The cup with the golden bird

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Once upon a time, my oldest friend insisted mugs have personalities. She had (& still does have) a superstitious nature & wouldn’t dream of drinking her coffee out of a boring brown earthenware mug for fear of repercussions.

I’m not quite so choosy although I do have favourites. In one of my kitchen cupboards sits a selection of mugs with very definite personalities. The Virginia Woolf one, the sweet narwhal one (“I am not a unicorn” – quite), the bee one & several decorated with birds. And my “Girls Are Best” Girl Guides mug discovered in a charity shop a decade ago. Best of all though, are the cups. And saucers. I’m my mother’s daughter & I like a cup & saucer.

My writing rituals are many. And my first daily one begins in bed.

B BED 2

With a tray of tea. Because I wake early, I can usually manage a good half hour with my current book before the lure of notebook & pencil claims me. None of this happens without the tea though. Made in a teapot with different cups for different days.

Weekends tilt to the laissez-faire edge of writing – no one likes a swot – & the cup & saucer combos reflect this. On Saturday it’s the red rose one with forget-me-not sprigs idling like a lazy summer day. On Sunday I take tea from a charming old china cup & saucer, decorated with violets & a slender golden filigree of stems. My daughter bought me this set & I adore it. It’s tiny & delicate so of course, it gets saved for Sundays.

Come Monday though, it’s an entirely other cup of tea. (Sorry not sorry.) Monday through to Friday, I take my tea from the cup & saucer gifted to me by my writing sister, Janey. She knows me well. A golden bird is painted on the side of this cup: a golden hummingbird in full, fanciful flight through blue flowers.

hUMMONGBIRD

And as I drain each cup of good English Breakfast, scribbling & anticipating the morning’s work, there’s another one, a small blue bird in the bottom of the cup. I like to think she’s the golden bird’s sister, a less showy word bird, reminding me to get up & get on with it.

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And to that end I must. To those of you who ask about these things – thank you. #Book4 has taken a tangent. A satisfying one & currently, the writing word of the day[s] is ‘immediacy.’

In word [birds] & deed.

 

 

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Defining procrastination

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Procrastination is a big word – it has a lazy ambition & is, frankly, a bit pretentious. I do my best to ignore it, in the hope it will go away. The other day though, I owned it. Hours past Virginia o’clock I was still messing about on Twitter. (I’d spotted a sister writer doing the same so what was good for the goose?) Nonsense of course & in any case, two geese are the beginnings of a gaggle & that way lies chaos. Eventually, we both flapped off to our respective typefaces & cracked on.

It’s easily done – disciplined or not (& I usually am) the temptation to lollygag around the interwebs is ubiquitous & wasteful. And me, in the middle of resurrecting an old story.

SCRIBBLING 2

Rewriting an existing story is complex. You might be forgiven for thinking that if you have the makings of an entire manuscript down, it’s just a matter of tweaking. The thing is, I abandoned it twice, because two other stories insisted on being written first. But I did, effectively, discard it which suggests there was something about it that wasn’t quite right.

There is a lot about it that isn’t at all right. Grace, my main protagonist, knows it too, which is why she doesn’t mind if I take my time to get it right. Just as long as I do, albeit, murdering most of it en route. (She doesn’t seem to mind that either – anything that makes her look good.) She knows she still retains the starring role & that the essential premise still works. It’s the detail that doesn’t.

Grace is like a determined gypsy with a basket of lucky heather. She shadows me & there is no respite. Having survived being dumped twice – her story all but relegated to the Dead Darlings File – Grace is persistent. She’s not a young woman – far from it – she’s old & something of a curmudgeon. Grace doesn’t care that her story is ‘old’ – her certainty of her place on my modest list of books is such that she makes it hard for me to resist her.

I read a quote by Harper Lee the other day: “To be a writer requires discipline that is iron fisted. It’s sitting down and doing it whether you think you have it or not. Every day. Alone. Without interruption. Contrary to what most people think, there is no glamour in writing. In fact, it’s heartbreak most of the time.

