Sunday, 26 July 2015

Something new

Who has heard of Scriggler? It is site to publish work on for others to read (stories, articles, poetry etc.) There are competitions, clubs and more. I joined a while ago but am only now finding my way around. I have at last submitted a piece of poetry on there. Please do go and look (click on the Poetry tab to view my poem). There is the opportunity to vote and comment. You do not have to be a member to vote, I believe. This is all new to me but I thought I would give it a go. It's my first submission of poetry for nearly three months.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Book Review -Forensics - The Anatomy of Crime (Val McDermid)

Forensics - An Anatomy of Crime by Val McDermid is a masterpiece. I cannot remember ever reading a non-fiction book in a week. This was so compelling I'd be reading it at odd moments and take it to bed with me.  The reason why I'm reviewing on this blog and not my other one (where most book reviews appear), is because I feel that those who are interested in crime writing (reading it or writing it) really need to read this.

McDermid covers everything in twelve chapters:

The Crime Scene
Fire Scene Investigation
Entomology
Pathology
Toxicology
Fingerprinting
Blood Splatter and DNA
Anthropology
Facial Reconstruction
Digital Forensics
Forensic Psychology
The Courtroom

The history of forensics is set out for each branch of the science and then followed through showing how it progressed into what it is today. Absolutely fascinating. Real crimes are used to show how forensics helped convict people (or not in the case of Jack the Ripper), including ones I know about like Rachel Nickell (the mother killed on Wimbledon Common), Stephen Lawrence and the case which convicted Colin Pitchfork for murder on the basis of DNA evidence - the first person to be convicted using this method. This latter case was the subject of a TV drama not so long ago - Alec Jeffreys being the man to discover the unique variations in DNA. I remember this case also, due the fact that Police asked every male person in the area to come forward and offer their DNA. Pitchfork asked someone else to do the test for him. But they got him in the end.

I have always been interested in forensics for some reason, which is why I also love Elly Griffiths (fiction) books as she writes about a woman who is a bone expert in the archaeological world and she gets called in to look at bones for the Police.

Certainly if you want to know how forensics works, this book is a damn good place to start. I might actually have to buy myself a copy (this is a library copy). I was reading an article the other day that said crime writers are having difficulty spinning out their stories now that forensics can get results so fast. They are having to think of new ways to approach it.

I was actually sad to finish this book as I was riveted. For someone like me who is hopeless at science, I worried that all the details would go way over my head. Be sure, it is written for the layperson. You will not have any problem understanding it. While the cases discussed are hard to read at times and the methods used in the early days (smashing poor rabbits heads with a hammer to observe blood splatter), I put my emotions aside and admired what these guys and gals do to get to the truth.

Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Bedtime Reading and the distraction of writing

I have a collection of books beside the bed to dip into before I sleep. At present I have Magma's Spring offering which I'm behind with as the Summer edition, is or will be, out soon. Also the latest from Brittle Star which I am liking more and more. A great find, this magazine. I also have a back copy of The London Magazine which I subscribed to for a while and considered re-subscribing to, but it is expensive and some of the articles I don't read.

Sometimes I take the book on Forensics (Val McDermid) to bed with me. I am nearly at the end of it and will be posting a review very soon.

Because I have been writing so much lately everything else is piling up - one day the washing never got out of the machine until it was too late to put it outside, the dinner was late and I had to drag myself away from a very emotional scene to go and chop vegetables. Magazines are piling up unread, housework gets done when really necessary and I think I've upset everyone in the house over the last week!

The chaos of the final push
However, my latest project is finished! My goal setting really works for me because I have done it ahead of time and kept to my other targets. Admittedly, I have been obsessed in the last week and as I got nearer the end I just went for it. One day I wrote all day with a few breaks, the longest ever I have spent writing, My characters are weirdly very real to me and when I hear something or see something on TV I find myself saying - 'that's exactly what so-and-so would have done'. That is scary stuff!

I am sure my family will appreciate the fact that I have ironed their clothes today and they might actually get fed later - though I have failed to go shopping again today, so it might be a freezer job! This project is now shelved for editing. I will talk about it more when things are coming together. For now I have to go back to my novella and take one more look at it, probably re-write the first few lines or scenes (that first line advice came at the right time at the Winchester Writers' Festival) ready for submitting for a competition.

I keep thinking about my poetry. I haven't had time for it but I am aware that I have missed deadlines for competitions and must try to seek out magazines instead as I do have a couple of poems worth trying with.

Finally, I had a really nice surprise today. I had a Tweet from Alison Wells to tell me I had won her blog competition answering the 'question why read books?' I had completely forgotten about it so was absolutely thrilled. I have a £10 Amazon voucher winging it's way to me, along with a signed copy of her book 'Housewife With A Half-Life'. Can't wait.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Are you a splurger or planner?

Writers come in two types but mainly a mix of both. I am definitely a splurger but it can lead me into trouble. I mainly go with my gut feeling for something and see where it leads me. However, a lack of planning means that the structure may fall apart. There has to be some kind of planning even on a flexible scale. And this is me on the whole. Too much planning can be too rigid if you stick to it come what may, and I think it limits creativity.

