Friday 30 March 2018

Ludic Reading – and Writing

I once had an academic paper rejected because I had used the word "ludic".  The peer reviewer though it was a typo and should have said "lucid". No, actually. I mean "ludic". It literally means "playful". When we use the word in connection with reading, we mean something very specific. If someone is reading "ludically", they no longer see the marks on the paper and they are no longer aware that they are decoding those words. They simply see the story playing out as a film in their head.

I experience something similar when I write. I'm no longer aware that I'm typing the words but I'm just seeing the story unfold in front of me. In real time. It all happens as fast or as slowly as I'm typing. If anything, I get even more absorbed in the stories I write than in the ones I read.

Not everyone has this experience, and those that don't are often very competent readers and highly intelligent. Is it perhaps something genetic? However, my grandmother used to harangue me: "Why have you got that head of yours stuck in a book? You should do something useful with your hands."  I could see her point but reading was then and remains now my default activity. One of the great joys of sitting on the beach in the hot sun is that it gives me an opportunity to read. Holidays mean plenty of time for reading.

I was a high school teacher for 26 years. I encountered very few children who couldn't read but I also met only a few who actually enjoyed reading. Investigation revealed that they didn't get beyond the decoding.  They were still very conscious of the black marks on a white background.

I would imagine that everyone reading this blog is a ludic reader as they are interested in what I write and my observations on the writing process. Many may also be ludic writers.

I often discuss this with my students. They nod wisely. Yes, they are student of English, Drama and Creative Writing and they all read and write ludically.  

"Beware of your peers in Newton," I warn. "They are not all as fortunate as we are. They don't necessarily get those lovely pictures." Yes, that's right: Maths and Science are taught in our Newton building.

This was confirmed again when I shared a table with a scientist at our local village cinema club. This lady had nothing against story for she enjoyed the film. "I don't get what turns you readers on," she said. "All I see are black marks on white paper and holding a book hurts my arm. I have enough reading to do in the day job."

Victor Nell discusses this in detail in his text Lost in a Book; the psychology of reading for pleasure. 

Cornelia Funke gives us a fictional example in her Inkheart series; the protagonist's father is capable of reading characters into and out of books.  

Happy reading and writing – ludically if possible.                                     

Wednesday 14 March 2018

An Interview with Mandy Huggins

Today I welcome to my blog Mandy Huggins whose lovely collection Brightly Coloured Horses we have recently published through our Chapletown imprint.      

What made you become a writer in the first place? 

I inherited a love of travel from my parents, so as well as being a fiction author, I’m a keen travel writer.

What sort of things do you write?

My first writing success was winning third prize in the school literary competition when I was eleven, with a love poem about George Best! I’ve written stories and poetry for as long as I can remember, but I only started writing seriously a few years ago. My partner was tired of me telling him I was a writer when I didn’t write anything, so he bought me a laptop for my birthday to quash all my excuses for not getting on with it! The first pieces I wrote were for specific competitions, as I found the deadlines were a useful incentive. I sent a travel piece to the Daily Telegraph every single week until they published me! 

Do you have  a writng routine?

I have a full-time day job in engineering, so I write in the evenings and at weekends. My partner writes too - a very popular niche music blog - so we both understand each other’s need for creative space!

Do you have a dedicated writing space?

Yes, I do, but I don’t have an office, or even a desk. I sit by the window in my living room and write with my laptop on my knee. All my notebooks and writing books are stashed away in a big wicker box at the side of me. If I think of ideas while at the day job, I scribble them on post-its, which live tucked away inside my laptop until I’ve acted on them. And I carry a tiny Smythson notebook in my handbag at all other times.

When did you  first start calling yourself a writer? Do you in fact call yourself a writer?

I think I decided I could call myself a writer when I was first published. It’s a thorny subject this one! I have had many spats on social media with people who think that if you have a day job then you’re not a writer - you’re a ‘hobby writer’. However, I need to eat as well as write! If someone asks me what I do, my answer is, ‘I work in engineering, and I’m also an author.’

Are your friends and family supportive?

Friends and family are supportive - but non-writing friends don’t always understand why I can’t give up the day job and ‘just write’! And recently, when I’ve been promoting my flash fiction collection, Brightly Coloured Horses, I’ve become a little tired of male colleagues and acquaintances saying, ‘I’m sure my wife would love a copy.’ Grrrrr.

What makes you proud?

