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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Singing Her Way to Success

As you may know, many of my novels are about women being courageous as they face change in their lives – women who overcome their fears in order to achieve their dreams. Naomi Alexander, the new lead singer of the Norfolk band Parkhouse, has done exactly that in her life, and I’m delighted to welcome her to my blog today to tell us all about it.

MJ: Welcome, Naomi! Thanks for agreeing to be interviewed! 

NA: Thanks for the invitation; it’s nice to be asked!

Naomi Alexander Lead singer of Parkhouse

 

MJ: So, jumping straight in, did you always enjoy singing?

NA: Yes, from about the age of 7, I would spend hours in my room trying to sing like the big powerhouses like Mariah Carey and Celine Dion (cringe!)

MJ: Were your family supportive of your singing?

NA: I never felt very encouraged – in fact, one of my family members said I sounded like a drowning cat!

MJ: that’s a shame. What effect did that have on you?

NA: It made me feel too shy to sing in front of other people, and it wasn’t until my late teens/early twenties that I decided to try going to singing lessons. I didn’t feel very confident about it though, so I only went to one lesson. The lesson took place in a corridor of a junior school (the tutor hired it out for her lessons) and there was a dance class going on in the main room next door.  She asked me what I would like to sing and I chose Lovefool by the Cardigans. At the time I didn’t feel comfortable projecting my voice and, as the song is sung in a high key, when I started to sing, it sounded so weak. I was also very aware that someone could come out of the dance class at any time and hear me! The tutor asked me if I’d like to stop singing that song to which I said ‘yes please’! She then asked me to sing along with Whitney Houston’s ‘I will always love you’ – I’m not quite sure why she chose that, and again, it didn’t sound great because I was too scared to project my voice. Also, Whitney Houston had, in my opinion, one of the most powerful voices in the world!  There was no way on earth I would have felt comfortable ‘trying’ to sing one of her massive hit songs!

MJ: How many years went by until you decided to try again?

NA: In November of 2013 (so about 10 years later) I was looking at singing schools online, inspired by a friend who has also had lessons and now created their own music. I saw a free half an hour session was being held at a local school, so I went along. The tutor was amazing and really helped me with my confidence, so I booked more lessons. When she asked whether I’d thought of joining a band, I thought yes, but I’d never be able to do it; the thought terrifies me too much! But my tutor kept on bringing the subject up, so I decided to take the plunge and joined a website called www.joinmyband.co.uk.  My ad read something along the lines of ‘I’m here because of my singing tutor! Looking to join a band, either as a backing or lead singer’ so you can see why I never expected to hear anything.  When I applied, I was half-thinking, God, I hope no-one wants me as I don’t think I’m anywhere near good enough!

MJ: What happened next?

NA: Well, amazingly, I heard back within a few hours from a band looking for a lead singer! I couldn’t believe it – I really hadn’t expected to hear from anyone. I sent them a recording of me singing which I’d made on the singing course, and honestly, I was wincing as I pressed send  – I thought they’d think I was awful. But the drummer got in touch and said mine was the best recording they’d heard to date, and they’d heard a few!

Myself and another lady auditioned a couple of weeks later, and they chose me (even though she had years & years of experience in performing)! I couldn’t believe it!

MJ: Brilliant! So how long was it until your first performance with them?

NA: Only a few weeks. I practiced with them a lot to learn the songs and listened to them over an over in my car.  Parkhouse play covers like Valerie by Amy Winehouse, Mark Cohn, Walking in Memphis, Adele, Rolling in the Deep. Finally, I was ready. Or as ready as I was ever going to be! On the night of my first gig, I was so nervous. I arrived before the guys, and deep down I hoped the gig had been cancelled. I was tempted to turn around and go home! But I didn’t, and all my friends came along to support me – and even though I had a dry mouth almost all the time, I only messed up a little (nobody even noticed I messed up). It was incredible! I was absolutely buzzing & felt an overwhelming sense of achievement. I couldn’t believe how quickly the night went!

