inspiration

Week 5: Sleighbells ring, I’m not listening

Somebody please tell me how it’s December 5th. I’ve had the first listen to the old Metal Christmas tape, I’ve eaten half a dozen mince pies, but I’m not getting what you’d call festive. There is no tinsel in my heart. Of course this won’t surprise anyone that much if they’ve ever encountered me in December before, but I do try (sometimes) to feel the excitement and capture the magic. In a non-consumer-capitalist way, obviously.

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Hat(s) courtesy Sister Number 1.

Closest I’ve got this year so far is via the fabulous sketches by Chris Mould for Matt Haig’s new children’s book The Girl Who Saved Christmas – he’s tweeting pages day by day I think. Incidentally, it looks like Chris Mould is from Bradford, which I honestly only noticed after I’d been bowled over by his illustrating style…

This week I’ve made two story submissions, and written nearly 6,000 words of the novel I was doing for NaNoWriMo (it got derailed so I’m giving it a bit longer). And read a lot of urban fantasy (which is relevant to the novel I’m writing).

Time to start thinking back on the (reading and writing) year, soon. How has yours been?

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Aftermath of moorland fire

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An afternoon stroll interrupted by dark lunar landscape. Swathes of burnt bracken and heather, an oasis of green and one unscathed tree. Why stop there? What’s so special about this grassy peninsula, tongue of flameless ground licking the slope?

One small step, as walking boots raise puffs of black, disturb the November smell out of place in summer sunshine, reminiscent of the fire-damaged stock in a long-closed second-hand record shop. One giant leap, crunching through dark crust like a bite into royal icing, like slicing into a macabre wedding cake. Do it again, sink into a pile of burnt twigs.

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Bend to sift through ashy debris, looking for ready-to-use charcoal sticks to draw this scene later. Pick them up and they crumble to flakes. Hints of living browns and greens among the grey, as well as cracked and scorched eggshell.

Later, on the ridge, look down and see the tracks left behind.

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Crumbs! I’m on the radio tomorrow

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A notebook such as I might be reading from, but you won’t know because it’s radio

The Chapel FM Writing on Air Festival is well under way and it’s less than 24 hours till I’ll be in Studio 2 with Andrea Hardaker and Rosalind York from Ilkley Writers. Our programme, Down the Rabbit Hole, is about inspiration, northern writing, and why we write what we do. Between us there’s a good 25 minutes of poems and stories amongst the chat (and a sprinkling of musical confetti).

I’ve been going on about this radio lark, I know, but it’s exciting. I listen to an awful lot of radio and it’s the pinnacle of success for me (far more exciting than television), partly because it’s so mysterious. Through voices and sound effects whole worlds are created. Tomorrow as you listen to us speaking (I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you’ll be tuning in) you will all have different images in your minds, even if you know what we all look like. The fact that my stories are printed out on the back of junk mail that’s been folded and put in my pocket a few times won’t come across on air – it will sound exactly the same as if I was reading from a gilt-edged book with a ribbon marking my place.

I’ve been dipping into the rest of the festival so far, quite a varied programme and you can listen to anything you’ve missed via the listen again page. Andrea and Rosalind are getting ready to take part in tonight’s Readathon, where an entire book is read out in a literary relay all through the night. I’ve opted for a good night’s sleep instead. Wish me luck…

A love affair with libraries

Libraries are in the news a lot lately, rarely for the right reasons, though the Liverpool branches reprieve this week was a moment for celebration. Belatedly (though not too late, I hope) the Great British Public are remembering why they love libraries so much, and telling anyone who’ll listen. BBC 6Music (my station of choice, at least in rooms where Planet Rock reception is bad) are in the middle of a fortnight of library celebration, not all to do with borrowing albums. The Guardian are promoting the love letters to libraries campaign from Book Week Scotland. Regular visitors will recall that I’m quite fond of libraries, often have to be dragged away from them (this morning, for instance) or overload myself with books. Thus, while I’m not about to write a love letter as such (far too uptightly English for that) I will share some of my library experiences, in the hope that some of you out there might share back.

