A good old-fashioned achy hand

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When was the last time you had an achy writing hand?  The kind of wrist-flipper that catapults you back to when you last feverishly wrote in your exams?  I have to say, it’s rare for me –  being the speed typist I am –  but it’s good to be reminded occasionally of the sheer joy of handwriting.

Last night at my creative writing event at the Jubilee Library here in Brighton, I was lucky enough to meet a whole room full of enthusiastic writers.

I started off with a timed writing exercise, following a set of rules.  I first stumbled on these writing rules when I read Natalie Goldberg’s ‘Writing Down the Bones.’  She’s also written a fabulous book, ‘Wild Mind:  Living The Writer’s Life’.  Her idea is a simple one: that is the more you practice writing, the better you get at accessing your creative mind.  The idea is to write FAST, in a timed session, with no censorship.

There are SIX rules for writing practice.

  1. Keep your hand moving.  No matter what.  Even if you write banana, banana, banana, the idea is that you will outsmart the editor in you which is telling you that this is ridiculous and you’ll get to the good stuff.  You must not stop writing for the time allocated.  SPEED is everything.
  1. Don’t cross out.  That’s editing as you’re writing.  Even if you’ve written something you didn’t mean to.  Leave it.  Nobody is going to judge you.
  1. Don’t worry about spelling, punctuation, or grammar.  Don’t even care about writing straight on the page.  Just keep going.
  1. Be Specific.  Use your senses.  Use colour, textures, sounds.  Use different nouns and verbs to bring your sentences zinging to life.  If you write a generic sentence, don’t worry, just make the next one better.
  1. Lose Control and Don’t think. Stick with your first thoughts, not your thoughts on your first thoughts.  Stay with the words you’ve chosen.  Follow your instinct. Let it rip.  Go where the writing takes you.
  1. Go for the jugular.  If something comes up in your writing that it scary or naked, dive right in.  It probably has lots of energy.

The group wrote for ten minutes and I gave them the words ‘The First Time’ as a jump point.  All sorts of wonderful tales came out.  I particularly liked one woman’s description of her first cigarette and the hellish relationship she’s had with cigarettes ever since.

At the end of ten minutes, everyone had achy hands, but everyone agreed that they felt better for the exercise.

Try it.  You might enjoy it.

My next creative writing session is on September 13th here in Brighton.  The course runs from 10.30-3pm and is £99 including a gourmet lunch.  Please contact me to book your place.

 

 

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Gorgeous Gossip

 

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Things have rather Dark & Stormy around here with Emlyn, Julia and Ray’s new Crime Festival, which was a storming success.  There were sell out events all-round with a brilliant turn from Brighton’s own Peter James as well as a ‘Spies Fact or Fiction’ event in the Dome with Dame Stella Rimmington and Liam Fox amongst the other distinguished guests, not to mention the rocking launch party. I was lucky enough to make my radio presenting debut recording for the brilliant Radio Gorgeous and spoke to Julia Crouch and Candida Lacey about why Brighton and crime go together like Fish and Chips.  Here I am on Gorgeous Gossip.

http://radiogorgeous.com/podcasts/author-joanna-rees-reports-from-dark-stormy-crime-festival-on-gorgeous-gossip/

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The Addiction of Books

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I love books.  I love that feeling of being completely swept up in a story, of lying in the bath, or my bed and being utterly transported to a different world.  That addictive escapist feeling is ultimately why I always wanted to become a writer myself.

 

Annoyingly, though, now that I am a writer one of the down sides is that I find it very difficult to indulge myself in my love of commercial fiction when I’m writing.  I still read, of course, but I’m picky, choosy and impatient.  Consequently, our house is full of towering piles of half-read paperbacks.

 

It doesn’t help that Emlyn often reads over my shoulder in bed and makes comments about the book I’ve chosen.  Or, he’ll predict the end.  God, it’s annoying when he’s right!

 

There are, however, a few authors who stop me in my tracks and make me guard their book preciously.  I start reading whilst cooking the kids tea, slope off for a bath for a few more chapters, go to bed early and devour the pages late into the night, or – the ultimate accolade – choose an extra big handbag so that I can take it to London on the train. 

 

One of these authors is JoJo Moyes, whose new book, ‘The One Plus One’ had me gripped from cover to cover.  At two o’clock this morning, I did that weepy sigh thing when I finished the last page and then fell into a deep, satisfied sleep.

 

JoJo is an accomplished writer who sets her stall out in such a way that you feel like you’re in a very safe pair of hands from page one – not an easy thing to do, believe me.  She creates a convincing and totally plausible world for her characters, all of whom have, at their heart, a wonderful conflict to be resolved.  She creates fabulous dramatic tension and has that knack of tugging on your heartstrings when it comes to romance.

