Friday, 19 May 2017

Injecting Fun Into Your Routine: Step 1

So, it’s all very well having a very structured routine to ensure you’re getting words on the page. But if you want to make those words count then you really need to spend some time doing things other than writing.  For me, specifically, I find that taking time away from writing helps make my writing better because I come back to work which needs editing with a clearer mind.  The thing about writing is that even when you’re doing other things your brain is almost always working on the writing to some degree. So it's vital to take time out and do something which puts your writing brain into REM sleep so it can dream great dreams.

Over the next few posts I’ll be sharing some things I do to chillax and temporarily get my brain out of writing mode. 

First up:

During the week I try to make it to at least one dance class and one social dance. This isn’t always possible, but I make a massive effort to do the dance class if nothing else.

Argentine Tango
I’ve been doing Tango for about 12 years now and there’s nothing like learning the nuances of the dance to take you completely away from thoughts on writing. It is an activity which requires me to ‘listen’ to instructions given by my lead, decide how to respond, interpret the music and just generally bask in the glow of an intimate partner dance.

Me, several years ago now, with
Thomas Keenes, getting our dance
on at a free National Theatre event

When I first started Tango I was completely consumed by the intricacies of this dance.  It took me a while to stop trying to anticipate, let go and be led. I instantly loved the excuse to dress up for Milongas (tango balls) and was lured in further by the fabulous shoes worn by followers.  Now my only battle is preventing myself from buying yet another pair of delicious Balanceo shoes.

Lindy Hop
After seeing a couple of friends do this dance at their wedding, I took it up. Lindy Hop is very different from Tango as it is exuberant and very energetic.  It took me a while to free myself of my upright Tango stance but that did not stop me from enjoying this dance to the max.  Learning the basic steps and how to fit them into the music has been challenging and definitely freed my mind of any writing thoughts. Not only is it an infectious dance but it reminds me of my parents who loved to dance and met in a dance hall. 

Loretta, my fabulous teacher at Moonshine
Alley, showing me the finer points 
of Lindy Hop style
I’m now at the stage where I don’t freeze in terror when someone asks me to dance during the social part of the evening.  More recently I’ve even started asking people to dance with me – a sure sign confidence in my ability to perform the steps is growing. After a social dance I always leave the floor breathless and grinning.

Now here comes the Science bit. And there’s quite a bit of it. Studies have shown that dancing, particularly partner dancing, is massively beneficial to your health.  Not only does it reduce your chances of dementia by over 70% because it keeps your brain actively firing neural connections but also improves your mood.

Thinking about it but need a few more incentives?  Well, here goes:

  • It improves balance
  • It controls your weight
  • It improves co-ordination
  • It increases self-confidence
  • Is beneficial for your heart
  • Increases your chances of socialising more
  • Increases your chances of meeting like-minded people

But be warned. There is a serious downside to this whole dancing business. Like me, you could become seriously addicted to your chosen style of dance. Before you know it, you’ll be slipping into sparkly lycra or donning some super cool flares.

Oh, go on. I dare you!  

If you're already a dancer please take the poll in the sidebar and let me know if you'd like me to add a dance to it.

Friday, 12 May 2017

#Review: Mort

Mort by Terry Pratchett

This is a book which centres around one of my favourite Pratchett characters – DEATH.  I’ve been a DEATH fan ever since I read Good Omens. In this book He decides He needs an apprentice and indentures the appropriately named Mort. And what can be said of Mort? 16, a gangly, awkward teenager. Though his family love him, they have given up all hope of him ever being truly useful. Let’s just leave it there shall we.

One of my favourite setting descriptions is early on in the novel: “…Ankh-Morpork is as full of life as an old cheese on a hot day, as loud as a curse in a cathedral, as bright as an oil slick, as colourful as a bruise and as full of activity, industry, bustle and sheet exuberant busyness as a dead dog on a termite mound.”

This gives you a flavour of what follows. Mort stumbles through his first solo assignments and causes the havoc we expect him to. And naturally, his actions are totally devoid of common sense, no doubt prompted by his hormones and that most irrational emotion of them all – love.

