Shortlisted

It came as much of a surprise to me as to many others I suspect.

I have noticed a determination to take my writing somewhere, this year, almost a hunger tinged still with a big sense of self-doubt. I take it along to my two writing groups monthly and receive feedback, sometimes really good, often advisory but always helpful.   We discuss often at length where stories can be sent, the opportunities seem to be diminishing in tandem with the number of writers increasing.

I have for the last couple of years braved my own limitations, to write two stories for the Writing Magazine, ‘Win a Place at Swanwick’, I have even with hours to spare sent them off, not expecting to ever hear of them again.  They have been critiqued sometimes quite severely, but in the end the resultant edited copy has been as good as I could make it, and I was happy to send it.  Naturally as soon as the winners were announced I checked, with that same comforting reassurance I check for the winners of the euromillions, consoling myself with ‘always another time’.  This year was no exception, two very deserved winners had won their places both with runners up who had done well to be placed so near the winners podium. ‘Maybe next year!’

It had been a busy day at work, many issues had cropped up with the website and try as I may they had not all been ironed out by the time I had to leave.  It goes against my nature to leave things unfinished, but this was bigger than me and to be fair I was picking up the pieces after another member of staff had left abruptly and nobody was able to cover her.   The problems migrated to my desk as I maintain the front-end web pages, those that the public hopefully see and buy from.  Her back-office side was like reading Japanese with the different wording, and coding.

I arrived home and opened my emails, I had one congratulating me on being shortlisted.  A jolt of excitement cursed through my body.  The mornings issues forgotten, I wondered what on earth he was talking about.  I had checked the winners already; there were no shortlisted names.   Another email congratulating me.  Time to log on.

They were right, the shortlisted writers’ names had been published that morning.  He was right, there in the list was ‘Tiggy Hayes’.  I sat heavily down and stared.   Waves of nausea coursed through me as the words wobbled on the screen. I looked again, it was still there on the screen.   I logged on to my laptop and went to twitter, yes it had been published there as well. I sent a text to Sexy Sporty Dad, “call me when you can”. I walked around and then went back to the screens.  They hadn’t changed.

Would I ever take this smile off my face.    I don’t think so.  Later I showed the whole family, this was one time when I was telling them about my success.

“Well do you win any money?”

“Will this mean your book will be published?”

“Will you be famous?”

No this means I am a writer, my name is in the same list with some writers who I admire, and it means that maybe I could make it in this business.  Do they not realise how big this is?  It releases a whole bucket load of self-doubt.  They are all very congratulatory and impressed that I am pleased even if they have no idea of the enormity of being shortlisted had on me.

I did force them to read it, even Sexy Sporty Dad took the time.  “Well somebody must have liked it, I didn’t understand it.”  Luckily Mini Son was able to explain it to him.

Yes, somebody did like it and they understood it enough to list me.   So where am I now? Still smiling, even more determined, and a lot more confident.  I may not have won the top prize, it will not deter me and  I will be going to Swanwick anyway, but I have won a whole lot more than just a prize.

I have sent off a story to the Bridport Prize, not because I expect to win, but I need to be sending out stories.  There are places if not Womags that want my stories but there are plenty of competitions around.

“You need to be in it to win it” was the lottery slogan, but that goes across the board.  If I don’t send off the story, I will never again be shortlisted or even reach the dizzy heights of winner.  Somewhere on some judging panel there are people on my wavelength just waiting for my offering.  So here they come!

 

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Stilettos – Story Snippet

She entered the room last, everybody turned to stare.  Her dress down to her ankles clung so tight to her slim body, it revealed nothing underneath.   It clung snakelike as she moved, the colours shimmering and catching in the light.   Rich colours, golds, reds, oranges all blending in shell like patterns; sprinkling of blues and greens softening the brightness.

She appeared tall, taller than most until your eyes could be torn away from the mesmerising fire red hair tumbling down her back in rivulets of semi-curl.   She walked with confidence and ease on the high single pin stilettos.   Gold with hints of red and orange. Straps of delicateness holding them seemingly in place.

Difficult to imagine then, the next time I would notice those shoes, they would be embedded in the large lifeless chest of Count Dergo.

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Zulu Warrior

I do not actually own a copy of “The Zulu Principle” by Jim Slater although I have often quoted the phrase.  Maybe if writing does not work out for me, it might be money well invested if I buy the book.   His book is about share dealing, but the principle he refers to is;  his wife having read a lot of information in a short space of time became an expert on the subject of Zulus.

I have no plans to learn about the minutiae of South African warriors but these past few weeks I have seen the principle at work as I investigate various subjects on behalf of clients and even middle son.

I was asked to give a presentation at a meeting recently.   I was terrified, just what could I talk about.  How would I convince my audience I was an expert, when really I had just fallen into the job and lacked the requisite skills any self-respecting boss would have asked for?   Weeks of not sleeping, were followed by days of researching my own documentation; had I really put all this together; it sounded quite professional.  I finally had a lot of information to deliver a long and boring essay on ‘how to market your company to the people who matter’. Thankfully for my listeners, I had a time restriction so cutting it down drastically was essential.  Is there an affinity with my writing here?  I found examples of adverts to back up my comments and produced a ‘free’ laminated tips sheet plastered with our logo, I was set.

