Last Year

On Friday the Spectral Visions Press Tarot Collection will have been available to buy for an entire year.

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This book is the culmination of a project I worked on during my third year at university. As the first complete collection combining art with poetry from Spectral Visions Press the team and I are still very proud of the work we put in to the project.

In response to the news of it being a year since the book became available for purchase my co-editor Danielle Shaw simply said, “Wow.” Her poem Demeter’s Daughter which was written for the fifth piece of artwork in the collection, The Hierophant, delves into the history of the illustration and the poem has some of my favourite imagery in the collection.

Another author and member of the team, Jack Gray said, “It’s always a good opener when you tell people that you have something published in a real book. I’m very proud of it actually. One of the best poems I’ve ever written.” Jack’s poem The Sun was written for the nineteenth image and it’s a wonderful example of free verse.

The collection is unique to the publisher with 21 different poets and one illustrator inspired by the tradition of the major arcana of tarot. The foreword by Dr Ruth Heholt delves further into the history of the tarot tradition and we were delighted that she agreed to write such an opening for our book.

I’ve written a little bit about the process we went through during the project before. My very first blog post One Year Ago… was written last November and marked a year since I and Danielle Shaw were asked to take charge of the project. I also wrote a guest blog for the Spectral Visions Press blog: Introducing The Spectral Visions Press Tarot Collection

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Re-Organising My Writing Files

Whether it’s pages in notebooks or documents on the computer as a writer I tend to accumulate a lot of words.

So, going back through these pages can be a little intimidating. Especially if, like me, you’re trying to organise what you’ve got so that you don’t lose anything you might actually want to use one day.

While I was at university I wrote a lot down (makes sense considering that I was doing an English degree). It’s now been just over a year since I graduated (with first class honours so all of those words were totally worth it) and I haven’t really sorted any of it out. I know that I want to keep most, if not all, of my work but sorting through weeks of lecture notes was not a priority to anyone except from myself.

Not all of my documents are unordered. All of my paper copies of university assignments that were returned have been put into order in a file folder. (I wish that I’d saved all the electronically returned ones somewhere so, Top Tip: Save Everything Just In Case).  Mostly, the electronic notes etc, are the files that were saved outside of document folders so that I could find them immediately while I was doing my assignments.

Now, I’m feeling a little bit more prepared to tackle all of my files including years of original writing (I know, I might be a little bit crazy).

Some of my fellow writers have said outright that they hate going through old pieces of writing and I can understand why. I like to think that I’m alright with looking at something I wrote a while ago and thinking “Oh hey, I’ve improved” but, I’m not immune to thinking instead, “This is horrible. What was I thinking?” It’s a process.

Where am I going to start?

I have no idea. To be honest, there are a lot of files and I can’t remember what are in some of them. Actually taking a look is going to take up some time. I’m currently thinking that sorting everything into files going back the years is the place to start, e.g. 2017, 2016, 2015… Then I’ll probably put all of my creative and academic work into different folders. Basically, I’m just going to have to narrow everything down until my files don’t feel like they’re all clumped together. Oh, that sounds like a lot of work when I consider how many files and folders I currently have.

It’s not the most interesting work to some people but, I’ve been writing and saving my original work for a few years now. I think that my writing deserves a place somewhere even if it’s not something I’d ever show somebody else. Besides, maybe in looking back I’ll find that one idea I can make better and really give it the attention it deserves.

Wishful thinking? Ha, maybe, but if I’ve taken the effort to save the work then I must’ve found worth in it at one point or another.

At the very least, being able to find everything without trying to remember whether it is saved on my memory stick or the computer or somewhere else has got to have it’s advantages.

Technical Writing

Not every piece of writing has to be ‘creative’. Technical, or instructional, writing is everywhere from an aeronautics manual to a press release to a recipe book.

Even though there is a vast range of subjects where this style of writing can be applied, they do have a few defining traits in common. Providing instructions, often step-by-step, to follow is one of the usual objectives but, communicating effectively and with determinate knowledge is also essential for any piece of technical writing. If the author doesn’t really know the subject they’re writing about then a reader usually isn’t convinced by the results. Above all the information should be 100% accurate.

