#amwriting

Sheila Sturgeon
by Sheila Sturgeon

I wonder if any of my good friend Susanna’s readers remember the Jackanory writing competitions? Actually, I wonder if my good friend remembers them? These annual events may even have been before her time!

Jackanory was wonderful. A different story read over five days by a different celebrity – before there was really such a thing as celebrity – each week. And each year, we were all invited to send in our own masterpieces, in the form of stories and poems, judged across various age groups.

I was around 12 when I entered a poem, called ‘The Golden Ball’, written to describe a wondrous sunset spotted as my Mum, my brother, and I walked home from visiting family one evening. At the time, I wrote poetry a lot; my Mum still has a book that I did for her full of poems I had written from about the age of seven – beautifully handwritten incidentally!   I loved to write, a love that I lost for many, many years after I rebelled against school, exams, authority, and everything associated with such things at the age of around 15; meaning that I left school with virtually no qualifications at the age of 16.

I partially rediscovered my lost love – and, if I am honest, my talent – as a mature undergraduate. I returned to study at the ripe old age of 29, with a three year old in tow, as a result of losing (actually giving up willingly, if I’m honest!) my marriage, my home, and my job. What else do you do in such circumstances but go to university!! I discovered that I love to study, and especially love to research and write, about almost anything!

My love of writing has continued into my professional life; I joined the voluntary sector and then the public sector, and carried on writing –bids for funding, project plans, reports, press releases – you name it, I write it!

Recently, and following a bout of depressive illness, I began to write down my thoughts and it became a form of therapy.  I submitted an article to henpicked.net – and to my surprise and delight, they published it! Depression: fighting back is understandably biographical, yet it seems to have spoken to many people. I have had so much positive feedback from women all across the UK who have read it and found it useful.

This lead to three more articles Are you a people pleaser?, Go on… make someone’s day, and Seeing past the stereotype; all equally biographical and all getting more fabulous feedback. But more importantly, each article helped me to reacquaint myself with the joy of writing, just because I can, rather than because I must.

On something of a whim, I went to a creative writing workshop at our local museum and wrote my first poem for almost 40 years. And I loved it; what’s more, so did the other people at the workshop – and I believe that it is now on display in the museum next to the artifact it is written about.

The feedback and the enjoyment in writing has been good for my – dare I say it – soul! Certainly, it has been good for my somewhat delicate self-esteem and even for my relationship with my partner of almost a quarter of a century – because I’m enjoying something just for the sake of it once again.

So I decided to do something I’ve thought about nearly all my adult life and done absolutely nothing about. I have embarked upon the journey of writing my first novel. And how exciting to discover that my lovely nearly lifelong friend Susanna has the same ambition.

We are taking this journey separately, but knowing that the other is alongside, ready to hold our hand when needed with an encouraging word and the ever-so-essential hug (virtually sometimes, but a hug nevertheless!). All just as we did as students, many years ago. We are‘#amwriting’ together.

Oh, by the way, ‘The Golden Ball’ was one of 150,000 poems entered into the Jackanory story and poem competition that year. It reached the final 150 entries, and fell at the last hurdle; the final 100 got prizes! 12-year-old me tried to be excited by the letter I received, but actually, I was mostly disappointed not to get a prize! Now, of course, I can appreciate that I was ranked in the top 1% of entries– and this gives me more encouragement and inspiration.

In fact, I almost feel ready to say “I am a writer”. Watch this space!


Sheila Sturgeon

50+ and living in the midlands with her fabulous partner of more than 23 years, Sheila is a local authority officer working in the policy areas of children and families, having previously led local voluntary sector organisations for many years.   Sheila has two sons (one hers, one his!) who have flown the nest and set up home with very lovely young ladies, all of whom she is very proud! Her partner is CEO of a local charity. She is currently writing her first YA novel.

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21 Ways to Become a Better Writer

As I’ve floated down the river of penmanship, I’ve encountered weirs that have sent me off on tangents, damns that have blocked my way, and dangerous waterfalls that threatened to completely destroy the integrity of my work.  I’ve put what I’ve learned down in this list, that I hope will inspire you to become a better writer. Feel free to add more of your own in the comments.

