Chickens Are Like Babies…

Want a weird observation?

Take a small (about 1kg), whole, chicken.

Wash, pat dry, and remove skin. Snip off ends of wings at the joint.

Coat with seasoning mix (I used Tandaco Southern Chicken – if you want to know).

Pick up chicken underneath the wings. Notice how the little arms flop over your hands and the legs sort of hang loose.

Isn’t it disturbingly like holding a new born baby?!

It is! Yikes! It’s creepy, creepy, creepy!

What are you meant to do with an observation like that? Why have an observation like that?

Let’s play a game…try and write the nude chicken/new born baby analogy into a scene/piece of flash fiction. I would LOVE to see what you can all do!

PS I’m not really into dinner tonight, just so you know.

Zest!

I love that word. Zest. Sharp, surprising, exciting. My children are full of zest. Let me give you an example.

6am: My husband and I wake up. We groan. We roll over and pull the covers higher. We stretch. We half roll, half fall, out of bed and drag our feet zombie-style to the bathroom or kitchen where we try to jolt ourselves to life with hot water and strong tea (respectively).

Compare with…

6am: My children wake up. One calls out, “Are you awake?” and the other calls back, “Yes. Is it morning?”

“Yes. It’s morning, it’s morning.”

“Yay. It’s morning. Let’s get up.”

“Yay!”

I’m not paraphrasing.

Now where can I get some of that enthusiasm, that zest for life?

Repeat after me. 6am is the best part of the day. My novel is a satisfying challenge. Rejection does make you better.

Feeling zesty.

 

Writing Through the Fog…Or Not.

Heard the saying, “the best laid plans of mice and men…”? It’s a beautiful phrase from a beautiful but (I think) a profoundly sad poem by Robert Burns. We’re all like the little mouse, doing our best to prepare and plan for what is to come, not realising that very soon our plans could be changed drastically (although I hope that your and my plans don’t go as awry as the poor little mouse’s).

My plan was to send my completed novel ‘Child of War’ out into the world and, while I waited for someone to realise that they just had to publish it, finish the first draft of my current novel in four months. Enter some health concerns, medication changes and a general feeling of ‘humpf’ and I find that I haven’t written for weeks. So much for completing my first draft by the end of this month.

So, I’m curious (and a little desperate) how do you shift your mood when you’re feeling a bit ‘beige’ and your plans have been ploughed up?

All you need is love…

Ah, love.

Yesterday was Valentine’s Day, a day which brings out as many cynics and sceptics as it does lovers and romantics.

Whichever camp you fall into, there’s no denying that love is a universal emotion. Perhaps not in its expression but certainly it exists in all cultures.

Which brings me to writing about love and sex. Because as a YA author it’s an area I walk through in the same way I would a field seeded with land mines. Teenagers are intense, their bodies are becoming more sexual, as are their thoughts, and they love and hate with all their might. As an adult, I can remember that but it takes effort to remember it without filtering those memories through an adult view point.

For example, I remember loving a boy in my class so much that just sitting next to him during a lesson made my day. I honestly heard bells whenever I saw him (not the school bell). I was insanely jealous of his girlfriend and just waiting out the days until they would break up and he would be available (but still unattainable).

Now that I’m thirty I can laugh at the intensity of my emotions but at the time it WAS NOT funny. Similarly, my friends’ own crushes, loves and infatuations were not funny to them at the time, they were deeply felt and real.

When I write I try to respect that, although my characters are young, their feelings are real, their love is real. Although I know now that the feelings you have as a teenager may not last, I know that my characters don’t know that yet, they can’t and…they shouldn’t. After all, being a teenager is full of highs and lows and one of those highs is the feeling, the rapture and regrets, of your first love.

I hope you all had a happy Valentine’s Day.

Getting Out of Limbo

When I was 22 (only eight years ago and yet it feels like a life time) I graduated from my Bachelor of Education degree and took my first teaching job. For the first two terms I felt like an imposter, a fraud who was going to be found out at any second. Partly this was because I’d taken a job teaching at my old high school (where I’d been a student only four years earlier) and was still getting over calling my old teachers by their first names but for the most part I think it was that limbo that comes with starting down a new career path. By my fourth year as a teacher I felt like a belonged in the classroom.

Now, I’ve sent out my manuscript to two publishers. I wrote it, rewrote it, asked other people to read it and incorporated their feedback into my work, polished some more, rewrote some more, polished again until I had to wear sunglasses just to glance at it, and sent it out into the world.

I am pretty extremely absolutely sure that my manuscript won’t find a publisher this time round but in the meantime I back in limbo. I’m committed to writing as a career but I’m not yet published (or getting paid). So I keep writing, writing, writing.

But how do you deal with the limbo stage? I’d love some ideas on how to get through it, because I could be here for looooooong time.

Time Efficiency and Other Salad Ingredients

Are you one of those efficient creatures who starts a task and sees it to completion before embarking on the next project? If you bake a cake do you clean up the dishes before sitting down to a cup of tea? If you are writing do you finish the chapter before getting up to make a cup of tea and rummage around in the pantry for some chocolate?

Or are you like me? A doer of half done, half finished, half started and (sometimes) half thought through? This is where I hope that the Pomodoro Technique will be of use to me.

