Thursday, 25 October 2012


"Are you doing NaNoWriMo this year?" someone wrote on Facebook.
"What?" I thought.

I had no idea what NaNoWriMo was or whether it was something that I wanted to be doing. A little bit of messing about on google revealed all. NaNoWriMo is a writing challenge. The idea is that you commit to writing a novel, any novel, in the month of November. The only proviso is that you have to have written 50,000 words by the 30th.

I have to admit that my interest was piqued. As I understand it the idea is not to write a masterpiece - rather you write as fast as you can which encourages you to go off on tangents that might prove interesting at a later date.

As is my wont, I got all fired up and started thinking of ideas. Within a few days I had one that I thought that would work (a travelogue incorporating seven people, seven degrees of separation and the seven deadly sins.) However, after a bit of head scratching I decided that this was far too complicated to rattle off in 30 days and I sort of went off the whole idea.

But as the start date  approached I began to get supportive emails from my fellow NaNoers in Yorkshire. It's all over the internet once you know where to look. Strategies for every conceivable angle of the project, social media groups, writing tips.  And it's worldwide. There are hundreds of thousands of people all preparing to hole themselves up in November and write.

I decided to give it a bit more thought. I came up with a second, far less complicated idea and now have six days to decide what to do.


- it might be fun
- it will make me write lots every day
- it will give me chance to practise all the things I'm learning about on my course
- it will feel fantastic if I finish


- I will have to write every day ( its 1,666.666 words a day if you're struggling with the maths)
- it might get in the way of my course
- my family will have to make allowances
- I will feel like a complete failure if I don't finish

On careful reflection I have decided that fear of failure is the only true con and so I need to focus on making sure I don't fail. Good planning is the key I feel. That and telling enough people what I'm doing so that giving up will just be more painful than battling on.

So to that end I have decided to devote my blog's Facebook page to giving a daily update so that I have to keep going. Or lie - which is not an attractive option. Then I will have an outlet for the highs and lows of my month of fevered writing and hopefully a bit of support when the going gets tough. I'm hoping it'll be like having your friends positioned at strategic places on a marathon course to cheer you on when spirits are flagging. So, if you fancy being part of my virtual cheering crowd then hop on to Facebook and like Imogen Clark at Home and then you can watch me turn myself inside out for a month!

Happy writing!

Tuesday, 16 October 2012


One of the hardest lessons that I have had to learn as a parent is when to welly in and when to leave well alone. And it has been really hard. All parents want to believe the best about their children. We encourage and nurture them and teach them right from wrong. We think that we know them better than anyone else and we probably do. But we also think that we can predict their every move and second guess how they will react to a situation with pinpoint accuracy. This, in my experience, is a mistake.

How well did your parents know you? Pretty well probably. How many times did you pull the wool over their eyes and get away with it? A fair number I should guess. So why shouldn't our own children be the same? Children are exceedingly good at manipulating adults in general and parents in particular. After all, it starts at birth with that ear piercing cry that no human can ignore. So I know that any story I hear has been spun either to gloss over my child's part in the misdemeanour or to blacken the name of  their current foe. And sometimes it might even be 99% fabrication.

As parents we fuel this fire. We can't help it. We show concern. We might even tut or make some ill advised comment about another child. Our own children zoom in on that and use it to their advantage. Now that they have our attention the incident starts to gather momentum and before too long our child is up high on a pedestal polishing their halo whilst everyone else involved would be better off in Borstal. We can't stop it. We are protecting our own.

However, unless there is real harm done, I believe that that should be it. The child sounds off. The parent shows sympathy and secretly thinks that the other party should be better parented and then we all forget about it and move on. I have learned to resist the urge to march to the school gates and complain. Firstly there are two sides to every story and I cannot necessarily rely on what I have been told as being gospel but secondly, what good can it possibly do? The world is a tough place. It starts in the playground and it just keeps getting tougher. If I run into school at the first sign of trouble then how will my children ever learn to deal with it?

 I need to smother my lioness instinct. The children have to develop strategies for dealing with the difficulties that they face in life. This is how they develop socially and is what makes them into rounded, capable and tolerant adults. And sometimes it hurts that they are the butt of jokes for day after day or that they are being isolated or even that there's a bit of physical rough and tumble. But that's life and the sooner they learn how to deal with it themselves then the happier life they will lead.

It has been undoubtedly a hard pill to swallow and I will no doubt have to struggle with it many more times before I'm finished but I firmly believe that my children have to stand up for themselves and fight their own battles without me to help and that that lesson will stand them in good stead for life.

Thursday, 11 October 2012


I can't spell. I never could. I think my first school was what was called 'progressive' and we were pretty much left to our own devices. As a result, spelling wasn't high on my agenda. By the time I got to primary school number 2, which was much more traditional in outlook, the damage was done and I've been rubbish at it ever since.