‘Targeting your Marketing’ went well although my hand waving and exposition of examples was a deliberate ploy to cover the shaking.  The squeaky wobbly voice I heard in my ears seemed to come across as passion and knowledge. The questions afterwards, even though I talked almost to the end of my time, I knew the answers and others in the business actually concurred with my comments.    I was a Zulu Warrior.

Last week one of the girls I work with came to me with a problem our client had raised; regarding “reverse VAT”.  If you happen to work for an international trading VAT registered company, you know exactly what happens.  We were both stymied by how to account for this.    By the time she left me to go and see the client, we were not only whizzes at its meaning, we also knew how to deal with it for his system.  I did not mention to her she too is a Zulu Warrior.

I have managed to bag myself a client who askes for a monthly blog on some aspect of business.  Although not the writing I want to do, it does mean I have to sit down and put pen to paper or rather nails to keyboard, and I can charge for it.    This month they asked for guidance for their members on GDPR.   I would never give any admission to being anything remotely approaching an expert in this expansive subject and I did not feel that the blog post should tell people what to do as each company is individual and ‘no one size fits all’.  A lot of research was involved and the deeper I dug the more I realised just how big the subject was. Several re-writes later and the blog appeared on their website with a list of suggested areas for businesses to look at within their own organisation and hierarchy.  I am not sure there are any experts in this field, but I am most definitely just the apprentice.

When middle son and girlfriend approached us the other day to say they were planning to go to Australia for a year to work I was hit with the inevitable barrage of emotions; dread, fear, excitement, envy and joy that they are living their lives.   We have a ticket for them and that is where the adventure begins.   They will arrive in Adelaide in August.

They have plans but no knowledge how to get work, accommodation or travel across the country.   They also have no money!

I am emerging this weekend from downloads, emails, reviews about work visas, Australian tax rates not to mention job vacancies and youth hostels.   The pile of research material is mountainous, but I will work through it and by August they will have an itinerary and outline schedule and probably a pot of ‘borrowed money’ and I shall be as close to Zulu Warrior as it is possible to be.

How can I apply this ‘Zulu Principle’ to getting ‘Memories’ published? The research has already been done.  Maybe this was where I learnt to dig so deeply into my subject matter; I have lots of downloads on repressed memories and their re-emergence, not to mention family law and court procedure, although a bit of licence has been taken at this stage.

I have finished the latest edit, as I am sure there will be further ones. I tentatively handed over my edits to someone I work with to type up the corrections in the hope she will be able to add a few grammar or spelling changes as she goes through it.  A scary moment, even though a couple of beta readers have read very early versions.  This was like handing over my child to the nursery teacher, a deep emptiness suddenly as the draft I had been carrying round in my bag for weeks was no longer there.

Like a child I hope ‘Memories’ grows up to begin adventures of its own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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New Chapters

I don’t even know where to begin…

2017 is done and maybe for the best.  There were many things that happened to me over the year but the one that will always be connected to that year will be the death of my mother.   I find that I struggle to take her out of the equation.  I was very wrapped up in her life and she in mine the older and more dependent she became.

My writing suffered badly particularly towards the end of the year.  That wasn’t all her fault or my reaction to her death but it started soon after Swanwick in August.  I came back full of inspiration and eager to build on the confidence gained both from attending the writing school and having been to Winchester Literary Festival earlier in the year.

As my mother deteriorated and went into hospital I spent weeks driving back and forward to hospital most days.  Juggling work, understanding bosses and getting very little sleep; writing became a distant dream. The fortnight after she died was a whirlwind of limbo.  Emotions stopped, autonomy kicked in and my body went on to autopilot, I ate because I had to produce food for others but there was no taste, no passion in the preparation, just functional.   I breathed because my body needed no input from me.  All real thought processes closed down, blocking any insight to my mind or heart.

The funeral was an ordeal, now head of the family it was up to me to lead the proceedings.   Not that anyone but me had that expectation.  Duty and family positioning is however, ingrained in the makeup of personality.   I have attended funerals in the past but never taken any notice of etiquette, order or ceremony.  This was up to me and as such with sibling help we did it how she wanted.  I know that because she had left copious notes with detailed instructions and she had gone through it with me so many times even as I determined that she would outlive us all.

Finally, that part was over and two days later, I was able to relax on board a cruise liner.  The holiday of a lifetime; years I had been building up to this and now it was here.  Like a coiled spring I walked onto the ship. My back, neck and all manner of limbs that I knew of, and ones I didn’t, wound so tight each step ached with pain and a deep longing to sleep forever.

For me, writing is a deep exposure of myself, my innermost thoughts and often feelings.   That is not to say all my novels are about me, but there are elements of my beliefs and hopes in each protagonist. My fears and hates wrap themselves tightly into the package of my antagonist and the journey of the story reflects my inner search to discover my part in the battle of good and evil.

I joined the cruise writing group, in a way it was an automatic response.   I had been planning to regale the small group with lots of anecdotes and stories of my favourite writing school or the trial of editing a book.  Instead I stayed quiet, not even sure I had the appetite to expose my words, let alone feelings to the world or a small intimate group of writing novices.  I hid in the corner where the first exercise ‘to write of someone in your past who meant a lot to you but is no longer with you’ caused more than its fair share of writers’ block as a crescendo of emotions crashed into my pen causing it to stop inscribing the letters.

