Tag Archives: challenge

My new novel, Perfect Responses, has a controversial character in it, in the the shape of Corrinne Walker, a self-help author. Corrinne's theories in her book Staying in Neutral, Responses to Change Your Life, form the backbone of the book as three different women are encouraged to deal with significant life challenges by using her advice.

Corrinne believes in straight-talking, and isn't bothered if she offends people along the way to get her message across. I expect you've come across people like this in your life. They might have rubbed you up the wrong way, or perhaps you grudgingly admire them. Either way, they aren't people who often get ignored.

Here's an extract from Corrinne's (fictional) self-help book.

Extract from: Staying in Neutral, Responses to Change Your Life by Corrinne Walker.

You’re late for work because someone has thrown themselves onto the railway line. You feel sympathetic, glad it wasn’t you up there, finding the courage to leap.

But then it happens again, the next day. And the next. They’re like lemmings up there, with their shitty lives, waiting to jump. And always in the rush hour. Never at 10 a.m., or 11 a.m., when it’s just the tourists en route for the London Dungeon, or their free trip up the Cheese Grater to see the view of the Tower of London like a model far below them.

No, they’ve got to make the most possible impact with their final gesture, and they couldn’t care less about your blood pressure, sat there helpless on that train, somewhere between Colchester and bloody Kelvedon.

They couldn’t give a monkey’s that you could lose your job because you’re consistently late. That you’ll no longer be able to afford the au pair, and you’ll have to bake cakes and do voluntary work and pretend to the world you’re happy being an earth-mother-stay-at-home-mum. And all while your husband’s at large in the world with his immaculate suit and Creed aftershave, and never so much as a whiff of baby sick or mustard-bum poo.

He’ll return home after a day of exciting deals and flirtatious banter, expecting a tasty, well-presented meal and willing sex, and it will be as much as you can do to growl something primeval at him before you head for the bath tub in a vain attempt to scrub away your frustration and resentment. You’re so suffused with them both, the bath water fairly fizzes, and much of the steam on the expensive floor to ceiling mirror has come out of your own ears.

And all because of a string of suicides by some selfish, down-on-their-luck losers. The injustice of it all makes you want to scream. Either that, or grab your coat, put it on over your bath-wet body and clomp down to that sodding railway bridge yourself.

Sisters, stop.

We’ve all been there, with that spiral of self-destructiveness. We’ve all blamed others for our misfortunes, and slumped with despair and self-pity. But unless you want to be a martini-quaffing martyr or a hatred-haggled harridan, flailing at the injustice of the world and watching your former friends cross the road to avoid you and your negativity, you need to take action. You need to do something about your reactions to the bad, the irritating, the stressful and the downright disappointing happenings of life. To understand that, if you’re alive, shit happens.

Because this is life we’re living, not some happy-ever-after movie. Your car will break down on your way to the airport for your dream holiday. You’ll be the only one at your Weight Watchers group to put on weight. Your boyfriend will always be busy when you call him. You’ll get gout. You’ll be first in the queue for the Liberty’s sale and a security alert will force you to vacate the area.

Shit. Happens.

Let me tell you, the day I realised that – truly embraced the fact and decided I would no longer let it affect me – was the day I really started living.

When shit happens, we have two choices. We can let shit have power over us and our emotions and responses. But who wants shit to have power over them? Not me. Alternatively, we can keep hold of our power and choose our own reactions. Because all those shitty things that happen to us are events, just as all the good things that happen to us are events.

You find your daughter’s lost hamster alive and well under the fridge. That’s an event. You give an amazing presentation and win your company a lucrative contract. An event. You get the flu and miss a music concert you bought the tickets for a year ago. An event. Your mother dies. An event.

Yes, I know what you’re saying. That missing a pop concert and your mother dying are hardly in the same league. Well, I guess that depends to some extent on the quality of your relationship with your mother.

Only kidding! Of course one outweighs the other. But they are both still events, and I put it to you that we can – and should – choose how we wish to react to events.

