Coming Up!

I’ve settled into a regular-ish blogging routine now, based around a handful of challenges that I enjoy, and that tolerate my continued wibbling. So, in an attempt to manage my own time as much as your fervent expectations (honestly, it’s like Beatlemania meets Biebermania every time I step out of my own front door), this is what you can expect each day, between now and April (when the poem-a-day blogging challenge kicks in, and I cry myself to sleep every day for failing to prepare despite having no excuse this year).

The BIG NEWS is that I have secured an exciting guest blogger to come and join me every Monday until April… See Yi-Oh will be sharing the benefits of his business nous (in haiku form, obviously) in a new series “The Two-Minute Manager“. I hope you’ll give him a warm welcome when he joins me tomorrow!

MONDAY – Limerick Challenge / The Two-Minute Manager

TUESDAY – Haiku Challenges – Ronovan & haiku horizons

WEDNESDAY – Secret Keeper’s Challenge

THURSDAY – Pop-Culture Thursday… the name needs work, but it’ll be something rhyme-y whyme-y, about something pop-culture-y

FRIDAY – The Great Book of Lists

WEEKENDS – no planned posts, unless for a specific challenge. I’ll be spending Saturdays entirely offline. Go and have some outdoor fun, people!

Plus there will be other bouts of randomness as and when inspiration strikes.

If there are any burning topics, ignored by better poets, that you think need covering in rhyme, let me know below the line 🙂

 

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The scene outside my front door every morning… makes the commute to work a challenge…

Picture credit: flickr.com/photos/jamescridland/613445810

The Ten Books That Changed Me- TGBOL

The prompt for the Great Book of Lists this week was to list books that “transport” us to another time or place, out of our daily lives. I found this difficult, purely because every book that I enjoy transports me into that particular world. If it doesn’t, I stop reading it – life’s too short, and my reading pile too big! Choosing just a handful on this basis was also beyond me…

So below is a list of the ten books (not necessarily novels) that have had the greatest impact on me, that have transported me either through the power of the storytelling, or in the influence they have had on me personally, or both.

In no particular order:

1. Cormac McCarthy – The Road
The book that put me off wanting to be a writer, because I’ll never write anything as good as this.

2. Nick Hornby – High Fidelity
The right book at the right time can have a huge effect. This tracked and amplified my obsession with list-making… and look where that’s got me!

3. Julia Donaldson – The Gruffalo
I could have chosen one of half a dozen of her books – she directly inspired me to write children’s stories in rhyme.

4. Shel Silverstein – Where the Sidewalk Ends
I was recommended this by my American critique group (I hadn’t heard of him at that time), who paid me the great compliment of being Silverstein-esque. I only wish!

5. Max Brooks – World War Z
A great book, bold in scope, unique in vision. This was unfortunately made into a distinctly average film of limited scope and generic, by-the-numbers vision. (Note to film-makers – zombies DO NOT run. They are the reanimated dead, not Olympic sprinters.)

6. Iain Banks – The Wasp Factory
I can still picture every detail in this slightly bizarre, yet surface-normal, world, even though I haven’t read it for at least a decade.

7. Douglas Adams – The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy
A huge influence on my sense of humour. I was too young for the radio series, but grew up with the original TV show, and even remember playing a text-only computer game of it. Must read this one again.

8. Roald Dahl – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
A children’s story with both lyricism and darkness.

9. George RR Martin – A Song of Ice and Fire
I’m not normally a fan of fantasy, but these had me gripped. I raced through all the novels one after the other (courtesy of a friend’s generosity in lending me them… There isn’t room on my bookshelves for this weighty series!). After reading one of the books, I read Hunger Games. It was like drinking lemonade after a fine wine.

10. Neil Gaiman – The Graveyard Book
Gaiman is the writer I most want to be, and The Graveyard Book is the book I most want to have written.

So, feel free to analyse away about what this list says about me… What books have transported you, in one way or other?

 

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The List of My Desires (TGBOL)

The prompt for this week is to “list our desires”.

Instead of listing material things to buy, I suggest we list things we feel like doing in 2016, things that really inspire us, make us smile, giggle. It’s not a resolutions list.

Obviously, with this prompt, my first thought was to have a little fun with the “desires” part, and list some famous people who’d be on “the list” (you know, “the list” of 5 people that you’re allowed to fantasy cheat on your partner with, should the opportunity arise… it’s best not to list people in your social circle on this one…) At this point, I realised that I currently have no idea who’d be on said list… I can remember some from the past, but can’t think of anyone from the present… This shows either:

(a) I’m growing up, and no longer play such childish games (yeah, right… how do you think this train of thought started??)
(b) Being a parent of two young monkeys, most of my time revolves around them, doing what they want to do, and watching what they watch… Octonauts just aren’t sexy (although they are wonderfully educational)…

I digress…

So, here’s some stuff I feel like/ need to be doing this year, in no order of priority!

1 – Focus. Spend one day per week COMPLETELY offline, so that when I spend time with my family, they have my full attention.

