Ideas for writing

I’ve forgotten what it’s like to have an idea for a story and then translate this to the page. I remember the painstaking effort it takes to formulate the right words to characterise the story itself, the rush of excitement when it starts to come together and the exhilaration when a draft is done. But even though I can recall these things I don’t feel capable of feeling them anew.

Perhaps I don’t have the right idea yet, or any ideas at all…Perhaps I’m not really listening to my inner muse, or maybe she’s taken a holiday without me! What I do know is that currently the urge to write is minimal and as long as it feels like a chore then I’m unlikely to enjoy it as I should. I don’t want to push myself, yet I also don’t want to lose the writing muscle I’ve built up over the last few years. Being here, on the blog, is helping. The Blog a Day in May challenge I’ve set is encouraging me to commit to writing some words each day, though I know my heart lies with fiction.

I don’t want to rely on memories to remind me what it’s like to write, nor do I want to force myself into it and build up a resentment. What I feel I need is an irresistibly alluring idea, one that will challenge me to get a pen back in my hand, ink onto the page and a story out of my mind and into the world.

So, maybe the focus needs to be less on the writing and more on the creation of ideas…?

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The value of Literature Festivals

HLF2017 Logo with datesThis month has been all about the Huddersfield Literature Festivalbringing words to life between 4th-19th March. With over fifty events it’s been bigger than ever and I feel privileged to even say I play a small part in the organisation of such, being Festival Secretary and all. I’ve written before about how rewarding working for the Festival has been for me, and I would encourage any one (writer or reader) to seek out local festivals of any kind and join in where they can.

Literature Festivals are all about the writer, regardless of the written form; novels, short stories, poetry, flash fiction, non-fiction – anything goes. And by no means do I mean the writers who feature at the events. No, I also mean us, the public, those people who attend to hear more about the writing craft, who crave the success stories of debut authors and lap up the longevity of long-time, career writers. Personally, I sit in the audience and secretly wonder what it would be like to be on the other side; looking out over a sea of faces eager to hear more about my journey to becoming a published author. And this, I have discovered, is a very worthwhile motivator.

But it’s strange, because I know if I ever do get the chance to sit on the other side of that audience, all waiting for me to tell them how I got published, why this story, and why these characters – I know I would pass on the same cliches that we often hear today:

  • You have to finish the novel before you can look for an agent
  •  The story surprised me, I didn’t plan for it to be this way in the beginning
  • My characters took on a life of their own, they did things that were unexpected
  • I couldn’t force my characters to do something; they would resist by ruining the writing I was trying to make happen
  • It takes hard work, determination and persistence to get published
  • I received lots of rejections before finally finding an agent who believes in me

All of these things are true. They will also all be likely to remain true so long as traditional publishing is the main route to publication. Many of them apply even without the push to enter mainstream publishing; true of independent publishing and even some of self-publishing too. You can’t follow a formula for writing a best selling novel first time around, but you can count on the above being just as applicable for one author as much as another in the end.

The true value of a Literature Festival, though, lies in how you approach the events: you have to be a participant, not just an observer. Ask questions, take notes, speak to the people who are there. This is where you can network and meet like-minded writers and readers who will be thirsty for your stories, who will listen to your novel pitch with enthusiasm and interest, and possibly even highlight where your explanations needs expansion or clarification.

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Loved this pic by @DavidMBarnett with Ian Rankin

I spoke to a lot of people – some of them writers, others who were readers – and they were all complimentary when I told them I was a writer myself. I received encouragement from the authors I spoke to too: tips for getting back into writing, for carrying on through rejection, for simply being a part of the Festival itself. I got to drink with Ian Rankin in our local pub (he was particularly pleased after he bought a round for seven of us and still had change from a £20 note!). I met authors of books I might not ordinarily have read. And – this is important – whenever I attended an event I made an effort to buy the book. It’s important for me to demonstrate my support for the author in this way. Though I should say the Festival pays all of our authors to attend events, regardless of how established or popular they may be; being a debut author at Huddersfield Literature Festival does not mean you have to appear for ‘free’ because it might allow you to sell some books. We know how tough it can be and we are committed to supporting their success as an author.

By doing this – buying a copy of each of the novels of the events I participate in – I get to discover new authors, and read books I am invested in because I’ve heard the journey of the writer and how hard they worked to shape this novel or story or poem. I’ve discovered stories I absolutely love – Calling Major Tom by David Barnett, or Margot and Me by Juno Dawson. But, it also fuels my own imagination and makes me realise that I want this too. So, once I’ve signed off this post, perhaps after a cup of tea, I’m going to sit back down and write. I don’t know what, but I am going to write something; because if I don’t write, how can I call myself a writer?

 

 

 

 

How my dog makes me a writer

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Penny – 1st Canine BF

I don’t think I realise how integral being a dog-owner really is to who I am. I mean, I’ve always known I am a dog-person: even when I was little and we had two cats, four guinea pigs and even two horses the only pet I really desired was a dog. And since I made my first four-pawed friend at the age of eleven or so I haven’t been without a furry best friend until last year when Mac – my rescue Westie – died .

