Friday, 10 October 2014

A long overdue update, in pictures, & a super writing exercise

The blog's been quiet for so long, while behind the scenes I've been doing ALL THE THINGS and my blog-posts-to-write notebook is bursting its spine with lovely things to come, plus NaNoWriMo is already sending its unearthly shimmer over the horizon, so here's a quick rundown of the (mostly) writerly things I've been up to and a glimpse of all the blog-posts-to-come that I've foraged. Plus A BONUS KITTEN. And at the end, a super writing exercise.


First off, August was the Summer of Writing - five weekend workshops in a row, requiring lots of lovely prep, drawing, printing, chopping, laminating, collating...


Massive paperclip dyspraxia when I accidentally throw them in the air as is my wont, glorious paperclip order:


All the essential ingredients: coffee, felt-tips, smurfs, staplers with eyes, post-its, grapes, cards, board games...


for things like Plot-Layering Snakes and Ladders (with bonus plums from the orchard on Port Meadow)


And the field of ideas (this is just a snippet of it) to whisk up a story to play with in a couple of minutes


As soon as the Summer of Writing was over, I hurtled straight up to York for FantasyCon (so fast that I neglected to bring my coat with me), where I went to a raft of panels (I have a Virtual FantasyCon series all lined up for the blog, just as soon as I have the time to type it all up), most of which, to the perenially tardy, looked like this:


And I witnessed this:


Yep, that's Juliet E McKenna laying waste to Adrian Tchaikovsky. She won.
And I learnt this:


I'm assured that's all you really need to know about sword-fighting. Brilliant. Sorted.

The absolute best panel, though, its lack of sword demonstrations notwithstanding, was the last one I went to, with a panel of editors on authors' and editors' relationships, from rejigging the story all the way through to the final copy-edit, and how what is often depicted as a hideously fraught situation can be the best creative collaborative experience. That will definitely be in the Virtual Fantasy Con, so you should probably subscribe to the blog in the top right-hand side. (By now it should be apparent that you won't be overinundated with blog posts.)

With barely a breather, but reunited with my coat in Oxford, I whisked off to Oxford Scribes, to talk about this:


Rope of Words is a mother-daughter collaboration: I wrote the story (winner of the BFS short story comp 2012) and Lin Kerr created the artwork. It's a fine-printed, handbound, limited edition of 600 copies (signed and numbered). You can order it on its own website here and also get beautifully gift-wrapped ones for Christmas.

We spoke about the creative process that each of us went through - I spent 5 years writing the story, on and off, and Lin spent 2 years on the illustrations, so for both of us, it's been a profound learning experience. That creative process is another set of blogs I want to write - I've written a couple of them already, but have another seven lined up.

And then took two by-now-very-needed weeks' holiday, where I did rather a lot of this:


(Our hosts observed that I took some 30 photographs of their kittens, but none of their children. I have no defence.)

And was profoundly disturbed by these:


And rather overexcited by these:


And went home and did a lot of this:


And this:


(Before you feel sorry for it, IT WAS A LEYLANDII.)

And this:


(I'm going for steampunk, but don't have any cogs, goggles, or zeppelins yet. I took apart loads of machines and was amazed to find that none of them had cogs, just a whole lot of circuitry. No-one else was amazed by this. Even my mother laughed like a hyena at me.)

And now I've dived headfirst back into the teaching year, with a backlog of some 20 posts begging to be written, four writing courses running, and a novel to finish. And with writing in mind, 

the promised super writing exercise

I've done this exercise many times and every time it's sharpened my prose.

Describe this scenery, as accurately as you can, without using the verb "to be" - no is, are, was, were, etc. (So you can't say "There's a tree, there's a road, etc). There's a list of helpful words below, but try it on your own first, to see what you come up with. Write for at least five minutes:

(click the picture for a larger version)

Once you're done, underline all the verbs (doing words) that you used instead of "be". If you're doing this with a group, you can compare the words everyone chose.  

This is what one of my classes came up with recently:


In your actual writing, you're unlikely to have such a lengthy swathe of description all in one chunk -but when you do add in touches of description, you have some superbly powerful words at your disposal.

You can do the same exercise with a map, which demands rather different words. This map of the University Gardens in Oxford is a lovely one to play with.

Have fun, watch this space for everything that's lined up, and happy writing!

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