So again I am behind with my blog posts, is it lack of routine, worry over COVID19 or something else? We are all feeling out of sorts as the saying goes. Although, I am working remotely from home and that gives me some structure, there has been an addition to the household. We have been searching for a small, older dog to rescue for quite sometime, over a year. Well, last Tuesday we went to meet one!
Now we are the happy and grateful adopters of Sammie. She is about ten years old and a Schnoodle (poodle/schnauzer mix). She was surrendered, which is sad but now we can give her a loving home. We drove over an hour to meet her and thought it would just be a meet and greet but….we brought her home. Now I have early morning, lunch time and evening walks, (my step count is over 9,000 a day!) a snuggle pup, who sleeps on my bed all night & who loves playing fetch.
So please forgive my distraction. You never know she might be in my next book? #storyidea
I am really enjoying Tom Hanks book – Uncommon Type. Each story has great characters and settings.
I also read a new manuscript from a fellow author which will be fantastic for speculative and sci-fi readers. Watch this space for the book launch.
So onward & upward! I will get my act together – I promise.
We are all feeling the repercussions of isolation, social distancing and lack of ‘normal’. It has affected everyone in a multitude of ways. For writers, who are normally ‘isolated’ in their writing life, there has been a change in atmosphere, inspiration, alone time and creativity. (Or lack thereof).
Whatever your normal routine, be it the impact of family at home, remote working arrangements or lack of access to resources, we can adjust.
Here are a few tips to try (or not):
One of the best options I have found is a virtual writing time. A group of us ‘meet’ on Sunday’s for a couple of hours. And although for the most part, it is a silent meeting, knowing we are connected helps with motivation and makes us accountable. We share what we will be writing at the beginning of the meeting and then summarize what we achieved at the end.
Outside time – this is vitally important to refresh the mind and body. It can be a walk, a bicycle ride and a hike. Whatever, works best for you within the confines of the social distancing parameters.
Writing space changes. It sounds odd but even a reorganization, a new arrangement of objects, a vase of flowers – can make all the difference. Maybe write in a different area of the house.
Reserve writing time. Make a commitment to write for a certain amount of time each day. As we all have favourite times of day to be creative – this can be before everyone gets up, when they are all asleep or maybe a time when you can be alone in the house. Don’t add to your stress by putting a word count on this time. It can be to write, of course, but also to plot, edit, note down new story ideas or even read some research.
Enter a contest. This idea will either spur you on or not. To create something new can be a good way to engage your Muse. Even if you decide not to submit your work, it is a great way to spark your creativity.
Writing prompts are also a great way to refresh the writing brain. There are a lot of sites and books available on the internet. Try a few, whether they are images, word collections or story starters. You never know where they might take you. Again my local writing group has prompts every Saturday, if you want to try. Link: https://www.wfscsherwoodpark.com/our-blog
What have you found to help your writing during COVID19?
The strange habits of some famous authors has always interested me. I cannot lay claim to anything this weird, mores the pity. Maybe I can cultivate something? Are you willing to share your ‘strange’ habit?
The ancient Greek writer shaved half his head. Ensuring that by looking so idiotic, he would stay home and work, instead of facing ridicule in public.
2. Henrik Ibsen
The A Doll’s House playwright hung a huge oil painting of his greatest rival on his study wall. Inspiring him to strive to better his enemies.
3. Franz Kafka – Too Much Cake
Kafka allowed himself to eat a whole pineapple upside down cake when he finished a story. He did not share any of it!
4. Mary Shelley – Pet Snake
Shelley’s pet 23-foot-long boa constrictor was housed in her writing studio. With the snake wrapped around her shoulders she would write until the snake became restless and began to squeeze, then she stopped writing for the day.
5. Agatha Christie – Ate apples in the bath.
6. Isabel Allende – starts every book on the same day January 8.
7. John Steinbeck – needed two dozen sharpened pencils.
8. Patricia Highsmith – ate eggs and bacon for every meal.
9. Virginia Woolf – wrote at a standing desk.
10. Charles Dickens – slept facing north.
11. Dan Brown – hanging upside down inversion therapy for writer’s block.
12. Victor Hugo – wrote without clothes so he could not leave the house to met a deadline.
13. Francine Prose – writes facing a wall to limit distractions.
14. Truman Capote – never started or finish writing on a Friday.
15. Anthony Burgess – use random words from opening a page in a dictionary to complete a descriptive passage.
Please tell us the story behind your new book, Home.
