Monday 30 April 2012

Z is for Zzzzz

We did it! It's the last day of the A-Z Challenge, and my series "26 Things that Made Me a Writer". Ready to collapse?

Well, that's what this post is about: the importance as a writer of taking a break now and again. Putting your feet up. Getting those Z's in. I'm on holiday right now, hopefully, as you read this, doing exactly that (my long-suffering wife will attest to my snoring problem).

We can all get frustrated while writing. Run down a likely-looking alley only to find it ends in a brick wall. Jump off that plane before realising you've no parachute. In other words, you thought you were getting somewhere but maybe your ingenious idea isn't seeming so good. Or you could just be out of inspiration.

Walk away, if only for a couple of days. Indulge in another of your favourite pastimes, such as watching a movie, or take the kids to the beach. Try to put all thoughts of your WIP out of your mind. When you're immersed in writing every day, focussed on meeting those daily word counts, you sometimes can't see the wood for the trees. (And you get tired and end up slipping in cliches like that one!) If you remove yourself for a while, you might just find that the right way forward comes to you of its own volition. Even if you're not stuck, a pre-planned holiday is a good opportunity to take stock.

The end of a first draft is also a great time to take a break. It could be what spurs you on to get to the finish.

I've certainly found that time away has helped me think about how to address problems in my writing. How about you?

And what about your plans post-Challenge? A well-earned rest, or are you straight back to business?

NB: As I mentioned, I'm currently on holiday until May 13th. I will do my best to respond to comments while away, but if not, rest assured I will get back to you on my return!

Saturday 28 April 2012

Y is for Yakety-Yak

"Y" hello (groan), almost at the end of my A-Z series "26 Things that Made Me a Writer".

This one relates a bit more to what makes me a blogger, I think. I try to keep the yakking in my writing to a minimum!

I can be pretty quiet a lot of the time, but when it comes to a subject I love and feel passionate about, I go nineteen to the dozen. And unsurprisingly my favourite subject is writing. That's why it's so great for me and others of my ilk to have an outlet like this.

Before, I would have internal conversations about how to go about things in my writing that seemed to go round and round interminably. Now, that still goes on, but interspersed with my own thoughts are those of my fellow bloggers, which may have originated in a post, comment or email. Those little snippets are often hugely insightful and inspiring.

I'm so grateful to have the opportunity to air what's on my mind and read all the thoughts of my friends out there. It makes writing so much more exciting and motivates me no end. I covered this a bit in my "C" post, but I can't sing the praises of the blogosphere enough! So, a big thanks to all of you for being here - you brighten up my day, and I'm overwhelmed that some of you have returned day after day during the Challenge! :o)

So, here's to yakking about writing and whatever else - let's all continue to learn from each other!

Do you enjoy yakking on here?

NB: I am away as from today until May 13th. I will do my best to respond to comments during my trip, but if not, rest assured I will get back to you upon my return!

Friday 27 April 2012

X is for X Marks the Spot

"X" today in my A-Z series "26 Things that Made Me a Writer". Nearly there!!

I thought I'd make today's post a little more creative and fun. What better way than with "X Marks the Spot"?

We all loved pirate stories when we were kids. Heck, most adults still love them. I didn't read Treasure Island, the flashpoint for many a pirate trope, until I was 26. That spirit of adventure is infectious. Finding buried treasure would be about the coolest thing in the world, wouldn't it?

So bear with me, I'm coming to the point. Finding that treasure is a lot like finding a good story, or even having a story but finding its meaning. You start off without a map, so first of all you have to find that, by which point you might have already covered quite a lot of terrain and have an idea of the lie of the land. Or then again, possibly not.

Then you have to learn how to read the map. It might look pretty daunting, with mountains, forests, bandits and spooky caves. How are you going to find your way through? A lot of these maps weren't exactly accurate. The "X" could be tiny and almost impossible to find. If you decide to take the boat and sail round to that handy-looking cove, better watch out for those sharks and assorted sea monsters. In other words, trying to take shortcuts might not be such a good idea.

So let's say you think you've reached the magic spot and you start to dig. That can be back-breaking work. Who knows how far down that fabled trove is? And you have to hope that no one got there before you.

But if they did, hopefully what you learned along the way will be just as, if not more, valuable.

Pirate fan? Does writing feel like a treasure hunt to you?

Thursday 26 April 2012

W is for Writing

"W" day in my series "26 Things that Made Me a Writer".

This might seem an obvious one for today, but the number one thing that made me a writer is writing.

