Who do you want to be?

December already! How did that happen?

Never mind about Christmas, here am I, staring straight down the barrel at one of ‘those’ birthdays, the sort with a ruddy great 0 on the end. I’m not going to tell you the actual number. I’ll leave you to work that one out. If my social media mug-shot isn’t enough of a picture clue, here’s another:
queen-elizabeth-wedding

Are you with me? Good. To continue…

Given that nothing has yet been invented to halt the passing of time, I decided I might as well celebrate this birthday instead of trying to hide it. I’m lucky; my mother didn’t make it this far. I won’t be marking the occasion with anything drastic, like wing-walking, or bungee-jumping into a gorge full of crocodiles (yes, I’ve been watching I’m A Celebrity again!) I’ll just be spending time with my family (small though it is) because it’s what I love best. There will be a holiday at some point, next year when my husband catches up with me on the numbers, he being the ‘younger man’, you see.  I’ll also be having a weekend away with my three fab best friends from school, as we always do when the ‘big’ birthdays come round, and we’ll be giggling away just as we did in the first form of grammar school.

While I’m quietly congratulating myself on getting to this stage in one piece – well, as near as dammit – I’ll also be celebrating something very important, which is that I am now who I want to be; have wanted to be practically my whole life – a writer. And not only that, a published one, too. I’m not saying this in any boastful way, although I am proud of it, of course, and I’ve worked extremely hard to make it happen. What I’m saying is that it’s never too late to be who you want to be.

True, there might be the odd physical restriction if, say, you’ve always harboured an ambition to make the Olympic rowing team or train to be an astronaut. This is one of the marvellous things about writing; you can begin at any age and it doesn’t have to stop, not as long as you can put one brain cell in front of another and grope your way across a keyboard. (Long may that perfect state continue!)

There’s a flip-side to this. I came to writing late for reasons I won’t bore you with, but if you want to write, don’t wait for the ideal conditions or the perfect stage in your life. Find a way, and start now. As I said before, it’s never too late to be who you want to be. But it’s never too soon either.

Have a great Christmas, everyone! And on that subject, you might like to know about my latest book,  Christmas at Spindlewood which is 99p to download from Amazon, or free with Kindle Unlimited. It’s written under my pen-name, Zara Thorne.

snowfall

I must say it was fun writing this one.  What is it about Christmas books? Readers seem to have an unquenchable thirst for them, and very nice too.  Big thanks to everyone who has bought the book so far. I hope you enjoy it.

Deirdre x

PS. If you’d like to know more about me and my writing, check out my website.

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Ode to a Writer

Conf 2014 3I had one of those conversations the other day, where you don’t know whether to laugh or cry. My head was wedged into the porcelain torture device more commonly known as a hairdresser’s sink and the young girl washing my hair was talking about her sister who’s studying English at uni.   I asked, as you do in these situations, what her sister wanted to do when she finishes. “She quite likes the idea of writing books, so I think she’s going to do that.” Did I tell her how difficult that was? Or ask her to pass on to her sister that she should have a back-up plan, a postgraduate certificate in teaching perhaps? Of course I didn’t, I just nodded and laughed inwardly. Drawing here on a melting pot of WR experiences, this is what I should have said!

 

Ode to a Writer

You want to be a writer and your mum’s your biggest fan,

Poems penned at eight-years-old convince her that you can.

Your dreams you keep them quiet, until you’re Brahms and Liszt,

You tell your friends who laugh-out-loud and soon you get the gist.

“A living as a writer? I suppose there’s always hope,

You stand about as good-a-chance to get elected Pope.”

 

You read a lot of ‘how to’ books, but not quite ready yet,

You spend enough on stationery to beat the national debt.

After learning twelve new swear words and an awful lot of graft,

Your book’s more holes than Swiss-cheese, but at least you’ve got a draft.

A hundred versions later, to submit it you’re all set,

And stop hiding from friends’ demands if it’s been published yet.

 

Out to publishers and agents, sure the slush pile it will ride,

But what if they all want it? How on earth will you decide?

