enjoyment for the plot and the characters. I don't get what this is about apart from trying to look clever. Maybe someone could explain it to me?

I have more or less decided that next year is going to be the year for learning. I have several how to books with exercises. I want time to go through them and try out some different writing, see where it leads. I also want to continue writing short stories and flash and perhaps find some way of getting feedback on one of my draft novels. That's all I will say for now because these are tentative goals for next year and I'm still thinking things through.

Monday, 7 November 2016

Reward system......oh and a published flash story

Sometimes, because I'm not a fan of housework, I set up a reward system, like if I do the ironing I can go back to reading that book, or if I clean the kitchen first I can then do some writing. It works, especially when the housework has built up!

Today it was I will clean the top of the cooker, then write. So I sprayed it with a solution you leave on for a bit and went to check my emails (that's not writing!) and saw one from Visual Verse. Yes, my flash story has been published on their site! I went to check it out and thereafter I began flitting between twitter and Facebook before I remembered the cooker top. Yes, I did go back and clean it and now I am free to write (though there is a basket of ironing staring at me so I feel another reward style thing coming on).

My story is called Marigolds (you will need to scroll down a fair bit on the home page) and this one is very close to my heart.

Have a lovely day whether it's writing or houseworking!

Monday, 31 October 2016

A dark tale for Samhain (Halloween)

Bonfires & Ale

He was a bugger of man when he was alive, full of a drink and angry words. I’d spent years dodging his fists only to have to endure his weeping apologies the next morning. No one respected him, not even his own mother. In the village he’d run up debts, verbally abused the grocer and on a good night he’d be so damned drunk he wouldn’t make it back at all. Those nights we slept sound, the boys huddled together next to me on the straw mattress.

               There was never money enough to keep hunger at bay. I took in washing to make a few extra pennies, and the boys outgrew their boots so quickly that I couldn’t afford replacements. Often they went barefoot. In winter it was any cut down material I could spare to tie round their feet to keep the cold out.

               But in June the bugger finally drank his last drink and was found slumped in a doorway. He’d gone to meet his maker. What a disappointment that must’ve been to him! Maybe the fiery furnace of hell would make him recall everything he’d put us through. I hope he stays there. But the worry hovers over me so I’ve got the boys outside building the bonfire. Make it big, I tell them.

               I’m not sure if the boys really understand what happened to their father. They’re only six and eight, though the eldest is out there earning now, running errands. And to be honest we are doing alright, thank you, since the bugger died. At least the money is all ours now the debts are paid. I sleep better, though the boys are restless. They think he might come back. I tell them no, but they also know what day it is today and we’re not the only ones building bonfires.

               Just in case, I’m going to leave an offering of ale in the barn, the one he spent more time in sleeping than actually doing anything. I had to sell the horse. Poor thing, it was a bag of bones and had no work left in it. He ran it into the ground, despite my warnings.

               I go out and check how the boys are doing. They’re running around chasing one another. Yes, you old bugger, they’re happy without you, and I intend to make sure they stay that way.

               We are a strange lot in the village. Most folk stick with old ways and who's to say they're not right about this day? Tonight all the doors will be left open and offerings will be left on window ledges for the souls of the departed. My suspicion is that they don’t damn well come. Why would they? Unless they’re in hell. They’re probably much better off where they are than here in this world where poverty and hunger stunts the growth and morning comes too soon for tired bones. I think, though I never say this to anyone, that someone walks around the village in the night and eats and drinks the offerings, probably some poor soul with no home and hardly a crust for his belly. Or maybe it’s someone playing tricks on us. Even so, just in case, I am covering my back and those of my children.

The evening is darkening. My neighbours have already lit their bonfire. Others follow and soon the sky is ablaze, the air full of heat and smoke. I take a torch to our wooden mound and the boys watch, captivated by the roaring yellow fames licking into the night. I urge them inside and to bed. I follow soon afterwards but I can’t sleep. The flames flicker shadows across the wall and then I hear it. The sound of shuffling outside. Something crashes. I’m too tired to move. But anyway logic tells me it’s my neighbours because for them this is a night of merriment, and the ale is flowing. They wait for a glimpse of their loved ones returning. Fools, I say under my breath. I’ve shut my door. He’s not welcome back here dead or alive.

