Posts Tagged ‘influence’

This post would probably make a better Thursday post so for this week I’ll swap them about and give you a writing update then.  I just felt the need to write about this straight away!

Today I read one of those articles that makes me think about the nature of writing.

It was an interview with Rachel Cusk, whose writing notoriety comes of a very personal telling of the story of her divorce.

There were three specific points that struck me: that the line between fact and fiction is a murky one; that writers should not accept not being liked; that life as a writer is lonely and unsettled.

Obviously the third is a personal experience and not one all writers would subscribe to, but the idea of planning for a couple of years then going into isolation to write for a month does have its attractions 🙂  I think my biggest writing failure is lack of planning, so if I were to learn anything from Cusk it would be to do more of this, and the reality of my experience is that when I don’t plan sufficiently, I have a great start to a story but fizzle out in the middle.

However, for me as an individual, cutting myself off and being distant rather than friendly seems unnatural – I am definitely a people person!  So maybe the take-away is to accept that time alone is beneficial and learn to build it in as long as it suits me.

The second is as much about having a thick skin as anything else but is also about how much of a shared experience it is reasonable to use in your work without the agreement of the other parties.  It’s tied closely into the first, which is what really interested me: where does the line between fact and fiction start?

To me it’s simple – a real event or experience, a real story of a real person, is fact.  You can muddle the edges a little, change the weather or the setting, but it’s still that person’s story.

However, in reality it’s not quite as easy to define because our fictions are built from a million personal experiences.  We are inspired by overheard conversations, or newspaper articles: I am a great fan of writing in my notebook when something piques my interest, and all these things can be seen as a muddying of the waters.

My underlying belief is that if someone I know/know of can identify themself and their story in my work, I have not written a ‘proper’ fiction.

Of course, I am specifically trying to keep the fact and the fiction apart.  One quote of Cusk’s that really made me think was this:

“The idea of fiction or non-fiction to me has become so meaningless,” she says. “Saying, is this ‘true’? I’m surprised people care. I definitely don’t.”

(quote from telegraph.co.uk; 1 October 2016)

This line of thought sits much more appropriately in my poetry, where truth is as I see and feel it.  Poetry is my place to tell my story.  Not all the poems are inhabited by real people or experiences but they have flickered as ideas in my mind as a a result of things I have heard or seen.  They have met a need to process my emotions or experiences.

Fiction is not a place where I tell my own story.  It’s a place where I tell the story I want to read, the one I want to share – and that is a profound difference in my eyes.

As a writer it’s important to consider why I have such strong feelings about that line, and why I worry about crossing it.  At the core of it, I think it’s because I consider things from the human point of view first – I consider the individual and the impact my work will have on them – and the narrative second.

Does that make me silence my writing voice sometimes?  Probably; but it’s the choice I made and the only one I feel comfortable with.  Poetry exists as a half-way house of my vision of an indistinct world but even there the other players are shadowy and indistinct enough to be unrecognisable to the outside world.

For me it comes down to a different truth than Cusk’s; in my truth there has to be a line between fiction and non-fiction, if only so a writer can decide whether they are willing to cross it.

Fundamentally, it’s about the morality of writing – and the only guidance we have on that is the legal framework, and ourselves.

Let me know what you think…

Happy writing,



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I forgot completely that I would be away this weekend and for part of next week – time has flown this year and I have not kept up with it! Therefore this post is pre-recorded, so to speak, as is Tuesday’s. Still, at least I remembered before I left…

Yesterday was the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. Enjoy his work or not, it has had a profound and lasting impact on English language and on storytelling. His work is still studied in schools, colleges and universities; his plays are constantly in production on the stage and have been filmed for both cinema and TV release; his phrases are still in everyday use.

I was fortunate enough to get tickets to see the Royal Shakespeare Company perform yesterday – I will tell you about that on my return.

I have an interest Shakespeare, even though King Lear remains on my ‘do not revisit’ list.  Not quite a soft spot, but maybe it’s forming!

I did not appreciate him in my youth, to be truthful.  However, as I get older, and se performances of his work by countless skilled performers, with staging that has varied from the beautiful colour and magic of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet film to the sparseness of the Donmar Warehouse’s Coriolanus, I understand the longevity.  There are so many ways to interpret and portray the themes in the plays that every time you can see something new.

