Daily Archives: June 16, 2014

Writing 101, Day Eleven: Size Matters

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Tell us about the home where you lived when you were twelve. Which town, city, or country? Was it a house or an apartment? A boarding school or foster home? An airstream or an RV? Who lived there with you?

But first, consider this passage:

The man rode hard through the woods. The black horse’s effort lay in lather. The sun beat down from high overhead. Dark birds circled, drifted, and then returned. The land baked, and dust hung suspended.

Is this not the most boring paragraph you’ve read in a long time — perhaps ever? We’ve got portent, a racing rider, and a forbidding landscape. Together, these should offer excitement and intrigue, but the words lay on the page, limp and dead. Why? Sentence length. Each sentence contains exactly seven words. The repetitive, seven-word cadence lulls you to sleep instead of piquing your interest.

So write with a combination of short, medium, and long sentences. Create a sound that pleases the reader’s ear. Don’t just write words. Write music.

– Gary Provost, 100 Ways to Improve Your Writing

Mixing up the lengths of your sentences creates variety for the reader and makes for much more interesting reading.

Today’s twist: pay attention to your sentence lengths and use short, medium, and long sentences as you compose your response about the home you lived in when you were twelve.

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I am lucky, I spent my childhood in one place, in one home, my mum made sure of that having had a childhood which involved relocating and changing schools often, she knew how important stability is and made sure we at least had that.

My family home was on a 1970’s estate, some lovely properties. My parents were the second people to buy the house, it was situated in a cul-de-sac, which was one of the main reasons for buying it for the children of the family they were yet to have to play out in.

It was a four-bedroom, semi-detached with a big garden at the back and a small lawn at the front. When my parents bought it there were three bedrooms and they had it extended. I lived with my parents, older brother and younger brother.

It is in a small town in the Midlands, surrounded by countryside and equidistant to two cities, a short car journey away.

Having lived all over, I have come back to my home county for family but also the location. The grass is always greener on the other side, when actually the greenest grass is that of home.

I find it funny after ten years of living away from home – all over the country that I ended up back in home county.

Writing 101, Day Ten: Happy Homecooking!

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Tell us about your favorite childhood meal — the one that was always a treat, that meant “celebration,” or that comforted you and has deep roots in your memory.

Free free to focus on any aspect of the meal, from the food you ate to the people who were there to the event it marked.

Today’s twist: Tell the story in your own distinct voice.

You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.

– Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

The biggest thing that separates you from every other blogger in the world is your voice. Finding (and being confident in) our voices is one of the biggest challenges in writing, and it’s easy to lose our voices when we’re worried about being liked by everyone, or when we compare ourselves to others.

While it’s true that embracing your voice will mean that not everyone loves you, the people who do will love you a lot. Exhibit A: The Bloggess. Is she the only person who writes about parenting, mental health, and cats? Far from it. Is her style for everyone? Nope. Does she have a huge cadre of loyal readers who are drawn to her unique voice? Definitely.

Write today’s post as if you’re relaying the story to your best friend over a cup of coffee (or glass of wine — your call). Don’t worry if it feels like you ramble a bit, or a four-letter-word sneaks in, or it feels different from what you usually publish. Take a deep breath, tell the story in your own words, and send it out the virtual door.

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I loved sausages as a kid, I still do, but my favourite meal was one that my mum made fairly often. I was lucky, my mum could cook really well. I just presumed all mum’s food tasted the same, a myth that was dispelled by going to friend’s for dinner.

She used to cook pork chops with apple and a crumbly topping, I have no idea of the recipe but this was the only time in our family that we were served pork that fell off the bone. I used to love the smell. Dinner and definitely pudding was always ‘wait and see’ in our house, but this one was a dinner I could smell before I saw it. I remember getting really about this meal each and every time we had it.

I need to ask mum for the recipe.

Writing 101, Day Nine: Changing Moccasins — Point of View

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A man and a woman walk through the park together, holding hands. They pass an old woman sitting on a bench. The old woman is knitting a small, red sweater. The man begins to cry. Write this scene.

