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Saturday, 23 April 2011

Am I cramming or in flow?

There is nothing like a deadline to get a writer into gear. Focus not Phaff (or Faff if you prefer) is the mission statement this week. I seem to have a million and one things to do before I go to Padstow, one of which is writing a couple of pieces to read out over a glass or two, we all contribute.

Let me tell you a story... Back in 2008 I decided my narrative driven cookery book which is highly stylised and has been in creation since 2005, wasn't really growing or going anywhere, after initial publisher interest the trail went cold.

Maybe it is because I did everything the wrong way around as I thought I would have to submit three chapters for the publishers to gain an overview of what it was about. I wrote the intro to the book, I had more than a few recipes mapped out, I knew what it should look like, I had done the photo shoot for the characters, I knew who my main players were, I had run the premise past a few trusted bookish folk, I knew who my audience was but I felt the actual writing content around food writing didn't quite hit the mark. Cookery writing is very different, the approach, the technique, words to avoid, writing descriptive prose needs to tease and tantalise the taste buds, yet like any good prose writing you need to breathe fire into your story and make it live.

So with the support of Creative Dorset and a mini-bursary from the Arts Council and Arvon, I went on the 'Writing for food' residential course at Totleigh run by the Arvon foundation. If you have never been on a writing course, it is worth considering one of their many programmes around the country; a four/five day residential course. I guarantee you won't regret it, I believe it is tax deductible against your CPD, they do assist with bursaries, it is industry recognised as being THE foundation to run well delivered programmes and it is great fun, you never know who'll you'll meet. Personally, I struggle to write anything mildly interesting or satisfying whilst I am there but when I come away, it is like I have been given an enema, writerly stuff pours out of me for months.

This was not the first course I attended and God willing, it certainly will not be the last. The course was run by Orlando Murrin and Tamasin Day-Lewis with guest speaker being Simon Parkes of 'The Calcutta Kitchen' fame.

Orlando and his partner Peter Steggall, have recently moved their HQ from France and after much searching found a beautiful property which they have stamped their own mark on and opened their wonderful boutique hotel in Langford Fivehead, a pile that dates back to 1453. It's hallmark carries all the grace and elegance of Orlando himself.

What I hadn't reckoned on was the bunch of foodie folk that I would meet and bond with on the week ahead. Fifteen of us, with diverse backgrounds and an age range spanning some forty years from 21 through to 65, yet we all got on like the proverbial house on fire. Our common interest was food, drink, writing and travel... so a match made in heaven was cemented and we all vowed to reunite every year at the first May BH to share our love of all things cookery, writerly and travely and we call ourselves Gathering Nuts in May. We each take it in turn to organise the long weekend and the organiser gets the Diva's bedroom, then Susan (food technologist who has seem many of your M & S delicacies through their conception to inception) and I, stay on to take advantage of the whole week. Having stayed near Ludlow 2009, Rye 2010 and this year our Sam (test kitchen chef) has booked us a pile near Padstow.

To get back to my original point of this post, as D-Day looms imminent, there is nothing like a deadline to channel your focus. At home before I leave, lists of numbers if things go right, lists of numbers if things go wrong, my annual accounts, bills, blogging, wedding outfit, shopping for the Duchess, beauty treatments and shopping for Padstow need to be done over the next four days... Oh and the piece or two I need to write for our reading night.

I am trying to utilise my time wisely, yet still managing to work on the writing of the book adaptation, plus continuing to promote the Prequel and Sequel to Cannes Feature film script through its final week of submission before it closes off on 30th April, but the housework has been pushed into the background and now resembles Munster Lodge as whispers of cobwebs coat every available surface. Oh well something has to give.

I cannot say that my time has been idle before, but I do seem to think a lot these days before writing. Previously I just had to get on and write, but now... reflection first, actual writing second.

Glorious day again, bright, bright sunshine, blue, blue skies so the garden and laptop call my office for the day.

Peace be with you and joyous writing. xxx Foxi fox...

Novel writing vs scriptwriting

Before you even embark on writing anything for publication or production, there is a plethora of publications to plough through and distract you from actually writing.

I can spend hours dipping in and out of books with tantalising titles that promise to deliver the world if you follow the rules, principles, pathways or patterns of narrative. I have however, found that great storytellers are just that, great... they carry a natural in-built sat-nav that steers their story in the correct direction; that is of course, if they only allow themselves to get on and actually write. If not, it is a bit like an untrained athlete, reward will be evasive and you can blame it on a whole load of subjugated junk, but the reality probably boils down to the basic fact that in trying to learn to master the art, you forgot to write...

There are schools of thought that say you can make any story fit any form and I guess in the bigger picture there is more than a kernel of truth in this, but there are some stories that just lend themselves more naturally to one form or another. Even though I am trained in and practice screenwriting, there are certain narratives that I just 'feel' are more suited to prose on the page. This might be the starting point but that doesn't mean to say that it will be the finishing point. I have one story that swings like a pendulum between novel > film > < film < novel; I have a love > hate relationship with it and my latest solution is it needs to be written in portmanteau style, which as a novel is absolutely fine, but as a film creates different challenges to overcome and master.

I have a fragmented mind, which probably means I'm mad or have some undiagnosed syndrome and I'm sharing this potentially with the open world who might mock or scorn me and confirm I am clearly mad, but I feel naturally more suited to fragmented thought. I like to think it is because I should have been a genius scientist or I am so intelligent that my thoughts exceed my brain capacity... actually I fear it means I do have some undiagnosed syndrome, I am ditsy and dizzy and I don't have the intellect to continue with, or carry one single thought stream without encountering interruptions from the voices in my head...

