Creative Flow vs Careful Planning

I’ve recently set up a creative writing workshop for students at the school where I teach. There are about 10 students in total who attend and it’s great. After years of teaching schemes of work and having to stick to the limits that they impose, it is a truly joyful experience to throw away the rules and work however we please. One of the first casualties has been careful planning.

We discussed this as a group. I relayed the advice that I recently read in Stephen King’s ‘On Writing’ about plot and his preference for putting “characters … in some sort of predicament and then watch them try to work themselves free”. We agreed that, for the most part, we preferred this way of writing. Some of us said we liked to just write and then at some point map out key details but none of us said that we sat and planned a story out before we start to write. And then, do you know what we did? We just wrote. For 40 minutes, a long time for a teenager, we sat and wrote, all working on our own stories. It was bliss. 

Next week we’re going to continue the process of writing before we settle down to polishing and redrafting. I find that the more I just sit and write like this, the more I love it. And as a teacher, I find it really liberating; I can’t wait to try it in the classroom.

Writing, writing and more writing 

I’ve written two short stories recently and really enjoyed the experience. This has surprised me as I have always thought of myself as in it for the long haul. Any story ideas that I have all seem to be better suited to a novel rather than a brief 1000 or so words. 

Admittedly, I have not ever really tried writing short stories before. I’ve always been stuck to the idea of writing a novel. I still am, but writing short stories is a great way to practise writing and is ideal when you’re busy and only have time for really short bursts of writing. I’m talking 20 minutes in a day. I’ve just published one to this blog and I’ve just finished the first draft of another one. For a would be writer it’s good discipline just to be writing. 

As for the novel. That’s shaping up in my head and will be started when school finishes. I want to get stuck into it before I start the MA in creative writing in October. But for now, I’ll get on with redrafting Pear and Parsley Jam. 

Joy – a short story.


Joy means many things to many people but to Annie it meant only one thing: freedom. Once it had meant something different. Once it had been about togetherness.

***

Annie looked up from her cappuccino, extra chocolate sprinkles and extra sugar as an extra treat and smiled to herself. Life was pretty good. She was sat at her favourite table looking out at her favourite Piaza, soaking up the late afternoon sun. Soon the coffee would be gone and it would be replaced by a cold glass of Pinot Grigo, the delicate bowl of the glass holding the golden liquid, deepening its colour and its appeal. And she would sit sipping at her wine, waiting for her friend. He would be late as ever, held up by a last minute drama at work, but not too late. He always said nothing could keep him from her for long.

Until he came, she had the view, the musical notes of Italian around her, interspersed with the scraping of chairs and the clink of crockery. Until he came she had the anticipation of his arrival which would bring the luxury of making a decision about where they would eat and the pure joy of his presence.

Until he came! She smiled and sighed and looked down at her hand grasping the coffee cup. It was a pretty hand with smooth shell pink nails that stood out all the more against her golden tan. He said he loved to hold her hand because it was so small and soft. His was big and broad, the thumb nails were square and substantial, each finger had a solid sense of strength. She loved to hold his hand as much for its strength and size as he loved hers for its vulnerability. Joy: two people who fit perfectly.

Until he came, she could wait. she drained her coffee and as she put the cup back in the saucer the clock in the square chimed the hour – 6pm. It was later than she had thought, wine o’clock as she liked to call it, knowing that it made him smile. She caught the waiter’s eye.

He moved to her and smiled, “Signora?”

“Un bicchiere di vino bianco si prego.” She smiled up at him, enjoying his beauty more because it brought to mind the one she waited for more immediately than for its own sake, and settled back to wait for her wine. Should she have ordered a glass for him? He would surely arrive before the waiter came back with her order. As she was deliberating her phone beeped: a text, from him of course. Telling her no doubt that he would be there soon and to order him a drink.

