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making a start in creative writing


I’ve just finished the autobiography unit of my online writing course. The idea was to look at various aspects of life at 10, 15 and 18 – clothes, likes, fears, music etc – and see where it went. This is what I wrote:

I don’t mean to criticise, but there’s a major design flaw in God’s plan. It’s in the way that the gifts and skills which he bestows so generously are like presents from a great aunt who you never see: they’re just not what you want.

Take prettiness, for example. Completely wasted on a ten-year-old. There’s a photo of me on holiday in Majorca and I’ve never looked so cute. I’m lying on a sun lounger in a bikini, grinning cheekily and unselfconsciously at the camera. My stomach’s flat, my hair’s long and blond.

I was first choice to be the Queen’s assistant in the Church parade and to be The Virgin Mary in the school play. I was so lovely Dad’s best friend said he’d wait for me.

 If Dad’s friend had been a horse or a packet of midget gems, I might have been interested.

8 years later and Dad’s friend is conspicuous by his absence. Huh, who can blame him? Who’d marry me? Dear God, now would have been the moment for the Being Pretty gift.

Here’s a photo of me at a summer family barbecue. My hair’s short, thick, shapeless and mousey. I hate being outside. The sun makes me squint. I’m uncomfortably hot but refuse to change into shorts and let everyone see my fat thighs. I wear jeans which are too long and an oversized t-shirt with Morrissey (“he’s NOT gay!”) of The Smiths on the front. My belly’s spasming with period pains.

 I’m pathetic. 18 and I’ve only ever kissed one boy. Called Nigel, of all things.

The other wrong gift is knowledge. What’s the point of 80-year-olds having knowledge and insight? Shouldn’t they be allowed to sit back and watch Corrie with a nice glass of sherry rather than feel obliged to pass on pearls of wisdom to people who aren’t listening?

No, knowledge would be better at 15. If I’d known that – yawn! – “the coolest thing is being true to yourself” life would have been a lot different. I might never have dumped Katy as my best friend in favour of Vicki. Katy was a buck-toothed, born again Christian, top of the class. Vicki had a denim jacket, bleached hair and stomach cramps from the number of fizzy drinks she got through.

My tutor said I could have stopped after the Nigel paragraph because the later ones blurred the impact. It does now seem that a mish mash of thoughts at the time, at 18 and now, so I’d clarify that in a rewrite.

Another student thought the humour would work better in a different style than the monologue, which she found almost in the style of stand up comedy.

When writing I spilled out both the comic and tragic. It’s quite a challenge to even know what the right tone should be, but one I enjoyed experimenting with.


autobiography, anyone?

I’ve been doing an online writing course with Exeter University. This week’s theme was autobiography (I’m looking forward to the poetry and screenwriting sections).

The exercise was to think of an early memory and write about that in a stream of conciousness to see where it took you. First draft only, to see where it went.

I enjoyed it a lot more than I expected to.

Here’s what I wrote:

‘Swimming and fish and chips on Friday nights’ was an hour-long ritual of disproportionate magic.

As the pool echoed shrilly with shrieks and splashes, I tried my first armband-free width with tentative seriousness, tummy supported by Mum’s hand (‘I took it away, it wasn’t even there! You did it on your own!’).

Then giggling hysteria as Dad, looming large and pulling wide-eyed monster faces, approached shark like, looking huge and silly at the same time.

Brother Paul in tiny black goggles, was older and already doing lengths – he had the 100 metre badge sewn into his trunks.

Afterwards, the tang of chlorine clung to our heavy clothes until we got inside the fish and chip shop and it was replaced by the smell of fat.

I chose battered sausages and chips every time.

I always went outside to look in the window of the tack shop next door: riding hats and rosettes and horse feed.

‘Come and look at the tack shop!’ I’d urge Paul. I couldn’t really understand his lack of enthusiasm.

‘You can go by yourself, if you want to look,’ said Mum.

I was the archetypal tiny Thelwell pony girl. Mum tells me they were skint in those days and sacrificed their bottle of whisky so I could have riding lessons. Which seems a shame given I was such a reticent rider. I was never going to canter happily, let alone shine in a red showing jumping blazer. It was the horses I liked, not sitting on them.

