Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Uncommon Women and Mountain Day

Yesterday was Mountain Day at my Alma Mater - Mt. Holyoke College (for UK readers this is a university not sixth form college). This is a wonderful tradition where the bells are rung and there are no classes - you are to seize the day. Unfortunately for me yesterday I couldn't down tools and go climb Mt. Holyoke itself, but I did remember doing that on a glorious Fall day with the trees not quite in their full autumnal glory. I can almost remember the smell of the dry ground and leaves crunching under foot....we won't talk about being out of breath and wondering why I was so unfit........

That Mountain Day fell so closely on the heals of a wonderful alumnea event held at St. Anne's College Oxford was rather nice. Although I was unable to attend the whole weekend symposium - Brain Power: Build It, Use It, Keep It I was able to join for Saturday evening which included a special session, Wobble, Warbles and Fish: the brain basis for dyslexia, given by John Stein, professor of Neuro-Physiology at Oxford and chairmen of the Dyslexia Research Trust. Fate smiled on me as I arrived at the same time as the professor and we made our way together to the lecture hall. I confessed to him that he was the reason I had left DD on her first exeat from boarding school to hear him speak. I explained that DS1 is severely dyslexic which wasn't surprising as both DH and I were. He said he needed families like ours as they continued to research the genetic link.

At the beginning of the lecture the reason he looked so familiar to me became clear - he is Rick Stein's (for non UK reader's Rick Stein is one of the UK's great chef and is based in Cornwall and is known for his fantastic fish recipes - I have two of his fish cookbooks on my shelves in Cornwall)brother which was not the reason for the fish in the title of his talk but could easily have been - it was fish oil.

His talk was amazing for me as everything fitted not only for DS1 but for me. I will not try and sum it up at this stage. I want to take some time to google his work and see if I can find links and explore the connection to dyslexia with writers in particular. I have to confess to being at times so full emotion during the lecture that I was too overwhelmed to take my normal copious notes - that and the words were far too long for my dyslexia too cope with quickly!

Now having left the US in 1989 and traveled a very different path to one I had ever could have dreamt while sitting inside Mt. Holyoke's ivy covered walls I have had very little to with my Alma Mater since I went to my tenth reunion - I think I was living in Calgary at that time. My twenty-fifth is arriving in May and I keep thinking that I am only twenty-eight so how can this be????

So sitting down to dinner at St. Anne's College brought so many memories back (first of my time spent not far away at Trinity College) but of what an exciting and empowering group of women (Mt Holyoke is an all women's college). I heard a phrase that I hadn't heard in years - Uncommon Women and as I looked around around I realized I too was one of them. Mt Holyoke pushed and challenged me in ways I never imaged at the time. It made me realize that all things were possible if I gave them my all. The best gift that it gave me was my first academic failure - up to that point I had cruised through my academic life without much effort, but thankfully one professor pulled me up short and brought me task. This taught me how to truly learn a skill - you need to work, work, and rework until you have it right - first time isn't always best. Boy is that important in writing fiction!

Now nearly 25 year years on and I realize that it has given me much more. During my years there, the sense of being uncommon sinks through your skin without you realizing it and it drives you. It makes you realize that you can make a difference in the world whether it is one life or hundreds that you help.

I looked around the hall at the alums and sensed the power of the call. For some it had been quiet change and others huge. I looked across the table at two young alums, '07 , one now doing her PhD at Cambridge and the other at St. Anne's, who had the world before them. I could feel their excitement and found that same emotion still lingered in my heart.

I think the most interesting change I noted was in the speach given by the current president Joanne Creighton - she spoke of the college's diversity and the need to continue the growth of diversity. Back twenty-five years ago the call was still for equality....How the world changes (in some ways - yet in some parts of the world I have lived equality is still desperately needed).........

So after such a long and wandering post, I wonder what your schools have given you. Aside from a package of academic learning what did you take away from your formal education?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Busy, Busy, Busy

I feel so bad that I haven't blogged in ages - not really like me, but it has been for very good reasons. Since I last appeared I have been to Dubai and back, attended two publishing/writing related events, written about 4k on PENDEROWN, and managed to catch up briefly with DH!

First, as you know I was worrying about DD going away to school...well, she loves it - which is a huge relief. It doesn't mean that we aren't both at times falling all over ourselves in misery missing each other but she is happy!

Now the How to Get Published conference at Kingston Uni was great. Unfortunately I have left my notes back in Dubai so you will have to wait for the details but it was soooo worth changing my flights to attend.

The past few days I have been tucked away in ancient manor in Oxfordshire (somes like one of my books!) on Cornerstone's Workshop on Women' s Fiction. Magic. You know when you have reached something of an impasse and you can't see the forrest for the trees, well I was there.

Since 2004 I have learnt so much. I have moved from being able to write a complete book to being able to write a pretty good book. I have been told I am so close - but just couldn't see how the hell to take my writing to the next level. I am one of those people who has to 'see' how - if that make sense. Maybe it's my dyslexia but I need concrete examples of where I have missed the mark. Once I can actually 'see' the error then I can learn to fix it and find the rest them in the script or at least that is what I have been able to do in the past.

