Monthly Archives: February 2015

Adventures on the South Devon Railway

Last weekend we finally took a trip on the South Devon Railway. I’m not sure why we haven’t done it before actually, what with Arthur’s general train obsession, but we’re a bit spoilt for choice down here when it comes to steam trains. We’ve been on the Kingswear-Paignton line lots, but having had a peek at the goings on at Totnes station when we visited the Rare  Breeds Farm we were definitely keen to come back for a proper visit.

image

The excitement started building even before we got to the station – Arthur heard a train whistle in the background and suddenly realised where we were going. Once he saw the train tracks he really couldn’t contain himself, bouncing up and down in the sling as the train came in.

image

We found ourselves a compartment – naturally gloriously vintage – and settled down for the journey to Buckfastleigh. It wasn’t only Arthur who was excited – there’s something so magical about being transported by steam, and the beautiful countryside views just added to that.

imageimage

It was brilliant to spend some quality time as a family. Leigh’s been working super hard recently, and Arthur really misses his Daddy when he’s not around. I do, too.

imageimage

As we pulled into Buckfastleigh station, it was clear there was going to be lots to explore there. There were so many different types of trains – Arthur was in his element trying to match them all up with his favourites from Thomas the Tank Engine.

image

image

He loved the little museum too: pretending to be an engine driver, and finding some actual Thomas trains to play with.

image

image

image

There was even a fantastic garden model railway, being tended my some older railway enthusiasts. I think Arthur would have happily watched the trains going round until it had got dark if we’d let him.

image

image

But we did have to get back, so we made our way to the platform to find a train big enough to carry us.

image

The light was beginning to fade as we journeyed back along the river, but somehow that only made the whole scene more beautiful.

image imageimage

When we arrived back at Totnes there was one more treat in store. The Rare Breeds Farm is currently closed for the season, but an owl had come out to say hello to people at the station. He was incredibly tame and friendly. Arthur was able to stroke him and give him a cuddle, and when he waved goodbye the owl flapped his wings in return.

image

image

image

Suffice to say when we headed back to the car it was with one very happy little boy. All in all it was a fantastic family afternoon – we can’t wait until our next trip on this very special railway.

image

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Encouraging creativity

One of my goals at the beginning of this year was to try to carve out the time and space in Arthur’s routine for him get creative – and for me to work out how to give him more opportunities to enjoy arts and crafts. My mum was brilliant at all that when I was growing up. She is an artist, so I suppose on one level it came naturally to her, but I remember always being surrounded by interesting ideas and projects and materials to just have a go.

This week, I’ve finally got round to setting up a corner of the kitchen as a dedicated space for him to unleash his creativity – and to store the various bits and pieces I’ve been accumulating. My parents bought him an easel for Christmas which has centre stage, and with a bit of reorganising I’ve freed up a shelving unit. I’m certainly inspired – though I doubt I’ll be able to keep it looking this tidy!

IMG_0775

We’ve been making some tentative steps into exploring different materials over the past month or so. Stickers and glitter are definitely Arthur’s favourites, but I think he’s gradually starting to get over his fear of paint.

IMG_0779 IMG_0778

As he creates his little masterpieces, we’re adding them to a gallery in the hallway. He’s really enjoying seeing his creations on display, and he loves putting new pieces up when he finishes them!

IMG_0781

I’ve had the niggling feeling, though, that we’re only just scratching the surface of what we could be doing. I’ve been seeking out inspiration online and in a couple of great books I’ve found, but what I’ve really been hankering after is somewhere Arthur can go and get involved in creative play with other kids, where I can see some new ideas in action and discuss logistics with other mums, and where I don’t need to worry quite so much about the mess!

So when I heard a local mummy friend of mine was setting up science-inspired arts and craft workshops for toddlers and preschoolers in Brixham I couldn’t wait to go and have a look.