In the dim past that was the 1980s I vaguely remember a basement children’s library. I remember wooden cubes full of large-format books you could flick through, and my dad’s legs towering above me in corduroy. I remember Big Brother in the record department at Bradford City Library in his parka, and the LPs he’d borrow and carefully take home in the library-issue carrier bag (which finally broke in about 1996). There were the walks to the local library with my grandad (never without a stack of library books in the house) and the friendly librarian at Cockermouth (a library I spent many a Saturday morning in, from early childhood to leaving home). I first read Anne of Green Gables from Cockermouth library, and Raffles and Maigret. Later on I borrowed Aerosmith and Alice Cooper tapes, Terry Pratchett’s early Discworld novels, and chocolate-themed baking books I never seemed to bake anything from.

Through the 1990s I stopped joining libraries but still made plenty of use of them. My dad borrowed Little Angels and Metallica CDs on my behalf in his lunch-hour (yes, Metallica – this is the beauty of libraries, you can try things without blowing all your pocket money), OneMonkey borrowed my choices from the fabulous Newcastle Central Library (not as fabulous last time I went, most of the books seemed to be missing). When my parents moved to a North Yorkshire village while I was at university, Big Brother and I would take my dad’s library tickets (still the brown card pouches – technology arrived there rather slowly) up the main street to the tiny library in the holidays and load up for our reading and listening pleasure.

Come the new decade I was in Scotland, loving the old-fashioned grandeur of Edinburgh Central Library and marvelling at the Carnegie library in his home town of Dunfermline, with stock a much bigger town would be proud of. OneMonkey and I somehow borrowed an AC/DC boxed set for the cost of borrowing a single CD, and went mad at a library book sale where we filled a couple of cardboard boxes for The Nephew (still in single figures at the time). By the turn of the following decade I wasn’t far from where I’d started out and I’m still using the local library constantly. I even borrowed the books I reviewed for the Ilkley Literature Festival this year from there.

I haven’t mentioned all the university libraries I’ve been in, the school library friend T and I spent our lunchtimes in (much more civilised than having to hang around outdoors in the drizzle), Bradford Local Studies Library or the decorative tiles in Leeds. I could go on for hours (pages) more but I’ll spare you. Instead I’ll make a cup of tea and wallow in warm memories of libraries I have loved; I can only recommend that you do the same, and if you can’t think of any you need to go find yourself a good library, fast.

Blog tour guest from the Short Story Club

Welcome, Jo Tiddy, next stop on the My Writing Process blog tour. Take it away, Jo…

It was great to hear from Thousand Monkeys, a stalwart of the Telegraph Short Story Club, and be asked to submit my thoughts on what I write and why. Thank you also for hosting me. Alas for the blog world out there, the tour is likely to come to a crashing stop with me. I am a luddite, I operate on a steam powered laptop, I can’t get my head round twitter and I don’t have a blog, Neither do I know many writing people who do, except those who have already been on the tour. So, sorry chaps, in advance. With hope, and a fair wind behind me, I will grasp this whole blogging thing and get set up….

What am I working on?

I am working on a number of things. Or should be. However I have changed jobs, moved house and waved No 1 child off to university in the course of the past few weeks, so not much writing has been done. I mostly write short stories, on all sorts of topics, though I like to visit my own past as a child growing up in Africa.

I have also been working on a novel for teens, with a medieval bent, though it’s set in a dystopian future, just like 5 million other YA novels currently out there. I am losing interest in it fast it must be said. I am thinking of revisiting a novel I started on some time ago, set in 16th century East Africa during the Portuguese occupation of the Swahili coast. What I really need to do is get back into some sort of routine(see below), and get on with it.

Although I don’t specifically write for younger children I have contributed to the upcoming Mumsnet/Walker Book of Animal Stories, published October 2. Maybe this is a direction I could focus on more in the future.

How does my work differ from other in its genre?

