Stay Home – A Year of Writing Through Lockdown

It’s finally here!

Stay Home – A Year of Writing Through Lockdown is the first book published by the Community Interest Company myself and author Sim Alec Sansford run, Chasing Driftwood Writing Group. The book has been published under Chasing Driftwood Books and we hope there will be many more to come. In fact, we will be annoucning a brand new community writing project very soon!

So, what is Stay Home about and why did we put it together?

At the start of the Covid 19 pandemic, I turned almost daily to my blog to write about my fears and experiences as a nationwide lockdown saw the closing of schools, colleges and workplaces. The majority of us stayed home. We watched the world from our windows, took our daily walks, and turned to music, books and streaming services to entertain us. We also turned to gardening, pets and chicken-keeping! For a short while, our lives stopped and a new reality took over. As my blog posts and ponderings piled up, I decided to open up my blog to guests who might want to share their thoughts, feelings and experiences of life under lockdown. I had in mind at this point that putting together an anthology to publish under Chasing Driftwood would be a good plan. So, we opened it up to even more people, including the adults and children who attend our writing clubs and workshops.

We were overwhelmed by the wonderful submissions of personal essays, stories and poetry and we soon had a decent sized anthology on our hands.

It’s been a great learning experience for myself and Sim. Of course, as self-published authors ourselves we understand the process of compiling a manuscript, formatting, editing, proofreading, choosing a front cover and uploading to Amazon, but there were still new things to learn along the way. We would like to publish more anthologies in the future written by the people we work with, so Stay Home was a fantastic opportunity to learn from.

It has been published under Chasing Driftwood Books and is available now in ebook and paperback from Amazon. All the money from book sales will go back into the CIC to help fund our next community writing project. If you re interested in reading the book and supporting emerging writers and our next project, then here is the link to check it out.

mybook.to/StayHome

A huge thank you to all the wonderful contributors and to artist Law Baker who kindly designed the front cover for us!

Guest Post #1 – Hello Home…

Last week I posted about how it felt to be entering yet another strict lockdown here in the UK due to Covid 19 infections soaring again. It was a post addressed to my home…the place that is sheltering us and keeping us safe. It got me thinking, how are other people coping in their homes? All our homes are so very different – how does it feel for other people to be locked in again? So, I reached out and I’m happy to report I’ve got a wonderful selection of guest posts lined up for the coming weeks on the theme ‘Hello Home…’. For the first post please welcome author R. V Biggs. You can find out more about him and his books at the end of the post!

Home.

‘Home… home again.

I like to be here when I can.

When I come home cold and tired,

I love to warm my bones beside the fire.’

Wonderful song lyrics that I’ve remembered for almost 50 years and taken from the album ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ by Pink Floyd.

But at some point during autumn, maybe into November, a switch usually turns on inside my head while I’m glaring at tail lights during the daily commute home along the M6. The switch activates the memory of these song lyrics and draws me into the warm embrace of what home means, especially when we’re heading for the dark months.

That warm embrace offers up a myriad of recollections all listed under the heading of Nostalgia and not just related to the winter months when, for the most part, we humans migrate indoors.

As the years have passed, I’ve realised that Nostalgia isn’t just a yearning for years gone by. It can invoke memories in the recent past, and I think lockdown has had its effect on this notion as well.

My commute came to a halt in March 2020, much like, I imagine, many others, though I deem myself one of the lucky ones who can work quite effectively from home. So now my house has become my sanctuary, since I’m shielding, a place where I’ve been able to shut out the world to keep safe.

But the way I feel about my home has changed over the last twelve months. It has taken on a more poignant meaning after a three week stay in hospital when the medical experts tried to figure out what was wrong. Mercifully they did and returning home made me realise how I long for and value my home when I’m away.

For almost a year now I’ve worked from home, which suits me for the main reason that I don’t have to commute… the single most exhausting part of the working day. It means I’m here to have breakfast with my wife, and elevenses, lunch and dinner, the latter without being almost too tired to eat. There’s a comfort in knowing I can share more of my day with her and Mags, our Labrador rescue.

As I look around, I see the material things that make up our home. The furniture, the photographs, prints on the wall, the candles, the DVDs, my wife’s knitting basket. Then outside the trees we have planted, the roses, the summer bedding, the hard landscaping, the vegetable garden, the bird feeders. The list goes on.

But each of these things invokes a shared memory. The memory of when and where we bought ‘x’, or planted ‘y’. When this or that photo was taken and what we were doing at the time.

Imagine if you stood in each room of your home in turn, picked out an object and pondered when you bought it, from where, and what you were doing at the time, how far down memory lane could you go? What connections would you make?

