Life is what happens…

‘Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans’

I first heard this in John Lennon’s song, ‘Beautiful Boy’ and John’s fate is my reminder to appreciate each day as it comes whether your plans work out or not. 

We do thrive on plans that take us forward though, and I’m happy that my writing plans for 2016 are forging ahead.

I’ve completed my final draft of  ‘A Jarful of Moondreams’ and , each month, I’m sending it off to two agents and a publisher. I figured that this means I’ll always have one of two people considering my work and won’t have all my rejections back at once.

Talking of rejections, I’ve just had my first. It was a nicely worded rejection and I’ve been told so often that I’ll get lots on my journey to publication that it was a sort of right of passage. Opened it, read it, over it.

As well as looking for representation, I’m looking into self-publishing. My plan is to be published one way or another and, while  I would be delighted to be taken on by an agent who loves my work, I’m prepared to go it alone.

I’ve sent ‘A Jarful of Moondreams’ out into the world to be read by my nearest and dearest. That, I feel,  is harder than giving it to strangers. ”Love It!” ‘Hated Neil” “perfect summer holiday read” ‘Ha! I can’t believe ….(spoiler)” ” I loved that man” It is lovely to hear that people couldn’t wait to find out what happened to my characters. I even got “Is there a sequel? I want to know more about….”

I’ve loved writing for the past couple of years but now I’m learning how satisfying it is for my novel to  have readers. I know I’m going to have great fun when I’m taking it out into a wider field and promoting it. 

While the first born is getting out there, novel 2 has not got a title. There are several that I like but I don’t want to pin it down yet.

With number 2, it’s easier to make writing time, to allow the characters to develop as they come to life on the page IMG_1592and to allow the odd new twist to appear in the story. There’s a welsh terrier who wants to make an appearance. He’s a lovely character like my welshie , Oscar,  but older and wiser. I’m enjoying drafting this story because I’m getting rid of the ‘this is rubbish’ voice that used to crop up when I first started writing. If it whispers that it’s rubbish, I say that I can always go back and change it. I’ve written right up to THE END once so I can do it again because I’m a writer.

 


 

The Pyjama Game

I’ve enjoyed reading the furore about parents in pyjamas taking their children to school. What a range of opinions!

school run

“The head is quite right and it shouldn’t be allowed” at one extreme to “What does it matter as long as the children are taken to school?” at the other. Added to this, I’ve heard several debates on morning dress code. Is there one?

I know that Cleo Moon, the deputy head in ‘A Jarful of Moondreams’, would not want to antagonise the parents of her pupils by dictating what to wear in the morning but she might be given the job of speaking to one or two culprits by her boss, Teflon ( nothing sticks to him) Telford.

I was head of an inner city school and know how hard it is to get the children into school and how absence is often due to parents who can’t organise their life well enough to send their offspring out of the door in the morning. I’d have been happy to have the pupils arriving in school clothes and would not have felt responsible for the parents garb.

How can a headteacher decide when to draw the line? Isn’t it acceptable to expect a dress code for your pupils in school but sheer bossiness to extend it to parents? To send an open letter to all parents is sledgehammer to a nut tactics. If it was a handful of parents, a quiet friendly word would either do the trick or put you in your place by telling you to mind your school’s business and not theirs. Is the head going to ban parents from showing body art, piercings and unusual hair colours next?

imageI was interested to discover that the wearing of pyjamas during the day became fashionable in Juan-les-Pins when Coco Channel started the trend in the 1920s. This present trend is not new. I’d prefer Coco pyjamas to a onesie any day but if other adults want to dress like big toddlers it doesn’t concern me.

In an interview about entertaining, Nigella, of the great-tasting food, admitted that she often served her guests in her nightwear. I do hope they’re of the Coco Chanel elegant but comfortable style and not fleecy onesie style but, whatever they are I wouldn’t refuse a Nigella dinner.

It’s all down to personal choice. I  feel sluggish if I’m in my nightwear  until lunch time. I wouldn’t eat dinner in a dressing gown either because these garments signal bedtime to me. There are other comfy loungewear clothes with the same cut and comfort of pyjamas that I would wear so I’m sure it’s all in the name.

Who remembers the shell suit? Worse than a onesie or not?

imageOne bonus of wearing pyjamas morning until evening is that it would save that walk of shame when you have to leave somewhere early in the morning in a party dress and killer heels. That’s a look that won’t go down well at the school gates either.