I'm very proud that I will have two books published this year. As well as Brightly Coloured Horses, my first full length short story collection, Separated From the Sea, will be published this year by Retreat West Books, I would love to write a literary novel or a full length travel book, but my writing time is limited, and I can’t seem to give up the buzz of writing short fiction and travel pieces.

Which writers influence you?

My fiction is influenced and inspired by many of the great writers that I love - such as Yoko Ogawa, Helen Dunmore, Ernest Hemingway, Richard Ford, A L Kennedy, Helen Simpson, John Steinbeck, Tessa Hadley, Patti Smith, Colm Toibin, A M Homes, Kazuo Ishiguro - the list is endless!

There are many books I would love to have written, such as The Siege by Helen Dunmore, The Housekeeper & the Professor by Yoko Ogawa, The Old Man and the Sea by Hemingway, or the wonderful Jane Eyre. But the one that stands out for me is The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. I love all his books, but this is my favourite. It is so beautifully written. A story of a life lost to duty; unsentimental and utterly heartbreaking. A masterpiece.

Monday 12 March 2018

An interview with Linda Flynn

I have known Linda for quite a few years now and she has appeared in several of our anthologies, including the latest Bridge House one, Glit-er-ary.  I'm delighted to welcome her to my blog today.

What do you write? Why this in particular?

I have had two children’s and one book for teenagers published. In addition I have had eleven short stories (for adults, children and young adults,) as well as a number of newspaper and magazine articles printed. I read books for all age groups and genres. The joy of writing short stories is that I can experiment with different styles. I really appreciate publishing companies like Bridge House who provide writing opportunities and who know their craft as they are run by writers.

  What got you started on writing in the first place?

I can’t really remember a time when I didn’t write. As a child I used to love making up stories.
My first writing commission was for six educational books with the Heinemann Fiction Project.

Do you have a particular routine?

No, but I really should. When I get caught up in an idea it keeps playing on my mind until I write it down. Sometimes this can be quite late at night.

  Do you have a dedicated working space?

No, it tends to be anywhere and everywhere. Sometimes I work on an idea when I’m walking my dog and then I wish I had a notebook with me, other times it can be when I am trying to sleep and I know I won’t settle until I write the gist of it down. Other times I will work on a chapter wherever I happen to be and I won’t stop until it’s finished. My favourite place to write is in Woolacombe, overlooking the sea. I find it soothing and a wonderful setting to tune into ideas.

  When did you decide you could call yourself a writer? Do you do that in fact?

My mindset is one of a writer in that I am constantly conjuring up ideas for stories, or playing with rhythms or words. I don’t often call myself a writer though, as I don’t yet earn my living from my published work.

  How supportive are your friends and family? Do they understand what you're doing?

          My son has been brilliant; he created my website for me and helps with photos or       technical issues. My daughter has also been very supportive and regularly buys me subscriptions to writing magazines. She writes and performs comedy pieces. Publishers, editors and agents have offered a lot of encouragement, which I have really appreciated

  What are you most proud of in your writing?

There is a tremendous thrill when an offer of publication comes through for a book or a short story, there’s nothing like it! It’s also exciting to win a writing competition. It keeps the impetus going on the longer projects. Whenever I have finished a story though, I move on to my next idea and I lose myself in that.

How do you get on with editing and research?

I have to hand-write my first draft which is a scrawl so that I can work really rapidly on my ideas, with plenty of alterations as I go. At this point I try to switch off my over critical inner editor. Later I type the chapters out more slowly, altering the text as I go. The editing is fairly swift afterwards. I enjoy the research that I need to do, but some books require very little.

  Do you have any goals for the future?

My most immediate target is to complete a Young Adult book that I have been working on. Once it’s complete I should also be looking for a new agent as my previous one moved to New York. In the meantime I would like to continue writing short stories and to review my children’s books.

Which writers have inspired you? 

I love reading all kinds of stories for adults, children and YA; I feel humbled when I read so much brilliant fiction. There’s so much wonderful literature available, from the classics to amazing contemporary authors! Amongst my favourite short story writers are Kate Chopin, whose style is so concise and symbolic and Daphne du Maurier’s collections which effectively evoke atmosphere and tension. It’s important for me to have piles of books to move onto and I choose according to my mood. I don’t even have a favourite genre, but I will read my way through an author’s books if I love them.

Find out more about Linda at: 



Thursday 8 March 2018

Busy Doing Nothing

Writers need down time.  You cannot churn out prose or poetry continuously. Yes, you need a routine, and yes you should write every day if possible, not just when the muse strikes you. But you must have some time to be nurtured. 

