Helping With Writer’s Block

I was in the newspaper last Saturday – here’s the piece that appeared. It’s the story of how I wrote my forthcoming novel, A Nightingale in Winter, which languished in an attic for sixteen years. I’m putting my experience of overcoming writer’s block to good use in a face-to-face course soon, and in the future I intend to make this into an e-course. If this is something that interests you, sign up to my mailing list or email me at margaretkjohnsonauthor@gmail.com for more information.
————————————————————————————————————————————–Norwich author to use her own experience to help others with writer’s block

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To help writers find their flow, Margaret Johnson has launched the Fiction Writing – Moving Forward course, which will run for ten weeks starting in September.It comes on the back of her own experience after her latest novel, A Nightingale in Winter, was left languishing in her attic for 16 years before she finally decided to put the finishing touches to it.

The course is aimed at those who have an idea for a story or novel but don’t know how to get started, or for those who have already made a start but are now feeling stuck.

Mrs Johnson said: “It took me two years to write the book on top of having a job at a college in Nottingham. I did a great deal of research for it, including going to the Imperial War Museum in London to read original diaries and letters.

“I ended up writing two versions of the story and thoroughly confused myself.

“But with increased experience, I could see exactly what I needed to change to make it work.

“I did not decide to try and publish it until 16 years later – but happily it was quickly accepted by Omnific Publishing.

“I know all about the fears and doubts that can plague aspiring writers and always try to include an element of writing confidence building in the creative writing courses.”

The course will help students to work on their plot and story outline, decide on their story theme, heighten conflict to add interest, decide on the best ending for their story and more.

Mrs Johnson also writes contemporary women’s fiction and fiction for people who are learning to speak English.

Fiction Writing – Moving Forward, will run for ten weeks from 7pm to 9pm, from September 17 at Oak Grove Chapel, Catton Grove Road, Norwich.

To book your place email Mrs Johnson at margaretkjohnsonauthor@gmail.com.

A Nightingale in Winter will be published in paperback and e-book form by Omnific Publishing on August 24 and is available to pre-order on Amazon now.

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Nancy Jardine – Highland Heroes- hale n’ hearty

Today I’m very happy to welcome Nancy Jardine, a fellow Crooked Cat author to my blog, speaking about highland heroes and her novel Take Me Now.  Welcome, Nancy, and take it away!
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Do a Google search for highland heroes and you’ll be confronted by a slew of possibilities—especially in historical romances. I’ve read a lot of popular historical romances, many of them written by author friends who hail from America or Canada. They describe an incredibly idealistic view of a rugged man of the Scottish Highlands who has amazingly romantic notions. He’s a brawny opponent of anything that challenges him, a sword- wielding dervish when it comes to protecting his own, which often equates to protecting his favoured woman.

There are also time shift novels, as in the Diana Gabaldon Outlander Series, where male or female protagonist is catapulted from the present day to medieval Scotland, or to the era of the Jacobite rebellions. There they either meet that typical strapping Scottish warrior in the case of a female, or take on the persona of one if it’s a male who time shifts. Again there’s an ideal of a powerfully built, battling warrior as the male protagonist.

When I wrote my contemporary romantic mystery Take Me Now, I wanted to create a different sort of highland hero.

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Nairn Malcolm is definitely an alpha male. He’s definitely a big strapping Scotsman but he’s a Western Islander, rather than a mainlander. He lives in his restored Scottish Castle. His ‘derring-do’ attitude has made him a successful businessman. He’s very protective of his chosen woman.

I’m hoping the reader is now asking what’s different from those highland heroes I’ve described above by other authors. My Nairn is almost a tongue-in-cheek version because at the outset of the novel he looks like he’s just had one of those claymore-swinging battles and has come off on the losing side. All of his normal alpha male qualities are ‘on hold’ till he recovers from a mysterious motorbike accident. I wanted to write about what the frustrations and tensions of being incapacitated would feel like to someone who lives life to the full and who normally does everything for himself—including flying his floatplane from his Scottish island base to Glasgow, and then in his jet to London and beyond to fabulous locations on business. It’s not easy for Nairn to laugh at his ailments as my battered highland hero, but I’m hoping readers will laugh at his predicament because my intention is for it to be a humorous contemporary romantic mystery.

Buy from Amazon: UK http://amzn.to/1QbhUwn  US http://amzn.to/1MdeuCU

Nancy Jardine writes: historical romantic adventures (Celtic Fervour Series); contemporary mystery thrillers (Take Me Now, Monogamy Twist, Topaz Eyes-finalist for THE PEOPLE’S BOOK PRIZE 2014); & time-travel historical adventures for Teen/ YA readers (Rubidium Time -Travel Series –Book 1 The Taexali Game).  

