Inspiring Rooms, A Writers’ Circle, and the Open University Again

Hi people! Well, after my good intentions to get back to blogging after my holiday, I discovered that it’s very hard to concentrate when your house is a building site. But – the Great Kitchen Renovation is done! Complete! Finito! Thank f*** for that. (Pardon my French.) It looks fantastic, and together it and I have already produced a lavish Scottish-themed dinner for me, hubby, and two German friends who were visiting last week. You should see how much wine food I can fit in my new fridge!

Pic courtesy of

Pic courtesy of

The ground floor of the house is now resplendent in a colour scheme of reds and creams, although Frodo Cat is trying to add more cream by spreading his fur far and wide. Now that downstairs is back to normal, I have finally been able to tidy the office (which has had half the downstairs furniture in it up until now). This is in readiness for much writing, especially as I have taken on two new ‘things’, as follows:

A few weeks ago I attended my first meeting of the Falkirk Writers’ Circle. I enjoyed it very much and have been going weekly ever since. I received a lovely welcome in week 1, and said so at the end of the meeting. When I turned up for week 2, several members expressed delight, as apparently people often turn up for the first time, enthuse about how much they’ve enjoyed themselves, and then never return. I guess no-one wants to say, ‘Oh dear, I don’t think this is for me after all’, or whatever. Maybe it’s the prospect of reading their own work aloud? Who knows. Anyway, I loved it and I loved week 2, which was indeed a ‘Read Your Own Work’ week. Such a great variety of pieces! Poetry: rhyming, not rhyming, and written in Scots. Chapters of novels. Memoirs. Flash fiction. Short stories. I think I’m going to be in good company, and encouraged to write more and improve my writing, which is great. I’ve already been inspired by two guests, Janet Paisley and Alan Bissett, who spoke about poetry and prose respectively, and gave us writing exercises to do. The Circle has a packed programme of events, so whatever you write there’s something to interest you.

Pic courtesy of

Pic courtesy of

Aaand…I decided a few months ago to bite the bullet and go for my degree in English Literature and Creative Writing with the Open University. Some of you may remember I did their Level 2 Creative Writing course last year, and that will count towards the degree. I have to fill in the gap, as it were, of Level 1 courses this year and next. So this week I start a course on The Arts Past and Present, which has literature, but also painting, sculpture, film…I think it will be interesting, and hopefully my studies last year will stand me in good stead, as I already know how the OU website works, how to submit work, and how to take part in online tutorials and chats. Now that my preferred writing and study space is sorted, I’m raring to go!

Of course, there is a tiny spanner in the works: the OU tutorials are on the same evening as the Writers’ Circle! Aargh! They’re not every week though, so I’ll attend the first one, introduce myself, meet my tutor…and then see how many I actually go to. If the Writers’ Circle is doing something particularly good that night, I think they’ll win. 😉

This might be me soon...

This might be me soon…

Phew! That’s all my news, I think. Feel free to bombard me with yours in the comments. I’m bound to have missed some things over the last few weeks.

(Oh, and don’t think you’ve escaped my Istanbul photos. They, and a blog post, will be on their way soon… 😀 )


101 Blog Posts!

Okay, blog posts aren’t as cute as Dalmatians, but hey… 😉

I’m celebrating this 101st post with some news. I passed my Open University Creative Writing course! Furthermore, I scored in the highest band for the fiction I used for my end-of-module assessment. I’m particularly pleased with this, as the piece I submitted was the opening chapter of my work in progress. Language, structure and ideas were all described as ‘excellent’. So now my face looks like this:

Cheshire Cat from Tim Burton's Alice In Wonderland

Cheshire Cat from Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland

Just to bring me down a peg (before you all start shouting ‘bighead!’), my overall pass was a Grade 2. A couple of my continuous assessment pieces let me down, namely my poetry (no surprise there), and my life writing. My fiction pieces gained the highest marks, which I’m chuffed with, as fiction is what I intend to concentrate on writing. It’s what I most enjoy writing. As well as this blog that I’m chattering at you from, of course. 🙂

So everybody please partake of virtual champagne and cake with me. Who knows, I may go back and do Advanced Creative Writing next year. Or maybe not. For now, encouraged by the tutors’ comments, I’m going to concentrate on my work in progress, and my short fiction.