When I first started writing my planning was minimal and ended up with me dropping stories because I had no idea where they were going - my ideas dried up and stories were shoved into a drawer. Luckily, I never throw anything away (don't let my husband hear that because I accuse him of hording!) and several of these dead end stories have recently been resurrected, one is my first novel, the second is something I am currently working on, now in its third attempt and almost finished.

What changed? Planning. Yes, that word I find hard to use! I have to say the planning was loose but without it I don't think I would ever have finished. I needed to know how my story would end and have some scene ideas on the way to the finish. However, I don't plot out each scene in advance because often I find that my characters guide me. Something happens when I write and ideas spin off from one another. They are like little branches, rooted to the main trunk but offering new and exciting places to visit. These ideas seem to come from nowhere but I suppose as my characters interact things come up that I had never considered before. I love those little quirks and I always go with them. If you stick to rigidly to a plan you might miss that. I really do have to go 'off plan' as I hate being stifled in my writing.

Maybe for others the plan really does work. It can be a safe way to work, knowing every step of your novel is planned from beginning to end. It certainly sounds easier. I'm surprised I don't work this way because I'm a logical person and like to plan things in advance in my own life. I mean, when I go on trips I have the travel plans down to the minute almost. Itineraries are planned in advance, or if not, as soon as I can on arriving! Even so, I am quite a contradiction! I was never a Girl Guide but I am always prepared. When I go to London I always take a map/s, (including a tube map) sometimes guides, camera, a drink and a book! My motto is you never know what might happen and often I might decide to visit several other places in London if I finish the planned one early. Sort of on the spur of the moment (see that? on the spur of the moment - off plan!), yet there is nearly always a loose plan in place. Loose sounds better than vague - vague is a little too scary for me!

The more I write the more I have begun to plan. It really does help with structure to have this loose building block. This leads me neatly into themes. This one came up at one of the masterclasses at Winchester Writers' Festival (as did splurging and planning). I realised that in fact I have done this naturally - the theme bit to create structure. Themes include things like calendars. Writing in diary form (think Adrian Mole and Bridget Jones) or chapters based in different places around the world. You could use pieces of music, different people (for different view points). Looking at some of my stories I have written events over one week and another naming each day as it arrives. Sometimes it helps to do tha,t but of course all stories won't be or need to be written in this way. I found my 'diary' method came when I realised I was getting confused over scenes which meant the reader would to. So I stuck in dates and it has worked.

So, whether you are a spluger or planner it doesn't matter as long as it works for you. You will find the one that you are happy with, but never be afraid to try something new. As for themes - if your story isn't working consider using a theme to hold it together. Which one doesn't matter. Just have a go.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Poetry challenges and in between writing

My latest writing project is almost totally consuming me right now. Words are flowing and I like what I'm seeing. This means that when I've finished this post all ideas will cease and I'll go into a black hole! (Oh, I hope not)

Poetry really has taken a back seat. I'm still reading it - just finished a back edition of Brittle Star which contains fiction and poetry and I really enjoyed it. I must re-new my subscription as I want to read more.

At the moment poetry is something to do to amuse myself between breaks in the fiction writing. I'm not ready for the serious stuff yet. Instead I set myself little poetry challenges, mainly what I call random words poetry. Pick a few words at random from anything - cereal packet, third word on the first line of a book, a form, an advert, anything, then use the words to write a poem. Strange things happen when I do this and I know I've spoken about it before. I love this method because of the subjects that appear out of nowhere. The poems don't always work and I suppose I could edit them and no one would know I'd cheated with the words or whatever. Sometimes I do go back months later and edit the work into something better and if necessary take out those word restrictions (is a poem ever finished?)

This is one I wrote recently using this method. I adapted the words slightly, especially 'allergy' but I'm sure with more time I could have done something better and stuck to my original form of the word. But these poems I write quickly. I had one false start and then I was in. Some time ago I mentioned another method - a sort of time challenge. I don't strictly keep to a time restriction but as I said I do prefer not to think too deeply about these. They come out of my head and onto the laptop fairly quickly. I might edit slightly but there is no big revision. Do you have methods you use to get the creative words flowing? Do tell.

By the way, the title came first with this and then I picked the words - tough!

Here you go then:

My random words: slim, allergy, hot, July, Indexed, Brighton, Terrace, Bug

Parrot on a door

A sleek, slim squawker
in green plumage; a poster
blu-tacked to the door,

double indexed
in Birds of the World,
now in houses and flying free

as far afield as Stockholm
and Brighton,
and a terrace near you

and on this hot July day
of midges, mosquitoes
and other bugs

the curved billed,
claw footed parrot
has had an allergic reaction

to the blu-tack and come
adrift from the door,

shedding its feathers.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Writing....habits, resources, notebooks and spaces

My writing space - one side of the dining table
I love this time of day; early morning, no one up, the moon still huge and hanging there in the blue sky of dawn. What am I doing sitting here at 4.30am? Well, I'm wide awake and often this is the best time to write. There are less distractions and right now it is even cool.

