Tag Archives: Retiring with Attitude

Ways with Words and the Point of Literary Festivals

What is the point of a literary festival? It is an aspect of the business side of publishing books. It provides writers with a platform for their ideas and, if the author is lucky, a pot of jam or some such in payment. It provides revenue for the venue, and B&Bs in the area. And for the punters? What’s in it for them?

Queuing for Shirley Williams

Queuing for Shirley Williams

Ways with Words, a ‘festival of words and ideas’, is held annually in July, in Dartington Hall, Devon. I live less than 10 miles away so I can pick and choose my sessions without spending a fortune, and this year I picked three.

AL Kennedy, Serious Sweet and extending herself.

Extending yourself for others. This is how AL Kennedy described writing, and thereby claimed it as an act of love. She read from her new novel Serious Sweet, published in May. The reading was excellent, bringing alive both dialogue and inner monologue. It was also funny, witty, sharp, a bit sweary and very perceptive.

269 SeriousSweet cover

She was asked some questions, the kind one might anticipate. Who are your influences? Why are you AL Kennedy not Alison? Tell us how to write! Her answers reminded us that

  1. AL Kennedy is also a stand-up comedian with the ability to ad lib on a topic;
  2. She is very reflective and self-aware;
  3. She has a wonderful way with words.

The answer to how to write is to find a place of safety, do your best, ‘and the rest is grammar, which you can find in books’.

You can find her website here.

What is the point of literary festivals? To hear writers such as AL Kennedy, and be enthused all over again about the value of writing.

Katy Norris and Christopher Wood

Which came first, the exhibition or the book? This question was asked after Katy Norris had told us about the life and work of Christopher Wood. She is curator of Pallant House, Chichester, where there is an exhibition of his work. She told us of her enthusiasm for the research, looking at the many influences on his life, and the circles he moved in in the 1920s in Paris and England.

269 KNorrisCwood

The book and the exhibition had progressed together, a dynamic process whereby the one informed the other. Sounds like the best non-fiction writing process.

What is the point of literary festivals? To hear a new perspective on an art exhibition. Last year I learned about Eric Ravillous.

Christopher Wood, self-portrait, 1927, Kettle's Yard, Cambridge

Christopher Wood, self-portrait, 1927, Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge

Richard Fortey in the Woods

The third presentation was my only celebrity event. Richard Fortey was scheduled against an even bigger celebrity, Shirley Williams, and still managed to fill the hall. He told us about a year in his woods, a 4-acre beech wood in the Chilterns. We learned how interconnected are the history, geology, biodiversity, changing economics, changing land use, and effects of different life forms from mountain bikers, to grey squirrels and a moth that infects trees. These last three can all cause damage, but Richard Fortey appears to be a force for good, which means biodiversity. He’s published a book called The Wood for the Trees: one man’s long view of nature.

269 Wood for the trees cover

What is the point of literary festivals? To learn from experts and enthusiasts, and about newly published books.

And finally …

101 RWA coverWhat is the point of literary festivals? Two years ago Eileen and I got our own moment in the spotlight when we shared a session called Growing Older with Angela Neustatter, grandstanding our previous book Retiring with Attitude. It’s about getting a platform and a pot of jam.

 

 

Related Posts

Ways with Words July 2014, in which we anticipated our presentation.

Ways with Words – part 2, in which we reflected on our presentation.

 

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First Catch Your Publisher

One of the most stressful parts of writing for publication is finding a publisher. We have had good experiences such as being invited to write a book on a particular topic; and stressful ones, like having a first draft but no publisher.

243 New Age cover

I’m delighted to say that Policy Press took on The New Age of Ageing: how society needs to change, early in the writing process. Because of the tricky process we had been through – as Eileen explains – we were careful to target a publisher who would be interested in the book. They will be publishing it in September. We are very pleased that they have just been named the Independent Academic and Professional Publisher of the Year 2016.

I asked my two co-writers, Eileen Carnell and Marianne Coleman, to say something about the process of finding a publisher.

Eileen begins with a ballad called

The long and winding road*

We’ve walked the road before

243 Retiring Lives coverAs experienced authors we set out on a new collaborative expedition. We knew we had a book that was prescient. Reviews of Retiring Lives, our work with retirees, our membership of a retiring group, all revealed a demand for a more in-depth account of the long and complex process of retiring.

We were confident, we knew how to write and knew how to submit proposals. We knew the terrain, we had the map and compass. We were excited about approaching publishers – starting with those who had published our work before. We studied their checklists and adapted every proposal. We analysed the competition, re-wrote the synopsis, submitted draft chapters and waited.

