Monday, 28 May 2012

TheTimes they are a-Changing . . .

Three years ago, after an accident stopped my teaching career in its tracks, I needed a different focus - something to do when my health was okay, all my Mum activities and chores were done or I was just soooo ready to do something else just for my own sanity -  a change from ironing and playing shop!

And so, I began writing a children's novel. Last year, my children's novel, Driftwood and Amethyst, was published and I began promoting it around local schools and bookshops. This blog has been following this process alongside my recovery and more recently  follows my return to work through voluntary and supply teaching and the continuation of my writing. Finding a way to work again after so long away from the chalkface is certainly a challenge in itself and my blog charts how I manage being a mum, a writer, a returning-to-work teacher and an eternal optimist!
Supply teaching is proving to be a real baptism by fire as working with a class of children who don't know you for half a day or a full day is very different to managing your own class over one academic year. It just takes a little more of my fiesty side and a no nonsense approach, yet it still can be very rewarding as students very quickly learn who they trust and respect, which is conveyed through the way they respond to you and want to share their own worries or successes with you.
Today has been a real whirlwind of Rumble in the Jungle, poetry and rhymes, number lines and addition challenges and playground games. A day full of chanting, reciting, story telling, acting, role play and good fun outside on a rare school field with cool downs under the shady trees before home time. Funnily enough, the behaviour management gets easier as the children find that by towing the line they get to have a great time!
Picking up my children from a friend,who'd kindly offered to watch them after school for half an hour until I got home, was another fabulous first today. The boys quite like the fact that Mum's a teacher 'again' and just want me to teach at their school. That would be nice!

So now, after such a lovely day, I think I will focus on The Plot this evening for an hour or so. The writing I've done today has inspired my socks off. It may not be so great when I go back to it, but at least it's down and ready for the next step. The edit.

I'm always invigorated by the writing I manage to do, as writing is not the easiest way to spend my days. I often liken writing to going to the gym - I warm up begrudgingly, I work out oblivious to the passing of time, I cool down again, amazed I managed to focus for any amount of time. But so glad I did. So glad.

With less opportunity to write now I'm starting back at work, my writing time will be much more precious. I welcome this next chapter of my life with open arms. Getting back in to teaching has been a long time coming and a fightworth fighting for, I'm sure of that. Supply teaching will afford me the financial security I need and the rest time I must allow myself as I get back up to speed. My writing will continue alongside my time in school, be that part time or full time. I write to inspire children and I teach to inspire children so it's all good.
Onwards and upwards once more. Onwards and upwards!

Monday, 21 May 2012

Less time to write = more distractions? Read on . . .

