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The Thursday Blog Feature about writing despite challenge or adversity.
The Thursday Blog Feature about writing despite challenge or adversity.

This week I'm delighted to welcome Crooked Cat author Vanessa Couchman to my Write Despite Feature. Like many of us, Vanessa struggles with procrastination. I'll let her tell us how she deals with it. Welcome, Vanessa!

Vanessa with The House at Zaronza
Vanessa Couchman

What challenges have you had to overcome or deal with in order to write?

I’m an odd mixture of contradictions. A perfectionist by nature, I am also a serial procrastinator. Add in a lack of self-confidence and you have a recipe for complete stasis. I call it the rabbit in the headlights syndrome. It’s amazing that I get anything done at all – but, paradoxically, I have a tendency to take on too many commitments. I’m just a gal who can’t say no.

So my main challenge is carving out time to write and forcing myself to use that time effectively, rather than just frittering it away. We live in the wilds of Southwest France and so I don’t know what I would do without the internet. But sometimes I really wish it had never been invented. It’s the procrastinator’s paradise. I don’t have the willpower to turn it off. Also, there’s a lot of pressure on authors to have an extensive social media presence, which takes up plenty of time.

Najac in SW France, in the mist
Najac in SW France, in the mist

How do you think this challenge has impacted on your writing?

As a freelance writer by profession, I can’t afford to miss deadlines, but when it comes to writing fiction I just assume that I have infinite time to get it done. Then I reach the end of the day and realise I haven’t achieved what I set out to do. Despite this, I do actually love writing and it gives me a buzz to see my characters take on a life of their own.

For me, National Novel Writing Month has been a boon. (Nanowrimo.org) I wrote my first novel, The House at Zaronza, during November 2012 and most of a second novel in November last year. Having to achieve 50,000 words in a month is just the goal I need. The problems are, first, that you end up with something that isn’t quite novel-length and have to finish it and, second, that the focus is on quantity rather than quality, so a lot of editing is needed.

Front cover final 2

What was your greatest fear when you first started to write?

I first started to write when I was very young. Then I had no fear at all. I just wrote to tell stories. At that age, you don’t have dreams of publication or the hang-ups that accumulate as an adult.

I started writing fiction again about six years ago after a very long gap that was filled with a career and then running my own business. My fear then was that my writing wouldn’t be good enough. I began with short stories and I cringe when I look at some of the early ones. With the help of colleagues from a small online writing community, Writers Abroad, I improved and got some successes in competitions under my belt. But I have always felt that novels, rather than short stories, are where my heart lies, even if their length makes them more daunting!

What advice would you give to someone who wants to write, but who is feeling held back by circumstances and/or challenges?

It obviously depends on the circumstances. And, given what I’ve said above, I’m probably not the best person to offer advice! However, if you also have the procrastination gene, I suggest trying to set goals for what you want to achieve each day or week: not huge, overarching goals, but broken down into bite-sized pieces, so that you can achieve them, tick them off and feel a sense of satisfaction.

Tell us a bit about something you've written that you're really proud of, or something you're writing now. 

If you had told me a few years ago that I would be a published author, I would have fallen over. I’m sorry my mother didn’t live long enough to know it: she loved books and reading and would have been so proud.

The House at Zaronza, published by Crooked Cat, was inspired by a true story we came across when holidaying on Corsica – an island we love and keep revisiting.

Village on Cap Corse, Corsica, setting for The House at Zaronza
Village on Cap Corse, Corsica, setting for The House at Zaronza

The B&B where we stayed had framed love letters on the walls, which the owners discovered walled up in the attic when they restored the house. They were written in the 1890s by the local schoolmaster to the daughter of the house, but they were destined never to marry. I just had to write the story, which stretches into World War I and beyond.

Corsican sunset on Cap Corse
Corsican sunset on Cap Corse

If I’m allowed two things, I’m also rather proud of my French life blog, Life on La Lune. We’ve lived in France since 1997 and I started a blog six years ago about French life, history and culture. People often take the trouble to write to tell me they enjoy it, which means a lot to me. Here's the link: France blog: http://vanessafrance.wordpress.com

Thanks so much for appearing on Write Despite, Vanessa! I'm sure many readers will related to your procrastination, and thanks for such beautiful, inspiring pictures. They really make us want to read your book! Vanessa's links and the blurb to A House in Zaronza are below.

Until next time!

Margaret

Blurb from The House at Zaronza

The past uncovered. Rachel Swift travels to Corsica to discover more about her forebears. She comes across a series of passionate love letters and delves into their history. The story unfolds of a secret romance at the start of the 20th century between a village schoolteacher and Maria, the daughter of a bourgeois family. Maria’s parents have other plans for her future, though, and she sees her dreams crumble. Her life is played out against the backdrop of Corsica, the ‘island of beauty’, and the turmoil of World War I. This is a story about love, loss and reconciliation in a strict patriarchal society, whose values are challenged as the world changes.

The House at Zaronza universal Amazon book link: http://getbook.at/Zaronza

France blog: http://vanessafrance.wordpress.com

Writing site: http://vanessacouchmanwriter.wordpress.com

Amazon author page: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Vanessa-Couchman/e/B00LQM4T9O/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_1

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/houseatzaronza.vanessacouchman

Twitter: @Vanessainfrance

About Vanessa

Vanessa Couchman has lived in France since 1997 and is passionate about French and Corsican history and culture. Her short stories have been published in anthologies and placed in competitions. She is working on a sequel to The House at Zaronza, set in World War II and another novel set in 18th-century Corsica. Vanessa works as a freelance writer and is a member of the Historical Novel Society.