Don’t leave me standing here

We sent proposals to eight publishers. One problem is that you can only approach one at a time. We left an interval of a month between sending material and chasing up a response. ‘A wonderful idea for a book,’ they all agreed, ‘but not the sort of thing for us’.

After all these rejections, friends suggested approaching an agent. We contacted six. Same story: ‘Great idea, but not our area’.

During this 18-month period of contacting publishers and agents, we completed the first draft of the book and polished and burnished chapters.

And many times we’ve cried

To say we experienced ups and downs would be a massive understatement. But the good thing about writing collaboratively is that the highs and lows hit one or other of us at different times. After a rejection we soon felt hopeful and excited again when we approached someone new. We were convinced every time that this was going to be the one. Throughout this period of misery and elation we refined our chapters, found further research articles and redrafted.

Dead-ends and roundabouts

Then we thought of self-publishing and attended courses and workshops to help us down this avenue. While fascinating we were not convinced about this route.

The seventh agent said:

This book is so nearly finished why not send it directly to a publisher. Look for a different sort of publisher, one who had a good, changing list that appeals to the sort of readers you want to attract.

So we approached Guardian Books.

Your destination is on the left

The editor liked the book very much but said it needed EDGE! It would be a ‘trade book’, intended for general readership. So we rewrote the whole book to address the reader directly, became more informal and modified our referencing system. This was a major change for us. We submitted – with the required EDGE. But it still wasn’t edgy enough and we had to do it all over again.

Retiring with Attitude was published by Guardian Books in the summer of 2014 and was top of their best-selling chart for ten weeks.

What did we learn?

Never give up

Get a contract before doing so much writing

* with apologies to Lennon and McCartney

Marianne and Eileen in Caroline's kitchen in January 2015

Marianne and Eileen in Caroline’s kitchen in January 2015

And Marianne wrote this about the proposal for The New Age of Ageing we made to Policy Press:

Writing the proposal is the most important single step in writing a book

The time we spent talking about and polishing the proposal was time well spent. As we have moved ahead with the writing process we have checked back to the proposal many times. Looking at it now that the book is finished I think we remained true to the initial vision, although there has been quite a lot of re-arranging of chapters and their content. As one of the three authors, I have only been involved in writing non-fiction so what I have to say may not apply to fiction, but in my view, writing the proposal is the single most important step in producing a book.

When I look back on the notes that I took from our first meeting, the first word I wrote down is ‘purpose’. The notes that followed sketch out not only purpose, but also some of the key themes that have continued to dominate our thinking as we worked our way through the writing. The first draft of the proposal emerged from those notes. Although the key themes and purpose stayed largely the same, I lost count of the number of times the whole proposal was revised. At one of the early meetings we actually read the draft out loud, which turned out to be an excellent way of picking up half finished thoughts and unfortunate wording.

What does a proposal cover?

The suggestions of what to include vary a bit from one publisher to another but the main headings are pretty similar for all. In the case of Policy Press they are:

  • Title and sub-title (we will come back to this thorny issue in another post)
  • Synopsis and aims (250 words, five key factors in bullet points and five key words)
  • Background information (e.g. why did you want to write this book?)
  • Target audience
  • Competition

Trying to make our ideas fit those headings sharpened up the thinking wonderfully!

In addition publishers need some practical details including the estimated word count, an idea of the timetable to completion, names of referees and author CVs. Policy Press were also keen to have a sample chapter to send out to referees with the proposal.

It was great to get feedback after the proposal and chapters had been read by the referees and the editor. We revised the proposal in light of the comments and it was then sent on for a final decision about whether or not we got that vital contract.

While it is important to have a good, well though through proposal it doesn’t mean you have to stick to it rigidly when writing as other ideas may occur to you and through writing you may come to understand things differently. For example, we added the final chapter, which includes our vision.

Related posts

In March we posted about collaborative writing: One Book, Three Authors. This was reported on Policy Press’s blog.

In February we posted about a residential writing retreat: Writer’s Residential

The New Age of Ageing: how society needs to change is available to pre-order on the Policy Press website for £14.99 here.

In May we plan to write about getting and using feedback.

Over to you

What strategies can you recommend to find a publisher?

 

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One book, three authors

This post celebrates an important moment. Yesterday we sent the finished manuscript of our book to the publisher. It’s not the end of the process of course: we still have all the business of queries, proofs and other prepublication things to get through. And there will be some marketing activities. But the manuscript is as ready as we could get it. The New Age of Ageing: how society needs to change will be published in September by Policy Press. It was written by three people: Caroline Lodge, Eileen Carnell and Marianne Coleman. Most things are better together and writing a book is one of those.

