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Taking the cake

nadiya

I love the fact that there is only one story that has made it to the front page of nearly every British newspaper today; the news that Nadiya Hussain has been crowned winner of the Great British Bake Off.

Every single newspaper except the Times and the Daily Mail put Nadiya on their front pages. The uppercrust Daily Telegraph featured a recipe on how to make millefeuille.  The Daily Mail has one for three-layer banana cake. The Daily Star, which often features naked buns, has one for perfect cupcakes.

An estimated 15 million people tuned in to the final programme last night. And you can’t move on Twitter for tearful tweets about her success. Even judge Mary Berry walked off camera rather than let her stiff upper lip quiver in public.

Nadiya’s win was on News at Ten and she was interviewed on Radio 4’s Today programme (which is more weighty than a 10-tier wedding cake), plus numerous other radio phone-ins. I suspect her show-stopping lemon drizzle cake has got more column inches than David Cameron’s key note speech to the Conservative party conference.

It must seem odd to people outside Britain that we go so mad over a baking competition. But I think it is rather wonderful. Muslims get plenty of appalling press these days. Many of the above newspapers are happy to slag off the ‘swarms’ of Syrian refugees wearily arriving in Europe, and even question a woman’s right to wear the hijab.

There were mutterings at the beginning of the contest that Nadiya’s being on the programme smacked of tokenism and political correctness. They soon stilled. It seems there’s nothing like a gravity defying cheescake to silence racism.

She’s been hailed as an inspiration to British muslims. Dr Omer El-Hamdoon, president of the Muslim Association of Britain, said she “demonstrated the inclusivity of British Muslims in society.”

Nadiya said in one interview at the beginning of the series, “Originally, I was a bit nervous that people would look at me, a Muslim in a headscarf, and wonder if I could bake. But I hope that week by week people have realised that I can bake – and just because I’m not a stereotypical British person, it doesn’t mean that I am not into bunting, cake and tea.”

She began the competition with no confidence and got last place in the technical challenge on week one. But my god, she is a trier. She was cheerful, nervous, funny and determined. Maybe it’s odd that iced buns should cause such a fuss, or that she should cry over madeira cake. Or that half of the country should be yelling at the telly, when she made a bad decision to junk her vol au vents and make some new ones with the clock against her.

But she kept going, and we stayed with her. And when she was awarded her trophy (a cake stand, natch), she said, ‘I’m never gonna put boundaries on myself ever again. I’m never gonna say I can’t do it. I’m never gonna say “maybe”. I’m never gonna say “I don’t think I can”. I can and I will.’

Cake, eh? Who knew?

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“So listen to me well, Labour Party, because if you get this wrong again you will be done for, once and for all”

Evey single member of the Labour party should read this. But I expect they won’t. Ever since Blair ignored three million people marching against the invasion of Iraq, I get the impression that Labour MPs feel they know better than ‘ordinary people’. And now they wonder why they lost the election…

Mutterings from the Left

The below is a response from a lady called “Annette”, to an article by former Scottish Labour MSP Richard Baker entitled “Separation is not the answer” (to Labours woes).

The piece originally appeared on http://www.labourhame.com, and was brought to my attention by . The original article can be found here: http://www.labourhame.com/separation-is-still-not-the-answer/#comment-128724

Breathtaking.

I am so tired of the word “nationalism” being branded about by Labour. And, ooh, they inserted the word “patriotic” in their constitution, how quaint. Personally, I don’t give a toss about patriotism and nationalism. I am an EU citizen living in Scotland and I voted YES because it is my firm belief that every country has a right to political self-determination and should not be ruled by another country. This is something that I suspect most Labourites would in theory agree to, because it makes them sound noble, but when applied to Scotland, they suddenly…

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“I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.’’

 

charlie

Write on

nanowrimo2

On Saturday I signed up for NaNoWriMo. On Sunday I wished I hadn’t. I haven’t written a full length romantic novel for nearly 20 years, and I’ve begun to think that I should try to write another one, simply to see if I can still do it.

I always tell my students to plan; to think about their characters, to have some idea of what is going to happen. Did I do this? No. I did not. I just woke up with a vague idea of my hero and heroine meeting in a car park (yes, really) and charged straight into it. First page, great; second page, okay; third page, blank.

I hadn’t realised, at first, that when you take part in the National Novel Writing Month, you:

  • actually sign up to a website;
  • enter your target length;
  • are given daily target of words to complete.

And get this; there’s a little window where, every day, you log in how many words you’ve done.

nanowrimo1

So there I was on the morning of November 1, thinking that I was just going to coast along in a dreamy sort of way, writing an unspecified amount every day (so, nothing, then, ed) until I contacted Tara Sparling and she put me right on the details. (Now there’s a girl who is on fire –well, not literally, you understand, because that would be somewhat inconvenient, but she has a great idea and she is, as they say in Ireland, away on a hack with it).

