Tag Archives: 2016 teaching challenges

Shoot for the Moon 2016 Challenge – How Did I Do?

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For the last three years, my writing buddy Mhairi Simpson and I have set ourselves a series of ambitious goals to work towards. How did I get on with the targets I set myself last year?

Publish the Sunblinded trilogymoon
Nope. Still not happened… In the flurry of submitting work to a number of agents who appear to like my writing, one of them specifically requested to see Running Out of Space, instead of the manuscript I was submitting. This presented me with a dilemma – ROOS was all set to be my self-publishing project, but if I was serious about also wanting a traditional publishing career, it seemed that I should submit it. So I have. In the meantime, I’ve got further work to do on Dying For Space and Breathing Space as my wonderful beta-readers have provided me with invaluable feedback that impacts on the ending of one and the start of the other.

Write the first draft of Bloodless, my space opera crime novel, featuring Jezell Campo, my protagonist who features in The Sunblinded Trilogy
Again, no. I have been busy rewriting and editing a number of other manuscripts, so this simply didn’t get done.

Complete Chaos in New Cluster
This is the novel my writing pal, Michael Griffiths, and I started in 2014. Yes – we completed the first draft and Mike has someone looking over it. As this is a project we will be working on in between everything else, it is ticking over quietly in the background.

Complete Picky Eaters
No, this didn’t get touched. I have been busy on a variety of other projects and didn’t have the time or headspace to get it done. However, Frances regularly asks about it, and I have made a PROMISE that it will see the light of day at some stage.

Edit Miranda’s Tempest
Miranda’s Tempest was duly submitted after being edited and I had some excellent feedback from an agent. So I am now in the process of rewriting it, which is challenging but much easier than it might be, because getting that advice was a lightbulb moment where I could then see exactly where I could improve the story flow and tighten up the plot.

I am working through it right now, though I took a break over Christmas as I also needed to produce my course notes and it was particularly busy, social time.

Submit Miranda’s Tempest
This year, I have been far more organised about submitting my work and while I don’t have a publishing contract, I have had some very positive feedback, which will help me move forward. One of the reasons why I failed at some of my other targets, was that earlier in the year a publisher considering Netted, my other novel which was ‘out there’, asked me to undertake a major rewrite which took me the best part of five months to complete. I’m now waiting to see if they like it sufficiently to offer me a contract…

Write at least 100 reviews for my blog
I wrote 150 reviews for my blog during 2016, the most I’ve ever posted. I also nailed my target to read and review more new releases as 71 of those reviews were about NetGalley arcs. I made one of my goals to increase my blogging output to every day and I have also mostly achieved this, too. Indeed, my views on my blog during 2016 have nearly doubled from the 2015 figure and I also have far more interaction with a number of wonderful bloggers who love books as much as I do. Given the fact I’ve been rewriting and editing throughout the year, reading and reviewing have become increasingly important to me as a source of pleasure and escape, particularly as personally 2016 was something of a heartbreak throughout the latter half.

Propose and plan Creative Writing courses for the academic year 2016/17
Obviously, I had these planned, but due to all sorts of things going on from August onwards, I didn’t get the Spring Term course notes written during the summer as I would have liked. Last year’s classes went really well and I was also able to run my one day courses. I have a lovely time teaching – it’s got to be the best gig of all, teaching a subject I’m passionate about to a group of people who are equally keen to learn.

Work on the teaching syllabus for TW
I undertook to teach English to Tim now over a year ago, paid for by County. Last year, we needed to find a suitable syllabus for him to study with a view to getting him some qualifications. This proved to be far more difficult than we initially thought. However, we now have found a way forward that is unusual but doable and I have now begun working on a series of projects with him that will provide Tim with a qualification commensurate with an English GCSE. Meanwhile, I am privileged to watch Tim continue to blossom into a remarkable person.

Continue to improve my fitness
This has gone really well. I decided to become vegetarian right at the end of 2015 and while I still eat eggs and fish occasionally, I haven’t eaten meat for over a year. I cannot get over how much better I feel – I have so much more energy and my nails, hair and skin have never been in better condition. I’ve continued my Pilates classes and now also attend a Fitstep class, which is exercise through dance and so much fun. Just before Christmas I finally achieved my target weight and although I put on a few pounds over the holiday, I’m confident I’ll soon lose it again. It’s marvellous to open up the wardrobe and know I can wear everything in it!

It’s a mixed picture, isn’t it? On one hand, the aspect that is really important to me – my writing – hasn’t appeared to make much progress. However, all that rewriting and re-editing prompted by professional advice has helped me to further improve my craft, which was one of the reasons why I wanted a hybrid career in the first place.

As regards the reading and blogging, it’s never been better. Though I don’t expect 2017 to be such a productive year, as I’m hoping to spend more time writing and less time reading. And teaching continues to provide me with plenty of challenges and much-needed interaction with other people.

