Monday 15 December 2014

The Parisot Writing Group (PWG)

The PWG met last week for the last session of the year.  In the morning group we did an exercise on point of view and setting.  The point of the exercise was to see a building through the eyes of a character and to demonstrate that what is ugly to one person in one frame of mind can be beautiful to another.  It was also a useful exercise in writing from the point of view of the opposite sex.  As usual, we each read out what we had written.  There were some powerful pieces of writing.  I chose a pier as my building (see my effort below).  I found the exercise inspiring and I intend to develop the piece further.   

The pier had always been there.  It looked fragile, the gun metal grey of the waves lapping at the rusty framework, threatening to wash the whole structure away.  The colour of the sea matched his mood.  He walked slowly head bowed, his feet making a hollow sound on the wooden boards.   He looked up as he approached the arcade.  There were no sounds of laughter coming from the abandoned building, long since closed, slot-machines and penny falls going out of fashion.  The windows were boarded up and paint was peeling from the walls.  There were specks of white in wet patches where the plaster was crumbling away.  Briefly he wondered if here were plans to renovate it and, if so, what it would become.  Then he realised he didn’t care.  Everything was reduced to dust in the end.  He took shelter in the doorway, the smell of urine and decay strong in his nostrils.  He took out the letter from the officer, although he knew the contents off by heart.  A sudden gust of wind caught the paper, whipping it out of his hand. He watched transfixed as it was carried on the wind and then tossed into the waves.

The pier had always been there.  It beckoned to her now a solid line stretching out into the surging sea.  It held the promise of fun times.  She had often come here as a little girl running on the boards loving the sound of her feet clip clapping on the wooden floor.  She remembered the long lazy days of school holidays spent paddling in the sea below.  There was an arcade at the end, its white façade looking like a giant wedding cake.  It had once housed slot machines and penny falls, then for a while it had been a nightclub.  The windows were now boarded up and she wondered what it would become next, perhaps a café or one of those old fashioned ice cream parlours the interior painted in candy floss pink.  She plunged her hands deep into her coat pockets and continued walking.  The wind was exhilarating a sudden gust caught her hair, flinging it wildly around her face and laughing she brushed it aside.  She could taste the salt from the spray on her tongue.  She moved her hands and rested them protectively against her stomach and smiled.

In the afternoon group we did an exercise on endings by taking a beginning and then writing the ending trying not to worry about the middle.  Again, there were some great pieces of writing, which I hope will be developed into complete short stories over the winter as I’m looking forward to reading them!

Monday 3 November 2014

The Importance of Research

Well that’s my excuse for taking an impromptu trip to the Costa Brava at the weekend. We stayed, as we normally do, at Hotel Rosa in the town of Begur.  We did our usual costal walk (see previous posts on my Nine Toed Nomad Blog).  But this time, in addition to walking, I wanted to use the visit for some research.  In my novel in progress, The Gift, I have two scenes set in the cemetery in Begur.  In my mind I had imagined a tiny cemetery perched on top of a hill overlooking the ancient town with the Mediterranean sparkling in the distance.  In reality, the cemetery is located by a mini roundabout on a busy road.  It is enclosed by tall whitewashed walls.  A group of four Cypress trees provide some green relief amongst the white and grey crypts.  The crypts, mostly family ones, are functional in design.  Some are adorned with photos in oval frames.  Some are festooned with plastic flowers.  Walking along the narrow paths, surrounded by the crypts, I felt slightly claustrophobic.  In a small clearing, I sat on a stone bench and pondered where the final resting place would be for one of my characters.  Then I found it.  A much better spot and far less clichéd than the one conjured up by my imagination.  Now it’s back to the editing! 
A great bench for contemplation

Wednesday 22 October 2014

Two Literary Festivals In One Week

Last week I visited the Guildford Book Festival.  The previous weekend I had been at the Parisot Literary Festival (see previous blog post).   I was interested to see how the two festivals would compare.  The Guildford Book Festival was in its 25th Year and the Parisot Literary Festival is just starting out.  The other main difference was that the events at the Parisot Literary Festival were free, but at the Guildford Book Festival there was a modest charge.   

The first session I went to was a workshop on The Perfect Manuscript.   It was run by Alysoun Owen, editor of the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook.  The main messages I took away were the need to encapsulate my manuscript in three sentences, which I’ve now done and not to send it out until it is ready – I’m wondering if my manuscript will ever be ready!  Alysoun also spoke about the importance of joining a writer’s group, entering writing competitions and self-promotion via a blog and Twitter.

