Deep Writing


Prepared text for a modern printing press

I recently read an article on the topic of “Deep Writing,” in which the author advises that writers need to park their worries and concerns before they start writing. I think that is an excellent point – it is difficult to write when stressed or worried. It is only natural that these stresses get in the way of the though process.

The writer recommends several techniques to create that special kind of “writing world” that “real” writers seem to inhabit. These involve setting timers, parking worries in a box outside the door, not checking emails or websites until the day’s writing is done, writing a set amount each day and so on.

I am NOT one of those writers who can write everyday. In fact, I sometimes don’t write for a whole week. I might think about writing but I don’t do it. As a writer of historical fiction, I spend a lot of time fact-checking and in the process get carried away looking at interesting things which are not necessarily relevant. I think I am a more rounded person because I learn all kinds of random things from the internet. I am not sure I am going to find much use for today’s nugget that the Duchess of Wessex has a computer database of all her clothes, but you never know.

However, I can enter a kind of writing zone when I want to. The whole of this week I have been doing my research with the backdrop of builders working overhead. I got a surprising amount done, considering the noise they made, and happily immersed myself in Wikipedia and various YouTube films. When they disappeared on Thursday evening, I was wound up enough to sit at my laptop and make major revisions to chapter one. Then, I went back to doing other things. I plan to work on chapter two tomorrow but there’s no hurry. The story will come when it is ready.

I sometimes wonder if I would write more if I didn’t have to go out and earn a living. I don’t think I would. I do “deep writing” when my brain tells me it is ready to write. When my brain is distracted then I do other things. Somehow or other, I seem to get to the end of the novels and produce, I think, something worth reading. That, I think, is the aim.

BTW the writer of the original article has had hundreds of articles etc published. That is impressive.

I include the original article for your perusal:




A First Creative Writing Workshop

What a fantastic morning! Nine creative writers turned up for our first session at the College of North West London.

We started with an introductory activity, taken from Sue Lee Kerr’s book Creative Writing: the Quick Matrix,  in which each person interviewed their partner about their passions and their writing history. Then we had a feedback session. I think we were all amazed at how interesting and talented everyone was. Writing experiences ranged from want to write a children’s book but didn’t know where to begin to academic writers through to writers for church plays and poetry sessions. Who knew our small college housed so much writing talent.

The second task was a word association(bubble)  task. I put up a word on the whiteboard and the students suggested related words and ideas. Then, they chose one of the words from a list I gave them to brainstorm connections and associations. I handed out egg timers with the instruction that they had three turns of the timer to do the task. People scribbled furiously and soon papers were filled with words.

The writing task was to take a word or an idea to produce some kind of text over 30 minutes. The room went quiet as they wrote furiously. At the end of the allotted time, writers volunteered to read their WIP. Some chose not to but that was fine. What interesting work they produced – life stories, a short story, children’s stories and a polemic.

We had a little discussion at the end and it seems we might meet again to do some creative writing.


An MA in Creative Writing: Pros and Cons

It is now the second week in July 2016 and all the teaching components of the online MA in Creative (Novel) Writing at Middlesex University are done and dusted. There is only the 15,000 extract from the WIP and  5,000 word critical commentary to complete.Life has gone from being stressful and panic-ridden to remarkably boring and calm. The summer will be filled with research, tweaking, final tutorials and putting it all together ready for the 7th October.

All that was necessary to complete the course was the  fee (4,200 pre-Brexit English pounds, since you ask), a decent bit of computer equipment, WiFi, a warm spot which was relatively quiet and some spare time. As it was an online course it could be taken pretty much anywhere at any time. I like to work in bursts of say 10 to 12 hours for a day or two then slacken off for a couple of days before hitting the keyboard again. Once I was done and ready to submit, I wrote up my notes and sent them off to the forum.

The course was in turns interesting, boring, exciting, challenging, difficult, incomprehensible, time-consuming, frustrating and demanding. I work well on my own so I didn’t get too lonely but there were moments when I would have loved to have discussed focalisation, stream of consciousness and centre of consciousness with someone other than Google search. The course blurb stated that having a degree in English Lit might not necessarily help with the key concepts but I can’t help feeling that it might have been of some benefit. Apparently, some bloke called Genette invented the term “‘focalisation’ to distinguish between perspective (who sees) and point of view (who narrates).” (I quote from the teaching notes.” I truly wish he hadn’t bothered as I am still trying to figure that one out.

I am not sure if writers are born or made. Perhaps, they are born with some intuitive writing skill (I am thinking of Fran Lebowitz here) or they have been moulded by creative writing tutors or books. Some writers (like me) happily share their scribblings  with the world while others are sensitive and like to keep their WIP close to their chest. For each and everyone there is surely a writing course, writing group or MA to meet their needs.

Here in London,writing courses and meetings breed like the rabbits under my friend Margaret’s garden shed. When I decided that I thought I had a germ of talent and wanted to get serious about writing I sampled a few: City Lit, Bishopsgate Institute and the Mary Ward Centre. I learnt different things from each one but am aware they do not suit all writers. Equally useful and interesting have been the MeetUps. I especially recommend the ones organised by Lisa Goll, as I have attended a few. I have used the writing space provided by Shut Up and Write in Cricklewood (Orna Ross) to meet other writers and to sit down and write.

People do MAs in Creative Writing for different purposes. I want to: a) produce a really good novel and b) go on to teach creative writing. I am happy churning out materials then getting professional feedback at critical points. I work at my own pace fueled by coffee and endless episodes of Hotel Inspector. Studying online suits me, my lifestyle and my idiosyncrasies. Other people I know, struggle with it. If you like bouncing ideas of other people then I recommend a face to face class. A colleague, and fellow writer, is happily doing an online class from an American university, where he is set weekly writing activities followed by feedback. His writing is thriving as a result.

