Learning New Skills

I’m going to deviate a little bit on this post today because… I haven’t done any creative writing since the beginning of April.

Yikes.

Okay, yes I have been busy for the past couple of weeks (everything’s calmed down again now) but I really, really have not felt the urge to pick up a pen/sit down at the keyboard.

Instead, I’ve been doing a lot of reading and trying different creative projects.

For example, today I learned how to make a Hooky Rug.

It has a funny name but, it’s surprisingly easy and fun once you learn how to do it. Louise saw it demonstrated on the BBC program MAKE! Craft Britain a few weeks ago and after trying it herself she encouraged all of us to give it a go. Using the technique, here is a picture of a completed seat cushion that was made by Louise (really surprisingly comfy):

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I love going to the Darlington Arts Community Café that is run by Louise because it’s nice to do something creative when you’re surrounded by like-minded people but, I also love our occasional sessions where I get to learn a brand new skill.

For our hooky rugs we used some old t-shirts that we cut into strips (this is the part where you really need to use patience) and once we had our hessian and a hook we just pushed the hook through one of the gaps in the hessian, grabbed the t-shirt material and pulled a small piece of it through to the front.

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Of course we started with a small test piece and as you can see from this next photo Louise was more practised. She had much smaller gaps between her material than I did, haha (you can see the hooks we were using in the photo as well):

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Then we moved onto drawing our designs and this photo was my initial design:

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Then it was just a case of following the pattern and adding the t-shirt material. I started with two shades of green. It’s not completely finished yet but I’m pretty happy about everything I did while I was sitting in the café at the local bookshop.

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It was great to spend an afternoon learning a new skill and I was constantly seeing the results as I was working on it.

I got a little bit stuck once I’d finished the outline that I wanted because I changed my mind about the colours I was going to use in the rest of the space. After a few suggestions, I like the idea of adding some bright colours and turning it into some sort of abstract garden so I’m looking forward to finishing it.

 

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Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

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Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones was first published in 1986.

The book I borrowed from my sister was a copy that was published in 2009 (love the book cover which is featured at the top of this page).

Howl’s Moving Castle is a magical fantasy story featuring wizards, witches, curses and pretty much everything good about the genre. It’s also a trilogy but, I have only read the first one so far.

Yes, I am partial to a good fantasy story but, putting that aside, I think that Howl’s Moving Castle is a great story. To sum it up a little bit, despite the fact that the book title points out the character Howl, most of the story and the characters are seen through the eyes of Sophie Hatter. Sophie is from the town Market Chipping in the land of Ingary and the story begins in the hat shop which belonged to Sophie’s father but when she is cursed by the Witch of the Waste she finally leaves to find her fortune.

I love Diana Wynne Jones’ imagination. Her world’s are so detailed and Howl’s Moving Castle is no different. There are so many different types of scenery in the book as Sophie goes from a hat shop to the Waste to castles and farms and palaces but none of them left me wondering, “I wonder what that looks like.”

There are a lot of enjoyable moments in this story and I found myself laughing out loud more than once at Howl’s self-obsessed moments and Sophie’s grumbling. I know that Sophie’s cleaning spree after seeing the messy state of Howl’s living room is hilarious. Also, Howl’s overdramatic reaction (a.k.a. tantrum) after Sophie cleans the bathroom is very entertaining.

It almost feels like a fairytale as Sophie, the heroine, saves a whole manner of creatures and people during her journey. In the end of the story misunderstandings are cleared up, the real villains are revealed as well as defeated and a lot of curses are broken. It’s a very satisfying ending in my opinion.

Like any avid reader I try not to let alternate versions affect my opinions of the book I’m reading but I watched Studio Ghibli’s film version Howl’s Moving Castle several times before I read the book. In fact, it was my sister and I watching the film last Friday that finally prompted me to wrestle the book out of her hands (haha, joking. Thanks for lending me the book and promising to lend me the next two in the series).

I didn’t have a quote in mind when I started writing this blog but, as I flipped through the book again before I posted this I chose to feature this short conversation between Michael, Calcifer and Sophie on pages 123-124. They’re talking about Howl and it might not be the nicest thing to say about a person but, it tells the reader a lot about Howl’s character and how he’s seen by those who are closest to him.

Calcifer and Michael exchanged glances. “Did he forget to spend at least an hour in the bathroom this morning?” Michael asked.

“He was in there two hours,” said Calcifer, “putting spells on his face. Vain fool!” 

