So Wimbledon has been and gone, which is always a blessing and a disguise. I always feel that I haven’t made the most of it, and watched enough tennis. That said, it does mean that I might finally get back to writing properly. Tonight under the light of a gas lamp and fairy lights draped around the patio I finished typing up what I’ve written to date.
55222 / 80000 words. 69% done!
So now comes the final push! I’m so close to finishing book two in the Mr Tumnal trilogy.
Barney and Emily run, shrieking through the woodland.
Plimsoled feet through the dry, leafy floor.
Carol sits with her Sony Walkman under the tree
with the initials and dates carved into its stretched sides.
Hugo talks maths puzzles with the two Dads
whilst the two Mums unload the picnic spread onto the blankets.
Thirty years later,
Emily stands in the quiet woods.
The ‘date’ tree still stands
but thirty years bigger.
The scarring of 1957 is,
a canyon in the bark now.
Emily traces the pronounced outline,
of other people’s markings
and hunts for her own.
Clearly her thirteen year old hand
was not firm enough with her knife,
And thirty years growth has heeled
her childhood scratches.
Emily turnes and returns to where,
her husband of two years
has spread out before them,
A feast to enjoy in the woods.
Written at The Lion’s Mouth, Felbrigg, North Norfolk, 26 May 2017, 1.45pm.
Weep not for the mighty oak
brought down by wind and rain,
and the weathering of a long, full life
The soul of the mighty oak though, lives on
New trees grow from the rotting stump,
and fauna thrives in the slain carcass,
that lies beside.
Weep instead for the sweet chestnut,
or the cherry, barely some twenty years.
Culled in half a day and cleared
To make way for another new road,
or municiple car park.
Twenty years it has grown,
and reached towards the sky
Only to be swept away at public convenience.
The mighty oak of the Lion’s Mouth
lives on after a slow, decaying death.
Hundreds of years after a tiny sappling
pushed its way out of the woodland floor
It still gives back and will do so still
for hundreds and hundreds of years
after the ancient, mighty oak fell.
Weep not for the mighty oak
that has seen generations of much changed lives.
Weep instead for the sweet chestnut
who was just living through its first.
Written at The Lion’s Mouth, Felbrigg, Norfolk, 26 May 2017, 1.25pm.
Today sees the start of World Autism Awareness Week. Autism and aspergers are hidden conditions. At their most pronounced autism is a condition that can isolate people from the world and make it hard for them to cope, but even at it’s mildest it is a challenge to live with in a world where other people don’t consider to be a problem what they can’t live. Just because they appear to be normal, hold down 9–5 jobs, and appear to have normal family lives, does not make their day to day lives any more of a struggle.
It took until I was 30 and put through workplace bullying before I discovered I probably had aspergers and it was another couple of years before I had a semi-official diagnosis and 1-2-1 coaching to overcome some of my biggest challenges. Since then, I have had progressed in my career and found my one-true love (and accompanying menagerie of furry, feathered, and fishy beasts), and I am so much better than I was at understanding the world and those unspoken cues. Sometimes I think I understand too well, and that it makes it all too easy for other’s to forget that sometimes Thomas, through no fault of his own, just doesn’t get as quickly as you might expect him too, what others understand straight away.
In my writing life, the thing that I struggle most with is showing not telling. Considering that probably the single-most lofted criticism at a writer is that they tell not show, this is unfortunate thing to be lacking in. The fact that I pull off the very personal story of Mr Tumnal is something that I feel very proud of, and if I can do the same with it’s forthcoming sequel, then I will be extremely lucky in deed.
Mr Tumnal is outwardly a story of a man who married his imaginary friend. How much that imaginary friend has to with fairy magic is something the reader must discover. At a more personal level it is a story of a man who is not friendless but without that one close friend; who is not alone but is lonely. It is a story of a man illequipped to deal with the complexities of ordinary social situations that most people take for granted. He finds comfort in his own company because that is where he is understood. Some might brandish him a weirdo. I would argue he’s just different. And like everyone who is ‘different’ from the norm he has his own gift to bring to the world.
