On our summer holiday, reading, writing and having an epiphany

As it seems to have been an age since I last blogged (though I’m still just about managing the once-a-month blog post!) I thought I’d go with a list to help me put into words all the big things that have been happening around here.

 

  1. HOLIDAYS
Blue beach. photo by Marija Smits

Blue beach, photo by Marija Smits

Our one week away to Wales at the start of August was lovely, and very much needed. The weather wasn’t great and a couple of planned trips out got cancelled for various reasons (beach inaccessible due to a completely full car park, a favourite restaurant/café closed etc.) and our youngest got a cold on the first day so, of course, we all ended up snotty/sore throaty BUT, the holiday was still hugely beneficial. It was great to simply get away from the pressures of work and the never-ending call of social media and I got some reading and writing done too. I even managed to get an hour or two all to myself to write on the beach while my husband went out with the kids. Writing on the beach accompanied by the sounds of the sea, a coffee and a pain-au-chocolate was pretty amazing. And at the end of the week I even got to swim in the sea. Bliss!

Our journey back was even more exciting since our car broke down a few miles away from home. Yes, it was a huge annoyance, and yes it has cost us a lot (the car was pretty much written off…) but I’m still very thankful that the breakdown didn’t happen on the motorway. While we were waiting for the breakdown truck to get us, I even managed to write a little more of my new book…

 

  1. READING

 

Reading has consumed any free moments, as usual. I do want to mention some books that I’ve read recently, and which have made an impression on me. I love to help out authors by writing reviews but I’m aware that there’s not enough time in my life to do each of them justice (it can take me an age to write a review) but it seems that the least I can do is mention them here.

 

Fiction:

Moss Witch by Sarah Maitland

Moss Witch And Other Stories by Sara Maitland. I love the way that Sara has taken various concepts and ideas from various scientific fields and built (or hinged) stories on them. Some stories, I feel, work better than others but each is beautifully written and page-turning. Of course, I found the bits written by the scientists fascinating too. If you’re a fan of short stories and/or wishing to learn more about science I’d highly recommend this.

I’ve got so many other fiction books on my to-read list that I have no idea what I’ll read next fiction-wise, but I’d like to make a start on White Lies by Lynn Michell (of Linen Press).

White_Lies by Lynn MItchell

 

Poetry:

The Magnetic Diaries by Sarah James

The Magnetic Diaries by Sarah James

What Sarah has done with this narrative of poems that echo the book Madame Bovary is remarkable. I thought it highly original and fascinating in the way that Madame Bovary was fascinating to me when I read it many, many years ago; Emma Bovary is a difficult character to empathise with and yet I was transfixed by her unravelling life… If you enjoy contemporary poetry or would like to read something that gives an insight into the darkness of a mind overwhelmed by depression, I’d highly recommend it.

Although I’ve got various other poetry books on my ‘to-read’ pile Ruth Stacey’s book Queen, Jewel, Mistress has caught my eye and I hope to get it one day soon! (Maybe at Free Verse: The Poetry Book Fair, in London on 26th September, where I will be selling my Mother’s Milk Books books.)

Queen, Jewel, Mistress, by Ruth Stacey

Non-fiction:

How to Win Writing Competitions by Cathy Bryant

How to Win Writing Competitions by Cathy Bryant

I bought this book because I’m a fan of Cathy’s writing, although I did initially think that surely there wasn’t a lot more I could learn about submitting to magazines or writing competitions. But you know what, I was wrong. As I wrote in my Amazon review, “I’d certainly recommend this to amateur writers but also to those who think they know the drill by now.” Oh, and it includes one of the funniest short stories I’ve ever read.

 

Take It Cool, photo by Marija Smits

Take It Cool, photo by Marija Smits

 

Take it Cool by Jonathan Pinnock

When I received this book I knew very little about reggae, or the slave trade, but by the end of the book I knew a whole lot more and was glad that I’d stretched myself by reading something I’d probably not normally consider reading. This book is fascinating and as creative non-fiction goes, a highly-enjoyable read. The author is a fine writer and very, very funny; he has the kind of self-deprecating, weird humour that really tickles me and I laughed out loud at many parts. I’m really glad to have found Jonathan through my random stumblings across the internet (I won the book in a giveaway on his blog) and want to read more of his books — his short story collection Dot Dash sounds brilliant, as does Mrs Darcy versus the Aliens. What a fab title!

