This week in creativity

Quote of the week:

Just in case things get boring, I'm bringing a book

In 2018, I set myself the goal of becoming a full-time writer by the time 2022 rolled around (and out). Ach, it happened and didn’t happen… the money-side never materialised. I suck at selling books.

Is the universe trying to telling me something? Tempting to say, yes. The world has spoken:

Emma, thou should put down thy pen and never pick it up again…

Look, the late Hilary Mantel, Maggie O’Farrell and anyone else who appears on Booker Prize/Orange Prize etc or lists has nothing to fear, but I’ve had enough praise from strangers—via reviews/emails/comments on Wattpad—to believe I’m not dreadful and I’ve won the odd prize here and there that spurs me on.

I write all the time. Busy day ahead? I get up early to cram words in. On holiday? I bring my laptop (or even my cheap, crappy Kindle along with a £10 keyboard) and tap the stuff out in hotel rooms. Christmas, New Year, birthdays and holidays? Pah! The words are squeezed in.

So yes. Goal accomplished, though perhaps not in the way I envisaged. Turns out crafting stories that no-one pays you for isn’t all that bad*.

Recently, I dug out a book I drafted way, way back in 2016. It was easy to write at the time, but when I was done, I shoved it in the metaphorical drawer with a sigh of, Well, that needs a TON of fixing.

And there it sat, accumulating dust over the years. When I re-read it at the end of last year, the errors, and more importantly, the solutions to them, popped up straightaway. Normally, I loathe revising a book but this one has been a pleasure. I scrapped most of what I’d written, and instead used the novel’s skeleton, fleshing it out much more satisfactorily with fresh words, scenes, dialogue and everything else that brings it to life.

An extract from my forthcoming novel, Forever, maybe

It’s so fulfilling.

Otherwise, I’ve spent the week grappling with book formatting for print, much of which has involved swearing at Word.

FFS, don’t start the numbers there. Don’t put them on blank pages! Keep this header, not that one! Look, I want each chapter to begin on the right-hand side. Just do it okay!

Weirdest Google search of the week

The writer’s search engine history is a weird and wonderful list that would raise the eyebrows of many a psychologist.

‘Names for parts’ is something I frequently Google. Settle down there at the back—I’m not alluding to anything filthy, just wondering what this bit of a vending machine/car/key/Calor Gas heater is called.

But recently, I was curious about how to get out of ankle tag. My main character had been tagged and needed to flee. Is such a thing possible?

Reddit (where else?) had the answers, and my favourite was—do your time and then it magically falls off. But, for dramatic purposes, I settled on the poster who suggested slipping a plastic bag over your foot, slathering it with lube, and wriggling out that way**.

Is it possible? Doubtful, but including it in the story allowed me to add an awkward conversation with the neighbours in which my main character knocked on the door and asked if they had any KY Jelly to spare instead of coffee…

What I’m eating/cooking

A selection of tapas dishes

We booked a late lunch at La Barca, a tapas restaurant in Helensburgh for Hogmanay. Tapas is food for gluttons—why try one dish when you can have three or four? The place was also buzzing, which I hope indicates that it is recession-proof in these high cost-of-living times.

At home, I’ve eaten a lot of this Rainbow Plant Life’s mushroom soup. If you love mushrooms, this is most mushroomy experience you will ever have…

Returning to the quote of the week… My first date with my husband took place in a pub. He recalls nipping to the loos and returning to find me engrossed in a book. (Manners prevailed; I put it away again.)

The world is divided into those who always carry a book with them—which is easier these days because those books can be on tablets or phones—and those who don’t.

But seriously, opportunities to read books while out and about arise on a regular basis. On a train, on a bus, in a GP’s waiting room, at the hairdresser’s, in a long queue, lunchtime at the office, coffee shops… why risk not being able to take advantage of them?

