Blog Posts

Ditching the mobile. Could I?

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Reading that Simon Cowell has ditched his phone for ten months and that it has improved his happiness and mental health made me wonder about my reliance on mine.

Part of me would love to ditch my phone, but could I? Would the world survive without me writing Bude & Beyond and spewing stuff out on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram? Of course!  It would, but would I? Like most people, I use my mobile phone way too much and the video in this article tells us why.

To be honest, right now with a deadline to meet for my book, and constantly writing, seeking news, and sharing it, I am aware that I don’t spend much time doing things I should (and like), such as travelling, writing letters, and reading, or just sitting out in the sunshine without an iPad with stuff to edit.

Every so often I vow never to use social media again, apart from ‘work’, and therein lies the rub. ‘Work’ means writing (badly paid), and Bude & Beyond (not paid at all). I don’t really need to use a mobile for my (paid) business. Alas, I also use my phone as a camera. So, what to do? I have tried switching off notifications. I’ll do that again, as maybe that’s a start until I realise that the world does not actually need me as much as I like to think!

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Why go to a writing group?

There are different types of writing groups and ours cross the boundaries of all these types. The info below is adapted from this on group types:

  1. Writing practice with writing prompts – this is space for you to simply write, not chat or use your phones. Also known as Shut up and Write groups, most people, however, like to share and feedback.
  2. Critique groups – sharing manuscripts and feedback – author reads, the author is quiet while others critique, then the author reviews. Some feel this is writing by committee, rather than the work being wholly one’s own.
  3. Social/support groups  – conversation is crucial. Talking about writing, reading, marketing, but also about your writing ideas.
  4. Accountability groups – using the group as a deadline creator.

Why do we crossover? Well, shut up and write is often best done alone and at home or elsewhere. Most people in a group like some interaction and feedback.

We all appreciate some critique of the work we do but do we want to engage in debate rather than sit back and take the criticism?

Deadlines often help people to write/find their voice, but if you have a deadline for a publisher that’s a different kind of pressure.

Social/support groups may feel like they do not have a function but for those lacking in confidence, they are imperative to spur writers on. Then, of course, there is editing…

What would you like from writing group? Which bits do you enjoy/find most or least helpful? Do please feedback.

 

 

Unusual writing styles

A member of one of my writing groups lent me a book called Charlotte by David Foenkinos,  a tribute to a German-Jewish artist, Charlotte Saloman who, pregnant, died at Auschwitz in 1943.

Her history of persecution but also of familial suicide is overwhelming, but what is incredible for the reader is the way that Foenkinos turns each paragraph into a stanza, each sentence into a separate line. The story is powerful, but in some ways, nothing we have not heard before in tales from the Holocaust.

Its beauty is in the writing style. It is fictionalised, written as poetry. Therefore, it is extraordinarily concise, yet rich in detail.

Wonderful to read something written so differently, which reminds me of another book also with an unusual style, Red or Dead, in the format of ‘hypnotic repetition as mentioned in my previous blog post.

 

Robsession

As a freelance feature writer, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed interviewing many people over a period of some years. It is sadly a rare event now, but a few years ago, I interviewed a lovely local lady and cake maker extraordinaire, Claire Potts. What happened next explained the power of the interview. We met to discuss promoting her phenomenal cake business. After a while, I was struggling to find something fascinating to hook my article on.

As is often the way, the interview steered off-piste; we also talked about her travels and her obsession with one Mr Robert Pattinson. My first thought was that, while she seemed perfectly normal and indeed, very pleasant, maybe she was a little odd. However, it helps not to judge on our first prejudice, but to listen to what a person has to say. I asked her to write an article about it. She did, and while this is now old, it really helped me to totally get it the power of obsession and Twitter!

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Over to Claire:

As I write this, I have not long returned from a week in New York with two of my best friends. Nothing too unusual in that I hear you say. Well no, until I tell you how I came to be friends with these two lovely ladies, and many more.

Two words. Robert Pattinson. Yes that’s right, the actor. And yes, I’m old enough to know better, having turned 40 this year, married with a child.

But that’s how I’ve become friends with several wonderful ladies, who have become my best friends. And it’s why I’ve travelled. And boy have I travelled! All to see Mr Pattinson, at least that’s how it started. Now he’s just the icing on the cake.

