Thursday, 23 November 2017

The Fine Art of Not Housekeeping by Steve Gladwin

There must be something happening in the abba blogisphere. People have been writing a great deal about the way they work, about the highs and lows of social media, about avoiding distraction and even about their state of mind.

I’m about to add to this – mostly - serious thread, and I hope you won’t consider it too frivolous. I thought of the idea almost three weeks ago before anyone had posted any of the above topics. Rather than back away and think of something else, I was determined to go through with it. Posts often have tended towards the serious and I’ve been as responsible for that as anyone. We all need a break into the slight and chucklesome, but there is also a point at the heart of this. So here for your delectation is a blog about how to use writing to avoid housework.

It’s like this. I hate housework, and I love writing. One I find sometimes alarmingly easy (and I realise this may be tempting fate so I’m touching wood as I write), whereas the other I somehow manage to either get out of, set up a whole load of avoidance tactics for, or do a token amount of and that grudgingly. I know I have the excuse of being a bloke, but it’s not really good enough, is it?

I have my reasons of course. I lived with someone for five years who had cleaning and ironing OCD and wasn’t afraid to impose it. I have a bit of a housework phobia in the same way as I have a kettle and washing machine phobia – because they were on all the time and I couldn’t escape them. I am also dyspraxic which means I get easily side-tracked, (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it!) Now I live with someone who once worked as a chambermaid and hates housework about as much as I do. Yet somehow our house stays clean enough not to disgrace us, and I actually quite enjoy cleaning the kitchen now. OK, I admit it, Rosie does most of it!

But if I do want to steer clear of the housework I have a simple strategy. I write! It’s alarming how easy it is to find inspiration when  the household tasks are piling up, or it’s my turn to do whatever. And you should try it sometime, you writers who want to avoid the housework. Hours and even half days can go by before you need to worry about it again, and in the meantime you might have had a brand new creative idea, or made a deadline earlier than you expected, or created a winning story entry. And where’s the harm if the pots pile up, or the hoover stays in a corner or your clothes are slightly creased?

When can I get back to the writing?

So if anyone’s interested in this strategy, here are my top ten (fairly) fool-proof suggestions.
*Begin writing as early as you can - say after you’ve had breakfast and /or a shower and got dressed. Better still begin when you get up because it’s amazing how many chores you can avoid if you make an early start.

*Play music while you write, either loudly, so you can't hear the sound of undone housework, or better still plug yourself in. Being lost in two worlds at once is a great way of ensuring that the horrible world doesn’t intrude and ruin it.

*Set impossible deadlines for your day that you simply have to complete, and that means there’s just no time for anything else, sorry. And should your deadline/schedule be so impossible for that day you have the perfect excuse for moving the rest to the next day, and the day after that etc.

*Have a list of tasks or target list, (mainly to do with writing – you’re a writer after all!) on a piece of paper. You can include things like a walk, doing yoga, eating biscuits, but the important thing is not to put housework on there, or you’ll suffer a pang of conscience and we can’t have that!

*Try the putting off until tomorrow approach. Most writers try this one on with challenging chapter re-writes or tedious close edits of their MS, or worst of all working through an editor’s pedantic notes, but at least if your housework doesn’t get done because of it, you can feel smug about your writing.

*Encourage long winded phone or skype calls with fellow writers and creative collaborators - especially those who you can guarantee will talk a lot - which take up the valuable time you might have been side-tracked hoovering or ironing. This may have the added bonus of leading to new work or ideas, or even both, and so what if you end up sneezing because of all the unhoovered dust, and looking like a dog's breakfast because of your scrunched up clothes, you’re a writer, right? You're supposed to look bohemian, You probably should live in a garret!

*Pretend you’re some kind of foreigner and scratch your head in amazed confusion when your partner tries to instruct you in the use of the washing machine. Alternatively find the actual instructions, but somehow miss the tiny bits written in English and instead struggle over the Swedish or Russian with a suitable frown. Now exhausted by all that effort, you can return to the snug safety of your writing where foreign instructions will never hurt you.

Confused of Powys

*Boast to all of your writer friends on social media about the huge amount of housework you’re doing. This may be an outright lie but at least it’s writing!

*Better still set up an online writing support group with a few like-minded friends. Make sure you all time your conference calls just when the household tasks are piling up. Feel better about your ignored burden by helping your fellows writers with theirs.

*Take the ‘walking always leads to wonderful creative ideas’ approach, (it always does for me!). Make sure you set out early and come back late with no time for housework in between, and too exhausted to think about it when you get back.

