Cynthea Gregory

Showing, not Telling

June 2024

This month, I was asked to lead the local Writers’ Group. I opted to spend the time thinking about ‘Show and Tell’ in fiction writing, as it is something that is not always well understood by amateur writers.

 

I based the session on the information in Ronni Browne and Dave King’s book ‘Self-Editing for Fiction Writers’; a book I’ve used as a reference for several years. We started by analysing the difference between the ‘Dickens-style’ narrating of a scene from Virginia Baily’ ‘Africa Junction’ and compared it to what she actually wrote.

Telling Example

Adele slept badly that night. Her son kept her awake by talking in his sleep. She tried to comfort him; but the following morning her son had forgotten about his nightmares. He accused his mother of  making noises herself whilst she slept. Joe informed her she sounded like a wolf howling.

Everyone agreed that the scene from the book was far more readable, than the initial flat description. But how had the author achieved this?

 

Showing Example from ‘Africa Junction’

Adele lay for what felt like hours, pinned between cold sheets, eyes staring, the compressed beat of her heart like the flap of leathery wings.

It was her son, Joe, who released her, shouting out in his sleep from the bedroom next door.

‘He’s trying to take it, he’s trying to take it,’ he wailed.

She didn’t know who ‘he’ was, or what he was trying to take, but the voice she found to call back with was soothing and motherly.

‘It’s all right, Joe. Mum’s here. I won’t let him take it.’

When Joe quietened, Adele felt herself quieten too, as if his nightmares had been the cause of her panic. She tumbled into sleep.

‘Did you have a bad dream last night?’ she asked Joe over breakfast.

‘No!’ He slapped the cornflakes box down on the table indignantly.

‘You were shouting in your sleep.’

‘No. You were,’ he said, examining the instructions on the box on how to make an Avent calendar. 

Adele felt the iron fist start to flex its fingers and put her hand to her chest.

Joe let out an eerie wail. ‘Woo-woo,’ he cried.

‘Why are you making that horrible noise?’ Adele said sharply.

‘That’s what you were shouting in the night,’ he said, ‘like a wolf.’

He slid down off his chair and left the kitchen, woo-wooing all the way up the stairs.

Immediately, the story from ‘Africa Junction’ paints a lively scene. It is easy to imagine in one’s mind.   The story moves along quickly, as it would in real time. It seems that today’s readers are used to seeing stories related on the television and in films and need to be able to ‘see’ a scene when reading.

The brief descriptive sentences and the dialogue help show the internal conflict and emotions felt by the characters; and draw the reader into the world the writer has created.  The dialogue is very important. Not only does it visually break up the text, but also advance the story rapidly, and indicate how the characters are feeling.

We noted that description which links the scenes together was imagined in just a few words. The vocabulary used is carefully selected, again making the reader feel as the character in the book did. The example below illustrates the difference. 

Tell: It was eerily quiet on the road until the sound of footsteps terrified me.

Show: Crunching hit my ears from behind, accelerating the already rampant pounding of my heart.

 

We discussed editing our written work and thought it a good idea to use Browne and King’s checklist when doing so.

 

Checklist

* Have you established a mood or tone?

* Have you created a ‘scene’ which the reader can become part of?

* Does the text clearly show the characters’ internal conflict and feelings?

* Does the writing reveal a theme?

* Does the text, get the reader involved: make the reader cry, laugh, shudder?

* Are there any long narrative passages where nothing happens in real time?

* Do the telling parts of the texts help draw your

Sizzling St Lucia

May 2024

This month, I’m leaving ideas for writing children’s picture books behind to write about my current environment.

We’ve been coming to St Lucia for many years. In that time, we’ve been fortunate to get to know some of its inhabitants and learn about how the island functions. This year, being on the beautiful island is a unique experience for us, because of the climatic changes. May is the end of the dry season, before heading into the hurricane/tropical storms of June through to October.  Many of the St Lucians we’ve encountered this visit are complaining about how much hotter and stickier it is than usual. And worse, the island hasn’t had any real rainfall in around three months – just a few spots occasionally.  

