Always telling stories

I have always loved telling stories. From telling anecdotes of terrible customers at work to writing out fantastical ideas that I always dream of doing something with one day to share them with the world. There’s just something so incredible of creating a world in your head, of thinking up characters and descriptions that exist only in your imagination. There’s something special about that infinite space, and then looking at either a blank notebook or a blank word document with the cursor blinking, full of possibilities. Seeing the physical evidence of someone’s creativity is always astounding, but with books it’s even more so as the only materials the writer used were a combination of 26 letters. It’s probably why I love reading fantasy, just to see how other writer’s minds work and the things that they can imagine and create, see where they’ve been inspired and how they, in turn, can inspire me.

I’ve known that I want to one day write books for a very, very long time. In past posts I’ve gone into detail about some of my ‘early’ work, which included a very short play which was essentially Scooby Doo with a retriever (there was a graveyard, a vampire, and a witch), along with two pieces of fiction, a duology if you will, that was inspired by my seven-year-old-self’s crush who ended up moving to another country, which is what the second book deals with. Such heartbreak at such a young age, but if I remember correctly the only reason I liked him was because he was a fast runner, which probably isn’t the best thing to start a relationship for.

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So clearly I had a love for stories and imaginations as a child, but when thinking back I remember all the ways I loved stories. It seems child-me didn’t quite understand the very important difference between telling something as a story and telling a story as if it were a truth. AKA child-me lied about a lot of things, but didn’t think of them as lies, more as ‘stories’.

When I think back, a few of these little ‘stories’ come to mind, all that occurred in primary school up to the age of about nine or ten. There are minor ones, such as telling a girl that I had seen a unicorn or a friend that I had been taken from a tribe of magical warriors (though that one I blame on my brother, who I distinctly remember telling me that I was adopted in probably the most imaginative tale ever, which included our parents travelling to a tribe in the wilderness and doing some ritual in order to get me). But the one that spiralled entirely out of control, and which still makes me smile to this day, was the story that my cat had had kittens.

My cat, of course, hadn’t had kittens. Bundle was, in fact, neutered, and so would never have kittens ever, but little me (I’m pretty sure I was in Reception or Year One, so maybe five or six years old) really liked the idea of my cat having kittens. So much so, that I imagined how great it would be if Bundle had actually had kittens. All I can remember is telling a few of my friends and perhaps even my teacher, the ever-wonderful Mrs Hill – she was involved in another one of my story-related obsessions, in which I took home a lot of books from the school library, but didn’t want to give them back, and so soon collected a box-full of books, which my Mum discovered, but luckily Mrs Hill didn’t tell me off. Apparently stealing is not ok, but when it could demonstrate a child’s love of reading there isn’t much of a punishment.

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Back to the cat. So all I remember is telling a few people that my cat had had kittens, the dream of any five-maybe-six year old girl. After that I don’t remember much at all, apart from what I’ve since been told by my Mum and brother. Apparently the news of kittens spread through the primary school like wildfire, a primary school that my older brother still attended at this time, possibly in his final year there before secondary school. He found out about our cat supposedly having kittens when one of his friends asked if the kittens were for sale. Next thing I know, my Mum is telling me that it’s wrong to lie after people kept enquiring after our kittens. I’m pretty sure little-me was as confused as everyone else – I mean, after all, it had been a story, and was it really my fault that other people couldn’t recognise such excellent creativity and imagination?

It’s safe to say that the story-telling, or ‘lying’ as others called it, died down after that, and by the time I reached secondary school I understood the importance of clarifying to the mere mortals when I was telling a story.

My only regret? That I threw away the original manuscripts for those two books I wrote about my heartbreak over this boy. Man, would I love to be able to read them now. That would be some serious entertainment right there – though I seem to remember in the second one that he moved to Australia and was bitten by a black widow spider, because apparently little-me was a spiteful so-and-so.

 

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NaNoWriMo 2016

Last year I did something crazy, and that was signing up to NaNoWriMo saying that I was going to write a whole novel in a month. For those new to the concept, National Novel Writing Month has been running for several years now, pushed on by its loyal and growing community of crazy wannabe writers who attempt this ridiculous, but wonderful, challenge. If you’re interested in my experience, check out my blog post on it.

