Author: alisonwells

Five Fab NaNoWriMo posts to get you in the groove

I’ve completed the National Novel Writing Challenge (50,000 words in a month) several times resulting in the comedy novel with a sci-fi slant that is Housewife with a Half-Life and some literary novels under submission and revision. My first foray into the world of NaNoWriMo was when I had four children under the age of ten and some of the best posts come from that time of madness and perseverance. Like much in life there is no ‘right’ answer. There are pros and cons to the intensity of NaNoWriMo. On the plus side a regular routine and burgeoning wordcount, on the minus side, desperation may lead to writing that’s impossible to decipher after the fact, sentences that don’t actually make any sense and material that needs a good untangle. Other more structured and organised minds have found it a great way to produce whole series of novels. I’ve collated some of my posts below to give you some tips on whether NaNoWriMo is right for you, how to keep motivated and to give an insight into the reality of writing for your life for 30 days straight. The best of luck to all who endeavour either at this pace or more sedately over the course of time.

Is NaNoWriMo for you?

In this brand new article for I look at the Monumental Challenge of NaNoWriMo and give pointers as to whether this challenge is right  yoru at this time in your Writing life.

How to do NaNoWriMo when you don’t have the time

This very popular post from the archive gives you tips and tricks to help your productivity and rally support when your life is really too busy to take on the NaNoWriMo challenge.

Ten Ways to Ace NaNoWriMo

Ten sure-fire ways to keep yourself motivated and productive during your 50,000 word marathon.

Personal experience

Running for my writing Life. The ups and downs during the 2009 NaNoWriMo session

NaNoWriMo – Now it’s all over would I do it again?

Realistic pluses and minuses of using NaNoWriMo to work on your novel

Why read a book? (Competition)

Fuel for the soul

Fuel for the soul

Several years ago I attended the wedding of a friend. At the table I was chatting to one of the guests and the topic of reading came up. I was flabbergasted when she asked ‘why would you read a book?’ She simply did not see the point. For someone for whom books have been central for most of my life it was like being transported to a foreign planet where I had to try to understand the aliens. Bookshelves, libraries, the comfort of being tucked up with a book, the feeling of never wanting a book to end, stories, lives, places, all these feelings a book engenders. At the time I stumbled over an answer to the woman’s question, I was so taken aback. So I want to ask you. What would YOU answer this woman? To make it interesting I will offer a signed copy of Housewife with a Half-Life and a Ten pound Amazon gift voucher to a winner I choose. Entries in by July 19th. Just add your thoughts to the comments.

Also interesting is this article on how reading helps with anxiety. I certainly find reading great for gathering together my overactive thoughts and it gives me a feeling of relaxation and comfort.

Update: Dear Readers Heather Walker has won the Amazon voucher (more reading!) and complimentary copy of the alternate worlds comedy Housewife with a Half-Life. Thanks for all your comments and congratulations to Heather!

Serendipity Wednesday – Dust Motes and Wonder

Picture courtesy of Vivienne Tuffnell

Picture courtesy of Vivienne Tuffnell

My last post mentioned the Serendipity of social media and the internet and the interesting, informative and wondrous aspects of life it can put us in touch with. Having been working through some difficult times I’ve come to realise that Serendipity can be a source of great comfort and inspiration, bolstering resilience and nurturing spirit when life throws rubbish at you. Amidst the difficult there are always, in this world, glorious and astounding things that can reach through and set the heart beating fast once more.

Help, Thanks, Wow

Anne Lamott’s book Help, Thanks, Wow is a book for those who are flailing in times of crisis. In the Help section she says “There’s freedom in hitting bottom, in seeing that you won’t be able to save or rescue your daughter, her spouse, his parents, or your career, relief in admitting you’ve reached the place of great unknowing. This is where restoration can begin, because when you’re still in the state of trying to fix the unfixable, everything bad is engaged: the chatter of your mind, the tension of your physiology, all the trunks and wheel-ons you carry from the past. It’s exhausting, crazy-making.” Whether you are religious or not you can just stop and utter that word, that prayer to the universe ‘Help’. Things may or may not work out but you can just wait and know that the universe, or friends, or beauty will give you something, some kind of sustenance, some kind of peace. (You can read an excerpt here

The ‘Thank’ element of her book is one we’re familiar with. A philosophy of gratitude or marking the positives in our lives and relationships and exchanges helps to slant our worldview back towards the hopeful. The Wow part of her books is what I’m talking about here with this idea of Serendipity, where serendipity is the lucky happenstance that reveals the worlds wonders to us. It has elements of surprise, awe, luck, appreciation and excitement. Again, it enlivens the blood.

