Define Casual!

A few months ago I came across NaNoWriMo, a challenge to all writers, new and old, to write 50,000 words during the 30 days of November. Now, I’ll admit that I had never written anything other than school essays, theses or business reports, but for some very strange reason (I’ll never know what possessed me!), I decided to jump in feet first and have a go. After all, how hard can it be to write a novel.

Ha, poor disillusioned me! Never underestimate how frustrating, demoralising and stressful it can be when you fail to meet your daily target, or when the computer screen remains blank, for hour after hour, day after day.

Then suddenly, the inspiration grabs you and the words flow, your fingers ache from typing into the early hours, your eyes are bloodshot from fatigue and too much caffeine. But finally, you are back on track, the goal is all at once achievable – YOU can do this!

It’s mid November, your word count is building, your plot is developing and you are euphoric that this might still happen for you. Taking a notebook and pen to bed with you, (when you finally give in to sleep), waking up and scribbling down an idea, forgetting to eat (all you need is coffee), ignoring the whimpers from the dogs who are still waiting for that walk, all this and more is how the NaNo bug affects you.

The final 10,000 are tough, you’re at a loss for words (a rare occurrence, I know), but you dig deep and then you are on the home stretch, the target is just around that corner, you make a dash for the finish line and YAY!!! you cross over and collapse in a heap, ecstatic and knackered at the same time.

So, you are a WINNER, you can tell all your doubters that they were wrong. It’s done, another item to tick off your “things to do before I die” list. But, is it really all over? What are you going to do next? In my case, the 50,000 words didn’t get me to the end of my story, so in spite of having achieved the NaNo challenge, there was still no sign of a book!

Well I couldn’t just give up on it, once I start something, I have to see it through – call me foolhardy or just plain stubborn, but I hate loose ends (OK, so I guess I’m not hiding my OCD tendencies too well now, am I?). Anyway, the 50k has now grown to over 80k, only now I’m editing, revising and rewriting too. As I get closer to finally writing ‘The End’, I realise that I might need some guidance and advice, therefore I join some writing groups where you can get your work critiqued. In return for some valuable feedback, I need to read other people’s works and give critiques too.

So, what started as a writing challenge last November, has now become a full-time obsession as I write, edit, read, critique and get feedback – eventually I may even have something worth publishing! But, back to the reason for this blog – Define Casual! – to join these writing groups, you have to decide whether you are a ‘Casual & Occasional writer’ or  a ‘Seriously dedicated writer & Novelist’.

Argh! – I chose casual – but based on my experiences so far, Heaven forbid I ever take this seriously!!!!!


A very honourable profession.

Those that can, DO, those that cannot, TEACH

This statement really annoys me, I know that if it hadn’t been for some great teachers, then I would not have had the courage or knowledge to make the choices that I did. Not every decision I made was correct or appropriate for me, but a solid education has given me the skills to make the best of a bad situation and be confident enough to make the necessary changes. 

Teaching is more than book-learning, more than memorizing facts for the next round of exams, it equips the recipients with the skills to grow both personally, socially and at work. 

If you are lucky enough to find a subject that you enjoy and are good at, then the positive benefits that you find there will help you through the difficult times, it inspires you to fulfil your ambitions and aim for the stars.

Teaching gets a lot of criticism these days, especially as we seem to be driven by results and targets. However it is during our formative years at school that we begin to develop our interests and shape our personalities. Surely anyone who works to that end must be given more credit than the statement above conveys.

I have been teaching Spanish for the last 8 years, to adults ranging in age from 25 to 75, each with very different lifestyles and requirements. Enabling them to learn at their own pace and to conquer their fears is not always easy, it certainly involves lots of preparation and planning before the classes even start and continual assessment throughout. It is definitely not a ‘one size fits all’ job and certainly not for the faint-hearted or for any thinking of an easy life.

It’s not all hard work either, my students share their life experiences and constantly entertain me with their tales. They want to learn, unlike teaching children who are not always so keen. It’s a whole new ball game, but just as rewarding. So, when a student of 72 years young recently passed a GCSE course with a B grade, it was the highlight of the week. His success story appeared in a local newspaper and we were all celebrating for quite some time.