1. Slow down

It’s sometimes hard to be counter-cultural in a world that thinks we are designed for perpetual motion.  Whether it be the pressures of work, or the demands of the social life of our children, life is definitely busier and faster than it has even been before.  If you want to become a better writer you might just have to take a look at your life and see where you can create more time and space to write.  For example, as children, my brother and I could only be involved in one extra-curricular activity a term.  As an adult, working in Public Relations, I had to make the decision to leave on time, and possibly forgo promotions and pay rises, just so that I could come home and write.

2. Create the right environment

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It is really important to find a space in your house to write where you won’t be interrupted.  I’ve made a sign for the door of my little nook which reads “Warning: Creation in Progress!” to let my family know I need a little alone time.  It’s also important that you are comfortable.  If the chair your are sitting in constantly squeaks you might find this a bit of a distraction. Consider investing in a new one, or fixing the squeak!  When I set up my own creative environment I used all the senses for inspiration. See Create Your Space for details. The most important thing is that it be a place that you want to return to time and again, and is not somewhere filled with other distractions.

3. Find the right tools

There’s no right or wrong when it comes to selecting which tools to use for writing.  The important thing is to find what works for you.  Some people find it easiest to write everything in long hand, from quill and ink through to pencil. Others find it easier to express themselves on whatever electronic device they may have, from computer to tablet to phone.  I tend to do a little of everything.  Even in my early 40s I still get excited at the prospect of getting a new pencil case every September, and yet I am also something of a slave to Apple. Maybe one day I’ll also invest in an ancient Remington typewriter…

4. Fall in love with words

IMG_2864I wrote Falling in Love With Words because as a writer, words are the single most important tool of my trade.  If I don’t love words; how they sound, what they mean, what they can conjure up in the mind’s eye, then I shouldn’t be a crafter of them. I feel the same way about words as I do about a new yarn I discover for knitting. They broaden my horizon and expand the possibilities for my work.  What are some of your favourite words and why?  Take time to savour them as they spill out upon the page.

5. Read what others have written

Maggie HopeIt is my firm belief that you can’t be a good writer unless you are also an avid reader.  One thing I have to constantly remind myself as I get into my writing is that I still need to have a book to read on the go at the same time.  I don’t always read the same genre as my own.  For example, I love the speeches of Winston Churchill, yet doubt I will ever write a speech for a British Prime Minister, let alone one with Churchill’s use of masterful rhetoric.  But Churchill loved words too, and his love of them inspires mine.  Equally, I do not currently plan to write a mystery novel, yet devour every from the classic Agatha Christie to my current favourite, the Maggie Hope series by Susan Elias MacNeal.  Whatever you love to read, while you write, keep reading!

6. Learn from others

As I mentioned in Community Drives Creativity, there are a number of excellent online communities and resources to help you along in your writing journey.  There are some excellent Facebook groups for writers of all genres and demographics. Equally, Twitter has a number of hashtags you keep tabs on, and lists & people you can follow.  My advice is to just read, and follow the people who feed you the most.  Don’t feel overwhelmed by the number of voices that are out there. Even within the great pool that is Twitter there are smaller communities of which to become a part.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions either.  There are a lot of friendly writers, editors and publishers out there who would be only too happy to help you.

7. Set realistic goals

When I first sat down to write my novel I had all sorts of grand schemes and plans about how quickly I would get it done.  Little did I know that the finished work is but the tip of the iceberg of what it takes to complete a full length novel.  Unless you are Barbara Cartland, who would recline on her chaise-long, dictating book after book to her assistant, I strongly suggest that you pace yourself.  Don’t set yourself up to fail.  Figure out a word count that works for you, and include backstory and planning in your hours of work.  I try and write an average of 500 words a day.  This may not seem like a lot, but over time it can soon add up.

8. Just write

One of the first lessons I learned was that I am an overachieving perfectionist. If I was ever to get the novel I was writing out of my head and on to the page I would need to overcome this.  I think I have written the first chapter of about ten novels, hundreds of times over, throughout the years.  If you get an idea for a story, don’t interrupt the creative flow by trying to get it right first time round.  Just write! Get it down on the page and then think about polishing it.  The freedom I have found in doing this has been exhilarating!

9. Think outside the box

Even if you are working on a long piece like a novel, don’t assume that is the only way to write and get your word count up.  The important thing is to flex your alphabetical muscles every day.  I like to write letters to family members in America, send note cards, write short articles for magazines, blog posts like this one, and even a daily entry in my journal.  All of this is writing, so try thinking outside the box when you write.

