This Year Jennifer Resolves To…Be Realistic

And that’s just the start!

It’s the same every year. I make a shedload of resolutions, on the principle that if I do that, one of them is bound to be in tune with the moon. Then I’ll wake up at some point in the summer to discover that all’s well with the world, and that while I’ve been mourning my abject failure to read a book every week, I’ve somehow forgotten to eat anything that’s bad for me and, as a consequence, I’ve lost three stone.

You will not be surprised to learn that that has yet to happen.

Last year’s resolutions were a wide-ranging lot, too many to recount and, from my point of view, too humiliating to consider in terms of their cumulative failure. Suffice it to say that not one of them made it past January.

Perhaps, after all, the scattergun approach doesn’t work. What I’ve learned from experience is that my most successful resolutions involve things I’m almost ready to do anyway. In other words, rather than give me a boot up the backside to take on a challenge that’s too big for me, a New Year resolution should really be about encouraging you to make the small changes.

For example, every year I resolve to be more organised and every year I fail. Anyone who knows me will testify to that. While I’ve never knowingly missed a deadline and am rarely late for an appointment, that reliability only holds if I remember to write that decline or appointment in the diary, and write it down correctly if I do. No matter how many times I decide to make that change, I can’t seem to do it.

But I’ve succeeded at other things. When I was about sixteen, I gave up biting my nails. I was ready to. Some decades later, I managed to stop playing games on the computer. Again, I just needed a little nudge away from the habit of clicking on it in moments of procrastination (though admittedly, I’ve found plenty of other time-killers to fill the gap).

So this year I have two resolutions. One of them is to go to the gym more often. I’ll do that, because I already go four times a week so there’s minimal effort required to increase it. And the other is to write more. I’ll do that, as well. Because if I can make writing a thousand words a day an average rather than an exception, a habit, rather than a triumph…I’ll have written 365,000 words by the end of the year.

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This Year Anne Resolves to – Just do it.

What am I looking forward to in 2018 writing-wise?

Kew Gardens

I don’t do New Year Resolutions because, after a long time of trying, I know how easily they turn from goals into shackles. What I do like, though, is the idea that I can clear out some of the old year’s dead wood and have a warming bonfire.

A Backward Glance

My domestic circumstances were hectic in 2017. So much so, that when Kate Blackadder came to collect me for supper on the first night of our writing retreat in the beautiful Mirfield Monastery, I’m fairly sure I was snoring on top of my very comfy bed. Kate is far too well-bred to offer confirmation, but there was a tiny smile playing around her lips when I appeared at last on the landing.

Some of the ‘hectic’ was unbearably sad and a lot of it wonderfully uplifting. It was all exhausting. So the first thing to look forward to in leaving 2017 is a bit of order. I need to get some filing out of the way. I need to tidy up one or two issues. I need to stick to my decision to leave a couple of committees.

A Forward Leap

Being part of Capital Writers is an energising move on my part. Already I’ve written a complete, and to my eye, satisfying Scottish Regency short story, Close Encounter. So Leaping Forward, I hope to build on that and complete the new Scottish Regency book I’ve been working on for a while. Great characters and some snappy dialogue, but time must be set aside.

An actual, “Yes please” has come in from DC Thomson, so I am submerged in the new serial I’m writing for them. It is in progress and I have no publication date, but I hope it will be sometime in 2018.

It’s also the case that I’ve been thinking in conversations again recently. I do feel a play coming on. Oh dear.

Being a patron of the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh is a great thing to do. I spent Tuesday afternoon in their costume department seeing the costumes for The Belle’s Stratagem which are in production and hearing how it all moves from design to stage. Energising too, and maybe infectious.

I hope I’ll meet you all around the writing scene in 2018 – tap me on the shoulder…

Anne Stenhouse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THIS YEAR JANE RESOLVES TO…

 

One year I set myself twenty-nine New Year resolutions. When I told a friend, she recommended that I change the wording to “guidelines”. Such wise advice – remove the pressure. After all, what’s the point in setting twenty-nine if I’m unlikely to keep even one?

Only recently did I realise that New Year resolutions are such a time-honoured tradition. They originated around 1,770 BC. when the Babylonians made promises to their gods at the start of each year to return all borrowed objects and to pay their debts. It would be interesting to know how they fared.

According to research, only 8% of people currently actually achieve their New Year’s resolutions. Not an impressive percentage. Setting too many, choosing unrealistic goals and being easily discouraged with small failures, explain much of this low figure.

