A Space of my Own

I am very excited at the moment because I have finally got something that I’ve longed for in ages; my very own writing space. All mine.

ImageWe moved to our current house a little over three years. Our previous home had been a big Victorian three-storey five-bed end of terrace property in town. As we only have munchkin, this meant three spare bedrooms so hubby and I had an office each and there was still a spare bedroom for guests. I didn’t write as often in those days. I wanted to but I watched Emmerdale, Coronation Street and lots of other programmes until I realised that I could claw back time if I pretty much gave up TV. So I did. But I still found lots of distractions to keep me from writing.

When we moved to our current home – a newish-build four-bed house – having my own office didn’t seem that much of a priority. I’d stopped working from home and I didn’t write that often so why would I need my own space. Surely a spare room for friends and family to stay was more important? Thing was, family and friends never came to stay. We bought a new bed for the room and it’s been slept in four or five nights during three years. Whereas I have ditched the TV (mostly) and write every spare moment I have (ok, so I faff about with social media as well but I should be writing!) and have far more need for a writing space than our non-existant guests have for a bed.

ImageExcept hubby didn’t see it that way. I worked from home for a year and we shared an office and, when I started working in an office again at the start of last year, it was even harder to persuade him that I needed my own room. But then I began annoying him. Not deliberately, mind; I’m not that mean. My small desk seemed to be permanently stacked with papers and, every so often, I’d feel the urge to tidy them. Shuffling papers is apparently a distracting sound. Sometimes I like music on and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes he wanted music on and sometimes he didn’t . Yes, you’ve guessed it; these times never corresponded. He’d annoy me too. He can work with TV programmes or films streamed through his laptop. I can’t work at all if the TV is on because I’ll watch it whether I’m interested in it or not (may come from watching TV so rarely so I grab it where I can!)

It was my birthday at the start of May. A few months before, I told him that what I wanted would only cost a tin of paint and a few shelves. I wanted my own writing space. “It’s not going to happen,” he said. “It is,” I replied. And it finally has. Whether it’s three months of increased pressure that has got to him or sympathy for me having a minor health-scare last week, he’s caved in. There are conditions. I have to keep it tidy (no more piles of paperwork on my desk) and I have to make more time for the munchkin when I get in from work instead of disappearing into my writing sanctuary. I’m not convinced she’ll want my time as she’s usually watching something on TV or engrossed in a game of schools but I’ll do my best to be a better mum and try not to be insulted at the suggestion that I’m not.

ImageSo this bank holiday weekend has all been about tackling the spare bedroom. That would be the spare bedroom that had become a dumping ground because, with no staying guests, that’s what happens to spare rooms isn’t it? It took me several hours on Friday night and a couple more on Saturday morning to clear all of this out and it took me until Sunday to finish painting. I have a stretch of about a foot of unglossed skirting board to do because a large piece of furniture blocked me from doing it at the weekend. I need a couple of shelves putting up and there are still a few more boxes to unpack (not quite sure where the stuff is going to go but I’ll find somewhere eventually) but, other than that, I’m pretty much there. And I love it!

I haven’t actually done any proper writing yet i.e. on my novel rather than social media or this blog but I’m excited about doing that. I’ve surrounded myself by inspirational messages and gorgeous things. They don’t all match, there’s a complete mix of styles and colours but the room brings together the things I love – reading, writing, teddy bears and pretty things.

ImageI think hubby approves. He stood in the doorway earlier and said, “I think I might move in here”. He had the opportunity. As the one who works from home, I did say he could have this room instead (it’s slightly bigger) but he decided to stay put so he’s made his choice. This is MY space. ALL MINE!!!

Time to write … ooh, is that tea I smell? Perhaps after that then …

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These are a few of my favourite things!

It was my birthday at the start of this month and my husband actually excelled himself with his gifts. My main gift was to go to the Romantic Novelists’ Association (RNA) Conference in July so he just needed to get me a few small bits and bobs from him and our 7-year-old daughter. He apologised after I’d opened them for them being “not very exciting.” My instant response was, “You may find these boring but, to a writer, these are incredible gifts.” You see, he’d actually put some thought into it and searched online for gift ideas for writers and, as a result, had bought me:

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  1. A biro with the engraving, “write bestseller with” on it (I know that’s not grammatically correct but “with which to write my bestseller” would have taken up far too much space 😉 ) And it’s my favourite colour; purple
  2. A book called “642 Things to Write About” by The San Francisco Writers’ Grotto which has, surprise, surprise, 642 ideas to get your creative juices flowing. It’s brilliant. Any one of those ideas could prompt a character, a scene or even a whole novel!
  3. A “Books to Check Out” journal where you note down books you want to read, books you’ve enjoyed and books you’ve borrowed or loaned to others. Fabulous

 

On top of that, he got me a book, CD and DVD. What a brilliant set of wonderfully imaginative presents! He may have thought them boring but, to me, these are the things that writers love!