Pic courtesy of

Pic courtesy of

If any of you are thinking of doing Creative Writing with the OU, I can highly recommend it. Go in with an open mind, embrace the techniques that work for you, and make good use of your tutorial and workbook exercises. Many of mine have turned into stories in their own right, or are little story seeds just waiting to be planted. I’ve learned so much, and that was my main aim. I admit I was quite experimental with a couple of my pieces of assessed work, trying out different things. Believe it or not, I decided it was worth possibly forfeiting high marks, in order to get feedback on my ideas. My tutor has been very helpful and really identified my strengths and weaknesses. (By the way, I’m sure many other Creative Writing courses are equally good – I’m just speaking from my own experience of the OU.)

Well, I better go and get on with this novel, since apparently I’m on the right track and not writing complete drivel. Have a great week all!

On no account should you allow a Vogon to read poetry at you…

Well, I’m not a Vogon, but you may all want to gnaw your own legs off soon, as I’ve started the poetry section of my Creative Writing course. 😉

So far, I’m very much enjoying it. I don’t know whether I’ll ever call myself a poet, but the exercises we’re doing are great for coming up with ideas for other kinds of writing, too.

We’ve been encouraged to try haiku since the early days of the course, so I’ll post some of those. When I actually have a completed poem, I’ll be a Vogon and subject you to it, whether you want it or not.

I’m also reading ‘The Ode Less Travelled’, Stephen Fry’s book about poetry. My my, that man knows a lot of words! I love him. He’s the only person who can get away with using twenty words when one will do. Hubby has the audiobook of Stephen reading ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’. Could listen to that all day…the man’s got a voice like chocolate.

From what I’ve written so far, I do think poetry may be the way that my thoughts on my rocky relationship with some of my family see the light of day. Interesting… It’s certainly cathartic scribbling it down on paper, even if that’s as far as it gets.

Right, enough of this heavy talk. Here’s a fun haiku to finish with:

Trying a new pen
How does it write, I wonder?
Please do not smudge

This was written after stealing hubby’s pen, that he got as a prize for something or other at work. As the writer in the household, I covet the good pens!

Many thanks, of course, to the late, great Douglas Adams, for the title of this post. 🙂

Writing my assessment, what I’ve learned, and why you won’t find me doing morning pages!

Last Wednesday, I handed in my first piece of coursework to be assessed for my Creative Writing course. Eep! I should hear this week how I got on. I got it in a day ahead of the deadline, so some things have improved. When I was last at University, I was mistress of the ‘completed-at-4am-essay’.

So-o-o…what have I learned from Part 1 of my course? Well, I scribbled down these points in my writer’s notebook:

I quite like ‘clustering’

I struggle to freewrite ‘free’ enough

I like Haiku

Character maps are good

You’ll never get me out of my bed early enough to do ‘morning pages’

A lot of what we’ve been practising in Part 1 of the course are techniques for generating ideas, freeing up your writing, and getting words flowing across the page. For those who don’t know, ‘clustering’ is a bit like mind-mapping; you start with a word or phrase and then write down several ‘branches’ of other words or phrases that are suggested by the original. Now that I’ve got the hang of it, I’ve found it a useful technique for getting over a block. My freewrites tend to come out in proper sentences and grammar, which they’re not supposed to – my brain just thinks like that! Morning pages – you’re meant to get up half an hour earlier than you need to, and just write whatever comes into your head. I can tell you now; this is NEVER going to happen with me. I can’t be dragged out of bed earlier than necessary for ANY reason.

The first assessment consisted of a freewrite, a piece of fiction inspired by the freewrite, and a commentary on how I created the piece.

I also made some notes about my tutor (who I love so far, but let’s see what mark she gives me ;-)):

She’s funny

She likes erotica

She likes VAMPIRE erotica

She doesn’t mind sweary words, or blood, or gore

She’s happy for pieces to be written in Scots

That last point…I don’t write in Scots very often – it’s more likely to turn up in my dialogue rather than throughout a whole piece. But I love the fact that my tutor is happy to accept work written in the Scots language. For those who don’t know what I mean by Scots, here’s an example:

‘Ah’m nae gettin’ oot ma bed early jis’ tae write doon a load o’ wurds ah willnae use onyway’.

