Tag Archives: adversity

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Today I want to talk to you about how Joan of Arc destroyed my self-confidence. Actually, that’s not right - my apologies to Joan. It’s not fair to blame her. It was all entirely my fault.

Or maybe the teacher’s for putting me under so much stress.

 

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But whoever was to blame, those few unhappy seconds in a French lesson when I was eleven years old had a dramatic effect on my self-confidence – an effect that lasted for almost twenty years.

Let me set the scene for you. I was newly transferred to the class, and painfully shy, so it was unfortunate that one of the first things I had to do was to give a talk in a French lesson. My allotted subject was Joan of Arc (for those of you who don’t know, Joan – otherwise known as Jeanne d’Arc – is a Fifteenth Century French saint). I duly did my preparation and went to stand nervously at the front of the class when it was my turn to speak.

Then I opened my mouth, and, with all eyes upon me, I said: “Joan of Arc was brought up as a pheasant.”

pheasant

 

I had, of course meant to say peasant – a country dwelling agricultural worker, not a large, colourful game bird – but nerves got the better of me, and I’m sure you can imagine the reaction that followed my slip up. There was general hilarity in the class, pretty much drowning out the rest of my faltering words.

 

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I expect my classmates soon forgot about it, entertaining as it was, but I certainly did not forget about it, and the incident affected me drastically. I clammed up almost completely after that – never saying anything at all in class unless I was forced to, and unfortunately this silence and terror extended to my life post-school. My extreme phobia about public speaking limited the courses I could take, and the jobs I could apply for.

Until finally, with my thirtieth birthday looming, I decided enough was enough. It was time to do something about this fear.

So, I did. Very gradually, until I proved to myself that I’d made a complete recovery by performing stand-up comedy to a crowd of two hundred people in a London comedy club. (I put my experiences into a novel!).

 

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So, how did I do it? By taking baby steps, and celebrating each and every one.

First of all, I joined an adult education class – I don’t even remember what it was about now – and then I challenged myself to make one statement, or to ask one question at every session. Then two statements or questions. Then three. (You can’t imagine how my heart pounded and my hands sweated as I willed myself to speak).

I did it just a little bit at a time, until I was ready (yikes!) to join a public speaking course. There, I made people laugh. Deliberately, this time. It felt fantastic. After that, I felt ready to take a teaching qualification. And I discovered that I loved the performance side of teaching. Everything about teaching, in fact. Then, eventually, came that three-minute stand-up routine at the Up The Creek Comedy Club in Greenwich, which was one of the greatest moments of my life so far, and the pinnacle of getting over my public speaking phobia, I’m sure you’ll agree. Every time I feel my self-confidence ebb a little bit, I just watch myself on YouTube and remember that I did it. I actually did it. The sense of achievement that night was incredible. On a par with holding my first published book in my hand…

 

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Performing stand-up comedy at The Up The Creek Comedy Club in Greenwich, London

So, if you want to write, but something’s holding you back, find out what that something is. Be kind to yourself. Take baby steps to deal with it, and celebrate each and every one. Think in terms of asking a question in an adult education class, rather that a full-blown stand-up comedy performance straight away. Get support on your crusade. (Although maybe not from Joan!). Your efforts will be worth it, because all those little steps can add up to something bigger.

Like a novel!

Want to learn more about how fear can affect writers and what to do about it? Join my Feel The Fear Webinar on 20th October. If you can’t make it live, a recording will be available to those who register.

Oh, and just a reminder that the early bird price of my course Feel The Fear and Write Anyway ends on Sunday 24th October.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

Margaret

 

 

 

When my son was younger, I used to read picture books from the That’s Not My… series to him.

If you’re not familiar with them, there are hundreds of books in the series – That’s Not My Truck, That’s Not My Robot, That’s Not My Monster, even That’s Not My Cow! The format is always the same – they start off with several pages of, That’s not my… for example, That’s not my monster, it’s eyebrows are too hairy. Then they finish on a triumphant That’s my… That’s my monster, his spines are so prickly. (Or whatever it is).

thats-not-my-monster

With my new course Feel The Fear and Write Anyway coming out soon, I’ve been thinking about author fears a lot lately, and in particular, about how people might not always think they have any fears about writing.

But if you’re:

  • procrastinating, and rarely getting any writing done,
  • constantly putting other people’s demands before your desire to write, or
  • you never finish anything, and you’ve got a drawer full of unfinished stories,

Then fear is probably at work somewhere, whether it’s a fear about what people will think of what you write, or an insecurity about everything you feel you don’t know about writing, or, quite simply, the strongest fear of all, a fear of failure.

