Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Middle of the night reading

Moving is one of the most stressful human activities the experts tell us and even though I haven't been moving, I've had to manage my anxiety on behalf of someone else.  In some ways it's worse helping somebody else rather than being in control completely.  I've had to keep reminding myself that it isn't my move and that how I do things might not work for them.

So that means I've had the occasional patches of insomnia and of course rather than stew in the  middle of the night, I've read.  I've started a couple of books recently, one by C J Sansom a historical thriller that I borrowed after I read an article about him in the Guardian Review.

The other is the latest Elizabeth George, This Body of Death.  She is one of my writing heroines for the way she creates a world and draws you into it.  I'm only part way through it but already I'm in awe of the way she's pulling all the threads of the plot together.  It seems unfair that major literary prizes seem to ignore the crime genre because when you have an expert writer such as Elizabeth George, the books can cover all the emotions of the human heart and throw up all manner of life challenges.

Looking forward to reading the rest of it.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Moving times

Tomorrow's the day that my friend moves and we're keeping our fingers crossed for fine weather.  We've spent the weekend ferrying her goods and chattels between houses and are now taking a well earned rest.

The combined cold weather and activity has sent up my calorie intake into the stratosphere butI feel I have the best possible excuse at the moment.  All that mental energy expended...

Well that's my reasoning and I'm sticking to it. 

We've had some of those 'finds' like when a pair of boots turned up this morning stuck down the side of a wardrobe.  How can you lose a pair of boots?

And yesterday, she came out of the house wearing two coats, several scarves and two handbags draped round her neck.  'To save packing them' as she explained.  Wish I'd had my camera; I could have sent a photo to her sister.

But now she has one last night in her current rented house then it's on to her own home.  Wonderful. 

We've got our priorities right and started a shelf of books, cookery books, in her dining room.  So it already feels like a home. 

Saturday, 27 November 2010

James Agee anniversary

It's my sister's birthday today and I was looking who else was born on this day.  Found James Agee prize winning author of plays and films.

He also wrote the words for one of my favourite songs set to music by Samuel Barber.  'Sure on this shining night'. It makes me want to cry every time I listen to it.  When I took singing lessons a few years ago I tried to sing this so I know how difficult it is to do justice to it even though it sounds very simple.

Thanks to my sister for her love and support and thanks to James Agee for the song. 

Friday, 26 November 2010

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Independent bookshops - update

Finally caught up with reading the Guardian Saturday Travel section.  On the back page some reader recommendations for independent bookshops so I list them here in the hope it may lead some people to them.

Children's Book Centre near Norwich - founder Marilyn Brocklehurst
Scrivener's Bookshop, Buxton
Barter Books, Alnwick
Westwood Books, Sedbergh
Voltaire and Rousseau, Glasgow

Friday, 19 November 2010

Where do you write from?

Today I scanned The Writer's Almanac entry on American poet Sharon Olds.  One comment I noticed was that she felt writing is physical and for her it come from her lungs.

It set me thinking about my own writing and where it comes from.  The logical place especially when writing factual projects is that it comes from my brain.  I'm assessing what needs to be included, checking the accuracy of what I write; in short it all seemed to come from the logical side of my brain.

But that's not entirely the case because even for such projects, I have in mind the end reader as well as my client.  A case in point is the medical preface I worked on yesterday.  While I had to make sure that it was accurate, I had to take into account what the author stated was his goal for the whole piece.  He wanted to get across the outcomes people can achieve for their patients using the techniques he was offering.

When I was working on the piece, I did have in mind the end user of all of the techniques the writer was talking about. It will be someone who is afraid of the disease that seems to be taking over their body.  Not only at the mercy of the disease but also of the medical intervention they need for their condition.

To that extent, the writing came from my heart because I had this picture of the person on the receiving end of the medical procedure I was editing.  Maybe that seems to be far fetched.  I'm not the one with the condition, It's not happening to me and the piece is aimed at the oncologists and technicians who will deal with such people. 