IMG_0771

Our first visit to Craftivity Lab was on Wednesday, and we loved it. The workshop was held in a lovely bright, airy space split into different zones for exploring, experimenting and getting messy. Whilst everything had clearly been very carefully planned (this week around the theme of weather), Amanda was keen to let the children take the lead and interpret her activities as they saw fit – with guidance if they needed it of course.

IMG_0772

Arthur loved the sensory tray, and was especially keen on throwing the cotton ball clouds (or were they snowballs?) up into the air. I made a mental note to get some extra ones for home to satisfy his urge to throw – even he can’t cause any damage with cotton wool…

He was soon drawn towards the painting, and although he’s still not utterly convinced he hasn’t stopped talking about rainbows since.

IMG_0770 IMG_0769

He wasn’t so interested in the chromatography, but it took me right back to early science experiments at school! I reckon it’s definitely one to try again when he’s a bit older…

IMG_0764

What I think is particularly exciting about Craftivity Lab is how closely Amanda is observing the children playing and learning and creating to inform her planning for future sessions. She couldn’t help but notice Arthur’s love of throwing (to be fair, he wasn’t the only one…), and is going to build that in with some more physical activities next week. I’m already looking forward to it!

I feel like I’m finally making headway with encouraging Arthur’s creativity, and now that we’re a bit more organised I think there should be plenty more opportunities for arts and crafts fun. I’m definitely still on the look out for more ideas though – so if you can think of anything Arthur might enjoy then please let me know!

 

My word of the week this week is creativity.

The Reading Residence

On words, and perceptions of reality

words

I have been thinking a lot lately about how words shape reality.

It is true of course in my writing. As I immerse myself in the third draft of my novel I am increasingly aware of being engaged in a complex choreography of choosing just the right words to draw the reader along with the story I want them to believe.

I can also see it in Arthur’s emerging language – the distinctions and categorisations he is now able to make with his expanding vocabulary. It’s hard to be sure, but it feels like his world is expanding as his words do. There are not just birds any more, but seagulls and pigeons, peacocks and penguins. He is starting to recognise and label emotions too. To articulate happiness, fear and love. And – through those emotions perhaps – he is beginning to make judgements.

As adults, our judgements are inherent in so much of the language we use everyday, from ‘pretty’ girls to ‘naughty’ boys, from well meaning labels that can inadvertently limit someone’s concept of what they might be capable of to jokey insults laden with prejudice that can exclude whole groups of people on a whim.

That really bothers me, that labelling. But that’s a post for another time.

I think what’s unnerving me most at the moment is how words can be used to twist an otherwise secure reality into something else. I have realised that the protagonist in my novel is the victim of narcissistic abuse. Her experience is rooted to an extent in my own, and that of some of my closest friends. If you haven’t (and I hope you haven’t) fallen under the spell of a narcissist, their modus operandus is to make themselves invaluable to a person and then gradually undermine them and chip away at their self-esteem until their victim has no idea what is right or true any more. Almost all of this they do with words.

It is incredible how mere words, used judiciously, can plant seeds of doubt that cause the things you thought you knew to be true to collapse before your eyes. I don’t know if you’ve been watching Broadchurch, but watching Joe Miller’s defence lawyer rewrite history – to the extent that even viewers who had seen what had actually happened began to doubt whether it had – was one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever seen on TV.

An old friend, one of the loveliest people I’ve ever known, is going through something akin to this currently. He is at risk of losing access to his children entirely unless he can convince the courts that his words are worth more than those of his estranged wife, that his truth is more valid than hers.

Most of us, I hope, will not be so calculated in the way we use words to manipulate reality. Not unless the reality we are weaving is accepted to be fictional by all concerned. But I wonder how conscious we are about the need to speak the truth – and if we’re not, to be honest about how what we say is clouded by opinion.

It is easy to forget sometimes, whilst simply recounting an event or expressing a point of view, that every single word we choose – consciously or otherwise – will alter the message we are communicating.

