Monday, 30 April 2012

Z is for Zest and Ziggy Stardust

I'm writing with zest and loving every minute of it, from taking part in the A to Z Challenge, penning short 100 word flash fiction stories, to writing my novel. You have to write with love, and enthusiasm, and it has to be fun, otherwise why bother?

What you need is a mental toughness, perseverance and a gritty determination to succeed at whatever writing project you're working on, and mental toughness is like willpower, and self-regulation, its something that takes practise and grows stronger with use, but it can also be totally exhausting.

To write, you have to first create and visualise things in your mind, and I've really enjoyed writing everyday for this challenge, however, alongside it I've been trying to keep up with the novel, which has been almost impossible. Now, I'm tired. I need to rest a while, and then come back full of enthusiasm and renewed energy.

I'll be spending the rest of this year getting the novel finished. I feel optimistic, and I'm learning I need to take a chance with my writing, otherwise nothing will ever change. I'm applying the three C's of life rules, choices, chances and changes. You need to make a choice to take a chance, or life will never change. Its simple really. Do what feels right!

This post is supposed to be about zest, and it is! I have great enthusiasm and energy, and excitement about what the future holds. And my new mantra, which I am going to put up on my screen is...

"Anything is Possible"

This is my final post of the A to Z challenge, its been an experience, I have made new friends, visited some great blog's, and mostly enjoyed writing a new post everyday. I say mostly, because I'd be fibbing otherwise if I didn't add, the tiredness has been difficult. I'd like to thank my readers for dropping by and leaving  comments. I really appreciate your time.

I promised you Ziggy Stardust sung by David Bowie. Who better to play us out. Enjoy!

Sunday, 29 April 2012

Goal List - Week Commencing 29th April 2012

Another week has passed in a flash, here's what I managed to tick off the list.

A to Z Challenge - More posts written, and lots of other challengers blogs visited too. Some very good stuff out there. You can visit too, by clicking on any of the blog links to the right of this page. Everyone of us is taking part in the challenge.

2nd Draft - Failed miserably here. I simply had no energy left over to do it justice.

100 Word Flash Fiction Challenge - Completed, and read out at the group yesterday morning.

Sleep - I've not done very well this week, I've had a mixture of sleepless or broken nights.

Here are my intentions for the week ahead.

A to Z Challenge - One post left to do!

Blog - I will be returning to my usual three posts a week. Happy Saturday, a musical topic, the Goal List on Sunday, and a mid week post on a topic of my choice. I've also agreed to write a guest post for Phoenix Writers Group, so plenty to do!

Rest and Recover -I'm giving myself some much needed rest this week. I'll let you know how it goes.

100 Words Flash Fiction Challenge - Another fun exercise for the writing group session at the weekend.

A simple list this week, if anyone has any tips on how I can get a decent nights sleep please leave me a comment, I'd really appreciate it.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Y is for Yoga

I started practising yoga fifteen months ago upon the advice of my Doctor. I suffer from sciatica, and have two prolapsed discs in my back, they give me severe pain from time to time. He recommended I strengthen my core muscles. I've tried everything to relieve the pain in the past! However, since beginning yoga practise I've felt fitter, more energetic, happier and calmer. My back is much better too.

Yoga is a technique of self-awareness that merges both body and mind, and in today's busy world, we all need space in our heads, and time out from our busy lives. Yoga is the ideal, and I was given good advice from the outset.

Breathing awareness is probably the most important aspect of yoga, and I was lucky to be told this early on, in fact, I was told not to worry about the poses, as they would come later. How right that advice proved to be!
Correct abdominal breathing is at the heart of meditation, Buddhists, and Hindus believe it not only induces peace of mind, but also encourages physical and mental health.

My own breathing has become smoother and deeper with practise, and I find it easier to focus these days. This in turn has allowed me time to concentrate on the postures. I'm not very bendy. The poses were difficult for me, but yoga is something you do at your own pace. Forget about what everyone around you is doing, in fact, forget they are there at all, your body will learn the stretches. It memorises them, and after time you find you can stretch much further than you thought possible.  I have a long way to go, and if you decide to try yoga, I recommend you start slow, and don't expect to be able to do all the postures for a while. They will come eventually, although you'll find it hard to believe when you get started.

The benefits are immense, and include increased flexibility, sharpened concentration, yoga also refreshes the body by relieving muscle strain, as well as making you more sensitive to your own true needs, and toning your body. Its a great form of exercise. If you haven't already, then maybe give it a try, it really does make you feel better!

As its Saturday, I always like to lighten the mood, and have some music on the blog. Here is a song which makes me feel happy every time I hear it.

Happy Saturday!

No A to Z challenge post tomorrow, its a rest day. I'll be posting my Goal list instead, then back on Monday, for the final letter, and the last post of the challenge..

Friday, 27 April 2012

X – Xenodocheionology

My goodness what a big word we have today, as we draw towards the end of the A to Z challenge. So what exactly is Xenodocheionology, and what does it mean?
According to the dictionary, its a 'love of hotels' and I'm definitely  a fan, I like hotels for lots of reasons. Of course its great if you can get a really good deal on a weekend stay, and even better if it has a lovely spa with a swimming pool and a jacuzzi! Many do, operating fully equipped gyms, and a range of exercise classes too.
These days hotels aren't just in the business of  selling overnight accommodation. Many have Costa or Starbucks coffee shops within their premises. With comfy sofas, and stylish surroundings. Fabulous meeting places for writers to hold critique sessions or networking events. Or just to sit and chill out, and enjoy the company of like-minded individuals. Or go alone and people cake! Scribble some words down in your journal, or notebook.
Many now have free wifi, making getting on the internet a doddle if you need to post to your blog, or research facts for your WIP.
Many hotels will hire out a meeting room, if you want to hold a workshop for the day, and will serve drinks, and lunch for a reasonable cost if you speak to the right person. Don't be put off by the big chains, they will often discount a room on the strength of meal orders.
These days hotels are mostly well managed and highly regulated. The management are friendly and welcoming, and they are often well placed, and near to major road networks for ease of travel,  so if you're stuck for somewhere to meet your friends, why not suggest a hotel for a change.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

W is for Weekends

Picture of Bakewell by Maria Smith
Weekends are most definitely for enjoying, and did you know they boost your mood too! If you're in full time employment then they are truly precious, two days away from your day job, yes, you may have lots of chores, but try and get them out of the way, because it's your chance to get away, and do something you enjoy.