So, what can we do to make our resolutions more likely to succeed? There’s evidence that humans are driven by “loss aversion” – i.e. we are more motivated to recover loss than we are to win gains. Therefore, regaining a level of fitness or appropriate weight may be more effective than to aim for something unachievable.

According to Dr John Michael, a philosopher at Warwick University, we are more likely to keep resolutions if we consider them to important to other people, for example, committing to attending a class with a friend. Particularly so if it’s something we’ve paid for in advance.

Reputation is also a powerful motivator. Making your resolutions public can help you to keep them since the fear that people will think worse of you if you don’t see them through will increase your determination.

Being specific makes a difference. Deciding which days to go to the gym is more likely to be successful than deciding just to go to the gym more often. In fact, something I’ve already found useful. For years, I’ve swum on a Saturday and Sunday afternoon, and aimed for doing this one day during the week. Since making Wednesdays that day, I’ve been more successful as I don’t find myself saying on Monday, “I’ll go on Tuesday” etc.

This year I plan to do something different. Instead of setting difficult targets like losing a lorryful of weight, I’ve decided to congratulate myself for every achievement I manage, no matter how small. This could be a piece of writing or handling a difficult conversation well. Hopefully, I’ve set myself up for some success.

This year Kate resolves to …

I always feel that the end of August/September would be a better time for making resolutions – there’s the new-jotter, beginning-of-term kind of feeling then even if you’re long past being in school/university. Plus the weather is relatively warm so setting goals then to eat lots more salad and walk 10,000 steps a day seem more achievable than in the cold, dark days of January.

However, here we are at the New Year, the traditional time for planning improvements in all areas of your life. And here are some quotes on the subject, some cheesy and some even more cheesy.

As a Capital Writer, my main resolution for 2018 is to be more prolific in the amount I write. Mostly, I write short stories for women’s magazines …

PF Just my Luck copy

… and I think I’m doing well if I have eight out for consideration at any one time.

But I know that several of my fellow ‘womag’ writers can have around fifty … I’ve written one novel (and three magazine serials) – others have written dozens, hundreds. It can be done. I’m not at all short of ideas but I seem to be veeerrry sloooow in executing them.

Partly this is because I’m a procrastinator. Give me a deadline and I will always meet it but leave me to my own devices and time is elastic … I try to trick myself into thinking I have a deadline with repercussions if it’s missed. Sometimes that works.

Partly it’s because I can’t help editing as I go along, even basic typos. The idea of a ‘dirty draft’ is anathema to me but I’ll have to get over that.

New green typewriter copy

And partly it’s because – well, if I knew I might find a way of sorting it.

The Internet is a time-sucker (see ‘procrastination’ above) – but it is also a forum for sharing ideas and helpful stuff. So I’ve been looking at some of the sites I’ve bookmarked on the subject of getting your writing act together.

This blog by American fantasy writer Rachel Aaron tells how she upped her daily word count to 10,000 words by working out what she wants to write first, in a rough scribbly fashion with pen and paper – before she gets to the laptop.

Definitely something to think about.

And I will try to follow the advice on writing faster from the Writers in the Storm blog.

Among seven other tips it suggests finding out how many words a minute you can type and multiplying that by 60 to get the number of words you could possibly do in an hour.

Make that more doable by setting a timer for 15-minute sessions.

smaller alarm clock

It’s a long time since I took a typing test (and I will look one up) but I reckon I can do about 40 words a minute, which means I could do in theory do 2240 words in an hour. A short story! Half a chapter! Although whether they are the right words in the right order is another matter – but that’s fixable.

You can’t edit a blank page. I know this. I just have to keep believing it.

Happy New Year!

Kate Blackadder

How I came to Edinburgh – Jennifer’s Tale

Who am I? What am I doing? How did I get here? These are questions I find myself asking all too often these days, and sometimes they do, indeed, feel like the questions of someone on the eve of an existential crisis. In this particular case, however, they’re legitimate questions that blog readers might ask of someone who claims to be a writer with a strong association with Scotland’s capital city.

The who am I is probably less important than the what am I doing, and the what am I doing is easily answered. I’m writing. I’m always writing — when I’m at my computer, when I’m hanging out the washing, when I’m loitering at a bus stop listening in to other people’s conversations… even when I’m merrily mopping up the water that’s pouring through my ceiling from a burst pipe (yes, it’s been that sort of winter.)

But the question I’ve specifically been asked is: how did I get here?

It’s not a difficult question to answer. I first cane to Edinburgh on holiday one August, when I was a child— maybe nine or ten years old. I don’t have many particular memories, except for one. I remember standing on a corner (which, I now know, is between The Mound and Mound Place) looking down towards the Princes Street, the New Town and across to Fife.