There, I hope this has been useful. And let me know if anyone wants to set up that group! Now I've exhausted myself thinking about it all. Time to lie down. The housework can wait until tomorrow.

Thunderbirds are go! Zzz


Wednesday, 22 November 2017

My Top Five Movies about Writers, by Dan Metcalf

I'm not going to lie, I'm a movie fan. I was a movie fan even before I was a book fan, and there is nothing I love more than sitting down in the cinema or slouching on the sofa with a film and a jumbo bucket of popcorn bigger than my own head. As writers, we have been much maligned in movies; we are often protrayed by filmmakers as sensitive types prone to outbursts (HOW DARE THEY!). So for my post today I thought I would show you my top five movies about writers.

1. Adaptation is a 2002 movie directed by Spike Jonze. It focuses on the real-life screenwriter Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich) and his not-real-life twin brother Donald, as Charlie is tasked with adapting the 1998 non-fiction book The Orchid Thief, by Susan Orlean. Adaptation is both the movie of that book, and the story of the process of writing it. Confusingly, the screenplay is credited to both Charlie and Donald Kaufman.
With me so far? No? It’s a tricky thing to describe, so here’s the Wikipedia entry (with spoilers). 

Kaufman writes himself as a neurotic worrier, a loner and introvert, which is ably played by Nicolas Cage. The twist comes when looking at Donald, the twin brother who does not exist in real life, but in this fictional world is excitable, enthusiastic, and has a lust for life. He is unconcerned by how others perceive him and is in every sense the other half of Charlie. Charlie however, can’t stand him. The film also portrays Susan Orlean as a Manhattenite journalist who is seemingly bored with her cosy life, and is drawn to the wild character of Laroche, the Orchid Thief of the book’s title. For Kaufman, it seems the life of a writer is a lonely and despondent one.

The real twist comes when the twins take action to try to save Charlie’s meandering screenplay, and experience a moment of resolution. In the ensuing climax SPOILERS: Donald is shot and the end scene sees Charlie come to terms with his brother’s death, and seemingly inherit the hope and positivity that Donald embodied.
The film is a must-see for its plays on film structure and the nature of writing as an internal pursuit, and the performances are top notch - the brilliant Meryl Streep alongside Chris Carter and the double helping of Nic Cage (who I normally can’t abide). A film which seemingly rejects the classic Hollywood film structure, but really embraces it.

2. Wonder Boys is based on a novel by Michael Chabon and adapted to the screen by soon-to-be Harry Potter scribe Steve Kloves. It centres on Grady Tripp, a novelist and writing professor who over has been trying to complete his novel for the past seven years. Ah, the procrastinating writer! If what Hollywood says about novelists is true, then it is a wonder that any novels get written at all, as the movies would have us believe that most writers walk about in our dressing gowns, watching quiz shows, knocking back Jack Daniels and occasionally looking guiltily at the typewriter in the corner. (The reality is, of course, that only half of this is true).

Tripp’s problem is not that he can’t write – he can’t stop writing. The manuscript has waffled on for hundreds of pages and he can’t seem to grasp hold of the narrative. He has a body of work, but even he struggles to call it a ‘novel’.

The plot takes us around a weekend from hell, in which Tripp picks up his agent who is hungry for the promised manuscript, babysits a troubled student, accidently bumps off his lover’s dog, and tries to avoid sleeping with his lodger. It is all excellently written and played, and the performance by a pre-Spiderman Tobey Maguire of the depressed and dramatic student James Leer who appears to be the next Big Thing, is one to be noted.

The screenplay has a great charm and memorable scenes, in what could have been played out as a Fawlty Towers-type farce. Kloves manages to get us to like both the pot-smoking Tripp and the almost catatonic Leer as they act disgracefully. One of my favourite films and one which every writer with an interest in great characters should make time to watch.

3. Misery is the infamous book by Stephen King about a writer kept prisoner by his mentally unstable 'biggest' fan. The movie was made by Rob Reiner, the director who defies pigeonholing by making wildly different movies such as This is Spinal Tap, Stand By Me, The Princess Bride and When Harry Met Sally. Don't expect to see shades of any of those previous films in Misery, however; the script is eerie and dark, with great turns by James Caan (who sits in bed for most of the movie, lazy so-and-so) and Kathy Bates.

Stephen King is famed for writing about writers (I guess he's in the 'Write what you know' camp) and I would have included The Shining in this list, were it not for Stanley Kubrick's perculiarly cold interpretation of King's very personal novel, about a writer marooned in a snow-bound hotel dealing with his very murderous demons.

