Thursday, 2 October 2008

Coffee Break: Baby, It's Cold Outside

It’s time to close the door on the chilly wind of change nipping at our heels. Grab a mug of hot chocolate, a cup of frothy coffee like my Auntie Joanie used to make (ie hot milk shown the label of the coffee jar), or whatever beverage warms the cockles of your heart and draw a little closer to the wood burner.

Let us tell tales to give ourselves cheer. In short, tell us which piece of your own writing gives you a nice warm glow. What have you done to make yourself proud? Go on, blow your own trumpet. Was something you wrote when you were eleven? Was it seeing your name in print for the first time? Is something lying in your writing draw that you pull out from time to time and think, ‘That’s damn fine work!’ or is it the contract you’re just about to sign? Let’s remind ourselves of the joy of writing.

Many years ago I wrote 20,000 words of a novel called ‘Signs of Life’, I sent the first three chapters to an agent who rang me up the minute it landed on her desk and said, ‘Send me the rest!’ Er, small problem: the rest didn’t exist. I had a stonking beginning, characters I would know if they passed me on the street and a location I wanted to live in but I was so in love with the little I’d written I couldn’t get any further with it! At the same time my then marriage was going into meltdown and getting through each day was a big enough task in itself. Besides, I thought (oh, naivety of youth) I could always get another agent, couldn’t I?

When I revisit ‘Signs of Life’ I can see how dated it is and how much work I need to do to it and it goes back in the draw. In many ways it’s a big fat failure but it makes me happy because someone once said they liked it which in turn made me believe in myself as a writer. And, yes, it gives me hope that if I came close once, I might get there in the future. So don’t be shy, spread a little happiness, tell us about your favourite work and what it means to you.


B said...

When I was in Guides, I wrote a story for a badge (I can't even remember what badge - was there a writer's badge in Guides back then?). I wrote a single draft, in biro on a reporter's notepad, thin paper, both sides.

When I arrived on the evening I was going to be tested, I was a little bit horrified... the other girl doing the badge had it all written out nicely on A4 paper and it looked, well, so much nicer.

Oh well. I handed it in.

And when it came back, it had the most effusive praise I have ever seen. It said my writing was great and was going to mature and grow in depth, that I was a fantastic writer.

(The other girl just got some 'yeah, this is great, well done'. She wasn't very impressed.)

I still have that notebook. All the other pages are ripped out (which is kind of a shame, I'd like to see what else was in there) but the story is still in there, and the feedback at the end. I read it now, and it's terrible - derivative, moralistic, unrealistic depictions of kids - it's awful.

I read it now, and I can't see what on earth the woman saw in it.

But it made me realise that I might have talent. That I might be a writer one day. And that dream has never gone away from me, much as I've tried to make it at times.

Thanks for this Chris. I was starting to wonder, again, whether I was really cut out for this. Remembering this has made me realise I really want to, anyway.

Looking forward to reading everyone else's tales :o)

Debs said...

What a lovely post, Chris. I'll have a frothy hot chocolate please.

The writing that I'm most fond of was inspired by various things (my grandparent's interesting lives partly) and began one morning as I sat with my feet in my mother's pool gazing up at a magnificent bougainvilla that covered the trunk of a tall palm tree.

I sent it to an agent (this was in South Africa) who said she thought I could be the next Barbara Taylor Bradford (dear soul, the agent that is, not BTB) and I came home again. Like you, life took over a bit after that with divorce, babies and that sort of thing.

I've deleted the first 25,000 words, as the beginning was dreadful and have sent it out a couple of times (three maybe) but haven't got very far with it.

Even if I don't ever manage to have it published, I still love the characters and am glad that I wrote it.

Zinnia Cyclamen said...

Great idea, Chris! I won a national writing competition a few years ago, not a well-known one but I got £100 in book tokens. Can't tell you full details, sadly, because of the anonymity problem - but I was very proud and happy.

Juliette M said...

No coffee for me thanks Chris - I'm full of Starbucks' caramel macchiato, which is so naughty but I have a team building exercise involving bowling and treasure hunting today so I might need it!

For me, it's my Crown That Bleeds novels. The first one is so close to being finished and the others following in its wake. I don't like blowing my own trumpet, but every time I open the document I get a bit of a thrill at how much I enjoy it and how good I think it is. People who have given feedback on Quartet (the first one) have all been mostly positive which helps too. And when I think of the challenge my partner (and Caroline!) set me to finish before the end of the month, I imagine the proofs all printed out and bound ready for editing and that makes me so pleased and excited all at once.

Good topic Chris :)

NoviceNovelist said...

You've made me smile this morning Chris - no mean feat as its dam freezing and the sky is grey and I'm a summer gal at heart!!!! How lovely to chat about writing in a positive way. I'll have a large latte with an extra shot of expresso - big work day ahead!!!