DEATH meanwhile is behaving in a very strange way – well, stranger than Death would be expected to behave. What could be prompting all this? Unfortunately none of this is really made clear. There are hints of possible reasons for DEATH’s behaviour. I found the end of the book unsatisfactory and a little confusing. Perhaps further books in the series will clear up the confusion.  All in all, not one of my favourite Pratchetts. I’m interested to see what Sourcery, the next book in the Disc World series, has to offer.

Friday, 5 May 2017

How To Juggle Writing & Life

Two years ago I wrote about how I sent out a wish to the Cosmos and it delivered big time. I got to spend my mornings writing up a storm then tutoring and helping people who want to learn to read and write in the afternoons and evenings.

All those morning writing sessions meant I got a lot of books written.  Things have changed a bit since then though.  Last year I was asked to work with Lewisham Young Women’s Resource Project (a charity which helps young women stay in education or get back into it if they have become disenchanted with it for some reason).  So I agreed to step in and teach English for them. This however cut my 5 mornings of writing down to just 2. Initially I worried this would mean I wouldn’t get enough writing done.  I was concerned even more that I seemed to be spending huge amounts of time updating my social media. So I decided to rejig my work schedule a bit.

It helps that I’m a fairly early riser and can get straight into writing almost immediately after a cup of coffee or tea.  But this is how I set up my writing week:

Monday – Friday Mornings

1 Check all my emails and respond to them as quickly as possible then save them in appropriate folders and mark those less urgent for attention to be done at the next possible opportunity.

Putting emails in folders is invaluable for finding things at a later date when any queries come up or I need to check my appalling memory to see if I’ve done something I’ve said I have. It also clears my inbox so I don’t feel overwhelmed by how many emails need sorting out.

2 Check my social media accounts and respond to messages, likes, shares etc. I also use Hootsuite to pre-schedule posts so I know I’m making some contribution to social media even when I’m teaching or lost in my writing.

3 Have breakfast

4 If it’s a teaching morning, I leave for the charity.

If it’s a writing day, I get working on whichever novel, blog post or review I’m writing at that point. I turn off my social media alerts so I don’t get distracted by them. I don’t have to do this too often as I’m usually so engrossed in writing I often don’t notice them and sometimes even forget to stop to eat.

If I remember to have a food break then I get back to writing as soon after that as possible. All in all I probably write for about 6 hours on my designated writing days. It’s amazing how many words you can get down with such a limited amount of time.

Sometimes I write a bit before I head out to teach but this is dangerous as I often get lost in the writing and then have to run around like crazy to get ready to leave on time so I’m not late for the teaching session at the charity.

The Weekend

I work on my social media accounts on Saturdays and set up scheduled posts for the coming week. Then I try and get out of the house to meet up with friends or family or do something cultural if at all possible.

I don’t work on Sundays but instead take time out to do Pilates and spend more time with friends or family. I find myself drawn out more often in Spring and Summer than in the Winter but love inviting people over for meals and games of Scrabble or a DVD screening in the colder months.

I am however by no means perfect at sticking to this routine. I’m as prone to procrastination as the next person and often find Spring and Summer very difficult times for staying on track. I think this is because in Winter I’m cocooned at my desk with my writing lamp focused on the laptop and the door shut to keep draughts out.

As soon as Spring sets in the sun comes up earlier and there’s light blazing throughout the house. This is where my attention wanders. I also get distracted by sporting events on telly such as gymnastics, snooker and Wimbledon. But a little procrastination hurts no-one so I let it happen from time to time.

One rule remains constant though - my designated writing days are sacrosanct. I let everyone know which days they are and fit commitments around them. Births, deaths and taxes are the only things which disrupt this routine.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

#Review: A Feast For Crows

A Feast For Crows by George R R Martin

I just knew this book would get my brain in a swirl and I was so right. There were sections I loved and sections I groaned my way through.  This book is full of journeys, physical and metaphorical. Sam’s sea voyage to Braavos and beyond, Brienne’s fruitless search for Sansa, Myrcella’s trek across the Dornish desert, Arya’s ‘journey’ within the temple at Braavos.