I stuck with the group, quietly in my own world I tried the exercises, pretending to be a novice and scared to vocalise anything.  Some spark went deeper; overcoming the blank page. Back in the privacy of my cabin, Sexy Sporty Dad away at the gym or swimming pool, I tried more of the exercises.  By the return home, I had a collection of written mementos of the trip and rather than read them out, I emailed them to our tutor.   Weeks later a mail arrived in my inbox with a collation of the group’s writings set to pictures of the trip.  I was back in print.

Even in grief there is a cathartic component about writing and having started again I was not going to stop.  November arrived so quickly bringing in NANOWRIMO along with a long-awaited operation.  The letter waiting for me on my return from the cruise.   Timing could not be better four weeks of recuperation while I tried my hand at 50,000 words what could be easier.

I found it very difficult this year to concentrate on the story, my mind wandered and emotions erupted cascading down into a melting pot of contrasts.   I had time, but couldn’t focus.  I had a story plan but there were too many similarities to my life, real and imagined that were too raw to write.  My laptop constantly by my side but in too much pain to sit for long periods.   I did it, by some miracle I did manage only on the last day to pick up the additional word count, but I finished.   ‘Bucket List’ now joins ‘Destination’, ‘Mans’ World’ and ‘Scrum Down’ in my bottom draw waiting.  All quirky and basic, needing a lot of magic to transform them into novels but they are ready for when I am.

December came and went in a blur, as it always does.   A lot of build up and fractiousness beforehand and then it was over in a blur.  I am not sure how much I really felt or remember.  As a family we again all did our bit for the Community Christmas meal and returned home nourished by a peace and inner warmth that we had given something special back.  Our Christmas tree was still surrounded with presents and I managed to see my siblings, Sexy Sporty Dad’s family and my mother’s remaining family over the period.

January; I have woken up to a determination, raw and hungry.  I want this book out there.  ‘Memories’ has been too long in the writing and editing stages it is time to move on and produce it.   A good friend of mine who has many books to his name, produced his current work in progress as an edit copy paperback.  He finds it easier to read a book than a tablet or laptop.

I took his advice.  The thrill, anticipation and excitement that bubbled over as I opened the package was a moment I want to savour forever.  There is only one way to feel like that again and that is to get on and publish.  So back to the book for me then.

2018, I hope is the year that Tiggy Hayes makes her debut into the world of publishers and a whole new scary journey.

Tiggy

 

 

 

 

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Tribute: Paddy Lawrence

It has been a whirlwind and maybe I have survived and maybe I didn’t, I guess time will tell. One thing is for sure I never want to go through that again.  The other thing that is sure is that I never will.  The death of a parent is a unique event that can only occur twice.  I was protected in many ways when my father died not least by the strength of my mother’s protection and the birth of Mini Son.

In August, I went to my favourite place on earth, back to the home I draw my inspiration, my determination and my support; Swanwick.  For a whole week, I was myself; a writer.  Whether I am any good, will ever be published or will always just post blogs or articles for my clients doesn’t seem to matter there.  I am a writer and accepted for my choice to be one.

Even before I left for Swanwick, I had concerns, my mother wasn’t well, she was struggling but then these days she did that, a lot.  Few people really knew how she struggled.  This, however, was early in the season for her to be so melancholy and defeatist but I knew she’d be ok.  Number 1 Son would look in regularly on her, probably each time he got hungry so most evenings; she would love that.

I returned and found her cheerful and determined to attend her granddaughters 21st. It was a family affair and I knew she was determined to walk along the shoreline, she said one more time before she dies, but so often had she said that.  She loved that party and it was certainly her last embedded memory while she was lucid.

By the following weekend even I realised she was not well.

Born the youngest of 8 children, Paddy never met her older sister Mickey who had died of meningitis before she was born.  The first clue to her character was the flaming red hair, typical of the family and their Irish heritage and a hint at the determination and vivacious person she became.

Born in Portsmouth, she’d just started school when war broke out. Evacuated aged 9 with her 3 sisters to a convent school in Wales she was able to be herself, learn, have fun and get up to all the mischief you would expect from a boarding school.  She loved her school days and it was where she met her best friend to this day Anne. She and Anne shared everything, rooms, homework, detentions.  Both incredibly sporty, played for the school in various sports, gaining love and respect from the nuns.  They grew up passed their exams and both set off on different paths.

Paddy went to St Marys Hospital Paddington as a trainee nurse.  She enjoyed the work, she valued the camaraderie and she loved the social life.  She found herself out on a blind date with a dashing young doctor making up the numbers at the Doctors’ ball. One morning found her camped out on the streets of London with a group of nurses.  They found a corner where a group of royal marines were stationed in front of them to guard the young Princess Elizabeth as she made her way to her coronation.  A day of flirting and banter followed.

Anne then joined St Marys and they ended up sharing a flat in London until Anne introduced the man she was to marry who would become a life-long friend to Paddy and her future family. The two recognised each other from their blind date.

Private nursing took her away from the high life until she was offered a job as the nurse aboard the cruise liner Arcadia, where her love of gin was certainly enhanced.  She travelled the world meeting an array of people and visiting many a port. One of only a few people to celebrate their birthday twice in the same year.  They sailed in a westerly direction on the 18th January, reaching the international date line in time to celebrate the 18th January her birthday, all over again.   Somewhere round the other side they missed a whole day but that is not documented or remembered on the same scale.

Sadly her mother fell ill and passed away so she returned to look after her father in the quiet village of Topsham.   The most momentous milestone in her life was about to hit her full force and one she would never recover from.

