Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Slightly Late To The Party

Hi everyone.

Well, I'm not sure where September and October went to but somehow it's now November and over two months since my last post. The good news is that after a lot of faffing about and spending way too much time "thinking" instead of "doing" (although you can probably blame the debilitating effects of the peri-menopause for that), I have decided that I'm definitely putting writing back at the forefront of my portfolio career. That means I'm upping my game in terms of blogging, sending stuff out and generally getting my writing act together.

If I hadn't been rather comatose throughout most of October, I would definitely have blogged about National Poetry Day which was on October 6th. Actually, it was watching an inspiring programme about poetry on the BBC that aired around this time which helped to kickstart my writing again, as well as another programme on the slightly less well-known channel Notts TV which featured the very funny and talented poet, writer and producer Henry Normal.

Poetry has been with me throughout my entire life as both a reader and a writer. It's the only aspect of writing that I've ever felt comes relatively easily to me (the rest feels like walking up a hill backwards while carrying an extremely heavy power tool and that's on a good day) and I can't imagine life without it.

Poetry is also great for those occasions when there is really no way of expressing how you feel about something except in the form of a poem. So on a day when an awful lot of people around the world are probably feeling the same way as I am about the result of last night's presidential elections in America, here is my rather belated poem to celebrate National Poetry Day.

Several words can rhyme with Trump,
It's quite surprising to see.
I'll leave you to work out which ones they are,
My favourite begins with 'C'.

Back soon, hopefully. Keep the faith!



Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Groundhog Year

Hi everyone.

This is slightly spooky! I've been meaning to start posting on this blog again for a while now but hadn't quite managed to get round to it until today. I've just looked back to see when I last posted and it is almost exactly one year to the day. I certainly had no idea that this was the case and it does feel a bit like Groundhog Day or rather Groundhog Year as I could quite easily begin this post in exactly the same way as I did twelve months ago. "I hope you had a good Bank Holiday weekend. It was a bit of a wash-out here so I hope it was better where you are."

But that would be rather lazy of me and besides, it wasn't so much a wash-out as more of a severe tropical storm with lots of thunder and lightning which was indeed very, very frightening, especially when you foolishly haven't renewed your home insurance.

It was interesting looking back, as it always is, to see where I was at with my writing 12 months ago today. According to my post, I was putting the finishing touches to the website I had set up to publicise the book I was (and still am) working on called My Dear Elsie. This is based on a collection of old letters I found in my late mother's wardrobe which have a very strong connection to the popular TV series Downton Abbey.

If you are interested in finding out more about the letters and the book, this is the link to the website:

https://ladyburghclereandethel.com/

It would be great to be able to say that 12 months on, the website has done its job and that the book has been taken up by a top literary agent and is about to be published, netting me an advance of a six figure sum. Sadly that isn't quite the case. Despite having had the website up and running for a year now which resulted in some useful publicity via my local radio station, an offer to put the book on a CD which for various reasons I couldn't take up and an unexpected email from Lady Carnarvon, I don't seem to be any closer to getting a book deal than I was 12 months ago.

However, as you will see from the blog posts I've been putting on the website for My Dear Elsie, I certainly haven't given up on the project and I'm using this "pre-offer" time to crack on with typing up and researching the letters which is definitely helping me to maintain my enthusiasm for it.

It was also interesting to see where I was at in other areas of my life 12 months ago, too. Apparently I had just set myself up as a freelance designer as part of my "portfolio career". Well, 12 months later, I have even more strands in my portfolio as I'm now a designer, crafter, writer and musical entertainer which might go some way to explaining why I'm not quite so far along in my various writing projects as I'd like to be.

I'm definitely planning to blog here more than once a year from now on so I will try and hold myself to that. Hopefully by the time I'm posting this time next year, we'll all be millionaires or at least able to afford home insurance.


A groundhog and some starlings harvesting seeds

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Downton Abbey (2)

Hi everyone.

I hope you had a good Bank Holiday weekend. It was a bit of a wash-out here so I hope it was better where you are.

