You stare at the blank screen. You hover your pen over the page. You wonder if you close your eyes and wait a bit you’ll start automatically writing a masterpiece. We’ve all been there.
Popular culture would have you believe that inspiration just hits you when you’re out walking or buying a loaf of bread. And sometimes a spark will appear like Harry Potter wandering down a train aisle and into JK Rowlings head. But usually finding an idea to write about involves just that – ‘finding’. Fortunately, you might not have to look very far.
If you’ve been writing for any length of time, I’ve no doubt you’ll have collected a bunch of exercise books, scraps of paper, notepads, computer disks and hard drives filled with notes. You may well think they’re well, a bit crap. And they may well be, but they could also be the spark that you need.
I’ve been churning out bits and bobs since I was old enough to hold a pencil and much my early work is typical of what kids and teenagers write and it’s pretty hideous. But when I decided my next book would be an anthology of short stories, into my cave of wonders I went. There I found enough diamonds in the rough to make up a good chunk of the book with a few new ones rustled up for good measure. I’ve had to do some serious re-writes, often completely but the kernal of the idea or even just a character survived for me to work with.
So if you need an idea, start with what you’ve already got first. Oh and be careful what you throw away!
What would be a good historical reference for a company as defining as Google? The East India Company? Ford? It’s hard to think of an equivalent. And love or loathe them, anyone would be interested in what actually goes on behind the doors. I was given the chance to visit one of their offices through my work.
This notebook was given to us as part of the visit, which was probably more exciting for me than anything else! It came to light recently when I had to raid my collection for a new work notepad and it’s well suited given what I do (online copy-writing).
When I opened it, I realised I’d made notes about my trip to the office. Most were about the tour they took us on, where we experienced all those work perks we’d heard about. Free food and drink were a big thing, with snacks and hot and cold drink always being on tap. Plus free breakfast and lunch (and dinner for engineers). Oh and a massage room with free massage on your birthday.
Of course the whole set up is designed to keep people in the office, they can be working at the drop of a hat. But it’s corporate intervention I could get on board with because…well did I mention the free food? Which actually has some relevance to working on your writing. Prep yourself for writing by having food and drink available. Take breaks and have something to do in your breaks so you keep yourself ‘in the zone’.
Highgate Cemetery stands on Highgate hill, with a commanding a view over London. Because of that, it became the place to be buried in Victorian times.
Highgate is one of seven cemeteries opened in the 1800s to relieve pressure on the horrendously overcrowded inner city church graveyards. They’d been overwhelmed by new inhabitants brought into the capital by the industrial revolution. But the Victorians weren’t high on Government interference. So the new cemeteries were all run by private companies and needed to make a profit.
A couple of years ago I visited Highgates’ East Cemetery, so it was only a matter of time before I also made my way to the West. I love a good cemetery. It sounds morbid and part of the appeal is the Gothic nature of them. But I also like history and of course, the hidden story behind each resident. If you’re a writer, they’re good places to find inspiration.
Unlike the Highgate East, where you can wander as you wish, visits to the West are by tour only.
The £12.50 cost is reasonable, especially as the money goes towards the upkeep of the site. It does mean you can’t track down the graves of people you might be interested in, but you do get a boatload of intriguing information from an enthusiastic guide.
The main thing I learnt about is the amount of symbolism in Victorian graves. Urns represent the soul, wreaths mean victory over death, Pelicans are a symbol of piety – nothing on a Victorian burial monument is there just to look pretty. It all means something.
Our guide also introduced us to some of the cemeteries more interesting inhabitants.
George Wombwell, a successful menagerist and his sleepy lion, and Tom Sayers, a successful bare-knuckle boxer and his faithful dog, Lion.
And as far as writers go, we did get a glimpse of the tomb of Radclyffe Hall, author of early lesbian novel ‘The Well of Loneliness’.