Harper Lee

Until that last line, I agreed with every word. Showing up, regularly, is what writing is all about, but heartbreaking? Not that, not for me. Writing feeds my soul. It makes me happy. Even when I’m embroiled in a massive rewrite, messing about in my river (there’s a river in this one, dear reader – a tricksy one), wild-eyed & certain I’m never going to get it right, I somehow manage to wing it.

Out with the old then & (Grace notwithstanding) in with the restructured, reshaped new. If, on the way, I take time out now & then to have a bit of a dally (tea, cake, Twitter break, more tea/cake), it’s only because writing is sometimes quite hard & every now & then I need time to think about it rather than actually do it.

I shall keep at it mind, & keep an eye out for my stray sister doing the same. I know exactly what she’s up to. Procrastination is the new research. Trust me, I’m a writer, I know about this stuff.

river water crow foot

Book review – The Beach Hut

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One of those, so good it makes it onto my blog, book reviews! I loved this book.

My review of The Beach Hut, by Cassandra Parkin.

the beach hut (2)

Reading Casandra Parkin’s novels in the ‘wrong’ order has in no way diminished my appreciation of any of them. Each one is a treat – each has its own voice while the author’s is a constant – a presence reverberating through all her novels.
I’ve caught up now & with The Beach Hut, the author’s second book, found myself immersed in a contemporary, sometimes tough, ultimately poignant story, interspersed with charming, fairy-tale vignettes. (These are small, exquisite creations & I could see them gathered into a collection.)

The Beach Hut isn’t about twists per se – it’s a series of ‘Ah’ moments, slow realisations & relief that you didn’t (necessarily) spot the clues. I loved that I hadn’t worked out the truth about Donald & immediately wanted to go back to the beginning & read the book again, in full knowledge.

What we do know is, he’s a retired copper, running a pub in a small seaside town in Cornwall. He’s mourning his wife. He’s Alicia’s dad & he will do anything to protect her. She’s fifteen & would rather he backed off, left her to her own life & secrets. Because we all have those don’t we? Wild, crazy Finn & his gentle, protective sister Ava certainly do. They rock up on the beach, build the titular hut & not everyone approves. Certainly not Donald. They plan on staying until Midwinter. Finn & Ava befriend Alicia & these four people’s lives become unexpectedly entangled & their various secrets, as in the very best of novels, eventually spill over.

Cassandra Parkin has a deft way with words. She creates memorable, authentic characters (I love Finn & will never forget him) & above all, she makes you long for her next book.

Highly recommended & not enough stars!

Review also posted on Amazon & Goodreads.

In search of an analogy, or do I mean coincidence?

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Writers love metaphors, analogies & all manner of  parallels. We thrive on them. And frankly, it’s easy to mix them up. For the purpose of this post – which references a connection to the central theme of my third book – Wild Spinning Girls – & my recent altercation with a pavement pothole, analogy will have to do. (Coincidence is in the eye etc.)

Fourteen weeks ago, when I broke my leg & found myself temporarily disabled, it ‘coincided’ with a point in my pitch-to-publication journey when ‘waiting’ (every writer’s superpower) was called for. The deal for this third book has been confirmed, but there is still work to be done. (Quite right too – I rely on my editor to iron out the creases, with, if necessary, an industrial trouser press.)

Wild Spinning Girls is a story with several strands. The main one concerns a young woman – a ballet dancer – who believes herself too broken to ever dance again. (It’s based very loosely on the fairytale, The Red Shoes.)

WSG RED SHOES - Copy

As I nursed my own damaged leg, felt it heal, only to be told I have smashed ligaments (which could take months to mend), with far too much time on my hands, of course, I saw the similarities.