You start to stalk the postman, your relationship you taint,

He’s forced by your obsession to an order of restraint.

He just brings pizza flyers, not a flaming other thing,

Your email’s also empty and your phone it doesn’t ring.

 

Then a meeting with an editor! To pitch it in one line,

It takes deep consideration and a bucket-load of wine,

A teenager in hot pants rejects the book as “out of style”,

You’d like to run her over, but you force yourself to smile.

“Your target market’s disappeared, your genre in the past”,

Another pitcher full of wine? You swear this is your last.

 

Who needs a publisher anyway? Self-publishing’s the key,

To notice it amongst the rest, you start the book for free.

You don’t let stats stand in your way, you know you’ll be the one,

To earn enough, once you charge, for mansions in the sun.

Your statement comes from Amazon, the sales they do amaze,

Enough to buy a whole doughnut, but only without glaze.

 

A fab five-star reviewer puts the smile back on your face,

But then there is the one-star for that comma out of place.

Mad to be a writer? We’re afraid that much is true,

Take comfort that you’re not alone, as we’re all crazy too.

And if we weren’t still writing, how would we spend the time?

Now pass us back that laptop and another glass of wine.

 

I probably could have written another twenty verses, but despite all this the WRs wouldn’t – or more accurately couldn’t – swap writing for anything else. Happy writing all you crazy fools! Jo x

Wednesday Wondering – You’re My Inspiration

On this day, 11th February, twenty-five years ago, Nelson Mandela was released after twenty-seven years of imprisonment. The Nobel Peace Prize winner was a source of inspiration to millions around the world. So the theme for today’s Wednesday Wondering is around inspiration. I asked The Write Romantics:

Who or what inspires you?

I told them that it was up to them how they interpreted this question. Inspiration could come from a person, a place, an event or something else. It could be something/someone who inspires them to write through to how they live your life or want to live their life.

I love it when I ask a question that can be open for interpretation because the responses are so varied. Today’s question didn’t let me down.

Jessica xx

Deirdre says …

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was walking around a National Trust estate the summer before last and a friend I was with asked me if I could imagine writing a story set there.  I could see what he meant – the ancient trees, the secret valleys filled with exotic plants – but I had to tell him, no, I wasn’t inspired.  I could see he was surprised, disappointed even, but on that particular day at that particular time I’d have found more inspiration in a grimy back street suggesting dubious goings-on after dark.  And I don’t write thrillers.

So, what I think is that inspiration, whether for something creative like writing or simply how to live your life, depends on mood and circumstance; a fluid thing, not easy to pin down or explain.  Which is probably why I took so long to come up with an answer to this question…

There are things, and people, who are more likely to inspire me than others.  For instance, I don’t look at super-achievers and think ‘I could do that’.  I mean the kind of person who home-schools three children, runs a successful business, jogs three times round the park before breakfast and writes best-sellers under cover of darkness, and all without breaking a nail.  That kind of thing leaves me cold.  But when I hear somebody talking, a woman around my age, say, and discover she has same problems, insecurities and crazy thoughts as I do, that will throw a switch inside me and I know I’m doing fine just as I am.  I suppose that’s validation rather inspiration but the two go hand in hand.  If you accept who you are now I think you’re more likely to be receptive to new ideas and have the vision to carry them forward.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThat’s the complicated answer, so now I’ll try to give the simple one.  I have a lovely friend who is very successful at writing stories for women’s magazines.  In fact she’s just sold her hundredth story!  I’m not saying I could reach that dizzy height but she’s definitely inspired me to have a go.  Brilliant writing of any kind will always inspire me, particularly with the novels.  My art teacher inspires me to keep on trying with the drawing and painting.  It’s her job, I know, but not all teachers have the knack.  Friends who have faced great challenges with strength and bravery are always inspiring.

On a lower level, watching property and gardening programmes makes me want to improve my own little patch, and magazines have great ideas that I can’t wait to follow – if only I had the time and the energy.  On the other hand I might just persuade somebody else to do it for me.

