Category Archives: Writing

5 blogging tips you might have missed – I did!

It’s nearly four months since I started this blog, so I’ve been taking stock. Fortunately, I’ve just found a brilliant pair of posts on Anne R Allen’s blog on how to, and how not to blog, specially aimed at authors who’ve started or are planning to start blogging. You can read it yourself here: http://annerallen.blogspot.com/2011/12/how-to-blog-beginners-guide-for-authors.html

I’ll be changing my ways from now on, based on five of Anne’s top blogging tips that I missed.

  1. I’ll be posting more regularly. I’m going for once-a-week, on Wednesdays. I find it hard to keep up with blogs that have new posts every other day, but I go cold on the ones that seem to have gone cold on me. Once a week suits me as a follower, so I hope it will please my blog-followers too. This is my first Wednesday post!
  2. I’ll be doing more linking (you’ll notice I started this post as I mean to go on!) What’s social networking, without sharing the good stuff? I’ll also put my link in Anne’s comments, and make more comments on the other blogs I read, so that their followers might click through to the House of Dreams.
  3. My blog titles might involve numbers (yep – starting as I mean to go on again) There might also be a sprinkling of bullet points within my posts, if I remember to put them in.
  4. I might make my posts a bit longer. They’ve been coming in around the 300 word mark, which is well under half the average for blog posts. But then again, I might not. I like to write lean – possibly in part because I’m not a patient reader myself.
  5. While taking on board all the great advice out there, I’ll go on ploughing my own path. Blogging is creative writing, and half the fun is finding out what it’s got in mind, and watching how it evolves. (Yes, I am one of those authors who DETEST writing synopses)

Doh – that’s all I’ve got to say and guess what? It’s 300 words. I rest my case!

Now, because finishing with a question is another tip I kind of missed, or rather got in a quite haphazard way, I’m going to close with a question for you, O welcome visitor to the House of Dreams – What are your top tips for successful blogging? 

More people want to write than to read – why?

First of all, I must confess I can’t remember where I read that there are more would-be writers than readers, so it’s more of an eye-catching title than a statistical fact. But having said that, it doesn’t sound too preposterous to me.

My kitchen table - ready for a writing group

Writing courses are springing up all over the country, from major universities to my kitchen table; online writers’ resources are increasing daily, and in National Novel Writing Month alone participants have already produced a staggering  2,755,787,833 words this year, and counting  http://nanowrimo.org/

You would think the main reason why so many people are interested in writing is because they’d like to be published, perhaps with a view to changing career, or to making a fortune out of a single best-selling book and going to live in the Seychelles. This is certainly true for some.

But I think for a lot of people who want to write, being published is not the main driver. It’s something more primitive and profound. People come to writing because they want to discover and tell their stories, not necessarily to the world, but to each other, like tribal elders gathered under a tree, or children making up games in the playground.

I think there’s a yearning also, in such a material world, to connect with deeper layers of the self, and explore the mysteries of the inner world.

What creative activities of every kind offer is an experience of total absorption and flow, and an opportunity for spiritual experience and community in a very secular world.

I’d love to hear your views, if you’re a teacher or participant in creative writing courses.

My first blog award!

Hooray, hooray – I’ve just been awarded my first blog award! I was awarded this by children’s author Abi Burlingham (check out her guest post, about the dream that sparked ‘Buttercup Magic’) She’s got a lovely bright, colourful blog, with new posts every Friday  http://www.abiburlingham.talktalk.net/Blog.html Thank you so much, Abi, I’m honoured.

Liebster is a German word meaning dearest, and the award is given to up-and-coming bloggers with less than 200 followers. These are the things you should do if you receive the award: Thank the giver and link back to the blogger who gave it to you. 2. Reveal your top 5 picks and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog. 3. Copy and paste the award on your blog. 4. Hope that the people you’ve sent the award to forward it to their five favourite bloggers . There are some lovely blogs out there, and some wonderful, funny and talented bloggers. So, without further ado…

I’d like to award the Liebster Blog Award to the following bloggers.