Regular readers of the blog will know I pack as much fun as I can into my break from the working week. I've learnt the hard way, that as with everything in life, planning is absolute key if you want to make the most of every minute. So plan!

We're almost into May, and I've decided my priorities for the coming month, will include getting out and about as much as I can, in and around my local area. I'm lucky enough to live within easy driving distance of beautiful Derbyshire. I've visited before but there are many new places I'm yet to discover.

I enjoy getting out with my camera, snapping pictures of the wonderful landscape, magnificent houses, beautiful flowers, and anything else that appeals.

I'll be going back to some of my favourite places. Including Calke Abbey and Kedleston Hall as well as visiting more of the Peake District where  there is lots more to explore over the coming months.

Picture of Calke Abbey by Maria Smith
This weekend, I'll be visiting my Writers group, and getting out into the countryside come hail or shine, I'm looking forward to doing some walking, and of course there will be tea, and cake, and good company!

What plans are you making for the weekend?

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

V is for Value

We live in turbulent financial times, people seem more concerned about getting the most out of every aspect of their daily lives. Writers are no exception, we're also looking for value too.

Apart from writing good quality content, how can you bring real value to your writing? I've been thinking about this topic for a while. It all depends on what you value.

Personally, a good writing friend is high on my list. Someone who will read my work, detect any errors and point me in the right direction if something isn't working. Someone to motivate me and assist me to reach my goals. An accountability partner.

Before I begin writing, there are some things I do to create a motivational  atmosphere.

I make sure I'm comfortable, not too hot, and not too cold. I'll choose music from the IPod, to listen to in the background, while I work. Sitting comfortably is another must. Sometimes I'm at my desk, otherwise you'll find me with my feet up and my laptop on my knee.

Taking breaks is top priority, you have to get away from your desk to allow your mind to wander. I enjoy a walk weather permitting, and if that's out of the question, I'll stroll around the house doing small tasks like emptying waste bins, or loading the washing machine. Then, I'll return to the task with new energy. After I've had a cup of tea of course.

What brings value to your writing?

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

U is for Uneasy

    TICK-TOCK is the sound coming from the Grandfather clock. I draw the curtain aside and look down onto the cobbled street.  Pitch black. Gas flames don’t dance and flicker in this part of town.  No one lingers in the street below. Not a soul. TICK TOCK.

It’s All Hallows Eve, Festival of the Dead. It’s cold. And icy, and almost time. TICK-TOCK

My fingers tremble against the rich velvet curtain. What will I do if she doesn’t come before dawn? What will I do? Unease coils like a snake in the pit of my stomach waiting to strike. TICK-TOCK

    Footsteps on stair treads, followed by a faint tapping on the door tell me she is here. I take a deep breath, inhale the air. Human smells, decaying human, stench of rotting flesh. The tapping is repeated. I open the door to find her standing there. I stare. Just a girl this time, maybe twelve or thirteen, smiling, cheeks rosy red, eyes ocean blue.

      ‘Good evening,’ she says in her innocent child’s voice,’ I’m here to save your soul.’
    It’s the truth. I open the door wide. I must invite her in, as I always do, this child with the hauntingly beautiful skin, the fairest hair, the fancy clothes, and the dark bottomless eyes.
     ‘Come in.’ TICK-TOCK

     She steps over the threshold into the room, disguised in her human skin.  I close the door behind her and her eyes follow mine. She turns her head towards the four poster bed, where the innocent infant slumbers, in a drug induced sleep, prepared by my own hand.    

    The girl looks back over her shoulder and smiles. Macabre and mocking, the transformation has begun. Evil dark eyes flash me a warning.

     ‘You can leave us now, your soul is saved…again.  Her skin splits and peels away before my tear filled eyes.  Revealing scales that glisten, with putrid slime, and her voice grows hoarse. 
     ‘Go…go now!’ She screeches. I escape, fleeing down the stairs, and I hear the crack of bones, the ripping of cloth and the howl of death that follows.

    I am a monster. TICK-TOCK 

Monday, 23 April 2012

T is for Tips on Writing 2

I thought I'd share some tips I've picked up along the writing road...
  1. Get someone else to critique your work, not your nearest and dearest.Unless they are a published writer of course. Choose someone who will give you honest useful feedback. Learn to take criticism  and seek it out, at every opportunity.
  2. Write a lot! This is the best way to become a better writer. And yes, blogging and journalling count, it doesn't always have to be a novel chapter or a short story.
  3. Read, read, read. And step outside your genre. It'll help you become a better writer.
  4. Vary words so you don't keep repeating the same ones.
  5. Don't use flowery sentences, get rid of any unnecessary words, and use simple words. 
  6. Schedule regular writing time, and show up at your desk!
  7. Don't go mad with dialogue tags - a few well placed 'he said' or 'she replied' should be enough if the dialogue is well written.
  8. Read aloud, yes, read your writing aloud, test yourself.
  9. Try not to edit while you're writing your first draft (it has taken me years to master this one!) It makes a huge difference, and you'll get far more done.
  10. If a paragraph doesn't advance your story, delete it! 
And here's a few tips to a happy life.
  1. Surround yourself with people and things that make you happy and nourish you.
  2. Trust your intuition - Go with your gut feeling.
  3. Acknowledge others and show you care - Spend quality time with the people that matter to you.
Please share your tips with me by leaving a comment.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Goal List - Week Commencing 22nd April 2012

The weeks seem to fly by at an alarming rate - here we are again, its time for an update.