Sometimes, recognising our monster – in this case, what lies behind our self-limiting fear – can help us to deal with it and move on.

After all, nobody wants to keep a monster for a pet, do they? Even if it does have a very fetching pair of horns!

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If you'd like to know more about Feel The Fear and Write Anyway, you can check out the course website or sign up to my FREE WEBINAR on Thursday 20th October, at 2pm GMT.

Cheers!

Margaret

 

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Let me introduce you to Emma. She’s fun to be around, enthusiastic about writing and very talented. These days she has established a writing routine that works for her, and she writes regularly, despite having four young children and a tendency to drop everything to go to music festivals.

emma-cropped

But it wasn’t always like that. Emma’s enthusiasm and talent for writing were always there, but the writing routine was non-existent, and whenever she thought about writing, she felt fed up and blocked.

This was all because of a bad experience she had at a writing class, where she received very unhelpful feedback on her work. Far from highlighting Emma’s achievements and constructively suggesting areas for further development, the tutor for this (somehow) sought-after course, slated Emma’s work. He pulled it apart so thoroughly that her self-esteem – and virtually her will to live – were in tatters.

I might never have met Emma at all. She might have decided to give up on her writing dreams at that point. But a few years later two of her friends told her about my courses, AND she had a link to the enrolment page pop up on her Facebook timeline. Fortunately for me, Emma decided to view this as fate at work, because Emma came along to one of my courses, and she’s a joy to have in a class. Not only is she talented, but she’s so helpful to other group members.

When Emma first told me about her ordeal, and how it had stopped her from writing for several years, I was furious. How dare that tutor treat Emma’s precious writing dreams like that?

Emma explained to me that she was writing science fiction, which was far removed from the literary fiction the tutor had published, but this was no excuse at all, as far as I was concerned. Published writers – no matter how successful – should never forget how vulnerable people can feel when they first start sharing their words. I know I certainly haven’t.

When I first started writing, I was ridiculously sensitive! I remember the first time I read out a story at a writer’s circle, and I described a woman’s face ‘turning a colour somewhere between green and purple’ (with embarrassment and horror). OK, I realise now that it’s not a sentence from a great work of literature, but at the time I was pleased with it, and was quite taken aback when one of the group members stated quite abruptly that it wasn’t possible to have a colour between green and purple, and that I should use the word puce. Puce. I wasn’t even sure what the colour was, and I had to go home and look it up. And it was such a horrid word, sounding as it did, remarkably like…well, sick. My story was light-hearted and fun, with no pretensions to be anything else. Puce just didn’t fit. I felt discouraged, and never returned to the writer’s circle. (I told you I was sensitive in those days!)

As I’ve gained in experience and had many novels published, my self-confidence has grown to the point where I’m able to sift through feedback and make a judgement about whether it’s relevant and helpful or not. (If it’s from an editor, I’ve also learnt to be tactful if I don’t think so!) I always make a point in my writing classes of helping my students to develop the highly useful skill of giving and receiving constructive feedback. It’s such an important part of a writer’s development, because you can learn so much from it.

When I began teaching my creative writing classes, I encountered that vulnerability and that fear of exposure over and over again, and decided that my classes had to include an element of confidence-building in order to be of use to people.

As for Emma, she very kindly took part in the pilot version of my course Feel The Fear and Write Anyway – Self-Confidence For Authors, which opens for enrolment very soon. I asked Emma and other recent students to try it out and to give me feedback, so that I could make it as useful as possible. The power of feedback, see? I’m happy to say that all their suggestions were really helpful – and constructive!

I’m so excited that by creating an online course designed to boost writers’ self-confidence while they’re developing essential writing skills and habits, I’m going to be able to help people I might not otherwise have been able to reach. People who want to take that first step towards realising their writing dreams. Or, if they’re like Emma, people who want to recover from a set-back to move on towards their goal of completing a novel.

I can’t wait!

Enrolling soon!
Enrolling soon!
Sign up for the FREE Fear-Busting Challenge for Authors here.
Sign up for the FREE Fear-Busting Challenge for Authors here.

 

 

 

 

When we want to write, a fear of what other people think about us can really hold us back from:

  • Writing the way we want to write
  • Showing our writing to others (and therefore missing out on potentially valuable feedback, or even publication).
  • Writing at all!

I suppose, as human beings, we usually want to be accepted and approved of, even if it’s only because it’s much easier than feeling out of kilter and unaccepted.