Helen R says …

My love of reading is what initially inspired me to become a writer. It took many years of loving books to be brave enough to tackle writing my own, and there were failed attempts as I continued to learn and wrote something that was together enough to submit to agents and publishers.

My other inspiration has always been my family and friends, including The Write Romantics. From the encouragement to get started and put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, to the much needed persuasion not to give up, I think that the people in my life have inspired me to follow this career path, which, let’s face it, can be pretty lonely sometimes.

Rachael says …

Anthology coverInspiration is everywhere for everything, if you just look for it. It doesn’t matter if it’s for a story idea or the motivation to do something. People, places, or events – past or present, are inspirational.

On a small scale, I find inspiration for my writing all over the place, watching TV, listening to the lyrics of a song, an overheard snippet of conversation. It’s all there for the taking if you open your mind to it.

But there is much bigger inspiration around us. It’s there in people who have risen to the challenge of life and achieved their ambitions, sometimes never letting go of their hopes and dreams for many years. These are the people I look to for inspiration, which in turn gives me motivation. People like the local unsung heroes of our communities, people who have faced illness and bravely shared their story, often raising huge sums of money for charity.

A perfect example of this is Stephen Sutton who inspired The Write Romantics to produce our first anthology, raising funds for charity. Winter Tales – Stories to Warm Your Heart is available in paperback and eBook formats via Amazon.

Jo says …

PaulaThe most inspirational person I know in real life is a friend of mine, called Paula. She has a wicked sense of humour, has the sharpest put-downs of anyone I’ve ever met and could probably drink the England rugby union squad under the table.  Our birthdays are one day – and, as she wouldn’t fail to let you know, four years – apart, so maybe that’s why we’re on the same wave length in so many ways.

When we worked together, they called us Trinny and Susannah and we weren’t afraid to tell the world how we saw things.  We were younger then, of course, with that feeling of indestructibility that comes with youth… and, of course, Paula’s muscular dystrophy was less evident than it is now.  She’s always been as tenacious as hell, refusing to have any special allowance made for her condition and working her proverbial off to climb the career ladder, attain a degree whilst working full time and achieve awards for her outstanding commitment to teaching.

Paula and Jo NYE2014Paula has never allowed her condition to define her and whilst many, with far less to contend with, proclaim themselves too ill to work, she’s been out there grabbing life by both hands. After a horrific fall and a six month stint in hospital, she’s finally decided it’s time to ease off the full-time workload, but she’s still willing to volunteer to support her fellow teachers and is thinking about setting up an advice service for others who find themselves in a similar position to hers. Paula also indirectly introduced me to my husband – although that’s another story altogether – hence my son having Paul as his middle name – she beta reads for me, being the first person to ever set eyes upon ‘Among A Thousand Stars’ and was the main inspiration for my Winter Tales’ story.

She never whinges about the hand that life has dealt her – and she’s had more than just being born with MD to contend with – she gets on with things, living independently and wringing as much out of life as it’s possible to do.  I wish I had an ounce of her courage and that I could truly appreciate what I’ve got when I look at what she has to deal with on a day-to-day basis.  I know I don’t, but, still, she’s the definition of inspirational.  We usually like to insult each other – it’s a sign of affection, don’t you know – but, let me say, here and now, Paula, you’re a star and an inspiration and I’m lucky to call you a friend. I know all this will make her uncomfortable, so, as Andrew Lincoln put it in Love Actually, and before Paula has to reach for the sick bucket or a bitingly sarcastic response, “Enough now, enough”.

Alys says …

DSC01339My key inspiration seems to come from places. Beltane was inspired by Glastonbury and my current work in progress, Lughnasa, is inspired by Orkney. I seem to need a strong sense of place in my writing and I find that visiting the location sparks ideas for the plot.  I had so many ideas from visiting Orkney that I couldn’t fit them all into the one book.  So maybe that will keep me going back there and writing about it again.

Sharon says …

When I was in my forties, I decided to do an Open University degree. This took me six years, and it was a long and difficult process. There were many times, when life was particularly tricky, that I felt like quitting, convinced I would fail.