As a writer the limitless possibilities are undeniably exciting. But as a human being – and especially as a parent – I find it just a teensy bit scary. The potential for getting it wrong is sometimes almost enough to make me not want to say anything at all.

Almost.

But we most definitely need to choose our words carefully, in what we write and what we say. Who knows whose perception of reality might be depending on it?

 

 

mumturnedmom

My editing essentials

This really isn’t the easiest time of year for keeping motivated and focused on an edit. The burst of enthusiasm that January brings has passed, and yet it’s still very much still winter. The cold, wet days are taking their toll and, whilst there’s a glimmer of hope in the lengthening hours of light, springtime – let alone summer – still feels a very long way away.

IMG_7748

At this point in the last two years I’ve been in the early stages of first drafts, when everything is exciting and new and I’ve just been able to write without fear of getting it wrong. But this year I’m attempting the third draft of my latest novel, and whilst it’s actually going pretty well I’m having to pull out all the stops to keep things that way.

So I thought I’d share my editing essentials: the crucial elements that have kept me going when the going’s got tough, the crutches I’ve turned to when I’ve been sorely tempted to curl up under the duvet (or at least under a blanket on the sofa whilst Arthur watches The Lion King for the umpteenth time).

First on the list is…

Coffee

No surprises there then. I have always really appreciated a decent cup of coffee, and since Leigh bought me a gorgeous DeLonghi coffee machine for my birthday last year it’s become something of a ritual.

IMG_0754

I like my coffee organic and strong, with a generous serving of frothy milk. One with breakfast, and another (with a large glass of water for good measure) when I sit down to write.

Almost as important for firing up the brain cells is…

Chocolate

I’m generally on a bit of a healthy eating tip at the moment, but decent dark chocolate is definitely one of my weaknesses. My brand of choice is Plamil – organic, nut free and delicious – and I will invariably enjoy a couple of squares of their ginger chocolate, or if we’re out of that a handful of chocolate drops, whilst I sit down and gather my thoughts.

For that of course I need a bit of peace and quiet, which is one of the many reasons why I love my…

Connecta

I have made no secret on this blog of my love for the Connecta baby carrier – and in fact you will find me extolling its virtues over on their blog too. But it really has been invaluable for the tricky business of writing whilst looking after a toddler.

IMG_9308

Arthur still naps in the sling, as he has ever since he was a tiny baby. I think the fact he enjoys his cuddles so much is one of the reasons why he still often has two naps a day. The design of the Connecta means that it is essentially supporting him to sit on my lap, so his (ever increasing) weight is spread evenly and unless he has a really monster sleep it’s pretty comfortable. And knowing that he is safe and close and happy means that I can focus all my attention on my work.

And for that I am still reliant on…

Scrivener

My discovery of this software has done wonders for my organisation. I found it great to write the first draft in, following my carefully planned structure and using the daily targets to keep me motivated, and now I’m deep into the edit it’s really coming into its own. I love how I can flit back and forth, move things around or cut them out completely safe in the knowledge that I can still get them back if I need them. I can keep an eye on my word count, and refer back to all the bank of research that I built up whilst I was writing the first draft. And all in one window.

Though when I’m tired of looking at that one, I can instantly refresh my soul by looking out of another at…

The view

I always dreamt of one day living by the sea, and more specifically having a place where I could write looking out over it. When that dream became a reality I was worried at first that the view might be a bit too beautiful and would distract me from getting anything done. As it happens though, that’s not a problem. I think my big computer screen helps – I have to consciously shift my gaze to get away from my manuscript. But there are times when I’m getting so frazzled that I really need something to give me a break from it all, and looking out at the big open sky and the ever-changing landscape of the sea is just the ticket.

IMG_0753

And that’s about it! Those five things have done a sterling job of keeping me on the straight and narrow so far, and I’m hoping I can continue to rely on them over the next few weeks as I bring this edit to a close.

