Tuesday, 30 August 2011

What I'm Writing at the Moment

I had to be quick in yesterday’s blog because I was being pulled away by my poetry, so now that the first notes and lines are down on the page, I thought I’d share with you what I’m writing at the moment.

After a difficult year of not writing but reading lots, an idea sparked in May this year.  It came to me to write a sequence of poems about my early inspirations and motivations as a writer.  I’ve been storytelling since I was about six and have always known that I am a Writer; that writing is as much a part of my identity as my green eyes or auburn hair.  Reaching back into the past to think about what had once inspired me when I was currently stumped and stagnant was a bit odd to start with, but then was a warm, positive and affirming experience.  The topics or subjects that I remembered form the basis of my poetry sequence, each one having its own poem (I think there will be eight...but there’s always room for things to change!). 

I began by digging out my first (and only) typewriter...and making notes as I rediscovered it after about fourteen years (God, I’m getting old!).  I wanted to capture how much hard work, both physically and mentally, writing can be; using the format of an inky, splotchy typewriter font – for this texture and tangibility is part of the typewriter’s appeal to most writers, I’d argue – alongside the imagery and metaphor of a blacksmith.  After nine drafts (yes, nine!  But this was the first thing I’d written in a year and a half, so let me off!), I felt it was finished – it had earned its title of ‘The Writer’s Toil’.

Next up is a bit of a guilty secret which I’m going to confess to you all – I love the TV show ‘Murder, She Wrote’!  Let me explain...  Both the programme and the main character have long been an influence on me as a writer (and not by enticing me to commit any crimes or murders, I hasten to add!), and I felt it was time to pay my respects.  My mum passed away when I was eleven and I grew up without an adult female role model (I’m an only child with no close family, and my dad was on his own until four years ago) – except for Jessica Fletcher, that is.  Each week, into our home came Jessica and the cosy community she is part of, celebrating her not only as a strong, independent woman, but also as a writer.  There is much about her character, her personality that is worth discussing, and I do so in ‘Dear Jessica Fletcher’.  On the heels of this poem came my more impersonal and impartial take on exactly what I found in the TV show that was inspirational: ‘Murder, We Wrote’ is a shorter, sharper poem which retains my admiration for the original programme.

I’m currently working on Poem Four, which is about the thesaurus and what an invaluable tool this is for a writer.  Ever a connoisseur of words (as you already know!), I often sit and read both the dictionary and thesaurus, and have learned to improve my work simply by swapping a redundant word for one that pulls its weight.  This is what I hope to convey through the imagery and themes of alchemy and apprenticeship (cue thoughts of scratchy scrolls and bubbling test tubes!) – but we’ll have to see how it goes!  I’ll be writing the first draft on Thursday using the first thoughts I wrote yesterday, so I’ll keep you posted.

Poem Five will be about – shock, horror – my misspent youth: a bit of a word-thief, I collected phrases and sentences from books and songs, writing them in a notebook to use later in my own work...eek!  This is, of course, plagiarism, the worst crime a writer can commit – but I didn’t know it then.  My get-out-of-jail-free card is that I actually never used one word from someone else – I realised that any effect to come out of it would be false, untrue and empty, because it wouldn’t be my work.  It wasn’t worth it – becoming better on my own was.  Phew, I hear you cry!

Those of you who went to school with me will know that I was always the English-swot in the corner, though I was rubbish at anything that didn’t involve words (Maths, Science and PE – particularly! – come to mind) – and so the word-success I achieved at school will be the focus of Poem Six.  School is a rocky experience for most of us, and socially it was for me – but once again I found solace in stories, and that’s what this poem will show.

My love of reading won’t surprise any of you, and this will be the basis of Poem Seven.  Titles, favourites, ones not liked; ones I wish I’d written, those I’m glad I didn’t; the world that I – we, if you’re a fellow reader – enter when a book is open – all of these may well find their way into this poem...and if not, well, don’t disturb me, I’m reading!

Lastly, Poem Eight will be about my Identity as a Writer – and I’ve deliberately capitalised these two words.  Why?  You’ll see when I get to this poem!  This one will most likely be quite personal and possibly poignant, particularly as there are times in my life where I’ve fought against being a writer because I’ve tried to grow up, get a proper job and buy a house – and failed!  But what I’ve got instead – well, it’s worth more than I can say and I couldn’t live without it.