WSG - Copy

Struggling at first to get back to writing – pick up the threads of Book 4 – I spent several weeks thinking about the nature of coincidence. Another interesting figure of speech, albeit it one I’m reluctant to countenance. I’m someone who has worked on the edge of magic for most of my adult life. On rare occasions I’ve dived deep – into it’s resonant heart – experienced things so profound I have no real explanation for them; only my conviction that magic & reality are closely linked, if only we have the courage or imagination to accept we are part of nature so why wouldn’t it speak to us? But it’s more than simply the sudden beat of a bird’s wing, an unexpected ripple on water or a shiver down the spine. You have to go deep to discover authenticity.

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© Rob Piercy

I digress – I do that, dear reader. My question is, as I don’t ascribe to the notion of coincidence, does art imitate life? Are there moments when a book writer (artist, poet, musician et al) sees tangible threads connecting what they are currently creating to what they are experiencing in real life?

The question’s largely rhetorical, although your views are always welcome.

 

You say imposter, I say impostor; let’s call the whole thing off?

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Even Google doesn’t know. Impostor appears to have the edge & to be honest, those word birds change their minds at the drop of a feather. Either way, we writers are familiar with the syndrome.

Yesterday I had a conversation with talented artist, Mags Phelan Stones. (She’s a wise woman too & knows a thing or two about a thing or two.)

BIRD HAIR mags phelan stone
© Mags Phelan Stones 

We found ourselves in agreement. In spite of our achievements, we still sense the impostor within: the ‘other’ woman waiting to pounce, tell us it’s all been a cruel joke. Mags said, I keep expecting to have my collar felt, and be told to clear off for being an imposter. 

I knew exactly what she meant. After my first book was published it took a long time for me to let go of the notion that the ‘other’ woman was lurking; about to demand her life back. She’s like a ghost version of me – only more talented & with a better sense of her own worth.

(And it’s a great metaphor frankly, what with me & my penchant for ghosts & so forth.)

WSG 2 - Copy

A dear writer friend & I often remark to one another how gibbering, for an author, is de rigueur. Throughout the entire process, from drafting, editing, submitting, more editing (the scary structural kind) & finalising a book, there is no peace! We are rendered blitheringly idiotic by doubt. I’ve yet to meet a writer who doesn’t experience this, to a greater or lesser degree, even after she’s published. And I have no real idea why it should be so.

I try not to wear my heart on my sleeve (needy is a terrible look) but my work means everything to me & I like it when people tell me I can write. I’m a realist though – I know my limitations. I have no pretensions toward making literary history. I write my stories from a fiercely passionate love/need & an everyday quiet urge to sit down & do it. I’ve published two books & had some amazing responses to them, not least from several writers whose work I admire & whose endorsements still amaze me. (I’ve also had a couple of stupendously cringe-making one-star reviews, so that’s me told.) My third book, Wild Spinning Girls, is scheduled to be published in February next year. And with a fourth in draft – I’m not doing too a bad job.

And still I sense her – that bloody ‘ghost woman’…

Is a lack of self belief false modesty? A conceit to make myself appear humble? As I’ve never aspired to humility, I refuse that label. But I do think I need to aim for something a bit more gracious. Get over myself. Stop gibbering & get a grip.

You’d think…

It’s April Fool’s day tomorrow.
I wonder…

Book review – A Perfect Explanation

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I only post reviews here when a book is so superb it leaves me wanting…
This is such a book.

book perfect

A Perfect Explanation is a perfect book. Eleanor Anstruther’s immaculate debut is a fictionalised narration of the true story of her ancestor, Enid Campbell, granddaughter of the 8th Duke of Argyll, who sold Enid’s son to her sister, Joan, for £500.

Writing this, I find myself less concerned with the story – although it’s undeniably riveting – & more enamoured of the storytelling. With the way the author lays her words on the page. This book unfolds in layers of exquisitely fierce prose. The dialogue scalds – characters show scant compassion for Enid & her situation. They are often horribly, crushingly cruel. She was clearly a deeply flawed woman but obviously ill & a victim of the mores of the time.