As I said, teaching is an honourable profession and although I would not consider myself a professional by any means, in my case, it has been an honour and a privilege to share my own interests with willing participants, and more importantly new friends!

Consequently, I am very glad that I can and do teach!

And I didn’t even know I had one!

I’m talking about accents …..of course!

Now I realise I have an English, regional accent – which is only natural after spending years surrounded by a rich yet subtle dialect. I call it subtle and delicate, as to my ears it has only the slightest twang about it, but to an outsider I guess it’s almost another language in itself. 
I have always thought that other dialects and accents were much more pronounced and much harder to understand….maybe I’m biased but the Brummie accent you hear on TV is way too exaggerated, it would seem it has been distorted and magnified to such an extent that even I don’t recognise it as my own.
I vividly recall my first visit as a student to Wolverhampton – deep within The Black Country. Faced with the elongated vowel sounds of the locals, I felt like I had travelled to another world, yet this was just the beginning.
Until then I had been sheltered from the vagaries of the English accent, these were confined to TV programmes and with the increase of  American shows, the regional accents of England and Britain in general had not figured greatly on my aural radar. I had learnt languages at school and was fascinated by the different sounds and would constantly mimic these at home, much to the joy (!!!) of my dear old Dad, who was surely glad to be deaf in one ear by the time I had finished my little performances. So off I went to study Spanish & German, little did I realise that the English language as I knew it was about to reveal itself in all its glory ….
By now I was used to the foreign accents of my European neighbours and was more than happy to chat away and used my newly discovered vocabulary. Speaking the foreign language with my fellow classmates was fine, the problem came when we each took turns  to translate the phrases back into English. I say English, but seriously this is the point at which the regional accents of my fellow countrymen threw me a curve ball!
We were a very mixed bunch from all over the country and our accents were just as diverse. However one particular accent constantly got the better of me. The student was from Northumberland, Cumbria to be precise, about as far North as you can go before crossing the border into Scotland.  Now his was an accent that I just could not grasp, when he spoke during the lesson in Spanish, I understood him quite easily, but in English …. never in the reign of pigs pudding! (now that’s proper Brummie dialect – meaning that it was never going to happen!!!)
Anyway, I digress …… I have been living in Spain for a while now, teaching the occasional Brit how to master  a few phrases, when, one day a student of mine said that it was all my fault! Now what was I being accused of doing? Apparently he had been chatting to some Spanish locals in another province, who had asked him why he spoke Spanish with an Andalusian accent? Slightly taken aback he said that he was living in Valencia but that the fault lay at my door! You see, as a student I studied in Granada and must have acquired some of  the regional quirks of that accent and had subsequently passed them on to him.
So, as I said as the outset …..I didn’t even know I had a Spanish accent …. but I’m very glad that I do!
Now, my Brummie tones are reserved then for those who can appreciate them and fortunately have not followed me to Spain …. that would be far too confusing!

Don’t label me! – no ‘E’ numbers here!

I was looking into the characteristics of being left-handed recently and it said that “lefties” are more likely to be dyslexic, schizophrenic or stutterers. Being none of these myself (other than being left-handed of course!), this set me off down the path to see if any of these other “labels” actually have any credence. As my only possible point of reference was through a dyslexic friend of mine, I embarked on a journey to disprove a few more of these personality traits.
I came across a checklist of the common signs of dyslexia in adults and using a my buddy as a guinea-pig, I finally realized what they really mean:

·        May hide reading problems.

Wouldn’t been seen dead with a book in his hand when an iPhone will do!

·        May spell poorly; relies on others to correct spelling.

Oh yes, in fact it has become obligatory to proof read anything important!

·        Avoids writing; may not be able to write.

Well why write when someone else can do it for you?

·        Often very competent in oral language.

Can talk the hind leg off a donkey ….and then some!

·        Relies on memory; may have an excellent memory.

Has the everlasting memory of an elephant (when it suits!)

·        Often has good “people” skills.

Mr. Sociable, everybody’s mate, very friendly and talks to anyone! For hours!

·        Often is spatially talented; artistic, intelligent & technically gifted.

