Thursday, 1 August 2019

Poetry challange and Live Canon August Literary Treasure Hunt

All the staring out of the window at St Ives
and no inspiration to write poetry.
Having been away to Cornwall for a few nights my poetry challenge took rather a nose dive. I did take a notebook, pens and pencils and one morning I stood at the window of our room in the B&B and tried to find inspiration. I ended up with a rubbish set of words about shimmering water and heat! I gave up.

When I got back to my laptop I realised how behind I was. I know I don't have to write a poem every day. No one is going have a go if I don't get my seven a week, but I needed to get back on track for me. The first few attempts were more notes than fully formed poems. They had the basics that might warrant a proper editing in time.

In the last day the words began to flow again and I've ended up back on track with some poems that really excite me. Two came out of things we did on holiday and have nothing to do with shimmering seas!

I've have entered the thirteen week of this year challenge. Thirteen isn't an unlucky number for me as both good and bad things have happened on the 13th, so I'd never worry or avoid that number. My mother was the superstitious one, which makes me laugh because she was religious and somehow the two don't go together.

I was having a look through some saved items from Facebook yesterday and came across a story writing competition for humorous stories. The closing date was that day. Luckily I had just the right piece (well, hopefully) and submitted it. I've also entered the Winchester Poetry Competition this year too. My submissions have slowed down and I don't think I have anything else out there right now.

I've just joined Live Canon's Literary Treasure Hunt for August. Each day they send you a poem to explore by a different poet and then you search within their work to answer a clue. At the end of the month you have 30 words to solve the final clue. Something like that. I've received the intro letter and await the first poem. I thought it would be good fun, a way to find new poets and discover new work. The cost is £20 for the month. You still have time to sign up if you are quick.

Thursday, 18 July 2019

Mslexicon - The weekend!

I think I have just about recovered from my weekend in Leeds attending the first ever Mslexicon I still haven't read everything I brought back. My head was so full and I was so shattered that I decided to give it all some distance and then take it in slowly...savouring it.

I arrived on Friday afternoon and was met by a friend at the station. He showed me some of the city including the wonderful Victorian covered market where Marks & Spencer's first shop opened (and they still have a shop there today) in 1904, though they began in 1884 with a market stall in Leeds. Read more of the history here. We stopped for a well needed cup of tea and set off for the Uni. The walk was longer than either of us had envisaged...about forty minutes. All I can say is that my leg muscles performed well under the weight of my rucksack and heavy handbag!

My friend and I parted company at the entrance to the main building, and after registering I was taken over to the accommodation block across the road. My room had everything I needed and I coveted the desk! I only get a desk of my own when I go away on this type of break. The room was rather dark, but that's a minor thing. It was warm and I had both windows open the whole time I was there.

Over dinner that night I began to get to know others, though the noise in the dining hall made it difficult to hear people. It has a high ceiling and sound echoed hundreds of voices. I wanted to attend the open mic session, so I left after dinner. I then found out the open mic session had been put back in time so that people could attend two sessions - a guess the genre spot. However, I opted to sit this out and give myself time to unwind a bit.

The open mic session was good. People got a chance to use a mic for the first time and perfect the art of positioning it in the right place. I did take a set of poems just in case I plucked up the courage to read. Mainly it seemed to be for prose reading, and anyway I lost my nerve as others seemed so 'on it' and my confidence tumbled.

In the morning I had my first one to one. I could hardly eat breakfast but I need not have worried because Isabel Costello was so lovely and she gave me a A4 sheet of hand written feedback as well as notes on my short story. She had asked for the full story in order to give me the best feedback. Everything she said made sense and was so constructive I can now (hopefully) get this story in a publishable state. I'm pleased to hear that I have a good imagination! I was really pleased and went off to my first workshop relieved.