Today’s twist: write the scene from three different points of view: from the perspective of the man, then the woman, and finally the old woman.

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If point of view was an object, it would be William Carlos Williams’ infamous red wheelbarrow; everything depends on it.

Consider a car/pedestrian accident: the story differs depending on whether you’re the driver, the pedestrian, or the woman across the street who witnessed the horror. Everyone will tell a different story if asked to recount the event.

Shifting point of view can be your best friend if you’ve got writers’ block. If you’re stuck or you feel your writing is boring and lifeless, Craig Nova, author of All the Dead Yale Men, suggests shifting the point of view from which your story is told:

Take point of view, for example. Let’s say you are writing a scene in which a man and a woman are breaking up. They are doing this while they are having breakfast in their apartment. But the scene doesn’t work. It is dull and flat.

Applying the [notion] mentioned above, the solution would be to change point of view. That is, if it is told from the man’s point of view, change it to the woman’s, and if that doesn’t work, tell it from the point of view of the neighborhood, who is listening through the wall in the apartment next door, and if that doesn’t work have this neighbor tell the story of the break up, as he hears it, to his girlfriend. And if that doesn’t work tell it from the point of view of a burglar who is in the apartment, and who hid in a closet in the kitchen when the man and woman who are breaking up came in and started arguing.

 

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A man and a woman walk through the park together, holding hands. They pass an old woman sitting on a bench. The old woman is knitting a small, red sweater. The man begins to cry. Write this scene.

Today’s twist: write the scene from three different points of view: from the perspective of the man, then the woman, and finally the old woman.

 

I could feel the heat of Claire’s hand in mine as we walked under the canopy of trees.

“Richard…”

“Yes?”

“Do you remember the first time we came to this park?” Claire asked.

“Of course I do,” I smiled, “you nearly dropped your lunch in the fountain.”

“Trust you to remember that.”

She nudged me sideways with elbow.

“Ow! Come here!”

I grabbed her, not caring what anyone in the park would make of it, she was giggling and pushing against me to break free. I held her close and whispered in her ear,

“Do as I say and you won’t get hurt!”

I could tell she was doing her best not to burst out laughing, as I slid my hands down her hips and loosened my grip until we were holding hands again.

As we walked down the winding paths passing joggers and dog walkers, I glance at Claire and think how lucky I am to have her loyalty after everything we have been through. I can’t help but notice the amount of strollers in the park, when I see it is a man in charge, I have to look away, it is painful enough to watch the mums.

I can’t tell what she is thinking as we make our way to the fountain to sit down.

 

It is busy, lots of people have already taken up their seats on the benches and around steps. I know Claire doesn’t normally worry about sitting on the grass, she’s not that high maintenance.

“Let’s sit on the edge over there.” I follow where she has pointed, we settle down on the cold stone of the fountains edge.

I resist all temptation to place my hands or even my feet in the water, I never could cope well with heat. Claire turned her back on me and then leant into my chest, I nuzzled her head under my chin. That’s when I saw her, the old lady, I was sure we had walked past her earlier on. She was knitting with red wool. I close my eyes and count to 10, kissing the top of Claire’s head blindly. I open my eyes and see that she is still there, clicking her grey, plastic needles together, she is knitting a tiny red sweater, baby clothes, they get me every time. So small…. I think of my mum and the opportunity that has been robbed from her to knit little sweaters in the park. I feel tears welling in my eyes and try to blink them away. I lean into Claire’s body needing every bit of solid reality I can touch, holding on to what I have. Her hands rest against my arms, still warm. I let the tears fall down my face, breathe deeply and kiss her for loving me. I would kiss every hair on her head if I could.

© N. Lewis 2007

© N. Lewis 2007

I could tell Richard had something on his mind, the minute he suggested we stopped lying around indoors and take a walk. He wouldn’t let my hand go the whole time we walked together down the streets to the Park. I knew where we were heading. I just wished he’d been in a more chatty mood, it is difficult sometimes to get him to talk.