I thought I'd talk about routines and ways in to writing. There are many books and websites which will give you great advice. I can only speak from my point of view. What works for me may not work for you. You have to try different methods until something clicks, and it will. Just give it time.

The best time for writing for me tends to be early morning, though not normally quite this early! Usually, I will start to write sometime between 6.30am and 7.30am. However, I'm pretty flexible and will write any time of day or night but I have to say that my best writing, or perhaps the easier writing comes in the morning and I like writing then.

Perhaps more important than 'the best time' to write is actually making time to write, and regularly. Often people say they have no time. They are excuses. I know, I've used them, If you want to do something badly enough you find time. Now I quite often have the opposite problem - I'd rather write than do anything else! Writing regularly is important because regularity makes for habit. At first, having set times might help to instill this. Perhaps you could get up an hour earlier in the morning to write, do it in your lunch hour, ditch the TV in the evening and write. Sometimes you have to make sacrifices for your writing. Write in short bursts of fifteen minutes a time if that is all you can manage, but write something.

I found that once the habit of writing was established, the words flowed easier and suddenly it wasn't such a struggle. It became automatic for me to sit and write. It is what I do, like a job. Even ideas flow much better. My brain is engaged creatively and where once I found the prospect of writing a novel daunting, now I relish it. My imagination takes me in all sorts of directions and ideas spring up from out of nowhere - something I see or overhear, a flash of something that comes in the night, in a dream, at odd times of the day.

The more you write, the better you get....technically! That is my hope anyway. Practice and practice the art of writing; find books which will give you writing exercises, try morning pages (a stream of consciousness style of writing about anything that comes to you), buy a copy of Writers' Forum or Writing Magazine, both are full of advice, exercises and details of competitions and what the writing market is looking for.. Be brave and join a class or writing group.

It doesn't matter what you write in the beginning. Your first writings are just a rehearsal for what comes next. It is a step on the road to publication (be positive!). Follow some writing blogs or writers websites. Try and find some like minded people to 'chat' to, if only online. Writing is a lonely business and I can go from the pits to elation and back again in minutes depending on what is happening (rejections, acceptances, feedback). I grab hold of the positives. They are what keep me going.

Keep a notebook - use it! It doesn't have to be a beautiful one with a cover that says 'I'm too nice to write in'! Better you use an exercise book or an A4 spiral bound, nothing special stationary item from WH Smith. I use whatever I happen to have at home (the kids old school exercise books have come in handy over the years!). With an ordinary notebook or writing pad it doesn't matter so much if it is full of scribbles, crossings out, doodles, margin notes and dreadful writing with spelling errors. Who is going to see it? Okay, maybe one day your notebooks might be archived somewhere.....one can but hope, but really, just write. I carry a small notebook in my handbag for those ideas that come at strange moments and an A4 pad at home. I have several pads which now include separate ones for each of my ongoing projects. I have to say I am hopeless at keeping track of what is in what (except for fiction, which I've finally got a handle on). One day I hope to sort through the notebooks. It's fine until I know I wrote something down but can't remember in what!

Finally, here I want to talk about where to write. Yes, we would all love a room of our own and if you have one I am very, very envious! I long for a 'girl shed' (I love watching George Clark's Amazing Spaces on Channel 4. I wish he'd come here and sort out some small space for me). However, I can't use the excuse that I have nowhere to write. Don't let that stop you. I have one side of the dining table which is rarely used to eat at! I have my laptop in one corner and my note pads and anything else I am currently using on the left hand side. There is room for a mug of tea (always essential) and a few nibbles (not essential but helpful!). My space is a mess and I have to go through it regularly to find notes and put things in order. Often other bits of my life get mixed up in the pile (I've been searching for someone's phone number on a piece of paper but it hasn't come to light yet...thankfully I found an email for them.) When I'm making notes I often spread out into the lounge and have stuff on the floor. Occasionally I take myself off to the B&Q cafe to edit or rough out ideas. And I always take a note pad or exercise book with me on holiday.

While I was at Winchester Writers' Festival and had my own room I finally had a desk to myself. The room also contained something else I long for (when I get my own space) - a pin board. I could have hours of fun with that! Having all things would be lovely but having them won't make you a writer. That you have to work at that everyday, starting with baby steps. I write because I have to. I've always made up worlds in my head, created characters. For many years I forgot the knack. I never thought I'd be able to do it again. Bit by bit I have rediscovered the sheer pleasure of rampant imagination. It has come back after all these years but with it has come life experience which has broadened my views and writing. I am still learning. I have no more excuses. Whether I am good at writing is another matter. The main things is I love it and I write first and foremost for myself. I just hope that one day others will also enjoy what I write.

Okay, enough. Get out your notebook, fire up the laptop. Write!

Monday, 29 June 2015

Flash Fiction success

Best piece of news for a long time. I have had a 75 word flash fiction 'story' published today on Paragraph Planet. So surprised and obviously very excited! This is actually part of a scene from what I am currently writing. Little things like this give me hope.