NEWS – UK Song writing ContestIn Twenty Four Hours

 I nearly missed the deadline on the above comp last year and that saying, ‘what can go wrong, will go wrong’ loomed large. The computer chose to hang at the worst possible moment (just after I had entered all my details and my mouse was poised over the ‘Submit’ button), the dog barked furiously during a quiet phrase, and my fingers almost got too sore to press down the chords on my acoustic guitar. I finally completed the song, made a recording, without the dog adding his contribution and uploaded it before the midnight hour. Phew, mission accomplished. Then I forgot about it. Or tried to. Have you ever entered a competition and been able to totally put it out of your mind? The thought of it lurked in the shadows until the results email pinged into my Inbox.

Now I am pleased to report that my hastily-written song, In Twenty Four Hours had reached the Quarter Finals and was ‘Commended’.  The scoring system showed that I had missed qualifying for the Semi-Finals by only one point. Note to self: must complete this year’s entry with time to spare! It might earn me some extra points. Watch this space to see if I do.

 

NEWS – PLOUGH POETRY PRIZE

 Another competition, another deadline beckoned. This time I wanted to enter the recently revived Plough Poetry Prize with Sir Andrew Motion as the Judge. Thankfully, I had already written the poems. The decision was how many to enter and which ones were most suitable. I decided on four as a good round figure, not too many, not too few and made my choices. Not quite so easy, especially after an initial sort through produced a pile of ten. My final choices were, in order of my preference:

1. Loving, 2. Hands of Men, 3. Conquistadora, and 4. In answer to William Carlos Williams.

Sending the fee and submitting the poems was a simple, painless process. Then, like every other entrant, all I could do was to wait and try to be patient. The results were announced after a couple of months. I scrolled through the long list and found two of my poems listed. Not too bad. Then I looked at the short list. Another of my poems was listed there. It was my no. 4 choice – and the one I thought least likely to stand any chance at all. I haven’t entered many poetry competitions although I have had one shortlisted before. Getting three listed feels like a good achievement.

High five!

Yves.

Have you ever read Black Beauty by Anna Sewell? Chances are that you read it in your early teenage years, especially if you are horse-mad and female. I have read it many times and, like others, longed to have a horse just like the famous fictional horse. So when a short while ago, Rescue Horse No 4 walked down the ramp of the Pegasus Horse Travel lorry and into the yard, I couldn’t help calling her Black Beauty. There are a few obvious differences between them.  Jo is a young filly rather than a colt and she is a shaggy black Friesian cross instead of a thoroughbred-type riding horse. She looked more like a gawky teenager wearing bell-bottomed jeans than an elegant carriage horse. But she is all black. Jet black, like a large dark shadow. 

Jo’s new role in life is to be a companion to Lady who, you may remember, had recently lost her friend, Hannah’s Glory. Unusually, there was no screaming and kicking, which is often par for the course when introducing horses to one another. I took this as a good omen and decided to turn them out together the next day.  

Jo walked off across the field with Lady close behind and both started to graze. An air of calm enveloped the property. They continued to graze side by side and even shared their haynets. Lady half-heartedly maintains that she is the boss. She lays her ears flat and rolls her eyes but I am convinced her lips are smiling.  

I like to play with my horses; by that I mean I like to have fun and I want the horses to have fun too. Taking baby steps in training them means they rarely misbehave. They remain relaxed and easy to handle. Today, after I turned Jo out in the field, she came back to stand next to the fence. Not one to lose a good training opportunity, I climbed the fence and swung my leg carefully across her back. She didn’t move or get worried. I rewarded her calm behaviour with a piece of carrot and a pat. I won’t back her or ride her properly until she is four but, by then, if all goes to plan, she will be so used to the crazy human who looks after her that she will give a quick shrug of her withers and walk on quietly. 

Trot on!

Yves.