“Richard…” I cut myself off before the words ‘what are you thinking?’ he hates that question.

“Yes?”

Quick think Claire! What can you say that isn’t what you want to say.

“Do you remember the first time we came to this park?” I manage.

“Of course I do,” he smiles, I love his smile. “you nearly dropped your lunch in the fountain.” he adds.

“Trust you to remember that.” I nudge him with my elbow.

“Ow! Come here!”

Before I could wriggle free Richard had me in a wrestling hold. I tried to suppress my squeals and screams, I don’t know what it must have looked like he was doing to me. Well I do, that’s why I struggled so much to get free. Just when I thought it was going to start really hurting he pulled me back on his chest and whispered in my ear.

“Do as I say and you won’t get hurt!”

My body shook as I tried to suppress my giggles and play along. Whatever was on his mind I liked this diversion. The feeling of his warm hands caressing my hips was making things happen inside me. Just as I thought he was about to clasp his hands somewhere else he slid his hand back in mine and we carried on walking down the path as if the last few minutes had never happened.

As we walk past joggers, dog walkers and babies in buggies being pushed by frantic looking parents and those clinging to their youth, those with 3 wheeled pushchairs that they can run with, I know he can tell I am looking at them. I can tell he is looking at me, he will know what I am thinking if I look at him now, I look down at my feet.

I can’t tell what Richard is thinking as we make our way to the fountain to sit down.

It is busy, there doesn’t seem to be any room on the benches and the steps are looking full too. I know that Richard will plonk himself on the grass and expect me to follow, but I am wearing pale shorts.

“Let’s sit on the edge over there.” I offer pointing to the fountains edge.

As soon as we had sat down I turned my body into his and leant against his chest. I closed my eyes and enjoying his gentle strokes against my arm, I love moments like this, sun on my face, time with Richard, uncomplicated silence. I wondered when he was going to start talking. Perhaps he didn’t feel he could.

I sensed his body shifting, it felt more rigid and his heart beat felt different against my ear, he kissed the top of my head. I hold his arms in my hands, my turn to stroke him. He starts to kiss the top of my head. I love when he does that.

I open my eyes and see that some people have moved, there is space on the bench, it might be more comfortable. Then I see the old lady, there’s no hope of Richard sitting by a stranger, especially one that’s knitting. I see that she’s knitting a small red jumper and wonder how many people do this anymore. Kids clothes can be bought cheaply, my thoughts wander, what will the mum think of this gift, will the child ever wear it? Maybe it is a jumper for a toy and not a boy or girl after all. Red, could be either, perhaps she doesn’t know, although knitted booties might be more useful for a new born.

I feel Richards head against mine and it brings me back to the moment. I think he is crying, his breathing is different. I know he is looking in the same direction as me. I hadn’t realised that he felt so bad about it still, nothing could be done, not on his part at least. Is this why he brought me to the park?

© N. Lewis 2007

 

I love being outdoors, I am trying to maintain as much independence as I can, I have seen far too many friends wheeled off to Nursing Homes over the past few years because they didn’t keep themselves active enough, and that’s friends who still had family to rally around them and help them. My family support comes from the Church so I like to be able to give back. There’s not much I can do nowadays but I am proud that I can still knit, that my hands and eyes are still working well enough to manage, so when Joy and some of the W.I ladies told me about the latest mission I had to get on board. Knitting jumpers for children less well off across the other side of the world seemed like a good idea. I am on my third one now as I sit basking in the sun in the park.

I don’t have to watch my hands, they seem to knit on auto pilot, I can people watch, another of my favourite things to do. I like to make up stories about the people I can see. like that lovely young couple opposite me, sitting on the edge of the fountain. They seem so much in love, something I never found myself. The people I loved didn’t love me and vice versa, I was destined to be a spinster, it’s not so bad. I get to do what I want when I want, I am selfish and doubt I could survive the routine and managed time in a Nursing Home. Maybe one of the W.I ladies will let me move into their annex, they are all sure to have big houses.