10. Spend time thinking

Rodins ThinkerOne of my favourite sculptures of all time is Rodin’s “Thinker” which I finally got to see at the Rodin museum on a trip to Philadelphia one time.  I recently did a personality test called “Strengths Finder” in which I discovered that 4/5 of my top personality traits involved some kind of critical thinking.  And yet I also found that I don’t give myself enough time to think. Thinking is an essential part of the writing process in that it gives our minds a chance to wonder, and our imaginations the opportunity to come up with new ideas and story lines.

11. Write what you love
(not just what you know)

I have seen a number of people suggest that you should only write about thing that you know.  Whilst I wouldn’t recommend setting your story in China if you have never been there, nor never met someone from there, I do think it is limiting for us as writers to only write what we know.  If we write about subjects that we love we will find ourselves studying them, emerging ourselves in those worlds, so that by the end of writing we will come to know about that which we write.  What are you most passionate about?  What gets you excited?  What is the kind of person, place or thing that you look forward to returning to time and again? That is what you should be writing about.

12. Know your audience,
but write for yourself

I think one of the hardest things J K Rowling must have found when completing the Harry Potter series after it had achieved worldwide success was continuing to write for herself.  Of course when figuring out the genre of your book it is important to know who your audience are so that there is clarity to your work, but I personally believe that the best writing comes through knowing yourself, and finding your own voice.  Don’t write to people other people because you cannot please everyone. Instead, write what comes from the heart and invite people into the conversation. Trust me, what you have to say, and how you would say it, is extremely valuable and interesting to the outside world. You just need to have the courage of your convictions.

13. Find out what inspires you

Despite being a lover of words, I am also quite a visual and audio person.  I love listening to inspirational music when I write.  In fact my favourite play list on Spotify is a collection of female jazz singers from throughout the decades.  What playlist would help you to get create and write?

Equally, I love beautiful scenery and pictures.  I often take photographs around the village where I live, and of random buildings and places that I might want to use in my work.  I also have a very full Pinterest account with hidden boards for my writing.  I use images I have pinned on these boards as a launchpad for descriptive writing for my book.  Some might call these things muses. What a-muse-s you when you work?

14. Doodle

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A map of the village where the bulk of my debut novel is set.

You don’t have to be a fine artist to draw.  Trust me, I know.  But sometimes just doodling can lead to the development of ideas.  For my debut novel I spent many hours sketching out the kind of world I wanted my book to be set in.  In The Only Limits are the Limits of Your Imagination I talk about the process I went through in creating this fictional world. I tried a number of different mediums, including a fancy map making program on the computer, and finally settled for good old fashioned pencil, which I coloured in when it was finished.  Remember most of the time these doodles will never be seen by your readers, but they are a great way to sketch characters, places, things.  Even doing floor plans of buildings can help you be consistent as you write.  Give it a go.  I’d love to see what you come up with!

15. Overcome procrastination and writer’s block

Pretty much all writers have suffered from the curse of writer’s block at some point in their career.  Procrastination is also a nasty virus that can eek its way into the soul of our creativity.  When I find myself struggling with rather malady I sit myself down with a black sheet of paper and write the following: “I am procrastinating because…” or “I have writer’s block because…” I put no pressure on myself other than to write one of either of these sentences on that day.  The results can sometimes be quite illuminating.  I might discover than I have taken myself off on an impossible tangent to a dead end in my writing and that is why I feel stuck.  I may find that I am working on something that I really don’t love that I am writing for all the wrong reasons, and can’t sustain it.  I may simply find that I am tired and need some time to recuperate and think.  Whatever may be bothering you, don’t give up on yourself but ask your inner voice to tell you what is going on, and write about it!

16. Find a balance between writing and storytelling

Not all writers are good storytellers, and not all storytellers are good writers.  I am better at telling stories than I am at writing. My mother is a technical genius when it comes to understanding spelling and grammar but still has no clue where I get my story lines and ideas from.  In order to be a better writer it is important to have balance.  I am the first person to admit that I need to work on my grammar, and that without spellchecker I would be lost.  What do you need to work on?  What type of writing does your style suit best?