A to Z Challenge  - Managed to keep on track producing a fresh post each day.

Make A Plan - Not quite got there yet, I've jotted a few things down so far.

Walking - I got out a couple of times.

100 Words Flash Fiction Challenge - Failed this week, probably because I'm lacking sleep! I had good intentions to do it, but somehow ran out of time.

As well as the above list, I helped hatch a plan for an up and coming workshop at the writers group, which I also attended yesterday. Read some more of my first draft, and got a fair, and valuable critique.

And so to the week ahead.

A to Z Challenge - Several more posts to write this week before it ends.

2nd Draft - Back to rewriting another chapter.

100 Words Flash Fiction Challenge  - We were given a picture with a question we must answer by way of sending a letter.

Sleep - I need to catch up.

Its a short list this week, hopefully I can report back next week with results.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

S is for Submissions

How many of you writerly types are regularly submitting your work to writing competitions or publications? I'm terribly bad at it, and could really do with some tips, and tricks on getting my work out there.

Do you schedule it? Decide every month or week how many pieces of work you'll send out? How do you research where you'll send your writing? I know of some writers who only target magazines, or competitions that will bring value to their work. Others who will enter or submit anything anywhere, like letters to their local paper, or writing slogans, uncaring if they win a useless bit of gadgetry or a cash prize. Its about practising, and flexing their writing muscles. Or satisfying their egos. More the taking part than the winning.

In the past, I've entered local writing competitions, usually submitting poems or short stories, although I'm very fond of shorter flash fiction competitions these days. I've subbed the odd article, but really I've been very lazy. I should try harder, because its good practise, and disciplines you to write within strict guidelines.

How do you do it then? Or aren't you in it for the fame, and the glory? Or do you write purely for the pleasure?

While you're thinking about it, here's a feel good song for Saturday.

Have a great day! No A to Z challenge post tomorrow. We get Sundays off to rest and recover.

Friday, 20 April 2012

R is for Retreat

Photo Credit
Sadly, I don't have the time or money to go on a traditional Writers Retreat. Italy would be nice, lounging  poolside, sipping an ice cold drink, and tapping out several thousand words in between.

Or a cottage in the Cotswold's, however, reality is, it won't be happening. BUT, that doesn't mean I can't improvise and create something similar here at home. A one-day retreat, facilitated by yours truly.

We're all expert procrastinators, and given the chance we'll choose something else over having to sit on our bums and write for a set amount of time. It isn't that we don't like writing. Far from it, its just, its easier to do something else other than getting words down on the page.

How do we go about creating a writers retreat for ourselves then?

First, we need to plan. Decide on a date, then clear the decks. Cancel all appointments, tell family and friends you're away, and unavailable.If you have children, and your partner can't occupy them, try their grandparents, aunts and uncles, friends, or anyone that will take them! Then send your significant other off out of the way too.

Before the day, buy the food you'll be eating. Marks and Spencer's do a terrific range of easy dishes that take thirty minutes or less in the oven. Or mere minutes in the microwave. Buy ready prepared salads, and treats that don't require any preparation. Fruit is a good choice, my favourites are seedless grapes and ready prepared pineapple. Stock up on drinks to see you through the day.

Okay, its retreat day. Here's the tough part, disconnect your land line, and switch off your mobile phone.  If you can't trust yourself not to surf the Internet, check emails and chat on Face book, or Twitter. You should disconnect your Internet connection too.

You've already made a schedule to follow. Make sure you type it out and have it in front of you. Its official, and reinforces what you're going to be doing today. Lets assume you're working on a novel for the purpose of the example.

8.30am - Tea, and a read through of the first three chapters of WIP to refresh yourself with the story so far.

9.00am - Begin chapters 4 and beyond.

10.00am - Break for a drink, and a walk out into the garden weather permitting.

10.15am - Flash Fiction - Produce a short piece of writing, taking your prompt from the following list of words. Egg, Susan, Clacton, Train and Fire. Write for fifteen minutes, without stopping, then read over your efforts and smile!

10.45am - Continue with your WIP

11.45am - Break - Put the oven on at this point, wait five minutes before putting your meal into cook. Set some sort of timer for fifteen minutes. Play slow relaxing music, which you sorted out in advance, and close your eyes, get comfortable, perhaps lying on the floor or sitting in a comfortable chair. Breathe deeply and unwind. Let your busy mind rest.

12.00pm - Set the table, and serve your meal.

12.30pm - Weather permitting - Go out for a brisk walk, alternatively read quietly away from where you've been working.

1.00pm - Onwards! Sit at your desk and continue with your WIP

2.00pm - Break for a drink of tea, or coffee.

2.15pm - Review your afternoon plan, look it over and familiarise yourself with what is going to happen.

2.30pm - Continue with WIP

4pm - Bring out the fruit or other snacks, take a break. Grab a drink, leave the room or go outside.

4.15pm - Planning - Get a notebook, or piece of paper and make a plan, a road map of what you intend to do next with your WIP after today. Set objectives for the next week. Perhaps while you have been busy, its crossed your mind you might look for some competitions to enter, or you'll write a new short story, or a blog post, or some more flash fiction. Write it down.

