May already? Surely not!

I’ve just realised it’s been six months since my last blog entry. Oh I’ve got a long list of excuses (mostly involving children, other members of the family and moving house), but I still feel shame-faced about it.

Those months have been very busy, sometimes even with writing/writerly projects. New stories and readings for festivals and open mics, a talk for the Women’s Institute and  a guest blog for the wonderful Authors Electric website – it’s all about creating complex characters and you can read it here on 31st May.

IMG_20170519_230004Last week I hosted the latest in the Words Open Mic evenings. Words of Change was another lovely couple of hours featuring a great line-up of talented local authors and I was very proud to see my daughter, Kitty Heap, reading her own work in public for the first time.

You can read more about the evening, and find a link to more information on how to set up an open mic on Jacci Gooding’s blog here. Jacci is a regular Upstairs at The Globe and has just published A Collection of Unsettling Short Stories available from Amazon here.

brochure frontPoet Nigel Hutchinson also has a new book out, The Humble Family Interviews, available from local bookshops or from Amazon here. And many other of the writers who were at Words of Change have websites detailing their own projects and publications.

We’re already planning the next event  on Tuesday 3rd October in our regular venue, Upstairs at Globe. I’m very excited to say that Historic Words will be in association with the Warwick Words History Festival, you can read more about the festival here.

As I was writing my new piece for Words of Change, I realised that I now have quite a number of short pieces written for open mics and other such events, so I’ve decided to put them together and I’m currently editing Women In Shorts (working title) which I hope to publish towards the end of this year. In parallel, The Mother and the Ghost is progressing, but very slowly.

Here’s to a busy and creative summer!

 

The Warmth of Winter Words

 

After keeping my head down for a couple of months and getting on with a bit of actual writing, I’ve ventured out again. Last Thursday, the day towns across the country turned on their Christmas Lights, I hosted another open mic Upstairs at the Globe in Warwick.

bren-reading-cropped

Bren Littlewood reading from Echoes of Justice

My planning was less than perfect this time around. I had inadvertently chosen the same evening as the Warwick Victorian Market; the town’s carparks were under severe pressure and some of the roads were facing gridlock. Frankly, I was worried: Would the readers (some of whom were travelling a considerable distance) make it to the Globe on time? Would our audience think better of it and stay home in front of the TV instead?

with-bren-and-debbie-cropped

with Bren Littlewood and Debbie Young

I should have had more faith. Warwickshire (and Gloucestershire) writers are made of much sterner stuff! And our lovely audience braved the crowds (and the crowded carparks) and were rewarded by a richly diverse mix of offerings  in a beautiful, atmospheric venue. Enough to warm the chilliest of winter evenings.

There weren’t many photographers in the room this time around, so I don’t have lots of pictures. Instead, here are the brief biographies of the writers who read with me during the evening:

John Bishop

John Bishop become interested in poetry when hearing The Moody Blues in 1967. On hearing Pam Ayers in the ‘70s he began to write his own poetry. With over 4000 unpublished poems, this is his first ever open Mic. (He read some on the 4th plinth but it was 1 am. The audience was somewhat limited.)

Gwyneth Box

Gwyneth’s writing explores the literary borderlands between writer and narrator, translation and creation, and memoir and invention. Personal experience often provides the raw material for her writing, but she believes that real life is merely a stepping-stone to the poetic: facts can – and should – be sacrificed if they get in the way. www.gwynethbox.com

program-snapTerri Daneshyr

Terri Daneshyar began writing stories for children many years ago. She is a founder member of StoryVine, a Warwick based children’s writers group. With their help and encouragement, she has just completed her first novel, a YA fantasy. By day she masquerades as a teacher.

Jacci Gooding

Currently beavering away behind the scenes, competition winner Jacci enjoys working with other authors and reading at open-mic events.

Kitty Heap

Kitty Heap’s story, Sometimes You Have to Fall Before You Fly, was selected from more than 123,400 entries to progress to the second round of this year’s BBC Radio 2’s 500 Words Competition. Kitty is currently in Year 9 at Stratford Girls’ Grammar School. Kitty read Innocents’ Song  by Charles Causley.

