Friday, 1 February 2013


Oh look!  I've pinched the title from a clever writer and added ! to make it mine. On Writing by Steven King is one of the most helpful books I've read. Part biography,  the story of King being run down on the road while jogging and coming back from that - interesting,  and part advice on writing. Amazing. To have that information, from this successful and experienced writer is like finding gold -  or better, the information shared by Steven King changed the way I approach reading and writing.

However,  I am not a Steven King reader, I'm not even sure if I've read any his books, except this one. Certainly not any of his scary stories.

For something like ten years I enjoyed being part of online writing groups. Most of these were critique groups.  All members posted a chapter of whatever they were writing - mostly novels for middle grade readers, around 10 to 14 years. We read and either reviewed these or wrote line by line critiques, which I loved doing, depending on the group.  In one short story group members took turns setting assignments, one every three weeks. We'd all do the assignment and critique the results. Mostly these were to write a story. One of the assignments I set for everyone was to write a story in dialogue only - no speech tags, no descriptions,  just the dialogue - my favourite task. Someone else set us to write about why we write. That was difficult. It was interesting to find this again and read what I'd written back then.


28.03.2004   Looking at the last few assignments and knowing how far they stretched me, how they have improved my writing and uncovered weaknesses, I wonder just what I want to write and why.

What I know - I like writing for children. I want to give them something, tell them things they would not know if they had not read my story.
But my writing is not cute - no talking teddy bears,  it's not funny - so no Adrian Mole.  It's usually about coping with serious issues like step parents, feelings of rejection, illness, loss... all very serious stuff and in the past rejected by publishers for that reason.  'Subject is too serious'.  So? I'm a serious person!

To improve - to make my stories richer I'd like them to show that in spite of the serious issues we often face life is still wonderful - it's worth it!
What started me on this track? -  I think it's just who I am. I was 'making up' stories at the age of 2 or 3 years. My first story involved a pair of bunnies, with six babies, who adopted another baby who was different.  Yes, I know that's a cutsie-pie story - I had a collection of plastic toy bunnies and as inspired, by the colours. They were all shades of green but one odd one was blue,  so he was different. The adoption didn't change him but they were a family all the same.  30 years later I did just that, took a foster child into my family. It was supposed to be 18 months and ended up more like 18 years plus.

So, looking back at the stories that impressed and inspired me to write - I read all the Secret Seven and Famous Five books at a very young age. I enjoyed them but knew they were not real. I got through the children's classics like Black Beauty, Heidi, Kidnapped, Robinson Crusoe, Tom Sawyer and they were okay but not special. Blinky Bill and the Gumnut babies frightened me and I still avoid Banksia trees.

Two books that made a bit impression on me, because they were much better stories - The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde, (a collection of short stories published in 1888) and The Water Babies by the Rev Charles Kingsley, published in 1963 - such wonderful illustrations. These were the books I loved at 10 years of age. 

So, then onto grown up books, raiding my parent’s collection and the library. More fantasy.  I threw The Carpetbaggers away because at age 12  I thought it was total rubbish - my mother enjoyed reading but usually stuck with the popular titles that everyone else read.  I tried the classics and found idealistic fantasy. I was not easy to please.  Dickens, no, I hated it. Dad's books were mostly war novels and they did keep me busy but only one stands out in memory, The Cruel Sea, by Nicholas Montserrat.  At times scenes from that book pop into my head as if to say ... could you handle this, now?

I picked up The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint Exupery, pub 1943. I'm still learning from the little prince - though try not to be too involved in the story because I fear there is something distasteful there.  The original illustrations are lovely.

But, the greatest treasure I found in my early teens - a little book of incredible beauty, with black line illustrations that I loved. It was The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico. This was a little bit of fiction inside a true story. And what a story!  I was inspired.  I wanted to write stories like that, stories that caused the reader to choke on their breath.

The next precious stone for me was Catch 22 by Joseph Heller. I bought it from a newstand in the street on the way to a bus stop. I was thrilled to read it.  I read favourite bits over again, talked about it and quoted it.  I knew it wasn't in my personality to write like that, but wow, what a book! It gave me an understanding of the world and how it works.

By this time I was over 21 and devouring every book I could get. Someone gave me The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien, to read and I discovered, in that gem, the idea of journey and overcoming. Of course this was in The Water Babies and other stories too, but I hadn't been able to grasp it consciously before.

I don't have these three books on my desk. I don't read them over and over. The spirit of them is inside me. I feel I have absorbed the stories and I'm waiting to see what I have nourished.  I don't plan my writing, I just begin - often not knowing the direction I'm heading in but enjoying the scenery along the way.


Today, reading over my thoughts from 2004 I am disappointed to find not much has changed. I have not met my goal of being published, apart from a couple of short stories and bits in newspapers and obscure magazines back in the 1990s - nothing that really counts.  And it is probably because I don't work at it like some do - because I do not want to be a salesman. So that's my reason and that's okay.

I have read more books but nothing really outstanding. It is possible I've kept away from outstanding books because life gets in the way of that sort of commitment.  I enjoy all The Number One Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith - simple, sweet philosophy, beautiful tales of gentle people written with understanding - I love them.  

I've also discovered Language Change by Jean Aitchison, and some other similar books,  which release me from becoming what they call a 'word nazi'.  

If I had to pick a modern novelist favourite I'd say Kate Atkinson - her story construction and character building is amazing.  It takes a while to get into step with her but when you do it's like solving a clueless crossword puzzle, an enjoyable achievement. And here it looks like I stopped by the shelf for authors starting with A.

I have been busy with other activates since 2004, enjoyable but time consuming, mostly involving the production of a school yearbook for eight years. I have written very little in that time, except in my head.  There are lots of stories in there.  I know my writing is not literature or philosophy, I just make up stories about made up people -  based on true stories and people, and often any deeper meaning within is invisible to me.  
So now to a blog. This will be writing about things that are not made up and that is actually more difficult. I will continue to write for me though.  Of course writers should write for an audience but I feel the reading of it is not my area; the subject, the story and writing of words is the bit I do.


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