2016 Discovery Challenge – August Roundup

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After reading Joanne Hall’s thought-provoking post, I decided to read and review at least two women authors unknown to me each month. During August, I managed to read 3 Discovery Challenge books, which takes my yearly total so far to 25 books read by women I haven’t previously encountered.

Across the Universe – Book 1 of Across the Universe series by Beth Revis
Seventeen-year-old Amy joins her parents as frozen cargo aboard the vast spaceship Godspeed and acrosstheuniverseexpects to awaken on a new planet, three hundred years in the future. Never could she have known that her frozen slumber would come to an end fifty years too soon and that she would be thrust into the brave new world of a spaceship that lives by its own rules.

Amy quickly realizes that her awakening was no mere computer malfunction. Someone—one of the few thousand inhabitants of the spaceship —tried to kill her. And if Amy doesn’t do something soon, her parents will be next.

This YA generational ship adventure manages to evoke a real sense of claustrophobia as Amy views with increasing horror the way society has evolved during her long sleep. The shocking ending means that I hope to be able to revisit this entertaining series before too long.

 

The Thousandth Floor – Book 1 of The Thousandth Floor series by Katherine McGee
the1000thfloorWelcome to Manhattan, 2118.
A hundred years in the future, New York is a city of innovation and dreams. But people never change: everyone here wants something…and everyone has something to lose. Leda Cole’s flawless exterior belies a secret addiction—to a drug she never should have tried and a boy she never should have touched. Eris Dodd-Radson’s beautiful, carefree life falls to pieces when a heartbreaking betrayal tears her family apart. Rylin Myers’s job on one of the highest floors sweeps her into a world—and a romance—she never imagined…but will her new life cost Rylin her old one? Watt Bakradi is a tech genius with a secret: he knows everything about everyone. But when he’s hired to spy by an upper-floor girl, he finds himself caught up in a complicated web of lies. And living above everyone else on the thousandth floor is Avery Fuller, the girl genetically designed to be perfect. The girl who seems to have it all—yet is tormented by the one thing she can never have.

We’ve all seen the plot device on CSI – the episode starts with one of main characters in a burning building/being shot/another horrible situation, and then the narrative jumps back in time to lead up to that particular point… And this is exactly what McGee has done with her debut novel. The book opens with a beautiful young girl plummeting to her death from the top of the tallest building in New York – and then the narration jumps back two months to introduce us to a cast of characters whose lives intertwine in a variety of ways.

 

The Changelings by Christina Soontornvat
Izzy’s family has just moved to the most boring town in the country. But as time goes on, strange thingsthechangelings start to happen; odd piles of stones appear around Izzy’s house, and her little sister Hen comes home full of stories about the witch next door. Then, Hen disappears into the woods. She’s been whisked away to the land of Faerie, and it’s up to Izzy to save her. Joined there by a band of outlaw Changelings, Izzy and her new friends set out on a joint search-and-rescue mission across this foreign land which is at turns alluringly magical and utterly terrifying.

Soontornvat’s pacing is nicely judged throughout in this children’s fantasy adventure. Layers of information unpeel along the way, as we need to know about it, rather than enduring any semi-omniscient info dumps so often occurring in children’s books. An entertaining read for the age group who are ready for Terry Pratchett’s The Wee Free Men.

 

Tackling my TBR
This is in response to my habit of continually gathering up new books – and not reading them. I want try and reduce the teetering pile by my bed, so I’ve decided to report back on how I’m doing in the hope that it will nudge me to read more of them. Except that during August, I was so busy reading Netgalley arcs and other review copies, I only managed one book – Across the Universe by Beth Revis.

Shoot for the Moon 2016 Challenge – January Roundup

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Mhairi Simpson, and I have set ourselves some crazy writing-related goals over the last several moonyears with variable results. But I have found the experience so very helpful in keeping my focus throughout the year, it was a no-brainer as to what I’d be doing as 2015 sputtered to a close in a flurry of fireworks. So what goals have I set for 2016?

• Publish the Sunblinded trilogy
As some of you know, I was all set to go with this target, having planned to release Running Out of Space in time for Fantasycon 2015 at the end of October – and fell at the last hurdle because I had major problems formatting the book to a suitable standard. And then was ill throughout November with a dreadful cold that would not lift – chiefly due to exhaustion.

However, my clever son has sorted out the formatting issues for me, so I’m hoping to have both Running Out of Space and Dying for Space released together in the first half of 2016, followed by the final book in the trilogy, Breathing Space, in the autumn. I have learnt my lesson, though. No spreading the word about release dates until I have everything set up and ready to go!
It was huge breakthrough to understand what went so wrong and why – not something I’m going to bore you with, seeing as it’s an arcane techie niggle. But it means I should not run into the same problems again!

• Write the first draft of Bloodless, my space opera crime novel, featuring Jezell Campo, my protagonist who features in The Sunblinded Trilogy
I have the plot outline sorted out and I’m going to have a go at writing this one, while editing Dying for Space and Breathing Space. It may not work as I’m the ultimate monotasker, but I won’t know until I try, will I?

