Friday, 28 February 2014

Something useful for 2014 - Exercise No. 1

It's the last day of February. There is blossom in my garden. It feels like spring is here - although it doesn't officially start until 20th May - so I felt like a fresh beginning on my blog, something new. Starting today, each month will see a new writing exercise appear on this site. I won't be marking papers. These exercises are for you to do with as you please, for personal, private work or to share, if you wish. That's up to you.

This month's exercise is about food. Or rather it begins with food. Take one of your favourite foods and write a short piece on where you first ate it.

For me, the food is bagels, and the place was Venice in Italy. It was my second short visit there. I planned to go with a friend but at the last minute, she cancelled. I had paid for the whole trip, expecting her to pay me back, so I now had two plane tickets and two hotel bookings. None of my other friends wanted to go. I was single at the time and, in my very early twenties, the thought of going on my own was terrifying. In the end, my mum rescued me. We had a girly long weekend. We became friends on that trip, rather than simply mother and daughter.

The bakery was on the corner of an alleyway that fed onto St Mark's Square. Swept along with a crowd of tourists and locals, we almost missed the shop front. Mum was always a foodie and the brightly coloured pastries caught her eye first. I could almost hear my Father saying, "Dolly, don't drool."  Inside, the bakery was small but expertly arranged with pristinely kept glass cases. My mother chose a selection of sweet things but my eye was drawn by something I'd never seen before - a selection of multi-coloured bagels, expertly displayed under glass. The man behind the counter, speaking in fluid, lyrical tones of English, asked what I wanted in my bagel. When I didn't answer, he smiled and took one of the bagels to the back counter. I watched as he deftly sliced the bagel and began to add ingredients. What he handed me, a few minutes later, was a cream cheese and pastrami bagel wrapped in paper. I had never experienced that combination, or a bagel, but my mother paid before I had a chance to doubt his choice. 

We ate as we wandered around the square, stopping outside the Doges Palace, taking a photo of the Campanile, chatting about our new finds. The coolness of the cream cheese tamed the salty meatiness of the pastrami, and enveloping both was the chewy texture of the bagel itself. At that moment, it was the best sandwich I had ever tasted and a large part of that 'best' was the company, the place and the newness of it all.

So there you have it, my first taste of a bagel. What about you? What was your food? What made it special? 

Thursday, 27 February 2014

Photo Inspiration for February

In the massive miscellany of photographs that my parents left to me are many unidentified faces. I can guess at which side of the family some of them belong to (the smiling man that looks like my Father, the family photographed in a studio in Leeds where my Mother came from) but I have no idea whom the majority of them are. I thought I would use one of these as this month's photo inspiration.

I would guess that this family were photographed pre 1920s. What can you tell me about them? Did they all get on? Was the daughter the centre of attention? What did the boys grow up to be? 

Tell me a story about these faces.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Tuesday Choice Words

It's half term holiday here. My husband has taken the week off too. I have one script to finish and another one to start. My children keep reminding me that there's a world outside the front door (park, softplay, McDonalds). I am therefore becoming very adept at juggling (and nowadays my children are old enough to land on their feet if I drop them). So this podcast (with transcript) from Steven Pressfield - Family Pressure - came just in time.

Friday, 21 February 2014

7 Ways To Work To A Deadline

2014 has been a wonderful year for my murder mystery script writing business with the third commissioned play confirmed yesterday. With one play written and delivered, and the second underway, I've been working to a tight schedule to meet customer deadlines.