She had half risen to call back the waiter when she caught something off key appear on her screen. He was sorry. He was very sorry, but he wouldn’t be coming. What they had together had been special but it was over. He had a wife and a family (bambini). She must have known it couldn’t last and he hoped she’d understand. It would be “embarrassing for them both if she made a fuss. That was the gist but in fewer words. He managed to be both curt, crass and cruel in a few spare words. She stared at the screen still half standing. She was still staring and half standing when the waiter came back with her wine. He placed it in front of her, a faint frown of concern creased his face and then was smoothed away by a smile. She looked at him and smiled back, woodenly now, as she sat back in her chair and shook her head.

He turned to leave but she called after him and pointed at her glass. “ Una Bottiglia.”

He nodded seeming to understand far more than just her simple request and returned very quickly with a bottle of the wine and a carafe or water.

She drank the one and ignored the other, playing a series of scenarios in her head.  

That night she slept with the beautiful Italian waiter and in the morning, she cried in his arms. Cried in shame and disgust at herself and anger at the man whose arms she should be in.

In the afternoon she bought a kitchen knife from a local hardware store and before the evening had fully taken over the day, the knife was firmly embedded in the chest of the man who had betrayed her. Afterwards, she had gone straight to the cafe on the edge of the Piaza, ordered another bottle of the Pinot Grigo from the waiter and waited for the police to come. 

They came and as she offered no defence the case was relatively straightforward and the trial was short. There was a scandal of course. A local politician with a young wife and family, killed by the family’s au pair, how clichéd it all sounded in the papers. The Italian press loved it as did the English press back at home.

Short though the trial was, she was barely mid-way through it when she realised quite suddenly that she had never loved him.

Joy was not to be found with a man, an untrustworthy man. Joy was freedom and this she no longer had.

Unearthing a Short Surprise.

How often does this happen? Today I was browsing through my files on Dropbox for a part written short story that I can use with my lovely student writing group, The Sidmouth Scribblers, and I found a fully formed short story that I had forgotten I’d written! 

 What a treat! It wasn’t too bad either. That’s not me boasting; that’s me knowing the short story is not my forte. It just needs a little bit of tidying up and I reckon it will be ready to post here. Ready fiction, just remove outer packaging and lightly redraft. In fact, I’m may even send it to my writing magazine’s latest competition. Or am I getting a bit carried away? 😬

Je Reviens – a short story inspired by the female characters in Jane Eyre and Rebecca.

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It was an exciting time to be a female character. She had seen to that.

They were gathered together now because she had arranged it. ‘An Unholy Trinity’ Grace had called them with not a trace of irony. Already they could feel their potential for change growing in the capable hands of the one who had brought them together.

And more were on their way to swell the ranks. She was certain that others could be persuaded to join their cause. Others from novels not as celebrated as theirs: they were her real target. Those whose writers may not have hidden mad women in the attic and who may not have a genius for writing but who were still trapped in a world where men chose, cast aside and conquered. It was the female characters in the male novels that she wanted primarily. That was where she would start. If the initial campaign was a success, then she had said they would broaden their field of operation. Together they would infiltrate the books in which she had made contact with the female characters and subtly and softly they would shift the balance. Re-write the stories and in doing so re-write the stories of those who read them. The plan was terrifying simple and startling in its scope.

The three of them, Grace, Blanche and Bertha, sat facing each other. A silence had settled over them as they sipped their drinks, waited and pondered the wonder of being together. Blanche, young, beautiful and wearing her pride as a shield; Grace, middle-aged, stocky and practical – experience giving her an edge and Bertha gaining in strength and nurturing her hatred as if it was a God given gift that she mustn’t waste. All of them drawn on by a sense of injustice; a sense of outrage at a system that would allow a character like Mr Rochester to have such easy control over them all in one way or another. She had helped direct that sense of outrage and taught them how to focus it where it could have the most impact.

Jane would not be part of the group. That had been understood from the start. As Mrs Rochester, wife and mother, it was impossible. Although Bertha had felt that she may be persuaded. Since the cleansing fire and fall had freed her, Bertha was gradually coming back to herself. She liked to sit next to Grace scribbling in a note book that their hostess had given to her when they had first arrived. She filled page after page and then unceremoniously burnt them in the library fire each evening. The lady of the house in which they found themselves seemed to know how to reach each of them. She understood, even more than Grace, what Bertha needed to continue the process of knitting up that poor unravelled mind. Writing down her thoughts and feelings; expressing her anger and hatred and then destroying the paper on which they were written seemed to expel the tension that knotted up her face and her body so that when she had arrived she had seemed tied up in a knot of herself.

