What Do You Want To Read?

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Poem: Tell Me What You Write!

What do you write?

Don’t skirt around the issue.

Horror? Romance? Fantasy?

What do you write?

Do you write tales of

Daring doo? Where the good

Defeats the bad? Do you write

Of orks and elves and dwarves?

What do you write?

Do you create courtly romances

Or a boundless journey to the east?

Do you marry princes to dames

And damsels or kill them all

Bloodily?

What do you write?

Do you create suspense with kidnapped

Kids or drop anvils and blood

From heights? Do you write of

Villages, of gossip and drama

Or give us insight into our past?

What do you write?

Why not tell us what you write?

What do you have to hide?

What’s your genre, where do you lay

Your metaphorical hat? What is

Your speciality? Your favourite?

Why not tell us what you write?

Do you not write a genre? Do you

Write plays or poetry? Are you

A Wordsmith, Worth all your Words,

Or can you Kubla Kha-not.

Do you place a body in front of us,

Or steal some hidden jewels. Shaken not

Stirred, or a sleuthing saviour?

Tell us what you write.

I write all, don’t you see,

I’ve tried my hands in all. I write

Of villains, heroes, of normalcy,

I write mysteries and poetry.

I show deep horrors in the human

Mind, and run around with joyous

Vigour.

I have princes, royalty, sure and

Damsels and Dans in danger.

I write of stars, and science and

Nature. I teach as I write and I hold

The key to many saviours.

But you ask me what is my favourite one?

I cannot answer to that, because all of

These I bring together and hang

In my metaphorical hat. I do not

Write a genre, per se, for I write for age,

Not for specifics.

I hold the key to apocalypses that don’t

Weigh down so heavily.

You want to know what I write? Well,

I write everything, applicable for

Everyone.

I’m a children’s writer, you see,

And children’s writers have all the fun!

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Why You Should Write FanFiction

Do you know which FanFiction line is for what show/book?

Fanfiction. You may have heard of it, you may have even partaken in it, or (just as likely) you have no idea what it is. Fanfiction is exactly as it sounds—it’s you as a fan of something, writing a fiction about it. You can write Fanfiction about anything: do you love a TV show so much that you can see new storylines in your own head? Do you appreciate a book’s characters so much you want to see what they’d be like in a different setting? Do you want to play in somebody else’s lands but copyright stops you along the way? Fanfiction. That’s the answer.

            I wrote fanfiction when I was seventeen, through to about twenty. Many of my friends write fanfiction, even now, as it keeps them sharp and engaged with other writers. Incidentally, the most famous fanfiction is ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ which started out life as a Twilight Fanfiction and then was tweaked to make it what it is (holding off on my opinions of the actual text, as I’ve only read snippets of lines). If you think back though, there’s been many cases of fanfiction writing being published. If you continue a deceased author’s work, you’re writing fanfiction. If you’re re-writing a classic story, you’re writing a fanfiction. ‘Four Children and It’ by Jacqueline Wilson, ‘Austen Land’ by Shannon Hale, any Enid Blyton book written post Enid Blyton. All of these are merely fanfictions that someone has been allowed to defeat the copyright (given special permission).

            Now, of all my ramblings, why am I so adamantly telling you this? Because, my dear readers, I believe we should all start out by writing fanfictions. Why? Because it will ultimately make us better writers. When we start out we can appreciate what makes a good character, we can even create the basics of one, but to truly understand how to write characters we have to know them inside and out. The best way to do that is by characters we’ve seen and read multiple times, who we already know inside and out because of another writer’s successes.

            During my time writing fanfiction I got to know the process of developing characters. Because it was in a fantasy world, I got to learn the process of developing worlds that people love and wish to escape to. I became an editor, helping many people on the platform I was on help reach their story’s potential. I became involved in the writing world, and got to know many people across many different countries and continents who all shared the same passions as me: the show/book and writing.

            Fanfiction is also useful for another reason. As well as growing you as an author, it connects you to an audience. You learn to take criticism, you learn to pick yourself up, you learn to accept praise. If you become a popular enough fanfiction writer, you can then more easily sell your own original stories to them. You’ve gathered yourself an audience. Yes, admittedly, an audience that’s there because they want to read stories based on the shared book/story you love, but one that you can persuade to love your writing style; to love your work.

            When writing fanfiction, you can go with any genre. You’re not stuck writing romance, if it’s a romance (remember somebody took ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and made ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’, if that’s not fanfiction in a nutshell, I don’t know what is). You can do anything with fanfiction. If you want to change the plot of the original story, or change one of the characters, or the details of any of the characters—write an Alternate Universe (AU) story. If you want to take an episode of  ‘Friends’ and make it into a thriller, then do it.

            Do you know what’s so amazing then? If you spend your time developing your skills, using the building blocks somebody has already laid out for you, you can then start creating your own building blocks. You can understand the effort it takes to create all the different elements that make up a book. You can take your fanfictions, later on, look through them, pick out all the elements you like and write an original piece mixing the two pairs of building blocks together. If you’re very, very lucky you could be able to write fanfiction professionally (again, if the copyright police deems it so).