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Writers themselves are brilliant buyers of gifts. My wonderful Write Romantic pal, Jo, sent me a gift that included a notebook, pen and a gorgeous paperweight with the word “Dream” in it. How very appropriate.

I have another writing friend, Sarah, who isn’t in The Write Romantics as she writes children’s books. We met about four years ago. We don’t see each other very often but we have always bought each other a birthday gift and I think we deliberately keep this up because we know that we will buy each other a fabulous writing gift; the sort that we’d like to buy ourselves but can’t justify spending the money on. Over the years, she’s bought me some wonderful items. This year it was a set of Emma Bridgewater stationery, which I love, but one of my favourite gifts ever was this gorgeous planner. I can’t wait to get my own writing space so I can put this on my wall and use it properly.

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I’ve always loved stationery, even before I had any thoughts about being a writer. I have three weaknesses: coloured pens, notebooks and pencil cases. I’ve got about eight pencil cases which is a bit ridiculous for someone who doesn’t go to school! I daren’t count how many notepads. I’ve asked hubby to take some pictures of them but, sshhh, don’t tell him that this doesn’t reflect the full collection! I buy them mainly when they’re on offer or because they’re simply too beautiful to resist. I like to use a pad to out each novel my they have to be right for novel. When I came up with the idea for book 1, I soon realised it was going to be a trilogy and I scoured bookshops, stationers and supermarkets trying to find three notepads that were part of a set yet different. I finally got a set that had different colour flowers on them and then I discovered some Paperblanks in WH Smith. One of them would set me back nearly double what the original three had cost but they were just so gorgeous. If you’re a Paperblank fan, you’ll know exactly what I mean. They are hardback, have quality paper, a little envelope in the back and a flap that closes over onto the front with a really satisfying thunk. How many times must I have visited WH Smith over a two-three week period telling myself I couldn’t afford them. I must have lost the battle because here they are and I’ve used one per book and not regretted the investment at all.

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Book 4, however, has moved completely away from the Paperblanks as, although it’s set in the same place, it has a new cast of characters and I wanted to start completely afresh. Boots were selling these over Christmas. Aren’t they gorgeous? In fact, cute or what? as they say on the front! The pages inside are pale pink with the owl motif on one side of the page and the bird on the other.

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Of course, something so beautiful needs a beautiful set of pens. Hello Stabilos. Look at all of those beautiful colours *Pauses to gaze at them dreamily* I’ve got four main characters in book 4 so I’ve been using a different colour to map out each one. Little things like that excite me. Is that sad? The Stabilo Boys also serve as great editing pens as I always have to print off a paper copy when I’m on my final edit as it’s the only way I can spot all the typos and consistency flaws. I’ve tried it on the screen and I can’t spot them although I do try to save the environment a bit by printing four pages per A4 page (I have good eyesight!)

So, I have my notepad and my lovely pens. There’s just one more tool I need to help me with my planning process; my planner. I used a diary when planning book 1 but then spotted one of these in the RSPB Reserve Shop at Bempton Cliffs of all places and I knew it was the tool I needed. As I plan out each chapter in my notebook, I write bullet points of the key events on the weekly planner and this helps me keep a track of days, dates and seasons.

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ImageThen it’s onto the computer and away I go.

I can’t finish this blog without a nod to some of my other favourite items of stationery so here’s a final selection of beautiful and practical things.

What about you? Are you stationery-mad? Please let me know what your must-have items are, the greatest stationery indulgence you’ve had or that one item you would love to have but simply can’t justify buying … yet!

Thanks for reading. And thanks to hubby for the wonderful photos, even if he did get stressed cos I gave him virtually no notice and he kept complaining the light wasn’t right so they weren’t his best work. They’re brilliant and better than anything I’d manage!

Julie xx

A bit of tea & sympathy is even better with cake!

