I was reading a blog by Kristine Kathryn Rusch a moment ago, about the widespread view amongst artists that curing their alcoholism, depression, and the like would lead to them losing their .. inspiration, whatever you like to call it. Killing their muse. It's a good blog, as all of hers are. I simply had to drop it though and come here to write this. Not literally, it's online, so it's still there waiting for me to get back to it. But you know, with my old lady memory I couldn't risk forgetting what I had thought.
It brought to the front of my mind the observation that I've often made, that many great writers have had lousy childhoods. A larger proportion than one would expect. And though I wouldn't care to put myself forward as a great writer, I would include myself in the miserable childhood section of the community.
Don't worry, I'm not going to write a misery memoir, now or at any point. My infuriatingly cheery, optimistic nature leads me to conclude that whereas some bits of it were totally dark, I also met a lot of lovely people who helped me along my way. The sun did shine in those days. And I would never advocate that you make your children's lives a misery in the hope that they will somehow turn into great writers.
But this time I took my thoughts a little bit further.and considered what my miserable childhood made me do. It made me spend a lot of my life immersed in books as an escape from real life. I would read more or less any book that came my way, from public libraries, gifts from a generous uncle at Christmas, or just lying around the place.
Result: a rich vocabulary, a grasp of grammar, and an imagination stimulated by tales of Narnia, space stations, and Regency gentlemen. From there it wasn't a big step to take that imagination and start crafting stories of my own, in which I was big and brave, and had a family that loved me and who would do anything I wanted because they loved me so. And later on those Regency gentlemen, thank you Georgette Heyer. Oh, those Regency gentlemen.
So there it is. Rather than torturing your offspring (unless you have other reasons to do so of course) give them books, encourage them to read. Don't complain that they always have their noses stuck in books. Don't say they should be out playing war or cowboys and indians instead of moping around the house reading. Encourage them to read as much as they want, whether it's dead tree books or electronic ones.
And you never know, they may be able to support you in your old age on their earnings as great authors, if you're really lucky. Or at least take you out for a meal from time to time.
About fifteen years ago I read an article somewhere by somebody. It was a somebody from the Big Howevermany it was then publishing houses, and it stated, categorically, that Regency was dead. Nobody wanted to read Regency any more, so they weren't going to publish Regency any more. I was devastated.
Long ago in my early teens I had discovered Georgette Heyer's books in the school library. I thought they were wonderful - funny, romantic, set in a time very different from the Sixties. Interesting. I read every one I could get hold of, and I even spent my pittance of pocket money on the paperbacks. I was hooked.
Time passed, and I was unfaithful to the Regency. I spent time with science fiction and fantasy, with gritty thrillers and whodunnits. There just weren't enough Heyers to keep me fed. By the turn of the millennium though I had acquired a PDA - remember those? And I used it almost entirely for reading. Science fiction, fantasy, whodunnits. I read whilst being driven to work by my old man, an hour each way every day. At lunch. In the evening. And one day my dealer, the late lamented Fictionwise, gave away a whole shelf-full of ebooks. Hey, they were free. I downloaded the lot.
Some of them were a little bit of a surprise to me, and broadened my horizons no end. But amongst the thirty or so books there was one Regency romance. I read it, and was taken back to my teens, reminded of how much I had loved Heyer. I can even tell you the plot of the book, though the title and author escape me -
And I realised that while I had been absent, people had been writing new Regencies. I was re-hooked. I bought every one I could find on the Fictionwise site. I discovered Mary Balogh and Stephanie Laurens. Regencies had discovered Sex!
And at the back of my mind an idea started forming. What if ...
And then this article. No more Regency. And this was before Indie Publishing was a thing. What the big publishing houses said was what happened, and they had decided that Regency was no more. My idea for a plot, for a Regency romance, withered. But I couldn't kill it completely, it kept coming back and bothering me. What if ... ?
I achieved a lifetime's ambition, early retirement. One part of my retirement gift was a big notepad and a packet of pens, given with the instruction to go and write that book I had been talking about all this time.
And I was still reading Regency, and contrary to what Big Publishing had said, people were still writing it, and they were in fact still publishing it. Pants on fire!
