Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Only Time

So, I posted a few months ago about how hard it is to find time to write these days and that I was trying to just put aside 5 minutes to write. Ha! How hard 5 minutes can be to come by when you have a toddler. How those child-free years seem so indulgent now. What did I do with all that time? All those endless minutes and hours in a day with nobody to please but myself, no considerations except how much of my life I wanted to spend watching West Wing... if I had really understood maybe I would have treasured them more. Paused the DVD to look around at the toy free living room and the cups of tea I had managed to drink and really think this is the pinnacle of freedom. Still, that is the past and for the forseeable future it is snatched moments between nursings at night that I manage to fire up the lap top. And yes I have tried pen and paper - you try using a pen and paper with a curious toddler around and see how much productive writing you achieve as opposed to delighted toddler scribbles.
And Yes, I know it's my choice to let her continue to nurse to sleep and sleep in my bed or on me, and Yes I know there are many many people out there who roll their eyes and tell me to let her cry it out, that she is never going to be able to get herself to sleep. I would like to blow a raspberry at you, but it might get in the way of valuable writing time. So instead I am just grabbing at moments and doing my best. Because that's parenting in its essence. You Do Your Best. Even at your worst you are trying your best.
So, 5 minutes a day has not been possible to physically write. But I write in my head while she sleeps on my breast. I write in my head while she curls into me, her hand laying gently on my arm. I write in my head as she gives contented sighs and rolls away from me. And if I am very very lucky I write on a scrap of paper or even on the laptop while she sleeps for an hour without my body heat to soothe her, and then she murmurs and the laptop is switched off and the paper is hidden away and I am hers again, except the writing continues, on and on in my head. Beautiful stories opening up, keeping the heart of me blazing until I can let them free once more.
I type this drinking hot chocolate in a cafe. I have never in my life taken a laptop to a cafe before. It is really quite lovely. My husband is with the little one and they will be joining me soon and so at the moment, I hammer this out. It bears no resemblance to a structured witty post. But it is me writing and that is, outside of my family, the best thing I can do. I miss those heady days of writing at home from morning to night. But change is necessary and maybe this new way of working will help me to focus. Maybe my writing will be sharper, maybe it will be tighter and maybe it will be good for me. Time will tell.
Time. How I miss you. Nothing makes time fly more than having children. Time changes from a predictable reassuring tamed beast to something altogether harder to catch, flying past with a cheeky grin and yoghurt in its hair and caring not a jot for moments you want to savour, for cuddles that should last longer, for sleep that used to be abundant but now is like a myth you heard about once. Time. I never knew how cruel you were until I saw you changing every day in my daughter. How I love and loathe you and wish I knew before what I know now. But that is the way time works. It just rolls on and on and leaves you scrabbling to keep up.
Anyway, my alloted 20 minute blogging time is coming to an end. Maybe the next post will have some kind of coherence to it. Maybe it will be one of the posts I planned. Who knows? Only Time,

Sunday, 15 May 2016

This is not a book...it's a blog post challenge idea thing

I started using Keri Smith's This is Not a Book during early morning and late evening train journeys to work, and, also during long boring moments during work.

 If you're not familiar with it, it's basically a book that encourages you to use it in ways that you don't usually use a book... so, for example. a page may be entitled This is a disguise and on that page will be a moustache and glasses for you to cut out and use to disguise your This is Not a Book. I consider it a set of challenges to behave in ways of varying unusualness or un-ordinariness. I love it. Since leaving the previous job and starting one much more fulfilling, interesting and with no train journey to while away I have not used it as much as I had done. But as a way to try and keep me blogging more regularly I hope to fulfil some of the more outlandish challenges and record these happenings on this virtual page. The previous blog post was a small step into this idea pond. Hopefully others will be following it in the coming weeks and months.

Monday, 4 April 2016

This is not a blog post...

it's a recorded overheard conversation.  I wonder if you can guess the age and gender?!

- There's an ant in my shoe!
- Uh-oh, be careful it will climb up your leg and into your pants.
- An ant in my pants? Ants in my pants. Hey, that rhymes.
- Ants in your pants, ants in your pants. Ants, Pants, Ants. Ants, Pants, Ants, Ants, Pants, Ants.
 Is it in your pants yet?
- Er, No... wait it is now!
- Ants in your pants!

*  * *

- Here's your invisible picture.
- Thanks.
- Invisible prictures are great because they can do anything.
- Can they turn into a human?
- Yes
- A Rescue-bot?
- Yes
- A Dog?
-Yes. But do you know the best thing about invisible pictures?
- Errr...
- It's that they can play videos.

