Wednesday, 11 December 2013

A Place to Call Home

Image: Courtesy of John Saint
In the last 15 years, since I met my husband, we have lived in 20 different houses in 10 different cities, towns and villages. A part of the reason is that we are nomadic and we like to experience new places and new things. But for the past seven years it's been because we have been at the mercy of unreliable landlords and subjected to noisy neighbours. But we also came to realise it's because we didn't have a home we could call our own.

So when Sally Swingewood and Debi Alper called for writers to donate stories to a charity anthology to raise money for Shelter, it seemed like a subject very close to my heart and the story I wrote for it just came pouring out. Surprisingly it had nothing to do with the physical bricks and mortar of home but in finding your way back to your home when life has knocked you off course. I was so thrilled to be accepted and even more so when I read the stories that mine sits alongside. The quality and diversity is incredible.

So please buy a copy, or more, this Christmas as all proceeds go to Shelter and they need the money to help all of those people who don't have a home. There's more of them than you probably realise and a shocking statistic is that every two minutes someone in the UK faces losing their home.

You can buy Stories for Homes on Amazon as a big fat paperback or for your Kindle; and so far we've raised over £1000. I’m very proud to be a part of this brilliant project.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Am I living the dream?

Time has flown by and I've been living on the canal boat for over two months now. It's taken me a lot longer than I anticipated to write the first blog once we actually moved on board as life has been pretty full-on and hectic ever since!

Hindsight is a wonderful thing and we now realise that we should have reigned our excitement in a bit and not set off on our travels as soon as we did. And that we should have figured out how we were going to stop and moor up before we did, as it suddenly dawned on us an hour into our first journey that we didn't have a clue how to do it. But we figured it out, sort of. The first time involved me leaping from the boat and pulling it to a stop with the ropes! We've now discovered that we do it in a much easier and more sedate manner, which will also stop me developing a body builder look.

Despite my pre-move worries about Rusty the cat she hasn't got lost once but has taken regular dips in the canal. So regular that we've come to believe she actually likes it and jumps in.

As well as having to learn loads (you have to turn a pump on to get water to come out of the taps, for example, which took us 4 days to figure out!) we have met some incredibly lovely and helpful people, seen places we would never have discovered otherwise and spent a lot of time surrounded by stunning landscapes and wildlife. All went swimmingly for the first few weeks and it was everything we'd dreamed it would be.

Then the engine broke. And it wouldn't start again. And we were stranded on the towpath for over two weeks with no lights and power. We've had a lot of candlelit dinners, which was nice for a few days then just a pain as you couldn't see what you were doing when cooking them or eating them.
But the power of social media as a good thing then came into full force when a friend I'd made on Twitter, Brian, who also lives on a canal boat, came to our rescue.

Someone must have been smiling on us as we broke down close to where his permanent mooring is and he not only spent a whole day trying to get the engine started for us, he also gave us lifts in his car to get shopping, he lent us a battery powered lamp and then he towed us for three days back to the boatyard we’d originally started out at. Without him and his lovely wife, Jean, we would have been well and truly buggered and without Twitter I would never have known them.

So, we've been back at the marina for a few weeks now and our new engine was installed yesterday. When we moved the boat from the workshop area back to our mooring yesterday afternoon it was the first time that she moved in over a month without us pulling her by the ropes or someone towing us. It felt good. Really good. And it sounded even better. We now realise how bad the original engine was as we can have a conversation without shouting when this new one is running!
So am I living the dream? It's getting there. I had no idea it would be as hard as these first couple of months have been but I'm sure things will get better. We're staying put until after Christmas to get lots of DIY done and have a little rest. And when it's all calmed down again I'll be getting back on with my writing, as that agent that I met at York will not wait forever to read my novel.

So what's everyone else been up to while I've been stranded on the canal?

Thursday, 19 September 2013

From One York to Another

What a difference a year makes. Last weekend I went to my second Festival of Writing in York. I spent the year in between working on what the book doctors told me last year, completing the Open University's Creative Writing module, and realising that my novel needed to have a dual narrative written in. So I'm writing it now and it's not too far from completion.

This time around at York I had my 1-1s with literary agents and the feedback I got was excellent and very encouraging. But what I learnt in the workshops, particularly Characterisation with Nelle Andrew and Plotting and Structure with Jeremy Sheldon, made me realise that I can, and must, make everything so much better. But rather than feeling daunted by this, I feel inspired and motivated to edit and edit again to make it the best that it can be. I can't wait to get started.

But wait I have had to. As a year has made a huge difference in my life in other ways too. This week I moved onto a canal narrow boat and have been busy realising that I have a lot to learn about that as well. But I'm taking each day as it comes and everything is starting to make more sense. So, Monday is when the writing and editing begins in earnest.

Luckily I have also started a new business venture that's all about creative writing and in the coming year I'll be running a series of writing retreats that also feature author-led workshops on different aspects of creative writing. So I'll be learning more and improving all the time. And my new life travelling the waterways of the UK means I'll be experiencing new places, people and sensations to inform my writing too. Things can only get better.

So by the time the next York rolls around, as it has a place on my calendar every year now, hopefully I'll have some really good novel news to announce. Watch this space for regular news about the novel's progress to final completion and submission stage; and life on the canal waves as it happens.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Flip-Flop

Today's post also comes from a writing prompt on Morgen Bailey's Writing Blog, which I only discovered this week. I'm very glad I did as there are loads of tips, prompts and exercises to get your writing flowing. I really enjoyed writing Dirty Old Ashtray from another of Morgen's prompts so thought I'd go back there today to find another one.

Today's exercise is a sentence starter: The bus trundled for over an hour...

...through the clogged up streets of Ljubljana then once it hit the open road the driver put his foot down. Right down. Karen clung onto the seat in front of her as the bus hurtled round a sharp bend then grabbed hold of Dougie's arm to stop herself from falling off the seat.

'Let's swap sides,' he said, 'you come in here by the window. Looks like we're in for a bumpy ride.'

As Karen went to slip her flip-flops back on the bus suddenly came to a screeching halt and they went flying along the floor to the other end of the bus.

'He's a maniac!' Dougie said but his eyes were shiny and she could see he was quite excited by it really.

As Karen went to collect her flip-flops she passed a little old lady, who was surrounded by bags of vegetables, doing that thing that Catholics do - the cross thing - and muttering to herself. Shit, things must be bad if the locals have started praying.

'At least we'll get back in time for dinner now.' Karen said when she sat back down next to Dougie.

He smirked. 'If we get there at all.'

After an hour of being flung around as the bus shot through the windy roads as if it was a rally car, it finally stopped in the main square of Piran. Karen's legs shook as she walked down the steps. Thank God that was over. It had seemed quite funny when it started but at a couple of points she really had wondered if it was the end for them, especially when they'd been flying along the coast road with just a sheer drop to the sea to the side of them. Even Dougie had looked a bit pale. She looked over at him as he stepped on to the pavement beside her.

'Bloody hell,' he said, 'that was mental!'

Relief flooded through Karen and with it came a bubble of laughter. They'd made it. They hadn't died. She grabbed Dougie's arm then they were both laughing hysterically.


Time's up! Another fun 15 minutes of writing. And just like with the other piece I wrote from Morgen's prompt, I'm wondering what's going to happen next so it looks like I'm creating lots of new stories with legs in this challenge.