How I get new ideas…

Lately I’ve been asked how I get ideas for stories, so I actually sat down and thought about it… I drew a blank. I don’t know – they just happen. So I thought instead of trying to explain I’d just tell you how I got one idea.

I saw an ant.

Just the one but it made me think of the garden in the house we lived in during the 1980’s. In the back was a huge greenhouse and on one side was a red ant nest, on the other a black ant nest. They often fought.

The Romans also fought a bit like ants – all together like a hive mind (with me so far?). I saw Gladiator a little while ago. The hero’s name sounded like Glutinous Maximus.

Glutinous Maximus is the largest muscle in your backside. The hero played by Russel Crowe saved a country but lost his life.

The ants lost their lives when mum poured boiling water into the cracks they crawled out of.

10, 000 years ago there was an ice dam across the USA and the central part was an inland sea. It broke and flooded.

People at the time were living in the english channel which was a lush delta.

Archaeological evidence shows people literally abandoned their homes and ran…


The story is…

About 10, 000 years ago a man called Butt is part of a tribe on a river delta when the valley they live in starts to flood. He has to organise the whole tribe to leave as the water continues its relentless crawl toward their locations and beyond.


Wednesday 21st November 2012

Radio… Who knew. I know I didn’t… Before the lesson I actually listened to one whole play – yah I know I’m a philistine not to have listened more. But it’s just creative writing was never even on my radar as something I could do, or even enjoy in any other form than books. Now of course I know different and I get to have a go. It’s like someone has just given me a box of chocolates, all brand new flavours and said – go on dig in!

So I am.

Sound is a big thing with radio – duh! You may say – stating the obvious. But I hadn’t realised just what it would mean to basically remove all the sense of your audience except sound. Everything you write has to ‘show’ the audience through sound. Easy I thought! Dialogue! Okay that’s fine except that how do people meet. You can’t give a nice long visual of two people gradually walking toward each other, so how do you do it with sound?

Are they outside? Yes? Okay – is it summer? No… Are you inland? Yes… What time of day/night is it? Eleven pm.

Okay easy to go and experience just listen at 11pm tonight. And I mean listen. Put your hands in your pockets and close your eyes. Now you are a radio audience – ignore any wind or rain. What do you hear? Have the leaves fallen? Can you hear an owl? If someone walks toward you what do they sound like?

AND it goes on. Brilliant! So many questions are triggered from simply taking away so much in writing for radio. I love it. Because it’s like nothing I’ve ever written it was liberating and stressful at the same time.

I have got to tell you about this piece we read – This gun that I Have in My Right Hand is Loaded by Timothy West. As a class we laughed so much and it is excellent on teaching you how to layout a play and what to put in it – by being the worst radio play ever. Not that it’s badly written but that it tells and does not show.

One line near the end is:

LAURA: (blushing) Thank you, Inspector.

😀 Blushing… How do you make an actor sound blushed… Fantastic! If you can find a copy then read it – or better yet get a group together and act it.

I’ve found the play via mp3 download so:

Scene 1

Scene 2

Scene 3

Scene 4

Scene 5

Scene 6

But see if you can get a copy of the script to read at the same time.


Wednesday 14th November 2012
It was an odd day and I felt slightly off kilter. I’d planned on working on toys for the morning but, due to a computer glitch, ended up gazing at a screen till it was time to rush off to my lecture. So by the time I got there I was nurturing the beginning of a migraine and feeling fairly sorry for myself… So sorry in fact that I went into the coffee shop and bought a massive hot chocolate and some ginger cookies. On the pretense, of course, that chocolate is good for the soul (unfortunately not for my ample frame) and that ginger is a painkiller. I must admit my migraine-to-be was gone an hour later, but that could have been the painkillers I’d taken and not the calorie overload. Mmmmm – whipped cream!

Anyway I’d written this story, and it was turning into some HUGE undertaking so I decided to just read out a bit – like half the first chapter and apart from my use of -ing words (there were a lot) everyone liked it… BUT not as a story but as a movie script! What! I’ve never even written a screenplay so how the hell had I managed to write a script? No idea but I left it a day and looked over it – and they were right it is a movie script. So I’m reading up on them and working on my little disaster movie.

The afternoon session, oddly, was about theatre writing and I thought I’d take you through the exercise I did because it actually produced some great speeches. Okay so what you want to produce at the end is a speech that is central to the play, which for us was about revenge… any type of revenge.

