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Hello hello!  Very quiet here, isn’t it?  Well, I’m now blogging over at Towards the Mountain.  Join me there for musings on writing and creativity, mouthing off about narrative and books I’ve read, and, hopefully, the charting of my journey from “someone who writes” to “someone who feels justified in calling herself a writer“.

I’d love to see you there!


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So, I left off my report on pre-conference Friday by saying how lovely the other conferenceers (I like it, makes us sound like we should have cool chapeaus and big boots) were …

It was with these delightful ladies I spent Saturday learning about draping corsets on a form (much less scary than I was expecting, thanks to Gerry Quinton, mastermind behind Morua Designs) and the fine art of fitting (with particular emphasis on that trickiest of spots – the bust, led by an expert in that region (!), Alison Campbell, creator of Crikey Aphrodite‘s yumminess).

Draping design with my crew - Niki and Beth.

There were goody bags with pressies from Janome and pretty corset postcards (yay!), as well as a huge fabric and embellishment swap.  Seriously.  I don’t think all that stuff even left the building.  It might even have formed its own gravitational pull at one point:


This isn’t even the peak of the swap. Sari fabric, antique lace, pretty, pretty things!

We even had media coverage on the BBC News website ‘in pictures’, a local newspaper and BBC local radio (Julia speaks about the conference at 2:25:20)

There was stitching, coffee and chatter (the three staples of any corsetier, methinks) between classes in our hub, with much setting of eyelets and other fun.

I hate setting eyelets.  It’s the most stressful part of corsetry, I think!  So there I was setting eyelets on Saturday afternoon, getting more and more stressed.  You see, one of the (many) awesome parts of the conference was the opportunity to sign up for a short photo shoot with a professional model and photographer and as my City & Guilds deadline finished just before it was announced that one of those models would be the multi-talented and utterly gorgeous Morgana (AKA Threnody in Velvet, a make-up artist and photographer herself), I thought this would be a good idea … Hence the deadline that’s kept me off-blog for a few weeks.  It was a bit of a scary experience, drafting the corset purely from someone’s measurements without any fittings, but this was too good an opportunity to miss.  Here’s a little sneak peek:

Late night phone snap, sorry!

Late night phone snap, sorry!

The photo shoots were Sunday.  I hadn’t finished the eyelets or embellishment and it was Saturday.  Now you see my stress?  Also, I loved the look of the loomstate satin I used (from Sew Curvy earlier in the year), but it frayed like a complete bastard.  Seriously – I think it gave me splinters.  So, more stress.

But it’s OK, I soon had a distraction in the shape of Saturday night …

Saturday night was a real treat – Pimms O’clock (that’s the official name, right?) followed by a formal dinner in the Hall.  Oh yes, didn’t I tell you?  We ate all our meals beneath the watchful gaze of Queenie (founder of the college):



And Charles I and Lawrence of Arabia (bottom left):


That’s just a taste of our imposing and impressive surroundings – it really made the weekend even more dream-like and fabulous, and the staff at Jesus were so friendly and helpful.  I couldn’t ask for more!

Due to rain, the Pimms drinks reception was held in a rather fancy room whose name escapes me, but which contained yet more Queenie:

oxoford queenie 2

And what’s more, she had a cherry earring!oxford Queenie detail


Yep, so she kept watchful gaze over our drinking (for some people the first time they’d tried Pimms) and admiration of everyone’s gladrags, then it was off to dinner and another highlight …

Our after dinner speaker was Ian Frazer Wallace, someone I admit I hadn’t heard of … and I wasn’t the only one – many of us went a-Googling and found precious little about this mysterious corseteer.  Then Julia posted this video of his work on famed burlesque dancer, Immodesty Blaise (mild bottom nudity towards end of video):

Polly Fey in more Ziad Ghanem, made in collaboration with Ian Frazer Wallace.   Image from Fashion PR.

Polly Fey in more Ziad Ghanem, made in collaboration with Ian Frazer Wallace.
Image from Fashion PR.