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The Thursday Blog Feature about writing despite challenge or adversity.
The Thursday Blog Feature about writing despite challenge or adversity.

This week's Write Despite guest is author Carol Maggin, who is published by Crooked Cat Publishing.  Carol has never suffered from any particular fears about writing, but the idea of 'coming out' as a writer really terrified her. But I'll let Carol tell you about it. Welcome, Carol!

carol m

Firstly, a very big thank you to Margaret K Johnson for inviting me onto the Write Despite blog. It’s a pleasure to be here!

What challenges have you had to overcome or deal with in order to write?

The challenges all came later - as a child, I just wrote stories. I’m not, of course, claiming that these were any good. They often featured John Noakes and Shep, whom I liked, and sometimes our cat, Smoky, who was rather more problematic. As a teenager, it obviously got more angsty, with chunks of everything from Jean Plaidy to Edgar Allan Poe thrown in. And as a young woman, I wrote vast, overambitious and unwieldy narratives that tended, eventually, to collapse under their own weight. I think the point is that none of these were written with any thought of publication. Only my best friends knew that I wrote at all. I wrote a lot, but quietly.

As I got older, and my life got busier, and time for writing became a luxury, a turning point started to loom. By this time I had a cupboard full of stories, plot lines, and manuscripts. Either I just stopped doing this, and let go of the idea of being any kind of published writer, or else I needed to take the next step. I didn’t know what the next step was, and I wasn’t at all sure that I was up to taking it.  It sounds melodramatic, given that nothing hinged on this except my view of  myself, but it really did feel like teetering on the edge of an abyss.

Finally, pushed on by a sense that I had to either put up or shut up, I applied to go onto an Arvon Advanced Fiction course, and was accepted. The tutors were Alan Bisset and Val McDermid, and the course was held at Moniack Mhor, a lovely old house near Loch Ness.

mon moor
Moniack Mhor

I nearly didn’t go. Obviously. I teetered.  But finally I was on board the train, watching Scotland spin past me, and feeling frozen with nerves. The train was delayed, naturally, and myself and a writer from Norway arrived in the middle of dinner.  People made room for us and poured wine, and I began to think that, just possibly, this might all be okay.

There were about ten of us, and we were a variety of nationalities, ages and stages. It helped that we were taking this leap together, and that Alan and Val were great tutors.

 

val mcd
Val McDermid

We had a week of bright sunshine (I know- bizarre) and for the first time I talked to other writers, read and listened to their work, and began to see what the next step could be. I read my work out loud for the first time. The others liked it. My tutors liked it. They thought it was good. They thought I should certainly be looking for publication. My first reaction was not to believe them, and think they were just being kind. My second was what I can only describe as a long, slow revelation. Writers, after all, were only people like me. If they could do it, then I could. Probably.

How do you think this challenge has impacted on your writing?

The effect of the course was to finally push me out into the world. It made me buy The Writers and Artists Yearbook as if it was actually relevant to me in some way. It prompted me, in the end, to follow a friend’s suggestion and contact Crooked Cat. I was lucky, and they’ve published two of my novels.CC Logo

What was your greatest fear when you first started to write?

I’ve never had any fear of writing – it’s as natural to me as thinking – but becoming a visible writer was and is deeply scary. Taking the step of saying, ‘This is mine. What do you think?’ took me years. Decades. And now, if someone says, ‘I’ve read Ruin,’ or ‘I’m reading Daniel Taylor,’ I still have a bit of a tendency to stop breathing.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to write, but who is feeling held back by circumstances and/or challenges?

It depends on what the circumstances or challenges are. We all have times in our lives when too much else is going on, and all we can realistically do is get through those times. We may have memories of school. A teacher who wrote on a chirpy little essay of mine ‘Don’t try to be facetious,’ silenced me for a long time. A writer’s group can be a great place to try to stretch your wings, with support and constructive feedback.  If there isn’t one in your area, then maybe you could be the one to start it?

After that, it’s a question of chiselling out a little time for writing, and…doing it. Little by little.

Tell us about something you’ve written that you’re really proud of, or something you’re writing now.

I’m proud of both Ruin (a dark contemporary comedy) and Daniel Taylor (a thriller set in Rome) and the great job that Crooked Cat Publishing have done with them.

daniel taylorruin

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve also moved into the history of my home city, Liverpool, with The Case of the Adelphi, a tale of the supernatural set in the Adelphi Hotel in 1856. It isn’t published yet, and, typically, I’m teetering on the verge of parting with it.

And I’m probably proudest of my current work in progress, with a working title of The Devil of New York and his Downfall, set in that fabulous city in 1888. It won’t see the light of day for quite a while yet, but it’s the most ambitious novel I’ve attempted, and I’ll be very pleased if it works out as I hope…fingers crossed!

Thank you for hosting me, Margaret, and good writing, mes amis!

It's been a pleasure, Carol! Until next time.

Margaret

Carol can be contacted:

Facebook: Carol Maginn

Twitter: @carolmaginn

Goodreads: Carol Maginn

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The Thursday Blog Feature about writing despite challenge or adversity.
The Thursday Blog Feature about writing despite challenge or adversity.

Hi there!

My guest for this Thursday's Write Despite blog  feature is best-selling author Shani Struthers. When I first met Shani at a Romantic Novelists' Association party, she was writing romance fiction, but since then she has become a best-selling Paranormal author. Shani is fun to be around, and passionate about her writing. But is writing always plain sailing for her? Let's see. Over to Shani.

Shani Pic
Shani Struthers

What challenges have you had to overcome or deal with in order to write?

