...of the festive period, that is, not life!As Christmas is only a few days away and the New Year just a week after that, we are all busy, hectic (though hopefully not too stressed), and in need of a rest – well, I know I am!So, let me take this opportunity to say:
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Have a fab time and I’ll see you in 2012, when I hope to get my writing act together...
At Christmastime, I’m often known as Scrooge, not Deb. Yes, really - Scrooge with a capital S. Santa, tinsel and carols do nothing for me, I’m afraid (okay, so turkey, roaring fire and a chocolate or ten go down well – but I can have them in any calendar month, so what’s so special about December, I ask you!). Ahh...admitting and putting it out there does feel better! Therapy needed, anyone?!
A large part of this Scrooge-ness results from having worked in retail for so many years: Christmas is a 3-day luxury for everyone else, but a 4-month nightmare for us retailers.Try feeling festive when you’re listening to (badly sung!) Christmas tunes in sunny, sultry September; being yelled at about sales targets and improving profits with no genuine focus from those-on-high for helping people find that special, bespoke present; or working till 8pm on Christmas Eve setting the sale up, then being back in at 8am on Boxing Day to welcome the customers, who’re all those other people who’ve had a decent holiday but don’t want to do anything other than shop (meaning we have to work, to be there to serve them, you see)...You get my Scrooge-sense loud and clear, I’m sure.
But this year, I am reformed.Yes, really*.And the beginning of this reform is down to a fab book I read while on my holiday in Paris.It’s called Miracle on Regent Street, and is a fabulous fun book by former Glamour magazine features editor Ali Harris.
A few days before flying away, I’d been browsing in Tesco (not that I want to add to their world domination by further advertising them, but I can’t help where I shop out of convenience... Bad, bad, lazy me, I know!) for a book to take to Paris; you know, a travel book.Bet you do it too – choose a light, easily but well written story that will put a smile on your face, and which also, somehow, just ‘fits’ your destination.And at £2.99** I couldn’t resist – and now I’ve enjoyed the book, I’d gladly pay the jacket price of £6.99 if I was to buy it again (for a Christmas present, maybe – but who could the lucky person be?!) The blurb on the back captures the story quicker and better than I could, so here it is:
For the past two years, Evie Taylor has lived an invisible existence in London, a city she hoped would bring sparkle to her life.But all that is about to change.For winter had brought a flurry of snow and unexpected possibilities.
Hidden away in the basement of Hardy’s – once London’s most elegant department store – Evie manages the stockroom of a shop whose glory days have long since passed.When Evie overhears that Hardy’s is at risk of being sold, she secretly hatches a plan.If she can reverse the store’s fortunes by December 26th – three weeks away – and transform it into a magical destination once again, she might just be able to save it.But she’s going to need every ounce of talent and determination she has.In fact, she’s going to need a miracle.
So, a Christmassy-warm story set stubbornly at Christmas and IN a shop (of all places!)...and I LOVED it!Scrooge no longer, I scored it a 9 and ½ out of 10 in my Reading Journal (and only a select few make a 10, don’cha know!).
Miracle on Regent Street really is ‘an utterly magical novel full of heart, soul and bags of seasonal spirit’, as the blurb says, making me feel all warm and cosy, just like you should feel at Christmas (although I often don’t).I found it to be a heart-warming, hopeful and happy story... with stylish sass and a bite of surprise too!It is well-written with excellent characterisation, fabulous descriptions of the vintage clothes and products that feature in Evie’s masterplan, as well as exploring what really makes a good friendship.
Be your own Father Christmas (and where did the name ‘Santa’ come from anyway?Grr...Oh dear, I feel a bit funny all of a sudden...Dr Deb and Mr Scrooge, anyone?!) and buy yourself A Miracle on Regent Street as a gift RIGHT NOW!And when you finish reading it, perhaps you’ll be impatiently waiting for Ali Harris’ next book just like me, or maybe you’ll even be joining me down at Hardy’s in the New Year to see if we can get a job there too...
*Okay, so only a little bit.But it’s enough!Our store not being open on Boxing Day (whoop, whoop!) helps, as does having three days off together (almost unheard of in retail schedules!) starting today, as well as my general relaxed attitude this year (“Christmas?What’s that?Never mind, I’ll just sleep instead,”) explains all you need to know!Perhaps my true nature is some kind of hibernating bear...
**Hold your horses now and don’t cause a stampede down to Tesco – even if it’s still on their book shelves, you can bet it won’t be such a price-steal anymore!Sorry for rubbing it in...
Well, my trip to Paris is fini, at least (6 weeks ago, if we're counting - how time does fly!), and my blogging directly about it ends here - but Paris herself remains as inviting and inspiring as she always has been, awaiting her next visitors.
So, now that I've had the Paris experience and I am naturally creative, how exactly do Paris and Creativity meet?Not as obviously as I’d hoped, actually; not yet, anyway. While away, I had hoped to be writing scenes and sketches for Novel Number Two; listening to conversations and sneakily jotting down the interesting bits; and picking places for my characters to live and work in.This was a bit ambitious, to be honest; rather over-reaching for where I am in the prep work of Novel Number Two.
Now back home (for quite a while!), I have yet to get to know my characters properly, to pin down the schematics of plotlines, and to work out the answers to fundamental questions – and so Paris couldn’t find its place of direct influence amongst all this unknown-ness swirling around.Still, it was a wonderful place and a great trip, and I have many photos and memories which will conjure up Paris herself when I am ready to knuckle down to these things (particularly as at the moment, a rather pesky time called 'Christmas' is getting in the way...).
Paris has met with Creativity in terms of this blog though; for I wouldn’t have recorded my observations and experiences in the same way if I wasn’t writing it.Whenever I visit a new place (and this can be at home in England as well as away abroad), I always take a notebook and write down whatever springs to mind, whether it’s straight description, things to look up at a later stage, or creative lil’ bits (as I like to call the myriad jottings!).I did this in Paris, of course, and it has framed the basis of these posts, but it wasn’t written in the same way.Writing is communication, and in my notebooks my audience is myself; I can get away with unfinished sentences and random words, strange doodles and personal shorthand, because I know what it all means.Yet this blog’s readership is not myself, it is you.And that has forced me to write, to illustrate, flavour and explain, and not simply Deb-note the things that struck me.So thank you – because the last couple of months have been rather hard on me, and I’ve found being creatively inspired difficult, not to mention writing fresh stuff impossible!