So there we are, my sequence complete.  The actual running order may well be different to how I’ve numbered them above – and I’d welcome any feedback from other writers or crafts-people with experience of how to choose the order of a larger project...so get in touch if this is you!  I should also explain that I’m not able to post the actual poems on my blog, because doing so is seen by many writing competitions, anthologies and small presses (though there are always exceptions, of course), as already being published, which makes that piece of work ineligible for entry – and, thinking of future opportunities, I don’t want to rule myself out of the running before I’ve even entered the race!  However, if you would like to read any (or all) of the poems above, please leave a comment here or on Facebook and I’ll email them to you privately – which is simply sharing my work with a reader and won’t mean I can’t do anything else with them!

Monday, 29 August 2011

Words Week

This past week has been a mixture of feeling ill, being busy, snatching moments to write (well, moments to think about and prepare notes ready to spend time writing today!), meeting up with friends, and celebrating my birthday – so it hasn’t left me much time to blog!

However, I have been top-notch at spotting interesting words instead, and so I’m going to share them here with you now, quickly and succinctly, because I’m hard at work on the initial thoughts and first draft of the next poem in my sequence...and I really need to spend time on it; after a week of pushing it to the bottom of the priority-pile, it deserves my effort and imagination.  (I’ll update the word list on the right-hand side of the screen tomorrow).

Words, then; these are the ones that have taken my fancy (for different reasons) – see if they take yours!

  Integrity     Flurry              Gallant                        Repose                        Beguile            Rhapsody

Rhythm            Luxury                        Journal             Swan               Immerse          Imbibe

Connection                Vibe               Toil                   Cappuccino              Drowse

       Purchase          Choice             Conundrum     Budgie                        Feline              Astral

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

A Scriptorium of My Very Own

Scriptorium n a writing room (Chambers dictionary)

My writing room is our cupboard-under-the stairs – okay, okay, get the Harry Potter jokes out of your system now!  It’s a bit smaller than a box room but big enough to fit my desk and bookcase alongside the shoe rack and coat pegs whilst not feeling claustrophobic.  After an abortive attempt at being a secondary school teacher in 2007 (the prescriptive curriculum crushed my creativity, but the kids weren’t too bad, actually), I decided to get serious about my writing.  And cleared out the cupboard-under-the-stairs to make my very own scriptorium (love that word – think I need to get a plaque made with it inscribed!).

Oh, the junk.  Oh, the age of the junk.  Oh, what c**p my dad does keep!  He is a bit of a hoarder, bless him, and so our family motto is “Just in case.”  Which means empty boxes are stored “just in case” we need them in the future; receipts so old that the ink has faded are filed away “just in case” something needs to be returned; and plastic carrier bags are balled up into a heap “just in case” we should ever run out of them...  To be fair, from his point of view I must seem like a whirlwind, whipping in and making on-the-spot decisions with a clear-cut vision for an end result that he can’t imagine.  Still, he did get to sit on the sofa while I brought in boxes for him to sort through (with piles on the floor clearly labelled ‘Keep’, ‘Chuck’ and ‘Recycle’), and I did the hard labour.

After a couple of days, I could get past the doorway (kidding!) and when the cupboard was empty, I cleaned, mopped and painted.  I moved my computer and desk down from my bedroom, set up a reference bookcase and placed the folders with all my work on the shelves.  I stood back, satisfied.  My brand-new writing room, just waiting for me and my muse.  I sighed, because as new and dedicated and pristine as it was, something was missing...

Me – my personality characterised by my mess.  Forget about my dad’s junk, I too have a penchant for the lived-in look.  Pens, paper, notebooks and journals; framed photographs, books and a collection of (as yet empty) files (writers love stationery!); lists, corkboards and scrapbooks – all are necessary for my writing life.  So, too, is art – photography, paintings (particularly landscapes), sketches and even scultpures are so inspiring to me: they whisper, telling the beginning of the scene’s story, and it’s for me to listen and write the rest.  Add to that my need for witty and wise quotations (see last post), and my newly-painted walls were no longer bare. 