Of the three, Blanche had been the most difficult to persuade. Even though she had recognised in their leader a woman whose breeding and physical attributes more than matched her own. Blanche had been humiliated by Rochester in a way that choked her ability to see clearly.

She had argued like an obstinate child, “Why should I care what happens to other women? My own humiliation is enough to contemplate, thank you.”

The other, the woman who had brought her out of the world of the novel and into the world that she had created for her self, had simply smiled.

“Why don’t we take a walk; I’d like to show you what I’ve done since I came back here after the fire. I’ve made a few improvements that I think someone of your taste would like. You will stay for dinner as well before you go.”

It had been a statement not a question. And Blanche, so starved of lively, intelligent company, let alone the force of wit and charm that her hostess possessed, was happy to oblige. She was lonely since the situation with Rochester had come to nothing. She had enjoyed his intelligence as well as the thought of his money. Now her future stretched out ahead of her bleak and arid as an overcast day waiting for a break in the cloud or even a fall of rain to relieve the suffocating atmosphere.

As they walked, the woman at Blanche’s side made her laugh in a way that she hadn’t experienced since childhood. They walked around the grounds and down to the little beach. By the time they came back to the house, Blanche knew something of the other’s story and, for the first time, felt empathy and concern for someone other than herself. What had happened to her reduced in comparison. She talked of Mr Rochester and there was more laughter at his expense. Her companion was adept at mimicry and she knew Rochester’s speech patterns from the book; his somewhat mocking tones spilled from her hostess’s mouth in a way that took the sting out of the memory of him.

When they sat down to dinner that night, there was no more talk of not taking part; Blanche had a new future opened up for her. The break in the cloud had come and she recognised it and welcomed it.

Grace had been comparatively simple. She had talked to their hostess but also to her right hand woman, a woman whose physical presence made Blanche recoil, but with whom Grace was perfectly at home. They discussed what Grace termed the practical side of things and as soon as Grace was satisfied that the proposal was viable and understood what they all had to gain, and lose, she agreed. It made sense and she was happy with what was required of her.

Bertha had been different. Blanche had never seen her alone; she kept by Grace’s side in a way that Blanche was sure would have driven her mad, but Grace seemed unconcerned. She treated Bertha with a practical detachment that belied the emotion in her eyes when she looked at her. Blanche found their relationship puzzling and avoided thinking too deeply into the nature of things between them.

At first she had just scribbled and scribbled and page after page had been fed into the fire. Then gradually she began to listen to the talk of the others. She started to nod in agreement at times. Blanche watched her in abstracted moments, trying to trace in the ruined fallen-in face the remnants of the beauty that had attracted Rochester. Bertha stirred a deep fear in her and sometimes when she looked at her own face in the mirror, Bertha’s face stared out at her. These moments became fewer as they fell further into the grand scheme that was being outlined for them. The first part of which was a comprehensive reading programme starting with the book from which their hostess and her house had sprung.

Grace had named their hostess, ‘The General’ because of her formidable organizational skills and her talk of the fight ahead of them. There was often laughter and each of the three found themselves being drawn more and more to the one who had brought them together. Her charm was all encompassing and it was wonderful to bask in it and see oneself reflected in her beautiful eyes that radiated warmth.

Bertha had happily gone sailing with her in her boat, while Grace spent the afternoon sitting in the shade of a beautiful chestnut tree reading the books that they had all been provided with. When they both returned, Bertha looked extraordinary. Her cheeks were flushed; her bulky body seemed somehow less rigid and more fluid and her eyes seemed a little less tortured.

And so the three of them sat now in the library, sipping wine and waiting. She would be here soon and then the real work could begin. Blanche looked up at the clock on the mantelpiece. She had been gone for two hours; she would be back at any point now. As this thought came into her head, she heard the front door slam and a low exchange of voices. The three women looked towards the door expectantly as it opened and their hostess walked in.

