Standing where other writers stood

 

Yesterday was my birthday and my husband wrenched me kicking and screaming away from my manuscript to visit Stoneywell, a quaint National Trust property in Leicestershire.

 

The grounds were stunning and the five bedroomed cottage was quirky and cosy. Each misshaped room had a window seat and was crammed with books. I fell in love with it the second I stepped over the threshold, even more so when I learned of the history.

Edward Phillips Oppenheim, a writer born in 1866 was a friend of the family, and wrote several of his 100 published (yes 100!!) novels at Stoneywell. I was in awe to think I was standing where he stood. Perhaps touching the very typewriter he used. (I Googled when I got home and typewriters were patented in 1829 & developed properly in 1867, so you never know).

There’s something utterly captivating about the thought of a writer, of times past, focused on their manuscript. None of the distractions of social media and marketing. It’s easy to romanticize, imagine perhaps they wrote for a morning and then went for a stroll through the gorgeous countryside before returning for tea and cake.

 

The reality was probably starkly different. This cottage was freezing and that was with the addition of central heating. Oppenheim’s fingers were probably numb, and progress perhaps slow, but that didn’t stop me begging my husband to fetch my old typewriter from the loft as soon as we got home.

 

‘I’m going to write book 4 on it.’ I declared.

‘Perhaps wait and see how you feel in the morning?’ He wisely suggested, reluctant to disappear into our roof space crammed with all the things ‘I-absolutely-might-need-one-day-but-never-have-yet.’

Today I am revelling in the luxury of my PC where I can cut and paste and listen to music at the same time, glad I don’t have to tell my publishers my next book could take years to write as I am shying away from technology. But still, I think of that cottage and it tugs at my heart strings. I shall visit again soon. The scones were too good not to!

My first school visit – 250 kids – what could possibly go wrong?

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Last week I was writing when my phone flashed with an incoming call – my son’s primary school – and my heart stuttered as I thought of all the things that might be wrong.

‘Will you come into school on World Book Day and talk to the kids about writing? Just Years 5 & 6. Only around 250 children.’

Only?!? 250!?! I’ve never given a talk before and instantly I felt sick, dizzy, afraid. Options pin-balled around my mind. I could hang up, pretend they had the wrong number, put on an accent and say I can’t speak English. So many words formed on my tongue, but I thought about the amazing assemblies I’ve seen there over the years. How brave the children are to stand up in front of the school and act and sing, and of all of the words that formed on my tongue, the one that came out was yes. The children can’t all enjoy performing and yet they do it anyway. What sort of example would I set to my son if I didn’t at least try?

Yesterday, it was a different story. Riddled with doubt I spoke my lovely friend Victoria who told me to imagine I was speaking to one little girl. The little girl who loved to read. Loved to write. Who wanted nothing more than to be an author. The little girl I once was who had her dreams crushed when the career advisor said writing was neither a ‘proper or viable career choice.’ And a quiet determination grew inside. If in some small way I could inspire one child to follow their dreams it would be worth any amount of anxiety I might feel.

img_9444This morning I stood in front of a sea of expectant faces. I locked eyes with my son. He’d been so excited I was visiting and I wanted to make him proud, not faint/vomit/cry and so I ignored the notes I’d made and I spoke from the heart. I spoke of my passion for writing, my love for my characters, how I can’t imagine ever doing anything else. I spoke of my belief that we can all be who we want to be, if only we dare to dream and never stop trying.

I asked the children questions. They asked me questions. Some had written them down, complete with illustrations. Most loved to read, to write, to fabricate stories and many of them dream of being authors and seeing that raw hope, that ambition, that certainty, I am sure they can do anything they set their minds to.

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It was a real privilege meeting these children and I came away hopeful, and inspired, and itching to write. It was such an enriching experience. I learned a lot about them, but I also learned a lot about me. 

A day in the life of…author Elaine Spires

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I’m really happy to welcome Elaine Spires onto my blog today. Elaine is a novelist, playwright and actress and she splits her time between her homes in Essex and Five Islands, Antigua (W.I.). Being super busy, I’m really keen to find out how Elaine spends a typing writing day in her gorgeous Caribbean surroundings.

