Life As I Know It

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Just lately, I've been performing major surgery on the novel I've been writing for more than a year.

As an animal fan, I'm drawn to television programmes about rural vets or animal rescue charities like the RSPCA. I enjoy the stories of these animals. Mostly they have happy endings, but that's not guaranteed, and I like the emotion involved in the rescue or the life-saving operation. For me, it makes for compulsive viewing.

Oh, the poor thing! How will the lonely man cope without his best friend while he's having his artificial foot fitted? How can people treat an animal that way? Oh, she'll be so happy with that family! Etc.

What has this to do with my novel? Surgery, that's the connection. 

You see, unfortunately, these programmes often include harrowing scenes of operations, which means that, being a squeamish sort, I spend half the programme gazing out of the window, or watching the TV through my fingers like a frightened child. 

 

So, back to my novel. It needed a radical new approach to make it work, and that meant donning my scrubs and going in. Yes, even with all my squeamishness. There it was, lying prone and insensible, just like all those poor, cute animals, but a lot less cute. And there was I, outwardly ready, inwardly steadying myself with a series of deep breaths and a giant cup of coffee. I set to with my surgeon's scalpel of highlight and delete to slit the beast open. Its innards slipped out onto the table in a pool of livid gore.

Why aren't these intestines working properly? They look healthy enough. Where's the blockage? Ah! Could it be this bulge here?

A nick with the scalpel, a few stitches, and then it's time to get the whole slippery mass back into the body.

But, wait a minute! There's so much of it! How will it ever go back in and function properly again? Yes, it all came out, so yes, it must be able to go back in, but... Look, mop my brow, will you? Mustn't drip sweat on the patient. Wait a minute, wait a minute...Got it! Quick, stitch the wound up  before it all spills out again. That's it, make sure the stitching's strong. Good, that's looking neat. Time to let it rest and recover. We'll see it again in two weeks to make sure all's well and everything's functioning as it should.

That's the stage I'm at now with my novel - the recovery stage. The manuscript is currently in the care of two trusted beta readers who will give me their view of the patient's post-operative function in due course.

In the meantime, I'll be in a darkened room, recovering.

In any Writing From Your Life Experience class of ten people, there may be ten different reasons why students want to use their life experience to inspire writing. One thing's for certain, it's going to be a lot easier to know HOW to write about your life if you know WHY you want to do it, and WHO you want to write for.

Some are writing as a legacy, because their want their children or grandchildren to know them better. Often this can be inspired by the death or illness of a family member. Loss makes them wish they had known more about their loved one before it was too late - because they know that if their mother/father/ grandparents/spouse had written anything down about their life, they would have devoured their words.

Others are writing to teach, or to be helpful. They have a strong feeling that the hard-won lessons of their life would benefit others, if only they could share them.

There are those who are writing as a means of understand situations or coming to terms with events of their lives. This type of writing can be immensely freeing.

Some students think that their lives would make an entertaining or exciting story that could become a best-seller.

Others just want to learn about writing and are taking on board the advice to 'write about what you know' because it seems a good place to start.

Students may be writing just for themselves.

For close family members.

For a clamouring public.

It depends entirely on what their BIG WHY is.

There are no right or wrong answers, but it is certainly very helpful to have this knowledge fixed in your mind as you start to write about your life, and this is the reason it's one of the first things I ask my students to consider before we dive into creative writing exercises designed to get those memories flooding back.

I have two Writing From Your Life Experience courses starting from January 2019:

Creative Writing - From Life Experience - Ten weeks on Thursday afternoons from 24th January at Wensum Lodge, Norwich.

Developing Life Writing Skills - Ten weeks on Tuesday afternoons from Tuesday 15th January at Merchant's Place, Cromer.

I hope to see you on one of them![click_to_tweet tweet="Reasons to write about your life. Your Big Why and Your Big Who. Life Writing classes in Norfolk from January 2019. #memoir #norfolk #creativewriting #autobiography" quote="Your Big Why and Your Big Who. Reasons to write about your life."]

Hi everyone

I hope you're surviving the heatwave! Love it or loathe it, it seems to be here to stay at the moment. How is your writing going?

I have lots of news for you this week - about new courses and events. But first, I thought you'd like to hear about some of my recent insights about writing.

I've been working hard on a new novel set in North Norfolk called The House on the Marshes. It's quite a complicated book because it has two timelines which link up by the end. I've enjoyed writing it hugely, not least because it gives me an excuse to visit the North Norfolk coast often.