 

Having tackled big themes in her books before – like voluntary suicide in ‘Me Before You’, ‘The One Plus One’ is about family, money and ultimately, the quest for a sense of home.  Her characters are quirky, but utterly believable and it’s a satisfying love story of redemption and second chances.

 

It’s a tough act to follow.  I’m really not sure what I’ll be reading next, but in the meantime, I must get some work of my own done…

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The Key To It All – it’s here

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Drum roll please.  My new book ‘The Key To It All’ is out tomorrow, so I’d better tell you what it’s about.

The idea came for it after talking to my mate Sara in the pub, who told me about a city bloke she knew who’d received an exclusive corporate gift – a sort of instant upgrade pass, which gave him first class flights and entrance into swanky clubs and restaurants.  The idea stuck, developed and I worked it up into the kind of twisting and turning cliff-hanger laden story I love, throwing in some of my favourite plot devices for good measure.  (I guess my box-set addiction comes in handy after all.)

The result is a story about five random strangers – in far flung corners of the globe – who simultaneously receive a mysterious silver key.  When they plug it into any computer, they get access to a personalized webpage asking them to name their desires.  They soon realize that the key can unlock a door to luxury and privilege beyond their wildest dreams. However, as each of them begins to use the key, they are propelled into a world of hazy moral choices and they start to question the enigmatic gift, who is funding it and why they have been chosen to receive it.  Obviously, only the bravest will use it to find out the truth, but along the way, there’s intrigue, murder and romance.

With each of my five characters, I explored their very different reactions to receiving such a gift, from suspicion to out-and-out avarice.  I’ve been asked in quite a bit of the publicity blogs I’ve done about what I would do if I were to receive such a gift, but whilst is sounds great in theory, in practice, I’m not sure I’d like it.  I’m naturally suspicious of freebies and I wouldn’t want anyone else waiting on me hand and foot.  I tend to make friends with staff.  I can’t help myself.

That said, writing this book was so much fun.  I honestly loved the writing process. Some books are like pulling teeth, but this one was a joy.  There are the friends listed in the acknowledgments who obviously went through the usual tearful ‘I can’t do it/yes you can’ phone calls as I tried to rein in my gigantic plot.  But for the most part, it was fabulous to get the chance to sit at home in my tracksuit bottoms and imagine myself cycling along on a beach in Rio, or what it would be like to flounce around on a mega yacht, or throw an epic party where every Hollywood A-lister came.

However, at the end of the day, for me, I know that true happiness is being on my shabby sofa with Emlyn and our girls.  And it’s free.  The key to it all isn’t money, or having someone else solve all your problems.  It may sound very cheesy, and yes, this is a spoiler for the last line of the book, but I do believe that the key to it all is love.

 

‘The Key To It All’ by Joanna Rees is published by Pan Macmillan priced £7.99 and is available in Tesco, Smith’s Travel and online at Amazon.

 

 

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Less British Hassle, more American Hustle

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Greetings, Lovelies.  So, here we are – third week of January.  The credit card bills have just hit, its cold, windy and raining, yonks till anyone gets paid again and for most of us, the exercise and weight-loss resolutions have all gone right out the window.  They say this is the most depressing bit of the year, but surpringly, for January, I’m in a very chipper mood.

This year, I’ve taken a break from the usual January self-flagellation and have decided instead that this is ‘pamper-me’ month.  On account of the fact that I was such a frazzled old bag before Christmas, running around in a frenzy of chaos, I’m taking it upon myself to be kind to myself.  I’ve had my hair cut, my eyebrows done, my nails done and, on the good advice of my friend Lesley, have taken up sherry as my lady tipple of choice at home.  It’s brilliant.

It helps that all is calm in Rees towers and we’re both writing, which is always the most fun phase to be in.  And last night, Emlyn and I went on our first cinema trip of the year to see ‘American Hustle’.

I’ve been wanting to see this film for ages, mainly because the posters have been everywhere.  All that 70’s hair and fashion.  Disco!   What’s not to love?  And don’t get me wrong, this film didn’t disappoint on the visual front.  It looks stunning.  It also has four tremendous performances from the leads, although for me, it didn’t excel past the opening shot of Christian Bale constructing his elaborate comb-over.

It also featured Amy Adams breasts.  A lot.  She’s got a great pair of knockers and rocks a Dianne von Furstenberg dress like no-one else, but I left very thankful that the low ‘V’ neckline is no longer in fashion.  I am seriously tempted to Google how many metres of tit tape the costume department used during the filming.  Didn’t they wear bras at all in the 70’s?

