You Can Paint Abstracts: 2013 365 Challenge #307

The rough draft of my book

The rough draft of my book

Following on from yesterday’s post about me having to give a talk on my art and paintings on Monday, I was digging around on my computer for things to use, and I came across a book I started writing a few years ago.

I’m always starting projects and then abandoning them. This one I abandoned because I couldn’t imagine ever convincing anyone to publish it. Now, with self publishing, I could probably resurrect it but I doubt it would be profitable, and I’m not short of things that need finishing!

The book is called Affordable Abstract Art Made Easy and I wrote it as a ‘teach yourself’ type book, for people who wanted bright artwork on their walls but didn’t want to pay gallery prices for it. Actually, you can buy some very beautiful pieces of original artwork off ebay for not much money, so the whole premise was flawed from the get-go.

More pages from my pretentious project!

More pages from my pretentious project!

This is the contents list:

  • Why do you want to paint – an introduction
  • What do you want to paint – considering the space
  • All about colour
  • Materials, what to buy and where to get them
  • Setting up your Studio
  • Don’t fear the blank canvas
  • Texture, to build or not to build
  • Taking it further – the perfect gift
  • Selling your work

What struck me was how similar it was to a Creative Writing craft book, and that led me on to consider how much I approach painting the same way I do writing. The first lines of my artist’s statement could equally apply to my writing:

“I paint because it makes me feel alive. I love creating something from nothing; starting with a blank canvas and building it up layer by layer without knowing what the final result will be.”

An almost blank canvas

An almost blank canvas

As a pantser I approach writing in exactly the same way. I start with a blank page and a few colours (characters / plot points / themes) and that’s it. I don’t sketch, I don’t plan, I just switch off my conscious brain and create.

I grew disillusioned with painting when I began to try too hard. I started finishing off the edges, working to make it perfect, not knowing when to stop. In writing terms I over-edited and my paintings lost their vibrancy. They grew bland and samey.

And the finished piece

And the finished piece

I’m all for reading books on writing craft – they’re really important if you want to become a better writer – and of course editing is essential. But I do think you can overdo it and edit out the very thing that makes your writing special.

I read a quote on Twitter recently by author Janie Storer that said: “If ever asked what style I write in, I shall simply reply ‘mine’.” Wise words.

Maybe that’s what I’ll say in my talk on Monday. The beauty of art and writing is that it is all about expression and never more so than when engaging in fiction or abstract paintings. No one can tell you if you’re doing it right except you. There will be lovers and haters, fans and detractors (and people who say “my two year old could do better.” That’s another post entirely!) As long as you’re having fun and giving your all that’s enough.


Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:


Claire followed the SatNav’s directions through the town and out over the main road. A quick glance at the screen showed that the hostel was only a few hundred metres ahead.

I’m not sure about being so close to the A30: the noise is going to be horrendous. Maybe I should have stayed at the other one.

The reviews had suggested the town hostel was cleaner and had more facilities. It was the remoteness of the Tor hostel that attracted her. Although she wasn’t going to admit it, hiding out in secluded locations suited her frame of mind.

Not that Conor would approve. I’m meant to be researching tourism, not lurking in the wilderness by myself.

Claire gripped the steering wheel and pointed her car up the narrow lane, crawling along in a low gear ready to stop if another vehicle appeared.

How does anyone get anywhere around here? I can’t see more than a few metres in any direction, the hedges are like walls and there’s barely room for one car. And don’t talk to me about sign posts. Thank god for the SatNav.

Not for the first time Claire realised how much easier travel was with all the gadgets and gizmos. She couldn’t imagine trying to find her way around with just a road atlas. Never mind getting anything done without free WiFi and a permanent phone signal.

Although I haven’t had much of a signal for the last few days.

She grinned. One of the attractions of Dartmoor had been the poor reception. No need to worry that Conor might call and make a fuss. She only picked up messages when she climbed up the Tor.

I could grow to like this place.

The thought made her twist her lips in a wry smile. Three months ago, being out of phone signal for more than half an hour would have left her hyperventilating.

And when did I last have a Starbucks? Oh god, I’m going savage.

The hostel, when she arrived, looked like someone’s house; a sprawling brick building with large white chimneys, surrounded by trees. It had a homely feel, despite the looming woods encircling the place. As she got out of the car, she could hear the noise from the road below. It was steady, though, like a river or the wind in the trees, and she soon blocked it out.

The hostel appeared deserted. Leaving her bag in the car, Claire bypassed the house and went to explore the grounds. Behind the hostel the gardens stretched down the hillside. The sun beat down on her head as she rambled through the undergrowth.