17. Remember outlines,
plans & timelines

As the storyline of my debut novel started to take shape in my mind, I spent a considerable amount of time working on the outline. Various scenes would jump into my mind, and not always in a chronological order! Thankfully post-it notes came to the rescue as I was able to jot things down and move them around as needed. I keep these post-it notes in my pencil case so I can refer to them wherever I am.  Once I had the basic outline of the story I was able to consider timescales and put each scene into a timeline.  The speed with which you move the reader through the development of the plot is vital in creating the mood of the piece. Sometimes transitions are as, if not more, important than the main event.  All these work, plus backstories on my characters, and descriptive pieces of places and things, have been the bulk of my work.  Enjoy the time you spend on this. Don’t rush through it. It will help you a great deal later on.

18. Let your characters speak to you

I have heard many writers talk about how their characters wouldn’t let them do something, or their characters showed them which direction to go in.  It wasn’t until I created my own characters that I started to understand what they meant.  Integrity of character is as important with the fictional people you create as it is in real life.  Of course there are times when people act ‘out of character’ but that is still an authentic part of who a person is, even if it is a disturbed flaw.  The people, places and things in your world will show you the way if you let them.

19. Decide when others should
read your work

If you are a sensitive soul, and a lot of writers are, think very carefully about who you show your work to and when.  Whilst it is nice to have cheerleaders encouraging you along the way, my advice is not to show your work to people until the first draft is complete, and you are well into the editing stage.  It doesn’t take much for people to derail you with their comments, both bad and good.  Plus you don’t want to give away the entire plot so that those close to you feel like they don’t need to read it later.  Keep them guessing, and maintain an air of mystery about it.

20. Seize the day! (and the night)

You never know when a thought, idea or character will pop into your head so always be prepared.  I carry around a notebook and pen in my bag wherever I go and am constantly jotting down random thoughts that come into my head.  I also have a notebook beside my bed for the same reason.  My subconscious works overtime when I am dreaming, and sometimes I am able to glean these nuggets in the early hours and get them down on paper.  Try writing down your dreams and your daydreams and see where they take you.

21. Do something else

Finally, you can’t write about life unless you are living it, so don’t stay boxed up in your writing corner all hours of the day.  Get out there and live a little!  The introverts amongst us may prefer to people watch in a coffee shop, or go for a country walk.  The extroverts will need to be around people.  Invite them round, or get out there and find them!  Enjoy life, and enjoy putting life and soul into your work.  Happy writing!

Community Drives Creativity

Every morning, before I sit down to write, I make myself a piping hot mug of caramel hot chocolate, and sift through tweets and FB posts.  More and more I have made a bee-line for one particular group on Twitter who gather around the hashtag 12399438_10153297370191961_1530400782_n#amwriting.  Started by Johanna Harness back in 2009, this is an incredible group of individuals who all count writing as their profession. All over the world they get up each morning and begin their day of words counts, drafts, timelines, character sketches, letters to editors etc, and they tweet about it as they go.

Writing can be an incredibly solitary occupation; a fact which is something of an oxymoron when you consider the fact that writers are often fantastic observers of people.  They are frequently able to put themselves in the shoes of another, and paint pictures with words of what life can be like through another’s eyes.  But it can be hard to attempt to do this entirely alone.  As John Donn famously said, “no man is an island unto himself.”

It has been a wonderful experience for me to discover that I am part of a community much bigger than myself; to hear from published authors and novices like myself, of their daily struggle to put pen to paper and tease out of their overactive imaginations new frontiers previously hidden worlds, and, at times, colourful characters.  I have already learned a great deal about the writing process itself from my fellow tweeters, and have started to engage in a small amount of conversation myself.

Even when I am struggling to get a sentence out, or am wrestling with which direction to take a plot line, I can pop on to Twitter and find words of encouragement, wisdom and support.  I think I can honestly say that since finding this community, and others like it, my productivity and creativity has increased exponentially. I am a-muse-d by it all, and can’t wait to see where it will lead.

So whether you are a struggling writer in a loft in New York City, a dreaming poet in the Australian Outback, an established author in a villa in Spain, or like me, a newbie, from a cosy corner of England, come join the party that is #amwriting and see where your creativity leads you from there.  Community drives creativity.  If you are a writer this is one community you will not want to miss.

A Rose by Any Other Name…

Dark Red RoseOscar Wilde once said, “it is a sad truth, but we have lost the faculty of giving lovely names to things.”

In the story of Adam and Eve, in the book of Genesis, God parades all the creatures he has made in front of them and gets them to name them. You get a sense that there is a tremendous amount of joy to be found in being able to find the right name for the right creature. The naming of things is an intrinsic part of creation and creativity. In us, is a natural desire to call something by name.

