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Bonnes, a beautiful french village that runs along the banks of the river Dronne, held an 'Art au jardins' weekend on the 21st and 22nd July.
Thirteen years ago when I came to France for 6 months armed with my diaries, my bike, a pair of wellies and my computer, I rented a studio in one of the houses in Bonnes. For those 6 months I went through all of my diaries from the age of 11 and typed them into my computer. It was incredibly therapeutic - I was re-united with people and places that I had completely forgotten. I walked Charlotte's (the studio owner) two dogs every day for two hours and had a productive and fantastic time. I decided to buy a small house in a neighbouring village, pack up my life in the UK and come out here to write.
So it was fitting that thirteen years later I should set up a stand in Charlotte's garden for the art weekend selling Spaghetti Head. I felt as if I had come full circle.
We had a steady stream of people enjoying the open-gardens and I chatted to most of them. I was bowled over by how interested and friendly people were and how easily they bought a copy of S Head. I sold 20 in all - which I thought was amazing. And it was an invaluable exercise for me because I realised that the creative side of setting up the stand, chatting to people, smiling, laughing, is what I really enjoy doing, and so at every opportunity I will attempt to keep Spaghetti Head out there on a road-tour.
If you have a paperback to sell I can recommend getting out amongst your readers and saying hello.
Starting to write can be a daunting process for some. The words do not always flow naturally and stories don't always take the shape you thought they would as easily or as quickly as you want. The key is to keep at it and have confidence in your work, says Helen Cross, author of four novels, many short stories, radio dramas and screenplays. Her novel My Summer of Love became a BAFTA award-winning film starring Emily Blunt.
‘The world of publishing can be intimidating to a new writer with no connections in the industry. And what I know now that I didn’t when I set out, is that you, the writer, are the lifeblood of that industry: everything comes back to you, the creative artist. And not just the publishing industry, but the film industry too.
You are more powerful than you know and if you can trust your ideas, take risks, follow your instincts, work hard and hone your talent honestly and bravely there really are no insurmountable barriers to connecting with readers.’
I love these words from Helen. Whether you are traditionally published, or self-published, Helen reminds us that if it wasn’t for us, the writer, there would be no industry: no kindle store: no Waterstones.
We should remind ourselves of this throughout our working day. If we’re experiencing writer’s block, or having a wobble of self-doubt – we must sit back, take a deep breath and think: what would readers do without us?
You can find more words of wisdom from Helen at https://www.helencross.net
I met Rebecca through social media, as we had both worked in Africa. We have struck up a 'social media friendship' I guess you could call it: she has supported Spaghetti Head on her blogsite @ConquerBooks and I was interested in what her writing experience looks like. This is what Rebecca has to share about The First Draft:
Shannon Hale elegantly calls it shoveling sand into a box so that you can build castles, but Hemingway just refers to it as shit. It’s the first draft.
To get started with a first draft, I let ideas ramble around in my head to see if it’s a viable story. I generate characters during my morning runs and practice dialogue in the shower. As much as I think I understand the story, when it goes down on paper, it becomes an entirely different animal.
Take my current work-in-progress…title still unknown. I finished my first draft a few weeks ago, but the idea was in my head for years. I wrote a few chapters but felt I wasn’t doing the story justice, so I set it aside while I worked on another long project.
A Book in Four Months
By the time I went back to those measly pages, I didn’t even recognize the story. Then I read On Writing by Stephen King. His advice on a first draft is that it should not take longer than a season to write. If it does, it will feel disjointed and lost.
I decided to put that in action and set a goal of four months to complete my first draft. Most novels fall between 80,000 and 110,000 words, depending on the genre. I knew this story would be on the longer end of that, so I planned to write 25,000 words each month. I remember nodding to myself, yeah, that sounds doable.
On Day One I realized my ‘doable goal’ meant I had to write nearly 1,000 words per day. It was a lot to eke out one word at a time.
Try Not to Use Your Head
Moreover, when I looked back over what I just wrote, my face warmed. The raw manuscript was embarrassing, something I’d never want to show to another person.
I had to put into action another piece of advice: pretend no one is going to read your work and write from the heart, not the head. As a writer, I thought I understood what that ugly first draft was for, but my inclination was to spend my time rewriting what I had just written. It was much more important for me to push forward in the story than worry about those early words.