Just a regular night out at the Diggers Rest in Woodbury Salterton with her father, her sister Norah and brother John who was staying. They came across a couple of young Marines who joined them for a rather long and definitely raucous late night.    Peter Lawrence was entranced and despite their courtship taking place mainly through letters, (he was posted away and she went to Kenya to help her sister-in-law with the birth of their third child) they married a year later.  Apparently, several years earlier he had guarded the Princess Elizabeth on her Coronation day and was entertained on his corner by a group of young nurses.

Their first Christmas, 9 months later was spent in Topsham.  The following day as the snow began to fall, Peter left a heavily pregnant Paddy to go back to work.  She would follow a few days later.   The snow continued.

By her due date, 7th January, she had ventured out a few times but returned unsuccessful.   Determined she packed the car, her father drove and sister Frannie followed behind.   It took all day to precariously pick their way to Aldershot, slipping, sliding and stopping. The baby staying put till the 12th.   It was 3 months before the roads were clear enough for her father to return home.

Peter finally left the forces and enrolled in teacher training college in Devon.  They found the perfect house for them, The Vroe!   It was old and needed more than a lot of TLC but she was a Lawrence now and the village Clyst St Lawrence. 3 toddlers, a tiny baby, several chickens and a puppy, in an old style mini-van she left Fordingbridge and drove to Devon.  Another chapter began.

While Peter studied, and looked for employment she became one of the first mothers working from home around her still increasing family.  She had, against the doctors wishes had two more children.   Now they needed feeding.

Somewhere the money came to buy two properties in Exeter which she converted into flats and let out.  Friday night was rent night and Peter was dispatched to collect the rents and a new trend of picking up a Chinese takeaway on the way home.  As the market became more difficult the properties were finally sold.

She renovated section by section the home opening it as a very upmarket B&B for executive business men.   Three course meals, gin, wine, after dinner drinks and the cigars took their toll on not only her waistline but her health.  Undeterred she built a swimming pool and tennis court in the uncharted areas of the garden and opened a school for foreign students.   The world was in turmoil and getting your children out of Italy, Spain and Iran if you were someone of note was imperative to keep them alive.  Black limos, bulging suits and brown envelopes of used notes peppered her life.  The excess land was home to Susie the Jersey cow, all the pigs and chickens and geese and any other animals that passed through the family.

The world moved on and children stayed with their families, the school was diminishing.

Paddy loved antiques, houses and furniture, she took to attending auction houses.  One trip took her all the way to the barbican in Plymouth where she espied a craft centre in a warehouse. That night she uttered the dreaded words “I have an idea”

Peter and the family braced themselves and before long she had all the children, and former teachers working at her coffee shop where her love of cream teas had the opportunity to thrive correctly; cream first and then jam….  The remaining building, she let out to local crafters on Exeter Quay.

Several years later the local council forced a sale to pass on to a developer.  Reluctantly she gave up the craft centre.  Little did she realise the smart offices that were developed on the site were to be inhabited by WS Atkins who in years to come would employ her future son in law; Sexy Sporty Dad.

She took a job down the road on a building development and began a long chapter in her life selling houses. Her own property development taking a dive when having bought and converted a couple of barns, a battle with the builders left them bankrupt.

Time moved on and she went back to studying and became a reflexologist working from home while Peter who had retired by now, battled his own health issues. Another court battle over buying their home caused them to move out for 6 months into the home of good friends Diana and James.

Suddenly the light went out of her life with the death of her beloved Peter and she had to carry on alone.  The last 15 years of her life were a struggle, she missed him terribly but managed to sell and buy two properties on her own, she fought to keep driving until she no longer had any feeling in her feet and made a multitude of friends in new areas.

On her 70th Birthday she flew to Hong Kong by herself to visit her daughter Siobhan.  On her 80th Birthday she brought together friends and family back to The Vroe, for a weekend party.  She joined family on a mini-cruise to Amsterdam and flew to Cork to visit her father’s childhood home, being invited in to look around by the current owner. Her grand-daughter Millie’s 21st was her last party.  Surrounded by her grandchildren whom she adored and was so proud of, she wined and dined in true Lawrence style.

She will leave a gaping hole in the fabric of all our lives but we do know she is at peace and with the one person she loved the most – Peter

What’s left for me anger, fear and hope.

Anger that she was let down by the NHS who she had served and defended for so much of her life.  Anger that I spent so long with her but I ended up not making it back in time leaving my youngest sister alone at the moment of her passing.   Anger that she will never get to read Memories, I think she would have loved the story and seen so much of herself in some characters but she always said ‘I will read it when its published’.

Fear of the future without her, my life revolved around her more than I realised; how will I adjust.  Fear for my own old age; as things start to stop working as well as they should, I don’t want to be dependent, ill or old.  Fear of failing to recognise the chances I have now while I’m still able to do something about them.

Hope that now she is at peace with my father who she never got over.  Hope that we gave her the send-off she really could have been proud off. Hope that in the future I show a bit of that in-dominatable spirt and do what I set out to do; because maybe that saying is just to accurate; life is too short.

My determination is now to finish ‘Memories’ and hope that wherever she is, she will get the opportunity to read the published version.

