Sunday 21 January 2024

These are my favourite things about being a writer

 

  1. Being totally absorbed in the world I am creating
  2. Getting all sorts of ideas from the wackiest of places and at the most unexpected times:
    1. At the bus stop
    2. Whilst cooking
    3. When I’m stuck in  traffic jam
  3. Reading a book, watching TV or visiting the theatre or cinema counting as work because they feed my understanding of story
  4. Having lots and lots of friends in the writing world
  5. Seeing a book come out in the world
  6. Being part of a world that includes book festivals, author events and lovely, lovely books
  7. Getting that odd acceptance letter/ email.
  8. Sometimes somebody saying something nice about my writing.
  9. Not having to go out in the rain snow or heat wave in order to get to work
  10. Being able to do anything I want to – run a café, live in Spain, be rich – simply by writing about it.  

Tuesday 16 January 2024

The best writing tip I’ve ever received

 

Writing is mainly re-writing, don’t they say?  Rejection after rejection, comments from people in my two critique groups and feedback form my creative writing tutors soon convinced me that one draft isn’t enough.     

In fact several drafts aren’t enough.

So I soon devised my own checklist and now I do around about fourteen edits of my longer works, looking at one aspect of them at a time.

For the penultimate edit I read my work out loud.

Reading work aloud has several benefits:

·         You notice typos, missing words and repeated words more easily because you are reading the text more slowly. You read what is actually there, rather than what you think should be. 

·         You become more aware of the length of sentences, paragraphs and chapters.

·         You establish the rhythm of the piece – or lack of it – and can decide more easily if and where it needs to change.

·         You can more easily check whether in any dialogue characters are actually speaking the way they would.

·         You can more easily spot an awkward turn of phrase or sentences that actually don’t make sense. In part this is again because you are reading the work more slowly.

In addition you can test whether you are showing rather than telling: do the actions described take roughly the same amount of time to read as they would to do?

Why the penultimate edit and not sooner or indeed not the final edit?

Basically you’ve done everything else now; you’ve checked the structure, you’ve established that there
are no plot holes, you’ve checked for cause and effect and consistency amongst your characters, you’ve removed clichés and purple prose and you’ve probably killed off a few darlings. Now it’s time to establish that the text still works. The final edit is about presentation.

Don’t be tempted to “do voices”.  You can add meaning that isn’t there in the words alone.  A member of my MA group was so good at reading out work she could make anything sound brilliant.  In the end that wasn’t really all that helpful.

This can be quite demanding when you’re editing a 100,000+ word novel. Never mind. The cat is generally up for it and you worry if she walks away.  It’s thirsty work, reading your text out loud. But the pauses for the odd gulp of water are also helpful. They give you the opportunity to consider how to fix anything that isn’t working.  I tend to use a stage whisper. That still works.

 A novelist friend of mine came to talk to my students about her work and to read from her recently published novel.  After a few seconds she paused. She was half way down the first page of the section she was reading. She laughed. “I’ve just realised,” she said. “I always tell my own students never to do that.”  This could of course have been partly because reading out loud is anyway a different process from reading in your head and texts may need to be slightly different for these two diverse purposes. It can be that the writer had moved on - we are all quite self-critical even after our work is published and has had good reviews, or it could be proof that we abandon rather than finish.  Later, though, she confessed to me. “That will teach me to not bother reading my work out loud. It’s really essential, isn’t it?”

It was my MA tutor who first gave me that tip and I can confirm that it has made the biggest difference to the quality of my writing. Thank goodness for that.            

 

Monday 15 January 2024

Georgina Wright tells me about her recently released book, Navaselva, The Call of the Wild Valley



So, why did you decide that this book was for a young adult reader? Or did you write for that reader on purpose?

When the first lines and chapter about the weasel came into my mind, I knew that the writing could not be an animal story for primary age children to read themselves but one that would hopefully appeal to an able and older readership with an emphasis on exploring the challenges facing our natural world. I wanted an authentic voice for nature and to reach out to as many readers as possible. There are many books for adults which focus on dogs and cats so why not wild animals? I was happy with a 10 to 100yrs age range but the publishing market seems to frown on this. I also thought it might be a book parents and teachers can read aloud and discuss so that differing abilities and maturities can be included. I have spent a long time teaching secondary age students, so these experiences shaped my writing too but not on purpose. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I was more driven to write the book that was inspiring me than consider as I had to do later the publishing industry. Feedback finally led me to introducing the human narrative and the themes I explore suit an age and maturity where there can be a reflection about adolescence, becoming a young adult and the realities we face in the 21st century.

