Writing the Book is Only Part of the Story

I’ve allowed myself three years to write the story of the local swimming pool I frequented as a teenager. I didn’t realize how many new skills I’d need along the way. I’m a writer and this is a story I want to tell. I thought I’d research and write and produce a book. Wrong! The reality is this book is taking me on an amazing learning journey.

My book is a local history one, a social history, the story of the local Municipal Baths from 1917 until closure in 1966.That sounds easy, gathering up information and writing. But there’s more to a book than that, as many of you wiser than me already know. I feel as if I’m undertaking a personal three year on-going education course – and I’m enjoying every minute of it.

Of course, there’s the research. This is new for me and I’m already learning rapidly. The people at my local library are amazing, showing me where to locate information and how to access it. The old newspapers are giving me an insight into community reaction to the building of the baths in their town. The Archives contain lots of valuable data. I’ve been recording my own anecdotal stories and will soon be delving into stories from people who experienced the baths long before I did.

The research will continue for a long time yet. I hadn’t ventured too far into the project when I realized I needed to put this story into context. What was the local community like at the time, especially in the 1920s and 1930s? I’m off to the library and onto the internet, gathering stories of the local community and the swimming world of the time.

All this sounds fine, but the book needs to written in a style appealing to a wide readership. I hope to blend facts with my personal stories. This will involve a different style from  my writing so far. I enrolled in an online Creative Non- fiction writing course and this is proving a wise investment of time and money. I’ve been reading a book about undertaking research. I’m also reading books, both novels and factual, which weave backwards and forwards in time, rather than tell a chronological story. I’m getting a feel for how my book will be written.

I’m now six months into my project. My writing skills are improving, I’m getting more skilled at research and I’m becoming e of a social and local historian. Who said writing a book was easy? But I can tell you from personal experience, learning as you go is lots of fun.

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Rainy Day Pleasures of Childhood

The rain falls gently outside and I allow myself to drift back to my 1950s childhood, when even rainy days held lots of fun. We had no television back then, but I never had problems finding something to do, but more a problem of choosing from my favourite wet day indoor activities.

Who remembers pressing their face against the inside of the window on a rainy day, nose all squashed against the glass, watching the raindrops trickle, trickle, trickle at first, then racing each other down the pane? I watched their trail as they slithered downward, never straight, veering slightly this way or that until they merged with another or hit the ledge below.

Colouring books and crayons were essential on a rainy day and even more enjoyable when Mum sat down with me. “Colour a page, Mum,” I’d plead and she’d quietly choose a picture, pick up a crayon and start by neatly outlining the edges, before filling the space evenly as only Mums could.

The box of paper dolls, stored carefully in old cardboard chocolate boxes, often came out on rainy days, whole families of them ready to live their lives as I directed. Then there were jigsaw puzzles, especially good for extended periods of rain. I spread all the pieces out on the floor, turning them over, sorting them into colours and locating the straight pieces of the edges. “Always assemble the edges first,” Dad said, “it makes the rest easier when you’ve got something to work from.”

Another rainy days treat was to get out Dad’s book, ‘The Jolly Boys Book of Boxcraft.’ In it I learned how to make everything from dolls houses to train stations, using a few small boxes and plenty of glue.

Knitting also occupied my time as I grew out of some of the younger activities. I loved watching wool turn into rows, transforming into something recognisable, row by row.

And of course there were books, always books. I’d lose myself in a story and not notice the rain outside had stopped.

I think back now and say, thank heavens we didn’t have TV or electronic game equipment back in the 1950s. I’d have been deprived of so much fun had I been stuck in front of moving images that I couldn’t interact with. Rainy days were never boring, but always fun.

Writing Competition for All New Zealand Writers

This blog post is a challenge for all New Zealand writers and those who wonder if they dare call themselves writers. I apologise if aiming a competition at one nationality seems restrictive, but we’re only a small country and need to encourage all our local writers. I believe in the value of writing competitions enough to encourage all Kiwi writers to enter.

Manawatu Women Writers is a group of energetic, dedicated writers based in Palmerston North, New Zealand. We meet once a month to share our writing and support each other in our writing endeavours.

Every second year the group runs a writing competition to encourage fellow writers to extend writing skills and submit their best work. The competition is for poets and short story writers, no matter where in New Zealand you live. There are no age restrictions and prize money is available in both the Open and Young Adult sections.

Writing competitions are great motivation. They can extend us all as writers, challenging us to have a go at new genres or attempting to lift our skills to the next level.

This year’s Manawatu Women Writers Association writing competition closes 30 September 2013. So there’s no time to waste.

Entry forms and conditions of entry can be obtained from Dorothy Alexander, e-mail alexdor@vodafone.co.nz . Find out more and support this small group in our effort to encourage New Zealand writing by sending for your entry form now. Then start writing.

We look forward to receiving your entry before the closing date.