November 2009, I first set out to a red carpet event in London, on my own. Something I’d never done. Six months before I wouldn’t have even considered travelling from Cornwall to London, staying there and going to an event, alone. But then I was given the Twilight books to read, and was hooked. I rushed out and bought all the books and the DVD. That’s how this all started.

I watched the film, and as soon as ‘Edward’ walked in I was mesmerised. “Who the f**k is he?’ Straight to Google! And that was it. I was suddenly a giddy school girl all over again; it was crazy!

I already had a Twitter account, and so I started posting a few Twilight things and soon found a whole community out there. Fan sites and other grown women trying to make sense of what the hell was happening to them!

It was through Twitter that I found out about the event in London. It was to promote New Moon, the second Twilight film. And the cast was going to be there, which meant Rob. I got all the details, I booked train tickets and a hotel. Just like that. And I was more excited than a kid at Christmas; I was 35. I was at the front of the barrier for 11 hours. In the cold. And it was so worth it I couldn’t wait to do it again.

That’s how things started, with an obsession with Robert Pattinson. And that’s what it was. Everything became about him and Twilight, to my husband’s great amusement. I’m very lucky that he thinks this whole thing is hilarious and just rolls his eyes at me a lot. He also looks after our son when I go off on my travels.

The travelling started in April, 2010. By this point I’d been talking to a group of girls on Twitter for several months; most of them were from America or Canada. And they decided they wanted to meet up. Trouble for me was I was here, in Cornwall, a very long way from America. I was gutted, as I didn’t consider it an option. They were planning a week in new York, a twilight/Rob get together. It sounded wonderful, and I so wanted to go.

I mentioned it to my husband, saying what a shame it was I couldn’t go. ‘Why can’t you?’ came his reply. I was amazed. He was telling me to go? Yes, apparently he was!

Now you need to know that my husband is considerably older than me, and had a whole other life before we met when I was just 16, something he’s always been very conscious of. It’s always bothered him that I didn’t really have a life of my own. And then when our son was diagnosed with  several conditions, my life shrank even more. So he told me to go. Live, experience things.

So I went. I went to NYC on my own to meet people I’d never met and only knew via Twitter. I knew how bonkers it all sounded. But I had the best week, met some amazing ladies, with whom I’m still friends.

The trouble was it gave me the travel bug. Couple that with the addiction that is Mr Pattinson. I needed to see him again, I needed to see my girls again, and I needed to spread my wings again.

So a year later a film premier came up, in NYC. This time I didn’t need to think about it, I just booked flights. Hubby eye rolled some more and took me to the station.

To cut a very long story short, I met the girls and once again spent many hours in the cold, and the wet, the mother of all thunderstorms, in fact! But spending hours together like that you get to know each other, you talk and talk. You bond, not just over your mutual obsession with a hot actor either. Although that was the reason we were all there, to see HIM. And we did, up close. But that was only the start, we had the rest of the week exploring New York.

It’s not just New York though. Later that year another premier came up in LA. So we all met up again there. 2012 came a premier in Berlin, the Cannes film festival, the Glasgow film festival and more trips to London. All to see Rob yes, but by now it was as much to see each other. In between I went to Atlanta for thanksgiving, in the home of a friend I met on Twitter. People still look at me funnily when I tell them that’s how I met my best friend, but it’s true. She’s from Atlanta, and there would have been no way we would have met other than through the internet. I can’t imagine life without her. Or without the third cog in this wheel who I met at the Berlin premier. She’s from Nottingham and again we would never have met had it not been for Rob and Twitter.

Being asked to write about it all, I really didn’t know what to say or where to start. To someone on the outside it sounds crazy. A grown woman obsessed with an actor travelling all over the world to see him, and doing it with people she’s only met online. Saying it like that it does sound crazy. But the reality is that Rob and Twitter have just been a vehicle for discovery. He’s been the excuse to travel, and Twitter was the means to connect with like-minded people.

This year we again went to Cannes, and again saw him several times. But it was really more of an excuse to have a few days away with very special friends.

And NYC the other week? No Rob involved. That’s right, it was purely three best friends having a holiday together, perfectly normal, until you find out how we met.

What started as fans getting together to get all giddy and silly has turned into life long friendships. It’s opened my eyes to the possibilities within myself. I know now that I can do things, that I don’t need to be scared. Because of the support from these wonderful Robsessed women I now run my own cake making business. I wouldn’t have taken the leap if not for them, and I wouldn’t have them without Rob and Twitter.

