Monday, 14 September 2015

What I'm Doing This Month

Yes, I know it's mid month and I really should have posted this at the beginning of September but it's been a hectic couple of weeks and I've only just sat down (reaches for coffee).

No, really, it has. The beginning of September saw my children return to school (youngest child joining his big sister at high school) which should have given me a chance to catch up on everything. I say 'should' because around the same time, my husband and I decided to start the cogs turning in the 'moving house' process. The documents are signed. The boxes have been purchased (and several of them packed). We have keys to collect and measurements to make in the new house. It's all good but it's also time-consuming.

My daughter also turned into a teenager, this weekend just gone. There were presents to buy and wrap, and arrangements to be made for a birthday weekend away. We got back late last night.

So, back to the topic at hand (need more coffee), my post, this post, on what I'm getting up to in September, preferably on the creative front. Here goes:

I'm working on the penultimate draft of my novel before putting it through a process called the Story Grid which was created by editor and writer, Shawn Coyne. I'll be reporting back on how that worked out and what I  thought of the Story Grid when I've used it.

I'll be especially polishing the first fifty pages to email off to a lady called Carrie Kania. Carrie is a literary agent for Conville & Walsh and is taking part in the Chester Literature Festival this October. I'm hoping to meet with her for a chat about my novel during the festival.

Before I knew that I'd be whipped up in the moving house whirlwind, I signed on for a free course through Future Learn - Introduction to Journalism - to further develop my writing skills. If you haven't heard of Future Learn, here's what they have to say about themselves.

"We're a private company wholly owned by the Open University, with the benefit of over 40 years of their experience in distance learning and online education."

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life."

"We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you're learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas."

I've also joined an online writing group formed of current and ex (like me) Open University students. I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed discussing my and others' writing.

So there you have it. September looks to be busy in all kind of ways. I hope I can keep up. Wish me luck.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern - a book review

One of the delights of my recent family holiday was having the time to read. The literary gem that I took away with me was The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I love a book that enthralls me so much that I forget time and my surroundings. The Night Circus was just such a book.

This is a novel of magic, illusion (magical, mechanical and emotional), gameplay and love, set at the turn of the twentieth century in Europe and the USA. These are the first lines that I read.

The circus arrives without warning.
   No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and  billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.

To me, this opening does two things. It announces the arena that the novel will take place in, the circus, and it employs the magic of the circus (that most of will have experienced) to pull us in as an audience. We want to read on and find out what happens.

The various cover designs (my copy looked like the one above) are all predominated by the colours of black and white, with a touch of red, a perfect reflection of the novel.

   The towering tents are striped in white and black, no golds or crimsons to be seen. No colour at all, save for the neighbouring trees and the grass of the surrounding fields. Black-and-white stripes on grey sky; countless tents of varying shapes and sizes, with an elaborate wrought-iron fence encasing them in a colourless world.

The black and white is seen not only in the design of the circus but also represents the importance of balance in the novel. When that balance is finally stripped away by a broken heart, tragedy will befall the circus and its inhabitants. You'll find out the significance of the red if you read the novel.

The novel is structured in a similar way to the circus itself.

The Whole of Le Cirque de Reves is formed by series of circles. Perhaps it is a tribute to the origin of the word "circus," deriving from the Greek kirkos meaning circle, or ring. There are many such nods to the phenomenon of the circus in a historical sense, though it is hardly a traditional circus. Rather than a single tent with rings enclosed within, the circus contains clusters of tents like pyramids, some large and others quite small. They are set within circular paths, contained within a circular fence. Looping and continuous.
- Friedrick Thiessen, 1892

Similarly, the novel leads us along many paths whose endings are hidden and presents us with a delightful temptation of tents in the form of involving stories and rich characters.
  • There is the description of the experience of the circus through seemingly anonymous eyes that begins the novel.
  • The writings of Friedrick Thiessen, master clockmaker and the original reveur.
  • The story of two apprentice magicians and illusionists (neither term truly describes them), Celia and Marco, set against each other in a battle of magic.
  • The establishment of the circus by theatre master, Chandresh Christophe Lefevre and an unusual gathering of like-minded people.
  • The lives of the circus people themselves and their intrinsic connection to the circus.
  • The Reveurs, the followers of the Night Circus.
  • Finally, there is the story of a boy called Bailey, not a circus person, who finds a place to belong.
By the end of the novel, I felt like one of the Reveurs, as if I had been given a glimpse into and become part of the magical, theatrical experience of the Night Circus.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Choice Words for September

It's the first day of September (pinch punch, white rabbits, something like that) and the last day of the summer holidays for me and my children. Tomorrow, I go back to being a grown-up. Today, however, I can still relax - phew.

