Hello again! We are into February, hurrah! Spring is just about in the air, and the snowdrops are bobbing their heads in the hedgerows as the wind picks up speed for the coming storm we have been warned about here in Scotland. We are all tucked up in here waiting within our burrows, and as I type, it is just beginning to gust outside. Now, there has been no overarching theme in my mind for a post over the last few weeks, so I thought I would begin a series of more disparate musings on a variety of experiences or thoughts, a little like a random harvest but more varied smaller snippets, like a bag of assorted sweets from days gone by, picked individually then popped into a paper bag to go home with. So here goes, and in no particular order:
I have had something called plantar fasciitis in my left foot over the last few weeks. This is pain in the heel caused by a strained ligament, namely the plantar fascia which connects the heel to the toes. Did I do this running a marathon? Did I do it by skiing down a treacherous Alpine slope? Or going on a long and punishing trek? Oh no. I caused this by just standing and shuffling around an outdoor museum, just before Christmas, on a freezing day in a pair of ankle boots with my sister and my mother using her new four-wheeled stroller for the first time. Such is life. And then I discovered that at least two friends have also had this ‘affliction’, where the heel hurts both when you walk around on it for too long and after you rest it – a no win situation. We must wear cushioned soles, do stretching exercises etc etc. So where is the tasty sweet here, you may ask? Well, not to be deterred, I have treated myself to two new pairs of trainers, one pair for my jogging efforts, and another more robust pair for walking in the fields. I’m planning ahead for those gorgeous days to come where I am driven to get out into the fields and see the wind stir the tips of barley in restless rhythms of visual delight. So the foot will have to heal!
Book reviews and giveaway:
It’s been very slow going, but I’ve now been rewarded by a few favourable reviews for After Black. A new publication always needs a few vital initial pushes from others to get your wee paper boat sailing on the lake in the park, setting off on its journey to wherever it is destined to go, however long it takes. And I’m so truly grateful for the help.
I also decided to do an ebook giveaway with Goodreads over the last few weeks. The system has changed considerably since I did one for Turtle Beach, when it cost the author nothing but postal costs for the paperback to the ‘lucky’ winners. It is now open only to American residents to enter and the author has to pay a fee. If you live in the UK, giving away free ebook copies is the only really viable choice, which is a shame as it’s nice to send signed paperback copies for a more personal touch. Spending money on promotion is not something I do lightly, but it felt right for this book, and I’ll let you know how I get on with it for those of you writers who may be wondering what positive benefits it may have.
Also on the subject of After Black – I latterly discovered a few grammar problems. I know this happens to many writers, traditionally published as well as independently published, or so I’ve heard. I can’t afford an editor or a proof reader so I do venture to do it myself. Time is the answer here. So for anyone reading it right now, please be assured my standards in this respect are high and I’ve now tuned it up to be the best it can be. Do I take this in my stride? Absolutely not, but I’m learning to!
I’ve been told twice now, by a writer I really respect, that my genre is literary fiction, and that’s despite After Black having a significant plotline which I believed makes it more mainstream. While I suspected I write literary fiction, because I love language, description, and reflecting the inner life of characters, who I want to see go through some personal transformative change for the good, I didn’t really see any point in naming it as such, because I believe that many non-writer readers just don’t know what ‘literary fiction’ means. I was talking to a reader friend yesterday who certainly didn’t know, so I explained it to her. Here are the essential features from Wiki which happen to cover it well:
Characteristics of literary fiction generally include one or more of the following:
1. A concern with social commentary, political criticism, or reflection on the human condition.
2. A focus on “introspective, in-depth character studies” of “interesting, complex and developed” characters, whose “inner stories” drive the plot, with detailed motivations to elicit “emotional involvement” in the reader.
3. A slower pace than popular fiction(…), literary fiction, by its nature, allows itself to dawdle, to linger on stray beauties even at the risk of losing its way.
