Making a note…

Writers love notebooks, right? We have various designs and colours, some with pens, some without. Diaries and planners also feature widely in our collections. We are magpies when it comes to stationery – always searching out the latest, brightest designs.

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But it doesn’t really matter what the notebook looks like. As a writer, what really matters is how you use it.

A few weeks ago we had a spell of snowy weather in the UK. The temperature dropped but felt colder still because of the wind chill factor. We do not often get snow as deep as the falls we did this year and whilst we are used to cold temperatures, the howling winds from Siberia were a new and unpleasant experience. I had forgotten how hard it is to walk through deep snow. I had forgotten the craving for carbs that takes over in cold conditions. I had forgotten the harsh sting of a biting wind and the ruby red glow of entering a warm house; the simple joy of consuming a mug of hot chocolate. All of these things have made their way into my notebooks now.

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At present, I don’t have a character I am planning to expose to similar weather conditions but when I do, I won’t have to rely on unreliable memory banks for the thoughts, feelings or sounds of winter.

When going somewhere new, I always try to carry a notebook with me. Whether I am visiting a far flung country or a local beauty spot, there will always be new things to see and experience, depending on the season and the time of day.

We shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking only special things should be recorded in our notebooks. Simple pleasures have their place, too. Think of sitting on a beach in the summer and scrunching your bare toes into the sand or walking through a forest surrounded by falling leaves on an autumn day.

We enjoy these little moments and if we do, our characters should too.

You wouldn’t normally build a story around any of the things I have mentioned in this post but all of these things occur in our everyday lives and so should also make an appearance in our characters’ lives when appropriate. If we identify with the pleasure of eating an ice cream on a hot day, so will our readers. If we can put on the page the drama of a thunder storm, our readers will remember a similar storm. If we can record the beauty of watching the snow fall when we are warm and safe indoors and do not have to venture out, our readers will recall such a time as well.

Cornfields on a windy day, the smell of the sea, the beauty of an unfurling rose. These snapshots of everyday life will appeal to readers because they will be familiar to them. A few sprinkled across your novel will give it the ring of truth because you recorded them shortly after you experienced them and wrote them down both from the heart and with a memory of all the senses.

 

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Notebooks used in this way will not carry the root and branch of a story but they will carry within them the kind of bonus material that will bring colour, texture and life to your work.

So remember, notebooks are not just for looking pretty on the desk or shelf, they are for writing in. Take them with you, get sand in them, have the fat raindrops of a summer storm spatter the pages, let them live as you live and they will reward you for many years to come.

white lies
White Lies by Ellie Holmes http://Author.to/EllieHolmes

 

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Artist’s Dates

As some of you will be aware I have recently been reading Julia Cameron’s ‘The Right to Write’ book which I highly recommend to all writers. There are nuggets to be enjoyed in every chapter. You will, inevitably, recognise yourself in Julia’s wise words, nodding and smiling wryly as you read.

Right to Write_
Julia Cameron’s ‘The Right to Write’ https://www.amazon.co.uk/Right-Write-Invitation-Initiation-Writing/dp/178180981X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1518280756&sr=8-1&keywords=write+to+right

One of the concepts that Julia introduced me to was the idea of ‘artist’s dates’. We are all familiar with going on dates but we don’t normally take ourselves on one – alone. Here, you do just that.

Romance rose

You choose a day that suits and an activity you know you will find interesting, fascinating or stimulating and off you go. Just you alone. This is a special time for you to commune with your inner self or as Julia puts it you are ‘romancing, wooing, courting your creative self’.

Date Time

You could go to see a play or a movie. You could visit a museum or take in an exhibition. You could go to or take part in a glass blowing demonstration or a workshop on how to make mosaics. You could knit, sew, crochet, draw or paint. You could listen to a talk on a subject of interest or visit a historic landmark. Take a walk in an ancient wood or along an unfamiliar coast line. The only limits are the ones you place on yourself.

Museum

Julia suggests going on these excursions once a week to refill the creative well. With a busy schedule, once a week is a little optimistic for me but I have been achieving an artist’s date once a fortnight and it has been an uplifting and inspiring experience. We’re in the grip of winter in the UK so my activities have been largely based indoors: an exhibition of black and white photos, a mindfulness meditation session, an exhibition of landscape paintings and a past life regression. I am looking forward to the spring when I can widen my horizons further.

Whilst I have no definite plans to include any of the things I have done or seen in future stories I am pretty certain they will filter down into a work in progress at some stage and I will be excited to see how that turns out. In the meantime, now that I know the joy and freedom of an artist’s date, they will remain a firm addition to my calendar.

Autum open road

Why not give them a try and see where they take you?