Wonders found through Serendipity

Throughout our lives we all happen upon fascination, either on line or in the ‘real’ world. In newspapers, in the street, in the homes of our friends and family, in the garden, on trips abroad. We hear of astounding medical miracles, we hear of bad luck made good, or we watch extraordinary nature programs or visit astounding caves or gorgeous national parks. We hear gorgeous music, admire art and fashion, taste incredible food, watch movies that change our lives, read books that enter our blood.

And chains begin, an artist who learned from another, a collaboration between a singer and an author, a book that refers to another, an artist, or musician or author or scientist or doctor or architect whose work fires up something in you or speaks to you and leads you down the path of their work and thus to their influences, opening and opening up the world further and further.

At the moment I am in the world of my ongoing novel Eat! It’s core theme is how we fill the spaces of loss and need within us in different, somethings unhealthy, poignant ways. Secondly I’m seeing how as we become more and more ‘inside people’ the comfort and intimacy we have with nature is lost. As a child who grew up with an intimate knowledge of my local landscape, I can see how, living in increasingly urban areas, my children do not have the same intimacy and knowledge of the natural landscape – although of course they are more au fait with their landscape of concrete and brick. Some of my characters explore a yearning to get back into the natural landscape while others shy away from it within the backdrop of the recent housing boom, where ‘buildings sprung up from the ground, rampant like weeds.’


But I ramble, like a rambler on hills…My serendipity in exploring the themes of my book began with my discovery in a newspaper of a review of Robert MacFarlane’s book Landmarks, whose aim is to create a glossary of words for nature, words that are beginning to be lost, words that help provide us with that intimacy with the natural world which many of us are losing. I will save the details for another post but this book has put me in touch with many other books on the same theme and thus has already deepened and informed my exploration of this natural theme.

To bring it back full circle (as I love to do). My Serendipity posts each Wednesday will share with you fascinating books, articles, sites, places I have found by chance conversations or browsing (both online and offline). I would also beseech you to share your fascinating finds in the comments, things wondrous and beguiling that might inspire and uplift others.

The Dust Motes Appreciation Society

In the spirit of serendipity and wonder, I recently set up on Facebook, The Dust Motes Appreciation Society. Originally a reaction to a literary editor’s wry exasperation with the number of dust mote mentions in short stories, I wanted to celebrate bothe the beauty and metaphoric power of dust motes. The aim of the society is to share appreciation for everything tiny and wondrous in the universe, particles, petals and persons and to celebrate dust mote mentions and appearances in literature and art. In practice it means that the page is a place that you can go throughout the week to find inspiration, wonder and joy.

The Dust Motes Appreciation Society

Don’t forget also that the Head Above Water Facebook page has more regular posts and links to inspiring articles on writing, creativity, resilience and mental health than I’m able to provide here.

Links to creativity and resilience

Head above Water

I hope you explore some of the books and pages I’ve mentioned here which will lead you to further wonders. I look forward to the fascinating links, articles, books, movies, programmes and so on that you can share with us that will enhance all our experiences. Thanks so much.

Social Media, Serendipity and Self-Compassion

cliffwalk142While social media has many drawbacks including its skewed version of reality that can sometimes make us feel inadequate, it can offer up a whole lot of support (which it did, in my last post, and a heartfelt thanks to all of you who commented for that). Despite it’s obsession with cats, it can sometimes offer us a completely different animal to admire and it can also educate, inform and offer wonder and consolation as we serendipitously come across fascinating and helpful articles and links. At times it’s algorithms can be suspect and constricting but at other times it can offer us truly human connection and insights.

From my last post you’ll know that my tank has been on empty and some of the challenges have not gone away. So it was timely that I found a helpful post today on Facebook from Estrella Azul, a lady that I have made the acquaintance of online through our involvement with #FridayFlash. Her exchanges with me and her work on the Friday Flash website have always been very thoughtful, industrious and kind. Today she has posted about an ongoing project that she is involved with – a set of 52 (weekly) assignments that focus on nurturing and uplifting the self. This week’s assignment Estrella explains is on ‘practising pleasure “doing what you do – creating, reading, hiking, writing, dancing, singing, gardening, running, knitting, cooking, making friends, making art, making love – with everything you’ve got, savoring the experience, letting delight rearrange your insides”. The quote comes from the E-book of assignments 52-52-Love-Your-Wild-Self e-guide by Judy Clement Wall. Linking to Judy’s website from Estrella’s I see that she is interested in developing (wild) creativity, making art and the impetus is developing the self also by fearless love and living. The e-guide offers a weekly task to focus on caring for and bolstering ourselves. In her post on her Love Your Wild Self e-guide she says that “we live in a culture that celebrates a certain kind of martyrdom. We appreciate sacrifice and celebrate those who, day after day, put themselves last. I think this is especially true for women, upon whom we have heaped so many nurture-the-world expectations.”