In supporting World Autism Awareness Week and the work of the National Autistic Society, I would like everyone to find out a bit more about what makes some of us different, and the challenges we face, and to give us a bit of space of understanding in the world.
TE Shepherd is the author of Mr TumnalandThe End Of All Worlds. In support of World Autism Awareness week, from 27 March to 2 April 2017, he will be donating 50% all profits raised from the sales of his book to go to help support the work of the National Autistic Society.
I had he bi-monthly Oxford ALLi meeting this evening and so I stayed at work a bit longer, and then enjoyed the freedom of the bicycle to nip up to Headington to go to Waitrose. I only wanted one thing, and I only came out with one thing. I just took the opportunity of being a few minutes bike ride away from a Waitrose which sadly (but probably fortunately) I don’t frequent often enough to get some more shampoo. I’m currently using their own brand pure soap.
Then I cycled back into town, past Brookes, and took the straight and direct route down The HillTM – now that’s a scary old beast. It’s next to impossible to cycle up, and heart in your throat terrifying to whizz down on two wheels. I have cycled down there before, but not often. I’m sure I could have gone frightened, but even though it was exhilerating, it was also scary and I was frightened.
When I arrived at Manos in Jericho I found it closed, which was annoying. I had hoped to arrive early, and like last time have a hot chocolate and do some writing – I really must get back to my writing – but they were closed. I cycled down to the canal just to see what was there, and then back, when Debbie and Lynne arrived. We decamped to an Italian a few doors down, to eat, and talk books and publishing.
I’ve never been homeless and I do not pretend to know what that must feel and be like. Each morning though, on the way to work, as I walk across the city from one bus to the next, I see them sleeping in shop doorways. At 7.30 in the morning it is like the city is switching over between two worlds that don’t co-exist. Come back at any other of the day and these homeless people will not be found.
I often wonder what their stories are, how they come to be living rough; I wonder what they do during the day, and where they go. If I was any other writer (or just anyone else) I might ask them, find out their stories but that would being someone who wasn’t as shy as I am. It doesn’t stop me wonder though, and wonder at the stories…
Mr Tumnal is the story of a man and his imaginary friend, and The Imaginary Wife, is the story of the the man’s imaginary friend. Sequel to them both will be Forgotten Friends – the story of all the imaginary friends out there who have been left behind by the people who dreampt them up and then cast aside by society. What if the homeless were these imaginary friends – people with their own lives and their own cultures, linked to all of us but unseen and forgotten, seen only at the edges of the day and night, and only if you really look for them.
Christmas is a time for the confort and traditions. Some of these traditions are whole family traditions, and some are more personal and come and go. I was thinking about this today, because I’m making huge progress through Alan Bennett’s Untold Stories. It’s been on my shelf for probably the best part of the decade after I got it for Christmas upon it’s publication – I only read about 70 pages. Clearly something didn’t grab me, or circumstances were not the same as they had been a few year’s previously when I remembered fondly devouring his Writing Home along with two novels, and a nature book whilst also installed on the end of the sofa scanning old slides into the computer. I remember wanting this book and organising my time between Christmas and New Year to try and relive that joy and happiness.
Christmas traditions is something that are brought to life in a short extract from Mr Tumnal which I recorded recently for That’s Oxfordshire television for broadcast over Christmas 2016. For readers not in Oxfordshire, this reading is now online to watch.
This is my first bit of television I’ve done! What do you think?
Doing NaNoWriMo this year was an experiment – an experiment in sustained productivity. I am a bit of a slow writer. Maybe not a slow writer of Alan Garner proportions, but slow nonetheless.
I’m not following full NaNoWriMO rules. I’m not writing something new, with the aim of reaching 50,000 words at the end of 30 days, and I’m certainly not aiming each day to write at least 1,667 words. That said, for the first 14 days of the challenge I took my self-imposed target of 500 words per day, and smashed it, averaging at somewhere nearer 800-900 words. One day I even topped 1000 – I think that was on a day that I thought I would struggle.
Halfway through exactly, on Day 15 of the challenge I had first wobble. I only managed 100 words. My excuse would be that I was busy having to do something else for band, but in truth I think I had a bit of, if not writers’ block, a stuck period. I had just finished one chapter, and hadn’t got stuck into the next, and I floundered.
