Lanzarote is one of my most favourite places on earth, coming second only to my dining table when all my family are seated around it. Partly because it’s home to one of my hero’s – Cesar Manrique – but more about him in a forthcoming blog; today’s post is all about literary Nobel Peace Prize recipient Jose Saramago (1922-2010) whose house I visited last week.
There’s something very special about standing in the places other authors once stood. Jose’s home is beautiful. A world away from the cramped space where I write my thrillers.
If you’re not familiar with him, Jose Saramago was a Portuguese writer, once described by Harold Bloom as ‘the most gifted novelist in the world’. Over two million copies of his novels have been sold and he’s been translated into twenty-five languages. When the Portugues government ordered the removal of his novel ‘The Gospel According to Jesus Christ’ from the Aristeion Prize shortlist – claiming the work was religiously offensive – Jose moved to Lanzarote where he resided until his death.
Inspiringly, although Jose supported himself through journalism, his career as an author didn’t take off until the publication of his fourth book when he was sixty. I wasn’t published until I was in my 40’s and I thought I’d changed career quite late in life. There’s hope for all aspiring writers out there!
This is his study inside of the house, although it isn’t where he wrote his books.
And not surprising with this fabulous view to distract him…
But there was a fine collection of pens.
And of course, a Nobel Peace Prize displayed on the wall.
A super tidy desk, the legs of which were covered in teeth marks where his dogs had chewed them.
The whole house had a cosy, lived in feel. The lounge was just as he’d left it. His current reads on the coffee table. The walls covered with paintings based on his books which made me long for a painting based on one of my books!
My heart melted when I learned all the clocks in the house were stopped at four o’clock because that was the time he met his wife.
Jose’s library was jaw-droppingly impressive. There are 15,000 books in his collection. He insisted that people were extremely careful with books stating there were pieces of the author on each and every page. His wife insisted that female authors had their own section as she very strongly felt women deserved better than for their novels to stand side by side with male authors many of whom didn’t respect women or their work.
This is where Jose wrote.
Apparently, every morning he would rearrange his desk and reread what he’d written the day before. Then he’d begin to write, never stopping to edit.
After lunch every day he’d swim in his indoor pool.
Before spending each afternoon sitting in his favourite garden chair, gazing out to sea, meditating and thinking of his wip. Jose formed the words in his head he would write the following day and rarely had to redraft the way that most writers **me** seem to. There was a big lesson here that to spend a few hours writing without distraction is far more productive than a day spent at a desk hopping on and off social media as I do.
After the tour we were given a cup of Portuguese coffee to take into the garden, although Jose’s cat had claimed the best chair.
You can find out more about Jose Saramago and how to visit his home here.
A few days ago, on holiday, my youngest son excitedly told me Lego are making a ‘Stranger Things’ set.
‘You know you’ve made it when you’re immortalised in Lego,’ I said.
We travelled home this morning, and after I’d showered I opened the door to my study to find this Lego model of my office – complete with inspirational quote board – on my desk.
Next to it was this note: –
So many amazing things have happened over the past three years with my books, and I hope there are many more causes for celebration to come but genuinely no amount of books sales, chart domination or award nominations have come close to the feeling of pride I got when I read this note. Whatever you do in life, to be a success in the eyes of your child…. there is no greater success.
I’m super happy to be appearing at a couple of fabulous literary festivals in the next few weeks, with my good friend, fellow psychological thriller writer, Darren O’Sullivan. I love meeting readers at events and appearing with a friend makes it extra enjoyable. If you’ve been to see Darren and me before you know to expect a LOT (sometimes too much) laughing as well as lots of talk about books and writing. We love the audience to join in our conversation and it’s all very relaxed and informal. Do come if you can.
First up is Deepings Literary Festival in Market Deeping on the 23rd-26th May. There’s a stellar line up including Sophie Hannah who I’m a little bit star-struck to meet! Darren and I are on Friday at 10.30am (fabulous blogger Linda Hill will be keeping us under control) which gives us the rest of the day to eat much cake and catch everybody else’s talk, including Barbara Copperthwaite’s. You can view the programme and book tickets here.
