Category: NaNoWriMo

The Dyslexic Author (by )

Sarah Snell-Pym Award Winning Author

This week is Dyslexia Awareness Week, it is also the begininng of an insane writing challenge called NaNoWriMo which stands for National Novel Writing Month. The idea is that you write a minimum of fifty thousand words in a month and I have been doing this challenge and a picture book sister challenge called PiBoIdMo (Picture Book Idea Month) since 2009, which is now scary long ago.

When I first started the challenge and using the forum I felt very edgy, being severely dyslexic made me hesitate to enter into online written discussions with grammarian monsters - the sort that correct friends' emails. How was I ever going to compare to such writing experts when sometimes I can't spell mine or my kids' names correctly?

Trying to belt out a novel is an amazing experience but it is also an emotionally fraught one, especially for those low on self confidence. Self confidence is a key to success - it is not the only key but it is one of the main three - Self Confidence, Endurance and Improvisation/Adaptability. Dyslexics, due to our education system and social attitudes, tend to be high on intelligence and low on that whole confidence thing. To keep going with the writing you kind of need to believe that your story is good enough, that your imagination is fantastic and that everyone is going to want to read it. Many authors go through a cycle of thinking their stuff is amazing and will win a nobel prize, to sinking into a pit of despair over how rubbish it is.

But dyslexics have an added edge of nerves, an extra question over their abilities. Not only is there the language structure issues but there is the widely held idea that if you cannot spell you cannot write. This is wrong.

And it turned out that the way NaNoWriMo works is fantastic for boosting dyslexic writers. It goes something like this - everyone is rushing to get down as many words as they can, you are encouraged to leave the typos as they are and just keep going, everyone has typos, inversions of letters, missed letter where they are just typing so fast. Normal people see these and correct them, the dyslexic brain may think that that is the correct spelling and at other times it will see it as wrong - but conversely it might see the correct spelling as wrong and correct it to something incorrect - DOH!

What this means though is that when you are sitting in a cafe or pub with a group of writers your red line squiggles are no longer an issue - everyone has them. Then there is the concept that you can edit a book with mistakes in, no matter how many mistakes there are, but if there is no book to begin with you cannot edit it into something. This frees you up to write.

One of the things I also found was that increasingly I was learning language intricacies and histories and that I could grab the grammar nazis by the proverbial and correct them if and when they started. Grammar is not a fixed thing - look at the history of writing and you find that Shakespeare couldn't spell his own name, that names themselves are pretty fluid, that grammar is just basically a mark up language to tell the reader when to breathe when talking out loud.

But can a dyslexic ever be a writer, be a published author, a journalist?

Yes, they can, and when they do they tend to be multi-genre writers, not brilliant for becoming a household name but good for writing how-to and last minute books, to be able to switch the brain from science to sports to craft, to be journalists (with patient editors!), to be non-specialist all round jacks of all trades. And, increasingly, this is becoming acceptable back in the realm of fiction, thanks to authors such as Neil Gaiman.

So where does that leave me? I have said repeatedly that I must be insane trying to be a writer whilst being very very badly dyslexic but, you know what, I wasn't - I find that being dyslexic helps with research for stories and articles, as I can't rely on words or even the grammar. I often have to use both plus the context, meaning that I can often pick up on the big or small picture, the hidden concepts and deeper meanings. It also stops me making stupid assumptions as I can't take the writing literally and if it doesn't seem right I am forced to ask, to check. For science writing this is extremely important.

Now before we go any further, dyslexia is not something I can really define; it is just a part of how my brain is wired so I will not say that my writing success is because of, nor in spite of, the dyslexia. It could have stopped me; it was a hurdle, and it has stopped many but mainly because they are told they can't do things because of it. Also, yes, I am contrary and stubborn so when people told me I could not, or that I would find stuff hard, I was determined to show them I could do it - especially when my intelligence itself was under attack.

But would my life achievements have been different without the dyslexia? I kind of think not, I just had to take a different path. And that path has been strange and winding and this last week I have found myself writing craft workshops, reading my kids poetry and stories to kids whilst dressed up in ridiculous outfits at various kid clubs, being asked to perform my page poetry at several events, asked to run writing days for adults and kids, getting sci-fi stories accepted, writing blog copy and presenting my project Cuddly Science which includes script writing and picture book writing and report writing and talk writing.

