The commonplace book: electronic or hand-written

Once I made up my mind to keep a commonplace book, the next big decision was whether to keep an electronic commonplace book or a hand-written one.

Let’s look at both:

Electronic Commonplace Book

In my research, I found that many people today do use various electronic mediums. Those who don’t mind sharing their entries, use a blog, Tumblr or similar platform. Others use applications such as Evernote. Many however simply keep a giant Word file that they keep adding to.

The main advantage of keeping an electronic commonplace book is that it is much easier to organize. If you want to look for specific topics or even specific entries, you can just use the search function and find what you are looking for. You can add multi-media, website links, pictures, and can make it interactive. It requires no physical storage space, and as long as you remember to back up your files, it can be safely maintained for a long period of time.

The disadvantage is that the temptation to cheat will always be a factor. Instead of typing up the passages and quotes, and slowly taking in every word, you may be tempted to just copy/paste the information, or type it up like you are practising for the world’s fastest secretary role. Doing so will defeat the purpose of keeping a commonplace book.

Another disadvantage, which is a big deal for me, is the lack of a truly personal touch. Yes, you can use themes or include your graphics, and of course information you include is to your taste, but the fact remains that electronic information does not have the personal touch of hand-written items. 

Hand-Written Commonplace Book

Hand-written commonplace book is the old-fashioned method. This is how it originated, and you could argue that there were no computers in those days, but the purpose behind it is the same today. By slowly and accurately copying passages and quotes from your reading material, you can take the time to savour the book. You don’t only read, but you digest the information and reflect upon it. 

As a long-term journal keeper, and having experimented with e-journaling before, I am convinced that you miss out on something special when you don’t write important things down by hand. Hand-writing is a physical act. You are making the connection between the page, your words, and your mind. By keeping a hand-written commonplace book, you make it incredibly personal, because your commonplace book will not look like anyone else’s. 

Another advantage of having a hand-written commonplace book is the tactile pleasure. Keeping a commonplace book properly is not necessarily an easy task. There will be times when you just want to read the book, and not worry about retaining information. There will be times when copying things down will feel like a chore. The more pleasurable your method of keeping a commonplace book is, the less likely you are to procrastinate or give up. 

Once I knew I had to keep a hand-written commonplace book, I looked through all the new notebooks I currently have in my house. There were no spare Moleskines, but there was a notebook identical to the one I’m using for my quote journal. I thought that would be suitable, so I even removed the plastic wrapper. But my heart wasn’t in it. It just didn’t feel right. I wanted, most of all, to have plain pages not ruled. But all my currently available notebooks were ruled. After sleeping on it, I ordered a new plain Moleskine, and felt immediately better. It was the right choice for me, because having a plain page as opposed to a ruled page is an important issue for me, as is the size and the quality of the notebook. Moleskins are one of my most favourite brands, and though I use a variety of personal journals, I have this image in my mind of keeping many identical commonplace books over the next several decades. 

Think about what matters to you, and what works for you. What will make this experience a pleasurable activity? Aesthetically pleasing, but also practical. If you intend to write on the go, don’t buy a heavy A4 notebook. Always mix creative choices with practical application.

As you can no doubt tell from the above, I’m completely on the side of the hand-written commonplace book. Unless you have a problem (medical or otherwise) which prevents you from being able to write by hand, you would gain a lot more by keeping a hand-written commonplace book as opposed to an electronic one.

Of course, keeping an electronic commonplace book is better than keeping none at all.

What do you think? Would you choose an electronic method, or go the old-fashioned way?

 

Post event write-up: Great Writing Conference – Imperial College, London

Last weekend, on July 1st and 2nd, I attended my first ever Great Writing conference at the Imperial College in London. This was the 20th anniversary of this event, and I found out about it late last year, so I am a tad behind. But better late than never.

The fact that it was in London was a massive plus point for me. Conferences, especially due to hotel bills, can become very expensive. Especially as I don’t have a university behind me, footing the bill. So it was great to just attend the full conference, but still, be able to go home in the evenings without much hassle.