The daily temperatures in the shade reach 32 degrees. You can imagine that makes working even inside exhausting, but for those who are in construction, or other outside work, it’s punishing. From personal experience, I know that the increased temperatures also bring more tiny biting insects, which itch and sting for days.

The lack of rain, together with the high temperatures, have become an alarming island problem. St Lucia is only 45 kilometres long, and 22 wide, most of its interior being tropical rainforest. The water supply has to sustain the 180,000 inhabitants, plus double that number of annual tourists. Currently, St Lucia is desperately short of water. The reservoirs are almost empty. Many are saying it’s the worst they can remember.  The usual thousand greens of the vegetation now looks wizened and brown in many parts. There is evidence of forest fires in some areas. Many plants have already died. And the wildlife has suffered. We noticed that the nightly chirping of tree frogs has stopped, presumably they have all died.

Water restrictions are in place throughout the island. There are frequent water cuts to the island’s homes. Construction workers are fined if they use the piped water supply. They have to pay for water taken from the rivers. Inhabitants and commercial ventures away from the town areas must truck in water, which can cost more than US$100 per 4,000 litres (10,000 litres being an average monthly consumption per person). This is really tough for some of the local inhabitants who may earn only US$1,100 a month. I’m sure that the other Caribbean islands are having to cope with similar situations.

Coming from Devon, which has had the wettest spring for many years, to an island with a severe drought, makes one think seriously about climate change and  global warming

It really brings home how difficult life can be for those living in what is generally thought as a tropical paradise.  

Research before Writing

April 2024

I couldn’t have written my children’s picture book without the local library. I’m a volunteer who helps out there on a regular basis. It’s a great way to meet people, but I used it for something else: finding out what young children love to read.

I love the fact that so many youngsters use the library frequently. The librarian is fantastic. She organises lots of competitions and activities, which attract readers of all ages. Being a volunteer, one gets the opportunity to witness the joy of seeing boys and girls engrossed in a story being read to them, or being totally absorbed in a book themselves. Most parents and/or their offspring are usually willing to chat about what they’ve been reading and why they liked the book. Or in some cases, why they didn’t. They seemed to love cliff-hangers: illustrations, or text that made them want to turn the pages. Conversing with the children about what they had read also helped me to consider the limited vocabulary they used.

 It became apparent that pre-school children take great pleasure in stories about children of their own age, especially zany ones. Animal characters are also a firm favourite, as well as loony dinosaur tales. The main character had to be somebody or something the child could relate to.  They seemed to take pleasure in characters who are particularly naughty, or those whose dialogue is slightly risqué , or do ‘yucky’ things. ‘Bad Cat’ by Nicola O’Bryne, about the wicked antics of Fluffykins; and Winnie the Witch series by Valerie Thomas, (Winnie, who looks and behaves in a crazy way) are good examples.  

It seemed the main character must have a big personality. They may be stubborn, selfish, boisterous – whatever! Their dialogue should be fun, or even quirky.   The authors focused on showing what was happening in the story, rather than telling/narrating it.  Dialogue and actions painted a vivid scene.

Instead of writing ‘Spot was a loveable dog, who was always getting into trouble’, the book shows a dog tearing around a home, cheating, and making a lot of noise and creating havoc. Normally, the first page of the picture book dives straight into showing what type of things they do, what they say, or think about a situation.

Having discovered which were firm favourites, if they were available, I’d go home laden with an armful of children’s picture books to study at home. I’m sure I must be the only adult reader at the library who takes mainly kids’ books to devour.

Investigation proved that most of these publications are only 32 pages long. They are mainly told in the third person, past tense. Around a third of the books, for 2-6-year-olds were written in rhyme. The plots are a simple arc, where the protagonist solves a problem themselves. I’d already been warned during the courses I attended, that never, never, should Mum, Dad, or the teacher solve the protagonist’s problem. There must be an impressive start and great finish to the story. 