And that was just this week. This last month included articles on sci-fi/fantasy and science and crafts and gardening and grant applications, and this last year saw me become a member of the Poetry Society, British Science Fiction Association and the British Science Writers Association (and yes that does confuse me especially as there is also the British Hen Well-Fare Trust that we got the chickens from too!), I have been asked to present awards to school kids and I completed a Science Communication course - something I dismissed as a "can't" during my undergraduate degree, due to the dyslexic issues.

I now firmly place myself in the role of writer, of author and so do others. I am finally what I was told I could never be - a dyslexic author. It was not trial free and it is not yet over, it kind of will never be over and I'm ok with that.

Back to NaNoWriMo, I find myself actively encouraging dyslexics to write - to take part and I love wondering around the forums and Facebook pages and twitter seeing articles like this pop up and I love to be able to say to those who are worried, those who are struggling, don't give up, you can succeed at this. And that doesn't just go for writing, it goes for every aspect of career and life 😀

Comic Books, Cuddly Science and Music and More (by )

So I've been a busy bee but I kind of forget to blog about stuff which is stupid as then people don't know it is happening. Anyway I have just finished writing another 50,000 words in a month as part of the summer CampNanowrimo - a variant on the Novel Writing month challenge. Everything was based in the Punk's Universe which is now epically big and pushing to get out there to the public but apart from a few flash fictions and short stories which you can read here, it simply is not yet ready!

Second there has been great progress with Cuddly Science thanks to help from Mum and there will be an unleashing of more puppets soon plus a website etc... this next month is going to be about really pushing that project forward which is really exciting 🙂 Though I have to confess Ada puppet has managed to scare a few house visitors especially when I forget to move her out of the guest room. To fully realise the vision of Cuddly Science though I now need to be looking for some external funding and also kind of finish the very last piece of my Science Communication course. For those of you who don't know Cuddly Science is a series of scientist, engineers, technologist, medicine and maths peeps in puppet form who can either run shows and/or interact with kids showing and helping them through games, experiments and sci-craft activities. Using their own stories they explain the wonderous discoveries that have been made and show just how much there is still to find out whilst giving the children a gentle taste of some actual science.

And Universe In A Box has arrived to help run Cuddly Science workshops and a few other bits which I am very pleased with 🙂 And also part of the money I spent on this fab kit will help poorer schools and things get hold of the same kit on a global scale which can only sit well with my idea of science for all 😀

I have also been working on music and have produced a song called Somebody Please which came about as I was so distressed to learn of the children from the single mother's homes that were neglected and disrespected even in death. It was a song that had to be - it isn't a happy one and it reminds us that there are still children that can be rescued - it was one of those that had to be written and also has my first ok attempt at guitar.

I think I kind of forgot to blog about the last few songs as well - so here is I'm at the Bottom of the Sea - were I attempt to play the Temple drum out friend Seth gave us.

And Little Ghost of Parade.

Then we get to the comic books, I have discovered that Gloucester Library has lots and lots of comic books and graphic novels which I think I mentioned before. Well I've started taking them out of the library rather than flicking through them whilst in situ as it were. When I was little the library in Hornchurch did not have such things and I couldn't afford them. This week I read Neverwhere which I loved but kept kind of remembering bits of it in a very specific voice. I know it is a novel as well but I think it must also be an audio book or radio show that I've heard before. Anyway I really liked it.

Hmmm amazon has a BBC series so maybe that is what I am remembering!

Anyway I have also been working on my own comic and due to feed back etc... I now have two covers and am toying with the idea of there being a black and white version and a colour version.

Black and White Revolations cover Revolations cover mock up

I also have the light core of the optronic super computer which is a mix of water colours and computer jiggery pockery which I worked out and did all by myself without asking Alaric how to install stuff etc...

The Optronic Super Computer light core

I have also drawn the Punk walking - this picture looked better before I inked it in and rubbed out the pencil as the pen splodges so I need to look at materials again - maybe different pens or paper or both. But it is supposed to be a fusion of the "traditional" DC/Marvel comic book styles and the Japanese Manga and the old old cowboy comics and fantasy art stuff.

Outline of walking Punk

I'm still mucking about with how I'm going to colour the pictures but feel I am making great progress!

I also painted a flamingo as a last minute birthday present for Al's aunt. It was one of those wake up at five in the morning ideas - I have really only just started with the water colours but it seemed to work.

Flamingo water colours

So as you can see things are busy busy especially if you add events and life in on top! But I think it's all going well - though sadly at the moment due to health stuff I'm only going to paid gigs which has made me feel like I am slightly letting people down but I can only do so much stuff at the moment 🙁

There is a lot more fun stuff I need to blog about - the girls and the chickens and what not so hopefully I'll get a chance to catch up soon!

