Birthdays

Because my birthday is so near the beginning of the year, somehow it seems like the actual beginning of the year! I reflect on the past year since my last lot of candles on the cake, and look forwards to the year ahead. I guess being January – named for Janus the god of gates and doorways, the two-faced god looking forwards and backwards, inwards and outwards, it is a time for doing that. It comes not that long after the solstice so already the earth is turning from winter towards summer.

Here’s something I wrote a couple of years ago about January:

The name of the first month of the year comes from the Roman god of doorways, Janus, who is traditionally depicted with two faces, looking back and looking forward. It maybe a cliché but the phrase, ‘when one door shuts another opens’, is so true, especially if we wait patiently for that door to spring wide and then step resolutely through! It is more than finding the silver lining inside the gloomy cloud, it is more active than that; firmly shut the door on what has happened (even if it seems as if the door slammed of its own accord) and then look in unexpected places for the next door to dance through. The Saxon name for January is Wulf-monath, wolf month… and doesn’t the name just conjure those long, grim wild creatures sloping off through the snowy forests in search of prey. It may be a lean time, but wolves are bright-eyed and strong, and fearless.

My daughter asked me what I wanted to achieve this year… Gosh! What a question… first answer, to finish my next Radwinter book, Saltpans, and then I have other writing projects to tackle, which I listed the other day, but here is a brief selection –

  • my character Gus has been wandering the water-meadows near his seaside home, and visiting the pub and attending quiz night with various people – it really is about time his story was finished
  • another of my characters, Theo, the half-Danish half-Swedish musician has also had more than enough of wandering around from job to job and crappy room to crappy room – and he has met a lady who is gradually falling in love with him! Their situation needs to be resolved!
  • I may not finish my autobiographical writing, but I need to get to grips with it – I have a title ‘And the River’ – maybe it will be finished in 2019!
  • I have another blog with two friends, The Moving Dragon Writes; we have published one anthology and hope to publish another this year. One of my fellow Dragons and I have also set ourselves the challenge of writing 73 blogs from a list we came across – we are about a quarter of the way through and very pleased(I hope not in a big-headed way) at what we have achieved. We hope that we will bring these seventy-three different blogs together and publish in three volumes… or maybe four, it depends how long the different ‘chapters’ are!
  • come November and it will be the National Novel Writing Month challenge which maybe I will undertake, for the sixth time. (I am going to leave 2017’s effort about a mysterious woman called Milla; I’ll come back to it when I’ve got my other unfinished stories complete!) For NaNoWriMo 2018 I may start the next Radwinter story, ‘Alone’.

So what else do I hope to achieve this year… travel, definitely! We don’t know Dorset very well, so maybe explore that lovely county, a return to the Tenby area where my family had a couple of very happy holidays, maybe visit Turkey – yes, I would love to go there! … and of course, a dream would be to return to Tasmania!

… and on a very mundane level… try and tidy the house and garden!!

Here are some links:

https://somersetwriters.wordpress.com

http://amzn.eu/9xZe2RA

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=lois+elsden

… oh and also get fitter and lose weight!!

Empty head

I’m not bad at suggesting ideas for other people to write about,, and when I sit down here I nearly always have something to say and only occasionally cast around to think of a topic, so you would think I’d be quite good at writing a particular piece for a writing group… and usually I am… a week tomorrow I’m meeting up with friends in a group and I thought I would get ahead of myself and write something ready, so it won’t be me scribbling madly next Thursday night. For some reason though, my brain seems empty of ideas.

Perhaps I should look at what I suggest to others who lack inspiration…

Inspiration

Where do stories come from? Here are some ideas:

  •  a dream or day-dream
  • an observation of people in the street, on a bus, in a shop, on the beach, walking by a river…
  • people you don’t know but see arguing, kissing, ignoring each other, looking at each other, fighting, smiling secretively
  • an incident you observed or witnessed
  • a scrap of conversation you overheard
  • the lyric of a song
  • an experience you had
  • a strange coincidence
  • a traditional story, myth or legend which suggests a modern re-telling
  • another story you read, saw on TV or as a film, which suggests a situation, series of events, characters which you can rework to make your own
  • the ‘what happened next’ of another story
  • a ‘what if…’ moment
  • unexplained inspiration
  • a found photo… who are those people? how are they related, why are they there? what is the occasion? what are they really thinking? who is taking the photo?
  • something you pretended happened to you
  • something you would have liked to happen to you
  • a news item
  • a picture in a gallery, museum, on a wall in a waiting room, in a newspaper or magazine
  • a film or a TV programme
  • a song
  • music
  • a mystery or puzzle
  • famous people, singers, actors, sports or TV personalities…
  • your own family or friends

So there are plenty there… Maybe if we go to the pub as usual tomorrow night, I’ll notice someone who intrigues me and that will set my mind working… Maybe that’s a good idea!