In my spare time (ha!) I was researching my family tree. I’d sent for the marriage certificate of my great-great-grandparents. As I perused the details on the document, one thing leapt out at me immediately. The two witnesses to the marriage, and my great-great-grandfather, George, had all made their mark with a cross. Emma had written her own name.

When I was a little girl, my grandad had given me the memorial plaque awarded in memory of his father, who had been killed in the First World War. I’ve kept it with me ever since. I call it “The Big Penny”, because that’s what it resembles. Emma was that fallen soldier’s mother, which I hadn’t realised before starting my research.

Over thirty years ago, a clairvoyant told me that I had a guardian angel, an ancestor of mine, who watched over me and protected me, and that her name began with the letter E. After discovering my great-grandad’s mum was Emma, and finding that amazing signature on the marriage certificate, I’m absolutely convinced that she meant Emma. The thought of that young woman signing the register fills me with pride to this day. It was the hope that she’d be proud of me that inspired me to finish my degree, and spurred me on to finish my novel, in spite of my self-doubt. Emma is my angel and my inspiration, and I have a lot to thank her for.

And finally …

_MG_0003As for me, my response is similar to Rachael’s. My inspiration comes from all around me. I’m lucky enough to live on the beautiful North Yorkshire Coast. Three mornings a week, I rise at 5.20am and venture down to the seafront to take part in a bootcamp. I completed my very first bootcamp in February 2013, continued for about a year, then took eight months off before getting back into it but with a different company. Sadly, eight months was enough time to put all the weight back on that I’d lost and completely lose my fitness levels again so I had to start from scratch. It’s hard work, particularly when you’re in your forties and very overweight, but the setting is so inspiring. The mornings are starting to get a little lighter and we’ll soon hit the point where the sun rises while we’re working out. Who can fail to be inspired as the sun rises over the sea, casting its first rays on Scarborough Castle. Absolutely stunning.

bootcamps-headerI started to blog about my bootcamp experiences from Day 1 and the really strange thing for me is that friends, family and even strangers have cited me as their inspiration. I personally don’t think I’m very inspiring at all, especially as I’ve been doing this for two years and still have nearly all the weight to lose that I wanted to lose back at the start. But I still do it and I’ve massively increased my fitness. I guess it’s my determination to crack this thing – even if it takes a heck of a long time – that people find inspiring. And it’s those people who do crack it that I find inspiring. My second cousin, Lisa, decided enough was enough the same year I started Bootcamp and joined Slimming World. She lost about seven stone in that year. I lost three and put it back on again. I’m so inspired by her determination so I keep chipping away at it.

For my writing, settings inspire me, like Alys. So do songs. I will often hear a line in a song and think that it’s a great title for a book and, suddenly, I have an idea for a premise for a book.

What do you think? What inspires you? We’d love to hear from you. Please click on the comments tag at the end of all the words below.

Thank you

Jessica xx

Guest Blogger, Claire Haywood, tells us about “New Starts”

It’s coming to that time of the year when we look back and see what we have achieved (or not!) and start to think about the new year. This year, I made a start on writing. It wasn’t something I planned to do. I am a reader, a crazy reader too – I always have at least 3 books on the go and through my book group I have been introduced to lots of different genres, so I’m not fussy about what I read, I’m like a literary magpie. But writing? I guess I may have thought of it, and enjoyed it at school, but I hadn’t made a start.

But then there was Jo. A lovely friend from junior school where we shared desks, a love of learning, whizzing through the English activities, and ponies.

school

I was heartbroken when we went to different secondary schools, but life continued and we immediately and inevitably lost touch. This year, I am so thrilled to say that she’s back in my life and we have made a new start on our friendship. We have so many years to talk about, 3 children between us, many ups and downs concerning our lives to share and it is writing that has been the glue. Jo, Write Romantic and writer has lit the fire for my new start – writing.