Overall, the aim is to become a better writer. To become a better writer you need to read and write. The MA at Middlesex has introduced me to books and writers I might not have engaged with on my own. I bought lots of the books which studied sections of and will, over the next few months, read all of them. It has given me the skills to improve my own writing and encouraged me in my journey towards become a creative writing teaching myself. The important thing is that I am now a better writer and have embarked on the next stage of my writing career. I wish other writers to also have the same positive experiences.

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Making the most of a research trip

My novel-in-progress, Weaver of Words, has reached the point where I need to fill in some topographical, historical and cultural details. Luckily for me, this stage has coincided with the start of the summer holiday season so I can get out there and do the research in person. Much as I like siting at my desk, cup of coffee by my side, whizzing around the internet there are some things which are best experienced and researched in person.

For my novel, Stūra māja: In the Shadow of Fear, I walked the streets of Riga looking at the topography through the eyes of my main character. I had gained a good idea of the layout of the streets from printed maps, Google Maps and  the original television version of Henning Mankell’s Dogs of Riga  but I need to experience the places for myself. Having walked the streets, I then visited the Museum of Occupations and looked at photographs of the streets during the Communist period. I visited the KGB headquarters three times to be sure I knew the layout and experienced the building.

Whilst I cannot actually go back to 1968 and 1973 (the key dates when most of the novel is set), I can visit the chapter locations in person and visit museums and exhibitions. Earlier in the year, I paid a visit to Warsaw so I could visit a Polish block of flats from the era (it resembled a prison with narrow corridors lighted by low-output strip lighting  and metal doors to each flat), walked the streets and seeing the parks and buildings my characters would have seen and then went to the 30th of the Palace of Culture and Science  to experience it for myself. Now, I know the view my characters could have and how cold it is  up there. This is something I could not know without being there.

For my research trip to the Czech Republic and Poland I have to fit a lot in. Suddenly, seven days does not seem enough even though I used to know the locations quite well and am not seeing them for the first time. I will, however, be seeing them through different eyes. When I lived in the Czech Republic I was caught up in the experience and living though the transition from Communism to Capitalism. Now, I am looking as a writer and a historian.

I think careful planning is important when making a research trip. Think about what you want to find out, how you are going to find this information or experience, where you want to go and how much you can physically do in the time. As a result of trial and error, I have developed a series of Excel spreadsheets to keep all the information in one place.

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This image shows part of the sightseeing and research spreadsheet. I have broken the trip down into days and then into the places I need to visit. I have tried to group the locations in locations e.g. Chodov and Haje so I can visit the cemeteries and the remnants of Communist street architecture.Another day, I got to Havirov following the bus route of the two main characters. I have factored in a drink in the pub-restaurant (restaurace) they visit – that is a bit of pleasure as well as work.

I know some people think this is a bit OTT or even anal but it means I have a list of where I need to go and what I need to do. By arranging everything in my spreadsheet, I am trying to make sure I don’t miss anywhere out.

By taking the time to plan in advance, I have uncovered some exhibitions I did not know about before and which will provide useful background information. There is always so much going on in Prague that the variety of events is somewhat overwhelming and my spreadsheet is providing structure to the trip. It is something I recommend a researcher to do. After all, you have paid a lot of money to do this research so you need to make the most of it.

As well as planning the actual research, I have designed some new business cards. I am hoping that if I cannot find all the information I need some kind archivist will help me out. It’s just more professional to be able to handover a business card than to scribble your details on a post-it note. Just in case anyone is minded to Google me, I have also updated my website. I do want to look my very best.

As a footnote: I have saved quite a bit of money by booking all my travel online.


If any of my readers has advice they would like to share be assured it will be gratefully received.



Hate the tiles in Windows 10?


Tileless Screen

I am loving my laptop screen now I have got rid of all the tiles and just have programs in my tray. I can now see my background image and not be distracted by those pesky tiles. I hope that now, when I click out of a work space, it reverts to my chosen image and not back to the Windows 10 screen.

If you too want to declutter your screen the process is easy. The way to do it is to right click on each tile and then click “unpin from start.” You do this one by one until your screen is free of tiles. The result is a lovely, clutter free screen.

Now, you have a much calmer screen.


Creative Writing Short Session

I am about to give my first ever Creative Writing Session, as part of the staff development day at work. I have been using the wonderful Creative Writing: the Quick Matrix: Selected exercises & ideas for teachers by Susan Lee Kerr to help me prepare. Even though I have been at the chalk face for 30 years,  I am still apprehensive about starting a new training session.

Ms Kerr has produced a wonderful book which is full of great tips on how to set the classroom up, limit the amount of extra work you do, deal with students and get started on your creative writing course. Reading through chapter one has proved very instructive. I like her ideas on how to structure the course – they are very informative and helpful.

Following her advice, I am going to start with a brief introduction of myself as a writer.Then do a pair work “getting to know you as a writer” activity to get the participants thinking about why they signed up and to feel comfortable with the rest of the group. Then, we will do her Bubble exercise which involves brainstorming and word association. This should lead to a piece of inspirational creative writing. If people are brave enough, the can read out what they have produced. I aim to give them lots of ideas for the writing task to encourage creativity and variety.  Finally, we will have a Q and A Session and a feedback session.

The additional task will be:

When you get home, have a good look at the keyboard of your PC or, if you have a tablet the fingerprints on your keyboard screen. Which letters to you use the most? Hint: they are probably the shiniest or the most worn.

What about those other letters which are underused?

Write a paragraph or half a page using those letters as much as you can.

Will it encourage my colleagues to write? I certainly hope so. I have learnt so much from the writing classes I have attended and I hope we can use this session as a springboard for a new Creative Writing Course in North West London.