Milestones

Anniversaries trigger memories. It’s inevitable. Some are sad. Fortunately most of mine are happy recollections.

 

MilestoneLast Friday was an anniversary I had hoped not to experience for many years. I have now been a widow for one year. Twelve months without the man who was indeed my soul mate, my rock, my lover, my friend. I could go on, but I won’t. The memories of the short time we had together are precious, but they’re mine and I don’t need to write them down.

 

What I want to do now is reflect on the twelve months I have spent without Alan at my side. We had five months to prepare for his death. Amongst the important issues such as money, paperwork etc incongruously he thought it necessary to instruct me in trivialities such as how to secure the pin which ensured the hinge on the wheelie bin didn’t come loose, how to use the petrol lawnmower. As for his funeral the only instructions he gave me were “I don’t want a piss-up”.

 

He was pragmatic about life, ‘shit happens’ was his philosophy. There are things you can change and things you can’t. For the first you need courage, for the latter you need resilience. Alan taught me to be both brave and resilient.

 

So I sorted out the money and tidied up the paperwork. I mowed the lawn and stopped the 

wheelie bin lid falling off.

 

Open MicI’ve tried new things without him. Last year I went to the Swanwick Writers’ Conference. This year I’ve booked for the Fishguard Writers’ Holiday. I read at my first open mic and wished he’d been there to hear me – he’d have been proud.

 

The one thing I haven’t yet achieved is his wish that I continue with my writing. I’ve submitted no new stories or articles since he died, although I have sent off poetry and flash fiction which has been published. And two stories and two articles I had submitted before he died have since been published. Again that conflict of emotions – knowing he would have been delighted to see them in print, and sorrow that he won’t now see them.

 

There are times I’ve felt rudderless, drifting without a purpose. But I’ve survived a year and that feels like an important milestone. Time now to start again, to make new plans. And yes, Alan, I shall follow your advice and be brave.

Limerick

If this were a travel blog, I’d be describing the eponymous city in County Limerick, Ireland.

But as I’m a writer my subject is poetry, specifically the form of verse brought to popular attention by Edward Lear in his 1846 ‘Book of Nonsense’. With its fixed rhyming structure (AABBA) and distinctive metre, limericks are easily identifiable. At a recent meeting my writing group tried sequential limerick writing as an ice-breaker, each member adding one line in turn. It was fun and we ended up with some truly funny verses (many involving a certain Mr Trump!). From a writing perspective it was an interesting exercise, first to establish a main character, describe the setting, the inciting incident and finally a resolution. Just like writing any story.

I do have another tenuous Irish link to report. One of my stories has recently been published in Ireland’s Own magazine. It’s my first non UK publication. It’s perhaps a little early to start boasting of international fame and fortune, but it’s a start.

A writer from Tyneside called Bea

Had delusions of fame, and so she

Began to compose

In elegant prose

Her memoirs, parts one two and three. 

Knowledge

IMG_2011It helps if you know what you’re doing. That statement can be applied to many things in life, whether it be using a petrol mower for the first time, changing a fuse, fitting a new wiper blade on the car.

Nowadays it’s easier than ever to find out how to perform a new task – search online, watch a YouTube video, read a DIY book. Perhaps even ask a friendly expert happy to pass on their knowledge.IMG_2013

What about writing? Surely you just apply pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, and let the words flow. Certainly that is how most of us start and indeed continue. Very few get it right first time and go on to sell their first oeuvre.

Here is just some of the helpful advice I’ve been given:

  • There are many self-help books which can help with the basics. Fortunately a degree in Creative Writing isn’t a prerequisite for writing the next best seller.
  • Read extensively. Examine books written by successful authors writing in the same genre as you.
  • Research – study the market where you wish to be published.
  • Ask someone you know will be honest to read and comment on your writing. (Probably not your Gran. Grandmothers are wonderful, they always believe in you, but ‘That’s lovely, dear’ isn’t the most helpful critique you will receive.)
  • Join a writing group – online or in real life.
  • Critique the work of fellow writers – it’s a good way of learning to look at your own work more objectively.
  • Enter competitions. Even if you don’t win, read those that have and where available the judges’ comments which reveal why the winner was chosen.
  • Ask for advice – I’ve been humbled by the generosity of fellow writers who share their expertise so willingly.