Translation: ‘I’m not getting out of my bed early just to write down a lot of words I won’t use anyway’.

(Yes, I’m still grumbling about morning pages…)

As for the rest, as I write erotica (including vampire erotica), and horror, I’m delighted that my tutor won’t mind any of these genres turning up in my coursework. The only thing she advised against was using any extremes of sex, violence, etc in the final assessment, as that is marked by a different tutor, and apparently not all of them are as liberal as she is. Fair warning.

Apart from coursework, what else have I been up to? Well, starting on Tuesday 5th November, my friend in all things spooky, Mari Wells , will be running a weekly series of posts by me, on the Witches of Scotland. Be sure to check out her blog. Don’t worry; I’ll be posting links from here to remind you all!

On the subject of witches, the piece I submitted for my course was a ‘spin-off’ from my story ‘The Summoning‘. Many of you have been kind enough to say you want to hear more about the Lochie coven. Once the piece has been marked, you can read more about what that young minx Evie is up to… 😉

Writing creatively (and reading it aloud in class!)

My Open University Creative Writing course started this weekend, with a Day School. I was looking forward to it, and I wasn’t disappointed. A really useful experience, both for meeting my tutor and others in my tutorial group, and for practising writing exercises. I even came out of it with the beginnings of a story which my tutor thought I should develop. Result!

The day took place at the grandly-named Stirling University Management Centre, which is only 20 minutes or so from my home. I’d been to Stirling Uni plenty of times: for other courses, to drop off driving pupils, and to the theatre that’s on campus. I hadn’t been to the Management Centre before, and we all commented that it was very posh. We seemed to be having more fun than a lot of people. It looked like there were lots of dry conferences taking place in other rooms, with bored delegates sitting in a circle doing team-building exercises. Urgh.

We had a general chat about what we all liked to write (and read), asked any questions about the course, and then got down to writing. I did more handwriting that day than I’ve probably done in a year. I could have used my tablet, but I decided that for short exercises I’d be just as quick using my notebook. We did some prompted freewriting, and then some exercises on creating characters. I found the latter very useful, as I hadn’t tried that kind of thing before. We then had to start building a story around our character. After a break for lunch (and chocolate, to feed my flagging brain), we continued the story and introduced some dialogue. Ahead-of-herself-as-usual me had used dialogue in her piece already. So I wrote more dialogue, developed another character, and now I have the makings of a story which I hope to continue with. As a teaser, it involves the following:

An elderly gentleman

A historic location

Two cats

A young woman and her daughter (both with unusual ‘gifts’)

A mystery

Are you intrigued? I am! Let’s see where it goes…

We were encouraged to read our pieces out loud so that our tutor and fellow students could comment. Shyness is not one of my qualities, so I got stuck in, as did most people, especially after a little encouragement. We were kind to each other and mentioned all the positives, leaving it to our tutor to be the villain and offer any criticism! She was lovely, however, and only had small points to make. We finished the day with another chance to ask questions, and then headed off to start putting what we’d learned into practice.

It was a great way to get fired up for the course, and I take my hat off to our tutor for making it interesting and enjoyable. The only problem I can foresee is that I’m going to have even more ideas for stories now, but no extra time to write them! (Yes, I know this is a good problem to have. I’m kidding). But wouldn’t it be great if things like Time-Turners, from Harry Potter, actually existed? I could write for a few hours on one project, then go back and write for the same few hours on a different one. I know I’d end up going crazy, from exhaustion and brain overload, but still… Hubby has just stated that no-one would notice the difference. Thanks, darling. *makes mental note to base a character on hubby, then kill said character off in a gruesome way* 😉

More from the Creative Writing classroom soon! Now, since All Hallows Eve approaches, time to write about witches! I’ll be guesting on my friend Mari Wells‘ blog soon, talking about Scotland’s rich history of witchcraft. Mari knows all about vampires, werewolves, and witches and I’m very flattered to be featuring on her blog. More news on that in due course…