Saturday, 31 July 2010


Following on from the subject of community I began to wonder about the principle of teamwork. You see I've always thought of myself as a team person. I emphasise this in any interviews I attend – “I'm a team player, I'll do anything anything for the team”. I have no inflated ego and I've always loved any activity that involves working together with other people and it's as a team member rather than a community-minded person that I see myself. But then I began to wonder what the difference is. I suppose teamwork always invokes a youthful, sporting image whereas working for the community sounds like digging some pensioner's garden or litter picking.

Then I realised that is how I view writing – as a sport. You need things like determination, persistence and stamina for both. Like sport - I write because I enjoy it. Like sport – I'm not brilliant at it but I've won a bit of money. Like sport – it's a great topic of conversation. The list goes on. The idea of writing in an unfamiliar genre is similar to runners doing a bit of cycling or cyclists going for a swim – it makes a change and gets you out of your comfort zone.

You all probably have alternative ways of looking at your writing. Maybe as a collection of recipes with different styles relating to various flavours. Perhaps you look on your stories as babies – you give birth to them, nurture them and you have your favourites. It could be that this is happening in your subconscious and you need to think about how you view your craft. It might be that you have a more interesting slant on this. If so, you're probably a better writer than I am.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Community Spirit

I accompanied my wife to a craft fair a few days ago. I trudged round behind her, my arms getting longer as she loaded me with bag after bag of paper, card and other paraphernalia which she needs to make her greetings cards. Was I fed up? Not at all as it gave me the chance to observe everything that was going on. I found myself drawn to other men who were performing a similar role to mine – carrying an ever-increasing load while trying to find space among the crowds so as not to cause an obstruction. We gathered around pillars, in recesses, behind corners and under stairs as we tried to avoid being jostled by eager crafters. We were like wildebeest at the watering hole - avoiding eye-contact with each other while staying alert for any predators i.e. the females who would come along to hang yet more plastic bags on our straining fingers.

There must be some sort of social chemistry going on here that would merit a scientific study and it got me thinking about communities. Not in the normal residential sense of the word but communities of people with like-minded interests. These women had gathered here from all over the place to learn skills and buy materials for their craft. Now, for some it is a hobby but for others it is a part-time occupation and they earn money at local fĂȘtes and markets. These women could well be competing with each other for business at some Christmas fair but they still swap ideas, give advice to each other and generally help out with problems.

Then I thought back to a few years ago when I was a bit more athletic than I am now. I used to compete in Triathlon (swim/cycle/run) and entered races all over the country. When you do enough of these races you get to recognise familiar faces, strike up friendships and swap anecdotes. Again, although we were rivals during the race, there was always someone to give a hand before the start – help with a puncture, the lend of a swim cap or advice about the race route. Even during the race we would help each other from the water or shout encouragement during the bike section.

And that brought me back to my current pursuit – writing. We're all scrambling to get an agent, have a short story accepted by a magazine or persuade the BBC that our sitcom idea is the best thing since Dad's Army. Yet we have womagwriter helping us approach the likes of T-a-B and PF, plus other published authors and scriptwriters giving up their wisdom and acquired experienced to haul us lesser mortals up to their standard.

I've always been cynical about the qualities of the human race but maybe I should promise to stop reading all those stories about overpaid footballers, greedy bankers and talentless celebrities. I'll probably break that promise but at least I'll remind myself that these people are in the minority and the rest of us are decent, caring people.

Another promise I've made to myself is that the next time my wife takes me to a craft fair I'm going to take a wheelbarrow.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Garbage He Wrote - latest trials of being an aspiring writer

Ideas He Thought Of (Or Nicked)

A colleague at the writers' club showed me her idea which I eventually copied. She enjoyed writing children's stories and had put a collection together, printed them out with a few illustrations and bound them between thin card with slidebinders. She had managed to sell a few at the annual prizegiving.

I bought one of these booklets out of interest but thought no more of it until I was wondering what to do with a few cycling anecdotes I had gathered over the years. I had been a member of a triathlon club for a few years and some of my training and racing experiences had not been without incident. I had already narrated a couple during our writers' meeting nights and they had been received with some interest and amusement. I had written them in first person although not all of them were based on personal experience. Some of them had been passed on to me by other cycling mates. I could bind them together as my friend had done with her fairy tales, put in a few articles based on my own opinions, add some pictures downloaded from the net, a few jokes maybe and I had twenty five pages of material. I know it's not a proper book but it's nice to see what your words might look like should they eventually get published.

This led me on to other ideas for anthologies. I had been thinking of putting together a set of stories on the theme of the miracle of Christmas. Maybe I could sell a few of these during the season. Then a similar thing for Easter. Could be a way of getting noticed.

Another source of feedback I have found to be good for morale is a website called Opening an account is free of charge. You can put your own stories on the site for others to read and comment on or you can read stories from around the world and give your own ratings. I actually received one e-mail from the Philippines telling me how funny and brilliant they thought one of my stories was. It was written in broken English and really enthused about how amusing and thought-provoking my tale was. Of course, it wasn't all that good. Even I know that. But it's nice to know you've given someone a few moments of joy, even from halfway around the world.

Joining Trowell Writers' Trust was the best thing I did as far as my writing is concerned. We meet every fortnight (usually about ten of us) and the evening kicks off with people reading out anything they have done in the preceding two weeks. It can be prose, poetry or even something that has caught your eye in a newspaper or magazine. I generally use this opportunity to try out an idea I have had. If it gets a good reaction I can then take it away and work on it to produce a competition entry or a magazine proposal. I get my ideas from all kinds of sources: my own experiences, something I have seen in the paper or on TV, something my wife has said. I like the challenge of coming up with a story out of some mundane happening or comment. A while ago I had to spend a night in hospital for a routine operation. I wrote about my time there, added an eccentric character, a few ancient jokes and it received a few laughs from my fellow club members. I have already mentioned my cycling stories. Tales of falling off, meeting local characters, the strange clothes we wear all provide material for amusing subject matter or challenging articles.

After those who want to have read out their pieces our leader sets us an exercise. Sometimes she gives us a subject about which to write. Other times she brings out her list of racehorses names out of which we each draw out one and use it as inspiration for a story or poem. Another time we might draw from a list of headlines and a collection of pictures and then combine the words and images to create a story or article. At first I wasn't too keen on these drills. I was writing about stuff I wouldn't normally consider, sometimes in a style alien to my own. But eventually I realised the benefit of taking part in this. Being out of your comfort zone for a while is good for the soul. Doing stuff that is foreign to your natural tendency forces you to think hard and broadens your outlook. I now look forward to these sessions. I think of it as akin to a professional footballer playing golf in his spare time. It is still healthy exercise but a relaxation at the same time. It is both therapy and mental exercise. It makes a change from crosswords and sudoku.

Why do I write? It would be nice to be able to earn a living at it. Or at least part-fund my existence. Failing that, it is a powerful thing to be able to make people laugh. It is also exhilarating to make people cry (a much more difficult feat in my opinion). You can shock them, frighten them, make them think, make them feel ashamed. In fact, if you have the right skills, you can make them go through a whole spectrum of emotions within a few lines. Perhaps the old maxim is true; that the pen is mightier than the sword. Now there's an idea for an article.