The three of us

Writing a book is intense even before adding the dimension of three authors. Eileen and Caroline have written together for some time, books and articles for teachers, books and articles on retiring. We have familiarity with our ways of working and those things that really matter to us. The three of us are members of a Retiring Women’s Group. Marianne had been the reader for Retiring with Attitude, by Eileen and Caroline, and they wanted her skills and experiences to augment and complement theirs as they tackled the book on ageing. She has an established reputation from her research on women and leadership, for example Women at the Top.

236 WonTop coverWriting collaboratively intrigues people. ‘How do you actually do it?’ they ask. And indeed how do you align the different views of content, purpose, theme and style and how do you resolve conflicts? And then how does that translate into words?

Eileen and Caroline recorded a conversation about writing a previous book. Writing Together identified the four main ways we wrote together.

  • Side by side
  • Back and forth
  • Separate and coming together
  • Dolly mix of the above.

We did all these again, but less side-by-side, which was harder with three of us. Put another way: we talked, planned, wrote, reviewed, learned from each other through more talk and then planned and wrote again and talked and so on, and so on …

Meetings

Writing tog

You have to talk together if you are writing together. You have to talk a lot. You have to meet and discuss the issues, large and small, that are coming up in the writing. Early on we met to put together a proposal to a publisher, consider the interviews, and decide who would take the lead on what. A year in we looked at everything we had been doing and reshaped the book again.

Throughout we tried to align our three styles of writing and the content: some chapters have more edge, some have focussed more on information, some are more passionate, some more chatty. Latterly we talked to decide the order of the chapters, to take account of readers’ feedback.

I’ve lost count of the number of meetings we have had. We have had two residentials (a previous post described our final residential meeting in January) and many, many one day meetings. There is always lots of paper, and an agenda. We are organised and decide what to do before we break for lunch. We go on until we have finished. We have completed our work together more quickly as we went on. Always, the book is clearer in our heads after each meeting; always, our understandings of issues in ageing have moved forward through our talk.

Emails

In some ways writing together is like writing alone, but with emails: hundreds and hundreds of emails. Collaborative writing would be so much more difficult without electronic devices. We send drafts, feedback, queries, research papers, redrafts, more feedback, more queries and draw attention to likely books, TV and radio programmes. We move material from one writer to another, argue about who gets to include particular quotations, and who writes which bit. We discuss format (especially spacing), point out duplication and omissions, and cheer each other along. So far we have not sent any humorous clips of cats or photos of grandchildren. We said we send twenty in a week in the previous post, but Eileen suggested it might be as much as twenty a day at times.

The benefits

Marianne, Eileen and Caroline meeting at Kings Place in 2014

Marianne, Eileen and Caroline meeting at Kings Place in 2014

Two benefits stand out. Writing together improves our ideas and our writing. We share the stresses of writing to a deadline.

Dialogue leads to learning and better understanding of the material. It develops our understanding of our themes through discussion. It allows us to articulate our understandings in words to each other, then sharpen and refine them through talk. Feedback improves our writing as we learn from each other.

Our life experiences and different perspectives mean we have a rich combination of good stuff – our different sorts of families and lifestyles, ways of living, outlook on life, passions and prejudices, and our own very distinct experiences of others around us ageing and dying have meant that we can draw on those to illustrate particular issues about ageing.

In the two years we have been engaged on this book we have each had more or less productive periods. Some have been caused by holidays, writing other books, other activities and life events. We tend to divide up tasks: we all did interviewing; Caroline communicates with the publisher; Marianne and Eileen with our main readers. Having three of us means we can rely on the others to hold the process for a time and to be supportive. It also means the whole weight of the project and our commitment to the publisher does not fall on one person. Shared writing means sharing the burden of writing.

Yet again it affirms that writing is a social activity.

A celebratory haiku

Half my voice is you.

Some notes can only be reached

Singing together.

For Christmas 2012, Caroline commissioned this haiku from David Varela for Eileen. We were working on Retiring with Attitude, just the two of us at that time. Now we would have to amend it to ‘A third of my voice …’ which would unhaiku it. But the sentiment is the same.

Related posts

An earlier post focussed on our learning. Writing Together (part 2) – what have we learned? April 2013

In April we will write a post about the processes involved in taking a book from a good idea to its publication.

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On the tricky topic of titles

Titles – they are very difficult to get right – for a short story, a blog post, our book, the chapters in our book, my draft novel, the writing group’s anthology. The title has to do so much work that it requires hours of discussion, days of rumination and much experimentation.

101 RWA coverEileen and I rejected many, many titles for our book on retirement: The Golden Hours, How to Retire with Dignity, Retiring Now, Not your usual Retirement Guide. Our working title up to the point where we were about to hand over the manuscript was The New Retiring Book. It was our editor and publisher that found the right title: Retiring with Attitude. It says exactly what’s in the tin.

So what is the work of the title?