A piece of writing I come back to when I feel the critic scratching at my back is a short story I wrote when I was about 20 - I sent it to the local newspaper (first time I'd submitted anything) and they published it and when the paper came out - it was beautifully laid out with a fabulous sketch accompanying it. I read it now and it is in desperate need of a good edit - but it was a lovely, heartwarming tale. I was so proud knowing people were reading it...and they paid me!!!!

Great to hear the other stories - perfect topic Chris!

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure of the full reasons why, but I'm quite proud of Cruising, a very short piece I wrote one morning. I think part of the reason I like it, is the variation in responses I got from my readers: some "got" it straight away, while others didn't know what it was about. Some even had interesting alternative interpretations. Wonder what you'll think...?

Flowerpot said...

A cheering topic Chris. I'm proud of the piece I wrote recently, but one of the first rejections I got said, "we are not the publishers for this but I know someone is"..... sadly I stopped sending it out and reading it now it needs loads of work but it was great that someone had faith in me.

Calistro said...

Ooooh gosh. So tricky. There's lots of pieces I'm proud of for different reasons but the two that mean the most to me are the 700 word flash called "Tom Brown's Spaceship" that was published in a Leaf anthology for Children in Need (my first ever publication) and my novel HoWG which got me my agent (and made me so bleedin' happy I burst into tears).

Oooh can I have one more? My story "Wish You Were Here" which was a runner up in the Woman's Own short story comp in 2006. It was set on a bench in the Malvern Hills where I used to enjoy a hot chocolate and Mars Bar with my best friend on a Sunday morning when we should have been in church. Unfortunately my friend died suddenly and unexpectedly before she got chance to read it but the story will always mean a lot to me because it brings back memories of her.

Helen Shearer said...

About a thousand years ago, when I was nineteen, I was at college at the end of my first year of nursing studies. Our English professor asks us to write a short piece on passion and why we wanted to be a nurse. By this time I had decided that I'd rather have by nipples pierced with a knitting needle than become a nurse. I just wasn't cut out for it, so I wrote the piece about how nurses are born and not made and I was definitely not a born nurse. I never mentioned that I wanted to become a writer, just that I didn't want to become a nurse. The teacher loved it and wrote many great comments and she finished with 'I think you have the talent and heart to write for a living'. That was all the encouragement I needed to ditch nursing. The following September I started my English degree.

Graeme K Talboys said...

I think the short story I wrote a couple of years ago called, "...the price is worth it." Not only was it the piece that unblocked my fiction after a long, dry period, but I sent a copy to Mike Moorcock (who had given me permission to use some of his characters) and he was full of praise for it. Not only did that give me a warm glow, it was a wonderful boost to my confidence.

Rowan Coleman said...

I love all of these stories, its so great to hear about those pivotal moments that spur people on to write - great subject. When I was really quite young - I think about 12 I wrote a poem from the POV of the mistress of King Charles 1st. It was all about unrequited love and how miserable it was loving a man you could never had (was in love with this boy who didn't knew I existed at the time, which is the begining of a much longer and more complicated story that I will one day blog about) but anyway. It was pretty dreadful I miagine, over blown, grandiose, dramatic and angst ridden but I entered it in the school writing competition. I did not win, but I was hauled in front of my teacher and accused of copying it out of a book. I insisted that I made it up, she never believed me it didn't get in the competition, I was horrified BUT secretly glad that she thought it was good enough to be in a book that I could have copied out of and that made me want to write more.

Rowan Coleman said...

p.s - I got my inspiration from an old film I'd watched on a wet Saturday afternoon, in case you're wondering what a 12 yar old was doing writing from the POV of a royal mistress!

Kate.Kingsley said...

What a fabulous topic ~ and what a wealth of heart-warming comments. I have had a huge smile on my face all the time I've been reading these comments :-).

I'm not sure I can identify one piece that makes me especially proud ~ I am very proud of my first ever published short story, which was in Writers Forum magazine, but I havent read it back in years in case it makes me cringe!

But I was recently looking through some old notebooks, and pardon my pride, but i was surprised by how good some of the stuff that was in there was! so much so that have resurrected a short story that I inexplicably abandoned with only a paragraph or two to go!

Hope everyone has a great weekend :-)

sheepish said...

What a great topic and so good to see the variety of favourite works racers have written about. I don't really have anything that I am particulaly proud of but some of the writing in my wip makes me cry. I suppose it could be because it's so bad but I hope not!!!!!!!!
And when fellow racers leave lovely comments about the poems I have been writing recently it makes me glad that I am sharing them.

KAREN said...

What a lovely post :o)

My first 'warm glow' piece was a poem published in Judy comic when I was eleven. It was the first time I seriously thought, I'm going to be a writer one day.