Technical writing can be a bit of a specialist’s field, especially with more complicated topics such as medical procedures, but if you’re knowledgeable about a particular subject and you’re always willing to learn more then you could have the interest required to become a good writer. Whether it’s books, the internet, a magazine or other, there are a lot of examples to find.

A technical writer should have a talent for giving clear and precise instructions but they should also be able to convey complicated information so that it is easy to understand. The writing should also appeal to a target audience as the information will be expected to be read by a certain range of people. Someone learning to cook for the first time is much more likely to want a simple, easy-to-follow recipe rather than instructions for a five-course gourmet meal (although, of course, you never know) and a technical writer should be aware of this.

Most people will be expected to write a piece of technical information at one point or another. Job applications are another example of technical writing as it doesn’t give detailed instructions but it does provide factual information about a specific subject.

If you are looking to try technical writing I recommend that you start simply and it doesn’t hurt to look at writing by other people for a little bit of help concerning the formal style. Find a subject that you know a lot about for example cooking or sewing or building a plane, maybe it’s something you’ve done a lot, and write down everything because you can always edit out anything unnecessary later on. You might not do anything with the piece of writing when you’re done but, maybe you’ll show a skill for the process. Maybe someone will use your knowledge to help them learn something new.

Another Hobby Of Mine

Writing and reading aren’t my only hobbies but, they are the two pastimes I indulge in the most because I enjoy it.

However, I’m sharing a little bit about a different interest this week. Another of my hobbies is cross stitching and this weekend I finished a project I’ve been slowly working on over the summer.

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My sleepy lion cub was a pattern and kit I bought last year via Hobbycraft from the company DMC, they call the pattern ‘Mischief / Le lionceau assoupi’, and it’s the largest cross stitch pattern I’ve finished so far. I think that the kits can be great if you’re looking for a particular picture or if you want a good guide (but they can sometimes get a little expensive so, if you want to stitch you should look out for that).

I’m not sure exactly how long this particular project took me to finish because I worked on small sections of it here and there. It wasn’t until I was reaching the end of the project during the last week or so that I was working on it more or less every day. Then there were only the small back stitch details (a.k.a. the whiskers, etc.) to do. Normally I’m not a fan of stitching the fiddly outline or details, it’s just not my favourite part if the process, but on this project it wasn’t so bad and I’m very happy with the final image. It looks pretty good.

My previous cross stitch have been smaller (Confession: I have a big winter scene that I started last year and haven’t finished yet. I’m hoping to finish it by Christmas this year but, that’s also what I said last year. It’s a big scene) but the small projects can also be a lot of fun and they don’t take as much time to finish. I’ve found that small kits can cost anything from £1 and up.

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This kitten cross stitch is framed because it was one of my first projects but, framing all of them doesn’t really work because I only have so much space so, I find that photo albums are great to keep all of the smaller projects together.

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I like that they can be really colourful and I’ve been saying lately that I’d love to have a go at designing my own (I have a really shiny silver thread that I bought on a whim and nothing to do with it at the moment). Cross stitching isn’t the same kind of mind set for me as writing and reading is because I find myself more aware of what is going on around me as I’m counting stitches but I find that it can be really satisfying once you have a finished picture.

Thinking About Shakespeare

My brother’s about to go into his final year of secondary school and he’s told us that he’ll be studying Macbeth in the run up to his final GCSE exams.

Of course, that reminded me of when I had to study Macbeth for my GCSE exams. Unfortunately, and honestly, I remember that it was boring. How? It’s a play about MURDER! Lots of murder! Can you see where I’m baffled by the lingering feeling of boredom surrounding that period of my life? Have you ever had a teacher who went over one tiny, insignificant point over and over again? Yeah, that’s basically what it felt like back then. Thanks to that experience, I wasn’t exactly fond of Shakespeare at the time. That changed.

Thankfully, college turned that around. In my final year we were assigned the play King Lear. I didn’t know anything about it when we started and now it is one of my favourite plays (It’s on at the Globe Theatre in London until the 14th October and I would LOVE to go and see it performed if I get the chance).