To sum up, then, Paris = a chic, bustling and stunning city, with a certain je ne sais quoi that you’ll only know if you experience it yourself.So go and book those tickets!Will I go back?Yes, I’d love to.We only had just over four days and that isn’t enough to see everything – there’s still Sacre-Coeur; the interior of the Notre Dame and the Opera House; the Pantheon; Montmartre; Versailles...oh, there’s room in your suitcase for me, did I hear you say?How kind, dahling – when are we going?!
This post is like a literary pic n mix – a little bit of everything, in notes, thoughts and pictures.So, open your paper bag and get ready to pick a snippet to mix with a snap!
Views from the Batobus river boat cruising along the River Seine:
Parisian Styles and Trends Noticed (admittedly exclusively female – oops!):
·Pashminas or poncho-style tops; lots of draping of luxurious fabrics over one shoulder, dahling.
·Ankle boots with thick, opaque or flesh-coloured tights and above knee-length skirts.
·Mostly boots with small, short heels: ankle, calf-and knee- length; with very few stilettos spotted!
·Waist-length jackets or longer, cinched in at the waist to create exquisite shape; a shape defined, honoured.Worshipped.
·Long woolly scarves wound and knotted at the neck, often in striking accent colours complementing the whole ensemble (particularly remembered: a mustard yellow scarf over a black crew-necked sweater and black jeans).
·Outfits in tones and hues of colours; not particularly bright, but rich, jewel colours, warm against the skin.Complementary-colour dressing is spot on!
Notre Dame and my attempts at artsy photography (which aren’t so bad, if I do say so myself!):
Doorways, of which I have an odd interest in (please don’t ask for the logic or reason in this; it’s just that beautiful architecture talks to me, and doors are often the thing that catches my eye and my imagination first...Who could live behind them?What happens when they’re shut, or open, and why?How would I feel if this was my front door?) :
Shakespeare and Company...
...a bookshop that I longed to go in after it was featured in a book I read this summer, 'The Shoe Queen' by Anna Davis.Much smaller than I anticipated, the bookshop is in fact like a collection of bookshelves all jammed together and leant against one another.It has a ye olde worlde look and atmosphere to it, as the name suggests, and is “rammed to the rafters with books,” as Zoe said.Stocking English language tomes of all genres, there are several reading areas upstairs, each one with a different theme.Though we weren’t allowed to take photos in case we disturbed anyone reading, I couldn’t resist recording the little writer’s cubby hole and wishing it was mine...
It reminded me of reading about Roald Dahl’s writing hut at the bottom of his garden (in the fab biography Storyteller: The Life of Roald Dahl by Donald Sturrock), and I wondered at what other visiting authors may have scribbled on scraps of paper or even typed in indelible ink.And so the cubby hole begged me to be creative and come inside – except I’m a bit too wide and rounded than the usual Parisian writer, if the snug fit was anything to go by...Still, it was quirky, fun and enticing and worth a disobeying pic!
And finally...a (red) reflection on my time in Paris:
"The spirit of adventure is what makes happy lives."
Heavens, traffic in Paris is scary!I forgot to get my Fearless Licence before I went...but thank God, for I wouldn’t trust myself driving out there!(There are many tales about my poor and misguided reversing attempts, but I shan’t go into them here...)I found it hard, firstly, to register that they drive on the other side of the road to that which I’m used to; secondly, that they sit on the other side of the car to where I expect to see them; and thirdly that they seem to be un-acquainted with the brake pedal until the very last minute...
The roads are one-way but most have two lanes, sometimes with a third for taxis and buses, and they seem to converge in circular ‘hubs’ which aren’t roundabouts but are some kind of junction.Suffice to say, navigationally-challenged me found it difficult to gauge the direction from which the cars, scooters and motorbikes were coming from.
They made themselves known, though, with honking horns and speedy steering into spaces sheer enough not to exist (we witnessed an almost-crash on our last day; how there weren’t more accidents I’ll never know)...quite often alongside a pedestrian (namely Zoe and I), about to cross the road.This was a nerve-wracking activity in itself: whilst there are plenty of zebra crossings, they seem to act more as a grouping-pedestrians-together scheme than bestowing right-of-way to walkers.Indeed, even when the green man is lit up, you won’t be the only one to cross – cars and scooters will join (or overtake) you, encroaching on the space and priority that you expect to be yours.
Clearly, I am a country lass and not a city chick – and this I acknowledge, admit and own.My personal need for fresh air, open spaces and greenery does not stop me wanting to visit towns and cities, and it doesn’t hold me back: it is a preference, a life-choice.While I know I will never come to be ‘one’ with bustling, busy and buzzing cities, I do enjoy visiting them...even if I would never dream of driving whilst there!(And if you’ve seen my reversing, or, worse, experienced my driving, you’ll know that’s the safest option for those cities too...)
Art-loving atmosphere.Authoritative architecture.Endless art.And all this from a former railway station!Zoe and I visited the Musee d’Orsay on the Tuesday of our trip – and, making up for our prior disappointment, everything we found the Louvre not to be, the Musee d’Orsay was.
A fantastic and hugely reasonable price of 8 Euros (temporary exhibits, combined tickets and guided tours were extra, of course) saw us into the stunning, high-ceilinged gallery.For me, visiting the Musee d’Orsay was all about seeing Monet – so Zoe and I headed straight up to the fifth floor, where their Impressionism collection is housed.
Impressionism* is the Art movement that first grabbed me years ago; pulled me into loving art and the emotions, interpretations and opinions that it evokes – and often provokes.I’m not well-schooled in Art, unfortunately (I’d love to go back to uni to do Art History...but that would come after I do the MA in Creative Writing – neither of which I can afford at the moment!), but I do know what I like; what moves me, what pins me to the spot and makes me think about its story, its origination and evolution.Landscapes and seascapes are my weak point, and though I’m not keen on portraiture (why always so sombre and dark a palette, why such cheerless expressions?), I don’t mind figures in a picture; tableaux and gatherings which speak of stories, hint at intrigue to be discovered and unpicked.
