Inspirational Women Writers: An Essay

In honour of International Women’s Day this week (March 8th) I’ve decided to do something a little different with this post. I open this with a warning. Very rarely will I use this blog to talk about “politically charged” issues. This is not a post about writing tips or how to best edit your latest draft. Today is a post about being a woman in a male dominated market. It is about being a writer, a female writer. And it is a dedication to the amazing women who have paved the way and keep me inspired to keep going, keep fighting and keep believing that one day my name will grace the spines amongst them.

I am a woman. I am very proud of this fact. I guess I’m a feminist too. I believe in equality. To me, Emma Watson summed up my feelings pretty well in this short clip.

I do not believe in using feminism as a weapon against either other women or men. I simply want the field in which I work to be fair, just and equal.

And I don’t think that is too much to ask for.

I want to be able to wear ribbons in my hair, stiletto heels and perfume and not be judged as weaker for it. But equally I do not believe in getting dressed up in a power suit and becoming “one of the lads”. To me, that is not the point of feminism either. I want to be respected and be feminine.

VIDA is a website dedicated to women in the literary arts. Most people won’t have heard of it. Every year, they conduct a survey called “VIDA Counts” where they look at the representation of women in the arts. They look at statistics like the number of female reviewers at a given magazine, or the percentage of female to male authors reviewed. To pick, Harper’s Magazine, for example, only 34% of book reviewers were female and only 30% of reviewed authors were female in 2015. The London Review of Books, only 22.5% of reviewed authors were female. New York Book Review was more positive. Women actual swing the vote when it comes to writing reviews (albeit marginally) but still trail men in featured reviews (40%). The Times Literary Supplament made for grim reading with only 25% of reviewed books having been written by women. (Please see link for full stats)

But it isn’t all bad news. Firstly, these figures are improving (believe it or not). And second, women are getting noticed. The Guardian released its list of top selling books in 2016. 4 of the top 10 were written by women (JK Rowling, Jojo Moyes x2, Paula Hawkins) and one of the ten was the Guinness Book of World Records, so it’s really 4 to 5 and here’s the best part, JK and Paula are one and two and when you add up the number of books sold, women outsold men at 55% of the sales. And if we are in the mood to be pedantic, the only three “adult fiction” books on the list were written by women. The men counted for children’s fiction and healthy eating.

So what’s my point?

Women are making their mark in the fiction world. I could, for example, talk about how that same top sellers list looks sickeningly like a “usual suspects” list. It was so refreshing to see Paula up there. Someone new. Someone breaking into the club. But that is not a problem exclusive to women and so a rant for another time perhaps. The point is, we are represented and this post is a celebration of that. It is a thank you and an acknowledgement to the amazing female writers out there, past, current and future.

I turn my eye to those who have made it. Who are flying the flag and paving the way for those of us to follow. We each have our own sources of inspiration. On another day, in another post, I could talk to the male writers (equality after all) that have inspired me to be the writer I am today but today, this week, is about women. And these five amazing women have helped light my literary fire.

1. JK Rowling

I imagine this entry is no surprise to any regular reader of my blog. I fangirl over Ms Rowling. A lot. To me, she is amazing. She wrote a series that inspired an entire generation and she did it when she was at her lowest point. She risked everything and took a chance. And it wasn’t a smooth ride. The story of her numerous rejections is now infamous as is the story of how she finally got her deal. A little girl picking up a book about a boy wizard and telling her dad he simply had to publish it.

JK and her universe are the reason I write. My parents bought me Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone when I was seven years old. Before it became anything. Before anyone had heard of it. And I fell in love. With the world. With the characters. But also with the idea of magic. It made me realise the true joy in reading and it made me want to give that joy to others. Within a year, my by-then eight year old self had finished her first fan fiction adventure. It was terrible. But I don’t care. It lit the spark. I still have it. In some ways, it is one of the works I am most proud of even now.

JK has done so much for writers, especially female writers. She has made being an author “cool” again. She is a Cinderella story for us all to aspire to. She is a lesson in perseverance and holding your ground when it matters.