I read once that Dickens used to write until 2. 00 .p.m., then go for a long walk.  At 5 00 p.m. he would go to a local inn for a drink or two before either going home for dinner or eating with friends. I'm not sure whether this can be right since I've also read a biography of him that made him out to be an extremely busy man. But if that routine is correct, I envy him.  It meant writing for six hours a day yet having plenty of time and opportunity to be sociable and to observe life. 

The final session of my first semester on my MA course was spent at Winchester cathedral and then in the ancient pub behind it. We had been instructed to walk around the cathedral and speak to no one. We were not to have any preconceived ideas of what would happen. It was hard not to giggle when we saw one of our classmates but otherwise it worked. I began to see the cathedral as I'd never seen it before. And the lights outside.  I experienced the rain on my skin as if I'd never felt it before. My first fiction assignment became a short story about a teenage alien coming to Winchester. It passed and it has since been published. 

After our lecturers had gone from the pub, however, we spent some time discussing how bonkers they were. 

A couple of years ago, at the end of a workshop module with my own Masters students, my colleague and I set a similar task at Media City UK, Salford Quays. It’s a quirky sort of place anyway. Our students were set off to roam for a couple of hours. We met up in one of the bars at the end of the evening. We could tell by the way that they looked at us that they thought we'd lost the plot as well.  
Yet they produced some excellent work and many of them referred to this event in their statement of poetics. 

Those eureka and epiphany moments often come when we're busy doing almost nothing.  Archimedes had his in the bath and Poincaré as he stepped on to a tourist bus. I find my brightest ideas often come when I'm ironing, walking, cooking, driving or swimming but I can always trace them back to a time when I was doing absolutely nothing. 

I love to go into town on the tram. I rarely look at my phone or try to read. I don't deliberately look for ideas but plenty come from my people-watching. You see, I am busy doing nothing.                   

Wednesday 7 March 2018

Interview with Helen Laycock

Today I interview Heled Laycock.  Helen is a frequent contributor to CafeLit and is a prolific writer.  Over the next few weeks I'll be featuring some of her books.

 1. What do you write? Why this in particular?

I don’t fit very neatly into a writing niche (#rebel) which is a shame (I like making lists and designating categories)!
In ascending size order (as I’m a bit OCD), I write flash fiction, serious and humorous poetry (for children and adults), short stories (again for children and adults), plays (more rarely) and children’s fiction up to about 40 000 words.
When I am inspired, I write, whatever the form.

2.    What got you started on writing in the first place?

As with most writers, I started as a child. Reading books and writing stories was my favourite thing in the world! I would get lost in them.
I didn’t know if I was any good at writing until I started to get feedback from teachers at secondary school. By then, I had started writing poetry, too. I was encouraged to have my writing published in the school magazine, I also found myself winning school-based competitions and by the sixth form I had put together a folder of all my writing which my English teacher showed to an English professor; he sent back a detailed report which glowed with positivity and I thought, ‘I can do this!’
When I became a teacher, I adored teaching creative writing. It rekindled my own passion for exploring language and ideas. It was during my second teaching post that I wrote my first children’s book ‘Charlie Chumpkins’. The children had been writing poetry about what the world would be like if they were tiny, and that sparked off the idea. I had never imagined that I would be able to sustain the process of writing longer fiction, but this was an easy way in as each chapter focussed on a different adventure, so it was like producing a series of stories.
After this, though, I got the bug. I gave up teaching and went on to write several more children’s books with more complex structures, as well as other forms of writing. I began to get poetry, flash and short stories published in magazines and anthologies. I also had a few near misses from traditional publishers with my children’s books.

3.    Do you have a particular routine?

I am definitely better at writing in the morning, but when I am writing a book, time ceases to be, and I can find myself tap-tapping away until the early hours. I keep a notebook beside me where I scribble new ideas as they come to me – plot points, twists and details which will need to be included somewhere, but if I’m in the middle of a gripping scenario, I can’t stop until it’s finished.
I like to finish the first draft of short stories and poetry in one go. Afterwards, I will tweak and tweak until I feel I have done all that I can. This is especially true of poetry. I think it’s a beautiful art form with so many elements working together, both in language and structure. I will spend much longer perfecting a poem than a story.