 In addition, research was done on the internet. There’s a lot of helpful advice there. I really enjoyed learning about a new skill, before knuckling down to writing my first story. Of course, my preferred, and most memorable method of research had been at the  library.

 

 

Writing Style (continued)

March 2024

‘Jump right in’. That’s the advice some writers give about writing any story. That’s fine, but we are all different in the way we write.  Even if you do take that advice, there are some decisions that must be made before you put pen to paper. The writing style has to be decided.

Last month, I explained why writing in rhyme didn’t work for me. Working in prose you’ll need to have determined which tense to use, and if your story should be in the first, or third person.

The present is used extensively for short stories and in YA books. It seems that children prefer their stories to be narrated in the present. They feel more engaged in the story, and it plays out in a more immediate timescale. They are experiencing it as it happens, rather than something which is removed. If you want your story to be set in real time the present tense is for you.

It’s good for delivering the first-person point of view. The reader sees and feels what the narrator does. The reader shares the character’s focus.

But there are disadvantages. Firstly, it has to be used well, or readers will notice the flaws. It’s also more difficult to make a time shift. If your story happens in a very short  period, as in John Kane’s ‘I say Oh, You say No’, the present works well. If it has a layered time-scheme, and the story moves along with time, the present is less useful – as in ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’ by Eric Carle. There, the past tense works much better. 

But, when you look at the selection of children’s books, many are in the past.  It seems that for many writers, it comes easier to write ‘he said’ rather than ‘he says’. I wanted to insert details about the environment and life around my main character, Beni. I also wanted to include reflection and show the complexity of my protagonist.

Despite attempts to put my story idea into the present, I eventually opted to stick to the traditional and write in the past tense.

Writing Style for Children’s Picture Books

February 2024

Having drafted the basic story and decided on the personality of my main character, I had learnt that writing style was the next thing to consider.

I could write in prose, or make the short story rhyming. If you wish to submit your work to a publisher or agent, some advise against rhyming. If the work is to sell abroad, rhyming makes it impossible to translate. However, there are plenty of writers whose children’s rhyming stories are accepted by publishers, and become very popular. Some writers are very good at making their stories rhyme. I admire the work of Julia Donaldson and Jez Alborough. Jez’s ‘Duck in a Truck’ is one of my all-time favourite picture books.

It seems that young readers prefer rhyming stories. Well done they are great fun. Children can identify with the patterns of the rhymes and the sounds. But it’s certain a rhyming story will take longer to write. The writer must stick to one rhyming pattern and know about syllabic counts, and make them constant per line. I still remember being taught about stressed and unstress syllables in English classes. I was taught the various types of poetic metres, dependant on the number of stresses per line.

Photo Courtesy of Guy Parker Rees.

Photo courtesy of Jez Alborough.

I researched lots of rhyming picture books. There were the classics, ‘Giraffes Can’t Dance’, ‘Room on the Broom’, and ‘Brown Bear, Brown Bear’ which children have loved for decades, and will doubtless continue to do so.  But there were plenty of others where for me the rhyming did not flow well, and sometimes was forced.

After several attempts at trying to write the plot in poetry, I made the decision it was best to leave it to the experts. I would be wisest to stick to prose.   

Storyline Planning continued

January 2024

Inspired by the television series ‘The Orangutan Jungle School’, I was very motivated to self-publish my own children’s picture book and give any profits to an organisation to help the survival of this endangered species.

Having participated in two courses about writing and illustrating children’s books, I understood that careful planning was essential for any book. As well as deciding the basic plot – Ben loves bananas too much and gets himself into trouble trying to get his fill of them – there were other important decisions that had to be made.

The book had to be age appropriate. I wanted my animal characters to talk to one another. This meant that it would not be appropriate for children over the age of 6 to 7 – below this age is labelled early reader category. Generally speaking, the story would be read by an adult to a child, but the vocabulary should be such that it might be read by an advanced reader. I also wanted to finish the book with an ecological message, meaning it would not be suitable for a very young child. The suggested number of words for 3 to 6 year olds is between 600 and 1,000 words.

