Category Archives: Writing

Goodbye to Writeidea

Look at that amazing tweet. I’ll come back to it during this lengthy, rambling but happy post. I’ve been volunteering for East London’s free reading festival for the last two years and now I’m saying goodbye. Here’s my round-up from 2013 which pays a quick word of tribute to some of the amazing writers to take part last year.

This time was different and much more demanding as I was also curating the Festival Fringe. I’m very proud of introducing this idea last year and hope it continues. Unlike many of the big lit fests, the main festival Writeidea folk actually get paid. But the Fringe folk do it for free and they are a wonderful and noble race.

It seems very, very hard to single out anyone or any session from this year to mention and time is too fleeting to do them all justice. So I am going to mention some random personal highlights both in and around Writeidea, which should not be taken too seriously by those involved.They’re partly personal as they involve the folk I invited to take part, as this is my blog and it is all about Me.

Anyway, please don’t sue me or my tiny child will not have goose this Christmas (she won’t anyway as the Great Vegan Experiment is underway. Sort of):

Best Festival Footwear: A Gordian knot of a tie between Liz de Jager’s Boots of Awesome

Sarah Jackson’s category-creating shoes

and the Socks that Launched a Lambchop into Space, as wrangled by brilliant Nikesh Shukla.

Best Creative Use of a Fire Alarm

No, it wasn’t me smoking in the loos (honest) but someone did. Despite the fact that, among others, poor Jake Arnott had his fascinating talk full of 18th century slang interrupted: I’m almost glad that it happened. That alarm gave the world its first Create a Comic on the Street by a Supermarket masterclass, from the unflappable Louie Stowell.

Look here she is in the Guardian doing something similar but sans fire alarms. I met Louie through last year’s Writeidea, making it even more of a Good Thing.

Best Historical Talks

I live-tweeted Tom Holland on the origins of Islam until my tendons howled with multi-syllabic exhaustion

And I got to talk to him about cricket in the pub after. Alhough I missed his talk, archaeologist Dave Sankey on the Crossrail excavations beneath Stepney was standing room only and easily one of the most popular events this year.

Best Local and Alternative Histories

Organiser of the East End Suffragettes Festival Sarah Jackson read from her ace book about Sylvia Pankhurst and her awesome contemporaries – in the East End where it all happened, at a time of austerity and attacks on the freedoms on women. A real privilege to hear such a generous and talented person. That was followed up by the last but most definitely not least Fringe event: a fascinating look at London’s urban legends from Scott Wood of the London Fortean Society. From Springheeled Jack (talk coming up in January) to vengeance- (or not) inspired gargoyles, I could listen to Scott all night.

Best BSL Interpreted Talk

Another superb writer I invited but had to miss, darn it, as a Fringe Curator’s work is never done – star of the YA universe, here in his factual persona with This Book is Gay *bows*: the Queen of Teen, James Dawson. At least I got to meet him during that fire alarm break. And he got some lively signing done: ‘sexyfuntime’ caused no difficulties at all … 

Personal Biggest Coup Feel

Three top indie publishers – some of whom may well have done similar paid-for prestigious events elsewhere – came to talk book trade and times for free.  These are very special people. Meike of Peirene Press is bringing contemporary European literature to new audiences, Kit from Influx has published one of my favourite contemporary poets, Chimene Suleyman, and is doing amazingly radical work (watch out for the anonymous anarchist) and Sam from Galley Beggars brought us wonders as diverse as Simon Gough, Baileys’ prizewinner Eimar McBride and possibly the greatest author ever: Francis Plug.

Best New Getting Folk Involved Sessions

I know ‘interactive’ is the right word. But it feels a little impersonal for three events that were each in their own way very special ways for people to come together in real life. Lots  got together to eat cakes and write letters. Proper ones, on paper, thanks to the lovely Letter Lounge.

 

I am very, very proud to have organised the first Death Cafe in Tower Hamlets. Lots of us talked, listened, laughed and cried. We were really lucky to have this led by Annie Broadbent, again for free, gave a wonderful talk about dealing with bereaved people.

Another expert in dealing with difficult conversations, Ione Rojas of Furry Tales, came to help. And it all came just in time for me to deal with another death.

And there was #QuizYA created by Jim Dean of YaYeahYeah who has read more, preached more and inspired more people to read, love and be social over Young Adult (and other) books than anyone can possibly do with a mere 24 hours in the day. He’s busy bringing lots of lovely indie bookshops to daily view at the moment with #indieadvent. A real star.