And there perhaps is the heart of me: Art is like so much else in my life – a story.The chosen artist’s subject, palette and brushstrokes are like vocabulary, syntax and imagery for me; a language that I can recognise and interpret, if not duplicate.There is voice, tone and imagination in a picture; it can be read, heard.Known.That sense, that ability and effect, is the compulsion which drives my writing and reading – for I want to create, to share, that in my own work; and I am exhilarated when I find it in another’s.
Of course, in Art, as in life, there are always different horses for different courses – what one person adores, another cannot fathom.I don’t expect that you will see the same as I do when looking at the paintings which inspire me, but I hope you find something in them.Monet is my all-time favourite, but I also like (and discovered some of these courtesy of the Musee d’Orsay, so thank you!): selected work from Renoir, Gustave Courbet, Alfred Sisley, Gustave Caillebotte, selected Degas, and Pissaro.Interestingly, Zoe was drawn immediately to the ornate frames in which the paintings sat proudly, commenting on which ones she felt suited or not, and whether they used mounts or not.Perhaps this is the eye of the artist’s daughter:to see how the painting is finished, framed, and put together; influenced, presented.Offered.
Understandably, we weren’t allowed to take photos of the paintings, so I share some of my favourites taken from Google Images below:
Houses of Parliament, the Sun Shining through the Fog - Monet
Villas at Bordighera - Monet
Blue Water Lillies - Monet
The Cliffs of Etretat After the Storm - Courbet
The Reader - Renoir
Sidestepping from the fantastic art on show – all floors and exhibits are worth seeing, and I even spotted the writing desk of my dreams which, one day far away when I get published, I will commission a carpenter to make for me! – ...
...the actual building of the Musee d’Orsay is stunning too.Once a railway station, now converted into an art museum, it is an inviting and striking place – it was great to take a moment, sit on a bench and just take in the arched ceiling with its repeating pattern of decorated squares, almost like delectable chocolates wrapped in gold gilt paper.
I managed to sneak a couple of photos (as did everyone else!) looking out from behind the gothic clock faces, and later the facade from the outside:
So if you should find yourself in Paris, ambling along the River Seine and you spot the calling-card architecture of the Musee d’Orsay, pop in and while away a few hours – you won’t be disappointed.**
*For those not in the art-know, I’m talking an impression of a scene, rather than an exact replica of the scene itself; made up of warm and complementary colours, swirling, blurring brushstrokes and attention given to the way light strikes a subject.
**If you (somehow?!) are disappointed, please note the following disclaimer: Deb’s Pen Pot does not offer an exchange or refund on any trip taken; does not accept blame for suggesting excursions; and does not offer improve-your-art-taste courses - though she might cheekily recommend you take one!
Two weeks ago today, Zoe and I were relaxing with a hot chocolate back in our hotel room after a busy afternoon wandering around the wonderful Jardin des Tuilieries, which stretch alongside the River Seine with the Louvre at one end and the Place de la Concorde at the other.Here are a few shots of some things that caught my eye in the gardens, followed by some other snaps of general Parisian inspiration!
The following bronze sculptures by Germaine Richier fascinated me. They're chessboard pieces, and I wonder if they are a little like gremlins (or even gargoyles), who might come alive at night and play wonderfully devilish games of chess and other impish enigmas...
Not far from our hotel was the train station, and just alongside it was this interesting Tower of Time:
Further on was the Opera House – and this is a truly stunning piece of architecture.After ooh-ing and ahh-ing over the roof sculptures and wondering quite how they keep the gold paint/patina/colour (whatever it is!) so bright, one of the first things I noticed was...
...a lady sitting on the steps outside the front of the Opera house, reading to her daughter (presumably). I loved this moment of reading, being that books are so important to me; a story inside a storybook, it piqued my curiosity and asked questions of me...but as I was sightseeing, my camera, not my notebook, was in my hand so I snapped the plot-note instead of jotting it down.
Still snapping away, I caught the spectacular upper facade and suddenly discovered a new daydream: one day, my Future Mr Fabulous Hunk, uHHHHHkkk Hunk, Hall dressed up and decked out (listen up, whoever you are!), will take me to see the opera at the Paris Opera House, and I will LOVE it!
One of my favourite finds in Paris was Cafe Illy, at 13 rue Auber just along from the Opera House.An Italian brand of coffee whose cafe popped up just when we were in need of a sup-and-sit-down, we were drawn in by Illy’s innovative chrome chandelier of cups, and kept there by the thick, rich and delicious hot chocolate they served.Yum, yum!
Speaking of which, I feel it’s time to put the kettle on...so I’ll be back tomorrow to tell you about the Musee d’Orsay and my love for Monet. Now, where's the marshmallows?
The Louvre.Regally imposing.Utterly huge.Ridiculously busy, because it was the first Sunday of the month when entry is free.Naively entered by me, because I didn’t anticipate (even though I’d been warned!) the mammoth size or how claustrophobically crowded it was going to be.
Once inside the glass pyramid, an escalator takes you downstairs to the modern lobby, crisscrossed by other escalators rising and descending as they lead into the different wings.A cafe, shop, ticket stall for the temporary exhibitions, and cloakroom share space along one side, while groups of people mill about between; some in groups waiting for guided tours, others striding out determinedly for the exhibit they aim to see, and most like Zoe and I, overwhelmed and unsure.So, after a peek or two at the map and a mistaken journey on the wrong escalator, we headed for the Louvre’s most famous resident – The Mona Lisa.
Now, I should ’fess up my bias straight away: I not one for portraits; I’m a landscape girl.William Turner, Frederic Edwin Church, contemporary artist Lawrence Coulson, Edward Hopper, Monet*...These are the painters who set my senses afire, not the inevitably dark palettes of portraiture.But hey, as the saying goes, when in Rome...
So, there we are, Zoe and I, expecting to see the Mona Lisa in all her glory.We knew it was going to be packed; we knew we wouldn’t have long to look at her.From what I’d heard beforehand, I had it in my mind that she’d be in a kind of alcove, and I figured security guards would be there allowing maybe six to ten people to file past, taking her in for perhaps a minute or two at a time.Well, I was right about the security guards.But what Zoe and I didn’t expect was...