After a while, aware of her grumbling tummy, Claire headed back to the building. It still felt completely empty. With a frown, she went to the main door. It was locked.

Damn. Don’t tell me it’s one that isn’t open all year round. I knew I should have rung ahead.

“Are you booked in?”

Claire span round at the sound of the low voice. A middle-aged man walked across the car park towards her, pushing a wheel barrow.

“No. I was hoping it wouldn’t be too busy, as it isn’t the school holidays yet.”

“Maybe not, but the reception is down at the other place. In town. You’ll need to go down there to fetch your keys.”

Then, without waiting for a response, the man vanished round the side of the house.

Resisting the urge to swear, Claire headed back to her car and prepared to drive back down towards town.

“Next time, I’ll call.”


NaNoWriMo and The Stalking Muse: 2013 365 Challenge #277

To NaNo or not NaNo?

To NaNo or not NaNo?

Earlier in the week I wrote about the importance of writing even when your Muse is missing in action. Well, my darling muse seems to have come back from her spa break invigorated and enthused and is now stalking me, mostly in my dreams.

Twice this week I’ve woken out of an exhausting dream with a full-length story in my head. That has only happened once in my life before and resulted in me writing Dragon Wraiths. I’m grateful for the input but, really Muse, I don’t have the time to start two brand new novels just now. I think maybe my Muse knows NaNoWriMo, which I hadn’t intended to do this year, is just around the corner.

The first dream story was in the chick lit strain and all a bit predictable, to do with cheating fiances and manipulative best friends. I think there was even a gay friend: how many chick lit tropes can you get in one plot? Easy NaNo fodder, but likely to result in a lot of hard work to make it original.

Last night’s story, possibly as a result of being woken by my pumpkin son every hour, was a spectacular science fiction drama with explosions, space ships and more action than I could understand or describe this morning. I don’t have any intention of writing a science fiction novel – I struggled enough with the fantasy world building for Dragon Wraiths – but at 7am, if I could have done a ‘print screen’ on my mind, it would have been easy. Maybe reading Rinelle Grey’s blog, over on Coffee Time Romance, about writing scifi romance has rubbed off.

So, who is up for some NaNo this year? I have no idea how I will fit it in – I’m barely keeping up with the daily blog as it is. Not to mention how hard it would be to write two stories simultaneously. But I will have an extra few hours’ childcare, as our extra day comes into play at half term (the kids do more childcare in the winter to stop us all getting cabin fever) so it might just vaguely be possible. If only to keep my stalking muse quiet!


Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog: 


“Claire! What are you doing here?”

“Hi, Mum. Lovely to see you, too.” Claire dropped her bag at her feet and ignored the look of barely veiled horror on her mum’s face.

“And who is this?”

Her mother’s tone, a mixture of suspicion and approval, made Claire wince.

“This is Conor, he’s my new boss. He gave me a lift home from the airport.” She didn’t want to explain; to talk about Kim or her own dire finances or anything. She wanted to crawl into her own bed and sleep.

Raising weary eyes to her mother’s face, she released a sigh. “Can I stay? I know I haven’t given you notice. If you’ve got people visiting, I’ll sleep under the stairs. Or in the bath. I don’t really care. I can’t afford a hotel.”

Her mother looked over her head, presumably at Conor, and flushed. “Of course you can stay. You are always welcome. And does your friend want to stay too?”

Claire snorted at the blatant matchmaking, then flushed, worried that Conor would take it seriously.

“It’s grand of you to offer, Mrs Carleton, but I must be getting back. It’s a long journey I’ve got ahead of me.” He seemed to take it as his signal to leave. Walking forward, he turned to face Claire. “I’ll call you tomorrow, to discuss when you’ll be free to start work.”

Holding his hand out towards her mother, he said, “It was nice meeting you, Mrs Carleton. Bye Claire.” Nodding at them both, he turned and walked back down the path towards his car.

Claire felt as if a protective force had been taken away from her. Once he was in his car and driving down the street, her mother’s forced grin dropped from her face.

“What on Earth is going on? I don’t hear from you for weeks. Some men come and take away that rusty heap you left outside and now you’ve turned up out of the blue looking like death.”

“Can I come in, Mum? It’s a long story.”

Her mother stepped back to let Claire into the hallway, before closing the door behind her with a bang.  “And why did your boss pick you up from the airport? Are you sleeping with him? What happened to Michael?”