At the time I began Navaselva, there was little mention of nature in crisis or the Friday school strikes. I wanted a different approach to documentary or factual nature writing and I also wanted to challenge myself to write a novel. In some ways the novel wrote itself as the journey of the animal characters took flight. Navaselva has a mix of factual, ecological background and an attempt at empathy through identification with fictional characters. The language and style I loved experimenting with has a basis in my love of poetry, expressing different perspectives and lyrical so that the beauty of nature can be described.

 

 

Tell us a little about Navaselva.

Navaselva is an imagined wild valley, a sanctuary for a wide range of biodiversity of the animal and plant kingdom. It has a magical or mystical quality as there is deep communication between the different species and a telling of stories to help all to adapt and survive. At Navaselva, when the messenger birds arrive from Africa in the Spring there is a call for the Meetings of the Many. I decided on this concept as a way to give nature with its many different species a voice. Maybe this is the allegory insight into ways of cooperation and coexistence between all species.

Navaselva is based on my experiences of living in a ‘not so wild’ valley in southern Spain. There is rich biodiversity in these regions but I also became aware of how much was at risk. My nature blog navasolanature.wordpress.com has reflected on my own personal nature journey living there and I try and write at least every month. https://navasolanature.wordpress.com/2023/12/30/a-review-of-my-2023-in-posts-and-books/

 

How easy – or hard – was it to get into the point of view of the animals?

When I was teaching, I had a series of lessons planned on narrative voice within an   ’Animals and Nature’ project. We used examples from Black Beauty for first person and White Fang for third person. Students were then able to research some wild animals of their own choice and use the factual information as a base for some story writing. In many ways this is how I researched the animals and characters I was planning to use in Navaselva. I thoroughly enjoyed the knowledge I gained from this too.  I then had to decide on third person. I went for omniscient narrator first but with some more feedback and a desire to not have such a detached approach I tried to be closely within the mind of each of the main characters but not ‘head hop’!  This gave rise to alternative chapters. This latter technique means there are three different narrative strands in Part One and Two which does add to complexity but I could not lose any of the strands now and all interlinked so much.

One thing I really did not want was ‘talking animals’ or anthropomorphise/humanise them too much. I consider the animal world to have consciousness, feelings, awareness. We sense our pets have feelings and there must be a sense of belonging either to place, offspring, group. So, I felt I could allow for some degree of emotional responses, even perhaps the guilt the weasel has about his role in the fate of the last Navaselva turtle dove. For all of us as animals our sense of purpose must be to find the best ways to adapt and survive.

It was difficult to try and work out how to make the animal world with all its senses that are beyond our understanding accessible to readers. How many smells can there be? And what stories do the smells tell? I avoided aspects of this but tried to keep a multi-sensory element.

However, I did try and create descriptions of ordinary objects in our world into ways birds might see the world. From an RSPB article it was suggested birds might see our houses as rocks and so I extended this and thought of ways to explain certain other features. At times this might create a puzzle which I hope does become clearer as the reader continues.

 

I know you blog about the concerns raised in the book and of course, we’ve serialised it. What sort of reaction have you had to this?

I have had some very positive comments and thoughtful response both on the Bridge House taster blog in May and from followers on my own blog who also started reading the instalments. All mainly adults who liked the themes and use of language. One did comment that they would have liked more dialogue between the animals.

July | 2023 | NavasolaNature (wordpress.com)

Most interesting and enjoyable Georgina, I am looking forward to part 2. It’s a theme I have been meditating on a lot recently: everything is alive and we are all related. Denzil’s Nature Challenge Introducing the Nature Photo Challenge – Denzil Nature

I’ve just finished the first chapter and I was totally transported to Andalusia and the wonder of the natural world. Your writing is magical, lyrical and at times wistful. The story flows seamlessly and it is inspired to use a human narrator as well as those of the animal kingdom. Jay Ro is a terrific character and you’ve quickly captured her thoughts, emotions, inner turmoil – and through her introduced the landscape and area perfectly. I loved the section of the weasel; a strong sense of personality comes through as well as introducing the dichotomy of what used to be and what is now! Annika Perry ABOUT ME – Annika Perry

Andrea StephensonJune 18, 2023 at 9:01 PM

Still enjoying reading this Georgina. It reads like an old folk tale, with resonant language and lyrical imagery. I fully believe in the animals and their thoughts. When I was a teenager, I was passionate about animal rights and I think this would speak to any teen who has a love of animals.

 

Have you held any interesting events around the book or do you have any planned?

A friend once involved in publishing invited family and friends to a Manchester based launch in December where I did some readings and had some interesting discussions about nature and creating the animal characters. I realised that my book gives opportunities to have conversations about the nature crisis and seemed to encourage people to explore and support nature in their own areas.