He was a poet, too; I had one of his more well-known sonnets – sonnet 116 – read at my wedding, something I would never have anticipated in my schooldays!  There is a truth in the words that I struggled to find in other works: it talks not only of the joy and wonderment of love but of the constancy of it in the face of life’s battles.

In my experience, Shakespeare is more powerful on stage than on screen, but the expansive nature of a film probably encourages a wider audience.  See for yourself…

If you get a chance to see his works, do – the worst case is that you don’t enjoy it all that much, but who knows – like me, you could find a new source of inspiration and entertainment!

Happy writing/play-watching,



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This week I have been doing too much, and not enough.

There have been a lot of things going on – appointments, extra meetings at work, extra hours at work, reading a script for the drama group and so on – and writing has taken a little bit of a back seat.

It’s frustrating, but just because the words haven’t quite hit the page it doesn’t mean I haven’t been planning – it’s important for me to remember that!

I have mapped out logistically how to take what I picked up from the crime writing convention and apply it to the whodunnit. I have a new storyline because one of the key things I realised as I sat in that audience was that a police procedural is not my style.

Now, that’s a bit of a worry, because I wrote a story wrapped around a police officer. But with some tweaks, I can make it effective as a more angsty/psychological story which is more about perception and not entirely about reality…

It became really clear as I listened to police officers and ex police officers, and civilians who are authorised to go out in uniform in police cars, that it’s not the route I want to take. They are experts and can bring years of experience to their work, they can use the language, the systems, without fear of getting a major detail wrong.

I can’t do that, and I am not in a position to give up work to go around chasing gangs in a police car any time soon, so my best bet, and the one I think will work better, is to work with what I know: people.

At last, a degree in Sociology might have a tangible benefit!

There are resources, of course – but one thing I know from research (yay Sociology again!) is that there’s nothing better than doing your own: only you will know exactly what it is you are looking for.  This isn’t science, it is about people in potentially dangerous situations responding based on their own experience and belief system.  If I only needed a few details to pin it together, I could ask one of my lovely contacts for help.  However, there’s a lot more than that to do, and I have to make it work for me.

All this sounds like another head-hitting-wall moment but it really isn’t, because a) I realised what I can bring to my writing from my own background and b) the whodunnit was never meant to be anything more than an exercise in twisting a tale – the fact I have now seen its possibilities is completely unexpected and quite marvellous!

I am going to leave it there today, on what I truly think is a positive point. Next week I have to get back into sending out my work but for now I’m focussing on the fact that I am working, even when my pen hasn’t really touched my paper.

Happy writing,

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I love books. I love the smell of them, the feel of them, the excitement as I turn the pages to that first word. I love to see them all on my shelves and I would give up tv and music before I gave up my books.

And I have suddenly got so many new reads, I don’t know where to start.  Here, in fact, is a partial selection of my to-read pile, which I want to make my way through so I can get to the next dozen or so!…A few of my reading list

Do I choose a fantasy, a romance, a classic, a murder mystery, a police procedural, a spy thriller, a literary fiction, a non-fiction, a poetry anthology? Do I try something a bit new for me, or something more familiar?

This is not a problem, I know 🙂

Most importantly, I want to find a new voice to add to the written chorus of my life. I want to keep seeking out writers, in every form, who I haven’t discovered before and who bring a new dimension to my reading.

A while ago, I thought about going back to my studies and taking a qualification in English Literature (language, not origin!); it would give a depth to my experience of reading.  It’s what I imagined I would do, when I was a little girl, and before the discovery of social sciences changed my worldview.

But every time I think about it I wonder what I would lose at the same time.  I wouldn’t have time to explore everything I wanted to because I would be so focussed on a few books/plays/poems.  Almost certainly, I would spend time with a writer who doesn’t bring their world to life for me (there are a few, although happily it is only a few).  I might lose my joy in a particular favourite.

I don’t need another qualification and I don’t want my love of reading to be diminished (it happened once before, which  I lay squarely at the feet of King Lear!), so I never go beyond the thought.  But it is always there – because reading is a huge part of who I am and what influences my own writing.

Maybe one day.  For now, I will choose a book from the horn of plenty that is my bookshelf, and revel in the fact that I can read whatever I like.  Not everyone can say that, and I know how incredibly fortunate that makes me.

Happy reading,



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Well, you didn’t really think I’d complete one this week, did you?

No, it’s another week of not reading enough. I am getting some reading done, a chapter here and a chapter there, but not enough to actually finish anything.