4.45pm - Continue WIP

5.45pm - Break - Prepare salad and cold meats, fish or warm some ready made soup.

6pm - Eat and enjoy! Read a book, listen to music, or go for a walk again the choice is yours.

7pm - Continue WIP

8pm - Wine O'clock (Grab yourself a glass of whatever you fancy, get your notebook, and review your day) Record your word count, your feelings, and whatever you want to write in your notebook, about your retreat day.

I hope you've been able to visualise the retreat day I created here. Of course yours will be tailor made for you, and even better if you have a writing buddy to share the experience with, as long as the two of you can be disciplined, and stick to the itinerary.

Are you ready for a retreat?

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Q is for Quality Time

The importance of quality time can't be underestimated. If you want to thrive, you need to spend time on yourself.  'Me time' is healthy, and even if you can only snatch half an hour a day, there are things you can do which will make you feel energised.

My list of Small Pleasures

Listen to music actively - I mean really listen, and enjoy every note.

Relax with a good book - Curl up, and imagine yourself somewhere else.

Go out for a walk - Brisk, and you'll feel energised. Dawdle, and you'll find your mind opening up, thoughts drifting to the surface solving problems.

Yoga - Makes you happy, and improves your posture. When you practice yoga, you breathe deeply, learn to focus and stretch away your cares.

See a movie - Lose yourself in the story.

Writing Magazine - Catch up with the latest news, views and author interviews.

Cake! - My guilty pleasure.

Get a massage - Never underestimate the power of touch. A good therapist will do all she can to make you feel totally relaxed.

Whatever I do, I make sure its time well spent. What do you do to chill out?

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

P is for Positive Critique

You don't want to see anyone walk away from a critique session thinking they should bin their manuscript do you? So what's the best way to offer positive feedback on someones work?

This is a short list of things I keep in mind when offering critique.

  • Begin by saying what you enjoyed about the piece. Remember, no one produces totally bad work.
  • Speak in a caring voice when pointing out errors. You are there to support each other, so be kind.
  • Don't repeat criticism that has already been mentioned - once the point has been made drop it!
  • Suggest ways to improve the writing, and try to offer different suggestions and ideas. 
  • Let the writer know you have confidence in them, that they can fix the piece.

And here is a short list of things to do when you're work is being critiqued

  • Shut up and listen - Don't get defensive or emotional. 
  • Don't argue, time on your manuscript is limited, and you want as much feedback as possible.
  • If lots of people are nodding when someone makes a point - take note! It probably needs work.
  • Learn to be objective, but not now. Rest the piece down for a while, then revisit with an open mind.
  • Don't forget, critique is only peoples opinion, its your choice if you choose to take it or leave it.

Prepare for awkward silences, but don't worry about it when they happen. Learn to embrace feedback and you'll learn how to improve your writing by listening.

Don't come to the meeting empty handed though, do offer critique to your fellow writers otherwise you will irritate them if you only turn up to receive every time. 

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

O is for Outing

Last weekend, I went to Alt.Fiction, the two day festival for readers, and writers of science fiction, fantasy, and horror.

For the first time, it took place at Phoenix Square in Leicester - a great venue, very easily accessible from all areas of the UK and beyond.

Alt fiction is a very friendly event, and apart from an array of industry panels and workshops, there's lots of networking and socialising happening too. Enthusiasm is infectious, and newcomers are always made welcome, it doesn't matter if you're a genre fan or a writer, there's an overwhelming friendliness about the place.

I attended a few of the panel talks, and two workshops, and generally hung out in the cafe bar chatting to other writers, and eating cake.

Highlights of the festival for me were as follows.

The Business of Writing, although billed as a workshop, was actually a talk by Mark Chadbourn, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Mark offered sound advice on how to get paid for your writing. Advising its very possible to earn a living, if you're prepared to diversify. As he put it, 'wading through the swamps' and taking on jobs you don't really want to be doing, is the way forward if you want to earn enough to continue doing the stuff you really care about. He also advised you give up the day job, as soon as possible, and just do it! I love the idea.

Afterwards, I took part in Getting Steamy: Putting the punk in alternative history, an interesting workshop led by Kim Lakin-Smith where we crafted a world, complete with characters, and began writing an action scene from scratch. Some very interesting prose came out of the session.

The Flash Fiction Open Mike was hugely entertaining, although some writers definitely cheated, going way over the three minutes allowed!

Carrot Nappers, a very funny radio play, written by Keith Large, rounded the weekend off with lots of laughter. There was also a very delicious carrot cake afterwards.

The networking over the weekend was awesome, and I met some of my twitter friends for the first time which was lovely, it was good to catch up in the flesh. New friendships were forged, and I hope will continue until we meet again at the next one!

I was disappointed I missed the Horror talk, unfortunately the room was full to bursting, and a lot of us couldn't get in. I'm hoping it'll be sorted out for next year.

I couldn't end without saying the volunteers and organisers worked tirelessly throughout the event to ensure it ran smoothly, and I'm sure behind the scenes, as is usual, they were working for many months beforehand. They all did an outstanding job!

It was a very enjoyable outing.

Monday, 16 April 2012

N is for Nourish

We're all capable of making changes in our lives, and lately, I've been thinking seriously of what I'd like to concentrate on for the next three months to move forward. Getting to where I want to be will require regular action on my part, and I've already worked out I'll have to break things down into small steps, and spend time, EVERY DAY taking action.
My list.

* Write something everyday

* Walk regularly

* Get more sleep

* Catch up with tasks around the home

In general life is good, but deep down I know I can achieve so much more, if I can become more effective in the areas I've listed. First, I need to know what outcomes I'd like to achieve, so over the next few days, I'll be coming up with a list. Then I'll make a plan.