I haven’t had to overcome physical challenges as such – well, not unless you can call three children a physical challenge! Actually… thinking about it, I think you can term them a physical as well as a mental challenge! I’m the mother of three children. I also work (a freelance copywriter for the travel industry) and, like so many people, I have a million daily tasks to complete. Life is busy, busy, busy! But, I’ve always known I wanted to write novels. Copywriting is great but, in terms of creativity, you’re limited by the brief. It was only when the children had grown older that I could make that dream a reality, grabbing whatever hours I could whilst they were at school, or on play dates, or visiting the grandparents, fitting in a third job rather than taking time out to relax. It’s been worth it though, and, I’m learning now how to find a balance, even if the scales tip slightly over sometimes into late nights and early mornings – writing always seems to find a way!

How do you think this challenge has impacted on your writing?

It stopped me frankly, because for many years. I was too tired! But there comes a time when you have to stop making excuses, when you have to sit down and write the first sentence, finding a way to fit it all in, to write the next sentence and the next, until, voila! You have a book.

 

Shani's "Runaways" series.
Shani's "Runaways" series.

What was your greatest fear when you first started to write?

My greatest fear was that I wouldn’t be able to craft a novel. For so long, I’d thought about it, but I’d never put it into practice. I’d gained some confidence from my copywriting but a novel, as I said above, is a completely different beast. My first novel was called The Runaway Year, a contemporary romance, set in Cornwall, and, sending it off to various publishers, I was surprised to receive several acceptances. That spurred me on a bit!

Tintagel Sunset
Tintagel, Cornwall. The inspiring setting for the Runaways series.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to write, but who is feeling held back by circumstances and/or challenges?

Writing is supposed to be enjoyable, it’s supposed to be fun; you have to love what you’re doing, and not feel that it’s a chore. Find time for it but don’t beat yourself up about not finding enough time either, not initially – you have to live in the real world too. For people who lead busy lives, balance is something that will come if you’re determined enough.

The Highlands of Scotland, the setting for Jesamine.
The Highlands of Scotland, the setting for Jesamine.

Tell us a bit about something you've written that you're really proud of, or something you're writing now.

I’m proud of everything I’ve written but my heart lies not in contemporary romance but the paranormal, which is why I’ve switched to that genre.

Shani's best-selling Paranormal Psychic Surveys series
Shani's best-selling Paranormal Psychic Surveys series.

rise to me

 

eve

I love my Psychic Surveys series, a set of paranormal mysteries, but it’s Jessamine, my heart belongs too. A Gothic-style paranormal romance, set in the Scottish Highlands, the story wrote itself over a couple of months, making me cry on several occasions. From all the feedback I get from readers, I’ve gathered I tend to write emotions well – in Jessamine, a range of emotions are covered, including grief, loss, acceptance and hope. You’ll need tissues if you read it!

front

 

Thanks so much, Shani. So interesting and inspiring to us all! Good luck with your future writing.

Here are Shani's links so that you can connect with her and find out more.

Facebook Author Page: http://tinyurl.com/p9yggq9

Twitter: https://twitter.com/shani_struthers

Blog: http://shanisite.wordpress.com

Goodreads http://tinyurl.com/mq25mav

Until next time!

Margaret

You might also enjoy:

Write Despite. Meeting Louisa Heaton. Vertigo is Not Romantic!

Write Despite - Meeting Jane Bwye. Forty Years to Fruition.

 

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This Thursday's guest on my Write Despite blog feature is Harlequin Mills and Boon author Louisa Heaton, who has had to overcome the debilitating effects of vertigo, which struck at exactly the wrong time in her writing career. Fortunately, Louisa didn't let it stop her from getting published. But I'll let her tell her own story.

IMG_0399

What challenges have you had to overcome in order to write?

I've always written. Ever since I could hold a pen in my hands. And for many years it's been relatively easy. At least, the sitting down part. The writing part. The getting published part? That was harder. But the real challenge came three years ago when I was struck down by a mystery illness.

I'd been working at a private hospital. My job was to take people's blood, assist in minor surgeries, usually skin cancer removal, remove stitches, take patient's BP, that kind of thing. It was perfect research material for my Harlequin Mills and Boon Medical stories I was trying to write.

Then one morning I woke up, had breakfast, felt absolutely fine, but was suddenly struck by the most vicious bout of vertigo. The world was spinning so fast and I was hit by a wave of intense nausea, as I collapsed to the floor of my home. I couldn't open my eyes. I couldn't move. Every time I tried, it just made it worse. I couldn't call for help as I felt like I would throw up. Luckily, ten minutes after it began, my husband came into the room and found me.

We called the doctor and he diagnosed an acute ear infection. Said I would be better in a few days and he would write me a prescription for anti-nausea meds.

He was wrong.

IMG_0240

How has this challenge affected your writing?

It took me nine days to walk straight after that first attack. The world seemed on an axis, the floor seemed tilted. I couldn't focus on anything that moved, as it made me dizzy. Just after I'd recover and think I was over it, another bout of vertigo would hit and I'd spend another week staggering  around like a drunk. I got afraid to leave the house. I couldn't write. I couldn't read. Staring at a computer screen, scrolling up and down would set me off. It was impossible.

It was at this point that I got a request for a full manuscript from Mills and Boon. I'd only written three chapters and they wanted the rest. I had to make myself sit at a computer and I wrote 5k words a day. Often taking breaks to lay back on my bed groaning, my eyes covered, trying not to let the world spin. It was tough. I cried. I despaired, not knowing how I would get through it.