I hope to have some events in libraries and schools. Perhaps I can even venture into some of the places in my book like the Wildlife and Wetlands Centres. We may even try a Zoom launch while I am still in the place in Spain that inspired Navaselva.

 

Tell us a little about the process of writing this book.

The book or first chapter began as a short story which I sent off to a Dutch group with a name ‘The Parliament of All Things. I had created the concept of the Meetings of the Many to give a voice to as many species plant and animal as possible through their reports and story-telling when the Messenger birds arrive from Africa. This is the mythical/folk tale element of the book but allows for me to return to the importance of interdependence and well -functioning ecosystems and establish a purpose for the journey of the weasel.

The next key element was the journey and plot and involved exploring some of the wilder places in western Europe but also the not so wild ones but where it is important for us to adopt a nature friendly approach to farm land and green spaces within our cities. Some of the places visited are ones I know well such as along the Thames in London, the WWT wetlands, Kew Gardens and Minet Country Park. Others are the mountainous places in the north of Spain where there are still wolves and bears and forests in France with a wide range of birds.

I made a decision to include a human narrator after some discussions on my opening chapters with an American editor. I was then fortunate to find Debz Hobbs Wyatt whose background was in ecology and creative writing. The aim then was to halve the animal character’s journey, create chapters about Jay Ro, a young woman of about 20 and her family and friends that link into the narrative of the wild animal journey. This allowed for the book to have a more specific target audience of young adults and be about 80.000 words. So, I already have a sequel which follows up on the first novel and explores more of the north west of the UK and Europe with a possible return to Navaselva. 

 

Have you any more projects planned?

I am hoping to review the sequel in the light of the first book now being in print and add some finishing touches and possibly updates as both novels do have a basis in contemporary realities and there are more insights and research into the intelligence of different species e.g. octopuses. (A new fiction published by Bloomsbury has an octopus point of view within the main plot.) My sequel does venture out into the ocean and I will check how this still reads as I have been involved in a Green Party research group into Marine and Coastal issues. In the longer term I could then continue with my ideas of two more books based on the Navaselva concept but exploring the East and the New World. The Navaselva Quartet would be an exploration of wild animal characters, places and issues around the globe.

I have some short stories for younger children in my mind as my grandchildren are very young and I have some written based on wild species at Navaselva which appear briefly in the novel – the genet and the two tailed pasha butterfly and the story of Ossie, the ocellated lizard.

I venture into poetry often for fun and without the seriousness of aiming for publication but I might try to create a nature poetry anthology with others.

I have notes/fragments of observations from my ten years in the Sierra Aracena and so could write a part memoir with nature writing and exploration of different practices that help create inner peace such as TM and Quaker meetings involving experiences of deep meditation and silence. Dealing with renovating and rebuilding a house in Spain in a Natural Park, no mains electricity, water, Spanish builders and bureaucracy, has all been a challenge that has needed some degree of resilience and humour. However, I also think I have found great joy in exploring more and more of the world of nature outside, and this has given me a sense of wonder and purpose to support ways for this biodiversity to be protected and restored.

I hope my characters’ voices can be read widely, listened to, enjoyed and help us understand how to protect wild nature.

 


 Find your copy here 

 

Care to join us on 22 February 2024 when we Georgina tells us more about the book, her writing process and where she will discuss some of the issues raised: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/navaselva-an-evening-with-georgina-wright-tickets-804907218157 

 

Tuesday 2 January 2024

News 2 January 2024

Book-shaped swimming pool, anyone?  

 

Yes, it’s that time of year again when we look back on what’s happened in the old year and make our plans for the new one.

I recently asked the members of my Scribblers Facebook group about what success as a writer looked like for them and so I thought I really should have a go at answering my own question.

When I used to visit schools I was sometimes asked whether I was rich or famous. I would sometimes glibly reply: “Well, have you heard of me?” and I might have occasionally thought, would I be making visits like this if I was rich. Maybe I would have. I enjoyed school visits.  I don’t make them anymore because I’m no longer really writing for young people. Not that young, anyway.

There is that joke about would success as a writer mean that you earned enough to be able to afford a book-shaped swimming pool at your home? Well, I would quite like my own swimming pool ….

However, I have managed to get to the stage where I can justify sending a fair amount of the day on my writing.  I write quite well, and I believe I’m continuing to improve, though my writing may not always have commercial appeal and I may not always push myself enough to make myself all that visible. I’m retired from the day job and live on the state pension, my teaching pension and a pension from eleven years in a job where I was basically paid to be a writer.  I’m quite content with my material existence.