Today though, I’ve got stuck back into it, and I’m back in the NaNoWriMo game…
So, it’s NaNoWriMO Day 2, and I am incredibly ahead of my (albeit reduced) wordcount target. I have no idea if it is a record year for NaNoWriMo participants but it certainly seems to be judging by my friends list on Facebook.
Of course, this is a thoroughly unscientific judgement to make. Equally unscientific is that the majority of participants are writing on their laptops (and thus, their wordcounts are exact). My wordcounts are approximations based on rough calculations…
My writing style is still, in this age of computers and electronic communications, longhand. See the picture below? This is me surpassing my conservative (but probably realistic) target of 500 words (I’ve actually gone on two more pages and started a new chapter!). You probably find this even more surprising when you hear that I work in web and social and digital media by day.
The truth is though that this is a system that always works. It’s a platform that doesn’t rely on internet connections or power supplies. It never crashes and its only a mild inconvenience if you drop it. I have a longer (possibly guest post elsewhere) brewing about my writing everywhere approach – I really should get down to it.
What’s your writing style? Are you ever tempted to give up on the laptop and return to the trusted pen and paper?
My current wip is about halfway done, and it’s been that way for too long. Not that it’s been stalled through writers’ block or anything like that, but just through lack of time and too much other life going on.
The start of November also means that it is the start of the annual NaNoWriMo. I’ve been aware of the National Novel Writing Month for, umm, probably about as long as I’ve been keeping an online journal – tots up the years – so that’ll be about 13 years now!! I’ve never done it because I don’t think that I could, practically write 1666 words every day for 30 days.
This year though, I’m going to try. Try at least to make some sizeable chunk out of my remaining word count. I’m going for about 500 words per day (more if I can) which equates to 3 pages of my handwritten notebook. I’m going to try, and see where this gets me. Hopefully it might get me to within shooting distance of The End.
After a weekend in which Emma and I completed another 12 mile training walk I’ve used up a couple of last days of annual leave to make a nice 4 day weekend, and some genuine me time to get back to the novel. I’ve spent most of the last three days outdoors on the patio, writing, and reading, before heading indoors in the evening to watch some more Olympics.
Back in the earlier days of the internet, in the years that came before the juggernaut that is Facebook (other social networks are available), The Internet felt more like a community than it does now. What? I hear you cry. What can be more community-like than Facebook? Let me tell you…
Before Facebook, before this incarnation of my online journal, I like many millions of people would post daily (sometimes hourly!) ramblings of our thoughts and lives. It was the Facebook of its day.
But there was a difference
LiveJournal was a blogging site. Yes, it was sometimes – sometimes often – used for snappy or cryptic one-liners or howlings of despair when emotions were running high or spirits were low, but these would always be followed up by something more substantial. You could also post these often person ‘journal entries’ to any number of ‘friends filters’ (or indeed completely private) quickly and easily allowing you to control exactly who can see and comment on what you write.
Facebook also allows you to do this too, I hear you cry! Yes, yes it does. Well, it doesn’t allow you to screen-before-posting comments, choose who out of your friends can comment (or comment without being screened first), or prohibit comments entirely.
It’s not my platform
The Intricacies of how and where you can comment are niggling details, as our the friends filters. The big thing is that Facebook (or Twitter, or Instagram… amongst others…) is not My (or Your) platform. You are tied into how the new age of social media sites look, feel and behave. Facebook in particular chooses what to show you and then shows it to you how it wants to show it to. LiveJournal may not have been more your own website but you could personalise the look of every page exactly as you wanted it to, and to some degree embed it in in your own website, and you controlled exactly what you wanted to see. And it was easy to do all of that. When your friends or contacts commented on your posts the comments stayed on your journal, together, forever.
Those were the heydays of LiveJournal, it was the place to be, but it was only for a subset of people. Most people seemed not to be introduced in putting their voices online… Until Facebook. I think its fair to say that the big growth period for Facebook was between 2007 and 2009. Suddenly everyone wanted to share everything and instead of doing it in a safe arena where you could control what you shared with whom, they all wanted to do it an environment controlled by the website and in many cases in public or semi-public.