Now, to any of you who love a minimalist decor, this photo of my scriptorium is really going to ache your eyes – but I thought you might like to see where my writing takes place; to have a peek at the portal to my creative world where I lose myself (and those of you who know me well know I have zero navigational skills, so it’s no wonder I’m always in a world of my own!).  I change the pictures and quotes when the mood takes me, but this snap is recent, so you’re getting the real flavour. 

So, here is my scriptorium – and be thankful you get to read the blog on the screen, rather than fight for space to stand beside me as I type!

Monday, 22 August 2011

Sean Bean isn't just a pretty face

I have always loved quotations, both literary and from films; words of wisdom; lines of poetry or song lyrics - any snippet that just captures that indefinable, profound, oh-my-god-someone-else-gets-me moment.  When I was in my teens, I'd write out pages of dialogue from TV programmes, movies and books that I found inspiring or that just resonated in some way (cue lots of 'Dawson Creek' angst - you have to wade through for the logic, but it is there, promise!), but now I confine myself to writing out a few lines/short paragraph on bright sugar paper, and tack them to my walls.

One of my favourites - and one which is a lesson to us all in life, whatever our particular thing is - comes from the film 'When Saturday Comes' starring Sean Bean (who is, rather, a hunk!).  He plays a footballer in a local team and Pete Postlethwaite's (great actor, by the way, sadly missed) character says:

"Potential's no bloody good if you haven't got the courage to do something with it."

So you see, my lack-of-football-interest-but-Sean-Bean-crush led me to watch a film which has a message that is so spot on, it's untrue.  Sean and Pete, you're both legends.

Let's see if I've - we've - got the courage, 'cause I believe I - we - have the potential.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Shipwrecked Sunday

It’s Sunday, so therefore time for ‘Sunday Scribblings’ (an American website that offers creative writing prompt words) – but today’s didn’t grab me: it is ‘Shipwreck’.  Ah.  Let me think...  Johnny Depp springs to mind, obviously; as does the pirate outfit I’ve just ordered for a good friend’s hen night; plus there’s the treasure-chest-on-the-beach photograph I’ve used before as a prompt...and got nowhere beyond ‘sand’ with; and I mustn’t forget one of my earliest proper stories, a smuggler’s tale called ‘The Mystery of Swiftmouth Bay’ written in the last year of primary school. 

I’ve been sitting in the garden, snatching the sun that counts as a English summer, trying to come up with something – but, without mucho rethinking and mucho-mucho work, ‘Shipwreck’ is done for me.  However, in the notebook I was using to jot down my Sunday scribble*, I came across some free writing I’d done three years ago almost to the day – and thought I’d share it, unedited and so ‘free’, with you:

Words words words: words pulse through my brain like electricity and every so often one shocks me – an electric shock that tells me I am alive, I am a reader, I am a writer.  Words are like the feathers in a bird’s nest, comforting, downy, recognisable, familiar.  Words are strong, I am strong with words.  What if I couldn’t communicate?  What would I do without words?

But there will always be an absence of something.

And yet there is always the appearance of something else.  When I came to these pages, I had no idea what would fill them, and here I am, writing, feeling the pen across the page, lift, dip, smooth, sharp, stroke, roll, write, caressing the paper, this intimate dance we have.

And maybe it’s all I need to feel my pen across my page and know words are filling the space in ways I didn’t expect, didn’t anticipate; ways that surprise me, please me.  Ways that will lead to a meaningful paragraph, or idea or connection.

It is the beginning.                                                                                           

*I hasten to add that this Sunday isn’t without any scribbling at all – after dinner, I will be working on the beginnings of poem number four in my sequence of eight – but the theme is alchemy/apprenticeship rather than shipwreck/pirate...or at least, it is at the moment...!

Saturday, 20 August 2011

You Know You're A Writer When...

For the past couple of years, I’ve been subscribing to two writing magazines, ‘Writing Magazine’ and ‘Writer’s Forum’.  During my creative-drought last year, each month’s issue would pile up in the corner with the others, ignored and unread.  But my recent creative-spark has seen me trawl through the back-issues, noting down anything that may be useful, motivational or inspirational – some may see this as rather sad, but to me it’s a way to immerse myself back in the world of writing while actually making myself physically write, a bit like revision from school.