Although it’s an unbearably tragic story & one can look at Enid & judge her, the author chooses to show her compassion; to vindicate her & lay out her virtually impossible choices. Ultimately it’s a kind book, a generous retelling in which no judgement is made. Anstruther has allowed all her characters to speak for themselves, reveal their prejudices & their vulnerabilities.

This is a haunting, astute & memorable book. I found it hard to put down & there is, I suspect, no higher praise. Not enough stars.

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This review is also on Amazon & Goodreads.

The art of non-linear writing & not being scared of bears

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Apropos my notebook post, I’ve been chatting with other writers about them. More importantly, what goes in them. As Jan Baynham pointed out in the comments, pretty or plain, it’s what we put on the pages that counts.

If I slack in my writing routine – which in spite of a level of self-discipline I sometimes do – my defence is often that I’m still scribbling notes. My handwriting is quite striking but it has wings. It isn’t very well-mannered & spreads itself. This is why I prefer unlined notebooks. I’m a big dismisser of lines in any case. Ever since, as a child, I read Lines and Squares by A A Milne, I rebelled! Bears didn’t scare me then & I still eschew lines!

bears

In my unlined notebooks I can ramble at will & do. It makes for a decidedly scattered approach to story construction mind. There’s no method, no ‘Once upon a time – Middle bit – The end’.  But I enjoy the challenge of unravelling the random & making it fit. Coming across scenes I wrote months previously, & only half remember, delights me. And they often provide answers to issues I’m trying to work out. Oh yes! Already sussed that! (Long term memory, dear reader – par for course?)

I have no idea if my way is a recognised way of constructing a story. It works for me is all I know.

Mrs Woolf had a few words for it…

Arrange VIRGINIA

I have 27,000 words down of Underwater the Stars Shine Brighter. Some drifting & without direction, others quite orderly & pleasing; none of them pandering to bears. (I know – almost a dreadful, dreadful pun…)

Notes in the margin…

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On reflection, I may have used this as a subject tag before. No matter – I’m not writing the same thing (at least I hope I’m not.) I’m writing about notebooks – which are, like every writer I know, part of my toolkit. I’m not imaginative in my choices – there are few pretty, decorated notebooks in my collection. I am choosy however. I write in pencil & eschew the shiny paper which most notebooks are made from. And lines. I don’t do lines.

A5 art sketchpads fit the bill exactly. The mildly textured paper is perfect for pencil. They can be expensive though – artists are even choosier than writers! I’ve been known to spend stupid money on a simple notebook. A few years ago, to my delight, I discovered a line in a local shop where nothing costs much. They have plain, unromantic black board covers & they’re spiral bound, which I also like.

For each book I write, I make copious handwritten notes & can fill up to six notebooks before I type a single word. Currently, I’m working my way through the ones pertaining to Book 4: Underwater The Stars Shine Brighter. Last year, Janey, my writing sister who knows me well, bought me one with exactly the right paper but an unexpectedly green cover. Lush!

notebook 1 (2)

Book 4 unfolds in two time frames. The first, involving my main character’s backstory, is told through a diary she wrote, for about a year, when she was eighteen going on nineteen. The events of that time hugely impact on the second element of story told in the present, nearly sixty years later.

One of the early motifs involves Grace falling in love. For the first & only time in her life. Reading through the green notebook this past week, I came across several scenes I’d written ages ago – so long I’d forgotten them. They almost made me cry. This is still a work in progress; these are very much notes in the margins. But this is one of the ‘notes’ I made which I think will stick…

I want to be like her. Wear the same clothes, make up my eyes the way she does, with black lines & layers of mascara. I want to walk the way she does & dye my hair black. I wish I’d heard of Billie Holliday before I knew her so she would have been delighted when I told her. I want to hold a wine glass the way she does. With the stem at an angle so it looks as if the wine will spill, only it doesn’t because she’s in absolute control. I want her to be as much in love with me as I am with her.
© Carol Lovekin

Grace - aged sixteen  grace 10

I love Grace… I’m pleased she won’t let go…

As the hashtag says #amwriting…

Ritual

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This morning my writing mojo rolled out from under the bed. Somewhat dusty, tangled in cobweb but definitely made of words. And for the past day or two there have been CROWS.