Happy writing!

white lies
White Lies by Ellie Holmes http://Author.to/EllieHolmes

 

Winchester Writers’ Festival – Summing Up and Random Thoughts

Food (not so) Glorious Food

The festival included all breakfasts and lunches. The breakfast choice was excellent and tasty. It did what it needed to do – set everyone up for a busy day. The lunches were okay. Quiches and salads. Unimaginative but adequate.

And so to the grandly described “opening dinner”.

The previous conference I had been to (not at Winchester), had made every effort to make this event a special occasion, a true welcome to the attendees, round tables had encouraged conversation, there was decent linen and cutlery, there was a seating plan to ensure that every table had new writers, experienced writers, agents or editors and other speakers at the conference, giving everyone the opportunity to swap small talk in a relaxed and convivial atmosphere whilst enjoying tasty food.

cutlery
Cutlery by Masaaki Komori courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/6vruZ9 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

The evening meal at Winchester was a disappointment both in terms of the food and the set up. Fish that had been kept hot too long was barely edible with hard and tasteless batter. I had a friend who jokingly would rate professional courses in her day job by the standard of the lunch they would provide. I would give Winchester a B- and that was generous.

The tables were set up in exactly the same way as they had been at breakfast and lunch so you could only really talk to the people sitting next to you or opposite you. There was no seating plan, it was cafeteria style, get served and find a seat. Whilst I occasionally saw the flash of a blue badge – which differentiated the speakers and organisers from the writerly hordes, they appeared to settle themselves in their own separate enclaves. It had a feeling of them and us. Although to be fair there weren’t many of them there. Clearly, they had all gone into town instead. We wished we had too.

Summing Up

Leaving the disappointing food to one side, the conference was a worthwhile investment in my writing life. The chance to be amongst other writers is always a reliable way to refill the well of creativity. I will never be a conference junkie but attending an event every handful of years is a good way to reboot, you realise how far you have come and how far you still have left to go and above all you feel rejuvenated, buoyed up by all the fresh, young writers around you who have yet to experience the hard knocks of this writing life and still burn with the passion you had once and still have on the good days.

Inspire
Inspire by Roberta Romero courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/p2VH5f https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Random Thoughts

Small people with large bags.

Willowy women in floaty dresses.

Hot men in cool shirts.

Ancient buildings with calming gardens.

Burning heat and impromptu fans made of flapping conference notes.

Ferns and Hostas, a cool oasis.

Classy shops with homeless people sleeping in the doorways

Humble houses with large price tags.

Writers of all shapes and sizes

Agents who all looked the same

A keynote speaker that touched hearts as well as minds

Winchester Writers’ Festival: fun, tiring, hot, frustrating and inspiring.

The end.

white lies
White Lies by Ellie Holmes http://Author.to/EllieHolmes

 

Winchester Writers’ Festival – Four Courses in One Day

So here I was – four courses in one day. Polishing your Manuscript; The Language of Crime; Whodunnit – How it’s Done and finally Reaching your Readers but before I talk about them, a word about the previous evening.

The Beauty of Small Presses

My friends and I went to the Meet the Editors Panel. It was an interesting discussion marred only by poor acoustics. It highlighted the incredible work small, independent presses do. There are so many passionate people in this field of endeavour and of the ones represented on the panel most did not draw a wage from their businesses.

They obviously had a skewed view but it chimed with my own experience. At a large publishing house you run the risk of being a product, at a small press, you are a writer. It’s a very important distinction. There are some quality presses out there, some very niche, some with wider appeal. Many started their businesses in the wake of the crash and we are now blessed with a proliferation of companies giving writers more choice than ever. I would urge you not to close your minds to small presses.

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Heart by Nghiem Vo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0

While the previous day’s intensive, day-long course was immersive, today the four courses were each an hour long, providing no more than a whistle stop tour through the highlights of the subjects they were covering.

Press Releases

In a last minute change, I decided to swap Polishing your Manuscript for Publicising your Book with author and journalist Maria McCarthy. The key points to take from the talk were (a) ask for a copy of your press release for your files so that you can update it and use it again in the future (b) if you are asked to appear on TV think very carefully about what you are going to wear – stay away from patterns or anything that shows tan lines. Stick to bold, primary colours. Maria then talked us through what makes a great press release including the importance of the 5 Ws – Who, What, When, Where and Why.

Crime Readers are the crack cocaine users of books

Then it was on to the Language of Crime with author Helen Fields. This was an interesting talk with a standout handout – possibly the best one of the whole weekend. Helen talked about the modern crime novel which has snappy dialogue and is short on description. She described readers of crime as the crack cocaine users of books. As writers in the genre, you have to keep giving them their highs or risk them seeking them elsewhere. Readers are there for the thrill of the ride. We forget that at our peril.

