The End of One Thing, Can be the Beginning of Another...
I'm a firm believer in cycles...not bicycles, but the intrinsic up and down of nature and of our lives. This pandemic has been and will continue to be very difficult for humans on this planet. We have globally experienced something that has affected all of our lives. Some days, I regret reading the news, and other days I feel hopeful.
This blog is about endings and also the hope that follows. The renewal of life and energy. I'm going to write a little about chatting with Flora Burns, the Chair of the Peter Pan Moat Brae Trust and the ideas I have for a particular story. Then I will talk a little about having my last mentoring session as a mentor with my mentee Lui Sit and post Lui's lovely testimonial of our time working together.
I was unfortunate not to be able to make it to the Wild Goose Festival during the Scottish half term. We had to self isolate as someone in my child's class tested positive for the dreaded C-19. I don't know if we were lucky or unlucky that it coincided with our half term break. The morning we got the call from school I was online looking at day trips we could take and planning my nature workshop. But as I said, life is up and down, and we couldn't go anywhere at all over the half term. As a family we returned to isolationist mode. We painted communal hallways, had a troubling weekend when another resident decided to ignore the rules and have a house party and I had to tend with an anxious child who couldn't sleep again.
However, the week before I did managed to have a lovely conversation with Flora from Peter Pan Moat Brae about some of the interviews she had undertaken to learn more about the people who had worked in the building, when it was used as a private nursing home and hospital. I loved the different personalities coming through whilst reading the transcripts. One fellow, he was very young when he worked on taking down the blackout boards from the windows of the house, but what he kept going back to in his recollection was his memories of being in the army. I was amazed that he once cycled from Scotland to London! What a journey that would have been! Another was a kind of auxiliary nurse, having no formal training, but wanting a step up on the career path of being a full-time trained nurse. The house itself changed over time depending on the uses of the occupants. I think that it was likely that many people passed away there as many older patients were looked after there. My writer's mind immediately wonders about ghosts of residents past.
I have an idea for a story that now has more shape after talking to Flora. She was a fountain of knowledge and had intricate detail about the goings on at Moat Brae over the decades.
Now I have finished the short film script for Sharp Shorts and many of my book projects have come to an end in some ways (I need to write some new books though!), I feel excited about the creative time during the next six months. I have some time to make up new stories and tinker with old ideas. It's the most fun part of being a writer for me. Editing does, I admit, make a rough piece, a diamond in the end. But coming up with new characters and plot lines is the part that excites me the most. Some writers call this part 'drafting'. I like to write fast and get out of my mind 'a draft zero' there are other names for it too, such as a vomit draft, draft one, crappy draft, rubbish draft, etc. But it's the clay that needs molding later.
My idea has some magic in it, time travel (very new - as I've never written anything with time travel) and in my mind will be influenced by Diane Wynne Jones' Howl's Moving Castle and Susan Cooper's The Dark Rising. Both books are very different to what I usually write but I am trying to experiment and tell different kinds of stories.
I'd like to say a big THANK YOU to Flora from Moat Brae for taking time out of her day to chat with me. And I can't wait to play with words and see where it takes me.
BESEA Mentoring Comes to an End
I have been working with Lui Sit on her middle grade novel since May last year. One of the things that struck me about Lui's book was her protagonists voice. I loved her from the first page. She reminded me of Pippy Longstocking or Annie, a strong outspoken girl, who perhaps has to contend with issues not in her control, but all she really wants is to be happy and have adventures. As I've mentioned in previous blogs, I've been mentored (and I am still being mentored now in screenwriting) and it's one of the best ways to grow as a writer if you have someone that you get on with and who gets your work. Part of my role was editorial, I read everything Lui sent to me and gave my opinion on things like characterisation, pace, plot and structure. Lui then decided to make changes to not. It was her book and as I am not her publisher, she wasn't beholden to listen to my advice. I also advised on getting an agent, writing her submission package and other professional development things such as her author persona. I wish Lui and her wonderful manuscript all the best wishes and would like to share what Lui wrote about her time working with me. I've thoroughly enjoyed our chats and will definitely stay in touch with Lui and monitor her journey.
TESTIMONIAL FROM LUI SIT - MENTEE 2019-2020
Several years ago, I was at loss about what to do with my middle grade manuscript. I had been on multiple courses, workshops, writing schemes with it and was at a point where I felt very confused about all the advice I had been given. In all that time, no-one had seen the full draft, only chapters and it was a case of ‘too many cooks.’ In my inexperience as a first-time children’s novelist, I had embraced all feedback and found myself with a draft that wasn’t working but didn’t quite know how to get it over the hump to the next stage. Instinctively, I felt I needed help from one person who would read the whole thing, see what I was trying to do and hang around for awhile to help me out as I tried to make it work.
Fortunately, I was a member of the Bubble Tea Writers on Facebook, a group set up by Maisie Chan for British East Asian creatives to support one another and inform about opportunities. Maisie posted that she was offering a free one-year mentorship for a British East Asian MG author. Quicksmart, I sent off my application pronto and was chosen!
Fairy god people come in many packages and Maisie arrived with warmth, a can- do attitude and practical advice about what steps I needed to take to push my story to the next level. She read all the versions of the story up to that point and provided me with valuable feedback. She articulated issues with the story that needed work and provided manageable suggestions of how to approach tackling them. She took into account my reality as a working mum and that writing had to happen alongside this, not in some magical bubble. Over our time together, she kept pushing me (gently), setting me deadlines and always told me the truth about my work whilst championing me as a writer and my story. She generously extended the one-year mentorship as COVID hit and gave me a further six months of her time. After 18 months of mentorship, my story is now in much better shape and I feel a confidence about taking it forward to the final stages. I am so thankful to Maisie for her support at critical time for the story and for myself as am emerging writer. Her generosity, belief and experience were crucial to my development and I consider myself very fortunate to have been taken under her wing. I look forward to championing her as she did me and know that I now have a wonderful writing friend to shoot the breeze with in years to come.
As we head into darker and colder months, I urge you to think ahead now. I am planning to hunker down and look inwards and find gratitude in the small things like having a movie night, being able to snuggle in bed and read a good book. It's not going to be easy, but I know it's not forever and I tell myself 'this too shall pass'.
Stay well and stay safe.