I now have a life beyond home, I go out and do things. I’ve found out so much about myself, things that I like. I’ve seen places I would never have seen, and long may it continue.

So now comes the hard slog…

I have pleasure in offering you a contract.

Followed by: We do our best to produce high-quality books, and we shall do just that with your book; a book which I hope you will be proud of.

Music to my ears.

Some people receive heartbreaking numbers of rejections, so to read the above in an electronic communication really was the knees of the bee, especially as it all happened so very quickly.

Think of those poor Brontë sisters waiting weeks for the post to arrive. Not in this digital world. Rejection or acceptance is as swift as a sword.

So, now comes the hard bit:

  1. Finish writing the book. I have a deadline.
  2. Edit the book, re-edit the book and edit it again and again until it feels right.
  3. Seek photos and permissions.
  4. Read publisher guidelines and adhere.
  5. Complete publisher questionnaire.

On it goes until it feels like getting a publisher is the easy part … but when it is a non-commissioned book, a book written simply because it needed writing, a book which is a part of my being with which I have bored all my friends (to whom apologies) I’m glowing, so I shall have my moment and bask before realising it is 23.13 and I am still tapping away!

What’s the worst that could happen?

Today I flicked through a book on writing by Bridget Whelan, called Back to Creative dog-726006_960_720Writing School. Don’t all dash out to by it but yes, writers read about writing, too.

I quite liked a chapter at the end of the book (why do I always start there?) which explained the difference between journalists and creative writers. Journalist need to know:

What is the story about?

What happened?

When did it happen?

Where did it take place?

Why did it happen?

So, yesterday on the BBC website I read this. The story is about a dog thought to have cancer. She became sick and had a CT scan. It happened in Yorkshire. Miraculously, the dog did not have cancer, she had simply eaten four teddy bears, toys of the owner’s chihuahua dogs, apparently.

A creative writer asks: What if?

Or even what is the worst that could happen? 

That is what creates the story. However, is it that different to journalism? If poor old Maisy the St Bernard had cancer, no one would actually bat an eyelid, sad though it would be. Four teddies in her gut sends the imagination into overdrive.

Was she jealous of the chihuahuas? Did she like the taste? What kind of teddies? What’s it like to be eaten by a St Bernard? On it goes. People, you have a story.

Result.

Wicca – what’s it all about?

I’m not Wiccan, I’m not anything particular in terms of belief systems, but when offered the opportunity to find out more about Wicca from some practitioners in Bude, I jumped at the chance. Research for my writing is always welcome, and I always enjoy learning new things/being open to ideas. The session was held at the Wise Old Crow shop.

The workshop was promoted thus:

Wicca is the backbone of modern paganism, and owes much of its popularity now to a man called Gerald Gardner, who strove to widen the horizons of what had been an underground belief system. This most British of mystery religions has been a satisfying spiritual path for thousands and is still growing and evolving today. Come along and find out about it from three Gardnerian witches from a local coven based in the Bude area.

I learned that Wicca and witchcraft are not the same things. Wicca is an organised belief system, while witchcraft is, according to this website a spiritual system that fosters the free thought and will of the individual, encourages learning and an understanding of the earth and nature thereby affirming the divinity in all living things…

Wicca believes in a female (goddess) and male (horned deity) demonstrated through rituals that revolve around nature and natural cycles.

It has no uniform doctrine, no scripture, no bible; therefore, the ritual of the system is of vital importance. Animism is important, the idea that all objects, even inanimate, are enthused with life force.

There is also a focus on pantheism, the idea that all things are divine. That is quite hard to wrap my head around.

It struck me that Wicca varies from organised religion, despite the insistence on ritual, because of its focus on the feminine (not to dismiss the masculine, for it is a balance) compared to the more patriarchal nature of more established religions such as Christianity. It is an aspect I rather liked and found engaging.

Meanwhile, the idea of naked witches dancing around a coven is old hat scaremongering. Now, nakedness is used as what is known as ‘skyclad’ ritual in some groups, more as an energy force than some weird sexual practice.

I’m not convinced it is for me, as I am not big on ritual. That said, I enjoyed holding a wand! It is, however, an interesting belief system to check out and those who try it seem devoted to their craft and magick.