Today I saw an author on a TV show. Nothing remarkable in that, it happens all the time. But this particular lady made me sit up and think. Having come into breakfast late and missed all the TV news programmes, due to my life-long habit of feeding my family of animals first, I tuned into The Wright Stuff. Matthew Wright was introducing one of the panel members, an author called Jodi Picoult. Not knowing her work, I decided to watch the interview. The first words I heard her say was that she didn’t believe in ‘writers block’. So I pricked up my ears – I don’t believe in it either.

As I watched this charismatic author from New Hampshire, USA, my writer’s wheels started to turn. Her clarity of thought and the way she expressed her views made me want to read her latest novel, The Storyteller. It also prompted me to check out her website. Once there, I signed up for her e-newsletter, this is something I rarely do.

This then led me to thinking about how important it is for an author to strike the right tone in promotional interviews in order to attract readers. Is it necessary for a reader to like the author? With my reader’s hat on I would have to say, ‘yes’. If I take a dislike to an author for whatever reason, then it would probably take a hefty bribe for me to read his or her work.

Fortunately for me, and for more than a few authors, it often happens that I read the work before learning about the writer. So I’ll throw a few names around. Examples of some long-dead authors whose writing I now view through dark-tinted glasses are Thomas Hardy (didn’t like the way he allegedly treated his wife), JM Barrie (did he ever grow up?), and Enid Blyton (welcomed young fans but didn’t appear to like her own children).

Authors who have first charmed me with their eloquence or anecdotal skills are ones like Jeffrey Deaver, Stephen Fry and Lee Child. If anyone is in any doubt, these are living authors. Politeness stills my hand from mentioning any authors of unpleasant character who are currently alive.

It is a good thing I have no similar prejudice against drug-taking writers such as Baudelaire, Hunter S. Thompson, Jack Kerouac or Samuel Taylor Coleridge. If I disregarded all those of a similar vein, then my reading list would swiftly halve. The world of literature would be a poorer place without being able to imagine that ‘stately pleasure-dome’ in Xanadu. (Kubla Khan)

By the way, Jodi Picoult’s book The Storyteller is at the top of my to-be-read list.

Do you have any favourite, charming authors whose books deserve reading?

Happy writing… and reading,
Yves.

Run screaming for the hills? Welcome him or her with open arms? Well, if it’s a modern-day Mr (or Ms) Darcy and provided you are (i) the right age and (ii) the opposite sex, all will be well.  But what if it’s the villain of the piece with equally real murderous intentions? Or some insipid person who desperately needs to develop a strong backbone? I’ll pause here to kick a few hovering grey characters around the room. Character abuse, some might say. Maybe, but with some of the tricks and traits they acquire, it is an author’s privilege.

Recently, I described a fictional character of mine to an artist friend. Though loosely based on a composite of fairly unpleasant and negative traits, the resulting drawing fitted well with my imagined character. As time passed, I realised that the real life person I had used as my base character, (no pun intended but if you see it, well done!), was getting to look more like the fictional character drawing even though the artist had never seen him in reality. The real life character was letting his hair grow into a wild, unkempt mess and it had started to fall out, leaving behind a bald spot just like his fictional alter ego. His dress sense deteriorated into a scruffy, tramp-like lets-wear-anything look. He seemed to be neglecting his personal hygiene too – hey, do you think I really want to get close enough to check it out?

If this character shows up on my doorstep, I will definitely be heading for the hills. I’ll hide up somewhere and write about my flight, as, like all writers, I use every experience to enrich my writing. I hope this particular baddy never finds me. If you are reading this, rest assured that I have banished him to the shady realms of my archived computer files. Now, where is Mr Darcy?

Yves Potter here. Creative writing and reading are two of my passions. Writing songs and playing guitar are another two (rescuing waifs and strays should also be added to this list). But no matter what, I always come back to my first love of writing while keeping a guitar, or four, within reach. Having four guitars is not being greedy – they are all different.

