Fireside Tales and Folklore

Yesterday, I spent the day in heaven. I was surrounded by nature. I was in the company of creative writers with a passion for the written word. I was  taught by a master of the craft.

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Joy Winkler, the former Cheshire Poet Laureate, ran a masterclass in re-writing myths and legends with a modern twist, from the grounds of a beautiful National Trust Park. 

 

From the minute I entered the gates of Tatton Park, I was inspired. The tree-lined driveway leads past reindeer, quietly grazing in the morning haze. It continues on to the impressive architecture of the old hall, then on through farmland. I actually stopped the car on the drive to have a “moment” with an adult deer, which stopped eating, looked up and made eye contact, gently tipping his head to one side as he did. By the time I got to the car park, I was peaceful, relaxed and ready for a day’s writing.

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To add to my bliss, there is a very short walk through a tree canopied pathway, which is one of my favourite spots in the park.

As I turned onto the path, I was greeted by crowds of golden daffodils, with heads swaying in the breeze.

blog112.jpgPink and white blossom trees shed their petals as the wind rocked their branches. They fell like wedding confetti as I walked by.

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Turning in to the stable courtyard, deep purples and violets burst from the filled planters, vibrant crimson crept up the exterior walls of the kitchen gardens.

What a welcome.

Reluctant to leave the fresh air and sunshine but excited to join the writers; I entered the classroom, which for today was a converted barn. A few people had arrived. There was a lovely atmosphere as everyone greeted each other and settled themselves down with cups of tea and coffee. Joy is a wonderfully personable lady, who has the comforting presence of an old friend, from the first moment you meet her.

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She began her lesson in re-writing old myths and legends. She introduced the topic of our own family stories which had been handed down the generations, told and re-told perhaps by the fireside, perhaps as bedtime stories. Changing the time period, slowing the pace, embellishing with detailed descriptions were techniques discussed.

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Following a writing exercise the group read out their work. I always enjoy hearing how others have interpreted the prompt. Their personalities are revealed by glimpses of their passions and fears, it’s fascinating to hear and observe.

I very quickly realised I was in the midst of very accomplished writers, people who loved their craft and were passionate lovers of literacy. I learnt more than expected from the lively conversation as we shared our experiences and knowledge. It was a dream to spend the day with book lovers and creative minds.

After lunch, a walk around the gardens, more writing, readings, and discussions, the day came to a close. Everyone was reluctant to leave. It was a perfect day, in the most wonderful surroundings, with the best company.

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I’m very grateful to have been part of the magic and will treasure the memory – perhaps I may tell the tale to my children and grandchildren in years to come… with an added elf, monster, wizard and princess, of course.

May the ink never dry

The day came to sign the contract. The publishers treated me to a fabulous lunch. We had an excellent discussion on all aspects of writing, publishing, readers, and distribution before papers were signed and photographs taken.

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Onlookers from neighbouring tables stopped to see who the celebrity was.

 

 

 

 

 

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Elated I published my news on Facebook and amidst the warm wishes of friends and family, tried to let what had just happened sink in.

So what then?

Then, I waited.

 

Soon after, I received an email with sketches of the artwork which the illustrator had submitted. The thrill was intense. I studied each pencil line. As I turned through the pages, I saw my story come to life. I was introduced to the main characters. I marvelled at the detail.

TV personality Sarah Heaney Reads to kids in Edinbugh

 

I saw my story through the eyes of a child, wondrous and excited. I wanted to know what was on the next page.

What a gift.

 

And then…. I waited.

I’ve learnt you need patience, a lot of patience. Work is happening behind the scenes and the writer needs to sit back and wait to be called upon.

I’m still waiting.

As I’ve said on a previous blog, I’m not one to sit around idle, so whilst I wait;

Too busy to stop

  • I attend Stockport Writers, a local writers group
  • I attend Write Out Loud, a local poetry group
  • I’ve written two more children’s picture book stories
  • I’ve attended a workshop on how to write about conflict
  • This week I am at a workshop about re-writing traditional myths in a modern and contemporary way
  • I continue to write the morning pages, again, as discussed in a previous blog
  • As April approaches, so does the poetry challenge of Napowrimo; a poem per day for each day of April

That should keep my mind busy, and if it doesn’t, I can always blog!

Burnout Schmurnout – let’s do this!

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What doesn’t kill you – Napowrimo 2017

This blog will be interrupted, by Napowrimo 2017

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Due to an insane impulse to improve my poetry, I accepted the Napowrimo 2017 challenge. This means for the whole of April my blog will be taken up by publishing a poem per day.

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Unfortunately, I hadn’t actually made the conscious connection between trying to improve my dire poetry and actually publishing it for the world to see, before accepting the challenge. When I filled out the form to join in I had imagined secreting my poems away for my eyes only.