The West side of the cemetery was always the poshest , positioned right at the top of the hill. There were places for the poorest yes, but these were simply a pit you shared with many others and had no gravestone. At the other end of the scale is the most expensive tomb in the place built by Julius Beer for his daughter Ada, at a cost of thousands.
The cemetery still has cache to it. When we visited, there was much ado about where George Micheal would be buried (his mother is interred in a private location in the cemetery). But there’s no mistaking that years of neglect have taken their toll.
Highgate has been restored in parts but it’s still very overgrown. One of the titbits given by our guide was that the graves are leased not owned. Technically it’s the responsibility of the deceaseds relatives to maintain them. If this isn’t done, the grave would be forfit. But this isn’t enforced at the moment and , as you can imagine, many have been forgotten. It does make you wonder if one of your own relatives might be nestled around there somewhere!
For me and many others though, the decrepit nature of the place just adds to the atmosphere. If you’re into Victorian history, graveyards, architecture, London or just after a fascinating tour this could be for you. Quick tip – if you go at the weekends, you don’t have to book but the tours are popular. We went on a cold Sunday morning in February and the tour filled up quickly.
Have you ever visited Highgate? Or another cemetery that’s captured your imagination?
I think it’s safe to say most of the reviews this year will be asking ‘WTF?’ Political and world events seemed to just be one cataclysmic event after the other. And on a personal level, I’ve had a couple of ‘WTF’ moments too. I won’t miss this year one bit.
But for me, there have been good moments too. The biggest thing was, of course, the publication of my first e-book. After writing stories for twenty-six odd years, I finally have a full-length piece of my work out there for people to read. No matter what happens next year, I did it and now I have, I intend to keep going. I’m currently editing a bunch of short stories for the next book whilst planning the one after that, another full-length novel. I’m working to finally establish that I am a writer – in my mind if nothing else.
Thanks to everyone I know and everyone who follows this blog or my social media accounts. Thanks for being there, for helping me, for encouraging me when I needed it and for reading my book!
To my fellow writers wherever you are in life or career, keep going. Keep sending those words out. Keep speaking even if you feel silenced. Stories are the lifeblood of us all, whether we’re reading them on the page or being part of them via Virtual Reality goggles.
When Terry Pratchett died, it affected me because he shaped the person I am today. The same is true of Carrie Fisher, albeit in a different way.
To women of a certain age, especially those in love with fantasy, she was an icon. There weren’t a great deal of notable female characters in the genre at the time, so Princess Leia in Star Wars was a revelation. She was determined, brave, funny and caring. An excellent shot, a true friend and a rebel leader even after her entire family and planetwere destroyed(. And she got Han Solo. No question, I wanted to be Leia. Many of the first stories I wrote included Princess Leia type heroines, fighting and shooting with the best of them.
When I got older, I began to appreciate her for the woman she was too. A brilliant writer and script doctor, she was outspoken and bitingly funny. She discussed her addictions and mental illness without shame. Ultimately, she loved words – and that’s my kind of Princess.
I did the traditional thing with falling in love with words, reading books and underlining lines I liked and words I didn’t know. It was something I always did.
If you want people to read your e-book, you’ll need to do some ‘metaphorical’ legwork. And if, like me, you’re new to all this and aren’t sure where to start, here’s some basic (and free) ways to promote your e-book.
1. Add yourself as an author on Goodreads
Goodreads is like Trip Advisor for books and I’m sure most of you are on their already talking, reviewing and generally loving books. But did you know they have an Author profile? Add your own book to Goodreads and claim it as your own and bingo – you’re a Goodreads Author! You don’t need an ISBN either.
2. Promote your book with Writers Online ‘Subscriber Showcase’
I’ve subscribed to the Writing Magazine for years and as the biggest writing mag in the UK, it has some clout. So when I found that they’ll add your book to their online Subscriber Showcase free for two months if you’re a subscriber, I was all over it. They’ll also add you if you’re not a subscriber but you would need to pay a small fee.
