Thursday, 16 August 2018

The Writing Community.

I love being part of the writing community. It's vast group comprising writers from all over the world, all ages, genders, ethnicities, abilities, and whatever else may make us different. When we write we all share something amazing. The Internet enables us to partake in online groups, exchange ideas with others writers and most importantly, I think, give and receive support. There are best selling writers who tweet helpful advice and suggestions, those who tweet about great books and stories they've read, and those who encourage writers who've not yet been brave enough to submit anything anywhere! There's a vast support network out there.

Yes, of course there are the nasty trolls and people who are overly critical, many of whom hide behind anonymous social media profiles, but they are far outweighed by the positive supporters. I've seen tweets from writers who've been understandably upset by some awful comments or vitriolic reviews but the positive support always follows.

Writers comment on each others' tweets and links. I've received some lovely comments about the odd piece of mine which really does boost my writing esteem, which it needs!

I had a story published in Stories for Homes 2 last year and the online network of the contributors and editors feels like being part of a lovely family. The flash flood organised by Calum Kerr and his colleagues in June produced not only a flood of fabulous flash fiction but also numerous positive comments on each other's posts. I felt proud to have a piece in among so many superb writers but, again, I felt I was part of a community which can be important when many writers work on their own.

So is there a downside to the writing community? When my writing is getting nowhere and the rejections are stacking up and I log on to Twitter and see tweets and posts about successes in competition wins, short story collections and first or subsequent novels published, while I'm truly pleased for their authors, many of whom I've met online or in real life, it makes my own lack of success feel all the more acute. Their talent is shining while mine is non-existent and I'm thinking my writing is rubbish and I don't try hard enough. It's easy to get disheartened.

Then I remember that many of these writers who are now doing well and receiving well-deserved acclaim, almost certainly once felt like I do! But they kept going. And they did so in spite of other jobs - often demanding ones - and raising their families, or while going through periods of illness. They kept going by honing their writing skills and submitting their work. I'm sure there are plenty of others who gave up so, not surprisingly, I haven't heard much about about those writers.

So I can choose to give up or keep going. There are no guarantees that my writing will ever result in success but giving up will definitely result in none. I choose to see those other writers' successes as  the result of their hard work and persistence and choose to be encouraged by it.

So thanks for sharing all your wins and publication success because while a little luck may be in the mix, I know that hard work makes Lady Luck get a move on.

PS: Just as I published this post, I spotted on Twitter #ShareYourRejections on which most responses are saying keep going!

Thursday, 19 July 2018

How do You Choose Which Books to Read?

How do you choose which books to read?

My last post was about giving away books but of course I've had to acquire some new ones too. My choices come from a number of sources. I love browsing in bookshops where I might see an interesting title or cover and take a further look, perhaps at the back cover blurb or just the first page or two. A lot gets decided on looking at the writing style. I don't have particular styles that I like but there are definitely some I don't enjoy.

I used to attend a book group at my local library where members chose books, which certainly made me read more widely. One member tended to choose books that were listed in intellectual recommended lists and included some books that I thought were absolute horrors but I did learn from reading them. I learned to avoid those particular authors or follow those recommendations (the ones that keep listing the same established names over and over.) I really don't care if people think my reading doesn't measure up to Booker prize standard. I much prefer the Not the Booker Prize. I've always had a taste for Literary Pudding!

A great many of my choices come from recommendations from book friends and, of course, from book blogs and other social media. I'm a bit limited in my social media using only Twitter and to a lesser extent Facebook but I've bought a number of books because I saw something on Twitter and  followed an author I found interesting. As many have said, it's usually the authors who engage with others on their Twitter feeds who I find are the more interesting writers. I've come across some gems this way. I don't go for those who bombard their followers with ads for their books. I did once as the book looked promising but it was something of a let down with the author perhaps better suited to a career in sales than writing.

Some books receive a huge amount of media attention with lots of people listing them in their Top Tens and so on, but I've been disappointed by a large number of these so now prefer to borrow these popular titles, if I read them at all, from the library although I usually have to wait ages because they're in high demand as the publicity machine is doing a great job.

I've bought a number of books after having read short stories or flash fiction by the author. If their short work spoke to me, then the chances are that their novel will too. 

I admit I'm not one for doing many book reviews, for a reason I've mentioned in a previous post, but when I love a book or a short story, I will tweet the author telling them so. It's lovely to receive an acknowledgement and most writers do so, even though they are busy with lots of other messages because their writing is so good!  Guess what, I'm more likely to read their next book too!

How do you choose a new book?