2. Martina Cole

I had the immense pleasure of meeting this amazing author last year. I don’t know what I expected but the woman I met was so amazingly down to Earth and approachable. Here was this multi bestselling author chatting away to me about my (literally a week before) published debut novel. Giggling as we shared stories of writing disasters and sharing our gripes with the writer’s problems we all face. I will never forget her grabbing at my hands and grinning at me in nervous excitement as she waited to be called up onto the stage for interview. I just remember thinking “wow”, she had no airs, no graces and she was all the more charming and worthy of my respect for it. I remember thinking, “I hope I’m like that. If I ever find success in this. I hope I am just like her.”

She is a UK crime fiction giant. If ever there was a man’s world that’s it. She took them on, and she beat them into submission. According to wiki, “she has achieved sales of over fourteen million in the UK alone and her tenth novel, The Know, spent seven weeks on The Sunday Times‘s hardback best-sellers list.” She’s also a massive campaigner for women’s rights in prison.

3. Emily Bronte

She only wrote one book. Just one. And yet her name is a household feature. Wuthering Heights. The beautiful, heartbreaking, deliciously dark and wild love story of Heathcliff and his Catherine. It has spawned more pop songs than I can name (perhaps most famously Kate Bush’s hit of the same name), at least a dozen movie remakes, leaving generations of mothers and daughers arguing who is the best Heathcliff and more than its fair share of retellings. It was a book that shocked and appalled readers and critics alike when it was first released. It defied convention. She defied convention. Some commentators would go so far as to say she was the first female author to dare write about the same passions and powers as the men of the time. She wrote a book in which women were not just damsels. They were strong. They were passionate. They were an equal to their male compatriots.

One book. She did all that. Pretty awe-inspiring if you ask me.

4. Enid Blyton

I know she isn’t without her controversy but I doubt there was a single English kid in my generation who didn’t have at least one of her books on her bookshelf. Beside Harry, these were the books I grew up with. These are the adventures I went on as a kid. And I loved them. She wrote an astonishing amount of books (762 according to wiki!). And she stood strong as a bestselling author in a field that was undeniably male dominated at the time. I agree that her later works had their… issues, about which I won’t say any more but this does not take away from her achievements.

5. Shonda Rhimes

Don’t worry if you have no idea who this is. I used the word “writer” at the top on purpose. Shonda is not a novelist. She writes TV shows. I’ll bet you’ve heard of her headline, ten seasons and counting show “Grey’s Anatomy” or perhaps her more recent “Scandal”. “How To Get Away With Murder” is under her production banner, ShondaLand. Oddly enough, I’m not a huge Grey’s fan. It’s okay if it’s on. It has some nice moments but it doesn’t overwhelm me. I do not include her on this list for my love of her shows. I include her for the impact she’s had on an industry ruled by men. She is one of the women forcing Hollywood to listen. To stand up and tell our stories too. Twenty, even as recently as ten years ago, would a woman have truly believed it possible that a woman would not only be writing and producing these huge productions, but have a production company in her own name behind her.

If that isn’t inspiring, I don’t know what is.

#BeBoldForChange

Metaphors: Tricks and Tips for the Everyday Writer

Welcome to March’s Editor’s Corner. Seeing as this month is all things fairytale, I wanted to touch on something (vaguely) related and a nice slide into my next post.

Metaphors.

So… the basics…

What is a metaphor?

Anyone who made it past primary school knows what one of these bad boys is and roughly how to use them. For completeness, I shall include Google’s definition:

“a figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable.”

It’s not just a literary tool. We use them all day and every day in our lives.

“Let’s talk about the elephant in the room.”

“It’s all hands on deck today guys.”

“Came stumbling in he did, three sheets to the wind he was.”

If you are a teenage girl.

“I saw Taylor Swift yesterday. She smiled at me and I just died.”

And my favourite two at the current time…

“Not my circus, not my monkeys”

“We don’t have a dog in that race.”

We use them so often in fact, we sometimes have to stop and actually think about it to realise we are being metaphorical. We each have our favourites that become like catchphrases that follow us around our lives.

Metaphors in writing:

In the wider sense, we have all got this one down. Metaphors are used as a descriptive tool to heighten the reader’s experience of our world… bla bla bla… And for some writer’s that’s enough. That is how a good writer uses metaphors. A great writer uses them for so much more.