Actually, the wet weekend didn't really bother me too much. I spent most of it putting the finishing touches to a new website I've set up. This is to publicise the collection of letters I inherited from my grandmother which I'm trying to get published as a non-fiction book called 'My Dear Elsie'.

Those of you who follow this blog will know that the letters have a strong link to the popular UK television series Downton Abbey. This is because they were written by my grandmother's close friend Ethel North, who was lady's maid and companion to Lady Winifred Burghclere, the elder sister of the 5th Earl of Carnarvon. As you may know, the Carnarvon family were the real-life inspiration for the fictional Crawley family in Downton Abbey and much of the series was filmed at their ancestral seat of Highclere Castle.

The website, as well as providing interesting biographical information (with photos!) about Lady Burghclere and Ethel North, also goes into a bit more detail about the fascinating content of the letters themselves. In addition, I've set up a blog on the website which I intend to use to chart my progress with my efforts to get them into print.

Talking of blogs, I probably won't be blogging here again for the foreseeable future. This is partly because I'll be concentrating on my blog about the progress of the book but also because I have recently added a new strand to my career "portfolio". As from last week, I am now a freelance designer and I feel I need to put a lot of effort into setting that up and establishing myself so like a few other things in my working life, this blog will have to go on hold for a while.

I do hope you will feel able to join me over at my new blog and also to take a look at the new website. It would be great to hear from you there as I need all the encouragement I can get!

You can find the new website and blog at:

http://ladyburghclereandethel.com/

In the meantime, thanks very much for visiting this blog and I hope to see you again soon.


Copyright Melissa Lawrence 2015




Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Mid Life Crisis

Hi everyone.

The summer seems to have gone on strike, doesn't it? I'm sitting here with the central heating on as there is a definite Autumnal nip in the air, possibly because it is the early hours of the morning. Actually, it was more like a Wintery nip when I opened the front door a few minutes ago to fetch the milk in. I'm surprised there wasn't a dash of snow on my red-top.

Maybe the summer is having a mid-life crisis, (if summers have lives) which is something I feel like I'm going through at the moment, especially with my writing. It's probably been going on for months but seemed to really kick in when I decided to start sorting out all my unpublished work, namely my large collection of short stories, my eight children's novels and my three collections of children's poetry.

I'm not sure what made me do it although worrying about the weight of the filing cabinet on my office floor was probably a factor. I don't think it was the best time to choose either as I was already feeling pretty down about the lack of positive response from agents to my latest book and going through all my old rejection letters, although interesting, was somewhat disheartening.

I don't know if other writers get to a point in their writing (and personal) lives where they wonder "Is this it?", or am I the only one? Part of the ageing process seems to me to be the need to reflect on what you've achieved so far, what you still want to achieve and whether you can realistically achieve it in the time you may have left. Is it right to let go of stuff that is probably never going to see the light of day or is it worth ploughing on with it? Is it better to concentrate on writing new material and stop trying to make further progress with work that has already been rejected so many times, it needs more rewrites than Harry Potter.

That probably sounds much more negative than I intended it to be and there was a definite plus side to my de-cluttering exercise apart from it being a great displacement activity to avoid doing any actual writing. As I said in a previous post, when you look back at work that you haven't seen for ages, you do read it with almost fresh eyes and it's probably the most objective you will ever be about your own work.  I was pleased to discover that I have written quite a number of poems for children that I still really like and which I do feel have merit, although that doesn't necessarily mean they will ever be published unless I opt for self-publishing, of course.

I've picked out a couple of short ones to share with you. The first comes from my second collection of poems for children entitled "Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad Sprout?" The second one is from my collection for teens called "I Wandered Lonely As A Snog".

Enjoy!



THE CONFIDENT KID

I am the confident kid.

The one who walks home alone.
The only child
in the crocodile,
who doesn't have a hand to hold.

Because I am bold,
I am strong.
I don't need no parent tagging along.
I walk with a swagger,
eyes fixed ahead.
If anyone messes with me,
they're dead.

All the other kids think I'm cool.

(Well, it helps that I live next door to the school.)