Writing plans for 2016

A Jarful of Moondreams‘ is about romance and family relationships. Cleo and Alex are sisters and it’s complicated. They infuriate one another but they both want what’s best for Teri, their mother. Can they fall in with Teri’s plans and survive a whole summer together!

A Jarful of Moondreams
A Jarful of Moondreams

Somebody liked my writing. I don’t know my ROMANTIC NOVELIST’S ASSOCIATION  reader but I’m very thankful for their support and advice.

Report from New Writer's Scheme
Report from New Writer’s Scheme

This arrived in December and I’m taking the advice on board and then getting my novel out to people.

Here is my plan for 2016.

I’m going to look for a brilliant agent and a two book publishing deal.

Whether I get an agent or not , I’ m going to publish ‘ A Jarful of Moondreams’ and ensure that lots of people find out about it and want to read it. I will self publish if I don’t find my agent or publisher

I’m going to finish book number two in the Dunbridge series and send it out to publishers and agents.

When I’ve got book one published, I’m going to take it to local libraries and radio stations and talk about it and read parts of it and encourage more readers to try my writing.

I’m continuing my RNA New Writers’ Scheme membership and going to the RNA conference in Summer. There is always lots to learn

I’m really excited about 2016 !

The storm has cleared.

It’s now three months since I had my op and I’m really happy with the decision. The night before the operation was when I had second,third and fourth thoughts about what I’d decided to do but, by morning, I was sure that my decision was the right one for me. Since then,I haven’t looked back.

I have been unable to be as active as normal but that is a small price to pay for peace of mind. My reconstruction is excellent and I don’t miss the G cup undies one bit.

I’ve got one less thing to worry about in 2016 and I just know that it is going to be a great year!

Storm in a G cup

 

This is one of several bras that I’ve just packed up to be sent on sent on to Africa.

Storm in a g cup
Storm in a g cup

They have to be ‘gently used’ and, for once, I have a lot of quite new undies that I don’t need. A pack of new briefs to go with them is appreciated too. If you’d like to help, smallsforall.org is the charity. You might ask, why do I have so many G cups to give away? Well, I don’t need them any more and I’m glad they’ll be put to good use. You see, I had a bilateral mastectomy this summer and, for me, the G cups are redundant.

I thought I’d weathered the storm after going through a lumpectomy, chemo and radiotherapy three years ago. I’d lost my hair and worn the wigs but I’d kept my breasts. My relationship with them was up and down before finding cancer; like Dolly Parton, I found that many people didn’t look for the heart under the g cup or the brain under the blonde locks. After treatment, I was suspicious that one of them might let me down again. I took tablets to stop this and, after two clear mammograms, my suspicions faded and I wasn’t unduly worried about this year’s screening.

A recall for a further look at a tiny bit of calcification seemed reasonable but I did start to feel the niggling clouds of suspicion hovering over me. A flurry of further tests, including a couple of biopsies, preceded the storm. It was my left breast cells that weren’t behaving this time and I would need some surgery on that side, probably minor.

My reaction was immediate and emphatic; I thought enough is enough! I have supported my breasts at great expense with hard to find bras, even harder to find clothes to cover a chest that is two sizes larger than the rest of me,and pilates, reflexology and back massages to ease the strain they’ve given me. In return, they’ve fed one child ( very well to be fair) and then slumped back to their languid ‘look after me’ state.

When I thought about it, I’d been looked in the chest as often as I’d been looked in the eye and now I was going to be forever watchful of their ability to kill me. I opted for the safest route, a bilateral mastectomy. I would say farewell to my capricious breasts and go for a reconstruction. While I was at it, I would go much smaller and experience the wonderful liberation that small breasted women take for granted – inexpensive bras, running without strain and best of all no leering! Decision made, no second thoughts until the evening before my op. I’ll cover that in my next post.

How’s the writing going?

How’s the writing going? I usually dread hearing that query but, for once, I’m happy to talk about it because I’ve been writing a lot and I think it’s going well.