We’ve reached a point now where people blog here and there and everywhere and share it on Facebook and Twitter, and then the conversation takes place on Facebook and Twitter and not with the original post. This is fine, you might say, the converstation is still being had… It’s not okay though. People are not following my blog for my blog, they’re not enagaging with the post where it was posted. They’re seeing these posts on their social media stream if their social media stream decides to show it in amongst the cat videos, the moaning about Mondays, and the cute cat videos.
So as authors we have our author platform that we have spent hours over designing and tweaking and looking just right. We have our homepage and our call to action, we have our books, our blog, some nice little extras, and our newsletter sign up, but how do we actually get people to see it? Once you get some visibility, you can use that visibility to build more, but when your visibility is precisely you and your cat who is draped across your laptop morning, noon, and night, how do you put your author platform in front people?
Short of crafting your social media posts in the form of annoying, spammy clickbait how do you engage your readers to actually click the link, read, enjoy, comment, and share when for the most part they are scanning their social networks on their phone, and swiping down, liking this and liking that, and moving on?
What are your experiences of building your platform and making it actually visable to people who might be interested outside your own personal sphere of influence? Comment below with your thoughts…
Yesterday I ventured through many equisitely pretty villages (including Eastington, Addsworth, Bibury, Bamsley, and not forgetting the town of Tetbury) to the very other side of The Cotswolds to participate, as an author, in the second annual Hawkesbury Upton Literary Festival. The Hawkesbury Upton Literary Festival is different to the big literary festivals in Hay, Cheltenham, or Oxford. There are no celebrity authors (although there are a smattering of NYTimes and Amazon bestselling authors mingling with the best of us) and no ticket prices. Everyone gives their time for the love of what we do: the book.
I’ve only ever given reading’s twice before, once in an Oxfam Bookshop one evening, and once during Blackwell’s Oxford ‘Books are my Bag’ celebration. A literary festival was an altogether different kind of prospect and one that, as I set out early on a bright, sunny Spring Saturday, I was nervous beyond nervous about doing it.
The festival was declared opened from the steps of the mobile library by festival organiser, Debbie Young and BBC Radio Somerset’s Breakfast Show presenter, Claire Carter…
From the start it was clear that this was a warm and friendly festival by and for people who love books; a festival where traditionally published authors mix seemlessly with Indie Authors their fans and new fans. Beginning in The Fox Inn, I watched the first panel discussion of the day on ‘Writing what you know – or Not!’ partly because I wanted to see how it was go. Then I relaxed in what I shall call ‘the illustration lounge’ where I talked to printmaker Arthur J. Penn, and caught up with some other friends including the Hero for all Indie Authors, the always inspirational (and helpful too!) Joanna Penn.
And then it was time for me to pluck up my courage and head around to the Methodist Chapel for the first contemporary fiction readings, of which I was to contribute. Our chair introduced us each in turn, and when it came to me I read the prologue from my current work in progress, The Imaginary Wife, the sequel to Mr Tumnal. It went well, and seemed to go down well and I was even able to contribute nicely to the audience Q&A that followed. It went so much better than either of my other two readings I’ve given. On St George’s Day, it seems fitting that I have slayed that particular dragon.
Giving an exclusive reading from Mr Tumnal 2: The Imaginary Wife
With NYTimes bestseller writer, Joanna Penn
After the reading, I moved with all the other authors and audience to the Methodist Hall which was the Festival Bookshop and Cafe for lunch, and networking. And then, it was back to The Fox Inn to take part in the panel discussion, led by Dr Sarah Brown, a Clinical Psychologist for a charity called Sparkle, on the subject of ‘The Challenge of Writing About Difference’. It definitely proved a popular topic, with a packed out back room in the The Fox (in the after-lunch slot too!) watching a panel of writers affected by or writing about characters with disabilities.
We had on the panel a mother and daughter writing team who have used children’s fiction to campaign for better understanding of people who are different, in a subtle but very effective and memorable way.
I want to tell people what it is like to be disabled and that it is ok to talk to me. I want to help others like me to go for their dream. I have got more confident and I like meeting different people and making people laugh. I tell people to never give up you can do it!