When I think about other projects I've done recently, such as a brochure for a not for profit training organisation I know my emotions were involved.  I interviewed some of the recipients of the training and tried to include their pleasure and satisfaction with the outcomes of the training organisations work on their behalf.

It's difficult for me to detach my emotions completely because I have to become enthused or I can't inject whatever the piece needs to connect to its reader.

Hmm.  Interesting.  I would have said that my emotions were there at the service of the piece but I hadn't so much connected it to writing from my heart.

Any thoughts about your own writing?

Thursday, 18 November 2010

How about a new alphabet

When I was a child, sometimes my Mum would say, I wish they'd invent a new animal.  Post World War II cooking in our neighbourhood seemed restricte though, not because we were short of food.  We had enough food, thanks to living in a farming community and there was always a good amount of sharing between neighbours and different members of the family.  But austerity measure were still in place.  As an aside I remember the buying of the sweet ration every Friday with the red and gold paper of Holland's toffees.

It was more because my mother's cooking had always been straightforward and plain.  And we hadn't reached the sixties then with its explosion of spices and foreign ingredients.  My Mum was in a routine with her cooking and we knew if it was Wednesday it would be some form of pork.

I think of her sometimes when I'm trying to find the right word or expression for a piece of writing.  If I could only stretch the alphabet to conjure up new syllables.  And then today I came across a Dr Seuss quote about start at Z and seeing where you can go from there.

It's easy to get in a routine of how we approach a piece of writing and the phrases we normally use.  I like things that keep me on my toes and yesterday I had to do a preface for a document I'd checked a few weeks ago.  It was a piece written in English by a Frenchman, but translated by him from his French version.

Most of it was comprehensible just stiff in places and suffering from the inevitable dislocation of tenses and sentence arrangement.  Despite the subject matter, which was medical, it was quite fun to do and although the finished version sounded English English rather than French English, I liked some of his dislocations.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Zdenka Fantlova talks to Michael Berkeley

Listened to this programme on Sunday and it made me feel humbled and inspired about the human spirit.  A survivor of two concentration camps, Zdenka Fantlova's attitude to what happened to her as well as her music choices were uplifting.


Tuesday, 16 November 2010

How to connect with your clients: more thoughts

Alongside attending the workshop I've been listening to segments from the Enlightened Business Summit hosted by the Shift Movement.

The Shift Movment has organised several free teleseminars that I've listened to over the last few months.  Of course because it's American based, the majority of the speakers are American but in this last summit there have been representatives from India, the UK.  Listening to a number of teleseminars in a short period can become numbing but it's possible to download the audio which means you have time to reconsider at leisure.

This particular series has been about how to create businesses that are sustainable but working from a purpose greater than merely making profit.  One thing that came up time and again was the question of value for the customer and how to measure the intangible results for them.  It was interesting to hear this echoed at the workshop I wrote about yesterday.

For example the MC for the series Chip Conley is CEO of Joi de Vivre which is a chain of boutique hotels.  He was talking about working out what your company does and how to be successful even in the challenging circumstances we all have, we should ask ourselves the question more than once.

For him, providing accommodation is only the beginning.  Providing a home from home starts to make you think about how you can create a service based on the intangibles of what we need in a night's hotel stay.  As an aside, for me towels are never big enough. 

I can remember reading Stuart Wilde discussing hotels and how to provide service.  He argued that he would build in a cost for all the items that people traditionally liberated from their hotel rooms and how he would positively encourage people to take away bathrobes and towels on the basis that every time someone used them at home it would give them a good feeling about the hotel experience.

Sustaining a business at the moment is tough for many and sustaining your values in the business is even tougher.  Gill Heppell who runs the care company I spoke about yesterday talked about how the hiring process is one of the key indicators for her.  She won't take people with only a care home background because they have become set in their ways of delivering service and what she needs is flexibility.