Metaphors are one of your most powerful tools when it comes to giving readers a powerful sensory experience so here’s a few tips to keep in mind while editing:

1. Beware The Cliché.

Beware of the overused metaphor. Yes, there is a reason that things become a cliché but hear a thing often enough and it looses any of its power. It stops being associated with the story you are telling and becomes just a dead metaphor because it has lost any impact it could have had. English is one of the most dynamic languages on the planet. Our dictionary and phrase books are constantly changing and so should be the way we use it. Try and be original with your choices where you can but…

2. Don’t Be Too Original

I feel sorry for EL James. She really should have words with her editor. It still astounds me that the following quote made it to the final published edit.

I feel the color in my cheeks rising again. I must be the color of The Communist Manifesto.

This goes down for me, as a crash course in how to turn a metaphor into a trainwreck. I examined this one in a post a couple of months back with a simple conclusion – the reason everyone knows (and makes fun) of this quote is because it jars with the story and its characters. As I said at the time, “if I was where she was, I promise you, the communist manifesto would be the last thing on my mind.” James had the chance here to help us see the world through Anastasia’s eyes but instead she’s gone with the first red thing she could think of. She panicked. She didn’t want to go with the cliché (red as a tomato traditionally – and let’s face it, that’s no prettier a picture) but instead of thinking about it, she threw down the first red thing she could think of. Learn from her my fellow writers. Metaphors, at the end of the day, should be background. If they are jumping up and down and waving a flag, you might want to think of toning them down.

3. Achieve Something

Okay, yes, metaphors are for description but that doesn’t mean that’s the only function they can play. Here are just a few possible secondary uses to keep in the back of your mind when editing:

  • seeing the world through the protagonists eyes (e.g. character development),
  • story mirroring (e.g. using environment to reflect character inner emotions),
  • tone setting (e.g. Dickens is rather renowned for using weather to set the mood for each section of his story).

4. Beware the Invisible Metaphor

What do I mean by this? I said at the top of this post that we all have those go-to metaphors that we use day in, day out without even thinking about it. And they are the ones you won’t see in your writing but I promise are there. Beware of them. Unless you are writing specifically so that it is your voice and the way you personally view the world that is to come out through the prose, steer away.

5. Theme and Genre Up

A quick exercise I like to do before I launch into editing is on two sheets of paper, I write on one my genre and on the other, I write my key theme. And then I’ll spend an hour or so writing down words and ideas I associate with both. I first came across this idea at high school and a tip from my English teacher. He said that my writing lacked depth. On the surface I was doing everything right. Let’s say I was writing a fairytale. I had the prince and princess, the goofy sidekick and evil witch and the plot was suitably heroic but it felt shallow. He suggested I looked not at what I was writing but how I was writing it. Instead of just using the first words that came to me, to sit down and reduce my lexis into one of words that echo the story I was trying to tell.

Clear as mud right?

It has taken me a long time to get my head around it. It was only after I started seeing it in the work of others, I began to understand.

Here’s an example. Let’s take a base phrase.

“He’d hit a brick wall.”

Generic. Cliché. So let’s fairytale it up.

“He’d worn his pickaxe down to wood but the mine refused to fall.” (Snow White)

“He’d kissed so many frogs his mouth had gone dry but still the happy ending eluded him.” (Princess and the Frog)

“He’d run out of dragons to fight.” (Sleeping Beauty)

Of course, this isn’t a simple swap exercise. I refer back to point 2. Unless the prose will suit it, all three of the above are purple flag waving metaphors and in this case it is on purpose to emphasis the point of the exercise. In reality, if you choose this path, your choices will be subtle and linked very deeply to your own themes you have running through your book. If your style is very straight forward and to the point (what I like to think of as the German way of writing – precise, no-nonsense, like a good BMW – it does the job and does it well) then you’ll probably find these more trouble than they are worth to slip in. However, if your style leaves you open for a little bit of floral artistry (let’s call this the Italian approach – like a Ferrari – always pretty, rarely the most efficient, likely to break down at a moment’s notice) then I’d really suggest having a play around with these. If nothing else, it’s a fun writing exercise to spend an afternoon coming up with the most wacky themed metaphors you can. It really makes you think about the language and moreover the words you choose.

