Saturday Morning Journal Writing

It’s Saturday morning again and the first day of winter here in New Zealand. Mind you, winter didn’t wait this year, but slammed us a week early. Our summer was long and hot and I have a funny feeling winter is going to long and cold.

I awoke early, probably because I told myself I’d sleep in this morning. Things never work out as I plan at the weekend. When I realised I wasn’t going to get back to sleep I started reading, re-reading actually as I chose to read Natalie Goldberg’s ‘Writing Down the Bones’, from the beginning.

As always happen, whenever I pick up this book, I get as far as when Natalie tells her readers:

“Sit down right now. Give me this moment. Write whatever’s running through you. You might start with “this moment” and end up writing about the gardenia you wore at your wedding seven years ago. That’s fine. Don’t try to control it. Stay present with whatever comes up, and keep your hand moving. “ Goldberg, Natalie (2010-08-31). Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within

And, so I did. I sat down and started writing. Here, in more or less unabridged form, part of the thoughts that flowed through my pencil onto the page of my journal.

There’s so much writing running through my head, chaotic, disorganised, like the wild flow of a river in flood. I have no idea how to tame the wild natural force of a river. Like the river my writing needs to rush onward toward its destination – not the sea, but a recognisable chunk to be added to my work in progress.

Yesterday I completed the piece on the pine grove I’ve been working on. It’s not quite as long as I  hoped for, but I’m pleased with the finished product. I felt immense satisfaction from feeling I’d grown a little as a writer.

Sometimes giving yourself permission to simply write thoughts in a journal leads to other pieces of writing. I had no idea where I was going with this. However, the writing picked up on threads I’ve been thinking about lately, writing about my local river in different contexts, as preparation for a small piece that will eventually sort itself from the chaos and appear in my work in progress.

Natalie Goldberg tells us to keep practicing writing and that is what I do. Every now and then something of greater importance emerges. But, right now I’m still gathering facts and stories and mapping out the direction my new work will take.

How about you? Do you follow Natalie’s advice and practise writing every day, warming up by just writing before you get on with the serious stuff? Do you find the thoughts written randomly written in your journal take you places you hadn’t previously thought of going?

FIRST FIVE FRENZY with Carlie Webber of CK Webber Associates

This is the first time I’ve been moved to reblog anything, but I thought the advice here as to what an agent looks for in the first five pages is such common sense, but things we can tend to overlook. It could also save us a lot of time and heartbreak if we take notice of this advice from Carlie Webber.
Read on and decide for yourself.

chasingthecrazies

FFF SideWords

 

 

 

If you’re like me, you toil for hours editing and fine-tuning the first pages of your manuscript.  You look at the first lines to make sure they are compelling and tight.  You examine the next few paragraphs, hoping your MC’s voice is already taking hold of the reader.

 

The First Five Frenzy is all about getting an agent’s perspective on what works, and what fails, in those first pages of a manuscript.  By reading each agent’s comments, I hope you’ll learn how to make your manuscript a shining gem that will be requested time and time again.

 

Today, I am proud to share Literary Agent, Carlie Webber’s perspective on what’s important in those critical first pages.

 

 

Amy: Many writers have the impression that a great first line is imperative to drawing in the reader. How important is a first line to you as an…

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Life in the 1950s – Will You Come to My Birthday Party?

By the age of nine a very important social reality hit me with a wham – if you wanted an invitation to birthday parties you had to throw one yourself. These social events were reciprocal and the urge to be a party goer called loud and strong.

I managed to persuade my parents I’d be a social outcast if I didn’t have a party for my ninth birthday and was allowed to offer four invitations, with the assumption my little sister would be allowed to attend. You can see the size of the smile on my little sister’s face in the photo below. You can also guess we’re sisters by the unshapely haircuts and the fact we’re the only ones without a stiffened petticoat beneath our party dresses. Yes, we’re both the middle of three in the front and back rows.

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Fifty one years later the only person in the photo to attend my 60th birthday party was my sister. The others had long disappeared from my life. However, I’ve had contact with all but one of the other four in the last twelve years.

First there was Jillian. Against all odds we ended up standing side by side amongst thousands on Wellington’s crowded waterfront on the Millennium’s  New Year’s Eve. After staring at what I thought seemed a familiar face, I uttered her name, to find I wasn’t mistaken. What a fantastic reunion that made. Next came April, in recent months, discovered quite by chance after an online transaction. This re-connection was closely followed by Susan, connected with again at our primary school Centenary reunion.