Rollercoaster fun
Rollercoaster Fun by David Flood courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/XVT7zA https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Next was Whodunnit and How’s It’s Done with Linda Bennett the Director and Commissioning Editor at Salt Publishing. I must have been flagging at the halfway point on a very hot day as I have very little recollection of the hour I spent in Linda’s company. My fault, I am sure, not hers.

Social Media Know How

Finally, it was on to Reaching your Readers with author M G Leonard. Wow it was hot in that room. It was late afternoon on one of the hottest days of the year and the room was packed. We were all wilting and frantically fanning ourselves just to get some air. For anyone to hold the attention of the people in that room in those conditions is testament to the force of nature that was M G Leonard. What a wonderful bundle of energy she was. Darting to and fro, looking, annoyingly, as cool as a cucumber, whilst flashing up a wonderful bullet point presentation on the screen behind her.

Social media keyboard
Social Media Keyboard by Animated Heaven courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by Public Domain https://flic.kr/p/S7w8UL https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/

The talk was packed full of useful stuff, funny and engaging. She also rivalled Helen Fields for the best handout of the conference although it came later by email. Her key points were that online is: a crowded marketplace, a shop window, a creative playground, a community hub, WORK, TIME CONSUMING and UNPAID [her capitals]. Her recommendations were: work out what presence you need to generate work or sell your product, figure out your strengths and use corresponding platforms, what are your criteria for success, track analytics where you can, review your presence online regularly. IS THE TIME YOU SPEND ONLINE WORTHWHILE? [my capitals].

It was a busy, tiring and informative day. With so much to take in, the beauty of the handouts came into their own. Nuggets of wise information and advice I will return to again and again as an aide memoire for the future. I would highly recommend attending talks by Helen Fields and M G Leonard, in particular, if you ever get the chance.

white lies
White Lies by Ellie Holmes http://Author.to/EllieHolmes

Inspirational Essex

Poor Essex, woefully misunderstood, maligned by those who have never visited, routinely laughed at and made fun of. If it was a character in a novel it would have you rooting for it from the first page, the underdog who would fight off its naysayers and emerge to capture the hearts of all, the hero of the piece by the end of the book.

Anyone familiar with TOWIE could be forgiven for thinking that Essex is nothing more than tanning salons, nail bars and nightclubs full of loud, image-obsessed people. We have our fair share of the latter and Essex people are often loud and proud but that is not the whole story and as a writer, I’d like to tell you why.

Look beyond what you think you know and you will find an Essex that has so much more to offer – ancient market towns, beautiful villages, rolling countryside and lovely beaches. It is the perfect mix of town and country.

Dutch Quarter Colchester
Dutch Quarter Colchester by Ben Sutherland courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/apA7Ks https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Is it any wonder then that I use my home county as a source of inspiration for my books including The Flower Seller and White Lies? Both of these books are based in and around the fictitious market town of Abbeyleigh, the inspiration for which came from Colchester (Britain’s oldest recorded town) with a nice dash of Saffron Walden thrown in.

Colchester Castle
Colchester Castle by Giborn_134 courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-ND 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/of5w5c https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

I love the fact that in Essex, you can be in the centre of a vibrant, urban environment enjoying all the mod cons of modern life one moment and in the next you can be in the heart of the countryside. It really does have the best of both worlds. And for those who think any form of ‘culcha’ stops with the tube line, there is a vibrant music and arts scene to enjoy. For a writer, that contrast between worlds brings with it an endless source of ideas.

Royon
Roydon by Richardghawley courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons CC BY-ND 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/661HpS https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

Essex is also blessed with a varied and interesting coastline. The genteel, almost Edwardian, feel of Frinton on Sea, gives way to the Kiss-Me-Quick culture of piers, rides and slot machines at Clacton and Southend. While West Mersea is a hub for the sailing fraternity and the oyster fisheries.

west Merseajpg
West Mersea by John Fielding courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons CC BY 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/wxmrhr https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I love nothing better than taking my dog Willow for long walks along the county’s beaches, mulling over my plots while Willow frolics on the sand and I pause to watch the kite surfers.

But it is not only the landscape of the county that inspires me, the people do too. Down to earth, hard-working and funny, Essex people take no nonsense from anyone and if someone asks for their opinion they’ll give it to them straight, no messing. We may have a predilection for bling and Prosecco but there are worst vices to have.

Prosecco
Raval by James West courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 https://flic.kr/p/bvFWbe https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Just as you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, don’t think you know Essex because of what you’ve heard and seen – there is so much more to my home county that is just waiting to be discovered. Why not find out for yourself and pay us a visit?

white lies
White Lies by Ellie Holmes http://Author.to/EllieHolmes

 

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http://Author.to/EllieHolmes

This article first appeared on FemaleFirst.co.uk

http://www.femalefirst.co.uk/books/ellie-holmes-white-lies-1077670.html