The ideas above come from my little book So You want To Write, here’s a link:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/You-Want-Write-Telling-Tales/dp/1522093400/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1515107280&sr=8-4&keywords=lois+elsden

My 2017: August

August was an exciting month – I published a little handbook for writers – this is what I blogged about it:

In my last teaching job I was working with young people aged fifteen and sixteen who, in their last year of statutory education were not in school for various reasons; these students were for the most part totally disengaged – clever, literate, interesting – and yet totally turned off education at the very time it was most important for them to do well. Our tiny team of teachers (three of us and two wonderful LSAs) did all we could to re-engage them so they could pass enough exams to give them post-sixteen opportunities in further education, training or work.

I wrote a series of what ended up as chapters on creative writing, and it’s these which I have polished up (although they did not need much changing) amended and added to, to produce ‘So You Want To Write’. This is not just for children – it’s for anyone!

It’s only short, it’s a handbook really and you can find chapters on:

  • Inspiration
  • Your readers
  • Narrator
  • Introduction, opening or beginning
  • Setting
  • Characters
  • Names
  • Plot
  • Language… and Style
  • Research…  and Observation
  • Endings

Here is a link to it…

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Want-Write-Telling-Tales-Book-ebook/dp/B074W19JK3/ref=sr_1_3?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1503388946&sr=1-3&keywords=lois+elsden

… and here is the Amazon blurb…

So you want to write but don’t know how to… Your head is empty, your imagination stalled… Or you have you a story but don’t know where or how to start? How to begin? What to do? ‘So You Want To Write’ takes you from the first page to the last of your own story – beginnings, endings and the bit in between. The 6 P’s are all covered – plot, people, point of view, place, purpose and pace, all taken care of.

My 2017: May

I guess most of us want to be fit and healthy.. for those of us prone to putting on and finding it impossible to shift  extra pounds it’s a continual battle. May… the beginning of summer, that’s when there is the most inspiration to tackle the difficulty because there is so much lovely and delicious fresh produce available… but it’s not just the calories being consumed, it’s the calories being expended.

Here is what I wrote in May:

Writing is my passion and it’s what I do from the moment I get up till last thing at night… but it is very sedentary; when I am immersed in my work I remain still and unmoving, apart from my fingers and brain for sometimes an hour at a time… and I actually know  this isn’t good! It doesn’t just mean I’m not very fit, but I’m also not using the calories I take in – and you know what that means!

So… exercise… I’ve mentioned this before, and I’ve discussed how I’ve tried to do more exercise. When I was young I cycled and walked everywhere, and since school was four miles away and the swimming pool nearly two miles from home, I was doing at least ten miles a day on my bike. And swimming… when I was training properly I was doing about forty miles a week plus weights and circuit training. Thinking about it now, I must have been so fit as a young person! Unlike now…

My difficulty is, as I’ve written about previously, I can’t think of any exercise or activity I would be interested enough in pursuing that I would keep doing it. Swimming now bores me… the noise in the pool, the lane swimming with people either dawdling in front, or swimming on my heels, the music – yes they play music in the swimming pool, now why? And the actual activity no longer appeals to me.