The only girl in the photo not yet connected with in adult years is Helen. She moved away from our town not long after this birthday photo. Helen and I kept in touch for many years, writing letters and meeting up whenever I went to Wellington, where she lived. But as is often the case, our lives went in different directions and we lost contact.

Today birthday parties, both the giving and the attending, are huge events in many kids lives. My friends and I played games such as Pass the Parcel and Blind Man’s Bluff, while kids today enjoy sleep overs, pool parties and gatherings at fast food outlets.

Times may have changed, but birthdays are still times to be celebrated. I wonder how many of today’s kids will look back on their ninth birthday and smile.

What about you? What memories do you have of childhood birthdays?

NZ, New Zealand – Where All Good Kiwis Come From

In recent months a few people have been asking me, where is this NZ you keep confessing to be a resident of? Well, sorry folks, it isn’t the latest US state, nor is it to be found anywhere in the UK. New Zealand is a little country consisting of three major islands and lots of tiny ones, tucked away in the South Pacific, almost at the bottom of the world.

Contrary to belief from many in the northern hemisphere, we’re not off the coast of Australia, but a good three hour flight across the Tasman Sea. Crossing that piece of sea is often known as ‘crossing the ditch’.

There are only about four and a half million of us living in New Zealand, but if the truth be known, there are probably just as many Kiwis living in Oz, Aussie, Australia.

The inhabitants of NZ are known as Kiwis, not the flightless bird variety, nor the scrumptious green fruit within a brown skin. Unlike the Kiwi bird, we’re not a flightless people and can be found living all over the world.

There are more sheep living in New Zealand than people – not inhabiting the same space of course!

Yes, we do speak English, it’s our official language along with Maori. We also are very active bloggers and inhabitants of social media sites.

We’re a country well known worldwide for our lakes, mountains, beaches and green scenery and take our sport and outdoor adventure seriously.

We have wonderful film makers here in NZ, especially Sir Peter Jackson, responsible for the ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy amongst others. And yes, that wonderful scenery in  Lord of The Rings is New Zealand.

New Zealand is the first place in the world to see the light of each new day, therefore when I write on Saturday morning most of you are still enjoying Friday night.It’s coming into winter here in New Zealand right now, with snow falling earlier than usual down in the South Island. So, while most of you are welcoming the sun, here we’re wrapping up warm – and writing our blog posts.

That’s just a bit of an introduction, for those who haven’t been too sure when I make strange comments such as ‘coming from down under.’ From time to time I’ll throw in a few more interesting, but not necessarily important, facts about this little place called NZ.

Writing Prompted by the Words of Others

Last night I sat down to write, having not written for almost a week. My writing brain took fright at being expected to think, to come up with something, to produce some writing. The blank page stared up at me, like all good blank pages do, chastising me for my neglect.

Something had to be done, so I wrote the following at the top of the page. “Open the book I’m reading at a random page. Choose ONE SENTENCE from the page and write it down. Then keep writing for ten minutes.”

The book I grabbed was “To the River” by Olivia Laing, the story of the River Ouse in Sussex in England. The first page I randomly opened contained a historical story of no help at all. I tried again. Still no sentence appealed. The third attempt offered several gems and I chose the following:

‘And there was the Ouse, all of a tumble, the sun skating off it in panes of light.’

A vision immediately came to me of the swimming pool I spent so many years of my teenage life in, the pool my latest writing project is telling the story of. I noted the time – after all I needed to write for ten minutes – and started writing with ease, describing the atmosphere on the night of an important swim meet, with the lights beaming down on the water and the darkened sky above the outdoor pool. I wrote for about 20 minutes.

My short piece of writing wasn’t brilliant, but the pool at night wasn’t something I’d thought about including as part of my work in progress. I made a few reflective notes to myself at the bottom on how to make improvements, turned off the light and went to sleep.

A few hours later – as often is the case with writers – I awoke, my brain having processed my scribbling while I slept. There was nothing to do but turn on the light and write down the wonderful ideas drifting through my brain. I jotted down a few interesting words, a couple of possible metaphors and a few more surprising images I recalled. That was it, lights out and back to sleep until morning.