The noises die down and my eyes are heavy. I can’t keep them open much longer. Just as I fall between sleep and consciousness there’s a sound of wood falling. I tell myself it’s the bonfire. The wood is settling; the sparks are crackling. And then there are heavy steps on the stairs. My heart thumps. He’s back. How the hell do you kill a dead man? I get out of bed and search for something to hit him with. Maybe his bones will break if I knock him down the stairs. The children move in their sleep, murmur, whimper. God, if you exist, couldn’t you have kept the bugger up there in the fiery furnace? What kind of God are you to let him do what he did and then let him out to haunt us all over again?

I push the extinguished candle off the tiny three legged table by the bed and raise it just as the door slams back. I stare into his face and lower the table in shock for his features are wizened and ancient, papery and ashen. His clothes are smoking, his hair singed. ‘Help me,’ he says in a broken voice, eyes black in their sockets. His skin is blistered and flaying. I scream so loudly the boys wake and begin to cry. The bugger looks at them as if he’s just remembered they exist, that he fathered them, but I’m out and past him while his attention is on them, running downstairs. I realise I am still clutching the three legged table. He is now behind me and I throw the thin wooden piece of furniture at him. It passes right through him and breaks on the stone floor. I scream again and charge out of the house to the barn where the glass of ale sits untouched on our last bale of straw. Instead of offering it to him as he approaches I turn and throw the contents over him. In a whoosh he ignites. Flames consume him and he’s become a living torch. His screams thud into the wooden posts and walls of the barn, and all I can do is stand in horror watching him writhe in agony. The heat drives me backwards. Then suddenly he disappears. I mean he’s gone. Poof! All that’s left are a few fragments of burnt cloth and ashes. I stare at the place where he’d been standing. I don’t know how long I’ve been here except I’m cold and the little ones come in bleary eyed and confused.
‘It was a bad dream,’ I tell them, enclosing them into my arms.
‘Will him come again?’ the youngest asks.
‘No.’ I reply. ‘You can sleep easy now.’ I take them back to bed and tuck them in. I hope I am right and that he will never come again. But if he does I’ll have the ale waiting.

©2016 Heather Walker

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

A day in the life of......

The how-to and ideas articles
Despite what my friends think I don't stay all day on Facebook, though the tab is up most of the time I'm writing. I like to dip in and out of social media as a break from pounding the keyboard.

My writing day can start as early at 6am and I will write until between 9am and 10.30am depending on what I'm doing that day. If I'm really disciplined I'll get straight on with the writing and not open up social media until I've done what I wanted. Some days I do get waylaid and answer emails and re-tweet stuff before I get going. It happens.

Snippets for research, interesting books, magazine follow-ups
And it's not just the writing. My day is taken up with other related stuff. I have a file where I keep things I need, and this has to be maintained and updated from time to time. In this file are articles I've cut from writing magazines - the how-to stuff, lists of literary festivals and competitions which I go through every so often. And I fill plastic wallets with snippets of books that interest me and I might buy, research, useful websites and another wallet for magazines and competitions that I'm interested in and who might like my work.

I spend time following up on these, looking at websites, seeing who they publish, read poems and
stories. Would my work fit in with what they publish? I take note of submission windows, sign up for their newsletters, maybe buy a copy of their magazine to get a better feel for them. I might hold some work back to wait for the right window. Bearing in mind that some magazines/publishers take between several weeks and several months to come back to you it can be a long process and ties up your work for that length of time, because you cannot send that piece anywhere else. It is not the done thing.

I am getting better at recycling my work. When I get a rejection I search for somewhere else to send it. I might look at the piece again and see if another edit will improve things before I re-submit.

Competitions to enter
I also spend a lot of time reading - writing mags, poetry books, stuff for research and for pure pleasure. I find I watch TV and read more as a writer now. I'm taking in how everything works. I know my strengths and am still working on the weaknesses.