Perhaps a decade later I found myself back in that very spot, one early October evening, dragging my bags up the hill towards an Edinburgh University hall of residence which commanded that very view. I spent a year there, then a year in a flat in the Easter Road area, from which I walked in to lectures via a shortcut across the courtyard of Holyrood Place. After that I spent two years in the uber-studenty area of Newington. 

Circumstance took me away, to Glasgow for a year and to Worcestershire for eight months — both nice enough places, in their very different ways, but neither of them why sufficient pull to keep me away. I kept coming back. I got a job here. I made new friends to add to those I’d made during four years at university — and to this day, I’m still making friends in the city. I brought up my children there.

And of course, Edinburgh is integrated into my writing. My Dangerous Friends series of romantic suspense books is set here, and Looking For Charlotte is set partly in Edinburgh and partly in the Highlands. The advice the experts give to writers is always to wit about what you know — and as far as I’m concerned, Edinburgh is what i know — and love.

HOW I CAME TO EDINBURGH – JANE’S TALE

I’m a Glasgwegian, who defected to Edinburgh in the mids 80s, after spending two years in the Antipodes. Despite the difficulty of finding a job, I stayed on. Then at an unusual party here, I met my partner, an Edinburgher, and that was that.

So, what do I like about Scotland’s capital city? In general, the things that many of its residents enjoy – it’s small enough to get around easily by public transport. Its old parts, not just the High Street with its wealth of history, but the New Town architecture – those elegant Georgian streets and crescents. The views from Calton Hill and Princes Street Gardens on a sunny day are wonderful. Seeing the Pentlands on a frosty day or the extinct volcano, Arthur’s Seat and nearby Salisbury Crags are added bonuses. And if yearning for the sea, Lothian’s beautiful East coast beaches are within easy reach, North Berwick and Yellowcraigs being my favourites.

In particular, I love my neighbourhood, historic Broughton Street, described as one of the most bohemian and cosmopolitan streets in the city. In an earlier period, it housed thatched cottages – and dungeons which at one time held worshippers of the ‘Black Arts’ while they waited to be executed.

Broughton Street caters to most tastes. It is home to quirky gift shops: Concrete Wardrobe (stocking handcrafted gifts, all with strong ties to Scotland), and Joey D which recycles old clothing: if embellished boiler suits, army tunics or tweed jackets with a difference do it for you, this is your place.

The venerable Crombie’s butchers is in Broughton Street.  An award winning butcher’s, it sells over 40 types of gourmet sausages and dispenses sherry to customers collecting their Christmas turkeys.

Then there is an eclectic range of restaurants and some old, atmospheric pubs, including the Barony Bar. If you wish to buy flowers, have a tattoo or find interesting wool, then come to Broughton Street. Need a hair cut? There are enough hairdressers to attend to everyone in Lothian. And my favourite café for writing, Nom de Plume, is here.

Since moving to Edinburgh, I’ve taken sabbaticals to live in other countries. Enriching my life as these places did, I nevertheless experienced a sense of homecoming when returning to Auld Reekie. I suspect this will always be the case.

My story, The Letter, in Capital Writers’ recently published anthology, is based in modern day Edinburgh.

How I Came to Edinburgh – Kate’s Tale

I was brought up in the Scottish Highlands. The first city holiday I had was in Edinburgh when I was fifteen. That was the first time I was on a double-decker bus too.

Our mum loved history and in advance of the visit she told us about the murder of Rizzio, secretary to Mary, Queen of Scots – how he was dragged from her chamber and stabbed by jealous courtiers. The bloodstains could still be seen in the Palace of Holyrood House – a thrilling true story (although perhaps the ‘bloodstains’ weren’t really four hundred years old …). Edinburgh seemed to be full of stories.

And there were so many shops – some huge, full of hitherto undreamt of delights – and restaurants and Princes Street Gardens and the floral clock and the Museum of Childhood and the colossal Scott monument … and … and …

I remember peeping out from behind the curtains in the guesthouse and watching people go by under the streetlights, and seeing other houses all lit up, so different from the country at night. I’d like to live in Edinburgh one day, I decided.