3. Schedule your social media promotion with an app
There are plenty of apps to help you juggle your social media accounts. Basic help is usually free so you can try things out to see what’s right for you.
I use Buffer and thus far it’s provided what I need to manage my Twitter and Facebook. With their basic service I can set up one message about my book to repeat at a regular interval, in my case once a week. It’s also proved useful to queue up a variety of other messages about other things too. Don’t continuously cry ‘BUY MY BOOK!’ because you will put people off.
4. Got Twitter? Try welcome Direct Messages
Okay, I know not everyone is fond of these – but I’ve actually had some nice conversations because of them and I think they’re a good way to highlight what you’ve got going on. Like with other social promotion, keep if short and personal and not just ‘BUY MY BOOK!’
5. Update your social media and blog bios
If you’ve got a blog, update your ‘About’ page with a link to your book and consider a link on your menu or sidebar as well.
Similarly, pop a link into your social media bios linking to your new book. If you’d rather leave your Twitter bio as it is, try pinning a tweet to the top of your time line instead, so it’s the first one people see visiting your feed.
Got a tip that’s helped you with your own work? Please share in the comments below.
Even though it’s not far from neck of the woods, I’ve only just got round to visiting Stonehenge.
It helps that we’ve joined English Heritage as it’s not cheap to visit the stones. Understandable I suppose, given that it is one of the most famous sites on the planet and they have got a rather good visitors centre. Inside is a 360 display of the stones, plus an exhibition on their history and artefacts found at the site.
There’s been many a story inspired by these great, ancient stones and the burial mound covered landscape that surrounds them. I shall let the pictures speak for themselves.
Who else has been to this magnificent place? What were your thoughts?
If you’re a writer, you’re going to love words. But part of that love comes from your knowledge of their power. Words are beautiful gifts – with sharp edges. I believe in freedom of speech. But we often act as if words exist in a vacuum. They do not.
Our ability to communicate has given us civilisations, nations; dominance (rightly or wrongly) on this planet. That shows you the power of words. So we should never pretend that because they do not inflict physical change, they can’t be powerful or dangerous. Words can incite, words can enflame. Words can support and justify and embolden. The words we speak and hear, and words you write and read; the power comes from both sides.
The age of internet and global media means we’re overflowing with words. Sometimes we’re close to drowning in them. We struggle under their weight, so we try to sum up, to ‘sound-bite’, this torrent of words in a nice neat bow. But it’s not possible. And when we do so, we erase their context and inadvertently make words even sharper.
I won’t repeat that oft used ‘Uncle-Ben-from-Spiderman’ quote, but it’s foolish not to understand what words can do. And the freedom some of us have to send them into the world comes with a price. We must take responsibility for our words. We must never underestimate how powerful they can be.
Monk’s House was once the home of Virginia and Leonard Woolf. Today it’s owned by the National Trust. It’s a simple, unassuming 18th century cottage with a beautiful big garden and orchard.
Virginia writing shed can be found in this orchard. And she resides here too, her ashes scattered amongst the trees.
Virginia and Leonard Woolf owned this place as a retreat from London. In it they made welcome several notable members of the ‘Bluestockings’ literary and artistic set in the 1930s.
There’s a real sense of simplicity about the place. It’s a home not a grand place to show off. Which isn’t to say it’s not interesting. It’s full of books and colourful rugs, painted chairs and vases full of flowers.
If you’re a member of the NT and you’re into your authors, this is a good place to visit and it doesn’t take long to go round.
The garden is delightful and many a visitor was enjoying a picnic on that summers afternoon. You can see why Virginia and Leonard found a creative bolthole here.
I think you either love Virginia work or admire it and I’d say I fall into the latter category. I’ve read a number of her works (favourite is The Years) and I’ve been fascinated by her themes, her use of words but I’m not as passionate as I know some will be. But her influence on the literary world and development of Feminism cannot be underestimated. So if you’re in the vicinity, why not pop in and look around.