“There you are, then,” said Michael. “The day Howl forgets to do that will be the day I believe he’s really in love, and not before.” 

Inspiration

Inspiration can come from anywhere.

For example, last night my mum called our cat a “cute little monster” (she totally is) and I made a note about a world where people have pet monsters. It might be a bit quirky and I have no idea if that’ll ever become anything more than just a note but it caught my attention enough that I wanted to remember it.

The example of that little note is tied with inspiration in my mind because I can imagine drawing more than one possible story from it. Maybe the monsters in that world are actually pretty friendly on the whole or they’re really scary pets of really scary people or they’re actually pretty evil but their owners love them anyway when they’re not destroying the furniture.

It can sometimes be difficult for me to write without these little bursts of inspiration.

I know that a lot of people feel and say that only writing when you’re inspired won’t get you very far and yeah, if you really want to make writing your primary focus then you’ve got to put the work in. However, in my experience, motivation and inspiration go hand in hand when it comes to the creative process. Honestly, sometimes it is just really, really hard for me to find the will to write creatively.

This is why I often joke that my muse goes on holiday a lot.

I guess that, when I think about it, that moment of inspiration is a pretty important factor of writing to me. For an idea that I genuinely like I can usually track it back to one moment where it started to take shape. Balancing the excitement about starting to write with the will to carry on, well I’ve done it before but I think that it’s a lesson I’m going to keep learning for a really long time.

It’s not really enough to just have one spark of inspiration before you begin because that’ll always fade. Finding new elements of the same piece that are inspiring is always followed by more motivation when I’m writing. They can be small, almost inconsequential sparks or huge plot points that light up everything else. If they’re never really the same as each other then inspiration can be a continuously exciting part of the process.

So, when it comes to inspiration whether it’s an off-hand comment or something you see or hear or touch just remember that you’re notes only really need to make sense to yourself. I wouldn’t worry too much about people seeing scraps of paper that say nonsensical things like ‘Pet monsters – use cat as inspiration’.

Not If I Save You First by Ally Carter

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Not If I Save You First by Ally Carter was first published in March 2018.

I have been excited to read this book since Ally Carter announced that she was writing it. That might seem a like an exaggeration but in this case it is totally true. Over the last few months I have read the short snippets via Twitter, I followed the progress of the cover designs (love the USA cover but I’m totally happy with the cover created by Lisa Horton on my UK copy) and I gave in and read the first chapter when it was revealed online. I couldn’t resist the temptation.

Then, a week ago, on the day it was released I walked into my local Waterstones, picked the book off the shelf and headed straight to the counter. Steve (the guy behind the counter) looked at the book, looked at me and then looked back at the book before he shrugged and said, “Well, somebody had to.”

I happily took that to mean that I was the first person to buy a copy from there. Yes, book sellers love to market Ally Carter’s books at teenagers but I’m 23 and I am totally willing to tell you all of the reasons why I continue to read and buy her books.

Haha, but don’t worry about me listing all of those reasons right now because I have something slightly more specific to talk about.

Not If I Save You First is a stand-alone novel which is mostly set in Alaska. Now, as much as I love Ally when she writes a series it was kind of nice to know that I was buying a book and I wouldn’t be left waiting a year or so until I could find out what happened next. That being said, I really fell in love with Maddie.

Madeleine Rose Manchester a.k.a. “Mad Dog” is awesome. I loved that she was in her element because she has more knowledge of the area than any other character. She’s definitely the kind of girl you’d want on your zombie apocalypse team – prepared, adaptable and she knows the importance of Vaseline to prevent chapped lips.

Being set in Alaska, it’s almost like the book is set in a familiar environment even if you’ve never been there. It’s wild, dangerous and sometimes beautiful. The book didn’t put me off the thought of ever visiting Alaska but it is definitely a reminder that it is better to be prepared and a little bit cautious. Throughout the book Maddie is very blunt about all of Alaska’s qualities. It could be seen as an effect of the amount of time she spends on her own in a harsh environment but her direct attitude about her home also resembles her interactions with Logan and all of the other characters and really becomes part of her personality. I love that.

Every time I read the blurb of Not If I Save You First it makes me smile a little bit and since I’m going to put in a picture of it I will explain why. The actual plot of the book isn’t exactly warm and fuzzy since that survival is pretty much the key theme but the blurb is short, witty and definitely reminds me that I’m about to read an Ally Carter book. That’s why I smile.

