Tag Archives: relationships

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

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

Two thirds of the way up Mount Snowden, Wales

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still Life With Green Coffee Pot

Happy autumn, everyone!

 

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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.

 

 

 

 

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 For Hannah With Love. In For Hannah, With Love, I wanted to move two of my female characters out of their usual environment to throw a spotlight on the nature of their friendship.

 

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 For Hannah, With Love, 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.

 

A 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.