NaNoWriMo or not? And was Jack Kerouac doing a similar thing…

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Jack Kerouac (Photo: Wiki Commons)

Jack Kerouac became famous for writing his iconic novel, On the Road, while living on Benzedrine, coffee and pea soup (made by his wife Joan) on a road trip over thirty days. He wrote on one long sheet of paper, using tracing paper he’d cut to size for his typewriter and then taped together so he wouldn’t have to slow down for more paper. Although it was ‘“spontaneous writing”, he had planned some of it in advance, something people trying to copy him might not have realised. After editing it, and I can only imagine how difficult that was, it was published in 1957 and became a cult, “Beat Generation” hit.

Being able to write in the same circumstances in such a short space of time as Kerouac did appears exciting, radical and dangerous. However, writing a book in a limited amount of time is not as unusual as you might think. Many successful novelists have systems that help them plan and finish books in a similar amount of time. Authors like Arthur Conan Doyle with A Study in Scarlet, the first Sherlock Holmes mystery, was written in three weeks and weighs in at 43,625 words!

But for the less practised or less successful writer, the possibility of managing that can feel impossible. With this in mind, and for reasons still not entirely clear to me, this year, (blame the pandemic) I decided to do NaNoWriMo. If you don’t know what that is, check out the website Nanowrimo.org for a full explanation. Basically, you write every day for the month of November to create a novel of 50,000 words.

Does it have to be 50K words? Well, that’s the idea, though others say it’s as long as you want. Others say it’s an excellent method to ensure you write every day. Getting into the habit of putting words on the page is always good if you profess to be a writer.

Before I started, I followed the ‘preptober’ guidelines (i.e. planning your novel in October)- all available on various websites online. My favourite was an American one on the Heartbreathings.com blog, which had fun downloads and lots of encouragement. I really enjoyed this method as I did the same planning with the novel I wrote, SuperRecogniser (now in the editing phase). I like to know where I’m potentially going with a story and be able to change what I’d thought I’d write and then go off in a different direction. I did a bit of that in Super Recogniser and see that I’ve been doing it in my NaNoWriMo work. Which makes it fun!

The most interesting thing I’ve found about having a deadline every day for your personal writing is that you are more pushy about getting uninterrupted writing time. Which is a good thing. Other people take your writing time more seriously and because of this, so do you.

If you’re interested in doing NaNoWriMo, you still can! Fewer days, fewer words, but still a useful exercise for writers. Or, of course, you can do it on a different month…

The ‘Joy’ of Constraint

(Not to be confused with The Joy of Sex, The Joy of Painting and The Joy of Cooking…)

BEOWULF with Grendel head (Illustration 1910)

I imagine you know what ‘joy’ means, but ‘constraint’ is trickier isn’t it?  The dictionary definition is a ‘limitation or constriction’. Which could be unpleasant or, I’m suggesting here, sometimes liberating. (Oh and I love that picture above of Beowulf!)

In these days of the Coronavirus, everyone is finding their lives being constrained in one way or another. Whether it be the rules about how far you’re allowed to travel, what places you’re able to visit and how many other people it is safe and legal for you to meet. Tough times.

Where does that leave us? Staying home, keeping within a small, prescribed circle of contacts, and not venturing too far beyond the everyday. That could be a nightmare. However, it doesn’t have to be.

If you usually work in an office, with all the travel and work rules that that entails, suddenly working from home will require both self-discipline and rigor. Those aren’t bad qualities, but that can require a breaking down of your previous work methods. You no longer have the office to monitor your day and offer the teamwork an office environment can have. (If you don’t usually work at an office, substitute ‘office’ with your usual work environment.)

If you usually work from home, like many writers and artists and freelancers, you’ve already faced the working from home demon. The one that doesn’t notice or care if you’re in your pyjamas at 3pm but still expects you to get your work done. It’s the same grinning demon who only slightly raises its eyebrows at you playing loud music while you work and you taking a break to watch an episode of your favourite comedy show while eating cereal. It’s all about Getting The Work Done! Obviously, that’s a best case scenario. But sometimes best case scenarios are all we can hope for. Along with changing our everyday routines, I wonder if being constrained in how we live our lives could actually help us grow as people?