KISS ME QUICK

Kiss me slowly, kiss me quick,
Kiss me thinly, kiss me thick.

Kiss me softly, kiss me hard,
Kiss me in the classroom, kiss me in the yard.

Kiss me like a speeding train,
Kiss me in the sunshine, kiss me in the rain.

Kiss me while you still have the breath,
Kiss me forever, kiss me to death.



 Photo by Matlachu




Monday, 3 August 2015

The Carrot, Not The Stick

Hi everyone.

I hope you've had a good couple of weeks and managed to get lots of writing done.

I'm pleased to say that things have improved quite a bit since my last post Coping With Criticism in which I described how a "mauling" of the sample copy of my proposed non-fiction book with the strong link to Downton Abbey by a literary agent, had badly affected my confidence in the material.

Thanks to a surprising act of "serendipity" (obviously the Universe hasn't quite given up on the project yet), I was given the opportunity to send the proposal and sample copy to my writing colleague author Dr Sheila Glasbey who writes under the pen name of Rosalie Warren. Rosalie is an experienced editor and qualified proof-reader as well as the published author of several novels and scientific works. She runs her own editing, proofreading and critique service which you can find out about at http://www.affordable-editing.com/

Rosalie sent her comments back almost by return of email for which I was very grateful. Without going into too much detail, suffice to say they were considerably more helpful, encouraging and positive than the agent's had been. She was very emphatic that I should carry on with the book and certain that I am the person to write it. I was also particularly pleased that (unlike the agent who dismissed my very personal proposed introduction to the book in one short sentence), Rosalie felt it was something that many readers would empathise with.

Of course, I am well aware that this is only one person's opinion, in the same way that the agent's comments were only one person's opinion. However, because there was considerably more "carrot than stick" in Rosalie's comments than there was in those of the agent (even though the agent was obviously interested in the book), they did not have the effect of stopping me from working on it altogether, as the agent's had done. Quite the reverse in fact and I'm pleased to say that I now feel back on track with 'My Dear Elsie' once again.

One of Rosalie's suggestions was to exploit some of the "brilliant selling points" of the book, including setting up a website with info about Downton Abbey, my book etc. This was something I'd tentatively been thinking about doing and now feel it is definitely the way forward. I have spent quite a lot of time researching websites and blogs which were set up to promote both collections of personal letters (my book is based on letters and postcards I inherited from my grandmother) and books which were "looking" for publishers. It was interesting to discover that in the sites I looked at, publication seemed to follow as a result of the publicity generated by the website and/or blog.

So, as I've probably said before, "onwards and upwards", thanks to Rosalie. I'll keep you posted as to if and when the website gets off the ground. Meanwhile, keep writing. (And I'll try to do the same.)


Carrots For Sale By Paul Brennan


Monday, 20 July 2015

Coping With Criticism

Hi everyone.

So Wimbledon has finished but I still have the Ashes and the Tour de France to distract me from writing so all is not lost. And it's a bit cooler (sorry if you love the summer!) although horribly humid at times. But then it is the middle of July so I suppose that's understandable.

It's been a bit of a tricky time for me on the writing front since my last post and not just for the afore mentioned reasons. I heard back from the agent who had asked to see all the sample copy relating to my proposed non-fiction book Dear Elsie, based on letters I inherited from my grandmother and which has a strong link to Downton Abbey. She asked to see the rest of the book which would have been great except that I haven't written it yet. My understanding is that with non-fiction books (unlike novels) you don't write the whole book until you get a contract with a publisher so it was a bit of a surprise.

Anyway, I plucked up courage to ring her again to explain the situation which was not a problem apparently and she was clearly interested in the material. However, what did appear to be a problem was my sample copy which she absolutely slated. It felt like the equivalent of someone taking a huge red pen and writing negative comments all over it. There wasn't one positive remark in her critique and although I agreed with some of her analysis and tried very hard not to be defensive, it was a painful experience.

