Still in shock from being accepted I had to wind down work commitments. I gave notice to the Harbour School, and other tutoring commitments. Nervous and excited I have my first meeting with my mentor Philippa Francis. Feedback from tutors and agents pointed out that plotting was my nemesis so with that in mind I made a reading list:
Structuring your Novel: Essential Keys for Writing an Outstanding Story K.M.Weiland
Outlining Your Novel: Map Your Way to Success K.M.Weiland
Creating Character Arcs: The Masterful Author’s Guide to Uniting Story K.M.Weiland
Plot and Structure James Scott Bell
Outline Your Novel Scott King
Having already contacted school to see if there would be any interest in creative writing courses for children for the application it was a matter of sending emails out to let them know that I had been successful and arranging dates for the workshops.
I had already made commitments with Portsmouth Council to participate in the annual Bookfest so I was pleased to run a few events during February and March. Being interviewed for Solent TV was nerve wrecking and fun, and meant that a few creatives got in touch to ask me how to put in their own submissions to the Arts Council.
One of my favourite spoken word events of the year is Valentine’s Day Massacre, and I was performing along side some of my favourite artists at the Square Tower.
With the help of my mentor – the plotting had started!
One of the highlights of the grant was being able to go on a writers’ retreat and research mission to Cornwall. For seven days, my husband made me breakfast and I sat in my pjs and wrote from 7 am until 10 am. We then went out and explored the locations I needed for my novel, I took photos, made notes. Then back to the Airbnb for our evening meal, also made by hubby and got more words down. The lack of a proper TV, no internet and WiFi and a break from work and household duties meant my word count broke all records.
A month of self-discipline I love spoken word events and a new team had got together to arrange more spoken word events, none other than Christine Lawrence, Amanda Garrie, Jackie Green and Richard Peirce formed T’Articulation. Lots more events, but I knew I had to be focused on the novels and be careful not to sign up to everything. However, one performance at the Canvas Café couldn’t hurt! And I have to say it was a fun event, there is something exciting about performing in a station.
More plotting and refining drafts.
To a back drop of my darling daughters working so hard on their GCSE’s and A Levels we were buying a house, we got news the seller pulled out a few days before we were expected to fill up the removal van which was a massive financial hit. Luckily, my husband and I have had many worse disasters in our marriage and were able to take it was obviously not meant to be attitude. Still this was the month I started running creative writing courses for Young Carers in school. Problems at home paled in comparison. I think I was more concerned with my girls being disappointed. I was now in a good writing routine and plodding on with meetings with my mentor, writing and starting to edit.
May is also one of my busy storytelling months, and my girls who usually come along to help with the craft activities were doing their up most to keep up with a lot of academic work. Tiredness was creeping in.
A few years ago, I had been lucky enough to attend a macro editing course by Sarah Grant: time to get out the notes. I developed a revision process that helped me dissect and rebuild my manuscript and I studied the overall plot and subplots and reviewed the novel character by character. I want to stress that at this point I am still not obsessing about spelling and punctuation. I had a few spoken word events for June as well as my creative writing lessons for young carers. I was excited to be performing in Holmes Fest, the creative baby of Matt Wingett, because I felt comfortable doing as I had previously taken part in the event in previous years. However, being asked to be a guest speaker at the Winchester writing conference filled me with fear. I had strange, nerve-wracking dreams about standing up and being naked from the waist down; imposter syndrome at the idea of standing up alongside speaker with outstanding pedigrees made me quake in my boots. Memories of being told that no one likes a clever woman and, strangely, a yearning to go back to my working class roots, to eat chips, pie and gravy and drink hot vimto made me consider cancelling the event. However, things that you dread are rarely as bad as you expect and I was proud to speak at such a prestigious venue.
It was now coming to the end of my writing workshops with young carers and it was extremely hard to say good bye. My daughters finished their exams, tired and exhausted as washed up sailors, it was time for our family holiday to Florida. Of course, during our magical time at Harry Potter World, Universal, we got news that if we wanted the second house we had to complete immediately. Many hurried phone calls from theme parks later, we had completed on a house but where unable to pick up the keys for another 9 days. Since we had to arrive home from Florida, arrange removal vans, gut and decorate the new property so it was fit for us to move into, I decided not to unpack or wash the dirty holiday clothes and left them in the suitcases till we moved. Husband working away, and with the help of a retired decorator called George, me and my two daughters did the impossible. We cleared house and garden, packed and was ready to move for the day after the Super Moon. I new that I was unable to work on my novel but I did not want to break the writing every day habit. I had been on a day plotting workshop with author Jo Franklin and replotted a young reader that I had previously already written a version of prior. That month I am very pleased that I still managed to write 250 words a day. However, I am not proud of the amount of calories I consumed; the first two weeks were in Florida with an American diet and Voodoo Doughnuts, the second two weeks consisted of mainly sandwiches and take out.