I loved all the extra detail about Samwell’s journey to Oldtown with Maester Aemon which the TV series only skirts over. I equally loved seeing John Snow grow from a young boy consumed by uncertainty into a youthful though excellent Lord Commander of the Nights Watch. I worried for the decisions I knew this new responsibility would impose on him. But I needn’t have feared. John Snow, having seen his father’s style of command, knows that every good leader must make hard choices and he makes them despite his youth.

I confess I was a little irritated by Samwell’s constant fears but am aware that for a lot of people this is a reality of life. I suppose I keep hoping that despite his ever present anxieties he will prove to be one of John Snow’s best assets. I found Brienne’s search for Sansa equally annoying and felt as though Martin was wasting time getting to the point. Uncertainty is a keyword in Brienne’s existence and Martin hammers this point across. I can’t help feeling there could have been a better way to achieve this aim.  At the end of the book I was still disgruntled about how Brienne is led to where Martin needs her to be.

The section of journeying I most enjoyed was that of Arya’s experiences in the temple. When I watched the TV series I remember feeling dissatisfied by the disjointed aspect of these segments and wanting more information on events. The chapters in the book have fulfilled my need to know more as they spend enough time delving into Arya’s thought process. As I’ve mentioned before, I feel this is an area which film will always find difficult to replicate.

However, there are many new characters introduced into the mix in A Feast For Crows. This expansion of the plot into territories readers are not acquainted with has its down side. It took me a long while to place new characters in context with what I already feel I know well. To some degree I felt like there were too many new characters and I wasn’t entirely sure if they really needed to be a part of the story. Some sections detailing family history in order to clarify the rights of heirs I also found quite tedious. I understand the need for the clarification but just found it wearisome.

I’m looking forward to moving on to A Dance with Dragons 1 as I’m hoping it’s going to clear up much of my disgruntlement.

Friday, 21 April 2017

#Review: Equal Rites

Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett

This book deals with the fact that often a prejudice can be reinforced by the very people we assume would be fighting it. Pratchett demonstrates this through the character of Granny Weatherwax.  I’ve read some of the Tiffany Aching books in which she is remembered for her wisdom and practical kindness. So it is a great pleasure to finally meet her. I simply love Granny Weatherwax’s pragmatic no nonsense approach to life, probably because in many ways she reminds me a great deal of a less cosmopolitan version of my mother. Though my mother claimed to be feminist she sometimes perpetrated very non-feminist ideals.  Granny certainly behaves in this way and supports a system of a male dominated sphere of learning because that is how it has always been. Thankfully, Pratchett uses the character of Eskarina and her magical staff to readjust Granny Weatherwax’s views.

Introduced into the mix is the wonderfully nerdy figure of Simon the wizard apprentice. He is a character plagued by his stammer and almost constant hay fever. Despite this, he’s endearing and wonderful because he’s too intelligent for his own good. The dynamics between the wizards and Granny had me clutching my sides yet again.

As we travel to Ankh-Morpork with Eskarina, we see the comings and goings of the Disc World through her eyes and ears. Since they are the eyes and ears of a nine year old, we are made acutely aware of how strange the world is, regardless of whether it a fantasy one or not. Eskarina asks difficult questions and makes adults uncomfortable because they know their words and actions are often covered by a film of deceit or delusion.  Eskarina’s character challenges us to see who we really are and decide whether we can live with ourselves or alter our world view and be more open to what is constantly new and changing in our world. 

So now, for me, it's on to the next book in the series. Will you join me in my journey through the Disc World?

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

It's Blog’s 5th Birthday

This month my blog is 5 years old.

It seems like only yesterday my toddler was a squalling babe in arms. The exact moment of conception can be pinpointed to when I stepped into the upstairs room of a former chandelier shop on Tower Bridge Road. I believe the insemination date can be pinned down precisely to the first Saturday of April 2013. What pray tell was I doing in the upstairs room of a former chandelier shop? I was there to do an Emily Benet blogging course naturally.

You can stop looking so pleased
with yourself Emily, you devious
woman you.
 My marvellous friend Sydney Blake was meant to be there you see. Unfortunately a family crisis prevented her from attending. So I went in her place, just to take notes and eventually feedback on the ins and outs of what it takes to put a blog together.  But silver tongued Emily Benet made this blogging business all so very enticing. How could I possibly resist the allure of it?  Before I knew where I was, a seed had been planted in what turned out to be very fertile mind muck and much was now germinating. 