So about the conference:

In a nutshell, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Arrived at 8:30 am on Saturday morning to register, and then after the 9 am introduction, the conference was in full flow, with multiple streams of panels running at the same time. As is always the case with these events, it’s difficult to choose because there is so much interesting material. 

It’s also about people. Sometimes you go to panels because you are familiar with someone’s work, or they are your friends or good acquaintance. Sometimes you just happen to get chatting to people at the conference and go to their sessions to support, as well as learn more about them. 

My panel selections were a combination of all of the above. 

On Saturday, I attended panels that included topics as wide-ranging as a permaculture travel memoir, finding an authentic voice, writing and performing identity, transmedia storytelling, a paper on the interplay of text and images in a contemporary essay, as well as exploration of real-world choices in the movie Arrival. 

I chaired a session of three panels, which were:

The Teacher-Effect: Poets who took, borrowed and stole from teachers of influence by Jen Webb

Articulate Walls: Writer’s Block and the Academic Creative Practitioner by Marshall Moore

Teaching the Wisdom of Uncertainty by Karen Stevens.

My three presenters were from different countries, bringing in different perspectives. That’s one of the most fascinating things about an international conference, that you do get a true mix of people, and a range of perspectives. There were people there from the UK, the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Finland, Northern Ireland…and these are just the people I spoke to. But even that covers the considerable geographical ground. 

On Sunday, I took advantage of living in London and made my leisurely way, joining from 10:30 onward. One of the first sessions of panels I attended was one that created a bit of a discussion, because it included a paper on Writing about Sex, by Malachi O’ Doherty, a journalist and a writer from Belfast. 

After lunch, I presented my paper, “Miss You’ve A White Name” which was well received, and also got me into some wonderful discussions, including an issue of cultural appropriation and I ended up making new acquaintances. 

After more chats, and more thoughtful presentations, and closing brief by Professor Graeme Harper who organises the conference, the 20th Great Writing Conference officially came to an end. Some people would stay on to go to the pub. I chose to make my way home, talking to one of the other attendees at the conference, as we made our way to the tube station by walking through the gorgeous Kensington Palace Gardens on a beautiful, sunny day in London. 

It was the perfect end to what had been a quite stimulating weekend. 

I am already looking forward to attending the Great Writing Conference next year.

 

Upcoming events

My apologies for the lack of frequent updates. It’s been a hell of a year already. Every month has brought about changes and challenges, and even half-way through the year, anything is barely settled. It’s not all bad. Challenges are tough, but usually they result in changes for the better.

My writing progress ebbs and flows right now, but here are some updates on various events I am going to be attending this summer:

July 1, 2 – Great Writing International Creative Writing Conference

I will be presenting a paper, “Miss You’ve A White Name” at the conference taking place at the Imperial College, London.

July 7 – BFS Social

British Fantasy Society has a social in London, so if you are there come say hi.

July 29, 30 – Creative Bridges Conference, Bristol

Creative Bridges is a conference about Creative Writing for Therapeutic Purposes. I will be running my Meet Your Muse workshop there.

August 4, 5, 6 – Nine Worlds

I am excited about attending my very first Nine Worlds. Final schedule is yet to be confirmed, but I should be moderating two panels there.

August 21 – BristolConFringe

I will be reading a story at BristolConFringe in August, so if you are in the area, join us for this fantastic, free event.

 

 

Feeling like a writer

It’s a strange thing, being a writer. On the one hand, you just are. I’m always writing something. It’s who I am. I can’t not write. It’s as simple as breathing. 

But you know how sometimes even breathing isn’t simple? You get a cold, and a blocked nose. Or the pollution is so high that your nose gets full of gunk and you can’t breathe properly. Well, sometimes that happens with writing too. You know it’s simple. You know it’s who you are. But sometimes, it just feels complicated.

I’ve been feeling that lately. But more specifically, towards “professional” writing. I can still write. I can still fill pages of my journal, or write beautiful letters and what-not. I can still write stuff that doesn’t need to be finished or stuff that doesn’t need to be judged. But what about all the things that have to be finished, and have to be judged? What about stories that must meet certain criteria, or pass through individual judgement? What about a novel that needs to meet my vision of what it should be? On that side, there have been stumbling blocks. 