Considers himself an expert at everything!

·        May be very good at “reading” people (intuitive).

A regular people-watcher and can sum people up in an instant!

·        In jobs is often working well below their intellectual capacity.

Working you say? Mmmm! Not sure I’d call it “work”!

·        May have difficulty with planning, organization and time management.

Puts everything off till the very last minute!

·        Often entrepreneurs.

Full of ideas, never finishes what he starts!

Well after all that I think I have summed up most of the population, whether dyslexic or not!
It just goes to show that “labelling” people is a waste of time, everyone has some talent and the challenge is finding it and being happy with your lot.
Labels are merely attempts to pigeon-hole people, and I quite like being the square peg in the round hole. There is nothing wrong in being different. As the saying goes it would be a dull world if we were all the same.
Finally, just to put the final nail in the coffin of negativity that is sometimes associated with dyslexia, I then went on to find a site where the great and the good are listed, all of whom had or have dyslexia.
It simply proves that nothing is beyond you if you really care enough to achieve it. Just don’t label me whilst you are doing it!

To write or not to write? – My question exactly!

Does everyone have a book “in” them?

I asked a question on Facebook the other day:
If you were to write a book, what type would you choose? I gave a few options, such as biography/ autobiography ; comedy; mystery/thriller & romance and left it open for people to add their own choices.
However, much to my surprise the overwhelming response was for biography/autobiography. So I  guess that proves a point, that people just want to know about people and that everyone has a story to tell.
I suppose what I am saying, in my own very convoluted way, is that I have always thought I could write a book. Therefore it’s time to bite the bullet, spring into action, face the music and meet the challenge head on (Note to self, avoid overuse of clichés!!!).
Can you really learn to write a book?
Is it not an innate quality, like singing or painting?
Time for some serious reflection:
  • Why do I want to do this? Is it to make money or just to challenge myself? I have no doubts on that front, obviously everyone wants to think they will write the next best.seller or blockbuster, but for me it’s more a personal goal, the realisation of a childhood dream.
  • Who is my audience? On that point, my purpose is clear,  “to write the book that I would want to read myself”.
  • How much should I write? – Memo to self: It doesn’t have to be the next “War & Peace”
  • Am I prepared to keep writing even if no-one is reading my work? What will I do if my work is continually rejected or criticised? – Keep practising or give in?
  • Finally, do I care enough to do this, because if I don’t then no-one else will either.
So, it’s time …. to stop dreaming and do something constructive – hence I have joined a Creative Writing group where I hope to learn some of the essential skills such as plot development and character creation.  This is just the beginning of what will be a huge learning curve, one that will undoubtedly be taxing and requiring much time and dedication, yet also stimulating, creative and satisfying.
Any tips or recommendations to help me on my way would be much appreciated.
You can follow my progress on here, I’ll try not to disappoint!

Handwriting! – I remember that!

Is it a thing of the past?

I was taught “joined up” writing at school and would happily scribble away in my diaries and notebooks. It was like therapy, not that I knew that then, but now with the benefit of wisdom (!!) and hindsight I can see that it was a form of expression. I couldn’t draw or sing and my lack of coordination meant that sporting achievements did not come my way, but I could write. I had a proper fountain pen, no cartridges for me. It was a thing of beauty, a Sheaffer pen, silver and shiny, with an elegant nib and a cap rimmed in gold (plate obviously). I would fill the ink chamber, squeezing life into my pen and then off I would go, blotting paper (remember that?) at the ready. 