When setting myself the task of completing a rough first draft of a new children's novel I'm working on this week, I had not envisaged the chaos that would ensue. With the house to myself for once, the notion of what my writing week would be has proved very different from actual events.
Waking up this morning, I felt invigorated after an uninterrupted night's sleep. It did not include the usual "Mum, I need the toilet!" or ""Can I get in with you, Mum?" or "Move over Mum, I'm coming in cause my feet are freezing!"
My darling boys are away for the week on a boys' holiday with their Dad and I decided to utilise this seemingly free week by writing each day.
First, I had to gently turn down the many kind offers of day time cups of tea and shopping trips from my close network of girls who keep a watchful eye on me and have been largely the reason I am getting back to my old self - a little older, a little wiser but less creaky and raring to go! Explaining my plans to write each day, they agreed to be on call and are spending evenings with me this week as we work our way through endless popcorn, old films, chocolate and cups of tea. It'll be just like the old days. I'm hopelessly devoted to my boys (show me a mum who isn't) so I know it's gonna be a toughie being away from them. But by keeping busy, my week all alone will be productive too.
Then, I made the leap of faith to join a supply teaching agency. After consultation with my lovely doctor, she agreed that as my health is now much improved, I should take tentative first steps back to work. I've been so keen to get back in to teaching at the first possible opportunity and I am very lucky to have supply teaching as an option. I don't know many professions other than teaching and nursing that offer this facility to those getting back in to work. Particularly after a long break, this seemed the perfect way to test the waters. I was expecting to work maybe once or twice a week over the next couple of months and gradually ease back in to teaching mode. Immediately, the agency booked me in for a day later this month. Eek!  
So, back to today and my writing retreat. (Ahem.) Getting up at 7.30am was a luxury of sorts and I enjoyed my tea and toast in front of BBC Breakfast. No Power Rangers on loop. Lovely.
No phone call from Susan from Supply Superheroes (not the real names obviously) and so the day would be my own. Bliss. 
Dressed and seated at the laptop I was raring to go. Unfortunately, I had not counted on my brain being the butterfly it always is. Sitting down at 9.00 was a wonderful feeling. Coffee in hand, I sipped occasionally, rereading the work I'd done so far. I felt uninspired but with my notebook handy, I read through notes hoping to find something that would kick start my day. 
By 10.00 I had written very little. I moved over to the sofa with my notebook and tried to write from there but struggled to move on the section of the story where Sophie needs to travel down to London on a rickety old bus. Nothing. I wrote a conversation between the two main characters which fell flat. I doodled. I described the seats of the coach and listed some passengers but it just was not going anywhere. I refrained from practising the piano. I made another coffee.
By 10.30 I had abandoned the draft of The Plot and after a rather wobbly fifteen minutes when I considered getting the train to North Yorkshire and surprising the family, I found myself happily re-writing a children's story I'm developing with an illustrator friend.
This project had once been a rather simple [5-7yr target age range] picture book yet had always felt like I needed to do more with it and so it languished in my writing bookbag until today. Before I knew it, I was reading through the original, giggling at my rather sweet yet hopeless illustration ideas, and ready to go.
I worked steadily through the first section, developing the simpler sentences in to more age appropriate [7-9 yrs] language with thesaurus in hand and building my characters' back stories as I wrote. The story follows the development of paintings and writing descriptive landscape passages is incredibly self indulgent but equally enjoyable. Writing speech isn't something I find easy but as it's always a great way to develop characters, particularly with Annie being a little more cantankerous than her gentler friend Daisy, I dug deep and the hours just fell away. 
As I stopped for coffee at 3.30pm, the phone rang. Susan, my Supply Superheroes agent. 
"Yes I'm free!" I hear myself say. Just like that. I am now gamefully employed. 
And so, with my first day's supply teaching set up for tomorrow, after a prolonged absence from the chalk face, tomorrow is the start of a new era, one in which I will perhaps have even less time to write each day.
The more you write, the more you learn about writing. I'm sure of that.
A great writer once offered the best piece of advice I ever heard as a fledgling writer.
"If you want to write, write."
This month, I'm learning that I can't always, can't ever, predict what writing is going to happen on a writing day, but I determine to definitely, absolutely write on the days I put aside for writing. Although it's very easy to be distracted by life and small children, cats, household chores and so on, I try to be disciplined and avoid the distractions I have at home. I have to fight away the urge to iron in front of Loose Women somedays. Terrifying. When all distractions are stripped away and you still don't get your word count for the day done, you've only got yourself to blame. But with that burning away in the front of your mind, I find it's always easier to then stay on track.
That is how, over two years, I wrote 'Driftwood & Amethyst' , my first children's novel (published with Xlibris in 2011). I was unable to teach, dealing with new health and mobility restrictions and needed to do something. Anything to lift my spirits and help me find some sense of purpose. My children were a huge part of my recovery as they kept me busy and gave me a real reason for being. Having lost my career though, I desperately needed something a little more. What I found was my writing. Sitting for ten minutes to write, then half an hour, then an hour, on and on as my health improved with fabulous doctors sending me all the while for physiotherapy, hydrotherapy, operations, cognitive behaviour therapy . . .  the complete works. I know about distractions. You're learning from an expert in avoidance tactics.
Just write. Write when you can and persist in your writing.
Every journey starts with one step.
Mine did.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Short stories - A Different World

Entering short story competitions and submitting work for anthologies gives writers a forum for their work, particularly at a time when many magazines are cutting short story sections in favour of more celeb style features. Until these magazines see the light, short stories may be destined to hide out in the anthologies forward-thinking publishers collate. And as long as readers are reached, I will keep on writing!