My first novel, A Jarful of Moondreams, is in the hands of a reader of the RNA New Writer’s Scheme and I’m considering  where to submit once it is returned.  I thought you might like to  see the Moondream jar that catches the dreams of my heroines.

image
A Jarful of Moondreams

I’m excited to start a new novel and I’m tackling this one differently. I’m creating the characters and outlining the plot at the same time. When I’ve done this, I’m going to divide my plot into sections and then write a first draft without stopping to edit or proof read.

image As Terry Prachett said, I’ll be telling myself the story. I edited as I went along last time and this wasted quite a bit of time as large chunks were changed anyway. That’s the plan anyway! I haven’t got a title as yet.

If my feedback from the New Writer’s Scheme is positive, I’ll send my first submissions off in batches of three. I’m looking at agents and publishers who accept submissions direct. I’m prepared for rejections. I keep telling myself that I am, anyway!

I’m going into hospital for a big op this month and I’ll be forced into inactivity for a couple of months afterwards. I’m going to use the time to bash out draft one of novel 2 and to submit novel 1 in a methodical manner without taking rejections to heart

Here’s hoping that the op goes well, the writing goes well and the submissions go well. I’ll be back to let you know.

Location, Learning, Laughter and Leaving

image image

 

I have to write about the fantastic weekend that the Romantic Novelists’ Association arranged at Queen Mary’s in London last weekend. It was the ideal location with a campus beside a quiet part of the canal, lectures near to the residential halls and a wonderful old library to hold the Saturday evening dinner.

Location wasn’t the best bit though, we had a full programme of workshops from fellow writers who were inspiring and full of great advice and sessions lead by leading agents,publishers and editors. I have reams of notes to read through and snippets of advice that are running through my head when I edit my own work. Thank you Julie Cohen for drilling it into me that ‘ repetition is death’ in a novel! It was a great teaching tool. 👍

Learning wasn’t the best bit though, we had lots of time to talk and meet up with fellow romantics and the encouragement and the laughs were what made it a special conference.

Laughing wasn’t the best bit though, leaving with new friends and new ideas and new enthusiasm was what made this special.

The very best bit is that I know that it will all happen again in Lancaster next year. Some repetition is good!

Floundering before the finish

I’ve almost got my WIP completed and I’m starting to procrastinate again. I read bits of it and wonder if it’s good enough. I’ve taken advice from the Romantic Novelists Association new writer’s scheme, from other less experienced readers and I’ve chopped and changed bits that I personally really liked. Now I’m just not sure of any of it. Have I obeyed too many rules and is my novel missing its fun?

My critique from the RNA started with ‘ this is a novel with great potential…’ I don’t know if I’ve built on that or removed it! Help!!

It is as though my novel has undergone the journey of those cosmetically enhanced actresses who end up looking nothing like their real selves. The first few tweaks and changes are an improvement and then the rest of the changes unbalance their faces and make them look alien. Have I done this? Have I made it a more bland and less compelling story? I look at the natural beauty of Audrey Hepburn and she is more compelling than many current actresses because she isn’t a slave to beauty or fashion rules.

I’m putting the current draft away for a week or two to get some distance and may just not use the last redraft at all. At least with a novel you can get back to the original structure ! I wonder how many actresses yearn for their original features?

Meanwhile, I’m going to write a short story, maybe two and think about novel number two.

I’m not despairing about this. It’s all been about learning and I think I’ve just learned not to listen to too many people.

Is the Fault in our Stars?

“The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”
Cassius Act 1 scene 2 Julius Caesar. Shakespeare

I had to start with a well known quotation again because of a book that I’ve been reading this week.

I’ve just had a 5 day beach break near Barcelona. One sister has rented a house for the summer and two sisters joined her last week for a bit of sister bonding and time with our niece and nephews.
We all had kindles. No paperbacks to weigh down cases. We all had different taste in the novels we had taken but we all ended up reading the same one.

My niece, she’s almost thirteen, told me that her best read ever had been ‘ The Fault in our Stars’ by John Green and she’d reread it several times. I was intrigued enough by the title and by her comments to download it as my next read. Her mum succumbed as did my other sister so we all read this Teen /YA book. Sunglasses and tissues were needed for the readers at several points in the tale.

The main characters have all had cancer and are at varying stages of remission. It does not romanticise their illnesses and can be heart wrenching at times but it is a poignant love story and I’m glad I read it. I wonder can the film, just out, match the book? I have not seen many that can do that. At the moment, I can’t think of any except for ‘Gone with the Wind.’

