Life As I Know It

As the  berries on  my Olympic Flame rowan tree signal that autumn is approaching, I find myself looking back on what has been a wonderfully creative summer.

As an adult education tutor - I teach creative writing for adults for Norfolk County Council - I'm lucky enough to have a full two months off to do as I like. In the past, when my son was younger, summer days were filled with trips to the park, the beach and the many tourist attractions of Norfolk, where we live. But now he's sixteen and although he is happy to be seen with me in public - yay! - naturally he doesn't want to do all those things any longer. It's a first step towards him moving on his life and I admit that does give me a pang! But it also gives me lots of time to use as I want to, and this summer I've really made the most of it. Apart from one family holiday in Anglesey, Wales - during the mercifully one really warm week of the UK summer - I have been creating.

Two thirds of the way up Mount Snowden, Wales

So, what have I been up to? Well, I've been writing about Christmas! Yes, Christmas trees, Christmas crackers, lights, snowmen, food, family rows - the lot! And much to my surprise - since I'm a bit of a bah humbug Christmas phobic - I've really enjoyed it! Maybe it was good therapy to put my characters through all that stuff? Although it wasn't all doom and gloom. I did find plenty of magic to include. Maybe it'll rub off on me and I'll find my Christmas mojo all over again?

Actually, it's been the writing process that has been magical, because this book almost wrote itself. Obviously I have some changes to make, but it came out so easily. That could be because I've used quite a lot on my own personal experience and memories, drawing on material I've stored away for years - a patchwork of different events that have somehow found a way to transform and click together. There's nothing like being in that place where everything comes easily and your characters speak to you inside your head. When you're doing something mundane and pieces of the puzzle of your novel are handed to you from nowhere.

But writing hasn't been my only creative pursuit this year. I've been painting and creating collages too - using the studio I had built after my mum died three years or so ago. I have used it before this summer, but not as much as I'd expected to. I felt kind of...stuck with my art. For those of you who don't know, I first started writing after I finished my painting degree in Brighton and was left wondering what next? I thought, I know, I'll write a best-selling romance to earn the money to carry on painting. Hmm...well, I was young, so I was allowed to be naive! What I basically did was swap one unpredictable way of making a living for another. Ha ha. But anyway, I got the writing bug, and I haven't looked back since. My art went on the back burner, but I always knew I'd want to go back to it. And this summer I have. As a result, I've felt really close to my mum too, thinking about how pleased she would be about it.

I've always been a fan of still life - I love to collect vases and jugs and have many from my grandmother. So, when I was looking around for a course to get me back into my art, it was an easy decision to choose Brave in Paint, Experimental Still Life run by Gabriella Buckingham. What a great course it was! Filled with Gabriella's enthusiasm and lively definitions and challenges. It was exactly what I wanted, and my creativity thrived. It's so easy to be held back by that nagging voice that asks you things like, Why are you doing this? What's it going to lead to? You really ought to be...(insert what here). What makes you think you'll do anything good anyway? Aaargh!

These are some of the voices my creative writing students have to contend with, and I empathize with them, I really do. It's taken a long time, but I mainly manage to be able to ignore the voices now when it comes to writing. I love writing far too much to be bullied out of doing it. Hopefully, I'll be able to be the same whenever I get the urge to paint or make a collage from now on.

Here's an example of one of the paintings - an oil sketch inspired by the above arrangement - I completed this summer. If you're interested, there are more to be found on the Margaret's Art work tab.

Still Life With Green Coffee Pot

Happy autumn, everyone!

 

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