On 9th June we shall be in the beautiful village of Earls Barton, Northamptonshire, at 10.30. We appeared here last year and even if you don’t like books it’s worth the trip for the carrot cake! The festival runs from 7th – 9th June. I can’t wait to catch Sue Moorcroft and Jane Isaac who are always entertaining as well as meeting Cara Hunter who writes such excellent books. You can view the programme and book tickets here.
Pop along and say hello – we’d love to meet you!
My husband had gone to a client meeting, my son had just left to meet friends when I decided to have a break and make a drink. Back in my study, I put my coffee on my desk and it was then I realised, somebody had been into my room.
But I was alone.
Fear prickled at the back of my neck. On my keyboard, was a Biscoff.
‘Hello?’ I called into the silence which now felt heavy and oppressive.
Grabbing my phone, I called my son.
‘There’s somebody in the house,’ I whispered. ‘They’ve left a warning on my keyboard.’
‘A warning or a biscuit?’ He asked.
‘Was it you? But you’re not here?’
‘I found it in my pocket when I got to the bottom of the road and thought I’d pop it back as they’re your favourite. Seriously, mum how could you think it was creepy?’
‘Because somebody could want me to think I’m losing my mind, doubting my reality. They-‘
‘You’ve got an overactive imagination,’ he said.
It’s something I’ve heard throughout my life, usually accompanied by an eye roll and a sigh. My school reports often started with ‘Louise is such a daydreamer.’ I am but now, rather than seeing it as a flaw, as I’ve always been led to believe, I look upon it as something positive. Although gazing out of the window and making up characters in my head may be a problem in many jobs, without my over active imagination I wouldn’t be living out my life-long dream of being an author.
For Mother’s Day, my youngest son bought me a fizzy bath bomb from Lush. We’d not had them before and he wanted to watch as I dropped it into the bath. Just before I let it go he said ‘look mum, there’s a secret message!’
Inside a small hole on the top of the bomb there was a tightly rolled piece of paper.
‘What do you think it says?’ he asked excitedly.
‘I think it says ‘drown, bitch,’ I said. ‘I don’t think it’s supposed to be revealed until you’re in the bath and as you stare in confusion at the words you become aware of someone standing behind you-‘
‘A hand on the top of your head,’ he said (he writes too…)
‘Which pushes you underwater and holds you down until you stop struggling.’
The disappointment when we read it said ‘thanks’ was immense.
My three sons are used to me now. One called me to tell me he’d lost his wallet he quickly followed it up with ‘and no I don’t think anyone will find it and leave my ID at a murder scene.’
‘You never know,’ I said, darkly.
Last weekend, we took our dog for a country walk and my son pointed out the perfect place to hide a body. I didn’t roll my eyes and sigh, tell him he’s got an overactive imagination as though it’s a bad thing. Instead, I encouraged him to explore the idea, write it down. If all potential story-tellers were made to feel having a vivid imagination is a bad thing there wouldn’t be as many books and that would be a very sad world indeed.
When I began writing my debut, The Sister, I was lucky enough to secure a place on the fabulous WoMentoring scheme which pairs fledgling female writers with experienced mentors. My experience working through my first few chapters with the super kind, and endlessly patient Louise Walters was hugely beneficial and I blogged about that here and here. Now, with four novels under my belt I’m paying it forward by mentoring through the scheme. Although I’ve been drawing on my own experience as a mentee I wanted to make sure I was offering my mentees the right help and support, and so I signed up for a ‘Learn to Mentor’ course with Cathy Grindrod via the amazing Writing East Midlands. I got a huge amount out of the course, both personally and professionally, and am delighted Cathy is joining me today for a chat about mentoring.
Cathy, when I first applied for a mentor via The WoMentoring Project, I wasn’t really sure what one was or what to expect. How would you explain it?
A Mentor is someone who is skilled in and has good experience of whatever area the mentee needs help with. There are a few definitions, but in essence, it’s guiding someone to achieve their own goals and to overcome whatever obstacles they feel are in their way.
And everyone must have different obstacles?
