Tag Archives: ideas

A rambling mind…

After endless procrastination I finally submitted my second novel to a competition this week, meaning that all three have a (temporary) home. I am not holding out much hope that the two ‘finished’ ones will shine in what I’m sure are hugely competitive fields, but still it gives them something to do whilst I patiently await feedback on novel number three.

I seem to have a particular knack at handing over a significant project to my agent just at the point that the franticness of Frankfurt Book Fair hits, but now that’s over it shouldn’t be too long before I know where things stand with that one and can focus back on the bigger picture of finding all three a more permanent home.

In the meantime I have been finding seeds of inspiration all over the place, scribbling them down in my notebook and mulling over their potential to germinate into stories.


I’ve been doing some free writing, snatching moments of calm to just pick up a pen and see what flows. What I liked about that was that when I was starting with the words themselves rather than an idea the sounds of those words and the way they interplay as collections of letters on a page became my focus. Definitely something to remember when plots and characters start to get in the way.

I’ve been taking quotes too – things Arthur has said, mostly – and using them as first lines to develop a stream of consciousness.

Then there was a moment when we were in Barcelona that really got me thinking… My friend’s daughter asked Leigh to tell her the story of King Arthur, and he sat down and did, in great detail. Reflecting on it afterwards he said he was struck by the misogyny and abuse at the heart of the story as he began to see it through the eyes of a nine year old girl. Which made us both think about how the story could be reshaped through that lens, the male and female characters recast… It’s not a new conceit, to bring a female character to the foreground in the retelling of an ancient myth, but it is something I would like to explore.

Something else that’s got me thinking is the TV series Black Mirror. We only discovered it in the last couple of weeks, and I love its near-future dystopias and reflections on the impact of technology on society. It’s reminded me of some old ideas I had, and made me keen to go back and look at them again.

I’m not sure if I’m ready to try to mould any of these thoughts into something more concrete yet, but I might give it a go over the next few days – just to see what happens. Though I’m still enjoying this process of rambling around in my head for the time being too.

The main challenge has been to keep my rambles on topic. As well as ideas for writing, my brain has started to consider again where I’m going with this blog. I’ve finally got round to setting up a Facebook page, mainly because I want to be able to share my posts with people through that medium but don’t want to clog up my personal feed. That’s got me thinking again though about what my focus is in my little corner of the internet. It’s always been fairly diverse, but actually recently it’s starting to settle into two distinct channels, writing and unschooling, with other posts hanging their themes off those.

I suspect that, a little further down the line, I might look to split those channels into two separate blogs. Possibly even explore the unschooling one as a potentially ‘commercial’ enterprise (firmly in inverted commas because it’s a territory I’m not sure about at all…)

We shall see.

In the meantime, though, I need to keep reminding myself that all of that is sterling distraction work for the writing I should be focusing on. And I certainly don’t need any more distractions just yet…

Writing Bubble

On joy and freedom and making links

The unschooling diaries: week three

This past week has been super busy, with precious little time for stopping to reflect. Before I miss the window completely, though, here are three little moments that have stuck in my mind.

First up, there was Arthur’s unbridled joy and wonder at discovering the book ‘Mog and the Baby’.


He’s been listening to the story for the past few weeks: for his birthday we bought him an MP3 music player to feed his growing enjoyment of listening to stories. Almost every time he settled down to listen he would request ‘Mog and the Baby’. The way it works it would then scroll through the other Mog stories we’d saved for him, but he kept coming back to that one.

We’d intended these audiobooks to supplement our enjoyment of reading together rather than replace it, but I’d become increasingly aware that Leigh and I were reading to him less and less. So this week we’ve both made an effort to make physical books available whenever we can – not to force Arthur into engaging with them, but just to remind him that they exist. And he’s loved it.

More than anything, though, he loved discovering the book of the story he’s been listening to so often – seeing the pictures bring the characters to life, and sharing his favourite moments with me and his dad.

The second thing that sticks in my mind from this past week was a moment of learning for me more than Arthur.

I’d had a pang of doubt, fuelled as usual by comparing us to others, when I realised that Arthur had shown no interest at all in figurative drawing. He’d gone through the motions of copying lines and circles for his two year developmental check, but since then has not shown much interest in drawing beyond scribbles and swirls of paint – and we haven’t pushed it.

I’d found myself wondering whether we shouldn’t in fact be encouraging him to draw in a more structured way, accelerating his progress towards that fine motor control that will of course be so important for when he comes to write!

But then I checked myself. I read some more about unschooling, and the Montessori methods I find myself gravitating towards. And I remembered that of course there is no rush to begin to constrain his explorations into more easily recognisable forms. So instead I waited, and watched.