Now don’t get me wrong, I was not holed up in my bedroom, isolated from the world. I spent summers playing by the canal, getting dirty and just having a laugh with my friends, but the cold winter evenings were just as much fun. Imagination was my greatest companion and just being able to read and write meant I was never bored.
Then when I went to “big” school, I started to learn foreign languages and the new letters, accents and structures got me hooked very early on. This was my form of art and writing it was just as much fun as speaking it. Especially when I realised that my parents didn’t understand what I was saying or writing. Finally, I knew something they didn’t. The power rush was immense.
But it wasn’t just writing those notes that made my day, it was also receiving letters from pen-pals around the world. I had pen-pals in France, Germany, Belgium, Sweden & Spain. Each week I would get a letter in exotic handwriting, so very different from my own, with  colourful new words and we would all practise our language skills, sharing stories and comparing lifestyles and customs. The time came to call my friends up on the telephone. We would plan the date and time of the call, nothing was as instantaneous as it is today.  I would sit in the hallway at the telephone table (isn’t that what we all did in those days?) and dial countless numbers until the phone was answered and an unfamiliar accent would bombard me with the fastest speech I had ever heard. Afterwards I would relate the whole story to my defenceless family, no doubt with the odd embellishment and then would rush off to pen my next letter.
Where did it all go wrong? The technological advances of the last 20 years have all but wiped the teaching of cursive handwriting off the curriculum. Keyboarding is now the trend in many places. When was the last time you wrote or received a hand-written letter? I email a few of those very same pen-pals now, sending photos instantly and not waiting weeks for a reply.
My handwriting these days has suffered too. My scribbles are exactly that – scribble! Often illegible to anyone else, even to me on occasions. My notebooks are just “to do” lists and my laptop is king. My messages are short,  peppered with “lol” and emoticons and everything is just too quick. Whilst I fully embrace the wonders of technology and confess to being a passionate geek, now and then I remember how much simpler things were.
The beauty of handwriting, practising my name, again and again, on the back cover of my notebook, mastering the signature which would ultimately be mine. Many experts say that the process involved in acquiring a fluid style of  ” joined up” writing is like Pilates for the brain. I guess my brain is no longer getting the workout it deserves and that is a great shame. It probably explains how I can waffle on forever and ever about nothing in particular…..

Life before “Kindle”

What did we do before Kindle?

Maybe a trip to the library or the bookstore. Sometimes just grabbing the latest bestseller at the airport. However, if you are anything like me, you usually got the same type of book, probably the latest Stieg Larsson or Dan Brown, something chunky to read by the pool or at the beach.
Well, I was quite happy with this, until my elder sister got a Kindle. Now I’m not actually envious of this, but I was a little peeved that my sister (a complete technophobe admittedly) had beaten me to the latest trend. There was nothing I could do, I just had to have one too. A DONE DEAL!!!
I quickly ordered my Kindle and within 48 hours I was back up there with the rest of the geeks. Now I had to act quickly and master all the functions before my dear old sis had gotten round to getting her first book. Who said sibling rivalry was less of an issue as you get older??
No more library visits for me, no more hefty bags of reading material for trips away. Ebooks had arrived in my world …and with them came the joy of choosing  books from the comfort of my armchair or desk. I could now select a zillion books and have them delivered wirelessly to my Kindle device, in this case via Amazon’s Whispernet.
So now, I have more time to peruse, to dither and to um & ah over every choice.  I can even schedule the arrival of my favourite author’s new offering, by pre-ordering and just waiting for that glorious message telling me that it has arrived. But I digress, now I have so much to choose from, I am taking more time and reading reviews and trying out new authors and genres. I had read so many more books this year because of my Kindle and even have the app on my phone (for emergencies obviously!). So I am now pleased to share my findings with anyone who is prepared to read my ramblings.
My fave book so far this year has been The Penal Colony by Richard Herley.  The story is set in a British prison colony on the island of Sert,  25 miles off the north Cornish coast, and this particular one has the worst reputation. There are no warders. Satellite technology is used to keep the convicts under watch. New arrivals are dumped by helicopter and must learn to survive as best they can. To Sert, one afternoon in July, is brought Anthony John Routledge, sentenced for a sex-murder he did not commit. Routledge knows he is here for ever. And he knows he must quickly forget the rules of civilized life. On arrival he is told he must survive a period of times outside of the “Community”. On the outside it is the survival of the fittest, rival groups have long since destroyed any previous signs of habitation. Life here is vicious, cruel and bloody. But not all the islanders are savages. Back at the “community”, civilisation is the order of the day. Under the charismatic leadership of one man a community has evolved. A community with harsh and unyielding rules, peopled by resourceful men for whom the hopeless dream of escape may not be so hopeless after all …