A long time ago, I used to dabble in writing. I'd have the odd idea which I'd scribble down and shove somewhere, probably under the bed, without thinking it was very good. Then, about six weeks later, I would sit down and have a go at writing it, which took a phenomenal effort.

I never finished these stories. They tended to go round in circles, or I'd get stuck and walk away. I think my problem was that I expected everything to be perfect as soon as I put it down. My ideas weren't perfect, so I was reluctant to work on them, and then I didn't like what I wrote.

When I decided to take writing seriously I wrote a novel. I'd come to the conclusion that I couldn't nail short stories, and I wanted something that would demand a sustained effort. I think it paid off. I learnt to let go during that process, to an extent, and realise that getting anything down on paper was better than agonising.

Now, I feel like something approaching a proper writer. My relationship with a blank page used to be strained and awkward. I was embarrassed. I still feel like that a bit, especially on a bad day, but what's really helped me is rhythm and routine, as well as an emotional investment in my characters. I need to stick around to find out how things pan out for them.

Tell me a little bit about your writing journey.

Wednesday 25 April 2012

V is for Voice

Welcome to "V" in my A-Z series "26 Things that Made Me a Writer".

You know that new TV show, "The Voice"? There's a US and a UK version. If you don't, it's a twist on the talent show format where contestants sing to a group of judges with their chairs facing the other way. If they like what they hear, they turn round to see the person.

Well, it's always been like that with writers. We send off an email or letter to an agent or publisher, and they judge us based on our writing, while knowing the bare minimum about us (because there's hardly space for a detailed biog in a covering letter). Voice is vital. And unlike the bricks and mortar of good writing (sentence construction, structure, grammar), it can't be taught. Your voice is the way it is, although of course it can be developed with practice to be at its best.

Not everyone is going to like your voice. They could be hooked by your story and intrigued by your characters, but it's hard to keep reading a book if you don't like the way it's told. But there could be plenty of others who are drawn in by your mellifluous phrasing or clipped prose. Like everything it's subjective, but it's wonderful that every voice is unique.

I'm glad I have my voice, and I wouldn't change it for anything. It's me. Let's celebrate our voices today!

Do you like your voice? Do you work at it, or find that it comes naturally?

Tuesday 24 April 2012

U is for Unfinished

"U" are welcome to today's post in my series "26 Things that Made Me a Writer". (OK, I need to stop doing that!)

I was going to title this post "Unstoppable", but that sounds a bit arrogant. Unfinished is good. I'm referring to that thing - a bug, a demon, an itch, or whatever you want - that drives us on to keep writing no matter what.

I guess I must be a real writer because it's got me. It's very hard to envisage a time when I would stop, because there's always more I need to do - more stories, more characters wanting to be heard, more dreaming. And there's that pesky search for perfection to think about - OK, we all know it doesn't exist but I think most of us want to give it our best shot. My best shot is probably a long way off!

If I was marooned (love that word) on a desert island, I would use a stick to write in the sand. If I lost both my hands, I would learn to dictate. Whatever the situation, I would always want to be working.

Do you think you'll ever be finished?

A quick note: I won't be able to comment as much for the rest of the Challenge, as we're preparing to go away on Saturday for a couple of weeks, first to my parents' house for a few days and then on a Baltic cruise. I'll always reply to anyone who leaves a comment, but I'm a couple of days behind on that, so that will be my priority along with continuing work on my WIP and drafting the last couple of posts, which I'll need to prepare in advance. Hopefully I'll be able to respond to any comments on those last two posts from my parents' house, but there's a chance it'll take a couple of weeks!

I know this sounds a bit lame, and I've been horrible about checking out new blogs on the sign-up list, but the news is this will remain up for the rest of the year so I'll get to some more after I get back. I feel lucky to have got to know some great people, though. Hope everyone is enjoying the last week of the Challenge! Can't believe it's nearly over!

Monday 23 April 2012

T is for Tea

"T" time in the A-Z Challenge. My theme is "26 Things that Made Me a Writer".

I find it very difficult to function in the morning without my trusty cuppa and when it comes to writing this is particularly so. I decided to do a little research to find out how exactly my favourite beverage gets the old synapses firing.

According to our old friend Wikipedia, "its consumption is strongly associated with a calm but alert and focused, relatively productive... mental state in humans". Yeah, I'll have a bit of that. This is down to the presence of L-theanine, an amino acid and glutamic acid compound with psychoactive properties. Basically, this stuff gets into your blood, travels up to the brain and gives it a boot up the jacksie.

