Monthly Archives: June 2012

Write here, write now

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Write here, write now

As a writer and a mum, my top tip would be you have to just get on with writing wherever you are, whenever you can. To paraphrase a famous saying, the road to Hell is paved with lame excuses. You can’t find time/motivation to write? Then break down why it is you can’t and do something about it. Treat the problem holistically. We all have the same amount of time; but the reason you haven’t published your novel yet is due to not enough bum on seat/fingers on keyboard action. Identify your time stealers and work on making them less distracting. I’ll talk more about this another time, but for now, I’m going to talk hardware.

It’s often been said that the great thing about having a laptop is that your office can be absolutely anywhere. I’ve tried practically all the rooms in my house, but I’m often distracted by housework that needs doing (and in my house, there are MANY distractions in that respect.)

So I ventured outdoors. I often sat in the wendy house of a local play park while my son played nearby. But if I got interrupted when another child came to play, I would clear off (it’s only fair.) Then there came a time when I got stuck in between the little wendy house chair and the table. It was time to go on a diet. Or find another location. I chose to find another location.

But the screens on most laptops are rarely anti-glare, and unless you can turn your screen brightness up to 11 while it’s plugged in (outside?) you haven’t a hope. The battery would last about 5 minutes and you run the risk of losing all your work. My fantasy of sitting on a beach with my laptop will have to remain a fantasy. I don’t want to get sand in my laptop crevices . Who does?

But that’s the problem with laptops. The name itself. Laptop. You really shouldn’t put a laptop on your lap. This consumerist, throwaway society we live in dictates that most electrical products only have a life of about three years, even expensive ones. And to speed things along, things like laptops tend to have weak points that screw up the motherboard (I almost sound like I know what I’m talking about don’t I?)

The first thing to go on my last three laptops has been where the power cable goes into the machine. I recommend you always keep your laptop still on a table so the cable isn’t being jerked around.)

My friend Leanna owns a brilliant solution – a digital pen (aka computer pen). It writes on paper like a normal pen, but the words can be digitised into files that can be uploaded onto your computer. Writers get the best of both worlds; the feeling of pen to paper, without the grief of typing it all out again.

I got a little notebook computer and now I sit in the car writing while waiting for my kids to get out of school. It’s the best part of my day. No distractions, I can sit and write solidly. It’s a wonder I remember what I’m really there for. One day I’ll forget to pick the kids up, I just know it.

I’m going to have to wait a long, long time to buy one of my own, but Samsung have brought out a series of new laptops with an anti-glare screen. But if you’re looking for the pony’s cahonies of laptops to use in the great outdoors, theMacBook Pro 17 is highly recommended. Maybe my fantasy of sitting on a (stony) beach writing the last chapters of my novel might become a reality after all.

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Ways to shake up your work

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Ways to shake up your work

Having children and a career is a tricky undertaking, so I am forging my way as a freelance writer by writing articles for magazines. When the babies were small, I spent many a sleepless night writing. Seven years later, I have two screenplays, a children’s book and three quarters of a novel. My husband has been really supportive. He tells me I write well, but you need to look outside your family to get an objective opinion. You need to meet with other writers to help improve and develop your work.

I was nervous at first, but after several writing courses and nightclasses,  I’m learning so much now that I offer up my work for critique.  Youwriteon.com is a good site, there are several others.  BBC Writersroom is great for TV and stage opportunities. There are plenty of websites for other writing opportunities, but I like the competitions supplement that comes out every year with Writing Magazine. It joined forces with Writers’ News to offer two mags in one.  If you’re new to writing, both these and Writers’ Forum have opps throughout the year, with plenty of inspirational articles to help move your projects along.

Before my youngest started school, I started a writing support group for parents in a soft play area. I might do a similar thing again when we’ve moved house.

Notice I said “writing support group.” I wouldn’t dream of telling people  how to do this stuff. All I can offer is my experience and new opportunities. For some mums, it could be a viable career option to fit around the family. I know I still have a lot to learn, so I am in the process of reshaping and editing my work before sending it out to agents, publishers and potential sponsors. I find myself thinking “did I really write that?” (By which, I mean both “wow” and “WTF?!”) The brain works in mysterious ways. Especially at 4am.