And that led me to the conclusion that I need to do more things that make me feel like a writer. 

Life gets in the way. There are jobs to be done for money. There are hobbies and interests. Crazy challenges that take over my life (I’m walking London to Brighton non-stop, 100km/62.5 miles in May). Personal relationships. And after all that if there is actually any time left, my energy level or mental reserves are too low for me to be as productive as I would like with my writing. 

A part of me resists this. A part of me thinks of all the writers who had full lives, woke up at crazy hour every morning and wrote before going to work. A part of me wants to be able to do that no matter what. Another, more realistic part of me is becoming aware that it is not sustainable. I’ve ups and downs with writing, as with most things in life. Sometimes words just flow. Sometimes it’s bloody hard work. Sometimes it fills you with elation. Sometimes it depresses you. That is the inevitable nature of the creative endeavour. But it is also the inevitable nature of pursuing dreams. 

However, there are ways to feel like a writer. I’ve joined a local critique group, a writer’s group, and may even do more of those depending on suitability and availability. That gives me people and accountability so that writing comes with a deadline rather than just something hovering in the background. I like deadlines. I like having something specific to aim for. It also feels more professional somehow. And more “doing” rather than “wishing.”

So today, I had to remind myself again that it’s okay. Sometimes you feel down in the dumps, and question everything. It’s okay. Feel it in the moment. Then get back up, dust off your pants, and start again. Because that’s all it is. One word after another. Sometimes it’s crappy words. Sometimes it’s torturous words. But they come. Because they are in me. Patiently waiting. When I stop obsessing and worrying about being a writer, underneath it, I already am. When I remember why I wanted to do this – for the pleasure of creating my own stories – it suddenly becomes such an achievable thing. It is there, waiting to be unearthed, to be moulded in my voice. Because I am a writer. 

 

Book launch report – The Dark Half of the Year

Time does run away when you are being busy, which all of January, I’ve been. So it’s taken me 8 days to report back on the book launch that took place on January 28th in Bristol.

We launched this gorgeous book, The Dark Half the Year, which is an anthology of ghost stories set on particular winter days. It’s a collective effort from the North Bristol Writers. I’m thrilled to be in it. My story, The Ancestors, is set on Diwali when Asha has to confront her ghosts. 

The launch was great, very well organised, and in a great venue. Thomas David Parker found us an event room in the Royal Navy Volunteer pub. A cosy little venue with the right amount of charm, and of course drinks. Thomas, who is also one of the authors in the book, acted as our host for the afternoon.  He interviewed the editors, Ian Milstead and Pete Sutton on how the book came to be. We also had some readings. Then myself and three others were interviewed about our stories. (You can watch mini-clips of my interview on my YouTube channel) This followed by more readings, and then a panel about ghosts. So it was a very ghostly, but fun afternoon. 

At book signings, we are happy to report, we sold out. Books were signed. Fun was had. I had a chance to catch up with all my lovely friends and colleagues in Bristol. All in all, a good day out. 

And if you haven’t got a copy of Dark Half of the Year yet, it’s now available on Amazon

 

Problem Daughters Anthology: an interview with the editor

I interviewed Rivqa Rafael, one of the editors of the upcoming Problem Daughters anthology. It’s an amazing, worthy project. I hope you will find this interview both interesting and useful. Please do spread the word about this anthology.

Problem Daughters will amplify the voices of women who are sometimes excluded from mainstream feminism. It will be an anthology of beautiful, thoughtful, unconventional speculative fiction and poetry around the theme of intersectional feminism, focusing on the lives and experiences of marginalized women, such as those who are of colour, QUILTBAG, disabled, sex workers, and all intersections of these. Edited by Nicolette Barischoff, Rivqa Rafael and Djibril al-Ayad, the anthology will be published by Futurefire.net Publishing and is currently being crowdfunded.

DG: Problem Daughters. Let’s talk about the name first.  Why this title? And why “Daughters” specifically, as opposed to women, mothers, sisters etc.