How about you? What are the things that help you keep your focus when you’re writing (or editing)? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Writing Bubble
Mama and More
Mums' Days

Jump and splash

Whenever we’ve left the house this week, Arthur has been a boy on a mission. As well as the ongoing desire to throw whatever he can get his hands on, especially if there’s water involved, he has been on the lookout for puddles – because by jumping in himself he can make an even bigger splash! image Fortunately all the rain we’ve had recently has left plenty of puddles for him to play with. We wrapped up warm on Monday to catch the last of the daylight when the sun finally came out, and we’re rewarded by a beautiful rainbow over the bay. Our initial plan had been just to kick a ball about, but we couldn’t resist the temptation to wander down to the pool, our heads full of dreams of summer. image Naturally a swim was out of the question (though Arthur did ask), but as we meandered along the poolside we found the biggest puddle ever and he contented himself with jumping and splashing until he was thoroughly soaked. image image image There were plenty more opportunities to get out and about as the week progressed. Arthur’s oddmother came to visit, and he had a brilliant time showing her all his favourite stone-throwing and puddle-jumping spots. image image In fact we were convinced at one point that we were going to have to spend the night up at Berry Head after he found a particularly satisfying muddy puddle and spent a good half an hour filling it with gravel and jumping and splashing to his heart’s content. image image image There is nothing like a toddler to put a positive spin on rubbish weather. Though I’m still dreaming of the day when the jumping and splashing we’re doing will be in the pool itself…

My word of the week this week is puddles.

The Reading Residence

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Don’t look down

IMG_1182

I feel like I’m walking a tightrope with this edit at the moment. I’ve mastered the juggling, just about, and am pleased with the pace of progress I’m maintaining. But as I get deep into the novel again I’m realising just how tricksy my main character is – and the considerable challenge I’ve set myself to take you, the reader, with me on her journey.

I’m finding myself wondering just how far I can go with Grace before I lose you… Her mental health is fragile from the start, although she’s becoming a little less insular – a little easier to relate to. Her disintegration, though, is crucial to the plot. It is linked to her own substance abuse, and the man who takes advantage of this and her, and his own narcissistic tendencies, and how that makes her question her perception of reality. And that’s just the start of it – but I don’t want to give too much away.

Not only do I want you to care about Grace, I want you to literally come with her on her journey – to question things as she does, and ultimately to question her. To doubt her, but without fearing that she (or I) have purposefully misled you in any way.

I’m focusing on the end goal, the solid ground of another completed edit, but each step I take towards it needs to be made carefully, gingerly – just one foot after the other. And I can’t look down, otherwise I might lose my nerve altogether.

In the earlier stages of working on this novel the worry was that Grace wasn’t likeable enough. I’m not so worried about that now, but I do want to make sure that you believe in her. And it’s that process I’m finding fascinating at the moment: how, as a writer, we carve out a version of reality that appears to be true.

It’s not as simple as just telling the truth. The truth is often dull, or off-putting, or just plain difficult to believe – particularly where depression and anxiety and psychosis are concerned. My job is to create something that is truer than true: that captures an essence of reality that many different readers will relate to whilst at the same time preserving Grace’s uniqueness and humanity.

And in doing this, I’m not just walking a tightrope – I’m dancing on it. Each word, each step, is part of a complex routine that feels clumsy at first but will appear increasingly seamless, even effortless, the more I immerse myself within it.

I’ve never thought of writing a novel in quite these terms before, but it makes a strange kind of sense. The end result needs to be a performance that will play out flawlessly in the reader’s mind. I am no stranger to performing – be it a sequence of moves on a trampoline or bringing a character to life on the stage, you may begin with a clear idea of what you want to achieve but it is only through practise, through gruelling rehearsals, that you begin to get close.

And that is where I’m at right now, twirling the words around on a tightrope in the sky, waiting for the moment when they are finally ready to present to the world. And whatever happens I won’t look down until I get there.

 

Muddled Manuscript