I’m a huge fan of the Eurovision Song Contest so was glued to my TV for about 3.5 hours last night getting seriously envious of the skin and figure of bearded drag-Queen Conchita Wurst who took Austria to the winning spot with a massive 290 points. Inspired by Eurovision, I began writing a post about what makes a winning song and quoting some dodgy lyrics from the past. It took quite a bit more research than expected so I had to leave it part-written to go out and fulfil my afternoon plans. However, having got back from my afternoon out, I’ve ditched the Eurovision post in favour of inspiration from my afternoon instead.

You see, this afternoon I had something as good as a child-free afternoon of writing. I had tea, sympathy and cake with two writing friends (Alex and Sharon). We talked about writing solidly for four hours, only halted by closing time at Costa. I could have stayed for hours more and, driving home, I thought about what an amazing support network of friends I have with The Write Romantics and with Alex (who is also a Write Romantic) and Sharon which then got me reflecting on friendships and support groups throughout my life so far.

ImageWhen I was at primary school, I don’t remember having a big circle of friends. I was one of these kids who played with most other kids and dipped in and out of groups. There were a gang of kids within a 3-year age range in my street and the next who tended to hang around outside of school and I was a leader in that gang but we didn’t interact at school. By the time the oldest went to senior school, the gang fell apart because it simply wasn’t the done thing for senior school children to mix with primary kids!

Senior school overwhelmed me. With seven or eight feeder primary schools plus outlying villages, it was enormous. Most of my friends from primary school were disbursed amongst different classes and I felt really alone. I had a friend from primary school who I hung around with in my 1st year and then a new best friend (let’s call her Emily) for the next two years. We were inseparable while we were in the same form class but she found a new best friend by 4th year who was prettier and slimmer and therefore a better boy-magnet then me. Emily and I were still allegedly best friends until we went away for university but I’d say it was a toxic friendship and one I don’t miss.

In college, I was part of a small group of four but always felt like the outsider and it was the same when I started university. The first time I really experienced a great group of friends who supported each other was on my year out. There were a group of us who were on our placement year and we mixed with the graduate trainees with the bank we worked for. It was amazing. There was always something going on and I thought I’d found friends for life. But things don’t always work out as expected. Without email or mobiles, we lost contact during our final year at university and when a few of us returned as graduate trainees ourselves, I found myself on the outside of a huge clique. I don’t know how. I don’t know why. The next couple of years were a very lonely place although I did have a small group of very good friends from my final year at university who kept in touch and met up regularly.

Then, in my mid-twenties, I became part of a huge circle of friends. It felt like it had done on my year out again. We all worked for the same bank but had met through a work social club that organised adventure activity weekends. I felt so at home with like-minded people. We all loved being outdoors, challenging ourselves to abseil, gorge-walk, mountain-bike, surf or whatever we were doing that weekend. We all worked for the same company. And we liked beer! Once again, I thought I’d found friends for life. But one by one we left the bank to further our careers and, even though the love for the great outdoors hadn’t gone, the activity weekends had (because they were organised through work) and the connection of work had gone too.

After that, I moved around the country with work and never had a big group of friends again. I have some amazing friends I’ve gathered along the way from Guides, university, holidays and work but no big groups. Until I became a Write Romantic, that is.

One of the friends I met through doing all my outdoor activities used to say that we wouldn’t be friends long-term because, once we left the bank, we’d have nothing in common. She said friends come and go and it’s not worth trying to make a friendship work for the long-term. I used to find that quite an odd and disturbing outlook on things. But she was absolutely right. Perhaps things would have been different if social media had been around but it wasn’t so our friendship did, indeed, fall apart. I tried not to let it but she stopped returning my calls. Hard – but valuable – lesson to learn. 

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With The Write Romantics, we haven’t actually all met yet. I met Jo virtually and we set up the blog, then I met Alex at a dinner organised by another RNA-member. Alex met Sharon, another member of the New Writer’s Scheme, through Twitter and, as the three of us all lived within an hour of each other, we met up around this time last year and then again today.

Quite quickly after we started the blog, Jo and I realised we couldn’t sustain regular entries from just the two of us so we opened up membership and are now nine.

We’re different ages, live in different parts of the country (and one even lives in Australia), we write different genres and we all have very different backgrounds but the one thing that will always connect us is writing. We may move, we may change jobs, we may change partners, we may change other hobbies but the nine of us (and Sharon as our honorary member) will always, always, write. Because it’s in our veins. Because it’s in our minds. Because we have to. For that reason, we are – and will continue to be – the most amazing support network for each other. 

