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Feeling Crap and a Cry for Help

My novel for 9yos

My novel for 9yos

My radio silence during and after a school break seems to be getting longer and longer. I think as parenting becomes increasingly complicated, and my children’s language and questions become more and more sophisticated, my brain is squeezed dry when they’re home for twenty days straight!

I did write one blog post during the Easter holidays, but I couldn’t find enough silence to finish it.

Then, once the children were back at school and nursery, there were doctors, dentists and vets to see, housework to catch up on. A mountain of ironing. But mostly there was apathy, illness and subsequent writer’s block.

Every time I even thought about writing, a massive headache crushed my brain and I slept instead.

I have, however, read LOADS! The blog post I’ve half written is all about the great children’s authors I’ve discovered. It turns out fiction for nine year olds is also perfect for harassed mummies with little free time and a microscopic attention span.

The only downside is it increases my nervousness about writing children’s fiction. While there are admittedly some mediocre books for under tens, there are also some amazing ones. It’s going to be a difficult market to crack. Especially as I can’t find anyone I trust to give me an honest opinion on my progress so far.

So that’s where you come in. I’ve cobbled together an ebook of my first complete novel for c.9yo children, currently called Cat Girl Sophie (working title!). It’s only second draft, it certainly shouldn’t be live in the web world. But I’ve made it five bucks, so hopefully no one will buy it!

But if it happened that anyone reading this blog also regularly reads (or writes!) children’s fiction, or has a child that does, and would be prepared to give some honest and constructive feedback, well that would be marvellous. Or perhaps not, if the feedback is ‘give up now.’

You’re a nice bunch, though, and I know you’ll take into consideration this is only a draft. If you are interested, visit Smashwords and use the code SD75M for a free copy. Thank you! :)

 

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Marathon Man and Team GB: A Personal Appeal from Me.

Amanda Martin (writermummy):

Time for some fellow blogger lovin’ :)

Originally posted on M T McGuire Authorholic:

As you know, I don’t normally talk about my family, mainly because I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t want to know about them and that they, in turn, would be absolutely horrified if I did. However, today, I’m going to make an exception. This is a personal post, about my brother, and at the end of it, I’m going to ask for your help. I aim to beg in an amusing way, without putting anyone under pressure, but if you think you’ll be uncomfortable with that feel free to make a swift exit!

Right, if anyone’s still here, on we go.

Today, I’d like to tell you about a very important event which my brother, Giles Bell: A prime examples of er,  middle aged athleticism if ever there was one; a man in the peak of physical fitness – see photo – is going to undertake with a team of other…

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Posted by on April 18, 2015 in Parenting

 

Advice vs Example: How Best to Write Dialogue

The Tricky World of Children's Fiction

The Tricky World of Children’s Fiction

Ever since I started taking my writing craft seriously, I have read a lot of advice on how to write dialogue. Specifically on dialogue tags.

Whether I’m reading writing advice books, studying creative writing, or perusing blogs on what to do and what not to do, the advice is all the same.

1. Don’t be afraid to use ‘said’.

People don’t see ‘said’. More importantly, don’t suffer from Dialogue Tag Thesaurus Syndrome.

E.g.

“Where are we?” Marina whispered.
“I don’t know,” Jacob answered.
“It looks like a cave,” Marina replied.
“It’s too dark to tell,” Jacob murmured.

This is good advice. There’s nothing worse than the obvious ‘trying too hard to avoid said‘ you see in some writing. Although I think there is a place for using some of these words sparingly to help add to the description and texture of the dialogue. Especially where word count is tight, like in children’s fiction.

2. Where possible, avoid using dialogue tags at all. Instead work in some action to help move the dialogue on and make it flow better.

E.g.

“It’s so beautiful.” Marina bent down and looked at the flower.
Jacob glared. “It’s girly.”
“No it’s not!” Marina gave him a furious look.
“Well, I think it is.” Jacob shrugged and turned away.

This is fine in moderation, but used too much I think it slows the dialogue down and makes it hard to read.

3. If you only have two characters speaking, you only need to identify them every few lines.

E.g.

“Come on, let’s go, Jacob.” Marina ran through the woods.
“Okay, I’m coming. Slow down!”
“Can’t catch me!”
Jacob heard Marina giggling and followed the sound. “Oh yes I can.”

I use this a lot in adult fiction, but I would use it sparingly when writing for young children. They read slowly and get lost and it’s easy to forget who is talking, unless it’s obvious from the voice of the character.