I needed to write. To read. These were the two things that I loved doing. I needed to find a way around this disability now that I was housebound anyway. I had an MRI and saw an ENT and a neurologist. They discovered I had MAV, migraine associated vertigo, only my migraines are silent. I have no pain, just bouts of vertigo. I got put on propranolol, to control the migraines, but it had the added side effect of lowering my BP to such an extent it would take me three or more hours in the morning, just to go from a lying, to a sitting, then standing, position! I ended up writing in small stints. Ten minutes here. Five there. But I got it done. I had to.

IMG_0266

 

What was your greatest fear when you first started to write? 

That I wouldn't be able to give my publishers a finished book. Nothing much was helping, so I decided to focus on the migraine part of my diagnosis. I decided to put myself on a migraine diet, avoiding trigger foods and I got almost 95% better! I was able to finish and because I'd completed one book, I then knew I could power through and do it again.

I still get dizzy, but the vertigo is mostly gone. I can write again, which is good, as I'm currently writing my sixth title with Mills and Boon medical.

I can't do book signings or go to author events because all that head movement, lights, people moving, just makes me really dizzy again. I've learned that I'm still set off by patterns and colours and movement in my visual field. I'd love to do an author talk, but I can't guarantee I'll stay upright whilst doing it.

But I can write! And read. And I even quilt and sew.

IMG_0167

 

What advice would you give to someone who wants to write, but who is feeling held back by challenges? 

My advice to someone who is set back by a physical challenge is to research as much as you can. Find out what you can do. I got myself better and I live with a condition that two years ago was debilitating and made me lose my job. I even looked into dictation software in case I had to give up typing. If you have a passion, a need, then you find a way to make it happen. Become your own advocate. You might even find you know more than your doctors do! It happens.

If you want to write, then do it. Find a way. Even if you have to do it the Barbara Cartland way and get someone else to write down what you're saying! It might take time, it might be hard and you may stumble along the way, but there are always options. The one option I took, time and time again?

Never. Give. Up.

Keep Going.

Persevere.

It's amazing what can be achieved.

Tell us a bit about something you've written that you're really proud of, or something your're writing now. 

I'm proud of everything I've written, because each title has been solid effort on my part to fight past a disabling condition. I'm proud that my books do well, despite the fact that I can't do book signings or author talks, or promote myself in that way. My favourite book is the one about to be released in March this year, One Life-Changing Night, is out this March and is available for pre-order here.

 

Thanks so much for your inspiring story, Louisa! I do hope your health continues to improve. Here are Louisa's links, so you can keep in touch with her.

https://www.facebook.com/Louisaheatonauthor/?ref=ts&fref=ts

Twitter @louisaheaton

Website http://www.louisaheaton.com

Blog http://www.louisaheaton.com/blog

Until next time!

Margaret

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It took more than sixteen years for my novel A Nightingale in Winter to find its way out of the attic and to get published. I thought that must be some kind of a record, but I was wrong. This week's guest on my Write Despite blog feature about authors who have overcome obstacles in order to get their words out there is Crooked Cat author Jane Bwye, whose first novel Breath of Africa took forty years to see the light of day. I can't imagine how it must have felt when Jane finally saw her words in print.

But I'll let her tell the story. Welcome, Jane.

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Thank you Margaret for giving me this chance to think over my writing habits. It’s been an enlightening experience.

Jane Bwye
Jane Bwye

What challenges have you had to overcome or deal with in order to write?

Conflicting priorities. I was never good at balancing my life, although as I’ve grown older, I like to think I’ve learned better habits. Once I focus on something, I am totally immersed in the task at hand, and everything goes out the window - that has included family!

Mummy often didn't even answer when she was spoken to,  and once she even forgot to collect somebody from school... My husband and my first five children suffered when I started writing Breath of Africa. They didn’t say anything. They just looked more and more unhappy until I had to take notice.

Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania

How do you think this challenge has impacted on your writing?

…Which was why my first book took forty years to come to fruition. Looking back, I believe the long gestation period was good for my writing. I was that much more mature, and had many experiences to ponder over.  Once the children had fled the nest, and our “afterthought” was at University, we came to live in the UK and I had time on my hands. I was able to set and keep to objectives, but I yearned to be back in Africa.

What was your greatest fear when you first started to write?

I had no fears. I’ve been a freelance writer since my first commission at the age of twenty. I knew I could write, and had many stories and articles published. When I started writing my book, I would wallow in nostalgia for hours on end at my desk, while my husband ensured I wasn’t distracted by household chores. However, I soon discovered that I did not know how to write a novel! I had to learn the difference between a story and a plot, and the technique of viewpoints among many other things.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to write, but who is feeling held back by circumstances and/or challenges?

My advice to aspiring writers facing challenges is always to be humble. Look anywhere and everywhere for advice and inspiration. Go to conferences and workshops, rub shoulders with real authors, soak in the ambience. Ask for BETA readers and offer to do the same for others. Always seek to perfect your work. And never give up – even if it takes forty years.

Tell us a bit about something you've written that you're really proud of, or something you're writing now.

Of course I’m immensely proud of Breath of Africa. I still can’t believe that it’s my book which won a Gold Star on the Harper Collins Authonomy website, was nominated for the Guardian First Book and Not-the-Booker Awards, and has been likened to the works of Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing. It is an Amazon best-seller, and has put me back in touch with people I had forgotten I’d ever known.

Breath of Africa cover picbreath of africa - 902kb

 

I am also happy to have found a charity to support with the book – helping a tiny village called Kajuki in the shadow of Mt. Kenya.

Kajuki micro finance
Women from Kajuki Village

I still regard Africa as my home, and here is my favourite excerpt from the book.