*  *  *

- Look, a fox!
- I think it's a wolf.
- No, it's a fox.
- Yeah, ok.

This blog post is part of a series of blog posts linked to challenges in This is NOT a book by Keri Smith. A separate explanatory blog post to follow at some point... 

(These conversations belonged to two 5 year old boys).

Monday, 7 March 2016

Just 5 minutes

Since having my baby I have found it increasingly hard to find time to write. I had naive expectations that I would write when she napped and in the evenings when she slept. Oh how innocent and unknowing I was. Because my little SJ would only sleep ON me and for most of her 11 and a bit months she has woken hourly for breastfeeds. This isn't a blog about babies or breastfeeding and parenting, there are plenty out there who can do it with more wit and panache than me, so I don't want to get bogged down in the you should have, and you could haves. I chose a style of parenting that felt right to me, I am proud to parent this way, I love it. But. But, it is exhausting and it feels like putting myself on hold. In a life driven by an impulse to write I am suddenly not writing, I am Mummying. The self I am is not the self I was before SJ was in my arms. I am now SJ's mum and during these intense first years that is who I will be. I don't regret it, it just takes getting used to.

So anyway. I've been desperate to write. Just because I haven't been able to get the words out doesn't mean they're not in there filling me up, pressing at my eyelids and lips and skin trying to get out. I tried dictating into my tablet but that was SOOO hard to get the sentences out as they were in my head. So I sat back and I took a breath and I let it go. My mantra became: patience, patience, patience. This does not last forever, do not miss the little moments because you are straining to see past the now into a WHEN.

So SJ's habits are settling down a bit. She'll sleep in the stroller now during the day, sometimes she doesn't wake up every hour and I have an hour between putting her to bed and turning in myself (what do people do who stay up past 9pm? For the life of me I can't remember ever being awake enough to find out, though I'm sure I used to...) and I've been finding some time to write.

But it's baby steps. There's no more sitting in front of the computer for hours and hours merrily typing away or rereading or editing. I don't have the energy for that. It has to be bitesize pieces.

I've been reading The Library Book, an anthology about how important libraries are. It's a great read, though I doubt the people who SHOULD read it ever will (yes Tory Government I'm looking at you).
Aside from all the wonderful points it makes about how amazing libraries are and how we should be forever thinking it wonderful that we have them instead of closing them down, I came across a chapter that spoke about writing and it was called The Five Minute Rule written by Julie Myerson.

This line caught my attention:

'Tell yourself you're going to set aside five minutes a day. If you can't do more don't worry. But never let a day go by without doing your five minutes.'

Fittingly, the advice was given to her during her own maternity leave. She continues:

'Of course you almost always end up writing longer, but...it is gloriously undaunting. It somehow helps you scale that initial terrifying cliff-face of 'where will I ever find the time?''

So this is my goal. To write for five minutes every day. I've only started applying this for the last couple of days, but so far so good. I've written some notes for a story I need to research, I've written a letter to a friend (which I'm counting as writing) and I'm writing this blog post. At some point I will reopen the file containing the first chapter of the book I want to write, but I'm building up to that because I know that the second chapter has to be rewritten because I forgot to save it. Still, it feels good to be writing. it feels good to have the goal. Just five minutes. Five minutes of word following word. Five minutes of being me. Five minutes of feeling like a somebody instead of somebody's mummy. And if I do longer than five minutes, great, but if not that's OK because I still did five minutes.

Monday, 29 February 2016

A Child's Eye View

When I found out I was pregnant in July 2014 my world shifted. And not just because of the hugeness of the tiny little spark starting to grow in me was overwhelming, but my perception of the physical world regressed.

I suffered from 'morning' sickness constantly in the first few months of pregnancy and in the early weeks I spent a lot of time in the burgeoning summer weather walking in the fresh air to soothe my churning stomach. As I walked my eyes began to look at the world as they once had when I was small. My thoughts were constantly with the tiny being who was slowly taking shape inside me and I imagined future days together walking the same paths my feet trod now. And as my feet and thoughts took me forward I also travelled backwards and memories of walks with my own mother flooded over me.

The thing is children see differently from us. They are closer to the earth than we are and they see the details that adults often take for granted. I remembered how vivid life had been for me growing up and my perceptions shifted and once again took on that incredible detail and vividness that children are so lucky to enjoy.  Children move at a slower pace, you only have to take one for a walk to know that. Everything can be, and is, fascinating. Grass is vibrant and thick and tough and calling out to be stroked and plucked and chewed and blown and screwed up and scattered. Bugs are accessible aliens traversing an otherworldy wilderness of boulderstrewn dirt and warm earth. Mud is dense, or crumbly or slippery or slick. It sticks to fingers or squleches under foot, it is strangely appealing to taste. Children are closer to the earth and so they experience it with a closeness we lose as we get older.