So join a gym people say – yes we did; it was expensive but it was small and busy and the equipment often wasn’t very clean, and our supposed ‘trainer’ didn’t help us… and as we were only doing it to try and improve our fitness, there wasn’t the added incentive of actually enjoying it. We became more and more reluctant to go, even though we tried going at different times in the hope of finding it less crowded… but I think even if we had, it would have been a chore, and the TV screens everywhere put me off… oh and the music…

So something simple like walking… yes we go out walking, but it’s not very interesting, is it?… we take our cameras which slow us down, and walking out from home isn’t very exciting – yes, we live by the sea, but the beach is flat and dull, and the sea is not the splashy sort and being on an estuary is a sedimentary brown.  We go further afield and go for walks… but to be honest, we’re more keen on museums, art galleries, interesting and odd towns, church architecture, markets…

So sports and clubs? Yes, there are activities near us, but none appeal and to be honest, we’re too old for a lot of them! Bowling? Sorry no… badminton – have I told you about my lack of hand-eye co-ordination? So tennis is out, but I hate tennis anyway.. Keep-fit? Absolutely and utterly not… Golf? Too expensive, ditto skiing, even if we could ski, which we can’t, and the same with sailing…

My husband is a drummer, and apparently … “A study conducted by the Universities of Gloucestershire and Chichester has concluded that drumming is an equivalent workout to playing in a Premier League football match.” So since he plays a couple of times a week, and also goes to ‘sessions’, (and lugging a kit around is like a weights work-out) so he probably is quite fit, and quite fit by doing something he really enjoys!

So what do I do? I go on the Wii fit… it may not be the same as ‘real’ exercise, but it is something I do every day, I’m consistent, and dedicated; I do it in 30-40 minute sessions, plus odd five minutes here and there when I am stuck with my writing. Running on the Wii maybe not as good as running outside, but I do it and I do it every day…

I still look round for activities, but until I find one, I’ll keep Wii-ing!

So… the problem arise because of my writing… here is an interview I did with myself about writing –

  • When did you first start writing, and who inspired you?

I told stories before I ever could write them down; I guess I got this from both my parents who were wonderful story-tellers, imagined tales as well as incidents from their own lives, vividly told to me and my sister. I can’t think of a time when I didn’t have stories running through my mind!

  • What is a typical writing day for you?

The first thing I do in the morning, fortified by tea, is sit here and write… maybe blogging first and then onto my current ‘project’, or maybe if I’ve been puzzling over it, straight into my actual writing. I continue through the day, in between going out, meeting people, teaching my writing classes, doing housework, shopping etc., and then most evenings I work until bedtime… which maybe 1 or 2 in the morning!

  • You write one blog and are very involved in another… does this not take you away from your ‘real’ writing?

I started my blog as a way of publicising my work – as a self-published author, I don’t have anyone else but me to try and get my novels ‘out there’. However, I have found that writing blogs has been a great way of practicing my craft (if you want to call it that) and writing in different ways and on different topics; I have also ‘met’ some great fellow-bloggers! It has forced me to get over ‘writer’s block’ – which has a positive effect on my other writing.

  • What are you working on at the moment?

Lois: While I had my day job, before I was liberated, writing was tucked in odd corners and at odd hours and although I write several novels, I wrote them in bits and pieces – they need a lot of editing! I am at present working on an unfinished novel from that time… but I also have other plans in mind too!

  • You have just published the fifth novel in your Radwinter series… do any of those writing plans involve more adventures for Thomas Radwinter?

Yes indeed! When I have finished the editing of the novel I was telling you about, I will get going on the next Radwinter book – to be honest, I can’t wait! Very excited about the new one!

  • You often have a woman as a lead character, are any of your ‘heroines’ based on yourself?

No, not at all. Some of them share aspects of my character, quite a few are teachers because that is what I was and it’s a world I know. Most of my characters are much more determined and focussed than I am, and don’t have a silly side to their personality, which I definitely have.  In actual fact, the character nearest to me in personality isn’t a woman at all, but a man – Thomas Radwinter!

  • Which of you published novels are you most proud of?

I’m proud of all of them; however I am proud of my first published novel, Farholm, because it was my first, and my Radwinter series because I never ever imagined I would write a sequel, let alone a series!

  • Why do you self-publish with Kindle Direct Publishing?

Like many, many writers, I have sent off scores of manuscripts to dozens and dozens of publishers and agents; I have entered competitions, I have done all I can to get my stories into print.  I have never had any luck (because I’m sure luck is the main part of the business) and have been ripped off a couple of times. KDP allowed me to put my books out in the big wide world, and I really appreciate it… however my continued dream is to be taken up by an actual publisher and to see my name on the shelves of bookshops!