One amateur musician friend has sixteen guitars as well as mandolins and banjos, and yes, he has had to move to a bigger house. I’m still able to squeeze a few more into my home. And oh, did I mention the large Pleyel piano I rescued from a rain storm or the Yamaha electric piano that needed a new home? *grins*

My first guitar is a battered old Spanish guitar, great for Flamenco and blues but not the easiest to play due to its wide fret board and my small hands. My second guitar is an Italian 12-string, but I don’t play that one much these days as its ringing, jangly sound seems more suited to folk songs of the Sixties. Can’t quite bring myself to sell it.

I saw my third one in a shop window when I was searching for a wire string acoustic. It looked good and I knew it was mine as soon as I played a few simple chords. I couldn’t resist the way the bass notes reverberated in my bones and how the top strings stayed clear. It has proved to be the best guitar of all for writing songs with.

My latest guitar is a Fender style electric in wild purple; I just love experimenting with the different sounds it can make.  Anyone out there want to start a band? Btw, I use my voice too but, fortunately, that doesn’t take up any extra space.

Now I need to find that handful of elusive time to be able to play them all. I do give myself extra brownie points for practising every day. When I have enough, I trade them in for those real brownies of a certain brand that begins with ‘g’ and ends with ‘u’. It rhymes with ‘moo’. Everyone needs a reward from time to time. And mine are often of the chocolate kind.

Time to make some music. Tra la la!

Back soon.

Yves.

 
One of my pet peeves, and it might also be one of yours, is the lack of adequate proofreading in written documents, whether online or on the printed page. I sometimes get distracted, as many writers do, and surf the web for fun as well as research. Just today I happened on a website which promoted a particular company as marketing and re-branding experts.

I read one or two pages, found a category marked ‘creativity’ and clicked on it. I found a short 140 word piece about the importance of being able to write well. Did I find any errors? Yes, I did. How many? Six. Okay, so one or two were stylistic but there were also mistakes in basic grammar, punctuation and the absolute howler of using it’s when they should have used its. I was tempted to offer my services via the Contact Us button but thought better of it. But I certainly won’t be using that company should I ever need re-branding!

I accept that Blogs, by their very nature, are spontaneous and might contain a couple of errors but the page I was reading was supposed to be a slick, polished professional website blurb. Not so polished when viewed through the eyes of a real writer/reader. Even in Blogs I think writers should at least strive for accuracy of spelling and clarity of meaning because they are trying to communicate, aren’t they?
 
Printed pages are often sitting ducks for my wrath. Recently, in a modern novel, I found that on one page the name of main character was spelt out in full. In the next mention it was abbreviated to the diminutive and then changed to its masculine form two sentences later. All this within a couple of short paragraphs. As a reader, I was definitely confused, though I did read on. Many might not.

If you find any errors in my copy, I don’t mind if you point them out to me. There is always room for improvement in my book, and I hope, in yours.

Yours correctly,
Yves.

I know I promised to blog regularly but this summer started with a very hard knock when I lost my beloved equine friend, Winston. His death was sudden and totally unexpected. Winston was full of health one day and lay dying at my feet the next. The only choice to make was for my vet to put him to sleep. This is the hardest part of keeping horses. It never gets any easier as all pet lovers will know. Sadly, I had to have another equine friend, Hannah’s Glory, aged 32, put to sleep at the end of the summer.

As a tribute to Winston and Hannah, and in respect of all the love and good times we shared I decided to take a deep breath and train another young horse. So I have been caught up in a whirl of looking for another horse and being ‘assessed’ by World Horse Welfare to make sure I would be capable of taking on some youngsters. Somewhere along the line I decided to give a couple, maybe three, (more about that later) youngsters a permanent home.

One week ago, a blue lorry pulled up outside my gate, appropriately named Pegasus Horse Travel. The new horses had arrived. Out stepped my pair of Painted Ladies, aka WHW Vienna and WHW Sapphire. This is the start of their lifelong adventure. They have kindly suggested that they blog in a separate category. Look out for them in the coming weeks as they spill the beans on their new life.

In the meantime, I will be continuing their education along simple lines and establishing trust. I hope they will write good things about me.
Yves.