The first thing I ever remember naming was ‘pink rabbit’. Perhaps not the most original of names, none-the-less, it gave me great joy to be able to choose it. 40+ years on, I still have ‘pink rabbit’ and love her as much as I did when I was a small child, learning to speak.

Since then, I have named countless cars, my first being ‘Slurp’, partly due to the numberplate, and partly its penchant for guzzling gas. My latest is ‘Percy’ a.k.a ‘His Grace’. It’s a family joke, but Percy is also a Polo and a little bit of alliteration never did anyone any harm.

We name pets, vehicles, cuddly toys, houses, towns. We name everything on the periodic table of the elements, and even every star in the sky. We even name ourselves. There are a multitude of baby naming websites to consult if you are expecting a child. I should imagine that at times the choice can be overwhelming. To name a human being is, I believe, the most precious of all names.

And then there is the world of creative literature. I find it fascinating studying how others have chosen names for the characters in their books. J.K. Rowling is particularly talented at this. No name is casual, and no one comes by their name by accident. For example, imagine my excitement when I discovered that Sirius Black and his family are all named after stars. He is, of course, the ‘Dog Star’, which is why he turns into a black dog as an animagus. But I was once looking through a list of named stars in our universe, and even Belletrix is one of them.

So how do we name things in our writing? Where do we begin? It is my belief, that the name chooses the person, place, or thing, and not the other way round. For example, when naming a character in my novel I ask myself the following:

  • Is the person conventional, and do they have a conventional name?
  • What were their parents like?
  • What are their dominant personality traits?
  • Does their name have a hidden meaning?

When I have a shortlist, I speak the names out loud to test them. If they conjure up and image of the person I want to create then I sit with that name for a few days. Instinct tells me when I have hit on the right name, as I feel a tremendous sense of peace about it.

Whether it be the colours of the rainbow or a sailing boat in the harbour there are no shortage of things to name. What’s in a name? You decide!

The Only Limits are the Limits of Your Imagination

When starting to think about about my novel it wasn’t a person, an event, or a particular storyline that came to mind, but rather a place. Bono, the lead singer of the band U2 once said, “the only limits are the limits of your imagination, dream up the kind of world you want to live in, dream out loud, at high volume.” Whilst I’m not sure that the world I have created in my novel is exactly at “high volume”, it most definitely is the kind of world that I would like to live in. As I come back to it, day after day, to sketch out characters and places, and to tell my story, I do so with excitement and joy, and an overarching feeling that I am coming home.

Where did I start? With what I love! As you have probably realised, I have a passion for crafts, and in particular knitting. It is therefore absolutely essential that there be a wool shop at the heart of my fictional world. Drawing from images on Pinterest, memories from various wool shops I have visited over the years, and things I would long to see but have yet to experience, I was able to sketch out “Butterworth’s Wool Shop”. When I gave it to my friend to read, she replied, ‘I want to go there!’ This reaction was just what I was looking for, because, quite frankly, so do I!

Using this method, I have bit by bit been able to sketch together a picture of an idyllic, but not utopian, village in England, that is a symbiosis between everything I like about the past and present, coupled with what I imagine would be great to see in the future. Why not? It’s my world! It’s a place I long for, and love to return to, and one day, when I finish it, I hope you will too!IMG_3004

Being the extremely visual person that I am, I have also found it useful to draw a map of the village. It is A2 in size, and is tacked to my wall so I can constantly refer to it as I write. I went through a number of drafts to get there, and tried a combination of software and freehand, and finally opted for this hand-drawn, and coloured-in image. It was amazing how it just started to take shape and now I couldn’t imagine the village looking any different.

What kind of world would you want to live in?

What kind of place would it bring you the most amount of joy / excitement / interest to see in your virtual world?

If you could live in one of the following places where would it be:

– A magical kingdom?
– A desert island?
– A busy city?
– On a mountain?

Does your character start in this place, end up there, or pass through there on the way somewhere else?

These are some of the questions I have been asking myself as I have worked. My world is not the kind of place that dishes out an endless stream of harsh realities, dotted with toxic characters, and never-ending doom. It is a place of hope, a place of healing, a place in which to kick back in your slippers, sup on a glass of wine, and enjoy life for once. Not realistic enough? It’s not meant to be! It is a place that we can but aspire to go in the limitless expanse of our imagination, to take refuge from what life flings at us. The only limits are the limits of our imagination. Where does your’s take you?

