Category Archives: Rants and Ramblings

On moving…


We moved house just over a week ago. Not far, about ten miles down the road, but far enough that we rejoined civilisation. We had lived in an old, draughty, damp, cold farmhouse for nearly eleven years and after the very wet winter we had in the South of England last year, enough was enough. The mould had mould and the area around the BT socket sported a growth that was almost and inch deep and colourfully furry.

In the summer the farmhouse was beautiful and a pleasant place to live. The surrounding countryside offered us views that were typical of the beauty of rural England; grass, sheep, cows and trees. As autumn approached and the weather cooled, our single glazed windows began to run with condensation day and night. You felt you were living in a goldfish bowl or the glass sided turtle pool at Sea Life. Once winter began to bite, we would often come downstairs in the morning to find the condensation had frozen on the inside of the glass, adding an extra layer of chilliness to our already brisk start to the day.

We tried, really tried, spending hundreds or perhaps thousands of pounds on paint, filler, brushes and in the end professional decorators in a vain attempt to keep the mould and damp at bay. In one room at the back of the house George, our decorator, who had taken up a semi-permanent place in the family, scraped and repainted one wall five times as the paint fell off as fast as it went on. When the wall paper in the porch area began to fall off the walls as water seeped through the rustic stone; we gave up and registered with every estate agent in a twenty mile radius.

Now we are here. We have double glazing, gas central heating, mould free walls and you can go for a walk without getting covered in poo of one description or another. These things , which to us are remarkable and more gratifying than you can imagine, are to you and your friends, something to which you don’t give a second thought. In time, I am sure, neither will we. For now we go down on bended knees in gratitude.

If the urge overcomes you, have a look at my recently published novel. It really is very good:

Synopsis and cover letters


Okay, this is the question. How is it possible to condense one hundred and twenty two thousand words down to two double spaced pages of A4? And now for the tricky bit, for it to tell the same story as the longer version so that your reader can glean a flavour of the story? I was amazed at how hard it was.

I had spent a few weeks viewing the task with a degree of trepidation and finding excuses not to begin. I couldn’t avoid it any longer. The book was completed, seven versions, and now I needed to send it out.

Creating a synopsis I discovered takes practice. My first effort was too long and detailed. I had written a chapter by chapter plot line that told the story, but in far to much detail. Attempts two, three, four and five were improvements, but still too long and too much detail. I turned to the internet, our new font of all knowledge and discovered it had the answer, actually many answers.

Reading the thoughts of agents and publishers who are the recipients of our endeavours, they all wanted the same thing. Brilliance, an undiscovered gem that would catapult both the agent and the author to the pinnacle of Sunday Times bestseller list and leave them there. If that were not possible they would settle for a synopsis that showed them that the author could take a story and keep it interesting, coherent and gripping over the course of a hundred thousand words. Could the author continue to deliver beyond the three sample chapters. I have learnt that an agent will read the sample chapters and then the synopsis. If the sample had promise and the synopsis sounded interesting i stood a chance. Oh also nearly every agent wanted us to spell their names correctly…

Now the covering letter. I nailed this in under ten attempts, an improvement of sorts. the essence I gleaned from my font of all knowledge was that the letter was three short paragraphs. The first paragraph was a very edited version of my story, the second an explanation of the genre and what is unusual about the book and finally a brief biography on me and the type of fiction I enjoy.

The samples synopsis and covering letters have been despatched and so I wait in hope of a response, any response.

Rewriting and Rewriting and Rewriting and…


I thought Bacchus and Sanderson (Deceased) was complete, finished, dealt with, ready to go. It had been edited, typo’s removed (hopefully), grammar checked and now pretty good. So good to send to agents and see if there is any interest or whether I am going to be Indie man. I’m happy either way to be honest and the fact that I have commissioned a cover design perhaps adds credence to the inevitability of following the independent publishing route.

I had found three agents who handle the type of book I have written. Checked there submission criteria, the main one seems to be, spell their names correctly…So I decided a quick reread through the first three chapters to double check for typo’s would be a good idea. Oh shit, I can’t send this out it’s awful, really awful. After the nausea had subsided and I’d stopped hyperventilating, I accepted a little light polishing would be useful and began the buffing. Two day’s and five attempts to improve the first three chapters later, it was better, much better. Tighter, more tension, atmospheric. Excellent.