Find Nancy at the following places

Blog:  http://nancyjardine.blogspot.com  Website:  http://nancyjardineauthor.com

Facebook  LinkedIN    About Me   Goodreads   Twitter @nansjar  Google+ (Nancy Jardine)  YouTube book trailer videos   Amazon UK author page   Rubidium Time Travel Series on Facebook http://on.fb.me/XeQdkG

Fiction Writing Lessons

My students move me; they really do. And inspire me. At every new class they arrive, feeling nervous and uncertain about what to expect, and by the end of the first lesson they’ve written something amazing and shared it with the group. I love that; that I’ve been instrumental in some small way in helping them to expand their comfort zones and to discover the joy of expressing themselves through the written word.
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On the surface, my students may seem to have many different motivations for enrolling on a writing class. Obviously lots have always wanted to write and just want to increase their skills and knowledge, but there are others who also want to use writing to help get over a past trauma, or to look for escape from illness – either their own or a loved one’s, or to pass on the experience of their lives to posterity. Some find writing an isolated business and want to meet like-minded people, and others are challenging themselves to do something different – something they find a bit scary.

So, what with age and sex differences thrown into the mix, my students are a pretty varied bunch. But as they work on their writing together, they quickly form strong bonds and any differences are swept aside. And I love that. In fact this type of situation – where a group of disparate people comes together and bonds due to a common cause – was the inspiration for both my novels The Goddess Workshop and The Dare Club. But if I ever wanted to write a third novel in the series called The Writing Class, I’d have to invent some conflict to make the novel interesting!

When I finished art college ages ago, some of my friends went into teaching art and rarely picked up a paint brush again. It was as if the act of instruction drained the creativity out of them so they had nothing left for their own work. It was something I was a bit wary of myself when I decided to launch my courses, because I knew I definitely didn’t want to give up writing. But I needn’t have worried. As I’ve worked out writing exercises to help students learn, I’ve gained greater clarity myself. For example, a lesson I taught about theme in stories really made me pinpoint those themes in my own books. How surprised I was to find that two of my novels – The Goddess Workshop, about a group of women attempting to become more sensual, and A Nightingale in Winter, (to be published on 7 July by Omnific Publishing) a story about a volunteer nurse in the First World War, share the same theme! It’s there too with the character of Michael in my novel Taming Tom Jones, which has recently been accepted by the wonderful Crooked Cat Publishing. How different these books are to each other on the face of it And yet the theme of You can’t move forward in your life and really fulfil your potential until you’ve dealt with the issues of your past”  runs through them all like the lettering in a stick of rock.

At the moment I’m eagerly waiting for a first sight of the book covers for A Nightingale in Winter andTaming Tom Jones. But here’s a photo I had taken for Nightingale which expresses the feel of the book, together with the cover of The Goddess Workshop. You can see how different they are on the face of it. But dig a little deeper, and you’ll find the similarities.

A bit like my students!

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What will the cover of Taming Tom Jones be like? I can’t wait to find out!!!
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Margaret K Johnson – women’s fiction

margaretkajohnson:

I’m on fellow Crooked Cat Author Ailsa Abraham’s blog today!

Originally posted on The Bingergread Cottage:

Today I welcome another new writer with lovely Crooked Cat who publish me too. Coming in on the magic carpet is Margaret K Johnson… Cameron! Glasses please!

Welcome, Margaret… Now, I know you like a nice glass of chilled white wine and a bowl of olives so while Cam puts on his pinny and goes to get those, you sit here and tell me about your work. Lily will keep you company but if you don’t like dogs just ask her to go away. She’s very obliging like that.

I love dogs, so Lily’s fine. Not sure what she’ll make of the scent of my Billy though. He’s a whiffy pooch!

Oh she’s a proper “bin-hound” and anyone who’ll give her a tickle is fine by her. So, Margaret, is this your first published book?Tom Jones

It’s not, no. I’ve had lots of fiction for people learning to speak English…

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The Art of Writing Language Readers

I’m going to dedicate this blog post to all teachers and learners of English around the world! I have written over 20 fiction readers since the year 2000. These have been published by Cambridge University Press and Cengage Learning. Twenty readers in 15 years may sound like a lot, but some of them are very short – only 5,000 words long. My women’s fiction is 90,000 words long!
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I love writing language readers. Telling an exciting story when you can only choose from a list of 200 words (for a starter level reader) is a real challenge. How do I do it? Well, I have to let the words on the list suggest the story. If I didn’t do that, if I decided I had to write a story about a dangerous crocodile when I wasn’t allowed to use the word crocodile – or bite, teeth, dangerous or any other words related to crocodiles – I think I’d go mad.
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But let me give you an example of how I work on a language reader, especially a lower level one aimed at beginners. Take for example, my story Gone! which was published by Cambridge University Press in 2009. On the list of words I was able to use were the words CAMERA, BIRTHDAY, FRIEND and COMPUTER. This gave me the idea of a boy, Tom. It’s his birthday, but his family and friends are all too busy to help him celebrate, so he’s feeling SAD (also on the list). He finds a camera, and discovers that it has magic powers. Tom decides to use the camera to help him to force his friends and family to do what he wants them to do. It doesn’t end well…
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With a higher level book, it’s easier of course. My Intermediate Level story Kilimanjaro is currently short-listed to receive a Language Learner Literature Award – yippee!The judges said of it: “Good storyline and characterization. People are set against each other, the elements, and their own personal challenges as they struggle to reach the top. The simple, descriptive language and illustrations supporting the text will keep the reader turning the pages to find out what happens next.”