Other generous people helped that to happen – that’s brilliant debut writer Robin Stevens on Jim’s left – @redbreastedbird mentioned at the beginning. She’s taking over the Young Agatha Christie mantle: one murder and bunbreak at a time. Robin also gave up her time for free, to chair a terrific session with Tanya Byrne: Tanya makes such beautiful, original writing look effortless. More pride here, at getting such hugely-talented YA writers involved. I don’t think I’ve ever written such a pleased with myself piece 😉

But that tweet, back at the beginning, has to be my Desert Island highlight: the one thought I’m taking away with me. This isn’t a humblebrag but a proper, delighted, ”I done good one. I helped out at a festival, invited writers and publicised it to booklovers. Sally, a young writer and bookblogger came to see, hear and meet writers she admires. Now she’s even more inspired to write. Here she is with Liz de Jager, author of the utterly brilliant Banished and Vowed, who also gave up lots of time and energy to give a brilliant free session on fan fiction.

I’m really sorry to step down as the Festival’s only non-staff  volunteer organiser but I’ve taken on a big role with the Society Of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and only have so much volunteering time to spare. But that tweet gives me a truly wonderful, my work here is done feeling. It’s been fun. And next year I will be in the audience.

 

 

 

Writing Not Writing

East_London_Suffragettes_FestivalWriting is strange. The word ‘meta’ sends me into a panic.

I also know I can disappear in unproductive mists of rumination if I start to try to write about writing.

Over the last fortnight, I’ve been writing a lot but have done nothing on the project I’m trying to finish. What I have written includes:

  • a blog post for a charity CEO
  •  news about the brilliant, wonderful and important East London Suffragette Festival (do come. It will be brilliant)
  • loads of varied content about the Writeidea Festival, including a submission that now means I’m curating this year’s Fringe
  • precis help for my daughter’s vet clinic work experience
  • two poems: both execrable
  • a short story about feet on the Underground
  • critiques of fellow SCBWI writers’ fiction
  • exercises on a Writing for Teenagers’ course

Not to mention tweets via various accounts, letters of complaint to council planning officers, a job application for unfamiliar work, daily scraps about stuff that may end up in fiction,a major edit of the opening of my middle grade novel and a whole lot more …Oh, okay, critical self: some of it is editing. How far is editing writing? There’s another rabbit hole down which to vanish and look, there goes another hour.

It’s all writing, in different ways: but none of it relates to the project I think is most important.

What with family and festival commitments, hospital appointments and pesky friends who insist on having birthdays EVERY year, I’ve been away from here for those two weeks. I value the Weekly Blog Club space; partly it’s the closest I come to keeping any form of diary or journal.

There’s nothing like trying to recreate your 17-year-old thoughts – for a novel – to make me wish I had done this. Maybe I’ll feel the same in 20 years’ time but it seems unlikely I’ll go through similar changes and such intense feelings.

I’ve mentioned the 750 Words process before. I’ve been neglecting that recently too. And it’s probably no coincidence that the piece I am having problems with is non fiction but personal.

I’ll try again later. Or tomorrow. Except I’m busy tomorrow.

 

Found poetry, procrastination and top tweeting.

I met the omni-talented Uschi Gatward when we both wrote prize-winning short stories for the Writeidea Festival in 2012. Judged by Jill Dawson, no less.

And this post has just peaked for me. Uschi won second place to my third and has gone on to shortlist after shortlist, adorned with well-earned praise, with a prize in the bag yet to be announced. I on the other hand am still working on it.

Uschi’s written some highly entertaining blog posts for wonderful women’s writing magazine Mslexia on her contest submissions over the past three months: you can see the first of these  linked to her name above. One of her submissions was to the very entertaining Verbatim Poetry: publishing poems written by adding spacing and punctuation to found text.

This can be from adverts, online comments, manuals: you name it. So I spent a few happy hours yesterday distracted by the idea and putting together a poem for submission. I’ll let you know. This, however, is when I was meant to be editing the Work in Progress.

As I’ve said on here before, I am a martyr to procrastination. Scrap that: I am its patron saint. If it can be put off, left until another day, overlooked for a few hours or generally hidden for a bit: I’ll do it.

WIP apart, recent procrastination means I’ve failed to get tickets for a brilliant weekend ahead of amazing authors and other fascinating folk at the UK’s first Young Adult Literature Conference at London Film and Comic Con. Though, thanks to the magic of Twitter, I have now got my grubby mitts on a short day pass for Sunday via sainted agent Gemma Cooper *we are not worthy etc*

I have one very disappointed daughter. As a kind and caring parent, I am passing on this lesson in procrastination for her edification (but she is NOT having my lovely ticket.)

