Chalke Valley History Festival, and Inspiration!

Chalke Valley History Festival 2012 has provided a glorious patchwork of history and literature – a delight for all history fans, and for wannabe historical fiction writers like me.
Nestled in the beautiful Wiltshire countryside, a colourful red and yellow striped canvas roof hosted the seminar I attended on History Writing, where an impressive, hugely experienced and well informed panel of authors, agents and publishers freely gave their time and advice on a wide variety of questions the audience cast out to them.
Why do these experts take precious time out of their schedules to give such valuable advice at events like this? I’m very glad they do of course, and it’s a clear benefit to people like me, but what do they gain?
For agents and publishers, I can only assume that in one session, of one day, of one event, they hope they will find a golden nugget – an author with fabulous potential and the germ of an idea which they can nurture into a best seller.
That’s part of the excitement of events like the Chalke Valley History Festival – if you go, maybe you’ll have a chance encounter that could turn into a pivotal moment in your journey (writing for me, but so many other interests are catered for at the festival that it’s hard to pin them all down!).
It’s an ephemeral chance, and maybe you won’t realise the significance of the encounter until weeks, or even years, later. Just maybe a contact made there could be the key to achievement further down the path.
That links in my head to the ephemeral nature of inspiration, which can trickle slow and sluggish, or burst through a surprising crack in the rocks of everyday life. Sometimes it’s just a case of following the sound of the waterfall, and allowing yourself to be amazed when you find its source.
Chalke Valley History Festival is setting up a Trust “to improve the education of history in this country so that children reach adulthood with a proper sense of the past so as to make better sense of their future.”
What an amazing purpose – I do hope it’s the source of many a waterfall of inspiration for years to come.

Living Like You’re At The Seaside

In an ideal world, I’d like to write in my favourite seaside cafe. I can imagine the words flowing from fingertips to laptop, while soothing waves and endless sky inspire me. Perhaps I’d become enough of a regular to get a favourite table. Maybe an unspoken rappport with a waitress would mean I‘d get endless coffee refills without a fresh order. And the occasional pastry would come in handy. There, I feel sure, I’d write long and beautiful fiction.
But there are a few problems with the picture in my head.
Like that cafe is half an hour’s drive and another half hour’s walk away from me right now. I don’t have my own laptop. And when I go there, it’s usually for a ten minute pit stop with my lovely family in between beach scrambles – probably even more rewarding, but not the same.
Although it’s sometimes tempting, I’m not going to wait until that perfect seaside scenario can be fulfilled, before I start writing. So why do I want to be there in particular? There’s nothing concrete there that I can’t have at home – it’s just a great backdrop. I guess I want to be there so I feel in the right mood to get creative. And moods are what we all carry around with us – perhaps the only things we can truly control in our lives. So here are my tips for creating your own seaside feeling:
1. Find some “me” time, even if it’s only for 30 minutes, and dedicate it to what you want to do. Stick to it. Like the advert says, “You’re worth it”!
2. Use that precious time wisely, in a way that rewards you. If you want to fritter it away vaguely surfing, that’s fine, but don’t regret it afterwards. How would you work differently if you had only 10 minutes? Or a whole 5 hours?
3. Make your soundtrack. It might be literally, with wave music like in a health spa. Or it might be useful to try something a bit heavier to drown out traffic noise if that distracts you. (The neighbours might prefer you use headphones!) Whatever works for you.
4. Learn to take a shortcut to that creative mood. You might need to use tools like these to practise getting there, but the more you do, the easier it will become. That creative space is yours alone, and it’s in your head somewhere; you just have to find it!
5. Begin! After I had spent some weeks researching, planning, and researching some more, I began to suspect I was putting off starting to write, in case I couldn’t do it. There’s only one way to find out. My hubby gave me some good advice: “Just sit down and start.” And he was right…

Beginning my writing journey…and why do you want to know?

I remember the frustration of not being able to unlock words. One of my earliest memories is of trying to read, and I was very aware of the magic and secrets the letters on the page seemed to hold, if only you could understand how. Once I began to get the hang of it, the next thing I wanted was to write one of those stories.
As I got older, I started actually living life, which got in the way of wanting to write. Then one day my lovely husband dreamed a dream, and wrote his down, and is now a published author, which makes me very proud. It took nearly five years from idea to publication, which started me wondering when a book’s life starts. I came to the conclusion that it’s when the idea begins inside its author’s head, and that there’s a long journey between that moment and the time when the book gets put into print (or an ebook’s virtual ink!) and begins its life out in the real world, where people can actually read it.
So what made me decide to write my own book? Well, after one particularly painful proof reading session, my husband (the author!) said, “Why don’t you write a book?” The answer was that I didn’t know what to write about. Then one day, whilst minding my own business fiddling about in the kitchen, I asked myself, “If you had to write a book today, what would it be about?” And suddenly I knew!
So my journey began, and my new hobby started, and here I am!
But it’s not easy, or quick, and there have been a few unexpected turns along the way already. I’ll tell you an example. I found a precious half hour to write, settled in a crowded coffee shop with a drink and a beautiful notebook and began. Not five minutes later, a lovely older lady asked to share my table because there were no other seats, and we began to chat. I thought about shushing her and getting on with the task in hand, but our talk was so unusually easy between strangers that I decided to change course for the rest of my half hour, because I might learn something. I don’t regret that decision one bit, but things like that mean it could be a long time before I get to finish my book, so I want to record how I’m getting there in the meantime!
In this blog I’ll share some of the amazing things I’ve found out in my research, the thoughts that occur to me along the way, and the tips that have worked for me and helped me write. Maybe they will be of interest, or work for you, whether writing is your thing, or whether you’re on a different path…