Tag Archives: books

I’ve chosen the best place to launch my book!

Today is the official publication day for my new book, Free-Range Writing: 75 Forays for the Wild Writer’s Soul, and I think I’ve found the perfect place to launch it.

All my previous book launches have been nibbles-and-bubbles parties, with a lot of mingling, a spot of reading and somebody lovely raising a toast.

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Usually, it’s mostly mingling

I’ve held them in my garden, my local library, the back room of the village pub, an art gallery, the Sterts open air theatre… Every book is different, and so is every launch.

When I discovered that the Looe Literary Festival coincided with publication week I really wanted to launch my new book there. It’s a festival that truly celebrates local writing and grass-roots creativity as well as big name authors, and that’s very much the spirit of Free-Range Writing.

There are readings from the Looe Writing Group and the Liskeard Poets, whose book launch I attended recently, having been invited to select the poems for their anthology. Alongside talks by famous authors like Lord Owen, Adam Hart-Davis and Dr Susan Blackmore, there are lesser-known writers of fiction and non-fiction. There are panels and discussions on topics as various as fisheries policy and self-publishing. There’s plenty for children as well.

I’ve been in the green room at the Cheltenham litfest, mingling with TV stars who’ve written a book and hawk-eyed photographers trying to get photos of them, and felt curiously detached from the whole business. For me, writing is about all of us, ordinary people; we all have something interesting and beautiful to say.

Thinking only famous writing is good writing is a mistake, as anyone who has any experience of writing workshops will know. It’s also harmful because it can make us feel discouraged and reluctant to explore our own innate abilities. My new book is about freeing up your thinking, venturing into every area of your writer self and being surprised by what you find.

So this book is all about the writing, and I’ll be launching it in a different way, with a free-range writing talk at 12.00 on Sunday 19th November and then a workshop after lunch, at 2 o’clock.

I love doing these community workshops, partly because they’re a chance to work with writers of all ages. They’re not just for children, or for adults, or for families – they’re for everyone age 8+. We all have something interesting to say and we so rarely have the chance to write together. (Participants under 18 must be accompanied by an adult).

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Looe island

The Looe Literary Festival is a great event in a gorgeous location and it’s the perfect place to hear about Free-Range Writing, so please come along and help me celebrate if you can. I will hope to see you there!

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3 steps to being a writer

I was going on tour with my three books for writers. I opened my well-travelled, old-fashioned suitcase and there they were, just the books, looking bright and colourful against the black satin lining. I felt very proud of them.

I had this deeply pleasurable dream a few weeks ago, when I was emailing publications to see if they would like a review copy of my upcoming book, Free-Range Writing: 75 Forays for the Wild Writer’s Soul, and pitching ideas for articles. (I’m happy to report that Mslexia has accepted a copy for review and I’ve placed an article on free-range writing in the Writers’ News Christmas edition).

Usually, I have to put my shoulder to the wheel and get on with it, when it comes to promoting new books, but promoting this one feels joyful. I want to shout about it, partly because it’s my first brand new book in two years, and partly because it gives me a sense of completion.

These three writing books are a set, although I only notice that now, looking back. They cover the whole writer’s process:

  • opening to inspiration (Writing in the House of Dreams)
  • keeping the writing flowing (Happy Writing)
  • extending yourself as a writer (Free-Range Writing)

They also reflect my own coming-to-writing. First, before I was a writer, I was a dream worker – I learnt to come and go across the borders of my unconscious and work with the stories and images I found in great abundance there. To use Ted Hughes’ analogy, I learnt to fish.

There is the inner life, which is the world of final reality, the world of memory, imagination, emotion, intelligence, and natural common sense, and which goes on all the time, consciously or unconsciously, like the heart beat. There is also the thinking process by which we break into that inner life and capture answers and evidence to support the answers out of it. That process of raid, or persuasion, or ambush, or dogged hunting, or surrender, is the kind of thinking we have to learn and if we do not somehow learn it, then our minds lie in us like the fish in the pond of a man who cannot fish.

Ted Hughes

Writing in the House of Dreams it about tapping the mystery of inspiration, the ‘Where did that come from?’ It includes lots of practical writing exercises to help readers open to their own unconscious processes.

Next, at the age of 40, I started my writing career. As well as having to build my writing skills, I also had to develop the psychological toughness this business requires: a thick skin, a willingness to be seen, the ability to set clear goals and the flexibility to adapt them. Authors also have to cope with financial uncertainty, and develop other sources of income – many award-winning authors have to fit their writing in around a day job.

Happy Writing is about the psychology of writing, the ‘How can I keep going?’, whether in a longer piece like a novel, or over the course of a career. It includes lots of practical writing exercises to help readers build their writing skills, such as plotting and redrafting, identify when hidden fears might be holding them back and create writing goals they can pursue whole-heartedly because they come from their core values rather than  other people’s assumptions.