Of course, it's not the first time I've had my writing "mauled" by an editor or agent and if I manage to keep going, it probably won't be the last. However, for some reason I found this particular experience much harder to take than any other. This was possibly because of the rather personal nature of the book, possibly because there is a lot more riding on it than ever before and possibly because my expectations for the project are much higher than perhaps they should be, especially as the first agent I sent it to said he thought it would be a bestseller.

Anyway, whatever the reason, it had the unfortunate effect of really knocking my confidence not just in the material but in all my writing, and even my crafting, as well. Although I immediately talked about what had happened to as many people as possible and picked up some useful advice (the optician was particularly helpful!) it was almost ten days before I was able to look at the material again. By then I had recovered a bit and was able to pick out the parts of the agent's critique which I felt were worth taking on board. Most importantly though, having re-read the material as objectively as I could, I was relieved to discover that despite everything the agent had said, I felt very strongly indeed that I should stick to my guns and that give or take a degree of rewriting, I need to stand by the material.

The whole experience has been an interesting if very challenging one and has reminded me that so much of writing is not really about the writing at all. It's about self-belief, confidence, perseverance, coping with criticism, getting back on the horse and keeping your eye on the bigger picture.

In the words of that well-known writer Adele, "sometimes it lasts...but sometimes it hurts instead."

Back in a couple of weeks, all being well.



Digitally created by Melissa Lawrence 2015



Sunday, 5 July 2015

The Heat Is On

Hi everyone.

Well, that was a heatwave and a half! Hopefully by now it is on its way out (apologies if you are a sun worshipper) and temperatures will be more conducive to working. Mind you, I can't just blame the heat for a bit of a dip in productivity this week. It probably has as much to do with a certain tennis tournament which is now in full swing, no pun intended.

I did manage to take the damp towel off my forehead and put down my Pimm's for a few minutes this week, to continue the ongoing quest to find an agent to represent my proposed non-fiction book My Dear Elsie. As I've mentioned before, this is the book based on a collection of letters I inherited from my grandmother and which has a very strong link to Downton Abbey.

The agent I approached this week actually invites phone calls for non-fiction book queries, which in itself is pretty amazing, not to mention extremely helpful. As I've said to anyone who will listen, it's easier to get to speak to the Pope than it is to an agent. Anyway, the agent in question has asked to see all my sample copy (the first one to do so) which is an encouraging sign and I await her response with interest.

The other thing I'm pleased about this week is that I've made a decision to go back to writing fiction, something I haven't done for about two years now. Although I have a number of unpublished children's novels which I could work on again, plus one or two ideas for new ones, I thought it would be more sensible to wait until I (hopefully) have acquired an agent who might be helpful in looking at where I am at with my children's books. So it is back to writing short stories again, probably for the women's magazine market as I'm keen to try and boost my tally of published short stories to at least double figures.

I decided that a good starting point was to sort out my rather hefty folder of unpublished short stories, which turned out to be quite an interesting exercise and also meant I could put off actually having to write one for a bit longer. I always think that a good test of how well-written something is comes from re-reading it after a very long period of time. If it feels like someone else has written it, if it makes you laugh (or cry) and if you don't guess your own ending, then that can be a sign that it still has merit. I found one or two stories which fitted into this category and a large number that didn't, as well as a few which I feel could be rewritten as flash fiction.

I also came across a sheet of hints and tips on writing women's magazine fiction which are quite useful and I thought I'd share some of them with you here.

1. Keep sentence structure simple. Avoid using colons and semi-colons.

2. Language needs to be simple and straightforward. Sentences should be short and punchy.

3. Always contract everything possible ie I'd, you'll, she's etc.

4. Don't try to be too literary or too highbrow. (Save that for the small press magazines.)

5. Your lead character should be female and strong, not too wimpy.

6. Tell the story from one character's viewpoint only.

These are pretty basic suggestions but useful if, like me, you are thinking of returning to or trying out the highly competitive world of women's magazine fiction. For more detailed do's and don'ts, plus useful market analysis on where to send your work, I can highly recommend http://www.womagwriter.blogspot.co.uk/

Stay cool, if you can!



Reading In The Canoe
by Anderson C Sanders Anderson