 

My elastic (I hope) brain

cranium-3199408__340Mum had dementia. Dad has Alzheimer’s. My big brother had Multiple System Atrophy. Pardon me, but when I think about brains, it is often negatively.

Listening to Radio 4’s recent words on the ‘elastic brain’, I was intrigued in a positive way. Neuroscientists have been into this for some time, but it was new to me, and I enjoy the novelty. Neophilia, it’s called. Novelty is good for the brain. Keen on crosswords, try a sudoku. Cereal every morning, have toast. Challenge yourself and your comfort zone.

When I taught sociology, social change was one of the big social issues. Very generally, it is thought that people do not like change as it leads to uncertainty. However, change also leads to progress and improvement, which is wonderful. Think of all the things we would not now have if no change occurred. We’d be stuck doing the tedious stuff of our forebears.

I like the idea that we can rise above conventional ways of thinking and be creative.

I like the idea that we can look beyond the existing order, thereby challenging it.

I particularly like the idea that we can think in non-linear ways that sometimes defeat logic.

I begin to feel excited at the thought of challenging existing ideas and questioning assumptions. Let’s have a paradigm shift (taking me back to Kuhnian sociology).

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Stretch it and shape it by:

  • trying new things/foods/activities
  • making mistakes by doing the above
  • living your passion – alway
  • moving outside your comfort zone
  • changing life in positive ways

And yes, I also like the idea of brain downtime, when you can stop thinking, giving your brain creative space. Maybe that’s why I enjoy reading in the bath so much.

Further info:

This article goes into much more interesting detail.

 

Blood Brothers

Down here on the north Devon border there is not much choice of theatre unless you are prepared to travel many miles. I struck lucky to see that Blood Brothers was on the bill  at the Queen’s Theatre, Barnstaple, on my birthday. Promptly got two tickets (rather decent ones, actually) not sure of what bang I’d be getting for my bucks. I mean, Willy Russell is amazing but what calibre would this performance be? I had nasty visions of Flashdance endured at the Blackpool Winter Gardens whirling in my head, though I had since seen a rather better musical in the shape of Paint Your Wagon at the Everyman in Liverpool.

Russell, the Merseyside writer of Educating Rita and Shirley Valentine has an intuitive way of presenting downtrodden women and Blood Brothers is no different. It is heartbreaking throughout but primarily when one sees yet another young woman ‘up the duff’, her future assuredly crap.

Blood Brothers was one of the longest-running musicals in the West End, ably produced and directed by Bill Kenwright, before it set off on tour; it has been massively popular. As the lady in the queue for the ladies’ loos – there is always a queue) said to me: “Who’d have thought something of this calibre would come to Barnstaple?” Who indeed?

The show is a ‘Liverpudlian folk opera’,  a tale of two twins separated at birth to live very different lives, one poor, one posh, reunited later by a strange twist of fate. The script contains so many tugs on the heartstrings it is hard to know where to begin. A mother of too many children whose husband ups and leaves her in poverty. A woman unable to have children who is prepared to lie her way to getting someone else’s. Unemployment, depression, social divisions, all set against a backdrop of Liverpool’s iconic Royal Liver Building. Crucial to the tale is an unnerving ever-present and all-knowing narrator, chilling in tone, who my daughter found extremely menacing. He was meant to be.

In the version at Barnstaple, Lyn Paul played the key character, Mrs Johnstone. Her vocals were strong, powerful and outstanding; her acting is pretty decent, too. Lyn was a singer with the New Seekers and lead vocalist for this song. To be honest, I couldn’t fault the casting, nor the strength of class-based feeling the play evoked.

Could I get through it without shedding a tear? No. I held out until the end when Mickey’s depression got the better of me. I’d grown to like Mickey, a decent lad born into difficult circumstances (despite a later move to Skem – Skelmersdale – which is pretty grim) whose future/fate (prison, depression, losing the girl he loves) is sealed by his real brother, Sammy, who is a total hard case, and probably brain damaged.

The poignant question he asks his mother, why not me, why didn’t you give me away? hurts like hell.

Yet, it isn’t all doom and gloom, for there is a tremendous amount of humour within the show. We were gripped for the entire performance; despite being middle class, my sympathies were most certainly with the stricken Johnstones and I really, really wanted a happy ending.

Alas, for the poverty-stricken classes, it simply doesn’t happen. Russell was realistic to the last.

 

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