Saturday, 28 July 2012

Writers' Groups

Whether you're an experienced writer or just starting out, a Writers' Group is a great way to support your writing journey, especially as writing is such a solitary exercise.

In March 2012, I set up a Writers' Group. There were four of us at the beginning, until a bit of networking and we are now five.  Our format has been tried and tested before and it works really well.  We meet fortnightly for two hours and each of us have a platform of  about 20 minutes to share where we are at with our writing.  This may include discussing works in progress, a poem or two written, or an extract from a short story.  There are no rules about the genre of writing.  It is a truly liberating experience to share your writing, and yes, it does sometimes feel a little vulnerable bearing your soul, although there is absolutely no pressure to do so.

What follows is constructive feedback, e.g. suggestions on how to move a story forward, on how to use different writing techniques, i.e. photo poems, clustering (brainstorming) to inspire and evoke ideas.  The greatest value is in airing work that may have been sitting for some time as a computer file or as a piece of writing in your journal.

Since the Writers' Group, I have set down some goals and completed quite a few assignments that I know I may not have even felt inspired enough to complete on my own.  Just saying out-loud what I'd like to get done before each session, is enough discipline for me to make sure I get the work done.  I have gained lots of support too as this group of like-minded individuals are a joy to link up with; I really look forward to each session.

If you're finding it a bit of a struggle writing on your own, I would strongly recommend either joining a Writers' Group or starting one up of your own.

For more tips, visit:

Friday, 13 July 2012

Writing for Children - Dialogue

Assignment 5 of my Academy of Children's Writing Course covered dialogue.  Here is one of my writing tasks intended for 'a boy who is about 9 years' old:

 “Do you know Kev, you’ve always got your head stuck in a book, you need to be careful it doesn’t stay there forever,” said Robert.
“What do you mean, don’t be daft,” said Kevin, smiling.
“I’m serious Kev,” said Robert. “It’s just not cool, all this book stuff.”
“What do you know, you haven’t even got a book in your house,” said Kevin.
“Exactly, there are no books, because I don’t need to read them,” said Robert.
“Look,” said Kevin. “You’re missing out on some great stories and you can learn lots of new words too.”
“Yeah, whatever,” said Robert.
“I’m serious, OK, do you know what vocabulary means? asked Kevin.
“Vocabu what?” said Robert.
“Vocabulary you idiot,” said Kevin.
“Oh, vocabulary, yes of course I know,” said Robert. “Why?”
“So, Rob, what does it mean? asked Kevin.
Suddenly, Robert stood up and made for Kevin’s bedroom door.
“I’m out of here,” said Robert.
“Hang on a minute, you don’t know do you? said Kevin.
Robert looked down at his trainers and shifted his feet.
“Listen, Kev, just get your head back into your book,” said Robert.
“Rob, it’s OK, it’s just that words are so cool,” said Kevin.
“For you maybe, but I’m not into them; maths is my subject, you know where you are, one and one is two, easy,” said Robert.
“Yeah, but it sounds like you’re scared of words,” said Kevin.
“Yeah right, you’re the scary one – Mr Walking Dictionary,” said Robert.
“Sticks and stones may hurt my bones, but words will never hurt me, Rob, stop ducking and diving,” said Kevin. “I can help you.”
“I don’t need your help,” said Robert.
“Really, look I used to find English lessons hard, until my mum got me a tutor and now I have a vocabulary book, where I write new words and their meaning so I don’t forget,” said Kevin.
“What, so that worked eh, sounds like magic,” said Robert. “You sure you don’t fancy your tutor?”
“No way, she’s well old, at least twenty five,” said Kevin.
Robert burst out laughing. Kevin then reached into his bookcase and showed Robert his vocabulary notebook.
“Take a look,” said Kevin.
Robert hesitated for a few seconds and then took hold of the small red coloured pocket size note book.
“Wow, there are non-stop words in here,” said Robert. You can’t seriously know them all.
“I sure do and I didn’t swallow a dictionary either – you can test me on any word you like,” said Kevin.
“OK, what does accommodation mean?” asked Robert, slowly sounding out the word.
“It means a place to live or work,” said Kevin.
“Yeah, but, wouldn’t it be easier to just use the word home or office?” asked Robert.
“Well, no, smarty pants, because you might be in a hotel room,” said Kevin.
“OK, you win,” Robert said, flicking through more of Kevin’s vocabulary book. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I think words aren’t so bad after all.”