I can't help but wonder if I remember this enough when I try and write for them. As writers for children we should get down to their height, among the grass and the bugs. We should see just how far away the sky really is and how blue and deep it can be. We should notice the small details, the patterns in twigs, the smell of the pavement in the sun or rain, the weeds and flowers breaking into urban landscapes. We should slow down and loiter and dawdle and forget we have things that need to get done. We should bring back the vividness of our childhood worlds.

And this doesn't just apply to younger readers but right up to teenage and young adults. These age groups are fresh, the world is still new and revealing new ideas to them. They feel deeper, they are passionate, they are scared and they are still small in a big world. They are more vivid. 

Roald Dahl does this beautifully in the way he zeroes in on the details of characters - such as lingering on the food in Mr Twits beard or the agonising slowness and detail of the Grand High Witch removing her mask... children relish detail and they love to read and re-read and will devour the words that they love.

I can't find the exact quote now, but I remember Neil Gaiman saying something like 'children read every word, every detail while adults skim.'.

Inkproductions.org helped me out with this one from him though:

'When I’m writing for kids, I’m always assuming that a story, if it is loved, is going to be re-read. So I try and be much more conscious of it than I am with adults, just in terms of word choices. I once said that while I could not justify every word in American Gods, I can justify every single word in Coraline'.  (http://lnkproductions.org/tag/neil-gaiman/)

So I set myself some challenges and if you'd like to join in, do let me know.

1) Go for a walk, just a local walk from your house. Head down the road into town or the bus stop or a river or lake. Have no set destination. Dawdle, look around see if you notice things that you never have before. See if you are compelled to go different ways than usual because something catches your eye. Take your time. Get down to the height of your readership to see what they see in front of them. What is too high? What feels too far? What is different? Can you smell scents clearer from the road or path? Does the wind feel stronger, does the sun beat harder? Is the world stranger, scarier or more wonderful? When you get home, take a few minutes to jot down or sketch moments from your walk which you found inspiring or surprising.

2) Lay in the grass - backgarden, frontgarden, park... wherever. Use all of your senses to really see where you are and what is going on around you. Stare into the sky, stroke the grass, feel the mud beneath you. Take in everything, slowly, without hurry and with eyes and mind open wide.

3) Write an short passage from the point of view of a child/teenager going for a walk somewhere they have never been before. Maybe they meet people, maybe they are alone. Try to capture the vividness and details that they come across. Write in first person present tense, and then try past tense and then try third person and explore how to get across the excitement of a world revealing itself.

4) Write a short, six line poem about one thing you saw on your walk and make sure every word you use is justified and making your poem flow and move and create that thing you are writing about so that it is almost there on the page as you read.

Now think about your current story or poem and consider if you have used a child's eye view to heighten and bring your story to vivid life, even if it is a dark, bleak story. Remember the details and make them count.

And now I must go because my tiny orange seed from 2014 is now an almost one year old and has awoken from a short nap and is demanding to be shown the world in all its strange glory once more.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Delicious Dahl

So, you may or may not be aware that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. It got me thinking, and not just about chocolate. I love Roald Dahl, he was a one-of-a-kind writer, the likes of which we'll never enjoy again (David Walliams you can try, but you can't come close). So it's incredible that his books are so timeless. It's incredible to think that even in this day and age of techno-wonder, Dahl can still captivate children and adult readers from half a century away.

I have a problem choosing my favourite Dahl. My earliest Dahl memory is The Giraffe, The Pelly and Me. Oh those sweets! (There were Gumywizzlers and Fizzwinkles from China, Frothblowers and Spitsizzlers from Africa, Tummyticklers and Gobwangles from the Fiji Islands and Liplickers and Plushnuggets from the Land of the Midnight Sun... I can remember quite especially the Giant Wangdoodles from Australia, every one with a huge ripe red strawberry hidden inside its crispy chocolate crust... and the Electric Fizzcocklers that made every hair on your head stand straight up as soon as you popped one into your mouth.. and there were Nishnobblers and Gumglotters and Blue Bubblers and Sherbert Slurpers and Tongue Rakers and as well as all this, there was a whole lot of splendid stuff from the great Wonka factory itself..)

Quentin Blake's illustrations brought the pages to life as much as the words (for me Roald Dahl is synonymous with Quentin Blake. It's not a real Roald Dahl book without Blake's illustrations), and of course the wonderful rhymes, made up words and larger than life characters.