  1. Announcing the genre and subject

212 Fl B coverThe title is assisted by the cover design in indicating the book’s genre to the purchaser/reader as well as what the book is about and whether it’s the kind of book they want to buy/read. It helps if it is memorable for recommendations, word of mouth and requests in bookstores. You know, that book about the butterflies: Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver. There is a whole book about this: Weird Things Customers say in Bookshops by Jen Campbell. Check out Jen Campbell’s website here for more stories (such as ‘Have you got a signed copy of Shakespeare’s plays?’)

2. Invitation

The title can also entice or invite the reader. It might imply a question: The Aftermath (by Rhidian Brook) of what? The Secret of the Gorge (Malcolm Saville). So what is the secret? asks the title.

Or it might be intriguing like these examples: If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things by Jon McGregor, The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker.

3. Directing the reader’s attention

Pride and Prejudice might have been called The Bennet Sisters or How to get your Husband. But that would have been to misdirect attention. Jane Austen knew a thing or two about what impedes good relationships. She originally had First Impressions in mind but when she revised the book the title went further.

Catch-22 (by Joseph Heller) is such a good title it has become a figure of speech. It directs the reader to the madness and illogicality of war that binds everyone.

4. Snagging the blog reader’s attention

There is particular art to getting the right title for a blog post. Like in a bookshop it needs to capture attention, but in a very brief time. Apparently 8 out of 10 users will read the title, only 2 out of 10 will read the content. Guidance for bloggers abounds and I will add to the advice in a post next month, but here’s a teaser: it’s about questions and numbers and dire warnings!

It’s hard getting the right title

Every book I have ever been involved in publishing (all non-fiction) has involved much agony and hours of discussion about the title, jokey titles, working titles, disparaging titles and anti-titles until the point where the right one arrives. Or perhaps that’s just one right one among several.

I recall a very creative lunch when Eileen and I brain stormed the most silly and excellent ideas for the chapter titles in Retiring with Attitude. We quickly found Retirement ain’t what it used to be and went on to This is your rainy day. It felt very creative in a way that endless chapter revisions did not.

Until a month ago the book I am currently involved in writing (there are three authors) was called Ageing Now. We persuaded the publisher that this was a working title when we negotiated the contract, and we have become increasingly aware of its limitations as we have engaged with the writing: it doesn’t say much about the book; it’s too vague about content, readership, and purpose. We have a better one now. WATCH THIS SPACE!

And not having a title says something too, gives the reader more work to do. One of the writers in my writing group recently read a poem with no title and we had a lively discussion about that: what it did to the listener to have no title, did it need one, what the title might be, why she had not given it one. Thanks to the group for the discussion.

And some that got away

212 1984 coverTrimalchio in West Egg by F. Scott Fitzgerald became The Great Gatsby.

Strangers from within by William Golding became Lord of the Flies.

The Mute by Carson McCullers became The Heart is a lonely Hunter.

The Last Man in Europe by George Orwell became 1984.

At This Point in Time by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward became All the president’s Men.

These come from a blog by Anne R. Allen in a post called 10 Tips for Choosing the Right Title in the E-Age.

Can you spot the Alternate Titles in the quiz on The Reading Room blog?

 

How do you go about finding or creating the titles for your writings?

 

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On-line Writing Course #5 Deadline approaching!

OK! So I said I was going to finish the second draft of my novel by the end of August. To put it another way I planned to complete revisions to the first draft by then. Here we are the beginning of August and – guess what – I’m not going to make it. And – guess what again – I don’t feel guilty.

Here are my reasons (others might call them excuses) for falling behind:

The Builders Were In:

The most compelling reason is one that anyone who has ever had building works done in their house will understand: my kitchen floor needed to be relaid and an external wall of my cottage waterproofed. Remember the great storms of December 2013? Yes, when the railway line between me and Exeter was washed away at Dawlish? Those storms? Well on 23rd December 2013 water came flowing through my kitchen and since that time I have been trying to get the damage fixed, and in June and for three weeks there was MAJOR DISRUPTION. In a good way. It’s all done.

153 tick

And I have been doing other things. Three of them are writing things:

  1. I’m co-authoring a new book on ageing. I had an outline plan for my sections, which I have revised in the light of not quite getting the writing done quickly enough. I do love the research, tracking down the right figures, looking through our interview material, thinking about how the issues of the topic fit our overall themes. Currently I’m working on a chapter about older workers. Should be a doddle. I’ve written about this before in Retiring with Attitude. Somehow re-writing material can take longer than starting from scratch. I don’t understand why, but I know this is true.
  2. I’m writing my blog. Yes I know. That’s what I am dong, now this minute. About every five or six days I write something about books: a review, some thoughts about writing, something else related. I love it. It’s not a burden, but it does take head space and writing time. 145 writing keyboard
  3. I’m writing a new short story to submit to an anthology that our writing group is getting together. I’ve done the first draft, but it needs close revision (not revising again!) to get it in shape and to meet the deadline.