4. The Player is Robert Altman's film based on the novel by Michael Tolkin. It stars Tim Robbins as a merciless Hollywood Executive who comes across an unhinged screenwriter and kills him in the heat of the moment. 

Not a great role for the screenwriter to be honest, but it is the details of the movie and its portrayal of LA lifestyle and the business of show which really earns it its place on this mini countdown.

5. Barton Fink is a masterpiece of letting the camera linger. John Turturro plays a gritty yet sensitive playright from New York who reluctantly travels to Los Angeles to work in moving pictures. 

He is alienated by Hollywood and its facade, and is trapped in his own private hell as he faces writer's block in a sweaty hotel room which he shares with a mosquito. Famously written by the Coen Brothers (Miller's Crossing, The Big Lebowski) in a time when they were suffering from writer's block themselves, it gets across what it is like to be stuck inside your own head. Also features a terrifying turn from the usually-cuddly John Goodman.

So that's my five. Yes, I left off Wilde. And Sylvia. And Finding Neverland (Can't watch it without blubbing anyway). But it's MY five. What's on yours?
Dan Metcalf is a children's writer, author of Codebusters and The Lottie Lipton Adventures. Say hi at

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Words and Silence by Anne Booth

By the time this blog post is published I will be nearly at the end of a 7 day silent retreat at  St. Beuno’s retreat Centre  in North Wales. It is the 14th November and I have just arrived. The silence doesn’t officially start until after 8 pm, but I am already feeling challenged as I have been gently encouraged, not only not to talk, but not to go on social media. It isn’t that I am a particularly noisy person, but somehow I hadn’t realised how much I need to talk, to go on social media, to facebook my children and check up on my family. I don’t know what to do with myself. Right now, 7 days seems a long, long time to fill.

The thing is, the reason why I signed up voluntarily to do this retreat is that inside me is too noisy. There are too many competing voices and concerns - ideas for books, worries about the future, regrets about the past, insecurity about the present. I log on and read all about the whole world, I sign and share petitions, I send and receive emails, I watch TV and I talk to people in real life and I don’t stop to listen to the silence. But I am sure I should - I am sure that I have things to learn.

I hope I can post this tonight before the retreat, as there is nothing holy about letting people down and I have just remembered about my blog post (!) - but then I hope I have the nerve to hold to the silence and listen to the stories which may emerge.  I will meet with a director every day, but the rest of the time I will be on my own. In the silence there will be stories coming out of my own life - perhaps they may become changed in the future into published ones, or just acknowledged and honoured and left. I don’t know. I hope this time of silence will help me speak - verbally or in the written word in my children's  books - with more truth and honesty and compassion. I hope it will help me to have more integrity and truth in my life and writing - and also to uncover more of the hidden joy in life and pass it on in my books. I have just discovered that Gerald Manley Hopkins wrote a great deal of his poetry in this very house - so even though right now  I do feel full of trepidation, I will cling to that. I've already noticed lots of birds outside my window - blue tits and robins and blackbirds to name but three - and there are lovely grounds to wander in.  See you on the other side!

Monday, 20 November 2017

Eudaimonia - Joan Lennon

This is how it seems to me.  Writing is a job of work.  There are moments of inspiration and miracle, but they're the extra bits and can only be welcomed, not scheduled.  When I'm very, very sad, I can't write, I can't remember writing and I can't imagine ever writing again.  When I'm only very sad, I long to write again.  When I'm just sad, I can write and it's the thing that makes other things bearable.  So when someone put me on to this short video about eudaimonia, I thought, "Interesting." * 

Happiness is a pleasure to experience but not a prerequisite for this writing job.  That's how it seems to me, any way.

What do you think?  

I also thought, "Those are REALLY UGLY papier-mache figures!" 

Joan Lennon's website.
Joan Lennon's blog.
Walking Mountain.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Does Social Media Affect Your Creativity? - Lucy Coats

Does the use of social media affect my creativity? It's a question I've been asking myself a lot, especially this year, when all platforms are full of increasingly bad news from around the world, in a seemingly unremitting stream. As writers, we are often alone, and social media platforms can provide a way to reach out and connect with the world -- and more importantly with other writers. However, they can also be a time eater, a procrastination tool, and a mood depressor. I've put a little survey below for those who are interested in thinking about this question.