Siany Morgan, web angel extraordinaire, who helps women feel more confident and comfortable establishing a web presence  http://websforwomen.com/

Jo Cotterill, for the gorgeous http://girlsheartbooks.com/ a group blog with around 30 regular children’s authors on the team

Katherine Roberts, for the magical unicorn http://reclusivemuse.blogspot.com/ and her trail-blazing adventures in kindling http://authorselectric.blogspot.com/

Susan Price, fab children’s author with a very interesting blog http://susanpricesblog.blogspot.com/

And finally Toko-pa Turner, for talking in such a clear and interesting way about my favourite topic, dreams http://toko-pa.com/category/writing/dreamspeak/

Thanks again Abi 🙂 and more soon, everyone!

Book Review

Writers Dreaming, by Naomi Epel

The Vintage paperback cover

You won’t be surprised to hear that I love this book. It consists of twenty-six interviews with high-profile authors, sharing their thoughts about dreams and the creative process.

Probably my favourite is Sue Grafton, because she talks about the edgy nature of dreams and creative work, the ‘sense of jeopardy’ that comes with handing yourself over completely to the inner world of imagination. She describes the feeling of something mystical powering the writing process. She does not believe that all dreams have psychological meaning.

I love the way Stephen King compares his writing process with dreaming. He talks about his preparations for writing being like a bedtime ritual; of entering the writing being like falling asleep to the world, and finishing like emerging from the dream state in the morning.

Maya Angelou talks about the small mind and the large mind, which is very much my experience of dreaming and writing. They both take you into worlds without limits, and add a new dimension to waking life that makes it feel feel much bigger.

There are so many fascinating insights in this book, and it’s one you can dip in and out of if you’re busy, although I have to say I was so gripped I read it over one sunny day in London, on trains and park benches and in cafes.

A five-star read for writers and dreamers.

Landscapes of the soul

Years ago, I had a dream I called ‘Landscapes of the soul.’ It was one of those dreams which doesn’t have a story, but just a voice.

Moorland
Cornish moorland

The voice of the dream said, ‘The scenery your soul feels at home in never changes. The empty huge spaces of the highlands, always at the mercy of the elements, that is my soul scenery and will not change, but all the less important things have changed…’

Shetland
Burra Isle in Shetland

It was after this dream that I started to notice the consistency of my dream landscapes, which are most often moors and mountains. In the workshops I do now, I find other people’s dream landscapes also have a surprising consistency.

North of Scotland
The mountains of the far North West

I grew up in leafy Wimbledon, but immediately after university I went to Shetland for a holiday and simply couldn’t leave. It was love at first sight, for me, that wild windbeaten landscape of empty hills and wide horizons. I lived in Shetland for nearly ten years before moving to Cornwall, but I still go to the far North most years in the summer.

This week, I read a fascinating post by Abi Burlingham about her relationship with trees and woodland http://abiburlingham.wordpress.com/2011/10/21/21st-october/ It reminded me of my long-ago dream, and made me wonder if everyone is drawn so strongly to one kind of scenery, for pleasure, solace or inspiration.

Does every writer have a dream book?

An early version was called 'The pink jacket'
An early version of my dream book was called 'The Pink Jacket'

When I came to writing after my last child started school, I experienced a sense of homecoming, as if this was the thing I had been born to do.

My first goal was to be a jobbing writer, someone who could turn their hand to anything, and I found the ideal place to learn that in educational writing, because there the brand was the publisher rather than the author, which meant I was free to try my hand at lots of different kinds of writing, both fiction and non fiction.

The two or three years I spent writing full-time for various educational publishers felt like a brilliant apprenticeship, and I carried the things I had learnt there into the next stage of my writing career, moving back into the high street as a children’s self-help author.

My 8 children’s self-help books were a mix of stories, jokes, quizzes, activities and ideas. They have all received 5-star reviews and enthusiastic reader-feedback. However, I soon learnt that earning your living from non fiction was even harder than from fiction.

So I wrote two children’s fiction series, the 6-book ‘Car-mad Jack’ and my new series, ‘By Peony Pinker.’ I feel very lucky to have had such a long, happy and varied writing career.

But underneath it all, from way back before I was ever published, I’ve always known I wanted to write an adult book about dreams, and for a couple of months in every year, before the latest advance runs out, I have returned to this labour-of-love book, experimenting with it at different times as a novel, workbook, memoir and non-fiction.

This year, I decided to finally put everything else on hold, and actually commit to finishing my dream book. I am experiencing even more of a sense of homecoming than when I first began to write. Not only, ‘Writing is what I was born to do,’ but also, ‘This is the book I was born to write.’