And then there are more other things

Grandmother duties, picnics, trips to country parks, and summer in Devon; visits to London; a wet weekend in Cornwall attending a nephew’s camping wedding (of course it rained. It poured and blew a gale, except during the Saturday afternoon when we all put on our glad rags and waterproof footwear and enjoyed wedding things: champagne, cake, bunting, speeches, relatives, and weather reports); completing the visa form in preparation for a visit to Russia (people – it’s more complicated than doing income tax on line – although I haven’t done that yet, because of the visa thing).

So I am behind. And since I have been having such a good time there is no point in beating myself up. Some deadlines can be moved. One should never plan oneself into a corner with a deadlines if you can help it. Planning should not produce guilt.

86 Mind the Gap

I still love revising. I shall do it by Christmas, I hope. But finishing the manuscript of the non-fiction book and getting it to the publisher by/in March 2016 is an immovable deadline.

Watch this space if you want. Updates will appear.

Related posts

On-line writing course #3 Finished? in which I revealed my plan to complete the revisions by the end of August

On-Line Writing Course #4 Revising Structure and Plot in which I reported that the schedule was beginning to slip …

What keeps you from getting a writing task done? I hope it’s good things.

 

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Two Authors in Search of an Audience

Authors: Caroline Lodge, Eileen Carnell

Stage manager: Marian Lennon

And an audience of hundreds

Place and date premiered: Drury Lane, London. Thursday 12th March 2015

Setting: The foyer of City Lit and room 508

 

Prologue

Eileen made her way down Drury Lane on a lovely sunny afternoon. She had been attending courses at City Lit for the last 50 years – from movement, speech and drama to art, calligraphy and writing. Her favourite class had been Acapella singing and it was there she had sung with Marian Lennon who was a member of staff at City Lit and whose idea this event was. Eileen was excited about her new role of co-author and meeting up with Caroline to sell their book and promote their course*.

161 City Lit1Meanwhile Caroline and Marian had prepared the stage. A massive table in the foyer had been laid out with the books, posters and flyers – all in bright red and yellow it looked really eye-catching. The backdrop was a huge electronic display of the book – very impressive. The only concern had been whether the props would arrive on time but phew Retiring with Attitude published by The Guardian had arrived.

Act one: The foyer of City Lit

161 CityLit 2Excited crowds gathered to talk with the authors and declare they had either retired last week, last year or were just about to. Some spoke about the joys of retirement and that were having the time of their lives. Books started selling. Caroline and Eileen were thrilled at all the interest.

Act two: room 508

Five characters turned up to meet the authors: Jenny who had been part time for the last year, Anne who was experiencing the slowest retiring period in history, James a novice retiree who teaches as a sideline occupation, Ashley who was looking for strong role-models and Veronica who wondered if she needs to work for a further seven years. Key themes emerged: considering the process of retiring over time, the concept of retiring zones and the importance of belonging to at least three communities in order to flourish, being busy and finding purpose, making your mind up to retire, the importance of singing to bring joy to one’s life, finding resources within ourselves and outside.

Act three: The foyer of City Lit

This photo was taken at a quiet moment!

This photo was taken at a quiet moment!

More crowds of enthusiastic people, more smiling, more selling and signing. More retiring stories: working in the community, political activity, attending courses, living with loss, writing novels, jewelry making. Bustling atmosphere and movement.

Act four: room 508

Five new characters: June, a novice retiree, Timothy who had set his retiring date, Belinda who was considering her options, and Mary and Fiona who were thinking about retiring. The main themes were worry about the loss of identity in retirement, taking control of one’s life, stopping running around like a headless chicken, the importance of inter-generational living, the role of ‘carer’ in the family, maintaining self-esteem after work, where to live and rolling in the hay!

Epilogue

101 RWA pile19 books were sold during the day. Two men had signed up already for the one-day course in June and many more people said they were going to apply. At the end of the afternoon one person came back to show how much of the book she had already read! She was beaming. Caroline, Eileen and Marian were delighted.

Reviews

Really useful and fascinating.

That really cheered me up.

It was nurturing.

The ‘Attitude’ is great.

This is really a good thing that you are doing.

Brilliant marketing to be here at City Lit for this perfect demographic.

The themes are so relevant.

Although the groups seemed on the small side it was richer for those who came.

I found the session very helpful, inspiring and timely.

The course at City Lit is PG732 Retiring with Attitude, on Saturday 6th June 2015, 10.30 – 16.30 at City Lit, Keeley Street, Covent Garden, London WC2B 4BA. On-line details can be found here.