“Enough, already!” Claire’s voice came out louder than she intended and she heard her mother suck air in between her teeth.

“Sorry. I’m tired. I’ve been travelling for weeks, I haven’t slept for two days and I need a shower and some clean clothes. I’m sorry for not calling you first but I had– ” she hesitated, “–other things to deal with. I’ll explain it all tomorrow, okay?”

Without waiting for an answer, Claire picked up her rucksack and forced one foot in front of the other, along the hall and up the stairs. She reached her old room and paused in the doorway as she saw the suitcase by the bed, the perfume and make-up on the dressing table.

Claire walked numbly down the corridor to the spare room. With an in-held breath she pushed the door open, but the tiny room showed no evidence of being in use. Claire dropped her rucksack by the door, kicked off her shoes and crawled under the covers.


Children’s Stories and Other Projects: 2013 365 Challenge #230

Why my first attempt at a children's novel is about pirates!

Why my first attempt at a children’s novel is about pirates and dinosaurs!

Brrr. As I write this, I am walking around a muddy ploughed field in completely inappropriate footwear (sandals because it’s still summer, right?) racing the rain clouds back home: I’m wet already as we’ve been swimming but I don’t really want the dog muddy and wet.

As is my habit, I’ve been searching my mind for today’s blog topic. It usually comes to me before I let the dog off the lead, giving me twenty minutes of walking and texting to get it written.

Today, instead, my head is full of projects (oh and now my ankle full of nettle venom, ouch. Texting and walking can be bad for your health)

This morning I signed up to an online course on writing children’s stories. I had to get my husband’s permission not because of the cost but because of the time. I’m not allowed to start the course until January. Because he had to take the children from 7am until 1pm today (it was bliss) so I could write yesterday’s post and get a tricky scene rewrite from Baby Blues out of my head.

The kind of illustrations I'd love to do!

The kind of illustrations I’d love to do!

I miss having my nursery days together: having one day to spend on editing followed by two or three days’ break in between is a nightmare because I only just about get going when it’s time to pick up the kids.

The problem today was that I worked until 1pm and then I didn’t want to stop. Not only have I got extra changes I want/need to make to Baby Blues draggng at my mind, I’ve got a dozen other projects clamouring for attention. I’m not really a completer finisher more a start and move on sort of person! Some projects I’ve managed to avoid starting, such as my overwhelming desire to try my hand at writing a children’s book.

Well today I gave into that desire, after reading to the kids for twenty minutes.

My attempt at illustrations

My attempt at illustrations

I’ve always wanted to see if I could write and illustrate something, although I’m pretty certain my current artistic skills are not of the children’s illustrator variety. Still, these things fill your mind when you read Tim, Ted and the Pirates for the hundredth time.

The project in my head isn’t there because I want to try and break into the picture-book market so much as because I want to write something for my children. I’ve had an idea floating in my head for ages, and I thought it wouldn’t be too hard to write it down. So I tried. Oh dear. Let’s just say I’m looking forward to starting my Writing Children’s Stories course in January.

And – If you’re based in the UK – the course was £12 on Groupon or I never would have bought it. I’ve got a bad track record with online study courses that don’t have deadlines. It’s hard to motivate yourself to work on something if nothing is driving you forwards. In this instance, it’s just as well that it’s an unrestricted course, as I can’t start for another five months! 🙂

Still, I know what next year’s blog is likely to be all about. You have been warned! Hee hee


Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog: 


Claire stared wide-eyed as the Māori dancers thumped their feet and waggled their tongues. It was her first taste of aboriginal New Zealand and it was something to behold. From the moment the coach had collected them from the hostel they had been immersed in Māori culture. She glanced over at Neal, who had been appointed Chief of their group by general consent. From the way he stood absorbed in the ceremony, with his head high and his chest thrown out, it was clear he’d fully inhabited the role.

At least it takes his attention off me.

Claire had refused to give up her position at the front of the bus, but her profile among the other travellers had risen since the Shweeb challenge. Dealing with mostly good-natured ribbing wasn’t beyond her skills, but she had preferred her lonely anonymity.

The Māori warriors in front of them gathered to perform a haka challenge. Claire had only seen the haka on the TV before, at the beginning of the rugby matches she had endured to please Michael. The performance was much more powerful when the ground vibrated with every stomp and it was possible to look into the fearsome eyes made alien by dark tattoos.

Eventually something was laid at Neal’s feet. A peace offering, from what she could remember of the information they were given on the bus. Neal picked up the token and the atmosphere shifted, as the Māori people welcomed them into their village.