Friday, 8 June 2018

Clearing my Shelves

Angi and me with the new
Woodside Park Community Book Swap.
I have been decluttering. Clothes, ornaments, cooking gadgets I've barely used, CDs and DVDs and, alas, books.

Books are the hardest to part with but it has to be done. I had thousands. I've always had an ongoing book clear as my flat isn't huge but this has been by far the biggest cull. Lots of my old text books have been sold and local charity shops have done very well out of my donations. Some have gone to family and friends and now some, I'm pleased to say, along with one of my bookcases are a community library/book swap at Woodside Park, my local underground station, which I set up with the help of another local resident, Angi.

Within a couple of minutes of putting the books on the shelves we had our first browser, who thanked us and said he had long wished there was such a facility here. The first book he selected was a copy of a Greenacre Writers anthology! He borrowed three books and said he'd return or swap them in due course!

This latest addition joins dozens of other little libraries on the Transport for London network, including Bounds Green, High Barnet, and East Finchley.

Those of you who use Woodside Park station, please do bring and borrow books to keep it going. The bookcase is in the main foyer so you don't even need your Oyster card!

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

VOX by Christina Dalcher

As a speech and language therapist, it was inevitable that I was going to be interested in a novel using the phrase ‘anti-aphasia serum.’ Sure enough, from the opening pages Christina’s Dalcher’s debut novel, VOX, had me riveted.

Dr Jean McClellan is a leading neurolinguistics scientist working on a cure for Wernicke’s aphasia, the devastating language disorder that can result from brain injury. But for the last year she has not been allowed to work – because she’s a woman. The oppressive Pure Movement is in power and women are restricted to the home and domestic chores such as shopping. They are allowed to speak only 100 words a day – for most of us that's about forty seconds’ worth of speech. But sometimes a totalitarian regime needs to make exceptions for its own gain. As with all repressive organisations, there are supporters and detractors. But who is who? Who can be trusted? Choices must be made.

Written with articulate simplicity the punch of the novel is delivered in brief chilling sentences:

  • ·       My boys do not wear word counters.
  • ·       They know what happens when we overuse words.
  • ·       I have five left.

Christina Dalcher explores not only a dystopian world, where neighbours and family members may be pitted against one another, but also how language and the impact of its restriction affects identity and relationships, autonomy and power.

As someone who has spent a career enabling those with speech and language difficulties to express themselves, it’s a disturbing vision because I’ve seen what can happen to those whose lives have been affected by their lack of language. It diminishes virtually every aspect of their world.

Like all good books VOX’s premise is not impossible. Prisons around the world hold those who have spoken out.  

A final note; one of my patients with Wernicke’s aphasia was walking with his wife on a beach one sunny morning. He said ‘I’ll get some pianos so we can nicely parade.’ He knew exactly what he meant but can you work out his meaning?

Thank you HQStories for asking me to be a VOX champion.

I have used 3.5 days’ worth of words.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Barely Casting A Shadow

Just when I was in need of a pick up, this dropped through my letter-box. (The book, not the flowers.)

Barely Casting A Shadow is Reflex Fiction's first volume containing 161 flash fiction stories that have been long-listed in their competitions from 138 authors.

I'm so pleased to have my story, No Mirrors, alongside all the other fabulous entries from writers whose names you see popping up all over the place whether winning competitions or getting their flash fiction collections and novels published.

The stories have been published on the Reflex Fiction website but it's so much better having them in a real book format!

It is available from Amazon here.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Why I'm not apologizing for making people cry.

Several people have told me that reading my stories made them cry. If I can write and relay emotion in my stories, then I'm happy. Sometimes I talk to people and make them cry too, and I'm just as pleased. Not for my sake, but theirs. But I'm not a monster; please read on.

I've mentioned World Voice Day before here on my blog and am doing so again because April 16th is the day we celebrate our voices. Many people think of voice problems as being caused by laryngitis but there are a number of other causes too, including psychogenic voice problems, which are not uncommon. As a speech and language therapist I've come across many cases.

The young man opposite me was telling me how his voice gave out after talking for just a few minutes. His job in IT didn't involve much talking and he never had any problems at work but it was affecting his social life, especially in the area of dating. At 31, he'd had a few brief relationships but really wanted to find and settle down with The One. His voice, he felt, was stopping him from meeting someone because after talking for a bit his voice would become hoarse and he was embarrassed. What girl would be impressed by that? These days if he ventured out for a first date he never made it a second because he would start to worry about his voice.

I knew from the ENT report there nothing amiss with his larynx. I could also see that whenever he spoke about the more personal aspects of his problem, his voice became very strained. He was of the belief that he suffered frequent throat infections but I knew his hoarseness was the result of excessive muscle tension.