The Short Story Masterclass with Jane Rogers was great. We looked at several opening paragraphs of award winning stories and talked about how they made us feel. We looked for the 'ingredients' a short story should have. Did they all have this? How did they work? How did the use of second person You make us feel. It was interesting to listen to everyone's point of view and how they varied. We then had a go writing our own first paragraph and shared what we'd written. I should say that all the workshops ran for two hours and the classes were a smallish size, so everyone had their chance. It felt intimate and a safe environment to share our work and chat.

After lunch (you'd never go hungry here - choices of hot meals twice a day, mainly veggie/vegan which suited me down to the ground) I went off to Arabel Charlaff's workshop entitled Psychoanalysing Your Characters. Wow! The subject alone interests me so I was enthralled. There was so much to get through that Arabel left some parts for us to read later (we had a great hand-out). We began talking about Freud and others before going on to look at attachment theory and how relationships with parents forms how we relate to others later in life. We were invited to discuss in twos and threes where our character fitted into style or one of the two insecure styles. We also looked at Genograms, basically putting together a family tree using the information we had. There is far too much to talk about here, and though I have touched on some of this in the novel writing course I am doing, this was in far more depth and I was able to see that my character fitted one of these styles and did act out the right reactions to future relationships. However, it made me go that bit further in understanding him, and one lady I talked with asked a question about another character and I realised I'd never really sussed her out. Together we worked it out! I found this workshop thoroughly fascinating and have much to follow up on links given.

Late in the afternoon I had my second 1-1, this time with Jane Rogers whose workshop I'd attended in the morning. Jane was calm and encouraging. I'd submitting a thousand word extract from a novella I'm still writing but wished I sent the first thousand words as I thought that would be better. But she said that it was fine as it was. She pointed out something I'd not noticed, asked if I'd read Capital by John Lanchester. I had (and seen the TV adaptation). My extract reminded her a little of that and she liked the idea of multiple characters. Yes! I love writing multiple characters. She talked about my humour - so glad she liked my two OAP's. I came away really happy.

That evening after dinner we had Jackie Kaye come to speak to us. I've heard her speak before. She is so funny. She read a monologue about a woman who got her head stuck in the toilet seat frame while throwing up her guts...this was right after we'd eaten and the description was graphic! It was funny though. She talked about Red Dust Road, the story of finding and meeting her birth father, and she read poems from her new book (which I bought). I loved her anecdotes.

On Sunday I'd chosen Fiery Flash Fiction with Meg Porrass but we'd no sooner entered the room than the radiator sprung a spectacular leak. Meg only turned the knob to shut off the central heating (it was a hot weekend) and then whoosh a fountain erupted. Poor Meg was drenched. Towels were brought, someone had to stand with their hand over the leak to stop the flow of water while the right team were called to sort it out. A new room was found for us - we ended up in the snooker hall! We finally got started twenty minutes late but finished later to make up. The session was brilliant. We talked about what flash is and we read a few flash stories. This was the most writing I'd done all weekend as we wrote a lot! Meg gave up random words to use and this worked well for me as I use them myself to get going. The new writing group I go to use them too. I came away inspired to write more flash. I've rather strayed from it in the last year. Meg is a great teacher and I ended up with several pieces I can work on.

After lunch I attended a panel on What Makes a Book Addictive with Julie Fergusson and Maggie Gee. I was really flagging by this stage and I wondered how I would stay awake! It was interesting though and afterwards we had our last speaker - Sophie Hannah. She was great and had us laughing. She talked about her background and her first book Little Face. She then went on to speak about how she came to write Poirot books. I'm not a big fan of Agatha Christie but I loved how Sophie read from her latest book and left us at a moment where we all wanted to know more.

Finally, to end the day, there was a networking session. Most people had already left really, but some  stayed. I ended up chatting to four others and exchanged stories tips. There was a chance to fill in a form about what we were looking for, buddy etc. The idea is to match people who are looking for the same. I'm waiting to see on that.

I shared a cab back to the train station and finally got home about 10.30pm, shattered and my head full of images of the weekend.