Anyhoo, I chuckled when I came across the following short article in the July 2010 issue of ‘Writing Magazine’, which quotes from a list found on the Writer’s Workshop at www.writersworkshop.co.uk – and if you’re a writer, you’ll identify with this list and chuckle too!

 You Know You’re A Writer When...

1)      You’ve run out of file colours to keep all the hand-written pages of different works.

2)      Your default template setting in Word is double-spaced Times Roman 12 point.

3)      Whilst reading another writer’s work, you find yourself thinking, ‘Too much tell, not enough show.’

4)      You have over 40 different versions of a document with the same title-beginning: .docs, .txts, edit (7), synopses, opening chapters...

5)      You have a drawer that just contains pens.  Some of them stolen.

6)      Battling with your manuscript for the past two years isn’t such a conversation stopper.

7)      You find yourself circling words that end with –ly in your kids’ homework.

8)      You’ve stared at a computer screen for more than an hour without actually adding anything.

9)      Publishing houses have somehow transformed from those great places that print books into fortresses that must be stormed.

10)  You cut a lot of slack to a rubbish film because the central character is a writer.

11)  You’re the only person you know who uses the word conducive in everyday speech.

12)  Just for a moment there, you thought one of your characters was a real person.

13)  You know what an unsolicited submission is.

14)  Quoting someone in an email to a friend, you pause to consider whether to use double speech marks or single.

15)  You found yourself nodding and smiling at most of these.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Who Do I Think I Am?

I’ve just watched BBC1’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ with J.K. Rowling and was, as I always am, moved to tears by the tragedies and traumas that are layered by history and laid bare as the search for ancestry uncovers the truth, as well as the family folklore that becomes tradition. And as always when I watch an episode, I am keen to research part of my family tree, to find my Irish roots.

My paternal great-grandmother Elsie was from Dublin and she was a racing car driver in the 1920s (I didn’t get that bit of the familial DNA as my reversing is awful!), but I know little else about her. I’d like to, for I am fascinated that her daughter became my grandmother and was such a strong, independent and courageous lady. My grandmother’s name was Marguerite Joan, yet she chose to go by Joan (I, however much prefer Marguerite, and so named one of my characters in Book One!); she was a vivacious, caring, well-mannered and literate woman, who sadly left us on 28th November 1993. Dad and I don’t have many of her belongings, but what we do have is of precious value: a painted biscuit barrel with a silver handle; a porcelain two-tier cake stand; a family bible and other Victorian date/address books; various examples of her handwriting; and – of most interest to me – a small date-diary from 1984 and two notebooks.

My grandmother Marguerite wrote names and addresses of people I will never know; she noted how she was feeling and what the weather was like; recording her social outings, she names friends whose characters I can imagine; there are departure times for buses (unlike her mother Elsie, she couldn’t drive); short shopping lists (an ounce of this and a quarter of that); and, just like me, there are titles of books she longed to read, songs she wanted to listen to, lines of poetry that resonated for her. Like me, writing these things down helped lay claim to them, to capture part of an experience she would later come to have, and to be something more than the daily drudgery of life allowed her to.

I see me in my grandmother, and I am grateful. Whilst I could regale you with my thoughts on how the Irish blarney skipped through two generations from Elsie and descended full force into me (!), and how both my Dad and I must be the perfect height to each pass as a Leprechaun (!!), I wish to leave you with a few pages of Marguerite’s handwriting (difficult to decipher, I know) and the thought that, if we go back far enough, we are all descended from someone truly wonderful who is worth remembering every day.  Here's to you, Marguerite.

PS. J.K’s family has given me a wonderful French name for an important character in Novel Number two – J.K’s great-great-grandmother Salome, pronounced Sal-o-may. Thanks, J.K!

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Accomplish this...

Achieve = to bring to a successful outcome; to perform; to win.
Beware: Room for failure.

Accomplish = to complete; to fulfil; to equip (obsolete).
To be accomplished = highly skilled; expert; polished.
Be glad: Room to be satisfied

Monday, 15 August 2011

On Writing Novels...