The main thing for me is that everything feels so much better with a mug of steaming tea next to me. I can think clearly (well, more or less) and getting through that next scene appears more or less doable. Maybe I'm a caffeine junkie, but I need it with the amount of sleep I've been getting, especially during the Challenge!

What's your drink of choice when you sit down to your writing?

Saturday 21 April 2012

S is for Secret

Welcome to letter "S" in my series "26 Things that Made Me a Writer". Sorry this is so late. What can I say? It's Saturday... and I have been somewhat busy. I do like "S" words, as you may surmise from my blog title, for the sibilant sounds... OK, I'll stop and get into today's subject.

It's the second time in as many days that I've changed my mind on what to write about at the last minute. I was slightly putting off writing the original idea because I felt it was pretty similar to a post I read not long ago. Then it hit me... us writers are a secretive bunch, aren't we?

I think pretty much every one of us relishes the chance to escape from humdrum life into a world that's of our own making, stories and ideas that belong to us and no one else. Certainly I enjoy walking down the street and past people that have no idea of what's going on in my head.

And of course this is a paradox because at the same time I want to share exactly that, in fact desperately wish at times that other people were as immersed in it as I. But I think of those people as a general, somewhat faceless public and not necessarily those I see on a daily basis. Even if I was published I'd like to keep my anonymity as I'd feel embarrassed walking around as some kind of celebrity. I wouldn't want to stand out.

I feel awkward just talking about my work to those that know me well. On the blog it's a bit different as I'm amongst those whom I consider my peers. But it's still a very scary feeling for me to share anything.

So, do you think of your work as a secret? How do you think this would change if you were published? If you are published, I'd love to know your opinion. Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Friday 20 April 2012

R is for Rejection

It's time for letter R in my A-Z series "26 Things that Made Me a Writer".

Rejections. They happen to the best of us. I had at least 12 for my first book (currently on the back burner) and goodness knows how many from magazines I've submitted to. I've never once received anything that approached personal feedback, but I still think they've helped me grow as a writer. Why?

For one, they make you more dedicated and committed to the craft. Once you've been rejected a few times then you work even harder to make everything you do the very best. I think writing a first novel is very much a discovery process, which is why not many get published. Although I didn't receive feedback from agents, gut instinct and comments from others (notably my wife) told me what wasn't working. Self-publishing negates the rejection element but you're not going to go far if your writing hasn't been edited and polished til you can see your face in it.

Then there is the "thick skin" aspect. You might get published but then there's every chance you'll have to deal with some bad reviews. If you never got rejected and followed a golden path to having your book printed then you might think people are bound to love it. Rejections teach you to be realistic.

And look at it this way: rejections aren't usually personal and by no means indicate you are a bad writer. It's just your query didn't grab that particular agent or publisher or it didn't fit with their list. Looking for the right one is like a needle in a haystack and the more rejections you get, the more you've narrowed down the field.

How do you handle rejection?

Thursday 19 April 2012

Q is for Queueing

Time for Q in my A-Z series "26 Things that Made Me a Writer".

One of the things that writers need to learn is to pick up inspiration from anywhere. We spend a pretty significant part of our lives standing in queues - in the post office, supermarket, airport, chip shop. Why not make the best use of our time and see if we can overhear some great new ideas?

I'll share one that springs to mind. I was waiting to pick up my stepdaughter from Girls' Brigade when I heard one of the other dads talking about how they had been on holiday and his older daughter had broken her leg on the first day.

In my mind I turned this into a story of a rebellious, sulky teen who spends as much time avoiding her family as possible, even on holiday, but when she breaks her leg while camping she has to accept their help and they all learn to get on. I didn't finish it as it was a bit too "happy-happy" for me, but I still think it was a good idea.

You have to have a sifting mind to do this. It's a bit like panning for gold, you're always looking for that one little nugget. There are a lot of older citizens in my town so I hear a lot of talk about various medical ailments which I don't find interesting. Then again, maybe I'm not being openminded enough.

What about you? Have you picked up any great ideas while waiting in a queue somewhere?

Wednesday 18 April 2012

P is for Pratchett

Welcome to letter P in my A-Z series "26 Things that Made Me a Writer".

Terry Pratchett is far and away my favourite author. The first book of his I read was Truckers in 1989, at the age of eight. Since that time I have eagerly devoured every new novel that's been released, Discworld or not. 23 years is a long time to continuously read one author, so how did this obsession develop and how has he influenced me as a writer?