While not so sure that our culture “celebrates martyrdom” and having seen, especially in the boom years the opposite case where greed and selfishness has often been institutionalized and rewarded, it is true to say that for both men and woman and particularly at certain phases of life juggling work and home issues people can lose sight of themselves. They forget the need for self-care and feel disillusioned. Something that is important to me and that I admire in others is open mindedness and compassion with regard to others. There is no celebrity so famous or public figure so powerful that they should be exonerated from treating others with consideration and respect. And the same for the rest of us. But at times it is ourselves we lack compassion for, we are perfectionists or at least believe that if we cannot solve life’s problems or ‘cope’ continuously then we have somehow failed. Yes, I’m talking about myself but we all set ourselves impossible standards especially in these times when we are led to believe that our efforts and our positive thinking alone can make us succeed (not taking into account, luck, circumstance, economy, the state of the publishing industry etc). Judy Clement Wall talks about self-compassion and in turn links us to Jill’s blog which has the tag line life is beautiful and brutal, tender and terrible – keep your heart open. Jill compiled a self-compassion e-book filled with reader’s posts on how they practised self-compassion. The self-compassion pdf is free to download.

Judy’s weekly assignment 52-52-Love-Your-Wild-Self e-guide is available to download from Etsy for roughly 15 dollars/euro. Along with Estrella I’m going to give it a go and use the assignments as a structure for seeing myself again and strengthening my spirit and energy. We know to exercise to get our bodies in shape, why not a similar program for the mind?

In my last post I said that my head was under water. I felt adrift and overwhelmed, sorry that I couldn’t post on this blog under ongoing trying circumstances. So many responded and emphathized and shared their own struggles and that in itself helped refill the well. This morning I was able for the first time in many months to do an hour (ish) of writing at my favourite 5am slot. So down, but not out. And I’ll keep posting other consolations I find along the way of self-compassion, those things that we can learn from and enjoy.

Head Under Water

The purpose of this blog for the many years it has been running was always to try and support others in their journey through writing and life and to help engender creativity alongside life’s challenges. This mission, alongside my own writing was of great importance to me and made me feel as if I was contributing something, helping others. Sadly some very difficult circumstances, some of which have been at play for some years and other pressures that are more recent or have become more acute in recent times have got the better of me. I have an exciting project in train but at the moment I have not got the mental or emotional space to work on it. Similarly, although it is my hope and wish to make my blog and Facebook page a source of inspiration and support, I must pause for a while until the issues alleviate. These are real world challenges as well as the stress that goes along with dealing with them. I suppose there is no shame in admitting that once in a while we lose all verve and life, reality, family requires all remaining resources. What is difficult at this time is that my creativity and writing has sustained me through challenges before but in the current circumstances I can’t access that comfort. I hope things will turn around and that I’ll be able to engage with you all in the future.

Christmas gift of stories

I wanted to give you a gift. So I made Stories to make you go ‘ooh’ free for you to download on your Kindle, tablet, or computer through Kindle App. My Lover in a stone, The Singularity and the Octagonal House and Truth and Silence are strange tales of love and desire.

Free on Amazon UK

Free on Amazon Com

If you enjoy them I have further books here or you can read extracts from work in progress and other completed stories here on Fictionaut.

Have a very Happy Christmas and New Year and always Happy Reading.

Extract from the loss of Anise Fish and her father (fiction)


In the book I’m working on next, Anise Fish’s mother died at her birth leaving an unresolved loss both in Anise Fish (which she fills, unusually) and in her father. I’m ordering the very splurgy first draft and found this passage of writing. The father spoken of here is Anise’s father although Colin’s Dad is mentioned at the start. (Note, this is an unedited splurge)

“Your mother was everything that was pure.”

Anise Fish nodded and nodded but Colin’s Dad wondered if it was true. In everyone- no exceptions – was a chink of darkness or an article of obstruction, stubbonness, pride. What were the foibles of Mother Fish? But this story, this particular tale, was the story they both needed to hear. This was the story that would be left in the library of their lives, and in their minds when libraries were gone and in the chemical traces of their bodies when their minds left them behind, and in their bones or the fire of their cremations at their last times. The story that said she was good and brave and true, joy embodied.