CROWS - Copy

Far more than usual & although I imagine the wild, windy skies have tempted my feathered sisters to the dance, I like to think they’re here for me too. Eyeing my frustration, knowing that scribbling notes is not enough. Lousy, lazy ligaments notwithstanding (ha!) I need to work.

My new story (Book 4) is also an old one. Those of you who follow me will be au fait with Riverbook & know it’s history, be familiar with Grace – the central protagonist – a woman of a certain age. Twice, poor Grace has been set aside to make way for younger, livelier characters. At one point I wondered if I might be writing the wrong story but it won’t give up. Once the manuscript for Wild Spinning Girls was complete & I returned to Riverbook, out of the blue, it acquired a proper title: Underwater the Stars Shine Brighter & all at once there was a fresh connection.

It felt like validation – confirmation that the story wasn’t dead (pun alert) in the water.  And long before I broke my leg, at our weekly writing group sessions I’d tossed ideas around with Janey. (She’s very good at taking a glimmer & running with it.) Since I broke my leg I’ve filled two entire A5 notebook with scribbles – ideas, tangents, re-imagined versions of the story’s essential premise; scenes & all manner of scraps.

But it’s no longer enough. It’s time to crack on & return to the story proper. I’m bored by inactivity – physical & mental – & a sense of wasted days. And I’m an Aquarian – the mistress of the Plan. Ritual gives shape to my days & I need to reclaim one that works. A familiar one made of discipline & word birds.

Bird girl - Copy

Onward & sideways, dear reader.

Don’t tell anyone – I have another book deal…

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It was the best Solstice gift ever – an email from my editor confirming acceptance of my third book, Wild Spinning Girls. Protocols & paperwork meant I couldn’t immediately go public. I was able to tell my nearest & dearest which mitigated the frustration a little.

In all honesty, I quite liked having a bookish secret. It’s different from a debut, when you want to Tell Everyone In The Entire Universe Immediately! You can relax a bit. And if you’re fortunate enough to be published by a tiny press, you learn to be patient. Mine – Honno, the Welsh Women’s Press – consistently produces classy books to an exceptionally high standard & takes infinite care with its authors’ words. The book won’t be published until some time next year & that’s okay too. All good things & so forth.

In any case, there’s a great deal to be said for space between books. I’m not sure how I’d fare in a world that required a book (or even two) a year from me. How do people even do that? Okay, some stories write themselves (Snow Sisters did); others are far harder & need nurturing. Wild Spinning Girls is done, but still not finished. There’s more finessing to do & I’m glad. I know I haven’t yet reached the stage where I’m ready to relinquish it, because I know there’s editor-driven magic still waiting to be conjured.

All of that notwithstanding mind – get me! Who knew, back in March 2016, when I first held a copy of Ghostbird, my debut novel, in my hand, I’d do it not once more but twice?

Wild Spinning Girls is another story set in Wales. It has many of the elements of the previous two books, not least an old house. This time, a very remote one… There’s a ghost too & a secret…

MY CLOUD HOUSE 2 - Copy

It will be down to my reader to decide if a level of familiarity is a good thing.

I’ll be revealing small hints over the next however long it takes; small clues & visual images. My favourite fairytale, The Red Shoes plays a part. If you examine it closely, TRS is both a fascinating & horrible story. Hans Christian Andersen hated his sister Karen so much, he gave the beleaguered heroine of his grisly tale her name. As a child however, training to be a ballet dancer & loving fairytales, it was inevitable this one would fascinate me.

BALLET SHOES 3 - Copy

And because I don’t do even numbers, here’s another hint.

CROWS GIRL

Island life is still a thing, never more so than during the past eight weeks. Breaking my leg was a thing too. A massive shout out to everyone who wished me well, not least in the writer/reader community. As for my tribe, the sisters who came to my aid, day after day, you have my gratitude for ever.