An added complication is the fact that I work from home and juggle my work hours around my two children. Here's how I've managed to keep to my deadlines.
  1. Before I began each script, I had a brainstorm session. I wrote down all the things that I had to do besides writing the script. For instance, I have a morning school run and and another one in the afternoon. These are non negotiable. They are a must. However, certain tasks (like filing) can be put off for a few weeks. Decide what is on your non negotiable list and what can be postponed.
  2. I made a time plan. I know how long it will take to devise the idea for a script, and then the length of time it will take to write, edit and polish it. I have my customer deadlines to hand. Looking at the results of my brain storm session (above), I also know what else I have to fit in to my day. An extra complication is the fact that it's the half term next week so I will have my children at home all day. My plan has to take all of these things into consideration.
  3. I made a worst case scenario plan. What would I do if either (or both) of my children were off ill? What would I do if I was ill? What would I do if we had a power cut? These are mainly time related concerns so I then altered my time plan to give myself a little toe wiggling room should the need arise.
  4. As part of the original conversation with my customer, I confirmed and reconfirmed the details of the commission - cast, staging, theme, deadline, contact details, payment terms. Having these details agreed and definite, I could safely get on with writing the script.
  5. Before I begin to write, I ensure I have everything I need to hand - notes, coffee, glasses - so there is no reason to interrupt my writing to go and find something.
  6. To keep to my time plan, I do my best to cut out distractions. I don't answer the phone unless I can see that it's the school or my husband and I have only the script open on my computer. I can concentrate solely on my writing.
  7. Finally, I give myself permission to say 'no'. No, I  can't take the morning out for a coffee with a friend (I'll save that as a treat for when the project is over). No, I can't spend a couple of hours on the phone to another friend during the day (but in the evening, I'm free to chat). Most importantly, no, I can't take on more work than I can feasibly fit into a working day/week/month/year. Saying 'no' isn't an act of rejection in this instance. It's an honest statement that saves me and everyone else from bad temper, misunderstanding and resentment. It's a healthy laying down of boundaries.
How do you keep to your deadlines?

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Tuesday Choice Words

I'm currently working on a murder mystery play that is set in a shed. Okay, it's a large shed, but still the scenes have to keep the play interesting in the way that they utilise the space so I was delighted to come across 6 tips on making similar scenes feel different on The Other Side of the Story. Have a look.

Friday, 14 February 2014

A Different Kind of Love

I've followed the usual Valentine's Day routine - present and card for my husband purchased from a store heaving with hearts, chocolates and romantic rhymes. We swapped cards and greetings this morning and there'll hopefully be some couple time this evening, if we can bribe the children to go to bed early.

For the past twelve years, it's been the same, cards and pressies and romantic meals. I'm not complaining. I love my husband dearly - he makes me chuckle and inspires me to be a better person - but there were years before that dozen when I was single and the one love that I always clung to on those days was my love of writing.

It's still there, although it now has to share me with a demanding family, but it gets its fair share of my time. I love to write for many reasons.
  • Meeting new characters who come to me in the weirdest places.
  • Seeing adventures in the most mundane circumstances.
  • Moulding a story from the bare clay of 'what if' and 'why'.
  • Signing off on a finished play and hearing a customer express how much they loved it. The fact that they see the same in it that I do is a gem of an experience.
  • Being prevented from sleep by an idea that demands I write it down.
  • Having the opportunity to share my stories with others.

I'm sure there are other reasons too. What about you? What do you love most about writing?

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Tuesday Choice Words

Today's choice words are from the wonderful Marie Forleo in this video from her Q&A Tuesdays - When Inspiration Backfires.

How to be creative - PBS Digital Studios

Thursday, 6 February 2014

The Year of Reading Women

I first heard about the Year of Reading Women through the Twitter hashtag #readwomen2014.

In Joanna Walsh's article, Will #readwomen2014 change our sexist reading habits? she writes,

"It's a truth universally acknowledged that, although women read more than men, and books by female authors are published in roughly the same numbers, they are more easily overlooked".

Do we place more value in and respect for books written by men? I'd hate to think so but looking at my own reading choices, I have to admit that 75 - 80% of the books I read are written by men. Do I respect male writers more than female? Not consciously, no. It's an interesting topic that I'm sure will be discussed further throughout the year but for now I'm going to add my support by making a conscious effort to read more books by female writers, not instead of books by male writers but in a larger percentage than I currently do.

Adding to my previous list of writers that I converse with whom I wish to support, is the author, Satya Robyn. I'm particularly interested in reading her novel, Small Kindnesses.

From my book shelf (which holds far too many books that I haven't read), there is The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and Sepulchre from Kate Mosse. Stealing over to (and from) my children's bookshelves, I'll be reading Magyk, the first of the Septimus Heap books by Angie Sage.

What about you? Do you read more women writers, men or a mixture of both? Do you think there is a preference towards men's books? I'd love to hear from you.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Tuesday Choice Words

I'm struggling with a new chapter for the latest draft of my novel. I start and stutter and start again. This isn't writer's block because I know what I want to write and yet the words, the right words, either evade me or play annoyingly hard to get. I finally came to the conclusion that the difficulty was caused by the main character I was writing about. I need to get to know Blessing better, and as so often happens, a blog article popped into my inbox at just the right time to help me with this problem.

25 things a great character needs has proved an incredible help in mapping out Blessing's character. Written by Chuck Wendig, it features on his site terribleminds and is well worth a read.