 

Tiggy

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Owl – Story Snippet

Hours of endless waiting; I stayed.  I drove to you daily.  I slept on the chair resting my head on your bed, many a time.  I held your hand and fed you sips of water if nothing else. I listened to your cries of no more and tried to reassure you; till in the end I too, cried “enough”.

You hovered between him and me for days longer than we thought possible, till they said “go home, rest, we will call you”

Too long; was the journey and the phone rang as I arrived.   I drove.  Speed limits blurred.

A white owl was waiting for me, half way, and flew across my windscreen. I nearly crashed.

7.29pm.

I arrived 20 minutes later; a hug from the nurse “she’s gone”. Pale but peaceful you began your eternal rest, free from pain and suffering.

Hours later; numb, guilt ridden at not being there, angry with the world, I drove homewards.   As tears and emotion threatened my driving.  An owl, white and beautiful flew ahead of my car guiding it back to the road.

Then I understood.

7.30 you left to go to my father.  His claim stronger than mine now.

RIP

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Out of Reach

Space and time are great levellers.

I arrived back recently from my visit to Winchester Writers Festival.  A focused, intense festival for all kinds of writers. Stepping through, what seemingly on the outside appeared like a normal pub door was as enchanting as entering the wardrobe onto the world of Narnia.  In this case, it was a magical, creative realm of authors, poets, journalists, and like me hopeful wannabes. The shutting of the door closing contact on the real world.

The weekend was as varied as the choices on the pub menu and took place on Winchester University campus. I attended workshops; the architecture of storytelling, the power of point of views.  I listened to the role of agents, how to submit to an agent, how to self-publish, the role of the indie publisher.   Saturday morning found me enchanted and beguiled by the energy and charisma of Lemn Sissay, as he quoted his poetry and led us through a whirlwind glimpse of his world.   Later I was encouraged, enthused and enamoured by the beautiful Helen Fields, who was me only a few years ago, but now selling her books the world over.

The first evening, along with fish and chips I was given the news I needed a pitch.   I know all about elevator pitches in the business world; but I was in a magical world of make believe, pitches had not even crossed my mind. Here was my first hurdle; to reveal my story to others.

Overnight I wrote a few words and the next morning tried it out on my breakfast companions.  They wanted to know more so I elaborated bringing tears to their eyes, and mine, as I explained the complexities and themes running through Memories.   Had I not just achieved what I wanted more than riches or fame but to bring emotion to my readers.   The problem; I was telling, not them reading.

It finally came to my time, I left the comfort of the classroom and made my way to the designated room.    I considered fleeing through the open gates as I walked past, but small tiny steps pushed in the opposite direction.  Slowly I dragged heavy legs, my twisting tummy and spinning head up step by ever increasing step.  I gave my name and lined up with fellow nervous wannabe authors, clutching my cover letter, my synopsis, my first chapters, waiting for the appointed moment.  Eerily silent, bar the shuffle of papers; lost was the camaraderie of only a few moments ago; as time ticked on.    It arrived too quickly; I was ushered reluctantly into the darkened room.  Unsure if I was the quarry or the hunter I sought out my first agent, she was camped at the far back of the room and welcomed me with a broad smile.

We chatted amiably, she liked the story, she complemented my cover letter and my newly learned pitch.   She wanted it developed to show a different point of view, to be a bit spikier in the first page.   It was a timely story and I must get the changes done and send it out.  It needed to go straight into her top “read straight away” tray.

Time was up and new authors lurked in the wings waiting for their 15-minute slot of destiny.  I walked slowly away, breathing in the words she had said and wondering if the negative ones I expected had been lost in the change over time.  She had liked it, that was what she said, it was a good story, but it was too long.

Over the weekend, three other agents agreed it was too long.  I questioned the fourth as to what was the correct length as I’d had 4 different figures.    85-95,000 would be fine.   But why, what was wrong with my 112000-word count?   Foreign rights, she explained. An agent is looking at the package, would this sell to the foreign markets where there is a cost implication over 100,000 words.  They are also looking at film potential, or TV.   I relaxed almost hysterical like.  Bemused, she asked if that was ok. I assured her this was only my first steps and I was looking to see if it was good enough to send out, I hadn’t even considered a possibility beyond the next step.

Four agents, four different but all positive reactions, they all said it should be sent out to agents with different points of view, different voices and maybe shorter snappier sentences although that particular agent admitted that might be difficult as it was not my style.

Fate, Karma, or just good luck found me enrolled on Sunday on the Points of View work shop with the totally engaging Lorna Ferguson.  By lunch time my mind was clearer; I knew what I had done wrong with Memories, it needed to all be written in the first person with different people leading each chapter.  After lunch came the session on third person up close and personal or further away.  Would multiple 3rd person work?

The weekend was over before I knew it.   Strong friendships were forged from the intensity and creative passion of the weekend.  It’s funny how opening the covers of your story can suddenly find you revealing deep and personal truths about where you identify to complete strangers.  As they reveal inner emotions laid bare in their writing.

Riding high on a cloud of euphoria, creativity and hope I drove out across the threshold of creativity and back to my world.   Head churning with plans, re-writes, cuts and amendments, I flew through a few days of elation and optimism and then crashed landed back in reality.   Four re-writes, four different opinions, not to mention losing possibly 30,000 of my painstakingly crafted wording.  Suddenly the next step was too high to climb.  I did not want to think about the story any more.   The drawer loomed wide and welcoming; back inside Memories was filed and shut away for another time.