I think the main thing with Terry's books is they have so many layers. His popularity is staggering, with 70 million books sold worldwide, and according to Wikipedia he is "the second most-read writer in the UK, and seventh most-read non-US author in the US". Yet many still dismiss his books as "just" fantasy. They are so much more than that. Fantasy isn't even my main genre and I am no authority on the subject. His books are led by believable characters with traits that we recognise in ourselves and others, although they may be wizards, witches, trolls, dwarfs, zombies, vampires, werewolves, or even an orangutan. Lots of these characters have been developed over the course of many novels (Death being an excellent example), yet at the same time any book can picked up and enjoyed as a standalone read.

So there's the fact that his books are story-based with characters who have human foibles like greed, cowardice, idealism and bigotry. What may be less well known is that his stories address issues such as racism, warfare and capitalism, by using his world to mirror our own. Except on the Discworld it's refracted in issues such as "speciesism" with minority groups such as vampires trying to fit in and be accepted in society.

Another key thing in the books is Terry's razor-sharp wit; his comic timing, in dialogue particularly, is genius. And there are constant references to movies, books, myths and customs that exist on our world. I don't think anyone could catch them all, but if one passes you by then it won't make any difference to the story.

In terms of influence, I don't think what I write is similar to his stuff, but I'm definitely inspired by his ability as a storyteller and the richness of his work, and I would love to be able to produce something that was on that level.

I could go on and on, but instead I'll just recommend, if you've never read any of his books, to go to his Goodreads page and give one a go. You could choose based on the title or cover, if you like; they're all good. Just one, for me? Pretty please? :)

Do you like Terry Pratchett? Any other "P" authors to recommend?

Tuesday 17 April 2012

O is for Omnipotence

This is letter O in my A-Z series "26 Things that Made Me a Writer".

I struggled to come up with a word for O for a long time. Then last night, while cleaning up (yes, I did get up at 5.30am to write this - shhh, don't tell anyone I'm obsessed with the Challenge) it hit me. We all get to play God as writers and have the chance to be Omnipotent (or an Overlord, if you will). It was certainly attractive to me when I started (mwahaha - rubs hands together evilly).

But is it strictly true? It sparked an interesting debate for me. On the one hand, you have writers like Tolkien, who certainly does appear to be a kind of Creator-like entity as he invented an entire universe and filled it with peoples, landscapes, history, customs and languages. A stunning feat.

But among our most important creations (the most important, arguably) are our characters. And once they get on the page, they have a tendency to take over and have us dancing to their tune. Tolkien certainly seems to me more of a plotter than a pantser, but I would say in his case the characters are secondary to the overall myth-like effect.

Writers like Steinbeck have said that they felt like mere observers in their own stories, simply looking on and recording events from the sidelines. And I read an interview recently with an author (sorry, can't remember who or where but it was on a blog so that should narrow it down!) who said she knew her recurring characters, a pair of female detectives, so well that when it came to dialogue, she just tuned in and tried to type fast enough to keep up. I'd love to experience that.

So there is today's question: Do you feel like you retain ultimate control over your stories? Or do your characters take over and start telling their own stories, even if you might not like it?

Sorry this is not more in-depth. Think I'm suffering from sleep deprivation!

Monday 16 April 2012

N is for Notebook

Welcome to letter N in my A-Z series "26 Things that Made Me a Writer".

I think most of us would agree that notebooks are one of our best friends as a writer. They can be carried around easily and there's no reason to ever forget a good idea. My relationship with them has evolved over the years, though. When I first started keeping one with me at uni, I was quite ostentatious with it, sitting scribbling away at parties as if hoping to come across as some kind of intellectual.

Now I am surrounded by more down-to-earth types (like my family), I tend to do all my note-taking in secret as I feel slightly self-conscious about doing it in front of others. Maybe it's because I'm now taking my writing seriously so my ideas feel much more personal to me, rather than in my student days when it was more about projecting some sort of image.

Actually these days I don't tend to carry a notebook around because I usually let an idea roll around for a couple of days and think about different directions it could go, or I'll wait until I've got two or three ideas and write them all down (any more than that and some would get lost). Also it's that feeling weird about getting my notebook out in public. Maybe I could start doing them as text messages.

After things are written down they tend to be forgotten for the time being. I'm hoping I'll find a nice surprise when I go through them all after I've finished this book and I'm looking for my next idea!

Do you carry a notebook? Do you have to write ideas down straightaway, or let them percolate first?

Oh, and sorry for not being around that much at the weekend. Between being out and about with the kids, getting organised for our holiday at the end of the month, and keeping on top of the housework (meh), I've been a bit behind on comments. Hoping this week will be better!