In our new house and for the first time, I had my own writing space. Things could only get better. Alas, we have a small West Highland Terrier whose views towards squirrels would make Trump look like a humanitarian. He barked himself into such frenzies, that all the fur started falling from his front legs and chest. And when he ran up trees in pursuit of them only to slide down, he injured his back leg. When Watson is unhappy, no one in the household is happy. All public engagements grounded to a halt. The young carers group finished and the first drafts of my novel and young reader were also finished. I found myself distracted by unpacking boxes. I think the general tension of awaiting GCSE and A Level results did not ease the tension in the house. August didn’t quite bite me in the ass but it still bit. Unfortunately, I contracted Lymes disease but was lucky enough to have it confirmed and given 6 weeks antibiotics.
Youngest daughter was full steam ahead with her life plans and enrolled in the college of her choice, however, for my oldest daughter, late August and September was a time of transition and finding herself. She eventually settled on doing a degree in Pharmacy but living at home. With the young ones focused and engaged in their studies, more plotting for me and my second novel. I had hoped to go through and repeat the plotting strategy and repeat the plotting strategy beside my mentor but, unfortunately, she was coping with a family bereavement, which left me to plot alone. I went back over my rejection letter from an agent, the comments I got from my tutors at university, the notes I’d taken from my reading list, and plodded on. I had quite a lot of self-doubt at this moment but one of the benefits of being awarded an Arts Council grant is that, effectively, you’ve been paid to do this task. Without the grant, I think I would have started a different project at this point. But now I felt I had to sit down and get on with it. It was the agents party in London in September, and my husband and I took the opportunity to have a weekend away. It was good to reconnect and my confidence was increased by the fact that some agents remembered who I was and were encouraging about me sending them work.
Children storytelling commitments were coming in thick and fast as well as writing courses in the library. However, despite the fever and joint pain disappearing, I was struggling from what the doctors called brain fog. I was forced to make the decision to postpone all storytelling gigs til, the new year with the exception of the Gosport Tree Decorating Event, banking that I would be better by December. With the exception of one year, I had always performed at the Day of the Dead, a really fun spoken word event invented by Will Sutton. I struggled with the performance, although the feedback from friends was positive, I was forced to admit to myself that my short term memory wasn’t good enough to perform onstage: it was a bit of a blow. It also made me second guess the work I had done on my plotting sheets but, I couldn’t see any other option than carry on.
With my plotting grids and Nano, it was time to get on and write my first draft. One of the things I love about Nano, is it is all about the words and the pressure of editing is relieved. I hoped for a repeat of the kind of word counts I had achieved in March. I still had some creative writing courses to run but this was the month that I realised I hadn’t managed to kick the Lymes. I had productive days and not-so-productive days. However, one of the biggest changes I have made to my life over the last two years is being much kinder to myself. I wrote over 60,000 words in November. Unfortunately, when I copied them over to the NanoWriMo site, I copied and pasted it in twice, buggering up my beautiful graph which irritated me no end. Also my first draft was still not completed.
I eased into December taking great pleasure in the fact that this would be the first Christmas in a new house. And realised, my planned ending for the novel was not quite right anymore. Despite always advising my students to finish the first draft before going back, I printed it out and realised I would need to change the last 10,000 words. I needed long walks and plotting time by the sea. My creative writing classes finished on the 18th December. My last story telling event was on the 2nd December. I moseyed the end of the year by reflecting and writing in my journal. It has been a hell of a journey, a privilege to be granted this award which will end in March 2019. I have 1 completed YA novel that is in the process of being edited, a young reader ready for submission, and a second YA novel close to completion. I met some fabulous young carers, overcame my fears of public speaking in an academic setting and got the opportunity to visit the place I was writing about. Best of all, it is not over yet.