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MJ: So, how do those family members who knocked your confidence when you were a child feel about your achievement? 

NA: They are very proud of me and so pleased that I went for it. They certainly don’t say those horrible things anymore!

MJ: I should hope not! So, what’s next for you, singing wise?

NA:  I’d really like to have a go at something bluesy or jazzy too; maybe for a band who produce their own songs.  My friends keep saying I should go on The Voice.  I’m not so sure I want the fame though!

MJ: Thanks so much for sharing your inspirational story with us, Naomi. It just goes to show, you should never give up on your dream!!

You can find out more about Naomi and Parkhouse here. The link to Parkhouse on Facebook is here.

The Dare Club – when life imitates literature

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Question: what do you get if you combine a novel featuring an abseiling woman on the cover, good weather, good friends and a deserving charity?

Answer: The Dare Club abseil challenge in aid of Keeping Abreast, which took place on Saturday 21 June at Aid Rope Access in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk.

It was a fabulous day – everyone was so brave. Quite a few of the ladies taking part were terrified of heights and were literally shaking as they climbed the steep steps to the top of the 20 metre abseil tower. There were 3 different heights to abseil from, but everyone went from the top, which was a real achievement.

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The 20m abseil tower at Aid Rope Access

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Me with my fellow Dare Club organisers – The Amazing Abseillers. Love them all!

There were 3 different heights to abseil from, but everyone went from the top, which was a real achievement. One of my friends said she was cursing me since it was my idea, but she did it anyway and felt amazing afterwards. But then I already knew she was brave, because she maintained a steadfastly positive outlook for the whole time she was being treated for breast cancer recently. She was also more than happy to help me with my research when I was writing The Dare Club, in which one of the characters – Colette – has had breast cancer.

As for me, I’d been fairly blasé about the whole thing right from the start – I went up the tower before the event and enjoyed looking at the views and the feeling of the wind in my hair. I’ve never had a problem with heights, so I wasn’t scared as I posed for photos before I began my ascent to the top.

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Posing before climbing to the top with the book that inspired it all!

But then I was actually standing at the open hatch with the distant view of the ground below and… well; let’s just say things were suddenly different. I still wasn’t scared of heights, but I was scared of imminent death. But of course that was never a possibility! The guys at Aid Rope Access who hosted the event were amazing, and our safety was never in doubt. And it had to feel scary, or else what was the point? People needed to be impressed to be inspired to donate, and donate they did. We raised almost three thousand pounds for Keeping Abreast, a charity that helps women who’ve had breast cancer by running support groups and providing information about reconstruction surgery.

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Coming down!! Eek!!!!!

And so, my novel about a dare club has inspired the existence of a true life dare club, and our inaugural event was a big success. “What’s the next event?” people kept asking me on Saturday. “Cliff diving,” I answered, deadpan. For just a fraction of a section, some of them believed it, but don’t worry, you won’t get me up there on top of a cliff. Now, white-water rafting, maybe.

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Any takers for cliff diving?!!!

Getting in the Mood

I’ve recently started using Pinterest and I’m really enjoying it. Having been to Art College, I’m a visual person, and definitely always learn better if I can see something. Just lately I’ve been setting some important scenes in Havana, which I visited a while ago, and looking at images has almost been like going on holiday. AlmostHa ha.

So now that my story has returned to Norfolk, I put together a Pinterest board of the images that have inspired me while I write. Here’s the link. http://gb.pinterest.com/margaretkaj/cuba-inspirations/

I also tried making a Mood Board to reflect the feel of my novel The Dare Club – I think I succeeded to a certain extent, although it was quite difficult to find images that reflected what the characters look like inside my head after the event.

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Aleysha from The Dare Club

I suppose the best way to do it would be to start with image before I write! Though I have to admit, when I’m reading, I don’t need to be told much about what a character looks like in order to form an idea myself. Maybe that comes back to me being a visual person, I don’t know. Anyway, when I’m writing, I have to try and bear in mind that some people do like to be given physical information about characters.