In a nutshell, the play begins with King Lear who is about to divide his kingdom between his three daughters but before he does, he asks them which one of them loves him the most. Obviously, he just wants to be flattered and pandered to but it doesn’t work out like he expects it to. The opening scene does an amazing job of setting up expectations for the rest of the play as well as suggesting that many expectations will be broken in the following acts.

Can I just say that in my opinion, King Lear has one of the best subplots of Shakespeare’s plays. A big part of this subplot the character Edmund, Gloucester’s illegitimate son, is fascinating from his motivations to his actions because he’s somehow complicated and simple at the same time. He’s definitely what I would call an interesting villain. From a literary point of view, King Lear is packed with themes, etc. and the tragedy has so much to offer for analysis if you’re studying it. I find it to be such a clever play whether you’re reading it or you’re watching it.

As an audience member I have seen the play performed live and it was captivating. There’s a lot of emotion packed into the play as it follows King Lear, among others, who is stripped of his rights as a ruler, his family, his support network, his independence and his own mental faculties at various points in the play. I will admit that seeing Shakespeare performed is a much different different experience to reading it. Obviously intended for the stage, understanding Shakespeare comes with seeing the story come to life in front of your eyes.

College showed me just how clever Shakespeare is and how he wrote about humanity more than anything else. There are so many relatable elements if you look. I also took the chance to see Henry V performed at the Globe Theatre and it was the most incredible experience. Being at the theatre itself was amazing but the actual play was so compelling and powerful that it was absolutely worth the two to three hour train ride to London and back.

I’m lucky that my mum also rediscovered an interest in Shakespeare at approximately the same time I was studying at college and finding my own interest in the plays because they started showing a few of the Globe-on-Screen productions on Sky Arts. Filmed at the Globe Theatre each production offers wonderful casts of actors and actresses. Her favourite is probably Twelfth Night where it’s an all-male cast like it would’ve been when the plays where originally performed and it honestly makes the gender confusion in the play even funnier, plus Stephen Fry gives a fantastic performance as Malvolio.

I think that my favourite production in that series is A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s a delightfully complicated play as well as being funny and I just adore the performance between Oberon and Puck, played by the fantastic actors John Light and Matthew Tennyson.

Combined, we both love As You Like It. It’s the play with the famous ‘seven ages of man’ speech but as all of the characters stumble their way towards a happy ending there is a lot of joy to be found in the play.

My enjoyable experience in studying King Lear and finding those fantastic Globe-on-Screen productions went a long way towards my decision to take the Shakespeare module during my third year at university even though there was an on-campus exam (I was used to handing in coursework by that point). There were a lot of plays packed into one semester but my lecturer, Dr Alison Younger, was wonderfully enthusiastic and every week had something different to look forward to.

We went from Richard ii to The Tempest in one hour lectures and two hour seminars and I will admit that I have never had so much fun in an exam. Stay with me here, where else can you write an English exam about cross dressing in literature?

Yes, I focused on Twelfth Night and The Tempest and I was actually prepared to write one paper about gender play and another about power imbalance and abuse of power in all of the relationships. I am totally proud to say that I got a first for that exam.

Actually liking Shakespeare made a huge difference in how calm and ready I felt for that final exam (I also did that well in my coursework by the way) which is why I hope that when it comes to my brother’s studies he won’t have the same discouraging experience that I had.

Critique Follows Writing

While I was at university we did a lot of sharing our creative work with other people. Some people get used to it and others don’t but critiquing someone’s original work can be daunting, especially in the beginning.

It’s important to find a balance between honesty, a supportive attitude and constructive comments when you’re looking at a piece of work that somebody is aiming to improve or share with a wider audience once you’ve seen it.

I’m lucky that some of my friends still share their work with me when they want a new opinion. One particular friend asked me the other day if I’d take a look at a piece of creative work that she was doing for an assignment. Of course I was happy to say that I would read it and offer any comments if I could.

I do a couple of things when I’m critiquing.

First of all, I read through the entire story without making a single comment. I don’t want to be thinking about the use of grammar while I should be gasping at a dramatic plot twist. Getting a good overview means that I can focus on the smaller details without getting too distracted.