101 RWA coverRetiring with Attitude: approaching and relishing your retirement by Caroline Lodge and Eileen Carnell (2014) published by Guardian. Available from the Guardian Bookshop (at reduced price) and all good bookshops.

Thanks to Eileen Carnell who was the guest blogger for this post.

 

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WOW The Truth about Ageing

158 WOW logoIt is the first day of spring, and in London young women bare their arms and young men bare their legs. Everyone comes out on the streets and if there’s a festival or demonstration it’s well attended. This week it’s WOW 2015 (Women of the World) at the Southbank Centre – scheduled to coincide with International Women’s Day on Sunday 8th March.

I’m on a panel talking about The Truth about Ageing, as co-author of Retiring with Attitude. I’m here with five other women, but none of them are my co-author who is currently enjoying a holiday in the Mediterranean. Would I rather be with her than here? 101 RWA cover

Here’s the name dropping bit. The panel sat with their backs to the fantastic view, so this photo is good on effect but not on face recognition. 158 panel

From left to right:

  • Baroness Lola Young, prominent in the arts and as a member of the House of Lords able to bring a special experience to our theme.
  • Sue Kreitzman, artist and curator, known to many through her appearance on Fabulous Fashionistas, one of Selfridges’s Bright Old Things with a store window display to herself.
  • Me, co-author with Eileen Carnell of Retiring with Attitude, approaching and relishing your retirement.
  • Ruth Pitt, producer and writer and excellent chair.
  • Katherine Whitehorn, journalist.
  • Stevie Spring, businesswoman, CEO of several companies, chair of BBC Children in Need.

Here’s a clearer picture by Monika Butkute (from twitter).158 panel 2

Aren’t we impressive? One of my friends, when she saw the line-up emailed ‘Gosh you are in there with all the other really important women!!’

And I was impressed by the audience. We had a full house, at least 100 people, mostly women (of course) and it seemed they had an average age of about 30. With the clear blue skies and 6 silhouettes to amuse them they responded to the 90 minute session with enthusiasm.158 setting up

Our chair, Ruth, lead us through a prepared set of issues: workplace issues, economics of ageing, memory problems, fashion and appearance, relationships, media, health …

And there was much laughter from some bon mots, especially from Sue Kreitzman.

Sue: You’re not old until you’re dead.

Sue: I’m disguised as an old lady.

Sue: Don’t wear beige – it may kill you.

Lola: I feel like 25 in the House of Lords.

Stevie: Our generation are pioneers for a different way of ageing.

Stevie: it all starts with a good bra.

158 Prog WOWAnd I told my story about Joey, but you have to wait for the publication of our next book (on ageing) to read it. (And yes, we have a contract for the new book. Yay!)

 

Refusing to be Silenced

After our session I attended Refusing to be Silenced, chaired by war correspondent Lindsey Hilsum (International Editor for Channel 4 News), with input from Vian Dakhil (the Yazidi MP in the Iraqi parliament), Obiageli Ezekwesili founder of the Bring Back our Girls movement in Nigeria, Angelina Atyam who campaigns for the return of thousands of kidnapped Ugandan children held by the Lords Resistance Army. The story of Charlotte, Angelina Atyam’s daughter who was held for 7 years and 7 months, was the most moving element of my day.

The lyric from the Bob Marley song ‘So much trouble in the world’ ran round and round in my head.

This session was organised in partnership with RAWinWAR (Reaching all Women in War).

 

Photo from tweet by RAWinWAR

Photo from tweet by RAWinWAR

If you have been affected by any issues in this blog it’s probably because you are a feminist, a believer in equity, a good citizen or my mother. What will you do? If nothing else you could click on the links in this post.

 

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On-line writing course #3 Finished?

I signed up for a six-week on-line writing course to learn how to edit the first draft of my novel. Longstanding readers of this blog will be aware that my draft has been in a drawer for a long time. I have been busy in the meantime but I was aware I didn’t know how to proceed following the achievement of the first draft.

145 writing keyboardThe course was called Self-Editing Your Novel run by The Writers’ Workshop. It required a payment, joining a website community and a commitment for six weeks. I tried and largely succeeded in giving an hour a day, six days a week for the six weeks. During that time I composed my own questions on each of the six themes, watched the weekly introductory videos, read the tutor notes, composed and posted my homework, read other people’s homework, commented on them, read comments on mine, and paying particular attention to the tutors’ comments on my homework.

The tutors were Emma Darwin and Debi Alper. They demonstrated sensitivity, encouragement, critical commentary, suggestions, occasional ticking off, generosity, as well as deep knowledge and understanding of the processes of novel writing and editing. I am full of admiration for their skills in teaching these.