Events – and this is very important – are neutral things. Like a closet full of beige clothes. The trouble is, many of us have such chaotic closets – colours all jumbled up, red next to lime green, summer dresses next to winter coats, jeans we’ll never fit into again next to shorts that make us look like geriatric ramblers. And when shit comes calling, we reach into the mess of a closet to snatch up something red or purple or angry orange, and we wrap it closely around us until it feels like a part of our skin. When actually, what we need to do is to stand back, and give ourselves a little space. Keep hold of our dignity and our emotional control. Recognise that shit for what it is. A stinky, unwanted interruption in our lives.

Note from Margaret K Johnson:

I hope you enjoyed the above extract from Corrinne's book! Corrinne has more advice in my upcoming novel Perfect Responses. Here's the blurb:

Three women are about to face the biggest challenges of their lives. Janet has been mistaken for a sex tourist after being abandoned by her fiancé in Africa. Debbie is hell-bent on a hopeless affair with Adam, her married boss. Pregnant Kate has just married the love of her life only for him to turn into a distant stranger overnight.

The three don’t know it, but self-help author Corrinne Walker is depending on them to use her advice to sort themselves out. In fact, her whole future depends on them making perfect responses. But will they be able to do it?

Perfect Responses is coming very soon!

Cheers!

Margaret

Fans of the Great British Bake-Off will know that participants are often rushing around trying to get things finished at the last minute, before the time runs out.

Sometimes they will be seen squatting in front of their ovens, looking through the glass and willing their cakes or loaves to bake faster.  Even though they always seem to be having fun on the show, there's usually a bit of a frenetic atmosphere in that GBBO tent.

But sometimes they just have to accept that there is nothing for them to do but wait. Their dough is in the proving cupboard, and it just has to stay there to rise before anything else can be done with it.

It's always a good idea to leave a first draft of your novel in a 'proving cupboard' for a while, just as you need to allow bread dough to rise before you can do anything with it.

 

This week, I'm celebrating reaching the end of the first draft of my new novel. Notice I say "reaching the end of", not finished. Experience tells me that I will have seriously rushed my ending, and that I will also have to add more scenes and move others around.  I've written previously about the raw material of a first draft - you can read that post here.

Experience also tells me that the days or weeks when I've just finished writing is not the time for me to be able to see all these things clearly. So, The Self-Help Angel is in the proving cupboard, and I won't take it out again for several weeks. With Christmas rapidly approaching, it might even be a month before I look at it again. Then, when I do take it out, I'll be able to see it properly.

 

christmas_angels_from_ore_mountains_called_lichterengel_carved_from_lime_tree_10

 

One thing that really helps me to maintain momentum when I'm writing, and to get that 'dough' into the proving cupboard is not to number my chapters.

At the start of a new chapter, I just type the word Chapter, then start writing. It might seem like a small thing, but it gives me mental permission to change things around at a later date, and, perhaps more importantly, it removes the pressure of feeling I've got to get it completely right first time. It also seems to make me feel I can write whatever scene happens to be demanding my attention at that particular moment, instead of thinking 'I can't write that because it doesn't come next.'

Anything that helps you to keep your momentum going when you're writing is valuable, because momentum is your best friend. Momentum creates - and maintains - a writing habit. A writing habit means a word count that steadily grows. It also means results, and when you can see the results of your labours, you start to feel you are achieving something. Because you are! And that's more than half the battle.

So, what am I going to be doing while The Self-Help Angel is in the proving cupboard? I'm going to be working on some exciting new courses. Watch this space!

Have a great week.

Margaret

 

 

Hello, everyone! I'm getting very excited, because I'm about to spend a concentrated period of time writing my new novel! It's a sort of sequel to my novel The Goddess Workshop. I say "sort of sequel", because it has a big twist to it, but it's a sequel in that I'll be continuing to write about the fortunes of some of my favourite characters from the book, and I can't wait! I left them with the world at their feet, but things have changed, and they're about to change still futher - more than any of them can possibly imagine...

Four very different women have an embarassing problem they're determined to put right! "I laughed out loud and missed my bus stop."
Four very different women have an embarassing problem they're determined to put right!
"I laughed out loud and missed my bus stop."