What I genuinely do believe is that any writer should not limit themselves to one form or another; for me it would be like saying a runner should only practice running and not focus on developing muscle strength, stretching exercises, developing stamina, meditating or keeping a peripheral eye on the competition.

Changing your usual form can only be healthy, add to mini-mind gym, stretch your writing thought process, help you to rip the poetry up from the hidden depths within before returning to your preferred form.

Then before you feel ready to give birth and let go, invest some time to hear it from the professionals. There is a great literary agent in the states called Janet Reid, who runs an excellent blog and actually give hints and advice around submitting your work to agents... she actually invests in writers with the most valuable commodity... her time, for free, for anyone who is serious about writing. What she blogs about is not only taken from the agents' viewpoint, but is also filled with a body of constructive discussion. Check out her blog, you won't regret it.

Right, I'm off to smell the freshly mown grass, drink in the sunshine and write my adaptation in the garden today and maybe a piece or two to read at the reunion in Padstow which is looming.

Happy Days...

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Constructive suport on your script

The Less is more diet...
If your script is sagging in the middle or in danger of losing focus, it might just be that in between giving birth to your idea and feeding it, it has been either overfed in the middle or put on a starvation diet and therefore lost its shape... as in life...

If Subway can call their staff 'sandwich artists', then it seems to me that the boring old title of script-reader (which does their skill no justice in the name), needs to carry a title that reflects what they actually do... I prefer to call them Script Nutritionalists as opposed to plain old script-reader, as it denotes that more than a modicum of skill is required when executing their analysis. Having used the services of Lucy V to provide feedback reports for the Prequel and Sequel to Cannes film script competitions, I know from the feedback I receive from entrants, just how invaluable this guide map can be.

Short of going on a strict script diet when you try to restore the main spine of your story and being at risk from throwing out too much meat and not enough of the fat, you might need to recruit the help of said script nutritionalist...

If you are currently sagging in the middle or spewing out the guts of your story in the final five pages, you might like to consider recruiting the help of one of these excellent script nutritionalists:

They all vary in price and service, but if you have come to a standstill in the foodfest of words that is the writers' staple diet, then this may be the answer to all your narrative ills.

Happy dieting...

Thursday, 7 April 2011

A New Day Dawns...

Blessed, blessed, blessed is how I see my life. With all the talk and doom and gloom surrounding the retirement age and the fact that we'll all have to work until we are at least 80 years of age, I raise the question, Why would you ever want to stop working? Can we all work smarter not harder?

For most we are all retiring from the minute we start work, when the honeymoon period finishes and the fascination for discovery is overtaken by the drudgery of day-to-day routine, we are all looking at the hour-glass. It is said that around 30% of the working population are happy in their current jobs, so what are the other 70% dreaming of doing with their lives as they gaze out of windows, or become lost in thought during meetings as HOD's drone on about fluff and stuff.

If you have good health and all your faculties, then why would you want to sit in an armchair waiting for the end, or faff around dwindling the precious hours that fate has banked for you. There are so many opportunities to combine and create new paths that may lead you to realise your dreams if not your aspirations. If your dreams involve Ferraris, Villas, Jimmy Choo or expensive bling, then perhaps it's not your dreams that need review, but your aspirations.

Surely dreams should be about lifestyle, quality of life, surroundings, achievements, creation, motivation... not about 'stuff'... something that will help you leave a positive footprint on the map of society, add value to your purpose on earth, release the pent up creativity that has for so long been locked away while you've toiled to earn a crust, maybe in a job that you've tolerated or a place you've had to live in, because the need has had to overcome the desire in order to meet the bills.

I am living proof that it can be done, reversing the trend, taking the leap of faith, switching the balance between desire and needs. There will come a time when the hamster will have to take the leap of faith and jump out of the clutches of the spinning wheel that threatens to chew him up and spew him out.

During my discussions and interviews with other creatives, I notice a common thread, the need to have the courage, not only to recognise the calling when it comes, but bow to her wisdom and take up the challenge and release the creative within.

For me I knew I had to write; regardless of quality, good or bad, like OCD I am compelled to write, ignore it at my peril. I have always written, considered myself a writer, been driven to write. Sometimes captured in fragments, sometimes in prose, sometimes in poetry and if I'm lucky these all come together in the visual tapestry of a script; those are the good days, filled with light and gossamer. All creatives appreciate that from time-to-time they need outlets, catalysts, space to think, places to dream and opportunities to breathe from the soul. When the brain is in danger of crushing the spirit, you need to talk with the gaoler to set it free. We are our own gaolers.

So it is with pleasure I bring to you two new ventures that can help you release the prisoner within.

Firstly, Laura Cousins and Brian Jenner have teamed up to bring you Bournemouth Creative Breaks check it out here at the Arlington Hotel, Bournemouth. A variety of creative programmes through music or the written word.

The second is around writing breaks and our own Bournemouth Queen of the Pen herself, Tricia Walker, who penned the novel Benedict's Brother, now undergoing transformation and serious film development. Tricia is writer in residence at the Queen's Hotel in Bournemouth and is running a series of writing workshops throughout the year.

This is just a nano print of activity that bubbles away in a Southern corner of this rich island I am blessed to call home.

Listen to your creative Siren, set it free, only you are the Gaoler...