  • You’re a writer – are you also a reader, and if so what do you like to read and what are you reading at the moment?

Yes, an addicted reader. I like books which contain some mystery or puzzle, so often they are crime books and police procedurals; I particularly like Icelandic authors such as Arnaldur Indriðason, Ragnar Jónasson, Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir. However at the moment I am reading ‘Perverse and Foolish’ by Lucy M. Boston (author of the Green Knowe books for children) ‘South: The Story of Shackleton’s 1914-1917 Expedition’ by Sir Ernest Henry Shackleton and ‘Success and Luck: Good Fortune and the Myth of Meritocracy’ by Robert H. Frank… So no fiction! The last fiction I read and really enjoyed was ‘The Red Tent’ by Anita Diamant. I am really not very keen on ‘women’s literature’, and I am very intolerant of pretentious writing – and novels written in the present tense!

  • What advice would you give to anyone who says they think they have a book in them but don’t know how to write it?

Don’t worry about the first sentence and the beginning – especially with the technology we have now, it is so easy to go back and change, alter, rewrite – not like it used to be with a pen or a typewriter! Just start – even in the middle! Get something down on paper and keep going. Joining a writing group can be really helpful – there are plenty of on-line groups if you aren’t able or are shy of meeting others. There is no set way to write, everyone has their own style so don’t try and write like anyone but yourself, but at the same time if someone offers kindly constructive criticism, listen to it, think about it and then either take it or forget it! The main thing is to write! Just that! Sit down at your computer, laptop or desk, with your keyboard, pen or pencil and get writing!

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_3_6?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=lois+elsden&sprefix=lois+e%2Caps%2C144&c

Not exactly hitting the wall

I’ve never run a marathon or done very much running at all – I used to play sports which included running such as hockey, but I wasn’t much good at it. However I did swim long distances, and did long distance swimming races, but I never experienced what is called ‘the wall’ … defined as  ‘a condition of sudden fatigue and loss of energy which is caused by the depletion of glycogen stores in the liver and muscles’.  I’m wondering if there is a writer’s wall? I don’t mean writer’s block – and here’s another definition, a condition in which a writer loses the ability to produce new work, or experiences a creative slowdown.

Just side-tracking to think about writer’s block, it sounds a horrific thing for a creative person – a total loss of writing muscle and an empty head… Writer’s block can be a complete lack of inspiration or new ideas, or a lack of belief in any ideas that are kicking about, an almost fear of the blank page or screen, a lack of confidence or faith in any ideas that do trickle reluctantly into the brain… It’s not just laziness and it can be frustrating, and more than frustrating for some.

I feel as if I have run out of something – I’m still writing, as you can see here! I still have plenty of ideas – I’m three-quarters way through my next Radwinter story, I still have my character Gus waiting for his story to arrive, I have 50,053 words of the story of Milla which I wrote as part of the National Novel Writing Month challenge, I still have the start of my ‘Dancing in the Road’ story about Theo and the unnamed narrator, I have my autobiographical writing… I have loads of ideas, plus a few others.

So what have I run out of? Why can’t I get on with Radwinter which I’d hoped to finish the first draft by now? I think the thing I have run out of just temporarily is time… Yes it’s a busy time of year, yes we have a houseful rather than just the two of us… Yes – that’s the thing! For various reasons we are really busy at the moment, the house is really hectic with people and things, my evenings are taken up with other activities, my early mornings are disrupted – all in a nice way, all in a family and friends way, but since finishing the fifty thousand word challenge  life has been a whirlwind! The 50,000 word challenge – I had hoped to be writing my other things while I was doing it, but that proved impossible.

So I have reasons for not writing as I usually write; it’s not just a random thing which has occurred – but it is frustrating all the same… until I remembered something I said to someone else. It’s strange isn’t it that we sometimes give advice to others, but don’t apply it to ourselves… A friend was worrying because she hadn’t been able to write anything and I said to her something along the lines of ‘just thinking about writing is almost as important‘ – and yes it is!! I’m doing lots of thinking about writing! I’m working ideas out in my head all the time – when I’m driving somewhere, or waiting for something, or lying in bed waiting for sleep, I’m thinking about my stories, thinking about the characters and what they are doing, and imagining the settings and locations!