One thing I do know, is that for any of this to work, you have to surround yourself with people and things that nourish your soul. Small pleasures, I call them. Like enjoying a cup of tea first thing in the morning, reading a good book, spending quality time with the special people in my life, cooking a new recipe, listening to music, enjoying a massage, going to yoga or getting out and about with my camera. All these things add immense value to my life, and help make everything I do worthwhile.

What are you doing to nourish your soul? And what plans have you got for the next three months?

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Goal List - Week Commencing 15th April 2012

I seem to have gone off the rails! Recapping the week won't take long.

A to Z Challenge - Managed to write a variety of posts throughout the week.

Alt.Fiction - I went, it was fun! Look out for more about the weekend event on Tuesday's blog post.

Draft 2 - Fail! Too busy, a poor excuse but very true.

Photography - Fail! As above.

Cake - Overdosed! I have consumed far too much cake in the last seven days.

Okay, have to admit, it wasn't one of my better weeks for completing set things on my list, however, I'm pretty pleased I'm keeping up with the blog challenge. Writing the posts and reading all the awesome blogs out there is very time consuming. However, its fun, whilst challenging. Below is my list for the week ahead.

A to Z Challenge - Continue doing a post a day.

Make a Plan - Review where I want to be with things, and create a list to follow for the next three months.

Walking - Get outside and get some fresh air.

100 Word Flash Fiction Challenge - Produce a piece for my Saturday Writing group.

That's enough for the week ahead.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

M is for Music Saturday

Scientists report listening to music is good for us, apparently the brain releases Dopamine, a feel-good chemical, which motivates us. Making it addictive, so that the more we listen, the happier we are too. Music can be powerful, and also put your feelings into words, when you are struggling with your emotions.

I enjoy listening to music in different ways, but its mainly on my IPod, in the car, or while I'm cooking in the kitchen.

If I'm out taking a brisk power walk I want something like this to pound the pavements. A tune that motivates and energises. Enjoy Radar Love, by Golden Earring.

If I'm chilling out in the evening, relaxing, with a drink in my hand, I want something soothing like...Katy Melula

If I'm settling down to a long writing session then I want...Mozart! I'm fairly new to Mr Mozart, its quite unbelievable that he composed over 600 works in his short lifetime. 

Or Hans Zimmer

We're all different though, and this list won't suit tell me what you're listening to today? Or which tunes motivate you?

Happy Saturday!

There is no A to Z challenge post tomorrow, as Sunday has been deemed a day of rest. However, I'll be posting my Goals as usual.

Friday, 13 April 2012

L is for Love Cake!

I LOVE CAKE, I do! And if you've been reading my blog on a regular basis, you'll know I mention cake often. I'm self confessed, I simply can't get enough cakeylove.

Luckily for me, the afternoon tea revival has been brewing for quite some time now, and its not just the posh hotels serving up tiny sandwiches and jam tarts these days. New locations are popping up all the time. Around the area where I live for instance there are quaint little tea rooms in all sorts of hideaways, Often hidden within garden centres, or farm yards.

Personally,  I much prefer old-fashioned Victoria sandwich cake, to those scrumptious little cup-cakes, although they do look amazingly good, but I'll take a wedge of proper cake thank you.

The tea has to be quality too, a decent brew is very important and adds to the pleasure of the occasion. I'm rather partial to Yorkshire tea made in a teapot, warmed first with a drop of boiling water, and then left to brew. Milk should always be added afterwards. What a great British tradition it is to take tea in the afternoon.

Real cakeylove - Bliss!

Thursday, 12 April 2012

K is for Kedleston Hall

Kedleston Hall by Maria A Smith
Over the last few years I've visited Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire many times, and on each visit I've seen something new to pique my interest.

Situated in the south of the county, Kedleston is approximately four miles outside of the city of Derby. It is a spectacular 18th century mansion, designed by Matthew Brettingham and James Paine, with Robert Adam taking over and completing the mansion.

The National Trust property is set amongst 800 acres of fabulous parkland, and is a great location for walking, or if like me, photography is your thing, then you'll be occupied for hours. There's a wealth of subject matter all around.

A tour around the impressive rooms within the house is well worth taking, as there are not only many paintings to be admired, but lots of interesting furniture to see too. There are too many rooms to mention here, I particularly enjoyed the library (After all, I'm a writer) with its huge bookcases, and fabulous mahogany desk.

The gardens were landscaped in the 1760's as fashionable 'pleasure grounds', and there are numourous statues and features to be seen, as well as an impressive summer house.

There is also a very nice tea room, where you can rest a while, take tea, and eat their delicious cakes. You can also get an excellent cooked meal, made using fresh vegetables from the gardens, and quite often lamb which was raised at Kedleston.

Kedleston Hall by Maria A Smith
There is much to see and do. A visit is well worthwhile. I urge you to take a day out, you won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

J is for Just do it!

Just do what? I hear you cry, but you know exactly what I mean, don't you? I'm talking about getting on with it, whatever it is you've been putting off. Do it today!

We're all good at procrastinating, we'll do whatever it takes, not to do the task in hand. Take me, I should be working on my second novel draft right now, instead of writing this post. I had good intentions earlier, I'd convinced myself I was doing it as soon as I got up. So what happened?

I guess, I ended up doing what I thought was more relevant now. The problem is, the novel draft has been shoved to the bottom of the pile. I feel bad, because I know I should be getting on with it.

Lately, I can always find something more urgent to do. Be that returning library books, picking up teenagers from school or relaxing in the bath. So. How can I get the job done?