I don’t have a genre as such. I’m not a romance writer, or even slightly funny – I can’t do comedy. Obviously my YA novel is identical to every other one in the field. I trained as a historian, so I like to incorporate historical elements into my stories; the ones set in the past tend to have been more successful than any modern stuff I write. I would like my writing to be different to anyone else’s – I suspect that it’s not.

My new job is in an independent bookshop, http://thebookhousethame.co.uk/ which is a fantastic place to work. The main problem is that I am now aware of how many books are out there in so many genres, and I will never get a chance to read them all.

Why do you write what you do?

I’m quite new to writing. I used to tinker, but was busy carving out a career in local government (boo), raising a family, having a life. Three years ago I developed ME and life changed overnight. I spent 6 months on the sofa weeping with self-pity and despair. Eventually I turned to writing as a way of dealing with it. I found that raging at the page was a great way of offloading, and saving my family from having to listen to me whine. I began to get some semblance of a life back, albeit at a much slower level. Much of what I write tends to have dark undertones, layers of the anxiety that I often have to fight. But I am a believer in redemption, and the thought that even during dark times there is always hope. I think this comes across in the things I write. I’m also drawn to childhood memories, growing up in Africa and changing that lifestyle for a completely different continent when I was eighteen has left its mark on me, left me feeling, at times, rootless.

My writing process

I find my best ideas come from prompts. The Short Story Club has always been brilliant for this, throwing out an idea, or a phrase, and letting us all just run with it. The members have been so supportive, and friendly, and open hearted, and many of my stories have had their genesis there. It’s useful to have the feedback. Otherwise I delve into memories, or listen to music, pick up a refrain and build a story from that. I read a lot – too much sometimes; it’s a great displacement activity. Any of this can spark a story off.

When I was working lunchtimes in a school my day had a bit of routine. Get up, offload kids, walk dog, do morning pages (a la Julia Cameron). Half an hour or so of just scribbling anything that came into my head onto a blank page, always black fountain pen, always longhand, mostly whingeing. Go to work, come home, do it in reverse. Solitary dog walking is great, not only for observing changes in a familiar place during the course of the seasons, but for tramping out ideas. If I got stuck I’d disappear off to my shed and sew – another fairly mindless activity that allowed my brain to unravel knots. Now though, I work three full days a week and am often too tired to think by the end of them. I’ve moved, from suburbia to the wilds of the countryside, a low lying village surrounded by floodplain and wet for half the year. The land around has never been cultivated, is a palimpsest of older times – strip lynchets, old drovers routes, these all remain. It’s quiet, so quiet, and my “home” days are longer. I will need to construct a new routine, and find new paths to walk in this undiscovered countryside.

I do belong to a writers group – we are a small and haphazard bunch, who really need to get organised. We meet up once a month, to discuss our writing, but like many book clubs we descend into gossip and chat quite quickly. It’s useful to have the feedback, but we are all working on different things. There is talk of a blog (hah) – maybe that will happen once I’ve got to grips with sorting my own out.

Apologies for having no one to pass this on to as yet. I have asked around, and as soon as I do I will link it up on twitter. I have been asked to talk to a group of A2 students at the local college about short story writing, so I think that I will direct them to this blog tour so they can explore the huge variety of writers and their different approaches to the craft. Being young and tech savvy they will have no problems……

In the meantime you can find me on Twitter: @jo_tiddy, @the_book_house. (I think)

 

Writing in alphabetical order

This month’s exercise at the Telegraph Short Story Club is a 26-sentence story in alphabetical (or reverse) order. These were my first 2 slightly tongue in cheek attempts:

As if by magic the shopkeeper appeared. Ben jumped, dropping the packet of Smarties he’d been about to slip in his blazer pocket.

“Caught you,” the man sneered. “Damned kids, thinking they can get one over on me. Every year it’s the same, I’d flog the bloody lot of you.”

“F-f-flog?” stammered Ben, who was shocked but not as frightened as his occasional speech impediment made him seem.

“Go on, hop it before I ring your headmaster.”