It’s been said many times that writing is a solitary occupation. It’s also one where you have to be so tough and resilient to face the rejections as you try to get published and the bad reviews when you do get published (whether this be traditionally or self) and we all have our moments where we wobble like crazy. Moments where we want to give up. Moments where we don’t think we’ll make it. Moments where we don’t believe we’re good enough. But all we need to do is put something on our closed Facebook group or message one of the others and we have tea, sympathy and cake to cheer us up. Most of the time this is virtual but today was so lovely to have it face to face. Alex, Sharon and I are all working on “that difficult second book”. We’re all thinking about the future and what it holds. And we’re all talking about self publishing and what this may mean. Today was so valuable to talk through where we are with our writing journeys and our hopes for the future. I think I may have talked far too much but I do have a few things clearer in my own mind about where I personally want to go with my writing. I feel even more positive about the latest rejection that came through last week. And I have a new idea for a novel inspired by a line in a song I listened to on the way home.

So thanks Alex and Sharon for today. Thanks to the Write Romantics for the last year. And thanks to all the friendships that have come and gone in my life because you’ve made me the writer I am today. At the RNA Conference last year, writer Julie Cohen ran a brilliant workshop about theme. I realised that all the plots I had for novels have a theme running through them. Yes, they’re all romance stories because that’s the genre I write but they all have the theme of friendship – lifelong friendships, friendships changing over time, toxic friendships. You name it, it’s in there. And I know it’s because of my experiences throughout the years as friends have dipped in and out of my life, most leaving fond memories but some leaving scars. I’ve also learned from those who’ve stayed in my life, some for the long haul, who I may not see very often (or even at all) but who are always there thanks to the power of social media and some incredible shared experiences over the years. Every one of these friends who have come and gone or stayed have given inspiration to this writer who won’t give up because she has friends around her who understand, who support her and who, quite simply, won’t let her. You know who you are xxx

Let’s Be British & Talk About the Weather!

I’m going to cheat a bit with my posting as it was my turn to pen the Saturday Spotlight on The Write Romantics blog yesterday so I’m using the same post with apologies to anyone who follows both sites!

 

Daphne Du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn. Never has a BBC adaptation caused so much controversy. Complaints of mumbling, bad accents, incoherent speech etc. were rife. The BBC claimed “technical sound difficulties” on night one. Can’t say I noticed any difference by night two. I found myself faced with two choices – give up or put the subtitles on. I settled for the subtitles. I usually put Film4 on while drying my daughter’s with subtitles on because I can’t hear over the noise of the hairdryer. Having them on without the hairdryer was definitely a first.

But the purpose of my post today is not to discuss poor sound quality. I want to be extremely British and talk about the weather. I promise you that there’s a point to the Jamaica Inn reference. You see, the other thing that slapped me across the chops whilst watching the three episodes was the weather. Darkness enveloped the bleak moors, wet mud caked the bottoms of dresses (except in the continuity error when Mary Yellan ran across the moors at one point and her dress was miraculously clean but let’s not go there), dark clouds flew across grey skies and rain lashed down. Then, at the very end, we saw our first glimpse of blue sky and fluffy clouds.

I haven’t read Jamaica Inn (sorry, such a pleb) but I wonder if the weather in the dramatization matches the book. As it’s described as a “dark, gothic novel”, I’m imagining it does. The dark skies, fog, rain and mud all helped absorb the viewer in the remoteness, desolation and desperation of the cast stuck in a bleak place where smuggling and murder had become a way of life.

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The use of weather in writing is a subject that’s particularly close to me at the moment as it was one of the things that was flagged up in my disappointing NWS report for book 2, Getting Over Gary.

I’m very conscious that my natural style of writing is dialogue-heavy/description-light so I specifically spent time during an edit of book 1 making sure I covered all five senses, described my settings, and captured the weather. I thought I’d done this well and my reader of book 1 clearly agreed: “you describe things in just the right amount of detail, so that there’s enough to give an idea of the place, but not so much that it’s noticeable. I was very impressed. The setting is easy to picture (and quite stunning in location)”.

So how come book 2 got: “The North Yorkshire coast is beautiful, potentially forbidding and romantic all at the same time. A really excellent place to set this sort of story. So why not make more of it?” Oops! As soon as I read that, I smiled wryly to myself as I’d completely forgot to do my special edit to add in the stuff I know I leave out. Thankfully, it’s not tricky to do this and I know I did it well in book 1 so I can apply that same approach to book 2.