The Beat Sheet
When I’m about 30 or 40% finished with a fictional story, I take a break from the unstructured writing and plan out a comprehensive beat sheet to outline the story arch. You can find a write up I did on that here.
The timing is useful a third of the way through. The early stages taught me about my characters’ motivations and more of the story is figured out which makes it even possible to visualize things more clearly.
Then, I write until I get to the end of the story and achieve the word count goal.
After four months, I reached 100,000 words. I had a complete story arch, clear main characters, and a unique take on the genre. I also changed characters’ names halfway through the story, exposed plot holes, and wrote confusing, bigheaded nonsense. However, all of that is fine, because that is the point of a first draft, to work it through.
I’m taking a break for a month so I can return to the manuscript with fresh eyes and will do several rounds of editing before sharing it with beta readers. I’m happy to be on this side of the first draft, but it is that early struggle that makes all the difference, it is what makes me a writer.
Rebecca Zornow is an American blogger and writer of speculative fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and memoir. She is the co-founder of the book blog ConquerBooks.com. You can follow her on Facebook @ConquerBooks or on Twitter and Instagram @RebeccaZornow.
Every writer faces barriers along their way: not having enough time: not having the right space for writing: not receiving support from those around you. However, for many, internal barriers are the biggest blocker. It’s our internal dialogue that often holds us back. Spaghetti Head is all about internal dialogue and how to try to turn it into a positive influence in your life.
Helen Cross, tutor for a Getting Started workshop I'm co-hosting in September, is also very aware of the internal battle that many writers face, and she gives this advice: ‘Personal confidence is a big barrier for many writers: why on earth would anyone be interested in your thoughts or opinions even if you did manage to craft them into a work of fiction? Why would anyone care about someone you have made up, within a sequence of events you have invented, when there is so much real drama in the world? There are no easy answers to this and the solution comes with writing, writing, writing. As you fall under the spell of your own fictional world and become deeply intrigued by your characters and their problems, your book becomes a story that just has to be told and you begin to enjoy writing it. As your ideas are tested on the page, as you wrestle with the truth and pin it down, you grow in confidence about your place in the world. You start to wonder if someone else might also enjoy reading your writing. Then you realise not everyone has to like it, just some people.’
Helen has written four novels, many short stories, radio dramas and screenplays, so her advice to just write, write and then write some more definitely works. Write your way through the fear is the message that I am taking from her words above. She has more wise words on her website also: https://www.helencross.net
Personally, it took years before I shared Spaghetti Head’s manuscript with anyone – and when I did finally hand it over I felt sick with nerves. Why? I was afraid of being told that it was grammatically awful and the story was rubbish – in short, that I was no good. But as I waited for my reader’s feedback I started to change my thinking to ‘hang on a minute – I’ve just handed out the second draft of my novel – which I wrote, all by myself. So stuff what they think – I’m flipping brilliant for having got that far!
When the feedback arrived, it was very constructive and motivated me to continue re-writing. I had broken through that initial fear barrier. Three years later and I’ve just self-published.
How do I feel now with all my friends and family being able to access it? I feel proud that I have achieved something that so many people would love to do. How many times have you heard people say they’d love to write a book? Well I wrote one! And that’s what over-rides my fear button. As Dr Susan Jeffers says, ‘Feel the fear and do it anyway.’
The first writing workshop that I'm co-hosting in September, is focussing on how to Get Started on that book you’ve always wanted to write. I started mine so long ago that I’ve almost forgotten how I did it!
Thankfully we have Helen Cross leading us: who has been through the ‘starting’ process on many occasions. And although I’m sure that everyone’s experience will be different, a common thread running through is the need to be armed with some basics to make that first step seem less daunting, and to help keep us focussed. Helen will be giving us techniques and exercises to achieve exactly that. We recently asked Helen what advice and tips she would give to people who are looking to start writing a book:
‘Start by putting your thoughts, memories, ideas, anecdotes into words. Writing prose fiction is different to writing a diary or a letter, you are creating an imaginative landscape, internally and externally, and you should let your writing style rise to the challenge. Read your paragraphs aloud and consider what sounds best. As you get into a habit of doing this regularly, you will begin to identify your own writer's voice, a style of expression that is uniquely, and engagingly, you.