RR: We put a lot of thought into our title; of course we wanted something that would make people curious about what we had to say, as well as something that accurately reflected our aims. So it’s “problem” in the sense of not being accepted by mainstream feminism, and that could be for any number of reasons. Mainstream feminism doesn’t respond well to difference; it expects all other concerns to be put on hold for the cause. Race, ethnicity, religion, ability, choice of profession (most notably sex work); these and other intersections can make feminism a less accepting space. We’re a problem to feminism; feminism is a problem for us. The anthology is both of these aspects.

“Daughters” felt like another interesting way to engage with our topic. “Women” would fit, sure, but having a different word in there makes our descriptions less repetitive, so there was a practical angle there. Not all women are, or can be mothers; the concept of a feminist “sisterhood” and the shared experience it implies is part of what we’re critiquing. But we’re all daughters, in one way or another, and responding to the past is another key element here.

DG: Why do you think this anthology is needed? Why not just standard BAME submission as many publishers tend to do these days?

RR: Anthologies can be anything from a completely open call to a most narrow, almost bizarrely specific theme, and I think this range is a great thing. I’ve written some of my best work (in my opinion) in response to calls for submission to anthologies; something about a theme can spark something I might not have considered. Problem Daughters falls somewhere in the middle of the pack in terms of specificity. Hopefully, this keeps the topic broad enough that authors can play with it in interesting ways, but specific enough to be inviting to the marginalised authors we’re hoping to attract. Of course, this anthology doesn’t stand in isolation, and I hope it complements past and future diverse works.

DG: As a woman from an ethnic minority, and as a writer, this idea excites me. You see in fiction, Indian women often depicted a certain way – exotic beauties, or sari wearing domestic goddesses, or whatever. I have a problem with that. I am sure this happens to other cultures, and other voices too. So I love this idea that you’re trying to find voices that are even more ignored than “minorities” in general because let’s face it, minorities can be snobby too about inclusions and representation. My question is – how do you define these women? How do you define “feminism” in this selective context?

RR: I’m so glad it excites you! That’s definitely part of what we’re trying to address. Even just the tiresome concept that a single white woman can be a stand-in for diversity (Star Wars, again? Really?). What you say about inclusion is such an important point; this has been my almost constant experience, being at turns “not Jewish enough”, “too Jewish” or my personal favourite, “Jewish in the wrong way”.

But in terms of the anthology, we don’t want to define these women too closely; they will be marginalised in some way, and we’ve given examples, but mostly we want the reaction you’ve given – an individual interpretation, written as a story or poem. Likewise, our definition of feminism is as broad as possible; our stories might come from womanists or authors who don’t self-identify with any such movement at all. Mostly, we want to see how our potential authors choose to engage with the topic, rather than define it for them.

DG: I believe three of you are editing this anthology, Djibril al-Ayad, Nicolette Barischoff and you. Would you say your experiences in fringes, or perhaps outside of mainstream voices helps you be more sympathetic or empathetic to the voices you seek to represent?

RR: I hope so. I can only speak for myself specifically, of course, but I really hope so. I’m white, able-bodied, queer and Jewish; I have a lot of privilege, and more passing privilege now that I’m no longer religious. But I also had a very different upbringing from the average white Australian, which stands out very starkly in certain circumstances. And within that very insular community, that “not Jewish enough” I mentioned before was often at play. There’s a bitter advantage to always being an outsider, but yes, I think it does force one to develop empathy. It’s much more pronounced for people with more prominent marginalisations, but hopefully, it’s a starting point.

DG: You have created an Indigogo crowdfunding campaign to support this anthology. Tell us more about this, and how would this help the anthology, as well as usually unheard voices?

RR: Our campaign can be found at http://igg.me/at/problem-daughters, and runs until 14 February. We’re running a flexible funding campaign; once we reach our halfway point of $4,500, we’ll be able to guarantee professional payment rates to our authors. Our second goal of $9,000 will allow us to publish a longer anthology, including essays and internal artwork; we very much hope that we can make this more beautiful, substantive version. If we’re funded beyond that, we have other ideas of how to make Problem Daughters even more special.

We’ve fixated on pro payment because it’s all too common for labour, particularly in the form of art or writing, to be demanded of marginalised people for little or no pay. We want to pay our authors what they deserve (or as close as we can reasonably get).

