Yes, I’ve been away.
Feels like I’ve come back from the dead. And I pretty much literally have. (More on that another time…)
In short, I am now recovering from a life-threatening pregnancy complication. All is good and I’m thrilled to be back at my laptop and back in the world of books books books…but, oh, oops, I’ve gained a tiny but perfect premature baby along the way!
So far, he sleeps, sleeps, feeds, poops, then sleeps some more, which is very conducive to blogging and resuming promotion of BORN FREE ELEPHANTS and IN THE GARDEN which, for those of you who are new to my work, are my latest children’s books. But I know babies and I know that as soon as the prodigal son hits his due date and beyond, this is all set to change. The luxury of time will become the race for time. Half finished blog entries and one word tweets… I’m thinking ‘HELP’ or ‘BABYTAKEOVER’
So currently I’m nurturing a theory that it’s all about hours. One hour a day to work on new words for the new novel. One hour a day to edit said words. And one hour a day to toy around with social media. Everything else will be a blur of nappies, cuddles and milky lips. Exactly where I’ll find these magic hours is yet to be seen, but here’s a clue…I’m currently typing left-handed whilst I jiggle, soothe, wipe baby puke and breast-feed…oy vey…
Well, yes, it’s been a while since my last blog entry… *cringes*…so much for last year’s vow to commit to the growth of my online author/artists platform. I do, however, have a very good excuse. One that involves high-stakes, suspense, life-or-death drama, an unpredictable plot development, and – I hope – a very happy ending…
No, it’s not the machinations of my latest novel. It’s pregnancy.
More precisely, pregnancy with problems.
I’ve been lucky enough to get pregnant for a third time (always wanted three…don’t ask!), but rather less fortunate to wind up with a serious complication called: PLACENTA PREVIA MAJOR (…sounds like a sinister piano concerto?)
In brief, my disgustingly behaved placenta has led to lengthy hospital stays, blood transfusions, a super-scary life-threatening haemorrhage at 25 weeks, and now long-term bed rest (which is no mean feat when you have two smallies to take care of – many thanks Mum, Dad and Julian, for pretty much taking over the running of my life!)
But the end is in sight. My docs are hoping I can make it to 34-36 weeks, when they will pluck the baby via c-section and the *normal* chaos of daily life will resume. I honestly cherish the thought of school-runs and cooking and walking to the local shops…just the simple things I’ve been denied over the last few months.
I also can’t wait to restring the threads of my career. On that note, two of last year’s writing efforts, THE GARDEN (a non-fiction early reader for Orion Children’s Books) and BORN FREE: NINA THE ELEPHANT’S STORY (a gorgeous real-life animal rescue story, in conjunction with the Born Free Foundation) have now appeared on Amazon and are available for pre-order. Check them out! Check them out! Just type in my name! And I’ve also been working-up some canvases, anticipating a solo-exhibition of my Epping Forest-inspired abstract landscapes later this year.
Anyway, here’s to the imminent safe arrival of Baby ‘Peanut’ (…named by my 3 year old), to more blog entries, more books, more paintings…and lots more fun.
Till next time.
To do a daily craft activity even if glue and glitter is involved
To say an immediate ‘yes’ to requests for cycling/scootering/park/football/swimming
To recognise that two ice lollies and a Baby Bell do not constitute a meal
Ditto Belvita breakfast biscuits
To water the garden as necessary and not just with children’s spontaneous outdoor weeing
To put a stop to said weeing
To enforce the wearing of clothes in public places
On day-trips, to make a *delicious* array of homemade picnic food, rather than resorting to happy meals
If lucky enough to get to go to Westfield at night, to leave overtired, tearful children at home (unlike the rest of Stratford)
To understand that the ‘self-administering’ bedtime routine has it’s limitations
ARGH! Ever had that feeling life is running out of control?
I thought I had the school summer holiday mapped out. A perfect balance of early morning writing (a comfortable 1-1.5k a day), the final tweaks for my forthcoming Early Reader ‘In The Garden’, the edit of a beloved old manuscript, plenty of painting afternoons in my summerhouse studio…all blended with a carousel of day-trips, play-dates and other child-related activities.
So why do those little coloured iCal event boxes refuse to behave? I have spent the last few hours squeezing and nudging and teasing my list of duties, but the sums aren’t working. How do I fit so many words into so few hours and still present as a committed parent? What was it J G Ballard said about ‘the pram in the hall’?
Edit. Edit. Edit. If anyone thinks their novel is ready to hit the shelves/agents/editors/Amazon after one or two drafts, I’d say they’re kidding themselves. Top notch writing (i.e. writing that at least stands a chance of getting noticed/taken seriously) needs to be exactly that: top notch. And this means editing.
For me, getting words on the page is only 30% of the task. The lion’s share, the other 70%, is all about the ‘re’s’: rereading, revising, rewriting. Then rereading, revising, rewriting some more. And some more. And then some more.
Personally, it’s the part of creating a novel that I love, but here are my top tips to make it fruitful:
1/ Re-read your text in different fonts/ugly fonts, which will help highlight any awkwardness or clunky phrasing.
2/ Read your text on different formats (laptop, iPad, Kindle, main computer, etc.), to keep your eye fresh.