Then there are the readings, festivals, workshops and courses that I indulge in from time to time and my blogs to update.

I know I am lucky because I do not have a job outside the home anymore and I work my writing around the other things I do. I am able, on some days, to work all day if I want, and I have. I don't have a set day off. I work weekends and Bank Holidays. However, I do have to get time out now and then. When I'm writing a novel the further in I get the more I identify with my characters. I begin to feel what they do. They are very real people and often their moods affect me. The darker the stuff I write the more I need a break. That's when I escape to London, take in an exhibition or just walk. I'm lucky that I have hobbies that take me out of myself, though I admit the mind is always working away at something. I play sport, I walk, I sing. I love taking photos. I enjoy art and music and of course reading. A good book takes me to someone else's world.

Even with these distractions it can still be hard to switch off completely. The other day I nearly missed my bus stop because my head was in a flash fiction idea! I stand at Waterloo station and can't remember how I get to a certain place, though I've been there before loads of times. I thought I was losing my mind one time. I had to calm down and go through it logically. Well, I hope it was just my mind being elsewhere and nothing worse!

I often wonder why it's taken me so long to realise this is what I wanted to do with my life. But actually I think I've always known. It's just that now is the right time. I have all those years of life skills and experience to fall back on, stuff that comes into my writing a lot now. I couldn't have written what I'm writing at present back then. I like to think of those years and my gathering years!

Now that looks like a cracking good book to add to research!
There is one more thing I want to say in this post. Writing is like a muscle. You have to use it. Before I wrote regularly I couldn't find ideas, especially for stories. I wondered how people managed it, you know, writing one short story after another. I'm not saying I'm overflowing with ideas but they do come now. The more you write the better you get at it. It feels natural, like a job. And now to me it is a job (unpaid as yet, but who knows!). You just go to your computer, laptop or pad of paper and write. This is what I do and I love it!

Finally look on Paragraph Planet on 27th October. I have another 75 word piece of flash fiction being published!

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

The all-consuming write

Busy at it. Detailed notes in my spiral bound book.
All the talk is about NaNoWriMo. I have to say I've been tempted to join in this year but last week I started something new and am already almost at the 20,000 word mark! Yes, the writing has been obsessive.

I didn't intend to start another novel, especially when I've still not finished the last! On the train back from Winchester last Monday, watching the lovely trees and the sunshine a 'what if' moment came into my head. It is far from the beauty of the countryside and very different from anything I've written before. I feel it working on me when I'm writing. It's there in my head when I'm not working on it and it flicks through my dreams.

I began with only two names and no notes and was several chapters in (they are short chapters) before I decided I needed to do some chapter plotting - something I hardly ever do! So I sat and wrote outlines for about half the book - no further because I know I will change things! So far this is working well. I will need to do some research at some point but I will do it when I have to. I don't want to stop the flow. I feel I need to write this one and get it done. Maybe this is because of the content. I find it changes my mood and I even have a special music mix (you know me and my music mixes for writing!) which itself has become an obsession. It's on replay when I write. I need it because it creates the right atmosphere. Even the music haunts me when I'm not at my laptop and I find I'm humming bits of it.

I'm in need of a break away from this all consuming write. I'm averaging around 2,000 words a day and I get twitchy if it's getting late and I haven't written anything. I really need a day out. So I'm planning of getting up to London later in the week.

I am very unsure about what I'm writing for all sorts of reasons, but I read a great line from an article in Writing Magazine (by Steven Chapman - Does it have to be a box?) - Don't edit to satisfy your inner chicken. That's what I've been trying to avoid with this. I've even told myself that I can write it for me, that I don't have to try and get it published. Who am I trying to fool?

I have no idea where this novel will end up, not just whether it stays on my laptop, but where the story ends up. I've not worked that out yet. The whole thing is developing along with it's characters as I go. Unlike most of my other work there is very little humour in it. It's dark, suffocating and I'm trying my best to convey that in the atmosphere I'm building with it.

Just as I'd decided humour was going to be my genre for writing along comes this. Still, I've never been one to fit a mould.