And then one day whilst I was preparing lunch I noticed Arthur rooting around by his easel, looking for something to paint with. Together we chose some colours, and I left him to it whilst I got on with making lunch. I glanced over from time to time, and freed from any concerns about whether he was drawing people or things that we could label, marvelled instead at the care he was taking about each seemingly abstract line and curve. I watched as he picked out his colours, stepped back from time to time to make decisions about where to go next, and waited until he had decided he was done before we sat down together for lunch.


He was so proud of his painting, and so was I. And I’m definitely not in any rush to put any constraints on his creative freedom any time soon – I have a feeling he’ll be able to come up with way more interesting ideas all by himself.

And on the topic of interesting ideas comes moment number three. We were having a chat in the car on Friday, and Arthur started telling me about how astronauts carry their air on their backs so they can breathe (something we’ve talked about before). Then he told me that divers were just like astronauts. I asked him why, trying to work out the connection, and he explained that they have to carry their air on their backs too. He’s been becoming increasingly interested in both space travel and underwater exploration, fuelled by inspiration from all sorts of stories, but it was fascinating to see him drawing links between them and getting to the core of understanding some of the processes behind them.

I’m curious to see where these interests will lead us in the next few weeks – it’s definitely uncharted territory for me, on all sorts of levels.


Broken beginnings

broken beginnings

I have been trying to get started on my third novel for what feels like forever.

The idea began to germinate almost two years ago, inspired by a dedication on a local bench. Since then I’ve written various scenes and character studies, carried out a fair amount of research, and even began to think about how the novel might be structured.

But it seems that every time I’ve been close to actually starting to WRITE something else has got in the way. Novel number two, mainly: I hadn’t anticipated quite how many redrafts that would need, and I’m pretty sure I’m still not done on that front. I don’t begrudge that, though. I’m not writing these novels for them to sit on my hard drive after all – and I know it is getting better and better with each wave of work I do.

I’d thought I might be able to get stuck in to this new idea in the gaps between rewrites. I don’t think I could manage to juggle both concurrently, but I could probably have managed to get a fair amount of writing under my belt whilst waiting for feedback and allowing it to sink in. Naturally, though, life had other ideas.

Like successfully standing for election to my local council. Something which has satisfied a lifelong urge to become more actively engaged in my community, but hasn’t left much time in the day (or in my head) to birth a new novel.

I’ve found it impossible not to worry about what this all means in relation to my ambition to be a successful novelist. Surely I need to be able to knuckle down and focus, to actually write rather than just think about it, to move between projects in different stages of development? But then, as a new window of writing opportunity opens up in front of me, I wonder whether this novel might actually benefit from being so long in gestation.

My first novel was swimming around in my mind for several years before I was finally able to thrash out a first draft, and by that point I knew the characters so well that everything fell into place pretty seamlessly. There were a few niggles, of course, that needed ironing out – but so much of the novel had essentially written itself in my head that often it was just a matter of sitting down at the computer and the words would flow through the keyboard and onto the screen.

There is, after all, so much about writing that happens when you’re not actually writing. I’ve found myself in idle moments mulling over certain turns of phrase, deciding which is most apt for the voices of my two main characters. And there’s the plot too – the story I’ve been telling and retelling myself as I’ve been yearning for the time to write it down. Each time it has got a little more detailed, a little more interesting. And hopefully that will be borne out in the draft to come.

Despite all this, I do need to get writing soon. My plan this week is to use the index cards I bought months ago to note down all my different ideas for scenes, characters and settings and begin to map out how the story unfolds. I know its structure isn’t straightforward, and whilst I haven’t decided yet exactly what order I’m going to write it in it would be nice to have some sense of how it will all hang together in the end.


Writing Bubble


Where memories go when they’re forgotten

December is never a good writing month for me. I find the excessive amounts of darkness pretty wearing, and what surplus creative energy I do have seems nowadays to get sucked into preparing for the the double whammy of Christmas and Arthur’s birthday three days later.

It really stressed me out last year, but this year I’ve accepted my limitations and (other than external demands on my time which I have less control over), I’m finding things all a lot easier to handle.

The timing of my self-imposed deadline for getting the latest draft of my WIP to my agent was not accidental. Having submitted that before the end of November I don’t feel too guilty about being a non-writing writer for a bit. That’s not to say all thoughts of novels have been banished completely: as I’ve let myself get caught up once more in the day to day, I have felt my next project tapping away at the corners of my mind, just waiting for its turn in the spotlight.

I find it very curious how a story develops.


The flash of inspiration that comes first – a person, an event, a conceit that needs exploring. Those can seem to come from almost nowhere: they may have their origins somewhere in real life, but the way that concrete experience gets twisted and turned into the beginnings of a work of fiction renders it almost unrecognisable.