3/ Try editing at the time of day you’d expect your target audience to be reading e.g. evening, in bed, on a train. Does the tone fit? Does it feel right?
4/ Dive in at any point in your text (e.g. mid-chapter, half way through) and start editing from there. Coming into your writing ‘cold’ really makes you think about how the words work.
5/ Read out loud, particularly dialogue, to assess the ‘flow’ of your text. Just imagine you are reading to a room full of opinionated editors…
6/ LEAVE IT. For a day, a week. a month. Preferably a year. Time away from your words gives you great perspective. When you re-read you will see it afresh.
When people learn I write for children and young adults, its often met with a ‘Oh, I’ve got a great idea for a children’s book!’ comment. Depending on my tolerance level at the time, I may listen/smile or politely make my excuses and get the hell away.
I just don’t want to hear any more tales of ‘The Adventures of Squeaky/Billy/Tig/Taylor the (insert inanimate object of your choosing)’. And I certainly have no truck with ‘…sort of like a Horrid Henry character, but instead of being outrageously rude, he’s polite and good at sharing.’
Writing for children – especially very young children – can look simple. Behind the scenes, however, it’s a DARK ART. Picture books may go through as many revisions as an adult novel. Of course, there are fewer words to revise (usually no more than 500), but it’s imperative that they are the right words.
If a picture book is to hold the attention of an active three year old, then there’s no room for sentence flab, plot slack, or adjective overload. Every word on the page needs a function. It has to:
1) advance plot
2) aid comprehension
3) establish character
4) build energy and excitement
5) provide age-appropriate clarity
If that same word can do all of these things at once, so much the better.
As an added complication, the text for a picture book needs to co-exist alongside illustrations. The words need to ‘anchor’ the image and, at the same time, avoid duplicating what is already being ‘shown’ visually. In other words, if the picture says it all, the words don’t need to.
When writing for young children goes well, it’s brilliantly fun. When it doesn’t, it’s a whole world of frustration.
Since I’ve lost a day of writing to the cycling spectacular (childcare duties, owing to schools being closed due to the race passing through our area), I feel its only right that I get some mileage (ha ha!) out of it, by featuring my love of bikes in a blog quickie (and quickie it will be, since I am simultaneously trying to teach my 5yd old the dark art of loom bands and admiring my 3yr old’s drawing of a ‘dinorhinoroceros’…)
Just to say I am known in my town as the crazy lady who hoofs her children up and down the hills in a trailer attached to a knackered old mountain bike. But there is method in my madness. Bikes are brilliant. Inexpensive. Pollution-free. Keep you fit. And when it comes to the daily grind of the school run, there’s nothing like whizzing my kids through the park on a sunny morning, knowing I am beating the stress and idiocy of the car-snarled roads.
Needless to say, in few hours, I will be on the side-lines cheering the Tour and hoping, always hoping, that London will keep working towards becoming a cycle-friendly city.
So what are we in the mood for? Anecdotes? Quips? Rambling tales? Well, peeps, you’ll just have to settle for my first SHAMELESSLY SELF-PROMOTING post about my fantabulous art/writing career…
It’s been a charmingly garden-based day. I have spent the morning polishing the text for my forthcoming Early Reader for Orion Children’s, appropriately titled ‘In The Garden’. Writing for this age-group (5-7 years-ish) has its challenges (short sentences, simple but perfect words), but with a background in teaching and a 3 and 5 year old at my heel (…although I wish they bloody would heel!), I think my writing muscles are well-flexed to pull it together. And as an added bonus, I love gardens, but not gardening… strangely.
The afternoon has been spent in my summerhouse painting studio, reacquainting myself with one of my most favourite things in the Whole Wide World: gold leaf. I’ve added little touches of it here and there, to some long-neglected paintings for my ‘Nebula’ series. And I’ve also experimented with some new oil pastels. Here are some iPhone quality snapshots:
I have an exhibition brewing, but an exhibition needs artworks. And artworks take time. I just need some more days like today, when brainpower, energy, creative sparkle and child-freeness all comes together. So I guess we’re looking at 2029…
Oh heck. I made so many promises in the first one. Now it feels like I’ve got to deliver. Rather like that awkward second date – the one where you think the guy/girl likes you, possibly enough to marry you. Then you get to the restaurant and realise they aren’t quite as debonair / witty / odourless / wealthy / well-proportioned as you (drunkenly) remembered…
Do you stick or twist? Sticking may lead to wasted time, fake laughter and lengthy monologues about office administration systems (I assure you, there are some BORING PEOPLE out there on the dating circuit…) Twisting is impolite and likely to result in a modicum (albeit small) of guilt.
If you do decide to stick, you avoid the guilt and you may also discover that, after an uncomfortable first hour, you and Mr/Miss/Mrs Boring-Pants have an unexpected rapport after all. And that, in fact, office administration is an underrated and highly fascinating art form. Oh, and you might get drunk sex.
But drunk sex, as any fool knows, always leads to disaster (and sometimes babies).
My advice: choose your second-date wisely and don’t put out until the third 😉
To that end, I think I’ll shelf this tricky second blog right here !