 As always, happy Monday

Maxi 🙂

Review: Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

I always love to watch the reactions of people when I tell them what book I’m reviewing each month. For me, Birdsong was telling. Each time I’d tell someone, I’d instantly get responses like “great choice”, “excellent book”. But when I’d then follow up with “have you read it?” the answer was invariable “no. I’ve always meant to but never got around to it.”

And that is exactly why I chose to take it on this month. This is one of my bucket list books. It pops up all the time on those “100 books to read before you die” lists. It’s regularly hailed as Faulks’ best work. And everyone seems to have heard of it. And yet so few of us have read it.

This book was not what I expected. If I’m truly honest, I don’t know what I was expecting but not that. One of the things people tell you is it’s a “story about the war” so I kinda expected it to, you know, be set in the war. And it is. Eventually. But the main story is bookended on both ends by love stories. You actually start some years earlier in a French village with an English man named Stephen Wraysford who is visiting a family there. The first sixty pages this book felt heavy. Very heavy. The kind of heavy that makes you consider putting it down from the effort. Take my advice.

Don’t.

It might be a slow starter (honestly, the stuff about the factory and the strikes and the banal events of a cliché perfect-on-the-outside, troubled-behind-closed-doors family held little interest for me – the character building for both Isabelle and Stephen was so slow and while it does set you up with the secondary characters, most of them prove insignificant for the remainder of the novel aside from a thrown in line to warn you of their fate) but keep going. At about page 60, this book lights up like a firecracker on the 4th of July.

Another suggestion, don’t read this book at work. There I was, casually reading away my modern doorwedge of a faux classic when all of a sudden things were happening and I was suddenly very aware I was in company. Suffice to say, this book is not a PG rating. But from that point onwards, it takes off. And then Faulks throws in another curve ball (rolling with the America themed similes and metaphors today apparently)

In essence, this story is the story of Stephen’s journey through the war. Ish. With side plots. And random characters. And the odd divergence here and there. But he is the common thread that runs through it all. If you don’t care what happens to him, then you won’t get to the end (though I would challenge anyone not to). Because this book likes to time travel. Just as I was really getting into Isabelle and Stephen’s journey I suddenly found myself 6 years down the road and with a completely different character (Jack).

This is where the war stuff really comes in. You follow a whole battalion of characters as they struggle their way through the coming days, including the first day of the Somme (if you have a weak stomach, maybe skip this one – it’s gritty, real and doesn’t soften the horrors that happened there at all). And just as all this is kicking of…

We get stuck with Elizabeth.

I feel sorry for her as a character. She’s well written and in any other book her story line would seem engaging but against the brutalities of Stephen’s story line she just comes off (for me anyway) as a moaning girl with boyfriend troubles. Her sections are interspersed from here to the end with the tellings of Stephen’s struggles.

But Elizabeth does provide something else in this book. Guilt. On the cover of the version I read there is a quote from a reviewer “deeply moving”. I tend to find this means one of two things. Either a) you are going to come out of this novel with a renewed love for humanity and faith therein or b) you are going to be depressed as hell. This one is mostly the latter. It covers so many themes from the pointless waste of lives in the war, to the sheer bravery of the men that fought. It touches on how ill we treated these men after they returned and also on the emotional hell they were put through. There were parts of it that made me feel positively nauseous at the things these men went through “for King and Country”. And through Elizabeth, it points out our ignorance. November 11th every year we wear our poppies and say our thanks but most of us have next to no real idea what happened out on the fields of France. What exactly we are thanking these men for. For example, I had no idea they had miners out on the front lines. Men stuck underground for hours at a time in appalling conditions and although I did know about the massacre of the Somme, to read it through the eyes of those on the ground made it gutwrenchingly real.

Character wise, men do somewhat better than women. I don’t think you are supposed to “like” persay any particular character. But you do know them. They feel so real. So dynamic off the page. Their voices are so… human, it is what makes this book at the same time both compulsive reading but also repulsive reading in a way. Faulks is almost cruel. By treating the characters with such indifference, he makes the reader really care. You feel the deaths. There will be moments you’ll just have to stop reading for a moment and recover/grieve. You will find yourself begging them to just keep breathing as you rush through the pages dreading what you’ll find. He writes characters that have become immune to even their own death and so you as the reader take over the obligation of care. In a world full of fictional works that desensitise us to death, this one makes it brutally real. And if for that reason, and no other, it should be on everyone’s reading list.