Bringing myself even to look at pen, paper or screen was too raw.   Thankfully having built up a career of having to write other people’s blogs and championing my previous courses I had a jobs list of blogs and articles to finish off.  I was at least writing if not in the genre I wished.   I found it difficult even to think about my own writing.

I met someone this week who just happened to mention casually that her partner was a publisher.  My antennae instantly alert, I asked what kind of books he published as I was a writer.

“Oh, everyone says that, you have no idea what writing a real book involves.”

It was my colleague who bristled with annoyance, ‘but Tiggy is a writer, she’s written a book and is looking for a publisher”

The girl looked at me with that look of ‘yeah you say that; but’.

“I have just returned from Winchester Literary Festival where I was meeting a few agents.”

She conceded if not particularly graciously.

Memories was out of the drawer, moments after she left and I am planning the one, not necessarily re-write but edit to get it to how I think it should be read.  Thanks to my friend Bridget Holding helping me focus the aim of my story. I have run a simple table of my characters and their aims, to decipher which person and by whose point of view it works best in.

Next morning, I wrote a piece of flash fiction to get the writing juices flowing again.

The step is still as big as ever, but just maybe I have the tools to start the climb.  Within weeks I know I will return to my inspirational bubble as I attend Swanwick; the place I feel so at home.   That feeling at Winchester of my ‘audience’ emotionally affected is the feeling I want for all my stories.

Am I nearly there yet or is it still just out of reach?

Tiggy

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A job by any other name

I am a writer.

At what point does that claim become true?

I was at a meeting this week and the discussion was around an article that needed to be written for the local press.   Someone turned to me and said “you’re the writer aren’t you?”

“Yes” I said without even thinking. Wrong day, wrong hat, wrong group! I am now commissioned to write two articles for a local paper on two different groups.  The question was not completely out of the blue.  I had just had an article about the history of this group in a recent issue of the paper, for which they had just been lauding the editorial and had all been extremely complimentary to my efforts.

Maybe it is because my children are growing up too fast and writing is my new baby.   After all No 1 Son is working in an estate agents, all tweed jacket, gilets and corduroy trousers talking property management portfolios and looking for the right investment to move out and start his building empire.

Middle Son has now been in his own rented flat for nearly a year.  He shares with a friend and has just lost his chef job when the restaurant closed.  He is freelancing till a new local job becomes available and earning enough to pay  his rent and bills with minimal help from bank of mum and dad.  He also tells me not working all hours and actually seeing his bed occasionally is a fantastic novelty.  Not sure his money will support a long term relationship with his long forgotten bed.

Mini Son is independent from the confines of his mother running him here, there and everywhere.   Where did that time go?  He walks to and from school and makes his own way to football practice.  He is one of the posse of 15 year old hoodies that wander up and down the high street menacingly with kebabs and chips, most weekends right underneath his brother’s flat.

Sexy Sporty Dad has just finished the Tour of Wessex cycle race, not for a place but to fill his free time.  With careful planning and meticulous execution he manages to find some kind of lycra clad event most weeks. Occasionally, a run or swim might be added to the weekend’s exertion.

Maybe my time is here.  The time to claim back who I am and who I want to be.  My priorities, I have become aware are changing and despite my job becoming more demanding so I am more determined to make writing part of my life.

I have managed to incorporate into my day job; writing blogs for other people, creating posts for their social media.  I recently found myself ghost writing one client’s monthly article for a magazine while he was on holiday.  To be fair, most months, sees a close collaboration from us both, but writing it all in his style and voice was my challenge.  I find now I have obviously picked up two more unpaid articles to write.

Writing covers a wide spectrum for me and where I want to be is in fiction, made up stories, imagined habitats, lots of poetic licence and an audience of open minds.

On that point, I have just finished my latest edit on Memories which has taken some time. I have learned a new and hopefully valuable craft through this  intense process.  I approached this edit in a fresh new way, working through the chapters, adding emotions and sensory description.   I then repeated the process grounding my reader to place and time within the story. I have revamped the first and last chapters, adding pace and spice, leaving the reader hanging and I have developed both my protagonist’s point of view and the oxymoronic relationship with her antagonist.

I have in fact rewritten the novel, doubled the word count and answered I hope all the questions but, kept the underpinned story as emotional and contemporary as ever. So ….

Does that make me a writer?

Early this year I decided that this was going to be my year and I was going to do something with my own writing, I was going to let it emerge from the deep drawers it has been wallowing in over the years.   So far I have sent off two stories for a competition, although not expecting to win, the act of finishing and submitting on time was a huge hurdle I have managed to clamber over.   I have booked myself a place at Winchester Writer’s Festival which is looming fast on the horizon, filling me with fear, dread and excitement.  In preparation I have submitted my first chapters, plus both cover letter and synopsis of Memories, to not just one agent but four.

Again the expectation may not be high but the experience will be invaluable.  It will set me on a fresh new road and direction to where I want to go.

Reactions have been supportive despite two people giving me the similar comment “well finally you are going to make a lot of money, as opposed to just talking about writing”.

Is being a writer all about money?

Yes I want to win the competitions, but the prizes are far more desirable than any monetary benefit I would receive.  Recognition, appreciation, self-belief are all part of the winning combination along with the confidence to keep trying.