Here’s an example. On the bistro table in the photograph above, there are cups and saucers my wife and I purchased from a charity shop in Tywyn, near Aberdovey. At the time we were having a short break in October 2019 for our wedding anniversary. I use one of this set each day for coffee while I’m working, and it reminds me of our rediscovery of the Cardigan Bay coastline of Wales.

During the year we met, we took a short break in Wales and fell in love with the place and each other. For years we holidayed there in the Autumn before discovering the vastness of Scotland after which we only had days out in Wales. But the return was an eye opener, since we’d all but forgotten its beauty. Now when I look at these cups and saucers, I remember that holiday in 2019, I remember the days out over the years, the seafront at Criccieth, Cadwalladers ice cream, the long beach at Harlech, Fish and Chips from Barmouth… catching the sunset before the long drive home. And all this from an object that sits in a cupboard in our kitchen.

Maybe these are the things that really define our homes so that when we return we are surrounded by the memories we’ve made.

I mentioned lockdown above. Well, below is a picture of homemade jam. The fruit was partially foraged locally by my wife during lockdown on daily dog walks, and from Cumbria during an early autumn holiday of this year before the world closed in once more.

Everything around me has a link to a memory somewhere in the near or distant past, and for me each of these memories relates to and brings me back home.

But if I were to be honest, home has two meanings for me. The first is that which we all recognise from the word… the place where we live. But for me, the other meaning is my wife. She is the reason I have a home, the reason I have so many memories, so many objects around me that link to my past. In the words of Roger Waters, (sorry, Pink Floyd once again but more recently than 1973), ‘Everybody’s got someone they call home.’

I think home must mean more to me than I sometimes realise, which is why I chose to weave themes of family and home into my writing. Not a decision I sat and thought about… it just developed that way, as you can see in this extract from Reunion, the second in my short series of psychological mysteries.

Sarah’s need for the sanctuary of family was her greatest strength and her greatest weakness. What was family, she thought, if not a place to belong? Family was everything. It was a warm blanket… an embrace… a safe place to hide when the world threatened. A refuge where the door was always open, and a friendly face welcomed. Her need was deep-rooted, which explained the intensity of her grief after losing both of her parents.

With thoughts of family, she recalled the feeling she’d had when entering the building over half an hour ago. But the feeling of home that touched her back then, was little to do with the carpeted entrance, the heavy curtains and fresh flowers. Instead, it was the presence that called to her… a manifestation which sent forth warm tendrils of love that spread outwards from this quiet room overlooking the sea.

So I guess ever more so during these times of lockdown, home is not only where the heart is, it’s where memories lie, where our spirit settles, where our souls are at peace.

Thank you so much to Rob for this wonderfully personal piece. If you would like to find out more about him and his work his bio and links are below! We will have a new ‘Hello Home…’ piece mid-week!

R V Biggs lives in a small ex-mining village near Wolverhampton, England, with his wife Julie, and Mags the black lab. He has four grown up children and six grandchildren.

Walking with the dog is a favourite pastime and much of the story line for his first novel was developed during these lengthy outings.

Robert worked for 35 years in telecommunications but changed career paths to a managerial supporting role within a local Mental Health National Health Service trust. It was during the period between these roles that the concept for Song of the Robin was born.

Robert is a firm believer that destiny and co-incidence exist hand in hand and this conviction extends to his writing. He has a passion for holistic well-being and after first-hand experience of the potential healing powers of Reiki, a form of energy therapy, took a Reiki level 1 training course to heighten his spiritual awareness. Robert’s experiences in these areas helped conceive the ideas that led to Song of the Robin and its sequel Reunion, novels with central themes of fate, love and the strength of family. His writing is not fantasy but is set in modern times involving real people living real lives.

Amazon :- Tinyurl.com/yavoqlbx
My website:- rvbiggs.com

Character Interview- Mack Walker

Morning folks! With Christmas just around the corner, many of you lovely bookish types might be thinking about buying books for your loved ones. With this in mind, myself and my friend indie author Kate Rigby are holding a little Christmasssy event today over on Facebook. The Christmas Pop-Up Book Shop will be full of links to paperbacks by fantastic authors. Authors, feel free to add your links throughout the day, and readers, please come in and browse the shelves. We will be leaving the event up for a few days so that you can pop in and out and not have to worry about missing anything. We will also be posting some other things of interest, such as giveaways, competitions, and character interviews. Here is one such thing. Indie author Mark Gillespie is an incredibly talented and prolific writer. I can’t keep up with the number of books he releases! This character interview is with Mack Walker, the main protagonist in his dystopian/post-apocalyptic/speculative fiction style trilogy, The Future Of London. (I’ve read two books in the series so far, and it is brilliant!) Enjoy!