So sometimes we hide who we really are in an attempt to fit in better.

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You can watch a video of this blog post, or carry on reading!

For many years, while I was building my career as a writer, there were times when I wished with all my heart that I wasn’t a creative person. Yes, really!

I was working thirty-seven hours a week in a college of further education at the time – I’d started there as a temporary typist, then worked my way up to the heady heights of Central Admissions Officer, dealing with hundreds of applications to the college within an office of Examinations Officers.

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I expect you get the picture. I was bored out of my mind. Frustrated that I had to work in a job I disliked so much, when all I wanted to do was to write my novels.

I was a fish-out-of-water, and I didn’t want be a fish-out-of-water.

 

fish-out-of-water

I longed to belong, the way everyone else seemed to belong. I didn’t want to be viewed as a single, ex-art-college oddity, even if that was exactly what I was.

I wanted to be:

  • A relaxed receptionist.

  • An elated examinations officer.

  • A contented catering assistant.

I was convinced that people who didn’t experience a compelling need to produce art or literature found life amuch simpler. That they didn’t feel constantly torn and dissatisfied the way I did, and that it was much easier for them to feel contended.

I thought they could just be in a way I often couldn’t. (Even at my father’s funeral, there was a part of me – the writer part – that stood at a distance from events, observing everything and everyone. I loathed it, but was powerless to stop it.)

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Back then, I thought everyone but me was content to live in the moment, without constantly wanting to submerge themselves in make-believe or to use their experiences to produce something. That they just were.

I also believed they were critical of me because I wasn't like them.

It was complete rubbish, of course.

I imagine the rest of the college staff mostly fitted in better than I did because they made more effort that I did. That at work, their creativity, or their focus, went into doing a good job, and not into getting by grudgingly until five o’clock.

And far from being judgemental or critical about little old self-conscious me and my way of life, I don't suppose they gave me very much thought at all!

I didn’t really stop worrying about what people thought of me until I was older, and had learnt to accept myself.

And getting consistently published was a large part of that, because with several books under my belt, at least I could think to myself, OK, I may be different, but at least I’m getting paid for it. People are buying my books. Enjoying them too, hopefully.

But the point is, if I’d allowed my fear of what other people thought of me - or in my case perhaps what I thought people thought of me - to completely destroy my spirit, then I might never have written my books. Or, even if I had written them, I may never have found the courage to show them to anybody. Or to take the initiative to ask for opportunities, or to pitch ideas, or any of the other things that can lead to success as an author.

When we first set out on our writing journey, the company and encouragement of other writers and would-be writers who understand can be a vital boost to our self-confidence.

As we start to trust other writers, we feel able to take that first frightening step of letting them read our work. And as with anything that’s frightening or challenging, every time you share your writing with other people, it gets easier to do. Your comfort zone expands, almost without you being aware of it doing so.

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So, if you're holding back from writing or showing your writing out of a fear of what other people will think of you, try to take some action to break through that barrier, a little at a time.

Small steps.

  • Write exactly as you want to write.

  • Do something that could lead to you finding someone to share your writing with, like joining a writing group, class or forum.

  • And gradually, gradually, start to belive in yourself and your dreams.

As you do so, your horizons will expand almost without you realising it.

Good luck!

Join my FREE 10-Day Fear-Busting Challenge For Authors and conquer your fears about writing!
Join my FREE 10-Day Fear-Busting Challenge For Authors and conquer your fears about writing!

You might also enjoy:

Where Do You Get Your Ideas From? Inspiration for Writers.

 

A post that first appeared on author Jane Bye's The Breath of Africa blog.

When I travelled to Cuba in 2001, it was with revenge in mind. Don’t worry, I didn’t smuggle any weaponry into the country in my luggage. I simply chose Cuba as a destination because I’d been learning Spanish with my ex-partner, and I knew that Cuba would be a country he’d love to visit. But he wasn’t here. I was. And after I’d got beyond the unbelievable chaos of the arrivals lounge, it was to be a fortnight of amazing experiences and fun.

It was around six months since my relationship had suddenly ended, and I was still feeling very raw. Fortunately, I palled up quickly with Sharon, a fun-loving Londoner I’m still friendly with today. Together we wondered at the near-empty supermarket shelves, gazed in awe at the crumbling buildings and were chauffeured in classic cars.