Secondly, I look at the grammar. Usually this involves reading the story quickly, or skimming, so that my eyes will pause on anything that doesn’t look quite right. This technique can take a little bit of practice if you don’t read a lot or on a regular basis. In my experience, another way of catching sentences that need a bit of help is to read the story out loud. I did this a lot at university, especially with my own work, because if a sentence doesn’t sound right as you say it then it won’t look right either.

Thirdly, I’ve been known to highlight sentences that I like, or rarely dislike, and point them out to the author. The story has to look right line by line but it also has to flow as a cohesive piece. One sentence can really change a piece of writing but this isn’t a step I’ll always feel the need to take in my critiquing. Although I have also highlighted an entire, excellent paragraph before just because I loved it. This is also, if needed, when I look at any content in the story that doesn’t fit.

Finally, leave a comment at the end of the story. I like to leave my critique on a positive note because an author should be helped to improve but I think that they should also be encouraged and told when they are doing well. You should always, always be honest in your final comment. Whether or not you personally liked the piece, explain your reasoning and if they mentioned any part that they wanted you to look at in particular then you should address that directly. Writing a final comment is often my attempt to sum up what I thought of the story overall.

I find it a great privilege to be asked to look at someone’s unfinished work and I’m glad when a comment I have made might help.

Ten Books for National Book Lover’s Day

It turns out that today is national book lover’s day so, I thought I’d share ten of the books that I have fallen in love with over the years. #BookLoversDay

1. Temeraire by Naomi Novik

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Also called ‘His Majesty’s Dragon’ I have this book on kindle and in paperback. I love this book and although I was interested from the moment I read the blurb I didn’t expect to tumble head over heels for Naomi Novik’s alternative history. It was a lovely surprise.

As the main character Laurence tries to accept that his life has completely changed I had no problem following him and Temeraire because the writing was so smooth and even though there are a couple of moments which make me sad I’ve read Temeraire at least five times since the first time which, according to my Goodreads profile, was two years ago from yesterday.

Blurb:

Captain Will Laurence has been at sea since he was just twelve years old; finding a warmer berth in Nelson’s navy than any he enjoyed as the youngest, least important son of Lord Allendale. Rising on merit to captain his own vessel, Laurence has earned himself a beautiful fiancée, society’s esteem and a golden future. But the war is not going well. It seems Britain can only wait as Napoleon plans to overrun her shores.

After a skirmish with a French ship, Laurence finds himself in charge of a rare cargo: a dragon egg bound for the Emperor himself. Dragons are much prized: properly trained, they can mount a fearsome attack from the skies. One of Laurence’s men must take the beast in hand and join the aviators’ cause, thus relinquishing all hope of a normal life.

But when the newly-hatched dragon ignores the young midshipman Laurence chose as its keeper and decides to imprint itself on the horrified captain instead, Laurence’s world falls apart. Gone is his golden future: gone his social standing, and soon his beautiful fiancée, as he is consigned to be the constant companion and trainer of the fighting dragon Temeraire…

 

2. Oracle’s Moon by Thea Harrison

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As the fourth book in Thea Harrison’s ‘Elder Races’ series it’s my favourite mostly because I admire the character Grace so much. Plus, Khalil is wonderful because he wants new experiences even if he risks being unsure or fumbling while he learns. The story itself is fascinating to me but it really is the characters who keep drawing me back.

Blurb:

In the latest Novel of the Elder Races, an untested young woman must claim her place as the Oracle – and contend with a powerful Djinn who has decided to become a part of her life . . .

As a second daughter, Grace Andreas never had to worry about the intrigues of the Elder Races. But when her sister, Petra, and her husband are both killed, Grace inherits the Power and responsibilities of the Oracle of Louisville, as well as her sister’s two young children – neither of which she is prepared for.

Yet, she is not alone. Khalil, Demonkind and Djinn Prince of House Marid – driven by his genuine caring for the children – has decided to make himself a part of the household, both as their guardian and as an exasperating counterpoint to Grace’s impudence towards the Elder Races. But when an attempt is made on Grace’s life, she realises that Khalil is the only one can protect her – and offer her more than any mortal man . . .

