Monday, 15 July 2013

AlphaPoem of the Week - Mrs Darwin

As I've resurrected my blog, it's time to resurrect my Poem of the Week.

Here's a quickie from Carol Ann Duffy's The World's Wife - a collection of poetry written from the point of view of the female consorts of many great male figures.

I'm reading a book about genes, evolution and natural selection at the moment, so this appealed.  Hope you enjoy it!

Mrs Darwin   by Carol Ann Duffy

7th April 1852
Went to the Zoo.
I said to Him –
Something about that Chimpanzee over there reminds me of

Friday, 12 July 2013

AlphaThoughts: Finding Your Fire

Have you ever wondered what to do with your life?  Or whether what you're already doing is really what you're meant to do?

If you have, welcome to the club that includes me, all the other budding writers out there, and...oh...only every other human on the planet.  If you're lucky enough to have found the thing you love to do, you believe you're meant to do it, and you're already out there living it, I wholeheartedly salute you.  You have reached the pinnacle of self-actualisation in the career world.  And you won't get much out of this post, so feel free to leave us at this point.  See ya later.

Ok, so for the 99.9% of you who aren't quite there yet, this is for you.

We often have pretty fixed ideas about what we want to do with our lives, what we love, and what we're good at.  For instance, in an early post on my blog I wrote that I have wanted to be a writer since I was a little girl, though that's not strictly true - many days I did want to be a writer, but on other days I wanted to be an actress, and on still others, a vet.  At one point I asked my mum whether there were any princes around my age at Buckingham Palace, thinking the job title of 'Princess' would suit me rather well.  Sometimes I amuse myself wondering whether a 7-year-old Kate Middleton might have been asking her mother the same question at the same time.  How different life might have been for me...

I digress. What I'm trying to express is that very few of us are ever 100% sure exactly what career is right for us - though we may be categorically sure that the one we're currently in is definitely not what fires us up.

So, if you're hoping to be a writer, or a vet, or anything else, how can you know before you take the plunge that you're diving into the right pool? can't.  You can never be sure.  But you can listen to what your mind is telling you day after day.

For instance, I was in a meeting today for my day job.  We were discussing a particular problem that was proving difficult to solve.  I was fairly engaged in the that's my mind telling me I quite like problem-solving.  Whoop-de-doo.

Then the solution arrived, and part of it involves writing management scenarios about imaginary organisations and people.  Suddenly, I was practically kicking my boss under the table while the others talked, mouthing 'I want to do it' and jiggling up and down in my seat like I had ants in my pants.

Does this mean I want to write management scenarios for the rest of my life?  Hell no.  But if I get that fired-up about writing creatively in my day job, it gives me a teeny smidge more confidence that writing fiction is the right choice for me.

Another little smidge?  I wrote most of this post on the train journey home, and was gutted when we reached my stop and I had to put my phone away mid-flow.  And now here I am finishing it the second I'm in the door, while AlphaCat wonders why he hasn't been fed yet...There's another vote for how much I love creative writing of any kind.

So if you have no idea what you want to do, or you need reassurance that the path you're striving for is the right one, look out for little clues like these in yourself.  When you sit up, your pulse quickens and everything but that idea starts to fade from your awareness, that's how you know you've found your fire.  If it seems as mundane as management scenarios, deconstruct it - why does it make you excited?  What does that tell you about what path would be right for you?

What about you?  Have you encountered little clues that the path you're on is the right one?  How do your smaller passions hint at the bigger picture of what you're meant to do?

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

AlphaThoughts: I'm back, and here's why it will stick

Well, my 'new leaf' two years ago rather withered and died on its stem.  So here I am, back with a whole new plant.

I could say that the reason I haven't blogged for two years is that life got in the way - wedding planning, wedding, honeymoon, moving house, getting pregnant etc.  But who has a life that doesn't get in the way - and come to that, who wants one?

The real reason I haven't been blogging is, I think, that pesky internal editor again.  I stopped drafting my novel (AlphaBook 2) at around 22,000 words because the stupid editor kept telling me it was no good; and as Alphabet Soup charts the progress of writing the book and there was no progress to chart, I got embarrassed and crawled away to hide from it all.  I figured I had enough beautiful things happening in my life to occupy my time, and off I went to do them.


So why am I back now?