Chris Hogarth

An ex-Shottery girl, Chris Hogarth is returning to the haunts of her youth this evening. These days she lives in a beautiful watermill in the depths of a magical Welsh valley, the subject of her tribute to Dylan Thomas. www.valleyholidays.co.uk

Nick Le Mesurier

Nick Le Mesurier is a playwright, occasional poet, short story writer, researcher, and blogger about birds and culture. He has had monologues professionally performed. He writes for a Coventry based charity that helps musical and other developing artists nurture their skills through performance. Kate Wiltshire joined Nick in reading his duologue.

Bren Littlewood

Bren Littlewood, writing under the pen name of JJ Franklin, has written scripts for the BBC and her first novel, Urge to Kill, is a psychological thriller featuring DI Matt Turrell. Bren read from her second book in the series, Echoes of Justice. Both books are set in Stratford-upon-Avon. www.bmlittlewood.com

Sue Newgas

Sue has been messing about with words since she sat at the family kitchen table as a wee child, making up poems and plays on her mother’s Olivetti. She’s worked as a copywriter, freelance journalist, loves writing stories and poems, and is delighted to be a member of the wonderful StoryVine children’s writing group!

Jane Scott

Jane Scott wrote her first book, Jane’s Book of Poems at the age of nine. While her children were young, she wrote pantomimes to raise money for the PTA and has since written many humorous poems and monologues for village events. These days, Jane writes, acts and directs for the Barford Drama Group.

Ellie Stevenson

Ellie Stevenson is the author of three novels, a collection of surreal short stories (Watching Charlotte Brontë Die) and a booklet on Writing for Magazines in the UK. Her latest novel, The Floozy in the Park includes an unsolved murder, a missing woman and an Edwardian mystery. Ellie is currently working on her next piece of long fiction, fuelled by inspiration, determination and coffee! www.elliestevenson.wordpress.com

with-debbie-and-brenDebbie Young

Stocking Fillers, Debbie Young’s collection of Christmas short stories, has been described by one reviewer as “A delightful tray of wrapped Christmas bon-bons,”, but fortunately they don’t contain any calories. She’s currently working on a festive cosy mystery, Murder in the Manger, and hoping not to be struck down. www.authordebbieyoung.com

Thanks to all the readers. Let’s do it again in the Spring/Summer next year!

 

 

Music – the Food of Inspiration?

It’s been a couple of months since I wrote anything for this blog as I’ve been trying to focus on my new project, a group of interlinked stories under the working title: The Mother and the Ghost.

billy_joel-until_the_night_sThen Billy Joel’s Until the Night came on the radio this morning and I found myself reliving the delicious tension between anticipation and patience of a drive through Friday night traffic, dazzled by street lights and headlights, drawing gradually closer to the special someone I’d been yearning for all week. Then I began to think about how much I use music as an inspiration for my stories and I wanted to write about it.

I don’t mean highbrow music – I’m confused and overawed by the great composers. I admire the classics from a respectful distance, but I simply don’t understand the language.  Besides which, I’m a words person. To be seriously stirred, I need lyrics with my melodies and I’m happy to admit that I’m most in tune with those genres that are accessible and ‘popular’.

i-dont-want-to-play-in-your-yardI’m aware that I often use pop music as a background to my stories: a selection of Beatles and John Lennon hits in Belvedere Road or a quick mention of Katie Melua in Room 516 (both from The Woman Who Never Did). I’ve also used music to create atmosphere, in a scripted version of The Dolls’ House (The Pow-Wow Book of Ghost Stories) the old music hall song I Don’t Want to Play in Your Yard was just what I needed to build up the creepiness quotient.

But even those stories that don’t feature a specific track or singer in the final version usually have a song hidden inside them – something that moved me and helped me find a particular mood, or even sparked the idea in the first place. For example, I have pages of notes and a very rough first draft that evolved from listening to Taylor Swift’s The Lucky One after reading a classic French fairy tale.

roberta-flackThe story I’m working on at the moment (one that will eventually be a part of The Mother and the Ghost) has its emotional roots in Roberta Flack singing The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face and Carly Simon’s version of I’ve Got to Have You, further encouraged by this recording of Kiki Dee singing Amoureuse.

So thank you for the inspiration, Roberta, Carly and Kiki. Thank you Taylor, Katie, John, Paul, George and Ringo. Thank you to all the ladies I found on YouTube singing I Don’t Want to Play in Your Yard. And thank you, Thank You, THANK YOU to Billy Joel for reminding me how much I owe to you all.