 

 

© N. Lewis 2007

© N. Lewis 2007

 

Writing 101 – Day 8 Death to Adverbs

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Go to a local café, park, or public place and report on what you see. Get detailed: leave no nuance behind.

Thoughtful writers create meaning by choosing precise words to create vivid pictures in the reader’s mind. As you strive to create strong imagery, show your readers what’s going on; avoid telling them.

Today’s twist: write an adverb-free post. If you’d rather not write a new post, revisit and edit a previous one: excise your adverbs and replace them with strong, precise verbs.

The sin of telling often begins with adverbs. Author Stephen King says that, for writers, the road to hell is paved with adverbs:

The adverb is not your friend.

Adverbs…are words that modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. They’re the ones that usually end in -ly. Adverbs, like the passive voice, seem to have been created with the timid writer in mind….With adverbs, the writer usually tells us he or she is afraid he/she isn’t expressing himself/herself clearly, that he or she is not getting the point or the picture across.

Instead of using adverbs as a crutch, rely on strong verbs to convey emotional qualities that imbue your writing with nuance, allowing the reader to fire up their imagination. Consider, for example:

“She walked proudly out the door.”

Remove the adverb “proudly” and replace it with a strong verb to denote how she walked:

She strutted out the door.

She sashayed out the door.

She flounced out the door.

Each example connotes the emotion with which “she” moved, creating a more vivid picture than “proudly” ever could.

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The restaurant was busy, only we could decide to go for steak on Father’s Day, of course neither one of us marks this day, so it was only by chance I realised. The plan was to do the Garden Centre shopping first and miss the lunchtime rush. It worked, well we got a table, the restaurant was still packed!

The man sitting on the table behind us was mid-sixties, his skin was the colour of tan leather and he had some fading old blue tattoos, the sorts you see sailors with in fiction. He didn’t look that impressed by either the food or the company, his wife (I presume) and daughter. His wife spent the first ten minutes jumping up to go and read the specials board to him as he frowned over the top of his glasses, perhaps he was ill or in pain and not just a grumpy old man forced out of his armchair on Sunday afternoon.

He hadn’t dressed up for the occasion, wearing an old, worn out, faded polo short and khaki coloured trousers, the sort you find in mail order catalogues, he had scuffed brown shoes on and nylon socks. He shuffled his legs under the table and then sat with his knees bent, his feet by the legs of the chair. His hair was fine and thinning on top, it was mousey brown.

PUBLISHED!

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© 2014 Hark

hark HARK is a UK-based online magazine of poetry and short fiction.

I recently sent some poems to Hark Magazine, last night I discovered the email (on my phone – where there is offline access to my busy inbox) from Hark, I thought it was a speedy response and so had prepared myself for another rejection. Not only have they accepted my poem CLENCH for the July issue, they said there was fierce competition.

I am delighted and still dancing for joy!

This is the 6th poem to be published* this year, I hope to generate similar success over the next few months so that by the time I have my pamphlet ready (2015 I hope!) there will be a list of credits to stun /convince/ bribe (okay, maybe not bribe!) the editors with.

YES! YES! YES!

© 2014 Richard Skinner

© 2014 Richard Skinner

 

* 24 poems have been on display/used in Installation: DAN Arts Network Droitwich Library, MAC What’s the Agenda? Hayley Frances’s piece Hikkomori, Birmingham, Wenlock Poetry Trail/ Festival, Croft, Shropshire  and on the Poetry Fence, Jean Atkin at Acton Scott Farm, Shropshire.

