Ch Ch Changes (apologies to Bowie)

Originally I had this saved as a draft for a post about writing groups and what happened last Wednesday made me think about the importance of a good writers’ group. Groups are abundant and range from those that meet in church halls to those that are funded by universities and publishers, but I believe the two fundamental things a group needs is leadership and trust.

Going back several years I joined a writing group, Renegade Writers. We met in a front room of a pub and shared our stories with each other and listened, gave advice and supported each other. This wasn’t (and still isn’t) a happy-clappy group where we slap each other on the back and heap praise on what we hear. There’s been many people come along who couldn’t accept that we, tell it as it is – we give honest appraisals – and they’ve never returned. I advise anyone looking to join a writing group to seek out one giving constructive criticism rather than just a pat on the back for your contribution.

Since the pandemic our Wednesday evening meetings have been conducted via video with each of us logging in to discuss whatever members’ have uploaded in advance. And it’s about our interaction as a group that I’m writing about today. I’m working on a new novel and so there’s all the initial excitement and note-taking that goes with it and the need to let people hear the initial chapters I’ve written.

My first foray elicited feedback from a trusted member about my main character’s name, which I had chosen specifically because of a shot of humour I wanted to inject. I then went away and thought about it and decided that for the sake of one joke it wasn’t worth having a name people might question, so it was changed – in fact four characters had name ch ch changes that week.

Another reading of a chapter brought me feedback from PC (our illustrious leader) about a whole section that although written well said very little and added nothing to the story – chc ch changes.

Last week it was pointed out to me that a female character might react differently to a situation I’d put her in and so that needs to be looked at as does her relationship with her husband. – ch ch changes.

Finally it was pointed out to me that my setting was wrong, that the properties I had created would have to be older as they don’t build them now commercially as they’re not commercially viable in the 2020’s. Ch ch changes again.

So it goes to show that you must be prepared to listen to advice and make any necessary changes as you go along and for this you need a good writers’ group. Thankfully I have an excellent one.

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It was something he said

It’s all about ME!

Misha Herwin

Barry Lillie

A week ago I was stuck on my current work in progress. I knew what the novel was about and I’d worked out a chapter by chapter plan, but actually writing it was like wading through porridge. My dialogue was flat, the links between paragraphs was clunky and the characters had somehow lost their spark. I was in a slough and didn’t know how to get out into the sunlit uplands of a free-flowing narration.

All the usual things had been tried, short sharp bouts, longer writing sessions, going for walks, writing down anything that came into my head. Not even the rubbish this produced could clear the blockage.

Tempted to give up on the whole thing, I couldn’t be bothered to bring my problem to my writing group. I should have known better, because that’s where it all happened.

It was, as I said in the title, something he…

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The Final Word

There’s a real sense of achievement when you’ve written the last sentence, nay, the final word of a novel. It’s a feeling that you think will diminish the more you write. When I wrote my novella, Willow and the Motorway Horses, it was mostly for fun and wasn’t intended for digestion by the public – it’s out there on Amazon still – so I let the completion wash over me.

I had an idea kicking around in my head for a one woman show for many years but hadn’t tackled it in a serious way. Until then I’d just written a few monologues and ideas down. Then needing something to show the writers’ group, I began to write the story proper and 52 or as it’s also called, One More Week was born. I felt euphoric when I actually completed it, it didn’t matter that agents didn’t like the subject matter: Having cancer can never be humourous, or the fact it’s in the first person: Most readers’ prefer books in the third person, they find it hard to relate directly to the protagonist. And my favourite response: This would make a good stage play. However, we don’t handle scripts.

I thought the feeling would fade after that, but no, once I’d finished novel number two the same feeling of accomplishment flooded my consciousness. And now this week as I have finished the final draft of novel three I’m basking in the glow of achievement once again. It does help that I’ve written, (I think) my best novel yet. It’s gone from scribbling it down to two final drafts and it’s now ready to be … I’m not sure yet. To self-publish or send to agents, is a decision I need to mull over for now.