The scrum.The scrum to see – well, photograph would be a more accurate description – the Mona Lisa had more pushing, shoving, knees and elbows than a typical rugby match.The Mona Lisa is encased in glass with a cordon of about four feet in front of her, behind which the rabble jostle for position, cameras and phones and Ipads held aloft, flashing, clicking and snapping.But not for a moment of appreciation and introspection in front of arguably the most famous painting of all time...No, just for a photo of it.
Now, call me a Scrooge, but you can get that on Google Images back at home.Where was the absorption, abandonment and adoration of the painting?Where was the pause in front of the picture, allowing your human senses to take it in, your mind and imagination to find the story in the brushstrokes, the glory inside the frame?Where was the wonderment, joy and experience?
Nope, this scrum was all about the pixels of the painting, not the painting itself.I found it an artificial, soulless display and couldn’t wait to get away, while Zoe found it less so.She’s the daughter of an artist and has dabbled herself, so for her (and perhaps many of that pushy mob that I’m being unfair to) it was about capturing the moment to share with her father, someone who knows what it is to paint.With my artistry residing in my writing skills, I prefer a reciprocal exchange between art and myself; a more personal, introspective and authentic experience.I admit now that I was unrealistic and naive to think I could have such access to such a world-famous and world-desired picture, and I accept that if you went, you’d probably have a different, better time...
...but, for me, the Mona Lisa will always be the Moan Lisa.
*More to come on Monet – we visited the Musee d’Orsay two days later and LOVED it!
Bonjour, hello, hope you’re well and apologies that I’ve not been about since I landed back in Blighty last Wednesday night...I’ve been relaxing, lazing and reading in the post-Paris days of my holiday, but am back to work and real-life tomorrow afternoon!
So, Paris.Wow.Did my friend Zoe and I enjoy our trip?Absolutely (see Zoe’s take on it at her blog: http://craftygasheadzo.blogspot.com/ ).Did I see many sights?Loads.Take a camera-full of photos?Oh yes.Was I inspired?Most definitely.Will I be sharing all this with you?Certainly.And, of course, the biggie – did I write?Er...no, not as much as I’d hoped.
I discovered that, while I took notes and thought a lot about the places we went and the things we saw, that I wasn’t able to write Novel Number Two scenes and sketches because I’ve not yet done a lot of character backgrounds.It’s hard to envisage your character in a particular cafe and decide what blend of coffee they’d sip/conversation they’d have when you don’t actually know them yet...It’s also difficult to spy which kind of French hunk they’re likely to be attracted to, choose which building they’ll live in, or figure out how long they’ll be staying in Paris after all.I’d planned to work on my character backgrounds before going away, but life happens and it gets in the way sometimes – so instead I printed off what information I had, put it in a file and popped it in my case...and didn’t look at it again!Oops.But Paris itself was so inviting and involving, and then so tiring by the evenings that a cup of hot chocolate and a good gossip was all we had energy for.
And so, while I still aim to begin proper writing work on Novel Number Two by the New Year, I know now that I need to spend the next couple of months really working on my characters and the interactions, reactions and obstacles they’re going to have.My poetry sequence may have to go on the backburner or I may be able to juggle a bit of both (jury’s still out on that one!), but I’ve been inspired enough by Paris and relaxed enough since I’ve got back to start socialising with the people who will drive my story...and once I’ve got to know them a bit better, I’ll be a good host and introduce you to a couple, promise!
But in the meantime, look out this week for Paris Posts – snippets and snatches from my five days in the chic capital.
Just tomorrow to go, then I will be in Paris!Saturday will be the first of five days soaking up the atmosphere, seeing the sights, and sitting in the cafes people-watching.After each day full of culture, I’ll be writing in the evenings back at the hotel...and though this will be all to do with Novel Number Two, it probably won’t be narrative (though you never know!).It’ll be a mix of observations and place descriptions, notes, character sketches, snatches of dialogue, the odd scene here and there, and any other inspiration that comes my way!All this will flavour and texture Novel Number Two, as well as motivate, enthuse and invigorate me.
Forgive me, but I don’t want to say too much about Novel Number Two's title, plot and theme just yet, because I don’t want to jinx myself before beginning the actual narrative writing of it!It’s my goal, though, to start the proper writing (i.e. the stuff that comes after the planning, note-taking and research) before New Year – so I’ll fill you in as I go!
You’ll be having a holiday from me while I’m away, as I’m not taking my laptop.Now, I do know that the internet exists in other countries and that I can access it via wireless technology (see, I’m a technophobe no longer!), but I have the kind of clumsy bad luck that stabs me in the back.If I take the laptop, Bad Luck will ensure that it somehow is deprogrammed by cabin pressure, crushed by a monolith of a suitcase, stolen in a case of cash-in-the-briefcase mistaken identity (imagine how gutted the thieves would be!), or dropped down a skyscraper staircase as I juggle the key to the hotel room...You get the picture.
So, I’m playing it safe and going vintage for the week – notebook, journal and pens only!When I get back, I promise I’ll post all things Paris...
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking about the next poem in my sequence, based upon my stories and their reception at school.I’ve read back through my schoolbooks and stories, taken notes and jotted down my teacher’s comments – and relived the frisson of creation caught up in these tales.I remember different moments about each one, but they all bring back an early sense of Me as a Writer.My plan is to incorporate something about each story/teacher comment/my response into the next poem...and along the way I unearthed Rebecca’s Matchstick Men – an example which could form an entire poem itself.
In Year Eight English, we had to write and create a book for a primary school child – a school trip brought us face to face with our assigned pupil, and we had to find out enough information to write a story just for them.Inspiration struck and I took that literally – I made the real Rebecca a named character, and went on to make the kind of book that I (and perhaps not the real Rebecca, after all) would’ve liked to be given.Rebecca’s Matchstick Men was, as my teacher wrote, a labour of love – but it was also a slap in the face too.Twice.