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What I have since realised is that I will show the www. how clunky I am from start to finish. It pays to read the small print. However, nothing ventured nothing gained, they say! 

I offer my apologies in advance to all the poets out there that I may offend as I stumble through. April will soon pass.

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For anyone wanting to sacrifice their dignity in the same way, join me on www.napowrimo.net

To anyone wanting to help my quest of improving my poetic skills, feel free to leave comments on the poems. Any advice on improvements will be accepted gratefully and graciously.

Validation and Illustration

In reply to my resubmitted manuscript, the publisher sent a brief email back, saying “Well done… we’ll go forward with that.”

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It may be the best email I have ever received. I printed it out and shared it with anyone I could find. If I was athletic and if I wasn’t sat in a very busy corporate office at the time, I would have done a lap of honour. As it was, I paced around a lot with a ridiculous grin across my face, pumped with adrenaline. Success!

It’s a strange experience when you receive an acknowledgement that what you have produced is good enough to print.

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It’s a validation that your work is viewed by at least one person as acceptable. The strangeness comes from the unfamiliarity with that approval. When it happens, it doesn’t quite seem real. It’s almost an out of body experience. I’d love to hear from other writers if this is how they felt, or if I’m alone in this!

So back to practicalities: The next step was to secure an illustrator.

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I submitted some samples a good friend of mine had created, and the publisher had requested samples from illustrators they had worked with previously.

After comparing all samples, a choice was made.

I opened an email one day, simply saying “What do you think of this?”  

When I opened the file, I saw my main character staring back at me on screen. Only this was the illustrator’s interpretation of my character, not the image I had been carrying around in my head for months.

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It was like meeting a friend for the very first time, combined with the surprise of opening a Christmas present.

I was thrilled. The colours were bright, the characters friendly and the overall feel fit perfectly with what you would expect from a children’s picture book.

I wanted to show the world, but knew I had to keep it to myself. The publisher had been very clear that they manage the release of information about the book, to maximise the impact of the marketing. So I kept the concept illustration close to me and just peeped at it every hour on the hour for a number of days. I smiled to myself each time. This was really happening.  

The next communication from the Publisher was “We need to talk contracts.”

Tingle

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Original Source you pack more in

Your tweets give me the widest grin

I can access joy wherever I am

Just by following your Instagram

Your tingle wakes me everyday

I’m refreshed and ready for fun and play

The excitement lightens my daily load

It compelled me to pen this little ode

Continue OS to spread the love

(You don’t get this from using Dove)

#packmorein

Feedback and re-writes

After the initial interest from the publishers, I was asked to go into the offices to chat about my book. With a beating heart, I replied to their emails, always unsure of how businesslike to sign off my mails; “Kind Regards” too official? “Sincerely” too stuffy? “Love” out of the question. I chose one and stuck to it. We arranged a date and after much deliberation on what to wear for a first meeting with a publisher, I set off.

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I arrived at a very traditional industrial mill. It seemed every time I joined any writing group or indeed visited a publisher, it was always in a building with great architectural heritage. I loved it. Walking down a long dark corridor into the depths of the mill, it was evident daylight didn’t feature here. There wouldn’t be any window seats like the modern office buildings of today.

A workman passed by in overalls and looked at me quizzically, possibly due to the heels clomping on the York stone slabs. I asked him directions and he waved his hand at a small white door to the left. As I approached, I could see James and Anthony inside, and they beckoned me in. The stark fluorescent lights were harsh on the eyes in contrast to the dark corridor outside. I was motioned to a sofa and the meeting began.  

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James, the Managing Director, told me how he had read the manuscript and his first reaction was “Wow”. I sat there dumbfounded and almost deaf to anything else he said for the next minute. “Wow”? Really? My work deserves a “Wow”? I couldn’t believe my ears. More positive feedback was given as Anthony, the Marketing Manager backed James’ views. I was delighted.

James then moved onto what was to happen next. He explained that the story I had written spanned two reading categories; 3-5 year olds and 5-8 year olds. Apparently, it is important to distinguish which bracket your book is aimed at, to help the bookshops to know where to position it on shelf and of course how online booksellers should list it. I was given the task of re-writing the story to fit either category. I had to either remove the more difficult words, and simplify the terms for the 3-5 year olds, or lengthen the story to suit the 5-8 year old category.

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Happily, they said they would print my book whichever group I decide to target, so I left feeling on top of the world. I still had the word “wow” ringing in my ears.

TV personality Sarah Heaney Reads to kids in Edinbugh

As soon as I got home I took out the manuscript and started work. I started by simplifying the piece and aiming at the 3-5 year olds. My thought process being quite simply, I had set out to write bedtime stories which my 4-year-old would enjoy, so it seemed appropriate to start there.