 

Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card

Characters and Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card

This book introduced me to the powerful idea that a writer must be aware of what kind of story they’re writing before they write it. He uses the acronym MICE for the four kinds of story there are:

 

Milieu

Idea

Character

Event

 

And even though many novels are a mixture of the above (i.e. there are various sub-plots in a book that can be any of the above) a writer can potentially fall into various traps if they set about, say, writing an idea story that then morphs into a character story. Anyway, I know that every writer has their own favourite how-to books but there’s something about Card’s writing style, and his approach to writing, that really clicks with me. And although I’ve seen the movie of his book Ender’s Game, it’s made me want to read Ender’s Game when I next have a free moment.

 

The next non-fiction books on my to-read list are The Highly Sensitive Child by Elaine Aron and Raising Boys by Steve Biddulph. I’m also desperate to read Angela Topping’s book: Focus on ‘The Bloody Chamber’ by Angela Carter. I’ve asked for this several times for birthdays and Christmases but it hasn’t been gifted to me as yet. Fingers-crossed it’ll be in my stocking this year!

Focus on The Bloody Chamber

 

Work-wise, I recently read a fantastic manuscript by Becky Smith and then I re-entered the world of another fantastical literary world, as created by Alison Lock. I’m super-excited again about the fact that I get to work with writers of Becky and Alison’s calibre as part of the publishing venture that is Mother’s Milk Books. (And I also wanted to say that it was a pleasure to watch Ana Salote — author of Oy Yew — in action recently at a bookshop event for children. Seeing the children lose themselves in the words of her book was simply magical).

 

Oy Yew by Ana Salote

 

  1. WRITING

 

Although now it seems ridiculous that I ever had an ‘epiphany’ moment about my writing, I must say that this is what happened to me this summer. My first novel was mainly a character story (it was a commercial fiction book set in the contemporary world. Well, mostly the 1990s, but to my mind that’s still pretty contemporary!). Various events powered the story along. For a good long while I toyed with the idea of getting it ‘out there’ but now that I’ve re-read it I’ve come to the conclusion that I don’t really want it out there. It was written as part of my own personal writing apprenticeship (a 10 year long apprenticeship!) and now I want to move on to other things. Quite honestly, I just don’t think it’s good enough to be published. And I don’t think it’s necessary (or a good idea) for me to expend time and energy on trying to edit it further and publish it. Also, it made me think long and hard about what I do want to write and try to get published, and as I’ve got a fair few story and novel ideas in my head that are of a fantastical nature I suddenly realized — WOW! — I’m a sci-fi and fantasy writer.

TB The Forgotten & The Fantastical cover 2015 version 5 colour Lt Oksana font with outline scaled

That was my big epiphany (which kind of seems silly now as only in March I was writing an introduction to The Forgotten and the Fantastical and explaining how my name means fairy tale in Latvian, and how books of a fantastical nature had always been a big part of my life). Hmm… why didn’t I get it back then? Anyway, no matter, I’m thoroughly enjoying focussing on writing my second novel which is, yes you guessed it, a great sprawling work of fantasy. I’m not ever going to completely pigeon-hole myself into just that one genre – I’m still enjoying writing poetry and I do have the odd short story and novel idea not in the sff genre, but on the whole, yes, I’m a writer fascinated by the fantastical…

31emljRrCpL._SX330_BO1,204,203,200_

Which is also why I simply had to read How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy by Orson Scott Card. For someone fresh from their epiphany of ‘I’m an sff writer’, this has been a pure joy to read and I want to go out and buy the following two books that Card mentions in his How-To book: Helliconia by Brian Aldiss and Wild Seed by Octavia Butler. In fact, I want to get all the SF Masterworks. I’m smitten!