I love Matilda mainly for the descriptions of Matilda discovering another world inside books: She went on olden-day sailing ships with Joseph Conrad. She went to Africa with Ernest Hemingway and to India with Rudyard Kipling. She travelled all over the world while sitting in her room in an English village.

But also for the myriad of characters. Mrs Trunchball - absolutely unforgettable, Miss Honey and of course Matilda's own parents. I love the supernatural aspect of the telekinesis - I used to sit for ages trying to make my pens move with my eyes.

I love The BFG. For snozzcumbers and frobscottle, for dreams in bottles, for the BFG's enormous ears, for the description of the BFG striding across the world:

The Giant ran on and on. But now a curious change took place in his way of running. He seemed suddenly to go into a higher gear. Faster and faster he went and soon he was travelling at such a speed that the landscape blurred. The wind stung Sophie's cheeks. It made her eyes water. It whipped her head back and whistled in her ears. She could no longer feel the Giant's feet touching the ground. She had a weird sensation they were flying. It was impossible to tell whether they were over land or sea. This Giant had some sort of magic in his legs...Was it really possible they were crossing oceans?'

And The Witches is surely a rite of passage - has there ever been a more graphic and terrifying description of Witches in all of literature? Is there any build up more terrifying than the chapter in which the Grand High Witch asks the 'RSPCCC' ladies to 'rrree-moof your gloves...rrree-mmof your shoes...rrree-moof your vigs!' and bit by bit the awful truth becomes apparent that we are trapped in a room full of witches? Has the cigar smoking matter of fact Norwegian grandmother ever been bettered?

The Dog in the Dark, Dreams and Shadows, and The Witches
That face of hers was the most frightful and frightening thing I have ever seen...It was so crumpled and wizened, so shrunken and shrivelled...There was something terribly wrong with it, something foul and putrid and decayed. It seemed quite literally to be rotting away at the edges, and in the middle of the face, around the mouth and cheeks, I could see the skin all cankered and worm-eaten, as though maggots were working away in there.

But I also love Roald Dah's autobiographies, Boy and Going Solo. Going Solo in particular. Dahl brings to life a world disappeared, the age of Empire or British eccentrics. I remember my teacher reading it to the class in the last year of Primary School and being utterly captivated by it. He read Boy too and I will never forget the description of the canings:

I was frightened of that cane. There was no small boy in the world who wouldn't be. it wasn't simply an instrument for beating you. It was a weapon for wounding. It lacerated the skin. It caused severe black and scarlet bruising that took three weeks to disappear, and all the time during those three weeks, you could feel your heart beating along the wounds.

But it's Going Solo that stuck in my mind. From the Green Mamba in Africa to the plane crash in the Western Desert, it is perfect storytelling.

The snake-man was standing absolutely still just inside the door of the living room...I couldn't see the snake. I didn't think the snake-man had seen it yet either.
A minute went by...two minutes... three... four... five. Nobody moved. There was death in that room. The air was heavy with death and the snake-man stood as motionless as a pillar of stone, with the long rod held out in front of him.
And still he waited. Another minute...and another... and another...
...A moment later I caught sight of the snake. It was lying full-length along the skirting of the right-hand wall, but hidden from the snake-man's view by the back of the sofa. It lay there like a long, beautiful, deadly shaft of green glass...

I've heard since that Roald Dahl wasn't always truthful in his biographies but I've never wanted to know the true stories or find out the falsehoods. I believe in the world he created and the things he told me and that's enough for me.

So what makes Dahl so timeless? It's hard to say. Perhaps it is the sheer absence of technology that make them so adaptable. They describe a life and time that are almost fantastical to children now, and they accept it without question because of the surety and confidence of his writing. Who doesn't envy Danny and his dad living in the caravan, even if they are poor and live off toast and hot chocolate? It's a world full of love and so, always appealing. The Magic Finger, The Witches, George's Marvellous Medicine also exist in a separate world, not quite fantasy, not quite here and now but also not the distant past. The bright bubbling characters make the stories relevant and contemporary. Perhaps it is the lack of detail in the settings that allow the stories to continue to thrive. The stories live and breath through the characters and the plot and so it does not matter when or where it is really set.