 

Although I’m really someone who likes to sleep, I find that I wake up quite early here. By ‘here’ I’m referring to Avocado Cottage, my humble little house in the Village of Five Islands, Antigua, West Indies, where I spend part of my year. Just before sunrise, animals are on the move; we have herds of cows and goats and some horses which come up and down our lane and they tend to start the neighbours’ dogs off. And once I’m awake, I find difficulty in turning over and going back to sleep again. This must be down to all the fresh, Caribbean air, because when I’m in UK, I have to have the duvet surgically removed some days.
So, I start off, always, by checking to see what my Kindle sales have been like in the last twenty-four hours – sometimes they’re a bit disappointing, other times I go and put the kettle on with a big grin on my face. I’m a self-published author and I have to admit that I find promoting myself really hard, certainly much harder than writing the books! I have a bash at social media and usually have coffee and breakfast out on the veranda whilst perusing Facebook and Twitter and then I set down to writing.

I usually sit on the veranda to write as I’m in the shade for much of the morning. Although I say write, sometimes I start off doing research as I’m a stickler for getting something absolutely right. My biggest bugbear when I read other author’s work is when the research has been sloppy and events, details, information etc don’t ring true. It can be strange sometimes, too, writing in such beautiful surroundings. I wrote most of Single All The Way here in Antigua – so strange to be writing a story set in a snowbound hotel deep in the Essex countryside, while I was sweltering in 90F+ in the Caribbean. Similarly, I’ve just published The Banjo (Book One), which is a saga set in Dagenham in 50s and 60s. I get so involved in what I’m writing that I look up and it takes me a moment to remember where I am!

I’ve got Filmon.TV on my iPad and so I tend to watch UK evening TV programmes for a while, which, with the time difference, of course, means that I take a break from writing between 2.30-5pm some afternoons. Then, after a glass of something chilled to watch the sunset, I have dinner and then edit what I wrote earlier that day before going to bed.

I don’t write every day, of course, but there is no fixed pattern to my working week. If I have plans to go out, then I will, be it a Sunday or a Thursday, and if I have no plans, then that day becomes a writing day.

I’ve just finished the research on my latest book in the Singles’ Series, which has the working title, Singles, Ahoy! From that you can probably guess it’s set on a cruise-ship.

If you’d like to find out more about me, my books or follow my blog, then please go to my website: http://www.elainespires.co.uk

 

Thanks so much Elaine for sharing. You can buy Elaine’s books here and find out more about her and follow her blog here

A day in the life of….Author Rebecca Stonehill

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The minute I started reading The Poet’s Wife I fell in love with Rebecca’s writing, she has a way of drawing you into each scene with her beautifully crafted sentences. I can’t wait for the gorgeously titled The Girl and The Sunbird to be released on 17th June. After learning a bit more about Rebecca I confess to being a little bit in love with her life. She’s super busy so I really appreciate the time she spent sharing a typical day.

 

I live in Nairobi which many people are surprised to hear rests at an elevation of almost 6,000 feet above sea level, so the mornings are almost always cold and fresh. I tend to start my day with a little yoga before a rushed breakfast, feeding our animals (three chickens, a cat and a dog) and frantic getting-ready to take my three children to school, aged 10, 8 and 5. For the first 3 years of living in Nairobi we had to drive there, but we recently moved house, so now we are able to walk to school which feels like a real luxury. Whether we are traipsing through mud in the rainy season, or just marveling at the odd chameleon or chongololo crossing the road (millipede – our first word in Swahili!) or a mousebird flying overhead, we love being able to stretch our legs in the morning.

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When I get back, I make myself a strong coffee (I’m not a great morning person and need quite a lot of help waking up!) and check my emails. My five year old son finishes school at lunchtime so I have the mornings to myself. I go for a run or do a yoga class (yes, I love yoga!) and then get down to writing, editing or researching, depending on what stage I’m at with my work in progress.