Not commuting means gaining hours of your life every week!

Not going on holiday could mean saving money and the planet by not doing long journeys.

Being settled at home with family, by not being out at work so much, can allow for nurturing better relationships.

For some people, the nature of their jobs does not allow working from home. Appreciating the amazing work of core staff, healthcare workers, teachers, delivery people, police, and so many others, who are often overlooked. This is another reason why I think individual ‘constraint’ of ordinary living can actually be a  positive thing. It makes us look around us more clearly and be thankful for the good things we still have.

The final word on the ‘constraint conundrum’. It only works for as long as we can see it’s necessary and useful. A bit like doing Haikus?

Here’s a haiku by Kobayashi Issa (b. 1763) and one that I feel that fits with working from home:

O snail
Climb Mount Fuji,
But slowly, slowly!

Kobayashi Issa


Other times, you might want to move away from that to epic poems. Something meaty and exciting in readiness for when the Coronavirus recedes, which it will. Something like a great warrior’s story?

 Here’s the start of Beowolf, an Anglo-Saxon epic poem:

Lo! the Spear-Danes’ glory through splendid achievements

The folk-kings’ former fame we have heard of,

How princes displayed then their prowess-in-battle.

Gutenberg.org     If you want to read more click on the Gutenberg link!

New Beginnings

Today I’ve gone back to my old WordPress website! I’ve decided to rename it ‘yasminwrites‘ as that sums it up. It’s about my writing and writing in general. If you followed me before, thank you. If you didn’t, please feel free to take a chance! I’ll be posting updates on my work in progress, literature news, and forays into the joys and the challenges of writing, for pleasure or profit.

Things like:

  • deciding if your work is progressing at all or just plain stuck
  • looking at how doing a Creative Writing course can be a game-changer or an expensive dead end
  • wondering if you need to change your writing methods or genres and how to manage that best.

That’s all for now. I’ll be updating website links and other housekeeping in the next few days. See you then!

Photo by Tirachard Kumtanom on Pexels.com

April is Shakespeare

William Shakespeare Chandos portrait

Chandos Portrait circa 1610

April 2016 will be steeped in all things Shakespearean as William Shakespeare (1564–1616) died four hundred years ago and everybody is (still) talking about it. Which is good as everyone should know who Shakespeare was and what an enormous debt the modern world owe to his work. What not everyone might know is that someone so important to the English language and literature in general for his plays and poetry would only have been 52 on his death. Which seems a terribly early death for someone so very gifted and prolific.

But in our current times we have lost other gifted and prolific artists at an age that seems too young. Only this week the British writer, actor, musician and director Victoria Wood (May 19, 1953 – April 20, 2016) passed away at 62. And yesterday the singer and superstar Prince (June 7, 1958 – April 21, 2016) died at only 57. This is obviously very sad for their family, friends and many fans. Part of our sadness is because we can’t help but wonder what these artists might have produced if they’d lived longer. What we can still enjoy and treasure is what they made in their lifetimes and looking at the example of Shakespeare’s life, we know that the work artists, writers and musicians produce can endure long after their death.

Shakespeare understood the human condition of hope, desire and dreams. He was also well aware of how very short life is. Of course, I need to round off this slightly maudlin start with a small Shakespeare quote, it’s one of my favourites:

We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

The Tempest


tempeststorm

Illustrated by Charles H. Buchel, 1904

The joy of writing is that you can transform sad, difficult events from our little lives into something new and positive. All the writers I’ve spoken of understood that.

wordpress-shoe-collection

On Tuesday I went to the Norwich Writers’ Circle launch for the  Olga Sinclair Open Story Competition 2016 This is for a 2000 word story on the theme of shoes and is being sponsored by a Norwich shoemakers, Van-Dal Shoes.

It was a great evening with talks by people from Van-Dal shoes, which is celebrating 80 years. Frances & Michael Holmes  did a presentation based on their book The Story of the Norwich Boot and Shoe Trade telling us fascinating stories and showing archive pictures from the local shoe trade over the last century.

Then Ashley Stokes from the Unthank School of Writing spoke about the creative writing courses they are running, both online or at evening classes.