            Does it feel slightly dirty, like your cheating by not coming up with your own original ideas? Sometimes, yes, but most of the time, no. It’s an easy way to teach yourself how to write, and for me (mostly to do with the website I did it on) I learned by reading other people’s work and editing some others. There’s plenty of websites you can use, some better than others. I know some people who do it through fanfiction.com, some who do it through writer’s apps, some who write on their own blog (hey there!), some who do it on specific shows fanfiction sites (fimfiction.net, being the main one I know), even some who do it through social media. My friend, the main one who continues to write fanfiction, does all of hers through Tumblr and she often collaborates with other writers through the site.

            And on the fanfiction sites, you can often find even more. Due to my (very small) success on my site, I had people offering me artwork for front covers of my stories. All of these artists where better than I was, and the relief at not having to spend hours labouring over my own covers was amazing (unfortunately, I do all of the artwork on my blog though, hence why certain posts take so long to come out).

            I even met poets, like myself, who loved to write poetry about the shows/books we loved (incidentally, poetry is the easiest way to get through copyright, I think). You can choose anything, even real people (though I often think that’s a tad creepy, especially if they’re alive) and have fun with it. Because that’s the word of the day with fanfiction: Fun. Have fun, mess around a bit and see what you come up with. You’ll be surprised how much better a writer you’ll be by the end of it.

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Plotters and Pantsers

Recently, over on the Social Media sphere, I’ve seen a lot of people questioning if other writers are ‘plotters’ or ‘pantsers’: a plotter being someone who heavily plans their stories and a pantser being the complete opposite, somebody who can just sit down and write without any idea where it’s going to go. Now, what am I? I know you didn’t ask me specifically, but I want to answer it anyway.

            For short stories or poems I can get away without planning anything. The idea is in my head and then I freely write. For the starts of novels and plays I can do the same thing, but soon I become lost in the words and have no idea what I’m doing. This happens especially if I’ve had large breaks between writing, because the story has left my mind. Then I become a plotter.

            Planning a story can be hard, it can be enjoyable, it can also sap the joy out of it sometimes, but it is nearly always useful. Even if all your plan involves is a simple idea, that’s a plan. If you only have a genre, it’s part of your plan. Usually I start a plan with a few basics, even if I don’t necessarily have much else. You start a plan with your idea, your genre, your demographic (age of reader, mainly) and then your Beginning, Middle and End. Characters are, of course, important also. But start with your main character. Plan out their beginning, middle and end. I’ll give you an example, shall I?

            The first thing I write on my piece of paper is my idea. We’ll say:

            ‘The Gods are Playing Table Tennis’

            (Yes, this is a real idea I found that I’d written down a while back).

            Okay, basic idea is down. I could easily write a short story with that, without much planning. But what if I wanted it to be longer. I wanted it to go beyond the basic premise.

            So, I add a genre. A genre changes the way you write the book. If I were to write it as a comedy, then I would have to be make it absurd (more so than it already is). I would have to go over the top with the drama and exaggerate everything. If I were to write it as a drama then I would have to play it completely seriously and make my reader believe that the idea of the gods playing table tennis isn’t a completely absurd idea. I write my genre underneath my idea:

            ‘Speculative, realistic, calm.’

            Yes, these are more an idea of a genre than an actual genre. That’s fine. As long as you know how you want it to feel, how you want it to read, then that can be your genre.

            Next I write the demographic. If you want it to be for your eyes only, then great. Write that. If you want it to be for children, or for teenagers, for women, for men, for the LGBTQ community, for whoever you want. This doesn’t necessarily mean that these will be the only people to read your story, it merely gives you an aim to sell it towards. It gives you clarity on what you want to emphasise in your book. In children’s fiction our main character will mostly be a child; in a fantasy for women we create strong female leads; in an LGBTQ aimed book we emphasise and normalise the relationships from that community. In each demographic we give the people reading someone they can relate to, or aspire to, and that’s why you should choose your demographic.

            I’ll say my story is for ‘Myself’, because I believe I’m the only one who would want to read it. That’s fine. Your demographic can be you. Other people like you may then become your later demographic.

Now, my main character. The key to any story and the main thing that a reader will take away. You, of course, usually have many ‘principal members’ of your ‘cast’ but there will always be one above the rest. This is the person we’re following throughout. The person who’s eyes were seeing through, even when we use an omniscient narrator. I write it down.

            ‘Main character: Janus, god of doorways’.

Great. Now, after this I would usually do an extensive character plan (see my previous blogs on how to create characters) but for now let’s keep it simple. He’s the god of doorways, a lot of gods look down on him, he has a lot of pride in his work and is constantly trying to hide how inferior he feels by presenting himself with a large ego. He’s the underdog of the gods, but has proven to be a successful table tennis player.

            There we go. A few basic points about the character that can drive the plot. And speaking of the plot, now that I’ve got my main character sorted out I would do my (often used by me) Beginning, Middle and End.

            These are not set in stone. I repeat, these are not set in stone. If, after I’ve wrote my beginning I think of a different twist for the middle then it’ll be changed. If I finish the middle and decide that the ending I have written down wouldn’t make any sense any more, it will be changed. I purely do these as placeholders so that I have a direction to aim towards, even if I end up down another path entirely. Okay:

            ‘Beginning: Janus steps onto the table tennis field, beaming with pride. There are cheering gods on all sides and humans calling to him telling him how important he is to them. He wakes up. It’s all been a dream.

            Middle: Janus infiltrates Hades realm, looking for a secret table tennis paddle forged by Hephaestus, stolen years ago by Persephone’.

            End: The gods put the blame on Janus for their own misdemeanours in the game and punish him by banishing him to Earth.’