Plenty of examples of 'she beamed'

Plenty of examples of ignoring advice no.4

4. Don’t use dialogue tags that have nothing to do with talking. You cannot grin, laugh, giggle, sneer, sigh, groan, moan and talk at the same time. You can whisper, yell, shout, murmur, cry out, but only in moderation.

E.g.

“I bet you can’t climb that tree,” Jacob sneered.
“Oh yes I can,” Marina chuckled. “Watch me.”
“You’ll hurt yourself,” Jacob cautioned. “Girls can’t climb.”
“Don’t be silly,” Marina sighed. “You’ve seen me do it a hundred times.”

Now this is the advice I have the biggest problem with. I hear it everywhere, particularly in the writing course I’m doing at the moment. I’ve trained myself to always put the action separate. “Oh yes I can,” she said, grinning. or to use a full stop. “Oh yes I can.” She grinned at him. But since starting to write children’s fiction, I’ve discovered two things.

a) Using she said, grinning uses too many words. It makes the dialogue slow and static

b) No one else cares about this rule. Seriously. I’m reading a children’s book a day and every single one happily uses, She grinned, she giggled, she chuckled, she frowned. They even use, she hissed, when the dialogue doesn’t contain a sibilant word. (Advice says you can’t hiss ‘Granny’ because it doesn’t contain an s.)

So, here’s the rub. As a new writer, do I follow the writing advice or the examples? I have trained myself so well I actually cringe when reading ‘she sniggered’ as a dialogue tag, especially when reading out loud to my children. But they don’t care. To them it’s normal. It makes the writing flow, it adds texture, and – best of all – they understand it.

Anyone who thinks that writing for children is easy is wrong, wrong, wrong. :)

Have you come across this? Do you have a problem with ‘she grinned’? Do you always follow writing advice?

 

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The Hardest Part About Becoming An Author Is Patience

My children's book

My children’s book

I chose the title for this blog post carefully. Author not writer. Becoming not being. I already consider myself a writer. What I want to be, though, is a published author. Not self-published, great as that is. I want to be able to answer the question ‘can I find your books in the library?’ with a resounding YES.

Maybe that’s silly. It should probably be enough that I’ve self published four novels, they’ve each sold a few copies (some over a hundred, which some say is the benchmark for a new author). They’ve all had good (and bad) reviews.

But it isn’t enough. I want validation. I want an agent to say, ‘you’re just what I’m looking for.’ I want to have a poster in the library and give talks to schools about my journey as a writer. I want my family to be proud. I want my daughter to know I did something other than raise babies for a decade. Not because raising babies isn’t a worthwhile job, but because I want her to know there’s a choice.

I want to write the books my daughter wants to read but can’t find in the library. I want to write books for my son that aren’t about animals and fairies, because – quite frankly – there’s a massive hole in our library where books for early-reader boys should be.

I want all that, and I want it NOW.

I tell my children that you get nothing without practice and patience. When my son is frustrated at learning to read or my daughter can’t draw as well as the YouTube video she’s watching, my response is always “you just need to practice.”

But we’re all hypocrites right? I’ve written one children’s book and I’m already looking for agents accepting submissions. Even though I know it isn’t going to pass muster.

Actually, it’s the second children’s book I’ve written. The other one has been (almost) wiped from my memory after I (arrogantly? Naively?) sent an early draft to an editor and was hurt and surprised when she told me (nicely) that it was awful.

Children’s books are hard to write. I knew that before I began the writing course I’m doing. I know it even more now. (Plus it’s really hard to find beta readers – any ideas?)

I also recognise that, more than any other genre, it’s all about the market. It’s a business. Books have to sell. Which is possibly why there is a gap in the boys’ market, although I’d say that was a catch 22. You can’t buy what isn’t available.

So I’m writing this as a public declaration of my intention to be patient. I will write at least a dozen children’s books before I approach an agent. I will practice my craft, I will continue to read a book a day. And I will try not to be hurt when my target audience (my daughter) thinks Mummy’s book is rubbish and she could write it better.

After all, practice makes perfect, right? Or at least better…

P.S. If you’re in the UK, Happy Mothering Sunday and I hope, like me, you’re in bed with your ipad writing blogs because Daddy has told the children Mother’s Day doesn’t start until 8am

 

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Busy Is a Sickness

Busy is a Sickness Article

Busy is a Sickness Article

I read a brilliant article on HuffPost Parents this morning called Busy Is a Sickness.