But as I relish the feeling of triumph, I’m looking back at my notes and the planning – I’m a great planner, everything from chapter outlines, timelines and character profiles. A skill passed on to me by Lorraine Mace, writer of the best selling DI Sterling series of books and an excellent creative writing mentor. It’s while I’m looking through my notes that I smile when I look at my word count spreadsheet:

And my list of all the names used in the novel, I keep a list so that I don’t replicate any names. I’m amazed how many names I have used in this book which is essentially about just five friends. Maybe it’s indicative of the many interactions we have in life that go unnoticed.

Finally, the solitary sense of pride felt when the final word is written is all part of the insular world of a writer. It’s at times a lonely job, but there’s always outside influences that have shaped the written work, other input that has encouraged it to grow and in my case it’s been the support of a writers’ group: a hotchpotch of genre writers. A mix of accomplished wordsmiths. I think of our group as a blender sat on the kitchen worktop filled with editors, illustrators and educationalists and publishers all whizzed up to create a smoothie filled with advice, criticism and honesty. And without any of this outside assistance I’d not be in the position I’m in now –

Grinning, with a smile in danger of collapsing in on itself because once again I have written that final word.

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Saying No Should Be Guilt Free

Today in my inbox was an enquiry from an editor asking if I’d be willing to submit an article for a new online publication. At first I rubbed my hands together with glee thinking this could be a new opportunity to have some new work published and a new revenue stream.

The email went on to say that he/she (gender unknown) had read several of the articles I’d written in the past for various publications both online and print. Also the sender talked about my years as a writer for Italy Magazine and how they were looking for some Italian travel and culture related articles. I was pleased that he/she hadn’t just chosen to copy and paste past features. (This has happened before and leads to threats of legal action and unpleasantness.)

Italy Magazine Online Bio.

I read through the email and am thankful that the person writing to me has done some research and knows a little about me, including having knowledge of my other blog https://intheflatfieldidogetbored.wordpress.com/ I looked for the part of the message that mentioned fees and came across a statement that told me that no payments will be made, but I can be content in the knowledge that my work has been published and it could bring me more readers.

This got me thinking about how many emerging writers will write for no payment. Now my opinion is, if it’s for something prestigious that will look good on your CV then yes go for it. But if it’s for an editor who’ll be making money from readers’ clicking on adverts etc then say no. You can always sell your copy to a publication that will pay you for your toil, all it takes is determination and drive.

So as I reply thanking him/her for the message I decline saying no, but if in the future there’s payment for the copy then do contact me again.

Never feel guilty about saying no, just remember that your energy supplier won’t give you free electricity just so you can tell everyone how great they are. And restaurants don’t hand out free meals hoping it’ll gain them more diners. If you work then you deserve to be paid.

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Widows and Workmen

Today I was looking through the drafts that I had put together for this blog and noticed the next one was due to be called, “Finding the Time to Write’. I then looked at the last post I had written and saw that it was in May, three-months ago. Would Alanis sing about it being ‘Ironic?’

This made me think about why I’d neglected to write any posts and I came up with two reasons. Widows being one. I’m currently writing my third novel and it’s been my most pleasurable so far. I’m 78,000 words into draft one and despite it being 6 weeks overdue I do have a good excuse.

Widows’ United, is the story of five women who meet at a widows forum and become firm friends. They form their own club – hence the name – and together they support each other through their first year of losing their husbands. There’s lots of humour within the chapters and some surprises and dark secrets too.

I think I’ve enjoyed writing this story because it has been my first time moving away from a first person narrative; I think when you’ve spent most of your writing career as a monologue producer and playwright and a magazine features writer, you do develop a more insular, singular way of writing regarding the POV.

Photo (C) and courtesy of stitchfinity.com

So why the delay? What’s my excuse?

Workmen.

We’ve had our old roof replaced which has meant weeks of scaffolding up around the house casting shadows inside that made it similar to living in a cave. Creative writing is difficult with workmen clattering around above your head as they fit new slates. We’re also in the process of having all the doors and windows replaced so we’ve got draughty open spaces, more workmen and a barking dog that hates all the disruption. None of which are conducive to allowing your imagination to run riot.

Is it a valid excuse? I’m not sure. I could have sloped off maybe and found myself a table in the corner of a café or maybe a park bench, but as I require a specific set up perhaps that wouldn’t have worked.

So all said, The scaffolding is down, the roof is now complete and I’m thrashing away with just twelve chapters to write before the first draft is finished – then the hard work starts.