Caroline and Brian are courting…

“Their favourite place was the rim of Mt. Menengai, the volcano overlooking Nakuru town; smaller than Ngorongoro, it had its own dramatic character. They stood on the jutting promontory and looked over the dense scrub in the crater depths, interspersed with black mounds of glistening lava, a dark, forbidding country.

“It’s the third largest crater in the world,” Brian told her. “I read that somewhere.”

Caroline gazed beyond at the vastness of Africa which rolled through patterned farmlands, across hills and plains into the hazy distance. As evening fell, grey clouds crept along the crater depths and swirled up the cliffs, snatching at them with wispy fingers, as the wind caught and tossed the vapours into nothingness among the trees.

They walked towards the car, but a sudden movement in the long grass near the forest distracted them. Brian turned off the track, parting the stalks in front of him.

“Careful of snakes!” Caroline warned.

She followed, treading in his footsteps. As they approached the thrashing, it increased, and she saw the soft brown hide of a female impala, its eyes wide with fright. One leg was caught in a loop of wire.

“It’s a trap, but the wire hasn’t tightened too much. I’ll see if I can free her.”

Brian caught hold of the leg and the animal stilled. She seemed to know they were trying to help. He struggled with the wire, and eased it over the hoof. He let her go. The doe stood there for a second, then moved her leg and took a small step. She bounded away and the grass closed behind her. It was as if it had never happened. 

The sequel concluding this family saga is nearing its completion, and if it meets with the publisher’s approval, my cup will be full.

 

Thanks so much for apearing on Write Despite, Jane. It has been fascinating to read about your book and you writer's journey! Here are Jane's links, below.

Until next time!

Margaret

Links:

Amazon Author Page:    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Jane-Bwye/e/B00BOK0NN4/

Breath of Africa paperback:         http://www.amazon.co.uk/Breath-Africa-Jane-Bwye/dp/1908910798/ref=la_B00BOK0NN4

Breath of Africa ebook: http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00BOAK0FA

Website:                              http://janebwye.com/

Blog:                                      http://jbwye.com/

Facebook:                           http://jbwye.com/

Twitter:                                https://twitter.com/@jbwye

LinkedIn:                             https://www.linkedin.com/in/jane-bwye-9866041b

You might also enjoy:

Write Despite: Meeting Ailsa Abraham. Three accidents, a stroke and several novels

Finding Your Writer's Path

 

3 Comments

 

The Thursday Blog Feature about writing despite challenge or adversity.
The Thursday Blog Feature about writing despite challenge or adversity.

Today's Thursday Write Despite features the incredibly inspiring Ailsa Abraham. Ailsa is a multi-published author who writes fiction despite having suffered brain damage and a stroke as a result of three separate accidents - a fractured skull at the age of 15 when she fell onto rocks from a cliff top, a stroke following a car accident, and a near-fatal motorcycle accident which put her into a coma for three weeks.

Beautiful but deadly. Ailsa fell onto rocks from these cliffs at the age of 15.
Beautiful but deadly. Ailsa fell onto rocks from these cliffs at the age of 15.

If you can write despite all of that, I think you can write despite pretty much anything!

But I'll let Ailsa tell her story of writing against the odds.

What challenges have you had to overcome or deal with in order to write?

Brain damage and severe pain are the most awkward. My spine is pretty well crippled which can make sitting at a desk rather sore. I have experimented with voice recognition but it turns my Julie Andrews' accent into a mangled version of rubbish so it's easier to touch type, at which I am fortunate enough to be good.

Since a few head-injuries plus a stroke, my mind becomes disconnected. Often I don't know which language I'm speaking, one of the disadvantages of being bilingual. This results in me losing words in both tongues and screaming in frustration. Sometimes I have to act them out to a friend to get the answer.

Ailsa on the motorbike which ended up putting her in a coma for 3 weeks.
Ailsa on the motorbike which ended up putting her in a coma for 3 weeks.

I'm a very impatient person. I want it done now. No, I want it done five minutes before I thought about it which makes writing a very frustrating occupation. Consequently I write in the patchwork quilt method – whatever scene grabs me gets written. When I have a few in hand I stitch them together in the right pattern until the tale is coherent. Overall this works better for me than trying to write chronologically.

patchwork-112548_640
Ailsa finds a 'patchwork' way of writing suits her best.

How do you think this challenge has impacted on your writing?

Possibly it has given me insight into other people's suffering. I tend to be compassionate both with real folks and with characters, both good and bad. When I have a bad character I need to work out what made them like that and so they become less two-dimensional, perhaps even pitiable.

IRL (in real life) I laugh at everything. That is my defence method. When lying on the floor, having been attacked by furniture when my feet and brain aren't speaking, I can hardly stand on my dignity, can I? Face it, I can't really stand up so...I giggle. There tends to be a lot of “off the cuff” humour in my work. A woman involved in very serious and dark work will suddenly “throw a googlie” by saying “Well, you don't piss off gods, do you? Just in case!” That's really me speaking!

My profile picture
Ailsa Abraham

What was your greatest fear when you first started to write?

I didn't have any. Given that I was only writing for the amusement of friends it was not a fearful situation. I don't tend to scare easily anyway. Having shaken hands with DEATH regularly I tend to look at it and say “What's the worst that can happen?” With writing the answer is that in the worst case scenario, everyone will hate your book. Hey but then you would be famous for writing the worst book EVER!

When I first started I was writing male romance under a pseudonym and the only trepidation for me was that some gay men resent women writing that kind of fiction. So far nobody has had anything but praise for it. Even straight people apparently like them!

A's kiss book

What advice would you give to someone who wants to write, but who is feeling held back by circumstances and/or challenges?