Can't believe I now have over 200 followers though, with the last 50 added during the Challenge - that's incredible! Thanks to all of you. A giveaway will definitely be in order after April, so watch this space!

Saturday 14 April 2012

M is for Music

Time for "M" in my A-Z series "26 Things that Made Me a Writer".

Music is definitely a massive inspiration to my writing. I find it too distracting to actually listen to while working, but those songs and albums that have made the biggest impression on me are ingrained in my head and I can play them internally any time.

I'm going to talk about two bands, both cunningly beginning with M, that have created works of art that have had a great effect on me. If I wrote a book that made an artistic statement approaching either of these discs, I'd be pretty damn pleased.

First up, it's the third album by Welsh rockers Manic Street PreachersThe Holy Bible (1994). Yep, this record is pretty controversial from the title on, but don't let that put you off. It's hard to sum up just how I feel about it. Imagine someone wrote an album chronicling all the very worst aspects of human nature, but in such an eloquent way that you can't help being impressed. Anorexia, prostitution, the Holocaust, self-harm, serial killers and American imperialism are just some of the topics covered. Sensationalist? Some might say so. But guitarist and lyricist Richey Edwards, who mysteriously vanished six months after the album's release, was in the depths of despair with humanity at the time and this is what came out of that. It's a pretty powerful statement and makes you realise just how flawed we are. A book that did that might seem depressing but hopefully would ultimately be compelling.

The other album, my favourite of all time, is the incredible Six by Mansun (1998). Although influenced by the Manics record, it is somewhat different musically, sprawling and constantly changing pace as opposed to being tight and coiled. However it too is a great work of art, being loosely narrated by an outsider to society taking satirical sideswipes at themself as well as everything else. It's the music though that I love the best in this record. Although there are 13 tracks, there are actually around 70 individual tunes spliced together, which might sound messy but there is a great sense of drama in the musicianship. It's like being inside the head of a schizophrenic, vacillating through every emotion. Each time you listen to the album, you pick up something you never heard before. That's no mean feat.

I don't think I've done justice to either of these masterpieces, but hopefully I've piqued someone's interest. A word of caution, though, even if you know something of either band, you'll feel like you want to clean your brain out after listening to either of these discs for the first time, so I would recommend some of their more accessible work to any newcomers before taking the plunge.

If you made it through this not particularly short post, I'll reward you with a video which is only two minutes! This is "Being A Girl" by Mansun, a frenetic punky tune which still manages a quiet spooky breakdown - just a small window into their genius. By the way, the band do not feature in the video! Bonus points, though, if you can spot a Brit actor who has since starred in several movies.

What are your musical influences? Any other bands or artists beginning with M to recommend?

Friday 13 April 2012

L is for Laptop

"L"o, (sorry!) it's time for another post in my series "26 Things that Made Me a Writer".

I'm going to make this short and sweet today: a tribute to the writer's trusty companion. Simply put, I couldn't be the writer (and blogger) I am today without my laptop.

It's mainly for reasons of practicality. I don't have a study and my desk is the kitchen table, so I need to be able to easily close down and put away my workstation during family meal times. When my wife comes home from work in the evening, I can take my laptop through to the living room and sit next to her while she Facebooks away. (We used to watch a lot of TV together, but that's kind of gone by the wayside - on the other hand, we can show each other funny stuff we come across.)

And of course there's the freedom to have a change of scene if you ever feel you need one. I tend to stick to my kitchen, but it's nice to know the option's there.

Do you use a laptop? What do you love about it? Feel free to comment on anything you hate, too!

Thursday 12 April 2012

K is for Kiteflying

It's letter K in my series "26 Things that Made Me a Writer"!

OK, this might seem a bit on the tenuous side for today's entry, but go with it. When I was little, flying a kite was one of my favourite pastimes. If you think about it, there are a lot of similarities with writing.

Imagine you took your kite up to your favourite spot on a windy hill every day. A lot of the time, it's just not going to take off. You think you catch a breeze only to end up bumping along the ground. Still, you can spend time enjoying the scenery, staring up at the blue sky, considering the possibilities.

And these off days are worth it for the ones when you catch a really good updraft and you end up soaring. The kite seems to take on a life of its own up there, much like your characters when they get really caught up in events. It's all you can do to manoeuvre the string. But it feels good to pay out just a little more, allow them just a little more free rein.

But even on a good day it can all go wrong and you end up crashing into the nearest tree (plot hole). Then it's a case of unravelling your string and starting all over again (revisions).

Got any hobbies you can liken to your writing?

Wednesday 11 April 2012

J is for Journalism

Welcome to letter J in my A-Z series, "Things That Made Me a Writer".