There. There’s my beginning, my middle and end. I know the path I have to take. This is the basic format for my plan. If I were to take it a step further I could break the three plot points down into individual parts and write what is going to happen in each chapter. I could develop each and every character, even minor ones, and make sure I know how they would react to Janus. I could play with tropes of the genre, develop relationships, foreshadow the end by having Janus mention how he would hate to live on Earth or have another God tell of the time they were banished to Earth. There are so many things I could do with this story, and it’s all been developed from simply writing down basic plot points.

            If you’re a pantser, great. Have fun and enjoy writing. If you’re a plotter, enjoy plotting (and don’t forget to write). But if, like me, you like a mixture of both, your basics will stand you in good stead. Let your imagination run wild and flesh out your story before writing, and don’t forget: every good story will change as you write it. Don’t rigorously stick to your initial plan. If it looks like it needs to change, change it. If you don’t like a character being in a certain scene, try it with another character. Sometimes we only figure out our true plan when we’re halfway through writing. It’s annoying to go back and change everything beforehand, but it happens, and it makes your story better. Why?

            Because it makes you love it even more, and your love is what truly matters with your work.

A Bientot, Les Ecrivains,

The Literary Onion

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Re-Reading Your Old Favourites

We’ve been out of lockdown a certain amount of time. We’re constantly watching the news, constantly thinking about how to react to it and constantly worrying about what’s going to happen next. This is we as a country, we as a people, we as the world. Each day we, humankind, get flooded with information. We start to become desensitized to some of the bad and then boom, another thing hits bringing in a new type of bad. At the beginning of the year, there were constant jokes about having 20-20 vision and yet now we’re as blind about what’s going to happen as a badger-mole that’s lost its earth-bending (yes, I have been re-watching Avatar: The Last Airbender. It’s an amazing show).

            On a personal level I opened a business in the hospitality and tourism industry at a time when nobody wants to travel. I’ve tried multiple other ways to bring money into my household, so that I can keep myself (and my sanity) afloat. I’ve attempted to give people peace of mind, I’ve attempted offering teaching classes to locals, I’ve attempted writing and entering competitions and each time that I’ve failed I’ve felt a little bit more of myself breaking off. And the worst part is, I know there are other people in worse positions. I feel guilty for my stress. I feel like I should punish myself for feeling the way I feel. But everyone has a right to that. Even me.

            So, what do we do when all these worries wash over us? What do we do when the world seems so uncertain and stress-inducing? Do we start a new project, one with a fulfilling end? Do we begin to watch a new show, to enter into an exciting new chapter? Well, from what I’ve been seeing over the internet and in my own household, I’d have to argue no. What we do is we return to something familiar. Something that, unlike the year of 2020, we know the end to. We re-watch Avatar: The Last Airbender. We re-read our favourite books. And then we realise what we hadn’t noticed in those things ever before.

            Beyond remembering how amazing of a show or book something is, we also start to see new things. Last night I started to re-read one of my favourite books from when I was a teenager: ‘House at the Corner’ by Enid Blyton. It’s not a book you may have heard of. Enid Blyton, maybe, yes. She’s an extremely famous author. One of the only authors allowed to continue being published during World War 2, in fact. But when you think of Enid Blyton, you tend to think of The Famous Five, The Secret Seven, Malory Towers, Noddy etc. These are all big household names (speaking as a Brit. I’m not entirely sure how well known she is in America etc.). I love all of these books, don’t get me wrong. Despite the fact I didn’t know until University that Lacrosse was a sport still played today, despite the fact that many of the views and language are outdated, even despite the fact that the main characters in reality would never have even probably had the time of day for me, I love them (bar Julian from ‘The Famous Five’, who for some reason annoys me no end).

            But ‘House at the Corner’, one of her more obscure works is my favourite. It relaxes me, and even as an adult I give a round of applause to how well the characters are portrayed. I still love it. I still will re-read it and re-read it again, but I could not stop laughing at certain things that happened on this journey into it.

            Okay, to quickly summarise. The story is about the Farrell family. Pam, the oldest: eighteen, too smart, too beautiful, big ego. Tony: fourteen, again too smart, doted on by mother, fairly strong, joker, big ego. Delia and David: ten year old twins, the most sensible members of the children, very serious, very kind, very honest, love them completely, always get ignored by their family. And then there’s Lizzie: sixteen years old, plain looking, wears glasses, wears braces, dotes on her family, drops anything in a heartbeat to help them, shy and quiet. Most importantly for this discussion, she’s a writer.

            Now, maybe there’s a particular reason I’ve always liked Lizzie (or sorry, Elizabeth, as she prefers). Maybe it is that she represents a successful writer at sixteen (let that age wash over for you for a while. Does it sting, just a little?). Basically, Lizzie gets persuaded to write stories because her Great Aunt says she’s good at writing letters. We’ll let that one slide for now. Although a woman I talked to recently mentioned that her friends believed the same of her because she was good at writing letters, and she found she was not very good at stories. Hey hum, moving on.

            So Lizzie writes a successful story, with little to no editing. As you do. Her Great Aunt loves it. Amazing. She sends in to a newspaper aiming to be published. Gets rejected and her Great Aunt persuades her to try again. Great. That’s amazing advice, from a writer to a writer (thank you, Enid Blyton). She sends off to another paper and they accept her. They agree to publish her across six of their papers in children’s corner and agree as well to publish one of her stories in each edition for a paid sum. She starts at £3 a story and then moves to £5 a story. A substantial sum at the time.