 

  1. ART
Broken engine in the boot, photo by Marija Smits

Broken engine in the boot, photo by Marija Smits

Sadly, because of work busyness and writing busyness and family busyness (not to mention the pesky business of dealing with a knackered car – see above!), I’ve only managed to do a little sketching. But, and this is a very bittersweet but, but when my youngest starts school in September (just a few days away) I’m planning on spending a little time focussing on painting and drawing. I think it’ll help me to adjust to this huge shift in our family dynamic. I’ve been an at-home mother with either one or two kids at home for 8 years now and yes… although I will welcome not having to deal with holiday sibling squabbles every 5 minutes and not having an audience when either on the loo or in the shower, the house will seem strangely silent, and yes, no doubt, I will weep.

***

I hope you all had healthy and happy holidays and I wish you all the best for whatever autumn brings. It’s currently bringing us the joy of blackberry smoothies and homegrown green beans and tomatoes!

Fruit & veg snack, photo by Marija Smits

Fruit & veg snack, photo by Marija Smits

Thank you also to Maddy and Chrissie for once more taking on the fine thing that is What I’m Writing. Welcome back y’all!

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22 comments on “On our summer holiday, reading, writing and having an epiphany

  1. […] here goes. I have a little dream of putting together a book – a collection of short stories in the SFF genre – and (whisper it) getting it published and ‘out there’. At the moment the whole publishing […]

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  2. […] in other news, I almost forgot to mention that TAKE IT COOL got a very nice review from the lovely Marija […]

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  3. Nicola Young says:

    That’s an impressive reading list and writing on the beach, how amazing that would be. I love how the summer break allows us to take a step back and gather our thoughts. It makes coming back in to September, so much more refreshing. Welcome back!

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  4. Emily says:

    I’m so impressed you got some writing done while waiting for a breakdown truck! Amazing dedication. And how exciting you’re finding your niche in fantasy and sci fi. I’m envious of writers who can create entirely new worlds. I suppose all fictional worlds are created but you know what I mean. I’m hoping you’ll post some of your sci fi fantasy writing up one day. It’s a brave decision to call time on your other book, it’s tempting to plough on when you’ve spent so much time on it. I read recently that a surprising number of successful authors have a few unwritten books which never saw the light of day! All valuable practice. And you have one varied reading list! Fascinating too.

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    • Marija Smits says:

      Well it feels nice to have impressed you Emily, so thank you for saying that! And yes, I know what you mean about creating entirely new worlds. It certainly adds a whole other layer of complexity to the writing process because you have to spend a LOT of time world-building (certainly if you’re serious about doing it properly). I’m also rather in awe of authors who write historical fiction because they have to do a huge amount of fact-checking and research too (the past is another country and all that…). I must admit that I hadn’t considered posting any of my sff writing up here. A couple of my stories were in The Forgotten and the Fantastical so I guess that’s keeping me happy at the moment. The rest is for the novel…

      Yep, I’m one of those people who’ll forever have unwritten stuff mouldering in a drawer, but really, I’m okay with that. And I’m glad you enjoyed my reading list. 🙂

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  5. Rachael says:

    Hi Marija, your holiday sounds amazing – what a lovely break from everything… And it’s great that you had an epiphany about your writing! You got so much reading done.. I like the sound of Moss Witch, and must find our more about Jonathan Pinnock – maybe starting with the short stories as I’ve not read much fiction lately!

    I hope you find the Highly Sensitive Child useful – I see from the comments that you’re also an HSP – which I’m sure has a very positive effect on your parenting as there’s nothing like empathy for understanding what they’re going through. Starting school is a big transition for us (another HSP with an HSC here) this week – today has been the best day so far… How are you finding it? x

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    • Marija Smits says:

      Thanks for commenting Rachael 🙂 I thought Jonathan Pinnock’s writing in Take It Cool excellent, so yes, do pick up one of his books. Let me know what you think of his short stories – I’d be very interested to know.