4.    Do you have a dedicated working space?

Absolutely! I have a fantasy about being one of these writers who sits typing in a coffee shop all day, swathed in velvet and wearing a jaunty hat and quirky scarf… but I can only work in my study. The chair is the right height and provides the right level of comfort. Everything I need is around me, and the screen in huge which means I can look at two A4 pages side by side.

5.    When did you decide you could call yourself a writer? Do you do that in fact?

Despite now having a catalogue of published work, I have never been comfortable calling myself a writer. I always dilute it (and trivialise it?) a bit by saying ‘I write’. However, I just have secured myself a writing job (Hooray!), and because it is paid work, I have now given myself permission to say those words (I think). I haven’t tried it yet…

6.    How supportive are your friends and family? Do they understand what you're doing?

It’s not really something I talk about with friends. It seems a bit embarrassing, as though if I mention it, I expect them to read my stuff! I don’t think non-writers really understand about the road to publication, what editing is, or how important promotion is. I don’t even think they consider me a ‘real’ writer!
I sometimes inflict a funny poem upon my husband – and get annoyed if he doesn’t roll about laughing, choosing instead to question a ‘fact’! My uncle writes, so it’s good to share news with him. It was great having two daughters to read to in instalments as I wrote my children’s books. They still make the right noises when I tell them about a writing achievement, even if they are more interested in listening to Spotify!
What I have found great is being a member of an online writing forum. Other writers really ‘get it’ – the disappointments, the necessity of finding the right word or punctuation, the joy of acknowledgement – and they are always very generous with their praise when reading my writing, or when there is good news, plus they are a great resource themselves.

7.    What are you most proud of in your writing?

Lots of things! My first competition win, for example, for a poem in 2005, my first inclusion in an anthology, my wealth of written material.
I feel a great sense of achievement at having created believable fictional worlds in whichever genre. Writing something good is like finding a unique recipe using totally new ingredients. The taste test is putting it ‘out there’, offering it to strangers and waiting for a reaction. A high point for all writers is finding a wonderful review* or feedback from a publisher. It means so, so much.
*I wish I had more reviews!!

8.    How do you get on with editing and research?

I love editing. First, I get it all down in a great big whoosh. I am as careful as I can be not to make mistakes as I write, but, of course, I always edit afterwards. It’s therapeutic and rewarding to find mistakes (I feel like a detective!), or to be hit by a flash of inspiration as to how something could be improved.
I choose an element to edit and only work on that, like typing in time clauses so I can check the subsequent comma, for example, or looking at spacing. I use the highlighting function a lot in Word so that I can quickly locate areas where I want to change something, or I will write something in red if it’s a hint to be pursued elsewhere in the story. I made a big chart for my last book as there were lots of characters and storylines which needed continuity within a time frame.
In a long piece, I will edit as soon as I have written a complete section, but I lose track of the number of times I go through everything with a fine toothcomb.
I don’t find research too onerous; I don’t write historical or highly factual fiction. If I am aiming for realism, I’ll Google things. For example, in ‘Mandrake’s Plot’, a children’s boarding school mystery set in the Scottish Highlands, I had to find out about local plants. For ‘Glass Dreams’, a circus mystery, among other things, I re-read Enid Blyton’s (dreadful) Mr Galliano’s Circus. ‘Salt’ is set at a fictional Cornish town, so, naturally,  we had to take a Cornish holiday! The memories and photos proved very useful in creating the backdrop to the mystery.

9.    Do you have any goals for the future?

I have short term goals – a list of writing and submission opportunities. I used to enter competitions, so I’d like to get back into that.
I have a newly-finished humorous children’s book which I’d love to get traditionally published.
And I’d generally love to be better known as a writer. This week I read a review which said, ‘Helen Laycock is one of my favourite children’s authors’ and last year, when I ordered a piece of artwork as a gift, the artist wrote, ‘I know your name. Are you an author? I think I’ve read one of your books.’ It doesn’t get much better than that!

10. Which writers have inspired you?

I’d love to write thrillers like Linwood Barclay or Tess Gerritsen. I started one and have a few ideas for others, but, so far, I have put them on the backburner. I think Roald Dahl was a wonderful children’s author (and now, in a similar vein, Julian Clary and David Walliams) but our writing styles are different. The only book of mine which nods in a slightly similar direction is ‘Martha and Mitch’, where some of the characters are larger than life. Probably my biggest influence was Enid Blyton. That sense of adventure which child protagonists experience during freedom from adults has stayed with me.