Don't let it. Writing is something you should HAVE to do, not want to do. I would never have got into this malarky if people hadn't bullied, pushed and shoved me. I didn't think my stuff was good enough but publishers have agreed so I'll go along with them. They know what they are talking about. The only thing that should put you off writing is if you can't possibly face rejection because it will happen. 99 people will love your book and one miserable git will leave a one-star review. Being a normal human being, you will ignore the ninety-nine and notice only the bad one. Stop it. If you can't take that, don't write. Get as much feedback from friends, writing groups etc. and be open to constructive criticism.

Tell us a bit about something you've written that you're really proud of, or something you're writing now

As usual, with my disorganised brain I am writing three WIPs (works in progress) at once. I'm not especially proud of any of my books in particular, as they all mean as much to me. Each was a huge achievement. I think when I get Book 3 of Alchemy series finished, it will be the greatest one because I have literally had to come back from the dead to write it. I was getting on fine with the first draft until a motorcycle accident nearly wiped me out and put me in a coma for three weeks. It has taken over a year for me to get back to writing properly. I couldn't even do blog posts at first which will teach me to do somersaults over the handlebars at my age!

I am quite proud of being able to mix genres so well. I consider it rather like cooking. So I don't just make cakes, I do a mean home-made soup as well. Alchemy series is magical reality, my boys are in romantic detective drama and I'm about to embark on non-fiction too.

Out of the way, folks, the literary motorbike is revving up again. Thanks for having me over Margaret and here are my links (works from all over the world!)

both with Amazon

***

BIO – Ailsa Abraham retired early from a string of jobs, ending up with teaching English to adults. She has lived in France since 1990 and is married with no children but six grandchildren.  She copes with Bipolar Condition, a twisted spine and increasing deafness with her usual wry humour – “well if I didn't have all those, I'd have to work for a living, instead of writing, which is much more fun.”. Her ambition in life is to keep breathing and maybe move back to the UK. She has no intention of stopping writing. Her other passions are running an orphanage for homeless teddy bears plus knitting or crochet now that she has had to give up her beloved black Yamaha.

Ailsa's Publications:

As Ailsa Abraham :

Alchemy and Shaman's Drum published by Crooked Cat

alchemy

shamans drum4 go mad

 

(Shaman's Drum was nominated for the People's Choice Book Award)

 

Four Go Mad in Catalonia – self-published, available from Smashwords

Twitter - @ailsaabraham

Facebook – Ailsa Abraham

Amazon Author Page

Web page

Thank you so much, Ailsa. You're a complete inspiration to me, and I'm sure to everyone who reads this post!

Until next time.

Margaret

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Write Despite with Author Miriam Drori

Finding Your Writer's Path

9 Comments

 

 

The Thursday Blog Feature about writing despite challenge or adversity.
The Thursday Blog Feature about writing despite challenge or adversity.

Welcome to the first post in my new Write Despite Thursday Feature, where writers and would-be writers answer 5 questions about the obstacles they've had to overcome in order to write. I'm so excited to hear what everyone has to say, and I know these posts are going to be really inspiring to us.

So, over to Miriam!

miriam
Miriam Drori

Hi, Miriam! Thanks so much for kicking off this feature on my blog. Now to the questions!

What challenges have you had to overcome or deal with in order to write?

I’ve had to overcome a conviction that I couldn’t write creatively. It was so strong that the possibility of being a writer didn’t even occur to me.

Why was that? Because it was clear to my teachers, my parents and me: writing wasn’t my thing. I was good at the grammar part, of course, because that requires a sense of logic, and an understanding of and adherence to rules. But I wasn’t a creative person. Much better to stick to Maths, which was the subject of my degree. Some creativity must have shown in singing and playing music, but that was never going to be my forte either.

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It took decades to get over that. I only thought of writing because, after discovering social anxiety, I knew I wanted to raise awareness of this common but little-known disorder, and writing was the only way I could try to do that. At least I knew I could express myself well in writing, through my work as a technical writer. I began with non-fiction and only later thought of writing fiction. If I’d known how much I would have to learn about writing fiction, I don’t think I’d have started!

How do you think this challenge has impacted on your writing?

The whole attempt to fictionalize the social anxiety experience formed most of my learning curve up to now. One problem I didn’t have was writer’s block. I always knew what I wanted to write. My problem was: how. When I’d finished my first draft, I joined a writing group, where I learned a lot and I’ve been learning ever since and always will be, online and offline.

What was your greatest fear when you first started to write?

I don’t think I had real fears then. I should have done, but I was too naïve. I didn’t know how difficult the process would be. I think I’m more fearful now. I worry that I’m not a good enough writer to make a big impression.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to write, but who is feeling held back by circumstances and/or challenges?

So much depends on what the challenge is. If it’s a fear of writing, just do it. If it’s a lack of time, stop doing something that’s less important than writing. If it’s writer’s block, move away from the computer and think about your passions.

 

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Tell us a bit about something you've written that you're really proud of, or something you're writing now. 

I’m proud of everything that has been accepted for publication. I’m also proud of my latest work in progress, which is a first for me on at least two accounts. It involves collaboration with another author and it’s historical.

What I’m most proud of at the moment is my novel, Neither Here Nor There, published by Crooked Cat Publishing. It’s a romance with a difference. It’s a light read, but it touches on complex topics and takes readers into a world that most don’t recognise.

neither here nor there

Here’s the blurb:

Esty's life was laid out for her from birth. She would marry one of a handful of young men suggested to her and settle down to raise a large family in a tiny space within the closed community of her parents, near to and yet far from the modern world.