Voice care advice and vocal tract relaxation exercises would take him only so far. We had to dig deeper and get the real root of the problem. The first bridge we needed to cross was helping him to understand that his problem wasn't so much physical as psychological. Some people find that a difficult concept but although he found it strange, he realized that his voice was worse when he was tense. And, yes, he felt especially tense on dates, so it made sense.

His relationships had foundered because, in his words, he couldn't talk about emotional stuff. After a few sessions with me he appreciated that he, in spite of being a very physical 'macho' guy, was also a very emotional being who had grown up literally believing 'boys don't cry.' He'd been told off for being needy or emotional as a child when his father left home, slapped or humiliated if he cried, and so he'd built a barrier around his emotions. Throughout adolescence and into adulthood, any time discussions got personal he changed the subject or walked away. Working out in the gym was his release and his muscles proved he'd spent lots of time there. He'd fashioned himself into Mr Strong and Silent.

He couldn't voice his emotional needs let alone tell anyone that the loss of his father and way he was subsequently treated as a child by the rest of his family had deeply hurt him. But now his body was telling him something - his voice difficulty was telling him he needed to work on a problem he wasn't consciously aware of because he'd buried his feelings. He needed to get in touch with his emotions and literally voice them. More importantly, he had to feel okay about having his feelings and believe that he didn't always have to be strong and definitely not silent. Which is why I keep boxes of tissues handy, because boys do cry.

For  more information please check out the World Voice Day website.

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Greeting spring.

Picture credit: Alison Everett
About a year before she died my mother handed me her notebooks in which she had jotted pieces about our life on the farm in the West Country where my sisters, brother and I grew up.  I chose to share this extract as spring is here at last. The picture was taken by my sister* last week when she put primroses from her garden into our mother's little blue vase shaped in a ring, just as we had arranged them at Easter when we were children.

In the long summer days the children kept themselves amused from morning to night.  There were woods to roam in, flowers to pick and press. Their teacher at the local infant school had always encouraged the children to identify wild flowers and in some of our fields they grew in profusion. The favourite field was a meadow known as the Butterfly Field. 
   In March yellow lesser celandines appeared on banks and dainty wood anemones covered the floor of the copses. These were not suitable for picking as they wilted so quickly. The pale yellow primroses followed and later cowslips appeared in some fields, especially on a patch of unmown steep ground known as the tumpy field because of the huge grass-covered anthills. In May the woods were misted with bluebells. Nearer the house we would spot germander speedwell, valerian, campion, selfheal, bugle, woundwort, willow herb, hawkweed, and cranesbill. In the Butterfly Field we found ladies bedstraw, agrimony, knapweed, goats’ beard, various vetches and some orchids. May saw hawthorn covering the hedges and in June they were jewelled with wild roses. Fields turned yellow and white with buttercups and ox-eyed daisies. Reed mace – often called bulrushes – grew in the reans.** 

The swallows and house-martins arrived in early April and nested in the cowshed and barns, swooping down to the yard to pick up mud with which to build their nests. Members of the tit and finch families visited the garden, a wren nested in one of the sheds and sparrows and starlings nested noisily under the roof tiles of house and barns. Blackbirds and thrushes sang, green and spotted woodpeckers tapped at tree trunks and tree creepers ran up apple trees searching for grubs. A robin appeared with a brood of young with speckled breasts but we didn’t find their nest. In the woods was an even greater variety of birds and we would often hear the cuckoo. The elm trees behind the Dutch barn hosted a small rookery. 
   We’d often hear owls hooting and one year they nested in a hollow branch of one of the old walnut trees. At about eleven o clock each evening there would be a tremendous noise as the young were being fed. Most years a spotted flycatcher built on the side of one of the barns among the Virginia Creeper, patching up the old nest year after year. 

Our garden had a young ash tree, a holly and two yew trees. In the field behind grew two ancient walnut trees with two younger ones planted on Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation. In the woods at the top of the hill were elms, ash, sycamore and beech. A large oak grew at the top of the field next to the cart track leading further up the hill. There were several fox dens and at dusk we would often see a vixen with her cubs and we’d hear the vixen’s cries in the night.  Badgers also had setts in the woods and they would come down to our garden at night and we’d hear them snuffling around. 

The most common butterflies were red admirals, tortoiseshells, orange tip and peacocks, but in the Butterfly Field other varieties could also be spotted. In the garden we had a large goldfish pond with about twenty fish of various sizes. Beautiful water-lilies grew in it and we often saw green and blue dragonflies. Frogs laid their eggs in the pond and the kids would collect some of the spawn and keep it in a tank so they could watch it hatch and see the tadpoles evolve in to tiny frogs.

**South-west dialect for drainage ditches.