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.
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.
Apparently it's six years since I found, and found an old VHS tape of my BA Creative Arts honours project and managed to put it online. It's quite prophetic really. It was always about global filmaker, Hol E. Wood, and the loss of creativity in the media, but back then in 1993 it did seem to foreshadow developments in filmaking that we take for granted now, and some that are more that we are grappling with in their infancy:
every single film ever made has been digitally compressed into a huge library, where they can be accessed, taken apart, used, reused - infinitesimally
Mrs Chubbs, Home Movies, 1993
Take Peter Cushing's appearance in the latest Star Wars film, and the controversy over whether we have the right to have actors play parts that they never could have had any knowledge of. It's all there in Home Movies...
Something else which is there is the character of Amanda Jones from the 1985 film Some Kind of Wonderful. Who would've thought then that she would the seed of the story for the Mr Tumnal follow-up, The Imaginary Wife as just one of the literary and pop-culture references to find and enjoy?
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.
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.
Mark Haddon writes honest, often uncomfortable, but faultlessly accurate portrayals of how human nature is. This collection of short stories is no different. However anthologies of short stories are by their very nature a rattlebag and miscellany of ideas, styles and success, and this collection is no different.
Where it works, it works brilliantly. The title story, The Pier Falls is outstanding in its conception and delivery, and other stand-out stories: Bunny, Breathe, and The Weir are all really powerful. The others for me, didn’t work so well, but even if these were the only four stories you read it would still be a worthwhile investment.
These are dark, almost-twisted stories, that focus on death, dying, grief, and loss. They are powerful and immediated, and, like all Haddon’s books, leave you feeling just a bit awkward about yourself.
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!
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.
We had a bit of a quieter day today, heading off to Snape Maltings mid-morning to see an exhibition by the intriguingly-named Jelly Green; a local artist who usually paints livestock but in this exhibiton was showcasing more landscapes. We had a potter round some of the other crafty and antiques shops, and a home furnishings store that makes John Lewis look like cheap tat…
Then we had lunch on the quay before driving north up the coast to my all time favourite childhood haunt of Covehithe. St Andrew’s Church at Covehithe is the tiniest parish church you’ll ever find with the biggest, most out of proportion tower attached – its built in the ruins of an older church. The church never needed to be the size it was, but was built large and grand to show the status and wealth of its benefactor. Now, it sits perilously close to a crumbling cliff edge, and we’re told the latest estimates is that it only has until 2068 before it is swallowed up by the sea along with the manor house and cottages that surround it.
It used to be that you could either park at the church and walk down to Covehithe Broad, or drive on down the road and park up just before a barrier and talk along the cliffs to Benacre Broad. Now there is only one option, to park by the church and walk down through fields of pigs to the beach, and double-back (so long as the tide allows) for a 2 mile walk down the beach to get to Benacre. With a threatening sky, and the fear of less tide time than we thought, we saw sandmartins nesting in the cliffs, a WW2 bunker falling out the cliffs, and driftwood in the making from trees from the woodland above as they slipped onto the beach.
I have also come up with a new idea for a story based on Covehithe church. This one is a dark tale set 60 years from now. It’s not post-apocolyptic but it is a world where there are energy shortages, and electricity is rationed. Not everyone has cars anymore, dual carriageways have become spacious boulevards, and using The Internet is something you can only do at The Library (unless you are very well off), and the church of protagonists childhood is living on the borrowed time on the cliff edge as another storm is coming in from the sea.
On Friday I headed into London to take part in the Live In London fringe event to the IndieRecon 2015 conference. IndieReCon, now in its third year is a free, online, conference for Indie Authors. I remember chancing on it three years ago not long after I published my first novel, and it has continued to educate and inspire. This year, the timing of the conference was put back to coincide with the London Book Fair, and the fringe event staged in world-famous Foyles Bookstore was organised.
To say I wasn’t absolutely, completely, terrified at the prospect of going would have been somewhat of an understatement however, as always with these things, I think that just goes to show how amazing it was going to be.
Amongst about 150 other Indie Rooms, I got to listen to some interesting, educational, and just downright inspirational talks and discussions from some of the biggest players in the Indie Author world. I also got to meet some other writers, some of whom are local to Oxford. I think there might be a real future in an ALLi Oxford group, eh, Dan Holloway and JA Lang?
Aside from coming away from the conference excited that my forthcoming audiobook of Mr Tumnal is right on trend with where publishing is going, I have two specific actions to take forward: a) to move my non-Amazon print books from Createspace to IngramSpark inline with the Authors4Bookstores, and b) to edit and polish my spin-off Mr Tumnal story as an exclusive download for anyone signing up for my newsletter, and through this try and directly communicate with my readers and fans.
I’ve met a whole host of new people, who I hope will become friends. It was a truly inspiring day!
The day has been a little more overcast today than it has been, but no less pleasant. I busied myself with jobs this morning, getting the house all cleaned (in the full knowledge that with seven pesky cats, at least one of them would bring half the garden in with them and deposit it all over the floors – I think my efforts have actually survived quite well!).
And then suddenly it was lunchtime, so I made myself a nice chicken and ham salad, and sat outside and munched it whilst reading another chapter of The Story of Alice. Then I switched back to the novel du jour, Rosie Garland’s Vixen (which I’m discovering is a curious, very well written, but not entirely pleasant tale. And then after a chapter of that, I set to my own writing….
Another 1000 words or so done, and another chapter completed. If I can get another 1000 words written over the course of the weekend (weekend’s are usually less productive than weekdays, I find) then I’ll achieved a nice 10% of my novel written, which I think is a very good start.
I have certainly picked a good week to have off, with another day of glorious sunshine and outside living, and another day giving my shorts an airing. I didn’t feel like the words have been burning quite as fiercely today (although I did manage another 1000 words so clearly they must have been), however I do now know an awfully lot more about this story and where its going.
What I’m not so sure about is at what point Louis is going to re-enter the story, but then when he left book one at the end of part two I wasn’t sure exactly when he would reappear. The alternate Lewis has made some appearances in flashback and I’m enjoying the ‘other side of the story’ nature of alot of this book.
5943 / 80000 words. 7% done!
I’ve also been reading more today. Vixen, the book I chose to read based on the cover being designed by a ‘social media friend’ and sister of a colleague, is proving to be an intriguing and enjoyable read. Written in almost poetic beauty about villagers in Devon at the time of the Black Death, I was amused to find that its author Rosie Garland was a singer in a band who sung on the soundtrack to the 1980s film Some Kind of Wonderful.