Monday, 30 January 2012

Too busy for words

There are some weeks when I look at the diary and go...



Yer WHAT?!


And I'm supposed to breathe... when?

At least, after this weekend's endeavours, I'm not going to run out of marmalade.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Talking about me

Writing Wednesday
Sell!   Sell!   Sell!

That's the job of the aspiring writer. Well, the job of an aspiring writer who wants to be published.

Even if you ignore the merits or otherwise of ebooks or print, self-publishing or publishing corporation, at the end of the day you - the writer - have to sell the book. And first of all, that means selling you.

It is not something I am naturally gifted at. Many people are, prepared to speak out and promote their own ideas... or force their opinions on us, the unsuspecting audience. Often such people come across as unpleasant: arrogant, only concerned with themselves. Yet (and I hate to admit this) they also often get things done. They get to where they want to be. Sure, they probably have some talent in their chosen field, but much of their success is due to self-confidence.

I know: I've watched The Apprentice.

Some of us are more reticent and don't blow our own trumpets. I find it so difficult to say anything positive about myself without immediately apologising afterwards. Yet why should I? Though I have many (many, many, many) weaknesses, I'm not all bad. In fact, bits of me are quite good. (Quite, you note.)

This week I sent off my book to an agent. Just the one (it took me all day to prepare for and build up the confidence for that!) Writing a cover letter that sells me and the book is difficult. Writing a cover letter that boasts without being overbearing is difficult. Writing a cover letter that shows you know your market and love writing and have an exciting opening and are the best person in the entire universe and just what the agent is looking for ... is difficult.

Have you guessed what I found hard? Nevertheless, I hit the 'send' button and now await with bated breath. I anticipate a long wait...

[Incidentally, I found the service BubbleCow offered really helpful. They give lots of free and friendly advice: go look them up! I've also perused hundreds of blogs and picked up tips from other writers. I'll let you know if any of them work!]

Saturday, 21 January 2012

How to make tedious homework easier

My husband is a genius.

Son was not a happy bunny. His English homework was long and tedious - in the region of fifty sentences to be written with the correct grammar (using subordinate clauses, in case you are interested). The prospect of sitting down and writing for sooooo long to get that done was likely to kill the poor boy off, and certainly to drive his parents to distraction.

That is where my brilliant husband stepped in.

"When I was your age," he said, "my friends invented characters and used them in the answers to their questions. Everything developed into a great story centred on their made-up characters."

Son looks at him skeptically.

"Think of a name," husband says.

And thus a lengthy conversation took place, as we went through names that we liked or didn't like, and eliminated ones that had already been stolen (Harry and Hermione weren't allowed). It was also preferable to be short - when it comes to writing homework, don't make anything any longer than is strictly necessary.

Eventually they came up with Jack. "Excellent - you can have a girl called Jaq as well. And her name is shorter!" Husband is really quite excited by this project.

"Or he could be called Cam," Son suddenly adds, "short for Cameron."

"Ok: there could be three of them." (I know: JK Rowling has done the '2 boys and a girl trio of superheroes' already, but it still feels right.)

With the help of the dictionary, the final names were chosen. So, if you are an English teacher to my Son in the future, look out for the special adventures of Jack O'Bean (a time-traveller from the early 1600s), Jaq Uzzi (with her machine guns firing jets of water) and their Chinese friend Cam Ping (who puts up tents). Somehow they will save the world again and again.

And save us from miserable English homework.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Just did it!

Writing Wednesday
I did it!

As promised to myself last week on this blog, I gave myself the time to rewrite the final chapter of my book In the shade of the mulberry tree.

I cut it fine (yes, it was yesterday afternoon...and early evening...) but with a little determination and only a small amount of procrastination on twitter (ahem!) I managed to forge out 1666 words. New words. Well, largely traditional words strung out in a new order. But nevertheless, the basis of a final chapter was put together.

It does raise more questions, of course. How should I end the book?

  A: Drinking G&Ts in the glow of the setting African sun?
  B: Getting on the plane back to the UK?
  C: Discussing plans for the year ahead with my husband?
  D: Getting on the plane back to Zambia?
  E: All of the above? Or none?

Looking back at that list I realise that I can't be doing both B and D at the same time; nor either with A, perhaps. Everyone always speaks about how difficult it is to get the first chapter right - and it is, for it has to hook the reader, never mind the publisher and agent! - but ending is also important. It is the final feeling you have as you put a book down. Do you want to be sad or happy? Despairing or hopeful? Immediately want more, or to have space to think about issues that have been raised?

As my tale isn't miserable but is, I hope, thought-provoking, I think a bit of warm sun will have to sneak in somewhere. And I enjoy chatting with my husband (no really, honestly: I do!) So now all I have to do is turn those draft 1666 words into something that makes more coherent sense, something with fewer adverbs (obviously!) and something that sums up the essence of my first year living in Zambia.

Perhaps you'll have to come back next week...

Friday, 13 January 2012

Today I weep

Today I weep.

