Writers’ HQ: Seven Ideas In Seven Days

7-ideas-lightbulb

Remember my novel? I was working on it loads last summer and then I did (most of) NaNoWriMo in November, before the world decided it really wanted to bring me down with its ridiculous ideas. I also got bogged down in family stuff, D’s operation, Christmas and then the hell that is working in a school when a new curriculum is trying to be introduced. I lost my way and I lost my mojo. My characters were still in my brain, my story was still asking to be written, but I just struggled to get it down or find time to write.

This is where Writers’ HQ comes in; its founders Sarah and Jo are time-poor, cash-poor, sliiiiightly sweary writers (both Sarah and Jo are novelists) who also happen to be mothers and needed a way to find time to do their work. They offer a range of ways for others to write too- monthly writers’ retreats in Brighton and Worthing, as well as online courses which are reasonably priced (there are also free exercises for a lot of the courses, if you want to check them out before committing to buy one) and take into account the pressures of daily life. Now, disclosure time: Jo is a friend of mine and has been trying to get me to go to the Brighton retreat for AGES, but I either never have money/time/anything to work on. Instead, she offered me the chance to have a go at February’s Seven Ideas In Seven Days course. I jumped on it.

Seven Ideas In Seven Days costs £20 and you are given a lesson everyday that takes around an hour to complete. I loved the variety of different tasks and the ideas I came up with were often completely new to me and very intriguing- I have at least three new ideas for different stories in completely new-to-my-writing genres (including one about the popularity of succulent plants being part  of an alien invasion plot, which I may just write for the LOLZ), as well as two new perspectives on the novels that have lived in  my brain for a long time.

I also liked the forum- although I’m not sure everyone signed up for this month’s course was using it. However, I found two supportive course members and Sarah who were all brilliant for bouncing ideas off, discussing what we’d written and where our work could go next. It felt less scary than a class and more like a friendly chat in a coffee shop (except that I was drinking tea. And in my own house. You understand the imagery though.)

Would I recommend the course? Yes. It was a lot of fun and I’d like to do another course if I get enough money together- there are all sorts of things on offer, from how to plot your novel right through to actually writing/editing the beast and eventually sending it off to a publisher. It was more personal than just using a book or an anonymous blogpost to write and I think the structure and the range of tasks meant that I sat down every night to work. It also made me realise that I CAN carve some time out of the day to write, even if it’s not much. It’s better to write a bit than not at all. I look forward to reacquainting myself with my characters. And the Mutant Succulents From Space With Mind Bending Powers Of Persuasion, obv.

 

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Happy birthday, Charlotte Bronte

CBRichmond

Today it’s Charlotte Bronte’s 200th birthday. As a Yorkshire woman (despite being born in Wales and currently living in Brighton, I have my county written in my bones like Scarborough through a stick of rock) and a literature fan- as well as simply a reader- it feels important to mark this anniversary.

Despite Charlotte not being my favourite of the Brontes- in her letters, I find her to be sometimes maddening and I imagine that she might have been a high maintenance friend- without her, we wouldn’t know anything about her extraordinary family. After all, she was the one who discovered Emily’s cache of poems and overrode both Emily’s furious indignity and Anne’s reluctance to have the work published. She may have been stubborn (and maybe slightly overbearing to her younger sisters?), but she opened up the world of these three isolated women to the rest of us.

It’s because of this anniversary that I’m working my way through all of the Bronte material I can lay my hands on, as part of my self-set Bronte Challenge. I’m currently reading- and enjoying- Jane Eyre, a book I’ve never got on with before. This time, something has clicked, and I’m not sure what it is. Maybe it’s because of Jane’s determination to make the best of her life, despite her shortcomings, or the fact that as a woman in my early 30s, I get the mindset that Charlotte herself felt as she wrote the novel aged 31. I used to despair at Jane’s repeated reiteration of her plainness, but having read about Charlotte’s preoccupation with her health (bordering on hypochondria at times, although with siblings perishing around her, not wholly unwarranted) shortness and her teeth, I get where that came from. Maybe I just wasn’t ready for Jane Eyre when I was younger. Late to the party? Yes, I guess so. Most of my friends read the novel when they were younger. But I came to it with a more grown up view of the world and it worked for me.

So today, in honour of Miss Bronte, I’ll curl up somewhere with a cup of tea and my copy of Jane Eyre- and I’ll thank her for forcing her sisters to share their work with the world.

CharlotteBronte

 

 

Books 2015: The Devil in the Marshalsea

The Devil In The Marshalsea (Feb)

This was on my ‘to-read’ list for ages and I finally spotted it on one of my and D’s now-weekly trips to the tiny local branch library. It’s a combination of whodunnit, romance and tale of hard times that just happens  to be set in one of the most notorious debtors’ prisons in 18th century London.

Tom is the wastrel son of a country parson who finds himself thrown into the Marshalsea after a mugging means he can’t pay his rent. Unfortunately, he ends up sharing a room with the most disliked inmate- and the man who had his bed before just happened to have been murdered. It’s up to Tom to solve the crime.

I thought this was a rich novel, full of weird and wonderful characters- apparently some people elected to stay in the Marshalsea after their debt was paid in order to run businesses; there was a barber’s, a coffee house, a pub and the interestingly named chop house ‘Titty Doll’s’ (!)- as well as some more heartbreaking stories of those unable to purchase a life of relative luxury on the Master’s Side. Everything has its price in the Marshalsea, even life.