DG: For the writers interested in submitting to this anthology, what is the one advice you would give?

Don’t self-reject. If you’re not sure if your work fits the brief – submit. If you’re not sure if it’s good enough – submit. If this is your first potential submission, your first in English, your first in the genre – you get the idea. We’re a team of three experienced editors, and we want to read your story.

Rivqa Rafael is a queer Jewish writer and editor based in Sydney. She started writing speculative fiction well before earning degrees in science and writing, although they have probably helped. Her previous gig as subeditor and reviews editor for Cosmos magazine likewise fueled her imagination. Her short stories have appeared in Hear Me Roar (Ticonderoga Publications), The Never Never Land (CSFG Publishing), and Defying Doomsday (Twelfth Planet Press). In 2016, she won the Ditmar Award for Best New Talent. When she’s not working, she’s most likely child-wrangling, playing video games, or practising her Brazilian Jiujitsu moves. She can be found at rivqa.net and on Twitter as @enoughsnark.

 

Book launch: The Dark Half of the Year (you are invited!)

 

 

We need something to do during the cold, dreary winter days. What better than to read? Even more importantly, read stories that are set during specific winter days around the world, focusing on what lies in the shadows. 

The Dark Half of the Year is an anthology by North Bristol Writers. Since I used to live in Bristol at one point, apparently, I still count. That’s a good thing for me, as the anthology also includes one of my short stories, The Ancestors.

We’re having a book launch on January 28th in Bristol, and you are invited. It’s going to be fun few hours, with interviews, reading, and a panel. And of course mingling, talking about ghosts and fantasy over pints – because as it happens writers and alcohol aren’t too far apart. I don’t count, because I’m a bit strange (even for a writer), and pretty convinced that there is coffee in my blood. 

The launch event will start at 4 pm at The Famous Royal Navy Volunteer pub. You can join in the event on Facebook if you are interested in attending.

Please do spread the word. 

Look forward to see you in Bristol.

 

BristolCon 2016 – A fabulous day with fabulous people!

On Saturday 29th, I departed my house at an ungodly hour of 6:30 am to go to Bristol. The Great Western Railway terminated the train unexpectedly at Reading (under mysterious circumstances), so instead of reaching Bristol at 10:00, I eventually got there at 11:15. Putting aside the fact that I could’ve been in another country by then, it was annoying to have missed almost the whole morning programme.

So, I proceeded straight to the Break Room & Coffee, for much-needed caffeine and just starting to socialize with all the lovely people I hadn’t seen for a while. In fact, as it turned out, this particular BristolCon experience revolved very much around just mingling, which was great. 

BristolCon is one of the smaller conventions, but even so, not only I didn’t get enough time to chat to a lot of people, completely missed the others. So it’s not that small. 

But I did do things besides chatting: I was on a “Murderous Women” panel (okay, talking) about how/if GrimDark has different perception/expectations of women authors than crime or horror. On the panel with me were Anna Smith-Spark, Jonathan L. Howard (who is the Guest of Honour at BristolCon 2017 by the way), and David Gullen. 

I also attended Kevlin Henney’s flash fiction workshop, which was really great fun. Kevlin, an accomplished flash fiction author, led us through the workshop, giving us plenty of tips in 45 minutes, and we even ended up creating some stories of our own. (Though in my case, not very good ones). 

After that, Dev Agarwal and I ran the Stage Managed Fighting workshop, which was really about accurate and interesting depiction of fighting in our stories. We were pleased to have a full house. Dev supplied the information and props, led the workshop with extreme competence and his years of martial arts experience. I was the lowly but glamorous assistant and spent the workshop either being punched or punching (obviously the latter was more fun) and making faces at GR Matthews. I got told earlier that for a moment when I’d the boxing pad on, apparently I also had the “resting bitch face” which is fabulous, because looking like a mean boxer is the height of accomplishment for someone who is essentially an ever-smiling chatterbox! 

