Archive for category Lifestyle
I’ve been on a writing retreat!
Unfortunately it wasn’t a week in a glamorous, sunny location but two nights in a Premier Inn on an industrial estate near Warwick. It was an experiment with a writer friend to see if 48 hours away from domestic distractions would enhance our productivity and propel us into the heart of our plots.
We worked in two and a half hour chunks before meeting up for tea and homemade cake or a 30 minute walk round the block or breakfast or dinner. This method kept us well fed and there was always a break to look forward to. I found that after two hours my concentration was waning and I was ready for some company and chat (and cake!)
Did it work?
My companion was doing NaNoWriMo. On arrival she was behind on her daily word count, when we left she was ahead, as well as having done some character sketches.
I was trying to pull together a very wobbly first draft. Prolonged writing time on the retreat enabled me to see the plot as a whole and get some editing done. In our breaks we did a lot of writing talk and my writer friend gave me a new idea to increase the tension within my story. I spent time working out how to weave this into my existing chapters.
Yes, the retreat worked and was worthwhile. But we both agreed that we couldn’t maintain that level of work/concentration beyond a weekend. So a whole week writing in the sun would probably be wasted on me (if it’s sunny I’d rather be in the pool or sightseeing!) but another weekend on an industrial estate is something I’d consider …
It’s often said that public speaking is people’s number one fear. Many of us would rather adopt a tarantula, stroke a python, walk a tightrope across the Grand Canyon or be enclosed in the tiniest of spaces than speak in front of an audience. I know, I’ve been there.
But it doesn’t have to be like that. The fear of public speaking, or glossophobia, can be managed. The nerves will never completely go, but that’s a good thing. A little bit of anxiety ensures proper preparation beforehand and a dose of adrenaline improves the performance.
Writers who can face an audience (even if they are quavering inside!) are at a big advantage. Think of the growing number of literary festivals that take place throughout the year, up and down the country, showcasing authors and their books. Think of the opportunities offered by libraries for local authors to make themselves known to local readers. Think of the critique possibilities available at writing groups, classes and residential courses to those brave enough to read their work aloud.
Writers are often stereo-typed as introverted loners, hunched alone over a laptop. We can do a lot of networking and promotion online via Twitter, Facebook and all the other social media, but nothing beats getting out into the real world, meeting real people and sharing our work.
2019 is drawing to a close. Start preparing now to make 2020 the year you crack glossophobia and take your writing and author talk to the audience it deserves.
To help you on your way Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners on Kindle is reduced to 99p for the next seven days, until 4th December. For less than half the price of a coffee you can learn how to:
- Construct an interesting talk
- Manage nerves
- Build audience rapport
- Manage speaking engagements
- … and much more
If you prefer a ‘real’ book, the paperback of Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners is only £5.49.
Whichever version you prefer, I’d love to know how you get on!
Maria is a professional storyteller and excellent at drawing the audience into her imaginary world. She does this through the use of her voice, body language and, of course, her choice of words. Maria knows her imaginary world and the characters who inhabit it so well that the listener is soon a believer in that world too. And this was the point that Maria wanted to get across to us during the workshop:
It is essential to spend time thoroughly imagining the setting/world of your story AND the background/motivation of the characters who live in this world.
Maria got us practising this technique in a variety of ways. She began by telling us a captivating story from the Middle Ages about two green children from a green world who accidentally find themselves on Earth and the subsequent problems they have as outsiders who look different. We then:
- Did some role play. One pretending to be the green girl and the others asking her questions about how she felt.
- Did a piece of writing from the point of view of the green girl reflecting on becoming a mother on alien Earth.
- Worked together to create a huge map of the green world and then wrote about the landscape.
- Attempted to write a piece from the point of view of the cave which was the portal between Earth and the green world.
By the end of the day I felt fully immersed in the green world and the character of the green girl. The benefit of doing this for the novel I’m working on would be huge – so that’s my next challenge!
An unexpected bonus from the day was coming face to face with fellow writer and blogger Julia Thorley for the very first time. Julia and I have followed each other’s blogs for several years but never met before. So it was a strange sensation when we looked at each other across the workshop table, each thought the other looked familiar and as soon as we said our names, realisation dawned! It was lovely to get the chance to work together during the workshop – and have our photo taken to mark the occasion! Julia has also written about the day.
I’ve run a book group for several years and hearing several different opinions of the same book is always a fascinating experience. A book’s themes often lead to interesting conversations and we usually have a laugh too.