A high, long note sounded, raising the hairs on Claire’s neck. She searched for the source of the noise and saw someone blowing into a conch shell. As if waiting only for the signal, the women began an echoing call that resonated across the surrounding forest.

Claire shivered and wrapped her arms around herself, as the hairs continued to rise across her skin. She wished she’d thought to bring a jacket.

“I’ll keep you warm.”

Before she could protest, Neal was behind her, enclosing her in a bear hug. He radiated heat and Claire was soon able to push him away and admit, truthfully, that she was no longer cold. No need to tell him that the shivering had increased with his contact.

“This doesn’t count as dinner, by the way,” Neal said with a sly grin, as he dropped his arms in response to her shove. “You still owe me.”

Claire nodded and walked away without speaking, attempting to lose herself in the details of the village. She wandered through the various dwellings as if it were a living museum, taking pictures for the blog and mentally filing notes to write about later. Her mind cast back to some of the places she visited in the UK; the plague village, the Victorian town.

No wonder people would rather come here. Although some of these excursions are a bit pricey. At least I wandered around Eyam for free.


Claire’s tummy gurgled loudly and she blushed, thankful that the music from the stage mostly drowned it out. Neal, sat three seats over on her right, turned round and smirked at her and her blush deepened.

Claire wrenched her gaze back to the performance, watching the semi-clad men and women perform intricate dances that seemed to involve much thrusting of the hips and tongue. Although not overtly sexual, it made her skin hot and she was acutely conscious of Neal’s presence, despite the people sitting between them.

Glad when the performance was over, Claire gratefully followed the others to find the hangi food they had helped raise earlier from the pit. Tantalising smells of smoked meat and vegetables drifted on the evening breeze and she felt the saliva pool in her mouth.

She hesitated as the guests found their seats. She didn’t want to end up next to Neal but she couldn’t see him anywhere in the room. Not wanting to look like an idiot, at last she took a seat in the far corner and prayed he wouldn’t see her.

Why am I avoiding him? I have to take him out to dinner tomorrow, more fool me.

Claire pondered whether it was worth staying an extra night in Rotorua just to shake him off. She had a horrible feeling that he would stay too, just to torment her.

“You can’t hide from me.”

As if voicing her thoughts, the words cut through Claire’s reverie. Her heart plummeted at the sound of the too-familiar voice drawling behind her.

“Hiding in the corner isn’t going to put me off. I will have my wicked way with you.” His voice was jocular but the words cut directly through to Claire’s groin. Right then she would have followed him to the nearest bed. Sense fought with lust and sense won a temporary victory.

“You can try,” she spat at him. “I’m not yours for the taking. I’m not some gullible teenager. I don’t know why you don’t turn your attention where it’s wanted.” She ripped at some bread with her teeth.

“Oh, please. Those children? I’m old enough to be their father. Besides, where’s the fun in easy game. Like shooting fish in a barrel. Although I’ve never understood that phrase. Why would you shoot fish?”

He selected some food and chewed thoughtfully, as if they were engaging in normal dinner conversation.

Claire felt torn between following his lead and maintaining her icy silence. She realised she didn’t know anyone else at her table and it was Neal or nothing. Even as she resolved to speak to him, she realised she had nothing to say.

Have I lost the art of small talk? Have I been on the road so long I don’t know how to speak to people anymore?

She thought of all the things that weren’t to be talked of. Her sister’s illness, Michael’s blind infatuation, Kim’s anger, Josh; The jobs she didn’t want. Her family’s rejection on her last visit home.

No wonder I can’t do small talk. My life’s a wreck. Even here, on the other side of the world, I can’t get it right.

Claire stared at her plate and fought back tears.


Fun Farm Animals: 2013 365 Challenge #134

Meeting Charlie the cockerel at a Kid's Birthday Party

Meeting Charlie the cockerel at a Kid’s Birthday Party

Aaron took a picture of him holding a cockerel into nursery today. It was taken at the birthday party he went to on Sunday and he’s very proud of it, though quick to tell you the bird’s talons hurt his arm.

It was a great party. The parents had booked this Ark thing, where a bunch of farmyard animals are brought in and penned in the garden for the children to stroke.

It was lovely for Aaron to get into the enclosure with the animals and have unlimited access instead of trying to reach them through a barrier, as he normally has to do at the Farm.

Meeting Esme and Pig

Meeting Esme and Pig

It was the kind of thing I would love to do as a business if I had the motivation, space, money, expertise. Letting children learn about animals and not be afraid of them. It’s hard to be afraid of a pygmy goat called Esme, in a red halter, standing on the back of a sleeping pig, then snuggling up against her to keep warm in the rain.

