Tag Archives: creative writing

The Beach Hut Writing Academy

 

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I’m very proud to be taking part in this fabulous writing event this Saturday, March 12th.

It’s a full-day conference for new & experienced writers, run by the Beach Hut Writing Academy Conference and taking place in the gorgeous Brighton sea front Angel House.

There’ll be plenty going on, including workshops and lunch with bestselling authors, screenwriters, agents and editors, all sharing their insider secrets. Emlyn and I will be chatting about writing together and how to make a career out of writing.

The conference is currently SOLD OUT, but you can join the waiting list for last minute tickets here.

Hope to see you there.

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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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Kids can write brilliantly too

I can’t believe it’s come around so fast, but it was World Book Day yesterday and I was in at the kid’s school volunteering to teach years one two and three.  It was so much fun.  I brainstormed a whole fairy story with each group, so that the children came up with a heroine, a baddie, a hero, a trap, a daring rescue and a happy ever after.  Then they each did an illustration of part of their story, so that by the end of the session they’d created a whole fairy tale book.

 

I was amazed and surprised by their suggestions and how quickly they could subvert the fairy story clichés into something new and whacky and how each fairy story ended up being completely different, even though I was guiding them with a formula.

 

Our need for exploring conflict and resolution seems to be ingrained at a very fundamental level.  Even by the age of five, children have a very clear sense of right and wrong, goodies and baddies and how female heroines have to use their wit and ingenuity to get out of a scrape.

 

What I found amazing – and a clear indication of real progress from when I was growing up – was the resolution of each story.  Left to their own devices these young children all wanted a romantic resolution.  But rather than a bossy knight on a white horse charging up, taking over, scooping up the heroine and taking her to a life of bliss – over which she’s had no say, they all naturally chose to have the heroine finding love with someone realistic who was right underneath her nose the whole time.

 

What was most interesting though, was that in each case and with each group, the love resolution was not the end – and this was very much prompted by the kids and not by me.  Their stories all ended when the heroine either got her own back on her oppressors in a very public and satisfying way – pop-star Polly in New York winning a talent contest and thus a recording contract, thereby totally rubbing her mean, ugly sisters’ noses in it.

 

Or when, having won back her magic shell necklace and escaped an underwater cage, mermaid Lucy returns to coral castle to find that the elderly king is so impressed with her  bravery and courage in defeating Snap the evil seahorse, that he decides to abdicate the thrown and make Lucy queen.  At which point, she throws a rocking party for the whole kingdom …obviously.

 

I came away, as I always do from teaching children, enriched and a little humbled.  It seems to me that many grown up writers could benefit by a refresher course with small children in the fundamentals of story-telling.

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These I have loved…

It’s an exciting day here in Rees Towers.  This morning, the typeset page proofs of Emlyn’s new thriller, Hunted, arrived.  It’s always a great moment for an author, when you see your work professionally set out.  When it’s no longer a file on your computer, with your silly font on the title page, but instead looks like a real life book.

It arrived by special delivery.  (A miracle in itself.  Mostly, the van man sprints to the door and shoves a ‘you weren’t in’ red card through it.  Grrrr.  It’s become a secret obsession of mine to catch one red-handed.)

Anyway, the arrival coincided with the Little One in full tantrum mode.  She wasn’t in my good books anyway, having back head-butted me – twice – in two separate wake-up calls during the night.  She’d just protest-blown chunks of dippy egg across the table, when the doorbell rang.  I dumped her on the naughty step on my way to answer the door, realizing as I went that I was only wearing a t-shirt and white running socks.  Not a good look, I thought, as I saw the postman impatiently peering through the glass panel.  I hope he hadn’t heard what I’d been shouting. He wouldn’t be nominating me for a good parenting award any time soon.

Then everything changed.  The package was handed over reverentially.  When I saw the Publisher’s insignia and felt the neat block of pages inside, I called for Emlyn, who was out of bed in a shot.

Of course he ripped open the package and put the precious manuscript straight onto the egg smeared table, before I could say anything.  Doh! But we all oo-eed an ahhed anyway.  Especially after I discovered he’d dedicated his novel to me.  Awww.  What a lovely feeling.

Talking of lovely feelings, I went into the kids’ school to teach creative writing as part of their World Book Day celebrations yesterday.  It was great fun getting all my girls dressed up before hand – as Hagrid, Wimpy Kid and the Cat in the Hat – but it was only when I was actually in with the Year 6 class that I realized that the reason The Big One had insisted on going in as Hagrid from Harry Potter was so that her face would be almost entirely covered by a huge wig and beard – meaning none of her mates would be able to see her cheeks burning as I stood up and started the session in front of her peers.

I used a poem by Rupert Brooke and an extract from ‘The Great Lover’ in which he lists all the things he has loved.  It’s a beautiful passage. The kids did their own version and they all worked on ways of describing the things that are special to them.  Here’s what they came up with.

Wind in my hair                                                                                                          Cantering through the green lushness of a field; the soft giving                           Warmth of a vanilla sponge; elegant stone statues posing;                                            Icy blue droplets viewed from the red warmth inside; boating on a               Diamond-sparkling river; talking; a red caterpillar on a green leaf; a beach with Crystal blue water lapping at your feet tempting you in to swim;                    Gymnasts flying freely around the room; an explosion of exotic colours.

Purple snuggling under my duvet; the solitude of a garden;                          Welcoming metal Fingers; sheets of fur; the soft fluffiness of pets;                  Sydney’s intriguing eyes; canine tickling: a dog’s coarse fur;                                       The exhilaration of performing and the pleasure of                                                Getting the part I wanted; competing in a sporting challenge;                                    Sun shining, the feeling of happiness,                                                                    Splashing in the warm calming sun.