However, recently I’ve discovered an alternative type of group; Shared Reading.
Shared Reading is championed and supported by the charitable organisation The Reader. The charity “builds warm and lively communities by bringing people together and books to life”.
The groups are free to join and open to all. However many of the groups are located in places to help those living with conditions such as dementia, complex mental health issues and chronic pain, as well as those recovering from addiction or feeling lonely.
The groups meet on a weekly basis and all the reading is done out loud during the session, with both the group leader and the participants doing the reading. At appropriate points in the poem, short story or prose extract there will be a pause and the leader will start a conversation about the text. Group members might talk about the impact the words have on them, their interpretation of the text or simply whether they are enjoying it or not. No one is forced to contribute or to read aloud but it’s hoped that the groups’ inclusive atmosphere gives everyone’s voice and opinion a chance to be heard and appreciated.
This week I had the chance to shadow the leader of two Shared Reading groups in north Birmingham; one in a care home for the elderly and another in a community centre. I had a thoroughly enjoyable time.
The older people looked at two poems: New Every Morning by Susan Coolidge and Moon Compasses by Robert Frost. It was a lovely to hear the positive message they took from the first poem about each new day offering a new beginning. The second poem took more concentration but the description of love at the end pleased them all.
The community centre group were looking at the chapter, ‘Mother’, in Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee. They had looked at the first half of the chapter the previous week but I was soon brought up to speed. We talked about the chaotic home over which Laurie’s mum presided and her constant hope that one day the husband who’d walked on her would return. The session finished with the poem My Heart Leaps Up by William Wordsworth and us agreeing that even though we are no longer children, it’s still lovely to see things in nature that bring us joy.
These groups are a million miles away from a school English Literature lesson. They are all about personal interpretations of the texts and how they make us feel.
All the Shared Reading group leaders are volunteers and have been specially trained for the task. I’m contemplating putting myself forward.
Where do you stand on disposing of secondhand books? Any that I have in perfect condition I usually donate to our cash-strapped libraries because that helps both the library and the author (PLR). The others go to charity shops.
Recently I tried something different: WeBuyBooks.co.uk
Simply type an ISBN into the website and you get a monetary offer for the book. It’s not a lot, often just a few pence and the site won’t accept every title. But I found the process of keying in the numbers to get a valuation addictive. They buy DVDs and CDs too. Once you have a collection of goods with a total value of £5 or more there is the facility to print a label giving free postage to WeBuyBooks via the parcel people Hermes. It took a lot of books to reach £5 and then there was the job of parceling up and taking them to my nearest Hermes collection point (or they can collect from you).
A couple of days later I had an email from WeBuyBooks to say my parcel had been received and then, two days later, another to say the payment for my books had been deposited in my bank account.
Was it worth it?
Financially, probably not. My books were mostly novels and didn’t fall into the site’s most sought after categories i.e. cookbooks, travel guides and text books. A charity shop may have netted more for the books than I received.
More broadly, yes it was worth it. I got carried away with wanting to know what my books were worth and sorted through a lot! Many of the books refused by WeBuyBooks I then took to the charity shop anyway. And my mind feels clearer now more clutter is gone. So it was a win-win result!
I’ve been beavering away on a couple of projects recently and am pleased to announce that one is now complete. Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners is now available on Amazon Kindle and paperback. It brings together everything I’ve learnt about addressing an audience over the last five years.
Who should buy this book?
- Anyone who has to speak in meetings (work or otherwise), on a committee or any other group scenario such as a book club or writing group.
- Anyone who’s been asked to speak at a wedding, funeral, family party or similar occasion.
- Anyone with something to promote. That something could be a business, a favourite charity, a political or community campaign, a sports team in need of a sponsor, a club appealing for new members or anything that needs someone to pitch for publicity.
- Anyone who’d like to be paid for talking about their passion. (I receive a small fee when talking about writing to community groups).
- Anyone not included in the above. Remember those times you’ve felt awkward introducing yourself at a writers’ workshop, ‘selling’ yourself at an interview or making a complaint in a shop? There are times when we all lack confidence but being able to organise our thoughts and speak calmly makes these situations much easier.
As the title suggests, Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners is aimed at those with no or very little experience of addressing an audience – that was the starting point for my journey in public speaking when I joined Sutton Coldfield Speakers Club in September 2013. The club is part of the Association of Speakers Clubs (ASC) and in 2018 I represented the Midlands in the national final of the ASC Speech Competition. Back in 2013 I had no desire at all to enter a speech competition and never expected to find myself, a few years later, speaking in a competitive situation on a stage in a packed hall at the ASC Annual Conference. It’s amazing what we can achieve with a bit of encouragement, self-belief and hard work!
