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.
Welcome to another guest post for my regular feature Dreaming of Another World. This feature was originally inspired by a post I wrote about how lockdown made me imagine and long for another kind of world, another way of doing things. So, I invited other creative people on to The Glorious Outsiders to share their thoughts, feelings and experiences. Here is a thought provoking short story from author Val Portelli. At the end of the post you can find Val’s author bio and links to her work.
The Grass is Always Greener
‘Shush, I want to watch the news.’
‘I don’t know why. It’s the same thing every night. Who would have believed six months ago.…’
‘Quiet. It’s starting.’
‘Good evening,’ the dulcet tones of the presenter began the broadcast. ‘The Leader announced today that with the devastation of our planet showing little signs of receding, further emergency measures will need to be put in place. These will include the temporary reduction in food allocation and have a knock-on effect on travel. Those who have already received a confirmation of their bookings will take priority, and the committee are working flat out to accommodate others a soon as possible. Please join us tomorrow for further updates.’
Marcia switched off the appliance and sighed.
‘I knew we should have booked while we had the chance, but you insisted we wait for a better deal,’ she said to her husband. ‘Have we left it too late?’
Dane tensed, hating that Marcia was upset but not knowing what to do about it. They had discussed the trip endlessly, weighing up the pros and cons and saving every spare penny so their dream would be everything they envisaged.
‘I’m sorry, love. The discount for going out of season was too good to ignore. Another four weeks and we would have been on our way. Who would have guessed this would happen? The whole universe has gone crazy, but don’t give up. I’ll sort it out somehow.’
‘No, it’s not your fault,’ Marcia said, going over to give him a hug. ‘No one could have predicted this would happen. When we made our plans, life was normal and we assumed it would carry on that way. I should have told you I wanted a crystal ball for my birthday, then I could have said “Told you so.” As it is, we’ve got to take our chances with everyone else who’s in the same boat. We’ve got the advantage we’re prepared. Tomorrow we’ll register and the first space that comes up we’ll take it. Agreed?’
‘Agreed,’ Dane said, determined to spend as much time online as necessary to make sure they got away as soon as possible. Although he tried to stay positive it wasn’t easy as daily life became more of a challenge. No longer able to work as further restrictions came into force, they were forced to exist on half the income they had enjoyed previously. At times they were
tempted to dip into their savings, but that would mean they would be unable to afford their dream, so they made do, and tried to stay positive.
The increasing heat made them feel lethargic, and concentration difficult. Usually they were happy in each other’s company, but being confined 24/7 they were both snappy and unreasonable. Weeks passed until one day it all got too much and Marcia took out her frustrations on Dane, blaming him for everything going wrong. He retaliated and soon they were in the middle of a full-blown row. In temper, she threw two plates in the sink which promptly smashed, he shouted at her for being unappreciative and destroying the crockery set he had worked so hard to buy. All their pent-up anger and bitterness spewed out and he spent the night sleeping in the spare room.
The next morning the atmosphere was quiet and tense. They spoke to each other only when necessary, both too stubborn to make the first move and apologise. That evening Marcia felt tears welling up as she was cutting their last remaining vegetables for a meagre meal. Unable to see clearly, the knife slipped and blood spurted out from the gash in her finger.
‘Darling are you alright?’ Dane asked as he rushed to her side.
‘They were all we had left,’ Marcia sobbed. ‘Now I can’t even feed you properly.’
‘Hush, it’ll be fine. I needed to lose some weight anyway,’ Dane joked as he took her in his arms and comforted her, until with a final hic-cup she managed a weak smile.
‘If we had any other ingredients I could make a black pudding,’ she said, ‘or perhaps we could turn into vampires and not have to worry about food.’
‘That’s my girl. You can bite me any time you like, but first we should clean up that cut. It looks nasty,’ Dane responded as he went to fetch some antiseptic and a plaster.
With harmony restored between them, he salvaged what he could for their meal, and on impulse brought out their last bottle of wine.
‘I know we were saving it for a celebration,’ he said, ‘but I think we need it tonight. Perhaps it will bring us luck. Sorry sweetheart, I shouldn’t have taken my temper out on you. Cheers.’
‘It was my fault. I’m sorry. Whatever happens, we’ve still got our dream. Cheers to a brighter future.’
Once they had cleared up, he logged on as usual, prepared for another disappointment. To his amazement a vacancy appeared, two seats available, leaving in three days’ time. He was shaking so much his finger could hardly press the “book” button. Half excited, half gearing himself up for disappointment he sat biting his nails until the confirmation with full details appeared, when he let out a loud whoop of delight.