The prompt of a random sentence from another’s writing hadn’t occurred to me before. Although the book I read spoke of a river and my book is about a swimming pool, the water and reflection of the light gave me enough similarities to get started. I’ll certainly use the words of others as a prompt again if my writing is shy about revealing itself to me.

What about you? What tips do you use when the words refuse to come?

Writing Memoir – How Do You Remember So Much?

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For the past few years my major focus has been writing memoir, recording aspects of my life in the 1950s and 1960s. By capturing small snippets of my everyday life, I’ve been able to preserve memories from the past. The above photo certainly is my first recalled memory of going swimming, something that became a major focus of my teenage years.

After the publication of my 1950s school memoir, ‘West End the Best End – School Memories from the 1950s’ many people asked me, “How do you remember so much?  I’d forgotten all those things”. I don’t think my memory is any better than other people, but I’ve trained myself to recall incidents hiding somewhere in my brain. I also discovered the more I write my memories down, the more I remember.

I think one of the most important things is to keep your memoir writer’s brain switched on at all times. Almost anything you do in everyday life can be a trigger to memories from a previous time in your life. You need only to be receptive to the triggers around you. A supermarket queue can prompt memories of grocery shopping in earlier times. The doctor’s waiting room can prompt memories of childhood sickness.

One powerful trigger of my own memories is talking to other people. As I wrote my school memoir I engaged similar aged people in conversation about their own school days. Often they’d remember something I’d forgotten and so yet another memory surfaced. Other people love to share their past and once they’re aware you’re working on a memoir project they’re usually happy to compare notes of similar experiences. This adds depth to your own memories. I’ll certainly be talking to many of the people in the swim team below as I work on my latest project, the story of our local swimming baths in the 1960s.

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Old photos also enable memories to be recalled.  When you look at an old photo try and recall as much about the occasion as you can and write your memories down. Ask other people who may remember the photographed event about  their memories of the occasion.

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Reading other material, both fiction and non-fiction from the period being written about is another way of bringing memories back, reminding you how people behaved at the time, giving authenticity to your writing.

Always think of yourself as a memoir writer and keep your mind open. You never know when a little detail will present itself to you. Write remembered incidents down as soon as you can. It doesn’t matter if anecdotal stories are written out of order. There’s plenty of time to organize them and improve your writing later. The important thing is to start writing. You’ll be surprised how easily memories start flowing in.

Do you use other ideas that act as memory triggers? Be sure to share them with us here.

Remembering a 1970s Dessert – Gingernut Log

One of my favourite cooking programmes is ‘Sweet Genius’ with Chef Ron Ben-Israel. The programme features late on a Saturday afternoon here, at a time when I’m winding down and pouring myself a glass of wine as a reward for the day.

As I watched today, I remembered a basic dessert fashionable here in New Zealand in the 1970s during my early years of marriage. In those days couples got together at each others homes, the host providing the food and venue for a night of eating, drinking and friendship. With three, sometimes four courses having to be prepared, we looked for ways of simplifying the process.

One of the favourite desserts of the day involved taking a packet of gingernut biscuits – these are no doubt known by another name elsewhere – and dunking them in sherry until fully absorbed by the alcohol. The biscuits were placed on a plate, separated by and smothered all over with whipped cream, often containing a little more of the alcoholic sherry. The gingernut log was then covered with chocolate sprinkles. The sherry softened the crunchy gingernuts and blended well with the ginger flavour.

This dessert was popular with young couples entertaining their friends – economical and quick to make, it had a feel of decadence back in times when we had new mortgages, new families and little money. Now, I’m more likely to resort to supermarket desserts if I’m short of money and time.

Thinking of gingernut logs has definitely been a trip down memory lane. Do you have desserts from the past you no longer make, but ones that seemed economical, but impressive, at the time? Why not share them with us all.

Relaxed on Saturday Morning

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This seems to be coming a habit, writing about Saturday morning. I’ve greeted the world a little later than usual and there’s no rush to make choices about the order things get done. I’m practised at ignoring the breakfast dishes in the sink and the weekly attempt at housework – how can two people and a cat make so much mess? Blame the cat I say.

Anyway, I had a little blog piece all ready to be written, a sensible little piece calling for attention when I went to bed last night. I came to the computer with my scribblings in my notebook and my coffee in my hand, ready to read the latest posts in my Reader.