Then begin paying attention to characters - noticing and noting details about any forming in your mind. Try to write with concrete nouns rather than abstract nouns – place an emphasis on things rather than feelings. Tell me what a character wears and says but also how they smell and sound. A great help to you will be learning to eavesdrop, noting down snippets of revealing, funny or astonishing conversations. Travelling on public transport is good for this. When you have characters who interest you, begin to build their world: think what is happening within them as well as without. What is their problem and what could happen in a story as they start to solve that problem?'
Helen’s top-tip is to carry a notebook so that you can write things whenever they spring into mind – often those initial raw thoughts are the purest.
In my experience, I have found there are times when I am unable to jot ideas down, so instead I use my voice recording facility on my iphone, because, did you know – our short-term memory only retains information for three minutes. Three minutes! That's nearly as bad as the memory of a gold-fish - no wonder I’ve forgotten so many excellent one-liners!
Throughout my time writing and re-writing Spaghetti Head, I searched in writing magazines and online for a decent writing workshop/retreat to attend. Some I found were really interesting but over-priced, others I found were affordable but didn't offer what I was looking for. So, once I'd published Spaghetti Head I thought, hang on, why don't I have a look at hosting a workshop/retreat myself.
Fast forward a few months, and Becky Slack (a fellow writer based in France) and I have decided to offer budding writers the opportunity of attending the workshop that I could never find. We've called it l'atelier des écrivains - the Writers' Workshop, France.
Set just outside one of France's most Beautiful Villages (Aubeterre-sur-Dronne), we're kicking off with a Getting Started workshop, held over a long weekend from September 20-24th. If I'd found a workshop like this to attend way back when would my writing journey have been any different? Who knows. I know I would have enjoyed it.
Find out more about the workshop by clicking on the link below the photo.
Two months ago I could sit infront of my laptop in the evening, browsing properties in SW France and Somerset: dreaming. Now, however, my evenings are a whirl of tweeting, scheduling posts on Hootsuite, trying to understand how to use LinkedIn, noting down my passwords for gmail, mailchimp, website, godaddy, createspace, wordpress, onedrive and so on. I'm finding everything that needs reading, researching, joining or liking overwhelming. The crazy-looking Emu in the photo looks how I feel. But I mustn't complain, because apparently, such is the life of a writer.
Tonight, however, I'm taking the time to only write this blog and then celebrate. Why? Well, Spaghetti Head has been available as a kindle eBook for the last 6 weeks. Today it became available as a PAPERBACK!! It feels like a massively monumental moment: a story that I have held very close to my heart has jumped through it's final hoop.
Tomorrow evening I'll be back on my lap-top trying to figure out how to let people know that it's out there, waiting to be discovered.
Until then, cheers!
I realise that all my efforts have gone into realeasing Spaghetti Head into the world, and I have somewhat neglected future planning! I think this is because for years I have had two book titles swimming around my mind, and it's just that Spaghetti Head shouted the loudest and so was written first. Now that it's been published, and all I have to do is fifteen hours of self-promotion and social media every day (!) I feel it's time for the second title to come to life. To bring it to life I am going to go and sit under an Oak tree in South Somerset with my notepad and pen and see what happens. Three trees will definitely play an important role in the book. This poem is getting my creative juices flowing - I wrote it in Mali in 1997:
In a village in the middle of nowhere
sit twenty-five African men and me.
Surrounded by chickens and sand,
we discuss what their women's future will be.
But there's no women around -
they've no choice,
and they've no voice
in what passes in the shade of this tree.
Well, hello. How excited am I to share the news that FemaleFirst.co.uk have featured my article about how things will be when Women govern the planet. Slack Communications sent them a press release about Spaghetti Head, and within minutes they contacted me to ask if I would write an amusing article around how it may actually be if women DID govern the planet.
Writing the article was easy, as I have spent years writing Spaghetti Head in a world governed by Women. How it could relate to the modern day though? You'll need to read it to find out!
Hello, I’m Laura, Sarah’s Niece, I had the exciting job of creating Spaghetti Head’s front cover!
After reading Spaghetti Head I was excited to ask Sarah if I could give the front cover a go, and luckily she agreed! Because I’d already read the book I had a few ideas of what I thought would be suitable. We wanted something feminine but not too chick flick; colourful but not too in your face; and it needed to be a little bit ‘out there’ because Spaghetti Head isn’t just any old novel!
I guess I started with a ‘mind map’ of ideas, I put a few of these together and sent them over to Sarah to get her thoughts. Luckily, she really liked some of the designs so we narrowed it down.