Hurrying out of the corner shop before the old man could change his mind, Ben collided with someone hurrying the other way. If there was one person Ben should never have run into, it was Jack Grosvenor. Jack was feared and loathed in equal measure, an arrogant, swaggering bully from the fifth form, manipulative and sly.

“Knightley, what the hell do you think you’re playing at?” he barked. “Let’s see. Maybe you could make it up to me.”

Nearby was an independent record shop that was slowly going out of business. Our Price records had opened up a few streets away and all the schoolboys took their pocket money there these days.

“Perhaps you could liberate a cassette or two for my listening pleasure,” suggested Jack. “Quickly, I didn’t mean next week.”

Running along the street away from Jack, Ben’s stomach was doing somersaults and he felt like keeping going. Sprinting into the sunset, as it were. Tomorrow he’d have to go to school though, and Jack would find him and make him pay. Under the watchful eye of the record shop owner, Ben sidled down an aisle, watching the watcher rather than looking where he was going. Vinyl cascaded across the floor and Ben legged it, grabbing the nearest tape box while the shopkeeper’s attention was elsewhere.

“What have you done to my LPs, you little hooligan?” he bellowed.

X-Ray Spex were belting out Germ Free Adolescence from a builder’s radio as Jack kicked his heels in the street.

“Yes!” he shouted, punching the air when he saw Ben running towards him with a cassette box, but then he saw what it was. “ZZ Top, bloody hell.”

And going the other way…

Zaphod Beeblebrox was Alan’s role model. You would have thought he’d have picked someone better, or at least more achievable. Xena, Warrior Princess, had in fact been his first goal, but it had been doomed to failure. When his wife found the costume at the back of the wardrobe she assumed it was for her, and flounced off to Birmingham for sisterly solidarity and a good moan. Vadim next door had been most understanding, helping Alan come to terms with his new life. Until then, Alan had wondered if he might be suppressing his feminine side, hence the aspirational Xena (thus avoiding anything too pink and girly), but the way he took to baking his own pies in his wife’s abandoned pinny he thought that couldn’t possibly be it. That was why he’d gone for a real man’s… alien, on his next attempt.

Smooth-talking, super-confident Zaphod had been the stand-out character for Alan, when he’d read the Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy all those years ago. Regrettably, he was more of an Arthur Dent by nature, and the change in approach wasn’t easy. Quite how all those slick suits at the posh bar next to the station managed it, he wasn’t sure. Pheremones, maybe. Or the size of their wallets. No matter how hard Alan tried to throw himself into being cool or wild he couldn’t bring himself to do it. May I buy you a drink, he’d say. Like Zaphod would bother asking! Killer chat-up lines just weren’t compatible with the thickness of glasses Alan needed to wear, and it was about time he faced it.

Jenny had been watching the man with the bottle-bottom specs all evening. Intrigued by the loud suit and cocktails which didn’t seem to go with the rest of him, she decided to go over and liven up her night.

“Have we met before?” she asked, leaning against the bar next to him.

“Gosh, I don’t think so,” he said.

“Funny, I could have sworn you looked familiar. Excuse my mistake.”

“Don’t worry about it,” he said.

“Can I join you anyway?” asked Jenny. “By the way, what’s your name?”

“Alan,” said Alan, wishing it was something cooler and wondering what Zaphod would do next.

If you feel inspired (and really, how could you not) do come and join us.

Fancy joining in with a title-based writing exercise?

It’s my turn for the first Friday of the month challenge at the Telegraph Short Story Club, which is now available here. We’re taking one of a handful of titles I’ve supplied and writing the beginning of a story (or a whole story, or a letter. We’re kind of easy-going like that) to see how many different genres and directions we collectively cover, or if some titles take us all down a similar route. So if you feel like joining in, do come over and play. If you want to do the exercise without joining the club, here are the titles:

  • Sydney by Nightfall
  • Edith and Maud
  • The Crumbs From Your Table
  • Losing a Tenner and Finding Bob
  • Denton After Dark
  • 23 Park Avenue
  • Golden Silence
  • The King’s Head