In my early 50’s, I began to teach writing workshops, and I always mixed it up, just as I’ve done in my own writing career. I found people were surprised to be asked to write a poem in a plotting workshop, say, or a magazine article in a memoir workshop – they were surprised, also, by how enjoyable and fruitful a more holistic approach can be.

Free-Range Writing is about inhabiting more of your writer self and growing as a writer, the ‘Yes, I can do this! What else can I do?’ It includes 75 practical writing forays into different genres, with tips and advice to help readers feel confident about experimenting, and a chapter on how to use these exercises to set up a new writing group or pep up an existing one.

Every stage of the writer’s journey is different, and so these three books are all very different from each other. Until I had the dream and actually saw them in my dear old suitcase, all together, they had felt a bit random and disparate. I hadn’t realised that they were a series, each one a necessary part of the whole.

I’m not sure I realised, either, that I do feel very proud them, these beloved children of my other lives, in dreams and writing.

If you would like to help them make their way in the world, please share this post to your fb/twitter/personal blog.

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Thank-you!

 

 

 

10 Fantastic Christmas Presents for Writers

It’s that time again, and the great thing about buying things for writers is that you can give them something that will provide weeks or months of writing pleasure and inspiration without breaking the bank.

Here are some suggestions for things your writing friends might like – or if you’re a writer, why not treat yourself?

Gorgeous Notebooks.

The name says it all, and they really are gorgeous. I’ve been using them for my writing journals for several years now, as readers of my newsletter will know. Great quality paper, beautiful binding, a useful ribbon to mark your place and a handy pocket at the back for bits and pieces.

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Disposable fountain pens.

They write just like a fountain pen but the ink doesn’t smudge, and they come in every colour. If you aren’t keen on sharpies for book-signing, these are a good alternative, as well as being excellent for writing in your gorgeous notebook, of course.

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Coach Yourself to Writing Success

Whatever kind of writing you do, it helps to understand what’s most important to you and create writing goals that fit with your core values. That way, you’re both more likely to succeed and also more likely to enjoy your success when you do. My friend Penny Dolan recommended this book to me a while ago, and I’ve recommended it to other writer friends ever since.

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Go Stationery pocket notebooks

Even in these days of mobile phones, most writers like to carry a notebook somewhere about their person when they’re away from home, and these are perfect – not too big, bulky, or heavy to put in your pocket; soft but not flimsy covers; good quality unlined paper and attractive cover designs.

I got mine from Waterstones.

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100 Prized Poems

Not just writers, but everybody in the world can find solace, joy, companionship and inspiration in poetry, and this new book is full of wonderful poems. My thanks to Jackie Kay for recommending it during her brilliant workshop at the North Cornwall Book Festival 🙂

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6 A writing workshop – any writing workshop!

Speaking of Jackie Kay’s workshop, which was pure delight, a place on a writing workshop will please your writer friends or writer self, and it’ll be something to look forward to at the end of the Christmas festivities.

I love going on other people’s workshops, and I’ve yet to meet another writer who doesn’t. (I’ve added the link to mine, but you can just google writing workshops in your area to find ones local to you)

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7 Probably my favourite book on writing ever

Being a writer isn’t just a way you pass your time – it’s a part of the way you are. Developing a practice of writing is a profound kind of self development, and Natalie Goldberg brings a Buddhist sensibility to it which I love.

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And speaking of self development…

8 Shamanic and Jungian tools for writers who want to rewrite their own story

This is a fascinating workbook with loads of writing exercises. Not for everyone, obviously, but I really enjoyed it.

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9 A day out to somewhere interesting

Most writers are more excited by experiences than things, so how about a ticket to somewhere that might spark their imagination, such as the Foundling Museum?

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10 And finally…

Two companionable books for writers from me, which both offer plenty of short writing tasks for you or your writer friends to take refuge in if you need to pace yourselves over the festive period.

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Happy Christmas shopping!

Have you got any recommendations for Christmas presents for writers? Please share!

 

Should writers read, read, read?

A participant on one of my recent writing workshops told us that she’d got stalled with the book she was working on, possibly because she had grown disheartened after reading several particularly wonderful books in the same genre.

It made me think about the advice most authors give new writers, to learn from the best and read, read, read.

I realised that although I do read a lot, it’s never in the same genre as I’m currently writing. When I was a new graduate working in a public library, I gorged myself on children’s fiction, catching up on all the books I’d missed as a non-reading child, but when I started writing children’s fiction in my late thirties, I  moved away from reading children’s books and immersed myself in adults’ books about self-help and popular psychology.

By the time I started writing self-help for children in my forties, I’d stopped reading it and moved on to books about spirituality, dreams and the creative process.

Over the last few years, when I’ve been writing mostly about dreams and creativity, and working on my first dream-inspired fantasy fiction, my reading has been mostly memoir, and I have a few ideas for autobiographical writing firming up in the back of my mind at the moment, which I think may be my next big writing project.