On the Friday evening I went to hear Kate Mosse talk about her latest novel, The Taxidermist’s Daughter.   It is a gothic thriller so a different genre from her books in the Languedoc Trilogy:- Labyrinth, Sepulchre and Citadel.  She explained that the idea for The Taxidermist’s Daughter had probably been bubbling away in her head for 35 years.  It is a story inspired by place, the village of Fishbourne in West Sussex.  It is set in 1912 over a short timeframe of four days.  One of the things she said that resonated with me was that all writers are learning all of the time.

If I had had the time there were other authors I would have liked to have heard, Andrew Marr, Reverend Richard Coles, Sophie Hannah to name but a few.  Ah well there’s always next year!

I enjoyed both festivals.  The fact that The Guildford Book Festival is set over a whole week is a plus, but I liked the intimacy of the Parisot Literary Festival.   I feel lucky to have been able to attend two literary festivals in one week.

Saturday 18 October 2014

The Parisot Literary Festival 10 - 12 October

There is something inspiring listening to authors talk about their writing process and read passages from their novels.  This was the second Parisot Literary Festival and it didn’t disappoint. 

Fellow Parisot Writing Group member Vanessa Couchman was first on.  There were no signs of nerves as she gave us an engaging talk on how she wrote her debut novel, The House at Zaronza and how she got her publishing contract with Crooked Cat.  The passages she chose to read were moving and, I thought, encapsulated the essence her novel.  

In the afternoon Amanda Hodgkinson talked about her second novel, Spilt Milk and her novella (10,000 word story) Tin Town which appears in Grand Central, a collection of stories by bestselling authors.  Amanda read the opening extract from Spilt Milk and the prose was lyrical.  She confessed to having written the opening scene last and I wonder how many other authors do this.

Piu Marie Eatwell finished off Saturday’s session with a talk about her book, They Eat Horses, Don’t They? 

The author dinner in the evening proved popular.  I was lucky to be on Amanda Hodgkinson’s table and it was nice to chat in a relaxed setting. 

On Sunday morning there was a cookery demonstration by Robin Ellis.  Robin played heart throb, Ross Poldark, in the 1970s series Poldark, based on the novels by Winston Graham.  I spent many Sunday evenings as a child watching Poldark with my Mum so I was excited to meet Robin.   Robin has Type 2 Diabetes so changed the way he eats and set about writing healthy living cook books.  The food he cooked us was delicious – pumpkin soup and salmon fishcakes.

In the afternoon former civil servant, Clive Ponting, gave a talk on how the origins and impact of World War One.  His talk was hugely popular and the library was packed. 

Tracey Warr concluded the festival with a talk on her two books, Almodis and Viking Hostage. I liked her mantra of “write what you don’t know.”  Her novels are set in the 11th century so I guess this explains her thinking!  She explained the importance of setting in her writing and how she likes to visit a place in order to be able to write about it in a compelling way.  

The Parisot Literary Festival is a bilingual event organised by a small Anglo-French group of book lovers.  In addition to the author readings I went to, there were readings being given by six French authors too.  I enjoyed the event and was amazed to think that all this was happening in a small village in rural SW France.  I can’t wait for next year!  

With Robin Ellis!

Thursday 9 October 2014

The Parisot Writing Group (PWG)

The PWG met for its first session of the season on Monday when we looked at the importance of theme in writing.  At Amanda Hodgkinson’s writing workshop earlier in the year, she had said to the group how important “theme” was.  Over the summer I asked the group to write a 300 word piece on one of the themes listed below:- 


On Monday we read out what we had written.  It was obvious from everyone's writing what the theme was, although in most cases, the theme itself wasn’t mentioned.  I found it a liberating exercise and chose to write a piece of life writing, which I don’t normally do.  One member commented that in thinking about theme she was able to write without worrying about a structure of beginning, middle and end – the writing just flowed naturally.

Here is my piece:-

My mobile phone shakes into life.  As I take the call I feel numb with disbelief.  She was meant to be coming home tomorrow.  Do I get in the car and drive or will I be too late?  As I listen to the prognosis I twist the ring I always wear on my middle finger, a thin band with a group of three small diamonds, her engagement ring.  She had given it to me ten years ago.  I had refused, but she had insisted, her hand enclosing the ring in mine.  Try it on she had urged.  It had fitted my middle finger perfectly.  She had been ill then too, but she had pulled through.  I had offered to give the ring back, but she had wanted me to keep it, to treasure it like she had done.  It is precious to me and I wear it always.  I feel I’ve let her down.  I should be there as the life seeps out of her, but I know I’m too late.   