Comic Book Love (by )

Today I managed to lock me, one child and the house guest out of our house - however a) I was allotmenting it (which involved alot of weeding and the discovery that the red currents are ripe!) and b) an epic lunner (lunch/dinner) so it wasn't too bad 😉 especially as I found Death by Neil Gaiman still in my bag from the weekend when I had attempted to read it. There was also a note pad to help keep almost 9 yr old Jeany occupied.

I've been finding it hard to find leisure time to read so this was a novelty, sitting down and just reading. It is a comic book/graphic novel and I have already cried whilst reading it (yesterday in the car on route to a writing meet with friends in Bristol). It is lovely and very much a me book.

A female death is something I've always loved - I remember being obsessed with the idea as a teen and had a series of stories I'd written about Celestia and her relatives Morpheus and Hades - these were part of the Crystal Singer stories that I have sort of morphed into The Punk stories though may still write one day as they have become very different types of stories.

As I read the comic I recall my own story lines where I mixed up the meso american concepts of Death the mother and an opener or doors. It was a concept that also helped me get through labour with Jean and I have embedded in one of my long poems about glass pelvises. My memories are turning back to the Aztec status of women who died in child birth being honoured as worriers and my love of mythology is being swirled up in the stories. Yesterday I read the first chapter and today I read three more. I'm loving hidden things within, the pictures creating a depth out of just a few words.

Of course my relationship with comics is a bit odd and I get distracted by the images and weave my own tails and sometimes this makes it hard to read the comic. For instance I have had this comic since May? I think - picked it up on Free Comic Book Day - not for free I might add!

But I couldn't read it, I looked at the pictures, the lovely art work in different styles and set outs and let the aesthetics wash over me. My concentration span is useless at the moment unless I can become absorbed into something I now have a word for - Hyperfocus.

For me I love comic books, I see ones like this as kind of a visual poem (also called concrete poems). I look at how bits of the words are bolded to emphasis the speak patterns and the different fonts chosen and where the txt is laid - how it fits with the images so on.

I am infatuated, comics books were not my first reading as such but they were my first story telling and they were instrumental in helping me read. I used to spend Sunday afternoons after Sunday school drawing comics for my family, strip after strip - nearly always on one of two sets of characters though sometime other things would appear - these where a dog family and mermaids. Initially there was little or no writing and everything was told in images.

I am dyslexic - very dyslexic and learnt to read very late, what I would do when I was young and made to sit and read in school was to look at the pictures within books and tell my own story in my head from the pictures (it is incredibly boring to be told you are not allowed playtime or to do anything else until you have finished doing something you can not possibly do - day after day).

When at home I did this voluntarily with my dad's old cowboy, scifi and soldier comics - he noticed this and told someone at work - I think he was working at Tescos shelf stacking at this point and not at the docks but he may still have been a clerk I'm not sure. Anyway the upshot was that it was decided that comic books might get me reading but my aunts attempt to give me Bunty and the schools attempt with My Little Pony completely and utterly failed. I was very grumpy as I loved My Little Pony but I had the toys and other peoples stories about them didn't quiet sit with my vision for them.

I mainly wanted the Super Ted comics or Transformers - you get the picture. What then happened is that Dad was given a bag full of comics! They were perhaps not entirely age appropriate but I loved them. My favourite was Red Sonia. Again I started by making my own stories up and it was years before I actually started reading them. I was a little bit obsessed with X-men but alas money was not the most abundant thing when I was a teen - as in I was on free school meals etc... and comic books are quiet frankly expensive and the library at that time did not stock comic books heaven forbid. But that was ok as at 12 I began to read and made the comics and films in my head - the x-men animation arrived and I was quiet happy.

I kind of forgot how much I love comics as I'm not very good with the type that are just a page of one story and flits to the next and you have to get weekly/monthly -etc... I've never been able to buy them regularly so that has always been kind of frustrating and because it is so hard for me to focus I need something long enough to actually fall into.

At uni I discovered something I call a 'graphic novel' but I don't think most people do - it's basically a picture book for grow ups (and why should we not have picture books? With EPIC fantasy art in?). The Last Hero by Terry Pratchette.

I loved this and the Fantasy and Scifi Art books that the library did stock and of course there was the Scifi Library at Uni (not that you could ever get any where near the comic books there - the place was always full of people reading something called 'Sandman' - I know know this is more of Neil's work but I didn't at the time and spent most of my time reading my way through the Umpteen Red Wall books or space opera or Dark Crystal illustrations and so on).