Cuban taxis, courtesy of Sarah Morgan
Cuban taxis, courtesy of Sarah Morgan

We visited cigar factories, learned about black magic and the Revolution, and spent a crazy hour making – and wearing – fake Castro beards out of catkin seeds stuck onto double-sided sellotape. We played and we laughed, and we fell in love with Cuba with the ever-present images of Che Guevara looking down on our shenanigans. It was absolutely the best gift I could have given my broken heart.

 

Messing about with fake Castro beards
Messing about with fake Castro beards

Murder Maker - A Story of Revenge

When I returned to the UK, I was to use Cuba as a setting for scenes in two books. First came Murder Maker, a novella for the TEFL market aimed at people learning to speak English. It’s about woman who becomes a serial killer as a result of being cruelly dumped by her partner. Yes, I admit it, it was my therapy book.

 

 

 

Later, I wrote Taming Tom Jones, which was published by Crooked Cat Publishing last year. In Taming Tom Jones, I wanted to move two of my female characters out of their usual environment to throw a spotlight on the nature of their friendship.

 

TTJ Cover

Havana proved to be perfect for this. The rambling, decaying streets of Havana play on your imagination and feel full of mystery and the potential for adventure. Even danger. Just right for the dynamics of a friendship to be exposed. Jen, one of my main characters in Taming Tom Jones, is a bit adrift as a person; carried on the tide of other peoples’ wishes and desires. Her time in Cuba acts as one stepping stone to her taking back control of her life, Just as, I suppose, my time in Cuba did for me.

 

I went on to get over my heartbreak and to build a much more fulfilled and successful life for myself, but I have never forgotten how it felt to be that broken person who flew into Havana hoping for the forgetfulness of adventures. Cuba and the power of writing brought me through it, and it is for this reason that I have just published my first non-fiction book, The Four Seasons of Breakupvia – A Workbook for Recovery from Relationship Break-up at the end of April

3D image of Breakupvia

 

It is a book of activities and writing exercises designed to take people through the grieving and re-building process following a relationship break-up, and it draws not only on my own experience of recovery, but also on research I have done on the subject, and my experience as a creative writing tutor. I’m extremely proud of it, and really hope it does people good, and that through using it, I can help them to discover the incredible power of the written word in dealing with loss. I secretly hope to turn them all into writers too!

A close friend of mine recently spent four days in Havana and was just as enthralled with it as I was all those years ago. From what she says, it’s hardly changed at all, right down to the near-empty supermarket shelves. Which obviously I realise, can hardly be a good experience for its people. They are extremely resourceful people though; you’d have to be to be able to keep all those amazing classic cars on the road year after year.

Faded colour, Cuba, courtesy of Sarah Morgan
Faded colour, Cuba, courtesy of Sarah Morgan

So, I want to finish off by thanking them and their country for what they gave me for those two weeks I visited. I arrived feeling completely vulnerable and depleted, and left with a thousand experiences and memories to bring my characters and stories to vibrant life.

It was a magical time, and I shall never forget it.

 

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

My guest this week for the Write Despite feature is author Emma Rose Millar, a single parent whose inspiring commitment to her work has had her give up watching TV and write through the darkest of times. But I'll let Emma tell you more about it.

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

Hi Margaret, thanks for inviting me. Like many writers, I’d say the main challenge for me is lack of time. I’m a single mum and my six year old is on the autism spectrum. Raising a child with autism is a rollercoaster ride: exhilarating, lonely, joyous and exhausting, but never, ever dull. I’ve also got a day job; I’m a sign language interpreter in further education. At the moment I’m rehearsing with special needs students to interpret their latest drama production into BSL.  Again, it’s a hugely rewarding job, but takes up a lot of emotional and physical energy. So I find there’s very little time to write. I only open up my laptop once my son’s gone to bed―any earlier and I start getting that parent-guilt―I constantly feel like I’m not doing enough as a mum. At one time I’d be up writing until two in the morning but that really wasn’t good for me and in the end I started to feel ill. I’ve had to be strict with myself and set a sensible time limit on my writing. These days, before bed I put on some music and do thirty minutes of yoga to try and unwind before I go to sleep. Otherwise my head’s full of ideas and I can’t switch off.

How do you this challenge has impacted on your writing?

Because I’ve reduced the amount I write, it now takes much longer to finish a manuscript, but I’ve come to realise that some things are more important. I’ve taken to writing novellas and children’s stories; they require much less commitment than a full length novel. I do also love my co-writing projects. My last novel Five Guns Blazing was an intricate tale of piracy, slavery and treason, which needed a huge amount of research. Having Kevin Allen as a co-writer meant I could share the workload.

kevin allen

Through our different backgrounds and experiences I think we managed to create a story it would have been very difficult for a single author to write. For my latest project, The Women Friends, I’ve also joined forces with another author. It’s a series of two novellas based on a painting by Gustav Klimt of the same name. Writing can be a lonely business, but writing in partnership with somebody else means you can bounce ideas off each other, share the high points and the low, give constructive feedback and pull each other through at those  times mid-story when it’s easy to feel like there’s no end in sight. Marketing’s also so time-consuming that two heads are always better than one.