What I loved about NaNo was the encouragement to just sit down and make time to write every single day. The focus was not on writing a masterpiece, it was on writing those one thousand, six hundred and something words a day. It wasn’t about going back over what you’d written previously and editing it until it was somewhat satisfactory. It was about reaching that target, whether you had planned out a story from start to end or you were just making it up as you went along (I was the latter half). Instead of spending ages staring at one sentence because it didn’t feel quite right, or looking up synonyms for words, or scrolling through baby name websites for that perfect name (all of which I frequently do), I simply sat down and wrote. Who cares if my sentence uses the same word twice or the language is a bit simplistic or if I call my main character John Smith? Creating a word of genius wasn’t the point of NaNo, and I loved that more than anything. It takes the pressure off of you, and brings you back to the core reason for doing this in the first place – the sheer love of writing and storytelling.

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As soon as November ended last year, I said I couldn’t wait until next year. That feeling hasn’t changed – I am desperate to get back to that mindset of just writing whenever I can, and making the time to do it. Yet last year I made the joke that, despite having several essays, I was going to take on the challenge. It seems that this year, my final year of university, the deadlines I have for the next month, let alone the next year, are too many to manage alongside NaNo.

It is so with a very heavy heart, I’m announcing that I will not be participating in NaNo 2017. Writing 50,000 words for fun is just not going to be possible alongside dissertation reading/planning/writing, midterm assignments, reading for modules – you get the idea. Although it would be very easy for everyone to come up with an excuse for why they don’t have the time to write a novel in a month (I’d be concerned if you thought you had lots of time to get that done with no issues), for me it’s the added stress and pressure from doing well in my final year of university. I know that if I decide to take on NaNo, it will become something that it isn’t supposed to be – a source of stress, anxiety, and just plain not fun. And I don’t want writing to become that. I need writing as my outlet (Exhibit A: what you’re reading now. Exhibit B: the fact I have two blogs. TWO. As if managing one wasn’t enough).

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However, it isn’t all bad news. Instead of completely abandoning all hope of NaNo, I’ve decided to revisit what I wrote last year – which I still quite like, and have since had many ideas on how to extend and improve it, including a follow up novel – I’m ambitious (read: hopeful). Instead of writing a completely new novel, I’m going to go back to last year’s attempt and try to rework it. This includes changing the voice of the book, which was originally written in first person and, because I’ve had an idea, I’m going to change it to third person. I’m also going to change certain characters, certain scenes that I rushed through to reach the word count, and basically do everything that NaNo doesn’t. I’m going to edit, polish, tidy up all those terrible sentences, and hopefully create something I’m truly proud of.

NaNo 2016 forced me into writing a novel idea that I loved within a month. This year, I’m going to take that novel and make it shine. Or, at least, I’m going to try. Uni might be a hell of a lot more work this year, but it isn’t going to stop me from writing. Or, well, editing, I suppose.

On Being Happy: WORDS

I was tempted to write about writing, or about books, and I probably will go into those two subjects in more detail later on (and if you’re desperate to read more about books, then head over to my other blog alwayslovetoreadalot). But I decided let’s go to the heart of the matter and what makes up literature: words.

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To mark the anniversary of 400 years since Shakespeare’s death, I attended a late night at the British Library and although we were celebrating the great bard, one particular phrase that caught my attention was ‘a love of words’. Because really, I have a serious love for words. The idea that a combination of words helps you tell stories is just fascinating when you take a step back from it all, and, really, we tell stories every time someone sings, writes a book, speaks to a friend – the list just goes on.

I adore stories, hence my love for books, but I love telling stories, hence my dream of being an author. Even day-to-day anecdotes are fantastic: setting the scene, raising the tension, hitting the punchline, and wrapping everything up in a satisfying package. We’ve told stories since the first human being spoke, and we haven’t stopped since.