After receiving feedback on the first draft, I did some rewriting before taking part in an online challenge to write a book pitch in only 40 words. It was called a challenge for a reason, because it was very difficult to do - but so worthwhile. I'd recommend it to anyone, whether you've finished your book or not, because it really forces you to identify what drives the story. In my case, it showed me that I needed to strengthen one of the two timelines, which was invaluable.

Another thing I've found really helpful for the final stages of finishing my book, is just to give it lots of time and space - not being in too much of a hurry to get it done. Taking my time in this way has allowed little pieces of the puzzle of the book to pop into my mind for me to link them satisyingly together. So, not being in too much of a rush is definitely something else I'd recommend. (Which, of course, is very different from procrastinating!).

I'm very excited that five of my recent students are to have their work reproduced in a booklet for the first Norfolk Day! The five wrote about a childhood memory on my Writing From your Life Experience Course, and produced some vivid work which is to be displayed at Wensum Lodge, King Street on Friday 27th July. Do go along to take a look!

New Courses

I will be teaching quite a lot of courses for Norfolk County Council Adult Education this autumn - from beginner's fiction writing, life writing and writing historical fiction. Lots of variety!

Here's a link to the Adult Education website for more information and to enrol. The top 6 courses are to be taught by me.

https://enrol.norfolk.gov.uk/AvailableCoursesList.Asp?ID1=,%20&ID2=?

I'm really looking forward to teaching a one-day Writing Historical Fiction Course at the Museum of Norwich (Bridewell Museum). As part of the course you will visit the museum collections as a springboard for fiction using historical era to shape and inspire characters, actions, dialogue and description. Here's the link to find out more or to enrol. There are only 8 places available due to space at the museum.

https://enrol.norfolk.gov.uk/CourseDetailsView.asp?ID1=1111&ID2=70219&ID3=1

Enrolling onto a course via the Adult Education website can be a challenge to some! There is a phone number you can ring - 0344 800 8020 - if you need any help.

For those of you who are interested in Poetry - and hares! - I'm running a workshop called Poetry Writing, Hares at Norwich Castle on Thursday 23rd August 11.00am - 2.00pm. The drop-in workshop (no need to book) is part of the activities connected to the Norfolk Adult Education Hare based outside the Castle and is FREE, although I believe you may have to pay to get into the castle to take part.

I think that's it for now. As always, if you have any questions or comments, do get in touch.

Happy writing and have a great summer!

All the best.

Margaret

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This is my first blog post in a while. The last one - which I have just deleted - was written in the approach to Christmas when I was stressing about getting through the festive period with my mum visiting.

My mum could be a difficult person - hard to please at times, and quick to show her displeasure if things weren't right. We did experience that over Christmas, but we also had some joyful times, and created some happy memories for her. I'm extremely grateful for that, because Mum died on 8th March this year.

When I was growing up, I was always extremely close to my mum. From her, I got my love of the countryside and of trees, wild flowers, animals and nature. She taught me the colloquial names of the wild flowers we found, like eggs and bacon and snap dragons, and these captured my imagination.

Mum with her beloved dog Jasper on a hot summer day in the 1970s.

She made me and my brothers clothes, and said that in one green and white dress she made me, I blended in with the trees and the soft fairy grass that grew in our local wood.

Later, when I began to write, she was thrilled to pieces to receive a signed copy of my first book, and proudly collected copies of all the books that followed. She was my biggest fan, always encouraging me.

Ageing changed her, narrowing her focus to her own life and its slowly diminishing activities. But she loved us still, and I know her grandchildren gave her a huge amount of pleasure.

During the necessary business of sorting out her clothes and belongings I feel I have rediscovered the mother I remember from earlier times - it has been a delight to find our old Mother's Day cards and school projects safely stowed away in drawers and to revisit the love expressed within them.

I found her exam certificates and remembered all the times I helped her to revise - she trained as a primary school teacher in her early forties - and felt proud all over again at her achievements.

Before she died, I spoke to her almost every day at six-thirty in the evening. I know how much these phone calls meant to her because she frequently told me so. Sometimes they were an inconvenience to me, or a source of frustration when it seemed she just moaned and complained about everything, refusing to try to see any positives. Yet even at the time, as I listened to it all, a part of my mind told me that I would miss the calls when they had to end.

And I do.

Love you, Mum.

Mum at Dunwich Heath, Suffolk, 2015