Life as a writing resident

This month I’ve been given the amazing opportunity to stay in Strömstad, on the west coast of Sweden, and write. This is thanks to the generosity of Air Litteratur, to whom I applied last September without much hope of acceptance – and here I am. I’ve left my paid work behind until March, and am aiming to survive on the bursary that comes with the residency.


It’s been a strange and beautiful time in many ways. My dad was half-Swedish; his father came from Åmål, about 50 miles inland from here. When I was a child, we spent several holidays in Grebbestad, about 50 km down the coast. Part of my reason for coming here was to do location research, because Grebbestad was the mental setting for the novel I recently completed. It’s been affirming to learn that my memories rang true, but also helpful to put more specifics in place, and to fill out the colours and nuances.

February is also the anniversary of my dad’s death (the 24th) from motor neurone disease, and his birthday (the 28th). It’s generally a horrible month. I don’t sleep well; I get sick; I stumble around as if my limbs were made of stone. My body remembers the horrific ten years that led up to his death, even after sixteen years.

So I was worried about being here for this month. Away from my partner and family. Alone with my grief. Alone with my writing – and the aforementioned novel was very much a tribute to my dad. Alone with certain themes I can’t seem to get away from, like the desperation of a child trying to connect with a distant parent, or vice versa.

And I am feeling it, especially as those dates loom nearer. But this month has also brought extraordinary gifts. For so long, my memories of my dad as a healthy, lively man – a man who taught me everything I know about compassion and consideration for those who have the least power in our society – have been subsumed by the last ten years of his life. The neural pathways laid down by that experience were so awful, they obliterated almost all my memories of him from the first twenty years of my life.

Here, in the country he loved so much, I am finding him again. In a walk around a lake, or on a mossy forest path, even amid the snow and ice, he is here, teasing me, taking me and my sisters swimming or jogging, sitting outside a log cabin with my mum and listening to stories of our day. On the soft, pine-cone-strewn paths, or over the granite slabs by the sea, my family amble happy, together, in a time before banal tragedy invaded.


I can’t have him back. But being able to recapture some of those memories is priceless.

Me and Dad

Weekly report

My goals for last week:

  • Work on the YA novel and the DLN for at least three ten-minute sessions each – six days out of seven.
  • On one of those six days, do two ten-minute sessions.

Result: I did it. Admittedly, I did the two sessions this morning, but I’ll take it as a win. 🙂

I’m really pleased, because if anything, the pressure of work piled up even more this week. I seriously need a day off, or even a half day, and there is a small possibility that I’ll manage that this weekend. And yet in the midst of that, I have managed to get some writing done.

Good writing things that happened this week:

1. I pushed on with planning the DLN, and feel I’ve made a breakthrough with a huge gap in events.

2. I finished a new scene in the YA novel.

3. Two drafts back in the YA novel, I planted a tiny descriptive detail for verisimilitude. As I was writing this week, that detail suddenly created a HUGE payoff – the kind that sends shivers of glee down your back. A true “I love writing” moment. 🙂

4. I’ve been extending the ten-minute approach to other areas of my life (mainly paperwork and cleaning), and it’s bearing dividends there, too.

So, goals for next week:

1. Work on the YA novel and the DLN for at least three ten-minute sessions each (so write on six days at least).

2. On two of those days, do two ten-minute sessions.

3. In the spirit of squeezing more writing into my day, I signed up to Monica Leonelle’s 8×8 challenge (#8minutewritinghabit on twitter). I’ve already completed day 1 (today), which was to set a timer and write for 8 minutes. I’ll report back on how the other seven days went next week!

If you’re reading this and want to comment and let me know your own goals, please do so!

Weekly update

OK, rather than keep posting constant “OMG I wrote 200 words!” updates, I thought I’d keep it to one post. 🙂 So, my goal for the week was to work on both the YA novel and the DLN for three sessions of ten minutes each. And the result…

I did it! Three sessions each, starting on Sunday. It’s both interesting and frustrating: I’ve made a little progress, but not much. Even so, as I said last week, it’s more than I’d probably have managed otherwise. And another big benefit is that both books are fresh in my mind, so I don’t spend ages trying to get back inside the heads of my characters.

Goals for next week:

I’m still floundering in lesson planning, so am going to increase this very gradually:

  1. As with last week, work on the YA novel and the DLN for at least three ten-minute sessions each – six days out of seven.
  2. On one of those six days, do two ten-minute sessions.

If anyone reading this wants to post their own writing goals for the week, please feel free!

Another progress report

Thursday: 10 minutes planning character motivations – nearly finished David.

Friday: 10 minutes working on the YA novel – 120 words. Not as many as previously, but I started a new scene which required lots of envisioning. Exciting to finally be in a new location in the novel!

Goals for next week:

Consolidation, I think. So work on the YA novel for at least three ten-minute bursts, and work on the DLN for at least three ten-minute bursts.

Minimalist writing

It happens every time.

Every time I get into something resembling a routine with writing, life takes over and I lose the momentum. Sometimes it’s personal troubles (heartbreak, health worries). Other times (now) it’s taking on a scary new job that is taking up every spare minute I have and more. I needed the new job; I needed to change something about my work. But still, it’s frustrating. I put “spend an hour on novel” on my to do list each Sunday, and somehow the next Sunday rolls around and I still haven’t managed to write.

This week, I got desperate enough to try something different. At the moment, when I’m still getting to grips with the new job and doing the mountains of preparation it requires, taking an hour out to write simply looks too much. That’s an hour I could spend planning lessons, or catching up on much-needed sleep. Even half an hour looks like too much at the beginning of the week, when the pressure is greatest…and by the time the pressure’s off (Thursday-ish), I’m too exhausted. So I thought about what period of time would not be too much, and came up with…ten minutes.

Ten minutes. It sounds ridiculous – what can you get done in ten minutes? Well, more writing than I’ve managed in the past few weeks, apparently.

Monday – ten minutes on the YA novel. 191 words.

Tuesday – ten minutes on the Depressing Literary Novel (TM). Planned the motivations of one of the main characters.

Wednesday – ten minutes on the YA novel. 202 words.

It doesn’t look like much, but it’s words/thoughts that I wouldn’t have if I’d still been pressurising myself to write for half an hour a day. Obviously, I hope I’ll be able to spend more time on writing in the near future… but in the meantime I can’t express how relieved I feel to be back at it.

Ten minutes. A tiny amount of time, but enough for now.