And then I found out about NaNoWriMo, and Indie publishing, and I realised that it didn't matter what Big Publishing said anyway, so I did write that book. And several others. They are sitting on my computer in various states of editing, and by golly I am going to publish them. And we'll see then if Regency is dead or not.
Picture by Ted Eytan MD via Wikimedia Commons.I
I watched the NaNoPrep webinar a couple of days ago. Late as usual - being in a different time zone to most NaNites makes the recording a much more attractive proposition than the live event. And as a throw-away at the end the two authors were asked what was the worst writing advice they had ever been given. And they both came up with the same thing:
Write what you know.
On first sight it seems an attractive slogan. If you're an expert in something, surely it makes sense. And we all do loads of research, writers of historical fiction especially. Who hasn't lost an entire afternoon or more following threads around Google and Wikipedia, ending up bleary-eyed and knowing far more about historical sanitation than they really wanted to know.
And if you get it wrong, there will be plenty of people out there who will let you know all about it. Including me, I'm afraid. I've been known to email authors pointing out embarrassing bloopers in their novels. All in the interest of getting it right, of course.
But I write a lot of the time from my hero's point of view. I am female, straight, white, middle-aged (I insist on not being old) and educated. Does that mean I can't write from the point of view of say a black male who has been a slave on a plantation in the Caribbean, as I intend to do this November in the shape of my hero's sidekick?
Does that mean that writers may not write about little green men from the planet Zog, far far away in another galaxy? Or witches and wizards, fairies and goblins, demons and angels?
I maintain not. If it did mean that, there would be far fewer books written. And I like reading about aliens, elves and fairies, and so on.
The Published Writers, and I when I thought about it, were not saying don't do your research. But broaden the subject out a bit. Of course there's a place for writing what you know. For example if I wrote a book about electrical engineering it could be a bit of a disaster - be reassured that I have no such ambitions, for the general good of mankind.
I think the answer is to put yourself in the place of your ex-slave, green alien, or fairy. Close your eyes and imagine what it feels like. What's it like to have dangly bits, or wings? How does it feel? How does it affect your thinking? Get into your character's skin and know them deep down, as a person and not a character in your writing. When you know how they, not you, would react in a given situation, then you know them well enough to write their story.
So is this writing what you know, or not? I will never really know what it's like to be male. I will always be seeing men from the outside. But I hope I have enough imagination to feel something of how it is, and I hope that any man reading what I've written will not be emailing me to say that that's not what it's like at all.
You can't catch anything over the internet, honest.
I've had some sort of virus, which is why I've not written anything for a bit. All I can say is thank goodness it was half term over here.
I managed to drag myself to my two classes earlier this week, so we're still on track for that Certificate in Creative Writing. I managed a short peer review for one of them, and now I have a couple of days to get a beta read done for one of my regulars. I've done some thinking, of dubious quality I have to admit, and had several brilliant insights about the manuscripts I'm not currently editing - thank you, brain. But actual work? Nah.
I have come to one conclusion though. I've heard from several different, unconnected directions that people recommend putting their work up on Wattpad. And as my already-published little book has flatlined, and I"m almost ready to put out a second one, I thought I might just try it for myself.
What do you all think? Leave a comment or drop me a line and tell me.
So, the decision is made.
Ever since 2002 I have attended the biennial Discworld Convention. I signed up again for this year's festival of madness, together with my oldest and best friend, who always accompanies me. But yesterday evening I phoned her and said how would she feel if I said I didn't want to go, and she said she was going mostly because I wanted to. But now I don't any more.
I don't know why this is, really. I still love Terry and his books just as much as ever. I know he won't be there physically this time, but then he wasn't last time either - he sent his hat to represent him, and it was accorded as much honour as if he were wearing it. Or perhaps more.
Of course there will be a certain amount of sadness that he won't ever be able to attend again in his physical person. But I defy anything to keep the spirits of the conventioneers down for long. And that's not it, anyway.