Exactly. It’s a different process for each mentee, because each person has unique needs and ways of working. Mentoring usually has a specific focus – in my case, writer progress, but progress in the context of the writer’s wider life balance, rather than centred just on the work on the page.
My initial hope was that Louise Walters would help me write my book! That said she was very hands on with editing. I learned a lot from her feedback. Do you feel editing is part of mentoring?
To my mind, editing suggests that the relationship is about the mentor helping the writer to restructure a piece of work and focuses on the words on the page. Mentoring can include an element of helping a writer to shape work and discussing their concerns. It can also include feedback on specific pieces of work if required, but is only a part of the process, if involved at all. If a writer wants my opinion on a piece of work, we discuss more about what is actually needed from me and my goal is to move the writer towards having confidence in their OWN editing process, so that they can become a better writer and editor of their own work.
And that makes a better writer?
Exactly. A mentee learns far more about writing in this way, than someone imposing a structure on their work without looking at what the writer is really seeking from the process.
Do people also get confused between mentoring and manuscript assessments?
They can but at the start of their sessions we set up a joint contract so we’re both clear about what they expect from the process. This can include looking at work if the writer wants it, but this will become a much wider discussion than a simple assessment (as I would give in a writer surgery, for example) and will be short pieces of work I read in between sessions, rather than, for example, a whole manuscript assessment, which for me, is a different process from mentoring.
My heart sunk during the course when you said those dreaded two words – ‘role play’ but being the mentee and talking through my frustrations with writing led me to completely overhaul the way I work. I’m more focused and productive and am much better at time management than I was. Before this, I’d have thought mentoring was better suited to new writers but this isn’t the case, is it?
No. It’s common to be approached by people who have been writing for some time, often attending writing groups and workshops/courses, before they seek mentoring. This means they know the territory, something of how the writing world works, and are at a point where they want to progress further but don’t know how or don’t feel they are able to without help. This isn’t always the case, though.
Do you think mentoring works better when the mentee has some experience?
I think it works best when a writer has a good grasp of the basics of writing technique and understands that writing is a continuing apprenticeship and has a realistic view of where they might pitch themselves and what success constitutes for them (success as a writer is a different concept for every writer, and does not always involve wanting publication. However, I have recently mentored people who are much more at the beginning of their journey, in one case simply wanting to find a way to edit work better and to enjoy editing rather than always dreading it. I have also mentored people who are writing in isolation, where signposting and supporting as they join others to write and gain feedback becomes a large part of the mentoring process. Often mentoring works best when people reach a point of change or ‘stuckness’ and want to move forward but need guidance to do so. I think rather than being at a ‘stage of your writing life’ when you can most benefit from mentoring you need to be at a ‘stage in your thinking’ where you have formed a good idea of what you want to achieve as a writer and what your goals might be before you start the mentoring relationship.
That’s great. So if someone has decided to look for a monitor, what questions should they ask?
Beyond the obvious – charges, length of sessions, process etc – you will need to know something about the mentor in terms of their writing, their experience and their approach. You should check that their idea of ‘mentoring’ is the kind of mentoring you want – particularly that it is goal oriented and not completely focused on your work on the page. Finding the right mentor is crucial to your development – do meet first. Often mentors are able to offer a ‘getting to know you’ free initial meeting. Your instincts often tell you what is right for you. I would always be happy to be asked by a potential mentee ‘tell me about what you do and about your writing’.
Once you’ve found the right mentor, how is it structured?
I can’t speak for everyone but mentoring normally takes place over a period of months, typically a six session package over 6-12 months with a free initial chat about what is required, to gain background and an idea of how you might work together. I largely prefer to offer one to one sessions in person of up to 2 ½ hours each time, but other mentors also work by skype and telephone.
I mentor because I’ve been a mentee and it changed my life, giving me the tools and confidence to write a publishable book . Why do you mentor and have you ever been a mentee?
I was offered a series of sessions with a mentor as part of my early career as a Literature Development Officer. I was also a writer. It was about life balance and achieving my own goals as well as helping others and how to approach this. It was the single most useful intervention I have ever received – specific to me, delivered by a person who knew the territory well, and made me focus on myself and my own needs, sometimes challenging me to look further, and causing me to change the way I thought about myself and my writing. When Mentor Training was offered by National Association of Writers in Education, I jumped at the chance to learn more about mentoring others, as I believed in it so totally as a process.