It was important that there was someone there to say, “this is who she was”, when so much of her life was not lived and they were there to keep on living, or – in the case of the father – breathing, somehow, standing in the stream of moments that came at him relentless. Her father’s grandfather had been a pastor, imbued with the wonder of living, this great life, chrysalis in the hands, butterfly in the bushes, the pale green shoots of April on the black branches forming, his grandfather showed him when he was young, very young, for the grandfather had moved along to death when he could barely remember. But these things he remembered, tadpoles in their universes, waiting to be freed, frogs croaking in damp ditches and leaping out of ponds, the sun sliding round an arc in the sky everyday and burning itself out at night, then round again in the mornings, dew and hares on the lawn, his grandfather bristle cheeked and linen clad, standing side to side, his old twisted fingers pointing, pointing at all these bare wonders. And in the warm happy cheek of Anise’s mother he had found that same wonder, that same joy, chased it liked the butterflies in his grandfather’s garden. She had brought all of it back.

Why your creativity matters like life itself

vangogh Why write, why create art of any kind? The discussion is eternal, rooted in evolution, culture, psychology and the individual makeup and desires of each one of you who do. We are rigged in the brain to tell stories, to make sense of things, to sing, dance and make art with various levels of abstraction. We, as humans are self-aware, we want a point, we search for meaning, we construct our lives around various values and mores. We know our lives are short, we, in the main, fear death. We look back to make sense, around now, 100 years after the First World War that, more than any conflict before, robbed humanity of it’s innocence, showed ordinary men and women the horror that could invade their lives, showed lives rubbed out way way before their time. All the letters from the front, the man who wanted to ask his love to get engaged and said so – in a letter that she would only receive ‘because I am dead’. This woman, who went on to have a different life with a husband, and children and grandchildren had the locket from her young soldier on her death bed aged 90, the life with him and his life never lived. These examples tear at us and, at times, galvanise us towards living every moment, to expressing what is real and true and dear to us through words. On a lighter note, to entertain, uplift, distract, we also are creative and playful in exploring what we love about life.

Yesterday I wrote about how taking part in a writing challenge like NaNoWriMo is an heroic act that helps us fulfill those deep seated wishes to make something more of our lives, to dig right in and express what is within us. There are so many ways to do it, through crafts, fashion, baking, sports, whatever you burn to do but, in the start, we must turn to those things and stick with them and try and try.

We don’t want to die without meaning. We want to do something that will live on. That is why this video from one of my favourite TV shows speaks to so many (in the last few days it has 40,000 shares on Facebook). (If you can’t see it, it depicts Van Gogh, having been brought forward in time, getting to see his legacy and the love people had for his art – a realisation that is utterly moving). This is the reason your artistic endeavor matters.

Three glorious, heroic reasons for you to do #NaNoWriMo when you can’t

If you are trying to fit writing into a busy life it might seem ridiculous to think you can write 50,000 words in a month but the NaNoWriMo writing challenge asks you to do just that. I’m writing here 5 days after the start so if you haven’t already signed up you’ll have some catching up to do. I’ve completed NaNoWriMo three times. It won’t get you a finished novel or anything like it but I’ll tell you what it is brilliant for and why you should consider doing it (or just doing your own version of it alongside the NaNoWriMers.)

1) Valour/Focus: It takes away all your excuses and faffing, you just have to sit down and churn out stuff. You’re life is full, it’s impossible but you’re going to do it anyway, to rise to the challenge in between the cracks of your life. And it works, words arrive and you need to experience the magic of that just to know it can come true. Now and in the future. You can keep doing this. A novel is not just for November.

2) Perseverance/Discipline. Writers, even the famous ones hate writing. With NaNoWriMo there’s a (metaphorical) stick over you. You must sit down every day, at a particular time if possible, you must clear the decks, you must do it and repeat, repeat, repeat for 30 days. You will not give up. After 30 days you might have got the idea that bums on seats and writing when you hate it is what it takes to be a writer. You ARE a writer. You have gone through fire for it! You have gained mastery and skill!

3) Rewards: You come out at the end with a whole heap of lovely money. Well not money but riches, yes, amazing stuff, writing made of risks and sparkle. Beautiful things you never would have written if you weren’t wrenching it from your gut, scraping the bottom of the barrel, digging right down into your own darkness and molten core. This is what YOU are made of, this is what YOU want to say, this is EVERYTHING YOU EVER WANTED TO SHARE WITH THE WORLD. (Later you can tone down the embarrassing bits, or not.) Publishers want to see, not crazy books but books with an edge, a heart, dripping and bleeding and a soul as deep as outer space. Write a novel. With NaNoWriMo you might almost kill yourself trying. but you’re a hero with a voice now shouting across the universe. (Meglamaniacal laugh.)

(If this war cry is not enough, I have some practical tips to help you ace NaNoWriMo here.)

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