By finding the right voice inside my head. Not the one that says, 'I'll just check my email first' or 'I must organise my cookery books' or 'I'll never get this book finished' these thoughts are non productive, and the thoughts we listen to most, will influence how we behave. I need to change my way of thinking, and swing the spotlight around and redirect it.

I need to set things up so I can get on with what I need to do on my novel. Getting stuff out of the way needs to be done, so I can have a clear run at rewriting. I've made a list, I've arranged a time, and I'll be sat at my laptop poised and ready to write.

I've promised myself a cup of tea and a chocolate bar after an hour. I've just got to get started, because after five minutes of writing I'll be into it, and I'll be compelled to continue. The trick is to get the ball rolling, thats the hardest part.

Once I've done my agreed stint, I'll put a tick against it on my 'to do' list. Smile, and go and have that long soak in the bath.

What do you do to motivate yourself? Let me know, by leaving a comment below.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

I is for Is Anyone Out There?

Yes, there is! The blogging community, the people of the blogosphere, where friendships are made from words alone. Do you ever wonder about your blogging friends? Do you need to know what clothes they wear? What car they drive? Are you concerned that they might live many thousands of miles away? And its unlikely you'll ever meet - but does it really matter?

Its irrelevant, because its words that connect you, and the voice you have on your blog.    

I've made lots of new friends, have found folk with the same interests, and learnt loads along the way, its great fun! I can discuss the things I love to do with like-minded individuals. We swap tips, tricks and information, help each other, and generally share ideas and make each other smile.

I feel very at home, and yes its taken me a while to get used to it, and you do have to put yourself out a bit, but its very definitely worth it. The best way to make friends, is to be a friend, and that means visiting blogs and leaving comments. You'll quickly discover that people will come on over to your blog and interact with you too.

If you become a follower of their blog its so much easier, I use Google reader, which allows me to see the blogs I've subscribed to in one place, and tells me when they've been updated.

If you want a presence you have to be genuine, and I try to visit, and comment on as many blogs as I can, although sometimes it might be a week before I get there! I also try to answer everyone who leaves me a comment.

What does blogging mean to you? Tell me, lets share, by leaving a message in the comment box.

Monday, 9 April 2012

H is for Happiness

One I took earlier 

I love to write!  Regardless if it’s a blog post, or a piece of prose, I get a buzz out of writing. Not to write isn't an option, and I get grumpy if for any reason it doesn't happen. Even if it’s only a short burst, I like to get my daily fix. 

What else makes me happy? I like to wander around with my camera, spend time in the company of good friends, and relax away from everything whenever I get the opportunity. I believe these are the ingredients for happiness:

  • Doing things for others
  • Connecting with people
  • Learning new things
  • Being positive
  • Noticing the world around me
  • Taking care of myself
  • Having goals to look forward to
  • Being comfortable with who I am

What makes you happy?

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Goal List - Week Commencing 8th April 2012

What a week! Okay, lets get down to it with a quick review of what I got done.

A to Z Challenge - It started on April 1st, and boy has it been a challenge so far. Not so much writing the posts, although I've had a few wobbly moments finding the time each day. The bigger issue has been trying to keep up with reading other blogger's posts.

I'm aiming to read as many as I can in between writing my own posts, and its no easy task. There are hundreds! Some fabulous themes and subject matter. The links to all the A to Z challenge blog's are on the right of this page, I urge you to go visit a few. You'll be amazed at the talent and range of subjects.

Word Challenge - This was for my Saturday group, I was away the weekend before, so wasn't sure if they were meeting over the Easter break. We did, and I wrote my two hundred words very much on the hoof, over breakfast, an hour before the meeting. I was given these details as a prompt. Geoffrey Warburton, bunch of flowers, broken arm, museum and soldier. It was a fun exercise.

Draft 2 - I got another chapter rewritten and critiqued by the group yesterday. I think its a case of back to the drawing board as it didn't go down well. Lacked pace, and overly descriptive in place, amongst other things, so I need to look at it again.

Walking - I got out! An urban walk in the city yesterday, and a walkabout earlier in the week.

So, managed to get it all done. Now my plans for this week.

A to Z Challenge - It continues! Next post tomorrow.

Alt.Fiction - I'm looking forward to going to this festival in Leicester on Saturday, and possibly Sunday, its all things science fiction, fantasy and horror. Workshops, industry panels, readings from leading authors in the genre, podcasts and lots of social networking too.

Draft 2 - More rewriting!

Photography - I want to get out this week and snap some pictures.

Cake - I am looking forward to eating some cake this week. It will be done.

That's my list, now tell me what you have planned?

Saturday, 7 April 2012

G is for Getaway

Sometimes, we need to take a break from writing. Stop what we're doing and recharge our batteries. You'll know what I mean, if you've been sitting in that seat for hours on end. Your poor back is aching, along with your shoulders, and your neck, and those eyes are stinging from staring at the screen for so long. On top of all this, your muse has deserted you. Got up and walked out on you. Your brain feels fuzzy, and you can't think straight any more.

Its time to getaway. Go outside, and get some fresh air if you can. There is nothing like it after your brain has been busy for hours trying to work out what happens next in your story. Or perhaps you are in the thick of a major edit? Killing off your darlings, fretting over how much to cut, or what to cut and what to leave in the story.

My favourite getaway is a walk, and if its daylight, visual distractions are doubly good. They give my brain something new and interesting to think about. If its dark, then I focus on breathing in the fresh air, listening and striding out.

Half an hour usually does the trick, often I'll go back to my desk able to work out what I want to write next. What do you do when you need a break? How do you recharge?


There is no A to Z Challenge post on Sunday, although I'll be posting my Goal list as usual. The challenge posts will be back on Monday with the letter H, and on that note, I'll finish my first week of posts with songs from the movie Grease.