Because I have decided to produce my own comic/graphic novel (not the Wiggly Pets and Friends but The Punk) I have spent the last 4 months or so going to the library in Gloucester with the girls, Mary sits and looks at picture books and Jean selects huge numbers of books - normally Goose Bumps or Jackaline Wilson (what a mix!) and just reads and reads and is always grumpy to leave but Mary, who is only 3, gets board and tries to escape. Anyway whilst they are occupied I read a graphic novelly type thing of which the libraries now stock a lot of round here.

This has kind of shown me that - most are not really my thing, I kind of try not to roll my eyes but a few are beautiful and wonderful and/or dark and lusterous, pulling me into their worlds. It also showed me that I was panicking about my art work and story line far far too much.

Having put up my first cover attempt for feed back I am mainly getting positive with some 'it's dreadful start again - looks nothing like Marvel/DC'. And talking to my very comicky friends most of whom suggest minor tweaks and even having multiple covers anyway - I have a plan of action.

And I am enjoying myself - it's like I've come full circle and am producing those little doggy comic strips for my family whilst watching re-runs of Time Tunnel, Land of Giants, Lost in Space or that submarine one I can never remember! Whilst my nan cooks a sunday lunch and my parents fix things round the house for her.

I love comics, I think at some point I began to think I was too old for them - with no scifi library round here for me to hang in, I felt I was adrift. Now the most annoying thing is that the independent comic book shop Proud Lion is in Cheltenham and not Gloucester although this is probably a good thing for my purse strings - the Waterstones here has a really good selection too which I always go and naughtily flick through!

I think I am incredibly lucky to have had a childhood of old old comics - my dad was born in 40's - there were not many of them but I kind of made different stories out of them so that was fine. I think this helped kick start the Storyteller within and I have always been a visual person. I know now that I am thinking of my own creation as a piece of visual poetry, with comic elements (as in funny haha!) and I've had several people attempt pre-orders from me.

I have now opened the flood gate though - Neil Giaman's Death encapsulates the mythologies and stuff I like, that feeling of ancient legends and kind of steam punkiness, - a noir grittiness and a mix of ages. The varying art styles within also appeals to me. But now I want more so research into Asian history (more for The Punk) will I feel take a side step for me to finish the damn book and then I might actually have to get the Sandman comics - also I am anal and am the sort of person who puts covers on comic books - the pages are soooo thin!

And I think this means I am probably officially turning into a Gaiman Fan Girl in my 30's :/ Oh well.

Interestingly a friend has pointed out that Jeany (almost 9) is now closer to the ages we were when hanging in the Scifi library which is kind of an insane thought! I loved the cuddly Gothulu and watching back to back scifi and fantasy films and being like the only person into pulp horror in there (it was technically Sci Fi, Fantasy and Horror and was based in the media centre which is how come I then ended up covering radio shows for friends etc... life is funnily twisty sometimes).

Bamboozled – cover (by )

Revolations cover mock up

This is what yesterday's fiddling around with GIMP - a drawing editing programme that's open source before any of you get the wrong idea!

I flipped the image so it is a mirror - I did this as though the initial Bamboozled story will be staple bound the whole big story wont be and it's the same cover and basically the placenta tree and fire will wrap round the binding slightly and still look ok where as the tower and punk kind of wouldn't.

I have also put an oil filter over it to make it look more like an oil painting - it makes a very faint difference but I think it improves it. I have a limited number of fonts to play with so this isn't exactly what I wanted but will do for now whilst I work out how to add things to the GIMP. I also want to put a box around my name at the bottom and centralise it - I haven't found a way to do that yet in the programme. And of course I want to go in and clean up some bits of it and am thinking of adding some flares and stuff to it but am not sure yet!

Cover Illustration – Bamboozeled (by )

So this is what I have been working on for Revolations Bamboozeled - it is slightly wonky as I'm having trouble fitting the sketch book into the scanner. This is the first proper picture of The Punk and shows the Tower of Babel and the placenta tree from the Punk stories. There is space specifically left for the title and my name at the bottom as well which mucks up the layout of the image for me slightly.

Bamboozeled cover The Punk

What I want to know is - what sort of software would be good for processing this and cleaning it up? Would I be better off trying different art mediums - this is water colours and colouring pencils and I kind of haven't used water colours before this. Does anywhere have a bigger than A4 scanner that want bankrupt me/allow me to borrow/use? And in general what do people think?

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