            Tony comments at the end: Would they have published her if they’d known her age? Yes, ladies and gentlemen, they were publishing her knowing nothing about her. She could have been under the age for working for all they knew (which, as far as I’m aware, though lower, did still exist at the time). She could have been anyone.

            I think what irked me about this is, not that she’s successful at a young age and I’m still sat here desperately trying to find the confidence to put down words, but that she gets to be completely anonymous. I know that’s not what she wanted. She wanted her name in print. But I want that, please. I’d love to publish things without a name, just get paid and then get on with writing again. That’d be great. Please. Can I do that, instead of making my books all about selling me? I’m not nearly as interesting as what I write. Believe me. I have to live with myself.

            Why, you ask, am I sat in my garden writing a rant about this one point. Well, to be honest, it’s been a while since I’ve written on my blog and it was about time. If Lizzie can be anonymous, getting published and being paid for it, then maybe there’s hope for the world yet. It turns out even in the 1940’s (or around about when Blyton was writing) writers still had a fantasy of being a writer. It’s okay to dream about it. It’s okay to want to earn a living from it. At sixteen. Anonymous even to your publishers. You do you. And have fun with it.

            For real though, how was she so productive? One story each edition? Edited? And she claimed she wrote children’s stories because she wasn’t up to the standard of writing adults fiction? Come on, children’s fiction is hard work. They’re very harsh critics. Although, ironic that a children’s author should have been the one to write that line.

            I would highly recommend reading ‘House at the Corner’, especially if you’ve got any aspiring young novelists in your household. I hope you’re all having a good time escaping into your own fantasy worlds.

A Bientot, les ecrivians,

The Literary Onion

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Characters In Quarantine, Part 1: Dorothy (of Oz) and Alice (of Wonderland)

Quarantine’s quite a fun thing, isn’t it? Lots of drama, lots of boredom, lots of lessons and lots of arguments. So, how would certain characters feel if they were forced into 2020 Lockdown with each other? Fun scripts for anyone to preform (at least one adult joke is made in this one). If anybody has any ideas for characters combinations, send them my way.

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We enter onto a plain room. It has white walls. There’s an ugly, old brown couch in the centre with a colourful knitted throw thrown over it. There’s a fireplace to the side of the couch, lit and a pile of ash at the bottom of it as it’s been going a long time. In front of the fireplace there’s an old knitted rug, in similar colours to the throw. There are a few pictures of cats hung on the wall and one picture of a scarecrow in a field next to another cat. Dorothy is sat on the couch, flipping through an old book. Alice is sat on the rug near the fireplace, her shirt partly down as she’s too hot in her dress. She’s hugging her knees to her chest, rocking back and forth and fanning herself.

Alice:              Can we go out yet?

Dorothy:        Nope.

Alice:              (brief pause) What about now?

Dorothy:        Still nope.

Alice:              Surely it must be over now?

Dorothy:        Not according to the news. We just have to be patient.

Alice:              I don’t like being patient (kicks the floor with her heel).

Dorothy:        Well, unless you want to be a patient, you have to be patient.

There’s a minute silence as Alice rolls around on the floor, doing many different silly poses to try and get comfortable. Dorothy continues to flip through her book and doesn’t look up.

Alice:              How are you so good at this?

Dorothy:        I’ve had to sit inside for days when tornado season comes to my Aunty Em’s farm.

Alice:              (shuffling again) Lucky.

Dorothy:        Not really. Why don’t you read a book, Alice?

Alice:              Don’t like books.

Dorothy:        Maybe paint a picture then?

Alice:              (gestures to the room) I’ve already done that. Do you not see all the cats?

Dorothy:        (looks up from book) Oh, yeah. They’re… nice.

Alice:              You didn’t even notice them.

Dorothy:        No, I did.

Alice:              Well, you didn’t say anything about them.

Dorothy:        I was busy, reading.

Alice:              You’re always reading. Can’t you play with me instead?

Dorothy:        Can’t you do your homework for class on Monday?

Alice:              Already done it. What about you?

Dorothy:        I’ll do it later. After I’ve finished my book.

Alice:              Ugh, I should’ve just stayed with my sister. Either way I’d just get someone reading a book and ignoring me.

Dorothy:        Take a nap. That’s what I do when I’m bored.

Alice:              Tried that. Not one sign of a White Rabbit.

Dorothy:        Honestly, I think that’s kind of a good thing to hear. I haven’t seen a sign of Oz lately either.

Alice:              They’re probably all stuck in quarantine too. Ugh, they must be so bored.

Dorothy:        Well, they do say it can get anywhere. I wouldn’t want to get the Good Witch ill. I don’t think she’d ever forgive me.

Alice:              Are you ready to play yet?

Dorothy:        No, Alice. Let me finish my book.

Alice:              Please.

Dorothy:        No.

Alice:              Come on, you know you want to.

Dorothy:        I’m busy.

Alice:              Can we at least turn the fireplace off? It’s boiling.

Dorothy:        No. It took me ages to light that fire. It stays on. A book’s always better with a roaring fireplace going on in the background.

Alice:              Who told you that? The scarecrow or the tin-man? (snickers)

Dorothy:        Don’t be silly. The scarecrow can’t go near fire. And the tin-man’s too scared that he’ll set his forest on fire.

