Back To The Editing Board

Book four. Silent: a psychological thriller aimed at a younger audience.

After eighteen months, I have returned Silent with a view to submitting it somewhere.

Having distanced myself from the writing for more than a year, I can now see some of the issues that need addressing.

I would describe the main problem as meandering — i.e. the narrator straying from the point instead of focusing on the issue at hand.

Like in the past, I’ve encountered the same editing dilemma this time round — i.e. ruthless editing in the form of pruning strengthens the structure and argument, but the removal of the meandering material presents new problems, including a loss in the quality of the prose.

I expect it’s a question of balance. Every sentence must contribute towards the story, but some sentences require greater effort than others.

Till next time.

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Staying Calm And Focused In A Stressful World

Alert. Focused. Calm. Difficult in today’s world.

In recent years, I’ve developed an interest in methods of relaxation.

It began shortly after I started CBT with a therapist, and deepened a few months later when I successfully quit smoking after years of heavy chain-smoking.

Long term smokers suffer the consequences of their actions. In my case, lingering problems propelled me to seek methods of self-improvement, both physically and mentally.

Setting A Goal (even for relaxation)

Here I outline some simple tools designed to improve psychological and physical health.

First, setting an intention for relaxation practice. A goal.

For instance, I decided to give up smoking purely for health reasons. Similarly, I have pursued various relaxation and breathing techniques for health alone.

Second, deciding on how much time needed on a regular basis. I believe that ten minutes each day could potentially bring benefits.

The Tools

Selecting one or two methods. My preferred are:

Slow breathing, bringing the breath to a rate of between five and six breaths per minutes.

Personally, I like to work with Pursed Lips Breathing, as I feel it’s a kinder, less stressful technique that helps ex-smokers gain greater control over their breathing, thus activating the relaxation response.

To do PLB, blow out softly through the mouth, then take a gentle inhale through the nose. Over several minutes, practise blowing at an imaginary candle, never extinguishing the flame, only moving it gentle, gradually increasing the length of the exhale and inhale.

Next, move to a simple Body Scan, paying attention of the various pulses in the body, one by one.

Toes. Feet. Ankles. Knees. Stomach. Chest. Fingers. Elbows. Throat. Lips. Temples.

If time permits, expand awareness by repeating the Scan at a faster rate to include all the pulses simultaneously.

Awareness of Breath. Finally, return to the breath, observing it for a few minutes. Focusing. When the mind wanders, simply bring it back to the breath.

Day To Day

People can combine various practises to suit their busy schedules.

For instance, a combination of slow breathing, body scan and breath awareness in the morning (12 minutes), followed later in the day by short awareness of breath meditations on sixteen breaths (lasting about 4 minutes in all), and a simplified slow breath combined with mindful aware of breath after work or in the early evening (lasting about 5 minutes).

Just a few of my thoughts.

Teach Yourself Beginner’s Russian, A Review

I love learning languages and have spent the last five years studying French, German and Russian.

Today, I want to take a look at the excellent language starter “Teach Yourself Beginner’s Russian” by Rachel Farmer (updated 2003). A further update has taken place since, but much of the course remains the same.

The 2003 course consists of two CDs and a book. The pace is manageable (using the CD helps), and the tone light.

The course offers a wide depth of vocabulary over twenty lessons and limits its coverage of Russian grammar to a minimum—generally acknowledged as extremely difficult, anyway.

The book introduces the Cyrillic alphabet and includes both reading and writing exercises. Difficulty increases as the material progresses.

I feel the course takes the student to somewhere in between A2 and B1 of the Common European Framework for languages (CEFR).

The level of grammar required for B1 is missing; however, the vocabulary enables the student to cope in many situations that might arise whilst travelling in a Russian-speaking country.

As for me, I startled a local barmaid from Latvia recently by speaking in Russian and she told me that my command of the Russian language is good.

I’ve had several other conversations in Russian with various people and received positive feedback. The course has certainly helped. I’m also diving into various other sources and attempting to move from basic conversation to more cultural and historical themes.

So in all, an excellent course, affordable, and available from many places, including Amazon.

Another Mindfulness Tool, Breath Focused Meditation

In my last post, I described the Body Scan with pulse awareness, a simple mindfulness tool.

In this post, I outline another technique – a breath focused meditation.

Method

In order to do this meditation, the person should pay attention to their breath (preferably with their eyes shut) for a short period (for example, between two and five minutes).

Each time the mind wanders (which it will do many times), the person should bring their attention back to the breath, gently and patiently.

Do this meditation several times a day.

Benefits:

calms or settles the mind, especially worries and anxieties;
roots the person in the present, “the now”;
develops a person’s ability to focus on the task at hand while accepting the presence of problems, worries and things that need doing.