Relive it with me: there I am, 12 years old and not very good at drawing, having to actually MAKE a book to give to someone else.That you’re only as strong as your weakest link was a lesson long learned for me, so I turned my problem into the solution.Story-wise, I was sorted: I already knew that I was writing about Rebecca spying on one of her drawings coming to life and the adventure it would have...but to make it easier on myself, I decided to use matchstick men and a cartoon-ish cat, whose doodle I’d been perfecting for years, as characters.Simples!
So out came the posh plain paper, crisply folded, nestled inside clean white cardboard covers (no Blue Peter cereal boxes for me – this was a BOOK, don’cha know!).The ruler was wielded, faint pencil lines keeping my (slowly and neatly) handwritten text straight.Homework was never more conscientiously or lovingly done than this – I spent ages drawing each page, rubbing out and starting over again when the desk or the easel or the wastepaper basket the matchstick men fell into didn’t look quite right.I used bubble writing for the title on the cover (why were we so obsessed with bubble writing at school?!), and even wrote a blurb and a dedication.
Now, I don’t remember handing it in late but somehow I missed the boat anyway – my teacher fell over himself to tell me how good my book was...but he’d already given a story written by another student to his publisher friend.
I could’ve been, but wasn’t, published.Ouch.
Being published was all I had ever wanted (and still is), and no matter how good my book was, someone else achieved that validation instead.I don’t remember who this student was, whether they liked writing and longed to be published as much as me – so if I sound like a bad loser (which I probably am!), please accept my apologies, particularly if someone out there knows who this student was!
Now, mature and reasonable Adult Me knows that: a) the other book could have been just as good, or probably better than mine; b) it could all have just been a matter of timing (premature marking, Mr Teacher?!); c) that the ‘publisher’ may not have been one of credibility or envy (or might just have been!); and d) that not being published then didn’t mean that my writing wasn’t good enough – or that I will never, ever get published.
But the slap still smarts.
My cheek is warming up, so let’s have the second s-l-a-p:
The real Rebecca didn’t like it.Or at least, that was my perception.Interpretation, probably.And most likely an unfair one.I remember her being rather indifferent when I gave it to her, almost blasé and unimpressed – but then she did ask why didn’t her book have flaps in it like someone else’s (I don’t rip off Spot the dog), so it may just have not been to her taste.But to me, already tender and prickly, it was as if she didn’t appreciate my effort or love my story – and that feeling undermined my sense of self, which is a shame.And sad.Let’s be adult-fair, the real Rebecca may have thought it was ok but that it didn’t quite match her own (perhaps unbridled) expectations; and she may even have grown to like the story – it’d be lovely to think that she came to love and cherish it, but who knows?This the eternal dichotomy of the writer and the reader – and it was my first taste, so who can blame me if it stung?
I am painting an unfair picture of the reception of Rebecca’s Matchstick Men – my teacher loved it, raved about it in his comments and awarded me an Effort Award, upon which the headmaster added ‘Thank you for this outstanding piece of work.’My dad was well proud of me too (though he always is, bless him) – and the older and wiser Me is gutted that I didn’t feel success, achievement and satisfaction...
...so I’d like to recreate the book.Just for myself, you understand – I don’t think it’d be a story that would sell (kids today can probably plug their brains into an app that draws for them, rather than paint at the kitchen table), and I’ve not read enough picture books/books for younger readers to know if it would even fit in the market.But Rebecca’s Matchstick Men is a watershed for me, a moment of triumph in my early writerly ambitions tempered by disappointment of a critical readership – and I’d like my own copy.Of course, it needs some work (12 year old Me had dealt with the set-up and exposition excellently, but woefully underplayed the points of tension and resolution), and I’ll have to refine my matchstick-sketching skills...but it’s worth it, just for my own bookshelf.
So, pass me the pencil, please. Now, matchstick men I can handle, but how did that cat-doodle go...?!
I’ve been absent from blog-world* because my dog died a week ago today :0(And I don’t do emoticons in formal work, so you know I’m truly sad and lost.Her name was Kye and she was a collie cross with a lurcher-cross-Alsatian – which makes her sound like a bit like a chimera, but she wasn't - she was lush: collie-sized and collie-eared, with a soft but wavy coat like a lurcher, and the muzzle and bark of an Alsatian.She was 12 years old and had suffered a series of strokes in the last 6 months – and the final one was at 6 a.m. last Sunday.
Anyone who has a pet knows how they fill your home with their presence and personality – and anyone who has lost a pet knows how empty and less home is without them.I shan’t bang on about how upset my dad, his girlfriend and I are (because it's self-explanatory to any animal lover) – instead I’d like to celebrate Kye with a tribute.
Kye – the softest woofer in the west
You were russet red like a fox when we first saw you, nosing against the fence at the RSPCA, begging to come home with us.Little did we know your coat would darken so much as the years passed – or that you’d still be begging us to come home, yapping like crazy each time we went out!But without you, Kye, I’d still be terrorised by the sight of a dog [and yes, it really was that bad] – your loving, placid and docile ways melted any hesitation I had, burning away any remaining fear like the sun over morning mist.Your amber eyes longed for constant attention, and you were never happier than when being smoothed or fussed or talked to...except in your younger days, when your ball or bone was a constant playmate, and you’d get so excited that a volcanic tremor would pass through your body as you shook yourself, excitement like lava uncontained.
We nicknamed you Miss Barker, for you were rather vocal...but then, so am I, so we were a right family pack! And just like Dad, you were fair-weather: hated the rain (though when wet, your fur would go all cute and crinkly, as if I’d crimped it - lush!), and didn’t like going out in the cold and dark. We all love a good treat, and your favourite was a bit of yoghurt, the creamier the better; like a canine Winnie-the-Poo, you'd snuffle your snout right down the the bottom of the pot, licking it clean. You always made us laugh when you did this; and we'd marvel at how, when eating normal, boring dog-food, you'd sniff each biscuit out from the other and eat them one by one, as if saving the best till last.
Our cats loved you too – Cleo would curl up in the chair with you, no matter how much room there wasn’t; and Gizmo would hunch up, all big black eyes and mischief, waiting to pounce on you as you came trotting in from the back garden.You and Giz missed Cleo when she passed, and now Giz misses you too.We all do.
