Thursday, 30 June 2016

June Reflections

And so we come to the end of June. It bought with it days of both rain and roses. It has never been a better time to escape into a good book or get lost in imaginary worlds. With that in mind here are few things I’d like to share with you this month…


‘We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.’  - Ernest Hemingway
I find this quote very comforting. Reading this immediately takes the pressure off. No one will ever be perfect at anything so don’t be afraid to begin. As ‘apprentices’ we have to keep learning from everyone else. 


I was transfixed earlier this month with a D. H. Lawrence novella called ‘The Fox’. It centres around two single women living together after the first world war on a chicken farm. One of the women, March, becomes fixated with the fox killing their chickens. Their lives are then invaded by a young man, a predator of the human kind. What ensues is a tale of jealousy, control, violence and desire executed so evocatively by Lawrence. 


Have you ever asked yourself why you write? This month I’ve been thinking a lot about what motivates me. Whilst I’d be lying if I said success is something I’m not bothered about I also know that I will keep writing no matter what. Ponder the reasons you write. Is it therapeutic for you? Are you proving to yourself you can do it? Now, think about some of the ‘by-products’ of your writing, the things you didn’t expect to gain. 

Focus on…Celebrating your flaws

The Japanese have a tradition called ‘Kintsugi’ which is the ritual of mending broken pottery with gold powder. Rather than a broken vase being thrown away it is celebrated for all its flaws. Its cracks and blemishes add to its charm. As we go into July celebrate the parts of your life that have been under construction and embrace and accept your flaws. 

Three things to look forward to in July:

1. Strawberries and cream.
2. Outdoor crafts.
3. Sending postcards and letters.   

How was June for you? What are you looking forward to in July? Share it with me below!

PS. If you like reading The Literary Lady do follow me on Bloglovin!

Monday, 27 June 2016

Virginia Woolf: Five Favourites

Despite her life ending in 1941, the name Virginia Woolf still breathes life and vitality into a room full of dusty old books. There are so many reasons to be excited by Woolf: the perfection of her sentences, the haunted characters, the dynamic narratives, the way that desire, unhappiness, wit, life and death stalk every page. The following five favourites are all treasures you should add to your reading list.
This was the first of Woolf’s books that I read and made quite the introduction to her work. The story travels through three centuries following the life of Orlando, who begins the novel as a knight in the court of Elizabeth I and ends up as a female writer in the 19th century. The book is a sumptuous, colourful exploration of gender, literature and the multi-faceted identities of a single being.
Mrs. Dalloway
This slim book holds within its covers a vast world of literary technique and mastery. Taking place across twelve hours, it focuses upon Clarissa Dalloway as she prepares a party. An event that sparks Clarissa to ponder her life and her memories. This really is up there with Hamlet in terms of it depicting one individual pondering the nature of life.
The Voyage Out
This was Woolf’s first novel and was written in a deluge of self-doubt. The book is untouched by Woolf’s later experimentation which has led some to discount it as merely a ‘first try’ sort of novel. In fact, it’s an incredibly poignant work about a young woman on a journey of self-discovery amongst a cast of colourful characters.
A Room of One’s Own
A Room of One’s Own is a battle cry. Eloquent, witty and unforgettable. Just a quick glance through the pages and the eye is immediately drawn to mesmerising sentences like ‘Fiction is like a spider's web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners,’ or ‘There is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.’ Woolf imaginatively uses the fictional figure of Judith Shakespeare, the playwright’s ‘sister’, to illustrate the side lining of women in literature. Reading it leaves you nourished and inspired.
Selected Letters
The richness of Woolf’s talent extends into her personal writing too. Her letters are never mundane, documenting her friendships with figures such as her sister Vanessa and Lytton Strachey. It’s easy to hero worship Virginia Woolf but these letters offer a glimpse into the normalities of her life whilst highlighting the extraordinariness of it too.

Are you a Virginia Woolf fan? What is your favourite of her works?