But Esty has decided to risk all by escaping while she still can. Will she make it to the other side? Mark, who is struggling with his own life changes, hopes that Esty will find a way through her troubles. He is fast falling in love with her. Separately and together, in Jerusalem and London, Esty and Mark need to overcome many obstacles in their endeavour to achieve their dream.

Neither Here Nor There is available from Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, iTunes and elsewhere.

Thanks so much for answering my questions and kicking off my Thursday Write Despite feature, Miriam! It's been a pleasure speaking to you.

Miriam's answers to my questions - especially when she talks about the opinion and expectations of her parents and her school - sparked memories for me and inspired me to write a post of my own. Here's the link, if you'd like to read it.

Finding Your Writer's Path.

I hope you found what Miriam had to say inspiring, everyone.

See you next time!

Margaret

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What is Writing Success For You?

Can writing Improve Your Confidence?

9 Comments

 

Sometimes in life, you just fall onto a path without even really thinking about it.

There are no crossroads, no signpost; barely even any discussion on the subject. Your parents, your school, even YOU think, "You are this way, you are good at this subject, therefore you should do this." And that's it. Decision made, future path in life determined, without any maps or charts ever having been taken out of a drawer, let alone consulted.

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And obviously, this way of things can work. There are plenty of people out there who were good at maths at school and who are now happily working as accountants. Sporty types who went into sporting careers. Kids who loved science who work in laboratories or in the Health Service.

But sometimes it's a different story. Sometimes the path you fall into isn't the right one for you, and then it takes a little longer, and a lot of blundering along rutted tracks in the dark before you find your true way.

For me, my dark, rutted track was Art College. My school had a strong art department, a charismatic Head of Art, and I had some talent for painting. So that was that; decision made. I would go to Art College in Brighton, and I would become an artist.

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Readers, I was bewildered for almost my entire four years of training. Not about how to paint, because for the most part, I could do that, and it came relatively easily to me. No, the thing I couldn't work out, even by the end of my degree, was what the purpose of it all was.

We were given barely any formal training - my parents would have been shocked if they'd ever found out what their money was paying for. Just a space in a shared studio, cut-priced art materials, and periodic visits from a tutor to discuss our work when he could drag himself out of the pub next door.

art college
The College of Art in Brighton, and the pub next door.

I loved colour, and my bright interpretations of flowers in the vases I collected from Brighton second-hand shops showed nothing of my intense loneliness and lack of purpose. I felt lost and overlooked, not least by myself. It was only when I finished my degree and started to write a novel with the highly dubious goal of financing my career as an artist, that everything clicked into place and I finally found myself.

"Ah," I thought. "This is who I am."

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Even though I had some talent for art, stringing words together to create a book, with the potential to transport people to a whole new world, resonated with me far more than laying oil paints down on canvas ever had. I'd found my map, my natural habitat, and my path through it. I was a writer.

But now it was the turn of those around me to feel bewildered - my friends, my boyfriend, none of them could take my writing seriously, even when I began to get published. They viewed me as an artist who also wrote, when I wanted them to think of me as a writer who sometimes painted.

I don't know why it bothered me so much, although I suppose in those pre-Internet days, I just longed to be part of a tribe of like-minded people, and I couldn't find them. So, I moved away, to make a new start. A different city. A clean sheet.

"Hello, I'm Margaret. I'm a writer. Oh, and I also paint sometimes."

There have been many different maps since then, but even though the terrain has been varied, the maps have all belonged to the same series; a series made for writers.

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And my artist friends? I still see them every few years, and inevitably, at some point, they will ask me, "Have you done any painting recently?"

It's a fair enough question. I did meet them at Art College! I really shouldn't let those old feelings of being judged slip over my shoulders like an itchy cloak. And I have been creative occasionally, although these days I'm drawn more to collage rather than to paint.

SONY DSC
Urban Jungle - collage, 2014
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Trowse Dyptich, 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I suppose it's similar to when your family is gathered together, and you find yourselves slipping into your old patterns of behaviour. But if you can avoid slamming your way upstairs to your bedroom in a parody of a teenage strop, you get yourself back again pretty quickly as you drive home.

I have this long-held dream of painting the red rock formations in New Mexico like Georgia O'Keefe did in the 1930s and 1940s.

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One day, I'll definitely go there. Whether I'll reach for my palette or my notebook when I do, remains to be seen.

Perhaps both? Yes, both sounds good to me.

Margaret

PS, don't miss my new series Write Despite, starting on Thursday 21 January, where writers write about the challenges they have overcome in order to get their words down on paper!

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Introducing Write Depsite ...A New Thursday Feature about writing in spite of life challenges or adversity.

What is Writing Success For You?

Can writing Improve Your Confidence?

3 Comments

The Thursday Blog Feature about writing despite challenge or adversity.
The Thursday Blog Feature about writing despite challenge or adversity.

There can be so many reasons why it's hard to sit down and write.

These can be as varied as the necessity to earn money to eat, or long ago memories of teachers who called you stupid as you struggled with dyslexia. Then there's ill health, low self-belief, or the need to make a perfect cup of coffee or to empty the bins before you start. Not to mention the inconvenient demands of a family, or an non-supportive partner.

In my first years of writing fiction, I had a boyfriend who was driven demented by the sound of me typing.

 

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He would come into the kitchen - which was the only room in our flat where I could have a desk - and read out passages from my current work in progress in a cynical tone of voice.

"He strode off without a backward glance. She turned and walked slowly in the opposite direction, feeling as battered and bruised as if he had hit her physically. They hadn't spoken for more than five minutes, and in that short time he had made it quite clear that he no longer found her attractive. Well, asked a little voice, what did you expect?"

In those days, I wrote romances filled with tall, dark heroes with amazing cheek bones. Was my boyfriend jealous? Maybe. Certainly, those books were written despite him.