Mslexia put on a great weekend with wonderful tutors and speakers. The food was plentiful and good. We even had one evening meal outside in a grassed courtyard and the hot food came on wheeled trollys and located under the cloister style area. The rain held off just long enough for most of us to eat and then it was a dash inside. My one gripe was the wi-fi. It was difficult to understand how to log on and I only ever got on using my Tablet as my mobile kept shooting an error message at me. People complained that the internet kept dropping out. It was very hit and miss and frustrating as I wasted a lot of time. I had almost given up hope of getting on.  I was desperate to get onto YouTube for my music fix to help me relax. I think I'll download some music for the future as music really is the only thing that calms me down when I'm stressed, because it is daunting at times. I loved the fact that it was a women only weekend (never missed the men!) and everyone was so friendly and we all had the same doubts and fears.

I have to say well done to Mslexia for all the hard work they put into this. Of course there were a few hitches, but nothing major and some amusing. Everyone worked tirelessly behind the scenes. For a first time event they did brilliantly and made everyone feel welcome.

Since returning home I found out that Visual Verse has published my flash fiction this month entitled The Rules of the Game. You can read it here.

Here are some images of Leeds itself and a few at the venue.

Victorian covered market

This boat is now a pub!


My room

The view from my room

Devonshire Hall, Leeds University.
 Main venue where all workshops were held and where we ate.

Friday, 5 July 2019

Mslexicon - Writing Conference

Student accommodation?
No, the hermitage at Soho House,
Handsworth, Birmingham.
I wouldn't mind writing in there!
Next weekend I'm off to Mslexicon, the first ever writer's conference to be held by the magazine Mslexia. The venue is Leeds University and delegates will stay in student accommodation at Devonshire Hall. I've never been to Leeds but I have a penfriend there (yes, I'm one of those weird ones who has been penpalling since I was fourteen!). Despite social media I still write actual letters to people around the world and have friends in Japan, Australia and Europe. Anyway, he messaged me (ok social media still has its uses!) and offered to meet my train and show me a bit of Leeds.

To get a cheap train ticket I booked to arrive around two hours before I can register at the Uni, so as long as I am not too loaded down with stuff (I tend to travel light and am hoping to get everything into a rucksack) I might see a bit of the city before we head off to the Uni.

I've decided not to take my laptop because it is old and heavy and I need to upgrade it by the end of the year. Now is not the time to tackle Windows 10 and a whole new layout, besides it's been an expensive year so I need to spread the finances! I do have a Tablet and if I can get that running again (it kept re-loading time and time again last time I used it) I'll take that. Mind you it probably have millions of updates to do, so I'd better see if I can get it working soon. Otherwise I have my phone and pen and paper!

I've now run off my e-ticket with the list of my workshops and the two 1-1's. If anyone reading this is going to the event do leave a comment. Unless I can get my Tablet running I shall leave the blogging until I return. Happy writing everyone!

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

A quick book round up and writing update

I've read a contrasting set of books lately and evoked a contrasting set of responses!

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee is the follow up to To Kill a Mockingbird . This was perhaps a better read than I expected after friends had commented and I'd read reviews. No, it's not as good as the first, yet does shed light on the background, the prejudices and fear that was held in that part of the USA. There were times when I got bogged down with the flits to the past that seemed to drag out, but I'm still glad I read it.

History of Wolves by Emily Fridlund promised so much but I was disappointed. Descriptions were wonderfully written  but where was the story going? I got almost half way when I wondered whether to continue. I had to switch to another book, at which point I realised the affect History of Wolves was having on me. There was nothing joyful in it and it had dragged me down making me feel miserable. However, after a break of a few days I decided to finish it and read it as fast as possible. It didn't change my mind. I felt the story line and scenes dragged on far too long. Basically the story is about a girl who is left mainly to her own devices who becomes friends with a family in another cabin (this is set in the USA). She looks after the little boy but all is not well. It seems he is ill but the family are Christian Scientists. This took an age to be revealed and I thought there would be much more revealed in the court case. No. This one was not for me.