Many thanks to Stitchfinity for the permission to use their image above. Run by friends Annie and Alison Stitchfinity create contemporary and original cross stitch designs. Check them out at https://stitchfinity.com/

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Mum’s Chair

I had the privilege of being an arc reader for this new novel and it’s a superb read.

Misha Herwin

Mum at 491

My Reading Chair

When Mum died and we had to empty her flat my brother sister and I had to move out all her stuff. We’d agreed among ourselves which pieces we each would have and I got Mum’s easy chair. It was something I’d always wanted, partly because, being small, it was the perfect size for me. Sitting in it, my feet touch the ground which is not often true of today’s overblown over-sized sofas and chairs. What I also love is its shape. Its button back and upright arms cradle the sitter, so that sitting in it is almost like being held.

And then of course there are the memories it holds. For years it stood in Mum and Dad’s living room, in the house where the three of us grew up. It was where Mum sat when people came round, when first I and the kids visited…

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20th July is the new 6×6!

It’s back. 6×6 at the library. 6 readings of original work by local writers each lasting just 6 minutes. That’s 36 minutes of new and diverse writing and a cuppa and biscuit too – what’s not to like.

6x6 Writers Cafe

We have the green light for a July 6×6!

Covid restrictions will apply so we shall be updating you all on the whys and wherefores close to the date, but meanwhile keep the 20th July free.

So looking forward to seeing you all then!

Writers: if you can have you submissions in by 30th June that would be fabulous!  See the guidelines page of this blog for notes on how to send in your subs.

6x6 flyer july 2021 1_edited-2

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Crossing the Line

Today I received an email from an author – nothing unusual in that you may think, but this was from an author I have never met but have read. In June 2020 I read one of this author’s books and subsequently went on to review it. I gave the book three stars and pointed out why I didn’t think it merited a higher score and also my personal observations.

So why the email?

It was asking me to rethink my review, to redraft it – in essence rewrite it. Why I wondered, and then a look at Amazon showed that my three star review was the first one showing below his book on their page, meaning it was the first one people thinking of buying it had the option of reading. It didn’t seem to matter that below it was two, five star reviews. It was mine the author singled out to respond to.

Ten months seems a long time to react to an unfavourable review. Or is there such a wealth of them that it’s taken so long to get to mine? (I haven’t looked to see how many three or below it’s received as I’m not interested.)

Photo Credit: Deposit Photos

So why this post?

Because I personally think that responding to ask a reviewer to change their opinion is an act of crossing the line. Not to mention unprofessional.

I shall not name the author here, nor, as he requested, contact him to confirm that have complied with his wishes. Maybe this will serve as a lesson that he needs to accept that not everyone will like his work and shower him with five golden stars. storytelling is a subjective thing and all producers of the written word must accept this.

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Where and What #bunchcourtney #writing @mishaherwin @BarryLillie1 @mca_debbie @CorrineLeith @bunchcourtney00 @KTScribbles @nic_writer

I feel your pain but the elation once it’s completed is worth it.

Jan Edwards

britThroughout the writing of my Bunch Courtney Investigations series, set in the imaginary  Sussex village of Wyncombe, I have always had a reasonably clear vision of what and where the various parts of my village are.

This week while writing Book 5 – A Deadly Plot, however,  I found myself rootling through back stories to check on various points mentioned in Book One – Winter Downs. Where, I asked myself,  did I say the village pharmacy was in relation to the village hall? And for the life of me I could not remember.

It was high time I sketched out a rough plan for future reference. Easy, you might think, except that I still had to skim through all of the books in the series to see how I have described various portions of Wyncombe.

Now Wyncombe is fictitious so in theory none of this should not matter, and so…

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Juggling

Misha Herwin

Juggling Picture from Mick Walters design for the cover of “Juggler of Shapes”

Years ago I was featured in an article in “Writing Magazine” which took writers who were looking to be published and analysed the steps they were taking towards their goal. At the time I was writing a play, while simultaneously working on a novel and mulling over the idea for a children’s book. The play was to be performed at the school where I was a drama teacher, the novel would be sent out to a list of agents and in the meantime I would begin the children’s book.

The feedback when it came was not encouraging. Although I was commended for working hard it seemed that if I wanted to make it in the publishing world I needed to concentrate on one thing and one genre at a time. That way I could put the maximum effort…

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