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Journal Writing

I started to keep a journal in 1995 as a requirement of a writing course I was studying and I haven’t stopped since. My first journal was a small notebook, which soon had to increase to A4 size notebooks, a much preferred landscape, which enhanced my writing process.  I alternate between A5 and A4 size journals.
There are no rules with journal writing; all you need is a blank canvas, a pen and you’re on your way. Sometimes I will cut out magazine or press articles and paste them in my journal along with my reflections. Sometimes I will write poetry, small reviews of films, books, and travel experiences that I find inspiring.  Lately, I find that I record spiritual moments, which often arise out of the blue or from a challenging life experience, the writing of which is often revealing.
I have found it useful to experiment with my journaling, e.g. writing with different coloured pens, depending on my mood. It’s the process of writing, the physical feeling of the pen creating the words on the page – allowing the creative artist in me to bring forth language and string and blend words together to form sentences, paragraphs, pages, chapters, articles, books and so on.
I love the freedom of writing my thoughts and feelings, of choosing when to write, how much to write, or not. I have found journal writing to be a form of self-discovery since until you allow yourself the luxury and indulge your creative self i.e. the writer within, you don’t know what may come up and face you, confront you, challenge you. This can be positive and negative – even that process creates realism, harmony and balance in your writing.
In September 2009, I started a Music Journal to record thoughts and feelings about how my piano lessons, playing and practice are progressing. I used to keep a Dream Journal so as to capture those rare premonition dreams along with lucid and recurrent dreams that can so easily be forgotten. A few months ago, I signed up for a free private online journal at and I am enjoying this new experience.

Friday, 6 July 2012

My Mind is an Oak Tree

My mind is an oak tree, solid, stable with far-reaching roots that are unseen by the naked eye and yet travel deep throughout the earth’s core, reaching, searching for more depth and understanding. Above the surface, the oak tree’s unmovable trunk ascends and transforms and moves into numerous upward directions and scans and hovers giving shade below to anyone or anything that sits or walks by, offering a peaceful landscape when looked at from a distance. And let’s not forget those all unique oak tree branches, some strong enough to support the occasional cat, and squirrel who will use them as a transport system, strong enough too for a child and adult to climb up in their exploration journey through childhood and adulthood – reasons for climbing can be many. 

Last but not least are the oak trees’ leaves which sound and look beautiful when the soft breezes create a dance; and then the summer’s blossom of pink or white flowers take control, famous for a while and worth standing back to absorb the view. The leaves are set free and take on a new existence once they fall in autumn; they become a garden’s carpet for us to leave alone until a sweeping of the dead leaves comes into play. Their shedding abandons the oak tree, leaving it lighter so as to restore energy for the next season’s demands.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Jamaica Reflections