The Inner Life of Animals by Peter Wohlleben was my breath of fresh air, the book I turned to while reading the History of Wolves. This was brilliant. Written in laymans terms, so delightful and informative, sometimes amusing and a sheer pleasure to read. Books on nature and the environments are very in at the moment, and I've read quite a few. In fact I am gathering a small pile of them. Having already read The Life of Trees some while ago, this (by the same author) is another delight. I have one more of his books to read on my ever growing pile. This one was really me.

The Hive by Bee Wilson (yes really), was a originally bought for my husband who is a third generation bee keeper, although we don't have a hive! He helped his father back in the day and for a few years helped at a local Beekeeping Association. However, my husband has never read this. This book follows our association with bees from the start and includes how hives have changed, who discovered what, how the Romans (and others) though society was modeled on bees until they discovered that the the big bee was female not male, and that the drones do nothing. They are fed and cleaned until it's time to go out and mate with a queen, after which they die. Any that don't mate and come back to the hive are ignored and thrown out. Hives were used in warfare (being thrown at the enemy) and then there is meade making and cooking. Honey took a downturn when sugar came along and was much cheaper and easier. Everything you want to know about honey (and maybe a few you don't) is here. Makes a fascinating read.

The Registrar's Manual for Detecting Forced Marriage by Sophie Hardach was different. Heartbreaking, funny and thought provoking. When the Registrar (who is never named) has doubts about a marriage in her place of work it takes her back to the time she made a split decision and married Salim, a young Kurdish asylum seeker who would be deported on his eighteenth birthday. The book is seen through both their eyes and is mostly about their life and touches on the suspect marriage now and then. We learn about Salim's background, having been trafficked aged 13 (and this was a guess as no one knew his birth date, even his mother) firstly to Italy by boat and on to Germany. It raises questions and makes you think about refugees, about refused applications and deportation to countries where the person may be killed. Sophie has researched this well and lists her references. I really enjoyed this book and am keen to read her next book which she mentions briefly in the Q&A at the end of the book.

One I have given up on is the Tom Hanks book Uncommon Type, a book of short stories which is my book club read. Sorry, the stories just don't connect with me and has so many Americanisms that it put me off. The first story was ok, but then I found I was skim reading and life is too short when I have a pile of other books waiting.


A quick writing catch up - this week I am taking part in the Arvon 5 Day Challenge. This has come at the right time as my poetry head is drying up! I hope my poetry writing improves, but anyway it does mean I have new ideas to work with, especially as I was unable to attend the last writing meet-up (I have two weddings in one month to attend!). They are now on a two week break. I also have a potential story idea rolling around in my head. Anyone else taking part in the Arvon challenge?

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Inspirational Writing Groups and still searching for the 'right fit' submission

Photo: Columbus Square, Canary Wharf
Recently I had the nicest rejection letter I have ever received from a magazine in the USA. I almost felt it was an acceptance! They praised one particular poem and said that they believed in the power of my writing and encouraged me to submit again in the coming months and years.

It took me a while to come down from that, yet I still struggle with this 'right fit' business. I do study magazines and choose the poem or poems I feel will sit well within it. Yet time and time again I get the same reply. It's easy to see where my poems don't fit, but much harder to find a magazine willing to publish me. It's frustrating.

Meanwhile, the writing group I've been attending for the last few years is having a break until September. The group leader has been unable to lead or attend in the past few months. Numbers have dwindled and the format of the group has not worked for me for a while.  So after the last time in which two of us just socialised there was a brief moment when I wondered whether now was the time to give up. Nothing has been working for a long time and it seemed like this was another nail in the coffin of writing.