Below you can find out how we chose the title font and the spaghetti strand that runs across the cover:
Spaghetti Head Title
Obviously one of the most important areas!
We both agree that a bold font was best to make the name stand out, but to also emphasise the bold statements that Spaghetti Head makes throughout the book.
We wanted a fun font to represent the tongue in cheek personality that the lead character, Nell, has throughout the book.
The pink semicircle on top of the ‘i’ represents a Pink Coconut Shell. This Coconut Shell plays a large role in Nell’s therapy sessions. As part of the therapy, Nell has to revisit past memories to understand them in order to let go of the issues she still holds onto in adult life.
You might be asking what a pink coconut shell has to do with that? Well, you’ll have to read Spaghetti Head to find out!
The Spaghetti Strand (my favourite part)!
What’s the relevance of Spaghetti you might be wondering? Well, here’s Sarah’s description for you:
“I was in a relationship with a man who wasn’t entirely honest, and one day I got to the point where I felt I couldn’t think clearly anymore. My head and my heart were one big jumbled mess. I drew a picture of a massive pile of squiggly lines, and named many of the lines with my emotions. I then tried to figure out how I could get from all of the jumbled squiggles to a nice tidy pile - which I hoped would lead to a calm mind and a calm solar plexus."
As I looked at the drawing, I thought of a big pile of spaghetti - and Spaghetti Head was born!”
Sarah and I both agreed that we liked the idea of having a Spaghetti strand across the front cover.
As you can imagine, it felt like there was an infinite amount of Spaghetti shapes and we were finding it hard to pinpoint the shape we were looking for. I’m based in Dorset and Sarah in France so most of our communication about the cover was done via email or Skype. This made the process of agreeing on the perfect stand a little more time consuming!
Here’s an email snippet so you can visualise how rubbish we were at deciding what spaghetti pattern we liked the most:
“Thanks for adding more squiggles, but that doesn't feel right - and it's an optical illusion - but it makes the page look much wider than the others - bizarre.”
“I like it, but I think the strand is a bit bold, and maybe a bit fat? I think it looks a bit like a snake! I like the left hand side with the loop - maybe follow it with another smaller loop and a twist - something a bit more chaotic.”
So Sarah decided to take it back to basics! Oh how I chuckled when I found this in my inbox on Monday morning:
“Morning, and a Happy Monday to you, it’s been pouring here since Friday evening.
Now then, are you sitting comfortably? At the risk of you disowning me as any blood relation, and being branded totally anal, I have to admit to spending a very happy half hour with a strand of Spaghetti on Saturday night.
The strand on the cover design has been niggling at me, so I threw my Saturday night strand in the air and took photos of my favourite landing configurations. Below is one. I’ll send the other one in next email.”
Here are our finalists:
And how did we narrow it down to one? Here’s another email extract to explain:
“The more I look at the one on the right, the more it looks like a stick figure doing a kind of bicycle-in-the-air gym exercise.”
The squiggly bendy one was the winner! We moved it around a little, but doesn’t it look proud!
So there you have it, the regimented and rigorous process of putting together the Spaghetti Head cover! If you’ve read the book, I think you’ll agree that Nell Greene wouldn’t of had it any other way!
“Nobody has ever refused the Award, and given the importance
of the task ahead as a race, you need to know we may have to
review your status if you are not pregnant by your thirty-seventh
birthday in eighteen months’ time.”
Journalist Nell Greene is intelligent, beautiful and quirky – but a failure at relationships, thanks to her untrusting and disruptive inner voice. She has received The Award, and refusing to help repopulate the earth can seriously complicate your life: it is time for Nell to change.
In a world where greed, war, and an environmental disaster have massively reduced the population, survivors have introduced a new system of governance - led by women but delivered by robots, and designed to promote peace and remove opportunities for abuse of power. Or at least that was the intention…
Will Nell overcome the challenges of life in a post-apocalyptic world to find happiness, or will the System win?
Spaghetti Head is Sarah Tyley's debut novel that addresses issues of modern womanhood, environmental devastation and the impact of technological advances on our freedom, relationships and mental health.
Spaghetti Head will be available as an ebook on Amazon from 20 March 2018; and as a paperback via Amazon and www.sarahtyley.co.uk from June 2018.