This morning’s offerings are really Friday nights for most of you, as I’m writing this tucked away in the distant land of New Zealand. Obviously bloggers are in a relaxed mood as they pound away at the keys on Friday night, fuelled by the freedom of the weekend ahead. I started smiling and chuckling, until outright laughter escaped into the morning. A few new – to me – bloggers captured my attention this week. I’m discovering clever and funny people waiting to entertain me.

Outside the day is grey and wet, a good day for staying inside writing and ignoring housework while I read the funny stories written by others. But, now I realise I have a problem. How could I possibly contemplate serious stuff on a Saturday morning?

Saturday needs to be light-hearted and today several good role models demonstrate how to let the humour flow. I’ve told myself, stop being so serious girl, relax, laugh at yourself a bit more. Maybe that’s the secret to successful blog posts, the ability to laugh at one self and be more entertaining. I’m going to need a bit of practice to get that skill flowing freely.

Meanwhile, the serious piece can wait until a more suitable time. I’m going to approach Saturday as it deserves – relaxed and with a smile on my face, thanks to the entertaining blog posts I read over coffee. First though, I need to go pour another coffee.

Reminder to Myself – The Need for Consistency

I’ve been reading lots of sound blogging advice lately, information worth reading. Some of the advice was new to me and contained a few things I need to get my head around here in this blogging world. Other things I was familiar with, but had allowed to drift into the back of my awareness and needed to be reminded of. I am grateful for both kinds of information.

One thing I still need to establish  as I start out on this blogging life is consistency in my posting. Saying it has been a crazy year is just an excuse. My posts so far have appeared more as an element of surprise, dropping unexpectedly out of no where. For this reason I’m grateful for the followers who read regularly and to those who pop in here from time to time.

Next week I start a new job, with consistent hours, so I know what I’m doing when. This will provide me with more time and energy for writing, including blogging. I enjoy following blogs with a daily theme to their posts, so readers know what to expect when. I’m going to try and do the same, though this may be a habit that takes time to become consistent. My initial aim is to become more consistent in the regularity of my posts.

I’d love to read others thoughts on this need for consistency. I’m sure, if I can achieve it, this will be worth attempting. Please share  any tips you may on how you achieve this.

Life in the 1950s – Remembering My Childhood Bed

This seems to be the year for new purchases. Earlier in the year our washing machine died and now, after talking about the possibility for at least a year, we’re buying a new bed. This decision prompted childhood memories of the bed I grew up in, back in the 1950s.

That bed was a far cry from the one we’ve just purchased. The base was an old wire wove one, the wires so stretched they sank in the middle. On top of this lay a lumpy old kapok mattress. In spite of this, I still found my bed comfortable. The mattress caved in the middle, meaning this was the only place to sleep. I’d snuggle down, pulling the sheet and thin, worn blankets right up to my chin.

On winter nights the thin blankets provided little warmth when I first got into bed, and my feet usually took time to warm up. When the nights became really cold I filled a hot water bottle from the tap to warm the bed before I climbed in.

For many years, until I could read for myself, either Mum or Dad would come and read a story, helping me to drift off to sleep before they turned off the light.

My bed nestled in one corner against the wall, from where I watched the shadows cast by the street lights as they found their way through the tear in the old blind. My imagination danced, making up stories about the strange shapes flung against the far wall, until I eventually fell asleep.  Or I listened to the rain falling on the old tin roof. Sometimes my parents’ voices drifted through the door, not loud enough to make out the conversation, but close enough to give a sense of security.

I always felt snug and secure in my bed.  My childhood bed-time was special. Now, I look forward to the new bed’s arrival. Its base and firm mattress will support my back, unlike the sagging wire and lumpy mattress once beneath me. The electric blanket will warm the bed during winter months. The soft, light duvet gives plenty of warmth, though I still retain my childhood habit of pulling the cover up round my ears.

Two other things haven’t changed. I still read most nights, turning off the events of the day. Once the lights are out I’ll lay awake in my new bed, waiting for sleep to come, making stories of the shadowy shapes that sometimes flit across the room. Bed-time still causes my imagination to come alive for a short time at least. Unlike in childhood, when I eventually fell asleep, I now need to make a decision – will I let the ideas be and hope I remember them in the morning? Or will I turn the light back on and scribble the ideas down before they dance away into the night?