Of course, by the time I start to write any memoirs of my own, I’m sure I’ll be reading in some new genre altogether.

I think I’ve always instinctively avoided reading the same kind of book as I’m writing, in order not to be influenced or discouraged by other people’s work. I’m inspired by it, but usually in the months and years before I decide to have a go myself.

I’ve no idea what my longer-term future writing will be,  but it occurs to me now that the clue will be in whatever I find myself reading while I’m working on these fiction and memoir ideas.

This is how it works for me, and my first advice to would-be writers would not be read, read, read so much as write, write, write. Diaries, articles, poems, stories – write whatever you fancy writing. Write your way into your own voice.

Read whatever you fancy reading too; don’t feel you have to stick to the same kind of thing as you want to write, because you never know where inspiration might come from. Enjoy other people’s writing, but take a break if it puts you off doing your own.

When it comes to what I’m reading and writing at any given time, I prefer different genres. How about you?

 

Have you read any great memoirs lately?

As I mentioned a few months ago in my blog post When was the last time you felt really happy? I’ve been reading a lot about the craft of writing autobiography lately, and when I posted about this on my fb author page someone recommended Joy Harjo’s wonderful memoir.

IMG_2180It’s beautifully written, short but perfectly formed, with the text divided into four sections named after the directions – East for sunrise and beginnings, North for difficult teachings, West for leaving and being left, and finding your way in the darkness, and South for release.

I love the voice, so thoughtful and steeped in the spiritual traditions of Harjo’s ancestors, and the way the story begins with her journey towards being born, which gives her the opportunity to describe the lives of her parents before they became her parents.

The story is embedded in its time and place in such a way that it evokes her whole social situation, bringing it alive even for readers like me, who may have known nothing at all about the Mvskoke/Creek Nation.

Much of what she says really chimes with me, such as this idea, that has informed my life in every area, especially my writing:

I believe that if you do not answer the noise and urgency of your gifts, they will turn on you. Or drag you down with their immense sadness at being abandoned.

 I’ll be blogging about other great memoirs and books on memoir writing over the coming months, while I’m planning my workshop days on ‘Writing Your Life’ and pondering my own next autobiographical adventure.

Have you read any great memoirs lately?

 

Reading George Orwell on the island of Jura

I really enjoyed reading a post by Elizabeth Kay recently over on Authors Electric about visiting the setting of a favourite book and it got me thinking about a magical experience I had a few years ago.

I’d been listening to a series of dramas on Radio 4 about George Orwell, and was particularly moved by the last one, about the last few years of his life before he finally succumbed to TB at the age of 46.

He was living in an isolated house on the island of Jura, struggling to finish his final novel, 1984, despite increasing ill health. His wife had died during an operation a year or so before, shortly after they had adopted a baby boy, and Orwell’s sister Avril had come to Jura to look after him and his son.

So much pain and loss…  in that moment, and that place, he created a book I barely remembered from my schooldays, but felt it was time to read again. I decided to go to Jura and read it there, where Orwell had written it.

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It isn’t easy to get to Jura. You have to first take the ferry to Islay, and then make the short crossing from there.

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It’s a big island, home to only about 200 people. The ferry lands at the South end of the road, where there’s nothing except a shelter, and after a drive of maybe twenty minutes you get to the only village, with its hotel and distillery. I sat in the bar drinking coffee, where doubtless Orwell would have sat, and read a few chapters before driving the 23 miles to the North end of the road.

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There’s nothing at the North end either. Just a track that begins a 7 mile walk to the house Orwell lived in.

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I love wild, empty places, but I was struck by the extreme isolation that Orwell chose, so far from any neighbours and so inaccessible. I imagined him writing his dark dystopia, with its bleak vision of human nature and society, having already removed himself as much as he possibly could, before the complete departure of his death.

Have you ever read a book in the place it was written? Did being there intensify the experience for you?

Since writing this, I discovered a lovely post on An Awfully Big Blog Adventure by Lynne Benton about visiting Agatha Christie’s stamping grounds. Read it here

When a Writer Isn’t Writing… it’s publication day!

Today is the official publication day for When a Writer Isn’t Writing: How to Beat Your Blocks, Be Published and Find Your Flow.

I mentioned in my last post that there will be reviews in awfullybigreviews and The Book Analyst – well the first of these is already up, and here’s a taster.

‘Jenny writes in such an easy, friendly and re-assuring style that it’s tempting, if you are a galumphing reader like me, to speed through the pages. I’d advise reading this book with a pencil in hand, underlining sentences that resonate, and suggestions that require deeper pondering…’ Read more

I’m very happy with that! And the Book Analyst has tweeted that she found the book ‘very informative and useful’ so I’m looking forward to reading her full review too.

This book, coming out almost exactly a year after Writing in the House of Dreams, has been an absolute labour of love, one of those books you simply have to write even though you know you may never even earn back your investment.

I feel happy and privileged just to have been able to do it. Time to crack open the bubbly, I’d say!