Exploring the lanes with my dad on a Sunday; my carved silver leopard; the Adrenaline rush of a perfect hand-spring landing;                                              Grabbing my pillow as the movie monster appears; a shower of red football Cheers;   hip-hop dancing; lemon-soaked sugary pancakes;                               Stroking my guinea pig; watching the water                                                         Twizzling down the plug hole of my bath; the smell of                                                 New paper; the luxury of a car; the tangy aroma of                                                       Wet paving slabs; a water slide squeal; and the radiant sun                                 Melting into the cold, crisp sea.

Oh to be a ten-year-old again.  I hope that’s given you a nice warm feeling too.

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Ball envy

November.  Everyone you know is really busy, right?  The world is full of harassed people, cramming in actual work before the party season starts.  But not me.  I’m in a writing hiatus, with projects awaiting the green light.  See these thumbs?  Officially on twiddle mode.

It’s all terribly frustrating and there’s nothing I can do, but wait.  You’d think, as the avid list-maker I am, that spare time would be a Godsend.   There’s a chocka-full Christmas present list, the Things I’m Going To Do To The House List bursting with tasks.

But the old adage – if you want anything done, ask a busy person – is so true in my case.  I’m dithering for Britain.

I should be used to waiting.  Waiting, after all, is a writer’s curse.  Mostly you sit at your desk waiting for inspiration.  I have various tactics for these times, my favourite – apart from writing lists – is the curiously satisfying task of de-fluffing my keyboard with folded over sellotape.

My beloved husband, Emlyn, spends his time cruising the BBC site, digging up ‘fascinating’ trivia facts with which to entertain and enlighten me.  Yesterday’s being that a new species of grasshopper has been discovered which has testicles which account for fifteen per cent of its bodyweight, making it officially the creature with the biggest balls on the planet.  ‘Imagine. Fifteen per cent.  That like an equivalent of a whole human leg,’ Emlyn said with a faraway look in his eye.

Gareth, our dear friend the poet, told us over dinner last night, that he too suffers from occasional bouts of ball envy.  He’s invested in a hamster to amuse him during the lonely hours as he strives to complete his PhD.  He pokes food through the bars and talks to his blind little hamster with its grandiose triple-barrelled name, Gabriel Dante Rossetti.  Gareth’s quite smitten with his little writing buddy, despite the hamster’s curiously large balls.

And talking of balls – and there is a link here – I’m pleased to report that my creative writing course started well this week.  I had a bunch of extremely talented twelve and thirteen-year-olds, who were an utter joy to teach.  I’m already excited about our next session together.

I’ll admit that I was a tad nervous before-hand, due to my entirely different kind of teaching experience which happened somewhere deep in the Winnersh Triangle, last summer.  (Which, for those who don’t know, is that oddly over-signposted area in the tangle of motorways just outside London.  Where, whenever we pass it, we can’t help but sing Barry Manilow’s ‘Bermuda Triangle’ and wonder if we too are about to disappear.)
I was speaking at two library events – one at lunchtime and one in the evening, and with an afternoon to kill, I volunteered my services to the English department of the local comprehensive school.

The harassed teacher who met me in the corridor during a stampede of kids, shouted in a war-torn kind of way that they were a ‘man down’ and hoofed me alone into a class full of texting, gum-chewing, blank-faced seventeen year-olds.

Scary.

It became immediately apparent that they couldn’t give a monkey’s that I was a published writer, or that my books have been translated into 27 languages, or thought any of my anecdotes were even remotely amusing. I started to feel like Naomi Watt’s character in King Kong, doing ever more elaborate tap dances and cartwheels to amuse the great beast.

I cut to the chase and got onto the creative writing session I’d planned.  This is all about accessing one’s seam of inner creative magic, I told them. They seemed sceptical.

I urged them to pay no attention to spelling, punctuation or grammar and banned them from crossing out.  They had to write.  Fast. For ten minutes. And even if they wrote ‘banana banana banana’ then their inner critic wouldn’t get air time, and eventually they’d get creative.

I gave them the first line to get them going.  ‘The shirt that he wore was…’
‘Don’t worry,’ I said, as they started, ‘Anything goes.  I’m un-shockable.’

Not entirely true, as it turns out.

At the end, some of them seemed to be satisfied with their endeavours.  I plucked a few out at random and read them aloud.  Then I picked on the smirking Goth boy in the corner.

‘The shirt that he wore was… tucked into a pair of tight black leather trousers,’ I read. I scanned down the scrawl, my cheeks flushing. ‘Inside were a pair of unfeasibly huge balls straining to get out…’

Oh God. I’d started so I had to finish.

Well, the best I can say about the humiliating – and lengthy – description of self-pleasure that followed, was that at least it included the rather lyrical phrase ‘squirrel coloured pubes’.

Afterwards, I ran to the car and called Emlyn, who was eventually sympathetic once he’d stopped laughing.  ‘You told them to write about what they know.  What did you expect?  What else do teenage boys do?’

Good point.

But I’m starting to think that maybe I’ve got a case of ball envy too.  Not the actual wanting of them, but the fact having something like to obsess about in the way that men do, would occupy my mind whilst I’m waiting for my news.

Do other women have ball envy too?  Do you?  Maybe we should set up a website.  A self-help group to find something bigger and better than balls, something that us intelligent women can singularly obsess over too.

Answers on a postcard/email please.

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