Friday, 25 July 2008

Beating Writer's block - or giving youself time to think through ideas...

In his laid back, relaxed "Coffee with Allan Cockerill" blog, Allan is a mine of useful and interesting info and comment. I got so enthusiastic responding to his article Beating Writers Block And Mining Your Life For Writing Material that I have used it as the basis for my post today.

Do take the time to check out Allan's writing - he's a prolific contributor and social networker, and has recently taken to full time writing. It's ironic but often true that in devoting time to full time writing, the creative urge suddenly goes off for its holidays and leaves you at home sulking.

As a "full time writer" this subject is close to my heart, though for slightly different reasons; In publishing my own writing, I have become so busy working on the publishing side of the business, that I have no time for creative writing. I tried giving myself "writing days" in my diary, but I just over-rode them with other tasks. I tried to promise myself "art days" out in inspiring places, but they never happened either. So I gave up on trying to give myself "creative thinking time".

What I DID do though was to organise my working week so that I could have one day off in the working week to catch up on some of the many jobs that need doing around the house and garden, that leave me feeling pressured if they don't get done. if i feel pressyred, my brain feels clogged up, if I feel clogged up, I find it hard to focus...

So now, very prosaically, but very fruitfully, I now allow myself Fridays out of the office for chores, and have unexpectedly found time to think too, which is great because it's a day off that makes me more productive - that's cool.

Fridays (unless I have a bank holiday or other such holiday earlier in the week) are now for doing all the necessary household chores like grocery shopping, cleaning, washing etc. This frees up my weekend for more fun stuff, and it gives my poor brain time to cool off a bit and think through some ideas while being usefully busy elsewhere.

Staring at a blank page is the surest way to kill off any small spark of inspiration you may been teetering towards! Whereas doing mundane tasks that allow you to think are great for putting ideas together.

The other thing I've noticed about myself is that when I first started, my office was my refuge, my safe quiet place to write. Now, I feel much more free to be creative if I am elsewhere; even if I have to make rough notes or pics to copy up later. Pottering in the greenhouse or cleaning and polishing my little car are really useful for giving me time to plan out ideas. The physical work leaves my mind free to roam.

I now have two strong ideas for the next book, and now need to make the time to sketch out some of the ideas - that's a whole new blog post. I have to start now if I want to publish another title next year.

Writers all have their own particular tricks to free up their creativity. Obviously a writer working on a full novel has quite different time pressures and priorities than I do here running the sharp end of the business as well as producing the writing that gives the business its purpose. That's the irony really.

If I dont make time for myself to BE creative, the business has no new products, but if I'm working flat out on the business, it's hard to find time to be creative. So it's not a luxury for me to give myself creative thinking time, it's a necessity and good business sense. So if I finish my chores and take myself off to a comfy coffee shop with a big squashy sofa where I can sit making notes and sketches, I'm not just enjoying myself - I really am looking after my creativity and my business - honest!

More coffee?
See you next week :)

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Arte y Pico award - for us??!

Forget work/life balance – here at Frog the Dog’s Beach House, there is a constant creativity/business balance to be weighed and found wanting.
One of the fantastic benefits of belonging to the blogging community is meeting and interacting with other creative minds. I am constantly asked where I get the inspiration for my ideas. Answering that could be a whole new blog in itself!
Being open to possibilities and having time to explore them is the key for me. Having the opportunity to share ideas with friends is a luxury that I love and appreciate very much, so when my clever funny friends at the Banana Bblogg awarded the frogblogdoglog with the beautiful Arte y Pico award, it was a chance to thank and acknowledge the friendships forged in the blogoshpere that have actively given birth to new ideas to write and draw about. I really hope you will take a little time to visit our friends, and maybe make some new friends yourself :)

Award rules

One of the award rules is having the award rules, so here they are for your ref:

1) You have to pick 5 blogs that you consider deserve this award, creativity, design, interesting material, and also contributes to the blogger community, no matter of language.

2) Each award has to have the name of the author and also a link to his or her blog to be visited by everyone.

3) Each award-winner has to show the award and put the name and link to the blog that has given her or him the award itself.

4) Award-winners and the one who has given the prize have to show the link of “Arte y pico”blog , so everyone will know the origin of this award.

5) To show these rules.
Arte y pico

The Reading Hero blog started life intending to research and write articles supporting parents to read with their children, but the harsh reality of time availability killed the impetus somewhat. The RH website is full of info, so the blog was not really adding any value, was tiresome to write and was generally a pain.
So remembering some feedback given by the wittily talented Lisa Wines at OHMYWORD! I have launched the Sniff and Wag Diaries, and find I have more to say about life running a tiny publishing imprint than I can safely shake a wet dog at.
So for Lisa, without whom the Sniff and Wag Diaries would not have come into being, who participated so awesomely in the “Find Spiky” challenge on the Frogblogdoglog, for all her support and encouragement and for her brave writing, we gratefully and enthusiastically bestow the first of the five awards to OHMYWORD

Equally, I have the utmost admiration for two very highly educated silly people who view the world with perpetual astonishment. They throw out ideas like we throw out apple cores – enthusiastically, carelessly and with great aplomb. These two are behind the Banana Bblogg where silliness is bandied about amidst insightful political debate and social commentary. Their fresh perspective and eager comments inspire us on a regular basis, so please excuse me for being a bit of a luvvey by giving the award they gave US right back to them. There are so many examples of how they have contributed, from comments on their own and our blog, to themed awards "Mantlepiece Fruit" that led us to start the “I’m throwing a custard pie at…!” group and the wittily creative series of pics they sent of Frog Ted - here’s to mutual inspirational creativity!