So first write down eleven things (this is my list):

stone, dragon, cloth, egg, jasper, water, mud, car, t-shirt, cat, book

Then six colours:

red, yellow, heliotrope (thought I was being clever with this one!), green, brown, scarlet

And lastly five feelings:

pain, fear, love, happiness, loneliness

And put all the words into alphabetical order (this actually took me a while as I don’t know it except via the song – it got sung a lot in that lecture… I’d like to say that I only sung it in my head… but…)

book, brown, car, cat, cloth, dragon, egg. fear, green, happiness, heliotrope, jasper, loneliness, love, mud, pain, red, scarlet, stone, t-shirt, water, yellow.

Now write a speech on revenge using these words IN ORDER!

By now I’m regretting heliotrope!

So this is what I came up with – remember to read it out as it is meant to be a script.

I suppose I ought not to have been surprised, really. I shouldn’t, after all you practically wrote me a story, hell it could have been a book, and no doubt it would have been a brown leather-bound one with gold inlay. I understand that when you got in the car you never saw the cat, but really! I mean. You just happened to be looking between the seats for that cloth dragon. I never really understood why you bought Bill that god awful toy with it’s little egg cushion. I know that you were afraid of the screaming for the whole of the journey as your son turned mottled green from lack of oxygen. You just wanted a happy trip, all pinks, purples, and even sodding heliotrope… Except that you caught sight of that bracelet you’d lost, the one with the jasper centre and I know it was given by him, and yes you miss him and sometimes the loneliness is just too overwhelming, but still at least you’ve been loved.

Tried to get it, didn’t you, as it nestled under the seat and all you achieved was mud on your hand. Did your foot slip? Did you even feel the pain you caused? A child’s toy and a bracelet, they ought to have been dipped in red and scarlet because that’s what you did. And then to just get out of the car and kick it aside, is your heart made of stone? The only stain you got that day was when you cleaned your hand on your t-shirt. Well your soul is tainted! I see that no water can cleanse you, you are nothing more than a yellow coward without the decency to let me know. Two weeks later you tell me, two weeks of searching, two weeks lost. Yes, I would say you owe me…

Needs Assessment

Friday 9th November 2012

Well I have had my Needs Assessment top-up which, for those of you who don’t know, is when the student support analyse what you need to keep pace with everyone else.

So what was the verdict?

  • Well luckily they have upped the amount of time I get with a support worker checking my spelling etc. I already get an hour but that’s only enough time to look through half of what I’m producing at the moment. There is smoke coming off this keyboard!
  • I also get 2 hours with an organiser and support person, but this is more to keep the anxiety levels down. I do get extreme reactions, one of which is that after a lecture I can feel that I’m just not good enough and unless I can talk it through it can hang around like some murky cloud.
  • I will also be getting some technical equipment – a computer, printer etc and a dictaphone. No more missing lecture notes – it’s the author names I never catch or if I catch them I can’t spell them, then when I look back I can’t read what I wrote.
  • I’m getting two bits of software as well:
  1. Dragon Naturally Speak – thank goodness! I can’t type. In fact it is the worst thing that I can do. If I look at the page, the screen and the keyboard I just get lost. So I’m forever trying to find my place. It means that 1000 words can take 3 hours to type. BUT dragon will let me tell my computer the story and it will type. Hopefully I will catch up with the work and not have a stack of stories waiting to be typed up. The assessor (a really nice woman called Sarah) also said that I can plug-in my dictaphone and it will type up the lecture! Wow!
  2. Inspiration – this is a clever bit of software… It allows you to work on a mind map and then transfers it into a list that automatically becomes a plan for your story. For someone who can sometimes write the story but not necessarily in the right order, it’s great.

So with this help I should be able to stop running around like a headless chicken trying to juggle stories and get them ready on time (and not half an hour before the lecture is about to start). The down side is that I can see this taking a month or so to set up, but at least it will be there to help for the next term, which is even heavier on the assignments than this!


The Dylan Thomas Prize

7th November 2012

Well, technically this is a reading week but we were lucky enough to have two of the Dylan Thomas Prize shortlisted authors visit and discuss their writing processes. Their books were brilliant and although I have my favourite, they both sounded great from the extracts that were read out.

The first was:

Andrea Eames: The White Shadow

Eames was born in England but grew up in Zimbabwe, where her first two novels are set. There she attended Jewish, Hindu, American and Catholic schools, and her family moved to New Zealand when she was 17 to escape the turbulent political situation. There, she met her now husband, whom she married in 2007. They have now moved to Austin Texas. She wrote her first novel at 15 in England, where she had been sent to live with family to avoid the escalating violence in Zimbabwe, and it was published in Zimbabwe. Her Masters project at Canterbury became her first ‘real’ novel, The Cry of the Go Away Bird. The White Shadow is her second.