Like Stephen King, I write every day. Sometimes the words are good, sometimes awful. I know that if I don’t write out the bad, it will be so much harder to find the good. But being a good writer means practising, so in many ways it’s just like learning a musical instrument – you have to learn the scales. By knowing the rules, you can choose when, and if, to break them.

Listening to music frequently kick starts my writing day. Though I have to be careful with my daily choice of what’s going to blast my eardrums. So far I’ve found that listening to soothing Mozart String Quartets best suits my editing and proofreading stints, while original blues tracks from John Lee Hooker and Robert Johnson are good for fiction that needs frequent alterations of pace.

I save the heavy rock for when I’m really pounding the keys and words are flowing fast enough to scorch the keyboard. Sometimes, I find I am singing lead guitar riffs as I listen to the Rolling Stones, Lynyrd Skynyrd or Free, to name a few of my all-time favourites. Give me anything with a driving bass, heavy beat and sparkling lead guitar and my fingers just have to start tapping.

The only disadvantage is that sometimes I pick up my guitar and join in. The fresh impetus this type of creativity brings to my fiction writing far outweighs the few minutes spent playing guitar blues. It reminds me of my ambition to jam with Keith Richard and Johnny Depp. It keeps my foot tapping and my creativity bubbling.  I’ve learnt that aiming high is the only way to stay inspired and be inspiring. Who knows? I might write a No 1 song today.

Be good and keep writing,
Yves.

Just write for 10 minutes.

Writers everywhere are guilty of procrastination. I know I am. It lurks in the darkest recesses waiting to delay the unwary. In my attempt to banish it forever, I’ve borrowed a tip from top exam expert, George Turnbull who gives similar advice on exam revision techniques, and applied it to my writing day.

I promise myself that I will sit at my desk for ten minutes and write. Then I can stop, do something rewarding or just relax. My reward is usually playing my guitar, although unless I am currently writing a song, I limit myself to ten minutes of noodling. (Noodling is the guitarist’s equivalent of doodling; it doesn’t have anything to do with eating instant meals.)

So far, I haven’t done much noodling during my writing sessions. By the time the first ten minutes of writing is up, I am so involved in my story that the passing of time barely registers. Only when I get stuck do I pick up my guitar and let the creative dust settle. You don’t have to play guitar. Just pick a reward that will distract you from writing.

While I never have subscribed to the idea of writer’s block, this method has helped several fellow writers leap away from the daily starting line. So why don’t you try it? Let me know if it works for you.

Yves.

I first took up the Script Frenzy challenge after successfully completing a couple of novels with National Novel Writing Month, fondly known as Nanowrimo, to aficionados. Little did I know then that it would be a life changing experience. Every day, for thirty days, I wrote pages and pages of screenplay. It was a steep learning curve combined with hard work and I loved every minute of it.

Learning the correct script layout was the easy part. Writing the dialogue let me use my writer’s voice so no problems there. But writing out the action sequences meant I had to imagine viewing the finished film rather than simply hearing the story unfold in my head.

Undaunted, I imagined casting Johnny Depp as the madman/romantic lead, (only JD has the expertise to play such a role, imho), and hey presto, I could see it all. My main character was also a jazz guitarist and the same actor had to play his own grandfather. This concept intrigued me. My fingers flew across the keyboard like a demented spider. The file of pages increased in megabytes and suddenly it was 30th April. I had reached my goal of 110 pages of screenplay.

But honing and polishing the script presented me with another challenge. First, I had to research all the historical facts, and then I had to make sure the story structure worked. I asked an ex British Army expert about the demolition scenes and re-wrote those. I polished and cut and polished and cut some more. I spent a while choosing a one-liner to describe the film.

I ended up with:  The Great Gatsby meets Indiana Jones – a cross-Atlantic tale of decadence, money, intrigue, madness, music and romance.

Now comes the hardest part of all. Finding someone to make the film. So if you know a gambler who likes to explore the human psyche while blowing up historic buildings, just let me know. I’ll be waiting for your call.

Yves.

 

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image of a quill

Yves Potter

© 2012