Female characters are a little more two-dimensional. I wasn’t fond of Isabelle or Jeanne or Lisette and as I’ve already discussed, Elizabeth, while a useful vessel for conveying ideas, was in herself dull and man obsessed.

I suppose all that said, it was inevitable that I was never going to be satisfied with the ending. In many ways for me it felt too clean after such a messy journey. Elizabeth’s ending made me roll my eyes openly (and felt rushed, as though it was squeezed in at the last minute). And I wish he had spent a little longer in the final moments of Stephen’s – there was so much opportunity there – the amount of conflict and confusion after everything that had happened – that mix of characters I felt was under used. A mere chapter or two felt too little to me.

But all is forgiven for the writing. This book is a master-class. Faulks brings history to life with such a subtle hand that you barely realise you are reading words. You are seeing pictures. I’ve not seen any of the TV adaptations but I can’t imagine any living up to his prose. The detail, the definition, the care with which he tells his story is breathtaking.

This book will mentally destroy you as you read it. But don’t let that put you off. It is equally one of the hardest and one of the easiest 500 pages I’ve ever read. But definitely one of the most worthwhile. And for this reason, it’s in my “magical 1%” category. Those books that live with you. That change you in imperceivable ways. That become way more than just a story in a book. Books that stay with you forever. The war sections of this book will hurt. From the simple action of reading the letters in the trenches to the pain of characters like Brennan and Weir. This book is a war story, a love story and a survival story. But most of all, and the reason no matter if you even hate all of the afore listed types of stories that you will finish it, this book is about the human spirit and its incredible ability to endure the unendurable even when that spirit is irrevocably broken.

Rating: 10-10 – this isn’t a should read, its a must read

Favourite Quotes (7): “What was held to be a place of natural beauty was stagnation of living tissue which could not be saved from decay.”

“The harder he worked, the easier it seemed”

“I think children need to believe in powers outside themselves. That’s why they read books about witches and wizards and God knows what. There is a human need for that which childhood normally exhausts. But if a child’s world is broken up by too much reality, that need goes underground.”

“She had taken a job because she needed to live; she had found an interesting one in preference to a dull one; she had tried to do well rather than badly. She could not see how any of these three logical steps implied a violent rejection of men or children.”

“You can believe in something without compromising the burden of your own existence.”

“It made little difference that this was, by comparison, a small attack: there were no degrees of death.”

”He wanted it louder and louder; he wanted them to drown out the war with their laughter. If they could shout loud enough, they might bring the world back to its senses; they might laugh loud enough to raise the dead.”

Favourite Character: Jack

Least Favourite Character: Elizabeth

#Beattheblock: Tip 2 – Routine is your friend

Welcome back to#BeattheBlock

Today’s rule: Routine is your friend.

You read it all the time in writing advice blogs. Write for at least two hours a day. Cue delirious laughter. Yes thank you Mr King, might we remind you that you sit around all day and your day job is writing. Two hours a day to you is easy. I, however, am juggling family, a full time job, a blog, studying for an important qualification, an attempt at a social life and you know, sleep. I am lucky if I have ten minutes to throw together some food, nevermind block out two hours a DAY to write.

For most people, two hours a day is a pipe dream. Least it is for me. And the reason can be summarised in a nice, simple four letter word. Life. Life has this magical talent of getting in the way of a lot of things. Today’s advice is simple, embrace that. Don’t try and stop it getting in the way. You’ll end up stressed, everyone you know will hate you and when you take ten minutes to take stock, you’ll realise you’ve achieved even less than you had planned to in the first place. If you try and squeeze writing in whenever you have ten minutes, you’ll never find those ten minutes. Life will get in the way. It does that.

So have a routine. For some people its getting up an hour early (my idea of hell) to write for an hour before they get to work. For others I know, its blocking out Sunday afternoon (while the husband is watching the football and the kids are round at their friends). Me personally, it is my lunch hour. I plug myself in, get out a pen and paper and ignore everyone for an hour. (Fair warning, this option may result in your colleagues thinking you are a tad weird, what with the talking to yourself, miming out fight sequences and those few words they read over your shoulder that give them cause to worry about your mental state). But the point is, it happens every day. Everyone I work with knows that that is my writing time. And more importantly, so does my brain. Even if I sit there for the entire time on Pinterest looking at pictures of Colin O’Donoghue (hubba hubba) and calling it character research or just staring out of the window as I try to make sense of my latest plot disaster, it is progress. It is time my brain knows is dedicated to writing.