My very first and special friend in the blogosphere was Rythmduel. His comments and participation kept us going when we might otherwise have given up and gone home. Rythmduel’s writing is thoughtful, considered and beautiful. It makes me stop and think. It makes me want to start writing serious thought provoking content. I t makes me want to try that too – and that’s my most favourite kind of art; art that makes me feel like I want to try it too. I am only sad that my reliance on translation technology sometimes means that I am not able to glean the finer nuances of his undoubted talent. Luckily for me, his English is excellent! So for Rythmduel, dear friend and supporter, whom we have missed so much whilst he has been slogging over his international MBA, many hugs, much appreciation and the Arte y Pico award.
Rythmduel at 5 Impulses

Surprisingly for a doglog, we have a high cat readership, and we are not entirely sure why this is. Grumpiness personified, Catpaw suddenly got all cheerful when Frog Ted was invited to stay, and the resulting pics and story were delightful. Just by being a grumpy cat, Catpaw has given us ideas for writing that were gratefully pounced upon, the same pics used in various different ways on both the Frogblogdoglog and Frog’s wagsite. Catpaw, we think you are great, keep on being grumpy – we know that you a big softie really!

You might notice that I have used only four of the five allotted awards. But that elusive fifth element (!) is for all those snippets and ideas that float through my brain from all directions, wherever I am, where I cannot attribute any particular source. For the silly conversations, and the off the cuff remarks that sometimes lead to something lovely, new or fresh, I acknowledge your presence with gratitude!

So go now and be inspired. Take the time to feel inspired. Let ideas meander through your thoughts, and give them room to grow. Then get writing!

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Doodle Week - In our garden we would like....

Sometimes it's tough being in charge - I had to decide this week whether to go with my original post idea on inspiration for creativity or divert to Doodle Week; so with my supercharged honing skills I plumped for Doodle Week because next week it won't be, and this will add content for the creativity post next week. Cool, that's sorted.

So, Doodle Week is encouraging everyone to have a go at creating something, and we think this is a great idea!

It's rather a shame that Blogger seems to be playing up just as we are all trying to post, and we can't properly upload our pics - dang. Apologies if you are seeing the rather poor quality version of Jelly and Ice cream just now.

Today's theme is "garden" and as one of my favourite pastimes is relaxing in the garden with an ice cream, I've chosen this to submit today. Of all the pics Ive drawn, it's also one of my faves.

Frog, Jelly and Obi-Sven didnt want to be left out, so a new pic of them riding a carousel makes its debut today on the Frogblogdoglog. I think I can improve it, but had to balance the need to get it done and my desire to have it exactly how I want it in the time I have available, a constant work/creativity balance issue. More on this another day, and more on inspiration for creativity next week!

Many thanks to the excellent Doodle Week Team, who gave me the impetus to get the carousel pic finished, and to finally get Frog the Dog onto Flickr !
Do go take a look at the marvellous illustrations on display, maybe have a go yourself!
Have fun!

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

How do you become a writer?

There are some questions that children will always ask and this is a favourite: "How do you become a writer?"
Got a pencil and a notebook/pen and paper/electronic gadgetry ready?
Get writing! It really is as simple as that. Don't put it off, worry about the finer points later - to start off, just get writing. Do it!
Children are amazed when I tell them that I got up one morning and decided to be a full time writer, and this is where it got me!

Of course, I want to encourage them to believe in themselves as creatives, and that they can make exciting things happen for themselves, and it's not sensible to burden infant school age children with some of the harsher realities of making a living. But the reality isn't too different - it's more or less what I did.
I believe that three things are important in order for me to be able to create: emotional support, financial security/backup and available time.
I had scribbled long long letters to anyone and everyone I could think of all my life, for the pleasure of writing and for the need to express my ideas. I had to write or my head would go off bang. I was too busy bringing up my family and not sufficiently nurtured to believe that I was capable of writing anything as astonishing as a book.
But my life and circumstances changed dramatically, and I found myself in a position where I was supported, nurtured and encouraged to try out my newly found creativity.
I was drawing and writing regularly, and had created the original set of characters with several stories for pre school children. It was at that point when I woke up one morning and said "I am going to work full time at writing and trying to get published.
I had not an inkling at that point where that decision would take me; how much I would learn, and still have to learn, how much I would grow personally and creatively, who I would meet and work with. It has all been the most fantastic adventure, yet having come so very far, I have so much further to go. Where will we be in another five years?
(PS: Maybe I will have learnt how to format this blog! TSK. Why does it always re-arrange my line breaks??)