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The use of weather in books is fascinating. There’s the obvious idea that it helps us capture the seasons and therefore move the book through the passage of time but it’s even more powerful in that it can really help set moods and emotions. In book 1, I have quite a traumatic opening scene for my protagonist and the emotion is heightened in this scene through a thunderstorm. Throughout the book, heavy rain or storms make an appearance at various other points of turmoil to the point that the protagonist actually fears storms because they create such a sense of foreboding for her. In book 2, the protagonist’s “challenges” are in the height of summer; not so many thunderstorms around. And I didn’t want to repeat myself with the same storm technique to create mood so, instead, the fun and laughter enjoyed by families during the summertime at the seaside act as a stark contrast to her sorrow.

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As well as heightening emotion, weather can be the catalyst for something to happen. I’ve mentioned before on this blog that one of my favourite romcoms is 27 Dresses. In a key scene in this film, the two leads have a heated argument whilst she’s driving. Rain pelts the car (good mood-building weather) and then the car aquaplanes, leaves the road and gets stuck in the mud. This means the leads have no choice but to spend the night together and this is the catalyst for their relationship developing. The argument wouldn’t have been nearly so dramatic if there’d been sunshine and the accident wouldn’t have happened.

Another way of using weather is to trigger something e.g. flood-waters carry a dead body downstream which would have remained hidden otherwise or a ship is wrecked at sea in a storm and the survivors are washed up on a strange island. My imagination was particularly captured recently when I read an article in the Huffington Post. Two 17-year old girls went missing in 1971 in South Dakota. What happened to them had remained an absolute mystery until last autumn when high spring waters followed by a drought revealed the wheels of a car upside down at the bottom of a creek. It was the car they’d last been seen in and skeletons were found in the front seats. It would appear to have been a tragic accident rather than foul-play. Those poor girls in their watery grave and their poor parents not knowing if they were alive or dead for 42 years. I don’t write about murders or mysteries but still story massively triggered my “what if …” reaction. What if they’d never been found? What if they’d been found with bullet holes in them? What if the car had been found but the bodies inside weren’t theirs? What if one of them had been pregnant? What if other cars were found in the same creek? What if something sinister was found in the boot (sorry, trunk; this was in the USA)? And suddenly I had a load of plots for a different genre forming in my head which is not good because I already have book 3 in my trilogy and the outline of another 3-4 books of the same genre already in my head. Too many characters. Too much to think about. I feel a storm brewing in my head! And that brings us nicely back to the weather.

ImageI thought I’d finish this blog post with some more of my husband’s fabulous photographs (all the earlier ones are his) which are potentially really evocative of mood. This first one is a picture I absolutely adore. It was taken at the Armed Forces Day in Scarborough in summer 2013. My 6-year-old (at the time) was dressed in patriotic colours and we’d taken a break from the crowds. She wandered away to look at the fairground and hubby captured this shot:

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If you were to write a story about this image, what would it be? When would it be set? Would the mood be one of a happy childhood or is there something a little spooky or sinister about this? It generated a lot of debate when hubby first posted it on Facebook. Whilst everyone loved it, the jury was out as to whether there were dark undertones. I personally think it’s just very atmospheric and don’t feel the need to label it happy or dark.

 

 

 

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What about this one? Clearly it’s a very different time of year. This was taken round the corner from where we live in the winter of 2012/13. Excitement and anticipation of first-footing in the snow or something a little more eerie? I have this image of a dark shadow appearing under the lamppost …

 

 

 

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Here’s another completely different one. Same time of year but a very different feel. Is it a calm feeling or is it one of loneliness? Who is that man in the middle of the field and what’s he doing there? He was actually a dog-walker and you can see the dog in another shot but, without the dog, why is there a man stood in the middle of a field early one morning. Who’s he watching?

 

 

Finally, I’ll leave you with three contrasting photos of the incredible power and beauty of the sea on the North Yorkshire Coast. You can create your own stories from these…

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Thanks for reading. Thanks for looking. And thanks to the very talented Mark Heslington for allowing me to use his photos. Right, I’m off to inject more weather and scenery into book 2. Feeling pretty inspired after looking at these. I can bring that beauty to life. Or at least I hope I can! I’d love to hear your stories of great books or films where you think the weather has been used to good effect.

Julie xx