Blanche drew her breath in and looked up at her as she stood there smiling at them. Blanche had read the book by now, they all had, and knew that she had been described by the man who had killed her as having the face of a Botticelli angel; such a description was not an exaggeration. Her beauty was the type to dazzle and derail. Such beauty and such determination, wrapped around a core of steel, were matched equally with brains and a ferocious organisational capability. She truly was a force to be reckoned with. The triumph on her face told them that she had succeeded. It was hard to imagine anyone being able to deny her anything.

Rebecca smiled round at her guests sat in the library of the house she loved, her house, her Manderley.

“Je reviens.” She said and started to laugh.

Liebster Award

I am really excited to have been nominated for the Liebster Award by the lovely  autumnchocolatebooks-I love her blog and it is well worth checking out.

And also, a big thank you to anyone who follows, likes or leaves comments on this blog – I really appreciate all your support!

Anyway, without further ado, here are the rules of the Liebster Award:

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The eleven questions I was given were:

  1. What is your best childhood memory?
  2. What do you feel most proud of?
  3. If you could only have one snack / dessert what would it be and why?
  4. What motivated you to start your blog?
  5. What teacher in school made the most impact on you and why?
  6. How do you spend your free time?
  7. What are your top three favourite books and why?
  8. What is your biggest fear?
  9. What is your strongest personal quality?
  10. If there was one thing you could tell your 15 year old self what would it be?
  11. What does a perfect day look like to you?
  1. It has to be a Christmas one: I love Christmas and I really loved it when I was a child. The Christmas that stands out in mind was when I was around 6 or 7 and I had this huge doll and a pram. There were lots of different clothes to dress the doll up in and I loved it. The really poignant thing is that I later found out my dad’s business was in danger at the time and my parents nearly lost their house. All of our presents that year were second hand or home made. That’s probably what made them so special.
  2. This has to be getting my degree – I was a single mother and my final year was not an easy one. That certificate has given me choices at a time when I was really unhappy in work.
  3. I think it would have to be a really dense  chocolate mouse with fresh raspberries. Yummy!
  4. I decided that it was high time I took my writing more seriously. I started a writing course and set up a blog. It has taken me a while to get into it but I love it.
  5. Strangely as I am an English teacher and English is my first love, the teacher who had the most impact on me at school was a Maths teacher. Because of her I loved Maths, she made it so accessible and real. When I got a different Maths teacher for my final two years, my grades went down hill fast. I will never forget her teaching us percentages and telling us about how she cried when her first mortgage statement came through and she saw the percentage of interest that the bank was taking. It made me just love her!
  6. Writing, whenever I can; reading – of course! Sewing, although this takes a back seat when I’m into a piece of writing and the gym – I treat that as if it’s part of my working day and I really love it.
  7. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen – so witty and it has so much to say about the plight of women in Austen’s time. If I’m allowed a play then The Importance of Being Earnest – it’s just perfect. I love Harry Potter because J.K Rowling is so inspirational but there are so many more.
  8. Losing someone I love. It terrifies me.
  9. When I decide to do something, I am pretty much relentless. It drives my poor husband a bit  mad at times.
  10. Start writing now. Don’t wait for inspiration just jot things down, thoughts, ideas, short stories, whatever!
  11. A perfect day for me is a lovely spring day. When the world is warming up but is not yet too hot. It would be spent in the garden reading and writing. I would have the whole day to myself and the luxury of all that time to dip into the latest book that I’m reading and to get on with some writing would be just perfect.

Eleven facts about me are:

  1. I am discovering the joys of being 50; against all the odds, in my view.
  2. I am really close to my brother and I hate it that he’s working abroad at the moment.
  3. I’m a cat lover.
  4. I love red wine and chocolate.
  5. I’ve written a romantic novel and now I want to try something a little different.
  6. I love London; it’s one of my favourite places to be.
  7. I would love to learn another language.
  8. I want to go to Thailand to meet my sister in law’s family; they live in a rural Thai village and I am really looking forward to meeting them.
  9. I am about to start an MA in Creative Writing.
  10. I am a grandmother and I love it.
  11. I am a secret murder mystery fan.