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It’s a great adventure story when you just consider the plot but there’s so much more to the book. Maddie uses being underestimated to her advantage. Logan can’t help noticing and remembering details which helps him to survive. Even Stefan has an edge as he learns quickly and applies those lessons even under extreme circumstances. As I said before, survival is the key in this book.

Like all of Ally’s books, Not If I Save You First has a lot of really great quotes. I finally picked one from close to the middle of the book because it might be another lesson about surviving but it’s also so sassy and I love it:

Maddie looked like she’d never been more insulted in her life, “I never leave the house with just one knife. Seriously. Do I look like a one-knife kind of girl?” 

Why Poetry?

Poetry has never been my first choice when I want to sit down and read. That’s not to say that I don’t like it or value it. It’s just that, when it comes to reading I’ve loved narrative fiction since I was tiny. So, for the majority of the time I’m more likely to pick a novel or a novella because I love a good, chunky story.

However, poetry has had it’s own place even if it’s only been infrequently read, studied or written over the years.

I’ve been known to write a full page of poetry in five minutes and then I haven’t written a single word of poetry for months after that. Last October I threw myself into writing 35 poems for my ‘Sky Full Of Stories’ collection that I entered into a poetry competition and I haven’t written any poetry since then. To be fair, it was a lot of poetry to write in a short amount of time and it left me feeling a little bit drained of inspiration (plus, I spent November focusing on writing a series of short stories) but I really haven’t written a stanza since then.

Poetry is so much more versatile than anything we’re taught at an early age (it’s not all limericks or Wordsworth). There’s actually a lot of freedom in writing poetry as it’s full of guidelines with very few definite rules as you try to find your niche. In the end, learning about styles of poems such as sonnets can teach you these rules but even sonnets have their own subcategories and sub-rules. Writing poetry isn’t a craft with a singular line from A to B.

As for reading poetry, it’s easy to love poetry when you find a style, author or subject that you relate to. Unfortunately, it’s also easy to dismiss it when you don’t find what you’re looking for.

I don’t know that I could pick out a particular poem that I liked from when I was doing my GCSE’s or before but, I tend to talk fondly about studying W.B. Yeats and Carol Ann Duffy at college.

You don’t have to like all poetry – that would be asking a lot – but, whether you like modern poetry, something more classical or a quick haiku, it’s worth looking around to see if you can find the poem/poet that you like.

I started writing about poetry for this blog post because it’s been on my mind lately. I haven’t put pen to page (almost all of my poetry is written on paper before it goes anywhere else) but, that’s how the process usually begins for me. I’ll start to think about poetry and then I’ll write until I feel that I can walk away without needing to write another word. So, maybe I’ll have something new to post under the ‘Poetry’ heading at the top of my site over the next few weeks.

As for something else I haven’t done for a while, I’m approximately five months behind on updating Goodreads with the books I’ve been reading. Trust me, I am rolling my eyes at myself for forgetting. Goodreads can be a great way of keeping track of the books you enjoy but only if you remember to use it, haha. So, I’m playing catch up there as I update it and I’m super excited about adding the book I bought today to my ‘read’ list as Ally Carter’s new book ‘Not If I Save You First’ was officially released today.

Welcome To Night Vale – A Novel by Joseph Fink & Jeffrey Cranor

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Welcome To Night Vale – A Novel by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor was first published in 2015.

My sister (I borrowed the book from her) bought the exclusive Waterstones edition where the two authors gave answers to a short interview in the back which I liked because I always seem to find myself interested in what writers have to say about their own writing. I have a lot of feelings about the novel but first…

Night Vale is, as it says in the introduction of the book, A friendly desert community, where the sun is hot, the moon is beautiful, and mysterious lights pass overhead while we all pretend to sleep. 

Beginning life as a podcast posted twice a month in 2012 the Welcome To Night Vale series is primarily written by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, produced by Joseph Fink. Cecil Gershwin Palmer (voiced by Cecil Baldwin) from Night Vale Community Radio relates the news, traffic, weather that Night Vale experiences. Every episode can be listened to as a standalone narrative but, it’s well worth listening out for the long-running jokes and plot arcs. For more information and links the Night Vale website is great: Welcome To Night Vale

So, getting back to my feelings about the book…

Firstly, the thought of a tarantula sitting on a person’s head without them being aware of it made me shudder in dislike. I just want to put that out there. I feel very sorry for Catharine in that respect.