Falling in Love With Words

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As I slowly dip my toe into the world of blogging, novel writing etc, I am finding myself getting excited whenever I come across a new word I can use. I think I have always been a lover of words, and have especially enjoyed naming everything, from my pets, to cars, and even other people’s businesses, but the more I write, the more I love the incredible ways in which we can paint pictures with words.

It’s not enough to be a wordsmith and great crafter of words. It’s not enough to be a walking dictionary and a paid up member of the grammar police. As a writer, you need to be a lover of words, as excited to discover new ways of communicating as a painter is to discover a new brush stroke or colour.

Here are some words that I have recently discovered or rediscovered. Some may be new to you, some may be familiar. I think they are rather beautiful.

Petrichor: The pleasant, earthy, smell that frequently accompanies rain after a long period of warm, dry weather. My current favourite word in the English language, particularly as it is also one of my favourite smells.

Myriad: Countless or extremely great number of people or things. This is a word I know, but not one I frequently use. It gives me one more alternative to ‘lots of’ which is always a good thing!

Topsy-turvy: Upside-down. How can you not like this word?

Proprietors: The owners of a business or land. I realised when I read this somewhere that I nearly always say ‘owners’ and so have challenged myself to use a bit of variety moving forward.

Habeus Corpus: A legal writ through which someone can report illegal detention or imprisonment. Yes I know it’s Latin, and literally means ‘have his body’, but the English language is made up of a lot of other languages. Loving words does not necessarily mean restricting yourself to the language you speak.

What can we do to grow in our love of words?

  1. Dictionary.com’s app with word of the day. I have this app on my phone and just live with the word of the day. Sometimes they don’t really speak to me and that’s ok. Sometimes I am familiar with them but don’t use them very often and get excited thinking of the different ways in which they can be incorporated into my writing. Sometimes they are totally new, and it’s like finding a new friend.
  2. Play Scrabble with open dictionaries. I regularly get together with friends to play Scrabble. It is a very relaxed affair, with everyone having laminated sheets with two and three letter words, and Scrabble dictionaries open. Not only do I learn a lot from the other players, I also learn a lot by perusing the materials available to me. However I have yet to use the word ‘qi’ in my writing. Wait, I just did!
  3. Read more. I don’t just read novels. I read everything. Here are some ideas:
    1. Literature of all kinds, both fiction and non-fiction.
    2. Speeches by famous people (for example I love reading Winston Churchill’s speeches).
    3. Newspapers and magazines. (Even ones your don’t agree with as they can help you create characters you don’t like.)
    4. Product packaging. Sounds bizarre but it can be useful in giving ideas about anyone trying to sell something in your writing, and for descriptions of things.
  4. Listen to people when they speak, paying attention to the words and phrases they use. This is great for learning to write good dialogue.

Above all else, we need to keep writing. I have to keep reminding myself not to write to produce, whether it be a novel, biography, article or speech. Instead I need to write to create; to paint pictures with words. The more I do, the more I will grow, and the more I will fall in love with words.

R.S.V.P. and the Death of the Notecard

Whilst on a trip to the United States recently, I had an opportunity to visit my favourite bookshop, Barnes and Noble. Towards the tills you can find an amazing assortment of paper products, such as journals, address books, and notecards.

IMG_2844The notecards / writing paper section is very small indeed, and as I browsed through the sets it dawned on me just how much we have moved away from writing notes and letters to one another.

When I was a child, every birthday or Christmas, I was taught by my parents to make a list of what I had been given, and by whom. My brother and I would then sit down studiously at the dining table, and write ‘thank you’ letters to everyone. In some respects this made me the writer I am today, because there are a multitude of different ways in which to express your gratitude for something, when you are challenged to be creative and nonrepetitive.

As I grew, I started to receive invitations to parties. As soon as I was able, I was expected to reply to these. Every single invitation I received had the four iconic letters, R.S.V.P. in the bottom right-hand corner. At the time, it would have been unthinkable, an enormous social faux-pas, to have ignored the request to répondez s’il vous plaît. We were always pleased to do so.

By the time I was eleven I had the opportunity to sign-up for pen pals from all over the world, and I seized this chance with both hands. During my spare time I would write copious numbers of letters to my new-found friends from abroad, and would receive a great number in return. It would give me such intense delight to discover an envelope on my doorstep with a foreign stamp on it.