 

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

When I first started writing I was caught up in a bad relationship. I used to write in secret because I was terrified of my partner finding out. It was an extremely dark time in my life and that came across in my first novel. Strains from an Aeolian Harp was a story of domestic violence and opium addiction in 1920’s Britain where women weren’t allowed to divorce their husbands on the grounds of cruelty alone. I’ve started re-writing it now with a new title, Jezebels! and am hoping to make it more marketable. Of all the stories I’ve written, it’s always been the most important to me because it was so personal. I’m not ready to give up on it yet.

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

I truly believe that if you want to do something enough, there is no obstacle too big. The single best thing I did though was turning off my TV; I haven’t watched it for over four years now and looking back, I can’t believe how much of my life it used to swallow up, or what a negative impact it had on me. Did I need all those soap operas? No. I find writing a much more constructive way to spend my evenings and I love the feeling I get when I finish a novel or short story.

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

Probably my proudest moment as a writer was winning the Chaucer Award, (Legend category) for Five Guns Blazing last year. The novel tells the story of convict’s daughter Laetitia Beedham who in 1710 is set on an epic journey from London’s filthy back streets, through transportation to Barbados and gruelling plantation life, into the clutches of notorious pirates Anne Bonny, Mary Read and John ‘Calico Jack’ Rackham.

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Here’s a short excerpt:

“You have been brought before me again, Mrs Beedham!” The magistrate looked at my mother over his spectacles. She must have considered him an idiot if she thought that a flash of her ample cleavage and of her fine eyes would win her any favour. He took the monocle from his breast pocket.

“Theft of a handkerchief, soliciting, affray, the attempted theft of a lady’s purse.”

Her lips twisted at the corner into a little smile, which she quickly straightened, but she looked almost pleased with herself as the charges were read out. I could picture her clear as day, proudly emptying her stolen trinkets out onto our mattress, all shiny and gleaming in the dipping glow of the rush-lights, as a child might present a parent with a painting or piece of needlework. My mother’s eye was as keen as a magpie’s for anything sparkly; she could pick out at ease the glint of a cufflink or a hairpin in the dullest of crowds and would glide her way after it, completely unseen. Later, she would stand back to admire the baubles and bits of finery with her hands on her hips and a look of satisfaction in her eyes, then quickly her face would fall as if she had suddenly noticed they were tarnished or broken and she would snatch them back and wrap them away in her cloth.

Hers was the first case of the day; the beak had seen her at least three times before. Needless to say, my mother was well acquainted with the good magistrates of Holborn; such was her fondness for relieving wealthy ladies and gentlemen of their belongings; handkerchiefs, pocket watches and so on. The magistrate thumbed through a pile of papers on his desk, a history of her sordid misdemeanours, seemingly oblivious to the swelling underclass packing his courtroom, with their poor diction and their sticky fingers. The public gallery was full of them: undesirables and reprobates, sweating, scratching. There were women employed at their needlework, old men dozing, and a girl with some younger children who spread a muslin cloth upon her lap, then proceeded to break up a meat pie and divide it between them. And of course there was me, Laetitia Beedham, the accused’s daughter who had weaved my way through the tangle of legs and crouched behind a man who I imagined might have been a farmer, or gamekeeper. He stood solidly in front of me, cleaning the dirt from underneath his fingernails with a blade.

“Oh, don’t hang me, sir, I beg of you!”

The court seemed suddenly excited by her outburst. It was all entertainment to them; the law after all is only theatre; it did not matter much if one was hanged or not, it was all part of the drama.

“I only did it for my daughter, who was sick and in need of medicine. My husband’s dead, sir, what is a woman to do?”

I felt a blush burning from my collarbone to my temples, and someone laughed and shouted, “She is a liar, sir! The girl is the bastard child of two thieves!”

Five Guns Blazing is now available on Amazon

Many thanks for hosting me, Margaret J

Thanks for being such a great guest, Emma!

See you next time.

Margaret

We promise not to share your details with anyone.
We promise not to share your details with anyone.

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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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Hi there!

