There’s writing… and there’s writing….

How can it be that I haven’t posted since February? No blog posts about writing but I have been writing – more than ever before. 

I have finished the first draft of my current novel (120k words) and am now at ‘structural edit’ phase.  I must admit this phase of novel construction has stymied me in earlier writing.  When I wrote my doctoral thesis I presented what I confidently told my supervisors was my final, final draft.  They had different ideas. I nearly exploded when they said it needed a ‘re-jig’ into more chapters.  It was the hardest writing task ever – until I tried to do it for my last novel. 

My last novel is a story I am proud of and am sure it has merit worthy of a second draft but I didn’t know how to do it.  I tried but it was like wrangling cats and I gave up.  It is sitting in a file waiting for attention.

Fortunately, I have learned a lot since then.  The structural edit on my current work is difficult but exciting and I am confident I will be sending my next draft out to my beta readers at the end of July.  Wish me luck.

I don’t usually have more than one WIP on the go at a time but I do try to write short pieces – stories, articles and blog posts – to help to take my mind to a different place.  It helps broaden focus and give a breathing space for ideas.

In June I was astounded to win a prize for a short story.

The story had to be under 1k words, be based on a historical event and include content factually accurate.  My story ‘Into the Depths’ is a fictionalised account of one of the rescuers of survivors of the Titanic.

The competition was run by The Scarborough Writing Circle who awarded me a marvellous plaque. Many thanks to the SWC for their generous feedback and the award. I am chuffed to bits to have won.

All writers should of course be readers too and I have been doing a lot of that.  I have to take the opportunity to spread the word about poet Dean Wilson (@Poetdeanwilson6). I am not a huge fan of Twitter but I first became aware of his work through tweets of the films made by Director/Producer/Filmmaker Dave Lee (@davelee1968) of Dean reading his poetry.  The poetry and films are glorious.  Funny, poignant, clever and powerful.

Dean also has something of a twitter following for his ‘pebble of the day’ posts which, in partnership with Dr Karen Turner (@k_j_turner) a textile artist who has turned Dean’s pebble photo’s into a wonderfully crafted, detailed, hand stitched quilt, have become a most remarkable art exhibition of talent you could hardly imagine unless seen with your own eyes. The exhibition is currently on display at Withernsea Light House until October 2021 and is well worth a visit.  

While I was there, I had the good fortune to be able to buy Dean’s latest book of poetry ‘Take Me Up the Lighthouse’

The poems in this small collection have a quality and integrity which puts them up there, with, in my opinion Roger McGough and Adrian Henri. The poems speak to contemporary experience in all its richness, lend to being read or spoken, are accessible and enjoyable, funny and warm, cheeky and poignant. His work takes poetry in a fresh and beguiling direction. 

Dean’s books are published by Wrecking Ball Press (Hull) and I strongly recommend you check them out.

Now… back to writing….

After a tough year, great news

As far as running a blog goes, 2020 did not go according to plan.  In 2019 I wrote two pieces every month and had every intention to achieve the same on my differently focussed blog for the following year. As I wrote in my first 2020 post, I planned to enter a writing competition every month.  The competitions had to take me into unfamiliar writing arenas.  I aimed to write a piece about my writing process and, depending on the outcomes, post the submitted pieces on my blog.  Up to July, it was going well.  Enthusiasm was high and I had done OK in the competitions – a win and a couple of commendations.  And then… we all know what happened then.  Lockdown.

Lockdown coincided with a family funeral, selling my house and moving 300 miles away.  Throw in our house purchase falling through leaving us homeless and I had a perfect storm of ‘stressful situation’.  Fortunately, homelessness was seen off by belongings going into storage and my partner and I moving into a caravan on a lovely peaceful site while we looked for a new house to buy.  We had a bit of an extended summer holiday and it was lovely.  Then the government decreed that the site had to close.  We were fortunate to be able to find a fully furnished rental which allowed pets but again… ‘stress’ doesn’t cover how challenging the period was.  For the record, a word of advice: don’t sell a house in a pandemic or try to move 300 miles in a lockdown.

Thanks to Georgy Rudakov Via Unsplash for the image

I stopped writing.  From the end of June 2020 until mid-January 2021 I did not write as much as a shopping list.  It wasn’t apathy, fugue or procrastination.  With hindsight I think it was process-related – I simply got out of my ‘groove’ which included elements of physical space (my lost office and only having my laptop to work on) and different measurements of time in a lockdown.