I wonder, does every author have a dream book – the special one they feel they were born to write?

Guest spot: The dream that sparked the book

The dream behind ‘Buttercup Magic’ – by Abi Burlingham

Buttercup magic cover
‘A Mystery for Megan’ – the first book in the ‘Buttercup Magic’ series

I have had vivid dreams for as long as I remember, varying from dreams of flying to the truly horrid stick witch who crept out of the plughole. Some of these have sparked off ideas for stories, but generally speaking I hadn’t used them in my writing and they were quite often forgotten.

That is, until a few months ago, following a fascinating article I read in the Spring Mslexia, ‘Dreamwriting’ by Clare Jay, where Clare describes the process of being conscious in your dreams, controlling them, and using them to help your writing.

Fascinated with this idea, I decided to try being more aware in my next dream. The dream that followed was incredibly vivid. I was in a big old house, or rather, my consciousness was. My dream almost told me what was there. It told me there were mice who could tell the time – I could see these in the dream – and there was a black cat.

When I woke, I had the strongest sense of place. The setting and feelings that accompanied it were so incredibly vivid. Luckily, I keep a notebook and pen by the bed, so I quickly wrote down these ideas.

Shortly after, I started to write the book ‘Buttercup Magic’ – under the working title ‘Buttercup House’, featuring mice who could tell the time (all called Whiskers) and  black cat called Dorothy. But I knew that a dog should be in the book too, so I wrote in Buttercup, a big golden retriever.

‘Buttercup Magic’ is now to become a series, the first of which, ‘An adventure for Megan’, is due out in Spring 2012. Without the dream, and without that very important article, I have no doubt that this book wouldn’t have been written.

www.abiburlingham.talktalk.net

http://www.abiburlingham.talktalk.net/Blog.html

The key to good writing

A lot of people who come to writing workshops express feelings of anxiety in case they won’t be able to write something ‘good.’ I imagine this is because most of us learn to write at school, where everything is judged and graded.

Learning to identify ‘good’ writing at school and university completely cured me of the wish to write. It ebbed away from being a passion in childhood to a listless ghost. But how can you say what makes ‘good’ writing? I personally like a story which rattles along, without too much description or depth, so for me Agatha Christie is a much better writer than Virginia Woolf. Seriously.

You won’t please everybody with your writing, so don’t try. Let the kind of thing you enjoy reading be your compass and write to please yourself, because that’s the surest way to develop your own authentic voice.

I’m firmly in the practice school of writing which, instead of starting from theory and technique, starts from finding out you want to say. If you write whatever you want to write, uncritically, you will enjoy it more; you will do it more often, and your writing style will improve through practice.

So the key to good writing is love. Love your ideas, love writing them down, love the adventure. Don’t let the critic in until you have something you like so much that you will love the work of redrafting.

Guest spot: The story of the picture

Would you like to know where the dream house picture at the top of this blog came from? I’ll let Mooncakelizzie explain… Picturing the House of Dreams, by Mooncakelizzie I’ve been interested in creative writing for the past eleven years. Attending a multitude of classes and groups freed up a rabble of short stories and some novels, jointly written with someone who’s now a friend, met at one of Jen’s workshop series. These have not the rigidly defined tick-box ‘outcomes’ of formal courses, but are absolutely absorbing and simply fun to take part in. In particular, ‘Writing in the House of Dreams’ opened up a kind of secret garden I’d lived alongside almost unaware. There, for example, I could meet myself at younger ages, and also a hidden self who was growing, maybe pupating under a cabbage-leaf in a homely but boundless place.

Liz's first dream hut picture

The first dream house drawing I made was during a workshop. We all told a dream, and then chose an image from one person’s dream to draw. We wrote three words to describe it. Then we asked three questions to spark a story – ‘Who finds it? Why are they there? What happens next?’

Liz's second hut

At home, I did more drawings. I began to put daydreams in, of living near the sea in a beautiful Oast conversion. A bit of Kentish beach; a view imagined from my little house.

Then a night scene, an isolated hut on a wild headland with distant lights of other houses far away across the water. I don’t consciously know what’s inside.

Here, I can hold dreams, experiences, events and things I’ve picked up or eavesdropped on while careering openly in and out of that world behind the ‘hedge.’