Sunday, 31 October 2010

50 Stories for Pakistan - out now!

50 Stories for Pakistan is now available to order from Blurb. Profits go to the Red Cross to help victims of the recent floods.
Well done to Greg McQueen for co-ordinating another brilliant fundraising project.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Things I'm noticing this autumn...

The low sun making dark shadows and warped reflections. This is a shadow of the honesty I picked from the garden, and some of my blue glass bottles. I love coloured glass. And it doesn't have to be expensive glass. A Bristol Cream sherry bottle is beautiful when seen against the light!

For fifty weeks of the year the Virginia Creeper is a complete pain in the wotsit. It doesn't creep, it rampages, smothering the lilac tree and threatening the border beneath. But for a fortnight in autumn the crimson leaves are just stunning.

Firethorn berries. I'm told birds eat red berries first, then orange and lastly yellow. This seems true in my garden as the wood pigeons have stripped all the red berries from the cotoneaster next to this bush, but so far they haven't touched the Firethorn at all. The blackbirds always go for the Firethorn, but so far they must be finding something more appetising.

Dewy cobwebs. Isn't nature amazing? All the spider wants to do is catch its food. And look what it creates in the process.

Skeletal seedheads.

I didn't think the trees looked as heavy with apples this year. Once we started picking I realised how wrong I was. I took three boxes from the lower branches, then our neighbours came with their ladders and picked a further fourteen boxes! On the side of our house is what my mother would call a lobby, but people down here seem to call a utility room. For several days it smelt like a cider factory while I found homes for all the apples.

Monday, 18 October 2010

'Sweet Friends' award

Oh look, Ellie Garratt gave me a 'Sweet Friends' blog award! Thank you Ellie, I am highly honoured!

There are lots of people I have come to think of as friends since I started this blogging lark. In a moment I'll have to identify six of them to pass the award onto.

But first, as a condition of accepting this award, I have to tell you six things about my writing:

1. I could give up writing more easily than I could give up gardening.

2. When I'm writing I drink too much tea, but there are worse vices in life.

3. I have three different kinds of thesaurus and use them all.

4. I can only write first drafts in longhand, not on computer.

5. If I'm cold I can't concentrate. Other than that I can write almost anywhere.

6. I don't plan much, but I often cut out pictures from magazines that relate to the story that's in my mind.

And so (drum roll...) I now have to spread the lurve and give the 'Sweet Friends' award to another six people. If they would like to share six things about their writing, their blogging, their Olympic ambitions or whatever then please feel free to do so. If not... oh hell, just have the award!

1. Margo Berendsen at Writing at High Altitude

2. Laraine at Larainy Days

3. Karen at Get on with It

4. Bazza at To Discover Ice

5. Joanna Campbell at Brightwriter60

6. Teresa Ashby at A Likely Story

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Afternoon Tea with Robert Goddard

Recently friends and I enjoyed 'Afternoon Tea with Robert Goddard' - an event held as part of the Warwick Words literary festival.

Robert Goddard's first novel, 'Past Caring', appeared in 1986. He followed this with a further twenty books, many with historical settings, blending mystery and adventure into complex plots. His latest novel is 'Long Time Coming'.

Robert spoke for around an hour to a packed hall. He began by telling us how he used to imagine that being a writer would be a glamorous life. Experience has since taught him that it is more a life of hard work and invention. I am always amazed at how novelists consistently come up with new ideas over a period of so many years. So where does Robert find those ideas? News stories can be a source of inspiration, he suggested, particularly those where ordinary people become involved in crime. Murder seems especially fascinating to readers. Robert asked whether this is because we can imagine circumstances where we might be tempted to commit it ourselves. History, which Robert studied at Cambridge, also has endless possibilities for plot ideas.

In response to questions from the audience, Robert talked about his process of plotting a novel. He said that while he does continue to plot in some detail before starting to write, often the story can change as the characters evolve. I liked his tip for finding names for his characters - study the gravestones in cemeteries! Robert revealed that one of his own favourite novelists is crime author Michael Dibdin. And a final thought for writers: imagination needs to be trained and exercised through regular use. The more you do this, the easier the writing will come.

Following the talk my friends and I had some fabulous cake, and agreed that Robert Goddard had been a very funny and entertaining speaker. I would definitely recommend seeing him in person if you have the opportunity. Thank you Robert for such an enjoyable afternoon.

For more about Robert Goddard, his website is here.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Jo interviews Angela Pickering

Today I am delighted that short story writer Angela Pickering has agreed to answer a few questions about herself and her writing.

Angela lives in Essex, and her stories regularly appear in such magazines as Take a Break's Fiction Feast, My Weekly, Woman's Weekly, Yours, The Weekly News, That's Life (Australia), People's Friend, and in the small press. Her competition successes include winning the Annual Ghost Story Competition run by Writers' News in 2006, and also two of their monthly competitions.

So, Angela, welcome to Zigzag Road and can you tell us how long you've been writing?

I have written on and off since I was a child. I used to take episodes of a rambling tale set in Russia to school on a weekly basis and make my friends read them. I also wrote a few ghost stories and then there was that little hand written, hand illustrated magazine called 'Quest' that survived for two issues.

Then life got in the way and I didn't take up the pen again until 2000 when someone I met at work mentioned a writing group she'd joined. "I always wanted to be a writer," I said and she took me at my word. Everything spiralled from there. I shall always be grateful to the writer, Carol Purves, who dragged me along to my first meeting.

Are you someone who plans out stories before beginning to write, or do you like to plunge straight in and see what develops?

Both, actually. Mostly I simply start writing from a title, a character or just a vague idea and see where it leads me. Sometimes the beginning and the end are already set in my head when I start. It's rare that I have a whole story before I begin, but it does happen.

A lot of your stories feature ghosts and hauntings. How do you come up with so many spooky ideas?

I've always been a fan of the strange and spooky tale. My family thought me a strange child, especially when I announced that I'd seen fairies in my bedroom. So it's a question of writing what one loves. My best ideas seem to arrive in that strange time between waking and sleeping. I try to write them down in the notepad beside my bed, but sometimes I think they're so brilliant that I'm sure I'll remember them, and then I don't.

How do you fit writing into your schedule alongside the demands of work and family life?

This is the difficult one. I'm lucky in that I only work part-time, but trying to keep on top of the house and garden in between work shifts means I live my life in a state of perpetual confusion. I call it 'spinning like a top'. I expect everyone calls it something different. Writing is what I do to make myself happy so when I've got a good idea, I drop everything else apart from the washing and ironing. A family of five needs a lot of clean clothes. When I'm not writing though, I'm generally thinking about writing. Many's the tale that has been born over the ironing board.

Imagine you can have lunch with any writer, living or dead. Who would it be and what would you ask them?

I can't choose here between my first hero M.R. James and the amazing Stephen King. In either case the question that springs to mind is "Will you marry me?" To be honest though, I expect I'd be so awestruck that the power of speech would be denied me. I might just curtsy instead and then tremble in their presence. I wouldn't be eating the lunch either.

And finally, have you any advice for newer writers?

Yes, it's this. Love to write. If it's not your passion don't do it. Writing is like breathing to some of us; once you start you can't stop. This passion is what will keep you going when the rejections come through the letter box like confetti. This passion is what will one day see your work in print and if you have it don't waste it. Write. (And join a writing group, read a lot and maybe do courses as well.)

Thank you Angela for these words of inspiration! It's been a real pleasure to discover more about you.