The thing is, it's just not so much fun any more. Maybe it's got too big: yet again, and in spite of signing up as soon as booking opened, I couldn't get into the convention hotel. There is an overspill hotel (last time I missed out on that too and had to sleep in the overspill overspill hotel). This time there is to be a bus service from the overspill hotel, but of course you then have to take with you everywhere you go whatever you will need during the day, and there won't be anywhere private to rest and make yourself a cup of tea, unless you find a friendly fellow-conventioneer. Of course we could have taken a tent and camped in the official campsite ... no. Really. I don't do camping, and my friend says she doesn't fancy it much any more either.
Maybe I'm just getting older. I don't feel old. I still enjoy a good giggle as much as ever. And the conventions are jolly places. Many years ago at the renowned Hangover Hotel, someone asked the hotel staff if they found us, well, a little weird. Because honestly, we find ourselves a bit weird at times, what with the hall costumes and everything. Anyway, this member of the hotel staff said no, they enjoy having the Discworlders there, because although they had actually drunk the bar dry of Hobgoblin that time, they never started fights, threw up over the premises, or imported ladies of negotiable affection into the hotel. It's always been family-friendly, with activities laid on for children old enough to enjoy them. That was the year we had breakfast with Terry on the final morning. Not that there was anything special about our party; he just had meals with different groups of fans every day, and we were amongst the few who'd stayed an extra night before the journey home. That was the sort of man he was.
And the lectures, games and all the other stuff are never exactly the same from convention to convention. It's all run by volunteers, which is why it happens biennially: there's just too much work for it to be an annual event. New people come and give talks on whatever their thing is - I remember with particular fondness the year there was a chocolate-tasting event.
But for whatever reason the fun has gone out of it. So this year I'll be spending the summer in our house in France, going before the ferries get expensive and returning when they get cheaper again. The old man, who has never got the joke as far as Terry Pratchett is concerned, has agreed to a long stay now that the renovations are so nearly finished (more about that in Sunday's post). And my friend and her husband can come and stay with us for a week or two, so we can spend some time together. Perhaps we can listen to a Discworld audio book, or re-read one of the old ones. But this time someone else can have our places - there are always far more people wanting to attend than there is space for them. Two people on the waiting list are going to be lucky.
I hope too that by the summer I'll have my writing shed set up, and can spend the summer peacefully therein. Maybe even do some actual writing. If I do, I'll be thinking of you. Terry.
I used to laugh at retired people who said that they didn't know how they had found time to work. Surely retirement was nothing but long days to spend pleasing yourself? Well, except for my dear grandmother, with whom we lived, who stirred the dust up with a stiff broom every morning, and cooked for us all, and ... But I wouldn't be like that.
Only now it's happened to me. Before I retired I thought I might spend my time cooking my way happily through the six-foot tall bookcase of cookbooks (plus overflow) which now sits in the corner of my kitchen. Or I'd get to grips with the knitting machines - yes, plural - in what is supposed to be my craft room. Sew myself some clothes that fit my five-foot frame properly. Do a bit of gentle tourism round the National Trust's properties. Spend time in the French house soaking up French culture, food, and wine.
But at my retirement do I was presented, amongst other little gifts, with a thick notepad and a pack of biros and told to go and write that book I'd been talking about for ages.
As it turned out, it was a symbolic sort of gift, as I write at the computer most of the time, not longhand. But the idea already lived at the back of my mind. Then we moved to Wales to live near my daughter, and she met someone who was interested, as she was, in setting up a creative writing group, and things snowballed. I was instructed to attend, in case nobody else turned up. Her co-founder wanted to attend a weekend course on writing a novel, and wanted someone to go with her, and I had nothing better to do, and it did sound interesting. (Thank you Helen Carey). The other person dropped out. I carried on.
Fast forward to now. I do have four first drafts, one of which I've been editing recently. But those long empty days to be spent exactly as I pleased, well they have proved elusive.
My daughter? She has self-published two books of a trilogy. She also has two children now. Writing? Two hours on Sunday if she's lucky.