That was fun – now it’s time to get on with some writing!

 

The first half of 2016 has been great fun. My writing and I have been out and about more than ever before – this is me last weekend at the Evesham Festival of Words open mic reading Monty and Jules Act 1 (the reading slots were a generous seven minutes, but I just couldn’t fit in the whole thing).

Evesham 2016Since the end of last year, I’ve read at book groups, festivals, the Women’s Institute, the Mothers’ Union and I’ve hosted an open mic. I’ve met some wonderful fellow writers – many of whom are also independents – and made a host of contacts for future events. My book, The Woman Who Never Did, is even for sale in a real, non-virtual bookshop: Warwick Books, 24 Market Place, Warwick (website here).

evesham anthologyOk, I’ve only written a couple of stories and poems, but I am in print again thanks to Cleo being shortlisted in the Evesham Festival Short Story Competition – read more here.

What I haven’t done is the thing I set out to do at the beginning of the year – get on with my next book. It has a title: The Mother and the Ghost. It has an plot, a theme and a tentative structure. It’s constructed from several smaller stories and I’ve even started some of them often more than once! So now that my performing bug is satisfied for a while and provided life, in the form of my family, allows me the space to do so, I’m off to do a bit of writing.

See you after the summer.

 

Words! Words! Words!

This time last year I had never even read at an open mic event. Just last week, on 16th June, I was hosting one – and I had the time of my life!

the room colour 2When my friend and fellow writer, Alycia Smith-Howard, asked if I’d collaborate with her on the Shakespeare 400 project for St Mary’s Church, Warwick, I was more than a little bit daunted. But having worked with Alycia previously on a National Poetry Day event at Charlecote Park, I was delighted at the prospect of working with her again. I was also very excited to see myself listed in a programme of events that included some very illustrious names from the world of Shakespeare and the theatre – including Dame Judi Dench!

The brief for Words! Words! Words! was deceptively simple: an open mic event, linked into the exhibition of the Shakespeare First Folio and King James Bible at St Mary’s, featuring local writers and poets reading work inspired by Shakespeare and/or The Bible. I started off by trying to write something myself:

‘Cry no more, babies. Cry no more…’

Way too silly, but perhaps I could do something on the theme of The Seven Ages of Man – or Woman. So next I thought about the school boy, or school girl:

‘By the pricking of my thumbs, Year 4’s sewing this way comes…’

Hm. It wasn’t looking good and things went from bad to worse with my next effort:

‘Shall I compare thee to an easy lay…’

I decided I needed to take a more considered approach and started work on Monty and Jules, a story inspired by Romeo and Juliet.

program for tonightIn the meantime, I contacted some of the talented people I’ve met over the past couple of years at festivals and workshops and challenged my fellow StoryVine writers to create something for a more mature audience. With the help of the Warwick Words Festival, the word spread to poets in local writers’ groups. Then leaflets and social media did the rest.

open mic carey

And what a night we had. In Warwick, The Globe’s Helen Jones couldn’t have been more welcoming (more about The Globe here). We were provided with a beautiful venue, a lovely panelled room with a magnificent period fireplace. All the writers involved came up trumps with a really diverse range of offerings: poetry, short stories, an extract from a novel, a short dramatic sketch, creative non-fiction (that was a new one for me, but I loved it), and a song. We were even joined by local potter, Carey Moon, who brought a selection of Shakespeare inspired mini-bowls to add to our offerings – see more of Carey’s work here.

The weather outside really was frightful (there was torrential rain, thunder and lightning, hailstones – you name it), but the readings were delightful and the room was packed, despite the weather. OK, it was rather humid and we all got a bit warm and sticky (well, I certainly did), but it was a great night – as you can tell by the smiles on our faces.

jenny

Jenefer Heap, Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn and Jacci Gooding

All the contributors provided a few words of introduction for me to use on the night, some have websites and there were a few cameras in the room. With apologies for the varied quality of the photographs, and with everybody’s permission, this was the running order:

 

terriTerri Daneshyar writes and performs stories for children and is a member of StoryVine writers group (read more about StoryVine here). She is currently working on a young adult novel. By day she teaches English at a local secondary school, which may become apparent as you listen to her offering.

 

dinahIn recent years Dinah Smith has been writing poetry from the experiences of a long life. In 2011 – 2012 she was named Warwick Words Poet Laureate.  Read more about Dinah here.

