Learning not Reading.

 

Reading, for a lot of people, is a past-time, a pleasurable hobby, something that is done on the beach, something you do when you have time to spare. But for me, (and everyone else who writes) it is so much more than that. Because if I want to learn how to be a good writer, I need to study those who are already accomplished at it. The genre that I write is women’s literary fiction, so that is what I read in order to learn and to know my own marketplace. There’s no ‘is that a banana in your pocket’ moments, no heaving bosoms. (though I know there is a very successful market for this and fair play to those writers and readers, but it’s just not my thing.) I don’t read for ‘fun’, I don’t read for escapism, I read to learn. I have to read in order to try and figure out how they do what they do (and hope that by some kind of osmosis it will rub off on me).

When I’m reading I’m learning – or at least trying to. I usually have a pencil to hand and I mark up passages or words or descriptions. I’m not just consuming, I’m trying to consummate.

However, most people associate ‘working’ to be in an office, beside a phone, or in front of a computer. They (i.e. my husband) see me sitting down at home, cup of tea often to hand and a book. They think – ‘nice life if you can get it’ – they (he) doesn’t understand that I am actually working –  that in order to write something decent myself I have to read – A LOT. I have to learn, I have to know what’s out there, I have to study the invisible craft of writing.

But reading – that’s easy right? No. Those of you with young families don’t need me to tell you that time is of the essence. Even this basic activity demands that you carve out the time for it – preferably before you climb too exhausted into bed of an evening. You need to set your alarm half an hour earlier, you need to get off social media (yes, I should be reading right now instead of doing this!) you need to switch off the TV. You need to make the time. You need to be disciplined, you need to see it as part of the ‘job’.  So, if you see me reading don’t think it’s my ‘spare-time’ cause it’s not. There’s always a 101 other things I probably should be doing, but I know if I want to be a successful writer I have to take the time to study the craft.

N.B. Currently reading ‘A Country Road, A Tree’ by Jo Baker. It’s fab and I’m off to spend some quality time with it now.

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This one’s for the girls!

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I’m a bit of a tick box freak. I can’t help it. I’m like the Roadrunner (meep, meep). I like to get things done. That’s why Lauren Laverne’s recent post on writing a ‘done-it’ list, as opposed to a ‘to-do’ list struck a cord with me. Immediately, my world spun on its axis. Instead of feeling like an underachiever, I suddenly became a success story. That is the power of the mind people (or the power of a good blog!) It really is that easy to be kinder to yourself, to think positively, to think glass half-full.

So, in the spirit of my ‘done-it’ list I swallowed back my reservations, silenced my inner critics and hit enter on the Mslexia novel competition. Despite more women studying literature and attending writing courses than men,  far fewer women actually put their writing forward for competitions. It’s the same old, same old; women are more self-critical and therefore less likely to put themselves forward for promotions, jobs, and competitions than men. We cower in corners and hold ourselves back listening to our inner critics telling us we’re not good enough, thin enough, pretty enough, clever enough etc. etc. So, hitting enter felt like I was bucking the trend and while my courage was riding high I completed my first homework for my new writer’s group. I only joined a couple of weeks ago and reading out my work to ten other accomplished writers makes me want to dive for cover, like standing in the stocks waiting to be pelted with tomatoes! But, alongside my brash and noisy inner-critic, there is a quiet persistent voice that reminds me, ‘what’s the point?’ What’s the point of all the hours, of all the sacrifice, of all the hard, hard work if I never share it?’ So, on Friday I’ll read it to the group and hope there’ll be no tomatoes! This week I’ve ‘done-it’ in the hope that the next generation of literary women can believe they are every bit as good as the men!

Impress yourself and compose your own ‘done-it’ list followed by a glass of something to celebrate how bloody great you are. #girl power

No One Said It Would Be Easy

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On a wet Sunday afternoon I took my boys to see the latest Pixar film ‘Inside Out’. Since the heady days of “Finding Nemo” it’s fair to say that some of Pixar’s more recent offerings have fallen short of the mark, but ‘Inside Out’ is a masterpiece in imaginative story-telling. The protagonist is Riley, an eleven-year old girl, and most of the story takes place inside her head with the cast of her emotions taking centre stage; Joy, Sadness, Anger, Fear and Disgust. We are introduced to her core memories and how each of these emotions have a roll to play in how Riley remembers significant events and how these form her personality. For the main the story develops around Joy and Sadness. It deals with big, weighty themes in an easy, child-friendly format. It’s about the loss of innocence and how, as children grow up, sadness becomes an inevitable part of their lives. I defy any parent not to watch with an ache in their heart for the day when their bundle of joy become less joyful and more morose.
Anyway, it got me thinking about the voices inside my own head- we all have them, not just eleven year old girls! Unfortunately we don’t grow out of them but we can learn to manage them. Recently, I’ve been dealing a lot with ‘Fear’ and ‘Sadness’ and sometimes a little ‘Disgust’ thrown in. It looks like it’s back to the drawing board with my novel. After pouring my energies into it for the past two and a half years I’ve been feeling fairly downcast and exhausted that I’m not closer to my end goal i.e a presentable manuscript that is ready for the scrutiny of my agent and ultimately publishers. I’ve been questioning if I should keep going or put it in a drawer and move on. I still haven’t decided for sure what I’m going to do, but sometimes inspiration can come at the most unlikeliest of times. No one wants to deal with entertaining two young boys on a wet, summer-like-winter Sunday but it led us to the cinema and to a film that has really struck a cord with me. After all, what are books about if not the ‘Inside Out’? Stories allow us to know what characters are thinking – something that is impossible in real life – and that is what is so ingenious and entertaining about ‘Inside Out’. Reading a book is an intimate experience, we get close, really close to the characters and experience their internal thought processes. That’s what fascinates me as a reader and a writer. I want my readers to care about my characters, so I need to get inside them. I need to know them from the inside out and, if I’m honest, I know I’m not there yet. I have a story, a good story, but its heart is not beating – yet. I’m not sure if I can perform the necessary CPR, but I’ll keep you posted!

I’d love to know which fictional character has effected you and why?

My top three for 2015

When I read a great book I immediately want to share it and what better way than on my new blog. My top three picks, so far, in 2015 ( in no particular order) are:

Appletree Yard,  by Louise Doughty. This is the second book I’ve read by this author and she writes female protagonists in a fearless and uncompromising way. www.louisedoughty.com

Outline, by Rachel Cusk. I first came across Rachel when I read her book on motherhood, ‘A Life’s Work’ just after I’d had my first son. In it, she wrote about motherhood with a brutal honesty that I appreciated. In ‘Outline’ she continues to observe people, relationships and ageing with a razor sharp eye. http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/01/05/told-2

The Story of Before, by Susan Stairs. I was tweeting like mad about this a couple of weeks ago. Its a debut book that blew me away and left me rattled for days afterwards.

This month in book club we’re reading ‘Elizabeth is Missing’ by Emma Healey. I haven’t finished it yet, but if it makes it onto my list I’ll let you know.