Thursday, 23 June 2016

The Long Haul (How to Stick to a Long Term Project)

Some people say that writing a novel is like running a marathon. Apart from the fact that both are long and arduous, they also both things that people dream about doing but allow the concept of to overwhelm them. As someone who will never run a marathon, I prefer the cosier analogy of doing a jigsaw puzzle – you add a piece at a time, you don’t complete it in one sitting and over time you see the big picture emerge. Today, I want to share with you some tips for when you engage in a big writing project that will help you to get to the end!
  • The best advice I can give you is to write a little each day. I wrote 500 words a day, to me that was both an ambitious but achievable target. Before I got into that practice, I would write sporadically, writing two thousand words one day and a mere ten the next. Having a modest and daily output makes you feel like you’re getting somewhere. This calm, consistent contribution will ground you and make it less likely that you’ll give up.
  • Writing a novel may take years. It’s a long term relationship and like any relationship the passion needs to be kept alive. Try to remember why you wanted to write what your writing. What image or issue spurred you on to create? Have this initial passion forever in your mind as you work. Keep being passionate about it.
  • Have a schedule to work with. At first I allowed myself to work on whatever part of the novel I felt like doing. As it I went on I would assign myself a particular chapter to work on which gave me some structure and focus.
  • Writers are all different and you may be the kind that likes to write freely, without knowing the entire story before you set out. I think all writers need to have a bit of this freedom but I also think everyone needs a little bit of a plan. This will help you to map out what you need to write next. Consider keeping a writing log to record what you’ve written in one day and what you want to work on the next.
  • Keep researching during the writing process. I think it’s a mistake to think of writing as being in stages of research, writing and editing. By researching a little alongside writing you’ll pick up little gems of information that may make a real difference.
  • Face your demons. What is it that blocks you from completing? Self-doubt? Lack of time? Lack of energy? In my case the idea of a long term project was too overwhelming. I liked to write in perfect, heavily edited instalments. This way of working was exhausting and therefore I would give up. I got over this by resisting the need to constantly retouch what I had just written. Think of your issues as a way of refining your process. Be imaginative about how to overcome them and you will.
  • Don’t be too rigid about what you envision your finished project to look like. Always be open to new ideas. Even as you approach the end of your project you may find that you’re impelled to add a new character or to change a key plot strand.
  • When your engaged in writing a big project keep your cards close to your chest. It’s like declaring to everyone you’re on a diet and then feeling double the pressure to stick to it. Have a few people you can talk through problems with though.
I’d love to hear about any big projects you are working on. Feel free to leave a comment below!

Monday, 20 June 2016

More Artist Date Ideas

Have you been on an artist date yet? I talk about why they are so beneficial in this post from last month. This bumper crop of ideas has a distinctly summery feel and are perfect for balmy days as well as rainy Mondays like today!
  1. Go somewhere local and send a postcard home.
  2. Go fruit and veg picking for all the summer goodies – strawberries, raspberries, plums, cherries, sugar snap beans, courgettes.
  3. Make sorbet using your favourite fruity flavours. I think this Pineapple sorbet may have to go to the top of my ‘to eat’ list.
  4. Go butterfly spotting. I was very pleased with my recent Orange Tip sighting!
  5. Plant some herbs on your windowsill. Or go foraging a la Crumbs to Crunch in this post.
  6. Make a summer playlist.
  7. Create a vision board of all the places you’d like to travel.
  8. Decorate your work space with inspiring quotes, cute postcards and precious photographs.
  9. Make up your own cocktail or mocktail. Make sure you give it a jazzy name.
  10. Spend some time in a second hand bookshop. Check out my post about it here.
Which of these ideas would you like to try? Do you have a good idea of an Artist Date? Leave a comment below…

Monday, 13 June 2016

Writing Exercise: Making Conversation

“Dialogue is important,” said The Literary Lady. It is the way in which a character’s inner world escapes fleetingly for other people to see. Dialogue is different from thought because it is controlled and censored. Therefore, when you write speech you need to apply this same filter process. Having said that speech can’t be too rigid. In short, you need to achieve something more controlled than thought, yet something natural and realistic. Try out the following exercises to improve how you write dialogue…

  1. Prose and dialogue work together. Its unattractive to see great swathes of text or speech on their own. Take a page of dialogue from a play (a contemporary play would probably work better for this) and write prose to fill in the blanks between the words. Focus on movement and inner thought.
  2. Write a moment of dialogue between two characters who are involved in doing something - moving a table, ballroom dancing, rock climbing etc. How does the action interact with the dialogue?
  3. Take a situation in which the dialogue more or less follows a set script. A few examples might be wedding vows, legal oaths in court or a teacher taking a register. Make the scene interesting by allowing the characters to modify the script. For example, would a groom regretting his nuptials speak in perfect control or be displaying signs of fear?
  4. Experiment with ‘The Pinter Silence’. Master playwright Harold Pinter once said ‘There are two silences. One when no word is spoken. The other when perhaps a torrent of language is being employed. This speech is speaking of a language locked beneath it. That is its continual reference. The speech we hear is an indication of that which we don't hear. It is a necessary avoidance, a violent, sly, anguished or mocking smoke screen which keeps the other in its place. When true silence falls we are still left with echo but are nearer nakedness. One way of looking at speech is to say that it is a constant stratagem to cover nakedness.’
  5. Most writers will be either too reliant on prose or too reliant on dialogue. Take a look at your writing and see if there is a dominance. If so, take a section you’re not happy with and try converting it from prose to dialogue, or dialogue to prose. How does this make it different? Does it improve the writing?