Joining us for the Write Despite feature this week is author and actor Angela Wren. Like so many of us, Angela has a nagging critical voice inside her head. Angela calls hers Nemesis. But I'll let Angela tell you about it. Welcome, Angela.

 

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

Luckily I'm fit and healthy and have never had any physical challenges to overcome - unless you count being totally left-handed a challenge!  My greatest challenge is my greatest fault and that is my uncanny ability to persuade myself of things that cannot be true.  Call it inner doubt, insecurity, whatever you wish, but I call the her that I sometimes become, Nemesis.  She is my greatest enemy, she is a rival that I have to keep at bay, and she is always there, somewhere in the background as a voice that will never be completely silenced.  She appears at trivial moments - for instance when I'm having that discussion with my wardrobe about what to wear for a night out - as well as critical ones, such as when I'm waiting in the wings to make my first entrance.  I have ways of dealing with her but, I've never yet found a way to make her disappear altogether and perhaps I never will.

 

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Angela on stage as Elvira in Noel Coward's "Blithe Spirit"

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

Greatly in some respects, even preventing me from writing at all.  I've loved stories from being a child and my very first attempts were as a schoolgirl but I stopped because Nemesis agreed with and reinforced Sister Mary Paul's assessment of my efforts.  Much later, in July last year when the email arrived in my inbox from Crooked Cat, Nemesis told me to delete it unread.  I didn't of course, but it did sit there for two days before I opened it.  And even then, as I read the first few lines offering me the contract to publish Messandrierre, my other self was telling me that it had to be a mistake.  'That email was meant for someone else,' she said.  I told her to shut up, read and re-read the email, had an hour or so dancing on the ceiling, and then accepted.

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

It's the same with everything I do.  Nemesis with her constant nagging question, 'what if nobody likes your production, the character you're currently playing, the story your working on?'  She's been asking me that question all my life and I have no doubt that she will continue to do so.

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

I think there are far more qualified writers than me out there who can provide pithy, sensible and very useful advice.  All I can say is that, in dealing with my Nemesis, I've learned that she needs to be challenged and managed.  And there are times when she just needs to be told exactly what to do with herself!  Perhaps I'll put her in a book.  Maybe she'll leave me be then.

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 done but I suppose my first and most awesome writing experience, thus far, was when I returned from France in 2010 to find a letter from an editor wanting to publish a short story called 'Aunt Maggie'.  It took a whole box of tissues to get through that moment!  And when the cheque arrived, I was so overwhelmed that somebody was actually paying me for my words that I never cashed it!

The first cheque Angela received for her writing
The first cheque Angela received for her writing

It sits there in a frame on my bookshelf in my writing shed.  And I know that when I get my print copy of Messandrierre I'll need tissues, lots of them!  I'm working on book 2 in the series, so my hero, Jacques, is constantly with me and he makes a very nice change from Nemesis!

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Thank you for speaking so openly about your inner critic, Angela! I know you're not alone in your constant fight with negative thoughts. Have you got an inner critic like Angela's Nemesis? Let us know in the comments.

If you'd like to connect with Angela, her links are below, together with her bio.

Until next time!

Margaret

Anyone wanting to meet Jacques and the other villagers in my murder/mystery, Messandrierre, can find him at :

Amazon UK

Amazon US

Smashwords

Website : www.angelawren.co.uk

Blog : www.jamesetmoi.blogspot.com

Facebook : Angela Wren

Goodreads : Angela Wren

 

Author Bio

Having followed a career in Project and Business Change Management, I now work as an Actor and Director at a local theatre. I’ve been writing, in a serious way, for about 5 years. My work in project management has always involved drafting, so writing, in its various forms, has been a significant feature throughout my adult life.

I particularly enjoy the challenge of plotting and planning different genres of work. My short stories vary between contemporary romance, memoir, mystery and historical. I also write comic flash-fiction and have drafted two one-act plays that have been recorded for local radio. The majority of my stories are set in France where I like to spend as much time as possible each year.

Novel Blurb

Sacrificing his job in investigation following an incident in Paris, Jacques Forêt has only a matter of weeks to solve a series of mysterious disappearances as a Gendarme in the rural French village of Messandrierre.  But, as the number of missing persons rises, his difficult and hectoring boss puts obstacles in his way. Steely and determined, Jacques won't give up and, when a new Investigating Magistrate is appointed, he becomes the go-to local policeman for all the work on the case. Will he find the perpetrators before his lover, Beth, becomes a victim?

 

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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.

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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!

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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

 

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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!

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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.

 

4 Comments

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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