Posted in Writing

The Pros and Cons of Writing by Hand

pile of screwed up handwritten manuscripts
With apologies to the trees who laid down their lives in the cause of literature…

Lately I’ve been finding that I am much more productive and the words flow more naturally if I write my work-in-progress novel by hand. This is despite being a really fast touch typist. Part of the reason may be that I associate my computer with work and am more averse to sitting down at my desk to type than curling up in bed or on the sofa with a beautiful notebook and pretty coloured pen.

Of course, this adds an extra step into the writing process. I then have to type  each handwritten chapter into the computer afterwards. On the plus side, I do a few extra edits as I do that, so the first typescript becomes the second draft.

Enter the Dragon

I can speed up that process by dictating the manuscript via my Dragon voice recognition software, which then types the words on the screen for me. I definitely recommend this process, but at the moment post-cold hoarseness is limiting the amount of time I can comfortably dictate. But at least I’ve stopped coughing now, which always confused my Dragon. You think with its fire-breathing heritage, a Dragon ought to be more sympathetic to throat problems.

Productivity Plus

Two further plus points:

  • I’m fast eroding my stockpile of notebooks (couldn’t fit any more in my notebook drawer)
  • I’ve just worked out that since Christmas I’ve been averaging more than 2,000 words a day

Go, me! And now I’m off to plant some more trees…. *

Useful Links

*And about those trees – the paper I use is always from sustainable sources, purposely farmed for this use. I’m sure none of it comes from ripping up rainforests. To my mind, complaining about responsible use of paper is like protesting about the destruction of wheatfields to make bread. And I am VERY mean about my use of paper – if I don’t use both sides, I tear a sheet into pieces and use the clean side for notes. Then all the waste is used as firestarters for my woodburner. While trying not to think of burning books. Just saying. 
Posted in Family, Personal life

Just Rewards – A Proposal for a New Way to Keep New Year Resolutions: The Resolution Calendar

A calligraphic card of a traditional New Year's Resolution from 1915

My column from the January 2017 issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News

Given that change has become the new normal in the last twelve months, at least in terms of politics, I wonder whether New Year’s Resolutions will prove easier to keep this month? Research shows that it takes twenty-one days to establish a new habit, so if you’re struggling with your resolutions by the time you read this, don’t give up. I have a new invention that might help you: the Resolution Calendar.

A slightly smaller cousin of the Advent Calendar, it should contain twenty-one little doors, one for each day until your new habit has taken hold. Behind each door would be a suitable small reward such as the traditional chocolate, to be redeemed only if you get through the day with your resolution intact. (Unless of course your resolution is to eat less chocolate.)

Alternatively you might take my husband’s unusual approach to what was his first ever Advent calendar last month. Rather than opening a door each day, he saved them all up for Christmas, announcing throughout December as my daughter and I ate our daily chocolates just how many he’d had left on Christmas Day when all ours were long gone.

Whatever your New Year Resolutions, I wish you a happy and healthy 2017.

Smiley face made of empty Lindor wrappers
All that was left of my Advent calendar by Christmas Day
Posted in Events, Writing

It’s Not Quite Over Yet… Festive Oxfordshire TV Readings Now Available on YouTube

A quick shout-out for  my festive TV appearance before the 12 Days of Christmas are over!

Photo of four authors on TV studio sofa
Festive readings on That’s Oxfordshire TV with Mari Howard, Thomas Shepherd, Lynne Pardoe and me.

In our household, we have a strict rule that the Christmas decorations don’t come down till 12th Night, which we reckon is tomorrow, 6th January. I know there are various theories on when Christmas starts and finishes, but that’s the one we stick to – even though I’m often itching to declutter well before then, and make the house feel a bit more springlike. (Yes, I know we’ve still got a long way to go before the first day of spring on 21st March, but I hate January and February, and like to pretend they don’t exist.)

That Jackanory Moment

However, this attitude is to my advantage today, because it means I can just about get away with sharing with you the videos of two pieces I read on a regional television station for Christmas, when, along with Mari Howard, Lynne Pardoe and Thomas Shepherd, three author friends from the Oxford Authors Alliance, I was a guest at Talk Oxfordshire. We each read short stories or passages from our books with a festive flavour, and they’ve just put the tapes up on YouTube where those outside of the station’s reach.

I did two readings – one non-fiction, one fiction – and you can view them both by clicking the images below.

In the first one, I’m recalling one of my favourite memories from my childhood Christmasses, which features in my essay collection Young by Name: Whimsical Columns from the Tetbury Advertiser 2010-2015.