Typically for me, I started by getting organised. I thought seriously about writing longhand, I love a sharp pencil and some beautiful paper to get my ideas down on, but I realised quickly that this wasn’t going to work. So I bought a lap top, just for my writing. An extravagant gift to myself but one that felt I needed to get started. I read all the old posts on this blog and wondered at the journeys of the writers here, how they made their starts, what they have achieved, the excitement and possibility of being published. All the time I questioned whether that could that ever be me? And then there was the most obvious thing, the thing that I could not organise, I needed an idea. This is where the support from my wonderful Write Romantic friend has been invaluable. Jo allowed me to realise that my prize winning idea, the thing that I was excited about writing and made me sign up for the ride, really wasn’t going to work. So I decided to go back to the drawing board and think about what I could bring to a story by looking at my life experience and now I am decided on my book. The subject is something close to my heart and something I know about, so I am starting from a point of confidence. I am still not sure which direction it is going in, but I understand that this is okay!

I joined the Nano event in November and one evening I wrote my first thousand words. This is where I started to learn about myself as a writer and I realised that for all my organisation I had no idea how to set my ideas out so they look and read like a book. I have lots of characters and getting them into the story was causing me trouble. So, I started again and re-wrote the start of that first chapter. Nobody told me that you have to have guts and bravery for this writing lark, because once you have written a little bit, you need someone to read your words to see if you are on the right track. I chose my English teacher husband, he was there and I needed an immediate answer that he thought my writing was, at the very least, okay. I have never felt more exposed. I couldn’t stay in the room when he was reading and made excuses for my style (shouting from the kitchen!) and the fact that I hadn’t written anything since school. I realised that it actually mattered to me. When I returned to the sitting room, he was smiling, and now I know that I have made that start.

I am not finding it easy. I have a crazy busy job and arrive home most nights far too late to make much of anything. I failed to make the grade with Nano and did not get beyond that first chapter, a very weak effort. We are now moving house and so not much will be achieved in the next few weeks. However, life will settle and I really, really want to try to complete my book. I have amazing support with Jo (who has offered to read for me from now onwards) and my husband who is also a frustrated writer. This blog has been great too as just knowing that others find it a challenge makes me feel like I am among friends.

So, what about next year? Well, I am determined to make some new starts for myself. The first will be to join the New Writers scheme in January – I actually have my alarm set for January the first, I am that determined to get my application in. Then the timescale is set for me, I need to come up with that book and get it finished by August, I am sure that this is something that I can achieve and I have the best part of eight months to get there. Nano in 2014? Yes, I think I will do it again and this will be my second book, for which I already have an idea and change of genre, and that one will be teen fiction. I hope that in the next few years I will be able to add ‘writer’ to the things that I do and I know that when I do get there I will have never felt so proud.

Claire

Monday Interview with Alison Maynard

Alison Maynard is a wannabe writer and, in her own words, a slightly ranty blogger (http://alisonmay.wordpress.com). Alison lives in Worcester with one husband, no children, and no pets. There were goldfish once. They died, both on the same day in some sort of weird fish suicide pact.

Asides from driving goldfish to despair, Alison makes her living as a freelance trainer, mostly working for charities. She says that means she does stuff like training advisers for the Citizens Advice Bureau, teaching people about exciting topics like Welfare Benefits regulation and Employment Law, and spending more time than is ideal on trains and in budget hotels. It’s the absolute height of glamour.

Picture taken by Geoff at 42 Worcester (http://42worcester.wordpress.com/)

Picture taken by Geoff at 42 Worcester (http://42worcester.wordpress.com/)

Alison, welcome to the Write Romantics Blog and thanks so much for taking the time to be an interviewee.  We know that, like us, you are a member of the NWS but we wondered if you could tell us a bit about how you came to join, how long you have been a member, the genre you write in and what inspired you to start writing?

Well, I joined the NWS in 2011 after I went to a Writing Romance workshop with Katie Fforde. Katie was so utterly lovely and talked so enthusiastically about the RNA that joining just seemed like a total no-brainer really. When I told Katie at the RNA Conference a year later that I’d joined because of her, she observed that I have great boobs, which was nice. I should probably note that drink had been taken.