Oddly her style of organising and writing was something that I understood. Andrea wrote the first 10000 words very quickly by just copying what her character was saying. Anyone who writes will be able to tell you that sometimes a character can get loud and brash, and drown out other stories, so much so that the only way to get rid of them is to exorcise them onto paper. This is what Andrea did (or at least what I think she did based on her talk). She then cut the sentences up and arranged them in a scrapbook to create an order – now this is something I do. Because of the dyslexia sometimes stories are not necessarily in the right order which means a bit of manual chopping is required. I actually make a really long document (the longest was 20 feet) and then start at the beginning and do a rewrite.

The second to talk was:

Tom Benn: The Doll Princess

Tom Benn was born in 1987, and grew up in Stockport. He is a graduate of UEA’s Creative Writing MA programme, and was the recipient of the Malcolm Bradbury bursary. The Doll Princess is his first novel, and has been longlisted for the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger of the Crime Writers Association and shortlisted for the Portico Prize. Now living in Norwich, his sequel entitled Chamber Music will be published early next year, and has been described by his publisher as ‘an electrifying noir novel about lost loves, stolen drugs and dragons’.

Tom’s style is much more precise, he even acknowledges that he will count syllables so that the sentence, paragraph, page sounds right. He is what I can only describe as a musical writer. His book flowed as the character he used was one he had created whilst still at university, so he knew how he was going to react to a given situation. I suppose it must have been like writing about an old friend. Tom had known the general story for his book and started writing it with a vague idea but he didn’t know who had committed the murder. I plan my stories well but allow characters to go off at tangents. To not know where you are going makes Tom a brave writer.

The winner of the prize was announced Friday. Unfortunately neither of these authors won, but I hope they each have success as their books are good.

The Kangaroo Hat

So I thought I’d just quickly post this poem. Last year it got me 3rd prize in the Book Day competition at Aberystwyth and although it hasn’t been published I am not certain I can use it for anything but a collection. So enjoy!

The Kangaroo Hat

Once I would have jumped and eaten and loved,

Now I sit.

Dust gathers and sunlight allows motes to gather.

They come with cloths and wipe me down

Brim and top.

Plain and black

No crocodile skin or corks

But plain kangaroo,

Made for weather and for work,

I will shield my wearer from all.


The shop opens and people come.

One stops, lifts me and tries me.

I am brought.

How lucky am I?


I travel to a farm;

Sheep and horses, dust and dirt.

A good place to work.

But no, in a box,

Wrapped and labelled.

Sent away.


On airplanes and boats, the box travels with me inside.

I am battered and bruised.

The box is torn

Until I arrive

A doorbell is rung and people exclaim.

I am placed atop a table.

A knife is taken to my casing.

My shield is no more

I sit naked and in black splendour.

This is not the place I left.


No dust and no dirt.

Mud here is sticky and cloying.

Water falls in incessant streams.

I am on the other side of the world

But wait! I am tried on.


I transform my wearer

From husband and father, to farmer and workman.

I am taken outside.

I work, I shield.

I see my purpose.

In fields and paddocks I spy sheep.

No horses, but a farm.

I use myself to spare my wearer rain and shine.

Soon we are one.

As he moves so do I.

I am a hat, and I have purpose.


A long way from home yet I do the same job.

In time I am worn.

Old and tired,

But my wearer takes care of me, he shields me.

Wax and stitches all used

Until I sit astride his head

Once more a hat,

No longer what I was but

Still able to work.

Stains mar my surface

But I am loved

A gift from son to father.

Poetry that I can actually manage!

31st October 2012

It was Halloween and the spooks were out! Actually all that happened was that we had to close the window as the students going to the union party got a little loud. My lectures are held in the afternoon and evening, which does make for a dark walk back to the car but I find it peaceful.

So this post is late… Sorry. I got overwhelmed with toys (being a toymaker) and essays and found that I couldn’t do everything… Oops!

What did we study on the 31st? well it had to be freeform poetry and, here’s the surprise, I think I can actually manage it. It was a shock, especially after the disaster that was the sonnet.

Except is poetry really poetry when it doesn’t rhyme? I think so but sometimes I am uncertain. I have also found a love – narrative and epic poetry. Wow! And I really do mean wow! It’s just like a story with a very strong narrative but told through images and clever dialogue. Actually I find it hard to explain so rather than put a load of links to other poets I thought I’d just post something I’ve done myself. Now, it is just one stanza as I don’t want to inhibit myself putting it into a competition but here goes…

You have never seen darkness

until you have spent the night on a small boat

in the middle of the sea.

The water is inky black

and moves sinuously like a snake

caught under a sheet of midnight.

White peaks contrast to the blackness of the water.

My version of a narrative poem and I loved writing it. And for once the dyslexia did not get in the way. I mean, sure, I had to do a spell check and the poetry is a little wordy but once I have got another draft done I’m sure it will ne fine. So this is a huge thank you to Menna for showing me just how good poetry really is.