‘What’s happened? Tell me,’ Marcia said as she came rushing in to ask what all the commotion was about.
‘We’re going, we’re going,’ Dane shouted as he picked her up and twirled her round the room. ‘In three days’ time we’ll be leaving this hell-hole planet for good, and on our way to earth. No more 40 degrees heat, no more confined to the house, no more food restrictions, no more rulers dictating what we can and can’t do. We’ll be free to wander about and enjoy life the way it used to be.’
Neither of them truly believed it would happen until they received their immigration papers, medical confirmation for a clean bill of health, and were seated in the space craft ready for take-off to a new world. Life on earth was their dream finally coming true.
It was only as they exited the craft and joined the queue for new arrivals, they were able to learn of the restrictions affecting their new planet. Global warming meant average temperatures were similar to home, the virus meant food shortages and confinement, with additional regulations affecting their every move.
The grass is not always greener.
A huge thanks to Val for sharing this story with us! You can find out more about Val and her work below. If you have a blog post, short story or poem on the theme Dreaming of Another World, then please get in touch!
Despite receiving her first rejection letter when she was nine, from some lovely people at a well-known Women’s magazine, Val continued writing intermittently until a freak accident left her housebound and going stir crazy. The completion and publication of her first full length novel helped save her sanity during those difficult times.
Six books and various anthologies later, she is currently working on her long neglected 100,000 word plus manuscript, in between writing follow ups to two of her earlier novels with the intention of making them into a series. She writes in a variety of genres, although the weekly short stories she posts on her Facebook author page tend to include her trademark ‘Quirky’ twist.
Val lives on the outskirts of London, where she provides a free restaurant service to various generations of foxes who have obtained squatters’ rights since her dogs passed over the rainbow bridge. She is always delighted to receive reviews, as they encourage sales, and help to pay the exorbitant supermarket chicken bill to keep her visitors fed.
In her spare time she studies how to market her work to a wider audience, before resorting to procrastinating on social media, and seeking advice from the unicorns she breeds in the shed at the bottom of the garden.
Author MJ Mallon has put together a collaborative collection of writing, poetry and musings on the subject of the Covid 19 lockdown. One of the features in the book is ‘isolation writers’, where writers recorded their personal experiences of being a writer during a pandemic. I was lucky enough to have a piece I wrote included in this collection, so I wanted to help spread the word about This Is Lockdown and MJ Mallon kindly agreed to the following interview. Find out what inspired her to put this together, how easy and hard it was to pull off and what is happening with her own writing.
1. Tell us about This Is Lockdown – what can we expect to read if we purchase this collection? I collated This Is Lockdown in two parts. The first section comprises my personal diaries, photography and poems It features the ‘isolation writers,‘ who share their pieces on isolation during COVID19, their poetry and writings. The second half focuses on my YA short story: The Poet’s Club, and a more mature love affair, plus various pieces of flash fiction inspired by news reports and social media during this time. This Is Lockdown is an authentic account of the difficulties and sadness of this time but there are also tales to lift the spirits, wonderful community initiatives such as Masks4NHS, (who contributed a piece documenting their fund-raising success.)
2. What made you decide to put this collection together?
This collection started off as a series of features on my blog. I posed this question: How do writers, creatives, artists and bookish souls cope with isolation? Is their capacity to cope different from the rest of the population? It’s an interesting question and one that fascinates me.
The popularity of this series of blog posts gave me the idea to put this collection together.
3. How did you approach authors/bloggers and what sort of response did you have?
I approached authors and bloggers via social media, specifically my Facebook group: Authors/Bloggers Rainbow Support Club and Book Connectors. The response was overwhelmingly positive. I saw it as a wonderful opportunity to connect with the writing community in a mutually helpful way during this time.
It gave me focus and drive to do something worthwhile whilst on furlough from work. I suddenly found myself with nothing else to do apart from housework, gardening, or the dreaded de-cluttering!
4. What sort of audience do you think will enjoy this book?
Ah, that’s an interesting question. Everyone. I hope. Firstly, I think it will appeal to writers, bloggers and creatives. Also, it will interest all of us – our experiences of the impact of coronavirus are similar wherever we live in the world.
5. What has been the easiest and what has been the hardest aspect of putting this together?
For me, the easiest part is writing! The hardest part is the formatting (especially as there are so many photographs in the collection.) I had to do a fair amount of rearranging, deciding on fonts, format, and headers. I’d say that it was the most difficult formatting job I’ve attempted to date.