I found that when I hit a wall, these things helped:

Exercise.  Stretch. Get oxygen to the brain. And try to be mindful about what you eat. It’s hard enough to keep one step ahead of the kids as it is. Do yourself a favour. Don’t load yourself up with bad carbs and ‘dirty’ food. You wouldn’t stick diesel in an unleaded car.

Think about changing your format. Would your script work as a novel, or vice versa?

Be a tourist in your own locality and find yourself a place of inspiration  – a museum, play park…

…You may find a new place to write. I found a children’s wooden play house while my son played nearby. When we had the park to ourselves, it was bliss. When anyone else came along, I got out of the way. This worked wonderfully until one day I got stuck between the child size chair and table in the wendy house. Time to lay off the doughnuts….

Random words or association. Use dictionary.com or thesaurus.com to help fuel new ideas.

Free Association writing. Let your fingers do the talking and write nonsense. Part of the fun of writing is the editing afterwards.

Read a newspaper or a magazine to put you in a totally different mindset you can find potential stories in the strangest of places . I find science magazines like Focus or National Geographic very inspirational. Sitting on the train to London, I found a filler piece in the Metro News about a message in a bottle washed up on a Cornish beach. It was from an anonymous French woman. She had been having an affair with a married man who left her. That sort of article could spark off a whole new story. Similarly, a photo could set off the beginnings of a novel. Mine was partly inspired by an old family photo with the shadow of the photographer laying across the two children in the photo. The photographer had died long ago. Take a look at Pinterest for instant inspiration.

Step away from the computer! Picking up emails can kill your creativity; even editing text uses a different part of the brain. If you are better writing straight into the laptop; make a rule that you will only pick up your emails at, say, 11am and 4pm. And here’s a tried and tested tip from novelists: if you type as you go, make the font too small to read properly. That way you won’t be tempted to go back and edit. Many writers (notably the prolific Stephen King in his superb book On Writing say that you should write the whole thing, leave it for a while then go back and edit. I do this on the notebook  in the car while I’m waiting for the kids to get out of school. Having tiny writing also means no-one can read it as they walk past the car. Anyone who looks in must think I’m a loony pretending to work. They wouldn’t be that wrong.

Hope this helps. Good luck!

A Very Special Secret Museum

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Leeds Discovery Centre logo

leeds.gov.uk

The summer holidays are looming, and it won’t be long before you have to start thinking about how to stop the kids (and you) climbing the walls during those endless weeks.
Leeds Discovery Museum is a secret treasure trove just outside of the city centre. Booking a visit is essential. Look out here for special events throughout the year.
We went for a torchlight tour, part of the national Museums at Night initiative, and had a whale of a time. There is a real eclectic mix of objects that should appeal to everyone, from vintage clothing,to artefacts from the home and kitchen, spanning centuries. Be warned – there are lots of stuffed animals and dodgy things seized from customs. Curated by Liz with a wonderfully witty sense of humour, she makes these objects come alive with fascinating stories.

leeds.gov.uk

Last time, Liz showed us a huge collection of exotic giant spiders that had been collected from banana boxes…in UK supermarkets! The kids were allowed to touch a giant meteorite. We saw, close up, a 3000 year old Egyptian mummy covered in bandages. Then Liz asked if anyone could spot anything beginning with Y. My son said “yacht…I can see it in my head.”
This summer, the Discovery Centre is joining forces with The Bowery  to bring you a series of workshops, including how to sew a fifties retro skirt and tea dance dress, intro to watercolour painting, and printing without a press.
For more information, go here

The Bowery is also running classes at Temple Newsam including embroidery, patchwork and creative writing, part of the Bedtime Stories exhibition.

How to have a Moshi Monster-ific Party

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ImageWell, the day of the Moshi Birthday Party finally arrived.  We had 21 kids (twenty one!!) running round a house we have just put on the market to sell. Some may say it was foolish, but…it went surprisingly well!

I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my brilliant husband, who modestly offered his services as “monkey butler” (he was so much more.) My friend Barbs was a great help too, and much needed, as I was being pulled in all directions for three hours.

We ran the birthday party almost like a mini summer fete; facepainting and tattoos (moshlings printed onto special tattoo paper, but I don’t recommend this unless you have a dedicated tattooing adult; too time-consuming) and my gorgeous monkey butler husband dressed as Dr Strangeglove (one purple washing up glove and modified top hat.) He scared the little ones somewhat, but put them in a Moshi mood.