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I started writing down some of my favourite words since reading A Little Life by Hanya Yanigahara (which, if you haven’t read by now, you really should). She packed that book with so many beautiful words that just fit so perfectly into her narrative that I’m pretty sure it gives euphoria to every word-lover out there. So now it’s time for a truly exciting blog post where I tell you my favourite words. I can practically feel your excitement from here.

First of: Specificities. Just say it aloud. Specificities. Now if that isn’t a fun word to say, I don’t know what is. All that sibilance is just, ah, so spectacular.

Ceaselessly. Oh yeah, more ‘ss’ sounds. It also reminds me of Great Gatsby, so what’s not to love?

Whimsical. I like how on the ‘whim’ you get a small smile on your face. It also has that beautiful arc, like going over a hill – up for the ‘whim’ and back down again from ‘sical’. Music in words, people, it exists and it’s beautiful. Feel the beauty.

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Placidly is another, and I’m pretty sure I just like these words because they’re fun to say. With the end of this one, there are just too many letters to sound out. The ‘ss’ sound, the emphasis on the ‘d’ sound, and then the ‘ly’. Such fun.

Taint. Don’t ask me why. I think it’s something to do with the overlapping ‘t’ sound.

Thither. Swivel. Discombobulated. There are just so many words. And I love them all.

I think it’s also safe to say that essay and exam season is making my brain slowly melt, until I’m just a mess of a human blathering on about words and how fun they are to say. Here’s hoping for better content come June.

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But seriously, what are your favourite words? Don’t be shy, we’re all non-judgemental here. I’m hoping anyone who can read to the end of this post isn’t judgemental at all. (Please don’t judge me)

On Being Happy: Writing

If you don’t already know by now that I like to write, you probably haven’t noticed the title of the blog and accidentally found yourself here wondering what to do next. (My advice is to subscribe, leave a like and a comment, then have a wonderful rest of day)

Writing is my passion, no surprise there, and so it’s not a shock to discover that writing makes me ridiculously happy. There’s nothing quite like being able to create something out of nothing, which is probably why I’m so envious of people who can paint and draw with ease. Writing is my equivalent to painting some gorgeous landscape. It’s the only way that I can kind of call myself an ‘artist’.

I’m not exactly sure when I discovered this love, but I do remember writing a ‘play’ when I was really young – we’re talking maybe 7 years old or so – that sort of resembled a very bad adaptation of Scooby Doo. All I can remember is a group of friends (and their dog) going to a graveyard, finding a man who suddenly became a vampire, then a witch showing up, and finally the dog saving the day. Believing it to be a masterpiece, I then insisted on the neighbour’s children acting it out in front of the family.

Another memory is of my first ‘crush’, if you can even call it that. I remember thinking that a boy in my class was really cool because he was the fastest runner out of everyone – clearly I had very high standards. He then moved to another country, so with that emotional experience behind me I decided to write my first novel all about it and it ended with me going to Australia (although I can’t actually remember if that was actually where his family moved to or if it was just because I always wanted to go there thanks to Finding Nemo). I even wrote a sequel, where I was bitten by a black widow spider, decided that in my final days I didn’t like this boy all that much, and then after that everything gets a bit hazy. I’m pretty sure I don’t kill myself off in the end, so I’m pretty interested to see if that manuscript ever makes a reappearance.

I wrote stories all through secondary school, which varied from moderately ok to spectacularly bad. I remember in year nine, when I was about thirteen or fourteen, my school had a little short story competition. My best friend and I so started writing what we that was an amazing story, where we wrote the opening scene. It started off with a girl on a motorbike, charging somewhere to save the day, and her female guardian angel is also there and basically they just kick arse. We were so proud of this, but annoyed when we submitted it that we never heard back – I think it’s because so few people actually went for it. Nevertheless, my friend and I decided that this idea was to good to let go, so for the next few years at school, we would go to the school computers in our lunchtimes and write this incredible story. We had writing sessions at each other’s houses, thinking we were creative geniuses, and wrote in hilarious lines and scenes. I think I even tried to write a song when I went through my ‘I can’t sing that well so instead I’m going to be a songwriter’ phase. Our book had everything: two kick arse female leads (because what with Twilight, the usual heroine in books didn’t do that much arse-kicking), a few guardian angels because who doesn’t like a bit of supernatural, and two beautiful male love interests because hello we were hormonal teenage girls. I think our twist was that these two guys, similarly one human and one guardian angel because there were no inter-species relations in our book, were actually the bad guys and the girls end up kicking their arses too because they don’t need no men in their lives. It was a good time. We even had such beautiful descriptions, one that I remember to this day. ‘The hospital smelled of soap and rubber’. Pure poetry.