Have a good Easter, HAPPY SATURDAY!

Friday, 6 April 2012

F is for Flash

Its Good Friday, I'm not working today, as its a Bank holiday here in the UK, and I'm looking forward to doing some serious writing over the holiday weekend. One way I kick-start my writing is to warm up with a short piece of prose. I refer to these as quick flashes of inspiration.. Here is one I wrote earlier.

   I’m walking along the street towards Caffeine Heaven, it’s 7.15am, and because nothing much happens at this time in the  morning I’m not paying attention, I'm not switched on. 

     ‘Burn this book!’ The words are urgent, shouted at me.  A shabby little man with a bald head and moustache appears before me on the pavement. Thrusting something at me, I put my hands out defensively, taking whatever it is, there isn’t time to register anything else.

    I didn’t see the thin steel wire looped over his head, pulled taut around his neck.  Or the fast moving saloon car behind him where the other end of the wire attached.  But I heard the engine roar, then accelerate. It caused the wire to snag.  

    Like watching cheese being sliced off a block, his head leaves his body with alarming speed. Eyes bulging. Staring. Staring right at me.

    I scream. And scream, and scream. The head rolls onto the ground. The body drops like a weight at my feet. Blood gushes and pools all around me. The body twitches. Someone else screams, people are shouting. They're running.

    My world moves in slow motion. I look down at my shaking hands. At whatever has caused the man to lose his head.


Thursday, 5 April 2012

E is for Enid Blyton

I've been trying to think who was my earliest influence when it comes to writing, and there is only really one person. Enid Blyton. When I discovered her books at the age of four, it opened a door to me that made me want to write stories too. For me Enid Blyton was one of the most entertaining storytellers of all time.

Enid Mary Blyton was born in August 1897 in South London, with two younger brothers for company Enid spent all of her childhood growing up in the area. She had a close loving relationship with her father, and they would often spend time together, in the garden, on nature rambles or out at the theatre. They had many shared interests which they enjoyed whenever time permitted.

However, her relationship with her mother wasn't as joyful, and the pair didn't see eye to eye. Her mother was of the opinion that girls should be domesticated and should be doing housework. Enid wasn't this way inclined, and resented having to do chores whilst her brothers were given a lot more freedom.

Unfortunately, her parents had little in common, and as the years passed the situation got unbearable, there were many upsetting rows and eventually they split up, and her father left. This had a devastating effect on young Enid, and she all but locked herself away in her room where she wrote compulsively. Her mother didn't understand why her daughter wanted to spend her time scribbling stories, and gave her little support. Enid already knew by this time that she wanted to be a writer. She sent off many stories and poems, but apart from one poem, had many rejections. It wasn't until years later she became successful.

She eventually became a teacher, after realising this would bring her closer to the children she wanted to write for, and it would give her a better understanding of what they wanted to read. Eventually in the early 1920's she began to get her stories and articles published in periodicals. She also wrote verses for greeting cards and had her first book, Child Whispers a slim volume of poetry published in 1922.

It is believed Enid wrote over 700 books including the Famous Five books, the St Clare's books, the Cherry Tree/Willow Farm series and the Faraway Tree, and Wishing Chair books. These were later to be joined by Secret Seven books, and the the Mallory Towers series to name but a few. Noddy appeared in 1949, and was a huge success, making Enid a fortune.

She died in 1968, at the age of 71, her books sell all over the world, and she continues to entertain, educate  and inspire. My own favourites are the Faraway Tree series, I loved the characters who lived in the magic land, and made up my own stories long after the books had been read. I devoured the Famous Five, lingered over the Secret Seven, and spent many happy hours reading the books two or three times over because I loved them so much.

Enid was a 'panster' writer, she never plotted a story, preferring to let the story unfold as she typed. She was tireless in her pursuit of writing for children of all ages, and couldn't imagine her life without writing. What a wonderful legacy she has left behind for generations of children.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

D is for Draft

Originally I thought I'd write about first drafts, and then because I'm in the thick of a horrid second draft I thought I might pen a few words on the subject. But I got to thinking about the title of this blog, and why I called it the First Draft Cafe.

At the outset, when I wanted to get into blogging, I thought it would help me to write regularly, and I wanted to share my hopes, and ideas and network with other writers. Setting up a blog seemed the ideal, so I took the plunge. Choosing a name was important, I wanted something to reflect the aim of what I was trying to achieve.  

At the time, I was writing my first attempt at a novel, after many years writing short stories. So 'first draft' was at the forefront of my mind.

I enjoy writing in cafe's, drinking tea, and eating cake is par for the course when you're a writer isn't it? It's thirsty work! I drew a mind map, I circled lots of words that were important to me as a writer, and eventually came up with the name First Draft Cafe.

Its served me well. Probably, all of my followers are connected with writing in some way, shape and form, and its nice when people find time to stop by and comment on something I've observed or written. The blog has evolved, its not just about writing these days, I also write about yoga, walking, and cake!  I think it's called giving something of myself away,  but I don't mind.  I enjoy  reading about the  everyday life of the bloggers I follow, it makes them more real. 

Its great to look back, and recall what I was doing at a given date, or month. I can reflect on how far I've come, and how much I feel I've grown as a writer. And of course I've made some great writing buddies along the way, who have inspired me,  and helped me when I've needed a friendly  ear.

If you're reading this,  and you're maybe thinking about  taking the plunge, and setting up your own blog, let me give you a push. Its definitely worth it!

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

C is for Competition

Today I'm talking about writing competitions. As well as being fun to enter, they teach us about discipline, and make us follow rules. I know some writers like to break rules (myself included) but when it comes to a writing competition, rules must be followed to the letter. They vary enormously, so do check the details carefully. Otherwise you're wasting your time, and possibly your money if you have paid to enter a competition.