Power cuts are frequent here in Nairobi and can last for anything between five minutes and – the worst we’ve ever had – three days! As you can imagine, we get through a lot of candles…If my laptop runs out of power, I head to the nearest café where I have to fight for space at a table where many others in my area are also charging phones or computers. There is often a water issue as well. We have a big tank at the side of the house and it is filled with rainwater, but if it hasn’t rained for some time, it gets used up quickly and we need to contact somebody to tank the water in for us. If we don’t…well, there’s no water for cooking, cleaning or washing! These challenges used to drive me to distraction in the early days but now I’m used to them – this is Nairobi life!

I also run an after-school creative writing club for children, a story time session for pre-schoolers and volunteer at a girls’ vocational centre where we do creative, life and motivational writing activities. So as well as working on my novel or blog, I am often involved in preparing for these sessions.

The afternoons I spend with my little boy doing library duty at my kids’ school (I set up the library there last year), going to the market, playing games or trying to get him interested enough in an activity so I can continue with my work! My girls finish school at 3.15, and then it’s the normal after-school round of driving them to various activities. The traffic in Nairobi is horrendous so we do everything as locally as possible.

As we’re close to the equator, it gets dark at the same time year round here, at about 6.30pm. Like the mornings, the evenings are chilly so it’s all hot dinners, hot baths etc and sometimes sitting outside at night at the weekends round the fire wrapped in blankets, also to protect us from the blood-guzzling mosquitos (non-malarial here, thankfully.) My husband Andy (whose job in the water and sanitation sector brought us here from London three years ago) gets back before darkness falls. He mostly cycles to and from work because it takes him either half an hour to cycle or – wait for it – up to two hours to drive because of the delightful traffic here (People moan about the traffic here in the exact same way that my fellow Brits moan about the weather!).

By the time we have fed the children, scraped the infamous deep red Nairobi mud off them, helped with homework and music practice, read stories and coaxed them into bed, it’s not exactly rock n roll round at our place. But I always finish my day with searching the cupboard for the dwindling supply of chocolate we always bring back from the UK and then settling down with some books before conking out!

It’s been an amazing, inspirational experience living here in Nairobi. It won’t last forever, so I am always reminding myself to make the most of each and every day of it. Yes, even during a three-day power cut! After all, it’s the perfect excuse to have candlelit meals, get out the under-used guitar and really talk

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Thanks so much Rebecca for sharing.

You can buy The Poet’s Wife here, preorder The Girl and the Sunbird here and find out more about Rebecca here. 

Derby Writers Day

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Q -What is better than a day spent hanging out with other writers?

A – A day spent hanging out with other writers in a venue that makes the best scones I have ever tasted (and I have tasted a LOT).

 

The first annual Derby Writers Day on Saturday, at The Quad, was slickly run, meticulously organised with a huge variety of talks on offer. A huge thanks to Alex Davis of Boo Books for all his hard work.

There were three talks happening simultaneously every hour and it was really hard to choose between them. My day kicked off with a talk on crime and thriller writing by Stephen Booth, Niki Valentine and Steven Dunne. All panel sessions were a blend of author talks and audience questions; the atmosphere relaxed and informal. I love to hear published authors talk about their novel writing process.

Julia Murday was next on  my list. Her talk on promotion and marketing at Penguin Books was really insightful. So much happens between an agent submitting a book to its publication date.

Man Booker Prize nominee, Alison Moore shared her perspective on the life of a full-time writer. I managed to catch up with Alison later in the day where she gave me some valuable advice on transitioning between novels. I’ve ordered her books from Amazon on paperback, they sound so beautiful I feel they deserve to be read properly (sorry Kindle, I do still love you).

Alison Moore, Alison McQueen and Niki Valentine explained what the term ‘literary fiction’ means to them.

The day was rounded off with Alex Davis leading an interesting panel session discussing whether writers are thriving or surviving.

I love events like these, meeting other readers and writers is inspiring and I always come away, armed with new knowledge, new friends, raring to get back to my keyboard.