Yes I want that book deal for the same reasons as above but the reality is I am writing for me and for the reader not for the money.  If I never have a book published will I stop writing?  No!   If they reject me will I hide under a bush and never charge up my laptop again?  No!   If they say I should change this or that or go about submitting another way or even self-publish will I get in my car and keep driving never to return?  No!  I hope I dust off the comments, file them carefully in the learning part of my brain rather than emotional and follow their suggestions.

When I learnt to ride a horse, I was taught that before you can call yourself a rider you have to fall off 7 times.  My 7th fall was a momentous celebration, the tears of humiliation, and pain gone before I even touched the ground.   I had done it, now I could and for ever more call myself a rider.  The nearest I get to a horse these days is watching the Grand National on TV but I am a rider; I passed through that rite of passage.

Rejections are part and parcel of a writer’s world.  I hope the magic number is still 7, as I have submitted to; 4 agents and 2 competitions.  I may only need to send one of the 3 stories almost ready for a Womag and I could qualify in one fell swoop, enough at least to call myself a writer.

For a group of business contacts  it was a revelation to some round the table, and myself in particular that I did admit to being a writer. I did however confirm there was no imminent deadline for their articles as I find the immediacy of journalism totally unachievable in my world.

Whatever job title I give myself, I can say I am fulfilling at least one of my resolutions for 2017.

Tiggy

 

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First and Last

“The room still smelt of sex and sweat.”

It was such a great first line, but despite that fabulous start the rest of the story didn’t deliver.  I have rewritten it time and time again, with different protagonists, different themes and different endings but the narrative just doesn’t work.  Regrettably I think this will be binned in favour of a more suitable, banal first line that suits the tale.

It started as an exercise at my writing group; we had to begin a story, one to be sent to a competition. It came to my turn to read my work out; I offered my opening line but didn’t get to finish due to the astonishing and most unexpected effect on my listeners.   Only a moment elapsed before the words sunk in, then a ripple of laughter followed by wows and oohs completely drowned out my timid reading,  I stopped and when calm was restored to the room the general consensus was to hear what happened next.  Unfortunately on the night in question there was even less than there is now.

The reaction of my writing group is the reaction I, and I suspect every other writer wants, readers who pick up their work to have,  that need to go on and find out what is happening.

I attended another writing workshop later in the week, this one is more focused on feedback and we present our previously written 1000 words for scrutiny and advice.   The comments are always positive but open up weaknesses, misunderstandings and sometimes grammatical errors.    I struggle with critiquing others work, especially as they all write so much better than I do; some of them are successful writers and authors and they are asking me for advice.  But we all need beta readers who can be objective and point out things whatever status we have reached.  The paying public will be first to criticise our book and not buy it.  I feel I still have more to learn in the subtle craft of critiquing but am studying how the others comment and compliment and also use previous feedback in their redrafts.

I have been so busy editing Memories that the evening came round a little too suddenly for me.  I could not decide what I wanted feedback on.   1000 words from the chapter I was working on seemed a little random and I wasn’t sure what detail I needed comment on in isolation.  So many Irish names and complex characters to pre-explain; not to mention the history would take up my allotted 15 minutes before I even got to read my piece.  I opted to rifle through my binned drawer and pulled out a short story I had written many years before and never had the nerve to send.

Unexpectedly, it sparked a positive discussion, but  my listeners were all agreed on one thing it needed finishing off.  I had opened a lot of threads and where as I thought it was finished leaving the reader to decide where it goes, my listeners wanted more guidance to close the story for them.    The story was rife with internal angst, past drama and I thought future hope, which others saw too.  One person, however saw a very dark, sinister thread weaving its way to a sad and brutal end.   Another writer actually pointed out with a bit of creativity it could be sent to the very publication, I had in mind when writing it.   I wriggled, and glowed from the inside with the excitement of maybe not being so far off the original mark and the magazine might yet be receiving a copy sometime soonish if I overcome my nerve.

If I have learnt anything this week it is the importance of my first and last lines.  I think back to the drawing board or rather computer keyboard is called for. I now have a new story for the competition still looking for that hooking first line,  and I have another that needs finishing with a cracking last line not to mention a fresh look at memories opening and closing lines.

“…. you then killed her.  I so hate you!”

the-evening-sun-1525624

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Bah Humbug

dsc_0001It was maybe the best Christmas ever, certainly, if I don’t count the curry we had a few years ago when renting a cottage for the week, it was the best Christmas dinner I have had for a long time.

Don’t get me wrong I don’t mind Turkey and trimmings but I do feel it is overrated these days and as our pallets become more adventurous there are other tastes to celebrate.  I attended 6 Christmas meals through work, the advantage or by the end disadvantage, of working alone but being included in networking, and client get togethers.  I pointedly ordered anything but turkey from the menus and had some very wonderful meals.

Sadly, a long time ago now I lost my Christmas spirit and am not quite sure how or why or even if I really want it back.

The Christmases of my childhood were magical. The tree, locally sourced and dug still smelling of pine, was put up in the hallway. So tall it climbed, up through the stairwell to reach the uppermost floors where the star shone out from its tip. Twinkling lights illuminating the shadowy stairs as we made our way up to bed.

