My first typewriter was a portable Smith Corona, acquired second hand in 1968.
I had to thump the keys to make an impression, and insert Tippex paper to correct any mistakes. That was no easy task if I was also producing carbon copies. My most challenging project was to type up three copies of my husband’s MSc thesis on this primitive machine. By the end of it I knew all about glass ionomer cement and had a stinking headache and repetitive strain injury to boot.
I now find that such a machine is a period piece and has a certain monetary value! Maybe I should have kept it.
In the late 1980s I graduated to an electronic model. Still a typewriter with inked ribbon, but this time requiring a lighter touch and with the benefit of a single line display. A chance to review the last few words before they were printed. A real step forward.
It’s a recurring theme in Mirren’s house. Should we listen to our bodies and effectively hibernate in the winter? Or should we push through, toughen up and get out there? We know what we’d prefer. And then along comes a hint of Spring and the lengthening of the days. We wake up with the light, start sorting out the garden implements, and look forward to walking home from work once the threat of being run over in the ‘gloaming’ has passed.
We’re listening to our bodies and doing what comes naturally.
When it comes to writing, the muse was hiding during the depths of winter. Banished by any reasonable excuse or pressing other engagement, or preferably an early night.
Diane, one of the main characters in our first novel, Eight of Cups, suffered badly from the ‘Winter Blues’, withdrawing from herself and her family and getting deeper into depression as the months wore on. Here she is in October 1999, entering a particularly difficult phase of her life.
When people ask me (Mirren) what I do, I tend to say ‘I’m a Medical Practice Manager’ and sometimes I might add, ‘Oh, and I do a bit of writing too.’
As I begin to think about retiring from my day job, and concentrating more of my time and energies on writing, I wonder whether one day I’ll answer simply, ‘I’m a writer.’
The doubt resides in the question – What does being a writer actually mean?
That I am a published author? That I write books? That I spend the majority of my waking hours creating written pieces of work? Or that other people think my writing is good?
The facts are that with my co-author Elaine (Jones), I have had two non-fiction books published by a mainstream medical publisher, have independently published a debut novel and have another with a complete first draft. And still I wonder if I am a writer . . .!
It’s summer. The sky here in Perthshire is heavy with threatening rain clouds and we keep fingers crossed that the weekend will stay dry. It’s also the season for lists. That time of the year when the newspapers run out fresh ideas to fill their many column inches.
Having worked in academia and in organisational development in all sectors of the NHS for many years I (Mirren) am very familiar with giving feedback. There are recommended techniques and formulas. For example, Pendleton’s rules focus on the appraisee:
• ensure that she is ready to receive feedback;
• ask for her observations first before you share yours;
• focus on what has gone well;
• rather than count her faults, jointly identify and agree areas for improvement.
That’s all fine and well. I’ve been appraised many times and been handled both gently and harshly. One boss who didn’t like me airing my views in an open forum because they differed from his, almost reduced me to tears when he asked for ‘a quiet word’.
Recently, however, I’ve experienced feedback of a different kind. Not about the quality of my work, or my level of understanding or development. More about how I look and sound.
Jones and I agreed we needed some more recent photographs. So it started with a professional photo-shoot. John from Alyth Photography came to the house, brought a flattering background cloth, positioned me so that my best side was apparently on-show and taught me to stand with my body at an angle and my face to the front to minimise my width! I can’t fault his work but I was shocked at the final result. Was that matronly woman really me? Great photo! everyone said. Shows that even positive feedback can hurt!
Kirkmichael Summer Festival hosted a ‘Meet the Author event’ last month.
The concept of light has always been important to me. I love the sunlight, prefer being out of doors, hate the dark, and loathe the short winter days. From a recognised date in October, until the sun begins to return to this hemisphere, I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder due to lack of light.
When it comes to writing and being productive, I can reflect back happily on two months during winter 2011, on mornings spent writing in Tenerife, after a leisurely cup of tea on the sun-bathed balcony. Eight weeks and a third of a book drafted, with still time to show visitors around, visit local markets, dine out on wonderful fresh fish and walk daily unencumbered by coat, hat or scarf.
The Canary Islands in winter are home to many creative snowbirds, headed south for the ideal conditions to live out their intended life.
We’re delighted to welcome author Valerie Holmes today as our first Guest on Mirren Jones’ Diary. Valerie is a well-established writer, having had over 30 titles published by Linford Romance/Mystery series, which are now finding their way into the eBook world. She writes both contemporary and historical novels. She is also an experienced creative writing tutor, working with The London School of Journalism and Writing Magazine.
MJ: Hello Valerie – it’s great to have you as our very first guest here – thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed.
VH: Thank you for asking me as a guest onto your blog. It is very kind of you both.
MJ: We’ve lots of questions for you Valerie, but let’s start with one about the very thing we’re engaged in right now – Guest Interviews. We’re hoping we meet your high standards on this with our interview because you’re very successful and well-versed in conducting fascinating Author interviews yourself – you’ve 19 on your Blog (starting in January 2013, at the rate of one per month) with well-known and award-winning authors such as Peter Lovesey and Jo Beverley.
VH: That is very generous of you to say so.
MJ: What is the particular appeal of these interviews for you personally, and how do you go about choosing authors for upcoming slots on your blog?
VH: When I decided to open a blog, I wanted it to be a place that would share inspiration and experience. I have been fortunate to meet some very experienced authors in my career to date, who have served their apprenticeship. Their careers and advice are inspirational and I hope that new writers who read my blog would find them so too.
Welcome to the Diary of Mirren Jones – a new stop on the Writers’ Blog Tour. We hope you’ll enjoy your visit, and will go on to sample the blogs of other writers, highlighted below. We are part of a growing international community of writers, working to introduce each other’s blog to a wider audience. Christine Findlay, Chair of Bookmark Blair, (Blairgowrie Rattray and The Glens Book Festival) in Perthshire, Scotland invited us to take part. (see www.cfindlay.blogspot.com) We in turn have invited the writers Angela Jeffs (Scotland), Heidi Garrett (USA) and Marc Mordey (Wales).
More of these lovely people later, but firstly, by way of introduction: MIRREN JONES is the pseudonym for the creative writing partnership of Marion Duffy from Scotland and Elaine Atkins from Wales. We have been writing together for 17 years: non-fiction books, journal papers, articles, academic courses, workshops, short stories, poetry and a novel. And we’re still good friends! Marion currently works as a medical practice manager, and Elaine was formerly a senior NHS manager – our experiences bringing realism to our novel- in-progress, Never Do Harm.
In common with all writers in the Blog Tour we hope to give you some insight into our processes, plans and progress by answering four key questions.
Room 101 first appeared in George Orwell’s dystopian novel ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’. It was a torture chamber in the Ministry of Love in which the Party attempted to subject a prisoner to his or her own worst nightmare, fear or phobia. The emphasis shifted in the BBC comedy television series Room 101 from facing fears to identifying and then consigning pet hates to a fate worse than death in Room 101.
Mirren is angry with herself this Saturday morning and has decided to work on that anger by identifying all the things that currently annoy her and then metaphorically locking them in Room 101, possibly never to be seen or experienced again.
Firstly goes that full bag of Cadbury’s Chocolate Eclairs greedily consumed yesterday evening after a hard day at work. No more combating tiredness with empty calories. They can stay there for at least the six weeks it apparently takes to change a habit (Do you really believe that?).