A Cat: The Perfect Writing Companion.

220px-Muriel_Spark_1960A far cry from Kensington

The late great Muriel Spark, had some excellent advice to aspiring writers.  Albeit delivered by one of her characters. By the way, if you haven’t read any Muriel Spark, you should! The advice came from the central character in A Far Cry from Kensington, Agnes Hawkins. 

Agnes works as an editor in a publishing house and has a plentiful supply of advice on a variety of subjects.  Writing being the principle one.  She tells the reader that she passed on “some very good advice, that if you want to concentrate deeply on some problem, and especially some piece of writing or paper-work, you should acquire a cat.  Alone with the cat in the room where you work,…the cat will invariably get up on your desk and settle placidly under the desk lamp.  The light from a lamp, I explained, gives a cat great satisfaction. The cat will settle down and be serene, with a serenity that passes all understanding. And the tranquillity of the cat will gradually come to affect  you, sitting there at your desk, so that all the excitable qualities that impede your concentration compose themselves and give your mind back the self command it has lost.  You need not watch the cat all the time.  Its presence alone is enough.  The effect of a cat on your concentration is remarkable, very mysterious.” mistysleepingMy laptop seemed to have the same effect on my cat, Misty, as the desk lamp that Agnes spoke of.  And, true to Agnes’ word, Misty’s serenity greatly enhanced my concentration.  Very mysterious!

There are many more little nuggets to be uncovered in Muriel Spark’s work. If you haven’t unearthed them already, get reading.


The ideal writing accessory.

A comfy cushion with the map of Europe for reference: the perfect writing accessory.

Re-drafting vortex

The big question for me at this very, very early stage as a would be writer is how many times should I re-draft a piece of work.  I redrafted my assignment for the Writers’ Bureau, 4 times and that assignment consisted of 3 very short (100 words) readers’ letters to various magazines and a 500 word filler.  And even when I pressed the send button, I then re-opened the document to check it one more time.  How do you know when you’ve got a piece just right or could there always be one last re-draft? bartiwill rewritethis sentence I suppose that a good test of when a piece of writing is ready is when you no longer want to change it.  Or, when you change something and the next time you read through, you change it back.  I’m going to go with this.   Especially as for my mini scribbling, four times seemed to suffice.  After that I really couldn’t see anything else that I wanted to change, add or take away.  It must have worked too, because when the assignments came back, the feedback from my tutor was that they were ready to send off to the various publications that I had written them for.happyminion It was a good feeling.  The collective pieces may only have been 800 words, but I had worked on  them really hard and the bigger piece of 500 words was important to me.  Let’s hope the Guardian agree and print it in their Saturday Family section.  Still if not, my tutor has advised me to try a different publication as she liked it.  But… puzzled face How does the three to four re-drafts work with a novel?  I can see it with a  short story or one to two thousand works but when you’re looking at 70,000 words that is a lot of re-drafting.  And, how do  you keep tabs of it all? I have been working on a novel for the last two or three years.  It is in a rough draft stage: very rough draft, I have to say.  In fact it was the limp along nature of my writing this novel that made me decide that I needed to get serious and work on developing as a writer.  Enter the Writing Bureau Creative Writing course stage right. writingworkshop

I’m am around half way through at the moment.  It’s at about 30,000 words and I know that it needs drastic re-drafting.  In fact, if I’m honest, the first part of it needs completely re-writing because as the character and the plot have developed, I’ve change my mind completely about certain key things.  That’s fine.  I’m good with the re-writing as that will be a redraft of a drastic kind.  But what about when it’s finished?

Do I stick to the four re-drafts rule?  Do I do a chapter at a time and work on that until I feel satisfied and then move onto the next chapter, or what?  I guess I won’t know until I try.  One thing that I do know is that I’m going to need some form of novel writing software to help the process along the way.  But that’s for another blog.

For now here is a picture of one of our greatest writers, taking her rightful and hard earned place on our currency.   Thank you Caroline Criado-Perez.cropped-austen10.pngWhat a shame they didn’t use the original version of this drawing, rather than the Victorian, prettified version.  Still there she sits and long may she stay there.

New beginnings – more scribblings

So, the little and often approach to my writing continues. Last weekend I dedicated around 6 hours to the Writers’ Bureau Creative Writing Course and I am really enjoying it.  I wrote three letters for different publications and one filler of 500 words.  It might seem like small fry to more seasoned writers, but we all have to begin somewhere.


Of course, I’m not going to admit how much time I’ve spent re-drafting such simple fayre  but I’m willing to believe that it’s worth it.  I’m planning to continue with the momentum. At the moment I write for about 10 minutes when I get into work.  Just a basic draft for my blog and then I try to write for between 1 -2 hours at night.


That’s the plan.  It never works out quite like that; life in the form of husbands, cats, phone calls, daughter and granddaughter, tend to interrupt.  My daughter doesn’t live with us and she manages to interrupt me on a pretty regular basis.  In fact, I’m sure that she’s got a built in radar that picks up when I’ve settled down to write, sew, read, watch a film.  Of course she has, she’s my daughter.  Your kids can sniff these things out in a moment.  Pour a glass of wine and just wait for the phone to ring asking you for a lift because they’ve missed the bus.

Anyway, I digress.  So: writing.  This blog is a key part of it, it is perfect practice and, eventually it could bring me an audience.  What I don’t understand is why I’ve waited this long.  I’m fifty this year and I’ve been banging on about being a writer since I was a little girl.  Literally! So why haven’t I been writing?  Good question.  The only answer that I can really give is that I’m writing now.


And I am going to continue.  In fact my writing programme is as follows until further notice:


Interview: Mary Miller


mary-millerMary Miller is the author of the short story collection Big World. Her work has been published in Mcsweeney’s Quarterly, American Short Fiction, the Oxford American, and other journals. A former Michener Fellow in Fiction at the University of Texas, she currently serves as the John and Renée Grisham Writer in Residence at the University of Mississippi. The Last Days of California is her first novel.

Curtis Smith: Congratulations on THE LAST DAYS OF CALIFORNIA. I really enjoyed it. In your acknowledgements, you thank your agent for wanting “to represent a woman who said she would always and only be a short story writer.” Can you talk a little about that?

Mary Miller: When my agent asked to represent me, I wasn’t sure why. I was writing short stories exclusively and had given up on the idea of writing a novel. They just seemed impossible. I’d heard about people working…

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Mini scribbling

As part of my quest to earn money from writing, I am trying to write every day.  A little and often rather than a lot rarely is my new approach.  All published writers, when asked, say that sitting down and writing is the only way to improve and to get to a point where your writing is good enough to publish.  So here I am writing.

At the moment, my blog does not have an audience and for that I am quite grateful.  What I am hoping is that I manage to build my on-line audience as my writing improves.  The question is, how do I build that audience?  I think good old Google could be the place to start.

Okay, I’ve linked my blog to my Twitter page and to Google.  Now I’m going back to some serious studying.  I’ve recently re-started the Writers’ Bureau Creative Writing course.  I did actually start it 12 years ago, in 2003.  So a little time has elapsed since then, but never say never.  Here I am again with the updated course.  I’m getting ready to do the second assignment and I am so excited about it.  🙂  I will update as I go.