But far more important than the competition, several people have commented on how much more confident I’ve become in everyday life since learning to speak in public – and I think that is the real benefit to me from the last few years. I wrote Public Speaking for Absolute Beginners to minimise the fear that we all feel when asked ‘to say a few words’.
I hope it will help you grow in confidence too.
A defibrillator has been installed in my area and I went to a session run by Community Heartbeat on how to use it. A patient’s survival rate following a cardiac arrest is much improved by the use of a defibrillator rather than just CPR (from around 7% to 28% if I remember correctly) so it’s great that increasing numbers of these machines are appearing in public spaces.
The important takeaways from the session were:
- Unless you hit them over the head with it, you can’t hurt anyone with a defibrillator – the machines are programmed to only deliver a shock when/if one is needed.
- A defibrillator applies a current of electricity to the heart to stop it and thus allow it to reconfigure automatically. Our instructor said it was a little bit like rebooting a laptop when the screen has locked up.
- The defibrillator gives audible instructions on what you are required to do.
- When you dial 999 you will be told where the nearest defibrillator is and the code number to access it
- If the nearest defibrillator is too far away and you are alone, you will be talked through performing CPR only. If you are not alone, one person will start CPR whilst the other fetches the defibrillator.
- When the defibrillator arrives, one person should continue with CPR while the other sets everything up.
- There are scissors and a razor in the defibrillator pack. This allows you to cut the patient’s clothing (including the bra on a woman) in order to bare the chest. The razor is for shaving a square of skin on a hairy chest. The pads through which the shock is delivered won’t stick to very hairy skin.
- CPR must be continued in between allowing the defibrillator to monitor and possibly shock the patient. Give 30 compressions at a rate of 100-120 per minute followed by two breaths. You will need to press hard with two hands on an adult patient and you may break one of their ribs. I would prefer someone to break my rib but save my life rather than leave me to die with ribs intact.
- The defibrillator will tell you when to stop touching the patient so that the machine can monitor the heart.
- Do not stop CPR when you see the ambulance. The paramedics will always say, “You’re doing a great job. Keep going.” This is because they need a minute to set up and therefore need you to keep going just a little longer.
- You may or may not find out what eventually happens to the patient. Do not be disheartened if he dies. It does not mean you did anything wrong – look again at the survival percentages at the top of this post.
Every life is precious and deserves saving. Don’t walk by on the other side because you’re afraid of getting involved.
A few days ago I visited The Museum of Brands in London. The museum takes the visitor on a colourful stroll through the branding, advertising and consumerism of the last two hundred or so years. It’s a wonderful microcosm of British social history.
The visit left me with two thoughts. Firstly, it made me feel ancient. A large part of my childhood and the years beyond were in those glass cases. Surely I’m not old enough for my lifetime to become museum worthy! Who else out there remembers Spangles sweets, Jackie magazine, Philadelphia cheese wrapped in silver paper rather than in a plastic tub, Caramac bars (just discovered you can still buy those) and renting instead of buying a TV?
Secondly, it brought home to me how the long-lived brands had evolved over time in order to survive. Much of this evolution was done in baby steps – a change of font for the logo, moving from a metal to plastic packaging or updating the slogan. Companies like Sony have constantly innovated to ensure their products always offer the consumer something new and attractive. Unfortunately Kodak didn’t and was lost in the great tsunami of digital photography.
What has this got to with writing?
It’s a reminder that we should always be looking where we are going with our writing careers. For example the market for womag stories is rapidly shrinking meaning those of us who used to target women’s magazines with our short stories need to find new outlets or try a different form of writing. Attracting an agent for a novel is as difficult as ever – is it time to set a limit on the number of rejections and then start investigating other routes such as the growing number of new independent digital publishers like Hera who accept unagented submissions? Or maybe it’s time to try non-fiction or a different genre?
The important thing is to stay current with what’s going on in the writing world and be proactive to avoid being left behind. Be a Sony not a Kodak! Simon Whaley has been talking about a similar topic on his blog this week.
Incidentally, whilst going through my kitchen cupboards to take the photo accompanying this post, I discovered that most of my tins and packets were supermarket own brands. I wonder what that says for branding in the future?