The article discusses how everyone seems to be busy these days, but that – when we scratch beneath the surface – that business is often self-inflicted. That we seem to be afraid to be still and be ourselves, so we fill our lives with doing.

The article’s author, Scott Dannemiller, says, “I wear busyness like a badge of honor. Only there’s no honor to be had.”

He explains how he became resentful when someone listened to him describe a crazy day ahead and said, “Sounds like a full day, have fun!”

I laughed out loud when I read that part, because I recognised myself so fully in the statement.

I have a friend who has said something similar to me, and I felt equally resentful. Don’t you know how hard my life is? I wanted to say. Don’t you know how busy I am, how hard I find it remembering all the details and running round after my kids. Cooking meals, washing laundry, walking the dog, all while finding time to write and spend time with my children? Pity me.

Lately, though, I’ve come to see all those things as blessings in my life. I am blessed to have a family who need me, a dog who loves being walked and who makes me get outside every day, rain or shine. I am blessed to have time to write and to live in a beautiful (messy) house. I am blessed to be able to pick my children up from school every day and be home with them in the holidays. I am blessed to have a husband who doesn’t mind the mess and random meals.

It’s hard to remember those blessings all the time, though. Most of the time my internal dialogue reverts back to the ‘woe is me, I’m so busy’ script.

I’ve been learning about Transactional Analysis in the writing course I am doing at the moment, particularly about life scripts. The website Changingminds.org describes life scripts like this:

We create stories about our lives, what they have been and what they will be. This starts in childhood where we weave our perceptions of our selves and of the world around us into a narrative about what we can and will do.

These life scripts then continue to have a deep and unconscious effect on how we live our lives. They affect the decision we make. They control what we think we could easily do and could never do. They shape our self-image. And yet we seldom realize where they come from or even do not know that they exist at all.

Our life scripts are often encouraged and shaped by parents and other family members, whose life scripts were shaped by their parents and so on. In this way, we become a product of our family’s history. Likewise, our scripts are also woven by cultural and national forces.

Life scripts are not all the same as they may also be significantly affected by individual events, such as being criticized by a teacher or bullied by other children. They also are constrained by inherited characteristics. For example it would be unusual (but not impossible) for a shorter person to include being a basketball player in their life script.

There are often overall shapes to life scripts that can be expressed very simply, for example ‘I am a loser’ or ‘I must help save the world’. Life scripts can be very detailed and they can be very vague. They can be very empowering, yet they can also severely limit our lives.

I am starting to realise that my life script features phrases like, “woe is me,” or “I’m never good enough,” or “everyone expects me to help them,” or “pity me.”

I deliberately place myself into positions where I am put upon, unappreciated, stressed or busy, and that reinforces my script. Being busy is part of that. A busy person is a useful person. A person who isn’t busy is lazy. These are things I have inside me.

When I first met my husband he was really good at just sitting and being. I saw it as laziness and it drove me crazy. I thought he should be fixing something, cleaning something or doing something useful. I probably drove him to be more busy and less happy. I regret that. Especially now I appreciate the true benefits of stillness. We need to just be. We don’t need to be busy all the time.

This is the quote from the HuffPost article that really resonated with me (from Dr. Susan Koven, Massachusetts General Hospital.)

“In the past few years, I’ve observed an epidemic of sorts: patient after patient suffering from the same condition. The symptoms of this condition include fatigue, irritability, insomnia, anxiety, headaches, heartburn, bowel disturbances, back pain, and weight gain. There are no blood tests or X-rays diagnostic of this condition, and yet it’s easy to recognize. The condition is excessive busyness.”

One of the things that makes me most stressed/unhappy/irritable is when my brain is full. There are two dozen things that need doing right away and my brain is processing them all.

I am learning (slowly) to prioritise. To accept my house will never be fully clean. I practice Mindfulness and tell those thoughts to just clear off for a while. It’s very liberating. But to the outside world I probably look lazy and, being an HSP, I care what the world thinks.

When I chose to be a stay-at-home-mum/writer I felt I had to be busy all the time, or people would think less of me. That I was more important or a better person when I worked 12-hour days to meet crazy deadlines.

I felt I had to drive myself to fill every minute and rush rush rush. I had to rush the kids to school, even though I didn’t have to get to work on time. I made excuses, I never stopped.

Then I broke.

I had suicidal thoughts. I came to believe the world would be better without me because I was so rubbish, so lazy, so incapable of being as good and busy and productive as all my doctor, nurse, teacher friends who were making a real difference in the world.