Jess Hiles, co-author of Jess and the Goth Fairy
We also had the author of very successful children’s novel has as its hero a boy with a serious and debilitating skin condition but which doesn’t hold him back, a thriller-writer whose heroine has high-functioning autism, an author with Aspergers writing stories about characters who are different to the norm, a poet who took up writing poetry to deal with her son’s autism, and a performance poet who has written and campaigned about mental health.
What followed was a lively, engaging, upbeat discussion, often personal, about all of the above. The personal nature of the discussion was particularly felt by the audience and I think we all came away having learnt something new from it.
We have a responsibility to all of our readers never to engage in disability tourism, never to use disability as a means to create an angle or just to move on the plot
Dan hits on it brilliantly here, saying so concisely what I might struggle to put into words about how I write about autism. Aspergers is on the mild end of the autism spectrum and and I am on the mild end of Aspergers, and that can bring its own difficulties. Autism is a ‘hidden’ condition, but the affects of it can be all too visible. But for some their ‘meltdowns’ can be themselves completely internal to our heads but it doesn’t mean that they don’t at times go through through the same turmoil of overload. This is then my motivation for wanting people to be more aware of this particular ‘difference’, but I could never do it as an issue-led story. I want to write stories where people of difference inhabit the stories not because of their condition but in spite of it. The story has to come first.
Panel for ‘The Challenge of Writing About Difference’ from left to right: Jess Hiles, Jo Allmond, Dan Holloway, Thomas Shepherd, J M Forster, Joy Thomas, Nikki Owen, and Dr Sarah Brown (chair).
It was a pleasure and privilege to be on the panel with so many great writers and knowledgeable, thoughtful people – I almost felt like I shouldn’t be there myself. There were some great questions from the audience too which only helped to make it a truly memorable session.
The festival was brought to a close a little after 5 o’clock by Hawkesbury Upton resident Michael MacMahon’s performance of Prospero’s Speech from The Tempest – an appropriate choice for the #Shakespeare400 Deathiversary celebrations.
Were you at Hawkesbury Upton Literary Festival? What were your highlights of the day?
If the first half of my Easter holidays was a holiday-from-home with Emma, then I’ve wanted the second part (with the random extra holiday Tuesday that I get from day job working in the university) to be a bit more of a serious ‘writing week’.
And I have been writing lots, progressing the story on quite a bit. Or at least, I think I have progressed it on. Here, I hope that it’s natural to go between feelings of “I’ve got it” to “I’ve lost it” when writing The Sequel? I hear that it is.
I didn’t write my book in a visit to the Gruffalo’s woods, but I felt that I ought to have done!
I’ve never received the quintestential anonymous Valentine’s Day card. Indeed I’ve only ever received two cards that have not have been from wife – and they were from my fiancé before she was my wife. Growing up, and beyond into adulthood, I liked the idea of Valentine’s Day but also feared it.
When I was little I think I (wrongly) assumed that every everyone got Valentines but me, but in all honesty I don’t think I would have known what to do if one had been sent to me. You see, not that I knew it then, but I have Aspergers, and for people on the autism spectrum the world of dating can be a minefield.
How do you even meet someone on your wavelength in a world that can be socially confusing?
How do you flirt if you are uncomfortable making eye contact?
How do you prevent yourself from only talking about stuff you’re interested in?
I think this video, shared today by the National Autistic Society, by 19 year-old Gerard Stone probably explains it all far better than I ever could…
I never set out to conciously write romance and love into my books, just as I never conciously set about writing characters with Aspergers. Completely unimportant to the story, but Ben in The End Of All Worlds is almost certainly on the spectrum. In my second novel, Mr Tumnal, Louis Tumnal definitely is. In his character you see both a character at odds with the world (not just because of any bewitchment by the Fairy Queen), and saved in more ways than one by the love of a girl he meets and with whom he somehow forms a relationship.
Today I wrote a love poem for Kathryn Summers from Louis Tumnal. Louis Tumnal couldn’t have said this directly, of if he did, his voice would have been a gibbering, inarticulate mess. But from his pen, in the first year after meeting, he could articulate exactly his feelings.