Going back and reading some of the things I wrote is at once completely embarrassing and wonderful. I have one unfinished book (because although I have over 170 files of different book ideas, I very rarely finished one) where I essentially took all of the books I recently read and changed them. It included TwilightThe Vampire Diaries, and the House of Night series. From what I remember, I essentially created a new female character (modelled after yours truly) who travels through these different story worlds and basically puts all the female leads to shame, telling them to ‘grow some balls’ (yes, I know, I actually wrote that) and beat the bad guys themselves. No attractive male vampire to save the day, the human girls were going to do it. You can probably tell that I had a bit of a thing for female leads basically bossing every scenario. I’m pretty sure it’s because Kim Possible was my idol.

And now I still write story after story, jotting down every idea that I have even though 95% of the time they’re absolute crap. Despite that, I’m still going and hopefully one day I’ll be able to write for a living. This year, despite I’m busier than ever, I’ve decided to participate in ‘NaNoWriMo’ – National Novel Writing Month, where you try to write a novel in a month. To ‘win’, you have to reach 50,000 words, but that isn’t my goal. As always, I strive to make sure that writing never becomes a chore for me, so instead my goal is to have fun, try and write as much as I can, and not get stressed out when I don’t hit the word count because I have several assignments for university to finish and even more books to make a start on.

If you’re interested in NaNo, then you should definitely check out their website: nanowrimo.org/

And If you’re already on NaNo, then be sure to add me as a writing buddy! Of course, my username is ‘Stammydodger’.

Anyway, I hope you’re all having a wonderful day and feel free to leave a comment down below – preferably something to do with this post, but at this point anything will do. Catch you next time!

Lions, and Tigers, and Bears – oh my!

You could literally write a book for every family filled with a collection of their stories, from things grandparents say about modern technology to that time when the child mistook rabbit poo for chocolate. Today I want to share one of my favourite stories from my family, about my Mum and her second student accommodation.

My Mum studied music at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, with an interesting opening few weeks. In fact, she lasted only three weeks at the halls of residence when her course mate upset the kitchen staff (the line ‘this shit is inedible’ was mentioned) which led to them being banished. They then went on a search and found a couple of rooms to rent within a family’s home, but it wasn’t exactly ordinary. 

The landlords of the house were friends with the owners of Bell Vue zoo, and so they were the ones who usually took in animals after they were rejected by their parents. This meant that, when my Mum moved in, there was a lion, two tigers, three afghan hounds, a seventy-year-old man, and a baby.

A fantastic and almost unbelievable setting, this was the place were a couple first-year students lived. The lion apparently loved going out in the car, so they would plonk him on the front seat and go driving – stopping at zebra crossings were the best part of the journey, as the reactions from people all around them were hilarious. Another time when someone came to fix the oven and walked through the sitting room to say hello, only to encounter the lion spread across the sofa who let out a roar at the stranger. The tigers apparently had a game that they liked to play with them in the garden, where one of them would distract the two of them as the other stalked them. 

The story ends when the lion had to go back to the zoo as, although he was relatively young, he was very big. Unfortunately he was too tame to go into the enclosure with the other lions, so had to go into a cage on his own. My Mum and her friend stayed for a year and left when there were a few leopards and the baby-turned-toddler.

If that happened today, it would no doubt be a viral hit on buzzfeed with photos being shared all over the internet. A few people have even rolled their eyes at the story, probably muttering to friends later on that it couldn’t possibly be true. When you get down to it, it’s ridiculous to think about all of these stories that everyone has – so I’m making it my goal to find out as many as possible. Talk about great inspiration fodder.