What is your experience of writing dialogue? Do you think any of these exercises would be helpful? Let me know in the comments below…

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Six Ways to Enjoy Summer

‘Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.’ - Henry James

Summer is a word I find slightly frightening. It evokes for me images of flustered people shooing away wasps from picnics and sunburnt skin on sports day. However, in recent years I’ve found that summer more than makes up for its faults in so many bright and beautiful ways. Here are my six ways to celebrate summer…
1. Go al fresco and enjoy fine food in glorious surroundings. Fill up jam jars with sweet posies and hang bunting across your garden. I think Sophie Dahl’s Peanut Butter Fudge would be perfect for days out at the seaside and this Chiappa Sisters’ Pasta Caprese dish would make any back garden feel like the middle of Tuscany.
2. Obviously, there will have to be a lots of summer reading. I like to get lost in long narratives and choose longer books for these endless, lazy days. Reading a heavy old tome is like going on a holiday for the mind.
3. With so much beauty all around you be inspired to make this a summer of creativity. Try doing some small creatives acts like drawing your sunglasses, whizzing up a trifle or dancing under the stars.
4. Make the most of the light summer evenings by throwing your own movie night. Choose films that have a hint of magic about them or are completely escapist. I look forward to BFI releasing A Month in the Country on 20th June. Serve popcorn and set up your own pic n mix bar for added delight.
5. Summer can feel fleeting so make it last forever by capturing the little moments. Take photographs, press flowers and keep little mementoes from special days out.
6. As you up your vitamin D with happy days out in the sun consider keeping a happiness journal. At the end of each day write three things that made you happy. By the end of the season you’ll have a whole book of little nuggets of sunshine.

Are you excited about Summer? How do you plan to celebrate? Let me know in the comments below…

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Getting Children into Reading: Part One - Under Fives

"There is no substitute for books in the life of a child." — May Ellen Chase
Teaching children a love of reading is a beautiful gift to give them. It teaches them to imagine, to empathise, to explore their minds. Most importantly, books are something you can share with the little ones in your life and make it a special part of the day. Getting children into reading now is an investment for tomorrow – it’s something that you’ll be constantly reaping the rewards of.  

In this post I’ll look at getting the under 5’s into reading. Reading can be a really special time with the little ones under 5 whether they just look at the pictures as babies or they read to you as they grow in confidence. Here are some tips to make it magical:

  • Make a mini reading corner by gathering together comfy cushions, beanbags and a good stack of story books. At this age, ones with pictures, flaps and textures are the favourites. Having a space specially designated for reading will make it become a habit.
  • Get into the practice of reading a bedtime story. It’s a lovely way of winding down together after a bath or with a goodnight drink.
  • Make it an interactive experience by asking your little one questions about what they are reading. This will keep their attention for longer. Ask what the character’s names are, what’s happening in the story etc. When they can’t read for themselves yet get them to point to particular pictures on the page.
  • Extend the world of the books you explore together using make believe. Pretend you’re the characters in the story and act out your own adventures.
  • Make up stories together to get little ones using words, sentences and actions. A good trick is to get the family to sit a circle and each person add a sentence to the story. They will love how each person puts in a new twist.
  • Have theme days based upon their favourite books. Let’s say they love the Winnie the Pooh books – you could take a stroll in the forest, eat ‘hunny’ sandwiches for lunch and have a teddy bear’s picnic.
  • Visit the local library and explore the membership offers for under 5’s. Make it a fun trip where they get to choose what they take home and get to check it out at the desk.
  • Mix up who reads to them. Your family and friends will love the opportunity to bond with them in this way and it will expose children to difference voices. You can always tune into Cbeebies Bedtime Story because why wouldn’t you want Damian Lewis reading you to sleep?

Coming Soon: Getting Children into reading between 5 – 12

Which of these tips would you like to try? Let me know in the comments below!

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