Writing in Transit

Photo Credit: Sebastiano Pitruzzello

Trains have become an integral part of my life and we’re not talking a daily half hour commute here. For over a year now I have happily been in a long-distance relationship and enjoying it. I’m often asked how I manage the distance and my response quite honestly is that I have the best of both worlds, I have some great weekends as a couple and enjoying the relationship stuff and the rest of the time I get to do my own thing and be my own person. It’s great!

There is also another upside. When it’s my turn to make the four hour journey down to London and back I have something I have always struggled to squeeze into my life- dedicated writing time. No one disturbances, not even a television to distract me. I can be one of those busy writerly types scribbling away while I transported down the country.

That was the hope anyway but as you have probably guessed by now it didn’t quite work out like that. I have tried and had intentions every single time I have made this journey but only a handful of times have I ever succeeded in getting anything written and I have to be honest- it wasn’t very good!

On occasion I imagine I have had some sort of excuse- noisy passengers, an overcrowded carriage or a stress-induced headache- but I have also sat there in a quiet near-empty carriage listening to music while looking out the window and making no attempt to reach for my notebook.

Maybe I just can’t write while on the train. I have been known to sit very comfortably reading Writing Magazine only to end up feeling sick and in need of a nap! But… I want to change this, I am spending eight hours a month on a train where I could be doing something constructive, that’s a full working day!

So I put it to my readers-

Can you write on a train and if you can how do you do it?

I’m wide open for advice on this one. Alternatively should I just give in, enjoy the journey and use my status as a writer as an excuse to eavesdrop on the conversation of fellow passengers.

Three Little Writers

One of my biggest recommendations to other writers is to join a writers’ group and I am lucky enough to be a member of Words Out West. We meet on the last Wednesday of every month at Papcastle Village Hall, read some work in progress or a piece inspired by the previous month’s homework, and provide constructive feedback.

Now as you all know my writing has not exactly been fruitful recently and I will not bore you again with the reasons but alongside this I have also missed the past two meetings of Words Out West. So it was something of a mission that I would not, come what may, miss the meeting at the end of May!

It wasn’t the ideal situation, I had no writing prepared and despite repeatedly promising to myself I would get something, anything written, even in my lunch hour or while waiting in the car just before the meeting was due to start, nothing was forthcoming. I am tempted to blame this on the problem of forced creativity- having a deadline rushing towards me seemed to send the muse running!

There is something a little embarrassing about turning up to a writers’ group with nothing to read but I have done it before. The reason I still insisted on going was that after every writing group session I attend I come away feeling and inspired and it is the best thing to kick my lazy writing arse in gear!

And of course there is an additional reason I was pleased to have attended. At May’s meeting we were three little writers, only three! There are a number of causes for this- holidays mainly- but our little group needs a recruitment drive!

Are you a writer based in the Cockermouth area or no someone who is? Get in touch!

Where Are We Now?

It’s been over a year since my last blog post.

I never had any specific intention to stop blogging, it was more I just cared less about it. At some point it had become a mundane and a reluctant task rather than something I took pleasure in and my thoughts are once it gets to that point you need to stop. So I did. The fact I had only very recently started a long-distance relationship with the man that was to turn out my Mr Right, well that may have been a minor contributory factor.

© Amlet | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

© Amlet | Dreamstime Stock Photos & Stock Free Images

So for the update-

I’m still a struggling writer

I’m still dating Mr Right

And I’m still fumbling through life trying to figure out what I’ve forgotten from my ever growing to do list

The past week has been a little occupied with trying to work out how I’m going to sell my house, or more specifically with which estate agent. I had been of the impression they were all pretty much the same- that was a mistake.

Estate Agent One

Well I don’t know what happened with these guys. Even arranging a viewing was difficult. I had to drop a key off with the office in the end because they were not able to do the valuation at a time I could attend. Then when I got home they hadn’t left the key and I hadn’t received any phone calls. Now I have to arrange getting the damn key back!

Estate Agent Two

I had high hopes for this one, recommended by a colleague I knew they were the most competitively priced but they were also late to the appointment and sent a trainee. Now I don’t think I’m being picky but I want my house sold and I’m spending money to do so, please at the very least be on time and if you are a trainee I’d really rather not know!

Estate Agent Three

 I was actually late to this valuation- mainly because I nearly forgot I had to leave work early to get. Wendy of ‘Estate Agent Three’ was lovely, she had done her research too and then even phoned my at half 6 on Friday night to say she had emailed me the details, found my energy certificate on record and sent that across too and I could be in touch if I wanted to go ahead.