Alice:              All your friends are kind of lame then?

Dorothy:        Oh, yes, what about your friends? The Mad Hatter who’s high on caffeine all the time or the caterpillar who’s high on something else entirely? Doesn’t everyone in Wonderland pretty much just want to kill you?

Alice:              At least it’s interesting there. Never a dull day. Unlike here.

Dorothy:        Well, then, next time this happens you can go and stay with someone else. I’ll be quite fine on my own.

Alice:              Oh, please. You like the attention too much to be all alone.

Dorothy:        How dare you. Get out.

Alice:              I can’t go out, remember?

Dorothy:        Then, go to another room.

Alice:              Fine. I’ll go play with the yellow bricks in the garden (makes to leave).

Dorothy:        It’s raining outside, remember?

Alice:              Ugh. I hate this stupid house.

Dorothy:        Hey, at least you weren’t swept up in a tornado.

Alice:              Oh, please, Dorothy. Everyone knows it was all a dream.

Dorothy:        It was real. I’ve got bruises to prove it.

Alice:              If you had bruises to prove it, why would they still be there? Liar.

Dorothy:        Call me liar again and I’ll…

Alice:              You’ll what? Read me to death?

Dorothy:        (throws her book at Alice, Alice dodges) Get out!

Alice:              Fine. I don’t want to see your stupid face anymore anyway.

Dorothy:        I don’t want to see yours either (goes to pick up her book). It’s corn on the cob for dinner tonight.

Alice:              Ugh, again?

Dorothy:        If you want to do the shopping, why don’t you go next time?

Alice:              I don’t want to.

Dorothy:        Then, we’re eating corn on the cob.

Alice:              Fine.

Dorothy:        Fine.

                        Alice storms out and Dorothy brushes down her book. She wanders back to the couch and fans herself.

                        Wow, geez, it’s hot in here.

                        She continues reading.

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COVID-19: The Wrong Time to Open a Business?

Front of the Retreat– Believe it or not, this picture was taking in Winter.

It was March 14th. A lot of milestones were happening, a lot were yet to happen. I turned 25, I went out to eat at one of my favourite chain restaurants in France, I went to the zoo (another favourite pastimes of mine, harkening back to my ‘Animal Studies’ days), I planned to go home and buy some kitchen equipment to use in the future, and most importantly all of the adverts I’d painstakingly paid for, written and worked on were coming out or were already out. Finally, the future looked bright; finally, I felt proud about something I’d done, something I’d created to help myself and to help other writers.

            And then, the Virus came. Yes, I realise that this all sounds like a rough draft of an apocalypse or dystopian story. I realise that even my backstory would add to a character in that world, but unfortunately it was a reality. Its name was Coronavirus, Covid-19 was its street name, and on the 14th March (although earlier in some countries) it shut down France. My birthday meal was the last time, to this day(it’s been a week at time of writing), that the restaurants in France were open. I was either extremely lucky or extremely bad luck for somebody else.

            I’d planned a blog post about my business, about how excited I was to show writers what I’d created for them, following up to the blog post I’d written for the Good Life France. Eventually, I’ll hopefully be able to put that up for real but it seems stupid to put it up now. The borders are closed, there’s quarantines throughout the world and everyone is worrying over the economic future of their country. Not exactly a time to be presenting a new business to the world.

            Honestly, of all the things I thought could put a stop to my dream: the Mairie denying us, Google not seeing our website, people not wanting to come, I never even once considered an illness preventing people from leaving their homes. It sounds so storybook, right? Like somewhere there’s a writer realising that their pen is enchanted and trying desperately to burn the pages? But, no, it’s real. It’s really here. It’s killing people around the globe and people are scared. Suddenly, there’s anxiety everywhere, and I’m sure most other usually-anxious people would agree, it’s really freaking weird.

What can I do about it?

            The short answer, nothing. I have to hope that after all this over, after we’ve finished our self-isolation and helped to continue people’s lives, people will still want to come. We’re in a beautiful, peaceful spot with plenty of fresh air and lovely views. I’ve managed to get more writing done here than I have in the last few years. I’m inspired and have helped to inspire ideas from my non-writer of a mother and even my no-imagination of a father (he’s great with numbers and has been a big help with other jobs though, so we’ll forgive him).

            It works. My place works and I’m really hoping one day writers will feel safe to come across and see if it works for them. I’m working on new recipes, made all the more difficult by the lack of ingredients in the supermarkets (the only place we’re allowed to venture to, basically). I’m getting some of the garden ready so it can look really nice by the time we actually do manage to open. All three of us inmates at the Retreat have delved into the library of books and are working our way through the different genres. If nothing else, we won’t run out of books to read.

What’s the point of me telling you all of this?

            I know, I know. Other people are having it hard to. As I said, people are dying of Covid and I’m not going to lessen that tragedy. Even the tutor I’ve booked in for teaching my summer courses is currently stuck in self-isolation (although an extreme form where she isn’t leaving a bedroom with en-suite) because she’s high risk. I worry for her and anybody else who could really suffer from the disease every day but my own worries about the future are still there, and I can’t simply make them go away.

            I’ve always believed in being honest. I’ve had a horrible habit of keeping things to myself and increasing my anxiety in the past. Okay, yes, I still do that a little bit now. But not on this. This is too serious. So, I’m telling you, whoever’s reading this, how I’m feeling. I’m trying to show you the mind of an anxious person who has opened a business at the same time as a pandemic strikes. I’m proving that your random story ideas are as likely to happen as anything else. Because anything can happen… to anyone.