The blog’s first year and a bit was a ramble through the jungle of my erratic mind.  Together, the blog and I cantered through my fantasy landscape of Faetaera where one of my favourite creations, Sprax, resides.  We celebrated our first Christmas, interviewed writers and tried to understand Avoiditis Scriptoris (writer’s block to the average human being).

Sarah Pennock

As my blog-baby turned 2, I embarked on an incredible project with my artist friend Sarah Pennock and was so enthralled by how her drawings brought my words to life that the blog and I felt compelled to share them with the world in general. So we did.

By our second Christmas we had interviewed several people - including poets, shared tons of Sarah’s artwork with our readers, tried to make people understand the complex process of gift giving and had reminded our adoring public that we were not the Scrooges people made us out to be. Unlike the Queen, we were experiencing that almost extinct and rarely seen beast, Annus Fantasticus.

Shortly after toddler-blog’s 3rd birthday she began to display the tantrums so common in this age group. There was a soap box rant and grumbles about things not favoured. On my part attempts at discipline were made. A naughty step procedure was implemented and thoughts of calling Super Nanny in for extra assistance but suddenly social media was waving a red flag in our direction. A diversionary tactic was successfully employed.

By the time toddler-blog turned 4 she was becoming vocal about local.  She helped me tell the world why I love living in Herne Hill. Then she joined my cause in highlighting the shockingly short-sighted view Lambeth Council has towards Carnegie Library and libraries in Lambeth in general. It was shame on Lambeth all round and still is.

Our audience, which was initially based mainly in the UK with a few friends and family in Canada and Australia, has now moved into the US and beyond. We now average 1000 Pageviews a month. This is small potatoes in the world of blogging but I am nonetheless enormously proud of how far we’ve come since we started out at a modest 300 views a month.

To celebrate blog's 5th birthday I'm giving away FREE e-copies of Book 1 in my YA Science Fiction series. This offer is limited to 5 days from 10 - 14 April. So don't miss out.

My, toddler-blog has certainly grown. Together we’re looking forward to birthday number 6 and all the other birthdays after that. Together we’re maturing and finding out where we sit in the world.

Thank you Sydney, thank you Emily, thank you all my guest bloggers. And finally, thank you toddler-blog for letting me find my voice.

Friday, 7 April 2017

Easter Surprise

So I’m launching another book this Easter. It’s a collection of vignettes related to characters from Six Dead Men and its prequel, Palindrome. I can’t call this a collection of short stories because in truth the pieces are really a moment in various characters’ lives. As these character snapshots link the two books in The Robert Deed series, I’ve decided to call it Six Degrees.

And how exactly did this collection come about?

Well, when you write a novel, peripheral characters often ask you to tell their side of the story.  At times their voices are so loud and persistent in your head that they are hard to ignore. This was indeed the case with characters from both Six Dead Men and Palindrome. So Six Degrees was born out of this. But it also grew out of my desire to play with the short story form while trying my hand at Flash Fiction. I’ve since sent two of the stories off to Mslexia’s annual short story competition and now have nails bitten down to the quick.

In these vignettes several peripheral characters tell the reader what they think of the Deed family (mum – Rowena, Dad – Arthur, son – Robert). Sometimes the Deeds get to say their piece too. For those who have read Six Dead Men and are intrigued by the hints there in – well, if you like to be tantalised, read the vignettes I say. Be warned – there will be laughter and there will be sorrow. Tissues are optional.

There is also an inkling of things to come in Palindrome (due to be launched Easter 2018) in which we will see Robert Deed as a young boy growing up in a town a short distance from Edinburgh, Scotland.

So, when you get your copy of Six Degrees, as one of my favourite poets would say: read it wid de whole of yu eye.

Six Degrees will be available to buy through Amazon from 
Easter Monday (17 April 2017 GMT)

If you wish to become a member of my Advance Reader team with all its associated perks please contact me via the contact form in the sidebar.