Both courses suggested that any picture book should aim to assist a child’s development. My message was to be about motivation and determination, but about solving problems.

The course tutors had also defined that the plot must move rapidly. All words and images should hold interest on every one of the 32 pages. It must follow the formula: beginning, middle and end.  There must be a clear beginning on the first couple of story pages, the next 16-18 pages must build up to a crisis/climax, and then the last two or three pages depict falling action and resolve the main character’s problem.

The problem, must be immediately clear and be solved, or partially solved by the end of the story.

Problem – Beni is hungry for bananas.

Crisis – he encounters nothing but opposition to his search.

Climax – it seems a Komado dragon will eat him.

Solution – Beni outwits the dragon, and then returns home to Mum, without bananas, but safe and sound.

Storyline Planning

December 2023

Like most children’s picture books, mine only has 32 pages and just over 500 words. You’d think it would be easy to plan and write that. But believe you and me, it isn’t.

The basis for writing a novel, be it for adults or children is much the same – planning, writing, editing and more editing. However, with a picture book everything has to be so much more compact. As you know, youngsters can very quickly become bored. If a children’s book doesn’t immediately grab their interest, it will rapidly be dismissed. Therefore, every word must be meaningful and appealing to a young reader. Word choices must be at a level for children to understand, and be within their limited experience. Inevitably, the story will be much shorter than adult fiction; it will need more high spots to keep them wanting to know what is on the next page.

One of my first planning tasks was to write an elevator pitch – a brief overall statement of what the whole story is about. If you intend to submit to a publisher, or literary agent, they will doubtless ask for this. For ‘Beni and the Bananas’, where my main theme was determination, I wrote:-

’Beni, the young orangutan, adores bananas, but getting his fill of them isn’t as easy as he had first imagined.’

Once the overall direction of the story had been decided, I then briefly listed the possibilities which the plot could follow. For example,

  • Beni could ask his friends to help in a search.
  • As in the TV series, he could sneak into a storeroom and steal a mass of bananas; and then be re-trained by humans.
  • Beni could encounter other animals from the rainforest and seek their help.
  • Beni goes off on his own. When he encounters danger, he calls his Mum for help.
  • The young orangutan gets himself into trouble and sorts the problem out himself.
  • I could introduce ecological factors into the story, concerning the reasons why the numbers of these apes are diminishing.
  • He could encounter opposition, hostility, and competition to his search for bananas.

I put pen to paper and after several versions, my final story became a mixture of ideas 3, 5 and 7.

The Main Character in a Children’s Story.

November 2023

It was clear from watching children read picture books in our local library, that if a story doesn’t have a main character that they like and can empathise with, you are lost. The book will be discarded in seconds. I still remember the picture books read repeatedly as a child. I still recall the colours of the paintings, the images of the main personalities, and the basis of the stories.

It is evident that the protagonist must be consistent. Like any piece of writing, their actions and dialogue must work together to make them convincing and imaginable in real life. They must feel real to the young reader.  They must also be memorable; creating a lasting impact.  

The main character has to be special, iconic, with endearing personality traits. They may have an unusual friend, or wear surprising clothes – something that makes them stand out from other central figures in fiction. I chose the young orangutan in ‘Beni and the Bananas’ to have a mouse as a friend; and to curl his fur in a circle on top of his head to make him different.

As I do when writing any story or novel, I listed the traits I wanted to display with my main character. I realised these needed to be shown not only in the images I had to paint, but also in his activities and things he said, as well as his relationships with others in the story. Beni would be intelligent, strong-willed, cheeky, and greedy. However, I wanted him to reveal that his mother had taught him to respect other animals in the rainforest, so he needed to be polite and adaptable. My text had to reflect this.

 

I’d learnt from the courses I’d attended that the young reader had to be able to relate to the conflict in  the story. The reader should also care about the problems the protagonist faces. Most importantly, the plot should show, like the main character, that children can achieve big things.