My aims have been achieved

These were my aims for the course (as reported on a previous post):

  • √ To acquire the skills I need to move my novel on to the next stage.
  • √ To practise these self-editing skills.
  • √ To begin to identify the tasks and approaches I need to attend to to move my novel on.
  • √ To identify specific tasks I need to undertake related to these aspects: plot, character, voice, point of view and prose.
  • √ To connect with other writers through the Cloud who are involved in the same processes.
  • √ To blog about the experiences at least once more.

153 tick153 tick153 tick

Learning

I have learned a lot, not all of it comfortable, about myself as a writer-learner (see my second post on progress). The on-line context became irrelevant once I found my way around.

I have learned a great deal about the process of editing, in each of the 5 categories:

  1. plot,
  2. character,
  3. voice, point of view,
  4. psychic distance and
  5. prose

I have ways of thinking about each of these now, and some activities that will help me see if large-scale revisions are required. I have a notebook full of things to attend to. We were advised not to try to revise our WIP during the course, so these had to be noted down for later. And here we are at ‘later’.

I learned about the power of the group, how encouragement, comments, reactions, questions from others can nudge, push and force writer-learners to see their WIP in new ways.

And I learned about the stimulating, inventive and creative ideas of my fellow novelists.

And while I’ve been learning…

… I have been getting on with blogging, meeting my fellow authors on our non-fiction book for a three day write-in, reading 9 novels, publishing some short fiction (see previous post on this), getting ready for two events to promote Retiring with Attitude, and attending a workshop where I learned how to make a red felt hat. This one!

153 Red hat

What next?

I have a plan. Better than any of Baldrick’s plans.

It includes completing the revision of my novel by the end of August when I am due to go on a trip abroad. I will revise it to the level where I feel a professional critique would be the best next step. So not finished then.

Many thanks

To Emma Darwin, Debi Alper, The Writers’ Workshop website and my fellow participants.

 

Previous posts about this course.

  1. An On-line Writing Course #1 Purposes
  2. On-line Writing Course #2 in-progress

 

What has been your best learning from writing courses? Can you say what helped make it a good learning experience? Would you recommend the course to others?

 

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An on-line writing course: #1 purposes

Writers must take risks. Personally I hate those little motivational quotes that seem to flood through the twitter timelines of the writing community. Are there a lot of procrastinors out there, delaying the moment of getting down to it by searching for pithy emoticon-strewn one-liners?

Being a good writer is not about nailing it first time. It’s about not giving up until a piece is polished to perfection.

Thank you. I know. But how?

Easy reading is damned hard writing. (Nathaniel Hawthorne)

Thank you. I know. But what does ‘hard’ mean? How do you write harder?

The successful writer listens to himself. (Frank Herbert)

Thank you. Are all writers men? And what on earth does this mean in practice? And here’s my all time unfavourite:

Smiling is the best way to face any problem, to crush any fear and to hide any pain.

Not helpful. Smiling has not helped me edit one single sentence. Why do people write this stuff? I probably have to accept it comes with roaming in twitterland.

Despite my impatience with this stuff, the quotes that resonate with me are the ones about taking risks. Anne Rice says it:

145 Risk quoteHere’s my risk – blogging, that is going public, about an on-line writing course I have signed up for. I plan to write about my aims and purposes, about the processes and the outcomes. It’s that virtuous learning cycle of Do, Review, Learn and Apply for those of you in the education world. And risk can be a good learning strategy. Although I’m keen not to make a fool of myself.

Here goes.

Preparation for the course – clarifying my purposes.

The course blurb boils down to an intention to help writers develop self-editing skills. It begins in January 2015 and last for 6 weeks.

Some introductory explanation:

A long-term reader of this blog may have wondered what has happened to my novel. Is it still in the drawer, resting its way to perfection? Has the success of Retiring with Attitude since its publication in July 2014 led me to abandon the novel? Has it quietly been improved and is now ready for whatever the next thing is? No to all of those.

58 Bird by birdI had completed the first draft of the novel. All first drafts are ‘shitty’ according to Anne Lamott in Bird by Bird. She was quoting Hemingway. Little of my first daft was raw, first splurge stuff, but I was still conscious that it was not yet ready to be shown to anyone. It needed work.

So I read through it. And I made notes. I began to work through different plot lines. I made notes. I read parts of the chapters to my writing groups that relate to one of the two protagonists. They commented. I made notes. And I say to myself, I don’t really know how to go about this revision. But I have lots of notes.

I want to make my novel the best it can be before sending it to a literary critique service. But after all the actions I have described above, it is clear to me that I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do next. Intelligence is knowing what to do when you don’t know what to do, according to the educationalist Guy Claxton.