-- ends --
About Sarah Tyley
Sarah Tyley grew up on a dairy farm in Somerset, England, where she developed an unwavering love for cows. After various adventures around the world as a young adult, she went on to study sustainable agriculture and worked for nine years in overseas agricultural economics. These days she cares for gardens and plays tennis in South West France.
Spaghetti Head is her first novel – inspired in part by the female peanut farmers in Mali whom she worked with for three years, and who encouraged her to believe that maybe, one day, women will govern the planet.
For more information and review copies:
Please contact Becky Slack at Slack Communications on firstname.lastname@example.org or on +44 (0)7854221568
I looked out of so many bus, train and car windows during my travelling years, getting all my inspiration for poetry and stories. There were sights, colours, smells and feelings that I'd never experienced before. Many of my poems will appear in blogs on here. They all told a story about where I was and what I was seeing - words flowed effortlessly out of me onto the page.
But after I'd hung up my skin-coloured money belt and settled a while, life started to become very 'normal', and poetry became harder to write.
Oh poetry, poetry, where have you gone?
You've abandoned me, deserted, moved on.
Two lines and it's finished,
my inspiration diminished,
words once flowing, have now flowed on along.
I’m disciplined, so forming a writing routine was easy. I’m also self-employed, so I can keep at least one day a week free to write. I write either in my office, surrounded by photos, pendulums, pictures and post-its, or in my caravan out in the garden – depending on the weather! My cat is never far from me, and neither is a cup of coffee.
I sit down to start writing at around 10am, trying not to get side-tracked by social media. I’ll write solidly until lunch, and then do another hour before going out for a walk. It does me good to clear my head – and I’m never more inspired than when I’m sweating out in the fresh air!
Once I have an idea, I just need to get it out, so I could probably write 3,000 to 5,000 words in a day. Once I have the initial idea onto screen, I then start the process of editing. In a previous life as an overseas development worker, I wrote many many reports, and so developed a logical approach to managing a lot of words. When I received feedback on Spaghetti Head, from my first wave of readers, I felt overwhelmed by having to figure out how to make changes to 85,000 words without losing track. I sat down in front of the manuscript and stared at it, and stared at it, until I figured out the most logical approach.
I never write at weekends.
I find writing therapeutic – so I’m never happier than when I’m tapping away on my laptop.
How did I know I was a writer?
That’s an interesting question, and one I thought I would never be answering on a blog.
I have never (until recently) thought of myself as a writer, even though I have written for most of my life. I have kept a diary every year since I was eleven, and written poetry since I was seventeen. None of which I shared, none of which I put forward for publishing - so I didn't think I was a writer. But then, a few years ago, I was asking myself what I really love doing, and the one thing I kept coming back to was 'writing'. As I said: I have always written. So, that must make me a writer, yes?
In 2006, I wrote 90,000 words in 30 days as part of Nanowrimo, and there I had my first draft of Spaghetti Head. It was at that moment I realised there was a huge leap I needed to take - from writer to author. I can be a writer and nobody will ever read it. If I'm an author, the whole point is for someone else to read it. To me, that was a very scary prospect. But the story needed to be written.
Am I a good writer, or a bad writer? I'm just a writer - it's what I love to do. Good or bad. Being an author is a totally different thing - that takes hour and hours, years even, of re-writing, editing, formatting, perfecting the same piece of writing.
I do not judge myself as a writer, as I do as an author. I am a writer when I am scribbling how I feel about something in my diary. I am a writer when something inspires me to make up a poem. Freeing my emotions through my pen is always what has kept me sane, so I will always be a writer.
Bumble - my mini, Tracey and I, set off on our big french adventure, with a tape player/radio on the dashboard: a tent, which, we discovered at 11pm one evening in the middle of nowhere, had no pegs: a bottle of cider, and not a lot else. We sang Lilac Wine by Elkie Brooks into the antenna of the radio, and braved narrow mountain passes that terrified both of us.
We were nineteen, it was our first adventure together, and it was when my mind started to really thrive on the inflow of sights, sounds and smells. Somehow I needed to capture all of it - and so my usual diary-writing routine moved up a gear, and I added poetry into the mix. We started our trip grape-picking in the Loire, and this is a poem I wrote whilst there:
Little green ones,
little red ones.
Big green ones,
big red ones.
Mouldy green ones,
mouldy red ones,
all for me to pick
and cut my bloody finger
and get bloody back ache
and bloody dirty hands.
But, oh, how I love you, Grapes.