The five people I nominate are:

  1. excaliburthehoodnerd
  2. The Aeolian Harp
  3. Lauren is Reading
  4. Ephereal Blogs
  5. Madi Uram

And your questions are:

  1. What is your best childhood memory?
  2. What do you feel most proud of?
  3. If you could have any pet what would it be and why?
  4. What makes you angry?
  5. What teacher in school made the most impact on you and why?
  6. How do you spend your free time?
  7. What are your top three favourite books and why?
  8. What is your biggest fear?
  9. What is your strongest personal quality?
  10. If you could meet anyone from any time, who would it be?
  11. What does a perfect day look like to you?

I loved doing this. I look forward to reading your responses!

This time I mean it…

This time I mean it…

I know, I know, my posts are few and far between to say the least. In fact, if I’m 100% honest, my last post was drafted a fair time before I got it together to post it. Shame on me. I promise that’s all behind me now: I’ve come through the long, long period of anxiety; of course, you’re never fully through anxiety, but it’s not as immediate as it was, that’s for sure. I’ve pretty much settled into my new job as a second in department in English. Much better for me than being head of department as I was before. I’ve written a short romance novel and I’m in the throes of the third draft, second re-draft. Alongside this writing, I have rebooted the writing course that I started – ahem – 14 years ago and then again one year ago. Even more exciting news is that I’ve applied to do a Masters in Creative Writing with the Open University.

This is all good stuff. However, I feel that I need to put some continuity into the way I approach this blog. At the moment, I find myself searching around for a post subject and purpose that is to do with writing and therefore of some possible interest to readers. That’s why I’m not posting regularly.  I think I’ve come up with an idea that can run. Fifty ways to deal with being fifty. Or something like that.  Or of course, it could just be a sort of journal of the two writing courses. Yes, I think that could work even better. A personal journey journal. Hopefully that will help me as I write and be of some interest to other budding writers like me.

Okay, so here goes: The Diary of a Creative Writing Student. I like that. I particularly like the ‘student’ part; ever since I left college 20 years ago, I’ve been wishing that I could go back to being a student again. I briefly managed to achieve this dream when I gave up my much hated job in recruitment to do a PGCE in Secondary English. But it wasn’t the same. Don’t get me wrong, I did really enjoy it, even the teaching part, but it wasn’t as delicious as studying English Literature full time: reading, writing and drinking like there was no tomorrow, sigh. So the writing course is feeding that desire to a certain extent and the MA will push many happy buttons. It’s a shame that practicality insists that I have to continue to work full time while this happy state of study affairs is taking place, but as I teach both reading and writing as an English teacher, it could be much, much worse.

I am going to count this as my first post in this diary. Today is the day on which I applied for the aforementioned masters degree. I’ll update the diary with regard to that process as appropriate. Today is also the day on which I have decided what my next two assignments for the Writers Bureau course are going to be: a personal memoir about working in a pub next to Smithfield Meatmarket, a piece on Exmouth for a regional publication and a piece on a journey my grandfather made back to places in France where he’d fought in the First World War.

The relief of having made a decision about what to write for these assignments is quite significant. I’ve wanted to get on with the course but I have had real problems deciding what to write and what publications to target. This brings me onto the other achievement in my bid to develop as a writer goes. For months I’ve been a subscriber to Writing Magazine and for months, I’ve not been finding the time to read it. However, as I hate to waste money and I enjoy reading the magazine when I do get round to it, I’ve forced myself to read through several back copies. The magazines have not only given me the push to apply for the MA, but in the Writers’ News section, they feature publications who are currently accepting outside contributions. This has been much more fruitful than standing in my local convenience store staring at the magazines on the shelf and trying to decide which one to try now as a possible opening. It’s even more fruitful than reading the incredibly useful Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook; which while providing a range of incredibly useful and useable information, doesn’t help with my nerves about approaching publications cold. Being provided with information on publications actively looking for outside contributors is a huge bonus.

 L