Bullets – to shoot or not to shoot?

My first typewriter was a portable Smith Corona, acquired second hand in 1968.

smith corona manual typewriter
Smith Corona manual typewriter

I had to thump the keys to make an impression, and insert Tippex paper to correct any mistakes. That was no easy task if I was also producing carbon copies. My most challenging project was to type up three copies of my husband’s MSc thesis  on this primitive machine. By the end of it I knew all about glass ionomer cement and had a stinking headache and repetitive strain injury to boot.

I now find that such a machine is a period piece and has a certain monetary value!  Maybe I should have kept it.

In the late 1980s I graduated to an electronic model. Still a typewriter with inked ribbon, but this time requiring a lighter touch and with the benefit of a single line display.  A chance to review the last few words before they were printed.  A real step forward.

Continue reading “Bullets – to shoot or not to shoot?”

Spring has arrived – rise and shine and write!

It’s a recurring theme in Mirren’s house. Should we listen to our bodies and effectively hibernate in the winter? Or should we push through, toughen up and get out there? We know what we’d prefer. And then along comes a hint of Spring and the lengthening of the days. We wake up with the light, start sorting out the garden implements, and look forward to walking home from work once the threat of being run over in the ‘gloaming’ has passed.

We’re listening to our bodies and doing what comes naturally.

When it comes to writing, the muse was hiding during the depths of winter. Banished by any reasonable excuse or pressing other engagement, or preferably an early night.

Diane, one of the main characters in our first novel, Eight of Cups, suffered badly from the ‘Winter Blues’,  withdrawing from herself and her family and getting deeper into depression as the months wore on.  Here she is in October 1999, entering a particularly difficult phase of her life.

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What exactly is a ‘writer’?

When people ask me (Mirren) what I do, I tend to say ‘I’m a Medical Practice Manager’ and sometimes I might add, ‘Oh, and I do a bit of writing too.’

As I begin to think about retiring from my day job, and concentrating more of my time and energies on writing, I wonder whether one day I’ll answer simply, ‘I’m a writer.’

The doubt resides in the question – What does being a writer actually mean?

That I am a published author? That I write books? That I spend the majority of my waking hours creating written pieces of work? Or that other people think my writing is good?

The facts are that with my co-author Elaine (Jones), I have had two non-fiction books published by a mainstream medical publisher, have independently published a debut novel and have another with a complete first draft. And still I wonder if I am a writer . . .!

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‘Listomania’ (including the top 10 attributes in a co-author!)

It’s summer. The sky here in Perthshire is heavy with threatening rain clouds and we keep fingers crossed that the weekend will stay dry. It’s also the season for lists. That time of the year when the newspapers run out fresh ideas to fill their many column inches.

And so we see:

o Twenty recommended activity holidays for families
o The most sought after hotel rooms this month
o And even ‘The Ten Best Elvis Lookalike Dogs‘ (here’s one!)

Elvis lookalike dog

So while we’re on the topic of lists – here is my list of The top ten attributes in a co-author.

In no specific order.

  • Complementary strengths – resulting in something that is greater than the sum
  • A shared view of what makes a ‘good’ piece of work – so that the output of the creative minds converge
  • Honesty – about all things pertinent to the writing process
  • The ability to give and accept constructive criticism – so that differences are a spur to improving quality
  • Flexibility over deadlines and progress – which will be inevitable, and may not apply equally
  • Respect for the other person – for their feelings, values and hopes
  • Reflective – and willing to engage in a learning experience
  • Fun and interesting to be with – that’s what helps keep the momentum going
  • Supportive and positive – you’ll need that when the going gets tough for you

Does anyone have any more suggestions?

And now for the ubiquitous list of Top summer reads. All enjoyed by Mirren at one time or another with feet up, beach or pool-side.

Continue reading “‘Listomania’ (including the top 10 attributes in a co-author!)”

An author with “a great face for radio”!

Having worked in academia and in organisational development in all sectors of the NHS for many years I (Mirren) am very familiar with giving feedback.  There are recommended techniques and formulas. For example, Pendleton’s rules focus on the appraisee:

• ensure that she is ready to receive feedback;
• ask for her observations first before you share yours;
• focus on what has gone well;
• rather than count her faults, jointly identify and agree areas for improvement.

That’s all fine and well. I’ve been appraised many times and been handled both gently and harshly. One boss who didn’t like me airing my views in an open forum because they differed from his, almost reduced me to tears when he asked for ‘a quiet word’.

Recently, however, I’ve experienced feedback of a different kind. Not about the quality of my work, or my level of understanding or development. More about how I look and sound.

Jones and I agreed we needed some more recent photographs.  So it started with a professional photo-shoot.  John from Alyth Photography came to the house, brought a flattering background cloth, positioned me so that my best side was apparently on-show and taught me to stand with my body at an angle and my face to the front to minimise my width! I can’t fault his work but I was shocked at the final result. Was that matronly woman really me? Great photo! everyone said. Shows that even positive feedback can hurt!

Kirkmichael Summer Festival hosted a ‘Meet the Author event’ last month.

Authors poster 2014 final-page-001 Continue reading “An author with “a great face for radio”!”

Let there be Light


The concept of light has always been important to me.  I love the sunlight, prefer being out of doors, hate the dark, and loathe the short winter days.  From a recognised date in October, until the sun begins to return to this hemisphere, I suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder due to lack of light.

When it comes to writing and being productive, I can reflect back happily on two months during winter 2011, on mornings spent writing in Tenerife, after a leisurely cup of tea on the sun-bathed balcony.  Eight weeks and a third of a book drafted, with still time to show visitors around, visit local markets, dine out on wonderful fresh fish and walk daily unencumbered by coat, hat or scarf.

The Canary Islands in winter are home to many creative snowbirds, headed south for the ideal conditions to live out their intended life.

Where would your ideal place to write be?

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Meet our Guest: Valerie Holmes

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We’re delighted to welcome author Valerie Holmes today as our first Guest on Mirren Jones’ Diary.  Valerie is a well-established writer, having had over 30 titles published by Linford Romance/Mystery series, which are now finding their way into the eBook world.  She writes both contemporary and historical novels.  She is also an experienced creative writing tutor, working with The London School of Journalism and Writing Magazine.

 

MJ:  Hello Valerie – it’s great to have you as our very first guest here – thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed.

 VH:  Thank you for asking me as a guest onto your blog. It is very kind of you both.

MJ: We’ve lots of questions for you Valerie, but let’s start with one about the very thing we’re engaged in right now  – Guest Interviews.   We’re hoping we meet your high standards on this with our interview because you’re very successful and well-versed in conducting fascinating Author interviews yourself – you’ve 19 on your Blog (starting in January 2013, at the rate of one per month) with well-known and award-winning authors such as Peter Lovesey and Jo Beverley.

VH:  That is very generous of you to say so.

MJ:  What is the particular appeal of these interviews for you personally, and how do you go about choosing authors for upcoming slots on your blog?

VH:  When I decided to open a blog, I wanted it to be a place that would share inspiration and experience. I have been fortunate to meet some very experienced authors in my career to date, who have served their apprenticeship. Their careers and advice are inspirational and I hope that new writers who read my blog would find them so too.

Continue reading “Meet our Guest: Valerie Holmes”