A few hours later (she must have hypnotised me, guv) I found the website, signed in, put in 50,000 words as my target and the NaNoWriMo computer helpfully told me that my average of words per day should be 1,167. On Saturday I wrote 867 words. Yesterday I deleted quite a lot of those, and wrote 871 more. At this rate, the computer has informed me, I will complete my magnum opus on January 26 (what year, ed?).

Trouble is I have no idea what my characters are going to do next. They’re just sitting there, like dummies in a car, and there’s no oomph. I’d like to shoot both of them, but I’m not writing a murder mystery. It’s all very well having a target average and a deadline, but since my characters are so wooden that they’re giving my brain splinters, it might be time to rethink my strategy.

It’s odd to think of writing in such a clinical way, but when I used to write full time I sat down every morning and aimed to write 2,000 words, even if half of it was rubbish and I had to scrub it. Overall I still achieved something, to the point where I ended up with a complete book. And then I had children, and stuff happened, and writing romantic novels rather fell by the wayside.

I’ve signed up with NaNoWriMo because I need to get that discipline back. I’m determined to get to the end of another book by November 30. So, I’m going to be ruthless. I’m leaving my frustrating pair of no-hopers outside a Hollywood motel, with their fuzzy backgrounds and unplanned future and I’m going straight to Plan B. I’m going to resurrect my plans for a book I began to draft this summer, which lapsed because summer and a lack of self confidence got in the way.

I really think I might make it to the end of this one. I have a cunning plan, you know.

Pictures via Creative Commons, via:

http://www.toyota-4runner.org/attachments/5th-gen-t4rs/63794d1336528966-snorkel-update-baldrick.jpg

https://c1.staticflickr.com/1/103/310384366_82db45b278

Just the ticket

wheel clamp

I hate traffic wardens. And I really hated this one. He was standing by my car, hunched over his pad like a sweating gargoyle when I got back with my ticket.

‘I’ve only been away five minutes,’ I said.

He didn’t look up. Just scratch, scratch, scratch at his pad.

I waved my ticket. ‘Look. I’ve just been to get it. You can’t do me for this. It’s ridiculous.’

He kept on scratching, so I thrust the ticket right under his nose. ‘See?’

He lifted his head then. Looked at my ticket. Put his whole pasty paw around it, tugged it from my fingers, screwed it up and threw it on the ground.

I looked at it, and then I looked at him. ‘You’re insane,’ I said.

But he just ripped the page from his book and slapped it in my hand. ‘You’re the one who’s insane, sunshine. Here. Have a fixed penalty notice from me. ’

I was going to hit him then, right in his little blobby jobsworth’s nose. My hand was tight in a fist, like this.

But he just looked at me and you know what? His little pouchy eyes began to fill with tears and he said, ‘Go on hit me. I don’t care. I’ve been waiting to do you. Ever since you drove on to a pavement last year and killed my daughter.’

This was part of an exercise I set for my students last night, to demonstrate showing and telling, and how you could use anger to move a story along. I gave them six lines of dialogue featuring an impossible traffic warden. And then I thought this morning that it might be interesting to look at it from the traffic warden’s point of view.

Picture via Creative Commons courtesy of http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wheel_clamp

Awkward Alice

blitz

They try to be kind to Alice, you know. But she’s an awkward customer. She lived all through the Blitz. Had a stillborn baby the night they hit Wapping.

Her husband was odd though; Tony, he were in one of them Japanese prisoner of war camps. In Burma. When he came home he was as thin as a gipsy’s whippet. You could see right through his hands. He ate a bone, once. At a Rotary dinner. Chomp, chomp, chomp all through the speeches. Like a bloody great dog. Alice just acted as if it were normal.

Tony didn’t live long after that; Alice brought all them children up on her own. They’re all grown up now. Very good jobs; doctors and the like, in Australia. The nurses at the home are lovely. But she’s a difficult one. Never happy unless she’s miserable. And now her family’s here and it’s her birthday dinner. She’s 100. They’ve all come to get her. Her sons have come all that way, and her grandchildren. They’re taking her to a fabulous restaurant.

Alice is at the home watching Bargain Hunt. She watches it every day. ‘Come on, Alice sweetheart. Time to go for your dinner.’

‘Bugger off,’ says Alice.

 

I was inspired to write this by the short stories on Bruce Goodman’s blog. I like his short, staccato style. I wanted to write it so that the narrator had a specific voice, but to keep him/her separate from the actual story. (If you make the ‘you’ in the third par into an ‘I’ for example, the last par doesn’t work.)

I also wanted to experiment with voice; to break the rules about not using cliche, and to see how far you can write how you speak, without it becoming as confusing as real speech.