Create your own user feedback survey

How did you do? Did you tick mostly ones? If so, well done, your social media use is minimal. But I suspect the majority of us score somewhat higher. For me, I have found that I've had to take breaks this year, and when I have, my creativity has gone up, simply because my brain is not full of gloom and doom. Before the middle of last year, I didn't really have a problem. But now I think I do, and it's the all-pervasive gloom and doom that is directly responsible. I get sucked down a black hole, where article link leads to article link, and the more I click on, the more Facebook (in particular) shows me about that subject. So right now, I've deleted every social app on my phone, my tablet and my computer. Yes, I will miss some nice news from friends and fellow authors. But I've already feeling freer, and they can always phone or email or text, or (shock horror) even meet in person. I'd love to know if anyone wants to join me -- I'm going social media free till the New Year at least. Do let me know in the comments.

OUT NOW: Cleo 2: Chosen and Cleo (UKYA historical fantasy about the teenage Cleopatra VII) '[a] sparkling thriller packed with historical intrigue, humour, loyalty and poison.' Amanda Craig, New Statesman
Also out:  Beasts of Olympus series "rippingly funny" Publishers Weekly US starred review
Lucy blogs at An Awfully Big Blog Adventure (No. 1 UK Literature Blog) 
Lucy's Website Twitter - Facebook - Instagram
Lucy is represented by Sophie Hicks at The Sophie Hicks Agency

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Tied up in knots - the art of wind charming, by Lu Hersey

Here’s a true story. I wrote a weather charm into my debut novel, Deep Water. It consisted of three intricate knots, tied in a piece of rag. Each time my protagonist untied a knot, it unleashed stronger weather, until she undid the third, when all hell let loose. I got the idea from the sign at the Museum of Witchcraft in Boscastle, where it’s said that ‘selling the wind’ to fishermen was once a common practice on the quayside. But I had no idea what their weather charms looked like. They could have been Cornish piskies for all I knew, so I made mine up – or at least I thought I did.

I later discovered that knot charms like mine are actually a thing. Some months after my book was published, I read a chapter on The Magical Control of the Wind in James Gordon Frazer’s The Golden Bough

The following extract sent a shiver down my spine:

‘Finnish wizards used to sell wind to storm-stayed mariners. The wind was enclosed in three knots; if they undid the first knot, a moderate wind sprang up; if the second, it blew half a gale; if the third, a hurricane.’

How had I managed to make up a weather charm that actually existed (or at least once existed) in the real world? Is it embedded somewhere in the human psyche that three is a powerful number, and that knots are used to tie magic? Possibly. The power of three comes into so many of our folk and fairy tales. Or maybe the idea of weather charms has been around so long, it’s part of our collective unconscious.

Wettersegen - wonderfully action packed folk weather charm from Austria

It turns out that our ability to control the weather by some form of magic is a widely held belief, spread across all continents and very different cultures. It also makes for some fascinating research. If you’re interested, The Golden Bough is a great place to start reading up about them, as thankfully Frazer was an anthropologist at time when many of these arts were still being practised, and he was a fantastic collector of information.

Rokeyok - Micronesian weather charm

From Frazer I learnt about the Yakuts (originally from Siberia, around Lake Baikal), who were able to conjure up a cool breeze on a hot day - simply by waving a wind charm around tied to stick, while uttering a particular spell. The charms were made of horse hair wound around a stone taken from the gut of an animal or a fish. Sadly, Frazer isn’t too specific about the wording of the spell – otherwise I might be tempted to try it out.

Yakut woman shaman (1902)

The Fuegians (the original three tribes of Tierra Del Fuego – later practically wiped out, and deliberately so, by European settlers) were known to be able to control the wind using a particular method of throwing shells against it. And in Greenland, a woman during the time of childbirth could calm a storm by going outdoors, filling her mouth with air, and coming back inside to blow it out again.

Selknam people from Tierra del Fuego - a culture sadly lost

A tribe in New Guinea controlled the wind with a ‘wind stone’, a special stone that you tapped lightly with a stick for breeze, and rapped hard for a hurricane. And in Scotland, ‘Scottish witches’ would raise the wind by dipping a rag in water and hit it against a stone, uttering the words

‘I knok this rag upone this stane,
To raise the wind in the divellis name,
It sall not lye till I please againe.’

Whether or not this was the spell the witches actually recited (which seems unlikely as they almost certainly spoke Gaelic), I don’t doubt they were able to conjure a wind, or at least that people believed they could.

Sorceress conjuring a hailstorm

Which brings me back to the three knot charm. Frazer tells us such wind charms are made by ‘wizards in Lappland, witches in Shetland, Lewis and the Isle of Man.' And that 'Shetland seamen still buy winds in the shape of knotted handkerchiefs or threads from old women who claim to rule the storms. There are said to be ancient crones in Lerwick now who live by selling the wind.’