Ian made the green and white corsets in collaboration with designer Ziad Ghanem.  Wow, eh?  That soon cleared things up, so when the conference finally came around, we were all excited to hear Ian’s talk and he did not disappoint.  An interesting fellow and an enlightening speech, giving us a glimpse into the fashion world’s take on corsetry, with interjections from his muse, Polly Fey (also glimpsed in the video – second model to walk out on the finale, corsetted, shaved head, many tattoos, looks awesome).  It was something of a double act!

Could things get any better?  Turns out they could – these two weren’t a pair of snooty fashionistas, here for their talk, then off to something more important, despite what Hollywood films might lead us to expect.  No, they stayed all night, hit the bar with us, chatted, drank, giggled, entertained, hugged and were just generally delightful company, fun people and genuinely, well, nice.  They spoke to everyone, sharing advice, showing interest and giving encouragement.  (Ian wished me luck with my photo shoot when I said good night and teased me for sewing in the bar at midnight, since I still hadn’t finished my corset for the shoot and it turned out mine was in the morning!)

So it was that I ended up tottering to my room at 2am, tired, but inspired.

Thus endeth Saturday at the conference – just one day left!

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It’s been rather quiet here this month, because I’ve been working on a corsetry deadline: last weekend I was lucky enough to go to the first Oxford Conference of Corsetry.

I’ll come right out and say this from the start: it was one of the best weekends ever.  Gorgeous corsets, stunning surroundings and most excellent company.  And it’s not just me who thinks it – Sara has already blogged her reflections on the weekend (spoiler – I think she liked it!).

I took the train on Friday afternoon feeling a bit apprehensive – who would be there?  What would they think of me, a little wannabe corsetier with just 3 (and a bit) corsets under my belt?  Would everyone be a million times more experienced than me?  Would they look down on me?  Would I learn something?  Would it be worth the investment?  So many worries and not a single one of them founded.

We stayed in Jesus College Oxford, which was an amazing setting for the fun to begin as we dragged (HEAVY!) cases up teeny staircases and bumped into people we recognised from the Facebook group for the event.

Oxford 2nd quad

One of my first memories of the conference was opening my bedroom door and thinking ‘Wow, that’s a wonky wardrobe … oh wait … no, it’s the room that’s wonky.  Okaaaaaaay.’

oxford room

oxford fabric

As you can imagine, there was much texting and Facebooking to organise everyone and find out who was where … Luckily corsetiers are a little easier to herd than cats.  So, we ventured to the delightful Darn It & Stitch, a teeny tiny haberdashery on a side street in Oxford, which still managed to contain treasure (and was kind enough to give us a 20% discount!).  Of course, I couldn’t resist temptation (When have I ever?!) and had to partake in some pretties (in the form of coral pink silk lining fabric for £5 a metre (what’s not to like about that?!) and some soft cotton tape in fun designs).

Unfortunately, I’m pretty rubbish at remembering to take photos of the everyday doings of things, but the group (of around 8 of us?) were quick to get talking to each other, immediately bonding over our mutual love of corsets, fabric and stitchery.

Those bonds were soon forged even stronger by dining at The Big Bang – the ultimate bangers and mash experience.  The conference organiser, Julia Bremble (of Sew Curvy fame), kindly booked a table for all 15 of us who had arrived early.

And then there were sausages.  Not just any old sausages, but every kind of sausage and all sorts of mash and your choice of gravy.  Oh yes.

Of course, there was still more chatting and bonding and general awesomeness, together with entertainment from the owner who was friendly, accommodating and … a bit bonkers?  (In a Good Way.)

At this point I’d met about half of the attendees, was already making friends and hadn’t yet met a single unpleasant person.  I’d have considered that a success in itself … and yet Saturday came, together with the rest of the corsetry crew who all turned out to be utterly lovely and delightful folk.  As you can probably guess by now, I met some wonderful people at the conference and really feel I’ve made some great friends across the world.

So, that was Friday, more coming up soon!

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The issue of rape and bomb threats made over Twitter has been in the British news recently. Essentially, a woman campaigned to get Jane Austen on bank notes, so some men threatened to come and rape her and/or bomb her. A proportionate response, obviously. </sarcasm>

If you think this is an infringement of ‘freedom of speech’ or if you’re wondering why this matters, why people have been arrested over this, why she shouldn’t ‘just get over it’ or why thousands of people will be boycotting Twitter on Sunday 4th of August, here’s an article to explain.