 

3. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

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I read this book for the first time earlier this year. Despite my love for fantasy books and my admiration for them as accomplished writers it was actually the first book I’d read by Terry Pratchett or Neil Gaiman. It definitely wasn’t the last I’m working my way through as many books by those two authors as possible and I’ve got a lot to look forward too.

In Good Omens there were a lot of characters to follow as the end of the world loomed on the horizon but I liked the way that you had to see the individuals before you could see the bigger picture. I think that it is an excellent book.

Blurb:

According to The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (the world’s only completely accurate book of prophecies, written in 1655, before she exploded), the world will end on a Saturday. Next Saturday, in fact. Just before dinner.

So the armies of Good and Evil are amassing, Atlantis is rising, frogs are falling, tempers are flaring. Everything appears to be going according to Divine Plan. Except a somewhat fussy angel and a fast-living demon — both of whom have lived amongst Earth’s mortals since The Beginning and have grown rather fond of the lifestyle — are not actually looking forward to the coming Rapture.

And someone seems to have misplaced the Antichrist . . .

 

4. Heist Society by Ally Carter

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I am delighted by everything in this book from the character Kat and her friends to the rules and secrets of their trade that are weaved throughout the story. Ally Carter is a master at worldbuilding in all of her series but this book in particular had me falling head over heels.

Blurb:

Kat’s got a deadline – two weeks to pull off the biggest heist in history…

When Katarina Bishop was three, her parents took her to the Lourve… to case it. For her seventh birthday, Katarina and her uncle travelled to Austria… to steal the crown jewels. When Kat turned fifteen, she conned her way into the best boarding school in the country, determined to leave the family business behind. But now her dad’s life is on the line, and Kat must go back to the world she tried so hard to escape.

 

5. LAMB, The Gospel According To Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore

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LAMB is wonderfully characteristic of Christopher Moore’s writing. It’s witty, doesn’t take itself too seriously yet, I always finish one of his books feeling like I’ve learned something. Even if I’m not quite sure what that something is.

This book in particular was a birthday gift that I was quite happy to receive a few years ago. It is a very funny book that doesn’t shy away from anything.

Blurb:

The birth of Jesus has been well chronicled, as have his glorious teachings, acts and divine sacrifice after his thirtieth birthday. But no one knows about the early life of the Son of God, the missing years – except Biff, the Messiah’s best bud, who has been resurrected to fill us in on what really happened.

Verily, the story Biff has to tell is a miraculous one, filled with remarkable journeys, magic, healings, kung fu, corpse reanimations, demons and hot babes. But even the considerable wiles and devotion of the Saviour’s pal may not be enough to divert Joshua from his tragic destiny. Of course, there’s no one who loves Josh more – except maybe ‘Maggie’, Mary of Magdala – and Biff isn’t about to let his extraordinary pal suffer and ascend without a fight.

And that’s the gospel truth.

 

6. The Shadowmagic Trilogy by John Lenahan

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This is another one of those rare times when I bought a book on kindle and then I bought it in paperback. Owning the trilogy in one big, beautiful paperback copy was too much for me to resist. I was hooked on this book from, the very first line. The writing is brilliantly easy to follow and from the the main character, Conor’s perspective. Going with him as he is confronted by an utterly brand new world is a journey I’ve happily taken more than once. Mythology fascinates me and this book was excellent for blending legend with a modern outlook on life.

Blurb:

A Lord Of The Rings for the 21st century. Only a lot shorter and funnier and completely different.

Hi, my name is Conor. Other than my father being an eccentric lunatic, my life was pretty normal until I got attacked in my living room by two warriors on horseback and whisked away to Tir na Nog, the mystical land of the ancient Celts, where it turns out Dad is the usurped heir to the throne and everybody wants me dead because of some prophecy. Don’t you just hate it when that happens?

 

7. Pegasus In Flight by Anne McCaffrey

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The second book in the ‘Pegasus’ series, I’ve blogged about this particular book before. I admit that it is not always an easy read and some of the situations the characters, particularly the younger characters Peter and Tirla, find themselves in are harsh but I find it very honest and at times wonderful, hopeful things happen as well.