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My twelve-year-old daughter came home from school as I was in the midst of the re-write and asked what I was doing. When I explained, she very quickly responded with the fact that I couldn’t possibly write it for 5-8 year olds. When I asked why she was so adamant, she informed me my story wasn’t cool enough for an 8-year-old. She wrinkled her nose as she said it, for added effect!

“Which 8 year old is going to pick up a book with a pear on the front?” She had a point.

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With added determination, I finished the re-write and submitted it back to the Publisher.

The Balboa Steps

It was March 2016. As I drove through the bland town centre, my eye was caught by a big, bright, blousey banner, which was strung across the steps of the Art Gallery. It read  “…free poetry writing workshop…” and so I found myself one Saturday morning stood at the bottom of the Art Gallery’s imposing steps looking up.

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My legs shook, doubt screamed, my nerve faltered. I ran up a few steps, I walked down a few steps. In a rush of courage I ran like Rocky to the top and thrust myself through the door, so fear couldn’t catch me and make me turn back.

I was directed up a highly ornate and elaborate winding stone staircase, that opened up into vaulted ceilings. Through a heavy oak door, a long room filled with framed works of art faced me. At one end of the room, a few tables and chairs had been arranged. Two ladies were unpacking stationery onto the table as I nervously approached.

I will never forget the warm smile and twinkling eyes of Linda, who greeted me and guided me to take a seat. Something in her manner, her words and her gentleness made me feel welcomed and safe.

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I will never forget the amusement I found in watching more attendees arrive and unpack their poetry journals. Each book or pad that was produced was a little smaller than the preceding one. The last gentleman arrived with the smallest notepad, the stubbiest pencil and with the thickest rimmed glasses. 

I looked at my A4 pad. I need large paper, I’m a scrawler. My thoughts come thick and fast and I scrawl at speed to keep up with them. I remember how terrified I was. I hadn’t written poetry since school. Would I be able to write a single word today? Maybe I needed a smaller pad?

A year has now passed and I can happily say, I’m still attending a monthly poetry group in that same high vaulted gallery, only now I describe it as impressive, not oppressive. My poetry is still weaker than my prose, but I’m happy to learn at a steady pace. I’m hoping poetry will help improve my descriptive writing, only time will tell. In the meantime, I admit I’m no Shakespeare or Keats, but here’s a poem I wrote about my “Rocky” experience, which was delivered to Stockport’s Creative Sector Meeting last autumn.

The Steps

By Nicola Hulme

I stood at the bottom and looked up,

Willing my legs to move.

My dream was waiting, at the top of the steps,

There, the doorway to long lost love.

 

All I needed to do was walk up there.

Open the door and take a step in.

But my feet were glued to the pavement.

A cold sweat ran down my skin.

 

I gave myself a shaking.

“Come on girl, you’re almost there!”

I ran up five steps in a hurry,

Then paused, once again, on the stair.

 

“What am I doing?” The voice said

“Who do you think you are?”

“Are you clever enough to join them?”

“Quick! Get back into the car.”

 

I moved a painful step lower,

As doubt and fear crept in.

I could simply turn and leave now,

But I wanted so badly to go in.

 

A fiery burst of courage

Stopped the retreat in its tracks.

I ran all the way up to the top of the steps,

Never to ever look back.

 

What dream lay at the top of those stairs?

One of poetry, creativity and fun.

In a beautiful art gallery setting.

I am one of the lucky ones.

 

To be able to meet here monthly,

To read and discuss our lines.

To share our ideas and creations,

Amongst those of a similar mind.

 

If you ever want to experience

Laughter, passion, and sadness to boot.

Then do climb those stairs and join us

Our precious & priceless poetry group.

Waiting, waiting, waiting.

I had submitted my work to 5 publishers and 1 agent. The websites for each one were very open and honest and advised that in some cases it can take up to 5 months to reply.

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Apparently, there are very large slush piles of unread submissions somewhere on shelves in England, waiting to be read and their magic discovered. I visualised these piles of dusty papers whilst I waited and waited. 

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However, a great lover of effective time management (sad but true, I blame it on the process of becoming an institutionalised corporate being) I wasn’t going to sit idly by relying on one manuscript to turn my world around. There was much more about this craft to learn and many more genres to explore.

I began researching all things relating to creative writing, all types of publishing methods and anything that had “advice to the new writer”. I read books on writing (Stephen King’s “On Writing” is one I recommend). I read magazines on writing. I trawled the internet following link after link on the topic of writing until my eyes stung.

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I was becoming obsessed. In fact it was an infatuation. I was falling in love with writing all over again.