The whisky probably would have helped when Granny and Grandpa (Dad’s side) warned him off Mum because she was – gasp! – divorced and – oh, good lord! – had two children. They presented with him with evidence in the form of a neatly trimmed press cutting about a divorced women who’d murdered her new husband.

(I’ve got two dads but I never really knew the ‘real’ one – he left before I reached four. That’s another story. This is about the one who stayed, the one who brought me up.)

Unfortunately for my grandparents – well, fortunately really, since it all turned out right in the end and I have photos of my Grandpa doing the Tango with Mum after one too many gins to prove it – Dad defied the threats of ‘see that woman again or never darken our door and you can forget about any inheritance’ and ran up a huge phone bill quoting poetry down the phone to seduce his true love. The phone was engaged so long that Granny Spalding (we used geographical nomenclature to distinguish between the paternal and maternal grandparents) rushed round to Mum’s house worried she’d been murdered. She hadn’t so Gran just waved and shut the door behind her.

Like I said, it all turned out well in the end, although even now my Mum likes to pretend she was a virgin on her second wedding night. It sort of fits in with her view of the world.



500 words (or a few less)

My pledge to myself to write 500 words daily of my novel has- well, stalled a bit, what with the terrifying adventures of letting the cat out and getting lots of freelance work (hurrah!).
Not to mention the ongoing learning to ride saga… Kim was ‘let go’ – no idea why – but my naive assurance that with Karen and Fergus nothing could go wrong was brutally stamped on when I had my worst ever lesson (‘Don’t let him get away with it! Kick harder, you’re too gentle!’). Next week, I’m on Bertie, in an attempt to break the I-get-anxious-horse-plays-up-I-get-even-more-anxious cycle.

I was disappointed not to march on Saturday but we did our bit for Earth Hour in front of the fire with a couple of candles.

First drafts

My granddad became fluent in German and French by a strategy of learning 10 old and 10 new words a day. Little and often.

I’m stealing his idea to get the first draft of a novel down on paper. 500 words, Monday to Friday, allows me to do my freelance work. And by mid November, I should have about 80,000 words to rewrite. Which’ll be the hard part.

But I’ll have something concrete accomplished.

Haiku Horses!


I’ve started a Haiku diary! Here’s today’s entry, after my riding lesson.

I try no stirrups.
Fergus grumbles and stumbles,
But I don’t fall off.

Yesterday was the more domestic:

Washing on the line
Dank and cold in the gloaming
Waits to be brought in

It’s addictive stuff. Thanks to my copy writer friend for inspiring me.

That’s not me in the photo, by the way (I wish…) It was taken at the Poplar Park Horse Trials on Sunday. (Husband says, ‘Bet they’ll get off.’ Ho ho).

Feeling the ground shake under my feet and listening to that rhythmic, heartbeat sound of galloping hooves was atavistic (that’s a word I had to look up recently and I think this is the right context…!)

Three tips from a writer

Our friend, who used to be a copywriter in advertising, came to stay. A gentle soul with a gift for telling funny, engaging anecdotes, he gave me three tips about writing:

  • It’s less about writing, more about re-writing. Editing is hugely important.
  • When you’re stuck, just get anything down on paper. Just write.
  • Your employers aren’t your friends or family. You’re an orphan.

That last might sound a bit dramatic, and it’s not specifically about writing, but it’s a good point. And also quite inspiring. No parents means you get to let loose your mischievous, playful side and can concentrate on creativity, not pleasing the boss.

more on cats

Look, I know I wasn’t going to post YouTube videos of cats, but this one isn’t a real cat, it’s a pretend cat so it doesn’t count.

Our (real) cat likes cuddles, toy mice, sticks and shoe laces.

I’ve been struggling all day with the piece I’m trying to write for my local creative writing group. The prompt is: ‘I was standing in front of an open door.’ I read it out to J who is very good at constructive criticism and I’ve now rewritten parts, but could still do with a fresh read tomorrow morning. I’ll post it after the meeting.

I was really pleased today. A couple of weeks back, I put a note up in my local library and music shop asking for fellow late starter/amateur musicians to practise with. I had a second email from another cellist today who’s 73 and grade 4. (I’m about a grade 2).  Which makes us four cellists and a piano.

We’ve yet to meet because one lady is on holiday, but I’ll be over the moon if we can get something going.