            I know it’s hard to stay calm right now. The world’s pretty much telling us we should panic. But don’t give up on your writing. If you don’t feel like writing, that’s fine, but don’t lose it forever. Your story is just as valid and realistic as everything that’s going on in the world right now. And maybe, if anything happens similar to this in the future, by reading your book future generations may be able to figure out quicker and better solutions to prevent any more deaths.

            Because, as proved by the media in this wild situation, words are even more powerful than a small, invisible virus. Make your words be powerful in the right way. Make the world better one word at a time.

            Sorry for the unintentional sappiness there and, if you have any downtime, would you please consider checking out our website: www.lestylonoirretreat.com . Be safe and let’s get through this.

A Bientot, les ecrivians

Signed,

Amy Rose, The Literary Onion

Posted in Poetry

Unmoved By This War

It was a decision that we made,

Not completely but many the same.

A voice came together and shouted

That our kingdom should be held accounted,

Should stand alone and rule alone,

Should keep our pride tied to the throne.

That we should give our love and guidance

To only one, and we picked a side and

Civilly war against our families

And in the middle we collapse entirely.

—————————————–

It was a decision that we made,

That we should all have our say,

That each of us had something to give

And that allegiance made us somewhat captive

To a decision made by a forced group mind

Turning us against our kingdom, ‘our kind’.

We fall apart, on buses, on channels,

Creating our own television and radio panels

On exactly why each other is less than us

And in the middle we regretfully remain nonplussed.

—————————————

It was a decision that we made I suppose

That all these fights that we have proposed

Have left us miserable, scared, waiting and wanting to sink,

For now we are cowards for not knowing what to think.

We are cowards for thinking of each other,

For reminding ourselves of sisters and brothers.

The things you taught us of loyalty and love

Are not important to anyone else above

For these do not matter to the other side

And in the middle, it’s clear you have no pride.

—————————————–

But I do have pride, a pride for each person.

I have hope that we will come back to care soon

For each other as we fought to pretend,

A hope that these schemes will soon end

And a knowledge of this forgotten future

Were we sow the seeds into this rotten manure

Of the history books that will simply read

‘Humans died because that’s what humans need’.

And so, yes, I choose to watch, I choose to fear

Because in the middle I am making sure I remain

And I see…

People Clear.

Author’s Notes: My father is heavily into politics. Growing up he would take me with him to his party meetings, I would help stick flyers in envelopes and deliver them around in our area before and after school. Somehow, despite this, my sister and I grew up to feel uncomfortable with politics and explaining to my dad why was and still is hard. After an argument between us, in which I failed to explain my side and he believed I had no opinion on politics at all, I went upstairs and wrote this poem. Finally. I felt my dad understood my side. I’m a writer and I want to remain somewhat open-minded but it doesn’t mean I don’t care. If you’re into politics, like my dad, then great– you do you. But don’t assume other, quieter people, aren’t thinking about it too. We’re just less vocal, that’s all.

Posted in How to Write

The Impossibility of ‘How To Write’

Writing blogs or articles on writing, teaching classes on the subject, even attending said classes is one of the hardest things you can/will ever do. I can stand and tell you the basics of my experiences, or of my fellow writer-friends’ experiences and I can do my best to encourage and support you – but I’ll never be right. If I wrote a book to show you ‘how to write’ and it was read by 100 people I’d be very lucky if I was 25 percent correct.

            There are basics every writer should learn. We should all know our grammar, our spelling, how stories form and how characters are created (most of which I’ve been taught and could teach) but after the basics are ingrained in your mind you’re let loose. You can do whatever you want. If you want to break these early rules, do it. Experimental literature exists for a reason.

            It’s the great thing about any form of art, be it words or painting or even food. It’s all an imperfect jumble of subjective passion. It can be whatever you want it to be; whatever you need it to be at that moment. It grows with us, constantly sliding back and forth through all the stages of life—from first conception to rebellious teen to self-critical adult and then back round again (and not entirely in a linear fashion).

            I do believe in learning the fundamentals/the basics of writing, just as I took professional cookery training so I could have the abilities and knowledge needed for experimentation. ‘Go on a course, get a degree, join a writer’s group’ – as a person who’s done all of these and more I can attest to how helpful they can be. They can be a helpful hand or a step towards confidence (and a great place to meet new like-minded people or inspirations for future stories).

            But don’t forget that you’ll continue learning throughout your writing career. As your writing flops back and forth through the stages of life so will you. You’ll be confident, miserable, shy, brave and the rules will change as every person in the creative industry changes around you. Everybody needs help with the basics, over and over again, but your words will always be yours.

            As I said, previously, I can tell you my experience and I can teach you the basics (the FUN-dementals, excusing the pun) but I can’t control your mind, your imagination. You will always pick out the bits of the self-help book that you want to hear, that you may already partly believe in. Just look at the #WritingCommunity on Twitter, each writer as different as the other but able to communicate and celebrate those differences.

            Continue to do this, continue to write. This isn’t something I’ve found easy recently but it is something that I believe in. Books change all the time. So do you. Accept that and you’ll hopefully find the words to say how your experience can help someone else.

            And don’t assume there’s a fix-all for writer’s block. I’m learning the hard way that there isn’t.