There are many author photos, images I’d taken on walks, or in my garden, a photo of my daughter, two contributed photos of cats, food, etc. I changed the dpi (dots per inch,) of each photograph to ensure that it would be a high resolution for publishing.
6.What has your own experience of lockdown been, in terms of your writing?
Difficult. At the moment, I struggle to write in my normal style: YA Fantasy/magical realism. So, instead, I created realistic fiction
7. Tell us about your own writing and publishing journey so far
I started my blog Kyrosmagica – crystal magic – six years ago. Via my blogging journey I’ve joined in flash fiction, short story writing, poetry, and photography challenges. I’ve virtually met bloggers and writers who I now call friends, and I’ve also had the pleasure of meeting many of them in person at the Annual Bloggers Bash in London, which sadly didn’t happen this year due to circumstances not related to COVID19.
My debut novel, a YA fantasy set in Cambridge, is inspired by two amazing sculptural modern artworks: the Corpus Christi Chronophage clock invented by Dr. John C. Taylor, OBE, and the beautiful crystal grotto in Juniper Artland in Scotland, designed by Anya Gallaccio. These two creations give the book its raison d’être – its light and darkness.
The Curse of Time #1 Bloodstone is a coming of age story about a young girl, Amelina Scott. She lives in a weird family dynamic, with her much loved black cat, Shadow, Esme, a girl stuck in a mirror and her parents Mark and Eleanor who look like they’ve walked out of a horror wax museum. Ryder is delicious to look at but has a shadowy aura that excites and frightens her.
There are snippets of poems introducing each of the chapters and many themes interwoven in the book: music, magic, art, mental health/self harm, deception, and hypnotism. .
I’ve also contributed to these short story anthologies:Goodreads: Nightmareland, a bestselling horror anthology compiled and edited by Dan Alatorre, and the Ghostly Writer’s group organised by Claire Plaisted.
8. What was your latest release and who would enjoy it?
My latest release, Mr. Sagittarius is different too! It’s a collection of poetry, prose and photography inspired by the beauty of nature. It explores many themes: sibling relationships, love, the circle of life, myths and magic. It was recently featured under the heading Inspiration at Literary Lightbox.Here is the link: https://lightboxoriginals.com/lollipop-leaves/
9. What is your normal writing process?
I often awaken with ideas in the morning and rush to type them on my laptop! I don’t plot, I tend to write everything down and then add the detail, or rearrange. This helps to create imaginative and unusual effects!
10. What can we expect from you next?
First on the agenda is to finish the second in the Curse of Time series. I hope to publish the second book in this three-part series in the Autumn/Winter of 2020. I also have several other projects in mind… a poetry, photography book entitled Do What You Love, and a MG story about a dragon and a girl.
11. What advice would you have for any aspiring writers out there?Write, read, and repeat! Live, Laugh, cry. Experience the world through your eyes, ears and soul. Believe, and you will get there. Work at it and don’t let anyone crush your dreams.
12. What advice would you have for anyone thinking about putting together a collaborative collection such as This Is Lockdown?
It is my first attempt at a collaborative collection. My advice? Contribute to several anthologies before you attempt one yourself. This helps to give you an idea of the process and what you will need to do. There is a considerable amount of work involved, so make sure you have the time to devote to it. You will need to be organised. I use Canva to create content to share on my blog, and I manage my blog tour with featured posts by bloggers and authors I know in the writing community. It is important to ensure your cover and graphics are enticing. You can outsource blog tours, covers, formatting but it will be costly if you do. Keep costs down by creating your own ebook cover, making connections and using Kindle Create.
The wonderful contributing authors and creatives are many in number!
Thank you so much to MJ Mallon for agreeing to this interview. If you would like to find out more about her and her work, the relevant links are just below!
My favourite genres to write are: YA fantasy, magical realism, and various forms of poetry. I blog about books, writing, photography and inspiration at: https://mjmallon.com
I enjoy writing articles celebrating the spiritual realm, my love of nature and all things magical, mystical, and mysterious. One of my greatest pleasures is reading. I’ve written over 150 reviews at my lovely blog home: https://mjmallon.com/2015/09/28/a-z-of-my-book-reviews/
I’m a member of a professional writing body. SCBWI, the Society of Children’s Writers and Illustrators.
Welcome to another Indie Author of The Month post! This time please welcome the marvellously versatile and prolific indie author Paula Harmon. As well as writing fantastic novels and short stories, Paula was also one of the wonderful people behind Blandford’s first ever literary festival last November. I was honoured to be asked to get involved and it was a fantastic event I hope they are all very proud of. I can’t wait for the next one! Here Paula talks about where her ideas come from, what her writing process is and more. Enjoy.
