Fantasy writing rooms

Wherever writers write – in a dedicated office, at the kitchen table, on a laptop in various cafes and libraries – we all dream of that perfect writing room. Here’s my latest.

 

The folly at Herstmonceux Castle Gardens

 

It looks like a mini-mansion or a life-size doll’s house. In fact it’s a folly in the gardens of of Herstmonceux Castle in Sussex.

Why it’s perfect (for me, please!):

 

Hertsmonceux Castle Gardens, East SussexIt has just two rooms, one on top of the other. They might be bare and a bit dilapidated but who cares?

The upper room is only accessed by two outdoor staircases which lead to rather nice balconies on either side (for outdoor writing/contemplating.)

Lovely views.

 

 

 

A secret cottage garden at the back accessed through the folly itself (more outdoor contemplating and wandering. Plus a little light dead-heading.)Herstmonceux Castle Gardens, East Sussex

Someone can easily nip across the garden to bring me lunch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

And when I need to stretch my legs to avoid Writer’s Bottom, I can walk around the lake or through the woods to the mysterious Wood Henge and gain further inspiration.

Wood Henge, Herstmonceux Castle Gardens, East Sussex

 

I can always dream.

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From inspiration to publication

An invitation from Lewes Children’s Book Group –

Jlewes childrens book groupoin us at our AGM on 28th January to find out more about writing for children and getting published.

 

 

Author Miriam Moss will be in discussion with a group of children’s writers talking about their journey from Inspiration to Publication. Dawn Casey and Leigh Hodgkinson write picture books and Leigh is also an illustrator. Julia Lee writes adventure stories aimed at 8-12 year olds and Jon Walter had his first teenage novel published last year.

The talk is on Wednesday 28th January, 7.30 for 8 p.m. start in the Lecture Room, upstairs in Lewes Town Hall, Lewes, East Sussex. There will be a chance to ask questions, chat to the authors and buy a book to get signed. Everyone is welcome – entrance is free.

A Turning Point

autumn leaves of London Plane tree

The leaves are falling from the London Planes. I always notice them. They are quite unmistakable – pointy-fingered leaves in clearly differentiated shades,

bright green, or the colour of lemon peel, or at most a light golden brown, like roast potatoes. And all the size of plates – tea plates, dessert plates, even dinner plates. His eye, as he walked down Kilmartin Road, scanned to find the biggest – and yet bigger – leaves upon the pavement and in the gutter between the parked cars. He longed to pick up the biggest he could find and take it home. That would be an autumn leaf.

Why am I writing about this, and what am I quoting?

The fall of the plane leaves always reminds me of my first experience of publication, and prize-winning (writing as Julia Widdows). It was a turning point on my path as a writer and such an exciting one.

One of the first short stories I ever submitted anywhere – or even showed to anyone – was chosen as a winner of the first Asham Award, a short story competition for new women writers. The story, Ami de Maison, was published in 1997 by Serpent’s Tail in an anthology called The Catch alongside specially commissioned work by well-known women writers. The Catch, prize-winning stories by women, The Asham Award, published by Serpent's Tail 1997There was a prize-winners’ lunch at Glyndebourne, no less. There was a book launch. (This is so not the case with most short story competitions.) This was all heady stuff!*

In addition my story was one of only five from that award to be broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in their afternoon readings slot. It was beautifully edited and read and the first I knew about it was 2 days before the broadcast – the easiest piece of writing-for-radio I have ever experienced!

This story is also one of the few pieces of writing where I was fully aware of the inspiration at the start. I used to walk to work past a row of huge London Plane trees and every year in late October the pavement beneath them was awash with their leaves. They were so tempting – sometimes I’d risk embarrassment and pick up one or two of the best colours or the biggest leaves. I wondered about the sort of person who wanted to do the same but couldn’t quite bring themselves to. And so a character evolved.

It’s also that time of year – clocks have just gone back, evenings are dark but not yet too cold – when house windows are lit up, and curtains open, with little glowing scenes inside, like numerous passing free theatres. My character became a watcher; not a sinister one, just slightly sad and self-deluding. The story itself evolved.

bark of London plane tree

The unmistakable patchy bark of the London plane

Then the title: I came across it in Alan Bennett’s Writing Home – ‘ami de maison’, meaning friend of the household, more or less. It was a new phrase to me and it captured the delusion perfectly. All three elements combined into a story I’m still fond of, even if maybe I wouldn’t write it in exactly the same way now.

So every autumn after the clocks go back I’m reminded of this particular story and this stage in my life. No other piece of writing I’ve done is so tightly linked to time and place.

*Did not lead to instant further publication, success, riches, fame etc! Would-be writers often think that once you’ve got your foot through the door somehow that door is wide open: rapid and predictable next steps in a writing career are inevitable or at least easier. (I did.) No, you’ve just got your foot in the door and your poor toes may well get squashed.

leaves of London Plane Trees, Ami de Maison by Julia Widdows

Readers and Writers of the Future

Girls Heart Books blog image

Last week was pretty exciting – and busy.

First of all, I learned that The Mysterious Misadventures of Clemency Wrigglesworth has been selected for the shortlists of two further book prizes, Oldham Brilliant Books 2014 (you can see the whole list here) and now Stockport Children’s Book Award 2014.

As Clemency has already been shortlisted for the 2014 Rotherham Children’s Book Awards – winners announced on 10th June! – I am feeling very warmly towards this part of the world.

And I’m so pleased that councils, schools and library services still put funding plus loads of enthusiasm and hard work into making these fantastic Reading For Pleasure initiatives happen. Encouraging a love of reading in children and young people is crucial: these are the readers – and writers – of the future. We need them!

Next, I began a season of regular posts on the lovely Girls Heart Books blog, starting with that essential writing tool: coffee.

And finally, in the run up to the culmination – and final voting – at the very thrilling Booktrust Best Book Awards, I’ve posted something about my writing process on their blog, too, along with pictures of my scribbly writer’s notebooks. A true reflection of my scribbly mind, no doubt.

 

drawing of Miss Clawe from The Mysterious Misadventures of Clemency Wrigglesworth by Julia Lee, author's sketchbook

Miss Clawe and her nasty net glove

What kind of writer are you? Part Deux

 

Here’s another idea about contrasting writing methods posted by Cavan Scott on An Awfully Big Blog Adventure –Planners or Pantsters?

I think it’s basically the Architects vs Gardeners argument again – control versus less control – but flying by the seat of your pants sounds potentially chaotic and very scary to me, while gardening sounds gentle and wise.

 

Bridget Jones big pants

A solution, thanks to Bridget Jones?

 

Not so gentle, of course when it comes to ripping out the weeds, squashing the snails, and hard pruning. Or editing, as it’s called.