Finally, the writer Rachel Hore, whose most recent novel is The House on Bellevue Gardens, will be adjudicating the prize and gave tips on what she will be looking for in the competition entries. All very useful and inspiring.

The House on Bellevue Gardens by Rachel Hore

Also inspiring was getting a copy of The Cafe Writing Map in the post from Writing Maps. These are ‘creative writing prompts and ideas for stories’. Good fun and they currently have a 30% off Writing Maps in April!

 

Writing Maps logo

Agatha Christie – still the Queen of Crime

Agatha Christie, surrounded by some of her 80-plus crime novels.

January is traditionally a time for new things, new ideas, new starts. It makes sense to do this as it follows closing the old year and moving on. Named after the Roman god Janus, the god of beginnings and transitions and from the from the Latin word, ianua, which means ‘door’, this is the door to the new year! So why am I writing this almost half-way through the month? It might be because the start of the year is always very distracting after the end of year celebrations and holidays. It might be because I dislike following the crowd with publicising new year resolutions that could soon be broken. It’s also tricky until you know how plans from the previous year have done, so you can definitely feel like a true Janus figure with one head looking back while the other looks forward.

Janus_coin

Janus coin

I was (and still am) waiting for the results from some short story submissions. One got longlisted, which was great! But didn’t win, which was less great… However, as any writer/artist knows you have to get used to knock backs and still keep trying. There are websites for dejected writers devoted to this sort of thing, but I take the old fashioned view of ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’. All you need to remember is that every writer, from  Agatha Christie to Stephen King, had numerous rejections, but still kept writing.

I used to read a lot of Agatha Christie (1890-1976) but not much recently. However, over Christmas the BBC did a fantastic adaptation of ‘And then there were none’ (BBC 2015) and it reminded me what great plots and interesting, believable characters Christie created and how wonderful the BBC is at making adaptations of novels  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b06v2v52

And then there none BBC 2015

And then there were none                                                                BBC 2015

I always liked Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot because they weren’t hard boiled cops or jaded investigators trying to solve a murder. Instead they were unusual (an older Belgian and a much older English lady) and as such slightly humorous as people underestimated their abilities, which were exceptional. I hadn’t read ‘And then there were none’ before, it has had different names over the years (some more insulting than others). There is no central detective character like Marple or Poirot, instead there is a range of ten people on an island, each wondering who the murderer is. In the story the reader (or viewer) will have to decide which of these people are likeable and trustworthy and those who are clearly not. This was Christie’s great talent for getting readers to make assumptions about the characters (which are often proved to be false) and putting in red herrings to keep us off the scent. One thing I hadn’t previously known was her education in pharmacy which helped her attend to patients in the First World War and also gave her knowledge of poisons for her stories. Perhaps it is this specialised knowledge that gives her stories an extra veneer of reality and makes the endings more satisfactory for the reader.

If you want to find out more about wonderful Agatha this website is a good resource: http://www.agathachristie.com/

 

Dodie Smith – The Shop Girl Writer

 Dodie Smith

Dodie Smith

On the last day of November the weather has gone to rain and wind. Good weather for hunkering indoors and reading and writing.

It got me thinking about all this year’s literary prizes (and there were a lot) and how some of the results of those prizes won’t be known until 2016. Writing for competitions requires a lot of hope and patience.

The Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting ­http://www.writeaplay.co.uk/ was won this year by Katherine Soper. When I read about this one phrase stuck in my mind, the winning play was described as ‘written by a shop girl’. Obviously you wonder why they didn’t just call her a ‘writer’ as that’s clearly what she is. And the words ‘shop girl’ sounded­ slightly pejorative, as if working in a shop was bad. But it’s also funny! Lots of writers have worked in shops, some still do, and then I remembered reading about another playwright who was also referred to as “Shop Girl Writes Play” by a newspaper after she won a prize. That writer was Dodie Smith (Dorothy Gladys Smith, 1896-1990) and she was working at Heals in 1931. Before she started writing novels, Dodie Smith wrote plays. She had worked in the theatre so writing plays would have seemed a natural progression.