Grange Loan copy 2

Fast-forward three years and I was studying for a Diploma in Book and Periodical Publishing at Napier College of Science and Technology (as it was then). After meeting three girls in digs in Grange Loan (does anyone still live in ‘digs’?), I shared a flat with them in Grindlay Street for the remainder of our time as students. Fab location two minutes from Princes Street, and very cheap even for then – because it was grotty, not to mention unhygienic …

Grindlay Street copy

There was one bedroom, sleeping three, and the box-room. There was no bath/shower/wash hand basin in the loo (there was the kitchen sink … and we regularly visited a long-suffering friend in comfy student halls, clutching soap and towels). We were besieged by hordes of mice when buildings in nearby Lothian Road were pulled down. Our landlord suggested we get a cat so we acquired Tigger from a pet shop in Fleshmarket Close. Happy days!

The girls and I went our separate ways geographically but are still close. I lived in London for seven years before feeling the tug of home. By chance I found a maternity-leave job in a publishing company in Edinburgh and there, near the top of the telephone list, was a surname I’d never heard before. Reader, I married him.

Thirty years on I can’t imagine living anywhere but Edinburgh – and I still think it’s a thrill to sit upstairs, at the front, on a double-decker bus.

My story, An Ordinary Joe, in Capital Writers’ recently published anthology, shows another side of the Capital, far off the tourist trail.

How I came to Edinburgh – Anne’s Tale

EDINBURGH’S CAPITAL ATTRACTIONS

 

I CAME TO Edinburgh as a student in 1969. I’d visited before then, but only once I had to get myself around the Old Town and up to George Square did I begin to know and love it in the ways that mean I’m in ‘with the bricks’.

I don’t remember the trams, but I do remember buses with open back platforms and conductresses. I was too scared to try any of the routes – being used to two buses at home – the one to Broxburn and the one to Midcalder. That changed over time of course and eventually my mother-in-law, an incurable car user, would consult me over what bus her visitors should take.

So I walked. I learned the streets of the university area and delighted in the things they showed me about it and its history. How many little Italian shops there were selling handbags and wallets made on the premises; Parkers’ Stores where I bought the most gorgeous, slinky wool and angora dress one Christmas time and the huge gothic cemetery on Dalkeith Road close to the student house I lived in. I gloried in it all and never left.

Lucky enough to get a job in the city and eventually to marry a man who worked here, too, I’ve been happily settled for decades.

That early experience of walking around the city brought me into contact with so much of its fabric. I’d been brought on a school visit when I was ten and walked down the Royal Mile and out into Holyrood Park to wonder at the Salisbury crags. To a romantically inclined child and then writer, the city is a gift of unimaginable proportions.

Bella’s aunt’s house in George Square

George Square was partially demolished to build things like the Library and the David Hume Tower, but sufficient of Brown’s architecture remains to allow one a glimpse of the elegant city square. It pre-dates the New Town and had its own assembly rooms in Buccleuch Place. It was the first line of escape from the crumbling tenements of the Old Town with their mix of rich and poor.

My story, A Close Encounter, in Capital Writers’ recently published anthology,

Capital Stories, juxtaposes the two and shows why I’m a Capital Writer, devoted to Edinburgh.

Anne Stenhouse.

Interview with Kate Blackadder

Today I am pleased to be talking with Capital Writer Kate Blackadder about her recently released novel, A Time to Reap.

It’s April 1963 in the Scottish Highlands. Elizabeth Duncan, widowed with two small daughters, is the farm manager on the Rosland estate, the job previously held by her husband, Matthew. Following a hard, snowy winter, her working life is made more difficult by the unpleasant estate factor. Elizabeth enjoys support in the small community from family and friends, including her cousin Peggy and local vet Andy Kerr. The arrival of an American visitor at Rosland House unsettles her in a way she hadn’t expected but, after Matthew’s mysterious death, a new relationship has been the last thing on her mind. However, as she dances at the annual estate ball in September, that may be about to change …

Where did the idea for A Time to Reap come from?

I was brought up on farms in the Scottish Highlands (my father was a farm manager) and I suppose as you get older you start thinking more about your childhood. So when I came to write a third serial for The People’s Friend I made lots of notes, under the headings of the different places I’d lived in and other farms I’d visited, trying to remember as much as I could. Gradually various plotlines developed. I decided to begin the story in March 1963 as I thought the bad winter that year would make a dramatic start.

What sort of research was involved?

My characters are adults so of course they see the world differently to how I did in 1963 so I had to try to think in that mindset … plus of course I know nothing about the practicalities of farming. I enjoyed the research. While knowing of course that I couldn’t go into too much detail in the serial – it’s a story I was writing, not a farming manual – I didn’t want to make any mistakes.

(This black and white picture is from the wonderful Scottish Life Archive © National Museums Scotland.)