I might like a little more attention to my work, but not to me. However, I have to be pleased that my daughter’s friend has really enjoyed the second book in the Peace Child series and she hasn’t read a book since she was in Year 8 at school – she’s in her mid-thirties now. Add that to the student in the isolation room who wanted to read more of my book rather than the Harry Potter one she had brought with her and the young boy who hated reading but made a point of buying my books when I visited his school.

So, am I going to do anything and differently this year? Not really, though I am going to carry on with something I started mid-way through 2023. I alternate writing days with working on my publishing and marketing activities but on Wednesdays I do none of these things. Wednesdays are for some routine admin tasks but also for working on the bigger picture. So, I might tidy up my sock drawer or do any admin for my U3A groups but also look at a more effective way of administering royalties or making various adverts work better. I absolutely forbid myself to do routine writing or publishing work on Wednesdays. Every week thereby becomes a bit like a year end.

It may not suit everyone to use one day of the week this way but it is probably quite important to pencil in some “down” time both for tidying up and expansion.

I wonder whether it will eventually lead to that book-shaped swimming pool.         

    

 

Writing news

I’m pottering on with Peace Child 6. I’m now half way through looking at whether the content and length is right for the target reader – which at the moment I’m defining as the older young adult.

I have a couple of reviews on Talking about My Generation: https://talkingaboutmygeneration.co.uk/around-the-world-in-80-days-at-the-octagon-theatre-bolton / and  https://talkingaboutmygeneration.co.uk/review-little-women-at-home-manchester/

Both plays offer interesting takes on well-known stories.   

On My Blog

I’ve written a short article about artificial intelligence: https://www.gilljameswriter.com/2023/12/ai-embrace-it-or-fear-it.html This seems to be a very important topic at the moment and one which fascinates me personally.

I’ve also supplied a quiz. Some of you may already have seen it. https://www.gilljameswriter.com/2023/12/writing-trivia-new-years-eve-quiz-for.html I supply the answers at: https://www.gilljameswriter.com/2024/01/answers-to-quiz.html

 

The Young Person’s Library

No new books added this month I’m afraid but I’m hoping January will be very different.

 

Recommended read

So, this month I’m recommending: The Storyteller of Casablanca by Fiona Valpy

The lives of two young women in Casablanca intertwine though they lived seventy years apart.

Zoe finds Josie’s diary when she tries to fix a loose floorboard in her daughter’s bedroom. She becomes fascinated by the young girl’s account of fleeing Paris in 1941 because her mother was Jewish. Zoe too has her problems and she and Tom are trying to make a life in Morocco as they flee their old life and its troubles. There are still refugees in Casablanca and Zoe finds that helping them takes her away from her own problems.

What has become of Josie and will Zoe and Tom succeed in establishing a fulfilling life?

Fiona Valpy keeps us guessing in this delightful story worthy of The Storyteller of Casablanca.     

  

Sample pages

This replaces my previous giveaways. If you like what you’re reading you can click through and find out ways of buying the book. However, I’m still happy to give you a free copy if you’re strapped for cash and / or you’re willing to review.  Just contact me.   

Note: these are usually files to be downloaded to a Kindle.  Occasionally there are PDFs.

This month I’m offering January Stones my first flash fiction collection.   

Introduction

These stories were written one a day throughout January 2013. They were originally published on a blog called Gill’s January Stones. In fact, they were published in reverse order. The first one you read here, When Physics Got Sick was the last one to be written and originally published on 31 January 2016. 

Sometimes the stories would come right at the beginning of the day. Sometimes they would take a while longer.

Do they have a theme? Not really, though the idea of ‘stones’ is one of turning them over slowly on the beach until we find the right one. It’s not a bad time of year, anyway, right at the beginning in January, as the New Year starts and the days slowly become longer.    

There was no strict word count. Each story is as long as it needs to be.

In any case, each on stayed with me until it felt finished. It had to be finished though, by midnight of that day.

As I’ve put this volume together, I’ve edited them again. This just goes to show how we’ve never actually finished editing.

Quite possibly if I ever perform any of these pieces for you, I’ll edit them again before I read them out loud.    

When physics got sick

The Scientist carefully took the shards of glass out of the cupboard, dropped them in the sink, and watched underwhelmed as the tumbler formed itself. It seemed natural, as if it had happened a thousand times before. Yet his constantly questioning mind wondered whether this, this first occurrence of something quite extraordinary, marked the beginning of the end as the second law of thermodynamics was breaking down.

As he filled the tumbler with water he became aware that at the same time as being in his kitchen he was also upstairs and at the other side of the universe, so clearly Planck’s Constant had suddenly become somewhat bigger.