Blurb:

Earth was at bursting point – desperately overcrowded in spites of the birth restrictions of only one child to each couple. Extra children existed in a sub-cultured world as they were rounded up into slavery.

The only hope was the space platform – the jumping-off point for the colonization of other worlds. And to build the space platform more ‘Talents’ were needed – the gifted special ones whose mental powers could perform prodigious tasks across space and time.

Rhyssa Owen, Director for Parapsychic Talents, was the one responsible for finding Talents and training them. And when she felt the first tentative, sad encroachment of a mind reaching out to her, she knew it was exceptional – a fourteen year old boy, his body crushed beyond repair, with the most powerful kinetic ability she had ever encountered. And, at the same time, in the seamy underworld of forgotten, unwanted, near criminal children, was another brilliant mind. Young, streetwise, but so talented she was in danger from a ruthless gang of child kidnappers.

Rhyssa knew she had to find the two children – find them and train them, for the survival of earth.

 

8. The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams

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The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy is the the sort of book which accepts eccentricity. It is very fun to read as Douglas Adams knows how to tell a story which is so detailed and exciting that you’re not particularly bothered if it doesn’t really make sense in the end.

Blurb:

One Thursday lunchtime the Earth gets unexpectedly demolished to make way, for a hyperspace bypass. For Arthur Dent, who has only just had his house demolished that morning, this seems already to be more than he can cope with. Sadly, however, the weekend has only just begun, and galaxy is a very strange and startling place.

 

9. The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy

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When I was at college we were assigned some poems to study by Carol Ann Duffy. They all came from her book The World’s Wife and it really opened my eyes as to what poetry can be. It can be cheeky, brutally honest, short, long, meaningful, frivolous, etc. The World’s Wife is packed with excellent poetry.

Blurb:

Who? Him. The Husband. Hero. Hunk.
The Boy Next Door. The Paramour. The Je t’adore.

Behind every famous man is a great woman – and from the quick-tongued Mrs Darwin to the non-envying Frau Freud, from the adoring Queen Kong to the traumatized wife of the Devil himself, each one steps from her counterpart’s shadow to tell her side of the story in this irresistible collection.

Original, subversive, full of imagination and quicksilver wit, The World’s Wife is Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy at her beguiling best.

 

10. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

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When I first decided to read this book I’m not entirely sure what I was looking or hoping for. By the last page I knew that I had read a book that would stay with me. There were the small details such as Jo’s passion for writing that caught my attention, but overall I was left feeling comforted after all of the twists and turns that had emerged in the story.

Blurb:

This American classic is as fresh and meaningful today as it was when it was first written in the 19th century. Largely based on the author’s own childhood, Little Women is a timeless tale of the four young March sisters–Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy–who grow to maturity in their mother’s tender but strong care. As different in their personalities as they are alike in their devotion to each other, the girls vow to support their beloved mother, Marmee, by behaving their best while Father is away, serving as an army chaplain in the Civil War. 

Literary-minded tomboy Jo develops a fast friendship with the boy next door, and pretty Meg, the eldest, finds romance; frail and affectionate Beth fills the house with music, and little Amy, the youngest, seeks beauty with all the longing of an artist’s soul. Although poor in material wealth, the family possesses an abundance of love, friendship, and imaginative gifts that captivate readers time and again.

 

Often, it’s the feeling I’m left with at the end of a story that stays in my mind and invites me back to read again.

Day Trips and New Ideas

Earlier this week I was in York for the day (that’s a city in the North of England) and we began our exploration with a little shop on the street, The Shambles called ‘The Shop That Must Not Be Named’.

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As you may be able to guess, the shop sells merchandise related to the world of Harry Potter created by J.K. Rowling. From being greeted by ‘Luna’, who was wearing a pair of ‘spectrespecs’, at the doorway to ‘Professor Umbridge’ who stomped around stocking the shop and huffing loudly, the staff were very impressive and they were dressed to perfection. Plus, coincidentally, we were there on the 31st July, the day of Harry Potter’s birthday and there was a very nice sign in the front window wishing The Boy Who Lived happy birthday.