As you may know from certain previous postings, I credit my journalism experience as a real turning point in my career. The main thing I got from it was focus and precision.

Previously to this, I would start a "short" story and use up about three pages describing a character's typical day, how they got home from work, what they liked to cook, what sort of slippers they wore and their favourite TV programme. You're yawning, right? I know. There's no chance of me ever releasing any of these mundane meanderings into the wider world.

But in journalism, you're taught to include the five W's in your very first paragraph: who, what, where, why and who (and how's pretty important too). You don't have to be as strict in that in fiction, but the lesson learned is to get to what the reader needs to know as quickly as possible.

There are many other benefits. You learn to touch type, and while I'm not 100% fluent any more, I'm much faster now than at the time of my first painstaking attempts. And of course you have deadlines drilled into you. I'll never forget contributing to producing two issues of a college newspaper in two weeks as features editor: doesn't sound like much, but since it was worked around all the other classes, it was kind of frenetic. I think I could definitely give Nanowrimo a shot after that!

I'll wrap it up now in the journalistic spirit of keeping these posts short and sweet. Do you have any press experience or something similar that has helped shape you as a writer?

Tuesday 10 April 2012

I is for Immortality

"I" time in my A-Z series "26 Things that Made Me a Writer".

Fame! Who wants to live forever? Well, maybe not in the literal sense (I think I would have seen enough after the first thousand years) but in terms of creative pursuits, I think most of us would have to admit to wanting to be remembered long after we're six feet under. (And I think I'm going to have to work on my sentence structure if that's to be the case.)

I didn't necessarily go into writing with ambitions of this type, but it would definitely be a nice byproduct. Look at Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, for example, a timeless tale still familiar to countless children today even if they haven't actually read the book. While they may be frowned upon by some, adaptations like the recent Jack Black movie keep such classics going for further generations.

I think stories are the most timeless form of art. People, with their foibles, desires and sins, don't change much and this is why a well-told tale can still resonate hundreds, or thousands of years later. Architects, painters and musicians may also be remembered after death, but books have a unique effect on me which I've never gained from any building, painting or song (although music comes a close second).

How would you like to be remembered?

Monday 9 April 2012

H is for Home

Another week and it's time for H in my A-Z series "Things that Made Me a Writer".

If you caught Saturday's post you'll recall that it was all about travel and experiencing new places. Today's entry is about the exact opposite. Yes, I also find home to be very inspiring for my writing.

My warts-and-all workstation just before a writing session. Note the
digestive biscuits waiting for a dip in hot tea, and the ladybird
under the table because this is also the playroom.
Let me explain: I'm a creature of routine. I usually like to do things the same old way all the time, otherwise I get thrown off course. And I'm quite fussy when it comes to my writing conditions: preferably almost complete silence, or just a little background hum. That's why, although I have written in cafes and the library, "home is where the art is" when it comes to my work (sorry).

I am greatly inspired by foreign trips and just things I see out and about on a daily basis, but my kitchen table is the best place for me to turn that inspiration into something tangible. Of course, I have easy access to various biscuits and numerous other snacks, but that can be a downside depending on how you look at it: keeps me going but not doing my waistline any favours. Above all, though, I need as little outside stimulus as possible so my imagination can run riot, and my little kitchen definitely fits the bill.

Does home inspire your writing?

Saturday 7 April 2012

G is for Globetrotting

Welcome to letter G in my series "26 Things that Made Me a Writer".

Between February and June 2002 I dropped everything and headed off on a round-the-world jaunt. Quite brief by some standards, but I credit this sojourn as a top contributing factor in making me the writer I am today.

Why? Well, until this point, my life essentially lacked any purpose and direction. I had completed two years of university, but became disillusioned with what I was doing towards the end of this time and opted to take a year out to think things over. I worked two jobs from July 2001 to save up and then took off. I saw many sights - mangy dogs in Bangkok backstreets, ultra-clean Singapore trains, a giant clam in the Great Barrier Reef, I climbed up a glacier in New Zealand, was blessed by an elephant goddess in Bali and saw sailors swinging from trapezes in a gay club in Rio. Sorry about the lack of pictures - my scanned photos aren't in the right format.

In short, I saw more of life in four months than I had in the previous 21 years and came home full of inspiration. I enjoyed keeping a diary of my voyages and my first idea was to become a travel journalist or foreign correspondent, but this soon translated into more general reporting work and I started studying journalism in Glasgow in August 2003. My journalism background will be discussed more thoroughly in my "J" post (surprisingly enough), so if you're interested make sure you come back then.