Just a few of the rape and death threats made to Caoline Criado-Perez, the woman who campaigned for a Jane Austen bank note.

Just a few of the rape and death threats made to Caoline Criado-Perez, the woman who campaigned for a Jane Austen bank note.

Threat made to Independent journalist via Twitter.

Threat made to Independent journalist Grace Dent via Twitter.

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Best Writing Advice Ever …

Yes, I am still here.  Yes, I’ve had a crazily busy academic year.  Yes, I’m getting back on the blogging horse!

But more on that another day.

For today, I’m pointing you towards the best piece of writing advice there is, very succinctly put by a woman who knows, Nicola Morgan: Write the damn book.

Which is what I’m working on, now that pesky job of mine is out of the way for a month’s holiday (a month!!!  Yesssss!).

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I mentioned earlier in the week that I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately and I’ve already told you about the stories I’ve been enjoying.  This post will discuss some writing-related books I’ve consumed recently.

I’ve been wrestling with some plotting demons in A Thief & A Gentlewoman, which have stopped me moving on with the story.  Sometimes plot-doubts are simply us as insecure writers second-guessing ourselves … but sometimes there really is a flaw in our plotting.  The outline of AT&aGw has gone through a few changes, with a parallel plot added to increase complexity (and ensure it reached a fantasy-appropriate word count!), but coming back to the story after a break, I now feel that that addition has actually diluted what was a strong plot with an exciting climax.  So I’ve been focusing on books about plot to get some ideas for how to move forward.

I’ve already reviewed Write to be Published, which I loved, so I won’t go over that again, except to say get it!

I picked up The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing a couple of months ago as it has interviews with some interesting writers and articles on topics not covered by some of my more specialist writing books, and it seems like good value – a big chunky book for £10.

Plus, I’ll admit it, I like getting new writing books.

This is more of a dip-into book, rather than a read-straight-through (which is what I did with Write to be Published).  I’ve read or skimmed through a few articles and particularly the section on plot, since that’s what I’m working on at the moment.  It seems quite good so far, though not utterly amazing, however I’ve only looked at a few parts and I suspect it will become more useful as I dip into other areas.

I found Monica Wood and James N. Frey’s articles on plot fairly helpful, though in a broad way of getting myself thinking about plot and encouraging my subconscious to start working on the problem of what is and isn’t working in my plot.  There wasn’t necessarily anything in these articles that I hadn’t read elsewhere, but this book would be useful for someone looking to get a one-stop reference for different areas of novel writing.  Like Write to be Published, it gives a broad overview and is a handy resource for having information all in one place.  I do prefer Write to be Published, though, as I found it more readable and like Nicola Morgan’s voice and her take on different subjects.

A couple of years ago a friend gave me a copy of Plot & Structure by James Scott Bell, as somehow he’d ended up with two copies (no, I don’t know how, either, but thanks, Darron!).  In light of my current issues with my WIP, I finally got around to reading it.  Again, I used a combination of skimming, dipping in and reading fully, since some sections were more useful to my current position than others.

Despite the horrible cover (sorry, I hate it!), I liked this one and have found it really useful.  It articulates a lot of things that we already know about plot and structure from being readers and consumers of narratives, which is helpful for clarifying that feeling of “I know this plot does/doesn’t work, but I’m not sure why!”

Bell does get a big obsessed with his own ‘systems’ (complete with acronyms – are you an OP or a NOP?) and it gets a little annoying reading repeatedly about “the LOCK system”.  He does also reference his own fiction fairly often, which I didn’t think was particularly great (sorry!) and in one instance was actually quite over the top when it was meant to be giving an example of downplaying emotion.  But if you can get past those minor niggles, then this is a very useful book for helping you think about plot, whether you’re coming up with one from scratch, or re-working a flagging one.

He includes plenty of exercises to try out and some handy appendices to help write your own back cover copy (a helpful part of the plotting process) and a checklist of key elements.  There are tips for generating ideas and fixing plot problems, as well as a great section on revising and rewriting, specifically focusing on plot.  I do recommend this as an excellent reference for your writing shelves.

