Week 2 in Iceland: Notebooks & flower crowns

This past week has been about exploring. I’ve been hiking the local hills, walking to dairy farms and tiny churches, testing out new flash fiction ideas and completing old stories that I thought I’d abandoned. I’ve also put into practice what I learned on a recent travel-writing workshop (with the incredible Phoebe Smith – if this is something you’re interested in, I’d highly recommend her) and finished my first travel article, a second one on its way. And yes, I’ve got past the fear of the unknown that was so prevalent last week and allotted time to figuring out which new novels I would like to work on. The week was a slow burner. Not my usual outpouring or word count, but it’s been necessary.

IMG_2156 (2)After being under deadline for so long, one of my hopes for this residency was to discover play again. To experiment. I recently realised that I’ve been using notebooks a lot less for capturing ideas, doodles, etc; everything I wrote down had a purpose and was linked to editing my books in some way. The novels combined with my workload left little time for short stories or flash fiction, so at some point, I somehow stopped collecting random ideas. I had intended to remind myself how to play with words and ideas, but when one of my fellow residents suggested weaving flowers, how could I resist? We spent a relaxing few hours in the wilds, and it was exactly what was needed. In fact, it unexpectedly triggered a story that may or may not work out, but that’s the beauty of it.

And so, the notebook is once again in use. I’ve been collecting sounds, scenery, conversations, people’s faces and habits, random thoughts, possible titles. The notebook has travelled to little churches, up hillsides, and to the thermal spa. It has collected facts and whimsies and everything in between. I’ve allowed myself a slower pace to pick up the missing threads again – and it feels really good. Some of my notes are, of course, linked to my new WIPs, but not all – and that for me is the magic ingredient. Allowing myself room to let ideas grow or fail.

IMG_2047Because writing is an odd beast in that unless you have a finished product, or you create goals like daily word count, it’s difficult to see progress. We’re used to progress being measurable – in daily life, in education, in business, in language – and when it isn’t, it can sometimes feel like we’re flailing. Or, indeed, failing. And sometimes we need to remind ourselves that failing is OK, especially if it means shedding an idea that doesn’t work or a voice you can’t get quite right, so you can move on to something better.

It’s difficult to allow the play side to come to the fore, yet it’s a necessary part of the process. Ideas are everywhere and in abundance, but capturing a really great idea and then forging the links and pathways that lead to great characters and story is not a linear journey. There needs to be blips and sidesteps and ravines to fall into. And this comes through play. Even though the progress may not be felt, it’s there.

So although I was struggling at times with the slowness of last week, I’ve come out of it in a positive space. I know what my next definite projects are and the bonus of discovering new flash fiction and completing old stories I’d given up on is a pleasant surprise. And the notebook becoming a habit again has made things soar. Now, it’s time to continue to play while getting deep into the novels. For my children’s manuscript, I want to get some decent word count down, and for the adult manuscript, I want some serious world building in place – deep breath, I’m going in.

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Movement & calm, earth & water: a residency in Iceland

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Home for the month

I’ve been in Iceland for one week, and I’m five days into the retreat. My place here was booked last year, when I realised that I would be coming out of contract with publishers and probably panicking about what’s next. A change of surroundings is, for me, the best way to calm a racing mind, so I thought it would be useful.

Many people think that as an author, you continue to write for the same publisher over and over, with an unending supply of work. While this may happen, it probably means you are continuing to work within a certain genre or you’ve made it as an international bestseller. Usually, you work to a contract and once that contract is up, it’s up.

And so, this is where I’m at… The Book of Revenge – Nine Lives Trilogy 3 is officially completed. I cannot tell you what a relief this is. The slog was tough but I got there and I’m feeling really proud of that as the challenge was unreal. There’s just the proofing to go and that will be in October. So… what happens next? Basically, it’s back to square one.

Write a book. Edit the book without killing it. Try and sell the book.

Now, this is a daunting time for any author. The reality is, you may never sell a book again. Or even be able to come up with a strong enough idea in the first place. And whatever you do choose to work on, you had better be passionate about it, because it’s about to take up a minimum of one year of your life, before you even try and convince a publisher that they like it enough to buy it.
IMG_1889And so, Iceland has come at the perfect time. I have The Book of Revenge – Nine Lives Trilogy 3 coming out in February 2018, the freedom to work on what I want, and a fantastic agent to support and guide me. But my brain is restless, my ideas are too plentiful, and although I’m excited, my nerves are frayed.

Is there anyone else out there feeling the same right now? I bet there is. Whether you make stories through words, art, music, dance, theatre, film, animation … I think it’s a cyclical feeling that will never go away. All we can do is embrace it and ride it through. See where it leads.

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Natural hot spring

Thankfully, I have a new landscape to discover, new foods to eat, a language to try and understand (it’s not intuitive to hear/see written down), some cool new housemates to get to know, and lots of time to write. Even though I’m not 100% certain what it is I’m working on next. That’s part of my mission; to make sure the passion for the projects I *think* I want to work on is real. 

Somehow, I’ve found my idea for a commissioned piece of flash fiction; also, a short story I was stuck on is edited & submitted. So it’s a start. And it’s productive. But is it avoiding the question of which novels (I always work on two project simultaneously) to work on next?

I’m also enjoying hiking the hills and relaxing in the natural hot springs every day, and spending lots of time near the lake, appreciating its stillness. Movement and calm, earth and water: the perfect combination for settling a restless mind. Today, a new week begins and I’m determined to break into the novel. If there’s one thing I need, it’s to know what my next focus is – let’s see if Iceland can help coax it out.

What stage are you at right now? And how does it feel? I’d love to hear about your journey too.