I began working on the synopsis and covering letter. I’ll come back to those in my next post. Synopsis and letter complete, I’ll read through everything I’m sending and then email it to the agents I’d chosen. Oh shit. Not quite as shocking, but had I thought this was good? This process was in danger of repeating itself for weeks, possibly months.

I’m think I’m suffering from a common writing ailment, obsessive rewriting syndrome. The symptoms are, an inability to see if a piece is good or really does need more work and a reluctance to let go. The reluctance to let go is the hardest to deal with, as will be the inevitable rejection, humiliation, penury, followed by self loathing and…okay, wait a moment. Now I have identified the disease the cure would be self apparent. Never ever send anything to anyone, no that was the alter ego speaking.

If you believe it’s as good as it can be, send it, post it, publish it, get it out there. With feedback comes insight. You never know someone may like it.

Have a look at my Facebook page, Worried of Woolcombe and if you’re in the mood, give me a like. I’m happy to reciprocate.

Punctuation and Grammar


Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss Elements of Style by William Strunk Jnr.

Now that I write for a living, I am increasingly aware of the importance of not making too many mistakes with punctuation and grammar. If you spend months or even years crafting your novel, it would be awful if your prose are let down by clumsy punctuation and poor grammar. I wasn’t bad, not perfect, but not bad. Now that this is what I do full time, I needed to be as close to perfect as possible.

I tried Grammarly, an online punctuation and grammar checker. Initially, it seemed quite good. I would copy and paste my text into the program it would analyse the text and highlight my grammatical errors. Some aspects are better than others. The dictionary they use to compare your text to is awful. It doesn’t recognise many simple words offering ludicrous, or worse, no alternatives. Subscription cancelled.

Two books I have found to be incredibly helpful are: Elements of Style by William Strunk Jnr. and Eats, Shoots and Leaves by Lynne Truss.

Elements of Style is an excellent textbook of correct English grammar and punctuation. A little dry, but it offers a comprehensive explanation of the different areas of grammar and punctuation as well as providing a list of commonly misused words and phrases and commonly misspelled words.

Eats, Shoots and Leaves is a far lighter introduction to punctuation. It covers all of the common punctuation marks , providing a history of their usage and the correct way to use them.

I hope I have benefitted from having them on my bookshelf.  Any punctuation or grammatical errors in this blog are mine alone!

Is plotting okay?


Dandelion

 

I ask this question because of Stephen King. Let me explain. I have been listening to his book – On Writing – which is amazing and he is vehemently anti-plotting and advocates a free thinking, stream of consciousness approach.

I have and would continue to struggle with that. I like the structure that is offered by a planned plot line. I know where I am, I can see how the plot will advance and how my main characters are interacting with each other. I know I have covered all of my bases and not let a  character or sub plot slide off to one side and disappear, unconnected to it’s encouraging introduction. Is this wrong?

Should I feel intellectually inadequate because I prefer to have what some view as an a cheat sheet to see me to the end of my novel?

I have thought about this a lot and come to the obvious conclusion. Of course not. In my view plotting a novel doesn’t suppress spontaneity, it helps you focus on the nuts and bolts leaving your sub-concious the time to work on the twists and turns. An outline is a roadmap or perhaps even a shopping list. It allows you to see the routes from beginning to end and not lose sight of subplots and minor characters.

Will I continue to write in this way? Yes. Should I join the free thinking seat of my pants writing? May be one day when I have the confidence and trust in my ability to venture away from what I know and am familiar with.

Beyond fitbit and Fast Diet


From Wikipedia. Photograph by George Stepanek
From Wikipedia. Photograph by George Stepanek

This post is by way of an update on my experiment with The Fast Diet and a fitbit  exercise tracker.

Fitbit first. I love it. The determination to get all of the lights lit up isn’t quite as obsessive as it was, but I still value it as a way of showing myself that I haven’t just sat and eaten. According to the fitbit I must have moved as well as eaten…

The Fast Diet isn’t such a success story. I struggled to organise myself sufficiently to do fast days. By that I mean, I would happily come down in the morning, eat breakfast and then realise that I was supposed to be fasting. So fasting would be postponed until the next day. The following day we would repeat the eating breakfast mistake, this time because it wasn’t my usual fast day and the cycle would be repeated. I actually went weeks threatening to have a fast day, but being too disorganise and dim to actually achieve it.