It doesn’t take a genius to know who I’ve decided to use.

So with all the estate agent screening, related house cleaning, not to mention pursuing my accountancy qualification, which is for another post I imagine, the writing is a little on the quiet at the minute. It’s still there of course, it’s like a very sweet pet dog, I need to feed it but it does follow me around a lot.

I Am No Marketeer

Guest Blog by Rosemary J. Kind

Last time I left you with the question ‘What would I do differently?’ Ah, the benefit of hindsight. I now know I am no marketeer. It is not that I can’t market my book. I can and I do. However, every phone call is nerve racking, every negative response leaves me playing the tragic hero and every success justifies a war dance round the office and a glass of wine. I should perhaps add that the negatives call for a consolatory drink, but I’d hate you to go away with the idea I am an alcoholic!

My book, ‘Lovers Take up Less Space’, is a humorous review of travelling on London Underground. The BBC promptly ran a whole six week series looking at the Underground and naively I thought with this to piggy-back then I couldn’t fail. The BBC showed the serious side of the Tube. It showed the dedicated workers. The true complexity of managing such an impossible infrastructure and instead of providing me with a platform it left me with two thoughts. Firstly, it was the sort of programme watched by geeks and secondly, I felt guilty taking such a light hearted look at something so many other people took so seriously. It was a bit like writing a sit-com based in a crematorium. There were definitely going to be those out there who thought I was being a little irreverent. Is this the best point to tell you about the time I went to the wrong funeral? I should perhaps simply apologise publicly to Elsie’s family for bursting into hysterical laughter at the point I realised I was in the wrong one.

In any case, you can see my problem. There is a time and a place for humour and the BBC programme was neither the time nor the place. I crept away to lick my wounds.

It’s not all bad news. I am selling books. The Evening Standard and Metro may have declined the opportunity to run sections of the book for the edification of their readers, but I have managed to have some pretty decent book reviews in other newspapers and picked up sales on the back of it. I’ve got the book on the shelves of a number of bookshops around London and need to devise a strategy to capitalise on the Olympic rush in the summer. I am finding it always pays to have a book, on your person, available for sale and a pen available for signing and ironically the hard copy has led to a boost in the e-book sales.

Newspaper reviews of a book definitely bring in readers, as long as the reviews are favourable. It is worth being prepared to send a significant number of complimentary copies to reviewers and don’t underestimate the power of the local press. This is no time to be snobbish and think you need to hit the nationals. A good local review, backed up by a local stockist and an internet presence can yield a good volume of sales. However, do research your local press first. Sending a book to a free paper that is almost entirely advertising is not likely to be an investment. Choose papers that do regular book review slots. Their readers will be used to looking out for titles which are worth their while reading.

I’m thinking a stall on Camden Market might be quite good, but I don’t live anywhere near Camden and I think the stalls are probably already taken. I may have to settle for a stall at our village Fun Day, where they are most likely to wonder why I’m trying to sell a book about London while living in North Yorkshire. There really is a time and a place for everything. Now, if only I could get the time and place right at the same time I could make a fortune.

Rosemary J. Kind is the author of ‘Lovers take up less space’ a humorous guide to travelling on the London Underground, it is available through bookshops, Amazon and direct from www.alfiedog.com. She has also written ‘Alfie’s Diary’, ‘Alfie’s Woods’ and ‘Poems for Life’ which are available as e-books. Alfie’s Diary is available on a daily basis at www.alfiedog.me.uk

By Any Other Name

In most of my writing I don’t usually give a lot of thought to character names, they tend to come instinctively and just feel right, recently however I had a real struggle trying to decide on a name for my female protagonist. It did remind me that the importance of a name shouldn’t be dismissed and there are a few key things to remember when naming characters:

Age

This one is fairly obvious. A name can often indicate someone’s age and if your character is twenty years old for example you probably wouldn’t call him Albert.

Time Setting

If however your character is twenty years old in the 1940s then Albert would be much more appropriate but a female character in the eighteenth century called Tulisa- not so much.

Class

If you are writing about a family who are particularly wealthy and privately educated it is also likely you would want their names to represent that, such as Beatrix. Although do be careful with this one, if you have a whole family with names like Edmund, Arabella and Wolcott things will very quickly become tedious.

Associations

It is highly unlikely you would decide to call a character Adolf unless you intentionally wanted to create particular associations. Although Adolf is an extreme example a lot of names have associations even if is not because they are linked with someone famous, for example the names Summer, Rain and Autumn all suggest young women who might be described as hippies (apologies to any Summers, Rains or Autumns reading this who consider it insulting to be deemed a hippy).