So along with the first day of September, this is the first monthly Choice Words post. Today, I'm sharing an article about another 'first' from the Writer's Digest website written by novelist Jeff Gerke, 4 Approaches for the First Chapter of Your Novel. I've started my novel with approach no. 2. Have a read and you'll see what I mean.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

7 ways I cope with my anxiety

I was diagnosed with 'anxiety' a number of years ago. I had been suffering from continual tiredness, achey muscles and a general feeling of being 'just not right' for a long time before that. Physically, I've generally been very healthy throughout my life so feeling unwell for such a long time, and not being able to put a finger on it, was a worrying development.

The diagnosis of anxiety was, to a large extent, a relief. It was a problem I could solve myself so I accepted all the literature that the doctor gave to me and I began to research the condition. Page by page, article by article, things fell into place - physical conditions, emotional reactions. It all made sense and moreover, I could see when the anxiety began too.

I've been coping with my anxiety ever since. It doesn't ever go away completely but that's ok. I've developed a number of ways to manage it, to ensure that it doesn't rule my life. I'm not medically qualified in any way but I know what anxiety is for me, and what it can do to a person.These methods may not work for everyone. We all cope and react in different ways to what life throws at us. They work for me and I'm sharing them in the hope that they may help other anxiety sufferers too.

1. Prepare. Anxiety can cause me to feel very scattered and distracted, which in turn leads me to forget things. This then goes one of two ways. I either do forget to do something or take an item with me, or I have to check and recheck until I'm sure I've picked up my keys or locked a door. To avoid that situation, I do my best to prepare for events that could cause my anxiety to flare up. A while before, maybe even the previous night, I check that I have everything I need. I think ahead and make sure that tasks are done (my children's school uniform washed and ironed, the information compiled for my tax return, the lounge tidied in case we have visitors). Knowing that things are in place allows me to relax.

2. Worse Case Scenario. This can make me anxious in itself but again, it's part of being prepared (see point 1). If I can think up the worst possible outcome to an event, then I can solve (hopefully) all the things that could go wrong. Most times, it's really nothing very serious (having to wash knickers on holiday because I haven't taken sufficient) but facing the possibility of things going wrong means that I can not only prepare but that I also know how to react should it happen.

3. Have a safe person. I know that when my anxiety flares up, it can affect my emotions. My reactions can become irrational, dramatic and blown out of any kind of proportion. That's when I check in with my safe person, my husband. I know that if I ask him whether my reactions are reasonable, he'll give me an honest reply. Yes, that's completely reasonable, or no, you need to sit down and have a cup of tea. Anxiety can narrow our view of life. Sometimes, we need someone safe to take off our blinkers.

4. Be in the moment. I mention in point 1 that I can become scattered and distracted when my anxiety flares up. What I do, when this happens, is concentrate on what I am doing at that moment. If I'm leaving the house, then I give all my attention to locking the door. If I'm driving, I concentrate on the road (rather than letting my mind drift off to what that character should be doing in my novel). What this does is slow my thinking down, which in turn, slows my breathing. Deep breathing is a wonderful way to ground yourself in the moment. There is rarely a situation when you can't just stop, for thirty seconds even, and take a few deep breaths. Being in the moment means that I don't have the 'head space' to worry.

5. Recognise physical signs. Long before my anxiety affects me emotionally, it is evident in my body. My muscles become tense, especially around my neck and jawline. I sometimes develop stomach ache. I often feel light-headed. Eventually, the tenseness in my muscles will cause them to ache. By listening to my body, I can stop the anxiety from becoming worse.

6. Food and drink triggers. There are certain foods and drinks that I avoid, and there are others that I partake of only occasionally because they exacerbate my anxiety. I love a good latte but too much caffeine can send me up the proverbial wall. I therefore drink decaf coffee and save the real stuff for an occasional treat. The same goes for tea - I'm a firm fan of decaf PG Tips. I don't drink pop (coke, pepsi, lemonade) because the mixture of caffeine and sugar causes my anxiety to flare up. I only eat a small amount of sugar of any kind because again, for me, it increases the effects of my anxiety.

7. Keep big decisions for when you're calm. I know full well that if I try to make big, important decisions when I'm feeling overly anxious, I'll probably mess up. Now on occasion, I may not have the luxury of waiting (burning building, tyre blow out, fashion house sale stampede) but overall, most decisions can wait until I am calmer and more clear-headed. This is another time to speak to that safe person.

I suffer from anxiety but I don't let it rule me. It's just another factor of what it means to be 'me'. I have children, I have an overactive imagination and I'm affected by anxiety. I cope, just like we all do. Thanks for listening.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Photo Inspiration for August

This month's photograph was taken during a walk in the Grosvenor Park in Chester with my children. I can't find any information on the archway anywhere. It is simply described as a 'relic'.

There's a smaller archway to the right hand side and behind me is another archway. Looking at the three together, it was probably the two ends of a walkway at one time, but why the very small arch?

What does this image make you think of? The people who have passed through it? The building it was originally a part of? The era of its creation? What would this inspire you to write?