      And yes, I could probably write a whole book about being an HSP parent and its advantages & disadvantages (but I won’t – I need to spend some time on my fantasy novel!). Starting school is certainly a big transition and it’s going okayish at the moment. I’m definitely taking it one day at a time! Hope it’s going okay for you too. Sending hugs. xx

      Liked by 1 person

  6. maddy@writingbubble says:

    It’s lovely to read this post and all the many things that have been going on for you. That epiphany is a great one to have and I think it’s fine to suddenly realise something that you sort of knew all along – it’s a kind of reassuring eureka moment I think, nothing too shocking involving new stuff to deal with! You list all sorts of books here that I’m interested in reading. I’ll have to try and find time to dive in at some point.

    Hope your son’s first few days of school have gone well. I imagine when my youngest starts school I’ll weep too – it’s the end of an era and although I tell myself the next one will be even better, I always find it hard to let go of important stages of my life. Hope this next phase for you is full of more time for yourself and you’re able to do more of your fabulous drawing and writing. Thanks for linking to #WhatImwriting xx

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    • Marija Smits says:

      Thanks for your comment, Maddy, and I do hope you get a chance to dive in to some of the books I mention at some point in time. The school start has been a bit up and down (as to be expected, I guess) but I’m taking it one day at a time. I do hope to do some more writing and ‘arting’ soon. Best wishes, xx

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  7. You got so much done this summer! My reading pile is as daunting as ever although I’m glad to say Oy Yew has finally reached the top and I’m loving it. Thanks for the mention btw.

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    • Marija Smits says:

      So glad you’re loving Oy Yew. I thought you’d like it. And you’re welcome re: the mention. I’m always happy to mention writing that I’ve fallen in love with! Best wishes. 🙂

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  8. redpeffer says:

    I found The Highly Sensitive Child book very helpful. I’m liking your epiphany too-and I’m in exactly the same boat as you next week. After almost 10 years of looking after my babies and young children, my youngest starts school and the house will be very quiet. I have absolutely no doubt I will weep too.

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    • Marija Smits says:

      I’m glad you found The Highly Sensitive Child book helpful – I’m looking forward to getting stuck into it. Just curious, but would you consider yourself an HSP too?

      Please reserve me some hugs when my two start tomorrow and I’ll reserve some hugs for you too, for next week. XXX

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      • redpeffer says:

        Yes, I think I am an HSP. It can make things tricky to negotiate. I like it because I feel tremendous empathy and understanding that other’s don’t seem to, but that brings it’s own challenges too.

        I will most definitely reserve some hugs for you tomorrow and will be thinking of you xx

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        • Marija Smits says:

          Being an HSP makes me swing from two polar opposites: absolutely loving it and absolutely hating it. I’m finding negotiating shopping and busy town centres more and more stressful yet I’m thankful for the fact that being an HSP provides me with a rich inner life (very useful for a writer!). I guess you already read The Highly Sensitive Person already? If not, I’d definitely recommend it. When I read it something just clicked and I stopped apologising for much of my (sensitive) behaviour. That, along with People Skills helped me to navigate the tricky path of being an HSP in an world of (mainly) extroverts.

          Thanks for reserving me some hugs. I’ll reserve some for you too. xx

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          • redpeffer says:

            I can totally empathise with what you say. Being an HSP makes handling certain situations extremely difficult but I think it makes me a better and stronger person ultimately. I’ve not actually read The Highly Sensitive Person actually-it was reading it to help me understand my daughter that got me realising about myself too. I must give it a read x

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            • Marija Smits says:

              Oh do give it a read. I admit that it made for difficult reading in places – it really made me go back over my life and face things from the HSP angle (which was emotionally hard) but overall I feel better for having confronted those things. I’d offer to lend it to you (it’s a book that seems to resonate a lot with some of my friends) but I’m guessing that you may want to own a copy. Take care! x

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  9. Ana Salote says:

    Lovely post. Great to feel that anticipation and excitement about your writing.

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  10. It is lovely to hear what your summer has held, Marija. Your holiday does sound lovely, despite the weather and the sniffles. So glad you had a couple of hours with yourself on the beach, balm for the soul. Good luck with your writing and my what a lot of reading you have done… wonderful! J xxx

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