What kickstarted me back into a groove was the astounding news from Pen to Print that I am one of their ten Book Challenge Competition winners.  Way back at the beginning of 2020 I submitted a synopsis and first chapter of a novel.  Submissions are filtered down to ten winners and I was one of the ten.  The winners all get mentoring support to get the book to publication. The prize is worth £5k. Next year, the ten completed books will also go into a final competition and the ultimate winner will be chosen.

I am beyond thrilled to win such a valuable prize which is packed with opportunity.  Pen to Print has a great deal of book industry respect and support and I am so lucky to be joining their stable of writers.  I have already (virtually) ‘met’ my fellow writers and the mentor team and am at last writing again – with a curious wonder that I ever left something I love so much. 

For those unfamiliar with Pen to Print do check out their website at https://pentoprint.org/  They run amazing competitions and fabulous courses. 

I will not, mostly, be entering competitions in 2021 but I will be focussed on completing my novel. So, I am changing the name of the blog to reflect the different writing focus this year. I will continue to blog about my process as the year goes on.

PS Am delighted to have had a poem, ‘FUG’ (about lockdown) accepted for the annual on-line Febulous (sic) February blog. I have recorded a reading of the poem which is to be played on Medway Pride Radio sometime in February. I will add a link when I get it.

March: The Book Challenge

One of my competition submissions this month was to the Pen to Print ‘book challenge’.

The Book Challenge is looking to provide a year-long programme of support to new writers of any genre.  Writers will be offered (online) classes and guided by a mentor through the process of writing a new book and getting it to publication. 

To enter the challenge, writers are invited to send in a synopsis of the book idea and the first chapter of a WIP.

I submitted the first chapter of my current WIP ‘Everyday Wendy’.  Creating a synopsis was a useful exercise in good, tight storytelling. A dictionary definition of a synopsis is ‘brief/condensed summary’ and this forced me to think – what is this book actually about? What is the essence of the story? What are its piths and pivots?.  I could, of course, answer these questions because they had guided my planning and plotting but answering each concisely and succinctly was unexpectedly challenging and, ultimately, helpful.

‘Everyday Wendy’ is my current (primary) work in progress.  I am about a third of the way through towards my projected final word count and, as most first drafts are, it is a mess.  I think the premise for the book is good and, though out of my usual genre, I am enjoying writing it.  The first draft is a very long way from submission and it almost felt too soon to be even thinking about submitting to this type of competition.  I had to think carefully about whether to submit later if at all. There was a lot to think about and it seemed to me, pros and cons.

The idea of winning a prize is a key motivating factor. Who doesn’t want to win a prize and enjoy that one’s work and talent has been recognised? That said, was this prize one I actually wanted? The mentorship offered is from a ‘professional writer’ and I am keen to learn from peers and those with more experience but I do not want to waste their time, nor do I want demands made of me that I cannot, or don’t want to, meet (deadlines or changes in writing style for example). The competition needs successful outcomes so to be fair to it, and its organisers, I needed to be clear with myself that in applying to it, the prize – should I be lucky enough to win it – met my writing needs and take my writing where I want it to go? I also had to consider the (probably more likely outcome) stinging impact of not being selected.

(Image by Junmardun under Creative Commons Licence)

An important question I considered was my commitment to this particular WIP. This book is somewhat experimental – a writing exercise, outside my usual genre, light-hearted, comedic. Different to anything I have written before. It feels like writing in a lovely playground. If I was going to submit it for scrutiny, I needed to think about whether it was just a writing exercise or did I intend to see it through to a potentially publishable draft? Being conscious about my strong commitment to the story and its telling was motivating and uplifting – and a useful lesson in itself. It was something of a revelation to take time to ask myself whether I loved this work enough to see it through. I do.

After pondering for a few days, I decided it was a good opportunity for me and got ready to submit my first chapter.  Even this caused pause for thought.  My first chapter is adequately rounded and the quality of writing is good but does it say anything about where the book is going or what it is aiming to do?  Is it a good ‘showcase’ for the planned rest of the book?  I am not confidently sure.  I wondered how the competition judges would arrive at their decisions based on single early chapters of works in progress and a synopsis.  It made me consider how first chapters need to capture the reader.  I already have notes about how to make the next draft of this chapter stronger.

I started this challenge year of writing for competitions to develop my writing craft.  Obviously, I hope to win every completion I enter through the year but think it more likely that I will win few if any. Still, the act of thinking through whether to submit and the quality of work which might fit the bill is so far, proving to be a productive learning process.

Thanks to supportive fellow writer @PatsyCollins for the alert about this challenge. In a similar spirit, I share it too.  This opportunity is still open for subs – the deadline isn’t until 25th September, so there is still time to enter.  Good luck!