How about you? Are you happy to mostly make up your own mind what characters look like? Or do you prefer a guiding hand?

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Available from Amazon.

 

Inspiring Friends

When I first began writing, a male friend was convinced I’d based the hero of my romance novel on him. Like my friend, my hero was a landscape artist, and I probably had used little things I’d observed about the way my friend approached his painting. However, my hero didn’t share his passion for drawing the inquisitive cows that meandered over to inspect his paintings, and neither did he have my friend’s very wild red hair or his habit of existing all week on extremely large pans of vegetable stew.

Obviously though I do use my experience of friendship in my writing – both The Goddess Workshop and The Dare Club are about friendship groups and how the support of good friends can help you to triumph in life. Friends have helped me to get where I am today and help to keep me here – by that, I mean they have been and remain an important source of encouragement, support and life-affirming fun.

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Just recently I have laughed out loud at friends’ tales of embarrassment while using ladies’ urinals at music festivals, and wrongly-pressed Facebook buttons that have led to people to jump to completely erroneous conclusions. I know friends wonder if I’ll use such things in my novels, and I might do with permission! For me, little things like this can be the starting point to me conjuring up characters or even whole novels. For example, one friend recently told me that her way of getting over a broken heart was to challenge herself to do one new thing every week – how inspiring is that? It could definitely be a starting point for a novel. Hmm, yes, I might write that one, one day!

Another friend was recently very generously open to me about her experience of breast cancer – and this helped me to form my character of Colette in The Dare Club. I’m sure she would never say that Colette was her though – Colette is very much herself; she is just experiencing similar things to my friend.

So thank you to the friends who constantly inspire me. If you ever feel an urge to become writers, then feel free to use me in your books! Well, unless I tell you things after I’ve downed a few glasses of wine that is… X

 

A Couple of Baby Owls.

Last time in my series of posts where I look at how major life events have shaped my writing, I wrote about a satisfying way I got revenge after being cruelly and suddenly dumped by the man I thought was the love of my life. This time I’m writing about something else I did to help me survive and thrive in the aftermath – I attended a course called Rebuilding When Your Relationship Ends. (I used such a course recently in my novel The Dare Club, only I renamed it the Lift Up course).

One of the best things about the course was that I was in a room full of people who knew exactly what I was going through because they were going through it too! Friendships were quickly formed, and wild nights out arranged. We boogied together, rode on the back of fast motorbikes (well, I did!), but mostly, we talked, we listened and we cried.

The course covered many things, but one of the sessions that has really stuck in my mind was the session on the different relationship styles. They were illustrated with drawings of stick people, and I’ve attempted to reproduce them here from the book that accompanied the course. Please excuse the quality of my drawings!

 

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Master/Slave Relationship – speaks for itself!

 

 

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Martyr Relationship – 1 person always making sacrifices for the other in a controlling, emotionally blackmailing way.

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Pedestal Relationship – Loving someone for who you think they are rather than who they are. Hard to live up to?

 

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Dependency Relationship – holding each other up. But what if one wants to move? The other will fall over.

 

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Smothering Relationship – Is this what we think is the ideal? That special in love feeling? Feels great for a while.

 

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Back-to-back Relationship – still joined, but leading virtually separate lives.

 

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Healthy Relationship – 2 people happy within themselves, choosing to be together out of love.

My relationship that broke up was somewhere between a Pedestal Relationship with a touch of a Master/Slave relationship thrown in! In my novel The Dare Club, which is about what happens when 4 very different people meet at a Lift Up Course Colette has a similar experience, while Nick has recently come out of a dependency relationship. He has a photo of himself and his ex-wife leaning together looking like a “pair of baby owls” – sweet, but a bit helpless!

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What shape is your relationship?

Margaret XX

 

The book Rebuilding When Your Relationship ends is by Dr Bruce Fisher and Dr Robert Alberti, and is available on Amazon.