If only that were still true. If you happen to know any such ancient crones are still around and could teach me the art, please let me know. I can think of worse fates than ending up making a living by selling weather charms. But though the magical art of conjuring the weather has been lost almost everywhere, it’s exactly the type of thing I try to revive in my writing. For surely that is the gift of writers – creating worlds where all things are possible.

by Lu Hersey
Book: Deep Water
Twitter: @LuWrites

Friday, 17 November 2017

Seven Habits of a Highly Distracted Writer

Life gets in the way of living. And it definitely gets in the way of writing, simply because the business of writing involves more than writing. Today’s writers are not just writers, they are publicists, video editors, trailer makers, website builders, social media junkies and sometimes even cashiers at the till when selling books at events. So it’s no surprise that writing time needs to be protected with a fierce loyalty to creativity.

But often when the writing isn’t going well – either because the work in progress is stuck in the middle, the protagonist is acting like a toddler throwing tantrums or new ideas keep edging the work in progress out of the way. When the writing doesn’t seem to happen, I follow what I call the SEVEN HABITS OF A HIGHLY DISTRACTED WRITER.

Habit 1: Do Housework
I hardly do housework when the writing is going well. This is why I have a dozen plates, three dozen spoons and innumerable number of outfits, because washing up and laundry needs to wait. I often step over piles of shoes and mounds of clothes to reach over to my laptop. So when the writing isn’t going well, I suddenly realise I’m living in a dangerous zone full of tripping hazards from shoes and smelly hazards from the green thing that’s growing in my coffee-mug. So I get down to housework and the routine (read boring) nature of the cleaning up rests my creative brain so it could recover its energy soon.

Habit 2: Go on a Photography Trail
Having done all the housework, if the writing still hasn’t returned to its full productive mode, I grab my camera and set off into the sunset to take random photos for my Instagram feed. I do B&W challenges (more than once), take photos of what I’m cooking to what came through the post and whatever else takes my fancy. Changing the medium of expression, looking at angles and colour and light, again inspires the brain and nudges into creative mode again.

Habit 3: Arrange my Bookshelf
If of course it is raining outside (I live in England, after all), then of course, I don’t wander in the cold with a camera on hand. I arrange and re-arrange the books into categories, topics, age-range and sometimes even by colour. Then I imagine a new bookshelf and wander into the Pinterest world of bookshelf design and I find myself getting lost in the maze.

Habit 4: Grab a drink with a friend
If you’ve read biographies of writers from the previous century, you would hear about wild parties, long lunches with agents and editors. Don’t believe that. Most modern writers hardly can afford to buy a pint on a good day – forget expensive whiskeys and fancy cocktails. But if the writing is not going well, it is tempting to find a kindred soul for coffee or gate-crash book launches. So that we can moan about the industry, the latest celebrity book published, the state of politics and of course the hottest topic of the season – Brexit. By then of course we need something much more stronger than coffee to keep back the tears.

Habit 5: Read a Book
If none of the four habits work, then I decide I’m finished as a writer. I have no business to write when I can’t even break through the current sluggish half day I’m having. So I find a book from the newly arranged bookshelf and settle down to read and marvel at how clever other writers are. Often reading a good book triggers a wanton response to write something comparable or even better. The pen wants to dance and the words tumble out except of course if I’ve just returned from the drink with a friend, in which case, my pen can’t walk a straight line.

Habit 6: Rummage Around for Snacks
When I’m not writing, I’m bored. When I’m bored, I eat. The less I write, the more I eat. The trouble is I don’t eat snacks. So I spend hours searching for something to eat – and that something has never been bought off the supermarket shelves and brought home. Then I get desperate and think of food I can cook. The food makes me sleepy and then I resort to the dreaded television and I've given up on the writing more or less at that point.

Habit 7: Think about the next book
And this is the final straw. This is the end of the world. This is when I know that I’ve exhausted all the habits that could help me get back to my book. When I start thinking about the next book after the one I’m writing. I do research, I draw storyboards and start writing opening sentences for the book I’m not meant to write, right then.

But once I flush the new book out of the system and get it on paper in an idea form, I can put it away and go back to the story I’m currently working on. Then the flow is smoother, the words are coming back and I feel like I’ve broken through to the other side.


The trouble with the Seven Habits is that they are so much fun. So sometimes even if the writing is going well, I’m tempted to put it away and practice one or more of these habits.
Do you have distractions when you write? How do you bring yourself back to the writing table when things are sluggish? Tell me about it.

Chitra Soundar divides her time between distractions and writing stories amidst school visits, festivals and book tours. Find out more at and follow her on twitter at @csoundar.