Having entered a couple of short story competitions this week, I have been working through my most recent creations and applying my usual re-edit before entering them. The short story is an enjoyable medium to work in and I have a number of collections by author or subject matter which are well thumbed and have provided me with many enjoyable afternoons. The short story collection allows its readers short sharp bursts of intrigue, laughter, suspense and tears during journeys or a rare hour sitting at home with music on and the children in bed.
The writers group I am part of, Creative Writing Support, is a rather eclectic mix of over one hundred individuals with equally diverse tastes and writing styles. When we were asked to create a short story or poem on any theme with a song lyric as its title, many ideas flowed. Of course, writing the actual short story or poem to a particular title is no easy task and taking inspiration from various cliched lyrics left me numb and uninspired.
However, it was a few weeks later, when waking to Radio Two, my song title was introduced and I came round to a this classic song, considering the bones of a short teenage fiction story I had recently started and wondering if the two might fit together somehow.

Here's a little paragraph to whet your appetite - the anthology will be available from Creative Writing Support soon and I will keep you posted.

It Started With a Kiss

“What was that?” she whispered, rubbing her cheek gently.

“Just a cobweb, probably,” he laughed. “This room is covered!”

The young couple moved in to the small turret room from the stairs and felt their way in the dark across to the small sliver of a window.

“It’s so dusty in here,” Erin squeaked, rubbing her hands together. “And so cold.”

A sliver of moonlight shone through the stagnant dusty air, lending dim light to the room.

Danny rubbed his hands across the crumbling stone-work, the yellowing chalk-like substance wet between his fingers. He wiped them across his jeans, leaving damp dirty traces.

“It smells damp,” he muttered. “We should go. What are we doing here anyway?”

“I wanted to get right to the top turret,” Erin whispered, stamping her blue Doc Marten boots in victory. “Look how high we got!” They looked down to the castle walls below, barely visible in the fading twilight. Below them, the world was mapped out in miniature, like a toy town trail of green and brown. Cars lit their travel along grey snaking roads away from this medieval place, back to reality and modern times. Yet here, alone in the silence of this turret room, the centuries fell away and except for their uniform of faded jeans, floppy hair and faux-dirty sweater and sneakers, they could have lived in another time.

“There is supposed to be a ghost of a princess here, you know. She was trapped by her evil father so she couldn’t rule the kingdom.”

“Of course there is. Where’d you hear that?”

“I don’t know,” Erin smiled. “My dad told me last time we came. I think it’s supposed to be true. Poor love.”

“Your Dad’s full of stories like that, Erin. That story’s as true as the folk songs he sings. I don’t know why you brought me up here.”

“I wanted to talk to you. Away from the others.” Erin smiled shyly to the floor before composing herself and meeting him eye to eye once more.

“Oh yeah?” Danny ruffled his fringe and smiled awkwardly. “So, shoot.”

“I wanted to show you something.”

Erin walked over to this friend of hers. He was no longer eleven and neither was she, the age they had been when they became inseparable in Year7, first Literacy session when they were sat together as strangers. She felt different now, whenever she was with him, and she was sure he knew it.

“Are you okay?”

Erin blushed. “Yes.” She knew she couldn’t do it. Bringing him up here like this was madness. What had she been thinking? Walking over to the window again, her eyes were drawn to etching in the crumbling stone below the narrow window. “Look.”

Danny knelt down to where she was pointing. His fingers traced the heart carved deep in the wall.

Erin rubbed her finger over the D carved underneath in a cursive script. “Look. She was here.”

Quite accidentally, the tale became a rather tragic ghost story with a teenage romance just blossoming throughout and I did wonder by the end of it if the title really referred to the kiss of a princess or just that of a young girl in love for the first time.
The story starts with kiss, but the young boy's life is perhaps saved by the love of his companion. That's what I love about a short story: the nuances, the possibilities and the interpretations. I look forward to hearing how the story and the anthology is received.