And of course, no matter what happens in the story the thread that binds it all together is the enduring and overwhelming love that exists in the worlds Dahl creates. Whether it be between Sophie and the BFG, a boy and his Granny, Matilda and Miss Honey, A fox and his family, a man and his inventions, Charlie Bucket and his poor but loving family, the Giraffe, the Pelly and the Monkey, the burgeoning love between two tortoise owners;  Dahl's books are full of characters caring for each other or for their world. In The Twits, Mr and Mrs Twit may not have a lot of love to exist on, but it can be found in the delight Dahl describes their bitter relationship with, and of course in the way the birds band together to ensure the Twits get their comeuppance and rescue the poor monkeys. There is always love  to be found for lost and lonely children, or safe havens for children to experiment and explore in (The Magic Finger, Georges Marvellous Medicine), there is always humour, there is always danger and endless invention, but there is always always a sense of home and of belonging.

Danny, the Champion of the World and his father. This limited edition ...
I really loved it in that gipsy caravan. I loved it especially in the evenings when I was tucked up in my bunk and my father was telling me stories. The paraffin lamp was turned low, and I could see lumps of wood glowing red-hot in the old stove and wonderful it was to be lying there snug and warm in my bunk in that little room. Most wonderful of all was the feeling that when I went to sleep, my father would still be there, very close to me, sitting in his chair by the fire, or lying in the bunk above my own.

'We have tears in our eyes
As we wave our goodbyes,
We so loved being with you, we three.
So do please now and then
Come and see us again
The Giraffe and the Pelly and me.
All you do is look
At a page in this book
Because that's where we always will be.
No book ever ends
When its full of your friends
The Giraffe and the Pelly and me.'

Friday, 27 June 2014

#FF - There are wolves

This is the beginning of a longer story and for the first time I'm going to post sections on here each time I write a bit. This is the beginning of something and I am not yet sure where it is going or what will happen, only that it is ready to begin slowly unfolding.
I often get a spark of inspiration from a line in a song, and this scene has its origins in a song by The Accidental called Wolves. The lyric that caught my attention was the opening one:

There were wolves lying in the dark as she was raining sparks into the room like that
she was dancing in a neon cave with a tilted smile and a lovers laugh
embossed upon her in the darkness like a light at the edge of night beside her

and later in the song:
There are wolves hiding in the woods and they can smell the blood on the summer air and they run beneath a million stars
I highly recommend checking the song out, it's on YouTube here

There are Wolves
Image from naturepunk - click to follow link
In the stench of darkness she lies in wait. Around her the hot wasted bodies press closer. She can smell the rancid air of their breath and feel the fast ticking of their hearts. She clings to the earth, feeling the grit and scratch of earth under her fingernails, tasting the damp moss in every lungful of night.
            Wolf Princess, Savage Girl, Wild Woman. She’s known by all these and more but she knows herself simply as Edon. She has a scar across her right shoulder. It runs deep into her flesh and into her bones. The wolves did not give it to her, though they have given her others. The scar runs over the bony knob of shoulder and down across her chest, ending above her heart. It aches in the cold and throbs in the heat.
           Edon has hair that she cuts short with the flint daggers she makes from the loose stone in the caves. Her eyes are silver like moonlight and when she smiles her lips are blood red, her teeth too white for comfort. Whatever colour her skin once was, it has taken on the ashy hue of the ground she keeps close to and she melds into stone and earth if she chooses to. She wears wolf skin like a coat. The head sits atop her own, her arms stretch into the front legs, her thin legs into the back. It fastens at the front with thick knots of leather. She runs on all fours. She howls at the moon. She eats the warm beating flesh of fresh kill. But she is not a wolf and she knows it. She can read the words in the loose leaf sheets that she sleeps on. She can scratch her name in the rocks. She speaks human when she has a need to. But not tonight. 
          Tonight she lies with her belly pressed close to the ground, the dirt in her nostrils and her ears reaching out across the vast wind-swept plains of the territories.
          The Old Grey female is close to Edon, she twitches her head, tilts an eye in her direction and Edon pulls back her bloody lips to bare teeth in agreement. Her heart is heavy and her scar throbs against it. She pulls back onto her haunches, sits for a moment and her lightning eyes are turned in the direction of the settlement. She feels a strange sensation in the pit of her stomach and takes a moment to assess it. A wolf moment. Calm, calculating. It is fear. She looks back towards the Old Grey and gives a low rumble. The other wolves ease away from her.
          Edon takes another wolf moment and then with the long loping grace of the pack she straightens herself onto two legs. The wolves move away, small whines and growls rise and fall. Her legs are stiff and awkward, but it is best to begin now and practise. With a last keen glance out across the plains she catches the scent once more. The unmistakeable scent of fresh bood and violence. The sharp edge of gun powder. She pushes her wolf’s head from her own so that it falls uselessly against her back and then she turns and begins the slow unsteady walk back to the humans. Behind her the wolves press in close together. Their bellies to the ground, their ears pricked forward and the moonlight glancing off their bared fangs.
 To be continued....