TOP TIPS:

  • Persistence pays, just keep going.
  • Be aware that some magazines have different editors each issue, even if they don’t – DO NOT be afraid to submit again.
  • Be sure to read the magazine first and ask yourself how suitable your writing/style/subjects are for this press.
  • Support the magazine by subscribing to it.
  • If you are rejected be sure to read the next issue, look at what was chosen with a critical eye and compare it to the m/s you sent.
  • Never forget how good it feels to get accepted and printed!

My Writing Life: News

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Yesterday I had no internet connection! This is an offline post I wrote:

Mr G and I went out on Sunday, for treats and garden/house shopping, after a lovely morning together, (on the last free Sunday I have for about 5 weeks) I popped onto the blog to leave a few posts… low and behold, the phone lines were down in my town… last time I remember this was after a storm many years ago… cannot believe it in the 21st Century, but there you go no internet.

I have decided to write all my posts offline ready to post and go out with Mr G for a lovely Steak meal and forget all about the world I could access… where some very important news was waiting for me in my inbox!

I am very excited about all the wonderful things happening to me right now in the world of writing.

Firstly, at the end of May I applied to Naked Lungs to take part in a pop up poetry event at the next Birmingham Literature Festival this year in October. It is a paid gig too! WOWZERS! Typically they have been inundated with creatives applying to be part of this half hour event, so we have been invited to meet/interview with them to discuss our proposals. blf logo

Unfortunately, it was a day I was working full time, I emailed with possible solutions to this problem, then late last week the agency rang and my days got changed about into 2 half days, freeing up potential time on Monday and Tuesday, I now need to decide which slot will be better for me, traffic-wise I guess Tuesday morning is the better option, just hope I can get to work on time! (I received confirmation today my interview is Tuesday morning.)

It is exciting and I hope it provides an opportunity.

Secondly, it is the 4th Worcester LitFest & Fringe starting at the end of this week and I am happy to announce my involvement.

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I have been asked to take part in the Pop Up Poets event on Sunday 22nd, it looks great fun.

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I am also one of eight performers who will take to the stage at 42, have to get some dark poetry ready for that set. I think my recent poem about Martha Graham, written for the 52 project may be a suitable starting point. Maybe I will dust the Zombie poem off for another outing.

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The SpeakEasy Worcs LitFest special was originally invited guests only, I was one of the poets asked to do a 6 minute set. I am looking forward to both of these events and the headline acts.

I am busily involved in other open mic events and workshop/ performances right up until the end of June. Living the dream… 8 months in!

There are even more exciting events taking place in July.

I am performing on stage with The Poetry Army – Brainfruit, in my hometown and also hope to attend the pre-show workshop if Writing West Midlands can find cover for the Worcester group.  poetryarmy

I am attending the Born Free Anthology Book Launch, reading my poems from the book, along with others at various venues in Birmingham, starting with The Ort, where I was hoping to perform with Tim Scarborough again but he has other commitments for the rest of the Summer on Fridays and can’t manage it. I am performing a solo set instead. born free

Tim and I hadn’t actually seen each other for weeks as we were both performing individually for the last Mouth and Music. Where he performed an incredible set of poetry written about his late wife, poems I was honoured to help him edit. Not that they needed much work. We decided mm that we will collaborate for the next Mouth and Music on the theme of Summer. I look forward to squeezing some rehearsal time in!

I am going back to Acton Scott Farm to take part in a celebratory afternoon of Jean Atkin’s residency, including reading some ASF poetry from the workshop day. acton Where I also hope to finally buy my copy of DIP by Andrew Fusek Peters.

I am going to Stratford-Upon-Avon, where Jo Bell is the resident poet for the annual Literature Festival, she has organised a 52 picnic, where there will be so many of us hoping to perform we will be selected from a raffle to perform our 52 poems.

I have been so busy this year that I haven’t always managed to write my weekly poem in time to submit it to the 52 group, I have however, tried to catch up, I still have a few missing weeks and I really miss reading other people’s poetry because you learn so much, I hope to catch up with it this summer. Morning-Sun-mit

AND excitedly I share news that came after this was written and will have a post of its own. I got published!