My overall impression was that whilst the characterization was great, the script could definitely have been better and the plot a bit beefier.  But maybe I’m just picking holes because I’m hot off the back of a box set.  I’ve just watched series one of Wentworth Prison.  It’s the opposite end of the spectrum to American Hustle, being about an Australian women’s prison (so the costume department had a significantly easier job).  However, if you ever watched Prisoner Cell Block H back in the 90’s (usually late at night after a few pints) then this is definitely one for you.  It’s utterly gripping.

So there are a few recommendations for you.  But my biggest recommendation of all is to treat yourself today.  Right now.  It’s January.  Let yourself off the hook.

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A Fabulous Christmas Present

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So we’re into December madness and I’ve just staggered back from the shops laden with bags, but with barely anything ticked off my scrumpled-up list, which I’ve been clutching for the past three hours in the hope that it might provide inspiration.  It didn’t.  I’m trying very hard not to be a last minute smash-and-grab shopper, but it’s not going very well.

I don’t know about you, but I’m truly rubbish at shopping – especially of the Christmas variety.  I’m always intimidated by those who claim to have done it all in November and have it all wrapped.  What do those people do in December, then?  Apart from chuckle smugly?

Here’s just a few of the reasons I’m a terrible Christmas shopper:

1. I’m always badly dressed for it, usually with a big thick coat which brings me out in a full body-sweat as soon as enter any of the big stores here in Brighton.  I hate being too hot.

2. I can only do impulse buying, which only works out if there’s no queue.  What scuppers me completely is if I’m left for any time at all to look at my purchases – at which point I lose my all of my confidence.   Then I sometimes dump the stuff and run.  (It’s not something I’m very proud of.)

3.  I’m a shopping envier, always on the look-out for what’s in other people’s baskets. Which means that sometimes I get to the check out and desperately want to buy what the person in front of me has got, but by then it’s too late.

4. I have a unique ability to buy presents which look cheap, but were actually very expensive, rather than the other way around.  Which is quite an impressive shopping trait, given that I live near T K Max.

5. I’m staggered by the amount of stuff I have to buy, which leads me into an existential anxiety loop about what Christmas really means and the impression I’m giving my kids.   This sometimes gets so bad, I have to give up on shopping altogether and do something more spiritual – like go for lunch.  Which leaves my Christmas shopping undone and it all to the last minute – hence the terrible cycle of last minute panic buying continues.

All that aside, however, I do genuinely love giving people presents – especially on the rare occasions I get it right.  Although I set the bar far too high far too early when I bought Emlyn a Wurlitzer Jukebox when we first got together.  I can’t top that.

I also like receiving presents, but this Christmas, I’ve already had my best present.  Another three book deal from the fabulous Pan Macmillan.  I’ve just had an email from my brilliant editor, Wayne Brookes, showing me the press release.  Hooray.  Now that really is a fabulous Christmas present.

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We’re Going On A Bar Hunt

 

 

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Greetings to all you reading this blog.

 

I don’t know about you, but our summer went by in a flash and it’s only when I scroll back through the photos on my phone that I realize just how much we did.  We had such a great time with the girls, mucking about in Paris, eating peaches in the French countryside, going to Wilderness Festival and crabbing in the Isle of Wight.  I ate and drank in the sunshine and now I’ve put my flip-flops away and realized how tight my jeans are, that it’s time to get back on the straight and narrow and summer is over.

 

I’m not moaning, though.  I love September.  I love the whole idea of a new start.  New projects and new school years for the kids and… well…new jeans.  Oh and socks.  I love socks and boots and central heating.  

 

And most of all, I love a cosy night out in the pub catching up with mates – which brings me onto the latest offering from Rees towers.  It’s the first book I’ve written with Emlyn for some years and it has been fabulously illustrated by the very talented Gillian Johnson.  The brand new first copies have just arrived and we’re so proud of them.  It’s called ‘We’re Going On A Bar Hunt’ and is written entirely for any parents (like us) who have not only read and re-read the children’s classic ‘We’re Going On A Bear Hunt’ but have also booked a babysitter and tried to recapture their sense of youth. 

 

There’ll be more written about it here in due course when the book hits the shops on October 17th, but here’s a glimpse of the front cover.

 

If you would like the chance to win a signed copy and be the first of your friends to see it, we have one copy to give away to the lovely readers of this blog.  Send your details in on a message to me and I’ll put your name in the hat.

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