Happy meditating!

The Body Scan, Awareness Of Pulse

Mindfulness. A word I hear often. The internet contains many articles on mindfulness, along with other topics such as meditation, relaxation, abdominal breathing, etc.

According to a growing number of researchers, mindful awareness yields benefits, both physically and psychologically, and I can see the logic in taking time out in the day to root oneself in the present.

I started doing The Body Scan with Pulse Awareness recently, and I feel it’s simple but deceptively powerful.

The regular practice of mindful awareness helps a person cultivate their choice of thought patterns.

I do it after breathing practice in the morning, in order to extend the relaxation effects of the practice.

Benefits:

An easy medication that doesn’t take long or require an audio track;
Keeps the person rooted in the present and in their body.

The Scan

First, I concentrate on breathing practice, slow and calm exhales to lengthen the breath.

Then, after about ten or fifteen minutes, I begin the scan.

I sit up for the scan, but other people may need to lie down. The scan involves bringing awareness to all the pulses in the body, one by one, starting with the pulses in the toes and feet.

The ankles follow, then the knees. Stomach and leg junctions. Chest. Throat. Fingers. Elbows and arms. Lips. Temples.

I would recommend no more than fifteen seconds on each part of the body.

Finally, expand awareness to incorporate a sensation of all the pulses simultaneously for ten to fifteen seconds.

Take a few more slow breaths, then go about the day.

Just a few of my thoughts.

Writing An Autobiography In the Twenty-First Century – Easy? Or Maybe Not

In the past twenty years, technology has unleashed something of a revolution on us, enabling you and I — the average citizen — to publish, broadcast and create other online content from the comfort of our own homes (or local cafe houses).

The rise in authors self-publishing electronically or through methods such as Print on Demand has opened up possibilities that were previously available only to those fortunate to secure a book deal or those who chose to write for a smaller audience (private publications).

Fiction. Non-fiction. Autobiographies. Memoirs. Choices. Everyone has a book in them, so the popular saying goes.

How does one create a book using tools now available to the general public?

In this article, I deal with autobiographies or memoirs. One of the most common problems aspiring writers encounter when writing about their lives centres around structure.

A person writes about their first house. Their family. Their neighbourhood. Their first school. Religion, maybe. Politics.

Where do they begin? What should they focus on? How does a person describe their early years without moving from one topic to the next? Novelists encounter the same type of problem. And so do academic writers.

The key, I believe, lies in choosing a central theme (a genre, almost), followed by a small numbers of other themes, and building the narrative around those themes.

Perhaps the events can move forward chronologically through keeping to a strict plan and exploring the selected themes, chapter by chapter?

The writer might wish to consider a couple of questions as they plan and write. What is the purpose of the book? What message does one wish to convey?

Working along these lines, however, may lead to writing dilemmas – particularly, when the writer has to chose between including some scenes and cutting others (usually their favourites).

This happens because writing develops and matures, and sometimes a once-prized writing sample no longer has a place in the overall work (in the same way that friendships change over a period of time, some fizzle out, others develop).

Novelists often open with scenes of immediacy, either dealing with an event in a character’s past or pointing towards a later event in the story. A writer can employ the same technique with an autobiography.

Consider use of the Point of View (POV). A first person narrative opens up a number of possibilities. The person looking back over their life. The person narrating events as though the events are occurring in the present. A person presenting material, then offering thoughts and opinions on the matters outlined.

Alternatively, the writer could experiment with a second person narrative. Or alternate, using different techniques to emphasise different emotional states.

Additionally, a writer must decide on exactly how much time (in terms of word count) to spend on each part of their life.

If the story focuses on a major event in adulthood, it would make sense to devote a sizeable part of the story to that event. Otherwise, they might chose to devote equal time to the various parts of life.

Whatever the case, technology and the internet have opened up opportunities for the average citizen to tell their story – an opportunity worth considering.

Just a few of my thoughts.

Five Years Of Language Learning

Sipping Claret Bordeaux and thinking.

Nearly five ago, I went to my local library and borrowed a French course. Five years on, I can speak the language conversationally, along with two more languages I’ve picked up along the way – German and Russian. The Russian, in particular, needs more work, especially in regards to accent and pronunciation, but I feel the French and German are going to plan.

Personally, I regard speaking and understanding as more important than reading and writing, and I devote my time to translating sections back into English and listening to foreign language recordings without the text in front of me. Speed and accent are also important, although a person learns best by making lots of mistakes, then returning at a later date to the task in hand and mastering it.

Grammar plays a role too, but mostly in connection to my French studies. German and Russian grammars are particularly difficult.

I believe that anyone can learn to speak a language using modern teach yourself methods (often at little cost), and I would certainly recommend it.