I thank you, Kye, for your love, devotion and quirks – there will never be another dog like you.Enjoy playing with Cleo up there in the big blue endless sky – I’ll see you there someday. Love you always.
*Hopefully, normal blog-service will resume shortly – as you can understand, I’ve lost my way with writing recently, what with the laryngitis-debacle and now losing my dog; but it’s 3 weeks till my Paris trip and thus the research-beginning of Novel Number Two...so I must get myself together!
With most things at the moment, to be fair.But I finally have a voice...and it’s hung around for a few days, so things are back to normal in Deb-world – yea!
So, me being behind.I’ve always been a late starter (was born 2 days late as I was busy having a lie-in...which I still love doing!) and I don’t mind this – but I know I’m really behind in the loving-the-vampire stakes (no pun intended – honest).No, I’m not talking Twilight – I got about three-quarters into the book but I found the writing facile and the story predictable, and watching the films...well, let’s just say that, for me, Robert Pattinson looks too drippy to be dishy, let alone believable (cue reader’s argumentative screams!).No, I’m talking...The Vampire Diaries.
I know it’s about to come back for its third series and therefore I’m late in the game to jump on the bandwagon (is that enough clichés for the teenage genre, do you think?!), but I’m halfway through the first series on DVD (courtesy of Sarah – thank you, and remember to ask Mother for the second season, won’t you – mwah!) and LOVING IT.
Of course the boys are hot and the girls are sassy, everyone looks amazing in what they’re wearing, and no teenager gets ID’d in a bar...but it’s the quality of the writing that’s got me.Intrigue galore with plenty of hooks, even more twists making you question quite what is the truth, and strong, flawed yet likeable characters (plus the girls kick butt, and I’m a feisty chick of the Buffy, The Vampire Slayer generation, don’t cha know!)By coincidence, I’ve also started watching the almost-as-good The Secret Circle, which is about teenage witches...and is also based on books written by L J Smith, the same author who wrote The Vampire Diaries novels.Maybe I should read them... But what if it distorts or disappoints my enjoyment of the TV series?Hmm...
Talking of books disappointing the films...Who hasn’t seen Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula and (even if they didn’t like it) been impressed – and maybe a little scared – by the lavish Gothic Horror of it...and then read Bram Stoker’s book and been let down???Or was that just me?I shan’t spoil it for those who haven’t yet read it or slate it for those who love it, especially as I can hear a vampire’s seductive whisper luring me back to the TV...Besides, I have to thank Bram Stoker, for without him there would be no Dracula and therefore no TV vampires as we know and love them...!
...by that cruel enemy, Laryngitis. It tricked me, returning my voice on Sunday, only to tear it away again with sharp, biting blades after two hours and twenty minutes at work on Monday, amongst dry air-conditioning and unavoidable communication with customers and colleagues.
My reclaimed voice is gone.
My doctor has exiled me to Silence, signing me off work for a week to rest my voice - at this rate, I'll be hibernating for winter! So, ill, frustrated, bored and a little lonely, I am determined to channel the not-speaking-Me into the writing-Me, and develop a Voice that will be heard when it is read, if not yet spoken.
In this week off, I aim to write. This evening, I am going to spend a (timed) hour writing the short story I've been faf-tivating* with since March this year.
* Faf-tivating = a combination of faffing and titivating with a piece of writing, where ideas, thoughts and brief notes are made, altered and re-conceived...but no actual writing happens. An affliction which ails all writers from time to time, faf-tivating can only be cured by GETTING ON WITH IT.
So, an hour into my short story will hopefully result in me not wanting to stop writing it, and will lead into the next hour and the next...you get the picture - so keep your fingers crossed!
A result that I have already achieved this week is to have wrangled the Pesky Poem into an acceptable form, with insightful and (thankfully!) favourable comments from Zoe (thanks, as always, hon). It needs just a few tweaks more...and then I'll be onto the next poem in the sequence, which I will begin before my sick-week is over...
So, Voice, you rascal, you may not be able to speak but you will write!
"...the more individual the personality, the more specific the voice." ~ James McCreet,
I have been quarantined in silence this past week, due to suffering severe laryngitis.Which requires silence to recover.Yes, that’s right – me, silent; unable to utter, chatter or giggle.Not nice, not right, not Deb!Doctor’s orders was to rest my voice, take analgesics and drink lots of fluid, and I’ve obeyed these – but felt bored and a little lonely without conversation.Added to which, I’ve generally felt as if I’ve been run over by a chariot of war-horses, my throat a battle of a thousand swords, slicing and gorging each time I swallow.
Creativity has been cowardly during this illness-siege, hiding until it’s safe to come out...
Hopefully, it is now – the danger is past and I have a voice, though it is still scratchy and squeaky in places (making my giggle sound even more like Mutley from the Wacky Races than usual).While I’ve been horrendously ill, I’ve been reading, and managed to be craft-creative with new pictures and sayings for the walls of my writing room, the scriptorium.Printing the quotations out in fancy fonts (saddo, I know, but it’s the digital equivalent of calligraphy and I’ve always wanted swanky handwriting!), I’ve backed them and the pictures onto funky craft paper/card, giving it the Deb-Art-Twist.Big thanks go to Leigh for donating her unwanted craft supplies several weeks ago – and to Zoe, as always, for her creative craftwork inspiring me to have a go too!
Now I have a new-look scriptorium to inspire me, I just need to track down the Muse to get me back to writing-health again...
It’s all over tomorrow – I’ll be back at work after a week’s holiday, during which I achieved nothing but two days spent sorting through the attic (times my previous post’s cupboard-under-the-stairs-rubbish-hoarding-dad moan by infinity – that was just the tip of the iceberg, as the attic was much, much worse....!), and reading the rest of the time.