• Complete Chaos in New Cluster
This is the novel my writing pal, Michael Griffiths, and I started in 2014. We still haven’t managed to finish it, but perhaps this will be the year when we can get it completed. It’s not a priority as we both have plenty else to be getting on with.

• Complete Picky Eaters
This is the novella that mushroomed from my short story, published at Every Day Fiction longer ago than I care to think. Another story that wouldn’t rest in my head until I completed the whole tale… While reading it to the grandchildren over the Christmas holidays, I realised there were another couple of plotpoints that needed tidying up, so I have it pencilled into my editing schedule during the summer when I’m not teaching, to have a go at getting it to a publishable standard. All being well, I intend to see if I can self-publish it at the start of December.

• Edit Miranda’s Tempest
This is one of the successes of last year. This novel has been burning a hole in my brain for the best part of a year, after I made a couple of false starts. When teaching The Tempest, I always felt that Miranda sailing off to marry Prince Ferdinand was never going to work – she’s been running around an enchanted island in her father’s cutdown robes since she was a toddler, which simply will not prepare her for surviving life as a 15th century Italian princess. And I finally managed to complete it while I was ill during November, given that I couldn’t sleep and couldn’t seem to concentrate on reading. I now need to knock it into shape so I can send it out to some agents.
I am working through it right now, as it still won’t leave me alone. I’m more than halfway through the manuscript and so far have lost 8 pages as I’m tightening it up and ensuring the language is appropriate for the Shakespearean period. It’s a balancing act to keep the feel of the language without too many forsooths and I prithees cluttering up the narrative drive…

• Submit Miranda’s Tempest and Unearthly Things Above
While submitting my work still happens in fits and starts, rather than the smoothly rolling process I’d planned in theory, it hadn’t been completely discouraging. A number of agents requested to see the full manuscript of Mantivore Dreams and said nice things about my writing. Meanwhile Netted is under consideration by a publisher. I don’t want to say more at this stage, but I plan to send out Miranda’s Tempest and Unearthly Things Above as soon as they are suitably shiny and good to go.

• Write at least 100 reviews for my blog
As 2015 was the second year in a row that I nailed this challenge, I’ve decided to fine-tune it. While I don’t want to extend the number of books I read and review, I am going to apply for more Netgalley ARCs and read and review more new releases. There is a real buzz about doing this – and as reading is my main hobby, increasing the excitement and fun can only be a good thing. I’ve also already signed up to the Discovery Challenge, thanks to Joanne Hall’s thoughtful post – read it here – which is to read and review at least one female author I haven’t read before per month, then report back in a specific blog, which should keep me on the ball…
I wrote 12 reviews during January, which came to just over 10,915 words. Half the books I completed were by authors I hadn’t previously read and five were new releases. I don’t think for a second that I shall be able to sustain those shiny stats – the slew of new releases were affordable due to Amazon vouchers and book tokens as Christmas gifts. But I am hoping to be able to continue to read and review at least two female authors new to me every month.

• Propose and plan Creative Writing courses for the academic year 2016/17
I have next year’s courses sorted out, but during the second half of the term I will be submitting them for approval to Northbrook College. I really would like to have the course notes and plans written by the end of the summer holidays, and so long as I work hard, that should be doable.
So far this term is going well – although a number of students have gone down with various bugs and illnesses and I’ll be glad when they have all recovered!

• Work on the teaching syllabus for TW
Since taking on teaching my friend’s son, County have given the go-ahead for the current situation to prevail. So we are now getting organised to start teaching him the English GCSE syllabus and I will be taking responsibility for the planning and delivery of both the English Language and Literature. This is hugely challenging – but also extremely exciting as only a few years ago, no one would have thought he would be in a position to consider taking such qualifications due to his autism.
This is, obviously, going to take priority as it becomes necessary.

• Continue to improve my fitness
I suffered a major back injury back in early 2005, which left me with ongoing sciatica that meant I was a constant visitor to the Physio. Doubtless spending hours in front of the computer aggravated the situation, but I found I couldn’t go on long walks, swim or spend an undue amount of time gardening. Then last year, Mhairi suggested I get a TENS machine to see if it would improve the nerve pain during yet another flare-up that was making my life a misery. It worked! Last June, I spent the day at Kew Gardens for my birthday treat, walking up the stairs in the Palm House and around the grounds without so much as a twinge.
I’ve now been signed off by the Physio and am on my second course of Pilates – yay! Himself and I have also started hiking again, albeit gently. But it’s marvellous – I feel I’ve got my life back. My ambition is to resume my regular swims, which I used to enjoy and increase the distance I can walk. And in case you’re wondering how this impacts my writing – it’s huge. I used to battle through the nerve pain to write, and now I don’t have to, it is such a wonderful relief…

Those are my 2016 Shoot for the Moon Challenges. Wish me luck!