But does it really matter? In this age of abbreviations and text speak who will notice whether a word is correctly spelt or not? This is an argument that I heard recently and I have discussed it with those of my children who are similarly lexicographically challenged. ( I know but please indulge me. It's such a cool word even if it's not entirely appropriate in that sentence!) Language is evolving, they say. There have always been variant spellings of words. Everyone knows what I mean even if the spelling is dodgy. I've heard it all.

There are two questions lurking here. 1) Does it matter if I can't spell? and  2) Does it matter if I can't spell because there are so many things out there to help me do it?

For a while spelling does not seem to have been a high priority for schools. Children have been encouraged to simply get down what they want to say and worry about the formalities later. Far be it from me to staunch the creative juices by insisting on correct letter order. People in glass houses and all that. But....the difference is that I am ashamed that I can't spell. I know that I should be able to and it is a failing on my part that I struggle with it sometimes. By contrast we seem to have been actively encouraging our children to spell badly.

For me, being able to spell is a bit like table manners. Having them should go unnoticed. Not having them marks you out. I'm sure that that is wrong but in my experience that's the way of the world. So if you can't spell it suggests that there is something wrong with the standard of your education. Obviously I'm not talking about people who struggle to spell for learning reasons. Just people like me that can't do it.

I get away with not being a great speller because most of what I write is corrected as I go by whatever device I'm working with. This is really helpful and I'm sure my spelling has improved by being constantly corrected before my very eyes. There are a couple of downsides. Quite often my first stab at a word is so far off the mark that the spell check fails to recognise it. This is really frustrating and I have to play around with the letters until I get it closer to something that can be corrected. I should make a note of some of my first attempts. They'd make your hair curl!

Secondly, my devices correct my English into American. I know that because despite my failings I do know enough about the rules to know one from the other. But if we don't teach our children how to spell then the distinctions will be blurred and before long 'u' will become redundant and 's' and 'z' will be entirely interchangeable.

I gather that the emphasis in schools is changing back so that spelling and punctuation will once again become important at every level. (How anyone could ever think that punctuation was an optional extra is beyond me.) In the meantime, I shall continue to try and improve my own spelling and correct my children's texts. After all, if a job's worth doing and all that......

Wednesday, 3 October 2012


It's October so it must be Ilkley Literature Festival. Town is full of writers promoting their books and tv presenters promoting the books with their names on the jacket. There's a real buzz about the place and I lap it up.

This year I must have been feeling particularly brave when the programme plopped onto my door mat as I signed myself up for a couple of masterclasses in Creative Writing. This is a first. For all that I bang on endlessly about my writing ambitions, I almost never share my work. However, there's no gain without pain they say so I decided to stop being so lily-livered and actually put my money where my mouth was. I filled in the form and posted it. The deed was done.

The morning of the first session dawned and I was sick with nerves. I tried to engender sympathy from my family but no one took a blind bit of notice so I gathered my notebook and pen and set out womanfully into the world of reality and rejection. After all, tapping away at my keyboard in the privacy of my own home allows me to indulge in all manner of pretensions about my own ability. But put me in a room with lots of other ambitious and potentially highly talented writers and there is a real danger that my dreams will evaporate faster than cheap nail varnish remover.

The first tutor was lovely - award winning novelist, emeritus professor on the best writing course in the country and a nice person to boot. She set the class at ease with entertaining tasks. We wrote, we read out our work. The two hours flew by and I came away feeling slightly calmer and deeply inspired.

My second class was a whole different kettle of fish. The tutor, male this time, more confident and assertive than the last. He asked us to explain what we found hard in our writing and from the answers it was clear that this group was either more accomplished or had higher aspirations than the first. As I listened to them speak about tricky plotting devices and publishing difficulties I could feel the little bit of confidence that I had gained ebbing away. I kept my head down and my mouth shut. When I read out my work he praised a particular phrase but even that couldn't dispel the feeling of despondency that washed over me. All these people, all sharing my dream and shouting about it. What on earth did I think I was doing?

You see that's the problem. How do you know if you're any good or not? 

When you have children, you realise how useful it might be to have a doctor amongst your closest friends in case of disaster - someone who you can ring and fret at but who knows you well enough not to resent the call.  Now I'm thinking an agent as a mate would be fab! I could send them my drafts and get them to tell me the uncompromising truth before I wasted my time sending stuff anywhere else. Sadly, I haven't picked my friends very carefully in this regard and whilst they are a jolly talented bunch, none of them can help me get published.

All is not entirely lost on the honest critic front however. This weekend I have a whole day cooped up in a lecture theatre with my tutor for the year, herself a published author. Perhaps she can help? I shall try to wow her with my sparkling prose and thus encourage her to suggest honestly whether I'm whistling in the wind.

In the meantime, I shall continue to entertain myself with the twists and turns of my latest story whilst wondering what it would be like to see my name on the table in The Grove Bookshop. Maybe next year?