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Later, Dr Strangeglove redeemed himself when he helped them plant their choice of seeds into little pots to take home. Who knows? A Moshling might arrive in their garden. I’m still waiting for Cutie Pie. A giant cupcake on wheels. Genius…?!

Food:

All with a theme from The Grossery. I’ve learned from experience you can spend hours prepping organic veg and preoccupied kids will not eat it, so forget it. To keep it simple, I stuck to a selection of beige foods that are popular at parties.  

Pom Bear crisps,

Sausage rolls,

‘ Sneeze and Bunion’ pasties.

Zommer’s Eyeballs – amazing how you can get kids to eat melon balls, just by calling it something else.

Pirate Pong Pizza – Pirate Pong is a Glump. I’ve been told.

General Fuzuki Salad

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I made some Hansels (gingerbread men) and Starlight Cookies  with the leftover gingerbread dough. I cut a hole in a star shaped biscuit, then crushed some coloured boiled sweets and placed them in the hole. While the biscuits are cooking, the sweets melt to make a lovely stained glass effect.

I made Toad Soda using lemonade that I left overnight to go a little bit flat (my kids don’t like fizzy drinks much) then I put natural green food colouring in. I tried to keep E numbers to a minimum – it was for the good of all. Who wants 20-odd hyperactive kids  running round your house?

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 We had a HUGE  bumblebee  piñata that I made from last year and turned into Jeepers the tiger (OK, I didn’t have to do much of a makeover.) I filled it with sweets and toys and let the kids kick the hell out of it. It lives to survive another year. (see the Pinata saga here)

The living room was the Underground Disco, which was deliberately dark, but we had some cartoony-looking ball lights to give it some Moshi  atmosphere. I placed posters all over the house (free from Moshi mag)  to hint where in Moshiland we were. I also bought some pretty cotton bunting from Country Baskets to give it a Moshi Funpark feel (I wanted to put it out in the garden but it was raining at the time. The overall effect was pretty good, though.) I bought normal balloons and got the kids to draw moshlings on some of them. We seemed to have loads of white ones –  all the shops had a glut of red, white and blue Royal Jubilee decorations on sale. Whatever the colour, balloons are great, cheap toys and kids can play keepie-uppie for ages.

Upstairs, we had a dressing up room, with clothes and hats. The kids’ bathroom was the facepainting area with my daughter and her friend doing a grand job. Everyone wanted their face painted, so this was where they all tended to congregate at first. I had to redirect some of them to different rooms, as the kids were starting to trail down the stairs. (They’ll have plenty of time to queue when they’re teenagers outside nightclubs, why start now?)

Music Island was where we put all our percussion and Paperjamz guitars . I made a poster as an homage to Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, with Moshlings and Moshi Music Stars instead of celebrities.

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The CLONC room was the cloakroom. In normal speak, the coats room (and parent’s bedroom) was Dr Strangeglove’s C.L.O.N.C. headquarters, which conveniently was out of bounds.

The spare room was kept secret until the very end. Then the kids were allowed in two at a time where I gave them a half filled gift bag (computer printed tattoos, a selection of Moshi Stickers and a Cadbury’s Freddo choc bar made to look like Scamp) then I set the timer for a minute to allow them to choose three things from Gift Island……

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…I recommend doing this bit a good half hour before the end, especially if there are a lot of kids to get through! Don’t forget to put their name on the bag. I made the rookie mistake of letting them keep their party bag, thinking they could hold onto them for the last 20 minutes. I think I should have put the bags to one side for collection at the end; although it would have been madness when all the parents turned up to collect their kids. Strangely enough, 21 children are a self-organising…organism, and it wasn’t that long before most were out of the door and on their way home. Only one party bag went astray, and the beauty of gift island is that they can go and stock up a new bag! I had a load of gift boxes from Country Baskets and the gifts were a mix of old and new. With my kids’ permission, I was allowed to offload all those little toys that you’re forever picking up off the floor.

Even my husband was very chilled and satisfied that we’d done a good job. I asked him if he’d have it in the house again next year, and he said yes! Result.