I'm still waiting for that day...

Cathy said...

I think the first piece I was proud of was the story I wrote for my English O level. Because I was aware that nobody I knew would read it, I wrote unselfconssciously for the first time. OK, it probably turned out like a bad story from Jackie magazine, all teenage angst, but it was cathartic too!

Apart from that I'm proud of the pieces I had published in Your Messages and a story I wrote on the OU A215 course which I have been told is of publishable standard, even though the magazines it was aimed at have turned it down!

L-Plate Author said...

Hi everyone

When I was eleven and in primary school I won a writing competition. I won an adventure holiday for two and did such ghastly things as abseiling, canoeing and rock climbing, makes me shudder now. The essay was about what I would create on a spare piece of land – Alton Towers eat your heart out. I was one of 20 winners out of 60,000 entries and there is now a cup at the school, named after little old me, that is presented each year for the pupil writing the best essay.

However since that huge success, I have never seen my name in print and am still chasing the big deal. But I’m still dreaming….

Great topic Chris, have loved reading all the comments.


Fiona said...

What a lovely topic. Sadly my first story that I was proud of, was laughed at by my mother and her friends. I was seven and had written a story about a pony. That's all I can remember but I hid it under the carpet and my mother found it and showed all and and sundry and not because she was proud of it. I didn't write again until I was thirty but I'm still pleased I wrote it.

Paige said...

I can't answer this question :(

I haven't got a favourite piece of work. I haven't experienced the rush of joy with anything I've written. I didn't even get excited when I'd finished my first novel!

Am I not right? Am I weird?

I wish I could add to the warm and fuzzy feelings but I can't. Lovely question though and it's been great reading everyone elses answers!

Lane said...

Paige you're not weird. It will happen and if you've finished a novel you should be very proud!

When I was at school I wrote a poem about being a blade of grass. Sister Francis Xavier said I would be published one day which, coming from one of the nuns, was high praise. Sadly I'm still that blade of grass.
I won a national short story competition once and at the time I was quite proud. Looking at it now, it's laughable but then it was validation and gave me the oomph to carry on.

I don't have any recent favourites because they're just that. Recent.

Lovely stories everyone. Thanks Chris.

Clare Sudders said...

I don't know if I have a favourite work. Most things I write, I think are rubbish most of the time, but it's lovely when you happen across something you once wrote, and there's enough distance to see it objectively and think "wow, that's rather good."

There have been times when I've leafed through the one book of mine which has so far made it into print, and felt pleased with it. I also just finished doing a read-through-and-edit of my 2nd book, which will be published in Germany next year, and found myself rather happy with it (thank God).

But the most recent example of feeling proper-proud of something I wrote was when I noticed from my stats that someone had been here, and reading it back I can totally-unmodestly say I loved it.

Clare Sudders said...

I always post before I read, for some reason... but now I've read all the other comments, I have a lovely fuzzy warm glow. It's so nice to read of all your pride.

Paige, I often think I'm not-a-proper-writer because I rarely enjoy writing first drafts. Indeed, it feels like pulling teeth. Someone in the Guardian guide to writing fiction that came out the other week, said that if you don't enjoy it, you shouldn't be doing it. Erk.

But I still do it, cos I enjoy the idea of it, and I enjoy editing, and I enjoy finishing and having something I can be vaguely proud of. But have you tried reading something you wrote a while ago, and therefore have some distance from? Maybe you might be surprised. It's so nice when you can give yourself approval, and worth being kind to yourself to get that feeling. If that makes any sense.

Anyway... reading all your comments has reminded me of something else I'm particularly proud of. Tis a poem, called Little One. I love it. I've performed it at poetry slams a few times and it always gets a good response... indeed I once won a poetry slam with it. It's here, but you have to scroll down a bit.

ChrisH said...

Thanks so much everyone for sharing your moments of pleasure (or not, Paige! Give it time!). I really loved reading everyone's stories; so many happy or moving images to remember next time I lose sight of what I'm trying to do. Thanks again - and enjoy your weekends.

wordtryst said...

It's startling to read all those comments about the cold weather when the heat of the petit careme (little dry season) is killing us here. So - no hot drinks for me, please. I'll grab some fruit juice with lots of ice!

When I was in sixth form my General Paper teacher gave me A's throughout. At the bottom of one script she scribbled a comment I've never forgotten: "You display as before your great facility with language." That was probably the best compliment I've received in life.

I think I'm proudest of the memoir I wrote about the years spent raising my son. I haven't had the nerve to show it to the agent as yet, but whether or not it's ever published it's my favourite work to date.

(Lane, my headmistress was also a Sister Francis Xavier. How many of them did they have roaming the earth back then?)