But something changed. I had challenged myself to write a poem a day for a year and that was going quite well, but I needed inspiration, new ideas. I began searching for writing groups in my area. Nothing. I found myself on the Meet-Up website and while there were lots of groups in London, most met in pubs at night and crossing London late at night on my own is not something I want to do. Also finding the right group can be hit and miss. For me I think I've been lucky this time. I have found a group that meets in Hammersmith on a Saturday afternoon in a cafe. It's a bit of a trek but doable. So two weeks ago I went along. It was the right choice. We did two hours of free writing with timed sessions and random word exercises. We were encouraged to feedback our work, but it's not obligatory. I came away inspired and with ideas I was able to turn into poems. I went again yesterday afternoon, when the theme was decay. We were a larger group, all new people to me, and again I came away with a poem and the first few lines of a potential story. We laughed a lot and we wrote a lot. While we haven't done feedback on work we do outside of meetings, this is great for generating new ideas. This felt like a shot in the arm. A good one! It's always interesting to see how each of us in the group interprets the random words in a piece of writing. I love random words!

This morning I sat down to develop the potential short story. It's my first love story set in the dark ages! It's also the first new story I've written in some time.

Meanwhile the rejections keep coming and more and more I'm beginning to think that I might just go it alone and self-publish my work. Still, that's for the future, and certainly not this year.  For now I just want to enjoy my writing and try new things.

Monday, 27 May 2019

Book Review - The London City Read

Sophia Khan is Not Obliged by Aylisha Malik is the May London City read. There have been various events in local libraries in my area, including an author talk. Unfortunately, I found out about that too late. There was also a related walk in London.

In the story Sophia is a scarf wearing Muslim, newly single having ditched her sort-of boyfriend who expects her to move in with her in-laws and other family on marriage. They live in two houses with a connecting 'hole-in-the-wall'. Still, Sophia is not seeking marriage even though her parents, aunties and uncles seem keen to marry her off.

Meantime, Sophia, who works for a publicist, is asked to write a book about Muslim dating. And so her research begins, including meeting 'the hottie' and Naim who she can't make up her mind about.

This is a fun book, a sort of Muslim Bridget Jones Diary with a cast of relatives and friends who all have their say. Then there is Conall (who her mother always calls Colin), her Irish next door neighbour whose house she uses to write in at the weekends. Then the former boyfriend comes back with a compromise she feels she cannot refuse. When tragedy strikes Sophia is heartbroken. Her life seems to be in a mess of what her heart says verses her mind. Can Sophia find love and happiness?

This keeps you hanging on until nearly the end for the resolve. This was a feel-good read. It plunges you into the world of Muslim life and Sophia's faith, which is important to her. However, this is never dry. Humour runs throughout as Sophia writes down everything in a stream of conscious. There are hilarious moments and deeply sad ones. There is a follow-up book, a sort of what-happened next, and Aylisha Malik is currently writing a third book totally unconnected with this story.

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Reading fees

I wonder what others feel about reading fees. I don't think I've come across them in the UK but the USA certainly seems to be doing this more and more.

Have I paid them? Mmm...yes, now and then, and today I have splashed out the equivalent of £3.25 to send three poems over the pond for consideration. I did it because I liked what they were publishing and felt my poetry would fit. They have no sponsors or advertising and you can read everything online (no print copies). I also liked their turnaround because these days you can wait up to six months for a reply from some magazines. I realise they have lots of submissions and it takes a long time, but I find I now avoid those with really long waits (especially for poetry).

I also got to thinking about UK competitions. Some are now charging £10, and novel entries (First Chapter) are around £25. So actually a low reading fee is looking marginally better, and perhaps more likely for publication. Having struggled to get anything published in the UK for some time now (is that down to the quality of my writing or too much competition?) I am considering my options.

I've also noticed (from writing magazines that I subscribe to) that there are far more USA magazines (online and print) asking for submissions than the UK. I prefer submitting in the UK but I have submitted to the USA, Canada and Australia.

Anyway, I thought I'd put this out there and see if anyone else has an opinion. Please do comment.

Meanwhile, my novel is ready to submit for critiquing by my tutor later this month (nerve wracking to say the least....I'm imaging the worst, of course!), and I have challenged myself to write a poem a day for a year! I asked some Facebook friends to give me five random words to help motivate me. I hope to eventually self-publish, but a year is a long way away and not all poems will make it by the time I get to serious editing. I shall submit some to magazines when I am happy with them.