Which brings me neatly to…

What I’m reading

The Ministry for the Future

Re-reading this mahoosive whooper of a book for our book group. (I chose it—592 pages, small print. How to win friends and influence people…)

If you spend a lot of time fretting about the environment, this book might be for you because of the optimistic solutions it offers.

A Place of Greater Safety

In honour of the late, great Ms Mantel, I decided to re-read A Place of Greater Safety after watching Marie Antoinette on the Beeb this January (watch it, I beg you—the costumes, the sets, the acting).

What are you reading at the moment? Let me know in the comments… and if you’ve got a weird Google search, post that too!

*I say this from a position of extreme privilege. I have a part-time job, a partner with a full-time job and no kids.

**Please note. I am NOT condoning criminal behaviour.

WOMAN READING PIC: Photo courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/nenadstojkovic/49982362222, reproduced under the Creative Commons Licence 2.0

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A farewell to all that

How’s your year been? Twenty-twenty two had a blink and you miss it quality—the year dashing past so fast it is difficult to believe the end is almost upon us.

In 2022, I hit a milestone birthday, travelled all over the UK relishing that freedom after the pandemic restrictions of the past few years, joined in a national book group reading challenge*, signed a contract for one of my books, received payment for the retention of the audio/visual rights for another, and caught up with a lot of people I hadn’t seen for years.

I fell off the blogging horse in 2021 and didn’t remount it in 2022 (that is one HORRIFIC analogy, sorry) BUT I plan to address that in 2023.

Man falling off white horse

The best bloggers are consistent and single-minded about what they write about. I follow a good few of them. Alas, my scatter-brained approach has never lent itself to consistency or single-mindedness.

Great for writing fiction as it allows for flights of fancy, but not so good when trying to come up with a consistent theme for a blog. And the life of this writer doesn’t lend itself to thrilling blog content.

Got up early. Bashed out 1,231 words before grinding to a halt when I realised that I’d created a ginormous plot hole. Mulled it over for the rest of the day without coming up with a solution. Wasted time on Twitter working myself up into a righteous rage over the behaviour of terrible politicians. Did the paid job. Exercised. Wrote a little bit more. Ate dinner. Collapsed in front of the TV…**

Repeat ad nauseum.

Woman writing in a notepad

However, I loved blogging when I started in 2012, and blogs are still my preferred choice for keeping up with what other people are doing, following my interests (writing, cooking, travel and nature, diabetes, nature photography 1 and 2, books, reading and archiving) educating myself and more.

Many of the platforms that later supplanted blogging did not exist in 2012. And yet given the choice between reading blogs or scrolling my way through Instagram/TikTok feeds? No contest.

There is also plenty of evidence that scrolling through social media does little, if anything, for you.*** Creatives tend to suffer extensively from comparison-itis. There is always someone popping up in your feed, excitedly detailing their book/TV/film deal/number of reads/commissioning for a script, etc.

I can’t think of a single blog I follow that makes me feel dissatisfied, envious, helpless, furious or any of the other emotions I routinely associate with social media.

So, to the future! Back to blogging… every week I plan to write about my week and find some way of making it interesting, funny and engaging.

A tall order, yes, but nothing wrong with starting the year with a lofty ambition or two. And talking of lofty ambitions, I plan on publishing not one, not two but three books this year, starting with the one in the illustration below:

Anyway, HAPPY NEW YEAR to you all. May 2023 bring you health and happiness!

*Sadly, our book group wasn’t chosen, but the experience was terrific fun and BBC Scotland then used us as sounding boards for a potential new programme about book groups and reading.

**Other writers’ experiences may vary.

***Sleep disturbances, emotional dysregulation, diminished academic performance and depression. Hilariously, there’s a pop-up on the article I read urging you to follow the website on Instagram…

Horse photo by Pixabay from Pexels: https://www.pexels.com/photo/action-animal-bronco-bucking-33251/

Woman Writing Photo by JESHOOTS.com on StockSnap

New Year photo: Jernej Furman on Flickr