Although it took me a while to get into the novel, I really enjoyed it and the twist wasn’t completely obvious, which was brilliant; all too often the whodunnit is signposted way too early.

If you enjoy your historical fiction to have a social conscience, this could be the next novel on your to read list.

Books 2015: Nunslinger- Stark Holborn*

Nunslinger (Feb)

Nunslinger started life as a series of e-books, which were then published as a collection at the end of last year. If I’m honest, I was drawn to this book on Bookbridgr because of the cover (I mean, look at it- it is SO COOL.) Plus anyone who knows me knows that I love a good nun-related yarn.

The story revolves around Sister Thomas Josephine, a nun wrongly accused of murder at the time of the American Civil War. As a result, Thomas Josephine finds herself running around the Wild West avoiding the army, attempting to save souls and associating with outlaws, murderers and a whole host of ne’er-do-wells. I bloody loved this book.

You see, had you asked me a few weeks ago if I’d be up for reading a book that’s essentially a western, I’d have said no. I’ve never really gone in for the cowboys and Indians schtick of the genre. However, the main characters- Thomas Josephine and the outlaw she teams up with for most of the book, Abe Muir- are likeable and sympathetic. The plot’s a bit far-fetched at times, but this read more like a fun (yet slightly violent) romp and I was happy to suspend my disbelief for the duration.

I liked the way the nun’s feelings about her situation and her crises of faith were framed in a way that seemed worlds apart from the traditional machismo of the Wild West. Yes, she was a woman of God, but there was no way she was a victim. Other women in the novel are strong and more than capable of holding their own with the men and it’s brilliant. You should read it.

*Sent for review

Harper Lee and the excitement for her ‘new’ novel

Image: HuffPo

Image: HuffPo

I am so, so excited that Harper Lee’s ‘lost’ novel has been found and will be published later this year. Quite simply, ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ is the reason I’m a teacher- but I’ve never taught it! I’ve shown pupils the film (often tying it in with the study of persecution in ‘The Merchant of Venice’, another favourite of mine) but I must make it a resolution to teach the novel soon.

I adore ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ so, so much. Scout is such a perfect protagonist- innocent yet whip smart and I love her. So it’ll be interesting to see how she presents in the new novel- a sequel of sorts, but written before ‘Mockingbird’.

So why is everyone so excited about this? Well, at a time when the world is a scary and uncertain place, Lee’s novel is important. We’re in a world where certain people want us to see society as an ‘us and them’ and the simple message of Scout and her father is still important:

“I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks.”

Image: Telegraph

Image: Telegraph

I will totally be buying it. And re-reading ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’. And re-watching the film (Gregory Peck as Atticus is pretty much cinematic perfection in my eyes.)

Is anyone else as excited as me?

Books 2015: A Vision of Fire- Gillian Anderson with Jeff Rovin

A Vision of Fire (Jan)

I’ve been a fangirl of Gillian Anderson’s since I was 12, so OF COURSE I bought her novel, even though it’s sci-fi and I don’t usually like reading that as a genre. Gillian Anderson- busy with her work as an actress, obv- has teamed up with sci-fi veteran Rovin and come up with a story of conspiracy, reincarnation, apocalypse and a doctor heroine who has a male, will-they-won’t-they sidekick. Sounds a bit familiar, non?

This is more like the X-Files and what I would have expected from someone who is arguably most famous for her role as Scully. Indeed, the character of Dr Caitlin O’Hara, a single mother psychologist, shares many traits with Dana Scully. She’s cool, calm and professional.Unlike Scully, she’s open to the possibility of an otherworldly reason for the mysterious affliction suffered by three teenagers scattered across the globe; she finds a connection that would make Scully’s eyebrows disappear into her hairline.

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The novel has been slated by critics, but I enjoyed it. It was a bit confusing at times, but it was a fairly easy read and the narrative was well paced. I quite happily suspended my disbelief and was content to mentally imagine it as an episode of The X-Files, which was an excellent way to spend my free time. I preferred it to Holy Cow and I will read the next installment of the series (which is called the ‘Earthend Saga’, so we can guess it’s probably not going to be all hearts and flowers, right?)

Books 2015: Hidden Knowledge- Bernadine Bishop*

Hidden Knowledge (Jan)

Sometimes I read reviews of books that I’ve read and wonder if I read a different book. It’s certainly the case with this novel.

It’s a story of a family torn apart and a woman investigating the death of her young son twenty years before; Romola has to deal with the fact that one of her brothers- a famous novelist- has slipped into a coma. Her other brother, a priest, has confessed to sexually abusing a boy. He was also linked to the death of the boy, because he had tried to save him. Add to this mix the novelist’s young Italian girlfriend, the grieving mother’s no-nonsense, baby-mad daughter and you have a complex web of people that could have provided a rich tapestry of a novel.

However, I felt a bit let down. The characters weren’t really jumping off the page for me and I didn’t feel the same emotion I had with John Boyne’s A History of Loneliness last year (which also deals with an abusive priest). To me, this felt like an old fashioned novel trying to tackle something very much in the present- and not quite managing it.

*Sent for review