So we thought we would juice. We bought the juicer, the Reboot with Joe Cross Juice Diet book, three hundred pounds of assorted vegetables and went for it. When I say went for it, that isn’t entirely accurate. Actually it’s a complete fib.

The first morning we juiced for breakfast after having ginger slices and lemon in hot water instead of our usual cups of tea. Not too bad, this might be okay. Lunch was a green juice involving kale. Not so good. The sulphurous, cruciferous vegetables were a mainstay of the majority of the main meal shakes and were more than I could  deal with. If this was the only way  forward I was doomed. We have now sold the juicer.

Redemption came in the form of the gym at Sherborne Sports Centre. I have never been an enthusiastic exerciser, or even a reluctant exerciser to be honest. Then I had my epiphany and the eat less, move more, mantra became mine. This gym is excellent. The staff are knowledgable and helpful, the equipment is in superb condition and the other facilities are what one would expect from a sports centre adjoining a top public school.

I have begun to get a figure that I can be proud of. Lumps and bumps where they should be. A better posture which is pulling the sagging bits into line. The biggest pay off from this investment in me is confidence. Now I’m starting to believe I can do whatever I want to do. I just have to prove myself right.

On getting older…


SONY DSC

 

I’m not old per se, more mid life.

Life has crept up on me unexpectedly. One minute I was twenty, carefree and alive, the next it’s now and the intervening years are a blur with highlights.

I don’t regret my life, not for a moment, but… I am at an age where looking back is done less in anger, more with wistfulness.

If it were possible to meet my eighteen year old self, what would i say? Difficult question, so many things I should have done and even more I shouldn’t have done.

I wouldn’t have advised myself eighteen year old self on specifics; don’t work for him, don’t go out with her, do buy that computer and keep it boxed like new for twenty  years etc., etc.

Looking back over my life since my late teens, what I needed was a mentor. A person who could motivate me, guide me and encourage me. More than anything I would have told myself what I am telling my own children now.

We can all do whatever we want to do, as long as we are prepared to work with a single minded dogged focus. Ignore the rejection and continue regardless and believe in your own ability. You are far more amazing than you realise.

Would I have listened? Probably not, unless I could have known then what I know now. Will my children listen? Perhaps in part, if I can show them, by example, that I am now prepared to follow my own advice.

 

 

Writing


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We have recently changed the way we run our business which has given me some spare time to write.

I am a writer. I’ve never said that before. I’ve thought it, called myself a part time scribbler, but never acknowledge that is what I am. Back to the spare time. My wife has supported my scribbling for years. She encourages me and gives me as much time to indulge myself as our business allowed.

Now i’m a writer. It’s my job. I sit down in front of my computer and I tell stories. Everything has been going well. Word counts have risen, i have completed the first two drafts of my first full length novel and i’m a quarter of the way through the next one. Well done me. But…

Procrastination. Treating the writing as a job rather than a hobby means the application of the bottom to the seat for a certain number of hours a day and writing. This has taken a lot of getting used to. I honestly believed that as soon as I had the time to follow my dream I would write until my fingers bled. Not quite.

I still have certain responsibilities for our catering business. We still have a family with all that entails. I am the part time chauffeur for children’s activities, delivery driver for our catering business and anything else that needs doing.

A book that is a huge eye opener on procrastination is The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. I’ll be reviewing it in my new weekly book review section, beginning next week. As one of the most influential books I’ve read it’ll be the first review.

 

 

From fitbit to Fast Diet


Following my post Christmas Epiphany and my new excursion into the world of the fitbit I have been revolutionised. I am still struggling to understand how flashing lights on my wrist and a congratulatory buzz when I hit my chosen target, have managed to turn me from a slothful over-indulger to a manic wrist watcher, but it has. Now every afternoon I can be found frantically running on the spot as the latest sync to my iPhone has informed me I am still 2345 steps off my target and time is running out! By linking it with myfitnesspal you can use the myfitnesspal database to log what you eat and this in turn feeds the calories consumed to fitbit, easy.