What was going to be the point of my story? What did Beni learn during those 24 pages and how had he changed? Once this was decided, I started writing the first draft of my short story.

Beni and the Bananas

Illustrations of the Main Character

October 2023

We all remember the characters from the picture books that we read as kids – Peter Rabbit, Rumpelstiltskin, Paddington Bear.  I didn’t have very many books, so the ones I had were read time and time again. Like many children, I related to these characters. They became an important part of my day.

They developed my imagination and widened my world. They helped me understand certain situations; and how I should communicate with others.

When starting to consider the illustrations for my own children’s picture book, I knew it was vital my protagonist, and the way he looked, had to appeal to young readers. It had to be a personality who stood out and was memorable

Inspiration for the story had come from watching ‘The Orangutan Jungle School’. A young orangutan’s addiction to bananas was amusing; he seemed prepared to risk anything to eat his favourite treat. It would be down to me to paint or draw an impressive, but simplified, image of him. Trying out different artistic ideas lasted several days.

The Jungle School had named the orangutan Beni. I felt this appropriate for my story, as it is easy for a child from any culture to remember. The alliteration with the word ‘bananas’ also seemed to make it apt.

As well as the text, the pictures of Beni needed to show that here was an animal with a strong personality. The paintings needed to line up with the actions and dialogue in the story, and be indicative of the orangutan’s character. I made a list of the personality traits I wanted to give my protagonist – his age, his special appearance, who he would react with in the rainforest, what were his good and bad qualities, and how these would get him into, and out of, trouble. 

As well as the story being about determination/motivation, I also wanted to make the book educational for a young reader. For them to learn about an orangutan’s environment and the other creatures it might encounter in the Indonesian rainforest. After research, I also sketched other animals which might be included in the story. I hoped youngsters would find this fascinating.

All of this came before I started writing the fictional story about what happened to Beni.   

 

My First Picture Book

September 2023

After taking part in two on-line courses about children’s picture books, I had a good idea of the steps involved in writing and illustrating one. I had several ideas for stories, and decided to start with a story based on the theme of determination winning through.

Next came the research stage. I borrowed and bought as many picture books as I could get my hands on. The vocabulary, the themes, the characters, and of course the artwork, were all studied. I thoroughly enjoyed this part of the project. There are just so many great books out there for children of all ages.

Photo by Gabriel Tovar on Unsplash

Photo by Jeremy Stewardson on Unsplash

‘The Orangutan Jungle School’ on UK television delighted me. One of the young apes they filmed was Beni. He had an addiction to bananas. He would try all sorts of tricks to get his favourite food. This was my starting point, but I needed to develop this into an amusing animal adventure which would captivate children’s interest.

Before I started writing, I felt it necessary to understand my main character – a young orangutan. What did they eat (other than bananas)? How did they survive in the Indonesian rainforest?  What dangers might they encounter etc.?  I found this so interesting that I decided to include some of these facts on the last page of the picture book. I wanted my book to be educational, as well as a good read for kids.

After hours of investigation, I then felt ready to start planning my story.

 

Writing for Children

August 2023

Having been a teacher in the past, I’ve read lots of picture books to youngsters. Even so, I didn’t feel confident to dive straight into writing and illustrating my own picture book without help. I enrolled on a couple of interactive on-line courses.

I was very pleased that I did. They explained the importance of the illustrations and how they help a child contextualise and give clues to the meaning of the words. Therefore illustrations and placement of text must be properly planned, long before illustrations commence.

The writer/illustrator needs to decide the specific age group the book is aimed at. I was writing for three to five year olds. The word count needs to be no more than 500-700. For a younger age group, the word count should be much less. The writer also needs to carefully plan the layout of the pages, so that the text and illustration line up; and so that the child is eager to turn the page to find out what happens next. Sentences should be short and the vocabulary appropriate.  

The construction of a picture book is very relevant to the illustrator. A standard picture book is usually 32 pages. Only 24 of those (twelve spreads) are used for the story. The rest are used for publishing information. For example, page two is the copyright page and page three the title page. The illustrator will need to provide art work for these.   The actual story starts on page four. 