Secondly, the ending surprised me in a good way. At times, especially towards the beginning of the novel, it’s almost easy to imagine that the book won’t end positively but, true to the podcasts, there’s no hopeless ending despite Night Vale’s more unique (and life-ending) traits. I think that’s one of my favourite things about the representation of Night Vale.

Thirdly, the library, when the characters dared to enter, totally lived up to expectations.

When I started reading the Welcome To Night Vale novel I was picking it up, reading a couple of chapters and then putting it down again which was not the easiest way to read it. I found the book much easier to focus on when I had the time to sit and read big chunks of it in one go. The events of the story progress fairly quickly and reading it in smaller sections just made it easier for me to lose the thread of what was going on. However, I read the last half of the book in one go and I had no trouble with the pace of the story when I did that.

The writing swaps between the point of view of the citizens of Night Vale, focusing mostly on the lives of Jackie Fierro and Diane Crayton which is great because as much as I love Cecil and his view of the town it’s nice to have a different perspective. For both Jackie and Diane, they encounter the man in the tan jacket and both of their lives are changed. It’s made very clear that they do not appreciate the disruption to their normal lives but, I like that. It’s a rather universal notion to be annoyed when your life doesn’t pan out the way you want it to, when you think that everything is settled.

While I wouldn’t necessarily say that you absolutely have to be familiar with the podcasts if you want to read the book, I don’t think that it would hurt to have a little bit of foreknowledge either. Whether you’re more interested in one format or the other, I think that it’s nice to have the option of learning about Night Vale without focusing on a particular set of characters all of the time.

The book isn’t about Night Vale itself but the people and the place are strongly connected, a trait that can be generally recognised by most people who grew up in any town, and as I put the book down I was left feeling slightly awed, a little bit afraid and strangely hopeful which, from what I have heard and read, is the usual sort of feeling when Night Vale is involved.

As I have already said, I liked the ending of the book and this quote from chapter 49 is part of that slow winding down from the existential terror and life-changing experiences: “Jackie,” Diane said, “Night Vale has a way of bringing home it’s own. I think we could drive in any direction and still get home. We live in a weird place.” 

After reading Welcome To Night Vale – A Novel, I’m even more excited about reading their newest novel It Devours!

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In with the old…

When it comes to re-starting an old project where do you begin?

I’ve spoken before about the (many) half-finished or just-started documents that are saved to my computer, etc. but it’s not like I begin with the intention to leave them as they are. Generally, I have the best intentions when I start tapping away at the keyboard.

So, I’d like to turn the attention of those best intentions towards a couple of my old projects that I would love to see cross the finish line.

How do I start them all over again?

Yes, I’ve got words already and there are possibly some notes lying around somewhere if I can find the right folder but, that doesn’t necessarily make the writing process any easier.

Notes can be great guidelines if you’re the kind of person who likes to keep a record of their creativity but, if the project has been on the back burner for a while then you’re bound to have changed your mind about some of the elements of your story. Change is just part of the process. Throwing everything out and re-writing it all from scratch may not be the best way to go but, sticking to your old, possibly out-of-date notes like they’re your own personal rulebook isn’t likely to be the best option either.

What do I usually do when I’m in this situation? Well, I tend to read through what I’ve already got but, it’s not very often that I’ll get to the end before I’m opening up another document at the side of the screen and I’m starting to fix things. More often than not ‘fix’ means that I’m writing the story from the beginning with the changes mixed in. It’s pretty rare that I’ll just make bullet points, etc. concerning any solutions if I know where I want the new elements to go.

That’s not to say that I’ve never looked at an old piece of writing and been happy reading through the whole thing (best feeling ever).

However, with the projects I’d like to tackle right now that’s not really the case. I was never completely happy with first project and I am, in fact, planning to write a brand new opening to the whole story. I’d also like to lengthen it as I think (and have been told) that it would make a pretty good novel rather than a short story which was it’s first incarnation.

As for the other project, I was interrupted before I could finish writing everything that I’d planned and it was a little bit out-of-sight-out-of-mind for a while but I still like the premise. It’s nice to feel excited about looking over an old project rather than slightly wary.

For the two projects I have in mind I’m sure that, as well as increasing the word count, I’ll look at fixing any problems that are already there. I know I usually say that fixing problems falls under the category of ‘editing’ but you shouldn’t be afraid to use what you’ve already got. Starting from a blank page with an old idea can feel more like starting from scratch than coming back to something familiar.