So instead I thought I’d highlight some famously Christmassy stories which have a significance to me for one reason or another:

1. A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens.  Pretty much every year, a version of this is on TV.  We probably all know the story, whether we have read the book or not; it has to be one of the most adapted stories I can think of!  This is on my to-read pile but I don’t generally enjoy Dickens so it keeps slipping to next year, and next year, and next year… Maybe I’ll read it between Christmas and New Year. Next year!

2. The Little Match Girl, by Hans Christian Andersen. I read this when I was a child and re-reading the synopsis for today brought back the chills it sent down my spine. This is a story to remind people to be kind to each other, and is particularly relevant at a time when more and more people are homeless, without basic necessities, without a place of safety to stay.

3. The Snowman, by Raymond Briggs. This isn’t a reading book; it’s a picture book – and probably more famous for its animated film than its original incarnation now. I love the film, it’s really part of Christmas here in the UK now, I think, along with the song made famous from the soundtrack!

4. The Dark is Rising, by Susan Cooper. This is a book set from midwinter through Christmas, so it snuck in 🙂  I loved, loved, loved the Dark is Rising series as a child. When I lent my battered copies to my niece, she and my sister could see how they had shaped my thinking on certain aspects of myth and legend, so they obviously had a profound impact on me!  I think everyone should read them because they are fabulous!

Well, that’s a few that have meaning to me – what about you?

Happy reading,

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It’s about 10.20pm and I’ve just got in from my writing group. It was a bit of an odd evening, but it was a good night.

It seems a long time ago when I decided that I should set up my own group to meet my own desires, and someone said something today that really made me proud.

They have published their book via Amazon and have sold a number of copies, both print and Kindle, and they said they wouldn’t have done it without the group. They may have written without us, but we were the catalyst for publishing this year, for just getting their work out into the world.

It’s amazing what a writing support group can achieve – people writing and performing poetry for the first time in their lives; people writing their first novels; people publishing their own works.

I really do think having a network of like-minded people can do a writer wonders – and if you can’t find what you want, build it yourself!

Happy writing,

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As it’s the last Thursday of the month I’ve been at writing group, where there was a lot of talk about how to do things – how to run a competition, how to present a script, how to publish a memoir.

We used to have a kid’s TV show here called How 2, which explained how to do all sorts of things that kids might want to know about – it was science, maths and design all rolled in together, fun and educational at the same time (well, I think so anyway!). We could have done with a few of their solutions today.

Unfortunately as writers there are very few answers that have a guaranteed outcome. Everything has pros and cons, and it is up to us to research them and decide for ourselves which options are the best.

Sometimes you can’t know, and you have to take a stab in the dark, rely on blind faith, trust your judgement – or any one of a hundred clichés you may have heard.  Sometimes you have to go all Nike and Just Do It.

So take one thing, stop asking how, and start saying when.  Give yourself permission to do things differently and see where it takes you.

It might just take you to a whole new set of possibilities!

Happy writing,



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I am so close to my stay at the retreat in Wales that I can almost touch it, and yet in these last few days of getting up to a sensible point in the whodunnit I have been about as useful as a chocolate teapot, as they say in these parts.

If I had a chocolate teapot I would eat it before putting revolting tea in it anyway, but that’s another matter!

So I have started planning instead – planning how to get from where I am to the end of the story, how to find the missing clues etc. I’ll carry this on into next week with the aim of having a full map to build on in Wales. Alongside some reading, some poetry and a day off exploring the mythological sites (I love the Arthurian legends and I always want to explore the Welsh links more) I want to finish the blimming thing and tick it off!

I have noticed that about two thirds to three quarters of the way into any of my stories I hit a wall and I want to break this one down, to prove to myself I can do it.

So that’s the plan for the week to come, in between everything else… I have to find the time, and wake up every morning feeling that I can do it…

In other news – It’s book 94 in the 100 books list – An Artist of the Floating World, by Kazuo Ishiguro this week.  I like the sound of this one, for some reason – I guess partly because I have an interest in the Japanese culture, which seems so different to my own.  There’s something about it that draws me in as a reader.  In part I think it’s the use of allegory and imagery which is so intensely different to the language I grew up with.  There’s a poetic element to it.  Anyway, to get to the point, I think I’ll add this one to my list!

And finally – I have read the newspapers a lot in the last few days, trying to keep up with the events in, and affecting, Greece.  I have been so sad to see that ugly nationalistic stereotypes are being used about people from different countries (and there’s not just one victim of this) and as someone who is trying to share and spread friendship and peace it feels as though this is a huge step backwards.