It was a dark time and it took medication and a good doctor and the support of a loving family to come through it. But, most of all, I had to learn to be kind to myself and forgive myself for not being everything I wanted to be or thought I should be.

I learned to nap when I need it, to leave early to pick up the kids so I’m not rushing. I learned it’s okay to read a book, knowing I made my choices.

Do I feel guilty that some people are the ‘have to be busy to make ends meet’ sort because they have bills to pay? Yes, I do. But sometimes I think even that is about choices for some (not all, most definitely). How often are we working for the next car, house, holiday when we wouldn’t need those things if we were happier in ourselves?

Do I still care what the world thinks and have to justify my actions? Of course; that’s why I’m writing this post after all. I still have ‘pity me’ moments. I still want the world’s sympathy. Want my life, my worries, to be more important than everyone else’s. But I see those thoughts for the intruders they are. They aren’t my thoughts, they’re learnt and inherited. I can choose to ignore them.

I share this prayer with Scott:

“So my prayer today is this. That I stop defining myself by my doing, and start defining myself by my being. That I stop measuring time by the clock on the wall, and start measuring it by the experiences I share with those around me. And that I stop seeing my life as “busy,” and instead, see it for what it truly is.

Full.”

 
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Posted by on February 28, 2015 in Inspiring Stuff

 

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Healthy Food Update

Delicious Sweet Potato Brownies (apart from the crunchy rice!)

Delicious Sweet Potato Brownies (apart from the crunchy rice!)

It’s been nearly two weeks since I wrote my review of the Deliciously Ella cookbook and I thought I ought to give an update.

Between surviving half term (with trips swimming, to the gym, the zoo, the garden centre, and HOURS of craft), I have been slowly gathering the ingredients to try some more of Ella’s recipes.

The first one I tried was the Carrot, Orange and Cashew Salad (p139 of the UK edition), supplemented with the ingredients I had in the cupboard, rather than the ones listed (and made with satsumas rather than oranges!)

The first batch I made with avocado and tomato, rather than olives and raisins, and I didn’t add any date or maple syrup. Instead I fried it all in olive oil. Delicious, quick and easy. The second batch (which I was brave enough to try on hubbie after my first go) I swapped avocado for some cranberry cheese that needed using up. Although not dairy free, like the first one, it was just as delicious. Even hubbie said it was nice. So that’s a keeper.

The second recipe I tried was not quite so successful, but only because I had failed to gather all the necessary ingredients and I don’t own a food processor. My search for an affordable food processor that might manage to make nut butter is an ongoing challenge. For now I’m using the mill adapter for my blender (which has sustained a little damage as a result) and my Philips handheld blender, which is doing an amazing job considering.

Anyway, the second recipe was the Sweet Potato Brownies (p166), which are made using sweet potatoes (obviously), Medjool dates, ground almonds, brown rice flower, raw cacao powder and maple syrup. I had everything but the rice flour and ground almonds, so I chucked a scoop of rice in with some whole almonds and ground them in the mill.

That was my mistake.

I should have just used plain flour and accepted that it wasn’t 100% gluten/wheat free. It’s not like I’ve given up wheat or sugar completely, so it wouldn’t have mattered. As it was, the rice didn’t grind up fully and the brownies ended up teeth-breakingly crunchy.

BUT, and it’s a big but, they are delicious. Seriously. No butter, no refined sugar, and actually some vegetables, and they are yummy. So I will buy some rice flour and I expect these will become a stock bake. I dread to think how many calories they contain, with all those nuts and maple syrup, but at least they’re sort of healthy.

I still find the book frustrating to use. I often can’t find the recipes I want, and I wish they were ordered by type (meal, salad, dessert) rather than ingredients. I still halve the recipes and find that makes plenty. But I am glad I bought the book, even if my wallet isn’t! I’m sure my body will thank me in the end.

 
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Posted by on February 21, 2015 in Cooking and Baking

 

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Initial Review of Deliciously Ella

My scribbled notes on the hummus recipe

My scribbled notes on the hummus recipe

I wrote a few days ago about the new cookery book I purchased, Deliciously Ella, and how I hope it will help me solve the problem of being perpetually tired. I don’t do diets and I am definitely not a foodie: these things should be taken into consideration when reading the following!