No matter how poor we were, there were presents for all, many homemade or shared with siblings but they arrived under the tree each Christmas morning.  I had spent weeks if not months saving pennies to buy materials for making odd shaped toys for the children, cringe worthy  paper poetry books, thankfully long lost for the adults.  The annual battle to fit the turkey in the oven, my uncle always brought this as part of his contribution along with all kinds of alcoholic bottles.  Being single he challenged himself to donate the biggest bird he could find. There were chocolates and if you were clever no real constraints on how many you could eat. It was one of the few times snacks appeared in our household, nuts, olives, anchovies and occasionally crisps, oh and those tiny silverkin onions, that I don’t see today.

We ventured out once over the festivities to go to Midnight or more often early morning mass leaving my father to cook the Christmas breakfast for our return,  getting up was never a problem for us in those days.    People came to us for the annual Boxing Day drinks party and as teenagers we experimented with many a concoction of what now seems; rather mild cocktails mixed surreptitiously and drunk secretly.  For a few days, I, who used helping as an escape to academia found willing sibling hands at every turn keen to wash, dry, cook or lay up just to move things on.

Things changed.  I stopped sending Christmas cards some years ago, when  I could not find religious ones and the cost of posting exceeded my meagre Christmas spends, but even then I managed to budget for a small donation to a deserving charity.  This year it is the air ambulance’s turn; being involved in rugby I have seen this arrive at the club a few times over the years, not to mention it attending accidents involving friends children.

I see the Christmas lists, watch the adverts and note the wishes of children wanting the latest expensive gadget or must have. I can remember asking the wider family if they have any ideas for presents and being sent a list of items from the Argos catalogue, cost, colour page all included.  All overpriced for what I could afford to spend on my own children let alone those of someone else.   As they grow their tastes and expectations have increased and there is no way I can equal, so I don’t; not anymore.  I send money, tokens or vouchers to be put towards whatever they choose.  With a new generation of babies starting to appear on the wider scene buying baby toys brings back a bit of that lost magic.

Christmastime to me was once the season of goodwill.  That meant the enjoyment came from the giving and in my own quiet rebellious way I am now doing just that.

I am dsc_0043involved in the Charity Christmas meal.  I have spent about 6 weeks attending meetings and asking the local community for help with, the cooking, serving out, the venue, the food, and presents.  People have been so generous not only with their time but their money.

I was told before Christmas I was being selfish doing this.

“Why?” was my astonished answer to that.

Because I was stealing my children’s Christmas and they would never know the fun and excitement of a proper Christmas like the ones we used to do when they were tiny.

Mini Son has to take part in an award for school part of which involves 15 hours of community service in some form or another.  Spacing it out over the past few weeks he has attended the meetings with me and was there on Christmas Eve helping decorate the hall and tree.  After opening his very full stocking from Father Christmas and a hearty breakfast he joined me at the hall and worked all day as a fantastic runner, washer upper, and now is having a well-earned rest playing with all his new toys and gadgets while his classmates try and find things to help in the community.   This is the second year he has helped and he is already talking about next year.

No 1 Son who now at 21 may come and go as he pleases, for the third year in a row arrived shortly before the guests and spent a few hours chatting to them, helping them to get food, help them open their presents and generally flirting with old ladies who absolutely loved him.    There is no pressure for him to be there and if he wishes to join us next year he is so welcome.  My suspicion is he will.

Middle Son, I feel sorriest for.  Three years ago he wanted to be involved and spent the whole day helping, having made the ‘still talked about today’ shortbread at his garden centre work for guests.   Last year he was angry that having to work all day at the pub where he cooked prevented him being involved at all. This year it turns out he had to work again, a downside of being a chef.  However he and his team offered to cook the turkey, roast potatoes, parsnips, carrots, sprouts and gallons of gravy.    They even brought it to us before getting on with their own service.   He was probably more involved than the rest of us.  I managed by pure accident to run into him as I loaded my car just as he walked back to his home where his friends were waiting , so wished him a happy Christmas before I came home. The briefest of encounters but enough to allay any worries about him being lonely. He was joining us on Boxing Day.

I arrived home, my mouth watered as the rich aroma of Italian enveloped me.  Sexy, Sporty Dad handed me a large glass of wine and a bowl of steaming lasagne, garlic bread and salad on the side.  He had been on a long guilt free cycle ride before arriving back with time to create the meal, yet another thing to add to his repertoire of cooking successes.  Every mouthful tasted succulent, the pasta cooked to challenge our local Italian restaurant and the cheese sauce dripped through every forkful bringing the tastebuds to a level I rarely reach these days.  Maybe because I had no part in it, maybe because it was not the long laborious roast with heavy vegetables or just maybe it was the wine that accompanied it but it was one of the best Christmas dinners I have had.

dsc_0075We sat down in front of Doctor Who, Mini Son handed out presents, of which there were still plenty and nobody felt hard done by.  The TV played in the background, the chocolates disappeared surprisingly quickly, a couple more glasses of wine and liqueurs were consumed.  It was warm, very festive and the day resonated with goodwill.

I think I may have found my Christmas spirit; underneath all that commercialism people want to help, they are happy to give generously. Maybe they just need to know what is happening. Friends who’ve known what I do, asked to be part of it this year, others who are tied up with family helped on the other days.   What each took away is a sense of inner peace and contentment that all the presents, food and drink can never quite match.

I may be selfish in that I held out for what I felt was right; but I know that there are people in the local community who had a better Christmas because of my selfishness and I do not feel my own children suffered in any way.  Maybe they benefited in some small way by contributing.

Hope you all had a wonderful Christmas and that the New Year brings health, happiness and helpfulness.

Tiggy

 

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