If planning to learn two or more languages, allow at least six months before each new language, choose a language from a different language group (French and Italian or Spanish could cause confusion/French and German works better), and devote the bulk of the studies to the first language (for example, forty-five minutes of French, ten minutes of German).

Just a few of my thoughts.

A Couple Of Good Reads – Historical Fiction, Easily Told

I recently had the opportunity to read a couple of novels, both of which made a lasting impression on me.

The first novel – Street Child by Berlie Doherty (published 1993) – tells the story of a boy, Jim Jarvis, who grows up in the slums of London in the 1860s. The story, based on fact, provides thrilling moments of danger for the young protagonist, and presents shrewd insight into the characters and the psychology of greed.

The narrative moves along at a fast pace, eventually culminating in a moving conclusion. I don’t want to spoil the plot by mentioning any well known names – but as I said, the story is based on fact.

The second book – No Way Back by Valerie Wilding – adopts a diary layout and centres on the plight of a ten-year-old girl from London, Mary Wade, who is sentenced to death in 1789 for her part in the theft of a younger girl’s petticoat.

A pardon from King George allows Mary to accept the lesser punishment of banishment to Australia and much of the narrative focuses on the perilous ship journey there, along with the friendships formed.

Again, the author highlights the various characters, as well as presenting keen psychological insight into the various situations, and there are a number of surprises along the way. An extremely moving read. This book, too, focuses on a real person and historical events, with an astonishing outcome.

Happy reading.

The Local Author, And A High Street Bookstore

Bank Holiday Monday, but many major stores open.

Today, I visited the nearest branch of Waterstones to collect a couple of copies of my latest book My Musical Journey by Lawrence Estrey, an autobiography.

I found it a strange experience. On the one hand, I left the store with a book officially published that is listed in the British Library and available from many bookstores.

On the other hand, I left, aware that I’d published the book as a Print On Demand, meaning I face all the marketing obstacles that self-published authors face. Although major bookstores can and generally will order Print On Demand titles for customers, they will not stock them.

A couple of hours later, I sold a copy.

Pros And Cons

Having gone down the Print On Demand route three times, I feel qualified to offer some advice on the subject.

  • Print On Demand almost certainly guarantees an official publication. Crucial in an industry where competition is rife. Anyone can publish.
  • Print On Demand rarely costs much, although the author may choose to pay for additional services.
  • Requires marketing skills, determination.
  • Mainstream publishers seldom take on Print On Demand books; if they do, they may ask for a re-edit.
  • Dealing with the often unspoken question, “if your book’s that good, then why wasn’t it accepted by a publishing house?”

As you can see, Print On Demand has advantages and disadvantages.

To sum up – if you’re passionate about seeing your voice in print and sharing with readers, go for it. As the old saying goes, the sky’s your limit. (Just don’t expect to get rich.)

Just some of my thoughts.

Nearly Six Years Without A Cigarette

Summer is approaching – and with, it the anniversary of a major decision I made in the summer of 2012: the decision to quit smoking after more than two decades.

I made the decision purely for health reasons. I enjoyed smoking, but a true lung age test indicated a significant loss of lung function that placed me as a person thirty years older. Shortly after that, I gave up.

In this article, I wish to share several lessons learnt along the way. I should add that I have not smoked a single cigarette since quitting, so I feel qualified to share the advice. I would also regard the fifth point as particularly crucial.

First, smokers differ. At one time, lots of people started and gave up without difficulty. Social smoking. For instance, many nurses in the 1960’s smoked for a few years before quitting when they got married or started families. Others, however, have found it impossible to stop smoking and have continued smoking during serious illnesses (like myself in 1999 when I developed pneumonia but continued to smoke).

Second, health is the greatest incentive to stop, but a person still has to have a reason for quitting. A large number of patients who require the chronic use of oxygen for illnesses caused by excessive smoking will continue to smoke, regardless of their conditions.

Third, when a person stops smoking, they will almost always find the third day the most challenging. Therefore, if the quitter takes up smoking again on the third day, they will only have to face another “third day” at a later stage.

Fourth, nicotine replacement products work for many. I believe that any ex-smoker entering an environment where others may be smoking (e.g a party or after work drinks where colleagues go out for a quick cigarette) should keep a supply of nicorette close to hand, regardless of how long ago they gave up smoking. Personally speaking, I could not have managed without nicorette.

Fifth, and perhaps most important of all, accepting “just one cigarette” often leads the ex-smoker back to regular smoking. People will rationalise the situation and think they can smoke on important occasions, but social smoking rarely works for a person who has smoked heavily in the past.

Obviously, other ex-smokers will have different opinions, but the advice offered in this article has kept me off cigarettes since the day I stopped and I believe it could steer others away from smoking too.

Till next time.