My day started with discovering my daughter sleeping with her head at the foot of the bed. This only means one thing: she wet herself during the night and turned to sleep at the dry end. Unfortunately, aged 9, she is now too tall for this to be of benefit. So the day started with a change of sheets. Even this would not bother me too much, but I was greeted in the school playground by her saying she needed a change of pants. Looking down, I see it is worse than that, as her tights and shoes are sodden. Why oh why oh why? Clearly our current range of medicines to help control this are insufficient. But do I want to put my girl onto stronger drugs? Do I want to control this only by chemical input? Then again, do I want to spend my whole life washing her clothes and bedsheets?

Today I weep.

For my daughter has no true awareness of her developmental issues. I can shout and scream until I am blue in the face, but she has little comprehension of her peculiarity, that she is not doing what a 'normal' 9 year old would do. Last night I said goodnight and switched off the light around 9pm - later than I'd like, but not horrifically so. Yet at 10.30pm I could hear her stereo blaring out music from two floors down. When I run up the stairs (furious) I find all lights on, Jessie J blasting out and her reading books in bed, without a care in the world. Even my arrival didn't instigate shame, such as hurriedly hiding away the books. The eventual apology was hollow, as she didn't understand why I was cross.

Today I weep.

My daughter has gone to play with a friend. This is a good thing, but it saddens me that she was the 'friend of last resort', as her friend listed out all the other girls she had tried to invite for tea but who couldn't make it for one reason or another. 'There's no-one else!' she declared, much to her mother's embarrassment. Fortunately this washes over my daughter's head, as she is so delighted to go out and play. But I worry for her, for the loss of friends as they develop at a 'normal' pace and my beautiful girl struggles to progress. Increasingly she will be difficult to play with - she won't understand the intricacies of a game or the social rules that children develop.

Today I weep.

For she is the most beautiful girl in the world. She is happy and carefree. She is trying so hard. She has a love of life and a love of people that does not judge or dismiss or become bitchy. There is nothing physically or genetically wrong with her, no diagnosable issue such as dyslexia or autism, no behavioural problems: just a markedly slow development educationally and socially. She smiles and laughs and giggles.

I have so few problems with my children compared to many people and I give thanks for the wonderful gift they are to me. Today I am seeing the black cloud rather than the silver lining. And today - just today - as I bear her pain, I weep for my little girl.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

A new start for a new year?

Writing Wednesday
I am ashamed to admit that my writing has taken a back seat over the last few weeks. I can excuse myself Christmas week itself, but in all honesty nothing much has happened since the beginning of November.

I have only myself to blame. I have read many, many blogs and books about how to write. One of the pieces of advice is: JUST DO IT! You cannot be a writer if you don't write. Ignore the phone, switch off Facebook and Twitter, tell your family you are going to be busy for a couple of hours and cannot be disturbed. Whatever it takes, give yourself the space to write.

I do not heed my own advice, you note. Nor others' instructions. Instead I let all the Christmas shows take over, my responsibilities to church overwhelm, my school governor duties take priority, work - well, that just seemed an endless stream of deadlines that thoroughly deserved the Night Out at the end!

But the worst bit of procrastination is because I know I have to rewrite my final chapter. As it currently exists it is more of an epilogue but - if I were to restructure it as that - my actual book would then end rather miserably and a little in mid-air. So a serious rewrite looms and, in the odd ten minutes I get to myself, the effort to actually do that is more than I can face.

Just do it! My resolve for the week ahead is to set aside a few hours - a morning or an afternoon - and just write. Even if the result is rubbish, at least I will have a basis to edit rather than a blank page.

Then all I have to do is pluck up courage to send query letters... *gulp* !

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

A little late...

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Yes, yes: I know my greeting is a little late, on both counts but my excuses are many.

  1. It is still the season of Christmas (up to and including, I believe, Twelfth Night or Epiphany, when the celebration of the arrival of the Wise Men concludes the Christmas story). On this ground, I am not (yet) late in wishing you a Merry Christmas.
  2. We may be a few days in, but I still hope that the rest of 2012 is good for you. Indeed, this year we have an extra day to celebrate in.
  3. Who really gets time to blog in the run-up to and during the festive season itself? (Oh yes: those who are more organised than me. Oops.)

To maintain that festive mood, here are two photos of the Withenay family Christmas. Firstly, the tree.

(It looked even better with the presents under it.)

And then a picture taken in the garden a couple of days before.

Isn't it great to see the beginning of Spring before you've roasted the turkey or brought lumps of coal to people's houses? What topsy-turvy weather we have been having!

So, to reassure all my lovely blogging friends, I haven't disappeared off the face of the earth. We have had a lovely family Christmas, full of good food, parties, games, fun with friends and wonderful presents. Celebrations may now be over as school and work resume their humdrum routine but it will be a year of many happy memories.

I'd love to say that I have a list of marvellous, virtuous New Year Resolutions, but I haven't. Last year I managed a month which (on past form) isn't bad. If I can myself, my house and (spot where this all falls apart) my family a little more organised, that will suit me fine.

Here's hoping God richly blesses your year ahead, filling it with love, joy and peace.
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