Tell us about your latest release. What is it about and who is it aimed at?
Fighting her corner in a man’s world, Dr Margaret Demeray works as a pathologist in a London hospital for the poor. Suppressing her worry that she’s breaching confidentiality, Margaret gives a stranger called Fox information about a dead down-and-out, in the hope he’ll use it to raise awareness of bad working conditions.
But when a second man appears to die the same way, Margaret starts to wonder why the enigmatic Fox keeps turning up to ask ever more complex questions.
She decides to work alone, uncertain of his motives and wary of her attraction to him.
Once she starts investigating however, her home is burgled, she’s attacked in broad daylight and a close friend becomes distant.
Fox offers the chance to forge an alliance, saying he knows why the men have died but needs her to find out what is killing them and who is behind it.
Yet how come the closer she gets to him the more danger she faces? And how can a memory she’d buried possibly be linked to the deaths?
Margaret must discover the truth before someone – known or unknown – silences her for good.Margaret Demeray was a minor character in the Caster and Fleet series set in the 1890s where she first appeared as feisty teenager. There was no chance she was going to let her older sister get away with all the fun. It would be suitable for anyone who enjoys writers like Ann Granger, Anne Perry, Clara Benson and like a strong-minded female lead.Tell us about your publishing journey so far.
2. Tell us about your publishing journey so far.
I published two collections of short stories in 2016, followed by a memoir about my father in 2017. In 2018, I published my first novel ‘Murder Britannica’ which is a historical mystery set in Roman-Britain in AD190. The sequel ‘Murder Durnovaria’ set the following year in Roman Dorchester came out late 2019. I published a joint collection of short fantasy stories called ‘Weird and Peculiar Tales’ with Val Portelli. With Liz Hedgecock, I co-wrote the Caster and Fleet series – six historical mysteries set in 1890s London which start with ‘The Case of the Black Tulips’. They’re about two young women, frustrated with the restrictions in their lives who end up in partnership solving mysteries.
3. When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
When I was very small, if I was sent to bed early as a punishment I was always quite glad as it gave me the chance to tell myself stories. (For as long as we shared a bedroom, I used to drive my younger sister up the wall by doing this under my breath when she was trying to go to sleep.) Creative writing was my favourite subject at school and I’d always meant to be a writer. Earning a living, then having a family got in the way to start but I thought I’d finally have time and space when my youngest child started school. However, a relocation and change of working pattern meant my dream was dashed. Then in 2015, someone encouraged me to enter a competition and join a writers’ group. After that I sort of thought ‘if I don’t just get on with it whether I have time and space or not, I’ll never do it’ and I did.
4.What is your typical writing day like?
I work full-time and writing tends to have to fit round work. I try to write for one day at the weekend as well as fitting in an hour a day otherwise. I’d write on train journeys as I did a lot of commuting up till March. The current Covid-19 situation makes things less easy since, although I’m still working, I spend that ‘hour after work’ catching up by video with my mother and sister. But on the other hand, I’ve had nowhere to go at weekends and been able to get on with writing instead. Although, as for many, the coronavirus situation itself has a scrambled my brain a little.
5. What is your writing process? (how do you plot a book, come up with characters, find motivation etc)
I tend to start off with a short scene in my head – a person or people in a location doing something apparently ordinary and then I have to work out who they are and what’s extraordinary about it or what’s going to happen next. I usually start with two characters and seem to end up with a million – really not sure why! Once I know who the people are, I then work out where they are, when they’re living and what time of year it is. If it’s set in another era, I’ll do a little light research to find out what was going on at the time in case I need to factor that in. Generally once I find the ‘shape’ of the story, I know how it will start and end and roughly who wants what and what is stopping them from getting it. I usually write that down and then an outline of what ought to happen roughly at each stage of the book. Then I just start and see what happens. I quite often end up completely reorganising the middle, though the beginning and end don’t usually change. I find out more and more about the characters as I go long – they become ‘real’ and that sometimes alters what the core of the story is about in terms of what they learn about themselves or their world.
6. What has been the most positive thing about your publishing journey so far?
Hearing that people enjoy what you’ve written – that it’s touched them or made them laugh – is wonderful. But for myself, even if I write something that not many people read, somehow tapping into the part of my brain that demands to write stories is a wonderful mental release.
7. What has been the most negative thing about your publishing journey so far?Marketing is very hard work. Most writers by nature are rather introverted. I’m not sure I always come across that way at work, but the minute I start talking about my books, I’m overwhelmed with shyness. It always feels like I’m exposing a part of myself, which I suppose I am – since most characters have elements of the author in them. (That’s a little alarming when I think of some of my characters.)