Finally we come to a book I almost hesitate to admit to buying: Book in a Month by Victoria Lynn Schmidt.

Why the hesitation? you might ask.  Well, something about this book just seems a bit gimicky.  Maybe it’s that the writer encourages you to buy a fresh book each time you want to write using her Book in a Month (BIAM) system (what’s with writing books and their ‘systems?), or maybe it’s the very idea of a ‘system’ of writing (nevermind that it’s advertised as ‘fool-proof’ in the tagline.

But there was something that appealed to me about this book – perhaps it’s all the forms to be filled in (which is why she suggests you get a fresh copy for each novel you write, personally, I’ll be using photocopies of the forms!), which must have some sort of appeal to the woman who played ‘office’ and ‘teacher’ games extensively as a child (Complete with made up paperwork.  Yes, sad, I know!).

Anyway, I’ve read the preparation part of the book (that is, up to the point where you begin the 30-day programme) and I’m not regretting my decision to buy it.  Schmidt discusses and encourages you to think about all the excuses you make not to write or not to finish a manuscript, and the possible reasons behind those excuses.  She takes a psychological approach, looking at the ways we sabotage ourselves, reasons for resistance and methods of motivation, which is no surprise when you consider she has a doctorate in psychology.  I’d suggest keeping a journal alongside this book, where you can write about the issues raised and the questions posed – this has already helped me to feel more motivated.

Alongside this, however, she does address the writing itself and how that can prevent you from continuing.  One of my favourite sections so far is how she addresses the idea of theme and what it is you want to say with your story, explaining that sometimes the theme conveyed in a plot that isn’t working for you is a theme you’re not passionate about.  She helps you uncover your ‘writerly identity’ and visualise what it is you want to be known for as a writer, which helps you focus on writing the things that motivate you or, even, how to make an assigned piece of writing (eg, something outside of your usual genre of interest) more appealing to your own interests and passions.

There are some down sides of this book – for instance, she encourages you to write your first draft without any subplots to get the novel written in a month.  I disagree with this strategy as a good subplot will often tie in with the main plot of the novel, perhaps even helping the protagonist find a solution to their problems.  Also, the psychology-talk does get in danger of straying into ‘psychobabble’ territory sometimes, but there’s nothing to stop you from skim-reading!

So far, I’m finding this and interesting and useful book, which I plan to use to finish AT&aGw, once I’ve worked out the plot problems.  I’ll give more feedback when I’ve finished that!

What about you, what non-fiction have you been reading?  Got any writing book recommendations (or ones to avoid!) you’d like to share?

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I’m wrestling with some plot demons at the moment, so I’ve been reading lots of books on writing.  The latest is Write to be Published by Nicola Morgan, the ‘Crabbit Old Bat’ of lore (and of the blog Help! I Need a Publisher!).  I hesitate to say how long I’ve been reading Ms Morgan’s blog as it would reveal I’m not as youthful as I might appear, but suffice to say it’s been many years, and she’s long given brilliant, honest advice in her own, eminently readable style.

I buy quite a lot of books (there’s no space on the bookshelves anymore, but I don’t let that stop me!), though I don’t always review them on Amazon.  However, I so loved reading Ms Morgan’s and have been such a long-time fan, I decided to write a short review, which might be helpful if you’re trying to decide from the so very many writing books out there …

Excellent Advice, Given With Humour

As the title of this review suggests, this book gives excellent advice on a broad overview of topics that will help any writer understand just what it is agents and editors are looking for. What’s more, Nicola Morgan (the Crabbit Old Bat herself) gives that advice with humour, honesty and a wealth of experience. She had to learn the hard way, but she happily passes on her hard-won knowledge to the rest of us.

This book is a great starting point for writers to give them a taste of what the industry’s about and to help them think about the elements that go towards making a publishable book. Ms Morgan touches on those elements and points the reader towards other sources that cover them in more depth (such as genre-specific resources). I can imagine using this book as a useful diagnostic tool for a work-in-progress to help the writer discern what isn’t working – perhaps the plot peters out or there’s not enough conflict – and look into that area in more detail.

I strongly recommend this book for anyone looking to get their writing published, be it fiction or non-fiction, romance or sci-fi – you won’t regret it!

5/5 stars

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