MA Writing For Young People

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Last year, I completed my Masters in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University. Applying to the course was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and it has changed my life considerably since then!

Despite the fact I was working full time, I decided to fit the course into one year instead of two. Although not the cleverest idea, it did teach me how to prioritise my work-load and the benefits of coffee.

In 2016, I entered the world of higher education, feeling like a fish out of water. I was surrounded by highly intelligent people, who already had fantastic ideas for stories and characters. I was in awe of everyone and everything, not least Corsham Court, the stately setting for the workshops, where peacocks sauntered the grounds!

For the first few weeks, I managed to keep up with the work, taking cues from the other students and reading the material, as well as writing like my life depended on it. It was wonderful. My life-long dream of becoming a published author suddenly seemed possible. I got good marks for my first couple of assessments and I told myself ‘I’ve got this in the bag!’.

Then it all started to go downhill. I struggled to find my ‘voice’ and I couldn’t think of a manuscript idea for the final assessment. I got a lower marks, despite working my butt off. I lost all my confidence. I emailed my tutor and told her that I was wasting her time and mine.

Luckily, my wonderful tutor told me that the grades weren’t everything and I was still learning. It was all going to be OK!

I threw myself into the third term, writing before work, after work, on the weekends and on my lunch-breaks. I read voraciously. I stopped focusing on the grades and concentrated on finding my voice and my story.

The manuscript idea wasn’t a lightning bolt of inspiration. It was the work of several stories that grew and developed over the course. I changed characters, story-line, genre and perspective, until finally, The Dream Eater fought its way into being, kicking and screaming. It was a surly story that had to be coaxed and cajoled and I spent many sleepless nights trying to make sense of it.

When the MA completed, I felt relief, pride, sadness, as well as fear. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to carry on writing without the deadlines, the support of the other students and the encouragement that the course had given me.

I let The Dream Eater snooze for a while, while I went back to the reality of the world outside the MA. I tried to start other writing projects but I couldn’t get The Dream Eater out of my head.

With the Anthology Launch coming up, I went back to editing The Dream Eater, wondering how I could muster up the energy to complete it. Then I decided to change the setting to Zambia, where I had grown up.

It was as if I had breathed life into it. Everything changed. I was finally in love with my story. I delved into my childhood, remembering how the air tasted and how the ground felt beneath my bare feet. As I looked through old photos, I poured the memory of the heat and the rain into the writing.

I finally felt like I was writing what I knew and staying true to who I was. It was the story of me and my experiences of growing up in such a unique and beautiful country.

The love and work that went into editing The Dream Eater paid off and I got two offers of representation! I was absolutely amazed and in awe of both agents but ultimately decided to go with Alice from Madeleine Milburn Agency. Her enthusiasm for The Dream Eater blew me away and her love for the character ‘Tao the goat’ made me love her even more.

It has been a thrilling ride so far and I’m incredibly excited for what will come next.

There is still so much to learn about writing, I will never feel like I know it all, but my confidence is slowly growing. I’m starting to trust my instincts and believe in my story.

The Dream Eater has grown up and so have I.

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Books to give you Nightmares

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I love reading most genres from sci-fi and fantasy to chick lit and non-fiction. However, there is one genre that I have to indulge in with caution. Reading horror, such as Stephen King or H.P. Lovecraft always makes me a nervous wreck but I can’t resist the spine tingling books.

At the moment, I’m reading the Girl with all the Gifts. Even though I would describe this as being more of a love story than a horror story, it does have frighteningly fast running zombies in it, which fascinate and terrify me.

The plot itself has been a slow starter for me, building up a picture of the post-apocalyptic world, where I have been impatient to learn more about the why and how of the zombie outbreak. However, now that I’m half way through I have become absorbed into the little girls world and her struggle to control her zombie condition.

Unfortunately, as much as I’m enjoying the book, I have been having zombie related nightmares after reading several chapters before bed. So I have decided that this particular book will be a daytime read and I will keep the night time reading spot for something with fewer monsters.

The Eye of the Storm

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There are so many reasons why people write. To communicate or for work, for pleasure or to express themselves. I find that I write for fun and to be creative, but I also write to make myself feel better and to bring structure to my day. Sometimes the chaos of life can become difficult to handle all at once. I find that writing down a few words in diary form or even writing a creative piece can be cathartic and restore some control and sanity to my life.

Life can be confusing and sometimes out of your control, you may feel as though a hurricane has hit and nothing seems certain. Therefore it is essential that you find something that you enjoy and take pride in, so that you can regain a sense of well being and peace of mind, even through the stormy times.

The One

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I’m stuck in a book rut. I have been picking books up and putting them down for the past few weeks without becoming hooked. I don’t know whether I’m in a particularly indecisive mood or whether I just haven’t found the right book.