I love it when a younger person recommends a book! It’s a shared experience and shows me what teens are liking right now. The last YA I read was ‘ The Hunger Games’ series. TFIOS is much more introspective and I think my niece is right in that it is worth rereading parts. I might read more by John Green!

The Best and Worst of Weekends

‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,’

These lines from ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ by Charles Dickens are the perfect description of my
recent experience at a weekend conference.

The Best:

I’ve mentioned the Romantic Novelists’ Association and their conference on here before. It is a fantastic weekend for a new writer like me. Imagine the excitement of going there to meet and mingle with other romantic novelists, to attend workshops about the genre and to meet one or two agents and editors who have been willing to read a chapter of my book. Imagine the anticipation of meeting up with writing friends and having late night chats over wine and dressing up for a gala dinner on Saturday night. I was looking forward to it all and never gave a thought to what could go wrong.  Why would I? The conference itself went without a hitch. The accommodation, the food, the sessions were all superb but the weekend was a real trial for me.

The Worst.

On Friday afternoon, I knew I wasn’t quite myself. I couldn’t sit through a full workshop or enjoy the food. I arrived in Shropshire just at the same time as a tummy bug arrived with
a determination to destroy my weekend.

The wine after dinner left me feeling queasy – I couldn’t finish my first glass – unheard of! I left the kitchen party early to take to my room and, in particular, the bathroom.  A small mercy was that they now have individual bathrooms in student halls! I tossed and turned in bed and hoped the bout of D and S would be over by morning.    …No way!

Wisdom:

This shows how keen I am on gleaning all the knowledge that I can about writing.  I sat near the door of every session and sipped water only leaving when a cold sweat warned me that I’d better head back to my room for another discomfort break. I won’t be any more
graphic; it was a nightmare.

Foolishness:

At the end of the Saturday sessions, we had an hour to get to our rooms, dress up and go to the gala dinner. I’d put my feet up, shower and put on a bravely made up face and get there for the fun! I got to my room relishing the idea of a lie down with a loo near at hand. No key? No pencil case holding key? No key!

A dash back to the main building and to every room I’d been in that afternoon was to no avail. What could I do?Nobody was about for a lost property enquiry.

Security! The security men weren’t in their office. Expletives pounded round my head and I blinked back a tear or two. I wanted to be in my room!

I couldn’t reach security on my mobile and then, thankfully, I saw an emergency intercom on the security room door. I pressed. I got 999. No, I told the  operator it wasn’t quite a 999 moment, I just wanted a security guard. She wasn’t convinced at first. Please don’t
send police sirens or the fire brigade I prayed. I pressed a second buzzer, it was brave of me to try but I had no other options left.

Relief! A security man answered and he would come to my rescue in a minute or two. I waited and waited and then he appeared. (For the record, he was mid-20s, tall, tanned and handsome with compelling blue eyes. He was very well spoken, sympathetic and altogether charming. Ideal hero material for a novel.) However, he had no keys for the accommodation, he  explained. No keys? No keys!

He went to find someone who might be able to help. I was standing in reception in my daywear as the first party people arrived in fantastic dresses, shoes and suits. My
friends were frantically texting me but I couldn’t move until security hero returned.

He came back to say that they had no spare  key, he’d have to break in and then I’d have
to move my stuff to another room. I nodded and followed him like a lost soul. It had been brilliant sunshine all day  but now it was raining and my hair was going to
get wet and curl. What else could go wrong?

The Best:

We got to my room and he tried the handle. It opened! Inside the room was my pencil case and the key. A kind soul had found my key in the pencil case and, while I was running around and getting nowhere, they had come to my room, unlocked it and left me a note.

The Worst:

Was all well that ended well? I’d like to say I got changed, made it to dinner and the rest of the weekend was great. I did get changed, I did make it to dinner but I had to leave for another evening in  my bathroom just before dessert. The picture below shows that I did try to be a happy soul!

One consolation, on Sunday, several others were looking queasy and
clammy and rather white. Several others were sipping water. The parties that
had gone on until dawn had given lots of people very similar symptoms to my
tummy bug.

The Very Best:

Two editors liked the first chapter of my book. I have sent more on to one of them. I got to see lots of twitter friends.I didn’t pass my bug on to any of my family. I really enjoyed feeling well enough to go straight on to a flight to Slovenia. There is the RNA conference 2015 to look forward to!

RNA CONFERENCE 2014