But it’s what comes next that really blows my mind. The way the characters start talking to you, offering up little titbits when you least expect it. The way that reading or hearing something completely unrelated seems to jog your memory and fill in an aspect of the plot that hitherto had not quite made sense. The way that you can lay an idea to rest for a while, and when you return you find it is embellished with so many more details that it is hard to believe weren’t always there.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe that I’m making a story up at all, that the events that are unfolding didn’t really happen. Sometimes it feels like the story is there, waiting to be discovered, and I’m just a conduit for a tale that needs to be told.

There was something Capaldi’s Doctor said that provided an explanation for it all that’s pretty hard to argue with:

“Every story ever told really happened. Stories are where memories go when they’re forgotten”

There are so many stories after all. So many things that happen to people, that people think or do, that get lost in that moment. But what if they’re not lost? What if our job as writers – as storytellers – is to seek them out, to share them? We may not get every detail quite right, but perhaps our goal – through the planning, the drafting and the editing – is to get as close to the truth as possible.

And once all of that falls into place, perhaps that’s when we’ve got our story.


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Seeds of Creativity

Ever since I can remember I have loved the coming of spring. I don’t suit winter. I quite enjoy  snow, in moderation, and find the rare cold, crisp, sunny days as exhilarating as the next person, but it’s the interminable darkness that really gets to me. The darkness that sets in before you get a chance to get outside at the end of a hard day’s work and hangs around for way longer than it’s welcome after you’ve dragged yourself out of bed in the morning, fighting your body’s desire to hibernate.

For years I thought I suffered from Seasonal Affective Disorder – I didn’t just dislike those months of darkness, they consumed me like the fog that rolls in over the sea. Even the anticipation of the shorter days that set in as early as the summer solstice was enough to instil that sense of dread that would just get worse and worse as the seasons closed in.

Now that I’m not operating on someone else’s timetable I’m not so sure. There’s no doubt that living by the sea helps too, and spending most of my time with a little person who sees the world without a trace of my weariness. Despite not having slept for more than two hours at a stretch for the past fifteen months, despite the challenge of juggling nearly-new motherhood with writing a second novel and trying to find a publisher for the first, despite the fact that this winter it has rained for days and days on end, I don’t need spring anywhere near as badly as I have before.

That’s not to say it’s not exciting. The snowdrops pushing through the sodden ground, the bare branches beginning to burst with buds, the daffodils that have suddenly taken over our neglected garden in an explosion of yellow. And alongside all these things the seeds of new ideas that are taking root inside my writer’s brain.

I seem to be settling into a pattern with my writing, one which I hope is sustainable and suits my rhythms. In the autumn, as the days begin to close in, I lose myself in researching and planning a new novel. By January, typically my lowest point, I’m ready to bring the plan to life, spending long chunks of time writing, letting my characters take the story where it needs to go. This year, as with last, I’ve set myself the deadline of Easter to complete the first draft. I’m on track to achieve that: I’m about two thirds of the way through with another month to go, and as the story gathers pace and urgency it’s all I can do to pull myself away from the keyboard when motherhood calls. Once that first draft’s done I’ll let it sit for a while before going back to it with fresh eyes, handing it over at the same time to a trusted few initial readers. With their ideas and mine I’ll then attempt the redraft in the height of summery optimism, hopefully having something I’m happy with as summer draws to a close.

Alongside all that redrafting, though, the seeds of the next project need to be germinating, shooting up into the light so that I can work out how to help them grow in the next phase of their development. And with that in mind I had begun to panic a couple of weeks ago: the end of the current novel was in sight, but I had no idea what I was going to work on next. I have several ideas for new novels in the Lili Badger series, a couple of distinct directions in which things could go. But I don’t want to start working on those until I know whether the original has legs. I love it, and would enjoy nothing more than to lose myself in Lili’s world again, but however much I try I can’t justify it to myself. I need something new.

In the midst of my panic, I went for a walk. Just the usual walk into town, taking the long way round by the pool, allowing myself to tread more slowly than I normally would so Arthur could soak up his surroundings. I began to notice the dedications on the benches, stopped to read them. And without me even noticing the seeds began to embed themselves.

By the time I got home I had two reasonably formed ideas for new novels. Both with their heart in Brixham, and both with stories which spread out across place and time in their mapping of life and love and death. Both have strong female characters at their core – something which I am beginning to realise is emerging as a pattern in my work. I haven’t decided which one I’ll run with yet. I hope I’ll write them both, in time. But now the seeds have been sown I’ll leave them for a while, trusting that they will germinate in my mind as I bring my current project to its conclusion, ready for me to nurture when I can shift my attention to them more closely as spring turns into summer.

Thank you to Sara at ‘Mum Turned Mom’ for inspiring this post with her prompt: “Spring is the time of plans and projects” (Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina).

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