Saturday, 28 February 2009

Thought for today

"It's not only children who grow. Parents do too. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. I can't tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it, myself"
Joyce Maynard

Friday, 27 February 2009

My favourite author

One of my favourite authors of all time is Bernard MacLaverty. He was my neighbour when I was growing up in the 1970's and I have found his stories inspirational over the years. He has the gifted ability to be able to write movingly and funnily about a whole range of human emotions - loss, love, disappointment, happiness. Writing short stories (which MacLaverty does extremely well) is a very difficult thing to do - you must be vivid and exact and your characters have to be perfectly observed. I picked up a collection of Bernard's short stories today to indulge myself. Sometimes as a writer you forget to read other people's work but it's such a crucial part of learning about how to better yourself and your style of writing. This particular collection is entitled 'Walking the Dog - and Other Stories' and the first very short story is called:

"On the Art of the Short Story"

"'This is a story with a trick beginning.'

(The) man put down his pen and considered the possibility that if he left this as the only sentence then his story would also have a trick ending"

(First published in 1994 by Jonathan Cape, London)

Feeling my way through the dark...

I can't stop listening to this song at the moment. It's the last track on the "Eye to the Telescope" album by Scottish singer/songwriter K T Tunstall and it just plays repeat on my car CD player (much to my son's disapproval - he prefers Rock and Roll!) 'Through the Dark' moves me every single time I hear it and I never get sick of listening to the lyrics. I thought I would share them with you.

"Through The Dark"

As I walk away, I look over my shoulder

To see what I'm leaving behind

Pieces of puzzles,

And wishes on eyelashes fail

How do I show all the love inside my heart?

Well this is all new,

And I'm feeling my way through the dark

And I used to talk with honest conviction

Of how I predicted my world

I'm gonna leave it to star gazers,

Tell me what your telescope says

Oh what is in store for me now?

It's coming apart I know that it's true

cause I'm feeling my way through the dark

Try to find a light on somewhere

Try to find a light on somewhere

I'm finding I'm falling in love with the dark over here

Oh oh what do I know

I don't care where I start

For my troubles are few

As I'm feeling my way through the dark

Through the dark

I'm feeling my way through the dark

Quite often a good songwriter is like a poet and I have found much solace from song lyrics in the past. For me this song is about leaving a part of your life behind you, looking forward and accepting that you cannot predict the future. Take each day at a time. I recommend listening to this beautiful song particularly to anyone who is entering a new phase in their lives.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Fun photo shoot

"It takes a long time to grow an old friend
John Leonard

This morning Caroline and I took a trip to Almondell Country Park. Caroline is a fab photographer and I asked her if she could take some nice photographs of me in a place which has real significance to my novel "Bree McCready and the Half-Heart Locket". I took alot of inspiration from this place and there is chapter in the story entitled "Sandy's Rough Ride" which is based on an area of Almondell (but you'll have to wait until you read it to find out what it is!) A couple of times today I had shivers as I actually imagined Bree, Honey and Sandy having walked through where we stood. Wow.. It was the most beautiful day - sunny and bitterly cold which is my favourite combination.

After we had taken a few photos at Almondell we went to another significant place in my life - a wee cafe called 'Sugar Rush'. I love this place. It's tiny and cosy and does the best home baking I have ever come across! When I first started writing Bree McCready in 2006 my son had just started a little playgroup in the area and I used to drop him there and spend the time in this cafe writing. A good few paragraphs of Bree McCready were written in this wee gem of a place. When I look back at that time I feel a strange mixture of emotions. It was a very sad time as I adjusted to being a single mum. My son was very little and he used to cry when I left him at the playgroup. It was hard walking away from him and I used to shed a tear as I walked up the hundreds of steps which led up to the main street where this little cafe is situated. Writing helped me and gave me a small amount of hope which kept me going through this dark time in my life. When I think how far I have come since then it makes me smile. Spending time with a good friend today in my favourite places, knowing my boy was happy at school and knowing that my book has been accepted for publication feels like another world to the world I inhabited at that time. I have moved on so much since then I feel like I don't recognise that person. I can honestly say that, with the exception of giving birth to my son I am the happiest I have ever been in my life. It's a time to look forward now and to forget the past. I have no space in my life for regrets and sadness. What a brilliant day it has been. What a giggle Caroline and I had especially in the cafe where we tried to take some moody pictures of me looking pensive and studious. I just had to look at Caroline and I burst out laughing. For a few glorious minutes we were silly 12 year old girls again, trying not to laugh in class! The wee old lady who was sitting behind us said, as we were leaving that we had made her day! I hope to share some of the photographs with you soon.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009