It could also be a love poem from a few years ago from Me to my wife, Emma. Love you Emma. xxx
It’s fair to say that October was a very busy month for me and the day job. All the way to the end, with the busiest of busy weeks to take me all the way up to November. During that time I abused my novel, and left it lying.
This month I have been determined to do something about this, and to get back to the business of The Novel. For some, November means NaNoWriMo, and whilst I haven’t actually signed up myself I am trying to take the NaNoWriMo approach to the month. And so far it seems to be working.
I can’t say that I’ve written my 1000 words a day, every day, but I am writing most days, even if it is just those snatched moments and I am, bit by bit, taking the story forward, sometimes in surprising ways…
Love it, when sometimes your characters take control of the situation and do something you really weren’t expecting! #MrTumnal2#amwriting
It’s not been a Writing Week per se, but I have been writing this week, and progress has been made to Mr Tumnal 2: The Imaginary Wife. Hero of the first book, Louis Tumnal is yet to make an appearance, but I can feel his time nearing as his former-imaginary friend pieces together the story of her life.
11293 / 80000 words. 14% done!
I’m really enjoying telling the other side of the story, and getting my Lewis-fix through flashbacks to their happy, if unconventional, childhood together.
I am lucky. Not everyone can say those three little words. Like most people I might not have the most money – like most I have to budget and think carefully before splashing the cash, but I do own my own home, I have a gorgeous garden, a small menagerie of pets (okay, I would have more disposable money without the latter but would I be as happy?), and I have a wonderful wife to share all of the above.
It has not been easy for me to get to this position though. I struggled to make friends – do anything, share anything, anytime friends – at school. I went to university twice because I failed to read the questions at job interviews correctly and struggled to land myself a “proper” job. I lived alone for years, not unhappily fortunately because I like my own company, but always wanting something more, like other people have.
That’s why I want to help people who aren’t and haven’t been as fortunate as me. As Spock says in Star Trek, “the good of the many outweighs the good of the one”. But what can I do? I’m of a quiet personality. That’s probably another effect of the Aspergers that is part of me. I’m not sure if I’m made for the big fundraising campaign. But even so I want to help people get the help I need.
I got help, thanks to a cousin who recognised how I might be different, and after a stray word to a manager at work I got a course of intensive coaching into living with and understanding myself better. This lead to a better job and the confidence to find the girl who would become my wife.
The National Autistic Society is “the leading charity” in the UK for people with autism (including Aspergers syndrome) and their families. They provide information, support and pioneering services and campaign for a better world for people with autism.
My novel Mr Tumnal is about a man who undeniably has Aspergers. Not that it’s a story about Aspergers. It’s also not an autobiography, but there is an awful lot of Me in the book. It seems somehow fitting to me to use my book to help raise money to help people like me who haven’t had the help that I have benefitted from, people who have not been as lucky as me.
That is why from now until the end of September I am pledging to give 50% of the profits (and at least £1) from the sale of my book (eBook or paperback – whichever takes your fancy) anywhere in the world to help the National Autistic Society.
97p in every £1 goes directly to helping people affected by autism.
By the end of September I like to have raised £60 because:
£5 a month pays for 5 anxious parents to get advice from our Autism Helpline.
£10 a month helps pay for a befriender to meet regularly with someone with autism.
£20 a month helps us to give practical support to someone with autism who is looking for work.
Help me to help them, and get to read a book too that has been a very special part of Me for the best part of a decade.
Everyone has an idea of their ideal family. Not everyone’s become real.
Lewis Tumnal is a man with the life he always dreamed of: a job he loves, a wife who loves him and the smartest, sassiest daughter he could wish for. It’s also the imaginary life of Louis Tumnal, an English teacher and lonely bachelor.
When he joins a photography class he meets Kathryn Summers and the real and the imaginary become entwined, Louis and Kathryn need each other to free him from his childlike and innocent world and the magic that has bound him for twenty-two years. But at what cost?
†50% Profit share to National Autistic Soiety is for all copies sold between 15 August to 31 September 2015 in either paperback or ebook formats anywhere in the world. ‡Neither book, Mr Tumnal, nor T E Shepherd are affiliated in any way or endorsed by National Autistic Society.