So I haven’t hit the writing wall, here I still am, writing; I don’t have writer’s block, all I have is a lack of writing time… for the moment!!

Here is a link to things I did manage to write!!

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=lois+elsden

Advent calendars… and a writing advent calendar suggestion!

Every year my children and husband have advent calendars – they have very little to do with advent, they are a count down to Christmas with a chocolate for every day until Christmas Eve. These twenty-four days aren’t actually the Christian time of advent which usually starts the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day, looking forward to celebrating the birth of Jesus.

Secular advent calendars seem to feature anything these days, with very little reference to the time of year, and all to do with the chocolate or other goodies which are found behind a little door. When I was a child we had very simple calendars. They showed a typical Christmas theme – maybe the baby in the cradle with Mary and Joseph, or maybe the shepherds and the angel and the brightly lit stable in the background, or the three wise men on their travels.. The little cardboard doors opened to reveal a Christmas picture, a star, a candy cane, a Christmas tree, bells, holly… that sort of thing. The calendars had sparkle on them, and after Christmas they were put away with the decorations and we would have them out again the next year, having forgotten what the little pictures behind the doors were – or not caring because it was ‘traditional!

A clever friend of mine has done an advent calendar on Facebook and every day she posts a little video of seasonal music and songs, all done by herself! If I had thought, I could have done a writing calendar – twenty-four suggestions of what to write in the days leading up to the big celebration!

Is it too late? Can I start with only two days to go? Maybe I can!

                         Christmas cracker!

So day 12 of my writing advent calendar and here is a suggestion of something to write…

  • use the title or the photo as inspiration.
  • what was written on the motto in the cracker which has just been pulled – tell the story behind it!
  • who are these people, where are they? Tell their story.

 

Blogging… and why I do!

It’s my writing group this afternoon, and today I’m going to challenge them to write a blog! It can be about anything they like, of course, but I also have a list of suggested topics in case they are unsure of what to choose.

This is something I wrote a few years ago, one February 14th where i reflected on why i write her, and the ups and downs of it all:

There are many reasons why people write blogs, I only really know why I do… and there are actually also quite a few reasons why I do.

Here are just some of the reasons I write every day:

  • I enjoy it, although it is sometimes difficult for various reasons, I enjoy it. I enjoy writing and I enjoy writing about different subjects, different thoughts, and different ideas and observations
  • I enjoy the interaction between me and the kind people who make comments on what I write and engage with me about my writing
  • I like the discipline, self-imposed, of writing every day – I write my fiction every day, or I mess around with some creative project I’m working on, but blogging is different
  • It’s interesting to challenge myself, to write in this way every day – I always wanted to be a journalist; I’ll never be a professional one, but blogging is a way of being an amateur!
  • Blogging is a way of writing about different things; for me it is writing about writing, about every aspect of food and cookery, books I’ve read, TV and films I’ve watched, articles which have interested me in other media, my family stories… oh hundreds of things!
  • Writing about writing… I mentioned this above, but writing about the processes and my processes, writing about the wrestling with the six ‘p’s of writing, plot, people, place, pace, point of view, purpose
  • It is a way of promoting my novels; I am self-published and I want people to read my novels, I  love getting comments and feed-back, it is so helpful to have people’s thoughts on what I have written and kindly criticism is always welcome – and is usually most helpful! No-one should write in a vacuum!

I don’t blog to get fantastic viewing figures – it’s not a competition between me and others, but obviously I do feel very chuffed if I have lots of ‘views’; however I don’t get despondent if I don’t have as many on one day. It is, though, intriguing to look at the pattern of views… usually I jog along day after day with a similar number of people looking at what I’ve written, then one day there might be a huge spike – once I had hundreds, yes literally hundreds of people from Spain reading what I had written, another time it was readers from Poland… I looked at my blogs for that day and could see no reason why they might have been so popular – I’m just very grateful they were! Then another day, like yesterday, I had fewer people than usual looking at what I had written… maybe puzzling that the numbers should half from what I normally have, but I’m not worried by it – not that I am complacent either – but I am putting it down to it being St Valentine’s Day and everyone was busy having a romantic day with their beloved!

© Lois Elsden 2017

If you want to read what I write ‘properly’, my books – here is a link:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=lois+elsden