The Editing Process

I am feeling a bit stressed today. My trusty laptop exploded this morning and I now have no access to my life. I am hoping to have the problem fixed by the end of today but in the meantime I write this from my Dad's computer. I didn't realise just how much I depended on my laptop until it was gone!
Last night I worked until 2.30am on the editors draft of "Bree McCready and the Half-Heart Locket". It's been a busy old time lately (so busy in fact that I actually enjoyed my visit to the dentist yesterday since it was the first time in about two weeks that I had actually sat down and done nothing!) It's so important to get the final draft of the novel perfect but also to make it a suitable size for the target age group. My original version was three times the size of where we are at now. Editing a novel is a tricky and time-consuming process. Sometimes there are parts in the book that took months to write or paragraphs that have sentimental meaning. Watching them getting axed in one swift motion can be agonising. However, writers must accept that this is a necessary process. I found this advice from a 'writing for children' website particularly useful -
"Is there a phrase, paragraph or scene you are especially proud of? Do you return to it and reread it, delighting in your skill with words? Cut it out immediately. This advice seems harsh and is hard to carry out, but the fact that you so proud of this passage means that the words chosen have become more important than the message or story behind them. They may seem wonderful to you, but they will jar the reader, and draw them away from the storyline. It’s like serving a plate of delicious cakes on a pretty plate, and demanding that your guests ignore their hunger and focus on the plate. They won’t like it. Nor will your readers"
I am lucky enough to have a wonderful editor (Graham) who I trust implicitly to do the right thing and who I know will make the right decisions. He is enthusiastic and passionate about my novel and I know that whatever he does will ultimately be for the benefit of the final draft. I found this lovely quote by H.G Wells which sums up the work of a good editor - "No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else's draft"
I am tired this morning and despite feeling anxious about my broken laptop I am happy, satisfied and excited about this next step forward with my book. Yes, writing and editing is a difficult process but in the words of Robert Cormier, "The beautiful part of writing is that you don't have to get it right first time, unlike say a brain surgeon"

Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Preparing for adulthood

I came across an old scrapbook of mine at the back of the cupboard last night and in it was a poem I had copied in 1993 by my favourite poet Norman McCaig. I thought I would share it with you -

"Small boy" by Norman MacCaig from Collected Poems (Random House).
"He picked up a pebble and threw it into the sea.
And another, and another. He couldn't stop.
He wasn't trying to fill the sea. He wasn't trying to empty the beach.
He was just throwing away,nothing else but.
Like a kitten playing he was practicing for the future
when there'll be so many things he'll want to throw away
if only his fingers will unclench and let them go

If only we could throw away our regrets and hurt like the pebbles from a beach...

Monday, 23 February 2009

Miss Potter

"There's something delicious about writing the first words of a story - you can never quite tell where they'll take you" Beatrix Potter
It was the last day of the mid term break today and because the weather wasn't that great my son and I cuddled up on the sofa together with a bowl of popcorn and watched "Miss Potter", a sweet and moving film about the life of Beatrix Potter. My friend Caroline went straight out and bought me the DVD last week after I broke the news to her about my forthcoming book. She had recognised something I had said about how the characters in a novel become very real and once you complete your novel you really miss writing about them. It's almost as though once you have created these characters they become real people. This quote by Anne Lamott sums up what I'm trying to say - "I've always sort of believed that these people are inside me- these characters know who they are and what they're about and what happens, and they need me to help get it down on paper because they don't type."
Beatrix Potter was constantly told to get her head out of the clouds by a mother who was obsessed with marrying her off even when this was the last thing Beatrix wanted. She faced many rejections from publishing houses and was well into her thirties before anyone gave her the break she so deserved. Being an unmarried woman of 32 with a dream that few people understood must have been impossibly difficult in the 1800's. Despite the fact that nobody believed that she would ever be successful Beatrix Potter never gave up on her dream, so strong was her conviction that the characters she created were real. As a result she is still, to this day the most successful children's author of all time.
The parts in the film where Miss Potter (played by Renee Zellweger) sees her work in print for the first time and eventually spies her completed novel in the shop window sent shivers up my spine and brought it home what an exciting time lies ahead for me. I really related to the fact that Beatrix Potter always knew somewhere deep down that her characters would be as loved by her readers as they were by her. She really is an inspiration, a reminder to us all never to give up on the thing that we simply cannot stop thinking about - the one thing our heart simply won't allow us to let go. Thankyou Caroline for buying me such a great and relevant film. The story ends with a quote by Beatrix Potter which I also love and one which strikes a chord at this time -
"Stories don't always end where their authors intended..but there is joy in following them wherever they take us"