We finished off the session with a look at titles where we listed the unique selling point of our book/work in progress and the genre and then asked everyone in the group to come up with an appropriate title.  This was harder than I envisaged!

This weekend it is the Parisot Literary Festival and we’re looking forward to hearing fellow member Vanessa Couchman read extracts from her book The House at Zaronza.  The Parisot Literary Festival was a popular event last year and this year there is another great line-up of authors.    

Thursday 18 September 2014

Writing Buddy

I’ve missed my writing buddy this week.  I didn’t have a writing buddy until a few months ago – it was one of the pieces of advice given at our writing workshop with Amanda Hodgkinson back in April.

Over morning coffee my writing buddy and I review about 5,000 words of each other’s work.  I value her comments and look forward to our sessions as they help me to stay on track with my writing.  We’re both writing contemporary fiction and recognise each other’s strengths and weaknesses.   As well as giving each other constructive feedback, we give each other encouragement.  Writing can be lonely and our sessions make it less so.

Sunday 17 August 2014

Finding the Plot

The Parisot Writing Group met last week for a morning workshop on plot development with Jacqueline Yallop, the author of Kissing Alice, Obedience and Marlford.  We are lucky that, in this small area of rural France, we are surrounded by so many creative and talented people.  Among the topics we discussed were the different plot structures, including the string, the mirror and the seesaw.  We were then given a short paragraph and asked to plot either the beginning, middle or end of the story.  We finished off the session by attempting to write a story in only 140 characters.  We then re-wrote the story using 100 words and it was amazing how long 100 words suddenly seemed!  We all enjoyed the session and agreed that the time passed far too quickly!

Wednesday 30 July 2014

The House at Zaronza by Vanessa Couchman is published!

Last night I attended the launch party, along with other members of the Parisot Writing Group, for The House at Zaronza, my friend Vanessa’s first book.  The novel, which falls under the genre of historical fiction, is set in Corsica, a place I love.  We are so proud that one of the Parisot Writing Group has achieved such success and we were thrilled to join the celebrations.  I’ve enjoyed reading Vanessa’s short stories and I can’t wait to read The House at Zaronza.  It is published by Crooked Cat and is available through Amazon.    

Wednesday 9 July 2014

The Parisot Writing Group (PWG)

I realised I haven't mention the writing group I belong to on my blog in any detail.  I formed the PWG nearly two years ago at the library in the village of Parisot, Tarn-et-Garonne, France.  It has been a rewarding experience and has really helped me with my writing.  We started out as a group of nine.  At that time, some of us had been writing for a while and others were new to writing.   We meet up for three monthly sessions in both the spring and autumn.  The sessions are just over two hours long.  Having the meetings structured in this way means that most people make every session and we still have eight original members plus two new ones.   The first group proved so popular that I started a second group last autumn, as I didn’t want the number of the original group to be more than ten.    We are now at a stage where everyone feels comfortable sharing their writing and trusts each other.   This year we kicked off with a weekend writing workshop with Amanda Hodgkinson, which proved a great success and we hope to have more author led workshops over the next twelve months.  One of our members, Vanessa Couchman, has been writing fiction since 2010 and is about to have her first novel, The House at Zaronza published by Crooked Cat later this month, which we are all excited about.  You can check out this link for more details.

Tuesday 17 June 2014

The Gift

It has been quite a while since I wrote anything on here.  For once I have a valid excuse - I’ve been writing my novel.  The Gift is now at 83,000 words and I’m enjoying the whole process.  I really feel things are coming together, although I recognise I still have some work to do!  

Wednesday 30 April 2014

Writing Workshop

At the weekend I was privileged to host a writing workshop headed up by Amanda Hodgkinson, the award winning author of international bestseller, 22 Britannia Road and the critically acclaimed novel, Spilt Milk.  There were nine of us for the weekend, all members of the Parisot Writing Group – a supportive and lovely bunch of people.  We all agreed the weekend was a great success, but it was over far too quickly.   Now it is back to some hard graft on my novel, The Gift.  The feedback I received from Amanda and the group means I’m looking forward to working on it again and I have a clearer idea of what I’m trying to achieve.  I know I echo the sentiments of the whole group when I say that Amanda was an inspiration.