 

Overwatch Anthology: Volume 1

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Overwatch Anthology: Volume 1 was published in October 2017. The book is put together by a team of people who I would love to list but I promise that they are all mentioned with little bios at the back of the book.

I wouldn’t call myself a ‘gamer’ but when I am in the mood to grab a controller I’m a big fan of games that tell a great story (the Kingdom Hearts series is very popular in our house).

The game Overwatch was first released in May 2016 but, what I really loved about the release of the game were the short animated films that each focused on one or two of the many characters that are part of the franchise. They are beautifully done and I adore how much thought obviously went into each of the characters. (You can check them out on YouTube: PlayOverwatch)

That’s why I was so excited to find the gorgeous hardcover book. The Overwatch Anthology from Dark Horse Books collected a whole bunch of the stories of Overwatch and the first was about McCree! Yeah, I’ve got a bit of a soft-spot for the outlaw/bounty hunter Jesse McCree who is trying to fight for just causes in an attempt to make up for his past.

The game itself is a multiplayer online first-person shooter video game and the plot of the franchise is that it is set sixty years into the future of a fictionalized Earth. In the beginning the veteran soldier Jack Morrison was put in charge of Overwatch while veteran solider Gabriel Reyes was put in charge of Blackwatch, Overwatch’s covert ops division. When everything fell apart, including Gabriel and Jack’s friendship, Overwatch was forcefully disbanded after there was an explosion at the headquarters which supposedly killed members of Overwatch including Jack and Gabriel. The game is set a few years after this when some members of Overwatch decide that they can’t sit by and watch the world descend further into chaos.

The stories in the anthology show the characters outside of their roles in Overwatch but, each one of them is attempting to do something positive (Alright, so ‘positive’ is debatable in Junkrat & Roadhog’s case but they’re funny). Many of them are trying to save lives. Of course, there are also some really serious moments as the characters are living in a future that’s scarred by war and violence. I knew that I’d get emotional over Ana’s story because of what I already knew about the character but, it still took me by surprise a little bit.

Then, it was followed by a short Halloween story titled ‘Junkenstein’ which was unexpected and absolutely delightful and funny as Reinhardt tried to spook his teammates (awww, McCree’s little werewolf story at the beginning 🙂 ).

There’s a little bit of back-and-forth as the stories in the anthology are mixed between past and present but, it’s so great to see more of the developed characters of the franchise (although I do wish that there was more about Hanzo and Genji but, I’ve got my fingers crossed for a volume 2).

The graphic novel is beautifully illustrated, just like their online animations, etc. and it was so worth buying (mine was a gift from people who know me very well but my point still stands).

Of course, I’m going to have to choose an excerpt about McCree (I promise that I am not biased) to round off this review 🙂 and hey, you can read McCree: Train Hopper online if I’ve persuaded you that it’s worth reading 😉

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World Book Day

Today, on this very snowy day, I’m loving the tweets about World Book Day.

I love that it is even a thing and I wish that I could be out buying a new book today (as was the plan) but, instead I’m doing the sensible thing. I’m grabbing a book that I haven’t read before off the shelf and I’m curling up with it, while I occasionally look up to watch the snow outside the window.

Technically, I’m borrowing the book since that my sister bought it but, the novel Welcome To Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor has been one that I’ve wanted to read for a while (I’ll do a full review once I’ve finished it 🙂 ). Anything that ventures into the world of horror isn’t usually my type of thing but, I do enjoy listening to the Welcome To Night Vale podcasts (I’m currently listening to them from the beginning again). They are so weirdly calm (unless Station Management is roaming around) about the crazy events Cecil reports on. I love the vibe so, I’m excited to read the book.

World Book Day was always awesome when I was a kid (Yay, vouchers for free and discounted books) and now I’m loving their #ShareAStory thread on twitter. The snow may have caused a fair bit of disruption today to schools, etc. but it’s great seeing World Book Day’s enthusiastic tweets about making the most of it.

I know that a lot of people in the UK, especially any kids that have put in a lot of effort into dressing up, will be disappointed about any school closures/cancellations of events elsewhere but, I don’t believe that the effort is wasted. Take lots of pictures. Read your favourite stories together while you enjoy the snow outside as a pretty backdrop. Cross your fingers and hope that your school will reschedule the fun events if they’ve been closed today.

It’s a great day to think about the books that we love and the books that we’re looking forward to reading.

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