Entering into the spirit of competitions stretches us, making us write tighter, as we try and stay within word count. We are challenged to think outside the box, as often there will be a set theme, or a first line given to kick-start our imagination, or perhaps a picture. We strive to come up with something different.

Quite often, I've started out writing to the brief for a particular competition, only to end up going off on a tangent, I don't worry. Nothing is wasted, and I can usually find a competition for what I've written.

Some competitions are free to enter, others charge an entry fee, and some offer cash prizes, whilst others offer publication opportunities in magazines or anthologies. There are organisations that will offer you an appraisal, or critique of your story, and this can often be helpful.

Writing competitions may be local or worldwide. Choose carefully, most organisers are honest and reliable, however like in all walks of life, there are some unscrupulous folk around too. Be careful, check as much as you can, ask around, use your common sense.

Here's a selection I've found for you to peruse, hopefully you'll give some of them a try. Remember, you have to be in it, to win it!

First up, if you are prepared to admit you are over sixty years of age, and you're a woman, then the The Grey Hen Poetry Competition might be for you.

Next we have the Daphne du Maurier Festival Writing Competition Stories for this one have to be on the theme of 'The Rendesvouz' with a maximum length of 1500 words.

The 2012 Doris Gooderson Short Story Competition is now open for entries. Check it out.

Or perhaps this might catch your eyes. Frome Festival 2012 Short Story Competition Winning stories will be read by a literary agent, and broadcast on radio.

And finally what about some humour? Flash 500 Humour Verse runs quarterly and offers cash prizes and publication in Words with JAM the free e-zine for writers.

Good luck!

Monday, 2 April 2012

B is for Bamboozle

 ‘We’ll find it.’ Barry smiled down at the elderly woman on her hands and knees. ‘Let me help you up,’ he said grasping her arm, and gently pulling her onto her feet. They’d met, minutes earlier, when he’d checked her entrance ticket into the art gallery. Mrs Collins he recalled.  Then she’d dropped something on the floor.

    ‘You don’t understand, my husband gave it to me,’ she whispered.

    ‘Come and sit down,’ he said. She smelt of Lily of the Valley, it reminded him of his late grandmother. God rest her soul. He led the woman over to an ornate chair, brushed aside the notice declaring “DO NOT SIT” and patted the seat. Mrs Collins sat, a gloved hand shielding her eyes.

    ‘It means so much to me,’ she sobbed. ‘My Ernest gave it to me.’

    ‘What are we looking for?’ said Barry.

    ‘My beautiful ring of course - my emerald. Barry searched the chequer board floor of the gallery. Lifting the brocade cloth he peered beneath the table, running a calloused hand across cool marble. Completely oblivious to Mr Collins, who was busy stealing the Pablo Picasso.              

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Goal List - Week Commencing April 1st 2012

Okay, the Goal list looked like this last week...

A to Z Challenge -  I only managed to get one post planned, so I guess I'll be flying by the seat of my pants for the next month! My first post is just here in case you think I'm slacking.

Draft 2 - Some further rewriting has been done.

Relax - Yes, think I did, Wednesday evening I met up with some folk I have met through Twitter. Some were writers as you'd expect. It was very nice to meet them. Also spent yesterday in Derbyshire walking.

Photography - Taken some lovely shots, some of which I'll put up on the blog soon.

And so to this week...

A to Z Challenge - It started today! Therefore, I'll be spending a lot of time on it this week. Really looking forward to reading other blogs, and making new friends.

Word Challenge - Writing group homework, of which I have no idea what it'll be until Tuesday.

Draft 2 - Continue 'killing my darlings' again this week.

Walking - I want to get at least two decent walks done this week. Excellent thinking time!

That's the list for the week ahead, short and sweet, and hopefully fun and manageable. What are you up to?

A is for Accountability

If only I had nothing to distract me – if only I could spend each day sitting and writing to my heart’s content. The truth is I have a full-time job, a family and all the other stuff that is real life.

 Not writing isn’t an option, so I schedule my time. After years of struggling to ‘fit it all in’, I’ve finally got a plan that works for me. How do I do it?

I write a list each week, I schedule what I’m going to do for the next seven days. Not only my writing life, I also plan in other things that make me happy. Stuff I want to fit into my every day. That is the key, fitting it into your everyday life. Making an appointment with yourself to do these things. If its writing that dreaded synopsis, producing a first draft or eating cake and drinking tea from China cups in some quaint tea-room. Multi-tasking and combining one or two of them can work.

Planning is the key, which is why I’m writing a list each week. It quantifies what I need to do; it’s my own unique road map on which I try to travel each week. I call it the ‘Goal’ list. Yes, I tick things off, in my notebook. The writer’s notebook? You all have one of these right? You do, I know you carry one about with you, so you can jot down ideas before they are forgotten.
The notebook makes me accountable; however putting my intentions on my blog, makes me far more accountable. Let me say straightaway, I don’t always achieve all of my goals each week, sometimes things happen, or I’ve given myself too much to do, and that’s a different blog post altogether. Mostly though, I’ve given myself achievable targets.

Here’s another idea, what about an accountability partner? Another writer can help you reach your writing goals. You can help each other, by checking in via email, phone call or perhaps a weekly meeting over a cuppa.

However you choose to make yourself accountable, one thing’s is for sure, you’ll get more done, and you’ll meet your deadlines and goals far quicker. What do you think?

Making Things Happen

Bluebells in the grounds of Chatsworth, Derbyshire - Maria A Smith Nearly two months ago I made this list of goals - See how I've g...