If you wait for inspiration to strike, you could be waiting a long time. It is our excuse as writers. “Why haven’t you finished your book yet Maxi?” *shakes her head in sadness* “Writer’s block.” Writer’s block exists. I used to think it was a state of mind but it isn’t. Sometimes, you just get stuck. The problem I always had was getting unstuck. Not because there wasn’t a solution but because I never gave myself time to think myself out of my problem. If you have a routine, you don’t feel guilty when you do spend that hour just thinking. Sometimes as writers we need to get lost in our own minds. We need to dedicate the time to thinking around the block until we can see a new path. Sometimes thinking is the most productive thing we can do. So give yourself time to do it.

Happy 2015!!!

It is that time of year again. The time where we look back at the last 12 months and assess just how little we’ve achieved on that list of things we wanted to do and look forward to the next 12 and once again set ourselves a bunch of targets we have no hope of hitting. I have this tradition where on the 31st of December I sit down and write my resolutions on a piece of paper before putting them in an envelope with the year written on it and put them away. I open them on the 31st of the following year and see how many of them I’ve hit. This year, for the first time, well… ever, I had a chance to smile.

I had four promises I made to myself this year just gone and I actually managed to make them. So I’m going to make 2015 an even better one. 2014 was about writing. It was about completing a NaNoWriMo for the first time in my career (+100,000 in total over the two sessions I did 😀 ). It was about taking some of those ideas that I’ve had cluttering my mind for so long and actually getting them down on paper. I’ve written two books this year. That is something I thought I’d never be able to say. I don’t care if they are rubbish, if the plots have so many holes they look like Swiss cheese or that they’ll will probably never get further than my recycle bin – for me, that is progress. It was about setting up a blog and putting myself out there (and thank you eternally for anyone reading this – you are part of what helped make 2014 such an awesome year). It was about finally learning how the hell Twitter worked and getting my face active on Social Media.

As writers, I think New Year is an important time for us. It is a time to set targets. Not crazy unreachable ones like selling a million copies of a book that hasn’t even got a coherent plot yet. I mean the ones we can do. We have the capability to amaze ourselves when we put our minds to it. So don’t give up chocolate. Don’t give up coffee. And for the sake of your sanity don’t give up alcohol, lord knows us writers need a nice glass of red once in a while. Instead, make promises. Not to mum and dad. Not to your best friend. But to you. Do it for you. Promise to write 2,000 words a week. Or promise to finally set up that Pinterest board full of inspiring images. Or maybe start that blog you’ve always promised yourself you’ll do but never have.

It is so easy to make New Year about looking back and seeing how stuck you are. Most people stay remarkably stationary in their lives. I should know, I’ve done that for enough years. 2014 proved to me that New Year doesn’t have to be like that. Let 2015 be the year that you move forward. When you open that envelope on the 31st of December let it be a tick-list of things you have done. You don’t need to land on Mars or meet the President of America to achieve something. Dieting is over-rated and no one ever actually goes to the gym. Don’t waste your resolutions. Resolutions are the dreams you have the power to make come true.

For me 2015 is going to be about polishing. I have the rough guts, now I want to turn them into something worth standing behind and being proud of. I want to do NaNoWriMo again (this year with the additional bonus of studying for a professional qualification and holding down a 9 hr a day job). I have promised that I will send a manuscript to at least one agent before the ball falls next year. I have promised that I will get my butt on this blog more regularly and post more than once every three months (sorry about that… in my defence, I have moved country, house, changed job and been unwell). And I have promised to write at least 1,000 words a week come hell or high water.

These are promises I can keep. These are promises I will keep. These are small fragments of a bigger dream I am working to make come true.

So Happy New Year!! I hope 2014 was good to you. I hope 2015 will be even better. And I hope that when you open that envelope it is big ticks next to each item. To writers everywhere, let’s make 2015 about progress. Go on. I dare you!!