“Writing a poem is like a short love affair, writing a short story like a long love affair, writing a novel like a marriage.” ~ Amos Oz

Having not been married, I don’t have the full first-hand experience of this comparison, but I have written plenty of poems (make of that what you will!), and in October 2009 I finished writing my first novel (the editing process took a few more months) – so I can relate in some way to this quotation.

Writing my first ever novel was a huge learning curve – and I shackled my creative self to it, certainly for the 14 months of writing it, if not quite for the previous 4 years of thinking about it.  I didn’t write anything else – no poetry, no snippets of pieces to be filled out in the future, no new ideas.  I devoted myself to it – and now I can see that that was rather desperate of me, because after receiving 5 agent rejections (a paltry number compared to ole J.K., I know – stamina is something I need to work on!) I decided to stop sending it out.  And without it, I was bereft.

I didn’t know how to handle not writing, not editing, not thinking about that novel – and so I hid behind happy smiles and declarations of the creative exercises I was going to do to free up my mind, to write again.  And yet though I tried a couple, nothing came.  I had no ‘flow’, as we writers say.  I stalled and entered my own personal hell.

In another post sometime, I’ll open a debate on writers’ block and whether it exists, but suffice it to say not writing kills me.  It took me about 14 months to rediscover my creativity – God knows where it had been hiding because I did try to seek it out with lots of varied reading and scanning through the writing magazines I subscribe to, but I say hallelujah that it returned.

Back in May this year, it slapped me in the face with an idea for a sequence of poems based around my early writing influences and motivations (I started storytelling when I was about 6, but I’m not going to be that juvenile in this collection...she says!).  I’ve written two and am working on the third – I think there will be about eight, give or take – and I’m loving it.  Who knows where I hid the key, but somehow I’ve unlocked the door to my creativity and its visiting me on a regular basis.  And I’m really glad, for it’s who I am: I can’t separate myself from my writing, and I’m good at nothing else (except talking – any news yet on this as an Olympic sport, ’cause I could win us gold next year!).

Novel Number Two awaits, its basic plot intact (I know how to get from A to G to Z, but the bits between need filling in), and I have two inspirational and motivational things ahead: I’ve enrolled on a vocational advanced writing course starting in a few weeks; and, as I intend part of Novel Number Two to be set in Paris, I’m visiting that chic city in November with a friend for a writing-and-research trip.  One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned from Book One is not to commit myself so literally to a project that I become consumed by it and thus am so bereft when it is over – I’m going to try to keep writing other things, like this blog and my poetry sequence, while I begin initial work on Novel Number Two.

Juggling may turn out not to be my forte – but nothing ventured, nothing gained.  Wish me luck!

Sunday, 14 August 2011

10 Minutes!: Standing Ovation

One of my A Level English teachers (I had two and both were great, inspirational and decent teachers) would, each week, teach a creative lesson.  She’d sit at the desk and holler out a random word followed by the phrase “10 minutes!”  This meant we had 10 minutes in which to free-write (which is pen-to-paper spillage, no pausing and no editing, just stream-of-consciousness) about the word or topic she’d chosen – an exercise often used in creative writing.  What probably isn’t oft used is the chorus of repeated “10 minutes!” and rounds of laughter from us students when recounting the lesson in the common room – but still, she was fab.

I’ve still got the work I did in the those classes (topics range from ‘pigs’ to ‘in the bathroom mirror’ and all others between) and I’ve often tried to use this technique daily to keep my hand in, creatively-speaking.  Problem is, I’m not that good at routine so there’s more attempts than results – but last week I stumbled on an American blog called ‘Sunday Scribblings’ - see  http://sundayscribblings.blogspot.com/.  It’s a weekly writing prompt consisting of a random word or phrase and invites you to post you work on Scribbling Sundays – while some prompts are rather obvious and even clich├ęd, there are a few surprises...

So, in the spirit of “10 minutes!” I scribbled this Sunday:

                                                                            Standing Ovation

 The reader stood in front of us all – or should I say the writer, the orator, the one brave enough to share their work with us – and spoke.  At first they were quiet, “ums” and “ahhs” peppering their speech, with a few coughs and stutters thrown in for texture.  I fidgeted in my seat but listened still – after all, if that was me up there I’d appreciate the respect, the courtesy. 