With time-watching now a thing of the past and no work commitments, time didn't stand still – it was mine to do as I pleased with. Ironically, I didn't lie-in. The sun rises early every morning in Jamaica - no clocks going back or forward – real time sets in and the best and the least hottest time of the day was early morning.
        I'd wake up to the sounds of a cock crowing and dogs barking mostly as hunger was calling. Days ran into night and nights kept fulfilling their promise of relieving the day's heat, just like the ocean's tide coming in and out.
        Not being a good swimmer, I wasn't keen to get into the ocean, although I didn't mind getting my feet wet on occasions. Maybe it was genetic? But I wasn't all that interested in plunging/swimming in the sea. My mother never swam; she 'didn't like the water,' she said. I never asked why.
        I became a sun-worshipper but not the kind that would lay for hours in the sun; I didn't need to go to such extreme measures. All that was required was for me to sit watching the ocean, usually on a stocky tree trunk, and the sun's rays would subtly tinge my skin so that after a period of three months I'd develop a deep brown-skinned tone, which meant I too was not only at peace spiritually, I was blending into the colourful landscapes.
        Of course this was nothing new; millions of people all over the world travel to see other countries and continents, modern cities and the ruins of ancient towns, they travel to enjoy picturesque places, or just for a change of scene. But why did I keep returning to Jamaica? What was it about this small island, which hosted thousands of holidaymakers for a couple of weeks a year and yet for me, called me back again and again?
        I guess I was one of those 'tourists' during my first visit in 1996 when, seeking a budget holiday with a lively night-life and shops and craft markets packed with bargains, I felt right at home. Mo'Bay as the locals call it, is the second largest city on the island and by far Jamaica's most important tourist resort. More than 30% of the country's hotel rooms are there. However, the resort town of Montego Bay is as far from the 'real' Jamaica as you can get, which is why it is essential to hire a car so you can discover and immerse yourself in country-life. If you're seeking authentic offbeat Jamaica, move on.
        Luckily my first two-week introduction into Jamaica gave me an opportunity to move on. The first week my friend Anne and I did the usual tourist activities, including a visit to one of the city's three 'public' beaches – Doctor's Cave – which I was taken aback by as there was an entrance fee, something I'd never heard of or ever experienced on holiday. The beach was surrounded in an ugly fashion by wire fences and tall concrete walls. There's no doubt this unattractive beach meant my visit was a one-off.
        The only time I revisited Montego Bay, apart from landing at its Donald Sangster International Airport, was in August 2000, specifically for Reggae Sumfest to see world-class reggae artists. However, I have to say although I wasn't disappointed, by far the most authentic reggae festival was 'Rebel Salute,' held in January at St. Elizabeth. I was lucky enough to meet a Rastafarian called Larry who invited me along; in fact that was the reason for my second visit to Jamaica that year. I'd become so hooked after my first reggae concert experience, I wanted more.
        Having never been to a reggae concert in Jamaica, I didn't know what to expect and was almost hypnotised by the sheer magnificence of it. Even before I arrived, I witnessed a 3-4 mile roadblock like you've never seen. I walked a few of those miles passing parked cars all the way along the route to the concert. People were chatting, laughing, selling food and drinks. The venue itself, a sports arena, was just the right size as there must have been 3,000 of us. My first priority on arrival was to go to the toilet, which was a good thing as it became out of bounds later on. My friend Larry and his four 'colleagues' as he liked to call them, decided on a space. Our driver slept in readiness for the car drive home.
        By now it was around 10pm and the all-night-er concert was just getting started since it would go on until around 8am. Larry had thoughtfully put a chair in the car for me to sit on as he rightly said, “Standing for long hours will get you mashed up.” The concert's atmosphere was trouble-free, friendly and exciting with loud cheers of 'More Fire', flags of red, green and gold waving majestically throughout the sky. Fire crackers were set off individually to demonstrate appreciation of an act. Lighters and fuel cannisters were used to lighten ascended streaks of yellow throughout the sky sending massive clouds of smoke and smells of fire burning. Most importantly, I witnessed brilliant music, professionally presented using top quality sounding speakers. It was impossible not to enjoy this; I felt as though I'd gone to heaven. The cool, somewhat strong winds were keeping me from drifting mentally to another dimension. The whole experience was just electric; full of wonder and magic.
        During all of this, mobile vendors paraded selling cigarettes, chewing gum, lighters, peanuts, biscuits, drinks and of course marijuana. I was surprised that this was the one and only occasion that the police relaxed their powers!
        At about 3am, people gradually began to rise up. “What's happening?” I asked Larry.
        “The main artists are coming on stage,” he said.
        For the next two hours, we were blessed with performances from Luciana, Capelton and Beanie Man; the best was definitely saved for last.

To be continued...