We were advised to draw out a 32 page grid to plan our work. I found it an excellent formula to organise your ideas.

Phil Creek Course

August 2023

I was fortunate to get a place at the recent South West Art workshop with Phil Creek as tutor.  The two day course encouraged you to develop the use of broad brushes when painting landscapes in acrylic. Phil explored the techniques of applying paint; simplifying the subject; and an approach to experimenting with colour for semi-abstract work. He works very rapidly and frequently starts his work ‘en plein aire’.

Phil Creek, an East Devon painter, was formerly the Art Advisor for Devon and exhibits in London and throughout the West Country.

Phil is an excellent tutor and gave the whole group confidence to work rapidly, whilst depicting local landscapes. He also demonstrated painting figures as a focus for a piece of work. I was amazed that I painted the majority of two fairly large canvases during the courses as well as initial experimental work. I left the workshop feeling I had learnt a great deal from our friendly and jovial tutor.

The first photo depicts two of Phil’s swift sketches, the second my ‘Sidmouth Sunset’ completed in about two and half hours.

NB Photo of two paintings by Phil Creek the other my sunset pickie.

Monkeys, I love ‘em!

I’ve always been enamoured by tropical animals, perhaps because I was brought up being very familiar with Rudyard Kipling’s animal’s exploits. And my preferred species has got to be any type of monkey. I find them endearing, and their behaviour, so close to humans, fascinating.  

After the adventure of the baboon troop in my picture book, it ends on a serious note. It tries to teach the importance of tropical rainforest in everyone’s lives. But also encourage young readers to take care of their environment, and how they can help to save it.  It explains, in simple terms, just how important jungles and tropical rainforests are to our existence.

Researching animal behaviour during the creation of my book, I was constantly reminded of the fragility of tropical forests and their inhabitants. Having visited these habitats on three continents now; on each occasion I was struck by their outstanding beauty and mystery. Those memories have coloured my mind permanently. 

Only a small percentage of our planet is made up of tropical forest, but more than half the plants and animals which exist on this earth come from there. There are so many that scientists have not yet been able to count them all.  Fifty per cent of the world’s animals, one third of our bird species and ninety per cent of its invertebrates live there. Significantly, one in four of our medicines come from jungle plants.

We learn that the thousands of trees there act like giant air conditioners. They use energy from the sun to convert water into vapour which cools their environment. The water vapour from the trees forms into cloud droplets and then rain. Animals love the cool and shade the forests, as well as the food they find there. These vast forests support the weather patterns that humans, as well as animal life, rely on. Rain forests provide around twenty per cent of the world’s oxygen; and lock away the same proportion of man’s carbon dioxide emissions.

The majority of us are very aware that in the last fifty years more than one third of these forests have been destroyed because of mining, demand for hard woods, cattle farming, palm oil and soya plantations. Each day vast forest areas are destroyed. It’s estimated that a plant species or animal becomes extinct every day.

We all require those forests for a balanced survival. If those regions and animals disappear humans’ future will become very different. I dread that we will bring about that change, as I’m sure you do. I would hate for our future generations only be able to read books about jungle animals, as children currently read about dinosaurs.   

Like thousands of others around the world, I feel very strongly that we all need to be aiding those developing countries which destroy their forests in order to survive. We can make financial donations, but there are several other simple things we can do to benefit the crisis of deforestation.  Things such as recycling all our paper; and only buying products, such as wooden articles and soya foods, which are sustainably sourced.  Avoid biscuits, ice cream and animal foods which contain a high percentage of palm oil; and purchase ‘Fair Trade’ commodities.  

Most importantly of all, we can educate our children. They are our world’s future. There’s lots of help in Libraries and on the internet which will excite their interest. All for free! I’ve found that they love finding out about rainforest animals and how they exist. Let’s all work towards a more promising future for our planet.

Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival

September 2021

After the isolation of three lockdowns, it was great to be present at some of the sessions of Budleigh Literary Festival in mid-September.