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There was something for every Hogwarts House as well as wands, chocolate frogs and the sword of Gryffindor (it was very shiny). Personally, I am very happy with my new hufflepuff scarf and the little packet of ‘Gillyweed’ that I was given at the counter was a quirky end to the experience.

There’s something very special about being able to buy merchandise that began with a fantastic book series. ‘The Shop That Must Not Be Named’ might not be very big but they have a great range of stock.

 

In other news, at the weekend my friend suggested a writing relay and I’ve already written a small section for it. Basically, the idea is that one person writes a part of a story and then the next person has to carry on the story from where it stopped. As a group we wanted to get started as soon as possible so, we used a writing prompt generator and the result was definitely unusual. We were up to the challenge.

Within approximately an hour and a half, we had a page of writing with six characters and three potential plotlines. We decided to work on 100-500 words each before passing it on to the next person and I really enjoyed writing my part. There was no real pressure because we were writing for fun and it was good practise to write such a short piece before passing it on to see what the next person would do with it.

I really hope that we continue with the story that we’ve begun. It’s nice to have a direct conversation about what we’re writing because it’s not always a common experience for a writer, especially when it involves short, focused sections of work.

Plus, writing with my friends kick-started my own thoughts about a beginning for an idea I had a while ago so I’m hopeful that it’ll become a good story if I continue to be inspired.

Creating a setting

The setting of a story is all about the details. The way in which your character interacts with the world around them can show a reader everything that they need to know, for example, a warm cup in their hand could suggest that they’re in a busy cafe.

Starting with the concepts of place and time, the setting is the place or condition where something exists or happens.

If you’re starting from scratch and haven’t attempted to create/ recreate a setting before then starting to write about a place that you know can be a good practise exercise. It’s all about the details. Look around, describe what you see and you’ve effectively recreated a setting. For most writers it’s the trick of doing this without having a physical reference that really makes a story stand out.

If the writer believes it then the reader should believe it.

Personally, I typically decide on the place before the time and I’ll start with the immediate surroundings of my character. Using details of what they can see is a much less daunting process than attempting to recreate an entire world from scratch before they’ve stepped out of their front door. If I need to name a town or a city, etc. that tends to happen later on in the process when I have the time to consider the detail without it interrupting the writing flow. (If you have no option but to name a place as you write, I tend to use any word that I’m unlikely to use elsewhere in the story and then I swap it out later for the real name)

Anything your character can see has the potential to be in the story. That’s where you consider plot as you write. Are the muddy shoes by the door or the thriving plant in front of the window or the crack in the white paint on the ceiling going to lead to a larger plot point further on in the story? The details that a writer shares should paint a specific picture so that the reader sees the same framed image in the end.

Time has a lot of influence on the setting. From whether it is night or day to the year in which the story is set. There is a big difference in the way that time is presented in a historical setting compared to a contemporary setting. Again, detail is the key. The presence of a mobile phone or a lack of street lights will add a sense of time to the story very quickly. Creating a sense of time is the same as creating the place, the details left in should lead to a conclusion.

Every decision made about setting should have an impact on the final outcome but, as the writer it is extremely likely that you will be the only one who sees the pattern. Accepting the changes and taking responsibility for them is part of the craft. The reader walks along the paths that the writer created.

All five senses are important to think about when you’re presenting your reader with a setting that you want them to believe in. In real life we react to the world around us using smell, touch, taste, sight and sound and your character’s reactions to the world around them should be considered in the same way. The smell of warm cookies to prompt the feeling of nostalgia and the sound of the wind rustling the leaves on a tree as your character takes a walk can have as much purpose on the page as they do in real life.

I never make specific lists when I think about setting but I always consider the basics: outside or inside? warm or cold weather? familiar or unfamiliar? busy or deserted?

It’s fun to stretch the imagination and envision vast, complicated landscapes and societal systems but the small details will keep the story close to your character and, hopefully, keep your reader on the right trail.

In my experience, combining what I know of creating plot, character and setting can make up a story to be proud of. It gives me a starting point and a foundation and when you’re thinking of targets and word counts it’s nice to go back and be reminded of how the story started out. It adds some perspective to the whole process.

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