It's an old cliche that people go travelling to "find themselves". Well, I don't know if I would go that far (I'm constantly trying to find myself through my writing and I'm not there yet) but it was certainly the moment that set the ball rolling for what I'm doing now, which came at a time when I had no idea about my future.

Have you been inspired by your travels?

Friday 6 April 2012

F is for Family

Time for F in my A-Z series "26 Things that Made Me a Writer".

Those of you who read this blog on a regular basis know that I can be pretty soppy on occasion. I am going to be unashamedly so today. Apologies made, let's crack on.

I started writing my first novel in March 2007, at age 26. I had got married in June the year before. In April 2006 I had also started a reliable job at the Department for Work and Pensions. I was well and truly settled down. So in what way did this spur my desire to write a book?

The first short story I have a clear memory of writing was in 1997. I was pretty pleased with it. It had a time travel element, something I've always been fascinated by. However, I never even completed another story until I started writing that novel, except for a half-baked foray into horror for my college magazine, which was never published. I certainly never felt satisfied with any of my scratchy attempts during that decade-long interim.

So why did it take until I was married and had a steady job to start taking writing seriously? I've come to the conclusion that I needed to be settled and have stability. Certainly I used to have more time on my hands. I like to think I used that time gaining life experience, but really my youth was pretty tame compared to most. At 18, for example, rather than clubbing it up in Brighton's top nightspots, my friends and I would sit in a cosy corner of a pub supping pints of Guinness and pondering life's conundrums. We probably thought we were pretty intellectual, but anyone listening in would surely have taken our chat for the nonsense it actually was.

I also think I needed the emotional support required for writing. I never used to think I had anything worth saying, but my wife encouraged me to give it a try, if only to stop me going on about it all the time. Then the idea for my book came to me and I've never looked back. She took a look at my WIP about halfway through -  I have never felt more nervous when showing anyone my work - and her advice was invaluable on what was going wrong, such as my somewhat suspect dialogue (my characters were Scottish although you wouldn't have known it), but she also said it was exciting and she wanted to know what happened next. That was pretty validating considering I was trying to write a thriller.

The kids are great for inspiration too. I could write more than a few excellent children's stories based on some of the things they come out with.

So, how do your loved ones inspire you as a writer?

NB: This is a prescheduled post as I am away from April 2-6. I will endeavour to respond to all comments on my return.

Thursday 5 April 2012

E is for Excitement

Welcome to today's instalment of my A-Z series, "26 Things that Made Me a Writer".

Today's letter could also have stood for Energy. Enthusiasm. Elation. All things that I feel when it comes to writing. But not so much for other tasks I carry out, such as cleaning the oven. I'm going to get a bit scientific today and explore exactly why some things are more appealing to us than others. What happens in the brain when we get excited? (And no, not in that way... get your minds out of the gutter.)

Well, there's not much to the science bit, if put briefly. Basically, if we are having an exciting experience, dopamine is released by neurotransmitters in the brain, which gives the sensation of joy and exuberance. It's true that a good writing session gives you a real rush. OK then, so why exactly do I get so excited about writing?

Well, the list could go on and on. I'm eager to get a story down that's taking up room in my head. I want to create a work of art that's totally unique, that has a life of its own. I get excited about people responding to my characters, getting emotionally involved with them, rooting for them or being reviled by them. Because the possibilities are endless when it comes to writing. You can go anywhere you want, do anything you want, be as extreme as you want. Because even when I've written something I think is rubbish, I'm excited about making it better. Because I can be in a terrible mood or doing a mundane task and be pepped right up when a new idea comes to me. I'm sure there are lots more reasons.

What's exciting to you about writing?

NB: This is a prescheduled post as I am away from April 2-6. I will respond to all comments on my return.

Wednesday 4 April 2012

D is for Drama

Welcome to letter D of my A-Z series "26 Things that Made Me a Writer".

No, I'm not talking about the sort that goes on daily with friends, spouses and work colleagues, or even more serious stuff on a larger scale - I've been lucky not to have much in my life, though I understand it can be great for inspiration. I'm talking about my one-time lofty dreams of thespianism (great word).

The first things I clearly remember writing were little plays at around nine years old. Typically, they featured my real life friends and family put into humourous situations. They might not have amounted to much, but I caught the writing bug from them, even if I wasn't really aware of it at the time. I wanted to be an actor. That was what I wanted to be my whole childhood, and the plays were an extension of that.

Those who know me now find it amusing that this was my ambition. I'm shy around new people, and when in unfamiliar situations, and fumble my words. But as a child, acting was part of a plan to overcome that.