But the only way to know if you have got it right is to get your work out there, to submit it and risk rejection. Learn to let your work go. It’s sad that many talented writers I’ve met have never submitted their work anywhere.

What advice would you give to writers seeking to improve their skills?

Junk

img_1946It’s amazing how much clutter I have squirrelled away over the years, stored in the loft ‘just in case’. Now I am determined to be rid. Broken scales, obsolete cables, old electrical appliances which are no longer safe to use, books I shall never read again, the list goes on.
But as one person’s junk can be another person’s treasure, some of my rejected goods have now been sold, others have been donated to charity shops and yet more have been given away through freecycle.org.
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One of the magazines I follow has a regular feature in which readers can send photographs of various items to ask Bob the expert for a free valuation. Occasionally a rare and valuable artefact will be discovered. Most however are of little or no value, such as this old button tin – £5 at the most, said Bob. On the bright side £25 was the writer’s reward for having her letter published – that’s a good return on a £5 piece of junk!

Ideas can be reused too. My husband’s uncle once commented that, short of money for an exotic honeymoon, he had romanced his new wife in a tent. I have since used the phrase as the inspiration for my poem – ‘Think Again, Dear’ – which is published in the current edition of Yours magazine.

My next task is to ‘declutter’ my folder of rejected stories. Some I now acknowledge were no good – the editors were right to turn them down. (If only, like Bob, they paid £25 to soften the blow!) But not all are so bad. There are several plots that I believe can be recycled into something worth resubmitting. Here’s hoping the editors agree.

Inspiration

It’s all around us, apparently. So why can’t I find any when I need it? A blank page can be exciting, it can also be challenging. But without inspiration its emptiness is damning. Which is where I’m at just now.So I thought I would look back to see what inspired me to write past stories which have sold successfully.

My first to be published with The People’s Friend was called ‘Take a Break’ – yes, I did sell a story with the title of a rival magazine. That was inspired by an 80 year old plate in my mother’s china cabinet which is the sole survivor of an incident when as a child she accidentally pulled the kitchen cupboard over and smashed all the crockery, except for this one plate.

My husband’s determination to complete Killer Sudoku puzzles was the trigger for ‘The Numbers Game’, bought by Woman’s Weekly.

A family joke describing laundry as the ‘joy of socks’ led to a story which sold to Yours. 

Another laundry inspired task came to me while ironing with an ear worm of ‘Dashing away with a smoothing iron’ repeating in my head. That was published by The Weekly News under the title ‘Dashing Away’.

So, apparently I need to focus on destructive children, puzzle obsessives and housework. 

Maybe I’ll just have another cup of coffee and a biscuit while I think about this. Anybody have any ideas to spare?

Hardware

img_1895I haven’t written much in the last few months. But on January 1st I vowed to change all that. New Year, new start, etc. My plan was to ease myself back in with a fresh blog post every week, to try a few bits of flash, reader’s letters, etc. Then to move on up to writing short stories again on a regular basis.

img_1904Then my computer died and all my good intentions fell apart. In high dudgeon I took what couldn’t be saved to the tip and Freecycled the best of it. I’ve not written anything since (unless Facebook and Twitter count?). But truthfully I never had a valid excuse not to return to my desk. What did writers use before computers were invented? Good old fashioned pen and paper of course. I still have plenty of those.

img_1651Then typewriters – not that I’d dare use this antiquity which belongs to my brother. It’s purely decorative but it acts as a reminder of why I like my modern keyboard so much.

So I’ve bought a new computer which was installed yesterday. Now I have no excuse. The hardware is all set up. Here I go. Ready, steady… write!

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Gate of the Year

The new year can be exciting, full of possibilities – successes, new discoveries, plans to be made. But it can be scary too. Who knows what problems lie before us? A poem I learned as a child comes to my mind each January.

I love the imagery of a guiding hand being “better than light and safer than a known way”. The poem was written by Minnie Louise Haskins who died in 1957. I wrote about her in my recent article which is published in The People’s Friend Special 133. Minnie unwittingly became an overnight celebrity when King George VI quoted from her poem in his address to the Commonwealth in December 1939.

The words of the poem would have provided comfort to many in the early days of the Second World War. As you stand at the gate of 2017, I hope that, whatever your faith, you will find strength and courage to embrace everything that the new year has in store.

I wish you all a very Happy New Year.