Many of the people who spoke at the workshop on Friday, talked about how they in their particular sectors felt undervalued.  It's not only the money which of course is important, but being appreciated for the way you work and the effort you put into your job.

Bring it back to writing for business, being valued is an element in thinking about connecting with the customer.  Whatever product or service you provide, if your customer feels undervalued in many of their everyday activities,from work to family to shopping, how can we assure them athey can trust us nd design in care for them in their transactions with us?

Monday, 15 November 2010

How do we connect with our clients?

Spent a fascinating day on Friday at a workshop hosted by Nottingham Trent University Business School.  All about customer service or as was decided by the end of the day customer care.

Perspectives on customer service came from three different sectors:
  1. Retail
  2. Private care sector 
  3. Local authority
On the table where I sat we had representatives from the Probation Service, a call centre, and an academic who also ran a small company.

My interest in going was general at the beginning.  As a writer for business connecting and selling to customers/clients is what it's about for me.  But what came out during the day was how important the relationship now is with the client and how the intangibles of a transaction can be as important as the actual delivery of a product or service.

How you deliver is paramount.

Professer Kay Cassidy who hosted the workshop showed us an example of how an airline dealt badly with a passenger when they damaged his guitar and how they paid when he not only wrote a song about it but publicised it via the social media networks.  The airline saw a dash of cancellations and a drop in their stock market value.  Quite a severe rap on the knuckles.

Whether we like it or not and many companies still don't accept this is the case, the balance of power is shifting.  We're voting not only with our wallents but our opinions.  I recently bought some business cards from Moo and was so pleased with the experience that I've praised them to everybody who now has one of the cards.  Even if those people don't immediately use Moo, they'll certainly remember the name.

Much of what we discussed in the afternoon was about managing people's expectations and being honest about what we can do.  Of course you'll always lose sales to those who are cheaper.  But many people have intangible needs that shopping only by price can't fulfil.  What came across also is that we have different criteria for different goods and services.  As writers and suppliers, that too keeps us on our toes.  We can't assume that if we have two products, our prospective customer is using the same measure to judge them.

It's a challenging market for all of us out there.  The more we can arm ourselves with information and understanding about what our prospects need the more likely we are to get it right.  This was borne out by te success of the care company, established only four years ago but already growing steadily.  That's because their basic stance is to listen to what their clients want, not try to force an already established system on the clients.

Exciting times ahead for those who are prepared to take up the challenge and maybe dismal ones for those who won't change their 'we know what you need' stance.

Friday, 12 November 2010

National Short Story Week

The UK’s first National Short Story Week will take place between Monday 22nd and Sunday 28th of November 2010.

Get involved by reading, listening to, and writing short stories. Find out more on the Short Story Week website. http://nationalshortstoryweek.org.uk/

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Kurt Vonnegut

The Writers Almanac  is featuring the anniversary of Kurt Vonnegut's birthday today.  Quite a long piece for them; it includes his rules for writing a good short story.


Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Sunday, 7 November 2010

How do you cull your books?

Yesterday I spent some time helping a friend pack ahead of a move to a new house.  Exciting for her but since she likes to be organised, the sheer volume of 'stuff' that needs doing for a move is stressing her out.  Hence my offer of help with the packing.

We decided that I could usefully help out packing books.  As long as I knew which ones to pack.  Which then turned into a problem because she couldn't decide what to keep or not.

Which led to me thinking about how to manage a book collection. 

To some extent I guess it depends on your personality.  Unlike my friend, I'm not really a hoarder.  And although I haven't moved in over a decade, I do take a metaphorical scythe so to speak through my books on a regular basis.

Recently I stopped working as a complementary therapist.  So many of the books I collected during the time of my practice, I offered to friends still in the same field.  But I have kept a core selection.  Those I trust most to give me answers to creating oil blends or information about ailments or conditions.

I suppose this approach extends to any type of non-fiction.  Why I bought it in the first place, do I use it on a regular basis or is it good to have around because dipping in when the mood takes me offers me an appropriate thought.