I felt an urge to perform, to show off a hidden, flamboyant side of me that was never seen in my daily interactions. Nowadays, I channel all of that into my writing. I had a bad stutter and I worked hard to conquer it when delivering my lines. At high school, I was fully involved in the drama club, and loved creating characters to perform in our frequent shows. I never quite enjoyed rehearsing proper plays as much.

I can see now that acting played a key role in shaping my ambition to become a successful writer. That urge to show people what I can do, that I'm more than meets the eye, started from there.

Have you had other passions in your life that you think went towards making you the writer you are today?

NB: This is a prescheduled post as I am away from April 2-6. I will respond to all comments on my return.

Tuesday 3 April 2012

C is for Comments

Time for letter C in my A-Z series, "26 Things that Made Me a Writer".

This is a relatively new element in my writing DNA, but now I absolutely thrive on comments. Not just those on my own blog, but on others' too. They are a big part of what makes this community so active and vibrant. Many times I have read a post that has inspired me, but I have taken just as much from some of the comments.

With my own blog, I really feel encouraged by the comments to keep plugging away at the WIP. I've been overwhelmed by the positive feeling among writers and how much we want each other to succeed - because we are in the club that knows how tough it is. We're strangers when we first follow each other, just little faces in a grid. It's through comments that we start to build friendships and connections.

Just think how different the blogosphere would be if we didn't have this. We'd all just be standing on our own soapboxes, shouting into an abyss, and I don't particularly like the sound of my own voice. There are so many great types of comment: useful feedback if we share some of our work; alternative perspectives if we're stuck or need advice on something; or if we offer our own advice in a post, it's great to know that it may have helped someone, even if it's just a little bit.

What do you love about comments?

NB: This is a prescheduled post, as I am away from April 2-6. I will respond to all comments on my return.

Monday 2 April 2012

B is for Balls

Welcome to letter B in my A-Z series, "26 Things that Made Me a Writer".

Balls. Yes, you need these if you want to be any sort of writer. Ladies, you too. I don't know if there is anyone who still thinks writing is ideal for shy and retiring types, but unless you only want to write for an audience of one, at some point you are going to have to put yourself out there for scrutiny, be it from an agent, critique partner, or just a friend. A nerveracking experience for many of us, given the intensely personal nature of our work - it's not just about our stories, but our values, our worldview, who we are as people.

I am shy and retiring by nature, so this is a contradiction for me, as I suspect for many of us. Where do my balls come from, so to speak? Maybe it's because I consider my work the best representation of me, so when I do put myself out there, I'm only doing it with my best foot forward.

On that note, you do have to give yourself permission to write rubbish in order to write better, too. You have to have the balls to write balls. And be open to suggestions for improvement.

So, where do your balls come from??

NB: This is a prescheduled post as I am away from April 2-6. I will respond to all comments on my return. 

Sunday 1 April 2012

A is for Adolescence

Welcome to the first of my A-Z Challenge posts on the theme of "26 Things that Made Me a Writer". Basically I'll be talking about character traits, outside influences, or anything else that has gone into making me what I am today. I hope you find it interesting!

So today's letter, A, is for Adolescence. Now don't get me wrong, I didn't have a terribly impoverished childhood or any one traumatic event that shaped me irrevocably. I didn't lack for anything materially. But I believe the values and opinions we form as children and especially as teenagers shape us for the rest of our lives, and these years also define our attitudes towards others.

Although my adolescence was comfortable, it wasn't particularly happy. I was a constant target of bullies due to various afflictions: big nose, stutter, dandruff, debilitating social awkwardness, yada, yada, yada. (No, this post isn't going to be all about whining!)

I dabbled in writing from an early age and as I attempted more sophistication in my efforts in my later teenage years, post high school, I came to realise that what's on the surface doesn't really count for diddly squat, though the slings and arrows of outrageous bullying make you feel at the time like appearance is everything.

I'm still driven today by a desire to explore what's going on in the psyche of my characters and what makes people tick. That all stems from my adolescent years. I'd like to know what made those bullies tick and maybe I'll write about that some day. And I'm driven to succeed at least partially to prove that I can make something of myself, that I'm not stupid, and I can achieve something truly great. For a long time I felt like the world was against me. When you've been bullied, that feeling never fades completely, though of course I'm a lot more rational about the whole thing now. I relish getting up in the morning, seeing my family and attacking my work, whereas once I cowered under the covers and prayed for the rest of the world to disappear.

So what about you? How have your adolescent years shaped you as a writer?