After a minute or two, I relaxed into the orator’s delivery, acclimatising to their timbre and intonation, able to pick out the beginnings of paragraphs in the book and to imagine how I might lineate the poem if it were mine.  It probably isn’t that fair to decide how you’d do it before you’ve got to the end of hearing how they’ve done it, but still – that’s writers for you.  It’s impossible to read a piece without having your critiquing eagle-eyes open and talons ready to tear apart the syntax. 

The crowd in the hall, probably about 70 of us all told, started to shift and sigh as one, like a wind whistling around the eaves waiting to escape.  And then the amazing happened – the orator read a line that was pure gold. 

I replayed it in my mind – and wished I’d written it, wished I had the potential to one day write something like that, something which had the power and intensity to reach out and grab the reader, the listener.  Had the integrity to collide with that person’s sensibilities, to make them stop and think. 

The orator nodded slightly and closed the book, signalling the reading was over.  Still shocked and altered by that life-changing line, and without realising I was doing it, I stood.  Raising myself out of my seat, I began clapping.  My standing ovation spread to the rest of the audience one by one like reverse dominoes – people stood, joining me in my impromptu expression of gratitude...and respect.

My gaze caught the orator’s eye and lightning sparked between us: I knew that this would be how it would feel when it was me standing up there, waiting desperately for someone to join me out on that lonely limb.  I’m glad I had the courage to show how I really felt, how I truly responded. 

For without the reader, the writer has no conversation.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Words: Speed

After a hectic few days and evenings, I've finally had time to sit and blog...and ponder words of speed.  I have always loved words and, in my teens, used to read the dictonary for fun (explains a lot, I know!).  My Roget's Thesaurus is one of my favourite books ever, and I have made 'Roget' a verb when I'm editing my work and looking for alternative words.  If you're interested in such things, I recommend the books 'Foyle's Philavery' and 'More Foyle's Philavery', by Christopher Foyle (Chambers) which are lists of unusual and pleasing words arranged alphabetically - heaven!  The set I bought included a plain-page (essential for me: see first post!) blank journal in the same design entitled 'My Foyle's Philavery' for you to write your own...

So, my busy days past have made me ponder 'speed' and here are some words I've Roget'd and found in 'My Philvaery':

Haste     Hurry     Scamper     Scurry     Dart     Dash     Pelt     Manic     Kamikaze     Hurtle     Velocity     Swoop     Gallop     Lope     Skedaddle     Flit     Bound     Stampede     Accelerate

I like the way these words resonate with sound and meaning; their rhythm.  Sometimes with a list of words like this I'll be inspired to write a short sketch, maybe even the beginning thoughts of a poem; sometimes I'll challenge myself to use the words in the scene I'm currently working on; but mostly I just read them, repeating them over and over, savouring them like fine chocolates.  In honour of this love of words, in the next few days I'll begin keeping a blog-list of Words of the Week - yum yum!

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

50 Word Challenge: Book

There's a writing exercise known as 'The 50 Word Challenge' where you have to write about a topic in - yep, you've guessed it! - 50 words only, and usually (though not always) not name that topic.  It forces you to focus and think about the purpose, meaning, mood and perspective of what you write - but it can also be a bit of fun-fluff, where you don't have to think too much.  Sometimes, I'll use a photo or a picture to inspire a 50-word-er, other times it'll be a word/subject/topic.
     Here's one from a while ago on the subject of 'Book':
     To hold an event in your hand - incredible.  To hear a private thought - bewildering.  The anticipation as you begin, a rush of words and into the depths you have plunged.  To learn from mistakes you haven't made - enriching.  To view a vista planes away - amazing.  How tested you will be.

Monday, 8 August 2011


Welcome to my first ever blog, 'Deb's Pen Pot'.  It's a creative bolt-hole for me, and I'll be posting about writing (from crafting to critiquing); words (ones that take my fancy and ones that work as writing prompts); general inspiration (art, photography, paper crafts, nature - the list is endless!); books I've read and learned from; quotations that inspire me; aspects about the world of writing that I want to discuss and (possibly!) debate; and I'd also love to hear from you, the reader.
     To begin, here's one of my favourite quotations about creativity (and the best explanation for why I always buy plain paper journals!):
     "If they give you ruled paper, write the other way." ~ Juan Ramon Jimenez, Spanish poet
Until next time...