The Goddess Workshop started life as a stage play which was performed for three incredible nights at the Cambridge Drama Centre. Later, I attempted a screenplay of it, and finally, I wrote it as a novel, which allowed me to do so much more with it. With so many versions of the story, I lived with the characters for a long time - laughing with them, caring about them, and experiencing their challenges, heartaches and triumphs. I loved that group of friends. I heard their conversations inside my head as I walked the dog, and I missed them so much after I'd finished the book. So I'm thrilled to be about to plunge into their worlds again, and to spend time with old friends.

I wonder if any of you are about to plunge into some writing? To travel to that place where you're so submerged that magic happens frequently inside your head - plot points clicking together, story strands joining up satisfyingly, characters acting in ways you'd never even thought of, but which are so very right for your story.

This is the writing zone, where there is no procrastination, no trouble using every available piece of time to write, no worry about what others will think about your words. A place where your inner critic can be ignored. A glowing place of creativity and self-fulfilment. It's where I hope to be for the rest of the year, and it's where I hope you will be too, if you want to write.

But if you're finding it difficult to imagine yourself there, or you're trying to reach that place but it isn't working for you,why not enrol for my course FEEL THE FEAR AND WRITE ANYWAY, which I designed to help you to overcome blocks to your writing, to boost your writerly self-confidence and to help you really move forward with your writing goals. You can find out more and enrol HERE.

Happy writing! I'm off to a Sacred Crocodile pool in The Gambia.

crocodile-pool
Until next time!

Margaret

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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.

 

708px-joan_of_arc_on_horseback

 

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…

 

me-doing-standup
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!

monster-1274723_640

 

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.

 

On Saturday, I took my son to London for the day, and after a hectic trip to the Natural History Museum to see dinosaur skeletons and to experience earth tremors, I parked him on a bench inside the Tate Modern.

While he happily played Jetpack Challenge on his phone, I toured the exhibition galleries with a good friend and absorbed myself in the paintings of the American artist Georgia O'Keefe.

Georgia flowers

 

Georgia (1897 -1986) painted sensuous mountains and flowers, using glowing colours and languid rhythms to show their essence and spirituality. She was passionate about her subjects, but also revealed the core of herself as she painted them.

Georgia 2

At times, Georgia seems super-human, living as she did until the age of ninety-eight, dedicating herself to producing pioneering art, her career spanning seven decades. And yet, this straight-talking woman of strong opinions and an even stronger work ethic, longed to have a child with her lover then husband Alfred Stieglitz.

Alfred_Stieglitz

 

Twenty-four years older than Georgia, Stieglitz's favourite sister had died in childbirth. He also felt too old to become a father again. (Stieglitz had a daughter, Kitty, from a previous marriage). But chiefly, he felt that Georgia's fierce focus on her art would be diluted if she had someone else to think about.

I believe he was right here - although this doesn't necessarily mean he had the right to deny his wife one of the most fulfilling experiences there is in life. Georgia, who craved solitude, and who was at her happiest battling the elements in the deserts of New Mexico in order to paint its mountains, would certainly have had to employ someone to look after any children while she was thus engaged.

 

Georgia mountains

 

But, as any mother will know, whether they were taken care of or not, it's highly likely there would always have been a part of Georgia's brain reserved for her children.  Having experienced that overpowering need to have a child myself (happily resulting in my son, Alfie, now eleven-years-old) I can understand how the urge to become a mother takes you over and controls every aspect of your life. Georgia O'Keefe's paintings are filled with emotion, and I've no doubt that her childlessness is built into their fabric, as must be the affair Steiglitz had with another younger woman for many years, and his ultimate death in 1946.

Georgia never had to fit in her passionate work between the equivalents of visits to the park, requests to use the pc to record YouTube videos or trips to Accident and Emergency after stunt scooter accidents, and she has an impressive body of work to show for it.

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And yet, if we are mothers and we also want to write, paint, or to create in any way, then it's possible - and necessary both to ourselves and those around us - to find a piece of the creative world Georgia had in order for us to be fully ourselves.

So, I'm spending the summer compartmentalising my life, making bargains and compromises with my son. Unashamedly using YouTube and X-Box as baby sitters to give myself time for Gorgia O'Keefe focus. As my son is extremely passionate about watching YouTube and playing on his X-Box, I'm certain I could get away with leaving him to do this all day, allowing me to work without restraint to tackle my own personal New Mexico mountains.