I attended a morning workshop run by Louise Doughty (of ‘Apple Tree Yard’ fame) on the subject of plotting fiction. The group was small because of Covid restrictions, but this worked to our advantage—Louise got us all involved, doing written exercises, and she was also able to answer all the questions we had.

Louise explained how she worked: planning the outline of a story, finding a dynamic beginning and ending to her plots, selecting the appropriate voice (point of view), and dividing the story into four distinct parts, with high spots that change the direction of the story each time. Louise was an excellent lecturer, using diagrams to clarify her presentation. I left feeling positive and motivated. We were all given a suggested reading list that would further our knowledge on the topic.

It was an excellent morning; and I would definitely go to another lecture or workshop of hers in the future. As the day was fine, I wandered off to the beach, sat facing the sea, to reflect on my morning and watch the antics of the seagulls.

Creative Writing Competition – July 2020

Local writers are invited to put pen to paper, using the theme of ‘Memory’, and send their creations to the Ottery Writers’ Creative Writing Competition. It can be a short story, 500 words max, or a poem.  It doesn’t matter how old you are, five to a hundred and five, we’d love to hear what you’ve got to say. There’s no entrance charge. All you need to do is wow our judges.  Local commerce and Associations have contributed prizes, so just get writing. Rules and info from

Article written for July 2020 edition of the Ottery Gazette

Keeping the Motivation.

At the beginning of the lockdown, a good friend sent me a link to a short U-tube. I’m sure some of you will have seen it. A brown bear and its tiny cub need to ascend a very steep, snowy slope. The mother struggles up the slope relatively easily. The baby bear, on the first attempt, nearly reaches his waiting mother. Then regrettably, slides slowly back down the snow, virtually to the base of the incline. Baby tries again with the same result. It tries time and time again with his mother calling. Just when you think it’s never going to make the top, it approaches the climb from a different angle, and happily the cub is re-united with mother bear.

You may be wondering what the video clip has to do with Ottery Writers’ Group.

Well, being a writer is a challenging occupation. Writing a simple short story can take up a week of one’s spare time. And a novel, depending on the research required, or one’s time commitment, can take years. J R Tolkien’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ took around 12 years to write and a further 5 years to edit.

Wordsmiths have to take on board an important fact. Before they have written too much of the ‘best seller which will earn them millions’, they need to understand that only around eight per cent of manuscripts are accepted by agents. Even worse, only half of those will be taken up by a publisher.

So, the odds are stacked against you. Against you becoming that household literary name that some scribes may dream of. But something keeps them going. What is it that keeps them stuck in front of their computers hour after hour?

Yes, here comes the connection between the baby bear and the Writers Group. It is those big, important words. Motivation and Perseverance.

Associate with others of like minds. That’s one of the key factors that personal development coaches advocate to maintain motivation. And it seems that’s why so many local writers just keep on coming back to the meetings. They befriend people who encourage them to achieve their goals.

The Group attracts a real mixed bag of writers. Poems, crime, satire, non-fiction, romance, children’s stories. All energised by contagious fervour. The get-togethers give the opportunity to read extracts from their work. It’s amazing how a simple ‘Yes, I like that’ can boost the self-confidence; or ‘Have you thought of….’ can send one exploring different, more promising avenues. Chatting to other writers can help develop your own skills. Hearing what others do makes one question one’s own work; and questions stir up ideas, which in turn stimulate personal interest.

Some members have been published. Some self-published. So, those new to writing can be helped to navigate through the minefield of getting your work into print. There is a wealth of knowledge amongst its members which can be tapped.

Currently, the Monday meetings at Season’s tearoom are naturally put on hold. But, the contact has been maintained with e-mails and video chats.