Then later, through a miracle, I was reunited with my birth-family in the United States. At first, my mother and I began writing to each other, and I still carry the first letter she ever wrote in my Bible. Then, as I was slowly introduced to my other relatives in North Carolina, I started to receive letters from my grandmother. She had such a beautiful hand.

My grandmother is no longer living, but I still have her letters, and will keep them, and those from my pen pals, and other friends and family, to the day I die. I doubt I would have such treasures if all my correspondence had been by e-mail or on Facebook.

Equally, I think we have lost something precious by no longer responding to invitations we receive. Facebook, e-mails, and other social media are incredible tools for mass communication, and giving us unprecedented access to information and people around the globe. The event function on Facebook is an equally handy tool. However, I suspect that the ease with which we can click our replies diminishes our sense of obligation to the organiser of the event. It becomes less personal, easier to hedge your bets, and wait for something better to come along.

I long for us to be able to recommit to one another and truly connect once again. In a small way, I believe that making a concerted effort to R.S.V.P. and send ‘thank you’ cards to people, is a step in the right direction. Facebook shouldn’t mean the death of the notecard. and R.S.V.P. does not stand for ‘respond, sometimes, variably, perhaps’.

I’ve written two ‘thank you’ cards since buying this delightful, velum, Italian set. It brought me great pleasure to do so, and I hope it brings equal joy to the recipients.

Create Your Space

I have a small room at the back of my house which doubles up as a study and craft room. When I moved here, I decided that this would be the room in which I would write and work on various craft projects. I have found over time that I actually prefer to knit in a comfy chair in my living room, or occasionally in my small sunroom at the back of the house, which overlooks the garden. But the sewing machine is in this multipurpose room, and so is my laptop.

At first I found that I didn’t particularly relish going in there. I’d carry my laptop to other parts of the house, and found it difficult to find inspiration to write. I’d tell people that I had ‘writer’s block’, but that I was sure I would overcome it soon, and the words would eventually begin to flow. They didn’t.

Then it dawned on me; who would relish going into a room that had shelves containing bills, bank statements, tax returns, and a huge in-tray piled with filing and action items? If this was going to be my ‘creative’ room, then my ‘work’ room or study would have to be somewhere else. So I moved the files to another room, and put the in-tray out of sight, except when working my way through it.

But that wasn’t enough; I needed to create a space that would entice me into it, and capture me, and inspire to create. In order to do this it needed to be a multi-sensory room, that would enliven my sight, hearing, sense of smell, taste and touch. Over time I have made a few small changes to the room and it has made all the difference. Here is what I did:

I bought the lamp using some Amazon vouchers given to me at Christmas. Before that I had a shabby old thing with a split in the shade. This modern yet timeless angle-poised desk lamp is a vast improvement. The Bose Sound System was my biggest investment beyond my laptop, but it has been worth every penny. I have a Spotify account, and recently spent a delightful few hours putting together a play list of female jazz singers, both old and new. That playlist is the soundtrack to my writing right now with tunes from Ella to Amy Winehouse filling the air with charm and intoxication.

I always keep a fruit bowl on my desk. I’m not on a diet; I love food too much to deprive myself of it, but I do try to eat food that is healthy and makes my body come alive. Fruit definitely does that for me, and is great for snacking on while I sit and ponder the meaning of life.

I have a keen sense of smell and relish walking into a room that has a definite and enticing scent. You see on my windowsill a collection of ‘smellies’ that I have either been given or bought over the years. I have an enormous collection of candles, and love the reeds dipped in oils. The teapot is actually a thermostatically controlled burner I once bought at a candle party. It’s incredibly safe because it cuts out before anything gets too hot.

Finally, there is cotton fabric for touch. The feel of a fabric is just as important to me as they way it looks. I have to be quite careful with certain wools, for example, because they can cause me skin irritations. But I have yet to find someone that is allergic to cotton (I’m sure you are out there somewhere!!!). I find it inspiring to create peg boards of particular projects I am planning, and literally pin samples and ideas on there in the same way as you would with Pinterest in the virtual world. Seeing these ideas take shape in front of me gets me excited and motivated and can sometimes spark more ideas. My advice to all crafters out there is this: Don’t hide your calicos in the closet!

What does your creative space look like? What is important to you about the area in which to craft, write and create? What little changes could you make to transform this area into a place you look forward to going into?