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But I wouldn't do it.

There are crabs to be caught. Waves to be surfed. Trees to be climbed. Adopted Shetland ponies to be adored.

alfie and baby face

In a few short years, my son won't need me nearly so much, and then I'll no doubt have more Georgia O'Keefe space and spirituality than I can handle.

So for now, I'll willingly juggle my life to embrace them both.

Happy summer!

Margaret

 

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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.

Author Rumer Haven is on my Write Despite feature this week, talking about the special blend of genres that make up her novels, and her fears when she was starting out that her ideas wouldn't stretch to a whole book. Welcome, Rumer!

 

Rumer Haven
Rumer Haven

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

Probably finding my voice and genre. I’ve always loved creative writing, but for a while there, my writing was primarily of the academic and business variety. I tend toward long, intricate sentences, and I had a graduate school professor once tell me that my writing was good but could be great if I would only relax it a little.

I have also felt caught between the literary and commercial realms. I don’t consider my writing highbrow, but it’s not exactly a beach read either. And while my stories usually have romance, they don’t fit the formula of that genre.

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

I think by now I’ve learned to embrace the hybrid genre. The stories just are what they are; it’s how they come to me, and I’d be hard-pressed to hack limbs off them just so I can squeeze them into one category or another. So while it can make it difficult to position myself to find the right audience, the more I write, the more I see the commonalities between stories, which makes the cross-genre easier to define (even if takes a few words to do so). As has become clearer to me from my first two novels, I trend toward contemporary women’s fiction with historical, paranormal and romantic elements. Gives me a lot to work with, and I’d prefer to continue mixing and matching versus pigeon-holing myself into any one.

Streamlining my style is an ongoing challenge, yet I’ve found that it helps to pick up my pace when drafting. If I don’t let myself dawdle and dwell too long on the wordsmithing, and instead just push the story forward by writing faster, my language does seem to simplify and relax.

WTCK_teaser3
What was your greatest fear when you first started to write?

Not having an idea that I could sustain across an entire novel. Since then, it’s fearing what others think of my stories—but in the beginning, I wrote for myself. I simply wanted to write a novel whether it would be published or not. And it took years to find that first idea, so I doubted it would ever happen. But once I did grab onto that first idea, subsequent ones flowed, which has been such a happy relief.

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

Write. Just write. Don’t wait for the right time, don’t even wait for the right idea (like I did). Just write, and the words and ideas will flow from there. Staring down a blank page (or blank screen, in this day and age) is daunting, so write something on it, and it won’t be scary and blank any more! Ideas beget ideas, so even if your first draft is crap, trust me, there are diamonds in that rough. Pluck them, polish them, and set them in something stronger. But you can’t do that unless you have something to work with in the first place; you have to create the clay before you can mould it. And in my case, writing actually helped me work through difficult circumstances that threatened to squash my dreams. Instead, I achieved them…by just…writing.

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

I’m presently writing a 1920s murder mystery. My first time dappling in that genre, so we’ll see how it goes! But it’s fun writing Roaring Twenties historical fiction again after my debut novel, Seven for a Secret.

FB cover (1)

 

Meanwhile, I’d be remiss not to share my latest release, published just last week! Woven between 21st-century and Victorian London, What the Clocks Know is a haunting story of love and identity:

Twenty-six-year-old Margot sets out on a journey of self-discovery – she dumps her New York boyfriend, quits her Chicago job, and crashes at her friend’s flat in London. Rather than find herself, though, she only feels more lost. An unsettling energy affects her from the moment she enters the old Victorian residence, and she spirals into depression. Frightened and questioning her perceptions, she gradually suspects her dark emotions belong to Charlotte instead. Who is Charlotte? The name on a local gravestone could relate to Margot’s dreams and the grey woman weeping at the window.

Finding a ghost isn't what she had in mind when she went ‘soul searching’, but somehow Margot's future may depend on Charlotte's past.

Amazon UK - http://amzn.to/1QsiFfr
Amazon US - http://amzn.to/21DZoCw

Thanks so much for joining us, Rumer, and for your fascinating answers to my questions! Good luck with all things hybrid.

Until next time,

Margaret