My new book is the bookend of the Friends and Family series about Fluffy the cat and Levi the mouse. This book in the series was more challenging to write than the others because the series was written for my mom, and she passed away two years ago. My mom was my hero, and my best friend. She always provided me with a sense of security and home. As a family, we shared a love of reading, and my mom made sure, whether I was staying in the hospital or at home, that the routine of reading to me before bed was a constant.
As an adult, my mom’s macular degeneration made reading a challenge so I would read out loud to her. Then as her dementia progressed, she found a renewed passion for children’s literature. This series was based on a childhood pet of my mom’s and has a diverse character, which I wish I had to identify with when I was a child. Despite dementia stealing my mom’s words, the smile on her face and her reaching out to grab and hold Don’t Eat Family communicated her love and appreciation.
Mom would’ve wanted me to finish the series despite the fact that during the writing process and now the launch of Home, she would not be here in person. My illustrator, Katherine Restouiex, who also knew my mom, made the human character a cartoon version of her. While writing this last book in the series, memories mom and I shared and the lessons that she taught me were reminders that she will always be with me.
As the third in the series, does it complete the series?
Yes, Home completes the Friends and Family series.
How did you come up with the idea for the series?
My inspiration for this series came from a childhood cat Mom had and the fact that cats and mice don’t usually get along. This series was an exploration into each character’s ability to make their own decisions based on who they want to be and not who they are told to be by society. I wanted my characters to travel through the world with kindness, respect, and a belief in the goodness of people.
Can you tell us about the characters and how you created them?
The character of Fluffy is based on a grey Persian cat that my mom had as a child. The character Levi is based on some of the strong and independent individuals I have met who experience disability. Maybe even a little part of myself is in the character of Levi.
In Don’t Eat Family what is the message you wanted to convey?
The main messages that I was trying to convey in the book Don’t Eat Family were that, just like Fluffy and her decision to be friends with Levi versus be a mouser as some cats are, you could be who you are and not give in to peer pressure. Also, individuals experiencing a disability may experience challenges but have other abilities and should not be judged by the way they get around in the world.
In Help from Friends do the characters follow on from the first book?
Yes, the characters in Friends and Family continue along the journey to find their way home, a journey that started in the first book.
Did you start out planning a series, or did the story and characters dictate more stories?
No, I didn’t start outlining a series, but the characters and the story dictated more books because their adventures required more pages than I wanted to squeeze into one book.
Tell us about your writing life – what other books/plays have you written?
Inspiration can strike us at any time from a vast array of sources. An overheard conversation, a scenic view, an image or a news report – the list goes on and on. One of the most frustrating but rewarding is dreams. They are elusive a lot of the time but if we can capture them somehow, they can become the marvelous start to a story idea.
In my current steampunk novel, The Commodore’s Gift, the initial scene is actually a dream sequence I experienced. It is a cloaked figure propelling out of a high window. When I woke up, I immediately wrote down everything I could remember of the scene. It was an older mansion house, an older time period and the person falling was a young female wearing a cloak.
Writer Tip: Always keep a notebook and pen beside your bed.
Upon reflection of the dream, I was able to ascertain that the ‘place’ was actually very similar to my old school in England. Which was an Elizabethan mansion. When I was at school many of the rooms still had the original wooden paneling, large stone fireplaces and leaded-light windows. It is now a historic site and open to visitors. https://www.historichouses.org/houses/house-listing/shaw-house.html (images above)
As with most dreams their fleeting quality can make solidifying them difficult but with practice you can train yourself to remember them. A notebook is useful to have on hand but also try to keep within the dream for as long as you can before you become fully awake and your day starts.
Here are a few tips to try:
Write, “I can remember my dreams” on a sticky note, place it somewhere you’ll see it before you go to sleep, and read the note aloud.
Go to bed at a regular time.
Practice 20 minutes of mediation prior to sleep.
What dream(s) resulted in a story idea for you? Please share in the comments.