I spent six months dog-less: until I couldn’t do it anymore and we finally settled on rescuing Daisy – a 5yr old Pointer/Terrier mix who is more energetic than a mad, untrained puppy. And she was untrained; the only thing she knew was not to soil the house (thankfully). Unfortunately she hasn’t yet worked out she isn’t allowed on the kitchen worktops when we’re not home or in the bin, or on the furniture. She was one of nine dogs relinquished by an owner unable to care for them any more. She also howls when I go out, just from sheer boredom it appears as she shows no other signs of distress and doesn’t worry when we’re getting ready to leave. I guess that’s what living with eight other dogs can do; she’s probably never been on her own before.

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Dog #2: Ryac – Penny’s son

Anyway, what was I saying? Of course: I’m a dog-person. My soul is not content unless it has another to bond to, and I happen to think that doggy souls are the most loyal and doting ones out there. My life just seems incomplete without a four-legged friend to keep me company as I write.

 

The thing I missed the most in those dog-less six months was walking. Now I know you can walk on your own, but it just isn’t the same. I tried, a few times, but people aren’t as friendly when you’re on your own. Not once did people stop to talk to me as a solitary walker. Yet, the first time I went out with Daisy I had three conversations in the space of half an hour. And it is during these long, ambling strolls that I usually conjure up characters, ideas and work out tangled plot holes and problems.

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Mac – the rescue Westie

So it’s only natural that I’m writing again. Not much, just short ideas and story possibilities. I did, however, also manage to submit my complete novel to an agent and received my first official rejection all in the space of a month. I wear it like a badge of honour: nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, the opposite, as it proves I have enough faith in my work to share it. And it wasn’t a bad rejection, far from it, there were compliments included, the mention of the word ‘talent’. I won’t take it too seriously, but I need to identify a few other agents to submit to now, hunt around for the best choices and believe in myself enough to press send again.

So that’s why I’m here. Back from the ether to share my journey once again; hope that I will have something to contribute to the world through my ramblings and rediscover my love of blogging alongside that of fiction. In the meantime I have my dog to keep me entertained, healthy and content. I suppose what I’ve realised is that for me the two things are indistinguishably intertwined. I am both a dog-person AND a writer and I’m not sure I can be one without the other.

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Daisy – the ‘trouble-maker’!

 

 

 

A Letter to My Dearly Departed Dog

Dearest Mac,

I miss you. It’s only been two months since you disappeared over Rainbow Bridge, a journey I sent you out on alone because you were no longer able to enjoy this life as you once had done. It was a difficult decision, but living with the consequences of such a choice has been much harder.

I miss having a reason to get out of bed in the morning and your sleepy little face waking up so pleased to see me; the sound of your paws on the laminate flooring, scraping and tapping away when you got up before I did. I miss the soft depth of your fur as I scratched behind your ears, watching the grin spread across your face and your head tilt further toward me, entranced by the bliss of my fingers massaging your head. I miss your smell; that musty, deep aroma that I used to breathe in whenever I came home after work: to me it meant that the wait was over, that it was time to play, that we were united again.

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I remember moaning whenever I was tired and I had to take you out in the rain, except, once we were out braving the weather together – you in your coat and me in mine – it was peaceful and energising. I always came back home feeling better than when we left. I recall your little trot instead of a walk and how you would bound about instead of run; your happy, swaying movements portrayed genuine joy and that could only ever make me smile. I remember coming home from work angry, when things hadn’t gone to plan or someone had let me down, and there you were, waiting to cheer me up, to make me forget the worries of the outside world because when we were together nothing else mattered to you, or to me.

There is a space beneath my desk now, where you used to rest beside my feet as I wrote. The corner where your bed used to be is clear and I don’t believe anything will ever fill that space again, not like you. The hook where your leads and collars and coats used to hang are empty now, the novelty dog tail still – there will be no more wags from you. The house is quiet without your footsteps, tapping along the hall, and no gentle snoring accompanies my daily chores although the silence echoes just as loud.

The largest void remains in my heart when I think of how essential you were to my life. At home you were my shadow and now no companion waits for me outside the bathroom door, as excited to see me after my two minute break than if I had been gone for hours. You were the reason I stopped to talk to people as we walked, and grew to know my neighbours. And when I struggled with my health you expected nothing but my love, and judged me not for the things I could not do but for the simplest gestures of attention that were all I could manage on a bad day. You helped me push through my boundaries and commit to the things I loved to do. In this way you were my inspiration, my muse and my champion; each day marked by those three walks we took that structured each one.

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I’ve stopped writing now. It isn’t the same without you here. There will always be something missing whenever I sit down at my desk and prepare to write. There is no impetus to roll out of bed, no thoughtful morning walk or happy playful times. My feet remain cold as I sit here and the room is quiet, and I have no encouraging eyes to look upon when I come to a blank moment. There is no end to the torture of that blank page that I am now to face alone; no hopeful face looking up at me to remind me that it’s time to stop and take a break. And there are no silly celebrations when I do finally find the words; no squeaky toys to watch you chase or treats for you to find. My writing world is ‘blah’ without you in it and I find myself at a loss to continue with it now you’re gone.

Instead I write to you, my faithful rescue dog, who knew how to make me smile when I was down and calm me when I despaired. You gave your whole self to me and I had to let you go. And the pain is still so raw, my home too empty and quiet, and my heart broken.

Yours Forever and More,
Cat x