145 inkwell on screenI know what to do. Find help! And this course, on self-editing skills will be the start of that help! I hope.

So here are my aims for the course:

  • To acquire the skills I need to move my novel on to the next stage.
  • To practise these self-editing skills.
  • To begin to identify the tasks and approaches I need to attend to to move my novel on.
  • To identify specific tasks I need to undertake related to these aspects: plot, character, voice, point of view and prose.
  • To connect with other writers through the Cloud who are involved in the same processes.
  • To blog about the experiences at least once more.

My very first task is to find out how to get to the course on-line. It looks daunting but I must be able to do it. I set up a blog for goodness sake. The tutors advise familiarisation and practice in advance. My faith in them develops. Not only are they published writers but they seem to know a bit about learning to write and learning on-line.145 old hands

Wish me luck and no procrastination. This is it. *Moves cursor to enter website.* Six weeks of writing and editing to the discipline of another’s drum. I’ll let you know how I get on. I’m smiling, by the way.

145 emoticonMeantime, you could tell me what you think I have missed out in my purposes/aims/objectives for the course.

 

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Retiring with Attitude in Leatherhead

My father only had two jokes. One was about a golden screw that replaced a tummy button (much loved by small children) and the other referred to Leatherhead. Neither is very funny. So Leatherhead has childhood resonances for me and until last week I had never been there. On Wednesday evening, Eileen and I were at a library event to promote our recently published book: Retiring with Attitude.

101 RWA cover

Why do we do it?

Yes Eileen, why do we do it? I had to come up from Devon. Our journey from Eileen’s house took place in the rush hour (which had a special flavour as Eileen was deliberately pushed from behind because she ‘slowed down at the ticket barrier’). Why do we wrap our selves up and go out on a wet and windy night to address complete strangers? This is how we answered our own question:133 EC & I

We have something to say to people about retiring

We want to engage with others about our ideas and their responses

We want to extend our ideas about retiring, to be stimulated

We enjoy doing things together

It’s more exciting than knitting in front of the telly

It’s part of publishing a book

It’s a pleasure being involved with people who do their work so professionally

To support libraries

We get paid.

The money wasn’t the thing, by the way. But we do believe that writers should be paid for their work, which includes events to promote their books.

Preparation

We always approach these events with a learning model in mind – in this case reviewing what we have done previously, reflecting on how well it went and then planning with these points in mind.

So on this occasion we decided to read from the book – seems obvious really, but we hadn’t done it at the Ways with Words Festival; to be more explicit about our reasons for writing the book; and to be ready with nuanced, flexible and analytic responses to points raised.

We wrote our scripts and practised on each other in the morning, bolstered by the publicity on the web that said …

they will be presenting their take on retirement warmth and humour.

What happened?

The library in Leatherhead is in an old manor house and the library staff were rightly proud of the premises. It was like visiting a second hand bookshop which houses its enticing collection in different rooms and you can wander through them expecting to make discoveries at every moment.

The library staff were well organised and very supportive to us – such a pleasure to work with such competent and charming people, especially Liam who picked us up at the station and Tom, who took the photos.133 EC

The audience were responsive, especially to the anecdotes in our book, and added their own – who can forget the battle of the fridge? Some of the audience had already read our book and came because of that. Others were being introduced to it.

The session went as we hoped, starting with the general (why we wrote the book, how retirement has changed) and focusing later on a few particulars (need for new connections in retirement, making the transition out of work, the ‘could-you-just syndrome’).

It was fun to sign some of the copies being sold, talking to people about their retirement and their hopes for the future.

Feedback from participants

A message from the library told us:

The feedback from the audience is overwhelmingly positive. They really enjoyed how you brought their discussions into it – one person said it was ‘refreshingly different’. Another says, ‘it gives us hope!’ and someone else, ‘Good to talk about the ‘problems’ of being retired which don’t usually get discussed …’

Refreshing? We want our book to reach the parts other books don’t reach. So that’s good.

What did we learn?

Preparation is important, especially working together on this and adjusting and monitoring the way we introduce our book.

It’s easy and good to interact with people in a small group (about 30 people on this occasion).133 EC &I laugh

People are enthusiastic about what we have to say. Well several people said they found the session and the book helpful. That’s why we write.

On the train home, we thought we should have finished with another last story from the book: Mavis (you know who you are) and her daily champagne! Next time!

The Leatherhead joke?

I did warn you.

During the war, in Britain, all road signs were removed to confuse the enemy if they invaded. Of course lots of residents were confused as well. A man in a car was lost, so seeing a local person he rolled down his window and shouted: ‘Leatherhead?’ Back came the reply: ‘Fishface!’

You’ll have to wait for the other joke.

 

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Filed under Books, Libraries, Publishing our book