We’ve seen where hate leads, and although people will say things behind a computer they wouldn’t say in reality, once those words have been shared the damage has begun.

Gandhi said 

Anger and intolerance are the enemies of correct understanding

If we want a mutually satisfactory outcome, to any disagreement, we need to understand each other’s viewpoints – and that can’t happen if we’re throwing stones at each other.

Happy writing,






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This week I’ve been very distracted from my writing. Every time I think about sitting down and getting on with it something else grabs my attention and the moment is gone.

Some things are genuine and reasonable – poorly family members, classes, work etc – but sometimes I have to admit I get a little bit of clicker’s remorse because I find an interesting article to read online and that takes me to something else, and something else, and then the evening is gone.

The worst thing is that I know I’m doing it and yet I carry on. Today I read about 15 pages of online comments about a particular news story. They all say the same thing – boo to you, person who doesn’t share my opinion – but I keep reading in the hope that some nugget of understanding will come to me that I didn’t have before.

I think I need a week of no internet, but then I wouldn’t Skype, wouldn’t blog, wouldn’t keep up with the news. So maybe as a compromise I’ll limit myself to an hour a day and try to recoup some of that lost capacity.  Wales is fast approaching and I need to get moving on the whodunnit to make the most of my time away.

In other news – I was looking at the 100 novels list and I haven’t read 89 – Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison , 90 – A Bend in the River by VS Naipaul, 91 – Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie or 92 – Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson.  In fact the closest I’ve got to these four was during a university course on Race and Ethnicity, when I was encouraged to read Toni Morrison’s book Beloved.  There were certain sections we had to read for class and I remember it being pretty hard going; I don’t remember reading the whole book.  Of all these four writers it is Morrison whose subject stirs the most sociological interest – I feel it is important to understand more about the experience other people have of life – but Housekeeping might make my pile of books to read if for no other reason than the almost 50/50 sense of love and outrage its inclusion in the list seems to have caused!

And finally – this is a little embarrassing but I was looking back at old posts and realised that two of the books I’ve read recently – Life of Pi and The Caliph’s House – plus one I need to read in the next week – Gone Girl – were specifically named in a blog last June, with a note saying I wanted to read them in the next month.  I really need to kick the reading up a notch!

Happy writing



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I can’t believe I’m at week 200. I know I didn’t start this blog exactly at the beginning of my career break, but close enough to make this 200th post seem like something of a milestone.

Since I began blogging, my life has changed in so many ways I can’t even begin to count them. From a writing point of view I completed a novel, have a portfolio of poetry, am working on a number of pieces of prose which are in various stages of formation. I’ve ended my career break and gone back to work, balancing writing with other responsibilities. I set up a writing group which is going from strength to strength.  I’ve performed my poetry to an audience on a number of occasions, and had my poetry shared as part of a performance piece.

In my wider life, I got married – which was a biggie! I got over my fear of flying, and started exploring a little wider than before. I studied random and fascinating courses, took up new hobbies, got involved in my wider community life.

In other words, I feel I’ve got a great deal out of the last 200 weeks, and I shouldn’t forget how far I’ve come.

I still have miles to go in all aspects of life.  But for me this is a great thing, because it means I get to carry on pushing the boundaries!

This year I want to have completed the whodunnit, and the story that sent me off to test the methods of twisting a tale. I want to get more poetry written, and perform it. I want to learn more.

I also want to explore new locations, and try new things. Already I have a break in Germany booked for September, but we want to go somewhere new and interesting for our anniversary in November too. We’ve got our retreat in Wales soon, and I want to give myself one day off to go exploring some of the King Arthur myths that still weave their magic around the world.  I want to progress in aerial skills, learn how to juggle, maybe take up a new dance or physical activity.  I want my next 200 weeks to be as rich, varied and unexpected as the last 200.

Most importantly, I want to celebrate my successes and learn from those things which haven’t gone to plan, in all aspects of my world.

I know life can be tough, and painful, and things happen that people cannot control – I have felt all those things.  But I hope my experiences in the last 200 weeks show how taking a chance can change your life in positive and unexpected ways.

And once you’ve taken a chance, it’s so much easier to take another.

Perhaps more importantly – once you’ve faced the first fear, you know you have the strength to face the next.

Happy writing, and thank you for being part of my journey so far; I wouldn’t have kept going without you.



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