Mack Walker (The Future of London Series)

1. Do you have any negative character traits and if so, what would you say they are?

I suffer from obsessive tendencies. But I don’t know, are those negative traits? To wake up in the morning knowing that only one thing matters above all else? That sounds like clarity to me. I’m looking for someone you see – that’s my thing. You could call it hunting rather than looking, because when I find him, well…

2. What are your most positive personality traits?

Obsessive tendencies.

3. Tell us what your current most pressing ambition or dream is?

To kill a man called Hatchet. In 2011, he did a terrible thing, something that changed all our lives for the worse. Someone has to make him pay and only a few people know what he did back then.

4. What are you most afraid of?

I still don’t know what happened to my parents. Nine years after they locked us up in London I don’t know what happened to them. Did they stay behind to look for me or did they make a run for it and try to get out before it was too late? I’m afraid I’ll never know the answer to that question. Most of all, I’m afraid they stayed behind.

5. Do you have a best friend? If so, why this person?

Friends don’t last long in this city.

6. Have you ever been in love?

I was only 16 when they locked us up in here. I never had much time for all that stuff back then. I’ve got even less time for it now.

7. Have you ever committed a crime?

Yes, but not without good reason. I don’t even know what counts as a ‘crime’ anymore in here. We do what we do to survive. Things like stealing and murder, they don’t mean what they used to.

8. Do you have any secrets?

I have a big secret. I know why no one is a hurry to let us out of London even though it’s been nine years since they sealed off the city. I’m certain they could find a way to bring us all back into society if they really wanted to. Only one other person in the city knows what I know. They’re using us – they’ve installed hundreds of thousands of micro-cameras everywhere, all over the city and they’re filming us. Not only that, we’re part of a reality TV show called The Future of London. Apparently it’s very popular and people pay a lot of money to watch us in here. They gain nothing from letting us out but they stand to lose a lot of money.

9. Do you have any regrets?

I wish I’d never moved to London in 2011.

10. How would you like to be remembered?

There haven’t been any new headstones in London for a long time. But it doesn’t matter if no one remembers me. Not as long as I find him.

Thanks so much to Mark (and Mack!) for this interview! You can find out more about Mark’s books on the link below;

Mark Gillespie books

 

Why My Favourite Draft Is The Second

Writing the first draft of a novel (as I am doing right now) is wonderful and scary and full of surprises. There is nothing quite like the exciting moment you first put down words to see where they go. Also, if you have been spending a lot of time revising and editing, writing something brand new and fresh, is just glorious. If you’ve had to push back ideas and ask noisy characters to wait their turn patiently, finally starting that first draft is just about as exciting as it gets.

However, the first draft is also tricky. It’s entering unknown territory. You may have a plan and a plot, but things change, things happen. Sometimes the characters take over and throw constant spanners into the novel you had envisioned! It is also a draft full of self-doubt. Is this working? Is this rubbish? Then there are the bits that drag. It’s slowing down, what do you do?

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Writing your first draft is an exhausting, nerve-wracking business. Compare that to the frustration and tedium that sometimes accompanies the third, fourth or fifth draft, and you might understand why the second draft of a novel is my absolute favourite. Here is why!

  1.  Because it’s surer, more confident than the first. It has a clearer idea of where it is going and why
  2. It is usually a hell of a lot better than you thought it was! Writing the first draft I am often telling myself how clumsy and awful it is. Going through the second, I tend to get a pleasant surprise. It’s actually not that bad!
  3. The journey has been mapped out and the plot is staked into place. Yes, things still could change, but the solid basics are there. The journey is basically filled with less trepidation
  4. The characters have come alive and introduced themselves properly. They were a tad shy to begin with, but that is so not the case now!
  5. The characters have taken control and surprised me. They’ve taken the wheel from my hands and even changed the direction we were going in
  6. The themes are growing in strength and making sense
  7. As I am blundering through the first draft, I can already see how much better I can make it in the second, and this is very exciting
  8. I’m excited to get back to the start again for a better effort with more tools in my kit and my knowledge about my characters and story
  9. The hardest bit is over, I’m now refining it, fleshing it, trimming it, shaping it and perfecting it
  10. I’m not bored of it yet! It’s only the second draft so it is still all shiny and new!

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How about you? Which draft do you enjoy the most? Which one is the worst or the hardest? Please feel free to comment and join in the conversation!