Fiction is more difficult.  Over the years I've bulit up runs of certain authors.  For example, I'll never throw out my Georgette Heyer books.  Yes they're as light as froth on coffee but they make me smile every time and sometimes light froth is all I can deal with.

Classiscs - yes I have some of those but not as many as I used to have.  In my twenties I read like a starving person.  Regardless of author or genre simply pursuing a new experience.  Now I'm more selective and have no desire to read what doesn't suit, even though it might be recommended or lauded by critics.

Having moved enough times in my life I'm more and more refining what I keep or throw out in relation to all kinds of 'stuff'.  After I'd cleared out my dad's house when he died, I'd hate the thought of leaving the decisions and the work to others if I can avoid it.

So what books shall I pass on next I wonder?

Friday, 5 November 2010

Beeston Amnesty meeting 8 November 2010

There will be a Monthly Meeting at Beeston Library, Foster Avenue at 7:30 pm on Monday, 8 November.

Our guest will be Helena Bandoo who will talk about her work with the Women's Friendship Group for Asylum-seekers and Refugees

Amnesty supporters may also be interested in an event on Sunday 21 November, 4:30 - 6 pm, at Round Hill School when Jan Sutch Pickard will report on the situation in Israel and Palestine. See the attached poster for more information.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

How to deal with the review process in writing

Earlier in the year I admitted to my newsletter subscribers that I'd completed a first draft of a novel.

I have to tell you that just admitting this scared the life out of me.  People might call me to account for it!

But I knew I needed outside help with moving on to the next stage so I asked for volunteers to read and give me feedback.  I had one response which I thought was very brave.  I added a few of my friends and ended up with a panel of 6 people.

Over the summer I sent the manuscript out across the country and waited. 

What was I hoping for?  Only one of them was a fellow write; one said she never read critically and the others offered to do their best.

With the manuscript I sent a set of review sheets asking for feeback on specific points; character development, believability, story progression.  From working with clients I know it's always easier for people to have something to check against rather than comment without a context.

What result did I have?

Surprisingly good.  Everyone had very pertinent comments to offer.  Some more critical than others.  Ouch - those took me several days to process and evaluate.  But nobody said it was a complete disaster.  People laughed, (in the right places I hope), recognised situations they had experienced and could relate to and in one instance, one volunteer cried.

Then came the tough bit.  I had to change things.  Some were small details, others major structural changes.

Hmm... took a bit of thinking about.  I sat on the fence, very uncomfortable, for almost a month while I let the creative soup bubble and rumble inside.

Then I woke up one day knowing at least where I could start.  And I began with some real enthusaism again to see how I could improve it. 

Progress to date?

I've reworked the first fifty pages, some of which I've now sent for professional critique via Writing East Midllands.  If it doesn't wing back in the next three weeks then I'll know it's gone for critique and I'll have to wait for another two months.

What do I hope from the critique?

I'm not expecting to be told it's a best seller... though wouldn't that be wonderful!   What I want is to find out is how close I am to having a decent draft and synopsis.  Am I really close and with some more application I can have something worthy of submission to an agent?

Or terrible thought but I have to be pragmatic, do I have to go back to the drawing, or writing board and begin again.

Whichever it is, I'd rather know.  That way I can do something about it.  Making assumptions is dangerous in acquairing any skill.  I remember how tough my tuutors were on my business writing course and the amount of time I investted in improving.  But a balanced, fair review procress against defined criteria worked that time for me.

What else did I learn from the process so far?

That I have some wonderful friends who put themselves in the line of fire for me... and we're still friends.
That people will read into your words things that aren't there.  One of my readers enthused about one section because it reflected something she  had done.  So whatever comes out of a writer's head will collide with the reader's experience and create reactions you never intneded.
That I'm a stronger person for giving it a go.  Even if this novel in the end is only for my benefit, then any future ones will be stronger because of it.

And the most important thing I've learned is I now have even more sympathy for the writers I mentor.