Later, examining the internal structure of protons, he found that they were indeed made of cream cheese and constantly mumbled nonsensical German so the label “quark” was actually extremely apt. Yet there was a paradox because surely the cream cheese itself was made of atoms, and they, in turn, of protons.

And yet.

There was no problem for Newton. Apples still fell merrily on the heads of those foolish enough to sit under apple-trees in the autumn. The big nuclear reactor in the sky still reacted. His home planet appeared to be carrying on its Maypole dance around its star and keeping up its complex ceilidh with the rest of the universe.

The Scientist paused for a moment and pondered. Perhaps the Humanities people were right after all. Every physicist knew that all of these laws did not work all of the time. Everything was relative anyway – Einstein had shown this. There could be a god, then. Or maybe the Matrix was not so far-fetched. It might even be the philosophers who had got it right – that life is but an illusion.

 

Scientific advice by Doctor Martin James who identified two subatomic particles, some ten years or so before the World Wide Web was born at CERN, thereby gobsmacking his children’s science teachers.

        

 

Weather Behaving Badly

They talked about El Niño and La Niña. So we had quite a few years of proper summer unfortunately accompanied by drought. Then we had several years of miserable weather.  They talked of Global Warming and then renamed it Climate Change because the Warming was actually making it cooler for the posh people. But we hadn’t seen anything yet.

They made a film about a new ice age arriving suddenly. It seemed melodramatic. Then came Katrina and the film seemed more reasonable. After Sandy it began to look tame.        

The stream winds started moving in the wrong direction. We got snow on snow followed by rain on rain and floods, followed by temperatures going up overnight. Two feet of snow fell and disappeared within twenty-four hours.

Yet, one morning soon after, there was thick ice on the windscreen and cars sliding round the S bend though the temperature gauge said it was six degrees Celsius. Later, after the sun had shone all day and the gauge now said seven, there was, once more, ice on the car.

What’s going on?   

Like to read more? Find it here: https://www.thebridgetowncafebooksshop.co.uk/2021/06/january-stones.html

        

 

 

The Schellberg Project

The posts may be helpful for teachers who are familiar with the Schellberg stories or who are teaching about the Holocaust.  They may also be interesting for other readers of historical fiction.

I’ve added a couple of new posts this month. One is about Alissa Oldenburg’s excellent novel about a Holocaust survivor (?). You will understand the question mark if you read the book. Read the full review here: When Glass Breaks by Allissa Oldenberg

I’ve also included a short article about Nicholas Winton, in anticipation of the new film about his life. Read that here One Life – Nicholas Winton

  

     

 

 

Some notes about my newsletters and blogs

They do overlap a little but here is a summary of what they all do.

 

Bridge House Authors For all those published by Bridge House, CaféLit, Chapeltown or The Red Telephone or interested in being published by us. General news about the imprints. News for writers. Links to book performance. Sign up here.

 

The Bridgetown  Café Bookshop where you can buy my books and books published by Bridge House Publishing, CafeLit, Chapeltown Books and The Red Telephone.  Visit us here.     

 

Chapeltown Books News about our books. Sign up here.

 

The Creative Café Project News about the project and CaféLit – for the consumer rather than for the producer.  Sign up here.   

 

Gill’s News: News about my writing, The Schellberg Project, School Visits and Events. Book recommendations and giveaways. Find it here.   

 

Pushing Boundaries, Flying Higher News about conferences and workshops to do with the young adult novel. (infrequent postings) Sign up here.  

 

Red Telephone Books News about our books and our authors. Sign up here.

 

A Publisher’s Perspective Here I and some other editors blog as a publisher. Access this here.   

 

The Creative Café Project Listings and reviews of creative cafés. See them here.   

 

CaféLit Stories Find these here

 

Gill James Writer All about writing and about my books. View this here.

 

Gill’s Recommended Reads Find information here about books that have taken me out of my editor’s head and a reminder of the ones I’ve highlighted in this newsletter.    

 

Gill’s Sample Fiction Read some of my fiction here.

 

The House on Schellberg Street All about my Schellberg project. Read it here.

 

Writing Teacher All about teaching creative writing.  Some creative writing exercises. Access this here.  I also invite other writers to provide prompts and work for critique.     

 

Books Books Books Weekly offers on our books and news of new books. Find them here. 

 

The Young Person’s Library The children’s book catalogue. Access it here.

 

Fair Submissions  Find it here.   

Opportunities for writers are added several times a day. Roughly once a month I send it out to a list. If you would like to be on that list, sign up here.  

Happy reading and writing.