Anyhoo, I’ve been sort of writing since about 2002. I did a Creative Writing degree part-time while working, which I mainly started because it sounded fun and I wanted something creative to occupy my brain. If anything, I probably thought I wanted to be a playwright. It wasn’t until my final dissertation piece that I had a serious attempt at writing prose. That dissertation was the beginning of the romantic comedy that had now been through the NWs twice and is currently somewhere Out There in slushpile land.

The Write Romantics see the road to publication, by whatever route, as a journey. Please can you tell us a bit about your journey so far and what is next for you?

My journey so far is quite staid I’m afraid. My biggest milestone on “the journey” so far has definitely been finishing a complete novel, and then, with the help of the NWS reader, realising that it wasn’t anywhere near finished, revising heavily and finishing again.

I’m slightly in awe of people who are brave enough to self-pub their first novel. For me, I’m not sure I have the experience to jump in with both feet without the support of a publisher at this stage. At the moment I’ve only completed one novel, with number 2 underway. Maybe when I’ve got as far as typing “The End” a couple more times I’ll feel differently.

Have you got any advice for other aspiring writers?

I’d love to sound all modest and self-effacing here, and mutter something about how I wouldn’t assume to give advice, but actually I have no problem at all telling other people how to do stuff. It’s doing it myself that’s the issue.

So:

1. Write lots.

2. Finish stuff.

3. Edit ruthlessly.

4. Submit stuff.

5. Repeat from the start.

All of which sounds really obvious, but it’s so easy to start a piece, get to the horrible, muddled, depressing section two-thirds of the way through and decide it’s not worth pursuing. And it’s also really easy, once something is finished, to beat yourself up about how you’re never going to be as good as whichever amazing writer you’re feeling inferior to today, and wimp out of actually submitting it anywhere.

Not finishing and not submitting are pretty much guaranteed ways to never get published, so finish stuff and then submit it places. Ideally, do both of those things as often and to as high a standard as you possibly can. Sounds so straightforward, doesn’t it?

What are your dreams and aspirations as a writer, in terms of your short-term and long-term career?

Ah, an easy question. I want to make a living as a writer. Simple as that really.

What has been the single biggest benefit of joining the NWS, do you think?

A less easy question. I love the NWS and I love the RNA. I’ve had two NWS reports, both on the same novel, both of which were invaluable. Weirdly, one reader really didn’t like the novel and the second loved it. Obviously, when I read the reports I thought the second reader was an individual of great discernment and taste, and the first was just a big meanie. On reflection, and after drinking wine and spending some quiet time in my mental happy place (my mental happy place involves cake, as do most of my real world happy places to be honest) I realise that both reports were just as useful in their different ways. One provided a kick up the posterior when I was at risk of getting complacent, and one gave great encouragement when I was at the point of giving up.

Having said all that, the biggest benefit of joining NWS hasn’t been the critiques. It’s been all the amazing writers I’ve met and talked to (and drunk wine with in student accommodation kitchens at conference). The realisation that there are actual, real, warm-blooded, disorganised, shoe-obsessed, wine-quaffing, spectacular, funny, wise, flawed people making a career out of the thing I dream of doing is a brilliant inspiration. I am also warm-blooded and not averse to quaffing the odd tipple, so if they can do it, why shouldn’t I?

Is there anything else you’d like to share with us or any other advice you can offer?

Anything else I’d like to share? Well apart from the obvious plug for my blog http://alisonmay.wordpress.com which I fill on a slightly sporadic basis with random thoughts and rants about stuff I find interesting, the only other thing I have at the moment that I could share is norovirus. Would you like to share that?

Oh. Right. *Sighs a lonely sigh as the lovely friendly Write Romantic interviewer runs hurriedly away* Back to switching between the novel-in-progress and the sick bucket then…

Thanks again for taking the time to share your story so far with us, Alison.  The Write Romantics wish you every success for the future and we will be keeping a look out on the best seller lists for you!