Never fear, reader; I dumped him. Not as soon as I ought to have done, but that's a different story.

I have written despite having repetative strain injury in my wrists from a brain-numbing data inputting job at a college. (I wore tubigrip bandages).

I have written despite relationship break-ups and in snatches of time while my baby son napped.

 

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Writing takes time, and it also takes self-discipline, so in a way, all writers Write Despite something.

But some people have to overcome greater challenges than others in order to express themselves on paper, and I thought it would be inspiring and reassuring for us to hear these writers' stories of creation against the odds.

So, from next Thursday, 21st January, I'm introducing a new feature on my blog: Write Despite.

Each week, a writer who has successfully dealt with challenges in order to write will inspire us by answering these 5 questions:

  • What challenges have you had to overcome or deal with in order to write?
  • How do you think this challenge has impacted on your writing?
  • What was your greatest fear when you first started to write?
  • What advice would you give to someone who wants to write, but who is feeling held back by circumstances and/or challenges?
  • Tell us a bit about something you've written that you're really proud of, or something you're writing now.

I can't wait!

Cheers!

Margaret

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Can Writing Improve Your Confidence? Try Writing About a Stand-up Comedian!

6 Comments

 

In life there are many different ways to define success, and writing is no different.

Some of you will want to write a best-selling novel and to see your book prominently displayed in bookshops. Screen play rights snapped up.  Invitations to appear as a guest on TV shows.

Others of you will just get a warm glow from having been able to express what you want to say, or from being able to push through to the point where you can type THE END despite the busyness of your lives or an ongoing battle with self-confidence or dyslexia.

There is no definition of writerly success. It's an entirely personal thing. It's whatever's right for you.

If you wanted to take up badminton, it would be perfectly valid to go along to classes with the goals of learning to perfect your serve, forehand and backhand, and to have fun while you were  doing it. Nobody would immediately expect you to be working towards representing your country at the next Olympic Games.

 

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It's the same with writing.

The chances are, your view of what success is will change anyway. Once you've got the writing bug, you're unlikely to want to stop at one story, one blog post or one novel. To complete any of these to a standard you're pleased with is an amazing achievement that deserves to be celebrated, and it's perfectly legitimate to be content with just that.

 

clebrating writerly success with champagne

 

But if you're anything like me, the very act of completing a piece of writing will boost your confidence and you'll probably find yourself asking "What next?"

The definitions of writerly success are as varied as people are varied.

In no particular order, here are some I've gleaned from the comments made to a blog post by Brian Clems on the Writer's Digest blog. Writer's Digest - What Defines Writing Success? They make for interesting reading.

I feel/will feel successful as a writer when:

  • Someone is moved by what I write.
  • I fell in love with the process of writing.
  • I'm writing for a living.
  • I find time to write every day.
  • I've written the novel that's been in the back of my mind for years.
  • I finished a first draft.
  • I made someone laugh. Intentionally.
  • I got paid for my writing.
  • People tell other people about my writing.
  • I can quite my day job and just write.
  • My wife can quit her day job, having support me in my writing for ten years.
  • I got placed in a writing competition.
  • When I could say "I'm a writer" without feeling like a fraud.
  • I found the courage to show somebody something I've written.
  • I start to edit when I've been given feedback on my writing.
  • I sit down and actually write.
  • I got my first novel published.
  • I first saw my name in print.
  • I manage to write for half an hour without going on the Internet.
  • I have visitors but still manage to sneak away to write.
  • I write blog posts that touch a chord with people.
  • I reach the word count I've set myself for the day.
  • People still read my books after I'm dead. (!)
  • The first time I paid my rent with my writing income.
  • I reached page 100 in the novel I was writing.

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Personally, I'll never forget the day I received a letter telling me that my first novella was going to be published. It was called Stormy September, and it was a 50,000 word romance which was to be published by Woman's Weekly in a paperback with another author's story. When publication day came, and the book was in a carousel at my local newsagents, I was so thrilled. I kept having to go in there to look at it. I probably even bought a copy; I can't remember. And celebrate? You bet I did! I used some of the money I was paid to take my boyfriend - who had never flown before - for a surprise flight over Brighton. (I'll draw a veil over the fact that I was horribly sick when the pilot let him take the controls). I also bought a gas fire and a new radio. I know how to live. 🙂

 

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Actually, I say I'll never forget that heady excitement; but I perhaps I have, just a little. Because for me, writing is a bit like having a gambling habit. One win, or one bit of success or encouragement, feeds your habit and makes you want more.

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And then it's easy to become discontented with what you have achieved, especially if you make the mistake of comparing yourself to somebody else; somebody whose debut novel shoots straight to the top of the Amazon charts.

Last year, one of my language readers, Kilimnajaro won an award.

Adolescent & Adult: Intermediate

Kilimanjaro
Author: Margaret Johnson
Illustrator: Redbean Design Pte Ltd
Publisher: National Geographic/CENGAGE Learning
ISBN: 9781424048753

I also had 2 novels published.

ANiW Final Cover
A Nightingale in Winter Published by Omnific Publishing
Taming Tom Jones Published by Crooked Cat Publishing
Taming Tom Jones
Published by Crooked Cat Publishing

 

Most people would say that's pretty successful. Now, if I can just stop listening to those pesky voices that say such things as "Yeah, but you didn't get any money for the award," and "But your book isn't charting as highly as (INSERT NAME HERE)'s book is." 

Perhaps I need to take my own advice and make time to enjoy the process of writing. Yes, I'm going to do just that!

What's your definition of writerly success? I'd love to know!

Cheers.

Margaret