Picture courtesy of https://c1.staticflickr.com/3/2744/4398104241_0a5ac81a59_z.jpg  via Creative Commons

The editor’s mug

It’s been nearly a year since I started my blog, and this was one of my first posts. I’m still very fond of it, partly because it reminds me of how mad and funny it was to work on Fleet Street. And some of it is true…

Writer's notebook

I want to tell you a true story. It’s about a man I once worked with. We were both subs (copyeditors) on a daily newspaper. The work was hard, the shifts were long, but we all had four-day rotas, which meant that the blocks of graft were cemented with decent layers of days off. There was also a pub nearby which we went to at any given opportunity, and we got paid very well, so you needn’t feel too sorry for us.

And then, horror of horrors. A new editor arrived. He was ok, as far as editors go. The only limitation being that, on Thursdays, he would speak only Latin. Nobody knew why. But then that is the way, and the right, of kings and editors. ‘Quintus ubi est argumentum?’ he would demand, of no one in particular, as the newsroom hummed with shouted obscenities from the sweating subs…

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How To Know If You Are A Chick-Lit Heroine

Really liked this piece from Tara Sparling. Should have re-blogged it ages ago. Better late than never, I suppose. And it is very funny.

How To Know If You Are A Chick-Lit Heroine.

Fairy dust and farting about with plots

honymoonass

Here’s an interesting thought: lots of authors don’t like plotting their stories. They say they’re waiting to do it, they say they’re willing to do it. But when it comes to the moment with a blank sheet of paper and a pencil, do they really want to do it? No, they don’t.

Look at me. All this stuff I’ve written. Have I ever plotted it out? No. Not properly. I’ve scrawled a few ideas on a sheet of paper and then thought, bugger this, I want to get started. Also, there seems to be a feeling that if you plan something out, you knock the fairy dust off it. You are turning what should be an artistic creative exploration into some kind of mechanistic plodding.

In the last few weeks, I’ve decided that I’ve got to get off my butt and write another romance. When it came down to starting, this week, did I plot it out first? Did I plan? Did I take any of my own advice, as given to everyone else in my blog posts? No, I bloody didn’t. I shied away from it. I decided, instead, to just freewrite; I wouldn’t , as I usually do, rewrite and rewrite,  I would just keep going until the end, which would probably be about 5,000 – 7,000 words, and then I would use that as my plot. Clever, huh?  Yeah, right.

And I suppose I would have gone on like that and probably got through, if it wasn’t for the fact that I teach a creative writing class and they’re all having some difficulty with giving their stories real narrative drive. I mean, making the reader feel as if the author is in charge, that they know where they’re going.

The research on plotting that I’d done up until that point hadn’t come up with anything that’s really useful. I wrote about it last week, about how you start with your hero wanting something, and then you keep putting obstacles in their way until you decide they’ve had enough and bring it all to a satisfying conclusion. But it was all too vague. If I’m going to get advice, I want practical stuff. I want something that I can use, that is going to work for me.

And then, quite by chance, on Twitter, I found this brilliant website: thescreenwritingprocess.com. It’s for screenwriters really, (no shit, Sherlock) but they have step by step instructions on how to lay out a plot, and I read them and I felt as if I had discovered New Life.

You can get the whole bit, if you’re interested, by going to their site. But in a nutshell, the first thing they advise is to write a premise (or a logline as sreenwriters call it). This is how you do it: Describe your protagonist (cab driver, mother, superhero, whatever) then give them an adjective that sums them up (world weary, alcoholic, retired), then describe their aim (saving the world, saving a child, singing in Eurovision). Then describe who/what is standing in their way. Then put it in a sentence. Like so: World weary mother wants to sing in Eurovision, but has to fight off alcoholic superhero.

Try it with something you’re working on. It’s hard. I thought I would find it easy. I thought I had all my plot in my head. It was only when I attempted this, that I realised that my heroine was a wet blanketty drooping victim, my hero had no personality, and there was no narrative drive.

The trouble was, in many ways, I was rather fond of what I’d written. Promising myself that this was just an exercise, I re wrote my logline just so that sentence sounded good, and then I thought, half grudgingly, half excitedly, Hey, this might actually work as the basis for my story. Then, I followed their plotting instructions. I found myself sketching out a completely new story on the foundations of the old one, but one that now had structure and flow.

Then I took it to my class. I could tell that some didn’t want to do it at all (see fairy dust, above) but they all tried it, even if, for some, it was just as an exercise that they were certainly not going to let anywhere near their inky darlings. Some found the loglines really hard to complete. Some felt the whole thing was silly. Some felt that it showed their stories weren’t dramatic enough, but I don’t think this matters. A premise doesn’t have to be Kerpow! You can apply a logline as easily to Pride and Prejudice as you can to X Men. The point is that you, as an author, know where you’re going. Then we went through the plot stages, with a similarly doubtful reception (see fairy dust, again)  but once started, I could see them beginning to think really hard about the structure of their stories and what needed to happen when. Now they’ve taken them home to complete. I can’t wait to see what they come up with.

Well, that’s just embarrassing

This was so funny, I had to reblog it.

Unload and Unwind

Image courtesy of Smile Be Happy Image courtesy of Smile Be Happy

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