2 – Self-publish. I am still working on children’s picture book stories with the help of my SCBWI critique groups, but I also have some ideas for self-publishing some poetry collections, and non-fiction.

3 – Fail more, and faster. Enter more competitions, both for poetry and short stories, and send off submissions to agents/publishers for picture books.

4 – Family fun! Finally arrange that day trip to the Natural History Museum that we’ve been considering for ages (our 6 year old, especially, will love it – his favourite person in the world is David Attenborough!). Hopefully we’ll get an opportunity to go on holiday later this year too, but as ever that will depend on our finances.

5 – Learn more. Learn to play the ukelele, at least to a very basic standard. (You have no idea what a low musical baseline I’m starting from…) Sign up for the FutureLearn screenwriting course, and make time to complete it.

6 – Go on dates! Rope the babysitters in more often to have date nights with my wife. Watch new films at the cinema! Plays at the theatre! Eat grown-up meals! Crazy stuff!

Wish me luck!

 

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Picture credit: flickr.com/photos/joybot/8624907691

OctPoWriMo #31 – The Song Goes On

Step off the dance floor
Draw breath. Relax. Have a drink.
Song changes; goes on.

So, OctPoWriMo has come to an end. I’ve published a poem a day during this month (actually quite a bit more, when you include other challenges), and I’ve tried to engage most days with the daily prompt… if I haven’t, it’s been at least a response to the prompt, even if in a “two-fingered” sort of way! I respond well, generally, to challenges and prompts, and have been pushed beyond my comfort zone this month, with varying results. Will I ever write a paradelle again? Not unless money changes hands…

I need to scale back for a bit now, and focus on re-drafting a picture book text ready to submit for critiquing at the SCBWI Conference in Winchester in three weeks time… poems have superseded the picture book writing lately, and I need to create some time to finish a draft of a heartwarming Christmas story… written entirely from a villain’s point of view (naturally).

So, thank you to everyone for your likes, comments and follows, and hope you will join me, at a less frenetic pace, for whatever I come up with next. What will that be? I genuinely have no idea. Watch this space and find out as I do 🙂

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Writing 201: Poetry #6

For today’s challenge, bearing in mind it is a Saturday we were asked simply to say a few lines on a poem that we love, that makes us jealous.

Mine is a poem from my childhood, that I have had the pleasure of re-discovering with my own children. Little Red Riding Hood, from Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes, is a parody of the traditional Riding Hood fairy tale, ending in a decidedly non-traditional way…

The small girl smiles.
One eyelid flickers.
She whips a pistol from her knickers.

She aims it at the creature’s head.
And bang bang bang, she shoots him dead

There are so many reasons I love this. Hilarious use of rhyme. The unexpected twist. The hint of anarchy, using grown up words in a story supposedly for children. That imagery! Words that a child will remember into adulthood…

There is no other section of poetic writing that so encapsulates what I am trying to ultimately achieve with my poetry.

Here’s to trying 🙂

 

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10 Crucial Lessons for Rhymers… from Monty Python

or, inevitably, WHAT HAVE THE PYTHONS EVER DONE FOR US?

We are all products of our environment. Some wear their influences on their sleeves; others may not even be aware of tapping into their formative influences. I grew up in the 80s with Monty Python, a child of Python-loving parents who mercifully spared me the sketches that didn’t work (there are many), but instead exposed me to the films, the highlights reels, the comedy albums (on vinyl, no less), the Live at the Hollywood Bowl fan-fest. And here I am now trying to write rhyming picture books and other entertainments…

Here are ten lessons that rhymers (perhaps storytellers of any stripe) can take from the songs of Monty Python. Some of the links are NSFW…

1) CHALLENGE EXPECTATIONS
Have your main character do something unusual, that goes against type and challenges expectations. You’ve got a knight called Brave Sir Robin?

“When danger reared its ugly head
He bravely turned his tail and fled

Yes Brave Sir Robin turned about
And gallantly he chickened out…”

Or take a rugged, “manly” lumberjack, and then tell us that he likes to “put on women’s clothing, and hang around in bars.”

Or take the less-travelled perspective:

2) PLAY WITH WORDS
Have fun with the language, whether that’s homophones, (“sail the wide accountancy”)

lists,

or

or non-sequitors for comic effect
“We dine well here in Camelot, we eat ham and jam and spam a-lot

I have to push the pram-a-lot!”

3) GET THE TONE RIGHT
The gentle, plinky start of “Finland” sets the tone perfectly for an homage to a country “where I quite want to be”…

4) ENJOY YOUR RHYMES
Repeating the same end rhyme throughout, and even using it as an internal rhyme, can be fun…
“Half a bee, philosophically,
Must, ipso facto, half not be”

5) DON’T TALK DOWN TO YOUR AUDIENCE
The Galaxy Song, and the Medical Love Song, are examples of introducing a range of language and ideas that go far beyond what might be expected of the “everyman”. If the narrative, and the rhyme, is strong enough, you can introduce unfamiliar names and ideas very quickly.

Don’t talk down to your audience. Raise them up.