I found a ‘farmer’s year’ online, a kind of calendar for around the same period and place to keep me right about what should be planted when and so on. I bought an old book on farm management in a junk shop that was helpful. In one part of the story, a lad hurts himself falling off a haystack. I realised I had no idea how a haystack is made but I knew it couldn’t be a matter of just piling the hay up … I asked a farming cousin (below, in the hat) who told me about the process in detail – I was only sorry I couldn’t include it all.

Which character did you most enjoy depicting

The main character, Elizabeth, is rather glamorous (although usually dressed in muddy overalls) and her story is more dramatic – but I think I enjoyed depicting her cousin Peggy best. She’s got quite a hard life and things rarely work out as she would like but she’s very stoic and keeps cheerful (most of the time).

From short stories to novels, what are the main challenges?

I’ve had over fifty stories published so I am well used to keeping an eye on the word limit. A short story has one main theme and a small number of characters. So when it came to writing something longer (I had a novel Stella’s Christmas Wish http://amzn.to/2dYQOrY published last year) I had to remember not to keep cutting words out. I don’t really plan a short story – I have the idea and know roughly where it’s going – but a novel is like doing a jigsaw in the dark, until that last piece slots into place.

As you mentioned earlier, A Time to Reap was first printed as a serial for People’s Friend.  What are the main things to remember when writing a serial?

Unlike a novel (see previous question) a serial also has a word limit. A People’s Friend serial has a first instalment of around 6000 words and subsequent instalments are 5000 words. Within each instalment there are five ‘chapters’ and these should be of equal length. Depending on the number of instalments there can be up to four or five viewpoints. So a fair bit of planning is required. Sometimes you want to carry on with a scene and make it more than 1000 words but you can’t. But I actually like that discipline and really enjoy the challenge of sticking to it.

Any plans for a sequel?

Not with these characters I don’t think, but it is a period of time and a place I might revisit.

What are you currently working on?

I’ve put together two collections of my short stories and am preparing another one to come out on St Valentine’s Day, 2018. I’m planning another serial, a contemporary one. I’m writing short stories. And I have a couple of novels in the making.

Thank you, Kate, and the best of luck with your forthcoming writing.  It sounds as though you’ll be very busy.

A Time to Reap is available on Kindle http://amzn.to/2hLBaX5 and in a large-print edition in libraries.

https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=kateblackadderauthor

 

 

Getting there

Two Capital Writers, myself (Kate Blackadder) and Anne Stenhouse, along with two other writing friends, ventured out of the capital this past weekend to attend ScotsWrite, a conference put on by the Society of Authors in Scotland. I say ‘ventured’, because although the venue, the Westerwood Hotel near Cumbernauld, is in theory about an hour’s drive away from Edinburgh, it somehow took us three. We passed through villages we’d never heard of before, and we certainly wouldn’t care if we never saw the one-way system round Falkirk Town Centre ever again. Ever again.

We consoled ourselves by accepting that we operate on the creative side of our brains and couldn’t possibly be expected to have a sense of direction as well. Fortunately we arrived in plenty of time for a very nice dinner, followed by the keynote speaker – Joanne Harris, no less – and our lack of wayfinding ability did not prevent us from finding our way to the bar afterwards.

I surprised myself by springing (well, possibly a slight exaggeration there) out of bed after my alarm call and going for a half hour of t’ai chi. For this conference did not just look at the process of writing/publishing but at the writer as a person and stressed the importance of not just sitting on your bahookie all day but getting exercise, having a life. Although that would be hard advice to take if you also listened to Joanna Penn, a very very successful self-published author (as J. F. Penn) and book marketer (The Creative Penn), and someone who can evidently do without any sleep.

Joanna penn

There were talks by people from many corners of the writing industry and elsewhere – novelists, non-fiction writers, writers for children/young adults, radio and TV drama producers, commissioning editors from big-name publishers (one of whom is also an author), agents, a writer from the Fast Show, translators, solicitors (on the importance of making a will) and mental health and office ergonomics experts. There was also the opportunity to have one-to-ones with an agent or commissioning editor.

And at coffee/cake breaks (of which there were many) and meal times (cooked breakfast, cooked lunch, cooked dinner) there was the chance to chat to other writers, from all over Scotland, and south of Hadrian’s Wall (and to garner some possible recruits for Edinburgh Writers’ Club of which I am membership secretary).

Kate's cakes at conference

I have yet to absorb all the information and decipher my notes, so more of the conference anon. But two things are clear now: I am several pounds heavier than I was on Friday. And having no sense of direction gives you a story with which to begin a blog post.