My wife has for a long time been an advocate of the ‘eat less, move more’ school of thinking, which was diametrically opposite to my own; until now. Exercise evangelist as she is, my wife is also now getting a bizarre satisfaction out of beating the flasher on her wrist and smashing her targets. She regularly gets emails from fitbit, the company; i’m assuming; not the wristband, telling her she has exceeded her target by some absurd amount and she loves it.

Motivationally, this clever little bit of kit is a triumph.

So, fitbit was successfully providing the motivation for the ‘move more’ part of the equation and making it more palatable to this inveterate sloth, but I needed something to make the ‘eat less’ part a little more appealing. I had briefly flirted with the Fast Diet. By that I mean I had watched Michael Moseley’s Horizon documentary and downloaded the book and then promptly ignored it, but I was being sucked back in.

Since Christmas, everyone I have spoken to is on the Fast Diet and loving it. Weight was dropping off them and it was apparently very easy. Really? Easy weight loss?

In addition to the allure of losing weight and keeping it off there are a number of health benefits being attributed to Intermittent Fasting. These include reduction in blood glucose, reduction in a number of age-related risks such as cancer and switching on of countless repair genes.

I have chosen to eat my 600 calories the end of my fasting period, i.e. in the evening for dinner after having fasted from the previous evening meal. In the first two weeks I have lost 3 lbs per week. So far the fasting hasn’t been difficult, I haven’t become uncontrollably hungry and the sense of satisfaction as the weight gradually reduces is more than adequate compensation. Will I continue Intermittent Fasting? Definitely, and I will periodically report on my progress.

My stats are as follows:

Height:  5’9″

Weight: 13st 6lb

BMI: 27.7 (overweight, but not obese)

Target Weight Loss: 2st 6lb this would give me a healthy BMI of 22.7

Christmas Epiphany


During the Christmas and New Year’s holidays I have had what I can only describe as a very uncomfortable epiphany. Let me explain.

As many families do over the Christmas holidays we were visiting relations scattered around the southern half of the UK. Once we had survived the interminable drive to London, lunched with aforementioned relations, we headed down to the South coast. Arriving at our hotel, a Premier Inn we collapsed gratefully into our family room and began to relax. The rooms are compact and functional leaving little space for stretching out except on the beds opposite the TV which we all did and began watching a repeat of the Stephen Fry/Bear Grylls weekend in the Dolomites documentary.

Then it happened.

I looked away from the screen and caught a fleeting view of my reflection in the mirror. My head stopped traversing and slowly moved back to rest on the person in the mirror. What I saw was a shaven headed troll with cloth covered flesh bulging over it’s belt giving it the look of a  Buddha. The vision was at best disturbing, until I concentrated for a second and realised that the shaven headed troll was me. Oh shit…

My physique has generally been thought of as solid bordering on cuddly, just the right size of fat and a good long jump from obese. Now; I’m not sure. What I saw was more a character from a Beryl Cook painting looking distinctly curvaceous. Even now, a week later, I am struggling to articulate how I felt. Disbelief was I think the first emotion, followed quickly by disgust and then shame. How had I let myself go like this?

As with most things, it had been a gradual process of gaining the odd pound here and there. If I had been on a mad chocolate and cheese bender I could have understood it, but this insidious increase in body size and change of body shape was frightening and oddly far worse.

This required action. Real action. I have spent hundreds, perhaps thousands of pounds on not going to the gym, not running , not cycling, you get the picture. Now I was going to have to actually do the exercise, eat the salad and loose the pounds. Oh shit…

My wife is training to run a half marathon in the New Year, so as a way for her to measure he progress I had bought her a ‘fitbit‘. You wear it as a bracelet on your wrist and it measures the number of steps you take over the course of a day, the distance you walk or run, intense bouts of exercise and can even track how restful your sleep is. The aspect I found most fascinating was that it could tell you the calories you had burned and you could input what you had eaten and it could tell you your net calorific intake and with a food plan could set you targets to help you loose the weight…

Within two days my wife had ordered me a fitbit and battle had commenced. This collection of flashing lights on my wrist is strangely motivational. I find myself tracking the number of steps I’ve taken, distance covered and calories burned without realising I’m doing it. I’ll let you know if my excited motivation transforms me into a lean sculpted adonis or whether it is on the bedside cabinet around week two…