Most of the time then was spent sitting at the bar, which considering I don’t drink, just sounds weird. I had fascinating chats with a whole bunch of people, including Gaie Sebold with whom I’m thrilled to share an anthology (Fight Like A Girl, now available from all good booksellers), and her partner David Gullen (who I shared the Murderous Women panel with, and we got on brilliantly despite him covering up my name tag with his momentarily). Of course the wonderful GR Matthews and James Latimar, my online conversation buddies were a delight as usual. I also spent a long while talking to Richard Bendell, a fellow Stargate Fan, about music, religion, and a great many other things. One of my highlights was seeing a guy dressed in Stargate SG-1 uniform. Dean, you’ve inspired me to do my own cosplay. Finally! 

MEG was her amazing organised self, and I’m pleased to hear that she will be chairing BristolCon 2017, though it is sad that Jo Hall is stepping down. Jo’s been absolutely amazing running the con. On a personal level, she was the first person to take me under her wing in the SFF world and for that, she shall forever remain special. But Jo and Roz have wonderful adventures of their own planned, and I wish them both good luck. 

One of the first people I got to chat with at the con was Claire Carter, who is challenging her own artistic limits. I am sure we can expect to see great things from her as she continues to grow on her artistic path. I only managed to see Sammy HK Smith briefly, and Simeon Beresford – with whom a catch-up is certainly needed. Only managed to say hello to Cheryl Morgan, T. O. Munro, and Joel Cornah. Amanda Beecham was nice enough to bring me a cookie. Got some quality time at lunch with Dev Agarwal and Piotr Swietlik. A very brief catch-up with Dr Bob. I have no doubt I’m missing a great many people off this list, but suffice to say, that it was a wonderful event with lovely people.

Of course, this adventure didn’t end there. The next morning, I managed to have a short session again with Nick Walters (and met Belinda the bicycle), GR Matthews, and Jo Hall. I also met RB Watkinson and her husband Paul. So even the post-con morning didn’t go without making new friends. 

I’ve of course already signed up for BristolCon 2017, and am already looking forward to attending. 

 

BristolCon 2016 – come say hello!

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On October 29th, we will be gathering in Bristol once more for the annual Science Fiction and Fantasy Convention, BristolCon. If you’ve never been, it’s a fantastic event. Unlike most convention, it is only a single day event, thus a lot of less tiring and way cheaper, but still full of lots of fun and really cool people. So if you happen to be a fantasy/sci-fi reader and in the vicinity of Bristol, check it out.

At 15:00, I will be on a panel with Anna Smith-Spark, Jonathan L. Howard and David Gullen, discussing “Murderous Women” which will hopefully be as fascinating as it sounds. We will be talking about why attitudes to what women want and what women are expected to deliver vary in different genres. Amanda Kear will be moderating us and keeping us under control. 

To then get completely out of control (kind of), at 17:00 I will be Dev Agarwal’s glamorous assistant in a “Stage Managed Fighting” workshop. We’ll give some demonstrations and look at how fight scenes can add depth to the story. 

There will, of course, be general shenanigans, cake, book launch, book buying, socialising and a quiz! Meeting up with old friends and making new ones is also all in day’s work. If you have never been to a convention before, BristolCon is a great first. If you are a regular, I look forward to seeing you. You can buy the tickets at the door, or just click on this link and buy them in advance. 

 

Fight like a girl – report from the book launch

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What happens when a whole bunch of kick-ass women get together to launch a book about kick-ass women? Supported by awesome men who appreciate kick-ass women?

Well, for one – you have a great, fun day and a great book launch which included Aikido and sword fighting demonstration, a discussion panel about Fight Like A Girl, buffet, book signing, and general mingling with a great bunch of people.

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On Saturday, April 2nd we gathered at The Hatchet Inn in Bristol, to launch an anthology that has been close to many hearts. Titled, Fight Like A Girl, it brings together science-fiction and fantasy stories featuring kick-ass female leads, written by female authors. In an industry where women are still judged only to be able to write fluff by many, this book is our platform to show otherwise. We’ve our incredible publisher Grimbold Books to thank for that. 

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Fight Like A Girl is now available from all good booksellers, in paperback and Kindle editions. So we hope you will try it out, and if you do, we would appreciate all honest reviews. 

Link to Amazon UK

Link to Amazon US

Link to Book Depository (Free Global Delivery)