 

Llindsayindsay Stanberry-Flynn writes novels, short stories and flash fiction. Her third novel, ‘The Broken Road’, was published in 2015. ‘Unravelling’, published in 2010, has won several awards. ‘The Piano Player’s Son’ was published by Cinnamon Press in 2013, after winning their novel writing award. Lindsay has an MA in creative writing from Bath Spa University. Read more about Lindsay here.

 

lizLiz Jolly lives and works in Warwick and regularly reads her words at open mics in the Midlands.

 

pamPam Wray is a member of Stratford-upon-Avon Writers Circle. Down the years she’s dabbled in all sorts of writing, including short stories, poems and song lyrics, and she’s hoping that one day soon, she’ll become an overnight success. Currently, her work is published in anthologies, and in women’s magazines.

 

JaneJane Scott wrote her first book, ‘Jane’s Book of Poems’ at the age of nine. While her children were young, she wrote pantomimes to raise money for the PTA and has since written many humorous poems and monologues for village events. These days, Jane writes, acts and directs for the Barford Drama Group.

 

nickNick Le Mesurier is a playwright, occasional poet, short story writer, researcher, and blogger about birds and culture. He has had monologues professionally performed. He writes for a Coventry based charity that helps musical and other developing artists nurture their skills through performance.

 

alyciaAlycia Smith-Howard discovered Shakespeare when she was six and never looked back. Currently training to be a priest, she is also a writer, scholar and lecturer. Her greatest joy (husband and son excluded) is combining these roles as curator for Shakespeare 400. Alycia has written two books about the Bard, including a cookbook! Read more about Alycia here.

 

jacciHaving learnt to type on an old Olympia typewriter, Jacci Gooding is now celebrating all that modern technology has to offer and will be e-publishing her first collection of short stories in October.  She too has won a competition and would like to win some more! Read more about Jacci Gooding here.

 

nigelNigel Hutchinson trained as a fine artist, spent his working life as a teacher and always loved juggling with words. Georgia O’Keeffe said she painted to say things she had no words for, writing poetry is the opposite.

 

sueSue Newgas works Front of House at the RSC which provides plenty of material to write about the Bard.  “When you see each production at least 30 times, you get to know the plot!” she says. Sue’s also a part of StoryVine children’s writing group (read more about StoryVine here).

 

gwynethGwyneth Box’s writing explores the borderlands between translation and creation, and between memoir and invention. Although personal experience often provides the raw material for her writing, she believes that real life only serves as a stepping-stone to the poetic: facts can – and should – be sacrificed if they get in the way. Read more about Gwyneth here.

 

vivienVivien Heim has always loved reading but it was only after a bruising love affair, and on the advice from some friends to write as a kind of therapy, that she decided to write in earnest. Once she’d started on her first novel, she just couldn’t stop. She’s now well into the sequel and plans to complete this plus an accompanying cookbook by the end of the year. Read more about Vivien here.

To Read or Not to Read?

To read of course!

flier jpegThis is just a short post because I’m a bit busy. There’s only two days to go to my first time hosting an open mic evening and I’m feeling excited and nervous in equal measures. This time a year ago I’d never even read at such an event.

But this week, on Thursday 16th June, I will be introducing a host of talented local writers and poets Upstairs at The Globe in Warwick.

It’s all part of Shakespeare 400:History, Heritage & Faith, a programme of events centred around the special exhibition of a Shakespeare First Folio and a first edition of the King James Bible at St Mary’s Church in Warwick. I’m feeling especially honoured as other events in the programme have included a brilliant abridged version of Henry VI by the Playbox Theatre and a magical opening evening with Dame Judi Dench.

globe pubThe idea behind my event is to bring together local writers and poets to share work inspired by Shakespeare or the Bible. We’ve got a great line up, a mix of poetry, short stories, drama, extracts from novels, a bit of creative non-fiction, and even a song. Some of the authors are veterans of the open-mic, some have much less experience – we may even have an open-mic virgin or two!

So please come along if you’re in the area on Thursday 16th June, from 7:30-10:00. You’ll find us Upstairs at the Globe, Theatre Street, Warwick. Did I mention the event is free? Just get yourself a drink from the bar and come on up.