            The simple answer for ‘how to write’, beyond all the guff and ‘experience of others’ is to keep writing, keep reading and keep caring. With this as your mantra and as your guide to writing then you should be just fine, degree or no degree.

Small Note: I know. This is a short post. I’ve been struggling with finding words recently, due to being close to the opening of my own writer’s retreat and stress increasing because of it (a great discourager from writing). Soon, it’ll be open and I’ll hopefully get to meet some of you amazing writers in person.

And a quick announcement: due to lack of money I will be merging all past and future posts on literaryonions.com into literaryscribbles.com. Nothing will change for you on this site, other than some amazing food creations and book reviews coming your way.

Posted in Poetry

South to North: The Life of Little Miss. Hale

A poem inspired by Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘North and South’

South to North

Edith buttoned up her dress,

And sat upon her silly mess,

Calling out to ‘Dear Ma Mere’;

The fanciful call of a love-not-shared.

And my dear Aunt did answer the call.

My cousin following in her lovely shawl.

Plain at sight was dear Miss Hale,

But how prettily, yet averagely, she came.

She was not like them, oh, not at all.

She was herself, and she answered the call

Not from sympathy, as did her Aunt,

But from worry, fear and slight contempt.

Some day she would leave, this dear cousin of mine,

Leave the South: the Lord’s great shine.

She’d go to the North, where Milton men

Shall go to her, this open cousin.

And I shall remain down South with Edith and Aunt,

Waiting in boredom: attending the plants,

And cleaning the dress that Edith has worn,

And mending the rug which Edith has torn.

Miss Hale shall be free, my dear hearted friend,

And I shall be here to mend and to mend.

To sort out the growing family from Lennox line,

Waiting for the day my freedom shall be mine.

And then I shall stand in the steam and the smog,

Knowing that once it was her that had turned all the cogs

Of the new life they led here, in peace and in kind.

And on that day, I know, I shall have dear Margaret on mind.

South-West to North-West

One day I shall leave and partake in some games,

Of a Northern kind, and all of their ways

Will seem strange at the start, but oh so much fun.

Strangeness in identity is identity in some.

And there I shall meet someone dear to my heart,

Who, once I had met, my eyes could not tear apart.

And on her arm would be the most strapping of men.

A man of bliss, this Master Thornton.

Next to him would stand his sister and mother,

Ready to meet Miss Hale’s long departed cousin.

They will happily greet me, and exclaim and shall praise

All of my newly sought little northern ways.

My accent shall sing into all of their astounded ears.

T’life’s not so hard here once hoo’ve learned t’phrase.

And how proud she will be to announce that I have known her long.

How proud she will be to discover that I have learned Northern songs.

These songs might be peculiar to my little Southern mouth,

But if I’m in the North, I’m not to be down South.

South-East to North-East

Aye, by gum, I shall sit ‘pon Yorkshire dales

Watching and squandering in my happiest days.

I shall watch all of the sun; I shall watch all of the rain.

And she will be sat with me, my dear cousin, Miss Hale.

We will stare at the skylarks, and all of the little swallows

Will dive in-between our little cultural hollow.

We shall sip tea, and sup on the nicest of dishes.

We shall hold one another’s hand and make all of our wishes.

We’d wish to be reunited, and then, with a laugh,

We’d remember that that wish had been for the past.

Together we’d sit, away from our little northern houses,

And watch as the sheep did heckle the cows, and

We’d sit until the moon did pass over the sun,

And then we’d sup and tea some more. It wasn’t yet done.

A few handsome men would pass by our way,

And bow their heads at us, as they did during the day.

But we wouldn’t care, not whilst our family was near,

Because family was what mattered to I and my cousin, dear.

It is then that he’d come, that dear Mr. Nicholas,

And wish us merry tidings on our family adventures.

He’d ask us to arise now, and come with him to Milton:

Our home town was awaiting us. It was we who they’d depend on.

Miss Hale would smile at him, and she’d look to me instead

To decide on our actions, and I’d nod my head.

It would only be with my opinion, the one for which she cared,

Would we follow Higgins back from Yorkshire to the great city, Manchester.

North to South

One day he would come, the greatest of Southern men;

He’d come up to Milton to see Miss Hale again.

In the background I’d be stood, whilst they talked over papers,

Before Miss Hale turned to me to ask what I made of

All of the declorations that Mr. Lennox was proposing;

And I’d smile and sagely nod, whilst holding back my blushing.

He’d see my dainty glances, my poise and Northern grace.

He’d wonder and he’d wonder why he’d recognized that face.

Two days would go by and then he’d run up to the door,

Asking Miss Hale if he was entirely sure who he’d saw.

And my dear cousin would nod profusely and say quite clearly,

That indeed it was her little cousin, the little baby Hilary.

She’d announce I had grown, and was now wise beyond my years.

No longer was I working for my Aunt and Edith’s little cares.

Instead, I was now a Northern lass, a bonny-eyed eighteen.

No, I was not looking for a groom. How silly would that seem?

He’d beg and plead that he could come cross and glance at my face,

But my cousin would not let him, if he was to know his place.

It is with a kind heart I’d beseech to him to come with us and dine,

In the tall broad house, which, of course, was partly mine.

Thornton, my dear cousin’s groom, would cheerfully announce

That Henry Lennox had arrived. I’d beg him not to shout.

But Mr. Lennox would not care for the rudeness of his call.