Sunday, 22 February 2009

An early start

My Dad came across a jotter belonging to me from 1977. It's in perfect condition and written across the front is "Hazel - Stories and Writing, Primary 1F" Leafing through the yellowing pages it is clear to see that even 32 years ago (am I really that old?!) I already had an interest in writing. It's funny to think I wrote these little stories such a long time ago - "I burnd (sic) myself. We like to sing" "Victoria saw the pigs at the show" (this is accompanied by a rather cute picture of three black, green and red blobs with curly tails - art was never my strong point!). On nearly every page of this little pink jotter I have written "I have a dog" I must have had an obsession at the time and in the misty corners of my memory I can remember hounding ('scuse the pun!) my parents to get a dog. My pleading didn't work of course and I had to wait until I was 31 for my wish to come true (when a crazy, gorgeous lump of a boxer dog, Ellie came into our lives). It's slightly unsettling to see the blatant sexism that was prevalent in schools during the 1970's - "Father is working in his shed, Mother has a pan" and "Fiona has a doll, Bob is playing with his hammer" How did we all survive this time and still manage to come out as strong, independent and ambitious women?! And also I don't recall ever calling my mum and dad 'mother and father'! What an alien concept for a working class child! Let's hope times have changed a little...
This little book is a gem of a find. I can't wait to search my parents attic to see what other treasures are hidden under the tonne of junk up there. This pink, rectangular jotter is a small reminder that we all have to start somewhere with our dream and that we just never know where our path will take us in the end...

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Thought for today

"A word is a bud attempting to become a twig. How can one not dream while writing? It is the pen which dreams. The blank page gives the right to dream"

Gaston Bachelard

Friday, 20 February 2009

Writing from the heart

I read this quote today and liked it so much I wanted to put it on my blog -
"If a book comes from the heart, it will continue to reach other hearts"
Thomas Carlyle

I began writing "Bree McCready and the Half-Heart Locket" during a particularly challenging time in my life. I had toyed with the basic concept for a children's novel for some time before that and I could see clearly in my mind all the characters and their individual personalities and nuances. I had just never managed to get around to seriously putting anything down on paper. Writing had always been a dream for me but one which had gone on hold so many times for so many different reasons - lack of time, want for motivation, fear of failure. My personal crisis seemed to crack open something that had been buried deep inside and suddenly the idea of writing just felt like the right thing to do. It offered me a way of escaping an extremely difficult period in my life, a chance to release negative and destructive emotions, whilst offering me some much needed hope for a new beginning. It was as though with every word I wrote I could feel the darkness lifting. Certain features of the story reflect my own emotions at the point that I wrote them and in many ways I wore my heart on my sleeve throughout the writing of my novel. I really hope that this shines through to everyone who reads it and that ultimately they will see that every word came from the heart.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

A new beginning...

Today felt like the start of something good. I have now told everyone that matters to me about my forthcoming novel "Bree McCready and the Half-Heart Locket" and it is beginning to sink in that this is really happening! Writing has been the only thing I have really wanted to do with my life and having this fantastic opportunity means the world to me. Thanks to everyone at Strident Publishing for their support and enthusiasm - Alison, Graham and Keith. I have to wait now until August to see my book in print but it is starting to feel real now and there are some fantastic opportunities between now and August to keep me going..