Most people will know of Dodie’s first novel I Capture the Castle published in 1948, which has that famous and brilliant first line, “I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.” After that the rest of the book has a lot to live up to and fortunately doesn’t disappoint. It’s such a wonderfully funny, bittersweet love letter to growing up, writing and England. The 2003 film version with Romola Garai as the narrator, Cassandra, definitely does the book justice.

I Capture the Castle film

I Capture the Castle film

Dodie’s other famous work was the children’s book The Hundred and One Dalmatians (1956) which was apparently inspired by a friend’s comment about Dodie’s own beloved dalmatians “Those dogs would make a lovely fur coat!”

Dodie with dalmatian

              Dodie with dalmatian

It’s another well observed book and mixes humour and fear brilliantly. Cruella de Vil is terrifying, but also a great (if unintentional) anti-fur ambassador. Who would want to be like her?

Cruella_de_Vil

            Cruella_de_Vil

Dodie spent all her life writing and if it wasn’t books or plays, it was letters to friends or her diary. She was a full-on full-time writer and a wonderful inspiration to anyone who’s ever worked in a shop and dreamed of be able to write professionally.

If you want to know the full story about Dodie get hold of Valerie Grove’s biography Dear Dodie: The Life of Dodie Smith

Enid Marx – Queen of the Mocquette

Enid Marx double-diamond design for London Transport 1937

Enid Marx double-diamond design 1937

When I think of the name ‘Marx’ two things come to mind – The Marx Brothers and Karl Marx. Both are interesting in their own ways, but I had never heard of Enid Marx (1902-1998) until we visited the Compton Verney Art Gallery in the summer holidays. She was an English painter, designer, children’s book writer and, yes, a distant cousin of Karl Marx. Her work is wonderful and inspiring. She did lots of printing and had a passion for patterns. I love the fact that she designed the seat covers (mocquette fabric) for London buses and tube trains in 1930’s.

The photo at the top of this post is an example of one of her seat cover designs from The London Transport shop: http://www.ltmuseumshop.co.uk/moquette/availability.html

If you want to know more about the wonderful Enid look at the Independent newspaper obituary http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/obituary-enid-marx-1158447.html and check out the Compton Verney Art Gallery website http://www.comptonverney.org.uk/collections/marx_lambert.aspx

Anyone who has ever used the London Underground and been charmed (or otherwise) by the patterns on their seats will know the names of different stations conjure up ideas and stories, even if you never actually get off at that station. TubeFlash is an interesting website based on flash fiction for different London stations. You can submit your own 300 word story (check the conditions first) or just read some of the ones already published on http://www.tubeflash.co.uk/ It’s a fun project.

Other writing news:

Very pleased to report that Words and Women, who support women writers living and working in East Anglia, have lauched their annual prose competition today! http://wordsandwomennorwich.blogspot.co.uk/p/competitions_11.html

Closing date for entries is 15 November so better get writing…

September is ‘Back to School’

left on our street

left on our street

Vivian Maier worked as a nanny in America, but her real work was photography. She took photographs everywhere (often when walking the children she was looking after) and kept the negatives. She had a few printed, but never made money from her photography. Which is a shame as after her death her negatives were discovered, printed up and displayed. Now her work is hailed as wonderful examples of street photography and reportage on the everyday and the overlooked.­ Check her out on: http://www.vivianmaier.com/

For writers I think her photographs are so interesting and evocative they beg for a story to be written about them! I will definitely be looking at them for inspiration for my next competition story: http://www.commonwealthwriters.org/our-projects/the-short-story/ The Commonwealth Writers Short Story Competition is always good and FREE to enter.

As we’re now in September, it really is ‘back to school’ in concentrating on writing projects. Always have to be working on something!

Blogging

Hello and welcome to my new blog! It’s about writing. Mainly creative writing and mine, but other types and authors are welcome too.

From my extensive research (via internet searches and things other people have told me) blogging can be a useful and fun activity. Good. However, setting up a blog is tricky and difficult if you’re over ten and don’t have a blog adviser strapped on your shoulder. As I am clearly not ten and don’t have any extra people attached to my person I am winging it. With faulty wings. This, I would suggest, is the natural state of any writer. You have an idea and then anything can happen.

To help things along I’d added a few links on the left side bar as examples of my writing. Hope you enjoy them!