I’ve always read a lot – so much so that I wonder if I came out of the womb clutching a book (while talking too, I’d imagine!).About three years ago, I started to keep a reading journal and I’m on to notebook number two.My entries are quite long (I know, I have trouble being brief!), at least two pages of A5, sometimes more. I note the date and how long it’s taken me to read the book in question; a score out of 10 (I’m quite harsh with this – in the same way contestants on Strictly Come Dancing yearn to get a 10 from Craig, but without the b****y comments!); a discussion on what grabbed me about the story, characters and the way it was written; and end with a list of themes I can see in the novel.My friend Zoe (she’s a writer too, and a crafter – see her blog at: http://craftygasheadzo.blogspot.com/) also keeps a reading journal but with entries much shorter than mine, though no less able to bring forth the detailed responses she had when we discuss what we’ve been reading (which we do often).
Perhaps you’d like to join us in keeping a journal of the books you’ve been reading, even if it’s just a list of the titles?When you look back at the end of the year and see how much and how widely you’ve read, what you’ve liked/disliked and why, and realise that you’ve not only responded to it but participated in the debates it raises (if only in thought), you feel chuffed, clever and creative – and so you should!
This week, I treated myself to reading ‘The Distant Hours’ by Kate Morton.I discovered her as an author last summer when I read ‘The Forgotten Garden’, which was her second book – and LOVED it.I adore the language with which Morton writes, the room she gives both her plot and narrative to evolve, and I care deeply about her rounded, flawed characters.Once I’d read one of her books, I had to read the next and so I snapped up a copy of ‘The House at Riverton’ (her first novel), and fell for that one too.I’ve got about one fith of ‘The Distant Hours’ left to go...and I hear it whispering to me now, tempting me back into its pages – but before I immerse myself in Morton’s world once more, I’ll share with you some words from my reading journal, and a picture that could be an actual photograph of me (if only I looked like Kate Winslet!):
‘The Forgotten Garden’: Well written, with beautiful and deft language peppering the pages, this story is intricately plotted and richly realised – wonderful!A dense narrative, it never feels rushed or indulgent – it is just what it is meant to be.Eliza’s embedded fairy tales are decent, good stories in their own right, but also form layers of storytelling which extend the whole, woven experience.
‘The House at Riverton’: Fabulous – an absorbing, excellently written story, delving into the past and the multi-layers of the present, particularly in terms of memory.The characterisations are fantastic and I love the way they breathe on the page, even the smallest ones.The themes of secrecy and guilt and redemption are seamlessly drawn into the narrative, and I was stunned and saddened by the eventual conclusion.
I found this fabulous drawing through a Google Image search, included in someone else’s blog – they’d posted it in February 2009, where they’d seen it on The Portrait Society of America’s website (but I couldn’t find it there – it must’ve been removed!).The drawing is untitled by Antonia Franck – and I love it so much, I’ve printed it out, framed it and put it on my bookshelf!
It's been about a month now that I've been writing this blog, and (as I do with my bedroom and writing room) I feel it's time for a bit of an image change - I get easily bored! You'll get used to this as, every now and then, I'll change the background, images and text colours to suit my mood and the atmosphere I want to convey. I do it all the time with my laptop wallpaper - though this is particularly for inspiration when I'm working on a piece. In my job, the Accessories department is mine and I get to play with pretty colours and pleasing patterns when merchandising the new stock - and this design-ness is one of my favourite things to do!
This past week has been a busy blur - I've felt drained and tired; been disappointed and flattened as the writing course I'd enrolled on has been cancelled due to low numbers (though there is a possibility of the tutor running a smaller course sometime in autumn - but we'll have to see what happens); felt no creativity or motivation with regards to my problematic poem; BUT the week ended with a great night out last night - so thanks to my fab friend Jess and all her girls on her hen do, who taught me that karaoke isn't as scary as I'd thought (but it is bad - I CAN'T sing!!). I discovered a new, delicious cocktail ('New Yorker' = Jack Daniels, grenadine, sugar syrup and a dash of lime - mm mmm!), and found that being a pirate is mucho fun...!
This week is my holiday from work, so I'm going to rest, relax and enjoy. As we're supposed to be having the tail-end of hurricane winds tomorrow (we'll see!), I'm going to brew a pot of tea, break open the Hob Nobs and snuggle down with my new book, 'The Distant Hours' by Kate Morton - well cosy! At some point this week, when fiestiness is upon me, I'm going to tackle that pesky poem and wrangle it into a decent piece.
Rubbish.That’s what it was, when I looked at it on Monday.And it still is today.Ouch.I really thought it was going to be better than that...
First Drafts are meant to rubbish, of course, because they’re the result of mind-spillage, the instant, often instinctive, creative flow oozing on out onto the page.Later comes the redefining, redrafting and editing from which, eventually, a honed and good Final Draft appears.But it doesn’t stop it being shocking, embarrassing and gutting when you read it back...and find that it really is rubbish.
In terms of my poetry process this year, I decided to split the first attempt of a poem into First Thoughts and then a separate document called First Draft – so that I can free myself of the flow in the former, and begin to craft in the latter.When writing the First Thoughts of the next poem in my sequence, about a thesaurus using alchemy imagery, my imagination whizzed and zinged around like shooting stars and crashing comets, leading to a First Draft where I thought I had it down; thought the skeleton of the piece was there with most of its muscles and a bit of flesh, and that I’d only have to paper on the rest and sprinkle in some soul to make it breathe.
Oh how wrong I was.The words on the page are flat, repetitive and prose-like.So what was happening to me when I was writing it, because I truly thought it was the opposite...?
Freya North says it better than me in her novel ‘Pillow Talk’ (a good, intelligent and yet light-hearted book, well worth a read).Her protagonist Petra makes her own jewellery and has a gemstone which is waiting; waiting for the right arrangement, the perfect setting that she hasn’t come up with yet – until:
“...all of a sudden she knows what to do with her tanzanite; what it wants to be.She’s just been afforded a dazzling glimpse of how the finished piece might look...She had caught sight of the end result and it’s thrilling.”
That’s what happened to me.I had the sudden flash of Finished, the film-reel spooling on past drafting and hard work, clattering to a stop at the final feeling.A sense of what my thesaurus/alchemy poem wants to be, what it could be.But how to make it that?Toil.And lots of it.I need to redefine my idea so that my angle is original; wield my words better so that they’re imaginative and surprising; and get right to the core of it, cut out all the prose-bits, in order to distil it into poetry.
So it’s hi-ho, hi-ho, off to work Deb goes...!Wish me luck – I’ll keep you posted how it goes.