Monday, 10 October 2016

Winchester Poetry Festival - a weekend of poetry

Have just returned from the Winchester Poetry Festival. I only attended three events but I thoroughly enjoyed them. I had thought about booking two others once I was there, but one was was already fully booked and the other was on the afternoon I'd hoped to go and visit Jane Austen's house in Chawton. I'm afraid Jane won! (details of that and a walk will be on my other blog soon)

The first event I had booked was In Full-Throated Ease with poets Kim Moore, Ian Duhig and Sophie Hannah. I'd come across Kim Moore before and enjoyed listening to her poetry very much. Ian Duhig's name comes up frequently, though I'd never read any of his poetry, so it was good to hear him read. I have a collection of Sophie Hannah's poetry and she is also the writer of psychological crime fiction, though I confess I haven't read any of them. Her poetry was very amusing and the three poets together made a great opening night's entertainment.

On Saturday morning I was at Stanza's In Stone where Simon Armitage and Pip Hall talked about their collaboration in the South Pennines (a commission they received from Ilkley Literature Festival to write poems in response to the landscape). Simon wrote the poems and Pip carved them into stones at various points along the route. I was fascinated by the whole thing which was illustrated with photos. The detail, thought and sheer hard work that went into this project sounded all consuming. Pip was out there in all weathers tap, tapping away on stone. Simon read some of the poems he had written and Pip explained how she went about carving and working with the stone as well as difficulties she encountered along the way. It appears as if the route has become a pilgrimage for some and the stones seem to have been looked after. There is one stone which is out there somewhere, a much smaller one which is one the move. No one knows where it is! So if you are walking in the Pennines look out for it. There was time for a few questions from the audience but all too soon it was over. There is something about installation landscape art that appeals to me, whether it is by Simon Armitage or the likes of Antony Gormley and Andy Goldsworthy. I guess it's the working with nature I like. Working with it rather than against it is always good in my book.

The final event I attended was also the Poetry Festival's final event - The Sensual Ear with Tim Dee producer of BBC 4's Poetry Please and Roger McGough, the programme's presenter. Tim spoke about the programme, popular poems, how requests come with personal stories, and he ended with a short series of poem written by Andrew Motion about war which was adapted into a play. The seven minute long end piece was accompanied by music  and was both moving and absorbing to listen to.

Roger began his poetry reading with some literary poems but soon had us laughing with his more hilarious renditions. He was, as always, brilliant to listen to and a fitting end to the poetry weekend. There were a great many other events taking place, including workshops. If you would like to read about others hop over to Josephine Corcoran's website. She also has better photos than me! But here are mine anyway.

Kim Moore

Ian Duhig

Sophie Hannah

The Emergency Poet Ambulance!

Simon Armitage (Pip Hall in the centre, sorry there was a head in the way!)

Tim Dee
Roger McGough

Thursday, 6 October 2016

National Poetry Day - A prose poem to celebrate the autumn of life


Enjoy your poetry whether you are reading it, writing it or performing it. Here's one of mine. Rather apt for the time of year.

Autumn Years

These are the autumn days, shorter, yet more colourful than the sum total of spring and summer with their languid headiness of new love and hopeless romance. Love now runs deep, an earthiness beyond the ache of wanting. It is solid, freeing, wise with experience, yet not without its adventures!

My days come in flames of reds and orange when all my fruits are multiplied and come into season. Their juicy sweetness runs in my veins. I look back at those growing years. Am I wiser? I’m certainly older. So I grab the sunny days by the scruff, bathing in vibrant yellows, greens, browns and gold, and there is the scent guiding me home – wood smoke trailing to the sky. But I’m not ready yet.

I love the misty mornings, the mellow tones clouded in white. Then the sun bursts through and the trees are glory crowned. I waste no time; daylight hours are shorter, there’s a nip in the air. I walk through fallen leaves; gather shiny conkers, fir cones. The shedding will soon be over and I am not done yet. There will be dark, sunless days, cold winds through old bones, but I have no time for teary regrets. While there is colour in my days you’ll find me walking under the sun, the juice of autumn fruits staining my lips.