Have you heard of this technique? I hadn’t until it was mentioned on ‘Writers in the Storm’ but, given my obvious deficiencies, I looked into it. Basically, you choose a task, set a timer for twenty-five minutes and focus only on that task until the timer goes. When it does go, take a five minute break – make a coffee, do star jumps, change the kitty litter – then get back to it for another twenty-five minutes. These intervals are called Pomodoro and after four Pomodoro you can take a longer break. For a more detailed explanation of the technique click here.

My plan is to use this tool to improve my use of time, specifically my writing time. Between the kids, the husband and everything else that goes along with that, I need to prioritise my writing when I have the chance to do it. So, no more stopping mid-sentence to make a cuppa for me…

What time efficiency tools do you use?

A Lesson in Anticipation

In a few days Basil, the evil overlord/cat, will be leaving us and returning to live with my parents after three and a half years, which means that today I had to venture into our shed to collect his things.

Our shed. Draped in cobwebs, as though someone decorated for Halloween a decade ago and just added to them every year, rather than taking them down. Our shed, humming with the last requests of brown bodied flies, dusty moths and bright winged butterflies. Our shed, crawling with eight legged creatures.

And so I clamber up the ladder. The shelf where we’ve bundled Basil’s stuff is just above my eye line. We didn’t bother to pack anything into plastic boxes, instead blankets, beds and balding cat toys are draped in dusty threads of silk. My neck prickles as though eight tiny feet are scuttling over it. Something brushes across my hair and my stomach twists like a balloon animal.

I reach my hand over the edge of the shelf and…

Well actually nothing very spectacular happens. No spiders leap out at me, this isn’t Arachnophobia after all. But I did get a good lesson in the power of anticipation. The fear that, at any second, I would wrap my hand around a big fat spider was much worse than the reality would have been.

Which applies to fiction as well, doesn’t it? Will the heroine escape the psycho murderer? Will the prince fall for the beautiful but outspoken peasant? Will the rocket full of model/scientists disappear into the sun without a trace? We don’t know, but we want to know and that’s what keeps us turning the pages or watching the movie.

Hopefully I’ll remember to apply this lesson to my own writing. Maybe I can revisit a few horror movies for a refresher in anticipation. But NOT Arachnophobia. I’ve had enough of spiders for a while.

Put out your bats…

If you live in a cricketing country then you’ll probably have heard of the sad passing of Phil Hughes. Whether you follow the cricket or not, the loss of a young man in such a random way is heart wrenching, and the grief of people from all walks of life and across generations is a powerful example of our shared humanity.

Personally I don’t follow the cricket, the only thing more boring is golf and televised parliamentary sittings, and it would be wrong of me to pretend that I knew anything of Phil Hughes’ career. But I do know the impact he had on my husband, a man known for his reserve, who is a true cricket fan and an avid fan of Phil Hughes. A man who was truly shocked, stunned and saddened by Phil Hughes’ unexpected death.

From an authors perspective, it’s interesting to observe human nature and behaviour at times like this and, when emotions are new and sharp, to notice feelings and thoughts that you might otherwise have ignored. It’s an education to see how shared grief (or shared joy, fear, anger etc.) is expressed both publicly and on a personal level.

From a persons perspective my heart goes out to Phil Hughes’ family and friends and also to Sean Abbott and his friends and family who are undoubtedly going through a difficult time.

Five Reasons Experience is the Best Teacher You’ll Ever Have

Everyone knows that we learn best through experience and here are my five reasons why:

1) Experience is Patient

Eventually, even the most dedicated teachers have to draw a line is the sand and say that there’s no more time to learn something. Be it because the student just isn’t getting it, or because the end of the year looms and there simply isn’t any more time left. But this isn’t the case with Experience. Experience is patient. It might take you years to finally get the lesson but that’s ok with Experience. It’s in it for as long as it takes.

I’ve written three complete manuscripts in the last five years but only one has ever made it to a point where I would consider it ready for submission. That’s thousands and thousands of words and countless hours but the experience of writing has (and will continue) to make me a better writer.

2: Experience Can Be Cruel to be Kind

Some experiences just suck. That break up, this unflattering orange top, that weekend when you painted the kitchen and dropped a can of paint all over the floor (that was last weekend for me), all these experiences and a thousand more I haven’t mentioned are not nice. But, just like the friend that tells you that your bum does look big in that skirt, Experience knows that sometimes it’s better to take the knock and learn from it now, than to keep making the same mistakes.

3. Experience Teaches the Individual

When I was teaching, my colleagues and I put a lot of emphasis on individualised learning experiences. That’s because everyone learns differently. Experience knows this and naturally tailors its lessons to suit you. So, you’re not the only one in the world who needs to learn that rejection isn’t the end of the world, but your experience of that will be unique to you.

4. Experience Doesn’t Hand Out Grades

Grades are basically a benchmark based on what others think we should be able to do. In other words, they compare us to each other. But Experience doesn’t care about what other people your age can do, it only cares about what you can do. Experience will never tell you  that you’ve failed, because Experience knows learning is about growth, not grades.

5. Experience Really Does Want What’s Best for You

No matter how loud you yell at Experience or how hard you slam your door, Experience is still on your side. It may seem mean and unfair but Experience is pushing you to grow. Spent three hours putting up shelves only to find they’re as level as a slide? Next time you’ll use a spirit level. And while you may be cursing Experience (and shelves, your spouse and gravity in general), Experience has taught you a valuable lesson.

 

So, what has Experience taught you?