It was a good reminder of the intelligence of pigs, too, as the pig only woke to move under the gazebo out of the rain. It’s not hard to see why so many children’s books are written about farm animals. They have such a repertoire of personalities and a diverse range of looks and mannerisms but they all live together mostly harmoniously. They’re not trying to eat each other and only the horned ones (sheep and goats) seems to get grumpy and physical.

Giving the dog a cuddle

Giving the dog a cuddle

Seeing the dynamic between the bantam chickens that kept escaping into the flower bed, the friendly but hungry pony, the sleepy pig and snuggly goat, it was a children’s book waiting to be penned.

Picture books have fascinated me since I started reading a dozen or two a week to the kids. The difference between the awful and the great is hard to define and the opinion seems to differ between adult and child!

I’ve long wanted to have a go doing one, both the words and the illustrations. It’s on the list of projects!

If I do write a picture book about farm animals it might have to include the grumpy man in charge and his two brow-beaten, terrified-looking children. I will write them a happy ending. Something like in Farmer Duck! (One of mine and the kids’ favourite books).


Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:


Claire folded her cleaned and ironed clothes and stuffed them deep into her rucksack, hoping her mother didn’t notice. I can’t believe Mum did all this for me. She hasn’t washed my stuff since I was about twelve. If the Boarding School didn’t do it, then I had to do it myself.

Looking round her old room, Claire shivered at an unexpected wave of nostalgia. It had felt like old times, with her and Robert both staying in their parents’ house for the weekend.

Claire had spent the first few days of Ruth’s hospital stay in her sister’s house, caring for Sky. Once the doctors had given the all clear for Ruth to return home, Claire had agreed to stay at her parents’ house to keep an eye on her brother and father, while their mother resumed her care of Sky and Ruth.

The idea of returning to her hostelling journey felt wrong. Promoting an outdoorsy lifestyle had been odd from the beginning, but now – with her sister fighting cancer – it felt utterly pointless.

Whatever you try and do in life, there is always something that can knock you flat. Look at Ruth: ever since she had Sky she’s been a health freak, eating broccoli and giving up the ciggies and wine. Fat lot of good it did her.

“Claire, I’m about to leave.”

Robert’s voice called up the stairs, echoing round the empty hallway. Another strange sensation twisted in Claire’s stomach. I’ve spent more time with Robert this past week than I have in a decade.

Not that there had been much chance to chat. Robert had locked himself in the dining room with his laptop, when he wasn’t visiting the hospital or speaking to the doctors. Claire had been glad of his presence for that reason alone, as he managed the intimidating people responsible for Ruth’s care much better than she felt she would have done.

An image of Josh floated into her mind. I wonder if he becomes super-scary when he dons a white coat? I can’t imagine it. Maybe doctors that care for children are more approachable.

She’d tried to talk to Robert over dinner the previous night, the first time they had eaten together all week. The nagging feeling that all wasn’t right between him and Francesca still haunted her, but – despite increasingly unsubtle questioning – Robert had refused to give anything away.

It had become a game, watching his face close up whenever the subject of marriage, family or children arose. He would either deflect the question back to Claire and her perpetually single and childless state, or he would frown and change the subject completely. Through it all their father sat silent, chewing his food and gazing at the salt pot.

Claire pulled the rucksack closed and propped it against the wall. Galloping down the stairs, she arrived just as Robert was about to call again.

“I have to go,” he said, his tone defensive despite Claire’s silence. “My flight is in a couple of hours and I have to get the hire car back to the airport.”

Biting back a retort, Claire smiled and gave her brother a brief hug. “I know. Give my love to Francesca and the boys. I really will come out for a visit.” She watched his face, trying to gauge his response. He merely nodded.

He probably knows there’s as much chance of me staying with them in Geneva as there is Mum and Dad taking up salsa. Maybe if they lived near a beach or something.

Robert shook hands with his father. “Say goodbye to Mum for me, and let me know if anything changes with Ruth.”

He raised a hand in farewell and gathered up his briefcase and wheeled bag. Claire watched him go, shirt and tie in place, clean shaven and spotless, and wondered what had happened to the brother she remembered from old. The one who came home with blood pouring from a grazed knee, or built rocket ships out of cereal boxes.

I wonder what his boys are like. Maybe I will go and visit. I do need to work at being a better Auntie. Besides, then I can suss the gossip for myself.