I meant to write my weekly blog post last night as I had an evening comparatively free. Instead, I got caught up in a Twitter chat on Middle Grade – age 9 to 12 – fiction. A couple of hard-working women writers put this together: @miriamhcraig and @authorontheedge The next is 8-9pm on Wednesday 23 July. Look out for #ukmgchat

No, it is not procrastination to spend time discussing the definition of fantasy in kids’ books with the likes of SF Said, awesome author of Varjak Paw and epic space tale Phoenix. It is time supremely and enjoyably well-spent.

And just look at the result: pictured above. Obviously Twitter can pack up and go home, as I have won it. But where would I procrastinate then?

 

 

 

 

Happy 50th Birthday Charlie Bucket

KarenJKHart_child

My reading spot

I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators earlier this year, as part of my continuing efforts to Be A Writer.

The British Isles’ section has a wonderful online magazine: Words and Pictures. I was delighted to write a post for them this week on the 50th anniversary of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl:

Happy 50th Birthday Charlie Bucket.

#bookadayuk

John_Bauer_Sagovarld

John Bauer: sparks my imagination every time

#bookadayuk is one of the better Twitter hashtag events. A different book with a different theme, chosen by readers each day throughout June. Such a lovely, simple idea from new HarperCollinsUK imprint The Borough Press.

Here’s the full list, just in case you haven’t seen it. I didn’t spot it until today: 3 June and have been kicking myself for missing the first two days. Despite thinking off myself as a free-thinking, anarchic type, I have such an inbuilt nervous regard of rule and regulations that I just can’t bring myself to put my Day 1, 1st June, on Twitter today. So hurrah for Weekly Blog Club and the chance to play catch-up.

There are some categories that have got me thinking already. In fact, I will have to treat this like an advent calendar and not peek ahead to later days, or I can easily spend the whole day thinking of books. But I think I’m allowed to list a few here to inspire any one who’s yet to join in:

12th: Pretend to have read it: there’s a few that can go into this category. It’s possible there might even be one or two from university days, when I was terrified at the jump from finding myself Good at English to not having read ANY of the shelves and libraries full of texts that the omniscient people in my Modern Literature seminar had got through.

19th: Still can’t stop talking about it: I suppose I’ll have to make a vow that not every single book will be Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban. If I’d had his blue-covered Turtle Diaries to hand, that would have been my choice for today: One with a blue cover.

27th: Want to be one of the characters. Wow: where to start with that? Perhaps I’m wrong and I should spend much of today considering it. These are serious choices. Anyway: time to catch up with Days One and Two. These are somewhat similar.

1st: Favourite book from childhood. It’s ‘book’, not ‘novel’, so that makes a difference and it’s book singular. Yes, I am taking this very seriously. I said I am a respecter of rules. Favourite novel would probably be Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I won’t go into detail now because I’m writing a blog post to celebrate its 50th anniversary for Words and Pictures, the online magazine of the British Isles region of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators.

‘Books’ would probably have been the Jill pony series by Ruby Ferguson. There are no words to describe how I loved them. I longed with all my heart to be Jill, while trapped in a pony-free home without enough money for riding lessons and over-protective parents who wouldn’t have let me within a mile of a scary horse anyway.

I didn’t have many books when I was a kid and once I got to school, I read my way throughout the bookshelves fast. So teachers used to take me to the town library. Skirting past the staircase (because upstairs, in the museum,  the nightmare-inducing skeleton used to grin at you)  I picked the same book, time and time again: Myths of the Norsemen, by Roger  Lancelyn Green. The link goes to a blog post that details all the chapters.

Everything in it spoke to me. I knew the Greek myths too well and was bored by them. Anyway, what tedious Greek god could compare with Loki the trickster, beautiful Baldur and his heart-breaking brother Hodur? I tried to work out how to pronounce Yggdrasill, the World Tree, and upgraded my pony fetish to an eight-legged horse. There was always something new to find out and wonder over and imagine. It set my reading tastes for good. Beside my bed, there’s Neil Gaiman’s American Gods and Joanne Harris’s Gospel of Loki, both for re-reading. Reading her library tale in the link, we could be the same person: her being a wildly-successful author aside …

Fast forward some 40 years to June 2: Best bargain. John Bauer‘s Sagovarld – Swedish Faerie and Folk Tales, picked up for a few crowns in a Stockholm secondhand shop. So much has changed. I’ve found a huge birth family in Sweden: seven brothers and sisters, just like a fairy tale. I’ve walked thought the forests and swum in the lakes I used to dream about.