I'm having my first baby in October / November this year, which is something AlphaBloke and I have wanted for a while and we're both looking forward to welcoming the AlphaChicklet.  This has got me thinking about the things I wanted to achieve in life, like writing a novel.  I always thought I would get these things done or substantially underway before I had children, and I feel a little sad that I've let everything get on top of me and haven't accomplished these things yet.

Then a week ago I started reading Be a Free Range Human by Marianne Cantwell, a wonderful book about breaking away from the office 9-5 and building your own 'free range' career by doing the things you love.  Please see Marianne's excellent blog here for more information - safe to say this AlphaChicken is already a convert to her free range flock.  I am only halfway through the book, but have done every reflective exercise to try and figure out what I love to do, what I bring to the table, and what lifestyle I want to have.  I've realised how much I loved blogging, how much I miss it, and am starting to understand how it might help to support a free range lifestyle for me once AlphaChicklet comes along.  One of the first missions the book sets is to do a 'Play Project', something to explore a possible career idea (in my case writing) in a short project form, with definite deliverables, and to be completed in a month.  So here's mine - in a month from today, on August 10th, I will have completed at least eight blog posts on any topic.  It does not matter whether anyone reads them or comments - what matters is that I am flexing my writing muscles and testing whether this is really what I love to do.  I've already got a list of possible posts to work on, and I'm raring to go...

So my blog is back - a whole new plant in a free range garden.  I'm so excited to be setting off on this journey.  Join me for the ride if you like!


Monday, 27 June 2011

AlphaThoughts: New leaf

Shameful.  Utterly shameful.

I have left my blog to gather cobwebs for nine months.  Call myself a writer and can't write a few hundred words every couple of weeks - shocking behaviour.

New leaf starts today, with a modest goal of an absolute minimum of a post a week.  Preferably witty and intelligent, but won't be allowing the pesky internal editor to get too hung up on that.

So what have I been doing?
  • A couple of days after my last post, I received a proposal of marriage from AlphaBloke.  So much of my time while failing to blog has been devoted to wedding planning!  Everything is pretty much in place now though (I hope), so no wedding-related excuses allowed from here on in.
  • I have taken a 60-credit Creative Writing course with the Open University (UK).  My first novel was dying on the page and the internal ed was screaming that it was no good, so if I'm honest I took this mainly to gain some confidence.  I am yet to receive my final mark, but have done well in the assignments so far, and confidence has indeed been gained.
  • I've also been communicating with many others on the OU course about writing, and am grateful for their continuing support.  In our circles, they are known simply as the Dark Side.
  • I am gearing up to turn 30 later this year, and have developed a list of '30 things to do before I'm 30', which I will post some updates on here.  Tasks achieved so far have been clay pigeon shooting, 4x4 driving, and a botched attempt at giving blood that ended in a massive bruise and no blood given - will need to attempt that one again....
  • I've ditched AlphaBook 1 on the basis that I don't know how to make it interesting.  It will remain in the mists of my computer and my mind until it has germinated into a more interesting flower.
  • I've embarked on AlphaBook 2 which is going very well so far - I think it's a good story and I'm loving writing it.  Since I started it at the end of May, I have written nearly 16,000 words and still going great guns.
  • And I'm planning a wonderful African honeymoon, to fit neatly between completion of AB2 first draft and first major edit.

More on all of this to follow.  Good to be back.


Wednesday, 29 September 2010

AlphaReview: Books from afar...

The last month has been not a little crazy for me at work, and my writing has suffered somewhat.  I will be turning a new leaf over in October and getting back to it in earnest.

In the meantime though, I have been lucky enough to receive three books from afar – they have crossed the pond to find me from the United States.

The first is Cinders, a novella by Michelle Davidson Argyle.  Michelle was one of my first readers and has offered me some great encouragement and inspiration so far.
I devoured Cinders in under 24 hours and loved every word of it.  It deserves more time than I can give it here so I will be writing a review in due course, but until that time is forthcoming, I wholeheartedly recommend it and congratulate Michelle on such an engaging book.

The second book to land on my mat was Genre Wars, which I was lucky enough to win via a contest at The Literary Lab (incidentally, Michelle of Cinders fame also contributes to this blog).  I have whiled away many an hour gleaning nuggets of writerly wisdom from the contributors at the Lab, and encourage anyone interested in literary fiction to check it out.
Genre Wars is a collection of short pieces in a range of genres (duh) by various writers.  I have only dipped into it so far, but it is likely to be accompanying me on holiday shortly so that I can get stuck in – so again, watch this space for a review.