As my last post was rather epic (!), this one is a little 'un, I promise!
It was my birthday last week, and as a gift one of my best friends got us tickets to see 'Dirty Dancing' the stage show at the Bristol Hippodrome last night - and it was FANTASTIC!
For many women (pretty much all of us, I'd imagine!) and anyone from a certain era of growing up, 'Dirty Dancing' is THE film: good story; great performances; hot moves. We know the script backwards, sing to all the songs and wish we were Baby with a little dancing and a lot of Johnny in ours lives - let's add a quick communal RIP for Patrick Swayze here.
The stage show was all that and more: audience participation with singing, clapping and cheering throughout (plus a standing/dancing ovation at the end!); a few extra songs; and some scenes that never made it into the film but offer fresh and deeper insight into the characterisation. Plus, the bloke playing Johnny was well fit...! (Sorry: it had to be said!). If you get a chance, see this show - it won't replace the film in your affections, but it will allow you to join in and share your love for it with everyone else who loves it too.
I'll leave you with this quote, as it sums up what 'Dirty Dancing' is to many of us, both when we first watched it and now as we reflect on it, and hope that one day I too can create a character or write a story that lives on in the audience's mind:
"The function of the artist is to make people like life better than they have before." ~ Kurt Vonnegut
I had to be quick in yesterday’s blog because I was being pulled away by my poetry, so now that the first notes and lines are down on the page, I thought I’d share with you what I’m writing at the moment.
After a difficult year of not writing but reading lots, an idea sparked in May this year.It came to me to write a sequence of poems about my early inspirations and motivations as a writer.I’ve been storytelling since I was about six and have always known that I am a Writer; that writing is as much a part of my identity as my green eyes or auburn hair.Reaching back into the past to think about what had once inspired me when I was currently stumped and stagnant was a bit odd to start with, but then was a warm, positive and affirming experience.The topics or subjects that I remembered form the basis of my poetry sequence, each one having its own poem (I think there will be eight...but there’s always room for things to change!).
I began by digging out my first (and only) typewriter...and making notes as I rediscovered it after about fourteen years (God, I’m getting old!).I wanted to capture how much hard work, both physically and mentally, writing can be; using the format of an inky, splotchy typewriter font – for this texture and tangibility is part of the typewriter’s appeal to most writers, I’d argue – alongside the imagery and metaphor of a blacksmith.After nine drafts (yes, nine!But this was the first thing I’d written in a year and a half, so let me off!), I felt it was finished – it had earned its title of ‘The Writer’s Toil’.
Next up is a bit of a guilty secret which I’m going to confess to you all – I love the TV show ‘Murder, She Wrote’!Let me explain...Both the programme and the main character have long been an influence on me as a writer (and not by enticing me to commit any crimes or murders, I hasten to add!), and I felt it was time to pay my respects.My mum passed away when I was eleven and I grew up without an adult female role model (I’m an only child with no close family, and my dad was on his own until four years ago) – except for Jessica Fletcher, that is.Each week, into our home came Jessica and the cosy community she is part of, celebrating her not only as a strong, independent woman, but also as a writer.There is much about her character, her personality that is worth discussing, and I do so in ‘Dear Jessica Fletcher’.On the heels of this poem came my more impersonal and impartial take on exactly what I found in the TV show that was inspirational: ‘Murder, We Wrote’ is a shorter, sharper poem which retains my admiration for the original programme.
I’m currently working on Poem Four, which is about the thesaurus and what an invaluable tool this is for a writer.Ever a connoisseur of words (as you already know!), I often sit and read both the dictionary and thesaurus, and have learned to improve my work simply by swapping a redundant word for one that pulls its weight.This is what I hope to convey through the imagery and themes of alchemy and apprenticeship (cue thoughts of scratchy scrolls and bubbling test tubes!) – but we’ll have to see how it goes!I’ll be writing the first draft on Thursday using the first thoughts I wrote yesterday, so I’ll keep you posted.
Poem Five will be about – shock, horror – my misspent youth: a bit of a word-thief, I collected phrases and sentences from books and songs, writing them in a notebook to use later in my own work...eek!This is, of course, plagiarism, the worst crime a writer can commit – but I didn’t know it then.My get-out-of-jail-free card is that I actually never used one word from someone else – I realised that any effect to come out of it would be false, untrue and empty, because it wouldn’t be my work.It wasn’t worth it – becoming better on my own was.Phew, I hear you cry!
Those of you who went to school with me will know that I was always the English-swot in the corner, though I was rubbish at anything that didn’t involve words (Maths, Science and PE – particularly! – come to mind) – and so the word-success I achieved at school will be the focus of Poem Six.School is a rocky experience for most of us, and socially it was for me – but once again I found solace in stories, and that’s what this poem will show.
My love of reading won’t surprise any of you, and this will be the basis of Poem Seven.Titles, favourites, ones not liked; ones I wish I’d written, those I’m glad I didn’t; the world that I – we, if you’re a fellow reader – enter when a book is open – all of these may well find their way into this poem...and if not, well, don’t disturb me, I’m reading!
Lastly, Poem Eight will be about my Identity as a Writer – and I’ve deliberately capitalised these two words.Why?You’ll see when I get to this poem!This one will most likely be quite personal and possibly poignant, particularly as there are times in my life where I’ve fought against being a writer because I’ve tried to grow up, get a proper job and buy a house – and failed!But what I’ve got instead – well, it’s worth more than I can say and I couldn’t live without it.
So there we are, my sequence complete.The actual running order may well be different to how I’ve numbered them above – and I’d welcome any feedback from other writers or crafts-people with experience of how to choose the order of a larger project...so get in touch if this is you!I should also explain that I’m not able to post the actual poems on my blog, because doing so is seen by many writing competitions, anthologies and small presses (though there are always exceptions, of course), as already being published, which makes that piece of work ineligible for entry – and, thinking of future opportunities, I don’t want to rule myself out of the running before I’ve even entered the race!However, if you would like to read any (or all) of the poems above, please leave a comment here or on Facebook and I’ll email them to you privately – which is simply sharing my work with a reader and won’t mean I can’t do anything else with them!