This could also go in for June 8th: Own more than one copy. My original, battered Swedish version is somewhere in a book pile. The picture is of a second copy closer to hand: a present from Swedish family. I’ve got copies in English too. Yes, I like John Bauer. Another book of Norse legends, bought for my daughter, has a blue cover, taking me back full circle to today’s choice.

#bookadayuk – the best kind of distraction.

*amended 10 June as the hashtag was changed by the organiser

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Sunlight and twilight and firelight’

‘Short breaks in restored historic buildings.’ I love the Landmark Trust, the charity ‘giving new life to castles, forts, follies, towers and cottages.’ We spent most of our honeymoon at one of their Peppercombe places: a tiny thatched cottage, hidden in a wooded valley by the Devon coast.

A short break before Easter needed specific requirements: not far from London, accessible by public transport and affordable. It needed to cater for a recently-bereaved pensioner, a teen laden with AS revision notes (scowling at missing Game of Thrones); a zoo, decent pubs and some form of natural history museum for husband. I wanted somewhere to sit, write and get away from the non-stop drilling and sirens of Whitechapel.

Peake’s House, Colchester ticked every box, full of words like ‘atmosphereic’, ‘snug’ and ‘Elizabethan’. Such a gorgeous and imposing  exterior when you arrive: timbered and mullioned and transomed. (Ignore the next two paragraphs if you’re of a nervous disposition: read on for the true nature of the place.

‘It looks safe round here,’ Mum said. ‘So many policemen!’ I got her inside before she spotted the boiler-suited and masked scene of crimes officer. Murder, a copper told me. Earlier in the week and along the road, though.

My husband was delighted by the cellar, convinced he could call up something nasty from Cabin in the Woods by finding the right object somewhere in the house. Zombies at the very least. My money was on the Satanic jug next to the bed. I didn’t realise daughter was unaware of the cellar and scared her witless by mentioning it. Then I woke up to the sound of drilling …

Colchester has a beautiful castle in stunning grounds, full of forget-me-nots, squirrels and sunshine for us. It has the sweetest Natural History Museum, surrounded with lush growth in an old churchyard, and the requisite zoo. Gran and Grand-daughter were happy with finding the same shops as home. ‘They’ve got a BOOTS!’

We had a wonderful meal at the esteemed Stockwell Restaurant, purveyors of fine medieval fare, a few steps from our front door and they, most generous of restaurateurs, gave us two huge logs so we could have a fire on our last night.

And I was happy, relaxed and inspired. I sat and wrote in almost every spacious and beautiful room, finding the peace and quiet that I needed. If you don’t know the Landmark set-up, they spurn tv, radio etc in favour of well-stocked bookcases, local histories and fiction from authors linked to the area.

Each also has log books, filled in by visitors with lots of advice about which takeaway to use, the best places are to visit and any to avoid. There’s also a lot of info about the place you’re staying and how it was refurbished.

The title is from a book about a similar house to Peake’s. Please don’t pinch it: that’s my short story name for the Landmark writing contest. I want to win so I can go back to my shortlist of, ooh, at least ten other places: temples and lodges and towers …

‘If it welcome you when you enter its hall, if its rafter re-echo gaily as though they laughed with you, if peace come dropping slow in its bedrooms, if it seems just to have stopped speaking to you when you wake, if sunlight and twilight and firelight seem equally the best light of all for its panels, its corners, its great beam – then it is a seasoned house.’

From ‘The Paycockes of Coggeshall,’ Eileen Power, 1920.

Stream of consciousness

Loki-AKA-Poufeball*uninspired sigh* ‘What shall I write my blog post about, beloved daughter?’

*looks up cheerfully from Biology revision* ‘Your paintings, what you’re thinking, a book, the view from your window, atrial systole and the sodium channel, those %$&^£! downstairs, Grandma, your work, your desk, why does Pouffeball [Loki the cat] get that black gunk in his eyes, funerals, that’s why they stopped Crufts, you know, Miss said, because of the pure-breds not being able to breathe, you know, look, he’s just like Henry the 8th, you know with that frill around his neck, you can just imagine him doing divorced beheaded survived, OH MY GOD LOOOOOOOK HE’S HOLDING ON TO HIS TEDDY!!! oh no he’s just got his claw stuck in it stupid Pouffeball I feel so sorry for myself, Falance [other cat] sneezed he’s so cute awwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww if only he didn’t hate every one Falance always ignores me*