The third book from the land of the free is The Preacher’s Bride by Jody Hedlund.  Again, I was lucky to receive this as it’s an influencer copy, and when I first contacted Jody she wasn’t sure whether her publishers would send one all the way to England.  So I was particularly pleased and surprised when it was delivered to me!
This is a historical novel set in a puritan community in Bedford (my side of the pond) shortly after the English Civil War.  Its plot centres around a strong young puritan woman who is drawn to help the family of a preacher after his wife’s death.  I started reading it earlier this week and have been impressed by the compelling dialogue, beautiful scene-setting and attention to detail.  Again, I will post a full review once I have finished it – for now, all you need to know is that ‘just one chapter before bed’ always turns into three or four….

You should also check out Jody’s blog for oodles of great advice from a debut novelist.

That’s all for now folks!

Monday, 23 August 2010

AlphaThoughts - Bless me muse, for I have sinned... has been three weeks since my last blog post.

Ouch.  Worse than that, it has also been three weeks since I wrote anything on my novel.  My aim to write 5,000 words a week has been shamefully ignored.

I have excuses, of course:

1)  Monday three weeks ago was when my busy period at work started up again.  I won't bore you with what I do - suffice to say I'm on my feet a lot in the week, adrenaline plays a part, and I often resemble a zombie at the end of the day.  The busy period will continue until mid-November though, so at some point I'll just have to get over it and get on with it.

2)  I started a new exercise regime at the same time as work went nuts.  Eminently sensible, I'm sure you'll agree.

3)  Just over a week ago, both of the excuses above paled into insignificance when I went down with a VERY unpleasant bug.  I managed to survive two days of work (no time to go see the doc), but on the third morning my body said 'NO!' and subjected me to a world of pain.  I ended up with an emergency appointment, a severe infection, and killer antibiotics.  Still not feeling all that great, as it happens...

Aside from all this though, I have discovered that my novel-writing and my blog-writing are intrinsically linked.  When the former is going well, I want to log into Blogger and update my word count, let the world out there know how I'm getting on, and share in other people's blogs too.  But when it's going badly (or not at all) and I'm procrastinating and making excuses, I steer well clear of Blogger so I don't have to admit that I am a serious flake.

I think with writing, sometimes just acknowledging your own traits of procrastination, excuse-making and so on can help you to address them.  Now that I know how my novel affects my blog and vice versa, perhaps I can use it.  For example, I now pledge to have 3,000 additional words written by the end of this Sunday.  I am out every night this week, which would be a great excuse not to, but I have Friday night and all of Sunday to do it.  And I've promised the internet I will do it now, so I have to, right?

I hope writing this post unblocks me.  I don't think it's particularly good writing, and it won't be one of my favourite posts of all time - but at least I banished those 'I'm too tired, I have to work out, I'm all sick' goblins and wrote something.

How about you?  Do you feel your blogging and your other writings are tied together?  Have you been making excuses lately?  Don't let the goblins win!  Share your thoughts or procrastinations here.

Monday, 9 August 2010

AlphaPoem of the Week - Toads

My poem of this week is for all writers out there doing a day job and writing on the side.  And for anyone who would rather not work at all!

Don't get me wrong, I actually quite like my job.  I've had a few and it's the best one yet - some great people, changing faces, and I feel like I'm making a difference to some people.

But, oh - to be in a book-lined study all day...  As Larkin says, that's the stuff that dreams are made on!

I hope you enjoy it.

Philip Larkin

Why should I let the toad work
Squat on my life?
Can't I use my wit as a pitchfork
And drive the brute off?

Six days of the week it soils
With its sickening poison -
Just for paying a few bills!
That's out of proportion.

Lots of folk live on their wits:
Lecturers, lispers,
Losels, loblolly-men, louts-
They don't end as paupers;

Lots of folk live up lanes
With fires in a bucket,
Eat windfalls and tinned sardines-
they seem to like it.

Their nippers have got bare feet,
Their unspeakable wives
Are skinny as whippets - and yet
No one actually starves.

Ah, were I courageous enough
To shout Stuff your pension!
But I know, all too well, that's the stuff
That dreams are made on:

For something sufficiently toad-like
Squats in me, too;
Its hunkers are heavy as hard luck,
And cold as snow,

And will never allow me to blarney
My way of getting
The fame and the girl and the money
All at one sitting.

I don't say, one bodies the other
One's spiritual truth;
But I do say it's hard to lose either,
When you have both.