Thursday 24 April 2014

The Ginger Tree

I’ve just finished reading The Ginger Tree by Oswald Wynd (see my book blog Nita Reads).  The Ginger Tree caught my eye as I was looking for stories based in Japan at the beginning of the 20th century to give me further insight into Japanese Culture.   The Ginger Tree is the story of a young woman who travels to China in 1903.  In the end she settles in Japan, buying a house in Yokohama in 1914 – this would have been about the same time that Agnes Salvesen was in Yokohama.  The book was a delight to read and, as well as observations on the culture, it also highlights the restrictions placed on women during this era.  Agnes Salvesen must have been quite a woman!  I can’t wait to start writing about The Salvesen Sisters, but at the moment I’m working on The Gift – again!  

Friday 11 April 2014


Last week I was lucky to see the stage production of Birdsong.  Birdsong, by Sebastian Faulks, is one of my favourite books so I was interested to see how the play would compare.  We covered writing for stage, film and radio in one of my open university courses so I know that a huge amount of work goes into adapting a book for film or stage.  The first couple of chapters in the book set the scene before the First World War and I remember I found these a bit heavy going.  In comparison the play leaps right into the action as it opens in the trenches and the backstory is interlaced throughout the play to great effect.  The actors all gave moving performances and were just as I had imagined them.   The play was stunning and especially poignant given that it marks the anniversary of the start of the First World War.  I recommend going to see it if you get the chance.

Thursday 27 March 2014


I have entered three competitions this month.  The first one was for stories up to 750 words run by Writing Magazine.  The second was for short stories up to 2,000 words run by Mslexia.  The final one was for 500 word stories run by Flash 500.  I won’t know the outcome for a couple of months.  I'm really enjoying writing flash fiction at the moment.  My aim is to try and enter a couple of competitions each month as well as continuing with The Salvesen Sisters.  I'll keep you updated on progress!

Friday 14 March 2014

Old Photos

My little sister kindly offered to read draft 5 of The Gift – thanks Nic for your helpful feedback, which I will incorporate into the final draft.  While draft 5 was being read I decided to have another look at The Salvesen Sisters as I suddenly had lots of ideas.  I had also received positive feedback on the first chapter (see The Salvesen Sisters tab), which was encouraging and a great help.  The plot is coming along nicely.  I have set myself a target of 1,000 words a day as this seems a realistic goal!  While I was rummaging through old photos, which incidentally I love to do, I was lucky to find this old album, which I think belonged to Agnes Salvesen – you will recall that Agnes, my husband's great aunt, travelled to Asia in 1913 and it is the diary of her journey that has inspired me to write this story.  The last photo is of Agnes in Yokohama taken in 1917. I have some old postcards too, but sadly the writing is too faint to read.

Wednesday 5 March 2014

Joanna Trollope OBE

I went to hear Joanna Trollope OBE give a talk and book reading at the Connaught Theatre in Worthing last night (thanks to my little sister for getting the tickets and coming with me).  I confess that I haven’t read any of her books, but I enjoyed her talk and she gave an entertaining insight into life as a writer.  It was interesting to see that there were quite a few men as well as women in the audience.  Joanna writes contemporary fiction and she was there to promote her latest book, Balancing Act.  Her first books to be published were historical romance novels written under the pseudonym Caroline Harvey (both her parent’s first names apparently).  A member of the audience asked why she stopped writing historical fiction and she replied along the lines that contemporary fiction gave her more scope and she liked writing about modern life and its challenges.  She has recently written a contemporary reworking of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, which sounds interesting.  She read two extracts from her latest novel Balancing Act, about Susie Moran who runs a successful pottery company along with her daughters.  The novel is set in Stoke-on-Trent and Joanna said that she visited the Emma Bridgewater factory there to gain an insight into the pottery business.  I guess the internet is all very well, but it’s hard to capture the essence of a place without visiting it for real.  So now I'm thinking - do I need to visit the countries I am writing about in The Salvesen Sisters? There again, Yokohama today will be very different to Yokohama in 1913 and there is no chance of me boarding the Trans Siberian Express  anytime soon so I guess I will make do with old photos, postcards, books and, of course, the internet!

Wednesday 5 February 2014

The Gift

Last week I completed draft 4 (a month behind the schedule I had set myself!)  I’m now up to 67,000 words.  There are some chapters that I feel are still too weak or too short so I will be re-writing these.  I’m also asking myself if I’ve started the story in the right place.  Anyway, I felt I needed a break from it so yesterday I wrote a short story instead.  It felt liberating to be writing about something else!  Today, I'm starting draft 5!