Images of that little brown bear, in its snowy dilemma, have on occasions scampered through my thoughts. Surely, because it is an appropriate philosophy for coping with our current crisis. But also, it’s a great pictorial analogy, not only for those of us who are writers, but for all battling against the adversaries life can throw at us.

www.youtube.com/watch?v=rhjBXnEFKQs

Literary Evening – February 13 2020 

The power of a cold wind flattened the plants in its tiny garden. The winter air clung to the stone and beige walls of the modest construction. Car headlights fleetingly illuminated the familiar building in splendid isolation in the centre of town. That evening, passers-by were doubtless oblivious to the companionable and lively atmosphere contained inside Ottery’s Library; our little island of culture and information, so much a part of the many local people’s lives.

Rows of seats were cosily crammed between the neatly stacked shelves of biographies, cookbooks and travelogues. Each seat was quickly occupied. Very soon there was standing room only amongst the volumes of contemporary literature. The occasion was the Ottery Writers’ Group literary evening on the 13th February. The assembly was transported through a wide range of experiences. They visited the zoo; swung back to the past; shared remembrances of gastronomic delights; heard poems for one’s Valentine; and many other short examples of local writers’ own work.

The second author to entertain the gathering was Bob Sillitoe. He has confessed to the group that he only started to write after his mother’s death. He found that afterwards, his emotions flowed readily onto paper; a connection between his brain and his fingers allowing his pages to be filled with words he had previously been unable to speak. Becoming a writer has opened up his life and allows him to express himself in a different way. It has become a positive force to his being.

Bob has already written one book and is currently on his second; and considering publishing. The poem he shared was very much appreciated by the audience.

Rosier Nursery

Come in come in, Grandma would say

Oh so busy on baking day

Endlessly working in her kitchen

Happy for little helpers to pitch in

Baking cake and cooking lunch

So early you could call it brunch

 

Get the steps, that’s a good boy

Climb up high, oh you brought a toy

Are you ready to twist and stir?

Or perhaps the mixer and make it whir

Put down that tractor it’ll be safe

It’s time to cook and bake some cake

 

Stirring, mixing cutting chopping

Using the fruits of grandma’s shopping

Picked up by grandad in the car

If you’re good you’ll get a sweetie from the jar.

Peppermints bought from Liptons store

Always available in the house next door

 

Nose tingling with that funny smell

Ginger parkin I could tell

Smell of molasses in the air

Better in the tummy lots to share

Golden tin and golden cake

Grandma certainly knew how to bake

 

Now much older yet still a child

Memories popping up I cannot hide

Grandma now wheel chair bound

Talks so little hardly a sound

But she is always happy so see

Her grandson, number three.

 

From Ginger Parkin to Parkin-sons.

No more cakes and no more buns

Empty tins and cooker cold

All that’s left is memories old

But don’t let me ever overlook

That loving Grandma and wonderful cook

Bob Sillitoe

During the interval there was chatter and laughter between writers and listeners. It was a great opportunity to share opinions of what they had heard over a cup of coffee and a slice of Mary Hewlett’s yummy chocolate cake.

In all, we heard from 15 members of the Writers’ Group. Simon Cornish, ‘our master of ceremonies’, brought the evening to a close, thanking the Curious Otter Bookshop and the Library staff for selling tickets. But, in particular, thanked Xanthe Waite for all her help and encouragement; and for allowing us all to use the Library for the event. The event raised £84 for the Devon Libraries Fund.

If you love writing too and would like to join the Ottery Writers’ Group, we meet regularly at Seasons Tea Room, between 7pm and 9 pm, every first and third Monday of the month. New members are always very welcome. Just turn up or e-mail mused@simoncornish.com if you have any questions.

Cynthea Gregory

Book Launch – October 2019

It has to be said, I was rather dubious about the launch of my first novel. Despite the publicity, I feared that nobody would turn up. But my trepidation was unfounded. Grenville and I were busy all morning with people coming into ‘the Curious Otter Book Shop’ to our ‘Meet and Greet’. At one point, there were so many there that there was almost a party atmosphere.  We both sold more books than anticipated.  Adrian, the owner of the bookshop, was extremely helpful and cooperative. Many thanks to him for letting us use his premises. 

It was a busy and successful morning.

 

 

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