Maxi xx

Following your Dreams

Following your dreams is hard. It’s not particularly what any of us want to hear but its the brutal truth. In fact, there are days when I come to the conclusion that following your dreams plain and simple sucks. Don’t misunderstand me, I will never let go of my dreams. These days the word ‘dream’ has become a bit of a dirty word. Saying the words “I’m going to make my dream come true…” tends to get the same face as all those women on the X Factor who say they are the next Whitney Houston and then open their mouths and sound like cats being strangled. It’s sad. But it’s true. A lot of people consider dreams almost as secrets we all have but something we aren’t meant to take seriously. Particularly if you are smart. Then you really get the incredulous looks when you say your dream is to go into anything creative/arts.

The problem with dreams is you’ve got to believe. Dreams, if you ask me anyway, take three things. Luck (of which I have very little), Hard Work (of which I do a lot) but most importantly, Self Belief. To use a very bad (and corny) Disney analogy, Cinderella said that “Dreams are a wish your heart makes” and as anyone who has ever watched a Disney movie knows, to make wishes true you have to Believe. Okay, too corny… I know. But the underlying moral is right. To quote (once again, I apologise for my repetition across posts) “It’s hard to keep momentum when it is you that you are following.” Particularly with writing, in a busy lifestyle, every time I sit down to write a word, sentence or page, I’m so aware of the other things I could do with my time. Things that pay me mostly. Whenever I feel guilty, I have that ‘am I good enough’ conversation with myself. And I will be honest, there are times when I come back with an unmovable no, and come exceedingly close to packing it all in. On those days, the only thing that keeps me going is the knowledge that if I stopped writing altogether, I’m pretty sure I’d loose the small amount of sanity I still possess.

To get to my (rather rambling) point, the reason that a lot of people get to fifty, look around and wonder where their dreams went is because a lot of people are afraid to try. I work in a people based environment so I get asked a lot about my intentions for life, and I will be brutally honest, there are days I want to go home and cry because I’m sick of the judgemental looks. The ‘grow up and get a real job’ speeches that pure strangers have the cheek to give me. Believe it or not, I’m a pretty decent cynic, so I know that the chances of my dreams actually coming true are slim but I don’t see why that should be any reason not to try. So this post today is dedicated to anyone who ever had, has or will have a dream. They think us dreamers are loopy or nuts but they are wrong. A thanks to all those people out there who remind me I’m not the only one struggling up this mountain. And a ‘keep going. It’ll happen’ to anyone who is feeling self doubt.

Below are links to some of my favourite songs to listen to when I need to be reminded of why I keep at it…

That’s Life: Michael Buble

I just love this song. Sinatra or Buble, that’s just taste but the lyrics are just perfect. It sums up that up and down movement in life and with its easy jazz rhythm it always makes me smile and most importantly, it makes me get up and keep going!!

Crazy Dreams: Megan Hilty

I sing this song to myself quite a lot. I don’t find it sad, I find it uplifting and inspiring. It also has a very important message that I have to remember “Crazy Dreams really do come true.”

Every Storm Runs Out of Rain: Gary Allen

I know a lot of people associate this song with the loss of something important but it works just as well for life in general. Another good song to remember that no matter how violent the storm, the sun always comes out in the end. 

Rain on my Parade: Lea Michele

I chose this particular performance on purpose. I like it for three reasons. Firstly, because Lea Michele is living her dream. Secondly, because I love this version of this song, it has so much bite and determination. And thirdly, the look in her eyes. You can see in them that she’s not going to let anyone stop her and I think that’s pretty inspiring.

Dream On: Glee

Okay, so I’m a little bit of a Gleek. But I honestly, prefer this version to the original, judge all you like. I love Matthew Morrison and Neil Patrick Harris. I also love the song and the lyrics. If ever there was a song about keeping on dreaming no matter what is thrown at you, this is it. 

Gives You Hell: All American Rejects

This is my guilty pleasure. This is my ‘turn it up to full volume and scream at the top of my lungs when I’m having a bad day’ song. Honestly, try it. I like to picture the faces of anyone who ever said I would fail. 🙂 

Tony’s Opening: Neil Patrick Harris

This one is more for those theatre people out there (of which I like to consider myself an honouree member). Every lyric in this song is completely true. It makes me laugh and it makes me remember my six year old self watching Grease and wanting to be Sandy. I admire any man who can go on stage and celebrate his dream as brightly and colourfully as this.