8. Who is your favourite character from your own books and why?
That’s really hard to answer and tends to depend on what I’m working on at the moment! Margaret Demeray’s outgoing and determined nature leads her to want to make the world a fairer place, but it hides a vulnerability. She’s drawn in part from some of the rather feisty women in my family, none of whom let anyone tell them what they could or couldn’t do. But I confess her tendency to lose her temper and say the wrong thing when she does is definitely me.
But I can’t help loving Lucretia – one of the main (and from her perspective) most misunderstood characters in the Murder Britannica series. It never ceases to astound her that people don’t realise just how important she is, but she remains full of hope that not only will she become even richer very soon but that she’ll find if not love then passion – it’s just annoying that people around her keep dying in suspicious circumstances.
9. Where do your ideas come from?
I really don’t know! They just turn up. I’ve always had very vivid dreams and quite often that’s where they come from, and I’m also a terrible day-dreamer. I love places of transit like stations where you can think ‘what if I got on a different train and went somewhere else entirely? or what if the train went back in time? or what if an old friend/enemy sat down next to me? or…’ I sort of apply that in other contexts and see what unfolds. ‘Murder Britannica’ started as a paragraph where Lucretia is having a snide and critical conversation with her daughter-in-law. It just came to me one lunch-time and I wrote it down. It was years before the rest fell into place. With ‘The Wrong Sort To Die’, I started knowing that Margaret had qualified as a doctor in about 1898 and wondered what she’d done after that. I knew she’d have a thirst for justice and equality but also suspected she wouldn’t be much good at bedside manner, so wondered what she’d do and decided she’d probably work in a charitable hospital in the pathology department. I decided what year the story would take place in and by chance, saw something on TV about that era which gave me a germ of a background for the plot – most of the general public thinks they’re living in a golden age of peace with new inventions and social change but meanwhile, the government is preparing for war. What might that mean for the people Margaret wants to help?
10. What can we expect from you next?
Next on the list will be the third in the ‘Murder Britannica’ series. While ‘Murder Durnovaria’ was set in Roman Dorchester, the third book is set in a small town near a river which is roughly located where modern day Blandford is. It’s midwinter and Lucretia’s nephew Fabio will do anything to avoid being forced into an arranged marriage, even look into strange goings on in a small town where it’s hard to know who’s on whose side.
11. Tell us three fun facts about youI can make something out of next to nothing whether it’s a meal or a costume; I don’t take myself remotely seriously; according to family legend I have a medieval ancestor who caught a ‘whale’ off London bridge.
12. What is the best advice you could give to aspiring writers?
Don’t give up. Keep writing things even if you don’t finish them, they may come into their own one day and if not then they’re worth it just for the practice. Maybe today is the right day and maybe it’s not. One day you’ll just get on with it, regardless of whether you really have the space or time. Everything you experience, witness and live through can inform your writing whether it’s serious or funny or thought-provoking. Within legal limits – be a people watcher!
Thank you so much to Paula for agreeing to be interviewed on my blog! |If you would like to find out more about Pauls and her books, her bio and links are below!
Paula Harmon was born in North London to parents of English, Scottish and Irish descent. Perhaps feeling the need to add a Welsh connection, her father relocated the family every two years from country town to country town moving slowly westwards until they settled in South Wales when Paula was eight. She later graduated from Chichester University before making her home in Gloucestershire and then Dorset where she has lived since 2005.
She is a civil servant, married with two children at university. Paula has several writing projects underway and wonders where the housework fairies are, because the house is a mess and she can’t think why.
It’s AD 190 in Southern Britain. Lucretia won’t let her get-rich-quick scheme be undermined by minor things like her husband’s death. But a gruesome discovery leads wise-woman Tryssa to start asking awkward questions.
It’s AD 191. Lucretia last saw Durnovaria as a teenager. Now she’s back to claim an inheritance. Who could imagine an old ring bought in the forum could bring lead to Tryssa having to help local magistrate Amicus discover who would rather kill than reveal long-buried truths.
London 1910. Dr Margaret Demeray is approached by a stranger called Fox to help find out what’s killed two impoverished men. How can a memory she’d buried possibly be linked to the deaths? And how come the closer she gets to Fox the more danger she faces herself?
When Katherine Demeray opens a letter addressed to her missing father, little does she imagine that she will find herself in partnership with socialite Connie Swift, racing against time to solve mysteries and right wrongs. (This is the first of six Caster & Fleet Mysteries)