I can tell by the way you taught our course so passionately, how much you enjoy it.
I do! Mentoring work suits me because I have always enjoyed meeting and working with different people and working alongside a mentee for a sustained period of time is always a privilege. The worlds of writing and emotional health are the worlds I am most interested in, and although I am in the guiding role as a mentor, I also learn a lot from the people I am mentoring, and this feeds back into developing my process.
Lastly, Cathy. What’s the most common obstacle you see writers face?
It’s keeping faith in their writing and themselves and because I know this territory well in my own practice, I can use my own experience to inform the conversation.
Haha – me too! Thanks so much for your time.
Find out more about Cathy, or contact her via her website.
Cathy Grindrod is an experienced Creative Writing facilitator, mentor and life coach. She is a former University of Nottingham Creative Writing Lecturer and was awarded an Honorary MLitt by Derby University in 2014 for her work to promote wellbeing through writing across Derbyshire communities. She runs The Writer Highway™ –a programme of writer support for people who love creative writing, wish to progress and want to give themselves and their writing more time and space. After 25 years as a successfully published and broadcast writer of poetry, plays and memoir, including a term as Derbyshire’s Poet Laureate, she has experienced all the joys and pitfalls of the writing life, and now enjoys sharing all she has discovered about writing and wellbeing with other writers.
This weekend my sister came to stay. We’re very different but it’s lovely to spend time together. Sunday morning, while she was playing my piano I decided to refresh my vision board.
Half an hour later I had gathered a stack of magazines, scissors and was sitting at the breakfast bar cutting out headlines, random words and letters to spell out positive phrases.
‘Louise,’ she stage whispered making me jump. I hadn’t heard her come into the kitchen. ‘Are you blackmailing someone?’
‘Umm, no.’ I said while thinking God, what DOES she think of me.
‘Are you making a ransom note?’
‘No. I can promise there are absolutely no victims of kidnapping here, but you must swear NOT to go into the utility room.’
Her eyes flickered towards the door of the utility room and back to me.
‘If you were doing something,’ she shrugged, ‘As research for a book. I promise I wouldn’t tell anyone.’ (And THAT’S why I love her).
‘I’m making a visualisation board, for positive thinking.’ I said. Disinterested she wandered back to the piano. I know, I know. I am SO disappointing for a crime writer sometimes.
Positive thinking isn’t something that comes naturally to me. By nature, I worry. A lot. My anxiety was exacerbated after a change in health led to disability and chronic pain which also threw clinical depression into the mix.
Alongside gratitude journaling, which I blogged about here, I find it really beneficial to my mood to keep a visual reminder of the things I want. Of the person I strive to be. My hopes and dreams. Goals for the future. Where I want my writing career to be.
Everything manmade in our world began as the seeds of creation in someone’s mind. No matter how unachievable they were told their goals were and regardless of the opinions of others, through belief and determination their ideas became a reality.
Ours can too.
Recently on YouTube I’ve discussed whether you can use the Law of Attraction to visualise your way onto the bestsellers list (you can watch that here). A vision board is an extension of that mind-set.
I love having such a positive board hanging in my study. When I’ve killed someone off (writing wise of course – sorry sis) I can spin around in my chair and the world is light once more.
If you want to make a board, here’s how: –
1) Gather images, headlines and random words; anything that catches your eye in a magazine (or print from online). Be completely open and do this from the heart. You’ll know if an image provokes a positive feeling and it doesn’t have to make sense. Don’t try to analyse too much what the stuff you are gathering means at this stage.
2) After you have a substantial pile, sift through it for a second time, discarding anything that doesn’t resonate as strongly with you this time around.
3) Glue or pin what’s left onto your board and leave it somewhere you can see it every day. Don’t worry if some of the images don’t make sense to you at this stage. Be patient and wait and see what happens, it should all become clear.
Alternatively you can make a board specific to goals you already have in mind.