“Just remember that you’re standing on a planet that’s evolving
And revolving at 900 miles an hour.
It’s orbiting at 19 miles a second, so it’s reckoned,
The sun that is the source of all our power”

(I love the punchline at the end of this song)

6) MAKE YOUR RHYMES UNEXPECTED, OR UNUSUAL
All I know about philosophers, I know from this:

“Heideggar, Heideggar was a boozy beggar…

John Stewart Mill, of his own free will
On half a pint of shanty was particularly ill.”

And what about one of the greatest thinkers in history?

“Aristotle, Aristotle was a bugger for the bottle”

7) REPETITION, repetition….
A good example of repetition, and letting your characters grow, is the theme song from Life of Brian, with “a boy/ teenager/ not a girl/ a man called Brian”

“… his voice dropped down low
And things started to grow…”

8) DIVERSITY IS IMPORTANT
Monty Python made an effort to address diversity, in their own particular fashion, with “I Like Chinese” and “Never Be Rude To An Arab”…

“I like Chinese, I like Chinese,
They only come up to your knees”

It’s vital to reflect the diversity of the world we live in, to keep your characters relevant, and grounded in the reality of the time.

9) BE PREPARED TO MAKE MISTAKES
Viewed through modern eyes, neither of these songs have aged well… but how do you future-proof your material from the differing standards that will inevitably follow? You can’t. Write what’s in your heart, rather than chasing the trends of the day (or anticipated trends of tomorrow). If you never make mistakes, it just means you’re never trying.

Which leads us to our final point.

10) KEEP TRYING
There is only one way to finish this list. A song that has a ridiculously catchy chorus, a perfect balance of repetition/ variation/ progression, fun rhymes, a playful, changing rhyme structure… it’s even got whistling.

So, when the rejection emails start to pile up around you, put the kettle on, grab a slice of cake, and listen to this:
“Cheer up, Brian. You know what they say…”

I'm Back!

Hi everyone, I’ve just got back from a week’s holiday down in North Devon. A beautiful part of England… unfortunately we couldn’t even rely on decent weather in August, so had to suffer four waterlogged days, battling trenchfoot and hypothermia (only a slight exaggeration), before the sun eventually came out. Check out one of my holiday snaps below…

By the way – I think it says a lot about me that if you call your attraction The Big Sheep, then I’m going to put that on the “must visit” list! We did manage to visit a different beach every day, rain or shine… put that down to the stubbornness of those who live as far from the beach as is possible in these Isles.

I’ve come back with lots of ideas for new poems that I hope to share with you in the coming days and weeks. Hope you enjoyed the scheduled posts I left while I was off – it was a bit of a clean out of some older material, hence being a smorgasbord of poems, limericks, and zombie stories… variety is good though, right? 🙂

Thanks to everyone for your likes, shares and lovely comments. I couldn’t respond to each as I normally do, as we didn’t even have phone reception for 23.5 hours of each day, let alone an internet connection! My wife did discover on day three that if you hung off the back of the sofa at an awkward angle, you could just get a tiny bit of phone reception (as long as it wasn’t too windy… or cloudy… or a bird wasn’t flying past the window… it was very rural!)… amazing the lengths you go to to maintain a feeling of being “connected” to the world, once you’ve got used to it!

Now, if only there was some way to combine that beautiful North Devon scenery with a decent broadband connection…

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Haiku Challenge – "Bust" & "Must"

Two contributions from me for Ronovan’s weekly haiku challenge – “bust” and “must” being the theme words. Check out lots of great haiku on Ronovan’s blog: https://ronovanwrites.wordpress.com/2015/08/10/ronovanwrites-weekly-haiku-poetry-prompt-challenge-57-bust-must/

#1
My writing career
Has many needs, and one MUST:
Agent deal or bust!

#2
Raucous wedding brawl;
Black eyes, bust lips, bruised knuckles.
It must be true love.

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Summer Lovin'

Here in the UK, the school summer holidays are about to start. I’m taking most of this period off work to spend with my boys, so will be blogging less from now until September. My boys are 2 and 5 years old at the moment, and I’m really looking forward to doing a whole bunch of daft stuff with them while they are at such a fun age. (Any top tips on rainy day options, or things to do in the garden, gratefully received!)

So, the plan for the next few weeks looks like this, all around the loose theme of “summer”. I make no promises about posting every time – priorities!

Mon – Silliness, Stuff and Nonsense (I have some zombie/slug issues still to get out of my system… and don’t even ask about zombie slugs)

Wed – Haiku City

Thu – Throwback Thursday (a poem from the archives)

Fri – “Love”… yeah, I’m keeping this one vague to keep my options open!

A wee insight into my process – I literally have none of this written yet. As ever, I’ll fly by the seat of my pants, and use these prompts and “deadlines” as a spur to my creativity. Let’s hope it all works out… (I’ll still contribute to Ronovan’s weekly haiku challenge too, although I may have to submit late with some.)

Hope you can join me, and hope you have a great summer (even if it’s winter where you are 🙂 ).

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https://www.flickr.com/photos/pagedooley/3772193760 / Creative Commons… I’m not nearly as photogenic as this guy!