Monday, 7 July 2008

A bad review for Frog the Dog

Yes, it's true, I have today received my first review that is less than favourable.

It feels a bit like getting a D grade when I'm used to getting A*

This all started because I wanted to offer our gorgeous storytime session in local libraries in my home county of Lancashire.

The libraries come under the jurisdiction of the North Lancashire Area Library Manager who told me that having seen my most recent book, (It's Stickinormous!") she would not be working with me, either to book me for library events, or to buy my books.

It took me some while to establish with this manager why this should be, and it seems her main reason is because I have published the books myself, so therefore (in her words) "They have not undergone with rigorous editing process" of a mainstream publisher. Neither are they deemed strong enough to withstand regular library use.

So, because they will not be buying my books because they are not of a "high enough standard" (quote) neither will they invite me to events as they only wish to invite authors whose works are available in the libraries. Oh yes, and my story sessions are not of a professional standard, so perhaps if I were to go along and see how other authors do it, I might learn something.

Now, I have been running storytimes in schools and various other venues for five years. I pride myself on maintaining the highest professional standards and give the kids a great time. The reaction I get from kids, parents and teachers tells me I am doing it absolutely right.

I am invited every year to read to children by Kendal's Sunday Library Service - but they are in a different county - Cumbria, and I recently had a great day out with the Blackpool Library Service for World Book Day, again a different authority.
So, ever up for a challenge, I asked my county councillor to find out for me how I might tackle this problem and how it might be resolved.

The review below is the result. Before you read that though, let me just tell you that whilst I was lining up to take part in Fleetwood carnival last week, the daughter and grandaughter of my county councillor rushed up to me to say how mad keen they were on Frog the Dog, what a thrill it was to meet me and could they buy a Frog Ted from me there and then because the grandaughter was so taken with him. She is nine years old.

This review by an Early Years advisor for Lancashire County Council written especially for me as feedback:

It’s Stickinormous by Helen McGlasson
Here is another adventure with Frog the Dog and his feline friend Ginger Jelly. Together they enjoy sticking shapes and playing snakes and ladders, until Ginger becomes far too sticky.

The concept of the book is good; using a dog as the main character has been successful with many picture books, old favourite Harry the Dirty Dog and Hairy MacClary are just two examples. However on this occasion the story does not fulfil the promise of this concept. It is hard to know the age group the book is aimed at, for while the illustrations are very simplistic and lacking in finer detail, the story is over long and drawn out. Small illustrations in the corner of the page, presumably of Obi–Sven-Knobi, the smart grey velvet cat, bear little relation to the story. Careful editing would probably have improved the language in the book.

A nice touch is a snakes and ladder game in the back, but the flimsy format of the book makes it more suited to personal, rather than library use. While applauding the author’s attempt to write a story “of friendship, patience and the everyday experience of small but favourite things being important”, these sentiments are not dealt with in sufficient detail to be significant. The idea behind the book is admirable, but sadly this is a story which doesn’t work.

I would like to invite any of you who wish to read the story to email me for a text copy - you can see some extract pics on our wagsite. Or buy the book yourself - £4.00 worth of fun and silliness!

Perhaps if you have already read it, you would like to express your views?

After I had the conversation with the Area Manager I was furious that she should be so dismissive purely on the grounds that I have published these books myself. These books have been carefully edited and scrutinised by teachers, head teachers, and parents. They have been thoroughly tested on children and small furry animals.

Now I am trying to be philosophical - realistically the library service would not have brought me in much business, even county wide, but I have always loved libraries, and it feels, despite my trying to be business like, that an old friend has slapped me in the face.

Bring on the supermarkets - and heaven save us from literary pretensions and snobbery!

Thursday, 3 July 2008

In the beginning....

I have the sort of job that people want to know about, which is great for getting the opportunity to tell everyone about my books.

But I choose carefully what I tell them depending on who I'm talking to - I hate seeing that eager spark of excitement when I say I'm a publisher, quickly followed by bitter disappointment that I only work with Frog the Dog!

I've been running Sniff and Wag Publishing since Sep 2004, intending to keep it small and local. I thought I'd approach three choice retail outlets, make a handful of school visits per year - just enough to make enough money to print the next batch of books, which at that stage I printed and bound myself.

The reaction I got was way beyond what I hoped for - rather than just three shops, I found myself stopping at twelve because I couldnt physically make any more books in time for Christmas, and the schools loved the way Frog the Dog workshops inspired their kids.

So, after some flapping about over printing issues and funding, I had to make some big decisions about the future of Sniff and Wag.

In Sep 2008 I re-launched and re-branded Sniff and Wag with a range of professionally produced products for the retail and educational markets, and they've been very well received. Now I have set myself the target of being a recognised global brand within ten years. How hard can it be??

Since April I have worked with two other companies to submit a proposal to BBC children's TV CBeebies for a pilot show on mid morning TV, I have sent Frog off to the New York Licensing Expo to gauge interest, and I am still in negotiations with ASDA UK (A supermarket chain owned by Wal-Mart) to supply into a number of stores in my area.

It's starting to get a bit exciting - time to start taking notes about how it all comes together and what happens next!