Geek Out! Harry Potter turns 33

Okay so I’m a day late. I meant to post this yesterday what with it being July 31st, both JK Rowling and Harry Potter’s birthday, hence the afore mentioned title but time ran away from me so you’ll have to forgive the belated nature of this post.

In honour of the great wizard’s birthday, I wanted to post this link to a really interesting documentary. It was broadcast on british TV quite a few years ago now but I always find it really interesting. Anyone with an interest in JK, her work or indeed the world of publishing should give it a watch. It’s got some really interesting insights. I just hope someday I can create a world I know as well as she knows hers. Also, just want to say, if anyone deserved the success of Harry Potter, it’s JK.

It’s a little long but honestly, it’s really worth it.

Writers Corner: Some Friendly Advice (Tony Parsons)

I recently subscribed to the Curtis Brown newsletter. I’m on several mailing lists for big publishing houses and agents. Most of what they send out is the predictable promotion rubbish about which I rarely care as they seem intent on telling me about books that are in genres about which I have little interest (variations of roses anyone?) – However, they also occasionally contain a gem of information. Today, I got a notification about a blog entry from Tony Parsons (writer and journalist) and his top ten tips for becoming a successful author. Here’s the link….

http://curtisbrowncreative.co.uk/school-blog/tony-parsons-writing-tips/

It’s worth a look for anyone whose trying to write. I always read these top tip things. Sometimes they are useless, sometimes just telling me things I had managed to work out for myself but normally there’s at least one gem of information. Mostly, I like how to the point Parsons is.

Point one is eloquent and something a lot of people forget. There are three elements to writing and he’s right that us writers sometimes need reminding of that. Particularly ‘experience’. I find a lot of writers who have all the worlds and the characters but somehow they’ve forgotten real life in there somewhere.

I’ll be indulging myself in a rant on ‘North Star’ one-liners at some point soon so I won’t say too much here. Just that, its rather bemusing to me that the hardest part of a book isn’t the 600 odd pages of hard slog and seventeen re-drafts/proofs (aka the afore mentioned marathon) but that one sentence that sums the whole lot up. I’ve never started a book with a single line idea. Maybe its because my brain just can’t work that way, I work in a very lateral wide field rather than in strict straight lines but his advice is dead on. It’s one thing I’m always working on. Finding that one buzz phrase that sums everything up.

Point four is an interesting one that I completely agree with. And here I might offend so apologies in advance, but nothing makes me cringe worse than when someone says ‘oh I’m writing a fantasy novel’ and when I ask, ‘do you read fantasy’ I get back, ‘well no but I’ve seen Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings’. It’s not the same. I know I try and keep up to date with what’s going on in any of the genres I’m writing in. For me, I think 50 pages is a little extreme (as is 1000 words a day. Four hours writing??? I wish…. That’s the dream someday but for the moment, scribbles at 2am is the best I can offer). Some of us have a day job (or three) limiting our free time but even just knowing what other people are writing about is a good start.

Six and nine are two halves of the same story. There’s a quote from Evita that I like to use. “It’s hard to keep momentum when it’s you that you are following”. Writing can be lonely. It’s partly why I started this blog to have a way to share my journey with other people. I love talking about books (as much as many of my friends might wish otherwise…) but I’ve found whenever I’m doubting myself, I talk to people. It’s tempting to keep everything to yourself and not -spoil- for others but I always have to remind myself, there’s no point worrying about spoilers if lack of momentum/confidence/belief is going to stop the book from being finished. Also, when I’m stuck, I ask people. As much as my dad is bemused when asked about the pro’s and con’s of fire-breathing vampires, he still has an imagination even if he doesn’t write himself. People, I have found, are the best source of inspiration on that journey from idea to book.

As for point ten… again, another rant will be coming your way in the foreseeable future but I sense Parsons was rather under the influence of Curtis Brown on that one. I think having an agent can help but I also think not having one can be just as lucrative – in fact, I think it’s the way the publishing world is slowly drifting. Just ask Hugh Howey (Wool review coming next week) or E.L. James (Fifty Shades of Grey).