I had hoped that this workshop might help me on my way. In fact i had high hopes because the person teaching this workshop was Julie Cohen. I know Julie from the RNA, love her books and have been lucky enough to have attended one of her workshops on Pacing at a conference. So I knew that at the start the teacher could write (that is an understatement) and possibly more important that she was a gifted teacher - these things do not always go hand in hand.

So let's just say I wasn't disappointed. I knew before I began where I perseceived my weeknesses and I wasn't wrong, but I didn't quite have it all and I certainly was stumped how to fix it...During the workshop I was put through exercises on my own work and others on the course which helped me to 'see'. I learnt different ways of approaching my totally organic process of plotting and conflict which should improved it, tighten it, or even sometimes find it!

In the past Julie has gifted me with many lightbulb moments and I wasn't disappointed in anyway. It was a wonder I wasn't blinded by the flashes. Now I need to cement these tools into my brain, if possible, so that they become more a part of my natural writing process, which I know will take time...

The other part of the workshop was a chance to learn more about the 'business' end. Helen Corner provided this side. She armed us with the tools to help break through. The pratical nuts and bolts of submission prep and approaching agents. There also a chance to question her indivually about specific concerns - worth it's weight in gold.

On the second evening the wonderful agent, Broo Doherty joined us for dinner and q & a. Opportunites to pick an agent's mind don't come much better than this. She was funny, honest, realistic (her agency of 2 agents receives 5000 submissions a year!), and generous with her answers.

The other bonus of the workshop was the other attendees. Being with other writers is brilliant. This talented group contained women in different parts of the writer's journey were tremendously supportive and helpful. They were inspiring and fun. It was great to spend the time with them. I have gained so much from them that they will never know. I hope they came out of the workshop ready to tackle their own persona challenges.

So I am pumped. The end of PENDEROWN is insight. PILGRIMAGE is bubbly in my head and after my one-on-one with Julie (not sure I like you any more!!!) I have decisions to make (May talk about this more later when i have had time to chew things through).

Between the two writing events though I have come away with three key things that I will share as they are not specific to me or either event:

1. Know your reader
2. Be professional in every way
3. Don't rush and ruin the chance your have by submitting to soon

Finally Anita Burgh has a wonderful post on GUILT on her blog and from that blog I am not called myself a YUP!

Monday, September 07, 2009

Fallen Off The Face of The Earth

I have been very quiet and not without good reason. Life has been crazy. Since my last post DS1 has had his GCSE results - which were excellent, truly. He is now back at school and radio silence has ensued which I know means all is well. However I am left bereft having enjoyed his company all summer. Tomorrow DS2 returns to school. He has grown another inch and is now the tallest in the family. He doesn't want to return but accepts the inevitability of it with his normal grace. On Wednesday DD leaves home for boarding school for the first time. I am trying to be brave. I really am. I know it is right for her but it is hell for me. Of course she doesn't see this and mustn't see this. She is full of fear and self loathing at the moment which worries me. The self loathing was there and has nothing to do with school but with her own inner perfectionism. Having struggled with that all my life I wish there was some way I could help her through - other than love her and talk to her. Anyway enough of my family stuff.

I have lots of exciting things on the agenda coming up. First I postponed my return to Dubai to fit in Alison Baverstock's getting published workshop at Kingston University. It's a great line up and to make even better I am staying with fellow writer Biddy. I return briefly to Dubai then I'm back in the UK for the Eid holiday and seeing the kids - one weekend each which left me with time to take Cornerstone's course 'Writing Commercial Women's Fiction' taught by the wonderful Julie Cohen. I know she is a fabulous teacher and has so many times gifted me with light bulb moments.

I am hoping between the two it will fire my enthusiasm and help me chart my way onto the next level of writing. I have received my NWS report back - quick I know. So quick my clever plan to have it sent to sil in London so it wouldn't wallow away lonely in Cornwall went awry. It was an excellent report - not in the sense that it was filled with glowing praise, but in the sense that it was filled with concrete advice to lift the level of my writing. Never an easy pill to swallow, but just the medicine I need at this point. No, it wasn't negative at all. The reader said lots of lovely things, but read the script with a careful eye and pointed out where I needed to strengthen the book and my writing in general.

So that leads to what to do next. I need to complete the first draft of Penderown, I need to polish the revised August Rock. I need to complete another rewrite of A Cornish House and finally I have another book bashing the walls of my brain waiting to escape onto a page.

I know ACH needs a break so that is easy to let rest. I have just another ten or twenty thousand words to finish Penderown. August Rock will be a major project, but one I am looking forward to. I think the new book can be contained in my brain until the New Year. So beginning Thursday I will pick up Penderown again (try and remember what the hell was happening without going back to read because I would never move forward). Once the draft is complete I will work on August Rock. I want to have that done and dusted by Christmas so I can let the Pilgrimage out of my brain. Once that is complete I will then move back to ACH. All this sounds set in stone, but of course nothing is. It means that I will have nothing in the market which may not be a good idea. However I think as the trilogy of AR, ACH and Penderown begins with AR this should be the lead book.

I hope to be blogging on a more regular basis soon. In the mean time there is a great post on research and one writer's approach on Anita Burgh. Can't recommend this blog enough as she knows her stuff having 23 books under her belt and tackles writing from a very no nonsense approach.

Finally a few photos - two of August Rock on a beautiful summer's day and two of some of the antics at the village regatta.