(And this slower pace can be a significant criticism of literary fiction for many readers who want faster moving plots)
4. A concern with the style and complexity of the writing… ‘lyrical, and … layered’
5. Unlike genre fiction, plot is not the central concern.
(and this can be worrying and a risky strategy from a writer’s perspective)
6. The tone of literary fiction can be darker than genre fiction.
So, because I love all of the above, and because my writing training focused on teaching many of these aspects, I’ve decided to own the genre now, and I’ve joined a literary fiction facebook group and I’m finding I fit right in. But this is as far as it goes, because I don’t believe in putting any art form into strict definitions or cookie cutter shapes, and to a massive degree the theme of the novel may best decide the genre as far as the reader is concerned, and they are the people who really count.
And on to painting:
My current painting work in progress is a partner to the previous one I shared here. It’s going to be a purple opium poppy with a millefiori abstract background in lemon tones and greens (complementary colours to purple on the colour wheel, for a good zing!)
The best way to begin any realistic or illustrative (ie non-abstract) painting is to begin with a well composed drawing and then to begin painting in the centre of your composition and work outwards from there. This is so fundamental for good results and yet the most often not adhered to by beginners in painting classes. So it’s best to always work from the inside out, whether it’s a human portrait, an animal, or a grouping of flowers, and build up at least three tones of light, medium, and dark from there.
Here is the sketch of the poppy on canvas -a terribly lit photo, but you can get the idea. Pencil can be dirty on canvas, but it will be covered up by the paint, so no probs. You can see I’ve done some rough shading to help me later on with the shadow areas.
I began with the poppy’s ovary and stamens, and will be moving onto the small petals around it in pale purple for the lightest tones, before developing it further with more saturated tones.
Back into writing with novel 3:
After a bit of procrastination, telling myself I had to read over the chapters I’d already written a couple of times (instead of reading them just the once), it actually feels great. I’m not as hard on myself as I used to be, and I allow a flow to come into the creative writing process which I have more faith in than in the past. Entering the world you have created is such a magical feeling, and directing a story in that place with characters you have created yourself and who you are invested in, is for me what writing fiction is all about. I am imagining and describing events occurring in a fictional rural town called Hardcastle, close to ‘the city’, with a New Town area and an Old Town area – for the characters to meet, engage with one another, and work through their conflicts together. I’m going back to separate strands for each of the main characters for early chapters, which will later join up. This is a structure I really enjoy and which I used in Turtle Beach. So I have those lovely positive feelings that are so characteristically part of the early stages of writing a novel.
I made some soup!
I love food, but not cooking. I don’t enjoy the prepping or the timing, which is why pans can boil over or toast can burn in our house. I used to bake, but me and hubby just don’t need those kind of calories. So over to soup making with lentils and veg, with my adjusted recipe from a few years ago when I did some soup making back then. (Yes, I’m sure you get the picture on the frequency of my efforts, and my stock cubes and bags of pulses can so easily go out of date). But I am now resolved to make more effort to incorporate soup making into my weekly life routine. My plan was to fill at least three soup pot containers (the size you get fresh soup in from the supermarkets) for the freezer, but I only managed to fill two. Where does all the liquid go when the soup cools? So I now have to master the ingredients to liquid stock ratio. Any tips most welcome! I also ordered online a new set of soup bowls to go with my fresh start so there’s no turning back now…
And last, but far from least, what I’m reading:
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, is forcing me to slow down my reading and relish a simplicity of style redolent of a deeply symbolic parable. I’m bang in the middle of a camel train expedition heading towards the pyramids of Egypt, and I’m relishing the journey with the intrepid shepherd, Santiago, seeking his treasure.
After this, it will be Margaret Atwood’s eagerly awaited sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, namely, The Testements, which is winging its way to me right now.
Here’s wishing you all well, and some productive creative play for projects to come – to come into being perhaps this year, perhaps the next. Rest assured, it really doesn’t matter when :>)