 

Writing What You Know – or Not?

hulit-finished-illustrationHawkesbury Upton is a pretty little Gloucestershire village tucked away in the Cotswolds. I imagine it’s normally fairly quiet, but this certainly wasn’t the case last Saturday, 23rd April. Thanks to the local literary power-house that is Debbie Young (check out her excellent website here), the village was transformed by the Second Hawkesbury Upton Literary Festival with a packed programme of workshops, panel methodist chapeldiscussions, readings and children’s storytelling, all in the delightful settings of The Fox Inn, The Methodist Chapel and a little café selling delicious cakes in the Methodist Hall.

I had a great day. I was kept very busy: reading stories (to grownups and children), listening to lots of interesting and inspiring writers, catching up with old friends, and sitting on one of the discussion panels, chaired by the lovely Jackie Kabler.

short story reading cropped

Our topic: Write What You Know – or Not?

Jackie was pretty clear of her own perspective on this question – after working for the BBC and ITV for twenty years, she’s set her humorous crime novels in a TV News studio (her first, The Dead Dog Day, was published in 2015), although she insists the murder of the newsroom boss is completely made up! My fellow panellists, Ali Bacon, John Holland, Mari Howard, Lynne Pardoe, and Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn, come from a variety of backgrounds, including teaching, social work and pregnancy counselling. Naturally there were a variety of opinions ranging along the continuum of:

Surely we all write what we know <———> But fiction means making things up

Speaking for myself, my plot and my characters are made up – to stick to what I know would be too constricting (and potentially libellous). Worse than this, it wouldn’t make for a very interesting story and insisting ‘Honestly! Every word is true!’ is no excuse for sending your readers to sleep. However, I use what I know to help me tell my story convincingly and bring it to life. My settings are based on places I know. My characters borrow aspects of their appearance, speech or mannerisms from people I’ve met or observed. Even the emotions I want to convey are dredged up from my own experiences and imagined into the story.

The_Woman_Who_Never__Cover_for_KindlejpgIn my book The Woman Who Never Did there are two stories (The Spoiler of the Fun & A Game of Pirates) with scenes set in a theme park. Fantasy Chine is based on Blackgang Chine on the Isle of Wight. I’ve aimed for the same look and feel, but not a precise copy, because I wanted to be free to mould Fantasy Chine to meet the needs of my story. In Gingerbread, my character Gee Geoffrey is not based on any one person I know, but in describing her appearance I had in mind a real person. And, although I belong to a book group, none of the other members appear as characters in the title story, The Woman Who Never Did – we’re all far too young!

The Dangers of Writing What You Know

cityscapesThis leads me to a situation that rang a bell for a number of us on the panel: sometimes a reader assumes that a story is based on the author’s own life. Hopefully this is because you’ve done such a good job in making your fiction believable, but it can be a cause of embarrassment. When my story Lulu’s London was first published in the Cityscapes anthology, there were a few raised eyebrows and pointed questions about my past.

Another danger of writing, or using, what you know is the temptation to cram everything in – resulting in a text book or a shopping list rather than a compelling work of fiction. Any information must be used to serve the writer’s purpose. To complement or highlight the story, rather than to distract your reader out of it.

And If You Don’t Know? Research!

One of the suggestions from the panel was that often our early writing is centred on what we know, but there comes a point where authors want to spread their wings. I’ve written about my fear of Research before on this blog (click here). Some people love it, to me it’s an occasionally necessary evil. But maybe I haven’t been approaching it in the right way – Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn went to Venice to research her latest novel, The Broken Road. Whereas when I needed to research a setting I sat in a café in Kenilworth…

In summary, I don’t think it matters how we choose to write – the story is the thing, however much (or little) of your own experience you use is up to you. The best thing I can do is to point you towards some great products of a variety of approaches by listing my fellow panellists.  I’ve included a link to their own website or Amazon author page – just click on their name.

panel discussion croppedN.B I’m the one waving my hands about behind Ali Bacon. Here are the other authors from left to right:

John Holland (almost out of shot – you can just see his nose)

Ali Bacon

Mari Howard

Lynne Pardoe

Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn

Jackie Kabler

You can find out more about the Hawkesbury Upton Literary Festival here.

 

Acknowledgements: Thank you to Joanna Penn and Thomas Shepherd for letting me use your photographs and to Sophie E. Tallis and Lynne Davidson for permission to use your lovely line drawings of The Fox Inn and the Methodist Chapel.