He’d be stuck trying to understand how I, little Hilary, had grown so tall.

I’d smile and jovially tell him, ‘Of course, why wouldn’t I have done?

It’s not like I haven’t twice been allowed to play out in the sun.’

We’d laugh and he’d come closer, to stare onto the beauty that was mine.

Miss Hale would watch with those frosty, cold and piercing eyes.

But he’d continue to be a gentleman; he’d bend down on one knee.

Inside of his pocket he would pull out the greatest diamond on a ring.

My mouth would fall down all ‘cross my jaw. I would be amiss.

Miss Hale would stay far away from her little cousin, dearest.

I’d gratefully tell the man that, though he had been most kind,

Marrying wasn’t for me yet. I had more things on mind.

He’d sigh and he’d smoulder; two proposals to Miss Hale and I,

And it seemed both to be failures. The failure that was mine.

For years I would stay annoyed at my own decision’s choice.

Master Thornton would go first and then I would lose my lovely cousin’s voice.

She’d tell me, in her old ripe age, that all was to go to me.

I’d weep into her dressing gown, and on her dressing sleeve.

And Mr. Henry Lennox? He never would arrive.

The funeral would be quite empty, my small company aside.

I should move down to the South, but they would hate my Northern ways.

They’d hate my Northern songs, Northern accents and my phrase.

I’d lose everything that once was, until a rose in bloom,

Would fall onto my cheeks. I’d live from then on in Helstone.

Author’s Note: I had to complete an essay exam on ‘North and South’ and a method of memory I used back at University was to create a story or poem based on the text or theory. This was the conclusion of my memorising and is one of the poems I am proudest of (though many ‘North and South’ references are made, so apologies for that).

Posted in How to Write

Writing and Why Mistakes Can Be A Good Thing

I know. It seems like a weird choice for a topic. How could a mistake be a good thing? We spend hours, days, months (years, in my case) editing or writing. We fix the spelling, wording, syntax. We re-write whole sections of work to show our writing at its very best.

            But, hear me out. Imagine if we didn’t do that. Imagine, if you could just write a piece and it was perfect. Imagine how stale it would be and how complacent we would become. We’d have nothing to strive for, no reason to write anything or read anybody else’s work. As it is, whilst editing we’re learning. We’re growing into a good writer (emphasis on not stretching to greatness or perfection, which is impossible to reach in such a subjective artform).

            So that’s one reason right there to love mistakes. Now, after all your editing is done and you’ve published your story or poem, surely any mistakes left in by this point are a bad thing? Well, actually, for the most part, I would argue otherwise. I’m not saying put in a mistake on purpose. I’m not saying you should have thousands of grammar or spelling mistakes. I’m talking about a rare, simple mistake (specifically focusing on wording).

            I started reading Chris Colfer’s ‘Land of Stories: An Author’s Odyssey’ the other day. It’s an extremely engaging story with extremely realistic and lovable characters. So far in my read I have found three mistakes and only one of these I would count as being a negative one (just a personal negative writing choice which I see often in children’s book and disagree with).

            The positive ones however were just a matter of wording and it had to do with names. Alex and Bree are two separate characters with clearly defined characteristics but all of a sudden, during a scene with Bree and her cousins, Bree’s name is accidentally written as Alex. It was jarring. It stopped me reading, made me question myself. And then I started laughing. It was clear that Colfer had been so used by this point to writing ‘Alex and Conner’ that as soon as he was supposed to write ‘Bree and Cornelia’ his hand wrote for his brain. ‘Co… nner… Co…rnelia’, the beginnings were the same, so Bree became Alex.

            I’m sure Colfer must know about this mistake by now, and it may be fixed in future publishing, but I loved it. It showed me how absorbed in the book I was and just how much I cared for the characters. It made me think about the work with logic and it made me realise just how much I actually cared.

            The same thing happened when I was younger when reading ‘Candyfloss’ by Jacqueline Wilson. After they finished baking a cake (Floss and her father) they ‘cooked’ it. Of course, it was supposed to be ‘cooled’ and child me thought it was hilarious and somewhat gratifying. Jacqueline Wilson made mistakes. Maybe it was okay for me to make them too. I haven’t read ‘Candyfloss’ in years but the small mistake is something ingrained in my memory and I love the book all the more for it.

            Not even a book series can escape making mistakes. In Enid Blyton’s ‘Famous Five’ series, the first book states that the Fisherman’s son who looked after Timmy was ‘James’ and by book five or six he’d become ‘Alf’. She’d forgotten his name but I hadn’t and I never held that against her because it was a testament to how great a writer she was that I had noticed. I cared about the most minor of characters and that takes true skill.

            I’m not saying you should try to make mistakes and I’m not saying you shouldn’t edit your work (editors need to make a living too, you know?) but I’m just trying to show you a new perspective. If you make and publish a small mistake, well oopsy daisy, but it’s not the end of the world. If you’ve done your job right and your work sucks your readers in, and they care for your characters deeply then maybe a small mistake will give them the same reaction I had. Maybe you’ve given them a good laugh. Maybe you’ve given them the courage to know that they don’t have to be perfect.

            And, regardless, before editing focus all your energy on your story and characters (or poem, for all you poets out there). If those parts are great then being merely a ‘good’ editor could be enough.

            Thank you for reading and (gosh, it’s been a while since I said this)… A Bientot, les ecrivians.