I hope the readers who are voting at the moment agree! I certainly enjoyed writing it very much, and with the longer list of words and a greater freedom with grammar, I was really able to express what I wanted to in the story.

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Kilimanjaro is published by Cengage Learning in their series called Page Turners, and that’s what I tried to do with the book – to make it really exciting so you wanted to know what happened next. Will the group all make it to the top of Africa’s highest mountain?So, over to you! If you’re learning to speak English, do you read readers like mine? And if you do, have you found they help your learning? And if you’re a teacher, do you use readers as part of your lessons? I hope you do, because that way I’ll get to write more of them!

Themes for Life, Themes for Writing

Last Thursday, as part of a 5-week WriteUP Creative Writing class on the subject of story themes, I asked my students to think about the themes of various times in their lives. In order to fully explain what I meant, I carried out the exercise myself beforehand, reflecting on the themes of my own life. It was a very interesting and illuminating exercise. Now my obsession to write about various subjects makes perfect sense to me!

So, here are the themes I came up with.

1. It doesn’t pay to try to force expressions of love.
Sums up my relationship with my dad as a teenager.

2. You need to revisit the fire in order to put it out.
Revisiting the place I lived at with an ex two years after he’d thoroughly broken my heart. I wept buckets, but it was so cathartic!

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3. Your best will never seem quite good enough, but your best is all you can give.
Being a mum.

4. When the time is right, he will come.
Finding my man – my safe harbour.

5. You can’t always keep going forward – sometimes you have to stop and just be.
Learning to enjoy the moment as  new mum.

6. To get where you want to go to, sometimes you have to approach from a different direction.
Facing realities of being a writer.

7. Sometimes the simplest things give the greatest happiness.
The huge importance of nature and the natural environment to my well being.

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8. You have to be able to cope with being completely alone in order to be able to really connect with other people in a happy, healthy way.
Learning to be self-sufficient and strong as my broken heart healed.

9. You can change your life, but you always take yourself with you.
Oh, how many times have I moved! It’s been exciting, but I’ve still been me, even when I deliberately moved in an attempt to have a clean slate. Although at times a new environment and new challenges brought hidden parts of me to the fore. Quite content to stay put now though!

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Being entrepreneurial seems to be the current theme of my life.

How about you? What have been some  the themes of your life? Or what’s your current life theme? 

In reading about blogging lately, I came across a useful article called 40 instant business blog post ideas and thought it would be fun to insert my own name into the title of one or two of them. Here’s the first. It was great fun to write! I hope you enjoy reading it.

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At first glance, Margaret K Johnson may seem to be quite a complicated, hard-to-pin down mix. She is confident and determined enough to have had a go – three times – at stand-up comedy, and loves teaching, since it allows her to share her passions and to enable others to pursue theirs. But put her in a room where lots of people are talking together, even if it’s a group of her own friends, and she can clam up.

This could partly be due to the writerly practice of people watching, and it is quite probable that Margaret is, in fact, squirreling away nuggets of conversation and observational detail for her books. However, this could also be a simplistic view of the author’s behaviour. Those who have known Margaret K Johnson intimately for a number of years, will be aware of several key reasons for her lack of confidence in social situations, and these have little or nothing to do with her being unfriendly, distant, disinterested, self-absorbed or even downright boring as might appear to be the first impression.

The truth is, Margaret K Johnson has always been shy, and the possession of an overly strict father and a relentlessly teasing brother did little to remedy this situation. Given the additional fact that her mother saw fit to perm the author’s hair in the summer holidays preceding her commencement at senior school, thereby giving her new peers and teachers the impression of Margaret being somewhat poodle-like, it is not surprising that this situation continued into her teens.

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Unfortunately, just as Margaret was finally beginning to settle into senior school and had made managed to make a small group of friends who were prepared to ignore her hairstyle, the decision was made to transfer her to a different class. Although this was because Margaret was doing well academically, it was impossible for her to see this as a reward for making good progress at school. The daunting prospect of having to make new friends all over again, when everyone else had already established their friendship groups, left the author emotionally scarred, even before the unfortunate incident when she mistakenly used the word “pheasant” instead of “peasant” to describe Joan of Arc’s upbringing during a talk to the whole class.

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It is true that Margaret K Johnson ought to be able to move on from these events, and that there is no longer any reason for them to be a part of the fabric of her begin. The author is aware of that she finally needs to address these issues. But in the mean time, should you be due to spend time with Margaret K Johnson, you can take charge of the situation by following these 5 simple steps.

This blog is moving! To read the rest, including the 5 vital steps, please go to:

http://www.margaretkjohnson.co.uk/blog/5-simple-steps-to-take-charge-of-margaret-k-Johnson

Thank you!

Margaret x