In the second, I’m reading “Do You Believe?”, a lighthearted short story about a shrewd little boy’s visit to Father Christmas. This is one of the twelve short festive stories in my collection Stocking Fillers.

I’m planning to add more readings soon, so to hear them as they appear, you might also like to subscribe to my YouTube channel.

Finally, as I brace myself to clear away Christmas, I’d like to share a quick anecdote from my great-niece (3), who finding that the Christmas tree and decorations in her house had been taken down overnight while she slept, asked “Where’s Christmas gone?” When told it was over now that January was here, she said crossly “Go away, January!” I know how she feels.

 

Posted in Personal life, Writing

Three by Three: My Writing Plans for 2017

graphic of noah's ark with dove and olive branch
I think I’m going to need a bigger ark… (Image by Prawny via Morguefile)

When my author friend Jessica Bell asked friends on Facebook the other day to summarise their creative intentions for 2017, my reply made me realise that this year I’m hoping everything will be coming in threes:

  • the first three novels in my Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series (one two drafted, started the third already, but much editing needed before publication)
  • the first three short chapter books in my new Teashop Twins series
  • three collections of short stories (to be written as palate-cleansers between the novels)
  • to make the third Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival the biggest and best year (Saturday 22nd April, folks – write it in your new diary now!)
  • I’m also adopting the classic writers’ habit of morning pages – three sides of A5 first thing on waking, to help me keep in touch with my subconscious and decide where I want to go next

And finally, I have one one-off ambition: to sustain a tidy, clean house that I don’t feel I have to apologise to visitors for. But on the other hand, the housework can wait. I can always just lower my standards some more.

Whatever your plans are for 2017, I wish you a happy, productive and peaceful one.

To be one of the first to know whenever I’m about to launch a new book, join my Reader’s Club here.

Posted in Family, Writing

Pray Fill Your Glasses for 2016

In my December column for the Tetbury Advertiser, I tried to put the tumultuous events of 2016 into perspective

Cover of Tetbury Advertiser December 2016As 2016 draws to a close, few will mourn its passing. From the start, it seemed a blighted year, robbing us of many national treasures and bringing us Brexit and President-Elect Trump.

Scrolling back through the year to seek more positive memories, I discover the event that filled me with most hope was the centenary of the Somme.

Ironically, one of the bloodiest battles in human history became a source of hope when at 7:30 AM on July 1st, vast numbers of people gathered nationwide to commemorate those who gave their todays for our tomorrows, and again on Remembrance Day last month. It was heartening to see people from throughout society turn out for these events, including many young people and children. It is especially heartening that so many of the youngest generation want to honour them though very few have met anyone born during that era and perhaps feel no immediate personal connection.

Celebrating Cousin Nina

Nina and Laura together
My grandma’s late cousin Nina, who celebrated her 100th birthday in May, with my daughter Laura last year

My daughter is lucky to be an exception. She has been able to get to know my grandma’s cousin Nina, born before the Battle of the Somme began. We helped her celebrate her hundredth birthday this year. Each time we visit her, we feel we are touching history and witnessing at first hand the human instinct to survive in the face of adversity. Nina has been widowed four times, but is currently single, as common parlance has it. (Sadly, Nina passed away just after I wrote this column –  but rather that blame 2016, I view her survival to 100 more of a miracle than a curse.)

Reasons to be Cheerful

Such special occasions lift my spirits beyond the quagmire of the daily news headlines.

Every day brings reasons to be hopeful, if only we remember to look for them.

Yes, I know that’s easy for an optimist to say. I realise not everyone is such a Pollyanna like me. During an interviewed the other day on BCfm Radio, I told the presenter, historian and historical novelist Lucienne Boyce, that I’m a glass-half-full person. I was amused by her response “I’m the kind of pessimist that can’t even see the glass”. Perhaps for 2017 we should each resolve to find out glass and fill it.

A Force for Good

We may look back on 2016 as an annus horribilis, but as future generations will discover, it will also be a year when great men and women were born who will in time be a force for good. If you’ve become a parent or grandparent this year, you’re probably agreeing already.

To encourage sceptics, here’s a reminder of two great men born in 1916:

  • Francis Crick, Nobel laureate, co-discoverer of DNA’s molecular structure, arguably the most important scientific discovery of the 20th century
  • mould-breaking author Roald Dahl, who has brought laughter and comfort to readers young and old for generations

If such greatness can come forth phoenix-like from such desperate times, maybe everything will come right for us too.

I wish you peace, joy and love this Christmas, and may your glass remain full in the New Year.