I admit that a great deal of the blame for my lack of progress is mine. I find it difficult to resist anything marked "Free!", such as webinars, newsletters, and, well, books. So the TBR shelf on my Kindle is around 16 pages long, and it's just as well I have unlimited download gigabytes at home. The cooking is done by my husband for the most part. I watch little television. I'm still taking those creative writing courses, and should get enough credits by the summer to get my certificate from Aberystwyth University, which takes up a day a week at the moment, and next term will take two. But apart from that, where does the time go?
Well it's now 11:26 am. We don't get up early, as the old man takes his retirement very seriously, and is not fond of getting up early now he doesn't have to. I'm thinking perhaps I should steel myself and leave him to snore while I make an earlier start, though it doesn't seem fair.
So far this morning I've done all the routine things like eating and showering. I've looked at and deleted about thirty emails (an average count for the last twenty four hours). I've downloaded two manuscripts from my online critique group, which I'll have to read and comment on by the weekend. I've still not sent them my selection for this week. I've fiddled about with chapter headings and summaries for the work in editing. This last at least is productive, because my first drafts are very tight and need expanding; consequently I'm forever moving scenes around and setting up new chapters, and the old headings and summaries are way out of date. When I get an idea for something that absolutely must be included in that chapter where ... it sometimes takes me a lot of clicking around before I can find the place. But it's not actually writing, is it?
And this afternoon we are going to the gym, which will take a couple of hours and leave me feeling quite drained. I'm not exactly a natural exerciser. Then more food, "Pointless" on the tv so I can tut over the educational standards nowadays, more computer time, and bed. That's it.
They say don't look at your emails first thing, or you'll spend all your time fitting into somebody else's agenda. And keep off Facebook. But when we went to France for a month I came back to 500 unread emails, and the thought of that level of backlog is horrific. I've unsubscribed from some newsletters (if they actually take any notice) but that hardly makes a dent.
I did write a blog, though. That counts, doesn't it?
Well, not exactly no inspiration. But it's just gone in a different direction for the moment.
And hello to all of you who have been dropping in recently, and sorry there's been nothing new on here.
But ... November. In case you hadn't realised, and why should you, November is NaNoWriMo. Which stands for National Novel Writing Month. The aim of which, obviously, is to write a novel in a month. At least, to write the first draft of a novel in a month. Fifty thousand words' worth of it, though people do crazy things and write a hundred thousand, or do their fifty thousand in one day, or do nothing for three weeks then pile all the words in during the last week. Or day.
Me, I like to start strong and build up a head for those days when you feel too ill, or your daughter calls you in for an emergency, or you have to go shopping because there's no food in the house. Which usually means I finish around the twentieth of the month, give or take.
So I'm over forty eight thousand words now, and the end is nigh.
Just thought you'd like to know.
Those of you who have read my blogs in another place will probably know that we have a holiday house in France.
I don't want you to thin that we are therefore wealthy. We used to take the children on self-catering holidays in France (being cheap and easy to reach) and, as you do, we looked idly in the estate agents' windows at the houses for sale.
For a moment I thought I'd slipped a decimal point somewhere. At that time houses in the part of England where we lived were going for upwards of £100,000. In France you could get somewhere really nice for a fraction of that. At the time, of course, with three small children and one income, it stayed just a dream.
Then eventually I went back to work, and was sent on a time management course. Wait, and all will become clear. One of the things they told us on this course was not just to have a goal, but to think about the steps it would take to achieve the goal. And they had us make lists. I remember one person's list was "Go to China. Er."
Mine was a lot more detailed. Starting with "See how much finance we can arrange," passing through "Go to French property exhibition, look at French property magazines" to "take a trip to view possible buys".
Within a year we had bought our house, taking out an extra mortgage on our house in England to finance it.
It sounds simple. In fact it was pretty simple. And our little house in Normandy, habitable as-is, cost us around £27,000 plus fees and taxes (not a neglible amount in France).
We have had friends who have said to us that they would love to own a little house in France like ours. We have offered to lend them our house, for nothing, so they can look around. But I doubt that they have ever achieved their wish.
So if you have something on your bucket list that is practical, that you have the finances for, then what are you waiting for?
My list includes publishing books. Watch this space!
Doreen lives in the empty bit in the middle of Wales, where since her retirement she has taken up writing. She says it's better than working any day.
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