These are my initial thoughts on Ella’s book

1. As I first noted, it is like a text book rather than a recipe book – I’m taking ideas away rather than following specific recipes, especially for things like smoothies. It’s hard to find recipes because the way it is laid out by ingredient type, but that does help with learning more about the ingredients. So far I’ve tried things I wouldn’t have before in my smoothies, like spinach, cucumber, and beetroot juice (and will definitely skip on the latter!). Amazingly, even though they turn the juice green, spinach and spirula (or the 7-superfood variety I’m using) don’t really alter the taste.

2. The ingredients are VERY expensive. Even if you don’t go for organic or the best you can buy, buckwheat flour is four times the cost of normal flour and hazelnuts and almonds prohibitively expensive in the quantities most recipes require. Maple syrup (the pure stuff) is £5 for 300ml and the recipes often call for a mug (or three) of the stuff. Medjool dates, ditto. Tahini and chickpeas weren’t too expensive and neither was apple cider so, unsurprisingly, the only recipe I’ve tried so far was hummus. Which brings me on to point three.

3. You need to already be a foodie, or at least be able to beg/borrow/buy some equipment. I have a blender, which I pulled out the back of the cupboard from my singleton days, so that’s great for smoothies, but it wasn’t up to making hummus. You need a food processor for that. Thankfully my hand blender managed a reasonable job as I don’t own a food processor. I love the look of courgette spaghetti but can’t find a spiralizer with decent reviews for less than £20 and I’ve spent a fortune already. Oh and the spiralizer isn’t mentioned in the list of equipment you need, but magically appears in the courgette recipe which was rather annoying.

4. The recipes don’t give much of a clue about the quantities you’re making, and seem to use stacks of (expensive) ingredients. If you’re hoping to swap cookies and cakes for the healthy sort, expect to pay a lot more for the luxury. I haven’t tried any of the yummy looking things yet because I can’t justify the expense (see above about maple syrup and Medjool dates). I halved the recipe for hummus and it made enough for three or four snacks.

5. I bought the book because the sweet recipes sounded appealing in the radio interview I heard. Who wouldn’t love healthy cakes and cookies? However, based on the ingredients, I’m not sure I agree with ‘healthy’. They might not be full of refined sugar and gluten, but nuts and avocados and maple syrup are pretty fattening products in the quantities suggested. I’d also be vaguely interested in the calorie content, but I realise that’s a long way from the ethos of the book. I guess I’m just used to calorie counting. I’d like to know if I’ve used a whole day’s calories in a dinner of avocado and hummus, even if it is good for me.

6. The recipes are a bit repetitive. There are lots that include coconut (which I don’t especially like) and avocado (which I love but is full of calories and difficult to buy ripe). I also found there weren’t many meal replacements. Lots of things I can nibble on during the day, but for the cost of the ingredients I need something to replace the evening meat-based meal that hubbie might eat.

7. On a positive note, however, the book is encouraging. There are great quotes littered throughout and I do feel it is about empowering you to not be afraid of food. I would never have put spinach in a smoothie and now I have it every day.

8. Also the recipes also only call for a few main ingredients, even if they are pricey. I’ve invested £30 in some of the core products, which I’m waiting to arrive by post, as even Waitrose don’t stock raw cacao powder or Miso paste. I am excited about trying some of the recipes and I may visit the blog to see if there are some that are more straightforward.

9. I feel better. I want to eat more things with spinach in and fewer bags of crisps and packets of cookies. For me that’s HUGE. But money is a worry and so my target now will be to find a few recipes that aren’t too expensive (and fattening) and to explore other recipe books that might be more suited to our lifestyle.

10. There are some ways to cheat. I have bought lazy garlic and lazy ginger, which might not be the same as the real thing but more cost effective (and easier for a non-foodie like me). I buy raw juice or at least not-from-concentrate juice (fruit and veg) as a base for my smoothies so I don’t need a juicer and I don’t need to buy more ingredients. I also follow Ella’s suggestion and make extra smoothie and keep it in a glass jar in the fridge. Plus I go to the ‘out of date’ section in the supermarket for fruit and veg – if it’s going in a smoothie it doesn’t matter if it’s a bit battered.

All in all I’m glad I bought the book. I’m sure my body is glad too, or it will be when I’ve got through the detox headache. The doctors called today and all eleven (!?!) of the blood tests my doctor put through came back normal: I don’t have glandular fever, my thyroid is fine, I’m not anaemic. So the tiredness is just laziness, rubbish food and being a parent. If Ella’s book helps me to change that, then it was worth every penny!

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2015 in Food, Reviews

 

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