I can usually read most genres, but recently I have picked up a YA historical fiction, a fantasy book and an autobiography and I haven’t even managed to read half way through any of them. Irrationally, I’m worried I have lost my lust for books but I know it’s because I haven’t yet found The One.

I’m tired of reading half-heartedly and falling asleep after a few page turns. I want to find a book that keeps me up all night and that I can’t stop thinking about!

I think I need to go on a book hunt and actively seek out the page turner that will reignite my passion for reading.

Life Stories

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I’m reading a book by Terri Cheney called ‘Manic’ about her experience with bipolar disorder. It is beautifully written and absorbing, by far the best autobiography I have read in a long time. Once I have finished it I hope to write a detailed review.

I do find that some autobiographies feel distant and weary of their own story, while sometimes I never really feel connected to the subject matter.

However, when the voice of the author really connects with you it’s as though you have met your soul mate. Someone who understands an aspect of your life, or someone who you can empathise with or who you are curious about.

The real stories that we have to tell can sometimes be far more exciting than any story thought up or imagined. I believe that everyone has a tale worth telling and there is always someone out there who is eager to read it.

The Natural Sleep Remedy

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I have recently started reading before bed, instead of watching TV or scrolling through the internet on my tablet.

I started the New Year with a string of disrupted night’s sleep with fleeting nightmares that woke me up every few hours. I knew that this was triggered by watching too many late night films and reading the news headlines before heading to bed. I decided to try and ‘switch off’ technology an hour or so before sleep and pick up a book instead.

The comfort of reading a paper copy that is bookmarked from the evening before instantly puts me at ease. I naturally slip into a meditative state and sleep comes easily after a while (depending on how exciting the book is at that point!)

It is difficult sometimes to stop yourself checking emails ‘one last time’ or scrolling through social media for the billionth time, but I feel happier and healthier after a good night’s sleep and all it takes is a few chapters of a book!

Writing and Reading Resolutions

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I only have one New Year’s resolution this year – to make sure I write and read every day. It doesn’t have to be much, just something. Even if it is just writing a sentence and reading a page!

After the time off over Christmas and New Year I feel rusty when it comes to writing and even reading.

I have spent the holidays being entertained by (and entertaining) friends and family. Pure escapism through watching films, going for walks and meals out has meant that I haven’t had a lot of time to myself. I have enjoyed the time off and the ability to put everything on hold for a while, but I have also felt a little guilty for neglecting my writing.

Now that the holidays are over, I need to get back into writing and catching up on the reading that I have collected over the past few weeks. I was given a few books as Christmas gifts and my boyfriend brought back a stack of Terry Pratchett books from his Christmas visit home that I’m looking forward to borrowing!

I find that after a break it does sometimes take a while to ‘re-train’ myself to write for any period of time. I can get easily distracted and fidgety. The thought of writing for long periods can be daunting after a few weeks off. I need to start slow and just write for ten minutes at a time, just to ease myself back into the writing process!

The Next Generation of Writers

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I remember learning to write by copying the story of ‘The Little Matchstick Girl’ word for word into my notebook. I didn’t know what each letter meant or even how they all fit together; they were just scribbles I laboriously traced over. All I can remember is that I desperately wanted to capture the tale myself, as well as the frustration of not being able to write properly.

As soon as I was able to read and write I wanted to create my own stories. I would write about the adventures of my pet cat, or write about places I wanted to visit.

I’m curious to know how children nowadays learn to write their own stories. With an overwhelming choice of films, TV, games, books and activities, where do they find the time to write? Do they find the time?

Children have an immeasurable gift of imagination and they should utilise it, before the skill is lost in the restriction of tweets, updates and texts. Unless we are able to teach the skills required in a world full of distraction, the ability to write stories may be in danger of dying out.

Be Brave

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I still find it difficult to write something that other people will read.

Writing is very personal and it’s a complicated form of expression. I have never written very openly, I was always the last person to read out my written work in class. But I need to stop seeing it as a potentially terrifying scenario.

The creative and personal nature of writing can cause doubts, as well as the fear of being scorned or judged. But writers must learn to be brave in displaying their craft and be proud of their hard work.

Writing publically, whether in a blog or a book, is a form of empowerment and a task that builds your confidence. When shared with others, writing can be a tool to connect and express yourself creatively.

I may never be completely comfortable with sharing my work, but I can learn to be braver when I write.

Write Yourself Happy

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I find it hard to write when I feel down and low. I lack the energy and the motivation to try and string together a coherent sentence. I feel like it is one sentence forward then two deleted.

I am my own worst critic when I feel unhappy. It becomes an exhausting process trying to write and silence my doubts at the same time. But not writing makes me feel worse, as though my life is at a standstill.

So I have decided to try and write however I feel inside. I’ve started writing things down with pen on paper so the words can be tucked away, without any judgement. With each scribble it has become easier to start writing again.

I feel like I have reclaimed a part of myself that is lost when I’m feeling low.