Who you Know

One of the difficulties sometimes can be avoiding names that are perfectly suitable because you have a friend with that name. I make a point of never using a name the same as someone I am close to because no matter how different that character is from said friend/relative they are bound to think it is based on them and they’re either going to be flatter or (more likely) highly insulted.

Bill, Ben and Bob

An often forgotten bit of advice is to avoid naming character within a story similar names and this includes even having them start with the same initial if you can help it, this is particularly true with short stories when it can very quickly throw the reader as to which character was just referred to.

Finally a good resource to use when naming characters is an online directory of baby names, such as babynames.com, this will also give you the origin and meaning of names. Or if you really want to have some fun try a character name generator and see what random results you get you can find a good one here, this is particularly good for science fiction writing.

Now how much thought do you put into your character’s name?

The Weekend Novelist

Sitting on my bookshelves I have countless books on writing that, despite spending the money buying, I have somehow still not yet got round to reading. With writing guides I always feel there is that balance between reading about how to write and spending the time actually writing, you can read all the books on writing there is but unless you actually get, down to some writing it’s pointless. Besides which, as we all know, there are no hard and fast rules on writing and no one can write the thing for you.

One book I have however recently decided to put to some use is The Weekend Novelist by Robert J. Ray and Bret Norris. As the title suggests it is designed to be a guide for those of us who only have opportunity to write at weekends, and there are a lot of us, full-time jobs and other family and social commitments seem to devour the week! But now I have a book I want to write and unfortunately I know myself well enough to know I need to have some sort of plan in place if I ever want to see it completed.

The Weekend Novelist works like a 52 week plan from plotting to re-writes and this could be exactly what I need. So far I’m on Chapter 3 and already I have a much better idea of where I’m going with my plot and I’m someone who needs that or I’ll get a third of the way through the novel and feel completely lost. I always hear about these amazing writers who start writing and work out the plot as they go along, I thoroughly envy them. For me I need some sort of plan or I feel like I’m rambling on with no real end point to be aiming for.

Now I will admit I am sceptical about whether a novel can be written to a weekly plan but I think it’s worth a try because even if it’s not perfect and it turns out in a year’s time this hasn’t been the best way to write a novel at least I will have written a substantial amount and surely I’ll be able to do something with it.

So here’s to the next 52 weeks (well, technically less now I’m on Chapter 3 but you get the idea). Wish me luck!

When Sparks Fly

A couple of weeks ago I ended up with a writing dilemma I had never experienced before and as a result I was left questioning what on earth I was going to write?

For the past few months I have been researching Amsterdam with a view of setting my novel there. I had wanted to embark on a project that I could learn and research about, something with a strong sense of place and Amsterdam felt like the ideal setting- my sister lives out there and I was soon going to be visiting so I would have ample opportunity to extend my knowledge about the area. The trouble was I didn’t actually have a story in mind, or even a vague idea of characters, but I wasn’t going to let that stand in my way. Sarah Waters when researching likes to get a feel for the people and era and from that she develops a story, and that’s exactly what I was aiming to do, to have something materialize organically from the research. Now in hindsight I can see that was rather optimistic.

The trouble was as I got deeper into the research I was no nearer to a story and the longer this went on the more unsettling it became. I had an awful fear that I was heading blindly into historical facts without any real purpose or sight as to where I was going with it. I was effectively just waiting for a spark of genius that might never happen.

Eventually and out of no where there was a spark, but it wasn’t the one I was hoping for or even anticipated. It was for an entirely different story set in a completely different era and location. What’s more I loved it. The more I thought about it the more the nugget of the idea seemed to grow and have everything I wanted from a plot plus it was a subject I was passionate about and already had some knowledge in. Then there was the dilemma, do I note down this great new idea to pick up another time while I continue with the research or do I abandon the research and go with the new idea?

It is a fact that you can be plodding along with a project quite nicely only to be side-swept by more appealing and seductive ideas and if you constantly fall for these then you’re unfortunately doomed never to complete anything. And that’s what worried me, was I giving up and going for the bright and shiny new idea because it was the easy option? Was it not better to persevere at the research? In short no. Yes I have invested time into the research but what makes a novel is the plot and so far I had nothing on Amsterdam and research is not why I want to be a writer, I want to be a writer to write and having a plot at least allows me to do that.

So that’s it, the research has been put to one side and one day I will more than likely revisit it, maybe then it will be ready to grow into something. Right now I’m actually working on something I’m excited about and that makes the world of difference.

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